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

Thursday, September 30, 2004

In Re Java Joneses 

Is Caffeine Withdrawal a Mental Disorder?
Researchers are saying that caffeine withdrawal should now be classified as a psychiatric disorder.

A new study that analyzes some 170 years' worth of research concludes that caffeine withdrawal is very real -- producing enough physical symptoms and a disruption in daily life to classify it as a psychiatric disorder. Researchers are suggesting that caffeine withdrawal should be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), considered the bible of mental disorders.

"I don't think this means anyone should be worried," says study researcher Roland Griffiths, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "What it means is that the phenomenon of caffeine withdrawal is real and that when people don't get their usual dose, they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms."
Trust me, I usually worry when I suffer from headache, depression, irritability, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain (just some of the withdrawl symptoms listed in the article).

Scottso Visits John and George 

Farewell, Professor:
Scott Muni, one of the legendary voices of New York radio, died Tuesday. He was 74.

The cause of death was not immediately known.


His reputation rests on his years at WNEW, where he worked from 1967-98. There, he was among the on-air personalities who helped give birth to the progressive rock radio format.

Air personality Dennis Elsas of WFUV-FM in New York served as music director and worked on the air with Muni during the '70s. He recalls, "As both our afternoon guy and program director, he was the guiding force to making us the premier radio station in New York."

Elsas compares Muni to programer-announcer Tom Donahue, whose work in San Francisco during the same period launched the free-form sound on the West Coast. "Scott was the one guy who went from AM to FM and was significant in both," he said.

Muni was a friend to the stars and counted Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen among his associates.
My family moved to New Jersey in 1983 and began hearing Muni on the air at WNEW then. His deep, scratchy voice and his ongoing Beatles boosterism instantly set him apart for me from other New York DJs. He was the PM drive host for WNEW at that time, and he was a frequent radio touchstone for me as I went to school and began learning broadcasting myself.

Certainly, Muni could often devolve into cliche and self-parody. Especially during the '90s, when WNEW had lost all sense of direction. When they briefly and disastrously attempted a segue to an Adult Album Alternative approach, hearing Scottso grit his teeth through backselling Toad the Wet Sprocket (and other newer bands) and then savoring any mention of classic rock bands was a slightly painful to hear.

But, by then, he had earned his cred, and full respect was due the man nicknamed The Professor (who also, according to legend, was the one who gave Bruce Springsteen his moniker of "The Boss"). When WNEW did their annual holiday concerts, and Muni took the stage as Santa, it was perhaps a little silly. But it was also rather symbolic. Like the legendary Mr. Claus, Muni was merely a jolly elf who rode the air to distribute goodies to all us boys and girls. Only you didn't have to promise to be good to get it.

Here are some audio clips:

early years:WNEW years:recent years:
When I get a chance, I'll see if I can convert a few interesting Muni-related tapes of my own into a downloadable form...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Well, there's something you don't hear every day... 

"I even take the position that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged."
Not every government employee openly makes such statements while addressing audiences. I guess only the ones who have absolutely no fear for their job security.

It was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking to law students at Harvard. It may not have the memorable ring of Justice Stewart's pornography line, but hey, it'll have to do for Scalia.

Also, I'll be damned if I can tell any difference between Scalia and James Garner in that photo.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Loud Call (phone), Odd Call (style) 

Cell phone users often go way beyond the bounds of politeness in public, but this seems quite excessive...

Loud c-phone call leads to pregnant woman's arrest:
A pregnant woman said she was handcuffed by transit police and forced to lie on her stomach during an arrest that began with her talking too loudly on her cell phone....

Deputy Chief Timothy Gronau said Monday that Officer George Saoutis followed police procedure after Aaron refused to stop cursing loudly during a cell phone conversation and became abusive and uncooperative.
Firstly, if she was arrested for being physically abusive, that's one thing. But last time I checked we still had freedom of speech, even obnoxious speech, in this country.

Secondly, what's up with that "c-phone" in the headline? I understand it's sometimes necessary to abbreviate for print, but, um... this was not for print, it was from CNN.com AND the headline text already wrapped around to a second line! Was this a choice of style? WTF?

Numismatist Update 

New $50 Bill Arrives; New $10 Bill Coming:
(it doesn't have that same Paul Revere ring, but here goes anyway...)
A new $50 bill with touches of red, blue and yellow will be showing up soon at banks, in cash registers and wallets. A new $10 bill also is in the works, the third greenback to get colorized to cut back on counterfeiting.

Government officials used one of the new $50 bills Tuesday morning to buy a $45 U.S. flag, which came in a box, at a shop in Union Station. Old $50 bills will continue to be accepted and recirculated until they wear out.
$50 bill? What's a $50 bill? The only one of those I've seen lately has the word "REMIT" written in angry block letters.

Fans of the smaller denoms will be leaving the dance disappointed: "The $5 bill won't get a new look, and neither will the $1 and $2 notes," according to Thomas Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. No Queer Eye for the Dead Prez Guy for George or paper Tom (although metal Tom, on the other hand...).

More Late Shifting 

O'Brien to Take Over for Leno in 5 Years:
Jay Leno's takeover as host of NBC's "Tonight" show in 1992 was fraught with drama and bad feelings, but he's assured the next transition will be as smooth as his nightly sign-off: "Stay tuned for Conan."

The comedian and NBC on Monday chose the 50th anniversary of the first "Tonight" show to set a special date for the 55th — when Leno will step down and Conan O'Brien becomes the fifth host of the television institution.
Of course, not many thought Letterman would be able to make successfully the transition to 11:30, but frankly this could destroy O'Brien. And, granted, he's got five years to plan. But I have doubts that he can survive the switch.

The 12:30 time slot allows for a lot more freedom. O'Brien, like Letterman before him, does a terrific job mining that freedom for laughs. But O'Brien's style seems predicated on an exhuberantly youthful persona--acting goofy to punctuate what, in reality, is a sophisticated satirical sensibility.

The 11:30 slot, according to conventional wisdom, comes with a much higher potential audience and also a more mainstream one. The pressure to tone down O'Brien's act, whether internal or external, will be strong.

Letterman did an admirable job toning down while still keeping enough of the 12:30-type freewheeling humor to keep old-school fans watching. Leno toned himself down, too; he went from being like the Bruce Springsteen of stand-up during his pre-Tonight Show years, to becoming more like a comedy Jimmy Buffett as host of the show (full disclosure: in the blue state/red state comedy map, I'm a confirmed blue-stater and watch Letterman over Leno).

But O'Brien now has a difficult choice: water himself down to Leno-like levels and risk losing his current fans, or keep more of his persona intact and risk seeming like a wanna-be Letterman to the 11:30 crowd. (perhaps the West Coast vs. East Coast origination question might point the way to his future direction)

Five years is a long time. Who knows what Letterman will do between now and then? And perhaps O'Brien might map out a clever new strategy, truly earning his Harvard degree.

Either way, Bill Carter now has something to live for.

Rethinking the Dollar Store 

Though I was waxing poetic about my local dollar store a few posts ago, let me offer one caveat: Uh, perhaps one should not buy batteries there. Just trust me on this.

My previous rule was simply that I would buy nothing to be ingested. I'll add batteries to the ban.

News from Girlie-Man, "I Will Touminate You" Country 

E.g., California.

California bans smoking in jails:
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill to ban tobacco products in state prisons.

Inmates and staff in adult and youth prisons will be unable to smoke from next year, the bill says.

Supporters say the move will help improve the health of 160,000 inmates, as well as saving money on healthcare.
The rationale for public smoking bans is usually the health of workers in bars, restaurants, etc.

In this case, though, what might be more of a health threat to prison guards? Second-hand smoke? Or a hulking inmate with overdeveloped muscles and underdeveloped social skills who's really freaking cranky because of nicotine withdrawl?

Likely Voters, Redux 

As mentioned in my previous post, pollsters' notions of "likely voters" might need to be chucked out the window for this year's outing.

