Dickens of a Blog

(January 2009)

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January 31, 2009. Saturday.

(00:08:00 CST)

UAH. New Music Resolution. iTunes + OGG support. Idea for an Honor's Reunion. And so on.

Walked down to UAH today for a few hours. There was some business to take care of, which I won't really go into much detail about right now (more hopefully on it later) but it was fun just glancing around the campus. I saw the "damage" done to Wilson Hall. Looks like the demolition part of the plan is coming along just nicely. I also noticed that there was, again, construction around the Library. When I went by, though, it was pretty much contained to one guy hammering on rocks outside one of the windows. I have no idea what that means. The library interior has changed, too. They have a new cafe inside, and the seating has been altered. It seems like a slightly more social place to hang out. Then, they have the North (south?) wing for those who want quiet study areas.

While there, briefly talked to Betty Cole. Briefly. She abandoned me to go eat at Ketchup. heh. Then I got to talk to Dr. Heikes for a bit, just about odds and ends. Since it's been probably a year since I have seen her in person, that was nice. Found out she had removed Spinoza from her lecture series and I told her she couldn't do that, and then told her that Liebniz might not be worth all that much. "OH, look at me...I stole calculus from Newton!" Yeah, there's a role model. Spinoza was excommunicated for his beliefs, Liebniz was merely mocked for that "best of all possible worlds" argument. I think we know who suffered more for his art...

One of the things I wanted to talk to Betty about, but didn't get the chance, was the idea of an Honor's Reunion. Get together Honor's students from the past decade or so and let us hang out in the lounge or maybe in the UC or something. I don't think many who read my blog were in the honor's program (as opposed to just hung out in the honor's lounge), I can think of three, but we should bug Betty about it.

Now, on to less-UAH centric matters and more towards music files on my computer. I have a lot. Of that lot, I would say half are outright legal. Of the remaining half, I would say half of those are public domain or not available in the United States. What I've been thinking about doing is taking that last quarter and either (1) deleting it or (2) replacing it with legitimately owned files. Partially, this is just book cleaning. I have too much music in my playlist. Partially, I've been wanting to do this for a while but didn't want to worry with iTunes or with similar systems. AmazonMP3 makes it easy enough to do. I'm not sure how long it will take, but I plan on sorting through starting tomorrow. I'm just curiuos as to how much music I will shed versus keep.

As an attache to that music bit of news, I got ogg-vorbis and flac working just fine with iTunes. Any Mac user who has had trouble with oggs and flacs, it takes about 30 seconds once you do the Google search and find the page (it's something like "Ogg for Mac"). You open one file and then drag it to a components folder and that is it. Works like a charm (almost a charm, iTunes doesn't seem to be able to get the track numbers from the ogg file information, but as long as your collection contains the track number in the file name, then it is not a problem, it auto sorts it by file name after you choose album).

Si Vales, Valeo

January 29, 2009. Thursday.

(01:18:59 AM CST)

On Amazon's Recommendations for Mike Philbin's BW

I apologize in an advance, but I'm going to use the term bukkake a couple of times, but mostly in the phrase "bukkakeworld". Just FYI. If you know what it is, I think the phrase is meant to be exactly what it sounds like (there is a book, which I have not read, that will be part of the conversation in a second). If you don't know what bukkake is...well you might want to Google it just so you know. Because knowledge is power. Or something. Just keep in mind that results aren't likely to be work safe and the latter two links (of three) that I have below aren't likely to be work safe unless you work in a place where the term bukkake is used enough that you know exactly what I mean. It involves dirty bits. Neither of the links show dirty bits. I don't even think they use questionable language (outside of the word of the day). They just, well, it's an evocative title, but I am ahead of myself. Now, it's not normally like me to present a disclaimer like this, but I just have this hunch.

Those of you still around, my little anecdote goes like this: I read Brian Keene's blog. This is how I found out that John Updike died before I saw it on either other site. And, coincidently, this is how I found this post about a guy claiming that Updike hadn't done much, and getting told off by another guy. It's cute for a literary chuckle. But who are these guys? The first guy and the second guy? I have no idea who the telloffer is, because I got sidetracked...

I dug around and found out that Mike Philbin (the telloffee) is a writer and that one of his books is, drum rolls please, Bukkakeworld. That's what I like to call an evocative title (see). It would probably best used if the title were metaphorical, but nope, it seems kind of literal. I say seems (and I swear to God that is not a pun) because the Bukkakeworld product page doesn't really say for sure but the excerpt pretty much stitches it up. Hard. Again, swear, no pun. Intended.

Ok. I think. Why not? I've bought books of similar stuff before, strange books with covers begging to be hidden in public and plotlines all about the expressive anger of Generation X as told through bizzarre violence and sex and rock and roll. I've talked about a couple on my blog. Worst case scenario, I have a book that I can show off while drunk at parties, and maybe it's not a bad book. I mean, it's going to be a hard book to swallow (see above for pun-policy) but it might not be a bad book. I think it's going to be a bad book, but what do I know? I'm curious. I head over to the Amazon.com page for it and look at it. And laugh and laugh.

Bukkakeworld has the greatest set of recommended "related" products ever showing. Ever. EVER. I laugh just thinking about it. Not sure if that will still be around, I took a screen shot. I invite anyone who has stuck around this long to go ahead and click this link and look at it. It's probably more worksafe than the second link, above, but in context it is a dirty, dirty link.

Heh. I'm so sorry, I just had to share.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 26, 2009. Monday.

(12:04:41 PM CST)

Book News, Good and Bad. Some Links.

I stayed up last night and finished White Tiger. For those still not knowing what I am talking about, here is the White Tiger Wikipedia article (warning: it's sparse). As I hinted in my last post, it won a lot of awards, at least more than the average book, and is most touted as winning the 2008 Man Booker. The story is about a man who comes out of abject poverty and is faced with the "new India" (with it's malls, start-up companies, outsourced call centers, and the like) while being largely held down by his masters and their holding to old customs as far as servants go. It is supposed to be a series of e-mails sent from this man to another man, but talks about "turning up the volume of the radio so the recipient can hear better" in one place, so it doesn't really hold to that methodology well (whether or not it intends to, is a different story, as I mention below). As The Complete Review's review of The White Tiger (warning, the review is a bit spoilerish for my tastes) says, it only rarely justifies it's device or it's supposed reason for being. I think its tone works, though, and quite well and I think the device is almost meant to be used ironically. The man claims to be making this international communication and he is sitting around talking about his family life and getting facts about China and the rest of the world completely wrong, all the while showing that it is never easy to say "this system is better". Also, he makes a big deal about not knowing English and there are some things that can only work in English, and the book was written in said language. I, again, recommend it to most, but especially those who like Something Happened or Palahniuk (though maybe not Chuck's over-exuberance) or maybe even Catcher in the Rye.

In something that is bad news to me, maybe, Mad is returning to its quaterly roots. I know the magazine has had some problems, and only about half of any given issue is truly funny, so this might mean that a quarterly release schedule is the best thing for them right now, getting back to a core group of articles and being able to do away with some of the less funny ones. The weird thing is, none of the magazine's subscription notices include news about this, nor has their magazine from what I've seen (I may have missed it, though). Ah well, I drink one to you, tonight, Mad.

I just feel the need to clap loudly about Gaiman's The Graveyard Book winning the 2009 Newberry Award!. Huzzah! The Graveyard Book really is just one of the most instantly classic YA books I have read in years. The writing, the pacing, the mystery, and the illustrations are all top of the line and this is just awesome. AWESOME!

