Monday, December 10, 2007

Church shootings in Colorado

Not one, but two church shootings in Colorado on Sunday, including one at Ted Haggard's old church. Now I am no fan of religion, and I think megachurches are a blight on the landscape and lives of Americans. But there is no justification at all for violence like this, no matter who deals it, no matter who the target is. Though I have no prayers to offer, I give my sincerest condolences and best wishes to the families and fellow churchgoers affected by these atrocities. There is probably not a Godless person in this country, at least not one in his/her right mind, who is rejoicing at this, no matter what paranoia some preachers like to spread, and given the senselessness of the murders, no political point to be made here, save one.

One nation, indivisible.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ode upon a calculator

Okay, no poetry. But I've had for a few weeks now a TI-30XS and I would like to make a few comments -- on the calculator itself in this post, and then later some thoughts I have on the dominance of TI gear in the educational calculator market.

As calculators go, I'm decently impressed with it. The appearance shows TI's usual flair for design, with a white and slate-blue case with neon green accents, making it stylish but not childish like, say, the TI-108. The interface is almost identical to the one that TI has been using for years in its low to mid-range graphing calculators going back at least to the TI-81 -- you turn it on, you get a cursor instead of a simple number display. If you wish to use it as such, it's quite easy to do so, but the new thing the XS brings to the party is the MathView mode, in which you can, with a bit of practice, enter the problem exactly as it appears on the page. Fractional and exponential notation both come out quite nice without being crammed into the space of a single fixed line.

I'm not quite sure what I think of this -- certainly by the time you get to a class where you might want to use a scientific calculator, you'll probably need one. In that regard, it's quite functional, though it does lack hex and octal modes and a couple of other things that a calculator being used in the Real World might want. (For that, we'll have to wait until they bring MathView to the TI-34 series next year.) But I'm torn -- is doing this a way of reducing copying errors, or just dumbing down the students by removing one more opportunity to check over their work? I really don't know. I do know that for overall usability, it's a significant improvement over the awkward two-line display used in the TI-30IIX, and a damn sight better than the old-school one-line TI-30Xa.

Another issue I have with this is that it's a TI, which automatically implies a premium price. The peculiar thing about Texas Instruments' calculator marketing is that it comes explicitly through their educational division. If you buy a graphing calculator for a math class, the software your teacher hands out will be TI software (most likely for an 82/83/84 series). I'm a little unsure what's going on here -- one could argue that TI is merely responding to a market, but given that CVS, one of the big three drugstore chains, doesn't carry TI product at all, and that Rite Aid rebrands gear from Chinese OEM builder Karce for much cheaper than TI gear, I'm very curious how TI still manages to command the prices they do for equipment that's not the absolute top of the line for its category. (Hell, HP's HP-50g costs exactly the same as the TI-89Ti and TI-Nspire and includes infrared and an SD slot. The Nspire gives you swappable keyboards, true, but that seems almost as self-defeating as Commodore's 3-system-in-1 architecture for the C128 proved to be.)

So, it's a nice calculator. I may try to replace it with something a little more advanced when the TI-34 gets the new display, and honestly I'll still have my comparatively ancient TI-83 around for games anyway. But the 30XS is a pretty nice calculator for general use, and it looks like the future of scientific calculators, especially since Casio is now shipping a very similar model.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On ministries for profit

Many years ago I attended an evangelical-dominated high school. It was decent academically, but the bulk of the student body was shooting for middle-of-the-pack Christian colleges and seminaries, not small liberal arts schools or elite public (UMass) or private (Ivies, Boston College) schools. At one of the weekly chapels, we had a minister there to speak about "cults". Now, to those of you who aren't steeped in the evangelical tradition, the term "cult" means, in evangelese, something roughly equivalent to "heretic sect", not the expected definition of "coercive religious movement". As a result, this ministry happily grouped the Unitarian-Universalist Association (one of the least coercive of any churches) and the Baha'i in with groups such as the International Church of Christ (still the Boston Church of Christ at the time) and the Moonies, both of which are known to be quite coercive in their teachings and social structures and which would qualify as cults in most people's books.

Well, I dug up some of the booklets they gave out at that assembly the other night while searching for an old calculator manual, and went to look and see whether the ministry was still in business and whether they'd updated any of the tracts or not. The ministry is still there (and I will not dignify them with a name or a link). The pamphlets are still in print... but not online. They have to be ordered, hard copy only, at a price of $2-$4 each (some of them being no longer than 4 pages in length, plus a relatively elaborate cardstock cover). This flabbergasted me -- even Jack Chick, as reprehensible and outright insane a human being as he is, still posts his tracts online for people to read. They do have books for sale -- that they would not put them online is understandable -- but selling what are essentially short, poorly written FAQ lists for such high prices strikes me as being anathema to the very concept of a ministry. If the truth is so important, why are the curious forced to pay to hear it?

