Saturday, April 30, 2005

I remain skeptical but my sideburns are awesome

I've mentioned Patrick Hughes' "Diary of Indignities" before, but it's been awhile and his site still rocks (in a driving by a car crash and can't look away sense), so *bump*.

Friday, April 29, 2005


30 years ago today Saigon was falling, bringing the Vietnam war to an end. US helicopters were staging a massive airlift to remove Americans and some few South Vietnamese from the embassy - the images of that day are clear in my head, though they probably owe more to movies and documentaries than to any actual news reporting since I was 7 at the time and hadn't really developed much political consciousness yet.

Today marks the beginning of the airlift, and tomorrow marks the South's unconditional surrender, but we'd lost the war long before that date, maybe as early as the date we first decided to send our troops over there. We lost almost 60000 people, a number that is dwarfed by the 3.3 million Vietnamese killed (250000 South Vietnamese troops, 1.1 million North Vietnamese troops, 2 million civilians).

We'd also lost something else... perhaps it was innocence... certainly we lost faith in our own government, knowing that we couldn't trust them to keep our troops out of unnecessary harm. And unlike the heroes welcome that the soldiers of WWII received, many soldiers returning from Vietnam were met by people waving signs and chanting 'babykiller'; not only had the government betrayed these soldiers, the people of this country failed them as well.

And now we've got history repeating itself, no lessons learned from Vietnam, which might be due in part to the fact that a majority of our lawmakers and our president himself all managed to avoid the draft. We've lost more soldiers, the foundation of our economy, and the goodwill of other countries... not bad for just 4 years of work. I just hope we don't have to re-learn some of the other lessons from the Vietnam war, but our administration's obsession with North Korea is pretty much guaranteeing more carnage. These are sad times we live in.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

a post-ironic look at post-punk

The Observer on Britain's post-punk (i.e 'before most of the US ever heard of it') scene:

Today we tend to think of post-punk as consisting entirely of angular agit-prop (like Gang of Four) or ominous angst (like Joy Division), partly because those groups have influenced the current spate of fashionable retro-post-punk outfits, from Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand to Interpol and the Rapture. But it was also a great period for pure pop sensibility. Consider the geometric tautness and melodic concision of Wire's Chairs Missing, the sweet shambles of Postcard groups like Orange Juice and Josef K. Then came the contagious exuberance of 2-Tone outfits such as the Specials, Madness, and the Beat; synthpop bands such as the Human League and Soft Cell with their fire-and-ice combination of cold, glistening electronics and hot, heartfelt passion; the bright, rejoicing melodiousness of Liverpool bands like Echo and the Bunnymen or the Teardrop Explodes (Julian Cope finally getting round to writing songs rather just talking about them in the Kirkland cafe).
It is time the story of several thousand of the most pretentious people on the planet at one time was told. Pretentiousness, of course, being a good thing, in my book. Far better to over-reach than to aim low; as Adam Ant sang in 'Prince Charming', ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

A great essay on a great musical era.


Zak Smith:

So I illustrated Gravity's Rainbow-- nobody asked me to, but I did it anyway. Most of the pictures are drawings-- ink on whatever paper was lying around, but there are also paintings (acrylic), photos I took, and experimental photographic processes. I tried to illustrate the passages as literally as possible-- if the book says there was a green Spitfire, I drew a green Spitfire. Mostly, I tried to make a series of pictures as dense, intricate, and rich as the prose in the book.

The guy made a picture for each page of Gravity's Rainbow. :|:|:|:|:| Most people can't even *read* each page of Gravity's Rainbow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

the horror

Charles braved the depths of Ikea so you don't have to. What started out as a simple trip to acquire some fine solutions for modern living turned into something right out of Fight Club, minus the exploding apartment bit - but by the end, that probably wouldn't have bothered him much.

apply clue to country, rinse and repeat

Another link in the endless chain of Americans pissing themselves in fear since we were *once* on the receiving end of terrorism... some idiot for whom nighttime television is more real than... well, reality, sees that their fellow passenger has Suspicious Somethings in their bag: a little electronic doodah with wires hooked on to it, and the wires appear to be leading to some sort of vials. Best to notify the authorities.

If we were in a world where the laws of physics were dictated by Wile E Coyote, bad-guy psychology was brought to you by Boris and Natasha Badenov, and Dr Evil had a monopoly on evil schemes (with frickin lasers on their heads), any rational person would have no problem coming to the obvious conclusion that somebody's brought another Bomb On Board.

But since we (presumably) don't live in such a wacky reality, perhaps there's just a large number of scared stupid people who will see bombs where there are only MP3 players and harmless hippie herbal extracts.

"These colors don't run"? True. But they will talk the big talk and then walk the slow unaffected walk to the nearest authority figure and narc your terrorist freedom-hating ass out to The Man, you pernicious MP3-listening *hippie*.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

moron cookies

So I'm still tweaking my web browser, trying to find the most hassle-free configuration... lately that mostly means trying different approaches for handling cookies. I've run into a problem that is fixable, but doesn't appear to actually be fixed in any of the browsers I've checked.

The problem is related to a similar usability glitch in many GUIs: if there is a 'yes to all' option, in almost all cases there should also be a 'no to all' option. In the absence of common-sense options like this we end up clicking buttons like a little crackmonkey every time we shut down a program that has multiple documents open. (And as long as the rant is topical: what the hell is up with dialog boxes that have three different options that all do the same thing, which is usually 'nothing'? More crackmonkey reflex exercises?)

