Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dexter's War on Women

I'm re-watching seasons one and two of the Showtime serial killer series Dexter in spurts of one or two episodes as preparation for viewing the third season and beyond. I like the show's dark humor, often with deadpan delivery by Michael C. Hall, but it's been difficult to shrug off what I believe to be obvious misogyny by the writers. Harsh as it is to say, the women in the Miami of Dexter suck at life. Hard.

Dexter's sister, Deborah, is an vice officer-turned-crappy/lucky homicide detective who's a traumatized wreck after her fiance is revealed to be a serial killer. Lieutenant LaGuerta is a fame whore. The new female lieutenant is wrapped around the finger of an apparent douchbag boyfriend and spends most of her time (and department resources) dealing with those issues. And Rita, Dexter's girlfriend (for the time being, at least)...there are no words. I can't stand her.

This all reminds me about an article I recently read over at the Savage Critic comics blog about how many of the major story arcs in the Marvel Universe currently running have revolved around staggering levels of gynophobia on the part of the writers. I suppose we all had our stereotyped impressions of comics writers and illustrators not being terribly suave with the fairer sex, but guys, vagina dentata and female submission? Work it out in therapy, not the pages of a comic.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Like Hindu Cows

Definitely among the best things to pop up and gain momentum within indie culture in the past several years has to be the found footage movement. There's the annual found footage festival that makes its national tour, usually stopping in SF at the Red Vic or maybe the Roxie. But really, people are reintroducing pretty much anything of interest one can think of, from whimsical baubles to the historically significant, it's antiquing meets anthropology meets archaeology.

Case in point: a man rooting through his grandparents' stuff found film (super 8 perhaps?) shot in Alameda and SF from 1958 and posted it online. The quality is astounding. Well, I was expecting much worse, at least; reel-to-reel cameras captured a significant part of my youth thanks to my father's insatiable desire to document everything, but the quality is spotty at times.

I can't help but wonder if the inhabitants of SF, here on the cusp of the 60s, had any clue of what was about to come barreling their way. Everyone's face looks so placid and, indeed, the face of the city itself follows suit with its serenity and cleanliness. I'm reminded of a tsunami rippling out at breakneck speeds where the surface looks serene while hiding a tremendous force below.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Somehow People Are Still Bent Out of Shape About This

Man, it is hard to fathom that people are still railing against Episode I. If Tim Beasley from Spaced were a real person I'd email this to him...on second thought, he would have already produced it. Please, sit a spell and watch all seven parts:

I have to wonder about how George Lucas's work on these movies affects his three kids, Amanda, Katie and Jett. These tikes have all appeared briefly in the prequels and are too young to have experienced the original trilogy during its heyday, but not so young as to escape taunting from upperclassmen over how their father took all that was good and special about Star Wars and transformed it into a mound of steaming excrement through some kind of alchemy. I suppose they wouldn't feel much seeing as how the obscene wealth they've no doubt grown up around has numbed their emotions to the point that they probably don't even hesitate to call down their entourage of gold-flecked bodyguards on any naysayers.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Constructing the More Sophisticated Drunk

I was walking towards Ashby BART yesterday when I spotted an empty bottle of Sho Chiku Bai nihonshu (known far and wide as that catch-all for Japanese booze, "sake") placed upright on the pavement adjacent to a fence. Odd, I thought, but isn't that so North Oakland/Berkeley? Our swerving, street-prowling winos won't settle for Boone's Farm or Charles Shaw, hell no, their discriminating palettes demand they gulp from the nectar that is the Far East's finest, cheapest libations.

God bless the Rising Sun.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celery: Not Just Good With Peanut Butter Anymore

I kinda sorta totally hate Twitter, but the following news story about a grandmother in Troy (NY or MI?) who faxes her tweets to a company that posts them for her is adorable.

The company offering this service, Celery, is a quirky story in and of themselves. Oddly, their business model has two competing faces, each the polar opposite of the other. On one hand they negate some key purposes of networked personal computers (the paperless and instantaneous data transmission aspects) by printing out hardcopies of emails for customers, while on the other hand they offer the service featured in the video of connecting people to the net by proxy who may not have previously utilized it in any way shape or form.

Pat, if you're reading this know that Celery is the brainchild of an RPI graduate. Imagine, you could have been a millionaire, and all it would have taken was a bottle of scotch, a well-placed fall where your skull met a coffee table corner and a subsequent idea like "Hmm...what if we stripped 99.8% of the internet's utility and capabilities then sell it back to people at a premium?"

