29 Apr 2003

I just downloaded iTunes 4

I just downloaded iTunes 4 for my Mac. It includes access to the Apple Music Store, which is a service that lets you buy tracks for $1 each. Similar services have existed for a while, but never with very many tracks from well-known artists. Apple has changed that. I don't think I can stress this enough:


I have to assume I'm not the only one out there going through my music collection and buying songs that I've been meaning to buy for a while now. The vast majority of my 1,913 songs are in fact legal---ripped off of CDs I bought and that are sitting on my desk at home---but there's a bunch that I heard on the radio and downloaded, or that I ripped off a friend's CD to check out a new band. For instance, until a few hours ago my entire collection of country music was illegal, mostly because I haven't had a chance to get to the music store this semester.

But I just spent $30 picking up most of the country music I had. It's now legal, and includes liner art (!), and I bought it from my own computer, using an interface that is essentially an extension of the same software I've been using to manage my music for over a year now. It'll probably take a while to work through and buy all the tracks I don't own (not to mention that even at $1 each, tracks do add up---then again, I just got thirty songs I *like* for somewhat less than I'd pay for two CDs), but I'll get there. Apple certainly seems to have damn near all of them in its store.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: every one of the tracks in the Apple music store has a 15-25 second preview that you can play; so among those thirty tracks were at least five or six songs that I had never heard before, and some that I'd never even heard *of* before, but sounded neat. The preview interface is just a matter of double-clicking on the title---remember, this is the same interface as the music library---and if you like it, you click the "BUY SONG" button. This has the strong potential to be one of the most societally-important technological developments of the year.

If not the decade.


Posted by blahedo at 4:42pm | Comments (0)

28 Apr 2003

Draft handin

I realised this morning that I missed a perfectly good opportunity to use the word "antepenultimate" last week, as I was preparing my second-to-last thesis draft for submission to my reader. Aagh! (Today I handed in my penultimate draft---that word's almost as good.)

Chris pointed out to me that I am listed in the Knox course schedule, adding (correctly) that this is "kinda weird". :P

Also, tonight I went to Matt and Pat's thesis not-a-defenses. Sort of an informal gathering with a twenty minute summary of their work. It was nice going to talks that I actually understood all of, for a change... and there was Kabob&Curry afterwards, and I stood around and talked with various people for another hour, about bioethics but also about philosophy in general, and about AI and language processing as it applied to medical practice (I didn't bring it up! Honest!).

"Of course the flaw in this paranoid delusion is for it to work MS has to offer more than a cheap console and a bunch of crappy games. If all they have to offer for the $10 Ybox is Halo2: More shooting then the gamers will still probably flock to the PS3 with GTA4: Killing some more Hos." --Xenopax

Posted by blahedo at 10:07pm | Comments (0)

MCI? Ugh.

If you hold any stock in MCI, I'd ditch it. They're resorting to sketchy underhanded tactics to make money---they switched me from 5c nights and weekends to 9c all the time, and still made me pay $4 a month for the privilege; they claim that I was notified on my February statement, but the statement itself says nothing and oddly enough February is the only email notification I'm missing for the last year and a half. Hmm. Anyway, it wasn't enough that they switched me to the expensive plan---they couldn't even do it right. One of the calls I made after the plan switched over was billed at the old rate. Nobody at MCI could figure out why. And even after I told them, "ok, I *had* been pretty happy with MCI, but you don't have any publically available plan that's even half as cheap as any of the competition"---thinking maybe they'd hand me one of the promotions they always have sitting around---they actually responded to me, "well sir, you are on a very old plan." As if that matters. As if the plan I was on wasn't the standard plan to have.

So anyway, I cancelled my MCI service and should be hooked up to Verizon long distance sometime this afternoon. AT&T may have been cheaper than Verizon in the long run, but this way I have some hope of consolidating my telecom bills.

