2010: Week 30 Blots

BLOT: (01 Aug 2010 - 11:38:09 AM)

Cutest Bunny Face Ever? [Daily Squee]

So cute I had to share the love.

BLOT: (31 Jul 2010 - 02:06:08 AM)

Low work density fortnight coming up, Cindy's bad vet visit, new artwork, et cetera

Today marks my last work day until next friday, which hopefully marks my last work day until the semester restarts. I've officially asked for a week off (though I got no reply). I hope it comes through. I mean, even if it didn't, I would still get something like four or five days off out of that week; but something about knowing that I have *no* work today for a whole week? That sounds swell. By no work, I guess I mean "in person", since I'll still be doing the virtual reference stuff. But you know what I mean. My goal during said fortnight of low work density is to read five books and to watch maybe a dozen movies. That seems simple enough, right? Good, that's the plan. I'll also be tooling through some Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (think "little brother" to GTA3) and watching Burn Notice with Sarah. And drinking a few stiff shots here or there or the Jim Bean bottle I picked up tonight in anticipation. Simple goals. Simple life. Doesn't it sound swell?

Speaking of five books, when I came into the month of June, my total for the year (and this weighted total) was only something like 30 books. Over June and July, I have added something on the order of 25 books. If I repeat this for the remainder of the six months, this would put my overall total (assuming an average of about 9 books per month) at 72. If I keep up my two-month-only average, this would put my predicted total (five months remaining) at about 90 books. My goal is still to hit about the 120 mark. I am just not sure if it is possible. After this two weeks is up, and hopefully a five book notch is added to my literary bedstand, I will be re-entering school with two or three classes, I will be working more, and so forth. My guess is that by the end of August I'll have cracked the 60-65 range but from then on out I'll be lucky to chug down 10 books, bringing my realistic total to 75 +/-5. Ah well, so be it. I'll consider it a challenge.*

Well, from books to other realms of art. I got my photographic print, today, the one I mentioned some time back (had to be the past week or so). It is a photo of a tupelo/cypress swamp with snow covering the water (was one of those lucky accidents where the photographer was in the swamp when the snow fell, no doubt it was all melted down a few minutes later). It has straight gum and cypress trees, with the foothills in the background, and horizontal shadows catching across the snow in the foreground, with just a splash of some muddy color. The price included a nice frame. Reminds me of the old swamps I grew up in, before the clearcutters destroyed them. The snow is for nice contrast. Now the question of where to hang the bugger.

In less artsy news, we took Cindy to the vet and, I don't know, something happened. She is a cat, which means that she never likes vet visits, but when Sarah picked her up she was hissing and growling. She was stressed out after getting home that she ran around the apartment for some time meowing and looking freaked out (possibly, since I was at work, she was trying to find me because when I got home she fairly quickly came up to my sat down near my feet). She is just now starting to calm down, and not a whole lot. She used to be fairly stoic about the visits. They frustrated her but that was ok. This time she is acting much different. I wonder if a new tech was rougher than normal, or if she did something like nipped at one and they slapped her for it? The way these visits work, most of the actualy check-up is done outside of our sight. Just about anything could have happened back there. I don't know if I really think that, but she has been limping a little since getting home. Next time we might have them do the exam in the room with us, just to be sure.

And that wraps it up. I'm nursing one of those odd headaches where things don't quite hurt until I change the focus of my eyes. If I am looking at my laptop, I am fine, but then if I look around it hurts for a few minutes. If I am looking up, I am fine, until I look down. I'm going to take a Goody's Powder and then listen to Hornet's Nest or something like it on my Kindle and try and get some sleep. Good night, folk.

* I can sometimes read a mid-sized book in a day and can regularly finish 2-3 books per week without too much stress. Earlier this week, I logged four books completed in four days. Therefore, on weekends or slow times, I might be able to get another 10 or so books in.

