Tuesday, August 30, 2005

round and round

These 360° panoramas of the Louvre are beautiful. Requires Quicktime.

Monday, August 29, 2005

culture of fear...

... and of rampant ignorance.

FOX 'news' reporter John Loftus identified a suspected terrorist by race (Middle-Eastern) and name (Iyad K. Hilal) and home address. There are more than a few things wrong with this:
  • If there really was a terrorist at that address, is there *any* justification for broadcasting the address before that person has been taken into custody?
  • There isn't a terrorist at that address. It's a family of five. The suspected terrorist did live at that address, but moved three years ago.
  • FOX has a horrendous track record when it comes to reporting the truth. The things they tend to get right are 'wag the dog' stories where a fiction broadcast wide enough becomes a new truth.
  • Which leads to the biggest problem: FOX's demographic consists largely of people who confuse 'adjusting prejudices' with 'thinking'.

It's that last one that makes this one particularly newsworthy. Within hours of the newscast, maps to the family's home had been posted on numerous conservative websites, and a campaign of harrasment was begun. Over the weekend some bright spark spray-painted 'TERRIST' on the house. Enough hostile or ill-meaning people have come by that the cops now just station a car across the street.

Imagine what would have happened if there was someone Middle-Eastern living there.

FOX just keeps racking up severe fuckups like this, but they pander so well to fear and xenophobia and ignorance that their viewers find FOX 'news' to be right up their street... i.e. it's narrow, and twisted, and only one way. 'Fair and balanced' my ass.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Burn as in Burning Man:

Rex came over and helped Anne-Marie and I pack the car, and Anne-Marie is on the road, expecting to arrive in Black Rock late tonight. I'm taking the Tortoise down on Tuesday... I stand a better chance of having a good time with the shorter stay.

Burn as in burn in hell:

Or maybe not... even hell has its standards.

umm... Saturday?

WTF happened to Saturday? I'm totally missing a day. A WHOLE DAY. Sun comes up, sun goes down, that's still the drill, isn't it?

Friday, August 26, 2005


Hannes informs me that browsing from Germany this site gets blocked... my German isn't too good (neither is Google's), but I think I get the gist of it from the last two words. A friend of his in China gets a similar message. Apparently I am unable to corrupt the youth of the world because they've all got candyass web content blockers.

The funny thing is almost every time I talk about drugs I'm talking about the various prescriptions I take in my duties as Test Monkey #2305. OK, so maybe I take a little pride in being the only Google hit for the phrase free dope and fucking in the street, but it's not like I regularly post sordid details about drug-fueled Hunter-Thompsonian nightmares and Caligulesque orgies.

But I guess it's never too late to start. ;)

hate with a smile

The American Legion declares war on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to think for yourself:

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

Our troops are *already* demoralized. They're fighting a war with no clear goals in a country where they're not wanted, a war in which it was long ago announced 'mission accomplished' but they're still there and they're still getting killed. They were lied to about the reasons for going there, lied to about how long they were going to be there, and now they're being lied to about their reason for still being there. I'd think that the lack of an exit strategy is more demoralizing than the knowledge that people back home care about them enough to want them to return alive.

In what way does protesting the war 'encourage' terrorists? Does it show them we don't have the resolve to take them down? They already suspect that. The Bush administration purposefully ignored opportunities to remove known Al-Qaeda operatives because they felt that doing so would weaken their specious case for going to Iraq, or because the trail led back to our economic ally Saudi Arabia. The terrorists know that this war isn't really about terrorism; they know this because they are watching coverage of the war on CNN in whatever Saudi city they're hanging out in this week. Like Israel and Palestine, our presence in Iraq just acts as a catalyst to turn ordinary people into bomb-laden insurgents, while the real terrorists sit back and watch.

