Bullet the Blue Sky

Or... Y'know... A bulleted list of junk from the internets:

That is all.

Hit 'Em Again

Here's to having MLK Day off from work! Going for my walk/run today in 15 degree (F) temps wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. Until my calf started cramping. That had nothing to do with the cold, though. It was ready to go from the activity earlier in the weekend.

Junk I've run across:

Lexicographic Smackdown

Having spend a number of years in/around Boston, I can testify that it becomes increasingly believable that the Irish may have invented the world. Perhaps this tendency isn't only a Beantown phenomenon, as illustrated by this NYTimes article about tracing a large portion of the modern slang dictionary to the Irish Gaelic tongue. The book, for which the article is basically an advertisement, is actually called How the Irish Invented Slang.

Like I said, though, it's kind of easy to fall for these types of hypotheses (for whatever reason). Luckily, the intarwebs are full of differing opinions on just about any subject you could imagine. In this case, the counterpoint is solid:

In January 2005, I challenged Cassidy to present all of his evidence. I told him that I’m the descendant of three strains of Irish, four strains of empiricist, and the son of a bluster-catcher, and I said he was going to have to do better than trot out the same-old “they’re all against me!� argument of every perpetual motion inventor.

To date, what he’s provided as evidence is flimsy and fouled by scholarly incompetence.

Just fair warning, if you're at all like me and tend to fall for the various romantic myths of the various Celtic peoples. Besides, everyone knows the Scots invented everything! ;^)

Here's tae us Wha's like us Damn few, And they're a' deid Mair's the pity!


Track o' the Post: Erin Go Bragh from Dick Gaughan's Handful of Earth. (Dick Gaughan, it's worth noting, is a Scot and something of an internet geek. Nice!)

The Best of the Neo-Atheist Crop

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything I just finished this one in audiobook format, and it's really quite good. Granted, there are probably two types of people who will read this book: Those who already believe what the author, Christopher Hitchens, is saying, and those who need to try to disprove him. It's not like any of these atheist tomes are really likely to achieve their goals of rendering religion obsolete. That only happens one person at a time and it's really unlikely that this book or any like it are going to move ranks of believers into the atheist camp. So the atheists (and even the agnostics) can read it and say "Right on!" and the others can read it and think "Well, he's going to Hell."

Of the two groups, of course, I fall into the former. At least mostly. I try not to be an asshole about it as is the current trend with the so-called new-atheists. I can't tolerate Dawkins and Harris. They seem too feverish. They froth and moan with so much conviction they tend to lose the appearance of reason (in my opinion, of course). In my view, proselytizing is proselytizing no matter which direction you're trying to pull.

I hear Hitchens can be prone to the same patronization and name-calling as the others, but his book (at least) is very well reasoned and for the most part, lays out the argument against religious belief (and organized religion, in particular) quite well. As I've indicated, though, I'm not really sure what good it does. It helps me and those like me expand our list of things we don't like about religion, mostly. Good for me, I guess, but I'm not the guy that gets into those arguments with the religious. I don't even enjoy debating the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses that come to my door -- I just send them away. What about those who do get into these confrontations? Well most of the ones I know already had all the ammo they needed.

I suppose this book will be a good study guide to save the next generations some time.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel is a huge-ass book (just over 1000 pages), which my regular readers will know means I've been reading it for friggin' ages now.

Oh, I'm not done yet, either! But I'm getting close and it's getting rather interesting, so I thought I'd tell you about it. (This is me telling you about it.)

Set in England during the war with Napoleon, when behaviors were formal and people spelled normal words oddly, this book tells the tale of two very different magicians and how they bring about the "rebirth of English magic". I'm no Harry Potter reader, so I can't make any comparisons (if there are any to be made), but this is a fun story overall. Some parts are a bit slow and some parts are real page turners.

The books been around forever - I know I had my eye on it for a good long while. If you've seen it around and thought maybe you'd like to check it out, i can definitely recommend that you do.

4-Hour Workweek: How to Be a Huckster in 4 Easy Steps

Anyone else reading The 4-Hour Workweek? I'm listening to the audiobook on my commute. It strikes me as incredibly meta. There's a definite undertone of

"Here's how you can make yourself and expert and sell information to other people -- just like I did with this book! (Sucker.)"

He also explains everything he's doing ("tricks of the trade"-wise) on the book's companion web site.

That said, it's also quite interesting, plenty entertaining, and disturbingly inspirational. (Lord help us...) It's really not as slimy as I'm making it sound, but it's in there.

