Sunday, January 22, 2012

The power of voice

First off -- apologies for the lack of updates and general slowness; I've spent all this past week attending and in transit to conferences with my day beginning promptly at 5am and ending at 9pm, which is an exercise that requires Zen-like endurance (such is the scholarly life!).  All yesterday was spent luxuriously doing absolutely nothing of importance or note, and today, with the exception of more reading, catching up, and the Ravens/Patriots and Niners/Giants game (which is certainly something of importance and note) will be more or less the same.

In any case, as we are well aware, SOPA has been effectively shelved.  Such is the legacy of politics; when a strong enough force has gathered (be it money from supportive donors, or a collective response of pissed off internet users), it has the ability to strong-arm legislators into their guiding (after all, isn't that the PURPOSE of a representative and congressman?  To, you know, stand by the interests of the PEOPLE?).  Those expensive lobbyists for the RIAA and MPAA must be fuming, and that they are brings me happiness.  But again, that such legislation was even under consideration and, at one point, held a majority support, means that this is only the beginning.  No doubt revisions will be made supposedly "amending the language and/or provisions", a useless throwaway term meant to ease opposition but will in the end be no less damaging to our online freedom.  A great victory for civil liberties that will make the supporters of SOPA rethink their strategies.

If only, oh if only, such vigilance and momentum were reached when NDAA was proposed!  (I would say the same for the Patriot Act, but it seems the momentum was tragically reversed to support it -- after all, as Goering stated prior to his Nuremburg trials, "...the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  That is easy.  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same way in any country." (emphasis mine).  Indeed it does, and how can anyone hope to combat such a pervasive idea?

In the end, however, everything is merely an insignificant speck of dust in an infinite universe:

Funny how that works, no?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick one for today

I'm sure we've all heard by now, but kudos to Google and Wikipedia for drawing attention to SOPA (try entering a search on wiki).  While the news the other day about the White House speaking out against SOPA was another victory, we nonetheless must keep up the pressure.  Until this piece of legislation is wiped from existence it will always be a threat, and the worst we can do at this point is become complacent.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's that time of month again

That's right, time for another semi-political rant.  Well, not so much a rant as it is a requiem, really -- effective today, Jon Huntsman has officially left the race.  Even though this was to be expected (he was polling at about the margin of error), I will miss his reasonable views on global warming and climate change, his policy on working with our foreign neighbors bolstered by his experience as a diplomat, and his tendency to not say things that would otherwise antagonize or mock the general population; he simply has no pull among the Crazy demographic (incidentally, which candidate does the Tea Party support?  Or should I be asking, what's a Tea Party?).  The one thing that has left me raising my eyebrow slightly is his extending support for Romney on his exit.  I would have imagined he would have chosen not to support anyone given his relatively radical views.  Oh well.  Maybe Huntsman/Colbert 2016?

Still on the topic of politics, I was replaying some old games today when it struck me just how they are on the verge of being eerily prophetic, not directly as in their exact storyline, but in the environments they set.  Consider the opening cinema of Metal Gear Solid 4 which I feel is one of the greatest video game monologues I've seen; skipping the more fantastic elements such as nanomachinery, advanced cybernetics, and self-regeneration, paramilitary corporations (remember Blackwater aka Xe aka Academi?)  and proxy battles aren't entirely fabrications at this point.  The other example that caught me off guard was in right in the beginning of Deus Ex; the second UNATCO soldier you speak with has a speech option where he says he wonders why they don't just wipe out the NSF, wherein JC will reply with "When due process fails us, we really do live in a world of terror."; my first thoughts were immediately of NDAA.  A bit further, when you interrogate the NSF leader, he says something along the lines of big corporations paying less in taxes than the assembly line workers on the floor.  I was a bit startled -- and this was a from a game that was released about 12 years ago!  Nanoaugmentations may still be a fantasy, but we may not be too far off from heading into the reality they perceived back then.

Anyway.  In other news, and because I'm listening to them right now, if anyone is in need of good weekend reading material and is familiar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (I'm curious as to who isn't), then I recommend reading Anthony Kiedis' autobiography Scar Tissue.  It's 400+ pages detailing the life of a rockstar, but it's a quick read (though you may find, as I had, yourself taking a break if only to refresh your mind and read something that doesn't deal with Kiedis doing drugs).  Best to read while he's not old and unsightly, like Axl Rose.

