Friday, December 31

3...2...1... (pacific standard time)

Dolores wishes you a happy year, too :o)



Listen to Bob. Everything gonna be all right!

Happy New Year's, dear readers! Best wishes for 2011 and may wars wind down, people come together if only a little bit, and love and generosity make a comeback from years of greed, then economic meltdown. Take care of the earth, it's the only home we've got. Take care of your animal cousins - they are your cousins quite literally.

If you live in a free country, don't take it for granted - enjoy and celebrate your freedom. You may like or dislike your government, but you have the power to vote and to protest peacefully without getting jailed or killed. Remember that! And don't forget to give back in your own way, whatever that might be, to those less fortunate than you.

Most of all, peace be with you and have a kick ass 2011! Now boogie down to some Robert Nesta Marley, the one and only! Jah Rastafari, ever loving, ever faithful, ever true. King of kings and lord of lords, conquering lion of the tribe of Judah. Jah lives!



Sincerely,
Meta

Thursday, December 23

hahahaha



in case you aren't one of the 5 million who have seen this

it's cute and funny.



Lol, "Avoid Romans"

Wednesday, December 22

redemption song

Quite appropriate for the holidays I think, Bob Marley's classic "Redemption Song" covered by Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer (late of The Clash)! What a song, what a duet to cover it. Bob's version will always be the best, but this is unique in it's own way...

RIP Bob Marley
RIP Joe Strummer
RIP Johnny Cash

:'(
But happy holidays - the message goes on even when the singers are not with us anymore.



One love.

a good larf... quite revealing of how language has changed!

Tuesday, December 21

cool

Not my photo - my Canon died, my Nikon battery didn't recharge in time, and plus I don't have a good zoom anyway. It would have looked lame, so I'll use a photo from the web. But I did see it in all its phases over the several hours it was partially full/totally full, and it rocked out with its socks out. Looked a lot like this, actually, just smaller. And it was directly over my house instead of on the internet. Other than that this guy got it right.


Thanks to Jimmy Westlake for this photo, which I'm using unauthorized.
Or maybe the moon's name is Jimmy Westlake, I'm not quite sure.

truth

oh, it's a strange day
in such a lonely way
I saw some children dance
I watched my life in a trance
and the people around me
seem so glad to be here
will my time pass so slowly
on the day that I fear?

and the noise that surrounds me
pulls so loud in my head
from the promise that healed us
to the lies that I said
oh, it's a strange day
in such a lonely way
some people look down on me,
I know they like what they see

strange day,
such a strange day
such a strange day

—bernard sumner

Monday, December 20

in the wake of adversity

hey Patrice don't cry, they've no reason to harm you at all
they don't realise that the angels surround you with light
they don't understand, their narrow ways defeat them where they stand
they don't realise you hide your sadness beneath a painted smile

ignorance, that light of fools steers a wayward path
and sets the course upon which we sail into the night of uncertainty
following the stars that make their way across the sky
valuing the love that lends grace to our hearts,
we sail...

—brendan perry

michaels bones

michael's bones
lay where he fell
face down on sports ground
he was just somebody's luckless son
oh but now look what he's done
oh look what he's done.
your gentle hands are frozen
and your unkissed lips are blue
your thinning clothes
are hopeless and no one was mad about you.

michael's bones
were very young
but they were never to know
impetuous fun
mr policeman, i don't know
where you get such notions from.
his gentle hands are frozen
and his unkissed lips are blue
but his eyes still cry.

and now you've turned the last bend
can you see, are we all judged the same
in the end? tell me, tell me.
oh luckless thing
you were too brave
and i'm ashamed of myself, as usual.

—morrissey

Sunday, December 19

rainy christmas days

will we laugh?
cold textiles, creeper vines
spines of the murex purple boats lie
littered on ancient seas
lye pleas to tyrian merchants, these times

see to it we are lost to laughter;
and will we see? twice trismegistus
tried to crash wise with hexes
on thee.

but rainy christmas days now
float our paper boats away
down one gutter into the other
to stay. and will you tell me,

about your turn in the sand,
warm, rays of the sun drawn overhead
gargantua before the breaking tide, headless
pyramid, astral notes, glib mourning
celibacy imprimatur imprimacy celebrity.

when will we laugh,
o brother of night who has met my
every sally with phallanx, harbored
hatred hoary health, hanging collapsed
relapsed then free;

when will we laugh?

when will we laugh?
for I cry now, dreaming play.

for rainy christmas days now
float our paper boats away
down the gutter we clutch one another
anyway.

-jms

Tuesday, December 14

Sir Yes Sir, it's Big Sur, Sir!


big sur, california
click on it for a more awesome image

Monday, December 13

Sunday, December 12

Back to school.


If you could go back to college, what would you study? There are a dozen ways we can go with this, so I'll set down two scenarios and let you run with it. You can answer both, either one, or make up your own criteria. Sound good? And for the sake of making it easy, in this hypothetical situation you are enrolled in the university of your dreams, with the best faculty and facilities and your disposal, and money is not a concern, nor is family life or anything else. This is more to see what you are interested in and what you might do differently (or not), than it is about pesky logistics.

And if you didn't go to college, or haven't yet, this is your chance to have fun anyway. International readers note: Americans use "college" synonymously with "university" and not as a lesser institution; we call our 2-year institutions "junior colleges" or "institutes" or various other names but "going off to college" for us could mean we were setting off for Harvard or Oxford just as well as it could mean we were going down the road to the 2-year city college. I'm going to use the word "college" because it's less cumbersome than "univeristy" by three syllables, but please take it to mean any institute of higher learning, public or private, junior college or major university, undergraduate or the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies where people like Einstein, Feynman, and Dyson have been faculty members.

Scenario one - you went to college, took something you enjoyed, but it wasn't practical and you didn't use your degree nearly to the extent you wish you could now. You want to go back to take something more practical that perhaps won't interest you as much for 2, 4, or more years, but will net you a great career (one you now desire), and give you the means to more fully live out your dreams for the rest of your life.

