Monthly Archives: July 2004

e-i-e-i … hop hop!

eieio In the middle of a rousing round of “Old MacDonald” tonight, Miles surprised us with a joke, substituting the “O” in “e-i-e-i-o” with… whatever other words from his wee vocabulary he could think of. Legend: “Ucky” = pacifier, derived from “Nucky,” which means Nuk. “Hop hop” is multi-purpose noun standing in for all hopping creatures (frog, cricket, kangaroo, and, most frequently, bunny). By extension, it also means carrot. “Poo poo” means poo-poo, which derives from “poo-poo.”

Boobah Nutjobs

Most threads die almost immediately after scrolling from the bottom of this page. But every now and then, a post develops a spunky afterlife via Google searches on some topic or other.

Last February I posted about my delight at discovering the utterly surreal and imaginative children’s show Boobah. It never crossed my mind that the show was so creatively produced that it would inadvertently inflame the senses of fundamentalists and nutjobs across America. There’s nothing even vaguely religious or sinful about the show, but something in it seems almost to offend the rigidly minded. The thread there is fairly long, but a comment received from “Learell” tonight was so over the top loopy I just had to share. Dude performs a truly paranoid semantic breakdown of the playful opening Boobah chant, finding in it connections to zombies, evil spirits, and supernatural powers.

The chant says a few different words including, “Humbah”, “Zumbah”, “Jumbah”, and “Booh”. This may freak some people out and then others may think it is nothing more than a coincidence. The word “Humbah” is very closely related to the word “Humbaba” which means, “river of the dead”. The word “Zumbah” is very closely related to the word “Zombi” which means “supernatural power that may enter & reanimate a dead body”. … My child will not watch this show and until PBS investigates and monitors its programming more carefully, PBS will be blocked from my TV. I think others should join me. We wonder why our kids love games and movies that promote violence and killing. I believe it starts here.

The mind reels.

Music: Bright Eyes :: False Advertising

James Joyce’s Son is a Litigious Wanker

Want to stage a public reading of Joyce’s Ulysses next Bloomsday? Make sure Joyce’s son Stephen doesn’t find out about it. He’ll sue your pants off.

Few are spared. He has targeted publishing houses, internet readings, and an Edinburgh fringe musical using Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Ulysses. An Irish composer who requested permission to quote 18 words of Finnegans Wake received a refusal letter saying: “To put it politely, my wife and I don’t like your music.”

But now, fearful for this month’s mammoth celebrations of Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, Irish MPs this week rushed through emergency legislation that will prevent Mr Joyce from suing the Government and the National Library over an exhibition which displays 500 pages of Joyce manuscripts…

So much for Joyce’s commitment to freedom of expression.

Music: Steve Turre :: Andromeda

How and Why

HAW-chemistry Maybe it has something to do with having a kid, marveling at his process of discovery and thinking about his education, or maybe it just comes down to the tenacity of early memories, but a slight chill went up my spine browsing the covers of these How and Why books from the 60s and 70s. Seems like every elementary classroom, library, and doctor’s office had a collection of these books, and I would read in fascination about how the world worked, thirsty for information in the pre-internet era. I’d love to find some of these again. Would they seem ridiculous and dated if I saw them today? Were they well written? No idea. I mostly remember the style of illustration, and just the feeling of being turned on by life, the universe, and everything. Not all of these goose the nostalgia gland, but the ones that do ring such a happy bell.

Music: Joe McPhee :: Shakey Jake

Live Publishing in MT 3.1

Beyond all the talk about big-picture, tectonic vectors of social media that came out of last week’s BlogOn conference, there were a few intriguing technical highlights. Most interesting to me was Ben and Mena’s preview of some of the new features in MT 3.1 (Mena’s entry there doesn’t include details yet, but stay tuned).

MT is database-driven, but generates static HTML pages, on the theory that this method reduces overall server load. With high-traffic sites, this is undoubtedly true — build a page once and serve it a million times without having to make repeated database requests. But the penalty for this model is that rebuild times can be annoying, depending on factors like CPU speed and current load, and the number of index templates set to auto-update. I’ve seen page builds take anywhere from 3 to 60 seconds, depending on circumstances. This becomes a real problem when you have multiple popular MT installations on a single machine. If one user updates a page while people are commenting on other blogs at the same time, CPU contention can get hairy for a while (especially when the comment spam bots are hitting multiple blogs simultaneously). Not to mention the fact that simple comment posting really should be as immediate as it is on any discussion board (it’s one thing to force a rebuild on the site author, quite another to make your readers sit through it).

But wait, there’s a database sitting behind MT — what in the architecture forces this static build model? Nothing at all. As Mena demonstrated last Friday, in MT 3.1 you’ll be able to check a “Live build” checkbox, modify a couple of MT tags in your templates, and switch your site to live/dynamic page generation.

