What’s REALLY going on

"Occupy Wall Street" by Neil Girling, used under CC-license
"Occupy Wall Street" by Neil Girling, used under CC-license

Charles Stross hits on the real reason the Occupy Wall Street protests are being closed down.

… Congressional representatives are immune from some insider trading regulations. And point #3 is the smoking gun. If running for election in the US Federal government requires vast expenditure, then attaining such office grants one access to a mechanism for earning vast amounts of money by means which are illegal for the rest of us.

It’s no wonder that the DHS coordinated the Occupy camp clearances earlier this month: OWS had become a direct threat to the personal prosperity of the members of the House homeland security subcommittee (to whom DHS is answerable). If allowed to gather momentum and turn into an independent third party, why, OWS might actually put an end to the corruption. Certainly they’re pointing at the right targets … (link)

Lassie, can we PLEASE get back on the boat?

On the Keel, illustration

From The Santa Claus Annual

Adventures in reverse-image search

Watching A Miracle on 34th Street last week, I noticed this weird photo framed on Judge Harper’s office wall.  I wondered what it is and whether it’s just some random picture the prop department hung up, or if it’s famous in some way.  So I thought I’d try to find it on the web.  First, here’s the screen-cap of the image in the film:

And to the right here is the crop of the photo that I used in my image search.

First, I tried Google’s TinEye, which searches the web for exact images. It’s looking not at graphical similarity, but at similarity in code.  You can use it to find places where an image has been directly copied and reposted without being re-formatted or re-edited.  Not surprisingly, as I created the image myself with a screen cap, it’s not already on the web.  Oh well.

Next, I tried using words to describe the image to see if I could find it using keywords.  Here are unsuccessful searches I tried:

  • photo rocket launch gun “miracle on 34th street”
  • photo gun rocket world war 2
  • photo gun emplacement world war 2
  • famous photo rocket gun photo world war 2
  • missile rocket launcher world war 2

Next, after a search online for more upload services, I found BYO Image Search Lab.  This one found images with similar color palettes and shapes, but alas, not the image I’m looking at.

So, my tech-savvy friends: where would you go next?

 

 

Old Stories

Tangled and The Muppets

The Muppets
The Muppets

Tangled
Tangled

I saw two movies that tell old stories in new ways again this weekend.  Tangled is the Disneyfied version of Rapunzel, that classic tale about a girl with long hair who lives in a tower.  The Muppets is Jason Segel’s take on a Muppet story, a classic approach to the characters, with songs, cameos, and more! A few thoughts:

  • We bought Tangled some time ago on DVD, but I never got around to watching it because every time I suggested doing so, my children picked something more edifying like She-Ra.  Once, I got them to watch it, and twenty minutes in, Avery declared that she wanted to do something else.  Similarly, we have many Muppet movies (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take Manhattan, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and the first Muppet Christmas Special), but for some reason, my children have no desire to watch them.  I got to see both yesterday.
  • Both films had great leading roles, with Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore doing an excellent job in Tangled and Jason Segel and Amy Adams  thrilling in The Muppets.  They were also both musicals with songs I’ve heard on SiriusXM Kids’ Place LIVE!
  • Both stories captured new takes on the old stories.  The Muppets told the same classic Muppet story that’s been at the heart of at least three other Muppet productions — The Muppets have to get together and put on a show or … something will happen.  Alas, the something will happen in this film is that they will lose the Muppet studios, which is VERY similar to what happened in The Muppets Christmas Special, in which evil Joan Cusak tried to take over the Muppet Theatre.  Tangled focuses on the mother-daughter relationship the kidnapped Rapunzel has with the evil witch Mother Gothel, who is passive-aggressive and very unpleasant all around.    It also gives space to the thief, Flynn Rider, and his back story.
  • Both films use the road trip as a crucial narrative device, a way to enact the changes the characters experience in their lives.  In Tangled, it’s the rise to honesty of Flynn and the emergence of Rapunzel; in The Muppets, it’s the rise to manhood of Gary and Muppethood of Walter.

