The Rant for The Day.

I know, I know, two posts that are ten minutes apart. Sorry. At least with the next splash page you can tell now, right?

This entry is just to link to Mended By Mercy's thoughts about Church and Politics.

Anyone who claims Christianity as their religion should read that entry and consider the message.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

USB Keys Start Moving.

Please pardon the pun.

I'll be telling different stories tomorrow, about more personal events, like how to take the high road when you hit a parked Buick Le Sabre, and my adventures in appliance liberation (I kindof stole a dishwasher).

But for today, I have more future-news. Some of you probably remember me writing an entry about USB and file sharing.

In it I mentioned a presentation I gave a few years ago at my university on the future of USB flash drives. I implied that one day they might be used as digital keys, literally allowing you to start your car or open your front door with an encrypted file.

Well, it seems I wasn't the only one thinking ahead.

I just learned from this entry on Everything USB that Mazda has just introduced a new concept vehicle, the SASSOU.

The most exciting feature for me personally? The USB key ignition and door lock system. Hooray for a whole new way of thinking about locks, electronic and traditional.

Sometimes I think my blog's motto should be:

"The future is coming. You might want to duck."

Return to Sender.

Back from Nashville.



Katrina didn't knock out power here(yay!).

My downloads aren't finished yet(boo!).

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Nashville, Moving, Dust and Dogs.

I'm in Nashville, helping my sister prepare her new house and move. Things have been hectic but I'll post lots of new tales for your entertainment soon enough.

Expect more stories from my life and times later this week, including lessons about the tantra courtesy of my mother (ewww!), the "It's a man-skirt, you idiot!" story, and the endlessly entertaining "how many layers of carpet are in this room?" game.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Weighing in on .xxx

[Author/Editor's note(s): I considered doing a cute "no porn" logo since I've bene playing with GIMP lately but I figured it might be in poor taste, and I'm running late as it is.

Also, I'm going out of town for four days, so the updates might not be daily.]

For background information on the subject I'm about to discuss, start with the Wikipedia article.

ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It was formed in the late 90s to handle the hustle and flow of internet traffic. It's something like a zoning commission for the internet, run by committee.

The following entry was springboarded by Regina Lynn's wired news editorial on the topic.

I'm rather torn on the .xxx debate myself. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a great idea. But the more I think about it, the less it appeals to me.

I'm not a big fan, you see, of porn. I have something of a negative history with the stuff. The guys at XXXchurch are my heros. I once encouraged a local bible study at my Alma Matter to create an offshoot meeting to deal with pornography addiction, and helped lead the meetings for that group for a semester.

So the ideal of corralling all of the porn in one place, and putting a label on it and a fence around it and opening it up to oppression and censorship and taxation, is appealing to my anti-pornography mentality.

But my politics cannot support that move.

There are a couple of reasons. One is that I believe that the freedom of the internet is important. I think that the wild-west mentality we have here is valuable. It keeps us healthy, competitive, and reasonable.

That mentality drives the development of the internet in ways that we aren't driven in day to day life because protective legislation, government funding, and idiotic laws designed to keep us from doing anything that might be considered harmful to ourselves. The widely held belief in American society is that the government exists to take care of us and protect us, even from ourselves, and I view the internet as a haven where that mentality is not yet rampant, where we still realize there is untamed territory out there and we must thrive in it.

It means that we rise up in anger when China moves to censor its bloggers from using phrases like "democratic rule" and "human rights." We cry out with shock and anger because we know, instinctively, that censorship is something that doesn't belong in this part of the human experience. The internet is not a place for control, it's a place for freedom of expression and information, because we as a species need an outlet for that freedom that is unfettered.

In addition, I think that the untamed nature of the internet provides an important social mirror. The army is getting a fantastic amount of information out of its milbloggers in Iraq right now. Information it has never had before about what the soldiers think, what they want and don't want. Information it would never have gotten if the internet was organized and government sanctioned and polite and restrained and registered.

That social mirror extends to all of us. We should all have the guts to look that reflection in the eye and see it for what it means. We would realize that as a culture we are easily swayed by aggressive advertising and simple tricks. We give in to pop-up adds and shiny interactive displays (Ooh, punch the monkey! I can do that!). We allow spammers to e-mail us and they're obviously making money because capitalism doesn't suffer the indigent business plan to survive. And yes, we encourage pornographers to proliferate and generate more and more free, easily accessible porn* for our children to discover and give them a very, very skewed lesson on sexuality.

*Those two links are very, very NSFW. Don't click them at work, at home, or at school. Do not click them in a car. Do not click them in a bar. Do not click them on a boat. Do not click them with a goat. Do not click them though you can, DO NOT CLICK THEM SAM I AM.

Where was I?

Oh, so the painfully clear, non-airbrushed, excruciatingly honest social mirror that the internet works rather like Snow White's mother-in-law's magic mirror. And right now it is telling us things we don't want to hear.

It is telling us that we encourage retailers to use spam. So those of us who don't have created spam filters. Great! That is healthy, independent internet advancement.

It is telling us that we are fascinated by the boring, everyday stories of angsty high-schoolers that we've never met. That we'll spend hours commenting on their stories. Wonderful, we need to sigh, admit that, and move on.

And it is telling us that we're twisted, sexually repressed freaks who search for things like "perverted voyeurs" (yes, yours truly turned up as a search result for that phrase on google last week) when we're bored. It's telling us that we like pornography. And sadly, it's telling us that we seem to prefer BAD pornography. The majority of the porn you'll run across falls into two categories. Disgustingly lurid images of amateurs in basements taken with (judging from the visual quality) a three year old webcam being run by a monkey. Or extremely airbrushed, overly-lit lesbian porn usually starring a couple of women with 80s hairstyles, bright red nails, too much makeup, and oh yeah, dead, soulless eyes.

And there is a LOT of it. But according to Capitalism, there is only enough of it to support the porn surfing habits of 1 billion internet savvy people (mostly driven, I suppose, by the 223 million Americans who surf).

So I think that it is healthy for us to take a gander at the internet and realize that this is what most of us seem to like.

So, does the .xxx domain appeal to my politics?

No. For one, we lose the valuable social mirror effect. News about porn use will become less and less prevalent. The uneasy laugh that America has had to adopt as porn is pushed to the front of its mind will be lost. It won't drive social change and improvement. It certainly wont drive a reform of sexuality or erotic art as a medium, because we'll go back to ignoring it.

I don't read playboy magazine, and I don't encourage people to, but I think that Playboy was one of the best things that happened to America, because it forced people to look at more than just attractive women, it forced people to look at themselves. I think the internet is doing the same thing right now and regulation will only quell the growing awareness and unease that these honest assessments could be driving.

In addition, I am concerned for my personal freedom of speech.

What constitutes Obscene material? As United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said Jacobellis v Ohio, (a landmark Pornography case), "I shall not today attempt further to define [hardcore pornography] ...But I know it when I see it."

