Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Update

Since Tuesday, I have been more flu-ridden than I ever remember being in my adult life.  The last time I remember being this ill, the Princess Bride was a relatively new movie and I was being spoon-fed chicken noodle soup and drinking 7-up through a straw.  This time didn't go as well, beginning with a distinct lack of chicken noodle soup and eventually transforming into an annoying and expensive case of pneumonia.  There's a lesson to be learned, here.  However, I'm finally on the road to wellness, and for that I am grateful.

Moving on.

I'm excited to say that I finally reconfigured one of my favorite applications for any platform-- MobilePushr, a Flickr uploader for iPhone.  It's a stunning example of how high function can be met with an absolutely minimal interface.  It's a very simple program in concept (push a button, upload all photos that haven't already been uploaded, done) but its existence completely changes the way I use my cameraphone.  It just does exactly what I want it to do and nothing else.  The author exercised remarkable restraint by not including a bunch of useless features.

I am still working at Old Town Computers and enjoying it immensely.  I'm also working on my web design side-project, XOdesign.  Yet, I am becoming wary of those guys who call themselves "Web Producers", wear business casual even though they work at home, and hammer out 15 identical Wordpress-based Web 2.0 disasters every day, then keep a blog about the newest trends in typeface.  I never thought I'd come close to becoming one of them, but here I am at the gates of the lamest Internet fraternity.

It's supposed to snow six inches tomorrow.  Maybe I'll take some pictures of that happening.

Friday, September 26, 2008

For being a city of 500,000+ people, Portland can feel pretty small. It can have all of the self-consciousness and introversion of a small school. The "Portland Bubble", I guess.

Take for example this pair of images-- Both taken from my couch at about 4:30 today:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Factcheck Dot Org

I'm a huge fan of .

If you haven't heard of it already, it's a nonpartisan research organization that validates (or, more frequently, invalidates) claims made by prominent public figures. It truly is nonpartisan, going as far as to give Obama and McCain equal billing on their site and in their newsletter.  I think it can be hard for liberals to accept the format despite the obvious gravity of McCain's factual errors as compared to Obama,  but it's extremely important.

In a politcal climate often characterized by "facts vs. dogma", it's very easy for an organization like to assuage its liberal readership by swaying to the left.  After all, facts are (at least in theory) the backbone of the liberal media.  Without facts, the left might say, there would be no Truth in reporting.  Yet bites the proverbial bullet and doesn't actually suggest that facts make Truth.

That's Truth with a capital T.  

It's hard to overstate just how important it is to remember that the goal of facts isn't to achieve Truth.  Truth happens by manner of faith, not facts-- by persuasion, coercion, hypnosis, and trust.  Facts are useful as a means to that end-- to convince a more skeptical audience to believe in a bigger message, perhaps-- but they don't make Truth on their own.

Ideally, the media shouldn't be concerned with Truth; only facts.  And it is indeed when we see programs offering the Truth that we see the biggest factual errors.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New job

Hey, it looks like I'm working part time at OId Town Computers.  I'm pretty excited, since OTC is actually located inside of my favorite cafe, Backspace.  I'm getting paid to do something I was doing for free before (i.e. drinking coffee and fixing people's computers) so no matter what, I've come out ahead.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I watched an excellent movie last night called "Outsourced".  It's not very well-known, which I suppose makes sense considering that it's a lighthearted, American-style, romantic comedy about a subject that makes Americans extremely uncomfortable.  Worse yet is that it was (mostly) written and developed by an Indian staff, who take an ostensibly positive stance on outsourcing.  So, for obvious logistical reasons, the movie never got its due in the theaters.

As is often the case, the parts of the movie that made it unattractive to the studios are the same things that made it interesting, funny, and believable:  It's a travel/adventure movie without an us-versus-them mentality, it's a romantic comedy without silly hijinks or cheap laughs, and it's an American film where the ethnic leads are smart, independent, and worldly.  It's well-paced, has several interesting plot lines, and rarely succumbs to sitcom humor even when the situations are rife with opportunity.  Case in point:  It goes to India, and escapes with only a few digestion-tract jokes. 

Overall, the movie is smart, simple, clean, and polished.  From start to finish.  It's the romantic comedy version of a piece of high-end Scandinavian furniture.  I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A quick update before I hit the hay:

I've been mostly offline the past few weeks because of work and general business.  I know this sounds weird coming from me, but it's the honest truth.

