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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Belated Spring Break Videos

After a visit to the media lab for some fancy compression technology, a couple videos taken during our spring break trip to the Smokies can now be found on YouTube. You too can now see the salamander whose tail Risa accidentally lopped of, as well as the four of us eating lunch on Charlie's Bunion.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Spam poetics

A particularly good example of those passages in spam emails that are somewhere between coherent and gibberish:
The easiest thing a human being can do is to criticize another human being.I don't have a warm personal enemy left. They've all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me.

If you like his work, he has some CEALEBRITY PRON he'd like to sell you.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Alanis' Humps

Like you, I stood in awe and horror of the complete inanity of the lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas' hit "My Humps." Well, in case you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely take a look at Alanis Morrissette's parody, sent to me by Sarah:

Actually, "parody" almost doesn't do it justice. As this LA Times column does a good job of explaining, it goes beyond skewering the song itself to make sly points about pop culture and the objectification of women.

"A National Orgy of Mawkishness"

Christopher Hitchens comes off as a bit callous in this piece in Slate, but I think it needed to be said. The Virginia Tech shootings weighed on my mind last week, and although the torrent of media coverage was driven by the same genuine underlying reaction of shock and sadness, the communal long-distance grief did not take long before it started feeling uncomfortable. This was most noticeable when Steve was in the living room watching ESPN a few days after the shootings and I heard the sportscasters giving a heartfelt minute-long eulogy for the victims. With all this attention, there's the problem of the madman getting exactly what he wanted (which will in turn only encourage future madmen), but what Hitchens was getting at (among other things) was the fact that everyone seemed to want to get in on the grief in an over-the-top manner. It would be alarming if people weren't upset about the shootings, but in the media echo-chamber, there seemed to me to be a competition for who could express the most sadness, to the point where it was almost self-aggrandizing. (Or perhaps I'm just exerting too much energy trying to detect lack of sincerity/cynicsm.)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Liking Baltimore

I tried really hard to like Baltimore when I first arrived here in the fall of 2005. It only sort of worked through the first fall and winter -- this town doesn't thrive on winter like Minneapolis does;* it's more something to be endured.

It wasn't until last spring I finally started actually liking Baltimore, instead of just making myself not dislike it. The city has a very unique feel to it, and in many ways it is the antidote to the homogenization of culture and landscape that I find so depressing. If we were to look at diversity of culture and urban landscape the same way we look at the diversity in the natural environment, Baltimore would be the equivalent of an isolated, teeming cloud forest with hundreds of different microclimates, all containing exotic species that can't be found anywhere else. The city as a whole has all sorts of things I've never seen anyplace else; as Chris said last weekend, (paraphrasing here) "What other city has packs of kids on dirtbikes roaming the streets in the summer doing continuous wheelies?...It's like every boy in Baltimore knows how to do an indefinite wheelie...it's an essential skill." It's true -- I've seen them practicing. A couple weeks ago I stopped at a red light in my car and and two boys on bicycles waiting on the cross street spent the whole green light doing wheelies in the intersection in front of the waiting cars.

Along with these city-wide quirks, there are also numerous individual neighborhoods with their own look and (no exaggeration) their own culture. Hampden, just to my west, started as a mill town, and retains a gritty working-class feel; and its VFW hall, Eagles Club, and "Red Men's Lodge" appear to be hubs of activity. Waverly, just to my east, feels like a lazy little Southern town, very leafy and quiet, with a lot of people just sitting on the front porch.

Despite coming to love its genuine character, I still get down on Baltimore sometimes. People yell/honk at me all the time when I'm riding my bike. People are afraid to walk places at night. The public transit is terrible. And the constant reminders of the city's scars from losing a third of its population and the persistent racial divide are sort of a heavy psychic load. So, more than with Minneapolis, my view of the city is volatile -- many days I love Baltimore, but some days I just wish I were somewhere else that's a bit easier to like. There often seems to be a bitterness hanging over people here, which might come in part from the city being kicked around so much. The bumper sticker I've seen around town, "This City Needs A Hug," sums it up nicely.

But man, when that cloud lifts -- though I'm surely projecting my moods onto the personality of the city to some extent here -- Baltimore is a really great place. Today that was quite true, and I think the sudden gorgeous, warm weather after a long stretch of gloomy and cold semi-spring helped a lot. (It probably also helped that Aunt Helena and Kirsti and Leila came up to visit today and I was in a tour guide mindset.) As I took a long bike ride to Dundalk late this afternoon, everybody was out in the various neighborhoods sitting on stoops, talking, and generally relaxing. When I passed by the track and football field alongside Monument Street in East Baltimore, there was inexplicably a BMW convertible slowly driving around the track, blaring music, and with 6 or 7 women elaborately dolled up in Orioles gear sitting on top waving at no one in particular. I spent 50 cents on an awesome glazed doughnut at this decades-old bakery (run by two adorable old ladies) that I ran across near Patterson Park last spring. And Dundalk, where I'd never been before, almost seemed frozen in time at some point in the 1970s.