What if the regulations are very strict ("to protect the children!" they'll shout), so strict, in fact, that even my website is scrutinized? After all, I've written of perverted voyeurs in this very post. I've written past works of fiction about Vampires seducing women, and high school girls writing about sex.

I certainly don't want my website shut down or forced to move to the .xxx domain because I wrote about seducing a co-worker.

So it is that I arrive at my conclusion: the .xxx domain is a bad idea. It will push the pornography problem to the back of the American consciousness and let us go back to ignoring a rising epidemic of pornography addiction and the rapid change of sexual mores. Mores that might be changing because the society is changing, but might be changing because the industry is encouraging them to change.

The internet provides us a chance to talk openly about previously taboo subjects that have a powerful impact on all our lives. Making them taboo all over again won't make them go away.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Making a Splash

The idea of recursive blogging (writing about blogging, in my blog), sounds silly.

But that's what today's post will be about.

As my longtime readers know, I run a couple of site statistics trackers: Sitemeter and Statcounter.

I installed them out of curiosity, and must now shamefacedly admit that I am a visit whore, and dry spells on the visit report make the baby Jeebus cry.

Judging by my daily websurfing habits, I care more about the numbers on the Sitemeter summary page than I do about the fallout from apartheid or the plight of starving children. I think the reason is that I care about them is that I see my visit numbers as a reflection on my abilities as a writer. The theory is that the better my writing gets, the more people should visit. This is despite the fact that I regularly remind others that:

A) Most people are idiots


B) some of my favorite entertainments and news sources are virtually unknown.

Yet still I continue to hope that my website will gain more readers and if it doesn't I feel that I must not be improving enough. Go figure.

So, to spurn a little development in this area, I'm making a few changes. Expect to see a change in layout (and possibly color scheme) sometime next week. For now, the major change you'll note is that I'm allowing the last 7 entries to appear on the main page. When I install the full-fledged new layout, I might also open up commentary on a post or two, so that I can get some feedback on what people prefer.

On a completely unrelated note, I found a video link over at Overcaffeinated today, and it becomes the kickass link of the day: What if the grim reaper had a Nemesis, and his name was Spin(fl)? This one is well worth the wait.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A little bit of Windows History

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the release of Windows 95 to the public.

The advertising campaign was thought to be the most expensive in history, coming in at $300 million total. The Empire State Building was decorated in the Microsoft windows flag colors, the London Times was given away for free, and the Rolling Stones "Start Me Up"* was licensed to herald the event--for $12,0000,0000 US.

There is a full article about the release, archived from the Washington Post. It might be worth a glance if you are a computer geek with an interest in the history of computing.

Especially noteworthy are some of the entertaining quotes near the end.

My personal favorite? It's a toss up between two industry players of the time.

DataQuest Inc.'s VP Chuck Stegman: "The extraordinarily extensive testing they did makes a show-stopping bug a pretty unlikely occurrence. Someone would have stumbled on it already."

And Tim Breuer, IBM's spokesman for the OS/2 system: ""Microsoft is delivering the same features we delivered seven years ago. We're moving on business as usual here."

Of course, Windows 95 was so riddled full of instabilities in its first release that many people saw Win98 as very little more than a stable version of the same program. In fact, a lot of us think of Win95 as just a three year beta test for Windows 98.

After all, the typical windows crash was so commond that it became a cultural phenomenon. It got its own nickname, the Blue Screen of Death, and with it a certain amount of notoreity, and even items of clothing dedicated the horror it visited on us all.
Not that us users always minded. Sometimes a little joking fun is healthy, right guys?

And OS/2 Warp, once trumpeted by IBM as a multitasking powerhouse, has long since disappeared. Many of us remember the old wordplay rumour that it should be avoided because "OS/2 is warped." Some of us perhaps even remember the old OS/2 advertising campaigns based on the slogan "Can your software do this?" If the challenge was to fade quietly into obscurity due to weak marketing and rumours of a non-intuitive interface and horrendous learning curve. . .then no, Windows 95 couldn't do that.

At least on my computer, it was too busy crashing.

*As Slashdot pointed out: that song contains the prophetic line "You make a grown man cry."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


As you all know, one of the things I post on regularly are the various predictions made by Neal Stephenson in the 1992 Novel, Snowcrash(wikipedia), and how those predictions are slowly coming true. I'm starting to think that Stephenson had a special machine in 1992 that allowed him to peer carefully a dozen years into the future.

I highly recommend the novel, especially if you have any head for science, technology, or computers.

The following is an excerpt from the book--a paragraph from the first chapter (emphasis mine).

When they gave [The Deliverator] the job, they gave him a gun. The Deliverator never deals in cash, but someone might come after him anyway -- might want his car, or his cargo. The gun is tiny, aero-styled, lightweight, the kind of a gun a fashion designer would carry; it fires teensy darts that fly at five times the velocity of an SR-71 spy plane, and when you get done using it, you have to plug it into the cigarette lighter, because it runs on electricity.

Allow me to introduce you to what might be that gun's precursor, the O'Dwyer VLe prototype from Metal Storm.

Have a gander at the video. Now granted, it doesn't fire teensy darts, nor is it the "kind of gun a fashion designer would carry." This gun is big, clunky, and at the moment is only in a prototype single-barrel model. However, the concept is clean and ambitious, and it takes its roots from its mean, anti-infantry older brothers, the 40mm 4 Barrel launcher and 36 barrel Metal Storm prototypes. I think it might be the forerunner of technology that will remold the handgun industry in a way that it hasn't been effected since the invention of recoil actuated(wikipedia) semi-automatic pistols(wikipedia)at the end of the 1800s. After all, it was Hiram Maxim's recoil actuated machine gun that led to the development of semi-automatic pistols. Maybe it's Metal Storm's electronically operated machine guns that will lead to the development of electronically fired handguns.

Track-backs to the other Snow Crash Predictions I've covered:

The Halo Labs Airbag-Vest (The Future Is Here)
The FemDefence system (Neal, You're Scaring us Now)
Google Earth (Stephenson's Earth)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why I choose freedom.

No Apple!Another entry about computers. Heaven help us all.

If you want a frame of reference for this article, try John Droz's Mac Vs. PC webpage. It all started in this entry in Ryguy's blog. The discussion about Mac conversion got me thinking about Macs, and a recent perusal of WeHateTech turned up the 115 page "document" version of Droz's website(pdf), so I started reading.

For the record, That PDF is 115 pages of vitriolic dogma on why Macs are superior.

Now, first I'm going to critique John's writing and then I'll explain why I continue to stand behind Lorelei and George and all the other computers I have owned (which have run Windows 3.1/95/98/XP pro or Linux (Red Hat and/or Mandrake) and operated (which include a couple variants of MsDos, Windows NT 4.0 and 2000, A few other Linux distributions whose names I've forgotten, and several variants of Mac OS up to and including OSX).

