Fucking Ritz Camera

I’m developing a website (don’t look yetok, you can look now) for my sister. She took some product shots, and asked how she should send them to me. I told her to get a Photo CD made from the negatives.

Now, Photo CD is a specific, high-quality format for storing photos digitally; it’s not just a CD with photos on it. She goes to Ritz Camera, gives them the film and asks for a Photo CD. Yes, by name. But apparently the Ritz halfwits knew better, and (as near as I can tell) scanned her prints on a dusty scanner that blew out all the highlights, and burned that onto a CD along with all kinds of Windows cruft. Ceçi n’est ce pas une Photo CD.

I’ve just received the Not-Photo CD. Her website is supposed to go live in two days. There’s obviously not enough time to redo it. The scans I’ve got are usable, but much lower quality than they would have been if I had gotten what I wanted.


An article on online reviewers has prompted me to get off my ass and write up some thoughts that have been percolating in my head for a few days.

If you are an enthusiastic consumer, there is no shortage of opportunities for you to write up reviews of the products you love or hate. Epinions has built a business out of hosting reviews. For Amazon, reviews are one advantage that it has over bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. And there are lots of other venues for reviews.

In some ways, though, a blog would be a better tool for writing reviews: you own the review, not the site hosting it. You’ve got all your reviews together in one place. Once you wrote the review, though, you’d want people to be able to see it at Amazon (or wherever), so there would need to be a review-aggregation mechanism. Austin Bloggers already works this way, more or less. I have Movable Type set up so that whenever I write a post in the “Austin” category, my blog pings Austin Bloggers, and Austin Bloggers creates a link back to my blog. And with All Consuming (which is very cool), we’ve got the nucleus of something like this happening.

But this is an area where the blogosphere needs to move forward if blogs are going to become a vehicle for reviews. Let’s look at what needs to happen:

Review profiles
Currently, blogs are set up as general-purpose writing tools: they don’t have specific fields for specific bits of information. Movable Type is going to come out with a “Pro” version that will support custom fields. I think of a set of custom fields as a “profile,” and I think this is the next thing in blogging. Bloggers writing reviews will need a “review profile” in their blogs with fields for the item code and rating.
There needs to be some uniform way to refer to the product. This could be something like a uniform product code or an ASIN (though I don’t think this would work for movies). And there needs to be a standard way to enter this and publish this in a blog. As a practical matter, there might need to be multiple identification schemes; you would identify both the item and the scheme (eg, “this product code 12345, and I am using the Amazon standard identification number scheme”).
Ratings vocabulary
Not everyone uses the same scale for ratings. Some would give a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down. Others would give several numeric ratings for different aspects of a single product. In order for what review aggregation to work, there needs to be a uniform ratings vocabulary. Again, there should be a standardized field for this.
Aggregation API
Amazon already has a public API. There should be a mechanism for pinging Amazon (or whoever) “hey, I’ve written a review” so that it can aggregate your review into it’s product listings. Although All Consuming is run by an Amazon employee, even reviews posted there do not get into the Amazon database.
Feedback mechanism
Amazon makes it possible to indicate whether a review-reader finds a review helpful; Epinions goes further, and lets the reader write a review of the review. There would need to be something like trackback to get this information back into your review.

In theory, all this data structuring could be avoided if the aggregating entities used million-dollar search instead of million-dollar markup. It might be possible to just include a reference to an ASIN in a blog entry, ping Amazon, and have it figure out “hey, that’s a review of such-and-such” and to further use natural-language processing to figure out whether I liked it or not.

Candy Von Dewd (and the Girls from Latexploitia)

In a mostly empty Alamo Drafthouse, I saw Candy Von Dewd last night, a movie made by my high-school friend Jacques.

The movie can be aptly described using one of the better lines in the movie:

Wow, he’s really fucking that plant!

The movie is trippy and pretty non-linear, with obvious references to Barbarella and perhaps-unintended references to Babylon 5: Crusade, among other things. Jacques himself mentioned to me “I’d
like to encourage people to see it the way 2001 was marketed, that is to say, see it high.”

