If 99% of all advertising is insulting crap…

… then this Sony Brevia commercial is the high end of the remaining set. Blogland was all atwitter a few months back with stills of the shoot, which involved releasing an enormous number of multicolored superballs down hills in San Francisco. This is the finished product. It’s lovely, and is sullied by commerce only in the final seconds.

There’s a making-of video linked in one of JWZ’s entries above; it’s worth your time, too.

Not that this is a surprise, mind you

Rude Pundit points out what useless and vile jackasses the folks at Newsmax are; they’re running an editorial called “John McCain: Torture Worked On Me” whose thesis is that McCain ought not be opposed to torture since, you know, he eventually cracked under NV torture as a POW.

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Sony CDs: Still Dangerous

Freedom to Tinker reports that Sony’s MediaMax DRM installs even if you tell it not to. Again, NEVER install software from a music CD, and MAKE SURE you’ve disabled autorun in you’re running Windows.

We note that folks not on Windows are much, much safer on this point — all these copy-protection schemes require the user to install (albeit unwittingly) software that prevents him or her from using the CD normally; in the absence of said software, there is no DRM. Neither Linux nor OS X have anything so wrongheaded as CD autorun (which even MS has moved away from, we understand), so even if such programs are developed, the user would have to deliberately install them. That’s why they’re frequently called innocuous things like “PlayCD.exe” — what user in their right mind would install it if it were named honestly? Flash hokum and screensavers be damned, there is nothing on a music CD you need to install.

Here’s how to disable autorun in Windows XP. If you’re not sure it’s off, CHECK NOW.

More on our growing “Papers Please” police state

Cops in Miami have a disturbing plan to remind citizens of police power:

MIAMI –Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant. Article Tools Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats. “This is an in-your-face type of strategy. It’s letting the terrorists know we are out there,” Fernandez said. The operations will keep terrorists off guard, Fernandez said. He said al-Qaida and other terrorist groups plot attacks by putting places under surveillance and watching for flaws and patterns in security. Police Chief John Timoney said there was no specific, credible threat of an imminent terror attack in Miami. But he said the city has repeatedly been mentioned in intelligence reports as a potential target.

Five Years and Still Snarky

Five years ago today, we turned our email list into the first incarnation of Miscellaneous Heathen. Nearly 3,000 posts later, here we are. With what AWStats says is 5K+ unique visitors a month and around 80K hits a month, we figure a few more people than the original Arrant Knaves list are stopping by to participate in this rather public hobby.

Feeling nostalgic? Feel free to give the Archives a visit.

Weird Scientology Three-fer

First, an excerpt from the Scientology-themed South Park ep. Very funny, made moreso by its complete adherence to actual CoS doctrine.

Second, this weird item at BoingBoing from the WaPo in re: some enormous crop-circle type decorations in New Mexico marking the location of the CoS’ archive vault.

Finally, this 1983 Penthouse interview with L. Ron, Jr., which I suspect was part of the source material for Troy Schulze’ Me-Sci-Ah.

Things that should scare you

Via Democratic Veteran, who’s quoting from the Post:

The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world. The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts — including protecting military facilities from attack — to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage. The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The Post continues:

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI’s massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage. The measure, she said, “removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies.” She said the Pentagon’s “intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate.”

More Bushshit

Just so you don’t forget, we’re still making our HIV/AIDS relief efforts contingent on the recipient nation being ardently anti-choice.

The announcement, in 2003, that the US Administration under President Bush was to give $15 billion (£9 billion) to help the fight against AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean was welcomed by campaigner Sir Bob Geldof, and others, as a major breakthrough. But, critics argue, it has become increasingly clear that the Bush policy is, in many ways, proving more damaging that helpful, as this Editorial Comment from the Baltimore Sun reveals. AIDS has hit Africa hard. But non-governmental organizations confronting the epidemic have been hit even harder by the Bush administration’s ideologically based edicts. Last month, the UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, and others declared that the administration’s policy of emphasizing abstinence-only programmes and cutting federal funding for condoms has undermined Uganda’s HIV/AIDS effort. Sadly, Uganda is not alone.