I'm temping at Nike for the time being, fixing their Macintoshes.  I've met a lot of interesting folk, including the people behind the Nike+ system and many, many shoe designers.  The gig ends at the end of the week, though, so I'll be back out pounding the pavement while spending some quality time on my pet projects.

As ever, I'm looking to build my portfolio for web and graphic design.  Don't hesitate to ask if you're interested in building an online presence.

There's much more to come over the next few weeks pending unemployment.  Portland is still treating me very well, however, I still don't have a bike.  We'll see if I can't pick one up next week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Why Mariners fans are some of my favorites"

I just read this on I thought some of you out there might appreciate it.


"Why Mariners fans are some of my favorites"

And I'm completely serious when I say this. You guys are great, and I always get a kick out of reading this blog and USS Mariner.

I'm a Cubs fan and have been so since 1968. As such, I understand the futility of life and the joy of small victories (or even almost victories). As my bartender, another life-long Cubs fan of my generation, says: "You lose more often than you win in life, and being a Cubs fan prepares you for this."

The problem, though, is that most Cubs fans today don't understand this. They see the experience as some sort of amusement park ride, where there are going to be ups after the downs because there are supposed to be. They don't understand that sometimes, the downs are all you're going to get.

Which is why I enjoy reading this blog so much. The existential angst! The hopelessness and loathing! The Kierkegaardian dread! Plus, you do it so intelligently. Most sports blogs, sadly, are places for the lame of mouth and the halt of brain to feed their fixes. Here, and at USS Mariner, you not only roll Sisyphus' boulder up a hill, but can explain, using cold, hard logic, why it will fall down again. I shudder at the grandeur of this achievement.

And, to be honest, losing is probably more fun than winning. One appreciates the game more, and you don't run the risk of turning into a Yankees fan. The perfect example is the Red Sox, whose fans were crusty yet lovable New Englanders until just a couple of seasons ago. Winning, however, has turned them into insensitive louts who are no fun to be at a game with.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Awesome Show, Great Job!

My brother and I went to see Tim and Eric live last night in Seattle. We were way in the back so I didn't get many good pictures-- I figure I'm just going to link to a few that other people took and let them speak for themselves.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is anyone out there in the beverage business?

I make a personal plea to anyone with the authority to do so:  Please start importing Sternburg (and Sternburg Diesel) to the US.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I think Ichiro will go down in the baseball history books as this generation's most important player, or at least the one that has the most influence on Baseball's future. I'd venture to say that Ichiro is important to the game than A-Rod,Gone are the days of 'roided-up hulkamaniacs like Mark McGwire who rack up huge OPS points via home runs. Not only are the drugs just not that good anymore-- the parks are less hitter-friendly, and (accordingly) there are fewer terrible pitchers.

The statistics are changing-- Not just the numbers, but the statistics themselves. Win expectancy is gaining ground, and overall defense is on the verge of becoming a tangible statistic. That is to say that a player's contribution won't be measured by batting average or number of home runs, but by the actual influence they have on a game's outcome.

I doubt any players understand this better than Ichiro.

Outfield defense is a tough one to understand. Certainly you can look at a player's fielding percentage, or their assists, but it doesn't really paint the whole picture. And then there's showmanship-- In Seattle, we remember players like Ken Griffey making spectacular, wrist-breaking, diving catches and often equate that with defensive success. Ichiro never dives for a ball, or runs face-first into the outfield fence to rob a home run. Yeah, he has the speed, but what makes him an elite outfielder?

He understands his ability, and recognizes that his team can't afford to lose him due to injury. He's said several times that it's not worth risking it unless the season's on the line, which, statistically, is absolutely true.

Anyway, enough about defense. Let's change gears and look at his batting graph:

Since Ichiro isn't a power hitter, I elected to use singles here instead of home runs. A quick side note is that while it's not on a graph, all-- yeah, 100%-- of his doubles come from pitches up in the zone. Also keep in mind that Ichiro is a lefty.

What do we learn?

1) He gets beaten by pitches out of the strike zone. Especially ones that are up-and-in and low-and-in.
2) Pitchers try to exploit this by pitching middle-and-in, where he doesn't have any problems taking them for balls. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe someone's not doing their scouting homework properly.
3) Ichiro gets a ton a singles from pitches that are up-and-in, inside of the strike zone. These are where he leans back and serves it into shallow left field.

