Fairly Symmetrical

Culture Archives

Books (4) Cruise06 (8) Culture (54) Current Fruit (18) Filesharing and DRM (7) Humor (6) Kids (21) Misc (4) Movies and TV (17) Music (10) Old Announcements (2) Other Media (2) Personal (355) Philosophy (3) Politics (25) Reviews (15) Sports (26) Tech (40) Theatre (2) Travel (14) Work (20)
11:46 PM by Eric: September Update Culture | Kids | Movies and TV | Personal | Reviews | Work

Yeah, so these things seem to be monthly, so here you go for the month of September. ;) I'm just kidding... or am I?

Anyway, last weekend was lots of fun. Sandy flew in from Florida (between all kinds of crazy business trips: we appreciate the stopover! ;)) and hung out all weekend. We went to the Botanical Gardens, and also a nearby collection of animals who had been rescued. Many of them had been people's pets, which makes you wonder about humanity (I mean, who thinks a bobcat would make a good pet?) I did feel bad for the coyote, Martha, though; she had grown up on a ranch with a family and dogs to play with, and now she's stuck in a small cage with no entertainment at all. She just paced back and forth, back and forth, and she really reminded me of the poor dogs at the Humane Society, the ones who keep hoping their family will come back and find her again. Some kids came by while we were watching her, and the way she perked up was kind of heartbreaking. The vultures were kind of cool, though, especially since it was feeding time (yum, rats!). Jen was a little squicked out by that, though.

Anyway, like I said, it was lots of fun. We went to see The Illusionist at the Alamo; I really liked the movie. It was all stylish early-1900's Vienna, and magic, and love, and an ambiguous ending (I love ambiguous endings), and Jessica Beal's te-herr-ible "Generic Euro" accent didn't detract too much, seeing as she didn't have all that many lines. I liked Edward Norton's role a lot, though, and Paul Giamatti did a good job too. Anyway, if magic and intrigue in Imperial Vienna sounds interesting, you should definitely check it out. We hit the Texas State History Museum as well, which had an interesting exhibit on Braggin' (It's not braggin' if it's true!), including a Cadillac covered in rhinestones (the glitteriest car I've ever seen) and an actual, working, VW Beetle made from wrought iron (which was amazingly cool). All in all a fun visit, with a very nice mix of activities and full-out lazy relaxation. My kind of holiday weekend. :)

Lately work has been madly busy. We have a major deadline Monday (I've been working 10- and 12-hour days, highly unusual for us), and another at the end(ish) of October, and somewhere in there we're moving offices. Well, I say "we", but I'm not moving offices, because I already did. I packed up my office at work, including my work PC, and brought it home, and I now work from the dining room 4.5 days a week. (The other half day I have to be onsite for meetings etc.) Working from home is, in a word, delightfullyawesome. It's definitely nice to have separate work and home PCs--easier, at least for me, to keep the two activities separate and be able to "leave" work even though I'm still here. I feel more productive, able to concentrate better; I couldn't imagine working in a cubicle farm again. A private office, maybe. ;) The lack of commute is really, really nice. It does take some discipline, but I guess I don't really find that all that hard to manage.

This weekend we're just kind of chilling. USA Baby was having a huge sale, so we picked up a full-body pillow for Jen and a car seat/stroller system. We also took down the popcorn ceiling in the nursery (which is terribly messy, by the way; there's fine white dust everywhere), I primered it today, and will be painting it tomorrow. We need to do the polka dots soon as well, just to get that room totally done and ready.

Ollie is really active lately, and he's pretty strong. It's very weird (in a cool way) to feel him kicking or punching. Today Jen said she tapped her stomach and Ollie immediately kicked her there, so she may have invented a new game. ;)

Charlie is finally back down to his ideal weight, but Cara managed to put on five extra pounds in the meantime. The dieting never stops here, man; we just take turns. ;)

Anyway, aside from Sandy's visit, my life is all about work and Ollie, so not much else to say. I hope all you guys are having a good time of it. :)

11:25 AM by Eric: How to Save Episode III Culture | Movies and TV

There's an article up on MSDN titled Can ?Star Wars: Episode III? be saved? worth reading if you're a fan of the trilogy (and by "the trilogy" I mean the three movies made in '77, '80, and '83). The basic recommendations?

Fire Lucas, fire Christensen and resurrect Ed Wood from the grave.

I couldn't agree more. Well, at least with the first two :)

08:50 PM by Eric: Yeah, yeah, I never post. Culture | Movies and TV | Personal | Tech

Okay, so the Kokai-Means family has returned from Winter Break and I'm sure you're all dying to hear about it. :)

Christmas this year was really good. I got some very cool gifts (such as a gift certificate for classes at the Texas Culinary Academy, a nice table saw, and a Tivo). We spent a good day at my Grandma's house. Ryan was unexpectedly really nice, which made me actually feel a little bad about not giving him a really nice gift. For the first time in a while I actually have a little hope that he'll turn out to be a decent person.

Jenny just got back from a jaunt to Florida; she hung out with her grandma, ate a bunch of bad food for no discernible reason, and rode the new Mission to Mars ride at Epcot (I am so jealous.)