I've always thought the most blatant example of a Christian money grab piggybacking off someone else's work has to be Jason Gastrich's Skeptic's Annotated Bible, Corrected and Explained. Gastrich, a particularly odious minister with a string of false credentials and a marked tendency to ignore "keep out signs" (he is a major nuisance on Wikipedia, having been banned repeatedly but refusing to take no for an answer), has for several years been marketing a CD-ROM that claims to contain a complete refutation of the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (an admittedly somewhat sloppy but indispensable Bible reference for the anti-inerrantist). The kicker: the SAB is open-content. It is free for anyone to reference and costs nothing. The SAB-C&E is not. Whatever Gastrich's refutation is, it is apparently not important enough to him to make sure that as many people see it as possible -- instead, he'd rather make a buck off it. Such are the Elmer Gantrys of our age.

On a larger scale, what are we to do about James Dobson, the "evangelical Pope"? Focus on the Family is a huge ministry, spreading its ideas on childrearing and society far and wide and raking in substantial sums of money tax-free, to the resentment of many smaller commercial Christian publishing houses. Again, why is the money seemingly more important than the message?

I'm an atheist. I do volunteer work for a small Christian homeless outreach ministry, mostly on the TV production side helping out with public affairs programming. I have much respect for that sort of work, because even though I have no meaningful belief in God, I truly do believe it's the sort of thing that would-be messiahs throughout the ages, including most prominently Jesus and Buddha, preached to be done. It's my humanist mitzvah. I do it because getting good information out, with as few restrictions as possible, is something that greases the wheels in almost everyone's life; I'm a supporter of open source software for the same reason. Like I said, Jack Chick -- paranoid, hate-mongering, batshit-insane Jack Chick -- understands this point, even if his message is rotten to the core. What is so hard about this that we apparently can't get rid of the money changers in the temple?

To Lauren

Don't do anything stupid. One day you may realize that people are trying to help. When that happens, all will be forgiven.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Shakeup at the Weekly Dig

I've been reading Boston's Weekly Dig for a few years now, and always enjoyed it, to a great extent because of its lack of the Boston Phoenix's notorious Ivory Tower stuffiness. So it's with a bit of confusion taht I write about the firing of editor Michael Brodeur after eight months on the job. While, according to the local media blogs, it was a highly unpopular move with the staff, I'm not so sure his firing was actually a bad thing.

In the comments of one blog entry on the matter, Dig contributor Lissa Harris said that Brodeur had removed a lot of "extraneous junk" (my words) from the paper, and I find myself wondering -- does she not understand the concept that "content is king"? While I consistently like what the Dig does do, it oftentimes seems like they don't really do enough. A weekly David Thorpe column, while utterly awesome in its snarky majesty, still does not make up for no more than half a page of record reviews. The Dig's movie coverage, somewhat light at the best of times, does not even measure up to that of the Improper Bostonian (whose editor, Dig "Media Farm" stalkee Veronica Chao, has now coincidentally gone to the Boston Globe at around the same time as Brodeur's ouster -- maybe the Improper can go back to some of the investigative journalism it used to do?). And the "Department of Commerce" section, once consisting of several pages of interesting and cockeyed looks at current retail tchotchkes, is now a single page, more picture than text. (And then there's the glossy covers, which were received about as well as April's drastic redesign on, and the debacle surrounding syndicated incomprehensible possibly-gossip columnist Cintra Wilson.)

I suspect there's quite a bit more to the story than the publisher, Jeff Lawrence, has said, and it sounds like a staffing train wreck in progress. I hope Lawrence can right the ship, though, and get the Dig off its diet and fill it out with top-notch content.

And regarding the Phoenix: Tom and Christine are a cough drop when you want a roll of Thin Mints. Can we get some decent sex/relationship writing back in the rag without pilfering Dan Savage from the Dig again? Even Barstool Sports does it better than the Phoenix. (And while you're at it, can you go down the hall to Stuff@night, get Booty Call back in print, and have Jeannie Greeley stop with the navelgazing or find a different beat? She's a great writer, but she comes off more like a sober Caroline Knapp than a lesbian Emily Pepper.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Atheist radio needs listeners

American Heathen at has to cut down its show schedule due to a need for more listeners. RJ Evans combines atheist/rationalist comedy and First Amendment badassery with a Howard Stern/KSEX comedy sensibility; go check it out this Friday night, and promote it on your own site.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Two eulogies and an odd conflict of interest

Luciano Pavarotti is gone. I was not a fan of his music (or indeed his entire genre), but it's impossible to deny that he was likely one of the greatest musical talents of all time, and certainly one of the greatest since the creation of recorded music. And he was a foodie, an Italian foodie, from the land of pasta, Caterina De Medici's court cooks, and Slow Food. The world is the lesser for having lost him.

