Archive for May, 2005

Thought for the Day

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Megabucks, what did I ever do to you? Boomtown, indeed…

I Suggest They Keep at It

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

When I was in college, there was a service called or something similar (B: do you remember?) where you could rate movies and it would recommend titles you might also enjoy. Nowadays, this is a fairly common feature, but I remember this site in particular because after I rated some 500 titles, they basically said “We really have no idea what you would like.”

That service came to mind when I tried the new Yahoo! Movie Recommendations service. I rated 260ish movies, and made it clear that I tend to skew towards art house/international.

Y! Movies replied by predicting that, of films currently in theaters, based on my ratings I would likely enjoy:

  • Madagascar
  • The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
  • Cinderella Man
  • Unleashed
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
  • The Interpreter
  • The Longest Yard

There is one movie in that list I would consider seeing. (To be fair, their DVD/Video recommendations were closer to the mark.) Clearly, some refinement of their engine is in order…

That Doesn’t Happen Everyday (Fortunately)

Friday, May 27th, 2005

Tonight, I called 911.

Just a few hours ago, I was lazily computing away when I heard an overworked engine mixed with the sound of spinning tires and gravel. They’re doing some work on the water mains throughout the neighborhood, so I at first put it down to some kids joyriding, kicking up some of the fresh construction material as they took a corner too fast.

But this was something else entirely. The noise got louder, more insistent. When I heard a loud bang, I sprang to the window. As I looked down from my second floor position, I saw to my shock that a van was driving off my lawn at high speed. In fact, in the intervening seconds, the van had jumped the curb, rocketed through a narrow passage between a hydrant and a telephone pole, then circled through a turn that brought it so close to the house that the van’s left tread disappeared into the garden before scraping against the front step with such force it sheared off a large chunk of concrete. Even after this collision two feet from my front door, the vehicle was moving so fast it left treadmarks on the concrete walkway.

After watching the van bounce back into the street, I paused in surprise. What the hell was that? I thought at first. I rushed around to other windows to see if I could still see the van. Instinctively, I doused the lights as I did so. No sense revealing my position if some maniac ran aground nearby — and perhaps I was imagining it, but didn’t it sounded as though the racing engine was still close?

I couldn’t see anything, so I decided it was time to call the police. I walked downstairs and began to flip through the phone book excitedly. Is this an emergency? What’s the non-emergency number? Is it under ‘Police Department’, ‘City of’, or in that blue government section? I flipped the pages in a hyper fashion. Fuck it, I decided. Time is of the essence.

I dialed 911, and though excited, tried to be brief and professional: someone drove through my lawn, yes, a van, no I’m not sure of the color… I gave my address and the nearest cross streets and listened as the dispatcher put out a call for a “possible 1055,” then told me to call back again immediately if I saw him again.

A few minutes later, as several cruisers converged on the intersection two houses down, I slipped out onto the lawn and surveyed the damage — but was immediately distracted when I noticed that the van itself was just up the road. After peeling out of our lawn, he’d careened off a tree near the corner house, finally slamming so hard into a hydrant that even after slipping a heavy chain around the back axle, a tow truck couldn’t disengage the two. In yet another close have, the van had just missed the newly installed hydrant that crews hooked up last week. Had he stopped three feet to the right, there may have been water works.

I say ‘he’ for convenience, as the driver was missing. As the cruisers zipped around my block, I got the story from the police captain: someone had stolen this van from a house 20 blocks south, and in fact may have stolen another car before that (there were reports of an entirely different van: white, no plates) in another part of town. As barefoot neighbors streamed out of nearby houses, the story spread. Everyone gossiped excitedly about the car thief who was clearly drunk, probably injured, and last seen entering the woods behind my house. Several late arrivals trooped down to get a look at my “stoop.”

Interest soon waned once it became clear the man wouldn’t be found. After the tow truck took a different approach and managed to extricate the van, everyone returned to their beds to sleep.

But I didn’t. I turned on the exterior lights and walked the Wonder Dog around the house, then returned to my desk. And when, a short while ago, I heard the sound of sirens and speeding cruisers once again, my first thought was: I hope they caught that fucker.

I Couldn’t Resist

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

I was generating church signs*, if you can believe it, when I clicked my way across to the George Says It site. With all the tools at hand, I just had to give it a go:

George W. Bush fixing his tie, thinking 'What, me worry?' in front of a backdrop of flag-draped coffins

Another service from the fine folks who brought you (love the banner ad.)

