Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pandora's Litter Box: The Cat Butt Is Still in the Picture

It's time for another camera hog portfolio. Yes, he's had a lot of new projects to crowd out of their pictures, so I thought I'd share a few more.

Spoon "Helps" Siamese cat pillow top Fingerless Gloves
Ok, this was a candid, but isn't he just so gosh-darn cute on his blankie? And fat?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Other: Dear CNN.com

Dear CNN.com,

Could you please let me know when I'll be able to go to your site without fear of a dead celebrity's name appearing in one of the top stories? For some completely inexplicable reason, I simply wonder why, with the first coup in Central America in decades, the residual debris from the Iranian elections, the exodus of American troops from Iraq, the planned increase in numbers of American troops in Afghanistan, continued concern over the fate of the economy, what seems like a spate of recent airplane crashes, not to mention more localized concerns, like why the state of California is trying to resume costly criminal executions when it can't even afford to pay its own teachers the monkey spit they usually get, your website seems to find it more important to trace the life of a person whose death would really, if people were sane and had any sense of perspective, affect only his or her family and close friends. So, thanks so much for feeding the monster of celebrity obsession for people who don't seem to know that the exit of someone who didn't even live on the same planet as the rest of us really isn't going to change anyone's life unless they are so focused on something that has nothing to do with them that they miss what really does matter in their lives. And thanks so much for making it impossible for people who realize there's an actual planet out there which is still spinning in the exact same direction and at the same speed as it was before to find actual news that really speaks about the present and future of that planet.

Seriously, either step up to the plate and focus on some real, pertinent news, or just be honest with yourselves and change the name to "Celebrity News Network."


P.S. It's not like most of you other news outlets are any better, so you can just shut up, too. Seriously, is there a Michael-Jackson-free news source where I can find out what's actually happening in the world right now?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Knittin' Crap: The Neverending Blanket Is Done!

The Finished Squares Blanket After two years of working on I'm-not-going-to-count-how-many squares, having to buy more Tahki Cotton Classic, made more difficult because I didn't write the color numbers down and they only make the yarn in almost 130 colors, and getting all kinds of help from Spoon, it is finally done. The infamous Squares Blanket.

Finishing a long-overdue project is a little like coming home after a really long road trip. The last few miles seem the longest.

I went on a "finish-this-now-or-die" spree last week. I finally seemed to have enough squares to finish to the size I wanted and the blanket was about 75% assembled. I ended up having to make a few squares to fill in gaps, I almost got a blister from nearly-non-stop crocheting with a cheap metal hook because I couldn't find my more comfortable Clover E hook anywhere, and I started getting, well, a little crazy. Plus working on a blanket in 90+ degree heat, I had to get in some uncomfortable positions to work on the blanket without getting covered by it. Not to mention all the feline "help."

Spoon Loves That Blanket

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Knittin' Crap: First PIFO... Away!

nopeekinz My first Pay It Forward Object is heading out! Who will get it? What will be it? Wait and see!

P.S. I think Bradymom29 still needs some participants, so if you missed my sign-up but still want to play, head on over there!

Knittin' Crap: Sweet!

Sweets amigurumi/Keito Dama Yesterday on my day trip to Little Tokyo, I got a new amigurumi book and the latest issue of the knitting/crochet magazine Keito Dama. Kinokuniya had a new amigurumi book out called "Sweets." It really is sweet! All kinds of anthropomorphized pastries and snacks. Because, you know, if you sew a smiley face on anything, it becomes super-cute!

sweets book

They also had these awesome manga-ized figurines of DC Comics superheroes. I loved the Wonder Woman, but at $50, it was more than I was willing to pay. It was awesome, though! Oh, here's the manufacturer's official announcement. Is that not totally awesome!?

Metro Journal: June 24 Little Person Tokyo

My friend Steve just started a two-month sabbatical. As an act of vengeance love, he pretty much has full-time parenting duties to his 2-year-old son, Caden. As I am still unemployed, we decided to try to get out and take little day trips.

