June 30, 2005

The Electronic Glow Fades

If you haven't seen Star Wars Episode III by now, you probably don't really want to, and various plot points have already been unwittingly disclosed by enough Helpdesk staff that you get the general idea.

I fall into the masses that think Episode 3 makes up for the previous two. It's a dubious honor, however, akin to being named valedictorian of your home-school class. But I will stop far short of calling it a good movie.

Yes, the dialogue was high-school-drama-club bad. Word on the set was that George Lucas had to cut the million monkeys on a million typewriters down to 1,000 to make room in the budget for more special effects.

While we're on the topic, can we still call them "special" effects if they make up 90% of the movie? I don't think we should. Since Lucas made the decision to have the actors perform on blue-screen sets and make the entire world in post-production, it's just effects. Metaphorically, Lucas has moved the film from pseudo-Hollywood, where Roger Rabbit is the special effect in the real world, to ToonTown, where Eddie Valliant is the real person in the fake world.

If this series has proven anything, it is what I call "The Matrix Principle": If you make a good enough first movie, the masses will keep coming to see future installments in the series NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY SUCK, coasting on the hope that you will redeem the franchise and make the next one better. (In this case, it was two good movies at the start, but the principle holds.) George Lucas made the mistake of confusing this for the fans approval of the prequel trilogy, and continued taking every redeemable quality of his films out until only warm bodies remained, pretending against blue screens.

We all knew what had to happen in this last one: Anakin had to become Vader, Luke and Leia had to be born and separated, The Jedi had to be outcast and the Emperor rise to power. That's Quite a lot to cover in one film. Honestly, it's too much to pack into one film, and Episode 2 should have taken more on itself. In this last one, Anakin had to be turned to the dark side. But how do you turn an angsty teen into a genocidal lunatic in such a short span?

In order to accomplish this leap, George Lucas fell back on the stereotype of today's youth, now being called "The Entitlement Generation." Anakin is powerful (or so we hear), but he's being held back by "Da Man" from being a full Jedi Master at such a young age. He's on track to be the youngest Jedi Master in history, but he wants it NOW, dammit! Even when he is placed on the High Council (again, unheard of at his age), that's not enough for him. He's powerful and capable, and if they can't recognize that, then he'll seek power elsewhere.

While this line of thought might make sense to any parent of a 13 year-old, you'd expect an adult to be slightly more rational. But once Lucas get us to swallow Anakin's pubescent delusions of grandeur, he immediately bends that thin truth to its breaking point.

Let me get this straight: Anakin thinks he is so powerful that his recurring bad dreams HAVE to be true and everything he believed in to this point is false? So these dreams and a sly senator convince him to Go Postal at Jedi HQ, to the point of murdering the Junior Jedi. Eventually, he even turns on his old master and does the old "Force Trachea-Crush" move on the person he was trying to save by committing these murders. Tragic, Ironic, Dramatic? It should have been, but I just laughed at how weak it was.

And the ultimate duel at the end? Lucas just ran out of ideas. "Hmm, we've done everything possible with lightsaber dueling itself (a two-sided lightsaber, four lightsabers, etc.) so F-it, let's just cover it up with a CG environment." As if our suspension of disbelief wasn't challenged already. The drawback of CG effects is that the actors can't react properly to them. "Look! I'm so consumed by rage that I don't even blink when the platform I'm standing on falls into a river of molten lava! It's okay, we won't get burned, even though we're standing one foot from the lava's surface." Then at the end, reality catches up to them and contradicts this by having the guy burst into flames from just being near the liquid hot magma.

Then comes the meeting.

