There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Posts from — August 2008

Could Obama Pick a Republican?

Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel

Source: Barack Obama on Flickr

It’s rumored that Barack Obama will announce his running mate within the week. According to the Intrade Prediction Market, the leading contender is Joe Biden, the senior Senator from Delaware. A contract for Joe Biden as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee is currently trading at 30.90 (for those not familiar with prediction markets, that number is essentially the probability in percentage terms, set by the market, that Joe Biden will be the nominee). But I don’t actually like Biden for the job. According to the National Journal 2007 Vote Ratings, he is the third-most liberal Senator in the country. Barack Obama tops the list as the most liberal Senator. I think by choosing Biden as his running mate, Obama will reinforce his liberal voting record, which will make it hard for him to run as a centrist and capture a substantial portion of independent voters.

If Obama really wants to change the politics in Washington, he should seriously consider picking a Republican as his running mate. I believe that the most compelling case can be made for Chuck Hagel, the senior Senator from Nebraska (an Intrade contract for Hagel is currently trading at 5.10). Hagel is apparently a good friend of Obama, and he has been mentioned as a likely cabinet member in an Obama administration. Hagel worked on Ronald Reagan’s campaign for California governor, and served in the Reagan administration as the Deputy Administrator of Veteran Affairs. He is a Vietnam War Veteran, Purple Heart receipient, and a very successful businessman. He has served on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. He has been highly critical of the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq war, and he supports a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. He is also known for working with Democrats in the Senate, as he did with Ted Kennedy on the Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Of course, Hagel is a conservative and has large differences with Obama when it comes to social litmus test issues such as abortion, affirmative action, and the death penalty. Maybe it’s a long shot, but if Barack Obama wants to solve some of our country’s real problems over the next four years or more, he needs to look past those issues. Choosing a Republican as his running mate, especially Chuck Hagel, will signify to Americans that he is not your typical liberal Democratic candidate, and that he is truly serious about reaching across the aisle to get things done.

August 18, 2008   3 Comments

A World Record Embarrassment

Usain Bolt Wins the 100-Meter Final in Beijing

Photo: Matt Dunham/Associated Press

I had just finished watching Michael Phelps make history by winning his record eighth gold medal of these Olympics. It was a moment that gave me and millions of people around the world goosebumps. It was a moment that I will be able to tell my kids about years from now. Phelps was part of the 4×100-meter medley relay team, which was anchored by Jason Lezak. Lezak was able to hold off Australian Eamon Sullivan as the two swam hard right to the finish, right to the finish. It was an awesome race – one that embodied all that is good about the Olympics. I found myself briefly reflecting on how superb these Games have been so far.

Up next on the NBC broadcast was the much-anticipated 100-meter final. It was tape-delayed, and though I tried to avoid hearing who won, I found out earlier in the day that it was the Jamaican Usain Bolt. NBC showed an interview with Bolt, and he seemed like a humble enough guy, proud to be representing his country in Beijing.

After the gun sounded, Bolt surged out to an early lead, and within a few seconds it was clear that he was going to win, and probably set a new world record. What I saw next was shocking. When Bolt realized he had a big lead, he put his hands out, and then pounded his chest, while slowing down deliberately before crossing the finish line.

Bolt won the gold and broke his own world record, clocking in at 9.69 seconds. But it was a total sham – an embarassment to the sport and to the Olympics. I was furious that this chest-thumping showboater was going to be all over the news in the coming days, reaffirmed as “the fastest man in the world.” I could think of something else to call him. A friend of mine said to the television in disgust, “All that is asked of you, Usain Bolt, is about 9.7 seconds of effort.” Bolt disrespected his country and his competitors, two of whom were fellow Jamaicans. I hope the sports media and the blogosphere tear him apart, and I hope this selfish act turns out to be just an isolated occurrence in what has otherwise been the best Olympics in recent memory.

August 16, 2008   4 Comments

Top Five Summer Olympic Sports That Don’t Belong

Roger Federer at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

Have you ever turned on Olympics coverage and thought to yourself, “What the hell is that sport doing in the Olympics?” I certainly have, but before I unveil the list, here are my general requirements for a sport to be in the Games:

  • Winning a medal should be a pinnacle of achievement in the sport. It doesn’t have to be the number one achievement, but it sure better mean something to most of the athletes competing and the countries involved. If the athletes don’t care, and the countries don’t care, then the people watching won’t care either. What do I mean? Quick – name a few tennis players that have won gold.
  • The word “synchronized” cannot appear in the name. Sorry, I just don’t see how synchronization “sports” exemplify the spirit of athletic competition. I’m not saying that it doesn’t take skill, I’m just questioning the legitimacy of these events as sports to be displayed on the world stage.
  • The sport needs to have a strong Olympic tradition. I am biased against letting new sports into the Olympics under most circumstances. If there’s no history, then Olympic success often isn’t a big deal to the athletes.

So without further ado, the list!

  1. Synchronized Swimming. Impressive, artistic, beautiful to watch. But an Olympic sport? I don’t think so.
  2. Synchronized Diving. Again, it violates the second rule. If you’re a world-class diver shouldn’t you be competing in the regular diving competitions?
  3. BMX Bicycling. When did this sneak in there? Keep the extreme sports in the X-Games.
  4. Baseball. No Olympic tradition, and nobody in the U.S. is watching. Maybe the athletes do care because a lot of these guys probably won’t make the majors, but if the U.S. wins a gold medal in baseball it’ll be a footnote in the sport. It probably won’t even be as big of a deal as winning the uninspiring World Baseball Classic. Not to worry, baseball is out in 2012.
  5. Tennis. Roger Federer has won 12 Grand Slam events in his career and might be the best tennis player ever. But years from now, nobody will remember if he won Olympic gold.

