Monday, December 07, 2009

East Bay snow

Originally uploaded by EBRPD Public Affairs
I drove the kids past Lawrence Hall of Science on the way to school today... not our usual route. Much of the traffic coming down the hill the opposite direction had a dusting of white, frosty stuff on their roofs and sides of the windshield.

The snow level hit about one thousand feet last night-- LHS had a light dusting on its landscaping and parking lots, and the fairways at the golf course in Tilden park were covered, too.

East Bay Regional Park District's public affairs office has a whole bunch of photos in their Flickr stream showing a different look to their parks-- dusted with snow during last night.

And blogger Rebecca Bond captured some photos of this morning's "snow day" at Sibley Regional Preserve in Oakland: Flickr set link

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Constitution: God's Gift to America

Did not know that Jesus Christ authored the U.S. Constitution himself. That's how it appears, at least, in this painting which was passed around the internet this week.

Hover your mouse over the image to reveal details, including Ronald Reagan, Nathan Hale, a non-Christian immigrant (now seeing the light), a smug college professor holding Darwin's Origin of Species, Satan, and that most pernicious of Supreme Court decisions, Martin vs. Hunter's Lessee (1816).

What's not clear from the painting is whether Jesus is holding a copy of the Constitution that includes the 14th Amendment, or whether his version maintains that whole "three-fifths of a person" bit from Article I.

Of course the internet loves to eat itself, so now there's an alternate version of the painting with alternative captions.

Truly the backbone of America.
The government pays him not to grow stuff. Is against government handouts.

[via Andrew Sullivan]

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Berkeley Empties Its Dungeon

At last, Cardinal Biggles can no longer poke prisoners with the soft cushion. At least not in Berkeley.

(Article from my new favorite local news source, InBerkeley.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Genuine Article

I have this brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and the thing is, since they had a kid? They can never focus on the important things anymore. Like, when they lived in San Francisco? and they would watch the home shopping network in the middle of the night? and never buy anything?

God I miss those days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stunning San Francisco time-lapse

Photographer Ben Wiggins likes to shoot time-lapse videos of cloud formations with his digital SLR camera. He also likes to photograph the transition from day to night. After dark he likes to shoot the flow of traffic, the glint of moonlight off the fog, and the dance of airplanes landing on and leaving the runway--like tiny fireflies in rhythmic formation.

Here Wiggins stitches together several sequences he shot in and around San Francisco this summer. It's awesome.

Click the four-arrow icon in the lower right corner to watch this fullscreen.

Another Cloud Reel... from Delrious on Vimeo.

Wiggins has other videos from the Fourth of July, the San Mateo County Fair midway at night, and underwater.

[via Laughing Squid]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guerilla graphic design: Cardon Copy

via Chris Jobs at Curbly

Graphic designer Cardon Webb takes flyers posted in the neighborhood. Re-designs them. Not just re-designs: admittedly, he hijacks the flyer and overwhelms the essential content with design.

Then he puts it back where he found it.

Essential content is lost in the translation.

But, oh, what fun for fans of design.

Cardon Copy

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Catching Up With Auto-Tune

I was about to post the link to the latest edition of Auto-Tune the News (#8) to the new Twitter feed when I stopped to consider that many of the current readers of Blognabbit/Twignabbit may be a bit old/white/tired/busy to have much pop-cultural context.

When I confirmed that neither Christa nor Tim were familiar with the seven previous editions I knew I needed to write more than six words about it.

"Auto-Tune" is the brand name of a digital audio processing technology used to correct pitch (on vocals or instruments). Since its creation in the 1990s it's been used to subtly (and unsubtly) modify musical performances both in the studio and live on stage, by pushing tones forcibly into perfectly tuned pitch.

Cher's single "Believe" (1998) was the first American pop hit to use Auto-Tune as a conscious aesthetic effect, with the settings cranked into overdrive. Previous uses of the technology had worked to hide its presence. At its most extreme, Auto-Tune eliminates the voice's natural ability to glide between pitches, creating a synthetic stair-step effect. Cher and her producers took what had been considered a quirk and placed it into the foreground.

While I primarily associate Auto-Tune with the singing of The Backyardigans, anyone listening to Top 40 radio or music videos since 2007 (anyone? anyone?) would have heard and seen the rise of singer-producer T-Pain as the new king* of Auto-Tune, who has been popping up with hyper-processed backing vocals and refrains on hit after hit** on the R&B and hip-hop charts. While the technology was more than a decade old (and available to anyone with a Mac and Garageband), T-Pain brought a particular gift for Auto-Tuned lyrical hooks and melodies that have continued to keep him in high demand. His surge in popularity led to a revival of Auto-Tune among a variety of artists across multiple pop musical genres.

In June 2008 Sasha-Frere Jones was clueing in readers of The New Yorker to the reign of T-Pain. But by the beginning of 2009 T-Pain's ubiquity had started to become a punch line--one the singer was happy to play along with, kicking off Saturday Night Live's (i.e. The Lonely Island's) "I'm On a Boat" (clean or uncensored YouTube links) with his trademark call "Shawt-ay-ay!"***

This past spring saw the debut of "Auto-Tune the News", a loopy series of music videos applying Auto-Tune to political speeches and television talking heads. Ridiculous wigs, a gorilla costume, and low-tech greenscreen effects belie the creators' lyrical and musical dexterity, as they spin the words of Joe Biden, Newt Gingrich, Katie Couric (their favorite muse), and a variety of members of Congress into Auto-Tuned musical gold. (Interspersed with several "Shawt-ay-ays".)

