Monthly Archives: June 2006

Why I love Berkeley

Sure, this is completely futile, but that’s part of the charm:

With overwhelming support from Berkeley residents, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to be the first jurisdiction in the United States to let the public vote for the President’s impeachment. The measure will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, at a cost of about $10,000.
The measure alleges that the administration violated the Constitution with illegal domestic spying, justified the Iraq war with fraudulent claims and illegally tortured citizens. San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and dozens of other cities have already passed council resolutions urging impeachment but none has gone as far as Berkeley.

Critics may be right that this is not terribly productive, but it sure will be fun to punch “yes” on this in November. On the other hand, who knows how my vote will actually get recorded—we use Diebold touch-screen voting machines.

Personal Advice from the Internet

I had been debating whether to fly out to Connecticut this summer to visit friends, and if I do so, whether to take some extra time to tour New York City. Fortunately the internet came to the rescue with a trio of relevant posts:

Needless to say, after reading these my decision was much easier…

Emigration [Open Thread]

This completes my backlog of books to review, so now I need to read some more. Fortunately, there are a number of intriguing suggestions left from the summer reading thread…
Cory Doctorow: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: I read Cory Doctorow pretty regularly on Boing Boing, but I hadn’t tried his fiction before. This one looked appealingly surreal, with a protagonist whose parents are a mountain and a washing machine, so I picked it up. The plot is straightforward: Alan is trying to fit into society despite his bizarre origins, but is being stalked by his murderous, undead brother. This provides the motivation for a study of weirdness and dealing with outsider status that forms the larger theme of the book. (I have much more to say on this topic but I intend to put it in a separate post.) There are also a couple of subplots, one of them being a charming love story, and the other being an unnecessary geek-out involving free wi-fi in Toronto, during which the characters frequently seem to be talking in Cory Doctorow’s Boing Boing voice. The main story was very entertaining, however, and led to some further thoughts which I’ll hopefully get around to posting. I’ll also mention that the book is available for free download in a variety of formats at Cory Doctorow’s website. (I bought a physical copy, because like Alan I enjoy having actual books on my shelf.) Rating: 3.5/5
Camera Obscura: Let’s Get Out Of This Country: This CD makes me want to dance. It’s not remotely dance rock in the sense of, say, Ladytron—in fact it’s indie pop from Glasgow, and that other Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian is a much more apt comparison—but I could definitely practice some of my recently-learned ballroom steps to a few of these songs. The cleverly-named “Tears for Affairs” is suitable for cha-cha, and “The False Contender” is a waltz. The album as a whole has a fun, light feel; although there are no truly spectacular tracks that beg to be put on repeat, it’s a nice CD to play all the way through, and you’ll be left with a calm feeling afterwards. Rating: 3.5/5

Nomenclature of the godless [corrected]

There’s been some recent discussion on various blogs of the notion that the term “Brights” be used to describe atheists, agnostics, etc. This was coined by Daniel Dennett Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, and promoted by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, among others. I was going to write a post about how lame this is, but Kieran Healy already said it a while ago.
The problem isn’t that “Bright” is arrogant, but that it’s really dorky. Kieran is put in mind of the Comic Book Guy but I think a more apt Simpsons reference is to Martin Prince. There’s a kind of earnest, optimistic cluelessness about the idea that’s just asking to get beaten up by Nelson. I’m with PZ Myers, who is just fine with “atheist”. Even if it is associated with some particular obnoxious individuals, “atheist” has force and seriousness that “Bright” is sorely lacking.

Recent inattentiveness

I was already kicking myself for missing Built To Spill’s three San Francisco shows last weekend, only remembering to check for tickets once they had all sold out. Then Saturday night I stopped by the lab to change some batteries, and I heard the sounds of a concert at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater. I didn’t know there was a show tonight, I wonder who’s playing?. By the time I got to Birge Hall I was close enough to hear the music, and when the singer came on I thought he sounded familiar…
…a half second later I recognized the voice as Thom Yorke.
I managed to miss not only Built To Spill, but also Radiohead playing at my place of employment last weekend. I really need to watch the concert listings more closely…

Friday Random 10: Dangerzone ahead

This one is obviously meant to be a divination, given the explicit appearance of two of the major arcana.

