• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Home Run by the CDC

    If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.govLet me join the blogosphere in congratulating the CDC on a job well done. The recently published "Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse" is an excellent example of the use of social media to convey a message and awareness of target culture to make the message meaningful.*

    The CDC webpage starts with this:

    We’ve all seen at least one movie about flesh-eating zombies taking over (my personal favorite is Resident Evil (External Web Site Icon. [rate:6.4] 78,991 votes), but where do zombies come from and why do they love eating brains so much?

    ...The Zombie Survival Guide identifies the cause of zombies as a virus called solanum.

    While I agree that Resident Evil (the first one) might be my favorite movie as well, we need to thank the spread of the Zombie Survival Guide to image boards like 4chan.org. Many meme's start from its sundry (and not all safe-for-work) pages, including the infamous "you got Rick Rolled" meme.

    KnowYourMeme.com explains the origins of a now ubiquitous Zombie Survival Sheet on 4chan.

    According to the Lurkmore wiki the meme originated from the 4chan’s /k/ board, a board about weaponry, around the late October 2008.
    The board began to be invaded by what they called “zombie threads” in which they were asked to give pieces of advice about the best weaponry choice and plan when facing a zombie outbreak. It was usually resulting in a division between those who wrote the most accurate response they could find and those who didn’t believe in zombies, leading to fiery arguments between the two.

    ...The 29th of October 2008, the meme went to /b/ where another zombie thread popped up. There, the picture began to be reused to fulfill the requests.
    It then came back to the /k/ board, having more and more threads created.

    Instantly, the meme expanded to other boards and other chans, mainly those that got a zombie board.
    That kind of zombie threads, since then, are always present on a regular basis on 4chan as well as other boards.

    It's now almost 24 hours since the CDC tweeted about zombie preparedness, and it's still trending worldwide. In the 30 seconds it took to snap the picture, over 100 new tweets mentioning the CDC zombie preparedness guide rolled in.

    Two opinions on this PR coup by the CDC:

    1. Whomever had the idea for this should get a raise and promotion. Good fresh thinking needed in the government.
    2. This provides a great avenue to remind the public that the CDC isn't wholly comprised of staid, stogy professors sitting in laboratories doing esoteric research. It very much is comprised of smart and lively men and women who often live and do very interesting things. They are much more than the sparse natural disaster warnings that we read about.

    For example, the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) is a 2-year postgraduate fellowship for applied epidemiology. Eyes glaze over? Let me tell you again. The EIS is a small group of people who leave at the drop of a hat to investigate outbreaks like SARS and Ebolla. They fly INTO the eye of the storm while everyone else wants to get away from the diseases. Pretty cool, eh?

    Congratulations, CDC, on a job well done. Now, back to polishing my AA-12.

    *I'll also add a shout out to President Obama, who, for reasons he's responsible for or not, has presided over a government that has made progress by leaps and bounds in the "use of social media" and "awareness of target culture" departments.

    Monday, May 02, 2011

    Osama Bin Laden Dead!

    The death of Osama Bin Laden was announced hours ago by President Obama, and of course Americans have been rejoicing since.

    The story developing about a small assault team of Navy SEALs storming a mansion in the suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan would make a great Hollywood movie. And the remembering of 9/11 and its victims is well deserved.

    However, the president said some truly amazing things in his short speech tonight. First, this tip came to his desk in August 2010 - 9 months ago. Over the last year (basically) that intelligence has been checked, rechecked, and corroborated. Plans have been developed, scrapped, redrawn and practiced repeatedly. Most importantly, people didn't know about it. In a city notorious for leaks, this information didn't.

    In the day of 24hr news, Twitter, and Facebook, we want real-time status updates from all our politicians, including our president, about the fate and direction of our country. When things don't happen perfectly, or we take small set backs on the road to large gains, the people (incited by CNN or not) rise up inflamed. This is what happened in the Vietnam war, before the modern US political machine had a decent idea how to deal with 24hr news. President Nixon swore we were winning the war. The North Vietnamese launch the Tet Offensive and lose almost 80% of their effective army. Our military victory is a huge political loss because all people see is massive fighting and casualties in a country halfway around the world that their president just told them was won and on the road to resolution.

