Saturday, March 31, 2007

Congress Needs to Mind Own Beeswax About Google/Katrina

Apparently Google Earth is for some reason showing images of pre-Katrina New Orleans, even though they had shown Katrina images before. A guy I've never heard of but whom I already don't like named Brad Miller (he's the chairman of the House's Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight) wants to know why they have done this. Excerpt: "Google's use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history," subcommittee chairman Brad Miller, D-North Carolina, wrote in a letter to [Google CEO Eric] Schmidt.

Airbrushing history?!? It's not like anyone is going to forget that Katrina happened. My brother was just down there a couple of weeks ago for this basketball thing and he said it was like a third-world country in parts of New Orleans. Let me be quite clear about this. Every single person in America who has enough cognitive functioning to tie their own shoes correctly knows that numerous parts of New Orleans were destroyed as a result of Katrina.

A few things to point out about Google Earth: It doesn't update daily, not by a long shot. There are pics of my house and workplace that are clearly out of date. Second (and more to the point) it's a private company! Not only that, but it's a private company that provides services unparalleled by its competitors, and those services are usually free! Nobody is being forced to use these images for anything, and it looks like the post-Katrina images are available on a paid version of Google Earth. I can't find a specific street or neighborhood mentioned as being problematic, so I'm not sure where to even start eyeballing to do my own research.

Here's something that just aggravates the shit out of me: Edith Holleman, staff counsel for the House subcommittee, said it would be useful to understand how Google acquires and manages its imagery because "people see Google and other Internet engines and it's almost like the official word."

You want to know how Google acquires and manages its imagery? Here's how Google acquires and manages its imagery: Go Fuck Yourselves, Nosy Congresspeople! That's how Google acquires and manages its imagery! Holleman's comments make about as much sense as wanting to subpoena Yahoo every time a piece of spam gets through its spamchecker. Google Earth is a free service from a private company! I am quite certain that market forces will fix whatever of this needs fixing, assuming some meddling Democrat doesn't start trying to micro-manage it. Google's value is in the public's perception of its self-correcting overall reliability and breadth, and it will be motivated naturally to keep that perception and confidence strong.

Google Earth Blog comments on this situation here.

Update, 4/1/07: OK, so I'm confused... Are we talking about Google Earth, or the Google Maps application that uses Google Earth images, or something else? Or is the AP writer confused? There is a certain lack of clarity in the article... AP excerpt: Google does provide imagery of New Orleans and the region following Katrina through its more specialized service called Google Earth.

Labels: , , , ,

Mashups a Lot Like Super Hero Team-Ups

I've been finding a bunch of good mashups lately. For example:

The same dynamics that appeal to me about mashups have appealed to me before, in the realm of comics. Back in the day, Marvel and DC each had two monthly series that featured team-up stories:

You'd end up with a well-established, popular character drawing in readers to stories that featured them interacting with other characters with whom they might not ordinarily come into contact. So, Superman goes back in time to meet WWII's Sgt. Rock, Batman goes forward in time to meet Kamandi, Spiderman teams up with Man-Thing (or the cast of Saturday Night Live -- not making that up!), or The Thing and the super-strong charcters from a bunch of other Marvel titles are kidnapped by an alien that wants them to have a boxing match with the space boxing champion. Some of them were a stretch, but lots were real cool stories. And after a while, part of the fun was to see how they would get Batman/Superman/Spider-Man/The Thing in the same narrative as the more obscure character. So, someone reading one of these titles due to their familiarity with the top-tier star would have the lesser known or outside-the-standard-continuity character marketed to them as well.

Same thing kind of goes for mashups. Everybody knows about Journey*, but not everybody knows about Afrika Bambaataa. Everybody knows about Iron Maiden* but not everybody knows about pop-dance music from India. I like it when people take two or more divergent things, put them together, and make something new and more than the sum of the parts. I always have and always will.

*"Everybody" reflects cultural biases stemming from teenage years spent in the 1980s Michigan suburbia.

