June 29, 2007

My TiVo

I've always been extremely ambivalent about upgrading my venerable Sony series 1 TiVo because the newer ones have either lacked features that made them worthy (Series 2) or were ridiculously expensive (Series 3). After the Series 3 price drop, the cost factor became less of an issue; however, TiVo carefully didn't do so until after expiring the Lifetime Subscription transfer period, which made my decision not to get one easier. So long as my original box works, it's just not worth it.

Then I came across this on the internet:

"Grandfather transfer: The one-time "Grandfather transfer" (for people who purchased Product Lifetime on or before January 21, 2000, and who have not already used their one-time transfer) is still allowed and will also be honored for future hardware releases from TiVo, such as the Series3. If you have any trouble when you call, please mention KDB code 09-07-04 to the agent."

The Grandfather Transfer was free, IIRC. Can such things be? Must check. If so, this would force a revision of my entire TiVo buying avoidance strategy.

Posted by jbz at 1:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 27, 2007

iPod wasn't the first disk-based MP3 player

...and the iPhone won't be the first WiFi(/WiMax)-VoIP and Cell phone. But I still stand by my cocky prediction that it will be the best of the lot.

Posted by jbz at 2:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2007

Duke Blue Spyder

Just got my Duke Blue Spyder from HisNibs.com (a fine pen buying experience, I might add, purely as a satisfied customer). I like this pen already. It's solid without being too heavy; the cap is quite weighty and posting or not posting can significantly change the pen's balance as you choose. The nib (I got a standard medium) actually writes a deal finer than my Sheaffer Medium. The weight of the pen and the highly curved nib (it curves around the barrel) mean that there is very little vibration of the nib when writing; it's quite difficult to make the pen 'skip' or scratch. The beading on the nib is quite good; while there's no plane to it (so no variation in line width easily noticeable) that's okay. The smoothness of the pen more than makes up for it.

Only had it an hour or so; put in a couple of pages of text with it. My hand still likes it a lot. Only complaint is standard for new pens, made worse by the design of this one; the clip is extremely tight and refuses to 'catch' on a pocket-tee pocket; whatever.

Posted by jbz at 4:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 20, 2007


Apparently my home IP address is listed on the DSBL blackhole list. I first discovered this when a friend who runs his own mailserver helpfully informed me (during a test we were running) that mail I sent him via my own offsite mail server or my work Exchange server got junkfiltered by his SpamAssassin setup; poking about, it turns out it's because my dynamic IP is on DSBL.

This confused me a bit, since I don't send mail directly. Both of those messages were sent through SMTP servers, one I run privately from a colo facility and one run by my employer in the NY Metro area. As far as I could tell after checking, neither of those servers was listed on the DSBL. However, the SA module that does the checking apparently checks the first hop in the mail headers, and sure enough, there's the IP that the message originates at in both of them, and it's my Comcast IP.

So. Doesn't matter that I'm sending through SMTP servers, I'm blacklisted. How to get removed? Ah, there's the rub. DSBL will remove you if you can respond to a confirmation email they will send to you. That email can be sent to one of four possible email addresses, and their site tells you flatly that there are no exceptions. Those addresses are:

  • postmaster@(your reverse dns FQDN)
  • postmaster@(your toplevel reverse dns) - in my case, postmaster@comcast.net
  • abuse@(your FQDN)
  • abuse@(your reverse DN) - in my case, abuse@comcast.net

Now, obviously, the @comcast.net addresses are useless to me. The problem is that the others, which accurately point out the IP address of my cable modem, are equally useless. This is because I don't run an SMTP mail server out of my house. Even if I did, Comcast, in its attempt to help prevent SPAM, actively blocks that port on my segment or perhaps modem, I'm not sure (I use secure SMTP on a different port to reach my outbound servers). So what the DSBL is saying, essentially, is that the only thing I can do is to have their system generate an 'annoyance' email to comcast's abuse address which will be ignored.

I'm generally a proponent of blackhole lists. However, I'm also a proponent of responsible administration of them. The problem here is that (as DSBL acknowledges) the range of IP addresses that mine falls into is dynamic and public access. This means it is both a high-threat range and one which churns, meaning that harsh measures taken against addresses in the range will in time impinge on other, innocent customers as the addresses 'turn over.'

Realizing I might be overreacting, I went to check the report on my IP address to determine what, in fact, it was being blacklisted for.

Turns out that there was an open SOCKS4 proxy on my IP sometime back in November of 2005, approximately seven months before I was assigned this IP. Um. Okay. So here's my question - why is there no way to retest - or request a retest - of an IP? I understand that an automated retest would simply invite gaming. I also understand (and have some sympathy) with the notion of 'let the customer tell the ISP to fix itself.' However in this case, the ISP isn't the problem; the problem is what some unknown person did with this IP before I had it, and there's no way for the confirmation process to reach me because I don't control the DNS or the abuse/postmaster accounts for this domain. I do control the IP address, but I don't (and probably can't) run a mailserver on it. Hence I can't receive an email addressed to its specific reverse FQDN, because there is no internet mail service at that address.

