Archive for January, 2007

For Great Justice, Take Off Every Zig

I sent a few hours this morning wandering around the United for Peace and Justice rally and march. It was entertaining to see the varieties of different people that were out in opposition to the war. There were guitar playing hippies that were likely on the Mall 40 years ago protesting Vietnam. Black-clad anarchist teenagers with their faces covered, waving somehow angry looking flags. The hip-hop contingent holding a freestyle competition with an anti-war theme. A troupe of very peppy young girls dressed all in red who danced and sung their way through the crowd.

Unfortunately the camera that I recently stole only has it’s default 512mb card, so I wasn’t able to take many pictures. I did get a couple though.


These were the cheerful dancing ladies in red. I had hoped to see a meeting between them and the 20 or so pro-war demonstrators, but the police had those folks cordoned off. Probably best given the invectives that were being bandied about.


It wouldn’t be a demonstration without signs. I thought mine was entertaining, but nothing like Ben’s “Another Porn Star Against the War”

Free Hugs

Ben availed himself frequently of the free love being offered. This particular fellow visited everyone in our group and saw that we all got a little action.

The Crowd

There were quite a few people out, but it was hard to get a sense of the size since they were spread over five or six blocks of the Mall.

When the Saints Go Marching

Once the march around the Capitol started though, you got a sense of the enormity. This is the beginning of the funnel and there were about this many people walking by continually for an hour. The only real number that I’ve seen so far is “less than 100,000.”

It was interesting how everyone was there to join in a common cause, but there were still lots of behaviors to establish an individual identity in the crowd. I liked it because as much as it made it a unified statement to some external group, it was an entertaining spectacle for the folks participating. I also realized a certain reluctance on my part to really join in. I’m still doing a pretty jaded bit. I think it really started to set in with the re-election of Bush. The starving African children and more recent gay-marriage bans have helped keep it in place. Do many of the rest of you feel fundamentally out of touch with the pulse of the American populace? There were lots of people chanting “This is what democracy looks like” today. I wish that I believed that.

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For those in DC, the performance of King Lear by the Classical Theatre of Harlem at the Folger Theatre is an evening well-spent.

I was only vaguely familiar with the story and André De Shields performance as Lear really helped draw me into the story. It is frequently difficult to deliver Shakespeare without it seeming performed. I thought that De Shields did a good job of effectively conveying emotion into a very complex character. My favorite though was Ty Jones as Edmund. The emotional depth of the character is more limited, but what there was he swam in. I really enjoyed his relish at being bad. ☺

Alfred Pressier’s interpretation of the play was a little non-traditional. The costuming was more Middle Eastern than the little bit I remember from the bits Lawrence Olivier’s performance I saw years ago. The most striking aspect though was the energy and physical presence of the performers. The entire cast moves with a sense of power that I am more accustomed to seeing in Cirque du Soleil than in Shakespeare. The athleticism of the actors was readily apparent as the jumped and climbed and fought their way through the play.

I think that some might be set off by the level of energy and pace of the show. I liked both it and Pressier’s use of a set of moving risers to alter the set through the course of the performance.

I also spent some time discussing the “complete misrepresentation” of McK’s views in my post yesterday with her shortly before I went to the play. As such, issues of race were still playing in my mind as I watched this predominantly black troupe. The most prominent white actor was Danny Camiel as the cuckolded and dominated Duke of Albany. I thought it was also interesting that with the deaths of Lear, Regan, Goneril, Cordelia, Cornwall and Gloucester; he will likely be the one to end up owning most everything. ☺

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Am I Racist?

Back at Tech, I went to hear a researcher from UT talk about gender and society. I don’t remember his name or the subject of the talk, but he opened with an anecdote that I’ve contemplated from time to time over the years:

“I look out over this crowd and I am reminded of my times back in college. From my gray hair you might guess it’s been a while. I was in college back in the ’60’s, and it wasn’t exactly like you see in the movies, but it was something interesting. Many of us felt as though we were part of something special; that the world was changing and we were a part of that.

“We used to have groups of people who would get together and just talk about stuff. Sometimes there was a book, but alot of the time the conversation just meandered. I remember being your age and being in one of those discussions about gender. One of my friends turned to a black girl and said, ‘our struggle as women unifies us. There are lots of different problems with the world, but we can connect in the common ground of our womanhood.’

“Her friend responded, ‘No. That’s a nice thought, but when you get up in the morning and look in the mirror you see a woman. When I look in the mirror, I see a black woman.’

“It was at that point I realized that when I get up in the morning and look into the mirror, I see a human being. The thing about privilege is that it’s invisible. Everyone else has to define themselves in relation to it.”

I’ve been thinking about this in the last couple days because I’ve been arguing social issues with McK and one of her central points of opposition to my points is that I am a passive racist.

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WTF Mate?

