An Inconvenient Film

Coastal Carolina had a screening of An Inconvenient Truth tonight and we went to it. I’ve heard lots of people wax rhapsodic about it, so I had expectations set at a certain level. Frankly, unlike most people on my side of the political fence I just plain did not think much of the film. There were maybe 20 – 30 minutes of absolutely killer material, a fair amount of specious reasoning, and waaaaaaaay too much schmaltzy bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely zero doubts that global warming is real, anthropogenically caused, and that we are on the slippery slope to correct our ways before we cause irreversible harm. I want to be carbon neutral from a personal standpoint and am moving forward on that. I felt that this movie was a clumsy attempt to sell me something I’d already bought.

What did I think was the killer material? The factual parts. I liked the data from the core samples, the photos of glacial areas over time, the CO2 measurements. The parts I hated? Shots of Al Gore. Al looking at computers, Al backstage about to go on stage, Al looking out windows very concerned. Weepy personal stories. Trying to connect things that really aren’t cogent to the argument, like that tobacco companies and oil companies both spread FUD.

There were also giant missing swaths from the film. There were moments such as when Gore showed all the places on the globe that he had given that speech. So, here’s a question – what was the carbon footprint of all that travel around the word to give people speeches about how our lifestyle is contributing to global warming? I’m guessing quite high. Also, why did he hammer on the various technological and mechanical causes, but didn’t even really mention that the effect of the livestock industry equals or exceeds that of industry plus automobiles?

I have to say that I found the entirety of the film less motivational than Will Shetterly’s recent posts on the subject. In particular, the recent one about why he went vegan and is no longer flying when avoidable went a long way towards convincing me. When you have a topic as important as this, loading up your argument with manipulative tactics just weakens the whole thing. If the facts are on your side, present them as coherently and simply as possible then let it ride. Doing anything else makes it seem like you are trying to pave over weaknesses on your part.

So, my final analysis is that the film says the wrong things for the right reasons and should have been much better if they want to convince people of things that require action.

Levelate Me

Podcasters, if you do a show and particularly if you do interviews or multi-person, multi-mike shows, you need the Levelator. I’m running all my interviews through it nowadays and it makes a world of difference. When two people are not at the same level, this evens them back out and makes it all good. It’s free, so take it and use it. There’s just no real reason to have that 12 dB difference in levels between people in a show anymore. It just means you aren’t even trying.

Via Gigavox big wheel Michael Geoghegan comes a link to their own interview with Bruce Sharpe, the guy who built the Levelator. For those of you into the inner workings of RMS normalization, this is your thing!

Kansas Day

Ken writes about Kansas day and waxes slightly rhapsodic about the place. By coincidence, I just traded emails with one of my high school friends from Kansas yesterday, someone who found me via this blog, so I’ve been thinking about it too. I wasn’t born there and we left slightly before I graduated high school, but most of my real formative years were spent in a small town in northwestern Kansas and I think I’m the better for it. Happy 146th birthday, Kansas!

EGC Clambake for January 28, 2007

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for January 16, 2007.

I play a song from What Made Milwaukee Famous; I talk about money, the power of having it and the lack of power in owing it; I call BS on this “jobs that Americans won’t do” rhetoric that is only ever spoken aloud by very rich people who don’t need to do any job at all; I refute Madge’s refutation in an ever tighter feedback loop; I play song from Sufjan Stevens and take my leave of you, good sirs and ladies.

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To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5.

Links mentioned in this episode:

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Scoble On the Rampage

There’s an interesting debate heating up over at the Scobleizer. Scoble took some people (Engadget specifically) to task for not linking to him on his scoop about the new Intel fab and technology, choosing instead to link to the New York Times story of the same. On the one hand, it’s hard to feel sorry for huge-name bloggers not getting linked to enough for their tastes. On the other, I think his basic point is valid. He does appear to have info directly from Intel in his video no one else does which ought to make him a primary source in this story. There is something a little odd about bloggers choosing not to support other bloggers and instead give all their link love to organizations that hate them and do nothing but deny the value of blogging as a pursuit.

