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Sunday, May 17th, 2009
9:17 pm
I picked up the habit of ripping my MP3s at maximum quality (320kbps, the preset for which is pointedly called insane by the /usr/bin/lame mp3 encoder) from crossvector, who clearly has much better hearing and stereo equipment than I ever will. When it comes to listening to music on the go (i.e., route 358, where, on a good day, you won't be sharing your seat with livestock), I find that listening to 128kbps a little louder than necessary is a workable alternative. For those of you that run Linux and have a mobile music player, you might be interested in this little batch script to batch downsample your mp3s. (Note: it's not fast -- on my computer it executes at only 15x playback speed, so you'll probably want to run it overnight. YMMV.)

Also ... where have I been for the last three years ? Honestly, I have no idea where the time went. I just sat down in front of the computer and when I got up to make another pot of coffee it was 2009. Weird. If you're so inclined, I post to twitter as @eleuthero these days. My commentary is just as fatuous and puerile as it has traditionally been here, but at least there it's mercifully constrained to 140 incoherent characters.

#!/bin/bashCollapse )

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Wednesday, February 8th, 2006
9:08 pm - Musings accumulated during a long absence.

  • In line at the Starbucks the other day I overheard one middle-aged, middle-class mother gravely opine into her cell phone, "I oppose growth on B---- Island, and so do my kids." She got her coffee and drove off alone in her Expedition.
  • It seems to me that if fundamentalist zealots really wanted to chalk up points for intelligent design, they would cite as their primary example not the human body but rather the anatomy of spacetime. As complicated, wondrous, and improbably suitable we find ourselves, our meager complexity absolutely pales before that of empty space.
  • And yet, I have yet to find anybody whom, in earnest pursuit of pure science, has not been regularly troubled, awed, and humbled by what they have found.
  • If pressed to produce what I felt to be the most incontrovertible proof of the existence of a creator, it would have to be the complete lack of incriminatory evidence -- the pristine prooflessness of this, the scene of the crime. "Here is where the perpetrator or perpetrators of this heinous crime likely made their getaway," I would say, pointing at Exhibit A, a full-page color glossy photograph of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem.
  • I find that if I give enough nonproveable replies to somebody who asks unanswerable questions, they generally go away and I can get back to work. I have no qualms about too-simple people thinking I am difficult.
  • Given the choice between a stronger sense of faith and a stronger sense of wonder, I'll take wonder every time.
  • The sun rode uncontested across the sky for the first time in months today ! I'm as protective of my delicate, vampiric complexion as anybody else, but I have to say that it was a joy to behold.

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Wednesday, November 24th, 2004
7:31 pm - G-Cans Project.
It's probably not what you think.
It's much, much cooler.
In fact, I don't even know what it really is, or even if it really exists.

In other words, Laibach was here in Seattle four days ago and I missed them. Knowing this has completely ruined my weekend. So this evening, I am living vicariously through fiend.

current mood: morose

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3:57 pm
This year's award for the Best Use of the Word "Zeptoliter" in a Serious Screenplay goes to David Britz of University of Oxford and Dr. Andrei Khlobystov of the University of Nottingham: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4033641.stm

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Sunday, October 24th, 2004
10:55 am - I need a word.
There's got to be a word for typing an instant message, especially one of a potentially compromising or indefensible nature, to the wrong party. It happens frequently enough that it deserves its own term.

The best I can do is dysfenestration, but it lacks punch.

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Tuesday, October 5th, 2004
8:02 pm - A brief synopsis of the debate.
Sen. John Edwards: Mr. Vice President, I still don't think you're being straight with the American people. Under your watch, the acceleration due to gravity has gone from 9.8 meters per second squared to 32 feet per second per second !
Vice President Dick Cheney: I don't even know where to begin.
Sen. John Edwards: Kerry.
Moderator Gwen Ifill: *bzzzt*
Sen. John Edwards: Kerry.
Moderator Gwen Ifill: *bzzzt*
Sen. John Edwards: Outsourcing.
Vice President Dick Cheney: (silence)
Sen. John Edwards: Suicide bombers.
Vice President Dick Cheney: (silence)
Sen. John Edwards: Anything other than body armor, Halliburton, consistency, or our voting records.
Vice President Dick Cheney: (silence)
Sen. John Edwards: More of the same.
Vice President Dick Cheney: Go f--- yourself.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: Hey, leave me out of this.
Vice President Dick Cheney: Gwen ?
Moderator Gwen Ifill: Mister Vice President ?

