Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Second World Peace

It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. […]

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating day and night, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby. Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Outside in the Cold Distance, a Wild Cat Did Growl

Two riders were approachin', and the wind began to howl!

All Along the Watchtower, as written by Bob Dylan and performed by Jimi Hendrix, may well be the greatest song of all time.

In contrast to Dylan's earllier work, “All Along The Watchtower” is spare and restrained. The song consists of only three verses, and no chorus. The language is simple. Yet the three verses are packed with meaning and drama.

“There must be some kind of way out of here,”
Said the joker to the thief.

The song by throwing us into the middle of a conversation, and begins with an urgent statement. We don’t know where the “here” is from which the speaker wants to escape, but we know he wants out. The sense of drama is immediate. We find out that the two people speaking are “the joker” and “the thief.” These are archetypal characters that have existed in one form or another for thousands of years. By identifying them in this way, Dylan invokes a sense of timelessness. Because these figures are broad archetypes, there is already a suggestion that this might be a parable of some sort, a story whose essence remains the same over many different times, places and characters.

The joker, or jester, can be seen in general to represent the artist: someone whose role is to amuse other members of the established order, but also to provoke them, to suggest alternate ways of looking at reality. And, of course, the joker and the thief are both outsiders of a sort, united in their separation from more ordered segments of society.

“There’s too much confusion,
I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine,
Plowmen dig my earth.
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth.”

The rest of the verse tells us why the joker wants to escape: there is too much confusion. But what is confused? Others are benefiting from his labors, and working for him to help produce the results. But neither understands the worth of their efforts. So the confusion is about values: what is valuable and what is not.

“No reason to get excited,”
The thief he kindly spoke.
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that,
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
The hour is getting late.”

The second verse begins with the thief speaking “kindly” to the joker. This adverb lets us know that he is sympathetic and that he, perhaps, understands the worth of the joker and his efforts. The thief goes on to say that while there are those who think that life is “but a joke,” the thief and the joker know better, having lived through that. So while others may still be confused, these two are not. Since they understand the value of life, it is important for them to be truthful with one another. Then the last line of the verse brings us back from exposition to a sense of drama and movement, and impending action: “the hour is getting late.”

All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view,
While all the women came and went —
Barefoot servants too.
Outside in the cold distance,
A wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching, and
The wind began to howl.

The beginning of this final verse suddenly shifts the scene, without at first giving us any sense of how this new setting connects to the first one. In contrast to the first two verses, which were full of conversation, this verse unfolds almost cinematically, full of visual imagery. This new scene is populated with princes, women, and barefoot servants, establishing a time and place in the past, although again using enduring, archetypal figures. These figures guarding their castle seem to represent established society, and the existing power structure. But what are they guarding against?

A wildcat growls from a distance, suggesting the savage, untamed power of nature lurking just beyond the well-ordered lights of the castle. Then we see the two riders approaching. Suddenly, in only four words, the first two verses are connected with the last. With a sort of cinematic establishing shot, but used at the end of the story rather than the beginning, we see the thief and the joker approaching the castle. We already know that they want to establish a different set of values, one based on the worth of human life. Their approach towards the guarded castle suggests an impending confrontation. And then the last line of the song strengthens this suggestion with imagery of a furious storm starting to build.

Note how this last verse has made physical the relationships suggested in the previous lines. The thief, joker and wildcat are all placed outside the castle, which is occupied by princes and servants. So we now have, in a very concrete sense, independent outsiders and a rigid power hierarchy.

In the space of a few verses, in a song so spare it could almost be missed as a throw-away, Dylan accomplishes much.

He summarizes his own life to date. Given his earlier efforts to make pointed fun of almost everything around him, and his near-fatal motorcycle crash that marked a turning point in his career, it is hard not to see the joker as Dylan himself. He has now learned that life is not a joke, and distinguishes between artists and outsiders who understand the seriousness of life, versus the businessmen and fans who treat his art as simply a marketable commodity.

