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  xSaturday, May 31, 2003

new to the blogroll

Please welcome Founding Issues and Cowboy Khalil's ReachM High. I haven't had much time to go through my entire blogroll of late, but some time this weekend I hope to do so, and I may purge any incative blogs at that time.

Update: Also, Wampum has changed URLs; the blogroll is updated accordingly.

Update 2: I meant to add Tristero, but the shortcut I'd created was labeled "Cannot find server." Yes, it's a Blogspot site.


oddity of the day

Check out this item from the Weekly World News (which has always seemed to me to be a self-aware and self-amused parody of tabloids, more than an according-to-Hoyle tabloid itself, and is easily accessible via Yahoo!), picked up by the AP:
Tabloid: Alien Baby Found in Wyoming

CASPER, Wyo. - The headline raised some eyebrows, but authorities said there's no evidence an alien baby has been found in Casper.

According to a story published in The Weekly World News tabloid, local rancher Phil Merleson found a scaly skinned infant on the floor of his barn May 7 after hearing a humming sound emanating from the building.

The story added that mysterious lights were seen in the area the previous night. The creature, the paper reported, has two brains and three hearts, is in good health and can produce high-frequency wails capable of shattering glass.

Included with the story were several photographs allegedly taken from a video shot by Merleson's wife, Cynthia.

FBI Special Agent Ann Atanasio said the agency was not aware of any alien babies discovered in its territory covering Wyoming and Colorado and denied any involvement with such a case.

I wonder if FBI agents have to draw straws to see who will issue the ritual denial to the WWW?

  xFriday, May 30, 2003

video game link of the day

metal gear solid 3
Earlier this month, I linked to a preview of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Here's Konami's official site for the latest installment in the adventures of Solid Snake. It appears as if this game will chronicle the adventures of Special Forces guy Solid Snake in the jungle during the early 1960s; there are only some teaser screen shots up right now, but they look pretty darn cool.

Now if Snake would only cut his @#$%^&*! mullet...

(cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


kpop gallery of the day

park ji yoon
park ji yoon

A gallery of Korean pop singer Park Ji Yoon. I've listened to some of her music, and I like it pretty well.


unemployment diary, day 17

Yesterday actually saw some encouraging developments. While I was at the grocery, my cell phone rang; it was a representative from the consulting firm recommended to me by No Watermelons Allowed's J. Bowen (and thanks, again, J.!). He wants me to come in Monday for a get-acquainted session -- an interview of sorts, at least. It's unlikely to lead directly to a job, but it should help the gentleman know how to place me. And at least it's something.

I also got a call from Kelly Services just before the close of business hours, as I was making dinner. The recruiter was calling about a tech writer position they had for Eli Lilly, but unfortunately it's for an 18-month contract, and I had to tell her I'd already been there 18 months and so was no longer eligible for that kind of position.

And Bret cc'ed me on an email he sent to someone in his own company who might be able to use me. Thanx, Bret!

So yesterday I was sort of down because none of the pebbles I'd dropped down the employment well had seemed to make a splash, and lo and behold, the situation changes. I'm much more encouraged today. And evenings are better than the days, because I don't feel the pressure to be doing something, dig?

I have some freelance writing to do today, including several long-overdue pieces for Destroy All Monsters (Musashi has been very patient, and he too has my gratitude). After the museum, I'll likely spend the rest of the afternoon writing, but not here. Have a good weekend!

Update: In addition to handling the morning's news chores -- including posting this way-cool photo of Sonny Chiba as Zatoichi -- Musashi is touting the services of the DAM editors to any interested employers. Thanx again, Musashi!


cute girls post of the day cute girls, that is. I took Cecilia grocery shopping, and although we were, of course, very careful with what we spent -- Cecilia was actually a pretty good sport about being denied a number of things she asked for -- I did indulge her in a bottle of nail polish, because I'd promised her earlier I'd get her some. I let her pick out her color from a rack of the lest expensive brand, and she chose the single bottle of iridescent blue with glitter from among all the reds. When we got home, I painted her fingernails and toenails...she was reluctant to take a bath that evening, until I assured her that it wouldn't wash off. As I painted her nails (I haven't done that sort of thing since I was single and sometimes applied polish to girlfriends' toenails), she informed me that Sailor Moon gets nail polish (during her transformation), and I told her she was right.