For the kinds of blackouts that lead to genius try cucumber gin next time, man.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The, Uh, Southern Winds

Your local neighborhood cafe is, on average I'd say, a pretty sedate place that many choose as their daily refuge from the personal C.H.U.D.S. we're all fleeing in some unique way. Excepting Starbucks, sure, and maybe the new breed of cafe conducive to interaction/networking like Four Barrel in the Mission (if you can't find a seat, don't worry, the milky-dark brown coffee will keep you on your toes at attention) folks get a healthy dose of relaxation from these urban oases and it's surprising, maybe even a bit mortifying, when something to break the spell comes along.

With that kind of lead-in, you may be expecting a truly harrowing tale of coffee espionage or murder by creamer, but once again I have to disappoint and tell you this is all actually my round-about way to attempt understanding of certain social protocol. The first disruption at Nomad, my local cafe, is the always tragic neighborhood schizophrenic. Nothing terribly funny about that, this guy truly needs help and, judging by his decidedly un-disheveled look (he looks like a friend's father, actually), he's getting it from somewhere, but he'll saunter in occasionally to order something sophisticated and then nurse it for hours and stare at me while muttering. God damn, those boring fucking eyes! Can't get a lick of work done when he's there. If the voices decide it's time for him to go he'll suddenly yell out "OK, let's go!" and disappear into the day. Godspeed, man.

This next bit is really why I'm here today though. Yesterday, I was typing away revising some docs when the man two tables down, also on his laptop, just goes and rips a loud, brief fart. Heads tilt by one or two degrees, eyes dart around looking for recognition with the faces of other patrons and the world skips off its record for a moment. Everybody's thinking it: "Did that shit just fucking happen?"

It did, I'm afraid. And no, I'm not trying to cover myself--I didn't smell it or deal it. That being said, OK, hypothetically you did just tear a stink hole in the space-time continuum at a cafe. What next? Do you follow it with an encore, or let well enough alone? Apologize to everyone with a quick "excuse me" or just keep your piehole shut (though you obviously can't keep the exit side of the piehole quiet). Honestly, what's the social protocol here?

And let me tell you, once you hear that it's in no way possible to resume work or a book. Just hunker down to some mindless sudoku or get the hell out, because that sound never exits the brain.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Infographers Are Magicians

Oh, this modern age of easily accessible design software, like Adobe CS4, thank you! Thank you for making the immutable truth so simple to understand that even an elementary school child could see clearly that which hovers in front of our noses. Today's infographic is about the inherent stupidity that is bottled water. In much of the Bay Area we have Hetch Hetchy water--some of the tastiest and safest in the country--flowing from our taps, so why drink anything but this nectar from the gods? The only water I have ever quaffed that tasted better was at actual springs gushing out of the mountainside in the back of beyond of Japan. Why fly several thousand miles across the Pacific when it's right here for the taking?


The New Media

This is it, folks, the nerve center of American online collective consciousness. I dare you to turn up the volume and watch the entire thing.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fuck the Deniers

Climategate got ya down? Those leaked memos have probably won more borderline skeptics over to the full-on denier side than any red-faced huffing Republican ideologue. But the media is skipping over two crucial details from this debacle: first, scientists are humans and humans act like petty little douchebags sometimes--get over it; next, and certainly most important, THIS DOESN'T CHANGE THE SCIENCE ONE BIT!

This editorial in Nature magazine summarizes it pretty well. To see why the science doesn't change a bit, check out this beautifully produced data visualization by one David McCandless. It will blow your socks off.


'The Truman Show' Taken Out Back, Shot

This multi-layered stuff is to, like, deep, man! But really, I enjoyed the following a lot:


Monday, December 7, 2009

"Jesus is a Raisin"

I can see this starting a meme:


Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm Freeeeee! Freefallingggggggggg!

Finally, a photographer with a far out vision that I can get behind! Kerry Skarbakka has released a photo series containing himself in various stages of falling. Some of them are absolutely cringe-worthy, your brain automatically connecting the dots on what follows in the proceeding milliseconds. Impressively he did it all with the help of some simple climber's rigging and what I like most is that his statement is decidedly not pretentious, breaking down to about this: we struggle to right ourselves on a daily basis, but what does it mean to simply let go?

Find out at the link above.


