Tuesday: 30.September.2003

Rad Rig 2003: The Black Beast

I helped a friend design a new PC for himself. This is always a lot of fun. See here.

Thursday: 25.September.2003

K-Street tackles MP3 downloading

Saw the new HBO special: K-Street last night. On the surface, it appears to be a fly-on-the-wall look at lives of high-power political consultants in Washington DC. Upon closer inspection however, it's actually "an experimental fusion of reality and fiction".

I don't care much for politics, but this episode caught my attention, cuz it addresses the moral and ethical issues surrounding the downloading of MP3s, and how legislators feel about it.

If you search for either Ripping CDs, or MP3 encoding, you'll find the Radified Guide to Ripping & encoding is a popular How-to on creating the highest quality MP3s. Far as I know, this guide is the *first* of its kind (originally published back in 2001, and frequently updated). Since then many other guides have come along. Some of these authors even mentioned using mine as a starting point and their inspiration (such as Professor Kurth).

As you might imagine, I get plenty of mail on this heated topic. Some claim that I'm "teaching people how to rip off Recording artists" .. as if I were some evil person who published a schematic on how to build a nuclear bomb. They seem to forget it's perfectly legal to encode MP3s (from the songs on a legally-purchased CD).

The new HBO series I mentioned is named for the street (in Washington DC) that runs east-west only 3 blocks from the White House. See here (56-KB, red line is K-street). I used to live in southern Pennsylvania, and spent many wonderful weekends in DC [neighboring Georgetown, actually .. always hitting Clyde's for brunch on Sunday morning].

What interested me most about the episode was .. they sat down a group of high-school students and asked them a variety of questions about downloading MP3s. Some of their responses:

* We don't see it as stealing from the artists (who are cool), but rather from industry execs (who we don't care about).
* Is there really a law that says I can't download an MP3?
* Why should I pay $12 for a CD when my neighbor is going to download it for free?
* We know it would be wrong to walk into a store and steal a CD, but it doesn't seem wrong to download a song or two from a CD we don't have the money to buy anyway.
* When asked if they felt it was morally wrong to download MP3s, not a single student raised his hand.

I also found it interesting when one of the consultants said the quality of MP3 are "not nearly as good" as the original CD. This might've been true a year or two ago, when nearly all MP3s were 128-kbps, but people today are learning how to create high-quality MP3s, and lossless audio files, which are equal in fidelity to the original CD.

Another point they brought up was that nobody wants to buy a (whole) CD when they only like one or two songs on it .. and one song is not worth $12. The politician's bottom line is "My colleges and I don't feel good about arresting a 13-year old girl and taking her away in handcuffs."

Wednesday: 24.September.2003

Avatar: Word Origins

Today's Word-of-the Day is especially interesting to computer users. I've always known what an avatar was .. [electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user, as in a computer game] .. but I never knew where the word came from:

"Avatar" started life as a word meaning "the incarnation of a Hindu deity (as Vishnu)." It derives from a Sanskrit word meaning "descent," is ultimately from a word that means "he crosses over," and referred to the descent of a deity to the earth in some earthly form.

It later came to refer to any incarnation in human form, and then to any embodiment (such as of a concept or philosophy), which may or may not be a person.

Recently, "avatar" has developed another new sense, one that is distantly related to the concept of a descending deity via the idea of "embodiment"—it can be used for the image that a person chooses as his or her "embodiment" in an electronic medium.

In the Rad forums, I use Sylvester as my avatar: He's the cartoon cat who used to say, "Sufferin' succotash". In other forums, I use an animated gif a friend made for me.

Tuesday: 23.September.2003

Arnold next governor of California?

You might've heard about the recall of California's governor: Gray Davis .. first such recall in the nation's history. Gray is accused of deceiving the people of California about the state's financial condition (during his re-election campaign). He claimed a debt of some $20-billion dollars, while that figure was closer to 40. Of course, he has nothing to lose by fighting the recall.

