Irony in email form

An email I received today had both these passages in it.  I’ve added boldface.

Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you smile.

Send to all the people you love and don’t want to lose in 2007, even me….
If you get 3 back, you are a great friend

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance….

And at the bottom of the email was this:

The information in this electronic mail message is the sender’s confidential business and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee(s). Access to this internet electronic mail message by anyone else is unauthorized. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it is prohibited and may be unlawful. The sender believes that this E-mail and any attachments were free of any virus, worm, Trojan horse, and/or malicious code when sent. This message and its attachments could have been infected during transmission. By reading the message and opening any attachments, the recipient accepts full responsibility for taking protective and remedial action about viruses and other defects. The sender’s employer is not liable for any loss or damage arising in any way from this message or its attachments.

My guess is the employer who wants this boilerplate at the bottom of their email also disallows chain emails. heh.

Banker to the Poor

Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
by Muhammad Yunus

I first heard about Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, on the Daily Show.  Then, earlier this year, I learned that Columbia College was going to have a roundtable discussion of the book as part of our Poverty & Privilege Critical Encounter (a kind of yearly campus theme).  Reading the book was energizing, and provides a kind of hope I rarely encounter these days.

Here’s one passage:

Worst of all, economists have failed to understand the social power of credit.  In economic theory, credit is seen merely as a means with which to lubricate the wheels of trade, commerce, and industry.  In reality, credit creates economic power, which quickly translates into social power.  When credit institutions and banks make rules that favor a distinct section of the population, that section increases both its economic and its social status.  In both rich and poor countries alike, credit institutions have favored the rich and in so doing have pronounced a death sentence on the poor…. In many Third World countries, the overwhelming majority of people make a living through self-employment.  Not knowing where to fit these individuals into their analytical framework, economists lump them in a catchall category called the “informal sector.” But the informal sector really represents people’s own effort to create their own jobs.  I prefer to call it the “people’s economy.” (150)

Yunus’ program, aimed at the poorest 25% of Bangladeshi population, uses education and collaborative methods to help borrowers protect and pay back their investment.  It doesn’t depend on collateral, but it also avoids usurious interest rates and it enforces rules to help keep borrowers from digging themselves in over their heads.

I encourage all of you to check out this book.

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism

by Bob Edwards; narrated by the author

Edward R Murrow at CBS microphoneI enjoyed this audiobook on two levels. As a history and biography, it was interesting. As a collection of audio clips, it was fascinating. Murrow’s “This is London” broadcasts from London during the Blitz or after having gone along on a bombing run to Berlin highlight his ability and importance for broadcast journalism. The book also gave me lots more insight into Goodnight and Good Luck, which I enjoyed but didn’t have much biographical info about Murrow to fill in the gaps.

A couple fun facts about Murrow that I got from this book:

  • First name at birth: Egbert.
  • Did his face-to-face show not just to appease CBS (as GNAGL would have us believe), but also to make a living — he owned a significant share of that show.
  • His brilliant barn-burner speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago could, sadly, translate to today’s broadcast media without editing or rephrasing.

I like the speech a lot, so I’m including the whole thing after the break.

Continue reading Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism

Open Source, the movie!

I’ve just had my “Open Source” day in Writing for New Media, in which students read Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and we talk about what Open Source means and how it works.  After we worked through the process for programmers, we started talking about how it might work as a creative endeavor, for creative texts rather than for computer programs.  We looked at ZeFrank’s The Show community (the Sports Racers), particularly their “remixes for Ray”.  Then I had an idea:

Open Source, the movie.
A movie produced using Open Source methodology.

Germ: Raymond says we need an interesting problem to recruit users.  The original author team (no more than two or three) would have a germ of a movie (perhaps a genre to work in, maybe a story) and would build an architecture to create the movie.

Process: Using collaborative tools that allow for versioning, beta-coders would add to and revise and rework the script.  I think a wiki would have some merit here, but a regular lockdown voting method would be needed to move the project forward.  Some sort of versioning would also need to be in play to push quality up.  This could be done by the project leaders, but would be better if done as some sort of voting mechanism.

Once the script was set, filming would begin.  The film could be done using simple costumes for characters and paper masks to be printed and attached to paper plates.  This would allow multiple actors to film a variety of scenes, shots, etc without losing continuity.

Open source editing and scoring could follow.

I think this must be done.  The question is how.

To resolve:

1. The platform for managing the versions.  A schedule of submission, voting, new version for the script would work best, I think.

2. The filming could be a matter of filming and submitting clips to be used.   A variety of teams could film the parts they’re interested in, and multiple takes could be created by multiple teams (ideally mixed and matched in editing).

3. Editing would also be groupsourced.  Perhaps different teams could take the lead with different scenes, with users beta-testing and suggesting edits.

