Favorite Posts of 2010

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2010. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

Running for a Flight

CSI: Seattle Center

RIAA To Pursue Mix Tapes

Great Customer Service from Ergotron with Samsung Monitor

The lamest gypsy curse ever

Where the rubber meets the road -- and decides to stick around

Skipping Mordor in favor of Dawn

Marian Call and Molly Lewis in Fremont

One Night in Camtasia

Olympic Game Farm -- Sequim, WA


Book Review 59: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Thinking this, he wondered if Mozart had had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time. Maybe I have, too, Rick thought as he watched the rehearsal move along. This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name “Mozart” will vanish, the dust will have won. If not on this planet then another. We can evade it awhile. As the andys can evade me and exist a finite stretch longer. But I get them or some other bounty hunter gets them. In a way, he realized, I’m part of the form-destroying process of entropy. The Rosen Association creates and I unmake. Or anyhow so it must seem to them.

Page 98
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K Dick is one of those books that any fan of Sci-Fi should read at some point. It is also the basis for the movie Bladerunner (which has been recut and released at least 4 times).

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the other Dick novel I read (A Scanner Darkly), but it was still a good read.

The book follows Richard Deckard, an android (or “andy”) hunter for what’s left of the San Francisco police department. Much of the human population has either died off or migrated to Mars. Most of the animal population has also died off; only the wealthy can afford pets. Those with less money can have a robotic pet, like the titular Electric Sheep. They look like normal animals and require similar upkeep, but they are still robots.

He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another. He had never thought of this before, the similarity between an electric animal and an andy. The electric animal, he pondered, could be considered a subform of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him.

Page 42

Androids serve humans on Mars and are not allowed on Earth. Deckard and his colleagues hunt and destroy androids that escape to San Francisco. The trick is distinguishing them from humans. To distinguish them, they conduct a series of tests designed to measure empathy. As new androids get developed, however, they also do a better job of passing the tests. Separating them from humans becomes an even bigger challenge.
“On the test or otherwise. Everything that gives it a different quality. And then I report back and the association makes modifications of its zygote-bath DNS factors. And we then have the Nexus-7. And when that gets caught, we modify again and eventually the association has a type that can’t be distinguished.

‘Do you know of the Boneli Reflex-Arc Test?” he asked,

"We’re working on the spinal ganglia, too. Someday the Boneli test will fade into yesterday’s hoary shroud of spiritual oblivion.” She smiled innocuously—at variance with her words. At this point he could not discern her degree of seriousness. A topic of world-shaking importance yet dealt with facetiously; an android trait, possibly, he thought. No emotional awareness, no feeling-sense of the actual meaning of what she s said. Only the hollow, formal, intellectual definitions of the separate terms.

Page 190

It’s a frustrating and never-ending cycle of development and destruction. Whether Dick is talking about people, androids, or animals, the same cycle persists.
“It’s not just false memory structures,” Phil Resch said. “I own an animal; not a false one but the real thing. A squirrel. I love the squirrel, Deckard; every goddamn morning I feed it and change its papers—you know, clean up its cage—and then in the evening when I get off work I let it loose in my apt and it runs all over the place. It has a wheel in its cage; ever seen a squirrel running inside a wheel? It runs and runs, the wheel spins, but the squirrel stays in the same spot. Buffy seems to like it, though.

“I guess squirrels aren’t too bright,” Rick said.

They flew on, then, in silence.

Page 128

The entertainment in the society is equally as bleak. There is basically one show on TV -- a talk show. It runs for days at a time.

“I’ll sit in the hotel room,” he said, “and watch Buster Friendly on TV. His guest for the last three days has been Amanda Werner. I like her; I could watch her the rest of my life. She has breasts that smile.”

Page 183

The dominant religion is Mercerism. Its followers experience it by interfacing with a virtual reality machine, and they continually walk up hill with Mercer and get pelted with rocks. The rocks leave bruises in the real world, too.

“Mercer said it was wrong but I should do it anyhow. Really weird. Sometimes it’s better to do something wrong than right.”

“It’s the curse on us,” Iran said. “That Mercer talks about.”

Page 242

When folks need to adjust their emotions, they have the option of dialing in on another machine. They can choose what they want to feel for the day.