In the case of browsers and cookies and GUIs (mmm... gooey cookies...) we're usually given a couple of options: reject all cookies, accept all cookies, or ask the user every time.

'Reject all' doesn't work, because some sites (your bank, for instance) require cookies for state-tracking. 'Accept all' doesn't work, because you end up with five million cookies for sites that you will never see again; they may not help you much but they sure help the marketers target you more effectively. The final option, 'ask the user', has it's own subset of options with a corresponding subset of problems.

If 'ask the user' is selected, you'll get a popup box asking you what you want to do: accept forever, deny, or accept for session only. There's also a checkbox for making that choice apply to all cookie requests from that site.

'Accept forever' is useful; you know that every time you visit your bank you want it to remember who you are, so you give them free rein. 'Deny' and 'Accept for session', however, suffer from a number of problems. First, 'Deny' gets stored forever, which means accumulating cruft. 'Accept for session' seems useful, but once again it becomes a static setting, always accepting cookies but not retaining the actual data from session to session.

One hitch is that some particularly problematic sites create cookies for multiple domains (a simple case: hitcounters), but when you deny the cookie from the original site it still asks you about all of the others. So a 'deny' should apply to all subsequent requests on the same page, regardless of the initiating domain. To my knowledge no browsers have this functionality.

The solution that seems best to me would be something like this: all cookies are rejected, period, or are sent to a bit-bucket that is cleared when the browser is shut down. If you get to a site that needs persistent cookies, you can hold down CTRL while refreshing the screen (or some similar mechanism), and that site will get added to the whitelist. Maintaining a blacklist is just plain stupid, it's a problem without bounds.

So far in my experience Firefox has the best cookie-handling heuristics. The biggest lack I have seen is that the cookie list doesn't do wildcards. So, for instance, you need to 'deny' cookies for all 12000 of certain asshole companies' servers. It's gotten so bad I'm considering proxying them right off the damn net.

Wow, that was a long way to go and still not have a point.

Monday, April 25, 2005

everybody must get stoned

Somehow I don't think Biblical types had this in mind when they talked about stoning sinners. I actually think it would be a good PR move on the part of any religion brave enough to try it... although it still wouldn't be enough to get me into a church.

[via farkleberries]

Sunday, April 24, 2005


Here's a great story about some l33t haXX0r shooting himself in the foot with his script-kiddy ways. I can't even count how many times in the early days of the commercial internet some little kiddy got in my face and tried to ping-flood me off the net. A couple of years later they were more successful, thanks to the legions of IE lusers whose computers had been turned into botnet nodes. Once I was playing Quake online and some little wannahack didn't take too kindly to anyone who played better than him... he hit me so hard my ISP called me on the phone to find out what the hell had just happened :)

When the legions of AOL 'hackers' came along it was pretty easy to use their idiocy against them. Once upon a time when IRC rooms were the arenas in which the hackerbe's played their little games, all servers on the net had a service called chargen (character generator) that just spewed out alphanumeric characters at a very high rate... you could use it to check connectivity and bandwidth between two computers. On a few occasions I 'accidently' let slip that my port 19 was unprotected, and I'd see a couple dozen script-kiddies flood themselves off the IRC server. Later they'd claim that I had (insert random line from William Gibson book here) and that they'd get me next time.

I'm still waiting :)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

all your base are belong to gmail

The Gmail hacks just keep rolling in... it's amazing what an open API and a commitment to not being evil can do for a company.

Lifehacks has gathered some of the cooler hacks; I've previously written about most of these, but it's useful to have them all in one place.
Gmail drive extension
Mount your 2GB Gmail account as a virtual hard-drive in Windows Explorer.

Linux drive extension...
Mount your 2GB Gmail account as a virtual hard-drive in linux

... turned inside-out
Don't mount your Gmail drive in linux - install linux on your Gmail drive. (!)

Use Gmail as a spam filter
run your other email accounts through Gmail to take advantage of Gmail's filtering and spam detection features.

Use Gmail as a journal
Store your thoughts and observations using Gmail's filtering and labeling functions.

Add persistent searches
Make virtual folders that act as saved searches using this greasemonkey script for Firefox.

Forward Gmail to your cell-phone
But only use this power for doing good.

freedom of press is for those who have one

Lifehacker has some notes on digital vanity press - places like,, and that enable you to publish your own books. These services are great - no overhead or outlay for you, and all told you make more per book than you would through a publisher, providing of course you can get people to buy your book - the advertising burden is yours alone.

These sites are especially useful if all you want is a one-off for a gift or something... why go to Kinko's when you can just upload a file, charge it to your credit card, and wait for your professionally published book to show up in the mail. This is what the internet should be all about - giving the people access to information and enabling them to act on it. The new business model is 'there is no new business model'.

we don't need no steenking right to privacy

So Comcast is handing over names and addresses of their customers to the RIAA; they're so eager to help out that they don't even require a court order for this violation of their customers privacy. But this is really just a courtesy, since the RIAA (or anyone else) can now find out everything about you for $20 at Zabasearch. Score another point for stalkers and identity thieves.

We leave fingerprints all over the internet; it's already possible to datamine quite a bit of useful information on just about anybody. There are always some holes in the data, though... it can be difficult to tell if a name that is present in two separate databases represents a single person. But if you had access to the ISP records for each person with that name, it would be simple to connect the dots and create a coherent picture. It's not too surprising, then, to find that corporations (and the government, the biggest corporation of all) are asking for this data. Not surprising, but still depressing...

