Friday, November 25, 2005

Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another

Got a bunch of hits the other day from Technorati searches on Penn Jillette's essay on atheism. (Note to the overeducated: is atheopistis - faith that there is no god - a word?)

It's no surprise to me that a lot of the posts were basically "I heard this and it was good" (or "I heard this and it was bad"). What surprised me a little was the number of posts which were just a wholesale reprint of his essay, with virtually no context. Needless to say, Mister Library Man has deep thoughts about that.

One of the few library acronyms I like is LOCKSS: Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. If NPR has the only published copy on the web, it's too easy for them to just take it down. (It doesn't really matter whether it's political purpose, general housecleaning, or accident, if the only copy gets lost.) This widespread copying works kind of like the hand-copied libraries of old: the more copies there are, the more safe the content is. Of course, this also introduces a lot of editorial and provenance problems (c.f. the sunscreen speech).

On the other hand, all that copying may trample Jillette's copyright (or NPR's, depending on their contract). By taking the whole of a creative work, it definitely fails 2 components of the four factor fair use test. Of course, you can argue about the nature of the copying work, and what effect, if any, it has on a potential commercial market, and those are currently the big legal questions.

More important to Mister Library Man is the lack of context. The essay even points it out: Jillette says that "this 'This I Believe' thing seems to demand... some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture." In a hypertext world, I think it's irresponsible not to point out that you should explore the This I Believe archives to see why Jillette wrote what he did. Not that it's necessarily bad to copy only the article you want - just that it's bad bloggery to do it without context.


I also get a little stream of people looking for Rick Bayless' chicken recipe. (And my link to Frontera Kitchens probably doesn't satisfy those folks, since it only points you toward the cookbook.)

Recipes, as it happens, can't be copyrighted. Legally, a recipe is considered a process; if you want to protect it, you have to patent it. The part where the cook describes the process might be creative enough to be copyrighted, but you can strip that down to just the facts.

So I'd be in the legal clear to reproduce the recipe here. Why don't I? I can only say that it doesn't feel right. From his TV personality, I thought Bayless was an annoying Gringo poseur - one of those people who uses an exaggerated accent to show how smart he is. Then I got into Frontera Grill for lunch this summer, and had one of the top 5 meals of my life. You know what? He can talk however the hell he likes if he keeps cooking like that. And you should watch his show and buy his cookbook. What a difference a meal makes.

On the other hand, my Bayless-inspired turkey brine 0.5 is my own derivative work, so I have no problem giving you that. Feel free to reverse engineer from it. (And if you get the seasoning right for an 8-12 hour brine, please let me know!) Or if you really want a copy of the original, email me and I'll send it to you. (I'm talking to everyone, but I'm looking at Spoon.)

What's it all mean? I guess it's that I don't see a lot of respect in the intellectual property debate anymore. On my side, there's this undercurrent that the RIAA, MPAA, and AAUP are out of step and out of line, and on the other side, Sony exemplifies the belief that the customer is the enemy. (Remember: nothing under the Christmas tree this year should have a Sony logo on it.)

Well, OK, Sony actually is evil. But if the rest of us started showing some respect, for each other and the creative process, maybe something good would happen.

All good things

I am writing this with my laptop on my knees and Gus the cat on my lap, with full tummy and Iron Chef Battle Tofu on TV. The beautiful Herself is asleep on the couch, under a blue blanket Lemming knitted us as a wedding gift, with Hardee the cat sleeping next to her.

If I just had a Jedi Mind Trick to get the remote and a beer (not necessarily in that order), it would be perfect. As it is, it's more than I deserve.

I can't remember ever having just stayed home for Thanksgiving. It's kind of nice to be in your own place, to have your lovely guests come and then leave. Plus, it gives you control of the leftovers.

I'm pretty proud that we had a relatively locally-grown meal. The pickled okra and green beans on the relish plate, the white potatoes, the turkey itself, and the acorn squash Herself turned into pie - all raised inside the county. (Squash pie, by the way, tastes pretty much like pumpkin, but has a texture a little more like sweet potato.) Locally-grown is important for a lot of reasons; I'll evangelize some other day, but think about it, will you?

