Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a shame he won't live.
But then again, who does?

After two years, the Dickbot is still at large...
Sydney Morning Herald | Robot goes missing
Philip K Dick is missing.

Not the American science fiction writer whose novels spawned hit films such as Blade Runner and Total Recall -- he died more than 20 years ago -- but a state-of-the-art robot named after the author.

The quirky android, was lost in early January [2006] while en route to California by commercial airliner.

...The irony of the situation -- a missing replica of the very author who championed "replicant" freedom -- is not lost on Phil's creators.

...Along with an eerie likeness to the author, the robot features award-winning artificial intelligence that mimics the writer's mannerisms and lifelike skin material to affect realistic expressions.

Top-of-the-line voice software loaded with data from Dick's vast body of writing allows the robot to carry on natural-sounding conversations, although it does come off as a bit doddering at times.

Biometric-identification software and advanced machine vision allows the robot to recognise people -- even in a crowd -- read their expressions and body language and talk to them sounding a lot like a normal, albeit slightly senile, author who likes to quote his own books when he gets confused.
That pretty much makes him indistinguishable from every author I've ever met.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Floss your head

Hamilton Spectator | Brain cleaner: New stroke treatment can vacuum away deadly blood clots
It's a tiny vacuum cleaner for the brain: A new treatment for stroke victims promises to suction out clogged arteries in hopes of stopping the brain attack before it does permanent harm.

Called Penumbra, the newly approved device is the latest in a series of inside-the-artery attempts to boost recovery from stroke.

...Specialists thread a tiny tube inside a blood vessel at the groin and push it up the body and into the brain until it reaches the clog. Just like a vacuum cleaner, it sucks up the clot bit by bit to restore blood flow.
Before you ask, no, this wouldn't have helped me. I often speak of what happened to me as a "stroke", but strictly speaking it wasn't. A stroke is an arterial block: What I had was a leak, a brain hemorrhage accompanied by swelling.

Still, I have experienced the up-from-the-groin thing, as it is also the route to the artery that was partly blocked when I had my heart attack. When they speak of cardio-catheterization, that's the procedure they mean.

If it sounds weird, well, it beats going straight in through the chest. It means a recovery period measured in days, not months.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday Media: The World's Foremost Authority


For the second week in a row, I'm reposting something that Mark Evanier found. Well, what can I say, the man has good sources and good taste.

I could tell you where this video came from, but if you've ever heard Professor Irwin Corey speak, you know that it could not possibly matter less what his topic is. What delights me most about this clip is that (1) the Professor is still very much with us, and (3) at age 93 he still looks and sounds pretty much as he always has. Like Walter Brennan, Charles Lane and Irene Ryan before him, he seems to have discovered the secret of eternal decrepitude.

But enough about him. Watch the man himself.


It must be said: If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Come On, Everybody's Doing It

South Bend Tribune | Boys left with bleeding tongues after sticking them to flagpole
Two fourth-grade boys mimicking a scene from the movie "A Christmas Story" wound up with their tongues stuck to a frozen flagpole in bitter cold weather on Friday morning.

Gavin Dempsey and James Alexander were serving on flag duty at Jackson Elementary School, with the job of raising and lowering the school's flags, when they decided to see if their tongues really would stick to the cold metal.

"I decided to try it because I thought all of the TV shows were lies, but turns out I was wrong," said Gavin, who celebrated his 10th birthday Friday.
Actually, what young Gavin said was, "I bethibeb po pry ip becauthe I phoughp aww of phe PV thhowth were wieth, bup purnth oup I wath waag."

Other kids were apprehended sitting too close to the television and crossing their eyes to make their faces "freeze like that".

The boys say they'll try things they've seen on "Jackass" and "Survivor" when they get out of detention.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's appropriate?

The Consumerist | Best Takes In-Store Display Cashing In On Heath Ledger's Death Very Seriously
Hours after actor Heath Ledger's death, a Best Buy store already had a table set up with his DVDs on sale, urging customers to "remember a great actor through his great performances."
The user comments are the most entertaining part of this story. If you've never worked in retail (as it's obvious many of these people have not), this display raises an issue you should think about.

This particular tempest has two components:

Is it appropriate for the retailer to create a display collecting an actor's work when he dies?

Well, yes, of course. No one would have denied the suitability of such a display for, say, Michael Caine, or Sean Connery, or Clint Eastwood, on such faraway day as any of them meets his maker. Public figures die all the time. I would expect retailers to be ready for it.

Does this display in particular look cheap, tacky and thrown-together?

