Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tread carefully, Verizon

NY Times | Verizon to Allow Ads on Its Mobile Phones
VERIZON WIRELESS, among the nation’s most widely advertised brands, is poised to become the advertising medium itself.

Beginning early next year, Verizon Wireless will allow placement of banner advertisements on news, weather, sports and other Internet sites that users visit and display on their mobile phones, company executives said.

...“We know we can make significant dollars in mobile Web advertising in 2007,” said John Harrobin, vice president of marketing and digital media for Verizon Wireless. “That said, we likely will not — we want to take it carefully and methodically, and enable the right experience.” More generally, he added, “Mobile advertising is going to take off in 2007.”
Ah. With the magnanimous generosity of the suggestion that they will probably choose not to make as much money with this as they could, they implicitly admit that they know there might be some customer resistance to this tactic.

Allow me to spell it out for all those Verizon managers who are doubtless hanging on my every word:

The first ad I see on my mobile phone will be the last ad I see on my mobile phone. I will stop whatever I'm doing and head directly to my local Verizon store to return my phones and cancel my account. If I have calmed down, I will walk into the store to do this. If I haven't, I'll throw it through your front window. But I will be damned if I will pay you to put an ad in my pocket.

Perhaps you, Verizon management, have forgotten that I already pay you handsomely for the privilege of carrying your phone. I do not browse the web on it. I do not take pictures with it. I do not play games with it. All I do is place and receive calls. Apparently this is too high an expectation for a mobile phone. I have it in order to enable fast, convenient communication with my scattered family. Do that job and no more and you have a customer for life.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

She tickled me with science

MSNBC | Ha ha ha: Did that make you smile?

If you see two people laughing at a joke you didn’t hear, chances are you will smile anyway — even if you don’t realize it.

According to a new study, laughter truly is contagious: the brain responds to the sound of laughter and preps the muscles in the face to join in the mirth.
Boy, I'm glad fifty years of canned laughter on situation comedies hasn't been utterly wasted. "Hi, honey, I'm home." Bwah-hah-hah.

Next on MSNBC: The sun rises... in the east!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Look how clever I am

boingboing | Species mimicry in corporate logos

The logos of the fast-food joints on a stretch of desolate American road reveals a kind of species mimicry, or evolutionary convergence:
"...Notice how all of these companies use shades of red and yellow in their logos?"
No fooling. All these companies that want to be noticed on the roadside have signs dominated by colors with contrast against sky blue. Who'da thunk it.

(I'd link to the site from which boingboing got this blinding insight, but it's apparently been overwhelmed by the traffic. As an Olde Farte, allow me to be depressed that this is what fascinates the Generation That Will Shape The Future.)

[LATER: Now the original source, Random Connections is available, having, er, dugg out from underneath its bandwidth-alanche.]

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Big Damn Heroes

I'm speechless. I can't top the headline I found on this story on Fark, so here it is:
Not news: Due to unforseen circumstances, exclusive Firefly convention is canceled.

News: Firefly fans turn up anyway.
(In the world of Fark, this may be news. I can't say it surprises me very much, given the intensity of affection with which a lot of fans regard Firefly. However...)
Hero tag: And so do the actors.
Say what?

Yes. Nathan Fillian (Captain Reynolds), Alan Tudyk (recently deceased pilot "Wash", wasn't even supposed to be there), Mark Sheppard (Badger the, er, "entrepreneur"), Jonathan Woodward (Tracey the organ smuggler), Christina Hendricks ("Our Mrs Reynolds") and Adam Baldwin (Jayne) all showed. Jewel Staite (Kaylee) tried, but she's stuck in Canada.

The stories on the forum at Whedonesque are enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Imagine there's no buttons...

It's easy if you try...

I never thought I would see a blog all about buttons, but then came History of the Button.

In this provocative post, our host asks the question, does the elevator user interface need changing? Those who, like me, have waited an hour or more for an elevator going our way at DragonCon might argue that it does. I find myself longing for the days of a human operator who could (a) enforce load limits or (b) keep people from getting on an down-elevator in order to go up. (Aside from the fundamental unfairness of the tactic, it places unnecessary wear and tear on the elevator itself. Or is it not obvious that an elevator that is moving someone in the wrong direction is wasting energy?)

The original "user interface", as I understand it, was a single handle: Moved in one direction, the elevator ascended: In the other, it descended. It was up to the human operator, specially trained for the job, to bring it to a gentle halt with the elevator floor level with that of the desired story of the building.

The problems began when we got rid of that darned operator, put out on the sidewalk to commiserate with the buggy whip manufacturers. The elevator was now controlled by its riders--and a sophisticated set of relays, sensors, and failsafes that (generally) accomplished the task at hand without a human being's constant attention.

