Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.

jan
01
2003

happy birthday, dear internet

Today marks an important anniversary for the Internet: 20 years ago, the ARPANET (predecessor of the Internet) switched over to the TCP/IP network protocol standard.

Not a very glamorous event, to be sure, but the switch helped make it possible for the Internet to support the vast amount of servers and connections it hosts today.

Wired has a story about the anniversary.

dec
30
2002

lotr: pervy hobbit fancier

There’s a wonderfully silly bit of Lord of the Rings fan-fiction going on called “The Secret Diaries,” written by Cassandra Claire in her LiveJournal. The series features a number of “very secret diaries” of various characters in “The Fellowship of the Rings” and “The Two Towers,” written with Bridget Jones-style flourishes. If you’re vaguely familiar with the characters and don’t mind slashy overtones, you may end up like me, giggling and sputtering while reading these stories. (From The Very Secret Diary of Legolas, Son of Weenus: “Am definitely prettiest member of the Fellowship. Go me!”)

On a related note, I finally got to see “The Two Towers” today. Definitely the dark, depressing, and foreboding entry in this trilogy, a la “Empire Strikes Back.” I thought it was a bit more action-packed and moved along better than “Fellowship.” But I think the dialogue and scenery were better in “Fellowship.”

dec
25
2002

merry christmas … of death

Tis the season for family angst … and, for some, mourning.

I’m in Tucson, visiting my family for the holidays. Current events are seriously depressing me.

Take, for example, the rather gruesome case of the Texas man who was struck by a semi on Dec. 22, his body parts scattered from El Paso to Tucson.

That same night, a student at the University of Arizona died in a hit-and-run when she was struck from behind while riding her bike near campus.

My mom is a labor-and-delivery nurse in Tucson, working the night shift at one of the larger hospitals in town. She comes home with a lot of sad stories. Monday night, she had a patient who’d previously had a number of miscarriages, and was pregnant with twins via in-vitro. At 20-something weeks, the babies were born extremely premature, and didn’t survive.

At Christmas Eve mass, one attendee fainted during the service and had to be carried out. After mass, an older man, probably in his 60s or so, collapsed from a heart attack, following the crowd out of church. He was walking just in front of me, and fell into a row of chairs at the back of the church. I described the scene to the 911 operator as other parishoners tried to help him (CPR, etc.). His wife stood off to the side, looking shell-shocked. I don’t know how things worked out; I left after the paramedics ordered everyone out.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Happy holidays.

dec
20
2002

risk management

The redesign for the GW Office of Risk Management, my first client site for George Washington University, went live yesterday.

The basic site layout was decided before I was brought on to the project. I did the design — essentially “prettying up” the wireframe — and populated the site templates with information.

I also got to use Cold Fusion for the first time. Nothing high-end or involving database admin work (although, with the amount of simple text changes the client requested, an admin would have been nice. With an admin, the client could have made their own changes). But I did learn some of the joys of CFIF / CFELSE statements in making the site / section navigation bars. I also built an HTML form which posted data to a Cold Fusion page, which in turn sent an e-mail to a contact at the Office of Risk Management and created a confirmation page echoing everything the user had entered into the form.

dec
18
2002

buffy 7x10 - don't believe the captions

In this week’s episode of Buffy, “Bring on the Night,” there were some interesting discrepancies between the closed captioning and the actual dialogue:

• In the first scene of the Slayers-in-Training in the kitchen, with Anya muttering at the sink, none of Anya’s dialogue comes up in the closed captioning — including her line “Actually it’s not blackened so much as ruined.” I’d still like to know what she was muttering.

• When the camera does the post-battle closeup on Buffy, at home recuperating from her run-in with the UberVamp, the Giles/Willow dialogue voiceover is completely different in the closed captioning than what aired.

As aired:

GILES

We could make plans, like we always do. But the truth is, Buffy WAS our plan. There is no backup.

WILLOW

Giles, she looks bad.

GILES

She does. I’m afraid there may be internal bleeding.

WILLOW

What does that mean? Will she—

GILES

Die? No, I don’t think so. I don’t know.