I find it interesting that the ONDCP is running a set of ads that I’m pretty sure were produced by someone blazed out of their mind. My favorite is the one where the stoner guy gets dumped for an alien.

This new set particularly emphasizes the dangers of being a stoner loser. Start getting high and your respectable friends will be disappointed in you. Eventually you’ll be all alone with only the devil weed to keep you company. I think it is still a strong enough image in our society to use with some effectiveness, but these ads are a really weird way of doing it.

They’re just an interesting change of pace from the “if all you friends jumped off a cliff” tact that the last ones used. Perhaps they simply realized that yes, the average 15 year old would be more than happy to follow their friends off a cliff.

At the reunion in Cookeville I was talking to someone who works with high schoolers and found it really interesting to hear him use the exact same term to describe them that my mom, a high school teacher, has used: “entitlement.”

We’re America. We consume. That’s sort of our thing in the international arena. We consume stuff and get into wars. Well, our kids consume and they don’t even have to go to a job to get what they want. The problem that I’ve heard described by people who work with them is they’re not accustomed to putting forth effort. It is too easy to just keep coasting and doing whatever you feel like until you crash.

I’m fine with drug education, but it needs to be education. Put the 45 year old McDonald’s fry cook on the TV talking about how he spent his teens baked out of his mind and never graduated from high school. Put the EMT on talking about having to hunt through the bushes to find the severed leg of the drunk dumbass that went over the divider. Put the 30 year old meth head with no teeth and looks 60. Get these people to tell the real stories of the real world and what happens if you don’t get your shit together.

Don’t tell me my dog is going to be disappointed in me. Don’t tell me my girlfriend will leave me for an alien. Don’t even tell me my life will go nowhere. I watch TV. I walk down the street. I know that tons of people with jobs drink and I’m pretty sure some of them get high. Their lives didn’t go to shit, why is mine going to? All that needs to be done is put someone on the screen that people identify with who can give a realistic story explaining how not learning moderation can leave you miserable.

Moderation would be a harder message to sell since teenagers are pretty much retarded.

I was thinking about an argument for my teenager when I, inch’allah, have one someday. We have reduced culpability for crimes for minors. We have special laws governing their behavior. We essentially say that they are not complete people capable of making decisions for themselves. We’ve had lots of second class citizens through the years in America, blacks and women foremost among them. As history progressed, some people from these groups made it into the mainstream and always some stood up and spoke for their downtrodden brethren. Well, with teenagers pretty much everyone makes it into the mainstream and you don’t hear many people clamoring against the plight of the downtrodden teenager. Could this perhaps be because most people recognize that the man was right and they actually were retarded?

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It’s Good to Be King

Here’s an interesting exercise… Go someplace relatively cheap, like a drug store or a gas station, and imagine yourself for a brief period a member of the local royalty and this store a part of your demense. Walk the aisles knowing that you own everything and anything you would like to take is already yours. Being royalty, you are incredibly sexy and you can also eat anything you like without fear of the repercussions.

There’s nothing like the face of a kid that’s been coveting a certain toy when he finally gets his hands on it. There is something primal in the act of having something physical to hold onto that satisfies a want that you have. As we age we learn that it is shallow to get pleasure from the acquisition of material goods. If you’re an intellectual or focus on your spirituality or develop your professional life, you start to focus your values in those places: you respect learning or inner peace or status. Simple materialism gets left behind as an artifact of childhood.

Or, if you’re like me, there’s always a little banker in the back of your head looking at every purchase and telling you that you don’t really need it and to just go on. For company there’s a peppy blonde in spandex telling you that any food you buy will make you fat and every so often she casts a disapproving look as if to say, “I’ll never sleep with you now, pudgy.”

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I was reading the paper the other night and read an opinion piece by John McCain coming out in support of Bush’s planned surge in Iraq. With McCain as a presidential hopeful in 2008, it seems like aligning himself with the administration’s policies shows an optimism in their success I haven’t seen many other places.

I’m on another list where someone was critiquing the Democrats’ position as obstructionist. They said that Bush has a goal and a plan for accomplishing that goal. The Democrats have been doing lots of complaining and the population has been open to that since they are dissatisfied. What are their goals now that they have some ability to enact change?

The image that comes to mind is from a few weeks ago when I was deflating an air mattress. It had a little plastic clip on it that I inadvertently snapped off. I immediately clamped down on the valve, but there was nothing to do. I could keep the air in the thing and I could probably slow how fast the air leaked out, but I’d broken it. There was nothing to do but deal with that fact.

Was Iraq a mistake? It seemed like it when we were ignoring the international community and invading in the vain search for weapons of mass destruction. I really want to support my country. I’ve got a couple friends over there now putting their lives on the line to fight this war. I’ve not ever put my life on line for anything. I want to believe that they’re not taking that risk in vain.

What are they fighting for? To bring stability to the Iraqi government. Are they getting that done? From most of the news I read, no. Will they be able to get it done with another 20,000 troops?