Anyway, I'll soon be moving to DC, but it's been really cool to get to know Baltimore, and I'm glad that I'll be leaving it on good terms, and not just as some place that I happened to live for a couple years for grad school. And I won't be too far away, and will still know people here, so I'm sure I'll be back to visit...

*Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but work with me here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bike Dreams

Peter White Cycles, a small shop in New Hampshire, has a marvelous website. Lots of hard-to-find bicycling stuff, and loving descriptions and advice for each of them. (And adminitions like "This web site can only be viewed with a computer. So, if you're having trouble viewing this site, and don't have a computer, that could be the reason.")

After some time browsing the site, my bicycle gadget horizons have broadened considerably. I've now set my sights on the following lighting setup:
  • Schmidt dynamo hub - German-made dynamo to power your lights that goes in your front wheel; doesn't weigh much, has little drag when lights on, almost no drag when lights off
  • Light sensor - Turns your lights on when it's dark, even if you're, like, momentarily going through a tunnel or something
  • Front halogen, rear LED - With capacitors that keep your taillight and an auxiliary light on the front lit when you stop
  • Busch & Muller DIWA System - Senses when you're stopping, brightens taillight (just like a car), or turns it on for a moment if it's daytime

This would be so awesome. However, all that equipment together costs a good bit more than the entire cost of my newish bike, so I'll wait until I've been working for a while...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

I know that this doesn't really matter to anyone except me, but our internet is back up after more than a week away. And the lady on the phone at Comcast explaining why we didn't deserve anything more than credit for the eight days it was out makes me want to leave a flaming bag of dog poo on their front stoop. Anyway, enough complaining:

> Built to Spill - Else
> Outkast - Xplosion
> Xiu Xiu - Suha [YouTube, live]
> !!! - Bend Over Beethoven
> Cat Power - Willie
> Radiohead - Karma Police [YouTube]
> Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Bobby Malone Moves Home [mp3]

The Xiu Xiu clip gives a good sense of their live show, though you need to give it a minute or two to get going.

Monday, April 16, 2007


You probably don't want to read my thesis, Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Fund Act: A Policy Process Case Study. But you can if you want to.

Over the weekend I emailed copies to the 20 people I interviewed for the paper, and I'm eager/nervous to hear what they say. This issue was the source of a lot of partisan tension at the time it was being fought in the legislature, and obviously my thesis can't please everyone. The feedback has been positive from the three people I've heard back from so far, but we'll see. Many won't have time to read a 65-page paper, I suspect...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nancy Graceless

This hilarious Daily Show dissing is richly deserved.

Photos around B-more, etc.

After a few glorious hours, our internet went down again. Comcast says it "might be back by Tuesday. It says here the equipment is underground and they have to dig it up, and they don't work on weekends." I've never really done the yelling-at-service-rep-on-the-phone thing, but I was really close.

So I'm sitting at IPS, taking advantage of the somewhat ironic fact that the Information Security Institute downstairs from us has an unsecured Wifi connection. In less cranky news, I had a really great day yesterday bumming around town with Matt and Risa (in town visiting for the weekend) and Chris and Elizabeth. We went to the Cylburn Arboretum, duckpin bowling, and ate. Elizabeth made a rhubarb pie that was absolutely delicious.

Anyway, I've uploaded some new pictures to my Baltimore set on Flickr, mostly taken around town on bike rides before the weather went back to winter again. Below, the abandoned American Brewery building in East Baltimore looms in the distance, a pretty building in a bleak neighborhood.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Of pens and bikes

Our internet had been down since Wednesday afternoon, and just came back now...not exactly "Comcastic," as the cable company would say. (I note that their term and its accompanying ad campaign has been pre-infused with irony so as to guard against my sarcastic use. But take that, Comcast, I'm doing it anyway.)

Anyway, also in the category of things that seem like small annoyances but are actually big problems, my bike lock wasn't working most of this week. It jammed when I was in a hurry, and in my haste to lock it, I managed to pull out the key when it was only half locked, leaving it un-unlockable. I tried a few strategies to fix this, but had no luck. Then I remembered the hubbub a couple years ago when it was publicized that some Kryptonite locks could be opened with a certain inexpensive brand of pen. I was under the impression that mine was old enough that it did not have the vulnerability, but I tried it anyway.

