How We Know We’re In The Future

This afternoon, I’m doing a little work on my laptop (a MacBook Pro), catching up on email and taking care of some software testing. Since we do Microsoft software, the testing is taking place inside a Windows Server 2003 virtual machine that’s running, among other things IIS and SQL Server 2005.

At the same time, the laptop is also ripping a CD (the Oxford American’s annual music issue just showed up) and downloading a couple TV shows via BitTorrent that I’ll watch on my trip this week — something I wouldn’t have to do if I could just copy the damn things from my Tivo, but whatever. Also, because it’s the sort of thing that happens from time to time, my TimeMachine backup is running.

How is the futurey? I was just re-installing a database tool on the Windows VM side and got annoyed that the computer wasn’t responding instantly.

Dept. of GAAAAAH

Whoa.

Actually, it’s a sculpture. However, I’ve seen her work before — a collector in Houston has one of her pieces — and it’s actually more creepy in person.

Scenes from the Cookoff, 2009 Edition

After several years off, Your Favorite Heathen are once again doing the Cookoff. We realized with no small amount of shock that we haven’t done it since the rail opened or Reliant was in place, so in many ways it’s a whole different thing. The train makes it RULE, though; parking is no longer an issue at all.

Wednesday
Uneventful; it always is. It’s quiet, with few folks around since many of the corporate tents — and no small number of the private ones — have no event scheduled for that night. A few, like Cold River, do a sponsor-only party on Wednesday, and we never miss it — it may be the best steak we get all year. We made an error when, having just missed a train, we elected to drive down — only to discover parking was a nightmare even on the least-populated night since so many lots weren’t even open yet. Oops. We did, however, notice that the tent’s new position is:
  • No longer next door to another very loud private tent;
  • Pleasantly close to the main stage; and
  • Immediately adjacent to a booth selling, among other things, chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick.
Make of this what you will. We ate a lot, drank a little, and were home by 10 or 1030, and behaved well enough that I was back at my desk by 0630 on Thursday.
Thursday
A little bit louder now, to coin a phrase; this time it was the Heathens plus the betrothed pair of Little Miss Redhead and the Dancin’ Teachin’ Drama Machine (HeatheNames subject to adjustment later). After a much smoother trip down — the train drops you off maybe half a mile from the tent, and the walk is through the carnival — we were among the first in line for the food, which was a lucky thing as we were all four starving. Well fed, we went a-wandering to check out the lay of the land; on Wednesday, we’d noticed a seriously hoppin’ party in the northwest corner, but couldn’t see whose tent it was, so we went up to see who they were. Aha. Corporate: It’s for Cazadores, Bacardi’s premium tequila, and the “tent” is only a “tent” in the loosest possible sense. It’s got a faux-adobe front, for crying out loud, though it’s certainly the only time I’ve seen a pseudo-traditional hacienda-type tent with a velvet rope. Recession or no, the rum people were definitely pulling out all the stops. We kept it low key — as all loyal Heathen understand, pacing is vitally important in four-day party situations — but the official log does contain a few entries of note:
  • Choice quote: “I’ll bet the Amish look great naked.” (LMR)
  • Even at the Cookoff, nobody loves Centerpoint; their (large) tent was nearly devoid of people.
  • Is it more “BBQ Burning Man” or “BBQ Ren Faire?” Hard to say.
  • Frankly, as an eighties cover band, you’re probably doing it wrong if you think you can do justice to both Loverboy *and* the Cure. Just saying.

Stay tuned for Friday and Saturday recaps as they become available.

Um, what?

Filling out a (Federal) form for a background check related to a new project at work, I was asked for my height. Do you see anything unusual about the dialog options below?

how tall am I.png

Dept. of Iconic Overload

Does a local blogger really need this many icons at the bottom of every post?

iconorama.png

I’ve been online since before there WERE browsers, and consider myself pretty clueful, but I’ve got no friggin’ idea what most of those are even for. Considering that most readers are less sophisticated than I am, I wonder at the utility.

Can someone…

…please point me to an example of Forrester, Gartner, or any of those analyst houses having been at all consistently prescient about anything? I don’t mean “did one guy say something that came true;” I’m sure that, with enough analysts typing enough papers, they’ve all come up with one or two things ahead of the curve. Big deal. Value would lie in a wheat:chaff ratio greater than “1″, and I’m willing to bet nobody’s got one.

