Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Fall of Barad-Dur Was an Inside Job!

The Fall of Barad-Dur was an inside job!

I'm actually surprised that it took this long for someone to do this.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mumps Outbreaks in the US

Mumps is breaking out just north of NYC.

<wonders if this will modify anyone's behavior with respect to childhood immunizations>

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Testosterone, the Cooperation Hormone?

Well, not quite. But new research shows that the expectation of becoming more aggressive with a testosterone boost is as strong, if not stronger, than the actual effects of testosterone.

I love simple experiments like the one detailed in that article.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

This Explains So Much

Almost every building I hate in Cambridge (and some across the Charles River) turns out to have been designed by Sert.

This includes the Holyoke Center and Science Center at Harvard, BU Law School, and Peabody Terrace.

It's appalling how much of the horrible architecture around here can be laid at the feet of one architect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Birds that Sing With their Wings

Birds that sing with their wings. (!!!)

(Via Carl Zimmer.)

As J.B.S. Haldane said, the world is not only stranger than we imagine — it's stranger than we can imagine.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Things that go WTF? in the night

About 02:30 this morning, while dead asleep, I was awakened by some noise. The cats all leaped up at the same time that I sat bolt upright. (The cats were all curled up around me, so it wasn't one of them — which it usually is — which made me worried that perhaps someone was breaking a window or something.)

I got up and proceeded to turn on lights all through the house trying to figure out what noise had awoken me.

After five minutes of this, I finally "mentally replayed" the sound I'd heard and thought, "Gosh, that sounded like something falling in a bathtub or shower." I checked the bathtub — nothing. But in the shower, there was a conditioner bottle lying on the floor.

How does a conditioner bottle that sat, stable on the shelf, for 19 hours, suddenly fall off in the middle of the night?

WTF?

 

(This is why I'm a little groggy today. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visualizations of Music

So very cool. Someone has made videos which show which instruments are playing which notes as the music plays. Some examples:

Beethoven's 5th, 1st movement

Beethoven's 7th, 2nd movement

Bach Double Concerto

Pachelbel's Canon (which illustrates why this comedian hates it so much).

These appear to have been done by the same YouTube user, but their page doesn't seem to link to all of the extant videos. (Warning: that page starts playing The Stars and Stripes Forever after a few seconds!) There does seem to be a playlists page, though, which gives a thematic/historical categorization and includes more of the recordings.

 

(I discovered these videos via Kristin Cashore's blog.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Benefits of Checking One's Credit Card Bills...

extend to finding out that McAfee keeps billing for anti-virus software that has been uninstalled from a non-working computer, even a year later.

It's amazing how willing companies are to take advantage of standard human cognitive deficits.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sun breaks gethostbyname(), nscd.

Thanks, Sun!

gethostbyname(3) is supposed to return the canonical hostname in the h_name field of the struct hostent that it returns a pointer to. It is supposed to return any aliases (e.g. CNAMEs in DNS) in the h_aliases field.

Sun recently released a version of /lib/nss_dns.so.1, which is used by nscd (which, if it is running, all calls to gethostbyname(3) go through). This is part of patch 140391-02 (for SPARC) or 140392-02 (for x86). The -03 version of these patches also has the problem. This patch is part of the most recent Recommended Patch cluster, and it is included in the Solaris 10 u7 release.

This patch messes up the return from gethostbyname(3), so that when you look up a CNAME, the CNAME goes into the h_name field and the actual canonical name goes into the h_aliases field.

This breaks anything that uses gethostbyname(3) and actually expects the h_name field to contain the canonicalized hostname. (At work, we found the bug because certain software wouldn't start right -- because the start script compares the local hostname to the result of a lookup of a CNAME, and that no longer worked right.)

Note that this bug persists even if you have hosts caching turned off in nscd.conf.