The Tivo fascinates me. It reminds me of the way the Internet felt when I first discovered that, and even the old phone BBSes before that; in some ways it's a little primitive (for god's sake, stop recording BET) but, in a similar fashion to the way the Internet brought information, entertainment, and communication to my fingertips, any time I wanted it, the Tivo brings me whatever I want to watch, when I want to watch it. It's fantastic. I don't have to miss the (rare in Austin) Blues games, I don't have to go out and buy the Family Guy DVD set (though I probably will anyway, at some point), I don't have to remember to scan the TV listings for Band of Brothers reruns. I just tell Tivo to do it for me. Now I just need to triple the capacity and wait for the new service that lets you burn shows from the Tivo to DVD via a PC, and we'll be set.

09:31 AM by Eric: When is a dirty word not a dirty word? Culture | Movies and TV

Apparently, it's okay to use the word "fuck" on live television as long as you don't mean it literally:

[T]he Federal Communications Commission … ruled without fanfare Friday that it's OK to use that word (for which we will substitute "feep") as long as you're not being literal. Follow the logical bouncing ball: You can say "feep" or "feeping" if you don't really mean "to feep."

Now, whether or not you think the 7 dirty words should be prohibited on-air or not, I think you pretty much have to admit that this ruling is truly fucked up.

07:57 AM by Eric: Are the record companies hiring chimps to do their programming? Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Tech

I can't decide whether the record companies are hiring morons to design their protection schemes, or whether the people they are hiring are so ashamed of their employers they just can't bring themselves to do good work. Ed Felten has a post up about the latest CD "protection" scheme:

This technology is going to end up in the hall of fame beside the previous Sony technology that was famously defeated by drawing on the CD with a felt-tipped pen. This time, the technology can be defeated completely by holding down the computer's Shift key while inserting the CD.

All right, I suppose it's possible that most people will be using Windows, and that most people won't think to disable autorun (temporarily or otherwise) before putting in these CDs, but you can bet that a simple Google search will tell them how to copy those tracks once they realize something is interfering. Making the copy protection this easy to crack is ridiculous. I realize real protection is very difficult (read: impossible, at least as long as DRM isn't built into every layer of every CD-playing box on the planet), but if this is the best the record companies have, they might as well just quit trying.

10:02 AM by Eric: Music madness this fall Culture | Music

Wow, whole lot of new CDs coming out this fall: Dido is already out, Barenaked Ladies comes out on 10/21, Sarah McLachlan's first new CD in 6 years on 11/04, and a collection of Tori Amos's music on 11/18. That's not even counting R.E.M.'s special edition "best of" collection, due out 10/28. It's like a smorgasbord of musical goodness.

09:04 AM by Eric: Let something go, if it comes back… Books | Culture

This is kind of an interesting idea:

  1. Read a good book (you already know how to do that)
  2. Register it here (along with your journal comments), get a unique BCID (BookCrossing ID number), and label the book
  3. Release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, "forget" it in a coffee shop, etc.), and get notified by email each time someone comes here and records journal entries for that book. And if you make Release Notes on the book, others can Go Hunting for it and try to find it!

Obviously I wouldn't do this with any books I really like, but it could be interesting for some of those books that just won't sell on Half.

58 hours…

08:56 AM by Eric: A record label to watch Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music

OpenP2P.com has an article/interview titled Independent Label Go-Kart Records Embraces MP3s which is quite interesting. A quote:

Instead of suing little girls and filing ridiculous lawsuits, we here at Go-Kart have decided to embrace this new MP3 technology, and have unleashed the first commercially sold MP3 CD… We feel that this format is the perfect way to promote bands, rather than take away from them.

They even include instructions on how to burn the mp3s to other CDs. Greg Ross, who runs Go-Kart, seems like an entirely sane person. Along with services like irate radio, CDBaby, and Dell's (hopefully good) upcoming music service, it looks like within a few months you won't need to illegally download songs you want, which is a definite improvement. (As Greg notes in the interview, filesharing services suck for finding what you want anyway, so I'll be happy when there's a good, my-rights friendly service where I don't have to worry about getting 4 minutes of a 20-second loop or digital bleeps and bloops instead of (say) Sheryl Crow's cover of Cat Stevens' First Cut Is The Deepest. Of course whether Dell will be the first big service to sell big-name artists and still manage sane DRM settings is an unfortunately open question.)

01:37 PM by Eric: Band of Brothers 2 Culture | Movies and TV

Wicked! I missed this when it hit the web (July-ish), but apparently Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are making a Band-of-Brothers-style miniseries based on the Pacific Theater. As a kid I was more interested in the Pacific war than the European, so I'll have to watch for this.

03:49 PM by Eric: Opus is coming back! Culture | Other Media

Opus the Penguin Back In the Funny Business:

After eight years away from newspapers, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is creating a new comic strip called "Opus," starring his beloved penguin of the same name.