Mmm...Stoke Those Inadequacies, Baby

This may be a first, posting a link to a list here, but it just so happens I came across what I consider to be the first really worthwhile internet list courtesy of Asylum (a pretty unlikely place to find it). So, here it is, a list of five ridiculous overachievers. Concerning Philip Parker, the man who authored over 200k books, yes, he has an automated program that sets into action the fully hands-off process of writing the tomes, but the man also holds three undergraduate degrees, two masters and one PhD. Zing!

The big whammy that floored me last night and got my brain juices bubbling--as they do when a pointless-yet-fascinating niche of this world reveals itself to me, plus considering my educational history--was the multilinguist Ziad Fazah, who claims mastery in 59 languages. Fifty. Nine. Throughout history only a handful have approached or breached this astonishing number. As somebody who struggles with only a single foreign language I can feel deep down what an achievement this is.

(Interesting factoid: J.R.R. Tolkien was fluent in 13 and knowledgeable in 12 other languages. I'm sure inventing the Elvish language was child's play to him.)

As it happens, statistically, most inhabitants of Spaceship Earth are polyglots, with the good ol' U.S. of A leading the way with most monolinguists per capita. Huzzah. If it feels like America's been getting dumber recently I think this may be the cause, or at least a good scapegoat since being a polyglot seems to increase cognitive abilities across the boards, according to studies. C'mon, American families, teach those kids Finnish already!


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ooh, They're Such Rebels!

I am banging my head with a frying pan trying to figure out where I saw this kind of thing on the street recently--somewhere in Berkeley or Oakland, obviously--but I do recall it was basically a tea cozy for one of those green phone switcher boxes. I imagine this is how the Amish womenfolk express their urban art sense.

A certain friend of mine from Wyoming could become the next Banksey or Yok in this field of graffiti me thinks.


Thursday, December 3, 2009


There is absolutely no better voice to do this site--sponsored by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board--than that of The Venture Brothers' Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton). Concerning the Farmer John, the Lumberjack, the Sheboygan and the Macho Nacho...Oh. My. Fucking. God.


Monday, November 30, 2009

I Think It's Pronounced "Yo-ging"

Seeing as how it uses a different set of leg muscles from cycling, and I'm a larger than average dude, jogging tires me out so much after only a mile or so that it requires a huge mental effort to continue going. So far my distance record is about three measly miles.

Anyways, I just got back from a jog of just short of that distance and noticed afterwards that my mind drifted in and out of moments of lucidity--times when everything was just so plain and understood. Some personal truths were laid bare and other prickly decisions I've been procrastinating on were resolved. Is this the oft-mentioned "runner's high," or what Janissaries felt after a blade dance? No, I doubt it, but certainly something of that nature.

Whatever the case, it's nice to have clarity sometimes.


That's Why They Call Me Mr. Fahrenheit, Baby

It doesn't matter that the levels were specifically manufactured to produce a desired effect. It just doesn't matter.

Prepare to be wowed by Queen's Don't Stop Me Now done up with backing sound effects from Super Mario Bros. 3. Not just the effects though; no, the author has tweaked it so that four different meticulously designed levels are being played to the tune of the track. Seeing is believing:

I am all aflutter. Sorry, but I must excuse myself and go take a cold shower or something.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Coulda Been Millionaire!

How's this for a concept: to better manage your appliance's power consumption each household device's has a bluetooth transmitter that feeds info on its energy use to a central control panel that decides when and when not to turn something on. The control panel gives you readouts on your month's estimated power bill and where to shave cost. In time this panel could also utilize flow sensors hooked into water and gas lines to better manage those utilities too.

Sound good? I conceptualized it a couple months ago at Cafe Nomad, down the street.

Unfortunately for me, a man named Seth Frader-Thompson already invented it and started a company around it a couple years ago. His EnergyHub Dashboard smart thermostat will be undergoing trials next year.

Don't you hate having a million-dollar idea and then seeing some schmuck reach the pile of gold just a bit before you do (two years isn't that long in the grand scheme!)?

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Nuke-U-Leer

Last Thursday I took a nice little Berkeley Hills ride up Euclid, past Cragmont Park and finally to Grizzly Peak Boulevard and the summit. The day was crisp, cool and wonderful--even the Golden Gate was free of fog in the late afternoon. While coming down the mountain I decided to buzz by the Berkeley Hall of Science and take in the vista one last time for the day, but I noticed something that demanded my attention even more. Right in the roundabout passenger drop-off loop at the museum sits the original electromagnet core of Ernest Lawrence's 37-inch cyclotron.

