Wednesday, December 30

Happy 2010!




A tad early, but Happy New Years to everyone who follows the Gregorian calendar! I dunno about you, but my 2009 sucked the biggie. Sure, 1 Jan 10 is just a date, but it's symbolic, like the sun at dawn, of a new period of time beginning, and a new decade to boot! May the '10s be ten times better than the '00s, which really were zeroes - the worst decade of my life, and anecdotally seemingly a bad time for a great many. I just know in my bones this year and the next decade will be better. I am full of hope. Golden rays of sun are coming out of all my orifices.

Make the most of this next year to do what you really want to do and don't let laziness, fear, or comfort stand in the way! Get outside more, get more exercise, make more friends, take more chances! I wish all of you the very best in the new year.

Whoa....

I just picked up a plastic cup about half full of soda with my left hand, and halfway to my mouth, the cup buckled in my grip (cheap cup) and popped free. It's hard to explain with words, but imagine that it rotated around as it was falling, and I was certain it was going to spill Coke everywhere. But rather than lunge at it, it seemed (looking back at what was an entirely instinctual split-second) that I had actually imparted enough rotation to the cup that it might not land upside down but actually come all the way around... though it would be close. Thus I twisted my body, dropped to my knees, and with my other hand (the right), I caught it about six inches above the carpet, face up once again! The best part of all: The centrifugal force of the rotation kept all the Coke inside the cup and my carpet didn't receive a drop. Whew!

Of course no one is ever present to see such things. It's one of the unwritten rules in life. :-|

Hello!

I've been putting up a lot of easy posts lately, like pictures from the web and YouTube videos. I never really wanted to see my blog come to this, but I'm ok with it because at least I'm posting. The holidays are a hard time for me, so any regular activity is good. Also, to a lesser extent, when I do write an original piece, I'm cherry-picking the best ones for when I debut my redesigned site in 2010 (when in that year I'm not ready to say. It depends on how rapaciously I learn a few new technologies and how much else is going on in my life - school and my commitment to read Russian literature. I do hope it's sooner in 2010 rather than later). The third reason is that I actually have some real-life things going on, like being quick sick for well over a month (just about better now), getting re-acquainted with a good friend, and other personal things. So I appreciate any of you who still visit, even if the content has been rather canned of late. I hope to come back stronger in the new year with some original material and more variety. Got to get through this depressing weather and get my health back! Thanks for understanding.

What does your culture celebrate with fireworks?


On a yearly basis, not counting special events like the Olympics, we (the denizens of the USA) put up the biggest fireworks display for our Independence Day (July 4th) from that evil Empire of Britannia, who now in one of those ironies of history is our closest ally, and vice-versa. I even get "Happy 4th of July" well-wishes from British friends of mine! Strange how the worm turns.

The other only real consistent time you see/hear fireworks is on New Year's Even at midnight, but it's a less planned out and watched thing - it just sorta happens spontaneously by those who've consumed too much liquor and have access to explosives, or by carefully orchestrated TV events, like the big Times Square deal.

Fireworks feature prominently in professional sports, too, as well as in Las Vegas, but as this is private entertainment and nothing to do with any national celebrations, I'm not going to count this category of pyrotechnic extravagances.

So, readers from outside the US, during what events do your countries generally employ the patriotic use of fireworks to celebrate?

Tuesday, December 29

Bowie.


Monday, December 28

Hey...

What's Jackson doing in Egypt?!?


Friday, December 25

Wednesday, December 23

This is long overdue.

For the holidays, when for some reason his music always seems to come to mind and resonate with me more, maybe as I become more reflective and think back to the days of Sony Walkmen and tapes of albums or CDs, listening in bed in the dark, knowing I should sleep but entranced by music and words instead, picturing a story unfolding with me as the guy who gets the girl.... I would like to present...


Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007)


The Last Nail.




Same Auld Lang Syne.




Dancing Shoes.




His Highness Sir Lord Maaile ought to appreciate that last one.

RIP, Dan! You had so many lovely songs I could spend a month posting them, but I'll let my readers discover you on their own.

When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears.

Who will wipe hers away?

Tuesday, December 22

Now the "other half" of Floyd.

Well, just like The Beatles or most other bands with staying power, Pink Floyd evolved over the years. Syd Barrett, their original frontman (lyrics, lead guitar, and voice) lost his mind and never found it again. Then the band noodled around a bit in the late sixties and early seventies until they found a new sound, this time splitting musical and lyrical duties, though Roger Waters was always the chief writer of the words. By the same token, David Gilmour sang maybe 2/3 of the songs and played lead guitar and wrote most of the music. Waters played a very proficient bass guitar, Richard Wright brought a bit of jazz/avant garde/psychedelia to the keyboards, which were new at the time, typically Moogs and other early models that have that trademark "spacy" sound we identify with today (Bowie's "Space Oddity" employed a Moog, and early Duran Duran tracks evolved from Moogs to Rolands and eventually Yamaha DX-7s). The constant was always really Nick Mason on drums, who locked down an insistent, steady backbone for the others to jam against, much like Ringo Starr did for the Beatles. In fact, there are quite a few similarities between the two bands that I won't go into just now.

Anyways, once Syd had gone mad and the other four found their "sound" in the early 70s, they reeled off four straight concept albums that are probably as good as anything anyone's ever done, in my opinion and in the opinion of many critics. Among them was Dark Side of the Moon, issued when I was just an infant, from which the songs "Breathe," "Time," "Money," and "Us and Them" came, amongst others. The entire album was engineered by a young Alan Parsons and recorded at Abbey Road. It is by some measures the most successful album of all time: It stayed on the "Billboard Hot 200" charts for 591 weeks, or an incredible 11+ years. There is still a CD manufacturing plant in Germany that does nothing but press copies of it for the current market, as it still sells about 250,000 copies a year, more than most new acts (except superstars), or popular but aging acts. It's routinely on the short-list of critics "best ever" albums. This and the subsequent mega-albums Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall would add to and firmly establish Pink Floyd's legacy as a band, along with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, as a sort of classic British rock sound. The USA had The Doors following a similar tract; rock-poets Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Canada had Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot. But North American music has always mirrored the vast lands that have spawned it - British rock, then and now, has always been (in my view) tinged with just a bit more angst, more paranoia and claustrophobia. And in the case of Pink Floyd, the overriding theme was nearly always alienation.