08:57 AM by Eric: You think? Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Tech

p2pnet.net | news | RIAA sue 'em war results in sales losses:

The RIAA's sue 'em all campaign has resulted in a 22% drop in file sharing, but at the same time, CD sales have plummeted by 9.4% and, "Specifically, curtailing file trading may not improve CD sales, but instead may accelerate their decline."

Golly, who'd have thunk that suing your own customers would actually have negative repercussions?

It is not much fun to come home to an apartment empty of dogs and Jenny. Not much fun at all.

House hunting was not quite as productive as we had hoped; we saw about 20 houses on Saturday, revisited 5 on Sunday, and picked 3 we wanted to make offers on. Made the first offer on Sunday night, and Monday the fellow came back with an offer that was a) more expensive than his original asking price (?!) and b) wouldn't appraise anyway. People are weird about selling their house. To make a long story short, we passed on even trying to negotiate with him. Made the second offer yesterday; haven't heard back yet. Hoping for the best, but trying not to be too hopeful in case we get shot down. :-P

I had a job interview Saturday as well—a completely informal not-really-an-interview-but-really-an-interview lunch, anyway. Came out of it very excited about the job. I was the first person they'd talked to, as they had seized the opportunity to talk to me while I was in town anyway. Like I said, I would be delighted to take this job if it were offered. Again, trying not to be too hopeful…

Tonight I went and finally saw Matrix Reloaded. As for whether it was a worthy successor or not, I'm reserving judgement; I just don't think anyone can really say until the third movie comes out. It's possible that some of the slightly disjointed stuff will make more sense once some of the meta-mysteries get resolved (assuming they do). Overall it was reasonably enjoyable.

Okay, I have to respond to Lileks' post about M:R. I actually have two parallel responses to his criticisms, one of which spoils the plot twist and one of which doesn't (for the spoiler versions, hit this).

06:48 PM by Eric: Start of the real hockey season Culture | Sports

What a crazy beginning to the Stanley Cup playoffs… the Wild beat the Avs in their first ever playoff game, the Mighty Ducks take the Wings to triple overtime and win… only one team wins the first game at home. Oh, and the Blues shut down the Canucks six-nothing.

Osgood wasn't brilliant, but he really didn't have to be; the Blues played great defense. Ozzie made the stops he had to and let the defense worry about the rest. Much the same thing happened when he won the Cup with the Wings; if the Blues can continue to play the way they did last night—including not taking stupid penalties, which has been a big problem for them this year—they could do some real damage.

I know, I know, the first game is often not indicative… but it did my heart good to see the Avs get beat by the Wild. It would be fantastic if Minnesota actually managed to win the series.

11:02 AM by Eric: A Myth of the Far Future Redux Books | Culture | Reviews

It's been eleven years since Mike Resnick published Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. The original was a galaxy-sized frontier tale, the Wild West set among the swirling spiral arms of the Milky Way. This year Resnick published the sequel, The Return of Santiago. The question is whether the author can live up to the vivid characters and style of the first book.

10:08 AM by Eric: Professional Bootlegging Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Tech

I had a thought today, one which has grown out of previous posts on the Internet Bookmobile and on-demand back catalog production of music CDs.

Last year, we went to a Dar Williams concert here in St. Louis. After the concert I was kicking myself for not taking along some sort of digital recorder—a minidisc recorder or some such—because in the course of the concert, Dar sang a pair of tremendous duets with her opening act. Those versions of the song are lost, unless I miraculously find someone who bootlegged the concert.

It seems to me there's a huge opportunity here. If the artist were to have every concert professionally recorded, and the results were burned to CDs and sold at the end of the concert, you could create an entire new revenue stream with a huge bonus: unauthorized bootlegging would virtually vanish (who wouldn't shell out for a high-quality, authorized recording of the concert rather than deal with the hassle and risk of a lower-quality recording they made themselves?). All it would take is some recording equipment and a couple of towers of CD burners.

12:08 AM by Eric: The Beauty of the Rain Culture | Music | Reviews

Dar Williams, perhaps one of the best-known modern singer-songwriters, released her 6th solo album, The Beauty of the Rain, on February 18th. This album is an interesting mix of symbol and story, solo effort and collaboration, though it continues Dar's gradual sidle towards a more mainstream sound.

11:36 PM by Eric: (Not exactly) bringing down the house. Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews

This is the first of possibly many reviews I will be doing for blogcritics.org.

Start with a trite, shallow plot. Add Steve Martin as every other role you've ever seen him play. Mix in a little Eugene Levy working those bushy eyebrows to reprise the wannabe hipster we saw in American Pie 1 and 2. Stir vigorously with a Queen Latifah playing a role which, after her work in Chicago, can only be described as "meh". That's pretty much Bringing Down the House in a nutshell.

09:44 AM by Eric: Why I refuse to purchase from Amazon.com Culture | Politics | Tech

I haven't bought anything from amazon.com in a long time. I don't expect I ever will. I refuse to support an organization which continues to exploit the USPTO in obviously idiotic ways. Today I saw a news report entitled Has Jeff Bezos Patented E-Mail Discussion Groups?:

First he received a patent for 1-Click e-commerce. Now he has one for e-mail discussion groups. Last Tuesday, February, 25, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a new patent to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of online retailer Amazon.com, granting him exclusive rights to "a method and system for conducting an electronic discussion relating to a topic. As was the case when he and three other Amazon executives patented the company's 1-Click ordering system, Bezos has gained control of a technology that may not seem particularly innovative to the everyday Internet user.