(* My sign actually has nothing to do with my kind of pink. It’s actually a reference to the recent pregnancy of my friend Georgie, who had pink hair the first time I met her.)

The Skanky Burger

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Paris looks like she's rubbing a huge burger against her cheek.
Single blond enjoys costume jewelry, airbrushing, and rubbing her face with huge burgers.

Paris Hilton. Under normal circumstances, she falls in the category of “things that I know exist, but will pretend otherwise.” Sort of like Southern Baptists. Or Olestra.

Yet somehow, the recent coverage of the underchested heiress’ new burger ad pierced my protective shell, and I found myself curious enough to visit the site and watch the commercial.

Curious, you understand, not just because of what the overwrought Parents’ Television Council calls its “raunchy, sexually graphic” content, but because of the incongruous nature of the elements: waif-thin honorary anoxeric pitches burger with 72g of fat. It would be like making Bush the dean of Oxford: comedy gold!

Surely they were making it to play up this contrast? Sadly, no: the commercial disappoints. Except for the great bit when she randomly interrupts her washing to take a tiny simulated bite from the monster burger, it’s like every cheesy Ferrari/model poster you’ve ever seen (except Paris manages to look less sultry.)

All is not lost, however, for those with a sense of humor — check out the supporting materials. There’s the “corporate commentary”, which is unintentionally hilarious. Watch as the company marketing director, who’s billed as a “mastermind” by the link, says they picked Paris because her “signature line is ‘that’s hot,'” and the burger is, too! Snicker as the pointy-haired director calls Paris perhaps “the biggest blond female celebrity” and bills the 2 seconds of burger time as a chance “to see who’s hotter, the burger or Paris.”

Then there’s the best bit: downloadable backgrounds. Here’s an excerpt:
Paris washing the Bentley, with her eating ghosted in the background.

Is that not the least hot thing you’ve ever seen? Oh my do I laugh every time I see it. Can’t you just picture some marketing exec saying “where’s the burger? We have to see the burger!” Yet they want the holy “buzz” of Paris. So they make this bizarre burger/bitch/Bentley combo.

Wouldn’t you just love to meet the person who would actually want that as a computer background?

Hmm. On second thought, perhaps not.

Ready Freddie

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Let’s return now to our sporadic series celebrating foreign athletes — just the ticket for when technology’s got ya down. So let’s see, we’ve had English football player David Beckham, and French rugby star Frederic Michalak (with skater Josh Wald.) Perhaps it’s time for a Swede?

Fredrik Ljungberg

Sure, Fredrik (“Freddie”) Ljungberg, midfielder for Arsenal, has been the face of CK for awhile now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still appreciate him.

An Ode to My Mac

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

I hate computers so fucking much at this moment, you have no idea.

I’m trying to get Asterisk working on one of my Debian boxes with a TDM card. It’s a nightmare. A user interface catastrophe to begin with, there’s next to no useful documentation. They require you download the system and drivers as source, with which you need to recompile the kernel. I fucking hate it.

My Fedora box has developed the annoying habit of slicing the screen into offset bands when certain video files (with no discernible commonalities) are loaded. The only recourse is Ctrl+Alt+Bksp to restart X. Would an Nvidia driver update fix it? Perhaps, but Fedora refuses to enter Runlevel 3 without choking, so I can’t run the shell script that installs it. Oh, and the latest package update for BitTorrent (v4.1 trackerless) borked it. I fucking hate it.

Windows is no better. I just tried to install the JRE 1.5_03 edition on my XP Pro desktop. I double-clicked the installer and followed the prompts: no more, no less. Then I get this monstrosity. Visual C++ assertion failures? What the fuck does that mean? Why should I be expected to care? I fucking hate it.

I hate that I’m expected to know this fucking esoteric crap just to get work done. I hate that I have to massage all these different tempermental software applications that are too dumb to do simple things like recognize there’s an existing version installed and just cleanly update it.

I am just so beyond tired of wasting all this precious time in my finite life trying to wrangle some crap that’s not fit for human consumption. In fact, the only thing that is keeping me from throwing the lot out the window is my new Mac mini.

I purchased it the day Tiger was released, and on the first day I shed blood for it. (I had to pry it open with putty knives to upgrade the RAM, cutting myself in the process.) But after a few hours using the Mac, I forgot about my wounds.

One of the things that I love is how easily you can install software. In Linux, it’s a nightmare of different distributions, kernel versions, source and scripts. On Windows, you’re running installers and choosing options and paths.

