Saturday, February 28, 2009

Forest For the Trees Update

Just a reminder that my webcomic Forest For the Trees has been relaunched and is going strong (it's now more popular than this blog, I'm afraid). I had originally decided to move away from simple ideas and puns, but decided that there's more than enough room in the world for both. I've got some fairly epic strips coming up.

Those of you unfamiliar with Forest For the Trees should check out the following strips, which I believe sum up my sense of humor and the sort of thing you can expect: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Byrd's Twitter

A highlight from a segment on yesterday's episode of The Colbert Report regarding congressional Twitter feeds. I'm surprised they didn't draw attention to the obvious pun on Byrd's name:

EDIT: I've changed the color for links from bright red. I can't justify or even remember making that decision in the first place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

British advocate for snooping and surveillance snitched by neighbors for illegally pocketing expenses

Love that delicious irony. If anything, this story is a stirring reminder that the "what are you afraid of if you aren't hiding anything?" people we deal with in any discussion of civil liberties may have just as much to lose when Big Bruddah takes over as the rest of us (of course, it's not a perfect example - UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith committed an actual crime).

More generally, the article is a stunning rebuttal to the argument that citizens who have committed no crime should be reported responsibility-free based on the suspicions, fears and paranoias of their neighbors. As the UK Home Office's ad put it:
"How can you tell if they're a normal everyday person or a terrorist? The answer is that you don't have to. If you call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321, the specialist officers you speak to will analyse the information. They'll decide if and how to follow it up. You don't have to be sure. If you suspect it, report it."
If that isn't scary, I'm not sure what is.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Conan's final episode and baseball antics

Well, Late Night With Conan O'Brien is finished - 2,725 episodes of odd, quirky humor and dedicated in-jokes unified under a charismatic, intelligent host. I found the show lagging a bit lately, but was pleased to find the last couple of weeks as funny as ever and a cheerful buildup to his stint on The Tonight Show beginning in June.

Conan's final episode is now online. It's full of references to earlier seasons and contains Conan's favorite clip - a trip to view and play 1860s-style baseball with a group of slightly eccentric period players. I have to acknowledge it's one of the show's best moments.

Bye, Conan, and thanks for being one of the strangest, funniest things to ever last on network television.

A thought on insurance

It's clear that the Western world enjoys the capitalistic financial system and its market economy, though the systemic inequality of pure capitalism often results in problems for people who are hit by sudden crises or emergencies and become financially ruined.

So, in the absence of socialism, we see a market demand for a system to fill some of the functions of socialism without replacing the current system. Thus with insurance people voluntarily buffer their successes and failures; they recognize that if they hit an unanticipated rock bottom they will receive assistance (i.e. receive more than they put into the system), with the understanding that it's far more likely they will put more money into insurance than they will take out.

We won't go into the bureaucracies and corruptions of privatized insurance here, but it's clear that insurance in a capitalist nation serves as a sort of market traded, limited socialism. "Market-traded" because it's something that citizens can choose from (although citizens are required to purchase certain types of insurance and don't always have the option to set up a private savings instead), and "limited" because each insurance corporation has influence over only its customers and various plans are available.

Old Poem: Talon Fallacy

I just found a poem I wrote four years ago in an old journal. I have no idea what I was thinking at the time; I think I was trying to make fun of The Mars Volta but I can't be sure. It's about a suicide if you can't tell (I'm actually kind of proud of myself for being so dark at 18):

Talon Fallacy

Through desperate roar of eagle's beak
She passed on the baton
And in the corner unannounced
There crawled a smoking gun

While panicked whispers ran amok
Split hairs all stood on end
Alluded the accusers to
A list of medicine

As millers stopped their milling
The forensic strike zone closed
In staccato slumber she sleeped on
On every side opposed

Still in the corner of the room
The ember smoldered on
Evidence, estranged, wept as
She armed the second bomb

Pedestrian grief Sheol alights
Her soul down there
For one more night

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An in 2009, the writers began intentionally sabotaging the show in a desperate bid for cancellation

Well, as long as I'm on a The Simpsons kick this week, here's the show's new intro. It's a little depressing. Still, we get some insight into a Springfield chock-full of atrocious computer animation, unnecessary sound effects and gratuitous gags. Hopefully this will go down in history with other unasked-for retoolings: the changed ending to Return of the Jedi and the planned The Land Before Time/Ice Age crossover.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Broken Rock Band Pedals

This is of personal interest so I'll keep it short.

