Friday, May 18, 2007

May 13, 2007 to June 2, 2007

Wherein I've been out of town, I'll be out of town, and the few days I'm in will be incredibly busy. So this will probably be all you get for awhile. Email me or leave a comment if there's something interesting/important/cool/weird I need to look at.


  • Lost is still one of the best shows on television. Yes, they got off to a rocky start, but I think in retrospect this season's arc will look better than it did at the time we were watching.
  • Two shots of Jamerson in a glass of ginger ale may be called a Big Ginger. Quite tasty with a twist of lime. Though I would say there was too much ginger ale as it pretty much covered the taste of alcohol.
  • A conference of technical writers in Minneapolis should be labeled: "Could we be any whiter?"
  • The answer is no.
  • Sure, technically, the answer is yes, but there is no significant difference between .001 and .01, so I stand by my previous answer of no.
  • Damn, there sure are a lot of Somalis in Minneapolis.
  • Damn, there sure are a lot of businesses posting "We do not allow guns" signs on their doors. Too late, I realized I should have been taking pictures. I could have had a nice gallery of antigun signs.
  • Despite taking a new camera with the intention of playing around with the features I took one picture.
  • It was handy at lunch when it was the only means I had to show pictures of The Child.
  • Despite hanging out with a generally fun bunch of people from around the country, I could not talk them into Hookers and Blow (see the previous post's comments for a link). So I missed them. This was a point of contention for the rest of the week and if we meet up in Philadelphia next year I will still be complaining about this.
  • The Dakota Jazz Club did not have Apple-Brie soup on the menu. This is wrong. They will be sent a letter. I am now owed the recipe.
  • Al's Breakfast rocks. Seriously hard.
  • Memo to Northwest Airlines: as long as you're going to be, you should play rap music. Because that's what we're all thinking.
  • Memo to Northwest Airlines: Your website needs a giant blinking button that reads ETICKET. That's probably a common activity your customer wants to complete, so make it easy.
  • Memo to all airlines: If listening to my iPod during takeoffs and landings will crash the plane then I suggest you build a better fucking plane.
  • Met many nice folk from Redmond. Including one who was almost a dead ringer for Bill Gates.
  • I drank many lattes from Dunn Bros. They were good. I'm done with Starbucks, no matter how much junk I put in it, it's still crap. I'll be fine with the occasional Seattle's Best latte while at Borders.
  • Rise of the Celebretards: A-crotch-alypse Now. If you find yourself in Minneapolis this summer, go see this show at Dudley Riggs. Very foul and very funny.


Blogger Ahistoricality said...

I'm glad you liked that comment: the whole 500-comment thread was pretty surreal....

I've always suspected that it's not one iPod that they're worried about, but the cumulative effect of lots of electronica in use, but there's no good way to say "the first few people to turn on their non-broadcasting small devices will be allowed to keep using them, but if more than ten people do it, we're going to have to ask you all to stop."

Though it would make a neat variant on the prisoner's dilemma, wouldn't it?

5/18/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Rough week. The only answer I have is for #7.

7. They all had sex with Frank Sinatra.

5/20/2007 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

This is a bittersweet song about failure and never giving up by Gary Rue that was meant to be part of a musical about beer vendors in the Mpls Metrodome. Really. I first heard it performed by Gary and a playwright I can't remember (or find) at the Jungle Theater back around the fall of 1991 when the Jungle did late night cabaret shows on Fridays.

Later, Rue recorded it with Prudence Johnson on Peru; an excellent CD.

About a decade ago I emailed Gary to ask whatever happened to the musical. I can't locate the email, but basically I think he said that pursuing the musical drove at least one to bankruptcy. In other words, a musical about failed brothers was a failure. Shame, this song sounds like a good start.