Ok, now to end with two non-book links. Since some of my friends have either had midwives or would like midwives, this article may be of interest to some of you: Recent deaths revive debate over midwives. The article's basic gist is this, while people who are pro-midwife think it should be an option, many in the medical community feel that the risk of things going wrong is too high. If the birth is fine, then the birth is ok, but if problems develop, then medical treatment must be immediate and most midwives don't have the equipment or aren't trained. The latter, I don't know, but the former makes sense. Midwives most do not normally have skull reshaping forceps to get that little sucker yanked out of there (apologies to Lawrence Stern).

Thanks to the miracle of CNN technology, you can find out how much Alabama is feeling the economic downturn punch!. If you are not from Alabama, or do not care about Alabama, the CNN page has 49 or so other states as well. I'll let you figure which ones. I'm actually kind of upset that we have a $450 million dollar deficit, by the way.

Finally, in personal news, I found my little "Heroes of Oblend" linked to on a message board. Tee hee.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 25, 2009. Sunday.

(22:22:30 CST)

Acts of unknown stupidity, White Tiger, Tropic Thunder, Halloween, Waldenbooks closing, other things...

In some ways, the concept of "half hour meals" confuses me. By this I mean in the Rachel Ray sense. She tells us how to cook real meals in half an hour. She was famous for this. RICH. You go down to the grocery store and you will find dozens of pre-made, frozen dishes designed to take all that time-consuming bit out of cooking. You read the package, and often they say "bake for 12-15 minutes" or even longer. That may be ok. Or better. But this half-hour meal thing? I don't understand what meals, excepting soups or breads, maybe, that take longer than half an hour to prepare? Sure, a family recipe lasagna isn't going to get done in half an hour, or a chili, but most of the food that we consider good vegetables and meats and grains take about thirty minutes if you stack them right. Tonight, I cooked salmon in a butter-cumin sauce, jasmine rice in a tomato gravy, peas and carrots, and a caesar salad with olives (the latter mostly made by Sarah) and the total cooking, preparing, and serving time was maybe 25-35 minutes. Most of my meals take about 20-30 and they are full meals, with a strong entree and mixed vegetables.

I just, maybe I misunderstand the concept of those shows. I don't really watch them. Maybe that's just a cute way to refer to the length of the show. I don't know.

Let's see, what did I do today? I've read a fair amount of White Tiger. That's a novel that won about a half-billion awards last year. It was nominated "Novel most likely to conquer the moon" and stuff. but lost out in the end to Tom Wolfe's I Am Tom Wolfe by sheer bulk of the latter, alone. This is to say, if you like books about (1) India, (2) Poverty, (3) Cab Drivers, (4) Indian Cab Drivers, and (5) Dark Comedy about 1-4: it might be for you. If you don't like any of those things, then thumb through it at your local bookstore or something, and see how the writing style takes you. It has it's own flair, somewhere between the old Penguin translation of Notes from the Underground, something from Palahniuk's catalog, and an abridged version of An American Tragedy all rolled into one. It realy did win a lot of awards, despite my facetiousness, and it is one of the freshest books I've read in a long time.

Watched a couple of movies today: Tropic Thunder and Halloween Liked both of them. Of course, have seen the latter before but it has been a while (about a decade ago). Have decided that for a big Horror/SF geek like myself to be missing a few of the classics (for instance, I don't have Robocop or Terminator!), something is up. Maybe. Maybe not. But, through the miracle of used-DVD technology, groundbreaking classics can be mine for as low as $3.99 with 10% off for my membership card. Awesome.

Yesterday, went and said goodbye to Waldenbooks. That store has meant a varying amount to me over the years. For whatever reason, when I first came up here, it was one of the first bookstores that I visited. A friend of mine bought a skin mag, there. First time that I can remember someone buying a skin mag. Inspired me to do the same, a little bit later (I recommend it to all teenage boys, the shaking of the hands cannot be beat). My roommate (the ineffable Jimmy) seemed to be a B&N sort of guy. I can't remember, but I remember only going to Waldenbooks occasionally. Later, after graduation, when I realized that I didn't really care about philosophy or astrophysics all that much, at least not enough to look for them as career paths, I started working in the calendar stand.

After Book Gallery, I didn't go back to Waldenbooks. Not because I perceived them as competition so much as I didn't go to the mall on my days off. I probably didn't really go back in for more than a few seconds of visiting until I dropped off my application to return as a part time calendar salesman. Working there this season was both awesome and the suck. Parts of it were great, getting to hang out with certain folk again, people watching on the slower days when a wide assortment of people would come in and never really be in a rush, and so forth. The weird panicked rush as Christmas loomed sucked, and there were some random "much ados" combined with the "long week" (where I worked something like six days in a row leading up to Christmas). However, I am glad I went back.

Going in yesterday, I partially just wanted to step into the store one last time and partially wanted to pick up a few deep discounted books. I got The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hour I First Believed, The Witches of Eastwick, and The Atrocity Archives. All of them fair, fun finds. If didn't get to the $5 coupon mark on my Borders Rewards Card, I don't guess I'm going to. No reason to order from them when I can just do Amazon.com online. If they ever open up a Borders nearby, I would be game to frequent it, but for now I suppose me and Borders have had an amicable break-up. I'll probably just frequent Booklegger, mostly.

And now for the "stupidity" hinted at in the title. Playing racquetball yesterday, I did something to my foot. Not sure what, but it feels like I kicked the back of it (which may be literally what happened, I may have caught the back of it against the wall or the floor trying to stop from slamming into the wall or something). It is feeling a lot better now, but getting in the middle of the night reminded me that mistakes were made. I kind of need to walk to campus a time or two next week, so I hope it is better by the next couple of days.

And that is the long, sad story of my weekend. Good night, everyone.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 24, 2009. Saturday.

(11:56:07 PM CST)

Level of infatuation about a concept versus potentiality to become embarrassing...

Ok, this is going to be kind of weird and pointless, but I've been thinking about how you can compare levels of infatuation with a concept versus how embarrassing said concepts can be. For instance, if you only tolerate an concept, then you can't really be embarrassed about it. There are some possible exceptions. Maybe you tolerate other religions and you get confronted at your Sunday School. Still, the potential for embarrassment is mild overall. However, if you are sexually excited about other religions, that sounds like it is going to come out in Sunday School in a whole other way.

While thinking about this, some ideas came to my mind. The first measure is how much of your life it takes up. It seems that taking up more of your life means it offers more potential for leading to embarrassment. The second measure would seem to be return value. A side effect of this meaning that negative concepts (being "anti-x" as opposed to "x") are more likely to be reduced in value, since most people that are against, say, Twilight aren't really increasing their own personal energy. There's a difference between disliking a book, and going out of your way to spite a book. The more return value it gives, the more one can personally ignore negative response even if negative response is present. The third value would involve societal deviance. The fourth would probably be best called "societal awareness". The last two are likely to cite the most controversy, but I think as general ideas, it's not hard to see what they represent. If you are the kind of person that worries about what other people think, then you are going to get more embarrassed. If you are the kind of person that does things that others don't find "healthy", then you are going to get more embarrassed (if nothing else, you will get more oppurtunities to have your deviance pointed out).

You might could even get a formula out of this. The degree and the deviance added together, times your awareness, divided by its return value. Maybe. That's neither here nor there, but the stages that came to my mind would be, from order of least potential embarrassment to greatest potential embarrassment: tolerance, appreciation, occasional participation, mild hobby, occuptation, heavy hobby, fetish. In some ways, the "crusading against" part is tricky, because it seems that between every stage, there is a level of crusading agaisnt. "Tolerate bigotry", "Appreciate bigotry", "Occasionally particpating in bigotry", and so forth, but with each stage a little worse than the "for something" stage below in the sense of at least liking something brings some pleasure. I'm not sure fetishism should be where it is, but it just seemst o fit. Lastly, I put job below heavy hobby and fetishism because it seems like "Dude, at least I pay my bills" trumps "I spend my bill-paying money on it" or "that, and I insert it in my rectum". While others will have negative views of certain jobs, maybe even many jobs, at least it is a job. Janitor, burger flipper, what-have-you.

