Thursday, March 31, 2005

Steal This Blog

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case on the propriety of electronic file sharing, a historian's perspective may be useful. Argues Doron Ben-Atar, "History is full of examples of governments that tried to stem the outflow of knowledge and technology... In our own time we acknowledge our failure to prevent nuclear know-how and bomb-making materials from reaching the worst regimes on the planet. Shouldn't we simply admit that all efforts to block access to technologies are a waste of precious resources?" That might be overstating the case. Numerous technologies have been successfully kept secret (Greek fire) or at least restricted (nuclear weapons) for long periods, and few institutions have enjoyed the economic power and social clout of the modern American entertainment industry. But the mere fact that the question's up for consideration with the high court does demonstrate that some digital technologies seem to have democratizing effects...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why the Germans Loved Hitler

This review article of a recent book on Hitler's appeal by German historian Goetz Aly is full of fascinating detail. Aly argues that Germans adored and supported Adolf Hitler from his ascension to the chancellorship to the Third Reich's death in 1945 because he not only told them what they wanted to hear, but made them rich: "most Germans saw Nazism as a 'warm-hearted' protector, says Aly, author of the new book Hitler's People's State: Robbery, Racial War and National Socialism and currently a guest lecturer at the University of Frankfurt. They were only too happy to overlook the Third Reich's unsavory, murderous side."

The facts and figures are stunning, and go a long way toward recasting the Germans' war, especially in the East, as a plundering adventure: "Aly cites secret Nazi files showing that from 1941-1943 Germans robbed enough food and supplies from the Soviet Union to care for 21 million people. Meanwhile, he insists, Soviet war prisoners were systematically starved. German soldiers were also encouraged to send care packages home to their families to boost the morale of their wives and children. In the first three months of 1943, German soldiers on the Leningrad front sent more than 3 million packages stuffed with artifacts, art, valuables and food home, Aly says." And Aly's argument is reaching the German public, too, reshaping contemporary Germany's understanding of itself and its role in World War II and the Holocaust.

Plagiarize Your Way to a Career!

Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood, two writers at the Chronicle of Higher Education, are up for a prestigious journalism prize, largely on the strength of their reporting on plagiarism in the academy. Of their multi-part series, I was most struck by this piece on scholars who have made plagiarism a habit and a means to career advancement.

Having spent hundreds and hundreds of hours poring over my primary and seconary sources to avoid even the hint of "copying," and spending even more time getting the footnotes exactly right, this kind of stuff nearly makes me ill. And yet, it's also to be fully expected. In as hypercompetitive an environment as the modern academy, with so many worthy candidates vying for so few decent jobs, it's practically inevitable that some (many?!?) will take the time- and energy-saving step of simply stealing others' work. What's really shocking is how few and minor are the effects of getting caught: the four profiled plagiarists all have decent academic jobs, unlike many scholars I know who have never plagiarized.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Aland Ho!

Little did I know that Finland is home to one of the world's most successful exercises in minority self-determination in the Åland Islands, home to a small Swedish-speaking population who have broad autonomy from Finland. And it turns out that the "Åland Model" is the subject of considerable study by other nations which are seeking a way to guarantee minority rights and yet maintain national integrity. Maybe something like this could even work for liberal Democrats in Minnesota...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Nordic World Cup: the season's over

The cross-country skiing World Cup ended this weekend with pursuit and relay races in Falun, Sweden. In the women's 2 x 7.5km pursuit, superstar Marit Bjorgen completed perhaps the most dominant season ever, winning the race by 15 seconds over Katerina Neumannova and Julija Tchepalova. Bjorgen's win put the cherry on the cherry on top of her fabulous season, in which she swept all three WC titles - overall, distance, and sprints. She must be the odds-on favorite for next year's cup and for a stunning performance at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

On the men's side, things were much tighter. Going into the last race, cup leader Axel Teichmann of Germany held a narrow lead over Frenchman Vincent Vittoz, but the latter could have won the overall title by finishing first in the 2 x 15km pursuit and seeing Teichmann falter. A gargantuan pack of fifteen skiers hung together for much of the race, which concluded in a field sprint and a six-way photo finish. Russian Yevgeny Dementiev ended up in first, a millimeter ahead of Tobias Angerer (Germany) and Martin Bajcicak (Slovakia). Numerous skiers collapsed or fell immediately after crossing the line, but Teichmann finished seventh to win the overall and distance World Cup titles.

