log (2003/05/02 to 2003/05/08)

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Thursday, May 8, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

So I was gonna post something last night, but there was this big rainstorm, with thunder and lightning and everything, and we unplugged the house's entire IT center from the global power and information grids to avoid getting zapped, and the laptop's battery happened to be low at the time.

So I read a book instead. *8)

In fulfillment of Saturday's prophecy, I went back up to the Music Store and bought the (rest of) that Axiom of Choice album, Unfolding. The store will warn you if you try to buy an album that you already own one or more songs from, but the only choices on the warning are "okay, forget it" or "go ahead and buy all the songs, including the ones I already own".

Would be much more logical to have a "buy all the songs that I don't already own", since presumably that's what everyone immediately does by hand (at least that's what I did).

Music Store also needs a "print out the album cover art in a size that will fit perfectly in a jewel case" button; I faked that semi-manually also.

But now I have the album! It was under ten bucks, $0.00 tax, and $0.00 shipping and handling, and I didn't have to wait a week for it to come, and I didn't break any laws or have to install any adware-laden P2P clients.

All told, it was at least as good a deal as the "free" CDs I get from Columbia House (which require buying some number of expensive CDs first, and you still have to pay absurd shipping and handling, and wait a week). It'll be interesting to see how doomed Columbia House et al turn out to be.

I have discovered a deep defect in myself. I got from Audible a file containing "The Best of Second City": four hours or so of modern and sophisticated humor from the one of the most highly-regarded comedy institutions in the world. I've listened to forty or so minutes of it so far.

And it's not funny.

I dunno, it must be me. If it's improv, it's pretty impressive improv, and these people are really good at thinking on their feet, and it'd probably be fun to sit in a club and watch it live. But I get the impression that it's not improv, that it's mostly comedy written out in advance, and it fails entirely to make me laugh.

On the other hand:

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then, when you do criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes!

Now that's funny.

The Internet could be much faster! If only we sent more than 1500 bytes at a time, and if only we had our clients configured right. According to these folks, the network parameters got frozen in place back when we were optimizing for 1200bps modems.


Indirectly via Medley, some neat pictures of blueberries splashing into milk.

From geegaw, a whole bunch of books everyone should read. Compiled by Harold Bloom, not all of whose views I share (I seem to recall some silliness about Aristotle), but who at least cares about books.

From Flutterby, a really bizarre story about people trying to patent the SARS genome. What, they claim to have invented it? They claim that it's original, useful, and non-obvious?

Of course they're only trying to patent it, they haven't succeeded; there's an opportunity for some good case-law here. There have been some patents granted on living things and their genes (wisely or not), but at least in those cases they were genetically engineered; someone had made them on purpose. So unless someone's claiming to have mixed up SARS in the basement lab (just to the right of the submarine dock)...

Also from Flutterby, the very memorable 2002 Overclocked Jesus.

The sheer ponderousness of the panel's opinion -- the mountain of verbiage it must deploy to explain away these fourteen short words of constitutional text -- refutes its thesis far more convincingly than anything I might say. The panel's labored effort to smother the Second Amendment by sheer body weight has all the grace of a sumo wrestler trying to kill a rattlesnake by sitting on it...

That's from an also-memorable Alex Kozinski dissent, blogged here (and elsewhere (also originally noticed on Flutterby I think)). Similarly:

Judges know very well how to read the Constitution broadly when they are sympathetic to the right being asserted... When a particular right comports especially well with our notions of good social policy, we build magnificent legal edifices on elliptical constitutional phrases -- or even the white spaces between lines of constitutional text... But, as the panel amply demonstrates, when we're none too keen on a particular constitutional guarantee, we can be equally ingenious in burying language that is incontrovertibly there.

I don't know this guy's work well enough to know if I agree with his other views, or if his actions match his words, but I like how he talks.

A reader points out:

Pursed Lips = Plurp Sides

Interesting point! Since both parties seem to be back in circulation, readers can evaluate the sides for themselves.