Scenario two - the opposite, really. You took a boring, practical course of study and it may or may not have benefitted you in the real world. Life has gone on and this little genie has popped out of my blog bottle and given you the chance to go back and study something you'd really enjoy, and who gives a damn whether it's practical or not. You could end up teaching the subject, or taking a vocation that's entirely unrelated, but at least you'll have had the chance to learn something in depth that has always interested you.

Or, do you think college is a waste? Would you jump right into the entrepreneurial world and get started making your first million, or zoom off to Nairobi to save some wildlife, or would you use the hypothetical college funds to erect a first-class study edifice of your own and be completely self-taught, immersing yourself in books and the internet interspersed with bouts of real life? It's all up to you, there are no rules.

And since it's unstructured as always, you can list as many subjects as you like... just one is fine. Or if you want a double-major with a minor and then a different subject of study in graduate school or even multiple PhDs with pickles and onions on the side, go for it. Realize that each course of study will take more years to accomplish, but you can afford it, so it's really a matter of what you would like to learn where (academia or the streets), and for how long. Maybe you want to get rich and retire to a life of leisure. Maybe you want to stay in school all your life.

I'm just starting the conversation to see where it will lead. I'll participate too, but I won't go first.

Design.



Do you like to design things in general? housing floorplans, gardens, castles, dungeons?? Did you draw maps or maybe schematics as a kid? Do you still draw flow charts rather than to do lists? Maps rather than written instructions? Do you you think spatially or verbally? (Don't have to answer that, I was just getting swept up in the questions.) Do you enjoy designing logos, advertisements, magazine or web layouts (without having to know any code, say)? Are you the one who decides which pictures go on which wall and how the furniture is arranged in the room? Which types of shrubs, flowers, and trees will adorn the garden and how they will be laid out? Which veg to plant and how the rows should be ordered? The color scheme of the house and all the fabrics and everything else needed to put together something that fits a grand scheme you have in mind? Or is that just not you? It's important to note that just because I'm talking about design, it's not a bad thing not to care about it — many people don't, and would rather concentrate on the details, or maximize efficiency, or have other more pressing issues or interests and aren't much interested in design. Or who are interested but would prefer to delegate that task to someone more capable or at least more enthusiastic.

What about computer games... do you like "god" or "sim" games such as SimCity, Civilization, Zoo Tycoon, Pharaoh, The Sims, Farmville, City of Wonder, or the literally hundreds of other games that allow you a space in which to build, and do you enjoy them more when they give you more of a free hand - a blank canvass on which to decorate and arrange and build - rather than restricting what you can do into some sort of template where things must be placed in certain places? Is the design portion of these games (if you play them) the biggest attraction to you, or is it on par with other features such as managing an economy, waging war, growing an empire, and so on? Or is the element of design, in fact, a bothersome part of the game, something that needs to be done but which you'd rather the AI did for you? Do you just put your buildings (or crops, or zoo enclosures, or stadiums) down anywhere there's room, or line up all the same type together for most efficient management? Or do you like to be artistic even if it takes a bit more time, and put little paths that don't garner you any points running in between and to each little exhibit or shop or dormitory, plant lots of decorative foliage, change the topography from flat to something more interesting (if the game lets you), and generally separate similar types of buildings, or perhaps keep them together but within a "themed" area, like an "African safari" area at a zoo? If you can profit most from a single type of building, will you build that one over and over, and pack it in as tightly as possible, or will you build for variety and aesthetic value and leave lots of "white space" to filled in decoratively, even if it means you fall behind the "optimal" build as a computer might see it (unless the software if smart enough to place value on aesthetics and variety)? Do you usually find the best way to do things in a game and then wash, rinse, and repeat, or do you strive to be creative because that is more fun than getting further up some point ladder or accumulating more wealth, points, or awards?

When you read a book or write your own prose, poetry, or just letters or emails, do you value aesthetics both within the content (beautiful prose like Tolkiens versus plain, informational prose like Asimov's) and in the actual appearance of the layout, the typefaces used, the size and spacing of the lettering, whether it's broken up with illustrations, the weight and quality (and edge cut) of the paper, and these sorts of considerations? Or is it all pretty much the same to you as long as it's not a distracting design — that is, it's neutral enough that you can kept the information from it you need (or put in the information you wish to convey), and no more consideration of design in order to "fancy things up" is necessary. Or is perhaps the best design that which is transparent, but bolsters the content in subtle ways? (This last question is rhetorical). After all, no one would want to see a flowery surgical manual or a book of children's poetry written on a typewriter without any illustrations or color.

I'd just like to hear everyone's opinion on design and how important it is in what they do for fun, or that, in fact, it's not important. No answers are wrong of course. And there really ended up being two separate questions here: One about spacial design (layout, in real life and in games), and one about design in a printed environment. There are endless other forms of design: the design of industrial or functional objects that we use every day, like light bulbs, stereo systems, and computer operating systems. Or the placement of gauges and shifters and gadgets about you in the diver's seat of your car. Or the design of an academic course, or something else which unfolds temporally as well as spatially. What is good design? Is it to enhance or to keep out of its own way? Some design are the simplest. Some are elaborate and you wouldn't want to simplify them. Some are subtle but ingenious, some are extremely ambitious but fail under their own weight.

Well, I don't expect anyone to answer (or even pontificate upon) these more philosophical questions of design as concept, but the early questions about layouts in games and your home, etc — any elucidation you could provide on the importance of those to you would be appreciated!




Thursday, December 9

Speakers and headphones that sound great (and won't break the bank).

I was responding to Raelha's brief mention, in the previous post's comments, of having some nice speakers to make her music sound better... and then I just sort of ran with it and ended up with something too long to submit. So rather than break it into chunks there, I'll just make it its own post here.