Seriously, these whitepaper factories seem to exist primarily to do logrolling with each other, or to extract money from muzzy-headed biz-dev types whose first thought in encountering any new technology is “how can I destroy the communication value of this thing by INVADING IT WITH MARKETING NOISE?”

Eleventy Million kinds of Cool

Zoe Keating:

Via Wil Wheaton, who explains a bit that makes the track above even cooler:

See that MacBook next to her? She uses that to sample herself several times to build a rhythm, and then she plays over it, like a one-woman string quartet. Or quintet. Or awesometet. I didn’t realize this the first time I heard her; I just thought her music was haunting and beautiful, but once I knew what she was doing, I was awestruck. In fact, knowing how she does it, I defy you to listen to it again and keep your jaw off the floor.

We here at Heathen Central are longtime fans of classical instrumentation in modern music; I once saw Rasputina (of which Keating is an alum) in a now-defunct bar in downtown Houston, and a really awesome modern original string quartet played at the Heathen Hitchin’. I’m glad to discover Keating; I suspect I’ll be hitting iTunes shortly to get some more. The piece above is “Tetrishead,” found on “One Cello x 16: Natoma,” $7.92 at iTunes.

Dept. of Things That Could Not Be More Awesome

We are not making this up: In WWII, a Polish unit had a bear mascot — eventually “drafted” — that carried shells for them and, on occasion, fought Nazis. Said unit still exists, and its insignia now memorializes said bear (at right).

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On duty, Voytek was trained to carry cases of ammunition and mortar shells down the line to waiting artillery, each one weighing hundreds of pounds. On one occasion, he wandered into an empty shower stall and surprised an Arabic spy who had been listening in on top secret information. The spy quickly surrendered and immediately confessed to all of his crimes, probably because he was smart enough to realize that any military unit possessing Anti-Espionage Bears are likely going to be on the winning side of the war.

After the war, he retired to a zoo in Edinburgh, where he was frequently visited by his former comrades. He died in 1963.

(The first link is a random blog, but he’s also in Wikipedia, for crying out loud.)

Why Privatizing Prisons is a BAD Idea

Two Pennsylvania judges are now going to prison for taking in excess of two million dollars in kickbacks over a five year period in exchange for increasing the headcount at private juvenile facilities.

Ciavarella, 58, along with Conahan, 56, corruptly and fraudulently “created the potential for an increased number of juvenile offenders to be sent to juvenile detention facilities,” federal court documents alleged. Children would be placed in private detention centers, under contract with the court, to increase the head count. In exchange, the two judges would receive kickbacks.

The Juvenile Law Center said it plans to file a class-action lawsuit this week representing what they say are victims of corruption. Juvenile Law Center attorneys cite a few examples of harsh penalties Judge Ciavarella meted out for relatively petty offenses:

  • Ciavarvella sent 15-year-old Hillary Transue to a wilderness camp for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page. (Emph. added)

  • He whisked 13-year-old Shane Bly, who was accused of trespassing in a vacant building, from his parents and confined him in a boot camp for two weekends.

Dept. of Literary Observances

Watchmencovers.pngWatchmen was a product of its time — by which I mean full of mid-80s, duck-and-cover era of superpower brinksmanship.

When I read it again in the mid-90s, it seemed dated, and delightfully so. The Wall was gone. The Russians were our friends. Nuclear annihilation wasn’t on the table, everything was rosy, and the pessimism of Moore’s text seemed like a bad dream remembered years later.

I’m reading it again now, in advance of the film. I’m sad to say it doesn’t seem so dated anymore.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding / A summer smoker underground

Now playing on Heathen Radio: The Nightfly, by Donald Fagen, largely because of this excellent retrospective on its place in popular music (via Andrea, at Facebook). Check it out, unless you are — like certain wives of mine — allergic to the axis of Fagen/Becker.

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream’s in sight
You’ve got to admit it
At this point in time that it’s clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we’ll be A.O.K.

Dept. of Movies We Need to See

Some years ago, I had a strange dream wherein I was living in a Cicely, Alaska, type town in the middle of the northwestern wilderness, and part of the quirky charm of the area was the intelligent moose population — but part of the tension of the dream was that, unbeknownst to the population at large, the moose were under predation by some vampiric influences, resulting in a near-complete conversion of the moose population from “herbivore” to “blood-drinker.”

Yeah. No idea.

Anyway, a discussion of this dream later made me realize that while vampiric moose are funny, the whole idea of a weremoose was enough to send me into beverage-spewing hysterics, and indeed is making me giggle even as I type this. Which is why seeing this prop over at Io9 makes me want to see this movie so very much.