Admittedly, part of my particular problem seems to be that the site I'm sending to is penalizing me for being on the 'single hop' DSBL list when I'm clearly not sending single-hop - I'm sending through SMTP servers. I'm not on the multi-hop list, although I am on the 'unconfirmed' list. However, I know for a fact that site is using standard SpamAssassin filtering, which means whatever it's doing can't be that esoteric.

So what am I to do?

The fucking system's broken, boys.

Posted by jbz at 2:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 19, 2007

The internet is a wonderful thing for (my) feet.

Since I now have a job which requires me to actually wear footwear whilst at work (hi Arden!) and since removing it while sitting at my desk is easier if it's not sneakers, I found myself actually wearing my dress shoes a lot. This was also made true by the fact that for the first time in my life I owned dress shoes which were actually more comfortable to wear than my midprice sneakers. When you weigh what I weigh, this is a not-inconsiderable surprise; these shoes were picked out for me by a dear friend who marched me to Nordstrom's in Tyson's Corner one time before a job interview (hi Shurronne!).

Anyway, so I had one pair of Ecco dress shoes. The problem was that they were comfortable, and I was wearing them everywhere. Then Amazon.com started advertising some partner store, Endless, I think, which sold shoes (and handbags, for those of you who care). They were running some sort of sale whose tagline was that if you ordered shoes overnight shipped, they'd knock 5$ off the price and the shipping was free. Knowing full well that this means simply that the shoe prices are inflated, I shrugged, but there - there in front of me - was a whole range of Ecco shoes.


No hassle.

Ding. Thanks to the internet, for the first time in my life I have more than one pair of non-sneaker or boot shoes. And you know what? They're fucking comfortable.

It only took 38 years, mom.

Posted by jbz at 2:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sun and sea

Cerulean blue, the ocean snapped its whitened caps thoughtfully to itself and paid no attention to the mites that crawled upon it. Ignoring them was a habit of thousands of years. While above- "Haul in the topgallants, you slankin' vermin! Faster! Faster or the Lieutenant'll have yer fuckin' guts fer garters, an' that don't make a biscuit what the Cap'n do if he sees this shit-!"

The frigate was small, compared to the monsters this water had seen. It had played beneath the great leviathans; it had laughed its way through the dissolution of the indisposed giants both famous and unknown. This one, though, still spun and danced atop the swells while reaching out to catch the wind.

"Still gaining, sir. Estimating seven klicks. She's fast, damned fast, but we'll get her before nightfall." The first officer saluted.

"Thank you, Mister Fowler. Tell the Master I want another three knots or I'll know the reason why. That foremast shows no sign of strain." "Aye aye, sir." The other turned away, shouting as he ran into the orderly crowd of men dashing about the deck while the Captain held a hand magnifier up to his right eye. In its monocular ring, a white-painted vessel wavered in the middle distance with its stern turned towards him and a wake creaming out from under its stern that indicated it was making speed. He could make out men bustling about on her deck, two or three at the stern lookin back. He felt his teeth bare themselves in a grin. A stern chase. And she's not looking very handy, while I have the gage.

"Fall off a point you 'orrible slackwit barstid, Jenkins, or I'll-" the shouts were background, comforting, routine. The frigate HMS Sword Breaker was on the hunt. Captain Phineas St. James, Commander RN, glanced at his pocketwatch, consulted the darkening horizon, and grinned again. His first officer returned to the bow where he stood watch.

"What do you think they'll do, sir?" Lt. Fowler stood quietly by him. The captain extended the monocular and Jenkins took it, examined the target.

"Why d'you think they run, Will?"

"Sir? Because we're the RN, sir."

St. James snorted. "Possibly, boy, but this is the Somali coast. These buggers have been taking ships far larger than us for a long time out here. The whole of the US Navy couldn't make 'em keep their heads down, no - and that crock up there's a sight bigger'n we are and an anvil as well."

"We're too far from the coast to make any anchorage before nightfall," mused the First. Seeing his brain ticking over, the Captain grunted and reclaimed the magnifier. The other continued. "You suspect a rendezvous, sir?"

"I bloody well do. The weather chaps say all's going to be just fine for another day or more in these parts, so they can't be hoping to lose us in muck; no landmasses ahead. No, I estimate they'll try to give us a surprise sometime just around true dusk when it gets really blurry out there. Tell the lads to stand to defense quarters in ten minutes."

"Aye, sir."

Another few minutes passed; another hundred meters of gap fell to Sword Breaker's rushing keel. Underneath her knife-sharp bow, combers rose to either side as she rushed on, her figurehead brandishing a serrated knife threateningly at the horizon.


"Aye sir! You heard the man, boys, close up now, pull in the gallants-" St. James kept his monocular focused on the other ship, now only three or four kilometers away, which had suddenly swelled in his flickering greenish vision as it slewed to the side. The ungraceful lines of a medium patrol craft were revealed, with a few crew-served swivel guns bolted to the rails but no other armament - ah, there it was. Bollixed on between the forecastle and midships deckhouse, with a limited arc of fire; hence the sudden turn to clear the broadside. He raised his voice again.