Finally, a reminder that lands untouched by suburban encroachment exist:

Alaska, '06.  You can see a boat and a house nearby.  Imagine life on a private island like that, but not the kind of Hawaiian paradise that's usually associated with living on an island.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I had much more to say about deeper issues, but I was honestly sidetracked by the Niners-Saints game (holy moley, what a rollercoaster) and so today will be shorter than what I had planned.

First: the increasing coverage of major companies (google,craigslist, and wikipedia, to name a few) expressing their objection to SOPA and threatening blackouts is certainly welcome news.  Not that it needs to be explained further why internet censorship is unjust, but the success here is the spread of information on the issue by showing visitors just how immediate the impact will be on their users if it passes; the result (and really, the first in a chain reaction) is that more users will contact their representatives voicing their disapproval, leading to increased pressure, opening up more opportunities for national exposure, and hopefully forcing legislators retracting their support for SOPA (and -- what do you know -- actually listening to their constituents!).

From craiglist's page on SOPA: Pfizer, Nike, Walmart, Dow Chemical, Tiffany, Chanel, Rolex, Monster Cable all support SOPA.  I can understand Comcast, Time Warner, ABC, but why would pharmaceutical, apparel, and watchmaking companies support SOPA?  "Because of lobbyist circle-jerking on Capitol Hill", while likely the most accurate answer, is not sufficient -- I am truly confused.  I guess I didn't know downloading minoxidil and overpriced women's apparel had gotten so out-of-hand.

Second:  Tahoe, '08:

I'm not sure which brilliant mind in human history thought to stand on a board and fly down a mountain with no regards to their safety, but I am glad.  The snow this season so far has been lacking in years past, so hopefully it'll pick up soon.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The ugly and the beautiful

By now, I'm sure we've all read the news about the marines urinating on corpses.  I won't delve into this much, as far too much debate about who's right and who's wrong has already taken place.  All I will say is that (and this is something that we all forget so often, no matter how simplistic and cliche it is!) generalizations, by definition, include outliers.  The extent of which these marines are an outlier can be debated all day; many of my friends are in the marines, and they are great people (conversely, I know many Muslim-Americans who are -- wait for not -- not militant!  The ability of some people to acknowledge one group of people while spitting on another is a true exercise in doublethink).

In less partisan news, one of my old hobbies which I hope to resuscitate soon is scenic photography.  All of my pictures I've taken that I feel are worth keeping were on a low-grade digital camera; next month, I will be looking to invest in a DSLR (looking at Canon lately; my friend recommends the EOS 5D Mark II, but it may slight be out of my budget).  Anyway.  Here's a shot of the Southern California taken...I believe when I was around the San Bernardino area?  I was visiting a friend at the time, about seven years ago, so it definitely has been awhile.  Southern California, for all its muggy smog and traffic, can look nice at night:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

5th Amendment misconceptions

Just a quick note before I head out (will catch up on updates tonight when I get back) -- here is a video I feel that everyone should watch.  It's a lecture given by a professor that explains why it is important to exercise the 5th amendment rather than talk to law enforcement.

The video itself is long (about 48 minutes) and the first guy talks fast, so it's a lot to process (best to have this video open in a new window while you do other things, like I usually do).  Regardless, he gives good advice on dealing with police, all of which is verified by an actual officer in the second half.  Link, opens the video in a new window.

In summary:
- if questioned by police, or brought in for questioning, be polite, but say you're going to exercise your fifth amendment rights; talk only to a lawyer.
- if anyone remembers the part in The Grapes of Wrath where Tom and the family are with Floyd in Hooverville, Floyd gives Tom advice on dealing with deputies: act "bull-simple" (i.e., stupid).  It was true back then, and it's true now.
- the whole idea is to avoid self-incrimination, hence:
- the one thing I wish the video had addressed would be getting pulled over (since, I imagine, this is much more common than being hauled into the station for questioning).  One of my buddies, when he was pulled over and asked if he knew how fast he was going, answered by saying he was going at a safe and reasonable speed, and repeated it whenever he was questioned.  Again, note his avoidance of self-incrimination (and bull-simple attitude, I imagine).  Honestly though, I don't know what the exact protocol is for being pulled over and I really wish I knew.
- you can be put in  handcuffs without actually being arrested or charged for anything.  Beware of scare tactics.