Flood of New Voters Signing Up:
New voters are flooding local election offices with paperwork, registering in significantly higher numbers than four years ago as attention to the presidential election runs high and an array of activist groups recruit would-be voters who could prove critical come Nov. 2.
Of course, despite the massive registrants,
The danger is that new voters may not be as committed to showing up at the polls as longtime voters.

"Turning people out to vote is tougher than getting them to register," said Doug Lewis, who works with local election officials as head of The Election Center, a nonprofit group.
And though the article mentions the massive registration drives by partisan groups in swing states (here in Pittsburgh, for example, I've never before seen so many people on the street registering voters as on the street), it also points out that registrations are up in less contested areas:
Even in several states where the election isn't as competitive, officials say they are seeing new voters register in higher numbers. Officials in El Paso County, Texas, Maryland's Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and California's Los Angeles County said registration numbers are on pace to be higher than 2000.
Hey, it's a new millennium. We might as well behave differently, too. Only time will tell, however, whether the "likely voter" concept is "soooo 20th Century."

Sunday, September 26, 2004

More of Mike on the Radio 

To hear some great music spun by yours truly, I'll be on the air at WYEP every day this week except Tuesday from 2-6pm ET.

During scary times, simply delve into escapism. 

The flying car meme (last heard from a month ago) continues, now discussed with a straight face by the New York Times.

By the way, NASA prefers "personal air vehicle" to "flying car." Just so we're all on the same page.

UPDATE: Although now that I think about it, the most prescient part of this article is likely this...
From the start, Yoeli had designed it for inner-city police patrols navigating urban canyons. It was precisely because of terrorist threats and the emergence of street-by-street urban warfare that flying cars were now inevitable, Yoeli insisted. He contacted high-ranking American and Israeli military friends and asked if they would be interested in a superfast aircraft with a vertical range from mere inches to 12,000 feet. The response, he says, was a unanimous "How soon can we get it?"
The current push to design flying cars is not, ultimately, for average people to use, but for law enforcement and military. That aspect will probably come to pass in the near future.

An Escherian Moment 

Will Wright, creator of The Sims, discussing the new version, The Sims 2:
There's a kind of epiphany that a lot of players go through, when in the game, you can buy a computer for your Sim, and on the computer you can have your Sim actually play little games. A lot of players get to the point where it's 2 in the morning for the Sim and the Sim is up playing computer games, and the player is trying to get him to stop playing because the Sim has to get up in the morning. Then they step back and realize it's actually 2 in the morning and that they actually need to go to work. It's almost a creepy model of the real world.

His "Happy Happys" 

There's a dollar store near where I live that sells $1 DVDs--no recent Hollywood blockbusters, mind you, but some interesting selections nonetheless. I've picked up Hope & Crosby's Road to Bali, Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (the original Peter Lorre version), and a bunch of TV shows.

One of those TV show DVDs was a three episode disc of The Jack Benny Program. Guests include Humphrey Bogart, Jayne Mansfield, and Liberace.

It with this last guest star that made me scratch my head. Liberace is one of those celebrities that I was always a little fuzzy on why he was a celebrity. My first encounter with him was as a "Special Guest Villain" on Batman, but that didn't explain how he got on the show to begin with.

So after watching him on Jack Benny, I did a little research. I found out he was famous because of his clothing. Like this.

I also found out that he referred to his pianos as his "happy happys," and that certain magazines from the 1950s wrote some pregnant prose about him.

See, so that's why I like my dollar store so much. You end up finding out all kinds of interesting things.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"Reset the Election" 

That's apparently a menu option on Diebold election computer software, as mentioned in this story about the ability of a chimpanzee to alter the election data.

Man, I hope they have a string of "Are you sure you want to select this option?" and "Are you really, really goddamn sure you want to select this option?" prompts in that software. How many of us have lost unsaved data because we clicked before thinking?

That would suck if someone could "reset" an election because they weren't paying attention.

Friday, September 24, 2004

But what if the horse is drunk? 

'Drunk rider' ruling stirs scorn:
A court decision effectively permitting those over the legal drink-drive limit to ride a horse has been puzzling people in the US state of Pennsylvania.

Local press columnists are musing over the ruling, which concerns an accident between two horsemen and a driver - all of whom had been drinking.

The court said horses cannot be classed as vehicles, so the two horsemen could not be found guilty of drunk driving.


At the centre of the case is an accident along a dark country lane in April 2002.

Keith Travis and Richard Noel, both on horseback, were charged with drunk driving after one of their horses was hit by a pick-up truck on the highway, whose driver was also over the drink-driving limit.

When the case came to court, the judge rejected the charges against the two men on horseback because, he said, the law did not regard their animals as vehicles.
My $.02: not only should the horseriders NOT be charged with a crime, but they should sue the hell out of that drunk driver who hit their horse.

Hope for Betamax 

As mentioned here previously, the Supreme Court's Betamax standard, which effectively legalized technologies which might be used for illegal copying of intellectual property (as long as there were substantial other uses for that technology), has been looking like an endangered species lately.

In an interesting development, a influencial organization is financing ads to criticize a drastic proposed law which would put a major damper on such technologies. The group's ad declares that the so-called Induce Act would "attacks consumers' right to use technologies" and mocks it for merely enriching "Hollywood fat cats."

The organization? The American Conservative Union.

I find it fascinating that certain roles have flipped in some areas of media regulation: it's the Democratic Commissioners on the FCC who have been the hawks on the broadcasting of "indecency" in recent years; and, it's often Democrats on Capitol Hill who are pushing for harsher penalities for flouters of copyright law (although the Induce Act has Republican stalwarts championing it, like Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist).

Now comes the American Conservative Union (ACU), taking a big swipe at a law aimed squarely at file-sharing services.

Of course, while the situation looks tilted from certain angles, much of it ultimately makes sense. The ACU says that the Induce Act "is the Hollywood liberals trying to crush innovation," framing the debate not as 'business vs. pirates' but as 'Hollywood vs. hardware companies.'

So the future of the Betamax standard might not be as dire as previously thought.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, after holding hearings in July, is scheduled for a vote on the Induce Act this Thursday.

Well, this is troubling... 

NASA: Space Station Running Low on Oxygen:
Oxygen and food will be worrisomely low on the international space station by Christmas, and it's crucial that a Russian supply ship get there by then, a top NASA official said Friday.

Complicating matters is the breakdown of the station's primary oxygen generator. The unit has barely worked this month despite intensive repair efforts by the two astronauts on board, and the men have had to tap into backup oxygen supplies.

The next Russian cargo ship is scheduled to launch on Dec. 23. That's right around the time that supplies — notably oxygen and food — will be getting tight, said space station program manager Bill Gerstenmaier.
The article says that if a critical stage is reached, the space station will have to be abandoned and the crew will have to return to earth in a docked Russian capsule.

I Do Want What I Haven't Got 

Sinead O'Connor Pleads for Privacy -- in an Ad:
Maverick Irish pop star Sinead O'Connor asked the media to leave her alone on Friday -- by taking out a full-page advert in a national newspaper.

The shaven-headed star, who said last year she was retiring from the music business, was responding to an article written earlier this week about her "latest wacky" campaign to rid the country of head lice.

"I have been the whipping post of Ireland's media for 20 years," wrote O'Connor, who once said she was a lesbian, married a man shortly afterwards, and unleashed a flood of criticism when she ripped up a photo of the Pope on television.

"And what have I done to deserve these lashings? I have not behaved the way a woman is supposed to behave," she said in the advert, which runs to more than 2,000 words. "If ye think I am so ridiculous why do ye give me any attention?"
To clarify, Sinead specifically took exception to a sidebar piece in the
Evening Herald which compared the careers of Sinead and author brother John O'Connor and compared their accounts of treatment as children by their mother.

The Irish Examiner reprinted the full text of Sinead's 2,000+ word advert, which ultimately sounds more sad than wacky (the spin being given to it in the international press). As example, here's the concluding paragraphs of the ad:
I need support. A lot of gentle loving support. And forgiveness. I grew up in public. Please let me live. And instead of spreading hatred in this desperately spiritually lost world, can ye not try to give a bit of love so someone might not have to feel that they are so awful they don’t even deserve to exist. That’s the real Sinead.

