Yeah, um, this is why I don't drive a Ferrari.


Garry Kasparov is known mostly for being a great chess player, but I'm impressed with his writing ability. I don't know enough about chess to characterize his playing style, but there is a precise and clinical objectivity to his writing that feels like it might arise from a mind optimized to the playing of a game with the nature of chess.

This review of the Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness in The New York Review of Books is a case in point.

In his play, Fischer was amazingly objective, long before computers stripped away so many of the dogmas and assumptions humans have used to navigate the game for centuries. Positions that had been long considered inferior were revitalized by Fischer’s ability to look at everything afresh. His concrete methods challenged basic precepts, such as the one that the stronger side should keep attacking the forces on the board. Fischer showed that simplification—the reduction of forces through exchanges—was often the strongest path as long as activity was maintained. The great Cuban José Capablanca had played this way half a century earlier, but Fischer’s modern interpretation of “victory through clarity

Taking the status quo for granted

A short interview with Peter Thiel, who sounds like an interesting thinker just based on this read.

Thiel: People take it for granted that their retirement funds can earn 8.5 percent a year. That’s what their financial planners tell them. And sure, you look back over the past 100 years, the stock market has generally gone up 6 to 8 percent a year. But in a larger historical perspective, that kind of growth is exceptional. If you had done the equivalent of investing in the stock market from, say, 1000 to 1100 AD, you would not have made 8 percent a year. During the fall of the Roman Empire, you’d have been lucky to get zero. We’ve been living in a unique period of accelerating technological progress. We’ve gone from horses to cars to planes to rockets to computers to the Internet in a very short time. It’s not automatic that that continues.

Wired: What happens if we don’t get the growth everyone expects?

Thiel: If it doesn’t happen, people will go bankrupt in retirement. There are systemic consequences, too. If we don’t have enough growth, we will see a powerful shift away from capitalism. There are good things and bad things about capitalism, but inequality becomes completely intolerable to society when everything’s static.

As I get older, the thing I try to emphasize most in my thinking is to challenge all assumptions. We all tend to accept too many things as gospel because they've always been that way.

Education, for example, is important, but is our current global school system the best one for the job? Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk this year drilled in on that question. Here's an excerpt, with Robinson's full talk embedded below.

If you were to visit education as an alien and say what's it for, public education, I think you'd have to conclude, if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners, I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn't it. They're the people who come out the top. And I used to be one, so there. And I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn't hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They're just a form of life, another form of life. but they're rather curious and I say this out of affection for them, there's something curious about them, not all of them but typically, they live in their heads, they live up there, and slightly to one side. They're disembodied. They look upon their bodies as a form of transport for their heads, don't they? It's a way of getting their head to meetings.

If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a residential conference of senior academics, and pop into the discotheque on the final night, and there you will see it, grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat, waiting until it ends so they can go home and write a paper about it.

Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason. The whole system was invented round the world there were no public systems of education really before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.

So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas: Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician; don't do art, you're not going to be an artist. Benign advice -- now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.

And the second is, academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way.

Antichrist...Rated E for Egad

Hot rumor of the day is that Lars Von Trier's controversial movie Antichrist, which caused the biggest ripples at Cannes this year, will be made into a PC-only videogame. Yes, the same Antichrist which features onscreen genital mutilation, said genitals belonging to one Willem Dafoe, and aforementioned mutilation occurring courtesy of Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Wii jokes are so obvious that they were stale even before they wrote themselves.

I thought Von Trier didn't like animation. Do videogames not count?

I may need to reinstall VMWare Fusion just to give this a whirl.


Court jester of the art world Banksy gets a legal exhibit at a museum in Bristol. You can see peruse a few of the pics. Always amusing.


NYTimes Magazine profile of Rafael Nadal.

“Every tennis lover would like, someday, to play like Federer,

A quick trip through Buzzfeed

Is Obama announcing his running mate tomorrow morning? Drudge thinks yes.

Funny bust, err...bus stop ad.

Speaking of the Wonderbra, they came up with another clever billboard, a photomosaic made up of hundreds of photos of women in their bras.

If I work on the top floor of this building and they announce that they're doing a fire drill test some day, I'm calling in sick.

Backlashes seem to have been accelerated by the Internet, so it's surprising that it took so long for the Radiohead backlash. Me, I'm going to see Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday and I couldn't be more excited.

At this moment, there might not be a bigger way for a woman to summon a world of fame onto herself than by dating Michael Phelps. First contender: fashion model Lily Donaldson.

Grizzly Bear, Walt Disney Concert Hall

I'd only really ever heard one song by Grizzly Bear, "Knife", but I really wanted to experience the acoustics of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in action, so last Saturday I attended a crossover concert composed of two halves: before intermission, the LA Philharmonic played three pieces that inspired Grizzly Bear, and after intermission, Grizzly Bear played a set on the same stage.

