"The only blog we have to fear is blog itself."

Saturday, July 31, 2004

What the pre-Inca Wari people have in common with U.S. frat guys... 

Ancient Peru's ritual beer binges:
Archaeologists from the United States have uncovered an ancient brewery in the mountains of southern Peru. The huge brewery was discovered by researchers at Cerro Baul, a religious centre for the pre-Inca Wari empire.

It is believed to have been used to brew vast quantities of a spicy, beer-like alcoholic drink called "chicha" and served to hundreds at one sitting.


Each Wari noble would have consumed up to 10 litres of "chicha" per ceremony.


"They knew they were pulling out and they had a big bonfire," Field Museum spokesperson Greg Borzo says.

They destroyed the site in an elaborate closing rite, setting fire to the entire brewery and throwing their ceramic drinking vessels onto its burning embers.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Another Simpsons tidbit... 

There's a short article on the BBC online about Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart.

Mayberry, RFID 

For anyone who hasn't been following the double-time march to embrace RFID technology, here's the thumbnail sketch: it stands for "radio frequency identification," and it's generally a small chip with an antenna transponder. It's what makes a Speedpass work. Or an E-Z Pass.

Thanks largely to Wal-Mart, there's also a rush to replace barcodes with RFID tags for retail inventory management.

But widespread adoption of a remote-sensed, trackable device like RFID has enormous potentional privacy issues. For example, a department store in a mall might read that the RFID tag of a product in a customer's pocket or purse was bought (perhaps even weeks or months ago) from the rival store on the other side of the mall, so the store might dispatch an "associate" to try to convince the customer that their place has better service.

Such a scenario might be relatively benign (it might even be desirable for some consumers), but much darker approaches can be envisioned. What if that same department store's computers determined that, based on past experience, a person entering the store with items from, say, the CD store and the dollar store, plus a pack of cigarettes but no just-purchased clothing is XX% more likely to shoplift?

The entire issue has been further clouded by an interesting new wrinkle:
Low-cost RFID tags--many of which are smaller than a nickel and cost less too--are already being added to packaging by retailers to keep track of inventory, but could be abused by hackers and tech-savvy shoplifters, said Lukas Grunwald, a senior consultant with DN-Systems Enterprise Solutions GmbH. While the technology mostly threatens consumer privacy, it could allow thieves to fool merchants by changing the identity of goods, he said.


The security expert announced during the session a new software tool he helped create that can be used to read and reprogram radio tags.

When such tools become widely available, hackers and those with less pure motives could use a handheld device and the software to mark expensive goods as cheaper items and walk out through self checkout. Underage hackers could attempt to bypass age restrictions on alcoholic drinks and adult movies, and pranksters could create confusion by randomly swapping tags, requiring that a store do manual inventory.
By the way, such a tool could also clone your Speedpass or E-Z Pass account and let someone else pump gas and then pay tolls on your dime.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Real-World, Real-Time Cyber Thriller 

A man named Justin Spence tried to buy a secondhand laptop on eBay in June of this year. Problems arose. He sent the money but never got the laptop.

He found out others had lost money to the same seller, so he put together a website to try to get the seller to make things right, or at least to warn others about him. The email correspondence between buyer and seller reads like a novel, full of unexpected twists, turns, and new mystery villains.

Here's his site, and the email archive is here (in case the site is down, here's the google cache of it).

The latest developments are that a Philly TV station did a piece on the controversy, and tracked down the seller. Now he's hosting his own website to blame another mystery villain.

It's a page-turner! Er...web-scroller? Uh...either way, it's engrossing reading from the "stranger than fiction" desk!

UPDATE: Apparently the case had a happy ending for the defrauded, and with that, Spence took down his correspondence page (still available via google cache on 8/19). However, now the bizarre antagonist in this tale wants to continue a vendetta of his own.

For more info, another fraud victim still has his page up, and the bulletin board on the whole affair is still going.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Gay Marriage on The Simpsons 

Simpsons ties knot with gay marriage:
The feverish public debate in the US over gay marriages is to be played out in a forthcoming episode of The Simpsons, it emerged today.

The show's producers have revealed that the cartoon classic will feature an episode in which gay marriage is legalised in Springfield.

Hints about the plot line were dropped by show producer Matt Groening at a San Diego comic convention, where he revealed that Homer Simpson becomes a minister by registering online.

Producer Al Jean added: "We have a show where, to raise money, Springfield legalises gay marriage. Homer becomes a minister by going on the internet and filling out a form. A long time character comes out of the closet, but I'm not saying who."


One early [speculated] favourite is billionaire Monty Burns' ever-devoted sidekick Waylon Smithers, who has been revealed in previous episodes to have a Mr Burns screensaver and dreams of a naked Mr Burns jumping out of a birthday cake.

Other candidates include Homer's cohorts at the nuclear plant, Carl and Lenny, as well as Moe the bartender, the Reverend Lovejoy, Principal Skinner and Comic Book Guy.

The gay marriage-themed episode is scheduled to air in January.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Abe Tracks in Wax Facts? 

I previously posted about scientists working to preserve old audio recordings using optical scanning technology, but here's another story on the same topic:
Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale and other characters from history may soon be able to speak again, as scientists perfect techniques to recover the sound from recordings that are far too delicate to be played.
Uh...Abraham Lincoln??? Perhaps...
Unconfirmed rumours abound that Abraham Lincoln even made a recording during the Civil War in 1863.
I can't imagine that being anything other than an urban legend among history geeks, but wow, that would be cool!