The importance and gravity of this device can not be overstated. Among its more critical discoveries are the production of the world's first synthetically created element, technetium, and the viable refinement process for uranium-235. The latter is the whopper to me: without this device the uranium refinement calutrons at Oak Ridge could not have been built and, along with them, neither would the atomic bomb. That rusting hunk of metal in the middle of that roundabout was a crucial cog in the research machinery that invented The Bomb. Wow.

It blew my mind.

It's strange to come face-to-face with such history, to be able to reach out and touch it. To some people that artifact is either awash in the blood of tens of thousands or a symbol of freedom and saved lives. You never know what you're going to find on a bike ride, for sure.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Latent Appetite for Blood

Do you recall the first time you laid eyes on Total Recall, the 1990 adaptation (ever so loose) of Phillip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale? (Funny-to-me trivia: I read that story on a cold winter night in Kusu at Joyfull, where I often went to escape the sub-zero temperatures of my own apartment. If you ever go to Joyfull you'll understand. That place is what the inside of one of Dick's LSD-induced hallucinations might look like.) It was summer break my first viewing, I was maybe 12 or 13 and borrowed the VHS cassette from my neighbor to watch over and over on those languid days.

No, I didn't just continually watch, rewind and watch again the three-breasted hooker scene.

So I came across a YouTube post from a user who has distilled all the gory violence down into a single video coming in at 3:40. 3:40! Of just straight murders! Willikers! Considering the movie is only 113 minutes long that is a sizable chunk of killing. The editor here included every death, even the Johnny Cab exploding and Cohaagen kicking over the goldfish in his Martian office. Genius.

Then, as if that weren't enough, one of the related links from that video are to this fight scene from a campy '80s martial arts flick called Undefeatable. Yes, it's really called that. It's a solid gold fight scene from the knife-licking opening to the memorable one-liners at the end.

Such beauty!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Popular in Japan

Pink Tentacle blog has the lowdown on publisher Jiju Kokuminsha's ("Free Citizen") recently released 2009 installment of its annual sixty most popular Japanese phrases list and, as always, the entries are a little strange. I had a good chuckle earlier this year at #3 on the list ("...to Venus on a UFO"), the one that talks about Prime Minister Hatoyama's wife being a loony alien abductee, and got major cred when I told people I knew what a "grass eating boy" was (#5, sōshoku danshi). But really it's #39 that takes the cake for me.

The Yamba Dam project in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, is a massive construction project costing over $5 billion that's been on the drawing boards since just after the cessation of WWII. Or, rather, it was. Hatoyama and the DPJ kept their campaign promises to eliminate pork from the budget and this overpriced, unnecessary dam was damn near first on the cutting block. One major problem with the dam--at least you'd think it was an issue--was that the lake it would create behind the dam would inundate an entire town, Naganohara. Oddly enough, the people of Naganohara aren't praising the cancellation, they're ruing it. You see, to keep costs down and public support high the contractors hired local residents to work on the project, ensuring plentiful employment and prosperity in the town. Now, with the contractors out of work the people are also out of work, so the citizens can't help but want back the thing that would have destroyed their town.

This is life in Japan, folks: they getcha coming and going.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Japanese Movie Madness

My neighbor from Tottori, Japan, Edward, lent us a few movies from that Land of the Rising Sun and I'm now, after watching them, kind of dreading returning them to him and getting embroiled in the subsequent film talk. Films are, I believe, one of those intensely personal thing that easily rile people when naysayers rip into one's favorite flicks. I admit freely that I'd claw out the eyes of anybody who spoke poorly of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Lost in Translation. The fact of the matter concerning the movies lent to us by Ed is that I didn't terribly like any of them and, in fact, downright hated one of them, wishing there were some sort of bureau I could appeal to in order to get the life I spent watching it back.

In order of least to most unpalatable the movies are Cha no Aji ("The Taste of Tea"), Kazoku Gemu ("Family Game") and Megane ("Eyeglasses"). Actually, I could only stomach Cha no Aji because it was the least bad of the three. Your mileage may vary.

But are they really bad? Probably not. Probably it's just a matter of different sensibilities. From my perspective each movie failed utterly at characterization and plot development. Viewers hardly get to know each character's name by the halfway mark, let alone their motivations or even what they're striving for. Cha no Aji was the only movie with a discernible plot, but even then no introduction of the players was made, no indication as to what they are doing or why. It's enough to make you go blind with frustration.