Jacques was making amateur movies back in high school. He finished one project that was very gritty and down to earth–more like the 400 Blows than anything else. But he started on another (which I helped on, in a very minimal way) that had a lot in common with this. I got the impression that with Candy Von Dewd, he was sort of wrapping up something that had been in the back of his mind for half his life. Gwen got some ideas for her Halloween costume.

Bonus! Candy Von Dewd trading cards

Tomorrow: Candy Von Dewd

Tomorrow night at 9:45, Alamo Drafthouse will be showing Candy Von Dewd, an underground science-fiction movie made by a good friend of mine from high school, Jacques Boyreau.

Be there.

Domestic terror

A politically active religious zealot has publicly and repeatedly advocated the use of nuclear weapons against the U.S. government. Interestingly, he did so within American borders, and continues to walk around a free man.

One might expect him to be hustled off to Gitmo where he’d be fitted for an orange jumpsuit, but because this particular advocate of terrorism happens to be Pat Robertson, it’s not likely to happen.

Tim Bray on spam

Tim Bray comes up with a plan for spam that is similar to my previous idea–paying to send e-mail–but doesn’t require any architectural changes to the Internet.

His idea can be taken a step further: once you’ve established friendly communications with someone, you could set up your mail filters to accept unpaid e-mail from that person.

Comment spam

Nabokov never had this in mind.

Over the past week or so, many people with Movable Type blogs got hit by comment spam ostensibly posted by “Lolita,” linking to some nasty porno website. This has created a tizzy in the blogosphere, and happily, Jay Allen is doing something about it. Once he gets his plugin up and running, I plan on installing it. If only we could deal with e-mail spam as effectively.

Until he finishes, however, there’s something you can do right now. This comment spam is posted by an automated bot that looks for Movable Type’s comment cgi. You can change the name of this and cut the bot off at the knees. So here’s what you should do:

First, find the file “mt-comments.cgi” in your MT install and rename it something obscure (though I’d keep the .cgi ending).

The next steps you take are dependent on what version of MT you are running, and what version you were running when you created your blog templates, as MT has added some new tags for dealing with comments. If you have old blog templates, they will not use these tags; if you are running an old version of MT, you won’t have access to them anyhow. I’m not sure when these were instituted–I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure this out.

1. If your initial install of MT was relatively recent

This is the simplest situation: Open your mt.cfg file. Find the line that reads “# CommentScript mt-comments.cgi”. Remove the # and change “mt-comments.cgi” to whatever new name you have picked. Then rebuild all files in your blog or blogs.

2. If you are running a new install of MT with old templates

Your templates probably aren’t using MT’s special placeholder for the comments CGI. You can either change the hard-coded reference to mt-comments.cgi in each template to a hard-coded reference to the new file, or change it to “<MTCommentScript>”. In either case, once you’ve done this, go through and follow the instructions for 1 above.

3. If you are running an old version of MT

You will not be able to take advantage of the <MTCommentScript> tag at all. You will need to change the hard-coded reference to mt-comments.cgi in each template to a hard-coded reference to the new file, and then rebuild.

This sounds more complicated than it really is. It took me about 10 minutes to fix all my blogs.

The myth of Japanese uniqueness

A recent discussion on the Honyaku list about the reaction of Westerners to Japanese food led to some interesting observations that the trouble Westerners have with Japanese food is often just in the minds of Japanese, who accept as conventional wisdom that their cuisine is too unusual for outsiders to appreciate.

And it occurred to me: part of the “uniquely unique” self-image of Japan is alarmingly close to the “inscrutable Asian” stereotype outside of Japan. Some Japanese people just don’t realize how exposed Japan is to the rest of the world.

  • Every few years, a particularly tactless Japanese politicians will say something outrageous, and then be bewildered when it generates an international shitstorm.
  • In another life, when I was an English teacher in 長野県, I had adult students who were amazed to learn that Sony is known outside Japan, let alone being one of the best-known companies in the world.

