Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Wanting Comes in Waves

Magnet magazine has an extensive Q&A with Colin Meloy of The Decemberists whose new album by the way, is quite excellent--and, as they mention in the intro to the interview, completely unlike anything you're likely to hear these days. Kind of like all their albums.

Graphic design tip for The Decemberists, though: there is a phenomenon in printing called dot gain, which means that if you set, say, the lyrics in your CD booklet in 9-pt. white type on black, the letters will plug up and will be largely unreadable. As indeed they are, especially to older listeners whose eyesight has always been pretty bad. And after all, who else but older listeners will be buying the actual CD?

It's Snow More!

Huzzah! The last patch of snow in my yard has finally melted. Unfortunately, that now means I have no excuse not to start yard clean up... It's always something, isn't it? Boy, do I miss apartment living!

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's a Cookbook!

As someone who has cookbooks, recipe cards, and FoodTV.com printouts all stained—some to the point of illegibility—with various ingredients, I have to say I like this idea:
The Demy™ is the first and only kitchen-safe digital recipe reader that will revolutionize the way you cook. The Demy™ holds your personal recipe collection in one compact, sleek device. Featuring a high-resolution color touchscreen, an uncluttered interface and many special tools to make any cook’s job easier.

$300 though? Dunno. I could probably just use my iPhone, a device I already have, and which I would probably have on hand while traveling with the Kanamits back to their planet.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meanwhile and Far Away

Elsewhere in cyberspace, while awaiting the next Movie Mis-Treatment, if you dare to purchase any previously mistreated movie, I have set up an Amazon Associate account and if you buy any DVD via the links on the Movie Mis-Treatment site, I get a few pennies. Most titles are available for under $10 (for good reason), and they make great gifts, especially for people you don't like. And since Easter is coming--why not let Night of the Lepus hippity-hop into your Easter basket!

It Might Still Continue to Be

Chapter 5 of It Might Have Been is now up at http://massmedea.wordpress.com/.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ole Tarantula!

Do you regularly buy fresh fruit like bananas and grapes? If so, you may have some cool new pets. From Scientific American:
Each year, there are several news reports of wandering and huntsman spiders, the main "banana spiders," showing up in grocery store bananas as well as poisonous black widows, which find their way into bunches of grapes on store shelves. Both fruits are generally sprayed with pesticides to prevent insect infestation and usually washed before shipment. Still, even with these precautions and visual inspections, some insects manage to survive.
Spiders are not insects of course, but I suspect they were speaking generically. The article includes an interview with a Cornell entomologist who explains the risks (such as they are) of produce-borne spiders. Oh, and what to do in the rare case that you are bitten by one.

I've never been especially frightened of spiders; I think they're pretty cool (although many years ago one got into my computer, built a web on the motherboard, and shorted out the power supply--it was my first web site, I guess). Most spiders are actually quite harmless. Even the fearsome tarantula is not especially dangerous--in all of medical history there has not been even a single incident of a tarantula causing a human fatality. But then no one is particularly frightened of mosquitoes, and they have been responsible for millions of deaths worldwide thanks to their ability to transmit disease (which spiders do not do), so perhaps we need to rethink our entomological risk assessment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wise Madonna of the Flies

This was an interesting find...Robyn Hitchcock joining The Decemberists onstage for a version of Robyn 's "Madonna of the Wasps." The video and audio are a little out of sync, but Colin Meloy sounds eerily Hitchcockian on the verse he sings. By the way, Meloy sings backup on the new Robyn Hitchcock album, and Robyn plays guitar on one track on the new Decemberists album.

In My Pocket, Nightmares Dress...