"How do people communicate, and empathise with one another," Roger Waters asked, "rather than passing one another by without a glance, without making any connection? How do we find any connections at all in this huge world, even with those closest to us, with the pressures of time, work, and money?" It's a theme that would haunt him and guide his lyrics for the rest of the band's tenure. Their last album, which is really a sequel to (or closure of) The Wall, is for all intents and purposes a Roger Waters solo album. He had become so obsessed with controlling all aspects of the band's output that the other members lost their patience, and the group never made another album as a foursome, though after Roger's departure in 1983 Gilmour, Wright, and Mason would continue on under the name Pink Floyd and record two more very good albums, one in 1987 and one in 1994. Waters would also go on to record three solo albums. But it would be a rare fan who considered either endeavor equal to what the band as a whole did together in the 70s and into the beginning of the 80s.

That last album, The Final Cut, was panned by critics at the time of its release but has aged extraordinarily well, and proved that Waters was a lyrical visionary in the mold of John Lennon, with the knack of knowing which way the wind was blowing and where the politics and social surges of the time would ultimately lead. Listening to that album now, with its Cold War anxieties and almost overbearing sense of pessimism about the modern human experience, is at once a joy of identification, a strain of recognition, and ultimately I think a catharsis. In reality, it's the story of Roger Waters' own life, his own attempts to reconcile the death of his father in World War II when he was young, his own feelings of isolation, his own suffering. It's what makes Pink Floyd at its heart so profoundly different from those "good time" rock and roll bands, and I think it's time to feature Waters' singing in a short movie he and his brother put together for the last album, and contrast it to the transcendent, otherworldly soundscapes that Gilmour creates, lasers and all. For my part, I enjoy both "halves" of Pink Floyd equally, just like I enjoy John and Paul (and George) for their contributions to The Beatles's unique sound. As the saying goes, the whole was always greater than the mere sum of its parts.

Here then is Pink Floyd's titular track to their last album, "The Final Cut."







The Final Cut (Waters)

Through the fish-eyed lens of tear-stained eyes
I can barely define the shape of this moment in time.
And far from flying high in clear blue skies
I'm spiraling down to the hole in the ground where I hide.

If you negotiate the minefield in the drive
And beat the dogs and cheat the cold electronic eyes
And if you make it past the shotguns in the hall
Dial the combination, open the priesthole...

And if I'm in, I'll tell you what's behind the wall.

There's a kid who had a big hallucination
Making love to girls in magazines.
He wonders if you're sleeping with your new found faith
Could anybody love him, or is it just a crazy dream?

And if I show you my dark side
Will you still hold me tonight?
And if I open my heart to you
And show you my weak side
What would you do?

Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?
Would you take the children away
And leave me alone?
And smile in reassurance
As you whisper down the phone?
Would you send me packing?
Or would you take me home?

Thought I oughta bare my naked feelings,
Thought I oughta tear the curtain down.
I held the blade in trembling hands
Prepared to make it but...
Just then the phone rang
I never had the nerve to make the final cut.

Monday, December 21

I cherish my freedom.



Without freedom I might as well not be alive. But freedom means different things to different people. There are types and degrees. What does freedom mean to you? What freedoms do you absolutely need to be happy, and which are negotiable? Which have you inadvertently given away, or think society has exchanged for other benefits?

Heck yeah

I'mma do this with my king-sized bed, put a big ol AT-AT over it, only with a powered cable to pull me outta the covers in the morning and into the body of the beast, where I can get dressed before climbing down the stairs and facing the day! Just hope no one chucks a detonator up thru the hatch while I'm getting styled out.



Only problem is the kid's a little confused rockin' a purple lightsaber and the Transformers bedsheets. If you're gonna have your pops build you a giant AT-AT for a bed loft, you gotta come correct after that and do your part.

Man, I'm gonna get started right now.

Saturday, December 19

Pink Floyd (1994) - "Us And Them"



Us And Them
(Pink Floyd)

Us and them
And after all,
We're only ordinary men.

Me and you
God only knows,
It's not what we would choose
To do.

"Forward!" he cried from the rear
And the front ranks died.
The generals sat, and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.

Black and blue
And who knows which is which,
And who is who.

Up and down
And in the end,
It's only round and round
And round.

"Haven't you heard? It's a battle of words!"
The poster bearer cried.
"Listen son," said the man with the gun,
"There's room for you inside."

Down and out
It can't be helped,
But there's a lot of it about.

With... without
And who'll deny
It's what the fighting's all about?

Out of the way, it's a busy day!
I've got things on my mind.
For the want of the price of tea and a slice
The old man died.

lyrics by R. Waters
music by R. Waters, D. Gilmour, R. Wright, N. Mason

Mamon.


Kint vagyok, futni hagytak
Az érzelemrendorség köpött rám
Megmondták, hová mehetek, és kirúgtak
És én csak bámulok az esobe és
Azokba a szörnyu nátriumlámpákba
És ahogy elsétálnak, önhitten,
Én semmit sem mondhatok biztosra
Amit itt belül érzek ma


Kivéve azt a tompa fájdalmat, a kínt.
Az évek kiszívták az érzékeimet,
Minden, amit olyan tuélesen éreztem
Amivel olyan átkozottul élénken törodtem
Elfeledtem a szerelem rezgését
A figyelem, az élet izgalmát
A napom már csak menekülés a feszültségtol
És ima, feloldozásért, az ido alól.


Many thanks to Mandula Mártonffy for the translation into Magyar (Hungarian).
The original, in English, will be posted someday.