Meeting Notes -- 6:00 PM April 41st, Year of the WompRat.
Yoda: Obi-Wan, Senator Organa, thanks for coming to this meeting.
Obi-Wan: No Problem.
Organa: Happy to be here.
Yoda: Good to hear it. Okay, down to business. We've spent 98% of this movie trying to sell this "teen angst" rationale, and it's met with... acceptable results.
Obi-Wan: Well, *I* Liked it.
Organa: Hey, I'm just happy to have more than one line in this one!
Yoda: Right, but we have a problem, folks. We've followed through with the meat of the storyline, but there's still so much to tie up in order to ensure continuity!
Obi-Wan: Sheesh, I guess you're right. Sorry, I guess I lost sight of the overall project plan when I was "In the Trenches" fighting for my life seven inches above that river of lava.
Organa: Now don't play the martyr here, Kenobi. We've ALL been working here. Yoda's been busy trashing the senate building and I've... I had to pick him up when he was done. You know, he can't reach the pedals.
Yoda: Organa, this is not the time or place for that! Both of you, cut it out, we are all on the same team here.
Obi-Wan: Fine.
Organa: Okay, okay. So what do we do about it?
Yoda: I'm opening the floor to ideas. Shoot.
Obi-Wan: Should we cut out some of the pointless, drawn-out, emotionally sterile scenes? Like the one where Padme brushes her hair and laughs on the balcony?
Organa: I don't think we should look backwards, we can't help what's already filmed. We paid good money to get this far and I, for one, don't want to just flush that money down the toilet.
Obi-Wan: Well, we're already past the 2-hour mark now, we can't go on much longer.
Yoda: Let's just to a cliff-notes quick montage to patch 80% of the plot holes. The two biggest ones we'll have to take on as Action Items. You'll each take on one of Padme & Anakin's kids.
Organa: Hmm, Actually, the wife and I WERE looking into adoption...
Obi-Wan: No WAY! I didn't sign on for this! I don't work well with kids! Look how Anakin turned out!
Yoda: Now, settle down, Obi-Wan. You don't have to raise the kid yourself, you can delegate responsibility if you want. Just take it as an Action Item.
Organa: I got dibs on the girl!
Obi-Wan: Dammit, You bastard. You know boys are harder to place with families these days.
Yoda: Settle, you two. All right. The kids issue is closed. Moving down the list, Obi-Wan, we're going to need you to take that Relocation Package.
Obi-Wan: Fine. My contract was for "up to 50% travel," but what the hell. Beats being dead like all the others.
Yoda: It'll have to be far out, as to hide him from the Emperor. Preferably to Tatooine.
Obi-Wan: GREAT. Back to that hell-hole. What, all the satellite offices on poisonous gas planets already taken?
Yoda: That's enough, Kenobi. Organa, I'm not going to uproot you and your family, so you stay here on Coruscant.
Organa: Here? You want me to hide Leia in the capital of the empire? That doesn’t make any sense. No, the Emperor will NEVER look for her here, in the custody of a senator that is a known Jedi sympathizer.
Yoda: Cut the sarcasm, Organa, it's not productive. Just for that, you get another action item. Let's see. Yeah, according to the script, the Droids have to be the property of a Captain Antilles before the start of the next movie. And the tall one has to have a memory reformat.
Obi-Wan: Hold on, according to this script, I don't remember the droids in episode four either!
Yoda: Fine. Organa, have Obi-Wan's memory modified as well.
Organa: Okay by me. So what about the final shot?
Obi-Wan: So long as it's not a musical number, I'm happy with anything. We all remember the Lessons Learned meeting after "Return of the Jedi," don't we?
Yoda: Of course. *shudder* Thoughts, Organa?
Organa: Just as long as we end with a shot of Vader, the Emperor and the Death Star, and we're golden.

June 29, 2005

Turnabout is Fair Play

In response to Monday's Supreme Court verdict that allowed local governments to seize private lands for whatever purposes they deem profitable, we have the story of one activist getting his revenge.

One of the five votes approving the case was by Justice David H. Souterm who has a house in Weare, New Hampshire. One protester has started a movement to seize the justice's land and build a museum dedicated to "the Loss of Freedoms in America."
Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans. (LINK )

June 28, 2005

Too Many Good Titles For This

Briefly: Melissa keeps on talking about an upcoming movie called "Brokeback Mountain", starring Jake GilliganKidsInTheHall and Heath Ledger. Official summary:
The new film from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. An epic love story set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two young men - a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy - who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.
Needless to say that I won't be joining her for a screening. Not that I have anything against gays, but I just don't want to see a love story about two cowboys. Mel has been instructed to tell me if the indeed DO end up eating pudding.

The Supremes Pass Judgement

I might as well advertise for Paxil. But in case you haven't heard, here are two things to be depressed about.

(1) The Hollywood Copyright Cartel wins against P2P Software

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that software companies can be held liable for copyright infringement when individuals use their technology to download songs and movies illegally.

The unanimous decision handed the music and movie industries a crucial victory in their ongoing battle to curb Internet piracy -- a campaign centered on lobbying for new laws, filing thousands of lawsuits against Internet users, and winning a ruling from the nation's highest court.