In eager anticipation of The Great One: Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 at the Paradise Club in Boston on April 13... Intimate performance of "DeChirico Street" with violinist Deni Bonet circa 1996 or 1997. You'll also want to check out Giorgio de Chirico's 1914 painting "Mystery and Melancholy of a Street."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Voice of the Turtle

Over at Movie Mis-Treatments, thrill (or is it kvell) as Gamera the giant flying turtle returns to save two irritating children from brain-eating alien women, wars, and traffic accidents (huh?) in Attack of the Monsters.
The generically named Attack of the Monsters was the fifth Gamera movie and is easily the worst and silliest, which is saying something. The “villain” is Guiron, a vaguely dog-like lizard thing whose head is a giant knife. It could have been the official mascot for those old Ginsu knife commercials. (“In Japan, the face can be used as a knife.”) The dialogue is very very badly written (or at least the American dialogue is, which often sounds like the original Japanese script had been automatically translated by Google), the dubbing is pretty atrocious, and the creature effects are worse than you usually find in these “guy in rubber suit” movies. The “physics” of how the monsters move makes the Star Wars movies seem downright classically Newtonian.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day

That is, 3/14, of course.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It Might Have Been--Chapter 3

It's Friday, so Chapter 3 of my novel-in-progress is up at http://massmedea.wordpress.com. As always, comments are welcome.

A new chapter every Friday.

Basketball Diaries

Well, SU actually beat UConn in the Big East Tournament last night/this morning--after 6 overtimes! I can't remember a time before that game. I think half the players had graduated during the course of the game, and the players they brought in toward the end were in high school when the game started.

I do not envy them for having to play WVU tonight. I will again try to live-tweet.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

That's Entertainment

Sez Bloomberg:
Bernard Madoff, scheduled to plead guilty today to masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme in history, may have to fight off prison inmates who want to squeeze him for money or blame him for the Wall Street crash.

“Madoff isn’t going to be real popular,” said Larry Levine, who served 10 years in federal prisons for securities fraud and narcotics trafficking and now advises convicts on surviving time behind bars. “All the guys there will have wives or parents who are losing their homes or their jobs or who can’t send money to them anymore. Everybody’s going to be blaming Bernie.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ah, schadenfreude.

One down, how many more to go?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time Warp

I finally found a way to solve a weird iCal calendar application syncing problem between my Mac and my iPhone. Specifically, appointments or meeting times would inevitably turn up several hours later on the iPhone than on my computer. For example, my iPhone would tell me that my 6:30 p.m. Toastmasters meeting was at 10:30 p.m. I was wondering if this was a subtle jab from my iPhone that I tend to be chronically early for appointments. I didn't know I had it running in passive-aggressive mode. Anyway, this was starting to drive me crazy, so I was poking around online and I found a fix:

Go to the iPhone's Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, scroll all the way down to the end, and make sure that in the field marked Time Zone Support, the specified time zone "example city" matches what is set on your computer (the iPhone default is "Cupertino, CA," and for some reason mine was set to "London" even though I don't recall ever setting this when I go to London). Anyway, I made sure both my computer and iPhone were both set to "New York, NY," re-synced (re-sunc?), and now all my appointments are set for the correct time. The disappointments are a whole other problem...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hot Lead and Cold Feet

I swear to god this is not an Onion story. From CNN:
Three years ago, Phillip Loughlin made a choice he knew would brand him as an outsider with many of his fellow hunters:

He decided to shoot "green" bullets.

"It made sense," Loughlin said of his switch to more environmentally friendly ammo, which doesn't contain lead. "I believe that we need to do a little bit to take care of the rest of the habitat and the environment -- not just what we want to shoot out of it."

Lead, a toxic metal that can lower the IQs of children, is the essential element in most ammunition on the market today.

But greener alternatives are gaining visibility -- and stirring controversy -- as some hunters, scientists, environmentalists and public health officials worry about lead ammunition's threat to the environment and public health.
Ah, so it's the lead that's the danger. I see.