So the Rock Band pedals are essentially designed to break; the area where you put most of your pedal pressure is very thin and the whole thing is only simple plastic. You could buy some sort of metallic replacement pedal (the thing should be metal in the first place), but seeing as the whole thing's just simple plastic you might be better off just following this method.

Simple device allows one's cat to accept licensing agreements

Constructing a "cardboard platform" to allow your cat to accept online EULA agreements may be ethically questionable, but so are the agreements themselves. (Lacking a cat, one helpful method I've found is to send an e-mail to the corporation indicating that, by reading the message within, they have agreed to absolve you of all commitments, obligations or restrictions in their EULA.)

Still, I like Anne Loucks' solution better. As her cat is not a "legal entity" (the phrase combined with the image of the cat is almost too much), he cannot legally agree to license agreements and thus the agreement is skipped without any harmful agreement to odd, arbitrary terms taking place. Sounds [horrible cat-related pun]!

The Agreeable Cat by Anne Loucks

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maggie Simpson: The Overlooked, Crucial Simpson

The next time you watch The Simpsons, pay attention to Maggie. I've been watching the show through sequentially, and the more I watch, the more I appreciate the way that a character I had subconsciously assigned to the periphery has become the center of some truly wonderful gags and some real character.

Maggie crashes the family car into the prison.
The pose on the left is positively Shakespearean.

Maggie's greatest moments are well-documented; she's been the focus of some truly touching episodes, and the instigator of some unexpected gunplay. Frickin' Elizabeth Taylor even voiced her first word, in perhaps the show's strangest guest appearance.

But Maggie's best moments are quieter and briefer - the peripheral throwaway moments that show her demonstrating surprising intelligence with blocks or a baby xylophone (inevitably only to be rebuked or have her project destroyed), or being saved at the last moment from nearly doing something truly dangerous.

Maggie plays Tchaikovsky in "A Streetcar Named Marge."

There's something truly alien about Maggie, from her bugeyed disconnect from the rest of the Simpson family to the continuous sound emitted from the pacifier that she continuously sucks at that impossible angle (a sound effect toned down a few seasons into the show to avoid distracting viewers). Maggie is at once quite savvy and adorably naive; she is easily frightened and prone to falling down, but pulls off some truly epic moments.

Maggie and her baby cohorts plan a prison-themed
pacifier heist
later in that same episode.

While some of the show's supporting characters are capable of some pretty immortal one-liners and enduring moments, let's not lose focus and forget the expressive eyes, single-minded wandering and constant source of character that is Maggie Simpson.

Awwwww. . .

Conan O'Brien and Mr. T pick apples

With Late Night With Conan O'Brien on its way out, this clip of O'Brien and Mr. T picking apples seems particularly relevant. At least as relevant as it could ever be.

(You'll have to watch a short ad - stick around.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

And a very happy Valentines Day to all of the happy couples out there!

Please, keep the symbol of this timeless holiday in mind as you go about your festivities:

Finally, keep in mind that November babies are at a higher risk for depression (it's true!)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A telling quote from my state's alternative paper

From The City Weekly:

Chuck Shepherd, compiler of the syndicated column News of the Weird, has long chronicled the recurrence of the middle name "Wayne" among men arrested for murder. His latest list includes 224 with that middle name. "I suspect that aggressive-personality fathers during the 1950s and 1960s did in fact hopefully and disproportionately name their boys after that era's icon of ruggedness, John Wayne. Beyond that, I dare not venture."

