Soundtrack to the semester’s end

Mmmm. Semester’s almost over.

  1. Various, Soundtrack to The Zero Effect

  2. Carbon Leaf, echo echo

  3. Leo Kottke, 6 & 12 String Guitar

Manipulating Logic

I really like this essay, “Why smart people defend bad ideas.” Enjoy:

If you want your smart people to be as smart as possible, seek a diversity of ideas. Find people with different experiences, opinions, backgrounds, weights, heights, races, facial hair styles, colors, past-times, favorite items of clothing, philosophies, and beliefs. Unify them around the results you want, not the means or approaches they are expected to use. It’s the only way to guarantee that the best ideas from your smartest people will be received openly by the people around them. On your own, avoid homogenous books, films, music, food, sex, media and people. Actually experience life by going to places you don’t usually go, spending time with people you don’t usually spend time with. Be in the moment and be open to it. Until recently in human history, life was much less predictable and we were forced to encounter things not always of our own choosing. We are capable of more interesting and creative lives than our modern cultures often provide for us. If you go out of you way to find diverse experiences it will become impossible for you to miss ideas simply because your homogenous outlook filtered them out. (Link via Slashdot)

Best two sentences from the piece?

Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smartypants lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals, whose headstones say “Well, at least I was right.”)

Now there’s an idea!

Enterprising screenwriters take note: premise for a zombie movie:

But university officials say all that’s not true. They had no role in acquiring the bodies, they’re receiving no money. In fact, they never heard of this body show until contacted by the I-Team. We’ve learned that Perner was able to get bodies meant for medical research and teaching from a factory in Nanjing, China. It worries San Francisco supervisors that these bodies are now on display on Nob Hill. (link)

potential zombie?
Given the American tendency (if subconscious) toward racism and xenophobia, the idea of bodies from another country (particularly China, echoing the subtle strain of “yellow menace” we’ve been hearing in the media of late) “destined for medical research” being used in this sort of exhibit seems the perfect audience-appeal conceit for the release of a government funded T-virus or Z virus. The bodies, infected with this nasty experimental virus, are stolen and improperly plasticized by unscrupulous museum exhibitors. Dripping, infecting, and zombie-based chaos ensues. Audiences flock to the theater.

Channeling Josh

Channeling Josh, the Comics Curmudgeon, here’s my take on the strips today.

Blondie 26 May 2005

Dean and Dennis have, with this strip, embodied the modern American ideal. Not a workplace where a loyal (if lazy) worker gets to make ends meet, but where he slowly gets further and further behind. As Dagwood tries to explain to his boss the problems of living in an inflation economy on a 1930’s wage (because really, has he EVER actually gotten a raise out of the old miser?), Dithers stares at us with the perplexity only a well-paid upper manager can muster.

Then, surely recalling his days as a strikebreaker working for his father, he bounds from his chair to poke Dagwood in the chest. “Don’t come to me with that namby-pamby cost-of-living hooey,” he says, “Just go into debt.” And thus the tenuous symbiosis of the J.C. Dithers company is thrown in to chaos—no longer is Dagwood just trading a nap for Dithers’ occasional kick in the ass—he’s also earning the privilege of running up credit-card debt. Dithers makes clear who wears the light-blue polka-dotted Zubaz in this company. Notice Dagwood’s face in panel three: he’s really afraid Dithers is going to do something crazy, like rip the giant gold button from Dagwood’s shirt.

Next week: Blondie and Dagwood refinance the house.

…finds a use for things.

Yesterday, I noticed this on my way to work:


Then my office-mate alerted me to a sticker I might like on the way from my office to my local neighborhood SUBWAY. I had my camera ready and documented a number of stickers:

stickers1 stickers1cl
stickers2 stickers2cl
stickers3 stickers3cl
stickers4 stickers4cl

Obviously, many of these stickers are the work of the same mysterious artist, who made most of her images on stickers, but also posted a large image of the most iconic character in the series. But what of the other images? Is this a meme? The public art sticker?

