Saturday, October 29, 2005

[random] Braaaainnnsss...

On a beautiful October afternoon, what could possibly be better than zombies rampaging in the streets of Fremont?

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[random][geek] Republic Dogs

Saw this ages ago, but when it resurfaced on Making Light, I had to share - Plato's Republic as done by Quentin Tarantino:
Aristotle: What kind of argument is that? Your theory of the forms rests on an arbitrary and vicious act of violence. Socrates: [Draws his gun.] Aristotle, you're Plato's student, I respect you, but I will put fucking bullets through your heart if you don't take back what you said about me being violent now! Aristotle: [Also drawing gun] You shoot, you'll be dining with Lord Hades tonight. I repeat. You kill me, your ass is eating pomegranite fucking casserole for the rest of eternity. Alcibiades: Shit, man, you're acting like a bunch of fuckin' Spartans. Am I the only philosopher around here? Socrates and Aristotle: [To Alcibiades] Shut up! Alcibiades: Guys, guys, calm down. Look, I've got it. Let's have a symposium -- we can all drink wine and make speeches in praise of love. Aristotle: What are you, some kind of pansy? Socrates: Shoot that dipshit. [Socrates and Aristotle turn in unison and shoot Alcibiades, then turn back and again aim at each other.]
Indeed...

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

[random][geek] I is smart

You Passed 8th Grade Math
Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!
[thanks to Chris Sells (I won't tell anyone I beat you Chris, I promise ;-)]

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

[random][politics] Annnn-ti-ci... ... ... ...

SAY IT!!!

...PA-TION!

That's all... I feel better now.

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[politics] 2000 2001

...and counting. Go. Click. See what 2000 looks like. [26-Oct-05 9:40 AM PDT updated to add links to latest casualty report and to change the title accordingly]

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

[politics] This is standing up?

I'm want to scream. I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of bubblegum. Why? Well, let's see... I know that Daily Kos isn't a fair sampling of Democrats, but I do think that as site membership has increased, the sentiments expressed there have been become more and more representative of the Democratic Party overall. Let's review the majority reaction to recent events on that site, shall we? 1. Observing the 2,000th US military fatality in Iraq: "Oh, we don't want to do that - that'd be exploitive..." 2. Observing Rosa Parks death to point out the GOP's hypocrisy on racial issues: "Oh, we don't want to do that - that'd be exploitive..." So may I ask... What the fuck do you want to react to? Or are you just going to hope that Fitzgerald's indictments bring down the Bush White House so you can spend 2006 and 2008 going "Well, we didn't get indicted, they did.". And these people wonder why there are voters out there who don't see any difference between the 2 parties...

2 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Hi. Just came across your blog via BooMan Tribune. I share your sentiments regarding the Dem party. Every once in a while I post up similar sorts of rants on mine.

10/25/2005 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

Thanks for stopping by - checking out your profile & blog, it seems we probably have more in common than just politics...

10/26/2005 08:18:00 AM  

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Monday, October 24, 2005

[geek] 30-second science blogging - Wired's coverage of NASA's space elevator contest

The article is available here.
With the flick of a switch, a searchlight beam illuminated a photovoltaic array, and a prototype space elevator called Snow Star One lifted off the ground. As the humble assemblage of solar cells, metal braces and off-the-shelf rollers rose slowly from the launch pad and up a long blue tether, a small crowd of spectators let out a boisterous cheer. The contraption, designed by University of British Columbia undergrads Steve Jones and Damir Hot, didn't get very far -- it managed to wriggle its way just 15 feet up the 200-foot-long tether before stalling out. But as the first competitor in the inaugural Space Elevator Games, even that modest performance was enough to cause a quite stir in the still-embryonic space elevator community. [...] Spaceward [(the non-profit foundation overseeing the competition)] board member Michael Laine, president of a Bremerton, Washington-based company called LiftPort that is seeking to commercialize space-elevator technology, noted that next year's games will up the ante considerably. While the already daunting thresholds will be set even higher, there will also be more money to entice competitors -- $100,000 for first prize, $40,000 for second and $10,000 for third. "I think that next year is going to be big," Laine said. "It's going to be harder, but I think there's going to be lots of people that rise to the challenge. We're at the beginning of something really great."
When I mentally compare these steps with what I can only imagine would be involved in actually building an elevator, I can't help but think of Langley's Aerodromes compared to an F-22 Raptor or the JSF. Langley Large Aerodrome 'A' Joint Strike Fighter I wonder what Langley would say about the JSF? Despite being an 'early adopter' of powered, heavier-than-air flight, would he have laughed at the idea of carbon composites, ceramic laminates, titanium components, and a top speed of Mach 1.8?