"Medic! This soldier needs a tummy-tuck before zero-hour!" 

Plastic surgery available on taxpayers' dime:
The New Yorker magazine reports in its July 26th edition that members of all four branches of the U.S. military can get face-lifts, breast enlargements, liposuction and nose jobs for free -- something the military says helps surgeons practice their skills.


The magazine quoted an Army spokeswoman as saying, "the surgeons have to have someone to practice on."
Uh huh--'cause they never know when they'll be called upon to perform an emergency field liposuction on the battlefield.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Sales Pitch Via Mouth's Both Corners 

Just spoted on AOL Cityguide this evening: "Bored with DNC politicking all over the tube? Elect to create your own party tonight." (a statement which is ignorant of the fact that the commercial broadcast networks are covering a whopping one hour of the convention this evening)

However, when you click on "DNC" they take you to a page proclaiming: "Entertainment Guide to Boston's DNC... You couldn't find a better place for Sen. John Kerry's nomination than here, the charismatic birthplace of liberty."

Shameless, them trying to use the Democratic National Convention to shill event tickets and restaurants with two opposite viewpoints.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

"Wall of Water" 

Satellites used to explain monster waves:
"Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," says Wolfgang Rosenthal of the GKSS Forschungszentrum GmbH research center in Germany. "It simply gets put down to bad weather."

A significant handful of these sunken ships -- about 200 over the past two decades -- are supertankers or large container ships, according to a statement explaining Rosenthal's new research.

The cause for most of the mishaps is a mystery, but so-called rogue waves as tall as 10-story buildings are believed to be the major culprit in many cases. Yet until recent years, scientists doubted such strangely huge waves occurred so frequently.

A new study based on satellite data and lab experiments reveals the rogues are fairly common and helps explain how they form.
Two large ships sink every week? Yikes! I had no idea it was that frequent. I'll keep that in mind next time I cruise 'round the world.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I Can't Explain 

Just read the following on the web:
CBS is making very rich men out of The Who. The network's already forked over millions for the rights to use "Who Are You" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," for the opening themes of "C-S-I" and C-S-I: Miami." And now the New York Post says CBS has picked the band's song "Baba O'Reilly," for its newest C-S-I spinoff, "C-S-I: New York."
Note: the above link is on a dynamic page so the paragraph will likely vanish in the next update. See actual New York Post article here.

"Making rich men?" Was The Who living in penury prior to this series of TV series? Gee, that's too bad.

You know, "Who Are You" worked splendidly for the show's forensic investigation subject matter. "Won't Get Fooled Again"? A little defensive for proud investigators, but okay, it still works.

"Baba O'Riley" (the correct spelling, which even the Post got wrong), however, jumps straight off the rails. "Teenage wasteland?" How does that figure into a crime show (well, one that will, presumably, be about more than teenage crimes)? And "I don't need to fight to prove I'm right" is an odd thematic sentiment for a show in which each week characters have to fight to prove they're right.

And, pun intended, which Who's next?

"I Can See For Miles" used by CSI: Denver?
"Boris the Spider" for CSI: Moscow?
"Bell Boy" in CSI: Orlando, fer crissake?

Hey, bless those kindhearted TV folks helping out such destitute musicians--sort of a Medicaid for veterans of Live Aid?--but, with all due respect, just stop this. Right now. Please?

Science's Unintended Consequences 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer of Science sez:

Hope you paid attention in high school science class! Otherwise, you might run into some unpleasant unintended chemical reactions. To wit:

If you have any dental fillings, or other metal in your mouth, you probably shouldn't chew on aluminum foil. According to howstuffworks.com, doing so can actually create a crude battery: "Pressure from biting brings two dissimilar metals (aluminum foil, mercury in fillings or gold in crowns) in contact in a moist, salty environment (saliva)."

So spit out that artificial cud you made out of leftover Reynolds wrap, bunky!


Dateline Blacksville, West Virginia: "A man smoking in a portable toilet lit up more than a cigarette. The potty exploded Tuesday (7/13) when a buildup of methane gas mixed with the lit cigarette."

Always remember when in bathrooms: "if the stank makes you choke, hold off on that smoke!"

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer of Science" is periodic feature of this blog to alert its readers about important science news. All the good names--like Mr. Science, Dr. Science, and even Sergeant Science--were already taken, so the author was stuck with the unwieldy yet still somewhat effective moniker "The Chancellor of the Exchequer of Science."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Shame on Me 

The Rude Pundit is a horribly wrong blog, but I am inches short of obsessed.

Buckley Banter 

Old friend and college roommate Glenn Raucher recently blogged on Jeff Buckley:
[About Buckley] there exists a tremendous polarization. My wonderful friend K1 nearly throttled me (and several bystanders) when visiting her in Atlanta years ago, I indicated a liking for Buckley. She went on for, well, I don't want to exaggerate, but she ran behind my car yelling insults (rather clever ones, of course) about Buckley as I sped up 85 toward the South Carolina border.

Much of it was based on his own unfortunately arrogant behavior she either witnessed, or was told about. And I know that Buckley's emotive singing can grate. It is pyrotechnical, hugely emotive, and at times more showy than communicative.
$.02 from Mike: "pyrotechnical" is an extremely apt descriptor. Like fireworks, his style was open to judgement when experienced in recorded form but startlingly commanding in person (perhaps the only time I've ever viscerally understood the "hear a pin drop" cliche).