Also, people are stupid. Consider the following calling plan, available from Verizon:

TimelessSM Plan $3.00
Keep things simple with the Timeless Plan. For just $3 a month, you get 30 minutes of domestic, direct-dialed calls to anywhere in the U.S. and its territories. And, it's just 10 for each additional minute of state-to-state long distance calling. In-state rates may vary.
Notice anything funny? For comparison, here's their basic plan:
e-ValuesSM Plan $0.00
Simple and convenient, the e-Values calling plan rewards those who sign up online. Get low, flat rates with 5 per minute weekends and 10 per minute weekdays and no monthly fees.
But really, more power to Verizon. I'm glad that plans like the "TimelessSM" plan exist---the people that pick them are subsidising my low rates. I just get pissed off when I get slammed with them against my choice.

"I still contend that the love dialogue was so bad that it was frighteningly realistic. I could so empathize with Anakin's "I gotta pull shit out of my ass to win her over because I'm such a yutz" approach." --John McFerrin

Posted by blahedo at 8:14am | Comments (0)


HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, did our car ever get totalled.

Whether you believe in God, karma, or just luck, my family must be in the good graces of all three on this one. Wow.

"Upon reflection, it's just as bad as I thought." --Julia Flanders

Posted by blahedo at 12:21am | Comments (0)

27 Apr 2003

My face is red

My mom is fond of saying to me, "you need to get some colour in your face." She'd be proud of me now. Unfortunately, the colour of the moment is... red. I've aloed the heck out of it, but even after two and a half days it's still pretty lobstery.

Have you ever gotten in a really good conversation, then gotten the feeling that any temporary break in it (e.g. a bathroom break) will cause the whole thing to end ("oh, I have work to do, I should go anyway"), so you avoided even such a temporary pause? Well, my advice to you is, if such a conversation seems likely, avoid open sunlight for your lieu-de-conversation; or wear lots of sunscreen....

"Finally, now, the baby Jesus!" --Clemency Williams
"Actually... it's the animals." --Kim Plofker

Posted by blahedo at 11:38pm | Comments (0)

25 Apr 2003

Bank lameness

So I have this checking account, right? And around April 15th there was a lot of activity on the account (not taxes this year, but Roth IRA contribution). In particular, I deposited a paycheck on the morning of the 14th, then mailed off a check to Merrill Lynch later that day---I figure, the time it takes the paycheck to clear should be less than the time it takes my check to go through the mail, be opened, and then clear, right?

Apparently not. The ML check cleared on the 16th, and apparently my paycheck hadn't yet. The guys at the bank couldn't explain why, nor could they call up any information whatsoever on when exactly my paycheck *did* clear; the only listing we could get out of the system had me only with a positive balance. But this, you see is the ledger balance, which is actually entirely irrelevant for any computation whatsoever. The available balance history is not available anywhere. The current available balance is available online or from the 1-800 number, though not at ATMs, apparently.

Aren't these people supposed to keep records? Here's an abridged version of the transaction history around then---I'm not posting numbers, of course, but I assure you the balance column was positive at all times:

4/15 Discover payment
Merrill Lynch funds transfer
4/16 Merrill Lynch check
Citi payment
4/17 Overdraft fee
Overdraft fee
I do understand that checks sometimes take awhile to clear. But I'd really like to know how ML got my check to clear so fast. I mailed it on Monday, so it couldn't have arrived before Tuesday at the earliest; and then it clears in one day, but my paycheck took more than two? It was from an in-state bank, too... had I known it would be a problem, I would have cashed the damn thing at Citizen's and walked it over to Sovereign myself.

For that matter, why IN GOD'S NAME does it take three days for any of this stuff to happen? So much for the info age.

"I regard the construction of a theory of truth as the basic goal of serious syntax and semantics; and the developments emanating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer little promise towards that end." --Richard Montague

Posted by blahedo at 4:33pm | Comments (0)

24 Apr 2003

Web Commandments

I recently happened across a page of Web Commandments on the Brown site; I agree with most of their points. In fact, with all but one I agree 100%. I sent them the following letter:

I really like your guidelines page (commandments.html :), and agree with almost everything you've said. But one comment puzzled me:

Tables are good. Use them to format the page, and use specific dimensions-this will decrease load-time.

