Blog Home: Home


The "I'm not acting guilty, I'm just a genius" defense doesn't work for Hans Reiser

SEATTLE, Washington - Superstar software hacker Hans Reiser was found guilty of first-degree murder on Monday for killing his wife Nina, who disappeared in October 2006 and whose body has never been found.

The most interesting part of this was Reiser's defense strategy, which was reported in the Washington Post in February and for which I have a certain soft spot in my heart. Reiser engaged in all sorts of red-flag behavior in the immediate aftermath of Nina's disappearance, including purchasing books on murder, removing the passenger seat from his car (which also had soaking-wet floorboards), not taking part in the search for Nina, and rolling around with $8,000 in cash and his passport for no good reason. This looks like suspicious behavior to most of us, but according to Reiser's counsel, Reiser is so smart, so disconnected from how his actions may be perceived by others, so wrapped up in his tortured genius, that he didn't think about how all of this perfectly explainable behavior made him look guilty:

"Being too intelligent can be a sort of curse," defense counsel William Du Bois said. "All this weird conduct can be explained by him, but he's the only one who can do it. People who are commonly known as computer geeks are so into the field... He's a very difficult person. It's very difficult to represent a genius."
[in Silicon Valley], Hans Reiser's actions appear fairly reasonable, at least to people who spend much more time with computer code than with other humans.

"It strikes me that a lot of coders have a somewhat detached view of the world, and it's reasonable to assume that Hans might not even have stopped to think about how things looked," said Rick Moen, a local area network consultant in Menlo Park.

Reiser's very smart father chimed right in on this theme:

"His undergraduate thesis is on how if you change the perspective, the reality is different," said Ramon Reiser, the defendant's mathematician father, folding a pair of pants in the courtroom hallway as he waited to testify.
"When you look at it, would Hans Reiser turn a hose on a car to wash it? Absolutely, his mother told him to get that car cleaned up," the elder Reiser said.

"I and my brother -- maybe it's genetic -- have driven our cars without the front seat. It's really convenient."

If I'm ever on trial in the future, I want to say right now - I've been using hair dryers like that since I was 10 years old, Your Honor.


The Seattle Weekly 2008 Best Restaurants List - summary and analysis

SEATTLE, Washington - The days are long gone when this traditional April list would come out and I would just start eating my way through it - I've been to 70 of the 100 restaurants that the Weekly put in their 2001 issue. The main problem now is I don't know anyone in town with an expense account that I can gravy-train onto. Still, the 2008 list has arrived so I can make a few comments. The Weekly used to just publish a list, but now they have some silly theme every year; this time it's organizing the restaurants by "architecture".

I've been to 24 of the restaurants on the list, not bad considering that I've barely worked any new restaurants into rotation since 2004 or so. Still, some thoughts:

  • Good to see Cafe Lago on the list - it offered a very good super-thin-crust pizza in Seattle long before others (e.g. bored ex-Starbucks executives) got onto the bandwagon. Lago seems to fall on and off this list over time.
  • Maybe I need to try Lee's Asian some more, people keep talking it up.
  • No, I've still never been to Canlis; big deal. Why go? Because it's probably the only restaurant in Seattle with a dress code?
  • Glo's is typically not as busy as they say at midweek lunch time; go at that time. Volterra is as busy as they say.
  • There's a few on here I haven't been to in many years and need to revisit, including Brad's Swingside, Kingfish Cafe, and La Medusa.
  • I was underwhelmed at my visits to Il Terrazo Carmine, Tulio, and Ristorante Machiavelli.
  • High on my to-try list are Opal, Joule, How to Cook a Wolf, and Veil.

What a freak tent

SEATTLE, Washington - I was at a coin-op laundry today, for the first time in years, to wash a big quilt. I had forgotten what a Freak Tent those places are - even one in a good neighborhood.


Movie Review - Bound

SEATTLE, Washington - Obviously the Wachowski Brothers are losing their way by making a Speed Racer movie, so I figured I'd look into their past instead of dreading their future - and I ended up watching their 1996 film Bound.

This movie is tightly focused on what we want to see - gangsters and suitcases full of cash and lesbian action. This movie has a great visual style and (I swear) used a bunch of sound effects and music that I recognized as being used in The Matrix. The Wachowski Brothers were so committed to their craft that they brought in none other than Susie Bright to "choreograph" the lesbian sex scenes. Good work, Susie - even though Gina Gershon was a bit more yoked than I like, the sex in this movie blows away the sex in Mulholland Dr.

But what was Susie Bright's reward for this work? Did the Wachowski Brothers invite her to "choreograph" the lesbian sex in Speed Racer? No, they didn't even pick up the phone.


Shoofly Pie Co. goes stone cold gangsta

SEATTLE, Washington - The normally mild-mannered Shoofly Pie Co. has recently added a large chalkboard menu. The menu informs you of the treats that are available "for your Pie Hole".

It is my understanding that "pie hole" is a derogatory term, so at first I thought "that's a derogatory term, why did they use it?" But soon I thought "it's a derogatory term, that's exactly why they use it."