I enjoyed both Tangled and The Muppets immensely.  Highly recommended!

ps> Check out this excellent review of The Muppets by Mark Bousquet over on Revolution SF.

2011-11-27 Tweets

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Zombies: A Living History

Today you’re either laying around, bloated on turkey, or you’re stumbling around a store in a shopping haze.  Either way, you may feel a bit like a zombie, so here you go.

Zombies: A Living History
Zombies: A Living History

I watched the History Channel special Zombies: A Living History last week, and found it pretty enjoyable.  It’s worth looking up if you haven’t see it, though as someone who has seen a lot of zombie stuff, not much of it was new, per se.  A few thoughts:

  • Historical zombies: I wasn’t aware of the Viking folk-monster the Draugr, and I only knew a little bit about the Ghoul.  But overall I felt like the filmmakers were stretching the definition of zombie beyond the breaking point in order to include these, along with the Chinese ‘hungry ghosts’ and the British revenants, in zombie stories.  When I talk about these creatures with reporters, I call them “proto-zombies,” because they have some of the features of the zombie, but lack the essential quality of universal reanimation, viral contagion, and/or directionlessness.  (You could say the same thing about the Haitian voodoo zombies, but those at least have the name.)
  • I like the end section about the utility of using the zombie apocalypse as a thought experiment for preparedness, as being ready for zombies will help you be ready for any cataclysmic event like an earthquake or a pandemic.
  • The bits about the medical possibility of creating a zombie plague are downright scary, but plausible to my mind.  Mix rabies with H1N1 flu and we’re in real trouble.
  • The survey of authors was solid and great, and most presented themselves admirably.  I was particularly happy with Jonathan Mayberry‘s discussions.  He appears more frequently than any other talking head in the show, and does a great job. (Full disclosure, JM is on the Zombie Research Society board with me and we’ve corresponded via email a little bit.)
  • Jenny and I wondered where they got all the footage of people in zombie gear, whether they were staged zombie walk events or if they just went to zombie walks around the country and filmed.  I wonder at what point public performance becomes public domain as far as commercial presentations are concerned.

Overall, an interesting show, probably particularly fascinating for relative newbies to the genre.  Worth watching, I’d say.

The G-String Murders

The G-String Murders
The G-String Murders

by Gypsy Rose Lee

The provocative title of this burlesque novel is, I’m afraid, its most provocative part.  Given that it was written in the 1940s, I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised.  The G-String Murders follows the adventures of Gypsy Rose Lee, writing about herself, imagining a fictional string of murders in the burlesque house where she does her shows.  The novel’s title refers to the article of clothing used to strangle the two strip-tease artists murdered in the course of the novel.  A few thoughts:

  • In my mystery group, there was a fairly heated discussion about whether or not Craig Rice, another more established crime writer, actually wrote this novel, or if she consulted on it.  Wikipedia says she mostly consulted.  Either way, the authentic aspects of the burlesque theatre and its actors’ lives makes the novel work well, and provides solid evidence that Lee was heavily involved.
  • As far as mysteries go, this novel isn’t much to thrill about.  The end is pretty convoluted, and it felt like the author could have introduced any number of tiny facts at the end to explain the circumstances so that any of the suspects could have been the murderer.
  • I also had trouble getting all that excited about the murder mystery aspect, perhaps because our narrator is mostly a bystander in the murder investigation: she’s there during the murders and the investigation, but she isn’t the detective, nor does she want to be.  When the agent solving the crime isn’t the main character (nor is the main character involved at all, really) the story ceases to be a murder mystery in a lot of ways.
  • The novel’s most positive aspect is its dialogue, which sings with with and humor, as well as giving a solid sense of how these ladies felt and interacted with one another.
  • One member of our book group commented that this book works nicely for burlesque the same way The Sopranos worked for the mafia, as a way of reminding us that these stereotyped people working at a job not respected or understood by many were actually people with strong feelings and hopes for their lives.  The lovely romance that develop between Alice and Mike, for instance, is pretty heartwarming.

It’s an okay novel, but ultimately I didn’t like it very much.  Not recommended unless you’re really interested in the burlesque culture.