The film — Black Sheep — centers on a young man with a horrible phobia of sheep returning to his ancestral New Zealand ranch to sell his share to his brother. Unbeknownst to our hero, the black-hearted brother has been experimenting on the sheep, turning the docile little buggars into bloodthirsty carnivores whose bite — you guessed it! — turns humans into bloodthirsty were-sheep. Madcap hilarity must, of course, ensue.

I Am Not Making This Up.

Who’s with me?

Darn. And also Cool!

Cafe Montrose never reopened after Ike, which is irritating and sad — it was a great neighborhood joint for a quick bite or a resplendent feast. I’ll miss it.

But in its place, we’re getting a cured-meat-and-wine-bar (“Vinoteca Poscol”) from Marco Wiles, he of Da Marco and Dolce Vita, which could be a lovely thing.

“Buh-bye, Dubai”

This is brilliant; check it out:

Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world’s worst business idea, and there isn’t even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai – it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.

Dubai threatens to become an instant ruin, an emblematic hybrid of the worst of both the West and the Middle-East and a dangerous totem for those who would mistakenly interpret this as the de facto product of a secular driven culture.

The opening shot of this clip shows 200 skyscrapers that were built in the last 5 years. It looks like Manhattan except that it isn’t the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolf or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.

Gahhh.

So, I’m trying to find a good online running log/community site/etc. There are several, mostly of them I’ve linked here before. The one I hear good things about in terms of community is RunningAhead.com; the one with the most Google-juice is MapMyRun.com, a division of MapMyFitness, apparently.

Now, so, the features I want are:

  • Easy logging. Make it simple for me to enter a new running/walking event.
  • Easy GPS integration. Ideally, I just plug it in and say “upload” and the event get tagged on my calendar, potentially even without any other metadata. (But I should be able to add metadata like “crappy run” or “raining” or “had cramp” later.)
  • Decent community forums & such.
  • Open access to data, so I can pull it out on my own via (ideally) a RESTful API or somesuch.
  • Facebook integration (which is actually an outgrowth of the previous item).

And when I talk about data integration in the log — i.e., from the GPS — what I want is:

  • Date of run
  • Time of day for start and stop
  • Duration of run
  • Distance of run
  • Average pace
  • “Split” times for each mile, i.e. time to mile X and pace for mile X

Everyone seems to be mad for RunningAhead, but it’s a labor of love from ONE GUY who appears to be absolutely allergic to code he didn’t write. Even the FORUM at RA is homegrown, which makes precisely zero sense, and he’s making noises about a 100% custom GPS integration solution (i.e., instead of utilizing the Garmin plugin that’s FREE and available NOW). Consequently, people have been asking for features for literally YEARS at RA — like GPS integration and data publishing/API/Facebook/Blog support — that are all coming “real soon now” and which may never see the light of day.

So, there’s that.

The other critter, MMR, is only marginally better. It supports the Garmin, and data flows in pretty easily, but it’s doctrinaire and rigid about some data I don’t care about (type of run, description of run). I’d rather it just sucked the data in and put it on the calendar automatically. Further, it doesn’t seem to gather splits data at all, focussing instead on the route, the time, and the average pace. That’s cool, but it’s incomplete.

Also, and this is the real kicker, the MMR site is FUGLY. It’s chock full of ads and would give any usability expert absolute HIVES. It’s poorly coded, poorly laid out, and fails to retain preferences or settings with any reliability (relying on cookies instead of internal profile data, for example).

So near as I can tell, they all suck, and nobody’s doing what I want, which is annoying. Heathen Nation, prove me wrong, would you?

(I’m also kind of afraid I’m not really getting all my data into an open format right now. The Garmin desktop is hokey and proprietary, but I can see splits there. Ascent will also show them. What I really want is an online tool like Ascent, and I’d even pay for it, but I’m not even sure it exists.)

Run Run Run Run Run

A good one today: 5.01 in 1:01, average pace 12:18, and there was no walking after I started running after a two-block warmup. And — get this — my mile times got faster as I went: 12:50; 12:27; 12:31; 11:55; and a personal best 11:44 on the fifth mile after bargaining with myself for 2 miles about when I was going to take a walking break. (Turns out, the answer was “after the Garmin says I’ve gone five miles.”)

The kids demand a followup

Fellow Malleteer AJ (the tall black dude, not the short white girl) commented on the prior post, demanding I provide some NEW music I found equally compelling.