Let me say something up front, to make clear my background: I like computers. I've been a computer user since I was 10, and have two degrees in electrical engineering and a minor in computer science. I was raised on the fruit of the Windows tree but I have known many Mac and Linux users and interacted at least briefly with almost every major operating system. My sister and her husband are both in the visual creation industry and are Mac users.

Now, so that you don't think I'm going to try and be impartial about my critique of the writings of Mr. Droz. I'm not. The man scares me. It is my opinion that John Droz is in a cult.

Rick Ross writes about the warning signs of cult involvement here.

To wit:

Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.(check)

3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".(check)

4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.(check)

5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.(check)

6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supersede any personal goals or individual interests.(check)

9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.(check)

Six out of ten? The man creeps me out.

In addition, his writing is painful to read. The document is full of emphasis. Quite often when the man wants to say something, it must be in bright and garish colors, no matter how mundane of self-evident the fact might be.

I'm not kidding, his whole site is like that. Entire paragraphs are blindingly painted in swathes of bright red. Few things set off my "extremist neurotic to be avoided" warning bell more than the excessive use of font modification for emphasis. It is my firm belief that if your content is compelling enough, it will need only minimal visual elaboration--the kind that can be accomplished through the use of occasional italics or bolding.

Droz's paper is riddled with technical inaccuracies, false syllogisms, and editorial cartoons bashing Microsoft, Dell, Intel, and any other company that competes with his holy Apple Computer, Inc. in any way. Any pretense of reasonable discourse is completely absent by the time you reach the first page of comparisons.

I had hoped to read the entire document because I fundamentally support his underlying hypothesis: that Macintosh systems are the ideal computers for K-12 school networks.

They really are. They're expensive up front, but they're super cheap to operate (low power consumption), they get the job done, they require very little maintenance (no matter how computer illiterate the user-base is), and they're generally clean, cute and friendly. They're perfect for the school system.

But the style of discourse that John Droz employs is so fundamentally frightening to me that it makes my skin crawl. My head hurt and my brain was beginning to lose basic cognitive functions before I had reached the halfway mark, and I was forced to give up--I couldn't withstand a barrage of so much extremist dogma.

It is my experience that x86 power users tend to be pretty laid back. Sure there are some anti-windows Linux zealots out there--people incapable of spelling Microsoft without a $. And there are even a few pro-Wintel adherents that bash anything that isn't vanilla commentary handed down directly from the mouths of Bill Gates and Craig Barrett, but overall the group tends to be pretty low-key. We've been through the best and worst of the computer market. We laugh along with "Every OS sucks" (qt) when we hear it played. The discussion is mostly low-key and reasonable "Hey, use what works for you. What sort of hacks are you running to make your system better? Don't you wish there was a third competitor for the Graphics Card crown?"

But in my experience with the Mac universe, laid-back power users are few and far between. I only know one, the aforementioned Ryguy. The majority of Mac users seem split into only two camps: the technologically illiterate--grandmother's, hipsters and English majors--and the high-strung, vehement, apple-logo-flag-waving, Steve-Jobs-worshipping horde.

Don't get me wrong--I think that Pixar is the best thing that has happened to animated entertainment since Hayao Miyazaki--and honestly I don't mind Apple's mindset. Their devotion to clean, reliable software and hardware integration is admirable and their engineering is top-notch. They build things of beauty that I admire as an Engineer. They push the limits of where culture and computers mix, and our lives are made better for it. The Rio may have broken all the ground for the reality of portable MP3 players, but it was the iPod that brought that technology and culture to the masses.

I admire Apple's engineering, but I have to admit that this dogmatic mentality has been fostered over years by careful and concerted misinformation via the Apple advertising campaigns.

For years Apple has fed outright lies into its marketing and, we, the computer literate, have turned a blind eye. Everything from the lie that Windows PCs don't come in any color but beige during the early days of iMac (thank's, Jeff Goldblum!) to the modern Switch campaign videos which are downright insulting to anyone with an IQ higher than driveway gravel.

But what bothers me isn't even their marketing, deceptive though it may be. That's the job of a corporation's marketing department: to infect people with mindsets that are favorable towards their products. What bothers me is the brainless zombie horde of Mac supporters who feel that we, the non-Apple-faithful, are somehow living in sin--They remind me of the members of Greek organizations on my undergraduate campus. Constantly urging you to try out Greek life and insisting that it has "something for everyone".

Greek life doesn't have something for everyone--I got tired of "secret clubs" and "no girlz alouwed" signs before I turned 12. And Mac machines aren't for everyone either. I like Windows XP. It is a fairly stable operating system that works for me and I can use it intuitively because i have a 12 year history of Windows interaction.

More importantly though XP gives me the flexibility I demand. I'm a power user who likes computers. I like putting them together, taking them apart, and modifying them to suit my needs. I don't want my computer maker to release a "patch" to my operating system that disables my computer's ability to be upgraded, as Mac did with the G3.

I don't want my wrist slapped when I open up my computer's case to install new hardware, and I certainly don't want my ability to install any new hardware denied to me by the company's software updates in order to "ensure stability" (translation: protect our bottom line).

I like the freedom that comes with x86 compatible hardware because I know that if Windows ever gets too frustrating, I can install Linux--I have that option. I like the freedom that comes with knowing that if a new RAM standard becomes available, I can replace my ram without a worry that my OS might deny me the right to use it because this particular machine wasn't built with those specifications in mind.

The great thing about IBM completely f*cking up its entry into the Personal Computer market is that in the process, it allowed for Intel and Windows to step in and present an alternative that wasn't a complete hardware solution, and since it wasn't a complete solution, tons of other companies sprang in to fill the gaps. Graphics provided by 3Dfx and ATI and Nvidia. Sound cards from Creative and Turtle Beach. Motherboard squabbles between Asus and Gigabyte. All that competition made the x86 world a jungle of competing standards, but it also pushed competition and ensured that Windows would be forced to support the flexibility and freedom that so many competing vendors would need.

Of course Windows wasn't always as stable as MacOS! It encouraged you to do things to your machine that MacOS simply denied you the right to even attempt.

I have never met a robotics engineer who considered embedding the MacOS in a robot. When faced with a design challenge that requires a powerful computing solution, most of the engineers I know immediately reach for an x86 platform on which they can install a stripped down version of Linux. And Windows CE is still popping up in all sorts of things. These OSes were designed with the flexibility to support the hundreds of thousands of variants of competing hardware and software that were possible, and they reflect that flexibility in the places they are now appearing, in new realms outside of the normal desktop and laptop PCs.

I need the freedom that Windows XP gives me, it is a part of what I demand from my computer. I could never switch entirely to a platform where I was forced to put my neck beneath the boot-heel of the company that provided me my operating system. I can see myself perhaps owning an iPod. Maybe even an iBook for a laptop, or a G4 or G5 as a secondary machine if I took on a job in content creation. But as my day-to-day personal computer? No way. No amount of pretty images and fancy engineering is worth my freedom.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Three Tight Tweaks.

