Rants & Ramblings

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


spamming a spammer

In today’s Detroit Free-Press, columnist Mike Wendland writes about a new snail-mail spam campaign against Alan Ralsky, who, according to Wendland, “just may be the world’s biggest sender of Internet spam.” Ralsky says he’s been deluged with mail-order catalogs and advertisements for the past few weeks, the “victim” of a plot organized by Slashdot users. Poor Ralsky wants to sue.

Nice to see a spammer getting some of his own back. (Or, as Slashdot has it, “From the Golden Rule Department…”)

Wendland’s Nov. 22 story about Ralsky moving into new digs in the Detroit area, combined with other recent mentions of court judgements against Ralsky — not to mention Ralsky’s assertion that he won’t quit the spamming business — combined to spark the Slashdot campaign.

This bit from Wendland’s original article raises some questions, though:

Today, Ralsky says he is trying to keep a lower profile, operating through cell phones and unlisted numbers. Ralsky agreed to this interview and the tour of his operation only if I promised not to print the address of his new home, which I found in Oakland County real estate records.

It’s as though Wendland was trying to help anti-Ralsky/spam folks find Ralsky’s new address. I’m not sure if I think it’s cool that a journalist would try to help in a campaign like the Slashdotters’ in such a sneaky-yet-obvious way, or troubled that he would sort of insert himself into the story by telling people how to find this guy. Plus, since I’m only reading this column online, I don’t have the same clues as I might in print that this is a column rather than a news article. If this is a column, I’m less troubled by the writer getting involved in the story; I’m still concerned, however, about his telling a mass audience where to find someone’s personal information.

word of the day: foobar

I stumbled upon this rather detailed explanation of why the words “foo” and “bar” come up so often in programming examples, and the origin of the term. I’d surmised that “foobar” was a derivation of “FUBAR,” but this explanation goes into way more detail.

There’s another detailed explanation here.


snow day

Woo-hoo! My first snow day!

Having spent most of my life in fairly warm-weather climes, snow is a bit of a novelty to me. It started snowing late last night, and is supposed to keep up through this afternoon.

Falling snow is a lot softer than I expected. (I’ve seen/been in snow before, but after the snow had stopped falling.) The snowflakes sort of dance in the air, and land gently. And, kind of ironically, it’s not as cold today as it has been the past two days; chilly, yes, but not nearly as bitingly cold. Of course, I’m looking at all this with wide-eyed wonder and childlike giddiness. Forget the cold — I want to make a snow man, and a couple snow angels.

There are some nice snow drifts outside my house, a good two inches deep already. When I went outside this morning, everything was beautifully pristine, freshly covered with snow. And now the new snowfall has covered up the footprints I left earlier.

It’s a “Snow Emergency Day” in DC, and I’ve heard that the Metro was running pretty slow this morning b/c of icy tracks. I’m working from home. Today’s classes at Georgetown haven’t been cancelled yet; my class today isn’t until 4, so we’ll see if conditions change between now and then.

footprints  backyard  front yard  front yard  front stairs  snowshoes

Edited on 12/11/02 to add that I’ve posted more photos of DC’s first snow of the season, taken the following day (12/6) at the King Street Metro Station and on the George Washington University campus.


buffy 7x09 - “never leave me”

Exposing my true inner geekiness: I’m a rabid fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen just about every episode, I tape all the new ones, and I like to gab and read about it online.

And I love the shooting scripts (archived by the stupendous Psyche).

The cool thing about reading the shooting script for a particular episode is that you can get a glimpse of how the episode evolved from shooting to airing, and get a better idea of what the writer(s) intended to show in various scenes.

Psyche just posted the shooting script for the most recent ‘Buffy’ episode, “Never Leave Me,” which aired last week. Some of the notable differences between the episode as written, and as shot:

continue reading »


all aboard

Flew out to AZ see my family and b/f for the Thanksgiving weekend. Learned some of the joys of balancing (or at least trying to balance) the demands of multiple family factions — trying to split my time among boyfriend, parents and siblings in such a way that no one feels slighted, ignored or used. I’m thinking I probably failed miserably.

I’m doing a repeat performance in three weeks, when I return for Christmas. Here’s to another beautiful failure.