Suddenly the question "Is this elevator going up?" was subject to a vote. Every time the door opened. The operator, the final arbiter of the question, was gone--and the elevator itself didn't care. I hope the poor operator at least derived some amusement from the new problems his absence created.

Elevator brains got more and more complex, resulting in a conveyance that would continue rising until it got to the topmost floor to which it was sent (or from which it was called) before it would turn around.

The problem is, the elevator encourages each rider to think only of himself. There's no way to know how many other people want the same floor you do, and nothing to do about it if you did know. With increasingly rare exceptions, there's no way for the average rider to know where the elevator is if he isn't actually on it. PC Tech Support can tell you how long before your call is answered, but nobody can tell you how long before "your" elevator arrives, or how many intermediate stops it will make before it reaches your floor. The user is "protected" from the information he needs to make any kind of intelligent decision regarding the allocation of elevator resources. He's also "protected" from any clues what the elevator system itself is doing, or why.

I'm sure there must have been a few false starts before the familiar elevator interface came together. The rider approaches the lobby and calls an elevator moving in a particular direction, then when one arrives, he gets on and designates his floor. It's a two-step process (unless one happens to be on the topmost or bottommost floor, and so few buildings have their main entrances on either one).

Why should it be two steps?

Back to Bill at the History of the Button, who talks about “destination elevators”. All of the user controls are in each floor's elevator lobby: On the numeric keypad, you tell the system your intended destination floor: It responds by telling you which elevator will go there. There are no buttons in the elevator itself (except, one presumes, the reassuring Emergency Alarm button).

I would love to see a hotel full of science-fiction fans try to cope with elevators like these.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Nobody likes a sore winner


After spending the last month ramping up a challenge to the accuracy of electronic voting, the left now has nothing to say about it.

"A Loud Message for Bush", says the New York Times, a headline paraphrased by every other major news organization. I think I'd be insulted if I'd just campaigned for, and won, a seat in the gorram House of effing Representatives, only to see every analyst in the country dismiss it as "a message for Bush". It wasn't about anything I'd said or didn't say, or did or didn't do: It's about Bush.

I didn't have an opportunity to send a message to anyone, since my congressman, the hon. John Lewis, ran without opposition from either party, a situation he's enjoyed for as long as I can remember.

(What a coincidence, too, that the NYTimes has made its subscription-only web content freely available this week, doubtless in gleeful anticipation of today's headlines.)

I'm getting pretty far off track. That isn't where I'd meant to go.

Congratulations, Democrats. No, really, sincere congratulations. And best wishes: I don't envy the position in which you've put yourselves. Now that you've made it crystal clear that your plan, your only vision for the future, is a nation without Bush, you have to spend the next two years getting along with him and producing visible results. Blocking the President at every turn isn't going to be enough: You're going to have to actually Do Something eventually.

But that's a thought for the future. Just now, less than a hundred hours after the election, you can get away with Doing Nothing. In fact, Nothing is exactly what you should be seen as doing. The last two Presidential elections have been marred by the embarrassing spectacle of a national Democratic Hissy Fit as you demonstrated just what sore losers you were. Sore winners are even worse. One would think, now that you are flush with victory, you could bring yourselves to simply bask in it for a few hours. Accept it gracefully. Don't keep slamming the other guy: That fight is over. Be magnanimous. Recognize the people who actually did the grunt work in your campaigns. Thank the voters, who gave you a chance to prove you aren't the same jokers they turned out twelve years ago. Use the words "worthy" and "opponent" in the same sentence. You can afford to. You won.

Then, when you do start actually taking action, the one thing you can do that will give you the most credibility in my mind is to actually address the concerns you raised a month ago regarding electronic voting machines. Prove that you actually care about such things even when you win. Money can't buy publicity that good.

Oh, and see if you can rein in Bill Maher*. I thought you were too tolerant and enlightened to think that "outing" gay people was inherently slanderous.

Good luck.

* *rolls eyes* Maher and O'Reilly, two sides of the same coin. Shame we can't pull 'em both off the table and raise television's collective IQ by fifty points.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Coming Darkness

Daylight Saving Time - When do we change our clocks?
On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This Act changed the time change dates for Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Beginning in 2007, DST will begin on the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November. The Secretary of Energy will report the impact of this change to Congress. Congress retains the right to resume the 2005 Daylight Saving Time schedule once the Department of Energy study is complete.
Hm. So we'll be on so-called Standard Time for only four months of the year. Perhaps it's time to re-designate Daylight Saving Time as Standard Time and the winter months as, oh, I don't know...