Paul Sullivan, former nighttime talker on Boston's WBZ, is dying -- some of his colleagues read a statement from his family tonight describing that they have given up treating his annoyingly recurrent brain cancer and put him in hospice care. Paul is one of those rarities in the 21st century commentariat -- a reasonable conservative. Unlike the loonies like Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly who rule the airwaves, Sully has never been one to tolerate corruption and stupidity for the sake of ideological purity. Unlike the cerebral (and, admittedly, sometimes irritatingly pretentious but always legendary) David Brudnoy, Paul has always been a scrapper, Howie Carr without the assholishness, a center-right Simon Cowell with a scrupulous sense of fairness but a willingness to call bullshit when necessary. (I can't say I'm unhappy about his swing to a centrist position over the course of Bush 43's second term, but a willingness to change one's mind in the face of the evidence is always a virtue, never a flaw.) I hope his remaining time, however long it is, is pleasant.

Finally, the conflict of interest. For reasons that would be rather too weird to admit, I've been looking lately at ancient Greek and Hebrew instructional materials, and I find that Zondervan, the Bible publishers, have produced a series of texts on both languages. Maybe it's just the fact that I'm an atheist with a disgust for American religion, or possibly a bit of latent anti-Protestant prejudice from my Catholic upbringing, but I can't see how this is not a bit sketchy. Am I to believe that a Christian publisher (with a well-known evangelical ax to grind) can provide a truly objective course on the Biblical language without contaminating vocabulary and translations with Christian codewords? And can I reasonably believe that a Christian perspective can provide me with a reliable education in Hebrew? (Frankly, I'd rather have an explicitly secular Greek text and a secular or Jewish-written Hebrew text.) And yet I'm sure these programs will be taken up at Bible colleges across the country. (I'm not saying, mind you, that a Christian can't be objective. I just don't think that writing a language text with an agenda is a good idea. Publishing through a house like Zondervan pretty much implies a support for that agenda, whether Zondervan and its authors intend it that way or not.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Dr. Gryboski

Pat Desmarais wants you to think that Ann Gryboski is an uppity bitch.

Forced to listen to about fifteen minutes of one of WBZ's third-string dittoheads last Thursday night, I was forced to that conclusion after listening to Desmarais whip up the rubes in what appeared to me to be blatant character assassination by what the "9/11 Truth" skeptics call JAQing off, that is, "Just Asking Questions" in a leading manner designed to prejudice the listener. The mouthbreathers calling in (the sort Paul Sullivan would have had little patience with) were eating it up.

Well, folks, it's like this. The grand jury felt that the self-defense plea was corroborated and refused to indict. The psychology of abusive relationships is complex and sometimes nonsensical, but that makes it all the more important to understand the situation before judging or shut the fuck up. I don't care that some have said that Dr. Gryboski is not the nicest person in a social setting. What I know is that a grand jury looked at the evidence and let her off. Give her her medical license back and let her have her life back -- anything less is vigilantism, and there's a reason that's frowned upon.

The misogynists in this world are getting a little too loud for comfort lately. Let's show them up for the bigots they are and send them back to the 19th century. (And while we're at it, can WBZ replace Desmarais and Bradley Jay with someone who isn't on the VRWC talking points mailing list? They're a blight on one of the greatest radio stations in the country.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blowing the dust off

I gotta write more... someone will find this blog eventually and want to read it...

Anyway, things are the same as they've always been. I've been doing some work over at RationalWiki, and encourage others of like mind to contribute as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Take what you want and leave the rest

Wikipedia entry on ESR (check the history for the specific version I was reading)

As much as I've always advocated Eric Raymond's pragmatist view of open source software (like it or not, you can't always get what you want), I've always thought Raymond's political views were a bit out there. He's a self-proclaimed gun nut in a climate where people around the world criticize the US's weirdly manic stance on guns, and he's a radical libertarian in a world where regulation has proven itself necessary time and again.

But now he's apparently turned the Jargon File into his own personal political mouthpiece, not to mention openly espousing "The Bell Curve" when virtually no one without a racial ax to grind accepts it (the article references a blog post from '03, which is just a measure of how much time I've spent away from the hacker world), neo-conservatism and its associated rhetoric, and generally trying to make the hacker world more political than it has to be.