On my Mac, it looks like this. That’s a disk image. Visit a Website, click a hyperlink, click “Yes”, and you’re presented with a view like that. To install, just drag the icon over to ‘Applications’. That’s it.

Does that action trigger all sorts of actions/scripts/modifications behind the scenes? I have no idea, and I couldn’t fucking care less. It. Just. Works. And right now, that’s precisely what I need.

End rant.

Just Forget the Facts, Ma’am

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

There’s a great little term newspapers use for how they write news stories: it’s called “inverted pyramid style.” Writers start with the most important information and then work their way down, putting the least important bits at the bottom.

One of my J-School teachers said the practice began back when putting a story “on the wire” meant using the telegraph; thus it was important to be sure the main idea was covered even if the transmission was interrupted. (Probably apocryphal, but fun.) Today, of course, the inverted pyramid style is used for copyfit purposes — layout staff know they can lop off the final few sentences without messing with the meaning.

I mention this basic bedrock of journalism because some people seem to have forgotten how it works. Take CNN, which recently ran this story:

Girl buried alive thanks God for rescue
Officer tells of finding 8-year-old under concrete slabs

LAKE WORTH, Florida (CNN) — An 8-year-old girl who police say was raped and left for dead in a landfill asked for a pastor “so she could thank God” shortly after her rescue from beneath a pile of stones, her godmother said Monday.

Police said the girl also identified her attacker even before she was removed Sunday from a trash bin at the abandoned South Florida landfill.

“She stated that she wanted a pastor to pray with her so she could thank God for saving her life,” Lisa Taylor, the godmother, told CNN. “She’s 8 years old. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard?”…

So, judging by the headline and the lede, the most important fact about this story is what the girl’s godmother said. Not how she was found, or by whom, which are in ‘graphs 25 and 26. Not who’s been detained for the charge, which is ‘graph 8. Not the words of the police chief, who in the penultimate para calls it “a miracle, [with] some luck and a lot of good police work.”

To CNN, all of this pales in comparison to the adorable factor, with the little girl asking for a pastor. Now that’s a sweet image, definitely. But it ain’t journalism.

For bonus points: try to find the paragraph where they say the girl thanked the rescuers.

Hello, Arizona!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2005

I don’t check the stats very often, because they’re not too interesting (and I have to wade through the 2,000 people a day who do image searches for this Beckham picture) but every once in awhile I have some odd reason to check the JSP.o records.

Yesterday, I did just that, and saw that a few people (two of whom I knew — hello Cath and Joel!) had used the search box to leave me a message. Then of course there were those who were using it to, you know, search, and one of those was someone looking for “iPose”.

If you saw my “April Tool” post, you know that the iPose was a fundraising effort, and I called out a guy for having a damp spot on his shorts. Well, here’s where the small world part gets going. See, my visitor came from a Google search for “ipose Nate”, so he was looking for references to that guy in particular*. So big deal, right? Well, the other piece of the puzzle is that this visitor was using the computer at 128.196.166.(xx), AKA (xx)

So, short story long, within 5 days of my posting about the project, someone from inside that very frat, and probably the model himself, was reading it.

Oh Google, how I love you and yet fear you so…

* Sharp-eyed readers will note the word ‘Nate’ doesn’t appear in the body of the post. Google was actually scanning an alternate description I put in for users with visual impairments and/or limited browsers.

Not Quite Gotham

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

For all the boredom and isolation that living in a small town entails, there are also benefits. Today’s paper carried the “County’s Most Wanted,” with 12 people under active arrest warrants still at large. These n’er-do-wells have allegedly committed the following crimes:

  • Sexual Abuse (3rd)/Indecent exposure
  • Violation of probation/Abuse (3rd)
  • Violation of pre-trial release
  • Violation of probation/Burglary/Theft
  • Forgery (3 counts)/Theft (4th)
  • Driving without a license/proof of insurance
  • Assault/Theft (5th)
  • Criminal mischief (4th)
  • Filing a false report
  • Possession of drug paraphenelia
  • Theft (5th) (2 counts)
  • Filing a false report

That’s right, we have a couple of genuine thugs, plus a forger, some false reporters, petty thieves, and my favorite, 28yo Jana M. Pringle, who’s wanted for “criminal mischief”. They only have photos for half of this list, and though Jana was spared the indignity of a skeezy likeness, she still probably wishes they proofed it a little longer.

That is, unless she does weigh 1,505 lbs.