California is home to Silicon Valley, and therefore affected by the health of the Technology industry. When the bottom fell out of the Tech sector, California's tax-base fell with it. This is the primary source of the state's fiscal woes.

Another problem (albeit, self-inflicted) comes from the State's feeble attempt to deregulate energy prices. Prior to this, the PUC controlled prices (guaranteeing utilities a modest profit). Since the prices of plane tickets fell drastically after the government deregulated the Airline industry, some (naive and inexperienced) politicians got the bright idea the same would happen to energy prices if that industry was deregulated (which would subject prices to the economic forces of supply and demand).

The premise sounded reasonable, but the execution was appalling. The folks who run the state's utilities are obviously much smarter than those who ran the Airline industry. Because, soon as the government changed the playing field so that energy prices became subject to economics forces (supply & demand), the people who ran the utilities manipulated the game so that it appeared demand out-paced supply (thereby raising prices).

As these (artificially inflated) prices continued to climb, month after month, people began getting desperate. So the government decided to jump in and "save the day" by fixing prices when they were at their all-time highs.

Soon as this happened, prices (magically) fell .. and the poor people of California are left paying inflated energy prices for the next 10 years .. thanks to a bunch of politicians who had no idea of what they were doing .. or worse: maybe they did. This paints the current administration as incompetent, negligent or criminal .. depending who you ask.

More likely, you've heard Arnold is running for office .. to "pump up" Sacramento (state capital) as he says. Most feel certain Arnold will become the next governor of California .. for these reasons:

* He's not a lawyer
* He's not a politician
* He's married to a Kennedy

Nobody seems to hold his inexperience against him. In fact, they view it as a positive. I heard one guy say he was going to "vote for the person with the largest breasts" .. which, I think, is Arnold. =)

Monday: 22.September.2003

Burning computer eyes

My eyes been bothering me lately. I think it's from staring at this screen. Never had an eye-problem before. My vision is fine. I don't need glasses. They just burn. And now I have to move text farther away in order to read .. like grandma used to do. I used to kid her about needing longer arms. It's not so funny now.

I bought some stuff called Similason. Drops specifically designed for "computer eyes". Works great, but costs ten bucks for a tiny 10-ml bottle. I go thru one a week. I'm not crazy about dropping all that broccoli on eye drops, but they're hard to do without. I keep a bottle on my desk at all times. Somebody also suggest I get a flat panel, since they are reportly easier on the eyes.

Wednesday: 17.September.2003

Happy Birthday Dogbrother

Happy birthday to the Dog. He's my best friend. We met over 20 years ago, in Hawaii, when we were both young punks, in the Navy, living on the island of Oahu (working at Pearl Harbor), enjoying the Aloha spirit. We got along from the moment we met.

He lives on the East Coast now, in Hoboken, New Jersey. So I don't get to see very much of him .. like when he used to live up the road here, in Hollywood .. but at least he calls every now & then, usually from his cel while driving thru Manhattan, on his way home. He still makes me laugh and can cheer up my bluest days.

We've been calling each other 'Dog' (short for Dogbrother) for over 20 years now: long before it became the fashionable, gangsta-chic tag it is today. They're just copying us. We're the originators.

He has moved more times than anyone I know (38 times in the last 25 years). The dog makes the life of a hobo seem stable. He feels at home living in the big city; the country makes him uncomfortable.

Back in the day, we'd be hanging out, prowling the streets of Waikiki, at 1AM, and I'd say, "We gotta work tomorrow, dog. You think we should head home?" (We lived on Ala Wai Boulevard, downstairs from two strippers: Sandy & Bambi, who became close friends.) That's when I first heard the line he became famous for: "The night's in diapers!"

He ordered me my first flaming bullet. That's a drink containing three shots. One each: 151, Galliano & tequila. The bartender lights it on fire before serving. One takes your legs away. Now he's a vegetarian. Times change.