    This reality cost Nixon the white house, plagued President Bush during his terms in office, and forces our leaders to always caution every success story with words like "it's gonna be a long fight" or "this is one small step in a larger effort." As the election cycle heats up, and people start asking "what have you done for me lately?" we need to remember this - that sometimes (maybe most times) the president has done a lot for us lately. We just aren't allowed to know it.

    Secondly, President Obama mentioned he called the president of Pakistan and apprised him of the situation. This means Pakistan had no knowledge of the assault beforehand. Reports of Pakistani presence during the assault are currently elaborated as one intelligence official. This very easily is a euphemism for "CIA contact who is Pakistani."

    This confirms how inept the Pakistani government is at investigating, and how strained our relationship is with the lynch pin of South Asia. We need a Pakistan that effectively helps us find and kill terrorists, and puts pressure on China. Without that, United States presence is woefully weak in the Middle East.

    The rub going forward will be to see how President Obama works and strengthens the US relationship with Pakistan, and how much leeway voters give him for military and security issues he cannot discuss.

    Now, let me join in with all the cheering and revelry:

    Friday, April 29, 2011

    TweetDeck 2.0 for iPhone

    In the new age of microblogging, I spend more time tweeting than blogging. Twitter has become one of the most useful and influential companies in the world, although it has yet to turn a profit.

    One of the reasons it has a hard time turning a profit is because it is often accessed by a multitude of 3rd part applications, and one of the most popular is TweetDeck.

    TweetDeck smoothly integrates A user's twitter feed and facebook update feed. What it didn't have was a touch-screen friendly, iPhone-optimized interface. So, it was rebuilt from the ground up and now achieves both wonderfully.

    I've been notoriously fickle about Twitter apps, preferring to sacrifice Facebook for less crashing, better access to links and pics, etc. with the native Twitter application. I've tried TweetDeck before, but crashes pushed me away.

    TweetDeck 2.0 has solved most of these issues and made me an early, but not 100%, convert. However, I've already noticed some no-brainer wants for 2.1.

    1. Position support - every other program changes when you turn your phone upright or on it's side. TweetDeck should too.
    2. Timestamps - nothing I hate more than opening TweetDeck and not knowing if the "breaking news" tweet waiting for me was a minute or a hour ago.
    3. Colors - you have themes on your desktop version. Bring them here!
    4. Facebook comment fix - when commenting on Facebook, the screen doesn't scroll with you as your comment goes longer than the screen. Makes it really hard to write.
    5. Hashtag bar - TweetDeck has a new wonderful follower bar for adding a twitter handle. Now duplicate it for hashtags.

    Alright. Those are gimme additions. Add those and amaze me. For those looking to get onto twitter or get a new app, TweetDeck is on the recommended list.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Happy Anniversary

    Thirty two years ago today my parents were married. As all of us married-folk know, marriage is a journey and an experience fraught with ups and downs, elation and depression, wonder, excitement, boredom, and contentment.

    It is a testament to my parents' tenacity, strength, moral character, and love that they have made 32 years. The divorce rate in the USA is about half of the marriage rate (3.5 per 1000 people to 6.8 per 1000). And the probability of divorce is staggering.

    "The probability of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within 5 years is 20 percent, ... [and] After 10 years, the probability of a first marriage ending is 33 percent." (Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. Series Report 23, Number 22. 103pp.
    (PHS) 98-1998.)

    Most sources quote the average length of marriage to be 7-10 years. So my parents have tripled this, and AND beat the 33% divorce probability at 10 years.

    Wikipedia gives us this wonderful graphic about marriage and divorce:

    This shows us that my parents chose a great state to live in for their marriage. Texas and east of the Mississippi river have a high proportion of counties with married couples. Conversely, the West Coast is dark blue - divorce! On the other hand, Texas is not the Southeast USA, whose inhabitants clearly have breakup issues, because they are the ONLY part of the country with high separation rates (yet low divorce rates). AND Houston somehow misses the high widow rates of Texas and the Eastern USA (the reason why both my parents are still around!).

