Archive for May, 2007

Bonghits + Philosophy 101 = Giant Leap Forward in Ethics!

The modern-day salon that is Slashdot considers altruism:

Relativism basically states that good and evil are relative … Relative to you personally, relative to your culture, relative to your psychological state. It fits with people’s differing views on what is right and wrong; I think it’s right, you think it’s wrong, we’re both correct. Basically it’s worthless. If you’re a relativist, morals are meaningless, because you can only apply moral judgements [sic] to yourself, and what the hell point is there in that?

Objectivism states that good and evil are objective … That there are things that everyone should agree are right and everyone should agree are wrong. Logically, objectivism must be correct, because the alternative is relativism, and relativism is worthless. But no one agrees about right and wrong, so how can it be right?

Utilitarianism gets the treatment, too:

Mill came up with the theory of Utilitarianism to attempt to explain this sort of thing: in a nutshell, whatever makes the majority happy is right, and whatever makes the majority unhappy is wrong

[…]

So utilitarianism clearly needs some work … Reduce “good” into “happy” and you end up with nothing but bread and circuses, because that would make people happy, and happy == good. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with democracy.

+4 … “interesting!”

Hey, Mike! What’s That? (Fine Arts Edition)

Glad you asked!

Unlike last time, I can tell you exactly what that is: It’s a knight in shining armor, mounted on a horse, and it’s made completely of LARD. Don’t take my word for it. I asked at the cash register station outside the Excalibur’s buffet and was handed a small pamphlet:

The magnificent knight atop his trusty steed that adorns the entrance to the premier Roundtable Buffet is the work of world-renowned Hungarian sculptor György Tamas, who created it for the opening of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in 1990.

When first commissioned, Tamas was instructed to sculpt the knight out of native Nevada limestone, but the sculptor, who had fled to the United States seeking freedom in 1956, instead proposed a sculpture inspired by the Contextual Materials movement he helped found in the late 1960s. Instead of using limestone, Tamas argued, a more fitting monument to the excellence of the soon-to-be-opened Roundtable Buffet would be a knight and trusty steed crafted out of the very foundation of the buffet’s cuisine: dry-rendered lard made from Nevada-raised pigs.

Excalibur project manager Dick Flint was at first resistant to the radical departure, but soon relented, even delaying the opening of the buffet so Tamas could work with food engineers to perfect the sealant he would apply to the lard sculpture to immortalize it for all time.

Working around the clock for two days, Tamas used almost a ton of dry-rendered Nevada pig lard to craft his creation, working in brutal, below-freezing conditions to ensure it maintained its shape until the special polymer sealant University of Nevada, Las Vegas food scientists formulated could be applied.

On June 19, 1990, a beaming Tamas shook hands with Dick Flint and unveiled his sculpture before helping to cut the ceremonial ribbon that allowed eager Excalibur Hotel and Casino guests to sample the best in buffet dining Las Vegas has to offer. As on its first day of operation and every day since, the Roundtable Buffet has commemorated the artistic devotion of György Tamas by offering a pot of Las Vegas-style Hungarian Goulash in the first heat well guests pass.

A second knight and steed, visually identical to the first, are on display at the second Roundtable Buffet food line. Unlike the first, they’re crafted out of fiberglass and only covered with a thin patina of lard and sealant.

And there you have it.

You can kind of tell the difference between the two statues now. The lard one has begun to shift a little despite the sealant, so its lines aren’t as sharp.

Hey, Mike! What’s That?

Glad you asked!

Sadly, I do not know the answer and am too lazy to look it up, so I’ll tell you what I’ve named it. It’s The Wall of Asses at Mandalay Bay. Probably it’d be more accurately named “The Wall of Boobs and Asses at Mandalay Bay,” but boooooob doesn’t have the punch of ass.

Ass! Ass! Ass!

Feel that staccato punch? Rat-a-tat-tat!

The Wall of Asses!

I have isolated a number of behaviors you can engage in while passing the Wall of Ass:

  1. You can ignore it. Most popular by far. There’s a 20-foot-tall wall with illuminated asses and boobies buried in it, arranged to imply some sort of creepy “graveyards layered over graveyards” setup, so I better ignore it.

  2. You can look at it but offer no comment at all. Not many people go this way. Most people taking this option seem sort of furtive. Wouldn’t do to linger overlong on the Wall of Asses, lest you get made as a leering perv, or someone from Choice 3:

  3. You can stand in front of it giggling, then have your picture taken in front of it. That triggered a few incidences of reaction 4:

  4. You can stand off to the side sneering at the people giggling at the perfectly normal 20-foot-tall wall with illuminated asses and boobies embedded in it. Yokels! Haven’t they ever seen this sort of art in whatever benighted little Iowa burg they’ve driven here from?