The one time I met Buckley he was very gracious and pleasant. Certainly success and adulation can often veer musicians off the path of niceness, but if we judged the quality of artists by their bedside manner, we'd have a poor culture indeed.

Plus, even if grating, gimme a dozen misfires if only to achieve one recording like "Last Goodbye" or "Lilac Wine."

Does Williams Daniels' voice come with that? 

eBay auction: The K.I.T.T. car from Knight Rider

Lexicography Update 

New dictionary makes room for baffling 'va-va-voom':
Thanks to a French footballer's television commercials for a popular French car, the English language officially has a new word: Va-va-voom.

"The quality of being exciting, vigorous, or sexually attractive," say the compilers of the 11th edition of the Oxford Concise English Dictionary, which hits bookshops Thursday (7/8).

Thierry Henry speaks the word -- or more precisely, asks just what does it mean -- in prime-time plugs for Renault, which hired the suave Arsenal striker to give its humble Clio sedan a more masculine image.
Other new entries mentioned in the article, listed alphabetically of course, include "bioweapon," "blue-on-blue" (friendly fire attacks), "congestion charge" (a fee to drive into a city, a la London), "designer baby," "flash mob," and "speed dating."

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life 

Democrats aren't amused by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's use of the mocking term "girlie men" to describe some lawmakers, although a spokesman for the governor said no apology would be forthcoming.

Schwarzenegger dished out the insult at a rally Saturday as he claimed Democrats were delaying the budget by catering to special interests. Democrats protested that the remark was sexist and homophobic.

"If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers ... if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men," Schwarzenegger said to the cheering crowd at a mall food court in Ontario.

The governor lifted the term from a long-running "Saturday Night Live" skit in which two pompous, Schwarzenegger-worshipping weightlifters repeatedly use it to mock those who don't meet their standards of physical perfection.
What's next? Governor Ahnold quoting McBain from The Simpsons?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Beer Goggles 

This is wrong on so many levels:
Adolph Coors Co., the third biggest U.S. brewer, and Canadian brewer Molson Inc. announced plans to merge Thursday in a deal aimed at helping them compete against the world's beermaking giants.

The combined company in what was described as a merger of equals would have annual revenues of about $6 billion and would rank fifth in the world by brewing volume, the companies said in a statement.

It will be known as Molson Coors Brewing Co., and will market brands like Coors Original and Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Keystone and Carling.
I think our Canadian friends are going to suffer serious morning-after remorse, not unlike that fateful dawn when Time-Warner groggily woke up and realized to their horror (after losing their dot-com beer-goggles) they had hooked up with that slutty AOL.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Another Entry in the Great Flicking vs. Squashing Debate 

There was one?

The New England Journal of Medicine has an article about the best way to deal with marauding mosquitos: flicking.
Flicking away pesky mosquitoes may be better than swatting the bloodsucking insects, which can risk infections if their body parts are smashed into human skin, researchers say.


"I think if a mosquito was in mid-bite, it would be wiser to flick the mosquito off rather than squashing it," said one of the authors, Christina Coyle of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Not so fast, though! Could you live with yourself if you shoo a disease-ridden mosquito away to bite other human being?

A CDC mosquito expert points out that after flicking, "Unfortunately, then the mosquito often goes on to bite another person." Or, he intoned ominously, "Bites you again."

(completely gratuitous and presumptuous assignation of ominous tone added by me)

I, Robot: Lie Detective 

Oh, joy. In England, voice-analyzing lie detectors are being used by insurance companies:
Proponents of the voice-based technology see its utility in everything from telemarketing to matchmaking. In Britain, a growing number of insurance companies have been using it to screen telephone claims in hopes of rooting out fraud--a goal they say has been borne out, both in fraud detection and in deterrence. One insurer, Admiral, says 25 percent of its car-theft claims have been withdrawn since it began using the system a year ago.
Ah, but how soon before they use it in screening potential customers? And don't they need a control sample from a subject to compare voice stress?

As a doctor I knew in New Jersey pointed out years ago, insurance companies have changed from practicing "risk management" to "risk avoidance." This sounds like another tactic to use any excuse to avoid risk. Which would really suck if you get labeled a liar/potential fraud because you call your insurance company when you're emotionally stressed after, say, a car accident.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

And You Think You're Paranoid? 

BBC dispatch:
Nigerian mobile phone users have been anxiously checking who is calling them before answering them in recent days.

A rumour has spread rapidly in the commercial capital, Lagos, that if one answers calls from certain "killer numbers" then one will die immediately.

You gotta love the D.I.Y. ethic of the web... 

...Unless you're a targeted company, it seems. A current trendlet noted by Wired (the article focuses largely on U.K. examples) is unauthorized redesigns of bad websites:
Oxford University math graduate Matthew Somerville was only trying to do fellow movie fans a favor when, flummoxed by the "highly inaccessible" website for Britain's Odeon cinema chain, he decided to redesign the service himself.

Out went the JavaScript, cookies and confusing menus that had muddled many visitors looking for movie times. Somerville hosted a slimmed-down, simplified imitation on his own server, which garnered praise from many users.
For his efforts, he received a cease & desist order. In another case, a designer lost his job.

Sites mentioned on the receiving end of this treatment range from Wales' National Assembly to Britain's National Rail to services like BT's telephone directory, Slashdot, and the Internet Movie Database.

Another interesting tidbit:
This movement of "unsolicited consultants" is raising accessibility awareness in the industry because many pro designers still do not understand the guidelines, Zeldman added.