Our first day trip was to Little Tokyo. The plan had a little subversive agenda on my side: to spread the joy of public transportation. Steve lives a couple of miles from the North Hollywood Red Line Station. The Red Line is perfect for going to Little Tokyo, as I've done on multiple occasions. And yesterday's weather forecast was just about perfect for strolling around during the day.

I decided to take the bus over to Steve's house in Burbank and meet him there. It's about a 10 mile drive. I've spoken before about how even though the two cities are side-by-side neighbors, it is a pain to get directly from Glendale to any part of Burbank west of their downtown Media Center, which sits on the east side of Burbank. As far as the bus goes, at best it would seem to be an hour trip, but mine was a little more because of timing issues. There's no way to do it without taking at least three buses or walking a lot. And two of the three buses I took don't even run on weekends, which means no bus goes within half a mile or more of his place on weekends. But I got to within a block of his home without a hitch and got a lot of reading done in the process.

Caden tried to convince me he had shotgun for the ride to the Red Line station, but after his dad came out he got in his child seat. We drove to the station, parked, took the escalator down, and Caden helped Steve get his ticket from the machine. (I already had my Day Pass loaded on my TAP card.) Then even more escalators! A train was waiting (this is the start of the line) so we all sat down. Caden seemed most fascinated with the doors when they opened at each stop. I guess if a door opens, he feels a real need to go through it. That sounds like an interesting philosophy. The train got fairly crowded as we were moving along, and for awhile a man sat down in the seat next to me and talked about his 3-year-old. Steve asked if 3 was any easier than 2. "Nooooooo!"

We got off at the Civic Center stop, which is where I usually get off, except the first working up escalator from the platform we found put us on the Temple St exit. I always got out at Spring so I was a little confused, but outside we figured out where we were and strolled down toward Little Tokyo and to the little mall with the Kinokuniya Bookstore. We ate well at the Curry House and then hit the bookstore. Actually, I hit the bookstore. Caden was getting restless and apparently insisted on going up and down the stairs to the third floor several times before his manga-loving father was allowed to enter the Holy Land.

After I had perused the craft books and Steve had found some comic art books, I took him to the Unbearable Cuteness of Being Aisle. I pointed out some of the mamegoma items where the seals are wearing seriously cute costumes. Steve wondered why someone would dress baby seals in costumes. "Because it's unbelievably cute." He smacked his head. "Of course!" He got a mamegoma mug for his cuteness-loving wife. They didn't seem to have any nice impact-resistant San-X mugs, though, so Caden will have to wait. Meanwhile, I became Caden's Least Favorite Person for a little while because he, rather understandably, did not want to leave Super-Cute Overload Aisle empty-handed. (I have a hard time leaving it empty-handed, too.) He got upset when I repatriated some stuff. By the time we got outside and found a fancy water fountain, though, he had forgotten about it. Steve and I had plenty of time to show each other what we got, because Caden was busy with throwing every leaf he could find into the fountain. And because leaves aren't really good for throwing, they would often just plummet back to the ground and he would get multiple opportunities to throw the same leaf.

We decided to walk to Union Station. The first time I went to Kinokuniya last year, I had actually walked from Union Station. We ended up walking the long way around, but it was really nice out. And we walked by a lovely Federal Building which apparently had a prisoner holding area inside, I assume for keeping people brought downtown for trial in the multitude of courthouses there.

Caden was pretty much totally passed out in his stroller by now. We walked to the Olvera Street historic area across Alameda from Union Station and went into the old firehouse I had noticed back in October. It was cool. The building dates back to the late 1800s and acts as a museum for fire fighters in Los Angeles. The docent kept popping out amazing facts, like how sulfuric acid, mixed with an alkali, was used to fight fires. Another of the park's docents finally cut us short. It seems the museum was supposed to have closed half an hour earlier. My feet were tired from standing there almost an hour, but the guy had some great stories. I couldn't help but think my father would have liked to see that place, with its old, horse-drawn chemical engine.

It had magically become 3:30, so we decided we should straggle home. We went into Union Station, past the ambulance with lights blazing that was parked right in front. After I left Steve with directions to the poopy-diaper disposal and then the Red Line entrance, I took the Gold Line up to Pasadena and then the 780 into Glendale.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Other: The Demographic Paradigm Shift

The Spring 2009 issue of the Wilson Quarterly has an article by Martin Walker on the increasing realization that global and regional birthrate projections need regular revisiting, as small trends can eclipse the once-larger trends over time.

