Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Google Ads Don't Know Their Audience

After more than a week of inactivity, I couldn't help but notice the irony of the following ad that had recently appeared on my sidebar:

It seems a tad ironic. I wouldn't say that I have a negative attitude, per se, but this seems intended for me rather than my audience. I would take this as a message directly intended for myself were it not for the fact that I'm forbidden to click on my own ads (or to tell others to do so, which is why I urge you to continue to ignore them).

As long as my own site is tailoring its ads for me, I'd like to see the following someday:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

McCain Was NOT Tortured According to Bush's Definition

Much as some of you may hate the site, I read Daily Kos for interesting points like this. From a paraphrase of an illuminating article by Andrew Sullivan (emphasis and relevant links added):

In all the discussion of John McCain's recently recovered memory of a religious epiphany in Vietnam, one thing has been missing. The torture that was deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration's definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.

Cheney denies that McCain was tortured; as does Bush. So do John Yoo and David Addington and George Tenet. In the one indisputably authentic version of the story of a Vietnamese guard showing compassion, McCain talks of the agony of long-time standing. A quarter century later, Don Rumsfeld was putting his signature to memos lengthening the agony of "long-time standing" that victims of Bush's torture regime would have to endure. These torture techniques are, according to the president of the United States, merely "enhanced interrogation."

No war crimes were committed against McCain. And the techniques used are, according to the president, tools to extract accurate information. And so the false confessions that McCain was forced to make were, according to the logic of the Bush administration, as accurate as the "intelligence" we have procured from "interrogating" terror suspects. Feel safer?

I don't intend this as a specific hit against McCain (though it's clear Sullivan has a position on the veracity of his wartime claims), whose record on torture is appropriately condemnatory, but as scathing commentary on the lax nature of the current administration's attitude toward torture. Personally, I'd rather have a couple of fingernails torn out rather than suffer systematic sleep deprivation, or any of the other psychological torments that Bush and Cheney find perfectly humane.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment": Fresh PR or Loser Spin?

Perhaps you've heard about Microsoft's "Mojave Experiment", a goofy little ad campaign wherein Microsoft attempts to change the public's perception of Windows Vista by engineering a perfect outcome. Perhaps you haven't (I certainly hadn't until my sheer curiosity eventually drove me to click on one of the links to the official site). Either way, it's certainly worth a rant.

Firstly, we know a few things about Windows Vista: It's definitely doing well from a financial standpoint, though public perception is that it's a deeply-flawed operating system. Many people have elected to stick stubbornly with Windows XP, a sorry fact which prompted the big M to extend support for XP - hardly the actions of a company that's fully confident in its OS's viability.

Granted, many casual users have difficulty verbalizing exactly why they don't like Vista. Microsoft naturally interprets this as a consequence of bad word of mouth, thinking that real exposure to the OS will change people's minds.

Along comes the Mojave Experiment. In a nutshell, Microsoft asked a few dozen people their opinion of Windows Vista, then showed them a demo of a "new" OS in action - actually Windows Vista - before asking them again. Pre-demo scores skewed low on average, while post-demo scores were quite a bit higher. Yay! It turns out that Windows Vista's great after all, and not at all the pile of crap your ignorant "consumer" friends and family would have you believe it is! What a relief.

Or is it? Certainly bad word of mouth has had an impact on Vista's image, and any psychologist will tell you that Apple's snarky ads have had their effect, but a little analysis will reveal the "experiment" to be just another example of business as usual for the software giant.

First of all, it's an ad campaign from Microsoft, so you can expect a few things:

*It's patronizing. Microsoft clearly isn't confident enough in their OS to let people actually use it. Since when does a presentation constitute sufficient exposure to let somebody make up their own minds on the workability of an operating system? Heck - everybody knows that Windows Vista looks good aesthetically. And "Transformers" made $700 million, but it's hardly a shining example of modern cinema. I didn't decide that I hated Windows Vista and the new Office Suite until I had to actually use it and was forced to relearn all of my old muscle memories and knowledge for some purely-cosmetic changes that would confuse power users and utterly confound novices.