BLOT: (29 Jul 2010 - 02:22:09 PM)

Lazy Days, Policies and Procedures, Months without Facebook, Inception, etc

Me in 2010, Libraries, Social Sites, Movie Reviews, Huntsville Eateries

Yesterday and today are both Lazy Days™, but I would say in different ways. Yesterday was of that LD-subclass where efficacy of action is measured solely in quantity of accomplishments and neither in quality of accomplishments nor time-density of accomplishments. In other words, rather than thinking of terms of doing five tasks per hour or ten in two or in terms of doing a really good job in one hour or an ok job in half-of-one, you think in terms of "Maybe I can get this one thing done, just one, if I keep at it". This is to say that they aren't automatically un-productive days, but they are approached single-mindedly throughout. Once you check off that "to-do", then you consider the day a success, or at least a non-failure. In the modern work-force, the current multi-tasking lifestyle, this is a barbaric attitude, the kind of thing that third world countries might indulge in. Yesterday, then, I was apparently a third world country. I had one goal in mind, which I will get to, and that was all I could be bothered with. Most of the day is a bust outright, I don't even have memories starting before about 5pm. But there you go.

Today is more lazy in the "I feel kind of productive, but all the tasks I could assign myself are somewhat wasteful or incomplete and have better time-slots elsewhere, so I'll focus on getting rested and relaxing, which is its own productive activity." I'm not even really going to read much, today. Just let my mind take it all in like a great big waterfall of information and I'm sitting over the left, in the spray.

Now, the task of yesterday was something simple but complex: policies and procedures as a public document for the virtual reference desk at the UAH Salmon Library. We have P&P, of course, everyone has P&P, but like many, ours was unwritten. There were a few rules that had to be in place: no sending out copyrighted documents and no exposing patron private data. There were a lot of other rules that were followed but never explicitly stated: we will not give out medical advice, we will not do your homework for you. Even if you consider such rules common sense, like we do, sometimes it is good to have a document in place that you can point out. While I can say, "Look, this is crossing a line with academic integrity," having that outlined out makes it known in a way that can be shared. Considering we still get questions that imply people think they are submitting a query to a Google-like system, letting people know we are actual humans sitting down and taking care of them, but are bound by the rules of an institution, will hopefully makes thing clearer. I know that hard-wrought rules aren't necessarily the answer, a handful of general, straight-forward rules will help the department to move on and grow. In fact, I think one of the bigger problems that libraries face, with new technologies, is they wait around and kind of see how people will take them and use them and then make after-the-fact policies about them. Now that virtual reference is growing steadily, having a stable constitution that can be adapted as the technology adapts is my way of trying to stay ahead of the curve.

So I have no real memory of yesterday until yesternight, right? That's ok. Last night, after Sarah got home, she and I went out to Sitar to eat and then went over to the Monaco to see Inception. If you haven't eaten at Sitar, but like Indian food or at last want to try a different sort of cuisine if you have never had it, I recommend it. Service is good. Food diversity is good. Quality is awesome. They have a lunch buffet all weekdays, but really from-the-menu food is a few notches better and worth the price tag. Try the chicken korma, vegetable vindaloo, sag panir, or tandoori chicken to start. Well done dishes all, and by no means their only good ones (they have an awesome trio of vegetable, chicken, and panir pakoras for appetizers that are each great, as well as some awesome deserts). In fact, one of my favorite dishes there was a scallop curry they have on the sea-food menu, and a naan stuffed with onion and cheese. Yesterday, we went for a spicy chicken vindaloo (very spicy curry with cilantro in the mix) that wasn't quite as spicy as I hoped, but still had a kick, and a allo gahbi (might be misspelled) which is a potato and cauliflower dish, which I had not had before but will order again. We had a tandoori mixed appetizer, that included chunks of skewered chicken, seekh kabob (spiced minced meat skewered over grill), and a single (strangely, the appetizer for two only had one) spiced shrimp. The whole meal came in under $40 plus tip, including plenty of rice and buttered naan as well as some chutney, and was enough food that we had left-overs.