In every level, return value comes to play. Some people's hobbies involve learning new languages, or programming, or whatnot. Return value is both a personal concept, and similar to Bentham's hedonic calculus. If others are aware of your value, even if they are not full appreciative, then you can stand up to their taunting more. The rule also slides up down depending on how aware that the given person is that they might be embarrassed. People who aren't that aware of what they are doing in a social context won't get embarrassed. Some people don't think of necrophilia or man-boy love as wrong.

I've...well, that's it. It was just a random meander that I wanted to commit to something like "social memory". I may do more with it, but I doubt it. It first came to me when I was thinking about watching shows like Kamen Rider Kiva that most people wouldn't get (well, excepting children, who probably get it just fine). If I just appreciate the show, there isn't that much embarrassment involved. If I actually really love the show and collect all sorts of figures about it, then I'm a little bit more "freakish". If I buy said figures and, well, insert them into my rectum, that might need a shrink.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 23, 2009. Friday.

(05:22:22 PM CST)

NPR Gets it WRONG about Huntsville! Suck it...um, liberally-biased news lovers???

I'm a middlin fan of NPR's All Things Considered. Since I have a mild hatred for most other news and such programs (I want to be more appreciative, but they are bunk, when I get more accurate reporting about certain election issues from the frelling BBC, man...), I think that makes ATC the object of my devoted affection, relatively. However, I've simply not listend to it for a couple of weeks, for various reasons, and missed this bit: NPR Guest Uses I-565 as an Example of Government Misspending. I'll leave the demographics and traffic studies to those who care, but the quote looks something like this: "There's a highway; it's about 12 or 14 lanes, it stretches that way for about three miles and then it shrinks down to a civilized six. Why? Why is there this remarkable lake of asphalt?"

For those that not in the know (i.e. not around Huntsville or from around Huntsville and just too apathetic to notice things out your front door), 565 does reach something like a 12-lane mark, for maybe a quarter of a mile, and a good number are turn lanes. That's where the Parkway and Downtown turn offs are located. As far as I know, those lanes aren't always in constant use, but the couple of times a day they are under heavy traffic, anything less would probably be a disaster.

So, said guest is asked about this later, and he says: "I exaggerated." Well, no crap. He ballooned a stretch of road in more than one dimension and then claimed the road was essentially for no purpose, giving Hunstville the appearance of having this massive, empty, superhighway we simply don't have. I thought that was funny. I laugh at a lot of things, do you notice that? Anyhow, just thought Huntsville peeps might chuckle over that one.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 20, 2009. Tuesday.

(02:14:01 PM CST)

Inauguration via Facebook/CNN. MLIS homework with Death Metal. A smattering of other things, maybe.

Watched the inauguration this morning via CNN and Facebook, which was fun, because I got to see comments friends posted as they were watching. Most of them were fun. Some were rude. Since this is me, this means that the rude ones were fun, too. A few were hopeful, but surprisingly few. The message of President Obama's speech was interesting, since it was "It's going to hurt, so hold on!" but said in a quasi-hopeful way. This, my eternally echoing Ecclesiastes side says, is exactly the truth. It seems to me that too many people (and you can forget political parties, all think the others think this way) have gotten into the mindset that huge, important countries fix themselves in a couple of weeks by hoping really hard. As I've said before, I dare to hope, but I'm prepared to be disappointed.

Since then, I've been drinking hot, black tea (this reminds me of a joke that I made this morning, about why Starbucks sponsored the CNN.com coverage, I'll letyou figure this out) and smoking Big Spring Vanilla and reading books on Library and Information Science and Systems and Analysing one and Organizing the other. I've also been listening to underground and European death, black, progressive, melodic metal, in various combinations, and dark ambient. Kind of loudly. I'm not sure why, but I think it means I'm better than you (or worse...or worse).

A friend has described the classwork as boring (or maybe she said dry?). It's...sort of not. I mean, the problem with LS is that it's 40% common sense, 40% micromanagement, and 20% hypotheticals. You want to organize things, ok. Let's start with author's last name (common sense). But, what about a book about the author, ok...let's also group "about" books near the "by" books (micromanagement). What happens, though, if a book by one author turns out to be ghost written by another (hypotheticals). Now, take that, and multiply it by the billion or so books, films, CDs, art displays, and what-have-you in the world and you end up with a weird, but largely controlled, mess. It has inspired me to try my hand at a webcomic (the idea is to play with symbols, the title of the comic planned as "The Adventures of Filled Square and Empty"). I'll see if I ever get around to it.

It has also inspired me to continue my 13-part radio show about two brothers who form a library just so they can get free books, and try to drive out the customers.

Speaking of things that were once or might one day be radio shows, watched the second series opener for Flight of the Conchords. A lot of the lines and delivery are top-notch, with several memorable moments in the episode, but the songs feel weaker. Still well worth watching if you missed it.

Ok, for now, I will leave you with one article from Cracked.com: 7 Everyday Words and Their Racist Origins. Ok, so the article is "8" words, but one of the words is "picnic", which they admit to putting in their just to mess with comments.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 19, 2009. Monday.

(07:37:36 PM CST)

Today's Alternate Music Download Source: Magnatune (aka getting Robert Rich's Below Zero)

After trying out Amazon's MP3 store yesterday, I figured maybe I should give Magnatune a whirl. I've been receiving their song of the day for a while, and downloading a couple per week, and I have seen several artists point to Magnatune as a good place to get their music, but overall haven't heard many people talk about using it.

For those in the dark but curious, http://magnatune.com is a music store that does a couple of things differently. They sell music by the album (with the exception of compilations, I do not think there is any way to get songs outside of their initial source release). They offer a variety of formats (wav, vbr mp3s, cbr mp3s, oggs, aac, and flac). You semi-sorta set your own price. For a digital album, you can choose a price from $5 to $18 with the note that $8 is typical. If you want a CD (for whatever reason), you also choose your price (again, from $5-$18, but this time with an added cost of $5.69 to cover production and shipping). The CD, though, is a generic burn (no additional artwork or liner notes). Now, choosing your own price has one point of clarification, and that is the artist gets half of whatever you choose (less the physical costs, if you do the physical CD). This means a typical transaction nets the artist $4 and the website $4. This is likely better than most record deals, but I'm not 100% sure of this.

You can see more information on Wikipedia article about Magnatune. It apparently offers integration with a couple of open-source music players (Amarok, my main player, for instance). That's pretty cool.

I picked Robert Rich's Below Zero, an ambient album with kind of an expansive "space" or "cold" feel. If you follow the latter link there (the album name), you can listen to, apparently, all of the tracks in fair quality. For my initial price, I put the bar at $6. That is lower than average, but that's roughly the price I would pay for it through it's Amazon MP3 release. Also, though I didn't think there would be any glitches to me downloading and using the album on Linux, I figured I would need to make sure. I used Paypal. Clicked to go back to the merchant, and it sent me to a page with a download link and a password. On the download page was a selection of file types (wav and vbr mp3s were picked as the suggested formats). I clicked OGG (my preferred audio file) and it popped up the username and password screen. I popped in the UN/PW and it downloaded. A little slow on the download but nothing too long.