Being real. In the words of Eliza Doolittle, with whom I identify hugely, "I'm a good girl I am". Please stop hurting me and help me to be even better instead.

I realise I risk ye all taking the piss again. But I'm into being real. And not letting that kind of thing make me afraid to be who I am.

I am sorry for any hurt I have ever done anyone in this world by anything I ever did or said or didn’t do or say. Please let me have a second chance at just singing and bringing some love into people's lives with singing, instead of bringing pain into my own. I ask you this before God and in God's name.

Please stop hurting me and maybe I could start being more bloody useful. Ye know if I were really as crazy as ye make out I am I would deserve compassion, not bashing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Peace Train 

The former Cat Stevens barred from U.S. after flight diverted:
A London-to-Washington flight was diverted to Maine on Tuesday when it was discovered passenger Yusuf Islam -- formerly known as singer Cat Stevens -- was on a government watch list and barred from entering the country, two federal officials said.

United Airlines Flight 919 was en route to Dulles International Airport when the match was made between a passenger and a name on the watch list, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. The plane was met by federal agents at Maine's Bangor International Airport around 3 p.m., Melendez said.

The two federal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the passenger as Islam. They said Islam was denied entry on national security grounds, but had no details about why the peace activist might be considered a risk to the United States.
A Muslim group labeled the refusal to allow Islam into the US on national security grounds as a "slap in the face of sanity."

Islam was famously shunned by the arts community after seeming to support a 1989 death call against author Salman Rushdie declared by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in response to Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Last year, Islam believably answers such charges on his website, although contemporaneous news accounts are still unsettling. Islam chalks it up to being a too-enthusiastic and too-unstudied Qur'anic neophyte (which I find very credible, after personal plus indirect experience with the reckless fire-and-brimstoneisms of Biblical neophytes).

Even considering the Rushdie episode, a national security risk? Hmmm...

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Spirit of Warhol 

Reactions strong to Abu Ghraib show at the Warhol:
Reaction to the mere idea of The Andy Warhol Museum's latest exhibition was as swift and vociferous as the rain that forced the North Side museum to close within hours of the exhibition's opening Friday.

The museum reopens today, with "Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib" occupying one corner of the largest room on the second floor.

The heavy e-mail reaction that anticipated the show drew sides as polarized as those of the current political climate. Some praised the Warhol for its courage and took aim at the Bush administration for being in Iraq; others wrote expressing fury at what they interpreted as an anti-patriotic and even subversive decision.

The photos, some of which most Americans have seen, line part of one wall, and a collection of international front pages reporting war news and atrocities by both sides hang nearby as part of the same exhibition.
When I first heard about the exhibit, I got hung up in the "is this art?" line of thinking. But then I remembered, it's the museum honoring Andy Warhol. And this exhibit is a very Warholian notion.

As the article points out, "The question of artistic merit is compelling but not necessarily relevant. Andy Warhol himself stirred the it's-not-art contention among Americans, and his work continues to confound many."

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Prosperity Gospel 

TBN's Promise: Send Money and See Riches:
During one telethon, Crouch, 70, told viewers that if they did their part to advance the Kingdom of God — such as by donating money to TBN — they should not be shy about asking God for a reward.

"If my heart really, honestly desires a nice Cadillac … would there be something terribly wrong with me saying, 'Lord, it is the desire of my heart to have a nice car … and I'll use it for your glory?' " Crouch asked. "I think I could do that and in time, as I walked in obedience with God, I believe I'd have it."
What is this, the eighties?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hurricane Goofus 

Amateur cures run from giant fans to nuclear warheads:
Amateur hurricane-busters have come up with any number of crackpot ideas to spare Florida from ferocious storms. Among them: blowing hurricanes away with giant fans or blowing them up with nuclear warheads.

Even the federal government got into the act, with three decades of ill-fated research called "Project Stormfury" before shelving the idea of weather modification in the 1980s.

But dozens of ideas — part hope, part fantasy — continue to crop up among weather wonks, Internet bloggers and others who think they have come up with a way to spare coastal residents the misery of hurricanes.

Suggestions have included coating the surface of the water with olive oil; towing an iceberg down to Florida to cool down the water temperature; or building large fans on the coast to blow away approaching storms.

"And then there was a guy who called and said he could pray them away," said Hugh Willoughby, a research professor with the International Hurricane Center at Florida International University.
Changing the weather on a significant scale is about as possible and about as smart as eliminating all bugs. Might seem like a good idea when you're being pestered by one, but later, when the ecosystem collapses, you might be second-guessing yourself.

Yakov's Show Description 

Below is Yakov Smirnoff's own website description of his own show at his own Yakov Smirnoff Theater. Be afraid, be very afraid:
Yakov frightens passersby with his theater's sign.There ought to be a caution sign as you enter the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre in Branson, Missouri. It should read "Warning! Hold on to your seat 'cause this guy is about to blow you away with dynamite comedy!" This 'guy' of course is Branson's Two-Time Comedian of the Year, Yakov Smirnoff, the famous Russian Comedian. He delivers explosive laughter in a show filled with brilliant special effects, dazzling dancing, heartfelt moments, and just plain fun. Yakov's entire show is packed with comedic tall tales and witty perceptions, funny facts and huge laughs....

The action keeps speeding up with the brilliant What A Country Dancers as they spectacularly display their unique styles of dancing. The dancers twist and twirl, daringly leaping across the stage. Yakov even joins them for a spin of his own with a surprising twist!

From the heartland of America, our funny philosopher takes us on a comedic journey and brings us unique insights into life, family, and these United States. As Yakov says, "Only In America can a Russian and a Japanese own a theater in the middle of the Ozarks!"

From the surprise pre-show excitement with comic juggler Slim Chance to the swirling action of the What A Country Dancers to the spectacular closing event, Yakov's show keeps you in side splitting laughter and patriotic wonder. As he embraces his visitors with welcoming smiles Yakov combines his refreshing humor with emotional motivation for all of us.

The journey begins with Yakov's explosive arrival on stage and from that point on Yakov climbs to new heights in the world of comedy. During this quick paced show full of variety you’ll meet Boris The Horse, see the Statue of Liberty, share in Yakov's journey as an United States citizen, watch as an audience member becomes a 'talk' show host, learn all about the romance between Romeo & Juliet, share a visit from St. Peter and...there's more!

Yakov's comedy focuses on the dynamics between men and women, the happiness that can be found inside oneself, and a celebration of the spirit of life. He shares a vision of the world where laughter truly is the best medicine. Yakov's prescription for healthy living includes explosive laughter backed up with the best of human compassion. As Yakov says, "What A Country", you’ll feel like cheering for the red, white & blue. During this inspiring show filled with patriotism and love of family, Yakov delivers humor for the heart over and over again!

There are selected dates for shows in Branson from April through December. Shows are at 9:30 AM and 3:00 PM. Be sure to check out Yakov's Show Schedule for available show dates and times. We suggest you purchase your tickets now, as Yakov's show is often sold out. Call 800-33-NO KGB (800-336-6542) or go to Yakov's On-line Ticket Reservations. Warning! Explosive Laughter awaits you at the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre.
Two thoughts:
1. The Ozarks are a mountain range entirely within the U.S., so clearly "only in America" can an individual of any heritage own a theater in them.
2. 9:30AM showtime??

Finally, Smirnoff created a mural displayed at Ground Zero on the first anniversary of 9/11?? WTF?

And now, a Public Service Announcement... 

