Amtrak chair: new pres from the airlines; adios x-country

In an interview mostly notable for its focus on killing long distance rail service (when you hear phrases like "re-evaluate,""scrub," and "nothing is off the table," you're being prepped for an announcement) there was this gem:

"David Laney also told reporters in an interview after a Senate hearing the board probably will not name a new Amtrak president before mid-May but could consider someone from the airline industry to replace David Gunn.

Gunn, an experienced rail executive, was fired last fall after not supporting key elements of the board's business reform plan, which is being driven by the Bush administration."

— Via Reuters

It's not enough that they axed David Gunn for trying to run the system right, now they want to replace him with someone from the airline industry? Oh, well, I guess an airline exec will know a thing or two about running a corporation floated by government subsidies, but other than that, where's the experience base? Is there some merger-downsized-CEO Bush contributor who needs a place to "retire?"

Or just someone with no political aspirations who can take on the job of killing Amtrak and finally removing the alternative to expensive (in the TCO, environmental sense), federally monitored transportation, and funnel that extra traffic back to his former industry.

Check out Jonathan Coulton, awesome geek musician

I'd seen him blogged on BoingBoing a couple times, but heck, there' s just so MUCH good stuff there you can't follow every link. Do yourself a favor: go download Coulton's Xmas-postcard-from-a-robot-ruled-asteroid "Chiron Beta Prime", and you'll be hooked.

Coulton is more than just an sfnal bard (although "The Future Soon" nails adolescent cyborg fantasies, and "Skullcrusher Mountain" makes Dr. Moreau look like an intern.) But what's equally amazing is his range -- "Ikea," an anthem capturing the lingonberry essence of the franchise, a lounge version of "Baby Got Back," which channels James Taylor, and the raunchy power-rock "Mandelbrot Set," which contains perhaps the best non-mathematical description of that enigmatic 2.5d space. You'll know it when you hear it.

Suck down a whole mess of free mp3s from his "Thing a week" feed, and then you can buy the rest, DRM-less, from his site. Thanks, Ron for your persistence in spreading the JC meme!

Miss Deaf Texas killed by train; SMS gets blame

Less responsible media outlets (like, say, CNN) trumpet "while she was text messaging," but the local paper has it "minutes later," which is less likely to get national air. Blame the victim and the new technology, not any inherently unsafe rights-of-way. One has to wonder if there's a Railroad industry "Go Team" that just sits around, waiting to pounce on AP stringers with a bag of pre-spun bullshit.

Via the Austin American-Statesman.

Unbearably cute/precocious Jack-ism

Our brilliant six-year-old, like many kindergartners, brings a stuffed "cuddle toy" to school for those rare occasions when he can still be coaxed into a nap. We were hustling to get home on Friday and forgot "Tigery" (whose species can be taken as read) in Jack's cubby. The following conversation ensued at bedtime:

"But he'll be all alone in the school all weekend."
"Well, I'm sure there are probably a few other stuffed animals there — don't you think when there are no people around that they'll all play together?"

That seemed to satisfy him briefly, then...

"But he'll get hungry!"
"Oh, I don't think so. What about all that milk they keep in the refrigerator?"
"But," wailed Jack, "Tigery is lactose-intolerant!"

Cramer googling yields SmartFilter censor's idea of fun

You may have been following BoingBoing's stand against being categorized as porn and censored by web-filtering company Secure Computing, but ace writer and blogger Kathryn Cramer has taken it to a whole new level.

Googling their spokescensor turned up what would appear to be rather interesting kinks. If he hasn't been the victim of an elaborate prank wish list, he's due for some fun in the mail...

Sez Kathryn...
I bought a book this morning for Secure Computing's SmartFilter censor Tomo Foote-Lennox and videotaped the experience. I was Googling his name to see if my posts mentioning him had been indexed by Google, and I made an interesting discovery. I noticed that there was a link to a review he'd posted on Amazon and I decided to learn a little more about his tastes, which are apparently very interesting. As it turned out, he'd only ever reviewed that one item.

But he did have a Wish List, which I did have a look at. While it contained only two items...

