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20 favorite movies since 1980
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  xSaturday, March 06, 2004

milestone of the week

spike in hits

Since the recent, puzzling spike in hits due to search requests for an image from a hentai game, I've quit noting milestones in the hit counter. Although the site receives hits aplenty -- an average of 1,000 a day -- they don't reflect actual readership. Unfortunately, the referral tracking Javascript system is temporarily down, so I am not able to tell which is which. I suspect that the image has been linked somewhere, but I haven't been able to track it down.

However, regardless of the reason, passing 100,000 hits is a noteworthy event. If memory serves me right, Planet Swank exceeded that total sometime Friday night. All visitors are welcome -- even those searching for images from hentai games -- but especially genuine readers. You have our gratitude.

  xFriday, March 05, 2004

happy birthday

fender stratocaster

A belated happy birthday to the Fender Stratocaster, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in February.
"Who knows how many different designs they've used to imitate and top it and nobody's come close," says Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. "It's definitely as beautifully crafted an instrument that you'll ever find and I'm very, very grateful for all Leo went through to create it."

The guitar known affectionately as the Strat celebrated its 50th birthday in February. And it's had a busy 50 years.

Americans know this instrument, even if they don't know its name, because it's been in so many famous hands and its tones form the foundation of so much of the music we listen to.

..."The Strat is like a workhorse, you don't have to baby it," Lofgren says. "You can be gentle and subtle and when you're leaning into it a bit too hard, it doesn't cave early on you. It pushes back a bit. No other guitar I've played allows that."

The tonal result of the Stratocaster's solid body is a highly sustained tone that produces a clear, bright sound unlike hollow-body guitars.

"I was a young guitarist and mostly played jazz with hollow bodies," say Gin Blossom guitarist Scott Johnson. "When I landed my first pro gig they told me to go get a solid body for the sustain, so I got a Strat."

I don't own a Strat myself, but I have a black Squier Bullet, whose body style resembles a Stratocaster.

(via FARK)


kaiju post of the day

the original godzilla

w00t! The latest Toho Godzilla film, a ten-monster fumble called Godzilla: Final Wars, will get a U.S. release! After that, alas, Toho is taking a kaiju hiatus, as the latest batch of flicks have failed to capture a big enough fan base.
Hit by slumping box office sales for the iconic series, Japan's Toho Co. is planning to shelve its Godzilla films after this year's finale.

Toho studios' executive producer, Shogo Tomiyama, said Thursday that the latest movie -- marking 28 releases and 50 years of "Godzilla" films -- would probably be the last one for at least a decade.

"We have done all we can to showcase Godzilla, including using computer-graphics technology. And yet we haven't attracted new fans," Tomiyama told The Associated Press. "So we will make the 50th anniversary film something special, a best-of-the-best, and then end it for now."

"Godzilla: Final Wars" is set to premiere in Japan in December, with a U.S. release to follow. The giant, genetically altered dinosaur will fight to the finish against 10 different foes, new and old.

Tomiyama refused to discuss the script, but said director Ryuhei Kitamura's epic would touch on Godzilla's past. The budget will top Toho's past record of $9 million.

I can hardly wait!

(via Destroy All Monsters)


the empty city

Byzantium's Shores links to this haunting collection of images that chronicle a young Ukranian woman's motorcycle journeys through cities abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl incident. She documents toys abandoned when families evacuated their homes at a moment's notice, new apartment buildings that were never occupied, neat rows of now-radioactive military vehicles and helicopters parked and abandoned, and a flotilla of barges piled up helter-skelter in a river bend because their rusted steel is too radioactive to use for scrap.

There's something disturbing at seeing the ordered structures of a city abandoned and empty, especially when the vital chaos of nature is just beginning to reassert itself. It's a reminder that nature is quite indifferent to our presence.

After viewing her photos, the sense of abandomnent and desolation they invoked made watching my DVD of the fine 28 Days Later the only logical choice. And right now, I'm listening to the soundtrack.

  xThursday, March 04, 2004

mmmmm...maker's mark

Although I've given up drinking for Lent, I can still appreciate this article on 50th anniversary of Maker's Mark bourbon.
Maker's is known for its distinctive red wax seal, still hand-dipped onto each bottle. The bourbon flows in bars and restaurants in cities around the world, and has gained a strong following, says Frank Walters, director of research for M. Shanken Communications, a publisher of beverage trade journals.

"He single-handedly created the fine-bourbon category," Walters said of the elder Samuels.

The recipe was created in the family kitchen, where Samuels experimented with bourbon recipes. He deviated from tradition by substituting soft red winter wheat for rye, producing a more mellow brew.

His wife, Marge Samuels, thought of the brand name, the shape of the bottle and the wax seal - which Walters calls a stroke of marketing genius.

"Its red, dripping, wax seal gives it a unique identity and reinforces an image of handcrafted quality."

After a slow start, Maker's got a big break in 1980 after the Wall Street Journal did a front-page story on the brand.

"You can't run a bar without Maker's," says Dale DeGroff, who once mixed drinks at the Rainbow Room in New York and now provides beverage consulting services and bar training seminars.

Despite the brand's appeal, production is limited to about 650,000 cases this year.

Ah, Maker's...good stuff, that.


wired: electronic voting sux0rz

Wired reports that the latest attempts to use electronic voting indicate that the systems just aren't ready for prime time.
Kimball Brace, president of Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm Election Data Services, said it's unrealistic to expect thousands of poll workers nationwide to get up to speed on complicated equipment immediately.

"Eventually, things will go smoother, but the first couple times will have bugs, no matter what system you switch to," Brace said.

In November, at least 50 million people will vote on touch screens, compared with 55 million using paper, punch cards or lever machines, according to Election Data Services.

Some computer scientists say electronic systems expose elections to hackers, software bugs and power failures -- with potentially catastrophic consequences. Critics say that because most electronic voting terminals do not produce paper records, there's no way to ensure accurate recounts.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), author of a bill to require paper records for every electronic ballot, said that although the Super Tuesday mishaps were not catastrophic, they foreshadow trouble in November.

"Unless Congress deals with this problem immediately by requiring voting machines to produce a paper record voters can verify, we're going to have more of these occurrences each time we have an election, including this November," Holt said Tuesday. "The only question is, how long it will take before voters lose faith in a system that they thought was being fixed?"

I for one am not willing to risk the outcome of this Presidential election on "the first couple times will have bugs, no matter what system you switch to." It's simply inexcusable -- almost suspicious, in fact -- that electronic voting systems don't produce a verifiable paper record. Having an audit trail is such a no-brainer that it's truly hard to tell whether omitting it was an act of incompetence or malice.


quote of the day

Everyone and their uncle -- except, of course, those who would prefer Bush coast to re-election without an examination of his record -- has posted the money quote from this (typically shrill, of course) Paul Krugman column, and it's a good one:
You see, although the rest of the government is running huge deficits — and never did run much of a surplus — the Social Security system is currently taking in much more money than it spends. Thanks to those surpluses, the program is fully financed at least through 2042. The cost of securing the program's future for many decades after that would be modest — a small fraction of the revenue that will be lost if the Bush tax cuts are made permanent.

And the reason Social Security is in fairly good shape is that during the 1980's the Greenspan commission persuaded Congress to increase the payroll tax, which supports the program.

The payroll tax is regressive: it falls much more heavily on middle- and lower-income families than it does on the rich. In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, families near the middle of the income distribution pay almost twice as much in payroll taxes as in income taxes. Yet people were willing to accept a regressive tax increase to sustain Social Security.

Now the joke's on them. Mr. Greenspan pushed through an increase in taxes on working Americans, generating a Social Security surplus. Then he used that surplus to argue for tax cuts that deliver very little relief to most people, but are worth a lot to those making more than $300,000 a year. And now that those tax cuts have contributed to a soaring deficit, he wants to cut Social Security benefits.

The point, of course, is that if anyone had tried to sell this package honestly — "Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!" — voters would have been outraged. So the class warriors of the right engaged in bait-and-switch.

Again, I might add.


new at dam

My review of Junji Ito's superb horror manga Uzumaki is now posted at Destroy All Monsters.


c00l kaiju quiz

Check out this groovy Godzilla movie monster quiz. No L4m3 American remake critters need apply! I'm sure my regular readers (all four of you) will find it no surprise that I got 10 out of 10.

(Via FARK; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters.)


narnia to come to big screen

This is groovy news: the success of The Lord of the Rings has led to plans for a film adaptation of the first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Budgeted at more than $100 million, according to sources, the film is scheduled to begin shooting in the summer, with "Shrek" director Andrew Adamson at the helm.

The film, the first installment of Walden's "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise based on the series of children's fantasy books by C.S. Lewis, will be released at Christmas 2005 by Walt Disney Pictures. Under the deal, which includes worldwide distribution rights, merchandising and all ancillary rights, Disney retains the option to release future films in the series, Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook said.

"It's a very, very ambitious production and one that we believe could be very important to the studio," Cook said. "The story and the characters are so inviting that audiences around the world will be excited for the franchise." Cook said the studio is still "digesting" the deal and that it's too early to talk about the timetable for the production of future installments.

We're reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to Cecilia right now, a chapter at a time before bed. She's really enjoying it. When we finish, I plan on countering Lewis' Christian symbolism by reading Madeline L'Engle's wonderful quantum-physics-for-kids novel A Wrinkle in Time. (After that, I'm thinking about The Hobbit.)

Of course, I can't help but wonder what, if anything, the filmmakers will retain of Lewis's Christian themes.

  xWednesday, March 03, 2004

first bird of spring

We live near a major thoroughfare, and not too far away from a fairly questionable area of town. While I very much enjoy living in the city, one aspect I'm less than enamored of is the streetwalkers who ply their trade on the main drag and, on occasion, get dropped off in the alley behind our house. In fact, our neighborhood formed a block watch in part to try to cut down on this nonsense.

In a sure sign of spring, Tuesday afternoon as we were unloading The Girls from my car, I saw a car stop on the corner, and a hooker climb into the car. While it's impossible to prevent such commerce, I plan to contact our block watch contact with the city to request more police patrols. We want our neighborhood to be regarded as too unfriendly for such trade, so they take it elsewhere.


sms me!

I just got my second instance of annoying text message spam on my sprint PCS cell phone in as many days. But it reminded me that you can send me a text message of up to 160 characters via my phone. Here's the number:

cell phone number

  xTuesday, March 02, 2004

new at dam

My review of the survival horror PlayStation 2 game Clock Tower 3, which I finished the other day, is now posted at Destroy All Monsters. And don't miss my recent 20 Questions interview with game designer Greg Costikyan.


astronomy post of the day

The planet Jupiter is the source of intermittent radio noise, and now, thanks to NASA, you can listen to thse sounds over the Internet courtesy of streaming audio. Keen!

(via FARK)


japanese culture link of the day

Here's a nifty Shockwave example of kisekae, or Japanese paper dolls for the computer. This site offers a Java version. My older daughter loves these things; she can spend hours playing dress-up by clicking and dragging. And it doesn't hurt that the figures generally resemble anime characters. I downloaded the Windows app PlayFKiss and downloaded several doll sets so she can play any time she likes.


bush's stumbles

Unfortunately, my lack of blogging has prevented my comment on a number of Bush's recent stumbles. Fortunately, new-to-me blog The Extended Phenotype has a pretty good summary:
I’m missing something here. Here’s what the Administration has been doing lately, presumably with an eye towards the election:

Advocated a possible cut in Social Security benefits, or raising the mandatory retirement age. Granted, Greenspan did the talking, but since Alan didn’t mention the possibility of rescinding some of the tax cuts as an option, there is definitely the hand of the White House involved. Especially since Greenspan (according to Paul O’Neill) wasn’t necessarily a fan of the tax cuts in the first place.

Launched a public call for the Federal Marriage Amendment, enshrining discriminatory distinctions in the Constitution for the first time in our history.

Backed off publicly from their own economic forecasts and report, without providing a clear path to something else, and no clear answer on jobs, and a continuing parade of knowledgeable folks who say that the deficit is going to worse even than projected.

Still has no firm explanation for the June deadline to get out of Iraq, despite the fact that everyone else involved has said that elections aren’t possible, the country won’t yet be stable, and we won’t have created a democracy yet. Are we going to run out of money? Would it ruin some campaign event Bush has planned if we stay longer?

Well, there’s undoubtedly more, but it’s instructive to look at this list. If Bush and Rove are so fiendishly brilliant, who exactly are these actions designed to attract?

CalPundit has more on Greenspan's surprise admission that the surplus generated by a long-ago Social Security tax increase has gone to pay for Bush's tax cuts for the rich, and now the baby boomers seem likely not to receive the benefits they themselves were supposedly paying for.

Small wonder the Republican attack dogs are already after Kerry -- Bush can hardly run on his record, and it seems he's going to have a heck of a time holding together his conservative coalition, because who -- other than the slavering war hawks who just wanted use to blow some stuff up real good in the wake of 9/11 -- could possibly be happy with Bush's performance?


kerry's the one

I'd like to congratulate John Kerry on apparently securing the Democratic nomination for President on this Super Tuesday. I'm looking forward to his race against President Bush.

  xMonday, March 01, 2004

first day on the job

I'm set to begin my first day at the new job. Eyes: Bright. Tail: Bushy. I'm returning to consulting work as a technical writier for a major pharmaceutical company. I'm looking forward to getting back to what I was doing when I started this blog.

However, posting will likely continue to be sporadic until I get my schedule at home cleared enough to do more blogging. Updates, as always, as I can manage them.

  xSunday, February 29, 2004

happy leap day

2004 is a leap year, and so today is the 29th of February. Planet Swank wishes everyone a happy leap day!

It's been a beautiful day, as winter begins to yield to spring. We took The Girls outside for a walk around the block. Back at home, much of my bandwith -- both electronic and mental -- has been occupied with downloads.

I begin the new job tomorrow, so I'm going to turn in early so as to get a fresh start. I'll post more after work tomorrow.

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