Now there was a fun experiment in the 1990s that might seem more mashupish than the comics mentioned above, and in some ways it was and some ways it wasn't. Amalgam Comics was a joint venture that featured characters derived from the mythologies of both DC and Marvel. But instead of looking for two dissimilar characters, these looked for the most similar characters from the two universes as possible... Namor, the Sub-Mariner + Aquaman = Aqua Mariner; Dr. Strange + Dr. Fate = Dr. Strangefate; Superman + Captain America = Super Soldier; etc. In the examples below (Green Lantern + Iron Man; Batman + Wolverine) you can see that the ideas are clever and entertaining, and in the series you can find overlaps of ideas and images that might or might not have ever occurred to you. And I like it when the reader or listener is rewarded for having already become familiar with a wide scope of content, and thus is able to recognize some of the more obscure source material (this goes for Star Wars, Tarantino, etc. as well) without a road map neccessarily being laid out in plain view. But to analogize with music mashups, it would be like creating mashups of Rush + Triumph or Journey + Foreigner.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Our Idea of a Good Time

Actual garbage from a couple blocks down.
Tonight The ♥G♥ and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. This is the week that the city says you can put anything you want out on the curb and the trash guys will pick it up without you having to get any stickers or pay any fees or anything. It was fascinating! There were so many piles of stuff out waiting for tomorrow morning's trash pickup! We got a perfectly good wood CD cabinet. And there were all these guys in pickup trucks driving around picking up scrap metal. The same sort of thing happens every year, but it seemed like there was exponential growth in the phenomenon this year. A great opportunity to be nosy (anthropologically speaking, of course). We might just take walks around other parts of town this week whose pickup days are different than ours. If Heinrich Schliemann is around, maybe we'll see if he wants to go too. I'll keep an eye out for good photo ops.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday Items


Labels: , , , , ,

Just Started Wiki Page for TTLB

I was surprised to see that there was no Wikipedia page for The Truth Laid Bear. So, I started one. Please feel free to contribute your own edits. In other news, I love my new Wikipedia T-shirt. I got a grey one (plus a sweatshirt) for myself and a pink one for The ♥G♥.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Artists' Desk; Music Metadata; History of Ideas; 1999/Baba O'Riley Mashup


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Denby on Non-Sequential Chronology in Movies

Here's David Denby in the New Yorker on trends in non-chronologically sequential narratives in film. Excerpts: As they seem to be heading in separate directions, these fate-driven films [Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel] can be seen as a kind of trilogy. All three send characters from separate stories smacking into one another in tragic accidents; all three jump backward and forward in a scrambling of time frames that can leave the viewer experiencing reactions before actions, dénouements before climaxes, disillusion before ecstasy, and many other upsetting reversals and discombobulations... ...In recent years, we’ve had movies, like “Adaptation” (written by the antic confabulator Charlie Kaufman), that are explicitly about the making of movies, and others, like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (also written by Kaufman), that move forward dramatically by going backward in time. Then, there is a related group of clogged-sink narratives, like “Traffic,” “Syriana,” and “Miami Vice,” which are so heavily loaded with subplots and complicated information that the story can hardly seep through the surrounding material. “Syriana” made sense in the end, but you practically needed a database to sort out the story elements; the movie became a weird formal experiment, testing the audience’s endurance and patience. Some of the directors may be just playing with us or, perhaps, acting out their boredom with that Hollywood script-conference menace the conventional “story arc.” But others may be trying to jolt us into a new understanding of art, or even a new understanding of life. In the past, mainstream audiences notoriously resisted being jolted. Are moviegoers bringing some new sensibility to these riddling movies? What are we getting out of the overloading, the dislocations and disruptions?

Real good article. He comments on Pulp Fiction as the film that set off the latest wave of non-sequentialism. Lots of other examples he could have given, but the one most notable by its omission was Stanley Kubrik's 1956 film The Killing, which was very much a forerunner to Pulp. It was a heist movie about these thugs who have a sure thing but manage to screw it up with their backstabbing. The story unfolded through the eyes of each character, so that you saw the day's events several times from different perspectives. If you like Pulp Fiction, then I can't recommend this film enough.
Also, I ought to point out that my favorite 20th-Century American novel is Catch-22, which manages to intimidate even the most anal-retentive reader away from trying to put its events into chronological sequence. Once when I was in high school, I spent a whole weekend with notecards spread out on the floor of my bedroom trying to do just that, before I just decided to enjoy the revolving door of the whole thing.

Labels: , , , , ,

Happy Hyphenated-American Day

Today is the day that I hold as evidence that these populists who are always whining about so-called Hyphenated Americans and asserting that multiculturalism is ruining America and stuff are full of shit. Their idea (in practice) is that if (for instance) Mexican immigrants really wanted to be Americans, that they wouldn't retain ties to their ancestors' culture through language, flags, holidays, customs, etc.

Listen, in Chicago they dye the river green on St. Patty's Day, fer chrissakes! This is not the United States of Ireland, is it? Until I see one of the Anti-H-A crowd lead a campaign against that, I am not going to be too sympathetic to their arguments. (To be honest, I still wouldn't be too sympathetic afterwards, either, but at least I would credit them for being consistent.) As long as Chicago does the annual greening of the river, I can't see why I'm supposed to get upset over a bunch of first- or second-generation Mexican immigrants driving around with Mexican flags on Cinco de Mayo.

