Saturday, January 27, 2007

Forbes Magazine Picks the Top 25 Web Celebs (You're Probably Not One of Them)

Audio Technologies Described in 1901 Edition of 1876 History Book

Below are some scans I made of some pages of an old book I have from 1901 by a historian named John Clark Ridpath. Here are online copies of a couple of his other books. These pages talk about advances in technology, such as the telephone and phonograph (note how those terms are capitalized). The next couple of (yet-unscanned) pages described the electric light and the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe I can scan them in later for another blog entry.

I appreciate some of the thoughts expressed on page 654:

Perhaps the most striking feature of the civilization of our times is exhibited in THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE, as illustrated in the thousand applications of discovery and invention to the wants of mankind. At no other age in the history of the world has the practial knowledge of nature's laws been so rapidly and widely diffused; and at no other epoch has the subjection of natural relations to the will of man been so wonderfully displayed. The old life of the human race is giving place to the new life, based on science, and energized by the knowledge that the conditions of man's environment are as benevolent as they are immutable.

I'm a huge audiobook fan (right now I'm listening to the unabridged audio of the new book Halsey's Typhoon, which is a detailed study of this incident) so I was interested to read this passage from pages 657-58:

Some experiments have already been made looking to the utilization of the Phonograph as a practical addition to the civilizing apparatus of our times. It has been proposed to stereotype the tin-foil record of what has been uttered in the mouth-piece, and thus to preserve in a permanent form the potency of vanished sounds. If this could be successfully and perfectly accomplished the invention of the Phonograph would, doubtless, take rank with the greatest of the age, and might possibly revolutonize the whole method of learning. It would seem, indeed, that nature has intended the ear, rather than the eye, as the organ of education. It seems to be against the everlasting fitness of things that the eyes of all mankind should be strained, weakened, permanently injured, in childhood with the unnatral tasks which are imposed upon that delicate organ. It would seem to be more in accordance with the nature and capacities of man and the general character of the external world to reserve the eye for the discernment and appreciation of beauty, and to impose upon the ear the tedious and hard tasks of education. The Phonograph makes it possible to read by the ear, instead of by the eye; and it is not beyond the range of probability that the book of the future, near or remote, will be written in phonographic plates and made to reveal its story to the waiting ear rather than through the medium of print to the enfeebled and tired eye of the reader.

And if you don't believe him about the occular challenges, just ask Henry Bemis. I'd hate for Ridpath to be disappointed by mass blogospheric eye strain, but I bet he'd love podcasts.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Things From Around the Web

  • Here are the freshly posted 2007 Weblog Awards.
  • School Library Journal article on MLK and Google.
  • Wired Magazine: How Yahoo Blew It. Excerpt: [Terry] Semel has been Yahoo's CEO for nearly six years, yet he has never acquired an intuitive sense of the company's plumbing. He understands how to do deals and partnerships, he gets how to market Yahoo's brand, and he knows how to tap Yahoo's giant user base to sell brand advertising to corporations. But the challenges of integrating two giant computer systems or redesigning a database or redoing a user interface? Many who have met with him at Yahoo say he still doesn't know the right questions to ask about technology. "Terry could never pound the table and say, 'This is where we need to go, guys,'" one former Yahoo executive says. "On those subjects, he always had to have someone next to him explaining why it was important." One could have made a convincing argument two years ago that such deep technical knowledge didn't matter much. But now we have empirical evidence: At Yahoo, the marketers rule, and at Google the engineers rule. And for that, Yahoo is finally paying the price.
  • Currently watching the commentary on the DVD This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Awesome documentary! Further comments to follow. (One comment to TFINYR producer Eddie Schmidt right now though: At 1:11:30 or so, you have "Millennium" spelled wrong. Remember -- Two "m"s, two "l"s, two "n"s.)
  • Via Google Video, a BBC documentary on the history and development of Tetris.

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Watched Brother's Keeper This Weekend

I first watched the film Brother's Keeper about 10-12 years ago, largely at Roger Ebert's recommendation, and liked it quite a bit. This weekend I got it out of the library and watched it again (I remember enjoying it but I was hazy on the details). This is an excellent documentary and I recommend it highly.

