Friday, August 31, 2007

I warned you, Pearls Before Swine. No good could come from antagonizing the "classic" comics. But while I waited for Mary Worth to bring the pain, I was blindsided by the arrival of the Pro-Circus extremists.
NBC soon to be out of iTunes. Seems like a poor move on their part, as purchasing TV shows is pretty much an impulse decision, and putting any roadblocks up should cut revenues severely. I know I've bought several TV shows iTunes; mostly episodes of The Office I missed before I got a DVR (or when my crappy cable-company DVR malfunctioned), as well as a few very-special-episodes of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. But if I can't get it for $2 from iTunes, I'll probably give up (I can get it for the same price on my Xbox 360, but that requires buying points in an oddly-priced bundle, and I can't load them on my iPod, so that probably won't happen). I have noted a fair amount of current TV shows are now available for streaming on Netflix, but I don't think the current season is available, so it doesn't help with playing catch-up. So NBC will now be out $2 when I miss a show I like, and if its a show where continuity is a big issue, I'll probably stop watching the show (missing an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip finally gave me an excuse to bail on that train-wreck). So way to go, NBC, good luck getting people to pay $5 for something they can get for free.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Did you ever see that show on VH-1, that showed clips from YouTube, along with helpful commentary to help you understand why it was funny? ("He got hit in the nuts, that's funny!") Apparently, Viacom never paid anything or got any permision to use those clips, but will threaten you with the Hammer of the Gods if you put a clip of the stolen footage on YouTube. So, when a big corporation does it, it's fair use; when you do it, it's piracy.
As devoted readers of this blog have no doubt picked up on by now, the vast majority of posts in this forum are simply padding, because if every single post I made was about the damned sexiness of that cat in that children's comic strip, they'd lock me up, so I need to talk about non-psychotic things every once in awhile. But of course it's all just a matter of biding time until I can mention Cassandra Cat here again. So imagine the hysterics I found myself in when I visited The Comics Curmudgeon today and learned that they have...are you ready for this?...Cassandra Cat merchandise for sale! Which wouldn't be too surprising, as the site offers a wide array of merchandise, but none of the other merchandise features actual licensed artwork, due to copyright law (apparently, selling something that doesn't belong to you is somehow considered stealing). But apparently, Slylock Fox creator Bob Weber, Jr., has actually designed the logo himself!

Of course, my first reaction, on seeing this, was, "Damn, there is no way I could pull off wearing this in public." So, naturally, I decided to order the thong. But on further reflection, I think the coffee mug is a good bet, well-suited to my spiraling caffeine addiction. I think it says a lot about me, that as much as I enjoyed Aldomania, or Molly the Bear, I never bought any merch, but within moments of learning of the existence of Cassandra Cat merchandise, I've whipped out my credit card and am ready to order! I do think I'll pick up an Aldomania shirt, though, for old times sake (the one-year anniversary of Aldo's death is fast approaching).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

So, I was at Del Taco for lunch on Saturday. The Del Taco by my house has one of those crane games, where you can win a stuffed animal. Lately, I'd noticed the prizes were a bit odd. The standard stuffed animals filled the case, but at the top, the most easily accessible prize for some time was a Dwight David Eisenhower plush doll. Because kids just love Ike. Eventually, someone apparently won that doll. I didn't see that, but on Saturday, as I walked up to the glass door, I saw a kid of about nine or ten playing with a doll of about 18 inches of height, wearing a conservative suit and spotting a beard. The doll was dancing wildly, much to the boy's delight. Turns out, he was the proud winner of a Ulysses S. Grant plush doll. I'd always wondered how people felt, after no doubt dumping dollar bill after dollar bill into the machine, when they win a peculiarly designed plush doll of a relatively dull former president (a General Grant doll I could see, but this was a President Grant doll). Now I know; the reaction is bemused excitement. And it turns out President Grant's secret passion was playing in the ball pits at second-teir fast food restaurants.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