Dick explores theme of decay, struggle, and identity in this book. Answering the question of, “Who is alive?” is a continuing challenge in the book. It’s not just about which people are androids. It’s also about whether the humans are alive in a spiritual or emotional sense in the wasteland they inhabit. It’s about how they continually wrestle the challenge of decay. Despite the advances in robotics, the humans are clearly on the losing end of the battle with entropy. They fight it, yet still seem resigned to their lives as they are.

In some respects, it’s a book about how technology has simply left the Earth-bound humans behind and gone off without them. It’s not a Luddite book, but it is a dark one.

They themes make it an interesting read. The plot has the twists and turns to keep things moving. Some of the characters are fascinating. And if you are a student of science fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is just one of those books you should be reading, anyway.

While I can’t say I enjoyed it, I can say that I’m glad I read it. And I do recommend reading it. If you’re looking for a happy book, though, this isn’t it.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Olympic Game Farm -- Sequim, WA

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

While many folks may not believe it, there are plenty of non-Twilight related activities on the Olympic Peninsula.

On 2010-08-28, The GF and I hopped on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry to head over to Sequim and visit the Olympic Game Farm. It started as a training and storage facility for animal actors from Disney movies.  While the farm doesn't do much with the movie industry these days, there are still plenty of animals at the farm waiting for people to visit.

Unlike many zoos, most of the animals aren't in cages.  They roam free and visitors drive throuh the area.  The staff will be happy to sell you loaves of bread at the gate (I recomend you get at least 5) so you can feed the animals. That's right, you can actually feed them by hand.  The critters will lumber up to your car window to take the sliced bread right from your hand.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

There are really three sections to the drive.  The first section is filled with bears, llamas, zebras, yaks, and more.  The second section isn't as much fun.  It's a caged area for big cats like lions and similar animals.  That part actually looks like a zoo from years ago.  I imagine the animals are well cared for, but it seems a little more depressing.  The third part is another drive thru zone, but the animals are bigger and potentially more dangerous, so you are supposed to keep your windows closed an not feed the bison.  This three minute video shows parts 1 and 3.  

You can also see the video here, on YouTube.

We had a great visit.  And despite the ability of many of those anamils to kill people if they chose, they are still adorable.

You can see more of my pictures of the Olympic Game Farm here.  A few of them also appear below.

One of the first things visitors see is a prarie dog mound.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The prarie dogs apparently decided to entertain some birds, too.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Llamas were some of the most aggressive animals.  Or maybe it's just because they were so many.  They walked from car to car looking for bread. 

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Several zebras sought out their own bread, too.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The yaks certainly enjoyed their snacks, but they were less assertive.  Instead they just milled about.  Once they would get their bread, or realize they weren't getting any, they just sort of leaned against the car or stood in the middle of the road until they came up with something better to do.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The Shoebox Chef decided she was running low on chicken stock while we were there and decided to do something about it.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

I'm guessing Peacocks don't make the best soup, and that they are not prey for llamas, zebras, or yaks.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

Of course, the bears stole the show.

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

2010-08-28 Olympic Game Farm

The Olympic Animal Farm isn't that many miles from Seattle, but because all that darn water and those mountains tha get in the way, it takes several hours to get there.  If you've got a free day in the Seattle area, and like to get close up to animals beyond cats, dogs, and squirrels, be sure to visit.  Just keep the top up on the convertible.

More pictures available here.


How was your Christmas?

I'm quite lucky, this year, for a number of reasons.  To begin with, it looks like we are facing massive flight disruption in the Northeast due to snow on Sunday.  I booked my return flight for Wednesday, so I shouldn't have to worry too much about snow (though I think Seattle may get some from a separate storm).

I got to see a bunch of relatives this week, and I even figured out how many of them are actually related to me, which, given the crowds of cousins of assorted flavors can be a bigger puzzle than you might think.

And I got some cool toys, including a new Macro lens, a portable scanner, the Bladerunner DVD set, a number of books (yes, you will be subject to more of my book reviews), an updated, electronic Rubiks' cube, a gnome and mug from Germany, and more.  And I realize now, I'll be using all of it to, in one way or another, generate additional digital content.


How was your Christmas?


Patience with Traffic

I used to be one of those people who did all his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  There are a lots of practical reasons for that, I suppose, but part of me enjoyed it.  I did that for several years before tiring of it.