Here's the 6th edition, featuring Anoka's own queen of darkness Michelle Bachman, plus Nancy Pelosi, minority leader John Boehner, Sarah Palin, and Jackson Family attorney Brian Oxman:

In June Jay-Z declared the "Death of Auto-Tune" with the lead single off his new album, criticizing other artists for "T-Painin' too much." But despite his seniority in the rap world (or perhaps because of it), his exhortation won't likely dim the use of the technology any time soon, if a quick listen across the top 40 charts in Pop, R&B, Country, and Hip-Hop offers any indication.

Which brings us to this week, and the release of Auto-Tune the News #8. The latest edition features none other than: T-Pain, who turns his appearance into a commercial for his other new release of the week: the "I Am T-Pain" iPhone app.

The app is a collaboration between T-Pain, Antares (the originators of the technology), and Smule--a top-notch iPhone developer that grew out of Stanford's electronic music performance department, making it no mere novelty. For $2.99 you can download a mobile version of Auto-Tune with which you use your iPhone/iPod for on-demand vocal processing.

And by branding it as a T-Pain experience (with the app's name and icon), the "king" keeps his name synonymous with the technology, even if its only use is to goof off with your buddies while you're waiting in line for a movie (the app also makes it easy to share via MySpace and Facebook).

Within a couple of days the application reached the #1 spot among paid apps in iTunes. Meaning that Jay-Z's proclamation notwithstanding, it remains T-Pain's world. We just sing "Shawt-ay-ay" in it.

Here's a playlist of all of the Auto-Tune the News videos, in sequential order. It'll take a good half hour if you want to watch them straight through. (YouTube link):

And I'm assuming you've seen "I'm On a Boat", right? Because that thing gets funnier every time you watch it. (clean or uncensored)

Here's T-Pain's website, YouTube channel, and Twitter feed.

And if you're not sick of it by now, here's another funny internet video positing the use of Auto-Tune in the workplace.


*Given the outfits and antics he often displays in music videos, T-Pain could as easily be described by overeducated postgrads as the clown prince--or even mascot--of Auto-Tune.

**"Good Life" with Kanye West (winner of the 2008 Grammy for Best Rap Song), "Kiss Kiss" with Chris Brown (prior to Brown's domestic violence conviction), "Low" with Flo Rida (a favorite on the Ellen show), plus tons more. You can check out iTunes' "Essentials" list of the top T-Pain tracks for sale.

***An Auto-Tuned pronunciation of "Shawty", itself a variant of "Shorty", the 00s alternate for "Girl".

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Average Rating: 3 Stars

What's a consumer to make of two business reviews on Citisearch? One's a 5-star and the other a 1-star. Should I just average them as Citisearch so helpfully does for me? Or perhaps reading the reviews will give me a little insight:

EZ Cleaners, 2308 Colorado Blvd, Pasadena CA

In this corner, alex c:

I've been going to EZ Cleaners for more than a year and their service is nothing but excellent. I am extremely happy when I receive my clothes because not once did I have a complaint. I trust my most expensive garment to be in their care and they also have reasonable prices.
PROS: great service, good prices

But does he/she trust his/her second-most expensive garment?

And in this corner, Barbara S:

Over the course of two years, this dry cleaners damaged 4 different pieces of clothing and then refused to take responsiblity. When it was brought to owner's, attention, he said that I don't have proof that he did the damage because he didn't charge me for cleaning the item. Believe me he would have taken the money if I had been willing to pay for the poor service they provided. I refused to pay after seeing the damage. Did he think I would actually pay him for damaging my expensive clothing? The owner is rarely at his store, but instead is out opening more locations. His employees (the one's snagging, ripping, spotting
etc...the clothes) are not experienced in the dry cleaning business. Be aware of this sweat shop type place and take your nice clothes to a professional dry cleaners because this place sucks.
PROS: cheap prices
CONS: worst dry cleaners in town

Maybe I can request the one that's not snagging, ripping, spotting etc...the clothes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

TR Reid and the Healing of America

TR Reid makes an entertaining case for why we need to end this crazy American rationing of health care. He brings his sore shoulder around the world to test out health care systems offered by various nationalized health care systems. Listen to the end and take note of his experiences in India.

Where can I send my check to help change our screwed-up Darwinian health care model?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Matters of Life and Twitter

Recently an underemployed "analytics" firm looked at Twitter usage and announced via press release that 40% of tweets are "pointless babble." Stephen Fry expressed his disappointment on his blog that the number was so low:
I would have hoped 100% of Twitter was fully free of earnestness, usefulness and commercial intent. (Link)
Many of the people I follow on Twitter are inveterate wisenheimers, who have spent months (or years) chiding, mocking, and bitterly assailing those who attempt use the service for earnest, useful purposes.