Or anyone else, for crying out loud.

09:48 AM by Eric: On-demand back catalog production Culture | Music | Tech

Stumbled across an interesting post at Blogcritics today: Blogcritics: How to Keep Inventory Down but Keep Rare Items in Stock? CD-R's, in which Eric Olsen notes a news story about the Smithsonian Institute's novel* method for keeping inventory down without allowing any items to go out of print:

When the Smithsonian Institution bought Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987, the museum agreed to keep every title in print. Initially, requests for rare, out-of-stock albums were fulfilled with dubbed cassettes.

Now, music fans hankering for "Burmese Folk and Traditional Music" from 1953 can pay $19.95 and receive a CD-R "burned" with the original album, along with a standard cardboard slipcase that includes a folded photocopy of the original liner notes.

This idea is very similar to something I posted about last October, in reference to the Internet Bookmobile. It's also quite similar to an idea I had for a revamp of music sales.

Our Barnes & Noble doesn't have a music section, which annoys me. Ordinarily, today I would stop by on the way home and buy Dar Williams' new CD there, but as they don't have a music section, in order to use our Reader's Advantage discount we had to preorder the disc from the website… which means waiting for it to ship. It seems to me that there's an easy way for B&N to set up a music section in a very small section of the store and yet have a complete inventory—by burning the CDs on demand. (I swear I've posted about this before, but I cannot find the post.)

I hate walking into a music store and finding that they don't have the CD I want; a just-in-time delivery model would make that a thing of the past.

* Okay, not really novel, if they've been doing this since 1996. But it's not mainstream or expected.

12:13 AM by Eric: Adaptation Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews

Jenny notes that we saw Adaptation tonight:

At one point the deus ex machina character tells the fictional Kaufman to at all costs avoid a fucking deus ex machina, and the fur coat brigade hastily whispered to each other, "What's that?" Sigh.

She leaves out the best part, which is that the fellow sitting next to me knew the literal translation of the phrase—"god out of the machine"—and still didn't know what the phrase meant. Didn't these people ever take a high-school level English class, for crying out loud?

Anyway, the movie itself: Very complicated. Almost fractal in a way, in that the major structure of the movie is replicated several times on smaller and smaller scales. I thought it was clever, but I'm not sure if it had any real value aside from pure cleverness (structure-wise, anyway). The ending was very surprising. There were a number of what I felt were fairly profound statements in the movie, but I think the cleverness of its structure might actually have detracted from them—but then, that might have been intentional as well. Who can tell?

02:43 PM by Eric: The absolute worst fantasy short story. Ever. Culture | Other Media

I present to you the most horrifically awful fantasy short story ever written, period: The Eye of Argon (with MST3K-style comments!)

12:32 PM by Eric: I'm prophetic Culture | Movies and TV

Back in September I posted this bit about advertising in the age of DVRs. Today what do I find but a New York Times article entitled 'Skipping Ads? TV Gets Ready to Fight Back', which starts thusly:

A leading television producer and two major advertisers have joined forces to present a live variety show with no commercial interruptions. Instead, the advertising messages will be incorporated into the show.

01:12 AM by Eric: Charter and movie night Culture | Movies and TV | Reviews | Tech

So since we're losing our DSL, I went down to Charter a few days to pick up a cable modem to tide us over till we move. Picked up the self-install kit after about an hour wait in line, brought it home, forgot about it for a few days. Yesterday I went to open it and start looking at installing it… and there is no cable modem in the box. Geniuses. Better yet, when I went to take the box back and demand an actual cable modem today, one of the bad blinkenlights in the Passat started going off. So now I don't know how I'm going to get to Charlie's class tomorrow (probably, I'm just not), and I get to spend my Monday morning getting towed to the dealer.

So rather than going out tonight, Jen and I rented MIB 2 and Goldmember. MIB 2 was merely a pathetic rehash of the original, with some random plot inversions. Goldmember, on the other hand, was actually painful to watch. I'm serious, this one goes on the Movies To Avoid list right below The Velocity Of Gary. :shudder:

Today's only upside is that the apartment is now squeaky clean, top to bottom, as that's pretty much all we did from 10 this morning to about 7 this evening. Though there is still laundry to be done. :(

05:22 PM by Eric: I'll drink to that Culture

According to this story I saw on Google News, frequent drinking 'cuts heart attack risk in men'

More good news for drinkers - frequent tippling of beer, wine or even spirits lowers a man's risk of heart attack, and it appears to be how often, not how much, that is important.