A Firefox in Internet Explorer's Henhouse:
When was the last time you heard about the browser wars? Well, they're back. The reason: For the first time in more than seven years, Microsoft is losing Web browser market share. And it's not just a blip. According to Web analytics company WebSideStory, Microsoft's share of browser users who visited top e-commerce and corporate sites shrank from 95.6 percent in June to 93.7 percent in September. And people using browsers made by the Mozilla open-source software group grew from 3.5 percent to 5.2 percent.
Fahrenheit 1 Million: The temp at which the web explodes:
In just under 100 hours, we have smashed through our one million download campaign--with 6 days still to go! This is the fastest adoption rate we have ever experienced, higher than every previous Firefox release.
After getting really fed up with Internet Explorer, I switched to Netscape at work. Now I decided to try Firefox at home, and man, is it good. Highly, highly recommended.

Tangent: There are early warning signs that "Fahrenheit [number]: The temperature at which [item] [action]" is becoming a pop culture catch phrase. Let's see if this process solidifies with the marketing campaign for the October 5th DVD release of the Michael Moore film. Perhaps it can join other phrases of recent vintage to migrate (without mercy) from news headlines into the vernacular:
  • "the coalition of the willing"
  • "the mother of all battles"
  • "shock and awe"
  • "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit"

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Lost in Mistranslation 

I'm a big fan of poor translations, whether it's the human error of Chinese restaurant menus* or the tortured literalism of automatic tranlators.

I just ran across an apparently translated story (from the Times of India) about A9, Amazon's new internet search engine.

The story begins, "Thought nothing web search is synonymous with Google? Think again." This appears to be the exact opposite of the intended meaning.

But my favorite line is "A9 does not gives you Google's results, plus a lot more." That one's enough to make any logician, human or computer, explode in a messy spray of inscrutable contradicted negations.

*it may not be nice to make fun of people for whom English is a second language, but if said restaurants are gonna repeatedly stick said menus into my front door handle, I'm gonna feel free to critique same


Friday, September 17, 2004

"Likely Voters" 

I've been wondering about this myself. The Wall Street Journal asks, "what if the polls are wrong, and we aren't surveying the real likely electorate?"
A number of polls this presidential race show a gap in the preferences of registered voters vs. likely voters. In these models, the president usually does better with likely voters, the figure most news organizations emphasize. To get to likely voters, all polling organizations use what is called a "screen," asking questions to determine who is likely to actually turn out on election day.

These screens differ greatly, as there is no consensus among experts on what works best. "This is an art, not a science," says Peter Hart, the prominent Democratic polltaker who has helped conduct The Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey for 15 years.
And don't discount the cynicism of America. Am I the only one who has lied to a pollster, merely out of spite?


L.A. County Coroner's Office on Rick James:
Drugs found in James' system at the time of his death included cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription drugs Xanax, Valium, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Vicodin and Digoxin.

Rootin' Tootin' Computer Lootin' 

Report Recommends Bounty for Spammers:
What would it take to get someone to turn in one of those spammers who send millions of unwanted e-mails? At least $100,000, the Federal Trade Commission figures.

Six-figure incentives are the only way to persuade people to disclose the identity of co-workers, friends and others they know are responsible for flooding online mailboxes with unsolicited pitches for prescription drugs, weight loss plans and other products, according to an agency report Thursday.

The commission said a government-funded reward system could work if the payoff was between $100,000 and $250,000 — higher than rewards in most high-profile criminal and terrorism cases. For example, the FBI pays $50,000 for tips leading to the arrests of most of its top 10 fugitives.
The suggestion fits in nicely with the Wild West society into which we've been slowly drifting (like tumbleweed).

And instead of posting old-fashioned "Wanted" handbills, how about "Wanted" banner ads? I've occasionally wondered why that hasn't been done already. The reason the TV show America's Most Wanted is successful at generating tips is because TV reaches more people that the Post Office bulletin board (which is not the community meeting place it once was).

But "Wanted" banner ads could potentially work well, especially when dealing with tech crimes (although obviously such a scheme has a huge potential for abuse as well).

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The ISS Picture Window 

Space's largest window is built:
The largest window built for use in space has been completed, promising to give astronauts a spectacular view from the International Space Station.
The 80cm-wide window is one of seven fitted to an observation dome called Cupola, which will be attached to the ISS in January 2009.

Cupola has six trapezoid-shaped side windows around the large, circular one.

The new dome is designed to allow astronauts to control the robotic arm on the outside of the space station.
I like the "storm shutters" in the artist's rendition.

Armchair Stormtracker Note 

Live online coverage of Hurricane Ivan via WPMI in Mobile here.

UPDATE: ...via WGIB in Birmingham here (rebroadcasting local TV coverage).

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Who Watches The Night Watcher? 

Wall-Eye May Have Helped Rembrandt's Vision:
Rembrandt, the 17th-century Dutch master known for his skill in using light to carry perspective, may have been wall-eyed, a U.S. researcher proposed on Wednesday.
An analysis of 36 self-portraits of the great painter suggest he had a strabismus -- a misalignment of one eye that caused it to point slightly outward.

This condition, popularly known as wall-eye, may have given Rembrandt van Rijn an advantage in translating three-dimensional scenes into two-dimensional paintings, said Margaret Livingstone, a Harvard Medical School neurobiologist.

"It illustrates that disabilities are not always disabilities. They may be assets in another realm," Livingstone said in an interview.
Rembrandt must have had an impairment of some kind to explain him writing the theme for that awful Friends show.

Oh, wait. Never mind...

'Donna Don't Preach 

Opponents united in protest against 'pilgrim' Madonna:
Madonna was due to arrive in Israel last night on a five-day pilgrimage to practise her new-found faith, Kabbalah, an ancient form of Jewish mysticism. But she has already achieved the rare feat of uniting both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict in opposition....

Palestinians have accused her of ignoring their suffering, while Orthodox Jews have labelled her as religiously insensitive.
She's a uniter not a divider, that Madonna.

Odd addendum: "Britney Spears, who embraced the Kabbalah faith at the insistence of Madonna, is reportedly taking to her new religion very seriously." WTF is going on?


from The Network Administrator:

Click for larger version.


Tomorrow the U.S. Mint unveils a new nickel design:
The United States Mint is putting a new face on the nickel. The Nation's nickels that the United States Mint issues in 2005 will still feature President Thomas Jefferson, but unlike we've ever seen him before. It will be the first time that the image of Thomas Jefferson will change on the Nation's 5-cent coin.
"Unlike we've ever seen him before"? This is a strong theme with the Mint folks. Mint spokesperson Becky Bailey tells Money/CNN, "It's an updated, modernized engraving... It's Jefferson as you've never seen him before."

Why does this suggest the Poochie episode of The Simpsons?
Myers: No, no, no! He was supposed to have attitude.
Artist: Um... wh-what do you mean, exactly?
Myers: Oh, you know, attitude, attitude! Uh... sunglasses!
Lady: Could we put him in more of a "hip-hop" context?
Krusty: Forget context, he's gotta be a surfer. Give me a nice shmear of surfer.
Lady: I feel we should Rasta-fy him by... 10 percent or so.
[all stare at it w/o any expression]
Myers: Hmm... I think he needs a little more attitude.
[Artist blackens in Poochie's sunglasses]
All Three: Oh, yeah, bingo. Yeah, that's it! There it is, right there! I love it!
Good luck, Tom! Hope you don't get Rasta-fied tomorrow!

The Endless Middle 

It's going to be very interesting when, one day pretty soon, today's computer games morph into something akin to Total Recall's virtual vacations. Not the memory implant part, but creating a constructed reality so rich in detail that the real experience almost becomes besides the point for many people.

That's one thought while reading an interview with Will Wright, developer of The Sims game.

Another is that the future of storytelling appears to be much less linear, with the "beginning-middle-end" paradigm giving way to something much more complex. Clearly "beginnings" will always be with us to transition users into any new environment, but the prospects for "middles" and "ends" seem hazier (at least as we know them from current storytelling models).

Novels gave way somewhat to movies, and both have lost enormous ground to TV storytelling--which, despite often being forced into pedestrianism because of economic considerations, has analogies to longer, more complex narrative structures of the middle ages and older eras.

Computer gaming points the way to an interactive next step to this progression. But, inherently, interactivity prevents tidy finales to this story telling. If two users experience story elements in wholly different ways, with extremely different paces, how can there ever be a satisfying ultimate climax for both?