This past January, however, Josh Hopkins, a popular (and often profane) member of the Favrd comedy crowd interrupted his flow of jokes with something unexpected.
Deficits could force the post office to continue reading your dirty magazines and delivering the rest of your mail to your neighbor. (Link)
Turns out, pregnant women don't want their body mass index calculated. God. Obese people can be so rude. (Link)
were followed by
On the way to the hospital. Baby and mom aren't doing so well. May deliver today. More details to come. (Link)
and shortly thereafter
Getting transported to NICU for C-section immediately. Baby has a heart defect. Not sure what's going to happen. I'll update after delivery. (Link)
Finally, a few hours later, just:
Lucy Kate Hopkins (Link)
Lucy is 2lbs. 1.5oz. & 13 1/2 in. Mom and baby are okay. Thank you everyone. You guys are so awesome. (Link)
Lucy Kate Hopkins was born 10 weeks premature, with two congenital heart defects and Trisomy 21 (Down's Syndrome). She remained in the hospital for 75 days before Josh and his wife could bring her home.

When my own son was born he spent the first hour of his life in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while they monitored his oxygen levels. Christa was being sewn up following the unplanned C-section, and I stood there by myself, watching my little boy attached to monitors and machines, unable to pick him up and hold him to me. The NICU was a lonely and frightening place, even knowing that he was going to be fine soon.

Contrast that with a baby like Lucy Kate, for whom the first few hours (or days) offer no easy assurances of survival. And yet Josh, the father, took the time to tap out a few words to a thousand strangers with whom he had previously shared little more than 140-character poop and dick jokes.

"Thank you everyone. You guys are so awesome."

This in response to the dozens (possibly hundreds) of heartfelt and humorous Twitter replies and messages he had received on his mobile device from this virtual community in support of him and his family during the early hours of their ordeal.

The NYT this week published a story about parents who suffer from PTSD following their experiences in the NICU with their premature infants. It quotes from Vicki Forman's new book, This Lovely Life. In it she writes “From the moment my twins were born, I saw potential for tragedy wherever I turned. It would be years before I stopped thinking that way.”

As he had before his NICU experience, Josh Hopkins saw potential humor wherever he turned, and shared it with the audience in his pocket.
Lucy weighs 2lbs. 11oz. today. I'm concerned about her weight gain. I think the Skittles I've secretly been feeding her are making her fat. (Link)
Looking at all the tubes, syringes and meth on the kitchen countertop, you would think we were running a meth lab instead of feeding a baby. (Link)
I don't know Josh Hopkins. I can't claim to know the many ways in which Lucy's health challenges and her time in the hospital have affected him or his wife. I do imagine that were their story to be introduced into the maelstrom of bullshit and bloviation that passes for "mainstream" discourse on television and Op-Ed columns and the internet, Josh would be accused of all manner of transgressions of decency, mental health, common sense, and taste (the latter I expect he would wear proudly), for sharing his experience in this way using something as public and "pointless" as Twitter.

And what interests me is not just Josh's story, but the experience of the 3000+ of his Twitter followers who have been "listening in" over the past week as Lucy has gone back into the hospital for heart surgery. In the middle of our days we've received updates of Lucy being placed on heart bypass, of her sternum being closed, of her arms and legs wiggling for the first time after sedation, of her being taken off the respirator, then back on again.

And of course Josh has had time to Twitter, because the experience of a family member in the hospital is nothing but endless stretches of time, waiting in an outer room, "showering" in restroom sinks, being unable to contribute in any meaningful way.
My wife and I finally ate burritos. I imagine it was like watching two lions attack a pack of zebras on the Discovery Channel. (Link)
Sleeping in the waiting room is the best sleep I've never gotten. (Link)
And using a different account, Josh is Twittering in the voice of Lucy:
Still not feeling well. My right lung is partially collapsed, but the doctors are taking care of me. I can't wait to wake up and play soon! (Link)
I'm starting to be more awake now. I tried to cry out but I couldn't, so my Daddy sang to me to keep me calm. (Link)
Again, the "friends" in Josh's pocket have responded to him, with messages of encouragement and more. A couple of folks helped manage donations to the family through Josh's Amazon Wish List, or cash donations through PayPal. Someone else thought to set up a special link to the new book Twitter Wit--featuring several contributions by Josh (and one by me)--through which a portion of each purchase would be given to Josh's family.

Myself, I feel paralyzed when trying to put something meaningful into a Twitter-sized burst of text to someone I don't really know who's sitting scared shitless in a hospital as his five-month-old is undergoing open heart surgery. Even though it's clear from Josh's tweets that the encouragement matters. And that it's okay if what you write is trite or if someone's said it before, and said it better than you.

But my own emotional and superegotistical roadblocks have kept me from writing much of anything to Josh, or to @AinsleyofAttack when her mother died, or to @Moltz as he sat alone reading Twitter messages while his wife was undergoing her double mastectomy in the wake of her breast cancer diagnosis. Then again I'm also the asshole who doesn't leave birthday wishes on people's Facebook walls.

