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

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Florida Redux Fears 

Election Overseers Want Big Win:
"Dear God, please, please, please ... let the winner win big."

That was the prayer uttered last week by the nation's election officials as they gathered for a conference in Washington, D.C., the last time they will meet nationally before November's presidential election.

State and county election officials from around the country are praying that this year's presidential race ends with a wider margin of victory than it did four years ago when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by only 547 votes. A close victory this year would likely result in more charges of voter fraud and calls for recounts, two things that election officials don't relish.
All analog audio tape has a certain amount of noise. If the recorded audio dips below the noise level, the listener will no longer hear the intended signal and will instead only hear noise.

Similarly, it seems every election has all manner of freaky problems. These election officials seriously fear it when the public hears that frightening noise in the scary underbelly of our voting system.

But if there's a loud election, then no one hears the noise.

Of course, the noise is still there. According to Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, a nonprofit organization that trains election officials nationwide:
"When you have the sheer number of what we have in elections in this country, it is unlikely that everything is going to go perfect," Lewis said. In the eyes of election officials, he added, a seemingly perfect election is simply one in which mistakes don't become common knowledge, and it would be folly to think that something won't go wrong this year.
Reassuring, no?

The Death of Rob Gordon 

Blood on the tracks for LP 'anoraks'?
Technology is changing the huge global market for record collectors. As music dealers like those immortalised in the book High Fidelity disappear, will vinyl and CD rarities survive the download revolution?

Second-hand record shops are becoming almost as rare a sighting in the UK as a first edition Beatles EP.
Rob Gordon is, of course, the character John Cusack played in High Fidelity (sorry, Hornby fans--to me, it's a movie not a book).

I am no detractor of downloaded music, but I find it ironic that many who shudder at the idea of shopping at a predatory corporate giant like Wal-Mart gleefully shop on iTunes--even though it represents something similar. Face it, Apple's iTunes is a huge national company which uses lower prices, greater depth of selection, and exclusive merchandise cut through backroom deals to lure people away from competing local shops.

It's easy to see Apple as the David fighting Microsoft's Goliath (despite the fact that Microsoft owns a piece of Apple), or to frame the music-selling battle as Apple trying to wrest market-share away from evil electronic box stores (Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.), but it's no mom-and-pop operation.

One of the ironic consequences of our age is that the egalitarian promise of the internet also makes mom-and-pop-level commerce very difficult (if not impossible over the long term). While worldwide reach becomes possible on the seller side, near-unlimited product choice becomes the expectation on the buyer side.

And while some, among music consumers, have embraced peer-to-peer downloading in revolt against this ironic state of affairs, the initial playing field of this situation makes for smaller Davids and ever more powerful Goliaths in combat.

Monday, August 30, 2004

You've Come a Long Way, Primate 

Frustrated chimp takes up smoking:
Sexual frustration has driven a mild-mannered chimpanzee to take up smoking and spitting, according to China's Xinhua news agency.


Xinhua reported that Feili [the chimp] became excited when she saw a visitor light up a cigarette, and grew impatient when they showed no sign of giving it to her.
I'm nearly certain I met Feili in a bar once.


Moving water molecules by light.
A team of researchers at Arizona State University has demonstrated the ability to move water molecules by light -- a phenomenon they believe could have widespread use in analytical chemistry and possibly pharmaceutical research.

The discovery could have an important effect on the fledgling field of microfluidics, said Tony Garcia, an associate professor in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering. The use of an ordinary beam of light to move water around without the need for potentially damaging electric fields, air bubbles (which can denature proteins), or moving microscopic mechanical pump parts (which are expensive to make and difficult to repair) could significantly aid development of microfluidic devices, which are themselves tiny, sophisticated devices that can analyze samples.
Mr. Unsupportable Extrapolation sez, "In the near future, therefore, cell phones will double as cola dispensers!"

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Protest Internet Radio Update 

As I mentioned below, I wound up listening a lot today to the A-Noise coverage of protests in NYC. It was actually a lot better then I thought it would be. I was expecting a bit of a humorous train wreck, but some of the "anchor" hosts were very effective keeping the coverage moving along and cogent.

People out in the streets, both average protest participants and A-Noise reporters (although few, if any, of their reporters weren't also participants), called in throughout the day with updates on whatever they observed. Obviously that could be a recipe for disaster (which is what I expected), but the calls tended to be fairly vivid descriptions of events.

Naturally, people tended to be over-the-top in their political viewpoints, but that made for some unusual entertainment value. A series of cheers from a Radical Cheerleader group was featured at several points, for example, as well as an amusing interview with a political puppeteer.

Of course, when fatigue and paranoia started to set in and "reports" started to come in that paramilitary and national guard troops were about to come after protesters (typical of the rumor-mill of a large protest) it started to sound less like entertainment and more like a War of the World-style drama.

But the technical ability on display was pretty amazing. They not only had the live webcast with multiple broadcastable phone lines, but they had pre-recorded segments, replays of earlier events, and a connection to another group's webcast feed. And they mentioned that they were simulcasting the webstream on two pirate radio frequencies so that people in the streets could tune in.

I sure hope the domestic strife of the '60s doesn't return--but if it does, the folks in the underground apparently won't have to rely only on leaflets and word of mouth.

New Cool, Medium? 

Actress Rosario Dawson was reportedly just arrested in NYC, not for protest-related actively, but for shooting an update of the 1969 Haskell Wexler film Medium Cool.

The new version is titled This Revolution, and it's being shot amidst the backdrop of RNC protests:
Instead of the riotous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago - Wexler's setting - [director Stephen] Marshall's movie exploits the political conventions of 2004, following the travels of a fictional cameraman, played by [Nate] Crooker, through the real-life happenings of Boston and New York.
According to Marshall:
"The protagonist is Jake Cassavetes...who is a famed war shooter just back from Iraq and is shooting the conventions when he finds out that his network has made a Faustian deal with Homeland Security to pass his footage over to quote-unquote 'terror threats.' That kind of draws from Haskell's original script, in which he intimates that the main character's footage is being given to the FBI for COINTELPRO." When This Revolution began shooting at the DNC last month, "we were involved in a huge scuffle where the cops grabbed a couple of guys and beat them down and we got that all on tape. We shot the state troopers in SWAT gear coming out and lining up and marching around—I'm like, this is an action sequence with production values that I could never afford!"
Sounds intriguing, and no doubt the apparent Dawson arrest will provide extra depth to the story.

NYC RNC Audio Weirdness 

I'm a big fan of crazy radio broadcasts. Whether it's freaky shortwave programs or low-grade internet radio, I just find it fascinating.

Some of the folks protesting the Republican National Convention in New York have set up an internet radio station, and they're encouraging people to call in with reports of anything convention- or protest-related.

In theory, this coverage is admirable. More independent media outlets with actual primary-source reporting is always welcome. But like the network of Indy Media websites (with which this protest coverage is affiliated), though, theory and practice don't often have a snug fit.

Raw, unedited reportage from average folks can often be riveting--but it's often just plain gawdawful. Attempts at democratized media (which usually means participation is open to all and editorial review is minimal or nonexistent) is certainly less noxious that fully concentrated media control, but for goodness' sake, get an editor in there!

A truly democratic media is a chimera, anyway. All voices are never going to be equal. The best voices or the ones saying the most interesting things (or, perhaps, the most shocking things) will always capture more attention. That's just human nature. As internet theorist Clay Shirky writes:
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
The Shirky article is definitely worth reading. Shirky rules. But I digress.

