April 28, 2008

Gobblesmacked

This is overdue.

I saw two turkeys today. Wild turkeys. I was just out for a run along the Riverway in Brookline, minding my own business, when I found my path blocked by two wild turkeys, loitering under a bridge and looking menacing.

It might seem bizarre for wild turkeys to hang around barely a mile from downtown Boston (and, indeed, it is), but a quick Google on the topic reveals that it's actually a far more common sight than you'd expect. And if this Globe article is anything to go by, I was lucky to escape with my buttocks intact.
BROOKLINE - On a recent afternoon, Kettly Jean-Felix parked her car on Beacon Street in Brookline, fed the parking meter, wheeled around to go to the optician and came face to face with a wild turkey.

The turkey eyed Jean-Felix. Jean-Felix eyed the turkey. It gobbled. She gasped. Then the turkey proceeded to follow the Dorchester woman over the Green Line train tracks, across the street, through traffic, and all the way down the block, pecking at her backside as she went. . . .

Dr. Ruth Smith, an internist from New York City, was staying with a cousin in Brookline a couple of weeks ago when she was stalked by what she describes as a 3-foot-tall turkey.

"He came at me and, at first, I tried to shoo him away," Smith recalled. "I figured I'd just go 'Shoo!' and he'd go. But he was very aggressive."

Smith said she escaped by ducking into the Dunkin' Donuts on Beacon Street.
I mean, good God! Is this what America has come to? Our citizens can't walk even down the street without being attacked by wild animals! And it's not just the turkeys! Later on during my run today, I passed a Canada goose who was hissing at another pedestrian and forcing him off the sidewalk!

So I say, forget the War on Terror. We need to be fighting the War on Ptera!

(Okay, that was kind of a stretch — but if you were grecophones Hellenophones it would kill.)

April 27, 2008

Geekend

You may not have known it, but in Boston this weekend, the internet came close to attaining physical form; Friday and Saturday marked the first official meeting of ROFLCon, a conference devoted to celebrating, analysing, and — no doubt — creating internet memes. It met on and around the MIT campus (naturally); was attended by such internet luminaries as "the Tron guy", the man behind "Chuck Norris facts" and the "million dollar website guy"; and boasted eye-opening panels such as "Before the LOL", "Pwning for the Good of Mankind", and "Lolcats: I Can Haz Case Study?".

Sadly, I have (marginally) better things to do with my time than attend conferences about internet memes — but I did replace my usual Facebook procrastinatory sessions on Friday/Saturday with visits to the various ROFLCon liveblogs and webcasts that were going on. There are numerous links on the ROFLCon website, including a video clip of Firefox fighting the TripAdvisor Owl (well, someone in a Firefox outfit fighting someone in a TripAdvisor Owl outfit), while onlookers laugh and shout StreetFighter II references in the background.

What you won't find on the ROFLCon blog (at least, not that I can see) is any archives of the panel webcasts, which means you won't be able to watch the amazingly hilarious lolcats "case study" that took place on Friday afternoon. Lucky for you, though, I tuned it for it (unsurprisingly) — so I can offer you a brief summary.

The panelists talked for a while, but things pretty quickly got opened up to questions from the audience. The first words out of the mouth of the first audience member chosen were: "Um, yeah... I have a question for the Star Trek guy?" This was referring, of course, to Stephen Granades, creator of the fabulously over-the-top LOLTrek, and the question was something along the lines of: "Any plans to produce another episode? Because I would love to see Jean-Luc Picard... [rest of question drowned out by audience laughter]."

In the meantime, the other users watching the webcast got into a protracted discussion in the chat window as to who wanted to bang the one girl on the panel, and how exactly they would go about it. (A hot girl in a tight tanktop who creates lolcats is pretty much the holy grail of internet nerds, I guess.)

At this point, one of the panelists had just finished doing his impression of what a lolcat would sound like in real life — kind of like Gonzo with mental retardation, apparently — when another internet celebrity stood up to ask a question. I don't know who it was because the camera didn't pan around, but judging by the gasps and whoops from the audience — and the fact that one of the panelists whipped out his digital camera to get a picture — whoever it was was a pretty big deal. I believe the question that was asked when the cheering died down was: "How have you found that cats themselves react to lolcats?" (The answer: hard to say, but the panelists frequently get emails from irate cat owners.)