    And so I say "Congratulations!!" May you enjoy another 32 great years. In honor of your example and accomplishments, I leave you this gift, from one of my wife and my favorite relationship movies:

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    Butler Wins. BYU Cold.

    What a wonderful time to live in Baton Rouge! I got tickets to the Southeast Regional only one hour away to see my alma mater BYU play.

    They played Florida on Thursday and lost, but it was close - went to overtime. BYU shot 35% for the game - couldn't hit the road side of a barn. And it wasn't due to Florida's defense. One thing I've learned this weekend is that Florida plays mediocre defense at best. Shots just weren't falling. And when you have a cold night, you better have more than one go-to guy. All BYU had was Jimmer, had he couldn't Jimmer his way out of it.

    The second thing I learned is that Jimmer gets unfairly slighted for playing a rough and tumble brand of basketball. I bet Dwayne Wade feels similar since he has a similar style of play in the NBA. There were many calls today in the Butler v Florida game that never got called for Jimmer on Thursday. A hack per shot was let go, and only if egregious did something get called.

    Third, all three games went down to the wire. What a great regional! No blowouts like Other regionals. Unfortunately, with all these close games, and close calls, the NCAA doesn't allow replays in the arena. Boo! What a horrible decision by the communist NCAA. They censor things so we can't see when refs do things wrong. They look the other way when a father sells his quarterback son to the highest bidder. They allow athletes that sell merchandise to play in bowl games. Corruption almost as bad as FIFA - and that's saying something.

    Finally, although it's only the Elite 8, our TBE Play For A Cause pool is down to the final four: Roger with SOS Charities, Julie with Ovarian Cancer Alliance, Amanda with Ronald McDonald House, and Nate with Harvesters. Good luck to everyone. The fates of these four charities hangs on the results of Kansas v VCU and UNC v Kentucky tomorrow. By the time the Final Four is set, our winning charity might be set too.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    March Madness 2011 ... Go!

    My favorite time of year is here - March Madness. In fact, you could say Opening Day is my second favorite holiday (behind Halloween of course).

    On twitter, @RossTuckerNFL, a sportswriter for ESPN, said

    My parents used to let me stay home from school on first day of NCAA tourney if my grades were good. That's just stellar parenting ...

    Awesomest. Parents. Ever. (sorry mom & dad. I still love you.)

    Excepting the new "First Four," which stunk worse than a hog pen with diarrhea, this year has done nothing but live up to the hype. Four of the first five games ended on last second shots. The rest were close for a good ways. BYU is still in it.

    And of course, we have a new pool. This year has 11 people, and would have had two more but a few stalwarts missed the deadline to submit brackets. So, I can't say we've increased our numbers every year. BUT ... we added a lot of new people this year, so the fever is growing.* With help from my brother, next year will be on its own webpage with easy to use brackets and tax deductible donations!

    So, congratulations to those surviving the first day of upsets in the lead.

    *I've got a fever. The only cure for it is MORE COWBELL!

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Selection Sunday 2011

    Today is one of the biggest days in Sports, and few real games happen. Crazy, huh?

    On that note, here's a crazy view of Selection Sunday.

    Get ready to fill out your brackets!

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    FIFA Presidency

    Anyone who half-follows soccer, and even those who only follow it every four years during the World Cup, probably know two things:

    1. FIFA international soccer is corrupt, and
    2. FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, is a moron.

    Corruption was nowhere more evident then in the recent bidding for the rights to host World Cups 2018 and 2022. Spain/Portugal was accused of colluding with Qatar, some FIFA ex-co members were dismissed for bribery, and Qatar won the 2018 bid due to shady, probably "technically legal" (emphasis on the quotation marks) actions, including promising to subsidize public works in home countries of voting members.

    Sepp Blatter is a moron because he continues to fight against umpire transparency and instant replay like an ostrich who sticks his head in the ground at first sight of progress. His allegation that the game at the top needs to be the same as the game in the poorest part of Africa is about as intelligent as a sea slug commenting on Freakonomics. The NFL doesn't play exactly like high school football because the realities and exigencies are different. There's more money on the line. There's an ability to do more. The players move faster and hit harder. Although the framework of the game is the same, the paradigm is much different. It'd be like me treating all my pediatric patients as if they were standard 70kg adult males. Malpractice.