It's time for ESR to hand the baton off to someone a little less fringey. While I think his fundamental attitude towards Open Source is sound, it's time to find a spokesperson with fewer embarrassing other-subject opinions.

We'll miss you, Natalie

Ah, Natalie Jacobson. Quite simply the greatest anchor on Boston television in my lifetime. We shall miss you, and I hope dopey Fee and Raposa were wrong about your reasons for leaving.

And a pox on the Herald for remarking on her clothing when she announced her departure. A) It's irrelevant because she always was about the news and not looks, and B) she looks damn good even with the wrinkles, so the commentary was not only inappropriate but redundant.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Stamford, we have a problem

I was a wrestling fan for a while, around the turn of the millennium when Vince McMahon had real competition and therefore was required to give a damn. I'm not going to elaborate much on that whole period, except to say in that time and right up until his apparent murder-suicide, Chris Benoit was definitely one of the best performers in the show. However, given his distinctively sack-of-potatoes-like physique, his steroid use should have been pretty obvious, at least as obvious as Scott Steiner's balloon-animal biceps. What the hell is the WWE's "wellness program" actually doing? (Keep in mind this is a business where the sanest performer out there is Mick Foley, who once jumped in a pile of thumbtacks and has taken enough head shots to make even Troy Aikman, Mr. Concussion himself, woozy.)

I mean, fundamentally, where can you go with this? A couple of years ago, the porn industry was hit with its worst nightmare, an HIV scare. Having been through it before, the San Fernando Valley shut down and cleaned up. The porn industry knows what's up -- ultimately, the health of your talent is paramount, and losing a little money to keep them healthy is a smart long-term bet. There are sports coaches who don't get this. And Vince McMahon obviously knows this, because he pays lip service to it on a semi-regular basis.

Pro wrestling needs to be cleaned up. Look at Paul Wight, abusing himself out of a career even though he must know damn well he stands a good chance of not making it to 50. Look at the endless list of names claimed by heart problems, drugs, and mental issues: Curt Hennig, Bam Bam Bigelow, Mike Lockwood, Miss Elizabeth, Eddie Guerrero, Rick Rude, on, and on (I'd add Owen Hart, but his death was pedestrian in comparison). And the injuries -- Darren Drozdov (paralyzed), Bret Hart (brain injury), Mick Foley (too many to list -- he's hamburger on the hoof), Steve Austin (cumulative knee joint damage from too many bouts while injured). And Vince, the ringmaster, changes things slowly if at all, and the minor feds keep on in the same vein.

Let's call a halt to the whole thing for a few months and put the industry leaders (especially Vince) under the threat of heavy regulation. Bring it back for the fall TV season with some safeguards in place -- wrestling may not be a sport per se, but it's damned intense and it's a very popular form of entertainment. The watchword should be "Fix it or else".

And after that's done, let's talk about legal protection for sex workers. You think wrestling's a mess...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

White's Path Sessions -- The Zookeepers

The Zookeepers on

This afternoon we taped a local group called the Zookeepers, out of right here in Yarmouth. They're a rather unique group, with bits and pieces of everything from Led Zeppelin to Sublime to Marilyn Manson in their sound. If you like experimental punk, definitely give them a listen. I don't know yet what they plan to do with the footage on their own, but if you're out of the C3TV viewing range check them out on Myspace.

UPDATE 7/2/07: I had the wrong URL for a different Zookeepers on myspace. The link is, and it's been fixed.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nice tomatoes, and the food's good too

As sometimes happens on letters pages in magazines, a spat has erupted on that one belonging to TV Guide. A couple of weeks ago, they published a Reader Jeer complaining about Giada De Laurentiis' trademark cleavage display. The following week, the letters page seems to be about two to one in favor of letting Giada dress however she wants. My perspective is as follows:

Lighten up. Giada is an excellent and creative cook with excellent TV presence, and she is also an attractive woman with large breasts. Proceeding on the assumption that she has final say over her onscreen wardrobe, I'd say she's earned the right to do the show on the beach in a Wicked Weasel if she wants (though that wouldn't exactly be a cooking-friendly wardrobe -- maybe add some board shorts :-) ). It's like Muhammad Ali -- at the end of the day, he may have been too political and too much of a braggart for many people, but in his day he was that damned good and had pretty much earned the right to speak his mind. (Compare incompetent skank Sandra Lee and grouchy, cheating Barry Bonds.)

So ease up on the cleaage already.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cheap publicity stunt (need bad advice?)