Day for Night

Maybe it's me, but I get jet-lagged when we change the clocks in the spring and fall. And this year we changed them earlier than I was expecting. But was it a good idea? The most recent issue of Scientific American (and other studies and articles I have seen) suggest that DST may not have quite the benefit we think it does:
People may think that with the time shift, they are conserving electricity otherwise spent on lighting. But recent studies have cast doubt on the energy argument—some research has even found that it ultimately leads to greater power use.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with conceiving the idea of daylight saving in 1784 to conserve candles, but the U.S. did not institute it until World War I as a way to preserve resources for the war effort. The first comprehensive study of its effectiveness occurred during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Transportation found that daylight saving trimmed national electricity usage by roughly 1 percent compared with standard time.

Scant research had been done since, during which time U.S. electricity usage patterns have changed as air conditioning and household electronics have become more pervasive, observes economist Matthew Kotchen of the University of California, Santa Barbara. But lately, changes to daylight saving policies on state and federal levels have presented investigators new chances to explore the before-and-after impacts of the clock shift.

In 2006 Indiana instituted daylight saving statewide for the first time. (Before then, daylight time confusingly was in effect in just a handful of Indiana’s counties.) Examining electricity usage and billing since the statewide change, Kotchen and his colleague Laura Grant unexpectedly found that daylight time led to a 1 percent overall rise in residential electricity use, costing the state an extra $9 million. Although daylight time reduces demand for household lighting, the researchers suggest that it increased demand for cooling on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings....

Investigators got another opportunity in 2007, when daylight time nationwide began three weeks earlier, on the second Sunday in March, and ended one week later in the fall. California Energy Commission resource economist Adrienne Kandel and her colleagues discovered that extending daylight time had little to no effect on energy use in the state. The observed drop in energy use of 0.2 percent fell within the statistical margin of error of 1.5 percent.
Interestingly, I am apparently not alone in experiencing adverse effects of DST (even if mine are purely imaginary):
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and their colleagues looked at myocardial infarction rates in Sweden since 1987 and found that the number of heart attacks rose about 5 percent during the first week of daylight saving time (called summer time in Europe). In the October 30, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine, they suggest that this rise may result from the disruption of sleep patterns and biological rhythms.
But then:
the clock shift could help prevent traffic accidents by enabling more people to drive home in sunlight.
Yeah, but those people are usually driving while on cellphones, making them more susceptible to crashes, while at the same time causing heart attacks in those of us who are not on cellphones and have to deal with them. So it's pretty much Carnage-A-Go-Go either way.

Even Less Splendid

A comment on the Scientific American blog post I cited below raised an interesting point about how artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain. I at first threw the BS flag, but the more I thought about it there more it seemed that there might be something to it...so I did a little digging and found that there are studies that suggest that the use of sugar substitutes can backfire:
Why would a sugar substitute backfire? Swithers and Davidson wrote that sweet foods provide a “salient orosensory stimulus” that strongly predicts someone is about to take in a lot of calories. Ingestive and digestive reflexes gear up for that intake but when false sweetness isn't followed by lots of calories, the system gets confused. Thus, people may eat more or expend less energy than they otherwise would.

The good news, Swithers says, is that people can still count calories to regulate intake and body weight. However, she sympathizes with the dieter's lament that counting calories requires more conscious effort than consuming low-calorie foods.

Swithers adds that based on the lab's hypothesis, other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame K, which also taste sweet but do not predict the delivery of calories, could have similar effects. Finally, although the results are consistent with the idea that humans would show similar effects, human study is required for further demonstration.
I know there is a great deal of political opposition to people actually studying things, but this may be worthy of a deeper look.

Not So Splendid

Hmm..Had not thought about this...
People like sucralose – the artificial sweetener marketed as Splenda – because the human body can’t break it down and use it. That means the substance has almost no calories and makes it a popular ingredient in everything from cookies to diet sodas. Unfortunately, it turns out that modern wastewater treatment methods don’t break down Splenda either.
Obviously, a trifle bit more study might be warranted. I do rather prefer Splenda to all the other artifical sweeteners out there...

