Archive for the ‘Thought Objects’ Category

Slow News Day

Posted by Arlo on Jan 30, 2007 under Thought Objects

A Young EagleIt’s Sunday morning.  Oksana is at work on her MBA class – I’m asleep on the couch after misjudging when to get out of bed – when the power goes out.  Her homework on hold, she joins me in napping on the couch.

Yesterday, I read in the paper that the cause of the power outage was an eagle flying into a power substation.  The eagle had been carrying a “deer head,” scavenged from the local landfill.

Today must be a slow news day, because the story has been picked up by the AP Wire and is making the rounds online.  I’ve seen it on at least two popular blogs.

Why does this fascinate people so?  Is it because a bald eagle fried?  Are people imagining that it was hauling the equivalent of the deer bust you’d see mounted above the mantle in someone’s den?  Or is it just a slow news day?

Actually, I think it has more to do with the Alaskan mystique.  For the people who live here, Alaska is pretty normal.  With only 30,000 people, Juneau’s small by Lower 48 standards, but that doesn’t mean we’re the frontier town that resides in most people’s imagination.  No igloos, dogsled teams, or rampaging grizzly bears here.  No friendly moose roaming the streets, at least in Juneau, a la Northern Exposure.  Tourists fresh off the cruse ships may not bat an eye at a Hummer driving down the road — it might fit in with their preconceived notions of an Alaskan vehicle — but I think most would do a double take when one of the local Dodge Vipers passes by.

Sure, their skewed perception of Alaska does have some basis in fact.  Salmon, halibut, and king crab practically jump into our frying pan, waves from calving glaciers are a real cause for fear and panic, humpback whales frequently collide with boats, hungry bears break into homes for food, the aurora borealis is out every night, we never see the sun in winter, and bald eagles fly off with the pets and infants of the unwary.

Yeah, actually, not so much.  But tell a tourist in the street that you live here, and they’ll probably ask you about one of those things.  And where they can exchange their American dollars.

When I heard that an eagle was the cause of our power outage on Sunday, I mentally shrugged and moved on.  Happens all the time.  Take a look at the Alaska Electric Light and Power website:  Eleven outages in 2006 were caused by “animals;” many previous incidents are listed as “Bird,” “Squirrel,” and one rogue “Raven.”  (It looks like they stopped specifying the type of animal sometime in 2003.  You can bet that at least some of the “animals” listed now are “eagles.”) So why haven’t the AP Wire and the Blogosphere run with this story before?  Maybe it’s the deer skull.  My vote’s on the slow news day.

The Resolution Revolution

Posted by Arlo on Jan 3, 2007 under Thought Objects

New Year's Eve, 2002, Cusco PeruHave you heard of NANOWRIMO?  It’s the silly acronym for the National Novel Writing Month website.  The idea is that every participant attempts to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  From their About section:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

Wow, blockquotes work weird with pictures.

Anyway, they go on, describing their vision, but I’m bothered that you never see a disclaimer.  “NaNoWriMo: Pushing people towards disillusionment because they can’t even follow through on writing ‘crap.'”

Oh to be sure, there are some that finish writing their crap.  12,959 of 79,896 people over the past four years, if my non-scientific tabulating of their authors page is correct.  That’s 66,937 failures, though, or about an 84% failure rate.

I’ll bet that’s on par with your typical New Year’s resolutions.

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Posted by Arlo on Oct 1, 2005 under Thought Objects

This is the only kind of spoiler that doesnWarning: Depending on your tolerance level, this post could contain minor spoilers for The Island, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Flightplan, Terminator 2, Red Eye, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, uh, possibly World of Warcraft… and somebody’s car, I guess. Seemed only fair to warn you.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about spoilers. For hours at a time. Really.

A few weeks months ago [I’m late in posting this entry], the Sci-Fi channel made the purchase of my HTPC completely worthwhile with just three blocks of programming. They aired the entire first season of Battlestar Galactica, the entire first season of Stargate Atlantis, and the entire eighth season of Stargate SG-1. Three days in a row, 7am to 2am, the little PVR in my media PC wrote episode after episode to its hard drive.

When all was said and done, I had literally hundreds of Gigabytes of new sci-fi programming. But there was a problem. I couldn’t leave it all on the HTPC because the software would automatically start removing programs to make way for newer shows. I thought about watching them on at my computer desk, but it didn’t have the most comfortable seating arrangement. The obvious answer was to burn them all off to DVDs – especially since they were already encoded as a decent-quality MPEGII stream.