Read more at Secure Computing: Fullfuling a Wish for the Censor

Fight AOL's two-tiered Internet

STOP AOL's Email Tax A groundswell of organizations is gathering to oppose AOL's plan to create a fee-for-delivery e-mail system. While their justification is to relieve spam, the actual impact would be to provide a higher class of service to large mailers willing to pay, while freezing out non-profits and small groups.

This is a misguided attempt to monetize their customer base, and it is just repugnant. I've been an AOL member and supporter for a very long time -- my screen name is "McDaid," with no letters or numbers, which should tell you something -- and I've never considered canceling my service. Until now.

New video proves Bush knew about levee risk and lied

Lied, lied, lied. Video from August 28 shows Bush being warned. On "Good Morning America," on September 1, he said ''I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.'' (Via NYTimes Select) If I were a White House spinmeister, I'd keep harping on the difference between "overtopping" and "breaching." I'd also start floating my résumé.

"A newly leaked video recording of high-level government deliberations the day before Hurricane Katrina hit shows disaster officials emphatically warning President Bush that the storm posed a catastrophic threat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and a grim-faced Bush personally assuring state leaders that his administration was "fully prepared" to help."    — Via the Washington Post

Sometimes, it just depends on what the meaning of "total incompetence" is.

Defend BoingBoing; display tasteful nudity for (against, really) SmartFilter

Boycott SmartfilterOkay, with all the monstrous crap afflicting our world, you may raise an eyebrow about stressing over Smartfilter, a web content censoring service, that put BoingBoing on their blacklist because they refuse to create identifiable URLs for posts containing nudity.

But it's the thin edge of the wedge. Google self-censoring in China, Yahoo flipping on a journalist, and now these quote-unquote content filtering services deciding what corporate America and indeed whole countries (like the UAE) can access. As the power of the Web has grown, so has scrutiny on just how "free" information can be.

For every non work-safe post (including, for example, nudity among the tortured in Abu Ghraib), BoingBoing serves the Web community with an enormous number of incredibly useful, cutting-edge tidbits, and that deserves a bit of righteous indignation. Learn more about the issue or display the naughty bits of Michelangelo's David to vex the censorware makers.

Final Nebula ballot -- disappointment (and relief...)

The final 2005 Nebula ® ballot has been posted on the SFWA site and while "Keyboard Practice" wasn't selected, I'm very happy it made it as far as it did in such distinguished company. All the novelettes this year were exceptional, and best of luck to everyone on the final ballot.

Truth to tell, a part of me is actually, well, a bit relieved. It would be a pretty scary burden to be a Nebula nominee with just your third published story. And I had no idea, if it came to that, how the hell I would have gotten to Tempe. I don't fly, and Amtrak was obscenely expensive.

Lemonade out of lemons? You bet. But the glass is half full, and it's on to the next story.

Overclock your brain with "Mind Performance Hacks"

Mind Performance HacksWant to count to a million on your fingers? Do back-of-envelope Bayesian analysis? Learn Morse code? Evade linguistic bias? Or, maybe just boost creativity?

Check out Mind Performance Hacks, a brand-new title from O'Reilly. Ron Hale-Evans, game designer and founder of the Mentat Wiki, picks up where the more theoretical Mind Hacks left off, and provides a toolkit for improving cognitive function.

Ron offers 75 memory tricks, mental math shortcuts, aids to creativity and clarity, and tips for improving mental fitness, drawing on cognitive theory and grounded in practical application. I found hack #18, "Pre-delete cruft," immediately applicable ("When you initiate an activity, determine a kill date for it at the same time." I love the idea of mercilessly purging timestamped folders without having to look or think about the contents again.) Also highly useful are the survey of different memorization systems from Lewis Carroll to Frank Gilbreth, and the decision-making hacks that employ Likerts, Gott's Principle, and iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas.

And hey, any book draws on Greg Egan's idea of the exoself and uses research to say I should play more video games to decrease the time it takes to task-switch is okay by me.

Full disclosure: I've known Ron for a long time -- ran into him in a chat on Bitnet, which tells you *how* long. But hadn't talked to him in years, and this book was a delightful re-acquaintance.