But, with the United Kingdom's anti-discrimination Disability Rights Commission saying it is "only a matter of time" before companies are sued for having inaccessible websites, usability is gaining a higher profile.

If I had the skills, I'd do my own redesign of All Music Guide's bad new interface. Oh, boy, would I ever...

Note to Ithaca folks... 

Fans of New York singer/songwriter Jesse Malin should be sure to peruse the liner notes of the new CD, The Heat. Among the names in the list of thank-you's are Brother Mike Cohen and Mike Stuto.

Congrats on the recognition, guys!

Road to Cell Paved with Good Intentions 

USA Today has the following article this morning:
The race is on to enable airline passengers to make and receive cell phone calls in flight.

Cell phone company Qualcomm has teamed with American Airlines to develop satellite-based air-to-ground cellular service. Several smaller companies are working on rival systems. In-flight cell service could be introduced within two years and become commonplace within four, developers believe.
Hmmm... Haven't we been told repeatedly that cell phones on airplanes can be dangerous?

For example, according to a 2000 BBC report:
Mobile phone calls made by passengers on aeroplanes can seriously affect the aircraft's on board equipment. The Civil Aviation Authority carried out tests on two parked aircraft at Gatwick Airport to find out the potential dangers of mobile phone use.

It found evidence that calls produced interference levels which could disrupt aircraft systems.

Faults that could be attributed to mobile phones use include false cockpit warnings, the malfunctioning of aircraft systems, interference in pilots' headsets and the distraction of cabin crews from their normal duties.
To be fair, the USA Today dispatch avers that "the FAA, airline safety watchdogs and pilots' groups must be convinced the calls won't interfere with aircraft systems and instruments."

Yet one wonders whether safety corners might be cut in the pursuit of huge potential revenues, not only for cellular companies, but for seriously struggling airlines.

Monday, July 19, 2004


So I was reading this article about a peer-to-peer software company that is headquartered in New York City, despite possible enormous financial and legal liability, and ran across an interesting quote. The legal mumbo-jumbo from a different P2P company's website is quoted:
'Please take notice: EarthstationV Ltd., a Palestinian corporation, does not accept any legal process via e-mail, nor will we accept any attachments via e-mail. For service of process, you must serve our legal department located at our offices in the Jenin refugee camp, Jenin, Palestine.'
The company is likely based there in an attempt to shelter themselves from the angry talons of U.S. record labels, but even so, that seems extreme. It would require one dedicated process server to sue these folks!

F-Stop Suspicion 

As someone who likes to take architectural photographs of buildings, bridges, and other structures, this frightens me...
Law enforcement officials said on Monday they are looking for a man seen taking pictures of two refineries in Texas City, Texas.


The man, described as white with dark hair, was seen taking pictures outside the refineries, all located on the same highway, at about 5 p.m. CDT on Saturday, said Bruce Clawson, emergency management and homeland security director for Texas City.

While it is not illegal to take pictures of a refinery from a highway or street, officials would like to talk to the man to find out his reason for taking the photographs.

"This is based on the idea that al Qaeda does its homework," Clawson said. "That's not to say we don't have enough home-grown idiots already who might want to do something."
Frankly, I'm still wary of taking pictures of the neat deco logos on a Pittsburgh federal building. Getting hauled in for questioning can really ruin one's afternoon...

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Airship Medalist? 

It's not a Zeppelin, but security measures for the Athens Olympics will include an airship:
The 200-foot airship, which coasted in from Switzerland this week, will provide aerial images of greater Athens to help police direct the most expensive security operation in Olympic history.


The airship, filled with noncombustible helium, is fitted with dome-shaped sensors, including chemical "sniffers" and ultrahigh resolution cameras that also work at night, as well as detectors to pinpoint unexpected changes in image patterns.
The article also predicts a rosy future for the craft:
Airships, used to watch over Allied navy convoys in World War II, are bidding to make a major comeback with the heightened need for security after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. 2001, and offer a cheaper and more flexible alternative to unmanned satellites.
Interesting. Blimps--not just for urban advertising anymore.

Here's my photo of a blimp spotted while I was taking photos of Miami Beach art deco:


Saturday, July 17, 2004

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture..." 

How about creating music by dancing?
Sound engineers could ditch their mixing desks if the work of researchers at Leeds University becomes reality.

Scientists are developing ways of capturing human movement in three dimensions which would allow music to be created with the gesture of an arm.

It would eliminate the need for music technicians to twiddle hundreds of knobs to achieve the perfect sound.
Finally! Music can not only be composed, but now mixed, via theramin!

Sideblog & Other Site News 

Okay, I've taken the plunge and added a sideblog. Apart from it being a pain in the ass to make it look like I want (it still isn't there), I think it'll be a nice addition to the site. The cable news nets have their omnipresent tickers, and I now have the sideblog.
Just trying to keep your information diet feast-like, not faminesque.
For the time being, I'm going to designate it for music news and information.
Meanwhile, Blogger has updated their publishing interface (there's a lot of that going on), so I'm not sure if I might accidentally change the look of these posts. Time will tell.
Finally, I decided to full-justify the text of these posts. Some readers might find the variable spacing between words on some lines annoying. Let me know what you think about it, either via email or post a comment below! Thanks!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Just nod thoughtfully, then excuse yourself to the restroom in hopes the conversation will be back to that unstoppable Jeopardy guy... 

Hawking rethink 'solves riddle of the black holes':
In an announcement that has sent waves of excitement through the rarefied world of astrophysics, Prof Stephen Hawking claims to have solved one of the greatest mysteries of black holes.