This is my advice based on experience of the best 'bang for the buck' computer (or even room) speakers, full-sized headphones, and earbud headphones. Most products that most of us can afford out there are not any good, at least if you genuinely appreciate music. On the other hand, someone who's rich can throw enough money at a product in a fancy store that they're bound to end up with something that sounds quite good. So that's our dilemma, those who want great sound but don't have a lot of money.

Here's the full text of my response, and maybe it will help someone make a purchasing decision, or you can always ask me further questions about audio equipment, which I was quite into at one point and should be able to at least point you in the right direction. However, I've not addressed car audio or home theater setups or even multi-component quality stereo systems meant for large rooms here. Each of those subjects is very complicated, and would merit a post of its own. We'll keep it small for now.

---

...I'm big on quality speakers and headphones too, Raelha. I'm afraid my tastes are those of an audiophile and my means are those of someone begging for shekels, though.

However, when I did have a decent income I bought a pair of Klipsch Promedia 2.1 Speakers for my computer, and they are really outstanding (Byte knows this because he bought a set too). Hard if not impossible to beat for the price - they've dropped to about $150, if you can find them. They've been around about 9 years - I know because I've had mine about that long! In fact they're the oldest part of my computer system; but alas, they're finally starting to have problems.

Still, the quality is awesome. No speakers in that price range have nearly the clarity in the mids and highs (which are fully separate on the 2 satellites, with built-in crossovers), and a 200-watt amp housed in the sub (yes, you read that right, 200) - 35 true watts (RMS, not peak) to each of the satellites, and 130 whopping RMS watts to the subwoofer, which is refreshingly built of real wood, is ported, and which bumps low, hard, and tight. You won't believe it when you listen to music on them - they literally sound like a $500+ living room system with a separate amp/receiver. Byte actually used his to play music in the main large room in his house, controlled from iTunes on his computer back in his man-cave!



Put it this way, you'll never have a reason to turn the volume up more than halfway. And the sound doesn't distort at all as you climb that volume mountain, unlike so many other "multimedia" speakers... I will say Logitech makes some good 2.1 speakers now for a similar price, but I don't have as much personal experience with them. So basically if/when you get serious about speaker hunting, you can pay $50 or $100 and get crap that you'll regret right away; you can pay $350+ and get quality audio, some better than others and not always in alignment with the price tag (M-Audio and Marantz are good, so is Boston Acoustics), or you can just do the smart thing and pay $150 (well, the Euro equivalent) if you can still find a pair of these bad dogs out there being sold NEW (don't buy used speakers!), and you'll think it's the best $150 you ever spent. I guarantee it - look at the 497 reviews on the US Amazon page and you'll see why I feel comfortable saying that.

Like I said, one of my satellites is finally dying, and I'm also getting some distortion off the amp now (after 9 years of constant use)... and when I get the money to replace them, I'm gonna replace them hopefully with the same ones!

As far as headphones I would recommend Sennheiser HD 580s (not made anymore, but still sold here and there) or better. It all depends on your budget: I have the HD 650s and they're awesome, but the 580s sound 75% as good for a fraction of the price, and they're a bit lighter and more comfy to boot. Another good buy if you can find them. Stay away from Sony and all the other Japanese brands (Audio Technica being the exception): you need to spend a fortune to get into their professional models before they sound anything like Sennheisers or Grados. Sennheiser do make their own crummy headphones on the very low-end. This is something they started doing not along ago probably to boost sales and profit, since most people are cheap or have other priorities than good sound - or just don't know any better - but it's too bad because it's tarnished their name a bit. The mid- to high-end of the line is still great, though.



Lastly, for earbuds for an MP3 player or SmartPhone, there's a company called V-Moda which isn't well known, but I have a pair of their "Vibe" buds, which were $99 when I got them, and they turned my iPod into a work of art - I couldn't believe the rich bass and clear separation of all the instruments on the sound stage, as well as the dynamic range - especially compared with the junk earbuds that Apple gives you for free (or companies like Sony sell for $20). You might think $99 is steep for earbuds... well that was many moons ago. I just checked on the web and you can get the exact ones I have - Vibe in gunmetal black with a case and multiple-sized fittings for all ears - for $29!! If I had the money I'd go buy like 3 more pair and just store them in my closet in case my current ones die. Which they haven't, by the way, even after about 4 years.



So once again you can throw your money away on something $20 or less and never know what your music really sounds like, you can spend a fortune on Schure, Ultimate Ears, or Etymotic and get great but overpriced buds, or you can pay thirty bucks and get a pair of buds from V-Moda that will blow you away. iPods have good enough onboard amps (barely) to power them properly, too; with cheaper and lamer portable music players, your mileage may vary. Some may be too underpowered to drive a nice pair of earbuds, in which case you need a small headphone amp, or just get an iPod (even a low-end iPod). Apple uses decent amp components on all their models. Not all brands do - you generally get what you pay for when it comes to that. iPods are not the cheapest portable music players out there - but I think they're the best, and worth the money. And there's a model for almost everyone's particular needs and budget.

Well, there you have it - Meta's guide to speakers! (Partial guide, at least....)

Friday, December 3

What items would you pay a premium for, to get superior quality?

I imagine most of us would like to have the top quality of every type of device we own, home we live in, car we drive. I mean, why not? Set aside the unfairness of the real world, thoughts of affluence and poverty, and just put your mind in a fictional realm for a moment.

Now I want you to list a few (at most maybe a half-dozen) items you own or interact with in your life (non-living) which you particularly value and for which you would happily pay extra (and scrimp a bit on other things) to have a superior make and model, or something which makes an artistic impression, or just is a cut above the norm.

Some people want the latest touchscreen phones, which is perfectly fine. I on the other hand wouldn't turn one down (because they seem easier to use - my current phone is like trying to figure out a VCR), but I hate phones in general and so I'd never put that on my list. Some like fancy shoes, others a work of art to hang on their wall, some like well-built automobiles while others cherish fancy computer systems with powerful graphics and multiple large monitors. Some are into home theater, other into quality kitchen appliances or cutlery or superior furniture. You see what I mean.