When I see knee-jerk reactions like this display by the American Legion, I can't help but wonder: are they telling the world about a position they really believe in, or are they telling themselves whatever story it takes to make them feel good about themselves? I guess feeling like an uber-patriot fighting the peaceniks is better than feeling like you were betrayed by a government you trusted. But it doesn't change the fact of that betrayal in the slightest.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

sanity check

Every time I fire up the web browser to write a post lately I make the mistake of checking the news first, proceed to get upset, then back away from the computer and let my blood pressure drop to normal.

Anyone think it's a coincidence that Bush chose Utah and Idaho as his only stops on the 'sell the war' tour? Populations with high concentrations of people who have chosen fearful worldviews, who believe they are persecuted, who have already trained themselves to accept some of the most ridiculous ideas as facts? Preaching to the choir you're bound to get a 'hallelujah' every now and again. Nice to see our president rising to the challenge.

The part that I find most interesting is the message Bush is pushing: stay the course and pay no attention to those who oppose this war... if you're not for us, you're against us, even if you are us. He's continually referring to people like Cindy Sheehan, who he says wants our troops brought home immediately. I'm sure it sounds very stirring when he says it, but... Cindy Sheehan has repeatedly said that she wants to know why we are in Iraq (since the original reasons turned out to be lies) and what our plan is for getting out of Iraq (since it is apparent that the fuckhead doesn't have one). I think it is very interesting that even the right assumes that the answers to those questions will be so unsatisfactory that the next question will be "why don't we leave?"

Monday, August 22, 2005

right on target

The current issue of The New Yorker is an exercise in corporate intrusion run amok... the only advertiser in the whole issue is Target. Readers aren't too thrilled by this:

The all-Target New Yorker is the product of a more nakedly mercenary world where advertisers no longer need conceal their aims. There's nothing subliminal about it: I counted over 200 Target logos in the first 19 pages alone, and there were still eleven ads left to go when I gave up.

Some feel that the magazine crossed the line... the (umm) 'target' demographic isn't particularly unsophisticated, and the crass marketeering has more in common with The Shopping Channel than with the usual editorial content.

In the wake of a puff piece by New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott last week announcing Target had cut a deal with the New Yorker to become its sole advertiser for the magazine's Aug. 22 edition, copies of that issue began arriving in mailboxes and hitting newsstands this week.

Now we can see exactly what the results of that deal are: A 90-page publication where it is almost impossible to discern any line of demarcation between Target's advertising and the New Yorker editorial product.

Ethical questions aside, what marketing genius came up with the imagery for the Target/New Yorker-hybrid? I'm thinking the last thing we need is images of New York with targets painted on all of the buildings. Fucking brilliant.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


From the 'learn something new every day' department:

How to make antibubbles.

(Personally I prefer more tasty science, like measuring the speed of light using chocolate chips and a microwave. I envision a whole branch of chocolate physics, even relativity:

E = mc2 :: enjoyment = munching chocolate2)

[via DRT, sorta]

Saturday, August 20, 2005

anna digs me

The mangled English (manglish?) in this piece of spam junk mail I got today is brilliant:

From: "Anna"
Subject: Hi, how are you?

Hi. How you? My name is Anna. I'm fine and I decided to write to you the letter, to get acquainted with you. It is possible to get acquainted with you? I am perfect one and I do not have anybody. I have no children, but they very much like me. I was not married, though to me 29 years will be executed. The some people speak that time cunningly, and I so do not think. It seems to me, that I only start to live. I very much would want to get acquainted with you. You can tell to me about yourself and send a photo? I shall write to you the letter and I shall send the photo. It is interesting to get acquainted with you through the Internet.

Write to my address ann@stroyinvestlab.biz

Deep in the hinterlands of SomewhereElseistan, a (maybe) woman (possibly) named Anna, armed with an internet connection and what is apparently a drunken babelfish, is pining away for lack of companionship. Sadly I am in no position to help her out... though I did consider sending her this picture (WARNING: high risk of brain lesions) in retaliation for the spamming.

Friday, August 19, 2005

programming problems

Project Euler is a series of math problems that are to be solved programatically. You get points for solving each problem; the number of points a problem is worth is inversely proportional to the percentage of people who have solved it (and points are adjusted retroactively). I'm using the problems as a framework to learn how to do complex algorithms in Ruby.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

remember, remember, the... 17th of March?