In the following tweaks, whenever you are told to type something, the [ ] are never to be typed, merely type the text that appears between them.

First, the Win XP search fix.

You're all probably aware that Windows XP comes complete with a "search companion" Dog to help you find files. You've also probably noticed that he is less a helpful companion and more of an annoyance. About the only good thing you can say about him is that he won't accidentally pee in your files, but that's probably only because he can never seem to find the damn things in the first place.

As any long-term Windows user knows, the earlier versions of Windows had a much more robust, less annoying search system, and no annoying puppy standing between you and your data.

To get that version back, follow these steps.

Click [start] and choose [Run].

Type [regedit] and select OK.

When the Registry editor appears, use the navigation window on the left to navigate to

HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ CabinetState

Right click on the main window and choose [new -> string value].

Give it the name [Use Search Asst], then specify the value data equal to [no].

Second, the Messenger Hack. You might notice that annoying little man that always loads whenever you start XP. He's a system hog and he serves no real useful purpose to most users. There are a couple of ways to remove him. One is another registry hack. If you'd like to pursue that method, hunt around online and you'll find instructions for that. But instead, I'm going to show you a different way that is far easier, .

Go to the Start menu and choose [Set Program Access and Defaults] and click the down arrows next to the [custom] setting. That is the one we'll be using.

Microsoft bundles a lot of software with their operating systems, and this panel is where they give you control over what is enabled by default. To get Messenger to bug off, uncheck the [enable access to this program] option next to the Messenger listing. You can also change other settings here, I have disabled Windows Media Player and Outlook Express as well, since I use Winamp or Media Player Classic and Mozilla Thunderbird for those tasks.

The third tweak is for Firefox, and comes courtesy of this entry in Simply Geeky.

Recently advertizers have figured out how to get around some popup blockers using the flash plugin. It executes the popup command and the blocking system doesn't know to filter that.

To solve that problem, and return to a pop-up free world, follow these instructions.

1. Type [about:config] into the Firefox location bar and hit enter.
2. You'll see a page full of lines of text labeled Preference Name/Status/Type/Value. Right-click anywhere on this page and select [New -> Integer].
3. Name it [privacy.popups.disable_from_plugins]
4. Set the value to [2].

The possible values are:

* 0: Allow all popups from plugins.
* 1: Allow popups, but limit them to dom.popup_maximum.
* 2: Block popups from plugins.
* 3: Block popups from plugins, even on whitelisted sites.

And there you have it. Back to browsing in peace.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Toys, Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks.

As you all know, I gave Lorelei (my computer) a complete overhaul on Wednesday.

In the process, I made a lot of changes to the system software and improved a few things along the way. Over the coming week I'm going to talk about the various changes I made to the standard WinXP pro installation, and offer a little bit of advice.

Today, I'm going to talk about Toys. Powertoys, actually. In particular the Windows XP powertoys.

According to the Microsoft website, "PowerToys are additional programs that developers work on after a product has been released to manufacturing. They add fun and functionality to the Windows experience." I say that they are more than that, for serious computer users, Powertoys fill some gaping holes in the Power-User Experience.

There are five powertoys that I love and will gush about today. All of them can be downloaded from the Powertoy's website. For your convenience, I've also linked their names directly to the download path for each.

Bear in mind that the Windows Powertoys are not considered supported software and neither I, nor Microsoft Corporation takes any responsibility for any damage you might do to your machine in the process of installing or using these programs. Not my fault, please don't sue me, "you'll shoot your eye out, kid", yada yada yada.

TweakUI  Posted by Picasa

This is the most powerful of the powertoys. If you've been involved with computers as long as I have, there are days you have wanted to modify the most minute of details about how your user interface responds. Tweak UI gives you control over all sorts of little details.

It lets you modify everything from simple tasks that are easy to change other ways (like how many lines the mouse scroll wheel moves your documents) to things that have always driven you just a little nuts (you can use it to deny programs the ability to "change focus" and even how many times a program flashes in the taskbar when it wants your attention) to miniscule details that make your daily windows experience just a little smoother (like modifying the length of time that windows takes to detect "hover" as shown above).

There is a different TweakUI program available for the older versions of Windows. You can find it at the TweakUI site.

TweakUI is a must for the power user. Once you've played with it a little, you'll wonder why you didn't demand it years ago.

Next up. . .

The Powertoy Calculator Posted by Picasa

Are you an Engineer? Math Student? Business major? Ever wish you had a windows calculator built right in that actually did something more useful than just the basic functions? Ever sigh with frustration over sequential commands on that half-assed "scientific" model when all you really need is a command line style interface, ala the Texas Instrument graphing calculators?

Powertoy calculator solves all those problems. Dynamic Variable and Constant listings, a graphing window, and a command line interface make this a powerful tool. Moreover, it includes allows user defined functions, and includes automatic conversions for length, mass, time, velocity, and temperature.

This is one of the first powertoys I ever used, and I still find myself using it whenever I have simple math work to be done.

The Cleartype Tuner Posted by Picasa

Ever wonder why Windows fonts look sortof sharp around the edges, and fonts on the Macintosh Operating System look smoother or more rounded? It's because MacOS makes use of Cleartype. I know I mentioned it in an earlier post, but it falls in this category so here it is again.

Cleartype is native to Win XP, but it is disabled by default. As I explained in that earlier post, it can be enabled without the powertoy, but the cleartype powertoy gives you more control over it and makes it a lot more likely that you'll be satisfied with the results. Cleartype doesn't always work perfectly. Sometimes you'll get some blue hazing in the anti-aliasing of certain size fonts, but overall it significantly improves the readability of certain kinds of text, and now that I've been using it for a few months, I prefer it.

The Alt-Tab Replacement

This is a handy little modification to an existing WinXP feature. As you (should) know, you can use Alt+Tab to switch between multiple windows or programs in any Windows Operating System.

In WinXP, when you do this, rather than jumping automatically the system just shows you a list of the icons and the name of each option, you tap Tab to cycle through them, and release Alt to jump to your selection. With the replacement, a thumbnail of that window is now available, making it easier to choose the correct window if you have multiple instances of the same program running, or if you're using a multi-window program like The GIMP.

And lastly. . .

The Image Resizer Posted by Picasa

This is a great little addition to Windows. It's just an explorer addition that gives you the ability to resize any supported image (I've used it for JPEGs, BMPs, PNGs, and GIFs) with a simple right click. So the next time you want to toss an image into an e-mail, you haven't got to laboriously open the source image, edit the size, and resave it. Now it's all done with a couple of mouseclicks to select size (there are four convenient standard sizes, or you can set a custom size if you prefer) and a resized copy of the image is created right there in the same folder, so you don't even lose the higher quality original.