I was listening to this protester net radio last night, dubbed A-Noise, and it was a mixture of the bizarrely compelling and the abjectly boring. I'll definitely be tuning in today--it'll surely be a hub of activity with the big march and "non-rally" in Central Park.

Low bandwidth stream
High bandwidth stream

Fear and Loathing in Geosynchronous Orbit 

Homegrown satellite radio software draws XM fire:
Catching Blondie's reunion tour broadcast at 4 in the morning wasn't an option for XM satellite radio subscriber and single father Scott MacLean. "I was missing concerts that were being broadcasted when I was asleep or out," he said.

So the 35-year-old computer programmer from Ottawa, Ontario, wrote a piece of software that let him record the show directly onto his PC hard drive while he snoozed.

The software, TimeTrax, also neatly arranged the individual songs from the concert, complete with artist name and song title information, into MP3 files.

Then MacLean started selling the software, putting him in the thick of a potential legal battle pitting technically savvy fans against a company protecting its alliance — and licensing agreements — with the music industry.
The fact that the music industry is getting freaked out over this demonstrates just how threatened our future ability to record anything for personal use is. This software is basically just a smart VCR for XM radio.

The flap suggests two points:

1. Expect a serious attempt to overturn the Sony Betamax decision (or at least rendered toothless by Congress). Clearly, the music/movie industries have set their sights on killing this Supreme Court case, which made home video taping for personal use legal, by preventing it from being extended to any new technology. Fortunately, not all courts are willing to go along with them.

2. Expect any analog copying to come under the same fire as digital copying. The RIAA have made statements at times that "digital copying" was the real problem, since it theoretically allows for unlimited perfect copying. But as the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (AHRA), as the RIAA themselves pointed out (via a now-defunct consumer outreach website, quoted here), "As long as the copying is done for noncommericial use, the AHRA gives consumers immunity from suit for all analog music copying."

Here's the catch, though. The above article states that the software "essentially marries the song information with an analog recording of the broadcasts, then stores this in MP3 files." The recording is likely made using analog audio outputs, but since the recording is then stored digitally the RIAA will likely argue that it becomes a digital copy and, thus, liable for a lawsuit.

The article quotes RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy as saying "We remain concerned about any devices or software that permit listeners to transform a broadcast into a music library" (emphasis added). Digital, analog, whatever.

Though time-shifting via recording is currently protected under the Sony Betamax decision, the RIAA wishes to prevent any after-the-fact manipulation of that recording--which could enable a user to automatically separate the broadcast into individual songs.

The RIAA recently asked the FCC to mandate a "broadcast flag," or copy protection, on future digital radio broadcasting:
The proposed functionality would allow users to make digital copies of transmissions but not to break those copies up into individual tracks.


The major record companies are concerned that digital radio will be used as a means of copying CD-quality music and uploading it onto file-sharing services on the Internet; at the same time, they know they must avoid restricting time-shifting activities that are guaranteed by legal precedent. Digital radio users would be allowed to edit copies of broadcasts into individual songs, of course, if they convert the content to analog or transcode it into an editable digital format; such processes amount to "speed bumps" that hinder the scalability of pirate activity.
This "speed bump" theory of copy prevention is dopey at best. It just takes one person to make the effort, and then the fruits of that individual's labors could be shared freely.

I think I'm drifting far off-point, but then again, I'm not sure I had a single point. I think the upshot is, as always: drop the price of legal music, and the problem largely goes away.

UPDATE: Yesterday came word that XM has discontinued selling its computer radio receiver. And "a source close to the company agreed that the TimeTrax situation had influenced the withdrawal of the hardware." A spokesperson for the RIAA is quoted by the article with the ominously transparent statement that XM has "obviously decided to take this action on their own. We've identified for them the potential problems" (which is not quite "We made them an offer they couldn't refuse," but it's in the same ballpark).

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Uh, This is News? 

Foghat: No Ride With Bush:
U.S. News & World Report mistakenly reported that the band would be joining Randy Travis and Bobby Womack on a pro-Bush concert tour designed to counter the anti-Bush rock roadshow featuring Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. "I have no idea where they got that," Foghat drummer Roger Earl tells PAGE SIX. "Foghat are not supporters of George Bush, and we're certainly not going on the road with him."
And Bobby Womack? This is the guy who wrote "The family on the other side of town/Would catch hell without a ghetto around" in his magnum opus "Across 110th Street." Of course, it could be the religious connection (I don't know, I'm only guessing)--that's, I assume, why the Blind Boys of Alabama are performing at the Republican National Convention.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Ah, the Ol' No. 2! 

Old-Fashioned Pencil Still School Staple:
Back-to-school shopping lists are constantly evolving to keep up with technological advancements, many even including cell phones, laptops, Blackberrys and iPods. But one clear staple remains — the pencil.


Though there is a trend toward online testing, there has not been a real drop-off in paper and pencil testing, Loomer said. "Not everyone has a computer, but I guarantee you can get everyone a pencil," Loomer said.
Of course, the article also proves that even in such a humble and staid territory as pencil-land you still get smacked with marketing hype.
Mike Finn, spokesman for PaperMate, which says it is the biggest producer of pencils in the United States, said pencils are still popular and necessary. Demand for pencils is strong, he said, but children are interested in more modern pencil options, not just the simple yellow wooden pencil. An increasing number of children are opting for mechanical pencils or color pencils, but PaperMate's general sales of pencils have not waned as technology increasingly enters classrooms and children's homes, he said.

Musgrave Pencil Co. in Shelbyville, Tenn., has seen an increase in preference for fancy pencils in recent years. Lynn Hulan of Musgrave said the pencils preferred today tend to have bright colors and often include slogans such as "I Love to Read" and "Honor Roll."
Let's hope that the "Honor Roll"-pencil kids aren't getting beat up by the "I Have a Rap Sheet"-pencil kids, and that the "I Love to Read"-pencil kids are safe from the "I Take Shop Class to Learn New Tools So I Can Torture Squirrels in New Ways"-pencil kids.

Fulfillment of The Jetsons Promise 

This sounds like one of those articles we'll re-read in 20 years, and laugh and laugh at how naive we were:
Even Tim Draper, founder of fabled Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson,...has recently asked for proposals from outfits developing flying cars. Indeed, while an airborne vehicle may still be 10 to 20 years away, it's already making some VCs see green.

In theory, as everyone begins flying to work, these contraptions could dwarf today's $850 billion auto industry. The devices -- ranging from air taxis to personal flying machines -- could breathe life into aerospace companies' growth or create a whole new generation of startups. Best of all, some versions of this vision could start to come true within several years.
That's from a fully serious write-up from Business Week, of all places. And, as if that's not an insanely optimistic assessment, we next get into 1950s-movie-villains-pulsing-brains territory:
Eventually, passengers might even be able to read the paper or eat breakfast while their flying car's brain does all the work. University of Florida researchers are hoping to use a bunch of living neurons -- located in a sealed dish on the ground -- to pilot a toy plane through the air.

The neurons, which are nerve cells found in the brain and the spinal cord, are connected to silicon chips that would communicate with the plane wirelessly. In today's experiments, however, they keep in touch through a long cable. Sensors on the plane collect information about its surroundings and pass their findings -- such as images of a fast-approaching building -- to the neurons, which then tell the plane to swerve away.
And then the neurons unionize and demand a 20% pay hike.