Sad to say, of course, but he’ll learn soon enough that music you encounter after 30 tends not to be as personally meaningful as the stuff you found before 30, and that’s reflected in the lone 21st century entry on the prior list (Radiohead’s Amnesiac). I’ll give it a swing, though.

The rules change a little: I’m going to pick records not that have lodged in my personal history as irrevocably as the other list, since this isn’t yet knowable. Instead, I’m going to give my best guess for 20 (or so) records I think I’ll still be listening to in 20 years, and I’m going to do my best to avoid any overlap artist-wise with the prior list (so, Radiohead’s already represented, e.g.; re-including U2 was unavoidable, however).

  1. Lonelyland, Bob Schneider, 2000
  2. Post-War, M. Ward, 2006
  3. Stories from the City, Stories from Sea, PJ Harvey, 2000
  4. Transcendental Blues, Steve Earle, 2000
  5. Essence, Lucinda Williams, 2001
  6. Big Boi & Dre Present Outkast, Outkast, 2001
  7. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips, 2002
  8. Blacklisted, Neko Case, 2002 (tie: also, Fox Confessor Bring the Flood, 2006)
  9. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters, 2007
  10. Elephant, The White Stripes, 2003
  11. Funeral, The Arcade Fire, 2004
  12. A Ghost is Born, Wilco, 2004
  13. A Tale of God’s Will, Terence Blanchard, 2007
  14. Z, My Morning Jacket, 2005
  15. Medulla, Bjork, 2004
  16. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen, 2002
  17. Sea Change, Beck, 2002
  18. Scar, Joe Henry, 2001
  19. O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Various artists, 2000
  20. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2, 2000
  21. Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam, 2006
  22. Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain, Sparklehorse, 2006
  23. Hardwire Healing, The Dexateens, 2007
  24. Strays Don’t Sleep, Strays Don’t Sleep, 2005
  25. The Shepherd’s Dog, Iron & Wine, 2007

Happy Now?

Life Soundtracks via Facebook, pt 1 (updated)

So, over the weekend, another one of those pass-around lists happened on Facebook. I wrote a response, but posted it only there, which seems foolish in light of the follow-up I’ve also been asked to write, so here’s my 25-album list in response to these instructions:

List 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life, or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world.

I snagged the idea from someone who’d expanded to 20, so I felt no compunctions about expanding to 25. This updated, edited version also includes mental snapshots for context.

  1. Lifes Rich Pageant, REM, 1985. A Columbia House cassette and the crappy deck in a ’78 Regal. Twenty-four years later, I meet Mike Mills in an airport, and what I think of is the first time “Begin the Begin” hit my ears in that car.
  2. The Joshua Tree, U2, 1987. See prior art; the beginning of the rest of my life, whether I knew it or not, since this thread leads eventually to Erin.
  3. Trace, Son Volt, 1995. A loaner pickup, theater in Texas, and weird scenes inside a corrugated metal barn.
  4. Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones, 1971. Chris Jolly’s room at Mallet, ca. 1990
  5. Mars Needs Guitars, Hoodoo Gurus, 1985. The back seat of the family car, an actual Walkman, and a drive home from the Coast
  6. Especially for You, The Smithereeens, 1986. One side of a well-worn cassette dubbed from Eric’s copy, played on constant repeat from 1986 to 1988.
  7. Uh-Huh, John Cougar Mellencamp, 1983. The other side of that same cassette.
  8. The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground, 1967. John Smith, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1988.
  9. The Heart of Saturday Night, Tom Waits, 1974. A sort of romance, and an unrelated long nighttime drive through the North Carolina hills in the cold, cold winter.
  10. 1984, Van Halen, 1984. Church trips. Really.
  11. In Through the Out Door, Led Zeppelin, 1979. We dance madly in the hallway outside my room while Frank “shoots up,” Tuscaloosa, 1990 or thereabouts.
  12. Shelter, Lone Justice, 1986. Capstone Summer Honors Program, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1987.
  13. Journeyman, Eric Clapton, 1989. A pitch black auditorium, a single floating cigarette, and the best opening chords ever.
  14. Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, 1984. Mike Adams’ Sentra, 1987.
  15. Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos, 1992. Cassie hated it. I loved it. 1992.
  16. Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution, 1984. C’mon.
  17. Jane’s Addiction, Jane’s Addiction, 1987. In some weird grad students’ house south of Hardy near Elam, I get stoned for the first time, 1987.
  18. Cure for Pain, Morphine, 1993. Birmingham visit, 1995, and I discover Morphine via Mohney.
  19. Amnesiac, Radiohead, 2001. Eric and Chet summer as bachelors, 2001. Also REDACTED.
  20. The Soul Cages, Sting, 1991. Sting sings about my dad, 1991.
  21. One Fair Summer Evening, Nanci Griffith, 1988. The Tom Waits girl hipped me to this live Griffith set in 1993 or 1994. It was years before I realized I’d moved within blocks of the venue in question.
  22. Concrete Blonde, Concrete Blonde, 1986. On near infinite repeat from Patrick’s room, ca. 1990.
  23. Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails, 1989. ANGRY. Also, HORNY.
  24. The Trinity Session, The Cowboy Junkies, 1987. I drive Frank and Eric P to the farm in 1988. We stop at a now-gone record store to pick this up on the way out of town.
  25. Doo Dad, Webb Wilder, 1991. Hattiesburg done good. “There’s a glimmer of morning / Just over the tree-line…”