Happy belated Thanksgiving

Actually posted on Friday, 11/25

I hope you all, dear readers, had a lovely Turkey day.  Ours is exciting this year, as we’re doing the big Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.  We had a yummy egg dish for breakfast this a.m. and then went to the local Chinese buffet for lunch.  Dinner was a simple pork disk that Jenny made, with pumpkin-pie cheesecake for dessert.

Friday will involve hanging up the lights and a little shopping.  Nothing extreme.

I hope you’re having nice time with your friends and family.  I know I am.

Dead birds make good doggie treats

Illustration for Jip

From The Santa Claus Annual

Sea Snakes and Hot Coffee

Sea Snakes
Sea Snakes

Hot Coffee
Hot Coffee

Sea Snakes (title changed from the ridiculous Silent Venom) is a direct-to-TV movie produced by The Asylum (I think) on behalf of Syfy network.  When the researchers from a canceled top-secret snake research project get a ride home on a decommissioned Navy sub, it’s only a matter of time until their stockpile of uber-poisonous reptiles get out and start biting everyone.  In a similar vein, Hot Coffee is a documentary about how big corporations have used a masterful campaign of public opinion ads and election funding to undermine civil justice in the United States.  It won’t be hard at all to review these together.  Warning, cheap shots galore:

  • Both films begin with moments of shocking violence: Hot Coffee starts with a detailed discussion of the famous Stella Liebeck case, in which an elderly woman in a parked car spilled coffee on herself and got third-degree burns.  The photos of her injuries are truly horrendous.  Sea Snakes starts with two hapless snake handlers being chased by a giant snake and eaten in the wilds of an unnamed island off the coast of China.  The deaths are gruesome, as is the CGI.
  • Both films place blame for the villainy on shifty, unethical men.  In Sea Snakes, it’s the assistant researcher, Jake, played with skillful cowardice by Louis Mandylor.  Jake is the ultimate scheming coward: both greedy and afraid, willing to screw over everyone else to save his own skin.  Think Paul Reiser in AliensHot Coffee features a similar villain, someone willing to pervert the course of the American justice system to make money for his corporate overlords: Karl Rove.  The film documents how Rove led the charge for “tort reform,” a misnomer aimed at limiting the civil recourse individuals have when corporations wrong them.
  • There’s a handsome hero in each story as well.  In Hot Coffee, we can’t help but like former Texas Supreme Court justice Oliver Diaz, who found himself the target of extended political assaults and politically-motivated prosecutions designed to prevent him from undermining the tort-reform movement in Texas.  Sea Snakes’ charming man-of-the-hour is Lt. Comdr. James O’Neill, played by Luke Perry, retiring in disgrace because he crashed his first sub trying to save people, or something–they say it once, but the reason escapes me.
  • In both films, dangers lurk around every corner.  After you watch Sea Snakes, you can’t help but watch every nook and cranny for venomous vipers poised to bite you at the first opportunity.  Similarly, Hot Coffee makes you reconsider every consumer contract you’ve agreed to, from your mobile phone to your credit card.  Arbitration, thy nature is villainous.
  • Finally, both stories involve actors who have become high-level bureaucrats, and seek justice for the meek.  Hot Coffee features Al Franken’s legislative efforts to limit governmental contracts for companies that require mandatory arbitration for their employees, while Sea Snakes gives a small part to Tom Berenger, playing an Admiral friend of O’Neill’s, first getting him the last job driving the decommissioned sub to Indonesia so he can save his pension, and then later working to get a commendation after they defeat the snakes on their sub.

Final thoughts:

  • Hot Coffee makes a compelling argument against “tort reform,” particularly limits on capital damages.  Aside from the skeezy way corporations have undermined consumer protections from the courts, the practical reality that tort limitations have not resulted in savings for the consumer ought to give pause to the absent-minded advocacy of tort reform.
  • Sea Snakes makes a compelling argument against bringing poisonous snakes aboard a submarine, particularly doing so in an easily-opened container with no warnings on it.  It also disappoints in that no one says anything about “these mother-fscking snakes on this mother-fscking sub.”  Opportunity: missed.
Silent Venom Whisper
"Shh! This snake has silent venom."