I certainly believe that these things are possible, and even likely (although Mother Nature's overpopulation controls make long-term predictions dicey). But flying cars in 10-20 years? And us with nearly 43,000 fatalities last year on mere wheeled vehicles?

Color me cynical (a shade darker than cyan), but I don't buy it (and probably couldn't afford it, even if I wanted to buy it).

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Iraqi Holy City Left Broken by Urban Warfare

(or, if you don't have a Washington Post account, use this clickthrough link):

At one point this week, soldiers from a 1st Cavalry Division battalion led by M1-A1 Abrams tanks and heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles watched in bemused wonder as their opponent sent a donkey with a rocket-propelled grenade strapped to its side onto the field of battle. The remote triggering device was a string running toward the building corner from which the animal had emerged.

"We actually had reports of 'engage and destroy the donkey,' " said Maj. Tim Karcher of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. The animal appears to have died as another enemy casualty.

Dumbest Caption Award 

Although it would be damn hard to top my favorite dumb caption of all time*, CNN.com had a beaut the other day. In an article about the 20th anniversary of the first movie rated PG-13 (the actual date was August 10th, so CNN was oddly two weeks late in observing the milestone), they had the following caption for a photo of a theater marquee:
Today, many movies -- including several of the top box office successes in history -- are rated PG-13.
No shit?

My guess is CNN.com's new caption writer was hired away from a pop-up book company.

UPDATE: Newsweek online has a new entry into the dumb caption awards. Accompanying an article about the alleged Pentagon mole allegedly passing alleged secrets to Israel, there's a photo showing an Iranian tank. The caption reads "A show of force: Iran displays its military might at the border with Israel." Border?!?! (via Atrios).

* USA Today has the award, in my book, for the dumbest photo caption ever. Accompanying a story about mad cow disease in the mid '90s, they included a photo of a cow. The caption read, "Cow."


This Song Is Your Song 

So it looks like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" is a song for all of us now. The copyright infringement claim over the JibJab nettoon featuring Bush & Kerry singing a satirical version of the tune has been dropped by its publisher, Ludlow Music.

And, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the song has actually been public domain for three decades:
Woody Guthrie wrote his classic American song in 1940, when the copyright laws granted a copyright term of 28 years, renewable once for an additional 28. According to EFF, the initial copyright term was triggered when Guthrie sold his first versions of the song as sheet music in 1945. The copyright on the song then ran out when Ludlow failed to renew its registration in 1973.
Ludlow disputes those assertions, but one wonders whether they stopped pursuing this claim so that they didn't have a court definitively declare the song public domain.

After all, some of their other statements in this case were wildly off the mark, including a declaration by their legal representative, Paul LiCalsi, that...
...the JibJab movie does not technically classify as a parody of "This Land." In order to qualify legally as a parody of the song, LiCalsi said, the new material must comment on or criticize the ideas represented by the original property. Since JibJab was making a statement about politics, and not Guthrie's song, he said, the film's use of "This Land" was not protected.
Sure, I'm no lawyer, but that's hogwash. Fer crissakes, the key Supreme Court decision is Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, in which 2 Live Crew's version of "Pretty Woman" was held to be a parody of the Roy Orbison classic (in which the substitution of "predictable lyrics with shocking ones" apparently showed "how bland and banal the Orbison song" is). Clearly, the flimsiest of parodies.

Meanwhile, the JibJab song is a satire on the highest level of national political discourse using one of the supposed archtypical American songs of populist nationalism*. Surely this can be construed as a comment on the original song.

Copyright owners always wish their properties will be protected forever--and often game the system to try to make it so. Just look at all the hand-wringing amongst copyright companies in Europe now that early rock 'n' roll recordings are about to lose copyright protection.

These folks should remember that if it weren't for adaptations of public domain works, the U.S. wouldn't have its national anthem.

* People who insist on believing that the Guthrie song is a nationalist anthem apparently ignore the verse which goes "As I was walking, I saw a sign there/And that sign said 'No trespassing/But on the other side, it didn't say nothing/Now that side was made for you and me!" as well as the concluding one about the people "grumbling" near the relief office.


Three Cheers for the Little Guy 

I just read two completely unrelated and wildly different sort of stories that are linked by their demonstration that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.

First, here's this story titled Giant Slayer from the anti-sprawl desk:
Albert Norman has made a minicareer out of blocking Wal-Mart. He has evidently had some success.... He says in the last decade he has helped towns from Charlevoix, Mich. to Hood River, Ore. to Eureka, Calif. beat back 180 Wal-Marts (and 70 other big-box stores).
And next, here's a press release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics:
Fifteen years ago, the largest telescopes in the world had yet to locate a planet orbiting another star. Today telescopes no larger than those available in department stores are proving capable of spotting previously unknown worlds. A newfound planet detected by a small, 4-inch-diameter telescope demonstrates that we are at the cusp of a new age of planet discovery. Soon, new worlds may be located at an accelerating pace, bringing the detection of the first Earth-sized world one step closer.
Here's the Reuters story.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The "I Love You, Laura!" Theory 

On Monday night, I went to see Norah Jones perform. It was a good show, but it happened to be at the end of a very long day. By the encore, I was getting a little giddy and ended up laughing to myself through most of it. I became possessed with the notion to shout out "I love you, Laura!" during a slow passage of one of the encore songs.

My theory was that the audience would first murmur with disapproval that someone would dare interrupt the lovely song being played. But, after a second thought, people would realize the humor--of some numbskull shouting out his "love" for a performer and yet get her name wrong--and begin laughing.

I was curious to test this murmuring-into-laughter theory, but I opted out of the experiment. I have a general rule not to guinea-pig my listeners, so I wouldn't try the "I love you, Laura" theory unless in another city.

It's still pretty funny in the abstract, at least for me. Like I said, I laughed through the whole encore (like I also said, it had been a very long day).

Iran's First Legal Rock Album 

Queen album brings rock to Iran:
Rock band Queen, fronted by gay icon Freddie Mercury, has become the first rock act to receive an official seal of approval in Iran.

Western music is strictly censored in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime.

But an album of Queen's greatest hits was released in Iran on Monday.
Mercury had Iranian heritage, which likely helped his band's popularity there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

War blogs 

In World War II, folks back home relied on the word-pictures told by war correspondents, in print or on radio, to get a vivid sense of what was taking place thousands of miles away. The best of these, like Edward R. Murrow on the radio and Ernie Pyle in print, had a knack for concise yet powerful description that made the listener/reader feel more connected to the people in and events of foreign continents.

Today, we have multiple 24-hour TV news channels with live feeds from across the globe, and yet the packaged sound-bite-plus-endless-talking-head coverage has a distancing effect that rarely brings you as connected to the news as Murrow's word-pictures.

However, there are people on the scene giving much more interesting, first-person accounts of events in Iraq via blogs. If you're never read it, I strongly urge you to read My War. It's a blog by a soldier from San Francisco based in Mosul who has a keen sense of detail and a very vivid knack for narrative.

He's also a fan of Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Rollins, and listens to both Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" and "Countdown to Extinction" by Megadeth on his iPod while out on a patrol.

I strongly suggest you read this post first, then read the blog backwards from the beginning of the blog (to go in chronological order).

Very worthwhile reading.