So last summer (or thereabouts; I'm saying it was last summer for our purposes here), I read and enjoyed very much The Trouble With Tom, which follows the travels of Thomas Paine's body over the century or so following his demise. So I felt it only fitting, this summer, that I should read Stealing Lincoln's Body by Thomas J. Craughwell, which gives a similar treatment to the remains of the Great Emancipator. In particular, as the title suggests, the book recounts a little-known plot to steal the remains of Lincoln, and hold them for ransom, demanding $200,000 and the release of a convicted counterfeiter. Unforunately, this book is not nearly as engaging as Paul Collin's treatment of Paine, mostly because the story of the conspiracy to steal Lincoln is pretty simple and dull. The crooks were fairly inept, their capture relatively routine, and the story most notable for the paranoia it led to in keeping the bodies (Abraham and Mary Todd) safe from further attempts (Lincoln's corpse was moved repeatedly, his casket opened twice for identification purposes, before ultimately being entombed in concrete). The book uses this basic story as a framework for various digressions, some interesting (Lincoln's funeral, Mary Todd's battle with the Lincoln Monument association, the creation of a secret society to conceal the remains of Lincoln), but most not too terribly gripping. Overall, it's a quick read, well-written, if a bit too strident in telling the life story of every bit player in the scandal, and is worth a look for those interested in Lincoln, or the abduction of corpses for ransom.

It's also worth a look for people like me, who intend to make reading about the corpses of famous Americans an annual tradition. So here's hoping someone writes a book along those lines for next summer, or else I'll have to attempt to defile the corpse of Millard Fillmore (I intend to say that Mallard Fillmore gave me the idea) to give the nation's quirky historians fodder for a new book. Or maybe read a book about who's buried in Grant's tomb. Grant's tomb...hey, that's a nice segue into my visit to Del Taco yesterday. Stay tuned for Del Taco/Ulysses S. Grant confluence madness, coming soon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

As an addendum to my previous post, I should share with you that I placed third in a blackjack tournament this evening at ClubUBT, winning another $75, thus doubling my winnings. So, I've been a member for about a month and almost paid for a full year's membership. Not too shabby.

Which probably raises a question amongst some of my readership: If you're doing so well, does that mean the average member of ClubUBT is a complete moron? Possibly. But I should note, the bulk of my winnings come from poker, at which I have about a decade of experience playing in casinos, so it's not too surprising that I've done well there, and doesn't necessarily reflect on the skill of the ClubUBT players as a whole. On the blackjack side, where I have very little tournament experience, I've done less well (as I'm not skilled at BJ tournaments, I will withhold judgement on the ability of the site's typical blackjack players) But as for what my personal opinion of the site's poker players is, based on what I've seen, I'd say that the players of ClubUBT are decent, but somewhat inexperienced. And don't seem to take into consideration the one-sided payouts of the tournaments, which are generally winner-take-all or something rather similar (I'm sidestepping the issue of points, which you can win in tournaments and allow you to enter other tournaments; in short, I'll just say that I believe some players play conservatively to guarantee themselves of at least winning some points, which seems to me a huge mistake). Furthermore, I don't see too much creative playing, and creative play implemented in exactly the wrong time. And I see a lot of players bust out of the tournament, despite having substantial chips, with low pocket pairs they probably should've folded pre-flop, but kept even after the flop hit with the paint. In the interest of keeping my personal observations my personal advantage at the tables, I won't talk about other specific plays that make me think the players are somewhat mediocre, but I think the way a community of players play low pocket pairs says a lot for their amount of experience.

So on the poker side, I say the players are not bad, but somewhat below the typical caliber seen in card rooms playing for substantial real money. That said, don't expect to see the sort of players you see playing in free games at places like Yahoo! With prizes on the line, people play accordingly. But if you're a solid player looking for entertainment with a possibility of winning money, this is a good spot to look.

Now, my strategy is to be more selective in tournament selection, look for the bigger prize money like the blackjack tournament I just won, and tournaments with merchandise prizes I want (the Blu-Ray DVD player is being given away Tuesday). Now if you'll excuse me, I have a poker tournament to play.