I would remember leaving the Green Acres mall at about closing time on Christmas Eve, having accomplished most of my shopping, and trying to leave the parking lot.  It's a big parking lot, and on a normal day it would take 5-10 minutes to drive out.  Christmas Eve, it would take 90-120 minutes.  It's frustrating for some people.  I could tell by looking in their windows.  It wasn't for me, however.

I was perfectly happy to turn on Z100's 24 hours of Christmas on the car radio, roll down the window, and inch along the lanes. I'd smile and gradually merge with the more annoyed shoppers as I enjoyed this solitary Christmas tradition.  I knew what to expect from the traffic.  I prepared for it ahead of time.  And as a result, it didn't bother me.  It was fun in its own kind of twisted way.

I suppose it's all about knowing what to expect -- plan for that traffic and relish the moments it gives you. Let the music flow, and enjoy those traditions no matter how crazy they make you look.  Afterall, it's the Holidays.

Merry Christmas.


I think I'm back on track with posting

My blogging declined a bit this month.  That's been frustrating for me because I really want to get a post live every other day.  I've got some time off work now so I fully expect to burn out my word processor stringing together thoughts and words that I find mildly amusing.  I've got a lengthy list of things I plan to write about.  The key thing is to see if I can execute that plan.

So what happened this past month or so?

I'm not sure.  The pace of stuff at work has picked up, but I've also spent less time in planes, so that balances out.

One thing that has changed is the nature of my work.  I'm writing more -- both a quasi-internal blog for one of my employer's customers and creating more technology training content.  

It leads me to wonder if there are a maximum number of words I can write in a month.  If I use up all my words writing for work, does that mean there are fewer available for my blog?  Are words like WWII food rationing stamps?

Or is writing more like spells in a role playing game?  Does writing consume mana so that once I've written a bunch of stuff, I may be able to do other tasks, but writing simply will not happen until my mana refreshes itself and I can cast my "BLOG!" spell again?

Or perhaps it's just a sign that I should spend less time on Fark, and more time looking at a blank screen.  


My fix for problems with Firefox 3.613

I had to prep a new laptop recently, and wanted to put Firefox on it.  I'm not sure why; I've prettey much abandoned it for Chrome, but it still seemed like a good idea.

I downloaded the latest version (3.613) from the Mozilla website, installed it, and tried to launch the application. It wouldn't launch.  Instead it just crashed on startup.  I tried it several times and had no luck.  I did get it to launch in safe mode, but that's no fun.

I tried rebooting, uninstalling, reinstalling, redownloading, and kept getting the same result.

Finally, I uninstalled it one more time, then I sought out Firefox 3.5.  I found it and installed that version. Once I launched it, it prompted me to upgrade to 3.6.  I chose that option, installed the upgrade, and it finally worked.

Short version of the story?  Download the earlier version of Firefox, install it, upgrade to the newer version, and have fun surfing.


Frequent Flier Animations

Frequent Fliers, and those who put up with us, will likely appreciate these videos.

Direct Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFO0HSxJYWM

Direct Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDToRIUoC_0

Of course, I did just do a quick mileage run on Saturday on QX SEA-EAT-SEA to lock in status for next year...


Military to Ban removable media from many computers

In response the release of thousands of embarrassing documents on Wikileaks, the Pentagon has decided to ban removable media from computers.  According to Wired:

Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, commander of Air Force Network Operations, issued the Dec. 3 “Cyber Control Order” — obtained by Danger Room — which directs airmen to “immediately cease use of removable media on all systems, servers, and stand alone machines residing on SIPRNET,” the Defense Department’s secret network. Similar directives have gone out to the military’s other branches.

“Unauthorized data transfers routinely occur on classified networks using removable media and are a method the insider threat uses to exploit classified information. To mitigate the activity, all Air Force organizations must immediately suspend all SIPRNET data transfer activities on removable media,” the order adds.

It’s one of a number of moves the Defense Department is making to prevent further disclosures of secret information in the wake of the WikiLeaks document dumps. Pfc. Bradley Manning says he downloaded hundreds of thousands of files from SIPRNET to a CD marked “Lady Gaga” before giving the files to WikiLeaks.


This raises a few questions.  Let me preface this by saying I have no direct experience with military IT policies and procedures.  There may be very good reasons for why things were set up the way they were.  I'd like to think the military considered these questions at some point prior to this.