And finally, I'm so impressed with Madonna's message to her loyal fanbase that I've got my own copy. This is a short version, courtesy of entensity; something that may be the original (just much longer, with silence at each end), as well as a variety of entertaining remixes, can be found here. [more backstory]

Tuesday, May 6, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Well shucks, now I feel bad; the livejournaller that I played my innocent little prank on yesterday has deleted the relevant entry entirely. I figured he'd just smile and change the img tag or something, but he's removed the whole thing, image and words and all. Maybe that's all you can do on livejournal? Now the world no longer has his words about "Till We Have Faces".


This is why I'll never be a Top Prankster; I'm too softhearted.

I don't really feel guilty, though; when you do massive remote image linking like that, you gotta expect the occasional little incident.

Speaking of massive remote image linking, Steve has still not emerged from his undisclosed location, but we're hopeful.

Debra, on the other hand, writes that Pursed Lips is

...down due to a host disaster of some kind. Pursed Lips hasn't croaked and will return ASAP, but you'd never know it to look at it!

When I hear more, I'll let you know.

And we'll attempt to remember to pass that along also.

Whilst we're talking about what other people (you know: other people) are doing, here's a comparatively recent Bovine creation: To Inhale the Black Mosquito. Fine reading, and educational too!

(Oh, and here's the story behind the cute image in the prank, before I forget it.)

A reader writes, on the subject of my probably-lame prediction about the future of TV and all:

By your logic, is radio not already more important than television? (It is to me, but that's not really enough :)). Everything you say about why your prediction will come true is already the case, is it not? I consume two hours of radio each day, in the car, and, during that time, the radio has complete control of all of my brain that isn't driving the car (it doesn't take much of a brain to drive a car, just look at the bumper stickers on other cars to realise this). I probably 'watch' two hours of TV most evenings, but I'm not concentrating on it in anything like the same way -- it's a background thing. So, if radio isn't already more significant the television, what will change over the next five years to make it so?

The easy answer is that what's true of you (and me) today will become true of lots and lots of other people. The more complex answer is that when enough of that happens, the center of culture (the Center of Culture) moves from television to the Net (or to something besides television, anyway). It's not a bet I could put a quarter on and give concrete victory conditions for. But (for instance) if I'm right it'll be as uncontroversial in five years to say that the center of culture is the net (and anyway certainly not television), as it would be uncontroversial today to say that the center of culture is television (and anyway certainly not the radio).

Something like that.

Monday, May 5, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Unlike some folks I don't generally get annoyed when people code up image tags for their pages that point to images on my website (see brief mention of a livejournaler doing this just the other day (scroll down)). Maybe that's just because I have mostly very small images, and my esteemed webhosts have never given me the least bit of trouble about bandwidth.

On the other hand, while I don't mind it, I do find it a great temptation. So when I noticed in the referer log yesterday that some other Livejournaler was using (the original GIF version of) this image directly in his entry about "Til We Have Faces" (which is the same thing that I use it for in an entry from a couple years back), I yielded. The URL that he's using now points to this image, which I think looks strikingly good (or at least pretty funny) in his entry.

Oooh, I'm so naughty!

I wonder if he'll ever notice?

So I bought a can of "Pepsi" from a "soda machine" here at work the other day, and I thought to myself "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot (twelve full ounces, that's a lot)", but the big letters on the can just said "PEPSI", so I held the can up to my eyes to look at all the tiny print and see where it said "cola". But it didn't!

Senthil walked by me and expressed some curiosity about why I was walking slowly down the hallway staring at the fine print on a soda can, and I said to Senthil, "The word 'Cola' doesn't appear anywhere on this Pepsi can!".

Senthil and I discussed the matter, and decided that maybe they'd done focus groups and decided that people identified "Cola" too much with "Coke" (and ceded the field rather than battling it out), or that "Cola" had negative connotations of being unhealthy, or out of date, or something.

Going to Pepsi dot com reveals a site about racecars and semi-nude supermodels, with no obvious mention of cola of any kind. A bit more digging reveals that:

Pepsi-Cola North America, headquartered in Purchase, N.Y., is the refreshment beverage unit of PepsiCo Beverages and Foods North America, a division of PepsiCo, Inc.

