Dickens of a Blog

(February 2009)

If you want to comment, then you can contact me. I will post comments to the journal as soon as possible, unless you ask me not to share them.

February 28, 2009. Saturday.

(05:43:04 PM CST)

Know Your Sources: the Morgenthau Quote

If the question "What does a reference librarian do?" was answered, say, by the mode of the set of tasks we undertake, the answer would be "We answer simple questions about printing," and if taken against the median might be "We answers questions about computer and how to look up information,"; but neither of these really get to the fun bits. Namely: when research is involved.

The other night, I spent something like 45 minutes helping a man to track down a 1986 article based one one and a half paragraphs and an illustration with no citation whatsoever. It was a lengthy process (admittedly, part of the time was showing him how to print it out once he found it, and such what). It was fun to try and use a half dozen tools and a couple of different paths to get to it.

Tonight, one of the librarians received an e-mail that said, in part, "I am trying to find a source to verify this quote by Henry Morgenthau: 'We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong...somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises....I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started....And an enormous debt to boot!'". The quote they cited was trimmed a bit, I do not recall slightly where, but you had the same gist as above, including ellipses. What the ellipses hide, I have no idea. I do see one problem, already, though. If FDR started in 1933 (one of the common accidents is that we talk about presidents entering office on election years, when really they are voted in at the end of the election year and do not take power until the beginning of the next, so presidents start terms on odd number years) and the above speech was given in 1939, the phrase "eight years" is off. Was Morgenthau bad at math? Do the ellipses hide something that would fix this issue? Did he slip of the tongue? I do not know. I do know that most of the many, many websites that quote it with glee (including Morgenthau's Wikipedia page, which damagingly removes the ellipses and therefore misquotes) fail to question the number issue.

Burton Folsom, whose book New Deal or Raw Deal? is the reason the quote is everywhere (it helps that the quote is right in the beginning), even seems to try and play along, referring to the years 1931 and 1939 several times, though never actually claiming that 1931 matters besides in comparison to 1939. However, the year is a bit too 8 years ago to not be a little suspicious of his choice, as is his phrase "nearly two full terms". It is like he is trying to keep a certain number in our minds. He even quotes 1931 as the "year before Roosevelt captured the presidency" which is, generally, meaningless. Hoover was still in full power in the year 1932. Roosevelt did not come into power until 1933. And, damaging to Folsom's case, the unemployment and several other issues were worse in 1932 than they were in 1939 and they steadily got better from the years 1933-1936. 1937, when Roosevelt cut spending, they worsened. Much of the excerpt link above spends the rest of the time conflating The New Deal and the Great Depression (and I quote, "the steady increase in life expectancy from 1900 to 1933 and from 1940 to the end of the century was clearly interrupted only during the New Deal years.") or painting people who like the New Deal as manipulators of history. You know, eight years ago.

I am curious about the quote that started this search. It got the years wrong assuming the ellipses hide nothing of importance. In fact, I was surprised to even see the quote be real, as a quote though yet to be confirmed outside of Folsom's book, because seeing the wrong numbers made me think it was an urban legend picked up by Conservative pundits as a tool to bash the President. If you Google, say, the first dozen words or so, you are going to find a lot of different conservative websites and blogs that you never knew existed.

Is the quote real? I am going to say probably. I am also going to guess that something is missing from the context to make that quote work. Dude did not just walk up to the Ways and Means committee in 1939 and say that paragraph and leave. I am curious to see the rest. I just find it odd that so many people have quoted it and responded to it, rearranged it, took out the punctuation, and yet no one seems to have went "eight years?" just once.

And this is why you always leave a note know your sources. When we just quote things, it makes them seem more and more valid, and yet the full truth remains deeply unknown.

Si Vales, Valeo

By the way, I do not have a copy of the book on hand (Huntsville apparently bought every single copy out there this past two weeks) but I am trying to get a friend to track one down for me and find out if something like a more precisely citation occurs. In the sample/excerpt alone, several major references are made but almost none of them are cited outside of a general statement. Once I get the citations, I may fully back up Folsom's claim that the quote is legitimate. Also, for those who are curious to learn more about the Great Depression, "The Timeline of the Great Depression" seems to have some good stats that make a quick and easy read.

February 27, 2009. Friday.

(06:50:05 PM CST)

Sometimes Book Descriptions Just Reach Out and Slap You

Tonight while looking up information about Ray Garton's upcoming book, Bestial, I stumbled upon a book named Bestial: Werewolf Apocalypse. I mostly shook my head, since that sounds mostly like someone liked White Wolf a bit too much, and then I read the description. Let's just say, I will be getting this book:

Beneath the dim light of a full moon, the population of Cincinnati mutates into huge, snarling monsters that devour everyone they see, acting upon their most base and bestial desires. Planes fall from the sky. Highways are clogged with abandoned cars, and buildings explode and topple. The city burns. Only four people are immune to the metamorphosis-a smooth-talking thief who maintains the code of the Old West, an African-American bank teller who has struggled her entire life to emerge unscathed from the ghetto, a wealthy middle-aged housewife who finds everything she once believed to be a lie, and a teen-aged runaway turning tricks for food. Somehow, these survivors must discover what caused this apocalypse and stop it from spreading. In their way is not only a city of beasts at night, but, in the daylight hours, the same monsters returned to human form, many driven insane by atrocities committed against friends and families during. Now another night is fast approaching. And once again the moon will be full.

If you wish a part of this fine, sweet, horror action, zip over to Amazon.com's Bestial: Werewolf Apocalypse page.

By the way, in retrospect, the search results could have been very, very bad.

Si Vales, Valeo

Another Bonus Link: Cracked.com's 5 Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies. The sad/awesome thing? I guessed number one when I saw the article name.

February 26, 2009. Thursday.

(07:09:04 PM CST)

Ye Olde Kindle 2, Part 3

Now that I have written, not one, but two, articles seeming to come out in unequivocal defense of the Amazon Kindle 2, let me say one thing that I have only hinted at before. I am not pro-Kindle. I have no plans to buy one, despite certain appealing features. They make great devices for a lot of people, but I personally do not like having my book collection tied to a third party that is not the original publisher and I am never exactly satisfied with not having the ability to share books that I love. The reason I am making this third post on the topic is because someone sent this article to SLIS-L tonight: "The Amazing Amazon Kindle is bad news for the publishing industry". In that article, my above sentiment is echoed precisely by this paragraph:

We've come to a different cultural consensus on books. First, we've decided that books should be sharable—when you buy a book, you can pass it along to others freely. In fact, governments and large institutions actively encourage the practice; we build huge, beautiful buildings devoted to lending books to perfect strangers. We've also decided that there should be an aftermarket for books: When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to sell that book when you're done with it. This not only helps people who can't afford new books, it also encourages those who can afford them to buy more—it's much less risky to buy a $30 hardcover if you know you can sell it for $15 in six months. (Amazon is one of the biggest players in the used-book market.) And we'd certainly balk at a world in which your books were somehow locked to the store where you bought them.

That's exactly right. The whole central them of my last two posts are that book are different and should be different. There entire history of Western Civilization, to go hyperbolic for a moment, contains notions of the place of books, the idea of sharing them and writing and their power. Books being turned, as I said before, into the recently adopted stepchild of the musical file format war seems to benefit no one. But, partially, there is a whole other post in me about three reasons why I hate ebooks, a surprising thing for me to say, I imagine. Keep an eye out for that.

And if you read nothing else I link to, ever (and come on, I know my readers, you all just sigh and shake your head at my multi-page musings); then do read the Slate article linked to above. It says a lot of good, important things.

Si Vales, Valeo

Another bonus link, because I don't want to make a fourth post on this and drive you all mad. Perhaps the most intriguing BoingBoing to discussion to come out in awhile, I would say that the side I agree with is overall winning but the "other side" has several good points. It's a long one folks, you might to skim it: "Author's Guilds vs. reality: Kindle and the Read Aloud".