Nobody really plays like Ichiro, and he draws a lot of attention because of it. Pitchers have a strategy for him, and while it doesn't really seem to be working, they're sticking to it perhaps because they don't know what else to do.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Baseball Stats: Part 2

Just for fun, I graphed out some 2007 data from players relevant to today's game.  Let's start with Adrian Beltre and Daniel Cabrera:

So.  What do we learn here?

First of all, right-handed Beltre doesn't chase as many low and away sliders as you might expect.  If he's going to get beat by a pitch, he's probably going to get beat by something up and in.  According to the other graph, this is something that right-handed Cabrera likes to do.  Expect strikeouts.

Cabrera also has excellent control and consistency around the edges of the strike zone. He stays low, and if he misses, he doesn't miss by much.

Here's another thing-- Cabrera doesn't give up home runs on the outsides of the plate.  Compare him to the M's starter, Carlos Silva:

If Beltre's going to hit a home run off of Cabrera, then, it's probably going to have 
be within that small central margin.  But he's got a much better shot at it than Richie Sexson, who swings a bit more freely:

I'm not using any pitch f/x data here, just location.  There's a lot more to be said when taking break and deception into account.  And obviously, pitchers (and catchers) are aware of these types of batting tendencies, and the smart ones will find a way to tilt the odds in their favor (note to self:  It would be interesting to analyze a pitcher's intelligence in facing different batters.  Maybe this will be a future update).

Baseball Stats: Part 1

It might not be common knowledge that nearly every Big League baseball park in America has a system that can track a pitch's movement, break, release point, starting/finishing velocities, and a host of other details.  And for some reason, Major League Baseball compiles and archives all of this data for public consumption on their website.  

And it's all for free!  I know, something for nothing.  It doesn't seem quite right, considering that this is the American pasttime and all.

Anyway, there's a ton of data to look at.  A ridiculous amount.  People analyze this stuff for a living and I don't think anyone's even scratched the surface of what it can reveal about the nature of the game.

Because the data is stored very inconveniently on the MLB servers (in a weird esoteric directory structure), the average fan effectively doesn't have access. And based on the way most MLB games are managed, I sort of doubt that even the experts have adequate access.  You see, the files are really only accessable to a small percentage of the population:

Baseball is different than many spectator sports because there are relatively few intangibles.  Every possible action is decided by some variant of bat-hits-ball, and now that we have access to the flight path of every pitch and how each individual batter reacted to it, there's room for a lot of insight that hasn't been made before.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Church of ScientoIogy and Me

On April 12th, a group called Anonymous will be staging another worldwide protest against the shady practices of the Church of ScientoIogy.  

People who know me well already know about my run(s)-in with the Church and its affiliates.  Quickly stated, I support ScientoIogy as a faith-- Although I'm not religious, freedom of worship is an obviously vital part of free society, and the right is defensible in any discussion about freedom of speech.

The Church itself, however, has come to abuse my ideal of religious tolerance in a very contradictory way:  One that explicity promises superpowers for right price, forces "disconnection" with friends and family, twists copyright law to destroy splinter groups and silence dissenters.  The problem isn't the tenets of the faith, but the Church's power and savvy as a business to operate outside the law.  As a Church, they're not only tax-exempt, but immune to the sort of criticism that would normally provoke public outcry.

Fortunately, the ruse looks like it's coming to an end, as The Church of ScientoIogy is having more and more trouble flying under the radar.  This is largely a product of collaborative knowledge on the Internet and is, in my estimation, the first of many organizations facing the full brunt of Internet activism.  It's really an amazing effort-- During the last round of protests, over 150 showed up at the Church's headquarters in Florida.  There were thousands more protesters worldwide.

But the most interesting parts to me are the extremes it represents.  On one hand, there is Anonymous:  A group with no central leadership, no experience, no financial or political power, armed only with knowledge and a sense of making things right.  On the other hand:  The Church of ScientoIogy.

This is a perfect microcosm of what could happen on a much larger scale.  Even if you're not interested in the protests against the Church, they are setting a prescident for other (bigger) social issues.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I bought something weird

Call me crazy, but I'm kind of obsessed with computer keyboards.  I think it's for good reason, though-- I probably type more words on any given day than I speak.  Doesn't that make my keyboard worth obsessing over?

I use an IBM Model M keyboard that I bought off eBay.  Among enthusiasts, the Model M is king.  They have a fantastic "clicky" feeling to them, they're laid out perfectly, and they're nearly indestructable.  Mine was made in 1984, and it's as good as new.  Sadly, they've been more or less discontinued since 1992, in favor of cheaper, flimsier keyboards that are made to be replaced every few years.