And, as DSMToday put it: "
"I would probably rate Vista higher if I could pay someone to run it for me like your demo has. . . Unfortunately, I have to use it myself, and that is why regardless of whatever your demos stats are, I know for a fact that Vista is waaaay more awkward to use than WinXP."
And when was the last time you saw a corporate demo freeze or reject a printer connection? It's like showing a video of a guy having tons of fun on a unicycle as evidence that you should get one for your kids. Get ready for some skinned knees.

*It's sunny and shallow. Microsoft obviously believes that Vista rules, so why not release the complete video interviews of every participant in the study? Who cares if some of them will remain negative? - the sheer ratio of positive to negative reactions should be enough to convince even the most staunch doubter. Unfortunately, the little highlight reels Microsoft has released have done nothing to address any of the legitimate concerns against Vista (let's call them "concerns by people who have actually used the software).

*It's all supported by a slow, messy, difficult web site which does nothing to assuage concerns about Windows Vista being slow, messy, and - you guessed it - difficult. Seriously, just try navigating that site in any significant way. Even in their promotional materials, Microsoft is forcing us to navigate a new interface, one which eventually reveals itself to be full of pomp and circumstance, yet ultimately nearly devoid of content.

Save yourself the trouble of waiting for the bulky, featureless site to load and click below to enlarge the sample image. Once again, it looks nice, but once you get to know it you'll find that it's remarkably empty. Truly the Lindsey Lohan of websites:

It's gonna take more than stupid little stunts like this to convince businesses or skeptical individuals like me - people who have actually used the software and still dislike it - that Windows Vista is still worth a shot. Sure, Windows XP has some nasty security bugs and a few weaknesses, but once you fix the Start menu, get rid of the patronizing messages warning you not to tamper in the program files and eliminate the Teletubbyland motif it runs pretty well. Microsoft's insistence on reinventing every aspect of the blasted wheel every time that they update something isn't going to win them my friendship, which is just as well, because I don't have any money.

Mr. Bungle's "California" in MS Paint

Well, I haven't posted for awhile (I've had some medical nastiness to work throw - hopefully I'm on the home stretch), but as a quick pre-bedtime morsel I present, in response to an online challenge, my favorite album rendered in MS Paint:

Looks pretty good considering that I only spent about ten minutes on it. (The original album art for comparison.)

Monday, August 11, 2008


This image from has been my computer wallpaper for quite some time, centered in the middle of the screen with a black border. It makes me stupidly happy every time that I look at it, as do so many of Natalie's quirky little cartoons.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Shaky Role of Patriotism

After a couple of inside-jokey, stream-of-consciousness posts I've decided to let loose the dogs of war and unleash an issue I've been mulling over for more than a few months: the role of patriotism in our society. As the graphic above implies, I speak specifically to my resident nation, and more generally to the rest of the world. I will be taking a harsh, though hopefully not cynical, examination of the attribute of patriotism (nationalism) and its possible effects on society.

As a society we value character qualities and "proper" emotions within individuals. Qualities like bravery, kindness, courtesy and respect are celebrated for their positive effects on society and individuals, while "negative" qualities such as jealousy, anger or apathy are widely condemned for negative effects on others and, by extension, by society as a whole.

So where does patriotism stand? Many of us celebrate this quality without any real personal regard for what it means; certainly most would define it as a "love" of one's country or a willingness to uphold one's land of birth as a standard or value in and of itself. Millions of people throughout recorded history have sacrificed their livelihood or died in the service of their nations (tribes, clans) - often on different sides of the same conflict, and for dozens of causes and goals.

So who's right? Can everybody be right?