The New York Times has an article on the trade dispute between Antigua and the United States over online gambling. It's remarkable how the United States turned victory into defeat in this case; all they had to do to be in compliance with the W.T.O. order was outlaw domestic online gambling, which means placing horseracing bets online (to the best of my knowledge, this is the only online gambling legal in the U.S., though there could be some state lottery with an online component I'm unfamiliar with). Instead, the Bush administration and congress decided to act like children, pass further restrictions on online gambling while specifically excluding the horseracing industry from such legislation, choosing to ignore the W.T.O. (which, when China does it, is considered by the U.S. as an affront to Western Civilization). As Mark Mendel, Antigua's man in Geneva, notes, "This isn’t a case of forcing gambling on a population that has decided they don’t like it. This is the world’s biggest consumer and exporter of gambling services trying to prohibit a small country from developing its economy by offering these same services. And we find that deeply hypocritical.”

This seems like as good a time as any to discuss a new service the U.S.' draconian online gambling laws has forced me to resort to, Club UBT. Club UBT is a legal service which offers poker and blackjack tournaments. They are legal because the tournaments themselves are free, once you pay a membership fee, which starts at about $20/month (if you prepay quarterly or annually, you save a bit). They have a fair amount of tournaments throughout the day for small stakes ($10 winner-takes-all tourneys are commonplace), a few a day with larger payouts ($100-$200 total paid to the top four places), and about one a day with a "fabulous" prize (jewelry, electronics, etc.). They also have occasional satellites to win entry into larger tournaments, for instance, a $10,000 prize pool tournament in poker, or on the blackjack side you can win entry into a major, televised blackjack tournament at Barona casino (airfare is included, which does me no good, living thirty minutes from Barona--but I have won entry into the tournament to win entry into that tournament).

I've been a member about a month and a half, and at the conclusion of my two-week free trial membership, I purchased a quarterly membership for around $50. I do recommend Club UBT for those jonesing for an online gambling fix, and who aren't willing to play the game of pre-paid debit cards and cloak-and-daggar maneuvers to cash out from grey-market online casinos. But I recommend the service with some reservation. The prizes are fairly meager, though they seem to be adding more cash tournaments (though mostly in the $10-$20 prize pool range). And the merchandise prizes are mostly things I would never purchase for myself, and are of course appraised at full retail price. So, should you win a tournament and receive a $5,000 watch, your $5,000 win will be reported to the IRS, while you'll be lucky to sell it for half that (though if you're the type who wears $5,000 watches, it does look like a nice watch). And on the low end, the prizes look like things that would turn up in Big Lots and other stores at vastly reduced prices (I've seen the iHome iPod stereo for less than half what they claim it's worth). In fact, on their list of current prizes, only the Blu-Ray DVD player really interests me. But that's okay, as I've found enough cash tournaments to keep me entertained. And so far, I've won a total of $75, which was paid to me via check quite swiftly. Of course, for the amount of time I've put in playing tournaments, a profit of less than $25 is rather pathetic, but the point of this site, at least as things stand now, isn't to get rich, but to have fun playing poker and blackjack, and possibly turn a small profit or win a few trinkets. And hopefully, as they gain more subscribers, they will be able to offer more prizes.

One other thing I should note, as it was instrumental in my decision to become a paid member, is that a subscription to Club UBT includes a subscription to All-In magazine (I would not pay for this publication, but for free, it's a decent perk) and, more importantly, a membership with Las Vegas Advisor. I've had a membership with them off and on for several years; I didn't renew recently because I haven't made it to Vegas much. But including the membership (a $50/year value) with Club UBT makes it a great deal. The Advisor's newsletter is worth a read, and last I checked, the message boards were one of the few Vegas internet forums not overrun by trolls. But the main perk of a Las Vegas Advisor membership is their coupon book. For me, the value is moderate; I mostly just use the matchplay coupons, as most of my food in Vegas is comped anyway, and I generally travel solo. But in addition to gambling coupons (matchplays, free slot play, etc), there are great dining, lodging, and entertainment deals here. 50% off up to $50 on pretty much anything at the Palms, lots of great 2-for-1 buffets and shows, some nice room deals. The point is, the inclusion of the Las Vegas Advisor basically knocks about a quarter off the cost of Club UBT, if you assume you'd have joined LVA on your own for $50.