Could this be the model for an assignment? One can use the Web’s knowledge of the power of iconicity to structure one’s stickers, one needs to make stickers provocative enough to be noticed by the pedestrian, to make text/image glib enough and ‘chunked’ enough to be absorbed in passing. Is this mysterious artist writing the city? Is this different than graffiti? Jeff?

Fear breeds … money?

I read Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics last week—a very interesting use of statistics to answer questions you normally won’t think of economists asking. One chapter focuses on parenting and an interesting dilemma:

No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fearmongering than a parent. Fear is in fact a major component of the act of parenting. A parent, after all, is the stweard of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared.

The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. It’s not their fault, really. Separating facts from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent. And the white noise generated by the experts—to say nothing of the pressure exerted by fellow parents—is so overwhelming that they can barely think for themselves. The facts they do manage to glean have usually been varnished or exaggerated or otherwise taken out of context to serve an agenda that isn’t their own.

[For example, while most people feel that a home with guns is more dangerous than a home with pools, the] likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn’t even close: [a child] is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident … than [from] gunplay.(150)

Levitt argues that very often experts use their expertise to take advantage of those who don’t have it. In the parenting world, they use fear to sell stuff.

Most innovations in the field of child safety are affiliated with—shock of shocks—a new product to be marketed…. These products are often a response to some growing scare in which … the outrage outweighs the hazard. Compare the four hundred lives that a few swimming pool precautions might save to the number of lives saved by far noisier crusades (153).

It’s the “experts” lesson that I find most intriguing about the book—Levitt pretty much says you can’t trust experts to be straight with you. Their expertise is their power. Makes sense, but kinda depressing.

I forgot we had this

  • Deep Blue Something, Home

    One of Jenny’s CDs I’ve never listened to.

  • Sublime, Sublime

    I’m always struck by the irony of this band. Their first big single is about living life to the fullest because you never know how much time you’ve got left. Days before the album released, the lead singer overdosed.

  • Ministry, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

    How many of you knew I owned Ministry albums? Three of ’em.

I haven’t listened to the Deep Blue Something album before, but after watching VH1s Awesomely Bad Videos, I wanted to. You see, I’m one of the few who enjoys the DBS single “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Apparently the people at VH1 do not. All the color-commentary folk were grousing about the chorus being boring:

And I said, “What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
She said, “I think I remember the film. Yes, I think I recall we both kinda liked it.”
And I said, “Well that’s one thing we got.”

Those aren’t boring lyrics! It’s pretty nifty. These people want to be together but can’t find any reason to be, yet they’re doing it anyway. So they latch on to this minor similarity between them to justify an otherwise unjustifiable union.

ASIDE: as I listen to the first few songs of the album, I realize that they sound very much like Better than Ezra. In fact, I don’t know that I could pick one from the other in a Pepsi Challenge (unless the challenge was a song I knew).

Star Wars craziness

You had to know I was a Star Wars geek, right? When the last two movies came out, I saw them both on opening night. I saw the Phantom Menace at a theater in Minnesota that boasted a perfect score on Lucasfilm’s THX test (one of only 7 in the country, at the time). I saw Attack of the Clones at a small theater in Normal, IL, with a bunch of Rhet/Compers (the weekend of C&W 2002). So what did I do this year? Nothing yet. I have tickets to see it tomorrow. I can’t say why I’m not front and center—I’m certainly excited enough. Anyhow, here’s how I’m preparing for Revenge of the Sith:

  • Watched Attack of the Clones this week, to get all the imagery fresh in my head.
  • Bought Star Wars Tales, Vol 2 and read it. Tasty stories from the SW universe help amp up the excitement.
  • Talked Jenny into watching one of the other movies (she picked Return of the Jedi).
  • Noticed that the OED’s Word of the Day today is “Chewa, n. and a. A. n. 1. A member of an African people inhabiting central Malawi and adjoining areas of Zambia and Mozambique.” Coincidence? I think not.

Good to go.


