Archive for December, 2008

Worldwide deviations

December 7th, 2008 — Wordman

One of the best things about the internet is when random larks you throw out into the æther get picked up by someone who uses them to build something neat.

Someone calling themselves BloodPromiser combed through deviantArt to build a tour of images from every country in the world. I’m both stunned and honored that two shots from my meager gallery were included. Especially given the quality of a lot of the other shots.

I guess maybe I should post some more.

Pimp my cable box

December 5th, 2008 — Wordman

My cable provider supplies a digital video recorder (DVR) that records high definition. It’s not a very good one, with possibly the ugliest user interface ever (from an application called SARA), but it’s adequate and gets the job done. Or did, until the DVR started to run out of disk space. It turns out that this particular cable box/DVR (a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD) has an external serial advanced technology attachment (eSATA) port on it. I happened to have some SATA drives left over from upgrading my RAID, so I thought I’d try to plug one of these in. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

The first task was to put the drive into something that supported the eSATA interface, which means getting a drive enclosure for the bare drive I had. I wanted this to be as versatile as possible, so I managed to find the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Quad Interface, which supports eSATA, USB2 and both flavors of FireWire. This case is quiet and solid, made largely from large pieces of aluminum. Mounting was easy, and I tested the drive on my Mac with no problem.

I also discovered a bit of a bonus: my MacPro has some spare SATA plugs on the motherboard, and the same company that sells the case sells a cheap doohickey that plugs into these ports, and exposes them as eSATA ports on the back of the machine. Simple, inexpensive and useful.

Anyway, connecting this drive into the cable box didn’t work. It turns out that the DVR is very finicky about both the drive and the enclosure that it talks to. Since its all standard interfaces, this is both stupid and irritating, but it seems to only accept certain combinations. My drives were Maxtor drives and didn’t seem to work. Possibly they are less standard than usual.

By this time, we were really running out of space, and I got a bit obsessed about gaining extra storage for the damn thing. I wound up finding a solution made specifically for the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD, with a money back guarantee if it didn’t work. This meant getting a whole new drive, so wasn’t the most cost effective thing to do. Still, I can use the Mercury Quad for other things, so it’s not a total loss. It was also an excuse to get a larger drive than that one I had.

From opening the box, it took all of five minutes to get this drive working with my cable box. Very simple, really quiet, works great, and roughly quadrupled our DVR recording ability. So, pretty happy with it, though a bit beyond the original budget. I have yet to try to unmount the drive and read it with a computer. From what I read, this doesn’t really work that well.

This summer, we also totally upgraded our main TV area, adding a Playstation 3 and flatscreen TV (which necessitated a new receiver that could handle HDMI, and lots of it). After connecting it all, and resurrecting some old hardware to make the 802.11n connection a bit more reliable, our setup now looks like this:

Network diagram

Vicious cults within the flower

December 5th, 2008 — Wordman

Listening to the Black Box forces me to re-learn a number of things. First: no matter what you might think of Black Sabbath, man, they really knew how to start a song. The lyrics (mostly by Geezer Butler), in particular, were just weird and evocative enough to yank you into their direction. How can you resist songs that open with lines like:

I am the world that hides the universal secret of all time.
Destruction of the empty spaces is my one and only crime

or

Sorcerers of madness
Selling me their time

or

Revolution in their minds – the children start to march
Against the world in which they have to live

or

You’re searching for your mind don’t know where to start
can’t find the key to fit the lock on your heart

or

My name it means nothing
my fortune is less

or

Take me through the centuries to supersonic years
Electrifying enemy is drowning in his tears

or

Reflex in the sky
Warn you you’re gonna die
Storm coming, you’d better hide
From the atomic tide

The second thing I have to re-learn: I’ve been mishearing a ton of these lyrics for years. The Black Box comes with a book containing lyrics, gone over by Geezer, so these are probably as correct as they get. But a lot of them don’t match what’s been in my head. (This is a pity, because I like most of mine better.) Some examples:

In “Behind the Wall of Sleep”, I always heard:
Vicious cults within the flower / Deadly battles with strange power
The actual lyric is:
Visions cupped within a flower / Deadly petals with strange power

In “Snowblind”, I always heard:
Feeling happy in my pain / Icy movement in my brain
The actual lyric is:
Feeling happy in my pain / Icicles within my brain

In “Electric Funeral”, I always heard:
Burning global war machines fire / Like electric funeral pyre
The actual lyric is:
Burning globe of obscene fire / Like electric funeral pyre

In “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath”, I always heard:
You’ve seen right through these stunted eyes
The actual lyric is:
You’ve seen right through distorted lies