The erosion of Bill of Rights has turned into a fucking landslide in the past few years, with corporations seeing no need to restrain themselves when their actions look positively libertarian compared to the actions of the White House. If Comcast had tried this 5 years ago, they'd have been sued into the ground. In our new culture of fear, it's barely news.

A few years ago I thought that cryptography was interesting; now I'm starting to think it is necessary. Not to keep prying eyes from observing your illegal habits, but to reduce the ease with which a very accurate profile of you can be collated any time someone decides to target you, whether for good or ill.

Using the Freedom of Information Act you can basically request your 'file' to see what sort of data the government has on you. Similarly you can request a copy of your credit report to see what sort of data companies have on you. But what if there is no file, no report, because that information can be culled from the Matrix on demand? Accountability just disappears in that scenario; they can truthfully say that they have no file on you. You don't have to be paranoid to see that this is leading to a Big Brother-like situation. (But it helps. Ba dum pum. Thanks, I'll be here all week.)

Friday, April 22, 2005

sita sings the blues

The Sitayana is an excellent work-in-progress animated version of the Ramayana, with a twist.

DASHARATHA: Rama, my son! Today I wished to crown you king of Ayodhya. But my evil scheming wife KAIKEYI just reminded me of an ancient vow I made. To honor this vow, instead of crowning you king, I must banish you to the forest for 14 years!

RAMA (and assembled onlookers): GASP!

DASHARATHA: Goodbye, dear boy. You are noble and good, the embodiment of righteousness, a brave warrior-prince, joy of heaven and Earth, the ideal man. May the gods be with you.

KAIKEYI: Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

You can watch the films online (MOV format) or here's the torrent (73MB zipped MOV). If you've seen many 'blue-people' films, the soundtracks alone are amusing... instead of bubbly desi-pop Nina Paley uses blues and jazz from the 20's in her films, and the effect is as humorous and disorienting as her 'I dream of Jeannie' drawing style.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

definite try, possible buy often has free music downloads, a song or two you can listen to before you buy a CD. Now they've gathered together all of those songs into one useful webpage... yet another source of free and legal MP3s. You have to be logged in to download the full song, otherwise you can listen to a 30-second clip. I think giving them the chance to datamine my music tastes is an okay price to pay for free music... and besides, I just log in with a bullshit account anyway (thank you, Mailinator).

On a side note, I never thought I'd see the day when Amazon would tell me that 'Customers who bought this title also bought titles by: Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, Wilco, and Jesus & Mary Chain'.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

cootie-free emailing

A friend asked me how to deal with getting emails that have 50 people in the 'To:' field... this is a known cause of internet cooties because the 'six degrees of separation' principle means it won't take long before your address gets added to a commercial mailing list. There are some simple ways around this problem; I'm just going to put a few of them here in this post for my friend and for anyone else who gives a damn.

The problem:

Putting multiple recipients in the 'To:' header exposes those recipients to a high risk of getting added to a mailing list, where instead of the petition or funny cat picture they'll start getting offers for prescription drugs and the secrets of 'length extension'.

The solution:

Never send email like that. Here's a few ways to get your letter to all of it's intended recipients without introducing your friends to a mountain of spam:

Use the Bcc: field.

Bcc: is 'blind carbon copy'. It means people will receive the mail, but they wont see their name (or anyone of the other recipients) in the To: field. Put your own address in the 'To:' field - this doesn't increase risk for you (you're already in the 'From:' field) while eliminating all risk for the recipients. In some web-based email clients (Gmail and Yahoo, possibly others) you may need to click on 'Add Bcc:' to make the Bcc: field visible.

Caveats with this technique: people with hyper-alert spam filters might be filtering out all mail that doesn't specifically have their name in a header.

Use aliases.

Most email clients will let you define an address book alias; basically this is the same as adding any name to the address book, but you put in as many email addresses as you need. This can be used in conjunction with the previous suggestion, you'd just put the alias in the Bcc: field.

Caveats with this technique: some email clients automatically expand aliases out into the whole address list (defeating the whole point); others send mail to all recipients with the alias name in the To: or Bcc: field. Some clients give you the choice in Options/Settings.

Use common sense. (Be polite.)

Presumably (unless you're sending out hate mail, I suppose) you care about the people on the recipients list, at least to the extent that you want to share something with them. Practicing safe emailing reduces headaches on the receiving side with a minimal amount of effort on your part. Think about the context of your message and the people you are sending it to: if you're adding someone new to your list, either ask them if it's ok beforehand or use one of the above-mentioned techniques at first. Having to abandon an email address that has become unusable due to spam is a high price to pay to be on the funny picture of the day list.

On the receiving end, there is something that you can do to drastically limit the amount of spam you get: create a new Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail/Whatever account, let your close friends (or other appropriate trust-boundary group) know this address, and also let them know that you'd prefer not to have your email address used in long To: lists. (Have them look at this post, if necessary to get the to understand the problem.) NEVER use this new address for online commerce or forms or anything other than just communicating with those friends. Then filter out ALL incoming email that doesn't have someone from your friends list in the headers.