They can actually considerably increase load-time, especially when they are used for really fine-grained page layout. On old browsers---netscape 4 and earlier---they could sometimes decrease *render* time, but that's not really true of IE6, Mozilla, OmniWeb, or any of the other modern browsers. And they're really bad for people who try to view the page in a non-standard way, as from a text browser, a voice browser for the blind, or a magnifying browser for the visually impaired; or anything else that needs to view content without visual structure. They also can make a page very hard to maintain, especially if the page layout is part of a larger scheme that applies to several pages.

Much better would be to use CSS (and CSS2!) to do the layout commands, leaving just the content and structure in the main html file; it's the best of all worlds, really, letting you have tight control over the look of the thing in a modern browser, but older browsers can at least view it, and nonstandard browsers can too. I noticed that you were aware of the merits of CSS with respect to font specification, so I was surprised to see you advocate tables; I'm writing this letter because you obviously do Care About These Things, so I thought you might have just missed the memo on style sheets for layout. :)

Think that was reasonable? We'll see if they respond.

"This vessel, the accumulated canon of copyright and patent law, was developed to convey forms and methods of expression entirely different from the vaporous cargo it is now being asked to carry. It is leaking as much from within as from without. Legal efforts to keep the old boat floating are taking three forms: a frenzy of deck chair rearrangement, stern warnings to the passengers that if she goes down, they will face harsh criminal penalties, and serene, glassy-eyed denial." --John Perry Barlow

Posted by blahedo at 11:08pm | Comments (0)

ATMs and Iraq

Discovery: apparently, an ATM will let you overdraw your account, even when it knows your balance. I went right inside and they let me put the money back in (and said I therefore wouldn't be charged an overdraft fee), but it was still annoying. They claimed it was so if you were at a restaurant or something, and paying, they wouldn't have to block the payment and embarrass you or something; but we all know it is really because they want to get the overdraft fees.

In other news, we are now threatening France, Germany , and Iran with various consequences for their lack of support for our war, in addition to our bluster about WMD in Syria.

Juxtaposition of the incongruous:

"The pilgrims...engaged in religious rituals that were banned for a quarter of a century under Saddam Hussein. This included self-flagellation and the cutting of heads with swords, to mark the death in the 7th century of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. Mr Fleischer said President George W Bush had been delighted to see the people given a chance to express their religious fervour."

And some lovely news about Iraq:

"A US army commander in Iraq says the fighting there is not over and there are now more American troops in the country than ever."
Looks like the armband's staying on for a while longer. Just this afternoon I saw a car flying a black flag from a mount on its back window, which is such a great co-opt of the whole flag-on-car movement that I wish I'd thought of it---too bad I don't drive my car very often, or I'd do that too.

Well, back to my thesis.

"Bush made it clear a month ago that this was all about finding weapons of mass destruction... no, wait a minute, last week he made it clear this was all about liberating the Iraqi people... hold on, this morning he made it clear this was about cutting off the flow of oil to Syria, a known haven for terrorists... well, in any event, it has NOTHING to do with American oil interests: that much has been made clear." --Bill Swift

Posted by blahedo at 1:35pm | Comments (0)

22 Apr 2003

OH MY GOD, my mom

OH MY GOD, my mom just totalled our car. Everyone's okay---she and all three passengers walked away without a scratch... after climbing out the passenger side. Apparently she swerved slightly, or microsleep-ed, or something (she doesn't remember), and the concrete barrier leading up to a bridge caught the car and mauled its left side. Admittedly, on an eleven-year-old car it doesn't take much to total it, but the front bumper, quarter-panel, both left-side doors, and the tire and wheel would've needed to be replaced. Maybe the axle too---they didn't even check, because the car was obviously totalled. I can't believe it. Thank God it happened just exactly when it did---scraping up the side of the car is nothing for the passengers (the airbag didn't even go off), but elsewhere that same swerve might've caught a barrier head-on, or for that matter another *car* head-on. Yikes.