Well, there you go. There are more powertoys that I don't use, but that you might find handy depending on the tasks your perform daily. I hope you find all the extra functionality as helpful as I have.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Most Incredible Thing.

The Most Incredible Thing happened to me just now.

People wrote me. Hardcopy. A mixture of clean white pages of crisp printer paper and rumpled college ruled notebook sheets. Each comment a reminder. Notes about how life is going in the first few days of school. News about their lives. A tangible, physical connection between me and a world I left behind. A world from which I commenced. Each word an encouragement and a kindness.

I know whose idea it was, of course. I knew as soon as I recognized the top sheet as QW's handwriting, and not hers. But I didn't see it coming.

Blue. Mal. Even ROTC-boy and Zig.

They all wrote me.

I'm not the kind of guy that people do this sort of thing for.

I should be more specific. I'm never the kind of guy that people do this sort of thing for.

Thank you.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Resurrecting Lorelei

Yesterday I reformatted my computer.

As many of you may be aware, I am a rather. . . serious computer user. I'm not going to die from refusing to eat while I play StarCraft, but I am, shall we say, involved. I'm going to wax poetic about computers now, so if that sort of thing bores you, here is a more entertaining alternative. If you like bad puns and talking pigs, that is.

When I built my current machine from individual components with my own two hands in the fall of 2003, I did it with a love borne out of understanding and need. I had previously been working with a very faithful but then-ancient 400 MHz monster running Win98. I named him George when I rechristened him to serve as a friend's computer. George and I had been through hell and high water since the summer of 1999, and I had formatted him several times, and nearly lost everything when the boot sector on his hard drive crashed completely in the Fall of 2002. Being a poor college student, I bought a 60 gig replacement that would become Lorelei's heart to get me through the year, and planned to build a new machine from scratch the following spring.

There's a funny story about George. When my father and I first assembled him on our kitchen table, we intended to install Windows 95, because we had a copy handy, but we found that some of the motherboard features gave us serious trouble if we didn't use a newer operating system, the then powerhouse Win98. So we ordered a copy of Win98 online (cheap), and with George sitting assembled, booted, and ready with a copy of DoS (6.1, I think?) on board, waited for over a week for the software to arrive.

During that time I pulled out a box of ancient DoS games that few of you are likely to remember, and installed them on George. After all, he had nothing better to do. Games like Warcraft (The original one) with system requirements that read like a role-call for high-end computer components circa 1992. A 20 MHz processor! 8 megs of RAM! George, at the time, though brainless, was running a 400 MHz K6-2 for a processor, and 64 megabytes of PC100 RAM. The system requirements for these games were less than the square root of his speed and power. In some cases I couldn't scale the "CPU slowdown" factor enough (if any of you remember that gem of DOS games designed to execute on slow machines--the game speed scaled with the speed of the hardware on which it was run) to make the games playable. The characters in RTSs would flash from one side of the screen to the other, and heaven help you if you tried to control the cannons in Scorched Earth. They spun like tops.

Once I had a copy of Windows 98 installed, and had added the software that brought my computer into the correct half of the decade, I was set. George faithfully served as my primary computer through my last year of high school and three long years of Engineering school.

There's one other interesting note about George. One of the bearings in his power supply failed in my first year of college, and would slip from its track and rattle like a vibrator or electric razor gone mad. The only solution I found for this horrible racket was to lean or walk around to the back of the machine and strike the rear PSU fan cover with a metal object. My friends were usually both surprised and confused the first time they saw me physically beat my computer to make it work, but I'd usually just shrug and grin. At times, working with George was a lot like flying the millennium Falcon. You just had to expect weird stuff to happen and require innovative solutions like hardware abuse.

By the time George began to give up the ghost, I would miss him. He was the first computer that I really thought of as "mine". But, I needed new hardware. For one thing, George was lagging behind more and more. He was now so far past prime that he was becoming almost laughable. For another, I had a legitimate boxed copy of Windows XP pro that I had won in a programming team competition the previous year burning a whole in my pocket. And for a third, the 60 gig drive spinning in George's center was crippled with a jumper to run at no more than 32 gig--all George's aging motherboard could support.

It was time for fresh blood, and fresh power. I need a fresh machine.

And so, out of my need, Lorelei would be born. I mentally created an image for myself of the computer I wanted. Powerful. Sleek. Full Featured. Robust. Sexy. I had been out of the high-end gaming arena for years, and I wanted her to run the latest games and development applications. Due to my then burgeoning music problem (which would later evolve into a full-fledged media addiction) I needed something that would support good sound. As a result of my ultra-positive experience with USB keys and my then-recent interest in Digital Photography, I wanted something with USB 2.0 and Firewire support onboard.

I started hitting up friends for information about motherboards. Researching the cost of the new Geforce4 Ti graphics cards. Reading Tom's Hardware daily to see the latest reviews. Checking Pricewatch daily to create cost estimates. I had worked all summer and I had the money for system waiting and ready. When I arrived at school, I made my decisions and ordered all the parts.

The specifications weren't the cutting edge for September of 2003. They were reasonable. A full featured Asus nForce2-based Motherboard with 512 megabytes of Crucial RAM and an Athlon XP 2600+ processor. Windows XP pro. A Logitech Z-640 5.1 speaker audio system. A new 52x CD-RW drive.

And when she had come together and first hummed to life on my desktop, I chose a name for her that I felt was fitting: Lorelei. It comes from a German word meaning "Ambush cliffs" and refers to the Germanic version of the Greek legend of the Siren. The tale tells of a beautiful maiden who would sit on a dangerous rock in the river Rhine and sing sweet songs to the sailors, causing them to get distracted and run aground on the rock.

So Lorelei was given life in my room of Mercer Hall 306, and became my new computer.

This time last summer, I filmed a weekend get-together of Martial Artists from the forum. To house the resulting six hours of video, I bit the bullet and purchased a new 200 gigabyte hard drive. I also scavenged my father's old DVD drive when he purchased his new DVD burner, and so rounded out Lorelei's home-theater capabilities.

Aside from those two additions, Lorelei's specifications have remained largely unchanged since I built her. She's been a faithful machine. She saw me through my last year of school as well as the releases of Tron 2.0 and Half Life 2. She processed my first entry into this very blog and welcomed my move from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox. She stored and categorized my ridiculous media library faithfully and kept track of my document archive--which dates back to 1998 and has survived migrations and multiple reformats across multiple computers. She has served daily as an aide, stereo, distraction, helpmeet, mailbox, artist, game console, secretary, theater, and worker-bee. If she deserves any nickname, it should "My Girl Friday" because she's been a faithful, loyal, and hard working companion.

But like any computer running a modern operating system, the longer the machine is used daily, the more burdened down it becomes with the digital detritus of the computer world. Installations of software get replaced with new alternatives. Registry modifications that force load-on-startup are executed by unscrupulous vendors when you download their plugins. The system becomes more and more bogged down.

