blarg?

Last year, I observed:

“These packets travel from my location to Toronto to Chicago to New York to Montreal to Ottawa to Carleton University to the machine named Rideau. [...] I can see the building housing Rideau.carleton.ca through the window. It is down the street.”

According to this NYT article:

“One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.”

I hadn’t connected those dots until just now.

Lore Sjoberg once observed:

“Rockin'” has become one of those terms that have come to mean the absence of what they describe, like “extreme” and “perfectly legal.” Anything described as “rockin'” is nearly guaranteed not to rock. Case in point, there is perhaps nothing less rockin’ to do with your New Year’s Eve than to turn on the television and watch other people having a party.

I submit to you that there is a corollary to this.

When an artist creates or participates in a Christmas song, Christmas album, or something else T’is-the-seasonally-themed, that event marks point at which that artist’s career ceases to rock. Christmas music is the shark-jump of an artist’s career; it is the chasm between between the genuine article and the, if you would, crap. This is because Christmas music is both commercially reliable, generally awful and of approximately no artistic value whatsoever. Tastes may vary, of course, but disagreeing with me in this instance means that you’re wrong.

I’ve spent a lot, a lot of time recently stripping the paint off of an old door, with an eye towards either (1) ending up with a nice, finished, wood-grain door or (2) ending up with a surface I could repaint. It has turned into a colossal waste of time, and now I have a door that may not be repaintable, and looks like ass. Let me tell you a little bit about that.


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“The Times and Wen Ho Lee”, New York Times, September 26, 2000:

“The Times’s coverage of this case, especially the articles published in the first few months, attracted criticism from competing journalists and media critics and from defenders of Dr. Lee, who contended that our reporting had stimulated a political frenzy amounting to a witch hunt. After Dr. Lee’s release, the White House, too, blamed the pressure of coverage in the media, and specifically The Times, for having propelled an overzealous prosecution by the administration’s own Justice Department. [...] In those instances where we fell short of our standards in our coverage of this story, the blame lies principally with those who directed the coverage, for not raising questions that occurred to us only later. Nothing in this experience undermines our faith in any of our reporters, who remained persistent and fair-minded in their newsgathering in the face of some fierce attacks.”

“From The Editors: The Times and Iraq”, New York Times, May 26, 2004:

“The informant also claimed that Iraq had sent unconventional weapons to Syria and had been cooperating with Al Qaeda – two claims that were then, and remain, highly controversial. But the tone of the article suggested that this Iraqi “scientist” – who in a later article described himself as an official of military intelligence – had provided the justification the Americans had been seeking for the invasion.

“The Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims.”

“Critics Question Timing of Surveillance Story”, Los Angeles Times, December 20, 2005:

“The New York Times first debated publishing a story about secret eavesdropping on Americans as early as last fall, before the 2004 presidential election.

“But the newspaper held the story for more than a year and only revealed the secret wiretaps last Friday, when it became apparent a book by one of its reporters was about to break the news, according to journalists familiar with the paper’s internal discussions.”

The New York Times is damaged. Route around.

From Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District:

Fundamentalist opponents of evolution responded with a new tactic suggested by Daniel’s reasoning which was ultimately found to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment, namely, to utilize scientific-sounding language to describe religious beliefs and then to require that schools teach the resulting “creation science” or “scientific creationism” as an alternative to evolution. [...] The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial.

I feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, as though I had swallowed an entire kitten.

Bread And Circuses update: A monarch who is above the law?

Check.

This, of course, is on top of the news that a student has been investigated by the Department of Homeland Security for requesting a copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book”. On top of the news that torturing people and detaining them without trial are becoming a part of the landscape, that America has secret laws, and citizens can be forced to show your papers at any time.

At the height of its empire, the story goes, a Roman citizen could travel the entire known world without fear; the only thing he needed to protect himself was his birthright, the words “Civis Romanus sum”. “I am a Roman citizen.” The Empire’s retaliation to the harm of a single citizen was so certain, and so monstrously disproportionate, that those three words were enough.