Never Be

We'll never be winners
We'll never fly high
We'll never be more
Than another nice try

We'll never be idols
We'll never be studs
We'll never be icons
We'll always be duds

We'll never be Elvis
We'll never be Bo
We'll never be Diddley
Or even Manilow
Good Lord knows

We'll never be famous
We'll never be great
We'll never be first class
We'll always be freight

We'll never be captain
We'll never be Lord
We'll never be Lincoln
We'll always be Ford

We'll never be ice cream
We'll never be slush
We'll never be more
Than a con and a lush
Hey now hush

We'll never be never be never be
Anything but who we are
That'll just have to do
I don't know about you
But it's been a helluva ride so far

So what if we'll never be never be never be
President rock star or king
We can take that all right
We won't give up the fight
And Good God it sure does feels good to sing

We'll never be driven
In big limousines
We'll never be written
In big magazines

We'll never be ultra
We'll never be neat
We'll never make women
Collapse at our feet

We'll never be lobster
We'll never be steak
We'll never be more
Than a thief and a flake
Make no mistake

We'll never be never be never be
Anything but who we are
That'll just have to do
I don't know about you
But it's been a helluva ride so far

So what if we'll never be never be never be
President rock star or king
We can take that all right
We won't give up the fight
And Good God it sure does feels good to sing

We'll never be one that's plain
We'll never drink champagne
That's clear
Someone's got to be beer
Get your beer Get your beer
Right here

We'll never be big time
We'll never be in
We'll never be wanted
We'll never be thin

We'll never be mayor
We'll never shine bright
We'll never be stars
In the Hollywood night

We'll never be LP
We won't make a pile
We'll never be stars
On the radio dial
Still we smile

We'll never be never be never be
Anything but who we are
That'll just have to do
I don't know about you
But it's been a ride so far

So what if we'll never be never be never be
President rock star or king
We can take that all right
We won't give up the fight
And Good God it sure does feels good to sing

We'll never be
never be
never be
never be...

5/21/2007 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

A recap of the Floyd Landis trial. Floyd faces cross-examination today.

As unfortunate collateral damage of this ill-considered advocacy, Geoghegan was fired in a publicly humiliating way, Lemond’s “secret”, that he had been sexually assaulted as a child was revealed, Lemond’s disputes with Armstrong were resurrected and Lemond was forced back into a spotlight that he had purposefully backed away from because the controversial nature of his views had caused him to lose popularity among some cycling fans and observers.

The extreem advocacy created a spectacle that might not possibly have been further removed from relevance as to the issues at hand under the WADA Code which are well defined as follows;

Was there an adverse analytical finding on Landis’ “A” sample confirmed by his “B” sample(s)?

Were there violations of International Laboratory Standards?

If so, did the violations “cause” the adverse analytical findings?

And it might end up being stricken or considered in a most marginal increment by the arbitrators on the last of the three relevant issues. This incident is nothing short of throwing a cycling legend to the wolves and vanquishing a vocal opponent in a public and humiliating way for little or no practical gain within the case itself. It may have advocated on behalf of the client, USADA, but two thirds of that client is you and me. I wasn’t served, I had to take a shower to wash the stench of it away.

5/21/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

When Neal visited WDW.

In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson

I was in Disney World recently, specifically the part of it called the Magic Kingdom, walking up Main Street USA. This is a perfect gingerbready Victorian small town that culminates in a Disney castle. It was very crowded; we shuffled rather than walked. Directly in front of me was a man with a camcorder. It was one of the new breed of camcorders where instead of peering through a viewfinder you gaze at a flat-panel color screen about the size of a playing card, which televises live coverage of whatever the camcorder is seeing. He was holding the appliance close to his face, so that it obstructed his view. Rather than go see a real small town for free, he had paid money to see a pretend one, and rather than see it with the naked eye he was watching it on television.

And rather than stay home and read a book, I was watching him.

Americans' preference for mediated experiences is obvious enough, and I'm not going to keep pounding it into the ground. I'm not even going to make snotty comments about it--after all, I was at Disney World as a paying customer. But it clearly relates to the colossal success of GUIs and so I have to talk about it some. Disney does mediated experiences better than anyone. If they understood what OSes are, and why people use them, they could crush Microsoft in a year or two.

In the part of Disney World called the Animal Kingdom there is a new attraction, slated to open in March 1999, called the Maharajah Jungle Trek. It was open for sneak previews when I was there. This is a complete stone-by-stone reproduction of a hypothetical ruin in the jungles of India. According to its backstory, it was built by a local rajah in the 16th Century as a game reserve. He would go there with his princely guests to hunt Bengal tigers. As time went on it fell into disrepair and the tigers and monkeys took it over; eventually, around the time of India's independence, it became a government wildlife reserve, now open to visitors.