"ACTIVE ACTIVE ACTIVE-" and several things happened at once. In his right eye he saw intolerable brightness for a moment and then a general greenish glare as the monocular stepped down to save his vision; with his opening left eye he saw a white and orange flower erupt from the other vessel. The missile jumped off the rails and appeared to slow to a halt; dangerous illusion, he knew, caused by it arcing over to fly directly at them.

"DOWN, BOYS-" came a voice from behind him, and he whipped the monocular away from his face and closed his eyes, turning his head. There was a soundless flash of such enormity he could almost hear it as a thunderclap, burning through his eyelids with force enough that the ship surely must be afire, but when he opened them-

-when he opened them to the sound of snarling thunder, there was a saffron firework in midair between them and their quarry, sparks fading hissing and tumbling down into the darkening waters. A cheer went up from the decks, to be cut off savagely by snarled orders. St. James heard the creaking of reinforced wood as the ship heeled slightly, regaining her tack, and the speed slowly came back up.

"Well timed, sir." Lt. Fowler stood behind him, looking composed if a bit pale. St. James nodded gruffly.

"Good man. No sweating before the lads."

"Not at all sir. I'll just piss my pants facing you, thanks very much."

The Captain snorted again with laughter and turned. The quarry was trying to wallow back onto course, but it wasn't moving quickly enough to regain its heading. They were closing to within a kilometer. "Prepare to go active, Will."

"We're not boarding, sir?"

"Not this one. She's a little fish, for an anvil, and I want her associate - not her. We haven't the time. Damned pirates."

"Aye aye." The Lieutenant turned away; shouted orders. A red flare rose from midships, and a voice began to bellow on a loudhailer in Somali. If his orders were being followed, the signal was being relayed as well, telling the other ship to abandon now as the vessel was about to be engaged.

There was a few moments pause, and then St. James saw the forms of men come boiling over the side of the battered trawler - for trawler it was, he saw now. They took to the sea, some tossing rafts overboard, and he shook his head grimly. Sword Breaker altered course to port several points to pass by the other vessel; by the time they were well past, the sea immediately around it was clear.

"Mister Fowler! You may fire when ready!"

"Aye sir! Deck battery, COMMENCE FIRE!"

There was a monstrous crack and a hiss, as a rod of energy leapt from a square plate emitter halfway up the mainmast. The other ship's hull exploded outward in a ball of superheated steel vapor and oxidized aluminum dust, drowning out the cheers of the crew. The bow and stern sections, now untroubled by any connection, rolled in opposite directions and sank from sight.

"Very good, Mister Fowler. You may tell the Master and the tracking party I want a medium sweep. There's a rat around here somewhere."

* * *

There was, of course. Fowler hadn't yet seen the captain mistaken. The rat, however, was moving fairly quickly, and turned out (when intercepted early the next morning) to be a nastily familiar sight.

"Sir, that's a Krivak."

"Yes; yes, I should think so."

"Sir, her arms-"

"Lad, even if her arms are in order - which I doubt, you never saw the neglect the damned Sovs could design into a ship much less heap on her themselves - then she is crewed by rank amateurs. We will close, and if necessary, board and take her."

"Aye sir!" Fowler was slightly flushed and staring at the horizon, spine stiff in embarrassment. St. James relented slightly.

"Look, Mister Fowler, what are the odds she's had decent resupply enough to keep her arms in order? That's a Krivak III, you can tell by the helo hangar on the back. If they've got a working helo, they're just going to lose it; and to put that on they got rid of the main SSM system."

"Four guns, sir, autoloaders..."

"That's true. But how much ammunition? I'm betting that ship made its way here from the Indian Fleet when it all went smash, and even if it came with full magazines, 76mm naval shells aren't standard kit for any of the ground johnnies they have running around here. They'd have to have resupply."

"Then, sir, what do you propose?"

"Well, young Fowler, what would you do?"

The Lieutenant looked at his Captain. "Sir, I would maneuver to determine their armament; if they offer no long-range gunnery, I should attempt to close and disable their deck weapons systems with beam fire."

"And then?"

"If successful, sir, I would propose to close on her from astern and board her."

"Very good, lad. Go to it."

The First mate, looking startled, neverthless turned and ripped out a series of orders. Men saluted, answered back, and began running about the deck, reefing in sail and closing hatches. Sword Breaker heeled into a turn towards the Krivak which was insolently loafing some fifteen klicks off, visible from the cupola.

"They have to see us."

"Don't be so sure. You're assuming that the radar on that tub is working, and that they're keeping watch, and..."

"I'd rather assume that than the other, sir."

"You've learnt."

"Yes, sir."

At five kilometers, the Krivak's stacks suddenly emitted a puff of smoke, visible clearly. The Lieutenant swore. "Look at them, the bastards. Turbine fuel. They could be cooking with that, or making electricity, or using it for plastics production or pharmaceuticals, but no - they're pushing that damn anvil through the water."