Assume everything else in your life would be adequate and not cheapened, but just not special in the same way. Now, don't use this opportunity to say "a mansion, fully appointed with the best of everything" or "a Lear jet" or "a Bentley" or "a yacht". Let's keep this to the single-digit thousands of dollars or lower. Basically, think on the smaller side and be reasonable.
Personally, I value a really great, reliable car, but that's a bit over what we've decided the price range is to be, so I'm going to say: A leading edge computer loaded with hardware and software for under $10,000, but probably a Macintosh Pro with 3 large screens, upgraded graphics and memory, and Photoshop. I like jewelry (not much of it, but stuff made of platinum and other rare metals), so maybe a necklace and a couple of rings (like those two-toned Mokume-gane rings) in that range. Also, a wardrobe that isn't Armani but isn't Target... something casual but obviously high quality - the brand isn't the thing but just to name-check some I'd say The North Face, Eddie Bauer, Clarke's of London shoes, a cashmere sweater or two - practical, durable, comfortable things I'll definitely wear often, which will hold up because of their quality of construction and which just happen to look nice as well. I like the example of The North Face - it's pricey, but not when compared to "name designer clothing", and it's actually used by professional outdoorspeople the world round. Or Vasque boots. Or Levi's 501s. Clothing that works and happens to have a splash of taste and fits well, both literally and with my personality.

The last few things: High-quality oak bookcases, built-in, with a ladder attached I could slide around to get at my books. I already have a floor globe... and a powerful 'tactical' LED flashlight. Maybe some really good binoculars, from Nikon, Zeiss, or Swarovski? Maybe a solid but affordable geological binocular microscope for looking at fossils up close and with good depth perception? Maybe a home theater system - affordable, with a minimum of components, but each one being a good brand? It's hard to say.

Oh, and above all else: A high-quality bed/mattress and a superb COMFY CHAIR. Some nice lamps with soft lighting would be welcomed as well. Yeah, I think I'd choose the simpler things like a few select pieces of furniture and kitchen appliances rather than fancy electronics. Things built solidly that will last a lifetime.

And you? What matters most to you amongst the smaller conveniences in your life?

What do you collect?

Most people seem to collect something. Some people collect lots of things, but they usually have problems. And I suppose there are people who live completely practical workaday lives and don't collect anything 'just because' at all, though I haven't really met anyone that I can definitely say that about - or at least any that come to mind.

There's a difference between accumulated things because of a hobby or job or as a by-product of another at least semi-practical use, and a whimsical collection that just makes the owner happy. For example, a professional musician might have a ton of guitars and loads of music gear, but may or may not be a true guitar 'collector.' Similarly, people might crave tons of fancy lenses and the latest digital camera bodies because they are a giant photography geek and gearhead.

I don't consider this true collecting. True, you are collecting bits of kit, but there's a purpose to it - to have an ever more awesome sound studio, camera system, computer rig, a bad ass muscle car, or whatever. That sort of how I think of my books. I often say I collect books, but that's not precisely true. I only buy certain kinds, and I read them, while I might cotton to certain topics or others and stay away from others, the process of accumulating books is certainly as much a product of the desire to learn the knowledge within them as it is to just have them: To arrange and display them, enjoy them as existential objects apart from the meaning of the words within.

It's true, were I only interested in learning from books (or entertaining myself, or both), I'd borrow them from the library, or I'd buy them but hand them on to someone else when I'm finished. The fact that I dislike doing that ("give it back?!?") and that I like to group my books, take care of them, collect certain sets or editions, and so on shows that the flip side to my practical love of books is the irrational but clear (and fun) sign of the true collector. I can give away or sell or lend many books I don't care much about. Some parts of my book inventory would be out of the question for that sort of thing, though.

So, what I'm wondering in my long-winded way is: What do you collect? Not because of your business or because there's a good practical reason, but just out of whimsy or because of some memory another irrational but perfectly plausible reason. I'll tell you what I collect, or have collected.

I used to collect trading cards (but the movie kind much more than the sports kind), action figures and toys tied into a theme (ahem... Star Wars, GI Joe, He-Man...), comic books - but only The Flash and The Green Lantern - and then as I got older I began to collect coins. International coins to an extent (they seemed exotic, but I didn't make a systematic effort to obtain sets of them), but mostly US coins, and mostly old ones (the older the better, though it was much easier to collect relatively complete sets of the newer mints).

I had a lot of board games, a lot of sports equipment, lots of video games... but I never felt I collected that stuff, just played with it. It sucked if something broke or got lost but it wasn't like I felt a hole in my life until I replaced it with one just like it. And I never tried to catalogue or display those kinds of things in my room in any organized way to show I was proud to own them.

As I've gotten older I've lost interest in the movie cards, though my brother still has a lot of the ones we had as kids, my coin collection pretty much stopped growing once I got into college and has only occasionally been added to since, I've lost many of my old comic books and while it would be fun to see them again, I feel no desire to purchase comics of any sort, nor action figures or other toys. I collected Beanie Babies for a few years when my daughter was really into them (yes I admit it), but it was really more something to do with her that we could both relate to and get excited about. Once she lost interest, so did I. I had a few big sacks full at one time but I don't have them any more.

I've never been a collector of VHS or DVD films, CDs (though I had a large CD "collection" - again, it was for a rational reason: Because I love music and wanted those CDs to listen to. I didn't take some kind of completist pride in the corpus of my collection or seek to add missing singles and EPs just for the sake of owning them). I love music and films but unlike many people I've never properly collected either, or made a fuss over their organization. I come close with documentaries, as I have quite a library now (mostly in digital form but some in DVD-sets), but I still don't really care about anything but their content. I like watching them; they're interesting or comforting or fascinating, but the media itself upon which the images live means nothing to be so long as it's around somewhere and hopefully in good condition.