There's some serious attitude coming from various California Ave. eateries, starting with Mashiko and its admonition on the menu that you should "shut-up and eat." Looks like Shoofly also feels the need to project some attitude.


Notes on recently read books

SEATTLE, Washington -

Appointment in Samarra, by John O'Hara: Nice to see that an American was writing in the 1920s and 1930s while not living in Paris. This novel takes place in Gibbsville, a fictionalized Pottsville, PA, circa 1930. It's a decent enough novel about the type of people that would inhabit such a place at such a time. (spoiler alert) I didn't think the guy's life was bad enough for him to kill himself (end spoiler) but I didn't write the thing.

I didn't know much about O'Hara upon finishing this book, and I assume this was the definitive word about Gibbsville/Pottsville. But, while poking around the we're-moving sale at Twice Sold Tales I saw a big book of Gibbsville essays authored by O'Hara. On top of that he set five of his novels there. He just kept writing and writing and writing about Gibbsville/Pottsville - maybe he should have spent more time in Paris.

Stork Club : America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Café Society, by Ralph Blumenthal: I felt mildly let down by this book. It may just be that the Stork Club's owner, Sherman Billingsley, was not a very compelling figure. It seemed to have a fine-grained focus on Billingley's various battles over the years (mobsters, unions, Josephine Baker, sticky-fingered employees) without giving much insight on either the man or the broader "café society" in which the Stork Club operated. At least he spent a few years banging Ethel Merman.

Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, by Elliot Valenstein: This book was written in the late 1980s and heavily updated in 1997, but some facts are eternal: the Mental Health professions continue not to have much of a clue about the etiology of many of the things that they call "mental illnesses", but they pretend that they do.

A good hunk of the book is history, covering the evolution of thought about mental disorders and the history of treatments for said disorders. He gets into what is currently in vogue (chemical explanations for "mental illness") and what some of the alternatives are (e.g. physical brain structure issues). Chemical explanations are obviously popular with pharmaceutical companies, and Valenstein is quite hard on them, blaming them for distorting research and giving detailed coverage of the speculations, crumbs of knowledge, and outright bullshit that pharmaceutical companies have peddled as established scientific fact over the years (e.g. "low serotonin levels cause depression").

Valenstein doesn't think we should abandon psychoactive drugs, he agrees that they help some people some of the time, but he thinks we should honestly acknowledge that we don't have a very good idea why they have the effects that they have or what the drugs say about the underlying etiology of "mental illness".

(all "mental illness" scare quotes are mine, not Valenstein's)


Barney Frank, Ron Paul, marijuana - what could possibly go wrong?

SEATTLE, Washington - I'm sure if I combed over Barney Frank's overall record, I could find quite a bit of garbage, but I like to give credit when credit is due. Last year I mentioned Frank's criticism of state and federal efforts to restrict online gambling. Now Frank has turned his attention to the herb: He and Ron Paul have gotten together to introduce H.R. 5843, which would (among other provisions) eliminate all federal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana for personal use.

I figured that someone or other introduced legislation like this on a regular basis, even as only a symbolic gesture, but this is in fact the first decriminalization legislation introduced in 24 years.

I'm sure if Thomas Jefferson was around today he would include the marijuana plant in "tree of liberty" discussions.


Been goy so long it looks like Jew to me

SEATTLE, Washington - Prostitution is the quintessential entrepreneurial activity - its practitioners will do whatever it takes to serve the market. Turns out, in nineteenth-century France, this involved dark-haired gentile prostitutes playing the role of 'The Jewess' - apparently the demand for Jewish prostitutes exceeded the supply.

Did part of the role-playing involve a Jewish mother opening the door during sex and berating the couple - "WHAT, CAN'T YOU FIND A NICE JEWISH BOY? I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE SCHTUPPING A GENTILE BOY! THE SHAME!"?


A graphical representation of my aimless life

SEATTLE, Washington - One night recently, I had nothing much to do, so I decided to try to map out all the cities where I've spent the night. It's a motley collection, everything from a double-wide in rural Georgia, to a Motel 6 in Oakland next to one of those mini-marts that sells individual cigarettes, to some of North America's finest hotels. I think I have 71 cities in 26 states, BC, and the District of Columbia. I might have stayed in Ogden, Utah one night but I don't remember well enough to put it on the list.

I got a late start, when I started looking at grad schools in 1995 I had only slept in 5 states, and I never even got out of the Eastern time zone until a flight to Idaho in 1998.

The annotated map is here (or click on the map).


The Sweet and Salty Cake at Baked a.k.a. Escape from Red Hook

SEATTLE, Washington - In what is sure to be one step in an inevitable march through America's highly regarded cupcakes, I visited baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn this week to try the Sweet and Salty cupcake. It was only available in cake-slice form at the time so I got that.