The simple workaround is to turn off nscd (by using svcadm disable name-service-cache). This can cause some serious slowdowns if you have a lot of name lookups (e.g. directories that contain lots of different users and groups). I measured a slowdown of a factor of 7.7 doing 'ls -l' on a directory containing 150 files each owned by a different user and group. (It was a local directory, and I redirected the output to /dev/null, so I believe I limited confounding factors.) If you don't want to turn off nscd, your only other choice (until a real patch is released) is to ask Sun for their IDR ("Interim Diagnostics and Relief") pseudo-patch for this, which is IDR142516-01 for SPARC, IDR142517-01 for x86. This will require a Sun service contract.

Feh.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best Shop Sign Ever

Seen in a shop window in Niagara Falls, NY:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Zzzt! Oww! Zzzt! Oww! Zzzt! Oww!

I was leaning my arm on a Juniper firewall (which I use for work), and touching my iPod in its Bose dock, and got what felt like a heat burn (the Juniper is not cool to the touch), but turned out to be an electric shock!

Who's more likely to blame? Apple, Bose, or Juniper?

Time to dig out my multimeter.

 

UPDATE: I got my multimeter out and there is about 80 Vac between ground and the housing of the iPod when it's sitting in the dock. The other iPod in the house shows the same thing. I then plugged one of the iPods into the DC adapter (DC adapter into wall socket, USB-to-base cord connecting it to the iPod) and *that* gives 37 Vac between wall ground and the iPod housing.

WTF? Is this why iPods occasionally explode?

Or have I just managed to totally forget how to use a multimeter??

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lois McMaster Bujold vs. E.R. Eddison

Lois McMaster Bujold crystallizes why I couldn't get through The Worm Ouroboros:

I am also slogging through The Worm Ouroboros, (~1922), by E.R. Eddison. Early 20th C. British adult fantasy, post William Morris, also a little after the charming Lord Dunsany, I think (both of whom are much better writers, so far.) The book reads like Medieval/Reniassance Romance (the other sort of Romance) fanfiction, actually. Some wince-worthy naming choices that one must sort of muscle past lead to a tale about a cast of characters in the old high heroic mold, i.e., with the emotional maturity and egocentric focus of an overdressed drunken high school football squad, except they are running countries. Redshirt follower death-rate very high, female characters few and decorative rather than functional. Historically interesting as a reaction to the relentlessly mundane turn contemporary mainstream fiction was taking about then, I suppose. I'm having trouble deciding who I dislike more, the heroes or the villains. Eddison does get off some pretty elegant prose passages now and then, granted. Shall perservere, hoping for a payoff.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Animal Rescue after the Rapture

Eternal Earth-Bound Pets will care for your pets after you're Raptured up into Heaven. (They're all atheists.)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Bobby McFerrin Plays the Audience (Literally)

Like there weren't already enough reasons to love Bobby McFerrin, here's another. This is almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face, as well as your brain.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: Harry Potter And the Half-Blood Prince

We saw the sixth Harry Potter movie last night. It was highly enjoyable until about 2/3 of the way through at which point the edits for the book-to-film transition started coming unglued, and in fact ended up changing things on an important character level.

I can't imagine anyone who hasn't read the books being able to follow it, though. There was a LOT left unsaid.

No adaptation of a 650+ page book into a 2.5 hour movie is going to avoid cutting enormous amounts of material, and in this case, most of the cuts were fair (and some were annoying but will almost certainly be addressed in the extended cut DVD) -- until the end. They cut out some really important stuff, and changed two very important plot points, which bear directly on characters (not just plot stuff). We were annoyed by that.

However, it was an enjoyable movie, and -- especially considering how bleak the end is -- the first 2/3 of the movie was very funny. We were with a good audience for that (20-somethings mostly, at a 9:30pm showing). We laughed a lot. The young woman playing Lavender Brown is a hoot, and we loved Luna Lovegood's lion hat.

Overall? Far from the best movie of the series (I say #3, The Spouse says #4), but entertaining.

This, Mr. Bezos, is why I Will Not Buy a Kindle

They revoked the purchase of several George Orwell books after the publishers changed their mind.

George Orwell!

