I got the Flash object containing the Planet Swank theme song to work. Ph33r my L33t Flash skillz! Since no one expressed a preference to my earlier post, the theme song plays after a brief interval, during which playback can be halted by clicking the Stop button. The Stop button is also available during playback; if playback is interrupted, a Play button takes its place. The Play button also appears after the theme plays through once and then stops.
I'm very pleased with the choice of music--"Barefoot in the Park" from the Neon Genesis Evangelion soundtrack. Not only does it convey the appropriately cheesy, lounge-type tuneage I was looking for in a theme song, it's also from an anime series. The moment I heard this tune (after downloading the soundtrack), I knew I'd found the Planet Swank theme.
Since the theme music--formerly a 2.7MB MP3--only requires a 158K Flash file, I'm thinking about next creating a little jukebox of a couple of similarly swank tunes. Watch this space for updates.
A teenage baby sitter faced charges of aggravated child abuse after the youth dropped off a roll of film for developing. One of the pictures showed her 22-month-old charge bound with duct tape at the ankles, wrists and mouth. An employee of the store where the sitter dropped the film called the police; the sitter claims the photo was meant as a joke and the little girl was not hurt.
Check it out--this chick not only tied up the toddler but indulged in a Kodak moment to preserve the memory. The mind boggles.
I wanted to give props to a movie review site I enjoy. Dante's Inferno and All-Night Video Store regularly dishes out unflinching looks horror, action and sci-fil films--bad ones, more often than not. Site host Dante is a soldier, and often calls bad movies to task for uniform errors (as he points out, the Army's uniform manual is a public document) and hoods who jack the slides of their pistols because it "looks cool." Special sections in his reviews spotlight quotable dialogue, moments that make no sense and whether there's any nudity in the film.
At the risk of sounding equivocal, I don't disapprove. NPR's new policy says it "encourages and permits links to content on NPR Web sites" (gee, thanks, guys; I may just start linking you again) but that "linking should not (a) suggest that NPR promotes or endorses any third party’s causes, ideas, Web sites, products or services, or (b) use NPR content for inappropriate commercial purposes." NPR also reserves the right to withdraw permission for any link. I think this stipulation is fair; as Wired reported earlier, a US court decision (PDF file) held that deceptive linking is not legally protected, and I don't read NPR's reservations as applying to anything but that. I'm at odds with some bloggers in this opinion, but given that the site's content is copyrighted, using it for deceptive or commercial purposes is, I think, contrary to the law and actionable. The NPR spokesperson said that "99.9 percent of the linking that goes on we're acknowledging is OK," but cited an example of someone setting up a commercial Internet radio station that linked NPR broadcasts. Much as I disagree with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act as it applies to Internet radio, my take is that situation would be illegal and NPR would have a right to ask the site to stop.
This fun little game has been going around the blogosphere. You go to Google and type "[your name] is" (in quotes), then check out the descriptions returned. Here's highlights from the results of my search:
Gregory is the Editor of ... the leading newsletter for the data mining and knowledge discovery community Gregory is the New Head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Gregory is the co-discoverer ... of Cosmic Voids and external Superclusters Gregory is a founder member of EASDAQ Gregory is studying to be a primary school teacher Gregory is Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol Gregory is a man of many talents Gregory is calling for an independent investigation (from the same site as the preceding) Gregory is the funniest man in America Gregory is in his third season as an assistant coach Gregory is a positive insight as opposed to the Greek philosophical tradition Gregory is beginning to worry me Gregory is Urged to Apply His Gentile Learning to the Study of Scripture Gregory is from Richmond, Virginia Gregory is Professor of Soil Science Gregory is West Indian Gregory is an Aries (same site as previous) Gregory is using an assumed name Gregory is a proud man and an artist Gregory is a friendly, helpful animated character Gregory is ever in quest of allegorical interpretations and mystical meanings Gregory is set to win the battle
My primary beef with vouchers actually isn't the Constitutionality of government subsidy of religious education, although the Court's decision frankly didn't answer all my concerns on that score. My main problem with vouchers is it's a classic case of a simple solution to a complex problem, and as such I supect it isn't the panacaea it's purported to be. Even the just-upheld Cleveland program affects only 3,700 students; while I'm glad they're getting a better education, I am not sure how the measure improves the quality of Cleveland's schools in general, or how it benefits kids in bad schools whose families might not qualify for vouchers. I'm not familiar with the totality of Cleveland's law, and I don't think the voucher concept ought to be dismissed out of hand, but I'm not convinced unintended consequences won't surface, either.
