Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Youtube guitar virtuoso discovered, but recipe for Internet fame remains mystery

What makes an Internet star? Irk has previously noted that the jolly, uninhibited geek seems to get some attention. And more recently, it seems that the unassuming guitar virtuoso has been the apple of the Internet's eye (check out his original video here). Certainly, if the emotion in this guy's voice as he begs the youtube gods not to suspend his account is a decent barometer, the pursuit of Internet fame is a time-consuming hobby for many a folk out there. Not entirely sure, however, why that particular fellow thinks that piercing lemons might earn him renown. Far better to wittily comment upon recent news via blog, don't you think?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto gets dwarfed.

It would appear that several love poems, and certainly some new age cults of nature have just been ruined. References, prayers, and odes to the nine planets are officially passe because Pluto has been demoted and is now reclassified as a Dwarf Planet. The NY Times' description makes the whole proceeding sound almost like a political negotiation:
The decision at a conference of 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries was a dramatic shift from just a week ago, when the group's leaders floated a proposal that would have reaffirmed Pluto's planetary status and made planets of its largest moon and two other objects.... That plan proved highly unpopular, splitting astronomers into factions and triggering days of sometimes combative debate that led to Pluto's undoing.
Certainly, some astronomy buffs will mourn Pluto's passing, but I'm sure second graders everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief--eight planets are a lot easier to memorize than twelve.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The endangering species act.

Slate wrestles with the possibility that the Endangered Species Act doesn't serve its intended purpose, but actually, well, endangers species. After all, what would you do if you caught wind of a government plan to restrict the use of land you owned in order to protect an endangered species? If you were seriously concerned with your investment as a land owner, you'd probably try to slip in under the legislative wire and develop the land in whatever possibly lucrative way the government was about to restrict. Chances are, however, if the government hadn't threatened to restrict your land use rights, you might not have developed the land at all--after all, you hadn't already done so.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Americans, online.

There's the privacy-related concerns raised by AOL's release of user logs, and then there's the voyeuristic pleasure that comes from the breach of privacy. This Slate article, besides using the data to analyze the different types of Internet searchers that are out there, also highlights some of the funnier/most disturbing individual search patterns.

Monday, August 14, 2006

CLICHE WATCH: Does money = happiness?

The Daily Irk has previously taken up the relationship between wealth and health, and now turns towards wealth and happiness, of which there is actually a good deal of psychological literature. When all is said and done, it seems that once we move beyond the territory where basic needs are taken care of, wealth is a non-factor in predicting subjective levels of life happiness. People in nations where the the GNP is above $8000 per person report virtually the same degrees of life satisfaction. Likewise, while the filthy rich (we're talking Forbes 100 wealthiest range) do report being being slightly happier than your average Joe, the difference is pretty infinitesmal, and qualitatively, their enormous wealth certainly doesn't serve as a buffer against unhappiness. Finally, it seems that people get accustomed to their increases in financial well-being pretty quickly, such that a change in circumstances only has a positive effect on general happiness for the short term. Win the lotto and you'll pretty quickly just get used to your new lifestyle rather than feeling continually giddy at the material fortune you enjoy. People that predict an increase in personal wealth as the key to a better life are likely wrong, but then so was rapper Notorious B.I.G. when he predicted mo' money mo' problems.

Stupid human tricks.

Any interest in donning a giant space suit covered in wheels--think a rollerblade made for your whole body--and hurtling yourself down hills? A street luge, of sorts. Some French dude thinks this is going to be the next big craze, and has given it a thoroughly horrific name: Buggy Rollin. I don't recommend adding stock in his company to your portfolio.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How to lose your job with one newspaper headline.

Poor Ehud Olmert. The current Prime Minister of Israel did not ask for the job. He was thrust into the position when his predecessor and former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had a debilitating stroke which left him in a coma. Now Olmert is stuck in a difficult war in Lebanon with his hopes of withdrawing from the West Bank dashed. As if that weren't bad enough, check out this headline that appeared in Haaretz, an English language Israeli daily, a couple days ago. "PM wavers over ground ops." It seems to me that the last thing a politician wants at a time of war is to be seen as "wavering." Does this mark the end of Olmert and Sharon's nascent Kadima party? I have my money on Netanyahu of Likud taking over the reigns sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Big Feet . . . Big Footprint

Lately I've been interested in the idea of sustainable living, and in particular the (counter-intuitive) idea that living in a large metropolis like New York City is much more sustainable than living in a suburb. (There's a great New Yorker article about this from 2004 which unfotunately I can't link to, but if you have the complete New Yorker DVD set I recommend "Green Manhattan".) The reasons are varied but include more efficient heating, cooling, food distribution, and of course widely-used public transportation.
Anyway, I found this fantastic little site that allows you to figure out your ecological "footprint" based on how many acres of land it takes to sustain your food needs, to absorb your carbon emissions, etc. Check it out -- despite the annoying universal front page that makes you choose a country/language.