Also, I can understand the desire to connect with Run Silent Run Deep in the title, but Silent Venom makes no sense at all.  Are there loud venoms?  Finally, in a quick search of submarine movies for others with Silent in the title (there aren’t really others, surprisingly), I discovered a 1974 movie called Fer-De-Lance, which has this description:

 An American submarine leaves Tierra Del Fuego, and one of its crew has secretly brought aboard a container full of poisonous snakes which escape storage and bite key personnel on the submarine, causing an accident that cripples the vehicle so that it drops to the bottom of the Southern Ocean. Worse still, the snakes are still at large on the submarine and complicate the efforts of the crew to escape the sunken vessel.

Alas, not even the basic plot of Sea Snakes was new.  Oh well.  Oddly, Fer-de-Lance, a kind of deadly snake, is also the title of Rex Stout’s first Nero Wolfe novel.

Silent  Venom snakes on the floor
"Stay still, I'll blast those nasty tort reforms."

Overall, Hot Coffee is definitely worth seeing.  Sea Snakes, not so much.

it should be painful for us

"July 17" by G.T. McKnight
"July 17" by G.T. McKnight

Check out this great post by Bradley Dilger, in which he writes about how students are having a hard time connecting their school experience to real-world job application work.

To see struggling students learning this lesson on the fly isn’t pretty: for example, having no way to write cover letters besides copying examples from the textbook nearly word for word, changing a few nouns here and there to keywords drawn from their field. For seniors, this is a bitter pill to swallow. And it should be for us: in these too-blank pages, we can see that students have realized that substituting academic faux-languages like “research paper” or “English essay” won’t replace the languages of magazine design, or sustainable energy, or broadcasting, to name a few of the majors I’m working with. On the one hand, this is good news: students know they need to learn more. But on the other hand, it points out our classroom practice is still problematic. When will we make the same realizations our students have? It’s downright unpleasant to see seniors struggle to connect what they have learned in their four (or five) years at the university with the languages and forms of their fields. It’s painful for them, and it should be painful for us. (link)

In my detective lit class today, I did my regular lecture introducing the idea of electracy, and one of the points I made was that the facts being learned in classrooms around the country are the least interesting and useful part of the work being done.  I said I hoped they were coming away with a lot more than having read a bunch of detective stories.

Of course, Bradley’s discussion raises the practicality question — of what utility to my students is my lit class at all?  Certainly, “critical thinking” becomes a key phrase we can all hang on to, but we probably do need to do more to connect these discussions with real-world skill sets.

2011-11-20 Tweets

  • Dammit: it takes me 15 minutes to get rolling, so when I've only got 75 minutes to write, I end up stopping from a gallop. 475 words today. #
  • research writing today: 531 words. #
  • @ChrisTabone1 Have you seen this site? Might be of interest to you and your charges: http://t.co/RJLEfPIZ #
  • @dancpharmd Right up your alley: http://t.co/fLqptsEX #
  • 450 words this a.m. #wordcount #
  • Will you let Congress enact an egregious assault on freedom of speech and the Internet? http://t.co/5LnCKFTb #sitecensored #blacklist #
  • #hellyeah @cstross I want a party w/ 3 guiding principles: maximize individual liberty, minimize the Gini coefficient, protect the commons #
  • Just heard Garry Marshall made "New Year's Eve" this year. Can't wait until c-list holidays to get their turn: "Flag Day" will be AWESOME. #
  • After I left the digital barn door open, @dreamhost security cowpokes have been awesome helping me close it again and round up the cows. #
  • Avery on the way home from school today: "Those people still have Halloween pumpkins out?! Come On!" #ourownlittleGob #
  • Overheard #parentingWIN "If you cry, you can't come to Starbucks. There are no 'boo-hoos' at Starbucks." #
  • @GroovyBruce Watching "My Name is Bruce" with my father-in-law, showed off my Campbell-fu by explaining all the references. Lots of fun! #
  • How to look like a doofus: Working in a quiet coffee shop, put iTunes on shuffle. When Taio Cruz "Dynamite" comes on, rock out to yourself. #
  • Just realized the restaurant in #MonstersINC is "Harryhausens." In my head, I'd always thought of it as Harray Carray's. #finallygotit #

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Me? I’m a Strossian

Charles Stross gets it right again.  I’d vote for these folks:

Me?