Monday, July 13, 2009

This Explains a Lot

Cats embed a cry inside their purr to get humans to do what they want. This explains

 

...sorry, I had to go feed my cats.

As I was saying, this explains a lot.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

DM of the Rings

I know I'm way late to this story (and had to see it on Boingboing too), but DM of the Rings is freaking hilarious. It's the story of a D&D campaign wherein the DM is trying to do Lord of the Rings (and the players not only don't know Tolkien, but don't care and think that all the tedious backstory is just boring). It's a webcomic made of screenshots from the movies, and it's brilliant.

Warning: this may suck your brain for a day or so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bad Web Design, No Donut!

So I was looking at the lyrics for Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown album, and each song links to a separate domain, like http://know-your-enemy.com/ for "Know Your Enemy".

This seems overconsumptive and stupid. American Idiotic, even.

 

Updated to add: This apparently is my day to stumble over horrible web design. I was reading this Inside Higher Ed article mocking (former Bush chair of the Council on Bioethics) Leon Kass and I wanted to look up "apodictally", so I tried to highlight it, and seemed to fail. It turns out someone decided that the Inside Higher Ed style sheets should make highlighting merely change the color of the text from black to blue-so-dark-it's-almost-indistinguishable-from-black. Perhaps highlighting in a useful (read: visible) fashion is for Lower Ed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jesse Ventura vs. Dick Cheney

More evidence -- as if we actually needed any -- that torture is not a partisan issue, except in the minds of idiot and/or evil right-wingers: Jesse Ventura vs. Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What? I've read all the Hugo Nominee Novels? That Can't be Right

I think this is the first year in which I've read all Hugo nominee novels before the convention at which they are awarded.

(Were I voting, I'd go with Anathem. Although that young Charlie Stross surely deserves something after having been nominated <N> times without winning, Saturn's Children is not my favorite of his works.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Feature that Windows really Should Add

I have a Windows box for work. I don't log out of it very often. I am really kinesthetically oriented for icons and window placement etc. So when a program crashes (damn you, Firefox 3.0.9 and 3.0.10, for being flakier than 3.0.8 and earlier!), I tend to quit all the programs that have taskbar icons to the right of that program, so I can end up with the "right" taskbar arrangement after restarting everything.

A few days ago, my boss pointed me at Taskbar Shuffle, which (without even needing a reboot!) allows you to rearrange your taskbar. Hallelujah.

<rhetorical>Why doesn't Windows come with this feature?</rhetorical>

Friday, May 08, 2009

Anyone Want a Michael Whelan Book?

Anyone local (near me) want a slightly cat-chewed version of The Art of Michael Whelan? (The cat-chewing is on the top of the spine; the contents are fine.) For some reason I've had two copies of this for years.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nassim Nicholas Taleb for Treasury Secretary

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of "Black Swan" fame) lays out some simple and sane principles for fixing our financial systems.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Habitat for Humanity

Does it make me a bad person that I think that Habitat for Humanity should stop building homes and start buying homes at foreclosure auctions?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The True Meaning of Smekday

I read Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday a week or so ago, and enjoyed it very much. (Thanks to jadelennox for the recommendation!)

"The True Meaning of Smekday" is (within the novel The True Meaning of Smekday) an essay written by Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (her mother started calling her "Turtlebear" once she found out that "Gratuity" didn't mean what she thought it meant when she named her daughter). The essay was occasioned by the "National Timecapsule Project" to "provide a record of this time in American history for generations to come". "This time in history" meaning when the extraterrestrial Boov invaded on Christmas Day (which they renamed Smekday in honor of their glorious leader Captain Smek) 2013.