If I was going to archive them to disc, I wanted to make sure that the quality remained high. Granted, there was nothing I could do to get rid of the Sci-Fi logo imprinted over each episode or, more annoyingly, all the little promo bugs they threw up (“You’re watching the SG-1 Marathon!”), but I could at least edit out the commercials. Next step: Find a program that would allow me to do that without a multi-hour recompression of each episode.
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Posted by Arlo on Jul 4, 2004 under Thought Objects

Artist's rendition of Cassini from [] (25k image)There’s been a lot of hoopla in the news lately about NASA’s probe, Cassini-Huygens, and its visit to Saturn. I grew up reading science fiction novels and I’m fascinated that in our current exploration of Mars and Saturn we could be on the verge of discovering life (albeit of the single-celled variety) on other planets and moons in our solar system. If a discovery like that is verified, I can only hope that the public consciousness will then latch onto what might be out in the near infinity beyond.

Despite working in a department that actually rebroadcasts the NASA channel; I regrettably have very little time to pursue all the latest news of their findings. Still, the bits and pieces that I catch online and on the news are intriguing; what’s more, they sparked a memory I had of doing some research on the Cassini probe back in 1997 while I was still in college.

This is where being an amateur archivist pays off. I was able to dig up an old CD-ROM backup of the screamin’ 90Mhz Pentium (with 16MB of RAM, and an impossible-to-fill 730MB hard drive, baby!) I had throughout my college career. Written for Freshman Comp. (taken in, yes, my senior year), this is an unexciting, compare-and-contrast, research paper, but I thought I’d post it here for nostalgic purposes and for a look back at the NASA hoopla of seven years ago.
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Stick It Up Their BUTT Day

Posted by Arlo on May 19, 2004 under Thought Objects

Stick It Up Their BUTT Day!!!1 (25k image)Hey, did you know that today, May 19th, has been formally declared “Stick It Up Their BUTT Day?”

What? You haven’t heard? Come on, it’s been formally declared and everything! By who? I think it’s a Hallmark holiday, let me check…

No, wait, look at that. It’s just an e-mail chain letter that’s been going around! Let’s take a look:

From: Lourdes Paepke
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2004 10:51 AM
Subject: FW: Don’t purchase gas on May 19

Hey, everyone. We all hate chain letters, but lets try and pass this one around, and also do it!

It has been calculated that if everyone in the US did not purchase a drop of gasoline for one day, and all at the same time, the oil companies would choke on their stockpiles.
Hahaha. How great would that be? Lets see how THEY feel!

At the same time, it would hit the entire industry with a net loss of over 4.6 billion dollars, which affects the bottom lines of oil companies.

Therefore, May 19th has been formally declared “Stick It Up Their BUTT Day” and we’re asking all of you not to buy a SINGLE DROP of gasoline that day!

The only way we can make any kind of impact is if you forward this email to as many people as you can, and as quickly as possible.

Waiting on the administration to step in and control prices is a long game that we’re going to have to pay for in the end. Take some control, and make your voice heard!

We can make a difference. If they don’t get the message after one day, we’ll do it again, until they do!

So do your part and spread the word. Then, mark May 19th on your calendars. Even better, put a post-it in your car reminding you not to buy gas on May 19th!

It’s time to say enough is ENOUGH!

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin. Okay, how about we start with a little thing called “credibility?”

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Posted by Arlo on May 4, 2004 under Thought Objects

Michael Maas in all his glory (25k image)Mr. Michael Maas has been soapboxin’ lately in his blog about a new site he stumbled across called Songfight! I thought I’d weigh in with my own opinion as an impartial listener.

The Songfight! formula is simple and strangely appealing: Each week the webmasters-that-be post three hypothetical song titles and open the door for anyone to submit a song with the same name. Writers have only a week to write, compose, record, and upload their song before the voting begins. When the deadline passes, the discussion, reviews, and criticisms (constructive and otherwise) begin to gather in the forums. Eventually votes are submitted and tabulated and, by the end of the next week, a winner is declared and is subsequently showered with the eternal love and adoration of the selfless Internet community. Or something like that, anyway.

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Parlez-vous Usted English?

Posted by Arlo on Oct 8, 2003 under Thought Objects

I like science fiction. I’m hooked the way lonely housewives are addicted to romance novels and the Lifetime Network. I’ll watch the movies, I’ll quickly commit to a season of episodic television, I’ll read the novels and the short stories. I doubt there’s any one reason why I’m drawn to fantastic descriptions of utopian or dystopian futures, rather it’s probably the same combination of events in my youth that nurtured my fondness for hi-tech gadgets, comic books, and computer games.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the big conceits of sci-fi – interspecies communication. For each movie, show, or book there is usually a God-like device inserted to enable the author to get past the language barrier. Douglas Adams imagined the improbable Babel Fish (appropriately adopted by Altavista search engine geeks as the name for their web page translation tool), but it was Star Trek that introduced The Universal Translator into the public conscience.

Whatever the contrivance, the intent is the same: To shelve the language barrier in deference to the story being told. It’s understandable. As a viewer, can you imaging watching every sci-fi story with a realistic alien language barrier? You would either have to read a lot of subtitles or miss out on half the story. Of course, if written well, the process of communication barriers could be very interesting – but how many authors or scriptwriters have the ability to create entire languages while telling a compelling story?

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