(01:24:20 PM CST)

Follow-up to Kindle v Audiobooks, hopefully brief and failing at it

I just posted to my twitter account, about five minutes ago, that I was not going to follow up yesterday's "Does the Kindle 2 Hurt Audiobooks? Revisited" for now, but I lied. I was going to avoid it for a couple of reasons, but I want to share a serendipitous find.

Lilith Saintcrow (I'm assuming a pen name?) wrote a blog post yesterday entitled "On Money, Or, Pay The Writer" in which she says more or less the exact opposite of what I said (well, not exactly, but I think our basic stances would be different enough to where the general outcome would be different). For those who are interested in seeing an opposing view point, and one from a writer at that, there you go. She is another stakeholder in the future stakes gain of text-to-speech versus audiobook fights. I am sure some of you want to know what writers not-Gaiman and not-Doctorow think, having heard their piece. It's kind of long, but readable, and only makes, in my opinion, one big error. This highlights something that I have noticed, though, that this debate seems to be being argued from two different sides by parties who think they are talking about the same things, but are not really on the same page.

The error is that it equates text-to-speech readers with piracy. Not only have text-to-speech readers existed for a bit and have been generally embraced as a plus for the written word, not to mention a mostly legal alternative way to read legitimately bought books, but the supporters of Kindle 2's capabilities are not suggesting that it is ok to download a pirated audiobook just because the user has access to a pbook or ebook copy. An audiobook takes dozens or hundreds of man-hours worth of work to edit, record, print, distribute, abridge, design artwork for, write music for, script in other voices for, and so forth. Audiobooks earn their extra money. The Kindle 2 voice function requires exactly zero hours and exactly zero dollars on behalf of the author and the distributor. As a consumer and avid reader, I do not like the concept of having the two treated as being equal when it comes to monetary renumeration. There is going to be an "opportunity cost" for authors, yes, if voice quality improves so much that audiobooks become things of the past, but this still does not make text-to-speech readers a form of piracy by any definition just like Microsoft Word was not anti-typewriter piracy. It just means they are a more effective competition that gives the consumer more of that they want.

I find the Kindle 2 technology to be spiritually equivalent to me reading a passage of a book to my wife while she drives, or bathes, or closes her eyes for a few minutes. Except worse, in that it loses half the point of having a book read to you (interpersonal communication). If anything, authors should be up in the arms about the Kindle 2 until it makes t2s more pleasant for the listener. That's your customers who are smirking when some speculative fiction term gets spelled out or horribly mispronounced. I suppose I am treating it like copying one of my CDs to oggs on my computer (something the RIAA has labeled as stealing one copy). Sure I am hurting the potential sales of places like iTunes or AmazonMP3 by doing this, but I cannot help but think that me listening to it in a different way for my own personal use is somehow guaranteed me in consumer rights. If you change those rights, then that is the way the world works, but then I have to re-evaluate my position as a consumer and what products I want to support. Such shifts have happened and will continue to happen.

She is exactly right when she says that it's not fair that Amazon gets to profit from this while cutting the authors out (however, this is a contract issue with Amazon and not a legal one outside of that contract) and she is right when she says that authors need to get in on this now, because it frankly is only going to get "worse". There will never be a time, unless some catastrophe occurs, where text-to-speech quality is going to be worse than it is right now. We are probably less than a decade out from t2s programs that learn how to inflect speech in quotes, can switch dialects and tones based on cues in the writing, and can toss in little touches like light coughs and page-turning noises so that it sounds even more natural. I personally think that the Author's Guild should get in on the bottom floor of this, innovate rather than block innovation. There is an awesome oppurtunity for the Author's Guild to set precedents down now, to work with designers to get t2s functions that they like, and that protect the rights of authors through various means, as long as the AG is ready to deal with the boons and fallouts of their decision. We have a multimedia audience coming up in the current flock of teens and pre-teens. The ability to make on-the-fly audiobooks might be the only real salvation for the book industry and it might be the coffin's nail. Will it hurt, will it help? I say get facts and do studies or it is all just speculation.

Too many authors who are getting angry at Amazon right now are allowing themselves to use too loose of a terminology and seem to be misunderstanding the technology. Piracy is one thing, using legal means to read a book you paid full money for is another. The Kindle 2 is not doing anything that my Macbook cannot do (and it's a little disingenious of the Author's Guild to use four year old demos to make it it's point, using the Alex voice makes it much more listenable (notice that it even takes breaths and stumbles over some words to emulate a human reader)); that many computers cannot already do. Do I have to right to do this? Currently, yes. Who knows about the future. Saintcrow mentions, down in the comments, that it is only a matter of time before someone hacks the Kindle chip and uses it to pirate audiobooks. I have no idea what she means by that or what she pictures happening there. I already have the ability to do these things, no Kindle 2 required. I am not going to, by the way, because buy your owned damned audiobooks, I'm reading and do not have time to make your life easier out of some misguided sense of sticking it to the man. This hypothetical "hacking of the Kindle" would be a pointless excercise in geekery. If people want to pirate ebooks into audiobooks, that type of technology pre-exists the Kindle 2 by years. True, some ebooks block t2s apps to some degree of success, and I do not know why Amazon would not have allowed the authors to do this since it seems to be a standard, if "unnecessary" practice (some compromise will be needed until other aspects of ebook technology are hashed out, I'm sure). If Amazon makes a choice that some feel hurts its authors by not allowing them creative control and forcing them to allow their works to be rended subpar, albeit legally subpar, then I would assume that not publishing under Amazon is the best and quickest solution with some follow-up lawsuit that determines if retailers can limit or expand the functionality of what they sell (so far, the precedent seems to be that retailers can within reason). Support buinesses that do not sell your books in a way you do not like. Send your fans to sites you like selling your books through or only release hardcopies of them (frankly, your fans get more rights when they buy a hardcopy anyhow).

She also says something about Amazon should absorb the extra costs, and I only a quarter agree with that. In the end, a flat rate fee, like radio stations pay for music, might be the simplest method of settling it, but I really think if an extra cost is involved then the consumer should have to pay it. Amazon should not be punished for being an innovator, especially since it has legitimate competitors and is not using the innovation to stifle everyone else. And making the consumer pay the extra $5 or $10 to unlock the audio functions of some ebooks will go a long way to show if consumers care about the feature, not to mention treating the market more like it is now. Amazon does not eat the cost if I want to want to get an Audible.com audiobook on top of an ebook edition. Nor should they.

Let me state two quick things in clarification, by the way. One, I have no real plans to buy a Kindle 2 just yet. I do not like the limitations set on the consumer as I understand them. Secondly, I kind of hate audiobooks. I cannot imagine me ever wanting to buy enough audiobooks to even be considered a target demographic. If I listened to books via Kindle 2's audio feature, that would be pretty much 99% of my "audiobook" experience. My point is not about defending a personal want to have free audiobooks out the wazoo, its about upholding traditional rights of readers like myself (you know, first they take my audiobooks, then they take my right to read to my wife, then they take my right to not burn a book after one reading, then they make me paint my face purple, then they make me dance, etc).

Si Vales, Valeo

February 25, 2009. Wednesday.

(10:23:15 AM CST)

Does the Kindle 2 Hurt Audiobooks? Revisted.

An op-ed that hit the New York Times yesterday—The Kindle Swindle?—brings back up one of the central worries about the new Kindle 2, namely that it can text-to-speech its audiobooks. The obvious retorts come quickly: so can my Mac, are you really threatened by a synthesized voice ruining your market?, and people reading books to each other is a long tradition. The article tries to address each of those in turn, as well as questions of why does the Author Guild hate the blind and et cetera, but my complaints are not quite in those lines and so I will list them as best I can.