Gratuity, who is eleven-and-a-half for most of the events recounted in the book, is caught up in the central events of the time. Before the invasion, her mother claims to have been abducted by aliens (and forced to fold laundry), has a large and growing (and glowing!) mole on her neck, and then disappears on Christmas DaySmekday. Gratuity survives on her own after the Boov invasion (and destruction of all human resistance), but when the Boov discover that humans are unwilling to let the Boov move into their cities, the Boov decide to put all humans into small areas (Americans get Florida). Gratuity decides to drive to Florida rather than go in the Boov rocket pods. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

I could summarize some of the plot, but it would probably sound like a ten-year-old describing their favorite movie to someone who has never heard of it. Suffice it to say that it's an enjoyable romp, complete with irony and wit, some of which would go right over the heads of younger readers (and that's okay). And it includes one of the most twisted explanations of how Disneyworld (showing up here as "Happy Mouse Kingdom") manages to stay so incredibly clean.

The cast of characters includes Gratuity's mother's cat (named "Pig"), a Boov who calls himself "J.Lo" and is on the run from the other Boov, more aliens (the Gorg), and a bunch of pre-teen boys hiding out in Happy Mouse Kingdom, who have formed "the Brotherhood Organized Against Oppressive Boov" (BOOB). (Gratuity asks if that shouldn't be "BOAOB", but the boys reply that they wanted to be "BOOB". Needless to say, this doesn't endear them to Gratuity.)

The book is illustrated with near-realistic drawings (representing the Polaroids that Gratuity takes), Gratuity's drawings, and a couple of comic strips drawn by J.Lo to explain various things Boovish. Adam Rex is ridiculously talented to be able to draw all these things and write as well as he does. (Not fair!)

You should also look at www.smekday.com, which includes a short "Human Learning Video #42: The True Meaning of Smekday" (if the Quicktime movie doesn't work for you, follow the link to the YouTube version). This instructional video is of a puppet show explaining the new Boovish holidays, and is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. (I was nonplussed the first time, and every viewing since it just gets funnier.) The problems (for me) with the video are (a) it raised my expectations too far -- no book could include the sheer density of comic genius that the video does; and (b) there's only one!

In summary: go buy this book. It's fabulous (and on sale at Amazon). And watch the video.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Further Thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica Finale

Here are a bunch of thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica Series Finale. They are not particularly well ordered.

Highlight to see them; this is to avoid spoilers.

If you read this in an RSS reader, stop reading now if you haven't seen it yet!

 

So this really seemed to call come down to "God did it". And angels? Really?

Somewhat ironically, this is quite a bit closer to the original Glen A. Larson Battlestar Galactica than any of the rest of the show. (Both the Mormonism and the plot. Wasn't there an episode of the original series with angels?) Larson may be smiling.

At least the Baltar-in-Caprica-Six's head showed up again.

I do wish they'd explained how Baltar survived the nuclear explosion in the miniseries (which clearly killed the original Caprica Six -- she downloaded from it in "Downloaded", the late-second-season episode where Baltar-in-Caprica-Six's head first -- and last -- showed up). Was he resurrected the way that Kara was?

Tell me again why Hera was so important? Because she seemed more like a walking Plot Device than anything else here.

Why were Laura and Sharon/Athena kept out of the bridge for the climactic "can't we break the cycle" scene? Okay, I guess Sharon/Athena probably would have blown Cavil's head off, but it seemed like they just needed to recreate a hallucination that was originally set up 1.5 seasons ago.

I'm so sick of SF that ends up with "and that planet became our Earth". Resounding cliché alert!.

It was 150,000 years ago? Really? That's just dumb. 50,000 would fit better insofar as the colonists were anatomically modern humans.

If Hera was Mitochondrial Eve, then that means that the indiginous populations died out, or were killed off. Nothing sinister there.

What are we now supposed to make of the shot at the end of Season 3 (after Starbuck re-appears) where they show us Earth -- our Earth, with North America clearly visible? I am fairly certain that Ron Moore stated clearly that the Earth there was really our Earth. I suppose he could wiggle out by saying that the Earth that they found at the end of the first half of Season 4, the 13th-tribe Earth, was not Our Earth, and not what they showed us at the end of the Season 3 finale.