In fact, we're so inclined to think of patriotism as an end in itself that we often ignore the difficult questions that it poses: Just what is a "country" anyway? Tracts of land of various size, divvied up with negotiated borders over the years, decades or centuries by people in power that we've never met? What if the occasion arises wherein my patriotism and that of another fall in direct conflict? If we're both killing each other under different banners, which "patriotism" is a greater good, and which is pushing its possessor toward positive, beneficial acts? Who holds the moral high ground here: myself or my foe? It seems unintuitive to state that both can claim that right simultaneously.

There's the rub. And it's exactly where we always run into trouble: as with other emotions or character qualities (greed, jealousy, anger, desperation), patriotism cannot be evaluated merely as a static, positive attribute that one can have in quantities, but as a state of mind which should lead the bearer toward positive actions. For every bonafide died-in-the-wool "patriot" who attempts, out of love, to preserve that which is positive in his country through the pen or the sword, there's a slackjawed, incoherent bigoted wreck of an individual who uses patriotism as an accomplice to ignorance and a shield to hate, hate, hate anybody with a different origin. Like any other emotion, patriotism is best evaluated rationally and not emotionally.

To sum it up: Inasmuch as patriotism encourages good behavior, it's good. If the pursuit of patriotism encourages you or your country to participate in something oppressive, evil or hateful, it's bad. It's funny how much we can learn when we contextualize these things.

Blind patriotism can be extremely volatile - patriotism and national identity are often invoked most strongly during times of war (mobilization against some outside foe) or gross actions of government leading to loss of personal liberties (specific examples of this in just my country are so widespread that it would be redundant even to discuss them here). Patriotism is always invoked during the most disgusting, invasive acts of government, the same acts that a real love of your country would lead you to oppose. Tolerating oppression under the guise of patriotism and national identity is not something to be celebrated.

Some individuals even invoke patriotism to excuse bad behavior, or to judge a man or woman by their indulgence in shallow symbols or effluent, empty praise of the motherland. I shouldn't have to tell you that this ain't right.

Because of the volatile nature of patriotism, I suggest that we take a break from it for some time and evaluate how much we're really doing for people, and how much we're able to look past labels like country and nation and see people. Lose the blinders labels create and really help your country by staying true to principles of freedom and basic human respect. Invoke any good and just principles that serve as the foundations of your country, but never use patriotism as an excuse to support something that will limit your freedoms or destroy your country's goodness (or its moral authority, "soul", etc.).

Americans love those that "died for their country" because they upheld the Bill of Rights and principles of freedom, saving millions of people from death at the hands of those with ignoble motives. Anybody who would twist their deaths into shallow sacrifices for some tract of geography is either opportunistic or evil.

Friday, August 08, 2008


Another little realization:

So we've got the individuals Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, both famous in different ways. "Marilyn Manson" eventually combines the two names to connote an image combining the glamorous and the grotesque.

But consider the reverse: if he'd called himself "Charles Monroe" he wouldn't have seemed nearly as intimidating.

By the way, sorry for the Michael Landon story a couple days back. In retrospect it's pretty dumb.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

THX's Deep Note

Everybody who isn't a cabin-dwelling techno-bomber is familiar with the usually-unnamed crescendo of noise that appears before THX-certified films. Of course, this means that most films begin with this eargasm of a sound, the perplexingly-titled "Deep Note."

"Deep Note" doesn't really get as loud as it seems - apparently it has something to do with the number of voices involved in the clip, its dissonance as well as the continuously-rising volume which sweetens at the end.

Good luck, though, trying to find a high-quality clip of the twenty second some-odd sound - THX is pretty anal about their copyright and tends to throw their legal muscle around in removing it; Dr. Dre was even sued in 2000 for sampling it, as if THX has anything to lose from the further dissemination of an already-infamous sound. Some YouTube facsimiles exist, but YouTube keeps their audio bitrate low for legal reasons so, as always, you'll be more successful with the parodies and the tributes (including this neat a cappella rendition).

Sigh. . . I'll keep looking, under the hopes that I can find a high-quality mp3 of the file and really give my speakers a test. . .