The Terminal Experiment

by Robert J Sawyer

I’ve read several of Sawyer’s books, and I’m always happy with them.  He writes a good science-thriller with a healthy bit of techno-forecasting.  This book turns on two ideas: first, that a close examination of the brain as someone dies reveals a consistent pattern that slides across the brain and leaves the skull just as the person dies.  The conclusion is that the soul exists.  Second, Sawyer suggests that a scan of every neural net and pattern in the brain could result in a simulated version of the brain (which is then an AI based on a real person).  Of course, making three copies of the main character and trimming them in different ways causes all sorts of Frankensteinian problems.

I’ve always enjoyed stories that toy with the clash between the rational world and the spiritual world.  Sawyer does this well, as does James Morrow (who admittedly comes from the spiritual side first).  In between chapters appear little AP segments that suggest some of the worldwide ramifications of the “soulwave,” such as:

  • determining when the soulwave appears in a human fetus changes ideas about abortion (9-10 weeks)
  • measuring higher-order animals (such as apes and dolphins) helps establish whether humans are alone (we aren’t)
  • work is done to track where the soulwave goes when it leaves the brain (toward Orion)

My favorite Sawyer book is still Farseer, though.  It’s a hard-sf story about a Galileo-figure on a planet where dinosaurs are the evolved high species.  Tyranno-Galileo.

No Country for Beowulf, Michael Clayton, or Dan in Real Life.

Visiting the in-laws this weekend, I got to see four movies in the theater, one in 3D-IMAX.  While I will probably have more to say about some of these in future, here are four bullet points about each movie.


  • At one point, Beowulf hangs from a dragon, bouncing on the end of a chain.  His crotch just barely misses a spike atop a castle–twice–and I found myself feeling like a joke from Shrek got mixed into the wrong animated medieval movie script.
  • The 3d IMAX was interesting, but didn’t really do that much for me, moviewise.  IMAX alone would have been pretty awesome.
  • Why did Grendel’s mother have stiletto heel-feet? C’mon.
  • For those of you who’ve seen the film, is this supposed to be the true story of what happened (as opposed to the tale the bards sing)?

No Country for Old Men

  • Every dramatic moment we expected? Absent from the film.  Verdict? Brilliant.
  • Maurice from Northern Exposure did an excellent job as the nearly-bald ex-Sheriff.
  • The sheriff’s relationship with his secretary is awesome.  He tells her to call his wife to explain his trip, and she asks if she should wait until he clears the building before calling.
  • Nice to see the Coens returning to Blood Simple and Fargo ground.

Dan in Real Life

  • This movie was somewhat funny, but I think it was mostly heartbreaking.  Most romantic comedies have this formula: build-up/romance: 75% of movie; drama/near breakup: 15% of movie; last minute makeup: 10% of movie.  Dan was more like: 5%/90%/5%.  That 90 wasn’t fun.
  • Steve Carell has come a long way as an actor.  The last verse of Let my Love Open the Door broke my heart.
  • The family in the movie was basically an Abercrombie ad.  With John Mahoney.  (Who’s not dead, I’m glad to say.)
  • Not enough hot hot advice column action.  Dan is an advice columnist, but we see hardly any of it in the film.

Michael Clayton

  • I would love to know what the pitch for this convoluted, complicated movie was.  (Don’t read that as a complaint: I liked this movie very much.)
  • At one point, Tom Wilkenson carries a big bag of bread, just like the guy I saw in Boston.
  • I think everyone should post YouTube videos mimicking the closing credits imagery.  It could be a fad.  You heard it here first.
  • Why did he stop to look at the horses?


Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both
by Laura Sessions Stepp; narrated by Ellen Archer

I enjoyed this book, but was also terrified by it. I have always been somewhat out of touch with what the hip kids do, party-wise, but this book opened my eyes to how the landscape of dating has been shifting in the last decade, and some of what I might do to help prepare my daughter (only 2 right now, thankfully) for it. Here are some things that are hanging out in my brain after reading the book:

  • Oral sex is a common issue in middle schools now. Middle schools.
  • Young women whose parents regularly show affection for one another are more likely to handle romance and relationships well. (This isn’t a surprise, but more of a reminder.)
  • Young women whose parents often initiate conversations about love and sex are more likely to have thought through these issues more carefully.

Stepp suggests that the hookup culture stems from several things. Continue reading unhooked

Idioms that bug me

I could care less

Obviously, this bugs me because it’s an error. One should say “I couldn’t care less.” You know I am right about this. If you don’t, you need a thorough explanation.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too

According to Wikipedia, George Carlin already made this joke, so I don’t need to. Apparently the original notion made sense. I can see how but the common idea of it still bugs me.