One of the best worded replies to his fears were penned by Neil Gaiman: Quick Argument Summary. Gaiman's stance, for those not caring to follow the link, is that people who buy the book do not just buy the right to run their eyes over the page and wave other rights of the same book. That's the sort of thinking that comes into renting digital movies or into downloading (legal) music, the concept that some rights are there and some are not. Book buyers have always been a slightly different breed, and lumping us in with other types of content can have ramifications (most of the elaboration is mine, but I tried to get to the core of what he said, or as I understand it). For instance, when I download an mp3 through Amazon, I do not have the right to share it with you. If I buy a copy of Stephen King's new book, I have an expected right to let friends borrow it.

My statements specifically on the audio-capabilities of the Kindle 2 are generally two fold. The first revolve around the same thing I cited in my "Facebook and the future of the human mind" post: facts. Kindle 2 audio-adoption is too young to really study just yet (being, as it is, the second day) but it is one thing to say that the Kindle 2, with its $360 price tag (not including content) and its synthesized voice is threatening billions (cited from Blount's op-ed) in damage to audiobook sales and another thing to prove it. Who are buying these audiobooks and how are they using them? Are these older people, traditionally slow adopters of new technology, getting CDs they can play in their car? Are these jetsetters buying Audible editions of books to put on their iPod or iPhone? Are these people listening to audiobooks while sitting in their living room? How many of each?

How much is the average audiobook fantatic buying per year and would their needs ever be settled by the Kindle 2 (or 3, 4, 5...) in a way that was actually cost-effective for the consumer? Would any of these groups actually make enough use of the Kindle 2 to cut the pockets of the book industry? And if so, why have they not used improved desktop-to-speech capabilities to already eschew buying audiobooks? Also, how long are individual audiobooks viable and is it better to let individuals ones fade over a couple of years and be replaced by automatic readers? Would a per-file basis (as in, some books have audio disabled) hurt the Kindle 2 or, by making it seem more friendly to publishing houses, help it to be adopted? Could a end user pay a small amount more to turn on said audiobook functions and how would this change the above numbers? All of these things need to be known unless mere speculation dominates.

The other half of my argument comes down to what could be called the "typewriter arugment". I call it this because I read an article in the 90s about how the typewriter industry was suffering and the things they were trying to do to stay alive for one last gasp. At the time, I thought it was kind of sad that typewriters were going, but now I realize that some older-school tech has a quaint beauty but a lot of it is outdated for a reason. Had, say, word processors been retarded (I use that in its proper definition) because of the fears of typewriter manufacturers, then progress would have been held back by a technology that is no longer required by the average user. This seems to be potentially a repeat of such things.

If you dogmatically hold that a user has to buy a written copy, an electronic copy, and an audio copy of the same book if, say, they want to have one at home, want to have one easier to search, and one to have one to listen to on the road, then you are punishing users in defense of market share. Which, of course, profit is the big deal in this country but I fail to see how this anything to do with protecting authors and everything to do with protecting publishers. Especially when you look at the vast array of mid-list authors who never get audiobook editions, or indie presses, or authors who do not care, or public domain authors. For these types of books, the Kindle 2 is going to open them up to a whole new set of listeners; as well as making it possible for the good consumers are still actually giving damn about books to listen to a book on a short trip into town or while taking a bath even though they mostly want to read it in bed.

Sure, good audiobooks take time, effort, love, and sweat; but these are not good audiobooks we are talking about. People who like good audiobooks are still going to pay for them, check them out of the library, borrow them, or steal them from the Internet (audiobooks, as you may can imagine, are an indefinitely more piratable media than print-quality ebooks). Which brings up, I suppose, the Cory-Doctorow-Defense: if you stop people from having legitimate but customer friendly uses of a product then you drive away legitimate customers while those who care less about the industry and/or those not afraid to break the law are just going to download pirated copy and use a text-to-speech editor to get the same thing. Then they are going to upload it and it is going to keep going. The argument is easily refuted in some ways by citing legalities and suchwhat, but as far as describing real world behavior it is spot on. The "copyfight wars" have largely prevented no one from getting materials that they want. I cannot say, and would not say, that had the price been a bit lower or the usage clauses a bit freer, that pirating would stop, but it would enable users like me to get the tools we need in a legal way without having to decide if we want to read a book or have it read to us.

I love the book industry, adore it, and spend too much money on it, but part of my love of it comes down its altogether different concepts of how to market itself, how to interact with customers, and how to handle sharing of its content. The more it turns into the music industry's little cousin, the less significance, it seems, it can possibly have.

Si Vales, Valeo

(12:16:23 AM CST)

Facebook Infantilizing The Human Mind?

Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, [causing] short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.... Or, the tl;dr version: Facebook sucks. Of course, go and read the article and you will notice some very peculiar parts, namely the inclusion of "maybe" and "might" and "surely" laced here or there. That's right, the article is really less about Facebook, and more about how one scientist can express luddite views about "them kids" and the future of communication by making a handful of guesses as to the real impact while blaming the overmedication of kids on online networking sites and not the parents from the previous generation who have been raised to get immediate results and to believe that normality must be maintained at all costs. She even goes on to say that books inspire empathy in a way the digital age does not, which sounds plausible, but also comes across as a red flag, if you get my drift. In other words, tl;dr part 2: get off my lawn and I like the way they smell.

Snark aside, I think there a lot of interesting points. For one, I cannot see how it would be possible to carry on a fully online relationship that is as fulfilling as one that has at least some face to face time. It can be fulfilling, yes, but I can not see it being as or more fulfilling. The problem is, we need data. You know, those things we call facts. Sure, kids seem more spastic nowadays, but many are effectively raising themselves as their parents are busier than ever before. Videogames are so easy to quantify ("I beat it in three hours!") that they lead to a natural competitive focus, but we still need to have documents and tests and actual experiments that say "Yes, these children would have been better if they did not have Facebook or videogames or the Internet." It is all fine and dandy to say that kids are denied the concept of cohesive experiences over time, but we really do have to show these things, not assume that our pre-net life with its hoops pushed by sticks and its sailing down the old Missouri river was a golden dream incapable of being hyperbolized because it truly was that damned good.

It reminds me when I was younger when I was told that RPGs surely lead to a decreased ability to tell fantasy from fact and therefore right from wrong and everyone said it like it was just obvious that kids pretending to be wizards must not know they were pretending. Nearly every single claim aginst RPGs, despite ready and often faked anecdotal evidence, was later to be shown false (RPGers have lower suicide rates, higher degrees of friendship, better self-awareness, and so forth). I do not personally think we will see this with this "new batch of distractions" but let us find out and not just disparage. Every generation has to find its niche and the couple below me are being raised in a world that tries to be nicheless, that tries to let everyone and everything in as long as it does not matter for more than a few minutes. It has to be weird to not know a fad that lasted longer than a few weeks.

And the weird thing is, I came in to quote the article and to bring up some points in its favor. I still don't completely disagree with its sentiment, but this was pushed as science and is anything but.

Si Vales, Valeo

BONUS! Twitter infests Congress at a very important time! I take it all back. What the scientist woman said.

February 24, 2009. Tuesday.

(01:06:51 PM CST)

February 24, 2009: The Day of bits.

Today has a lot of things that come in "bits". I'll try and keep them short and entertaining.

Bit #1. Happy Birthday, Sarah. She is 25. If that does nothing for you, then have a happy Mardi Gras, at least. Get drunk for one of the two. If that does nothing for you, I think today has free pancakes at IHOP. Celebrate something for godssake.

Bit #2. Have the SPAM gods been gracious to everyone else lately? I went from a half dozen pieces of spam across a couple of accounts a day to something like 100 in the past two or three days.

Bit #3. I have worked out some basic but very, very rough concepts for using loyalty as a constrained RPG concept. Feel free to read and disdain. I am going to try and turn that into a Reality-TV RPG over the next couple of weeks.

Bit #4. Worked out a twitter "client" that uses some simple command line action to display latest tweets, allow for basic updates and such. It even shows sent and received direct messages or can filter to just replies. I am doing some testing on it but I think I can have it generally posted on my website over the next couple of weeks. Again, this is a bare bones sort of thing that is meant for users who don't want to keep an app or their browser open or who, maybe, want to work with their own way of storing or sorting incoming tweets. I set it up to show them how I like to read them, but Python is easy enough that others should be able to get the basic concepts of tweaking it to change it's display options.