Vote early and often.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Something's wrong, but I can't put my finger on it

Last Saturday, Mark Evanier of News From Me linked to a YouTube video of a campaign commercial. It features Michael J. Fox's endorsement of Missouri Senatorial candidate Claire McCaskill, a democrat looking to unseat incumbent Jim Talent.

Fox has also done a similar ad (which I haven't seen) for Maryland Senatorial candidate Rep. Benjamin Cardin. Here's an excerpt from Evanier:
My topic here is the nature of this commercial and how I honestly don't know how I feel about it. ... I've watched it three times and each time, something inside me says, "This is not right." But I can't really explain what I object to...
He goes on to list several good reasons to object to it, none of which are apparently enough:
  • "It reminds me a bit of tasteless charity pitches that roll out crippled children and imply that without your nickels, Little Katie will die within the week."
  • "It's so sad to see Michael J. Fox in the condition he's in."
  • "I've become ... distrustful of emotional appeals in political ads..."
It's events like this that convince me that Right and Left will never get along. Things that are so obviously wrong from one perspective generate a puzzled shrug from the other.

Rush Limbaugh further accused Fox of exaggerating or outright faking his Parkinson's symptoms for these spots, which had the effect of drawing the discussion even further off topic. (As heartless as it may seem to point this out, Fox is, after all, an actor.) He later retracted and apologized for this, although he also said:
I have gotten a plethora of e-mails from people saying Michael J. Fox has admitted in interviews that he goes off his medication for Parkinson's disease when he appears before Congress or other groups as a means of illustrating the ravages of the disease.
I e-mailed Evanier to say I had some thoughts he hasn't mentioned.

A very small part of it is automatic suspicion that a Big-Name Hollywood Actor with no (at least no obvious) ties to Missouri should be offering an endorsement in that race. It may be unfortunate that this is my first reaction, but it's no less real. I also realize that Ms McCaskill is not the first candidate to get support from outside her constituency, nor is either party innocent of this.

I think the largest part of my own reaction is this: This is the kind of appeal I expect from someone who knows the facts are not on his side.

If this were a radio ad; If it were a voiceover behind still photographs of the candidate, or Mr Fox, or activities of the Michael J Fox Foundation, or even slides of numbers and statistics (how many people have been helped so far, how many could potentially be helped, how much money are we talking about); If the cameraman had caught Mr Fox on a better day; If the piece were edited in such a way as to minimize his symptoms; Or if this were an appeal for donations to help fund stem cell research, something that is perfectly legal for private companies to do regardless of Senator Talent's vote...

But it is none of these things. Given the wide range of physical imperfections a good filmed or videotaped image can conceal, the fact that they chose to present Mr Fox in this manner wasn't an accident. Someone, someone not themselves a Parkinson's sufferer, looked at this film and made the decision, "Yes, this is what we want our audience to see," in order to influence a Senatorial election.

That's what creeps me out.

This ad is, in its purest form, Not Fighting Fair. I know, imagine that, a political ad not fighting fair. Thank goodness that's never happened before.

Dixie Chicks offer to buy the Red Cross

Since well-known social scientist Natalie Maines is now claiming that the Red Cross flatly turned down her group's no-strings-attached million-dollar contribution (on NPR's Fresh Air and in the documentary Shut Up and Sing), it might be worth pointing out, as Hoystory did, that there was one big fat string:
The Chicks wanted something from the Red Cross for their $1 million, namely for the Red Cross to attach their name to the Dixie Chicks summer tour.
I always thought sponsors paid you, not the other way around.

(Thanks, Ron.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The next logical step

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes to wed in Italy? Why?

I guess if the Hollywood press have already over-legitimized their new daughter, the only thing that could justify that is if her parents' wedding were performed by no less than the Pope himself.

Yeah, it's a slow day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Axis of Weasels

Aww, those poor helpless mink, ruthlessly farmed for their fur.
Planet Ark | Raiders Set Free Minks on Spanish Fur Farms

MADRID - Night-time raiders freed more than 17,000 minks on fur farms in northern Spain, police said on Sunday.

Police suspect the raiders were animal rights activists or rival breeders. In carefully planned raids, they simultaneously broke into farms in three regions of Galicia, northwest Spain, which is a centre of mink production for the fur trade.
This article is a Reuters story: emphasis is mine. The assertion that police think "rival breeders" might be responsible is not confirmed in the more widely available AP story (see Boston Herald). Reuters also refers to "night-time raiders", whereas the AP article calls 'em what they are, "vandals". I guess even Reuters couldn't use the phrase "freedom-fighters" with a straight face when they're talking about mink. I mean, have you actually seen a living mink? Only two species of this animal carry the glamourous name "mink": The other dozen or so are known variously as stoats, ferrets, polecats, or most commonly, weasels. They're not known for their winning personalities.