The world's best-known cosmologist will tell a scientific conference next week that black holes are not as "all-engulfing" as he, and most other physicists, once thought.


Dr Malcolm Perry, a Cambridge University theoretical physicist and a colleague of Prof Hawking, said the solution lay in the nature of a black hole's event horizon - the "point of no return".

Prof Hawking is proposing that the event horizons of black holes may not be "one-way streets" after all.

Although large objects would almost certainly be lost forever once sucked into a black hole, small amounts of information could gradually seep out over billions of years.

Another death 

New York Dolls bassist dead at 55:
New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane died Tuesday night in Los Angeles due to complications from leukemia, the pioneering '70s glam rock group's manager told Billboard.com. Kane was 55.
Related yet random memory: When Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders was found dead in 1991 of a drug overdose in New Orleans, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes was visiting my old station WHTG for an interview. A big Dolls fan, he found out about the death live on the air. He was pretty upset. I was the Production Director then, so after the interview I had to take him down into the bowels of the building and record station IDs with him. He couldn't keep focus. Somewhere I still have that ID session on tape.

The jig is up 

First Daughter (or Second, I forget who popped out first) Barbara Bush is a close talker:
I smile and Barbara Bush smiles wider. "Hi! How are you?" she says in a very loud voice. She immediately wraps her arms around me. "Oh my God," she says enthusiastically, "I love your shirt. Guys, look at her shirt." I am wearing a black turtleneck. Her friends look and nod approvingly. She surveys the room and steps very close to my face. For a minute I think she is going to kiss me. "Oh my God, this place is cool!" she shouts. "How long has it been here?" Even though the music is loud, her voice is much more forceful than needed to be heard.

"Since August," I say.

"It's so nice!" she says, adding, "You have pretty eyes."

I look around and spot Ariana and grab her arm. "Make sure that you give them a round on us," I tell her. "And, um, Barbara is a bit of a close-talker if you know what I mean."


From behind me I hear a loud voice. "Thank you, this is great, really." I turn around and there is Barbara, drink in hand, so close that if I just thrust my lips out a little we would touch.
From The Hostess Diary: My Year at a Hot Spot, a mini memoir that, oddly also includes a reference to a Chelsea Clinton visit to the titular hot spot.

First ZIP codes, then area codes, now... 

We're running out of VINs!
The 17-digit codes that identify the origin, make, model and attributes of cars, trucks, buses -- even trailers -- worldwide will be exhausted by the end of the decade.

And like an odometer that returns to zero and starts over again, a Vehicle Identification Number -- or VIN -- could be duplicated.

Experts say duplicated VINs would cause havoc for repair shops, state license offices, insurance agencies, law enforcement and other groups that use VINs to process warranty claims, investigate accident claims and recover stolen vehicles.
Just what we need! Something to potentially create longer waits at the DMV!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

R.I.P. Carlo Di Palma 

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma just died the other day at the age of 79. Best known for Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 classic Blowup and eleven films he shot for Woody Allen, including 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters.

Here's an obit and his filmography.

One of my favorite Di Palma-lensed films is Allen's Radio Days. Great retro look to the photography which lends a vivid haze-of-memory aspect to the tale. A detailed account of the film's shooting, including glimpses into Di Palma and Allen's work together, can be found in the book Woody Allen on Location.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

"Organ squared/As slow as possible" 

The longest composed musical performance in the history of the world gets exciting:
The addition of an E and E-sharp complement the G-sharp, B and G-sharp that have been playing since February 2003.
One day, I plan to catch part of the performance. Seriously.

Say What (Did He Say)? 

I was just reading an interesting article about CD copyprotection companies trying to make their schemes compatible with iPods, and I ran across this paragraph:

"It's clear that because the hot portable player of (the day) is a constantly shifting target, the (era) of having fixed (digital rights management) stored on CDs is over," said Adam Gervin, senior director of marketing at Macrovision.

What is up with all the parenthetical insertions? I expect that Gervin used the "DRM" shorthand for "digital rights management," so I can understand that change. The other two insertions, however, are completely inscrutable to me.

Any guesses? I emailed the article's writer, so hopefully I'll get a definitive answer.
UPDATE: No response from the writer (as of 7/17), so the mystery remains.

The Fifth Hope 

I was bummed not to be able to go to The Fifth Hope conference in NYC this past weekend. I went to the last one two years ago, titled "H2K2", and it was great.

It focuses on computers, hacking, technology, and related political and sociological issues. Though I'm fairly illiterate in many topics covered, it's still very interesting.

Jello Biafra was going to be a speaker again this year, which would likely be entertaining. Their social engineering panel is always a hoot, where panelists demonstrate the inherent risk of the human link in the security chain by extracting information from businesses live on the phone.

They usually add recordings of speakers and panels after the fact (it sometimes takes a long time) on their speaker page which makes for some interesting listening.

UPDATE: Media coverage here and here.


All Music Guide updates their site today. If you, like myself or a good deal of us in a popular music-related field, use this resource on a nearly daily basis, this is quite a big deal.

So far, I'm a little disappointed. First of all, they appear to have added some ActiveX into their interface. I have my browser set to ask me for permission to run these, so it takes longer to access the site. Of course, that's just me--I'm a nut.

The artist layout is less helpful, too. Discographies are on a separate, tabbed page from the bio which, again, takes longer to access info.

Of course, the whole site is slow and buggy at this time. Hopefully things will improve.