The preponderance of free webmail services (including those that you need never use in a browser; Gmail for instance lets you check your account from any email client) allows you to establish a number of trust boundaries: family, friends, acquaintances, groups I'm involved with, commerce like Ebay/Paypal/Amazon/etc... the increased signal-to-noise ratio is definitely worth the extra overhead (which again can be close to nothing after the initial setup; I have Eudora checking a dozen Gmail accounts and it's all transparent to me.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

when catholic geeks go bad

Rogers Cadenhead has, for reasons that Are Not Clear To Me, bought the new pope's domain name, Weeks ago.

When a candidate receives at least 77 votes, a two-thirds majority of cardinals, he'll be asked, "do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?" If he replies "accepto," he becomes the pope and can immediately choose a new name.

As I understand the process, he can select anything -- Pope P. Diddy I, Pope Atrios I, and Pope Jurassic Park IV are not out of the question -- or simply keep his own first name. But for 15 centuries the new pope, like rappers, bloggers, and actors, has adopted a nom de pontiff.

In most cases, the name is chosen to give props to a past pope, as John Paul II did for John Paul I.

My money's on one of these six names:
  • Benedict XVI
  • Clement XV
  • Innocent XIV
  • Leo XIV
  • Paul VII
  • Pius XIII

I mean this literally. I registered all six of these as dot-com domain names earlier this month...

The Irish betting site Paddy Power has Benedict as a 3-to-1 favorite, trailed by John Paul at 4-to-1, Pius at 6-to-1, and Peter at 8-to-1.

Update: A few news reports suggest that I might have popesquatted BenedictXVI.Com to sell it to pornographers. For the love of God, people, that's not going to happen.

I think the new pope missed out on some major marketing opportunities here, given the timing: imagine the boost to both Catholicism and geekdom that would have arisen had he chosen the name Pope Star Wars Episode III.

I think he'd have done it, too, but he was worried that Lucas would fuck up the ending of this trilogy as bad as he did the ending of the last one. I mean, sure, he's got God on the red phone and everything, but the dumb side of the Force is strong with Jar Jar and apparently nothing short of divine intervention will stop him, if that... and no Pope wants to call in all their favors in the first year.

"I hereby grant absolution to whosoever shall find the most ingenious method of killing the serpent Jar Jar. And if you manage to take out the Ewoks while you're at it, a candle will burn in your name in saecula saeculorum, amen."

»his holiness Pope Star Wars Episode III

Monday, April 18, 2005

Mr Natural rides again

What a bizarre world we live in... Robert Crumb just published his memoirs. His only US appearance in support of the book was at the New York public library, where he was interviewed by art critic Robert Hughes.

"I want everyone to love me," he said, half-mockingly, after explaining that he was once shocked to learn that the racial stereotypes and violence toward women he portrayed in his work were hurtful to many people. "Please love me," Mr. Crumb added.

A woman in the audience then shouted, "We love you!," and Mr. Crumb held up his hands, cringing, to stop the applause.

"O.K., you love me," he responded, laughing. "You're killing me, you love me so much. You're choking me. Now back off."

The guy is 61 years old, and his life just gets more bizarre as time goes on - he now finds himself revered as an art icon, compared to Breugel and Goya. He's just as bewildered and cynical in this role as he was when he was the king of acid-flashback comics.

why the hell did i go to college?

The folks at Sandsational are (a) not fucking around and (b) rather good at what they do and (c) totally kicking your ass when it somes to making sandcastles. Which they do professionally.

Like, for a living and everything.

There's some amazing stuff in their gallery.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

planet earth is blue and there's nothing i can do

Thirty-five years ago today the Apollo 13 crew stopped floating in their tin can and started bobbing in the Pacific ocean after a flight that was about as exciting as it could get and still have survivors.

When Gene Kranz, the flight director in charge of the mission (referred to as 'Flight' on the voice loops), pointedly asked Liebergot what was happening on board the Odyssey, the EECOM responded, 'We may have had an instrumentation problem, Flight.'

Thirty-five years later, Liebergot still ruefully remembers his initial assessment. 'It was the understatement of the manned space program. I never did live that down,' he chuckles.

To Kranz, the answer sounded reasonable, as he'd already had some electrical problems with the Odyssey on his shift, including one involving the high-gain antenna. "I thought we had another electrical glitch and we were going to solve the problem rapidly and get back on track. That phase lasted for 3 to 5 minutes," says Kranz. Then 'we realized we'd got some problem here we didn't fully understand, and we ought to proceed pretty damn carefully.'

Kranz's word was law. 'The flight director probably has the simplest mission job description in all America,' Kranz told Spectrum. 'It's only one sentence long: The flight director may take any action necessary for crew safety and mission success.' The only way for NASA to overrule a flight director during a mission was to fire him on the spot.

(I wish more companies were like that. Or that they allowed dueling.)

What followed has been touted as a triumph of brilliance and ingenuity, which seems reasonable only if you disregard one thing: these guys were just doing their jobs. Every step of the process of strapping what is essentially a big bomb to the ass of a few astronauts and blasting them into space with any hope of safe return requires brilliance and ingenuity and quite a bit of planning for any contingency.