Particularly interesting in the light of the Iranian election fallout is this quote:
Iran is experiencing what may be one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in human history. Thirty years ago, after the shah had been driven into exile and the Islamic Republic was being established, the fertility rate was 6.5. By the turn of the century, it had dropped to 2.2. Today, at 1.7, it has collapsed to European levels. The implications are profound for the politics and power games of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, putting into doubt Iran’s dreams of being the regional superpower and altering the tense dynamics between the Sunni and Shiite wings of Islam. Equally important are the implications for the economic future of Iran, which by ­mid­century may have consumed all of its oil and will confront the challenge of organizing a society with few people of working age and many ­pensioners.
Of course, an important point of the article is that demographic projections can change when no one's looking. But while the birthrate can still rise, the oil levels can't.

Metro Journal: Worst Website Update

I called the TAP customer service number and the nice woman sent me my account username. I was able to log in, and when I entered my TAP card's 16-digit number... it accepted it! Yay!

Now let's see if it will allow me to add a balance to the card... Ok, you'd think that on the list of your registered cards, there would be a direct link so you could add fares to that card right next to the card in question, but no, you have to go to the standard "Fare Product" link, tell it you already have a card, and get taken to a different page.

I really hate poorly-designed websites. If I can't perform a basic operation in three clicks or less, someone is going to hear me whine about. And that someone is you!

Wait, the only products it's showing me are monthly passes. I don't want to add monthly passes to it. I want to pre-load day passes, which I'd been led to believe I could do. Geez, it looks like if you want to add a plain cash balance, you have to go to one of their sales outlets? WTF? And there's not even a way to search for the one closest to you. You have to page through the list, and they only display 7 at a time! This is so stupid, I could cry!

Ok, it looks like my local Ralphs is on the retail vendor list. (I had to hit the "next" button about six zillion times to find it.) I still don't know if they can add straight value to the card, but I'll try to see if I can get a clearer answer from them than I can from the TAP website.

FAQ entry:
How do I add another pass and/or value to my TAP card?
You can purchase passes online by clicking on the Fare Products page. Passes are also available at TAP Sales Locations.
Um, that didn't really answer the question, did it, at least about the "value" bit. And it doesn't mention that the passes you can get on the Fare Products page are only monthly passes.

I would totally send them a detailed list of all the ways their site sucked if I thought it might actually get it fixed and if I didn't think I would just have a total nervous breakdown in the process.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Metro Journal: Worst Website Ever

I've been trying to use the TAP website for months now, and I'm about ready to track down the designers and bitchslap them. TAP stands for "Transit Access Pass," the debit card-based system that various municipal public transportation systems in Los Angeles County, in addition the county MTA, are adopting. A couple months ago, the county Metro replaced paper day passes with day passes loaded onto TAP cards and gave out the cards (a $2 value) free with a day pass purchase for several weeks, where I got mine. Since then, I have been trying to register it online at taptogo.net and have been driven crazy.

In short, the TAP website is the most user-unfriendly, customer "service" website I have come across in memory. I never thought I'd say this, but a site has remarkably surpassed HP's piece-of-crap website, which has not only not been redesigned in at least 5 years but just gets worse as it gets bigger.

Oh, how does it suck? Well, let's start:
  • I've been trying to register my TAP card for months so that I can load a balance on it. Apparently the website's card database is separate from the actual TAP system, and my card's number is not in the website database. I called twice, was reassured both times that it would show up in a couple days, and it never did. I sent a service request through the web page's form and never got a reply. Finally, I sent an email directly to their customer service and eventually got a reply that it would be up in 24 hours. The reply came on Thursday. I don't believe it has shown up, though, but it's hard to tell because...
  • I can't remember my username. The thing is, you can reset your password as long as you know your name and the email you registered with. It asks a security question, and that's definitely the pet's name I entered. But there is simply no obvious or even obscure way to look up the username associated with an email. How stupid is that? So then...
  • I decide to see what happens if I re-register with the same email. It seems to take it and after I've submitted the vital statistics (note that it doesn't tell me there's already an account with that email address), the next page asks for a TAP card number. I feed mine in and get some inscrutable error. I then try to log in with my supposedly-newly created account, and it doesn't appear to have been created.
  • I lather, rinse, and repeat, trying a new email address. Same thing happens. I'm strongly suspect that means the card number was invalid and that it won't create the account with a valid card number. Where's the logic in that, particularly if you want to create an account but haven't bought a card yet?
  • They're obviously using Oracle as the backend database, but they don't even bother to translate the extremely-technical Oracle errors into plain English.
Do you feel my pain? Do you?