    So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this video on Sports Illustrated from Grant Wahl lobbying for FIFA presidency. Although partially (mostly?) done in jest, it draws attention to the absurdity of FIFA, and media coverage is just what we need to continue to pressure FIFA for reforms.

    Ultimately, I'm too cynical to think anything will change - heck, this sport encourages corruption from the ground up with players faking injuries all the time - but the video is funny and gives me a ray of hope.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Vietnam's Succession, Part 2

    The comment on my previous post ended with,

    Everybody sighs, the price is higher and higher. I hope that in the future i won't take a bag of money to buy a loaf of bread.

    Quite telling, because we've seen this happen within the last hundred years in Europe and Africa ... and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam.

    The price of Vietnam's mishandled and stymied growth is inflation joined with the VND weaking against the USD concurrently, all within a culture conditioned over the last 35 years to distrust banks and investment in their own economy.

    "How does this hit me?" you ask.

    For example, let's say you and a friend graduate college and start teaching English on this exact date last year (February 9, 2010). At that time, you and your friend are given the option to be paid in USD or VND.

    (Now, you might say I'm stupid, and everyone would get paid in USD, but that partially highlights the lack of confidence the Vietnamese have for their currency which feeds into this problem.)

    Your salary would be $8 USD/hr and your friend's 147,759.884 VND/hr at the exchange rate of 18469.9855 VND per USD on Feb. 9, 2010.

    Now fast forward one year later. The exchange rate today (Feb 9, 2011) is 19500.0366 VND per USD. Inflated 5.6% over a 1 year period. Or, in other words, you would still be making $8 USD/hr, but your friend would now be making $7.58 USD/hr.

    That slight difference ends up costing your friend about $6 million VND per 40 hour work week which is no laughing matter. Your choice 1 year ago nets you $24 million VND MORE than your friend per month.

    I hope you treat your friend to a nice lunch every month ...

    The real crunch comes because,
    1. Businesses understand this phenomenon so they write their contracts in VND in order to take advantage of the VND weakening against the dollar, and
    2. when coupled with the general inflation the country experiences as, on a whole, it gets richer, the common worker has less liquid cash than previous, and
    3. 70% of GDP is in Ho Chi Minh City, so although you might survive the numbers crunch in the city, few people unlucky enough to be born/live outside TPHCM will have the money necessary to move to the city for education or a better job.

    (All data from www.mataf.net)

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    Super Bowl XLV Commercials

    Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for an enjoyable victory over the Pittsburg Steelers. After jumping to a 21-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter, I thought it might be a sleeper, but the Steelers made a game of it. If "Big Ben" Roethlisberger hadn't sucked it up on football's grandest stage, the game might truly have been epic.

    But that fits, because the commercials - for which the Super Bowl has become known for almost more than the game itself - were just as underwhelming. In fact, most commercials worthy of watching once (let alone again) were aired in the first quarter, and definitely in the first half, of the game. The last quarter was an absolute snoozer.

    Below is my top 10 of Super Bowl commercials:

    1. Audi Rich People Jail
    There will always be debates with these top 10 lists, but I went with this commercial for two (three?) reasons: car commercials are usually extremely boring (and this wasn't), car commercials are usually very hackneyed (which this wasn't), and for #3, they had a great line about Kenny G.

    2. Doritos' Resurrecting Crumbs
    This is almost 1a in my book. Doritos has a string of Super Bowl hits over the last couple years, and should win an award for "lifetime achievement" at Super Bowl commercials. Plus, they should give their marketing department a huge bonus. The take on resurrecting grandpa was classic. Just classic.

    3. Doritos Finger Licking
    This is what makes Doritos so amazing - their second commercial is almost better than their first while taking a totally different comedic tact. The guy sucking his coworker's finger was both the most disgusting thing I've seen in a long time (and I deal with buttock abscesses people) and hilariously funny.