The majority of us probably won't have to deal with law enforcement, but in the rare instance where we will have to, this is a pretty good primer on what to do.  Stay legal, stay safe, and don't inadvertently turn yourself in.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Flight logistics and mechanical nightmares

Finally arrived home after a four hour layover; my first thoughts on reaching the airport and waiting for my transfer was imagining the flow of air traffic throughout the day.  Thankfully, here is a video which shows just that:

(note that at 2:05, there is a single plane coming from the east which loops due to inclement weather before suddenly vanishing)

In any case, it really shows just how far we have come in revolutionizing the transportation industry.  As if being strapped to a chair inside a giant box and flying hundreds of miles per hour thousands of feet above weren't amazing enough, just considering the complex coordination between air traffic controllers and pilots to ensure that each plane lands in a manner that is controlled, efficient, and safe is mind boggling.  In short: I used to hate flying (still dislike it, actually -- TSA is part of the reason), but now I have a better appreciation for it.

In more "oh, c'mon, it's barely the second week of the new year" news, I came home to a car that evidently leaks gasoline now.  Fantastic.  Initial observations lead me to the air filter, and upon closer inspection a fine mist of gasoline sprays from one of the vacuum lines every time the engine turns.  A bit of research tells me that the most likely culprit may be a clogged float valve, so tomorrow I'll have the honor of disassembling the carburetor and hoping that the float valve is accessible and easy to clean (I didn't even bother trying to pick it apart today.  I just came home, vegged out on greasy Mexican food and relaxed since I woke up at 5am to catch my first flight).  Ah well, a fight is a fight I suppose.  Have at you, 2012 (tomorrow, that is)!  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lots to catch up with

First off, apologies for the delay; tomorrow I'll be home and on a faster desktop instead of this tiny Netbook.  A netbook, will quite handy and less cumbersome, can only handle so much.  I've been looking into a good laptop for the future with a particular interest in a Lenovo Thinkpad tablet (just as pricey as it is impressive, it seems).

Today, the movie of interest will be The Devil Inside ... so a follow-up review will be in order after I see it tonight.  Of course being a movie about exorcisms it will be judged against the gold standard of exorcism movies, The Exorcist (never thought I'd use 'exorcism' so many times in the same sentence...).  If it follows the historic trend of horror movies using cheap scares (e.g., everything is dark and quiet when SUDDENLY a vase falls over and shatters!!), then meh, it'll be forgotten.  Who knows?  It may actually be memorable.  The last exorcism movie I watched, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, was decent, albeit drawn out due to the lengthy trial and litigation scenes.

Speaking of trial and litigation, this is an earnest warning to everyone to seriously reconsider law school if you were planning to in the future.  I follow a few other blogs which expose the employment forecasts for law school graduates and as dismal as the job market may be now (though it has improved in the last few months), the situation is much worse for law school grads.  The particular blog I follow is authored by a law school professor, who is part of a growing minority wishing bring attention to a variety of issues with law school (such as job opportunities, total debt accrued from tuition and living expenses,  a breakdown of reported employment statistics reported by law schools, etc.), an the news is not looking good.

Lastly, here's a really cool mashup that I enjoyed (available for download for free).  Many of the individual artists sampled I don't usually listen to or like, but the way it's put together is seamless and actually sounds great.  For the curious, this website breaks down all the samples used -- pretty impressive stuff.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Evolution of Cinema

I confess: I have a healthy and not-so-secret obsession with media that would, by today's standards, be considered terrible.  In fact, I love them.  My  hobby throughout undergrad was to find and share crappy film and/or crappy youtube clips from crappy film with my friends (who would, predictably enough, cringe and declare inhumane treatment).  Where others cringe, I laugh, clap, and celebrate life.

It's not merely the extreme campiness and poor dialogue that I enjoy -- it's the fact that they've taken campiness and poor dialogue to a new level of funny (in the world of humor, the line between good humor and good unintentional humor is extremely fine yet are separated by an entire chasm in that poor execution ruins the former but makes shine the latter).  Shockingly, I've never seen an episode of Mystery Science Theater; but from what I've heard, I'm sure I would fit in with it quite nicely?  Maybe?