In “Megalomania”, I always heard:
I really think it’s schizophrenia that’s messing me up / I’ve singed my soul in the fires of hell
The actual lyric is:
I’m really digging schizophrenia, the best of the earth / I’ve chase my soul in the fires of hell

In one of my favorite songs, “The Writ”, I misheard a bunch of stuff:
The people here think I’m another man / The air is nothing like the ocean I swam for you …
Your sunken ship is laying down in the fog / I wish they’d move it into my frightening world with you …
You walked through me with your lying words …
Your bull and fairy got dismembered in God …
The anger always had its tattoo and curse on you …
I’m gonna get you now before you grow …

The actual lyrics are:
The faithful image of another man / The endless ocean of emotion I swam for you…
The shock troopers laying down on the floor / I wish they’d fallen into my private war with you …
You bought and sold me with your lying words …
Your fallen phallic god dismembered and gone …
The anger I once had has turned to a curse on you …
The fornication of your golden throne …

Dreaming an SNL sketch

December 4th, 2008 — Wordman

I had a dream the other day that seems like exactly the right concept for an SNL sketch. (Meaning, it’s initially funny, but would go on too long.) The dream goes like this: my wife and sit down to eat in a fancy restaurant called L ’Idiot (my subconscious pulling a reference from L.A. Story). We’re dressed well (yes, this is a dream) and it’s all very proper. Then our waiter comes, and it is this guy:

Billy Mays

In his typical loud voice, he says “Hi! Billy Mays here for L ’Idiot, the last word in restaurant pretension!” The dream is a bit cloudy in my memory, but he goes on to tell us about the specials. I remember lines like “You get it all! The linguine! The clam sauce! All for just two easy payments of $14.95!” and “But wait! If you order now, you’ll also get L ’Idiot’s world famous chocolate mousse, absolutely free!”.

It was weird, man.

No bias. No bull. No information.

December 4th, 2008 — Wordman

If you’ve read my earlier posts, it will probably come as no surprise that I don’t consume much mainstream news, particularly the televised variety. Having dinner with my CNN-addicted in-laws a few days ago exposed me to an episode of Campbell Brown: No Bias. No Bull.

The particular segment to which I paid attention focussed on the U.S. government’s impending interventions into the auto industry. To the show’s credit, they did seem to give more air time than the average show to a single topic. Unfortunately, they didn’t fill it with much other than prattle. There were some words you heard repeated over and over, such as “bailout” and “billions”. One word that I didn’t hear at all, however, was “loan”. (I looked for transcripts of this show to verify this, but couldn’t find any. Leave a link in a comment below if you know where they are kept.) You couldn’t be blamed for concluding from the coverage that the government was contemplating giving free money to GM, rather than providing them the federal loans that they are actually requesting. You know, loans that would mean we’d be getting the cash back, with interest. Now, while giving loans to GM is stupid enough on its own, it doesn’t need any media trickery that makes it sound like something stupider, like just giving them free money.

Given that the auto-industry is a powerful lobby, it may turn out that they can weasel out of these loans at some point in the future, so maybe no one actually believes the idea that these would be loans. But if so that is the story, and you’d expect at least a passing comment on it.

While the difference between a loan and gift seems rather fundamental to me, mainstream media seems to either not understand the difference, not care, and/or assume that their audience doesn’t know or care either. They (and this particular CNN show is far from alone here) appear to be happy essentially screaming “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” over and over for a bit, then cutting to a talking head who screams “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” a bit more. When covering the “$700 billion bailout” the government is engaged in now, nearly every media source I watched or read seemed to go out of their way to give the impression that this money was just being pissed away. Some of it surely will be, but mostly the idea is to buy things. While the government will probably overpay for these assets—hard to tell for sure, because the main problem is no one really knows what they are worth—but they are certainly worth more than zero. Most of the money buys instruments that are ultimately backed by houses. This might force the government to be something like a landlord to get value out of these assets, which, gee, seems like a fairly important story for journalists to cover to me. Or, how about the story that, while the plan calls for buying things (and thus, the possibility of recovering losses), the lawmakers that did as much as anyone to cause this mess in the first place are now screaming that this money shouldn’t be used to buy things, but rather to just give money to citizens who can’t add in order to allow them to shirk their obligations. That seems like a good story, too.

Or, how about a story detailing people that saw this collapse coming and how Wall Street will never look the same again. That would be interesting.

Or even just pieces that help inform the viewer, such as a metaphor for what’s causing the credit crisis or what the hell these freaky instruments are that caused all the trouble. Those would be welcome stories as well.

Fortunately, such stories exist. You just won’t find them on television.