March 30, 2009

New Vocab

As some of you know, I'm planning to take the Graduate Record Exam in April. I'm contemplating a return to school, and it's required if I want to enter a graduate program. My future is somewhat in flux, so I'm looking at my opportunities. I'll keep you folks posted when anything significant is actually decided.

So that explains why I have been reviewing vocabulary. I'm not hitting the vocab too hard because I'm relatively strong in vocabulary, but I have looked through some tools to help bolster your vocabulary with words you're likely to encounter in the test. Shades of meaning are important, since you're asked to identify synonyms and antonyms for words. A subtlety of the meaning will often make the difference in your answer.

Maggie has made up some flash cards, which will definitely be helpful, and we've got some study books. But in this age of MP3 players, there are also vocabulary podcasts. Some are even free!


I came across one such podcast and listened to an episode at random. The voice was a bit difficult for me to understand; the speaker did not sound like English was his first language. Still, I figured I could manage it even when he stressed the wrong syllables in his pronunciations. I learned a word that I had never used before, which was encouraging. The podcast was enhanced so that you could see the words displayed on the screen of an iPod while you were listening -- a bonus!

But then I hit a big speed bump. It was another word I had never used before: "BELLINGERENT."

The reason I have never used it before is because it is not a word. It's a misspelling of the word "belligerent." He had the definition correct, at least. But his pronunciation and his spelling wrong, like a cross between "belligerent" and "malingering."

As you might imagine, this was the end of my use of this particular podcast. If you're going to give me vocabulary, you need to do it accurately.

I looked up the word I had never used before: "badinage." Synonyms are "banter" and "ribbing." The definition given by the podcast was "witty banter." I feel like that definition has an additional shade of meaning not found in any of the references I have since checked, and it seems just enough to sink a tricky exam question.

Thanks, but no thanks! Sometimes, free can cost you more than you expect!

Posted by James at 2:07 PM | Comments (7)

March 29, 2009

Torture Egg

Torture egg. It's what we have on our faces for letting our government torture people, and letting our friends and neighbors cheer this behavior on.

In spite of the evidence which contradicts claims of the uses of torture, in spite of the damage it does to us as a nation, in spite of the increased animosity toward our service members -- some people actually backed torture. And we were along for the ride because our voices weren't loud enough.

This recent story shows our embarrassing and disgraceful folly:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

As the article states later, Zubaida may not even have been an official member of al-Qaeda.

Torture isn't practical. It's emotional, vengeful, and satisfying to those who are feel anger, fear and frustration.

Torture starts and ends with the self. We torture not because it is effective or necessary, but because we want to torture. There is nothing in that equation about the victim of torture because they barely need to exist except for the necessity that someone must feel emotional and physical pain for the torturer and his supporters to feel some sort of emotional relief. This is why torture sometimes exists in popular entertainment; it's a fantasy device, like super powers, or wizards. These things magically alleviate real-world frustrations in an escapist way. But you're meant to walk away with your escapist relief, not with a reshaping of your impressionable credulity.

The effects of torture are profound on the torturers, and the society of the torturers. These effects are many.

Torturers carry the knowledge of their actions. Torturers carry their scars with them back into their society, their behavior now incorporating their memory of torture, their rationalizations and their view of a world where torture makes sense.

Those who authorize torture are convinced of its effectiveness, and therefore accord weight to the anguished words of the torture victim. In the case of Zubaida, the torturers wasted intelligence and military resources chasing phantoms.

Societies who torture lose in moments a moral high ground which is difficult to obtain. This ground is not a perfect shield against mistreatment by your enemy, but there is no doubt that it colors the perceptions of those who encounter you across the globe, and for the worse.

Torture leaves a mess that some people simply walk away from, but the rest of us must live with. In the case of Zubaida, the legal ramifications are a hurdle for a new president whose attention is needed on so many other issues. But our government must now find a way to move forward legally with cases such as this without worsening the problems torture has already caused.