You CAN get album art (you have to go back to download page and right click the image to do so, though, it does not come bundled in the Zip file, at least not the album I got). Liner notes are possible (ala Nine Inch Nails' The Slip) though I got nothing of the sort. I don't know if some come with pdfs or not. The quality of the ogg is around the 170 mark, which is generally considered indistinguishable from CD-quality by general users and on general equipment (audiophiles on hi-def equipment would possibly be able to tell, but then you have flac and wav for them). One complaint I did have was that the song titles were truncated in a couple of cases (for instance, "A Flock of Metal Creatures Fleeing the Onset of Rust" got truncated at "Flee") but not on the file itself. I suppose they use some sort of on-the-fly system that stops at 30 characters, which is long for most artists but not all). I fired up Kid3 and fixed it.

The process was quick and painless, and redownloading (even in different formats if, say, I wanted to listen to it on my Mac via iTunes) is possible. In comparison to Amazon MP3, I made up the quick following list.

  • Amazon MP3 requires a special app to download albums, and recommends it on regular songs. Magnatune just downloads via the browser itself.
  • Amazon MP3 has a better selection. Magnatune has a good number of artists (and many good to great artists), but can't compete. This is especially true in that it appears that Magnatune tracks get sent over to Amazon to be carried there, as well.
  • Magnatune seems to be very friendly to Creative Commons and other, more liberal, forms of artist protection.
  • Amazon MP3 tends to be pretty sparse on description with their mp3 albums. Magnatune at least gives enough information to put things in context.
  • Amazon MP3 has a one file type (I think): 256kbps mp3. Magnatune has several.
  • Both allow redownloading from what I can tell, but Magnatune seems a little friendlier.
  • Amazon allows some tracks (not all) to be bought seperately, Magnatune does not.
  • Amazon.com has a set price, Magnatune allows for a range of prices.
  • Amazon MP3 doesn't state how much the artist gets. Magnatune explicitly states the artist gets half.
  • Amazon MP3 allows partial sampling. Magnatune apparently allows you to sample most of it.
  • Both require something of a "instant check-out" option instead of allowing you to build up albums in a cart.
  • If you like mp3s, you can subscribe to Magnatune by a monthly basis. You get as many albums as you want for the recurring fee.
  • Both also sell physical CDs.
  • Both seem to be devoid of DRM. They have a bit of text in the info of the file that says their source, but nothing like purchaser information.

I like the Magnatune business model a bit more, but Amazon.com is more likely to have what I'm looking for. I'll probably start with the former, and then end with the latter, if I ever need an album for download again. The "half to the artist" and the lack of complication of Magnatune is simply very attractive to me.

Oh, and the album is fairly awesome, too.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 18, 2009. Sunday.

(04:09:16 PM CST)

Just Tried Out Amazon-MP3 to Download the Choke Soundtrack. Updates on the fire.

After rewatching Choke last night with Sarah and Alicia, my general opinion stays roughly the same, though I feel both better and worse about the new ending and some parts I liked more and some parts I liked less. Still worth a DVD purchase, in my opinion, though keep in mind it well earns its rated R status. It shows off lots of breasts, a fair amount of sex, and very little of said sex is missionary. There are at least a couple of sex acts technically illegal in Alabama. Just FYI. Some reviewers have attacked it as being misogynistic, but that's definitely up for debate. Saying a 30-something American white male considers women mostly sex objects isn't necessarily a shot at the women, you know. And, well, the man's life has largely been achieved by following after a series of women. While the Fight Club message of "We are a generation of men raised by women, is another woman what we really need?" is there, I think the sentiment is less misogynistic and more about rediscovering what masculinity means now that it doesn't have to be emotionally surfeit and physically strong. It's no more sexist than Waiting to Exhale or any of a string a movies that describe "the new woman".

I confirmed that I dig the soundtrack, though it appears to only exist in digital form (I suppose most of the songs exist on original albums). I wanted those songs, but not enough track down and il/legally obtain all of the original CDs and LPs, so I decided to try out something that I have been meaning to do for a year or two: Amazon's MP3 selection. The basic gist is this. You download an installer which puts a tiny little app on your computer that is essentially a download manager. Then you buy the album (note: it uses the one-click method instead of putting it into your cart, which, if you are like me and haven't updated your one-click payment information in a good while, can cause problems) and you confirm and it pops up a little *.amz file. You open this in your Amazon-MP3-Download-Manager and it gets the files in a fairly decent speed. No clue about redownloading or anything (the only option, outside of saving the original *.amz file, seems to be to redownload tracks separately from your account's digital collection screen). The files are mp3, 256kbps, and (with the exception as being labeled as from Amazon in their infobox) have nothing like DRM on them. I played them through VLC with no problems. It roughly halfs the cost of the CD (or cuts it down to about 67% of it's initial cost if you go buy Amazon prices) and since I consider that high of a quality mp3 to be plenty for most music (though not all), I'm cool with that.

I will probably use it again, at least once or twice, for those albums that I would rather have music in a hurry rather than any artwork or whatnot. And, unlike iTunes, I can play it on my main desktop and my laptop, which gets a thumbs up.

The album itself is really interesting. Kind of hard to pin down in sound, though the whole thing has a feeling of a whole to it. Sort of lofi indie rock meets quasi-grunge alt. As I said to one friend, it's almost like a group of indie artists did a tribute to The Melvins. I dig the mood, even if it is more of a background than foreground album. You can sample songs on its Amazon product page if you want. Both of the songs that fit the trailer so well showed up on the actual soundtrack, which always annoys me when that doesn't happen. That's just...um...something of another FYI I guess.

Some updates on the fire. Damage was contained to four apartments (two major, two minor). Power was lost in all four, but has [theoretically] been restored in the two who only had minor damage. Nearly every one was covered with renter's insurance, and no one was damaged outside of potential cold and minor inhalation damage. Looks like the article that said the candle may have did it was right, but as far as I know no official ruling is made, yet. Again, Sarah and I are perfectly fine and, with the exception of a strong smell that night, suffered no losses. We do, however, see the importance of a tad bit more planning (renter's insurance, prepacked emergency bags, where to meet up if we get separated, etc). We also found out that both of us grabbed our music devices (my cd-player and her mp3 player) on the way out the door, despite not thinking about it. That says weird things about us.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 16, 2009. Friday.

(01:17:46 AM CST)

Excitement. Adventure. Fire! Choke.

Sarah and I were supposed to run a small handful of errands today. Tonight, anyhow. We were going to go and sign up for a fitness thingie, and we were going to play racquetball, and pick up a pay check, and dance, or something. We were going to do all that, watch some X-files, I don't know. Have a full night of it. But then, this happened:

For those wondering what the allegory is, I'm actually (for once) speaking literally. There was a good sized fire at Fontainbleu apartments tonight. That picture is an apartment about 30-40 feet from my own. Or, and I mean this without humor, was.

Sarah and the pets and books and whatnot are all ok. My nose and throat are a little sore from smoke inhalation, but the Huntsville Fire Department are some of the most responsive, efficient men I've ever seen and I swear to you they are most likely underpaid for their work. They were here by the time Sarah and I had put on enough clothes and picked up a cat carrier to go outside (it was too cold to go out in shorts and without shoes like we were dressed) and they had the fire out and the situation well in hand within minutes (it took several, but still). They had to pull down a chunk of the wall because something caught in the insulation. The article says that four apartments were damaged. That makes sense since there are four apartments in that "group". The article also says that no one was hurt, and that's a good thing. It's one of the sucky things about apartment living, I guess. A neighbor's candle catches fire (the candle story was passed around the gossip mill, tonight, but the article says it's not official) and suddenly you're out of all of your stuff if not injured. Just to let you guys know, I fully walked away from all of my books. I did grab my laptop, and my schoolbooks (all was essentially right at hand) because I spent a lot of money on those things, but I left my books behind. It was, distressing.