The V for Vendetta movie, originally slated for a contextually meaningful November release date, has been pushed out to next March. As much as I just want to get this over with, I hope they are using the extra time to make the movie not suck.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

sorry, wilson

Maya's Micronomicon is like the sequel to those encoded messages they sent into space, the ones that start with 1 2 3 and work their way up to organic chemistry and astronomy in symbol form. A random page, for instance, includes Dalton's table of the elements, hobo signs and symbols, science symbols, the Gettysburg Address, specifications of the Earth, the Linnean order of classification, and the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism. I think this might be the book Borges was looking for in the Infinite Library.

This is my number one 'stranded on a desert island with only one book' pick.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

to burn, or not to burn...

... that is the question. Last year at Burning Man my health was such that I spent over half of the time in the tent gimped out. I've been thinking I wouldn't go this year because it seems like missing out on the fun from afar is less painful than missing out on the fun from the midst of it. But there's a lot of beauty there, and that would do me some good.

I need a vacation from my life. Can someone cover for me?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

what do you mean 'we', white man?

Someone tell the president the war is over.

Like the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

I know I can't trust Bush, but he is going to go away someday. The biggest disappointment in this whole experience has been finding out that I can't trust my fellow Americans, that despite all of our bluster and bravado when the crisis came so many people were so eager to throw away everything we supposedly stand for, all in the name of a 'safety' that didn't exist before and has been made even more endangered by our actions.

I'm sick of seeing how hateful the world is, and disgusted that my country is fanning the flames.

bush refuses to set timetable for withdrawal from crawford

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan defended the president's decision to remain in Crawford indefinitely: "President Bush deserves August off, especially when you consider how many summers he had to go to school."

Vacationing in the middle of a fucking war. Borowitz Report aside, the headlines these days read like Dead Kennedy's lyrics... Jello Biafra must be about to implode.

dude's got a point

Dee chimes in on illegal drug use:

Drugs open people's minds. That is why they are illegal. It is nothing to do with our mental or physical well-being. If the government gave a rat's ass about our health tobacco and alcohol would be banned outright. It's as simple as that.

True dat. I've seen some lives destroyed, even ended, because of drug use... but it still doesn't compare to the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco. We live in an openly hypocritical society where J Random Tripper gets ten years under the minimum mandatory sentencing laws but J Bubba Wifebeater can come home drunk every night and beat on the kids with little fear of reprisal. Our walk and our talk are out of phase, and this is just one of the places where a crack lets the light in.

the orange ones fuck you up *real* good

why is it I'm always the last to know about things like kitten-huffing?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

in the abstract

There's an interesting article in Scientific American about cognition and symbol-processing in children. Numerous tests have shown that very young children can't really tell the difference between a thing and a representation of that thing (like a picture or a scale model)... so what does this tell us about what is going on in their heads? Judy DeLoache, on her experiments:

About 20 years ago I had one of those wonderful moments when research takes an unexpected but fruitful turn. I had been studying toddler memory and was beginning a new experiment with two-and-a-half- and three-year-olds. For the project, I had built a model of a room that was part of my lab. The real space was furnished like a standard living room, albeit a rather shabby one, with an upholstered couch, an armchair, a cabinet and so on. The miniature items were as similar as possible to their larger counterparts: they were the same shape and material, covered with the same fabric and arranged in the same positions. For the study, a child watched as we hid a miniature toy--a plastic dog we dubbed "Little Snoopy"--in the model, which we referred to as "Little Snoopy's room." We then encouraged the child to find "Big Snoopy," a large version of the toy "hiding in the same place in his big room." We wondered whether children could use their memory of the small room to figure out where to find the toy in the large one.

