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Archived Posts for September 2010

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
30
Sep 10
Thu

“Valium, he gave me Valium”

Dad occasionally tells me interesting stories about his encounters with patients (all on a strictly anonymous basis, of course). This was a good one he sent me the other day:

After over 30 years in general practice, you gain a sixth sense for when a patient is actually a drug addict trying to scam a prescription from you. Such was the case yesterday. Just before closing time, in walked a new patient – a young man in his early twenties with a tattooed forearm. He was from out of town, which always rings alarm bells. They come in at the last minute because they think that you are eager to go home and will honour their request quickly. They have often tried all of the doctors in their home area who have quickly become familiar with their stories. Of course these facts in themselves do not make them guilty. However, when they come to you with an elaborate story then the red flag really goes up.

As stories go this was a real doozie.

He started by saying he would let me in on a secret. He had booked a flight to take his girlfriend to New York later that night where he was going to propose to her in the Empire State Building on the 7th anniversary of their initial meeting, which happened to be on the 27/9. His girfriend was still in the dark about it. As he was petrified of flying, he needed something to calm him down. “Something a previous doctor gave me,” he said, but confessing that he forgot what it was. Instantly I was aware that he wanted a script for Valium. But I acted dumb and said that since I do not know what the other doctor had prescribed, I was unable to help him. He screwed up his face and pretended to think hard for a few seconds, before exclaiming: “Valium, he gave me valium!”

Most drug addicts will not come straight up and ask for what they want. That would be too obvious, so they rather manoeuvre you in such a way that you offer it to them. If it is not the right one, they will say that they are allergic to it and you propose another until they get what they want.

As he was consulting with me on the evening of 27/9, I told him that it was physically impossible for him to be at the Empire State Building by the 27th. He said that I had not accounted for the fact that New York was a day behind (which of course I knew). I thought to myself that even if he were to fly off immediately after seeing me, he would still not make it to NY on time as he had to transit in LAX or SFO. So I baited him and casually asked him when his flight was that evening and he replied that he needed to be at the airport at 9pm. He even volunteered the information that he needed to be there at least a couple of hours before his flight. I know that there is a curfew at Sydney airport from 11pm, and it is most unlikely that any airline will schedule a departure time at 11pm. I then explained why I didn’t think that he would be flying off at 11pm and asked him what airline he would be using. He hesitated and, sounding unsure, said Qantas. To prove that Qantas does not fly to LAX in the evening, I logged into the Sydney airport site and showed him that he had already missed his flight.

He was still adamant that he had a flight to catch that evening and said that it was probably at 10pm and not 11pm. I again explained that it was not possible. Qantas does not fly to LAX at that time of the night. Then he finally accepted that fact and said that he screwed up. But it was not over yet.

To prove that he was still going to NY, he then “rang” his girlfriend up and explained the situation to her, then told her to ring up Qantas to rebook the flight for the next day even if he had to “pay a thousand dollars more” (all this without giving her any other details). I’m sure the gf must have been hysterical to find out that she was booked to fly to NY in a couple of hour, but even though I was sitting just across from him, I could not hear her voice at all. Maybe she had a soft voice but I’m not convinced that anyone was on the other line.

In the end I did not honour his request for a script for Valium. To my surprise, he did not get angry – he was just embarrassed to be caught out.

Moral of the story: don’t screw with a doctor who has been practising for longer than you have been alive.

  9:31pm  •  Life  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Perpetual bonds

There is a class of bonds, called perpetuities, that do not have a maturity date and keep paying off forever (or at least until they are redeemed). “Consols” are perpetual bonds issued by the British government, and the 2.5% 1923 series has been paying out coupons for almost a century now, having come from a long lineage of bonds starting in the 18th century. They are relatively rare, but recently there has been some demand for them.

  8:45pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
27
Sep 10
Mon

The Amazing Race 17.01

We’re back with another season of TAR. Right off the bat, I was struck by how strong the teams are on paper. I think this is the strongest season so far. Multiple celebrities, teams in professions traditionally associated with intelligence, and physically competitive teams. There’s eye candy as usual, but this eye candy seems capable too. No spoilers for this week’s post.