"They haven't all got our advantages, Mister Fowler."

"No sir. But they do have a few oil wells somewhere."

"Either that, or some old hijacked tankers that aren't licking dry yet."

"I suppose. Here we go, sir."


The First Mate turned. "Hoist the colors higher! Let's have a tune, boys! ARM FOR BOARDING! CLOSE UP THE GUN CREWS!"


Strains of bagpipe music began to skirl across the deck. Some cheering arose. There was the clatter of ironmongery and the constant thrumming of feet above them on the spars; the spray blew across the bowsprit, dusting them both.

"God save the King, sir. Sun and sea."

"Sun and sea, Mister Fowler."

At that moment, an enormous waterspout appeared next to the Krivak. It staggered visibly, and heeled into a vicious starboard turn. The two officers looked at each other. "We didn't-" began the Lieutenant.

"Sir! Tracking reports new target at zero-three-three, distance fourteen klicks! Target reads cork, sir, repeat target is a cork, colors unknown, we're getting no response!"

There was another waterspout, this time almost directly in the Krivak's path. The Russian-built frigate shuddered and reversed turn. A faint pop-pop-pop-pop reached their ears. Fowler reacted first. "MASTER JONATHAN! CLEAR FOR AIR DEFENSE! CLEAR FOR AIR DEFENSE! ENGAGE ALL OUTBOUND!"

"Aye aye sir!"

Sun and sea.

There came a series of sequential sizzleCRACKs from above and behind them, smaller than the previous night. Energy absorbed from the acres of solar active sails during daylight was squeezed into too small a place and thrust upon hydrogen extracted from the sea. The resultant fusion was net positive, barely, but most importantly the plasma passed through the emitter lenses in microsecond fury. Needles of glare lanced out from the ulmaser head, fanning upward one-two-three-four-five. With each stab, a tiny point of light bloomed in the air above and past the Krivak, 76mm shells caught by the ravening beams and detonated; the last one blew just past the fore starboard turret's barrel. There was no more fire; the Krivak attempted to reverse turn again. A red flare rose in the distance, generally at thirty-three degrees from the bow.

Another two waterspouts rose, bracketing the Krivak, and then a dirty orange flare blew out from her sidewall. Another engulfed her stern. She slid to a stop, burning; the Sword Breaker closed on her as the Captain and First Mate focused their magnifiers on the sloop approaching from the other side of the target, two guns run out to each side of its' bow.

"Sir," said Fowler hesitantly, "Sir, that flag-" "Sirs, what ship is that?"

St. James gestured to Fowler, who turned to face the now-attentive deck and folded his hands behind him. "Men, it appears to be a man of war of the United States Navy."

There was a moment of disbelieving silence, and then a roar rose, lifting the spars and sails with its sound. Fowler turned back to St. James' side. "Sir, do you really think it's the Americans?"

"Certainly looks like them, lad."

"I've seen the Maryland coast, sir. Nothing. Nothing at all."

"I've seen a great deal of their coast, and there's nothing that would suggest this, no. But you know, son, a right bastard once said that the Americans would always do the right thing - once they'd tried everything else."

The two tall ships danced prettily into rendezvous, ignoring the sinking metal hulk. Wood gleamed under brightly polished brasswork; the ulmaser heads of the Royal Navy vessel were reflected in the four 5"/54 caliber guns on the gun deck of the other ship, whose stern bore the inscription U.S.S. Enterprise.

"Good Gods. Those cheeky bastards."

"They're putting a boat out, sir."

So they were. The boat rowed across, and by the time it reached the Sword Breaker's side a party was formed up at the ladder. Lt. Fowler saluted as the two men in a sharp khaki uniform saluted him and then the ship's colors. St. James nodded approvingly as the visitors approached. Fowler made the introductions.

"Captain St. James, this is Captain Alderson of the Enterprise and his Second officer, Lieutenant Brown."

They all shook hands. Alderson grinned. "Damn glad to see you, sir."

"And us, you, Captain. It...has been a while."

"We've been a bit busy, sir. We're sorry."

"Don't be, Captain. May I ask-"

"We lost the coastal cities, Captain. But America has never been just the coasts; nor has she ever been just the cities. Infrastructure - well, it's not in great shape, but we're moving things again under Federal seal. The Interstates are back up in the interior."

"And your ship?"

"There's a long tradition around the name, Captain St. James, and coasts infested by pirates."

"Of course. We're delighted to see you out here once again, Captain. May I ask if you would sail in company with us for a time? There's so much to do, still; but the task has somehow become easier on my mind."

"We'd be delighted, sir. We have word that there's at least two more burners in the vicinity."


"Ah, sorry. Petro-engined vessels, sir. Ex-Indian and China Sea nation navy vessels, the both of them; one of them looks to be a Chinese destroyer, I believe. Their arms are in relatively good order, for the region."

Fowler looked shocked. St. James merely nodded. "Then we shall have to sharpen our swords, Captain Alderson. I seem to be fresh out of turbines myself."