The 2,265 seat main auditorium is the most intimate classical music venue I've ever been in. The audience surrounds the stage, a contrast to the usual alignment in which the entire audience sits behind the conductor. All the seating is stadium style, so even seated behind Yao Ming you'd have a decent view of the stage.

The acoustics of the auditorium (designed by Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics) are stunning. Seated inside, with curved cedar sound panels like ribs on the ceiling, you feel as if you're in the belly of a whale carved by Gepetto himself.

The classical pieces on the program:

Boccherini (Berio) - Ritirata notturna di Madrid

Britten - Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes

Stravinsky - Firebird Suite (1919)

It's been a long time since I've been to a classical music concert, though in years past I've always tried to attend at least three or four shows a year. Hearing pieces I've played before reminds me of my childhood, and classical music in general recalls weekend nights home with the family, my dad reading a Chinese newspaper, my mom cooking, my sisters on the phone or playing, me buried in some book, a classical LP playing in the background.

At intermission my friend showed me around the hall, outside and in. Gehry's work doesn't always work for me, but this structure is gorgeous and alive. A series of pathways allow you to navigate between all the hall's shaped metal petals, with many sweeping views of surrounding downtown LA.

Grizzly Bear's music is difficult to describe, all vocal harmonies over dreamy sonic landscapes, psychedelically mesmerizing as transported by the crystal clear acoustics of the hall. Just a well-conceived concert.

Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

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Obama, the design element

Maybe one underrated strength of the Obama campaign is its design cohesion. Michael Bieruit analyzes Obama's branding campaign and comes away impressed, especially with his consistent typeface use.

And one of the things that came up in the conversation is, if you think about it, the challenge for someone named Barack Hussein Obama is that he's such an unprecedented figure in American politics--so much so that everything he's trying to do is, in a way, trying to make him look smoother and more normal. Someone said, "Well, why shouldn't he have revolutionary looking graphics--graphics that make him look like grassroots, like an outsider? Things drawn by hand, things that look forceful and avant-garde." But I think he's using design in a way to make him look as normal, as comfortable, as inevitable as a brand can look in American life. Those are really deliberate, interesting choices. Whether or not a sans serif font like Gotham looks more "American" than a Swiss font like Helvetica, that's in our imaginations to a certain degree. I think it's much more incontrovertible that he's actually using the seamlessness of this branding to convey a candidacy that's not a dangerous, revolutionary, risk-everything proposition--but as something that is well-managed and has everything under control.

Meanwhile, Hoefler & Frere-Jones shudder at the typography of the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

2008 is clearly a year of unusual thinking in political circles, because none of these familiar approaches can explain the utterly confounding typographic dress chosen by Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Hillary's snooze of a serif might have come off a heart-healthy cereal box, or a mildly embarrassing over-the-counter ointment; if you're feeling generous you might associate it with a Board of Ed circular, or an obscure academic journal. But Senator McCain's typeface is positively mystifying: after three decades signifying a very down-market notion of luxe, this particular sans serif has settled into being the font of choice for the hygiene aisle. One of McCain's campaign themes is "Making Tough Choices:" is this the one you would have made?

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Can you hit floor 279 for me please?

I would like to visit Dubai sometime, if for no other reason than it seems like one of the most peculiar places in the world, a Las Vegas of architecture. If it's not Agassi and Federer playing tennis on the helipad of a hotel, or the world's tallest tower, the Burj Dubai, it's news that Hyder Consulting is designing a structure that will be twice the height of the Burj Dubai, or nearly one mile tall.

BLDGBLOG whipped up a graphic to illustrate how this building would fit in with the world's other tallest structures. It is sublimely ludicrous.

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State of the arts

Bryan Caplan on Tyler Cowen on the state of the arts:

From the standpoint of the consumer, the supply of great art has clearly never been better. And even from the standpoint of the producer, it is easy to argue that, overall, this is the best of times.

From Caplan's five points on why that is:

5. One of Tyler's best points: The past often looks better than the present if you compare the best to the best. There is no living composer as great as Bach. Nevertheless, the present looks much better than the past if you compare the fifth-best to the fifth-best. Who even wants to listen to the fifth-best Baroque composer? But the fifth-best punk rock band (say, the Dead Kennedys) is excellent.

That's almost certainly true for television. In music, thought CD sales are down, distribution via the Internet means I can more easily discover new music than in the days when radio was my primary means of exposure.

I'm less certain about the quality of movies overall, but there's no doubt that accessing classic movies via DVD and services like Netflix has broadened my viewing canvas in a huge way.