In any case, today's gem of a bad movie comes from the Turkish rendition of Star Wars (Warning: 10 of the longest minutes of your life; over-the-top violence; gratuitous copyright infringement)

I've seen this many years ago; my friend just recently resent it to me as a grim reminder of how far we've gone as a civilization.  This one, I think, gets unfairly rated higher on my list because it's a foreign copyright of a US movie -- all foreign rip-offs of popular film fall in the so-bad-it's-good category.  There are many, legitimate US movies that try to take themselves seriously to some degree only to end up so-bad-it's-good (I'll cover some of these in the future as well; additionally, it need not be limited to movies, as there are plenty of video games across all platforms to choose from as well).

In other brief news, Bachmann and Gingrich are out of the race, and Gingrich allegedly has Romney targeted in some sort of scorched-earth attack in the future.  One can only hope.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Nothing deep or insightful tonight, as I'm all written out; instead, here's an excerpt from one of my favorite comics, Calvin and Hobbes :

Nevermind -- gotta get in one more quip:  this, my friends, sums up the education system quite nicely.

Second, here's a trailer of another one of those eye-opening documentaries that I like so much, this one talking about the processes of natural gas extraction in the US:

A commenter raised the issue of bias in documentaries: this is indeed true.  Bias exists in all media, news outlets, and, at in the highest level, in the upper echelons of legislation and politics (e.g., lobbyists).  The importance of documentaries, I feel, come from their ability to present information from a perspective we may not be intuitively aware of.  The important thing is for us to consider this perspective and reach our own conclusions on its validity.  Even then, documentaries  (in the video, 1:17 - 1:19ish shows a brief overhead view of the extent of the sprawl of the natural gas mining operations in the mid-west.  In the full video, it shows a map of one of the counties, which were near-completely marked.  This alone was enough to stop and make me think).  Anyway, this is a good one.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cleaning up, or; a belated yet sincere New Years resolution

Two realisations: First, much (though, not all) of my rather grim attitude can be directly attributable to my reflections on the political front.  Simply put -- it's ridiculous.  It's a joke, it's a headache, it makes you question humanity over and over, etc etc etc.  I watched a John Stewart clip the other day where he joked about indefinite detention for Americans; I couldn't even laugh at that because I was so incensed.  Yes, the politics is like a hydra wherein every terrible story or major gaffe you dismiss, several more inexplicably surface to taunt you.

Second: following the blogs of others has lead me to a (rather stupidly obvious) conclusion, one that I should have reached once I had bothered to clear the froth from my mouth -- there are more enlightening things elsewhere.  In particular, I've recently nostalgia'd pretty hard and re-exposed my roots as a gamer, which is just one avenue I could spend all day talking about.

So!  In the spirit of the New Year, I hereby profess to write less about non-headache inducing things like politics and more about the fulfilling pursuits I enjoy so much such as gaming, literature, music, health, academia and science, and documentaries.  Even just typing those out feels so much better.

Speaking of documentaries, the education-reform documentary I mentioned in another blog (but didn't remember until now) is called The Cartel.  Like Waiting for Superman, this documentary offers insight on the inner workings of school districts and the problems everyone assumes it to have (hint: the so-called lack of funding is grossly overplayed).

Another great documentary I watched earlier last week is Dive! (link to the homepage).  Without going into too much detail, this talks about just how much food is wasted, but not only in American households, but across groceries stores.  Check it out sometime -- it may even inspire you to go dumpster diving (I know I was tempted).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Spread your wings and fly

into 2012, nothing held back.  I can't say I'm any more optimistic about the year (and this is excluding any Mayan-calendar based doomsday predictions -- I know enough to see that an arbitrary ticking up of the year won't mean an instantaneous end to several millennia of human civilisations, no matter how much one hopes it).

I've recently watched (finally!) Waiting for Superman, along with...another documentary which I've forgotten the title; it dealt with the education system specifically in New Jersey, and, like Waiting for Superman, brought to light some of the inner workings of the Teacher's Union.  This is on top of the educational bubble in law school (though applicable to all higher learning in general) which I vigilantly follow, and the end result is a rather pessimistic prognosis.  Bonus: I haven't even touched SOPA and NDAA (and I refuse to discuss the GOP hopeful; this, I feel, may be a resolution which will find itself broken quickly, much like the resolutions of millions to work out and get in shape)! Hooray for humanity!

Regardless, my intuition has been a rather poor barometer of future predictions good or bad, so I will, like many others, simply play it safe and play the waiting game.