Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My favorite Daily Show clip

Watch this clip all the way to the end - the infographic at the end is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fixing my Sony HC3: I love technology, I hate technology

This experience last night at 2am had me both extremely pleased and somewhat profoundly depressed.

I dusted off my Sony HC3 HD camcorder. It had been retired because it--gasp!--shoots on magnetic DV tapes. Yecchh. Tapes. What a pain. I had moved on to a snazzy Canon HF100 that writes to SDHC cards. Pop the SDHC card into a card reader and, voila, video files are ready to go.

But this seemingly ancient Sony HC3 actually records to tapes. Okay, it records 1080i HD to tapes (so it's not a total dinosaur), but still: tapes! Which means: mechanical problems!

The first tape that I wanted to pull the data off of worked just fine. The second one, not so much. The tape loader refused to latch shut and pull the tape in. And if you can't load the tape, you can't access your video files!!

The HC3 reported a cryptic error: C:32:11

Thank you Google - I found a lengthy discussion board topic about this very problem. Ironically enough, a cryptic error message actually makes it very easy to find exact search hits. Not many things on the World Wide Web reference the string "C:32:11".

The solutions offered on the discussion board ranged from "whack it" (which actually met with a lot of reported success!) to frustrated surrender: "I'll never buy Sony again!"

But then there was this bit of reverse-engineering brilliance: a poster named "Dave" found the electrical leads that power the motor that retracts the cassette tape into the camera. He writes: "I took an adjustable lab power supply (since I didn't know what voltage I would need), turned it to 1.5V and touched the two little solder joints on the retracting motor with the positive and negative cables. Viola!!! The carriage retracted and everything is good with the world again."

Here's his pic of the two contact points he identified:

The theory goes that the retractor motor will sometimes overshoot or undershoot its mark when raising the cassette carriage. And if it's off its mark, the ejection mechanism won't latch back into place when you insert a new tape. Forcing the motor to move a bit up or down will put it back into the proper travel range so that it can work again.

Dave goes on to note that "Since I used 1.5V to do this, you may be able to actuate the motor with a AA or C battery."

So, faced with the same problem, I dug out some spare wire, my head-mounted LED work light, my wire strippers, a AA battery, and electrical tape. Here we go:

And then all I had to do was maneuver the wires through the cassette chassis and touch the retractor motor's two contact points.

Not the easiest thing to do. Guiding those thin wires a couple inches into the guts of the video camera wasn't quite neurosurgery, but it wasn't a piece of cake either.

After a few attempts I did succeed. I made contact with the motor leads and the cassette loader started to move and pull the cassette loading carriage down into the camera body. After it traveled about a millimeter I pulled back the wires. When I tried to push the cassette carriage closed, it stayed latched! I put the battery back in the camera and turned it on... and it worked! It pulled the cassette all the way in and was able to play back the video just fine.

I've since tried to load a handful of other tapes. So far I've had to use the AA battery leads each time to load the next tape. Pain in the butt.

But at least I know the workaround and I can load new tapes. The camera is not worthless.

I love that the Web gave me access to Dave's solution--a solution which goes far above and beyond my abilities to figure out on my own. I know enough bare basics about electronics to be able to connect a AA battery to a motor's contact points, but there's no way I'd ever have been able to figure out that this is what I needed to do to load a damn tape. Thank you Dave. Thank you World Wide Web. Thank you Google. Thank you technology.

But on the flipside, how absurd is all this?! How completely beyond the abilities of the average Joe is even Dave's AA battery solution?

As much as it amazes me that someone was able to find a solution, it equally stuns me that people have to deal with these problems in the first place. And it's not just that we get these damn technology problems dumped on us all the time, it's the impossibility of them!

Thanks to massive amounts of technology and interconnectedness, I was just barely capable of resolving this problem. But the average person is so dependent on technology and all while being essentially helpless when that technology fails him/her. And it fails so often!

Ultimately we are empowered by technology, but it's amazing the extent to which we are prisoners of technology as well. Technology is too often as infuriating as it is inspiring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quotation Friday

"I was once present when the poet was asked by someone, 'Sophocles, how are you in sex? Can you still have intercourse with a woman?' 'Silence, man,' he said. 'Most joyfully did I escape it, as though I had run away from a sort of frenzied and savage master.' I thought at the time that he had spoken well and I still do. For, in every way, old age brings great peace and freedom from such things."
- Cephalus in The Republic by Plato

"When the desires cease to strain and finally relax, [...] it is possible to be rid of very many mad masters. [...] there is just one cause: not old age, Socrates, but the character of the human beings. If they are orderly and content with themselves, even old age is only moderately troublesome; if they are not, then both age, Socrates, and youth alike turn out to be hard for that sort."
- Cephalus in The Republic by Plato

"But tell me something more. What do you suppose is the greatest good that you have enjoyed from possessing great wealth?"