I just want a party to vote for whose three guiding principles are (a) maximize individual liberty, (b) minimize the Gini coefficient, and (c) protect the commons. Yes, I am aware that these three goals are orthogonal and often conflict with one another: that’s why it requires an ongoing process of negotiation rather than an ideologically-driven damn-the-torpedoes race to the goal. (link)

Like a box of crayons barfed all over it.

That's right, dear.  All white people have exactly the same skin.
That's right, dear. All white people have exactly the same skin.

The Annual A Miracle on 34th Street post.

After I tweeted that I had to wait two and a half more weeks before I’d seem like a weirdo to watch this movie already, I broke down and watched it on Sunday 6 November.

Despite the fact that I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count, for my first viewing this year, I decided to watch disc one of my two-disc set, the colorized version of the film.  A few notes below, but first: UGH.  It looks terrible.  Whereas a good print of a black and white film shows lots of nuance and shading, the colorized version overwhelms the image, much to everyone’s detriment.  Anyhow, I found a few new things to write about, so here they are in no particular order.

  • The main problem with the colorization in the film is that people don’t have uniform skin tones.  Not all white people have the same shade of pinkish skin, but in this film they do.  Ugh.   It makes them look downright terrifying.
  • Colorized neckwear: Kris wears a green tie, Mr. Shelhammer wears a purple and yellow polka-dot one, Fred wears black and white ties, but a plum scarf.
  • Alcohol in the film:  Mr. Shelhammer happily gets his wife “feeling gay” on three martinis in the evening, but also gasps aghast when he sees Doris holding the fifth of whiskey she confiscated from the drunken Santa.  Perhaps he was more appalled at the low quality of booze she was carrying–because you know that Santa wasn’t buying from the top shelf.  We also know the janitor in Doris and Suzie’s building lets loose at the New Year’s party, and I’d bet those big grins from the Marketing team on their way out of Mr. Macy’s office on their way to “dinner” indicated that they’d be heading directly into a Mad Men situation.
  • Speaking of which, apparently Mr. Macy demands a lot from his employees: Doris works so much she can’t go to dinner or the theatre with Fred, Mr. Sawyer and his secretary are both so driven that they’re reduced to picking at their eyebrows like Snidely Whiplash, and Mr. Macy assigns his marketing team big tasks on little notice, to whit: “I know, we all want to get to dinner.  We’ll meet back up first thing in the morning to talk about this more.  In the meantime, you folks get together and come up with the best way to market this thing.”  Catch that?  He just assigned them an all-nighter.
  • Look at this photo or painting in Judge Harper’s office.  What the heck is it?
    What is that picture?

    I like to imagine that the set designer’s cousin is an art photographer, and this was his chance to get something into a major motion picture.  He went to the movies and said “That’s my picture” to anyone who would listen.  At first glance, it looks like some sort of missile or gun emplacement.  Maybe Judge Harper was a War Hawk.

  • Darn it.  Sometimes, once you notice something, you can’t help miss it.  Jenny pointed out that Doris’ bra makes her breasts look extremely pointy in the dinner scene (right at my favorite part, when Fred sneaks from the room).  After that, I couldn’t help but notice that this movie was definitely shot in the height of the cone-boob era, in which every woman looks like they’re carrying ICBMs on their chests.
  • Number of observations I’ve squirreled away for a future year’s post on the film? four. Number of things I had to cross off my list of things to write about because I discovered that I’d written about them in previous years? four. Number of things I thought of and decided not to write because I remembered writing about them before? Countless.
  • Favorite recurring observation about the movie? That Kris may have terrorized the family whose home is for sale at the end of the film.

See also:
Miracle on 34th Street, 2004
The First Mailbag of the Year, 2005
It’s That Time Again, 2006
Media Over Break, 2007
You Know the Holidays are here…, 2008
Still Miraculous, 2009
Better Every Year, 2010

Hacked!