We are the victims of torture, and that victimization continues as friends and neighbors rationalize torture.

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Posted by James at 6:24 PM | Comments (5)

March 18, 2009

Stripper Economy

Couldn't let this story go. Mostly because it's full of unfortunate-ness. From the ProJo headline:

Strip club: RI's jobless rate a chance for 'new faces'

So, spirits are up at the strip club, because they're expecting to see the unemployed become their new "faces." As MJ put it, it's probably not the faces that they're interested in.

Here's another unfortunate word choice from the article:

Business is not exactly booming, and many of the new employees will replace existing staff, office manager Lori Savickas told The Providence Journal Wednesday. But the staggering unemployment rate in Rhode Island has created a big talent pool the Foxy Lady hopes to tap.

Emphasis mine on the slang for "have sex with". And yikes, when you put it together with:

"They're just hungry to start working somewhere. They might find out that it is totally different than they expected."

It might be too many expectations to adjust.

Posted by James at 2:59 PM | Comments (5)

'Round the World

What's going on?

Blame It On Bison

The state's Department of Environmental Protection is pointing the finger at Buttonwood Park's hoofed residents for high E-coli counts and pollution in the bay.

Fecal matter from bison, deer and waterfowl in Buttonwood Park Zoo is suspected of contributing to high bacteria levels in Buttonwood Brook, which flows through the zoo grounds and empties into Dartmouth's Apponagansett Bay. (New Bedford Standard Times)

If bullshit causes pollution, we might want to take a closer look at some of the politicians in local municipal governments. For the sake of the environment!

Cisco Fatty

File it under "hazards of social networking." It's never a good policy to Tweet where you eat.

When a job applicant was offered a position at Cisco, he tweeted he was weighing his "fatty paycheck" vs. the work he was going to hate. Guess what? Cisco employees use the Internet, too! "Cisco Fatty" has now become a "thing" on Twitter's search.

Pope Sez: Condoms Worsen AIDS Problem

This has been causing quite a stir. The Pope apparently said that condoms risk making the problem of AIDS worse. I'm not sure I understand the outrage. Hasn't the Pope always been against condom use?

In any case, I think we have a huge problem in AIDS, and especially in Africa (where, incidentally, the Catholic Church is growing most rapidly.)

Closer to home, we recently discovered that in our nation's capital, 3 percent of the residents are infected with HIV/AIDS. That's according to the Washington Post and a DOH Epidemiological update. To give you some perspective, at 1 percent the situation is considered a "generalized and severe" epidemic. DC's problem is three times that size.

If Bush wants to point to a legacy abroad on AIDS, the only way to do that is to ignore what happened in his backyard.

Arrogance + Incompetence + Greed = AIG

I hear the CEO is planning to ask the bonus recipients to give half of their bonuses back.

Are you going to be half as angry? Does this mean people are only going to lynch half as many of them? I need to know what this all means.

Other "word on the street" is that Republicans are seeing this as an election opportunity. Maybe they don't get that it was the first bailout that essentially funded these bonuses, as no executive compensation limits weren't included.

Congress and the president aren't off the hook. In a move that reeks of caving to lobbyists, executive compensation regulations have had a way of quietly disappearing from legislation after it's been approved but before it gets to the president's desk.

Where did those restrictions go? Nobody is saying.

Posted by James at 2:29 PM | Comments (2)

March 15, 2009

The Value of the Unfollow

This post is about Twitter in specific, but also about social networks in general.

We had a nice Pi day yesterday at BOB and Patti's house, playing a few games, eating pie of various sorts and, as usual, sharing a few laughs. The subject of Twitter came up at one point, and I mentioned people who have hundreds of followers.

Chuck said something to the effect of "How can someone possibly follow that many people?"

It's something I've wondered myself, and we weren't even talking about the folks who have tens of thousands of follows. Truly, what sort of relationship does someone with that many follows (not followers, but folks they follow) have with their online friends? I want to address the effect of the number of followers on networks, efficiency, and value.