So this week I decided to format Lorelei and start over.

I carefully moved all of my prized digital possessions onto the 200 gigabyte hard disk drive over the span of 2 days, sorting and organizing as I went. My media archives of video, audio, and images was carefully transferred. Next my driver collection and a folder full of install files for various software--powertoys, media players, and applications.

After making a final sweep of all the "My documents" folders, I carefully removed the 200 gigabyte hard drive from the system entirely (I know too many good men who have lost years worth of work and data by partitioning or formatting the wrong drive during a system overhaul) and rebooted, entered the BIOS and prepared to boot from CD.

Lorelei is back online now. It was the most painless overhaul I've ever done. I installed Windows XP and Service Pack 2, then installed the latest motherboard and videocard drivers and got online without a hitch. Once online I updated Windows XP with all the latest myriad of security releases. Now I'm going through the laborious process of getting the machine back just the way I like it. A system tweak here. A minor change there. Another media player to install. Another powertoy to play with. Along the way I downloaded more recent drivers, installed newer versions of Media Players (Winamp 5? When did that happen? I was still running 2.93!) and sought out some extra improvements that Lorelei didn't have before, like a better e-mail client (Mozilla's Outlook Express Clone, Thunderbird).

In short, I brought my Lorelei back from the dead, and she's better than ever.

post script: Over the next couple weeks I'm going to make this blog more computing-focused. Stuff inspired by the overhaul will appear for a while: Hacks and tweaks to improve performance and minimize Windows XP's annoying habit of hand-holding. Articles about good and bad software design. Musings on the possible futures of computing. A couple of link days devoted to powertoys and improvements. I'll try and be sure mix it in with other, less technically minded fare for my readers who don't find that sort of thing interesting. But most of you have probably already long since gotten bored with this particular entry and wandered off, so I doubt you'll see this note.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I am not a MetaBlogger.

Part of my struggle in blogging is creating what I feel is a healthy balance between three contrasting types of content.

The first is original, fresh content. Be it a mundane report of the days events or a completely fresh work of (hopefully) scintillating fiction, original content is the primary focus of this blog.

The second is derivative content--reviews and spinoffs. My review of Revenge of the Sith was mostly derivative, drawing from my original experiences but using RotS as a frame of reference. My discussion of Taming of the Shrew is also derivative, being based on the work of another.

The third is meta content. Content that is little more than a link to something from outside this space entirely, to which I link, and which I might provide a little commentary on, but which is not original at all. My links to Neal Stephenson's latest article or predictions(1)-come(2)-true(3), for example, are all meta content, I provide a few witty remarks but the meat of the entry is the link to which I have connected.

I try to give meta content the least weight of the three, using links to other articles and stories at most two or three times a week, and attempting to always include some original commentary so that I never become a simple router, pointing my readers towards the work of people more original than myself.

I also try to admit derivative work whenever possible, often overcrediting others. I once told a friend of mine that I don't have any original thoughts at all, but I have a lot of wise saying's whose author's names I have forgotten, and therefore forget to credit. Whenever my work is derivative, I try to make clear that there are a giant's shoulders beneath my feet.

And my first priority is still to create original content. My objective here is to create a space for myself to train my ability as a writer both of fiction and of non-fiction. That is the purpose of this place. It may have grown out of very different beginnings, but that is the purpose now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm back! . . . Bye!

My net connection is now fully restored. Make a joyful noise, oh ye peoples of the earth, for now I can collect the other episodes of The Lightning Bug and perform many other great feats!

And now I'm off again, to go and finish Speaker For the Dead. It's better than I'd hoped, and I've basically polished it off in two and a half days.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Yarg! And other exclamations of frustration!

I've been with family for a week. Love them dearly but there were too many of them in too small a space for too long for me.

On the plus side, I got some sun, and even was able to swim, a bit.

But now my frustration has been increased by the last three days since my cable modem decided to go on strike while we were in the Sunshine state. I found out today it was just a surge-protector failure, and the modem is back to working, but now for some reason my computer refuses to behave itself and accept a new network address, so I have to go argue with it shortly and admonish it to behave.

In addition, I'm in the midst of cleaning and sorting all the files on my system and moving them to my 200 gig storage drive so that I can format the other two drives and reinstall windows XP pro from the ground up.

Wish me luck, the next two days will probably be pretty tiring.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Social Mirror

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
reflect my face upon my call.
tell me am I fair or sweet?
tell me am I kind or neat?
never fail me, dearest friend,
Social Justice be your end.

I have become a bit of an oddity.

In my younger days I noticed that I had inherited from my grandmother an odd linguistic trait. It's a sort of fluidity of accent that I employ in the present of those I respect or admire. I pick up little portions of their speech patterns, idiosyncracies, or even mannerisms.

A couple of years ago, as I changed the way I related to women, what advice I gave, and what I wore, I also began to change the way I interacted, socially, with certain types of characters.

I became a social mirror. I reflect people's attitudes and character traits. I have become a sort of living inversion of the Golden Rule. I treat people the way they treat others, even if it is not my normal style.

This has become a difficult trait to live with at times. I have offended more than one friend by giving them a dose of their own medicine and having them become outraged that I would treat them that way. This hypocrisy, while frustrating, is often inevitable and they don't mean anything by it. They just don't realize they treat people the way they do.

It has become especially obvious in the case of a certain ex of mine, EKG. When we were together, I was a bit neurotic in my devotion. But we split up under tumultuous circumstances (I cheated on her. . .whoops) and the result was a very deep rift between us.

We began to reflect each other's characteristics. The way we treated each other became more and more cruel and sadistic. With each new insult or fresh cut-down (for we continued to see each other socially and as "friends" for months) we would dig slightly deeper trenches and become slightly less kind.

It was a sad state of affairs that has recently been revived. I saw her for the first time in a year yesterday. It was enlightening, to say the least, and a year of water under the bridge has given me insight that I lacked last summer. Because she was under a ridiculous level of stress we found ourselves immediately falling back into our same roles from last summer. Petty social scrabbling. Our exchanges degenerated into mean digs at eachother's taste in fashion, criticism of our choices, and other minor critiques.

And yet under it all I found myself remembering how kind she had once been to me, and how kind I had once been to her. How different we had once hoped to be and how surely we had failed.

I am still a social mirror, but I am more aware of it now than I was a year ago. It is a trait I can harness and control and even reject if the need is great. I hope to do so now, and to find with her, not reunion, but at least some closure and maybe even a moment of kindness between the two of us is not impossible.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Karmic Payback

I read Dilbert. The other day Dogbert uttered an expression I could appreciate: "I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people all day long and I assume they deserve it."

I think this is a fantastic example of the dangers of assuming fate can or will be our guide in life. It allows us not only to rely on luck, but to misuse and abuse the ideas of karma, justice and good will. Replacing cruelty with "just desserts" and a streak of good fortune brought on by kindness with "random chance".