I think that I shall raise a toast to my own health tonight. :)

05:31 PM by Eric: Copyright and the First Amendment Culture | Politics | Theatre

Evidently the Yale Law Journal has begun putting some of their articles online. They have a really good article up entitled The Freedom of Imagination: Copyright's Constitutionality, about whether or not copyright (being, as it is, a major restraint on the exercise of free speech) is constitutional. The author decides copyright proper (that is, the parts that deal with unauthorized reproduction and distribution) are constitutional, but that the parts prohibiting derivative works may not be. To support the idea he puts forth a new logical basis for the First Amendment, which is that it is intended to protect the free exercise of imagination. His reasons for the basis are very interesting and, I think, quite persuasive. In fact, this seems like the best suggestion for balancing copyright with artistic interplay I've read yet.

09:37 AM by Eric: Exploiting the Public Domain Culture

The O'Reilly Network has an interesting article by Richard Koman up, called Lessons from the Internet Bookmobile. The author spent 10 days traveling across the country in a bookmobile. This particular bookmobile was a little different in that it didn't actually carry any books; instead,

Loaded in the back of the Bookmobile were an HP duplexing color printer, a couple of laptops, a desktop binding machine, and a paper cutter. On top was a MotoSat dish with Internet connection. [We took] ASCII text versions of public domain works available online and turn[ed] them into books. When the Bookmobile shows up at a school, kids get to operate the paper cutter to make books, each classroom gets a few books to keep, and everyone gets a lesson in the applications of the public domain.

The entire setup cost $15,000 (plus less than $4,000 for the van itself), a fraction of the cost of many new bookmobiles. A similar (and similarly cheap) setup could revolutionize aspects of libraries, schools, and even bookstores. Imagine walking into a library to borrow a copy of a public domain text—and being handed a freshly printed and bound copy that didn't need to be returned (because it only cost the library $1 to make).

Applications like these depend on a large, and largely digitized, public domain, another point addressed by the article. Fortunately initiatives like the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg exist to digitize our public domain works, but there's always more to do. Here's hoping the SCOTUS rules against the Bono extension act, and keeps adding to our universal data store.

09:21 AM by Eric: Some more good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Politics | Tech

There's a couple of encouraging developments in the War on Fair Use. Two bills have been introduced to Congress (though they will almost certainly sit still until the next session) which would return significant Fair Use rights to consumers of digital media, mostly removed by the DMCA. The first is the Digital Choice and Freedom Act. The DCFA would explicitly provide consumers with the same Fair Use rights with digital media they enjoy with analog media (such as cassettes and VCR tapes), among them the right to make personal copies and compilations.

The second act in question is the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act. This act would counteract the portions of the DMCA which make circumventing copy-protection schemes illegal even for uses previously covered under Fair Use. Essentially the act would make it legal to bypass the copy protection on a DVD in order to make a backup copy or to extract clips from the film for use in a personal compilation. (Currently even attempting to bypass such protections is illegal.) This has very, very important consequences for digital research—there have been a number of important cases where legitimate academic researchers have had their research shut down (or chilled, which amounts to the same thing proactively) by the threat of prosecution. The bill also would extend some pretty strong protection to devices which merely are "capable of enabling significant non-infringing use of a copyrighted work", in stark contrast to the DMCA's inverse requirement.

As noted, the bad news is that neither of these bills will go anywhere until next session—and in fact, probably neither will be passed. The hope is that by introducing two such bills, Congress will be forced to address the issue somehow—preferably by repealing or significantly reworking the DMCA itself.

This provides a unique opportunity, since there is an election coming up, after all (nice timing by the bills' supporters). Send the candidates in your area letters or e-mails requesting that they clarify their stance on the two bills in question, and vote your conscience. It's time the consumers had a say in the Rape of Copyright.

Saw this via Ars Technica.

03:17 PM by Eric: Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale Culture | Humor | Politics

Okay, Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale is brilliant. Mac captures the voices of the characters absolutely perfectly (and incidentally, the political commentary is pretty decent too):

XANDER: So this is what you do, huh? You roll into town in your tights and insult people with your nose-up-in-the-air attitude? I need any insulting done, I can get it at home, I don't need your contribution.

SPIKE: And I'll insult him.

XANDER: Right, Spike can insult me. Lord knows, that's the only way he ever gets to hurt anyone anymore.

SPIKE: Mate, don't push your luck.

XANDER: Or what, you'll have a headache at me? Bring it on, blondie.


05:40 PM by Eric: Advertising and the state of the music industry Culture

Every so often Penny Arcade is brilliant:

Let's say you want to advertise your candy - or "lolly" - on the radio and television. You could pay a set amount of money for access to thirty-second or minute slot. Or, and here's an idea, you can make a song by a "band" whose name is the product you're trying to sell, and get it into rotation on stations and have them play it for you… The production of Pop Hits being a largely mechanical enterprise, it will not be difficult to suitably emulate the music of the moment. I don't know what the going rate is for payola, but my hunch tells me it compares favorably with actual ad spots. Customers can then go out and purchase your advertising, and they will, because they're fucking retards.

The PA post was, of course, set off by EA's double deal with McDonald's and Intel for product placement in The Sims Online. I have to say I find the EA/McDonald's/Intel deal amusing -- I can't for one minute imagine that anyone will go out and buy an Intel-based computer because they saw their Sims playing a game on it; nor can I imagine someone choosing the Golden Arches over Burger King because their online Sim makes their simoleans selling fries. This isn't any different from standard product placement in a movie or television show.