UPDATE: It seems the blog's author pulled the plug on it and deleted all of his posts. That's a shame. As of 8/27, Google cache still available here.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Fizzy fruit? 

Oh, good grief!

Carbonated fruit could hit shelves soon:
Oregon State University researchers are working on fizzy fruit, carbonated apples, pears and other sweet treats.

Texas neurobiologist Galen Kaufman discovered fizzy fruit while on a sailing trip.

He bit into a pear that had been in a cooler chilled with dry ice -- and discovered that carbon dioxide gas had entered the fruit. That left the pear pleasantly fizzy.

Now Kaufman is working with OSU professor John Henry Wells, an expert in food packaging and storage at the Oregon Food Innovation Center in Portland.


San Francisco's Bay Bridge 

Wired has a great two-part article about planned reconstruction of the Bay Bridge (the Golden Gate span's lesser-celebrated brother).

--Part 1 (dealing primarily with the proposed design)
--Part 2 (dealing mostly with concerns over tht design)
--Artist's rendering

On slanted steel support pilings: "Milking a cow on a stool with diagonal legs is a lot sturdier than milking a cow on a stool with straight legs," explained [California Department of Transportation's Douglas] Coe."

On design of expansion joints: Unlike traditional expansion joints that only move a few inches before breaking -- leading to structural failures like the collapse of the bridge deck in 1989 -- the new joints can slip up to a meter in a worst-case scenario. They are also designed to bend but not break if an earthquake pulls the roadway on each side of the joint in different directions.

On concerns over the safety of the design: "[University of California at Berkeley engineering professor Abolhassan] Astaneh-Asl notes that no one has ever built a self-anchored suspension span with just one tower before, leaving only test data for engineers to rely on. "They are playing with the safety of the people," said Astaneh-Asl about the California Department of Transportation. "This bridge is the most important bridge in the U.S. This is not the place to try a self-anchored design."


Armed robbers steal 'The Scream':
Masked robbers stormed into an art museum in Norway and stole Edvard Munch's famous paintings "The Scream" and "Madonna" at gunpoint before the eyes of stunned museum-goers.

Sunday's raid happened in broad daylight at the the Oslo museum named after the Norwegian artist.
This isn't the first time:
"The Scream" was stolen 10 years ago, from Oslo's National Art Museum, and recovered three months later after the perpetrators failed to extract ransom for its return.

The USS Richard Montgomery 

The USS Richard Montgomery was an American ship built in 1943 to transport cargo for the Allied war effort. According to the Wikipedia, the Montgomery was making its planned final voyage in August of 1944 from Philadelphia, where it had been loaded with 6,127 tons of explosives, to England and then on to deliver its cargo as part of a convoy to then Allied-controlled Cherbourg, France.

However, in the Thames estuary near Kent, she ran aground on August 20th. By September 25th, 1944, about half of the explosives were successfully removed from the wreck, after which time the ship was abandoned.

The magazine New Scientist suggests, though, that the abandonded wreck should not be left alone any longer. "UK government explosives experts believe that some of the fuses are unstable," the magazine reports. "Even a small shock could cause one of them to detonate, setting off part or all of the rest of the cargo." They say that "if the wreck explodes it will be one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever."

What would happen if the remaining 60-year old explosives--an estimated 13,700 devices--detonate?
Official estimates of the devastation that the explosion would cause [include] predictions of a three kilometre high column of water, mud, metal and munitions sent into the air by the blast.
Mick Hamer, the New Scientist's article's author, said in a BBC interview,
There's 1,400 tonnes of TNT on there, that's about one twelfth the size of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. It could blow up for a number of reasons - it could blow up spontaneously, it could blow up in parts or it could blow up the whole cargo. It could blow up because of terrorism, somebody might target it, or it could blow up simply because of bombs moving in the tide.
Hamer explains that "there were two main options - to bury the wreck in sand or concrete or to move all or part of it.... It's certainly going to be very dangerous to do anything about it, there's no doubt about that."

The BBC quotes the Department of Transport saying, "An ultrasound in 2003 showed no grounds for increased cause for alarm and we keep the condition of the vessel under regular monitoring."


According to an interview with Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa in Israel and senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington:
[Moktada al-Sadr] started announcing that the Shiite messiah, who is known as the Mahdi, is about to arrive any day now and that he will appear in Iraq. In Shia tradition, the Mahdi is the 12th and last ancient imam, who disappeared and is expected to reappear some day. Moktada al-Sadr claims that the Americans knew the reappearance was imminent, and that this is why they invaded Iraq: to grab the Mahdi and kill him. In rallies, Mr. Sadr's supporters often chant his name in a way that implies that he is the "son of the Mahdi," and he named his militia the Mahdi Army. Recently he even claimed that the army "belongs to the Mahdi" and thus he is not at liberty to disband it.

Raising expectations of an imminent appearance of the Mahdi is highly unusual in Shiite history because it can excite people to extreme and dangerous actions.
Isn't this remarkably similar to the fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. who proclaim "We are living in the most exciting times ever in the history of the world. We are living in the generation right before the return of Jesus Christ!" or to opine about the war in Iraq that "This strikingly foreshadows many of the things the Bible says about the end times"?

Yikes. So perhaps the conflict in Iraq can be increasingly summed up in that hoary old schoolyard taunt, "My premillennial eschatology can beat up your premillennial eschatology!"

I guess the only thing left to do is order my "Don't change Horsemen in the middle of an Apocalypse" bumper sticker.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Society News 

College chum* Brian Sack and Mrs. Brian Sack, of Somewhat-Less-Than-Midtown, New York, proudly announce the arrival of young Baby Sack.

Mr. Sack describes the delivery and ladles a generous serving of Advice for Men here.

*used here as in the definition "a close friend; Pal," not in the alternate sense, "animal or vegetable matter (as chopped fish or corn) thrown overboard to attract fish"


Blogging: Threat to Big Media? 

The International Olympic Committee apparently thinks that the world's largest media outlets are threatened by blogs and personal websites:
The International Olympic Committee is barring competitors, as well as coaches, support personnel and other officials, from writing firsthand accounts for news and other Web sites.

An exception is if an athlete has a personal Web site that they did not set up specifically for the Games.

The IOC's rationale for the restrictions is that athletes and their coaches should not serve as journalists -- and that the interests of broadcast rightsholders and accredited media come first.
According to the article, athletes and other participants can write about their experiences after the end of the games, but even then they are barred from posting video, audio, or still photos even after closing ceremonies without special permission.

Between this issue and the militant protectionism of corporate sponsors, the IOC seems to be steering the games increasingly away from the spirit of international friendship, and more in the direction of iron-gloved dictatorship.

Should the 21st century slogan for the games be changed from "Citius, Altius, Fortius" to "Faster Corporatization, Higher Sponsorship Deals, Stronger Control"?

How Working For Microsoft Can Get You Arrested 

Okay, it could happen to any global company. It's all about a lack of knowledge of and sensitivity to world affairs:
Insensitive computer programmers with little knowledge of geography have cost the giant Microsoft company hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business and led hapless company employees to be arrested by offended governments.


Employees were arrested in Turkey because Kurdistan had been shown as a separate entity on maps of the country, [so] a decision was taken to remove Kurdistan from all maps.
Getting arrested is an extreme result of such failures, but the financial repercussions can be severe as well:
One mistake that caused catastrophic offence was a game called Kakuto Chojin, a hand to hand fighting game. The fighting went on with rhythmic chanting in the background which in reviewing the game Mr Edwards noticed appeared to be Arabic.