And WTF: Saul Tigh saying to Galen (Tyrol) "If anyone had done that to Ellen, I'd have done the same"? Really? (a) wouldn't this means that Saul should kill himself? (b) Galen looked ready to space Callie retroactively when he found out that Callie's kid wasn't his.

Tori deserved better. I totally understand why she killed Callie. It was evil, but I totally understand it.

Daniel. Why even bring him up? Other than to explain the gap between Six and Eight? To show how evil Cavil was? We knew that. I felt like that was a huge loose plot thread that they planted and didn't pay off.

Kara's Dad wasn't Daniel? Then WTF?

Kara just vanishes into thin air?

"God did it." Totally frackingfucking weak.

What The Frack

Just finished watching the Battlestar Galactica series finale.

I'll probably write more about this later, but for now, I am feeling seriously unimpressed. Possibly even annoyed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Syfy"? Really? Oy.

So, the SciFi Channel is changing its name to "Syfy". John Scalzi gives it his trademark snark treatment.

You see, it's not just that "Syfy" is a stupid name, and renaming your brand is usually a sign of desperation. It's also that "syfy" means "venereal disease" (e.g. syphilis) in Polish.

Oh well, after Friday's BSG series finale I won't be watching much SciFiSyfy anyway.

Edited to add: io9 weighs in with 25 other possible names they could rebrand with.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Watchmen

I saw Watchmen today (with Dan) and enjoyed it quite a bit.

The movie is very faithful to the book, but it didn't seem slavish. (They did change a major mechanism for a plot point at the end of the book, and honestly, I think this version is better.) Some subplots were removed, but their absence didn't seem to be problematic to me.

With the exception of Matthew Goode (as Ozymandias/Adrien Veidt), the acting ranged from decent to quite good. Patrick Wilson (as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II) did a great job, as did Jeffrey Dean Morgan (as The Comedian), but the really standout performance was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach. I don't know what was going on with Matthew Goode -- he's a British actor with a solid resume, but he sounded like a demented Dutchman in the movie, which might have been intentional -- but whether on his part or the part of the director is hard to say. It wasn't a big problem, in any case.

The special effects are impressive without taking over the story (and mostly drawn straight from the book), and the pacing seemed fine to me. Some people thought it could have been cut back 20 minutes or so, but I wasn't bored at all -- and I usually am if something is slow.

I'd like to especially note the opening credit sequence, which is simply fabulous and almost worth the price of admission on its own. It was given a shout-out by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light, and rightly so. (Go read the story. The lawyers at Warner's are jerks, and the Warner's upper management are idiots.) You can find the opening credits here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Delayed Review 2: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

On the advice of several friends, I picked up a copy of Graceling in mid-September of last year.

Graceling is a first novel by Kristin Cashore. It's really good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. You should borrow or buy it and read it, and loan it (or buy other copies and give it) to people you know.

The setup of the story is replete with the apparatus of stock fantasy: kings and princes and somewhat mystical powers -- i.e. the tropes and elements that in the hands of someone with less imagination and nerve would be dreadful, but works well when wielded with the right balance and wit. (It works very well here indeed.)

The main character, Katsa, is a young woman (just about 18), neice of King Randa of Middluns, who has a Grace. In this world, Graces are semi-sort-of-magical powers, that manifest themselves in two ways: (1) a very specific skill/talent/power; and (2) eyes of different colors (Katsa has one blue eye and one green eye). Some Graces are benign and in high demand (cooking skills or healing skills); some are less benign but also in demand (fighting skills); others are simply not very useful and are thus not prized -- but these Gracelings are usually mistrusted and mistreated if they have been found wanting by the Kings and Princes of the land).

Katsa's Grace revealed itself when she was eight years old and she reacted instinctively to a leering courtier who tried to grope her -- reacted with lethal violence. From then on, she was trained to be the King's special killer.

Much of the rest of the book concerns Katsa's growing desire to no longer be the King's pet killer, and to change the circumstances under which Kings can do such things. Much of the books' plot is set in motion by the arrival at court of Prince Po[1] from the island kingdom of Lienid, who is also Graced with amazing fighting skills. Katsa dislikes him on sight, which leads in the direction you'd probably expect -- but usually along a non-obvious path.