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[politics] "Are you going to stand up?"

Rosa Parks: 1913-2005

"Are you going to stand up?" So spoke a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955; in the seat, a woman determined to stay where she was entitled. That we should all have the courage of our convictions to stand as Rosa Parks stood up against Jim Crow. To the end, she was an example for us all. I'm not religious, but certainly a moment of silence is in order for Mrs. Parks. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis (the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was killed) is here; the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute is here. [edited 25-Oct-05 9:15 AM PDT to add the following paragraph] I wanted to add a link to this, a diary on MyLeftWing.com that reminds us that Rosa Parks' resistance was not an accident: she was a long-time member of the NAACP prior to 1955, and had previously refused to stand up on buses during the 1940s. None of this happened overnight, and none of this was accidental, both points that are likely to be glossed over (if not ignored entirely) in the self-serving hagiographies that will come out over the next few days and weeks. [thanks to billmon for the reminder, and to The Smoking Gun for the photo]

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[random] 1-year!

Wow... A full year of successfully lowering the signal-to-noise ratio of the Internet, even if only by the most minute fractions. From such humble beginnings and all that rot.

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[geek][humor] Behold! The power of XML!

<?xml version="1.0"?> <bite attr="me"/> Pretty much says it all, doesn't it? (saw this on /. late last week... I don't remember where)

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[random] Now I need a weekend to recover from my weekend

Oy. Let's see: Thursday was chaperoning The Boy's field trip to see spawning salmon in the Cedar River in Renton - fun, but tiring. Each kindergarten student is paired with a 5th grade 'buddy', and man, are 5th-grade boys and girls different species, or what? But it was pretty cool, kind of like watching a National Geographic special come to life. (Yes, it's a small pic - I cropped it from the original which is on a password-protected Yahoo!Groups site... If it was just me and The Boy, I'd probably post it, but since it isn't...) Me, herding cats in Renton Next, on to Friday: Bauhaus at the Paramount! Mini-non-review posted here - shorter version == great show, don't miss it if you can help it, I think I'm getting too old for this nonsense. Saturday was a Forced Outdoor Recreation day: took The Boy to Meridian Playground for some mandatory steam release time. It's a decent walk there from our house, so he was pretty pooped by the time we got back. Beautiful day, saw some bald eagles, including one that flew pretty low right over the park. And Sunday? Sunday was the Great Pumpkin Massacre of Ought-Five, at this point practically enshrined as an annual ritual... This year, as last, we went to Remlinger Farms in Carnation, WA, along with the same family we vacationed with. Remlinger's a little more expensive than some pumpkin places, but they have professional-grade carnival rides for the kids at no addn'l charge, and their pumpkin prices are pretty reasonable. IIRC, some of the 'cheaper' sites wind up being about as expensive (if not more) once you add up their additional charges for rides or attractions, and their per-pound price of pumpkins. While it was on the cold and raw side, the rain held off until just before we were ready to leave. And now I wonder why my brain is frozen in neutral... [Updated 24-Oct-05 10:40 AM PDT to add JPEG from field trip]

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

[geek][programming] From the "People should know better by now department"