So "cola" hasn't been booted out entirely.

A simple Google search supports Senthil's theory; three of the top four hits are Coca Cola sites (the same one under three different names, actually), and only one is Pepsi (or, actually, Pepsi's semi-nude supermodels).

The only other drinkable cola on the first page of Google hits is, unsurprisingly, Jolt. (Whose website is, perhaps also unsurprisingly, full of annoyingly hip Flash.)

(There are also non-drinkable colas, which is a good thing.)

But, I thought to myself, what about RC Cola? Its star seems to be on the wane; the main page of RC Cola dot com is all about Dr Pepper and Seven Up, and is in fact the same page as DPSU dot com ("Dolly Parton State University"). That sites does have some information about RC Cola, but (as with so many obscure and not currently very profitable subjects) a better treatment can be found on various fan sites.

(This applies as well to Nehi, which as far as I can tell is barely mentioned at all on the DPSU site; do they still make it?)

Wasn't that fascinating?

"Half a ton of iron and three microcomputers."

I was stunned to realize the other night, when the little boy put on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and we were all sitting around more or less sort of watching it, that that toy maker guy in badguyland is played by Benny Hill. Benny Hill! The guy whose comic sketches are generally based around leering amusingly at women's secondary sexual characteristics! And there he is doing a relatively straight part in a terribly wholesome film.

How odd.

Got a letter from the IRS over the weekend, telling me that I'd failed to correctly calculate the limitation on our exemptions due to our Adjusted Gross Income. "That's funny," I thought, "I distinctly remember reducing the size of the exemptions", and in fact I had. Most gratifyingly, Uncle Sugar was informing me that I shouldn't have, and that we aren't really that rich (I'd copied a number from the "Single" column rather than the "Married filing jointly" column), and that we're actually getting significantly ("significantly" as in "I could buy a pretty good iPod with the differrence") more money back than we'd thought we were going to.

Nice that they even detect errors in the taxpayer's favor.

A reader writes:

And I was just telling my mom about your log over dinner tonight and even offered to send her the URL, saying how interesting it was, and how much I've found out about (RSS, wiki, and things) when you have to go and mention masturbation. Oh Good Grief!

But very funny, nonetheless :)))

Thanks! In fact I suspect that many mothers are surprisingly comfortable with the idea of masturbation. Quite a few of them, I understand, are even familiar with sexual intercourse! *8)

So you probably needn't worry too much...

Saturday, May 3, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

A concerned reader writes:

Iggles get Steve? Or does he still think that joke is funny?

Could be Iggles. Could be he's joining in a PoMo sort of way into that "truth in blogging" theme that everyone was talking about the other week and now of course I can't find. Is the joke still funny? Have you seen "The Spy Who Shagged Me"? A relevant scene springs to mind. *8)

note the green color

So last night I downloaded iTunes 4 on the iBook and went over to the Apple Music Store. Looks like it could be a dangerous place for me. To use a non-musical example, a few years ago when I was for some reason into "Magic: the Gathering" I spent far more US$ on them dumb little trading cards than I ever would have spent on a single game, because while I'd never play a hundred dollars for a single game I could easily think "look, booster packs; and only two ninety-nine!" forty or fifty times over the course of a few months.

Which is to say that I'm unlikely to sign up for a subscription service like eMusic (although not completely unlikely; I'm still with Audible after all), because hey that's a commitment, and I'd probably end up paying ten or fifteen dollars some month and not downloading anything. On the other hand if downloading a song is just a matter of thinking "hey, it's only a dollar!" and pushing a button, I can easily do that fifteen times in one evening like I did last night.

My first Apple Music Store playlist:

Chick Corea's Spain, performed bizarrely enough by a bunch of cellos. I picked this pretty much at random, just because a bunch of cellos in the "Artist" column in the "Jazz" section caught my eye. It's fun, if just a little schmaltzy.

Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel doing Excellent Birds (aka This is the Picture). Long words, excellent words; I can hear them now.

Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr doing The Girl from Ipanema. Even with the Music Store having just opened, you could make a whole CD out of the Girl from Ipanema covers they have in stock. (One thing I'm surprised that they don't seem to have is a bunch of Web pages where people without iTunes could browse the available songs and think "gee, if only I had an Apple computer, I could get all these songs for just a buck each!" On dit that there will eventually be a way for Windows users to shop at the Music Store too).

Taj Mahal, Blue Light Boogie.

David Allan Coe, You Never Even Called Me By My Name. A nostalgic pick; this was big back in my youth when I was listening to lots of Country Music.

Axiom of Choice, Color of Dreams. While this group does not seem to consist of set theorists as you might expect, the music is Way Cool; this is the song that gets the Most Likely To Get Me To Buy The Whole Album award. And the lyrics have the advantage of being in a language I don't understand; voice as pure instrument.

Pink, Don't Let Me Get Me. The little daughter was singing this in the car the other day ("...tired of being compared, to damn Britney Spears...") and there it was in the Music Store, and hey it's only a dollar. Teen angst, good production values.

Mná Na h-Eireann, played on flute and piano by James Galway and Phil Coulter. Again somewhere near the edge of schmaltz, but good sounds.

Dylan, All Along the Watchtower.

Continuing the theme: Charley Pride, You're My Jamaica.

Manhattan Transfer, Boy from New York City. More nostalgia; this was Very Big on the radio the summer after I graduated Princeton, when I drove from New York to California, picked up M, drove with her to Kansas, and then back to New York. (Another song from that summer, "Bette Davis Eyes", is missing from the Music Store at the moment.)

The Chieftains, Molly Bán. A moving reminder of why swan-hunting is a bad idea, at least if it's raining.

Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi; music from the soundtrack of a film that I keep meaning to see.

Honest Joe, by (the UK sextet) "James", produced by Brian Eno. From the odd album Wah Wah, a bunch of more or less improv songs recorded to relax while making a more normal album.

And finally, the moving Irish drinking song The Parting Glass, performed live by the Clancy Brothers. Is having this as the last track on a playlist too obvious for words?

I cut these fifteen songs onto a CD, but for some reason M's little Sony Discman that I'm playing it on keeps getting confused at the end of some of the tracks and just sitting there spinning without advancing to the next one. Should I not have told iTunes to put two seconds of silence between the tracks?

All around it was a very "future is now" evening. A long time ago I got a custom cassette cut by an outfit that was eventually absorbed into (and dumbed down by) Sony Music or somebody (it was a great cassette, I still have it in the car; I should post that playlist here sometime too), and sometime later I got someone to make me a custom CD (I chose lots of songs about cars as I recall; not a great success), but both of those involved paper catalogs and physical mail and long waits. Last night was much more convenient; a difference in kind.

So here's my prediction (I didn't write down my predictions back when I predicted the Web and WiFi, so I can't brag very convincingly about them): five years from now, television will be less significant than radio (which means both "less significant than radio is now" and "less significant than radio will be five years from now").

Sure, there will still be new material produced, fans who watch alot, lots of news and special-interest programming, and so on (just like radio has now). Music videos will worry at least somewhat about getting TV play. Everyone will have a TV or three, media centers will include televisions, it may be common for cars to have TVs in the back seat. But the center of culture will have moved on; pundits will no more worry about the effects of TV on youth then than they worry about the effects of radio on youth now. The new center will, of course, be the Net. Kids will be spending their free time mostly on, and interesting new memes will appear most importantly on, interactive digital media, not television.

I don't know if this is a "well, of course" prediction, or an unthinkable one. Maybe "five years" is the only risky part of it.

(Why less significant than radio? Because a huge part of radio listenership is people in cars driving to and from work. You can't watch TV while driving to and from work. I don't think we'll have self-driving cars five years from now.)

So now I've written lots of things! I'll save some things to write later on; wouldn't want to write all the things at once, and have no more things left to write.


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