But even on its own, Club UBT is a decent deal. The most you can lose is your membership fee, you potentially can win a tidy profit (everything I win in the next two months or so is pure profit for me), the software, while not as good as the top tier online casinos, is perfectly acceptable, and it certainly satisfies my craving for gambling between trips to the Indian casinos. If you're a gambler, I'd recommend at least giving the two-week free trial a go (as I didn't cancel, I can't speak to the ease of cancellation, or lack thereof). And if you see Flealick raising, I'd get out of the way.

UPDATE: Since I was tooting my horn about my big $75 in winnings since I joined the site, I should mention that, less than 12 hours after writing this post, I had doubled my winnings to date up to $150, with a $75 third place in a blackjack tournament. So if it sounds like I'm bitching above about the prizes being meager, I'll concede that they do have some tournaments with decent prizes, given the membership fee.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On this day in 1960, Belka and Strelka (meaning "Whitey" and "Little Arrow," respectively), along with 40 mice, 2 rats, and numerous plants, became the first living organisms to leave the planet Earth and subsequently return safely from space.
In my last post, I mentioned sex in the back of a crowded theater, which reminded me of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, which I finally got around to watching this week, and which features an opening number reminding us that indecent exposure is a class two felony. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say that the Aqua Teen movie was a huge mess, boring for the most part, but probably worth watching just for the musical number which bookends the film. But that's on YouTube, so maybe you could just skip the film (actually, there are funny moments throughout, but overall, it was pretty disappointing). Anyways, here's that opening:
I'd meant to mention the tragic passing of the famed publication Weekly World News, which I'd been known to impulse-buy on occasion, but never got around to it. But seeing as the late, great publication got a nod in the current, great Reynard Noir, I'll note the sad news now. I was at the grocery store this week, and the tabloids had some sort of Nicole Richie miscarriage drama on the cover (no sooner has the pregnancy is confirmed, than they turn to spreading rumors as to the end of the pregnancy), and I thought about how much I missed Bat Boy or the face of Satan appearing in emerging smoke somewhere.

Oh, and the strip that inspired today's Reynard Noir is notable in that it features a sexy human being. Sort of undermines the idea that the strip is a recruitment tool for furry fetishists, but looking at sexy reporter's vacant eyes, it's clear that all she offers is a life of soul-sucking conformity, picking out your china patterns at the Crate and Barrel, or whatever it is that squares do; it's Cassandra Cat who offers the thrills in life, whether it's the intrigue of an international jewel-heist conspiracy, some quick carnal pleasure in the back row of a crowded movie theater, or the simple pleasure of coming home from a long trip to be surprised by a nude woman in one's bath (which, of course, is just another example of the wonderful fantasy world that is the daily comic strip--in real life, coming home to a wet kitty in the bath, while hilarious, isn't particularly sexy). Cassandra's not even above donning a frumpy wig, going down to the mall, and goofing on the squares. I think the choice between fuzzy criminal mastermind and bipedal dimwit reporter is clear.

Today's quiz question: If I were to share today's post with a qualified psychologist, would it be grounds to have me involuntarily committed? Answer: If not, it should be.

UPDATE: Here's the Comic Curmudgeon's take on today's Slylock Fox. I share it for completeness' sake, and to share his implicit observation that Slylock Fox (god, it's hard not to type that as "Shylock Fox," which, incidentally, is also a strip I would love to read), in a nod to its young readership, must conceal "sexy" behind the euphemism "french."

Pearls Before Swine takes on the all-powerful soap opera comic industry. I hope Stephan Pastis knows what all-powerful juggernaut he's just angered; surely we all remember what Mary Worth did to Aldo Kelrast last year, and he liked Mary Worth.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I've been remiss in discussing my summer reading on this blog, but I just finished a rather unusual book that definitely warrants a mention: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. I encountered a fleeting reference to the studies in an interview recently, and immediately sought out this book, from 2004, which documents these macabre dollhouses and Frances Glessner Lee, who created them.