The aftermath isn't much to look at, but it looks like this:

You can see the hole in the wall, and the bottom glass doors are busted out. Despite all the smoke and the flames (which came up over the roof of the apartments by a good number of feet), there isn't too much overall blackening. The backside looks worse for wear:

That's close to the same angle as the one picture shows. That sucks though. Right there in a huge pile on the ground are various bits that were home about 8 hours ago and now are just wet, soggy, burnt pieces of cloth, paper, and random textile. The most surreal thing about all of this is that everyhing is frozen now. There are streams of blackened ice down the parking lot, the sprayed bits are all frozen over, the stairs are covered in ice.

What did we do instead, after our plans to do other things were cancelled? We stayed the hell in and just enjoyed each other's nervous company. We did watch some X-files, and wasted time. Then Sarah went to bed and I watched Choke, the adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel by the same name. I just want to say that I did enjoy it. It had some parts that were odd, but overall the cast do a stellar job and the surreality, sexuality, and nihilism blend together for a touching story about learning your own worth. Some of Chuck's fans have blasted the movie as being all wrong for the mood of the piece, and that's kind of true. There's a sense of something missing, like an angry Phildickian or Ballardian vibe has been removed, but I think the movie works on its own as much as the Fight Club movie does. Kind of. It's not as experimental, and probably won't be as lasting, but it was good fun while it lasted. The ending is different, by the way. Just barely. Meaning that it changes at something like the last three or four pages. Which is weird to me. Why get it that close to the original ending and veer off? I think that you could level the strongest criticism at the new ending, since it technically leaves one of the plotlines unresolved. Two, I guess. In some ways, it replaces any sense of actual redemption with a cuter ending. That's kind of a problem. But so many good lines and Rockwell acts so wonderfully.

Anyhow, that's pretty much all I got. Except for one last bit. Tonight made me realize the importance of having a travel bag (change of clothes, some medicines, water and snacks/food of some storable kind, possibly back up money, etc) down in the trunk of the car or something. Nothing major. Nothing that would, say, last a week. Just something that would guarantee that if the fire had been closer and we didn't have time to get anything not essential, we could have known that we had a change of clothes and enough money on hand to rent a cheap motel room. Something like that.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 15, 2009. Thursday.

(11:40:09 CST)

Six "Found" CDs

A Little Bit of Backstory: Frustrated with some of the antics of the RIAA, a couple of years I started trying to break away from listening to artists signed on by companies that were part of it. Of course, this was something of an impossible task, seeing as even small labels are often partially funded by big labels nowadays, and this makes even small labels tie into the RIAA, but it did do one neat thing for me: it changed how I found new music. Used to, I would go to magazines and read reviews of new CDs, or I would go down to Walmart or the mall and just browse through whatever they had until something reached and tapped. There was also word of mouth (I'm including the radio in this category). However, all three methods tend to be more likely to be RIAA-centric than not.

I started trying to dig around for non-mainstream, more independent (not "Indie", which has it's own connotation) websites that sell music. I would bookmark artists that did self-publishing, and would search for things like "Creative Commons music" in various bittorrent clients. I became aware of RIAARadar.com as a good tool to double check, and also as a source of recommendations and suggestions. As I started buidling up a library of tools and terms, it was slow going at first. Now that I've been doing it for a couple of years, it has definitely started to speed up, though the process is still more of a trickle than anything.

Recently, though, I had something of a good run of finding new artists (some RIAA, some not) and so felt it would be interesting to pick my six latest acquisitions and try and give you some information on them, how I found them, what I like about them, and so forth. Three of the six are non-American, though one of the American ones was actually an American release of a French CD. Four of them are slightly older albums (couple of years) though two are new. One of the disappeared off the 'Net about the second I got it. Three are more ambient in nature, and a fourth has strong ambient vibes. And so on. A fairly varied mix. This is going to be something of a long post, so the LJ-cut (if you are reading this on Livejournal) should be for each separate CD. If you are reading this on my main journal: good luck!

#1 Emilie Simon's The Flower Book

How I found it. Alicia was doing a personal project to find various music videos from around the world and she sent me the video for Simon's "Desert". I thought it sounded intriguing and so went looking for more information. I was surprised to find out that she had a State-side release (not that any stores carry it) and so I got that one.

What it is. Simon blends together flavors of electronic ambience, "found noise", industrial, and soft pop. The sound tends to be somewhere between danceable and tranceable, but with really interesting lyrics (some in French, some in English). The album has an overall focus on flowers, plants, and some water. Simon even took sounds from nature (water drops, falling leaves, and so on) and mixed them into the song. To give you an idea of her sound, she was the original composer for what we call March of the Penguins but her sound was considered too "surreal" for American ears (base lies, I've heard her soundtrack, and it is awesome).

Especially listen to: "Dame de Lotus", "Fleur de Saison" (this one especially, you can see the music video on Youtube, which I have linked to, before), "In the Lake", and "To the Dancers in the Rain".

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: I think the closest comparison would probably be Bjork, but more melodic, but that's not quite right. Toss in some Splashdown and Hooverphonic and you have the basic range.

Websites that might help: Emilie Simon on Wikipedia [her official site is in French, so I skipped that].

Where you might get it: Amazon.com and BestBuy.com sell it. Not sure about others (though it sounds like the sort of thing that Barnes and Noble may carry.

#2 Jackie Tohn's Beguiling

How I found it: I watched the Uwe Boll movie Postal one night, almost on a dare (self-inflicted, mind you). I overall enjoyed the movie, while kind of hating it. One of the characters (whose character name slips me) got my attention, whom I called "Evil Rachel Ray". She is the most tolerable character besides Zach Ward's protagonist. Since I didn't recognize her at all, I looked her up online and found out, surprisingly, most of her net press had to do with her CD. Unless something weird has happened and two women named Jackie Tohn have intersected. At any rate, I listend to some samples and said "why not?" and ordered it.

What it is: Generally upbeat, personal pop-rock. It's not the sort of thing that I would normally have on my shelf, but I have enjoyed having it. The overall sound seems to center on Tohn's acoustic playing though quite a few other instruments are brought in and the acoustic is not always in presence. The sound is slightly unpolished, and the lyrics are surprisingly natural and personal. This reminds me of having a CD that a friend's sister might have made, if that makes sense. I don't mean that in a bad way, by any means, it's just more like a musical act you would hear at your local bar than something you would find pressed to CD.

Especially listen to: "Beguiling" and "Charlotte" (the song that let's you know you can't spell Charlotte without harlot).

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: I don't know, she rings several bells, but nothing really comes to mind (most of the "personal female" acts that I know are angrier and less willing to be upbeat).

Websites that might help: Funny story, I ordered this CD after watching some Youtube clips of her singing in her living room, and then, three or so days later when I actually got the CD, it all disappeared. Her CD is gone from CDBaby.com and her clips have been made private on Youtube. I e-mailed her, through her Myspace page (which I got from her website: JackieTohn.com) and she said it would be back eventually.

Where you might get it: I don't think you can. Well, that's not true. iTunes does carry it (and you can sample it, there, if you have it); but the physical CD seems to have vanished.

#3 Claire Fitch's Celocity

How I found it: Was listening to some, semi-random, ambient webbased radio station (trying to make up for the loss of Echoes) and one of Fitch's songs popped up. I have no idea why her stuff piqued my interest after hours of listening to various ambient tracks, but it did, and so I looked into her. I found her site and her cd on CDBaby.com and went ahead and ordered it along with Jackie Tohn's CD, above.

What it is: Ambient music created by mixing and remixing the sounds of a cello with other sounds and noises. That's...I mean, what else do you say about ambient music? I could mention "soundscapes" and "epic aural adventures" but I'm fairly sure that's just text that ambient reviewers come up with to stop from saying "It's pretty, relaxing, and hits a spot on a quiet afternoon" in every positive review. Personally, I think I would have liked just a bit more cello, a little less mixing, and a deeper register overall, but I like it.