Boy, does it ever. I would hate to think that Best Buy's marketing layout is so rigidly planned that there's no flexibility in it to replace an end-cap (one of those displays at the end of the aisle) with something of indisputably timely interest should events dictate it. The store should have a stack of blank printer compatible signage, and a computer with the chain's chosen display fonts installed.

What am I saying? All that would require thought. I've shopped at Best Buy. I've talked to the people who work there. This fan-club bake-sale-esque table is probably the best they can do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An icon is gone

Hydrox cookie Originally uploaded by milatchi
It may say something about the dedication inspired in generations of sweet-toothed Americans that, although Sunshine / Keebler / Kellogg stopped making Hydrox cookies in 2003, its loyal fans are only just now beginning to notice that they can't find one anywhere.
WSJ | The Hydrox Cookie Is Dead, and Fans Won't Get Over It
Robert Fliegel was craving a Hydrox. The 52-year-old computer consultant says he always liked the way the chocolate sandwich cookie, which he found crisper than Oreos, "stood up to the milk" when dunked.

But Mr. Fliegel, who used to be able to devour an entire package of the crème-filled biscuits in a sitting, couldn't find them in any stores near his East Stroudsburg, Pa., home.

Only when he went online a few months ago to try to order some did he learn the truth: Hydrox is dead.

In 2003, without warning or announcement, Kellogg Co. killed off the cookie -- by then rechristened Droxies -- after failing to gain ground against the dominant Oreo, one of the country's best-selling snack foods.
I'm thinking that if they really were as enormous as that photograph makes them look, they might still be around.

Old W. K. Kellogg must be spinning to know that "his" health-food company now owns Keebler.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday Matinee: The Water Horse

The Water Horse begins like a lyrical Scottish fairy tale, which I guess in a sense it is. And with a rating of PG, it's clear that it is intended for children.

So I suppose I must forgive it for its biggest flaw: It is relentlessly, numbingly predictable.

From the moment each cardboard character hits the screen, you know where they're going to end up. Oh, look, a couple of young tourists meet an old man in a pub who's going to tell them a story. I wonder who he's going to turn out to be? Oh, look, the boy lives on the shore of a loch, I wonder which loch it could possibly be? Oh, look, he's deathly afraid of the water, whatever could cure him of that, do you think? A pet, perhaps? He's obsessively counting the days until his father's tour of duty ends, do you think maybe Mom already knows that Dad isn't coming home? Mom meets a mysterious handyman, I wonder if they'll fall in love?

The only real surprise is that, in a World War II era story in which Nazis are spoken of almost incessantly, we never actually see one. I half hoped the handyman would turn out to be that cinematic rarity, a good German...but...

You have to really enjoy watching the playful CGI title character (you know who he is, right?), because he may be the best actor in the movie. Okay, that's not really fair. The acting is overall quite good, and everyone seems well cast.

But by the fourth or fifth time someone backs off, sputtering and screaming, from their first sight of Crusoe the sea-sick sea serpent, I would think even the kids would be tired of it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blizzard of '08

Blizzard of '08
Originally uploaded by bonnieanderik.
I was caught out with only my cell phone camera. I tried to take pictures of the flurry, but the shutter stays open too long: The snow has time to fall, and in so doing blurs to invisibility.

But I knew if I checked Flickr, someone else would have captured a moment, and sure enough they did.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

If it moves and it shouldn't...

When Forbes magazine conducted their "20 Most Important Tools" survey, there was a 21st tool that just wouldn't be left out.
Forbes | The Other Greatest Tool Ever
Models use it to create cleavage. Sled-dog drivers use it to prevent frostbite. Athletes use it to support weak joints. Veterinarians use it to repair horses' hooves.

What's this wonder tool? Duct tape.
There's no denying that Duck Tape Saves the Day.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Media: Don't Buy the Liverwurst

If you're having trouble thinking of anything else that "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" guy did, here's a classic video in which Dean Martin and Vic Damone present a medley of lyrics made famous...well, let's be honest, made only slightly less the inimitable Allan Sherman.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Dad, what's a 'single'?"

Early Single
Originally uploaded by Tavallai.
Wired | Jan. 10, 1949: A Brand-New Format for the Shirelles, Drifters
1949: The 45-rpm record is introduced by RCA. Can rock 'n' roll be far behind?

Flat disc records began replacing the cylinder for reproducing recorded sound as early as 1887. The original standard, what we know as the 78, had a 10-inch diameter disc with a rotational speed of between 75 and 80 rpm.