The Starburst issue, on the other hand, is more interesting.

09:00 AM by Eric: The latest completely unworkable anti-piracy measure Culture

Epic Records Group has taken the drastic step of sealing CD players shut and gluing headphones onto them to stop digital copies being made from promotional albums. The albums involved are Riot Act by Pearl Jam and Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos.

From an article in the New Scientist.

This is getting ridiculous. First of all, I would think most reviewers have their own sound systems, which they probably have set up to reproduce music the way they like it. Those sound systems are probably more capable than portable CD players cheap enough that Epic was willing to throw them away on reviewers.

Second of all, this doesn't even really make pirating the CD much harder. Sure, you can't remove the CD from the player, pop it into your computer, and rip it. Sure, you can't pull out the headphone cord and replace it with a direct cable to the audio in on your soundcard. What you can do is cut the headphone cord, strip the cut ends, go buy a $2 audio cord from Radio Shack, cut one end off, strip those ends, and twist the headphone cord with the audio cord. Then plug the audio cord into your audio in and you're good to go.

The only real effect this has is making the recording companies look more desperate -- and more incompetent. Their last two tries at "copy protection" have been defeated by a Sharpie and a pair of scissors. Why don't they just give up?

Saw it first at Ars.

11:59 PM by Eric: Complicated Culture | Personal | Philosophy | Politics

The world is a complicated place. It was a complicated place on 9/10/2001, and it's an equally complicated place today. I have no doubt that it will still be a complicated place on 9/11/2003 as well. 9/11 didn't simplify things, nor complicate them; on a macro scale, I don't even think it actually changed much.

This post was actually written on 9/12, but I have backdated it to the night before so that it will show up if anyone goes looking for that date on my blog.

11:44 AM by Eric: ded kitty Culture

Well, it's been true for some time… but now it's official: Napster is dead.

08:56 AM by Eric: More good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Politics | Tech

I stumbled across this interview with general counsel for Verizon about peer to peer, and found it somewhat reassuring. The RIAA/MPAA have pushed so hard for the laws and protections they want (in order to maintain their stranglehold on music and video respectively) that they've started to irritate the big boys of telecom.

10:17 AM by Eric: Music Industry (Part Two) Culture

Also via Instapundit, his TechCentralStation column on the Digital Rights Management bill:

For years now, I've been saying that the record industry's long-term legislative strategy had less to do with preventing copying than with sewing up the market to ensure that Big Entertainment companies won't have to worry about competition from independent artists. It looks like I've just been proven right.

The record companies are showing a definite trend here. If you look at this bill, and the way they handled royalties for Internet radio stations, it's increasingly obvious that copy protection etc isn't about protecting artists' incomes, or their intellectual property, or about the artists at all. It's about protecting the incumbent record companies from competition, about enforcing the status quo whatever the cost to the rest of us.

10:11 AM by Eric: Music Industry (Part One) Culture

Via Instapundit:

Charles Dodgson writes about "plastic puppet" musical artists:

The nightmare scenario for this sort of music marketing is that what is actually turning people off isn't the dressing du jour on the industry's plastic puppets, but just that they are in fact plastic puppets, poured into a commercial mold formed entirely by record executives who are completely out of touch with their audience.

03:42 PM by Eric: Something Jenny and I have been saying for years… Culture

We put little value on learning languages and the British consequently are guilty of terrible cultural and linguistic arrogance.

From a tourism survey reported on the BBC, which I saw on Ted Barlow's site via Instapundit. The rest of the survey is quite interesting.

10:00 PM by Eric: Road to Perdition Culture

Jen and I just got back from seeing Road to Perdition. Both of us thought it was quite a good movie; we particularly liked the very cinematic gun battle in the rain.

05:10 PM by Eric: Chicken Little… with power Culture

From this article about the music industry preparing to sue individual fileswappers:

…many music executives, watching revenue sag as home compact-disc copying has soared, feel that they have little choice if they are to save their business. World-wide music sales dropped 5% last year…

:blink: Since when does a 5% drop in sales imply that the entire business is in danger? The music industry had record profits in 1999 and 2000, but when 2001 sales "slumped" 5% (a.k.a. returned to relatively normal levels) the whole business is suddenly in desperate danger? Excuse me? And here I thought that cycles of higher sales/profits and lower sales/profits were normal. It couldn't have anything to do with changing demand for the actual product, oh no.

Not that that's any surprise; the music industry has been crying that the sky is falling for years -- decades -- now. The wonder is that anyone still listens. And for the record, suing individual fileswappers is the worst idea I've ever heard.

05:46 PM by Eric: Yet another reason to like the Counting Crows… Culture

Adam Duritz has a weblog. And it's actually an interesting read.

09:13 AM by Eric: Why I like Moby Culture
10:43 PM by Eric: Puppies Culture | Personal

Friday night Jen, Lindsay and I went to see Lilo and Stitch… this is the best movie to come out of Disney in years. We were practically falling out of our chairs for the first half of the movie. Definitely a "buy".