Now, it is true that an estimated 17,000 weasels -- I mean, mink -- were released from their cages, but it's also estimated that just under half of them actually managed to escape from the compound. That's still 7,000 mink, a lot of free-range fur. What's going to happen to them?
[The farm's owner Charo] Carrillo said that most of those that got away will probably starve to death in a matter of days because they were raised in captivity and do not know how to hunt or fish.

Jose Benito Reza, a conservation official with the Galician regional government...said the people who freed the latest batch “did them no favor whatsoever” because they cannot survive in the wild and that the mink are ornery carnivores who might attack other animals and birds.

That is, those that aren't shot as the pests they are, or killed by larger animals, or run over by passing motorists. But at least they'll die free. (Even the Free Republic, a bastion of extreme-leftist "thinking", has no sympathy for people who'd turn loose thousands of critters that can't feed themselves.)

Maybe the "raiders" should have crated 'em up, sent them to Australia, and turned 'em loose on the out-of-control rabbit population. Coast to coast bunny / ferret madness.

Ron saw how this story was presented in the local paper (AJC), and replied:
A photo caption in the 10-16 AJC says: “A mink makes its escape Sunday after a group, believed to be environmental activists, broke into three mink farms in northwestern Spain and freed more than 15,000 mink.” The photo is a ground-level, extreme closeup of a mink with farm buildings behind it. I have a few questions:

1. Did an Associated Press photographer accompany the ‘environmental activist’ criminals in the commission of their crime, or --

2. Does AP distribute photographs provided by anonymous criminal sources, or --

3. Are we supposed to believe that a mink paused long enough in ‘making its escape’ for an AP photographer to be summoned, make the trip to the mink farm, and take its picture?

4. Or was this particular mink too stupid to make it up the boards and over the fence? (Possibly a good thing he didn’t escape, if he’s that dumb.)
As with so many newspaper websites, AJC's is an afterthought that imperfectly mirrors the print edition. The photo that accompanied the AP story isn't there, so I haven't seen it. It could, I suppose, be a staged file image of a mink still in captivity, despite the caption that asserts that it is a photo of a crime in progress. It appears that the AP are either complicit in the crime or simply lying about the photo's origin, neither of which reflects well on them.

But it's not like it's real news, like any of the dozen other images the news services have misrepresented or outright faked lately.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Does a yo-yo work in zero g?

Weightless teachers carry thrills home to students
The moment he became weightless, Mike Hickey of South High School in Cleveland, Ohio, completely forgot about the science experiment he was to conduct.

"After the first bounce, I said nuts to the experiments," an exhilarated Hickey said after returning from his 90-minute flight aboard G-Force One, an aircraft specially designed to simulate the zero gravity of space by making controlled free-fall descents.

Hickey and 38 other teachers took part over the weekend in the last of five "Weightless Flights of Discovery" sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corp. and Zero Gravity Corporation of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Now, this is inarguably cool, and I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same thing. But I'm wondering how Professor Hickey (who doubtless gets enough snickering in class as it is) will respond when his kids blow off their experiments because they were interested in something else.

I'm being too much of a grinch, surely. But what about this:
Hickey was mystified by one experience.

"I had a water bottle with this much water in it, that I was going to drink," he said, indicating a small amount.

"At zero gravity there was nothing in there that you could see. But when gravity came back, it was in there. It had just vaporized or something."
Now, the article doesn't say what Hickey teaches. Possibly it's not science, but if so, why was he even on this flight? Does he really think that water vaporizes in zero gravity? (I mean, more so than normal.)

I'm just a middle-aged liberal arts major, so let's see if I can get it right. We're told that there isn't very much water in the bottle. I'm going to assume that magic doesn't happen and that, since the water "reappeared" in the bottle, that it never actually left. Theory: Under simulated zero g surface tension causes the water to spread out and coat the inside of the bottle fairly uniformly, making it difficult to distinguish from the sides of the bottle. A simple experiment -- swinging the bottle around to generate a little centrifugal force -- would cause the water to pool at one end, if that is the case.

Do either of my readers know enough science to tell me if I'm right?

If the point of this trip was to inspire a little scientific curiosity, looks like it failed, both with Mr Hickey and with Reuters, who thought they were cleverly reporting the lack of same in one teacher, but who failed to provide any answer to the question themselves.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

One hundred and nine years ago today

Much as I love Atlanta and the South, even I must admit that, once in a great while, a good idea does come from somewhere else. One of the greatest of all ideas came from a newspaper in New York.

It came from a question asked by one of its youngest readers, and from the man that fate—and the editors of the New York Sun—chose to answer it.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Save it for Biology class

Warning: Post contains stick-figure nudity.
YAHOO (AP) | X-rated font used on third-grade handout
MONROE, N.Y. - School officials apologized after an X-rated font was used on a third-grade spelling packet handed out to parents. The font showed male and female stick figures in provocative poses to form the letters of the alphabet.