How should you feel when someone who follows 30,000 people follows you? How does that compare to someone following 3,000, 300 people, 30 people, or 3 people?

The person following 3 people is either your Twitter-resistant spouse, your mom, or a stalker.

That's a joke, but it makes sense because these are all people who are giving you a large portion of their attention, people with whom you have a close personal relationship.

The Twitter account with 30,000 is broadcasting, which is a one-way relationship, even if they're following you. It's easy to see why.

A Fraction of Attention

If you think of your time and attention as a limited commodity, then your partitioning of it to multiple people leaves less and less for each person. Normally, people can't easily see how much you value each individual connection of your network. However, with Twitter, it's right out in the open. In the account which follows 3,000 people, you are roughly 1/10th as valuable as if that person was following 300 people.

It's not an exact mathematics by any means, because there are tools that allow you to focus your attention on certain individuals and their may be some efficiencies in using Twitter which allow you to increase the overall value of your attention slightly with a large number of Twitter follows. However, attention is still limited and so a slight increase in your value as a member of the network is still divvied up over the entire network.

The fraction of their attention gets closer and closer to zero.

Fraction = Zero

And, coming back to filtering, let's say that a Twitter user is following 3,000 people but uses a tool like TweetDeck to single out 50 people whom have their actual attention. The rest are essentially filtered out; 2,950 may have a false illusion that they've got a fraction of this person's attention, when in reality they have almost none of their attention.

Efficient Network

It seems like an efficient network should be working for you. The idea that you need to filter Twitter messages is an indication that your network may have failed you.

Picture a network with about 50 nodes, as I've depicted here. Assume each node is a person and assume that each connection is bidirectional: a pair of people that follow each other.


This graph is highly connected, but not saturated. In other words, despite all of the interconnections, many people are still not mutually following other people. I have artificially separated the graph into two groups of nodes, just to illustrate a contrast with the next graph.


This graph has two natural groups of nodes which are strongly interconnected, but between the two natural groups there are few interconnections. However, the two groups are still connected.

Which graph is more organized, and what does that mean for the quality of the communications in the network that the graph represents?

The second graph is more organized. I suggest that this causes natural filtering in the network. To illustrate, imagine this scenario: people are talking about their lunches, a bad joke, the weather, an illness, and then some event of national interest happens. In the first network, the smallest details are transmitted nearly universally over the entire network. When a more important event occurs, half of the network announces it causing everyone in the network to get a ton of repeat messages.

In the second graph, the less-universally-interesting messages only tend to stay within the tightly-connected sub-networks. How many people are going to repeat that Sally stubbed her toe? When a bigger message happens and is repeated, it will cross sub-networks. While it does so, the chatter within the chatter remains within sub-networks and only certain elevated items cross over.

Having many internally-connected sub-networks loosely connected with each other limits the noise and increases the signal because the community naturally filters out noise by not repeating it; the "signal" or anything worth repeating is more likely to cross to other sub-networks simply because it's getting repeated.

Instead of an individual having to filter out noise, the well-organized network does some of that work for you.


Spoilers are another good example. If you are close friends with a bunch of like-mined people when it comes to spoilers, you're unlikely to hear a spoiler from one of them. Not only are your "close friends" going to refrain from posting spoilers, spoilers are often spontaneously generated while people are watching a TV show; they're not the kind of thing that gets automatically repeated. So they're more likely to stay within a sub-network. If you have trouble avoiding spoilers, this might be a symptom of having too large a number of connections.

Adding By Subtracting

Earlier today, I went through and unfollowed some folks that I have been following. I based the decision partly on the value of their tweets and partly on whether they had huge follow lists.

If you follow me and 30 other people, you are likely having a conversation or some sort of relationship with me. If you follow 300 people but I occasionally get @replies from you, we're having a conversation. Conversations are of value.

