Sunday, December 24, 2006

Big Pile of Christmas (Part Two)

Just because technology has made it possible, here is a picture of this year's Christmas haul taken earlier today:


Here's a little better view of the tree itself:


And here are a bunch of bloggers disagreeing with each other, earlier this year:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Amazement

Here's another great one: Zappa's band covering the Allman Brothers' song, "Whipping Post". Those of you with more "mainstream" musical tastes may enjoy this one more than the other one I posted about:



This footage is from the concert video, "Does Humor Belong In Music?" The album/CD version of "Does Humor Belong In Music?" seems to use a recording of this song from a different performance, but I actually prefer the version from the video.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This is Effin' Amazing

This is Frank Zappa and the (1968 lineup) Mothers performing "King Kong" on what appears to be British television. Try to ignore the cheesy '60s video effects that creep in toward the end and just listen to the glorious awesomeness.

Friday, December 08, 2006

There Are No 14-Year-Old Girls On The Internet

An Allen County schoolteacher is the 75th person charged by the Fairborn Internet Crimes Unit, police said.
[...]
Police said the science teacher at Elida North High School attempted to meet a detective, who posed as a 14-year-old girl in Internet chats during the past month, for sex.

Penn Jillette made an interesting point on his radio show a little while back: He suggested that there's a risk here that these guys they're trapping like this might never have tried anything if they had been talking to an actual teenage girl, because they might have then realized how shallow and uninteresting actual teenage girls really are. In other words, is it possible that some of these men are only trying to meet the "teenage girls" they're talking to, because adult detectives posing as teenage girls are more attractive (intellectually/emotionally) than actual teenage girls?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Big Pile of Christmas (Part One)

In preparation for this year's trip to Wisconsin for Hogswatchnight, I have created a DVD filled with MP3s of Chrismahanukwanzakah music, with the intention of letting it play in the background while we open presents, thereby escaping the dismal prison of any particular radio station's playlist, while also avoiding the need to get up periodically and change discs.

Since this DVD contains 971 songs, I'm hoping we'll be able to get our unwrapping done without the DVD player having to repeat more than the first couple hundred or so...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

God Damn It

The mainstream media is at it again. A study shows short-term effects on brain activity when playing video games, and that these short-term effects are different depending on whether the game is violent or not.
"Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a nonviolent, but exciting, game... What we showed is there is an increase in emotional arousal. The fight or flight response is activated after playing a violent video game," Mathews said.

No real surprise there, if you ask me.
Mathews said he hopes to conduct additional studies on the long-term effects on brain function of exposure to violent video games.

So what is CNN.com's headline on this story about (rather unsurprising) short-term effects, in which the researcher explicitly makes it clear that the results say nothing about long-term effects? Why, naturally, the headline summarizes the story thusly: "Study: Violent video game effects linger in brain"

Why, yes, that does seem to be precisely the opposite of what the study actually examined, thank you for asking.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

If you've been reading this blog for a long time (and really, why would you?), you may remember that back in January of last year, I proposed a Constitutional amendment so that, upon re-election, any returning incumbent president would be required to append to the normal oath of office, after promising (again) to protect and defend the Constitution, etc., the new phrase, "And this time, I mean it."

I would now like to propose another amendment:
(1) Any law passed by Congress shall expire on a date five (5) years after the date on which the law takes effect. Once expired, the law shall be null and void, exactly as if it had been repealed by act of Congress.
(2) For all laws currently in effect at the time this amendment is ratified, the expiration date shall be the month and day of the original effective date of the law, with the year of expiration to be determined by the rightmost digit of the statute's number: Add that number to the year in which this amendment is ratified to determine the year in which that section of the US Code will expire.

Basically, by adding an expiration date to all laws passed by Congress, you give them something important to do. My psychological theory is, Congress needs to Do Stuff in order to feel important. If they spent an entire session just sitting around and not passing any laws, Congresspeople would feel useless and unimportant, and that's not why they went into politics.

With my proposed amendment, Congress can keep itself busy passing laws, without actually adding new laws, or at least without adding pointless or even downright destructive new laws, since they'll be able to congratulate themselves for at least keeping murder and treason illegal. And the more time they spend on actual important stuff like that, the less time they'll have to get... meddlesome.