Also learned some of the joys of text messaging. My spiffy new cellphone, a Samsung A460 (replacing my three-year-old Sanyo SCP-3000 with the perpetually dying battery), has text paging and SMS capabilities, so I had the extra services added to my Sprint PCS account. I flew American, which offers a nifty notification service where you can have your flight information — and any changes — sent to your phone 1-4 hours before takeoff. This proved especially useful for my flight home, when I found out an hour before I was to leave for the airport that my connecting flight to O’Hare had been delayed due to snow in Chicago.

Added trauma: The delay, as listed at the time, would make me miss my flight from O’Hare to National (the last of the day) by about five minutes.

Forewarned, I called up American, where I waited on hold for twenty minutes (no exaggeration), only to be disconnected when the CSR that finally got my call put me back on hold. I also tried calling Tucson International Airport (TUS), which turned out to be completely useless. The operator there could tell me only flight times for planes arriving in Tucson, but not leaving town. She also couldn’t transfer me over to the local American Airlines desk, referring me instead to the American 1-800 number I had called earlier.

Getting nowhere fast, I ended up just saying “forget it” and heading out to the airport as planned, as if my flight was leaving on time. I passed the time in an airport lounge with my dad and brother, intermittently checking in at the AA desk for my flight status.

The people at the desk were quite helpful. (I mean this sincerely for the woman who checked me in and even helped me look for other flights; I reserve my sarcasm for the other AA folks I spoke to) … They told me the airline would decide at 5 p.m. as to when the flight would leave. But there was a possibility that they might take off before 5, too. Or we might be delayed until 7. Or we might leave right at 5.

In the end, I just kept checking back at the desk every 15 minutes or so, proceeding to the gate only when the attendants’ story changed from “We’ll make an announcement at 5” to “Your flight will begin boarding any time now.” I ended up boarding the plane around 4:45 p.m., but we didn’t take off until a little after 6 p.m. (Still wondering why it was necessary to board us all so soon before our takeoff time.) I thankfully wasn’t stranded at O’Hare (the flight to National was delayed, too), and got home around 2:30 a.m. — about 2 hours late.

Now at work, back in the daily grind. I’m looking up airfares for Christmas, and hoping I can avoid routes through cold-weather cities. Snow is pretty, but not if you have to drive through it.



In the U.S., you can dance to the beat of a different drummer, but come election time, you’d better vote either Democrat or Republican. None of this third-party “independent” nonsense.

Those of us who voted Nader in 2000 — the Greens, the Independents, the ones looking for any kind of alternative to Stupid and Stiff — were blamed for supposedly costing Gore and the Dems the election. Now the Libertarians are getting it from the Republicans.

In his Friday column, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz talks about Republicans blaming Libertarians for GOP losses / close-calls in the most recent election.

The debate goes to the heart of why independent movements exist. The major parties see the defectors as fuzzy-headed purists, modern-day Whigs who would rather indulge in protest politics than win power. The third-party enthusiasts see the Democrats and Republicans as K Street sellouts, doing the bidding of their corporate donors rather than heeding the wishes of The People. Not a dime’s worth of difference and all that.

In related political tidbits, check out Make Your Own Bush Speech. Funny stuff there.

a representation of reality

I went to the Trompe L’Oeil exhibit at the National Gallery of Art this weekend.

The exhibit is a collection of artwork — paintings, sculptures and the like — which in part act as optical illusions that, through tricks of perspective and lighting, make the viewer, however momentarily, believe that what’s being represented is actually a real, three-dimensional object. From the exhibition guide:

This exhibition illustrates the playful and intellectual nature of trompe l’oeil—the artistic ability to depict an object so exactly as to make it appear real. A heightened form of illusionism, the art of trompe l’oeil flourished from the Renaissance onward. The discovery of perspective in fifteenth-century Italy and advancements in the science of optics in the seventeenth-century Netherlands enabled artists to render objects and spaces with eye-fooling exactitude. Both witty and serious, trompe l’oeil is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.

There were a couple pieces in the exhibit that really stuck out for me, the “illusion” was so convincing. The first was a life-size statue of a security guard. At first glance, especially with so many people around, I mistook him for just another visitor. Only after seeing his “caption” on the wall and looking directly at him did I realize that he was a statue, not a real person.