Let me know your thoughts if you have read it, are reading it, or plan to read it. I actually think I might pick up the dead-tree version in order to cement my own feelings about it.

So... I guess it's recommended...?

Prairie Doggin'

There's plenty going on these days, but that's all I can think of to share at the moment.

The Nose Knows

It must have been sometime in college that I read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. It easily became one of my all-time favorite novels. (It also makes an interesting gift for a new girlfriend, FYI. There are two copies in my house... I'm just sayin'...) Now I see that they're releasing a movie based on the novel, and the trailer doesn't look half bad.

I make no claims for the film, but the book is highly recommended.

Hey, I read a book!

It only took me 5 months to get to it (and through it) after Ed recommended that I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (I had a couple books higher in the queue, and I read terribly slowly these days.) It's really a great book and really a great relief to me that, all-joking aside, I definitely have very little in common with the Autistic. ;)

Seriously, though, read the book. More diligent readers than myself can easily plow through it in a day or so.

The Book/Movie Meme

Well, well... I guess it's meme time. (All the cool kids are doing it... Or something.) Kottke posted a link to the Guardian's list of 50 (51, actually) best film adaptations of books. Now folks are marking which they have read and/or seen.

I can dig it...

  1. 1984
  2. [M] Alice in Wonderland (Disney)
  3. [M] American Psycho
  4. [M] Breakfast at Tiffany's
  5. Brighton Rock
  6. [M] Catch 22
  7. [M] Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (Both)
  8. [M] A Clockwork Orange
  9. Close Range (inc Brokeback Mountain)
  10. The Day of the Triffids
  11. Devil in a Blue Dress
  12. [M] Different Seasons (inc The Shawshank Redemption)
  13. [M] Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Bladerunner)
  14. Doctor Zhivago
  15. Empire of the Sun (I think I have seen bits of the film)
  16. The English Patient (The movie put me to sleep)
  17. [BM] Fight Club
  18. The French Lieutenant's Woman (Seen parts of the movie)
  19. [M] Get Shorty
  20. [M] The Godfather
  21. [M] Goldfinger
  22. [M] Goodfellas
  23. [M] Heart of Darkness (aka Apocalypse Now) (Seems like I've read at least some of this)
  24. [M] The Hound of the Baskervilles (I also bet I've read this -- I think I tore through Doyle's collected works when I was young, but I can't say for sure.)
  25. [M]Jaws
  26. [M]The Jungle Book
  27. A Kestrel for a Knave (aka Kes)
  28. [M] LA Confidential
  29. [M] Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  30. [BM] Lolita
  31. Lord of the Flies (Only seen part of the movie)
  32. [M]The Maltese Falcon
  33. [M]Oliver Twist
  34. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Seen parts of the movie, but not all. I own it though...)
  35. [M] Orlando
  36. [M] The Outsiders
  37. [M] Pride and Prejudice
  38. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  39. The Railway Children
  40. Rebecca
  41. The Remains of the Day (Seen parts of the movie)
  42. [M] Schindler's Ark (aka Schindler's List)
  43. [M] Sin City
  44. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
  45. [M] The Talented Mr Ripley
  46. Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  47. Through a Glass Darkly
  48. To Kill a Mockingbird
  49. [BM] Trainspotting
  50. The Vanishing
  51. [M] Watership Down

As with the others, I marked it if I'd seen any movie adaptation of the given title. I'm a little embarassed by only having three books checked off, but I will say they are three of my faves.

What Should I Do with My Life?

For the record, Po Bronson's book by that title doesn't really provide any answers. It just tells you about some of the lucky bastards who have figured out an answer to the question. So, yeah... This is something I'm thinking about a lot these days. Unless something changes drastically and some switch gets flipped in my head, I don't see myself doing what I'm doing now for more than, say, another five years.

So what do I want to do instead? I have absolutely no idea.

It's a hell of an exercise to try to figure out where your passion lies and what work would make you happy day-to-day. Lately, I've been asking myself the lottery question:

What would I do if I won PowerBall today?

The thought is that even if I had buckets of cash falling out of my ears I would do something to keep myself busy. I figure that if, I can find the answer to that question, I might be able to translate that into something that would actually pay the bills. As of yet, the answer hasn't come to me. I have no effing clue.

And aside: For those of you who might be thinking "Why is he all freaked out about this now? He's in his early-mid-thirties, shouldn't he be settling into a groove right about now?" Well, maybe / maybe not. Let me just use my darling mother as an excuse: While I was in college studying to be the rocket scientist I never became, she took the opportunity to go to Tufts and become a veterinarian. Total mid-life (a bit early) career change. This is the precident I'm working with.