As I was typing in some key ideas and quotes from Jane Jacobs’ The Coming Dark Age, I noted that one of my very favorite contained the word scorned. I love that word. Maybe that’s why I love the quote. Thus, here are two of my very favorite quotes with the word scorned:

Hospitals, transit systems, and orchestras are scorned as
free-loaders seeking handouts if they can’t directly pay their way or,
better yet, make a profit either for tax collectors or for a corporate
partner. Greed becomes culturally admired as competence, and false or
unrealistic promises as cleverness.(114)

and one of my favorite sentences ever, from Robert Ray’s The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy:

Having two young daughters, who announced their resentment at my attending a conference during Easter (known in our house as a presents holiday, as opposed to a scorned food holiday like Thanksgiving, in which they have no interest), and reminded that I had also missed Halloween (for another conference), I went for a walk to redeem myself, to buy them presents (90).

Scorned. The word for the week.

The Cold Eye of Sauron

So I read yesterday in slashdot that a group of Federal scientists could hack a WEP encryption in three minutes. (WEP is the standard encryption mode for wireless networks.) If the Feds are willing to advertise that they can crack it in three minutes, how long do you think it takes black-hats? I figured that I should up the ante on my home system, and thus monkeyed around with the security on my router this morning. And while I was doing so, I felt Sauron’s all-seeing eye sweep in my direction.

It happened when I told my notebook’s wireless card to search for wireless networks. The resulting list included the four expected networks (mine and one other, encrypted, and two un-encrypted) and one additional one, third in the list, labeled “U.S. Secret Service.” Uncle Sam was nosing around. A minute or two later, I did another search and it was still there, though it had dropped to fifth in the list. Another moment and it was gone.

Of course, I realize that some jokester could have named her wireless “U.S. Secret Service”, but why was it there for a moment and why did it fade away? I imagine a Simpsons-esque boxy van rolling up the street with Flowers By Irene on it. Creepy.

Of All the Cockamamie …

So I just bought a new notebook computer. Yay.

After I got the wireless working, I logged on to my preferred web security firm’s website, After rooting around for a while, it becomes more and more clear that I cannot buy a second subscription for my second computer. In fact, their whole setup encourages me to download it to my new computer. Here’s the “my account” screen:


Notice that there’s no “add another computer” option. In fact, there’s no option like that anywhere on the site.

Most people would probably just download the program to their new computer. After all, it’s right there. I used the help box instead, thinking I might have missed a screen somewhere:

I just bought a second computer and would like to put McAfee on it. I presume that my subscription for my first computer does not cover my second, but I cannot figure out how to subscribe for a second computer. Does my one subscription cover more than one computer?

Their response? (Boldface added by me)

Brendan Riley,

Thank you for contacting McAfee.

Please be informed that you can only install your subscription/license on one computer at a time. If you are interested in putting a McAfee product on an additional computer, you would need to purchase a new subscription/license and register under a different email address.

Please go to to purchase.

For all of your Customer Service and Technical Support needs, please visit


Katrina C.

McAfee CS – Tier1

Grumble. I wrote back:

I need to register under a different email address? That’s hardly
customer-friendly. In an age of multiplying userids, trying to manage
even one login/account is hard enough, but having to manage an entirely
different email address is ludicrous.

I suspected I would need to buy a second subscription, but you make it difficult to be the ethical netizen by requiring that I open a second account. It would seem the whole point of having an account is to manage multiple software subscriptions.


Brendan Riley

If their response doesn’t include “here’s how you can add a second account,” I’m finding a different security company. Suggestions? Has anyone tried ZoneAlarm’s Virus protection? I like their firewall, so the package might be a good’un. I’ve also heard good things about Avest. Other suggestions?

Addendum: After some comparison shopping, I’ve decided to go with ZoneAlarm. I like their philosophy anyway, and they have a $30 rebate if you switch from McAffee. Plus, they have a two-user license. Linked right from their front page. (To be fair, I discovered that McAfee has a three-user license on its front page.)

Mid May Music

Swing, Blues, and Punk.

  • The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Zoot Suit Riot

  • B.B. King, Payin the Cost to Be the Boss

  • Sum 41, Chuck