After that, things just got a little silly.

Anyway, I encourage you to browse through the ROFLCon blog, and appreciate just how much the internet gives back to the world. And if any of you are looking for gift ideas for my next birthday, well, a registration at next year's conference wouldn't be terrible...

April 25, 2008

April 24, 2008

Does This Count As Kafkaesque?

I went to the men's room in Emerson's Writing, Literature, and Publishing department, today. On the floor was a dead roach — and I mean, a freakin' roach. The thing was over an inch long. The sort of bug you wouldn't want to find crawling around your kitchen. The stuff of phobias.

And had anyone cleaned it up?

No. But someone had printed out (yes, printed out, not even written by hand) a sign that read "RIP Gregor Samsa", and taped it to the wall nearby.

Ah, writers.

April 23, 2008

Unblairable

From BBC NEWS | Politics: Portrait of Blair as PM unveiled
A portrait of Tony Blair, painted in his final few months as prime minister, has been unveiled in Westminster.

Mr Blair sat for artist Phil Hale in the PM's official country residence at Chequers for the portrait, which will be hung in Portcullis House. . . .

[T]he artist said Mr Blair had been "tired and distracted" but said of the painting: "It humanises him - I don't think it is unsympathetic."
So, here's the portrait:

The exhaustion and distraction are certainly prominent; it's a pretty moving painting, I think. Full of visceral, emotional power. But what I find most fascinating about it is that with a few tweaks in Photoshop . . .

It's a MySpace profile picture! So is this what the former prime minister is doing with his time, these days? Trying to relaunch his band?

Oh, Tony. We miss you.

April 18, 2008

April 17, 2008

Once Bitter, Twice Shy

I suspect the blogosphere is not lacking in pro- and anti-Obama tirades following his unbelievably boneheaded remarks last week, but what harm can one more do?

So, in case you haven't heard the full story: last week, at a fundraiser in Liberal Elitist HQ — San Francisco — Obama rather indecorously made this comment about small-town, blue-collar Americans:
"The jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them . . . And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
In the inevitable firestorm since, the senator has frantically back-pedalled, hemming and hawing, and explaining that what he really meant was that these people don't feel like their votes will make a difference on economic issues — so they vote on "wedge issues" instead. (And the politicians — those vile creatures, whoever they are! — exploit this reaction.)

There's a pretty interesting op-ed in the New York Times questioning that line of reasoning. Basically, the author presents statistics showing that "small-town voters" are less likely to be swayed by the issues Obama mentioned than the intellectualistas in the big cities. I think it's a valuable article for casting doubt on the fairness of pigeon-holing voters, though to me the logic seems a little iffy. Consider this:
Do small-town, working-class voters cast ballots on the basis of social issues? Yes, but less than other voters do. Among these voters, those who are anti-abortion were only 6 percentage points more likely than those who favor abortion rights to vote for President Bush in 2004. The corresponding difference for the rest of the electorate was 27 points, and for cosmopolitan voters it was a remarkable 58 points.
Okay, that sounds pretty impressive, right? But without telling us what the baseline level of support for Bush was in these groups, the conclusion is kind of suspect. If cosmopolitan voters were considerably less likely to vote Bush in the first place, it's hardly surprising that there's more room for that probability to change.

But to me this sort of argument amounts to mere statistical prevarication, anyway — it doesn't really get at the heart of the problem, which is the attitude behind Obama's comments. He can qualify what he said as much as he likes, but the implication — even of his qualifications — is that issues like guns, religion, and immigration are simply not important, and that it's irrational to care about them so much.

And that, to me, is the most deeply concerning soundbite of the campaign. Never mind the fact that, when on message, Obama preaches nothing but unity, UNITY, UNITY! For any candidate — for any person — to dismiss, offhand, the beliefs of others, runs contrary to the liberal ideals that should be at the centre of political debate. How can you defend the right to gay marriage, say, and then turn around and label whole categories of belief — religion! — as irrelevant?