Hmm. . . would it be particularly controversial to note that people who emulate John Wayne as a model of manhood tend to be insensitive, macho-minded morons? The type of people that would raise their children badly as a matter of consequence and lead them toward trouble? In this day and age those people are particularly depressing, even when their children don't grow up to become serial rapist pedophilic clowns.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some of the most disturbing animals on Earth has a great collection of some of the most disturbing animal on Earth. These animal aren't just scary-looking, but psychologically disturbing. My dad often quotes the Jethro Tull line "He who made kittens put snakes in the grass." Sometimes I think it's more like "He who made kittens also made the vampire squid", seen above. The story says that this thing has predators - I'd hate to meet them in a dark underwater alley.

This is a link to Part 3 - if the others are as compellingly terrifying we might have a series on our hands.

EDIT: Oh, and be warned. We're talking eyeball worms and giant spiders here. And oh no oh no the squeamish might not want to check out Parts 1 and 2. There are animals in there that are actually evil.

Related links:

Heteropoda Maxima: The Spider From Hell (You'll see the same image in the article)

Adorable Authors' Guild wages futile war on text-to-speech technology

Few things are more adorably self-righteous or toxic to policy and discourse than a misguided, uninformed organization with the utmost confidence in their cause. In matters of intellectual property, things gets even crazier when artificial concepts of ownership of information get pushed into the real world.

The Roy Blount-led Authors' Guild is no stranger to this sort of thing - in October of last year they sued Google for their revolutionary Book Search feature, a service which allows users to search for keywords within books without having access to the full text. Never mind the benefit of the service or the fact that the full text of the books were still unavailable (meaning that, barring some review, Google most likely qualified under Fair Use law and encouraged users to seek out the books rather than just read them online) - the Guild threw a legal temper tantrum and eventually agreed to a megamillion-dollar payout, a small percentage of which were given to authors. I guess when massive amounts of cash are concerned, it doesn't matter when enforcing copyright law and protecting writers' profits are not the same thing.

Now the Guild is making an adorable stink over an online service that reads e-books aloud through text-to-speech technology, BoingBoing Gadgets reports:

Kindle 2's flagship feature is the reading of text out loud, in the same way as software that's already built into desktop computers and Prof. Stephen Hawking's famous voice box. This has caused a "stir." Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author's Guild, told the Wall Street Journal that you have no right to use this feature. It's a free audiobook, see.

They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won't confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.

What's the point of fighting a pointless fight just for legal technicalities? Limiting convenient consumer options for absolutely no reason (a computer voice does not duplicate nor replace the role of an audiobook) when people are eager to add free functionality to your product is shortsighted and miserly, less like protecting your rights than spitting in somebody's coffee. Rob Beschizza sums up the concept nicely:

Ideas grow to fill the containers they imply, and the problem with bad ideas is that their containers are leaky and misshapen. Even if you firmly believe in broad copyright laws, intellectual property is a bad idea because it recasts a legal device as its own philosophical justification. This journey from the utilitarian to the exalted creates a sublime monster that can't help but govern not only the duplication of things, but every aspect of their expression and the culture that makes them meaningful.

The alternative is a set of obnoxious, unintuitive loopholes the like of which I found online in this totally real example:

Authors' Guild claims text-to-speech software is illegal (BoingBoing)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Radical Islam

From a design available online at, a site with some very cute T-shirt models. On a related note, I commend all of these T-shirt sites for finding people whose smiles reach their eyes and posting their images all willy-nilly over the webosphere.

More straight talk from presidential press secretaries. . .

It's nice to know that President Obama's press secretaries will be just as evasive and moronic as any other administration's. The clip starts around 3:45.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama to continue secret CIA "renditions" - secret abductions and transfers of prisoners


Well, I was excited about the closing of Guantanamo Bay and other reforms (I still am, actually, very much), but Obama's recent decision granting approval to the CIA for the continuation of their "extraordinary renditions" program has me thinking he may just be rearranging the deck chairs on our nation's moral Titanic.