Ok, that's my four bits. Time to track down my tag-renewal form, hash out a quick review for Resident Evil: Degeneration, and to get some reading and fooding in before work.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 22, 2009. Sunday.

(11:10:57 AM CST)

The Weekend. The Coming of Nerdy-Gras. The state of My Space.

I feel like I pulled a bender when I didn't. Scout's honor. I think I have been shaving one hour of sleep here and one hour of sleep there for so long that the extended length of yesterday exhausted me. There was a whole host of last minute and occasionally unstructured pre-birthday plans for Sarah and her mom (Mom-in-Law's b'day: 21st. Sarah's b'day: 24th). I found out on friday that I will be working the night of her birthday so it pretty much meant we had to do Saturday or bust. Couple of errands. Too much food: Big Eds and Olive Garden. There was a last minute game of bowling. King cake and the baby Jesus. Alicia came up from Auburn and we watched a couple of movies and the play Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead (one of Sarah's several gifts was a "Stark Raving Sane tour" shirt, so she has a "concert" shirt for a Shakespearean tour group). By the time exhaustion slammed into me last night it was about two in the morning. We had just watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and I had put in the new Tim Burton version of Sweeney Todd so the Sisters Ridout could sing along and then I sat down in the floor and just about fell asleep right then and there.

Since the plans around her birthday essentially never got formed (true also of her mother's birthday since we didn't know what we were doing for that until about three hours before it happened which is technically about two and a half hours more than what we knew with Sarah's excursion); I have decided we will try to host Nerdy-Gras sometime later in this year (my birthday?) and the idea will be to combine elements of Mardi Gras with geek chic. Sound cool? It does to me. Such things include masks that fit on top of glasses and drinking games based around mathetmatics or something. Note, though, "Geometric shot progression greater than a 1.5/1 pattern" is a synonym for "death". Just an FYI.

I'm going to repost this next bit on me Myspace page in a bit, but is mostly here as a shout out:

Currently about 70% of my friends on Myspace are also on Facebook. Of the 30%, 90% of those do not post all that often. Those that do post often are, with the exception of a single person, bands or authors or such. In fact, in a given week, I will generally get a couple of posts by James Gunn, maybe one event from one of my nieces and nephews every second or third week, a couple of things that was also posted to someone's facebook, and about an even chance of getting a blog post by a friend who is currently posting stuff to another journal as well. In other words, with the exception of my nieces and nephews on Myspace, and James Gunn, I am just logging into Myspace to see that I have no updates that I have no already read.

My solution? It is a two parter. I think I am going to delete, with the exception of one friend, everyone that I have simultaneously friended. I will unfriend every band or author whose information I can get quicker from another source. I will possibly unfriend people who do not update often. This should get my friend list down to about sixteen people, maybe, and then I can just wait until my blog subscription notifications come in to go back and check. I know a lot of people just deleted their pages, but it does help me to keep up with some of my favorite authors and some of my family folk and I think as long as I can get honest notifications of stuff then I can't simply get by without checking it all that often. I guess my point of posting this is to say, if you have a Myspace profile that you really want me to keep but think for some reason I would delete (the big reason being that you have a Facebook profile or something, I guess) then let me know and it's no problem, just realize I am going to mostly be logging on when I get an e-mail that says "hey!" from the website letting me know.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 18, 2009. Wednesday.

(11:14:48 PM CST)

Review of Christopher Moore's Fool

The more permanent home of this is at http://www.wyrmis.com/words/fool.html:

Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead, the play that fills in the blanks of Hamlet with an existential romp of black humor, finds something of a spiritual cousin in Christopher Moore's Fool. Except downplay existential, sort of swap black humor for "good natured look at the pain of life", and add a big and huge helping of sexual jokes, masturbation jokes, breast jokes, and foul language and there you go. The Fool is THAT Fool, the one who tells King Lear that his hound hath no nose. One of my personal favorite characters in Shakespeare and even in fiction because it is an early use of the ironic character. The noble makes poor choices and is betrayed. The fool speaks truth and stands loyal.

Moore halves the novel between a continued excuse to say things like "fuckstockings" while talking about semen; and in filling in some of the backstory. The backstory is very alternate universe, though, so can only elaborate on the world of King Lear by changing it. It gives something of a purpose to the loyal fool outside of "it is in the script" and it paints a more three-dimensional picture of the king, as well. In fact, most characters get an expanded in Moore's novel, but not evenly. The two older sisters have fetishes added to their character and little else. A couple of characters have a sexual orientation swap, but show up no more in the novel than in the play. Cordelia, the tragic focus on the play, is given a little bit more of a place to stand with her refusal to acknowledge her dad. What's perhaps most disappointing is that Moore gives the fool, named Pocket, mostly large helpings of horniness and a distaste for overblown, well, fools; while taking a few of the other characters and making them more well-rounded, and possibly more deserving of their fate.

Speaking of fates, how does it turn out? Does Moore repeat Lamb by following a well known story to its end? Does he embark on a new solution to the plot? I will leave that up to you find out. It is one of the driving forces behind the reading of the book to find out if these newly fleshed out characters and their world are limited to the same conclusions or are able to look beyond them to their own solutions. If the suspense is killing you, flip to the back of the book because with a few story line changes, Moore leaves the questions up in the air until fairly near the close.

One thing probably missing the most from the novel is the lack of meta-drama that Stoppard brought with his Hamlet send up. Moore is not the kind of writer that handles "meta-" very well, but Fool is a novel that almost needs it. King Lear makes a rash decision that leads to his downfall. In some ways, for it to be one of Shakespeare's most powerful, it's a cheap cop. Fool could have somehow played with that. Not that he did not play with it, he just mostly played with it in a way that entailed expanding upon what medival life would have really been like. Entertaining, yes, but not quite as classic as it could have been.

I am a Christopher Moore junky, so let me just say that this book is different enough, in the way that Lamb is different, that I think it will polarize long time fans between those who say it is best yet and those who hold that he has lost his way. It is also vulgar and oversexed enough to put some people off. This is not to say that it is a guilty pleasure but this is to say that you had best like your humor rated R or it will be a long way down the rabbit hole for you. It also has a different pace than a lot of his works, especially his slacker-as-hero stuff that can be read in an afternoon. This one takes a bit to mull over. Also, while I will not say this book is homophobic, I will say that I would understand if someone felt that it was leanign that way. A few of its jokes come off unevenly meanspirited towards gays, even if it kind of fits the Pocket character.

Final Rate: Good. Pacing a just a tad more literary flesh would have probably mad this book a fun and dirty classic.

February 17, 2009. Tuesday.

(10:45:35 AM CST)

Rude to be Polite (aka, Polite to be Rude)

I am not a master of etiquette. I have vague notions of which forks to use when and where to put a thank you note afterward and all that; but most of the pomp and circumstance of proper, genteel, etiquette escapes me as it stereotypically would escape a man who was raised in a swamp only to later in life find himself largely surrounded by eccentric geniuses and nerd types. Much like speaking Swahili, I have never had to learn the language of proper dinner attire. There was once a friend who thought I was stupid in such regards and spent many months trying to lecture me on etiquette. She's dead, now, so I guess that was a lose-lose for both of us.

I am not a master of etiquette, but it occurs to me that something is missing in our polite society, the ability to be rude. I'm not exactly talking about an Asian-culture thing like pointing out personal flaws as long as a ring of truth resides inside of them. There is a time to point out to the fat guy that he is fat and not mean it as an insult, per se; but I am thinking of an entirely different sphere of politiness. We need to the ability to tell people that we are not up for company, conversation, and comfort. We need the ability to wave away these things without someone taking offense. I have seen far too many of friends have to circumvent their real feelings on these topics because people refuse to take a hint. I have seen more than one friend politely suggest not to make a big deal about a death in the family and then disappear because they knew that some people simply could not resist mentioning it.