WILLOW

But what do we do if she can’t fight? If she can’t beat this thing?

GILES

We’re back at square one.

And as captioned:

GILES

Uh, her ribs are smashed. She should be hospitalized immediately.

WILLOW

Could she die?

GILES

Despite her healing abilities, I believe so. I won’t lie to you. I-I don’t know what to do in a situation like this. because there never has been a situation like this … which means we are back at square one.

the language of type

I’m working on a paper right now for my “Introduction to Communication, Culture and Technology” course. Due tomorrow. And of course I waited until the very last minute to start work on it.

Of course. :p

Here’s the current abstract for the paper:

As human societies have evolved, ideas and thoughts have been distilled and communicated via an oral language. Over time, this oral language has been further distilled into another symbolic form: the printed word.

Discussion of this evolution often leaves out an important mediator between the printed word and the reader: the typeface. As the written word is a visual abstraction of a thought or idea, so too is the typeface used to convey that word. Typeface itself is a symbolic form of communication, a vast range of symbol sets that convey the same letters of the alphabet, yet, in their individual nuances, themselves carry meanings.

Type and printing technology have come a long way since the Romans carved letters into stone and monks painstakingly lettered scripts on parchment. Despite the technological evolution, though, these earliest typefaces never disappeared, living on today as computer fonts that are still used routinely in printed communication.

This paper will attempt to evaluate the ways in which typefaces add nuance to the written word, looking at technological, historical, and cultural factors relating to typeface design and use that impact the ways in which readers interpret the writer’s message. How does the interplay of typeface and message, and the jumble of meanings attached to each, affect reader perceptions of the actual written content?

I will begin by looking at the history of printed typefaces, how type has evolved with time and technological change, and how certain typefaces have been “standardized” for particular uses or stigmatized based on past use. I also will look at the histories of some of the most commonly used fonts today — for example, Helvetica and Times — and show how these fonts were designed with certain goals in mind. I also will evaluate some of the prejudices and practices associated with the use of various typefaces, from the delineation of different “genres” of type to unwritten rules about their use (as well as the potential meaning conveyed by breaking said rules).

dec
12
2002

flooded

Mix one part rain, one part rapidly melting snow, and one part leaf-clogged drain, and you get … a very soggy basement apartment.

My landlord, Drew, called me at work yesterday afternoon to let me know that the drain had clogged and that some water might have gotten into my apartment. Then he checked out my apartment, and called me back to say that more than “some” water had gotten in. Thankfully, he’d done quite a bit of cleaning up by the time I got home. I don’t know that I would have wanted to come home to find the mess it was in. As it was, when I got home, my rugs were draped over the stair railing, some of my stuff had already been piled up on the furniture, off the floor, and the living room was pretty damp. Even the bottom of my couch, an inch or so off the ground, was wet.

snow7  snow7  snow7  snow7

(A little background detail: I have a one-bedroom basement apartment. The bedroom, at the back of the apartment, is carpeted, with a walk-in (also carpeted) closet. The rest of the apartment has tile flooring.)

So I got to work assessing the damage and clearing as much stuff as possible out of the bedroom and closet. While I moved stuff around, Drew used his shopvac to suck up some of the excess water in the carpet. Over the course of the evening, he made a good 4 or 5 passes with the shopvac over the carpet, taking it from “sopping wet” to “really damp.”

All told, the damage itself wasn’t too bad, and could have been a LOT worse. I had to junk my clock/radio/phone alarm clock (the phone part still works, but if I plug it into the electrical socket, the minutes audibly tick upward like seconds. it’s kinda creepy), a power strip, some phone cable, a few art supplies, and a couple comic book boxes (but not the comics! thanks to my obsessive comics collectorhood, all comics were individually polybagged).

While my carpet dries out, the rest of my apartment looks like some bizarro yuppie refugee outpost.

dec
11
2002

son of snow day

I’ve added some more photos from my “snow day” experience. These were taken the following day (Friday, Dec. 6), on my way into work.

snow7  snow8  snow1  snow2

ghost in the machine

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story by Jeffrey Zaslow on Nov. 26 about TiVo and Amazon.com users who were frustrated with the program/product recommendations each service’s system offered them (based on past orders), and how some users are trying to “fake out” the systems.

