October 2003

Quick! More gun control!


The murder rate in the US is now the lowest it’s been in 40 years. It would be nice to think that it has something to do with the thousands of new gun-control laws that have been passed in that time, but sadly there’s no supporting evidence for that.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, since everyone in the business knows that most murders are committed by people with a history of violent crime, and career criminals aren’t in the habit of obeying laws. That’s sort of why we call them “criminals,” after all.

[note the sudden switch between rates and absolute numbers in the referenced article, without mentioning the significant increase in population over the periods compared. Even when the news is good, it’s gotta getta spin…]

‘Yes’ on recall, ‘Yes’ on Arnold


I didn’t need much coaxing on the first part; it’s been obvious for a long time that Gray Davis is no friend to California citizens, and his recent determination to screw things up so badly that nobody can fix them was just icing on the cake.

Who to vote for was trickier. McClintock has a few gotchas, but he’s otherwise palatable. Unfortunately, he simply can’t win. Bustamonte’s pandering to the Hispanic community is most clearly demonstrated by his refusal to make even a token effort to distance himself from his racist ties. Most of the rest are in it just for the cheap publicity, and have nothing to offer a local school board, much less an entire state.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of voting for Georgy. She’s a little too fond of Clinton for my tastes, and she’d be eaten alive in office, but a strong showing would have made a few pros sweat about their habit of ignoring the tech community. Not gonna happen now, though.

In the end, what pushed me toward Arnold was the coordinated media smear campaign. He’s been in the public eye forever, and the worst dirt they can dig up is a handful of bald-faced lies (quickly disproven) and unsupported allegations of “groping”? That makes him one of the cleanest politicians in the country.

Oh, and for the record, it’ll be a ‘Yes’ on 53 and 54, too. Infrastructure is one of the few legitimate uses of tax money, and diverting it from other, “social” programs is a good thing. And since the racial data that would be banned by 54 is often used to fund some of those other programs…

Chad about town


It was a pleasant three-quarter-mile walk to my neighborhood polling station, and I’m delighted to report that my chad-cutter performed perfectly. If all of the other dangerously obsolete voting machines perform as well as mine did, and people actually follow the instructions on the ballot, there will be no excuse for a Florida-style clusterfuck.

Win or lose, though, I’ll bet $20 that the mostly-anonymous accusations made against Schwarzenegger will be quickly forgotten, even by the obviously-biased LA Times. Because nobody’s actually interested in whether he did those things or not; they were just convenient dirt.

Iraq report


If this is a quagmire, can someone please mire some quags in California? Soon? Pretty please?

Minolta, Minolta, Minolta!


Pardon the shameless cheerleading, but I finally got around to hooking up my new film scanner (Minolta Dimage Scan Multi PRO), and it’s just too cool for words. These are the raw scans with the default settings; no Levels or Curves, no Unsharp Mask, just crop and resize (in iPhoto, no less; I didn’t even bother loading them into Photoshop). If a few quick snapshots at the zoo come out looking this good with no effort, I can’t wait to pull out the good stuff.

Even better, this was done on my shiny new 15” PowerBook under the last Panther beta, using Minolta’s standalone scanning app. 100% native OS X goodness, fully compatible with the latest version of the OS.

People familiar with my model photos will know how long I’ve been coddling my unstable and often-stubborn Nikon LS-2000. Five times into the shop, and it’s still a pain in the ass to work with. Worse, it’s SCSI, and while I could have gotten it to work when I migrated my graphics apps from a PC to a modern Mac, it would have been a hassle. The Minolta is a true plug-and-play FireWire device that I can turn on whenever I need to without rebooting.

Best of all, it’s a multi-format scanner, so I can finally make high-resolution scans of all the medium-format film I’ve been shooting. I’m doing some studio shoots next time I go down to LA, and I’m really looking forward to pulling out the RB-67.

update: Okay, it has one stupid feature. Like other film scanners, it has a locking screw that holds the head in place when you transport it. The only documented way to move the head to the lockable position is to use the supplied software (which would really suck if you packed up your office in the wrong order). You will search in vain for a button or menu item in the software that says “lock the optics”; you do it by hitting Ctrl-Shift-L on Windows, or Command-Shift-L on a Mac.