One of the things I like most about the book is that while the elements going into the story are fairly standard, they're put together in ways that are often quite unexpected. And during the slow reveal of the Main Villain (and I like that there are multiple unrelated villains), the main characters aren't stupid. About three pages after I figured out what the Main Villain is doing and how he's doing it, and just before I started thinking, "Augh! The main characters are dumb! How can they not see it?", they figured it out. Hallelujah! Non-stupid characters, not artificially jerked around to not see something that has become obvious to the reader! And then even though they've figured it out, it doesn't help much. Hooray for turning the screw another turn!

(Okay, I'm going to try to avoid saying anything more about the plot. Really.)

There seem to be (broadly) two approaches to background detail. In one, the author fills in lots of details about everything, and that can help ground the reader to feel like the world in the book is complete and fine-grained, but can potentially overwhelm the reader with irrelevancies. In the other approach, things are sketched in quick strokes and details are given only as necessary and/or pertinent to the story, which can streamline a plot-heavy story but can also end up leaving the reader feeling like they're missing the grit of a real world. (My problem -- and I know that this is my problem -- is that my reading brain is too lazy, or in a hurry, to make up details to put in the background, so without a certain level of details, I end up picturing things being very smooth and under-featured -- almost cartoony.) An example of this split (or spectrum) in approaches is how walk-on characters are handled: in some stories we learn names for many or all walk-on characters (even horses and other animals), while in other stories, no one gets named unless they're important to the plot. Cashore's work falls into the second category. (David Foster Wallace would probably be an archetype of the first.) Purely as a matter of taste, I generally like to have more details rather than fewer, but in a 471-page book (aimed at young-adult readers both artistically and as a matter of marketing), it does make sense to me to trim that back. (And of course, just because I would like more details puts no onus on Ms. Cashore to do anything to change her artistic choices.)

In summary: I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to re-reading it (probably fairly soon -- but perhaps I should wait until either just before -- or maybe just after? -- the prequel, Fire, comes out in October). Is it perfect? Nope. (Nothing is.) But it's a cracking good first novel and I highly recommend it.


[1] Every time I read "Katsa and Po" my silly brain does have a tendency to recite bits from The Mikado. Fortunately, this didn't affect my actual reading of the book.

Delayed Review 1: A Fine Frenzy's One Cell In the Sea

I bought A Fine Frenzy's album One Cell in the Sea almost a year ago (my iTunes tells me I added it on May 2nd, 2008, which is in turn nearly a year after it came out).

I quickly got obsessed with this album to a degree that I haven't done in years. (The last album with which I got anywhere near so obsessed was Green Day's American Idiot.) I listened to it at least once a day for several months, sometimes multiple times a day. And instead of abruptly dropping out of the rotation like some albums (it's sort of like my brain is done with them and doesn't crave it any more), I still listen to it three or four times a week.

The problem with this level of obsessional listening is that it's hard to tell if it's actually good or if it's just the obsession speaking. However, I've given the album to some people as gifts, over the past few months, and they like it too. So I feel validated. Go me!

A Fine Frenzy is effectively Alison Sudol plus backup instrumentalists. She sings and plays the piano, both very well, and writes all her own songs (as far as I know). She's got a voice that can go from low and husky to high and clear, and she knows how to write songs that fit her voice. She writes strongly emotional songs and catchy tunes (sometimes at the same time). The songs aren't treacly; many of them are about relationships, but most of those are about failed or failing, or just plain didn't-happen, relationships (like "Almost Lover" and "Ashes and Wine", the latter of which is my current favorite).

There are some songs from the album (notably "Rangers"), which just get stuck in my head, but which I still don't know how to interpret. Is it just a catchy tune with obscure lyrics, or is she making literary references I don't get? I still don't know.

