bodies, bodies, everywhere

The body exhibits that seem to be all over now came up in conversation at Thanksgiving dinner last night. My uncle claimed that the bodies at "BODIES... The Exhibition" in Seattle were obtained in a shady manner and that it shouldn't be supported. He recommending going to see "Body Worlds 3" in Vancouver instead. A bit of reading tonight confirmed that this is indeed the case. While "Body Worlds" may not be getting all of their body parts from donation, at least they aren't using whole unclaimed cadivers from China.

As a side note, Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of the preserving process (called plastination) employed in these exhibits and the person behind "Body Worlds", is totally a mad scientist, as can be seen in his interview with the times and his short mini series on channel 4 in the UK. He apparently has offered to pay the worlds tallest man a one-time payment and a life-long pension if he agreed to have his body plastinated after death, he danced while costumed as a plastinate in Berlin's Love Parade, and, in 2002, he performed the first public autopsy in the UK in the last 170 years.

your mom

A birthday present from my brother. I need to figure out how to explain this to people who don't know me. It was hard enough explaining it to my parents.


Challenges (a.k.a. prizes) seem like a great idea to me. If you have a problem but have no idea how to solve it yourself, you get some money together, do some PR and wait for entries to come in. The money part doesn't even seem to be very important if you really nail the PR part. People naturally like to compete.

Some of my favorite challenges of the last few years include

I saw a book talk recently by Joseph Stiglitz. During the talk he mentioned using prizes as a way to eliminate drug patents. For example, all the countries of the world could pool their funds for a cure to AIDS and if one is found, the winning group is given the prize money and the drug goes into the public domain.

I'd like to see this idea taken a step farther and use it as a method for donating money. You have some trustworthy non-profit build a website which allows people to submit descriptions of world problems. Others can read the descriptions and donate money to a prize funds they deem important. What is nice about being a donor in this system is that you don’t need to figure out which specific non-profit you want to support, you instead just need to decide which of the worlds problems you want to see solved.

If enough money was raised in these prize funds, this could change the non-profit sector in some interesting way. For instance, if there were huge prizes for cures to diseases only found in Africa, drug companies may actually start doing research on these diseases. The biggest issue I can see is that donations in this system would not be tax deductible.

Guess the country...

It is a developed country that enjoyed faster economic growth than the US over the past decade. Yet it also offers universal healthcare and other social welfare benefits that the US does not. Unemployment is similar to America’s, but without the glaring income disparities that characterize US growth. It is a country that seems to have achieved a sweet spot, combining the vigor of American capitalism with the humanity of European welfare, yet suffering the drawbacks of neither. And it manages this while keeping a consistent budget surplus. That country, rolling into its 16th year of uninterrupted growth, is...

Click for Answer

"and do the other things"

While watching "From the Earth to the Moon" tonight, I noticed Kennedy saying something during his famous "We choose to go to the moon" speech that I had never picked up before (in bold below).
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
What were these other things that Kennedy was referring to? Missions to Mars? A space station? It turns out he was referring to the statements he had just made previously.
But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
Not quite as exciting as I thought but it is still a great speech. Thanks to Chuck in the comment section of this article for setting the record straight.

why we fight

I just finished watching 'Why We Fight', a documentary made last year on history of war involving the US, focusing on Iraq. Perhaps I have been living under a rock but today was the first time I heard of the film despite the fact that it won Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize in 2005. I can't do the film justice in a short summary but I strongly urge you to take a look. This is what Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 should have been. Leave it to the BBC to get it right.

The overwhelming question in my mind right now is not "why we fight?" but "why do I still live in a country that operates this way?".

Update: I have had almost a week to process this film. I still think it is a very well done documentary, despite some of the user comments on IMDB. Is it biased? Perhaps. However, I think more than anything we need to start having a national dialog addressing some of the issues raised in this film.

Survival Items

I realized today that the lack of traditional media in our house could be very bad in an emergency. We lack both a TV and a radio, so something like the emergency alert system is useless. I discovered that a few companies make NOAA radios that act like fire alarms and start beeping if an alert is issued in your area. NOAA's site has details of their system but for some reason these radios are lacking from the recommended items for a survival kit on

I am also in the process of building a survival kit. These bars are crazy: 3 days worth of food with a 5 year shelf life for $3.95.

Wikipedia in the classroom

This is a great idea. It would teach children many important values outside of the subject matter in question, including

  • the need to always question the source of one's information

  • how a community of people, each making small contributions, can achieve monumental results (like the worlds largest encyclopedia)

GreaseMap and A9Gmap

I've been playing around with yelp (a great source of fresh restaurant reviews for san francisco) over the weekend. While I was jumping between amazon's street level photos and google maps, I was reminded of a greasemonkey script I started to write awhile ago to merge the two. Since my javascript skills are weak and I really don't want to invest the time needed to change that, I went to the greasemonkey script page to add a script request. There, I was greeted instead by A9Gmap, which actually adds the amazon street level photo to the info bubble on Badass. Additionally, I spotted GreaseMap, which uses the new google maps API to add maps to any page in which it detects an address.

Now I get embedded google maps while surfing yelp (example), however, there are no embedded amazon photos within the embedded google maps. If only A9Gmap and GreaseMap would merge...


I am sick of physical spam. At least 3/4 of all mail I receive is from credit card companies trying to give me a new card. What I never understood is why they didn't actually learn over time and stop sending me crap. I have not once responded to one of these. For instance here is a snippet from a recent credit report which lists every time capital one requested a credit background check:

Who knows how many times they actually sent me something. I randomly met someone who works at Captial One a few weeks back at a party. I pulled a Christophe "How can you sleep at night?" on him and he explained that he actually was working on systems that would send out more targeted mailings but it is very hard to convince the higher ups in the company because they only need a 0.4% reply rate to make money. 0.4%!?!? At first I though raising the bulk rate for mailings would help, but it appears that it is not a significant savings (24 cents instead of 37 cents). Any ideas?