Friday, November 30, 2007

Last King of Scotland

I recently saw The Last King of Scotland. It's an excellent movie, bringing awareness to the horrible regime of Idi Amin, and with great acting bringing life to that evil.

It's also a work of fiction. It's all about this doctor who becomes an insider in the Amin government, witnessing and abetting the evil. This man never existed. Which is ironic, because just about everything else in the movie is true. But it hangs its horrible narrative around a fictional narrator, to make a Story. Because humans understand things through Stories, and we'll remember the facts better if they connect to each other in a Story.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I fixed my plumbing!

Plumbing sucks. It's dirty and messy, and when your sinks don't work, you can't clean up afterwards. I much prefer doing electrical work.

A few days ago, I lost all water service at my house. When it came back on, most of my sinks stopped working. But today all is well, because (at the advice of a plumber) I cleaned the faucet aerators!

Sam, I'm sorry I didn't know about this technique before. As my roommate, you had to suffer with lame water pressure in the kitchen unnecessarily, and I didn't even know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Colleges as Copyright Cops?

Good story in the New York Times about the bill before Congress on requiring universities to hunt down and turn in their students. Universities don't want stolen stuff slowing down their networks, but they don't want to be police, either. Unsurprisingly, corporations love the idea.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Water for Anders

I had no water at my home last night. Apparently, a water main broke 6 blocks away, so none of my neighbors had water either.

I was relieved to find out my house was ok. But annoyed to not be able to wash... anything. At least toilets work when there's no water pressure. Once.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wakko's World

Ah, the classics. I had tried to find Nighty-Night Toon, but it ain't on youtube.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I love this web site. It explores various familiar story telling devices, and cites examples of TV shows that use them.

My personal favorite is a list of different TV shows that have copied the plot of Rashomon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TMBG video

And, "The Shadow Government", from They Might Be Giants.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sea Gulls, Sea Lions and Sea Chocolate

Well, just good chocolate.

San Francisco is much prettier than Los Angeles. I got to spend a week in each recently, and in addition to the gulls and sea lions, I got to visit Ghirardelli Square, the tourist mall that lives in what used to be a chocolate factory. So awesome, and very pretty at night.

The Exploratorium is a classic science museum, with a particular phenomenological style, but it works very well for them. OMSI should have more of their classic exhibits on display, because our visitors haven't seen them in decades, if at all. Two in particular: Light Play is a simple optical bench focusing activity we should copy in the laser lab, and Watch Thief is the editing video activity that we must expand into an entire exhibit.

Among their awesome exhibits was a music experience where tunes are played out of octave. So the first three notes of Row Your Boat are in 3 different octaves, and each following note, while in tune, jumps another octave. A very awesome, challenging experience. There were amazing films about how different people use sound in their life, and an exhibit where you get to be a car mechanic listening for different problems in an engine.

They also had an example of the Stroop Effect in 3 languages. I found the same difficulty reading the colors in Chinese, where I knew only one of the words, as I had in English.

There was also a spectrograph that showed me the different tonalities of different voices, and the different lilts in different phrases – an image of a whole story. It's a tool I've experienced before, but I was in the right playful frame of mind to discover new things with it. (In looking for a good link that explains spectrographs, I was reminded of people who have created sounds that make very distinct pictures on them.)

In a different video section, there was a bunch of cursing that was bleeped out. The kids in the theatre reacted identically to the bleeps as they would have to actual cursing, giggling and murmuring to each other about the exciting inappropriateness of what had just been uttered. I found that amusing and fascinating.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Record companies are angry and bitter

Record companies, and some rock stars, are bitter that their old business model is dead. They hate the internet for taking their money. Apparently, Gene Simmons, known for his civil discourse and genteel personality, has joined Madonna and other fan haters in blaming the audience for the decline of the music industry.

Meanwhile, in a new law, Congress is going to withhold financial aid money to colleges and universities that don't punish students for copying music, and don't hand over student names to the music and movie industry.

In understand people wanting the law enforced. But like the CEO of Warner Music admitted recently, the music industry went to war with their consumers. And that's not going to create success. Even if it's illegal for people to steal your product, you have to be reasonable about it. It'd be like if Wal-Mart broke down people's doors and foreclosed on their house for stealing tube socks.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Copyright Story

This story is a perfect metaphor for why Congress should stop extending old copyrights, and even cut existing ones a little shorter.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Copyright Reform

Recently, a speech was given by Gigi Sohn, brilliantly outlining how to fix copyright. Copyright today is broken, with giant corporations having too much power. Because George Bernard Shaw has only been dead for 57 years, and not 70, his work is still copyrighted. If Shakespeare were still copyrighted, there would be no "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead". We need to be allowed to make derivative works of old stuff, even movies.