I'm all for gun control and reproductive rights, but I certainly do not think that anybody who thinks otherwise is irrational. It's their belief and they can hold it if they like. And regardless of whether or not Obama thinks these issues are the most pressing ones facing the country, simply waving them off as the product of bitterness, or frustration, or hopelessness, or anything, denies intellectual agency to anyone who holds them! It's precisely the sort of ivory tower douchebaggery that Democrats are always being accused of, and — oh, look! — there's the leading Democratic candidate demonstrating it perfectly. Oops.

It's callous, and it's elitist, and it's undiplomatic — and those are not qualities I want in a leader. I am really done waiting for Obama to convince me that he could be a good candidate. I want nothing to do with this kind of thinking, and I wish he would just go away.

April 15, 2008

Funny Money

From BBC NEWS | Magazine: Brass in pocket

I know this story is a little stale, already, so please forgive me; it's not that easy to keep up with United Kingdom numismatic trends from the United States of What Other Country?

Anyhow, apparently the Royal Mint has decided to ruin British currency for the foreseeable future, so I it seemed like I should comment.

The mint is completely revamping the "tails" side of all British coins (except the £2, which we all know isn't a real coin anyway), removing the traditional iconography and replacing it with a gimmicky jigsaw puzzle motif that's like something straight out of a washed-up Eighties gameshow. If laid out side-by-side in the correct configuration, the coins display a unified image of the Royal Shield of the UK, as it might be viewed through a hockey mask — which the designer was quite possibly wearing when he drafted the idea.

It's about as half-cocked an idea as I've seen — even worse than the dull-as-dull Euro coinage that we've had to put up with for the last five years. It's sad that people seem to have lost sight of the symbolic value of money (which is, of course, all it really has, now that it's forged from non-valuable metal), and seem content to submit currency to the same sort of lazy, fad-based design that can, to date, list a wardrobe full of graphic hoodies from H&M as its crowning achievement. To quote Philip Nathan, coin designer extraordinaire:
The twenty pence piece is a very difficult shape to work with. In this case the designer has ignored it.
...which seems to sum up very well the approach taken in the coins' new look: "Who cares!"

It's valuing style over functionality, pure and simple (viz. lack of numerals), which is just ridiculous when it comes to designing something that is — lest we forget — one hundred percent freakin' FUNCTIONAL!

Sigh. I'm beginning to feel like an old crank.

April 14, 2008

Glitch in the Matrix

This is what happened when I tried searching for Obama headlines on Google News the other day. Weirdest thing I've ever seen.



On a somewhat related topic, this is what happened when Ticketmaster tried to anti-spam me a few weeks ago.



Well, screw you, too!

April 11, 2008

April 10, 2008

Keeping the Black Dog Down, Boy, Down

From AOL News: Big, Black Dogs Face Stigma

I'm sorry, big, black whats?
DOGS
Ah, yes. Right.

I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here, but I can't shake the feeling that this news story is being just a little bit flippant:
Gozer isn't aggressive and doesn't look mean or bark . . . People are afraid of the dog purely because it's big and black. . . .

According to animal shelter officials, big, black dogs like Gozer have more trouble finding a happy home than do other dogs. Some shelters even have a name for it: "Big black dog syndrome."

. . . At the city animal shelter in Rogers, Ark., big, black dogs almost always make up the bulk of the animals put to sleep each month. Last month, 13 of the 14 dogs killed by the city were large and black . . .

One black dog, Coal, took more than six months to find a home despite a sweet temperament, excellent recommendations and a featured spot on Yaffe's Web site. "He was just black," Yaffe said. "That was his one offense."
A quick search on Google reveals that there are a bunch of other news stories and websites devoted to championing the rights of big, black dogs. And yet they all manage to get by without mentioning the big, black elephant in the room: sometimes, big, black DUDES get discriminated against, too.

Some of the language used teeters so close to its human civil rights equivalent that one of the websites (blackpearldogs.com) was actually forced to place a prominent link at the top of their sidebar explaining earnestly that they are not an internet hoax (discrimination against black dogs is a "very real" problem!). They manage to do this, naturally, without any mention as to why people might think they are a hoax, though I think it probably has something to do with their list of the top three reasons why people don't like black dogs:
1) Harmful superstitions: Black dogs in folklore

2) Negative Labels . . .