Soliciting questions on Craigslist

I just feel like trying the advice column thing. The disclaimer: you will likely recieve bad advice on whatever questions you ask. But hey, try it anyway. The best ones will be posted here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breaks and promises

A few thoughts on one of my current favorite webcomics:

Okay, Sortelli is on a break. That's fine. But why progress reports on the next comic if you're on break, especially if it's supposedly inked already? A few points:

  • Duke/Nimoy Forever. Or, less caustically...
  • "A speckled axe is best." -Ben Franklin.
  • Real artists ship.

Good thing I have no actual readers, or I'd be blackballed from the EOI forums for this.

UPDATE: Sortelli posted a teaser on the comic forums. Looking good.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My recipe blog

The Off Season Blog, named after my sporadically produced cooking show, is going to be my site for posting recipes, and hopefully also the official website for my cooking show when I get around to putting it back on the air.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

HDTV and the shovelware problem; in praise of The Tube

The plan for HDTV, I had always assumed, was to provide flagship programming in as visually striking a manner as possible. By and large, the main network broadcasters and the sports stations do a fine job of this, and the sports stations in particular have made what I think is the most compelling case for going hi-def. It is possible, mind you, to make some very nice eye candy, and you do see it here and there in travel documentaries and the like on PBS-HD. But if flagship programming is what it's all about, why are the cable stations by and large doing such a half-assed job of it?

Comcast just picked up Food Network HD and HGTV HD in my local area. While it's nice to see that Scripps and Comcast came to an agreement (I believe those two stations have been on the big dish systems for some time now), I'm kind of having a problem with their implementation. It seems like Scripps is just the latest in a line of HD providers who have put out an HD product that is little better than a random feed of programming from other stations that happens to have been taped in HD. The hi-def content is fine as far as it goes, but to look at the HD channel's presentation on, you do get the sense that it's an afterthought, something that's farmed out to a junior exec to be done in one's Copious Free Time. And a lot of stations are like that; I think MTV Networks' MHD is probably the most egregious, given that it seems to have entirely too little original content to sustain it, though Discovery HD isn't much better, and PBS-HD seems to do at best a half-assed job of being a flagship.

Hey, HD folks, can we get on the ball here? HD isn't that expensive to produce anymore, with decent-quality cameras available in the $1000 to $1500 range (and that's just for consumer gear; a Sony HDR-FX1 isn't drastically more expensive than a Canon GL-2). I realize overhauling the Emeril Live studio would be a huge undertaking, but c'mon. Not everything has to be done in a full studio setting. I did my show with a single camcorder in my kitchen.

And another thing: I like The Tube. It's carried over-the-air on WLVI 56 and on channel 296 on our local cable system, and it's pretty much the Jack FM of television, with a remarkable profusion of videos from the last thirty years or so of music video history, along with an equally remarkable library of live concert footage that goes well beyond anything MTV ever put on the air, ever.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell: Good Riddance

And the conservative blogosphere is already wringing their hands about the outpouring of glee and schadenfreude at this shameful, disgusting man's death.

Look, no one deserves death. And inasmuch as I have any sympathy at all, it's for his family, not him. The thing that is being celebrated here is his exit from public life, and the only thing I see wrong here is that he went out by death rather than the total public shaming he truly deserved.

Sadly, there are many of his like still out there. I hope they change their ways, but that's pretty much a pipe dream.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Oooh, tomatoes

My little San Marzano seedlings are getting big. I have to replant them into pots soon...

Monday, April 16, 2007

When you get slapped

I don't know anyone personally who is a student at Virginia Tech. But what happened today is horrifying beyond measure (and if you can say that about the deaths of 33 with no irony at all, imagine how much more so 9/11, the Spanish train bombings, the London transport bombings, or any given day in Iraq...). The odd thing about it is that it happened on Marathon Monday, where two Japanese wheelchair athletes and a Russian woman took their races and a veteran marathoner from Kenya took his third Boston. If this sounds like a strange juxtaposition, I mention it only because things like this have happened on Marathon Monday before, specifically the Waco debacle. I still remember, years later, seeing shots of the burning Branch Davidian compound intercut with the Marathon coverage, and just sort of looking at it incomprehendingly until it finally hit me in mid-afternoon that the siege had ended, and ended badly.

I had to go out and buy the papers tonight, hours after the massacre had ended. I couldn't help but remark to the person at the newsstand register that it was weird picking up a paper that had been printed early that morning in light of what had happened later today. The newspaper is, literally, yesterday's news. Imagine picking up a newspaper on 9/11 -- less than an hour after you picked up that paper on the way to work, the World Trade Center was in flames. If you kept that newspaper as a memento, you might put it away and forget what it said for a while, until a few years later you pull it out... and there is nothing extraordinary at all in there. It's an inherent thing in newspapers, not really a flaw when you can get your news practically instantly on the radio or net, but it's still a strange feeling.