I'd wager that the future of storytelling will be microcosms of "beginning-middle-end," but the primary arc will be a beginning followed by an endless middle.

UPDATE: The BBC has an interesting article on "newsgaming," a sort of interactive successor to political cartoons. Described is a very interesting game titled "September 12th." (see also here)

Deutsche Welle Bids for Greater Journalistic Credibility 

German radio starts Klingon service:
The German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is celebrating 10 years of its online service by adding a new language to the 30 it already publishes - Klingon.

The language was developed for the Star Trek television and film series and is spoken by a warrior race of alien bad-guys from the planet Qo'noS.

In a futuristic leap, the Klingon pages appear on DW's web site under the date "September 2379", and describe Germany and the radio station at the start of the 21st Century.


Guido Baumhauer, head of DW's Online services, told the BBC that although the pages were initially published as a joke by DW engineers in their spare time, he has been taken aback by their popularity.

Star Trek fans and linguists "have taken it very seriously", he said, "and we have even been complimented on our use of the 'High Klingon' dialect."
Next, DW will be hiring as a news anchor Vulcan Willi, The German Spock Double (see photo).

Chuckle Patch 

Japan Gadget Turns Plants Into Speakers:
The therapeutic power of flowers takes on new meaning with a Japanese gadget that turns plants into audio speakers, making the petals and leaves tremble with good vibrations.

Called Ka-on, which means "flower sound" in Japanese, the machine consists of a donut-shaped magnet and coil at the base of a vase that hooks up to a CD player, stereo or TV.

Place the flowers into the vase, turn on Ka-on and the magnet and coil relay the sound vibrations up the stems through the plant's water tubes.... Unlike regular speakers, which send sound in one direction, Ka-on shoots it in all directions, filling an entire room with music in a more natural ambiance.
I'd be very curious to hear what this sounds like. What kind of frequency range does a plant have? Do mums act as a woofer, while ferns are your tweeter? And will John Tesh songs kill the plants like they do humans?

Oh, and it's not only music. "Later this month, you'll be able to carry on a telephone conversation with a flower with a planned speaker phone model," promises the article.

This is dangerous stuff. Making plants appear to talk will send a lot of people over the edge, I'm afraid.

Monday, September 13, 2004

And In the Middle of Negotiations, You Break Down... 


Beatles' suit could upset the Apple cart:
The Beatles' company, Apple Corps., is involved in a legal battle with Jobs' Apple Computer, claiming the hardware manufacturer is in breach of a 1991 agreement that that forbids it from using the trademark for any application "whose principle content is music." The two companies have been involved in a number of court battles over the years involving the use of the Apple trademark.


One lawyer told Daily Variety, "People are expecting this to be the biggest settlement anywhere in legal history, outside of a class action suit. The numbers could be mind boggling."


Some speculation suggests the settlement could see Apple Corps. becoming a major shareholder in the computer company, with Paul McCartney maybe even becoming a board member.
If Sir Paul gains a seat on the board, let's hope he shows better due diligence then when The Beatles hired an inventor/con man named "Magic Alex"--who was going to create, among other supposed innovations, an invisible "sonic force field" for sound separation in the recording studio.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Bronenosets Potyomkin! 

click for larger version of imageOne of the obscure sections of links on the right hand of this blog is a series of webcams at which I occasionally glance. I just happened to click on the Trafalgar Square cam moments ago, and saw the scene displayed here (it was 3pm EDT here, so 8pm in London).

I was curious as to what event was taking place, and a quick search turned up the answer:
Pet Shop Boys/Battleship Potemkin
Sunday 12 September 8.30pm
Eisenstein's classic silent film of political dissent on a giant screen, accompanied by a new score, written and performed live by The Pet Shop Boys, with the 26 piece Dresdner Sinfoniker, in association with Contemporary Films. A highlight of this year's Trafalgar Square Summer programme, this event promises to be an extraordinary and memorable collaboration.
Of course, the solution to one mystery presents another. WTF? The Pet Shop Boys and Battleship Potemkin?

This seems vaguely reminiscent of the 1984 update of Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis, featuring a Giorgio Moroder-helmed pop soundtrack with Freddie Mercury, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, and Billy Squire.

According to the BBC:
The pop duo will perform the soundtrack with the Dresden Sinfoniker orchestra to accompany a screening of the film.

Singer Neil Tennant said: "We liked the idea that we were going to take something made in the 1920s and put contemporary electronic music to it."

He told BBC One's Breakfast that the 73-minute work includes two new songs.... "The ICA approached us because they knew we had a background of using film with our music - our first tour, for example, was directed by Derek Jarman," said Tennant.
Interesting pairing.

Post-script: In the above-linked article, the BBC contributes another entry to the Dumb Caption Sweepstakes. Under a still from the movie, the caption reads, "Battleship Potemkin has influenced many artists and film-makers."

The 'Up' Vibe, High-Energy Feel! 

Media news from down-under... Quick or dead on FOX:
TOP rating Melbourne radio station FOX FM has admitted it uses new technology to speed up songs on its playlist.

FOX general manager Gary Pert said the station played some songs faster to create "an up vibe, high energy feel about about the station".

He denied the process allowed the station to squeeze in more commercials.
Stories of digital time compression so TV stations can squeeze in extras commercials have become familiar in recent years (see here, here, and here, for example), so it would be natural to scoff at Mr. Pert's denial of any financial motivation for this unnaturally faster music.

But such a trick dates back to long before the digital age, and the 'up vibe' has a history as the practice's motivation. According to a 1999 discussion at airwaves.com, a radio vet (Jim Burgan) wrote about the topic:
I worked at several Top 40 stations with "hot" turntables and not once was it being done to play "more music"....The only reason I ever heard for running a turntable fast was to make the music sound more uptempo or brighter than the competition (or your home record-player).
The Production Director of WKDQ/Evansville, IN (Gregg Buickel) also weighed in:
I would be curious to hear how many top-40 stations used to speed up the turntables from 45rpm to 48 rpm. A friend who worked in Louisville, Lexington and Cleveland told me that most of those stations sped up the records. And i heard that WLS and CFL and WABC all sped up records to make them more uptempo and shorter.

It's baaaaack! 

NOAA announces the return of EL NIÑO:
NOAA declared today that El Niño is back but this time around in a weaker state. "El Niño conditions have developed in the tropical Pacific and are expected to last through early 2005," said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center....

El Niño is associated with changes in sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and can have significant impacts on weather around the world. El Niño episodes occur about every four to five years and can last up to 12 to 18 months.

Why Rock Critics Suck 

St. Louis's alternative weekly, the Riverfront Times, has produced an uber-snarky list guaranteed to piss off nearly everyone, and continue America's long-standing tradition of Hating Rock Critics: The Most Hated Men in Rock (Besides Sting).

Stated criteria for inclusion: (a) man has talent; (b) man used it well for a substantial period of time; and (c) man intentionally squandered it for commercial riches, fame and/or forced mass appeal.

1. Paul McCartney
2. Carlos Santana
3. Jimmy Buffett
4. The Adams Family (Ryan & Bryan)
5. Elton John
6. Johnny Rzeznik
7. G.E. Smith
8. Conor Oberst & Chris Carrabba
9. Fred Durst
10. Bob Weir
11. Glenn Frey & Don Henley
12. Scott Stapp
13. Rod Stewart
14. Phil Collins
15. Lenny Kravitz
16. Steve Miller
17. John Cougar Mellencamp
18. Michael McDonald
19. Max Weinberg
20. Lars Ulrich

While I wholeheartedly agree with the evaluation of some of the listees (I wouldn't worry much if Mssrs. Durst, Stapp, or McDonald fell down a well), the tone of the piece is so contradictorily vitriolic that the author's real message can only be: "I was ignored as a child! Pay attention to me!"

