Life underground

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 30, 2004 @ 10:44 am

Courtesy of bOINGbOING, I was inspired to go digging–so to speak–for urban subterranean hideouts. Today, bOINGbOING reported on the Portland Tunnels, used in the 19th century to transport drugged victims to waiting ships, thus coining the phrase “Shanghai’d”. You can tour the tunnels, if you want.

Seattle has a most unusual city-beneath-a-city, reminiscent of layered ancient cities like Ilium and Rome. This site has the rather amusing story of how the Seattle Underground came to be. I’ve known about the Seattle Underground for a long time. Oddly, I first learned of it by watching a Scooby-Doo episode as a kid!

Closer to home, St Paul is partly famous for its network of subterranean passages, notably the Wabasha Street Caves. Both natural and man-made, the tunnels were most heavily taken advantage of by the mob during the ’20s and ’30s. The gangsters used them for smuggling to and from the Mississippi river, and set up speakeasies down below. Today, much of the network lies unused, caved-in, or sealed off. Following the recent deaths of three teenagers who broke past barriers and died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire they built, the city has been considering filling in or otherwise destroying the caves altogether. I think that would be a great loss for the city. St Paul should find some way to use the caves, which have been a part of the city’s history for well over a hundred years.

Although technically tresspassing, the Minneapolis Urban Adventurers Action Squad has done an amazing job of exploring the Twin Cities’ hidden underground passages. As long as they aren’t vandalizing, I say may the cops forever remain one twisty dark passage behind them.

In other news:
Sneeze for me, baby! This woman has an, um, unusual fetish, to say the least. I’m normally pretty good at seeing others’ appeal in their particular kinks/fetishes, but this one truly eludes me. I am reminded of the handful of actual medical cases of women who experience orgasms whenever they sneeze. Alas, web-based documentation eludes me. Either situation (fetish, medical condition) qualifies as one of the few in which a pepper grinder could be employed as a sex toy.

–The Ministry of Homeland Security has organized a gestapo–er, I mean the nation’s truck drivers to watch for and report suspicious activity, especially regarding furriners. Not to be stereotypical, but isn’t the idea of a traditionally conservative, slightly xenophobic and usually armed demographic looking for terrorists just a teeny bit worrisome? Again, link credit to bOINGbOING.

Yes, technology has made us *much* more efficient!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 29, 2004 @ 2:53 pm

–A woman in Singapore has set a new record by keying in a 26-word text message in just 43 seconds. That’s roughly 34 words/minute.

In far less important news:
–The supreme court today sent the idiotic Online Child Protection Act back to the lower court from whence it came.

–Bush met a real reporter, and it wasn’t pretty. His handlers somehow allowed him to be interviewed by a reporter that refused to toss softball questions, and the CEO of America actually begged her to stop.

The Iran-Iraq war is finally won

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 28, 2004 @ 11:56 am

Today I’m going to turn the focus on politics. There’s a lot going on at once, and some very important things are going to get buried in the backs of the papers unless they are pointed out now.

–First is today’s Supreme Court ruling that the president has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens without charge or trial, in apparent violation of the Sixth Amendment. The only good news is that the court granted the prisoners the ability to challenge the treatment they receive while imprisoned. How they are supposed to do that without access to attorneys is beyond me. This is the third time in two weeks that the court has avoided handing down rulings which could affect GWB’s November election chances (the first two being the Pledge of Allegience issue and Dick Cheney’s energy commission records). If these recent rulings can provide any clue to what may happen in November, it would appear that we are in for a Florida all over again. And if you think that the Florida ballot problems were fixed after the last debacle, think again.

–The US handed over control of Iraq today, two days early. My guess is that this is either a political ploy (“See, we did do it by the deadline. And we did it early! Aren’t we great?”) or we caught wind of some pending massive insurgency attacks and didn’t want to be the ones in charge when it happened. I suspect a bit of both. Blair, at least, displayed a little honesty: ‘Mr Blair’s official spokesman said the accelerated handover was partly designed … simply to “seize the political initiative”.’

–An article this weekend that Iran appears to be the unintended winner of our war on terrorism. It’s seemed to me all along that Iran used us as pawns to eliminate Iraq. Most of our rationale for overthrowing Iraq was based on information fed to us by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, based out of Iran (information which has since turned out to be false). As it turns out, one of Chalabi’s top men was an Iranian intelligence agent. This agent was probably deliberately feeding Chalabi misleading information to channel to the US, while funneling US intelligence information back to Iran. Chalabi is one of the biggest mules in history. Iran may have lured us into war* in the hopes that the power vacuum in Iraq would allow it (possibly through Chalabi) to instill a Shiite-friendly government, effectively merging the two countries ideologically. Iran is half the size of Iraq, but is ten times as powerful. The thought of an Iraq-Iran allience should scare the hell out of the State Department–and you and I.

