Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Stephen Colbert experience

My colleague John Kao was on The Colbert Report last week to discuss his new book, Innovation Nation. So I had a vicarious peek into a television phenomenon. John describes it well:

I knew we were off and running when the exchange around assonance and alliteration – it was right out of improv acting – “take the offer without reservation and do something to it.” I remember paying close attention as we talked – so that I could imprint the memory on my mind. The six minutes went by like a flash and like an eternity.

You can judge for yourself.

The non-radicals

Kevin Drum responding to Tyler Cowen’s remark that Paul Krugman doesn’t sound that radical to him:

This isn’t like the 90s, when a small group of clearly unhinged nutbags hijacked the public discourse and led an idiot’s crusade against Bill Clinton. This time it’s moderate squishes like me and moderate non-squishes like Paul Krugman carrying the pitchforks. Anyone who doesn’t understand deep in their bones why this has happened doesn’t really understand what’s been going on in America for the past decade. I’d put about half the press corps in that category. Your mileage might vary.

Krugman’s own blog is making this clear on a nearly daily basis: “The truth is that I don’t like having to do what I do in the Times, pointing out lies and corruption all the time. I wish we were having a civilized discussion. But we aren’t.”

Wal-Mart epidemiology

The Wall Street Journal had a good analysis of the possible waning of Wal-Mart earlier this week. But the most fascinating part was the Flash-animated map showing the growth of Wal-Mart outlets in the US over 40 years. You have to think of a spreading epidemic.

Update That link to the map doesn’t seem to work, even though the Journal encourages readers to email it to people. I don’t know whether it’s a temporary outage or something systemic.

Mobile coverage on Mt Everest, so why not in my Berkeley neighborhood?

Make a phone call from Mt Everest, they write.

That’s all well and good, but I’m seeking something simpler. I live in a fabulous neighborhood in Berkeley, but it’s a nearly perfect black hole for mobile telephones. I know for certain that users of T-Mobile and ATT need to wander out on the street to get a faint signal. On most days I can see various neighbors wandering along the sidewalk, trying to find that magic spot where their phone will work. Verizon users seem to be better served, and my family is planning to switch to them, damn the contract penalties.

All of the services, by the way, have coverage maps that pretend that we should get a good signal. We don’t. personal pages

As a Wall Street Journal subscriber, I received an email telling me that I now had a personal page on Clever, I thought, a WSJ version of Pageflakes or Netvibes. I wouldn’t use it, but it’s a good idea.

However, the Journal falls into the usual pit of old-style newspaper sites: we wouldn’t dare give you access to anyone else’s content. I can remix all sorts of WSJ content, but there’s no option to add other feeds. How could anyone with a brain who knows what an RSS feed is do such a thing?

Instead they could have provided the many subscribers their first glance of a new world of multiple information sources. Felix Salmon has even provided a helpful visual guide to the econoblogosphere that they could have shamelessly cribbed. A bad, missed opportunity, but one that could easily be rectified.

A bit of Fry and technology

Everyone who follows this sort of thing knows that Stephen Fry is a polymath. But I’m startled by how intensely he follows the to-ing and fro-ing of mobile technology. His newish blog has a lengthy essay (which he calls a blessay) on smartphones, PDAs, etc. I found it hilarious:

I have, over the past twenty years been passionately addicted to all manner of digital devices, Mac-friendly or not; I have gorged myself on electronic gismos, computer accessories, toys, gadgets and what-have-yous of all descriptions, but most especially what are now known as SmartPhones. PDAs, Wireless PIMs, call them what you will. My motto is:

I have never seen a SmartPhone I haven’t bought

America's public health and class

Just came across an excellent post by Maggie Mahar on class and health, and how it explains much of the dismal performance of the US in international comparisons. The ringing conclusion quotes UCSF’s Steven Schroeder:

Americans take great pride in asserting that we are number one in terms of wealth, number of Nobel Prizes, and military strength. Why don’t we try to become number one in health?

Boyish thrills?

I’m as anti-militarist as any good Berkeley resident should be, but I’m sitting in my office in the Presidio (an army base for three different nations over more than 200 years) with my heart leaping. Why? The Blue Angels are practicing for their shows in San Francisco over the weekend and it so happens that my building is right below dozens of fly-overs by the screaming jets, tearing through the skies. An incredible sight.