Looking at my Facebook news feed yesterday, it was clogged from top to bottom with people's reflections on the death of Ted Kennedy--some thoughtful, some emotional, some with links to words or video from elsewhere. That's a fair amount of emotional and attentional bandwidth for someone none of these people personally knew.

Kottke blogged last week about the coming "abundance of death", in which the rate at which someone we are aware of (the famous and the micro-famous) will die will increase to a daily (or more than daily) event. The day will come sooner than that when death, tragedy, or life-threatening illness will affect the lives of someone we "know" on our digital social networks.

What will it mean to our psyches and emotional consciousness to have this persistent window into the hardships of so many individuals in something approximating "real time"? To receive up-to-the-minute updates of difficult labors, car accidents, families trapped in attics as floodwaters rise, kids dying of gunshot wounds, parents with Alzheimer's slowly slipping away? Tiny Lucy's journey has occupied a fair amount of my emotional space this week (and the time it has taken to write these 1500 words).

Then again, it doesn't fucking matter how hard it is for me to peer through these tiny, text-based windows into the suffering of others from the vantage point of my life (and its privilege and blessings).

What matters--to Josh, or to anyone who posts a Twitter message or Facebook status from a place of loneliness, pain, or fear--is the window out.


Give some money to Josh and his family. You can follow Josh or Lucy on Twitter. Then, if you still feel like it, you can buy the Twitter Wit book through the special link. It's pretty funny. I show up on page 107.


UPDATE: (September 14, 2009) Lucy Kate's progress is being shared on her own blog. Josh is raising money for the Indiana Down Syndrome Foundation in Lucy Kate's name.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blognabbit gets all Twittered up

There's a new member of the Blognabbit family in town:

Follow the
@twignabbit Twitter feed for links to all Blognabbit posts PLUS additional links to videos, pictures, articles, and other tasty netmeats requiring no additional commentary.

Go on.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Barry Gibb Talk Show

I haven't watched an episode of Saturday Night Live in over a decade, so forgive me that I missed this semi-recurring sketch featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake as brothers Barry and Robin Gibb (of The Bee Gees), hosting an American political talk show.

Timberlake and the writers must enjoy the sketch quite a lot--bringing back Fallon multiple times after his 2004 departure from the SNL cast.

This fourth edition aired in May of this year. Like many inhabitants of the SNL canon, it is structurally indistinguishable from the previous versions (although it is perhaps the most polished).

I was howling. Your mileage may vary.

Hulu link

The Onion: Sold to China

This week's edition of The Onion shows its makeover as a new subsidiary of Yu Wan Mei Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Corp.

The entire issue is worth poring through, including their lead story, "Potato Faced Youngster Lauded For Memorizing Primitive 26-Character Alphabet".
[Teacher Heather] Warner then gave the boy a star-shaped sticker, explaining that he had learned the unsophisticated system of characters containing no ideogrammic compounds or transformed cognates more quickly than she'd expected.
There are also reports from the new Onion Radio News ("No U.S. Military Leader is Worthy To Be Namesake of Breaded Chicken Dish") and ONN Video (complete with important messages about delicious Yu Wan Mei food products).

And holy crap. The Onion online store now features Yu Wan Mei specialty label products. Sadly the "Miscellaneous Tasty Paste" is sold out.

Of course you can read about more Yu Wan Mei products at their website or by following the company on Twitter.

In his farewell editorial, former publisher Herman T. Zweibel announces "Well, I've Sold the Paper to the Chinese."

In his inaugural editorial, new publisher (and CEO of Yu Wan Mei) Zuo Xiabing asks "Why Did No One Inform Us Of The Imminent Death Of The American Newspaper Industry?"

And announces The Onion is up for sale once more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wowee: Giant Aquarium Tank Video

You need to click the link to view this video in HD.

Move your mouse over the video thumbnail to reveal the controls, then click the "full screen" button (four small arrows pointing diagonally outward). Give it time to load before playing.

This is a single, unedited shot taken at the second largest aquarium tank in the world, at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.
The main tank called the "Kuroshio Sea" holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world's second largest acrylic glass panel, measuring 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters with a thickness of 60 centimeters. Whale sharks and manta rays are kept amongst many other fish species in the main tank.
Think about those measurements for a moment if you're feeling unconvinced.

If you don't like the song the videographer chose, you can mute it. But seriously. This one's awesome. Great for sharing with the kids.


[via Kottke]

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Susan Boyle: The Movie

Casting has begun. See link for top candidates.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

John Hodgman addresses the POTUS

Inarguably the nerdiest speech a sitting president of the United States has ever been asked to perform the lead-in to.

John Hodgman headlines the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner*, where he contrasts the current "nerd" White House with the previous administration of "jocks", and also outs President Obama as a Star Trek fan.

His performance is a brilliantly deadpan nerdcore triumph, complete with references to typeface nerds, Conan comics, and the David Lynch movie adaptation of Dune.

YouTube link

*A room filled with nerds, all old enough to remember when that wasn't cool to be AT ALL. Meaning: too old to find Hodgman especially funny.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama writes girl a note for missing school

At one of Obama's health care town halls, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a man asking a question mentions that his ten-year-old daughter Kennedy has skipped the last day of school to attend the event.