I like Robert and the one time I met him he was really cool and nice to me. I wish I could have seen him again at Converge South, but I blew that. In the last week or two I just subscribed to the Scoble Show, starting around the time he was posting the John Edwards videos. I haven’t watched any of them yet, but they are downloaded. Because of the differing consumption mode, I’m mostly caught up on my audio podcasts but nine full months behind on my video podcasts. I can listen to the audio all day at work and during my commute but the video can only be watched at certain times. On days when I eat at my desk, I typically watch videos then but I have to do the “Work safe” ones, so some of them end up getting turned off in the middle. I was actually hesitant to add another video podcast to my list of ones I’m not watching in a timely manner, but what the hey. Scoble, you’re in. When my external drive gets filled, though, a day of reckoning will come.

GTD Update, January Edition

That’s right, I’m cool. I’m spending my Saturday night blogging about GTD. Oh yeah! Here’s where I stand, because inexplicably people seem to be interested in how this turns out for me.

Two weeks ago I did my belated initial processing of my giant inbox. It made a huge difference in the tidiness of my office space and as expected, it radically transformed my experience while I am in there. Rather that being kind of stressed by piles of things that need my attention, I am able to work calmly without the free floating anxiety. I’ve been keeping up well with the Hipster PDA and have been using it to drive my priorities on a day to day basis pretty successfully. I adopted Susan’s idea of increasing my use of colored index cards. For projects that have several cards in the Hipster, I am now using the same color card for all of of them. Previously, I’d only used colored as blank separators between sections but this makes it much easier to find individual cards for those multicard projects.

I am still failing to do my daily reviews every day. I do maybe one or two a week. I have been successfully doing the weekly ones. Thus far, I haven’t let any major balls drop but the irregularity of the daily reviews is a source of stress. I need to got on that to keep the system working at peak. My original plan of doing it immediately after I arise – between starting coffee and pouring the first cup – and then maybe again when I first get home from work seems like a good one.

In the most recent podcast, I coined a term – “productivity priapism” much to the delight of a couple of easily amused listeners. I used it in the context of hoping my GTD implementation became so successful that it led to productivity priapism, starting to become productive and just not being able to stop myself. This morning I started to work on a portion of Super Secret Project X, something on which I just haven’t been making lots of headway. After I did the first small task, I did another and then another. Suddenly I found myself really happy and just cranking on stuff. The logjam felt broken and I got as much done on the project by noon as I’d have been content accomplishing in the whole weekend. This is what I was hoping from GTD, and I got my first taste of it. I hope to move up to full meals of it next.

The online GTD support group has had ups and downs. Several of us posted photos of our before and after inboxes into the Campfire chat, which helps in motivation and attaboys/attagirls as well as self-shaming when you don’t make much progress. We’re far from overwhelmed, so if you want to join up and share your GTD triumphs and tribulations, leave a comment on this post with your email. It doesn’t get published, but I’ll get it.

No let ups from this side, I’m hoping for much more cranking in the next week.

Phrase to Retire

“X called, they want their Y back”. When I hear anyone say this, what I think is “1997 called, they want their tired fricking cliches back, you uncreative boring yutz.”

The Chaos of WordPress Plugins

I love WordPress and part of what I like about it is the ecosystem of plugins that add value to the base system. I loved the same thing about blosxom when I used it and even authored a few plugins myself. However, WordPress either needs or the authors need to hold to a little standardization and guidelines on plugin development. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t predict where in the WordPress admin screen the preference for any given plugin will be. Some put it under plugins, some put it under options and some create their own top level menu entry for their own plugin. It’s not insane now, but is trending towards insanity. Can someone please bring some order to this UI chaos!

Science Fiction Authors, Revolt from Wikipedia!

Kathryn Cramer makes an interesting proposal to move science fiction author bios out of the Wikipedia space. Her main reasoning is that the SF field is highly interconnected socially, but Wikipedians frown on writing about people you know personally. Thus, the people with the best knowledge of the writers are excluded from writing about them. She got me with this bit:

After a brief experience with Wikipdia, its editors strike me as a pack of officious trolls whose main concern is to make sure that you don’t actually know the people you are writing about.