A lot of people are talking about gun control in the wake of this mass murder. That's a perfectly understandable thing. I'm very unsure on the subject of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, so I don't know that I have much to contribute. I will say that by and large I think gun control is a good thing, but it's really very hard to find a happy medium, since the pro-gun and gun-control positions, like so many others in the United States, are extremely polarized. So what do you do when something needs to be done but there is no reasonable hope of compromise?

Thirty-three dead people on a college campus would like to know the answer to that. I fear there is none.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Alanis, you magnificent bastard

Take one of the most embarrassing backfires in hip-hop history and turn it over to one of the best-selling female singer-songwriters of the 90s, and you get this. Words fail me. (Incidentally, although I don't think anyone's ever called Alanis Morissette a beauty queen, she's still prettier than butterface Fergie. Not to mention a much better singer.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cucina di geek

If you're one of the few people who reads this blog, you need to check out one of the most recent entries on Shelley Batts' Retrospectacle on Cooking for Engineers (and 24 watchers). Shelley is looking for information on cooking and links the Cooking for Engineers website, a uniquely geek-oriented site for those interested in kitchen hacking. There isn't a huge number of recipes on the site, but the ones they do have (I'd guess offhand there's about 100) are illustrated step-by-step and then summarized in a simple but clever graphical format. Honestly, I rather hope the site owner (one Michael Chu) publishes a cookbook of this material someday, as I quite like his approach.

I actually came up with a couple of ideas to get my old show back on the air. I've had some interest in campsite cooking, so I'd like to try some of that. I still have an idea that I'd like to do some breakfast foods that I like, particularly a Dutch baby pancake. I'm also strongly tempted to do a show on prison loaf, except that I can't imagine that anyone would actually willingly eat that stuff. Maybe as punishment for fussy toddlers that won't eat their vegetables...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A little advice to would-be Conservapedia trolls: you have to be subtle. You can only get away with horribly slanted articles on an issue they care about; they're likely to demand objectivity on anything that isn't a hot-button issue (amusing bit of inconsistency there). Also, make sure you've got everything spell-checked and properly cited before it goes up -- they're very quick on the trigger over there. So much for intellectual honesty.

some ideas

You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to take a ride out here and do a show on outdoor cooking. It would require some money, though, and probably some *gasp* training. I actually had this whole idea about "extreme cooking", but I'm not sure how that would work.

Also: Viacom and YouTube, not getting along too well at the moment. Here's a thought: Viacom: you're getting free publicity. Work out a settlement.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Submarines, and a new show

Well, I managed to fill in my March 7 date, at practically the last second believe it or not. Check out Stephanie Romano at MySpace -- she's a regular on the Cape Cod karaoke circuit, and while in general I'm not a big fan of the country music she likes to sing, she's a hell of a singer and I'm more than happy to give her any exposure I can.

So we took my nephew down to Providence to visit the Juliett 484 Russian Sub Museum -- it's a real, honest-to-Marx Soviet Navy missile sub of early 60s vintage; due to an interesting string of ownership changes it is now the sister ship of the retired aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which it is thought to have shadowed on several occasions in its Soviet naval career. It's in a sleepy little riverside park on the Providence River, in the shadow of the new I-195 highway bridge. While it doesn't seem to be as popular as its down-the-highway WWII ship museum at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA, it's still worth the trip.

The Juliett class (the NATO name -- the Russians called it Project 651 according to Wikipedia) was an interesting one -- designed originally to carry and potentially deliver nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to American cities, the class seems to have settled into a jack-of-all-trades role after being obsoleted by later nuclear-powered subs. The hull is covered with thick rubber plating to muffle operating noise, and while it's over 300 feet long with several decks, you wouldn't know it once you were inside the crew compartment.

The thing that struck me most about it was the hatch design. See, it's a generally accepted truism about the difference between Soviet and American engineering (at least when the Soviet version wasn't a blatant ripoff of the American version) that while American engineers try to design elegantly (and a result, often temperamentally), the Russians have a habit of using brute-force solutions that are less likely to break under pressure (as a result, it's been said that Russian cars, while by and large crappy, tend to be very good at starting in cold weather). In this sub design, nothing shows that so much as the way the ship is compartmented -- eight sections, separated by round watertight hatches no more than three feet in diameter that sometimes require a bit of ingenuity to get through. For several of them (though not all), I found the best way to get through was to grab a handhold near the hatch and swing through feet-first.