One of the blogs in my RSS aggregator is Builder UK. Why the UK version of the site? Well, first off I think it's a better site than its American counterpart, which appears to do little more for programming-related content than regurgitate articles from the faux-Libertarian TechRepublic.com. Second, seeing as how I live and work with Microsoft technologies in the middle of the Microsoft heartland - and as I've mentioned previously, MSFT is one of our clients - I thought it'd be good to get some perspectives from outside the immediate sphere of influence of the Borg. Third, I like an international perspective on tech news just as much as I like getting an international slant on non-tech news. But they've recently endangered their position with an amazingly dumb article, VB6 Tip: Make the most of Variants. Some quick background: the 'Variant' data type in Visual Basic is an all-purpose data type. It can hold anything without choking: strings, numbers, object references. And it's a memory pig: since it doesn't know what the maximum amount of memory is that it'll need to hold its contents, it grabs a largish chunk and waits for the data to come in. True/False, requiring 1 bit of memory? Sure, you could use it for that, and eventually, at some point in the future, the variable will release all that extra memory. But not right away - you see, it could still be something else. And we don't want to give up that buffer, just in case. Now, there are some valid reasons why you might want to use such a data type - but you better have a bloody well-thought out reason for it. The Variant data type is one reason among many why so many programmers look down their nose at Visual Basic - you don't have to think as hard about what you're doing, because VB'll make guesses for you. Worse, I've seen code that declared variables as variants, and then used one or two variables as catch-alls. Need a number? No problem. A string? Sure! A Word document? You betcha! All with one variable! Whenever I helped review resumes for VB6 programmers, there were 3 things in a code sample that would instantly get a resume tossed on the No Fucking Way pile:
  • Failure to include 'Option Explicit' at the beginning of your code.
  • Remember how I said VB will make guesses for you? It'll do even better than that - if you don't require variables to be explicitly declared, it'll create them for you at run-time. A typo in a variable name all of a sudden becomes a new, legitimate variable. I've seen very expensive pieces of custom software all of a sudden break when 'Option Explicit' was turned on.
  • Failure to understand how variables are instantiated.
  • In some languages, you can declare a variable like this: "int foo, bar;" - there, you've just declared that you'll need 2 integer values named foo and bar. It therefore isn't uncommon to see this in VB6 code: "Dim foo, bar As Integer". Guess what? It doesn't work that way, but it doesn't throw an exception of any kind. bar is an integer, sure, but guess what foo is? It's a (wait for it)... Variant!
  • Indiscriminate use of Variants
  • If you haven't bothered to think through what types of data you were working with, how can I be sure that you've thought through your code? Toss, toss, toss... NFW. By itself, this article isn't enough to get me to delete my RSS feed - but they're definitely on probation.

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    Friday, October 21, 2005

    [geek] 30-second science blogging - an "X-Prize"-lite for the space elevator concept

    While I don't think this represents any kind of radical change in NASA's approach to space, I do find it heartening that they're at least willing to entertain (and reward) something other than the strap-a-mofo-huge-rocket-to-your-ass-and-cross-your-fingers philosophy they've embraced since, oh, forever. Please note that no disrespect is intended towards those who actually strap those mofo-rockets to their collective asses - but since we've come to learn that rocket-powered space flight is so inefficient (certainly, rocket-powered flight from the bottom of a gravity well), you'd think we'd have given something else a whirl by now. It isn't like there's been a shortage of ideas or anything.

    3 Comments:

    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    You can hardly blame NASA for being conservative. Engineers tend to be, and the 'strap a rocket to your back' approach has the virtue that, at the last, it works.

    We might wish they'd spend a bit more time/attention on alterative means to launch, however.

    10/21/2005 10:31:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I can't also help but wonder if the long-time military affiliation with NASA has hurt (probably not the right word... had an impact?) as well. Both the military and engineering produce pretty cautious mindsets, with good reason.

    Then there's the Right Stuff era test-pilot/cowboy mentality - given the way institutions pass down traditions and mindsets, it's probably only been within the last 20 years or so that that culture has worked itself out of NASA. When did NASA drop the ex-military-only requirement for astronauts? That would have marked a tremendous turning point as well...

    And yes, it does work. Spectacularly. And when it works, it also makes for great theatre (and I don't mean that in a negative way) - there're some photos of Canaveral night launches that still take my breath away.

    10/21/2005 10:52:00 AM  
    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    Both the military and engineering produce pretty cautious mindsets, with good reason

    Allowing that I was 'only' a junior enlisted Marine (I spent most of my time in service as an E3 and I'm perversly proud of that) it's not so much that the military has a cautious mindset as a conservative one. You go with what works. This is not the same as being cautious.