  5. You can sit quietly on a bench-like rock thoughtfully placed across the way from the Wall of Asses and take pictures from the hip with a carefully neutral look on your face, so’s not to invite judgement from the sophisticates who know better than to think anything at all of a twenty-foot-tall wall of illuminated boobs and asses.

Back to the burial motif … ugh … creepy.

Like someone dismembered a bunch of people (or perhaps like someone liberated a bunch of asses and boobies from their bodies) and stuck them in the dirt with those little “Japanese garden” solar-powered walkway lights you can get at Home Depot.

I don’t have the time or energy to try to turn this into some kind of “See!? That’s what’s wrong with Vegas!” thing, because that’s not what’s wrong with Vegas. If all this place had to answer for was gratuitous and vulgar ass art tucked into the less well travelled corridors connecting its conference centers and food courts, nobody would want to come here. And there’d be something wrong with every mid-size metropolis that ever coughed up money to some hack with a yen for stainless steel cubes or curiously deformed and jagged implications of winged creatures.

“Hey, man! What are you making?”

“Oh, it’s just a public sculpture of some gangly waterfowl made out of rusty rebar … and children.”

“Huh. That’s neat … the children … their lips are pulled back from their teeth in what appears to be severe pain … or maybe they’re baring their teeth at the giant rebar birds? And their teeth are very well defined, I might add.”

“Thanks.”

“What do you call it?”

“The City Builds a Monument to Its Sadness.”

“Cool.”

So anyhow … “Las Vegas: Day Two” or whatever alternate title you’d prefer.

Return of the Blippage (May 17 Edition)

» k on Nerdmeyr: Cute Porn:

My love of cuteoverload has given me an appreciation for the tradition of pin-up girls. Pin-up girls are cute in the way baby bunnies with their tongues sticking out are cute. And I can understand now why mechanics would want a few such images hanging around the garage while they’re working; it’s sort of a mental break – something to look over at that makes you feel squishy inside when the rest of your day makes you feel empty and dull.

This gives me hope.

» CNN: Is it time to crack down on the blogosphere?

I blog, therefore I am: the Internet has become the place where “citizen journalists” broadcast their thoughts to all. This haven of free speech is treasured by thousands of online writers, each ready to leap onto their virtual soapbox and broadcast to the world.

But the blogosphere may not be the electronic utopia that we thought. It has been wracked by cyber-bullying, hate mail and even anonymous death threats. Are the golden days of the Internet over? Is it time to curb more extreme behavior — and start to regulate what people write online?

The golden days?

Where the fuck have these people been? What Internet have they been using?

“Crack down?”

» Venture Beat: Google’s move to “universal search”:

Google said today it will offer a range of new features in its search results, including things like a new navigation bar at the top left side of the home page to things like Google’s Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets and Picasa Web Albums.

The effort is part of what it calls a move to “universal search,” much of which will be subtle at first, but will change over time.

I just looked. It’s a simple navigation bar, unadorned with the little icons other portals are fond of. It preserves the largely uncluttered feeling Google usually projects at its entry points. It’s, um, “nice.” I’m for it.

Although Universal Search will give results from a variety of media, it will also provide tabs for a user who is only interested in searching for a particular type of information. For example, a search for Bill Richardson will pull up links to websites, news, videos, blogs, and books about the U.S. governor. Users can then click on specific category tabs to narrow down the search results.

I’m for that, if the interface is good. I do often find myself forgetting to leave a particular search mode in favor of a better one. The news/general search is a good example.

A major new feature of Universal Search will be the inclusion of video clips from YouTube and Google Video embedded directly into search results. Content from other online video sites, including Metacafe, will also appear as thumbnails that link directly to those sites.

The embedded use of YouTube video in search results will presumably drive further traffic to that site, which Google acquired last year for $1.65 billion.

This bothers me. I hope we’ll be able to toggle that off. I like “drive further traffic” when it’s a simple navigation ribbon or a mildly privileged collection of results at the top of the organic results (the way a keyword in the general search may net a small collection of “News results for foo” links.)

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience said Universal Search “does open way to more rich media in the search results page. We hope we can bring same advances in terms of richness of media to ads as well.”

Oh god. “richness of media to ads”

I am not hopeful.