This makes it clear that the priority is not helping people; it’s controlling people.

Geeks Rule

At Google they do, anyway. The search king’s enormous financial clout is turning Silicon Valley’s VC culture on its ear, which is sort of funny. The article has VCs complaining that now, a startup might just go from founder to Google without the VC step. Horrors!

Best Stuff From Other Sites Dept.

JWZ found a site answering the question “How Hard Is It To Shoot Off A Lock?” Answer: Very, unless you’re using a shotgun slug.

However, we note after consulting with Senior Heathen Shootin’ & Lawyerin’ Correspondent Triple-F that the test is sort of stacked against pistols via round choice. A jacketed hollow-point or ball round isn’t meant to penetrate anything but, um, soft targets, whereupon it’s expected to expand. Rifle rounds are typically fully jacketed and NOT meant to expand, so all things being equal you’d expect such a round to go through more stuff than a bullet engineered for expansion. At the same time, all the rifle rounds used are smaller in diameter than the larger handgun rounds.

The test remains valid in a mythbusting sense, though, as movie gunmen would typically be loaded with “normal” pistol bullets like those used, not some armor-piercing round. (A bullet meant to go through stuff is less useful for stopping bad guys than a more traditional round.) We’re just curious about the corner case of a hard-alloy or fully-jacketed pistol round from a large caliber, high-velocity pistol.

Mostly because we’re very, very geeky. So geeky, in fact, that we sent email asking this version question. Watch this space for a follow-up.

Lest Ye Forget

Diebold would still like to destroy our democracy. (Mefi link)

In June, over 200 people traveled to Sacramento to voice their concerns at a public hearing before a panel of advisors to the Secretary of State on voting systems. Since then, every scheduled meeting of the Voting Systems Panel has been cancelled, and now the Secretary has simply disbanded the VSP without notice, without hearings, without any type of due process.

Prof. Felton on DRM in General

Today on Freedom to Tinker, Prof. Felton outlines what’s wrong with even the non-rootkit DRM on CDs. Put simply, there’s no way to make such a scheme work without adding software to your computer that watches for the CD in question and keeps certain things from happening. Given the house-of-cards nature of Windows, this is a recipe for disaster even if we don’t worry about the security implications — and those are even bigger concerns. You don’t NEED to install software on your PC to play or rip a CD. Period.

It’s important to recognize that these problems are caused not by any flaws in SunnComm and Sony’s execution of their copy protection plan, but from the nature of the plan itself. If you want to try to stop music copying on a PC, you’re going to have to resort to these kinds of methods. You’re going to have to force users to use extra software that they donÕt want. YouÕre going to have to invoke administrator privileges more often. You’re going to have to keep more software loaded and running. You’re going to have to erode users’ ability to monitor, control, and secure their systems. Once you set off down the road of copy protection, this is where youÕre going to end up.

So, Remember that Play We Were Talking About?

The Chronicle review is out, reproduced in its entirety here for ease of reading:

Full Circle reveals moments of genius
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Infernal Bridegroom Productions’ lively and provocative Houston premiere of Charles Mee’s Full Circle marks the first time one of Mee’s works has been staged in Houston. So this IBP outing is doubly worthwhile, for the play itself and as an introduction to a noteworthy contemporary playwright. Mee’s plays have been described as “blueprints for events.” He bases them on earlier works, from Euripides’ Orestes to Gorky’s The Lower Depths. But Mee doesn’t write adaptations. He tosses essentials of pre-existing works into the Cuisinart of his imagination, mixing in new ideas and characters, fictional and historical. Full Circle typifies his technique. Based on Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (and the 14th-century Chinese play that was Brecht’s original source), Full Circle retains the tale of a peasant woman fighting to keep the baby she has cared for, against the wishes of the child’s neglectful birth mother. But Mee intertwines this plot with the saga of American socialite Pamela Dalrymple (based on real-life socialite Pamela Harriman), who is in East Berlin attending a performance by the Berliner Ensemble when revolution breaks out and the Berlin Wall comes crashing down. Pamela has stepped out of the audience to become embroiled in a discussion of art and politics with Berliner Ensemble director Heiner Muller and his cast when the frenzy outside their theater overtakes them. Erich Honecker, head of East Germany’s communist regime, flees with his wife, who leaves her baby in the arms of hapless student revolutionary Dulle Griet (a figure Mee has imported from Dutch folklore and the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder!). Kindhearted Pamela takes Dulle Griet and the baby under her wing, and they flee from officers determined to confiscate the infant (apparently fearing Honecker’s heir somehow will lead to continuity of his regime). In their picaresque adventures, the women keep crossing paths with American tycoon Warren (based on Warren Buffett), who becomes Pamela’s love interest. Mee has written that he does not care for the traditional “well-made play” and well-made Full Circle certainly ain’t. It’s unwieldly, often slap-dash, sometimes self-indulgent. It’s also spottily brilliant, full of originality, surprises, mordant satire, pungent absurdity and feeling. I don’t mind a play that tries my patience a bit here and there, as long as it pays off — as Full Circle does time and again. Director Anthony Barilla captures the work’s freewheeling spirit and questioning irreverence in a deftly paced, vividly staged production. A scene in which Pamela and Dulle Griet teeter across a perilous rope bridge, represented by two lengths of rope held by extras, demonstrates just how much suspense Barilla and his cast can summon through skilled use of a simple device. Tek Wilson, whom longtime Houston theater goers will remember as a mainstay of Stages’ early seasons, does her best work with a delightful portrayal of Pamela, seemingly superficial and lah-di-dah, yet revealing layers of warmth, wit, compassion and surprising resourcefulness. A.J. Ware’s wise, caring and resilient Dulle Griet represents an earthier sort of womanhood. Paul Locklear is inspired and mercurial as Heiner Muller, especially in a marathon monologue that dares us to decide it has overstayed its welcome, but keeps redeeming itself with unexpected insights. Locklear’s delivery is a triumph of sardonic brinkmanship. Tamarie Cooper is delectably rotten as the child’s real mother. Jeff Miller makes a droll yet somehow sensible Warren, absurdly spouting optimistic aphorisms. Indeed, everyone in IBP’s busy troupe comes through with banners flying. With direction and acting that enter wholeheartedly into the revolutionary spirit of Mee’s unique material, Full Circle emerges as IBP’s strongest all-around effort since its memorable 2003 mounting of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.

Dept. of Weird Heathen Dreams

So, last night I dreamed I had a job working with a partner luring small bears out of vending machines by stuffing magazines into the product-drop slot. If done right, the bear would come bounding out of the slot, and we’d catch him. (It’s not clear if the bears were reading the magazines, or what.) Rolling Stone worked the best, but we didn’t have many of those, so we horded them. Ladies’ Home Journal was useless. My partner kept wanting to try the National Review, but for reasons that didn’t survive the transition to waking life, I insisted that wouldn’t work at all.

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Just how much ass will McCain kiss?

Pandagon points out he’s in bed with the CCC-backing son of George Wallace in Alabama even as we speak. McCain, you disappoint us at every turn. It’s often said a man is known by the company he keeps. What does McCain’s choice of company tell us about his principles?

Mossberg Smackdown

No, not the shotgun; the columnist. Influential Wall Street Journal tech writer Walt Mossberg explains just how dumb the new Sprint music store is. Case in point: the songs cost $2.50, and are very restricted in use — this compared to Apple’s iTunes Music Store, which has a universal $0.99 price point and fewer use restrictions. Sprint’s songs won’t play on an iPod at all, so we’re sure this is just gonna take the world by storm.