Look, it's obvious by now that entertainment writing's credo is Snarky Sells (how else would that Mr. Blackwell ass have a career?), but obviously the Riverfront Times's Mike Seely didn't get the rockcrit memo to merely ladle out the sarcasm, lest St. Louis' readers think he's that creature even more reviled than a rock critic...the British rock critic.

But instead of that ladle, Seely goes ahead with the bucket. And this coming from a guy who calls The Polyphonic Spree's debut album a "masterwork."

So reading this piece has led me to the Top 5 Reasons Rock Critics Suck:
  1. Endless Lists. As stated previously in this space, every music publication and pundit has lately been churning out endless lists using the following formula: "The [number] [Top/Best/Greatest] [subject] of [all/chronological limiter/geographical limiter]." Rock critics frequently savage musicians for, oh hello, intentionally squandering talent for forced mass appeal--why is the cheesy list ploy any different creatively?

  2. Being What They Mock. Seely mocks emo songwriters as "essentially intellectually dishonest." Yet he also sneers that Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas is a "flash-in-the-pan pop star." The group, however, has had a string of high charting albums and singles over a seven-year period. Though that represents only three albums, the span matches the active period of The Beatles and hardly qualifies as a "flash-in-the-pan" (consider, say, the public profiles of Right Said Fred or EMF). If someone wants to deride such fertile terrain as Matchbox 20, why assail them for something that's incontrovertibly incorrect?

    Further, Seely states that the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik was included on the list "without ever exhibiting an ounce of artistic talent," yet the Goo Goo Dolls were once a respected alternative rock band (before they got drunk on Power Ballads after that goddamn radio hit "Name"). The band began their career as a sloppy, entertaining group playing early-Replacementsesque hardcore on Metal Blade Records. Even accounting for individual taste, an honest observer would have to grant some exhibition of artistic talent during this period (e.g., see here)--which surely falls within the period "ever."

  3. Inherent Contradictions. Critics always seem to play favorites, tarring one musician's trait as a flaw while labeling that same trait in another as meritorious. For example, Seely calls Bryan Adams' putrid 1985 hit "Summer of '69" a "true-blue gem" and opines about Rick Springfield thusly: "Rick also still rocks -- in a Dirk Diggler 'You Got the Touch, You Got the Power' sort-of way." However, he takes shots at "bubblegum hacks such as Huey Lewis." And despite burnishing the dubious gemstone shine of "Summer of '69," he thumps Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" as a tune that "could have been written by a third grader."

  4. Writing about the sizzle, not the steak. Rock critics increasingly seem to prefer writing about the gossip and other non-music fluff rather than the music itself (a problem in much journalism today). Like, say, pitting artists against each other in lists. And within those list entries, not even mentioning a single song title from the artist in question in over half of the top ten (Ryan Adams, Johnny Rzeznik, G.E. Smith, Conor Oberst/Chris Carrabba, Fred Durst, and debatably, Carlos Santana). If your beef is with their music, discuss the music. If it's with their hype/P.R./sex partner/what they did on Leno last month, why are you discussing it on the music pages?

  5. Straw Man Arguments. C'mon. Including former Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith on this list? Was his 1985-1995 run as SNL bandleader really that influential in the music world? His mug WAS annoying at the time (although I always respected his cred for being there--Gilda Radner was his ex-wife), but anyone who thought similarly has had nearly a decade to recover. This inclusion was less a "Hated Man in Rock" entry, and more a "I'm going to toss your way an obscure yet safe name to impress you with my knowledge" entry (unless perhaps Seely's been fulminating on this list for years and Smith is only a holdover).

So, by all means, go read the article accompanying the list. But feel dirty while you do.

And before concluding, let me first state for the record that yes, I'm aware that Mike Seely is not solely a rock critic, and I'm not aiming this solely at him. And please, yes, I am surely aware of certain inherent ironies in the above tirade. So don't bother to point them out.

This Just In... 

Schwarzenegger outlaws sex with corpses:
Having sex with corpses is now officially illegal in California after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill barring necrophilia.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Id' & Nancy 

There's something very fascinating yet frightening about this picture.

click to see larger versionIt's Billy Idol and Nancy Sinatra, as posted on Nancy's website on 9/1. She calls him "one of the all time great rockers" and says that "when I heard he was rehearsing in another studio at the same facility, I RACED over to see him because I've wanted to meet him since 'Whiplash Smile.'"

Yikes, she looks better than he does!

I was perusing Nancy's site because she has a new album about to be released that is surprisingly good. It features collaborations with Bono & The Edge of U2, Morrissey, Dennis Diken of The Smithereens, Jon Spencer, Pete Yorn, Steve Van Zandt, Pulp's Jarvis Crocker, and members of Sonic Youth and Calexico.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Digital Pranking 

"You have been talking to a computer! One of your friends is now reading the whole conversation and laughing it up!"

Turns out bloodletting wasn't so bad after all... 

Germ Study Suggests Bloodletting May Work:
Could that ancient practice of bleeding patients really have done some good? A scientist says new research on how germs thrive in the body suggests it just may have — for some people.


The discovery suggests that bloodletting, done early enough, may have slowed staph infections by starving germs of iron, National Institutes of Health iron specialist Tracy Rouault wrote in a review of Skaar's research.


Searching old medical texts, she found that starting in 18th-century France, certain physicians advised it only at the start of a high-fever illness. Even in 1942, medicine's leading English-language textbook advised early bleeding for high-fever pneumonia.

That can certainly describe a bad staph infection.
Also, leeching has some applications, too. Soon, we'll return to the old door-and-string method of pulling teeth.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Spotlight on Trade Mags! 

In a continuing effort by this website to enlighten readers about up-to-the-minute items that are rightfully being ignored by fellow citizens everywhere, it's time to shine our high-beamed spotlight on an obscure industry's inscrutable trade publication.

This time up, it's Portals Magazine, serving people involved in making specialized websites that take you to other websites. And the people that love them.
  • Mission statement of Portals Magazine:
    Portals Magazine provides essential information that will enable executives to successfully implement and maintain portal solutions, creating a competitive advantage for their companies and organizations.
    (In other words, unlike all the other business magazines out there, this magazine promises to tell readers stuff that they can use for stuff. Only about portals.)

  • How they fancy themselves:
    Portals Magazine is written for senior corporate, departmental, and IT executives who are considered the "portal champions" within their companies and organizations.... Portals Magazine addresses business portals that face employees (B2E), customers (B2C) and partners (B2B).
    (What do you suppose is the Breakfast of Portal Champions? Also, please note: always remember to point portals away from one's face before spraying.)

  • Upcoming events focusing "on the portals market": Uh, when last checked the event page was mercifully devoid of thrilling confabs.

  • Didja know? America West Airlines "continues to expand its commitment to the portal concept" but its "approach has been incremental."
Now you can nod wisely and sagely when someone comes up to you and ask you for the latest portal news, and you can resolutely say, "Get the hell away from me."

Your VCR Will Start Erasing Old Tapes 

Oops, sorry, not your VCR. But your PVR will:
The makers of TiVo and ReplayTV digital video recorders have agreed to limit how long consumers can keep pay-for-view movies stored on future versions of the VCR-like devices.

The new technology also will allow Hollywood movie studios and broadcasters to regulate how often movies purchased through pay-for-view services can be watched. Digital video recorders that recognize these new copy restrictions will begin appearing in the spring of 2005. But it could be years before entertainment companies begin to take advantage of the technology, according to ReplayTV President Bernie Sepaniak.
Under the bugaboo of digital piracy, the MPAA seeks to kill off what was a well-established practice via analogue, the self-recorded video library.

Clearly, Hollywood is correct to worry about this eventuality. But it's certainly bad for all of us consumers to allow them to sue, strong-arm, or legislate away all of our pre-existing technological abilities.

Among the possible measures taken with these systems:
One control would limit recording to 90 minutes -- essentially enough time for a viewer to watch an on-demand movie. Another would allow a movie to be stored for up to seven days but once the film was started it must be viewed within 24 hours. Another would allow unlimited viewing within a seven-day period.
Fairly draconian, considering we can currently digitally record and keep these movies indefinitely.