The other “Groundhog day” film

I didn’t know this until just now, but Groundhog Day is almost certainly a stolen film; the plot first surfaced in a 1973 short story called 12:01 PM, wherein the loop is only an hour long, and the only one aware of it is a sad-sack businessman.

The story was then made into a 1990 Academy-Award winning short film far, far more disturbing than the Bill Murray classic. A subsequent TV movie expanded the idea to a full day.

The author and 1990 director brought suit, apparently, but were unable to compete legally with the essentially limitless resources of Columbia Pictures.

The good news is that the 1990 film is available on Youtube, split into 3 parts (total running time is 25 minutes). The protagonist is played by an actor you will find familiar.

In which I cop to watching terrible TV movies

I somehow ended up watching all four hours of the horrible TV adaptation of XIII last Sunday and last night, and boy am I sorry.

Here’s the main problem: XIII was a very well-received graphic novel first, over in Belgium of all places. It then made the leap into an interesting first-person shooter whose charm was enhanced by the fact that it was done not in a photorealistic style, but instead as though the player were playing the comic. Nice idea, and apparently well-executed.

Well, here comes the nearly inevitable film adaptation, clearly shot on the cheap with has-been (as in “has-been MUCH THINNER before now”) Val Kilmer in a bit part, and Stephen Dorff as the eponymous XIII.

And it’s bad. Really bad. Granted, there probably hasn’t been a decent plotline yet that actually works well in all three formats (game, comic, TV) because of the various demands and quirks of each medium, so they definitely get SOME slack for taking a swing at it. And there were parts that weren’t awful, but on the whole the entire affair ran on rails, telegraphing twists well before they happened. Plus, since it needed to anchor two evenings, it felt super-bloated at four hours (well, minus commercials). Add to this the fact that the plot of Shooter is basically the same thing, but in a much better movie, and you get some annoyance.

However, the single greatest area this steamer fails is in preventable problems clearly the result of a complete disregard for verifiable facts. To wit:

  1. One scene, said to be “the day before election day,” or early November, shows Arlington National Cemetery under a few inches of snow. Snow that early in or around the District would be freakish and weird, and while not unprecedented, is still out of place here.

  2. Compounding the error, though, is the very next shot of the film, which shows a lush and verdant White House lawn. Trees are full of leaves, the sky is blue, and there’s no hint of winter. Um, what? News flash to filmmakers: The White House is only about two miles from Arlington, dumbasses.

  3. In another shot displaying a willful ignorance of basic DC geography, a phone call placed from “a pay phone in Dupont Circle” shows the caller with a clear view of the Capitol down a wide boulevard. Leaving aside for a moment the basic problem — the Capitol isn’t visible from Dupont — the view provided OF the Capitol is from the east, and Dupont is northwest.

  4. A plotpoint of the film is a presidential race between a successor Vice President and the opposite-party candidate, who happens to be the assassinated President’s brother. That’s a little weird, but here’s the really fun part: a political ad we see in the film claims that the Vice President “as governor of Illinois voted to cut funding for the Marines.” Um, what?

  5. A late-film development is the deployment of a dirty bomb at a Bethesda polling station on election day, as a way to allow the government to impose martial law and disrupt the electoral process. This opens the door for a twofer of stupidity. First, we see elaborate, TSA-style security measures at the polling station, which have never been in place any time I’ve voted anywhere.

  6. The real screamer, though, is that (according to dialog in the film) DC suburb Bethesda, Maryland is “four hours from DC.” That’s some metro line, isn’t it?