If you follow and are followed by thousands of people, you're crossing over into broadcasting. If you're a broadcaster, I should more strictly judge the value of your messages because the conversation is missing; your effort in tweeting useful stuff must make up for that.

I removed people this morning for 2 reasons. Reason 1 was because their value had dropped. Reason 2 was so that I could add value to the other people I mutually follow. I added to my value to them by subtracting some of my follows.

I don't want to miss good stuff from the people I care enough about to follow, and I also want them to know that my limited attention is worth something.

Don't Be the Network

If you're following a ton of people to grow your network, consider the actual value of those connections. Being part of a network doesn't mean being connected to nearly everyone of value. People two connections away are still part of the network. Adding too many connections is an attempt to be at the center of the network, an attempt to be the network and take the place of the network. If you're busy being the network, you're not going to be of the same value.

Let the network be the network.

Posted by James at 3:21 PM | Comments (10)

March 12, 2009

Grass Mud Horse To You, Too!

I think this is awesome.

China's repressive government has been cracking down on the Internet for a long time. The population there is said to overwhelmingly approve of having Big Brother monitoring and filtering their access, according to public polls. But now it's becoming clear that this is not a universal opinion, if the polls are being answered accurately at all.

A song in an Internet video is distributing a rude, subversive message. The song is about the "grass mud horse" which is a pun, phonetically similar to the phrase "fuck your mom." Ahhh, language! More details (and the YouTube video) here. Because "grass mud horse" is not, itself, restricted, it's difficult to justify restricting it; it tweaks the nose of the censors.

I love to see the subversion of draconian restrictions on free speech. I believe that such restrictions are bound to fail, or must be enforced with increasing threat of violence, because those with subversion in their souls will find a way to get a message out.

And when people start humming and singing your message, you know you've found a population of like-minded people who are not as fond of censorship as the polls would have us believe. (There's a story about this in today's NYT as well.)

In our country, we can laugh at this because we've got freedom of speech. Well, mostly. If you have never seen it, I recommend the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It's a documentary on how the secretive, prudish and agenda-driven MPAA effectively censors your entertainment. Looks like the entire documentary can be found here. How does a rating become censorship? Who thinks they know better than you what you should see? If you want to know, then the 90 minute documentary is worth your time. Just so you know, the documentary contains some examples of so-called objectionable scenes. But I bet you'll be surprised when you compare some of what is acceptable vs. what is objectionable.

Posted by James at 8:15 AM | Comments (4)

March 8, 2009

25 Authors

Bull tagged me with the 25 Authors meme. The point is to list 25 authors that have most influenced my writing.

Bull has been doing some of these meemz lately, except he sometimes breaks them into multiple posts. I think it's a great idea to just use these suggestions as inspirations for blog posts. So, here's my own treatment of the subject: "some authors who have influenced me and my writing."

I used to read a lot, and I used to write a lot more different stuff. Not so much lately. But I think it'll be fun to tell you about some of my influences. I don't know if I'll get to 25. A list of "best authors" might be slightly different (though with lots of overlap) because these are chosen more for their influence on my thinking. For good or ill.

Stephen King: He knows a ton about writing, and his use of characters shows how much he knows about people. I read all of his books up through my college years, so he was a big influence. One thing that I took away from him was the power of specific examples; as my poetry teacher would say "'Maxwell House' says something different than just mentioning coffee."

Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson: I read The Illuminatus Trilogy in college and it prompted me to start writing a lot of goofy stuff with my good friend Chuck. This eventually led to us writing for the school newspaper, and I probably became closer friends with Julie as a result. The book is mainly about conspiracies, which didn't make me paranoid, but did make me want to write goofy stuff.

Frank Herbert: Out of any fiction, I think the Dune series was the most influential on my thinking in my early teen years, and so probably also influenced my writing in important ways. While other folks I knew were getting into Tolkien and hobbits, elves and such, I was fascinated by the politics and intrigue of the Atreides and Harkonnen families. Hebert's writing opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities about other people's ulterior motives. I was a pretty naive kid, and Dune made me think about just how naive I was.