What if we want to grieve in silence? What if we want to read? What if we want to stare out at the sea and not talk for a few minutes? What if we need to get off the phone just because we no longer want to talk, and it has nothing personal to do with anyone? What if it is our break and we want to take 15 minutes quietly crunching on a cookie? What if we just got a chance to talk to our boss about a work issue and do not want to talk to a coworker about their weekend? What if we just want to finish a tad bit of data importing without interruption?

It seems that we can get away with the grieving bit, somewhat, but even if people are brief that seem to be weirded out if we ask them to say nothing. If work is involved, we can kind of bring it up without offense. However, you try reading on a saturday night when friends want to hang out. You try reading in public when an old man sits down next to you, to talk. You try shooing away a coworker on your break because you just want to stare out of your window. In these latter cases, it gets harder and harder to be rude.

Our culture quietly praises those archetypal truth tellers who just tell it like it is. Even if we get upset by people with their in-your-face attitudes and blunt pointing out of flaws, we kind of nod appreciatively. Fine. Now, you just be blunt about wanting to eat lunch at work and not talk to anyone else, and see if that same regard is around.

Also, think about friends who bring friends to parties. It might not be a problem most of the time, but what about that rare time it is a problem? Why can we not specify then, "Look, he needs to leave." What about friends who crash when you were expecting them gone at 11pm? Worse yet, relatives. Have you ever tried to hint to a relative that you need alone time? How did that go? Think of all the sitcom plots and movie plots that use nothing but the fact that it is hard for us to be rude to the people that are barging in on us. Think of how many times the resolution is to either suck it up, or to make the protagonist feel like crap for mentioning it.

I am not even saying that we need to be rude all the time or that we should use "work" or "reading" as an excuse to get out of talking to people we do not like but have not mentioned this fact to. I am just saying that it would be nice for me to be able to say "Hey, sorry man, but I want to finish the chapter," or "Hey, sorry, I need to talk a short walk and clear my head," without scraping or apologizing. Be polite in our rudeness, yes, but we need that ability to be rude.

At least it seems like such to me.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 14, 2009. Saturday.

(10:59:15 AM CST)

5Things: BadLuck, FreerHops, Music, Coraline3D, and GeekType?

BadLuck: Walked to UAH yesterday to turn in my time card. It was an ok walk, but on the way back stopped and "talked" to a couple of black cats. Then it occurred to me it was Friday the 13th. I couldn't help but wonder how many cracks I had stepped on. How many ladders had I walked under? Let's just hope that old woman with the black dress and the all the jewelry and funny accent that I shoved down wasn't a gypsy. That would be pushing my luck. Oh, as for the "backlash", I found out it was just a trailer. IT WAS JUST A TRAILER!

FreerHops: Alabama Senate Approves Stronger Beer for Alabama. YES. WE. CAN!

Music: With the exception of a couple of catch-all categories with random bit gleamed from the random web and what friends have sent me, and some soundtracks that I have to sort (including game ones that I plan on keeping), the final count of music sliced out without replacement was about 25 or so gigs. Now, before you go "Jesus iPod Christ, DOUG!" keep in mind that the music retained comes out to be about 125 gigs. So, yes, I had a lot of songs from less than legitamate means, but it was only about 1/6 of my collection. This actually surprises me somewhat, though I have been a fairly ravenous seeker of new music for a while so it doesn't surprise me that much. In the midst of the search I have found a few treasures I had forgot I had, and found out that a few bands have new material out, for better or worse (i.e. Black Francis and Flogging Molly).

Coraline3D: Saw this as the Monaco last night via the Privé/VIP experience. My feelings are partially mixed, but largely positive, of the Priveé experience and thumbs up for the movie. If you have the opportunity to see Coraline3D, I recommend you do so. The movie was shot stereoscopically (that's possibly misspelled) which means the 3D effects are mostly so that you can see the depths of the models and the sets. It works really well. Alas, at least according to Gaiman, the Jonas Brothers 3D is going to replace it in about a week. It's a good fun creepy-esque movie with all the wonderful touches of Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman you could ask for. The soundtrack is out now and you can get it in several places (AmazonMP3, iTunes) or you can wait for a weekish and get it on CD. It's a fun soundtrack with a "special surprise" for all the geeks out there (it surprised me, and I got excited in the old cinema). As for the Privé experience, awesome seats and it's nice to be able to get a beer and sit up above the standard crowd and just relax. The lack of kids kicking on seats and the extra comfort is probably worth the 50% markup for cost. One complaint I have is there is no way to get refills for the drinks (being "adult" in nature, they are smaller and don't last like the 64-oz Huge Gulps standard to cinema fare) without exiting through a couple of doors and going back to the bar. It would be awesome if the wait staff had some arrangement for taking orders. And, since the reserved seats are part of a narrow balcony, whenever anyone gets up, they kind of walk in front of everyone to get out, but a seat against the back wall should fix that.

GeekType?: And, I've just been wondering. What type of geek am I? I'm not exactly a tech geek nor more specifically a computer geek. I'm not exactly a literary geek. I'm definitely not a band geek. I'm mostly not sure. Any opinions? I know, by the way, that "geek" and "nerd" and "dork" and "loser" have specific connatations for a lot of people (I hear things like nerds are smart, geeks are losers and geeks get too excited over something that is unimportant, or etc). Just so you know, geek means you bite things for a circus (this is true, by the way, the word only changed over the past 20 years or so). Words change. Heh. Work with me, here.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 12, 2009. Thursday.

(12:34:17 PM CST)

When real-life copies the horror movies, part 87, aka leeches in your nose and throat.

I read something this afternoon in Ian Crofton's Totally Useless History of the World (ISBN-13: 978-1847244031). I hoped it was an urban legend, but Google searches have only found more people who believe the story. It goes something like this:

Napoleon's men were on a march back in the late 18th century. At some point, they drank leech infected water. The leeches, presumably in larva and egg states, entered the men's bodies and attached to their throats and noses and such and then got larger and larger and eventually choked and strangled the men as well as severely reduced their blood supply.

By the way, if you are freaked out by leeches, you probably shouldn't have read that.

Now to find the one website that says that is apocryphal, and probably believe it over the ones that agree.

Si Vales, Valeo

(10:30:27 AM CST)

[Cooking] Did You Know You can Bake Bacon?

I'm currently pre-heating my oven up to 375° so that I can bake some strips of bacon. The recipe is simple. Preheat oven. Add bacon in a single layer on a slightly non-sticked pan (maybe aluminum foiled or slight sprayed). Wait about 15 minutes, maybe turning the bacon after about 10.

I have enough friends who say things like "I would be a vegetarian if it weren't for bacon" that I thought I would share this. Some of those friends hate the frying process and all of it's turning and flipping and grease spatters. This is a good compromise (and, with the above, makes it fairly soft which is how I like bacon).

And for those who think this is somehow fire-spawning practical joke on my behalf, here is at least one website that agrees with me. Note that it sets the temp at 400° and the time at 10-15, though they probably go for crispier bacon than I do.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 10, 2009. Tuesday.

(08:21:57 PM CST)

"The Library Is a Bargain with These Numbers", or, I would buy THAT for $2.21

Figured I would share this since I have a handful of friends that work in or around libraries, and some work in the system the article is about.

Recently, on Ask Us in the Huntsville Times (at least the Al.com version), a question was posed that, paraphrased, went like this: "We spend 6.44 million dollars for slightly less than a million visitors per year and this means we spend $6.50 or so per visitor and this is just a flat out waste of money, can that be right?" Now, your and my and their idea of a waste of money may vary, but the answer was posted this last Sunday and it comes down pretty strong in the Huntsville Public Library's defense. The gist is that you can't use floor traffic as a good indicator of value since not all locations are counted in this floor traffic and it doesn't really show library use. When examined against circulation numbers, the cost becomes $2.21 per item checked out which is a lot lower than a lot of nearby places. And the article cites some sort of value calculator which puts the HPL at about $6.89 per dollar invested in returns. What that would mean is that the 6.5 million dollars becomes about (simplifying the math) 42 million dollars returned. Just some interesting notes to think about when it comes down to intangible concepts like library worth and whatnot (a big topic on my mind as of late, you can be sure).