Their victory Monday on the third piece of that strategy dealt a big blow to technology companies, which claim that holding them accountable for the illegal downloading of songs, movies, video games and other proprietary products would stifle their ability to develop new products.

In MGM v. Grokster, the high court overturned a ruling that had barred Hollywood and the music industry from suing Internet services used by consumers to swap songs and movies for free. (LINK)
Thanks. Now every innovative software developer who has an original idea will think twice before writing a line of code, just in case some anonymous user could possibly misuse his software for malicious purposes. Not even malicious purposes, just ones that might theoretically take future profits from the richest 400-pound gorilla in the legal world. I don't think even THEY believe their "losses" to internet music piracy numbers anymore.

What other industry would hold the manufacturers responsible for the user's actions? The tobacco industy is, but that's mostly because there is no healthy way to use their product. What about the firearms industry? Guns can be used legally to defend yourself from an intruder, or illegally to commit murder, but Smith and Wesson aren't being sued. Personally, I don't think they should be, but why is it that the manufacturers have not been legally deemed liable for their customer's actions, like the software industry? Because the plaintiffs in that case have been citizen groups and not multi-billion dollar lobbying groups.

(2) Eminent Domain Granted to Private Companies

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court gave local governments broad power today to bulldoze homes and other private property to make way for business development, a ruling that could encourage more city-backed plans to replace small stores with big-box retailers.

The 5-4 ruling upheld a plan by officials in a coastal Connecticut town to condemn nine homes of longtime residents that would be replaced with an office complex and a marina.

In the mid-20th century, the court said officials could condemn homes and stores in "blighted" areas as part of a redevelopment plan. That 1954 decision helped trigger various urban renewal projects across the nation. In today's decision, the court went a step further and said officials need not claim they were condemning blighted properties or clearing slums. Now, as long as officials hope to create jobs or raise tax collections, they can seize the homes of unwilling sellers, the court said. This "public purpose" is a "public use" of the land, the court said in Kelo vs. New London.
By and large, not many people opposed the rationale of Eminent Domain rule before. The Arthur Dents of the world would naturally be opposed to their homes being bulldozed to make way for highway bypasses, but at least there was some tangible public good that would become of it.

Not so today. Thanks to this new decision, there doesn't even have to be any SPECIFIC USE intended for your land anymore. Let's say Bubba saves his retirement nest egg to buy a nice piece of property on Lake Lanier. Under this new law, it can be seized by local governments to put a private company's hotel resort, because tax revenues from the hotel and worker wages would net the government more money. Bubba could be evicted from the land he purchased and not compensated a penny, and that's perfectly legal.

Two cases of the Supreme Court bowing to the needs of private firm with huge lobbies over the rights of individuals. How long do you think it will be before Bush re-introduces the Right of Prima Nocta - wherein local politicians claim the right to sleep with all new brides on their wedding night?

June 27, 2005

Pardon Our Progress

I'm working the kinks out of my new Blog format. so let me know if some things disappear in your browser, or if you think the layout is worse than before. I just had to change it from the Frame-linked mess that it was before, where you had to manage two scroll bars to read the entire page. I like the three-column layout, and the fact that it resizes (within reason) to your screen. Comments/constructive criticism welcome.

June 24, 2005

The Balcony is Back

In a move that might possibly redeem Disney's handing of the Muppets franchise, our favorite balcony peanut gallery, Statler & Waldorf review upcoming movies in a video segment called "From The Balcony". This week it's War of the Worlds and Bewitched. The voices are different, but the writing is good and the characters are just as you remember.

LinkNews Digest [06/24/2005]

Romanian Priest Crucifies "Posessed" Nun

Romanian Orthodox priest Father Daniel Corogeanu and four nuns have been charged with murder after ordering another nun who was "possessed by the devil" and "beyond salvation" to be crucified. The nun, Maricica Irina Cornici, was found dead and chained to a cross last Wednesday. A member of the Holy Trinity order in the village of Tanacu, Sister Irina reportedly was imprisoned after arguing with the priest during a Sunday mass.

During a short funeral service at the weekend attended by 13 nuns who showed no emotion, Father Corogeanu said: "God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil."

Romanian reporters present at the ceremony said strangle marks were clearly visible on the corpse, which lay in an open casket.

Claps of thunder were heard as the coffin was lowered into the ground, a sign "that the will of God has been done", Father Corogeanu said.