"I checked with an Arabic speaker in the company who was also a Muslim about what the chant meant and it was from the Koran. He went ballistic. It was an incredible insult to Islam." He asked for the game to be withdrawn but it was issued against his advice in the United States in the belief that it would not be noticed.

Three months later, the Saudi Arabian government made a formal protest. Microsoft withdrew the game worldwide.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Mp3 Blogs & New Paradigms 

Viewed on a very basic functional level, both record labels and music radio stations serve as a form of information filter (the "information," in this case, being music).

The filtering done by record labels is the talent scouting process conducted by their A&R Departments. In theory, poor quality musicians are ignored while the most talented are signed to record deals (in reality, of course, the phrase "mass appeal" should often be substituted for "quality" and "talented").

Music radio is a meta-filter, examining all of the available music from all of the record labels, and selecting the best songs (in a given style) for airplay. Although, again, "most mass appeal" is often used interchangeably with "best."

Their business models are also radically different. Labels use the buy-then-listen approach, and radio generally has the listen-for-free-with-advertising model. Because of this difference, labels are viewed as having a blatantly commercial agenda to music listeners, while radio is generally accorded as musically agenda-free and editorially open.

A good analogy can be drawn using political news on the internet. Political blogs scan a large number of news sources, both the "higher agenda" (politician and party websites and P.R. sources) and "lower agenda" (newspaper and other media websites). They then present, with additional commentary, the "best" information they can locate (in a given ideological style).

All of which is a windbaggy background to a recent incident which show both remarkably forward-thinking and typically cloddish behavior by a record company. Here's the good part:
Earlier this month, Warner [Brothers Records] became the first major record label to ask MP3 blogs to play its music. The blogs - which are relatively new but increasingly popular - are personal Web sites that offer music criticism right next to the actual music, in the form of downloadable MP3 files.


Two weeks ago, at least eight MP3 bloggers received an e-mail message from Ian Cripps, a Warner employee. In the messages, which were identical and came with an MP3 file attached, Mr. Cripps told the bloggers that he loved their sites.

"We are very interested in blogs and I was wondering if you could post this mp3," he wrote. "It's by one of our new bands - The Secret Machines. They are an indie rock band and we would love for people to hear the band's music from your site. Here it is, listen to it and let me know if you will post it. Thanks!!"

The pitch to MP3 blogs was part of an ambitious online campaign that was the work of Robin Bechtel, vice president for new media at Warner Brothers and Reprise Records. The campaign's first unusual component was a decision to start selling the Secret Machines album through Apple's iTunes store and other online outlets last February, nearly four months before it was available on CD. The move drew attention to the album, which received strong reviews.

Ms. Bechtel said that the company had contacted many sites for the Web part of the publicity effort, and that the messages to MP3 blogs were an experiment. "We're really progressive in trying things," she said.
This is remarkable because record labels have usually been painfully slow to embrace new paradigms in music distribution and promotion.

What mp3 blogs represent is a new form of music meta-filter; in a sense, a new type of radio. Whether this format of information distribution flourishes remains to be seen. It could easily become just another curiously of music history, like Flexipop magazine (a publication from 1980-1982 which included a fragile, flexible 33 1/3 r.p.m. single with each issue).

But clearly, people are getting their music information increasingly from sources other than radio these days, and it makes perfect sense to provide music to these alternative information channels.

Of course, the label followed-up with depressingly familiar foolish behavior:
A few comments, posted under several different names, stood out because they looked like something one might read on a teen-pop fan site.

"I never heard these guys before, but theyre awesome," read a posting last Thursday under the name Ron. "I went to their website and you can listen to a lot of ther other stuff, very cool and very good!" Another post, sprinkled with casual profanity, asserted that big corporations could still release good music, and cited the Beatles as an example.

A check of site records by [mp3 blogger Mark] Willett revealed that all four of the suspect comments had been posted from the same Internet Protocol address, indicating that they came from the same computer or from a computer within the same company. That address was also the source of two e-mail messages that Ms. Bechtel sent to a reporter, as well as the original messages sent to the bloggers.

The entertainment industry has for some years been going into chat rooms and message boards to promote its products. But Ms. Bechtel said this kind of activity was not part of the Secret Machines campaign. She said the comments could have been posted independently by fans of the band who worked at the company.
This is what political bloggers call an "astroturf" campaign, a fraudulent grassroots initiative. It's certainly nothing new, and it's usually easy to spot. Every music radio station has seen dozens of stunningly clumsy astroturf campaigns by local bands (and, as this article underscores, record labels have been just as guilty of such ham-handedness as local, unsigned bands).

So there you have it. A major record label acting like The Beverly Hillbillies: they're to be commended for using the newfangled dishwasher in their new kitchen, but then they go and break it after trying to wash their laundry in it.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

On the music industry's current woes... 

We live in a quicksilver technological environment with courts ill-suited to fix the flow of internet innovation. The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through well established distribution mechanisms.

Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player.

Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude. [citations omitted and paragraphing added]
So saith the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an almost shockingly positive triumph of long-term over short-term outlook, handing the music and movie copyright cartels a strong setback.

The effect (if not later overturned) will be to allow current decentralized peer-to-peer service to continue, if not to encourage more services to enter the fray. In theory, this only affects the 9th Circuit (mainly the West Coast states). In reality, however, the internet tends to smash such distinctions. Peer-to-peer companies could serve the world safely from their 9th Circuit safe harbor.

Copyright companies will have to go back to suing their customers and trying to buy various legislative initiatives.

The Biometric System Cometh... 

Biometric tech puts ID at your fingertips:
At the Statue of Liberty, recently reopened after a two-year closure, stashing a package offers a glimpse into the future. To rent, close and reopen lockers, visitors touch an electronic reader that scans fingerprints.

"It's easy," Taiwanese visitor Yu-Sheng Lee, 26, said after stowing a bag. "I think it's good. I don't have to worry about a key or something like that."


"All these customer-facing applications, they're emerging," said Joseph Kim, a consultant with the International Biometric Group, which follows the industry. "We'll be seeing a lot more very, very soon. Whether that sticks or not depends on how customers feel about it."
The article claims that "in applications like the biometric lockers, the print itself is not stored or sent to authorities." I don't want to sound paranoid, but I have a hard time believing this. If not now, then eventually. Especially considering the wealth of biometric data that's on the way:
Scattered grocery stores have tested systems that let consumers check out with a touch of a fingerprint scanner. Piggly Wiggly recently installed such a system at four South Carolina stores and expects to expand it to 116 other outlets, saying it offers speed, convenience and protection against credit card theft.
Yes, it's all being done for our benefit! Sure!


Hot Hot Heat 

Model Predicts Future Heat Waves Will be More Intense:
Climate modeling results published today [8/13] in the journal Science indicate that heat waves at the end of the 21st century will be more severe, more frequent and longer lasting than those of recent years.
We'd better get cracking:
Humanity has the hardware in hand to halt the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases it pumps into the atmosphere and forestall the worst effects of global warming projected for the end of this century.

The goal could be achieved within the next 50 years by more widespread use of a portfolio of at least 15 approaches - from energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind power to nuclear energy and the preservation or enhancement of "natural" sinks for carbon dioxide such as rain forests, or the conservation tillage techniques on farms worldwide, say two Princeton University researchers in a study published Friday.