The key, I think, to understanding Japanese movies is that Western movie-making techniques and devices do not apply in that film industry. The movies are about feeling who the characters are and what they're doing. Since the lifestyle of a typical Japanese citizen is pretty much homogeneous around the country the challenge confronting a filmmaker there is to draw the viewer in with scenes of traditional Japanese life and inject subtle surrealism into the mix. Take Cha no Aji, for example. We are presented with a spot-on typical family that resides deep in the countryside and spends their home time relaxing on the veranda overlooking the garden, playing igo, eating together and doing other slow lifestyle activities. As the movie progresses we discover that mother is a talented amateur animator, father is a hypnotherapist, grandfather is batshit nuts, daughter has visions of a giant version of herself wherever she goes and so forth. Sure, it all sounds pretty interesting, but the way it's presented and the pace of things is infuriating. Oh, I didn't even mention the story threads that are picked up and never resolved!

That movie won multiple awards in Japan somehow. Like I said, different sensibilities.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Laughing Squid blog found a fantastic animation based on Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis' 1970 no-hitter that he achieved while "high as a Georgia Pine" on LSD. The audio is taken, apparently, from a 2008 NPR interview where Ellis gives his detailed and hilarious account of what transpired that fateful day. Truly, this is the most stunning sports achievement made while tripping hard on hallucinogens.


If you need a pick-me-up to stave off the wolves of depression on these cold autumn days (still somehow sunny) and nights then I have a great site for you. It Made My Day features a constantly updating list of funny, quirky anecdotes from folks all over, each one ending with "IMMD." Here's a taste:

I was digging through my old first grade notebook today. In response to a prompt that read “I am happy to be a kid because…” I wrote, “I can sit on the toilet backwards and yell Yeehaw!” IMMD.

I was sitting at a red light when “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins came on. The driver in front of me played the drum solo. IMMD

I was in LA with my family and we hopped on the metro and sat down. The next stop a clown got on and sat down and started making balloon animals for the passengers. The following stop another clown got on. They acknowledged each other with a nod of the head and a glare of the eyes, then started a balloon-animal battle. IMMD.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Going Crazy In One Easy Step

Step 1: Be Unemployed.

The pace of my budding insanity is rapidly accelerating and we have this Great Recession to blame. I think I'm well past the point where I can just enjoy my carefree days of painting purdy pictures on canvas or riding a bicycle around for health and fun. I realize now that I'd do those things anyways, employment or no. Another watershed event came today when I had a volunteer interview at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and was told I could only expect to get a position as a glorified door greeter because all the other much more challenging and meaningful volunteer positions had been occupied. So it's to the point now where my three years in marketing, two years in editorial and two years in public school education only amount to a doorman.

I can't even fucking GIVE my skills away! How do I price myself lower than free?

At this rate I will be robbing liquor stores by Xmas.


Monday, November 9, 2009

It's Mr. Blobby Time!

Take my word, you always want to check what's coming up next when following a user's playlist on YouTube. Always.

We were munching on some shawarma wraps for dinner while watching old episodes of the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave and had expected another episode part to auto-load, but instead got a brain full of THIS:

Mr. Blobby, you sure know how to silence a room. I was completely weirded out when, at about the thirty second mark, fiery conservative British talk show host Jeremy Clarkson makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Blobby's limo driver. Not the high point of Clarkson's career, I'm sure.

Goddamn, that thing's just monstrous! Get off my screen and outta my brain!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh Nos! Somebody Ran Over the (Pirate) Cat!

Admittedly I don't have a radio and only listen to it streaming online, but about a month ago Pirate Cat Radio--a volunteer-run pirate radio station broadcasting from the Mission and home to the famous Bacon Maple Latte (I bet the Chicago Manual would agree it deserves those caps), which I've mentioned and even blogged from before--has gone off air! At least its actual airwave broadcast has. I suppose that since the station doesn't sell advertising airtime and the cafe front is its only legitimate inflow of cash, in the face of a $10,000 fine they really have no choice except shutting down that operation. Definitely a damn shame.

Their stream is still running, thankfully, so check them out online. Nothing beats the live experience though, and if you have the chance to, head down to 21st and Florida someday and gawk at the DJs through the studio window while eating a vegan bacon maple donut.