The 78 remained the standard for portable recorded sound until the mid-20th century, despite some severe limitations. For one thing, the disc didn't hold much, meaning that longer works, typically classical music, had to be broken in mid-composition (which makes the 78 seem a little like the vinyl forerunner of the four-track tape).

Columbia introduced the 33-rpm disc in 1948, which mostly solved that problem, and its rival, RCA, was right behind with the 45. Despite a diameter of only 7 inches, the 45 could hold as much sound as the 78, and was far more portable and cheaper to produce.
The beauty of this technology is this: You could watch it play and see how it worked. Every bit of the science that made sound happen was visible.

With an iPod, on the other hand, there are no moving parts larger than electrons. The basic parts are still there (data storage, scanning, conversion from physical to electronic form, transportation to vibrating surface, conversion from electronic form to vibrating air) but there's nothing you can see going on. And a common phenomenon of everyday life gets a little more obscure.

It might as well be magic.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Save the African Blackwood

Originally uploaded by MNicoleM. | Bagpipes a threat to the environment (and we're not talking noise pollution)
THEY were once outlawed for being used as seditious weapons of war. Now, bagpipes have been blasted as an environmental menace.

Over-intensive logging means that the African wood used to make Scotland's national instrument faces being wiped out.

Conservation groups are letting out skirls of protest, urging musicians and instrument manufacturers to make sure their pipes come from eco-friendly sources.

As part of the campaign, Scots are being asked to fund the planting of "bagpipe trees" in a bid to atone for the environmental damage.
Anything that reduces the numbers of bagpipes in the wild has to be good.

I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made object never equalled the purity of sound achieved by the pig.
-Alfred Hitchcock

How can you tell a bagpiper with perfect pitch?
He can throw a set into the middle of a pond and not hit any of the ducks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

When I get older, losing my rights, not-so-many years from now

Originally uploaded by bgimbel.
I know, it's only a week since Public Domain Day 2008, so you may still be recovering from the parties. This reminder shows, though, that all of our public domain problems are not yet solved.

You know how hard Disney has been fighting to keep Mickey Mouse protected under their corporate copyright? You ain't seen nothin'.
Reuters | UK rejects music copyright extension
The British government rejected a plea to extend copyright laws for sound recordings to beyond 50 years on Tuesday, prompting the music industry to accuse it of not supporting musicians and artists.

The music industry had won support from opposition politicians and a parliamentary committee in its bid for a copyright extension that would allow veterans such as Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney to carry on receiving royalties in later life.
Ars Technica | Beatles music to start entering UK public domain in 2012?
The Gowers Review has been a big deal in Britain, where former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers is chairing a commission that will suggest ways to reform the UK's intellectual property laws. One key piece of the Review will focus on the copyright term for sound recordings. Artists and publishers want the term extended from its current 50 years to 95 years, but an inside source has now confirmed that the Review will not recommend the 45-year extension, according to the BBC.

Given the high-profile names that argued for the extension—musicians like Sir Cliff Richard and Bono—the news is a surprising victory for those in favor of more limited copyright terms. The official report from the Gowers Review is expected in the first week of December, and if the government acts on its conclusions [see above: they did], then songs from hit acts like The Beatles will come out of copyright in the next few years.
"My Bonnie" may already be unprotected, but there'll be no question when "Love Me Do" falls in 2012. Boy, if all those "it was twenty years ago today" headlines in 1988 made you feel old, just wait until 2018, when "Sgt Pepper" goes public domain. Coincidentally enough, when I'm sixty-four.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Monday Media: I do not hate Celine Dion

I have tried, oh, how I have tried. I liked Titanic but I got so sick of that darned song. But still I couldn't shake the feeling that Dion herself was a talented musician with more range than she was typically called upon to show.

But I also enjoy Barry Manilow and Nine Inch Nails (two names that may never have been said in the same sentence before), so you can take that for what it's worth.

The thesis of the following video is: Celine Dion is Amazing. I'm not sure I'm convinced of that, but the video certainly is.

Friday, January 04, 2008

I'd rather be awake

World's Most Ironic Coffee Mug
Originally uploaded by bkmcae.
I suffer from occasional insomnia. My doctor, as so many doctors do, prescribed ambien.

Now, I have no real horror story to tell. I took it, and promptly fell asleep (as I'd been warned I would) and stayed asleep for eight-plus hours (as I'd also been warned I would). When I awoke, I awoke more rested and refreshed than I'd felt in weeks.