AP on the Sony Debacle

Via Yahoo:

BOSTON – It’s been the better part of a decade since Napster and other free song-sharing services began scaring the daylights of the music industry. And still recording companies can’t find an effective anti-piracy technology to save their hides. The fact that so-called digital rights management might always be a doomed experiment became painfully clear with the fiasco that erupted after Sony BMG Music Entertainment added a technology known as XCP to more than 50 popular CDs. After it was discovered that XCP opened gaping security holes in users’ computers — as did the method Sony BMG offered for removing XCP – Sony BMG was forced to recall the discs this week. Some 4.7 million had been made and 2.1 million sold. Factor in lawsuits that Sony BMG could face, and it’s worth wondering whether the costs of XCP and its aftermath might even exceed whatever piracy losses the company would have suffered without it. That’s not even accounting for the huge public relations backlash that hit Sony BMG, the second-largest music label, half-owned by Sony Corp and half by Bertelsmann AG. “I think they’ve set back audio CD protection by years,” said Richard M. Smith, an Internet privacy and security consultant. “Nobody will want to pull a ‘Sony’ now.” Phil Leigh, analyst for Inside Digital Media, said the debacle shows just how reluctant the labels are to change their business model to reflect the distribution powers — good and bad — of the Internet. He believes that rather than adopting technological methods to try to stop unauthorized copying of music, record companies need to do more to remove the incentive for piracy. “The biggest mistake the labels are making is, they’re letting their lawyers make technical decisions. Lawyers don’t have any better understanding of technology than a cow does algebra,” Leigh said. “They insist on chasing this white whale.” It’s easy to understand why the music industry wishes songs could magically be prevented from being ripped from CDs and shared freely. … [But] “It’s an arms race that the content owner can never win,” said Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman. “In order to make it usable, you also have to make it beatable. If you really truly want to lock it down, it is possible to lock it down. But it is so onerous on the user that they’d never want to use it in the first place.”

In which we wonder geeky things

At Heathen central, we have a large jar full of pocket change. It takes a year or so to fill up, at which time we cash it in and have a free couple hundred bucks. Usually, we use the change-counting machines in grocery stores — I mean, who’s got time to count all that change by hand?

Anyway, this morning we wondered how close an estimate of the jar’s value based only on (a) the distribution of each denomination of coin (i.e., in circulation) and (b) the known weight of each coin denomination might be, and further where we might get those data points so that we could make a guess before we turn it in. Anybody care to guess how close we’ll come?

Lies & Lying Liars, etc.

Atrios: What They Knew; Atrios quotes Bob Graham:

In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq — a war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda. […] At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE […] Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States’ removing Hussein, by force if necessary.


Nobody sane thought Alabama was really going to beat Auburn this year, but if the Tide can’t win, we’re still happy as long as Tennessee loses. To Vanderbilt.

The Volunteers (4-6, 2-5) will finish without a winning record and not be eligible for a bowl for the first time since 1988, another crushing blow in the worst season in coach Phillip Fulmer’s 14-year tenure.

About that 22-hour flight

There’s been some news buzz lately about the nonstop flight from Hong Kong to London put on by Boeing to demo a new long-range plane. When we first heard about it, we opined to Mrs Heathen that presumably that was the distance over land, i.e. flying west out of Hong Kong. In fact, we were wrong (we blame Mississippi public schools).

Salon’s Ask the Pilot has a great piece on this today. Hong Kong to London is not a new route, and in fact typically takes more like 12 hours — and, as we expected, goes in a westerly direction, not east over two oceans (for reasons discussed below, using either basic compass point is a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea). This new Boeing flight is notable not because it went from Hong Kong to London, but because it took the long way around as a distance demo (and in so doing covered something like 11,664 nautical miles, a commercial record). As the world is “only” about 21,600 nautical miles around, a flight of better than half the planet’s circumference means any two cities are now easily connectable by the Boeing jet.

Of course, connectable and financially feasible are two different things; plenty of routes are theoretically possible, but lack passenger volumes to justify them. No airline will be adding the HKG-LHR route Boeing used, but there are 10K+ routes that might make sense. The Pilot (linked above) has more.

Also, if, like us, you are amused by the prospect of considering whether east or west is the best route for these long flights, you’ll probably also enjoy his earlier discussion of Great Circle navigation. Remember, our mental images of the world are utterly broken, since almost everyone studies flat maps. These work if you’re driving, or flying from Houston to Dallas, but when you start covering thousands of miles the straight line routes mapped on globe start differing dramatically from those foolishly plotted on planar representations thereof. (For example: the route from New York to Hong Kong goes not west or east but north.)