It's about these mentally limited brothers who lived in contented squalor on a cow farm in upstate New York. All the locals know the Ward Boys, and when one of them is charged with murdering his brother, they put out the coffee cans to raise money for his defense.

A couple of observations on the film (as opposed to the incident, which may or may not have been a crime):

First, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are the guys who went on to make the Paradise Lost documentaries on The West Memphis Three (the teenage Metallica fans from Arkansas accused and convicted of killing three young boys), which I blogged about here. So, they study two rural towns upset by local murders (and make no mistake -- the West Memphis killings were as brutal as you can imagine). The residents of the upstate New York area where the Wards lived were portrayed as very supportive of Berlinger, Sinofsky, and the Wards, and very skeptical of the police. The residents of West Memphis were portrayed as the opposite -- very hostile towards Damion Echols and the other two boys, cagy towards the filmmakers, and accepting of the assurances of the police and prosecutors. The attitudes were very mirror-universish... obviously, people are more comfortable with people who are "like" them (farmers feel good about farmers, even if they are eccentric) and less comfortable with the unknown (rural Southerners are freaked out by goth/metal/occult teenagers).

Another parallel I noticed was between BK and Grey Gardens. The conditions that the four Ward Boys lived in were not unlike those seen in the patrician estate of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Beale. Sinofsky got started in the film business working for Maysles Films, the organization run by documentarian brothers David and Albert Maysles. The cow-farming Wards and the blueblooded Beales kept to themselves, with strong family ties outweighing most social considerations (noone else would put up with any of them?), and yet seemed not to mind having a camera live with them capturing intimate interactions. I wonder if Little Edie would have thought the Wards were arguing over her?

All three films (or films + sequels) --BK, PL, GG -- are well-worth watching, all the more so if you are able to watch two or more close enough to each other to keep your eyes open for potential comparisons.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Review of New E.D. Hirsch Book

Interesting Common Review article about the new book by E.D. Hirsch found on A&LD. (Make sure to get it fast; the web addy suggests that they might take the article down w/o notice. I'm saving a copy to a Word doc for future reference.) Prof. Hirsch is best known for the various versions of his late-1980s work Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.

Excerpt: An educational experiment in 1989 pitted a group of students with high reading scores, selected especially for their lack of interest in baseball, against a group of low-scoring students who happened to be avid baseball fans. The two groups were asked to demonstrate their reading comprehension of a passage on baseball. Can you guess which team won?... ...“We need to see the reading comprehension problem,” Hirsch writes, “for what it primarily is—a knowledge problem.” Schooling, according to Hirsch, must supply our students with the broad knowledge—much less of baseball than of history, literature, science, and other traditional subjects—that is requisite for reading. This broad knowledge of words and of the world is also what standardized reading tests in fact test for, Hirsch says. These typically consist of passages on a variety of topics, undisclosed until testing time, for which only a good general education can prepare the student. In or out of the exam room or the research lab, there is no such thing as reading comprehension without prior knowledge of a text’s vocabulary (90 percent of it is the estimated minimum) and its references, and no such thing as effective education without imparting to students a wide range of specific knowledge.

Long story short: I concur (even if the reviewer does not entirely). Here's the Bartleby of Prof. Hirsch's New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (2003), and make sure to check out his organization's website, Core Knowledge.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Star Trek / Jefferson Airplane Mashup

Via Cinerati:

Also: The more-intense Star Trek/Rammstein. (Hey! Quits 1/2way through. Anyone know where I can find an intact copy?) (Also: SpongeBob/Rammstein!)

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Sylvia Browne Is a Mean Fucking Bitch...

...and so is Montel Williams. She takes advantage of people who are very very sad, and he gives her a stage. (Apologies to people whose first name is "Sylvia" and last name is "Browne" who don't claim to be psychics.)