Richard Feynman: An inspiring writer, physicist, and curious mind. The story of his life was fascinating to me and made me certain I wanted to work in science. Every kid should read Feynman's autobiography, not only for the science inspiration. In writing, Feynman's wife's question is one I have often reminded myself of: "What do you care what other people think?"

Carl Sagan: His writing popularized science. He has influenced me into thinking that when I know something, I should write to tell other people about it.

Martin Gardner: Wrote many columns for Scientific American about mathematics and puzzles. When I was at the age where I started picking up copies of SciAm, I was also really interested in ghosts, ESP, UFOs, possession, and other crazy stuff. Gardner's writings on skepticism finally gave me a larger, sensible context to put these into perspective. He, and other skeptics, were asking the questions that I always wondered "why don't people ask these questions." They did; it's just that the popular writers on the paranormal didn't want you to hear those questions!

Donald Westlake: If I had read Donald Westlake early in college, I'm sure I would have decided I wanted to write goofy crime stories about down-on-their luck criminals. The recently-deceased Westlake was a treasure, and he crossed genres. But my favorite of his stores (aside from his screenplay work on The Grifters) are his Dortmunder books. His rich and amusing characters are classics, and make me wish I could create some characters who would stick in the minds of readers.

I'm not much of a writer, but I do feel I've been influenced by a lot of authors. I'll do the rest in an abbreviated list form, for time's sake.

  • Kurt Vonnegut (for his amazing imagination)
  • Donald Norman (for his writing on design)
  • David Sklansky (for stimulating my interest in poker which inspired the title of this blog)
  • David Macaulay (for explaining things with words and illustrations, reminding me that writing is more than words)
  • Michael Shaara (for The Killer Angels which I completed reading as we entered the Gettysburg battlefield. It was a transforming experience.)
  • Clifford Ashley (for The Ashley Book of Knots which I have spent countless hours with. He encourages me to write "how to" posts on my blog.)
  • Doug Cooper (for Oh! Pascal! which solidified my decision to switch to Computer Science from EE)
  • Patrick O'Brian (for general awesomeness)
  • Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan (for changing the way I look at food)
  • Ron Rosenbaum (for Travels With Doctor Death -- a collection of articles he wrote for Vanity Fair, New Republic and NYT. First excited me about the idea of journalism writing)
  • Hunter S. Thompson (for, obviously, the idea of Gonzo journalism and that "sometimes fiction is the best fact." If I were to blog full-time, I think I would blog as a Gonzo journalist. When I eat spam for my blog, I am thinking of Hunter S. Thompson. Sad, isn't it?)
  • Orson Scott Card (for the Ender series. What young boy who read Ender's Game was not influenced by it?)
  • Harper Lee (for To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish I could be more like Atticus Finch, but I got to Mockingbird too late; I'd already read Dune.)
  • J.D. Salinger (I didn't read Catcher in the Rye early, like many people did, but I did read Nine Stories in school, and "The Laughing Man" was a big influence on my love of absurdity.)

How many is that? Whatever the number, I think it's probably enough.

Posted by James at 3:24 PM | Comments (2)

Flattering Photos

No woman had ever taken so many photos of him before. It was flattering, making him feel lightheaded.

He sipped the bitter coffee she'd given him, and asked her why.

She said, "So I can remember you after you're dead."

Posted by James at 10:53 AM | Comments (15)

March 7, 2009


Way back in 1987, I was a big fan of Watchmen. I guess pretty much if you read comics in the mid-80's, you were a big fan of Watchmen. By today's standards, Watchmen is no longer unique or edgy, but at the time it offered a complexity, depth, grittiness and attention to detail you just didn't get in superhero comics, or, really, any comics I knew of.