    4. Motorola Xoom Tablet circa 1984
    Many people might not have this commercial rated as highly as I do, but let me explain before you bash. Apple has an iconic touchscreen tablet that rules the market. Apple also busted onto the scene years ago with an iconic 1984-themed commercial taking down Microsoft. Motorola now is repeating the favor with a break-the-mold 1984-themed commercial as it tries to break into the iPad world. Genius.

    5. Coca-cola Border Guards
    Drawing the line in the sand around the Coke bottle and then rubbing the old line away with his foot brought back flashes of Col. William Travis drawing the line in the sand at the Alamo. Perhaps if the Texans had Coca-cola at the time and shared it with the Mexicans, everything could have been resolved peacefully (see honorable mention Coca-cola Dragon commercial for possible results of said action).

    6. Pepsi Max Jealous Girlfriend
    I'm on the fence about whether this is truly #6 or somewhere around #26. But the man trying to hide his good tasting but fattening food spoke to me. Perhaps I'm living that as well. And when his wandering eyes cause his girlfriend to throw the Pepsi ... well, that was classic.

    7. Volkswagen Passat Darth Vader
    To be honest, I had this one lower on my list at first also, but the sheer number of people who like Star Wars and cute commercials had me reconsider it. Some of my fondest smiles come when I make my son's eyes light up. Good commercial.

    8. Teleflora Nice Rack
    This was probably the best of the two or three email themed commercials. Personally, I've always been in favor of telling it like it is. Girls feign disgust to such responses, but in my experience, they typically are flattered that you find them attractive so they come around and you get the date. Plus, we all know that girls like jerks.

    9. Coca-cola World of Warcraft Dragons
    Amazing commercial because it brought back thoughts of WoW and Avatar (the fight between the Northern Water Tribe and the Fire Kingdom anybody?). Plus, it was cool to see how they turned it "warm and fuzzy" when it was a war-themed.

    10. Groupon Tibet
    I love Tibet, and this "Tibetan culture is fading" theme got bonus points even though Groupon twisted it to their nefarious coupon-hawking machinations. Score one for being civic-minded.

    Saturday, February 05, 2011

    Vietnam's succession

    Recently the Wall Street Journal published a small story about the change in power taking place in Vietnam.
    HANOI—Vietnam's Communist Party reappointed Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to its elite Politburo at a secretive congress Wednesday ... indicat[ing] Vietnam will likely continue its pro-growth policies. In recent years, that has meant plowing billions of dollars into subsidizing lending programs and other state-driven spending plans to maintain rapid expansion despite bouts of inflation.

    The inflation is truly incredible. While in Vietnam in April 2010, I saw a dollar strengthen against the Đồng to heights unimaginable when I first traveled to the country 6 years earlier. Currently the inflation is double digits, and a dollar that used to get you 15,000 VND now gets you almost 20,000 VND.

    Worse, it's pinching the populace. A plate of rice for lunch at a street vendor was only 5000 VND in 2004. Now, with the government trying to kowtow to foreign investment and "clean up" its image, the combination of inflation and cracking down on street vendors has caused that rice dish to shoot up towards 15000 VND in many parts of Ho Chi Minh City.

    So, for a 33% increase in inflation, a lunch is almost 300% more expensive.

    I clearly remember driving down CMT8 towards chợ Bến Thành when a police truck pulled out from a corner alley and two police men slowly moved to meet it dragging a street vendor's cart. On the other side of the cart, pulling with all her might, was a middle aged woman in threadbare clothes, her black hair tied back, shouting curses and crying. Eventually the cops put that woman's lifeline on the back of their truck and sped away, leaving her in a heap on the side of the road.

    That is an "open" economy, mismanaged due to lack of competition stemming from nepotism and a flawed philosophy by Mr. Nguyễn who
    "encouraged state-owned enterprises to expand into large conglomerates to keep large parts of the economy in Vietnamese hands while the country opened up more to foreign investment. But state-directed lending bred inefficiency and reckless expansion at many state-owned companies ..."
    Let's hope this round of government moves Vietnam one step closer to a more competitive government in addition to its more competitive marketplace.