For celebrities we have home shopping tv show hosts (of watermelon headshot fame – which has to go down as one of the best TAR moments ever), Miss Kentucky, Asian YouTube celebs. There’s a couple doctors who work together (one with diabetes), a couple Princeton undergrads, and a team of actors (one of which is a Stanford alum). The standard team of hot blondes have been playing beach volleyball together for 5 years, the generic boyfriend/girlfriend pair is pretty fit (guy is a football player), and the tattooed couple look hard core. The human interest team are a biological mother/daughter pair (who only recently met each other – the daughter was given away for adoption at birth). Lots of strong all female teams this season… could this be the first time 17 seasons for one to win? This is their best chance yet.

(But come on, how can you not have heard of Stonehenge? And, “Thats right, the country of London.” Thick as bricks.)

And, next week: Africa. Excellent.

Sidenote: casting started for an Australian version of TAR. Should be interesting if they run it like the US version.

  8:50pm  •  TV  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 
26
Sep 10
Sun

Through the Language Glass

I bought Through the Language Glass after reading this excerpt. The book is a mostly interesting read, tracing the shifting history of views of linguists on this question over time. The excerpt pulls out the most interesting bits so I’m not going to repeat them. However, in the book Deutscher does go into a lot more depth about how linguists’ thoughts have changed over time about how language influences the way we perceive the world (and how hard it is to figure this out). How different cultures “see” color is examined particularly closely, and Deutscher also keeps bringing us back to the insightful point that what’s important in the analysis is not what a language is capable of expressing, but what a language forces its speakers to express (e.g. in English we are forced to express time; Hebrew speakers are forced to express gender; and Chinese speakers are forced to express neither time nor gender).

If you can look past the author’s needlessly flowery language, and you have an armchair interest in languages, this is a decent read.

  10:11pm  •  Books  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
25
Sep 10
Sat

  stuloh 101 is killing me. What's up with this traffic??

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24
Sep 10
Fri

  stuloh RT @krbrennan SurveyMonkey blog launches http://t.co/dDvlCTM

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23
Sep 10
Thu
21
Sep 10
Tue

  stuloh Glee! Great season kickoff, new girl brings in Mariah Carey-like vocals (but deeper). Only negative: terrible cover of Empire State of Mind.

  11:09pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

What happens if you refuse to answer an immigration official’s questions?

Paul Lukacs, a US citizen, flies back into the US and, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights, refuses to answer any of the immigration officer’s questions. He is detained for about 90 minutes and then released. He blogs about it. The blog post receives many comments after appearing on BoingBoing and other sites. He answers the comments en masse.

Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

A few observations from me.

1. A lot of people criticizing Lukacs point out that although he is within his rights to do this, it’s disrepectful to the customs officer (who’s just doing their job) and other passengers (who are delayed). These are all valid points, but I must admit it is heartening to know that the system works. It’s no good having a right if you can’t exercise it. The ability to exercise a right with pragmatic results is as important as having the right itself.

2. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re playing with fire. Sure, you have a right against self-incrimination, and you can’t be convicted for merely exercising that right. But there seem to be all these laws floating around these days which allow the government to detain people without charge for a short period of time (I think the US is maximum 24 hours? Sixth Amendment/habeus corpus etc.). One misstep and you could have caused yourself much more trouble than it was worth.

3. Don’t try this in other countries. I’ve heard Japan can detain for up to 23 days without charge, and without access to a lawyer or the proverbial phone call. (How scary is that?)

4. A country can’t prevent a citizen from re-entering his or her own country. Citizenship is regarded as a basic human right, and as part of this right, is the right to enter the territory of your country. Statelessness can leave someone in legal limbo, and there are more problems with this than you might initially think.

  9:24pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh AUD/USD is going on another tear. Time to get some shorts in place soon.