* holy cats! did I just reference a Fox News article, written by a member of the CATO Institute? cats and dogs living together–it’s the end of the world!

–A US Intelligence official, writing anonymously, is about to publish a condemnation of the Bush administration’s handling of terrorism. He claims that the US has played into Osama bin Laden’s hands by unstabilizing the Middle East. He also suspects that al Qaida will stage another attack on the US–much as it did in Madrid–in hopes of throwing the election in Bush’s favor. Mad conspiracy-theory stuff, I know, but I have found it increasingly easy to believe the idea of the current people in power developing outlandish plots in order to stay in power. I have believed for some time that if another terrorist attack occured near the November election that the government would declare a state of emergency and suspend the elections.

–Even shadow governments have a shadow government. This article about Karl Rove’s leg man gives some idea of who the people are who are really running the country. (Go to BugMeNot if you don’t have a New York Times registration.)

–Okay, one non-political item: this is a great editorial about SUVs: “They are marketed as off-road vehicles, although more than 90% of them never leave the pavement (unless they roll over).”

Caution: vending machine not explosion-proof

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 25, 2004 @ 12:39 pm

–Apparently, vending machines can be turned into weapons of mass destruction.

–Wondering what’s the fashionable way to die today? Check out the World Health Organization’s stats on mortality rates from around the world.

Can I still write phone numbers on my hand?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 23, 2004 @ 8:34 pm

–Today, Microsoft patented skin. Well, the use of skin as a medium to transmit data. All I have to say is, “WTF?” and “get that thing away from me”.

–I’m a little slow with the ball on this one. In a classic example of people in power overreacting to things that they don’t understand, the FBI is investigating a Boulder, CO artist for bioterrorism. When police arrived at Steve Kurtz’s home after he called to report that his wife had died, they spotted equipment and materials that Kurtz uses in his artwork. Not knowing what the stuff was, they automatically jumped to the conclusion that he was manufacturing bioterrorism materials in his home, had him arrested, and sealed off the home. They even confiscated his wife’s body. Now the case is slowly lurching towards trial, and the art community has rallied to his defense.

The man who helped create ASCII, thus paving the way for giant sig files and dot-matrix renditions of the Mona Lisa, and who happened to notice that the century was eventually going to end, died today.

Christ died for your cell plan.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver @ 8:35 am

“”The churches actually don’t like it so much.” Imagine that.

Leftovers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 22, 2004 @ 9:10 am

–The music industry wouldn’t be spiteful bastards, would they?

–I found a video of SpaceShipOne’s flight. It’s about an hour long and requires RealPlayer (or Real Alternative).

–The author of this New Yorker review of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” seems to have completely missed the point of the book. It’s not a punctuation guide. It’s just a little editorial along the lines of “gee, wouldn’t it be great if people tried to care again?” The author comes off as somebody who can’t stand the idea that someone else might know as much–if not more–about grammar and punctuation as he, therefore he must strike them down before they become a threat to his obvious superiority.

The final frontier

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 21, 2004 @ 2:17 pm

–Burt Rutan did it again! SpaceShipOne successfully became the first private air(?)craft to breach the boundaries of space. After achieving weightlessness, pilot Mike Melvill released a bag of M&Ms and let them float around in the cockpit for about three minutes before beginning the shuttlecock-like descent to Earth. Fortunately, the landing went more smoothly than December’s test flight. That’s a costly paint job. Speaking of re-entry, did you know that SpaceShipOne has no heatshielding? If you re-enter the atmosphere at low speed, you don’t need any.

SpaceShipOne is little more than a proof-of-concept vehicle. It can’t carry cargo or more than one passenger, and it’s not designed for prolonged or orbital flights. However, the Wright brothers’ Kittyhawk flights and Lindburgh’s transAtlantic flights were little more than proof-of-concept stunts themselves. All I know is that when, 10 years or so from now, private passenger trips into space come down to the $3k or so mark, I’m booking my seat.

–Courtesy of Robert Fripp’s diary comes this disturbing article about Clear Channel’s attempt to claim ownership of the concept of bootlegs. Such displays of arrogance, combined with their blatant rightist propoganda, have quickly moved Clear Channel to near the top of my corporate hate list, along with MicroSoft, Monsanto, and Wal-Mart.