I actually missed the original series of graphic novels and didn't read the story until it was republished soon after combined under one cover. And after reading it, I knew it was kind of a big deal. I guess that's what prompted me to buy these metal RPG figurines when i saw them in the comic book store. I had no idea what I would do with them, but I thought it was cool that someone had produced them for gamers. We never really used figurines when my friends and I gamed. We were more the joking-around-having-trouble-staying-on-the-subject type of gamers.

In any case, with the release of the movie, I'm putting these on eBay. It's been a LONG time since I've listed anything on eBay, so I let existing listings and already closed auctions be my guide. In case I screwed up badly and nobody bites, I decided to only list it for 3 days. We'll see what happens. You can follow along and watch my auction get no bids, or anemic bids here:

WATCHMEN DC HEROES Metal Figure Set 1987 Grenadier

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Posted by James at 12:22 PM | Comments (6)

March 6, 2009

Staying Connected

I had a thought about Buddhism while driving home from work yesterday. I'm no expert on Buddhism, or its practices, but I understand that "attachment" is something Buddhism teaches about, and something identified as causing pain.

My thought was that I must not understand Buddhism very well at all, because when I feel most disconnected, I feel the least happy. So I clearly don't understand the concept of attachment.

I didn't think this was worth posting about, but coincidentally, Judith Warner wrote about mindfulness meditation in the NYT today, and specifically that her perception of people who are artificially calm because of their practice of meditation are no longer interesting and she compares them to pod people.

She may be basing her article on people who are "doing it wrong." I can't say, not being an expert, but I had the same feeling: becoming disconnected is not a good thing.

I would love to be happier, but I don't want to do it as a pod person, I don't want to go off and find myself. It seems like westerners get a taste of some philosophy and they go all nuts about it. That drives me nuts. In addition, I find it somewhat depressing to have to look for wisdom among so much spiritual bullshit, like the idea of cyclical lives and reincarnation.

The last time I tried relaxation meditation, it completely depressed me and amplified feelings of disconnection. Disconnection is freeing. It's too freeing. You can free yourself from everything that gives your life meaning. I think this is part of what Judith is complaining about in her column.

If what you want in your life is a better balance, then it seems to me that you have to be more careful when you incorporate new ideas in your life. You should evaluate them and their immediate effect on you but also on your relationships with those around you. And if they don't come to a net gain for everyone, not just you, then what you're really doing is just being selfish.

Posted by James at 1:22 PM | Comments (16)

March 5, 2009

Email Disclaimer

I hate those silly disclaimers some people put on their email. I suppose that in most cases, their employers force them to add a disclaimer at the bottom of their email for "legal reasons." If you're unfamiliar with the concept, this is what I'm talking about:

This e-mail message (including any attachments) is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this message (including any attachments) is strictly prohibited.

If you have received this message in error, please contact the sender by reply e-mail message and destroy all copies of the original message (including attachments).

I hope that no individuals are putting these disclaimers on their email without being coerced by some corporate entity.

It will not surprise you to hear that I have a number of gripes.

Firstly, the disclaimer is at the bottom of the email message. There is no guarantee that someone is going to read your whole message. How can anyone expect to hold you to an "agreement of which you were not even aware? Even if you do read it, shouldn't you have to consent to an agreement? And since it's at the end of the message, you've already read the confidential information, so it's already been disseminated in violation of the agreement.

I question the legal enforceability of such a disclaimer. I expect it's just enough CYA that a company can scare you with lawyers. I hate manipulation like that.

And it's just plain unfriendly sounding, no matter when you encounter it. You get an email from a friend or colleague and at the bottom are a bunch of demands. How pleasant! You have a nice day, too.

Have you ever gotten misdirected email that had one of these disclaimers on it? I actually have, more than once. In fact, I did earlier this week. it was a fascinating story about some sort of liver and brain research, and frozen rodent carcasses were involved. Bert screwed up royally by throwing away some of the carcasses without having done the necessary brain samples. It was a whole sad tale. Happily, though, it looked like two years of research might be salvaged by some carcasses that had been shoved to the bottom of a bag in the freezer by Jason.