As I am pretty good at figuring out dumbass websites, as impossible as this one is, I can't imagine anyone who is not very web-savvy having any idea how to use it. What the hell is the point in building something so complex and non-intuitive and user-unfriendly that no one can use it?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Other: There's Something Wrong With This Picture

Can you figure it out?

Targeted Advertising
Actually, I can think of a few things that are wrong with it, but I was referring to how an ad for a Christian singles site got put on an atheist blog. Good work, Google!

And I'm still waiting for that damned agnostic dating site.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Other: Hair Today, Gone Today

haircut I cut my hair today. When I say that, I literally mean I cut my hair. I've had it cut professionally about twice in the last 12 years. I am by no means going to qualify for a beautician's license, um, ever, but my hair is wavy enough to cover minor flaws and my standards low enough and my motivation to try to convince a hairstylist not to poof up my hair non-existent enough that I'd rather just do it myself.

I plan to donate the hair for the second time to Locks of Love, an organization that makes real-hair wigs for children who have lost their hair due to medical conditions. They ask that the hair be at least 10" long, and I was getting seriously impatient waiting for it to top that and still have a little left for myself.

My hair will probably look a little different tomorrow as it will get a chance to dry without as much fussing or because I will get annoyed and do a little more snipping. I figure that it's just hair and mine will grow back. And whether or not I did a particular good job cutting it, I managed not to cut off an ear, because that would not grow back.

Other: Art As War Crime

Michael Bay gets to keep making movies and Cartman gets his own theme park; there is no God.
-Kyle Broflofski
While I can only hope that someday Michael Bay will pay for his cinematic crimes against humanity, there is another filmmaker whose punishment for more artistic but less ambiguously vile films received a less direct and arguably incomplete punishment.

Leni Riefenstahl certainly received the fame she felt she so richly deserved, but not in the way she would have wanted. She is venerated in some circles as an innovative film artiste by some, and certainly she was influential. Others celebrate her as a feminist icon, a judgment I find not only questionable on its face as she didn't give a rat's ass about anyone but herself and did nothing to advance the rights of women as a whole, but also very distasteful.

Who was she? She is best remembered today as "Hitler's filmmaker." She may have steadfastly denied being a propagandist, but Triumph of the Will, the "documentary" of one of Hitler's Nazi rallies of Nuremberg, stands over 70 years later as perhaps the most effective use of film as political tool. She also directed Olympia, the Reich-produced documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While many people didn't see how it could be seen as Nazi propaganda, they may not have realized that several minutes of footage of Hitler had been excised for the international release.