Officials with the Monroe-Woodbury School District in Orange County apologized last week after parents at Pine Tree Elementary School were given the spelling packet at an open house.

Administrators said the teacher did not use the font intentionally.

Monroe is about 45 miles northwest of New York City.
I have two questions.

One: Just how "x-rated" can you get with stick figures?

Two: "The teacher did not use the font intentionally." How does one use a font accidentally?

Fortunately, for those of us who want the whole story, Yahoo links to the original source, where there is significantly more information. There's even an image of the "offensive" cover sheet in question.
Times Herald-Record | Central Valley teacher gives x-rated handout
...At first glance, it's difficult to make out the salaciousness of the type font.

Sources said the teacher had no idea the alphabet was offensive when she downloaded the font from the Internet...

The design is so subtle that even school officials missed it. And many parents didn't know what they were looking at until they received a letter of apology Friday from Pine Tree principal Jean Maxson.

Okay, I get it. Teacher in a rush, found what looked like a cute cartoon alphabet, didn't look at it too closely (who would?), and next thing she knows she's getting a call from the PTA.

One still has to wonder why she felt a need to use a cute cartoon alphabet on a handout intended for parents.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

And now for something... ah, you know the rest

If you're on a dialup, this may take forever, but it's the funniest minute and a half I've seen in a long time. Presenting Star Trek Sings "Knights of the Round Table."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's coming

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usYes, ARTC's one and only performance at DragonCon 2006 is coming Friday, September 1, at or around 7:00 pm.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Uncharacteristic Self-Promotion

This DragonCon (next week) will see the release of three new CDs by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. Two of them are re-releases of material previously available on tape, but both are in slightly different form. The third is perhaps the most eagerly awaited release in ARTC's history (by us, if not by our fans).
  1. H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, adapted by Brad Strickland, and Dr Geoffry Stanhope: Hour of the Wolf by Thomas E. Fuller
  2. The Happy Man by Gerald W. Page, and The Competitor by Brad Linaweaver
  3. I'll be shot at sunrise if I tell you what this one is.
At some point after Labor Day weekend, you'll find these for sale on ARTC's website.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Yahoo/AP | McKinney loses runoff for Georgia seat
DECATUR, Ga. - Cynthia McKinney, the fiery Georgia congresswoman known for her conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks and the scuffle she had earlier this year with a U.S. Capitol police officer, lost a runoff election Tuesday for her district's Democratic nomination.

Attorney Hank Johnson, a former county commissioner, won the nomination with 59 percent of the vote, surpassing McKinney by more than 11,000 votes.
She was running what I would call a stealth campaign, perhaps under the theory that her best chance at winning was if her constituents forgot there was an election. According to USA Today:
Unlike typical candidates, McKinney has no campaign press secretary or public schedule. She did not participate in debates before the primary. A recorded office greeting last weekend urged callers to vote in the primary July 20. The primary was actually on July 18.
The above link from PhotoDude, where there is much more fun to be had at McKinney's expense.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Cynthia Tucker: Voters can see through McKinney
She doesn't have the prestige or power to pass a resolution in support of sweetened ice tea.
It couldn't happen to a nicer woman.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I for one welcome our new robot overlords

Wired News | Giant Robot Imprisons Parked Cars
The robot that parks cars at the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, trapped hundreds of its wards last week for several days. But it wasn't the technology car owners had to curse, it was the terms of a software license.

The garage is owned by the city; the software, by Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida.

In the course of a contract dispute, the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises just a few days before the contract between both parties was set to expire. What the city didn't understand or perhaps concern itself with, is that they sent the company packing with its manuals and the intellectual property rights to the software that made the giant robotic parking structure work.
Just in case you thought a software license dispute couldn't do any real harm.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Coming soon

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

We're a long way from knowing which show will appear when, so I'm guessing on the day and time, but we do know what our shows will be.

Kudzu Covered Houses

Everything is on the web, you know. Here are some houses losing the battle with imported Japanese groundcover, something I could also see by taking a stroll around the neighborhood.

UPDATE: I might have known that page was just a part of a larger site.

Friday, June 09, 2006

If you found a USB drive, would you use it?

Dark Reading | Social Engineering the USB Way
We recently got hired by a credit union to assess the security of its network.

We gathered all the worthless vendor giveaway thumb drives collected over the years and imprinted them with our own special piece of software. I had one of my guys write a Trojan that, when run, would collect passwords, logins and machine-specific information from the user’s computer, and then email the findings back to us.