"Do you need me to write a note?" the president asks, then pulls out a pen to write:

"Please excuse Kennedy's absence. She's with me. Barack Obama."

He steps down off the stage to deliver the note before continuing the town hall meeting.

THIS is the Obama who as the junior Senator from Illinois killed (twice) on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Colbert: Why I Took This Crummy Job

Yes, he's in Iraq this week. This week, he's also the guest editor at Newsweek.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

When our local market becomes news

Berkeley's a small town. When one of the grocery stores management gets shaken up, especially if that grocery store has its own foodie fan base, word gets around. I had heard that people were gathering at Monterey Market to say farewell to the couple that ran it. I didn't know the back story. Today, locavore blog The Ethicurean gave it to me: Fujimotos’ departure from Monterey Market a tough blow to local food chain

In other local news: the new Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley has opened, and Black Oak Books in North Berkeley has closed its doors.

All of these stories, though hyperlocal, are getting more Twitter buzz than Shahrukh Khan in San Francisco. Apparently the intersection of those who Twitter in San Francisco and those who obsess over the Badishah of Bollywood have a very tiny insection. (Sigh)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Movie Star in Town. I'm Swooning.

It's not unusual to see a film crew in San Francisco. Rare, but not unusual. But you don't usually see a major movie star at the center of the set. Spotted at the 280 on-ramp at 6th street in the city:

Sharukh Khan.
He's in town with Kajol. Jimmy Shergill. and Director Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham)

Pics from a Market Street shoot at Asian Outlook.

The movie, My Name is Khan, has Khan playing a Muslim man arrested as a terrorist in post 9/11 America for is odd behavior-- turns out he has Aspergers syndrome.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Latest from Kasper Hauser

San Francisco's comedy powerhouse Kasper Hauser has two new books being published in June:

1. Sunday New York Times Wedding Parody
NPR coverage, with live reading and Robert Siegel cracking up

2. Obama's Blackberry. Twitterlike hilarity in short bursts. Book coming June 8, online preview here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

David Kessler vs Carrot Cake

Your neural pathways are leading you down the road to ruin.

What’s interesting is that this conditioned hypereating (which is what I
call it in the book), this loss of control, this lack of satiation, this
preoccupation with food, it affects not only people who are obese and
overweight, but also a significant number of people who are healthy weights.

David Kessler (former FDA commissioner) on Adult Baby Food and other evils. Worth a listen: his recent interview on Fresh Air.

Monday, May 25, 2009

State of Paralysis

Paul Krugman at his best.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Man up, Cheney. Get in line.

Olbermann may be off with his assertion that the long torture debate "ended today", but he does highlight an intriguing mile marker.

Nutjob radio host Eric "Mancow" Muller, fomenter of memes such as Obama as a secret Muslim, or the Michelle Obama racist videotape, hired a military specialist to waterboard him live on air to help prove that the practice was nothing like torture.

He lasted six seconds.

YouTube link

Muller parrots conservative talking points, but isn't considered part of the Limbaugh-Kristol-Hannity axis. One can hope, however, that more media figures claiming that waterboarding isn't torture will attempt similar stunts of their own.

Jesse Ventura asserted on Larry King two weeks ago that given a waterboard and one hour he could have Dick Cheney confessing to the Sharon Tate murders.

Now THAT would be appointment television.

via The Daily What

Friday, May 15, 2009

Holding Obama's Feet to the Daily Show Flame

The question for the Daily Show was never really "Is there enough that's funny about Obama?" but "What will Obama do that's just as f-ed up as any other politician?"

This week had a couple of doozies.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Moral Kombat
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Kornbluth Brothers: Movie Pitch for "Love and Taxes"

Josh and Jake Kornbluth pitch their latest movie, Love and Taxes, based on Josh's monologue of the same name, a sort-of sequel to Haiku Tunnel.

As an indie feature, they are shooting it bit by bit (as funding allows), and there's already a rough cut of one scene available: YouTube link

More info about the film at and the film's
fundraising page at IndieGoGo.

Perks for donors: methinks the $1040 level perk is a better deal than the $2500 appear in the movie: at the 1040EZ donation level you get a Case Name. In my book, being name checked in a scene about tax law would be even cooler than a walk-on.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bristol Palin's New Gig

Gail Collins is leaving Maureen Dowd in the dust.

Monday, May 04, 2009

100 days of Obama: the Facebook news feed

Slate writers Christopher Beam and Chris Wilson relive the first 100 days of the Obama administration through the lens (and language) of Facebook:

Picture 1.png

If you're not on Facebook (or not extremely in tune with Washington politics) a few of the jokes might fall with a thud. But I totally loved this.

I'd have more to say about it, but I need to go catch up on Lost.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The "We didn't know" defense

The New York Times outlines how the members of the Bush Administration (and Congress) who advocated for and approved the torturing of prisoners in its custody had no fucking clue what they were agreeing to.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was "a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm," a former C.I.A. official said.
This is why the rule of law matters. Because sometimes those in power lack the competence required to be put in charge of life-and-death decisions.

I am sick with disgust.