Then we went over to Monaco and watched the 6:30pm showing of Inception. When I first saw the trailers, I stored it in my mind as a likely candidate for RedBox. It looked neat, but maybe a little too pop-corn for me to watch in theaters (somewhat ironically, most of the stuff I watch in theaters tends to be kids movies or quirky indie movies, rather than the big-name blockbusters that actually take advantage of the cinematic experience). However, kind of like The Matrix, or Avatar, or The Dark Knight, it is one of those action movies that is quickly entering wide-consciousness. When a movie does that, its plot becomes publicly assumed, and people are ok with spoiling pieces of it, talking about key points, making lots of injokes to it, and so forth. I figured I had better see it now before it went any further (I have already seen a couple of jokes about deep plot points in the movie, though they weren't necessarily spoilers or deal breakers). If you haven't seen it, I suggest you do. Most of my friends will like it. It is not all that strange (I have heard too many try and pitch it in the strange category), and is actually kind of straight-forward in a Philip K Dick sort of way (as in, the truth of certain things is untenable, but this does not interfere with their perceived, and therefore practical, reality). While most of the action sequences are fairly by-the-numbers gun fights or chase sequences, there is a hotel scene that I was quite delighted with. I love it when movies realize they are pieces of cinematic art and are not afraid to push the comfort zone of tried-and-true shots like that one could have been and would have been with most any other movie. I'll review it more fully when I see it again (probably around DVD release, I doubt I'll see it again in theaters) but for now I'll say it's a Good movie that could have been Great had it let its dreams go a little bit more free, while simultaneously tightening up a few of the other details.

And finally, the quit-Facebook-in-song song, below. My friend Becca sent that to me back closer to the time that I quit Facebook and for some reason sat in inbox limbo. It's worth a chuckle and is actually kind of quite clever. It made me think about the questions I get from time to time: "Do you miss Facebook?" "Why don't you have a Facebook page?" "What about the people you can't contact any other way?" In rough order... No, I don't miss Facebook. Yes, I do miss some of the people on Facebook, some of the ease of it, but there is a way that Facebook eats into your free time and your personal interactions that you will not realize until after you stop using it as the crutch. The free time is most apparent. I know few people who actually use Facebook that can go half a day without doubly checking it, and more and more check it hourly. Even if nothing is going on, you start feeling the itch and start adding new friends and new businesses and pages and whatever, and that just increases the noise that you have to spend time sorting through. If you are gone for a few days, you find it impossible to go back and read past things, so its not even like it is helping you keep up with your friends. It is like you are sitting on the rooftop, putting things off so that you can hear your friends shout at you. And the quality does suffer. I know we know this, but I think we forget it or don't worry about it that much. Since leaving Facebook, I have started e-mailing or more directly talking to many of my friends, and it has been far more fulfilling. The number of people I can keep up with has dwindled, for sure, but that's ok. I'm not sure what the phenomenon would be called, but we have reached a point where we are surrounding ourselves with the sort of people that we care so little about that we allow sites like Facebook to be the only way we keep in touch with them. And, the cost of that (outside of the datamining and advertisements) is strangers tend to hijack conversations, we have to shift through filters to get anything, we have to worry about things like unfriendings. No. I don't miss it. My mood has been several degrees higher without it. My friendship with those who kept in touch outside of it has been deeper. It has been good to leave it behind. I'm still waiting for something like an old school Facebook to show up, so I can add a couple of dozen friends (at most) and be done with it. As for the middle question, I do see a problem with the fact that more and more businesses are treated Facebook like their webpage, now. Contests and certain information can only be played with or got at if you add them on Facebook, something I cannot do. Oh well, most of the best writers are luddites, anyhow. I'll take comfort in that.