Until yesterday. I thought it was impossible to improve on the Model M.  But check out what I bought for six dollars at Goodwill:

First of all, the styling is, like, awesome.  It's only missing some flames.  Also, It's USB, comes with an ergonomic built-in joystick, and inexplicably has some sort of wrist strap on the back.  For six dollars, It's breathtaking.

I think I'm going to attach a guitar strap to it and sling it over my back like some sort of digital mariachi renegade. Think Antonio Banderas but worse shape and way, way paler.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

CNN and FOX's distorting lenses

Maluhia noticed something funny while she was flipping through the channels yesterday.

CNN and FOX were simultaneously broadcasting John McCain's foreign affairs speech, in full, sans commentary.  Except for the overlay text, they looked like pretty much identical broadcasts.  But, there was a certain dissimilarity in the video feed.  See if you can spot the difference (sorry, it's hard to take pictures of a television):

CNN's broadcast is much, much sharper.  You can clearly see the details of McCain's face and combover.  It's not flattering-- He looks, well, worse.  FOX's broadcast is zoomed out, and slightly blurry.  The audio feed was also much different-- CNN sounded very tinny and shrill compared to FOX which sounded warm and resonant.

Granted, considering the other (more flagrant) examples of bias between these two networks, this isn't anything too groundbreaking.  It does remind us, though, to be aware of the many subtle ways televised news can attempt to effect certain judgements without even saying a word.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I don't like you anymore Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton on the state of the primaries:

"It'd be a great thing if we had an election where you had two people who love this country, who were devoted to the interest of the country and people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues instead of all this other stuff which always seems to intrude on our politics."

I assume that the other person isn't Hillary.

Bill!  Remember when the whole country was happily united in grunge music, X-Files, and free Internet cash?  I loved the 90's, dude, and you were probably its most important hoarse-voiced, bulbous-nosed dignitary.  We used to be homies-- why are you borrowing from the republican playbook?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Clinton's Swing States

A recent Clinton memo to her supports claims the following:

"The path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue goes through Pennsylvania so if Barack Obama can't win there, how will he win the general election?"

Generally speaking, Clinton's approach to the Primaries is to campaign aggressively in the large swing states. Her logic implies that a strong showing in these states means a strong showing in the general election. While the argument seems sound, the general election is a very different election with very different voters.

Is this a good strategy? On a state-by-state basis, should the same candidate be able to woo democrats in the same proportion as the general electorate?

I've tabulated data from the 2004 and 2000 Democratic Party Primaries in order to better answer this question. I would have liked to include other contests, but it's (shockingly) difficult to find primary data from 1996 and before.

Blue indicates a win, red indicates a loss. Data comes from

2004: John Kerry effectively clinched the nomination on Super Tuesday after runner-up John Edwards dropped out of the race, so I will only examine the pre-Super Tuesday swing states.

The numbers show that there is no distinct correlation between Kerry's performance in the primaries and in the general election. Though he virtually swept the swing states when campaigning against Edwards and Dean, he only won 8 out of 13 versus George Bush.

2000: Like 2004, this was also decided after Super Tuesday. Bill Bradley withdrew from the race after a resounding defeat by Al Gore. However, there were fewer swing states available during this election, so the sample size is much smaller:

Al Gore's commanding primary victory in Ohio (a state that Hillary has made the cornerstone of her campaign) resulted in a clear defeat during the general election. The only "battleground" state he won in both contests was Iowa, by only the slimmest of margins.

So what does this mean for Hillary?

The data shows that the elections are not simply decided by the state, but by the race at hand. Claiming to be able to win certain states simply by the primary results is a serious error, as common sense would indicate.

One last thing: Hillary's campaign promises a strong showing in swing states. But the current list of swing states doesn't seem to agree:

Not only is Hillary's logic flawed, she's not even winning the swing states! Of course, her campaign realizes this, and has declared that the states she lost are the "latte-sipping" boutique states. Regardless, even latte-sippers have delegates, and those delegates count at the national convention.

There's obviously a lot more that could be done with the election data, but I'm no statistician.

I'm only working with popular vote numbers-- Which, as we learned in 2000, is not always a clear indicator of who wins the contest.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Night Skiing

I went up for some leap-night skiing on Friday.  What started out as a beautiful day (I could clearly see Mt. Hood from my window at 2:00pm) turned into a huge snowstorm with 30mph winds.  It was interesting, especially without goggles. 