It Might Have Been

One of the extracurricular projects that has occupied much of my free time for the past year or so has been the writing of a "real" novel (i.e., not an exercise in unfettered silliness like Virus!, which I still like and find very funny, but, well, it is pretty silly and, hey, is now available for the Kindle or the iPhone Kindle app). It has gone by various titles (including Mass Medea and Irrational Exuberance), but for the nonce has become It Might Have Been. It is nearly "done" (only a few more chapters to go), and I am generally happy with most of it--to the extent that I can ever be completely happy with anything that I write, and the tweaking of older chapters is pretty constant (who was it who said that writing is never finished, just abandoned?).

The novel is basically the story of the staff of a popular computer magazine during the height of the dot-com boom years (1999-2000). It's largely a social satire of those years (my year of reading the collected works of Charles Dickens helped immensely in developing a narrative voice), but at the same time is a David vs. Goliath story of the publishing industry (easily translatable to any other industry you care to name). No, it's not a memoir of my Digital Imaging/Micro Publishing News years--1997-2001--by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, it's pretty much just a stretch of the imagination).

Anyway, one of the things I have taken away from various writing workshops I have attended in the past few years is that one strategy that successful authors have started using is "workshopping" books-in-progress online, and that by driving substantial site traffic and gleaning comments, authors can demonstrate to potential agents/publishers that there is actually a market for what they are writing. So, when in Rome...

Ergo, I have set up another blog over at http://massmedea.wordpress.com* (yes, I had not come up with the new title until after I had set up my user account). So, please, go visit, leave a comment, pass the link along, etc. Let's get those numbers up! Let's make this Web 2.0 thing work.

I will be posting a new chapter every Friday. Chapters 1 and 2 (a special "two-hour world premiere") are up already.

* There are three reasons I like WordPress vs. Blogger or Typepad. The first is that it makes it pretty easy to track traffic and other site stats. The second is that WordPress lets me paste text from MS Word and preserve formatting like italics and bold--something Blogger does not do (that I am aware of)--which keeps me from having to go through a post again and re-add formatting, which is a pain in the tuchis. The third reason--there are three reasons I like WordPress (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)--is that WordPress also allows me to add my own header illustration.

Incommunicado--Sort Of

It's funny how dependent we become on these things.

On Saturday afternoon, the hamsters that power my Web host's servers finally collapsed with exhaustion, and I discovered Saturday afternoon that I was unable to retrieve e-mail from my richtextandgraphics.com account. Nor was my Web site up, and I could not access my site's control panel application. It was Saturday afternoon, so no big deal, and I figured it was something temporary and that it would be back before long.

24 hours later, it was still out, so I dropped them a note from my Roadrunner account, and they told me everything was down and they were working "around the clock" to get everything restored. I pestered them again Monday morning, so now it was starting to get kind of urgent. Although my Web site is back up, e-mail and control panel are still down. The specific time when things will be restored has now become a moving target, and as I write this on Tuesday morning, it's still down, which has really become rather intolerable. It's like having one's phone service out--worse, actually.

I will pester them one more time and give them "24 hours" (like a Star Trek villain--"You have 24 hours to beam down the Enterprise crew or your ship will be destroyed! Bwa-ha-ha!") but after that I will be forced to move my domain to a new host (the folks who host my Movie Mis-Treatments site seem more on the ball than my RTG site hosts).

The point is that if anyone reading this has been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with me via e-mail, I am not being antisocial (well, at least not via e-mail; Instant Messaging is another story...). If it's urgent, try my alternate address.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


I read a review this morning of the Amazon Kindle app for the Apple iPhone. Basically, the application lets you buy, download, and read Kindle books on the iPhone. So if you don't want to shell out $359 for the Kindle itself, you can still read Kindle-formatted e-books.

What that means is that, since the iPhone does not use the E Ink e-paper display, you don't get the e-paper experience. But that's okay, because a) the iPhone Kindle app is free and b) the iPhone display is actually pretty readable as it is. So I downloaded the app and bought an e-book (Charles Dickens' Sketches by Boz, which I don't have in print) and it's actually not a bad experience. I have mixed feelings about e-books (see below), but if one were to start reading e-books, the Kindle app might very well be the way to go. It's not perfect, but of all the e-book applications I have seen over the years, it's perhaps one of the best.