The film 'Apollo 13' showed only a small part of what really happened. The IEEE Spectrum (which I still read when I feel like pretending I am still an engineer) has a great article detailing what really happened, interviewing some of the key players. It's worth a read - especially in light of how the space shuttle disaster has gutted NASA. Back when giants walked the earth they dealt with the threat of disaster every day, but somewhere along the line we made the rather silly decision that it's not ok for people to get hurt doing *anything*. It's homogenization through hubris.

keep on lying in the free world

In April 2004 the government released the annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report that claimed a significant decrease in terrorism and was hailed as vindication of Der Busher's strategeries. Even though the report itself mentions that the government chose not to classify any terrorist attacks in Iraq as terrorism (a good call, if you think about it, or we ourselves might top the list for that region), the press reported that Everything Is Better Now.

When somebody bothered to actually read the document they found that it was full of errors, a fact that got some exposure in the world press but not so much here in the states... Powell claimed that the 180° out of phase with reality report contained honest mistakes, not an attempt to pull yet another fast one on the country. If the string of 'mistakes' like this one were in fact mistakes, Bush could fix the economy by going to Vegas for the weekend because every single 'mistake' has turned out in the administration's favor, when if human error were the real cause there would be a statistical likelihood that somewhere along the line there would be a mistake that went against them.

Well it's that time of year again, and this year the report shows that terrorism is on the rise, reaching a 20-year high in 2004, despite the fact that they still aren't counting attacks in Iraq as terrorism. The administration's response to this: stop publishing that report. They plan to release a subset of the data that doesn't include any statistics.

Condoleeza Rice's office decided to eliminate "Patterns of Global Terrorism" when the group that produces the report "declined to use alternative methodology that would have reported fewer significant attacks". It's like we've got a group of grade-school kids running the country (into the ground): "No mom, I didn't lie, I just used an alternative methodology". Now that may look a lot like lying to some of us, but that's probably because we're suckers who live in the reality-based community.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

random noise

  • How to recover data from scratched CDs. First CDs, now DVDs, I'm always looking for stable ways of backing up my data, and always getting screwed when my $100 solution is defeated by a $0 scratch. Break out the Turtle Wax and get your damn data back. [via farkleberries]

  • If you need something to put on your as-yet-unscratched CDs, 3hive is sporting a new skin and a lot of good, free, legal music. I just scored some Spoon and some blast-from-the-past Stephen Duffy/The Lilac Time tunes. Someone better hurry up and BEHOLD THE POWER OF THE NAVOTRON damn soon or Jon's going to have an aneurysm.

  • Freesound is basically Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed sounds. Each sampled sound is accompanied by its spectrogram and there's an embedded player as well as download links. This sounds rather Gibsonian to me... it's straight out of Pattern Recognition. Anyone can add tags to any sound, because tags are the new black. So if you just can't get through life without the sound of ten minutes and forty-three seconds of busride between Zeist and Utrecht, have no fear, Freesound's got you covered.

  • Over at Signals vs Noise there's a very good article on the making of CodeZoo. Codezoo is basically Freesound for code: "CodeZoo focuses solely on code that is pre-packaged for reuse, ready for you to take, set up, and get working with your code". The initial rollout is all Java code, but over time they will branch out to other languages. They do let registered users rate code, but they don't have tags... what is this, the Flintstones? Get with the program, people.

Friday, April 15, 2005

rough night in jericho

I find it very sad that when I see an article titled Punk rock in the Holy Land I immediately assume it's about Utah. I should have realized that PBS wouldn't use the phrase 'Holy Land' as disparagingly as I do... not everyone knows there was a vibrant punk scene behind the Zion Curtain, and most Americans think that religious oppression is something that happens in distant lands *.

Liz Nord's documentary-in-progress Jericho's Echo shows the punk scene in Israel, where political issues aren't something you read about in the news, they're blowing up all around you. There has always been a high sociopolitical consciousness in the punk scene; add mandatory military service into the mix and rebellion against the consensus narrative takes on a whole new dimension.

Whether they are opposing military service, or providing social commentary as they do their service, or expressing the anger and sadness that seem to be the only reasonable responses to the constant political crisis their country is in, the Israeli punks have something fresh to say... it looks a lot like our scene did in the Reagan years, except we were just getting marginalized, whereas they are getting killed. Unfortunately our government also looks a lot like it did during the Reagan years, and I don't see people here getting too upset about it this time around... it's amazing how for all of our swagger this country has been pissing itself the last few years.

Punk's not dead? I fucking hope not.

* Side note: in a recent interview Tom DeLay said this:
I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
Putting aside for the moment the fact that this fascist asshole just told us that the only reason we have separation of church and state, judicial review, and the right to privacy is that he and his buddies have so far been unable to take them away from us, technically he is correct that that 'church and state' bit isn't in the Constitution. It is, however, in the first amendment to that document, the very first sentence of the Bill of Rights which begins "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".

DeLay's statement disregards the 1st, 4th, 9th, and 10th amendments to the Constitution. Of the remaining 6 amendments, 5 are either unapplicable in modern times or have been neutered by the Bush administration. The only one that isn't under attack by the 'right' is the one that lets them have guns. I think it might be time to refine our ideas about just which parts of the planet have oppressive governments.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

the business of touch

This Flash-heavy site contrasts the verbal and physical differences in greeting another person in 15 different countries. Do I offer to shake hands, or wait until they offer? Is eye-contact good or bad? Personal space: 2 feet or 2 inches?

This was one of the first things that hit me when I travelled... in India (well, northern India in particular), there doesn't appear to be a concept of personal space, and if you offer someone your hand they're likely to keep it throughout the conversation.