EDIT: One other point: By setting the expiration date at 5 years, it deliberately does not match the terms of office for Senators and Representatives. This increases the likelihood that a "different" Congress (i.e., with a different balance of power) will be re-examining the law as it approaches expiration.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Movie-Film Review

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Funniest movie of the year, certainly. I would rank this as being in the same league of funny as South Park, Team America, and Bad Santa.

I've seen some reactions that, I think, miss the point slightly. I don't think Borat is ultimately about exposing the "bigotry and ugliness" running rampant in America, though that is one element of it. I think Christopher Hitchens got it right: It's fundamentally about politeness.

We want to be polite to people, at least people as seemingly innocent and charming as Borat comes across, and to be tolerant of people from different cultural backgrounds. But the Borat character presents people with an insolvable dilemma: We want to be tolerant of other cultures, yet Borat apparently comes from a culture that is itself so bigoted and intolerant as to be, well, intolerable. You can see the tension in people dealing with this paradox, between the urge to be polite and accepting, and the urge to confront him. Frankly, I have more respect for the people who do confront him, and refuse to put up with his bigotry just because it comes packaged in a pleasantly innocent Latka-esque character. It's the folks who try to get along with him that end up pining for the return of slavery.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Best Headline Ever

Duct tape no substitute for a babysitter, police say

Kerry's Big Faux Pas

GOP slams Kerry for telling students to study or "get stuck in Iraq"

It appears that we have now arrived at a point where American politics is conducted entirely by outrage: Political discourse now consists exclusively of being offended by some remark made by someone on the other side. And don't mistake this as a dig at the Republicans, just because they're the ones whose turn it is currently to be offended. The Democrats are just as guilty.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I hate CSI: Miami

First of all, CSI: Miami, which has always been the least well-done of the franchise, has lately become a show that I watch mostly to make fun of. It hasn't quite sunk to the MST3K-levels of 24, but it's getting there. My private fantasy is that they will find a way to bring in William Shatner to play David Caruso's father in a cameo.

This week's episode dealt with eminent domain abuse, which is a worthwhile topic. Basically, the city government had condemned a whole street of houses, so that a developer could build a high-rise hotel there, all in accordance with the Supreme Court's recent lousy ruling in Kelo v. New London. At one point two of the CSI characters had this exchange of dialogue:
"It's hard to believe that this kind of thing can happen in this country."
"Well, capitalism opens a lot of doors."

NO! No, no, no! Armed (government) thugs forcing you off of your land at gunpoint is not "capitalism", goddamn it! If anything, it's closer to socialism than to capitalism.

Look, under true free-market capitalism, the developer would negotiate with each homeowner on that street to buy their land at a mutually-agreed-upon price. If "the city needs my hotel", as the developer asserts in the episode, then he will have no problem finding investors and backing to purchase the necessary land. The current owners will get what they feel is a fair price, they'll be able to buy a new home elsewhere (assuming that's what they want to do with the money), and the developer and investors in the hotel will make a profit (assuming they've judged the demand for hotel space correctly) - everyone wins. On the other hand, if the developer cannot find backing to purchase the land at its true value (i.e., what the owners are willing to sell for), then that is the market's way of telling you that it doesn't really need a high-rise hotel that badly.

Eminent domain takings involve the use of government force to obtain property for less than what it would cost in a free market. What makes eminent domain abuse a Bad Thing is not that it is an example of capitalism, but rather that it is violent government interference with capitalism.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Is this another "Farewell" tour?

Streisand to heckler: 'Shut the @#&% up'
There was Streisand, enduring a smattering of very loud jeers as she and "George Bush" -- a celebrity impersonator -- muddled through a skit that portrayed the president as a bumbling idiot.

Though most of the crowd offered polite applause during the slightly humorous routine, it got a bit too long, especially for a few in the audience who just wanted to hear Streisand sing like she had been doing for the past hour.

"Come on, be polite!" the well-known liberal implored during the sketch as she and "Bush" exchanged zingers. But one heckler wouldn't let up. And finally, Streisand let him have it.