Steven Bach clearly wrote the biography Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl with an agenda: systematically and definitively to uncover almost 60 years (she died at the age of 101 in 2003, perhaps cardinal proof that sometimes really only the good die young) of lies, chiefly about her involvement and active collaboration with the Nazi party and particularly Hitler himself. While it is true that she never actually joined the Nazi party, her father did and received many favors because of his daughter's connections. Bach's exhaustive research, which includes personal papers of both the subject and people who worked with her and knew her well, official government documents (oh, yes, the Nazis kept meticulous records), press articles spanning nearly a century, and even taped interviews from the 1970s of many prominent Germans and Nazi officials, now long dead, made by then-PhD candidate Peggy Wallace, form an impressive bibliography. More importantly, they provide an inescapable indictment. Such a work should not have been necessary to cement Riefenstahl's culpability, but there are still those who would believe her innocent of collaboration and who claimed her role of artist absolved her of whatever use the Nazis had for her film.
After the war, [Riefenstahl] and [then-husband Peter] Jacob visited what was left of Hitler's mountaintop hideaway at the Berghof with Friedrich Mainz, the Tobis executive who had distributed Olympia and facilitated Tiefland. He thought Leni "a foolish Nazi: a Nazi for Hitler, not for the Party," but when he remarked in Berchtesgaden that Hitler had been "an idiot," Leni was so incensed she stormed off into the cold and snow. "After about two hours she came back frozen," Mainz recalled, "and said quietly, 'Excuse me, but you must accept that he was a very powerful man. He ruined all Europe!'" Mainz deadpanned, "I accept that," but she failed to appreciate his irony.
From Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl
Riefenstahl was placed under house arrest for a time after the war but was not tried for war crimes, instead being officially labeled a "fellow traveler," which did not carry any legal consequences. She used that fact to show herself as a martyr and to proclaim her complete innocence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Even if you buy the absolution of art from any political consequences, perhaps the most stunning indictment of Riefenstahl comes from the production of her film Tiefland. The movie, which she directed, produced, wrote, and starred in (she wanted more than anything to be a successful actress) was her final feature, made during the war, and was funded by the Reich, a fact which Riefenstahl long got away with denying as the paperwork was somewhat convoluted. The government provided her, for a fee, with interned Gypsies to use as unpaid extras in the film. After the war, she claimed on the record that "we saw nearly all of them after the war. Nothing happened to a single one of them." In fact, they had been shipped off to concentration camps shortly after filming, where many of them perished. A few weeks before her centennial, certainly not by coincidence, a group of Gypsies filed a complaint against her of Holocaust denial, a serious charge in Germany. In the face of overwhelming evidence, Riefenstahl agreed to a court injunction of her claim in order to avoid a trial. Unfortunately, it was only one lie of many that was exposed, although the timing ensured it got the press coverage it deserved.

Riefenstahl was effectively blacklisted by the international film community after the war. Her name was poison. Tiefland was not released until 1954, 9 years after production had ended, and was an artistic, critical, and financial failure. She was innovative with her cinematographic technique, but somehow she was always a much more successful actress and writer in "real" life than on-screen. She did manage to sell some controversial "documentary" footage of primitive tribes she made in Africa, but her main source of income for several decades came from the film that had been her undoing. The West German government ended up with the rights to the Nazi films, including Triumph of the Will, after the war. Although it is still illegal to show the film publicly in Germany, after the war curiosity about the film, both for its political implications and its technical innovations, increased international interest. The West German government, embarrassed to make money off of the film, assented to Riefenstahl's strident demands for the royalties she felt were due her for the film. While anyone with any sense or even a small amount of distaste for her past association with the Nazis would have done everything they could to distance themselves from the film, she still wanted to squeeze it for every bloody mark she could.

One might be tempted to see the documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, filmed, if not edited, with the subject's cooperation a few years before her long-overdue death. I have no interest in watching the woman spew her self-serving fiction for three hours. By all reports, the film-maker didn't soft-focus her narcissism but did leave her precise culpability ambiguous enough that those who never dig deeper into her life are likely to come away with too much sympathy for a woman who doesn't deserve it.

Bach quite effectively dismantles her lies and shows her for the opportunistic, mendacious, anti-Semitic (oh, but she had so many Jewish friends!) narcissist, unwavering in her admiration of Hitler, that she truly was.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pandora's Litter Box: My Highly-Specialized Lobe-Finned Fish

For reasons which now elude me (oh, I remember now1), I ended up perusing the wikipedia article on tetrapods. While discussing classification of various tetrapoda (Greek for "four-legged critters") throughout various geologic periods, the article throws out the note, "Each of these lineages, however, remains grouped with the tetrapoda, just as Homo sapiens could be considered a very highly-specialized kind of lobe-finned fish."

As Pandora was draped across my lap (part of the reason I was perusing wikipedia articles at nearly 2 in the morning -- she was too cute to disturb), it struck me that she is just as much a highly-specialized lobe-finned fish as I am. I suspect that will be my new pet name for her, replacing the current favorite of Ms Fuzzy Pants ("Ms Pants" for short).