    Cautious leaders in the military can have their place, but you have to roll the dice at times - they'd revoke your engineering degree if you tried that with a bridge.

    McClellen for example could have won the Civil War in 1862 had he moved with alacrity in front of Richmond.

    He did not - given his character he could not - and the defect was as much one of character as that the Lee simply out generalled the poor man.

    When did NASA drop the ex-military-only requirement for astronauts? That would have marked a tremendous turning point as well...

    A very long time ago. Armstrong was a civilian test pilot as were others in Apollo. But they were associated with the military - given the requirement for test pilot experience it couldn't be otherwise.

    You're looking for the Shuttle era I suspect.

    And yes, it does work. Spectacularly. And when it works, it also makes for great theatre

    Amen. Space flight is the grace note to our culture - our gift to the future. A rocket boosting for the heavens is the clearest best expression of what we're capable of.

    10/21/2005 07:29:00 PM  

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    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    [politics] It's a holiday in Cambodia Syria

    [updated 20-Oct-05 8:40AM PDT to add attribution; my bad. - ps] No, it doesn't scan as well as Jello's original, but still... Evidently Secretary of State Rice's influence on our military policy only covers air strikes, given the rumors (and off-the-record statements by Administration officials) that US ground troops have engaged Syrian forces in combat - on the Syrian side of the Iraqi/Syrian border. An editorial in this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by former US Ambassador Dan Simpson (associate editor of the PP-G) lays it out in blunt terms:
    The parallel with the Vietnam War, where a Nixon administration deeply involved in a losing war expanded the conflict -- fruitlessly in the event -- to neighboring Cambodia, is obvious. The end result was not changed in Vietnam; Cambodia itself was plunged into dangerous chaos, which climaxed in the killing fields, where an estimated 1 million Cambodians died as a result of internal conflict. On the U.S. side, no declaration of war preceded the invasion of Syria, in spite of the requirements of the War Powers Act of 1973. There is no indication that the Congress was involved in the decision to go in. If members were briefed, none of them have chosen to share that important information with the American people. Presumably, the Bush administration's intention is simply to add any casualties of the Syrian conflict to those of the war in Iraq, which now stand at more than 1,970. The financial cost of expanding the war to Syria would also presumably be added to the cost of the Iraq war, now estimated at $201 billion. The Bush administration would claim that it is expanding the war in Iraq into Syria to try to bring it to an end, the kind of screwy non-logic that kept us in Vietnam for a decade and cost 58,193 American lives in the end.
    Santayana... history... lessons... 'doomed to repeat'... Anyone? Anyone? It just seems fitting to end this with lyrics from another song by the DK's - their version of I Fought the Law:
    The law don't mean shit if you've got the right friends That's how the country's run Twinkies are the best friend I've ever had I fought the law And I won
    [thanks to dKos readers roxtar and jfern for bringing this to everyone's attention] (back to top)

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    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    [random] Writer's cramp

    Brain cramp, that is. You see, I've got a bunch of essays sitting in my blogger dashboard as drafts: a piece on decentralized information processing/decision-making (think Wisdom of Crowds), something on science education in the US today, a long-ish philisophical rant about a tempest in the teapot that is the video game community, an observation about the pace of technology and society. Drafts. All of them. Oh, and just to keep a balance in my life, this is cramping my fiction on slow memory leak, which has a bunch of stalled-out pieces. I even have a half-written essay on monsters and society waiting to be posted to The Myster of the Haunted Vampire as well. For now, they sit lumpen and lifeless, half-formed clay homunculi waiting for the rabbi to place truth on their foreheads. My ideas are outpacing my abilities, and dammit, I don't like it. Eh. It's frustrating, but I'll deal... It isn't like I'm depending upon this for my income or anything, which is a Good Thing. So until my expository writing gets back up to snuff, atrophied as it is by years of coding and memo writing (fortunately of late, far more of the former than the latter, but still quite fatal for creative writing), I'm afraid you'll have to make do with a diet that consists of irregularly regurgitated bits and snippets of the content of others mixed with the occasional larger free-form nugget of extemporaneous ranting. I'm sure Jakob Nielsen wouldn't approve, but I'll just have to live with that disappointment too.