Of another note, the single (as of this writing) comment at the bottom has an interesting bit: "I am surprised book stores remain in business. Why buy books? Almost always a waste of money. How many people actually need to keep a book after they have read it? For 99% of books, library use is sufficient. Same with DVDs and CDs." I have several things against this statement, the three quickest being (1) Why do you assume 99% of readers have your habits, (2) Who listens to a CD once?, and (3) How exactly would books get written if authors were only paid by libraries? This doesn't even touch the problems with paperback copies not being able to hold up to a lot of readings, paperback swaps, people who want to read a book with dozens of other people at the same time (or even, say, half a dozen other people at the same time) and so forth.

I'm done ranting, I promise.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 08, 2009. Sunday.

(06:08:51 PM CST)

The Weekend in Brief Vignettes

Here is my weekend down in Gadsden (and "beyond") in 17 brief vignettes. These are in no particular order, excepting as I see fit.

  1. Saturday night, ate at a mexican restaurant named Las Brisas, where the food tasted like a spicier Pepitos. Around me, several people with tables full of food and plates left single dollars as tips.
  2. Learned flowcharts from a non-programming view, which was interesting if as vaguelly annoying as always. Also learned "structured english" which seems a whole lot more useful and intriguing to me. See also: PERT/CPM, Needs/Publics Charts, Decision Tables, Gantt Charts.
  3. Finally tried out the "free-digital-copy" on three of my CDs that have them. Watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in such a fashion. Mixed enjoyment of the technology (for instance, I like captions).
  4. Purchased a copy of Brian Keene's new book: Castaways. This is supposed to be Keene doing his impression of Laymon. I'm curious to see how the vibe works.
  5. Finished reading Choke this weekend. I definitely like the book a whole lot better this time, not that I hated it before. Still a fan of the movie, however I find my fan-ship has wavered slightly because more of the themes were missing than I realized.
  6. Stayed in the Gadsden Inn and Suites which is about thirty five feet from the campus. However, due to fences and the like, takes about five minutes to walk around. Will be staying there again.
  7. Consumed a lot of olives. Plan on consuming more. My favorites are currently the mid-sized purple ones (Camarata?).
  8. Got up early on Saturday to do a homework project (with Katie) so that it would be done before class. Lots of classmates worked on it all throughout Saturday. I could have slept for longer.
  9. Showered in a shower that had no stall.
  10. Gadsden downtown was strangely closed by the time Sarah and I went out to get something to eat and visit. Full of various local shops and pubs and stuff (most of the ones open were either full looking or had sort of a shady aspect that I didn't feel like risking). Heard too many sirens the whole weekend to chance it.
  11. However, a couple of miles east, near the mall and a restaurant called "Top of the River", the crowds were immense.
  12. Tried a bottle of Firehouse's Hefeweizen. It was pretty good. Not quite as good as Olde Towne but would buy again if the chance served.
  13. Coming back up around Walnut Grove spotted a huge line of cars turning into a parking lot. Said, "Oh, must be church". Turned out I was wrong. It was a flea market that only opens on Sunday. This explains the roughly dozen yard sales that Sarah and I spotted while coming north this morning.
  14. Took random pictures, including: railroad track that goes right down the road, the Daughters of the Confederacy monument, a plaque dedicated to a CSA soldier who warned of the Union coming, the hotel and some of the stuff around it, and so forth. Will post soon, maybe.
  15. For some reason, the "tax" on my hotel room was 12% exactly. I'm not sure what that means, unless it was a clerical error.
  16. Identified a chicken processing silo by sight before I confirmed what it was. That was sad. Also saw a truck marked as being American Proteins, Inc leaving said area with a big sign saying "inedible" on the back. Thought it said "indelible" to begin with. Imagine my disappointment.
  17. Finally, on the way home, listened to The Eels's and The Cranberries's greatest hits albums. That and Jolie Holland's newish one. That and some heavy folk metal. All. Awesome.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 05, 2009. Thursday.

(10:22:50 PM CST)

Brief Post: 3 random computer questions and my new job.

Throughout the course of the day, I have had three computer related questions pop-up. These are not complaints, per se, since there are relatively simple workarounds for all three (well, the first one doesn't have one I suppose, but still). You can effectively ignore these if you want, and skip past the numbered list to get to the important (though still brief, part of the post).

  1. Why does Google Talk tell me when someone closed the chat window? What good is that information besides to imply that they are done talking with me. Depending on the GUI and OS, there can be many reasons to close the chat window. Why not tell me they have resized the chat window? Or that they moved the mouse across the top-left corner?
  2. Why does OpenOffice3 hide it's printer options (and presumably others) in a "drop down" arrrow next to the list of available printers. Surely, it occured to the designers that many users would assume that meant "Click this arrow for more printers". Would a little button that said "more options" be hard?
  3. Why design class software that imbeds non-private information in a couple of javascript controlled frames? I can see putting stuff you don't want students to print inside of some such system, but why put things you want students to print inside of that system?

Those are all. Call them "things to think about if you ever design for-human interfaces".

My job news is that I started as a reference librarian (official title is probably something more demeaning, but still with the world "library" in in it) out at UAH. I'll be a part-timer for now, filling in some gaps in various schedules and getting some academic experience in. The job is interesting, though it involves a lot of data. I got to see a few of my first "minor crises" today and helped a couple of students, doing the whole "show them how to do it themselves" thing. I kind of see where the problems might arise, and the kind of things I need to learn, but it was a good start, today. I won't be back until next week where I will work a couple of days. Then I will move to something of a more "permanent" position while I work on my Masters.

It's all cool, though, because it fits my temperment very well. And quite a few of the other librarians came by to talk to me for a bit so I get to see some of the people responsible for keeping the ship afloat. I enjoyed the random chaos. Wish me luck!

Si Vales, Valeo

February 03, 2009. Tuesday.

(10:40:03 PM CST)

Stephen King's "N" as a Webseries

A friend sent me a tweet (is that right? a "tweet"? how cute) today asking if I had seen the "N webcomic". My response was in the vein of "What?". He then elaborated about them making a website for "N", a short story that recently showed up in Just After Sunset. I was at the library at the time, and didn't want to do a bunch of random Google searches to try and find something about "N" and "webcomic" so I postponed. By time I had got here, said friend had tweeted me again and mentioned a URL: namely this one. That website has links to trailer, behind the scenes footage, some art stills, and then also has a link to the website of the night:

NIsHere.com, which is going to immediately swap over to some other website, but there you go. You can watch the whole thing in fair quality for free (the only caveat is the playlist auto-moves backward, meaning you have to keep clicking on the next clip because it wants to move you to the previous one).

I'm a fan of King's (did that Tory say he liked kings? GET HIM!) but not in the whole fantatical sense. He has books that come out. I buy them. I read them. I dislike some. Love some. Wish some were better. et cetera. I'm not 100% sure why I missed this one, besides I don't tend to keep up with the newsletter or anything.

The gist is best had by the hi-quality trailer. That explains most things. The art style, the acting style, the kind of story it entails. The format is 25 short clips, about a minute and a half each, which comes out to be round and about 34 minutes runtime total. if you watch them separately, you got to put up with the credits and lead in. The storyline is about a man who was the psychaitrist for a man who had a surreal encounter in this one field. he went to take pictures of these stones and realized that there was one stone that the human eye couldn't see. He, already OCD, becomes convinced that the number of stones is bad and not seeing that last one is really bad. He also sees something dark waiting behind the stones for when the numbers don't add up.