That’s similar to my experience. Although there is a lot to be said about the value of Wikipedia, the one time I got a glimpse into its governance, I was pretty shocked. When my bio was removed from there, the key question was whether or not Dave Slusher the podcaster was the same guy who did the radio show Reality Break in the 90s. The issue was solved when one of them concluded “that fact was not possible to determine.” Of course, the “above the fold” link from this blog (which hosts the podcast) to the radio show or the fact that searching in my search box turns up posts about me doing the radio show didn’t matter, that fact was not determinable. Umm, OK.

This is not in and of itself that big of a deal in my case, but it radically diminished any confidence I might have in Wikipedia. When the decision makers have such wonky ideas about what are and are not knowable facts, how can I trust it to be factual? This is different from the problem about whether the masses can write an encyclopedia that academics types have with it, but my problem is whether the people who make systemic decisions can be trusted to be making them well.

Certainly on the podcasting article I have seen bits injected that are completely erroneous, like a while back when it said that “Adam Curry is widely believed to have coined the term podcasting”, something that I was there for and know isn’t true. I suppose I could have corrected it, but then you get into the loop about people with personal involvements editing articles. So the theory is good but in practice you get this middle brow anti-knowledge bias, where it’s more important to be disconnected from the events of the article than know what you are talking about.

I think Kathryn’s factual secession idea is a good one. Let’s see where that goes.

Update: Kathryn has even more run ins with Wikipedia governance. She seems to be trying to engage harder than I ever did, since my reaction to similar stuff was to disengage and write off the project as being what it is. This feels much like it did in Usenet a few years back on rec.arts.sf.written when the focus of the group turned to gatekeeping and making sure the pro writers didn’t say certain things about themselves. When the energy turns more to guarding the door than keeping the music going, your party starts to suck hard.

She also notes that Wikipedians disallow citations to offline print sources as valid support. That is indeed nutty, that the offline world no longer counts in their virtual playground as a source of information.

So have the Wikipedian’s declared the death of print? Or at least that print doesn’t matter unless it’s on the web? Disallowing print sources seems to me clear evidence that some kind of collective insanity has gripped the Wikipedian Hive Mind. What could it possibly be thinking?

Like I say, Wikipedia is what it is. Take it with a deer lick of salt.

Mike Fisher and Goofaman Productions

I’ve been lucky to have just randomly met a lot of interesting people while living my life. This post is about a guy I met in a comics shop in Augusta GA when I was a teenager. His name is Mike Fisher and he’s the mastermind behind Goofaman Productions. For those of you who read The Comics Buyer’s Guide in the 1980s he is also the cartoonist behind 3D Pete. I keep up with him in fits and starts, sometimes going a few years between conversations.

Last summer when I still watched Attack of the Show, Chris Gore was doing his “DVDuesday” segment about things he picked up at the San Diego Comics Con. As he was wrapping up, he recommended a DVD of short cartoons from Goofaman Productions. I perked up and said, “Damn, isn’t that Fisher?” I went and checked the website and sure enough it is. I bought one of everything he sells. I have some of the issues of 3D Pete’s Big Orbit Comics from the mini-comic days so I figured what the hell, might as well try to round out the collection. I also have a bunch of XMas cards with Pete on them from years when Mike drew them.

Last night we watched all the cartoons on the DVD except for “A City of Flimjees”. We’ve seen that one before as Mike was nice enough to send it to us on VHS tape a few years back. I liked them all, but definitely the most recent one was the best. In general, year on year each one gets better which is what you want to see. I like the ones with the blue collar space prospectors and explorers. I’ve always had a soft spot for science fiction about people doing their futuristic day jobs. If you are a fan of Channel Frederator type cartoons, you will like these. In fact I’ve encouraged Mike to submit for inclusion in their show. We’ll see how that goes.

Mike has also done some artwork for me through the years, from the t-shirt design back when I did the comedy show for WREK almost 20 years ago to the logo for the Reality Break radio show. He’s done something for me for the upcoming “Super Secret Project X”, about which I’ll post more when your clearance level allows for it, citizen. I’m not shilling for Mike merely because he’s my friend, but because I dig his work. I’m a fan, paying customer and I highly recommend his cartoon collection DVD.