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    [geek][gadget] Sweet! Slick new Sony VAIO laptop

    Sony Korea just announced the release of 2 new VAIO models that have cases made from carbon fiber. In addition to being very thin and light, they look amazingly cool. Sony has not announced any plans to introduce these to the North American market. Hey, is there an amazon.co.kr? Drat, guess not...

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    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    [random] Halloween fun

    Over at some other site where I like to contribute, we're getting into the Halloween spirit with some fun food & decorating ideas... Things like... bloody eyeball ice cubes ...and... an eviscerated torso cake. Yum. On the torso cake post, there's a link to a site with some simpler projects: a bleeding heart cake, edible 'spiders', edible 'eyeballs'. Definitely worth a click or two if you're planning any Halloween festivities.

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    [geek] 30-second science blogging - general geeky roundup

    Lots of things struck my geeky fancy today - too many to simply pick one. As a result of such fecund geekiosity, we're just gonna have a quick list:
  • A tool-using gorilla catching scientists off guard
  • A swimming dinosaur
  • RNA/DNA precursor molecules found galaxies away
  • Plesiosaur poop!
  • The 'why' behind China's space race
  • Scotty's transparent aluminum - now a reality?
  • There was a bunch of other stuff that I can't find right now - regrowing limbs, the UK re-evaluating manned spaceflight... Slashdot, Pharyngula, the BBC, MSNBC - it was generally a geek-positive kind of day all around.

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    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    [geek][gadget] Update: PEZ MP3 player goes live!

    About six months ago, I wrote about this dude in Springfield, MO who was trying to bring a PEZ-licensed MP3 player to fruition. Guess what? He's done it.

    2 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Yet again you insist on exalting the needless complication of something that is simple and elegant! Philistine!

    10/14/2005 11:28:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    And boring... Don't forget boring ;-)

    10/15/2005 08:37:00 AM  

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    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    [politics] 100 Iraqi battalions, trained and ready to go!

    That is, for small values of 100. Extremely small values of 100.

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    [random] Aaaahhhh!!! My eyes!!!

    Don't say I didn't warn you... Click on this if you dare: Carhartt Introduces Rugged Work Thong. Where would we be without The Onion, I ask you? [Thanks to Ann @ Sivacracy]

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    [blogger] Things that make you go 'Hmmmm', part #5,252,179

    Does anyone else find it ironic that blogger.com's built-in spellchecker doesn't recognize the word 'blog' from the get-go? Oh - it doesn't like 'blogger', either: 'Blocker'? Glad it's got that "Learn" button, aren't you?

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    [geek] Why I read Chris Sells' blog

    Because Chris possesses insights into all the important stuff.

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    Monday, October 10, 2005

    [politics] That's gonna leave a mark

    A current MSNBC article describes the upcoming (ongoing?) recruitment push being made by, of all groups, the Navy SEALs:
    Navy SEAL Mitchell Hall, who won a Bronze Star in 2001 in Afghanistan, hopes to use the upcoming Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii to spread the word about the need for more recruits. The competition will make the 31-year-old chief petty officer a spokesman for the community of self-described quiet professionals and put him in front of the cameras he spent years avoiding. The change in recruiting methods comes amid the Pentagon’s increasing reliance on special operations and the call for a 15 percent increase in SEALs over the next several years. The SEALs have a legendary reputation as an elite, highly skilled fighting force, but it is hard to find candidates with the necessary physical conditioning.
    Fifteen percent. This is a small force we're talking about, so a 15% increase is kinda huge. Admittedly, this works out well for the Navy in other ways, too: in order to get those extra SEALs, they're going to have to recruit a lot more sailors because so many SEAL candidates wash out. And guess what? There are no backsies for recruits who fail SEAL training: you're still in the Navy, if you make the cut or not.
    Only 25 percent pass entrance exam Every SEAL must finish one of the world’s toughest entrance exams, a six-month training program that typically weeds out three of every four candidates. The Navy also is creating a SEAL rating — a formal job description — that should allow candidates to more quickly begin formal SEAL training. Previously, SEALs — the name stands for Sea, Air, Land — had to attend school to learn traditional jobs held by Navy sailors. Driving the changes is the need to add 400 men by fiscal 2008, bringing the total number of SEALs from 2,600 to about 3,000. Special operations units in the Army and Air Force also are planning to increase their ranks, and U.S. Special Operations Command is offering bonuses of up to $150,000 to keep the most experienced operators from bolting to the more lucrative private sector.
    See, though - here's the problem. In Vietnam, we saw Special Ops troops as the answers to all of our problems: move fast and strike hard, "Death From Above", "One Shot, One Kill", and all that, all with plausible denibility. Then guess what? We screwed the pooch. Not only did we use our Special Ops troops (and I'll include CIA paramilitary units here) illegally, we created too many of them. We did what? Yup, we created too many of them. We did what any other government does when it runs out of currency - we made more. Only instead of banknotes, our coin of the real was shadow warriors. And, like every money-printing spree in history, we debased the currency. We lowered standards for admittance, we turned a blind eye to rogues and incompetents and cowboys, because we needed more and more and more and more. And because every now and then we achieved some remarkable successess with these units where our regular troops were falling short, we made even more on top of that. We made more but wound up with less - much less - and it took decades to pay off that bill. Our special forces didn't fully recover from the effects of this binge until the late 1980s. Overall, I would not take this article as a positive sign.