Quarters are tight -- even the captain's room is barely larger than a standard office desk, and the galley is comparable to that on an airliner, only with a full complement of cooking equipment. The officer's mess doubles as an operating room, and the doctor's office (the Soviets put real doctors on their boats, as opposed to the American practice of putting what were basically specialized EMTs on board) doubles as the infirmary and the doctor's quarters. The entrance to the sonar room was so closed in with equipment that I had some trouble squeezing through -- no fat people in the submarine service. And the worst luck went to the 40 enlisted crew (out of a crew of 82) -- they had to share 20 hanging cots wedged carefully into what was essentially the forward torpedo bay. Showers once a week, and three toilets for 82 men. Truly it takes a special kind of person to work in a submarine -- one with no personal space or sense of shame and a strong tolerance for bad hygeine.

J484 (or, to give it its Soviet designation, K-77) is a rather interesting boat historically as well -- after a decidedly shadowy service record (it wasn't until it was sold to the Saratoga museum people in Rhode Island that its Soviet Navy designation was even known for certain), it spent time as part of a restaurant in Finland, was used as a movie set for "K-19: The Widowmaker", and then changed hands between a couple of different preservationist groups until winding up in Providence. It's definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in naval history, as well as a rather chilling reminder that, given the events in world politics that transpired from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, we're lucky to be here to see it at all.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Random stuff

I went on a LiveCD bender recently. I've found a remarkably efficient method for making coasters.

New taping coming up March 7. I hope.

I need to get my cooking show going again. I made a big puffy German pancake the other day and I really, really want to put the recipe on TV.

Finally, I hear Al Gore's Current network is going on the air in the UK on BskyB in the middle of March. Good stuff, good stuff. I like Current quite a lot, and I wish it much success.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Lowell Cable Bares it All

Oh, boy. Nudity on public access TV. The world's going to end because someone put breasts on their local cable station! What is this world coming to? Kill Janet Jackson! Waaah!


Someone please tell me why this is such a big deal. Do any of these people actually listen to the kind of music this show New England PGM was playing? Some of it's pretty explicit, and really, that's not that big a deal. Around C3TV, the usual practice should some of that kind of material come in (which really doesn't happen all that often, it being the Cape and all), it goes on the graveyard slot. Big deal. This stuff's on broadcast TV in other countries.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Blasphemy Challenge redux

From the excellent PZ Myers:

John Kasich is a big fat idiot

I note the interesting implication in Kasich's questions (asking why Challenge-takers only go after Christianity, not Islam) that the creators of the Challenge have some have some kind of editorial control over the content of the videos. I'm not too sure what that says about the editorial standards at Fox -- did they just not do their research, or are they, as they so often do, intentionally distorting the facts? Or is this just another case of sectarian blindness, where the people saying the inaccuracies just don't get that other people don't do things the way they do?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Call me Johnny Penguinseed

I'm going to try something.

I've just burned four Knoppix CDs, the latest (5.1.1) version. The next four people I hear bitch about Microsoft Windows while I have my backpack with me will get copies.

I wonder how long it will take to get rid of them?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The musical equivalent of the Harriet Miers nomination

The Grammy folks nominated "My Humps" by Black Eyed Peas for best vocal performance by a duo or group. This constituted a great big dump taken by the record industry on any and every concept of good musical taste ever created.

And to prolong the agony, check out this link.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A sure sign I'm losing it

Let's see... I have a camcorder and a tripod. Now I'm trying to build a home TV studio for under $10. I might even be able to pull it off if I can find the proper mounting hardware in the garage -- I've already got a white sheet and a 150w-equivalent fluorescent bulb, total cost $6. Of course I also have a mountain of crap to move...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dragging my feet...

In theory, I'm all for the Blasphemy Challenge. I think it's a fine thing for the faithless to announce their faithlessness, since there's an awful lot of people who just don't get what it means to be without faith. I'm a little iffy about targeting teenagers, not because I don't think they can think for themselves, but because I think a lot of teenage faithless don't really understand the difference between anger at God and lack of belief. To the many teenagers that have taken the Blasphemy Challenge, I applaud their courage to take a stand on their beliefs (or lack thereof), but I also ask that they spend some time understanding why others don't believe, or they may find themselves sucked into the "what if I'm wrong?" trap. At the very least, such education can make you understand that while you might be wrong, there's a very good chance "they" (whoever "they" may be, depending on each individual's upbringing) are wrong as well.

So why the hell haven't I done my video? I like to think I lost my faith for the right reasons, and yet, I don't have my video up on YouTube, even though I've been thinking about it for three weeks, even reorganized my MP3 collection to make room for editing on my hard drive?