Sports that you might think should be on the list but aren’t:

  • Beach Volleyball. Yeah so they’re not actually at the beach. It has no Olympic tradition. And it just doesn’t seem right. But the athletes play hard and it is damn fun to watch.
  • Men’s Basketball. Until recently, most of the best U.S. players didn’t even want to play. Winning a gold medal isn’t nearly as important to the players as winning an NBA championship. But it’s not all about the U.S. It’s a huge deal to almost every player in every other country. Just ask Yao Ming.
  • Softball. Ok, no tradition, and it should be on the list because baseball is there. But softball is different. There isn’t a strong professional league for softball, so there’s no World Series or World Baseball Classic equivalent. It is a big deal to the players.

August 15, 2008   5 Comments

BlackBerry vs. IPhone, Simplified.

BlackBerry for email, iPhone for everything else.

Blackberry Bold vs. iPhone 3G

That’s what it comes down to. The BlackBerry is specifically designed for email. The iPhone’s user interface is really intuitive and elegant, but a seasoned BlackBerry user can simply read and crank out emails faster. The iPhone’s keypad is clever and works better than I thought it would, but it’s not as good as a real keypad. I need the feel of raised keys on my fingers when I type. A lot of iPhone users will claim that they can type faster on their device than on a BlackBerry, but it has actually been proven that the typing speed on a BlackBerry is about the same as on an iPhone, while iPhone users have substantially higher text entry error rates.

When it comes to everything else – music, mapping tools, social networking, games, ease of use, the overall selection of applications – the iPhone is better. Whenever I start using a new application on the BlackBerry there’s a list of shortcut keys I have to memorize, and it’s a pain when the keys for one app don’t quite work the same on another app. For example, on the Google Maps application you use the letter “I” to zoom in and the letter “O” to zoom out, which seems to make sense. On Telenav (which I use for turn-by-turn navigation), you must use the “*” key to zoom in and the “#” to zoom out – annoying! On the iPhone, you zoom in and out using the “pinch” technique, and that works for all apps where you can zoom. iPhone applications don’t have to contort themselves to work with a fixed keypad and trackball like on the BlackBerry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a happy BlackBerry user for about a year now. I have the BlackBerry 8310, whose standout features are a true GPS and a 2MP camera. I also have the BlackBerry Internet Service plan which gives me unlimited data via the AT&T EDGE network, and pushes my Gmail directly to the device. I use the Google Sync BlackBerry application to sync the device calendar to my online Google Calendar. The other applications I use the most are Telenav for turn-by-turn directions (equivalent app not available yet for the IPhone), and the Facebook application to keep in touch with friends. I think I have a nice little system that keeps my life organized and relatively stress-free.

But my next phone will probably be an iPhone. The new iPhone 3G has caught up with BlackBerry on every feature, and the selection and quality of iPhone apps will soon be far superior. I’ve been steadily using my BlackBerry for more than just email, so if I can deal with the typing issues on the iPhone I think my overall user experience will be better. Either way, it seems clear that Apple is going after a piece of the BlackBerry user base. It will be interesting to see how RIM responds to this challenge over the next couple of years.

August 13, 2008   No Comments

The Transformers Travesty

I’m writing this post now because Shia LaBeouf of Transformers fame has been in the news for flipping his car a few times and possibly having to get his finger amputated. Apparently this is going to cause delays in filming Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, due out in 2009. But this isn’t nearly the worst thing that has happened to the Transformers franchise. I digress…


As a kid growing up in the 1980s I mainly watched three cartoons: G.I. Joe, He-Man, and Transformers. G.I. Joe and He-Man were cool, but because I was somewhat of a nerd child Transformers definitely had the most appeal to me. Their toys were the best, because it was like getting several in one. For example, you could get a bulldozer that would transform into a robot, and if you got the set of five “Constructicons”, you could then put them together to form an even bigger super-robot, Devastator. Transformers actually had an intricate backstory too – not quite reaching Star Wars level but enough to produce 98 animated television episodes, an 80-issue comic book series from Marvel, and a 1986 animated feature film. And I ate all of that stuff up. I didn’t have any G.I. Joe toys, He-Man figures, or Thundercats – it was all Transformers for me.

Over the last decade or so, while it seemed like every cartoon character ever created was being made into a movie, I patiently waited for Transformers to get its turn. So when I heard several years back that there was a movie in the works, I was absolutely ecstatic. I waited patiently to hear who would be the team chosen to bring these characters back to life on the big screen. When Steven Spielberg was announced as the executive producer, I and all Transformers fans of my generation rejoiced, believing that the story we embraced as children would be treated seriously. We hoped Spielberg would direct, and we waited patiently for the announcement. And then, on that fateful day in 2005 the director was announced – it was Michael Bay. Nooooooo!

This was the guy that directed The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor, which might have been the three cheesiest films in the history of moviemaking. I mean, just look at his picture. How could a guy that looks like that make a movie that’s not a complete cheesefest? I tried to tell myself that it would be okay, that it would be different this time, that he had changed and would treat the Transformers story with respect and dignity. I tempered my expectations, and I didn’t even go see it on opening weekend. And when I finally did watch it, my worst fears were realized. It was terrible.

But even though the latest Transformers movie may have disappointed old fans, it still made a whopping $706.5 million worldwide and I’m sure the sequel will do well too. It’s just a shame that garbage like this gets rewarded at the box office.

August 10, 2008   2 Comments