On Sunday, the World Cup season ended with men's and women's relays. On the women's side, Finland handily won the 4 x 5km race, outdistancing Norway and Russia by 17 seconds. Those two teams' anchor skiers - Bjorgen and Tchepalova - had to sprint for the silver, with Norway taking it by a half second. The 4 X 10km men's race, again, was much tighter. Five teams were still together halfway through the final leg, and only a break by Norwegian Tore-Ruud Hofstad and Italian Giorgio Di Centa fractured the group. Hofstad outsprinted Di Centa by four tenths of a second to win; Mathias Fredriksson of Sweden gave his country the bronze.

All in all - as these reviews of the women's and the men's seasons indicate - racing was remarkably even and varied (despite Bjorgen). This bodes very well for a competitive 2005-2006 season and exciting Olympic Games in Torino.

How will you like these Apples?

Interesting third-party ideas about possible Apple products, such as an iPhone and a wireless iPod. Strangely, even though I like other stuff this design firm has done, these pieces are remarkably ugly.

Nukes = Peace

As Bush bangs the drum about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, I've wondered again and again just why nuclear proliferation is really such a bad thing. After all, only the first country to develop nukes ever used them in combat.

Inevitably, scholars have posed the same question, and it turns out that some political scientsts argue that the spread of nuclear weapons actually makes the world safer, not more dangerous. It's a counterintuitive idea - even a "perverse" one, according to a critic of it - but it's also compelling and pretty well borne out by the empirical data of the US-USSR Cold War, the India-Pakistan standoff, and the USSR-China stalemate. So let the mullahs achieve fission! We'll all be better off.

(I found this article via the Chronicle of Higher Education's amazing and compendious Arts & Letters Daily - a sort of high-brow Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Support Our Ribbons!

I hate those damn "Support Our Troops" ribbons. But since their existence has made this spoof possible, I hate them a little less. (Make sure you try out the "Make Your Own!" option: you can save the image for your own nefarious blog-related purposes.)

(Thanks to Carole for the link. Cross-posted from After School Snack.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Augering Augurs Well?

Augur ('o-g&r): noun
Etymology: Latin; akin to Latin augEre
1 : an official diviner of ancient Rome
2 : one held to foretell events by omens

Augur ('o-g&r): verb
transitive senses
1 : to foretell especially from omens
2 : to give promise of : PRESAGE
intransitive senses : to predict the future especially from omens

Auger ('o-g&r): noun
Etymology: Middle English, alteration (resulting from false division of a nauger) of nauger, from Old English nafogAr; akin to Old High German nabugEr auger, Old English nafu nave, gAr spear -- more at NAVE, GORE
: any of various tools or devices having a helical shaft or member that are used for boring holes (as in wood, earth, or ice) or moving loose material (as snow).
also: n. Means of spending an evening (e.g., March 22, 2005): buy $40 in plumbing tools; stick auger down bathtup drain; curse softly as fingers are caught in stainless-steel wire; finally pull up black, baseball-sized clot of human hair; rinse drain and tub; celebrate plumbing accomplishment with a bit of Maker's Mark pipecleaner

Suomalainen Sika (or something like that)

Who knew? Apropos of an agriculture-cooperation agreement between Finland and China, we find out that "the quality of Finnish pigs is known around the world. Hogs exported from Finland and their descendants are ranked highest in American studies."

What, I wonder, are the criteria for that study? Leanness? Snufflability? Curliness of the tail?The mud-adhesion properties of the porcine epidermis?