Though some users contend TiVo has sex on the brain, TiVo’s general manager, Brodie Keast, explains that the box is merely “reacting to feedback you give it.” Still, the machine employs algorithms — searching several thousand key details (favorite actors, movie and TV genres) — that leave some people wondering whether it is judging their predilections.

Mr. Karlsson, 26, says he “pre-emptively” found all the religious shows in his TV listings and used the “thumbs down” button on his remote control to tell TiVo he has no interest in them. (Giving three thumbs down is the best way to block a program.) After that, his TiVo recorded movies about creepy homicides. “They all have titles like ‘Murder on Skeleton Isle,’” says the computer system administrator in Cambridge, Mass.

He uses the “thumbs” button to tell TiVo he hates such films. He also orders cooking shows, which softens TiVo’s view of him. “I don’t want it thinking I’m an ax murderer,” he says.

I sometimes spend far too much time weeding things out of Amazon.com’s recommendations list for me, mainly because I know that if I feed Amazon more information about my preferences, it’ll churn out more accurate recommendations for me. I also realize, in the back of my head, that Amazon is using my preferences to market things to me that I would be more likely to buy, that my activity on the site helps them make recommendations to other users, and that they’re probably using my preference/demographic info for nefarious marketing/commercial purposes that I’m not aware of. But despite all this, the egomaniac in me likes the personalization, the “all about me”-ness of it.

What I think is so interesting about the users the WSJ cites is how they interact with these recommendations databases. They’ve developed a relationship with their technology — TiVo, Amazon.com — and have in some way imbued it with human characteristics. These users obsess about the recommendations not just because they don’t like the recommendations themselves, but because they don’t want TiVo to have some skewed idea of who they are.

On a related note, Wired has had some interesting stories by Leander Kahney about the “Cult of Mac” and the relationship between Mac users and their computers:
Baby, Friend, Pet: That’s My Mac (12/06) - Macintosh users associate human characteristics with their machines — and that’s one of the keys to Mac loyalty, psychologists and anthropologists say.
Fetishists Really Love Their Macs (11/18) - Some Apple devotees take their love for all things Mac further than others. In one case, a man fell in love with his PowerMac G3. “Sex toy” doesn’t begin to describe it.

dec
10
2002

photos of the month

Just pimping my own work…

The Arizona Republic’s “Photos of the Month” for November 2002 has just been posted. I’m Flash!designer!girl for the ongoing project.

(You’ll need the Flash plug-in to view the feature.)

lovely spam! wonderful spam!

Spam tops the news today at Slate. Not Spam in the “bane of e-mail existence” sense, but Spam in the “canned spiced ham” sense.

Apparently, sales are lagging for the once-popular luncheon meat, and Hormel’s trying to improve Spam’s image with a new marketing campaign. From the article:

Perhaps a meat product that is scrambled and pummeled by industrial processes into a brazenly inorganic geometric shape once seemed futuristic and exciting. But like a lot of things that once seemed futuristic and exciting, Spam now seems funny and maybe a little creepy.

Slate’s title graphic cracks me up. And, in the text links below, under today’s date, the link to some excerpts from Slate’s Fray messageboard: “Our readers explain how Spam is like Rita Hayworth.”

Spam, spam, spam, spam.

dec
09
2002

the 'truth' comes out at dow jones

This little item at Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews on Thursday was too … interesting … to pass up.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2002

Claim: Dow Jones CEO caught off guard by angry staffers

New York Post

Peter Kann got an earful from his Dow Jones troops at two “town hall” meetings, reports Paul Tharp. One employee asked why only the non-executive employees got axed and why management and shareholders “didn’t suffer any pain.” Kann’s response: “It’s not an egalitarian place; no corporation is.” Another staffer: “Why not?” A visibly flustered Kann answered: “Well, that’s one of the dangers you face living in a capitalist society.” A DJ-ER SAYS: “Kann’s usually smooth and unflappable, but he was rattled at how outspoken everyone was.”

dec
08
2002

and they call it spuffy love…

The following is from a posting I made to the ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’ boards at Television Without Pity. In the “Season Six in Syndication” thread, we were talking about whether Spike really loved Buffy in Seasons 5 and 6, and whether Dru’s “Spike loved Buffy all along” comment in Season 5 was a retcon.