"Shut the (expletive) up!" Streisand bellowed, drawing wild applause. "Shut up if you can't take a joke!"
[...]
Once the outburst (which Streisand later apologized for) was over, Streisand noted that "the artist's role is to disturb,"

Oh, bullshit, Babs. You just thought your fanbase would all enjoy a little Bush-bashing, and when some of them expressed disapproval, you freaked out. You weren't trying to "disturb" anyone, you were trying to preach to the choir. It just turned out that some of the choir weren't on the same page.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reviews

Movie Review: We watched Memoirs of a Geisha last night. Nice costumes and production design, but not much else. It's one of those "love stories" where the great lovers meet once, exchange maybe four sentences between them, and then spend years apart pining for each other. Which in this case is made a bit creepy by the fact that that first meeting is between a middle-aged businessman and a 9-year-old... I was also hoping for a bit more about the actual day-to-day life of a geisha, but since both the novel and the film were written and directed by westerners, perhaps that was expecting too much. Oh, and it was a little bit distracting to watch all those Chinese people playing Japanese characters - though I suppose that if the blatantly Scottish Sean Connery can play a Russian sub commander, that sort of thing can be overlooked.

Book Review: Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett. This is the latest in the Tiffany Aching sub-series of Discworld books, aimed at younger (i.e., adolescent) readers. You know, the Harry Potter books are decent enough, and I’m glad they’ve got kids reading, and reading big thick books at that. But none of them have yet contained one of those little passages that Pratchett tends to have all over the place, that just drop your jaw with how well-written it is. The ones that hit you like a sledgehammer in the chest, like this one, which appears at the end of a chapter in which a funeral occurs, after the grave has been filled in and all but one of the mourners have left:
Tiffany sat on a stump and cried for a bit, because it needed to be done. Then she went and milked the goats, because someone needed to do that, too.

If there has ever been a more perfect expression of grief, and of the letting go of grief, in the English language, well, I've never read it. And the fact that a passage of such exquisite beauty can inhabit the same book that features six-inch tall blue highlanders shouting "Ach! Crivins!", a witch who specializes in holding her breath and swimming away underwater after being thrown in the river by paranoid villagers, and a kitten named You (as in "You! Stop that!" and "You, get down from there!"), just makes the whole thing that much more amazing.

To anyone reading this: If you like Harry Potter, you need to meet Tiffany Aching. The book to start with is called The Wee Free Men, and is followed by A Hat Full of Sky and then Wintersmith. According to Pratchett (at a convention in 2004), the fourth one will be called When I Am Old I Shall Wear Midnight, but we don't know yet when that one will be written and published.

After those, you'll probably want to consult the L-space Web Reading Order Guides and perhaps read the "Witch" sub-series, since several of the same characters are involved in those. Or just start back at the beginning with The Colour of Magic and read 'em all through in chronological order.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Straw Man Eaten by Crocodile! Film at 11!

By now, I'm sure anyone who cares knows that Germaine Greer took the opportunity to gloat over Steve Irwin's tragic accidental death, saying things like "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin". Not satisfied with being merely insensitive, Greer spouts ridiculous, PETA-like levels of delusional lunacy.

But my personal favorite bit is this:
You can just imagine Irwin yelling: "Just look at these beauties! Crikey! With those barbs a stingray can kill a horse!" (Yes, Steve, but a stingray doesn't want to kill a horse. It eats crustaceans, for God's sake.)

So, here, Greer imagines something she thinks sounds sort of like what Irwin might possibly have said, and then proceeds to criticize him for saying it. I hate to point this out, love, but you're taking issue with a "Steve Irwin" who only exists inside your own head. I'm skeptical that the real Steve Irwin would ever have said "With those barbs a stingray can kill a horse", since that statement is patently untrue.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What the Hell?