I think the typical American greeting should be changed to 'stand about 4 feet away and eye the other person suspiciously. If they do anything weird, tell the person you are talking to on your cellphone that you will call them back, and notify the Department of Homeland Security immediately.'

wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more

The smilie :) is the wagging tail of the internet. Since all other contextual cues (like body language and tone of voice) are missing, we basically set the tone by adding anthropomorphic cues :) :| :( to accent our words. I saw these used maybe 20 times in various things I read today, and in most cases the :) could be translated roughly as "please don't kick my ass".

"You suck :)"

"You're nuts :P"

"pwnt!!11! :)"
"omgwtfpwnt. >:D"

It's amazing we can communicate at all.

(Nerd note: I typed in text smilies. If you are seeing picture smilies, the text smilies were replaced with pictures using a neat little javascript hack. You can see the script here.)

EDIT: it seems IE messes this up. I am Jack's complete lack of surprise. I changed my site's script so that it will work in IE, but I left some of the smilies in the linked javascript file unchanged as proof of concept and also so people will know how to do this stuff on that far-off day when MS writes a browser that works.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

oh kusi...

... you got some splainin to do...

I don't recall whether or not I've previously mentioned my little avian friend; Kusi the cockatiel is a bird of Very Little Brain, but very big voice. Not that he says much, occasionally becoming a songbird for a few minutes as he passes from R2D2-like beepediboops to insistent hysterical shrieking. I am a somewhat captive audience, and I think the little fucker knows it. He's cute as hell until I'm stuck in bed and/or trying to sleep, at which point he goes bugfuck.

Well, you bend or you break, right? If you can't beat them, join them? Fine - I'll go bugfuck too. Then we'll be great friends.

If I don't kill the little shit first.

Marc came up with the "I love Kusi" meme, and he's right, I do love Kusi... on rye bread, with a little mayonnaise.

personal update, 13 april

This morning I got the bright idea to do some work around the house; there is a very high degree of correspondence between ideas like this and the sort of complete neurochemical wackiness I've been experiencing for the past few days. Unfortunately this means that when this is happening I am the least qualified person to determine whether or not my ideas make sense.

To put this into context: there are powertools everywhere, the detritus of our remodeling efforts, and I know not to use them when I get like this, at least if I want to be able to continue counting up to ten on my fingers. I also don't drive. It's nice to know that all of that recreational drug use I did (back in the sixties) is paying off in the form of a meta-circuit that kicks in when my brain is fritzing out.

The good news is I got some work done on the stairs and got to talk with Paige and Marc for awhile (instead of just hearing them moving around downstairs but being physically unable to go down there). The bad news is my body thought all of this moving about was a really bad idea, and I started having some interesting(ly scary) and exceedingly painful seizures that literally dropped me to the floor. Joy joy joy.

After an hour of wondering whether or not I was ER material yet, things calmed down enough for me to make it back to my room, where I took One Of Everything, and tried not to move. That was 2 hours ago, and I'm finally getting some results from the pain meds and the anti-twitch meds. (Holy fuck, Richard, if you still read this, I just realized I am Twitch'n'Bitch 2.0. Goddammit.) If things continue mellowing out, I'm going to remain planted for a day or two. If they don't, screw you guys, I'm going to the ER. They have better drugs than I do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Your failed business model...

... is not my problem...


If only it were true... nowadays a failed business model seems to be everyone's problem except for the company that implemented it in the first place - they can deduct their losses, lay a bunch of people off, or Just Ask George and get corporate welfare on the taxpayer's dime.

In the realm of publishing, however, it is true, and somewhat funny... every new technology is accompanied by the whining of corporate execs who swear that it will destroy their company / undermine the country / irreparably harm the fabric of spacetime, because they are lacking the creative vision to use the new technology to their advantage. Remember that the film industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the VCR... it took them another three years before they figured out they could get rich selling tapes themselves. I can just picture the board meeting:
Minion #1:
"Wait - *we* could sell these."
Minion #2:
"Don't be stupid... where will we get the movies?"
Minion #1:
Minion #2:
"Oh. Right."

It's interesting seeing the current batch of whiners. They fought Napster tooth and nail... and now iTunes makes a few $million a day. They put a bunch of college kids in jail for trading movies online; Netflix just made it easier and more timely to pay for the movies.

Bottom line: if a typical zero-conscience company can't make money here in the land of conspicuous consumption, they don't deserve to exist. Other than for the entertainment value they provide when they crash and burn. (Maybe they should sell tickets to *that*. And then set up a lemonade stand outside. Guaranteed profits.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

umm... got wood?

Maddox never surrenders... the author of The Best Page In The Universe, which contains such internet classics as I am better than your kids, keeps on asking the tough questions... like wtf is up with the unintentionally sexual comic book covers?

I should point out that being hosted on Xmission makes it a high likelihood that Maddox is in Utah, which goes a long way towards explaining why he is twisted and irate.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

oi! oi! oi?

Drop kick The Faint (flash 'game', 3 song soundtrack). You play a spikey-haired Oi-boy who rips off his leather and runs into the gig to kick members of The Faint off of the stage. Mildly amusing commentary from the Oi-boy: "what is this new wave bullshit?", "I hate my dad", and "watch my leather".

The music started out ok, but then they did a song about personal growth and development... starting as a gamete, and working up to birth. He hooks up with his other half because they 'share a love of science'. Pure fucking poetry, that. I am Jack's complete lack of interest in songs that talk about this stuff.