Friday, December 18

Thursday, December 17

Wednesday, December 16

Untitled

Crazy mood swings, sting in the gut
I look up and my shadow is gone
Three days have passed
And I don't know if I'm sane
And the world just ain't the same
Or if I'm somehow terribly wrong
I suspect it's the thing within me
Which suspends my disbelief
And yet relief ain't coming on
Little things linger, dreams
Of missing fingers, and toy batons
And middle of the nightmare ruses
I'm still confused and feel useless
Pills accumulate in my plastic grid
But I remember taking them, I did!
When each moment the sun got up
And nighttime hid, you dig?
It's like I'm losing my mind
Sometimes I don't know who to trust
The voice that's inside of me
Or the person that's versin'
Right now without cussin but messing
With words, to be heard or just bust?
If I'd had this recorded to tape
I'd hit rewind
To see what goes on for real
When I feel blind
And some lady asked me was I
A model of some kind?
I couldn't believe it, I thought
She was just having a laugh at me
Then I get yet another phone number
From a hostess at Mary's
That carried me on with mixed emotions
To say the least, I say the most
About the time I start to feel strong
Apologies to Marvin Gaye but what's going on?
I haven't been so outcast in 37 long, long
Years but here's three people in 24 hours
Complimenting me almost to tears
In their own way, and I praise their charity
And I've got nothing to say to bring me clarity
I guess I should buy them all flowers
But the pollen might blow me away.

Monday, December 14

Bozo the Cobra


Silly LOLcats



My Bookworm Adventures 2 final screen


Darwin Fish


Eye of Horus

Sunday, December 13

Songs on the charts when I was born!

To the month and year...

Meta's Life Advice: Tip #1

Don't ever smile at anyone after you've eaten pesto.

An easy Gollum quiz.



Just give answers and spellings as best you can. I'm not going to be technical in grading this.

1. How did Gollum acquire the Ring in the first place?
2. What was Gollum's real name?
3. To which race of people did he belong?
4. Where, roughly, did these people live?
5. To whom did Gollum eventually lose the Ring?
6. Roughly how old was he at the time this happened?
7. Where was he living at the time?
8. What did he do after he lost the ring?
9. In the process, he was caught twice. By whom?
10. What was Gollum's final fate?

Thanks for taking my Gollum quiz! Your reward is a raw, slimy fish.


Plants > Zombies

Here's the proof.




Saturday, December 12

Just the first of many posts to come.

I've got at least ten fully written. I'll dole them out daily pretty much, hopefully. For now, we'll start off with something pretty easy.

My Favorite Musical Artists/Bands
1. The Beatles
2. Pink Floyd
3. The Smiths
4. Dead Can Dance
5. SWANS
6. Nick Drake
7. Dan Fogelberg
8. Nick Cave
9. The Clash
10. The Sundays OR 2Pac

My Favorite Painters
1. Edvard Munch
2. Vincent Van Gogh
3. Many, many others - I can't think just now.

My Favorite Fiction Authors
1. JRR Tolkien
2. Isaac Asimov
3. Albert Camus
4. Arthur C. Clarke
5. William Shakespeare
6. Philip Pullman
7. Kurt Vonnegut
8. Italo Calvino
9. Lloyd Alexander
10. JK Rowling

(Again I'm forgetting... Emile Bronte, Jane Austin, and Thomas Hardy should be on there for sure.)

My Favorite Nonfiction Authors By Category
Physics: Martin Rees, John Gribben, Steven Weinberg, Paul Davies, many more.
Biology: Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, more.
Philosophy: Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennet, Immanuel Kant, Plato, more.
Chemistry: Isaac Asimov, Oliver Sacks, John Emsley, many more.
Anthropology: Richard Leakey, Don Johanson, Jane Goodall, more.
Early Christianity: Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince, Michael Baigent, Elaine Pagels, more.
And I could go on and on in nonfiction, but I would bore you to tears.

My Favorite Films (Subject to change depending on my mood)
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. Blade Runner
3. Gladiator
4. The Return of the King
5. Rebel Without a Cause
Could go on an on...

My Favorite (Traditional) Games
1. Scrabble
2. Chess
3. Axis and Allies
4. Darts
5. Tag
6. Yahtzee
7. Boggle
8. Pictionary

My Favorite Video Games Ever
1. Ultima IV (Apple IIe)
2. Civilization I, II, and IV
3.  Balance of Power (Mac)
4. Morrowind (PC)
5. The Ancient Art Of War (Apple IIe)
6. Dark Castle (Mac)
7. Myth (Mac)
8. Crystal Quest (Mac)
9. Plants Vs. Zombies (PC)
10. Bases Loaded 2, Baseball Stars, Banjo Kazooie, DK 64.... (Nintendo)

My Favorite Sports To Watch
1. Basketball
2. Baseball
3. Tennis
4. Snow skiing
5. Figure skating

My Favorite Sports To Play
1. Baseball
2. Table Tennis
3. Basketball
4. Racquetball
5. Badminton

My Favorite Women (Celeb crushes)
1. Gwyneth Paltrow
2. Olivia Wilde
3. Natalie Portman
4. Julia Stiles
5. Milla Jovovich
NOTE: This would change daily, I've not put any thought into this really (except at night)

My Favorite Animals
1. Cats (the whole family)
2. Dogs
3. Apes
4. Monkeys
5. Bears
6. Lots of others

My Least Favorite Organisms
1. Mosquitoes
2. Yellowjackets with their heart set on my lunch
3. Humans
4. Parasites
5. Viruses

My Favorite Foods
1. My Mom's Beef Stroganoff
2. Filet Mignon Wrapped in Bacon with Bearnaise Sauce
3. NY Style Pizza - Extra Cheese, Ham, Mushrooms, Black Olives, Tomatoes (on after)
4. Breakfast - Bacon, Eggs Over Easy, English Muffins with Butter and Jam
5. King Crab Legs with Clarified Butter
6. Tuna Casserole
7. Egg salad sandwich or fried egg sandwich
8. Pesto linguine or angel-hair pasta