Compare all this to the slavish attention to real-world geography shown by the Fallout 3 team on a video game.

Sigh. It’s what I get for watching a broadcast network, really. If NBC/CBS/ABC/Fox ever get something decent on the air, it’s got to be a complete accident.

In which we run some more

Mildly hungover on Saturday, I ran anyway: 4.46miles in 57:33, including my longest uninterrupted run yet (just over 2 miles, after which my heart was threatening to mutiny outright) and my lowest mile pace yet (11:55) — well, “yet” meaning “in this iteration of running.” Ten years ago, I could do a sub-30-minute 5K.

Perfectly fine today, I did a brisk 4.2 (or 4.12? Somehow, my Garmin desktop software and MapMyRun disagree) walk in just over an hour. Bit by bit… More running tomorrow, wherein I try to make it 2.5 uninterrupted miles running.

Fox, why you got to be so douchey?

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is back from an extended hiatus, and is the lead-in show to Joss Whedon’s new Dollhouse. However, collisions being what they are, we’re grabbing the Terminator stuff with the TV and getting DH online.

Except Fox has TSCC scheduled from 7:00 to 8:01, which makes it a PITA to tape TSCC and then grab something else on another channel at 8. It also means that even if you rig up a manual recording for TSCC, you miss the last minute or two of the show. This is clearly a ploy to drive viewers to Dollhouse, but it’s a cheesetastic dick move even if it is in service of a show creator we Heathen enjoy (Whedon).

Well, fuck you, Fox. And to think they wonder why people torrent TV; crap like this makes it objectively simpler to just download than it is to watch normally. (And, seriously, fuck Fox’s busy-as-shit halfass view-online site. It’s fallen down on me too many times to bother with anymore when I can get an HD torrent to watch without wrestling with browser plug-ins and net congestion.)

Friday Walkies

4.24mi, 1:07. Weird route this time that I don’t think I’ll repeat, given the traffic involved, but it was (sort of) worth trying.

This is a bad idea

Microsoft is getting into the retail store business, and has hired a Wal-Mart exec to lead the effort; the move is heralded as “taking a page out of Apple’s playbook,” and that’s almost certainly what they think they’re doing — after all, Apple has had a great deal of success with its stylish brand-enhancing shops.

This is baffling on a number of levels (timing for one), but the biggest head-scratcher is why they think anyone would go to a Redmond-owned store to buy any MS product. Apple stores work because Apple kit is perceived as stylish, hip, interesting, and desirable on levels unconnected with mundane IT concerns. There are plenty of legitimate technical reasons to prefer the Mac platform, both in terms of hardware and software, but those are secondary, I think, to the appeal of the stores.

Apple also offers a unity of design and function as well as a delightful marriage of hardware and software that Microsoft simply can’t match (this “we make both” angle is a nontrivial aspect to Mac reliability). Microsoft, on the other hand, has a broad and confusing suite of products, but doesn’t sell any computers at all unless you count the XBox.

Further, Apple enjoys tremendous channel control; it’s next to impossible to buy a new Mac for much less than retail, so a buyer doesn’t hurt themselves financially by doing their deal at an Apple store vs. ordering online. Microsoft’s gear and software, on the other hand, is traditionally deeply discounted by resellers, and MS won’t be able to compete with or undercut those prices without poisoning their own channel. End result: High prices at MS retail, lower prices at Amazon, and no crowds at the shops.

Sony, Dell, and Gateway all tried to do the retail thing, and unless I’m wholly incorrect none of them managed (or have managed) to make the shops interesting from a financial perspective. Nobody ever stood in line for anything these guys made, and the same is true for Microsoft. IT managers herald the next rev of Exchange Server, sure, and those stung by Vista await Windows 7 with cautious optimism, but none of those guys are going to stand in line for their upgrades.

Look for the Microsoft stores to be awkward, weird, and without obvious charm — which is more or less what happens every time MS apes something someone else did without understanding why the other party was successful.

Thank God there’s no REAL crime in South Carolina

Grandstanding douchebag Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has arrested 8 in a quest to charge Michael Phelps in connection with candid party pictures appearing to show him smoking pot.

In a guns-drawn raid on college kids,

deputies seized four laptop computers, a desktop computer and a computer storage drive from his client’s home — supposedly to try to find evidence against Phelps, Harpootlian said, adding they refused his request Wednesday to return the items to his client.