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Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
9:25 pm - Fell on the floor; fell in love with Wendy.
With apologies to e.e. cummings: M. told me not to work so hard. My co-workers told me not to work so hard. My boss told me not to work so hard. I think at one time my neighbor told me not to work so hard. It took the floor jumping up and hitting me smack in the forehead to convince me not to work so hard. So I've been not working so hard for the last couple hours and, for the first time in a long time, I feel. Something. It's a good start. Please don't worry; it was just too much caffeine and too little sleep compounded for too many weeks. I'm now trying to drive a narrative spike between myself and the temptation to telnet back into the office. In the brief time that I was on the floor, my mind conjured a memory I had thought long forgotten, which I feel strangely compelled, for no discernable reason, to share:

So, did I ever tell you that I fell in love with Wendy ? Yeah, that Wendy. The hamburger girl, that's the one. What's more, she broke my heart, let me tell you. See, I used to work in a little place somewhere in the valleys of central California called Paso Robles. You may remember that an earthquake nearly knocked it down a year or so back. Well, back before the earthquake, back before it decided to become the next Napa Valley, back before the acres of dirt became acres of grapevines, there was nearly nothing there but a Sizzler. In fact, I worked in the same building as the Sizzler. It was built in an old grain mill, or at least that's what they told us then. I found out later all of the exposed beams were actually distressed wood -- you know, somebody went around deliberately doing a crappy job of hammering bent, rusty nails into otherwise perfectly-good beams, and, voil�, instant historical site. You can imagine our interest, then, when a Wendy's opened up across town, because we were all sure that one more piece of Texas Toast and they'd be talking about us all on the news.

Well, the new Wendy's was, by Paso Robles standards, dressed to the nines, festooned with little multicolored plastic flags on a line, like you'd see at used-car lots. The place was absolutely packed. Even having waited until a week after it opened, it took us about forty-five minutes to finally get our food and find a table, and we were just about to tuck into our uniquely square-pattied fare when Wendy showed up. Yeah, that Wendy. She was dressed up in the fin de si�cle blue-and-white striped bloomers and Victorian lace cuffs, black grandma boots, a bright-red wig made of yarn, and three little freckles painted on each cheek. I was instantly smitten. She ask us something in a Victorian affectation -- presumably about the food, but that's just speculation on my part -- and when my tablemates' attention returned to their food, and eventually to me, they knew me well enough to know precisely what the look that must have been on my face meant, and nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. I think somebody upset one of the tables but I don't recall that for sure either.

So for the next week, it was Wendy's for lunch every day, and most of them Wendy was there, either working as the cashier, sweeping the floors, or buzzing around the tables asking if everything was fine, her bright-red yarn coiffure bobbing merrily. But as the new rapidly wore off the Wendy's, fewer people came in, and Wendy became less and less of a presence in the lobby, until one day she was replaced with some teeny-bopper of the same height and build, but wearing the usual Wendy's uniform, a relatively well-ordered short black hairdo, no freckles painted on each cheek, and a vaguely familiar smile.

I was unconsolable for weeks.

My advice, then, for those enamored with corporate mascots, is that it will end in tears.

It's good to talk to you all again.

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Friday, June 4th, 2004
6:40 pm - Perfect notes.
See, crossvector and I both enjoy discussing and trading what we call perfect notes -- well-bookmarked, fleeting moments that stand out in our musical experiences and CD libraries where an inspired instrumental elocution, once heard, changes our lives irrevocably. (Readers at home should know, in the spirit of full disclosure, that crossvector is also a highly talented producer, as well as consumer, of such notes. I inform you of this because I fear that he will not.)