» More Firefox Bloat? Say It Ain’t So, Mozilla

Statistics are hard to come by, but our own experiences with the browser include crashes, memory hogging, molasses-slow page loads and the spinning beach ball of death. The problems are even worse for Mac users, so much so that last month, Firefox developer Colin Barrett broached the question on his blog: What sucks about Firefox on the Mac?

Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering, concedes that performance can be an issue, especially with memory handling. But he’s also quick to place the blame outside the browser.

“Memory usage is dependent on the environment,” he says. “Other software, add-ons, extensions and other things can impact performance.”

Ah, yes, those damned add-ons.

That was the initial genius of Firefox: It made the end user responsible for bloat by offering a million opportunities to indulge in it. And we all indulged, and in some way validated the Microsoft Word model, even as we all continued to hypocritically excoriate it.

Now:

“I really wish Firefox would go back to the lightweight browser it once was,” one commenter wrote. “The power was the ability to have extensions to do anything you wanted, but it was my choice which ones I wanted using my system resources.”

Firefox developers have so far ignored that advice. More enhancements, such as a data manager for microformats, are expected when Firefox 3 arrives in late 2007. If the suggestions playing out on blogs, forums and bulletin boards are any indication, however, a return to Firefox’s original principles of modular design may be the most desired feature for the next release.

Mozilla’s Schroepfer says so-called feature creep is always a concern to his coders. To counteract that, he says, the main criterion for accepting new features has been that they enhance the browser without bogging it down.

“The general philosophy, and one of the reasons it takes so long to get features in the browser, is that any new features should not affect the startup time or performance of the browser,” he says.

To keep the bulk down, Schroepfer says his team sets a high threshold for the addition of features. New features aren’t built in unless they are useful to at least 90 percent of Firefox’s users.

It seems most of those features could, perhaps, ship with the browser but have an obvious interface for turning them off. The horrific and crappy old Netscape let you pick whether you wanted the HTML editor, mail client or whatever at install time. Maybe, since Firefox is so modular at its base, the same thing should be happen with the feature list the developers are pretty much admitting is driven by a mob? Not at install time, but in a panel.

Conflicting Interpretations

Spoilers. Last night’s Sopranos … eesh. Emphasized portions hit the incongruities between the Salon spin and the Slate spin:

Salon:

The episode takes an odd turn when, instead of taking his anger out on someone close to him, Tony flies to Vegas to get some peace. We see him eating dinner alone, sitting by a pool. Finally, he looks up a hooker who slept with Christopher, then tells her Christopher is dead. The two end up sleeping together (no surprise there) and then talking honestly. They smoke a joint, and suddenly it seems that Tony may be trying to crawl inside of Christopher’s experiences. He asks the girl about the time she took peyote with Christopher, and then she and Tony take the drug together and hit the casinos, looking dazed. Instead of losing all of his money as you’d expect, Tony goes on a huge winning streak, then falls down on the floor, suddenly struck that Christopher is dead and gone and he can’t even feel happy over his good fortune. Will Tony ever feel happy again?

At the end of the episode, Tony and the girl are watching the sunrise on peyote. “I get it,” he says, as if he suddenly understands where Christopher has been all those years. Half crying, he yells out loud, “I get it!” But it’s too late.

Slate:

Tony, who spends his life being comfortably numb about the reality of what he does for a living, can’t in this instance abide the hypocrisy of pretending that Christopher died in the accident and that he’s sorry Christopher is gone. He escapes to Las Vegas and looks up Sonya, an old girlfriend of Christopher’s who’s working her way through college as a stripper. (I assume Sonya figured in the show a few seasons back, but I don’t remember her. Do you?) They have sex, and then Sonya introduces Tony to peyote. At first it makes him puke, but later they wander, high, into a casino, and Tony soon finds himself winning at the roulette wheel. His streak of bad luck is over, he realizes; killing Christopher ended it. Remember how Tony told Carmela a few episodes back that he was fated to survive Uncle Junior’s shooting? The peyote deepens that delusion. The episode ends with Tony and Sonya in the desert, Tony shouting, “I get it.” Mario Puzo meets Carlos Castenada.

Tony is good and comfortable with his numbness now. Drugs made Christopher weak, but they make Tony strong. Christopher was a loser, Tony is a winner. This goombah is headed for some kind of serious fall, don’t you think?

I tend toward Slate’s read.

Tags:

Win/Win

Slate has taken the gonzo-meter down to 55 percent.