Apple Jazz


Herbie Hancock, on Apple.

Herbie Hancock, in the iTunes Music Store.

The interview is interesting reading (“I was using it [OS X] before other musicians were using it.” and “I hate OS 9 (laughter). I hate going back to that.”), but what I really like is the commentary on the “celebrity playlist.” Sheryl Crow has a bland paragraph that was probably written by her publicist, but Hancock explains in detail why each of the tracks is interesting and significant (sometimes to him, sometimes to the world). Note to Apple: Hancock’s commentary sells, Crow’s doesn’t.

[and if you’re a Windows user who hasn’t installed iTunes yet, Great Googlimoogli, what are you waiting for? It’s not as fast as it is on a Mac, but all of the features are there, including Rendezvous music sharing.]

Update: After purchasing Hancock’s picks, I’d say that I like everything except Missy Elliot’s Slide. Miles Davis’ 27-minute Bitches Brew starts off rather … “non-musical” … for my tastes, but picks up several minutes in. Elliot I just don’t get; Hancock sees something in her music that separates it from typical posturing {c,}rap, but all I hear is the surface, and it’s so grating that I can’t get past it to look for what he found. Obviously I won’t be buying her recommended playlist.

Audiobook, meet mix cd


I think this may be the most entertaining change in the iTunes Music Store: the full integration of audiobooks gives you Music To Listen To Ann Coulter By.

Who’s in it for the money, again?


The Senate’s vote to turn the aid to Iraq into loans is being spun as part of the Bush Junta’s evil plot, but who actually voted for it? Mostly Democrats.

I guess it’s okay when they’re in it for the oil money.

gun bans work, eh?


One of the most common excuses used to explain why the 10,000+ gun-control laws in the US never deliver what they promise is “leaky borders.” Because there exists some other city/state/country “nearby” that has less restrictive laws, criminals will just travel there to get guns. They never explain why criminals aren’t using guns more often in that other, less-evolved place, but that’s a side issue.

Enter England, a nearly perfect test case for gun control. Physically isolated from all those bad gun-loving countries, and they never had the quantity of guns the US had, or the violent crime. Over the past eighty years they’ve gradually eliminated virtually all gun ownership from society. Paradise Island, yes?

No. Crime in general, and with-gun crime in particular, has been increasing steadily since 1920, and the near-total ban on handguns has only accelerated the problem. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate in the US has been dropping steadily for years, with the murder rate down 45% since 1980.

Is there still more murder in the US? Yes, if you’re a young black man living in the worst parts of our major cities. You know, those places where it’s illegal to own a gun? Where the concept of calling 911 for help is openly mocked?

I never bought Lott’s argument that increasing gun ownership reduces crime, but it’s quite clear that reducing or eliminating it doesn’t help, either. Could it be because law-abiding citizens with guns aren’t career criminals? Sounds obvious, I know, but somehow legislators keep overlooking it.

Audiobooks


I hadn’t gotten around to browsing for audio books in the iTunes Music Store before, mostly because I’ve never understood what people see in them. After listening to a number of 90-second excerpts, I pretty much still don’t get it.

Worse, I don’t understand why some people insist on reading their own material. In print, Ann Coulter is a wild-eyed fanatic who sharpens every sentence to a razor edge; speaking into a microphone, the nicest thing I can say about her is that most computer-synthesized voices sound less realistic. And it goes on for six hours. I couldn’t listen to six hours of phone sex by a woman with a purring-kitten contralto; six hours of loosely-coupled politics in Coulter’s grating, emotionless voice would surely trigger a road-rage incident.

On the other hand, the folks responsible for The Worst-Case Survival Handbook: Travel had the good sense to hire someone who not only has a good voice, but who fits the tone of their material: Penn Jillette.

Even Michael Moore, Coulter’s even-less-reliable counterpart on the Left, lets Arte Johnson read Stupid White Men.