My Favorite Beverages
1. Coca Cola Classic
2. A&W Rootbeer
3. Mountain Dew
4. Chocolate Milk OR Strawberry Milk
5. San Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water

My Favorite Countries: Visited
1. Thailand
2. Austria
3. The Ukraine
4. Germany
5. Switzerland

My Favorite Countries: Most Like To Visit
1. UK
2. France
3. Italy
4. Egypt
5. Turkey
6. Hungary

My Favorite Athletes Ever
1. Barry Bonds
2. Kobe Bryant
3. Magic Johnson
4. Lance Armstrong
5. Wayne Gretzky
6. Andre Agassi

My Favorite Periods/Cultures In History
1. Ancient Egypt
2. Ancient Sumer/Assyria
3. Ancient Canaan
4. Ancient Scandinavia
5. Ancient Britannia
6. Ancient Persia
7. The Crusades
8. Ancient Mesoamerica

My Favorite Sciences
1. Cosmology / Philosophy
2. Physics / Astronomy / Chemistry
3. Biology / Zoology / Ecology / Astrobiology
4. Neurosciences of all kind
5. Paleontology / Anthropology / Archaeology
BONUS: Mathematics and Formal Logic (not strictly science...)

My Favorite Poets
1. Sylvia Plath
2. William Shakespeare
3. Dylan Thomas
4. Emile Bronte
5. Roger Waters

My Favorite Documentaries - (All happen to be series)
1. The Life of Mammals - Attenborough
2. Cosmos - Sagan
3. The Secret Life of Plants - Attenborough
4. Life On Earth - Attenborough
5. The Life of Birds - Attenborough

My Favorite Male Actors (Today, anyway)
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
2. Clint Eastwood
3. Heath Ledger
4. Harrison Ford
5. Morgan Freeman
6. Anthony Hopkins
7. Liam Neeson
8. Edward Norton

My Favorite Planets In Order
1. Earth
2. Jupiter
3. Venus
4. Saturn
5. Uranus
6. Mercury
7. Neptune
8. Mars

My Favorite Places To Live (From experience or projected)
1. Kenwood, CA
2. Santa Rosa, CA
3. Sonoma, CA
4. Manhattan, NYC, NY
5. Vienna, Austria
6. South of France somewhere
7. Brittany

My Favorite Colors
1. Black
2. Bluish-Gray
3. White
4. Red
5. Green and yellow in the spring

My Favorite Outdoor Activities
1. Hiking
2. Kayaking, Canoeing, Rafting
3. Scuba, Snorkeling
4. Camping
5. Body Surfing

My Favorite Indoor Activities
1. Tennis Ball Game
2. Table Tennis
3. Sex
4. Bowling
5. Nerf Hoop
6. Internet
7. Drawing
8. Bowling
9.Meditating
10. Watching Movies
BONUS: Sleeping in on a rainy day

The end. (...for now...)

Sunday, December 6

Sorry about the abstinence :-S

In case anyone's wondering, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or anything. I'm just having problems with my computer, so I've been unable to get on the 'Net for about a week, except for a couple of times down at the apartment office - where's there's seemingly always someone logged in or waiting right behind you when you finally get on, their eyes burning a hole into the back of your head.

Being off of the Internet feels like returning to the Precambrian era or something. The first whole day I had no idea what to do. I finally decided to read, but it's been weird not being plugged in to the Matrix. Feels kinda good actually... In a way. In some ways it sucks, like when a question pops in my head and I can't instantly find the answer. Or the fact I haven't been able to download new documentaries.

Hopefully I will be back on the blog tip soon. I'll try to think of something special to make up for the missed time. :-)

Sunday, November 29

Full-screen it!

Turn the lights off, and turn the sound up :)

I'm serious!

Tuesday, November 24

NyQuil




Vicks, the company that makes NyQuil (for international readers, it's a type of cold medicine) has some sick sense of humor. The bottle I just bought says, "Tastes better than ever!" There are many things wrong with this proclamation on all sorts of different levels, but I'll list just two.

First, what do they mean "than ever"? NyQuil has always tasted like ass, which is why you only take it when you're REALLY sick, unlike say, Flintstones vitamins. This statement implies that it already had a good taste, which it most certainly did not.

Secondly, it's patently untrue! It tastes exactly the same. Like Listermint and licorice and a tiny bit of that radioactive stuff in DC comic books which makes superheroes like the Hulk what they are, all blended up well and bottled for our pleasure. To make matters even worse, they've taken practically all the alcohol out of the stuff so 12 year olds wouldn't steal it, so now you don't even get a buzz anymore as a payoff for your superhero courage imbibing the stuff.

Might as well stick to something in tablet form. After all, I checked the ingredients, and despite the claim in their commercials that it performs 700+ acts of comfort (ok, maybe less, but it's still portrayed a bit like Chinese medicine, a cure-all for anything afflicting you), all NyQuil is in the cold light of reality is an analgesic, a decongestant, and an antihistamine. Hell, you can get that stuff in Theraflu or any number of other products, most of which come in pill form. Why anyone would put themselves through actually taking NyQuil boggles the mind.

Maybe it's like a hairshirt worn by religious fanatics; "You're ain't supposed to enjoy being sick, boy! Take some of this here green orc grog and that will make you feel a bit better, plus learn you real good for having the cheek to get sick in the first place!" That's all I imagine keeps this stuff on the shelves - a lingering masochism in those made to feel guilty for being ill as they grew up.

* * *

After I wrote this and while looking for a picture of the bottle, I found this old Denis Leary routine about, yes, NyQuil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KeKeylrOIE

Sunday, November 22

The Albigensian Crusade.


I don't know how many of you are interested in the Crusades, but interestingly a few of the numerous crusades took place against heresies (from the Roman Catholic Church's point of view) within Europe itself rather than in the far off Holy Lands. One of these was the relatively famous Albigensian Crusade, a holy war in the early 13th century which lasted nearly 20 years between the Pope's allies (various vassals and knights-for-hire, mostly from the landed families of France) against the Cathars residing in the Languedoc (pronounced "long-doc") region of southern France, near the then-independent kingdoms of Aragon, Catalonia, and Occitan.