This morning, she asked me to apply a second coat, as some had chipped off her fingernails. As I did so, Naomi wanted in on the action, so (thanks to my wife's excellent suggestion) I colored Omi's nails with a blue highlighter. As I did so, Cecilia told me that Oni could be her best friend, Sailor Mercury.

Indeed, one silver lining to the unemployment situation is, of course, that I'm spending a lot more time with The Girls. In fact, we're going to take some time this afternoon at the Children's Museum. (I'll have my cell phone, of course, in case anyone calls about a job.)

  xThursday, May 29, 2003

a timely post

Billmon's Whiskey Bar has an excellent timeline of the, ah, evolving Bush Administration lies claims about Iraq's alleged weapons if mass destruction, including recent statements by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to the effect that, shucks, Iraq might not have had any -- let alone the vast stockpiles they and, yes, Bush asserted they did.

Why does the backpedaling of key Administration figures and war advocates matter? As CalPundit sums up,
[A]s a pre-emptive strike against those of you who want to claim that WMD wasn't really the main reason for war and us whiny libs are making too big a deal out of it, please re-read George Bush's State of the Union speech from January. The section dealing with Iraq starts with "Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced...." and ends with the phrase "we will lead a coalition to disarm him." It consists of 18 paragraphs and 1,200 words. Out of that, 16 paragraphs and 1,100 words are dedicated to WMD.

So please don't insult our intelligence by pretending that WMD wasn't the main selling point of the war. We all know it was.

Of course it was -- Iraq's WMDs, along with hyperbolic -- er, hypothetical conjectures about Iraq handing them off to terrorists -- were essential to convincing Americans that Iraq posed a threat. And no, subsequent discoveries of some paltry trailer truck will not vindicate the hawks. The US has had free run of the country for more than a month now. Bush and crew not only asserted that Iraq did have chemical and biological weapons in quantity, but that they knew what they had and where they were. Few possibilities exist at this point, none of them pleasing:

  • Bush was misled by massively faulty intelligence -- a dire threat to national security if true, yet one Laughing Boy appears to be doing little if anything about

  • Bush knew the info he was peddling was bogus -- that is, he lied us into war. An impeachable offense, in my opinion, if there ever was one, and moreover an astonishing assertion of tyrranical behaviour I can't believe any reputable conservative embraces.

  • There were WMDs, and the US has failed to secure them, which means they could well be in the very hands of the terrorists whose acquisition of same the was was allegedly about -- an astonishing example of incompetence.

Any way you slice it, Bush owes this nation an explanation -- and in my opinion, a resignation.

Update: More chronology from the Independent in the UK, where at least someone is holding Tony Blair answerable to his claims.



I just made a slight tweak to the design...I expanded the table in which these posts reside from 360 pixels to 460 pixels. What do you think -- is this more readable? Unless there are many complaints in the comment thread, I'll assume it's better this way.


unemployment diary, day 16

Bupkus on the job search so far. I don't really count, as it's just about entirely worthless (I say "just about" because I did get the consulting position I just left when one of their recriuters found my résumé), but I have not received a single call-back for any of the jobs I've applied for in the past two weeks. (The disappointing news I got the other day resulted from phone calls I placed.) In several cases, in speaking to various HR departments to confirm they'd received my résumé, I was told not to call, but that they'd let me know if they wanted to bring me in for an interview. That's fairly SOP, I know, but it's far from satisfying. There are several jobs I'm positive I qualify for, and while I can understand them not wanting to have to explain to 100 or so candidates why they don't match, it's hard to accept applying for a job I feel is a good match and not knowing why they don't seem to agree.