So, good on ya, frozen rodent carcass researchers! And congrats, Jason, for saving the day.

I'm wondering if I should put a directive at the end of each of my blog posts:

This blog post (including any images) is for the sole use of the intended reader(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. If the reader of this post is not the intended reader, you are hereby notified that you smell like dirty socks. If you are the intended reader then you are required to laugh at my jokes, tell me how brilliant I am, and buy me a beer.

Posted by James at 9:18 PM | Comments (7)

Wall Street Confidence Poll For Dummies

Recently, Fox News asserted that the down market is a massive no-confidence vote against the new president, giving the "President Must Fail" echo chamber something to talk about for ten minutes.

I thought it was amazing that, with opinion polls high and an economy and financial sector with enormous actual problems, anyone would interpret the market numbers as an opinion rather than a reflection of those actual problems.

My bottom line is this: declaring the president a failure a month into his presidency is so premature, how do you expect to retain a shred of credibility? I could claim that you have died; I could back up my claim by comparing your political utterances to the gas which escapes, like flatus, from a decomposing corpse. How could you argue, when you'd already shown a willingness to jump the gun?

Jon Stewart is much better than I am at skewering these buffoons. The second segment on the Daily Show last night pointed out how the market reacted when Reagan was inaugurated, for example. Wall Street, you've got the pulse of the nation!

If you've got the time, check out the first segment of that episode of the Daily Show, too. Stewart skewers those that criticize homeowner assistance while they sat idly by for the Wall Street bailouts. He points out that news organizations like CNBC can hardly fault homeowners for poor assessments of the economy when they were the ones telling people the economy was rosy. Except he does it, you know, funny.

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 2, 2009

Soundtracks FTW!

As I looked through my "best headphone music" I realized that what Julie says is correct: pretty much everything sounds better on headphones. I probably should have specified music that sounds substantially different on headphones (the kind of thing Mike mentioned, with QSound) but "headphone music" is really too broad a category.

I decided to focus on another sorting criteria for music -- favorite soundtrack instrumental music. So, I've gathered a play list here of my favorite non-vocal soundtrack music. Maybe you can tell me about your favorites as well.

I tried to choose the most varied tracks I could, rather than going with a Top 10, to cover lots of different styles. I focused on Movie/TV themes, and left out video game themes.

Mausam & Escape - Slumdog Millionaire

From my new favorite soundtrack of the moment. There are great vocal tracks on the Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack, but this one is pretty darn cool without lyrics. No, I haven't seen the movie yet and yes I plan to. But I got so many recommendations about the music that I had to check it out, and was not disappointed.

This track starts out very gentle and quickly turns into a gritty (headphone-y) toe-tapper. Great percussion, speedy plucking strings and high octane synth. I expect that Maggie will be asking me to give her this for her workout mix any second now.

Vertigo Love Theme - Vertigo: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1958 Film)

Not all soundtrack music has to be action music to be good (despite what you'd think by looking at the distribution of music on my iPod). In the love theme from Vertigo, Bernstein conveys the gentle, fragile and confusing relationship between our main characters and eventually whips the theme up into a frenzy of frantic craziness. If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to spoil it for you. if you have, then you know what I'm talking about. One of the most messed up love stories ever, and the music paints it perfectly.

Mona Lisa Overdrive - The Matrix Reloaded

We're right back to "high octane" literally, in this synthesized theme from Matrix Reloaded. Unfortunately, this is a remix to which some voices have been added, so you'll have to imagine it without the "kyries." This theme plays during the extended car chase scene from that movie, arguably the best car chase in any action movie. My other contender is also on this list. But it's the music that keeps the tension wound up tight. (This spot was a toss up between this track and "Chateau" also from Matrix Reloaded. Best fight scene from all of the three movies.)