  1. The Covering: Low, “Pissing”

  2. The Crossing: The Afghan Whigs, “Fountain And Fairfax”
  3. The Crown: Neutral Milk Hotel, “The Fool”
  4. The Root: The Flaming Lips, “What Is The Light?”
  5. The Past: Teenage Fanclub, “Satan”
  6. The Future: Clor, “Dangerzone”
  7. The Questioner: Bloc Party, “Hidden Track (Remix)”
  8. The House: R.E.M., “Find The River”
  9. The Inside: Bright Eyes, “Devil In The Details”
  10. The Outcome: Animal Collective, “Turn Into Something”

Here’s the key. This is perhaps the most straightforward iPod tarot reading I’ve ever seen. Even the instrumental tracks in The Crown and The Crossing are helpfully named after actual tarot cards (assuming one takes “Satan” to represent the card of The Devil). The Covering, The Future, and The Outcome are especially direct in their lyrics, with the last track clearly pointing towards an impending transformation. Excellent, hopefully I’ll develop a cool mutant power.
The best song in the set is “Fountain and Fairfax”, although its relevance is less clear than some of the others.
Angel, forever
Don’t you promise me what you cannot deliver
Angel, together
I’ll be waiting for you on Fountain and Fairfax

That intersection exists in Los Angeles, but I don’t know whether that’s the city the Afghan Whigs had in mind…

Google Reader test drive

I’m trying out Google Reader after having used Sage for a while now. I like reading blogs by RSS but I have a strict list of requirements for an RSS reader:

  1. It must run in Firefox.

That’s it. I’ve tried some standalone programs but I hate switching windows every time I want to read a full post. So for a while it was Sage, which is a Firefox extension that sits in the sidebar, but Sage has some weird idiosyncracies and annoyances, like occasionally forgetting to check feeds until the cache is cleared (especially BoingBoing’s for some reason) or misinterpreting links so that they go to the local hard drive instead of the appropriate web server. At least the Export OPML feature worked, making the switch to Google Reader nearly instantaneous.
I tend to read blogs from different computers depending on whether I am at home or in the lab, so it’s actually extremely useful to have a single aggregator I can access from both places. I didn’t realize how valuable this was until I tried it. (Bloglines would be the other obvious choice for this, and I’d be curious to know how it compares with Google Reader.) The major downside to this approach is having to wait on the aggregator site to query feeds, as opposed to being able to query them directly and get immediate updates.
A minor complaint about Google Reader: The interface, while clean and simple, is difficult to scan for interesting items. All posts are mixed into one column regardless of their source, while most readers I’ve used in the past separate them by blog. When I have a lot of updates to read (usually in the morning, since the east coast bloggers have been going for three hours), I’m used to clicking on the blogs I’m most interested in first as a way of sorting through the large quantity of updates. Presumably I could do something with labels to separate out the top tier of blogs I read, but it still feels weird. On the other hand, Google Reader does show the post author prominently—Sage would not display this at all, which was immensely confusing for certain group blogs. (Sometimes I would make a game of guessing which blogger had posted each post.)
A side effect of the switch is that my self-imposed limit on RSS subscriptions has been removed. I used to control my blog reading by not adding so many items that I needed to scroll in the Sage pane to see them all, so the number of blogs I kept up with was limited by the size of my Firefox window. Now my subscription list isn’t visible, so I can just keep adding feeds without encountering any psychological barrier (until I wake up Monday morning to 500 unread posts).
Anyway, I think I’ll continue using Google Reader for a while, and see how it goes.

Books that resonate

After I wrote my review of Norwegian Wood it occurred to me that I could extend it to a discussion thread. We’ve already discussed Great American Novels, but for this one put questions of literary merit aside (as well as questions of American-ness) and instead think about books that seemed to contain part of your own essence. Books that, because of characters or setting or writing style, captured some element you find in yourself. What book would you give someone to help them understand you better? In short, what books resonate with you? I’ve already said Norwegian Wood was this way for me, now I want to hear your picks.
This topic could easily be extended other media as well: movies, music, art…

But where’s “November Rain”?

Pitchfork hits YouTube and comes back with 100 Awesome Music Videos. Well, some of them are awesome and some are “awesome” (David Hasselhoff covering “Hooked on a Feeling”, for example). I watched “To Here Knows When” (My Bloody Valentine) and “Sugarcube” (Yo La Tengo) immediately, those being two of my favorite songs—the former looks like the song for a nice synaesthetic effect, and the latter is just hilarious. Also, the Decemberists’ “16 Military Wives” video is worthwhile (I saw it a while ago). Later on I’m going to go through and watch a bunch more of these.