The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll amid stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they've been done, not as Disney's engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would--with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar. The rust is painted on, or course, and protected from real rust by a plastic clear-coat, but you can't tell unless you get down on your knees.

In one place you walk along a stone wall with a series of old pitted friezes carved into it. One end of the wall has broken off and settled into the earth, perhaps because of some long-forgotten earthquake, and so a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals. This is an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney's Animal Kingdom just as the Castle dominates the Magic Kingdom or the Sphere does Epcot. But it's rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn't have a Ph.D. in Indian art history.

The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now Man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

It is, in other words, a prophecy of the Bottleneck: the scenario, commonly espoused among modern-day environmentalists, that the world faces an upcoming period of grave ecological tribulations that will last for a few decades or centuries and end when we find a new harmonious modus vivendi with Nature.

Taken as a whole the frieze is a pretty brilliant piece of work. Obviously it's not an ancient Indian ruin, and some person or people now living deserve credit for it. But there are no signatures on the Maharajah's game reserve at Disney World. There are no signatures on anything, because it would ruin the whole effect to have long strings of production credits dangling from every custom-worn brick, as they do from Hollywood movies.

Among Hollywood writers, Disney has the reputation of being a real wicked stepmother. It's not hard to see why. Disney is in the business of putting out a product of seamless illusion--a magic mirror that reflects the world back better than it really is. But a writer is literally talking to his or her readers, not just creating an ambience or presenting them with something to look at; and just as the command-line interface opens a much more direct and explicit channel from user to machine than the GUI, so it is with words, writer, and reader.

The word, in the end, is the only system of encoding thoughts--the only medium--that is not fungible, that refuses to dissolve in the devouring torrent of electronic media (the richer tourists at Disney World wear t-shirts printed with the names of famous designers, because designs themselves can be bootlegged easily and with impunity. The only way to make clothing that cannot be legally bootlegged is to print copyrighted and trademarked words on it; once you have taken that step, the clothing itself doesn't really matter, and so a t-shirt is as good as anything else. T-shirts with expensive words on them are now the insignia of the upper class. T-shirts with cheap words, or no words at all, are for the commoners).

But this special quality of words and of written communication would have the same effect on Disney's product as spray-painted graffiti on a magic mirror. So Disney does most of its communication without resorting to words, and for the most part, the words aren't missed. Some of Disney's older properties, such as Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and Alice in Wonderland, came out of books. But the authors' names are rarely if ever mentioned, and you can't buy the original books at the Disney store. If you could, they would all seem old and queer, like very bad knockoffs of the purer, more authentic Disney versions. Compared to more recent productions like Beauty and the Beast and Mulan, the Disney movies based on these books (particularly Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan) seem deeply bizarre, and not wholly appropriate for children. That stands to reason, because Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie were very strange men, and such is the nature of the written word that their personal strangeness shines straight through all the layers of Disneyfication like x-rays through a wall. Probably for this very reason, Disney seems to have stopped buying books altogether, and now finds its themes and characters in folk tales, which have the lapidary, time-worn quality of the ancient bricks in the Maharajah's ruins.

If I can risk a broad generalization, most of the people who go to Disney World have zero interest in absorbing new ideas from books. Which sounds snide, but listen: they have no qualms about being presented with ideas in other forms. Disney World is stuffed with environmental messages now, and the guides at Animal Kingdom can talk your ear off about biology.

If you followed those tourists home, you might find art, but it would be the sort of unsigned folk art that's for sale in Disney World's African- and Asian-themed stores. In general they only seem comfortable with media that have been ratified by great age, massive popular acceptance, or both.

In this world, artists are like the anonymous, illiterate stone carvers who built the great cathedrals of Europe and then faded away into unmarked graves in the churchyard. The cathedral as a whole is awesome and stirring in spite, and possibly because, of the fact that we have no idea who built it. When we walk through it we are communing not with individual stone carvers but with an entire culture.

