Sunday, June 10, 2007

Music: The Killdares at Fado Austin

I took my brother, Dennis, and Greg to Fado Yesterday, their last night in Texas. As a result, we stumbled on a performance by the Celtic rock band The Killdares.

The Killdares consist of a drummer, fiddler, bag piper, electric guitar, and bass guitar. They played a mix of original songs and electric folk rock arrangements of traditional Irish tunes. I don't know if electric folk rock is a real term, but hopefully it conveys what I'm talking about. Real toe-tapping music.

I thought the performance was a terrific way to end a lazy Saturday. I especially enjoyed the interplay between the fiddle and the pipes. The amount of coordination between the two artists really made an exciting performance. It reminded me of the fun I had playing violin in band and orchestra way back. Nothing can quite match the feeling of playing music with talented musicians. But watching from the audience is second best.

If you have a chance to see these folks play live, take it. I hope they come back to Austin soon.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Film: Solaris (2002)

Unless you don't mind taking some time to think about a film, don't watch Solaris. I really enjoyed it, but not everyone likes having to work for their films.

Don't get me wrong. The film has a lot going for it: great visuals, nifty ideas, tense pacing, and good (but minimal) music. I think the look and style of the film is great. It conveys lots of careful craftsmanship.

Just the DVD's title menu completely hypnotized me. I would really like to have a screen saver that just featured an evolving view of Solaris and a loop of the score by Cliff Martinez. Of course, then I'd spend my days drooling into my keyboard rather than getting stuff done.

But the film doesn't end with an explanation of what just happened. You won't find any explosions or even any loud noises. We're talking about science fiction on the 2001: A Space Odyssey side of the genre. Events revolve around people (or at least characters), not around gadgets or dogfights. This is the sort of film that will keep you up for the rest of the night discussing what happened.

I think I'll put the Stanislaw Lem story and the 1972 film on my to-do list.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Panic Button Usability Case Study

Tuesday night I stopped at HEB for some groceries. On my way out, I noticed that a car alarm was going crazy. As I passed the offending auto, I noticed that the doors of this shiny new Honda Fit were open and that there were two women inside. I decided I would offer help if the alarm was still going after I deposited the groceries in my trunk.

Sure enough, the alarm continued. Looking at the two women, I felt fairly certain they weren't car thieves. I smiled at them and gestured as if to ask if I could help. The passenger smiled and shrugged back, so I walked over.

The driver was flipping through the Fit's manual, clearly looking for a way to silence it. I asked if I could offer help. "Do you know how do I shut this off?" she asked.

"Do you have a remote control?" I asked in return.

"Yes, right here." She raised a tiny box.

"Did you accidentally hit the red panic button?"

"Yes, I tried pushing it again, but it won't turn off." She demonstrated and the horn glitched as the alarm sequence started from the top.

"Try pushing the unlock button."

And the horn finally went silent.

"Thank you. We hit the red button and the lock button, but we didn't think to push the unlock button."

"No problem. How do you like the car?"

"I like it a lot. It's very nice."

It actually did look pretty nice. "Cool. Have a good one."

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Podcast Watch: Singularity

Technically, Bill DeSmedt's Singularity probably should get classified as an audio book. Professional narration of a novel doesn't quite meet my notion of a podcast. Still, the work is available on as an iTunes compatible or RSS podcast feed. For free too (with a suggested donation).

I started listening to the book on my last trip to Corpus Christi. It worked great. The fast pace and nearly constant excitement made the four hour drive go by in a flash.

The book is science fiction, but think Robert Ludlum meets Michael Crichton. Events hinge on speculative science, but it mostly occurs in the near future (well, the past's near future... the 1990's) with plenty of explosions and fights. It's full of crazy science, but most of it explained so that a layman can follow easily.

There are some anachronisms in the novel. Technology evolved a little differently in our future than what was expected when the book was written. Some of the computer science and hacking stuff seems a little off too. Still, it's worth cutting the book some slack.

And that professional narration? It seems to have been done by the author personally. Color me impressed. The accents and voices are all done quite well -- I swear he sounds like a professional narrator. Link.

Selecting Stocks With Insider Trading

My friend Freddy has been researching different kinds of stock screens. One measure of a stock that we discussed was Insider Trading. When someone involved in the critical workings of a company buys its stock, good things seem to happen.

The notion is that an insider wouldn't buy stock in their own company unless they were confident the price would go up. I'm skeptical of the predictive abilities of humans -- especially executives. Still, I hear that you can find statistical evidence to support the idea. When insiders buy, the stock becomes more inclined to go up rather than down. Or so they say.

When I buy stock, I look for a dividend, a P/E ratio of 15 or less, and debt less than 50% of market cap. That's about it right now. Not that I'm terribly successful or very committed to picking stocks. Most of my exposure to stocks comes from Index funds and my 401k mutual funds. Don't mistakenly think that I'm a great stock picker or that I've even tested insider trading as a screen.

I am tempted though. Screening stocks for insider buying isn't hard. Freddy sent me this site: It seems to have all the data needed. One interesting trend I noticed from this site is that buying occurs an order of magnitude less frequently than selling.

Suggestive, isn't it? I find it amusing that so many folks defend exaggerated executive salaries when it seems most executives seem reluctant to keep their money in the organizations they run. Yes, I suppose they have some excuse. They don't want all their eggs in one basket. They need new vacation homes and fast cars. I understand, but I'm still jealous. And skeptical.

Leave a comment if you have experience with using insider trading as a stock screen (no investment spammers, naturally).


Cory Doctorow has been podcasting his fantastic story in progress, There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life. If you enjoy Mecha battles, Disney lore, paleo-futurism, immortality, and the ethics of technology and progress, you'll probably enjoy this. In fact, your head will explode. Link.