Our name is somewhat of a misnomer, as what we call perfect notes include short, inspired patterns of notes, unexpected or altered patterns of beats, percussion, unclassifiable sounds, and even the absence of a note or voice that a lesser artist would have retained. Even the best-architected songs, in their absence, eventually become common and drained of their original emotional and spiritual impact, but a single perfect note can sustain in perpetuity the power, vitality, and depth of the song that possesses it. As an example, I believe that we would agree that there is one nestled in the chorus in Murray Head's "One night in Bangkok" but it took a considerable amount of trouble and technology for him to actually locate it. One of my favorites is a passage in Peter Gabriel's "Love to be loved" where you only realize after the fact that there's been a key change: like staring at the Pleiades, you can only see them if you don't look directly into them.

So I was delighted to read retroCRUSH's most agreeable 50 Coolest Song Parts. While it focuses a little more on lyrics, riffs, solos, and sustained efforts than the spontaneity and ephemerality that is generally implied by perfect notes, I find that it's a very well-researched compilation and wide enough to include Johnny Cash, the Sex Pistols, and the B-52s. You'll learn something you might not have known about the fretless bass solo in Paul Simon's "You can call me Al" (at, alas, merely #36), Joe Strummer's hopelessly bludgeoned Spanish (#20), and, yes, everybody's favorite Johnny Cash lyric (#5).

Share and enjoy.

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Sunday, February 29th, 2004
6:47 pm - That is the question.
Excerpt from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17527-2004Feb29.html:

CBS anchor Dan Rather then put the question to Edwards in what he said was a Texas vernacular: "Does Senator Kerry have enough Elvis to beat George Bush?"

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Saturday, February 21st, 2004
7:43 pm - A memory of Usenet.
Even back in college I didn't have a life, and I'm not entirely ashamed to say that while my roommates were out drinking, tipping cattle, and climbing water towers, I was generally at home digesting sci.physics on Usenet -- not necessarily because I was that studious about physics, but rather, 1995 was a wonderful year for scientific and mathematical cranks in that particular newsgroup: the more literate of that cretinous population somehow saw the medium for what it was -- a method for reaching not only intelligent and scientifically-inclined individuals but the support and sympathy of other crackpots -- and the regularity with which they assaulted the group with their crackpot theories and whiny ad hominem attacks made it required reading.

For the most part, the troublemakers provided ready-made entertainment, either in the substance of their theories, their inexpert presentation or argumentation skills, or their prickly inability to construe even the first and gentlest criticism of their beloved theories of everything as anything less than a vicious, slanderous personal attack. Alexander's rag-time band...Collapse )

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Saturday, February 14th, 2004
3:32 pm - Crimson room.
Dear Mr. Takagi brought Friday's productivity to a screeching halt: http://www.datacraft.co.jp/takagism/index_e.html (Requires Macromedia Flash 7, but it's worth the price of admission.)

Happy Valentines Day to one and all.

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Saturday, October 25th, 2003
10:21 pm - Recollections.