The main reason I've come to rely on on allmusic.com so much is because it's a lot quicker--and more portable, in the sense that I can use it while I'm at home, in my office, or on the radio--than the many books I own which might cover the same material.

If the site becomes less convenient, I might have to crack the books more often (and, chances are, not one of the All Music Guide books).

UPDATE: Bleah! The full biographies are on a separate page, too. They've added advanced search functionality (a good thing) but you have to register to use it (a bad thing). They also warn potential registrants:
Please be aware that your browser must accept cookies in order to successfully login so that we can identify your account. You may also need to adjust your firewall or browser security to login.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Things that Make You Go Hmmm... 

While doing some internet research recently, I stumbled across something that seemed rather odd to me. I thought I'd share. This is from a Christian music website message board, in a thread from a year ago.

One person posted, "Please dont get me started on Christian rap which has got to be one of the worst things ever to surface."

To which another replied, "Dude...then you need to listen to some of KJ-52 or the Tunnel Rats stuff, cuz not only do they have some seriously phat beats going there, they also are a bold witness for Christ..."

Doesn't this sound a tad askew?

The exchange can be read here (final post on the page).

Hi-tech shall set ye free... 

...or strand ye.

A story in the Washington Post describes events where large numbers of cars' keyless entry were rendered useless:
Three years ago, thousands of drivers in Bremerton, Wash., were stumped on two occasions when their push-button remotes proved impotent. It happened in Las Vegas in February, prompting hundreds of calls to car dealerships and locksmiths. And in May, a two-way radio system being tested at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle jammed remote control garage door openers in communities near the base.

In most cases, remote control failure is little more than a curiosity, as drivers can simply use their keys to unlock the doors. Some cars, however, require the device to deactivate an alarm or start the engine. Charles Vernon, a retiree from Accokeek whose remote first malfunctioned at the mall in Waldorf on May 10, said the problem is a safety issue and an inconvenience.
The Post's conclusion? Probably interference from the military:
Military radio signals have been implicated in other frequency mishaps in recent years. In Bremerton, the home of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the first outage occurred about the time the USS Carl Vinson returned to port. Less than a month later, the second failure of keyless entry corresponded with the arrival of another aircraft carrier for maintenance, according to news reports. A subsequent FCC investigation could not prove the cause of the outages.
My conclusion? Mandatory keyless entry (i.e., with no backup system for entering and starting a car) is a damn foolish idea. Unless you're after a 2,000 lb. paperweight.

If you don't have a registration for the Washington Post, try clicking here to Google and then click though to the story (WaPo seems to allow unregistered access when linked from Google--any link to the Post can be similarly pasted into Google and, voila! access!).

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Chiquita plans costlier, tastier bananas:
Bananas flavored with the hint of another fruit could help Chiquita become the Starbucks of the produce world, the company's leader says, envisioning a larger, creamier or sweeter banana.

Chiquita International Brands Inc. has taken its bananas to the research lab as part of an effort to make the fruit more appealing to consumers -- and to persuade them to pay more, president and CEO Fernando Aguirre told the Associated Press in an interview.
Sigh. Don't you just love it (he asked with irony) when people completely miss the point of things?

Many businesses have frequently pointed to Starbucks (or bottled water) and asked, "Hey, how can we also quadruple our price and, instead of complaining, people love it?" So they come up with silly plans to, say, make larger, creamier or sweeter bananas and charge $2.50 per pound.

This, of course, ignores several important features of the Starbucks phenomenon (and let me first say for the record that while I have bought many a Cafe Mocha Grande at Starbucks, I am no booster of the company, have never been either of the two types described below, and much prefer non-chain coffeehouses).

It seems to me that a good chunk of Starbucks customers began as one of two archetypes: the dash-out-from-work take-out person and the in-store lingerer. And both of these individuals are purchasing the experience as much as the product.

The dash-out-from-work person is not only looking for that caffeine buzz, but they want to be able to step away from the office for a few minutes (and perhaps, in so doing, socialize with a couple of coworkers) like the smokers do. I'm sure many of these folks already have a Mr. Coffee in their office for a free or cheap caffeine fix, but the change of pace from their workday is just as important as the colloidally-suspended bean-particle hot beverage they buy.

And the in-store lingerer is not only getting the coffee but they're renting space to read the paper, tap away on their laptop, or chat with others. For many of these folks, paying more money also serves a similar but lower-level societal function as ritzy restaurants--it's an economic gatekeeper to keep the "riffraff" out.

The larger, creamier or sweeter banana will do none of these things. And unless they open up their own chain of bananahouses and stock it with the banana version of tomacco, they're bound to fall flat on their peel.

I'm Kent Brockman, and that's My Two Cents.

The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the...Musical? 

Star names join Python on Broadway:
David Hyde Pierce, Tim Curry and Hank Azaria were named Wednesday as the leading trio for next year's Broadway-bound production of Monty Python's "Spamalot."

"Spamalot," to be directed by Oscar and Tony Award winner Mike Nichols, is billed as "the musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail,"' the 1975 comedy directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones.
David Hyde Pierce.........Sir Robin
Tim Curry..................King Arthur
Hank Azaria...............Sir Lancelot

Wow, that's pretty cool. And CNN's story (linked to above) has one of the hippest photo captions I've seen in a while: "David Hyde Pierce was tapped to play Sir Robin. And there was much rejoicing."

Brief Tim Curry interview here. Tickets for the pre-Broadway Chicago run on sale Fall 2004.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Choose (Your Words) or Lose! 