Waiting for Monica:

Gonzo-meters are only as good as the Gonzos they measure, and we confess that when we first launched this feature we underestimated the attorney general’s taste for public humiliation. It’s now amply clear that whatever contempt serious attorneys at the Justice Department, Republican stalwarts, and the national media feel for Alberto Gonzales is more than matched by the contempt he feels for all of them. And as the days go by and it becomes clear that the AG thinks he has won by losing, we fear we have to back down from our prediction that he will leave anytime soon.

Well, o.k. One more thing to hang around his party’s neck next year.

Note to Other WordPress Users Wondering Why the Hell Their Clients Are Acting Strangely With Dreamhost

If you use Ecto, MarsEdit or anything else that needs to use XML-RPC to talk to your WordPress blog on Dreamhost, you may have had problems posting, retrieving posts, etc. etc.

Here’s Dreamhost’s response to my query:

Hello,

Our PHP5 version has been updated to version 5.2.2 lately, so your

software may be making some calls that are incompatible with it. Try

checking with the software’s developers and see if there’s any issues

with their software and WordPress running on PHP 5.2.2.

Thanks!

Hm. Well, no … Dreamhost gave me the only broken software involved here, which is PHP 5.2.2.

A comment here has the fix. Add the following line to {WordPress root}/xmlrpc.php:

 $HTTP_RAW_POST_DATA = file_get_contents("php://input");

See also: Broken Blogging Software and WordPress XML-RPC (Ecto and MarsEdit)

p.s. I hope this wiki registration fares better than my brief attempt to flag a plagiarist on Wikipedia.

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Silly? Here’s Your Goddamn Silly.

FOXNews.com – George Lucas Calls ‘Spider-Man 3’ Silly:

Lucas told me he has seen all the summer movies since his company, Industrial Light and Magic, does most of the special effects. The only one they didn’t work on was “Spider-Man 3.” What did he think of it?

“It’s silly. It’s a silly movie,” he said. “There just isn’t much there. Once you take it all apart, there’s not much story, is there?”

Well, it’s not “Star Wars.”

“People thought ‘Star Wars’ was silly, too,” he added, with a wink. “But it wasn’t.”

Lucas, by the way, says he is readying “Clone Wars,” an animated series for TV that’s derived from “Star Wars.” Many “Star Wars” characters appear in “Clone Wars,” but voiced by other actors.

And here’s a little news: Lucas tells me he will make two more live-action films based in the “Star Wars” era.

“But they won’t have members of the Skywalker family as characters,” he said. “They will be other people of that milieu.”

The two extra films will also be made for TV and probably be an hour long each. But, like “Clone Wars,” Lucas doesn’t know where on TV they will land.

Hello, HBO and Showtime. It may be time to pony up.

Dear George,

  1. Spider-Man 3, which I saw last night, was more engaging than anything you’ve made in the last 25 years. Twenty. Five. Years. A number thrown out with due consideration, and full awareness that Spider-Man 3 is a flawed movie with deep structural problems that broke its flow as a simple diversion.

  2. We call “live-action films” that are “made for TV and probably […] an hour long each” “TV specials,” though I’m sure people will persist in hoping they’re actually backdoor pilots. Those people were born some time after 1981, and I can only blame myself and others in my subgeneration for letting those tragic children play with our action figures when they were toddlers. We marked them in a way that we couldn’t even be marked as eight-year-olds.

  3. After your last three violations of one of my most sacred childhood memories, I would like to ask you to quit backdoor piloting your former fans. Seriously. When my grandmother died, I had read enough stories like “The Monkey’s Paw” to know that as much as I loved her, I did not want her shambling, revivified corpse hanging around my living room, trying to make cookies and fit me with sweaters. There were flaws in my grieving process, but I knew she needed to stay in her urn.

You caught me sort of hanging around your creation’s figurative graveside, maybe hoping that this time the thing clawing its way up out of the dirt to shamble around dropping “Anime Luke Skywalker Muscle Figure” promotional items (hat-tip, Sven) like Romero extras drop body parts would be the cherished companion from my childhood.

I even came back for seconds … thirds! I paid good money, enabling you to make a snuff-film out of a world that shaped the reader and movie enthusiast I would become. I didn’t even complain when you enlisted Ms. Natalie Portman, an actress I should feel free to have a perfectly creepy and pre-midlife-crisis crush on, to make your snuff films. Now I don’t have Star Wars anymore, and when Natalie appears on Sesame Street to sing about the virtues of change to a frightened and unsure Big Bird, any momentary rush of irrational adoration is quashed by memories of Queen Amidala. You didn’t ruin that awesome SNL video, but you came close.