I really have nothing to add to this commentary about Ohio's plan to allow judges to designate people as sex offenders, without actually requiring that they first be convicted of any crime.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Movie Night

Wolf Creek (Unrated version)

I'd have to describe myself as "unimpressed". It's essentially Texas Chainsaw Massacre set in the Australian outback, only it's just one guy instead of a family of psychos, and it lacks TCM's sense of humor, if you can call it that. Three young tourists in Australia get kidnapped and tortured by a sadistic psycho. Now, I’m not going to say it's a bad movie just because it's a misogynist torture-fest (that would be hypocritical: I do own a copy of Bloodsucking Freaks in my DVD collection, after all). But it’s a bad misogynist torture-fest.

It had two major problems, as well as most of the usual minor problems (characters doing inexplicably dumb things*, for example); some spoilers may follow:

1) At the start, it claims to be "based on true events". But there’s a big chunk of the film that depicts events that went unwitnessed by the only survivor, and the recap at the end says that "No trace of [the other two] was ever found." If you’re going to claim to be a "true story", you need to make sure that everything you show was either witnessed by someone who survived to the end, or could have been pieced together/inferred from the evidence the police find later.

2) It uses what I would call the "super-competent serial killer" – For example, out of a garage full of cars (from his prior victims), how did he manage to be hiding in the back seat of the ONE CAR our protagonist got into and tried to start? He’s also an absolute dead-eye shot with a rifle from hundreds of yards away. Just supremely skilled at everything he does. You can kind of get away with that sort of thing if your killer is supposed to be supernatural (e.g., Freddy Krueger), but if he's just a crazy guy, it breaks suspension of disbelief when he’s that lucky and that good at absolutely everything.

Nice cinematography of the Australian scenery, though. Probably not worth sitting through just for that. The movie does start off with some promise, because we spend about 40 minutes before anything horrific happens, just following the characters on their trip. I almost said "getting to know the characters", but that isn't really true, since they don't really have identifiable personalities, they're just sort of generic "carefree young person" templates. But once the screaming starts... put it this way: It's not the worst horror movie I've ever seen, by a long shot. But if I want to watch pretty scenery, I'd rather put on the Discovery HD channel; if I want to watch a scary/disturbing horror movie, I'd rather stick in Texas Chainsaw Massacre; and if I want to watch a misogynist torture-fest, I'd rather subscribe to one of the hundreds of S&M-oriented internet porn sites. All of which renders this film spectacularly pointless.

*By "inexplicably dumb things", I mean, for example: If you've snuck back into the killer's lair, while he's otherwise occupied, for the specific purpose of finding a getaway vehicle ("If I'm not back in 5 minutes, start walking."), why, in the name of all that is holy, WHY would you climb down into a HOLE in the GROUND underneath a water tower? And then act all shocked when all that's down there is the rotting corpses of the psycho's past victims. What did you think you were going to find? A subway station? That burrowing vehicle from The Core, maybe?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reading is Hard!

Wasn't this an episode of "Yes, Minister"?

From Reason's Hit and Run:
In April, 327 members of the House of Representatives voted for a classified intelligence bill, thereby authorizing some of the administration's anti-terrorism measures. 96 voted against it. And according to The Boston Globe, approximately a dozen representatives read it...

It really doesn't come as a surprise to me that our lawmakers don't bother to read laws before voting on them. This certainly isn't the first time it's been reported on, even discounting BBC sitcoms. That doesn't make it any less disturbing, mind you, just less unexpected.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Understatement

A couple of minutes ago, on the TV in the cafeteria here at work, I saw Fox News running a report on current events, with a caption at the bottom of the screen reading "Mideast Turmoil".

"Turmoil"? "Turmoil"!? They're lobbing missiles at each other! That's not "turmoil", that's open warfare.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tomorrow Belongs To Me

Who Said It: Ann Coulter or Adolf Hitler?

I got 11 out of 14...

I do think that this quiz would have been even better if it had included three authors: Ann Coulter, Adolf Hitler, and Michael Moore. Or possibly Al Franken, but there definitely should have been some representative from the left. Surely there is one who has said enough hateful things about conservatives to have been included in a quiz like this one. I'd do it myself, but then I'd have to, y'know, actually read some of the crap these people have spewed.