"As are we, sir. But I'm not a cowboy, you see. I'm a policeman."

St. James looked slightly puzzled. "Captain?"

The other nodded at his aide, who raised a small radio to his lips and murmured into it. The American captain returned his gaze to St. James. "It is traditional in my country for the cowboys, especially the good guys, to mount up and ride into the heart of bandit country, trusting in their purity of heart and their speed with a gun to save them."

"I've seen the movies, captain."

"Sir! Sir, there's something...tracking says...SHIT-"

With a sound quite like that of God deciding to pull his bathtub drain, a large shape slid upwards out of the water between the two sailing ships. It was longer than either of them, lethal, and black. St. James looked at it in frank amazement and, he was ashamed to note, a bit of envy. "That can't be-"

"Gentlemen, the U.S.S. Boston. She's in fine shape for a lady her age, and I thought this would be right up her alley."

"What was that you said, captain, about a policeman?"

"Oh yes. You see, while a cowboy will bring his sixgun-" the American pointed at the weapons protruding from the sloop across the water - "and his rifle," he waved at the ulmaser emitters above them, "the policeman won't go anywhere without a hideaway." And with that, he raised his arm and waved vigorously at the submarine's bridge. A moment later, a siren sounded back, a hungry, keening note.

Some time later, the two sailing ships billowed their panels of spun silicate fibers into the air and moved off with killers' grace, trailed behind by an assassin gone old and faithful. They moved south, prows questing, and hard men quivered to see them come.

Posted by jbz at 3:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 6, 2007

New Gear

Given that living past Applecare officially makes a Powerbook 'old', and that such had happened to my faithful G4/1Ghz, I have been waiting avidly for Apple to release updated MacBook Pro machines. My new employers had promised me the Mac of my choice, and I'd even told them to just hold off.

So yesterday rolled around, I got into the office, and the CTO strolled over and said "So we hitting the Apple Store?"

I said "They release?"



Before we could escape the office, the CEO heard us talking and leaned over. "Wait, new Pros? Man, this X41 is annoying."

Off we went. The CEO confessed, while giggling (which was awesome in a 6'6" mid-fifties guy in great shape with distinguished greying temples) "I've never done anything like this before."

To which the CTO and I responded (since we're of an age) "What, been a geek in a pack?"

Got to the flagship store found a T-shirt wearer. "MacBook Pro. Gimmes."

"One MacBook Pro..."

"Count noses, junior."

"Oh! Um, three MacBook Pros?"

"Yeah. 15 inchers."

Names taken, we headed off for the cashier. Thus spake the CTO, throwing down a titanium Amex: "Haiiiiiii-yAAAA!"

There was laughter from the cashiers. They were women. I hear titanium Amexes have this effect on them. I wouldn't know, I've never held one.

Anyway, surgical strike, mission accomplished, whee, off we went amidst hilarity and joking. Three men, three small black boxes, three foolish grins, and three web browsers to OWC to order 4GB upgrade kits.

I like my new 'book a lot. Fast, the LED backlit screen is bright and fast to respond. The color temp is quite high, but it's hard to tell if that's because the screen is so much newer than my G4 rather than because it's a different backlighting tech; the panel on the G4 is noticeably yellowed. It's just like looking at my 1-yr-old iMac next to my original Cinema Display. In a way, movies look much better on the warmer yellowed panels, but details are more visible on the brighter ones. I'm not anal enough to have color profiles for each task.

The MagSafe is nice, and it's strong enough that I don't bump it out when using the 'Book in my lap. It does get pretty warm, but so did my G4 - I don't actually really notice a difference. Haven't used it very hard yet.

AirPort reception is definitely improved.

One problem I've been having is power management. I packed it to go home yesterday at 100% charge; when I got home about 25 minutes later and took it out of my bag, I noticed as I drew it out that the Apple logo was lit. I put it on the table without opening it and waited. After about five seconds, the logo dimmed again. Shaking the closed laptop didn't cause it to light up again for several tries, but on the fourth or fifth round of shaking, the logo lit up again. When I opened the laptop after letting it darken again, it took a while to awaken (I think I didn't give it enough time to go down properly) and the battery was down to 71%. I think it was waking up in my bag on my way home; either that, or it never slept properly, I'm not sure which.

This is a brand new model. I might have a dodgy latch/closure sensor, or there might be a firmware problem. More likely the former. I'll wait to see if anyone else reports problems.

Since my first two were named Shadowfax (my TiBook 500) and Pale Horse (the AlBook 1Ghz), this one is thus titled Athansor.

Posted by jbz at 3:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 3, 2007

Apple, iTunes, embedded metadata and hands in cookie jars.

You know, Apple meets people sort of halfway - I mean, ITMS actually has some leverage in the corporate world, now, right? And what do they do with it, but they start throwing it around for their benefit, naturally. But they also manage to make their goals align at least slightly with some goals that lots of people on the internet have been railing about for a long time - namely, the removal of DRM from purchased music. EMI steps up, or is thrown for the count, and Apple and EMI begin offering music at a higher bitrate, for more money, with no DRM.

