Go on to the Useless Presents.

Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds.

Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions.

Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall.

And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons.

~ Dylan Thomas


Watch Out for the Wall.

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it "Christmas" and went to Church; the Jews called it "Hanukka" and went to Synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Hanukka!" or (to the atheists) "Look out for the wall!"

~ Dave Barry

Get Going or Get Out of the Way.

The world is moving so fast these days that the one who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

~ Harry Emerson Fosdick


At Your Doorstep?

A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

~ George Moore

Gain Perspective.

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.

~ Margaret Mead


Founded in Feeling.

Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done.

~ William James


The Strike is Real Deal.

At around 3am, the MTA and other news sources announced the full transit strike of New York City.

Bloomberg projects costs of $400M per DAY.

CNN tells us "The last citywide bus and subway strike in New York was in 1980. The walkout lasted 11 days."

I think I read somewhere Bloomberg had worked the NYC economy up to a projected year-end surplus of some 2.5 billion dollars.

Well that'll be gone in five or six days.

Really impossible to take sides - of course I instinctively want to side with the worker, but I understand the limitations of the employer too. I'm not even attempting to respond in any kind of intelligent way to the details of the breakdown.

From a perspective somewhat farther back, it seems fantastically unbelievable that it ever got to this point.

Seeing NYC crippled right now, from its own inner workings, is quite disheartening.


Pandora's Music Box.

Pandora, a newly launched music service, presents what I've found to be the most intelligent, and accurate "relativity" engine for creating a custom online radio station.

Some time ago, I was equally positive about Yahoo! Music's Launchcast. And I must say, I am still quite enthusiastic about it. It has widened my musical horizon significantly, and indeed, I have been introduced to a bunch of great new bands by using Launchcast.

However, the two services do differ greatly in the methods they utilize to make selections.

Of course, the exact "special sauce" is only actually known by the mutants living in the bottom of the cave, wearing tennis-ball green spandex, half-asleep in the pool of bubbling pink water. The exact algorithms are not publicly known (or at least not known to me).

But basically, here's the deal.

Launchcast pulls music from its own database, noted at more than a million songs, and asks you to rate music as you listen. You rate artists, albums, songs, and even genres. The machine produces an increasingly intelligent mix of music as you rate more and more. If you are a serious listener and you clearly know what you like and dislike, and you go through and rate every genre, track down and rate a ton of your favorite artists, and rate religiously, you can custom create a really solid station pretty quickly.

It infers from your ratings (either 1-5 stars or 1-100) other songs you may like, by playing songs from an artist or album you have rated highly - and they play songs from similar artists, and the similarity of those artists are presumably defined by editors who manually assign the affinities.

To the extent you and another user on their network have ranked the same song highly (which happens constantly of course), another song they have ranked highly may play on your station. It's a real-time user cross-promotion - if you both like the same song, you may also both like other songs from each other's playlists.

Yahoo! fills in the cracks with songs simply from genres you have ranked highly (and in the event they don't have any more music in that genre, they'll start playing pop-schlop). It does appear they lend some weight to the real-radio commercial anthems. For example, if you rank Nine Inch Nails highly, you're gonna hear The Hand That Feeds from with Teeth three times before you hear Terrible Lie from Pretty Hate Machine once.

Pandora, in its most essential form, is quite similar, but it requires drastically less input to get started. You give it a single artist name, then you rate songs (thumbs up or thumbs down), and can add more artists to further customize the station.

Here is the fundamental difference, and in practice, it is somewhat magical. Pandora (once named Savage Beast) uses the Music Genome Project as its algorithm (and apparently iTunes or a subset thereof as its database). It is the result of years of work by musicians, musical technologists, and aficionados, most of whom have studied music theory, most of whom are musicians themselves, and all of whom have passed a thorough examination and rigorous training in the Project ways.

This team has been cataloging more than 60 years of music across many genres - with approximately 30 minutes of analysis per song, the Genome Project records up to 400 attributes to describe a song.

The Pandora "Music Box" then takes your inputted selection, and plays songs that share similar attributes. The granularity and specificity of this level of intelligence produces an algorithm that is all but magical.

I inputted Radiohead. And this is not the place to start exploring music categorization, but let's face it, we don't even really know what genre Radiohead is - I mean, each of the albums is so different, there's a couple genres on each. There are really no bands that are truly "similar" to Radiohead. I mean sure, they fit into the hierarchy of musical evolution somewhere, so there are those bands that have influenced them, there are a slew of bands influenced by them - so we're not lost - but this is a hard one. It's certainly a more challenging task than asking the machine to find similar artists for a standard 5-piece boom bot boomboom bot rock band.

The machine went on to play songs from many of my favorite bands, and a slew of completely new music, almost all of which I have liked. I am in shock. First, I'm critical and discerning - I've also been listening to music, I mean REALLY listening to it, for years. To produce so much music that I like is incredible - to dig up so much NEW music that I like is profound.

To be fair - in a couple days - maybe 10 hours of play, I have heard some dupes - so the extensiveness of the station (within the strict parameters I have so far set) is yet to be proven. Of course, by adding another 10 bands, and widening the scope, presumably that would be resolved.

They both offer free and paid versions, the free versions being supported by advertisements. However, Pandora hasn't quite got their ad team in place it appears - I haven't heard any ads yet. For Yahoo!, you also get a better quality stream with the paid version.