Apparently Alison Sudol has been tagged with the "red-headed piano player = Tori Amos" meme, which is bizarre since I don't feel like there's a lot of overlap, other than the relatively superficial facts that they're both female piano players/songwriters who have red hair. But then again, I like both of them, so maybe I'm just not seeing it.

I am slightly annoyed by the album cover (go look on Amazon), and wonder how much of that was Sudol herself and how much was the record company. I think it's clear that they are trying to market her as a Little Redheaded Girl, which annoys me. (I expressed this to my wife, and she said "What's your problem? You like redheads." I replied "I like redheaded women, thank you very much.")

I strongly recommend this album. But on the off chance that you have the same obsessional reaction I did, don't say I didn't warn you.

Interstitial Advertising FAIL

I have a pile of books and movies and albums (from the last year or so) about which I've wanted to post at least short reviews, and I figured I'd come up with a catchy name for the sequence. I wanted something with rhyme and assonance and the only thing I could come up with was "Delayed Deconstruction", which isn't quite right, and "Retarded Reviews", which has the right denotation and entirely wrong (and unfortunate, if not downright offensive) connotations. So I went to Merriam-Webster.com to look for less-freighted synonyms of "retarded" that would match it's original meaning of "delayed".

I then got

retard

One entry found.


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Entry Word: retard
Function: verb

Text: to cause to move or proceed at a less rapid pace <an herbicide to retard the growth of weeds>— see slow 1

Not quite an epic FAIL, but worth at least an "augh!"

Monday, March 09, 2009

Dear Large Financial Services Company

Dear Large Financial Services Company:

If you are going to send me notification email messages, with

Content-Type: text/plain

then please actually make the message be plain text, not HTML crud.

Or send a MIME version with one in text form and one in HTML.

Really, this is 1998 technology we're talking about here.

And while we're on the topic, please let me have a password that has non-alphanumeric characters in it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

What the...FAIL

FAILblog has a very funny disease FAIL today.

(Warning: humorless Christians should avoid that.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Have You Apologized to Rush Yet?

Have you apologized to Rush Limbaugh yet?

It's pretty amazing that we have Democrats who are willing to actually call out the Republicans as the whiny little pussies they are.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Peak Oil" Revisited

Is it just me, or should Peak Lubricants maybe change their name, given Peak Oil?

And their slogan? "It's time for a change." Priceless.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm Feeling Eerily Prescient Today

When I went looking for an old post to link to, I found "Jane Austen, Vampire Slayer?", which I hadn't even thought about as I was hearing about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies over the past few weeks.

And let's not forget the upcoming Pride and Predator movie.

Bailout Modest Proposal #2

I went looking for this "Modest Proposal (Financial Services Edition)" post and it took me way too long to find since I thought I'd posted it in, say, October, but it was March of 2008. Not that I was all that prescient, but still.

Anyway, I wanted to offer another Modest Proposal, one which should be obvious, but doesn't seem to be: any company that accepts federal bailout money should not be allowed to lobby any federal, state, or municipal government.

(Since I believe that companies are not persons, I don't think they have a right to lobby anyway.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dollhouse

So I'm thinking that the only way that Joss Whedon & Co. can keep my interest in Dollhouse is if Echo, aka "Caroline" (Eliza Dushku), turns out to actually be Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and this is part of her guilt-expiation continued from those shows. Or if she turns out to be a Cylon and Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is a Colonial officer hunting her down.

Oh, and Mr. Whedon? I need more than one character (that would be Boyd, Echo's "handler") to root for. Echo's not really a character at this point.

Update: Penny Arcade weighs in.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coraline (the Movie)

The Spouse and I saw this on opening night a couple of weeks ago (the first time I've seen a movie on opening night since Serenity). I carefully hadn't re-read the book, so I could go in with a fairly blank slate.

Quick Summary: We really enjoyed the movie. You should see it. Probably not good for kids under, say, 8, but a lot of adults seem to think it'd be terrifying for all kids, while I think most kids are a lot more resilient than adults give them credit for. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Gory details (no intentional spoilers):

The stop-motion animation is stunning and often beautiful. The 3-D effects (for the 3-D version, obviously) were mostly subtle and served the story, rather than vice-versa (I'm looking at you, Robert Zemeckis); there was only one moment out of the whole movie the 3-D-ness made me queasy.