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I've Just Realized Something Potentially Heart Attack-Inducing in Its Significance and Shock Value, Not Including the Effect on Celebrity Magazines

What the title says - I've just realized something, potentially something big. This is quite a doozy, so you'd better sit down. Granted, the fact that you're at a computer all but guarantees that you're sitting down, but this is such a revelation that I can't afford to take that chance. Now sit comfortably, for I have a story for you, a story of deception and dark deeds. You may stop reading if you feel old chest pains flaring up, for make no mistake: this tale is not for the faint among you. Here we go:

In the late 50s, a young Michael Landon's career is beginning to take off. After a period of only minor roles, Landon gains several starring roles over the succeeding decade and a half, most notably in a popular Western (Bonanza), and as punch-happy Pa in Little House on the Prairie, where his knuckles ran red with blood and dried rashes as a result of the strict regimen of fistfights and cowardly surprise punch attacks required by his role. Finally, all of this leads to a starring role on TV's Highway to Heaven, a show teeming with religious underpinnings and allegory.

All of these heady topics - religion, U.S. history and the role of law in our society as depicted by Westerns - naturally lead Mike to more than a bit of self-examination and thought. In the late 80s to early 90s, Landon becomes dissatisfied with his acting career and begins to ponder a career in politics, then finds his interests shifting to a possible role as a political commentator. But Landon comes to a sobering realization: a show headed by a well-known actor might become popular, but would never be taken seriously! For this reason Landon adopts a new persona; beginning in the late 80s he begins hosting a small political talk show on several local stations under the purported Irish name "Shawn Hannoughty". Over a few months he then gradually reworks the spelling to "Sean Hannity", partly because the new spelling mimics actual Irish spellings, and partly because "Sean Hannity" is an anagram of "Inane Shanty", which seems to fit the babbling, bulletheaded second-generation immigrant Irishman act he has planned as a mechanism to hide his identity.

At first the dual identity is simple to maintain - Landon maintains his acting career, wears a wig on Johnny Carson in order to mimic his old hairstyle, and tries to appear levelheaded and well-adjusted when appearing in public as mild-mannered Michael Landon, lest he give away his secret identity. But, try as he might, similarities between Landon and the newly-born "Hannity" begin to arise. Why do they both have that "staring into the sun" look? Why the uniformly conservative dress and similar outfits? On certain rare occasions, Landon even slips into his nasally "Hannity" voice when out in public. So, out of love for his new career and new hobby, Landon makes a difficult decision.

On July 1, 1991, just as "Sean Hannity" begins to find an audience, Michael Landon conveniently "dies" of cancer. Landon, now a mere puppet of this "Sean" construct, lives on only in body. After years of resorting to contorted, tight facial expressions to hide his retirement-age wrinkles, and a style of debate honed from the mess of modern political discourse, Landon's transformation is essentially complete. To say that Michael Landon and "Sean Hannity" are the same person is not strictly correct - for all intents and purposes, Michael Landon is dead. Only the creation - "Sean" - lives on. See for yourself, and weep:

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Printcrime: "Copy this story"

One of the neatest technological innovations of the last few years has been the advent of 3-dimensional printers, machines that can do exactly what the name implies. It's an amazing technology and it's going to be more and more important in the coming years.

And just leave it to Cory Doctorow (copyfight hero, writer, superhero) to write some great dystopian fiction on the possible future ramifications of the technology. This story's a couple of years old, but it's just as relevant now as it deals with topics currently affecting (and afflicting) our lives: expanding, militant copyright law and the (oh noes!) encroaching police state:

The coppers smashed my father’s printer when I was eight. I remember the hot, cling-film-in-a-microwave smell of it, and Da’s look of ferocious concentration as he filled it with fresh goop, and the warm, fresh-baked feel of the objects that came out of it.