I have to say that objecting to "Hyphenated Americanism" is not necessarily racist, but I also have to say that it is an easy veil to throw over xenophobia or mysoxeny. (New word?)

Speaking of new words, let me cite William F. Buckley, who opined that words exist to meet a felt need (briefly explained here). Why do the terms "African-American," "Italian-American," "Arab-American," etc. exist? Because in the market of free ideas, enough people have found them useful definitions that they have stuck. When people stop finding utility in those definitions, they will fade.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, March 16, 2007

Marvel Super Heroes as Clerks

Via Monitor Duty. Excellent!

And while I was there, I found this far-out action-figure short, featuring Daredevil and Elektra vs Reservoir Dogs, Marvel Thriller Zombies, and a whole bunch of other stuff!

Labels: , , ,

This Is Totally Freaking Me Out

Theremin Interview; Alex Gross's Green Lantern; TM:SNC Quote


  • A real good music film -- Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser. Monk is one of my three favorite jazz musicians (the other two being Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck). Interesting side note -- TM:SNC is the film that (as far as I know) has the first use of the phrase "You'll flip. I mean flip for real." later adapted and immortalized in The Usual Suspects as follows: Fenster - "I said he'll flip you." Cop - "He'll what?" Fenster - "Flip you. Flip ya for real." Monk actually used the phrase (at 01:07:38) after Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter gave him an expensive magic marker, and he was commenting on the illegibility of his autographs: "Get somebody that can decipher that for you, you know, and say what it means... and get what it means... you know. It'll upset you. You'll flip. I mean flip for real." (I just updated the Wikipedia page on Unusual Suspects to make that clarification.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sinbad Cool About Wikipedia Inaccuracy

Sinbad gets it about Wikipedia; Not sure about the AP writer:

Actor-comedian Sinbad had the last laugh after his Wikipedia entry announced he was dead, the performer said Thursday

...Apparently, someone edited it [the entry] to say Sinbad died of a heart attack. By the time the error was caught, e-mail links of the erroneous page had been forwarded to hundreds of people. (Sounds unlikely... The link would have had to have been of a specific version of the page, rather than the main page.)

A note on Sinbad's Wikipedia page Thursday night said the site has been temporarily protected from editing to deal with vandalism. (The site?!?!? The page, maybe...)

Here's the part that tells me he's cool:

When asked if he was upset about the mix-up, Sinbad, whose real name is David Adkins, just laughed. ''It's gonna be more commonplace as the Internet opens up more and more. It's not that strange,'' the Los Angeles-based entertainer told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

Sinbad, who is currently on the road doing stand up, said he hasn't received an apology from the Internet site. (Nor would I suspect that one would be forthcoming. I bet he's not on the edge of his seat waiting for one, either.)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tech Review Article on Semantic Web

OK, so really I grasp barely a fraction of how this would all work, but the fraction I barely grasp I like! Check out all of this MIT Technology Review piece by John Borland.

Excerpts: The "3.0" claim is ambitious, casting these new tools as successors to several earlier--but still viable--generations of Net technology. Web 1.0 refers to the first generation of the commercial Internet, dominated by content that was only marginally interactive. Web 2.0, characterized by features such as tagging, social networks, and user-­created taxonomies of content called "folksonomies," added a new layer of interactivity, represented by sites such as Flickr,, and Wikipedia.

Analysts, researchers, and pundits have subsequently argued over what, if anything, would deserve to be called "3.0." Definitions have ranged from widespread mobile broadband access to a Web full of on-demand software services. A much-read article in the New York Times last November clarified the debate, however. In it, John Markoff defined Web 3.0 as a set of technologies that offer efficient new ways to help computers organize and draw conclusions from online data, and that definition has since dominated discussions at conferences, on blogs, and among entrepreneurs.

However, the concept is not without its critics...

Some argue that it's unrealistic to expect busy people and businesses to create enough metadata to make the Semantic Web work. The simple tagging used in Web 2.0 applications lets users spontaneously invent their own descriptions, which may or may not relate to anything else. Semantic Web systems require a more complicated infrastructure, in which developers order terms according to their conceptual relationships to one another and--like Dewey with his books--fit data into the resulting schema. Creating and maintaining these schemas, or even adapting preëxisting ones, is no ­trivial task. Coding a database or website with metadata in the language of a schema can itself be painstaking work. But the solution to this problem may simply be better tools for creating metadata, like the blog and social-networking sites that have made building personal websites easy.