Timeline of Firing Sprint

I cancelled my new Sprint PCS service tonight. I’d had it for less than two weeks, and over the course of the evening decided I don’t want to be their customer. Here’s the timeline.

January 9 – We order new phones from Sprint
January 11 – We receive the phones. I test it out, and the microSD card doesn’t work right.
January 12 – I take it to a Sprint store. They send me to a place near the beach that repairs Motorola phones. The Motorola place tells me it needs to be sent back. We try to take it to the Sprint company store on Kings Highway. They tell us since we ordered it on the web we can’t return it via them.
January 13 – I call to order a replacement phone.
January 17 – 20 Every day, I think that will be the day I get the phone
January 22 – I get tired of waiting so I call for a status on the replacment

8:45 PM – I start the call by dialing *2 from the phone in question
9:00 PM – I talk to my first person. They ask for my cell number and password. They tell me something I never quite got about how the order for a replacement was cancelled until I pay. Since the initial order was covered with a credit card, I never understand this. This person transfers me to another person. They ask for my cell number and password. I go through about the same thing again. This person transfers me to another person. They ask for my cell number and password. I still don’t know where my phone is, what the status is, or what it is I’m supposed to owe.
9:17 PM – My cell phone drops the call. Around this time, we decide this is way too much trouble to try to be some company’s customer when they don’t seem to want my business
9:20 PM – I call back from the landline, straight to the Sprint Online Return line
9:35 PM – I talk to my first person of the second call. They ask for my cell number and password. I explain that the phone was defective out of the box and I want to invoke my 30 day guarantee. This person promises to send me a return label via email and transfers me to account services.
9:45 PM – I am connected to a guy with a Texas drawl. He asks for my cell number and password. He is the only person in both calls whose accent is easily understandable to me. I don’t want to sound ethnocentric, but at this point I’m relieved that I’m at least talking to someone on the same continent as myself. He asks why I want to cancel, and I give him about the same story I’ve typed up here. He asks what they can do to keep us with Sprint. I say that at 8:45 PM they had a shot but in the subsequent hour they’ve set about systematically making sure I don’t want the phone or their service anymore. This guy also promises to send us a return kit.

I had high hopes for both the Motorola RAZR and for Sprint. Now I have zero desire to have anything to do with the company. We’ll stick with Cingular a little while longer and possibly upgrade to new phone models later. Nice job Sprint, in under two weeks you turned me from an excited new customer to a sworn enemy of your company. The cell phone industry is an amazing place, populated by choices that are the least sucky. No one is ever delighted, we are all just trying to minimize our frustration and dissatisfaction. I am now staying with a provider that for calls made from our house over 20 minutes in duration drops 75% of them. Talk about damning with faint praise.

XMas Haul




XMas Haul

Originally uploaded by evilgenius.

I never did post about the stuff I received for XMas. I got some shirts and socks and other practical things, which proved to me that I am now old. Getting socks for XMas and being happy about it is a dead giveaway. My wife also gave me that massive all in one Bone collection. It is both fine graphic literature and a good arm workout.

My brother got me the balance of the stuff in that photo. He gave me the third volume in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series, as well as an Ask a Ninja shirt and a Tiki Bar TV tiki mug. You can’t see that well in the photo, but it has the Tiki Bar logo embossed in gold on the back. This is exactly what I was talking about the other day. Rather than charging a micropayment for your show, sell fans a nice fancy mug!

All in all, quite a good holiday in the material sense. I look forward to filling that mug with some silly drink they make on the show, and also to killing you soon.

Bitpass Shutting the Doors

Here’s another startup in the act of biting dust. Micropayment company Bitpass is shutting the doors. The only thing that ever gave me the slightest reason to want to use them is that Scott McCloud’s online comics and Telltale Weekly both used them. In fact, McCloud was involved in the company as an advisor. I guess the closing of Bitpass kind of cuts the legs out from under this argument.