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    [culcha] MirrorMask

    Wow. Just wow. That's all I'll say here - I actually bothered to type something a little more in-depth up over here, in this other place.

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    Sunday, October 09, 2005

    [politics] Yeah, that'd've gone over real well...

    What's that you ask? How does launching air strikes against Syria grab ya? And not months ago, either... We're talking last week, during those highly-publicized border offensives:
    NEW YORK (AFP) - The United States recently debated launching military strikes inside Syria against camps used by insurgents operating in neighboring Iraq, a US magazine reported. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully opposed the idea at a meeting of senior American officials held on October 1 [emphasis added], Newsweek reported, citing unnamed US government sources.
    Well, at least Rice appears to have half a gram of sense. Can you imagine what would have erupted if we had launched those strikes? Personally, when I saw the headlines I was expecting some kind of Tonkin-on-the-Euphrates action, and I'm glad calmer heads prevailed. I have no love for Syria's regieme, but still... That would not have been a sign that we were exactly in control of the situation in Iraq, despite the noises to the contrary coming from the talking heads, offical and syncophantic alike. More-or-less current information about Syria may be found here.

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    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    [politics] So...

    If the information about the attack in NYC was so bloody credible, could someone remind me why we're spending so much more per capita to protect, oh, Wyoming? Let's see - let's quantify the terror threat (loosely) as some value (x + y), where x is the number of completed attacks, and y is the number of foiled attacks. For NYC, the value of x >= 2, and you can't tell me that y = 0. I'm not buying that. Any guesses as to what the values of x and y are for Wyoming? If anyone out there truly believes that either could be larger than zero, I have some riverfront real estate in Louisiana I'd like to sell you. Note: in terms of per-capita DHS spending, I'm talking about grants to individual states, not outright Federal expenditures. In terms of all Federal expenditures from all agencies for homeland security, New York does come out much better than Wyoming - but I'm guessing that a ton of that cash is accounted for by an increased Coast Guard and/or other Federal agency presence as well as cash required for such things as the RNC. When it's the Feds paying for Federal expenses, New York comes out ahead, but behind DC, Virginia, and that hotbed of national security, Alaska.

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    Friday, October 07, 2005

    [culcha] "in the machinery of night"

    angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war -- Ginsberg, Howl (1955)
    Parts of it feel 50 years old... parts of it feel timeless. Thanks for the reminder, billmon (among others).

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    [culcha] RIP, EAP

    On 7 October 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a rich legacy to future writers of horror, science fiction, and mysteries alike. da' man!