And my folks were kind of thinking of getting a new car soon anyway, so ultimately the damage was about as low as it could be. Still frightening, though. (And this happened on Sunday night, and I just found out this morning. I had already exchanged email with my mom last night, and she guessed (correctly) that giving me just part of the story then would make me freak out---but she could've called me! Still, no harm, no foul, I guess.)

Now back to my thesis. Whew. (By the way, I had a great Easter weekend---marathon online gaming session on Saturday, Mass and then two Easter dinners on Sunday leading into three-in-the-morning deep philosophical conversation. Now. Back to the thesis. *sigh*)

"This is the statistical anomaly that will never happen again. M$ used their one "get to be right for free" card on knocking down RealNames, so it's safe to assume they'll *never* *ever* be right again. Satisfying, in a way." --NoMoreNicksLeft

Posted by blahedo at 1:34pm | Comments (0)

18 Apr 2003

Officially, the war may be over...

Officially, the war may be over, but the destruction continues. I had suspected, and this article confirms, that the US wouldn't exert much effort to "bring to justice" all the "oppressors" that we are supposedly trying to depose. And we are doing nothing to prevent the rioting and looting.

I realise that pretty much nobody else is doing this, but I'm going to continue with my quaint and old-fashioned form of protest---wearing a black armband. I had thought about taking it off in the last few days, as the formal fighting wound down, but all those that die due to the mismanagement of the conflict are just as dead, and it's just as much the result of the war. So the armband stays on, at least for now.

Sam has not learned
To spell hors d'oeuvres
Which still grates on
Some people's n'oeuvres. --Eva Shillace

Posted by blahedo at 1:59pm | Comments (0)

An essay by Howard Dean

An essay by Howard Dean on why permitting this war was such a crashingly bad idea (and what he'll do different). Have I mentioned that I love Howard Dean? Because I do.

On the Enron building: "I was told I would recognise the building because it looks like a stick of deodorant. It does, just the right contoured shape for an enormous giant to pick up comfortably in his fist to wipe his armpit with." --Mark Gregory, BBC correspondent

Posted by blahedo at 10:32am | Comments (0)

16 Apr 2003


It is 88 here in Providence right now.

That's all.

"Built in 1874, the historic Knox County Jail was acquired by Knox in 1996 and converted into classrooms and office space. The 19th century cellblock was restored it its original condition as well, making it a popular attraction for campus visitors." --www.knox.edu

Posted by blahedo at 3:50pm | Comments (0)

Death penalty and soccer

Yesterday, I went to a talk by former Illinois governor George Ryan and Northwestern law professor Lawrence Marshall, about capital punishment. Verdict: Ryan is a terrible speaker (he repeats himself and he rambles), but whatever else you may say about him, he sincerely and honestly believes that the death penalty is Just Wrong. Larry Marshall (whose daughter is a Brown undergrad) is a pretty good speaker, though. Together, they presented so many arguments why we shouldn't have the death penalty: aside from being racist and classist in practice, and in violation of norms of human rights even in theory, in the last decade we have demonstrated that even for murder convictions, even with all of the safeguards in the system, we actually convict innocent people with some regularity. Bad enough to send them to prison, but how can we even think about killing them? And finally, about the only real reason to carry out the death penalty is to make the victims' families feel better. And it doesn't even really do that.

Later on, I saw the movie Bend It Like Beckham, which was fantastic. It's a funny, witty film about an Indian Briton who really just wants to play football (er, soccer). But her orthodox Sikh parents don't want her to become a footballer, now that she's a grown woman and should be learning things like how to prepare a full dinner (aloo gobhi et cetera); and she should be helping out with the preparations for her sister's upcoming wedding. It actually came out last year, but is just hitting its American release---probably won't hit the main theatres, I'm guessing, but worth seeking out in the smaller ones.