Monday, March 21, 2005

World Cup Ski Jumping (er. Ski Flying)

Records were shredded at the HS215 ski-flying hill in Planica, Slovakia. On Saturday, Matti Hautamaki edged Andreas Widhotzl by a tenth of a point, sticking the landing of his last jump to move past the Austrian and take the event, his sixth straight win. Norwegian Bjoern Einar Romoeren finished third. On Sunday, the jumpers took on the existing ski-flying record, extending it by a whopping 8 meters. This time, Romoeren won on the strength of his second-round flight of 239m, which topped Matti Hautamaki's 235.5m second-round jump and Romoeren's own jump of 234.5 in training. World Cup champ Janne Ahonen jumped 240m in the second round, but fell on the landing and wound up in the hospital. Norwegian Roar Ljokelsey finished second on Sunday, ahead of Widhotzl; Hautamaki finished fourth. The World Cup went to Ahonen, who had enjoyed a fantastic run of wins before Christmas. Ljokelsey finished second overall and Hautamaki wound up in third.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Minnesota Architecture

I wish I knew more about architecture, but I do know what appeals to me. Duluth architect David Salmela mixes modernism with Upper-Midwest vernacular, and the results are some of the most appealingly clean and crisply beautiful buildings around. His stand-alone structures are great (see the Emerson Sauna) but like a downhome van der Rohe, he's also doing a whole subdivision in a Twin Cities suburb. The forthcoming book on his work sounds great.

Friday, March 18, 2005


6:30 STORM TIME and we're almost buried in ten feet of snow. Actually, that's not even remotely true. This is a very po-mo storm: worse in the forecasting and description than the actual lived reality. I'd say four inches on the ground here, maximum, albeit with considerable "blowing and drifting" (which sounds more like an itinerant hooker's activities than a meteorological condition). Though, come to think of it, get back to me in 30 minutes after I clear the @!(&%@! sidewalks.


9:50 STORM TIME. The wind appears to be picking up; snow is swirling now, rather than just floating down. Pedestrians are walking with their heads tucked into their chests, and passing cars have a layer of snow on them. Are they readying the avalanche cannons on top of the IDS? Stay tuned and find out!


8:40 am STORM TIME. Flat surfaces which were bare earlier today - sidewalks, plazas, the crania of blockheads at my job - are now covered with a fine layer (the proverbial "dusting") of snow. And there's much more snow in the air!


It's just after 8 am, and we've changed over to STORMTIME! The snow is thicker now, and flying horizontally. It's not exactly blizzarding, but one can see where the real deal might be in the offiing...

Ski Flying

The last event of the World Cup ski jumping season takes place this weekend in Planica, Slovenia: the individual and team competitions on the massive ski-flying launch, a 215m monster. Expectations are high that one of the jumpers - maybe Matti Hautamäki - will break the world record of 231 meters (about 252 yards, further than the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk), which Hautamäki set with an epic flight at Planica in 2003.

Though ski flying is now an entirely European sport, there is one American venue which has hosted ski-flying competitions, and might someday do so again: Copper Peak, outside Ironwood, Michigan. The structure is breathtaking, and it would be great to see a ski-flying event there again. Ironwood 2010?


Minneapolis - heck, everything between Winnipeg and Des Moines, apparently - is under a "Winter Storm Warning" or "Watch" or "Alert" or some such. We were supposed to get several inches of snow on Thursday, then it was going to start early on Friday morning, and now I suppose it's going to start any minute.

When I left the house ca. 6:35 am, the air was clear. By the time I got on the bus at 6:40 am, though, some big snowflakes were falling, and the bus followed a MnDOT plowtruck up Cedar as it threw road salt everywhere. Downtown, the skyscrapers provided a better backdrop for the few flakes floating around, but as of 7:11 am, we're still waiting for the main event. Check back at STORMBLOG 2005! for more.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Nordic Skiing - Last Sprints

Wednesday's men's and women's 1km sprints at Göteborg, Sweden, turned out almost identically: Norway won each race and Finland took second. On the men's side, Trond Iversen won his quarter-final and semi-final heats to advance into and then win the final, storming the kilometer-long course at 32 kph (20 mph) to finish in 1:52.8 - less than a second ahead of Keijo Kurttila and slightly more on Ola Vigen Hattestad in third. Tor Arne Hetland, second in the overall World Cup race, made the final and, had he won, would have moved into first over idle Axel Teichmann. But Hetland fell after his skis tangled with Kurttila's, and finished in fourth, failing to earn enough points to overtake Teichmann. Hetland, a sprint specialist and the sprint champion of the WC, is unlikely to compete and earn points in the weekend's races at Falun, Sweden.