  8:41pm  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (2)  • 

Stealing from the wrong person

Amanda Enayati’s belongings were stolen after her husband left their car unlocked in San Francisco. Instead of turning immediately to the police, she decided to track down the thief herself, with interesting results. Enayati herself has an interesting background, which made the thief’s decision an especially bad one.

See, aspiring thief, you just never know what you’re stepping into when you hit up a random car on a random street. However badass you think you may be, there is someone on the other side of the robbery. And in this particular case it was someone who escaped the Iranian Revolution as a child; who roamed the world alone for five years because her parents couldn’t get out; who watched from a dozen blocks away as the twin towers crumbled; who had just barely clawed her way out of that concentration camp known as late-stage cancer, if only because she was intent on raising her babies, come hell or high water. And all of this before she even turned 40. Can you see how that someone might be way more twisted than you?

There must be some sort of horror movie that’s based on this premise. Like, stealing-from-a-gypsy-and-getting-cursed kind of horror movie.

  8:02pm  •  Culture  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
20
Sep 10
Mon

A bird’s back view

A doco crew stuck a camera on the back of a peregrine falcon and watched it pull a 250kph dive with a 10g turn at the end. Then they watched a goshawk speed through a forest like the speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi.

Very cool footage – I think when we look at birds flying through the air we probably underestimate their speed because there’s no audio cue, like the roar of an engine on a plane (which is why they also have to simulate engine noise on electric vehicles).

  1:22am  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
19
Sep 10
Sun

Manic entrepreneurs

The NY Times has an article about entrepreneurial personalities:

The attributes that make great entrepreneurs, the experts say, are common in certain manias, though in milder forms and harnessed in ways that are hugely productive. Instead of recklessness, the entrepreneur loves risk. Instead of delusions, the entrepreneur imagines a product that sounds so compelling that it inspires people to bet their careers, or a lot of money, on something that doesn’t exist and may never sell.

But contrast this with Gladwell’s New Yorker article earlier this year, who say that successful entrepreneurs aren’t really risk-takers.

  9:54pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
18
Sep 10
Sat

Survivor: Nicaragua ep 1

Gonna be an interesting new season. The old/young split is different. It’s tempting to write the old people off but there are no certainties with Survivor. The young team has a lot of really hot girls, and I found it hilarious how the male model immediately earned the nickname of Fabio. Having the first amputee (leg) on the show’s history will be very interesting… but being different tends to make you stick out in Survivor and that’s rarely a good thing – just look at all the heat on the Superbowl-winning coach. Too early to make predictions at this stage. I thought it was unfortunate that the goat rancher was the first to go – she seemed bubbly, slightly neurotic, but pretty harmless and I suspect she would have made a good ally for someone who knew how to handle her.

  7:17pm  •  TV  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
16
Sep 10
Thu

Brothers

I ordered a copy of Yu Hua’s Brothers after a friend referred it to me as “one of the most brilliant books” he’s ever read.

The 600-page story recounts the divergent paths of two Chinese step-brothers as they grow up through the tumult of the Cultural Revolution, and burst into today’s age of rampant capitalism. During it, we get an insight into the Chinese culture and mindset, as well as multiple glimpses of how totally fucked up things can become.

I’m by no means a Sinophile, but there are some cultural aspects I can understand, if not empathize with. This book, however, takes things to extremes. I was warned it was a brutal read, and that it was. Many of the scenes depicted in the book are so extravagant, so excessive, so intense, so bizarre, and so surreal, that it seems a completely fanciful work of fiction. The opening chapter, for instance, starts off with the tale of our protagonist “Baldy” Li who is caught peeping at women’s butts in a communal toilet. His mother is distraught, since her husband had died years ago while doing the same thing (except that he slipped, fell into the muck and drowned). After enduring a lengthy public shaming, Baldy Li instead capitalizes on the event, telling his story to lecherous men in exchange for bowls of house-special noodles. The book is filled with stories like this.

Yet, I got this sneaking suspicion that in China especially – land of 1.3 billion and flush with money – truth is stranger than fiction and many of the events in the book – if they have not already happened at one point in history – are at least feasible.