BLOT: (29 Jul 2010 - 12:37:53 PM)

Why Stewart > Tinsley


I am way late to this game, no doubt, but recently read of Bruce Tinsley (the man behind Mallard Fillmore) and his beef with Jon Stewart (the man on The Daily Show). When, Stewart wrote America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, he included this parody of Mallard Fillmore:

Which Tinsley complained about in a series (about four or five) of strips leading up to this dramatic conclusion. Notice that he gives the openly Jewish Jon Stewart a defined hook-nose, and claims he is pedophilic and gay:

The fact that his response to Stewart descended into a personal attack involving the mockery of Jewish stereotypes and what can only be called "fifth grade insults" (i.e. gay, child-raper) rather than, say, an attack on The Daily Show says a lot for Tinsley's style. Tinsley, by the way, knows full well how parody works, he regularly takes open shots on public figures knowing he is protected by the right-to-satirize. What's more, read these two strips (by Tinsley) and tell me that Stewart is wrong:

Keep in mind that there are other [unfunny] strips that put those "jokes" into context, but there were other strips parodied in Stewart's book, including some liberally oriented ones, that Tinsley left out in order to make it look like a personal attack, so I consider that fair game.

BLOT: (27 Jul 2010 - 11:37:34 PM)

John Christopher's Death of Grass [Book]

I suppose all post-apocalyptical novels are based on reductio ad absurdum. It is not about someone dropping a nuclear bomb on someone else, but someone dropping a nuclear bomb and the assumption that the natural reaction will be for everyone else in the world to randomly shoot nukes out at neighbors until a freezing nuclear winter descends. It is not whether a meteor strike can cause damage, but can it cause the world as we know it to cease to exist (including shutting down nuclear reactors and geothermal energy). When you read a post-apoc novel, you buy into the assumption that bad things come in really big packages, sometimes, and that's all the sense it will make.

John Christopher's Death of Grass, originally published in 1956, is no different. It makes three rough logical mistakes, and two of them are essentially the same, a compression of time, while the other plays out like a misjudged characterization of how viruses work. A virus breaks out savagely wipes out rice, causing famine to run rampant in China. The rest of the world chips in for food aid and, eventually, some scientific help to try and stop the virus. Rather than come up with a resistant strain of rice, they instead come up with an anti-viral that wipes out most of the rice-blight. However, the weaker strain that had been held down by the more dominant is immune to the anti-viral and now spreads unchecked, jumping across rice to all forms of grass and grains. As the entire world becomes infected with it, starvation becomes inevitable. While the world can grow non-grass crops, so much of the foodstuffs are based on grains or on the animals that feed off of them that it would take years to recoup the losses and readjust. As society breaks down, John the engineer takes his and a friend's family across the quickly growing violent country-side to his brother's farm. By the time they get there, though, the things required to survive have changed him and his group, possibly irrevocably.

I'll leave the possible virulent mistake aside—I am not sure how a plant virus or blight would spread*—but the compressions of time are more noticeable. We are talking about a couple of years to spread to every major grass and grain field in the world. And once the breakdown begins, we have a genteel man turning into a brutal wasteland feudal warlord in the span of about a week. I can take a man having to shoot someone to survive, but we are things like them slaughtering a farmer's family before they even find out how much food that farmer might have, feel more literary than plausible; especially since they were in that predicament due to not sticking up for themselves in the previous chapter. Imagine going from reasoned man to murderer and bandit in a single night. Christopher plays the whole thing so heavy handed and suddenly, that it is hard to guess his intent with this story. Is he proclaiming that survival takes trump over everything, or is he saying that we can justify all we want but this never makes it right to an outside observer? There is the important irony that the well-off Brits sneered at the "lesser people" in the beginning but become just as bad or worse when it is their time. Still, had this been the breakdown over a month I might have bought it. As it is, it is meant to shock and come off as abrasive, and it excels in that department.

It also excels in being discussable. What starts out as shooting guards that would have kept them in a soon to explode (figuratively and potentially literally) city progresses to them shooting rapists. Progresses to them shooting a farmer just to take food. Progresses to wasteland law and retribution. In many ways, the climactic moment isn't when they finally get to the brother's farm, and the rotten stench of inevitability sets in, but when the family is robbed of all their possessions by a small town's folk. There, you feel frustration seep into your reader bones, and you know, by depriving them of guns and food and equipment, that they have doomed others that the family must take from. You could discuss several of these incidents for time, about the nature of right and wrong, and the sort of people who delight at the idea of living by force versus the sort who assume that the inherent goodness of humanity must see one through.