Last weekend

If you ever want to experience what it would be like if there was a run on goods because of impending disaster, come to LA and go shopping at Costco or IKEA on weekend. I was with my roommates at IKEA this past weekend and a woman riding in one of those motorized chairs drove into the back of my right foot in an effort to get into a cashier's line. I hobbled around for a day with what felt like a contusion on my Achilles tendon.


Why can't DirecTV put another set of satellites in the North? I moved to an apartment on the north side of the building, and now I'm relegated to standard def because our complex signed a deal with Clear Bay Communications, and they're too cheap to rewire the building for high definition for DirecTV. My only choice is standard def DirecTV. In my previous apartment I could just get a view of the southwest sky from the balcony, on which I mounted a high-def DirecTV satellite. Now I can't see the southwest sky, but I can sure see the clouds...no, wait, those aren't clouds, those are the huge pixels of my crappy television image through standard def.

DirecTV has a great product if you can get it, but the "if you can get it" part of that is more of a catch than it should be.


I was unpacking more boxes this weekend, and I found my passport and an iPod nano that I thought I lost two years ago. I should unpack more often.


James Surowiecki on the writer's strike. Both sides believe strongly in their positions. The studios aren't making much off the web yet (nowhere near what they make in syndication or DVD sales), so they don't want to strike any long-term deals now. The writers did not get their fair share on DVDs from their last agreement, and they don't want to get burned again if the internet takes off as quickly as DVDs did.

Given all this, the two sides should strike a short-term rev share % agreement and go back to the negotiating table after it expires. The money online really isn't significant yet relative to DVD and syndication, and a more just % deal will buy some time for the online market to mature.

But the smarter long-term view for writers and directors and producers and actors, in my opinion, is to look to the Internet as a way to bypass the network and studio system altogether and get more fair value for their work. It won't happen right away, as the theatrical and DVD markets are still quite lucrative marketing and distribution systems while the Internet is still in its infancy in this space. But it may happen sooner than people realize.

There's an entire new generation coming up that's used to watching programming on a computer, or getting content from the computer to their TV. Broadband penetration and web speeds will continue to increase to the point where getting high-def content through the Internet will be just as fast as getting it from a satellite or cable. At that point, for many creative types the equation will shift so that it's more efficient for them to go direct to consumer rather than through the studio system. It won't be worthwhile for them to cede so much of the profit to a middleman who probably can't market their product efficiently anyhow.

Blockbuster mass-market movies may still benefit from launching on thousands of screens opening weekend, but most other programming will benefit more from efficient Internet-driven targeting. Maybe no such mechanism exists today online, but it's not difficult to imagine a company like Amazon is for books arising on the web to help people find the film and television programming they'll love.

The last foothold for studios in this distant future may be the theatrical distribution space. It's not easy to replicate a network of thousands of movie theaters nationwide. That's just not a lucrative business. But even as much as I love the look of film, the advent of digital technology will lower the cost of distribution to the point where building a network of theaters that only downloads massive digital files of movies will be feasible, avoiding the massive cost of generating all those prints. Cameras like the Red One will enable indie filmmakers to shoot films that can be projected on a massive theater screen and look fantastic at a much lower cost than shooting 35mm film. These files can be edited on a desktop workstation, and the digital output can be distributed to theaters with digital projectors.

The other things artists have traditionally depended on studios for is financing. But even there, times have changed. I took a class at UCLA last year called Indie Film Financing, and every week a different type of financier came in to talk about some film project they'd funded. It's not just studios anymore. We heard from old-fashioned banks, private equity, ultra-wealthy individuals, and on and on.

We will get back to a world where the scarcity is not in theater screens or financing but something much harder to solve, and that's true creative talent.


Speaking of the future of content distribution, the stats from the Radiohead experiment in direct distribution of their album "In Rainbows" are fascinating. The average price paid among people who paid for the download was $6.00. Given that over 60% of customers chose not to pay at all for the download, the average price paid worldwide was $2.26 per album.

Sounds low? It's still more than Radiohead would have made per album if they'd gone through a studio. I think they could have easily gotten sales if they'd chosen to sell their album at, say $4.00 a pop, instead of letting consumers name their own price. But this turned out to be a much more interesting, and I think, successful experiment.


Last Saturday I went downtown and caught the Takashi Murakami exhibit downtown at the Geffen Contemporary at the MOCA. I love his massive prints and his appropriation of pop and high culture. His works seem to distill so many elements of Japanese culture.

I had hoped to buy a print there, but the museum only carried limited editions of 300 of a few of his prints, and they had all sold out already. I had to settle for a t-shirt.

Murakami collaborated with Marc Jacobs, artistic director for Louis Vuitton, on a series of handbags. On display at the museum was a luggage chest with about a dozen or so compartments inside, each holding a Louis Vuitton handbag. Out of curiosity, one of my friends asked how much the chest was. It turns out you can take that chest and all the handbags inside it home for the meager sum of $500,000.