This very mountainous and dramatic region is interesting for a number of reasons, and not just because it had become the hotbed of Catharism by the 12th century. It is home to many Grail legends, as is the not-far-off city of Marseilles and indeed, Spain itself on the other side of the Pyrenees. It features such towns as Carcassonne and Rennes-le-Château, which notoriously plays a role in such books as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. And it is from one such castle, the impregnable-looking fortress upon Montségur, where the crusade was brought to a close, but not before (local lore and now wider myth has it), four high-ranking priests escaped down the sheer face of the mountain in the dark of knight carrying some sort of treasure. What could such a treasure be and what became of it?

The whole affair is like to be a fanciful tale, but that has not stopped adventurous historians and treasure hunters from proposing over the years that what escaped Montségur that night was either the Holy Grail itself (whatever it might be) or other invaluable artifacts such as a piece of the "true cross" or the Turin shroud (not yet in Turino, of course!), to some heretical documents or treasures which had been entrusted to the Cathars by the 'Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon' - i.e., The Knights Templar. The legend goes of course that they had found "something" under the Temple Mount during their early years in Jerusalem, before the ranks of the Order swelled and they were eventually dissolved and persecuted by Pope Clement V and King Philip Le Bon of France (who was of the line of Charles Martel and Charlemagne (the so-called 'Carolingian' kings), not the earlier lineage of the sons of Merovee (or Merovech), who came to be known as the 'Merovingian' kings).

What this "something" the Templars supposedly found during their excavations is unknown to this day, and it's possible the entire story is a romantic fabrication. But there are enough legends and extant, verifiable records from various periods, from the founding charter of the Templars themselves all the way down to the fall of their erstwhile comrades and business partners, the Cathars (and the noble families which propped them up), that it still makes for an exciting read - to me anyway - to read the story of both the Temple Knights and the Cathar heretics, both in its bare historical form and also in various speculative imaginings which excite the mind as to what really happened within the inner ranks of those two seemingly unrelated orders and why the Pope and the Monarchy of France was so eager in both cases to be rid of them.

After all, putting down what it sees as heresy is one thing (though the way in which they did it was so savage and bloody as to remind one of the Roman conquest of that same area more than a millennium earlier) - indeed its treatment of even simple monks who bore no arms would set the tone as well as the doctrinal foundation for the later formal office of the Inquisition - but destroying the Templars, which Papal decree had created in the first place in order to give it a means to fight the Saracens in control of Jerusalem and the rest of the Levant, and which were sworn protectors of the Catholic Church, is less easy to understand.

Well, without creating here an in-depth history of the entire time and place here, I'll just point you in a few directions if this period of history and this series of events interests you.

First, there are a few websites which cover the basics:
http://crusades.wikia.com/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism
http://www.languedoc-france.info/1206_crusade.htm

And some books (Amazon links given) on the topic:
List of recommended reads
Cathar Castles: Fortresses of the Albigensian Crusade
The Albigensian Crusades
A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom
The Great Medieval Heretics: Five Centuries of Religious Dissent
Crusade Against the Grail: The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome
The Cathars: Dualist Heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages

These links were chosen mostly for their relevance to the so-called Cathar heresy.

Feel free to search for books on the Templars, the Holy Grail, or other specialty topics that interest you. There are many!

Friday, November 20

My future wife :^)

Marissa Mayer. Age 34. Lives in Northern California. Loves Cupcakes. Cute as a button. Stanford graduate, masters in computer science. First female engineer hired by Google (as a programmer). Currently VP of Google Search Products, one of eight original employees left in the company and 4th in the pecking order behind founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and CEO Eric Schmidt. Rumored to be worth almost $1 Billion on shares alone. Salary unknown.




Think she'll leave her new bigshot real estate mogul husband and give me a shot? This woman LIVES in the penthouse of the San Francisco Four Seasons luxury hotel, as well as having several houses around the world. Then again, I'm told I can be charming....

If she does give me a chance, maybe I can get one of those cars below!

Here she is on the great Charlie Rose show.

Wednesday, November 18

Christmas list...




Death song.

I'm unstable
Pills cannot help me
Thank you, here is
My money
Keep me in good health
Or dispose of me
Just don't let me be
Conscious
Whatever you decide
Whatever you see fit
For me!

And seated with the angels
I saw the Lord shake
And I made the darkness
Part for Him
For Him in His wake!
A holy choir, a choir that
Shall never begin.
I died for you once, child
But don't ask me,
Don't ask me,
Yeah I died for you once, oh
But never again.

And I tore my own heart out
At the old age of three
I fell down the stairwell
In a bookslide
I'm told
I was older when I broke
My collarbone
For the second time
You'd think that bone would
Have healed like iron
But not mine!

No, not mine.
My flesh is fragile here
I am all spirit now
I am a vampire here
Pack of vermin and a word
About the Bible
And a drink
That will make people think
I will make people face
Their nightmares of me.
Of me!

Tuesday, November 17

Untitled.

Over the draperies of sand
A scarlet ibis spreads its wings
And time has gone still for everything
Even laughter dies no matter how amusing
And I am laid upon the rough stone floor
Still half dreaming
But I'm putting in work
When I'm awake on my feet, or asleep
Was it Heraclitus
Who laid out the parameters of a lovely life
He was right, as they all were, but wrong,
So wrong of course. A sheet of tracing paper
Cannot fit between the stonework of my
Temporary sanctuary - but my apartment
Is full of ants and moth-eaten curtains
An orangutan could manage the place better
But I'm not in the least measure bitter
I only ask for a place to exist
That keeps the shadows away.

Sunday, November 15

Pharisee

I don't enjoy being hurt
Or swindled
And I'm a wicked man indeed
To those who cross me

I never lost my connection to the deep past
Where might made right, and
Winner took all
I didn't recognize any Fall, let's just say

Grace is what you make of it
Usually I make very little
Because I feel so very little
About this madhouse we call the world

But still I live within that world
And rules are to be followed when they don't jar
Your own sense of self too strongly, for
My salvation is a strange, uncertain thing.