Sister Irina joined the order three months ago, after visiting a friend who lived there. According to medical reports she had been treated for schizophrenia. (LINK via UK Telegraph)

German Military Eases Mullet Sanctions

German soldiers will be allowed to sport mullets and ponytails after a court ruled army hair regulations were unconstitutional.

The ruling came after an 18-year-old soldier was locked up in a cell and fined £100 when he refused to chop off his 10-inch ponytail. The teenaged recruit only agreed to let army barbers cut his hair when faced with three weeks in solitary confinement, but made a formal complaint at the same time.

The military court in Munich ruled in favour of the soldier and argued the varying rules for male and female recruits were "unconstitutional" and "incomprehensible". It said forcing male soldiers to cut their long hair went against their rights as individuals. (LINK)

Alleged Molester Rapes Neighborhood Dog

This kid is so sick, we'll have to make new laws to prosecute him under.
SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA (FOX Carolina News) - A Campobello teen is accused of raping one neighbor's dog and another neighbor's two little girls. Now the dog has died and charges against the teen have been upgraded.

After receiving word that the dog died possibly because of the rape. Fox Carolina called the Solicitor's office to see if now new charges would be filed against the teen. An hour later Solicitor Trey Gowdy called to say that the charges will be upgraded to the "most serious animal cruelty charges they have on the books."

(Owner) Sylvia Jones says she died of internal bleeding this past Sunday because of the rape. "The vet told me she had a little blood in her urine and that she was bleeding inside."

"When I got here we were laying on the deck looking at him and he had his pants down and he was doing sexual activity with the dog like a man would do to a woman."

Neighbors worry that if Williamson is accused of raping a dog and molesting two girls in the same neighborhood, who knows what might happen next. (LINK)

Serbian Groom Is No William Tell

A Serbian bridegroom spent the night in the cells after he injured 15 guests while trying to shoot an apple with a shotgun.

Shooting the apple is a traditional part of a Serbian wedding and is supposed to bring good luck to the newly-weds, reports Glas Javnosti newspaper.

But the groom, 47, who's also a police marksmen, used a shotgun instead of a pistol and 15 people were hit by ricocheting pellets. None of the guests were seriously injured but police were called to the incident and arrested their colleague and confiscated his gun. (LINK)

June 22, 2005

Cruise Kills

Sorry, But this one can't wait until Friday: Tom Cruise Kills Oprah (video).

I tried to stifle my laughter, but I couldn't. My cubicle neighbors now suspect that I keep a baby llama in my filing cabinet. Which strengthens my case for telecommuting.

June 20, 2005

The Cold War on Ants

Like many homeowners in the south, my house has become a home for a bevy of insects in the spring. It’s the price that I pay for living in a more wooded, quiet section of Atlanta. We had termites that chewed under the back door frame, the occasional thumb-sized scorpion, but rarely do we have ants.

People will swear by their various methods of getting rid of ants: Dropping poison on the mound, running it over with a lawnmower, little plastic bait traps in on the floor or hosing down the perimeter with bug spray. Men brag about how they kill ants around the neighborhood like women will gloat over a good recipe.

As for me, I have a more, shall we say “unconventional” method of dealing with ants: Folklore.

I look at it this way: If you kill the entire mound, sure they learn their lesson, but two weeks later, a new mound will start up and give you trouble all over again. You need to think long-term.

As soon as I see ants in my house, I get the old Hoover from the coat closet and vacuum those little bad boys up. When I’ve captured all of them, I leave the vacuum plugged in right there, prepared for the next wave.

When the next group of ants comes through, I make short work of most of them. The secret is, I leave two or three alive, but shaken, to bring news to the rest of the mound. Repeat as necessary, but from then on, each successive raiding party will be smaller and smaller until they stop altogether.

See, ants are social animals. I imagine the survivors limping back to the queen, wearing the odd crutch or bandage, saying “Your Majesty! It was a slaughter! I saw my whole battalion captured by this black tube of rushing wind!” Eventually the little ant generals will realize that the Kern household is a hill that cannot be taken, and they will move on in defeat.

So the actual anthill survives, but that’s the beauty of it. Each successive generation from that hill, as well as any new colonies that come in contact with it, will hear the stories about the House of Sucking Death. Over time, as the legend spreads, there will be fewer and fewer raids on the house, until they stop altogether.