If you take books out of the conversation, then, there are not too many things you could really say I properly collect, but there are a few quirky things. Just like one of my grandmas like anything to do with elephants, I have a thing for cows (and to a lesser extent sheep/lambs), and in recent years bears as well, especially (really almost exclusively) polar bears. There are some private reasons for lots of these things. I have plush cows and sheep, some cow hand-puppets, and my mom has send me cow stickers and calenders and book over the years. I've drawn comic strips with cow characters and much much more, but that's drifting outside the realm of physical collectibles now, so enough about that. But besides a general love of cows and a sort of lifelong attachment to them, I do still want to continue to collect plush cows and other cow "things"... not just any old thing, mind you, but cute things that I find pleasing for some unknowable reason. Here are a couple things I just found on the web:


Notice the first cow is quite realistic (with an especially nicely-done udder), but still looks endearing. The second picture is a cow puppet which is sensible holding a bottle of milk in his right hand and quite oddly has his own puppet on his left hand, and it's not even another cow, it's a pig! What's going on there? If only it had it's own cow puppet (which presumably would have it's own even tinier cow puppet, and so on), there would be something special about that one. But the pig just kinda ruins it.

I like lavender plush things and lavender candles and such too, but don't really collect them; I just enjoy the smell. It's relaxing. The same with honey - I like honey much better than sugar, and I like the honey bears they come in (at least in the United States), but it's nothing I save or collect. Honey is just yummy, and honey cough drops are better than cherry ones, and the idea of selling honey inside a bear-shaped bottle is great. That's all.

Um, I collect yo-yo's and juggling bags. It's not really a collection so much that I want to have a LOT of either one, it's more a case of I'm always looking for the perfect yo-yo or the perfect set of juggling bags or juggling sticks (or come to think of it, the perfect chess board or globe or lots of unique things like that), and once I find "IT", I have no more interest in the subject. Like, I wanted a shark tooth necklace for a long time. Now I have one, and I like it. The end. So yo-yo's are one of those things which are always on my mind in some way, and I've been looking ever since childhood for the perfect one, which surely doesn't exist. Along the way I've collected quite a few nice ones that I'm quite happy with, but aren't quite right in some way.

I think that's a different psychological pathology working there: Trying to find the holy grail of something and never finding it, rather than trying to build up a collection in which the entirety of the thing is appreciated (even if some pieces are more treasured than others). I do have a D&D book collection that is pretty impressive, and while I lost the financial ability to keep up quite awhile ago, I have most of the stuff that was published from the late 1970s (though not the really early rare stuff) up to about 2005 (I'm just guessing). And that's only the books properly, not all the modules and figurines and other accessories (though I once had a nice assortment of dice... that was another case of always trying to find the perfect set of dice; "my" dice that just seemed right for me. But I never found them).

I dabbled in Coca-Cola branded items for awhile - keychains, old authentic glass bottles, stickers or postcards - but lots of that stuff is too kitsch for my taste and I gave it up. I still like Coke though, and their branding (the way I like Apple's branding but don't "collect" Apple products - I just admire their design taste). I especially like when they feature polar bears enjoying Coca-Cola since that brings two of my interests together.

Speaking of interests - that word conjures up yet another thing that is not collecting, but could develop an associated set of collections as a side result. I'm talking about being interested in audiophile-quality equipment; interested in really nice binoculars, stereoscopic microscopes, and DSLR cameras; interested in geology and all the hammers and specialized equipment that goes with it; interested in learning to play music properly; interested in the design of things in general - industrial design, print design, web design. Love of typefaces, beauty, art, words. All these are interests and even passions but I can't think of anything I have attached those ideas which I could call a 'collection.' I do have the complete works of many of my favorite authors - Plath, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, and so on, so I guess one could say I'm tending toward being a bit of a completist there. And the same with many bands - I have all their CDs, though again I would stress I don't need to own every re-mix or 45 rpm record or vinyl LP or greatest hits albums when I already have all the songs. It's the writing in the case of the authors that I want to have at my fingertips, and the songs in the case of the bands. I don't think it's the thought that I've assembled something complete and greater than a sum of its parts.

Maybe my Tolkien collection. There's really no other excuse for why I would have 4 or 5 different versions (hardcover and paperback) of The Lord of the Rings, for example. I guess perhaps I am a Tolkien Book Collector. But work about Tolkien or anything else associated with him, like the yearly calendar, and all the Tolkien Society stuff that is really arcane and delves into his invented languages... I draw the line there. I just like having nice sets of his books, I suppose. A set to read and the rest to keep for no reason other than I want them and they look nice all lined up on the shelf!!!

So, to get back to it, what do you collect and if you know why, then why? Elaborate as much as you can, or care to... you won't bore anyone, at least not me. That's all that matters anyway on the 'Plane. I'd like it if everyone showed up and wrote pages and pages of comments every day!

Thursday, December 2

WikiPLEADia

Someone get this Jimmy Wales clown off my Wikipedia before I clock someone.

He's distracting me from reading stuff! Jeez, what poor site design.

Wednesday, December 1

Apologies for a content-free November.

I know I've hardly posted lately, but it's because I've been sick for over a month now. I have almost NO energy. I have some ideas for posts, that's about as far as I've gotten. Hopefully this month I'll actually write out some of those ideas and get back to posting, but gotta beat this darn illness first.

Saturday, November 20

“Rain” (1966)




If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
They might as well be dead.
If the rain comes, if the rain comes.
When the sun shines they slip into the shade
(When the sun shines down.)
And sip their lemonade.
(When the sun shines down.)
When the sun shines, when the sun shines.
Rain, I don't mind.
Shine, the world looks fine.
I can show you that when it starts to rain,
(When the rain comes down.)
Everything's the same.
(When the rain comes down.)
I can show you, I can show you.
Rain, I don't mind.
Shine, the world looks fine.
Can you hear me, that when it rains and shines,
(When it rains and shines.)
It's just a state of mind?
(When it rains and shines.)
Can you hear me, can you hear me?
If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
sdaeh rieht edih dna nur yeht semoc niar eht fI.
(Rain)
niaR.
(Rain)
enihsnuS.