Especially listen to: "Journey", "Dark Surface" (this one especially), and "Lament".

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: Hmmm, ambient music in general? It's a fairly "you know it or you don't" genre. The artist that I most think of is the older group (only out on audio cassette in the early- to mid-90s, for all I know) Haze Greenwood. That might not be a group, might just a be dude. But, there you go.

Websites that might help: AmbienCellist.com, which is the site for her performances in the "sub-genre" of mixed cello ambient.

Where you might get it: I got mine through CDBaby.com. You can also get files from Magnatune (which is an awesome way to get DRM-free FLACs). Magnatune gives you the option of picking your own price, by the way, so that you can actually pay what you think it is worth, and it guarantees that half the price goes to the artist.

#4 Negua Bunget's OM

How I found it: While listening to Wormfood's France, I realized that my love of "heavy" music is especially centered around experimental, moody, dark, and eclectic members of the genres. I went looking for "avant" and "experimental" black metal and somewhere along the search, Negura Banget showed up.

What it is: For those not in the know, Metal has a lot of sub-genres with anywhere from explicit to loose definition, and they tend to combine and recombine in various boolean functions. The terms best used to describe Negura Bunget (in my opinion) would be Progressive Black Metal with flavors of Heavy Dark Ambient [Black Metal = distorted guitars, heavy drums, and harsh vocals]. The CD is sort of a continuous flowing sound from one track to the next, and plays back and forth between atmospheric and heavy. The lyrics are going to be basically indecipherable (non-english and often sung loud on top of that), so us Mericans are going to have play off the mood, which is a solid, expressive, epically (I know, I know,I just ixnayed the word "epic" and now I bring it out) dark. Recommended for those us who kind of like dark and heavy music, but aren't quite sure about the nearly nu-metal trappings that most of the current mainstream metal bands are dishing. Their general concept is tapping into primal forces and nature, which can strike you in any number of ways, but gives an interesting start to their sound.

Especially listen to: "Tesarul de Lumini" and "Primal Om"

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: Hmm, not sure at all, at least not sure of bands that would really describe them. Maybe a more ambient version of Dimmu Borgir with more progressive instrumentation and vocals slightly better balanced, I guess. Just to give you a starting idea.

Websites that might help: NeguraBunget.com and/or their Wikipedia page.

Where you might get it: I got it from the Aural Music Webstore which seems to be their label's (their label is code666, highly recommended for dark and interesting music) official release site. It also carries other, non-code666 music, though (see below).

#5 Vanessa Van Basten La Stanza di Swedenborg

How I found it: While I sort of knew the principles of Post-Rock for awhile, it wasn't until Emily suggested I listen to Explosions in the Sky that I became a true fan of the genre. Every since then, I keep an eye out for the phrase "Post-Rock" and occasionally pick up new CDs. In Vanessa van Basten's case, I was initially tricked by the faux female name (the duo isn't a single white female, I promise) but then later by the term "heavy Post-Rock" (they aren't that heavy, at least not on this one).

What it is: Post-Rock with vocal bits added in and other odd bits of instrumentation here or there, making it almost an ambient derivation of the genre, with an ability to mix in slightly harder bits than some Post-Rock. The mood isn't too dark and heavy, though, and the CD makes good background listening. The oddest bit about it, however, might be the band's tendency to toss in some dissonance and unpredicted chords into the mix, causing the ear to pull slight loop-the-loops when it adapts to it. The sensation is almost a musical vesion of vertigo, but it works for the style they have.

Especially listen to: "Dole", "Giornata de Oro", and "Floaters".

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: Explosions in the Sky is probably going to be most listened to Post-Rock band that I can think of, but they also have a couple "M83" like moments (though it is more like some PR band did a tribute album to M83).

Websites that might help: from what I can tell, the band doesn't have a website, but they do have a Myspace profile. Their label (Eibon Records) has a band page for them that includes a couple of sample mp3s.

Where you might get it: The Myspace profile lists The End as the place to get it in the States, but I got it from the Aural Music webstore. The End's website (Omega Order) includes samples of most or all of the tracks, though.

#6 The Human Voice's Exit Lines

How I found it: This is a CD bought "blind" from the same order that netted me Negura Bunget and Vanessa Van Basten. I've since found samples, but at the time, the CD was either too new or something and there weren't easy samples to find. However, it's been a long time since I have found a new dark ambient CD and I figured that I would take the chance on it (which is a good thing).

What it is: Dark ambient (the term, I've used before, generally involves lower registers, slower and longer sustained notes, found noise, technological and electronic themed sounds. Most of the sounds are very low register, and the musical portion is often non- or quasi-melodic (sustained notes last for awhile, often with some warbling or harmonizing effect)). It's the kind of music you might want to listen to if you want to sit back and imagine thunderstorms at the edge of an old city, traffic lights in the fog, abandoned hospitals, run down streets, the downtime of a normally busy waterside walk way, or just "human natural" events (people watching TV on a weekday night, and so no).

Especially listen to: "The Ghost of Our Love". Takes up something like 1/6 of the CD, and has a good slow form with enough low sound to bring up all sorts of mental images and an introspective mood.

IF I had to say whom it sounded like: If you have heard of Lustmord, then that would probably be the most cited, similar stuff. The direct closest I can think of is Apoptose, if you have ever had the chance to listen to them. If you have heard of neither, I recommend you give it a try.

Websites that might help: official homepage (kind of bare), their page on Eibon Records (includes some singles).

Where you might get it: I got mine, again, though The Aural Music Webstore.

Si Vales, Valeo

(01:32:25 AM CST)

Delicious. Work, today. Wings. Racquetball. Galleries still coming.

Currently "ogging" three new CDs that came in the mail tonight. These were ordered through a European website. One I have heard before (and have generally dug), and the other two have I heard samples before and liked. I'll post more about them and three other "probably unheard of" CDs that I have gotten in the past couple of weeks tomorrow, with linkies and general impressions and whatnot.

Tonight, I finally worked on getting my Delicious account (aka http://delicious.com/wyrmis ) set up. It was, initially for a class. My LS500 class has a couple of bits that are all about promoting online usage and networking and whatnot. The first one is a class blog. The second one is the Delicious (or Del.icico.us or whatever it is) account so that we can share links that we find with other students. I figured "why not just make it a personal account?" I like linking random things, and I often gather links faster than I can reasonably share through blog posts without being annoying, so bookmark that above if you want to see what random things I dig up from the net (warning: the next week or so will include a lot of basic links that I am adding so that people from my class can see them and just to have them in my profile, they will not be as exciting or as funny as my usual, high-quality links).

Work, today, was tiring but in a good way. There is something primal about just tearing shit up but in a controlled pattern, and being useful while doing so. It's like being a microbe that eats poo. No one wants to eat poo, but there's that microbe, eating away, breaking down poo so that it can be fertilizer, and he is getting fed (read: paycheck) to do it. It's probably relaxing to break down poo, you know, if you are a microbe. Just like that, except metal shelving that kept trying to cut me and make me bleed. I'm apparently a fast worker when it comes to splattering metal shelving. Not quote so fast when it comes to meticously boxing metal shelving with fewer boxes than necessary, but still fast enough to be efficient. The strangest bit of the day is how well The Rocket 95.1 goes with tearing down metal shelving. It's like a radio station that calls out to the blue collar worker who dreamed of being a rock star in the 90s, or something. In all of us. It's, you know, catholic in it's ubiquitousness. At least it is catholic to a very particular subset of people (people doing manual labor who dreamed, once, of maybe doing something rock-related, while in their teens in the 90s), which is somehow the most Catholic catholic of all.

That was a bad pun that requires etymology and comparative religion. I apologize for that.