For both, you can create additional stations to play a subset of your favorite music - in Pandora, you just create a new station with new bands and groups to influence the choices, in Launchcast, you create a Mood, limited by a certain set of genres.

In both cases you can pause and skip, and in neither case can you simply select a song to play, or to go back and play a recently played song again. It's custom radio, not a personal music library.

And listen, they are both awesome, and they both will help you discover new music.

But I rest the difference in the following example, noting "why" they have played a particular song.

Yahoo: [Song is played] "...because it matches your genre preferences."

Pandora: [Song is played] "because it features mild rhythmic syncopation, a twelve-eight time signature, mixed acoustic and electronic instrumentation, minor key tonality and string section beds."

Um, yeah. Exactly.

The Poet Names the Gods.

The poet names the gods, and names all the things in that which they are.

This naming does not consist merely in something already known being supplied with a name; it is rather that when the poet speaks the essential word, the existent is by this naming nominated as what it is. So it becomes known as existent. Poetry is the establishing of being by means of the word.

Only and for the first time in this Between is it decided, who man is and where he is settling his existence.

~ Martin Heidegger


It's All About You, Baby.

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Creating Your Reality.

Be careful how you interpret the world: It is like that.

~ Erich Heller

A Problem for Every Solution.

Being a philosopher, I have a problem for every solution.

~ Robert Zend


drumatic : SPACE.

drumatic Space Gallery
Various extraordinary space images : earth, the moon and moon landing shots, distant galaxies and stars captured with the Hubble telescope, space station / satellite shots, and more. 34 images.

Space Gallery.

Propelled by Discomfort.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

~ M. Scott Peck


The Earth, According to Google.

Google Earth.

OK - so this is not exactly new news.

Google picked up the technology from Keyhole, which has been around, in one form or another, since 2001.

And a somewhat more scientifcally oriented application (as opposed to consumer/commercial) has been available for a couple years - NASA's WorldWind.

WorldWind also renders USGS data, so it actually offers more detail in more remote places - I tracked a winding road up a deserted mountain in WV from a couple hundred feet above ground.

Google Earth (at present) cannot produce that level of detail in remote locations - replicating the same view on the same desterted mountain in WV, the image loses any functional clarity at maybe 5000 feet above ground.

However, who cares about deserted mountains in WV? Well, I do, but that's not representative of anything.

WorldWind is phenomenal - it has a powerful 3D engine, and uses hybrid imagery captured from various satellites to present a breathtaking view of the earth from any angle.

Google, on the other hand, is brining it to the CONSUMER, and that's what makes their application so powerful (aside from the fact that Google's penetration is exponentially greater - tens of millions use Google every day, and only a tiny little portion of the masses have ever visited NASA's site).

What Google Earth has done is take Keyhole's awesome utilization of technology, improved the interface, and merged geographical data with search to provide a map of the world, complete with everything from ATMs, to restaurants, nightclubs, golf courses and grocery stores all superimposed in layers on top of the map (all based on your selections, of course). Additionally the Google Earth Community posts information snippets about a great expanse of important and notable locations.

Finally, for major metropolitan areas, they've created 3D computer-generated representations of buildings, true to shape and scale. They also have done such a job replicating depth and height - you can actually cruise through the Grand Canyon, surrounded on both sides by rock walls.

And seriously, this is just the tip of the iceberg - there is so much more to explore: crime stats, census information, earthquakes and volcanoes, and on and on.

Here's a couple screenshots to whet your appetite:

Grand Canyon from Space

The great Grand Canyon from about 12 miles up.

Colorado River Valley

And from just above the Colorado River, surrounded by the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Manhattan Island, New York

Manhattan Island, New York City, from over 17K feet.

Manhattan in 3D

Up a bit closer on Manhattan, with Google's 3D Buildings enabled.

Get it, get it installed. Take the tour. If you've never seen anything like it before, you are in for a somewhat amazing experience. Visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Red Square in Moscow and the Google Campus in California all in a matter of moments. If you live in a city - it's likely you'll be able to zoom into your bedroom window. From space. Oh, and you need to find the nearest gas station, and you need directions? That's just a click away.

Politics and War : A Means to an End.

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

~ John Adams


Someone Will Say Anything.

There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it.

~ Cicero

You're Both Right.

Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.

~ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Good-Bye, Mr. Pryor.

Richard Pryor, age 65, passed on last Saturday.

Ironically enough, the DVD most prominently featured on his website is I Ain't Dead Yet M*therF@ck%r!

Sure enough, most of us will at some point attempt to both qualitatively and quantitatively apply some metric to the net sum of our lives. What will we leave behind?

(More on this topic later):

Immortality, even for those of us who don't buy into afterlives, heavens and hells, and reincarnations, does still exist. Oh yes.

Of course, as with all things - some to a greater, and some to a lesser extent.

And in the case of Richard Pryor, we see an undeniable and profound social immortality, and an equally far-reaching and successful familial one.

Pragmatically, Pryor leaves behind him no less than seven children to walk the earth in his wake - insuring his legacy (in its most basic biological terms) will live far into the future.

Socially, he fearlessly shattered doors that had been locked and left alone - he approached race and rage and culture and hate and pain - and extracted a confessional brand of comedy that was as entertaining as it was searing. He leaves behind him a truly expansive and important body of work, that literally was so charged and so biting and so impossible to ignore, it changed the very fabric of contemporary social perception.

He ain't dead, m*otherf@ck%r.

Party to Insanity.

Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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