Smartly-suited marketing types have always tried to fathom the minds of kids and young adults, with wildly varying degrees of success. This is often a train wreck, and it somehow gets worse when addressing younger adults of voting age during election years.

Case in point: The Republican National Committee, in partnership with MTV's "Choose or Lose" initiative, held an essay contest titled "Stand Up and Holla!"

The writer of the winning essay would be allowed to read it at the Republican convention in New York (the counterpart Democratic contest was more demurely labeled "Speak Out for the Future"). This begs the question: which low-level party functionary will be assigned to introduce the contest winner at the convention, and thus will have to say "holla" in a national broadcast?

Meanwhile, World Wrestling Entertainment has their own program to encourage its fans to exercise democratic participation: "Smackdown Your Vote!"

From a purely lexicographer's POV, this phrase makes little sense. While the "Rock the Vote" program has verbiage that works--although "rock" can be a little nebulous in its non-musical usage, at least it generally connotes intensity: to "rock your world" is sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but it's intended as something undeniably present--"Smackdown Your Vote!" doesn't really do the trick.

A "smackdown" is basically bad for somebody. And by using "your vote" as the phrase's verb's object, the slogan seems empty-headed at best, suggestive of disenfranchisement at worst (being prevented from voting would surely, semantically-speaking, represent a "smackdown" of "your vote").

Actions sometimes speak louder than words, however, and some voter registration drives reflect this belief. From Rochester, NY:
Here's a way to get young people registered to vote: Give them free beer.

That’s the plan at today’s East End Festival. Monroe County Democrats have teamed up with High Falls Brewery to offer two free 2-ounce beers to those who register to vote at the festival.

Then the new voter can go into a real voting booth and pick the brew they liked the most. The promotion is called "Register Your Taste."
And from Wisconsin:
Patrons at strip clubs throughout the country and now at some of the roughly 75 clubs in Wisconsin are being asked to put bosoms and bare bottoms out of their minds - for a minute - and to focus instead on election ballots.

Club owners are posting signs, handing out forms and even providing envelopes and stamps, anything to get customers to register to vote.

It's all part of a push by the adult entertainment industry to be heard in the 2004 presidential election. Industry advocates say President Bush's conservative agenda threatens the livelihood of their businesses and jeopardizes the First Amendment.
Effective? Doubtful.

Worth trying? I holla yes!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Guidelines for Canceling Elections 

I take it back when I asked the other day whether this election year can top 1992 for weirdness.

I think it just did:
The government needs to establish guidelines for canceling or rescheduling elections if terrorists strike the United States again, says the chairman of a new federal voting commission.


"Look at the possibilities. If the federal government were to cancel an election or suspend an election, it has tremendous political implications. If the federal government chose not to suspend an election it has political implications," said [chairman DeForest B.] Soaries, a Republican and former secretary of state of New Jersey.

"Who makes the call, under what circumstances is the call made, what are the constitutional implications?" he said.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Virtually Empiric 

Seeing something 'with one's own eyes' is not the proof is used to be, at least not when viewed through any technological filter. Photos can be manipulated so easily and cleverly these days that not only doctored images can be passed off as genuine, but real visuals can be charged as fakes with increasing plausibility.

Dartmouth Professor Hany Farid has been working on a method for detecting fake images:
Farid and Dartmouth graduate student Alin Popescu have developed a mathematical technique to tell the difference between a "real" image and one that's been fiddled with. Consider a photo of two competing CEOs talking over a document labeled "confidential - merger," or a photo of Saddam Hussein shaking hands with Osama bin Laden. The Dartmouth algorithm, presented recently at the 6th International Workshop on Information Hiding, in Toronto, Canada, can determine if someone has manipulated the photos, like blending two photos into one, or adding or taking away objects or people in an image.
The method uses a mathmatical algorithm to see if the image's data show what amounts to digital cracks where different images were joined.
Farid's algorithm looks for the evidence inevitably left behind after image tinkering. Statistical clues lurk in all digital images, and the ones that have been tampered with contain altered statistics.

"Natural digital photographs aren't random," he says. "In the same way that placing a monkey in front of a typewriter is unlikely to produce a play by Shakespeare, a random set of pixels thrown on a page is unlikely to yield a natural image. It means that there are underlying statistics and regularities in naturally occurring images."
I wonder whether this approach could be defeated by taking a digital photo of the doctored image, but still very interesting.

Beach Footwear Fears 

Fiendish Flip-Flops?
They're a summer must for the in-crowd in Germany -- flip-flops. They come in bright colors, vibrant patterns and suggest innocent, sunshine-dappled, lazy days. They might also make you sterile or worse.


The German consumer affairs magazine Ökotest tested 25 different brands of the shoes; 14 of them emerged with an "unsatisfactory" rating. Why? There are toxic substances living among those happy colors and trippy designs. The more expensive the shoes, it seems, the more harmful they might be.

The test found several different kinds of toxins in the shoes, among them phthalate, with his suspected of acting like a hormone when introduced to the human body and can damage the liver, kidneys or the reproductive system.
Just when Germans thought it was safe to go back in the water, the walk there may cause acute renal shutdown.

Hot Hot Heat 

Start-up develops tiny hot plate that burns like Venus:
The company's micro hot plates--which measure on average 100 microns by 100 microns--can reach higher temperatures much faster than existing tiny heating units, but are also more robust and less prone to failure, according to Rick Mlcak, president co-founder of the company.

