Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In case of emergency, please try again later

This morning we had a moderate earthquake in the LA area. It was strong enough that we felt it 150 miles away in Santa Barbara, but not so strong as to make us feel like we were in danger.

After this minor event, it was almost impossible to make a cell phone call into or out of Santa Barbara for the next 3 or so hours. I understand that it's not economical for the phone companies to build enough towers and bandwidth so that every person on their network can make a phone call at the same time. However, it is a bit troubling that even after a minor earthquake such as this that we're not able to use our phones. What will we do if something serious occurs?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Birthday tradition!

Yesterday we went out for sushi for Eli's birthday. In honor of the yummy sushi, here is the very funny "Japanese Tradition" video about how to eat sushi:

I'm not sure if they're aimed at Japanese people, or people learning Japanese, or what, but I really enjoy the "Japanese Tradition" videos. There's also a very funny one about chopsticks, and one about origami that starts off funny but then meanders.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Planet: A self-gravitating body that is nearly round

The other day I was looking at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) database table on photometric classification. I needed to recall which type was a star and which was a galaxy. So I was interested to see the following two listings in this table buried deep in the SDSS information:
Galaxy: An extended object composed of many stars and other matter.
Star: A a self-luminous gaseous celestial body.
I guess I was just surprised at how pedantic it was.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Running to the center is not leadership

Gail Collins is correct when she notes
You liked Barack because you thought he could get us past the old brain-dead politics, right?

But those of us disappointed about the FISA vote aren't disappointed because we don't understand what a compromise is. I'm disappointed because Obama wasn't only talking about bipartisanship and building a consensus -- he was talking about reducing the influence of big business in politics. He has a strong history of supporting civil liberties. I had hoped that an Obama administration would be less corrupt and bloated than the current executive branch; now, I'm not so sure.

Last week I realized that I wouldn't exactly be able let my ACLU membership lapse after an Obama victory. And even though the Democratic party is slowly limping to the left, it's going to be a long, slow battle. I'm hoping someone has their eye on Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat for 2010, because I swear I am ready to starting working on that one now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

No news, so here is some bad press!

The Santa Barbara Independent has had excellent coverage of the Gap Fire, but I decided to look for more information elsewhere. A lot of shit went down with the Santa Barbara News-Press before we moved to town, but I thought I should given them one chance. Although the News-Press has an extensive online section for fire coverage, what happens when you actually try to read one of those articles?
This current article requires registration and login to view. You may also purchase the article without a general registration. Click here to proceed to the login, registration or article purchase page.

I emailed them to complain about the lack of free online information they had about the natural disaster in our backyard, and to be fair, I was a little sarcastic, concluding:
We have a wildfire in our backyard, and you can't manage to provide updates on your website? For free? To everyone?

It's 2008, and every other paper in the U.S. has managed to figure out how to put free content online. Get with the program.
To my surprise, I did get an email in response:
Dear website user.

Certain sections of the website currently require login (user needs to be a subscriber in order to access). Please note that a number of sections in the site are FREE of charge such as: News Video coverage on www.newspress.tv, AM1290 Radio station, Classifieds, Special Sections, USA Weekend, House & Home, Our Home, El Mexicano, Goleta Valley Voice, Smart Clips, Photo Galleries, etc, etc.

Okay, I love the "etc, etc." at the end. That is genius. But I was procrastinating, so I decided to email them back:
Thank you for your prompt response. I am very glad to know that the next time there is a natural disaster in Santa Barbara County, I will still be able to peruse the real estate listings in the News-Press. In the meantime, I will get my local news from the Santa Barbara Independent.

I'm very proud that I refrained from complaining about their webpage resizing my browser window. But why bother complaining when I'm never going back to the site again?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy Fourth of July Three-Day Weekend

Between Guantanamo and FISA, I'm not feeling particularly patriotic this year -- when everyone else is singing along to that hideous Greenwood song, I'm thinking of e.e. cumming's "next to god of course america . . . ".

However, I do like this country, quite a bit, so I will polish off the holiday weekend by reminding my senators -- and everyone else -- of the Bill of Rights. Particularly Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And the clear and concise Amendment VIII:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Happy Birthday, America. Maybe this year will be a good one.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Now batting for Pedro Borbon...Manny Mota! (mota! mota!)

I'll admit it, I've been spending way too much time paying attention to the crazy political goings-on this season. Even after the endless Bataan Death March Obama-Clinton showdown, I've continued to pay attention. But the relentless echo-chamber, especially on the right, but also on the left, is completely out of control, and blogs have made it worse. As has been pointed out many times, it really doesn't matter what anybody actually says. From Al Gore "inventing the internet" to Wesley Clark "insulting McCain's service" to Hillary Clinton "advocating the assassination of Obama", it doesn't matter that none of these things actually happened. But all of these events can at least be directly attributable to deliberate misquotations, distortions, and spin.

But two recent spin-ups have occurred that were not even based on a mis-quotation, but appeared spontaneously from the vacuum. On one side was Obama's "complete reversal" on Iraq, and on the other was the "terrorist fist-jab" (which does have the advantage of adding a new entertaining term to the lexicon.)

First, Obama on Iraq. Suddenly the blogosphere was abuzz with right-wing claims of Obama reversing completely on Iraq, and saying we'll be there forever, a-la McCain, etc. So this claim of reversing course on Iraq? It comes from sources like this. Which has great statements like:
In Baghdad, Mr. Obama will get a chance to meet with Ambassador Crocker, who is leading negotiations with the Iraqi government on the presence of American troops. Mr. Crocker will likely tell the senator that our position is not to keep bases permanently but to lease them for 10 years from the Iraqi government, whose lawmakers, he'll report, privately hope the bases will be used as barracks for our GIs.
So this is all based on what will happen? Are you serious? But all it takes is one blog to say something, and then you have a reference for whatever you might want to say. And it echoes back and forth and you don't even need to distort an existing quotation!

Second, and much less serious, is the "terrorist fist jab". Where did this (admittedly great) phrase first come from? I first heard about it from Andrew Sullivan, who linked to this posting at Slate which claimed that Cal Thomas at Human Events called the Barack-Michelle pound "a Hezbollah style fist-jabbing." A subsequent edit at Slate admitted that Cal Thomas had not made that accusation, but it was instead one of the commenters...but which one? As best I can tell, the only comments on Cal Thomas's post referring to a "Hezbollah style fist-jabbing" were left-wingers responding to the ludicrous accusation. Somebody, somewhere, accused Cal Thomas of a ridiculous statement...commenters responded without actually RTFA...and everything started cross-posting and a meme was born.

But it was (of course) Fox News who brought it to the air and cemented "terrorist fist jab" in our language. Thank you, E. D. Hill.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Smoke before fire, but both before information

We were visiting family this weekend, and spent a fair amount of time assuring them that we weren't affected by any of the California wildfires, as they were hundreds of miles north of us. And then last night, a fire broke out maybe ten miles from where we live.

The Santa Barbara Independent -- a free, weekly paper -- has had excellent coverage of the fire, with lots of updates on the fire and the status of the evacuations. Their only flaw has been in saying, "For more information, visit the county Fire Department’s website."

I have visited said website, and nowhere is there a mention of the current fire. BlogaBarbara pointed to the Google Group for alerts. A Google Group. In 2008. Please. Nevermind the fact that the only post yesterday is a freaking test of their red alert system, and not an actual post about the actual fire that is burning in the county. I'm sure right now they're a little too busy to set up a blog, or some alert system on their homepage, but maybe they should get it ready for next time. The Independent coverage is good, but it would be nice to have a direct source for the status of the fire and the evacuations.