The voice characterizations were very good. Dakota Fanning actually sounded like she was from the upper midwest (her family is supposed to be from Michigan, having just moved to suburban/rural Ashland, Oregon). John Hodgman (as the Dad/Other Dad) was entertaining without being distracting (I'm looking at you, Battlestar Galactica), and Teri Hatcher did a great job as the Mother/Other Mother.

Then there's the casting of Keith David as the voice of The Cat, Coraline's spirit guide (who in our world can't talk, but can in the Other World). Keith David is a fine actor, and on its own terms, this casting sort of worked, but it walked right into Magical Negro territory. I mean, really: a black cat with a deep, smooth African-American voice being a guide to a little white girl through a magical world full of danger? Please.

There were some changes from the book, some of which were fine (trimming some pieces back, making the Other Apartment and environs much brighter and more interesting); some were simply odd (removing the empty next-door flat that the "magic door" seemed to have opened into in the book); and some seem to have really pissed some people off (adding the neighbor boy, Wybie). The latter I understand; it can definitely be argued that it undercuts Coraline's independence, determination, and bravery in the last act (which in the book has her doing What Is Necessary entirely on her own). The one change I really didn't like was in the opening act, where Coraline's parents seem actively unpleasant, while in the book they were mostly distracted. Coraline also seems a year or two younger in the movie than she seemed to me in the book. Maybe that's simply a function of having to externalize her thought processes in a movie; in the book she seemed to have more of an interior life, with trenchant commentary on the foibles of adults — most of which would probably be unfilmable.

(One interesting bit is that Wybie, the added-for-the-movie neighbor boy, has no obvious signifiers that would make you think that he wasn't a suburban Oregon white kid, but his grandmother (who we meet at the end) is clearly black. This surprised or confused a lot of people, including the two black girls (and their mother) who sat behind us in the theater, so I feel fairly safe in thinking that I, a white boy from the suburbs, didn't miss anything obvious. Just for the record, Wybie is voiced by Robert Bailey Jr., who is in fact a young black man. This whole thing is neither here nor there, but coupled with the Black Cat issue, made me wonder how much of this was planned and how much was simply how things fell out.)

Bottom line: go see it. I'm really looking forward to the DVD, to see all the making-of documentaries.

Carmina Buraneidolia

You know how people see faces in everything from cheese sandwiches to tree knots, or hear messages in static (or Beatles records played backwards)? That's called Pareidolia.

Well, now someone has done a captioned pareidolia version of Carmina Burana. Hilarious.

(Via Bad Astronomy.)

Why We Immunize

A great post from Making Light about why we immunize.

UPDATED 2009-02-24 to add: Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy links to what he calls "the be-all and end-all of posts about the antivaxxers". It's a great post, and would be so even if all it did was summarize all the bad science and bad journalism that went into the making of Andrew Wakefield into the famous fraud he is.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is going to be stuck in my head for weeks

This is just going to be stuck in my head for weeks.

(via boingboing.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Those Wacky Brits

A (now-Baroness) doctor in the UK created a hoax condition "cello scrotum" back in the 1970s, and had to come clean when people started actually citing it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Can I Go Back to Being Apathetic Now?

Obama's going to fix everything, right? I can stop paying attention, right?

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Mark The Occasion

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has compiled a list of 8 years worth of Bush-related Onion articles.

It's a stunning feat, superseded only by the actual writing of all those articles. (And, perhaps, by the supreme clusterfuck that is the Bush Administration itself.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Speaking of Timewasters

(Other than being annoyed at the Senate and/or Rod Blagojevich, that is.)

Physics-based online games!

First up: Orbit.

Next: Assembler.

Last: Assembler 2 (much harder than original Assembler).

WARNING: these are serious timesinks!