And people start losing their shit.

Not all of them. But the complaints seem to boil down to two types: One, they're gouging me! and two, they've embedded my username and email address in this file!

No sympathy. In the first case, simple; don't buy it. You don't have to. You aren't even dealing with a monopoly; recent announcements of other DRM-free music stores have grabbed e-headlines. In the second case...

In the second case, leaving aside breathless wonderings about what nefarious things Apple might be encoding into the 'several hundred K of AAC metadata in these tracks other than the name and email' - um, I dunno, the album art? The lyrics maybe? TAG DATA? Dunno, somehow.

Also, try this one on for size. A couple of friends of mine and I (Hi petert! Hi luis!) were thinking about this, and I said "You know, I bet they've always encoded that data in the damn tracks. This outrage really strikes me as the blustering of a kid with his hand caught in a mousetrap left in the cookie jar."

Peter, bless his suspicious soul, immediately messaged me back:

 11:07pm petert: jbz: oh btw
 11:08pm petert: $ grep <username>01\ Working\ for\ Vacation.m4p
 11:08pm petert: Binary file 01 Working for Vacation.m4p matches
 11:08pm petert: the first itunes album i bought
 11:08pm jbz: hahahaha
 11:08pm jbz: and you haven't upgraded it?
 11:08pm jbz: oh wait
 11:08pm petert: nope
 11:08pm jbz: is that because it has a path in it?
 11:08pm petert: $ grep <username@provider> 01\ Working\ for\ Vacation.m4p
 11:08pm petert: Binary file 01 Working for Vacation.m4p matches
 11:08pm jbz: hahahahaha
 11:09pm jbz: yeah
 11:09pm petert: so much for outrage :)

Yeah. I mean, they have to populate that 'purchased by' field in Get Info somehow, right?

Posted by jbz at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Comsat Angels

This was written to fill a nodeshell on E2 which I'd created; originally, I created it as a placeholder for an eventual node about the band The Comsat Angels (who, if you don't remember them, were all over the soundtrack to Real Genius). Then E2 started a Quest for SciFi nodes, and the title called to me.

If you get a sailor drunk enough, one who has done his duty in the comm shack on dark and stormy nights, you'll hear him talk about them. He'll do so only after looking over his left shoulder, tossing back a tumbler of the hard stuff, and even then only in whispers, and he'll deny it the next day. Pilots, too; men experienced with the Victor Airways and the darkened passages between the clouds and the hard cold earth, who have put in their time looking out over burning instruments into the awesome dark of nature's fury or, worse, her sheer uncaring blankness.

The stories persist.

Sometimes it's a voice; sometimes a system mysteriously coming online, NAVCOMM waking up midflight. Sometimes a positional indicator will draw itself in glowing luminescent lines across the moving map, and a man or woman out at the mercy of the winds and water would do well to follow when it beckons. Lives have been saved by the airy breaths of phantom that drift down from above.

Once, they might have been called St. Elmo's Fire; lights dancing around the rigging to show sailors the way to safety - or to doom. Now they live inside computers and radios, moving ships and airplanes and dirigibles desperate (or not desperate enough) across the map, chess pieces of superstition and oncoming disaster.

I had heard of them from old-timers in bars, after that fateful last drink, before you pack it in and head home. I'd never seen one.

Not until Day Twenty-Six.

We were running shutdown checklists, the three of us, before an all-too-brief rest. Seema was reading off values from the lifesystem to Ground; I was putting the attitude control and RCS to bed, and Devon was checking over the last ten science task lists before we closed it down for a rare communal sleep cycle. The Station was medium-busy, with all of us moving from place to place with checklist pads glowing in our heads-up displays and trying not to bump each other too much. We were tired, but we had a right to be; it was Mission Day Twenty-Six, and we'd only had one experiment scrubbed due to equipment failure and two others saved due to Brilliant Improvisations and we were still only a day behind schedule. That meant lack of sleep.

I had settled into a station at Ops to finish up with Ground, and everything was closing down relatively smoothly. "Ground, this is Kat, confirm done with page Alpha Romeo Charlie Sierra Niner Seven Five."

"Confirm Sierra Niner Seven Five, Kat. One to go."

"Okay, Bud. Put down that damn beer I know you have. Starting page."

"Roger starting page. Man, this beer tastes good."

I snorted and checked the main control wheel velocity deltas again, read them off. Bud read them back. I was moving on to confirming that the Dump panel was locked down when something glittered to my right. "Wait one, Ground."


I moved over to the Tracking station. All its panels were dark; the Station's radar was shut down to avoid interfering with communications or experiments, and no personnel were outside. We were relying on ground to give us warning of any incoming debris during the checkout period; when we went down for rest period, a watchkeeping proximity radar would be left on alarm. The flicker had come from one of the panels on the tracking station, but nothing showed there now. "Never mind, Ground. Continuing."

"AM Dump panel locked, checked and set?"