Featured model: Liz Stewart


After the famine, a feast. I’ve finally updated my picture site, posting the last scans I made before I abandoned my flaky Nikon LS-2000 for good. These are from a quick outdoor session with Playboy Playmate Liz Stewart, seventeen years after her centerfold.

I’ve met 200 or so Playmates, and Liz made my top-ten list about fifteen seconds after saying “hello.”

Liz Stewart

Evil thought of the day


While making dinner just now, I had a truly evil thought about who should provide the voice for an Ann Coulter audiobook: anime voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi, playing the title character from Excel Saga (link goes to MP3 clip).

It’s such an appealing thought that I’m tempted to grab a bunch of video clips of Excel and re-subtitle them with one of Coulter’s articles.

[for more fun, IMDB reports that the same actress also voiced the busty assassin Christie in the two Dead or Alive Xbox games (DOA3 and DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball), as well as the title character in Sailor Moon. Don’t go there. :-)]

Nice try…


“I’m not a telemarketer, I’m just doing some cold calls.”

5 Star Mortgage, 831-757-3691

The best part was that he admitted that he knew I was on the do-not-call list.

A glowing victory


Things not to do in Civilization III: detonate 270 ICBMs in one turn, blasting every other civilization back into the stone age (or at least to cities of size 3 or below).

Why shouldn’t you do this? Because the resulting global warming took fifteen minutes to resolve. That’s fifteen minutes each turn, for the rest of the game. Fortunately, there were only a few turns left, as my Modern Armor rolled across the countryside razing cities. Then I signed peace treaties with the survivors.

Belatedly, it occurred to me that this is the sort of behavior that the folks in Berkeley and Hollywood are expecting from the current administration.

Bandits, one-armed


Just went through a twenty-minute phone survey on a California ballot measure to tax indian casinos and allow card parlors to install slot machines. As usual, there were several questions I couldn’t give a completely honest answer to, and the guy asking the questions shared my amusement at my “unclassifiable” responses. The bit from the opposition about how the eeeeeevil pornographers would benefit just made me laugh out loud, but all he could record was “would not convince me to oppose the measure”.

On the whole, it was a fairly balanced survey, asking you four times about your support for the measure, first after hearing a basic summary, then after hearing pro arguments, then con, and finally “if Arnold supported it, would you be more likely to support it?”. There were also questions related to how you voted in the recall, the last general election, the last presidential election, and if you were determined to vote in the next presidential election. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the results.

I did think it was interesting that the measure allowed existing card parlors to install up to 30,000 slot machines statewide, but also prohibited opening new card parlors. That was the item that most reduced my interest in supporting this measure. If you’re going to expand gambling in California, don’t play favorites.

This makes two good phone surveys I’ve participated in in my lifetime. The last one was about 15 years ago, on the subject of mayonnaise.

[Disclaimer: I like slot machines, especially since I’ve always ended up coming out ahead by hundreds of dollars, but I’ll continue to play them exclusively in Vegas. I’m not really a gambler, I just enjoy hanging out in casinos and watching the pretty women go by. I suspect California card/slot parlors won’t have the same caliber of scenery.]

Project Eden/They Live


Continuing my trend of finding out about DVD releases a month after they reach the stores, I tripped across a copy of Dirty Pair: Project Eden today. I practically knocked over the shelf in my haste to grab it, because my ancient bootleg VHS copy is almost unwatchable, and this is one of my favorite OAVs. There’s just something about scantily clad Women of Mass Destruction.

[The Dirty Pair Flash DVDs, and the recent graphic novel Run From The Future, on the other hand, do nothing for me; I don’t like the art, and I don’t like how they redefine the characters. The rest of the stuff is action/comedy gold, though.]

My other recent discovery was the John Carpenter cult classic They Live, best known for the lengthy and surprisingly realistic fight scene, in which two big guys beat the crap out of each other, and then spend the rest of the movie limping around like someone just beat the crap out of them. Loads of fun, and a far better alien-invasion story than just about anything else ever made in Hollywood.

None of the local retailers have They Live in stock. When I asked, one chain store manager complained “they ship me two copies of a great film, and thirty copies of crap I’ll never be able to sell.”