One option I've long carried in my hip pocket is the posibility of becoming an architect. It's what I wanted to do before I got distracted by airplanes and went into Aerospace. It would take me three and a half years of full-time school to get a Masters Degree, after which I'd be starting at basically zero. Not that it's really the part that matters to me, but the salary would probably be about 50-60% of what I'm making now. Truth be told, I have no real idea if I would enjoy the work, or if I'd be any good at it. It's a scary gamble.

Then there's the idea of making things and earning a living with those creations. Right now, I always think of furniture when I go down this path. Problems with this idea include the fact that I'm really not that skilled at the woodworking yet, and I really don't want to be in the position where I have to beat the streets to self-promote (If you're making furniture, you have to let people know somehow, right? I'm doubtful that I'd be any good at that part. And then I'd starve.).

(The self-promotion angle comes along with the architect idea, too.)

Friends and I have talked about refurbishing houses (with custom furniture and all that jazz) and flipping them, but it doesn't seem realistic to me. Especially since we'd have to start out doing it part-time while coninuing to crush our souls at the office (that's a joke, it's not all that bad). It's be cool though - and might even work, because these people are talented in areas where I am not.

Maybe I should just come up with a few more t-shirt designs or something...

Now that I'm petering out a bit, let me say out-loud that I really don't hate my current job. I love the people I work with, and we solve extremely interesting problems every day. This career path was a complete accident, and I am grateful for it.

I just don't think it's the path I want to follow for the rest of my life.

Stream of Media Consciousness

So, I'm reading Penn Jillette's novel Sock, and a certain passage brings up the band Cop Shoot Cop. Penn posits that the name isn't about police violence. Rather it is a junkie's to-do list (You have to cop so you can shoot, which makes you need to cop so you can shoot again, etc.). Turns out this isn't the official line:

Puleo reports their name was inspired by both the band members' shared dislike of police officers, and a newspaper headline about a botched police raid, reading "'Cop Shot Cop' or maybe it was 'Cop Shoots Cop.'"

[This gets long...]

When I read it, though, it was like an epiphany. I mean, there's a Spritualized song called "Cop Shoot Cop" (featured on the excellent Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space) and it's all about the smack (Spiritualized is a progeny of Spacemen 3, one of the original Brit-smack-rock bands (The Perfect Prescription is highly recommended, though Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To has the most apropos title.)). Check the words, yo:

Hey man there's a hole in my arm where all the money goes Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose

Cop shoot cop I believe I believe that I have been reborn Cop shoot cop I haven't got the time no more

Yep, that's the horse talking, alright. It even borrows a theme from John Prine's "Sam Stone", a feel-good hit if ever there was one.

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, Don't stop to count the years, Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

So, back to Cop Shoot Cop... I've never sampled their wares, though I've known of them for some time. Then I read that one of the founding members is also the main creative force behind another favorite of mine, Firewater (check out Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire - their first and best):

After Tod left his previous group, Cop Shoot Cop, he quickly regrouped and formed Firewater to explore the styles of music Cop Shoot Cop had only hinted at, including klezmer, cabaret, ska, jazz, and gypsy forms. More than one source described the original Firewater lineup as an "indie rock supergroup", based on members such as Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard, Yuval Gabay of Soul Coughing, Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields, and Hahn Rowe.

Looks like I have some downloading to do. Especially considering Cop Shoot Cop seems to play to a particular weekness of mine:

The trio added Jack Natz on bass guitar, and Tod briefly sang without playing bass. They missed Tod's distinctive "high end" bass playing, however, and they realized only popular convention required a single bass guitarist in a rock band, and both Tod and Natz decided to play the instrument with the group. The relative novelty of a dual-bass, no-guitar rock group certainly helped gather attention.

I'm a sucker for unique intrumentalization. Consider the Boston/Cambridge-based Morphine (Back to the opiates! Yes is my fave.) which consisted of drums, sax, and a two-string slide bass. Or even the Presidents of the United States of America (Their eponymous debut was the perfect antidote for the whole Seattle grunge scene.), whose Chris Ballew worked with Morphine's Mark Sandman and borrowed the basitar and/or guitbass idea. Or even the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (I still stand by Orange, but I love them all.) who just used two guitars, with one tuned way low.

I love interesting minimalism in rock music.

And I guess I really dig the narcotics references, too... Go figure, eh? ;)

Lolita at 50

Is Nabokov's masterpiece still shocking? (Short answer: YES.)