Other critics have questioned whether the ontologies designed to translate between different data descriptions can realistically help computers understand the intricacies of even basic human concepts. Equating "post code" and "zip code" is easy enough, the critics say. But what happens when a computer stumbles on a word like "marriage," with its competing connotations of monogamy, polygamy, same-sex relationships, and civil unions? A system of interlocking computer definitions could not reliably capture the conflicting meanings of many such common words, the argument goes.

"People forget there are humans under the hood and try to treat the Web like a database instead of a social construct," says Clay Shirky, an Internet consultant and adjunct professor of interactive telecommunications at New York University. (Shirky essay skeptical of the Semantic Web here.)

"The world is not like a set of shelves, nor is it like a database," says NYU's Shirky. "We see this over and over with tags, where we have an actual picture of the human brain classifying information."

Borland concludes:

No one knows what organizational technique will ultimately prevail. But what's increasingly clear is that different kinds of order, and a variety of ways to unearth data and reuse it in new applications, are coming to the Web. There will be no Dewey here, no one system that arranges all the world's digital data in a single framework.

I know that's a lot of excerpts, but there's a lot to conceptualize.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

BG Columnist Doesn't Get It?

So Wikipedia has been hitting a little bit of a bump lately. My faith is far from shattered.

Today I came across this piece by a Boston Globe columnist named Alex Beam, who writes about his experiences as the subject of a Wikipedia entry. Excerpts: About six months ago, I noticed that I had an entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. I was flattered... ...Maybe a month ago, a friend remarked to my son , "I didn't know that your Dad hated Canada." How embarrassing. I thought I was the guy spotted singing "Ode to Newfoundland" in a St. John's beer hall. I thought I was the guy who fled to Nova Scotia, the "peaceable kingdom," the week after Sept. 11. I thought I was the guy suspected of being on permanent retainer to Snow Mexico, one of my favorite countries in the world. But no. In January, someone added this to my Wikipedia entry: "Beam has been a writer of many anti-Canadian articles. His views on Canada are very well documented, he firmly believes Canada is a semi-communist or socialist state. He . . . has attracted the scorn of Canadians who follow his articles closely and ensure that his editors are notified of any anti-Canadian writings with a barrage of complaints." Pretty harsh, eh?

Now here's the part that indicates to me that this guy doesn't get it: What about me? I complained about my entry through Wikipedia's dissent channel. Nothing happened. Then a friend slipped me a magic phone number that rang in the office of Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, the Learned Hand of the Internet bar. His helpful assistant relayed my complaint to Wales, who sits on a board with Lessig. Soon afterward, the offending paragraphs were removed.

Dude. The whole point is that you don't need Lawrence Lessig as your go-to guy to get your own (or any) Wikipedia entry edited. Why didn't you just do it yourself??? Or get the college kid who interns in your office to do it? As long as you adhered to NPOV, you would find overwhelming support in the Wikipedia community for correcting biased entries.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Christopher Walken + Jackson 5

Fatboy Slim's Walken/Hotel video + ABC/Jacksons.

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wouldn't Even Be an Issue in the Private Sector...

So I guess somebody made a little slip-up in the payroll department down in Houston the other day, and a bunch of teachers got overpaid on their checks: The school district that runs the nation's largest merit pay program gave oversized bonuses to nearly 100 teachers and is asking them to give it back... ...A total of almost $75,000 was overpaid because a computer program mistakenly calculated the bonuses of part-time personnel as if they were full-time employees, according to the Houston Independent School District. Less than 1 percent of teachers were affected, the district said.

Now if this happened in the private sector (i.e. at my job) then a) It probably wouldn't have happened in the first place, and b) The appropriate amount of money would be almost certainly be repaid or else deducted from future paychecks.

But that course of action is discouraged by the head of the teachers' union: Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the district can't force the 99 teachers to sign forms authorizing it to deduct the money from their paychecks, and promised legal action if it attempts to do so. "If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss," she said.

Now mind you, the teachers impacted wouldn't lose anything they were entitled to. They are only being asked to cooperate with having that which was mistakenly disbursed to them be reimbursed to their employer. To me, it is exceedingly unlikely that this would even be a debate anywhere other than in taxpayer-funded (and unionized) jobs.