Basically, the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a series of dioramas, meticulously created dollhouses which capture the initial state of repose of various people, whom have dropped dead under mysterious circumstances. All are based on reality to some degree, with most being a composite of several police investigations. Lee created these studies as an educational tool, to train first responders on how to observe, preserve and evaluate a crime scene; the goal of the studies is not necessarily to solve the crime, but to determine what evidence at the scene is pertinent, and what further tests should be performed by the medical examiner. Lee was an early proponent of what was then called legal medicine, and advocated for the creation of medical examiners offices (at the time, many coroners, appointed by patronage, had no medical training).

The book opens with an interesting essay about Lee and the studies, and about the gender and class politics under which Lee lived. But the bulk of the book is dedicated to depicting the studies, through descriptions, line drawing, and lots of pictures. Rather than being strictly representational, the photos take a more expressionistic approach, capturing the tension between the innocence of the form and the violence of the content, and the hope depicted externally in many of the studies through windows and paintings depicting more idyllic environs, a hope the victim, dead in their often squalid homes, failed to reach. And while there are disturbing photos of dolls having reached their grisly ends, most of the photos focus on the incidental details of their homes, the banal belongings that define a time and place, and ultimately, a life. Corrine May Botz, the author and photographer responsible for this volume, quotes Paul Auster regarding the objects of a dead man: "They are there and yet not there: tangible ghosts, condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. What is one to think, for example, of a closetful of clothes waiting silently to be worn again by a man who will not be coming back to open the door?" The preserved remnants of a life snuffed out are often more unsettling than the (admittedly creepy) dead dolls.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death would appeal to those whose interests run towards the macabre or the morbid, but it is not limited in its appeal to that audience. While the studies are not strictly speaking mysteries to be wrapped up neatly (though there is a general solution to the studies, since they are still used as a training tool, the solution to all but a handful of the studies is not provided--in general, the solutions are not too terribly hard to fathom, though the kitchen vignette really confounds me), fans of detective fiction and true crime should appreciate this book. And the story of Frances Glessner Lee, a woman whose ambitions were suppressed by the expectations for her gender and the heavy burden her wealthy family imposed upon her, offers interesting insights into the options available to upper-class women in the early twentieth century.

The book's Amazon page has some photos, and you can also see some photos and learn more from articles from American Medical News and 2wice (the former, written well before the publication of the book, has original photos, and more importantly, solutions not offered in the book).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A New York Times guest op-ed piece makes a stunning observation: Anyone notice this new coffee company called Starbucks? Apparently, if you want cream and sugar in your coffee, you put it in yourself. And they actually expect you to wait in line. I do believe I have the vapers just thinking about it! Slate has nominated Andy Rooney Stanley Fish as the author of the worst Op-Ed ever written, noting the disturbing undercurrent to his cluelessness:
One wants to feel sympathy for professor Fish in his distress. But although most of the unintentional humor in professor Fish's column comes from his comic cluelessness about things he thinks are "new" in the culture, this note of entitlement gives it a kind of nasty edge.

He concedes toward the close of his column: "[N]one of us has chosen to take over the jobs of those we pay to serve us."

Is it just me, or is there something grating in that phrase: "those we pay to serve us"? So distasteful, the life of the servant class, compared with the life of the mind.

Sonos, Sirius make deal to stream satellite radio throughout your home. I'm not a satellite radio subscriber, but I've looked at Sonos before. Nice service, but a bit expensive. Reasonably priced if you have a need for the service, a larger house with several people listening to different music, but for my personal need, it's not worth the price. But this caught my attention enough to read the article, and see that the "service" costs subscribers an extra $2.99 a month. Gee, I'm paying you $12.95 to listen to your music, and now, for only $3 more, I get the option of listening to select stations, in my home? Wow! What a crazy idea!

I remember when satellite radio came out, I thought it was going to be so revolutionary. Then the iPod revolution made it pretty much irrelevant. Yet they seem to think they can follow a cell phone business model, charging extra for random services that should be free. If I were a subscriber and was told I could pay extra for this "service," it seems like the sort of thing that would lead me to cancel my service in a pique. Boo, Sirius.