Madame Senator

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

This week, Kuwait’s parliament voted 35-23 to allow women to vote (though with some strings attached.) About time, you might say, and it certainly is. But before we excoriate the all-male parliament for taking so damn long (however much they deserve it), perhaps it would behoove us to take a look at how well the good ol’ U.S. of A. has done with its head start.

Mrs. Felton

Meet Mrs. Rebecca Latimer Felton, the woman who got us rolling. I put her picture here because you probably haven’t heard of her. Though she was the first woman to occupy a seat in the United States Senate, she also holds the record for the shortest term (24 hours: 21-22 Nov 1922.) As it happens, she also holds the title of oldest Senator at the time of first swearing-in (age eighty-seven, and when you’re born in 1835 I think just that is an achievement.)

Following Felton’s appointment, there was a bit of a lull. The 24 hours of excitement was enough to tide the electorate over for nearly a decade, until Hattie Wyatt Caraway won a seat in 1932. Hattie (love the name) had actually first occupied the seat in 1931, when she was appointed to replace her fellow excellently-named husband, Thaddeus Horatius Caraway. (Replacing husbands was something of a trend, as to this day nearly half of all female Senators have served less than a full term, most just a year.)

Fast forward to today. In a time when the population of the nation at large is 51% female, the Senate is 86% male. In the 83 years since Mrs. Felton, there have been 33 women who’ve held Senatorial office.

That number seems low to me, and I’m not the only one:

Based on percentage of women in the upper and lower house, [t]he Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked the United States 59th out of 121 countries in the world for representation of women. Countries ahead of the United States include Rwanda, Cuba, South Africa, Vietnam, Pakistan, China and Bosnia. (Center for Voting and Democracy)

I don’t have some magic number or quota in mind, but I do think that it’s not too much to ask that a representative democracy vaguely reflect its public (and don’t get me started on the millionaires in Congress…) Or, put another way: when it comes to women in politics, Kuwait took a long-overdue first step. I just wish we could say we’re a lot further down the road.

Now Live: Movies Sidebar

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Today I’m unveiling a tiny new feature that I hope will be the harbinger of good things. It’s my “Recently Watched” movies sidebar, and it shows the 10 movies I’ve seen most recently.

In order to get this simple tool to work, I had to do two things: one, convert my previous (static) list to a database, and two, create some dead-simple way for me to update it. I did both, and now it’s possible for me to add films to my complete list (which are automatically pushed to the sidebar) with a single click.

As I made that possible, I laid the groundwork for some new features. (At the moment, you can sort by decade, but that’s just the beginning.)

Of course, one thing this snazzy new tech won’t do is explain how I choose which films to watch. Even I don’t think I could explain that…

Flushed With Anger

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

I have had just about enough of this piling-on “Newsweek” for their story which reported that interrogators may have flushed a Koran. This lunacy has really gotten out of hand:

Afghanistan’s government said Tuesday that Newsweek should be held responsible for damages caused by deadly anti-American demonstrations after the magazine alleged U.S. desecration of the Quran, and it suggested that foreign forces may have helped turn protests violent. (– Pakistan: Newsweek retraction “not enough”)

Newsweek should be held responsible? I really hate to trot out the word “surreal”, but… So Newsweek ran with a story that contained allegations which had been published previously. For the sake of argument, let’s say they were true. So? At what point do we make the leap that rioting mobs are a valid response to getting a book wet?

Sex, Google, and the Interstate

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Ahh, Google Maps. So large. So pretty. So…confusing. Or at least that’s the impression you get from this Yahoo! News story (the title’s too cute by half), in which a search for “brothels” in three ZIP Codes turned up “the University of Oregon’s history department in Eugene, Ore.; the Happy Ending bar in Manhattan; and the Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.”

Sound odd? If you know anything about the tech, it’s not too much of a surprise. See, where competitor Yahoo! (and others) has localized services built mainly from licensed yellow pages data, Google is trying to discern information directly from Web pages. You can see the difference when you do a search on Yahoo! Local for “pizza 60605“: the first 10 are obviously pizza joints. Do the same search on Google Local (which also powers Google Maps) and the #5 result is “Barry Personnel Resources Inc.” Why them? It’s not clear. (Google’s references don’t even contain the word “pizza.”)

But let’s get back to sex. See, the best part of the article was the reaction from one Leslee Unruh, abstinence maven:

Leslee Unruh, the president of Abstinence Clearinghouse, an organization that connects advocates of abstinence before marriage, was more than taken aback by the labeling of her office as a bawdyhouse. [jsp: a what?]

“This isn’t accidental,” she claimed. “I think this is deliberate. Abstinence is under fire, we’re under siege. Our opponents are trying to discredit the largest organization in the world that networks abstinence educators.”