Elephant talk

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 17, 2004 @ 10:07 am

Lost in Translation (no, not the movie). Found on William Gibson’s dead blog. Jeez, I’ve been doing this manually for some time now. Obviously I need to waste more time surfing.

–If America’s version of Big brother were like the UK’s, I’d watch it.

–The Rutan brother’s White Knight has been doing test flights in the Mojave desert, and is scheduled to make the first private manned space flight this Monday. I’m a little disappointed, in that Rutan told a crowd at the Oshkosh air show last year that he would make the first flight from there. Oh, well. At least we’re finally taking space flight out of the exclusive hands of the government.

Yet another example that we are turning into the country that does things we used to think only other countries did–countries that we were told are Evil. The US is now officially in the business of “disappearing” its enemies. Donald Rumsfeld even signed the memo ordering it.

Admittedly, this most recent example is nothing new; American citizens and civilian citizens of other countries have regularly been “disappeared” to Guantanamo Bay for a few years now. This, however, is different in that it blatantly violates the Geneva Convention. Of course, Bushco doesn’t believe that the Geneva code applies to them.

–BTW, here is the memorandum that the Justice Department wrote up giving the White House legal go-ahead to torture prisoners. This is the one Ashroft has refused to turn over to the Senate committee investigating the atrocities, thus putting himself in contempt of congress. But then, contempt of congress is nothing new for this administration.

A night at the movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oliver June 16, 2004 @ 9:08 am

–I had the opportunity to attend a special showing of the restored Lawrence of Arabia last night. This is the second time I’ve seen it on the big screen, and I am spoiled. I can never watch that movie on TV again. The sprawling Super Panavision 70 vistas are overwhelming. Tiny figures can be seen picking their way amongst the massive dunes and rocks that are completely lost on a television screen. The scale of this picture simply does not translate to any format other than a full-size theater screen. None of David Lean’s films were constructed to be seen any other way. Every shot of Lawrence is a piece of artwork. No setup is wasted. Although nearly four hours in length, the film does not drag, because the images themselves are so wonderful to look at.

While watching, I was struck my a number of elements in Lawrence that simply don’t exist today. The on-location filming and expansive shots, for starters. If Lawrence were made today, the shots of the camera emerging from behind rock outcroppings to reveal a beduin encampment spread among the buttes would have been entirely CG. The rocks would be fake; the giant dunes would be fake; the colony of tents would be fake; the legions of Arab riders would be faked from a few dozen extras. It would all look very good, but you would know. Lean drug equipment into the desert. Rumor has it that the cameras had to be refrigerated between uses to prevent the film from melting (though I find that doubtful; removing the camera from the refrigerator would have caused the lens to condense; now, the film itself, perhaps…).

Today’s budget-obsessed studio execs would never allow so much of a film to be shot in the actual desert. They would insist on bluescreens and digital elements. It would be filmed on 35mm for easy home video transfer. They would insist that the movie be cut down to 2 1/2 hours. Lord of the Rings, with all its action-packed fight scenes and fanciful creatures may have gotten away with it, but a biopic? Who is going to sit through that? Besides, you can hold twice as many showings of a 2 1/2-hour film as a 4-hour film. Gotta get as many paying butts in the seats during a day as you can.

The lingering, dialogue-less shots would be nonexistent. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie would have been cut down to a few seconds: the red-orange screen that slowly reveals the rising sun; the trek back across the desert to rescue the man who fell off his camel; and of course the Mirage: Omar Sharif’s famous entrance from a mile off that takes minutes, with no dialogue and no music.

Peter O’Toole would never get the job today. His effeteness, which worked so well in the movie, would be mistaken for homosexuality, and the part instead would go to a young, handsome actor who would draw women to an admittedly male-centered film.

But enough gushing about Lawrence of Arabia. There is plenty of bandwidth for me to carry on some more another time.

–In other news: Eep!

–While sympathetic to the man’s family during his declining years, I am not joining the legions mourning the passing of Ronald Reagan. An article by Mark Morford sums up my reasons pretty well. We named enough after the man while he was still alive (naming an airport after the man who fired all the air traffic controllers? Nice irony, guys.). He did not end the Cold War. At most, he accellerated by a few years the Soviet Union’s inevitable economic collapse. I could go on and on, but I’ll let the article speak for me.

–Turns out the Inquisition wasn’t as nasty as we thought. Fewer witches were burned and heretics tortured than we’d been led to believe. I guess that makes it all right, then; noble cause and all that. Members of the Bush administration, take note!

–Oh, and one more thing:

Happy Bloomsday! Go down to the pub and raise a pint in rememberance of dear Mr Joyce.

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