Disney World works the same way. If you are an intellectual type, a reader or writer of books, the nicest thing you can say about this is that the execution is superb. But it's easy to find the whole environment a little creepy, because something is missing: the translation of all its content into clear explicit written words, the attribution of the ideas to specific people. You can't argue with it. It seems as if a hell of a lot might be being glossed over, as if Disney World might be putting one over on us, and possibly getting away with all kinds of buried assumptions and muddled thinking.

But this is precisely the same as what is lost in the transition from the command-line interface to the GUI.

Disney and Apple/Microsoft are in the same business: short-circuiting laborious, explicit verbal communication with expensively designed interfaces. Disney is a sort of user interface unto itself--and more than just graphical. Let's call it a Sensorial Interface. It can be applied to anything in the world, real or imagined, albeit at staggering expense.

Why are we rejecting explicit word-based interfaces, and embracing graphical or sensorial ones--a trend that accounts for the success of both Microsoft and Disney?

Part of it is simply that the world is very complicated now--much more complicated than the hunter-gatherer world that our brains evolved to cope with--and we simply can't handle all of the details. We have to delegate. We have no choice but to trust some nameless artist at Disney or programmer at Apple or Microsoft to make a few choices for us, close off some options, and give us a conveniently packaged executive summary.

But more importantly, it comes out of the fact that, during this century, intellectualism failed, and everyone knows it. In places like Russia and Germany, the common people agreed to loosen their grip on traditional folkways, mores, and religion, and let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abbatoir. Those wordy intellectuals used to be merely tedious; now they seem kind of dangerous as well.

5/21/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Icepick said...

Obviously it's not an ancient Indian ruin, and some person or people now living deserve credit for it.

Out of the legion of names responsible, Joe Rohde probably desrves the most credit.

Anyway, enjoy your trip!

5/21/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Not so famous almost last words.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007: Also, my apologies about being so slow to get this blog rolling.

5/21/2007 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Icepick, that reminded me of an Outside Magazine article about the creation of Animal Kingdom. From May 1998, it's about the only article from that issue not on line. No luck with the googling: "Please Don't Oil the Animatronic Warthog," Tad Friend.

From what I remember, the article didn't touch on (much) the artists and the designers of Animal Kingdom and looked, mostly disapprovingly upon the cultural appropriations. I'd probably be more disapproving of the article now than then as I've pretty much come around to another view expressed by Stephenson: Better for ten million Eloi to go on the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney World than for a thousand cardiovascular surgeons and mutual fund managers to go on "real" ones in Kenya.

A couple more paragraphs in the post about us almost getting kicked out of Disney.

5/21/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

As long as I have the In the Beginning... open, here's another little section that I've always found fascinating.

Orlando used to have a military installation called McCoy Air Force Base, with long runways from which B-52s could take off and reach Cuba, or just about anywhere else, with loads of nukes. But now McCoy has been scrapped and repurposed. It has been absorbed into Orlando's civilian airport. The long runways are being used to land 747-loads of tourists from Brazil, Italy, Russia and Japan, so that they can come to Disney World and steep in our media for a while.

To traditional cultures, especially word-based ones such as Islam, this is infinitely more threatening than the B-52s ever were. It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or "honoring diversity" or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.

The lesson most people are taking home from the Twentieth Century is that, in order for a large number of different cultures to coexist peacefully on the globe (or even in a neighborhood) it is necessary for people to suspend judgment in this way. Hence (I would argue) our suspicion of, and hostility towards, all authority figures in modern culture. As David Foster Wallace has explained in his essay "E Unibus Pluram," this is the fundamental message of television; it is the message that people take home, anyway, after they have steeped in our media long enough. It's not expressed in these highfalutin terms, of course. It comes through as the presumption that all authority figures--teachers, generals, cops, ministers, politicians--are hypocritical buffoons, and that hip jaded coolness is the only way to be.

The problem is that once you have done away with the ability to make judgments as to right and wrong, true and false, etc., there's no real culture left. All that remains is clog dancing and macrame. The ability to make judgments, to believe things, is the entire it point of having a culture. I think this is why guys with machine guns sometimes pop up in places like Luxor, and begin pumping bullets into Westerners. They perfectly understand the lesson of McCoy Air Force Base. When their sons come home wearing Chicago Bulls caps with the bills turned sideways, the dads go out of their minds.