  • Mojave desert, late 80s. There is perhaps nowhere on earth as cold and dark as the belly of the Mojave Desert an hour before sunrise: a cold and dark sufficiently dense as to be almost transparent, and to this day that bitter cold, that utter dark, the rumble of the diesel engines of the tractor trailers, the everpresent, bludgeoning smell of their exhaust, and the acrid taste of the Circle K coffee form an emotional cabal: I cannot think of one without being reminded of the totality of the others. I worked as a cashier for four summers at a Circle K store on the edge of the town on the edge of the desert: being the first store for a hundred clicks if coming from Los Angeles to the south or Barstow from the east, aside from the predominating truckers, we got tourists, skiiers headed to Big Bear, cops, film crews, Ozzy Osbourne and his entourage, deadheads, drugmules, salesmen, Hell's Angels on the go, Timbuk 3, vanloads of immigrants, tour buses, hippies, tumbleweeds, and the botched desert town inhabitants.
    The manager warned me of what would turn out to be the weirdest thing to happen: "You'll eventually get a guy come into the store who'll beeline for the ice cream freezer and just start chowing down. Whatever you do, don't get in his way. Just let him eat whatever he wants, as much of it as he wants, and don't freak out when he passes out. Call this number -- it's his sister -- and she'll come pick him up and pay for whatever he ate. Just pick up the wrappers so she'll know how much to pay." It happened four or five times in my tenure.
    The rule of desert life, as I came to understand it, was never to appear nonplused. Strange things happen with unusual frequency, and it takes a certain, rare kind of personality to thrive there: lacking that, do not ever appear as though you are not in control, or prepared to take control, of a situation unless your action, or inaction, will likely lead to somebody's demise. For most, mere survival in the desert is a social contract and if others feel that you are ill-prepared for it they will favor ties with others at your expense.
    That Circle K still exists physically, but when last I saw it, some four or five years ago from the back seat of a moving car, it was a ghost of a building: the windows boarded over, the gas pumps ripped out, weatherbeaten, sunbleached, its front lot populated by tumbleweeds.
  • Cima Dome, near Barstow, Mojave desert. I would say more about the loneliest phone booth in the world, of which all that still remains is the cinderblock foundation, but what is said through that phone must never be repeated. Far enough away from anything that the backbone of the night is visible shortly after twilight, the ring of that phone -- though no different in substance than any other of its dying breed -- was like no other sound on earth. In all likelihood, at the other end of that ring -- at least until the Internet got big and the word got out -- was another desert denizen, emotionally burned to the ground -- for whom this call, if unanswered, might be the next to last stop to suicide: the call was a hope against hope that there might possibly be somebody more desperate, desolate, and detached than they. In its later years, I understand, it started getting more drunken and prankish calls, as well as calls from (for some reason) Norway, whose inhabitants, I would imagine, be better equipped than most to deal with desolation.
  • 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz: The National Institute for Standards and Technology broadcasts the time continuously on these frequencies from Fort Collins, Colorado. It is the modern gold standard for the voice of desolation, an entrancing, almost hypnotic chant without recipient. Having grown up in a small town on the edge of a massive desert, evidence of that comfortable detachment abounded in the pirate radio stations, filthy citizens-band conversations between anonymous long-haul truckers, mysterious RTTY transmissions probably coming from Edwards AFB, and the interminable high desert nights. To where can one turn for dependable detachment now ? What is the cost to be a member of the always-on society ?

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Saturday, October 11th, 2003
1:24 pm - Domina mea exstat a tergo: Quite possibly the best LJ post ever.
All praise to quislibet for this:


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Saturday, September 27th, 2003
7:08 pm
Oh, yeah ... now this is what I'm talking about: The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy. Be sure to check out the page where it's broken down by county.

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7:00 pm - Found

current mood: manamana

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Monday, September 22nd, 2003
11:37 pm - Literary edge case

  • While wandering through Half Price Books last week, I saw on the shelves this title: What did Miss Darrington see?: an anthology of feminist supernatural fiction. While it seems to present itself as the nichiest anthology ever, there were actually a couple of stories I recognized, including one about a Gypsy woman who goes mano-a-mano with Old Scratch, and, as Gypsy women, fiddlers, and folk singers are wont to do, wins. I can't fault the book too strongly until I've read it at least once, but calling literature written around strong female protagonists "feminist" doesn't seem fair to strong females. The works of Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Leguin, C. J. Cherryh, Hayao Miyazaki, Masamune Shirow, and Robert Heinlein, just to name a few on both sides of the gender fence, are largely characterized by strong, often dominant, female figures, but I wouldn't even think about calling their stories feminist. Perhaps it's the absence of a particular agenda driving the actions of the female characters, or perhaps it's that they're not imbued power beyond the measure of their strength.
  • Scrupulously nonviolent libertarian economic sci-fi. But wait, it's actually damn good. See, this one all started when a college roommate B., who worked as a manager at a Domino's Pizza, accepted an armload of used paperback books in exchange for delivering some cheesy-bread one night. He brought one title back to the apartment: F. Paul Wilson's An enemy of the state. He left it in the bathroom, where I found it. It starts as typical pulp science fiction: an outworld imperium had become too overarching and heavy-handed, and a small group of revolutionaries were planning to violently overthrow it, but along comes this enigmatic figure, Peter LaNague, who promises to help bring it down, but insists on bringing about the imperium's demise bloodlessly using libertarian economic subversion. One would think that this particular oeuvre smacks of Battlefield Earth-like shenanigans, but it doesn't seem to be so: Wilson is a medical doctor by training and almost all of his previous works were strictly clinical horror novels devoid of any detectable ideology. You don't have to be a libertarian to love a book like this. Oh, yeah, I got halfway through the book in a single read before B. started banging on the bathroom door wondering what I was doing in there. When it was safe to go back in, I found he had taken the book with him and in the subsequent days managed to lose it. It's a sufficiently obscure book that it took me years to find it again and finally find out how LaNague's plans played out. My only beef with the book is the cover art: on one release, LaNague is portrayed as a huge, hulking figure holding a massive gun and has three arrows embedded in his upper leg, completely antithetical to everything about his portrayal inside the book. On another, he looks like Zeppo Marx.
  • Sometime in my adolescent wanderings I found an entire book devoted to Linotype sci-fi. Something like fifteen short stories with unreasonable narrative emphasis on defective Linotype machines. One of the more memorable stories involves life going wrong in strangely connected ways: the protagonist determines through interpolation that the Author of Creation must be writing reality on defective Linotype that is incorrectly processing words with the letter "e" in them at predictable intervals. He then endeavors to find a city named Haveen (easier said than done, I later determined -- there's no city named Haveen in the United States, at least) and steps into the city limits just as the Linotype misdrops the slug of text, and, wham, he's in Heaven, and tells G-d about His malfunctioning Linotype. This little anthology is apparently sufficiently obscure that I can't even find it with the help of Google. It's not Frederic Brown, who also wrote a story about a sapient Linotype, because his fiction is actually worthwhile.
  • Henry Stephen Frickin' Keeler. Nuff said.