In what I hate to call "typical King fashion", the ending sort of blows. Not that I'm complaining about the way it leave some stuff up in the air, it's the fact that it goes for a few cheap punches when it just feels like something more complex could have been right there. Also, a big deal is made about looking at the stones dead on and looking at them through a lens and seeing different numbers. A scene where one of the characters continues to look at all eight stones through the lens and touches and confirms that they are they cold have been awesome.

Watch a few or all the episodes for free, if you dig it you can do all sorts of things like embed the player in your own page and share with friends, or catch it through mobile services and the like. I went ahead and paid the $3.99 to get it from iTunes. Very nice quality version of it. There is also a DVD that comes with some special editions of the book, but the DVD comes out to be $6-$10 and that's probably too much unless you are a collector or don't have or don't want to use iTunes.

My overall rating is Great for the build-up, Good for the distribution choices, and Meh for the last couple of episodes (pretty much from ep22 on). Final score of Good I guess. Will watch again.

Si Vales, Valeo

February 02, 2009. Monday.

(10:33:42 PM CST)

NYTimes Article: "Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers"

Just so you know, registration might be required with the news articles I am linking to in this post, I'm not sure. Both NYTimes and Washington Post can be odd about such things. Also, I posted some of these thoughts in slightly different form in the message board of my LS500 class. The two of you who read both can comment on either if you want, or ignore me on both. Both of these options seem equally valid. I just said the worth both four times if you count the time I used it in this sentence. Both.

While looking for an article I had read this morning, about the economic climate and whether it is helping library circulation, which is a common perception and the article seems to think it is true, though I am curious to see how strongly it will really go; I came across another article: "Using Videogames as Bait to Hook Readers" that I thought I would like to share. There are three basic threads to the article, an they are of differing merit, but it goes something like this:

  1. Videogames can be used to expand a book's universe (notion of "superwork" in a moment).
  2. Videogames can lure children into the library where they will learn to treat libraries as hangouts with lots of resources.
  3. Videogames can develop choice-making skills and promote factors of responsibility and so forth.

Just so you know, I listed those in roughly the order I consider their value. Number 2, the concept that libraries can be retooled into hangout spots, is not a bad one. Per se. I'm sure my librarian friends would love to see dozens of children coming in to play free videogames all day long. Still, libraries can offer safe places and certain limits could always be put into place, like kids have to earn points by reading books or such to play games. I don't know. I was always the geek who adored hanging out libraries anyhow.

Number three is tricky. Does reading dense, depressing books promote critical thinking? Maybe. Does playing videogames promote fast thinking and expand reasoning? Maybe. I'm going to stay mute on this one since it is best answered by a rigorous psychological study, not anecdotal evidence. I just think, knowing the kids that I know and knowing how the videogame junkies respond differently than the heavy readers, that the heavy readers seem to be able to parse facts faster. Though that could be a cart in front of the horse scenario. I do know that saying that Dostoevsky is lesser than videogames in showing the value of life choices is a poor choice for an article that wants to be taken seriously. Maybe if it was a game like Wizardry that doesn't have a continue feature, or several lives, and can result in many, many lost hours. Most games are too easy to just respawn and keep going. Sometimes that's the fastest way to get back to the base.

The first point, though, has some interesting context in that we were studying "superworks" this past week in LS500. Superworks, technically, are a collection of modified works that reflect, adapt, and so forth, a central work. Think of Harry Potter. It's not just a book, it's a series of books, supplements, video games, movies, merchandise, chat rooms, message boards, news stories, controversies, and so forth. Part of the reason it hit big is because it allows for an expanded, interactive world to play with and this appeals to kids. Parents and nonparents alike would read the books from an older perspective, and would feed into this collection. In specific terms, the superwork are all those documents and items that are spawned and adapt from the original Harry Potter source. In a lot of cases, superworks are used negatively. Kids get the movies to avoid reading the book. Kids go online and look up summary articles. I'm just thinking we could develop positive use superworks where kids are promoted to delve deeper into the work, promoted to experience the superwork from many angles, and develop a sense of differentiation and adaptivity, to see the common threads but also see the ways that we handle various media differently. Have workshops where a book and a movie are read and watched, respectively, and then let kids find out what the differences are, promote them discussing why they prefer one or the other. Talk about the way they picture the characters when the read versus the way the director picutred them. And so on.

In other words, I think there are a definite place for non-book things in a library, I'm just a big enough book snob as to think those things should be getting some pages flipped through. heh.

Si Vales, Valeo

(02:04:08 PM CST)

Apophenia, talking dolls, and the Nintendo DS.

Before I go any further, those who want to play along need to need to listen to this short mp3 of random [presumably fake] baby babble. Listen to it a couple of times. Download it and slow it down or speed it up. Listen to it with headphones. Whatever it takes for you to get a good impression of it. For three-quarters of it's length there isn't much, but at the end there is a little dense burst of sounds. Does it sound like words to you? Which words? Write them down. Write down a few possibilities. Share it with a friend or coworker and see if they hear anything if you have time.

Now, once you get a good impression of the syllables, read this news-article or, better yet, watch the imbedded video to get the full feeling. You may have heard this news before (it was a doll before it was a Nintendo DS game). Penny-Arcade even covered it this morning, which is why I decided to go ahead and post what I have (I've been doing some fact checking on things for about a week). The news-article is very much of the mindset that this is (1) a definite attempt by someone to spread the phrase to children and (2) that it violates the "E" rating on the game.

When the doll came out and the earlier chapter of this newsstory broke, Snopes did some research and awarded the story a value of "False". Their article points out that they did a test similar to what I did at the top of this entry. They let people hear the clip before they were biased by it's content. I did my own test last week and let several people hear the clip before sending them an article. Out of the five people I contacted, not a single one heard anything like "Islam is the Light". Only one had heard of the newsstory ahead and of time, an even he didn't hear it in the mp3, above.

After that, I opened up Audacity and slowed down the last bit (the important bit, if you will) by a factor of 33%. You can hear results of my process here ("doll.wav", 260kb or so). It strangely enough seems to be say something like "Nikolai, move the light" with a slight accent. By the time, I slowed it down, though, I had the word "light" so burned into my mind that I don't know if I could ever hear the last syllable as anything but. It is pretty clearly not saying "Islam" at any point, unless I have some weird selective-deafness to that word, now.

There are some theories, of course, outside of "There are actual words there". The most general one postulates collective Apophenia, the act of sensing signal in random noise. Apophenia makes some sense (um, pun not intended), in that our difference-seeking senses were developed alongside our pattern-seeking brain. Random signals trigger the former and the latter assumes it is supposed to do something with it. Much in the way that we assume that a series of bad events must have significance, we cannot help but think that series of random ones have an internal order as-of-yet determined. Some research suggests that apophenia is linked with schizophrenia but I don't think it is. Our brain works best assuming there is a place and intention for everything and everything in its place and with its intention. Maybe people with mental issues are more subject to extremes, but it does not follow that the woman in the above report is crazy, so much as she feels that she and her children are under threat by outside forces (considering that television, her government, and likely her church all confirm this regularly, it is no surprise).

Whatever the signal-intent of the stream, she imported one to it based on her world-view. Then, in something of a meme-virus, once she shared her interpretation of the signal-intent, others began to notice it as well (interestingly, on places like the Fark.com response to the story, where worldviews include a strong notion of "Christian Fundamentalists are Necessarily Crazy", almost no one agreed with her sentiment, and those who did came to different conclusions as to why it might be there).

Apophenia, by the way, can be said to account for why some prophecy works. Most good prophecies are essentially meme-noise, a hodgepodge of verbal images that are assigned values and response matrices by later civilizations. See, you know, how turning over a particular digit in a base-20 calendar beccomes the basis for end-world beliefs involving the year 2012. See, Nostradamus. See the ubiquity of signs and portents from the Book of Revelations. When is the human race not fascinated with false prophets, war, famine, and death? When are goverments not trying to control the actions of the individual, not enforcing rules of trade and commerce, not extending their reach globally? Revelations describes what the human race does almost constantly, with it's fascination for messiah figures and whatnot. I think that's the point. I think the author was basically pre-paraphrasing what John Donne put into words years later: "Ask not for whom the prophecy foretells, the end of times is now." (Apologies, of course, to John Donne and to the John of Patmos).