BTW, just to be clear: The person who created the quiz says elsewhere: "For this quiz I've replaced some of Hitler's pro-Aryan and anti-Semitic language with the words, "America", "Democrat", "liberal", and "the liberal media" to make the Coulter quotes a little more difficult to spot."

I mention this because some witless Republican (posting in the thread on Reason's website where this was linked to) pointed this out, saying "Jesus, people, do you all believe everything you read? [...] Liberals are not only liars, they're also gullible and stupid" (apparently mistaking "libertarian" for "liberal").

To which one of the libertarian Reason readers responded, "you need to have another web site tell you that Hitler didn't actually make statements about liberals in America, and you're calling other people stupid?"

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lions and Tigers and... Oh, my!

Ok, now CNN is clearly just reporting stories that are specifically targeted to get mentioned on "The Colbert Report":

Study: Warming turns bears into cannibals
"Environmentalists contend shrinking polar ice due to global warming may lead to the disappearance of polar bears before the end of the century."

I ask you, was there ever a news story that sounded more like it was deliberately designed to get Colbert calling for people to do their part to increase global warming, now!?

On a slightly more serious note, I really think someone ought to do a study of news reports. I could swear that the number of actual, serious news reports involving bears has increased dramatically since "The Colbert Report" started airing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What a bunch of [FILL IN REACTIONARY DESCRIPTION OF GRANOLA-LOVING HIPPIES HERE]

I can't think of anything else to say about this story:
Before President Bush touched down in Pennsylvania Wednesday to promote his nuclear energy policy, the environmental group Greenpeace was mobilizing.

"This volatile and dangerous source of energy" is no answer to the country's energy needs, shouted a Greenpeace fact sheet decrying the "threat" posed by the Limerick reactors Bush visited.

But a factoid or two later, the Greenpeace authors were stumped while searching for the ideal menacing metaphor.

We present it here exactly as it was written, capital letters and all: "In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."
Whoops, Apocalypticism!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pic is coming

That picture from our little get-together is coming, it's just a little slow because, when I got back to Ohio, my PC didn't work. The replacement should be arriving soon...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dolphin Suffrage Now!

Dolphins have names, "making them the only animals besides humans known to recognize such identity information, scientists reported on Monday."
"It's a very interesting finding that encourages further research, because they are using whistles as referential signals -- that's what words are," said Sayigh, of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. "Dolphins appear to be using these arbitrary signals to identify another dolphin."

As a general rule, I don't agree with animal rights activists. Dolphins are an exception: I think it's possible they should be treated as moral agents with rights, and that the only reason we haven't recognized them as such is our inability to communicate with them. Their cognitive abilities are impressive: Tool use, self-awareness, and now the use of verbal names. Perhaps more importantly, the stories of human divers in trouble being rescued by dolphins, who sometimes go so far as to attack sharks to keep them away from the humans, suggest at least the possibility of moral development, in addition to cognitive development. Given the possibility of moral agency, I'm inclined to treat dolphins as sort of provisional-persons: I can't really grant them full person-hood without more evidence, but at the same time I think we ought to avoid really egregious abuses, such as hunting them for food/sport, just in case.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Unnecessary Travel

Just to let the Madison contingent of my fan base know, I will be up in Wisconsin for the weekend of May 19-21. If anyone wants to get together, we'll probably try to hit Madison at some point. I'll be fresh from seeing "Spamalot" on stage in Chicago.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You Will Pay the Price for Your Lack of Vision

I don't want to be too disparaging here: Putting a tiny pair of eyeglasses on a housefly does require a certain mad kind of genius. But if you're going to all the trouble of laser-etching a pair of fly-sized glasses, why, oh why wouldn't you go all the way with it, and make them Groucho glasses?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Addition to Previous Movie Post

After watching Brokeback Mountain, we loaned it to someone Brenda works with. It seems she had wanted to see it, but her husband was too embarrassed to rent the infamous "gay cowboy" movie at the video store.

Pansy.

So, before loaning it to this person, I whipped up (so to speak) the World's Gayest DVD Cover* for it, just to annoy this guy I've never even met. For those who might also have some use for it, here it is (it's an insert for a DVD thin-pack, not the full-size DVD cases). Click for full size:

Brokeback Mountain
*Well, gayest without actually being gay porn, anyway. I do have some sense of compassion...