Do you find yourself mastering your own journey and finding reasons behind the results of your life, or do you find yourself assuming that it is enough to rely on your past maturity and your credentials and hope the future pulls through for you?

Of course, I also like the quote because I use the mentality myself. As John Cusack's character says in Grosse Pointe Blank: "If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there."

It's a duality I suppose, sometimes you have to assume Karma knows what it's doing, sometimes you need to look for better reasons.

[Side note: I'm going out of town for four days. Hopefully I'll be able to post but if not, expect the next update on Saturday evening.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Taming of the Shrew, Part I

Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.

A few weeks ago I went to see The Taming of the Shrew with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.

I have seen many of Shakespeares plays performed live over the years (The first I remember is probably Comedy of Errors, and the most recent was A Winter's Tale) and have always enjoyed his unique wordplay and turn of phrase, even when I find his stories lacking in originality, truth, or powerful characters.

Taming of the Shrew, for those of you unfamiliar with the plot, is the story of how various plots and disguises are employed in the wooing of two sisters, fair and gentle Bianca and strong-willed, free spirited Kate.

Baptista: Katharina, you may stay [. . .]

Kate: Why, and I trust I may go too, may I not? What,
shall I be appointed hours; as though, belike, I
knew not what to take and what to leave, ha?

Their father, Baptista, refuses to allow Bianca to be courted until her older sister is married off, and so a handful of winsome suitors find themselves stymied in their efforts to win Bianca's hand.

Gremio: I say, a devil. Thinkest thou, Hortensio, though
her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool
to be married to hell?

Hortensio: Tush, Gremio, though it pass your patience and mine
to endure her loud alarums, why, man, there be good
fellows in the world, an a man could light on them,
would take her with all faults, and money enough.

When the rough-and-tumble Petruchio arrives to visit one of their number, they ask him to court and win Kate's hand to free their path to their prize, and Petruchio accepts.

The rest of the play is taken up in a two-pronged plot. One is the way in which the suitors court Bianca, and one is the manner in which Petruchio tames Kate enough to make her not only marriable (for she has little choice in that manner) but turns her anger and transforms her from an angry shrew into a demur and kindhearted lady.

At first blush, when Petruchio is introduced, he jokingly implies that dowry is the only item of any concern to him in the choosing of a wife, though he has money enough and lands at home.

Petruchio: Signior Hortensio, 'twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio's wife,
As wealth is burden of my wooing dance,
Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates' Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes, at least,
Affection's edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas:
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

When Petruchio first meats Baptista, even he has become so frustrated with his oldest that he scorns her.

Petruchio: And you, good sir! Pray, have you not a daughter
Call'd Katharina, fair and virtuous?

Baptista:I have a daughter, sir, called Katharina.

And yet Baptista is no fool or callous hearted father. He cares for his daughters, both, even if he cannot always show it most plainly to them. He cautions Petruchio when they are discussing the details of the financial arrangements of the marriage

Baptista: Ay, when the special thing is well obtain'd,
That is, her love; for that is all in all.

And so it is that when Petruchio is first given a chance to meet the woman for whose hand he has already asked her father, he speaks plainly that he will turn the tables on her, overwhelming her with contradictions so that he might get to the heart of the matter.

Petruchio: I will attend her here,
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale:
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash'd with dew:
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence:
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week:
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.
But here she comes; and now, Petruchio, speak.

And so the wooing begins. When she enters the scene the conversation is both bold and fierce, critical and honest. Flirtatious and callous and kindhearted and jesting. Petruchio holds his own against Kate and asserts that he is charmed by her and that all the world is full of fools if they think her anything but winsome. And before the scene has ended he stakes his claim and tells her plainly that he means to win her for himself.

Petruchio:[. . .]
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.

And here we see no words of dowry or power or wealth, but rather words of beauty, and yet of taming. For to tame a beautiful but wild thing is to win for yourself something beyond precious.

And so we will soon come to the heart of my writing (though I'm already two pages in, and most of these so far the words of another man, now long in the earth).

To Be Continued.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Photography Finds.

A bit of a changeup today. One tool, one service, one time waster, and no article.

The theme this week is images.

Tool: The GIMP. Every bit as powerful as Adobe Photoshop in the right hands, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program is a freeware application for Unix, Windows, and even Mac OS.

In years past I made use of Micrographx Picture Publisher, but without constantly upgrading it I found myself behind the times. A good masking system does not an image processor make, and recently I've been casting about for a new application with which to perform image editing tasks both simple and complex. GIMP is my solution.

The upside is that it is free, and it is extremely powerful. The downside is that it is not simple. In fact, in many cases it functions counterintuitively for my. But I'm learning more about it slowly, and beginning to play with layers and selections and feathering. My photographs are starting to be halfway interesting and having a way to add the finishing touches without feeling like I'm butchering the images in Paint is a luxury that I appreciate.

If you're looking for an image editor, and you know your way around computers, the GIMP is your man.

Service: Flickr.

I've been hearing about Flickr for a year or so now, but I've been really noticing it over the last three months, and finally decided it was time for me to join in and see what it is all about. In short, it is an image hosting program based around the concept of self-contained communities. Rather than being an image host for forums like imageshack, Flickr is a collection host that allows you to group your own photographs and let others peruse them at their leisure on the flickr system.

Since it is moderately open source and the grouping system is intuitive, all sorts of interesting stuff is happening there, and there are some lovely pictures to be stumbled across among the usual amatuer photographs of pets and flowers.

I recommend that if you are into images at all, set yourself up an account. You'll find lots of interesting stuff there and it makes a good place to store images if you need to show them to someone later.

As an aside, I have an account there where I'll be posting a stand-alone set of all the images I upload to Through the Camera Lens, so if you ever need to browse through those images, they can be found there.

Time Waster: infinite flickr.

Have you ever walked between two mirrors, and noticed how it seems that you are cast into infinity on either side, tapering off and curving away to dissappear in a million reflections of yourself?

Infinite flickr answers the question of what happens when a community is built that creates such a trail where each member is a different link. You grab the most recent infinite flickr photograph, make sure it's plainly visible, and then take a picture of yourself alongside that photograph. Now you post that to the infinite flickr group. The next link in the chain repeats this process. If you backtrack, you can watch yourself fall through computer monitors from Hollywood to Hong Kong, each new user in a different place pulling you into their office or living room briefly. It really drives home the concept that technology could unite the world.

For a very surreal look at how each image falls into the next, try the Infinite Flickr Movie created by Monkiineko.

Monday, August 08, 2005


So I was joking with a few friends in a Chatterbox on a Xanga account last week, and I suddenly decided I now possess the power to be almost infinitely distracting to certain types of people. I thereby proclaimed that "I am become Peeves, Annoyer of Worlds!"

I like it. I think I might make it my e-mail signature or something.