"What I say wouldn't persuade many perhaps. For know well, Socrates," he said, "that when a man comes near to the realization that he will be making an end, fear and care enter him for things to which he gave no thought before."
- Socrates and Cephalus in The Republic by Plato

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Keeping tabs on what's important

Pointless entertainment gossip site E! Online's report of the death of John Travolta's son includes this excerpt:

Travolta, wife Kelly Preston and their chidren, Jett and daughter Ella Bleu, arrived in the Bahamas on Dec. 30 and were joined by friends and family before Jett's death for a long-planned party over the holiday week.

Many of the friends are from Florida and nearly all are staying at Old Bahama Bay Resort where Jett died. No sign yet of any celebrities.

"No sign yet of any celebrities"?! I suppose they are doing an admirable job of sticking to their journalistic raison d'ĂȘtre, but really it just underscores how shallow and pointless celeb-chasing is.

The Travolta family's loss is tragic, but no more so than it would be for any family, famous or not. That makes it doubly sickening that E! Online considers it newsworthy that there was "No sign yet of any celebrities". That line tells us that the lack of celebrity appearances is cause for heartache--for E! Online, that is. As far as they are concerned, that is the bigger tragedy of this whole dead son business.

see: Autopsy Scheduled for John Travolta's Son; Friends Gather to Mourn

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gymnastics training videos

Use the usual password to access:

View each video at vimeo to see my comments (click on the name of each video in the lower left). Not all vids have comments though.

Min - doubles from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Emily - fulls from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Jenny - giants from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Callie - front giants from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Darek - handspring-front from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Emily - tsuks from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Min - handspring-fronts from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Val - quarter-quarter from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Callie, Jenny - handspring-front drills from Keith Mukai on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Teaching: The suburban schools that "really don't need us"

A friend in my M.Ed. program responded to an email thread in which I said that some of the worst inner-city schools really do need to be shut down. I listed off some of the deep, systemic problems I observed first hand. He responded:

"and that's why we go teach out in the burbs. the schools that really don't need us."

That got me a little pissed. Here's my response:

I know you said "we" but I think you mostly meant "you," because I doubt we'll see Tony Laurel living it up in Winnetka or Highland Park.

But I claim that you're looking at things in the wrong direction. What if it isn't about which schools need me, but rather what I need for myself?

Wouldn't you, Tony, turn down a job at Crane if you could instead work at Clemente? Or Juarez? You have an extra synergistic vibe and understanding with Latino kids; it would be a waste for you to work at an all-black school. Your gifts and your abilities are maximized by working with inner city Latino kids.

I am a certain collection of abilities and interests and just because there's a need doesn't mean that I can be stuffed into a CPS-shaped hole. I'm not running from CPS's problems, I'm running towards my best fit.

I need to maximize MY potential while I'm doing the same for my students. I did good work in my lessons at Crane and it took a LOT of my various skills to pull it off. I gave those kids a positive classroom experience unlike anything they'd ever had before, and I'm really proud of that.

But if all I ever did was scratch and claw and struggle, vast swathes of my competencies would go unused. That's what I would have to look forward to at Crane. That's what I'd have to look forward to at Clemente and their AP English classes where the students only read out loud in class and never at home. A career full of untapped potential is death.

I have zero qualms, zero shame, and no hesitation whatsoever to walk away from CPS. I'm not a crusader and I never claimed to be one. I'm here to be a teacher and I'm going to go to the environment that best allows me to fulfill MY ambitions and MY dreams.

I admire every single person who is committed to working in and--no doubt--improving CPS. But understand that every one of you who has committed to CPS is going above and beyond the call of duty. I admire that, but don't you dare shit on me for not taking that extra step with you.

Yes, Niles West and the Village of Skokie will do just fine without me. But that place is my home. I know the place, I know the students. I know how to work with them. I will thrive there and in doing so I will elevate that place above and beyond where it's already at. I will be a better teacher at Niles West than I could be at any other school in the country. One of the greatest joys in life is to find your fit, to fulfill your purpose for being. Well these days I'm filled with an immense amount of joy.