And for those who find prophecy and divination a bit hard to swallow as a topic (whether it is too close to home, or too far leftfield) think of poetry that is just jumbles of images, of art movies, of songs with great spumes of lyrics, of experimental music. Think of business plans that cite sector growth across the third quarter due to destabilization of a base market caused by inferentials. Ask yourself, how much do we all love apophnia because, deep down, it does make life just one bit more interesting? We may not be hearing religious indocrination coming out of dolls, but we constantly find ourselves hiding in the corners of daily noise.

In a similarly themed pattern, have you ever wondered why the 0 (zero) key is so close the O (the letter) key on a keyboard? Or why the ninth letter ("I") is so close to the number 9? Or why 3 and E are so close? Heh. I suppose describing a keyboard's layout as "noise" is a fallacy, but I wonder what you call a apophenic finding of false signal in another signal?

Si Vales, Valeo

February 01, 2009. Sunday.

(09:57:17 PM CST)

New Redheaded Wife. Update on New Music Resolution.

Played tennis today for the first time in months. It's weird after a break. It was good weather to play in. Cool, but not too cold. Etc. I ended up winning but it took a couple of games into the set before I could even remember how exactly to hit the ball. The sort of strokes you do in racquetball are just different. Not greatly different but definitely of a different caliber. After I got that back under control, I think the racquetball playing has helped my game. I seem to have a lot better overall aim and a little more control over intended distance. And my serves are faster.

I guess the biggest news of the day (it is a Sunday, afterall) is Sarah dyed her hair. She has wanted to try a red for awhile, but has stayed away after her last series of dyings (that would have been, what, 2004?) ended up requiring a series of successive dyings and trimmings and more frustration than it is worth. I one day told her that I never wanted her to dye her hair again. In my defense, there was a thrown comb incident and some cursing. And she was the only one in the bathroom at the time. Anyhow, I could tell she was really wanting some red hair and so I picked out a dye for her that starts out kind of bright but should fade over time so it goes into her straw-blonde tones. I trimmed her hair last night (or was that today?) and we went ahead and dyed it. It looks good on her, but a lot of the original photos came out kind of weird in tone (the sort of thing where the hair looked brown or her skin was shining) and so I took this one with the Macbook:

While not turning my wife into a vixen, I spent a fair amount of time doing the whole music resolution that I posted about. I sorted through about 90% of my music and shed about 19 total gigs. I have about another 2 or 3 gigs that I need to "reacquire". Maybe. It's one of those things, and I expected this, you start finding out how much you actually like music when you have pay for it. The biggest casualties were my Metal and Industrial folders. Bands like Rammstein and KMFDM who have some songs I like aren't listened to enough by me to justify a repurchase. I have maybe 5 songs by Rammstein I am going to buy indivually, and one album that I already have, but I don't know about KMFDM since they have dozens of albums and I have no idea which ones I would want. I will probably get Nihil, maybe, just to have some. I either have no Skinny Puppy or overlooked it, but 12" Anthology is the logical choice. Metal is a tricky one. Lots of bands with lots of random sub-genres but if I had to pick ones I actually like and want to pay for, that brings the list down to under a dozen. Luckily for me my favorite metal albums—namely Negura Bunget, Utopia Banished, Musspellheim (sp?), and FRANCE—are ones I already own, but a little bit of Slayer, some Dimmu Borgir for effect, and maybe some Penumbra and Danzig and I'm good to go. The two music folders that I am looking the least forward to sifting through are Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I have most of my favorite albums by them, already, but they are so prolific that I will probably have to excise 70% of what I have in digital form. Maybe, I haven't looked yet. And several soundtracks. Sigh. That and Frank Black. Really, though, I could pick two of Black's CDs that I don't have (namely his first one and whichever had "Coastline") along with two or so Pixie albums, but so many soundtracks that I have collected in digital form over the years are going to be hard to get copies of. I'll guess I reword the resolution to say "If the artist can't get any money for the files in question, oh well". Things that only exist in used state or whatnot.

If there are any fans of Dream Theater out there, if you could name off, say, 3 DT albums that are must haves, I would appreciate it. I have a large collection of several similar acts, but have only heard of about 2 by DT.

Si Vales, Valeo

(02:11:11 AM CST)

Kingdom Hearts. Saw V. Twitter.

I now have a Twitter account: http://twitter.com/wyrmis. As of the moment, I am using it a lot. I might keep that up or not. It's one of those hard things to tell at the onset. I remember when I played a lot on Orkut when it first came out. Myspace. Neopets. Heh. Now I barely touch them overall. LJ is still going pretty strong though, and when I first got that I almost did nothing with it besides friended people. So, there.

I also set up the feed for this blog to be imported into Facebook. Since it imports the feed and not the blog entries themselves, you have to click on the "show original post" to get the rest. I'm thinking about a better way to handle that and what it will probably be is me adding some definite phrase (i.e. "Post Summary, click link for more") to the opening of every post.

Outside of homework, which I did some reading of, my only other three things of importance are: (1) I bought a small blackboard to use in my studying, (2) beat Kingdom Hearts again but this time something closer to totally, and (3) watched Saw V. Skipping the first one due to that pretty much being the story, I'll elaborate on the other two. The second just briefly. Kingdom Hearts is a weird series that really did hit it's peak right to begin with. Some of the stuff the second one did was neat, but replaying the first reminded me that most of the tricks were presented early. The Sephiroth fight (and I whipped him hard this time), the arena battles, the weird but emotional storyline. It was all right there. The second was largely just repeating the good from the first and tying up some loose ends. If they do make an honest third, my one fear is that they will just have the same formula again. Tranquil beginning with growing darkness followed by quest beginnings followed by rehashing of Disney plots with thin plot interspersed followed by original story towards the end and an ending that wraps up things but adds new questions.

Now, Saw V. I'm going to give it the "ok" stamp. It could have been better, sure. Two scenes, at least, require characters to act pretty dumb. The ending was nothing major, but it was a fun one. I chuckled. I would probably give it an Eh on my Blech to Great scale, with the caveat that if it is setting us up for a good conclusion in Saw VI it gets to keep it and if it isn't, then it probably isn't more than a Meh. It's one of those story lines they can drag out forever if they wanted to, but it's a story line that needs to come to an end.

It did make me think about something today, an unfinished theory of horror movies. There are four scales that most horror movies seem to work through, being Form, Shock, Schlock, and Soul. Form is the pacing and the sets and the colors, the rhythm of the movie. It is the physical aspects of the movie, essentially. Shock is the gore and the violence and the bits that make you jump. Schlock is the campy, over the top bits (and good horror movies usually need a bit of this, but it must be contained to work correctly). Soul would be the acting but is also that nearly intangible sense of how seriously, how earnestly the makers put their soul into it. It is the slightly more esoteric imprint all the makers and actors put into it. In this scheme, shock has been the Saw mantra. Plot-twists, gore, jump cuts. It's all about pushing the limits. There has been only mild schlock. The pacing and the color-inducing moods are there, but not superstrong, with some scenes being rushed and others stretching on too long. And the Soul is there in a couple of the actors (Tobin Bell, Danny Glover) and in the way the next movie in the series tends to be foreshadowed. However, the series uses Shock to push itself. The problem is, the series has sort of desensitized it's core audience to it's trappings. Oh, someone else is going to have body part X cut off if they don't gouge out body part Y. Oh, someone who seemed to be a victim is actually in on it. Oh, etc. If it does come back (and it is supposed to for one last time) then it's going to have to work hard to do the whole re-establishing of the rules or it's going to be the same tired tricks one more time, and the series as a whole is going to be best stopped at III or even the original.

I guess I'll find out this October.

Si Vales, Valeo

Written by W Doug Bolden

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