Added: Things I would have mentioned originally had I actually been awake when I posted.
  • Green Dam's full name is "Green Dam Youth Escort." The Chinese government claims the software is necessary to keep their youth clean ("green") from exposure to pornography, except, well, that's not all the Great Firewall of China is blocking at the moment, is it? The computer's user also has no way of finding out which sites are on the software's internal (and remotely update-able) black list.
  • American PC makers Dell and HP6 still have not agreed to pre-install the software, although they also haven't categorically refused to do so. There are plenty of places you can go to sign petitions telling them not to cave in. You can find one here, complete with a typo in the first line of the message. (I'm sending them an email right now to tell them to, oh, send another set of eyes over those things before posting syntactically incorrect notices in an attempt to change the world.)
  • Spoon is not so much a highly-specialized lobe-finned fish as he is a highly-chubby lobe-butted cat.

1How I ended up reading the wikipedia article on tetrapods:
  1. This article on "Green Dam," China's software for Windows PCs that would allow them to restrict and spy on their citizens' Internet usage with greater ease than their border firewalls do today2, had a "Most Popular in Science" sidebar, where...
  2. ... this article on the long-beaked echidna was #3! Take a look at that picture and tell me that's not some creature out of Doctor Who! Anyway, the long-beaked echidna is, with the short-nosed echidna and our wacky pal the platypus, one of three surviving monotremes, extremely archaic mammals. I was trying to figure out where they (or we) branched off in the mammalian family tree, so I started poking around to see if I could find an actual, well, pictorial family tree. That's when I came across
  3. The Tree of Life Web Project, and working backwards from the Mammalia page, hit the terrestrial vertebrate ("Stegocephalians") page, and
  4. Actually, I'm really tired, but moving even one limb lower on the tree came up with a lovely picture of our wacky, great-great-...-great-great-aunt, the ovoviviparous coelacanth, and I said, "That's wacky!" (it was really late, but not as late as it is now). Anyway, you and I and great-aunt Coel3 there are all sarcopterygians, so deal with it.
2Note the NY Times article nowhere mentions that the software is Windows-specific. Those goddamned Apple (Steve Jobs is seriously the antichrist, and no, your only other computer choice is not Bill Gates) commercials aside, I see "PC" and my brain automatically assumes that, were I given access to the box, Linux and/or FreeBSD would be installed on the thing forthwith. Vista even makes it easy to shrink existing partitions so you can have space for another OS without needing third-party disk management software! Does the Chinese government also block sites from which one can download Linux or FreeBSD? Because you can put all the nasty software on the Windows partition that you want, and it's not going to matter if you're running another fucking operating system.4
3I actually have a (twice-over) great-aunt Ceil, although I actually have no idea how she spells her name. (I'm guessing.)7 But she doesn't look like that great-aunt Coel, at least no more than you or I or Pandora.
4Yes, I'm cranky. Just because you may have to water a few things down (notice I did not say "dumb down") to make science writing digestible by a nonspecialized audience doesn't mean you, the writer, have a right to be, well, dumb. The absence of mention of a specific OS actually confused me further, because then I had to start wondering if they were confusing "software" with "firmware" and meant the filtering took place at the hardware level. I had to look up Green Dam elsewhere to figure it out.5
5Note that if I didn't believe Intelligent Design was created by morons, I probably would have been in bed an hour ago.
6Smack yourself if you saw that and immediately thought "Harry Potter."
7Answered: I asked my mother and it's "Cile."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Knittin' Crap: Camera Hog Mania!

Pig Mania! After a delay caused by a temporary dearth of 6mm eyes, I finished my rendition of Roman Sock's Pass the Piggies game (which I know as Pig Mania!) today and took some lovely, sun-lit photos. This evening I realized I didn't have any photos of the piggies with but outside the box, so I set up to take some more with the flash. Spoon "helped." Spoon then learned that if he insists on getting in the picture, he better be prepared to become an active part of the picture.

Camera Hog Mania! Camera Hog Mania! Camera Hog Mania! Camera Hog Mania! Camera Hog Mania!! Camera Hog Mania!!