Read the entire story.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twitter: You're Doing It Wrong

Joined Twitter, but still don't get it? Perhaps these tips may help.

1. You do not need to follow celebrities.

Most celebrities on Twitter are dull. The fact that they have tens or hundreds of thousands of people following them does not make them any less boring. In fact it suggests to them that Twitter users are all too happy to read the lamest details of their celebrity life.

Now if you enjoy celebrity-watching, and feel a thrill knowing that Ashton Kutcher and P. Diddy are together on Larry King RIGHT NOW, or if it is your dream to get a 140-character answer to your question from John Cleese, go right ahead.

2. You do not need to receive breaking news

It can feel exciting to learn about an earthquake, or a plane crash, or a daring sea rescue minutes (or even hours) before the news shows up on But unless there's something you can do about it, breaking news doesn't have much actual value to your life.

Alternately, you might want to be the person who turns around and shares the breaking news with others. In which case: sure, become the news desk.

(Note also that people who receive breaking news via Twitter are advised not to crack jokes about said breaking news in the real world, as no one will know what the hell you are talking about until they hear about it the next day on Morning Edition.)

3. You do not need to follow your friends

Unless you and your friends-in-real-life use Twitter to meet up at a conference or on a night of bar-hopping, you do not need to follow your friends' Twitter feeds to keep up with their lives. That is what Facebook is for.

Most of the people I follow (and who now follow me) I don't know in real life. Or, I didn't before Twitter.

4. It is okay to prune your list of people you follow

If someone you're following isn't posting tweets that are interesting, useful, or funny, feel free to stop following them. They might be funny and interesting and lovely in real life, but on Twitter their random mutterings are only so much noise.

5. There is no harm in trying

Find new people to follow by seeing who your favorite Twitterers follow. Funny Twitterers may also have a list of "Favorites", which may point you to other funny Twitterers. There's no cost to follow someone on a trial basis. If, after a week (or in some cases a day) you decide that the person's tweets aren't interesting, useful, or funny, you can prune them off your list.

6. Write tweets that are interesting, useful, or funny

Every time you type in the box and click "update", it's like you're stepping up to a microphone to make a brief statement. Make it worth everybody's time.

Smart people have two Twitter accounts: one personal, one professional. That way you can be interesting or useful about your job to one audience, and interesting or funny about your kids to another.

Me, I just try to be funny, regardless of topic. Which leads me to jokes at the intersection of HTML programming and bluegrass.

Perhaps I'm the one who's doing it wrong.

7. Someone has probably gotten to that joke before you

If you care about these things, there's

Tell me what I'm doing wrong below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The unlikeliness of Susan Boyle

My mom sent me this seven minute YouTube clip (embedding disabled) from last Saturday's "Britain's Got Talent" broadcast. If you haven't seen it I'd encourage you to give it a look rather than read my half-formed yammers about it.

I hate these shows. And while I am not a fan of the reality show in general*, by "these shows" I mean specifically the reality (and celebrity-reality) talent show. I hate the cruelty, the commerciality, the artifice, and the garish expressions of the lowest common denomination of taste. Oh and how I hate the padding.

But I cannot deny these shows' appeal. Which finds somewhat of an apotheosis in these seven minutes.

There is still much to be cynical about here: the bassoon underscore playing up the awkwardness of the contestant, the maudlin praise, the underlying condescension of the format. But as much as I wanted to dismiss this, or deconstruct it, there is something undeniably genuine and awesome in this moment.

Because despite all of the forgettable hours of ridiculous costumes, hairstyles, and product placements what everyone involved--the producers, the judges, the audience--most wants, deep down, is to witness is a nobody stepping out on the stage and coming back a star.

See it for yourself.

*Excepting Top Chef, The Amazing Race, and for a while I was able to enjoy Survivor.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Jon Stewart explains what being in the minority really feels like.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monkey, Aware of Emptiness

The boys and I were puttering in the backyard after dinner tonight, ostensibly working in the garden. ("How can we call it a garden when we haven't done any work on it since last year?" asked L)

R picked up one of the many bamboo poles and began to pose with it and thrust it about as a weapon against imaginary enemies. I heard him announcing his powers. I realized he was not showing off his finesse with a light saber, but what I did hear surprised me. "Did you say you're Shah Rukh Khan?"

"No," said R. "I said Sun WuKong!"

"Yeah, dude, you're Sun WuKong!" shouted L, and went over to instruct R on the finer points of wielding Sun WuKong's cudgel.

In Chinese, Sun either means or implies "monkey," and WuKong is his Buddhist name, which means "aware of emptiness," or more precisely, ""the one who has Achieved the Perfect Comprehension of the Extinction of both Emptiness and non-Emptiness." 孫悟空, also known as the Monkey King, is the hero of the classical Chinese novel of the 16th century, Journey to the West.

I picked up several volumes of a 34-volume illustrated version of the novel at the Salvation Army. We've been reading them before bedtime this week. The illustrations are terrible-- turns out, this collection is likely the print adaptation of Shangai Animation Film Studio's 1960's animated series based on the novel. The books were released in English in the 1980s, about the time the animated series was released on video.