The “WordPress” exodus is basically about two things: 1) Philosophical licensing differences (i.e. open source religion) and 2) Live page generation. There goes half the argument for moving to WP.

The interesting twist is that MT has always been a perl-based engine, while the live updating is PHP-based. So MT 3.1 will support inline PHP — write your own, download modules, drop them in place…. this is going to open up the universe of 3rd party MT plugin development immensely. Many of us have been using inline PHP with MT for years, but now we’ll have actual MT tags that make PHP calls.

I’d love to see some metrics comparing the build models: total distributed CPU load for one static build plus a million static requests, vs. a million dynamic requests. Then see how that compares with just a thousand pages, or 10. Deciding just how much traffic best justifies one publishing method or the other should generate some interesting case studies.

Music: José Feliciano :: Just a Little Bit of Rain

My Mega Power Trip

So I’ve been webcasting the BlogOn conference all day (QuickTime archives will be online middle of next week). Towards the end of the day I check to see who’s been blogging the conference in real time. seanbonner.com is at the top of the list. Scrolling down the page, what do I find in not one, but two separate posts, but Sean slamming the camera man. “The cameraman is a prick” … “total tool” … “power trip from hell” … What the hell is going on here?

Here’s my speculation about what pissed this guy off: The camera, laptop, and mixer, which Milt and I were running together, completely occupied the end of an aisle with a tangle of gear and cables. Early in the day, just seconds before we were getting started, some guy tries to step past me and right through our whole setup. One caught shoelace could have brought the tripod down the stairs, destroyed a $3,000 camera, and ruined the whole webcast. Since when do people at public events take it upon themselves to walk through the broadcasting station, over or through a pile of gear? I mean, it’s just not done. Would you do it? Unbelievable. He had an easy path back down the aisle where the public is allowed, but apparently didn’t want to walk 40 feet out of the way. And he had the nerve to counter me. “I’ve done it twice already today,” he said. “Please don’t do it again,” I answered, and started rolling tape. Times like this, all you can do is ignore the heckler and get your job done. There are way too many things to do in the 10 seconds before going on air to get out of my seat and brace the tripod so an attendee can take a shortcut.

During the first break, a woman asked if she could plug her laptop into our power strip. “Sorry,” I answered, “I just can’t share it with attendees.” She looked almost offended. I think she thought I was suggesting there wasn’t enough electricity, or was just being stingy. The simple fact is that the last time I let a conference attendee plug a laptop into our rig, they screwed up unplugging it later, and unplugged our camera by accident, interrupting the live webcast and tape archive. That person turned out to be Justin Hall of Justin’s Links from the Underground. I vowed never to share our power again. It’s just too risky to have strangers messing around in your gear.

When we (the J-School) run our own events, we’re totally accommodating with presenters who want to bring their own laptops and hook them up to the audio, projection, and internet (although we ask for advance notice). But we weren’t running this event – K2 was — and I was just helping out. K2 has a very strict policy about not letting people bring their own laptops to the podium. Presenters had had months to prepare to get their stuff onto the podium laptop, and had been told in very certain terms that they would only be allowed to use that one. K2′s policy is designed to avoid the unprofessionalism of having people fiddling with cords onstage, with cameras rolling, with sometimes unpredictable results (I’ve seen ridiculous things happen — broken VGA ports, network settings not working, etc, all while the audience fidgets in their seats — we have at times considered adopting K2′s same policy about personal laptops). But K2 had stepped out of the room, so people suddenly looked to me for help hooking up their laptop in the middle of the conference. So even though I would have loved to accomodate, had the adapter they needed, and could have done it in 30 seconds flat, and even though I would have loved to see her software too, and even though the woman was well aware of K2′s policy, having had months of advance warning about it, it was now my job to enforce K2′s policy. Against my better judgment, I left the camera and webcast machine untended (god knows where the camera was pointing during this episode), went down to the stage, and told them that K2 had a strict policy about this and I would have to say no. So the woman turns into her mic and tells the audience that the university has a strict policy about this. Whatever. As it turns out, this was part II of what lead Sean Bonner to call me a total prick, power tripper, etc.

You know what Sean? I’m about as mellow as they come. But I’ve been doing these events for a few years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s up to our crew to take control of the situation. To guard the integrity of the equipment, the flow of the presentation, and to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Because if we don’t, people will just run roughshod over everything they can. Kind of like you tried to do to me today, practically demanding you be allowed to walk through a pile of broadcasting gear, around a tripod balanced on a flight of stairs, no less.