Check out Anderson Cooper (here's his blogpost on the subject) and guest James Randi:

Here's The Amazing Randi's blurb on the situaton shown above (James Van Praagh is a real prick too, but we can get to him another day), here's the Wikipedia link to Sylvia Browne controversies, here she is on Quackwatch, and here's the Stop Sylvia Browne website's page on her Hornbeck predictions. (Bonus: Here's the whole Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on talking to the dead.)

No doubt, the parents deserve at least some criticism for agreeing to appear with her on television, but, you know, they were probably grasping at straws.

So here's what I think I'll do (and I invite everyone to join me) -- The current Google hit page for the phrase "Sylvia Browne" appears below. I think we should Googlebomb her (à la "Miserable Failure") so as to put the pertinent James Randi, Stop SB, Quackwatch, and Wikipedia criticism pages above her own 5ylv1a dot org. How? Copy all or some of the text that appears below the screenshot and paste it into your own blog or website.

Memo to Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne, Sylvia Browne: You suck!

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More Links...

A few more things that have caught my attention:
  • Here's a very large list of palindomes.
  • Google gives come-hither to publishers and librarians and now has a new blog specifically for librarians.
  • Trends in newspapers moving incorporating blogs into their websites.
  • Make sure to visit the Wikipedia store! I'm thinking about getting this coffee mug.
  • TCS Daily article on the benefits of a volatile economy. Excerpts: Yes, economic turbulence can yield a kind of psychic unease -- unease that's exploited for political gain. But that same turbulence is also the source of significant beneficent changes. If this is a War on the Middle Class, we should want a troop surge to keep it going... ...Job losses tend to be highly concentrated, making for good media fodder. Just last week an announcement came down that Sprint-Nextel is set to cut 5000 jobs. When was the last time you read about a firm creating 5000 jobs in one stroke? Job creation is more gradual than job loss by comparison, but over time there are more than enough jobs created, and better ones at that.
  • Via The Speculist, Must-know Terms for the 21st-Century Intellectuals. Excerpt: First, I am trying to come up with a list of the most fundamental and crucial terms that are coming to define and will soon re-define the human condition, and that subsequently should be known by anyone who thinks of themselves as an intellectual. I admit that there's an elitist and even pompous aspect to this exercise, but the fact of the matter is that the zeitgeist is quickly changing. It's not enough anymore to be able to quote Dostoevsky, Freud and Darwin. This said, while my list of terms is 'required' knowledge, I am not suggesting that it is sufficient. My definition of an 'intellectual' also requires explanation. To me an intellectual in this context is an expert generalist -- a polymath or jack-of-all-trades who sees and understands the Big Picture both past, present and future. While I value and respect the work of specialists, they can be frustratingly out of touch with other disciplines and some of the more broader applications of science, technology and philosophy. Given the obvious truism that nobody can know everything, there is still great value in having individuals understand a diverse set of key principles.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Just a Few Things...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Recommend Seeing The Good Shepherd

So like I mentioned the other day, The ♥G♥ and I saw the Robert De Niro film The Good Shepherd, which was the based-on-actual-events drama about the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency. It wasn't great, but it was very good. I can't understand why some reviewers disliked it so much. Matt Damon was real good as a James Jesus Angleton-esque character, and avoided the pretty-boy shoot-'em-up James-Bond gadget archetypes and portrayed a middle-management type whose in-box just happened to include plans for toppling foreign governments.

No spoilers, but when you see the film, get ready for fictionalized version of Wild Bill Donovan, Allen Dulles, Kim Philby, The United Fruit Company, and Sam Giancana.

In addition to the other reading I want to do (finishing Hirohito and starting Eichmann) I want to read another book I've had for a while, The Very Best Men by Evan Thomas on this topic.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Profiles of Pre-Mayoral Daleys From 1930s and 70s

I was going through some of the interesting old books I have on my shelves and playing with my HP PSC. One of them (not that old) is the 1975-76 Illinois Blue Book (which was actually white that year). The Blue Book is a government publication that contains all sorts of information about Illinois politicians, etc. There were a few of them from different years that I found in a resale shop once for $0.25 each or something like that. Here's the current occupant of the mayor's office.