After work, Sarah and I went to get some wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. She loves the garlic spicy (spicy garlic?) and so we got a big plate of those and some cheese covered potato things. Ate too much, entirely, and then looked briefly upon the mini-golf course in the mall before deciding not to play. Instead, came back and got some basic class stuff out of the way, and went to play racquetball on the Arsenal (we have a new gym-ish membership thingie). That was a lot of fun. I've not played that game, proper (as in: with others) since maybe 1998-1999. Nearly if not over a decade ago. I won, but she's a fast learner and seems to take to it slightly more than tennis. It does involve running around a small court, slamming into walls, and hitting a rubber ball as hard as you want to. The appeal is pretty obvious.

I'll end by saying that I'm still working on photo galleries. The first couple, at least, should be up tomorrow.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 13, 2009. Tuesday.

(10:01:09 AM CST)

Only Slightly Sore. Galleries are coming. Frustration over the P.G. Wodehouse Collection (slight).

Yesterday, we began breaking down the calendar store. I have no idea the number of calendars that we sold (but I would say it was a fairly strong number) but the number that we had left to box was enough to be felt, if not as bad as it potentially could have been. I think our final count looked in at something like 80-90 boxes, with most of them ranging from 30-50lbs. I would put them toward the 35lb (just to be conservative) average and so, assuming 85 boxes, comes out to be about 3000lbs of calendars moved anywhere from a dozen feet to double or triple that depending on their initial location. There are a lot of assumptions, there, but it comes down to "constant moderate lifting for about eight hours". Last night, my arms were tired and I was fairly sure that I was going to be stiff and sore this morning, but it is very mild. Tomorrow I might be worse, but I think my body managed to adapt. Technically carried more when Book Gallery was shifting its stuff downstairs, so maybe I've adapted to sudden bursts of heavy, continuous lifting? Who knows.

Today is an off day with no strings, as of yet, attached, so my plan is to finally sit down and work through the three or four galleries that I've been meaning to post to my website. I tend to personally edit and arrange every photo used, so it takes me half an hour or more per gallery but then I'm fairly sure they work like I want them to. I could script any sort of automator, but I would probably go back and "correct" this or that anyhow. Well, that would still cut down on time, maybe, so I might go ahead and start with that.

This [next-to-]last little bit will be of a mostly esoteric nature to most of you, but I collect the P.G. Wodehouse Collector's series put out (in the States) by Overlook Press. They are small, lightweight, quality books and I love Wodehouse's writings. Now, one of the classic complaints about Wodehouse (at least as voiced in the opening episode of Black Books) is the fact that you can never be quite sure if you have read the one you are about to read, or just read one like it. I think the quote goes "Oh, wait, I've already read that one. That's the problem with Wodehouse, isn't it?" His plots are fairly similar (to wit: friendly but lackluster upperclass man goes on insane adventures, either falling into or avoiding love, and silver heirloom might get stolen, plus a subplot or two) and his titles are no help (a full 75% seem to contain either the words "Blandings", "Pig", "Jeeves", "Aunts", or "The"). They are released two at time, two to four times a year. Now, the issue is, how can I make sure that I know which ones are coming out next? I almost always get them through Amazon.com because Amazon will often hint as to which ones are paired releases and which ones are forthcoming, and it keeps track of which I ordered. I guess I could write a script that pulls all the linked pictures from said website, and then makes note when new pictures (or new ISBNs, whichever) show up. I don't know. I was just sorting through that this morning. I guess I need to alphabetize my collection for starts, and write a quick script.

Now, to clear out some quick links:

Si Vales, Valeo

January 12, 2009. Monday.

(06:43:30 AM CST)

Doug's Day of Rest (Also: Any Suggestions for Mac Apps?)

First off, are there any suggestions that any of my Mac-using friends have for must have software? It can be for cost or for free, and involve any number of uses. I'm just curious what is out there. Right now, considering that it's my back-up computer and travel computer, I am often porting over similar programs to what I use on my Kubuntu machine (VLC, Gimp, OpenOffice, etc). But I'm curious what neat little apps I might be missing.

Now, to describe how awesome my day of rest was (and briefly my class). The weekened format means you meet a lot when you do meet. We got down to campus (this is the Gadsden extension) about 6, stayed through 8:30 or so, and then came back the next morning about 9 and went through about 4:30 with an hour lunch. Lots of information. Most of it kind of interesting to me. Some of it very interesting. For this time, we decided to stay at a friend's (and one of my classmates) parent's house, but that turns out to take about an hour of road-tripping either way and so only halfs the transit. Next time I am going to try and stay down in Gadsden, but the hotel cost may be prohibitive. I have a feeling that this is migrating towards a "convention-style-arrangement" in which a hotel room is split by three or four people to cut costs down.

The class is Systems Analysis which is about looking at systems and how the parts work together and how they change and how they should be changed and so forth. We got to use the phrase "negative entropy". It was awesome.

The day of rest was also awesome. I have said this, before, but it stood a bit of re-mentioning. I slept for eleven hours, which is about as much sleep as I had been getting over two or three nights this past couple of weeks. Woke up, felt like a fuzzy wet blanket had moved into my head, and spent the next hour trying to blink back sleep from my eyes. Once that wore off, I cooked a large breakfast of english muffins, eggs, bologna, and toast and had lots of sweet tea and some juice. My main task of the day (and it took just about all day) was to get various music, ebooks, pictures, and such moved over to my MacBook so that I have a traveling box more tricked out. While doing this, watched some X-files and some Dirty Jobs and whatnot. Finally, at the end of the day, watched a couple of Eighties' "classics" (Police Academy and Nightmare on Elm Street) with Sarah and realized I have exactly zero sorrow that my childhood is gone. Heh. I did enjoy them, though. I see the humor in the latter one a lot more.

Today my job is to involve some heavy lifting and physical labor. I think it might be awesome.

You know what else is awesome? You.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 08, 2009. Thursday.

(11:14:33 PM CST)

Wimba and the online classroom

Yay for posts prepared with the Macbook! Which, surprisingly, had Vim installed. This thrills my geek to no end. It has different hotkeys than my Kubuntu box, but I can still muddle right on through. I had my first online class last night, which was far different than what I originally expected. Old school online classes are "asynchronous" (that's the term used by the faculty at orientation). You don't log in at a specific time; you log in for a certain amount of time every week and do a certain number of assignments. Maybe one week you are supposed to read 10 papers and then write an 8 page compare and contrast of the themes one half have versus the other half.

UA is using a system called Wimba (or maybe WIMBA), which uses VOIP and a shared desktop style arrangement to allow all the students to log on at the same time, enter into a chat room with visual add-ons, and then to voice-chat as a collective for a couple of hours. At first, I was afraid that it would be distracting to have that many users logged on (and it is, a little) but the experience is amazingly like a more traditional learning experience. The professor could set it up so we could see video of him/her if s/he wanted, but I think it might be best to just show illustrations and power-point slides because the system already requires quite a bit of bandwidth.

My general review of the system is "Thumbs up", though it does require a minimum set-up, a set time, a couple of things you might not normally have (like a full headset, broadband, and a wired connection to keep fully connected)1. If you have been thinking about maybe doing some online classes, and haven't liked the concept of not being in an actual class environment, this might be a good compromise for you. Last night's lecture was mostly an overview, I'll update when I have had more of an information intense session and see how absorption2 and stuff go.

As for the session itself, it was about 3 hours long, and went smoothly from a technical perspective. The funny thing, if funny is the word, was that my Internet Connection went down hard right after the session was up. Comcast was still contactable, and the router was up just fine, so I bet it some ISP issue. I just went to bed, though, because I was sleepy as hell.