I used to know some Americans who thought like that. Civis Americanus Sum, they would say, in the belief that their government’s overarching military supremacy gave them the right to walk the earth unfettered. I haven’t talked to them in years, but I wonder what they think now; the rest of the world hasn’t felt that deference in a long time, if they ever did, but I wonder what it must be like now, following the news and realizing that the phrase “I am an American Citizen” doesn’t even mean anything to your own government anymore.

For your amusement I have here a collection of moving pictures which the implacable intertron will shim ignominiously into your forebrain at the cost of mere clickery. Should you have broadband, at least; if you don’t, well, click anyway, and possibly you might get shimmed later in the week sometime. You can use the intervening time to consider making that big step out of the precambrian and into the warm embrace of modern society. Ponder it: we have antibiotics, and also soap!

  • Via Drawn, the very-beautiful Le Papillon. I have not seen anything animated in this style before, and I hearts me the watercolors.
  • I’ve been listening to a lot of the Dresden Dolls lately, which I have been doing because they are awesome. I present to you Coin-Operated Boy and Girl Anachronism. They have some MP3s available, too.
  • This is fun: Supermonks! Good old-fashioned ninja-monk action, fighting off a clone horde of viking invaders, just like Mom uset to make. Should be listened to with the volume right up, but it is a volume containing those dark syllables which give old people the vapors, so use headphones or something.
  • In related crank-it-all-the-way-up news I have here for you what is not only the most intense, psychotic viking-voltron guitar-battle video I have ever seen, it is also, and this might surprise you, the only viking-voltron guitar-battle I have ever seen. That video is just rank with awesome, as if it was hewn cold from the dark matter at the core of a collapsed awesome-star by the Dark God of Awesome Things in some epic cosmic event which was itself also awesome. You absolutely have to watch that video, is basically what I’m trying to convey here.

I made the funny, and now I am going to share it with you. Rejoice!

We played some Halo on Saturday, which was fun. Coop wasn’t there, which is was sort-of-too-bad, but on the other hand sort-of-not-too-bad, because it made balancing the teams much, much easier. The rest of the people there were at least close to being reasonably evenly matched, but playing Halo with Cooper is like watching the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Macbeth.

Player 1: Where’s Coop? (dies.)

Player 2: Fuck! (dies.)

Coop enters scene, picks up weapons, exits.

Ominous. Which is not to say he will not be invited back, obviously, just that we might have to ply him with liquor or something.

Really, my childhood should be so stretched-out and scarred by now that I shouldn’t even feel it, but I do.

“We got raised eyebrows even in-house at first, but the feeling was these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide,” says Nancy Kanter of the Disney Channel.”

“The gamble could sweeten the pot of a company that already brings in $1 billion annually from Pooh merchandise, “more than all their core characters combined,” says Thomas Ranese of marketing consultants Interbrand. “Pooh appears to be a robust brand that can handle expansion.”

John Scalzi has written this, which sums it up nicely while simultaneously making me very sad. Apparently, my childhood was asking for it, walking around in that neighborhood at night dressed like that.

If you are in advertising, I would like you to wrap yourself from head to foot in a festive wrapping paper, tape my address to your leg, put a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger. Do it outside on cold day, so that last expression on your face stays frozen. I’ll pay the shipping. It would be the best Christmas present ever.

“Pooh and his crew”. Jesus.

If you’re anything like me you’re a sociopath, but you’re also lazy, so you’re largely harmless but fun at parties. If you’re not like that, well, why the hell would I care?

But if you’re also the family computer repair guy, your friends and/or family will turn to you over the holidays for help getting their computers working right. This is cool with me, I hope it’s cool with you too, and as it turns out I’m here to help.

I’m convinced, lately, that spyware and adware saturation is the only thing driving the personal computing market these days. Scrubbing a PC takes hours; PC service costs $80 to $120 an hour and new computers cost a few hundred bucks, so it’s easy to see how that works. Also, that it’s usually totally unnecessary.