Wednesday, November 11

Comfort food.



What are some of your favorite comfort foods? For example, my favorite foods overall might be filet mignon, king crab, stuffed sole, baby-back ribs, tiramisu, and so on... but these aren't things you normally eat at home, with your pajamas on, watching a good movie. Or at the table with your family, casually talking about the day.

Comfort food helps you when you feel down, and it's usually fairly simple. It may also conjure fond memories for you because it was something you ate growing up. Here are some of mine, in no particular order:

  • Pizza
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
  • A yummy homemade sandwich
  • Beef stroganoff (my mom used to make it and it was my fave)
  • A homemade hamburger
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • A chocolate milkshake
  • Meatloaf
  • Fish and chips
  • Clam chowder (New England style)
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Fried chicken

Notice I only have one sweet item on my list. I quite expect others will have more! Comfort foods don't have to be entire meals...

Tuesday, November 10

Monday, November 9




Saturday, November 7


Sparta



Marty Feldman

Google Wave.

Take emailing, instant messaging, file sharing, collaborating, tweeting, social networking, mobile living, online docs, open standards, extensions, widgets, scripting, blogging, presentation with multimedia, scheduling, and just about every other service you can think of that today's Internet currently provides (though far from seamlessly), combine them all in a blender, run them on an HTML 5 compliant browser (such as Google's Chrome, conveniently), and you have Google Wave - or rather, what it aspires to become.

It appears Google is trying to take over the entire world. Unlike Microsoft, who has always been hampered by a severe lack of vision, or Apple, who is content to make very useful, beautiful things but keep them insanely proprietary, Google might actually succeed. It's kind of the way Wikipedia succeeded, by letting its users determine the way it develops, not forcing technologies on them and telling them why they're necessary.

It's pretty cool and at the same time pretty scary. As long as Google remains people-friendly, standards-compliant, and transparent (mostly) about its motives, and goes with the flow of what society actually wants and simply provides some really smart ways of doing such things, it will forever be seen in a friendly light. The moment it begins to abuse its power and grab for money or intellectual property rights or anything else not so public-friendly, it will be seen as a monolithic Big Brother and monopoly threat. Is this the way dystopic futures like The Matrix start out?

Although I don't like the idea of single companies (or entities of any type) having inordinate power, Google so far has proved honest and open, trying to "better" the web of course for its own shareholders' sake but also seemingly just for the sake of doing it. For creative individuals to pour their energy into projects which not only give them their 15 minutes of fame and stroke their ego (and make them rich), but also benefit the online public. All in all, it has acted very un-Microsoftlike, which is all good news in my book. Microsoft has long tried to graft together everything on the desktop and in "the cloud" into one big...something...but that something has been ugly, unwieldy, and decidedly NOT what the public has wanted. In fact, the company seems downright hostile to its own user base most of the time.

Personally I'd rather the future remained a big sprawling mess of healthy competition, but if one company has to step forward and lead the development of technologies (standards development should be kept separate, though - this is very important and probably the #1 reason Microsoft has failed), I'd sure as hell rather it be Google than Redmond, Washington. Apple for its part doesn't even want to seem to play the game, and never has. They're content with having a "niche of excellence" in which they control absolutely everything, and leaving the dregs (everyone who isn't an Apple person) to do what they will. This ivory-tower worldview is quite unlike what you'd expect given Steve Jobs' hippie upbringing, but actually it's perfectly fine, as long as it's not the only game in town. Just like it's fine that there are Ferraris or Guinness beer in the world. After all, no one is forcing you to buy into the complete Apple brand. If you do, it's because it's got value for you and it's in line with your own aesthetic. I happen to love it, but I've been accused of being elitist too, and maybe I am in my own way. I just know what I like; what's right for me.

But as for the online world as a whole, which unlike that "resort club" atmosphere of the Apple World is a frothing sea of competing standards, technologies, and shady people trying to steal your wallet or your identity, people have to choose who to trust. And I'll say again, given the choice of the two, I'd choose Google over Microsoft eight days a week. It remains to be seen whether that trust is appropriate or misplaced. Power nearly always leads to corruption, and Google is going to have to severely buck that trend if it wants to continue to grow into every aspect of online life (which is increasingly becoming just "life") and continue to be seen as a Good Guy. I hope they do. They're much more exciting a company than that other one which has been attempting this feat for going on 30 years now, and has continually just pissed people off at every step (I think you know who I'm talking about).

Anyway, check out a couple of videos of Google Wave. The first is edited down to 10 minutes from an 80-minute presentation, so it's a little disorienting, but you get a sense of the real power of the integrative online experience Google is trying to pull off. The second is more basic but also less frenetic.





To watch the entire 80 minute presentation, or just to learn more about the product, go here:
http://wave.google.com

YouTube, naturally, has a lot of short video clips on how to use it, what it all means, and so on. Just search on "Google Wave" from within 'Tube and you'll see what I mean.

Bonus video...


As always, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this product/technology, or the subject of digital convergence, future lifestyles (good or bad), or anything else for that matter! Sound off in the comments section if you have an opinion.

Thursday, November 5

Tuesday, November 3

Lapse of Memory.

Here's a short film worthy of a Pink Floyd or Brendan Perry video, or just viewed on its own. Brilliant!

You can watch it in higher definition on the Vimeo site.


Lapse of Memory (HD) from Tony Partington on Vimeo.

This is the kind of art I'd really like to explore at some point, a fusion of arts. I hate doing just one thing; I get bored. But I would love to combine photography, painting, cinematography, sculpture, music, chanting/singing, and ultimately poetry and prose in various combinations into art "pieces" - multimedia is the word I guess, but I find that word so utilitarian and uninspiring. I prefer just "art" ...the word is big enough to encompass all that is thrown at it.