Si Vales, Valeo

[1] The most damning aspect of it is that it technically opens the potential class size to "the world", while technological limitations start showing up with server strain and the unique problems of organizing a class in such a way. The potential class-size and the possible class-size are so far out of sync, that it might make the program almost unduly competetive until some issues are worked out with it.

[2] I have become really interested in the concept of "absorbency" when it comes to information lately and have been devising an experiement. Do people absorb better when given time limits, no time limits, short times, long times, in things with lots of whitespace, almost no white space, and so forth. Of course, given my personal interests, one of my big questions is "Do people absorb hard copy significantly better than electronic copies (p-text v. e-text) or do people just think they do?" I have a rather sneak suspicion that we absorb about as much from e-text (without training) as we do from just a straight lecture.3

[3] The upshot of what I am saying is that I bet we absorb stuff on the screen much as if we were sitting in a room and passively listening to someone speakin, a very inactive form of communication. This could be changed over with some training, though.

(08:03:33 AM CST)

"Huntsville Retailers Are Down but Not Out..."

I plan on posting about the first of the new online classes (well, new to me, they have been going on at UA for a couple of years in this format) and what I think/love/hate about them, as well as a request for some Mac help (mostly preferred apps), but for now wanted to share something from this Sunday's Huntsville Times: Local retail down but not out.

Besides my long-running relationship with local retail, I know also that a lot of people came up to me this Christmas season and asked how we were doing, because a lot of people around here consider Huntsville's spending habits a good indication of how the economy is really doing. I don't have any numbers in front of me, but the weeks before Christmas (say two or three) were astoundingly, soul-tiringly busy, but it was dead a month before that and it is pretty much dead already (normally January business holds up for about one more week). In fact, coincidently, it has been dead about the time this article made the front page. Maybe people thought it was a sign they didn't have to panic shop?

It discusses closings (Madison Square Mall is going to get hard through the end of this month) and some openings (most are in the future though not all) and so paints a picture of how quickly the retail map of Huntsville is changing. If you are curious, I suggest reading the article. If you come down to Madison Square Mall, the closed down kiosks and store fronts are kind of odd looking, but some of the stores (like Victoria's Secret) seem to be doing fairly continous business).

Si Vales, Valeo

January 06, 2009. Tuesday.

(10:15:13 PM CST)

That new laptop smell

For the first time in a long time, I have purchased a new computer, and for the first time ever the computer is a laptop. A Macbook of some description (you know, all Macbooks are Macbook Black Superflavor 3.2ghz and whatnot) that seems to work nicely and, more importantly, does about half the things I need it to do for Grad School right out of the box. That makes me very, very happy. I picked a Macbook because I simply couldn't go back to Windows. I know a lot of my friends are Windows users through and through, but I just can't take it. There are very little things that are simply too much for me to bear. And, sadly, my dreams of an Ubuntu-out-of-the-box system were dashed when I confirmed, pretty much once and for all, that Java will personally shoot in the head any browser I try to get on to my virtual classroom with. Sigh.

But, this seems pretty awesome. I'm sure as I start getting the hang of it that I will like it more and more, and getting things like e-book reading and some basic text editing up thrills me. I mostly edit text files in vim anyhow (like this one). I'm a simple man to please, in many, many ways.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 04, 2009. Sunday.

(10:44:37 AM CST)

My New Year's Resolutions

In my post on New Year's Traditions/Superstitions I mentioned some of the basic beliefs my family had, and how they were more widespread than I realized. One that I left off had to do with the resolutions that are probably the most wildly held tradition of all. Except, the way I heard some members of my family put it, resolutions are the things you set out to do and they have power. If you fulfill them, your life is luckier and you invite good fortune. If you waste them, you bring about bad fortune. I can't remember who told me this when I was younger, but for years I have essentially avoided making real resolutions as a nod to this fact. Why risk bad luck just because I am lazy? This year, though, I want to toss out a few real resolutions.

I will finally crack the 150 books read in a year.

I will lose 40 pounds by summer's end, with maybe another 40 by the end of year.

I will get grad school good and under way, but I will not take this as some geas upon me. I will not assume it is my last chance at happiness. I will not let it take any large amount of control over my life. It is a tool for me to use.

I will switch to increased amounts of whole foods and local foods, and try to go a week at a time without refinements, high-fructose corn syrup, or any such thing. I will also try to avoid eating out except when (say, I'm out of town) the situation demands it or maybe about once a week or twice a month, as a treat.

Companies that add HFCS or similar to their foods, prompting me to stop eating them, will be contacted by me and/or Sarah and informed just why. Companies that make good choices will also be contacted.

I will hike at least 30 times, and and one these hikes should be double digits in the miles.

I will learn Morse code.

I will get better at Python, Perl, and Javascript. Just for the fun of it.

Ok, let's see how I do.

Si Vales, Valeo

January 03, 2009. Saturday.

(01:42:04 AM CST)

The Children's Crusade, or, Damnable Lies!

I was thumbing through the book with the, perhaps self-effacing, moniker of Totally Useless History of the World (Ian Crofton, ISBN: 1847244033, ISBN-13: 978-1847244031, published by Quercus, available at Amazon.com and, currently, as a bargain book at the Day by Day store in Madison Square Mall) and I came across a fact that went something like this: The Children's Crusade, which were all DAMNABLE LIES [emphasis and swear words: mine], were damnable lies [ditto]. I mean, we are talking about the Children's Crusades, one of the black stains whipped out in fervors of anti-Christian frothing. Oh, the Musselman are evil, are they? What about The Children's CRUSADES?!? Cue dramatic music. Take that, Bembridge scholars!

Turns out the glitch in the esophagus of history is that when olden historians said the phrase pueri, which is ripe old Latin for some ripe young lads, they might also have just been saying "men who aren't quite as manly as men". Because, you know, real men owned land. That's right, ladies and gentlement, that apotheosis of anti-romantic Christendom, was quite likely better sobriquetted with "Bum Fights".

Peace pipe. Stuff it. Smoke it. Ah, yeah.

Now, just in case a book written by Ian Crofton, and wildly paraphrased by me doesn't buy you over, you can also go and glance at the Wikipedia article on the Children's Crusades. And, before you leap from your chair with a dashing "BUT DOUG, ANONYMOUS EDITS!", I think you should know old Britanica agrees with you, except you to have to pay to see that fact. And it is written by people who you have never heard of and can't see their editorial history to see if their articles on Britney Spears follow EB:PoV guidelines. As StraightDope.com puts it, one of the issues might be that a young man who would have been of a marriageable, essentially adult age, for the time would indeed by considered a child by our standard. Think sixteen or seventeen, perhaps.

Maybe it really did happen. My guess is that it didn't. It just seems that most proofs that it did happen is third or fourth hand accounts of eye witnesses who actually heard their brother talking to their brother's best friend about some uncle that saw it happen.

et cetera

Si Vales, Valeo

January 01, 2009. Thursday.

(09:37:52 PM CST)

Snopes.com: New Year's Traditions...

After seeing the shelves drained of Black-eyed peas at Kroger tonight, I figured I would do a little searching about New Year's traditions. Some that were big in my family were: "sweeping out dirt is sweeping in evil", "you do what you want to do for the rest of the year", "washing clothes means you'll wear them to mourn", and "black-eyed peas, hog jowl, and cabbage are to be eaten." Tonight, Sarah and I modified it by hanging out, not cleaning (though the apartment needed it), and I made a big pot of cabbage, bacon, garlic, chicken broth, rice, and black eyed peas for us to eat.

If you are interested in reading others, then you can check out Snopes.com's New Year's Superstitions. Lot's of fascinating stuff, and it seems like most of my family's beliefs were echoed elsewhere. Before I looked it up, I wasn't sure how much of it was Bolden-Wiggins specific.

Si Vales, Valeo

Written by W Doug Bolden

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