Die, or go to hell 

News from my old stomping grounds, Brielle, NJ...

Eight year-old Haley Waldman was diagnosed with celiac sprue disease, an autoimmune disorder, three years ago. She has a genetic intolerance of gluten, and says herself, "I’m on a gluten-free diet because I can’t have wheat, I could die." And yet, she "has had her first Holy Communion declared invalid because the wafer contained none, violating Catholic doctrine."
Now, Haley Waldman’s mother is pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to make an exception, saying the girl’s condition — celiac sprue disease — should not exclude her from participating in the sacrament, in which Roman Catholics eat consecrated wheat-based wafers to commemorate the last supper of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.


According to church doctrine,...communion wafers must have at least some unleavened wheat, as did the bread served at the Last Supper. The Diocese of Trenton has told Waldman’s mother that the girl can receive a low-gluten host, drink wine at communion or abstain entirely, but that any host without gluten does not qualify as Holy Communion.

Pelly-Waldman rejected the offer, saying even a small amount of gluten could harm her child.
Nice compassion.

The Beatles Austalian Flea-Market Trove 

Thought so:
A long-sought trove of rare Beatles material that reportedly was found last month by a lucky British tourist remains lost, a leading Beatles expert says.

Last month, The Times newspaper reported that a suitcase bought by Fraser Claughton, 41, at an Australian flea market for about $35 was packed with Beatles memorabilia, including photos, concert programs and unreleased recordings.

But Pete Nash, a memorabilia expert from the British Beatles Fan Club who examined the contents of the suitcase on behalf of a British television channel, said he saw photocopied ticket stubs, laser-scanned pictures from the 1990s — and no rare reel-to-reel recordings.
From day one I wondered 'Whoever sold this suitcase never even looked inside it??'

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Calling all science-fiction reading lawyers... 

Yesterday, I got into a lengthy conversation with someone about a topic that we both found endlessly fascinating yet, admittedly, there were probably more productive things we could have been doing. I wanted to get additional input, so here are the broad strokes:

Russia has been selling "space tourist" packages, although I believe the program is still suspended after the Columbia shuttle disaster. Let's just assume the program resumes. For, say, 20 million bucks the adventuresome rich can tag along on a trip to the International Space Station. Let's also assume that the program grows over time, and eventually extends into helping to finance new missions to the moon.

Here's the scenario, then: a wealthy American couple take this Russian tourist trip to the moon, but one spouse has an ulterior motive. While walking on the lunar surface, one stabs the other to death. The question: can the murderer be tried and punished for the crime?

The murderer, in this scenario, does not dispute that the act was committed. But who would have jurisdiction? What laws would apply?

As far as I know (which ain't far, by the way), the nation owning the vessel would have jurisdiction if the act occurred on the spacecraft, according to maritime law traditions. But this event would have taken place on the moon itself.

According to the European Center for Space Law (a sort of think-tank which functions under the aegis of the European Space Agency),
The most fundamental Article of space law, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (often called the 'Magna Carta' of Space Law), expressly excludes the possibility that any state may incorporate any part of outer space, including the moon, into its territory.

One consequence is that the legal systems of states cannot be simply extended to outer space.
The ESCA also deals with murder on an international space station, but avoids the moon question (although they do briefly discuss the theoretical rights of aliens). So how to punish such a crime?

My curiosity focused on this issue: if one nation (either Russia, as owners of the spacecraft, or the U.S., of which the murderer is a citizen) asserts jurisdiction, does this set a precedent for any future lunar dispute? If so, then could either country allow the other jurisdiction?

Although not addressing any lunar criminal issues, here's an interesting 1986 paper by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment disussing jurisdictional issues in space, mostly as applied to the International Space Station (the whole document can be accessed here).


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Misinformed History Lesson 

President Herbert Hoover (right) prepares to get the "fair and balanced" treatment by a young Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly developed his concept of a "no-spin zone" when hand-crank film cameras were replaced by motorized models, allowing him to hold a notepad in his hand instead of the crank-handle. This revolutionary approach later led to two Peabody Awards.


The Sights, the Sounds, the Smells of a Hard-Working Rock Band on the Road. 

'Pre-planned' rock docs attacked:
The director of a new music documentary pieced together from 34-year-old footage of a tour by some of rock's biggest names has said modern "rockumentaries" are too pre-planned.

Bob Smeaton, whose Festival Express features The Band, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and Buddy Guy travelling across Canada on a train, told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme that key moments in modern music movies were "set-up."

"Ninety-nine percent of the documentaries being made now are being made with the artists' consent, and they have a great deal of editorial control," he said.

"A lot of stuff that is meant to be fly-on-the-wall isn't fly-on-the-wall, it's set up."
I think there are three things at work here. Firstly, as the article acknowledges (quoting rock critic Nicholas Barber), "A documentary can only reflect its subject. The subject is rock and rock happens to be very corporate."

True. But changes in film distribution have also presented challenges. The documentaries (and other rock films) that are generally acknowledged as classics were made when there was limited opportunities to see such material. Scarce resources usually leads to higher value, and in the pre-MTV, pre-home video era, rock movies were gold.

There's one other issue, which is the rock documentaries' elephant in the room: This Is Spinal Tap. When a genre gets so thoroughly skewered by satire, it's pretty daunting to try to play that same terrain with a straight face.

Just look at the Arthurian genre, taken on by Monty Python and the Holy Grail with ruthless success in 1975. When Excalibur tried a serious action/drama take six years later, it was hard not to snicker. And non-comedy medieval swordfighting films only began to recover with 1995's Braveheart (and though not actually medieval, I think the genre's resurrection was complete with the embrace of The Lord of the Rings in 2001).

Spinal Tap, meanwhile, was so effective in the breadth and depth of its satire that it became genuinely difficult to focus a camera on a rock band without them looking like fools (rightly or wrongly). Just as, for years, one couldn't see cinematic knights running without someone calling out "Run away!", it's still difficult to see a band about to take to the concert stage without hearing a "Hello, Cleveland!"

The Rob Reiner film, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this past March, has done more to decimate the "rockumentary" than any other single factor.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Capitalization as News 

Wired magazine declares: "internet," "web," and "net" are no longer to be capitalized.

I concur.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

"Fair" is a four-letter word 

The Crawford County Fair takes place in Meadville, PA (near Erie), and this year the county apparently wants only prize pigs to wade in filth:
The first time someone's caught using a four-letter word at the fair, they'll get a warning. Repeat offenders will get kicked off the fairgrounds for the rest of the event, which begins next Saturday.
Haven't these people ever heard of Cohen v. California? In which the Supreme Court held that...
Absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense.
The four-letter expletive was, indeed, the infamous F-bomb, used on a jacket bearing the slogan "Fuck the draft."

While the County Fair Board is not threatening arrest for "four-letter words" (presumably "asshole" is beyond reproach due to letter count?), I wouldn't think they can kick someone out for mere language. Though, according to the article, they also prohibit "alcohol, gambling, intoxication and 'immoral exhibitions' at the fair," they can probably demonstrate a compelling public safety reason for these prohibitions which simple language, offensive or no, wouldn't affect.

I have half a mind to attend, wearing inappropriately-sloganed attire, just to see what happens.