Frankie Machine - Elmer Bernstein by Elmer Bernstein

A jazzed-up theme by the great Elmer Bernstein, who probably wrote most of your favorite older movie themes (like The Magnificent Seven, which could have made this list, but didn't). This theme from The Man With The Golden Arm is for an ex-con drummer who has pumped a ton of gold into his arm.... in the form of heroin. Jazzy and seedy, this theme sounds as dangerous as the addiction itself.

Audrey's Dance - Twin Peaks (Season One TV Soundtrack)

Another toss-up to include this or Laura's Theme from Twin Peaks. Angelo Badalamenti certainly has a unique mind for music. And layering sounds. And stuff. I really think it's genius, but you might not even agree that it's music. Fair enough. Audrey's Dance is as confusing as Audrey herself, if you watched the TV show. Coming up with a soundtrack that'll be noticed in a David Lynch production is a challenge, and I think this is why Lynch goes back to Angelo time and time again. Same kind of crazy.

Hyper Sleep - Alien

From the film Alien. IMHO, Goldsmith did his best work on Alien. This track is actually a suite, made up of themes from Alien. But the first 2 minutes are called "Hyper Sleep" and they're what you hear as the crew is waking up. Out of context, it sounds like morning in a dewy meadow with flowers and bunnies and sunshine. In the film you see computer displays flickering to life. I think it was an inspired juxtaposition.

Dead Like Me

The theme to Dead Like Me had to convey the kooky, upbeat nature of this comedy, which contradicts the "dead" in the title. Andrew Copeland's twitchy piano gave us a carefree feeling, telling us that the life of a reaper wasn't all hard work.

Battle Without Honor or Humanity - Kill Bill, Vol. 1

They used Tomoyasu's kick-ass theme in the trailers for Kill Bill with good reason, it sounds like people getting ready for a fight! It's like a Rocky theme for the new century.

Desert Chase - Raiders Of The Lost Ark

My favorite scene from any Indiana Jones movie was this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, of course, I had to include something from John Williams. In this scene, Indy is trying to steal the Ark back. Of course he succeeds, but he has to defeat a whole troop transport truck full of Germans to do it. If you're an Indy devotee like I am, you can see the whole scene play out just by listening to this track. It's adventuresome and dead serious and humorous by turns. Perfect Saturday matinee fare.

Leaving for Philadelphia - John Adams

Listening with Maggie to Rob Lane's theme at the beginning of every episode of HBO's John Adams became an emotional experience for me. I guess we really connected to his story, and the theme added some real gravity. This track is a modified version of the main theme, a little slower, which makes Adams efforts sound like more of a slog than an action adventure. He's off to Philadelphia yet again to try to form a new country, against overwhelming odds. And he's leaving his better half in Massachusetts to face her own considerable challenges.

Symphony #25 - Mozart - Amadeus: Original Soundtrack Recording

From the beginning of Amadeus. Salieri has slit his wrists. Emergency! What a strange use of the 25th Symphony, but its frenetic strings do the trick. Nice one, Mozart!

Nocturne #20 in C - Chopin - The Pianist: Music from the Motion Picture

From The Pianist. this one is just incredibly beautiful and just a little sad. That is all.

Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence

I think of Ryuichi Sakamoto as the Elmer Bernstein of Japan. That's probably way off, but I had to include one of his themes. here's your hot pentatonic scale action from the movie of the same name.

And three that weren't on iMeem:

The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning

From the horrible Batman and Robin but the awesome Smashing Pumpkins. Re-purposed here for the trailer of Watchmen. This version of the trailer recreates the movie trailer with "motion comics" that are faithful to the images in the graphic novel. Trippy!

Memories of Green

The saddest theme from any movie I know. Vangelis has created a few themes in his day, but this from Blade Runner takes the cake. it evokes a world on life support, slowly dying, nostalgic, remembering better days. The beeping reminds one of mechanical devices intended to sustain life, fitting for a film about artificial life.

The Demon God

From Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime. I had to include it because I love drums, and this is the best use of Taiko drums from any film I know.

Posted by James at 3:40 PM | Comments (6)