Oscar-Nominated Movies

Brokeback Mountain - I was about as unimpressed as I expected to be. This is one of those movies where people have intense, emotional conversations with each other while gazing off in opposite directions, instead of looking at each other. Y'know, the way people in the real world behave.

It also struck me as very obviously being a movie about homosexual men made primarily by heterosexuals. It contains/reinforces a bunch of heterosexual misconceptions about gay relationships - e.g., it's basically all about the sex, the sex is rough & macho, etc. I never got any sense of a romantic connection between them - it's a very Ancient Greek conception of homosexuality, where they're basically masculine camping/hiking/fishing "buddies", except they also have sex.

I can see why it had some mainstream appeal - it's a very safe movie for straight people. Sure, they're gay, but they're also basically disgusted by their own behavior, at least at first. It certainly doesn't present their relationship as in any way normal, which would have been much more groundbreaking and risky. And, at the risk of giving it away, it follows the normal mainstream Hollywood Rule of Gay Relationships: It must End Badly, preferably with the death of at least one partner.

I guess I've just seen so many other good little independent movies actually made by gay men, that this just seemed unrealistic and stereotyped, and surprisingly prissy about it all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I Must Be a Violent Dope Fiend By Now

Violent video games linked to risky behaviors. Well, um, sort of.

First of all: I applaud the researchers for actually matching similar games for their violent vs. non-violent comparison. An earlier study I'm aware of compared playing Quake to playing Myst, and it's hard to imagine two games more different from each other in every conceivable way, leaving many, many uncontrolled variables other than merely "violence level". Here, they matched Grand Theft Auto III against The Simpsons: Hit and Run, which has very similar gameplay to GTAIII, but cartoonish instead of gritty & violent. Bravo.

But what effects did they actually observe? Those who played the more violent game:
  1. Immediately afterwards, were less cooperative/more competitive.
  2. Immediately afterwards, were more likely to interpret others' attitudes as hostile toward them.
  3. Immediately afterwards, expressed more permissive attitudes toward alcohol/marijuana use.
  4. Only among those with higher exposure to real-life violence, elevated systolic blood pressure.
Once again, we have a study that measures an effect (or several effects) immediately after playing a violent video game, but makes no apparent attempt to measure whether/how quickly this effect normalizes over time. Is there still a measurable difference an hour later? A day? Is the effect permanent and cumulative? We don't know...

Now, about the headline: It's a complete lie. The study has not in any way linked violent video games to risky behaviors. It has linked violent video games to permissive attitudes about risky behaviors. I'd like to see how the question was worded: It could be that violent video games just make players more forgiving of risky behaviors in others, but not more likely to personally engage in such behaviors.

It's also unfortunate that Reuters doesn't report any more information than one can glean from the abstract of the actual study. I don't really want to pay $15 just to find out the actual magnitude of these observed effects. How much more competitive? How much more permissive?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What Did You Do At Work Today, Daddy?

Boy, if you're familiar at all with what happened at Waco and Ruby Ridge, these pictures drawn by children of BATF employees/agents are really disturbing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Random Rules

Just because I think it will be fun, I'm doing a "Random Rules", based on the new occasional feature in The Onion. To quote their explanation: "In "Random Rules," we ask our favorite rockers, writers, comedians, or whatevers to set their MP3 players to "shuffle" and comment on the first few tracks that come up—no cheating or skipping allowed."

So, here's mine:

Kronos Quartet/Terry Riley - "Salome and Half-Wolf Descend Through the Gates to the Underworld"
Nice modern/minimalist string quartet. This is from a long work called Salome Dances For Peace. I first heard part of it that was included on one of the Kronos Quartet's albums ("Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight", on Winter Was Hard). Frenetic, I think would be the word to describe most of it.

Peter McConnell - "Blue Casket Bop"
This is from the soundtrack for the computer game, Grim Fandango. The game is, I think, the closest anyone has ever come to producing Literature in the video game medium, and the musical score is one of the best I've ever heard in a game. This particular bit is a cool jazz number.

