Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Year Summed Up In 10 Words

1) integrity, 2) refugee, 3) contempt, 4) filibuster, 5) insipid, 6) tsunami, 7) pandemic, 8) conclave, 9) levee, 10) inept.

From Merriam-Webster Online, The Most Looked-Up Words of 2005.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Coldplay to Audiences: Buy Our CD. But Don't Listen to It.

Coldplay's latest CDs have "anti-piracy" features that prevent the owner from ripping mp3s of the music, which basically means that the CDs won't play in many car stereos, CD-RW combo drives, portable CD players, Macintosh computers, or basically anything other than a stand-alone CD player or Windows Media Player, if you let the Auto-Run software on the CD muck around with your Windows Registry (we know enough to know "mucking around with the Windows Registry" is bad for your computer).

Should you buy one of these CDs, you will only find all of this out after you open the package, where an insert explains these rules and also proclaims that refunds will only be considered for manufacturing defects.

Since most Coldplay audiences prefer concerts where they are expected to sit quietly in their seats with hands folded in their laps or the band will stop playing, this should go over well.

Question: How does preventing a CD from playing on a Mac prevent piracy?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"Christian" "Education"

To mark the Christmas holiday--even though Limbaugh wants you to think they are part of the "War on Christmas"--the NYTimes reviewed a handful of books on Christianity's attitudes toward thinking. Reason and religion have had an on-again, off-again relationship for all of history; Judaism has a vigorous respect for the mind and a great love of the written word, and, following this, Christians too are supposed to respect the mind and love the word. This was the tradition the medieval church drew on when it founded the universities of Europe to seek the mind of God. But then the same church then chewed up Galileo and spit him out. (Hey, we can't be right all the time.)

Jon Meacham starts by pointing out that "[the notion] that Christianity is a matter of both intellect and imagination, however, has fallen from popular favor." You think? As obvious as this is, we put some effort into googling the state of Christian education today to demonstrate how much better off you'd be in a medieval university.

We found The Jubilee Academy, where, for the low price of $399 per class, you can do all the work of teaching your children that "the Bible is God's infallible written Word," along with English classes with themes like, "Christian Fantasy and Fiction" and "Writing with Wisdom," the requisite "Creation Science" curriculum, "Heritage Social Studies," "Wonderfully Made Health and Physical Education," and electives such as "Christian Manhood" and "Christian Symbolism in Art." If you do a good job--and your $399 per course does not get you any guarantees--your kids may pass the GED and "make a positive impact for Christ" at a Christian college. O judgment, thou art fled to brutish wingnuts.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

We are "home" in Flowery Branch, GA, where, we are told, just two weeks ago citizens carried a "Have a White Christmas" banner in the town's Christmas parade without any reference to the Bing Crosby song whatsoever. We find it difficult to celebrate a holiday about Peace and Joy in the setting of such hatred. The natives, however, are quite pleased at themselves for disingeniously holding a public event that both celebrates racism and a sectarian holiday on the public budget.

May your Christmas be whatever color you please and may you and yours find a greater joy that you were you looking for this Christmas.

--The Management

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Next Wikipedia?

Larry Sanger, founding editor of Wikipedia, and Joe Firmage, a networking dork and Carl Sagan fan, are hoping to launch an ambitious project that sounds like the HuffPo of wikis, Digital Universe. The Digital Universe project aims for more than just an encyclopedia; the site will comprise a series of Yahoo!-like portals with content on earth/the environment, health, astronomy, and so on. Each portal will be edited by a supposed expert in its realm and incorporate submitted encyclopedia articles as well as peer-reviewed, expert-written explainer articles and links to books, other websites, and a mix of multimedia content developed both inside Digital Universe and elsewhere.

The merits of Wikipedia's "anyone can edit [almost] any page" philosophy notwithstanding, Wiki is just a bunch of text. Boring. An open-source site that uses 3D-maps a la Google Earth, video clips, and all that jazz will be way cooler. The problem is that they propose to pay their expert "stewards" while giving away the content; the money has come from donations so far, but there will be DSL service available from to help pay the bills and lots of PBS-style pledge drives, from the looks of things. According to the FAQ page, alma mater Boston University is a major donor of the project and partner in the content creation--cool, but we can't figure out why BU would be involved in something that will probably never make any money.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Casting A Wide Net To Catch Terrorists Doesn't Work

Hannibal over at Ars Technica has put together an interesting post about why large-scale surveillance to catch terrorists simply won't work, although it will transfer significant funds from the US Treasury to the bank accounts of well-connected defense contractors.