And here's his dad with some of his pals from the 1939-40 volume of that same publication:

I have some real old books from the late 1800s and early 1900s from which I want to scan some stuff as well, just need to take the time to make sure I don't mess up their spines when I copy them.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saw CIA Movie; Conservative Praises Hippies; 1876 Harper's Cartoons; Unfilmable; Jigsaw Puzzles

Several items of interest:
  • The ♥G♥ and I just got back from seeing The Good Shepherd, about the early days of the CIA. I liked it, even though Roger Ebert didn't. More comments on this film later.
  • Via Glenn Greenwald -- I thought these were some interesting observations by conservative Christian Rod Dreher, who is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Excerpt: The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government's conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President. I turn 40 next month -- middle aged at last -- a time of discovering limits, finitude. I expected that. But what I did not expect was to see the limits of finitude of American power revealed so painfully. I did not expect Vietnam. As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war. I had a heretical thought for a conservative - that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word - that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot - that they have to question authority. On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn't the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?
  • Here are a bunch of Harper's Weekly cartoons by Thomas Nast and others about the disputed 1876 presidential election. Here are the members of the Electoral Commission.
  • A list (with explanations) of impossible-to-film novels. Excerpt: Remembrance of Things Past -- Also known as ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (which makes it sound like a Jules Verne yarn), Marcel Proust’s contribution to the world of literature is so difficult to film as it’s so damn long. The novel is divided into seven books, each one long enough alone! Although I’ve only managed to read the first two books, the entire volume seems to be autobiographical, about a sickly young man who aspires to be a writer, despite the distraction of 19th Century society. Proust’s novels incorporate the idea of scents, sounds, and certain objects pushing associated memories to the fore. Probably more suited as a TV serial, there have been a few films, mostly adapting one of the books. The best is Time Regained, starring Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. If anyone can do it: The closing moments of Terence Malick’s New World displayed the kind of editing that can summarise years in seconds with aesthetic brilliance. He’s the man for such a mammoth, ethereal task, though half of it would probably be shots of trees.
  • LBNL, Jigsaw Puzzles: A Brief History.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Very Interesting Documentary on Adolf Eichmann Trial

We're partway through (hope to finish tomorrow) a fascinating documentary on the 1961-62 trial and sentencing of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann from several years ago, called The Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal. It's all footage from Eichmann's trial, without any commentary or explanations except those of the judge, prosectors, witnesses, and Eichmann himself. The footage was shot by a filmmaker named Leo Hurwitz (here's part of an interview with his son, Tom, who has done stuff for PBS) and this film was put together by another filmmaker (who wasn't even born at the time) named Eyal Sivan. It's well-worth viewing.

I wonder if the media handlers in Saddam's trial were going for the same effect as this trial, kind of like when they had Colin Powell Adlaicize the U.N. prior to the invasion of Iraq.
The doc says it is insipired by Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, a well-known work by philosopher Hannah Arendt, of which I have an unread (by me, anyway) copy right here. I might dig into that after I get myself to finish the unjustly procrastinated Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Misc. Items


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Black Dahlia Movie Not Very Good; Try Reading Book Instead

Currently watching the recent film The Black Dahlia, about 1/2way through. It's not that great. It's certainly nowhere near as good as the James Ellroy novel, and neither the book or the film of L.A. Confidential, both of which I rave about at every opportunity. (Update: Not even in the same ballpark.) Writings on the unfortunate Elizabeth Short here, here, and here.

I said recently that I thought that Damon, DiCaprio, and Wahlberg had gone past their pretty-boy personae and proven themselves as excellent actors. I have yet to make such a statement about Mr. Hartnett.

Here's some Black Dahlia and other artwork by Sherri Page. Her stuff is more interesting than the movie by far: Following the murder of a favourite uncle, Page began a lifelong fascination with crime and has incorporated it into her work. (Similar to Ellroy's lifelong fascination with crime subsequent to his mother's murder when he was a child.)