Monday, November 2, 2009

The Future Visits the Present...Only to Become the Past

The English edition of the Mainichi News's daily photo journal window featured a shot from Kobe's new-ish Gundam-themed bar named "Axis", a drinking establishment I would very much like to down a martini at. The bar, named after an asteroid base used by both warring sides in the original Universal Century storyline of the historic series, features hundreds of mobile suit models painstakingly assembled by its proprietor and has become a sort of Mecca for local fanboys. With the thought of giant model robot assembly fresh in my mind I was reminded of the 1:1 scale model RX-78 Gundam on display throughout summer in Odaiba, Tokyo. It was taken down in early September, I believe, only lighting the riverside park it occupied for a few months. Financial responsibility for the project was taken by the Tokyo city government and the Gundam license holder, Sunrise Studios, and though the cost of the installation eludes me (Update: the cost was kept secret from the public! Tokyo taxpayer funds were used to construct the thing and they're not disclosing how much!) I'm willing to bet it was at least half a million.

This is typical Japan. For nearly two decades now Japan has been trying to spend its way out of recession by wasting boatloads of cash on public works, many of which are of questionable usefulness. Roads and bridges to nowhere, land reclamation projects in areas with no lack of space, river damming on waterways with no history of flooding and the list goes on. It's like a nightmare version of our Depression Era Works Progress Administration, only without anything particularly useful or beautiful coming out of it. I look around the Bay Area in my minds eye and see the beautiful murals painted at Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet and elsewhere and wonder where their analogs are in Japan. Nowhere, because that cash has been going into the pockets of corrupt politicians and construction company bigwigs instead of anywhere more worthy.

They should at least have left the thing up until it started to show some signs of wear and tear. How unspeakably wasteful.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Listen To These Podcasts, Damnit!

I haven't had an mp3 player since college and it's one of those luxuries that's starting to gnaw at me now. If I weren't so prone to breaking them or having them stolen I'd be on that bandwagon quicker than a drunk Ewok on Al Roker's leg. But these days it's not music I want to fill my ears, it's the overwhelming podcast schedule I've set that demands their services. These aren't your average throwaway programs highlighting the hottest consumer technology or celebrity gossip though--these programs will make you smarter. Guaranteed.

Presented by the New England Skeptical Society, SGU promotes critical thinking on many of society's hot-button issues. Magnetic bracelets, the links between autism and vaccines, psychic mediums and so forth are all in the crosshairs of this panel of scientists and professional cranks. They also discuss science in an easily accessible way, so you don't have to be a massive nerd to grok (though it helps).

This is the Oxford-style debate show from NPR that, unlike Fox News, truly gives both sides of an issue a fair and balanced forum to argue their points then lets the audience discuss which side "won" the debate. Pretty good stuff, though sometimes the audience votes with their hearts rather than their minds and the obviously superior-yet-perhaps-socially-contentious argument loses out. Whatever, still a good source of info.

A science program from the BBC that covers a lot of ground--all told in funny British accents. Haha! No really, a good listen.

Another science podcast, these guys have a primary weekly theme and dive into it pretty deep before tackling smaller topics and news from the various scientific disciplines.

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite podcast and definitely my favorite NPR offering is Ira Glass' wonderful weekly broadcast from Chicago Public Radio, This American Life. This show is all over the place, but excelling wherever it goes, being just at home exploring social issues as it is just telling fascinating stories about people who call this country home. They ran two incredibly informative programs about the financial meltdown and, recently, about the healthcare costs that everybody should listen to now. NOW!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just When You Think He Can't Be Any More Amazing, Sagan Pulls You In Again

I have no clue what impetus lay behind the current Carl Sagan push on the net, but I like it and am glad to see this extraordinary man and his efforts to popularize science receiving renewed attention over a decade after his death. Actually, for me, it dredges up some bittersweet emotions. I realize now that perhaps I'd be a happier person had I applied myself to mathematics in high school and pursued a career in the sciences.

So then this morning along comes the following clip of an interview with Niel DeGrasse Tyson talking about how Carl Sagan showed his young self a smidgen of care and encouragement, which lead to him becoming a physicist. Wow. Sagan rocks.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing Telephone

I was just listening to an old 2002 podcast (episode #90) of Chicago Public Radio's This American Life--definitely one of the more worthwhile bits of broadcast out there--and the week's theme was telephones. However, as always, Ira Glass and his crack team of producers took that innocuous everyday item and wove a compelling tale about it and the power it has. This time the main story concerned a Beverly Hills father and son's strained relationship: son's using drugs in an increasingly big way and letting everything else fall to the wayside while father stands by supporting him, seemingly impotent to stop it. Or was he? In a gutsy move that would almost certainly see the FCC knocking on his door, dad wiretapped his son's phone with a voice-activated tape recorder and listened to all the drug talk and party plans, the increasing loss of empathy and subsequent rise in arrogance. He had intended only to use the recordings to intercept his son before the little bastard could get into any real trouble, but the tapes ended up really saving the kid's life after a windstorm revealed the eavesdropping apparatus and he was able to listen to what he really sounded like.