Mike Fiddles While Rome Burns... 

Extinction May Have Trickle-Down Effect:
A team of researchers led by Lian Pin Koh of the National University of Singapore studied some 12,200 plants and animals considered threatened or endangered, and calculated that an additional 6,300 dependent insects, mites, fungi and other species could be considered endangered.

"What we found is that with the extinction of a bird, or a mammal or a plant, you aren't just necessarily wiping out just one, single species. We're also allowing all these unsung dependent species to be wiped out as well," one member of the team, Heather Proctor of Canada's University of Alberta, said in a statement.
That's not entirely true. I believe several hit songs last year alone were devoted to dependent mites or fungi.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"I May Not Know Who Said It, But I Can Quote It After I Hear It" 

It's a frequently used line, written originally about pornography but adapted for a cornucopia of topics: I may not know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.

I don't use quotation marks around the line, because it's not a quote--at least not a quotation of the original source. It's now an aphorism of modern folk wisdom that's descended from the actual quote.

A quick check of google shows the various forms and citations this quote is given...

Link: Years ago, a Justice of the United States Supreme Court was said to have explained, "I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it."

Link: As a judge once said, "I can’t explain what pornography is, but I know it when I see it.".

Link: There was a Senator who said "I don't know what pornography is but I know it when I see it."

Link: A Supreme Court justice once defined pornography: I may not know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.

Link: Pornography falls into the area of "I can't precisely define it, but I know it when I see it."

Link: One of our politicians, who, when asked to define "pornography" said: "I don't know how to define pornography but I know it when I see it."

Link: It's like that Meese Report on pornography: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

Like good folk wisdom, the correct citation is eventually stripped away leaving many users to simply set up the line with a "someone once said," "like the man said," or simply "like the old adage about pornography."

Meanwhile, the range of topics to which this quote is applied is staggering:

Link: I cannot explain Fractal Theory, but I know it when I see it.

Link: I can't define bad art, but I know it when I see it.

Link: It's tough to define "street cred," and impossible to earn. But I know it when I see it.

Link: I can't define cheating, but I know it when I see it.

Link: I don’t know a good definition of spirituality but I know it when I see it.

Link: I'm not sure I can nail down exactly what it is that makes a great field camera, but I know it when I see it.

For the record, the line originates with a 1964 Supreme Court decision (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184). And despite erroneous attributions to Justices Blackwell, White, and Powell, it was actually Justice Potter Stewart who wrote in his concurring opinion:
I imply no criticism of the Court, which, in those cases, was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court's decisions since Roth and Alberts, that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Or as Simpson's Contemporary Quotations
codifies it,
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material...but I know it when I see it.
The moral of the story: if you must use this line, either use it as unsourced folk wisdom or please get the wording and the source correct. Please, don't be like Linda Perkin, Deputy Director of the Department of Political Affairs, Americas and Europe Division, of the United Nations, who apparently wanted to use the line but suddenly decided that the pornography connection was unseemly:
Do you know there is this old expression that was used in the United States by a Supreme Court Justice where it was said and it doesn't matter with reference to what "I can't define it but I know it when I see it."
I can't define blathering by a bureaucrat, but I know it when I see it.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Advertising Taught How to Whine 

Big Brother says: Buy this!--
Meet the Human Locator. It's a new technology developed by Canadian ad agency Freeset Interactive that purports to detect when humans are near, track their movement, and then broadcast messages directed at them on a nearby screen.

To hear Human Locator mastermind and Freeset President Bastien Beauchamp tell it, the system can even speak to passersby, beckoning them to come closer to a message screen or begging them not to leave.

The Human Locator is essentially a camera and computer that collects data on the number of people walking within a certain target area, the direction they're headed, and their speed.
The day I first encounter interactive ads which "beckon" or "beg" is the day I learn what it means to "go postal."

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Professional vs Amateur 

Watching coverage of Hurricane Frances underscores the shifting question of what defines a professional in journalism, or any field?

I've heard reporters veer into patronization while clucking about individuals being out and about in dangerous storm conditions, wholly oblivious to the irony that they are doing the same thing.

These reporters might take umbrage at a comparison of their own risks to that of an average citizen. They likely, and rightfully, feel passionately about the vital information dissemination role the Fourth Estate serves in all important but dangerous circumstances.

Yet, people without formal training or credentials are increasingly able to serve that role in many areas.

The question remains whether the newsmedia will attempt to remain willfully ignorant of these trends, just as the music industry stuck its head in the sand when faced with the reality that consumers could simply bypass normal distribution channels.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Extreme Quotes 

Observed on an airport advertising lightbox:
"CART driver, Bryan Herta knows that safety is the ultimate rush on the track and on the road."
Let's the ignore the inappropriate comma (an incorrectly punctuated appositive for your scorecards at home), and address the message. Are we to believe that the thrill of racing is derived largely from buckling up? Uh...right...

Meanwhile, from USA Today:
I have a reissue of Elvis Costello's first album, My Aim is True, that includes many of the songs as he first recorded them on a tape recorder in his house. On those songs, he sounds like he's standing in rush-hour traffic with a blanket over his head.
I believe I have the same reissue, and there's just a little tape hiss. Perhaps the article's author was actually listening in rush-hour traffic with a blanket over his head? Doesn't that newspaper teach their reporters to be accurate in their reportage? Oh whoops. Never mind.

And finally, this week's piece de resistance:
"I think it confirms what a lot of music fans figured out for themselves--they are the architects of what we'd call contemporary pop music." ~~Jam Productions VP of concerts Andy Cirzan on The Pixies
Um, I'm a fan of the band but that's a tad ridiculous. Wow, the All Music Guide stops at only labeling them as "one of the most influential American alternative rock bands of the late '80s."

But heck, why not free ourselves from the bonds of qualifiers like "American" and "alternative rock" and "late '80s"? Let's just call them the "architects of what we'd call contemporary pop music," or perhaps better yet, "the ultimate foundation of all Western music"? Let's throw caution to the wind!

As long as we first buckle up. Safety is, after all, the ultimate rush.

First Daughter Report 

Jenna and Barbara Bush lived up to their hard-partying reputation while in New York:
"They [and their entourage of about 25] drank $4,500 dollars worth of drinks — bottles and bottles of vodka," says a club insider. "Then, having been comped all the alcohol, they left a $48 tip. We thought 1 per cent was kind of outrageous, considering they are the president's daughters."

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Winds Do Blow 

More fierce hurricanes may loom on horizon:
As Hurricane Frances bears down on the United States, weather trackers are sounding the alarm. Yet Frances may only be the first in a series of large, powerful storms to march across the Atlantic in coming years.
The Colorado State University hurricane forecast team says to brace for September:
Following one of the most active August storm seasons on record - and as Florida braces for the impact of Hurricane Frances - William Gray and Philip Klotzbach of the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team are calling for another active storm month in September and the continuation of a well-above-average hurricane season.
After the initial question--what the hell is a hurricane forecast team doing in Colorado?--one marvels at how complex these storms can be. Despite all improvements in computer modeling,
For three-day forecasts, the average margin of error is now about 200 nautical miles, just half of what it was in 1964. Daily predictions are also improving. Today, the average margin of error is just 85 nautical miles, the Center reported. (from the CNN story)
Great improvement, but yipe! That's still some margin of error when life-or-death is concerned.

FYI: Live streamed coverage of Hurricane Frances available via WFOR.

"Are You Ready, Boots? Start Walkin'!" 

Pre-Lucy creature walked upright:
A human ancestor the size of a chimp walked upright six million years ago – about three million years earlier than Lucy, the famous bipedal hominid, researchers say.

Scientists used computer-enhanced X-rays called CAT scans to study a fossil thighbone from the creature, known as Orrorin tugenensis.

The scans suggest the human ancestor walked upright like pre-humans, not like apes.

"We have solid evidence of the earliest upright posture and bipedalism securely dated to six million years," said Robert Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Pennsylvania State University.
I'm planning a large March Against Bipedalism soon...er, Crawl Against Bipedalism.