Dylan identifies the primary issue of our time as one of values. Modern thinkers such as Ken Wilber, with his image of our contemporary “flatland,” in which everything is seen as neutral, and devoid of value, are brought to mind. In earlier songs Dylan talked tirelessly of modern figures misunderstanding the significance of issues such as war, freedom and poverty. Here Dylan stands back from these specific issues and reduces the confrontation to its essential element: human values against the established order.

Dylan propels his theme with a powerful dramatic structure. From a traditional dramatic viewpoint, almost nothing happens in this song: two riders talk to each other while approaching a castle. We’ve hardly got a decent first act, let alone a whole play. Yet by repeatedly hinting at the intensity of a coming confrontation, and by identifying the two opposing forces, Dylan keeps us on the edges of our seats, wondering what will happen next. The effect at the end is comparable to the conclusion of William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, “The Second Coming”: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” In both cases, there is a perceptible chill creeping up the spine, as the poet leaves his reader to contemplate the inevitability and intensity of the coming confrontation, and its consequences.

Dylan’s original reading of the song is as spare and compact as his words, with the music adding little. Hendrix’ treatment is a whole different matter, though. The first element to note is how the music here parallels the dramatic structure of the song. Listen to the opening drums and guitars, as one example. The beat starts, intensifies, and then stops. As in the lyrics, the power is hinted at, but not unleashed. The music, like the words, points towards some future action, presents the tension, but does not resolve it. This device is repeated throughout the song, with Hendrix mostly holding back, repeatedly returning the song to its basically quiet pace.

The second element to note is Hendrix’ use of guitar to represent the confusion that the joker is experiencing. He uses bent notes, a wah-wah pedal, and other devices to represent a disorienting, almost inhuman sonic landscape.

The third musical element, and the one that really frames and defines the whole song, is Jimi’s repeated, gradually progressing ascents up the scale with blistering notes. The first time it appears, at the beginning of the first guitar break, between the first and second verses. Then at the end of the second, and longer, guitar break, between the second and third verses. And, finally, at the end of the song.

Jimi seems to be gradually reaching for a note that he only finally hits at the end of the song. And then when he gets there, he repeats it, over and over, making a high keening sound, representing not only the howling wind referred to in the last line, but that coming conflict that the song prepares us for. And the music ends on this note, as do the lyrics, without resolution, but clearly pointing forwards to some anticipated future act of liberation.

This is simply a brilliant collaboration between songwriter and musician, the accompaniment extending and reinforcing the meaning and drama of the lyrics.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Know You Rider Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone

Have I ever mentioned that the Grateful Dead are the shit? Because they are.

Monday, August 31, 2009

William D. McIntosh Highway

Automobile clubs used to install and maintain road signs. Slowly local governments and the state took over the road signs and eventually the interstate and state highway systems were created. But while federal and state routes were clearly marked, local routes were often haphazardly marked.

County highways and roads were not well organized. The roads are typically outside of any municipality and are maintained by county highway departments. However, many of them connect between major highways, or go between highways and destinations.

After WWII my mother’s father became a county engineer with Lassen County. He worked on road design, construction, and maintenance at all levels. From operating machinery, to surveying, to layout and design.

In the 1950’s, as a member of the County Supervisors Association of California, he put forward the idea of identifying and standardizing major county routes and he brought it up at a state meeting. There was some initial opposition citing the cost, however one major backer was the California State Automobile Association. They made road maps and recognized that standardized route and markers would greatly simplify driving in California.

So a committee was created, with my grandfather as the head, to investigate a state route marker program.

And In 1958, the County Supervisors Association of California established the California County Route Marker Program.

They developed this sign: County, Number, Blue and gold for California.

The program designates the more important county routes by assigning them as "County Sign Routes" and giving route numbers to them.

The committee developed the following statement of purpose:
“The County Route Marker Program should be clearly defined as a program to mark County routes of major importance that are of general public interest; that are constructed to sufficient standards to guarantee safe passage to the motorist; that are properly signed in conformance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to further ensure safe travel; and that have a logical beginning and logical terminus.”

It was very important that the routes were between two logical destinations, and not roads to nowhere.

The program was successful, so my grandfather took it to the National Association of Counties and looked to establish a similar program for the rest of the states.