"Hell, yes, I support our troops! I support them so much that I want them safe at home. I support them so much that, if it were up to me, they would never have been put into danger in Iraq in the first place." --Chronos

Posted by blahedo at 9:02am | Comments (0)

15 Apr 2003

Mini website coolness

If you stay at the Mini website longer than a half hour, a little dialog pops up saying

Sorry to interrupt, but haven't you been in front of this computer long enough? We here at MINI are worried you're not getting enough exposure to the sun and stars. Don't worry, we'll be here all week. So, get going. Save your retinas for the road.
These guys are so cool. I'm so getting a Mini this fall.

"Wouldn't it be easier if we just let one or two people steal? But that's not our way. We're Puritans---we audit everybody." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 1:42pm | Comments (0)

14 Apr 2003

This weekend was Spring Weekend

This weekend was Spring Weekend here at Brown---an excuse for a lot of drunken revelry, with more parties than you can shake a stick at.... The picture on the front of today's BDH is absolutely priceless. I caption it, ``whuh? have I been here all night?''

Also, I wrote a letter.

"Americans: they even want choice when it's all the same stuff." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 11:39am | Comments (0)

You know, sometimes the whole

You know, sometimes the whole windows-desktop metaphor is just a little too strong. I just had some papers with notes written on them propped up against the right side of my laptop screen, and was typing into a window on the left side of the screen. I wanted to do something briefly in a window that was mostly covered by the papers, and I clicked not once but three times in an effort to bring the window to the foreground.

It may also have had something to do with it being 3:30 in the morning, I suppose.

"'Charges' is what the uninsured are required to pay for medical attention, and it's defined as what a drunken sheik from the Middle East could pay, if his wife weren't around to care." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 3:27am | Comments (0)

13 Apr 2003

Just had the strangest experience.

Just had the strangest experience. Walking home from a party, I saw a car driving down Angell Street. The wrong way. With its lights off. And he'd drive for ten or so yards, then stop, then start again. And he had at least one flat tire. He was swerving a bit, too. After he turned onto Brook, he careened into the curb and created a shower of sparks. Perhaps the strangest thing was that with all of this odd behaviour (and me standing there staring), he was still ignored by a Providence cop driving the other way up Brook.

"The National Rifle Association loves the AMA---they never miss their target, which is their own foot." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 3:53am | Comments (0)

12 Apr 2003

The US government is handing

The US government is handing out decks of Iraqi Most Wanted playing cards. This is just beyond bizarre.

Now for a few hours of work; and then, the luʻau! Whee.

"When state legislators are willing to pay only, say, $10 for a visit of a Medicaid baby to a pediatrician's office, but are willing to pay $50 for a visit by their own, they are signalling a different social valuation on the medical care of different people." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 2:48pm | Comments (0)

11 Apr 2003

9:30pm on Friday of Spring

9:30pm on Friday of Spring Weekend, and what am I doing? Sitting in my office, working on my thesis. Well, technically, right now I'm sitting in my office procrastinating my thesis, but that's just for the last five minutes or so. Fortunately, I've made a deal with a few other thesising friends to work for a bit longer and then head over to their suite at 11. Honestly, it's probably getting me to work quite a bit later on this than I otherwise would.

But the thesis is coming along great. In doing a semantic derivation just now, I discovered yet another piece of corroborating evidence for my theory. This is so fun.

"Pure egalitarianism strangles everything. I'm just saying, be decent." --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 9:32pm | Comments (0)

10 Apr 2003

Universal health care

I just went to a great talk by Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics at Princeton, on the viability of universal health care in this country. The words were very pessimistic, but the attitude was not defeatist; his goal (eventually stated explicitly) was to build our level of anger so that we would not just say "yes, that's a good idea", but actively fight for it.

I'm reminded of a phrase Arianna Huffington likes to throw around: "sustained outrage"---the duty of every progressive, especially these days.

We spend so much money on health care in this country---more per capita than any other, even after adjusting for pretty much anything you can adjust for---and yet, for the average joe, it's not that much better. And for the poorer-than-average joe, it's not even available, or if it is it's even more expensive. Anytime we discover a new Object of Compassion (OC), and decide to give funded access to health care to the OC, we spend so much time, energy, and money to erect barriers---to prevent even a single non-OC from benefitting from our magnanimity---that we end up spending less on care and more on administration than (say) Germany, and we don't even manage to cover all the OCs.