The local Borders cheerfully offered to order it for me, and since I’ve still got at least a dozen DVDs piled up to watch, I told them to go ahead. When I checked back today, I discovered that they expect it to take one month to get the order in, if it’s in their warehouse.

WTF? A recent release, and the best they can do is send the warehouse a polite note asking if they could pretty-please send one along sometime after Thanksgiving? Should I point out to them that borders.com is an Amazon storefront, and I could have it before the week is out?

.vg/.biz


Very little email spam actually gets through to me any more. OS X’s Mail.app weeds out about 40 a day based on content, leaving about three a day that consist entirely of inline JPG images. Which Mail.app doesn’t load.

The subject lines make it clear that they’re obvious spam, so my latest trick is to view the raw source, look for the link to the picture, and add that domain to a custom rule. For the past few weeks, virtually all of these have been links to sites in the .VG top-level domain. From the host names involved, it’s clear that the registrar is in on the scam, so I’ve junked all messages containing “.vg/”. Works like a charm.

Today, a few got through with .BIZ domains, and I realized that I’ve never seen a legitimate business that had a .BIZ domain. So I added “.biz/” to the list as well.

The rule also junks messages containing “http://1" through “http://9"; I think that one still catches about ten spams a day.

MT plugin: breaklinks


My contribution to warding off comment spam: reduce its value to the spammers by breaking their URLs. The blog owner (and trusted friends) can keep their URLs intact by adding a password to their comments.

This doesn’t stop someone from flooding your blog with spam; it’s just a lightweight filter to eliminate the benefit. pornospam.com won’t get hits or page-rank from a URL that’s been rewritten to pornospam-DOT-com.

Halloween Porn


As my contribution to Bush’s newly-declared Protection From Pornography Week (no, seriously), I hereby commit to visiting J-List and purchasing issues of Bejean, Urecco, and Japanese Penthouse, as well as at least one lesbian-schoolgirl DVD, a hentai game, and a Hello Kitty “Shoulder Massager” (for a friend). That should keep them out of the hands of children.

No bukkake videos, though; ick.

I’ll do something more elaborate next year. Probably involving pictures of Jenna.

Latest variation on the Nigerian email scam


This actually made it past my spam filters. Once.

Needless to say, I won’t be helping this innocent victim of political persecution, wrongly jailed for “suspected genocide”. Nor will I keep his message a secret “for the sake of humanity”. In fact, I’d be delighted if it served as evidence against him. The person sending the spam, that is, not the fictional character in the message.

(the email address used was scraped from the blog Making Light; I’ve never used it anywhere else, and now that my filters trap about ten spams a day sent to it, I never will)

more...

Halloween tally


I live in a suburb densely populated with families, most of which have children of trick-or-treating age. As an old campaigner myself, I feel a natural sympathy for the kids, and so I pass out double handfuls of candy that weigh, on average, half a pound.

Unfortunately, despite the ever-increasing safety of our streets, it looks like post-9/11 fears are driving the celebrations indoors, to shopping malls and community centers. I don’t know what it’s like at those events, because I stay home and pass out candy. I hope the kids are getting a good haul.

2001 was my first Halloween at the new house, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many kids turned up. I got maybe half as much traffic last year, and had enough leftover candy to feed the office for months.

This year, I cheaped out and only bought about 25 pounds of candy, so the 42 kids I’ve seen so far have made a serious dent in it. If I get a late rush, my fallback plan is to start passing out dollar bills; I’ve got thirty of them, which should satisfy another 15 little monsters.

Unfortunately, my cul-de-sac doesn’t look terribly inviting. More than half of the houses are dark, so I’ve gone out of my way to make it obvious that I’m in the game. The normally-garaged car is in the driveway, all the lights are on, the door is partially open, and the new teaser trailer from Alien vs Predator is blasting out of an upstairs window in a continuous loop. Seems to be working.

Oh, and the pizza driver was deeply confused about the $10 tip. Guess most people don’t think of Halloween as a major tipping holiday.