Why weren't these devices already heavily restricted or permitted only with additional approvals in advance? For years, it's been possible to configure a corporate PC in such a way that these devices won't work.

It seems like a the main suspect in the leak was a relatively low-ranking service member.  Should he have had access to such a large volume of disparate information?  I can see someone having a job requiring them to have access to classified information, but the breadth of it is rather astonishing.

Finally, it seem that this exposure is the result of someone intentionally downloading information to removable media, in a way not relevant to his job.  It seems like that would already be at the very least a policy violation.  He then likely committed an illegal act in turning the data over to another organization.  Would the threat of Court Martial for using removable media really have made any difference?

It's not like someone copied the data to an insecure thumb drive to work on it and then lost that drive accidentally.  This appears to be a deliberate and intentional act.  Would these policy changes have made any difference in this case?  It seems doubtful.



Angry Birds Peace Treaty: an end to Avian on Porcine violence, or a new Aporkalypse?

If you are a fan of Angry Birds, one of the hottest games out there for Android or iOS, and you are not among the 2 million+ people who have already seen this, you owe it to your self to take a look. It's pretty awesome.

(Note: some language may be NSFW).

Angry Birds Peace Treaty


Movie Review 17: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Any Harry Potter movie is guaranteed to be a box office smash. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is no exception. It’s also one of the best movies in the series. I put it on a par with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

If you haven’t read the books and still plan to see the movie (or read them) just go see it. It’s paced well and is a good adaptation of the story. In some respects, it does a better job of telling the story.

The rest of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. If you’ve read the book, then you already know what they are. If you want to go in completely cold, you should probably stop reading now, and just go see the movie.

I was worried about the camping sequence from the book. In the book, is seems like Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend a ton of time just wandering about the woods, trying to figure out their next steps. They do that in movie, but it doesn’t slow down the film. They show the passage of time with the weather and a haircut, and even though the whole process takes months, there’s enough action and character moments that it doesn’t get boring. And I want Hermione's bag.

During the initial escape from Privet Drive, we see the first death of the film. Although we know it’s coming, it’s still a shock to see the green light hit Hedwig. This is one of the liberties the movie takes with the book. As I recall the story in the book, the Deatheaters figure out who the real Harry is by his signature spells. In the movie, it’s Hedwig’s efforts to protect Harry that give him away.

The Familiars were always an area of the book where I think J K Rowling missed an opportunity. Early on, every witch and wizard has a familiar. Hermione has her cat, Ron has his rat (for a few books, anyway), and Harry has his owl. Outside of the actions in The Prisoner of Azkeban, though, the familiars don’t really do anything. Sure, they’re pets, and provide some companionship, but there’s not really anything magical about them. They don’t compliment the witches and wizards anymore than they would a muggle, yet Rowling seems to make a big deal about them early on. But I guess that’s not really a comment about the movie.

Ron’s bumbling about the muggle world proves entertaining. And the battle in the coffee shop is well done.

There’s a scene where the Snatchers seeking our three leads nearly stumble across them. Hermione’s charms provide adequate protection, but they tension in the scene is thick and very well done.

In fact, the film is filled with tense scenes. Even knowing what is likely to happen next doesn’t quell the stomach knots. Whether it’s the visit to Godric’s Hollow and the encounter with Nagini or Harry’s efforts to retrieve the sword, or Ron’s effort to destroy the necklace or the encounter at Lovegood’s house, the director kept me on the edge of my seat.

There's an awful lot of wand swapping in this film, like there is in the book. And considering the importance of some key wands to the story, it still feels contrived. It's like the writers are trying to make the game of musical wands fit the targeted outcome of the story. In that respect, it's similar to the car swapping towards the end of Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby.  If just seems forced and "convenient" to the narrative.

Finally, the scene for Dobby’s funeral is touching. It accomplishes something Rowling couldn’t do in the book. It’s closes out the movie they way it began -- with the death of a beloved character. Hedwig’s death tells us no one is safe. Dobby’s tells us it’s only getting worse. The movie doesn’t give us a happy ending. We’ll have to wait for part 2 for that. Until that film comes out, all we can do is mourn the characters we lost here, and fret about the fates of everyone else.

In short, this is an excellent film, with good pacing and a solid story. It’s reasonably true to the book and does a nice job of telling a tragic story. And I can’t wait for part 2.

You can find more of my movie reviews here.