Devo - "Booji Boy and General Boy/We're All Devo"
This is basically just a short "filler" track from their best-of anthology, Pioneers Who Got Scalped. Not much to say about that.

Frank Zappa - "Run Home Cues #3"
Some of the incidental music Zappa wrote for the obscure movie, Run Home Slow, which he included on the album The Lost Episodes. I've never seen the movie. The music is somewhat unusual: For some reason the Run Home Slow music reminds me of Mahler more than most of Zappa's other orchestral music, which usually sounds more like Stockhausen.

Frank Zappa - "Stinkfoot"
Well, my MP3 player is pretty heavily loaded with Zappa right now, it's only natural he'd be repeated. This particular track is from a bootleg concert recording - 23 May 1975, El Paso County Coliseum. As always, the musicianship is phenomenal. Decent guitar solo. This is one of Zappa's better band lineups, although my favorite lineup (at least at the moment) is probably the slightly-earlier Ruth Underwood era.

That's the usual five songs, but as an added bonus, here are the next ten that popped up, without comment (along with the album title they come from), just so you can see what a typical playlist would look like on the hypothetical Coolest Radio Station Ever:

nine inch nails - "All The Love In The World" (With Teeth)
Trey Parker - "The Trapper Song" (Cannibal: The Musical - Soundtrack)
Tom Waits - "Tango Till They're Sore" (Rain Dogs)
The Clash - "Police & Thieves" (The Story of The Clash, Volume 1)
Michael Nyman - "While You Here Do Snoring Lie" (Prospero's Books - Soundtrack)
Frank Zappa - "Intro" (Donna You Wanna)
Beastie Boys - "Alright Hear This" (Ill Communication)
The Chieftains w/ Gillian Welch - "Katie Dear"
Frank Zappa - "Muffin Man" (Kreega Bondola)
Frank Zappa - "Montana" (Cuccurullo Brillo Brullo)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Want some cheese with that whine?

"Insufferable self-importance", indeed.

(Disclaimer: This is not a comment on the relative quality of the actual films. I have not yet seen any of this year's Best Picture nominees.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Movie Review (aka My First Netflix Rental)

Walk The Line - Wow, this was actually really disappointing. Perhaps I just had unrealistically high expectations from all the praise lavished upon this film, but I found it to be just a very average, run-of-the-mill musician biopic. All the formulaic elements are there: The pre-fame struggle, the "quit following your dream and get a real job so you can take care of me & the baby" scene, the "here, try some of these pills" scene, the "please respect me now, Dad" scene, and, of course, his entire life revolves around a single tragic event from his childhood. The performances are good, I suppose, although I never for a moment forgot that I was watching Joaquin Phoenix and not Johnny Cash (or listening to him, for that matter: For all the praise of Phoenix's singing, Cash was still much better). Probably worth seeing if you're a Johnny Cash fan, but I can't really recommend it much otherwise. As someone said, it's Ray with white people, except I would add that Ray was a somewhat better movie.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Weird Picture

In the Onion's review of the movie Ultraviolet, they display this still from the film:

What's weird is that this picture looks almost like a 3D rendering to me, except that I can't think of any good reason why they would CGI a character standing calmly doing nothing. I think it's the shadows - for some reason, the picture looks like a sample render designed to demonstrate ambient occlusion shadowing. For those who don't know what I mean, here's a quickie example I whipped up in Poser 6:

Because of the way ambient occlusion is calculated, it tends to over-emphasize certain small details like the belly-button. I left mine with the flat look Poser 6 gives with the default IBL/AO lighting (it lacks specular highlights), just to emphasize what I'm talking about. If I spent more time on it, matching lighting and so on, I suspect I could come up with something that looks even closer to the other pic. You can see some of the kind of "show-off the ambient occlusion" sample renders I'm talking about at this gallery page on e-frontier's Poser pages.

I don't think the Ultraviolet image is actually CGI, but I wonder if they've deliberately lit the scene in some way to make the live-action shots look as much like CGI as possible, in order to better match the CGI special-effects shots. And if so, I wonder how they did it.