Another problem as I see it is the law of supply and demand. Assuming that quality schools are a scarce resource, it's clear that the government can't simply distribute this resource to more people simply by legislative fiat. In the Cleveland case, the voucher law allowed students to attend suburban public schools, but not one agreed to participate in the program, thus making the pool of "quality" schools even smaller (in fact, most of the participating schools in Cleveland are religious, a question I don't think the justices addressed adequately). The mere fact that more people can afford an alternative school doesn't increase the capacity of those schools; there may not to be room for everyone who wants to attend a better school, so they might be stuck in a lousy school irrespective of economic status. And jamming more and more kids into the "good" schools may well disrupt the very factors that make them good--low class size, for example. Finally, if more and more students are competing for this scarce resource, the price is likely to go up, an event that might not be covered by a voucher program.
(I find the embrace of the voucher issue by the right interesting from a couple of ideological perspectives, by the way. As I just opined, the voucher issue tends to disrgard the law of supply and demand; the right, perceived as being pro-business, should know better. It's also interesting that the right advocates what amounts to massive government subsidies. I'm being snide, but so be it.)
I just posted a lengthy screed on the subject of media bias, in which I criticized journalist for an absence of critical reporting. The voucher issue is one example of this, as its supporters have dubbed the issue "school choice." (How could you be agaisnt school choice?!) But there's always been school choice; you can attend any school you can afford. I attended Catholic school from third grade clear through high school, and my family paid for it, you betcha. My suspicions are always raised when anyone adopts a highly charged terminology for their issue, and any reporter who uses the term outside of a direct quote (and you can bet that supporters of the issue will sprinkle the term into their sound bites whenever possible) is slipping advocacy, conciously or not, into the coverage. Bottom line: "vouchers" is a neutral term; "school choice" is anything but.
I also see one big problem with education as an issue in a democratic society: education is a long-term thing. By the time almost anything a politician does to effect education for good or ill takes effect, he or she is likely to be out of office.
Okay, enough of this political shiznit; I'm going looking for something swank.
journalist fired after privately trashing candidate in email
From today's WaPo Media Notes section comes the story of a Florida journalist who was fired after responding to a reader's email that criticized a profile of Florida Secretary of State and Congressional candidate Katherine Harris as a puff piece that gave short shrift to her Democratic competitors. Managing Editor Rosemary Armao got the axe after responding with an email that derided Harris but predicted her eventual victory and defended the coverage on the grounds that Harris is an "international figure, like her or not." The paper's executive editor said Armao was wrong to reveal her personal opinion and predict the victor.
This sort of thing is meat and drink for Susanna at Cut on the Bias, and her post on the matter gives a thoughtful dissection of the issue. Personally, I think Armao was wrong in the conduct she admitted to, went too far in her venom toward Harris. I don't think admitting her personal opinion of Harris automatically shattered the newspaper's credibility, although doing so to a reader in an email was inappropriate. I do think she was wrong to call Harris the victor, and her admission that this assumption colored her choice of coverage is disturbing indeed.
It's unsettling to contemplate that Armao--or any editor--tailored coverage decisions on the assumption that Harris' victory is inevitable. That sort of attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: We're going to give Candidate X more coverage because she's famous; because she's better known, she's more likely to win; since she's more likely to win, we aren't obligated to cover her opposition as thoroughly. The paper's 4,400-word article, which covered 2 1/2 pages, was evidently a personality profile, not an event-driven story. So the paper elected to grant a large amount of fluffy coverage to one candidate for no particular reason other than to captialize on her fame, and denied other candidates similar coverage because the editor considered their victory unlikely. (Armao also derided the Democratic field in her email, and I wonder to what extent that opinion influenced her decision.)
Frankly, I've long had a beef with the sheer lack of information the media often provides about candidates. The media always declines to cover "fringe" candidates on the ground that they have no chance to win--but even so, might not a minor candidate have something to add to the public debate? And when a minor candidate does receive coverage, he or she could be an influential factor in an election (I'm looking at you, Jerry Brown), and so ignoring them can definitely be said to influence the outcome of an election. Even discounting the issue of minor candidates, the notion of dismissing out of hand the other major party is most discomfiting. Heck, I'm from Kentucky, which is one of those states where one party tends to dominate. Everyone knows the Democratic candidate has an advantage. But that doesn't mean Republicans are completely ignored (my friends who still live there might question me on that point, of course). I fondly recall the race between Democrat sleaze Wallace Wilkinson and Republican sleaze John Harper. Harper seemed know he didn't have a chance, but embracing that concept appeared to give him the freedom to say what he pleased, and he enjoyed making Wilkinson's life difficult during the campaign.