We can’t, as a matter of policy, work on people’s home computers here at the office. There’s just too much that can go wrong, that I want precisely no part of. But we’ve put together some handout CDs for people, so that they can have at least a running shot at getting their PCs back in working order. They’re popular at the office, and I plan to have a few copies in the bag come the holidays. Sometimes these machines are too far gone to save and a clean reformat/reinstall is the only way to go, but most of the time the software on our handout CD seems to do the trick. Let me tell you about it, so when you’re home for the holidays and your grandparents ask you to fix their ailing PC you’ve got a decent chance of having the right tools on hand.

This is mainly focused on WinXP, but the non-SP2 stuff is probably useful to people on Win98-era stuff too. (But if they’re that far back of the curve, it’s probably time to suck it up and upgrade.)

  • First of all: Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. This is the 262 megabyte elephant in the room, an absolute no-debate must-have for anyone using a Windows XP machine with a network connection. I cannot emphasize how important this is: there are no automated, remote exploits for XP/SP2 machines. It provides the Windows Firewall, and automatic-update functionality, both of which that you hould turn on. You should not have the computer’s network cable plugged in while you are installing this, and you should do this part last, after you’ve installed everything else on this list. After it’s installed, you’ll have to plug the network cable back in and walk through the Windows Update process a few times, until it tells you there are no more urgent updates to install. Tedious, yes. But if you are using Windows XP, you need this.

  • Safer Networking’s Spybot Search & Destroy, the preeminent spyware removal and immunization tool on the net. If your aunt tells you that their computer is “acting funny”, this is the place to start.
  • Grisoft’s AVG Free, an antivirus program. A good antivirus is also a must-have, and this one is both excellent and free.
  • Lavasoft’s AdAware Personal Edition, the second line after Spybot S&D for stripping down the junk that advertisers use to make your life miserable. Do not try and discriminate when you are using AdAware, Spybot S&D or AVG – if they ask you if you want to delete something, it is virtually certain that you do.
  • Firefox 1.5 and Thunderbird 1.0.7. There’s a legion of email clients out there, everyone has a preference and webmail users aren’t going to need one anyway, but if Grandma is using Outlook Express then Thunderbird is the thing to set her up with. Firefox is simply the best tool available for looking at da pages of da intarweeb.
  • The latest version of Macromedia Flash, sadly, is also an important update to have. I hate Flash, and I don’t use it on any of my machines, but I’m also a zealot and a pariah, so I’m willing to put up with that sort of thing, and furthermore screw the lot of you, seriously. But you need it to see an awful lot of the web and pre-8.0.22 versions contain a documented security vulnerability. So, shrug, there it is.

This can take five or six hours, altogether, it’s most likely an hour of actual work carefully interwoven with five hours of doing other things, and the gratitude you get out of it is pretty spiffy.

There are a few other things you can do to perk people’s computers up and make them a little bit safer, like shredding all their Celine Dion CDs, but two things I’ve found that make a big difference (again, in XP) are:

  • In the control panel, under Display Properties and then the Appearance tab, click the “Effects” button. Uncheck all the options there, except for the “Use the following method…” option, and choose “ClearType” from the menu below it.

  • Again in the control panel, under “System” and then the Advanced tab, click the settings button in the “Performance” bubble. In the “Visual Effects” tab in the next window, choose “Adjust for best performance”, then scroll down to the bottom of the list below it; check off “Smooth edges of screen fonts” and “Use visual styles…”, the last element. Click OK, OK, and close out the control panel.

If you’re running on a slightly older system, or one without a beefy graphics card, those last two changes make a huge, screaming difference in how reactive your machine feels.

There you go. It all fits on one CD, with plenty of room left over. If you have anything else you think should be in there, I’m all ears. Merry Christmas, don’t say I never do anything nice for you.