I also think it's impressive that consumer/hobbyist-level software like Poser is now capable of producing output like that. Poser up through version 4 (and even 5 to some extent) was a whole lot less realistic than it is now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Vote For Pedro

So that's why I was so unimpressed by Napoleon Dynamite: It's clearly just a rip-off of "Homestar Runner". I don't know how I missed that.

I'm not sure who it was that said it, but my favorite description of Napoleon Dynamite was that it is "an 'Independent Film' for people who don't really like independent films". Personally, though, I would be even more specific: It's Welcome to the Dollhouse for people who don't have the balls to really like Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pen Stolen

Today on CNN.com, a headline on the "front page":
'American Idol' boots four contestants

Now, I will admit to watching "American Idol". I'm not proud of it, but I'll admit it. Last night, four of this season's semi-finalists were eliminated: The two men and the two women with the lowest numbers of votes. None of the eliminated contestants even sang well this week, so even the specifics of which people were voted off didn't come as a real surprise.

So how in the bloody Hell is this news, when a television show proceeds exactly as planned? If they had booted four contestants because they found them participating in a Satanic ritual goat-sacrifice, that might be newsworthy*. What's next: "Price Is Right Contestant Wins New Car"?

And yes, the title I put on this post is a reference to a classic Onion story, although it was in their pre-Internet days, so it's not in their online archive.

*Not "front page" newsworthy, but probably worth mentioning. A Satanic ritual infant-sacrifice, now, that I'd put on the front page.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Still Here

I haven't posted much lately, because I've been busy at work. Having said that:

Is there any way we could do what we do with motorcycles, and require a special license to drive an SUV? In particular, as part of the test to get an SUV license, could we require that the driver demonstrate the ability to keep their SUV inside one goddamned lane?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

And My Opponents Eat Puppies, Too!

To clarify my remarks from last night, here is the relevant passage (taken from the full text here):
We have entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite. [...] [E]very great movement of history comes to a point of choosing. Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others. Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well?

OK, "great ideological conflict" = War on Terror, obviously, of which the war in Iraq is ostensibly a part. There are some who advocate pulling out of Iraq now, while President Bush believes we need to "stay the course" and finish what we started. So it seems to me that by drawing parallels with prematurely ending these noble endeavors of history, the President seems to be comparing the war in Iraq with Martin Luther King's march from Selma. He is implying that those who disagree with him about how to conduct the War on Terror, are engaging in the moral equivalent of allowing slavery, segregation, and the Holocaust to continue unimpeded.

Mr. President, just a suggestion: This is why so many people believe you are monstrously arrogant, because you engage in this sort of naked display of monstrous arrogance.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Holy Crap!

Ok, now I only saw about the last minute and a half of the State of the Union speech, but... did President Bush just compare the war in Iraq to Martin Luther King's march from Selma?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy Holidays


Yes, we're a little insane. By my estimate, we had a total of about 300 presents under that tree. It took us six hours to open everything. Here we all are preparing to start opening:

Here is my leftist/commie brother Mike playing with the talking Ronald Reagan doll Brenda & I gave him:

Not quite as perfect as the talking Ann Coulter doll he got last year, but that's tough to top.

Here's my other brother David and his wife Diane opening stuff:

Here's David's daughter Julia. She tried, seriously, to watch the entire 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon last year, so we had to get her this shirt:

This is David's son Byron watching my mom open something:

Here's my dad proudly displaying a cookbook we got him:

And this is Byron again wearing the Coolest Christmas Present Ever:

Yes, I did buy myself a Voice-Changing Darth Vader Helmet at the same time I got the one for my nephew. What of it?

As for my own haul, I got one of these. It's probably going to take me a while to fill that 20 GB drive, although I may just be able to do it without buying any more music than I already own.

Between Brenda & I, we also got:
All three of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books (now I need to finish Cryptonomicon...)
A vacuum food-sealer
A deli slicer
The From the Earth to the Moon DVD box set
The Hanzo the Razor DVD box set
An obscure nunsploitation movie.
A whole bunch of rabbit-related books and calendars
And, let's be honest, a whole lot of other stuff