I wish I'd been more aggressive in seasoning the turkey brine. I was inspired by Rick Bayless' roadside chicken marinade, which is firey hot. His marinade only has to be on for 30 to 45 minutes, but I was planning on 12 hours or so of brining. I also got scared at the sheer amounts when I scaled it up from 3/4ths cup to about 2 gallons. So I went very conservative. The spices didn't come through except as a little depth of flavor. The brining part worked like a charm... keeps the meat moist and adds all the salt you need.

In the interests of culinary progress, I present:

Joe's Cowardly Turkey Brine

2 quarts OJ
6 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp cayenne
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches of cloves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
About 3 shots of Tabasco sauce

Heat the water and dissolve the sugar and salt in it. Cool and combine all ingredients. Submerge a 12-pound turkey in it for 12 hours or so.

The water-juice-salt-sugar ratio is about right for a brine this long. A little more OJ wouldn't kill it. Next time I'll double or triple the spices to try to get some zing. Maybe I'll experiment on some chickens; just scale back the liquids.

Well, the cats have hopped down and are reminding me that they haven't had Thanksgiving dinner yet. Which means I can get that beer and that remote.

I am so damned grateful for all the good things in my world that sometimes it feels like my heart will burst. And I will endeavor to keep giving thanks tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that too.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for your support.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And an actor plays his part

Tom asks for more statements of faith. I've got one for him... I was most impressed by Penn Jillette's active faith that there is no god.

Jillette and I don't agree on this point. But we do agree on a rather low tolerance for bullshit and intellectual inconsistency. I think we agree that there's too much of both in theistic and atheistic/agnostic circles alike. (As he puts it, the atheism part is easy.) So I'm just impressed to see someone go right back to The Big Question and then reason out from it. I've never quite understood how an honest Atheist would construct values and ethics, and I think he takes an honest crack at it.

Jillette also addresses one of my big questions. To me, Religion is about belonging. Catholicism is an inherently social worldview; we're called to see ourselves in a group, to be together. (You'll note that John 3:16 most emphatically does not say that "God so loved you that He sent His only begotten Son...") So I've always wondered what people do without that tie. It's interesting to note that Jillette uses the word "family" 4 times in his 500-word essay, plus one reference to "the genetic lottery" and one to "how I was brought up." Sounds like a valued family to me.

From where I walk, Jillette seems to be on a very foreign path. But I do admire that he's looked at it from beginning to end.

(As a matter of fact, I'm rather impressed by the whole This I Believe project, and I think Tom, and you, might do well to look through it. But my post of thanks to Edward R. Murrow is for another day.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Keep all the nature in

Spent a good chunk of this weekend preparing the house for Thanksgiving. The schedules are just too tight this year for us to get back east, so we're doing the big shebang and having friends over.

We really should entertain more, because it's the only thing that makes us do a proper top-to-bottom cleaning. (To be fair, a proper cleaning combined with top-to-bottom throwing of clutter into a room where guests won't see it.) We've suggested keeping the house clean by having friends over Sunday to hold Iron Chef: Battle Leftovers.

Mostly, we're cleaning up the inside, but the outside needed a little touchup too. (Apparently, Herself was right, and the patio furniture really won't put itself away. I thought there was a chance.) As I was giving the patio a sweep, I thought of folks like Hugh and John and Rob and all their leaf raking.

And I smirked a superior little smirk. You think differently about lawn care when there's 2 acres of lawn to think about. With just a little mental squinting, you're not a slob who won't rake, but an ecologically-minded landowner who "grasscycles." The way I see it, all those leaves came out of that exact dirt, so we may as well let them go back to it.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but it doesn't seem to hurt our lawn any to leave them there over winter. (Actually, the ditch down by the road gets a little smothered, but running over the leaves with the riding mower helps. The grass bounces back in about a week in the spring anyway.) I know that I could be raking all those leaves into a really impressive compost pile. Not having that black gold when spring comes around is perhaps my one regret, but I do well enough composting my other yard and kitchen waste.

My mom is probably reading this with great pride by now. I learned a deep respect for composting from my folks: a mix of fascination at the process and bemusement that people will actually sweep "waste" out of their yard, pay tax dollars to have it picked up, wait 6 months, and then go buy it back at a markup. (We had an article in the Dispatch about this recently; I didn't think the tone was sufficiently ironic. Face it: if this is you, you're at the bottom of that particular economic food chain.)