Friday, August 13, 2004


Thankfully, the American Library Association will be adding some balance to the copyright industries providing materials to schoolchildren to promote their agendas. They're working on their own comic books:
The ALA sees a need for this because materials offered by groups like the Business Software Alliance and the Motion Picture Association of America are designed to influence kids with one-sided information, said Rick Weingarten, director of information technology policy for the ALA. Topics like "fair use" -- the right to use copyright material without the owner's permission, a key concept in American law that intellectual-property experts say leads to innovation -- are not adequately addressed.

"There is certainly concern about the fact that when the content industry talks about copyright and young people in the same sentence, they are either calling them all crooks or they are making claims for copyright that far exceed what copyright is all about," Weingarten said. "Any education program that comes from that source is inherently going to be biased."
Great quote from the ALA's Weingarten on the BSA's comic book: "The idea that elementary-school kids are ripping off business software is a little strange."

Heartfelt Boilerplate 

I just went to a website for a company that sneakily turns you into sort of an unwitting internet-radio signal-booster if you want to listen to certain radio stations online, saving them money by using your computer's bandwidth. That practice is annoying (primarily for lack of proper explanation to the user) but it didn't prompt this post.

Actually, I was struck by a "heartfelt" message on their homepage:
We are deeply saddened by our national tragedy. Our thoughts, hearts and prayers go out to all individuals and families.
I assumed from their accompanying red, white, and blue ribbon icon that they were talking about Sept. 11th, but the lack of any specificity in the text seems rather odd to me.

Isn't a bland and vague statement like this drained of all emotion, and thus, rendering it fairly useless?

I wondered whether they took it from somewhere else, but when I googled the words I found no exact match. However, googling the key words "deeply saddened," "national tragedy," "thoughts," "hearts," and "prayers" brought back similar inscriptions:
---We are deeply saddened and horrified at the shocking attack against our nation. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this national tragedy. Pray for our troops and God Bless the USA. (site)
---We are deeply saddened and horrified at the shocking attack against our nation. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this national tragedy. To join in support during this difficult time, we have gathered a list of resources below for those seeking information on loved ones or how you can help. [links follow](site)
---We are all deeply saddened and horrified by the shocking attack against our nation. Our hearts are very heavy with sadness, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this national tragedy. To join in support during this difficult time, here is a compiled list of resources for those seeking info on loved ones or how one can be of assistance. [links follow] (site)
---We are deeply saddened and horrified at the shocking attack against our nation. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone everywhere affected by this national tragedy. (site)
So there was a lot of internet cutting & pasting going on following the attacks. That's completely understandable, though. The words to express what is incomprehensible are hard to come by, and most of us tend to learn proper verbiage from peers and elders during such instances.

No, what I find bizarre is how the "shocking attack" was dropped and the "everyone affected by this national tragedy" morphed into "all individuals and families." Did they hope to keep current with further national tragedies without being troubled to update their homepage?

Isn't this a virtual analogy to sending a form-letter sympathy card?
Dear Friend:

Sorry for your recent tragedy. My deepest sympathies go out to you and anyone you know. Please accept my ecumenical prayers.

Very sincerely,
Some faceless internet company


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Muzak. Hip? Well, no. 

Muzak thinks outside the box:
Today's Muzak is played in the Gap, McDonald's and Barnes & Noble and in homes via the Dish Network, to name a few. It sounds completely different, featuring combinations of upbeat, toe-tapping songs.

And there are words, real words sung by the artists themselves. Muzak has been doing that for decades. If it's a Beatles song, you'll actually hear Ringo, Paul, George and John. Unless, of course, it's a rendition sung by Tori Amos, Aerosmith or Nirvana.

It's, dare we say, hip?
Okay, there's a ton of comment-bait in this article.

Firstly, no--Muzak ain't hip. Perhaps hipper than the old days, but certainly not hip. By a long shot.

Secondly, although Aerosmith did a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together," I can't recall any Beatles covers by Tori Amos or Nirvana. Tori covered Nirvana, however. Perhaps that's what they were thinking. (Hipness quotient sinking...)

To boost this "hip" thesis, the article trots out the company's head of strategy and branding Alvin Collis, who wears "a dark T-shirt, pants and high-top sneakers" and "once played in a punk-rock band and admits to being fired as a child by his violin teacher." Barbara Hagenbaugh, the reporter, concludes therefore that Collis is "not exactly how most people picture the typical Muzak employee."

Perhaps so, but despite this curriculum vitae of alleged hipness the thesis crashes through the floor when the music-as-grinder-meat approach of the company is then illustrated. Like the custom service provided to Atlanta-based Moe's Southwest Grill. Moe's wants music piped into its restaurant from only dead people. Yup, all 133 of its casual restaurants boost their "fun, upbeat style" by only blaring dead singers from their speakers. Moe's marketing chief Carl Griffenkranz--who may or may not have been in a punk rock band--proclaims that their musical approach "is a tribute to the heroes of the days gone by, the legends who will never be able to enjoy Moe's food."

Still don't get the "fun, upbeat style" that only deceased musicians can provide? Griffenkranz also avers that the Muzak "creates an energy in our restaurant that we feel makes us successful." Ah, now I get it!

But the true example of hipness is provided in the article's sidebar:
Collis...remembers when the song "Devil Inside" by INXS was popular in the 1980s. After some debate, Muzak decided to put the song on its soundtrack. But a Christian woman shopping for a suit heard the song in a store and walked out before buying.

She wrote a letter to the president of the retail company, who complained to Muzak. Muzak cut the song from its playlist forever.
Muzak, please just go back to the elevator-arrangement remakes and stop pretending!

SALT III, anyone? 

Man arrested, accused of throwing hot dog:
A Longmont man was arrested Tuesday after he threw a 7-Eleven hot dog at parked police cars, according to a police report.


Seibel was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing, obstructing emergency services, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and throwing missiles.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Ferret or Weasel? 

Oh, joy!

If the MPAA-funded Junior Achievement program "What's the Diff?" wasn't enough for you, now copyright law is even funner! And it's all thanks to the Business Software Alliance (BSA). The trade group wants children to vote for the name of the BSA's mascot, their rather Poochie-esque ferret.

Who said contract law couldn't be fun? Not the BSA!
The campaign also includes an online game in which the ferret races to destroy pirated copies of software while collecting valid licensing agreements.
Wow! I get chills when thinking of the unassigned secondary rights in foreign territories caused by a sharp reduction in counterfeit media!

"Ma, I won't be home for hours!"

"His Master's Voice" 

As noted previously, Abraham Lincoln was reportedly the first U.S. President to have an "image" of his voice preserved (although this event probably took place using a device called a "phonautograph," the paper cylinder which held this recording has never been found).

However, the first President to have his voice actually reproducably recorded was apparently Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878:
In April of 1878 Edison went to Washington D.C. to demonstrate for Congress the workings of the wonder of the age, the phonograph. There was a great demand to see and hear the phonograph, for no one could understand how it worked. Thomas Edison even performed a private demonstration for President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House.
However, according to the Vincent Voice Library at Michigan University, a c.1889 wax cylinder recording of Benjamin Harrison is "believed to be the oldest known recording of any U.S. President" (hear the 30-second recording here).

Thanks to Brad The Professor.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Spuk um Mitternacht 

Rare German Language Laurel and Hardy Film Found:
Film archivists in Russia have discovered a rare German language version of a film by comic duo Laurel and Hardy, the Munich Film Museum said on Friday.