Now that I've written this, I actually went to the Sirius page, and realized the $3 fee isn't specifically for Sonos support, but for internet streaming in general; Sirius charges subscribers to listen online, through Sonos or through their own computer. Which seems even worse, in my opinion. Of course, that means their existing subscribers don't seem to mind, but considering Sirius is basically arguing that, without their proposed merger with XM, they cannot continue as a going concern, maybe they should wonder if incidental fees like this are scaring people away from the concept of satellite radio.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert may testify in YouTube lawsuit. The article says the exact purpose is unclear, but there are two obvious reasons they may be called. Most obviously, they both appeared on YouTube in spades, until their corporate overlords had them removed. But also, both of their respective programs rely heavily on "fair use" to ridicule the newsmakers and the news media. Though since I think Google's defense relies more on safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, rather than fair use, I'd guess they want the comedians to testify about how YouTube exposure benefited them both.

Or perhaps they'll be asked to testify about how, now that they're clips are available from Comedy Central's Motherload site, rather than YouTube, trying to watch them online is an infuriating process that causes their fans to die a little inside every day. For God's sake, content providers, learn from the music industry and make a deal with YouTube now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In case you think the debate over net neutrality is purely theoretical, you should know that British ISPs are demanding payouts from the BBC, lest they throttle their new video service.

UPDATE: Also, much as been made by net neutrality advocates of Pearl Jam's censorship at the hands of AT&T. It turns out, they're not the only ones.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Court rules Novell owns Unix copyright, effectively putting an end to SCO Group's legal threats to Linux and Linux users. I don't use Linux personally, but am glad this ridiculous case is finally over (though SCO Group, showing the strong grip on reality they've always possessed, claim things are just peachy). If SCO Group hasn't filed for bankruptcy by the end of the month, I'd be surprised.
The cases against three New Orleans doctors charged with murder have been closed, after the grand jury refused to indict. I thank the grand jury for standing up against this ridiculous prosecution, and hope the civil suits facing the doctors are similarly dropped. As I've said before, if their was a crime here, it was abandoning the patients for weeks without food or water, not administering a drug, and as far as I can tell, the people charged were the caregivers, not those in charge of administering the evacuation. I'm glad the doctors no longer need to fear the criminal case.
Merv Griffin, dead at 82. If I were an editorial cartoonist for a medium-sized midwestern paper, I would be taking to my drafting table, and coming up with some conversation between St. Peter and Mr. Griffin, in which his heirs lose their inheritance when Griffin fails to respond to St. Peter in the form of a question. But sadly, I lack the quick wit to come up with the snappy dialogue such a cartoon hinges upon.
I apologize for the delay in updating the Wii/Jenga Confluence News of the Week (WJCNotW) feature, but I'd been waiting until I had more to report (one article does not a round-up make). But for now, this is all I got:

Physics nerfed for Jenga.

Consider that one more giant flashing red warning light over the Wii-Jenga enterprise. Of course, it could be that the physics aren't so nerfed as the blocks are hella heavy. Like steel girders. Maybe in the fantasy land of the Wii, the limits of our puny human muscles are no longer relevant, and Jegna Tower can rise high and strong, unfettered by our twitchy human nervous system. Truly Wii Jenga will be the 21st century Tower of Babel, a true testament to the majesty of mankind. Silly Nimrod, you can't reach heaven without a wiimote!

But all that said, I should make my standard disclaimer: I withhold judgement until I hold the shiny disc in my grubby little hands.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A profile of Porter Wagoner and his recent career revival, on the occasion of his opening gig for the White Stripes recently at Madison Square Garden.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Universal to sell DRM-free music. According to this article, Universal's "test" of DRM-free music downloads begins August 21st, and Amazon will be among the vendors selling the files; I guess this means the Amazon music store launches this month.