He's the greatest guy .. one of those people everybody likes (unlike me). Wish I was in New York today, to take him out to dinner. Wonder how much a plane ticket to JFK would cost. I miss that Jersey boy. You can read some of his work here. He's currently working on a novel, in his spare time.

Saturday: 13.September.2003

Rad does yoga

I took a yoga class this morning. Only a few guys were there. Mostly women. The opposite ratio of working out in a gym, where testosterone rules.

Yoga is hard: much more difficult than it looks (like surfing) .. at least, when you're a noobie like me. Old ladies were kicking my butt and making me look bad. I can't do some of the poses (called 'asanas'). It's impressive to see the pretzel-like poses many of these people can get into. I would like to be able to do that someday.

I especially enjoy the atmosphere there, They turn down the lights, which sets a relaxed mood. They burn incense and play quiet, meditative music. In class, they also use a lot of foreign sanskrit words. (Yoga was invented 4,000 years ago, when sanskrit was the language of the day.) Yoga incorporates a lot of breathing techniques, called pranayama. (I do a slightly different version, called gasping.)

I couldn't help but laugh out loud when the instructor said, "This asana should generate heat." Generate heat is a yoga way of saying "make you sweat your butt off". It would be like saying this man is "feeling displeased" with his computer.

I always feel great when I leave (with a cup of the herb tea they make available). The people who take yoga classes are all very nice. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to tone their body (physical), or those seeking an improved sense of well-being (psychological) .. or simply in search of the world's finest spandex (aesthetic).

Friday: 12.September.2003

9-11 kills the site for 6 hours

You might've noticed the site was down yesterday .. for 5 or 6 hours. Seems the server couldn't handle the spike in demand for 9-11 pictures. It choked on all the requests. Sorry about that. Should be okay 'til next September 11. The most disturbing photos of people leaping to their death were those most-requested.

Thursday: 11.September.2003

Rad gets culture at the LACMA

Went to the LACMA yesterday, to see the French Masters exhibit: 76 paintings on loan from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I had no idea Russians were such avid collectors. They have more French art than anyone outside of France.

Catherine the Great began collecting fine works ~150 years ago. Wealthy aristocrats followed suit and built their own, private collections. With the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, all that private art became property of the state. Literally overnight, the state possessed a collection of first-class French art rivaling any in the world.

For a few extra dollars, I recommend you rent an audio guide, consisting of a mini-digital player and headset. Many of the paintings have numbers beside them. Simply enter this 3-digit number on the keypad and press the green 'Play' button. You'll hear a brief description of the painting, its subject(s) and history.

I can't begin to explain how impressive this collection is. Remember all those names you heard in Humanities class? and read about in art books? .. like Matisse, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Degas, Van Gogh and Picasso .. well, they're all there.

Personally, I enjoy paintings by Renoir the best. Not sure why. They give me a feel for that period of time. Those by Van Gogh seem to have the most 'presence' .. maybe because I'm such a fan of Vincent, and have studied his life.

Docent tours are also available, but there's such a large crowd of people following them around, that you can't get near the paintings they discuss. And some of the ladies in those crowds wear way too much perfume. Lighten up, ladies.

We also saw the Modigliani exhibit. It was cool, but nothing like the Pushkin exhibit. Modigliani, like many artists of that era, lived poor and died young (36 or 37). He drank and took drugs (which included smoking hash). A friend of mine has a theory that most artists have serious psychological/mental problems.

The Pushkin exhibit will be here until October 13. .. before returning to Moscow. If you live in SoCal, don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Monday: 08.September.2003

Sex and the City

Sex and the City has become surprisingly popular here. I always thought it was a corny chick-flick sit-com .. until I watched an episode with a friend, and found that it mirrors real-life situations enough to "ring true" in a pithy way.

The group watching it at the Rad ranch has grown. We now have quite a gathering cramming 'round the tube every Sunday night. Folks mysteriously show up right at show time. The more the merrier. It's becoming an event .. (like another HBO special: Def Poetry).