The unit takes only about 1 one-thousandth of a second to hit peak temperature of 1,100 degrees Celsius, or 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit. That's about the same temperature as the surface of Venus. The rapid climb in temperature, in part, comes from the small size of the unit, the materials involved and the design of the plate.
It would probably be a tad excessive for college students to use this to cook dorm-room ramen noodles...

He Coulda Been a Contender... 

But when he died at the age of 80 in a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday, from lung failure and heart problems, he was by all accounts living in virtual penury. His home was a shabby one-bedroom bungalow in Beverly Hills.

By Brando's own admission, his income in his final years was "limited and sporadic", the sole constants his pensions from the state and the Screen Actors Guild, totalling £4,000 a month.

Happy Independence Day! 

As John Adams excitedly wrote home to Abigail,
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this time forward forever more.
Of course, he was writing about July 2--the day the Declaration of Independence was actually approved--but who wants to quibble?

(Adams quoted in Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie)

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Partial Fahrenheit 9/11 Transcript 

In case you're interested. It's not the whole thing, but a good chunk of it. Caveat emptor on the veracity of the transciption.

Part 1.
Part 2.

'Be Prepared' for $250 Lemonade. 

Boy Scouts offer $250 lemonade:
A Boy Scout troop tried to put a dent in a potential $14 million judgment Friday by selling lemonade -- at $250 a glass.

The federal and state governments earlier this week sued the Boy Scouts of America to recover costs of the 2002 East Fork fire, allegedly started by Utah Scouts.


Troop 347 of Fruit Heights, a suburb north of Salt Lake City, was not involved in the camping trip two years ago that officials say precipitated the fire -- a fact that the boys pointed out to potential donors -- but they still wanted to help their fellow Scouts.

The 12- and 13-year-olds spent two hours hawking lemonade to build up a fund in case the Boys Scouts lose the lawsuit.

But $14 million is a lot of lemonade, so prices were inflated a bit. A sip cost $1, a small glass $3 and for $250, folks could get a large -- about 16 ounces.

"If only one person in 40 in the entire state of Utah buys a large, it's over," said Scott Fisher, a morning radio disc jockey who helped organize the fund-raising event.
Does walking old ladies across the street cost $50 now?

Quotes For Posterity and Stuff 

Maybe I'm odd, but if The New York Times called me for a quote I would at least try to be articulate. In today's edition, I ran across the following quote from an article about how telecoms count customers:
Accounting for subscribers "will get more complex," said Richard Nespola, chief executive of the Management Network Group, a consultant to telecommunications companies.

"When you have convergence and you smash all these things together, stuff is going to happen and stuff that people don't like," he said.
According to Nespola's company's website, he is a "noted conference speaker." I imagine hearing Nespola speak about stuff would surely be noteworthy and stuff.

Friday, July 02, 2004


Truthfully, terrestrial news kept my attention wholly diverted from NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn until yesterday. I was just having a conversation with a science teacher about the pros & cons about manned vs. unmanned space exploration, and it prompted me to check out the latest from NASA. The images being sent back are pretty cool, there's no doubt of that. According to NASA,
Through Cassini we hope to gain a better understanding of the planet Saturn, its famous rings, its magnetosphere, its principal moon Titan and its other moons or "icy satellites."
Check out some of the lastest images here. Some Saturn images are here. Images of the moon Titan are here.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Brave New World 

As mentioned here previously, the notion of politicking via online gaming has arrived. The New York Times has an article about the practice:
Some skeptics say the partisan games are mere election-year novelties. "The games are anecdotes," said Andrew Rasiej, an Internet impresario who organized a recent conference on digital democracy at the New School for Social Research in New York. "They're cute and nice, and people will send them to each other, but they're not going to capture their imagination because that populace will recognize that the culture that's creating these games isn't a natural Net culture. It's a typical political machine using it to showcase itself."

But advocates say the game format offers a powerful new political vehicle. Traditional forms of political communication like advertising treat voters as passive recipients of rhetoric, they say, while games entice the potential voter to interact with the message.
New paradigms are being forged all the time, here in this brave new century.

I was just joking with colleagues yesterday that the best way to boost turnout at the polls in today's culture would be to introduce sweepstakes. When you receive your mailed voting instructions, you might also receive an entry card that you deposit in a box at your polling place. Perhaps one winner per state of, say, $500,000.

For a mere outlay of $25 million from the federal government, a tiny drop in the today's budget bucket, turnout could be significantly increased.

Round up the Theater Posses 

"Pardon me, sir, would you mind removing your vigilante hat?"

Studios Offer Rewards to Thwart Piracy:
Film studios and movie theaters are joining forces to offer rewards of up to $500 to theater employees who nab people using camcorders to record films.

The rewards program is the latest in a series of efforts to stem camcording piracy, which the Motion Picture Association of America estimates costs the industry billions of dollars each year.
Frankly, I wonder how many theater employees are involved in movie taping themselves...

New 'Hitchhiker' Radio Series 

I'm hugely excited about this:
The late Douglas Adams, creator of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will be heard in the first new radio adaptation of his work in 25 years.

He recorded the part of Agrajag in his home studio 18 months before he died in 2001, aged 49.

Digital technology will be used to include his voice in a 14-part adaptation of the final three Hitchhiker books on BBC Radio 4.
More than anything except perhaps the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy led me into a career in radio.

While it's cool that Adams will be posthumously heard on the new series, the fact that a new series is coming is tremendous. Particularly so, as...
Five of the original radio cast are taking part in the new series, including Simon Jones as Arthur Dent and Geoffrey McGivern as his alien travelling companion Ford Prefect.

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