The one merchant excluded from this new DRM-free product is iTunes. Which seems silly to me. People will go to Amazon or the Universal website if they're looking to buy music by a major artist (advertising will let people know that 50 Cent, for instance, is available DRM-free at Universal's website), but for back-catalog stuff, I don't see people flocking to a new online merchant to buy songs. If something pops into my head, and I want to buy some music, I first check eMusic, then I check iTunes; if I knew the artist recorded on Universal, I would check the Universal site, but who knows on what label an artist records? Thanks to eMusic, I'm more aware of indie labels, but except for a few huge acts, I don't know one major label from another. If people don't find it DRM-free on iTunes (or at all; if I was Apple, I'd consider pulling Universal's catalog, to make them rethink their stance), they'll download it illegally (or, if they're like me, hit up their local library).

To be fair, though, I should thank Universal for keeping the price at 99 cents. Which is actually an odd decision; iTunes Plus has given the labels the variable pricing they've been begging for, sort of, and now the largest label is throwing the gesture right back in Apple's face.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lee Hazlewood, dead at 78. eMusic has his last album, well worth a listen, and also has an interview with Hazlewood (I don't think you need a subscription to read the intereview).

I uploaded the new album to Imeem, but it's not streamable, so please settle for some older stuff (I included some songs from the new album at the end, in case they're streamable in the future):

I recently learned of a service called, which will purchase items like computers and iPods. I initially found out about it from a Circuit City e-mail, offering store credit, but in checking out the site, I saw they also offer cash payments through Paypal (and by getting some price quotes, it appears they pay the same whether you receive store credit or cash). I have an old iPod Photo that's been gathering dust for some time, so I got an estimate, and saw that they would pay me $113.60 for my iPod and some accessories. I printed out a pre-paid mailing label and sent in the unit.

They received my unit on Friday morning, and today I got my revised estimate. Instead of $113.60, I'm getting $76.20. They say the earbuds are not in resellable condition, which is probably true, but that would be the case of virtually every set of headphones they receive (if memory serves, including the earbuds added about $6 to the total estimate). But most of the drop comes from dropping the condition from my stated condition of "fair" to "poor," because "unit shows significant signs of use." Yeah, it does, that's why I said "fair." It has some scratches, so I listed it as "fair," defined on the site as "minor scratches but working," which seems a accurate description of what I sent them. So now I'm annoyed, because while a $113 payment made it worth my while not to sell the iPod on eBay, I'm sure I could have done significantly better than $76.20 on my own. Of course, I've had my new iPod about nine months now, and I never bothered selling the old one, so I probably shouldn't complain too much. But I don't think I'll sell anything else to, and I certainly wouldn't recommend them. I'm especially leery after getting a price quote on my Gamecube, and getting an estimate higher than what the units currently go for on eBay. I think overpromising and underdelivering may be their modus operandi.

One other thing troubles me. They say I will be paid in 7 calendar days, and that "if a discrepancy in verified values is found within the next 7 days, another copy of this email will be sent to you with updated values." I have a suspicion they are selling the iPod on eBay now, and if they don't turn a profit, they'll create a profit by cutting my payment. But maybe I'm just being paranoid; time will tell.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I meant to post this some time ago, but with Comic-Con, it got lost in the shuffle. I apologize for the delay.

I attended the grand unveiling of "The Effulgence of the North," the new panorama on display at the Velaslavasay Panorama in Los Angeles back on July 21st. I had been eagerly awaiting the evening, as well as the chance to flee up to Los Angeles for a day and unwind. The experience was not what I thought it would be, but I had a fine time nonetheless.

After some other stops in L.A., I arrived at the Panorama right as the event was starting. As seen in the picture above, the Velaslavasay Panorama is in a converted movie theater. The back half of the auditorium is where the stage for the panorama was built, which leaves the front half of the auditorium available for presentations, with a bit under a hundred seats, I'd reckon (I'm bad at reckoning, I should note). The theater isn't much to see on the inside, with bare, unadorned walls, and a very small lobby, containing a shrine to their previous location (that red dot atop the theater is the cherry that topped their previous location). But it's nice that the space is being put to use, for an art form even more archaic than the silent films for which the Union Theatre was built. I got one of the last seats, and their was a substantial standing room crowd, in addition to what was outside (I didn't have time to see the garden before the show started). That was probably my main surprise of the evening: There were a hell of a lot of people in attendance. When I did go out to the garden, I could barely move, and quickly gave up on the Bavarian food and went back inside. The crowd cut into my enjoyment slightly, but I am happy that the grand unveiling event was such a huge success for the institution, and hope it bodes well for their future.