Heavy stuff, actually. It got me thinking, what if my parents were taping my phone conversations? Would they have been worried for me? Probably not, I hope. I mean, most of my phone calls concerned lost Japanese gold on Manila's Corregidor Island, RPG characters for our Friday night dungeon crawls, what twist this week's episode of Babylon 5 was going to take and whether or not my friend Justin's stepfather was the Unibomber. The only drugs talk we ever had was about rare, ridiculous, questionably effective Native American drugs we were going to order out of this or that catalog, but never got around to doing.

There, I've come clean. That's all the sordid business I ever got up to on the phone in high school. I never used the phone to call in any orders for fine Venezuelan cocaine. Never used it to plan any purse snatching sprees. Never used it to ask a girl on a date. Though, thinking about it now, had I done even one of those things, maybe high school wouldn't have sucked quite so badly.


Roll D20 For Saving Throw: Geeky Coolness...SUCCESS!

Last Saturday's D&D event on Market St. in SF orchestrated by my former coworker and assisted by yours truly was a smashing success by our meager standards. Heck, we got a nod from Laughing Squid. That's something. Considering that we were, in our minds, sure the cops would put the kabosh on our little stunt before the dungeon crawling got started, yeah, going four hours straight sans any fuzz-related interference, hobo fights, ex-con chess jockey brawls or being hit by the frequent MUNI buses that whizzed by inches from Jason's DM stand was damn impressive.

Since the dawn of time man has wondered whether or not one can actually get away with anything on Market Street in broad daylight. The answer: A resounding YES!

We started about an hour later than planned, owing to problems getting tables, chairs and Jason's vast--VAST--array of D&D paraphernalia from Hayes Valley to the Powell-Market intersection. Our rescuer was City CarShare and their no-fuss, affordable brand of short-term auto rentals, from whom we snagged a pickup truck for thirty-minutes. After dropping Jason and the stuff off then returning the truck I walked back to the scene of the crime and found our three invited players had come--plants who pretended not to know Jason and made it look like we'd genuinely snagged some members of the public to sit and roll the dice. That little gambit worked, actually, and before long we had two homeless guys come sit down to play...with mixed results.

This was pretty much the player group, minus the unhinged homeless dude who came by to backstab the others.

The first man, a middle-aged Chinese dude, had been involved in a fistfight with a clearly mentally unstable gentleman not thirty minutes before taking a seat. Although he'd never played the game before, the man was a natural role player and ended up being more effective a participant than even the three plants. His friend who came about an hour later was another matter altogether. This guy sat down and started to play, but from the outset made it very clear he would be working for the enemy, promptly attacking the four other players in the middle of an encounter. I suppose he was role playing--the role of the contemptuous jackass. No matter though, the Chinese guy annihilated him and pretty much every other combatant to boot.

The playing field and Jason, in all his "SM" glory.

Did I mention Jason was wearing what essentially looked like a stylized burka? Yup, straight out of a Spirit Halloween store and adorned with this persona's initials on his cape, for one day he was not a dungeon master, but a "Street Master."

Me and a proper filmmaker got footage of the whole thing, my role focusing mostly on getting crowd reactions and conducting interviews. Look for an edited video on YouTube someday soon.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Uh, Am I the Only Person Who Thinks This Isn't a Hot Idea?

Any post that begins with a disclaimer can't be kosher, but here goes: I am not a racist. Now, having said that, and with nothing to back up the statement, let's get down to the brass tacks.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the governing body of IP addresses and domain names, has announced it is ready to implement web addresses utilizing non-roman characters. In other words, if you want an address using Farsi, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc. then hooray, now you can. ICANN argues that since half the world's internet users speak and read languages that aren't roman character-based it makes sense, but I have to wonder if it was ever a problem that needed fixing. During my entire cumulative three years in Japan I never once heard anybody complain or express confusion at roman character URLs. Of course, that was only one country, but I believe virtually anybody with the resources and savvy to really utilize the internet at least know the roman alphabet enough to enter an address. Again, I can't really say for sure and the article doesn't explicitly say or link to any info on just how squeaky this wheel really is.