Yes, the sex-crazed Googlites have targeted thriving Sioux Falls, S.D., for a takedown in their quest to get everyone laid — before marriage, natch. And worse, their campaign is getting noticed:

Unruh also said that while the “brothel” label was news to her, it explained some odd behavior she and others in her office have seen.

“We’ve been seeing some strange men stopping by the office,” she said. “They’re clearly looking for something. If they’re traveling and using Google, maybe they think we’re.” she said, but didn’t finish. “We’re right off the Interstate.”

Are all the best brothels off exit ramps? News to me. But I still think Leslee is being overly suspicious. After all, maybe these men “clearly looking for something” are just trying to score tickets for the Purity Ball!

Season Recap

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

I just finished watching the season finale of “Veronica Mars” — no mean feat considering we don’t get UPN (and it actually aired yesterday.) I was able to bypass what would once have been, ahh, show-stopping obstacles thanks to your and my favorite communication network, the Internet.

In fact thanks to the Internet (and season boxed sets), I’ve probably watched more TV this season than any other — yet only a tiny fraction of that was on the tube.

Looking back on my experience, I’ve spotted a few trends:

  • I rely on recommendations. Word of mouth is huge for me, because I never, ever turn on the TV and just surf. My favorite show of the season is probably “Lost,” a show that would be completely off my radar were it not for B-don. B-don‘s responsible for a lot of what I watch. He also recommended “Alias”, “Arrested Development”, “Deadwood”, “The Wire”, and, if you can believe it, “Desperate Housewives”. Needless to say, I haven’t covered all those yet — he’s way ahead. (I heard about “Veronica Mars” from a Salon article.)
  • I’m watching fewer movies. The number of films I’ve seen this year is pathetic — orders of magnitude lower than years past. I tend to double- and triple-up episodes of TV instead. That is, when I’m not having an attention-deficit day where sitting through even a 42 minute show seems long…
  • I love the control. I don’t have TiVo, but BitTorrent is even better. I can watch shows any time I want on any of my computers, take them with me on a laptop or USB key, even transcode them to watch on my brother’s PSP (once he gets a big enough MemoryStick.) If the phone rings, or my e-mail dings, I can pause the action and pick up right where I left off.
  • I get into it. I don’t know how you could watch a show like “Lost” with commercials. Just as you’re settling in to this moody, lush island landscape, your train of thought is interrupted by annoying girls stuffing tampons in their car’s leaky roof. Who needs it? Downloaded episodes let me pay more attention. I love having the option of jumping back to be sure I heard a line correctly, or even grabbing a still of bloopers/interesting activity such as boom mics, stunt men, and IP addresses. (Yes, I am a nerd, but I’m an observant nerd.) Also I can study the hotties…
  • I watch more international programming. In addition to one-off shows, I’ve followed several complete series from the UK this year, including “Shameless” and “The Apprentice.” (And, OK, fine… also “Playing it Straight” UK. I never learn.) This sort of thing would be impossible without the Internet. Yes, there’s BBC America, but they’d have to edit; the UK “Apprentice” ran a full 60 minutes.
  • I hate promos even more. I actually watched a show on ABC the other day, and they ran a breathless promo revealing a “Lost” plot twist. I would rather have been surprised. Also bad: shows with a “Coming up after the break” segment, which in the commercial-free downloadable version is really just a mini-spoiler. “Stay tuned” is meaningless for on-demand downloads.
  • I can sample, then join at any time. When I first heard about “Veronica Mars,” the show was airing its 20th episode. “Lost” was 11 episodes in; “Arrested” was in a second season. I don’t like to jump in partway, so I would have had to wait for re-runs or DVDs. ABC tried to address this with specials a couple weeks ago, summarizing the major developments in both “Lost” and “Housewives” at roughly the 20 episode mark. (Kudos to them for also providing them on Still, a 40-odd minute summary barely scratches the surface. With the Internet, I’m able to get caught up in a few days, at my leisure. On a related note: every show I watch begins with “Previously, on…” I just can’t be bothered with stupid sitcoms where everything is solved by the end of the show.

Add to that one more: I really don’t care about networks. Do these shows come from ABC, BBC, NBC, UPN? Like I care. The sooner the production companies sell direct, the better. I won’t miss the local affiliates, either. I never watch local “news”, and if I miss out on my local car dealers’ great incentive programs, I’ll find a way to soldier on. After all, I’ll have a bunch of TV to catch up on…