This over a case that is, at best, simple possession, a misdemeanor in South Carolina (and nearly every other state as well).

Nice.

More running foolishness

Today I broke 5 miles; prior runs advertised as “about 5″ were in the 4.7 to 4.8 range; this one was 5.04 according to Garmin, and I covered it in a little over an hour — average pace just over 13, including just three walking songs. Bit by bit…

Bill Gates does something hilarious and cool

At the uber-elite TED conference during his presentation on the eradication of malaria, he did something fantastic:

“Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,” Gates said while opening a jar onstage at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference — a gathering known to attract technology kings, politicians, and Hollywood stars.

“I brought some. Here I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.”

Of course, the mosquitos released at TED weren’t malarial vectors, but the point was made, and I suspect he had everyone’s attention for the remainder of his talk.

FanTAStic.

(Note: I thought this was already posted back on the 5th, but here it is in the “drafts” box. Oops.)

Attn: Space Scientists

In an unprecedented space collision, a commercial Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite ran into each other Tuesday above northern Siberia, creating a cloud of wreckage, officials said today.

Was this event (a) sort of inevitable or (b) bizarrely unlikely?

In which people are thanked, publically

If you, in the course of the holiday season, were to be gifted with some fine Imperial-pint sized beer glasses by certain Jackson-area attorneys, and were then to, after a post-holiday period of abstention, acquire some fine, fine beer to enjoy in said glasses, two things might come to mind:

  1. “Goodness me! This beer is actually much better in the pint glass, owing probably to the greater ability to smell the beer!”; and

  2. “Why, as God as my witness, it seems a crime against humanity and Christendom that modern beers are served in such paltry 12-oz bottles; my fine Imperial Pint glasses have room for much more beer than that!”

That is all.

Obama, Secrets, and the Lapdog Press

I’m still pissed off about the Obama position on the extraordinary rendition lawsuit — that, basically, the whole lawsuit must be quashed because it endangers state secrets, which is exactly the position of the Bush administration. I think Glenn Greenwald at Salon pretty much nails it, along with what’s wrong with the press supposedly covering Washington and presumably entrusted with holding them accountable.

I was going to excerpt, but you should really just go read the whole thing, including Greenwald’s excoriation of the twin douchebags over at the Atlantic, Andy Sullivan and Mark Armbinder, who are now behaving more like stenographers than reporters.

Running Redux

I’m doing it again. I said I hated it, but I’m doing it anyway.

I had a private moment in the Jos. A. Banks dressing room about six months ago (wherein I had to opt for the size above “38″), and consciously decided that, after the holidays, it was all going to change — and, shockingly, it has. I set my sights low to begin with, and just decided I’d do two things:

  1. Eat better by keeping healthy foods in the house. I have a tendency to take the path of least resistance, foodwise, so this is key. Keeping healthy choices around means I eat healthy things.

  2. Take an hour-long walk every day. I’ve run in the past, and can’t go daily, but walking I figure I can do. In an hour, I’d typically go something around 3.2-3.5 miles, depending on pace road choice and whatnot.

I kept to that for January, more or less — there were still pizzas and walk-less days, but precious few — and managed to lose ten pounds. Then we got to February, and my walks seemed to need a little something. Then I got to last Thursday and a similarly private yet completely opposite moment in my own closet: formerly tight pants fit again.

Well, there’s nothing like positive reinforcement, so on Friday my walk became about half walk, half run, and I ended up going 4.09 miles, according to Google. It’s not a great pace, but it’s my pace.

I thought the run was going to be a one-off, and returned to walking on Saturday (faster: 3.7 miles) . . . and then on Sunday I did the half-and-half again (just over 4).

And then I got tired of mapping these things manually after Gary told me about the Garmin running GPS devices, and in a moment of weakness I popped for one on Sunday. Today’s run was my first time out with it, and it’s really encouraging to see pace and distance in real time. It’s even more fun for a geek like me to have this data — and even period data, by miles! — available later. How fast was my first mile? My second? Am I keeping pace? It’s all right there, and that’s neat. (Today: 4.7mi in 1:05.)

Even better, the GPS will spit out mapping info that sites like MapMyRun.com (as well as Garmin’s own MotionBased.com) will map using GMaps, even creating embed-able maps like below. Delightful.

Well, sort of. MapMyRun is completely overrun with ads and geegaws, and if there were a better option I’d jump on it in a heartbeat. My friend Andrea suggests RunningAhead.com, but that site, while cool, doesn’t seem to do data import at all yet (at least not inside the browser, which Garmin publishes a plugin for — that’s how MMR works). It’s also essentially the work of one guy, which makes me nervous — I’d rather use a site with a business plan (though, in RA’s defense, it does appear to be endorsed by Runner’s World).