The ants can have my backyard, I never set foot in it except to mow it on the odd weekend. But we’ve drawn a line in the sand, and come to a tentative peace accord, enforced by the looming threat of my weapon of mass destruction, the Hoover.

MasterCard Hacked

Friday, news broke that Atlanta-based CardSystems was hacked by a Trojan Virus that exported data on up to 40 MILLION Credit Card Accounts to unknown sources. Today comes the kicker: CardSystems was not even supposed to keep the data in the first place: (From the New York Times)
Under rules established by Visa and MasterCard, processors are not allowed to retain cardholder information including names, account numbers, expiration dates and security codes after a transaction is handled.

"CardSystems provides services and is supposed to pass that information on to the banks and not keep it," said Joshua Peirez, a MasterCard senior vice president who has been involved with the investigation. "They were keeping it."

The official, John M. Perry, chief executive of CardSystems Solutions, indicated that the records known to have been stolen covered roughly 200,000 of the 40 million compromised credit card accounts, from Visa, MasterCard and other card issuers. He said the data was in a file being stored for "research purposes" to determine why certain transactions had registered as unauthorized or uncompleted.

So more than just a huge security breach that puts tens of thousands of credit card numbers up for sale on the black market, but one that was made possible because this company was illegally storing card data for it's own purposes. Once these rightful owners of these card numbers start getting unauthorized charges on their accounts, how long do you think it'll take before a class-action suit is opened?

June 17, 2005

LinkNews Digest [06/17/2005]

Only In The South: DUI on a Lawnmower

JUNE 10--Meet Jerry Hawkins. The 43-year-old Virginia man is facing a drunk driving rap after blowing a whopping .32 on a police Breathalyzer test. While that's nothing special, as noted in the below Culpeper Police Department report, Hawkins was pulled over as he tooled down Main Street astride a red riding mower. Hawkins, who reeked of booze, explained to cops that he was headed to the 7-Eleven for gasoline. (LINK via TheSmokingGun)

Love Shacks for German Ballers

German MPs want to erect love shacks for the 2006 World Cup so prostitutes can service football fans in private.

Tens of thousands of prostitutes are expected to converge on World Cup venues and politicians fear many will offer their services in the open. The portable cabins, inspired by the success of the drive-in-brothel projects in cities such as Cologne, will be set up in areas where the football matches will take place.

German paper Bild quotes experts who predict an influx of over 40,000 foreign prostitutes into the country over the next year. "If hundreds of foreign women join the 380 prostitutes already on Dortmund's strips near the stadium we'll be bursting at the seams. We have to prepare now, or it will turn into Sodom and Gomorrah."

Soon To Be A USA Network Movie-Of-The-Week

An alleged armed robber has just had the beating of a lifetime, at the hands of nearly 30 women inside a Shreveport beauty school.

Mitchell says the man walked in pointing a gun and telling the women to clean out their purses and hand him the cash. That's until, she tripped him. Afterwards she says, “I beat him with a stick." They all beat him with sticks, table legs and curling irons.

Officer Eric Swartout describes what happened, “Basically, they're hitting him with everything that wasn't nailed down, he was getting hit with."

Mitchell says, “They was grabbing everything they could, but I said, ‘Get back! I got him!’ I wore him out with that stick." Shreveport police spokeswoman Kacee Hargrave says, “The suspect was trying to get out of the business and, as he was trying to get out, they kept pulling him back in and beating him."

Police arrived and hauled the man out to a cruiser where he bled onto the trunk while being handcuffed.(LINK)

June 16, 2005

Working from Home

I've started telecommuting a few days a week. Of course, the days that I have to stay indoors, the Good Lord insists that it be the only sunny and warm days in weeks. The temptation of walking away from my laptop in the In-Laws' windowless basement and just taking a walk down the street is almost overwhelming.

Getting up an hour later with only a 20-minute commute is nice, though (compared to 1.5 hours to Buckhead). Additionally, Melissa's mother is quite hospitable, as well as good company on my lunch break. Knowing one person here beats knowing nobody at the office.

June 13, 2005

Black Monday

Ever feel like the air is heavy with foreboding? You feel worried about something, but you're not sure what. You just have the feelings associated with worrying. The atmosphere is suddenly electric, like aftermath of a lightning strike. Something is going to happen. Soon. Maybe to you, maybe to someone you know, but it's definitely not going to be good. Fate's hot breath on your neck. When the feeling comes again, you try to find the reason, but it's gone, like a dream upon waking. Or maybe it was never in your head to begin with. All you know is that something is going to happen.