Man, I suck.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

On God and Television

Public affairs programming is dull; I don't think anyone disputes that, even the most wonkish of C-SPAN junkies. That's how it happens -- not too many people enjoy dealing with administrivia, but it's got to be done. As it happens I've done quite a bit of public affairs programming and it's usually pretty much the same -- the host has in a guest or two to discuss some pressing affair such as homelessness or emergency preparedness. It's dry, but generally important.

Now I'm a militant agnostic, have been for a little over five years (I grew up Catholic but gave up on religion in general as irrelevant to my life). Being as I live on Cape Cod, a good majority of the people I work with at C3TV are religious and devoutly so, and I do in fact do work on one program of a religious nature. As a result, I find myself with an inside perspective on the matter (a perspective that for the most part involves one ear on a single volume slider and both eyes on a good book, but still), and I have to say, the single-talking-head format just doesn't work. No one's gotten it right yet -- not Mother Angelica, not any number of televangelists, no one. It's the most lethally dull form of programming on television. (Note that Pat Robertson at least has someone to bounce his ravings off of in the studio. He knows better.)

The thing that gets me is that there is a lot of great church culture -- music, architecture, literature. But none of it seems to come out of the modern Christian pop culture, which generally seems to have all the fun surgically removed for the purposes of teaching a Biblical lesson (possible exception: VeggieTales, which I've heard is actually pretty good). And let's face it -- no matter how scintillating a preacher may be, there really isn't much to be seen on a program that's all sermon.

On the Whole Product

Is it just me, or has the entertainment industry made a gawdawful hash of the concept of the Whole Product, at least as it applies to home entertainment?

I'd say the VHS format is the most spectacularly successful example of the Whole Product in the entertainment world (with, possibly, the audiocassette). The Whole Product is very important when discussing VHS, because the current conventional wisdom says this is how VHS won the standards war against Betamax. The story is well known -- JVC made VHS a more open and more flexible standard than Sony did with Beta, with longer recording times (especially the EP setting on NTSC gear) and a more open licensing policy beating out a theoretically better picture to create a juggernaut of a standard, one that ruled the roost for over twenty-five years until getting beat out by the DVD.

You will not find a better illustration of the Whole Product concept than the VHS standard. Not only can you record television programs on a VHS VCR with no limitation, you can also use a VHS camcorder to record your own content and play it back on the same VCR. At this point, you also have the option of multiple venues for your work, from the TV in the kitchen all the way up to the local public access station, or even YouTube or Current if you can digitize your footage.

No other format has this kind of flexibility. VHS is the least common denominator for everything. Everything works the same, all the media is interchangeable. Granted, shitty picture, but still. Everyone has it. Everyone knows how to work with it. It's on the way out, but it's still here and not likely to go away completely any time soon. It's democracy on a half-inch tape.

Now, compare the current move to high-definition television.

The entertainment industry has butchered promising new standards to preserve its profits and control many times. DAT died in 2005; MiniDisc will probably follow it this year or next. Both were heavily encumbered by the **AAs' fear of losing revenue to digital copying. DV is another example; while you will never find a better format for standard-definition video acquisition (equipment is cheap and generally produces a high-quality picture), the idea of it becoming the next VHS died on the vine because its creators didn't give the entertainment industry its pound of flesh. No, it's all about DVD these days. DVD is a great idea, mind you, but it has flaws -- copy protection, for example, and the bizarre and often incompatible bestiary that is the recordable DVD market. The Whole Product is rather lacking in all those cases.

But the high-definition world is a whole 'nother level of nuts. Everything is locked down -- I once had a TV have a hissyfit about compromised DRM because I rebooted the cable box. BluRay video has an entire suite of nefarious garbage implemented and ready to go to make life a living hell for anyone who dares use their BluRay movies in a way not approved by the studio. On the production side, the tools are there (although the cameras are rather pricey), but there are no venues for your finished high-def project. That puts us back to living room film festivals like in the old days. Bottom line: they aren't going to give you the whole product, because you might -- might -- use it in a way that they don't approve of or didn't think of, and because every eyeball you have watching your low-budget cooking show is an eyeball that isn't watching their product.

So think about that a moment before you do an upload or turn in a videotape to the scheduling office. Unless you get a break with a big production company, this is as good as it's ever going to get.

Intros are for suckers

Besides, no one is ever going to go this far back in the archives anyway... Eh, what the hell.

I'm Brian. I keep myself busy doing volunteer work at the Cape Cod Community Media Center and I'm hoping to go pro with it Real Soon Now. I used to be more of a computer geek, but not so much anymore. These days it's more video and audio stuff. And I do a lot of cooking.