Day One Maury

Maury: "Derek, what do you do when you fall off the horse?" Silence. "You get back on! That's what this business is all about!"
Derek: "Sorry, Maury. But I'm not a gymnast."
For the first time in a long time, three months to be exact, I dressed for work today. No, I haven't been going to the office naked for three months. My sabbatical came to an end.
I woke up and realized I needed to press a shirt for work. Quite a change from my time hiking the Inca Trail, when I wore clothes that had been crumpled and stuffed into my pack for days.
You know what feels especially fresh after a layoff from work? The wrists. Typing hundreds of e-mails each week takes its toll on your hands. My fingers and wrists felt strong and limber today. They felt slightly less so after I worked my way through most of the 3,500 e-mails that had accumulated during my leave.
I saw a few folks, but for the most part I laid low. I feel like a stranger in the office, like an outsider. Like that feeling you have when walking into your room after months away. Everything is familiar but new--it's a dreamlike state, like deja vu. If only we could take regular breaks from all the familiar places in our life, they'd always seem fresh, magical.
Having been away for so long, there's much culture and news to assimilate. A not so brief tour of some of it...
Tufte on Powerpoint

Edward Tufte, author of what I consider to be essential reference books such as The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, writes an interesting critique of Microsoft Powerpoint. It costs $7, but it's worthwhile. Powerpoint has always been the weak link in Microsoft Office, and they I know it inside out, my relationship with it has always been one of reluctant acceptance. Not even love hate, because there isn't much love there.
How many airplanes are over the United States right now

A short clip illustrating a day in the life of air traffic over the U.S. (Quicktime movie). Cool.
A graphic of all the flights and bus rides and horse rides and train rides and hikes I took while in South America would look something like that as well.
Exponential hype

Has there every been a movie more hyped than Matrix Reloaded? The practice of offering pre-screenings and access to either Time or Newsweek in advance in exchange for a cover story (The Two Towers was the previous movie to make that type of business deal, in exchange for one of those covers, I think it was Time) is already getting old. I'm a fairly big film geek, but let's be honest. A blockbuster movie doesn't really merit the cover of Time magazine, not at this time in the world, and perhaps not ever. Standing in the airport on arrival in the U.S. from South America I saw Morpheus and Trinity and Neo staring at me from every second magazine cover.
I haven't seen the movie yet (being on sabbatical meant a temporary demotion from the ranks of the opening day fanatics, but the next time I'm in line for the first showing at Cinerama, say for LOTR: Return of the King, don't call it a comeback), but the expectations are so great that some backlash and letdown is inevitable. The "okay people, let's get real, it's just a movie and not some philosophical masterpiece" articles were bound to happen at some point after the first movie inspired books with titles like Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix.
After the uniqueness of the first movie (American movies that appropriate visual tropes from Japanese anime and Chinese martial arts cinema is always considered fresh in this country), it's hard to imagine the second movie being superior except in budget and special effects.
Okay, so the Wachowski brothers aren't the next coming of Kierkegaard and Baudrillard. I hope that amidst the marketing blitz no one made the mistake in thinking that they were.
Apple Music Store

The new Apple music store is very solid. The solution is not complex. In fact, it's built on components that have been available all along. (1) Selection: Apple has songs from all five major music labels (2) Micropayments: allows users to download individual songs for the fair price of $0.99 (3) Ownership: the service allows users unlimited burning of the songs to CDs and generous sharing of the songs across their iPod and 3 Mac computers.
My main quibble is that the selection, while it includes albums from all five major music labels, is still just a fraction of the music available from their vaults. It will likely take some time before all the artists allow their music to be shared digitally through the Apple music store, but it's futile to resist. There are still numerous albums and artists I'd like to see represented. Let's hope their early success convinces holdouts to cross the line.
I'd also prefer that the $0.99 price per song be inclusive of sales tax. But that's just me being greedy, since I don't really mind odd prices ($1.07 per track after sales tax in Washington) when I'm paying with a credit card.
All in all, the new music store is a surprising but well-executed move on the part of Apple. It won't eliminate or even significantly dent music piracy, but count me among the converted who are happy to fork over $0.99 for a good tune. Another reason, if you're considering joining the Mac community, to follow through.
PowerPC 970