But my wife told me I'd awakened earlier than I remembered awakening -- sort-of. She gave me an early-morning list of things to do that day, as she often does. I responded appropriately, but she immediately recognized that I wasn't really awake.

All this she told me later. I don't remember a bit of it.

So she waited a few minutes and gave me the list again, and this time I remembered it later. No harm, no foul, all is OK, right?

Well, yeah, if you don't mind losing a half-hour in which only your wife can tell you're still asleep. (I've been subjected to hospital anesthesia three times in the past year, and the same thing happens when I awaken. It doesn't happen when I'm sleeping "naturally".)

I did a little research. I got off lucky.

Run a Google search for ambien sleepwalking. Read a few stories.
Rx List | Ambien and Sleepwalking
I have been taking Ambien for about 12-16 months now. Prior to taking this, I never experienced sleepwalking (I am 59 years old). I was really unnerved this morning upon awakening. On my kitchen counter were 4 apples, 1 egg, mixing bowl, cutting board, 1/4 cup orange juice, paring knife, steak knife--and in my den, on my sofa, my favorite cookbook. I HAVE NO MEMORY OF GATHERING THESE ITEMS.

Washington Post | To Sleep, Perchance to...Walk
There is no reliable estimate of how many Ambien users sleepwalk, and no one knows who might be at risk. The prescribing information for Ambien lists somnambulism as a "rare side" effect, meaning that it has been reported in fewer than one in 1,000 patients.

New York Times | Study Links Ambien Use to Unconscious Food Forays
The sleeping pill Ambien seems to unlock a primitive desire to eat in some patients, according to emerging medical case studies that describe how the drug's users sometimes sleepwalk into their kitchens, claw through their refrigerators like animals and consume calories ranging into the thousands.

The next morning, the night eaters remember nothing about their foraging. But they wake up to find telltale clues: mouthfuls of peanut butter, Tostitos in their beds, kitchen counters overflowing with flour, missing food, and even lighted ovens and stoves.

New York Times | Sleeping Pill Users Range Far Beyond Bed
With a tendency to stare zombie-like and run into stationary objects, a new species of impaired motorist is hitting the roads: the Ambien driver.

Ambien, the nation's best-selling prescription sleeping pill, is showing up with regularity as a factor in traffic arrests, sometimes involving drivers who later say they were sleep-driving and have no memory of taking the wheel after taking the drug.

...A registered nurse who lives outside Denver took Ambien before going to sleep one night in January 2003. Sometime later — she says she remembers none of the episode — she got into her car wearing only a thin nightshirt in 20-degree weather, had a fender bender, urinated in the middle of an intersection, then became violent with police officers, according to her lawyer.

The New Yorker | The Ambien Cookbook
Sorpresa con Queso
Ingredients: 7 bags Cheetos, 17 to 19 glasses tap water, 5 mg. Ambien
Place Cheetos bags in cupboard. Take Ambien, fall asleep. Wait 2-3 hours, then sleepwalk to kitchen, tear cupboard doors off hinges in search of Cheetos…eat contents of all 7 bags…
Tell me: Am I over-reacting?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Public Domain Day!

music piracy
Originally uploaded by Slider22.
Boing Boing and Copyright Watch are celebrating Public Domain Day, or January 1 as the rest of us call it. As of today in the United States, the unpublished works of authors who died 70 years ago will enter the public domain.

Just imagine what nuggets of literature must reside in that collection.

As for me, I'm thinking, as I so often do during the holidays, of that besieged agency that fights for the rights and money of musicians everywhere, the Recording Industry Association of America. Seeing that millions of American music consumers no longer know what they can legally do with the CDs they've bought or received for Christmas, the RIAA, with its lawsuit against Jammie Thomas, has clarified its position beyond any possibility of misunderstanding.

What can I legally do with this CD I just bought?
Why, you can listen to it on a CD player.
Can I copy it to...
But wait. I didn't tell you how I was going to copy it, or where.
Doesn't matter. You can't copy it. At all. Period.
But I got this new iPod for Christmas...
My, yes, that is a handsome model. I'll bet it sounds terrific.
I wouldn't know, there's no music on it.
That's a shame.
I'd like to listen to these songs.
You can.
But you just said...
All you have to do is buy them from iTunes.
But I bought the CD!
*blank expression* Yeah?
So I thought I'd copy the songs to...
Ah ah ah. That would be stealing.
But I bought the CD!
But you didn't buy a license to make a digital copy of the music.
But I bought the CD!
You keep using that word, "bought".
I don't think it means what you think it means.

Welcome to music in the 21st century.