Wednesday, November 17

Cool, it's about time!

The Beatles were the last major holdout, mostly over a dumb fight to do with the similarity of the Apple Corps / Apple, Inc names. And probably Yoko being a stubborn, contrarily counterculture you-know-what. I can't see Paul or Ringo having a problem with making their entire catalogue of music, especially the new remastered box sets and the rest, available to new fans on the largest seller of music in the world. Doesn't take a genius to realize this will make both parties a lot more money being together than slogging it out separately. The band wouldn't sell their music through the biggest and best music retailer in the world. And iTunes Music Store had a glaring hole where the best band ever was quite conspicuously absent from their offerings. Now? All patched up and solved, apparently, and The Beatles will make Apple, Inc even hipper, and the other way round. Win-win situation and it shouldn't have taken nearly this long. Stubborn artists.

It's OK though because I already have every remastered Beatles album and nearly all their 'videos', films, and radio shows (Christmas specials, for example) as well as lots of audio-only interviews with members of the band, plus the Beatles Anthology DVD boxed set and the remix project "Love" put together by George Martin and his son a few years ago. So I was all set anyway. But maybe today's youth will discover the Fab Four all over again.





Sunday, November 14

Brendan Perry, "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (2010)




Let me know what you think of this song, from Brendan's 2010 album Ark. Thanks to Byte, he already did!

Saturday, November 13

Simple question, just for fun. And no I don't have $5000!


You're given $5000 (£3103, €3652, 1 million Ft) as soon as you finish reading this post by a kindly stranger, whose only instructions are that you MUST spend it within 3 days. The stranger is not up to any wrongdoing, and you will not get in any trouble. You cannot save or invest the money in any way so as to make it "grow" - if you put it in a bank or buy stock with it, it or the stock or other common equity will disappear in three days.

You may spend it on anything you want otherwise. On yourself, on others, give it to a charity, whatever. You can spend partial amounts on many different things. But you must spend it within 3 days (placing an online or mail order counts as spending it even if what you purchase doesn't arrive within 3 days). Whatever is leftover after 3 days will vanish, and you can't sell any purchases you made for a profit down the line, so again forget collector's items or any other investments.

You are, however allowed to gamble the money at a casino, on horse races or other sports, or anything else which is played by the rules and there is no insider knowledge or foul play.

So, what do you do with this little boon?

I'll give my answer in the comments, just as soon as I think of it!

Enigma - 'The Return to Innocence'

Often voted as one of the best music videos of all time. Song was a #1 hit for Enigma as well, and the LP The Cross of Changes, the follow-up to the band's extremely successful 1990 debut Mcmxc A.D., did just as well, selling an estimated 12 million copies worldwide and attaining multi-platinum status in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and other countries. As a result, many tracks from these first two albums have featured in motion picture scores, television shows, and advertisements.

The trademark Gregorian chanting of the first album has here been replaced by Ami (Native Taiwanese) vocalizations. The creative force behind Enigma is Romanian-born, German-raised, and classically trained pianist and composer Michael Cretu. He and his wife Sandra provide most of the English and French language vocals for Enigma's LP catalogue, while Gregorian (Latin) and Ami chanting, as well as folk singing in Basque, Sanskrit/Vedic, and other fairly obscure languages generally complement the songs, along with Japanese Shakuhachi flutes, though not always; Cretu's style has evolved relentlessly throughout the years, and he is still active in making his own music as well as collaborating, recording, and producing for others out of his home studio in Ibiza.

However, his most commercially successful albums by far were Enigma's first two (of the current seven that have been released). Among the most successful singles from those albums were "Sadeness," "The Principles of Lust," "Mea Culpa," "Age of Loneliness," "The Cross of Changes," and this track, "The Return to Innocence"...

Turn the volume up and enjoy.








Love, devotion
Feelings, emotion
Don't be afraid to be weak
Don't be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be be the return to yourself
The return to yourself.

'Cause if you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself, don't hide
Just believe in destiny
Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up and lose the chance
To return to innocence.



Music & Lyrics by Michael Cretu. English-language vocals by Sandra and Michael Cretu. Chanting by Ami tribesmen and farmers Difang Duana (1921–2002) and Igay Duana (1922–2002). Instrumentation, mixing, recording, production, and art by Michael Cretu (1993). Video directed by Julien Temple and filmed in Andalucia, Spain.

I'll contrast this song with a couple from the first album (and possibly subsequent albums) at a later date.

Friday, November 12

The inimitable Love & Rockets... the 80s at their finest!





Cheers to Peter, Daniel, David, and Kevin - all the original members of Bauhaus who went on to form so many bands, solo projects, and influence so many other musicians from the late 70s to the present! And of course to their alter egos, The Bubblemen! :D

Wednesday, November 10

If this doesn't cause you to stop and think for a moment, nothing will.

What it tells me is that life as we experience it right now (and more generally, in the last couple hundred years) is nothing like that which people have experienced throughout 99% of human history, not to mention human existence (our evolution as a distinct species). This graph only goes back as far as the agricultural revolution after the last ice age, when farming and animal husbandry were both developed, and people began the process of settling down  giving up hundreds of thousands of year or more of nomadic existence.



By the way, we're already closing in on 7 Billion and could reach it late next year, according to UN estimates.

Where're one of those asteroids when you need them...

World's most populous countries.

Without looking, just take a guess and name the top 10 most populous countries in the world, in the comments section. When you've done that you can click HERE and check your answers. But please write them out before you click, it will be much more fun that way.