Can you imagine a world where anything older than 28 years was public domain? All movies, TV shows, from before 1979 would be free to be modified. Star Wars. I Love Lucy. All of it.

The end of the speech nails it:
For the past 35 years, the trend has been nearly unmitigated expansion of the scope and duration of copyright, resulting in a clear mismatch between the technology and the law. Over the past decade copyright reformers like Public Knowledge have stopped the pendulum from swinging even farther away from digital reality. Now it is time to move the pendulum towards the future and away from the past.

You can read the whole speech here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

With The Dark

I'm a big They Might Be Giants fan. Here's another video. Very cute stop motion puppets. Poppet puppets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Life is a Marathon

Recently, I was reading about an organization that works to end official torture around the world. I was struck by the group's president, and her call to her task. She is compelled to spend her life on this work. It's important work, but while I'm briefly tempted to quit my job and help, I quickly become overwhelmed by all the many good causes that deserve my support. There are lots of different things to be done to make the world better. I get sad when I think about them all, because I can't do it all.

There's not enough time in the day, or years in my life. And I realize, while I decide what to do, that life is a marathon. I could spend 18 hours a day working to make the world better, and I'd burn out, get sick and die. To make the most amount of good change in the world, I need to pace myself. Over my entire life. I need to breathe and relax and pray from time to time, so I can get up in the morning tomorrow and keep working.

I'm reminded of The Monkeysphere, the idea that our social brains can't keep track of more than a certain number of people. My brain can't function and keep working to produce work of quality, if I get sucked into all the badness and misery in life. I only have so much attention to devote, and if I want to run the race I have to stay focused.

I should stop from time to time and make sure I'm running in the right direction on the right road. But I can't do that every day, and I shouldn't.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm Impressed

I'm impressed with the video for the They Might Be Giants song, "I'm Impressed". It's stop motion animation of a paper cut-out tyrant. His victims of the coliseum are shredded, in a weirdly realistic scene of paper puppet violence. Watch for the "swords" that the characters use.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

TMBG Video

I'm a fan of They Might Be Giants. One of the reasons is that when I listen to their songs, I reinforce my knowledge of stuff I want to know, like who Gilgamesh and Hammurabi were.

And this video helped me learn the name Ashurbanipal.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Net Neutrality News

Slashdot has a great summary of the latest net neutrality happenings. Some in Congress are taking action, after public stories of companies acting badly.

Once upon a time, there was honest disagreement over whether libertarian ideas about the internet and free markets or whether government regulation would produce the most vibrant, productive, online communities.

Now that we know that Comcast and others in a free market will stifle creativity and personal communication, possibly by breaking laws, it seems clearer that government protection of individual rights against the threats of huge powerful companies is necessary. So, ironically, thanks Comcast! You may be an evil corporate citizen, but by staying on the leading edge of evil technology, you gave the Congress motivation to act!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Porn is free speech

A federal court recently struck down a law that keeps children from looking at or being in porn.

It's a lengthy, legal document, and I'm not a lawyer. But it looks like a strong free speech argument, that Congress, once again, overstepped the Constitution in trying to restrict pornography online.

And yet. Sexual imagery is harmful for young children. Child pornography is evil. And predators are constantly developing new technology to evade law enforcement. How can we make sure the rights of innocent people are protected, while also protecting "the children"? I wish I had the answer.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pushing Daisies continues to be awesome

Whenever I hear or read Shakespeare, it infects my mind. I find that his rhythm is so strong, so individual, such a clear voice, that I pick it up and speak in a slightly Shakespearean voice.

Pushing Daisies has its own voice. It's a very quick, fast paced, voice. And it's a very absurd voice. Every time I watch this most excellent TV show, my brain comes alive with speed and energy.

And the pie shop where the main characters live and work is called The Pie Hole. In this week's episode, the competition to find the best horse racer in the world was The Jock-Off 2000.

The show seems to be well suited to slick sonorance. Alliteration always makes awful into awesome. Well, the show's better written than my blog. But they do brilliantly satire the manufactured cuteness of corporate entertainment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

NASA/Prisoner crossover

NASA uses bouncing white balloons to study polar weather. Just like on the Prisoner, only not evil.

NASA even calls their probe "rover".