On the women's side, Marit Bjorgen dominated once again. Like Iversen, she swept all three of her races, including the final, which she finished in 2:04.3, well ahead of Finns Aino Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen (who, like Bjorgen, possesses both sprinting and distance skills, and may well compete at a very high level in the 2005-06 World Cup). Tearing over the course at 29kph (18 mph), Bjorgen only lengthened her already-unsurpassable lead in the overall World Cup.

World Cup Nordic Skiing - The Home Stretch

Pending today's sprint races in Goteborg, Sweden, the nordic skiing world cup has just one more event remaining. Last weekend saw two of the most well-known races on the circuit: the distance events on the famous Holmenkollen course in Oslo. Racing in front of the Norwegian royal family, native daughter Marit Bjorgen capped her World Cup-winning campaign in style. Down to Czech Katarina Neumannova by 13 seconds at the halfway point of the 30km freestyle race, Bjorgen time-trialed back into contention and then into the lead, beating Neumannova by 27.6 seconds - a 41-second gain over the last 15km of the race. Though Bjorgen had already won the women's WC, the second and third overall positions were shaken up by the race. After an abysmal race, Estonian Krista Smigun, who had been in second place, plummeted into fourth, while Neumannova climbed up into overall second and Virpi Kuitunen (who finished third in the race) moved into overall third.

A 50km monster, the race men's ranks as one of the most prestigious in the world, and Norway's 50km World Champion Frode Estil had high hopes for success. But Estonian Andrus Veerpalu won by racing steadily over the first half of the race, then holding off some challenges in the second half. Veerpalu was well prepared to overcome the trials of the marathon. Thanks to a strong start, he held a 9.1 second lead at 30km. Over the next 10km, he faded badly, surrendering all of that cushion. But he called on his 2003 win at Holmenkollen to revive at the 40km mark and build up enough pace to finish 27.9 seconds up on Jens Filbrich of Germany and 28.4 seconds up on Odd-Bjorn Hjelmset of Norway. The overall men's WC standings did not change: German Axel Teichmann, a middle-distance specialist, holds a sizable but not insurmountable lead over Norwegian sprinter Tor Arne Hetland.

The ski jumpers also competed at Holmenkollen, and Finn Matti Hautamaki continued his streak of consecutive wins with a dominant performance on the HS128 hill. With jumps of 127.5 and 128 meters (the latter earning a bevy of 19.5 style scores), Hautamaki led the entire competition, defeating Norwegian Bjoern Einar Romoeren and German Michael Uhrmann. Many of the best jumpers in the field finished far back of Hautamaki, including WC champion Janne Ahonen (18th), Roar Ljokelsoy (8th), Jakub Janda (16th), and Martin Hollwarth (17th). This weekend, the jumpers become flyers, taking on the massive HS215 slide at Planica, Slovenia.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Oblique Strategies

Cryptic but funny and interesting: Eno's Oblique Strategies. I plan to use one each day at work.

(Thanks to 43Folders for the tip.)

Airports, Encoded

Inevitably, the Internets include a complete listing of every three-letter airport code. My favorite is CMX: Houghton County Airport in Hancock, Michigan.

One can find out all kinds of interesting facts about countries though the site. Finland has 30 airports important enough to merit codes; Sweden has 49. Damn Swedes. On the other hand, the United States has 1,066 such airports (including ZPH in Zephyrhills, Florida), and North Korea has just one (FNJ in Pyongyang). (I lack the motivation to see which country has the most - though both Russia [70]and China [133] are well back of the U.S.)

And while these is no ASS, there is a BUT (Burtonwood, Great Britain) and a SEX (Sembach, Germany). And it SUX to fly into Sioux City.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Larry Summers, Technocrat and Near-Autist?

In the wake of L'affaire Summers, Boston Magazine prints an excellent look at Larry Summers. The profile effectively delineates the major events and features of his career as an economist, public servant, and bureaucrat. For instance, Summers' comments on women's inherent cognitive abilities are interestingly qualified by the fact that, as Secretary of the Treasury and as Harvard president, his "closest staff members were female; he seemed to feel most relaxed in the presence of women. 'Larry surrounds himself with these women who see the vulnerable side of him and think they can change him,' says one Clinton aide who worked closely with Summers. Conversely, whether at MIT, Harvard, or in Washington, virtually all the colleagues Summers considered intellectually challenging were male." One reason, then, that Summers might hold such recondite opinions about innate female characteristics is that he's only rarely encountered women whose behavior and brainpower would contradict those opinions. Silly women, hiding from Larry like that.