He notes a parable from an ancient religious text to demonstrate his point, which blew our minds. Seems there was this king in the Middle East who heard, on the basis of the most technologically advanced intelligence gatherers of the day, that a male child would be born in his kingdom who would one day rule all the earth. The king freaked out, fearing for his throne and his life, and summoned the intelligence offers to tell him more. Finding out only the approximate date of birth of the child and the town where his parents lived, the king endeavored to have every male child in the province under two years of age slaughtered. Ah, safe at last.

Unfortunately, the terrorist boy and his parents escaped under cover of night to a neighboring non-extradition treaty country so all those kids died for nothing. And, get this: the rumor that the boy would grow up to become king of kings and rule forever was apparently spoken in some kind of code and meant no direct threat to the king's throne or his life. Huh. Well, sometimes you have to slaughter a few thousand little boys for good measure.

Reason Triumphs Over Absurdity

Today, Judge John Jones ruled against teaching intelligent design in Pennsylvania:

The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision [to tell students that intelligent design is a alternative theory to evolution] is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
This is the only country in the world where a cockamamie substitute for creationism would be taken seriously enough to have a day in court, but the level-headed Jones patiently listened to it before putting it in its place. May it rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2005

One For The Speed Dial

Free 411 (1-800-FREE-411), paid for by 12 second commercials. Snopes says the directory service works flawlessly; we're trying it out now.

Freakonomics in Practice

Leavitt and Dubner wrote a great little book, but they did not venture into the possibilities of making use of the freaky knowledge found by mining economic data. put the real estate chapter to use and made a killing on the sale of their home. Way to go!

It Is Almost Unreal

As Bush melts down, he has been repeating his usual line that if we give him the power to spy on us, search us without a warrant, and generally rape us whenever he pleases, he will only spy on, search, and rape terrorists who really, really deserve it. Like Ted Kennedy said, "Give me a break."

Consider this UMass/Darthmouth student who earned himself a visit from two trenchcoats from the Department of Homeland Security when he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's Little Red Book via interlibrary loan. "The student was told by the agents that the book is on a 'watch list,' and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further." One of his professors has reconsidered teaching a course on terrorism in the spring, saying that if he asks his students to seek out original materials to research the topic, they will almost certainly end up in the same situation.

Bush today described the New York Times as "shameful" for printing information about the illegal, unconstitutional spying he's been doing and vowed to make Big Brother bigger "as long as [I] am commander in chief." From his track record, I think we can see that he will just do it. We can also see that he will not actually bring any terrorists to justice. So maybe he shouldn't be commander in chief anymore, you think?

UPDATE: The Mao-leads-to-DHS-Investigation story appears to be a hoax.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Modern Technology Left Us Out in the Cold

After a day in Boston, we came home to find our computer had apparently been zapped by a power outage of some sort; the thing was off when we left and remains that way as we speak. Numerous attempts to resurrect it have been unsuccessful, although we may attempt burying it under a new moon and digging it up when the full moon rises a fortnight later. Until then, posting will be light, as we are now having to trudge into campus in the 20-fkn-degree cold to check email and blog.

Monday, December 12, 2005

101 Cookbooks for the Holidays

Starting with these pepperminty things we've never heard of, Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks has a Christmastime roundup of all the sweets we'd like you to bake for us. As Gubbins will tell you, peppermint is huge this year. The rest of Heidi's menu is just as big.

Free Delwin

Princeton students have banded together in support of one of their own: Delwin, who has been targeted by the RIAA to pay $5000 for downloading and sharing music. Princeton students at are selling t-shirts and taking donations to help Delwin meet the RIAA's demands. Fkn bullies.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

This is Powazek: Awesome Pics. Nice Site, too.

Photo by Derek Powazek,
Go check this action out! People like this make us think that we, too, need to get a digital camera and start creating something worth looking at. This blog was supposed to foster that kind of creativity... but you have been reading it, and surely know that there is little originality going on here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Marketing Research Shows People Buy Music Out of Convenience

Surprise, surprise. 98% of people who listen to music don't give a flip (sign in required; see link to ars technica below for synopsis) about Sony's intellectual property "rights." Ars also discusses the hidden costs of DRM music files, which consumers with two grains of sense should incorporate into their online music purchases. We accept that we will end up buying lots of music again on the Next Big Format (how many of you own the same album on vinyl and CD already--the prospect of paying for the AAC file from iTMS this year and then .mp5 or whatever next year is not so pleasant), but thanks to Sony, you also have to consider that the next CD or mp3 you buy may crash your computer.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Greatest Generation, Indeed