Renditions - secret CIA abductions and transfers of government prisoners to "friendly nations" (where they are sometimes tortured) have been understandably controversial. When torture occurs following a rendition, it allows our government to avoid directly participating in the torture process while looking the other way and allowing it to happen. As a commenter said following DailyKos's report that members of Bush's rendition team were heading Obama's intelligence transition team : "We've got someone who can make our torture look better. That's the change we need, right?"

If we really believe in God-given human rights, we will do our best to make certain that people aren't tortured on our watch. The fact that we won't always be the ones doing it is of dubious comfort.

Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool (LA Times)

Related links:

The agonizing truth about CIA renditions (Salon)
Americans in opposition to torture
Why torture is ineffective

UPDATE: When writing this post I did not make a distinction between the practice of openly shuttling a prisoner to another country for purposes of law enforcement - also termed a "rendition" - and renditions in which subjects have been secretly shuttled away for long periods or tortured. The term "extraordinary rendition" connotes torture and the Obama Administration has explicitly banned renditions which may result in torture. Of course we are not the only nation on Earth which has stake in prosecuting terrorists, and there may be a variety of reasons that a prosecution in another nation may be more appropriate. Nevertheless, we are responsible to assure that prisoners we transfer or allow to be transferred are treated humanely.

The Loudness War and Audio Quality

Wikipedia has a good rundown of something I hadn't been aware of in the music business - the tendency to mix up the volume of an album to compete with other records (particularly in lo-fi formats like radio where a "louder" record sounds better. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of some of the dynamic range of the music, when elements that would usually define the highs and lows of the record lose their edge. I'd noticed that that the drums in many older recordings sound crisper - now I know why.

You know the annoying difference in contrast between television shows and commercials? That's the same thing - turning up everything in the mix so that even the quiet bits of tracks seem loud.

Dubbed the "loudness war," this practice began in the early 90s and is now practically the standard. I think that some albums have managed to sound good despite this tendency (mid-period Soundgarden and Faith No More records, for example), but it's never necessary - by turning the volume up on your stereo you can listen to a record at any volume you like without sacrificing crispness. In other words, this practice always results in inferior quality. Unforunately, I don't need another cause right now so I'll leave much of my righteous indignation up to audiophiles.

The Loudness War - Wikipedia
Rolling Stone article on the topic

The political cartoon that wasn't

I found this on my hard drive. I don't remember saving it. Maybe my past self knew that February Fourth Me would think it was funny.


Gotta love those 7-Eleven clerks. The one in my neighborhood is, in all honesty, named Raj and greets customers with a "Thank you, come again!" No trace of irony.

But 7-Eleven is an equal-stereotype employer, so it's heartwarming to learn that clerks from two of the chain's locations in Colorado Springs were able to identify the weapon an unidentified man used to rob their registers - a Klingon Bat'leth, no doubt stolen from a dead nerd.*

Now, I'm sure I wouldn't know a Bat'leth when I saw one, confusing it with its diminutive twin the Mek'leth, also very Klingon. Unfortunately, the report states that the weapon itself was smaller than a Bat'leth, meaning that it might be the other after all. If I'm more right than these guys on Klingon trivia I might just have to jump off of a bridge.

I myself know very little Klingon - just enough to avoid embarrassing myself in public, by inadvertently insulting a nearby Klingon's mother while clearing my throat (this has also happened in Germany). In Klingontown I am often forced to order a sandwich by speaking English in a very masculine manner to nearby vendors while furrowing my brow. They understand alright ("NO GAKH WORM," I say very clearly for comprehension. "NO GAKH BLOOD. IF I TASTE GAKH BLOOD I WILL SHED YOURS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?").