If you still need some yuks after seeing L&S, head to Barnes and Noble and hunt down a book called I am Puppy, Hear Me Yap. Cute and amusing at the same time. The picture of the Aussie puppy (somewhere around 2 or 3 from the last picture in the book) looks very much like Cindy did when she was a puppy.

Then, Jenny, Lindsay, my Grandma Phyllis and I all took a day trip to see New Harmony on Saturday. It was a bit of a drive (2 hours or so each way), but well worth it -- it's a very interesting ex-utopian community, primarily active between the early 1800s and the Civil War. If you're into history definitely a place to check out.

Finally, Conner, Lindsay, Jen and I played roller hockey this morning for a few hours. It's been a long time since any of us played (and it was Lindsay's first time), but we had a lot of fun for all that. Great weekend, even if it did involve 16 hours or so in the car. :-P

03:54 PM by Eric: Songs and bleats Culture

Songs: I really like Counting Crows' new single (American Girls). Catchy. Scanning the lyrics from the rest of the CD it looks like this one will be a must-have. If only I didn't actually feel guilty about buying CDs and thus supporting the RIAA

Bleats: I really like James Lilek's Bleats blog. He's fun to read, and Gnat sounds adorable. Jenny will cite this link as merely one more piece of evidence pointing to me wanting kids; I will then note that as much fun as it is to have a dog who urps if I take corners too sharply, I'm not really eager to add a small child to the circus yet. But I do like reading about them. ;)

04:37 PM by Eric: AOTC and why's it always rainin on me? Culture

This review by Brunching is pretty good too.

Also, why is it that it stayed nice right up until 20 minutes before I'm leaving work, then started raining cats and dogs?

09:35 AM by Eric: Attack of the Clowns, indeed. Culture

I went to see Attack of the Clones on Sunday. Aside from the idiot sitting immediately to my right, David Chess pretty much sums up my feelings.

Stop George Lucas before he writes again. Seriously, the man shouldn't be writing anything more complicated than a grocery list. He can write and direct action -- the various saber fights were very well choreographed (one thing I have always liked about star wars is the way that saber fights flow) -- but anything else is beyond the man's capability.

Things I did like:

  1. Jango Fett's death and Boba's reaction to it.
  2. Faceoff with Count Dooku at the end. Yoda is in fact a badass. I rather liked the calm, quiet dignity he maintained throughout. And after bouncing around like a mad fiend while fighting Dooku, pulling his stick to him and limping off again was just the right Yoda touch.
  3. The space battle in the asteroid field. Classic star wars, the seismic charges were neat, and Fett's ship is cool.
  4. The major assault. Actual tactics very nearly made an appearance here, with the use of gunships, missiles, etc. The gunships themselves: very cool. Oh, and those big guns that brought down the Trade Federation ship, did those distinctly remind anyone else of the Ion Cannons from Homeworld?
  5. Yoda as a teacher. Shades of Empire, there.

Most of the rest of the movie I rather disliked.

In other news, Jenny has returned from Philly. All is right with the world again. :) We both could have used another day or two of weekend, though.

05:25 PM by Eric: Hmmm… Interesting explanation of why Culture

Hmmm… Interesting explanation of why the last thing I linked to about Star Wars was wrong. Also an interesting explanation of just why Ep 1 sucked so badly. Worth a read in any case.

This blogspace thing is rather large and convoluted, isn't it? There's always something interesting going on.

10:18 PM by Eric: Ah ha! I found it! Culture

Ah ha! I found it! Now if only I had the cash to purchase it…

09:01 PM by Eric: I hate it when that Culture

I hate it when that happens. I read on some other blog the other day about a book comparing the results of the American and French Revolutions -- two similar revolts that inspired each other, grew out of similar circumstances, etc, but have had wildly differing results. Now, of course, I can't find the blog. I thought it was Instapundit, but it's not. I want to read this book. Following one's own trail in blogspace is frustrating.

11:28 AM by Eric: Much as I love Star Culture

Much as I love Star Wars, it does have some pretty big problems, philosophically speaking. For instance, is the Empire really evil? And that's not even mentioning midichlorians (gag) or the Virgin Birth (sputter). Of course, the link above doesn't really address the harsh disciplinary measures routinely used by the upper echelons of the Imperial Command (screwed up a mission? Hope you have life insurance…), or the purge of the Jedi (initiated by Palpatine, and not defensible IMO), etc. But it's still interesting to consider.

02:48 PM by Eric: Two Matrix movies, three to Culture

Two Matrix movies, three to four months apart, next summer? I think I'm dreaming. :)

02:21 PM by Eric: We went to see Spider-man Culture

We went to see Spider-man last night with Mark, Sandy, and Christina. Talk about a movie designed to be campy. It was actually surprisingly good, in a lighthearted, self-aware cliched, fun sort of way. There were some lines that were real groaners, but there were some classic lines as well. Our favorite line came when the Green Goblin is standing on top of a bridge, holding a cable in one hand and Mary Jane in the other. The cable leads to a cable car packed with people, dangling precipitously over the river. (Jenny's comment: "There are just some things you don't do in a town with super-villains.") The setup is, of course, that the GG is going to drop both the cable and MJ, and Spider-man can only save one. GG's line (from memory, so probably not precise): "This is why being a hero is for suckers. There's always some lunatic who will come along and give you a horrible choice just like this." Self-referential, funny, and perfectly delivered. It made the movie.