Alas, my website was hacked.  This isn’t the first time I’ve found my websites monkeyed around with, but it is the most annoying.  The main problem is that I like to save stuff — I do big projects with students using CMS systems, and then I don’t delete them because I like the work they did.  But in doing so, I leave myself open to trouble because out-dated CMSes are like broken windows in a neighborhood, they attract all the wrong people.

So I’m closing down many of my venerable subdomains which have mouldered in the–eep–years since I’ve used them.   I’m backing up everything first, of course.  And then — off we go!  Just for your amusement, here’s a step-by-step of what happened and how I’m fixing it.

The Hack

In one of my oldy moldy CMSes, some script breached security and spurted ugly code all over my subdomains.  It would have gone un-discovered if it had been smart enough to see that my only domain with much traffic was curragh-labs.org and stayed away from that.  Thankfully, it was dumb enough to do it there.

The script created an .htaccess file that redirected users coming from a search engine to some random page.  If you went to my URL directly, it ignored you.  Thus, many of those it would capture are the folks not coming directly here on purpose.  A clever hack.  Fortunately, I have a couple folks who get to my site not using bookmarks or memorized URLs, but by searching Google.  They emailed me and I found the .htaccess file, as well as a couple sneaky php files stinking up my home directory.

Triage

  • First, I deleted the .htaccess file and the other PHP files sitting in my home directory.
  • Next, I glanced through a few subdirectories to see if any other sneaky files were there — no, so that’s helpful.
  • Then I changed my SFTP password and my Dreamhost Web Panel password and contacted my web hosts.  They suggested that I update all my outdated CMS software and stop being such a security hole.  Their form letter is nice about it, but I feel chastened nonetheless.

Cleaning House

  • My new rule is that if I’m not committed enough to a subdomain or site to visit at least once a month to update the CMS, I can’t have a CMS there.
  • So first, I need to close down the subdomains I don’t care enough about to leave up on the web.  This is simple enough: back up, unregister on Dreamhost, delete files.
    • 1924.curragh-labs.org – year-based class writing project, gone
    • 1945.curragh-labs.org – another iteration of same, gone
    • 1969.curragh-labs.org – first iteration of same, gone
    • book.curragh-labs.org – an old subdomain with nothing on it, built for a project that ended up elsewhere
    • tracker.curragh-labs.org – an old subdomain with nothing on it, built for a project that didn’t launch
  • Then, I cleaned up my home directory on my web host account, backing up and deleting files I don’t use anymore.

Repairing the Damage

  • Next, I needed to round up the domains I don’t use anymore and stabilize them.
    • The ARG domains I bought for last year’s ARG class are all decomissioned, except for CNB labs, because that’s just cool.  I plan to move that info onto arg.curragh-labs.org when I’ve got some, ahem, free time.  So in cleaning up my hosting panel, I zip archived those and put them into backup.  Then I deleted them from my hosting list.  Then, I updated ARG.curragh-labs.org to current MediaWiki software.
    • I also went into my pile of MySQL databases and deleted the ones I’m not using anymore.
  • Then I consulted the “hacked files” list Dreamhost sent me.  Most of the files were taken care of in the house-clearing, but a few required updating on sites I want to keep live.
    • I discovered a few corrupted files in one of the unused themes on my blog.  Since I only use one theme and these others are potential security breaches, I closed that door by deleting all the themes I don’t use.
    • Dreamhost also alerted me to a few hacked files on other blogs I have, so I’ve scoured those out too.
    • One file belongs to a user who doesn’t hang around anymore, so I’ve had to request that the admins delete it.
    • I found a couple directories that might have been old projects I don’t remember, or might have been hacker work.  Deleted.
    • Next, I pulled the old Drupal install off BadMovieClub and installed WordPress instead.
    • Last, I updated the two remaining trouble sites, bringing projectloop up to safe Mediawiki code, and CNB labs up to current WP standards.

Ugh.  There went a morning.  But it was overdue.  On to more productive places!