There's another important point here. Despite her admitted antipathy for the candidate, Armao wrote a profile that drew criticizm as immoderately flattering to Harris. Susanna's criticism--which I agree with--is that Armao's allocation of news coverage is based on economic factors (fovoring highly recognizable candidates) rather than any motivation to provide politically balanced coverage.
The paper's executive editor said Armao was wrong for admitting her opinion: "It compromised our impartiality and cast questions on our ability to cover that race," she said. "As journalists, I don't believe we reveal our personal views."
As a former journalism student, let me say for the record that I believe that of course reporters can have bias but still do a fair job. And I don't think admitting that bias will neccessarily shatter credibility. The influential turn-of-the-century muckrakers made no pretence of being objective. They openly advocated reforms and questioned plutocrats, sweatshops, and trusts.
That sort of firebrand journalism has given way to the idea of balanced reporting, but often so-called "balanced" reporting is anything but. The dictum to cover two sides equally tends to elevate any two points of view to equal footing regardless of their relative merits. It's a tough call to make; of course, and I think frankly that a lot of reporters are ill-equipped to analyze the logic or factual basis of an argument, hence the reliance on spokespeople and spin doctors. And for all that, newspapers, TV stations and reporters are suspected of bias anyway.
Far better, I think to own up to any personal opinion and then do a fair reporting job; doing so would tend to disarm criticism on bias grounds. The burden would not be to imply bias (thereby insinuating a story is inherently invalid) but to debate the content of the story on its merits. My beef with what Armao did is that her coverage wasn't balanced, for all that her tilt went against her personal opinion.
The executive editor's position strikes me as somewhat hypocritical: Armao got the axe not for having bias or making inappropriate decisions but for her candor about same. I suspect that plenty of editors are making exactly the same decisions for exactly the same reasons--and abdicating their responsibility just as much--but by not owning up, they remain safe in their jobs. Armao's comments were made in an email, which once sent is inordinately difficult to delete or deny. I suspect that a similar sentiment voiced privately might not have carried such a penalty, and I'm nigh-positive that journalists and editors express opinions to each other all the time without worrying too much about their credibility. So again--was she forced to resign because she was biased, or because she for one admitted it?
Now it's Xerox's turn to restate its earnings; the company announced $2 billion in earnings over a five-year period didn't seem to really exist. Analysts speculate the shortfall might be much larger. The news is especially disturbing because Xerox is regarded as one of the 50 most reliable companies.
Man, I'm busted up over this. I used to play bass, and Entwhistle's unemotional yet musicically amazing bass playing always gave me a humbling perspective on my own modest skills. I didn't so much aspire to be like him as realize I never could. His calm demeanor onstage contrasted with the wild antics of bandmates Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon. Yet his thunderous bass playing was never overshadowed; indeed, Entwistle pulled some amazing melodies from the traditional rhythm instrument (check out the amazing bass line of "Won't Get Fooled Again" and the bass solo--bass solo! on "My Generation"). With the Who, Entwistle was one of the unforgettable figures of rock's golden age.
I don't have any comment on the legal basis of the ruling; The Volkoh Conspiracy has much thoughtful analysis (start there and work your way up). His take as I understand it: "a perfectly plausible application of the Supreme Court's precedents on the matter," but by no means sure to survive--or fail under--a Supreme Court test.
I do, however, have a comment on the issue that I haven't seen made elsewhere yet. Does anyone other than schoolkids and people granted U.S. citizenship ever say the Pledge of Allegiance? Think about the idea of a pledge...my Webster's defines it as "a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear" (and also as "a bailment of a chattel as security for a debt or other obligation," but that one doesn't apply). But minors can't legally be held to a contract; they're assumed to not be sufficiently responsible to be held to their word. In that light, of course the Pledge is coercive...it's asking a promise of someone assumed not to be able to assume responsibility for the promise. The idea, I'm pretty sure, is to have the recitiation of the Pledge instill the values if espouses by rote repetition--not that that's an inherently bad thing, but I don't think it's unreasonable to hold the phrase "under God" to a more stringent test than other examples of "ceremonial Deism" like the "in God we trust" motto on currency.
Also, the notion that someone could "voluntarily" refrain from taking part in the Pledge (or so-called "voluntary" prayers) doesn't wash with me. There's tremendous pressure in schools to conform--at least as I remember school. The problem with the concept of "voluntary" is that it endorses a display of "we all believe this, and you're an outsider for not believeing as we do," It establishes a preference for one belief system over another. That for me is enough to consider applying the First Amendment's Establishment clause.