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Monday, January 08, 2007

Chinese Punk Bands

I found a copy of this Washington Post article from this summer a little while ago. Excerpt: "Most bands are into punk because it's fashionable. They are more like copy bands, cover bands that copy the lifestyle. Punk rock should be more dangerous, more deep. You should establish your own style," said Yang, the lead singer of P.K. 14, which has a sizable following and performed Saturday night at a bar in Beijing's Wudaokou district. "We want to be a dangerous band, like Fugazi or The Clash or Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie's folk music influenced me a lot," Yang said. "But because the government doesn't care about us, we are not forbidden from playing. Maybe we are not dangerous. It's sad."


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Attention Python Fans!

1989 Time Magazine Blurb on G.W. Bush: "Less Than Overwhelming"

In going through some files, I found some notes for a paper my brother did in college on Jerry Brown. I have them because about 12 years ago (?) he wrapped them up and gave them to me for Christmas. Don't ask -- that's just how we do things. In any event, at the bottom of page 20 of the February 27, 1989 Time Magazine, I came across this interesting little nugget:

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Clerks 2 = Very Very Very Funny, But Not Quiiiiiite As Good As Clerks (IMHO)

Title of post says it all. Hey! There are three commentaries on the Clerks 2 DVD; I'll have more to blog after listening to all of them.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Excellent Wikipedia Article on Use of Koran During House Swearing-In

There's a fantastically comprehensive series of Wikipedia articles on the recent controversy(ies) surrounding Congressman Keith Ellison taking his ceremonial oath (i.e., photo-op) on the Koran, Congressman Virgil Goode's letter to his constituents about why we need more immigration restrictions to avoid this happening in the future (even though Ellison was born and raised in the U.S. of A.), and commentator Dennis Prager's strong opinions on the matter.

My whole take on this? Virgil Goode is an asshole. (And I resent him all the more, because the other day at lunch we were watching the voting in of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, and I told my lunchmates that as of that moment my blogposts would shift from being pejorative towards G.O.P. congressmen to being pejorative to the bleeding-heart pinkos on the other side of the aisle. But, I just couldn't help myself...)

See, if I have an issue with any of this, it's that they use religious symbols at all. Give them all a framed copy of the Constitution to use for their swearing in, and then make them memorize it so that they don't try and pass a bunch of nonsense into law. Prager and others have said that using the Bible is important because of its symbolism in the context of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America. (This nugget of social conservatism seems like it should be tremendously insulting to those who place their faith in biblical teachings, especially considering that the New Testament itself prohibits oath-taking. Another way of stating this position of certain social conservatives is to say that the unique divinity of Jesus Christ is not the most important aspect of the Bible, but the fact that holding it shows you are on the same ball team as the rest of America is.)

However, assuming the religious texts are still going to be used, let 'em use what they want. Prager asked if a white supremicist got elected, would we permit him to use Mein Kampf as a book on which to take an oath. Answer: YES! If somebody ends up getting elected who thinks Mein Kampf is appropriate for such a ceremony, don't we want to know that that person thinks that way?

But in any event, the xenophobic conformism Prager and Goode displayed really pisses me off.

Ellison used the Koran once owned by Goode's fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. (Jeffersonian quotes on freedom of religion here.) I think it'd be fucking hysterical if two years from now, Goode got re-elected and decided to show off by using Jefferson's Bible.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Flappers, Baraka, Tarnation, Carrie Cake


  • Good Blowhards post on Flapper art.
  • Watched a couple of documentaries recently -- The Boys of Baraka, about some inner-city boys from Baltimore who went to a special school in Kenya; and Tarnation, which is a trippy autobiography (with some artistic license taken) by a guy named Jonathan Caouette who edited it together on his Mac from home video of his mentally ill mother, footage sampled from his favorite TV shows and movies, and tapes of himself as a 12-year old drag queen. If you're looking for something more traditionally inspiring, go with Baraka. If you like movies that are different (always a big point w/me) try Tarnation. (Note -- Caouette says that if he makes a sequel, he's going to call it "Reintarnation.")
  • LBNL, via Boing Boing, a Carrie Cake:

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Having Trouble Getting Your Bearings This Morning?

If so, this flow chart might come in handy.

(Btw, I spent last night catching up on Battlestar Galactica episodes on the Web and working on my cat's Netflix queue.)

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