So sad.

"I have never seen such passion for foetuses as here in the US, but as soon as you take one breath of oxygen, it's 'you're on your own, kid.'" --Uwe Reinhardt

Posted by blahedo at 6:59pm | Comments (0)

7 Apr 2003

More snow. Crazy.

More snow. Crazy. I mean, you can usually expect a snowfall around here sometime in April, usually light. But this will be, I think, the third so far this month. And this one is due to actually leave 5-10 inches on the ground by late evening. In fact it's supposed to be snowing on and off until Wednesday afternoon, except for the times when it's sleeting or freezing raining. (This is Mike's cue to gloat about his choice of grad school. I should really move this thing to a comments-enabled blog app one of these days.)

Day two of MIT went a lot better: Kathleen and I passed the qualifying round and got an additional callback in silver quickstep (to quarterfinals); and then Qi and I placed 7th in foxtrot and 8th in viennese waltz, from a starting field of 14 GOLD competitors! I think that might be the best I've ever done. Yaaay!

"I love Chicago! It's just like New York, except that it's bright and clean, and people there try to be helpful." --Rebecca Santoro

Posted by blahedo at 5:07pm | Comments (0)

6 Apr 2003

MIT Day One

Happy daylight savings!

Day one of the MIT comp is over; they debuted an idea of qualifying rounds (which they inaccurately call "preliminary rounds"). A reasonable idea, but given that the great appeal of MIT is that it gives a chance for those who aim for breadth to show off---especially beginners, doing things like paso, bolero, and mambo---a failure, since those who might really shine in those events get knocked out before they can even dance them. Because, you see, the qualifying rounds are just the two most common dances from the section, so if your strengths are elsewhere, too bad. This is especially a problem at beginner level.

Part of Boston's Big Dig is open!! On the way up there, we discovered that I-90 now extends all the way to the airport via the Ted Williams tunnel, and I-93 disappears underground around exit 19, into a spacious four-lane-wide high-ceilinged tunnel, with shoulders most places and two-lane curved tunnel offramps. It's so cool. This massive engineering feat (and they aren't even done yet) is, in all seriousness, a modern Wonder of the World (CivIV designers take note).

Also, I finally more or less finished Amy's skirt. It's about 28 inches from waistband to hem, and so full that the hem is on the order of 20 feet long. Big pain to work with, but it looks cool. We'll see how it looks if she dances in it tomorrow (er, today).

Hm, I should go to bed. I can get a whole two hours of sleep!

"Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception." --Mark Twain

Posted by blahedo at 3:51am | Comments (0)

3 Apr 2003

Another cheery day dawns. Civilian

Another cheery day dawns. Civilian casualties due to cluster bombs in Iraq... *sigh*

On a somewhat lighter note, John Siracusa wrote a great analysis of what used to be great about the Mac interface, how they've gone wrong recently, and how they could fix things. I'd love to see even a few of his ideas make their way into the Finder.

And finally, when I decided to give up notesfiles for Lent, I think perhaps I should have been a little more general. Over the last three or four days since Lee pointed me to a specific post on the SDMB, they've sucked me in and taken over the old role of notesfiles. I think maybe I should cut back. :P

"Those marathon knitting sessions are bad not only for your hands, but hard on your love life. (Yes, we not only want you to be a healthy knitter, we want you to be a slyly smiling, happy knitter.)" --Bonne Marie Burns, knitty.com

Posted by blahedo at 1:32pm | Comments (0)

1 Apr 2003

Ah, yes. Yesterday was just

Ah, yes. Yesterday was just practice for today's big joke. It's snowing, thickly and heavily, right now in Providence. April Fool's! You just thought it was spring.

"A Police State needs for everyone to be a criminal on paper, to have that potential, to be able to use that against them." --zogger

Posted by blahedo at 4:23pm | Comments (0)