I'm cooking up some more thoughts and hope to post them later.
Update: One of the judges who issued the ruling--a Nixon appointee, by the way--has issued a stay pending appeal, so it looks like whatever the brouhaha, nothing will change until the Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in on the matter.
I spent part of last night tinkering with the Flash animation that contains the theme music I've selected (and part of it playing Quake II), and I have the Flash file in the shape I want. Unfortunately, the button I installed to stop playback is not working. The button to start play does work, at least. I think I know what I did wrong, but I won't get an opportunity to tweak it until later. You can see the theme's current state here.
Since I have a comments section, I have a quick poll for anyone who's interested: Would you prefer the theme to begin playing, after a brief pause, by default, or to click the play button in order to hear it? Right now it's set up as an opt-in, but I'm leaning to letting it play, with the option to stop it before it starts. I think having background music by default would enhance the atmopsphere of swankiness. If you really can't stand the idea, let me know.
Last night I accomplished much of what I'd hoped to do Monday night had I not fallen asleep. Things got off to a slow start because both my girls had trouble going to sleep. I should have expected it, because neither of them got enough nap time, so despite being very tired neither Cecilia or Naomi wanted to just lie in bed and fall asleep. But I made it to the grocery store and stocked up for the week, and dropped my usual two bucks at my local video store's two-for-99-cent Tuesday sale. This week's haul:
Record of Lodoss War Vol. 3
Eat Drink Man Woman
and for the girls, The Land Before Time VI...Cecilia loves what she calls "the dinosaur movie."
Being so distracted by the girls before I left, I forgot the Memento DVD I rented last week, so had to make another trip to the video store to drop it off. But when I got back, I sat down for a Final Fantasy VIII session, and finished Disk 3! w00t!
Musashi's, and Miyazaki's, concern is the volume of anime that seems aimed at a least-common-denominator audience.
What I don't like is bad anime, and there is a lot of it.
Maybe my perceptions are biased by what is available here in the States. If so, then we seem to be a dumping ground for an awful lot of bad television and film, most of it aimed towards socially inept teenage boys. Throwing it on a bronze disc with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and english subs doesn't make it better, just more accessible. You know that character who runs the local comic shop on The Simpsons? Now, you and I know that not all anime fans are like that guy...a socially maladjusted recluse. But judging by what's on store shelves, it wouldn't be surprising. Simplistic or infantile plots, usually revolving around suggestive liaisons between alien pre-teens and awkward male human boys, are more often than not standard anime fare.
I don't see things as being quite that bad...there's a lot of good stuff out there as well (Best Buy carries stuff like Cowboy Bebop and Ah! My Goddess). And while I don't think Sailor Moon is right up there with Record of Lodoss War, one of the reasons for its popularity was its appeal to girls. I think Musashi and I share a perspective from our own experiences...when we were growing up, anime was fairly rare, and you took what your local independent TV station could get on the cheap. As a result, I grew up with bad anime (Speed Racer), but it gave me a taste for the genre, which only grew as I noted the higher quality of almost everything else. I myself am using Sailor Moon to introduce my daughters to anime.
But Miyazaki and Musashi have a point. There isn't really a prominent successor to Sailor Moon today, despite numerous examples of the "magical girl" genre in Japan. On the other hand, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a DragonballZ action figure. I don't really mind anime's growing popularity, as long as directors like Miyazaki keep putting out anime with intriguing stories and characters. For most of my life, good anime has been rare, something I had to scour the Internet, mail-order shops and independent video stores for. If anime is more widespread, it becomes a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff, not locating it in the first place. Hopefully the popularity of anime will enable gifted writers and directors to continue to produce quality work, even if it doesn't wind up as a badly-dubbed version on Toonami.
Convicted forger taunts court after release. A forger who was among more than 2,000 suspects released from the overcrowded Marion County Jail sent a four-page letter to the judge who had placed her on probation, boasting that she had already fled the state and was likely to have resumed her identity theft and credit card fraud activities by the time the jurist read the letter. She was being held on felony charges of forgery and theft; if convicted, her probation violation would have tacked on more than a year of extra jail time. But as a nonviolent offender, she was released without having to pay bond, which totaled $350,000, when the jail became overcrowded. Her victim learned of the forger's release when she too received a taunting letter.
After some prompting by Susanna of Cut on the Bias, I've added a comment system to this blog. (I told you I'd get around to it!) Thanks to the good people at enetation, you can add your feedback to any of my posts. Enjoy!