The girls don't like it when guys talk during the show. They shhhhush us. (I haven't been shhhush'ed since 4th grade.) Last night was the show's 85th episode. And next Sunday is the season finale. It starts back up in January.

Sex and the City is an HBO original series .. recently nominated for 13 Emmy awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series .. about four mostly-single girls (Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte & http://www.hbo.com/city/cast/character/miranda_hobbes.shtml
) .. and their trials & tribulation in their search for love in the Big Apple. It's not really about sex per se. Each girl reminds you of someone you know, and represents a particular type. They are all very different from one other (like the seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall).

After discovering the show, girls have been known to rent the videos for an entire season at Blockbuster and spend the weekend catching up on old episodes.

Saturday: 06.September.2003

Wireless broadband netwoking on a boat

A friend lives on a boat at the Long Beach marina. Digital life there sucked cuz she was limited to a dial-up Internet connection. Then she found a guy who offers wireless networking services for folks who live at the marina.

For US$150, she got herself a wireless network card (PCM-CIA) for her laptop (Dell 8200), and an antenna. At the far end of the pier is a repeater a repeater. She now has a broadband connection, and is loving digital life once again.

But the repeater the repeater is UNI-directional, and she cannot connect to the network while down below (in the cabin). So she can only connect while up on the deck .. which kinda sux during the day cuz of the sun/glare/brightness.

The guy providing the wireless service (for a very reasonable $20 per month) plans to replace the UNI-directional repeater with an OMNI-directional one. He thinks this will allow her to connect from down below in the cabin. Broadband on a boat: does it get any better? Maybe with a beer.

Thursday: 04.September.2003

Jon gets a part in Jeepers Creepers 2

The kids start back at school today. In order to celebrate the last day of their summer vacation, we took them to see Jeepers Creepers 2 last night. "Every 23rd spring, for 23 days, it gets to eat. Eat what?"

The first 20 minutes were slow. But then things got interesting. Nick sat next to me. He was so scared you couldn't pry his hands from his face with a crowbar. (Don't think I didn't try.) He covered not only his eyes, but also his ears. I kept saying, "The monster is gone, Nick. You can look now." But he would have none of it. I doubt he saw more than half the movie.

If you're a regular RADIFIED reader from way back, and remember the days when we used to post weekly updates of Wendy's adventures at the world's finest Film school .. you may recall Jon Powell, who starred in the 546-semester film she edited, titled Echo.

Anyway, Jon is in Jeepers Creepers. He comes in at the very end .. playing the grown-up version (23 years later) of a young kid in the story. He has only a small part - maybe a minute - but he does a great job .. with good screen presence. They give his face a full-screen close-up. There was no doubt: it was him. I stayed and watched the credits at the end to make sure.

This was the first time I saw someone I actually knew in a movie. He did a great job in Echo. His talent was evident even back then. So it doesn't surprise me that he's moving up. Creepers is produced by American Zoetrope .. a company started by Francis Ford Coppola (my favorite director, Apocalypse Now) .. which means Jon is on his way. You can say, "I knew him when he was doing student films..."

Wednesday: 03.September.2003

French masterpieces at LACMA

For those of you who live here in sunny Southern California, there's a great exhibit .. "priceless" you might say.. at the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) .. on loan from the State Pushkin Museum in Moscow. French masterpieces from the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Cezanne. Exhibition includes 76 Paintings; 52 on view for the first time in the United States. Details here.

Friends who went said it's incredible. Docent slide talks & tours are available (for free) Tuesdays, Fridays & Sundays. Tickets (US$20, $17 during the week) include entrance to the rest of the museum. If you go before the 28th, you can also catch the Modigliani exhibit. The Pushkin exhibit runs until October 13th.

I heard the Germans pillaged these painting from conquered countries during WWII .. and that the Russians took them from the Germans at the end of the war. They've been in hiding for years. The original owners want them returned. International scandal & intrigue.