Once in high school, we had a teacher who was handing back some tests. He was quickly found to have made an error in grading them that pushed several students up to an undeserved "A" and knocked a couple of students down to an undeserved "B." When the error was called to his attention, he promptly regraded the tests and all students got the grades they deserved. This caused some consternation among those who at first thought they would be getting grades higher than those they actually deserved, leading to crying about "It's not fair..." etc. These protests were met with stern resolve by the teacher, who, by his actions, ensured that fairness triumphed, grade-wise. Such a scenario would prove awkward at best for any of the above teachers who try to keep their un-merited bonuses.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Back Again

Back again from another quick business trip. Items:
  • Here are a whole bunch of mashups. Some of my faves are Benny Goodman/Beastie Boys, Sex Pistols/My Milkshake, and P!nk/Nirvana. For some reason, Without Vader is only on Odeo.
  • Wikipedia entry on the Essjay controversy, in which a college dropout named Ryan Jordan is found out to have been presenting himself as a Ph.D.-holding theologian for purposes of adjudicating Wikipedia disputes.
  • The U.S. State Department has come out as pro-Borat. Int'l Herald Tribune excerpts: Baron Cohen, whose bumbling Borat has vexed the Kazakh government and rocketed to fame with his film "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," became a victim when Kazakhstan took action against his satirical Web site. Specifically, it took control of the registration of .kz Internet domains in 2005 and revoked the Borat domain, since relocated, because it deemed his site offensive, the report said. The movie depicting Borat's pseudo-documentary wanderings across the U.S. became an unlikely hit and earned Baron Cohen a Golden Globe award. It also generated complaints that he duped his American subjects into making racist and sexist remarks and portrayed Kazakhs in an unflattering light. Borat, for example, asserted that Kazakhs are addicted to horse urine, enjoy shooting dogs, view rape and incest as respectable hobbies and are fond of "running of the Jew" festivals. Baron Cohen is an observant Jew. The State Department report made no mention of the contents of the film or Web site but said Baron Cohen's banishment was symptomatic of repression in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia. Full State Dept. report here. Kazakhstan-specific comments here.
  • A couple of new blogs for the blogroll... Techyum (from the NSFW Violet Blue) and, via Techyum, Bedazzled!.
  • Peanuts: A Comic Book History. Charles Schulz has said that he developed Charlie Brown's character largely from his own joys and insecurities (I paraphrase); Interesting how these two covers feature Charlie Schulz/Brown trying to capture the image of Snoopy.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Schlesinger Obit, Samurai Vader, IQ Scarcity, Floyd/Bee Gees Mashup

  • Farewell to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. NYT obit excerpt: Mr. Schlesinger wore a trademark dotted bowtie, showed an acid wit and had a magnificent bounce to his step. He was a lifelong aficionado of perfectly blended martinis. Between marathons of writing as much as 5,000 words a day, he was a fixture at Georgetown salons when Washington was clubbier and more elitist. In New York, he was a man about town, whether at Truman Capote’s famous parties or escorting Jacqueline Kennedy to the movies.
  • Here's Darth Vader's uniform Samuraized. Excerpt: Transforming Vader into a Samurai, or a Samurai into Vader, required the integration of several design motifs that married the traditional with the fantastic. "First, we hit on the idea of adding the 'front crest', which was designed based on the Imperial Icon, to the front of the helmet," says Yoshitoku. "By adding this, the 'leader of the Imperial Army' image is emphasized, as ancient Japanese military commanders used their ancestral family emblems on their front crest. We also added a Vader-like design to the face guard (called a menpo) which features a handcrafted look as if artisans of the past had done it."
  • I'm sure we all know people for whom the phrase "scarcity of IQ" applies. Here's a thumbnail economic analysis of that phenomenon. Excerpt: In practical terms, "Conservation of IQ" is used to argue for limits on immigration, against various meliorist attempts, and possibly even for eugenics. I've heard it used to argue for outlawing marijuana, which of course destroys brain cells... ...I don't assign special status to The Conservation of IQ for two reasons. The first is the Flynn effect, or the fact that measured IQs have been rising steadily over time. This implies some combination of a) IQ gains come naturally under conditions of progress, and b) IQ statistics are to some extent phony and don't measure real intelligence. We can debate the mix, but either deflates fears that IQ is somehow especially scarce or endangered. These data also suggest that IQ is an artifice to be unpacked rather than a primary category.
  • Pink Floyd meets the Bee Gees!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Star Wars Gangsta Rap Video


Labels: , ,

Friday, March 02, 2007

Back Home in One Piece

Back home after a little bit of airport disruption... Last night I was supposed to fly into O'Hare Airport, but was among many who were prevented from doing so. So, instead, I took a nice little last-minute drive across seven hours worth of the Midwest. Fortunately, for 85% of the drive, it was dry as a bone and I got home in time for Letterman. Today, however, it's back to being shitty again. Perfect night to stay inside, comfy & cozy.