If you like this kind of meditative time-lapse work in particular, do yourself a favor and get copies of some of Ron Fricke's work (Koyaanisqatsi and its two sequels, plus Baraka, Chronos, and the upcoming Samsara). All feature excellent soundtracks as well, composed by the likes of Philip Glass and Brendan Perry/Lisa Gerrard. Further recommendations include Darren Aronovsky films, music by Scott Walker, Björk, and Sigur Rós, and far too many tiny, independent artists of all stripes and talents than can be listed here.

Some day soon I'll devote a post exclusively to all the great artists I know of and which the public at large has probably heard little to nothing about. Yes, I end sentences with prepositions. I don't care.

Monday, November 2

Getting back into C++

...with my stepdad. We come up with problems to solve for fun, then try to independently code them and compare our solutions. We're just using a console rather than use the Windows GUI APIs (MFCs, all that stuff), just to get to the core of the programs for now. Maybe we'll do more object-oriented and GUI stuff in the future (he knows a lot more than I do), but for now my brain needs to warm back up.

Our first problem was to ask the user how many prime numbers he/she would like, then to find and output that many. We both (eventually) got it to work. Here was my code:

// "Primes" (2009) - J. Sias 

#include "stdafx.h"
#include "iostream.h" // for cin and cout
#include "math.h"     // for sqrt function
using namespace std;

bool isPrime(int);    // returns true if prime, false if not

int main(void)
{
int  primesWanted,
     primesFound = 0,
     nextInt = 2;
char toEnd;

// ask how many primes wanted
cout << "How many primes do you want? (minimum 1): ";
cin >> primesWanted;

// find and display that many primes
do {
  if(isPrime(nextInt))
  {
    cout << nextInt << " ";
    primesFound++;
  }
  nextInt++;
  } while (primesFound < primesWanted);

// pause so user can see output
cout << "\n" << "There you go! Enter a character to continue... ";
cin >> toEnd;

return(0);
}

bool isPrime(int num)
{
// 2 is prime by definition
if(num == 2)
return true;

// test for factors
for(int i = 2; i <= (int) sqrt((float) num); i++)
  if(num % i == 0)
  return false;

// if no factors, it's prime
return true;  
}

His code was a lot different, but both worked just as well, which goes to show there are as many solutions to a given problem as there are programmers!

Now that I've got Visual Studio set up and (sort of) figured out the actual IDE itself, which is a bit cumbersome, I hope the next program will go more smoothly. Fun!

Saturday, October 31

Happy Halloween!

Especially for you Wiccans out there. Here's some fun and frightening music for everyone!


Meanwhile, I'll be watching the Phantom of the Opera movie tonight, and possibly some (semi-)scary flicks, now that I have my antianxiety pills refilled =)

The beautiful Amy Lee, everyone!

Performing "Sally's Song" from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Seemed like a good occasion :-)



"Coming Back To Life"
(Pink Floyd)

Where were you when I was burned and broken,
While the days slipped by, from my window watching?
Where were you, when I was hurt and helpless?
Because the things you say and the things you do surround me.

While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words
Dying to believe in what you heard,
I was staring straight into the shining sun.

Lost in thought and lost in time,
While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted.
Outside the rain fell dark and slow
While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime.

I took a heavenly ride through our silence,
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life.

I took a heavenly ride through our silence,
I knew the waiting had begun;
And headed straight... into the shining sun.

Friday, October 30

Thursday, October 29

HTML 5

I've been wanting to jump into web design and specifically web coding for awhile now, but have been held back because of the big mess of standards: which browsers support which features of which technology, and which don't. The "safe" thing to do right now, in order not to exclude the great mass of IE users out there, is to use HTML 4 and CSS 1, or XHTML 1 and CSS (1 or 2). It still seems like a hodgepodge, though, and I have no confidence Microstupid will ever make a standards-compliant browser.

So I decided, screw anyone using IE, just on principle, as well as to make learning modern web design more exciting and cutting-edge. I'm going to just start with HMTL 5, which seems perpetually in draft stage (sorta like beta software), but it's not that there's anything wrong with the standard (in fact there's a whole lot of cool stuff about it), it's the old chicken and egg game of waiting for browsers to support it fully. And IE is holding everyone else on the web back.

If you're interested at what new things are possible with HTML 5 and what it's all about, go here:
http://www.webmonkey.com/tutorial/Building_Web_Pages_With_HTML_5

I'd like to switch my blog from Blogger to Wordpress, and totally re-style it and spruce it up (in fact I already have my Wordpress account set up, the name reserved, and have a Flikr account for hosting photos and a FileFactory account for hosting other kinds of files, like MP3s or homemade video which I could legally stream to my blog). And, ta-da, here's a guy who's already made a free template for Wordpress in HTML 5:
http://digwp.com/2009/07/free-html-5-wordpress-theme/

If you want to see a big gallery of sites that are already using it HTML 5, and some of the cool things they've come up with, go here:
http://html5gallery.com/

Basically, HTML 5 does away with all the kludged-together standards and proprietary workarounds of yesteryear, everything from HTML 1-4, CSS 1-2, XHTML, much of what Javascript was needed for, some of what Flash was needed for, and so on. It also breaks free of its SGML roots, if that means anything to you (it will if you're a FrameMaker or RoboHelp user). It's basically a new markup language using almost the same syntax, but structured much more cleanly and incorporating a lot of external technologies (extensions) into the core language. And it's backwards compatible in the sense that it won't break older browsers or lame browsers (IE) that don't recognize its new bits - those parts just won't function or maybe won't even appear. The browser will ignore the "5" content as though it were just commented out. At least, that's the theory. I don't know the reality yet.

Of course, you can still augment your site with SQL, XML, or other backends if you need those functions (say, if you're a store and need to keep an inventory), and scripting languages like Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, AJAX, and plain Javascript will still function; in fact, most of them will work even better since HTML is more extension-aware (I won't bore you with the details). So basically, it's all good news, except that the large IE market out there might not be able to see/use the best parts of your site, like embedded video and audio (without extensions!) and SVG graphics. If you're running a business, this is bad. But I'm not running a business, and I don't care about people who use IE. In fact, I'll put a big old "IE sucks, get another browser and come back" badge right on my homepage or something; anything to encourage people to switch to something that plays nice.