The next hurdle we had was getting the USB drives in the hands of the credit union’s internal users. I made my way to the credit union at about 6 a.m. to make sure no employees saw us. I then proceeded to scatter the drives in the parking lot, smoking areas, and other areas employees frequented.
Drives seeded: 20.
Drives found by employees: 15.
Drives plugged into company computers: 15. Yes, all of them.
Employees who realized anything was going on: 0.

It's unreported whether anyone tried to find the "lost" drives' owners.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Art is never finished, merely abandoned

Star Wars -- by which I mean the original 1977 theatrically-released science-fiction movie, which did not call itself "Chapter Four: A New Hope" -- may well hold the record for having been released in more different home-video editions and media than any other film. (Does that seem right to you? I mean, it's good, but it's not that good. But I digress.)

When it was finally released on DVD, it was the 1997 Special Edition, with numerous "improvements", the infamous "who shot first, Han or Greedo" decision being one of many unpopular changes. When fans complained that they wanted to see the original theatrical release, the one they'd fallen in love with in 1977, Lucas dropped a bombshell: Ain't. Gonna. Happen. Ever. This (the 1997 edition) is it. This is "Star Wars" now.

At least, it would have been a bombshell if anyone had believed him. I don't know anyone who believes that George Lucas actually destroyed the original negatives to a film that, "flawed" as it was, made him, well, more wealth than I can imagine, and I can imagine quite a bit. (Yeah, I know, it's just so hard to avoid those cliches.)

This September, 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm will release the Original Theatrical versions of the first Star Wars trilogy, each in a two-disc set that also contains the 1997 Special Edition...

With a catch. (Source: The Digital Bits.) Since the original negatives don't exist (ahem), the source material for this release is the 1993 laserdisc release. A thirteen-year-old transfer of a non-anamorphic widescreen print. I am going to attempt to explain why this is the video equivalent of offering a starving dog a rubber bone, in such a manner that I myself can actually understand it.

The 1993 part is easy. Has digital imagery improved since 1993? Pixar was doing Listerine commercials, and Lemmings was the state of the art in video games. You tell me.

To explain the anamorphic question, though... Let me show you a series of simulated screen captures of a scene I know you'll recognize.

First: "Normal" television (which can also be called pan-and-scan, or full-screen 1.33:1 ratio):

regular television full-screen pan-and-scan
Anamorphic widescreen -- not normally seen in this form, but this is what the image recorded on the DVD actually looks like: Your player unsqueezes it as it plays.

anamorphic widescreen
Normal television, letterboxed widescreen (2.20:1 image on a 1.33:1 screen). Your DVD player unsqueezes the image to fill your screen left-to-right, then generates a black letterbox to fill the screen top-to-bottom.

(This is also what the raw image looks like on a NON-anamorphic transfer. That is, the black letterboxing on a non-anamorphic movie is part of the image. That will be important later.)

regular television letterboxed
If all you have is a "normal" television, you can pretty much stop reading now: anamorphic vs non-anamorphic doesn't make much difference in what you see. But if you have, or ever anticipate getting, a widescreen television, read on.

Here's a digital 16:9 widescreen TV, viewing an anamorphic transfer. You still get a little letterboxing, since Star Wars was released in widescreen 2.20:1, but the image fills your screen from left to right.

Digital 16:9 television anamorphic
Here's what George Lucas thinks you want: This is how a digital 16:9 widescreen television will render a non-anamorphic transfer. Letterboxing top and bottom is part of the original image: Gray filler left and right is generated by your expensive television because this pre-letterboxed image doesn't fill the screen. (It'll actually be black: I've made it a very dark gray just so you can tell which is which.)

Digital 16:9 television non-anamorphic
Of course, your expensive digital 16:9 television can zoom in, but at the expense of crispness and resolution.

Digital 16:9 television non-anamorphic zoom
Let's look at Leia's lovely face, shall we?


All right, I'm being silly now. The point is, you've got a decision to make:

Do you believe George Lucas? If you think this man is actually capable of destroying the original negative of Star Wars, and every existing original print, and the various intermediate stages and archival copies that may exist throughout the world from which usable digital elements could be derived, then this is the best of what survives and you should probably get it before he decides to clean house again.

If you think he has something else up his sleeve for next year's 30th Anniversary of the original release of Star Wars (God, I feel old), then you might want to wait.

If you're like me and filled with revulsion at the idea of giving George Lucas any more of your money, well, there's still Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

The Independent | Bush 'planted fake news stories on American TV'
Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

...faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs)...
This has been common practice for going on at least thirty years, which is about how long ago I found my own informational pamphlet -- oh, all right, "press release" -- for the SCA published verbatim in a local newspaper. (My only regret was that I hadn't put my name on it.)

