Sunday, August 31, 2008

Now I Can Die

I've seen Madonna in concert.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Extraterrestrial Hospitality

I've hardly encountered any Indian computer nor memory stick which was not infected by a virus, worm or whatever. Our Indian business partners seem not to care at all. Don't worry - viruses are part of life, they've told me.

India has plans to send an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS). A virus is already waiting to give him a homelike habitat (see article).

Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

Craig brought this to my attention ...

... accompanied with a salvo of puns such as take it up the poop deck, which happens to be at the rear of the ship et al

Monday, August 25, 2008

Way Down In The Hole

Craig has introduced me to The Wire and is kind enough to fix me up with a constant supply of seasons. Tonight I copied the latest supply on Toño's iMac and started season 2 to accompany the ironing. I almost let drop the iron when I heard Tom Waits crying the opening theme of season two. 20 years ago, I heard this song the first time in Tom Wait's concert movie Big Time:

Isn't it strange that all three (and there are only three) concert films worth watching whether you're a fan or not had been made in the eighties?
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Sign 'o' the Times (1987)
Big Time (1988)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Like There Is No Tomorrow

It has been a while I spent four straight hours on a dance floor. Last night it happened again. Our swim buddy White Shark turned forty and invited us to a lavish wine & dine & dance at the Giesserei. We - that is, the other sharks - took this as a license to party boundlessly. White Shark also invited his other buddies, such as his soccer team, his squash mates and his next of kin. They could keep up with the wine & dine, but when it came to the dance, they seriously lacked stamina and gaiety. At the end it it was a pure shark extravaganza.

Talking about swimming... Unfortunately the 47th edition of the Limmat Swimming scheduled this afternoon has been rained off. I was looking forward to swim down the river today. But the Limmat is carrying too much water due to the recent downpours.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Double Touch of Evil

We all (at least the Swiss) know that Cumulus - the customer loyalty scheme by Swiss retailer Migros - is evil (if you don't know, read about). As it happened, on the eve of my birthday (thank you very much for all flowers, sweets and good wishes) Toño received a personal invitation to participate. With the big leap ahead, I was in kind of a mellow mood and freely volunteered to collect points on his account when ever shopping at Migros.

But who was I to know that this was not the only touch of evil surrounding my birthday. Among other fine stuff, Toño gave me a novel set in Tijuana. Yes, this is exactly the place where Orson Welles set his film Touch of Evil (it's called Los Robles in the film, but everybody knows it really is Tijuana). I can't deny that I suspect a conspiracy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Turning Gay

It's a Mexican superstition that with 41 men trip over the edge and turn gay. I have no idea what happens, if you're already a friend of Dorothy. Today at 9:31 am I'm supposed to know more. So far I'm still quite clueless.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Die exakte Vermessung des Augenblicks*

I *heart* NZZ headlines.

* kind of "the exact measurement of the instant"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Müesli Mania

It started a week ago and we are still into this. We officially declare Müesli Mania. Are you ready for the age of Müesli?

I was raised with Müesli. However not for breakfast. It was a side dish at lunch and, at least for me, it substituted vegetables. I loathed vegetables, but loved and still love Müesli. Although my love is not unconditional:
a) it has to be really fresh
b) it has to have a tiny touch of sour
c) the (compulsory) apples have to be grated. I go quite taliban on cut apples in a Müesli.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stick to Plan B

Is it wise - after just another bleeding day at the office - to see four men in business suits and wall? Indeed it is.

Yesterday, Toño and I went on the opening day of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel to see Plan B, a production by the French CIE111.

What is Plan B? Basically, four men in business suits and wall. It combined circus, dance, music, comedy and illusion - kind of a poetic version of Free Running. I could have watched the four men and the wall for hours.

See some extracts (it starts after 1'20"):

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fighting The Last War

To analyse is so much easier than to draw the right conclusions. In the latest issue of The Economist, you can read the Confessions of a risk manager

The anonymous risk manager skilfully analyses how it came to the credit crunch and the wrong assumptions he and his colleagues made before and during the crises. Basically, they were fighting the last war. However, when it comes to drawing conclusions, I'm not sure whether his suggestions really prepare him to fight the next war, in which he will have to deal with the next unknown unknowns which will be beyond what is normally expected.

Book of Revelation

With the Olympics on TV and all those hot swimmers in and out of the pool there, you might have asked yourself if you should take up swimming or if you already did intense your practice a (significant) bit. But does one get a swimmer's body from swimming or do just those born with a natural tendency to develop a swimmer's body become better swimmers?

Those and many other questions are pondered by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his non fiction The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. However, there are far more important ideas and revelations in this book.

One of Talib's statements is that we just can't predict, or as he cites Yogi Berra "It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future". The book was published in Spring 2007 and it reads like the script of the credit crunch which emerged a year ago.

What is Talib's point? He tells us that most of our professional efforts are aimed at understanding and mastering phenomena that are explainable. But such efforts are positively useless, even quite dangerous, when that nutty outlier drops down for a landing - an outlier that can not be neglected like in a platonic Gaussian normal distribution.

So our risk manager geniuses have bet the farm — gazillions of farms — on models that have almost zero immunity to Black Swans, i.e. highly improbable impacts. There and their bosses' naïve and stupid overconfidence is a primary cause of their under-preparedness and the subsequent impact. But (again) a Black Swan has landed and they are burning my pension plan in the process.