A lot of the "old" ideas we have about the "great nations" of the world are being overturned, at least in terms of population size. Of course, wealth and power of nations is not particularly coordinated with population, so when we think of those 19th century colonial powers we may be still somewhat accurate in the amount of influence they wield in today's world.

Still, it's a bit eye-opening to see which countries have gone from mere afterthoughts prior to the 20th century to significant chunks of the pie of humanity. So many mouths to feed...

Sunday, November 7

Here's a pretty easy one. Well, maybe.

For some reason, Zeus always looks pissed off

The Earth, Sun, and Moon are all names which derive from Anglo-Saxon, as are most common words in modern English. But the language of science (and learning in general) is Latin, and the languages of the classical era Latin and Greek (primarily Greek), with a little landbridge so to speak of Arabic and Hindi to keep the classic knowledge alive while Europe devolved into illiterate churchgoers for a handful of centuries, killed cats and worsened the sweeps of plague (which lived inside fleas which lived on mice which cats conveniently eat), who lived in unthinkable squalor and absolutely loved it (ok, I made that last part up), and who generally lost their savoir vivre and drive to make inquiries about the natural world since of course, all knowledge is contained within a children's book called The Bible.

When the Enlightenment came round and people started to ponder the Universe they lived in again, this time developing rigorous and systematic methods for doing so objectively, rejecting supernaturalism, and doing such unbecoming things as staying up all night and pointing crude spyglasses into the black vault overhead, they made discoveries that were communicated, as stated, in the lingua franca of learned men and women - Latin.

And thus apart from the three heavenly bodies I mentioned above, for which all ancients surely had useful, unfancy homegrown names since the advent of language, the new objects in the sky were given Latin appellations. And what's more, thanks to a happy foresight of sorts, it was settled very early on that heavenly bodies would not be named haphazardly or after monarchs or rich patrons, but would be kept pleasingly consistent by using the overarching theme of classical mythology. This practice has since been followed in all but a very few cases (Titania and Oberon, anyone?). However, though the bodies themselves were styled after Greek deities, they were actually named using the Latin (Roman) equivalent, to be "scientific" about it.

Therefore most of the planets and moons and other interesting features of the solar system bear Latin names. So with this unprecedentedly long-winded introduction nearly over, I have a task for you, Gentle Reader. For each of the below common names (which whether you know it or not are Latin - mostly), I'd like you to give me a) The Greek equivalent, or b) The vocation or origin of the name ('X was the name for the god of Y, and was the son of Q', that sort of thing - I don't need a full biography and CV but just an idea of who they were in the popular imagination of antiquity), or if you're feeling extra cheeky and would really like to butter me up but cannot afford to send cash, try to do c) Both!

Here we go!
1. Mercury
2. Venus
3. Mars
4. Ceres (the biggest asteroid in the asteroid belt and briefly considered a new planet)
5a. Jupiter
5b through 5e: Jupiter's four large moons: b. Ganymede, c. Europa, d. Callisto, e. Io
7a. Saturn
7b. Saturn's single large moon, Titan (hint: this is a bit of a trick question)
8a. Uranus (no jokes, please)
8b. Uranus's single large moon, Hemorrhoid. Wait! I meant Triton
9. Neptune
10a. In the spirit of magnanimity, I'll include the demoted "dwarf planet" Pluto here
10b. Pluto's "moon" - more accurately the smaller member of its double-body system, Charon

Bonus!
11. Andromeda, our friendly neighboring galaxy, which is due to gobble us up in a few billion years

Without wikicheataping, how well can you do? Don't worry, it bears no reflection on you as a person, just your nerdy knowledge of astronomy and classical mythology. Oh, and your morals. I will be quite lenient in my grading and this should not be thought of as a competition so much as an opportunity for intellectual edification.

I will provide an answer key once I'm convinced no one wants to play. Have fun!

Thursday, November 4

Finish the sentence however you want (use as many words as you need). Be creative!

1. I try to stay organized and keep track of all my things, but for some reason my favorite jeans keep ____________ .
2. I thought it was the murmuring of people, but when I turned around I discovered ____________ .
3. The way in which a politician could best serve the country would be to ____________ .
4. Feeling a cat paw upon my face, I opened my eyes only to witness ____________ .
5. I blame this headache on one thing  the utter ____________ .


Have fun!

Congratulations to the World Champion 2010 San Francisco Giants!






TORTURE NO MORE!

Thanks to (pictured):
Timmy Lincecum, our ace!
Cody Ross, surprise hero!
Freddy Sanchez, huge at the plates and with the leather!
And of course... our secret weapon and fearless leader...
The Skipper, Bruce Bochy!

Just as important (but not pictured):
Edgar Renteria, World Series MVP
Matt Cain, no earned runs allowed in the postseason!
Madison Bumgarner, lights out at age 21
Juan Uribe, hit like Ruth in the clutch
Buster Posey, star in the making and now officially NL Rookie of the Year
Andres Torres, all over the basepaths, scoring on close plays
Aubrey Huff, the veteran who kept it all relaxed and fun
The bullpen, virtually unhittable, to a man
and of course super-closer Brian Wilson - Fear the Beard!!!


As well as all the bench players, coaches, trainers,
management, and ownership who made it all possible.


THANK YOU FOR BRINGING A WORLD SERIES TITLE TO SAN FRANCISCO IN MY LIFETIME! YOU'VE NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS TO US LONG-SUFFERING FANS WHO'VE SEEN OUR TEAM GET SO CLOSE SO MANY TIMES ONLY TO HAVE OUR HEARTS BROKEN EVERY TIME.

BUT NOT THIS TIME! ...THANK YOU!!!




I've always worn my Giants cap with pride, but now it means just that little bit extra. No one can call my team losers or bridesmaids any more, we clobbered three of the best teams in all of baseball convincingly  3-1, 4-2, 4-1 — with five of those 15 games being shutouts, and with no shutouts thrown against us. Arguably one of the most dominant pitching performances in the history of postseason baseball.