Brothers is sometimes painful, often entertaining, and always interesting. It moves from tragedy to tragedy, interspersed with periods of fun, happiness, hilarity, and “WTF” moments. Black humor is pervasive. And you will never read phrases like “artificial hymen” and “straw-embedded bun” as many times as you will in this book.

  9:13pm  •  Books  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Watermelon Headshot!

This is brutal, but superb:

…as is her partner’s lack of sympathy:

“I have the worst headache ever.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Ok, so what do we do now?”
“You have to finish.”
“What?! I can’t even see straight!”

Looking forward to the next season of TAR starting up.

  8:16pm  •  TV  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
15
Sep 10
Wed

The Street vs The Valley

A former Goldman Sachs quant recounts his days at the firm and compares it with his current job as a startup founder in a post entitled Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs.

To cite a particularly grotesque example, once a year, one of the partners would buy a pallet of White Castle burgers and first-year analysts and associates would have a burger-eating competition (with some nominal amount donated to charity). All trading on the Goldman Sachs trading floor would stop as every man on the floor would gather ’round to watch the plebes stuff themselves.

Trading turned from interest-rate swaps (minimal notional size: $50MM) to the over/under on the burger count for a particular analyst. Occasionally, one poor schmuck would puke, and the partner would rush to catch it with a plastic trash bin.

  11:39pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Almost a year into my New Yorker subscription and I finally found an issue where there are more than 2 articles that I found interesting.

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Michael Lewis on the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis

In fine form as usual, Michael Lewis writes in Vanity Fair about the Greek sovereign debt crisis.

The long-term picture was far bleaker. In addition to its roughly $400 billion (and growing) of outstanding government debt, the Greek number crunchers had just figured out that their government owed another $800 billion or more in pensions. Add it all up and you got about $1.2 trillion, or more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek. Against $1.2 trillion in debts, a $145 billion bailout was clearly more of a gesture than a solution. And those were just the official numbers; the truth is surely worse. “Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.” …

Oddly enough, the financiers in Greece remain more or less beyond reproach. They never ceased to be anything but sleepy old commercial bankers. Virtually alone among Europe’s bankers, they did not buy U.S. subprime-backed bonds, or leverage themselves to the hilt, or pay themselves huge sums of money. The biggest problem the banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros to the Greek government—where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks.

Lewis this time takes us through the journey by drilling down into a monastery of monks which have been pinned down as the catalyst for exposing the sordid state of Greece’s finances, and ends up painting a picture of the Greek government and its citizens as Absolutely Dodgy.

  8:38pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Skipping balls at the 16th

There is a tradition each year at the U.S. Masters golf tournament. During the practice rounds at the 16th hole, the golfers will hit a ball over the lake that guards the entire approach to the green, some 170 yards away. They may then play a second ball by skipping it across the lake, and hopefully onto the green. This has turned out to be somewhat of a spectacle for crowds.

Floyd went first, taking out a long iron to hit a low stinger. It skimmed the lake once, bounced into the rough and got onto the putting surface to a roar from the crowd. Next up was Campbell, who skipped it a few times but didn’t get enough oomph behind it. The ball ended up in the lake. Last was Wetterich, who failed to even touch the lake, hitting a screamer straight into the green and bouncing it over the back. Wetterich then received a smattering of boos from the playful crowd.

In the 2009 Masters tourney, Vijay Singh’s skip shot memorably bounced across the lake and then…

  7:00pm  •  Sports  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
14
Sep 10
Tue

Travelling without a passport

Daily Mail journo Dominic Lawson lost his passport and his boarding pass in Amsterdam, and still managed to catch a flight back to London without having to spend an extra night in Schipol.

But the Dutchwoman at the BA counter was all smiles and sympathy, and called the representative of the UK Border Agency.

Most unusually, there is such a person permanently based at Schiphol; in other countries, one would have to travel to the British consulate, which in the Netherlands would have meant a trip to The Hague, and – it was already evening – goodbye to any chance of leaving that day.