Fortunately/unfortunately it worked. Really easily. I just took the top off this free hotel pen, jammed it in and turned, and it opened right up.

I guess I really ought to get a new bike lock. That's a bummer, because this one just happens to fit nicely in my cargo rack.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

DC, Google My Maps

Last weekend I drove down to DC with my bike in the car and rode around to check out neighborhoods that I might want to live in. It was fun -- especially since the weather was actually nice then, as opposed to the second coming of winter that we have now. Bike riding is easier and less stressful in DC, because the streets are wider, there are bike lanes, drivers are more accommodating, and the pavement is better. I also liked some of the neighborhoods I saw...Mount Pleasant, a neighborhood with lots of Latinos, has good cheap places to eat and Latino grocery stores, as well as pleasant tree-lined streets.

I noticed yesterday that Google Maps has a new feature called My Maps that lets you easily create your own map content. It's pretty awesome, and user-generated content apparently shows up in map searches if you make it public. I figured a good way to try this out would be to map the areas where I'm thinking of living in DC -- so here it is. The key is on the left, click on the maps items for more info.

I'm pretty psyched about this new Google feature, actually. I can't see inside other people's heads, but I'm under the impression that I'm more geographically obsessed than most. For instance, when I'm writing an essay about something, I typically have a location in my mind that I visualize that is somehow connected (often for no apparent reason) to that idea. And I always feel uncomfortable when I don't have a sense of how things relate to each other geographically (as when going around town on the subway and not seeing the space between destinations). So these new maps tools/toys will be quite enjoyable. There's also lots of room for cool new features and applications of this stuff. Google Maps is apparently well-integrated with the upcoming Apple iPhone, and I'm really hoping that the next generation of iPhone will have GPS built in. If you've got Google Maps on a phone with GPS, you could have it mark stuff on My Maps while you're there, like the locations of all the apartments you're looking at. Or if someone's made up a map of all the cool coffee shops in the city, you could call that up and see which one is closest to you at that moment. And what I consider to be the holy grail of that sort of thing is a phone that will display a map of where you are and the locations and route info of transit vehicles in the area. Anyway, lots of exciting possibilities...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Xiu Xiu and Co.

Back when I thought I would certainly be all done with work on my thesis the night before it was due, I planned to go to a Xiu Xiu show with Shane on Thursday night. Despite not actually being done, I went anyway, and it was definitely worth it. It was at the Ottobar, which I like a lot better than Sonar, the big venue downtown. Ottobar is smaller, the sound is better, and it I just like the vibe better.

I wasn't familiar with the first opener, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, though Susie had coincidentally mentioned them a few days before. In any case, "them" turns out to be a misnomer, because it's just one dude, Owen Ashworth, with a bank of cheap Casio keyboards and some other audio equipment. It turned out to be really cool, and Shane and I both bought CDs.

I've been enjoying the album I bought, Etiquette. Two of the songs, Bobby Malone Moves Home[mp3] and Young Shields[mp3] are available for free.

You can tell that Ashworth is a film school dropout from the instructions he gave the makers of the video for Young Shields:
1 . All footage must be taken from nine different shots, each 2 minutes 59 seconds in length.
2. Each shot must be taken from a different location.
3. All footage must be shot outdoors, using only available, artificial light.
4. No script, no actors. Any persons appearing in the video must be strangers to you.
5. No stationary shots. The camera must constantly be in motion, but without zooms.
6 . No special effects, titles, or any sort of post-production treatments can be made to the images.
7. All audio must come from a single, on-location microphone.
8. All audio must be cut to match the image, without any other
audio source. hence, the song must be broadcast wherever you are filming and recorded as part of the environment.
9. The video must run for the exact length of the song.

Oh yeah, Xiu Xiu were great, too. I'd seen them once before in Minneapolis, and this time they had a drummer with them, which was a big plus. While the second opener, Shearwater, had been dramatic, it seemed forced and overdone. Xiu Xiu, by contrast, was genuinely dramatic and freaky -- it makes for a great live show.

Friday, April 06, 2007


I submitted my thesis -- "Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Fund Act: A Policy Process Case Study" -- to the commercial binding office at the library this afternoon, a full 45 minutes prior to the deadline. I am so glad to be done...I was busy with that and other stuff all week, and am just exhausted. Once I get up to speed on the stuff I've been putting off, I can coast to graduation. But tonight I think I might just watch some West Wing and go to bed early.