"Roger, AM Dump panel locked, checked and-" the flicker happened again, longer this time. "Wait one, Ground, I have an intermittent indicator on Tracking."

"Kat, we show Tracking off and locked."

"Affirmative, that's the worry, I'm checking it now." I moved over to the Tracking panel again and checked the mode switches. All were firmly to OFF, with covers in place. Nope. But as I watched, the local display suddenly flickered amber, a target moving from the edge of the screen directly in towards the center - the Station - and vanishing in an apparent impact. I sucked in my breath, instinctively, but the display went dark again. Nothing else happened. "Damn it."

"Kat? What's up?"

"Bud, I have a transient malf on the Tracking display, it's showing-" The target relit at the edge of the screen, followed the same straight path across the display, and terminated at the Station's outer hull. I stopped talking and looked at it, hard.


"Ground, hold, tracking electrical fault." I clicked off the downlink and moved over to intercom. "Guys, get to Tracking please."

"What's up?" Devon answered immediately; he hadn't been on the Downlink, apparently. There were paired clicks which meant Seema had heard but was probably talking to Ground on a different channel.

"I don't know." The Tracking screen did its pantomime collision again. "But I don't like it."

"Coming." I could hear slight thumping noises amongst the continuous cacophony of the Station's systems as Devon worked his way into the Ops module. A few moments later he was hanging next to me. "What?"

I pointed silently at the tracking display. It was now repeating the 'collision' every few seconds. He looked at it for a few cycles.

"Is it malfed?" I shook my head, then pointed at the OFF mode knobs. He startled, visibly. "What the hell?"

"No idea. But it's been doing that same thing for a couple of minutes now." There was a slight jostling from behind us as Seema, the third crew member (and second woman, to the never-ending joshing of Devon from the macho hairychested NASA contingent groundside) poked her head over our joined shoulders.


We both pointed at the screen. She watched for a few seconds, and then Devon pointed at the mode switches. She, too, exclaimed in confusion.

"What happens if we turn the damn thing on?" asked Devon.

"I don't know. It's not per procedure, it'll foul up the experimental protocols if we do it at full Tracking power or before sleep period."

Seema looked at her chrono. "It's sleep period in four minutes. I say we switch it over to alerting mode at that point."

Devon looked at me. "You're command."

"Shit." I sighed. "Okay, are the checklists finished?"


"Mine isn't. I have to talk to Bud." I clicked back. "Bud, this is Katya. I need to postpone the remainder of the page for a deviation."

"Talk to me."

"We're getting, um, anomalous behavior-" Seema gave me a thumbs up -"from the Tracking display panel when in 'OFF' mode. We want to power it up to Alert at the beginning of designation Sleep period as per experimental protocols and observe it."

"Okay, let me get with GNC and CAPCOM." There was a silence of maybe thirty seconds, then he came back on. "Kat, you are GO to go active on tracking at zero one one five zulu, your discretion."

"I copy go for active track at zero one one five zulu, thank you Ground." I looked at the others. They nodded. Seema held up a finger, looked at her chrono, paused for a bit, then brought it down and looked at me. I flipped the mode switch to TRK.

The display lit, showing the two deployed experimental instrument packs and various bits of the Station's anatomy in close proximity, along with a couple of small bits of debris that we knew as old friends - a bolt, two pieces of tubing and a Twinkie wrapper. Don't ask.

After a few seconds, the phantom target swept in from vaguely up-orbit, scythed down across the screen, and terminated precisely at the join between the Hab module and the Docking port. Then it did it again.

"Shit." Devon was pointing, with a shaking hand. I followed his hand, looked at the display's time hack.


As we watched, the cycle began again, and the display's time indicator blipped back to 01:24:01Z.

Then the cycle happened again.

Seema looked at her wrist. "It's 01:17."

I didn't hesitate. "Devon, bring up RCS, now. Seema, unlock the damn Progress capsule and kick it loose, sealed, if this goes really bad, we're going to need it."

They stared at me for a second. I lost it and yelled. "MOVE IT, DAMN IT!"

They scrambled away, Devon towards the Attitude Control and Reaction Control System board, and Seema towards the Docking Connector. I tried to still my shaking hands and clicked back to the Downlink. "Ground, this is Kat, over."

"Roger, Kat, this is Bud-" I cut him off, serious NASA etiquette breach.

"No time, Bud. Stand by for emergency uncontrolled vector change, collision avoidance. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday."

There was a few seconds of silence. Then a voice came back, still Bud but, blessedly, gone into that flat roboticism that professional aerospace types get when it's all gone pear-shaped. "Roger your Mayday, ISS, this is Ground, acknowledging unplanned vector change for collision avoidance. We are standing by to track delta-V and inbound targets; stand by for sitrep."

Thank God for training.

Well, I'm telling the story, so obviously, it all worked out all right in the end. Seema got the Progress loose, and Devon and I got enough thrusters to fire in time to move us about fifteen meters. Then we were struggling with the damn reaction control wheels, trying to absorb the crazy set of vectors we'd just dumped into the explosion of tinkertoys that is the ISS without the thing bending any of its seams, and as a result we almost missed the event itself, but at 01:24:02Z, Ground let loose with a shout that almost took my ears off.