We're entering a profession that's all about giving, but we're allowed to draw the line and be selfish about certain things. If you don't draw that line, you'll give so much of yourself away that there'll be nothing left.

It's not about who needs us; it's about where we need to be.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Video embedding test

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Obama, Ayers, Oh my!

Puh-lease. Bill Ayers is hardly my favorite person on the planet but here's a fact to chew on: I've spent more time with Bill Ayers in the last decade than Barack Obama has.

There I've said it. I admit to it fully and willingly of my own accord.

Bill Ayers is currently a professor at UIC. I'm an M.Ed. candidate in UIC's College of Teacher Education.

Ayers was invited to debate my English 557 professor, Gerald Graff, last semester. For an hour or so Graff and Ayers exchanged views on Paulo Freire's social justice educational philosophy. Classmates also participated here and there. I may have even directly addressed the would-be political equivalent of the Black Plague myself; I can't remember.

And for the record, Ayers' position was that students should be taught to advocate for themselves and to fight inequality. He did not go into the details of how students should fight that inequality but I'm pretty sure he's no longer advocating homemade pipe bombs. Championing Freire's social justice education is about as radical as he seems to get nowadays. The Bill Ayers of 2008 is such a horrible person that he's helping oppressed, underprivileged minority kids find their voices and stand up for themselves. What an ass.

Anyway, tar and feather me for having been in Ayers' presence and not demanding his immediate hara kiri. I was wholly ignorant of Ayers' past transgressions at the time and only now do I realize that I have been brainwashed and tainted by a terrorist. If I ever run for public office, I'm sure this will be grounds for trashing my candidacy.

But I guess I'll just get what I deserve for cavorting with--and taking notes from--terrorists.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Conspiracy theory? Making the Paulson plan make sense

Thanks to Sal's video presentations on the economic crisis and the bailout plan I think I finally get what's going on here.

But what I don't get is why the Fed, the president, the Senate, and even Warren Buffet are supporting the Paulson plan. It seems like only a half solution that is fraught with risk.

I think it would make a lot more sense to take an equity stake in failing banks rather than simply buying off their toxic "assets" (more like "liabilities" at this point) that are dragging them down into insolvency.

Check my thinking:

We have to infuse enough money into a struggling bank to offset the downward drag of the toxic CDOs regardless of whether we do the Paulson plan or take an equity stake.

Say Bank A has toxic CDOs which they appraised to have a notional value of $3bil. But those CDOs may actually be worth nothing. And certainly no one's going to buy them on the open market for $3bil in this environment. But the bank's balance sheet is so precarious that if that $3bil disappears from their assets, they'll fall into insolvency and will have to file for bankruptcy.

Let's say that they only need $2bil in cash to remain solvent. So they could either sell those CDOs at a discount for $2bil (even though they thought they were worth $3bil and would write down a $1bil loss) OR they could sell a share of the bank itself and raise $2bil in capital.

Either way the Fed is the only one who's got that kind of cash and the willingness to step in. So either way it's going to cost the taxpayers $2bil to save that bank.

Paulson's Plan

Paulson's plan would have the Fed buy the CDOs outright to get them off the bank's books. The government would then own the worst CDOs on each struggling bank's books.

Downside: Many of those horrible CDOs could very likely be worth nothing.

Systemic Upside: The bank remains solvent and continue operating (though Sal argues it'll have a black mark on its forehead as a "troubled bank" that needed a Fed bailout and therefore will remain looking like a risky investment to other lenders).

Taxpayer Upside: Maybe someday some of the luckier CDOs will see some money trickle back in. However, claiming that these investments might even turn a profit some day is overly optimistic. Any defaults in the underlying mortgages will hit these CDOs first.

Equity Stakes
Taking an equity stake would put the SAME amount of money into the bank, but the bank could write the CDOs all the way down to $0 value, BUT still retain ownership of it. The government gains a large, if not controlling, stake in the bank.

Downside: Federalization of our banking system (significant portion of our banks are government-controlled). Who knows if we'll run them properly--it'll be more big bureaucracy. Our fortunes are tied to the bank's well-being; if it collapses, our capital investment goes down with it.

Systemic Upside: With the Fed having a stake in keeping the bank afloat, creditors should be more willing to extend credit knowing that someone with deep pockets owns the biz. The bad CDOs become a nonfactor in the bank's books.