The Kindle app uses the same font as the proper Kindle. You can adjust the size of the type to one of five presets, and the text is dynamically reflowed, although the justification sometimes causes weird gaps between words. If the Kindle format ever incorporates a sophisticated H&J feature, this will look a lot better, but I don't know that that is even possible. They could also make the text ragged right, which might end up looking better, but I guess they really want to ape the typographic conventions of a printed book. (I can't speak to how the Kindle app handles images, but the review I linked to earlier says it handles most images fairly well.)

A page fills the iPhone screen, and tapping the screen once brings up the limited menu with which you can add a bookmark, access the ToC and all your bookmarks, change the type size, and scroll through the book. The page is turned by dragging your finger across the touch screen, and you can go forward or backward. Pages turn pretty quickly; once in a while it takes a couple seconds, but usually only when quickly flipping pages.

There are some iPhone-centric features I wish the Kindle app supported, such as squeezing the screen to resize the page, turning the display 90 degrees, etc., but those are fairly small points. The display is very crisp and while I have not read anything at great length on an E Ink display, this app seems remarkably comparable. (I have read many many things on the iPhone screen and have no problem with the display.) Interestingly, the iPhone display is color, while the Kindle itself is black-and-white only. While that is likely to change probably a few years hence, it does make a compelling case for bypassing the Kindle hardware reader and going straight to the iPhone.

Buying books is pretty easy; you buy them from Amazon either by computer or via Safari on the iPhone, although Amazon's idea of "1-click checkout" is a bit of a misnomer, since it takes about as many clicks as buying anything from any e-commerce site. Happily, you can register the Kindle app with a preexisting Amazon account, so you don't need to set up anything new. Kindle titles range in price from $0.99 up to $9.99 (or more), with $9.99 the going rate for new releases--not bad when you consider that most new hardcovers go for $25.99 and up. (Sketches by Boz was $1.99, even though it is in the public domain, but I guess someone had to take the trouble to convert it. But then while many classics are in the public domain, things like specific translations, annotations, introductions, and other supplementary materials are not.) You can also download free sample chapters of e-books before you commit to anything.

Once a Kindle book is purchased, it is automatically downloaded to the iPhone the next time the Kindle app is launched. Sketches by Boz downloaded in less than 15 seconds over my WiFi network. I wonder, though, if I ever do get a proper Kindle, will I be able to transfer books I have bought for the iPhone app to it? It would not surprise me if they made me buy it again. Not that I will, of course.

I will still always prefer printed books; they will always work, they don't need batteries, and they don't have annoying DRM technologies. I can drop a printed book (because I am a klutz) and it will still be readable. But the Kindle iPhone app is a good way to experience e-books. I can see using it when I travel and want to read books on planes, trains, buses, etc., but don't necessarily want to lug a printed book around. (I bought the new novel Drood in Florida to read on the flight home, and it's an 800-page hardcover. Lugging it around airports is good for building upper body strength, though.)

Here's what I would love, but you know it will never happen: buying a "book" will not only give me the print edition--so I can read it at leisure at home--but also the electronic version (at no extra cost), so I can take it with me elsewhere. That is staggeringly unlikely, just as a print/audio book "bundle" will never happen.

I do have certain reservations about buying e-books in general, and they're the same ones I have about buying iTunes vs. actual CDs: digital data can be far too ephemeral. Some years ago, I had a Handspring Visor PDA (it ran the Palm OS) and, since I have always been interested in e-book technologies, I had purchased several e-books designed to be read on it. When the Visor died a couple years later, my e-books were gone. Are Kindle books likely to suffer from the same problem? After all, hardware changes, I will likely get a new iPhone (or something) in a few years, and file formats change, god knows. Will the Sketches by Boz e-book I bought today still be readable on anything I am likely to own (or anything at all anywhere) in five years? 10 years?