And in 1967, it was incorporated nationwide as the National Uniform County Route Marker Program adopted by the National Association of Counties (NACO). The signs remained the same blue and gold signs.

California signs are labeled with a letter and a number. The letters were arranged alphabetically starting at the top of the state. And with Lassen county being one of the northern most counties, my grandfather was able to grab the designation A-1 for one of his best, most scenic roads, which linked HWY 36 and Eagle Lake. The road won national recognition, and the Olympic torch was carried on it for the 1984 Olympics. The road has since been given the designation the “William D. McIntosh Highway.”

Upon retirement my grandfather was given an A-1 belt buckle, which I have up in my office.

When we used to go on car trips as kids we would always point out the blue and gold markers and say “There’s Papa’s sign!”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blind Melon - Walk

I find myself singing the same songs everyday
Ones that make me feel good
When things behind the smile ain't okay

Around and over and in between the seas
I need to be on top of a mountain
Where I can see everything
Cause this paranoia's getting old

Now as I open my eyes to start another day
I'm in a pile of puke
Empty bag of excuses
My love for friends and family
You know I need them

And under a sun that's seen it all before
My feet are so cold
And I can't believe that I have to bang my head against this wall again
But the blows they have just a little more space in between them
Gonna take a breath and try and try again

(Paranoia's getting old)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Favorite Simpsons Lines

When there is too much negativity in the world, I turn to The Simpsons for comfort. And now, without further ado, some of my favorite Simpsons lines.

"There, there. Shut up boy. Crying's not gonna make your dog come back. Unless your tears smell like dog food. So you can sit there eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell enough like dog food to make your dog come back. Or you can get out there and find your dog!" -Homer, to which Bart responds, "You're right dad," and  Homer then says, "Rats, I almost had him eatin' dog food!"

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democracy simply doesn't work." -Kent Brockman

"Everything's coming up Milhouse!" -Milhouse

"May all your disgraces be private!" - Mayor "Diamond" Joe Quimby

"I was saying 'Boo-urns." -Hans Moleman

"Ohhh. I've wasted my life." -Comic Book Guy

"Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!" -Kang

"Lousy Smarch weather." -Homer

"It's fun to obey the machine!"  -Ralph

"I, for one, welcome our new ant overlords." -Kent Brockman

"I dunno. Don't ask me how the economy works." -Homer, when asked how he can afford his house.

"Money can be exchanged for goods and services." -Homer's brain to Homer, when Homer finds $20 instead of his packet of honey roasted peanuts.

"Help me Jeebus!" -Homer

"Marge, I agree with you ... in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory." -Homer
"Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me." -Ralph

"Me fails English? That’s unpossible." -Ralph

"The rat symbolizes obviousness." -Ralph, mocks the ending of that overrated movie, The Departed.

"Super Nintendo Chalmers" -Ralph

"Mr. Plow, that's my name. That name again is Mr. Plow."

"It's a perfectly cromulent word." -Miss Hoover, in reference to the legitimacy of the word "embiggins." 

"Haw Haw, I touched your heart." -Nelson

"Ah, beer. The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."- Homer

"I'm so hungry, I could eat at Arby's." - Sherri/Terri (one of those twins)

"'Tis a fine barn English, but 'tis no pool." -Amish guy

"I am so smart! I am so smart! S-M-R-T!" -Homer

"It was like that when I got here." -Homer teaches Bart this line. 

"You're gay for Moleman!" -Bart and Lisa say it to each other, then Moleman sadly responds, "No one's gay for Moleman."

"You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society." -Moe

"You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try." -Homer

"Look, the thing about my family is there's five of us. Marge, Bart, Girl Bart, the one who doesn't talk, and the fat guy. How I loathe him." -Homer, while drunk

"Put out an APB for a male suspect, driving a... car of some sort, heading in the direction of, uh, you know, that place that sells chili. Suspect is hatless. Repeat, hatless." -Wiggum

"Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'sir' without adding, 'you're making a scene.'" -Homer

"Yeah, Moe, that team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked! I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked!" -Homer, and when Marge yells at him for using that language in front of the kids, he responds, "I gotta go Moe, my damn wiener kids are listening."

"Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace 'accidentally' with 'repeatedly,' and replace 'dog' with 'son.'" -Lionel Hutz

"I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman." -Homer

"If you don't like your job you don't strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American way." -Homer

"You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine." -Homer

"Like that time I took the ferry over to Shelbyville; I needed a new heel for my shoe. So, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them. ‘Give me five bees for a quarter,’ you’d say. Now where were we? Oh yeah, the important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have any white onions, because of the war; the only thing you can get was those big yellow ones.” - Grandpa Simpson

"A little from column A, a little from column B." -Grandpa Simpson in response to the question, "Are you stalling for time, or are you just senile?"

"Sax-a-ma-phone" -Homer

"Dental plan! Lisa needs braces. Dental plan! Lisa needs braces."

"You don't win friends with salad, you don't win friends with salad!" -Homer

"It's just a little airborne, it's still good, it's still good." -Homer

"That's too funny! I can't remember a funnier anecdote. Okay, now you tell one." -Troy McClure

"So I says to Mabel I says..." -Bart

"Stupid sexy Flanders" -Homer

"Hey, fellas, the garage. Well, ooh la-di-da, Mr. Frenchman." -Moe, to which Homer responds, "Well, what do you call it?" and Moe says, "A car hole."

"Alcohol and night swimming - a winning combination!" -Lenny

"Fine! I don't know why we even have a bottle!"-Homer, in response to Marge's insistence that Bart use the bathroom after Homer tells Bart to use a bottle in the family room to urinate.

"Poor stupid Bart. Always chooses Rock." -Lisa's brain before playing rock-paper-scissors, and then Bart's brain says, "Good ol' rock. Nothing beats rock."

"It's a pornography store. I was buying pornography." -Homer

"My eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!" -McBain

"Up and at them!" -McBain

"Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 
1974. It's a scientific fact." - Homer

"Lisa, if the Bible has taught us nothing else - and it hasn't - it's that girls should stick to girls' sports, such as hot-oil wrestling, foxy boxing, and such-and-such." -Homer

"Where are the velocitator and the deceleratrix?" -Mr. Burns, when trying to drive his car.

"I'm NOT not licking toads!" -Homer

"In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -Homer

"I got a hot date tonight." BZZT "A date." BZZT "Dinner with friends." BZZT "Dinner alone." BZZT "Watching TV alone." BZZT "All right! I'm going to sit at home alone and ogle the ladies in the Victoria's Secret catalog." BZZT "Sears catalog." Ding! -Moe, taking a lie detector test.

"Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter." -Homer

"Mmmmm- Sacrelicous." -Homer

"Yoink!" -Used many times by different characters when snatching something from somebody. 

"Haven't you learned anything from that guy who gives those sermons at church, Captain Whats-his-name? We live in a society of laws. Why do you think I took you to all those Police Academy movies? For fun? Well, I didn't hear anybody laughing, did you? Except at that guy who made sound effects." [Makes sound effects and laughs.] "Where was I? Oh yeah. Stay out of my booze." -Homer

"Nappien activates your brain's napping centers and attacks your bodies awakeagens and unlike Sleepia, it won't cause foot fattening or elbow stink." -Commercial for Ambien-like drug. 

"I was raised on TV, and I turned out TV." -Homer

"Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for Attempted Chemistry? Do they?!" -Sideshow Bob

"You must love this country more than I love a cold beer on a hot Christmas morning." -Homer

You know, I could probably go on finding lines all day. There is 20 years of episodes to draw from. The thing is, I've probably quoted or referenced all these lines through out my life. The Simpsons are my teacher, mother, secret lover. (That's a quote too.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Computer Build Update: Component Specs

AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600 Brisbane
Socket AM2
2.9 GHz
2 x 512KB L2 Cache 
65 W 
65 nm Fabrication 