According to Taleb, classical statistics only work in some domains like casinos in which the odds are visible and defined. His argument centres on the idea that predictive models are based on platonified forms and gravitate towards mathematical purity. Or in Talib' s words:

We love the tangible, the confirmation, the palpable, the real, the visible, the concrete, the known, the seen, the vivid, the visual, the social, the embedded, the emotional laden, the salient, the stereotypical, the moving, the theatrical, the romanced, the cosmetic, the official, the scholarly-sounding verbiage (b******t), the pompous Gaussian economist, the mathematicized crap, the pomp, the Academie Francaise, Harvard Business School, the Nobel Prize, dark business suits with white shirts and Ferragamo ties, the moving discourse, and the lurid. Most of all we favor the narrated.

Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters — we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial — and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly in both computational and mental effort.

Yes, Talib is sardonic and he loves to use the longsword, which makes this book about statistics and economics an even enjoyable read.

If you want to know more about the man, read the profile on Talin in the Sunday Times. At the end of the article are Talib's 10 top life tips. My favourite is number 4: Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.. And I will definitely have to work on tip 2 & 8.

And Nassim, thank you for writing this book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pretty Boy!

Word came probably through to you about the pretty girl who won international fame after singing at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, and who was only miming because she was prettier than the girl with the good voice, who was actually singing (if not, read here).

A similar thing happend to me, when I was a small boy. The pupils of our school were forced to build a choir in order to sing the national anthem at the celebration of the Swiss National Day. Of course we practised hard, but the teacher was not pleased with my performance. He forced me to take part, show enthusiasm, move my lips, but not to utter a single tone while doing so.

So far I was under the impression he did this to humiliate me in public and nip any musical aspiration of mine in the bud. But now, thanks to the great Chinese nation and their astonishing opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, I know that I'm just to handsome to not to have me on a stage. I love you China!

Green Beans and Other Desires

It is funny how - out of the blue - desires to eat a specific kind of food surface. In my teenage years, I spent about a year eating bratwurst and French fries for weekday dinners. No, that was not what I wanted. Last Saturday, I felt the need to eat green beans. Sadly, I did not manage to get my lazy butt out of bed in time to shop at the farmer's market. I had to get them from Migros and they were set to half price. This is fare worse than it sounds, because it means the goods are in such a bad state that you have to cut 50% away - only work and no gain. Nevertheless, the dishes, I made Toño make out of it, were delicious:

Veal Strips in Saffron Sauce with Steamed Green Beans and Noddles Noodles

...which was accompanied by a bottle of Markowitsch Redmont 2006.


Fasolakia Ladera

...which is a Greek vegetarian dish with green beans in tomato sauce. Toño added also potatoes and sprinkled it with feta. The wine Toño served with it was a Norton Perdriel Single Vineyard 2004. He even dared to tell me what I had to pay for it - though, it was worth it.

Other Nutritional News

A) We pay tribute to Olympia by eating athlete food that gives stamina (spaghetti) with Chinese style serviettes.

B) The morning smoothie is gradually replaced by the traditional Bircher-Benner muesli, however, no wine is yet served with it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mini Skål

Every time, when my caring employer sends me to Denmark to spend some time at sea with the present-day Vikings, I buy for Toño a Mini Skål (bowl) by Peter Svarrer at Illums Bollighus (The porn shop for design zealots). The bowls are available in seven different colours. When I came back from Denmark last Friday, I brought the white one. When will we have to face grey? And what will come after grey?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Travel Books

Ups, summer holiday season is almost over (which happen without me) and I still haven't written about my non-fictional spring holiday reads... Sorry for the delay.

Things The Grandchildren Should Know, the subtle, touching and humble autobiography by Mark Oliver Everett. In combination with a well-stocked iPod, one can always listen to the tunes of the time E is talking about. Not only the grandchildren should know this book - like E's music.

Shah of Shahs, a meditation on the nature of revolution by Ryszard Kapuściński. I devoured this book.


What do you expect, when you have to buy your furniture in affordable furniture shops...

... nevertheless, we like the new additions.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Holydays Memories

Los Angeles' City Council approved a 1-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in the impoverished south Los Angeles area, hoping to attract restaurants that offer healthier food. You may have hared of that. However, this was the picture, Swiss newspaper NZZ used to illustrate the article about:

13 months ago Toño and I were packing for our holidays in South Central Los Angeles, on which we went in the El Pollo Loco shown in the picture above. How were we supposed to know that we were almost committing a felony...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Honouring Fennel

I would not say that I'm a big fan of fennel. At least not until last Saturday, when, at the house warming party of of our swim buddy Gambling Shark and his boyfriend Christian, my taste-buds were fired into another dimension by a fennel salad which stopped the world twirling through space but around my plate of salad.

Toño invested all his charm to get the recipe from Gambling Shark, only to surprise me with it on a hot evening earlier this week (it's the white-greenish stuff on the left side):

Cut your fennel into small stripes, ground an apple of a sour variety, add olive oil extra vergine and the juice of a lemon, season with salt and white or rose pepper. Mix well and let the salad rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Toño served it with carrot salad, marinated chicken and a bottle of Priorat Balcons 2004. I know, the wine is a bit expensive (60$/bottle), but you have to honour this fennel salad.