The three-year-olds were, as we had expected, very successful. After they observed the small toy being placed behind the miniature couch, they ran into the room and found the large toy behind the real couch. But the two-and-a-half-year-olds, much to my and their parents' surprise, failed abysmally. They cheerfully ran into the room to retrieve the large toy, but most of them had no idea where to look, even though they remembered where the tiny toy was hidden in the miniature room and could readily find it there.

Their failure to use what they knew about the model to draw an inference about the room indicated that they did not appreciate the relation between the model and room. I soon realized that my memory study was instead a study of symbolic understanding and that the younger children's failure might be telling us something interesting about how and when youngsters acquire the ability to understand that one object can stand for another.

This inability to map back and forth between an object and its referent is not strictly an age-based or intelligence-based phenomenon. When I was tutoring college trig I had a student who was having a lot of difficulty with concepts like sine and cosine, and I was running out of new ways to present the info to him. I decided that instead of trying to get him to understand the math, it might be a good idea to step back and have both of us try to understand what his mental process was.

I asked him to just talk out loud while he was solving some problems, and while he was doing so I noticed that when the problem was presented in a certain way, he always got the right answer. This always occurred when the drawing showed a triangle whose angle of interest was on the left, with the 'right' (i.e. '90°') angle on the lower right. When I gave him problems with that same triangle mirror-imaged, he could still solve the problems but it took him longer because he was mentally mapping the triangle to a 'right' (i.e. 'correct') triangle.

When I showed him a triangle whose base was its hypotenuse (i.e. the 90° angle up in the air) he stared at it for awhile before telling me it couldn't be done... there wasn't a 'right' angle, or even a 'wrong' angle that could be mapped to a 'right' angle. The idea of 'right'='correct' was so strong that doing something squirrelly like rotating the image was unthinkable.

This guy wasn't unintelligent. He'd made a reasonable connection in his mind and unfortunately had that connection strengthened over the course of hundreds of problems presented in the exact same way by the teacher... every example triangle was drawn the same way, the 'right' way, and nobody had ever showed him how to solve 'wrong' triangles. When I finally figured out what the hell was going on I gave him a problem that he couldn't solve, then set that one aside and gave him the exact same problem, but oriented the 'right' way. He solved it without a hitch. When I picked up that piece of paper, rotated it and set it down next to the (identical) one he couldn't solve, I could just see it all tumbling into place in his head, a real satori experience, momentary mathematical enlightenment.

It makes me wonder what other abstractions have faulty representations in our heads. Actually, scratch that... make that *my* head. I don't even fucking want to even know what's going on in other people's heads. Your process is *all* fucked up.

Friday, August 12, 2005

didn't see that coming

An amateur psychic might want to look into a new line of work... he left his crystal ball in the windowsill where it magnified the sunlight enough to burn his building down. Ouch. Maybe he should stick with a scrying bowl full of water, in case something like this happens again.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

stick it to the man

20 ways to fight the New World Order.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


DJ Shadow and Shepard Fairey (of ObeyGiant fame) are releasing Public Works, a limited edition (only 450) box set containing five t-shirts, a mix CD by DJ Shadow, Fairey's book "Post No Bills", and assorted stickers and buttons.

Fairey's viral Giant meme is all over Portland... I see posters and stickers everywhere. Underpasses, lampposts, bumper stickers, even stencils sprayed on the sidewalk.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

somewhere in middle america

Ryan and Jenny are spending a few weeks driving from Los Angeles to Plymouth Massawhatsit, and they're blogging the whole trip. Current location: motherfucking Omaha. No casualties (yet). I like these people... they're right, there is "something oddly satisfying about typing on a laptop in the middle of a campsite". Ahhh, nature.

(Back in my day, we didn't have "laptops" to type on when we went camping, we had to make do with magic mushrooms for entertainment. Uphill, both ways, but not so's you'd notice once the boomers kicked in.)

Their trip reminds me of a trip we took last year. Coming back from Burning Man, Anne-Marie and I camped our way slowly home, stopping anywhere with water and trees. Seeing as how we were roughing it, we were forced to survive on better food than we eat at home (we both overpack, and start with the luxuries... better to have too much stuff at Burning Man than to figure out you left something important behind). When the sun went down we'd watch films on the laptop, snuggled up in sleeping bags with the river's susurrus in the background.