The cake is good, but be advised, this is a way-out-of-the-way neighborhood that involves a subway ride to the Smith & 9th stop on the F train (the station is so high in the air it might qualify as geosynchronous orbit) and then hopping a bus into Red Hook. So I'll detour into a quick provincialism editorial:

I got off the bus right outside the bakery, and there was no corresponding stop for the same bus across the street, so I asked the server where to grab the bus to get back to the Smith & 9th stop. She didn't know. I simply assume, when someone lives or works in a way-out 'hood in New York, their first order of business is figuring out the transportation options to get to the more relevant places. It was almost inconceivable to me that anyone in Red Hook would not know the answer to this question immediately. The other customers informed me of where to get the bus (one block away). Does this server (who seemed nice, I'm not bashing her) never stray out of this tiny, dumpy neighborhood? Maybe she just walks to the subway, but it looks to be about a mile. It's also possible that if she needs to hop a subway, she first takes the B61 bus that goes to downtown Brooklyn (where there are many more subway options that just the F train). I dunno.

update: Maybe she drives? You get it in your head that people in NYC don't get around by car, but Red Hook is so out-there that there was plenty of parking. Perhaps I'm the provincialist, not her or the other inhabitants of Red Hook.


Listen, you tax-avoiding degenerates

NEW YORK, New York - I've noticed an increase in Google searches directing users to my discussion of Redemption Theory in the last week. It's bad enough that you people are considering a wacky conspiratorial scheme to avoid taxes - it's worse that you've procrastinated until the second week of April to do it.


A structural difficulty with the low-carb diet

NEW YORK, New York - A recent op-ed in the New York Times discussed the alleged fact that the brain has a limited reservoir of self-restraint and willpower and speculates on the possible causes and resolutions:

The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.
What limits willpower? Some have suggested that it is blood sugar, which brain cells use as their main energy source and cannot do without for even a few minutes. Most cognitive functions are unaffected by minor blood sugar fluctuations over the course of a day, but planning and self-control are sensitive to such small changes. Exerting self-control lowers blood sugar, which reduces the capacity for further self-control.

The article mentions activities that deplete willpower, including "resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone." They don't mention the one that seems, to me, the most important of all - the daily dose of willpower it takes to go to a job you dislike. A job that is both boring and demanding - a job that requires intelligence, yet insults your intelligence. I have such a job.

Now, combine the fact that I have to deplete willpower at the job with the fact that my diet of choice consists of eating in ways that will not elevate blood sugar. So when I notice after work that Ben & Jerry's has released a new flavor (like the recently introduced One Cheesecake Brownie), my willpower is sapped for the day. After I eat a pint, my blood sugar and presumably my willpower engine is replenished, but the damage is already done.

Found via Marginal Revolution


Mixed opinion on Mena Suvari's ass

NORTHFIELD, New Jersey - There seems to be a bit of blog debate about the merits of Mena Suvari's body after many bikini-clad pictures of her emerged this past week. Hollywood Tuna was dismissive, and Celebslam noted that her "transformation from an actress to a member of the 1988 Soviet Union women’s gymnastics team is finally complete."

Just Jared takes a rather neutral stand, and Egotastic! is downright enthusiastic for her.

I side with Egotastic! - she has an absolutely A-List ass, and the guy shown repeatedly grabbing it ("as if it were a life preserver", notes Egotastic!) seems to agree with me.

Fullest gallery here.


This Week's News regarding genitals and athletics

SEATTLE, Washington -

  • Use an electric razor next time: Cyclist Tammy Thomas is currently on trial for perjury regarding testimony she made during the investigation into the BALCO steroid distribution ring. A tester testified last week that when he went to find Thomas to collect a urine sample, she had shaving cream on her face.
  • "she needs more of ze punishment!": The head of the Formula One racing governing body, Max Mosley, is being pressured to resign after revelations that he engineered a Nazi-themed orgy with five prostitutes. Mosley at first acknowledged an orgy but denied any Nazi role-playing, but the evidence may be catching up to him.
  • What, it's been used for thousands of years: China's Olympic athletes and their promoters are concerned about positive drug tests this summer, so various ancient performance-enhancing concoctions have been put on the prohibited list, including turtle blood and deer penis.


Sign of an evolving economy

SEATTLE, Washington - The traffic reports on 950 KJR have a new sponsor - they've gone from being the "Centex Homes Traffic Center" to the "Muckleshoot Casino & Bingo Traffic Center".

Bad cupcake journalism

SEATTLE, Washington - Cupcake Royale in West Seattle is touting the fact that their Lavender cupcake was listed as one of the country's best cupcakes by MSN City Guides. Which is fine, except that MSN City Guides gets the ingredients in the cupcake wrong.

Cupcake Royale ­- Seattle

Lavender (Lavender-infused vanilla cake with lavender buttercream frosting)

This cupcake does not have lavender-infused cake, it's just regular vanilla cake with a lavender frosting. Cupcake Royale does not seem to give a damn about the error as they have posted the MSN article in their shop and on their web site.

Given this error, can I trust what MSN City Guides says about all the other cupcakes in the article? They discuss the Pistachio cupcake at Sugar Sweet Sunshine in Manhattan, and I've had that cupcake and they do seem to get that one right. I'll try the Sweet and Salty cupcake in Brooklyn next week, and I have an operative going to the bakery in Pittsburgh soon to try the East End Chocolate Stout cupcake.