Pictures are up at Flickr.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Countdown until real Internet: Two days

I've been using Tinyproxy to route my computer's internet connection through my [hacked, TMobile] iPhone.

In theory, it should be good enough for a few days-- EDGE speeds top out around 250k/sec downstream. In practice, though, TMobile's T-Zones network is terrible at maintaining two connections simultaneously. So for me it's a choice between instant messenger, IRC, GMail, etc., and actually being able to pull web pages.

My temporary solution has been to tunnel all traffic through an offsite SSH host (running on port 143 as to fool TMobile's proxy), which seems to help a lot.

I do have an old Powerbook with a broken fan and a broken memory slot. So I've used it occasionnaly at the local internet cafe, underclocking it so that it doesn't overheat, and navigating OSX using a hefty 128mb of built-in RAM. It's (surprisingly) not useful at all, even on a fast connection.

Anyway, this has been a good lesson in a jailbroken iPhone's incredible versatility. It's nice to know that the same device I used to record my blog in Europe can be used (in a pinch) as an EDGE proxy server. On that note, I'm looking forward to the iPhone SDK, which may or may not be released on March 6.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alex's office: Wherin lies the world's worst computer setup

I haven't signed up for cable or DSL yet.  This is mostly because my apartment has excellent line-of-sight with several residential buildings.  There's enough wifi out there to seriously entertain thoughts of saving 35 dollars a month on having a dedicated connection.  

However, I've learned first hand that saving money on something doesn't necessarily increase its overall value-- Which leads me to a short tour of my new "office":

Let's start with my wireless antenna.  It's poked through a hole in the screen.  Since the cord has to run through the window, I can't close it completely, which makes the room colder.  The blue masking tape is to hold it in place in case of a gust of wind blows it open.

The other end of the cord runs to my computer, which, because of a power supply failure a year ago, now occupies a blue plastic storage container.  I didn't feel like buying a shuttle-branded PSU for five times as much simply to keep the case in tact.  

The rest of my computer is on the floor because I don't have a desk yet.

When I have guests over, I share the bootleg signal to my broken-down laptop (which has neither working speakers, fans, expansion RAM slots, or batteries) via ethernet, which in turn shares it over a wireless network called "The World's Most Ghetto Internet".

I mean, I'd get a job and buy some new equipment, but I'm almost proud of how terrible it is at this point.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Return of Blog Title

Finally, I've made the important and momentous transition from homeless to homed.  

I just moved into a cozy little studio in Portland's Chinatown.  I love the spot-- It's everything I was hoping to find in a housing situation at a totally reasonable price-- but it's hard to get used to having a place of my own after so many months of transiency.

Maybe the biggest change is that I have some time (and space) to work on some of my pet projects.  In the coming weeks, I'll be getting started on a few interesting things that I'd like to blog about.  First comes the rebirth of the Cantenna, along with a number of other hardware hacks geared towards energy efficiency and home automation.  Energy conservation is important to me, and living in Portland (the greenest city in America in terms of renewable energy) offers me a good opportunity to live completely carbon-neutral.

Second will be the introduction of a real home page at, where I'll be compiling a portfolio of my work in graphic and software design.  I'm starting to regret that I haven't archived my old projects, since there are many that I've put a lot of time and effort into.  This will be an attempt to better catalog and showcase my future work.

Lastly, I'll be blogging about some of the social and political happenings that are important to me.  We're currently in the middle of a very interesting presidential race-- The type that only seem to come around every thirty or forty years.  Certainly, it has the biggest potential for sweeping reform that I've experienced in my lifetime.  I'm also hoping to occasionally draw attention to certain corporations, groups, and individuals that I feel have been under-scrutinized or ignored by other forms of media.

As I mentioned, this is a big change for me.  I'm not quite used to keeping a regular schedule.  So, I can't promise that I'll be timely (or articulate), but hopefully I'll be able to more consistently write about some of the subjects that I hold dear--  And better yet, pique your interest from time to time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

State of the Alex

I've been pretty busy recently, with the holidays and moving to
Portland and all, so I haven't had time to do much writing on here.
Just wanted to tap the mic a few times and let everyone know I'm still

Since I'm done travelling (for now), I'll be using this space for
posting random updates to my personal life and my thoughts about
high-profile celebrity breakups.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Temp Agency

kelly services