Say what you will about print, it endures. That's why Sketches by Boz can still be read 173 years after it was written.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Laying Cable

Via The Big Picture. I have always been glad that I don't get CNBC. However, I do wish I got Comedy Central, to' only for one show (maybe two). Jon Stewart's bit on the incompetence of CNBC's financial reporting is quite funny.


Over at Movie Mis-Treatments, the latest movie to be abused is the 1959 giant lobster flick Teenagers from Outer Space. A character who vaguely looks like alt-rock icon Morrissey
is my lame excuse for interjecting a bunch of Smiths' lyrics. (Morrissey actually has a new album that just came out, and it's not bad...)
“David Love” is the star of Teenagers from Outer Space. Well, he’s on screen most of the time. Whether that means he’s the “star” is open to debate. It also stars Harvey B. Dunn, which is what they used to announce at the end of stage productions of Harvey. It also co-stars Tom Lockyear. A “lockyear” is an official form of measurement defined as “the length of time it takes to break into a really high-quality lock.” Actually Tom Lockyear is a pseudonym for the director, Tom Graeff. The production associate was C.R. Kaltenthaler (not H.R. Pufnstuff) which, according to the Internet Movie Database, was the real name of star David Love. And, of course, written, produced, and directed by Tom Graeff (aka Tom Lockyear). So basically there were at most five people involved in making this movie. Good graeff...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Hearst so Good

Six months after publishing their Esquire magazine E Ink cover (which is still blinking away in the basement), Hearst is apparently developing their own e-paper-based reader. Says Gizmodo:
While Hearst has been silent regarding exact product specifications, we do know that the device will feature a 8.5x11ish screen to appease publishers used to large page layouts, and Hearst will allow the device's "underlying technology" to be adopted by other publishers (we're assuming that means without licensing fees).

According to Fortune, we're likely to see the device this year. And with Sony giving up their early lead in the e-reader world, it's none too soon that the Kindle will get some friendly marketplace competition—even if Hearst isn't openly chasing after the book market.
In some ways, a magazine-based e-reader makes sense; with your subscription, you get the reader and issues are electronically beamed to it. Mind you, I don't know that that is what Hearst is planning, but if I were creating an e-reader for magazines, it's what I would do.
I would also strive for color, although E Ink's e-paper technology isn't there yet (if Hearst is going with an E Ink display).

Still, I remain dubious of dedicated e-readers. I think they will only take off when they are incorporated into devices that do other things. Why are the iPhone and the BlackBerry so popular? Because they are single devices that can do a variety of different things. Merge a Kindle with an iPhone with an E Ink display and you're more than half the way there.

MacGyver was a Mollusk

From the L.A. Times:
The guest of honor in the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

"It had grabbed the tube that pulls out the water and caused it to spray outside the tank," said aquarium education specialist Nick Fash. Judging by the size of the flood, Fash estimated that the water flowed for about 10 hours before the first staff member, Aaron Kind, showed up for work.
The tiny octopus, which is about the size of a human forearm when its appendages are extended, floated lazily in the water that remained in its tank.

It watched intently through glass walls and portholes as workers struggled to dry the place out in time for the day's first busload of schoolchildren to arrive on a 9:30 a.m. field trip.
The incident was reminiscent of a 1994 incident at San Pedro's Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in which an octopus named Octavia pulled a plastic pipe loose.

That giant Pacific octopus died when all of the water in her tank drained out.

Since octopuses are considered by many to be the most intelligent invertebrate -- and to have good memories -- Fash said he jury-rigged his octopus tank piping with clamps and tape in hopes of thwarting any further mischief by its occupant. "She would need tools," he said of his octopus, which until now had no name.

"Some people are suggesting we call her 'Flo,' " he said.

Fare Weather

I had never heard of RyanAir before last Friday, when I came across the news story that they had planned to charge passengers to use the rest room. The clever folks on the Internet were quick at coming up with the card below, suggesting some other ideas for penny-pinching airlines the world over (via Boing Boing).
All I can say is: don't give them any ideas!