Of course, while the lack of response isn't surprising given the lousy state of the economy, it's definitely discouraging. From my conversations, I expect some openings to occur by the middle of June, but if I'm not gainfully employed by the end of next month, I'm going to be very, very worried.

Could it be my résumé? It's done in the style taught by an outplacement agency in a class I attended the first time I was downsized (way back in '97...). Any comments or suggestions for improvement would be appreciated.

We're hanging in there; I'm far from licked yet. I've found a better resource, largely because it tends to link directly to companies' own Web sites. As a result, it's much more labor-intensive, but that's probably pretty good; I think perhaps the fact that one can "apply" for a job on Monster with a single click results in far too many applicants to be useful.

I've been looking for freelance writing and copy editing gigs. I'm also scouring the local paper's classifieds, of course. Unemployment checks will allow us to make our mortgage payment and pay our bills for the time being. But as I said yesterday, contrary to the meme the conservatives have fed to the nation, I don't want to get money without working; I want to work. And I'm certainly not alone in that regard.


anime link of the day

Tomodachi Anime features a handy database of seiyuu (voice actors), anime reviews, wallpaper and fan art galleries, and sample MP3s of various anime music. c00L!




Beautiful, isn't she? She ought to be...this photo has been digitally manipulated on a pixel-by-pixel basis to represent what a set of German researchers have theorized to be the mathematical basis for human beauty.
During a long-term research project at the Universities of Regensburg and Rostock (Germany), we have tried to find answers to questions like these. We questioned why some faces seem more attractive than others; and we did experiments on social perception, that is: we tried to find out about the social qualities attributed to faces of specific attractiveness.

...For this purpose, we took standardized digital photographs of 64 female and 32 male faces aged 17-29 years, including eight photo models. In a preliminary test, these faces were randomly presented to test subjects using a self-programmed presentation Software (Authorware 5.0 package). Test subjects rated the attractiveness of the faces on a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (very unattractive) to 7 (very attractive). On the basis of these ratings, the pictures of the faces were ranked for further use according to their average attractiveness values.

Using a morphing software (Morpher 3.0, freeware), new 50:50 percent compound images were generated from each two original faces using a binary tree scheme and following the order of the attractiveness values for the faces. For example, a compound image (w1-2) was generated by combining the least attractive female face (w1) with the second-least attractive female face (w2); in a next step, w3 and w4 were combined to w3-4, and so on. The next generation of pictures was then produced by combining w1-2 and w3-4 to w1-4, then w1-4 with w5-8 to w1-8 and so on, resulting in two single compound images w1-64 for the 64 female and m1-32 for the 32 male faces. For the calculation of each new average face, 500 reference points were defined, resulting in a total of over 75,000 reference points that were defined during the whole study. In this way, we were able to produce pictures of average faces that are almost indistinguishable from 'normal' everyday faces, making the faces created by morphing easily comparable to the original photographs taken. Thus, the applicability of our results is likely to be higher than in previous studies, in which lower-resolution compound images have been produced.

...The results of our study are quite surprising. Compound (i.e. morphed) faces were, on average, regarded as being more attractive than the original faces (mean attractiveness value 4.3 for female and 4.5 for male faces, respectively). [Emphasis added] The more original faces one compound face consisted of, the higher its assigned attractiveness value (r=0.57** for female and r=0.64** for male faces). This result confirms on the one hand the 'attractiveness is averageness' hypothesis (Langlois & Roggmann, 1990); on the other hand, the attractiveness of the original faces included in a compound image itself influences the overall attractiveness of the compound face, i.e. the more attractive the original faces, the more attractive the resulting compound face (r=0.75** for female and r=0.68** for male faces). Thus, not simply the number, but also the attractiveness of the original faces influences the average attractiveness rating of compound faces. This result is in contrast to the 'attractiveness is averageness' hypothesis (which states that average faces are always most attractive regardless to their origin). A big surprise is furthermore, that the attractiveness values for compound male faces is higher than for the original ones - a fact that is in sharp contrast to previous studies in which no rise of attractiveness values in morphed male faces could be found.

The questionnaire in the model agency showed that 88% of n=16 faces that had been selected for the 'beauty' category (out of 64 faces presented) had been generated using the morphing software, which means that 14 out of 16 faces chosen by the employees of the model agency did not exist in reality. [Again, emphasis mine]

...Finally, the results of our studies on social perception suggest that there is a well-defined stereotype of attractiveness: People with more attractive faces were assessed to be more successful, contended, pleasant, intelligent, sociable, exciting, creative and diligent than people with less attractive faces. These results particularly show the far-reaching social consequences human facial attractiveness may have. In order to illustrate this, we constructed three-dimensional animated avatars (head models) using original faces that had been given extreme values like "very unintelligent" or "very successful" in previous ratings.

To sum up, our study shows clearly that the most attractive faces do not exist in reality, they are morphs, i.e. computer-created compound images you would never find in everyday live. These virtual faces showed characteristics that are unreachable for average human beings.

Despite this fact, people living in modern post-industrial societies are exposed to these kinds of artificially created and manipulated, 'perfect' faces every day, e.g. via TV advertising or fashion magazines. The result may be that we all may become victims of our self-created, completely unrealistic ideal of beauty.




This is kind of a shame...the PBS program Reading Rainbow is having trouble finding sponsorship.
In a plea for the life of "Reading Rainbow," host LeVar Burton returned to a familiar setting: the stage where he picked up the PBS show's seventh Emmy Award for best children's television series.

"If you are a wealthy philanthropist out there, I'm not that difficult to find," said Burton, the show's executive producer and host since it began in 1983.

He's still waiting. And "Reading Rainbow," which has counterintuitively used television to introduce children to a world of books, may only have a few months to live.

"Reading Rainbow" has several strikes against it in the battle for funding. For starters, it has no access to merchandise licensing deals, an increasingly important part of PBS' funding scheme for children's shows. There are no "Reading Rainbow" action figures to sell, no "Reading Rainbow" jammies to keep kids warm at night.

The series is also 20 years old when many corporate benefactors prefer being involved with something new. And the show's narrow audience — children 6 to 8 who are just learning to read — doesn't give sponsors the broad exposure they're seeking, said Amy Jordan, senior researcher on children and the media at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Other programs, like "Clifford the Big Red Dog," have book series attached to them. But "Reading Rainbow" is the only one that introduces children to a wide range of literature, Jordan said.

"What `Reading Rainbow' saw, before anybody else saw it, is that you can use this medium of television to get kids excited about reading," she said.

Over the past several years, Burton and his backers have been producing fewer "Reading Rainbow" episodes because money was short. This season, only four new shows were made. The production company has a $2 million annual budget, and no money to go forward, he said.

"We have pieced it together by hook or by crook every year," said Burton, who helped start the series so children, during summer months away from school, could retain what they had learned.

I've watched the program several times with my girls, and it's excellent, if just a bit over their level. Of course, it's probably encouraging that there are enough educational programs out there to represent a vigorously competitive market. I hope Reading Rainbow obtains sponsorship and can continue encouraging kids to read.

On the other hand, the program's dilemma illustrates one of the problems that I, as a faithful public television viewer (and public radio listener) have noticed: Although there's a perception that the medium is government-funded, it mostly relies on private and corporate donations. Yes, my wife and I are members of our local station, but public broadcasting also relies on hefty corporate sponsorship, which means the stations are far from commercial-free, as I believe they should be. I realize that this area marks a philosophical difference between myself and my conservative friends, but I for one believe that a publicly-funded, non-commercial broadcasting system represents a healthy benefit to society that more than justifies the cost.


economy remains lackluster

It's hardly surprising that Bushonomics are not exactly a spur to the economy...
The U.S. economy performed a little bit better in the first three months of 2003 than first thought, growing at an annual rate of 1.9 percent. But even with the improvement, the pace of economic growth was still lackluster.

The latest reading on gross domestic product for the January to March quarter shows the economy expanding slightly faster than the 1.6 percent growth rate estimated a month ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The GDP is the broadest measure of the economy's health.

Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank, said the economy needs to crank up growth to a rate of around 3 percent or higher to get back into a more normal growth pattern and get companies to really start hiring. "Until that happens, it won't feel much like a economic recovery to the average person," he said. [Emphasis added]

In a second report, new claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week by a seasonally adjusted 9,000 to 424,000, for the week ending May 24, the Labor Department reported. But even with the decline, claims were above the 400,000 mark, a level associated with a weak job market. [Again, emphasis added]

The number of unemployed workers continuing to collect jobless benefits, however, jumped by 83,000 to an 18-month high of 3.76 million for the work week ending May 17, the most recent period for which that information is available.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (news - web sites), in a Capitol Hill appearance last week, predicted that economic growth in the current April-June quarter "is going to be quite soft."

Private economists agree. They don't think the economy will do much better than the first quarter. Forecasts for second-quarter economic growth range from a 1.8 percent rate to a rate of more than 2 percent. ...He said recent economic reports on employment and production have been "on the weak side." But improved conditions in financial markets and strong productivity gains — a key to the nation's long-term economic well being — augured well for the economy's future.

You've gotta be kidding me...overcapacity -- in the form of incredibly strong productivity -- is one of the things keeping the economy so soft. Businesses have little incentive to invest or create jobs -- tax breaks for the rich or no -- when they already have unused capacity, and when consumer demand is weak.
The new federal tax cut — a 10-year, $350 billion package of tax rebates, lower rates, new breaks for businesses and investors and aid to states — was signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday. It, too, is aimed at energizing economic growth.

Baloney. I don't think anyone really beleives that this package of gimmicks is really going to spur any growth; Bush's previous tax cuts, tilted overwhelmingly toward the wealthy, are hardly doing so. Besides, in order to disguise the true cost of the cuts, they pop up and disappear like some crazy whack-a-mole game, so there's little incentive to create jobs now. In this insane realm of supply-side economics, let's see how the consumers -- the ones who account for two-thirds of economic activity in this country -- are doing:
In the January-March, quarter, consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 2 percent. That was better than the government's first estimate of a 1.4 percent growth rate for the quarter and marked an improvement from the fourth quarter's tepid 1.7 percent growth rate. However, the 2 percent pace was still subpar.

Businesses, meanwhile, have largely restrained spending, a major factor preventing the economy from returning to full economic speed.

...Economists say that businesses will continue to be cautious until profits get stronger and they feel more confident in the economy's recovery.

Until then, businesses probably won't be in a rush to hire, meaning the nation's unemployment rate — now at 6 percent — probably will stay there or move higher in the coming months, economists say.

Needless to say, this is hardly encouraging to someone looking for work.

  xWednesday, May 28, 2003

anime link of the day

The Anime Music Ensemble is a Web site devoted to arranging anime tunes and offering the results in sheet music from. c00L!

(via MegaTokyo)


unemployment diary, day 15

Yesterday brought some disappointments. The HR department at IUPUI informed me that a job I'd applied for from their Web site was open only to current IUPUI employees. Also yesterday, I followed up with an IT consulting company that called me Friday morning about an imminent opening for an outsourced technical writing/validation gig, and was told that the clients still hadn't been back with them, so the position is "on hold." (Of cours,e that situation could change at any time, but it still wasn't pleasant to hear.)

Yesterday my COBRA forms arrived. I'd assumed, of course, that we couldn't afford to continue our health insurance, but almost US$1,000 a month?! Yow! Fortunately, our current insurance agent has offered us a six-month policy that we can pay on a monthly basis, so my girls still have coverage. I expect that I'll continue my life insurance, though -- theough COBRA, it's less expensive than private insurance. Which means, of course, that for the moment I'm worth more dead than alive. (Kidding!)

I've been over our financial situation, and we're in fair shape for the time being. Of course, we're contributing as little as possible to the economy. Unemployment kicks in at the beginning of next month, and we aren't at risk of missing payments on our house or car.

On a personal note, I have to offer this perspective: Reagan popularized the idea that the social safety net was for anecdotal "welfare queens" who weren't willing to work. Of course, the idea is ludicrous; I for one am laboring to return to the work force as soon as possible -- I'm hardly alone in that -- and at present I'm only drawing unemployment. Ironically, though, I think the enormous shift of the nations wealth to the upper tiers that we've experienced since the beginnings of the supply-side experience has undermined the credibility of this argument. Too many people, I believe, know that they want to work, and there's little work for them, or the only work available is low-pay, low-status jobs in the service industry. Reagan may have focused the ire at these inequities on the mythical welfare queens, but I think people have a sense that it's the Ken Lays of the world who really benefit from the situation, and I can only hope they also realize that Bush and company is squarely on the side of the Kenny-boys and not the average Joes.

Update: Another disappointment. I forgot to say earlier that I consider to be next to worthless. Had I done so, for a moment I'd have considered eating some crow -- I noticed a posting for outsourced technical writer positions through the contracting company I worked for until recently. I fired off a phone call and an email; the reply email just informed me that the positions are not truly outsourced; the recruiter simply refreshed a previous Monster posting to get a pool of recruits for 18-month contract positions, for which I am no longer eligible. Of course, there's still a possibility of such positions opening up within the month -- I know they're trying, because it's better for them to supply people for longer than 18 months if they can. Oh, well -- I was pretty excited for about 20 minutes.

  xTuesday, May 27, 2003

away from keyboard

I have some business to take care of this morning, and then a little later we're going ot the park for a play date with Cecilia's preschool friends (it's a lovely day for it, too). Posting will resume after lunch.

Update: I've been busy with job-search-related issues, so I'll probably just write today off and try again tomorrow.

  xMonday, May 26, 2003

happy memorial day

Our hats are off here at Planet Swank this Memorial Day in honor of the American service men and -women who have served this nation, especially those who died defending it. As always, the flag is flying outside Casa Swank, and it's a glorious sight on this beautiful day.


retro-tech/anime link of the day

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A gallery of anime characters rendered in ASCII art. Pictured: Vampire Princess Miyu.


star trek techno-origami link of the day

How to make a rough model of a Klingon Bird of Prey from an old 3.5-inch floppy disk. While you're at it, you can make a model of the Enterprise out of an old floppy, too. c00L!

(via BoingBoing)


dam time capsule

Hey, this is cool...the Wayback Machine has cached some earlier incarnations of Destroy All Monsters, including this version from shortly before I started writing for the site. I predict I'll be swiping several of the links from that version of the site in the coming week. Good work, Musashi!

In case you're curious, here's the Wayback Machine's earliest cache of my own Web site, circa October 1999. As you can see, Musashi's Web design skillz are far more L33t than my own.


video game of the week

Over the weekend, I got a hankering to dust off my copy of Final Fantasy VII. I'm enjoying it, as I did before; I stayed up with it past 1 a.m. the past two nights. The gameplay is mostly similar to Final Fantasy VIII, except that the differences in the magic system take some getting used to. As you might expect, the world is vast and fascinating to explore, with gorgeously rendered scenery, and the plot is complex, with many appealing characters.

I also dig that the game's opening theme is the same as the original Final Fantasy for the NES, and the battle theme and victory music are the same as for FFVII.

Here are a couple of Final Fantasy VII links:
Final Fantasy VII at
Final Fantasy VII Citadel
FFVII at Final Fantasy Insider
FFVII at Final Fantasy Extreme



My good friend Patty -- my daughter Naomi's godmother -- let me know that her baby has arrived! Sean Payette McInnis was born on Wed. May 21st. Patty tells me that he weighed in at 7 lbs. 8 oz., was 19 inches long, and has lots of dark hair.

Welcome to the world, Sean, and warmest congratulations to Patty and her husband Ed.

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