The 40-minute movie, entitled "Spuk um Mitternacht" (Ghost at Midnight), is a rare production in which the comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy spoke in German with the help of speech coaches.

"Because dubbing was still difficult at the start of the sound era, (films) were shot in various languages," the museum said in a statement.

"Supporting actors were swapped for native speakers and the stars -- using speech coaches -- had to say their lines phonetically in foreign languages."

The Patent World's X-Games 

Here's something for the history geeks:
The Patent and Trademark Office has issued nearly seven million patents; the first 10,000 are known as the X-patents. They were issued from July 1790, when the United States patent system was created under an order signed by George Washington, to July 1836, when every one of them burned in a fire. Virtually every patent is available to the public on paper, microfiche, CD-ROM and the Internet - except the X-patents.

In the 168 years since the fire, only about 2,800 have been recovered. Over time, the appearance of missing X-patents grew fewer and farther between, so that now no one at the patent agency, which does not have an official historian, can remember the last time it happened.

Until this spring, that is, when two lawyers with a passion for patent history uncovered a clue to several important patents from the 1790's - including one from 1826 for the first internal combustion engine. Following the trail to Dartmouth College, they discovered inventor copies of 14 patents that had been written off as lost forever.
Ten of the 14 were by New Hampshire inventor Samuel Morey, who had papers donated by descendants to Dartmouth in the 1960s. And how's this for history geek cool: "Some of Mr. Morey's earliest patents were signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson."

Ye gods!

I'm baaaaack! 

Greetings, once again! I just got back from a work trip to Boulder, CO, to see some friends, meet new ones, and hear a helluva lot of new music. Some of the familiar artists were fun, like Cake and Bruce Hornsby, and a couple of the newer faces were good as well (Jamie Cullum, Nellie McKay, Citizen Cope, Mindy Smith, The Damnwells, Antigone Rising).

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Administrative note... 

FYI -- due to work considerations, the blog shall probably be a little quiet for the remainder of the week.

Feel free to pass the time by reading the script for the 1982 Disney movie TRON.

Another Lexicography Update 

New words in this year's Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary: "teensploitation," "pleather," "body wrap," "MP3," "information technology," "clafouti," "darmstadtium," "digital subscriber line," "dream catcher," "HPLC," "lossless," "menudo," "MPEG," "nanotech," "PMB," and "union territory."

Also see AP article here.

Directed energy weapons 

Reporter: Wait! Something's happening...
Reporter: A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from that mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they're turning into flame!
Reporter: Now the whole field's caught fire! (EXPLOSION) The woods... the barns... the gas tanks of automobiles... it's spreading everywhere. It's coming this way. About twenty yards to my right...
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to continue the broadcast from Grovers Mill. Evidently there's some difficulty with our field transmission. However, we will return to that point at the earliest opportunity.
Thus the epic battle between the Martians and humanity was joined in Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast (script by Howard Koch; text taken from Koch's book The Panic Broadcast, but you can find it here).

It looks like we'll be ready for them when the Martians arrive, however (or we may yet become the Martians). Scientists are working to develop our own directed energy weapons for military use:
Researchers working with Raytheon Co. have developed a weapon called the Active Denial System, which repels adversaries by heating the water molecules in their skin with microwave energy. The pain is so great that people flee immediately.

"It just feels like your skin is on fire," said Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the laboratory who, as a test subject, has felt the Active Denial System's heat. "When you get out of the path of the beam, or shut off the beam, everything goes back to normal. There's no residual pain."

A Humvee-mounted Active Denial weapon is expected to be given to all services by the end of this year for evaluation, with a decision about deployment expected by the end of 2005.

Epic Posting & The iPod 

Wow! And I thought I could be a windy blogger. Here's a monumental post on a lot of related topics: the inevitable death of the iPod, the vortex of cell phone technology convergence, and the Apple trojan conspiracy plan to use iTunes to muscle control over digital rights management. Very interesting...for those with interest in these issues and the stomach for lengthy blog posts.

Sunday, August 01, 2004


How pervasive these blacklists are getting:
The American Civil Liberties Union is in turmoil over a promise it made to the government that it would not knowingly hire people whose names appear on watch lists of suspected supporters of terrorism. Those lists are the very type it has strongly opposed in other contexts.


[ACLU Executive Director Anthony] Romero said he signed a certification in January that the group "does not knowingly employ individuals or contribute funds to organizations found on" lists created by the federal government, the United Nations and the European Union. The certification referred specifically to three lists maintained by the Justice, State and Treasury Departments, including one called for by the Patriot Act, the antiterrorism law that the group has often criticized.
The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is, according to its website, "the annual fund-raising drive conducted by Federal employees in their workplace each fall. Each year Federal employees and military personnel raise millions of dollars through the CFC that benefits thousands of non-profit charities." The private funds are distributed via this government program.

Since last October, though (according to the 2004 CFC application instructions [.doc]):
All charities, including Federations, which apply for participation in the CFC must now certify that they do not knowingly employ individuals or contribute funds to organizations found on terrorist related lists promulgated by the U.S. Government, the United Nations, or the European Union. Presently, these lists include the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals List, the Department of Justice's Terrorist Exclusion List, and the list annexed to Executive Order 13224.
Even ignoring the historically very real possible abuses of a blacklist, I can certainly see why people of Middle Eastern descent would be very fearful of possible mistakes that could up-end their lives perhaps permanently. Just look at a sample entry:
ABDALLA, Fazul (a.k.a. MOHAMMED, Fazul Abdullah; a.k.a. ADBALLAH, Fazul; a.k.a. AISHA, Abu; a.k.a. AL SUDANI, Abu Seif; a.k.a. ALI, Fadel Abdallah Mohammed; a.k.a. FAZUL, Abdalla; a.k.a. FAZUL, Abdallah; a.k.a. FAZUL, Abdallah Mohammed; a.k.a. FAZUL, Haroon; a.k.a. FAZUL, Harun; a.k.a. HAROON; a.k.a. HAROUN, Fadhil; a.k.a. HARUN; a.k.a. LUQMAN, Abu; a.k.a. MOHAMMED, Fazul; a.k.a. MOHAMMED, Fazul Abdilahi; a.k.a. MOHAMMED, Fouad; a.k.a. MUHAMAD, Fadil Abdallah); DOB 25 Aug 1972; alt. DOB 25 Dec 1974; alt. DOB 25 Feb 1974; POB Moroni, Comoros Islands; citizen Comoros; alt. citizen Kenya (individual)
That's a randomly-selected entry for one single person from a 143 page list, just one of several such lists. Clearly, the chances for a false positive ID using one of these lists could be high.

And the consequences for such a false positive are tremendous.
Are you on one of these "U.S. Government Terrorist Related Lists"?

UPDATE: And what goes hand-in-hand with blacklists? Loyalty oaths.

Un Univers Merveilleux... 

Little Prince author remembered 60 years after disappearance:
A wreath thrown on Mediterranean waters commemorated the day 60 years ago when Antoine de Saint-Exupery, aviator and author of "The Little Prince," disappeared without trace during a wartime flying mission.

The ceremony took place off the south French city of Marseille near the island of Riou where Saint-Exupery's Lightning P38 military aircraft crashed and sank on a reconnaissance mission on July 31, 1944.

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