All in all I give it a thumbs up, as long as you're not either going with an anal comic book fan or expecting some dark, serious movie.

In other news, I managed to shut my car door on my right index finger Friday night. Most of the nail has turned black, the fingertip is swollen like crazy, and any kind of pressure is painful. Word to the wise: Be sure all digits are clear of the vehicle before closing doors.

04:32 PM by Eric: Copenhagen and Dar Culture | Music | Reviews | Theatre

Okay, this last week and a half has been insane. I'm going hermit tonight.

So here's a big chunk of an update, because I've been too busy to post any for a while.

Anyway, Jenny and I ushered at a play called Copenhagen Monday night. There's no action in the play at all; it's nearly pure dialogue. I mean, obviously, the characters move around, gesture, and whatnot, but everything interesting happens vocally. The basic plot of the play is that Werner Heisenberg (of Uncertainty Principle fame) is visiting his old friend and mentor, Niels Bohr, and Bohr's wife, in their home in Copenhagen.

Actually the play relays multiple visits, from as early (IIRC) as about 1924? to as late as post-World War II. The whole plot, however, centers on one specific visit Heisenberg made in 1941, the motives for which had been shrouded in mystery. (Yes, this play is all about theoretical physics. Well, sort of.)

Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr's wife are all dead, and Heisenberg (in some sort of unexplained afterlife sort of thing) is trying to explain his actual motives for that 1941 visit. The crux of the dilemma is that 1941 was, of course, the height of German power during WWII in Europe, and Heisenberg was the head of the German nuclear program. Bohr lived in Copenhagen, and Denmark was at that time a "conquered" nation.

If you really want all the details of the plot, I'm sure you can find a review or a plot summary somewhere; the play apparently won a Tony. What I wanted to say about the play is that a) it was quite good—much better than you might expect a nearly purely dialogue-driven play about theoretical physicists to be, and b) I was both torn and interested by the discussions of actual physics in the play. As you might expect in any work which is intended for mass consumption, the discussions of Uncertainty and quantum and nuclear physics were heavily simplified. This is a good thing, and a bad thing.

It's a good thing because it allows the play to make a point about the human condition—that is, the play drew an interesting metaphor between human perception, memory, and introspection, and the difficulties (better, impossibilities) inherent in the scientific ideal of pure, objective measurement independent of subjectivity or observational effects. It's a bad thing because the metaphor has limits. I rather enjoyed the discussion of "the unobservable observer", for instance, but the play did bring to mind my Art History class in college. In that class, the professor brought up Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in relation to art. I don't remember the precise way in which he used the HUP, but suffice to say that it was based on a hugely erroneous "understanding" of the HUP specifically and quantum physics in general. The four or five of us in the class who were engineers were pretty uniformly horrified by the usage, but several of the other students in the class seemed to take it as an excellent point.

Now, my point here is very definitely not to say that art students are idiots, or even that art students don't understand physics. As a matter of fact, I told Jenny about what the prof had said, and she was of the same opinion as I was—in fact, she more or less condemned even the art history the prof was teaching as well. My point, rather, is to say that there are (admittedly indistinct and wavering) limits as to how far a metaphor may be pushed, and in some cases I felt this play flirted with those limits. I still liked it, though. :)

The Dar concert last week was, as expected, fantastic. The opening act was Kris Delmhorst, who I had never heard of before. Jenny's assessment was that she had a gorgeous voice, but could use some help in the songwriting department. Personally, I strongly regret that I did not have some sort of recording device, because Kris came back out to sing harmony on both Iowa and If I Wrote You, and as much as I already love both songs, she added a whole new dimension to them. Especially to Iowa; her harmony was this sweeping, rolling sound, indescribable but wonderful. I wish I had a copy of those two songs.

03:49 PM by Eric: Yay! Dar Williams tomorrow! Culture

Yay! Dar Williams tomorrow!

12:00 AM by Eric: Something I have observed Culture

Something I have observed at Jenny's rehearsals: The life of an actor is a never-ending
stream of criticism and correction punctuated by brief interludes of glory and
appreciation. No wonder they're all at least a bit batty. :)

12:00 AM by Eric: Evil computer games vs good fantasy books Culture | Tech

Interesting article over at the NYTimes… talks about "evil" computer games and
"good" fantasy books, and the differences between them that don't
get noted much by the media.

Wow, two news items in one day. I better be careful or I'll turn into one of those weirdos who updates every five minutes. :) Anyway… I'm
still not into this whole Office.NET and Windows.NET and CoffeeMachine.NET
(sad thing is I'm not even sure that last bit is a joke), but I'm getting
more intrigued by this whole C# thing… this
kind of piqued my interest. Sounds like some really slick
stuff under the covers.

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This page was last updated Sun 23 September 2007 at 08:46 AM CDT