“I have, to some degree, underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written.”

— Nicholas Negroponte explains the new funding model of his Government-Owned Student Laptop project

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Iraq report


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

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.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”