The other piece that especially caught my attention was what appeared to be a grandfather clock partially covered by a dropcloth. At first, I kind of discounted it, taking it to be what it appeared to be. Its caption read that it was a representation of a grandfather clock covered by a dropcloth, all carved from a single piece of wood. And the illusion was so masterfully done that, at first, I didn’t believe the caption. Only after looking at the piece very closely, looking for those points where the “cloth” touches the “clock,” did I see how this sculpture was a single, unified piece. It was an amazing piece of worksmanship.

My favorite image in the exhibit was La condition humaine (1933) by Rene Magritte (pictured above). In a critical theory / academic sense, the painting is something of a mindfuck. At first, we see what appears to be a green, outdoorsy scene, as seen through a curtained window. Then we realize that at least part of this scene is actually a painting, hiding that which it ostensibly reflects (although we can’t know for certain that what the painting shows is at all an accurate representation of what is outside the window). And on top of all this, the image as a whole is itself a representation: One might at first confuse it for an actual window. Leading to Magritte’s title, La condition humaine (The Human Condition).

Magritte might be saying that human life, in society, is all about representations within representations, all juxtaposed and stacked together to the point where the “real” is hard to locate. What is real, and what is a representation of the real? What is a representation of another representation (a copy of a copy, as opposed to a copy of the original)? What has been lost or added in the process?

To read more about all this from an academic / theoretical standpoint, check out some of the writings of Walter Benjamin (particularly “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“) and Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation.”


a tourist in your own hometown

I spent most of today in downtown DC, around the Mall.

I’ve lived in the DC area since August, and, since I’m usually limited to my work / school / home / repeat routine, I don’t get beyond my usual “realms” of Foggy Bottom / GeorgetownU / Alexandria very often. So on the occasions where I do “break out,” I have these “Oh my god! I live in Washington, DC!” moments.

It’s one thing to see the sights on TV, like the FBI building on The X-Files or the U.S. Capitol on The West Wing. It’s another thing entirely to stand on Ninth Street and appreciate the irony of the International Spy Museum being located around the corner from the FBI headquarters, or to stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, near the National Archives, and see the Capitol gleaming in front of you.


a freudian take on 'buffy'

I’m taking a critical theory class this semester at Georgetown (CCTP-721, taught by the fantabulous Dr. Matthew Tinkcom). For the midterm, we were given a number of questions, from which we could pick two to answer. One of the questions I responded to:

Consider how the theory of psychoanalysis can be brought to bear upon a text of your choosing.

And so we have…


One of the conceits of the TV horror show Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, now in its seventh season, is that it takes the ostensibly ditzy blond who typically dies in horror movies and makes her the hero, fully empowered to fight back the baddie of the day. The show’s lore has California girl Buffy Summers chosen to be the Slayer, killing vampires with a pointy wooden stake.

Buffy’s stake is loaded with possible Freudian interpretations. Functionally, the stake is the tool of her slaying profession, and its use in close combat is fraught with sexual undertones.

continue reading »

welcome to my world

After some technical hangups, etc., I’ve finally gotten this thing up and running. Here’s hoping that, in the months/years ahead, I can produce something worth reading about.

By way of introduction, a little about me:

My name is Alyson Hurt, and I’m presently a master’s student in the Communication, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown University. I work as a Senior Programmer Analyst (apparently, a dept. euphemism for “web designer”) with the Interactive Multimedia Applications Group at The George Washington University. Before making the jump to DC (aka “the city with a big bullseye target on it”), I was a web designer for The Arizona Republic for two and a half years.

If you really want all those details, you can read my resume.

I’ve been a computer geek since I was about five, when my Dad started letting me play games (remember “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego“? But in DOS?) on his PC. I love to travel. I love to write, but don’t get to do it very much beyond school papers (which is where this blog comes in).

My core interests are in technology and culture. (I guess you could say I’m a Wired chick, except I read the website, not the print magazine. The Canadian tech mag Shift appeals to me a bit more, maybe in part because the editorial design in its print edition isn’t so easily confused with the ads.)

Anyway … I’m interested in the influence technology has on culture, and vice versa, as well as issues affecting both realms. I’m not an avid TV watcher, but I tend to pick a few shows to follow, and follow them with a rabid tenacity. Hence my current obsession with “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer“, which came on largely after my interest in “The X-Files” waned. I’m also a big fan of comics, especially the X-Men line, although even that line hasn’t really impressed me for the past few years.

Anyway, welcome one and all to my world. I hope I can make it something worth visiting once in a while.