Queen Amidala. Any sign I need that you’re aware of the atrocity you created

is present in poor Queen Amidala. She’s literally the mother and helpmate of episodes IV, V and VI, and you murdered her on her delivery bed … an only mildly coded comment on the contempt with which you held the entire exercise.

Go away, George. And take your made-for-tv movies with you.

RAW feelings

Canon PowerShot S5 IS: Digital Photography Review:

Finally we have the update everyone had expected at PMA, the new PowerShot S5 IS digital camera. The S5 IS features an eight megapixel 1/2.5″ (5.8 x 4.3 mm) CCD sensor and a twelve times Image Stabilized zoom lens. Unfortunately this lens, while offering long reach with its maximum 432 mm equiv. FOV doesn’t improve at the wide end with the same 36 mm equiv. FOV as the S3 IS. Improvements include Face Detection (for AF, AE and Flash in shooting mode and red-eye removal in playback), a 2.5″ LCD monitor (up on the S3 IS) and a flash hot-shoe. Still no RAW support though.

Well, that’s that. I had this hope that maybe the S-series would pick up RAW, but it was a slender one. Pity. I was happy with having RAW support in my old G5, and I’d like to be able to pick up a new camera that could do that without having to make the move to an SLR and the attendant problems of expense involved with lenses and bulk.

Or maybe I’m just complaining. So much is about the glass, and as much as I like the S series for how much it crams into a small camera, the optics reflect its generalist approach. I keep coming back to the notion of picking up a low-end dSLR with a decent kit lens and a truly awesome prime. I think that puts me into either the Canon or Pentax camps.

Bullshit, Indeed

I love Libertarians because they love being Libertarians, whatever the cost, and whatever dark alley Ayn Rand leads them down.

This evening’s edition of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” promised to “expose the widely abused nonsense that is ‘handicap parking’ and illuminate the bureaucratic nightmare of the Americans with Disabilities Act by speaking to disabled Americans who think the ADA is pure BS.”

The show’s always been sort of questionable in terms of actually educating people, favoring instead brief shots of an apoplectic Penn haranguing the camera while Teller does the smirk thing in the background. You’re supposed to just take it on faith that because Penn is clearly very angry and because Penn is a talented stage magician, and because a guy from the Cato institute makes some unsubstantiated assertions, whatever Penn hates this week is a good thing to hate.

This evening’s episode was especially incomprehensible to anyone but other Libertarians with functioning Cato-brand implants. Seriously … if politicians use “dog whistle words,” this was more like binary dolphin squealing.

Some of the elements in the show:

  1. We meet a lady who spends a lot of time documenting people who park in handicap parking spaces without a blue placard.

  2. We meet a prolific tech book author who was born with only one leg and three fingers and who hates the ADA “because it has made things worse for handicapped people,” though you never ever hear why.

  3. We meet some terrified small business owners who were threatened with lawsuits over ADA violations by an attorney.

From all that, we get what I guess you could call the thesis:

“The ADA tries to make people be considerate to each other, and that’s not the government’s business. If you didn’t make businesses build accessible ramps and bathrooms, they would anyhow because they’d still want all that business. Plus, people will be more considerate anyhow, especially if we were to get rid of the ADA.”

Which is why, I guess, the lady in item 1 of our list has received death threats for turning in the sort of knuckle-dragger who parks in a wheelchair spot without a handicap sticker … the mean old government made them that way.

There’s no real answer offered (except that handicapped people aren’t the same as people of color, and so don’t deserve legal protection from discrimination against them), and there’s not even really a case made for what the problem with the ADA is in the first place, except that while Penn is comfortable with laws against murder, government mandated handicap parking spaces are an unacceptable infringement on his liberty.

That’s been the general pattern every time I’ve watched the show (less and less lately … I watched the entire first season and have only seen a few episodes since). It’s heavy on assertion and Penn blustering, but light on any substantiation. In other words, it’s written for chowderheads who’re given to repeating things celebrities tell them and people who’re too emo to listen to Rush Limbaugh but like the way he speaks truth to power.

The trick is that by going after the occasional “healing powers of magnets” quack or UFO dip, viewers become comfortable with the general approach, which involves a lot of yelling about how self evidently stupid those people are. When the show’s ideological payload arrives a few episodes later, you’ve either stopped watching because you’d be embarrassed to have your views advocated in such a slipshod fashion, or you’re Penn’s kinda guy and want a few unsubstantiated assertions about the cruel yoke of wheelchair ramps you can parrot at the water cooler.

Bleh.

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.