I should have noticed the beauty
And not how it hurt
Wet like a cherry
In the bloodbath of birth.

'I should have noticed the beauty, and not how it hurt'... good advice for any time, I think, but when did punk become the new emo?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

i'm going to trade internet explorer for a dog...

... and then shoot the dog.

hey, you messed up my cabbage patch

His dreams of becoming a Solid Gold dancer shattered, Billy resigned himself to a life of drudgery at the Air-Force Academy. But when nobody is watching, or when he thinks nobody is watching...

[via SEB]

hopefully this will become a trend

Jeremy Jaynes just became the first spammer to receive a prison sentence for spamming. He got 9 years for sending ten million unwanted emails a day. He has appealed the decision, and probably will keep it tied up in the courts forever... he certainly can afford to, since he was make $750KUS each month.

I don't blame the guy for trying - he's just living the American Dream as it was explained to him. The people actually respond to the fucking emails are the real problem. But since it is pretty difficult to round up all of them, the next best thing is to take the spammer's toys away.

We live in a society where people watch shopping channels on the television. It's like those pods in the Matrix, where once you are plugged in all of your needs are met. And all you have to do is surrender your humanity.

Friday, April 08, 2005

google still doesn't suck

Google's open architecture philosophy is fueling a renaissance in webware. Not only are they coming out with one cool thing after another, they are also giving the public access to the APIs that drive those things, and it seems like every week now I read about yet another Google-related bit of elegant engineering. For instance: this weeks Google goodness comes from Paul Rademacher, who combined Google Maps with Craigslist and came up with a web app that gives you a graphical way of searching for homes that are for rent or for sale. This sort of synergy is where it's at for the near future... people are figuring out ways to use data-mining to their own advantage rather than just having it used against them by the marketers.

This is the new business model:
  1. Develop your application.
  2. Admit that you aren't going to be able to come up with all of the brilliant ideas, so give away your product and publish your APIs.
  3. Watch as complete strangers use your tools to create things you'd never have dreamed of. As with open source and creative commons licensing, you'll find that people are so happy that they're not getting screwed, they'll gladly put a lot of time, energy, and yes, even money, into making your product better.
  4. Forget about deprioritizing your action items and focusing on your core competencies... just Don't Suck.

That last one looks like the kicker, but in practice most companies would never make it that far down the list so it's a moot point. Google's ethos ("Don't be evil") is a fine example of a company choosing a corporate philosophy that optimizes their chances of Not Sucking. And it's working :)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

there is no spoon

Sony has been granted two patents for a 'Method and system for generating sensory data onto the human neural cortex', or, in other words, 'the red pill'. They are nowhere near even thinking about having a working technology, they're just staking the Patent Office high-ground while they can. It is interesting, however, that an idea that has been purely in the realm of science fiction is now something you can get a patent for. There are still people alive who remember when there weren't televisions...

The superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) is the usual technical prop for Matrix-like direct neural stimulation. The movie Strange Days and a few thousand sci-fi stories all relied on this idea in a hand-waving sort of way - it is a theoretically possible technology, but absurdly difficult to actually do. But 40 years ago that was also true of the computer I am typing this on. I doubt anyone alive now will live to see this technology realized, but I suspect that it will, to some degree, eventually become commonplace.

Non-invasive stimulation is the holy grail of virtual reality. Current research, which is mostly taking place in the field of vision, is very invasive... there are people who have had a cortical prosthesis installed to try and give them some measure of sight. The resolution is terrible - an array of 38 electrodes is but a microscopic step towards mimicking the billions of neural pathways that provide us with sight. But the fact that they can get anything at all is promising.

Imagine how this technology will change the way people interact. Once the mechanism is made non-invasive, there will be a bigger moral and ethical challenge figuring out how to deal with a technology that is invasive on the cognitive level. There are utopian dreams of what such a device could do, but the evolution of technology has been in lockstep with advertising since its inception - from junk mail to radio and television advertising to phone solicitation to spam and pop-ups, people have found a way to make every new technology annoying. It's easy to imagine a Minority Report-like future where we are assaulted with a barrage of intrusive advertising that will make us wistful for the good old days when all we had was spam email.

[via New Scientist]

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

hexagram 5: waiting (nourishment)

...waiting is over. A time of danger. But people come. Their purpose ill defined but if accepted in good spirit all will be well... no more time to wait.

So this guy is delivering Chinese take-out to various addresses in the Bronx, and he never comes back to the restaurant. His employers are concerned: he doesn't speak much English, and they were worried he might have run afoul of immigrant smugglers. New York's Finest drop by and canvass the neighborhood, even checking a nearby reservoir. They never find the guy.

Three days later someone decides to figure out why the elevator isn't working, and there he is, dazed and dehydrated. They immediately call the cops... they can't understand what he's saying, so he must be drunk, come take him away. I can just see the boys in blue choke on their donuts when they recognize him.

Now there's a big finger-pointing clusterfuck going on: did the cops not do their jobs right? What about the security guards? Is it Bloomberg's fault? What about the striking elevator workers? Can we still blame the Clintons, or is that starting to get a little too trendy?

This actually caught my eye because there's been a recurring theme in conversations I've been in over the past few days, about how to respond appropriately when something bad happens, and how (if possible) to prevent bad things from happening in the first place, which I think is like fighting the ocean back with swords... but that doesn't keep America, in its fear, from trying.