-I looked out a port, startled, in time to see a flicker of light move from the station to the com relay some three klicks up-orbit, there was a brief wave of what looked like silver, and then there was a loud thump, like someone had slapped the entire station with a wet towel, and all the work we'd managed to do with the RCS got flipped into a cocked hat and we had to start all over again.

* * *

Some hours later, when we'd had time to damp most of the egregious vibrations down, we got hold of the outside observation cams and slowed the footage down as far as we could. Most of it was useless, but one of the docking cams had a single frame which showed a streak moving across it, silvery, with a nimbus around it. Ground looked at it, decided it was a 'fast-moving ferrous meteoroid' already partially vaporized from a prior skim across the atmosphere. We'd been slapped by that gas layer around it, and they said that we'd been unbelievably unlucky that it had come that close and unbelievably lucky that we'd moved, because it would have taken the docking connector (as Dirty Harry would say) clean off.

Bud was babbling with relief on the Downlink. "Kat, it's good you guys had the Tracking radar up and saw that thing coming in, because we never got a glimpse of it, I mean, we saw it way too late."

We all looked at each other, and nodded. "Yeah, Bud, a good thing."

None of us ever spoke about the incident to anyone else. I never even told the other two about the flicker of light leaving the station before the near miss. But every once in a while, I think about the stories those sailors and pilots tell, about how they almost bought it but something brought them home, and I know I have a story of my own. I even know where my personal guardian lives.

Posted by jbz at 2:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Wrote this review of Paprika for my other lack of life:

Paprika is an anime film, original title Papurika in its home market of Japan where it was released in 2006. It was made by Satoshi Kon from a story originally drawn from a 1993 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui of the same name. Released by Madhouse Pictures, the film draws on well-known vocal talent, including voice actors from the Cowboy Bebop series and the iconic Ghost in the Shell films. It doesn't really resemble them, however.

Paprika is a story about...is a story concerning...no, that won't work.

In this movie, a team of psychiatrists has invented a device called the DC Mini. This much we learn almost immediately. The function of the device is to allow one person to intrude into another's dreams, observe, and record the events therein on computers for later study and analysis. Did you ever see the Dennis Quaid vehicle Dreamscape? Well, sort of like that.

But not really.

See, someone's stolen some of these things. The DC Minis, I mean. And there's this underground dream therapist, named Paprika, who is helping people using a DC Mini - but she doesn't really exist. Maybe. And then the stolen DC Minis start to invade people's waking psyches, causing damage-

...and then it gets really confusing.

But the beauty of it is that it only gets confusing for the characters. All the chaos and insanity (literal insanity, we're dealing with psychiatric patients here) that the makers of this film stretch and employ every last trick of anime to depict, as well as invent a few, is something that we the viewer never quite lose track of. The characters spend a great deal of time trying to figure out just what the hell is going on at any particular moment, and while we the viewers may spend a lot of time in the early part of the movie doing the same thing, once we are given enough information, we never feel like we've been left behind the characters. We're with them. The levels of confusion, as it were, bind us tightly together; we feel their dizziness and their struggles to comprehend, and it brings us into the action, behind the fourth wall.

There are some points in the movie where that fourth wall is metasyntactically shattered. Does that sound like a jumble of terminology? Don't worry, you'll know precisely what I'm talking about as soon as it happens. The whole film is like this. I was forcibly reminded (in a good way) of If On a Winter's Night a Traveler at some points.

And did I mention it's unbelievably gorgeous? While the animation is not as smooth as Ghost in the Shell or some of the more recent Hayao Miyazaki creations, the imagery is luscious. Coupled with music that runs the gamut from scene-relevant and absorbing to absolutely soaring1, the movie begs - cries out - to be seen on the biggest screen it can, with the best sound system possible.

There are some disturbing bits in it, which is only natural as it is a film which plumbs the deepest depths (literally) of its characters' psyches and drags them kicking and screaming into the outer world. Inner demons meet traditional Japanese apocalyptic scenes, here, and unlike movies which try for the complete mind game but don't pull it off (*cough*Total Recall*cough*The Usual Suspects*cough*) this one manages it not just once, but multiple times. And unlike Akira, it isn't a mind-numbingly exhausting cycle of endless destruction, but 90 minutes of thoughtful metaphor and explosive beauty.

Worth seeing.

p.s. the music from the film was composed by Susumu Hirasawa, and he has made a couple of tracks from the film (including the closing credits theme and outtakes from the track which helped make the preview so memorable) available for free on the internet. You can get them here.

If anyone other than me buys the soundtrack, do me a favor and listen to 'Mediational Field' which is what it sounds like 'Runner' is outtakes from. Is it me, or is one of the melody sequences incredibly evocative of Nik Kershaw's 'Wouldn't it be Good'? Heh.

Posted by jbz at 12:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack