I have mentioned Roman Polanski exactly once on this site before today; at the time, I referred to him with an anarthrous noun phrase, as “Convicted child rapist and Academy Award-winning director Roman Polanski.” In the days since his arrest in Switzerland, I have been baffled and saddened by the myriad commentators who seek to excuse the former because of the latter; who seemingly forget that Polanski is a convicted child rapist who admitted to drugging a young girl, forcing intercourse upon her in spite of her repeated objections, and then, after an apparent change of heart, sodomizing her instead of running the risk of knocking her up.
Kate Harding in Salon provides an uncompromising and polemical rebuttal to the current Polanski whitewash festival, including this digression on the nature of justice — a concept that is ignored by the legions of petition-happy celebrities:
[Justice] works on behalf of the people, in fact — the people whose laws in every state make it clear that both child rape and fleeing prosecution are serious crimes. The point is not to keep 76-year-old Polanski off the streets or help his victim feel safe. The point is that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not — and at least in theory, does not — tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no matter how many really swell movies you’ve made.
The difference between what our society tolerates “in theory” and in practice, especially when celebrities of means are the unrepentant perpetrators (ahem), is one of the saddest indictments of the narrowly-targeted injustice that passes for “justice” in this country. One wonders whether the commentators tripping over one another to excuse Polanski’s apparent belief in droit de seigneur are also concerned about the fates of criminals who can’t afford to flee the law and live in luxury in countries without extradition treaties. I suppose poor people don’t make really great movies, but it is still shocking that none of Polanski’s defenders seem able to comprehend the horrific turpitude of his crime. Have any of these people ever had children? Have they ever been children?
This Kottke post on a moronic dietary subculture is definitely worth reading. However, the “breatharians” are not uniquely deserving of scorn: a “breatharian” who sneaks an occasional cheeseburger is no worse than most of the “straight edge” people I knew in high school, whose various and intricate proscriptions always seemed to stop short of one undeniable appetite or another. Pop asceticism is the slave of the passions, I guess.
One of the finest achievements of western art is Bach’s d minor Partita for solo violin (BWV 1004); in particular, the Chaconne is technically dazzling, emotionally loaded, and sublime. (For a fun middlebrow musicological excursus on the piece and its relation to German chorales, check out the Hilliard Ensemble’s amazing Morimur album — but be sure to get it on a physical disc; the liner notes explain the project and are spectacular.)
Below are a few beats of Antonio Sinopoli’s guitar transcription of the Chaconne. Unlike Segovia’s famous and idiosyncratic arrangement, Sinopoli eschews scordatura and transposes to e minor; he is otherwise far more faithful to the original. The score I have was published by Ricordi Buenos Aires; it identifies the piece as “Chacona” and the author as “Juan S. Bach” (!)
The latter is cropped; I suppose that’s technically cheating. These were taken with the Canon 50/1.8 and the Canon 250D close-up lens. I diffused my flash through an Omni-Bounce and reflected it off of a paper plate.
Due to some hardware trouble with my main work machine, I’m presently working in a virtual machine on my personal computer. After a few dim trails, I found a pretty straightforward method to clone my work computer into a virtual machine image, so that I am able to work in the exact same environment I would have on my physical work computer. Here’s how to do it:
Clone the drive using dd (the following example assumes your drive is /dev/sda and you have an external drive mounted at /media/removable:
Use qemu-img to convert the raw bits of the drive to an image in the appropriate format for the virtual machine monitor you want to use (QEMU or VMWare):
Create a new virtual machine that uses this drive image, using the interface for your preferred virtual machine monitor.
I was able to image and convert a 100 gb drive in around six hours. My drive was an LVM volume and the home partition was encrypted with LUKS; I was delighted to see that qemu-img handled these oddball features of my drive flawlessly. (I can’t think of a technical reason why these wouldn’t be supported, but I’m nonetheless inclined to be pleasantly surprised when things work as they should out of the box.)
Otis Takes a Job Two Picnic Surprises for Otis Otis and the Field Day by Guilherme Bistecca. (Spanner Juvenile, 2008–2009)
The “anthropomorphized truck” subgenre of juvenile literature is certainly oversaturated, and this reviewer’s longstanding opinion is that it is difficult to improve on classic tales like Demosthenes Upsall’s Ack, Another Delivery!, which features an iconic (albeit trademark-scrubbed) brown truck at the end of a long day, or Kensym Mooch’s That Is Not Yet A Pile of Sand, in which a dump truck confronts the Sorites paradox head-on. However, the protagonists of these tales are fully-grown and have entered their vehicular vocations.
Guilherme Bistecca’s Otis series focuses instead on the day-to-day life of a young anthropomorphized truck (the titular Otis) and his parents, who live in a nondescript ranch house in what appears to be a medium-size town. Otis and his parents have adventures that are sure to be well-known to families with kindergarden or primary-school age children, and indeed Otis often appears to be a little boy in the form of a garbage truck.
The conflicts in these tales revolve around familiar tropes: growing up too fast (Otis Takes a Job, in which he elects to do his father’s trash route and discovers that he is not up to the task), problem solving and care of the environment (Two Picnic Surprises for Otis), and the happy synergy between friendship and sportsmanship (Otis and the Field Day). Many solutions to the problems in these stories seem almost cravenly targeted to the sensibilities of young boys: there is almost no dilemma that cannot be solved by the introduction of a good nap, a bowl of ice cream, or some friendly construction equipment (including a literal deus ex machina when two cranes come to the rescue in one of the Picnic Surprises).
Otis is a likable and recognizable character, though, and his parents are depicted as intelligent and worthy of respect — a delightful contrast to the buffoonish adults in most contemporary children’s fiction. (Apparently, Spanner Juvenile has already begun marketing Otis-branded products; my press kit included an adult-sized t-shirt with the Otis image above and a toddler-sized sweatshirt with a similar image.)
Recommended for toddlers and young children, especially truck-fascinated little boys.
The Unhappy Okapi Practices the Timbales by Søren and Trine Tyggegummi. (Arbitrary Haus, 2009)
Critics will surely regard 2008 as Søren Tyggegummi’s annus mirabilis. The Arturo, Zoltan, and Gabor characters have made their way onto a staggering range of licensed products. His From Arturo to Zoltan: An Unhappy Okapi Encyclopedia has been a remarkable commercial success despite receiving a great deal of critical derision. (In fact, your scribe has it on good authority that the midnight launch party alone resuscitated one troubled bricks-and-mortar bookseller.) Tyggegummi’s personal life seems to be bright as well: after weeks of nagging rumors, he shed his “international children’s-book-authoring playboy” image, wedding Norwegian bubblegum chanteuse Trine Magnussen in a private ceremony last July.
The former Miss Magnussen joins her new husband in writing this latest effort, which is apparently their attempt to fuse the burgeoning subgenre of Carribean-percussion-themed children’s fiction with the Unhappy Okapi universe. Mrs. Tyggegummi’s musical aspirations — and alas, also her musical capacities — are on full display in this volume, which includes thirty-six full pages of sheet music and a code for digital downloads of several songs involving characters and situations from the familiar Arturo and Zoltan canon.
The story itself is roughly up to the standards that we have come to expect from recent installments in the Unhappy Okapi series, and the illustrations are a welcome change from the coarse and derivative images that defined the Albrecht era. However, the story’s heavy reliance on sung dialog and the hypnotic afro-Caribbean Nyahbinghi rhythm may make it difficult for some parents to read to their children. Furthermore, the near-total absence of narrative conflict (Arturo wants to get better at the timbales, so he practices; end of story) may prove ultimately disappointing for more sophisticated children. Nevertheless, this title is recommended for young toddlers, especially those who have shown disproportionate interest in percussion instruments.
See these, in order, if you have no idea what’s going on here: 1, 2, 3.
Every time I learn something new about the CPSIA, I get more enraged. Most recently, Walter Olson writes in City Journal about its effects on classic books for children. Seeing the aftermath of swift, decisive legislation surely makes one nostalgic for the congressional gridlock of yore.
TAXI WIT UPDATE: Consider another domain in which the CPSIA will leave a terrible mark: print-on-demand and custom merchandise. If certification is at the SKU level and not the component level, what does that mean for products like this sweatshirt? As far as I know, there is one such article in existence, and this product may not be of interest to consumers whose father hasn’t made up a series of bedtime stories about “Otis the young garbage truck” and his many adventures. Should it have cost $617, to include lab fees?
Certainly, our culture is far more impoverished by the Year Zero book-burnings that this woefully stupid law has inspired than it is by any incidental inhibition of novelty t-shirt production. However, like the crackdown on handmade children’s products and the mass landfilling of secondhand toys and clothes, these are all symptoms of the same disease. The homogenizing impact of the CPSIA — whether by proscribing unique toys or clothes made by craftsmen and distributed over the Internet, all but the most contemporary and bland mass-market books, or customer-designed products made possible by automated lean manufacturing — seems to effectively neuter the essential American cocktail of technology, thrift, and enterprise.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Olson has been posting regular, provocative updates about the CPSIA on Twitter and on his weblog. Also, Madison residents may wish to contact Rep. Baldwin, who is apparently on the House subcommittee currently considering reforming the CPSIA.
I had the Thanksgiving football games on while I was running some experiments. Amway ran ads in every game, explaining what a wonderful company they are. (They have run these ads regularly since, and I now have more time to finish writing short notes.) The ads included numbers that were, I suppose, intended to lend credibility to their claims. I found them to do the exact opposite: they merely strengthened my belief that Amway is some kind of cross between Mary Kay and Scientology.
The numbers that stuck out the most were these:
Amway makes “3 million people” into “small business owners” with “$7 billion in sales” every year.
Amway has 450 products and 700 patents.
The first of these basically tells you everything you need to know: the mean Amway “small business owner” has slightly over 2 grand in revenue every year? Yikes. I hope that they have some magical way to have more profit than revenue, or at least that Amway ships their cookware, cleaning supplies, and nutritional supplements to their small business owners for free.
I won’t address the latter number except to point out that most of the Amway products mentioned are shockingly pedestrian and seem unlikely to exploit inventions that warrant patent protection; certainly, not at the rate of more than one patent per product. This means that Amway’s portfolio is probably dominated by business method patents, which I suspect have titles like “Mechanism for paying ‘small business owners’ at the top of the pyramid with fees from other ‘small business owners’”
The purpose of this project is to create a debugger program. This program will take as input the source code another program, and will analyze that other program and determine if it will run to completion, or have an error, or go into an infinite loop.
Predictably, many “bidding contractors” are in on the joke — “KurtG” and “GeorgeCantor” make appearances — but the best part are the completely earnest, form-letter replies from contractors who are willing to get this done on time and under budget, like this fellow (all errors are in the original):
Dear Sir/Madam, I looked at your bid request and I am here to tell you that we are really interested in this project and we are exacatly the coders you are looking for. I assure you that we can really do it the way you want.In 15 days we can bring you high quality results to your complete satisfaction, along with 90 days of warranty upon the delivery of the final version of our product. We’re looking forward to starting this project as soon as possible. Just give us a chance , you will never be disappointed. Its not about doing it , its about doing it professionally exactly according to the requirements.
Just awesome. One wonders what other undecidable problems could be contracted out for less than a grand. It would almost be worth the money to get one of these firms — especially those with an ironclad guarantee — to produce a deliverable.
UPDATE: all of the comments are now gone. Fortunately, I anticipated this and saved a screendump (pdf link).
I’ve been a longtime subversion user but have been switching some projects over to git lately. One major disadvantage that svn presented for my dissertation work arose because I was often interested in extending someone else’s code (like jikesrvm or soot): I’d want version control on my changes (and the opportunity to make branches, etc.), but I’d also want an easy way to track changes to the official project. Subversion does not, by itself, provide an easy way to do this.
Git makes it pretty easy to track changes to a repository that you don’t control while providing version control for local modifications and easy branching and merging. However, importing a large repository from svn can a really long time (almost a whole day for a medium-sized repository), and some svn servers (sourceforge in particular) are a bit flaky, which can lead to local repository corruption.
If you’re interested in having a local git mirror of a subversion repository, and the remote repository supports rsync, then it will be much faster to mirror the repository locally (via rsync) and then convert your local svn repository to a git repository. Then you have a local git repository, and you can just rsync and git svn fetch when it’s time to update from the original repository.
Sesame Street, circa 2008: dominated by a whiny scene-stealing muppet who constantly refers to himself in the third person, Snuffleupagus has not been a figment of Big Bird’s imagination for over 20 years, Andrea Bocelli has guest-starred, etc.
I recommend to everyone — but especially to my friends finishing dissertations, and doubly especially to those in Computer Science — Olin Shivers’ amazing acknowledgments section from the scsh manual, which I first encountered as a young Scheme nerd a long time ago. (Philip Greenspun’s gloss on Prof. Shivers’ acknowledgments is pretty delightful as well; scroll ahead to the second block quotation and prepare to be amazed.)
Speaking of acknowledgments, I make brief and jocular reference to the “preface paradox” in the draft preface of my dissertation. This is one of my favorite paradoxes (originally due to David C. Makinson). The basic idea is that a writer believes every individual claim in a manuscript is true (or else he or she would not have committed them to paper); however, some writers claim that their work inevitably will be found to contain some errors. As a consequence, writers are in the curious position of believing the conjunction of every claim in a book and believing the negation of the conjunction of every claim in a book. Whether or not this is irrational is — I guess — an open question with a few plausible solutions.
Pioneering sound designer and electronic musician Delia Derbyshire apparently had a stash of hundreds of unreleased recordings in her attic when she died in 2001; their existence became public knowledge this week. The one that will probably get the most nerd attention is this glitchy excerpt, which Paul Hartnoll describes by saying that it “could be coming out next week on Warp Records.”
I think Hartnoll is only slightly hyperbolic with “next week”, but seriously, listen to that short track. Does it sound like it’s 40 years old, or does it sound like Artificial Intelligence? It could easily be early Autechre or pre-RDJ Aphex Twin.
Think about the pop-culture climate of the day: #1 pop songs in the late 1960s included such innovative, groundbreaking compositions as “Hello, I Love You” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Consider also that Derbyshire wasn’t using synthesizers: just manipulated sounds (from tape), electronic oscillators, and various filters and signal modulators. The article quotes Hartnoll again, regarding Derbyshire’s retirement from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: “I think she got a bit disheartened and a bit bored with it all when the synthesizer came along and it all became a little too easy.”
Karl Marx deplored the division of labor inherent in an efficient Capitalist economy. Marx thought workers would be happier if they handled every step of a production process from taking the customer’s order to putting the finished good in the customer’s hand. Marx had apparently never suffered the frustration of being an incompetent Photoshop user.
There’s definitely an analogy between postprocessing your own photos and — for home recordists — mastering your own tracks. What’s odd is the difference between how these two are perceived; few musicians are willing to master their own songs, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t tweak their own photos.
Here’s a shout-out to the Sable group at McGill. They’ve just released a new version of the Soot compiler framework, which I’ve used extensively in my dissertation work. If you need to analyze or transform Java source or bytecode, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here’s a fascinating ruling from the US District Court in Seattle, indicating that the transaction by which someone acquires a copy of a software package and the legal right to use the same is a sale and not a license:
[A]s Vernor’s lawyers pointed out, the distinction between a lease and a sale is based on the actual characteristics of the transaction, not merely on how the transaction is described by the parties. [...] AutoCAD customers pay a lump sum at the time of purchase, with no obligation to make further payments or to return the software at the conclusion of the supposed lease.
As a consequence of this, the first sale doctrine applies, and Autodesk is unable to prevent customers from disposing of copies of AutoCAD by transfer or sale. I can’t imagine that this won’t be tied up in appeals for at least a decade, but I’m reeling at the implications.
Let me share a brief anecdote: A dumbed-down version of Propellerheads Reason came with my first real audio interface. It was crippled in nearly every way and basically served more as an advertisement for the real product than as a productive tool. I’m sure one could have used it to make real music, but I didn’t; I played with it for a little while and then shelved it. One day, after installing some additional memory in my powerbook, I tried running this fractional Reason again. It demanded that I re-authorize, since I was “running on a different computer.” This level of draconian copy protection — on, essentially, a piece of shovelware — was enough to get me to drag the Reason folder to the trashcan and never think about it again.
My initial reaction to this ruling is: “well, it would be nice if all of these weird special-cases for copyright as it relates to sequences of bits were abrogated,” but I think the future is probably a lot darker. If “no resale” provisions are unenforceable, then it seems that the copy protection schemes for commercial software are about to get a hell of a lot more onerous. You think that you shouldn’t have to tie a serial number to a particular machine or authorize on-line? Wait until you have to tie your license to a statistical model of your typing patterns, or re-authorize online every time you start the application. You think that a scheme that sees a RAM installation or operating system upgrade and says OMG WTF THIS IS A TOTALLY NEW COMPUTOR is ridiculous? Wait until you lose your authorizations by switching to a different wireless network, or installing some new user-space applications. (This is not too far off, as those of us who remember MAC address-as-machine-ID schemes know….)
Think about two other things that were “licensed, not sold” before this ruling: DRM-infested digital media and fonts. In the case of subscription-model or rental digital media, this ruling appears not to apply — since those are transferred via a transaction that does not resemble a sale. In other cases, though, like iTunes movie “purchases,” or pay-per-song music downloads, one would have to circumvent some DRM in order to resell a song or movie. Therefore, it seems that the first sale doctrine (as re-established by this case) conflicts with the DMCA, which prohibits circumvention of copy protection (and does not have first sale, fair use, or even “hey, this copyright is expired” provisions). Of course, one could argue that it is fine to resell the bits constituting a digital download — they’d just be useless to anyone other than the original purchaser.
It’s perhaps more interesting to consider how DRM-free downloads (like Amazon MP3 or iTunes Plus) are affected, since there is no DMCA conflict here, and these are sold under conditions that explicitly forbid resale. An even greater version of this conundrum comes up with commercial fonts, which not only prohibit resale but are licensed with a whole host of restrictions ranging from more-or-less reasonable (don’t copy our font files for your printing company) to mildly outrageous (don’t actually use these fonts to produce documents or designs that anyone else can see). Of course, people who abide by these licenses do so because (1) hey, we agreed to this and it’s the right thing to do and (2) our license to use this font will be revoked if we don’t, rendering our investment worthless. If the transaction in which, for example, I give veer.com some money and they send me a bunch of weights of some nice face is a sale and not a license, though, that seems to impact point 2.
Erik Barzeski and John Gruber posted about the ecto-illumineX deal earlier today. Since a lot of people are now arriving here via searches for “ecto illumineX,” I’d like to draw attention to this comment from illumineX CEO Gary Longsine, who claims that active development will continue and we have nothing to fear. I also am encouraged that it appears (based on Ado’s reply to my initial query on the ecto forum) that he will continue developing ecto in some capacity.
My take is this: I haven’t bought a MarsEdit license yet. ecto 3 is turning into a great tool, and I’m inclined to give Gary the benefit of the doubt — especially since he indicates that he has big (and specific) plans for ecto.
(This image, taken well after sunset, is merged from several exposures; the dynamic range isn’t great, but it is better than I can usually get with such a long exposure. It isn’t too grainy at this size, but it is at larger sizes.)
I think I’ve fixed all of the comment problems this site has been having. For now, potential commenters will have to answer a simple arithmetic question. (I suspect that this will reduce the number of comments on some posts a great deal.) Feel free to try it out and let me know if there are problems.
And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates, recounting an exchange between Theuth and Thamus, in Plato’s Phaedrus
If this formulation is correct, and literacy impedes one’s capacity for memory, how much more does the TiVo hurt one’s capacity to concentrate?
I’m currently listening to Xerxes from the album “Pieces In A Modern Style” by William Orbit
Mark Dalrymple has redone the Borkware Miniblog, which now has more content and an RSS feed. Mark has written a lot of articles about Cocoa and OS X, including a very nice tutorial on screensaver programming; it’s nice that he’ll have another outlet to share his perspective and expertise on Mac programming issues. (His screensaver tutorial was so good that I read it, understood it, and wrote a crummy screen saver, all while watching a movie.)
I’ve hacked up my reblog.py script (first mentioned here) so that it works around every issue I’ve discovered in transferring from RSS2 feeds to MetaWeblog API post structs. (Not least among these is the hilariously deficient ISO 8601 parser in WordPress.) I’m about to use reblog.py to fold in all of the b-side links into the main post database. I’m afraid this might appear as a “massive post explosion” in some syndication readers.
Once I can figure out the best way to generalize the script and make it more robust, I’ll distribute a new version. In the meantime, I’m crossing my fingers that this huge import works.
UPDATE: It worked. The b-side entries are now in the post database — this means that they appear inline (with a little “link” icon in “free variable blue”) and can accept comments.