Not for sale were these two NSFW scultpures.

Also playing at the exhibit was Murakami's music video for Kanye West's song "Good Morning" off of Graduation. I guess it hasn't released to the world yet as the only copy I can find online is at YouTube, some bootleg from the Murakami exhibit. Not the best way to enjoy it.

Live from the Emerald City

This post broadcast from the Emerald City, where yours truly attended Audrey and Matt's lovely wedding this weekend (some pics here). Seattle's gorgeous summer weather arrived early (for the Pacific Northwest) this year; it's actually warmer here than in Los Angeles. The only problem is that I have one of the worst summer colds I've ever experienced and have been hacking myself awake every night for a few hours. I'm popping decongestants like they're SweeTarts. If this is my last post ever, know that I probably choked to death on my own phlegm in the middle of the night.


Telekinesis is an iPhone Remote application that allows you to access files on your computer via your iPhone.

Red is a popular brand name for high end products. Besides the camera, we now have SRAM working on a sub 2000g component group called Red (for those of you who are non-cyclists, a component group is all the stuff that goes on your bike frame (outside of your wheels and pedals and handlebars; components include your cranks and derailleurs and brake levers, stuff like that). Always good to have a bit of competition for the two market leaders, Shimano and Campagnolo.

The rumors are confirmed: Dan Patrick is leaving ESPN. The peak of ESPN's quality was when Patrick and Keith Olbermann hosted The Big Show. He faded from view for me in recent years as he moved over to the radio. I didn't even own a radio in NYC.

Dress like Roger Federer at Wimbledon. You're sure to impress in your all-white blazer and warm-up trousers when you show up for local club match, at least until you pull your hamstring in the third game. That was some final between Federer and Nadal, by the way. Those two epitomize the peak of the modern tennis game now; compare that to, say, footage of an Edberg-Becker final from back in the day and it's a totally different game.

You think you're always waiting a long time for the woman in your life to get ready? Lián Amaris Sifuentes took it to another level. She went through the usual preparations for a date but slowed them down to fill 72 hours, and she performed it in Union Square this weekend (so close to my old apartment!). NYU professor R. Luke Dubois shot the performance on three high-def camcorders and will compress it into a 72 minute video. Dubois has used this technique before, compressing previous Academy Award Best Picture winners into one minute. Some examples are posted here (Amadeus or Titanic, e.g.). That's what it must be like to have one's life flash before one's eyes. Trippy.

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A queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest

Legend has it that one night, famous choreographer Agnes de Mille was depressed because one of her shows had to close. And Martha Graham, another famous choreographer and also a great dancer, said to her:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.

The Rape of the Sabine Women

Ah, to be in NYC right now. Today is the last day of a special premiere of Eve Sussman's video-musical "The Rape of the Sabine Women" at the IFC Center. Sussman's "89 Seconds at Alcazar" is one of my favorite pieces of video art, a high def short video that depicts the activities in the royal household leading up to the single moment immortalize in Velasquez's painting "Las Meninas." The Village Voice isn't high on Sussman's latest, but the NYTimes seems to admire what it calls an "overindulged, seductive, feline opulence."

The problem with video art is that it isn't very accessible to the public. You can watch it live or not at all. You can't find Bill Viola material on high-def DVD, even if you would like to have it on loop on the plasma in the foyer of your house. Video art also tends to be housed in galleries without a lot of seating, and watching a long piece while wedged between two other people and sitting on a floor can be uncomfortable. With the advent of HD, I'd love to see more of this type of work make it onto distributable media.

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"The Hardest Button to Button"

Michel Gondry's video for the White Stripes' "The Hardest Button to Button" (Quicktime) was, as is par in Gondry's world, brilliant. The Simpsons' tribute to said video? Pretty damn good, too.

A team of Italians calling themselves HAL9000 has created an 8.6 gigapixel photograph of an Italian fresco by stitching together 1,145 pictures from a Nikon D2X. At 96,679 x 89,000 pixels, it's likely the largest digital image in the world, and on their website you can browse and zoom in on the image.

I know I'm late with this, but such is my school workload that I'm really out of it these days.: here's that controversial photo taken on 9/11 by Thomas Hoepker of Magnum Photos. Frank Rich wrote about it in the Times, then on Slate David Platz disagreed with Rich's interpretation, then two of the people in the photo wrote in to defend themselves against Rich and Hoepker's reading of the photo, and finally Hoepker himself weighed in. So in this case, a picture really was worth a thousand words or so.

1001 books you must read before you die--the list. Note that the book that the list is pulled from is not on the list itself, so it's a good thing the list is published on the web.

Hallelujah! Undercover Economist articles are finally available for free on the Financial Times website as of late September. Tim Harford is part of the transformation of economics into a sexy field.

How to turn your photos into Lichtenstein-esque pop art.