Frankly, I've been ignoring this story for the last week or two, astounded that any responsible news organization has the nerve to present this "scoop" with a straight face. Press and media relations, corporate and governmental, are based on the reality that if you release a publication-ready story, many publications will use it. That's the point.

77 television stations over ten months? Hell, everyone does it. Every television station, every radio station. Every television and radio network. Every newspaper, every magazine. And every outlet that's been reporting this story with the wide-eyed innocence of Casablanca's Captain Renault. It's a real and expected part of where your news comes from.

Should you know about this? Certainly, yes. Should you be concerned? Occasionally. Should you be surprised? Not if you've actually been paying attention to the news and "news" you consume.

I'm much more concerned that the Centre for Media and Democracy is attempting to play it as a "conspiracy".

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Why now?

When noted political analyst Natalie Maines recently took back her apology for having insulted the President in London in 2003, I found myself doing my best imitation of Alec Guinness in Star Wars: Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time.

I was content for that to be so, though not particularly concerned. I'd assumed she'd retired. I wondered what the occasion was for her return to the public eye. Had poverty forced her to return to work? Had she just escaped from a political prison? Was she looking for her shadow? (And would it mean six more weeks of American Idol if she saw it?)

The next day, I had my answer. You may not realize it, as she is not one to brag, but in the lean times between political analyses, Ms Maines is a musician of sorts. She and her friends had an album to promote, and the no-respect-for-the-President demographic was her target audience. As one of her friends said:
I'd rather have a small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.
What a nice way of saying We have enough money, thanks. At least the poor girls won't be forced to appear naked anymore.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Which way?

Did you know that, in Atlanta, if you head southbound on Northside Drive, you'll go through West End on your way to East Point?

Northbound, of course, will take you to West Paces Ferry and South Cobb Drive.

North Avenue, on the other hand, is a puzzle: You can't go north on North, only east and west. East Avenue also runs east-west, but it's south of North.

So, you see, we're in deep trouble even without 37 Peachtree streets.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Fame sucks

Yeeeah! | Mandy Moore has Unlimited Orgasms
Mandy Moore was horrified when she saw the cover of the May 2006 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Next to her face, there’s a headline which says “orgasms unlimited”.
Well, let's see. Looking elsewhere on the cover, I see: "4 things you do that turn him off"; "8 new places to have sex"; "A deadly disease that's striking young women"; and "Touch him there!" Which of those would she have preferred? (Well, yeah, there are a couple of innocuous headlines on the cover, too, but they're badly outnumbered.)

Perhaps she just needs to instruct her agent not to sell her photos to Cosmopolitan. Is he the same guy who sold Jessica Alba's bikini pose to Playboy?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Philips hates us

New Scientist | Invention: The TV-advert enforcer
Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.

Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers"...
No. You think?
...who could initially think their equipment has gone wrong. So it suggests the new system could throw up a warning on screen when it is enforcing advert viewing. The patent also suggests that the system could offer viewers the chance to pay a fee interactively to go back to skipping adverts.
Is it at all possible that this is a hoax? Naah, it's all too typical. The usual reaction when the "old media" people are feeling threatened by "new media" technology is to make the "old media" even less attractive by comparison, in a misguided attempt to protect their intellectual property.

Friday, February 17, 2006

King Canute 2006

EFF: DeepLinks | RIAA Says Ripping CDs to Your iPod is NOT Fair Use
If I understand what the RIAA is saying, "perfectly lawful" means "lawful until we change our mind." So your ability to continue to make copies of your own CDs on your own iPod is entirely a matter of their sufferance.
That is to say, it's not lawful because the law says it is, it's lawful because the RIAA says it is. In the RIAA's view, they have graciously granted permission for consumers to rip CDs into their iPods, because they're such nice people. Fair Use has nothing to do with it.

On the other hand...

This is Really Not It | The undertaker is measuring the Big Four record labels for a wooden overcoat
The time will come when the artists will find they have an option. They can sell record their music themselves on cheap equipment, or hire independent studios. They can distribute their music directly to their fans over the internet or via contracts with small print shops. Fans get their music without them needing to manufacture more than a few bytes. And in the future, promotion will open up to them too. Advertising companies may decide to cut out the middle man. Online communities like myspace are opening up new possibilities. The all conquering TV may even begin the serve the artist. And then the record labels will rue the day they served their shareholders over their artists and customers.
The day has come. Artists have options now. The RIAA may or may not have figured it out: They're either willfully ignorant or in denial.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Jeez, I turn my back for a day or two...

Ann Coulter:

"I think our motto should be post-9-11, 'raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.'"

(Responding to a question from a Catholic University student about her biggest moral or ethical dilemma) "There was one time I had a shot at Clinton. I thought 'Ann, that's not going to help your career.'"