When did we decide that if something went wrong, it must be someone(else)'s fault? When did we decide that life was (or should be) safe? It's not an idle question - you can slip in the shower and die, you can look the wrong way crossing the street, any one of a million things could mess you up. Do we really believe that in every case someone must be held responsible? Do we believe that any time something bad happens, we should make a new law/ban/branch of government to prevent it?

Because you can't prevent it. You can choke to death on your fucking corn flakes. Or you can fall in a hole, like Chen the Chinese take-out guy. You can live your life as best you can, or you can spend your life pointing the finger at everything in the world that could possibly harm you. It seems like the choice is (or should be) obvious. When did we start believing everything must always be safe?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

there's so many things

Damn, more cool stuff at Ubu:

Totally Corrupt, MP3 recordings of Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Sylvia Plath, Ed Sanders, Amiri Baraka, Ken Kesey, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, and Peter Orlovsky.

Antonin Artaud. Jean Cocteau. e. e. cummings.

The entire Better an old demon than a new god from 1984, with Burroughs, Johansen, Lydia Lunch, Psychic TV, and Richard Hell.

The entire A Diamond Hidden In The Mouth Of A Corpse from 1985, Burroughs, Johansen, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Diamanda Galas, Cabaret Voltaire and Coil. I had those LPs, once upon a time.

The Dial-A-Poem Poets, 1972, with Burroughs, Gysin, Ginsberg, Sanders, Carroll, Taylor Mead, Anne Waldman, Bobby Seale...

JAYZUS. It just goes on and on. MP3 list here.


Where the hell did UbuWeb come from, and why didn't anyone tell me about it? They've got MP3 interviews with Salvador Dali and John Cage, recordings of Herbert Huncke's poems and Abbie Hoffman's rambling 'Wake up America', and the entire run of Aspen in print, sound, and video (William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, J.G. Ballard, and John Lennon were a few of the contributors to this multimedia 'magazine' that was decades ahead of it's time)... transcriptions of Mallarmé's 'One Toss of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance' and William Burroughs talking about Brion Gysin's cut-up method, recordings of Marshall McLuhan's 'The medium is the message' and an interview with Jean-Luc Godard. Their film section has some short films by Kenneth Anger, John Cage's 4'33" (play it loud), Buñuel & Dali's Un Chien Andalou, and Marcel Duchamp's Anemic Cinema.

And nobody's going to kick down your door for downloading the stuff.

Monday, April 04, 2005

i can see my house

Google's trial version of Keyhole was very cool, but not something I'd buy... so I'm happy to see that they've incorporated the technology into Google Maps and Google Local. Now with just a click you can switch from map view to aerial photo.

I say we stop pretending and just turn over everything to Google now. They'll have it all eventually anyway, and their corporate strategy ("don't be evil") would be a welcome change.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

fire water burn

People have Flickr'ed a few hundred pics of Saturday's Survival Research Labs show. There's a writeup and some videos at LAVoice, but some of the links are busted (fixed now).

I was watching the SRL DVD and I realized Mark Pauline has been blowing shit up for 26 years. I remember watching grainy 10th-generation videotapes of some of the early shows in the mid 80s.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

internet 1, dumbasses 0

This doesn't change my writing style any, but I guess it is nice to know that there are legal precedents in place if someone gets their knickers in a twist over something I wrote:

It's not too often that the courts get to pass judgment on the really important issues of our time. But in its March 24 decision in the case of Vogel v. Felice, the California Court of Appeal has determined that calling someone a "dumb ass" does not give rise to liability for defamation. "A statement that [a person] is a 'dumb ass,' even 'first among dumb asses,' communicates no factual proposition susceptible of proof or refutation."

'First among dumb asses'. Dammit, why didn't I think of that?

Evan Brown discusses the reasons the case went in the defendant's favor:

...the claim that being called a "dumb ass" was defamatory failed as a matter of law for the inability of such a statement to be proved or disproved. Secondly, because the plaintiffs were public figures, they had the burden of proving the challenged statements were false. The court found that plaintiffs had not provided enough detail to show the "substantial falsity" of the claims.

The plaintiffs in this case were both running for public office, and were unable to prove to the court's satisfaction that they were not, in fact, dumbasses. This sets a great precedent for future elections: "You claim that you are not a dumbass... can you prove it?"

This reminds me of my grandfather... once we were stopped at a crosswalk when someone crossing the street waved at him; my grandfather muttered something and nodded recognition. As we drove off he said to me "you know, with very little work at all, that guy could be a prize horse's ass".

(Comments that my disposition must be hereditary are low-hanging fruit. But feel free to otherwise exercise your first amendment rights.)

[via DRT]

burn 'em all

Pics of SRL setting up for today's show are up at Laughing Squid.

april hath 2^5 - 2 days

April is Math Awareness Month. I'm celebrating with a donut and a mug of joe (which are topologically equivalent; see figure 2 here) and a slice of pi. Ba dum *pum*. Thanks, I'll be here all week.

Friday, April 01, 2005

floating in a most peculiar way

In today's Astronomy Picture Of the Day, NASA finally provides conclusive evidence of water on Mars.

Goddammit, I hate April 1.

Last week APOD had a great picture (click to see full pic at the APOD site):

Fair-use snippet of APOD22Mar05

That's Bruce McCandless floating untethered about 100 meters from the space shuttle, testing out jet pack maneuverability. I'm guessing he was feeling about as alone a human can feel when this picture was taken.