Part of it is that I don't have the fascination with the lawn that a good suburban boy is supposed to have. A big swath of green is just boring to me. We'd have a meadow if village code didn't get in the way. What actually fills me with wonder are the little postage stamp urban gardens of Dublin and London. With barely enough room to move a rake, these people have a riot of color to watch. Seems like a better payout for your effort to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby

Lemming is nice enough to give me a reason to talk about iTunes again. Two months ago, I wrote that iTunes should let you give specific songs as a gift, and sure enough, Apple has introduced that feature just in time for the holidays. Cool.

Also, the iTunes Music Store now features some collaborative filtering (recommendations based on your past purchases) - about which, more someday. Suffice it to say that I've been hoping for that.

The other piece of old news is that iTunes now has a preference which will let you make your random shuffle "more random" by preventing songs or albums or artists from repeating too soon. This amuses me, because "more random", of course, mathematically means "less random, more controlled". Reacting to the perception of randomness has made some people in Nevada very, very rich. Of course, it also amuses me because I've been imposing my preferences through a Smart Playlist (only play things I haven't played this month) for years now, so I don't see what the big deal is.

And now, on to The Oracle of iTunes.

1. What do you think of me, oh mystical iTunes?

Face it, you're a minor character. But a plucky one. And maybe, in the movie, a diva will promote you.
"Another Suitcase in Another Hall" - The Chasers

(Or, you know, write me out entirely, depending on whether I'm the singer or the song.)

2. Will I have a happy life?

Maybe, once you get out of rehab.
"White Light/White Heat" - The Velvet Underground

3. What do my friends really think of me?

If you did half the things you talk about, you'd be dangerous.
"Yesterday's Fools" - John McCutcheon


4. What does my S.O. think of me?

You make a good cup of coffee.
"Brand New Day" - The Chasers

5. Do people secretly lust after me?

Nope. If someone's mad about you, you're mad about them too. Is that an e-lec-trical banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
"Mellow Yellow" - Vinx with Stewart Copeland

6. How can I make myself happy?

Take more risks. If they don't work out, dance.
"Heartbreak" - Vinx

7. What should I do with my life?

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" - The Beatles.

8. Why must life be so full of pain?

Karl, the world isn't fair; it isn't and never will be.
They tried out your plan, it brought misery instead.
If you'd seen how it worked you'd be glad you were dead.
"The World Isn't Fair" - Randy Newman.


9. How can I maximize my pleasure during sex?

Garden implements.
"Under a bucket" - The Patsies

10. Can you give me some advice?

Learn to play the vibraphone.
"Nature Boy" - Modern Jazz Quartet

11. What do you think happiness is?

"Up the Ladder" - The Chasers, yet again.

12. Do you have any advice to give over the next few hours/days?

Shut up and move on.
"Walk On By" - Cyndi Lauper.

13. Will I die happy?

No. Not you, or your victims. In fact, nobody's really clear on why you're not going to Hell. But you're not. So you got that going for you. Which is nice.
"Bless the Children of the World" - Randy Newman's Faust

Bonus #14: if the next song is about what's going to happen, what is it?

The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!
"Der Schwarze Mond" - Chamber Singers

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Wait, wait, what key is this in?

Stop reading this post and go see MirrorMask. Go see it now now now.

Herself loves the L. Frank Baum books, so I surprised her once by taking her to see The Wizard Of Oz on the big screen. And on the big screen, surrounded by darkness, it was still magical when the sepia-toned world suddenly exploded with color. It took my breath away.

I saw an interview with David Crosby on one of the PBS rock and roll documentaries. He talked about seeing A Hard Day's Night and dancing out of the theater. He swung himself around on a lamppost like Gene Kelly, and realized he had to be a rock star.

It was kind of like that.

MirrorMask is an immersive tale of a girl whose family runs a circus in Great Britain, very much in the tradition of The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. It may be the best fantasy movie since The Wizard of Oz.

(I said this to my Colleague, who immediately asked "Better than Lord of the Rings"? Knowing that he's a huge Tolkien fan, I made many noises about what different movies they are. MirrorMask lacks Tolkien's epic sweep. But did I find the story more interesting, the characters more captivating, the pacing tighter, the visuals more absorbing? Every day of the week and twice on Sunday.)