Jill Edwards, University of Washington Student Senate:

(Discussing a resolution calling for a tribute for Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, USMC ) "Jill Edwards questioned whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people. She said she didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce." Update.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a plane! It's a tank! It's...

It's a mistake, is what it is. Too heavy to fly, too light to withstand fire.

But, it not being too close to April 1, I'm forced to assume it is, or was, real. Damn Interesting has the story.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

By now you've heard this

Filming is about to begin on "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." They've announced casting for Dolores Umbridge, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Bellatrix Lestrange, Nymphadora Tonks (photo), Mrs. Figg and Luna Lovegood.

I think I'll write a children's book

Ted Kennedy pens children's book
The book explains how a bill becomes a law, the roles of Congress and the Senate and other details of the U.S. system of government. It also has biographies of Splash and Kennedy.

50 Cent To Write Children's Books
“The stories will have a positive message, something that kids can learn from.”

Victoria Beckham to write children's book
The sexy 31-year-old star has revealed she is working on a story collection to tie in with a range of clothes she's designing.

J.K. Rowling confirms new children's book
J.K. Rowling has confirmed in an interview that she has written a new, non-Harry Potter based children's book.

Sarah The Duchess of York Ferguson
Budgie the Little Helicopter has a broad grin and freckles, wears the brim of his hat turned up and works very hard.

Spike Lee
Filmmaker Spike Lee and wife Tonya Lewis Lee join the ranks of other celebrity kids' book writers with their sweet, rhythmic read-along about the endless energy of a toddler blasting through a busy day.

Jerry Seinfeld
The trick-or-treating mindset involves two words: "Get candy."

Cussler turns to kids' books
"The kids book took me three months before I could even write the first sentence. I had to get into a whole new style. I just had no idea how difficult it was to write a children's book."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A double hit of Buffy debris

'Buffy' Fight May Have Slain Two Networks on the Edge - Los Angeles Times
When the obituary is written of the WB network, the cause of death should probably read: complications resulting from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Last week, when the money-losing WB and UPN networks announced that they were pulling the plug to form a single new broadcast network, many television veterans traced the roots of the decision back five years, when a fight over the fate of "Buffy" drove what would prove to be a fatal stake through the WB's heart.
Too bad it didn't do "Firefly" any good.
'Buffy' star channeling Elton John in ABC comedy - Yahoo! News
British actor Anthony Stewart Head, formerly of WB series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," has landed the lead in "Him & Us," ABC's comedy pilot inspired by the life of Elton John.
I'm having trouble picturing this.

Will AT&T become just AT?

LiveScience.com - Era Ends: Western Union Stops Sending Telegrams
After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams. On the company's web site, if you click on "Telegrams" in the left-side navigation bar, you're taken to a page that ends a technological era with about as little fanfare as possible: "Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative."
Heck, a lot of people have no idea why we old farts still speak of "dialing" a telephone. Or why we don't just call it a phone.

I can vouch for this one

BusinessWeek: The Top Ten Hybrid Myths
1. You need to plug in a hybrid car.
Whenever I'm driving John's Insight, and another driver works up the nerve to ask me about it, it's their first question: Where do you plug it in? You don't. It runs on gasoline and charges itself, just like any other car.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Can't stop the signal

Having accomplished the impossible once, those pesky fans are at it again.
Joss Whedon's Firefly Season 2
It's possible that subscribers may choose one of three playback options; monthly DVD deliveries, TV On-Demand using your cable or satellite provider, or computer viewing via Streaming Download.
And if there is a gap on your Christmas tree:
Serenity Ornament
Fans of the cult-hit TV series and the major motion picture, now available on DVD, will love this ornament featuring the rogue ship Serenity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Redefine "fake photo"

The American Thinker | Photo fakery at the New York Times
It appears that the Times, once-upon-a-time regarded as the last word in reliability when it comes to checking before publishing (which makes them so much better than blogs, of course), has run a fake photo on the home page of its website. The photo has since been removed from the home page, but still can be seen here.
It further appears that "fake photo" now means "undoctored photograph of a staged event", which is not what I think when I hear the phrase. The photo is genuine: What makes it "fake" is that the scene it depicts is incorrectly described.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Where's this Eskimo I'm supposed to wrestle?

CNN.com - Study: Waking up like being drunk - Jan 11, 2006
"For a short period, at least, the effects of sleep inertia may be as bad as or worse than being legally drunk."
Hm. So that's what being drunk is like. It's that terror-striken moment after you realize you haven't been to class in ages and you're going to flunk out for sure, and before you remember that you haven't attended school since the Carter administration. Sounds like fun. Set up another one, bartender!