Not enough Joementum

Everyone should know at this point that Joe Lieberman, the 3 term Democratic Senator from Connecticut, lost the Democratic primary last night to Ned Lamont. It seems like it has been all downhill for Lieberman ever since the 2000 election when he was at his peak, receiving more votes for Vice President than the other guy. Since then his presidential campaign was a disaster and now he's potentially lost his job. I've been reading various analyses of the campaign to better understand what it was all about and I must say that I'm at a loss. Was this really just a referendum on the war in Iraq? Was it yet another case of an incumbent Senator who was out of touch with his constituents and lost his way? Was it too late when he realized the threat that Lamont posed? Or is this another example of how the primary system makes it nearly impossible for moderates to win elections these days. What I fear is that it's really the latter and what we get is more partisan bickering and less progress. Rick Santorum, meet Ned Lamont. I'm sure you guys will enjoy working together.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare 2.0

I don't think this article has gotten much attention on the Times website, but it provides an interesting look into the tactics and capabilities of Hezbollah. It seems that the group is far better equipped and, more importantly, far better organized than anyone ever expected. Could this be the future of the war on terror? From the article:
“They [Hezbollah] have staff work and they do long-term planning, something the Palestinians never do,” he [Timur Goksel, the senior political adviser to Unifil] said. “They watch for two months to note every detail of their enemy. They review their operations — what they did wrong, how the enemy responded. And they have flexible tactics, without a large hierarchical command structure.”

That makes them very different from the Soviet-trained Arab armies the Israelis defeated in 1967 and 1973, which had a command structure that was too regimented.

Major media outlet once again says that blogging will not transform the media. Denies self-interest.

The Pew Report on the blogosphere, which has been covered herein previously, is the topic of a Nick Lemann article in the current New Yorker. Once again, the gist of the analysis is that rumors of the demise of the mainstream media at the hands of citizen journalists have been greatly exaggerated. What the blogging world does well, Lemann points out, is serve as a forum for voicing opinion. Indeed, most of the blogs out there are places for people to muse on, well, just about whatever. As such, these citizen journalists are an addendum to the mainstream media, not a transformative force. (And Lemann seems to question, at times, if it is a very worthwhile addendum: "Even at its best and most ambitious, citizen journalism reads like a decent Op-Ed page, and not one that offers daring, brilliant, forbidden opinions that would otherwise be unavailable.") What citizen journalists don't really do--and hence why they will not really change the way that we receive our news--is provide any original reporting. Sure, there are the Internet-only scoops that come from a citizen who happens to be standing by when an event goes down. But when it comes to full-on investigative reporting, Lemann says, it's still the pros that are providing our news. Case in point: Daily Irk, your leading source for re-packaged news.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Need designer lighting for your jet?

In this month's Atlantic, Sheelah Kolhatkar writes about the billionaire service industry. As you would expect, the article explains how difficult it is to be a billionaire and how an industry of service professionals has formed to serve the needs of the ultrarich. My favorite quote from the article comes:
"You have to be selective," says Mark Hancock, a managing director at Tiedemann Trust Company who handles finances for eight ultrarich families. "I'm not just taking any multibillionaire off the street."

I wonder if he laughs himself to sleep at night.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Apparently Stephen Colbert (whose show The Colbert Report is getting funnier by the day) decided to have some phone with the Wikipedia on his show the other day. Here's a description of what happened and the video clip from the show. It seems he tried to prove that the Wikipedia brings rise to a new form of reality--Wikiality--where what gets published on the Wikipedia becomes true (much like how if something is published on the Daily Irk, it must be true). He asked viewers to post bogus information about elephants to the Wikipedia. Fortunately for the Wikipedia, the site's maintenance volunteers were all over it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How to win friends and influence dictators.

If you have a little time on your hands or need something to listen to during your commute, This American Life produced an amusing and thought provoking 45 minute segment about an unusual set of pen pals. The story starts with a family in small town in Michigan watching Manuel Noriega on TV. The father, an avid hat collector, decides he likes Noriega's unique hat, the family decides that their 10 year old daughter might be able to get Noriega to send them one by writing him a letter. What ensues is a unusual friendship between a 10 year old American girl and a notorious dictator and drug trafficker.

One thing you should know about this piece before listening is that it presents a biased and sympathetic view of Noriega which isn't necessarily accurate. If you want to know more about him, the Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of his life and the controversy surrounding his arrest by the United States after the 1989 invasion of Panama.