There was a time that I thought micropayments were a pretty good way to go for online content. I’ve since flipped. I know think that rather than aggregating together lots of little payments from most or all of your fans, better to aggregate all your fans into one excited group that occasionally buys bigger ticket items. Rather than having every listener pay $0.10 per show, having 1% of them buy your t-shirt or paper collection of your webcomic or whatever may make you more money overall.

Recent Viewing

Since the holidays, I’ve seen a lot of movies. Here’s a capsule rundown of all the ones I can remember.

Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette. This is famous for having been made in iMovies for a few hundred dollars. It might well be the first feature film produced like a videoblog. It’s a harrowing documentary of his mother and himself. His mother had received shock treatment in her teens and was never the same afterwards. This movie is an examination of her mom and her upbringing, his relationship with her and the grandparents that raised him, and his coming to grips with his own homosexuality. Because he is young enough to have come of age in the camcorder age, there is footage of him and that he shot from his very early teens up to present day. At one point, while he was 13 years old he performs a monologue as the character of an abused wife. It was downright disturbing, as were big chunks of the film. However, the overall effect was kind of uplifting as his love for his mother continued unabated despite her issues and some actions that are pretty unlovable. Highly recommended.

Metropolitan. This was a recommendation from Reel Reviews. I taped it and watched it right at XMas time. It was not a poorly done film, but I never connected with it the same way Mike Geoghegan seemed to have. Part of it has to do with the fact that the upper class New Yorker characters were so far from me in both status and geography that I couldn’t quite hang with it. The poor kid protagonist who gets adopted by the group is the only one I could really empathize with. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. Neutral.

The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou. I expected to love this movie. I’ve seen all the Wes Anderson films and I think each one got better than the previous one. This one breaks that pattern. I think it’s the worst of the four. I really desperately wanted to love it. All the 70’s nostalgia touches in his films pull me right in, and I used to watch the Cousteau documentaries and recognized a lot of the esthetic in the set design. I love most of the actors in it, and yet the whole thing never quite gelled into anything more than some isolated funny set pieces. In fact, the trailer basically contained all the same laughs as the film in a lot less time. Pass on this one unless you are completist, but revise your expectations way downward.

Man in the Sand. This was a documentary about Billy Bragg and Wilco making the original Mermaid Avenue album, where they took unfinished lyrics from the Woodie Guthrie collection and wrote music to complete them. This project yielded my favorite Wilco song of their career, “California Stars.” It was an engaging film, with some interesting behind the scenes actions with Bragg and Tweedy. I’ve been listening to the Billy Bragg podcast, which I find quite interesting. This kind of fills out some of what I’m hearing on it, as well as a lot of stuff about Woodie Guthrie that I didn’t know. Most of it isn’t very good, the way he up and abandoned multiple sets of wives and children. As Bragg says in some concert footage “I’ve learned not to make any excuses for Woodie.” If you care about Bragg, Wilco or Guthrie this movie is worth watching.

The Beguiled. I’d never seen this film although I remember Dave Sim referring to it in Cerebus 20 odd years ago as the only kind of Clint Eastwood film he would be interested in. The premise is that a wounded Yankee soldier during the Civil War is rescued and taken in by the ladies at a southern girls boarding school. This film is an excercise in creepy tension and has way more actual suspense than the torture porn of the Saw franchise and all films of that scumbaggy ilk. In a lot of ways, this is a perfect counterbalance to his more macho roles of roughly the same time period, the later spagghetti westerns and the early Dirty Harry films. Rather than shooting his way out of trouble, he has to try to manipulate everyone around him which does with mixed results. Highly recommended.