current mood: IEnumerable

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Sunday, September 21st, 2003
12:25 am - In commemoration of National Talk Like a Pirate Day
Found somewhere on the net:

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Saturday, September 20th, 2003
11:00 pm - Darned King Phillip, or Enron meets the Linnaean classification

  • Since when has there been a broader Linnaean classification than kingdom? I was checking up on my old friend Euglena, which, when last I checked, was trapped in some shadowy taxonomic netherworld, inhabiting both Kingdom Animalia and Kingdom Protista. In fact, I recall that Kingdom Protista was like Botany Bay, inhabited by slime molds, diatoms and other prokaryotic neer-do-wells, but it looks like somebody came through and cleaned up the place. There are now three domains above kingdom, including Domain Archaea (methanogens, halophiles, and thermophiles), Domain Bacteria, and Domain Eukarya, which is where all the action still seems to be. I was pleasantly surprised to see that now euglenoids have their own kingdom, and the foster-child protists have found a home in Kingdom Mycetozoa.
  • Speaking of which, if you happen to be in Northern Iceland this weekend, why don't you attend the algae festival ?

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Thursday, September 11th, 2003
10:23 pm

  • The state of Californian gubernatorial affairs resembles nothing so much as the busted-up bits at the bottom of a box of animal crackers: a horned head here, part of a wing, a pair of forelegs, a feathered tail. What a chimerical beast this must have been, and oh what we could learn from it, if only it could be reassembled.
  • Submitted for your perusal: President Bush inaction figure. Not posable. Not bendable. No kung-fu action. Sure as hell not safe for children under 3 years of age.
  • My favorite aspect of science fiction is that any fanatical fringe group has not only the opportunity, but also the obligation, to demonstrate the feasibility of their idea by packing up and colonizing a distant, marginally hospitable planet.

current mood: insouciant

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Thursday, August 14th, 2003
5:39 pm - Meanwhile, elsewhere on Earth ...
[posted elsewhere]

I owe a great debt to a high school friend, R., with whom I would sometimes sit in the roadhouse diner next to the high school, eating biscuits and gravy in the predawn dark before classes began. He taught me a trick, which I hold very close even today, which he called "turning words to garbage," which was almost precisely analogous to the trick one uses to view stereoscopic 3D images. By focusing somewhere either in front or behind the din of the surrounding environment, one mentally blends the ambient conversations, first to a mushy melange of phonemes, then as one's brain adapts to the consistency, back towards new and textual content, some of which turns out pretty well. For instance, a couple of years back, this process used at a coffeeshop yielded the phrase "The alphabet is a bunch of little kids," which I think is probably somewhere close to a disclosure of ultimate truth.

My favorite word, then, is skygodlin. It is an obsolete word which means "diagonal", and might be applied to the direction of incoming raindrops.

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