I like the idea of Syria and Iran being involved. They’ve got the cultural connections to deal with this more effectively than we do. They’ve also got a pretty big stake in the civil war developing on their borders.

The last thing I was considering is how the American people would react if we just pulled out. Seems like the biggest effect would potentially be lots of Iraqis dying and some international ill will. We, as a people, haven’t seemed all that concerned about that to date. In the presidential election, I could never see, “you left lots of Iraqis to die” as a politically damaging charge to level against someone.

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I really want to make some lights blink. I think it would be amazingly cool to make little electronic gadgets and everyone knows breadboards and soldering irons are the sexiest bits of geek swag one can lay their hands on. ☺

I have been trying to break into this world for years now. I started back in college when Steve gave me this USB dohickey that went with his monitor and had a couple buttons for controlling volume and whatnot. I tried writing a kernel module to try and interface with it. The thing is, I’m pretty sure it’s broken. There is some initial setup stuff that it should do when it’s plugged in and I’m getting errors saying it isn’t doing that.

Attempt #2 was to do the USB-IR-Boy project. This is just a little sensor to let me control my computer with a TV remote. I’m currently stuck. I’ve got a firmware image for the microcontroller (μ), but I can’t get it to transfer.

Part of the issue is that the μ I’m using is the HC08 and it is less common in hobbyists’ projects than PICs and BASIC Stamps. There’s less support for it and many of the tools I am using are more than five years old (which is pretty old for software).

I’ve been using Spgmr08 and a simple programmer to try and flash the μ. I’m getting nothing and so I’m going to try the PKG08SZ software for Windows.

If that doesn’t work, I’m thinking I’ll dump the HC08 for the AVR. There’s a GCC port and firmware USB implementation that look like they would get me most of the way toward building my receiver. So far as programming, there’s a $79 starter kit that looks great to me.

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I didn’t want to post this little bit of the last one publicly:

1001 Good Songs: I have pretty much a DVD’s worth of good songs collected. I’m close to being able to send off copies

I decided with this one that I wanted to be able to take music suggestions from people online. I want to use the DVD as the initial draw to drive up traffic and so this project is currently caught up in two places:

  1. Cleaning up the MusicBrainz database so I can use it in tagging and to back the site:
  2. A tagging library to clean up my 190+ gb music collection:

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Life and Times

Last June, Brother B, facing the eventual end of his work on Gears of War, resolved to be more dedicated in his work on programming projects.

To Wayne, and myself he tabled the proposition of a productivity list where, sort of like a dieting support group, we would send regular status reports about our various projects. We gave it a shot and though weekly updates didn’t happen, there have been a couple hundred messages between the four of us over the last six months. Though the accountability isn’t all that strong, it has definitely been nice having people to send stuff to when I make progress on something and am proud of myself.

This last week we all revisited our project list from when the list started and covered where exactly we were on various things. I’m generally a spaz with the attention span of a ferret on crack and it was actually nice for me to look at something and see that though I do suck horribly at accomplishing things, I have actually made some progress. I want a nice looking portfolio site to show off the fact that I know my ass from a hole in the ground. It may or may not be responsible for helping me land a job, but it is sure as shit not going to to hurt.

This site looks identical to how it did when I wrote this. Wayne and I did register and his logo work has been going promisingly. The next bit for this one I am doing for work:

Getting Schooled: I want to at least get my masters and, if I can get into a good program, my Ph.D. I’ve got the problem right now of a strong interest in electronics, but insufficient experience to know if it is something I seriously want to pursue professionally.

I got the parts for this project and wrote a little code, but wandered off and forgot much of what I was doing. McK got me a subscription to Nuts and Volts for my birthday and I got a new issue a couple days ago. It inspired me to pick this one back up, but his time I’m writing down the concepts so than when I wander off and come back I can relearn faster.

Stories: The National Storytelling Festival is in Jonesborough the first weekend in October. It is a little expensive to go to the actual festival, but I want to bring some people down, ride the Creeper Trail, hang out at the cabin, go to Midnight Cabaret and maybe go spelunking. This project only has one real technical component: I want to use the cabin as a selling point and the site doesn’t really exist currently. This also relates to possibly renting the place in the future as well.

We did the trip, but I didn’t finish the site. There are all sorts of scripts and pages and stuff that I wrote as a volunteer that would be really useful to current volunteers. The problem it was all hand edited XML files and programs I ran. I’d like to migrate this into a CMS and I’ve got an authentication scheme I’d like to see if I could get to actually work. I think that this site would be reasonably popular (50,000+ hits/month) if I could get it working like I want. It is also my testbed for evaluating any CMS/publishing system.

This was the one I did nothing at all on. I want to play with a CMS idea and because of the size of that I’m leaving it until I don’t have a job as a distraction.

All in all, I did about how I would have guessed I would. I did lots of little bits, flitting from project to project, but not really finishing anything.

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