A new documentary presents the internment of nearly 1000 Aleuts in Alaska during World War II. As described in the Guardian, the Japanese invaded several western Alaskan outposts in 1942, and so the Greatest Generation figured the only course of action was to lock up everyone who looked vaguely Japanese-looking person they could find to protect the national security. 881 Alaskans were detained in camps with no running water or medical care and allowed to leave only to fight in the army or work in forced labor projects, such as hunting seals for the government's profit. And when they were allowed to return home in 1945, they found their homes and churches looted. The film was partly funded by reparations paid by Congress to the survivors in 1987.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

New Gawker Blog: Consumerist

Like everyone else, we are addicted to Gawker and Wonkette. Let's be honest, here: We lust after Jessica Coen like nothing else. So here's the obligatory link to the Gawker for Shoppers, Consumerist. BoingBoing described it as "Consumer Reports written by someone who's just been on hold with customer service for an hour," which is tasty enough that we'll nibble.

The Consumerist tells of his aversion to NyQuil, which has recently been reformulated to its detriment in the name of thwarting would-be bathtub crystal meth makers:

When once we were Tiny Consumerists who ate dirt, our sniffling noses and mild fevers were accompanied by dread. Would we be subjected to that foul syrup Nyquil, the vile tincture that tasted like candied anise melted between the assfolds of Sammy Davis Jr’s scotch-soaked corpse? Even with a milk chaser and the (inexplicably effective) soothing sound of a running tap, we could barely choke it back. This quickly bred our propensity for bucking up, which will be useful come the day when we are dying of lung cancer and Gawker Media still doesn’t offer insurance.
Good stuff.

Gingerbread House--hah!

Try an entire gingerbread city for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree is now available from Urban Outfitters, whom we are sure Chuck would detest, in typically gloomy style, as having no respect whatsoever for the true meaning of Christmas (cue Linus reading the Gospel of Luke, Vince Guaraldi playing in background). Good grief.

Monday, December 05, 2005

John Derbyshire: No Woman Over 20 Is Worth Seeing in the Nude

Derbyshire at the National Review on Jennifer Aniston's "unsupported bust":

Did I buy, or browse, a copy of the November 17 GQ, in order to get a look at Jennifer Aniston's bristols?** No, I didn't. While I have no doubt that Ms. Aniston is a paragon of charm, wit, and intelligence, she is also 36 years old. Even with the strenuous body-hardening exercise routines now compulsory for movie stars, at age 36 the forces of nature have won out over the view-worthiness of the unsupported female bust.

It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman's salad days are shorter than a man's — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20. The Nautilus and the treadmill can add a half decade or so, but by 36 the bloom is definitely off the rose.

** Bristols. Cockney rhyming slang. There is a well-known soccer team in England named Bristol City.
The evidence (we can't seem to find scans of the GQ pics--which are sublime--at Google. Please leave links in the comments if you've got 'em):
So not only is he dead wrong, there is the bigotry that borders on pedophilia in his statement that women's "salad days" are over at 20. We think it perfectly captures the conservative's sentiment: "Unless we've lost some war--and last tahm Ah checked, we hadn't--there is no reason why we should be looking any model who is a day over 18." This explains, among other things, the preponderance of "WE BARE ALL" and "CAFE RISQUE NUDES" along the side of interstate highways down South where 16 year old trailer park girls jiggle it for lecherous-looking Congressmen.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lava flows as Hawaiian Cliff Falls Into the Ocean

This weekend, a 44-acre chunk fell off Mt. Kilauae and lava poured out of the broken cliff face into the sea. Awesome.

In case, like us, you don't remember, Kilauae has been erupting more or less constantly since 1983; this is all going on in a national park, so no one really cares if it all falls into the ocean.

We were going to list reasons why this is cooler than the Astronomy Pic of the Day, but we'll just enjoy the pretty pictures. More pics and maps of the involved area are at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Rushdie for Christmas

As huge fans of Rushdie, we feel compelled to give Rushdie's books as gifts. Midnight's Children, our favorite, is too thick--they are as likely to read it as they are to eat that fruitcake. We have come to the conclusion that we're not going to understand Satanic Verses until we read our free Qu'ran, so that's unlikely to meet with wild success as a gift, either.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the novella about a boy's fantastic journey to the source of all stories (our eponymous Ocean of Notions), is just right to introduce the unsuspecting to Rushdie. Full of sing-songy, witty wordplay without silliness. Quick enough reading for a weekend. And since it was written in reply to the infamous censure of Satanic Verses, even the ignats on our giftlist can figure out who he is with a little prodding.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

God, we hope this really happened

Professor Acephalous tells the tale of walking into his office one morning only to find two half-naked undergrads in media res. Or in flagrante delicto. Or whatever Harvard-speak is for gettin' it on. We won't spoil the rest of the story for you--and you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing. Like we said, we suspect he might be making this up, but we really hope it is a true story.