I don't think this is a particularly good idea. With this change I believe the internet will begin to fragment along ethnic lines and effectively lock out massive segments of the web to anybody without the foreign language input plug-ins to access sites of a specific address language. If, for some reason, you think it's no big deal to switch to another language input (using the language bar you probably don't have activated) I suggest checking the international settings in your control panel. There are a hell of a lot of foreign input types. This move will expand the internet by creating mirrors using separate foreign language addresses, and these alternate versions of the Unicode address pages may even contain different info. But you'll never know.

Welcome to the age of internet ghettos.


Guantanamo Guards Give New Meaning to AC/DC's "Shook Me All Night Long"

I've been meaning to post about this for almost a week now, but, like a lot of things last week, it got backlogged....

Breaking News: I'm in a cafe now typing this and a black woman who looks to be in, at most, her late twenties came in pleading to use the phone. She called 911 saying that a man was dragging her up and down the street beating her. I don't want to say right away I don't believe her, however, she looks surprisingly unscathed for a woman who just went through that. Her daughter, a girl of eleven or twelve, is with her now. If that actually just happened...damn. The human species is such a savage creature. I'm practically ashamed to be one. Matt Lopez: documenting the atrocities.

Right, back to the matter at hand. The piece I wanted to comment on comes from the Think Progress political blog and concerns the music that Guantanamo torturers used to deprive captives of sleep and generally drive them nuts. Considering that the guards were blasting Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Rosanne Cash and "rap music" at ear-splitting volumes inside the detainee cells, it's a pretty open-and-shut case of human rights violation. I mean, Rage Against the Machine...'nuff said.

Naturally, these and many more artists are pissed that guards are using the fruits of their creative loins to cause pain unto others and have filed a freedom of information act suit to declassify the exact soundtrack of despair being used against detainees. Good for them! Man, if any of my creations were used to hurt anybody I'd track down the perpetrators and unleash hell on them with extreme prejudice. Just how anybody could hurt another human with my Animerica articles or paintings is beyond me--vicious papercuts, perhaps?--but if they did, ho boy. Doom.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not a Current Affair

Today marks the 130th birthday of the Edison light bulb--break out the cake and candles--and I was just over at the NY Times archive site checking out the actual article they ran in 1879 to announce the invention. Or was it his invention? Well, actually, no. There were several incandescent bulbs before Edison came along, he merely purchased the patent from Henry Woodward and changed the filament material to produce a longer-lasting commercial model. It's the 19th century version of taking a toaster and slapping an alarm clock on its face.

I'm going to try not to get too up in arms about this, but then again, when have I ever restrained myself: Thomas Edison is a dick, his career was built on the shoulders of other, more creative men, and he doesn't deserve the reverence this society gives him. Too harsh? Perhaps it is, however, from what I've been reading and what I recall from history class the man is, in my eyes, in the same boat as Columbus--being held aloft as an Ameican hero--minus the Native American slavery, rape and genocide. Really, Edison was a cunning businessman first and mediocre inventor second.

Now, you're probably thinking now that anybody with 1,093 patents in their name can't be that dull. But have you looked at his list of patents? The only really unique--and "unique" is the key here--inventions of his that ever had a lasting effect on the world were the first phonograph, the carbon microphone (the mouthpiece on phones until the 80s) and the...the...ummm. Holy monkey balls, I think those are the only things he ever really invented that weren't bought patents, improvements on existing designs or were invented by one of his Menlo Park employees for which he took the credit!

On the other hand, the man also bankrupted filmmaker Georges Méliès by bribing a London theater owner to procure a reel of his film A Trip to the Moon, the first sci-fi film in history, copy it, then run screenings in America. Yes, folks, Thomas Edison is the world's first film pirate. I think the RIAA would like to speak with you, Mr. Edison. Next, Nikola Tesla, Croatian genius and inventor of our current power grid run on AC, once worked for Edison, who promised him $50,000 to perfect his DC generation plants. Upon completing the project and asking for his money Edison told Tesla it was all just a joke and there would be no money at all. In fact, he wouldn't even give him a raise from $18/week to $25/week. Hahaha! That is such a fucking knee-slapper, Edison! Then, of course, there's the famous War of the Currents where Edison put his pitiful DC power grid up against the Tesla/Westinghouse AC grid and lost spectacularly, but not before doing some batshit crazy stuff to try and prove his point. How nuts? He electrocuted cats, dogs and a Coney Island circus elephant to show that AC was more dangerous!

Why do we always do this in America? Are we so desperate for heroes that dicks like this have to be hoisted high and whitewashed? I'm absolutely loving what Tesla had to say upon Edison's passing:

"He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene...His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labour. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense."

Take that, Edison!