No props for getting the modern reference. Harry Potter has been everywhere for the last three weeks. However if you get the original literary reference, or the scientific reference from the 1940s, you do get props for that.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Le Building, Le Folie

First, go watch le building (qt).

It is an awesome little clip, and it reminds me a great deal of Le Triplettes de Belleville, which some claim is one of the best stoner movies ever made.

But that's not primary to my writing today. I writing to talk about the fantastic level of absurdity this movie captures.

This sort of amazing chaos takes place every day in the backgrounds of our lives. We adapt to it, we laugh about it, sometimes we don't even notice it. It allows us room to joke about serious things, and sometimes it makes us freak out even when everything appears to be going just fine.

We are not defined by our chaos, we are defined by the ways in which we handle it. Do we laugh and remember that the insanity, the zany nature, the folie of the world is what keeps it running, or do we complain and stress and worry about the ways in which we want our lives to be more controlled, more contained, more stale?

I should hope that we remember to smile and shake our heads when our lives turn into a Rube Goldberg machine built out of small disasters, knowing that sometimes we need the miniature catastrophies just so that the big picture of reality can survive another day.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Search engines can be disturbing things.

A few weeks ago I posted about the fact that due to the way I allow my archives to compile by month, I am one of the top returns for a search for [Alyx Vance Nude].

It can be pretty disconcerting. I found out today that due to the way the May Archives compiled, I am one of the top twenty returns from a Yahoo Search for [Perverted Babysitters].

This is not encouraging news.

The basic issue here is that they are not looking for continuous phrases, but any page in which both of those words appear together, and because I spoke of our babysitters in Goonies and Geeks at the end of May, and used the word Perverted in my fictional "Dearest Pellicio" near the beginning of the same month, I am a candidate. And with a google page rank of 3 (and climbing? Who can tell these days?) it appears that I'm destined to show up as a return for these sorts of strange, quasi-sickening search terms on a regular basis.

The problem is that the search engines don't mind that ten-thousand, eight hundred and eighty-four words occur between "babysitters" and "perverted" in that particular month's archive. It just sees the two words and throws the result.

Surely in an age with cameras on phones and intelligent traffic routing and treaties about how much carbon monoxide our cars cough out someone can develop a more intelligent search than this. Now, in most cases Google has been very kind to me when I search, but the terms under which my website is now being discovered are shocking to me.

I suppose the entire equation for searching looks different from the back end. Perhaps it is the internet equivalent of wandering behind the Wizard's curtain and discovering that, when you search for [Good Witch Glenda] you'll get to her website right away, but that people usually discover you via [That whiny bitch with the annoying dog].

It makes me wonder which handful of arbitrary words will lead someone to my website next? But perhaps more importantly, it makes me wonder why I am getting perverted searches more often than anything else? I generate 10,000 words a month. Surely there are other random two-word phrases that people search for that would lead them here? And how do I stay concious of words used as much as 30 days apart in different articles that might, when combined, lead a handful of gaming voyeurs or masochists or (heavens preserve us) furries to my website?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Get yourself together.

For some reason, when I started to write this morning, this is the song that lept into my head.

It's fitting, I suppose.

I don't think most of us listen to closely to U2 these days. And I doubt we should. The band has sortof transitioned from a rebellious icon of smart lyrics and reverberating guitars into a handful of sellout shills for the iPod and the sounds of upbeat electronic rock.

But this song, even though it is one of their more recent pieces, still seems to strike a cord with me.

I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves this time.

U2 - "Stuck In A Moment"

I'm not afraid
Of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me
That I haven't already heard

I'm just trying to find
A decent melody
A song that I can sing
In my own company

I never thought you were a fool
But darling look at you
You gotta stand up straight
Carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere baby

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment
And now you can't get out of it

Don't say that later will be better
Now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

I will not forsake
The colors that you bring
The nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing

I am still enchanted
By the light you brought to me
I listen through your ears
Through your eyes I can see

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it's tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don't really need now
My, oh my

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

Oh love, look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm 'til you discover how deep

I wasn't jumping, for me it was a fall
It's a long way down to nothing at all

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

Don't say that later will be better
Now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony pass

It's just a moment
This time will pass

Thursday, August 04, 2005

You are Invited.

I've been invited to join a photoblog.

It's called Through the Camera Lens. I've never kept a photoblog before, and I don't really want the responsibility myself, but since I'm just a contributor and not the author I suppose it wouldn't be much effort. I have been taking pictures more lately, and a lot of my black and white photographs from last spring are not complete eyesores.

I think I'm going to try it out. Maybe just one image a week or something. Not sure what image I should start with though. . .

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Preparing for the Inconceivable

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway... I've started to make a tape... in my head... for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done."

John Cusack as "Rob" in High Fidelity.

I have spoken before about my media problem. It all started with music downloads via the then-cutting-edge back in the late 90s. And much like Rob, I find the making of a musical compilation both intentional and tricky. I think too hard about it. Probably harder than do any of the listeners upon hearing the compilations I create.

I just filled the remaining space on a CD full of photographs for Looker with music. And despite no intention of ever seeing her again, my mind spins the same techniques as always, and I find myself jumping to new tabs to check lyrical content, playing back the assembled collection and mentally editing, replacing, and modifying. Before I know it the space has been filled with three and a half hours of music, most of it relevant and all of it (in my opinion) good quality.

Funny how that works. I've trained myself to try hard at everything. My mantra is always the same: "anything worth doing is worth doing well." And as a result, even when it really doesn't matter, I put forth the effort. I appreciate the upside though, which is that whenever it does matter, I'll be ready.

But I don't plan on it mattering again. Ever, really. So why should I take comfort in being prepared for the inconceivable?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It is Monday again kiddies, and you all know what that means.

"Thing you might not of known about yesterday that you can't live without now" : The IMDB Advanced Search function. Not an applet or downloadable ware, this one is a website. The Internet Movie Database has been around for years. They have built the world's most comprehensive suite of tools for navigating the world's largest movie fact database. Cast and Crew listings and searches by title are just the beginning. You can also search their memorable movie quotes, discover "this day in film history" and even search by character name, if you're having trouble remembering whether it was Martin Sheen or Christopher Walken "who played the J-man in that one movie that time".

We've been using the IMDB for about half a decade now. Mainly to check credits listings for movies we've seen to identify actors and figure out what previous films made us recognize them, but it's a great way to find movies you like. For example, I'm a huge fan of Luc Besson and first found out about La Femme Nikita through his IMDB page, where he's credited for story work and as a producer. I first found out about Crimson Rivers through Jean Reno's cast listings. Etc.

And "The Thing you didn't need, and now wish you'd never found because it is addictive" Zuma. A great little time waster that is fiendishly fun and mentally tricky. It nearly destroyed my 7th semester at Mercer.

Reading Material for the Day: "For the Love of iPod." By Regina Lynn, writer of the Sex Drive Column for Wired magazine.

Monday, August 01, 2005