Imagine if you could actually follow the plot to a Cirque du Soleil production, and you might have some idea of what you'll see. The movie feels like a cross of a European circus, with masked characters and couture costumes and sly wit, and a comic book, alternately in sharp focus and impressionist fuzz.

It's simply one of the most visually interesting movies I've seen in years... the scene with the Monkeybirds made me physically sit on the edge of my seat in wonder. You have to be willing to go on the ride; the images are very dense and you won't get every detail of every picture. If you just don't like Dave McKean's style (which you may have seen on the Sandman covers, or The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish), you probably won't like it when it moves either.

But for myself, I went on the ride, and it was fantastic. And you should go too, because we need people in good places to see it if we think it'll ever come to cow-towns like Columbus.

(I'll gloss the title for you: the score reminded me of Sting's Dream of the Blue Turtles meets the Kamikaze Ground Crew. Which was weird, but I liked it.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Always look on the bright side of life!

Greetings from (finally) sunny Monterey!

I woke up pretty stoked yesterday. Last day of a pretty good conference, enjoy an unscheduled afternoon in Monterey, take myself out for a nice dinner, wake up at Oh-Dark-Hundred and get to the airport, home a-bed Thursday night.

So I headed to the conference email room to print out my boarding pass for the next day. Except it won't log me in. That's odd. Kind of worrying, really. No need to panic, though. I've got like 22 hours to sort it out.

Better check my email receipt to make sure... wuh? Does that say that my 6:15 AM flight on Thursday was actually a 6:15 AM flight on WEDNESDAY?

Yeah, now there's need to panic.

Nonono that's not right I was careful that's not right I thought about this so much I didn't buy the wrong ticket I didn't it must be the computer maybe it'll be different on another one

Oh, dammit.

(In the industry, by the way, this kind of problem has many creative names. One of my favorites is PICNIC: Problem In Chair Not In Computer.)

Now, should this ever happen to you, you need to get to the airport as quickly as humanly possible. I get the impression that the ticket window has a little extra latitude to deal with a panicked passenger who's actually standing there.

That's hard advice to follow when your itinerary is off by 24 hours, though. I drank a dazed cup of coffee and got on the phone with the reservation desk. The lady at America West was very nice, but rather strict about the fact that I'd let the 2-hour window expire (by about 20 minutes), and I'd have to pay the itinerary change fee. (She pinned it on her manager, but I've put plenty of people on hold while I hollered "Hey, Tim, I can tell this guy to drop dead, right?") Then there was the fun of finding seats for me, and calculating the new price of the ticket. And now I'm on the Thursday night redeye.


But the nice thing about doing this at a User Support conference is that everybody is both genuinely sympathetic and professionally trained at talking you down. So, denial, anger, negotiating... acceptance.

I got a free day in Monterey. And yesterday the weather was mostly rainy and crummy, and today looks very nice. I probably wouldn't have stayed out for the last set of the cool blues band last night if I'd had to pack and be up at 5. The folks at the hotel have been nice about arranging a late checkout. I'm having a blast using up the disposable camera I bought.

Yeah, it's not a free day in Monterey, it's a $250 day in Monterey which ends with me sleeping on an airplane. But I'm going to walk around and enjoy it, because I have to. Plus, I can sing and whistle a Monty Python song.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The light, the heat

I never knew any guy who wanted to be Luke Skywalker. Anybody worth his salt wanted to be Han Solo. The funny one, the charming one. The one who didn't wear his nobility like a white bathrobe. The one who always came through in the clutch. The one who heard "I love you" and said "I know." The one the princess would rescue. The one with a Wookie best friend and his own spaceship.

But Han's not who I want to talk to you about. If you ask me how Hollywood portrays men, Han's the first one I think of. The second is Lloyd Dobler. A lot of us saw some of ourselves in Lloyd - trying our best in a confusing situation. Trying to live up to something we didn't always see in ourselves. Trying to figure out what it meant (means) to "don't be a guy, be a man."

You ever wonder what Lloyd's doing now? (Well, besides having an Effect.)

Go rent Must Love Dogs.

I know it's a different writer; I know John Cusack is a versatile actor. But if you liked Say Anything, go check this movie out. Because I'm pretty sure this is where quippy, creative, good Lloyd is 20 years later - in his thirties, still following his dreams, still keeping the faith.

If you're lucky, you might see yourself again.