Sometimes I pay for being stubborn. Thanks in part to Indiana's staunch refusal to recognize daylight savings time, it's sometime around 5 in the morning when our youngest daughter wakes up (she's up with the sun; if we were on daylight savings, she'd sleep til 6 instead). And of course that means I've been waking up earlier than usual--definitely earlier than I want to.
Despite this fact, I've still been striving to get some geek time in after my wife and girls go to bed, staying up til after 11 watching a movie or anime or playing PlayStation. So every day, I'm just a little bit more sleep-deprived. I don't complain about it, since it's by choice.
Well, last night I paid for it. I was planning on doing much-needed grocery shopping after the girls went to bed, but as I was patting Naomi to sleep, I apparently dozed off myself--at about 8 p.m.! I didn't wake up until around 11, and by then it was too late, so I just slept the rest of the night. I admit I feel refreshed today, but I really needed to go to the store, not to mention I missed my evening Final Fantasy VIII session.
Oh, well. I still have something to make for dinner, so we aren't hurting that badly. I'll go tonight, and swing by the video store to drop off last week's movies and pick up some more on two-for-99-cent-Tuesday.
...they sent us down to the basement again; I just got back. The severe weather warnings have disappeared from the National Weather Service's Indianapolis page, so maybe the worst is over. I hope so; I still have a lot of work to do today.
Guess I spoke too soon...an announcement came over the PA saying a new tornado warning had been issued and directing all workers to the basement. The warning expired and I just got back to my desk; no damage or injuries to report here.
If you aren't familiar with Chang Cheh's work, you're truly missing out on some ultra-cool chop-socky action. I was lucky enough to find a cheap DVD copy of The Five Deadly Venoms at Kmart for five bucks, and delighted to find that despite the low-budget production of the DVD, the transfer was fairly decent. Many of Chang Cheh's films are also available from Amazon.com, and if it's halfway decent, your local video store ought to stock a couple in the Martial Arts section. Go. Watch. Enjoy. And remember, with me, Chang Cheh, whose work was part of the foundation for my love of chop socky flicks.
An Santa Monica, California elementary school has forbidden its students from playing tag. Letters to the parents alternately cited safety concerns and self-esteem issues. The policy allows the game with adult supervision.
This story reminded me of "Harrison Bergeron," a story written by the dour science fiction writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. that I first read back in grade school. It concerns a future in which Americans are finally equal because individuals with any physical or mental advantages wear handicaps (weights for the strong, masks for the pretty, distracting noisemakers for the intelligent, all TV announcers have speech impediments--don't take my word for it; I linked it, go read it!). I was struck even then by the absurdity of the physical handicaps, but rereading the story just now I noticed that certain equalizers, like masks, were in place to prevent anyone else from feeling inferior. In other words, it isn't enough that people are mandated to have the same physical and mental capacity; the system goes to great lengths to conceal beauty, intelligence, and grace in order to protect the self-esteem of people with less of those gifts. Now here's the punch line: Vonnegut published the story in 1961!
According to The Learning Channel, a plastic surgeon has used a 2,000-year-old ratio considered a model for aesthetically pleasing polygons to create mathematical models of the most beautiful possible human face. Dr. Stephen Marquardt noted that a ratio of approximately 1.618 to 1 has been considered for centuries to construct so-called "golden rectangles" that are considered classic examples of beautiful geometry. He used this ratio to generate a mask consisting of golden polygons that he claims is the most beautiful possible representation of the human face, and found that similar arrangements are found in many beautiful faces.
Dr. Marquardt theorizes that humans, like many animals, rely on pattern recognition to identify members of their own species. Since faces based on the golden ratio are the closest possible to perfect representations of the pattern that identifies a human face, they're often regarded as beautiful, he said. The pattern seems to apply to faces that are considered beautiful from various eras of history, and Dr. Marquardt conducted a study that indicates faces that closely correspond to his mask are considered beautiful across many cutures.
I'm happy with the theme music, but I'm still making some tweaks. The theme is is the form of a Flash animation--a 2.7MB MP3 reduces to a 150K Flash file, wow! I changed it so it only plays once, instead of looping; I need to work on an on/off control. I've eliminated it here for the time being, but I have a version here if you're curious.
Update: Although I'd changed the Flash animation to play the theme music only once, it was still repeating. I thought I hadn't uploaded the edited version of the file, but I discovered that the HTML code for the Flash object was was set to loop playback. (D'oh!) I've adjusted the setting, so the music now plays only once. Once I add start/stop controls, I'll place the theme music on the main blog page.