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    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    [random][music] Delta punk

    (updated 15-Oct-05, here) There's a shitstorm brewing in the larger world, and, well... I don't feel like writing about it. My thoughts aren't coherent enough to be worth sharing as of yet, so until something worthwhile coalesces, you're going to have to put up with my ramblings about music. Ever since the mid '80s, I've been fascinated by the idea of fusing traditional music with rock 'n' roll. Not folk rock per se, but hard, kick-ass rock. What crystallized this for me was Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, largely overlooked by much of the sf/f community, and now (sadly, IMO) mostly marketed as juvenile fantasy instead of adult. It's great urban fantasy, with Celtic fey forces coming to life to do battle... in modern Minneapolis. Okay, it's not the strongest premise when phrased like that, but it's a hell of a story nonetheless. The shidhe need music to do battle - and they need to recruit human musicians for that role, otherwise no one will die in combat. Bull's prose manages to evoke the best of dirty, sweaty, smoky punk rock melded with bardic melodies - and it becomes pure musical magic in this book. Ever since, I've been looking for this combination, largely to no avail. I'm a huge fan of Jethro Tull, for instance; their albums Broadsword and the Beast and Songs from the Woods meld traditional melodies with rock instruments to good effect - but not quite. And the quasi-Tull side project Fairport Convention, which stays closer to the traditional side of things, falls much more firmly into the realm of folk rock. I've bought albums by Boiled in Lead, the band that largely inspired War for the Oaks - and they too, while fun to listen to, fall short (for me) of the wonder and magic of the book. It's the great divide between specification and implementation, right? I've tried Rare Air, Clannad, Lorenna McKinnet, Dead Can Dance, Delerium, Deep Forest - to no avail. I've liked all of them, more or less, but none of them have met that idealized standard that I formed way back when. It's funny how Renaissance, Medieval & Gregorian seem to work better with harder rock, which is where my tastes lie. But for folk...? Dance and electronica? Sure. Black leather and studs punk? Not so much. Still, I haven't stopped looking - it's been a lot of fun. I've made a point of seeking out unconventional combinations of 'traditional' music forms with harder rock, and as a result I've found a lot of bands that I now enjoy. Some have been real clunkers, but most have been quite good - and even the best of them fall short of what I created in my mind oh those many years ago. So it was with great pleasure that I stumbled across a Minnesota-based band that did punk blues. Not rockabilly or psychobilly, but punk-rock-blues. I like punk (duh!), I like the blues - how cool could that be? I liked the samples and videos on their website, so I ordered their latest album. After many travails detailed elsewhere, I FINALLY HAVE IT. And without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Blackeyed Snakes' album Rise Up!. First, the cover & album art: instead of your standard jewel box, BeS opted for a heavy paperstock cover. It's a little thinner than a regular jewel case, and as a result feels a little less substantial, a little flimsier than a plastic case. Still, no real points lost here. And the art is pretty good: it's a murky black faux naive or folk-primitive painting depicting a Pancho Villa-esque skeleton astride a horse, surrounded by pale robed figures that could be acolytes or ghosts or more skeletons. In the background, there are decapitated heads stuck atop poles. Taken together, is it revolution or is it the dead coming to life? Either interpretation fits with the album title, so I'd give the whole package a thumbs up. On to the music... Let's be straight up: this album will probably displease traditionalists of either camp, punk or blues. It feels like a harsher, less-polished version of, say, Tull or Led Zepplin's early blues pieces. A post-punk sensibility runs through it, as well... These guys are aware that they're doing this thing, this band; it doesn't feel like something that happened once they started playing togehter - it feels like a bunch of guys were sitting around and said "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if..." and then made it so. This is not to say that it is a bad album - on the contrary, I quite liked it. But there are audible differences between the tracks mixed at their Duluth studio and the Chicago studio where the album was produced (the Chicago tracks sound crisper). The instrumentation and composition is strong - the music feels like the blues. The lead singer has a smoky, raspy, whiskey-drinking voice, and the effect used when recording vividly evokes an image of someone in a dark, sweaty club wailing into an old-fashioned microphone, a primitive Jazz Age 'phone or a streamlined chrome mike reminiscent of post-WW2 car grilles. In the live tracks (the videos on their site), it worked perfectly. In the studio tracks, it's a little disappointing once you realize that's the way it's going to be for the entire album. Also, while I don't expect any of them (or anyone connected to them) to ever read this review, I'd like to point out that part of the fun of the blues is the lyrics. There's clever wordplay and raunchy innuendo; there's poetry composed of real life tragedy and triumph along with the highs and lows of petty day-to-day living. And you get to hear none of that on this album. IMO, an insert with the lyrics would definitely have added a lot, and made the vocal effect less irritating. Eh, irritating is too strong a word. How about saying that the overall effect would have been a lot stronger, instead. A punk purist is going to be irked by the fact that, by choosing to play more faithfully to the blues idiom, some of the 'filth and fury' that make punk punk will be lost. If you're going to try and capture the feel of traditional blues, even if you play them through a punk filter, you're going to sound a lot more like Led Zepplin than, say, the Sex Pistols. Lest you think otherwise, I did like the album. I'd even recommend it (with a few caveats) to someone open-minded enough to grok how a punk blues band might be cool. If this sounds intriguing to you conceptually, I'd say go for it. I bought my copy through Amazon, but you can find it online, both used and new, for less than what I paid for it. [updated 15-Oct-05 11:45AM PDT: Okay, I'm at work right now, and being the only person in the office, I've got this puppy cranked over speakers instead of headphones and you know what? It sounds a lot better this way, sounding both punkier and bluesier... Cool! This kicks some serious ass! (back to top)]