The first time I felt this, two of Melissa's closest friends teamed up to betray her. It came again right before the "aforementioned Friend/Princess of MeMeMe" incident. And it's come back now.

The feeling is like the Death card in a Tarot card deck; not indicative of literal death, but more of sudden change.

June 10, 2005

LinkNews Digest [06/10/2005]

Canada Plans Selling Ads in College Textbooks

For the past several months, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., one of the country's largest publishers of university textbooks, has been quietly trying to coax companies into buying advertising space in their texts.

"Reach a hard to get target group where they spend all their parents' money," says a McGraw-Hill brochure touting its planned ads. "Do you really think 18-24 year olds see those on-campus magazine ads? Do you really think they could miss an ad that is placed in a very well-respected textbook?"

"We've never offered this before and we'll only offer it to the right organizations," McGraw-Hill's brochure says. The company plans initially to charge as much as $1.40 per book, and the ads would be inserts, instead of being placed permanently alongside text.

Several media planners whose companies weren't involved in the ad push said McGraw-Hill's efforts are likely to backfire. "Textbooks are one of the last bastions," said Randy Stein, a partner at Grip Media Ltd., a Toronto ad agency. "There are some things that should remain pure and sacred. What's next, university professors with logos on their blazers like NASCAR?" (LINK)

Penn Jillette Names Daughter "Moxie Crimefighter"

Jillette, 50, and his wife Emily, 39, welcomed Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette on Friday, according to publicist Glenn Schwartz. It was the first child for the couple, who married last year.

"We chose her middle name because when she's pulled over for speeding she can say, `But officer, we're on the same side,'" Jillette explained. "`My middle name is CrimeFighter.'"

The typically mute Teller had no comment on the new arrival. (LINK)

The jury is out on whether this cruel name will ensure her future as a stripper, or just make her become a goth teen in order to defend the name as "ironic".

Attempted Harry Potter Book Leak Thwarted

LONDON, England -- Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has won a court order to stop two men leaking details of her latest work after they were arrested in a dramatic operation to recover two copies of the book.

The novel, due to be released July 16, was offered to two British newspapers -- one of which said one of the alleged sellers had fired a fake gun near its reporter.

Rowling was granted a British High Court injunction against the two men, ages 19 and 37, after they were accused of attempting to sell printed copies of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

A Northamptonshire police spokesman said: "Two books were recovered and they are currently being held in secure circumstances as evidence." The sixth Harry Potter novel has sparked massive interest since Rowling revealed that a major character will be killed in the book. (LINK)

(I will continue to use every opportunity to type the word "Thwarted". It just looks so cool spelled out.)

The Industrious Dentist

A dentist has been told to pay a patient £4,000 compensation after he got her drunk to carry out 14 root canal treatments in one day.

The court in Munich heard the work would normally have been scheduled to be carried out over a course of several weeks. But the dentist, who was not named for legal reasons, decided to get everything out of the way in a mammoth 12 hour operation.

He gave the woman large glasses of cognac in between drilling, telling her it would take the pain away. But the woman later complained of being in enormous pain and sued the dentist. (LINK)

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Jules Verne’s death, a group in Nantes, France built a huge robotic elephant, an enormous marionette girl, and a wooden spacepod. Link to the photo gallery (French), which is a bit disturbing, as they made the girl marionette take a shower in public. (No, she did not shave.)

Pain in the Neck

Melissa and I have been helping out with our church's Vacation Bible School again this year. Melissa is a teacher proper, and I watch the little ones in the nursery, including our Matthew. Apparently I've pulled something in my neck in the process of corraling the tykes and carrying them around. Yesterday I woke up unable to turn my head without my whole body following suit.

The doctor agreed and gave me some mild muscle relaxers, with instructions to take it easy for a few days. He was right, they are not the knock-you-on-your-ass kind of pills that I'd take before. They do make me sluggish and a bit hazy, but I'm still clear enough to take them at work, with a cuppa joe to counteract the side effects. The only other effect is that it makes me grumpy, from a combination of the pain and the pills.