All in the name of avoiding that paper I have due tomorrow…

Re-watching some of S2-5, I think there was definite Spike/Buffy sparkage all along. And some of the early banter (i.e. in “Lover’s Walk“) between them reminded me a lot of the back-and-forth sniping between soon-to-be lovers in 1930s/1940s films. (As Dawn would say, “First you say Spike disgusts you but secretly you two are doing it like bunnies.”) At that point, I think it was sublimated lust, though, not love.

I think Spike’s dream at the end of “Out of My Mind” was sort of a wake-up call to him that the lust was there. I doubt it was love at that point. I’d wager the love developed sometime around/after “Fool for Love,” during the night when Buffy talked to him about her mom’s illness. I think that snap-change from murderous rage at being rejected to sweet-puppy, supportive William at seeing Buffy in tears was significant.

In terms of this discussion, it might be a good idea to define what “love” is. Because there are a number of different types, different degrees of love, and I’d say there’s a fine line between love, obsession and lust. A crush is probably more lust (with a little bit of obsession thrown in) than love. But is it love when it’s unrequited, especially when that “love” been declared and in-no-uncertain-terms rejected? Is it love when someone is willing to sacrifice himself for the object of his affections, or is it merely fulfilling a romantic ideal that has been packaged into his obsession? Is love of an ideal any less real than love of an attainable, responsive person? (The two are different, to be sure, but is the former any less real?)

Topic? I’d say that at the end of S5 and in S6, Spike [i]did[/i] love Buffy, but in different ways. In S5, Buffy was up on a pedestal. By S6’s “Bargaining,” Buffy was dead, completely unattainable. And Spike had this noble, never-to-be-requited, perfect love. Spike knew he could never have Buffy, but contented himself to be her noble knight, helping her cause and protecting her and her family. After she died, he could be her tormented noble knight, fulfilling his promise to protect Dawn, continuing her cause, and tormenting himself with all the ways he failed Buffy and how he could have saved her.

Buffy’s resurrection completely threw him for a loop, as he’d begun to settle into this new role. At this point, I think his love for her developed into a different kind of love. When, in early S6, she sought him out and treated him as a confidant, I think he began to have hope that she might one day return his love.

Of course, once actually having Buffy became a possibility, his obsessive tendencies kicked in (in a different way), and he started his whole divide-and-conquer strategy of isolating Buffy from her friends so he could have her all to himself. And thus perpetuated the clusterfuck that was Spuffy.

In S7, I’m pretty sure he still loves Buffy, but it’s shifted back over into “unattainable” mode. After what he’s done, his noble knight credo tells him, he’s not worthy of her help, much less her love. But I like that, post-souling, he’s a little more realistic about their relationship — that she used him knowing full well his feelings for her, that in his current state he’s more a liability than a help to her.

I think that the fact that he was in love (or in lust, however you take it) in the first place with Buffy, and later, the way he treated Buffy, completely threw Spike for a loop. He’s Spike, badass vampire and killer of Slayers. He and Buffy are supposed to be mortal enemies, yet, after having failed so many opportunities to kill her, he’s [i]helping[/i] her and her cause, and lusts after her. He’s becoming more William than Spike. And, as has been discussed ad nauseum, I think his attempted rape of her completely shocked him, that he would be capable of doing something like that to someone he ostensibly loved. Elements of William repulsed at the darker Spike impulses.

And all this intensifies his whole post-chip inner struggle about who Spike thinks he is versus who he actually is versus who he wants to be (which S6 could have done a much better job of showing). This leads to his decision to seek out his soul and his current struggle to maintain his sanity and cope with what he’s done in the past (and, apparently, what he’s still capable of doing).