Monkey can fly (well, leap 54,000 kilometers in a single bound), transform himself, is on a mission (to escort the Tang Priest Xuanzang to the West to obtain Buddhist Scriptures), and beats the tar out of evil spirits and demons. In short, he's a superhero, albeit one that has a tail and take his marching orders from Kuan-Yin, the Goddess of Compassion.

Sorry, Yoda. The Force is with Monkey.

Power Ranger or Chinese immortal?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NYTimes: Sugar is back. As a health food.

Grocery store. Bread aisle. Several competing brands. Given two comparable varieties, say, Brand X multigrain, and Brand Y multigrain, which one do I choose?

I used to distinguish on price.

Now, I'll scan the ingredient labels. If I see High Fructose Corn Syrup, I won't buy it. If the competing brand lists Sugar in its place, I'll buy that one. Hell, I'll even pay a premium. I believe I've paid up to a dollar more for a loaf of bread to avoid HFCS.

I'll pay extra for the perception that I'm getting a more "natural" product.

The New York Times covers sugar's second act as a "healthy" food.

Good for sugar, I think. But then the article doesn't just cover this marketing trend-- adjustments by processed food and beverage manufacturers responding to consumer preference: it goes on to quote several scientists who point out that nutritionally-- there's no difference between HFCS and Sugar. An empty calorie is an empty calorie.

So much for my health.

Still, Coke tasted better in India. Like Mexico, they make their cola with sugar, not corn.

And I still get to feel righteous for sticking it to the tyranny of the corn states.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The post-news world

Two brilliant and provocative reads on the future of news (and the collapse of the newspaper business) burned through blogs and RSS readers this week. Both writers sit far enough outside of the industry to offer a clear perspective and to be ignored by anyone inside the industry with the power to change it. (Although you can be sure journalists themselves were emailing each other about both pieces all week.) Both pieces attempt to confront the paradox of ever-falling revenue and ever-increasing readership.

Clay Shirky presents the more harsh vision of the future, which he telegraphs in his title, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable."

He compares our current, electronic shift in information distribution to the invention of the printing press and italic type, and the massive cultural shifts those helped make possible. (Copernicus, anyone? The Protestant Reformation?)
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
Shirky doesn't claim to know what journalism will look like once the revolution is completed. He does believe that the future lies not in the hands of the newspaper publishers, but in the hands of the dozens (even hundreds, or thousands) of experimenters who are attempting wholly new ways of connecting people to information (and to each other).

Steven Johnson shortens the lens to look at his own past as a media consumer in a speech he delivered at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin entitled "Old Growth Media and the Future of News".

He describes days he spent in his youth checking the bookstore repeatedly for the arrival of each new issue of Macworld, a magazine he relied on for news that was weeks (if not months) out-of-date by the time he read it. He contrasts that time (just 20 years ago) with the overabundance of news and information he now has at his fingertips via the world wide web.

Johnson, the author of Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, is far more of an optimist than Shirky. He articulates a vision for the future of professional journalists and news organizations, and asserts that on the other side of the demise of the local paper will be an even greater awareness of the news in one's neighborhood.
I adore the City section of the New York Times, but every Sunday when I pick it up, there are only three or four stories in the whole section that I find interesting or relevant to my life – out of probably twenty stories total. And yet every week in my neighborhood there are easily twenty stories that I would be interested in reading: a mugging three blocks from my house; a new deli opening; a house sale; the baseball team at my kid’s school winning a big game. The New York Times can’t cover those things in a print paper not because of some journalistic failing on their part, but rather because the economics are all wrong: there are only a few thousand people potentially interested in those news events...

As we get better at organizing all that content – both by selecting the best of it, and by sorting it geographically – our standards about what constitutes good local coverage are going to improve. We’re going to go through the same evolution that I did from reading two-month-old news in MacWorld, to expecting an instantaneous liveblog of a keynote announcement. Five years from now, if someone gets mugged within a half mile of my house, and I don’t get an email alert about it within three hours, it will be a sign that something is broken.
Both posts are worth your time.

Shirky's essay is here. Johnson's is here.

And, for a bit of additional fun, here's a feature that ran on KRON-TV in San Francisco in 1981(!) about the future of "electronic newspapers", delivered via modem to your home "computer".

YouTube link

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jaw-dropping YouTube remix "album"

A great deal of hip-hop and electronica artistry begins by digging in used record bins, searching for bits and pieces that can be digitized, chopped up, and reassembled into something new. A snare fill here, a bass line there. Snippets of guitar riffs, piano arpeggios, vocal backing tracks, etc.

For his latest seven-song "album", ThruYou, Israeli musician Kutiman dug into a different wellspring for sampled sound: YouTube.

There he found a treasure trove of audio: drummers, pianists, flautists, church organists, string quartets, guitar soloists, harmonica and bouzouki players, a capella singers and rap freestylists. Plus video after video of synthesizers, vocoders, and audio effects box tests, oscilloscopes and wave form generators, even the sounds of pressing buttons on mixing equipment he was able to put to use. He calls "ThruYou" the "1st movement", an apt choice given that this particular wellspring is so vast (and ever expanding).