Strap yourselves in.... 

International Team of Scientists Establishes New Internet Land-Speed Benchmark:
Scientists...have set a new Internet2 land-speed record. The team transferred 859 gigabytes of data in less than 17 minutes at a rate of 6.63 gigabits per second between the CERN facility in Geneva, Switzerland, and Caltech in Pasadena, California, a distance of more than 15,766 kilometers. The speed is equivalent to transferring a full-length DVD movie in just four seconds.
That last sentence is sure to get the collective panties of the MPAA and its member companies in the proverbial bunch.

Obviously, this was an experimental situation, and speeds like these are not imminent for consumers. But it sure helps to underscore thinking like Mark Cuban's, who argues that instead of putting all eggs in one format basket (like DVD), an ever higher technical quality (and, therefore, filesize) is necessary to stay one step ahead of downloaders:
Hard Drive storage is expanding far more quickly than upload or download speeds to our homes. The ability to use that hard drive storage to increase the quality and file size of a movie, makes it practically impossible to distribute it over the net. I have a question I always ask at speeches, and have asked for the last several years. I ask if anyone in the room has ever downloaded or uploaded a movie or TV show in HD quality to or from a P2P network. No one has ever raised their hand.

Cheerful news 

Cats may carry the bird flu virus:
The bird flu virus that can kill humans has the potential to be spread by cats, scientists have found.

It had been thought that domestic cats were resistant to diseases caused by influenza A viruses - one of which, H5N1, is responsible for avian flu.


The researchers warn that their findings may mean that cats are a potential source of infection for humans.
I'm going to have to give my cats a talking to...

"Don't scratch up the furniture, stop knocking over the pictures on top of the bookcase, and oh yeah, no carrying avian flu germs!!"

Waiting for Fun 

I just saw in the refrigerator a jar of mayonnaise which urges me to "put some fun on that bun," showing a photo of (apparently) the product on a cheeseburger. I can do with a little more fun in my life, so I'm putting some of the aforementioned "fun" on a recently obtained bun.

Now waiting...

UPDATE: Ten minutes have passed... still waiting...

2nd UPDATE: Am passing the time reading the mayo jar's ingredient list. The major ingredients are water, vinegar, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar. Still no fun, and now I'm feeling a little queasy.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Virtual Nyaa Nyaa 

Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar:
The new weapons in the teenage arsenal of social cruelty include stealing each others' screen names and sending inflammatory messages to friends or crush-objects, forwarding private material to people for whom it was never intended and anonymously posting derogatory comments about fellow students on Web journals called blogs.
"I'm digital rubber and you're virtual glue, what bounces off me sticks to you at 1.2 gigacycles!"

So Sit Right Back And You'll Hear a Tale... 

"No. No!" you're saying. "No, absolutely not! No one can tie Gilligan's Island in with post-Saddam monetary policy in a cogent economic discussion!"

'Fraid so.

The Monetary Economics of Thurston Howell III:
As we see in the case of post-war Iraq, the fiat history of a currency can serve as the starting point for its post-fiat valuations. The Saddam Dinar doubled its value (measured against the Dollar) in only two weeks, but it couldn't have gotten started without its previous, albeit inflationary and unstable, exchange value. At that point, astonishing as it may seem, no government was necessary to maintain the value of the money. The market can reclaim money from government.

Why did the unbacked paper do better than the US Dollar? Because the quantity of dinars was relatively fixed, while the supply of dollars grew. The law of supply and demand tells us that, all else being equal, a rise in the supply of a thing will lower the price of that thing. The thing, in this case, is the Dollar itself; its "price" is its buying power, which the Iraqis watched erode drastically within days.

This is why the castaways value Thurston Howell's paper dollars: because whatever absurd amount he may have brought with him for "a three-hour tour," that amount is now fixed. Dollars are the most stable currency available on Gilligan's Island, and the government has nothing to do with it. Or rather: the absence of government has everything to do with it. If people are allowed to pick their own preferred money, they will pick whatever holds its value most reliably.
Wow! I'm in awe. Not of the argument, but in the audacity of the metaphor. (I tried to sample a flavor of the piece, but you really have to read the original)



Barron's asserts that 'Radio may be in a long-term decline':
Investors, along with radio executives, may not be facing up to the full extent of the industry's challenges. While radio has always weathered past threats -- video did not kill radio's star, as a group called the Buggles prophesied in 1981 -- things could really be different this time.

Across the country, listeners are changing how they choose to receive music and news and talk radio. They are turning to portable music players like Apple Computer's iPod, streaming audio over the Internet and the emerging field of satellite radio to hear what they want, when they want to hear it.
Meanwhile, Forbes discusses how radio has protected its turf by being Broadcast Bullies:
For decades the radio industry has crushed incipient competitors by wielding raw political muscle and arguments that are at once apocalyptic and apocryphal. Radio station owners, who formed the National Association of Broadcasters in 1923, have won laws and regulations that have banned, crippled or massively delayed every major new competitive technology since the first threat emerged in 1934: FM radio.
There's a lot of truth in these articles, and some hot air as well.

The Forbes article is dead-on when it discusses the bullying tactics of the National Association of Broadcasters, but it's also built around a faulty central premise: that digital radio is inherently better radio. That's simply not true. While CD quality radio is certainly preferable, the popularity with mp3s encoded at the 128k bitrate underscores that convenience trumps technical quality for most music consumers.

The idea that the CD's embrace by the masses was fueled by its superior sound is a widely accepted fallacy, one that led the record labels and electronics manufacturers to a constant drive throughout the past decade to find the "next format" (the labels, of course, hoping to repeat that enormous windfall when consumers replace their entire music collection). After attempting to peddle the MiniDisc, the Digital Compact Cassette (a format named by the marketing department, if ever I heard one), and more recently the SuperAudio CD and DVD-Audio disc, companies finally realized that--just like the adoption of the CD--consumers latched onto the next best format that served the needs of convenience: the mp3.

But for those who do care about quality, the big question mark with digital radio--either XM or digital broadcast via the AM/FM bands--is if and how the signal is compressed to fit in the available bandwidth of the transmission. I don't have satellite radio, so I can't speak to its quality--although Stereophile magazine states that "some audiophiles have expressed doubts concerning the audio quality of XM's codec" ("codec" being the scheme used to compress and decompress data).

However, XM apparently asserts to their customers: "We conducted extensive listening tests with consumers, and they are unable to tell any difference between XM Radio and an actual CD. Our system is fully digital and drive testing has confirmed XM provides better sound quality when compared to today’s AM and FM radio."

Of course, most people in general are unable to tell the difference between FM broadcasting and an actual CD (except under disfavorable circumstances, which, presumably, XM did not apply to themselves in their "extensive listening tests"). And a low bitrate mp3 is also "fully digital," but the sound quality is clearly inferior to a CD. The initial association of "digital" with "high quality audio" only applied originally to uncompressed 44.1 kHz digital audio, and is often today being used as a empty marketing buzzword.

Which brings me to how the Barron's article undercuts Forbes' premise. Essentially, the thesis of the Barron's piece is that commercial radio corporations have been greedy bastards who, like junkies, know full well that they are killing themselves long-term in exchange for the short-term high but are seemingly powerless to alter their behavior.

Exactly so.

But applied to Forbes' "digital is better" theory, there's a serious problem. Who believes that radio conglomerates will be able to control themselves when faced with the option of giving their audience a lower-quality encoded signal and jamming more data in their available bandwidth to try for more short-term revenue?

Digital radio will allow for multiple audio streams being transmitted over the same radio channel, which could, in effect, double or triple the number of radio stations owned by a company. Of course, maximizing the number of signals on a channel requires lower-quality audio for each.

As someone "backwards" enough to still listen to shortwave broadcasts, I don't anticipate trading in my analog radio anytime soon. Anytime I feel the need for "digital radio," I fire up my Winamp and listen to someone's Shoutcast broadcast...

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