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    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    [politics] tick, tick, tick, tick...

    So - how directly were Bush and Cheney involved in the Plame scandal? According to George Stephanopolous, the answer is, well, quite directly. tick, tick, tick... Ka-BOOM! Oooh, that's gonna leave a mark... We'll see. Personally, I do think it goes fairly high up the food chain - and it would be entirely in keeping with both the style and substance of this kleptocracy administration - but there's nothing like a privileged position to provide a whole lot of protection. Anyone who winds up in an orange jumpsuit will promptly be pardoned. Is anyone else acutely aware of the irony of this kleptocracy administration being the ones who were going to restore dignity to the office of the President? Anyone else remember that analysis? I don't suppose there're any pundits out there who'd care to revisit that little hypothesis, are there? <crickets state="chirping" /> No, I didn't think so.

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    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    [culcha] Fusing Traditions

    I went to a great exhibit at UW's Burke Museum this afternoon - Fusing Traditions: Transformations in Glass by Native American Artists. A full account may be found at my other blog home, here. It's a phenomenal show - if you're in Seattle before New Year's Eve, I'd heartily recommend it.

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    [geek] 30-second science blogging - 10th planet has moon

    This ought to heat up the what-is-and-what-isn't-a-planet debate. Oh, and in case you had any doubt that astronomers were a big bunch of geeks, this should put it to rest. Since that 10th planet is nicknamed 'Xena', they've nicknamed the moon 'Gabrielle'. <rimshot />

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    [music] freakin' finally...

    Well, a while ago I posted something about the Black-Eyed Snakes, a Duluth, MN-based punk-blues band... I ordered their latest CD through their site, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. "Okay", I thought, "they're musicians, not a record store... It looks like they all belong to more than one band, and at least one of them publishes an alt 'zine as well, so they're gonna be busy... I can wait." And wait I did - for 6 weeks. So I emailed the contact listed by PayPal, and asked what was up with that? Never heard anything. I waited a little more... Still nothing. So I emailed again. No response. I waited yet a little more, and, still having heard nada, I emailed one last time saying that if I didn't get a response, I was going to have PayPal cancel the order and refund my money. Still no response, but within a day or two there was a PayPal credit to my online account... Guys, can I point out something to y'all? I ordered your CD from your site because, well, you make more money that way, right? I could have ordered it from Amazon or any other online retailer for more money - and you'd have gotten a smaller cut of that money. But I didn't - I bought it from you. And y'all didn't exactly go out of your way to encourage me to repeat the experience... One stupid email ("sorry, misplaced the order, it's on its way" or "we're out of CDs right now, can you wait X weeks until we get another pressing") would have gone a long way. I mean, I'm not about to start a new website blackeyedsnakessuck.com or anything like that - but in the future, it probably wouldn't hurt if y'all treated your customers like, well, customers. Or better yet, like fans - which, since I'm trying to buy your friggin' CD, I probably am. Or I could be. Okay, </rant>. See, I really did like their music - and I did buy the CD through Amazon a week ago (along w/ a Celtic punk CD from the band Blood or Whiskey), and it shipped last night. Freakin' finally...

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