If you’re really sure I’m a total prick, why don’t you come over for dinner one night? I’ll grill you some tempeh, you can meet my wife and kid, and we’ll get drunk, shoot the shit. Maybe you’ll see me differently the next day. The goal would not be so much to befriend you as it would be to get you thinking about the stupidity of mouthing off at people you don’t know when you have no clue about the back story, don’t know what’s involved in putting on a production of this scale, and obviously aren’t familiar with the million things that can go wrong if the people running the gear don’t do their jobs right. Fortunately, I was doing my job right, and the conference went well. I guess getting publicly slandered without justification by a total stranger just goes with the territory. Ah well.

And all this for a conference that wasn’t even ours, preparations for which consumed me almost the entire work week, waking up at 5:00 am this morning and getting home after 8:00 pm, just to help out with someone else’s event. It’s so nice to be appreciated.

Music: Django Reinhardt :: Ain’t Misbehavin’

Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears

During the free speech sit-ins at UC Berkeley in December 1964 (two months after I was born), Mario Savio said:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

The Free Speech Movement Cafe at the center of campus is where I get my coffee every day. The interior is decorated with blow-up images from the free speech movement, memorializing it for the current generation so we don’t take it for granted, and so we are reminded that the relative freedom of speech we have today was hard-won, and that the threats to civil liberties we experience today are nothing new under the sun.

Music: Iggy Pop :: funtime

Reason #811 Not To Eat KFC

What is it about prisons that causes guards to turn so sadistic? Eleven workers (three of them managers) at a chicken processing planet that supplies poultry to KFC have been suspended for brutally abusing live chickens. We’ll call this the Pilgrim’s Pride prison abuse scandal — the Abu Ghraib of the chicken world:

… grainy videotape was released over the Internet by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showing employees “ripping birds’ beaks off, spray-painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and breaking them in half — all while the birds are still alive.”

(Yes, we’ve talked about prison guard syndrome here before). Speaking of sadism, why is the story about women and young boys being raped in Iraqi prisons not getting more press?

The women were passing messages saying “Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened”. Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror it’s going to come out.

Music: Pete Townshend :: Parvardigar

BlogOn Webcast, Registration Culture Clash

The J-School is co-sponsoring an event this Friday on the business and commercial aspects of social software, and of blogging in particular. Lots of great speakers, but the theme basically boils down to the question of how to monetize the blogging phenomenon. The event’s main site is here, and I’ll be webcasting it live.

Something about this whole thing feels uncomfortable to me — isn’t the non-commercial aspect of blogging part of what makes it so powerful? That we’re able to sidestep The Man and forge our own editorial and distribution mechanisms? Monetization of the blogosphere serves the monetizers — how can it possibly serve bloggers? But what really got me steamed was the fact that the conference organizers asked me to force users who wanted to view the webcast to fill out a form and register with them first. I’m pretty accommodating, but I threw down the gauntlet on this one — I believe strongly that forced registration is an annoyance, and offers no benefit to viewers (I have no problem with voluntary registration, of course).

We’re an academic institution, and part of a culture of free information – why should I toss a bone to corporate organizers and drive away potential viewers in the process? The organizers felt that their viewers wouldn’t mind at all — surely they’re only thinking of the same sorts of viewers who are paying up to $550 to attend in person. In contrast, I believe that the 99% of viewers who watch the webcast in perpetuity will be “ordinary people,” and that ordinary people pretty much agree that We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Login. Culture clash.

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Money and the Brain

The July 5 issue of Newsweek has an interesting piece (not online) about the weird interaction between money, the brain, and social psychology. Try this experiment: Take any two people. Give one of them (A) $10 and tell them they have to offer some of the money to the other person (B), who is free to accept or reject the offer. Game over. The goal is for both parties to walk away with as much money as possible.

As predicted by John (“A Beautiful Mind”) Nash, A should offer $1 to B, and B should accept the offer. But what in fact happens in the vast majority of cases where the experiment is tried is that low offers of $1 or $2 are almost universally rejected by B, even though it serves B’s best interests to accept the offer. This is where funny motivators like pride and dignity interlope, overriding pure reason. B is insulted that A would keep most of the money for themselves, and so rejects the offer altogether. And for similar reasons (sensitivity to the prospect of insulting another), most people playing A don’t offer $1 or $2, but something closer to a 50/50 split, e.g. $4.

It makes no mathematical sense for B to reject any offer, and it makes no mathematical sense for A to offer more than $1, but that’s how humans interact. Interestingly, people will offer or accept just $1 when playing the same game against a computer. But the part that I found really fascinating is that there is one group of people who play the game “rationally” (I put rational in quotes, because I do think that treating humans fairly is a rational thing to do, even if not mathematically sensible) — autistics will generally offer or accept $1, since they lack the sense of social fabric that most people experience.

Music: Yello :: Homer Hossa