30 September 2006

Nerf Magstrike and Longshot

Hasbro's Nerf group finally released the Nerf N-Strike Magstrike and Longshot, first covered here in February. The Magstrike is part of the dart tag line, and comes with velcro-tipped ammo, a vest, and protective sunglasses. It's clip-fed and comes with two 10-round clips.

The Longshot is a sniper rifle with scope and built-in bipod that can be broken down into a smaller blaster. The blaster slots into the center of the scope/bipod system. The Longshot comes with two 6-round clips.

Both guns retail for $25-$30, and are reportedly in stock at Target stores.


28 September 2006

HP spied on reporter's family

CNET reports that HP targeted a reporter, his wife, and his mother and father in its investigation, retrieving not only phone records but also a yearbook photo of his mom. Here's an excerpt.

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According to a government investigator, the company pursued the home and cellular telephone records of reporter Stephen Shankland as well as those of his father and his wife, a former News.com reporter and current Associated Press correspondent. The company also obtained a yearbook photograph of Shankland's mother, a high school teacher ...

27 September 2006

MJD's job hunting stories

Over at The Universe of Discourse, Mark Jason Dominus shares some entertaining job hunting stories. Here are two of my favorites:

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A guy named Jonathan Rentzsch bookmarked my article about creeping featurism and the ratchet effect, saying "I'd like to hire this guy just so I could fire him." Since I was looking for a new job last month, I sent him my résumé, inquiring about his company's severance package. He didn't reply.

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A few years ago I was contacted by a headhunter who was offering me a one-year contract in Milford, Iowa. I said I did not want to work in Milford, Iowa. He tried to sell me on the job anyway. I said I did not want to work in Milford, Iowa. He would not take "no". He said, "Look, I understand you are reluctant to consider this. But I would like you to take a few days and think it over, and tell me what it would take to get you to agree." Okay.

I talked it over with my wife, and we decided that for $750,000 we would be willing for me to spend the year working in Milford, Iowa. $500,000, we decided, would not be sufficient, but $750,000 would. I forget by now how we arrived at this figure, but we took some care in coming up with it.

The headhunter called back. "Have you thought it over?" Yes, I had, I said. I had decided that $750,000 would be required to get me to Milford, Iowa.

He was really angry that I had wasted his time.

22 September 2006

Henry Blodgett: Risky Business (Slate)

Henry Blodgett has an article titled "Risky Business" on Slate that does a good job explaining why hedge funds sometimes make what seem to be stupid bets, but which are in fact perfectly rational from the perspective of the fund managers.

As an example, Blodgett cites Amaranth Investor's $6bn loss in natural gas:

In the immediate aftermath, such gigantic failures are usually attributed to the moronic mistakes. In Amaranth's case, for example, a 32-year-old named Brian Hunter was so sure he knew what natural gas prices would do that he bet the firm. Amaranth's bosses and risk-control people, meanwhile, concluded that the risks were worth taking because—well, for starters, because it was apparently inconceivable that gas prices could fall to levels not seen since … 2004.

Blodgett says that even though funds may be run and staffed by very bright people, their rewards and their risks are not aligned with investors:

For an aggressive trader betting other people's money, swinging for fences entails little risk: "Eighty percent chance I make another $100 million; 20 percent chance we bomb and I get another job."

The moral: before handing your money over to someone to manage, check that their interests are aligned with yours.

21 September 2006

The upside to global warming

Clear sailing from Europe to the North Pole.

PARIS (AFP) - European scientists voiced shock as they showed
pictures which showed Arctic ice cover had disappeared so much last
month that a ship could sail unhindered from Europe's most northerly
outpost to the North Pole itself.

13 September 2006

Pink Man @ Solano Stroll


Pink Man @ Solano Stroll, originally uploaded by ptufts.

Pink Man is a regular in Berkley parades. He zips around on his unicycle singing the Pink Man theme song and having fun. He wasn't at the parades last year, and I was wondering whether I'd see him again. But then, he showed up at the Solano Stroll, restoring Berkeley to its proper state of silliness.

12 September 2006

Anime creates Go boom in Japan

The BBC reports that the anime Hikaru no Go, about a boy who is befriended by the ghost of an ancient Go master, has spawned a resurgence of interest in the game among Japanese kids.

08 September 2006

Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard

Ever wonder why Chinese is one of the hardest languages for westerners to pick up? Because it's hard for anyone, even native Chinese speakers! David Moser's essay "Why Chinese is so damn hard" explains why. Some excerpts:

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I was once at a luncheon with three Ph.D. students in the Chinese Department at Peking University, all native Chinese (one from Hong Kong). I happened to have a cold that day, and was trying to write a brief note to a friend canceling an appointment that day. I found that I couldn't remember how to write the character 嚔, as in da penti 打喷嚔 "to sneeze". I asked my three friends how to write the character, and to my surprise, all three of them simply shrugged in sheepish embarrassment. Not one of them could correctly produce the character. Now, Peking University is usually considered the "Harvard of China". Can you imagine three Ph.D. students in English at Harvard forgetting how to write the English word "sneeze"?? Yet this state of affairs is by no means uncommon in China. English is simply orders of magnitude easier to write and remember.... By contrast, often even the most well-educated Chinese have no recourse but to throw up their hands and ask someone else in the room how to write some particularly elusive character.

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Whereas modern Mandarin is merely perversely hard, classical Chinese is deliberately impossible. Here's a secret that sinologists won't tell you: A passage in classical Chinese can be understood only if you already know what the passage says in the first place. This is because classical Chinese really consists of several centuries of esoteric anecdotes and in-jokes written in a kind of terse, miserly code for dissemination among a small, elite group of intellectually-inbred bookworms who already knew the whole literature backwards and forwards, anyway. An uninitiated westerner can no more be expected to understand such writing than Confucius himself, if transported to the present, could understand the entries in the "personal" section of the classified ads that say things like: "Hndsm. SWGM, 24, 160, sks BGM or WGM for gentle S&M, mod. bndg., some lthr., twosm or threesm ok, have own equip., wheels, 988-8752 lv. mssg. on ans. mach., no weirdos please.

07 September 2006

Hikaru no go cartoonist arrested

The Mainichi news reports that Takeshi Obata, author of the "Hikaru no Go" manga series, was arrested for illegal posession of a knife, according to Tokyo police.

An officer questioned Obata, 37, in Tokyo's Nerima-ku after he was driving his car with the headlights off shortly before 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Silver Star 2006: North Korean go software

The AP has an article about North Korea's venture making Baduk software (Baduk is the Korean name for Go). The program is called "Silver Star 2006" and will be available for download for 33,000 won (US$35; €27) from South Korean distributor ForOneBiz.

Kim Tae-gyu's article "NK Baduk Software to Hit Seoul" in the Korea Times has more details. The download site will be www.i-silverstar.com (the site seems to require IE). The North Korean company that makes the software is Samcholli General Corp.

01 September 2006

Mysteries of sushi explained

This brilliant video made the rounds a few months ago, but I somehow missed it. It's a video by the Rahmens, a Japanese comedy duo. In it, they explain the mysteries of sushi. The subtitles were done by a fan.

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