Taxpayer Upside: If the bank rescue is a success, it will recover value and our equity stakes will INCREASE in value. Remember, we'd be acquiring these banks at bargain basement valuations. We can slowly sell off our equity stakes to liquidate funds and maybe eventually get back our investment or even turn a profit. Those bad CDOs are still owned by the bank and if any of them actually return money, that's just a nice bonus on top of the bank's recovery.

So which one makes more sense?
Well would you rather spend $2bil so that you can hold an imploding hot potato or would you rather spend $2bil to buy a business that you might be able to help turn around? It's the difference between buying the poison and taking it ourselves OR neutralizing the poison and leaving it where it is.

Unless I'm missing something, I don't see how the Paulson plan makes sense. Either way we're acquiring a stake in those CDOs, the only difference is what else we're getting for our money. Doesn't capitalism work better when both partners have incentive to work towards the same goal? With an equity stake in a bank, we profit when the bank profits; that's capitalist cooperative synergy.

But paying someone to shovel their shit over to our side of the fence makes no sense at all.

So why is everyone in Washington so hot on the Paulson plan?
Let me start with a different question: who would stand to LOSE if we took equity stakes?

If we take an equity stake in these struggling banks, we necessarily dilute the value of the current shareholders. Specifically the major shareholders. Major shareholders would stand to lose a lot of value, even in banks whose valuation has plummeted in recent weeks.

That brings us to the conspiracy theory.

And what's the profile of major shareholders? Rich white guys. How do they vote? Republican. Who's in control now? Republicans. Whose plan is it to avoid the equity stake route? A Republican appointee.

The GOP is wholly driven by rich white guys. The evangelicals and gun freaks are pandered to for their votes, but it's the rich white guys that run the show and fund the campaigns. If the GOP made the major shareholders take the hit for this crisis, they would be committing political suicide. Their party leaders would be obliterated.

I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories--especially not partisan conspiracy theories. So perhaps there's a less insidious explanation for favoring the Paulson plan.

That theory is simply this: status quo.

It may be that Hank Paulson and the whole financial and political establishment are just too accustomed to the status quo to even conceive of changing it. Clearly a move toward a Federalized banking system would be a dramatic paradigm shift that would completely overthrow the status quo.

Perhaps Paulson has been so much a part of the metaphorical box that he is incapable of thinking outside of it, nor sees any reason to reshape it.

This is a legitimate perspective. Paulson is clearly saying, "How do I fix the system from within the system?" whereas taking equity in failing banks would require him to say, "How do I fix the system by reinventing the system?"

In many ways it's hard to fault anyone for thinking this way, thinking within the status quo. The $700 billion plan itself is already a radical departure from the norm (though I would argue that it merely pushes the boundaries of the box but does not fundamentally alter its structure).

In this view then we can only fault Paulson and the establishment for its lack of creativity; that they are not willing to "boldly go where no one has gone before" is regrettable but excusable. And that is certainly more palatable than the partisan conspiracy theory.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

EVERYTHING you need to understand the economic crisis

Okay, forget my last post. It is a good primer but it makes everything seem deceptively rosy if you don't know how the one piece it talks about fits into the broader picture.

What you need is a crash course on finance and then a specific discussion on where we are today and exactly how Paulson's plan would affect the situation.

A friend and former co-worker of mine, Sal Khan, has posted a series of absolutely brilliant videos that do exactly that. Start here:

Bailout 1: Liquidity vs. Solvency

The first videos step you through the necessary finance background. They do take some time to go through, but they're well worth it if you really want to understand what's going on at a deep level.

If you're already strong on finance, skip ahead to part 8:

Bailout 8: Systemic Risk

Or jump to his analysis of the Paulson Plan (though it may be a little harder to follow if you haven't seen the previous installments):

Bailout 9: Paulson's Plan

I cannot stress enough how IMMENSELY helpful and informative Sal's presentations are. I feel like I've just gone through a Finance MBA program and now I have a really strong grasp of what's going on out there. It IS crazy-complex, but Sal does an amazing job of maintaining clarity and clearly demonstrating the risks and consequences.

I wish every member of Congress would watch Sal's presentations.

By the way, if you're dubious as to Sal's credentials, he is one of the smartest people I know and is obviously a gifted communicator and educator. He's also ridiculously over-educated:

Sal received his MBA from Harvard Business School where he was president of the student body. He also holds a Masters in electrical engineering and computer science, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and a BS in mathematics from MIT where he was president of the the Class of 1998.

If you find Sal's presentations helpful, please do spread the word and have others watch them. With something this mysterious and complex we absolutely have to help the public become more educated on the subject.