So, Heathen Nation, any suggestions on online running logs with GPS integration?

Dept. of Mysteries

Amazon’s launched a new Kindle with significant improvements today, about 15 months after the original device’s launch in November 2007. However, they’ve failed a key point: Apple, for example, tends to increase features over time while decreasing price, but the baffler here is that the new Kindle is still $360 — or about the price of a basic laptop.

It’s a neat toy, but I’m not sure I really want one at that price point. It’s too delicate-looking. At $199, it’s compelling. At nearly twice that, it’s something I think I’d only really want if I were on an airplane much more often than I am now.

Dept. of Duh

Turns out, replacing the eartips and filters on your Etymotic 6i headphones can result in a nontrivial increase in fidelity, especially if you use them a lot, and have had them for over four years and use them fairly frequently. So, you know, do that.

BTW, if you fly a lot — or, really, at all — you can’t beat these Etys (unless you go upmarket, and buy nicer Etys; the 6i set is designed for use with mp3 decks, and therefore don’t require an extra amp). The “in-ear” monitor style of headphone produces more sonic isolation than any of the big, bulky active noise-reduction phones from Sony or Bose, and are much easier to carry. They’re not cheap, but few genuinely high-quality things are. (Plus, about an hour into a long flight with a chatty seatmate, the the prospect of $150 headphones will seem like a bargain. Trust me. I know things.)

Why Seizure Is a Bad Idea for Law Enforcement

If you give empowered people the additional power of seizing goods without a burden of proof, eventually you get situations like this:

TENAHA — A two-decade-old state law that grants authorities the power to seize property used in a crime is wielded by some agencies against people who are never charged with, much less convicted, of a crime.

Law enforcement authorities in this East Texas town of 1,000 people seized property from at least 140 motorists between 2006 and 2008, and, to date, filed criminal charges against fewer than half, according to a San Antonio Express-News review of court documents.

Virtually anything of value was up for grabs: cash, cell phones, personal jewelry, a pair of sneakers, and often, the very car that was being driven through town. Some affidavits filed by officers relied on the presence of seemingly innocuous property as the only evidence that a crime had occurred.

Linda Dorman, a great-grandmother from Akron, Ohio, had $4,000 in cash taken from her by local authorities when she was stopped while driving through town after visiting Houston in April 2007. Court records make no mention that anything illegal was found in her van and show no criminal charges filed in the case. She is still waiting for the return of what she calls “her life savings.”

Dorman’s attorney, David Guillory, calls the roadside stops and seizures in Tenaha “highway piracy,” undertaken by a couple of law enforcement officers whose agencies get to keep most of what is seized.

This is robbery, plain and simple, and the officers involved should be charged as such, or at least held personally liable together with the state. Seizing property without a conviction is simply obscene, and will lead to abuses like these no matter what supposed “safeguards” lawmakers try to incorporate.

(HT: Cathy.)

Wow. Bank of America just got MORE evil

They’re trying to suggest to survivors that they may be liable for a dead parent’s debt — apparently as a matter of policy.

Paul Kelleher: Yes, I’m calling to inform you that my mom died on the 24th of January.

Bank of America Estates representative: I’m sorry. Oh, it looks like she never even missed a payment. That’s too bad. Well, how are you planning to take care of her balance?

PK: I’m not going to. She has no estate to speak of, but you should feel free to just go through the standard probate procedure. I’m certainly not legally obligated to pay for her.

BOA: You mean you’re not going to help her out?

PK: I wouldn’t be helping her out — she’s dead. I’d be helping you out.

BOA: Oh, that’s really not the way to look at it. I know that if it were my mother, I’d pay it. That’s why we’re in the banking crisis we’re in: banks having to write off defaulted loans.

The rep’s apparent intention, as Kelleher described it, was to mislead him into believing that he was obligated — at first legally, then, failing that, morally — to cover his mother’s debt (which, in any case, was not large: she had had a $1000 limit on her card). Of course, Kelleher was sophisticated enough to know that’s not true. But how many other less savvy callers in similar situations, he wondered, might respond to the rep’s breezy “how are you planning to take care of her balance?,” with a confused “I guess I’ll mail in a check”?

Wow. Classy move, BofA. Remind me to start using you oh, NEVER.