And a second reason to make the Mac leap sometime in the next year? Perhaps a launch of a new processor architecture, finally bringing Apple out of the dark ages and into greater parity with the Intel and AMD processors powering most Windows boxes.
Considering the popularity of Macs as multimedia editing machines, the new processors can come none too soon. Rendering certain effects on a Mac can be painfully slow.
Lance, part deux

Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins are working on a sequel, Every Second Counts, to the bestselling biography It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. I'm counting down every second, though it doesn't look like it will be ready for me to carry with me up the Alps in July.
The few. The proud.

If TV marketing held complete sway over me, I'd most definitely be a Marine. Great commercials.
Sports break

Bill James, every interesting, both for his analysis and his crusty personality, conducted a chat at ESPN today. His sharp tongued writing is always entertaining, particularly in a chat environment where he can always get the last word. An example:
Tim - Cohasset, MA: Bill, I'm very interested in your work and was wondering how a 20 year old college student would get in on the ground floor working for a team like the Red Sox.
Bill James: Learn to throw 95

Come to think of it, Bill James and Edward Tufte have a lot in common. Among the fun assertions he makes, in the chat, is that the three most valuable commodities in baseball, in order, are Alex Rodriguez, Mark Prior, and Vladimir Guerrero. Good news for Cubs fans. Maybe the Cubbies can sign Vlad in the offseason and get two out of three. I don't think Cubs fans realize yet how good Mark Prior can be. He's certainly the pitcher you'd draft first in the entire major leagues if you held a major league wide draft.
Speaking of the Cubbies, they pulled out a 17 inning game today. The Cubs are going to break the single season strikeout record they themselves set two years ago (that's my prediction). They are stocked up and down with power arms, and today Todd Wellemeyer struck out the side for the save in his major league debut. He was throwing 95 mph cheese and mixing in an 84 mph changeup with very good arm action. Granted, it was against the strikeout prone Brewers, but still, a lot of the Cubs strikeouts have to do with the power arms on their staff. They have a seemingly endless supply of 6' 3" to 6' 6" right handers who throw in the mid 90's. Nasty. Now if the Cubs pick up Mike Lowell from the Marlins before the trading deadline, I'm going to start getting nervous, in a good way.
4 is an unlucky number in Chinese

As the ever smart John Hollinger predicted, the Lakers succumbed the the Spurs, ending their run of championships at 3. Even with Rick Fox, their bench was terrible, and a lot of their loss this year should be blamed on their general manager, who did nothing to bolster their team behind Kobe and Shaq. I was no fan of Jerry Krause, but at least he knew that restocking around Jordan and Pippen was his single most important job, and he did his job well. It doesn't take much when you have two players as good as Kobe and Shaq, so it's a particularly egregious failure on the part of Lakers management.
The Bulls formula was straightforward. Surround Jordan and Pippen with strong jumpshooters to take the kickouts (Kerr, Paxson) and defenders (Grant, Rodman, Harper). The supporting cast knew their roles. Poor Kobe and Shaq had nothing to work with this year. Still, as a Bulls fan, I'm pretty happy to see the Lakers stopped short of 4 in a row. Sam Smith always claims the Bulls couldn't have won four in a row even if Jordan had stuck around after either of the runs of 3 championships, but I disagree. I like Kobe and Phil, but I like Jordan even more.
Fun players to watch when they're hot: Kobe (like Jordan, has developed into a dangerous 3 point threat when it counts), Nick Van Exel (pretty left-handed stroke), Allen Iverson (can embarrass defenders in a greater variety of ways than any player in the NBA), Tracy McGrady (always the chance he'll dunk in a way that will strip his defender of all manhood), and Dirk Nowitzki (the ball hits his hands and then is gone a second later in a beautiful arc towards the basket, no matter where he is on the court). Maybe Paul Pierce, and Peja. Tim Duncan isn't terribly exciting to watch, but his footwork is beautiful.