Apart from (and even in opposition to) its value in tracking Summers' path through the American technocracy, the article also suggests that one reason he keeps causing trouble with his mouth is that he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Be that as it may, I think Occam's razor is useful here. Before invoking a biological explanation, we might consider that, like many men who have climbed up the ladder, Larry Summers is both arrogant and unimaginative in considering reasons why others do not succeed in the same ways or to the same degrees that he has. Summers' views on female achievement are more adequately explained by the certainty of his accomplishments as a technocrat than the possibility of his suffering from Asperger's.

The Cats Are Out of the Bags

Anyone with a fondness for bags - backpacks, messenger bags, attache cases, regular and man-purses, etc. etc. - will loooove this collection of photos of various bags and their contents.

(Thanks for Matt, baghound extraordinaire, for the link.)

Pawlenty of Buzz

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, GOP powerbrokers - including wingnut leaders like Weyrich and Norquist - are buzzing about Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty as a presidential candidate. Given that he's hit-or-miss at home and that his only Big Idea lately has been a metro-area casino co-run by the Indian tribes and the state, this scenario seems like further proof of the power of the Peter Principle.

It's an absolute shame that Minnesota's so far from having been the place that put Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone on the national stage. Pawlenty's a callow politician, someone who's helped create a situation in which the state won't give cities and counties enough money to keep their libraries open, but will considering dropping half a billion dollars to get into the casino business. For shame...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Nordic World Cup - Mid-Week Events

The week has already excellent World Cup ski-jumping and cross-country events, three on Wednesday and one on Friday. In XC, men's and women's sprints were staged in Drammen, Norway. The women's final was no contest: Finn Virpi Kuitunen led from wire to wire, beating two Swedish racers onto the top of the podium. (World Cup winner and crack sprinter Marit Bjorgen didn't make the final after losing a ski in a preliminary heat.) In the men's final, Tor Arne Hetland took advantage of the home snow to jump from the back of the pack all the way into first, winning the race by about four inches over countryman Eldar Roenning. Boerre Naess finished third, and the gigantic Trond Iversen, who won all of his heats, languished in fourth. Hetland's win puts him back into second place in the overall men's World Cup chase, 41 points behind Axel Teichmann. On Saturday, the racing shifts to the other end of the spectrum with distance races on the fabled Holmenkollen courses in Norway: a men's 50km marathon and a women's 30km marathon, both contested in the classic style.

The midweek ski-jumping competition took place in Kuopio, Finland, and home-town hero Matti Hautamaki seized the day, winning easily over Norwegian Roar Ljokelsoy in second and
Jakub Janda (Czech Republic) and Adam Malysz (Poland), who tied for third. The win on the HS127 hill was Hautamaki's third straight, and perhaps his best of the year: he sealed the win on his final jump by soaring 128m and earning two perfect 20 scores for style. On Friday, Hautamaki kept up the high flying, winning the event at Lillehammer, Norway. Flying 131m and 135m on the big 134m hill, Hautamaki easily outpaced two Norwegians, Sigurd Pettersen and Lars Bystoel. Just as importantly for the crack Finnish ski-jumping team, Janne Ahonen placed fourth - setting a hill record with a staggering 137m jump in the first round - and sealed up the overall World Cup win. Norwegian Ljokelsoy is in second, too far back to catch up even if he sweeps the season's last three events. As the jump-by-jump commentary from Kuopio and Lillehammer shows, both events featured a thrilling share of gamesmanship as jumpers summoned up every bit of skill to fly into the lead. Hautamaki's 135m second-round flight at Lillehammer offers the best evidence of the sport's mano-a-mano character.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Ugly Cars

The NPR radio show Car Talk is trying to determine the ugliest car. Some of the cars in the running are truly ugly, like the Hummer H2, the Chevy Avalanche, and the Pontiac Aztek, but some are - I think - beautiful specimens of automotive technology: the Honda Element, the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Magnum. Go vote, and read the great comments, too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Guitar Gods

Wilco is a good band for lots of reasons, but I'm listening right now to one of the best: the live "EP" version of "At Least That's What You Said," freshly downloaded for free from the Wilco site. The album version of this song has what must be the most titanically awesome guitar part ever - yeah, even better than "Chickamauga" on Anodyne or even "Stairway to Heaven" - but this live version blows the album track out of the studio. Holy (kid)smoke, but it rocks. If you like rock 'n' roll, get it and listen to it and love it. And they're just giving it away!