All the East Coast snobs and big media (ESPN) doubters who wrote off the Giants at every turn, picking them to finish last in their division before the season started, then predicting them to lose in each of their three playoff series, making them underdogs (echoed by the bookies 'official' odds in Las Vegas) even against Texas, which had a worse regular season record...

All of them can now eat my shorts.

We're the champs and nothing can take this season away or this title away. That's all I wanted, just ONE! One entry in the roll call of champions in this great game.

Of course I wouldn't mind more... =D

Hooray Giants and add a baseball championship to the football and basketball titles of the
Best City in the World

Just need the Sharks to win a Stanley Cup and everything in the universe will align and be in eternal harmony, like at the end of The Dark Crystal.


China Basin, McCovey Cove, AT&T Park, The Bay Bridge, and The City and the Bay in full evening splendor.
The shining jewel of California, the best state in the country!

and now,

Proud custodians of the MLB championship trophy for 2010-2011.


Gratuitous web site names.

Minor pet peeve - you go to bookmark a site. Instead of "Yahoo" or "Rattlebox" appearing as the name on your extremely space-limited bookmarks bar or menu, it comes out something like "Rattlebox.com: Your one-stop shop for cards that don't suck, where you can personalize a whole range of hilarious non-sucky cards that don't suck in any way, however you like, because this is Rattlebox, and it doesn't suck, nor do its cards, which by the way you can personalize!!1!"

I then have to take the extra step of hitting [F2] or right-clicking and selecting "Edit" in order to trim the fat off the name (yes, even the '.com' part). Why can't they snap out of marketing anus-head mode for a minute and see that we normal users just get peeved about that kind of thing? Give me a simple, one-word site name for my bookmarks by default! It would save so much time over the long run for those of us who actually try to keep a useful and attractive set of bookmarks.

Why do place-names keep changing?

Over my life I've seen Peking turn into Beijing, Bombay turn into Mumbai, and literally countless others, which if nothing else has made my globes and atlases obsolete.

I'm not naive - I understand that Colonialism imposed names on places that may not have been very accurate (in some cases, the post-colonial name is entirely different). Also, transliteration systems evolve (or at least change...) and thus spellings in English change. I'm all in favor of people calling their home cities and countries what they like.

But doesn't some of this seems needlessly reactionary? I mean... Kolkatta? Does every single name need to be changed (not in Hindi, Mandarin, etc, mind you, but just in English and other Western languages) for the sake of being different as a means of asserting independence? If it's a transliteration anyway, what's the point?

I get confused having to continually learn new spellings for what are after all the same cities and countries, and I'm sure children trying to learn a standardized geography get confused as well. What was so terrible with the old transliterations? We'll only ever approximate the native sound of the name anyway. Why is the Koran now the Qur'an when actually the true name of it is in Arabic anyway and hasn't changed at all?

Can some expert in linguistics, or even a smart layperson please help me out here? I'm not hostile to these changes per se, they just seem needless and confusing, as I've said before. Ceylon --> Sri Lanka? Sure, it's a whole new name. Zaire to DRC? Ok. But why fuss with the SPELLING of place-names whose root name and pronunciation has NOT changed in any essential way?

It seems politically correct, anti-Western, and reactionary to me. But maybe there are good reasons I'm just not thinking of. To a Western person who strives to understand the WHOLE world, and has no hidden colonialist agenda, it sure can be annoying trying to keep track of these constant revisions. Half the place names on the globe I knew so well as a child are now obsolete!

Hmm, the Belief-O-Matic leaves something to be desired...

From: Beliefnet's Belief-O-Matic.

My results:

01.  Secular Humanism (100%)
02.  Unitarian Universalism (100%)
03.  Nontheist (85%)
04.  Theravada Buddhism (78%)
05.  Liberal Quakers (72%)
06.  Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (56%)
07.  Neo-Pagan (54%)
08.  Taoism (49%)
09.  New Age (40%)
10.  Reform Judaism (37%)
11.  Mahayana Buddhism (31%)
12.  New Thought (28%)
13.  Orthodox Quaker (28%)
14.  Scientology (28%)
15.  Sikhism (28%)
16.  Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (23%)
17.  Baha'i Faith (18%)
18.  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (18%)
19.  Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (15%)
20.  Eastern Orthodox (9%)
21.  Hinduism (9%)
22.  Islam (9%)
23.  Jainism (9%)
24.  Orthodox Judaism (9%)
25.  Roman Catholic (9%)
26.  Seventh Day Adventist (9%)
27.  Jehovah's Witness (0%)

First of all, #1 and #3 should be 100%. I'm not quite sure what "partial beliefs" are, but following their logic here, #2 and #8 should be high, but not 100%. And there is no entry for "Secular Buddhism," which should also be high. Note than none of these require any faith, they all amount to philosophies or denials of faith in favor of Rationalism (yet another one which was left out - I suppose because it is most pointedly NOT a faith, and this site is about "belief"). Lastly, ALL of the others on the list which I haven't mentioned should be "0%" - period. I have no partial beliefs or sneaking suspicions in the validity of any of them, whatsoever.

Feel free to take the quiz yourself but I think as a means of assessing one's beliefs (or lack thereof), this is an inane way of approaching it. It places everyone somewhere along a spectrum for each belief system out there, regardless of how goofy or ridiculous. This is the wrong approach entirely, IMO. This is saying that fundamentalist Christians or Muslims also have affinities with the other, just not as strong, and many similar conclusions. I'm sure many "true believers" would find this just as objectionable as a non-believer such as myself does to being told my beliefs are 28% Scientological. That one is perhaps the biggest insult of all.

I would hang myself before being forced to live as a zombie of the church of Scientology, Islam, or Roman Catholicism. I'd make the same statement about Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, et al, but they're really too much of a joke to even get worked up about.

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