Anyway - kudos for these geeky clerks for behaving cooly at Bat'lethpoint.

(The word used in this post's title apparently means "SPOON!!!" in that most venerable of sci-fi languages, a dictionary of which I found online. I have no idea what the capital 'Q' is all about.)

* Of course, Star Trek is hardly obscure enough to qualify as truly nerdy; I mock its fans merely out of habit.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Arizona Super Bowl interrupted by porn, Tucson women further alienated from a pointless afternoon of television

Is this really the FCC logo? And is that eagle infused
with the power of Zeus, or just being electrocuted?

The fact that a Tucson, Arizona Super Bowl affiliate was briefly interrupted after their final losing touchdown by 30 seconds or so of explicit pornography is hardly newsworthy, unless you consider the following angles:
  • The running, jumping, screaming heart attack of a panic that must have occurred at the NBC affiliate before the issue was resolved, culminating in, I'm sure, a significant look of worry between the station's programmers.
  • The fact that the state had just lost the Super Bowl a few seconds before the incident and, judging by the description of the material inadvertently aired, it sounds a bit more interesting than the Jackson/Timberlake incident a few years back. (Of course, Janet Jackson being essentially the male version of her brother Michael, I'm sure "Nipplegate" provoked more disbelieving nausea than interest.)
  • The fact that this colossal screwup seems to be at least unintentional, and we no longer have a Bush-appointed FCC chief who's duty-bound to do as much self-righteous moral posturing as possible, meaning that the network, properly humiliated, may be able to let this slide without too much fuss.

But seriously. . . the Super Bowl? Who cares anymore, other than the everybody and their dog who watched it? Football isn't escapism, and the fact that the result eventually comes down to a greater than/less than equation that the viewer has no control over means that anybody who doesn't watch it for the ambience (and for an excuse to hang out with their buddies on a Sunday) might as well just check the scores on Monday morning. Unless. . . more graphic, unbroadcastable pornography starts making its way into the Super Bowl and only the Super Bowl.

American Muslims and civil rights - Al Arabiya News

More than a year after he was dismissed from his job at a Pennsylvanian nuclear laboratory and had his security access revoked by the Department of Energy for ill-defined reasons of "national security," Dr. Moneim El-Ganayni has returned to his native Egypt and is finally speaking out about the abuses and discrimination he received at the hands of an overzealous government, reports El Arabiya.

Dr. El-Ganayni, a naturalized American citizen, feels that he was dismissed to silence his criticisms of the treatment of Muslims in America. The fact that he was never prosecuted for any crime, as well as the absolute dearth of any real evidence on the part of the DOE, certainly seem to point that way.

An annual report issued by CAIR about the state of Muslim civil rights in the U.S. found that 52 percent of rights violations in 2007 involved legal or immigration cases and hate propaganda. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Muslim-Americans believe the government “singles out Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.”

Presumably those 53 percent of Muslims were pulled into dark vans immediately after taking the survey and questioned by Minuteman Project volunteers with bad haircuts.

Egypt-US physicist slams US govt discrimination, speaks out from Egypt about civil rights abuses (Al Arabiya)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's alright - we'll find somebody else to live vicariously through

It is with an anarchic sense of glee that I post this image of 14-times gold medal winner and Face of America Michael Phelps bonging it up at a South Carolina party. The article, from UK taboid NewsoftheWorld, is exactly as sensationalistic and trashy as you'd expect from, well, a UK taboid, using the most colorful of descriptive language and quoting anonymous sources who say things like:

“He looked just as natural with a bong in his hands as he does swimming in the pool. He was the gold medal winner of bong hits. Michael ended up getting a little paranoid, though, because before too long he looked like he was nervous and ran out of the place.”

I guess we'll find out whether we'll be seeing some more truly awful magazine covers in 2012 - Olympic regulations place a four-year ban on drug use. Presumably because he might win another dozen and some-odd medals and create a new generation of Cheeches and Chongs.