I wasn't able to wrap my head (or heart) around the nerd remix smash hit of 2008, Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals". That madcap stirfry of the past few decades of rock, pop, and hip-hop (finely diced and shredded) seemed best enjoyed whilst reading the Wikipedia article that catalogued all of the samples to the second.

Here you quickly realize that Kutiman used video editing software to assemble his mashups, meaning that you can SEE his source material unfolding in front of you. (In his words, "What you see is what you hear.") For me, watching these dozens of random faces and hands, posted initially to YouTube by disparate strangers hoping to instruct, to perform, to show off, to practice, or to simply connect, now juxtaposed in rhythmic counterpoint in ways they could not have foreseen was surprisingly emotional.

It felt like one of the those moments where a technology-fueled future felt more (rather than less) human, and the possibilities for art and music and creativity opened wide.

Plus I liked the tunes. (My favorite is embedded above.)

See and hear them for yourself. Alternate link here, if the site is down.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Steve Wozniak: Dancing with the Startups

Tim & I were wondering about Steve Wozniak's new path to stardom, and surmising that this could signal a much looser definition of 'star'.  Please suggest your nominations for next season's lineup from any of the following new 'star' categories (please add more):
1) Retired Bush administration spokesperson Ari Fleischer.
2) Unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee Harriet Myers.
3) Popular southern food cookbook author Paula Dean.
4) Former congressman Larry Craig.
5) The two guys who sell the beanie babies on late night TV.
6) Liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga.
7) Daredevil stunt pilot Capt Sully Sullenberger.
8) Newly-retired president Pervez Musharref.
9) Popular 3rd season American Idol semi-finalist [name]. 
10) Comic strip star Cathy of "Cathy".

Economic Recovery by Design

This week Barack Obama unveiled two new executive branch logos, one for, and one for the DOT's TIGER project (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery).

Of course branding is no substitute for results, but what's notable about the Obama administration's efforts (in contrast to the Bush administration's) are that they 1) look crisply modern, and 2) don't come off as baldface lies.

The former was accomplished by hiring Mode Project, the design studio that helped develop Barack Obama's campaign logo. They in turn enlisted the help of designers Aaron Draplin and Chris Glass, two surprising hip choices for government work.

The question of lying is not entirely a political assumption I am making; Bush routinely appeared in front of backdrops that made actual claims ("Helping Small Business", "Strengthening America's Economy", "Mission Accomplished"). Had there been a functioning Office of Legal Counsel under Bush they might have insisted on adding an asterisk to each of these "logos".

Bold visual design can evoke emotions and create implications, but doesn't make such claims.

Of course over the coming years we'll see if the product actually matches the implied brand promise...


(Via Communicatrix, @gruber, et al.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

(via boingboing)
For visual learners, artist/designed Jonathan Jarvis explains the credit crisis.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jon Stewart wraps his mind around Twitter

Monday, February 23, 2009

Land of the Lost as a movie? They're not. Oh yes they are. Oh yes they did.

Directed by Brad "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" Silberling.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cheney Dunk Tank Raises $800 Billion For Nation | The Onion

The stimulus has apparently been paid for, by Americans queueing up to dunk the exiting vice president at the 44th White House Carnival.
"All right, you candy arms, let's go,' Cheney shouted at the line of people, which consisted of Americans, non-Americans, out-of-work autoworkers, teachers, luminaries from the science community, gays, lesbians, military personnel, members of Congress, children, and the entire Arab-American population. 'Hey [former British prime minister Tony] Blair. I see you back there. Think you'll be able to stop crying long enough to throw the ball?'"
Read the story in full.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

The Big Picture on the Inauguration.

So yeah, it took me a couple of weeks to get around to The Big Picture's roundup of notable news photos of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. (Link)

And yes there are striking images of the pageantry, and of the crowd in Washington (including that overhead satellite shot of those millions on the Mall, clustered in front of the giant video screens).

But as with most posts from The Big Picture, some of the most revelatory photos are taken in the margins--images not deemed central enough to the story to be featured in national media outlets.

Here some of the most striking photos are of people watching televisions. At an army base in Baghdad. A bar in Montana. A hotel room in Boston. A taco stand in Mexico City. Outdoors at night in Kibera, Nairobi. The Best Buy at the Mall of America.

And my favorites include the sea of cell phone cameras raised by ball attendees hoping to capture a tiny glimpse the Obamas dancing together. The changing of official photographs at Guantanamo Naval Base. Bush inside the helicopter after takeoff looking out across Washington.

If you haven't been already you should go look now.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Who is on Twitter

New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones rounds up just who is using Twitter, including:
• people who are just back from a really awesome run

• people who are involved in "social networking" and optimizing the power of re-Tweeting and "computers"

• people who are hungry

• people who can't figure out what their kids want to eat

• Rachel Maddow

Go read the entire list

(Via Scott Simpson.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hide it under a bushel, no

The fact that your particular talent might not be traditionally performed within the context of a pageant is perhaps all the more reason to bring it.

Even if it isn't clear to the audience for the first two and a half minutes what your talent actually is.

From the 2009 Hawaiian Narcissus Festival.

via SeoulBrother, via @robot_operator