Take Talk Radio - Please!

David Foster Wallace is always a pleasure to read, and his long essay on talk radio, which appears in the April issue of the Atlantic Monthly, is no exception. He's especially adept at drawing out the way talk radio exists at an intersection of broadcasting technology, political-economic maneuvering, and social changes.

In profiling one Southern California talk-radio host, Wallace provides a kind of pocket guide to modern radio broadcasting. He touches on the war between FM and AM (didja know AM is dominated by talk because music doesn't sound good on AM wavelengths?), discusses electronics which can allow 15 minutes of speech to be broadcast in 13 minutes, and shows how FCC rulings intended to allow increased concentration of media companies also encouraged highly partisan broadcasts. Wallace grounds everything on the bedrock fact that talk radio, despite its right-wing hosts' rhetoric about being outside the mainstream, is in fact a giant business utterly beholden to its owners and commercial supporters.

This point (and the array of evidence behind it) has a paradoxical effect on me. On one hand, I somehow feel less threatened by political views which are only or largely the effluvium of the machinery of capitalism. On the other hand, that same machinery operates to prevent the production of alternative views and to encourage widespread adoption by the "market" of the talk-radio host's now-mainstream views. Where's the out? Wallace doesn't provide one, as is his po-mo want, and concludes his piece with a shy vote in favor of reasoned doubt over clamorous certainty. I'm not sure that'll take us very far.

(From a somewhat different angle, I have also written a blog post on this article on After School Snack.)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Armor? We don't need no stinking armor.

Apparently, the reason so many American troops and vehicles in Iraq have fallen victim to the insurgents' "improvised explosive devices" is that the Pentagon was too inept to foresee a need for body and truck armor, to procure it from capable contractors, and to distribute it properly. Why isn't this the scandal that eats the Administration? American men and women are dead because of it. Some support for the troops, that.

And why isn't the Pentagon - whose leaders love the tiresome 1990s business jargon about being "lean" and "agile" - forced to act like a company, to do more with less, to be efficient, to compete, and so forth? It seems hideously shameful that while Americans are living under the threat of a privatized ( = destroyed) social safety net, the generals needn't fear the bureaucratic equivalent.

Grey is the new black.

If "Cinema Studies" is the new MBA, I might wish the PhD was the new MBA, but then again, I see what MBAs are like and I'd rather be a PhD. Maybe my critical-thinking skills will help me avoid being manipulated quite as much as the next guy.

Family Power Rankings

Inspired by this, I put myself in second, behind Julia (#1: nobody else so successfully gets everybody else to everything else) and Shannon (#2: nobody else can take care of the kid and clean the house and make dinner), but ahead of the cat (#4: the matted fur's getting out of hand).

World Cup Nordic Skiing - Lahti Ski Games

The World Cup weekend was dominated by the Lahti Ski Games in Lahti, Finland, where four cross-country events and two jumping events were held. Saturday saw the men's and women's sprints: Sweden's Lina Andersson skied away from the other three women in the women's 1.2 km final, while Boerre Naess edged fellow Norwegian Tor Arne Hetland in the men's final. (Follow the link above for a great photo of the men's finish.)

In the two distance events, things were much less tight. Both events featured staggered starts, in which individual skiers are released at thirty-second intervals, creating a hunter-quarry effect on the trails as each skier tries to catch the skier just in front - or to avoid getting caught by the skier just behind. Czech Lucas Bauer easily won the men's 15km freestyle race, setting the fastest time at every check. Unknown Finn Juha Lallukka took advantage of the home snow, skiiing from well down in the field to finish fourth, with Austria's Christian Hoffman and Italian Thomas Moriggi in second and third. In the women's 10km, Russian Julia Tchepalova continued to ski well. Having won a distance event at the world championships last week, she had the legs and the wiles to narrowly outrace Katerina Neumannova by four seconds. France's Karine Philippot, who started well outside the elite group, skied up the field for third. The weekend's results had big effects on the overall World Cup standings. Though too ill to compete, Marit Bjorgen of Norway sealed her women's title. Vincent Vittoz of France raced poorly in the distance event, but still overtook Tor Arne Hetland for second place in the men's World Cup, behind Axel Teichmann, who was also too ill to race.