3) Fear: What makes a dog aggressive or dangerous. Is it their color?
I mean, are you shitting me? Look, I know pet adoption websites are not the best forum in which to take up civil rights issues, but how can you write this stuff without any mention of discrimination against black people and still keep a straight face? I think it's worth pointing out that (a) the three hundred years of racism in the United States — including the frequent depiction of black men as animals — might also help to explain the presence of a bias against, um, actual black animals, and (b) since the same kinds of claims about black people have been summarily debunked and condemned, there's really no reason why we should put up with it in the animal kingdom (or anywhere else) either.

Or are we really still so uncomfortable talking about race that we're willing to tiptoe around the most obvious argument here for fear of appearing somehow racist?

April 08, 2008

Pooh-Pooh-Litzer

The AP helpfully provides some quotes from this year's Pulitzer winners. See if you can guess which one is from the poet.

Is it A:
"I am beside myself with joy."
Or B:
"It's very gratifying."
Or C:
"It's exciting for me."
Or, perhaps, D:
"Everyone is expert on one subject and failure seems to be mine. I was born into it. My father went bankrupt when I was eighteen and he died soon afterward out of [a] terrible sense of shame. And we lost everything, my mother and I."
Yup, it was the last one, Pulitzer-winning poet Philip Schultz, speaking just hours after the announcement was made.

The AP also released this photo of Schultz, who won the prize for his book Failure:



I tell you, it is the sign of a truly great poet that he can win the Pulitzer and still be totally angst-ridden.

April 07, 2008

I Don't Want to Put You Out, But...

I'm sorry, perhaps I'm being a little cynical, but can I explain how ridiculous I find the Olympic torch relay?

Take a look at the route it takes. The freaking thing is better-travelled than most people! What a kick in the teeth! Here we all are trying to be good to the environment (and criticising the Olympic hosts on a daily basis, I might add, for spewing greenhouse gases), and some lantern gets to swagger around the globe leaving a bigger carbon footprint than most U2 tours!

And for what? Some half-baked, histrionic tradition that's not even one hundred years old! Okay, so I get it, it's a symbol; look how harmonious nations are! We can make fire together! But as a symbol of peace between nations it has more irony than a hipster's t-shirt collection, given that the first ever torch relay was held at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (you know, the one where all that great Hitler stock footage comes from) — and we all know what a harmonious period in world history that year marked the start of.

Not only that, but just the sheer amount of time and money that goes into planning the damn thing, nowadays! The lantern is carried around the world on airplanes, to re-light the torches when they go out (or are put out by protesters trying to put it out, or police trying to stop protesters trying to put it out); it's booked into hotels with a team of ten minders; and then each country gets to share a little bit of the joy by providing police and crowd control along the way! Why not put all that effort into, I don't know, addressing some of the human rights issues that everyone seems so upset about? It wouldn't actually take all that much more to, say, house all the Chinese workers who were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for the Olympic village in Beijing.

I'm all for a good symbolic tradition, don't get me wrong. That whole Easter egg thing is right up my alley. But I don't understand why everyone needs this damn torch carried around the world to show that international relations are fantastic, because, (a) they're not, and (b) don't the actual Olympics kind of serve the same purpose, as far as symbolism goes? I say, let's spend less time worrying about some stupid flame, and more time worrying about a car accident that happened eleven years ago.

No, wait.

April 04, 2008

April 02, 2008

Department of Things Seen, Once More, on Netscape



Yeah, I'm pretty sure the name Steve means instant death in the personal computing world...

April 01, 2008

Road Trip II: Son of Road Trip, or,
"Pray For Air Conditioning"

Following the spectacular success of my road trip down the west coast two years ago (see here, here, and here if you need your memory refreshed), I have planned a sequel for this May. Here's my tentative route:


View Larger Map

Basically, the plan is to fly to LA and spend a few days with my friend Michelle, then hop a rental car and drive to Denver/the Rockies and spend a few days with my uncle and aunt there. On the way I'll hit up Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Santa Fe — and I will have a rocking good time.

If anyone has suggestions (heck, if anyone wants to come with me), feel free to leave comments. I'm looking at you, Dustin.