Unfortunately, the novel is out of print in America, and beaten up used copies can cost you quite a bit. A few libraries have had copies that I have seen (this is how I got it), so give the local catalogs a perusal. If you don't mind ordering through Amazon.co.uk, there was a British version released last year. There is a Kindle page for it, but it has never been actually up for download (or was for only a short period of time). At only 182pp, it's not too hard to read in a couple of sittings (I think I took two) and I would overall recommend looking it up. The book was right at the cusp of Good outside of feeling a bit rushed in the time-scale department and a bit dialed to a eleven as far as the volume of change goes. Had it had one real counterpoint to its whole business, say a running commentary of the brother's more-civilized attempt; then I think it would have felt more solidly Good or even Great.

Book Reviews

* Perhaps more noticeablely a mistake is the idea of a resistant but weak strain that can attack other than rice grains. Why wouldn't it have spread previously, since the stronger rice-specific strains would not have been competing with it for the other grasses/grains to begin with?

BLOT: (27 Jul 2010 - 10:45:52 PM)

It's been too long since I have shared any Perry Bible Fellowship

BLOT: (27 Jul 2010 - 02:39:50 PM)

Overshadowed by the jail-breaking of the iPhone: a good thing about eBooks in the copyright ruling, too

Most everyone I have heard talk about July 23rd statement by the copyright office has focused on the jailbreaking aspects and what it says about the future of the iPhone/iPad. What I have yet to hear much hubbaloo about is something nearer and dearer to my own heart, [the owner can use circumventing technology with...]:

(6) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book's read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.

If you are not in the know, the statement was an update by the US copyright office to include six circumventions that are no longer prohibited. In other words, these are six things you can do to otherwise legally owned media that no longer constitutes illegal circumvention. In the case of ebooks, this is a big deal to me, since one of the big benefits of the medium has been the ability to accommodate special needs readers. As people like the Authors Guild have put pressure to have text-to-speech technology covered by the same rights and restrictions as human narrated audiobooks, it has actually weakened the purpose of ebook technology. By now having it set up where if all ebooks are blocked off (and in my experience, though I may be wrong, publishers have tended to blanket deal this sort of thing) then it is now lawful to use various means to make ebooks work for you, as a product.

Personally, I think this is a good thing, since the only real reason I see for blocking them all off is trying to sell more expensive audiobooks to those who need assistive technology.

Ebooks, Copyright

BLOT: (26 Jul 2010 - 11:51:42 AM)

The Home Depot is the Gay

According to Poppy Z. Brite's Livejournal, the AFA is boycotting The Home Depot for "pro-gay" activity. I mean, Brite didn't make it up, it's on the AFA's website if you want to search, but I'd rather link to PZB's LJ. And while I'm sure there are those out there who will change over to regular Lowe's people after reading this, I know I have other friends who will go out and by a 2x4 just because The Home Depot is on the way home.

The reason I am posting this? Focused groups like the AFA have wielded greater-than-share of market power for awhile, now; because they organize themselves into loud, gnashing-of-teeth bundles descending from the outer darkness. They pretend to be representative of an even greater silent horde who are unable to speak out against various atrocities, when really, if anyone is silent it is those neutral or positive who just assume day to day support of companies is enough, without embellishment. When companies like THD get targeted, they receive thousands of [the exact same] letters and e-mails (printed or sent out via form) and, strangely, this tactic works, because where is the counter example? If you had twenty customers come in and repeat a three-line speech about how your displays are bad, and no one else mentions them, what do you do? Sometimes, supporting someone's displays is important. Form letters can work both ways, you know. That's all I'm saying. Especially when the most grevious complaint in the action statement is that Home Depot acts like gay people are something that children should be able to hear about.

Plus, eww...no digs for using the phrase "furthering the homosexual agenda". AFA needs some new copy writers before the phrase Gay Mafia leaks out in the next boycott.

Written by Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."