Lolita turns 50 this year, and having stayed so perverse, it remains fresh as ever. To fully appreciate its perversity, though, one must first appreciate that it is not obscene. Your run-of-the-mill obscene masterwork—Tropic of Cancer, say—demands that you, enlightened reader, work your way past the sex and excrement to recognize how beautiful it is. But with Lolita, you must work past its beauty to recognize how shocking it is. And for all its beauty, for all its immense ingenuity and humor, one easily forgets how shocking Lolita is.

I think that's really the genius of the book: wrapping such disgusting subject matter in some of the finest literature ever produced. I suspect that may have been the challenge Nabokov set for himself, too, and somehow he pulled it off.

Jake Sutton: MIA

So, yeah... I'm still here. Here's a little catch-up:

  • My efforts at work on the superultramegaubercrazy-high priority project have come to a rather frustrating result so far thanks to interoperability problems between ColdFusion 5 and Oracle9. Every time we hit the Oracle9 database it causes the memory usage of the ColdFusion server to climb, with that memory never being released. This eventually causes the connection to the database to die with an S1001 Memory Allocation Error, which requires a ColdFusion restart to fix the problem (until the memory allocation builds back up again). Super-fucking-duper.
  • The Big Blue Couches rock. While we are trying to keep the pets off them, it's obviously futile. At least the puddles of Mingus hair come off the ultra-luscious blue microsuede without a problem. I'm just extra-pleased with the fact taht I can lie completely prostrate on the big sofa without touching either arm.
  • The Wife and I have been to the hotbox yoga a total of three times so far. I am enjoying it quite a bit, though I think I may have overstretched my back the last time out. We hope to squeeze a couple more classes into our two week trial period.
  • My motorcycle wrenching buddy Erik and his wife are inches away from having their baby boy. Very exciting times for them!
  • I'll be brining the second turkey of the month for Thanksgiving festivities starting tonight. If you haven't brined a turkey or at least eaten the product of said process, I can't even express how much you need to try it.
  • I'm almost done with the Tales of the Otori trilogy. I highly recommend all three books.
  • Now let's turn the lens outward a bit:

And thus concludes today's category smorgasbord.


Molecular motors push liquid uphill

Droplets of liquid have been moved uphill by molecular motors designed to manipulate Brownian motion.

While other researchers have found ways to make drops of liquids move before, what is new here, says David Leigh at the University of Edinburgh, is the use of molecular motors to achieve it: “This is the first time you can use molecular-level motion to move a macroscopic object. OK, so it’s only a tiny droplet – but it’s a start.�

How very Diamond Age!

Best are the "you might also do this" scenarios:

The so-called “nano-shuttles� could also create a range of different types of smart surfaces, such as adhesive surfaces that can be switched on and off, or surfaces that can be switched from one colour to another.

Brave new world, indeed. I can't wait until I can finally customize the color of my flying car!

A Chunk of the Freak

Cracking the Real Estate Code is an excerpt from Freakonomics, which I am enjoying thoroughly.

So on the sale of your $300,000 house, her personal take of the $18,000 commission is $4,500. Still not bad, you say. But what if the house was worth more than $300,000? What if, with a little more effort and patience, she could have sold it for $310,000? After the commission, that puts an additional $9,400 in your pocket. Yet the agent's additional share - her personal 1.5 percent - is a mere $150. So maybe your incentives aren't aligned after all. Is the agent willing to put out all that extra time and energy for just $150?

Media Consumption

Just a quick catch up on stuff I've enjoyed lately:

  • I just finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I'm late to this game, but I highly recommend the book. Even if you're not interested in marketing per se, the lessons in the book will help you look at things in a different way. That's always a good thing. I was also tickled when the tipping point notion was referenced in an episode of Numb3rs, which is not a bad show at all, btw. Malcom's Blink is in my queue, too.
  • Right now, I am reading Freakonomics, which I picked up after seeing it on Kottke. I'm already enjoying it a lot, as it has touched on a couple examples related to the ones in The Tipping Point, but from a totally different angle. There's a Freakonomics blog that may be worth watching.
  • I'm still marinating in A Whole New Mind. I can honestly say that it has impacted the way I approach certain situations at work. This is a good thing. The author, Dan Pink, also has a blog related to the subject matter of the book on his site
  • I caught Velvet Goldmine on the TiVo. Wow. I really loved it. I suppose it could put you off if you're not down with the boy-on-boy lovin', but I enjoyed the heck out of it. (As noted before, I'm a total sucker for almost anything with Ewan McGregor in it.) I might even consider picking up the soundtrack.
  • Then there's the Matisyahu. Man, that guy makes me happy.
  • I am also digging the Kaiser Chiefs album.

OK, that's it. Carry on.