Fun to have new things to learn and play with. Cloud computing. Web 2.0. Whatever trendy buzzword you want to use. Web pages aren't just to look at anymore, they do things now. Don't expect a blog move anytime extremely soon, though... I still have a lot to learn and I won't switch to a new host and a new code base until I've tested the heck out of it and am sure it will fly. Plus I'll need time even once I figure out how it all works to come up with a unique, cool template design that I'll be happy with for a long time. This one has served me well but it's ancient! I want a lot more control over audio, video, fonts, and pixel-level placement of page elements than this blogger template could ever give me. Plus links to things like a resume/CV and other pages for other parts of my life and other purposes besides blogging.

I did it!!!


Wednesday, October 28

A PC build to save for. Or?

My computer uses are varied and not very similar to one another. Of course I surf, check email, and check My Zoo on Facebook, as well as download files using BitTorrent and blog about stuff like what I use my computer for. These things, any computer can do. Hell, an iPhone can do them.

But I use my computer also to: 1) Play technologically-demanding games, and 2) Participate in creative activities like photo-retouching, messing around with 3D apps, architectural software and the like.

I don't have any money and I'm not making any money. But if I do at some point, I would face a choice: To save for a Mac, or to substantially upgrade my PC. Given the looming obsolescence of my current computer, I should start saving what I can for one option or the other. Here are the benefits and shortcomings...

I'd love to have a new 27" iMac with the i7 CPU upgrade. The benefits are compactness, reliability, OS satisfaction, aesthetic satisfaction, and fairly cutting-edge technologies. The shortcomings are price (slightly) and mediocre 3D graphics. It's odd how everyone thinks of Macs as "good at graphics" when they're not... yes, the OS looks nice, the cases are beautiful, but the actual availability and compatibility of the best 3D videocards on the market, for both workstations or gaming machines, is well behind that of PCs. And the expandability on an iMac is basically nil. I'd have to shell out for a Mac Pro to get any future-proofing, and I have no illusions of drumming up that kind of money.

If I simply upgraded my PC, it would basically be replacing the entire guts of my PC. The problem is that while PCs are viewed as part-upgradable, that's really a bunch of crap. You almost always have to upgrade your motherboard, CPU, RAM, and power supply all at the same time, and likely you're wanting a new videocard or two as well. So what's left? The case and HDDs? Basically, yeah, as well as DVD-ROM and external peripherals. I would want an i7 920 (entry-level Nehalem, very overclockable), a mainboard that could run it, 1333 or 1600 DDR3 RAM, two ATI 5850 cards in Crossfire mode, and a buff PSU to power it all. Hell, might as well get a new, quiet case while I'm at it, and a backlit keyboard to replace this POS that I'm using at the moment. The upside? More bang for the buck than the Mac option, more expandability for the future for games and for Photoshop. The downside? Still using Windoze. Barf.

I wish there weren't so many options sometimes. I hate computers - sometimes. Either way I go in the future I'm looking at either a new computer or an almost complete new build; thus between $1300 and $2500. That's not even comprehensible to me right now as someone with NO money.

Guess I will have to work on my real life and find a way to work and make money if I'm to keep up, and continue to enjoy my computer-oriented hobbies. Or I will have to give up on computers and take up outdoor activities, which is surely infinitely more healthy. I... just... love... computers. Well, sometimes. Sometimes I loathe them, too.

Juliana Hatfield.

Tuesday, October 27

The leaves are crunchy.

I noticed awhile back that the trees were changing colors and kept meaning to do a photo shoot but never did. That seems to be what happens these days. Why aren't I motivated?

The trees started losing their leaves weeks ago but they were still limp; still hanging on to life. There were yellow ones, green ones, and orange ones with black spots.

Today they're almost all brown, and they've officially gone crunchy enough that I can make a wandering path on my way to where I'm going just to stomp on the biggest upside-down ones.

I even found a big pile of them earlier, swept against a retaining wall by the dry wind, and jumped around in them for a few minutes with giddy glee, like popping bubble wrap but even better.

I guess you have to take what you can from autumn.

Monday, October 19

Word challenge! (Medium)

Here are some medium-difficult words, see if you can give a brief definition or use each in a sentence (in the comments section).

Alternately, if you don't know some of them, you can choose to make up a funny false definition.

To those for whom English is not your native tongue, don't feel bad if you don't know any of these words; they're not the kind you'll typically hear in conversation or web chats!

01. demesne
02. bucolic
03. blunderbuss
04. hoary
05. piebald
06. enervated
07. mendacious
08. bellicose
09. torpid
10. numinous
11. elucidate
12. abjure

    Good luck! No cheating (please)!

    Lists

    Sometimes I think the primary difference between humans and the other great apes, and indeed the whole of the animal kingdom itself*, is our propensity to organize the world into "top ten" lists. At least some of us are afflicted by that illness!

    *As opposed to the other Kingdoms. Plants makes lists all the time, and fungi dabble occasionally. Bacteria and Archaebacteria are not known to be prolific list-compilers, but admittedly little is known about their habits when not being directly observed under a sodding great f#cking big lamp by a huge, bloodshot eye.

    Sunday, October 18

    LOL


    Saturday, October 17

    My favorite toys as a kid were...

    My favorite toys as a child were... (you may select more than one)
    Slinky
    Jacks
    Hula Hoop
    Ouija Board
    Pogo Stick
    Silly Putty
    Simon
    Rubik's Cube
    Blocks
    Tinker Toys
    Pong or Atari console
    My Bike!
    Dolls
    My Skateboard or Skates
    Child's Oven
    Yo-Yo
    Play-Dough
    Legos
    Erector Set
    Others (tell us in the comments!)
    uggs boots

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