Fortunately, I was able to give the man from the UK Border Agency the number of my missing passport, which he fed into his computer, and after asking various questions to test my knowledge of my own claimed identity, he told me he was prepared to escort me through passport control.

Everything turned out better than expected. But I dare you to try that anywhere in the US.

  10:33pm  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 

Tipping around the world

As the new batch of international students arrive for another academic year here, one common issue they have is coming to terms with tipping. This is an issue that causes actual, real stress: How much do you give? When do you give it? How do you give it? Failure to get it right can earn you an angry reprimand – something which is unheard of in most parts of the world. Ignorance is a poor defense.

Mint has an interesting comparison of tipping practices throughout the world. Even in places where tipping is a known practice, it seems that it rarely is an expectation (outside of restaurants).

Australia’s not quite so unaccustomed to the art of gratuity, but it’s still a far cry from the States. “Tipping’s not necessary because minimum wage there is a lot higher than it is in the U.S.,” says Bryan Silverman, a Californian who lived in Australia for the past two years. “Usually people just round up to the nearest five-dollar on the bill.”

Mint has also written another post on whether you should tip for bad service.

After two years here, I’m still not 100% used to tipping. When I was in NY at a restaurant earlier in the year, a server offered to put the duffel bag I was carrying off to the side. When I left the restaurant, I asked for my bag back, took it, and walked off, while the friend I was with turned around and whispered to me, “Hey, did you tip the guy?” A brief but sharp wave of dread swept over me. It hadn’t occurred to me at all.

  8:00pm  •  Culture  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
13
Sep 10
Mon

No garage sales of software

The Ninth Circuit just ruled that, if a software license has the right clause, software is licensed rather than sold, even when you buy it in a box on physical media. This means you can’t onsell the product because you don’t actually own anything. (Unlike books, where the copyright first sale doctrine protects buyers against getting sued for selling their used book.) This might also mean that it’s illegal for companies like GameStop to run their used computer game selling business.

The case is Vernor v. Autodesk, and it involves Timothy Vernor, who bought four copies of Autodesk AutoCAD at a garage sale and then tried to resell them on eBay. Autodesk threatened to sue Vernor for copyright infringement. Vernor instead filed a suit asking the court to clarify his right to resell the software.

The EFF comments:

But the potential effects of this decision don’t stop there: it risks creating a situation in which violating contracts and end-user license agreements (EULAs) could result in a copyright infringement lawsuit (with the heavy club of statutory damages, attorneys fees and low standards for injunctions) rather than just a simple breach of contract claim.

We understand Mr. Vernor may seek en banc review of this decision, which means the entire court will hear the case and could reverse this dangerous ruling. We hope that the court agrees to review the case and treats it as an opportunity to put consumer rights and expectations ahead of the overreaching demands of software vendors.

  8:10pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Everything Instant

Hot on the heels of YouTube Instant, comes:

These are not all practical, but they’re fun.

  8:02pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
11
Sep 10
Sat

  stuloh First car wash in like, a year.

  9:31am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
9
Sep 10
Thu

Will America’s universities go the way of its car companies?

The Economist reports that college tuition fees are rising, while student diligence, and other indicia of quality, are falling.

The most plausible explanation is that professors are not particularly interested in students’ welfare. Promotion and tenure depend on published research, not good teaching. Professors strike an implicit bargain with their students: we will give you light workloads and inflated grades so long as you leave us alone to do our research. Mr Hacker and Ms Dreifus point out that senior professors in Ivy League universities now get sabbaticals every third year rather than every seventh. This year 20 of Harvard’s 48 history professors will be on leave.

7
Sep 10
Tue
6
Sep 10
Mon
4
Sep 10
Sat
1
Sep 10
Wed

  stuloh You'd think it's just a matter of time before Apple changes iTunes' name, since it handles other media. Not today though. Just the icon.

  10:41am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh The new Nano is dope.

  10:31am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 


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