NVIDIA GeForce 8200 
DirectX 10
Micro ATX Form Factor 
DDR2 1066/800
1 x PATA
5 x SATA
2 x PCI Slots
1 x PCI Express 1X
1 x PCI Express 16X
Rear Panel Ports:
  1 x LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps
  1 x PS/2 
  1 x D-Sub
  1 x DVI
  1 x HDMI w/ Full Audio
  6 x USB 2.0
  1 x eSATA 3 Gb/s
  1 x Optical S/PDIF Out
  6 Audio Ports

Disc Drive:
LG GGC-H20L SATA Internal 
6X Blu-ray 
40X CD
16X DVD±R 
40X CD-R

Hard Drive:
Western Digital Caviar Black WD7501AALS
750 GB
7200 RPM
32MB Cache
SATA 3.0 Gb/s 

Kingston 4GB (2 x 2 GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM
DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
Dual Channel 

Power Supply:
Antec Earthwatts EA380
380 W
ATX12V v2.0
80 PLUS Certified (At least 80% high efficiency at any load.)
1 x Main connector (20+4Pin)
1 x 12 V (P4)
6 x peripheral
2 x SATA
1 x Floppy
1 x PCI-E

Operating System:
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit SP1 with Media Center

Existing Components:
ATX Black Midtower Case with Front Panel Audio and USB
FireWire PCI Card, 3 Ports
Fusion HDTV Gold ATSC/NTSC Receiver PCI Card with 64/256 QAM
250 GB PATA Hard Drive

Total Delivered Cost: $465

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New PC Build

So my trusty old computer from college, the first one I built from individual components, has finally bough the farm. Likely due to a damaged CPU fan, non-functioning case fan, dust accumulation, and rendering hours of home videos culminating in the processor reaching hellish temperatures. It served me well for over 6 years, and I will salvage as much from it as possible. The DVD burner is relatively new, the HDTV tuner card probably still works, and the case will live on. With death comes life, and so a new computer will rise from the ashes.

I have a couple of goals for a new computer; the main one being to build a capable home theater computer, but also to get my feet wet with Vista, finally get multi-core processing, accomplish full blu-ray playback, and do it all for a reasonable price. For home theater purposes, I need a device that has optical S/PDIF and HDMI/DVI outputs, plus it has to play nice with HDCP (a technology that is supposed to protect against piracy or something, but I just read it as HanDiCapPed, fuck the MPAA).

To achieve all this, the most important piece is the motherboard. I'm going to try the integrated video route, it's supposed to be pretty capable now a days. This will save money and I can always add in a video card in the future. For onboard video I chose the GeForce 8200 chipset, which is an NVIDIA motherboard GPU chipset aimed at home theater PCs using AMD processors. (Oh yeah, I'm also sticking with AMD. I can't get over my dislike of Intel.) So, my requirements narrow down the possible motherboard choices considerably.

For blu-ray playback I will obviously need a blu-ray drive, luckily these have been dropping in price since they were first released, but it will likely still be the most expensive component in the system. The capability to burn blu-ray is still too expensive on both the burner side and the blank media side, so I will steer clear of blu-ray burners. Some blu-ray drives will also read HD-DVDs (blu-ray's beta-max), and since HD-DVD is dead, movies in that format are cheap, so I will look at getting a combo drive.

For the processor, I’m going with a dual core, as quad cores don’t seem worth the price yet. I’d also like to get close to 3 GHz; this should be more than enough for HD playback. For memory, I probably only need 2 GB, but memory is not that expensive any more and it seems that Windows always needs more, so I’ll go with two 2 GB sticks. The hard drive has to be fat, because I will no doubt find ways to fill it, I always have. I’d like to get a terabyte, but 750 GB seems more economical. My existing computer case will work, but it will need a new power supply with higher wattage, better efficiency, and some SATA connectors. 

I'm most frightened of getting Windows Vista to function properly, but I do want to give it a chance. First of all, I don't want to blow my budget on a shitty operating system, so I will be acquiring it by other means. I'll be going with either Home Premium 64 or Ultimate 64; anything else is needlessly crippled like a Wic. The real headache will likely be getting the drivers right for all the components. I foresee a kind of "vision quest" though obscure forums via Google, which is the only real way of solving a technological problem in our modern era.

Updates to follow.