The entertainment for the evening was overseen by Alpenhorn virtuoso Loren Marsteller. If I learned nothing else from the evening, he taught me that the curve of the alpenhorn is natural, with the alpenhorn crafter finding a tree naturally curved from the pressure of snowbanks on mountainsides. He played briefly, before making way for Tony Hartenstein, Yodeler and accordionist, who performed at the New York World's Fair of 1939. He was quite a hoot, and the crowd really enjoyed his performance. (The pictures I took of him didn't turn out so hot, but you can see a picture of Herr Hartenstein here).

The centerpiece of the evening's schedule was a lecture by Prof. Erkki Huhtamo. This was quite interesting, but probably went on a bit too long. The first half of the presentation was a more scholarly lecture about Albert Smith and the moving panorama Albert Smith's Daring Ascent of Mont Blanc, which was quite interesting, and pretty funny. While Albert Smith regaled crowds in 1850 with his climbing exploits, his drinking exploits during the climb seemed more interesting to this crowd (he invented a game, while climbing Mont Blanc, in which he and his fellow climbers would throw some of the copious bottles of alcohol in their provisions over the side of the mountain to see which would reach the bottom first; Smith had to be dragged up on the final ascent in a drunken stupor). Huhtamo followed the lecture with a magic lantern presentation, intended, I presume to lessen the disappointment that the actual moving panorama of Smith's exploits is no longer extant.

While I enjoyed Huhtamo's presentation, I was relieved when it was over, as I was eager to go outside and see the gardens and get a pretzel or something to eat. That's when I realized just how crowded the place was; I decided to go see the panorama, since that's why I was there, and then give the outdoors portion another chance.

I waited in line fifteen minutes or so to see the panorama (they were letting in about ten people at a time, to keep things manageable), and then I ascended the spiral staircase which led up to the viewing platform, surrounded completely by "The Effulgence of the North." In reading about the history of panoramas, I fell back on the familiar notion of the sublime in understanding their appeal, and expected the painting to evince a humbling force on the viewer, due to its awe-inspiring scope. So I was a bit disappointed and underwhelmed when I first emerged atop the staircase. The panorama is recessed a few feet from the viewing platform, and from that, combined with my height, it felt that, if anything, I was dominating the panorama. But as I continued to look at the panorama, I came to realize that it was my expectations, and not the painting, that were flawed. Rather than being imposing and awe-inspiring, I found the panorama quite peaceful. My attention tended to wander away from the towering icebergs, and instead to the vast ocean. There was a minimalist charm to the whole thing; my least favorite portion of the panorama was the busiest, where the depiction of the aurora borealis really failed to make an impression. There was a 3-D element to the display, with iceberg sculptures and painted ocean giving a depth to the display; a necessary touch to accent the immersive experience, even if it reminded me a bit of Sea World's penguin encounter. A soundtrack adds the cracking of ice, and changes in lighting simulate the passing of time, and encourage the viewer to focus on different aspects of the panorama (though I enjoyed lingering on the darkened spaces).

Overall, I was very impressed with the craftsmanship, and found the panorama a rewarding, tranquil experience. I ended up lingering in the viewing area for a good fifteen or twenty minutes; had I not felt guilty, knowing the long line to get in, I would have stayed longer. Finding that the crowd outside had not abated, I left immediately after, and sadly did not get my photo taken as an old-timey mountaineer (society's loss, I reckon). If you find yourself in the area, it's well worth a visit. I don't know that I would make a special trip just to see the panorama, but in the past, the Velaslavasay Panorama has hosted some very interesting events in keeping with the Victorian appeal of the artwork, and with the official opening of their new location, they are now even more suited to host no-doubt enertaining spectacles.

I somehow missed this one: Michelangelo Antonioni, deat at 94.