On the positive side, I've signed on for a new assignment at work that will have me billable for three months minimum, but more likely 6-12. Ends up that Kelly, a friend of mine from my first Job at Alltel, recommended me for the position. I'll be back to being a Technical Business Analyst, running reports and working between clients and programmers again, but I don't mind the change of pace one bit. It's another "Virtual Team" environment, where members are based out of offices across the country, supporting centers in Jacksonville, Chicago and Little Rock. So I may not ever meet these people, or talk to them outside of Instant Messenger.

Also, since most of them telecommute, I'm going to try working from my in-laws' basement two days a week. It's got a desk setup, printer and a DSL like I can use, and it's only 20 minutes drive instead of 90 to Buckhead. I'll let you know how it goes.

June 08, 2005

StatCounters are fun

Thanks to my trackers, I know that I'm ranked #4 on Google for "UGA Lipscomb Loft", and the ONLY Google page matching "Living in Public Storage".

June 07, 2005

The National Security Paradox

Last week, A Stanford University professor was set to publish a paper in the National Academy of Science Journal, detailing how terrorists might possibly contaminate the milk supply with toxins. The paper went on to suggest that these trucks have mandatory locks placed on them to protect against tampering. When the government found out about the paper, however, it immediately blocked it from publication, describing it as a "road map for terrorists."

Welcome to the National Security Feedback Loop: Information on how to improve National Security is being withheld because it shows that flaws exist in the system. But without professional analysis and exposition of these flaws, proper support for fixing them cannot be garnered, and they will be left open. In the ultimate irony, the Department of Homeland Security, it seems, is too insecure in itself to admit it's not perfect.

Compare this to the Microsoft model of dealing with viruses. Security companies and universities test and prod every bit of the Windows system in order to find flaws that might be exploited by a hacker. Once discovered, the flaws are reported to Microsoft, who in turn makes a press release to the public. They announce the flaw, usually give credit to the team who discovered it, describe the ways it can be exploited and release a downloadable software patch that will fix the problem in the short-term. Later, a more polished solution to the flaw may be released in a newer version of code.

Yes, there is sometimes a "window of opportunity" for hackers between the announcement and the release of the patch, but the I.T. community would rather be educated about the current threats so they can be on guard. By announcing the threats and then fixing them in a quick manner, the Microsoft team justifies its existence. People know what they are doing to protect us.

When was the last time the Department of Homeland Security warned us about a SPECIFIC threat and acted on it? I can only remember one time, when they caught wind of a threat to the Golden Gate Bridge. Other than that, we get the ludicrous color-coded Terror Alert System. "We have an unspecified threat from a confidential source that something might happen somewhere." So what should the public do? "Just go about your business as normal, just be VIGILANT." I never thought I'd say this, but the government could learn a few things from Microsoft.

Personally, I'd feel much more secure if the government took a threat under advisement, acted quickly on it and then informed the public of what it had done. Take the "Shoe Bomber" incident as an example. Because of this, every person must take off their shoes when going through airport screenings in order to defend against this most unlikely terrorist act. I'll give it an A for effort, but a D Minus for actual security. This proves that with public support, even small security threats can be funded and protected against. Now Imagine what could be accomplished with more dangerous, legitimate security holes that are discovered by scientists and professionals.

This would go far to assure the American public that our tax dollars were being spent on worthwhile, tangible projects with actual results instead of the "We're successful because we haven't had another attack" defense. The truth is that terrorist attacks this far from a group's power base don't happen very often. I could build an "Asteroid Defense System" and claim it's 100% effective, but that doesn't mean it's actually accomplished anything.

June 06, 2005

The Addiction

They sold a t-shirt at Animazement that read "Anime: Crack is cheaper." And they're right. If it weren't for places like NetFlix, at ~$30 per 4-episode DVD, We'd be in the poorhouse. But there are still costs. Anime should be classified as a "gateway" drug, because it leads to other addictions

First, you'll want to attend a Convention to meet up with other Anime lovers, and maybe pick up that Full Metal Alchemist Phone Strap or Plush "Chi" doll. While fun, and seeminly harmless at first, this is habit forming. Also, at your first Anime Con, you will realize that there are hundreds of different Anime series out there, and you have only seen three or four.

Next, attending Cons gives you a taste for dressing up as characters, or "CosPlay". Two years into serious Anime Addiction, you'll spend to months searching on Ebay for JUST the right belt buckle to go with your Yuna Costume.