A Taste for Violence

By Brett Halliday

I read this book as a substitute for Bodies Are Where You Find Them, since I couldn’t easily get hold of the latter and I wanted to read a Mike Shayne novel.


This is classic hard-boiled detective, in the same way the B-movies in my $.38 moment collection are classic thrillers: serviceable but hardly noteworthy. Shane is a no-nonsense badass whose persona reminds me very much of Bogart in the Maltese Falcon, particularly when he grapples with the hood sent by the fat man. Shayne smacks people around and navigates the dangerous waters of Centerville easily. The book also displays the cynical hope that many hard-boiled detective novels show in the power of a man to overcome corruption: the story ends with his takeover of the town and the attempt to make things better.

At the same time, we see an early version of the refrain from the end of Chinatown. Whenever Mike asks about some horrific happening in town (the police beating a man to death on the side of a busy road and no witnesses to speak of, the convenient vanishing and hanging of criminals, etc), they say “This is Centerville.” Mike says it doesn’t have to be.

This cover, which is part of a 1960s re-release, has nothing to do with the novel, from what I can tell. The only person possibly depicted on this cover is Ann, the local not-prostitute who like to make time with lots of fellas. She had a wimpy drug-addict husband named Angus to kick around.

I’m looking forward to reading more of these books as I find them.

Candy Cane Truffles

Candy Cane Truffle

A success, but not a brilliant one.  Of the truffles I’ve featured here, I’d say these are the least awesome, mostly because I put too much peppermint in — making them taste more like York Peppermint Patties than like chocolates.  That said, I think they’re pretty tasty.  Next time, though, I’ll use half as much peppermint.

What would you do, hot shot?

So someone threw away this cool old TV-in-a-cabinet, and I snatched it up. I plan to clean up the shelves and gut the old TV, but I’m wondering what I should do (if anything) in the space behind the screen.

TV Cabinet

What would you do?

The Man in the Brown Suit

by Agatha Christie; narrated by Emilia Fox

The man in the brown suit was a highly enjoyable novel, a departure from Christie’s parlor mysteries that I’m familiar with.  The heroine was hilarious and courageous, a young woman of the Amelia Peabody Emerson model.  The other narrator is an older British nobleman, also enjoyable.

A large part of the novel takes place in South Africa, a country I’m a bit familiar with (theoretically anyhow, I haven’t been there yet), well before the British left and the Afrikaans* took over.  Despite this setting, the people of the country aren’t really mentioned at all, except as exotic figures and creators of amusing statuary.

*Interesting side note: Firefox’s (or maybe WordPress’) spell-check program knows the word Afrikaans.

Read as an Audiobook

I turn curmudgeonly for a day

The Comics Curmudgeon is one of my favorite blogs. I read it each evening when I sit down at my desk for my late-night work session. Today I emulate Josh, a little.

Dick Tracy

dick tracy 20071116

I only discovered this strip a few years ago, when I moved to Chicago. I love the surreal situations that happen, like Dick and the Mayor and the Governor ending up in a “haunted” mansion for a night. I particularly like Dick’s angry challenge: “All right, what’s the deal, painting?” You can hear the hammer of moral certitude in the thunderous P of painting. I’ve no doubt Tracy spit the word like a bullet. I also love the jiggle-lines around the mayor’s hands, as though the doorknob is a can of paint that’s been sitting in the basement too long.


Blondie, 2007 11 16

Marshall McLuhan writes:

Consider the phrase “it’s a man’s world.” As a quantitative observation endlessly repeated from within a homogenized culture, this phrase refers to the men in such a culture who have to be homogenized Dagwoods in order to belong at all. (Understanding Media 17)

As much as I would like to deny it, I’ve now learned, because of an exact and accurate depiction of my attitude about weekends, that I am a Dagwood.

An Outsider in Amsterdam

by Janwillem Van de Wetering

An Outsider in Amsterdam
I read this book to prepare for my first meeting at the Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore Mystery Reading Group. I’m intrigued to see what the discussion will be like.

I enjoyed the tenor of the book, which seemed contemplative and detached. I imagine it to be partly due to the character of the writer and partly due to the translation of the book from Dutch to English. The detectives are a mystifying pair, one of whom has a cranky relationship with his wife, and the other who sleeps with suspects. They remind me a bit of two Columbos, plodding along the path, acting when necessary but not hysterical. In that way, the villain seemed like a Columbo villain, trying to escape when it was feasible and offering the detectives sandwiches when it was not.

Ultimately, though, I felt like the mystery was rather incidental to the plot. The characters of the detectives and the suspects took over, leaving the crime a distant memory, the spring that winds the complex clockwork of the characters, and excuse for narrative movement. While I wasn’t sure if I liked that effect while I was reading the book, in retrospect I’m fond of the experience.