The global anti-culture that has been conveyed into every cranny of the world by television is a culture unto itself, and by the standards of great and ancient cultures like Islam and France, it seems grossly inferior, at least at first. The only good thing you can say about it is that it makes world wars and Holocausts less likely--and that is actually a pretty good thing!

The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this global monoculture, is completely screwed. Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being. And--again--perhaps the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won't nuke each other.

On the other hand, if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you've got some tools.

5/21/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

The above excerpt from In the Beginning... is a continuation of a theme Stephenson approaches in Cryptonomicon:

Having separated from Charlene, Randy shows up with a new girlfriend (actually, at this point in the story their relationship is still in flux and Randy still has doubts about Amy's sexuality. Let's just say that to the neighbors Amy represents the "other woman.")

He embodies (he realizes) just about the worst nightmare, for many women, of what might happen in their lives. As for the men he saw last night, they were pretty strongly incensed to back whatever stance their wives adopted. Some them really did, apparently, feel similarly. Others eyed him with obvious curiosity. Some were openly friendly. Weirdly, the ones who adopted the sternest and most terrible Old Testament moral tone were the Modern Language Association types who believed that everything was relative and that, for example, polygamy was as valid as monogamy. The friendliest and most sincere welcome he'd gotten was from Scott, a chemistry professor, and Laura, a pediatrician, who after knowing Randy and Charlene for many years, had one day divulged to Randy, in strict confidence, that, unbeknownst to the academic community at large, they had been spiriting their three children off to church every Sunday morning, and even had them all baptized.


Randy and Amy had spent a full hour talking to Scott and Laura last night; they were the only people who made any effort to make Amy feel welcome. Randy hadn't the faintest idea what these people thought of him and what he had done, but he could sense right away that, essentially that was not the issue because even if they though he had done something evil, they at least had a framework, a sort of procedure manual, for dealing with transgressions. To translate it into UNIX system administration terms (Randy's fundamental metaphor for just about everything), the post=modern, politically correct atheists were like people who had suddenly found themselves in charge of a big and unfathomably complex computer system (viz. society) with no documentation o instructions of any kind, and so whose only way to keep the thing running was to invent and enforce rules with a kind of neo-Puritanical rigor, because they were at a loss to deal with any deviations from what they saw as the norm. Whereas people who were wired into a church were like UNIX system administrators who, while they might not understand everything, at least had some documentation, some FAQs and How-tos and README files, providing some guidance on what to do when things got out of whack. They were, in other words, capable of displaying adaptability

5/21/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Discussing the use of "retard" in the Brave New Workshop's Rise of the Celebretards: A-crotch-alypse Now.

5/21/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

For last week's I forgot that I did know #3 and the entire concept of #7 was so weak as to not really qualify for trivia. Famous people who were friends of presidents? That's a bit broad, don't you think?

These are 5 second guesses and I'll skip googling to check on the correct answer.

1. First violin. Something I've always wondered about--does this mean the 2nd in command will always be head of the violins, and by default all string sections? And if you chose to play a woodwind or brass, or even vulgar percussion, then you'll always be second rate and it sucks to be you?

2. I will guess that the first letter is K or W.

3. Devo

4. Sounds familiar. I'm thinking it's a college team, maybe Big East, just can't come up with a school name.
5. Ja or ya.

6. At first I read it as "1927" and my answer was "the creator of the dance called the jitterbug." Upon rereading I should know the guy's name but I'm drawing a blank. Huygens? No, I think he's the wrong field and too early. Pasteur? No, I think he was later.

7. Something about a dead parent. Considering the direction the #7 questions have taken, it wouldn't surprise me if the real answer was something like "Food services served ham and cheese sandwiches every Tuesday."

5/22/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

No Rock Star: III.

Damn, that pretty much ruins the whole summer.

5/22/2007 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

1.5 hours into Lost and the count stands at:

7 Dudes
5 Whoas
4 Holy Shits
2 Fucking As

5/23/2007 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

That was a tiring trip.

6/02/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Would be nice if that tropical storm could do something about the forest fire and the heavy smoke we had to drive through.

6/02/2007 11:56:00 AM  

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