These are the times I remember when I wonder where I've been: somewhere, anywhere, with Anne-Marie. Home.

Monday, August 08, 2005


They're making a movie of On the road? Is nothing sacred?

It starts out sounding like it might not suck - Coppola producing, Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) screenwriting - but then they're not sure if Colin Farrell or Brad Pitt should do Neal Cassady's role. WTF? Billy Crudup for Kerouac sounds good, but if they're going to put Brad Pitt in there they might as well try and get Billy Crystal to do a Ginsberg cameo.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

intelligent design

It seems like if everything was created by intelligent design there would be more intelligence. As it stands right now, that whole "made in His image" thing isn't making this alleged Creator look too good. (Besides, everyone knows that God is a crazy lady. Everyone in the One True Religion, anyway. Fliegende Kinderscheisse!) fnord Eris is not hateful or malicious. But She is mischievous, and does get a little bitchy at times. fnord

It's only half amusing, watching our society become top-heavy with fear and ignorance. The rest is a deep embarrassment, and a sense of loss. And an overwhelming urge to stock up on marshmallows for the coming conflagration.

Friday, August 05, 2005

death, or boomwha

Bill Thomas' Suicide picture series may provide him with a means of dealing with death on his own terms, but I can't look at his Rube Goldberg contraptions without thinking of the suicide bunnies.

The title of this post is from a joke my friend Scott, who committed suicide three years ago, told me. Scott was quiet, anything but crass, never swore, and had a pretty sophisticated sense of humor, so the rare occasions when he'd stoop to the level of the rest of our bunch stand out in my head. Like this one:

3 men, wandering lost in the jungle, unwittingly trespass on sacred ground and are brought to a nearby village by angry tribesmen.

"Choose your punishment," the tribal leader says: "death, or boomwha."

The first guy says "That's an easy choice... I'll take boomwha."

"Very well," says the leader. "BOOMWHA." Then the biggest, meanest warrior picks the guy up, drags him over to a fallen tree, and re-enacts a couple of the more traumatic scenes from the movie Deliverance on the unfortunate guy. Throughout the whole ordeal the tribesmen are chanting "BOOMWHA! BOOMWHA! BOOMWHA!" Afterwards the guy is set free, and sentencing falls on the second man.

"Choose your punishment," the tribal leader says: "death, or boomwha."

The second guy says "umm... I... guess... I'll take boomwha too."

"Very well," says the leader. "BOOMWHA." Then the second guy is grabbed by another big mean warrior and the whole ordeal is repeated. Afterwards he too is freed, and sentencing falls on the third man.

"Choose your punishment," the tribal leader says: "death, or boomwha."

The third guy says "fuck that... I'll take death".

"Very well," says the leader. "DEATH BY BOOMWHA."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

shoot first, ask questions later?

Riding the train home last week I spoke to a chap who was wearing tattoos, a black hoodie, Doc Marten lace-up's, and a backpack with a solar cell and wifi antenna sticking out of it. There are numerous places downtown offering free public wireless internet, and he's running a one-man wireless access point, dialed in to the Matrix, carrying on 5 or 6 IM conversations on his PDA while he's talking to me. His pyramid-studded utility belt has a cellphone, PDA, TI calculator, and a Leatherman all holstered and ready for a quick draw... more Batman than Sid Vicious. He's an engineering student, a modern techno warrior monk, someone I recognized as part of my peer group at first glance.

He's also likely to get his head shot off.

An international organization representing police chiefs has broadened its policy for the use of deadly force by telling officers to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head.

... the guide recommends that if lethal force is needed to stop someone who fits a certain behavioral profile, the officer should "aim for the head." The intent is to kill the suspect instantly so the person could not set off a bomb if one is strapped to the person's chest, the newspaper said.