The coppers came through the door with truncheons swinging, one of them reciting the terms of the warrant through a bullhorn. One of Da’s customers had shopped him. The ipolice paid in high-grade pharmaceuticals — performance enhancers, memory supplements, metabolic boosters. The kind of things that cost a fortune over the counter; the kind of things you could print at home, if you didn’t mind the risk of having your kitchen filled with a sudden crush of big, beefy bodies, hard truncheons whistling through the air, smashing anyone and anything that got in the way.

Read the Full Story!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Trailer Online!

For those of you contemplating a trip to see a recently-released Brendan Fraser flick just to watch this trailer, don't bother - it's already online. Heck, I don't break stories - it's been up for three days. I always tell myself that I won't get excited for these things and then I always do. I suggest that you watch it from this link (or even from one of the fancy HD links), but the less waiting-inclined can always YouTube it right from my li'l blog:

Watch it a few times to make up for the fact that you're not seeing it on the big screen before "The Mummy". Better yet, watch this a few times and then go see The Dark Knight or Hellboy II again.

EDIT: I've really gotta fix these date markers - my Blogger account thinks that I'm nocturnal.

Friday, August 01, 2008

It's Official: The Fourth Amendment Does Not Apply to the TSA

It's official! The Transportation Security Administration does not have to follow the backbone of U.S. law (y'know - the Constitution) protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures!

From the Washington Post (writer Ellen Nakashima):

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

. . .

The policies state that officers may "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information." This may take place "absent individualized suspicion."

The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cell phones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover "all papers and other written documentation," including books, pamphlets and "written materials commonly referred to as 'pocket trash' or 'pocket litter.' "

Reasonable measures must be taken to protect business information and attorney-client privileged material, the policies say, but there is no specific mention of the handling of personal data such as medical and financial records.

So the TSA, which already has more authority than the police (Think: what other organization can detain you without consequence for being belligerent or frustrated?), has the right to violate the U.S. Constitution in the pursuit of evidence which can only be, at best, peripherally related to terrorism (more on that later.)

"They're saying they can rifle through all the information in a traveler's laptop without having a smidgen of evidence that the traveler is breaking the law," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Notably, he said, the policies "don't establish any criteria for whose computer can be searched."

Customs Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern said the efforts "do not infringe on Americans' privacy." In a statement submitted to Feingold for a June hearing on the issue, he noted that the executive branch has long had "plenary authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at the border without probable cause or a warrant" to prevent drugs and other contraband from entering the country.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote in an opinion piece published last month in USA Today that "the most dangerous contraband is often contained in laptop computers or other electronic devices." Searches have uncovered "violent jihadist materials" as well as images of child pornography, he wrote.

Who cares? "Violence jihadist materials" aren't in-and-of-themselves illegal (and don't necessarily suggest that the possessor of such materials sympathizes with the positions taken in the material), and the small benefit of catching a few child pornographers here and there hardly justifies a policy permitting arbitrary, unchecked violation of an individual's freedom, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, which I happen to think is pretty great even if my government no longer uses it as the basis for legislation.

Besides, an airport searching you for jihadist materials and child pornography is like the Taco Bell running a criminal background check on my credit card. Sure, it's a convenient place to search, but that doesn't override the rule of law. I know Muslims are bad and all (irony), but it seems counterintuitive to turn ourselves into a police state to fight "terrorism" (and the TSA aren't even police, just maladjusted, angry low-wage earners in pretend police suits (irony - for the most part)). Well, our beloved Presuhdint has been suggesting for some time now that the terrorists hate us because they "hate our freedom". He's apparently committed himself to removing that sticking point between the United States and potential terrorists. After all, leaders have never intentionally or unintentionally used terrorism and foreign foes as justification for suspension of civil rights and national law, right? (Sarcasm). You can tell that I'm angry here because of the long, unreadable sentences and travesties of punctuation.

This all begs the question: What are you going to do with your Dystopian future? I'm looking forward to those little television screens that monitor you in your sleep. All in the name of freedom and the American way, of course.