In the ski jumping competitions at Lahti, Norway handily won the team competition on the 130m hill, with all four of its athletes jumping over 120m - a rare display of discipline and skill. The home-country Finns wound up in second and Austria took third. In the individual competition on the 130m hill, all eyes were on hometown hero Janne Ahonen, but he jumped very poorly and ultimately failed to make the podium. First, though, event officials had to undo the first twenty jumps due to bad winds and an unwisely low choice of starting gate, which made it hard to jumpers to build up enough speed for good flights. After the restart, the jumpers began from further up the slide, and the unheralded Finn Matti Hautamäki quickly took over, leaping 127.5m and 124.5m. Norway's Roar Ljoekelsoey, fresh off a medal at the world championships, had the day's best jump, at 128.5m, and finished second, just one point back of Hautamäki. (Notice his sponsor - get it?) Austrian Thomas Morgenstern wound up in third, less than two points up on Ahonen, who can still earn the World Cup championship by winning on home soil on Wednesday in Kuopio.

Nordic Skiing - the Vasaloppet

Adjunct to the World Cup calendar, the world's longest and oldest ski race, the Vasaloppet, was held this weekend in Mora, Sweden. Well, not exactly in Mora. 90 kilometers (56 miles) long, the race runs over from Salen, near the border with Norway, to Mora. Some of the race takes place on a river. This year's race was quite tight, with early leader Raul Olle of Estonia fading in the last ten k. With 2000 meters left, ten skiers crashed, but Swede Oskar Svard won, outsprinting ten other skiers on the final straightaway to win by less than a second, in a time of 3:51:47. Almost four hours is a long time to race, but most of the other 15,000 skiers needed more like ten hours to finish, and three men died. The Vasaloppet has quite a pedigree:
The course is based on an event from nearly 500 years ago. In 1522, Gustav Vasa attempted to gather peasants for a revolt against the occupying Danes. Vasa fled when he got no support. The people of Mora changed their minds and sent their two best skiers to bring Vasa back. They found him near the Norwegian border in Salen. He returned to lead the Swedes to independence, and was later proclaimed King Gustav Vasa. The Vasaloppet follows the same course from Salen to Mora.

Mac OS X vs. Windows: The GUI

One of the most obvious differences between a Mac and a Windows machine is the interface: the icons, menus, windows, colors, and so on. This long, occasionally too-geeky, but this valuable essay by Mary Stamper goes into some detail as to why the superior Mac interface permits greater productivity. Stamper goes further behind the interface than the average user, to explicate (for example) why the Mac Finder Sidebar is more powerful than the Windows Start Menu and why the shadows that outline open windows are key factors in usability. Stamper is a programmer and a user of Mac and Windows machines, so she doesn't come off as a typical Apple zealot. Rather, she's an intelligent person who's both insulted and perplexed by the crumminess of Windows, and knows why Apple offers the best alternative.

(Thanks to for the link and this commentary.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Murakami to Get You

I just finished Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: what a great novel. Beautiful prose (thanks to an excellent translation), an engrossing story, and more bizarreness than you can shake a Pynchon at. Among other things, the book encompasses a great detective story, at least two unrequited-love stories, and more than one excellent (and frightfully brutal) war story. It's testament to Murakami's skill as a writer than he can muse about the metaphysics of love and connectedness as deftly as he can describe the savagery of the Japanese war in China. It's brilliant stuff, and highly recommended. As Lieutenant Mamiya indirectly tells the novel's protagonist and the reader, "Leave the imagining to someone else." Someone like Murakami.

Difficult Words

I dunno who gets to choose what's on this list of difficult words, but it's interesting to browse. Intercalary? Tachytelic? Zoanthropy? Falcate? Macromania?