Among signs to look for listed in the police organization's behavioral profile are wearing a heavy coat in warm weather, carrying a backpack with protrusions or visible wires, nervousness, excessive sweating or an unwillingness to make eye contact, the Post said.

According to the newspaper, the new guidelines also say the threat does not have to be "imminent" - as in traditional police training - an officer just needs to have a "reasonable basis" for believing a suspect can detonate a bomb.

What is a "reasonable basis"? In our climate of fear and xenophobia, the answer is pretty clear:

"They all look a certain way," said New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "It's all very nice to be politically correct here, but we're talking about terrorism."

No, apparently we're talking about Arabs. Because if we were talking about terrorism, we'd realize that the 'terror' part of terrorism revolves around the victim's inability to predict what and where and when the next strike will be. If I can read in the paper the methods the cops are using to determine who is or isn't a threat, so can the terrorists. How kind of us to give them a handy shopping list of things to avoid when planning their next attack.

Quoth Lenka from farkleberries:

I understand that the reality of policing is often about statistics, stereotypes, and intuitive hunches that run counter to what we call "civil liberties," but as a practical measure "Arab profiling" would do little or nothing to make our cities safer. But - terrorism is simply an intermittent-payoff "shell game." Once the knowledge that police are surveilling for "Arabs" becomes public knowledge, terrorists will simply change their approach and their appearance. It's all about game theory, and shifting police resources to target the outwardly recognized symbolism of previous terrorist acts doesn't really address the nature of the real risk: the fluid menace of terrorism continually shifts once an attack has taken place.

Racial profiling is nothing new in the US... "driving while black" has always been a good way to get pulled over by the cops. Now "walking while Arab" might be a terminal crime, and the prosecution of that crime won't make anyone the slightest bit safer.

I think that the effectiveness of a terrorist attack is a function of how many civil liberties get taken away as a result of that attack. Fearfully abandoning the precepts that we claim to uphold just gives the terrorists more points. Terror is an infection that is spreading unchecked... now we need to fear the terrorists *and* the cops *and* anyone who deviates from the norm by any appreciable amount (if they are hostile, the danger is obvious; if they are not, you still don't want to be standing next to them when the cops start firing). I think we're doing the terrorist's work for them. How accommodating we have become.

I remember when 'police state' was a derogatory term for The Bad Guys, uncivilized foreign governments Somewhere Else who don't recognize the 'certain inalienable rights' that we enjoy here in the 'Free World'. Lately that term seems to be what we desire, all in the name of a safety that can never be achieved.

This 'aim for the head' thing is going to turn around and bite us in the ass. It's only a matter of time until terrorists decide to use the new rule to their advantage, and make their explosives detonate when the suicide-bomber's pulse or EKG readings stop... they wire themselves up with ten bucks worth of circuitry from any Radio Shack, deliver themselves to the target, make themselves obvious, and wait for the bullet. And in the meantime we make a big show of force, one step behind them all the way, lines of shoeless air travelers and cowed train riders marking the places where the terrorists are not, yet where terror still resides.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

punky mctweezerhands

Safeway parking lot tales of horror, chapter 143:

...so she gets out of her car and walks towards me and I can see as she gets closer that she is beautiful except for the WHOLE LEFT SIDE OF HER SCALP IS SHAVED AND THE OTHER HALF IS FEATHERED SHOULDER LENGTH just like Kristy McNichol way back when and she's holding two huge tweezers - swear - like the biggest tweezers you have EVER SEEN and they are hooked together by a thick black cord and I started to freak inside a little bit thinking this is not the way I want to die out back behind Safeway smelling like rotten spinach leaves and bludgeoned to death by a pair of tweezers so I say WHAT'S UP?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

a not-so-angry inch

Can one square inch of silence infect the Olympic National Park with quietude?

This is one of those ideas that is good in theory, but doomed in practice... there's always the 100th monkey factor, but in this instance it's the monkeys that are the problem in the first place.

Monday, August 01, 2005

soylent snacks

Cannibalistic lifestyle not working out for you? Try Hufu, the vegetarian human flesh alternative.