The White Balloon. When I was at University of Louisiana Lafayette, they did a thing called Bayou Bijou where once a week they would show foreign and independent films. It skewed heavily towards french language films for obvious reasons. One of the ones they showed and I wanted to see but just missed was this film. It’s got about the thinnest plot you can imagine occupying an entire movie. A little girl on the eve of the Persian new year festival wants to buy a goldfish and drops her money. Seriously, that’s it. It’s really more of a long vignette than an actual film, but it does a great job of capturing the characters of modern day Tehran. For similar reasons to why I love Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis series, it’s very good to see these tales of ordinary Iranians living their lives. In the USA we are supposed to have an opinion of Iran as a whole based on almost no actual knowledge of the place. Like Satrapi said in her lecture here, “If you understood that we laugh and cry for all the same reasons you do, maybe you will find it harder to drop bombs on our heads.” Seeing the customs and silliness and the stuff of sheer Persian mundanity is highly exotic to me and I loved every second. Highly recommended.

Download Free Science Fiction

Via Bill Shunn comes this link to free downloadable science fiction. Some of the works (including Shunn’s novella “Inclination”) are available by following links on this page.

I actually wonder now that the ballots are a mix of traditional paper publishing (from magazines with ever declining circulations) and others are from online zines, does the easier availability of the online stories give them an edge in these voting situations amongst works of similar quality? Even when you can get copies of the paper sent to you, following links to Helix or SCI FICTION is lower friction and suitable for an impulse read.

One Billion Phones

Since the beginning of podcasting and videoblogging, I have heard this received wisdom about how important the cellphone market is to new media. “There are a billion cellphones out there, so you have to pay attention to them.” Now, I got a new phone the other day, a Motorola RAZR. I picked this model specifically because it can play videos and music. It was the best option at the low end of price scale (and the first time I ever got a non-free phone.)

And you know what? While it does play video, the interface on the phone really really sucks. At least, it sucks to play the video that you don’t buy from Sprint. The fact that it has two entirely different video interfaces – one for what you buy from Sprint and one for the video on your memory card – is indicative of a deep problem. There’s a third interface for music and maybe even a fourth. I haven’t really played with it, since the microSD slot was already broken within 24 hours of opening the box. Not an auspicious beginning with a new gadget. Via JD, here’s a story about how media on phones is underperforming expectations. Note that everything they are talking about is Big Machine Media, which I also have no intention of watching. I’m wanting to watch Strong Bad Emails and Ask a Ninja and Tiki Bar TV on the phone, not pay for bullshit from Fox that I don’t watch for free on my television.

Even though I’m not in the market for it, I know the excitement for the iPhone doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the fact that using cellphones should be easy, and for any task other than making a call the experience is routinely horrible. The iPhone buzz is an indictment of the usability of cellphones. We are sold these laundry lists of extra features our phones can do, and almost all of them are unusable in practice. I want a phone that I can believe the engineers actually used on a daily basis. I refuse to believe that anyone inside Motorola ever tried to use the alarm clock function in the V180 to wake themselves up.

In summary, I’m officially choosing to ignore all the cell phone proponents about how necessary cell phones are to new media until I see a model where one playing it is a better experience than having a tooth pulled.

Permalection

So we are two months out from the last election with twenty-two months until the next one, and 20% of the news I hear is about who is or will be running for president in 2008? Give me and my country a break. This is what it has come to now. We are in a permanent election cycle and as soon as one has been put to bed, on Wednesday morning we flip the year on the banners and keep right on going. That gives the whole democratic process a nice Survivor/American Idol type vibe and keeps everyone focused on the meta-process. This is of no use to the weary public, but gives the news machine more fodder to digest and poop back out.

The modern media loves nothing more than to report on the meta-story – which campaign is turning which wheels and why – and will always report that preferentially over meaningless stuff like, oh, what the candidate stands for. Having a talking head say “I think this will hurt their campaign” is the gold standard of this idiot style. Let’s analyze the derivative of the poll trends, who is rising, who is falling, oh what fun. Meanwhile, it takes a concerned voter hours of work to find out information like what the candidate plans to do when in office and what their record is. I can’t take it any more.

This is why I have turned off the cable news channels permanently, because they obsess over crap like this while avoiding actually reporting news of substance. Seeing (via the Daily Show) the piece Greenfield did about how Obama wears a suit jacket without a tie which he then pointed out was a similar fashion choice to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Good gravy. I wish there was something worse I could do than just not watch, like have a button that would occasionally send electrical shocks into the chairs of the people who write, present and approve this crap.