For the more camera-shy geeks, like myself, there is another dangerous addiction: Anime Music Videos (AMV's). Rip your favorite Anime DVD's to the computer, throw the footage into Windows Movie Maker with a kick-ass song, and 137 hours of editing later, you have a 3-minute splicing job, which shares your love of a particular series, AND your awesome musical tastes, with the masses.

Gayle introduced me to this last year, but I didn't have the computer power to pull it off myself. After watching the AMV Contest last weekend, I decided that there was no use resisting it. Especially close to my heart was one called Little Tortilla Boy. After that, I was hooked like a trout. This week, I dropped $100 to buy another stick of RAM and a new video card, after I crashed MovieMaker ten times in a row.

Matthew goes to bed at 9:30, let's say 10:00. Mel and I watch 2 espisodes of Anime a night, usually, so that's 10:45. Mel checks her boards for an hour or so, so let's say I have the computer at 11:45. If I stay up until 1:00 each night, from now until DragonCon in September, I might just have something together to show people. Wish me luck, and forgive me in advance for not calling or writing.

June 03, 2005

LinkNews Digest [06/03/2005]

British Army Told to Wear Underpants

A notice was issued to members of the army, navy and airforce in January after tailors complained about military personnel turning up to be fitted for their parade uniforms without wearing any underpants, a spokesman said.

"Some of the contractors complained about the embarrassment that causes, not surprisingly, so instructions were issued to all three services just reminding personnel to dress appropriately and modestly," the spokesman said.

The instruction applied to both male and female members of the military, said the spokesman, noting that the tailors also likely comprised both sexes.

The comments came after The Sun newspaper, Britain's best-selling daily, revealed that the instructions were issued to sailors who kept on exposing themselves at measurings.

"Tailors will take the names of any person not wearing underwear," commander Douglas MacDonald was quoted by the newspaper as saying. (LINK)
Whether the tailors call those persons later, to see if they want to get coffee, is not mentioned.

Japanese To Put Pensioners in a Box

HUSBANDS are such a nuisance. They hog the family computer, watch TV at nerve-grating volume, clutter up every flat surface with their hobbies and mess up a room with their very presence.

Now a Japanese company thinks it has found the solution: lock up the monster in a soundproof wooden box. Yamaha has come up with MyRoom, a 2.5sqm den that can stand in the corner of the average-sized lounge and perform - albeit on a cramped scale - the functions of a study, cinema and shed.

It should come as a relief to the harried Japanese wife, as a huge number of men are due to retire next year and, from being a weekend annoyance, become round-the-clock pests.

For about $7000, presumably paid by the salaryman whose wife seeks escape from him, MyRoom has a range of options depending on its intended purpose: it can be rigged up with a desk, a surround-sound speaker system or the sort of low workbench favoured by Japan's legions of model-train, robot and calligraphy enthusiasts.

Next year heralds the start of an era that Japanese housewives have been dreading. The first wave of post-war baby-boomers turns 60 next year and a huge generation of salarymen will be retiring. (LINK)

Mom Hires Stripper for Son's 16th Birthday

An east Nashville mother said yesterday there was nothing wrong with hiring a stripper to dance at her 16-year-old son's birthday party.

A Davidson County grand jury felt differently, indicting her and four others on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and involving a minor in obscene acts.

"It's a bunch of bull," Anette Pharris, 34, said yesterday afternoon in an interview at her east Nashville home. "I tried to do something special for my son. It didn't harm him."

From the family's front porch, which sits on a small street off Dickerson Pike near Hart Lane, her children have witnessed prostitutes with customers, people injecting drugs, smoking crack and doing other misdeeds. A naked woman was nothing to get upset about, Pharris said.

"Age is just a number," she said. "My son is very mature."
I.Q. is also, just a number, I'm sure, but it gets worse:
The excitement might have ended that night if Anette Pharris hadn't taken photos at the celebration and then tried to have them developed at a nearby drug store. Many of the pictures were taken by Anette Pharris, police said, but once the dancer's "bottoms" came off, she retreated into the next room and her then 14-year-old son, Brandon, continued documenting the action.(LINK)

June 02, 2005

Bolton Pulls No Punches

THIS is the guy that's going to represent the US in the United Nations? The UN is a convenient tool for the only real power in the world, the USA. "And if you don't like that, I'm sorry."

Nicely done. Perhaps he could have left no doubt in their minds and just dropped trou and pissed on the floor to claim it as his own. (link via Metafilter)