Perhaps an aspect of being uniquely unique is being persistently provincial.

The iPodlet

When the iPod was new, it was a breakthrough product. It wasn’t the first MP3 player, nor the first MP3 player based on a hard drive, but it managed to find a sweet spot in terms of storage capacity and physical size that no previous product did. This was mostly because of its 1.8″ hard-drive mechanism, which only became available at about the same time as the iPod itself, and partly because of some good industrial design by Apple.

The first iPods had 5 GB of capacity–probably nowhere near enough to contain the entire collection of a music buff, but probably enough for 50-100 CDs-worth of music. Plenty for a road trip.

Today the smallest iPod is 10 GB, and the largest is 40 GB. I’ve got over 500 CDs, and I could fit my entire collection on a 40-GB iPod with plenty of room to spare. This makes the iPod something fundamentally different: When I can put all my music, all my digital pictures (about 500 MB), and my entire home directory (about 1 GB, including everything I’ve written on my computer for the past 13 years, and a lot of old e-mail), the iPod can be a primary repository for all my personal stuff, rather than a very capacious place to carry around music and maybe some other files temporarily. Can be, but perhaps shouldn’t be–the whole idea behind the iPod is that it is more portable than other hard-drive MP3 players. Meaning you’ll carry it around. Meaning you might lose it, or at least leave it lying around where someone could copy personal data off it (and thanks to that firewire port, it wouldn’t take long). Encryption would be one obvious step to take.

But just as the iPod has graduated to being something else, something else could graduate to be the iPod. Microdrives–tiny 1″ hard drives–maxed out at 340 MB when they were introduced. Just like all other hard drives, though, they store a lot more now, and they’re available in 4 GB and even larger today–the original iPod’s territory, but a lot smaller. The difference between 1″ and 1.8″ may not sound like much, but it’s the difference between a matchbox and half a sandwich.

A microdrive-based MP3 player might be wearable as a chunky wristwatch. Or be embedded into a set of headphones. Or hung around the neck as a high-tech pendant. I’d be more interested in a gadget that can effectively disappear than one I need to consciously carry around. I’m looking forward to seeing interesting things happen with these 1″ mechanisms.


This spider has been hanging out at Gwen’s for the past couple of nights. It’s pretty big–about three inches long. It spins a very large orb that it dismantles every morning sometime between 7:30 and 8:30. No luck identifying it so far.

Redistricting gridlock

Everyone knows the Democrats couldn’t agree to Republican plans for Texas congressional redistricting. And many of you know Republicans in the state House can’t agree with their counterparts in the state Senate, for arcane reasons. They’ve been bickering so long they’re on the verge of postponing elections so they can settle the squabble.

“We’re just praying the Democrats will leave again, to take the heat off of us,” Smithee said.

Just too rich.

Lost in Translation

Two days ago, Gwen and I saw a movie that reminded both of us of Ghost World. Today, we saw a movie starring one of the actresses from that movie, Scarlett Johansson: Lost in Translation. Very good and very melancholy. The story is less sad than Sofia Coppola’s previous movie, The Virgin Suicides, but it feels sadder, somehow–Virgin Suicides had a very detached quality to it; this had a very intimate quality. It also made me very nostalgic for Japan, and a little melancholy about my own experiences there.

Gwen astutely commented that it was sad seeing Bill Murray, an actor we’ve grown up with, not only playing (well, being) an old guy, but in a role where his age is a key part of the role. She also pointed out that a scene where the two main characters were chasing through a pachinko parlor seemed like it was lifted from another movie we had recently seen, but neither of us could quite put our finger on which one.

Ideal double-feature companion movie: CQ: both movies address the isolation of smart young Americans abroad. Both use the movies as a schtick in the movie. And both are made by second-generation Coppolas.

Mafia lessons

Bush has asked for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq. Actually, that’s a lowball figure–he really wants more like $150 billion, and once you add in the interest payments, it will be many times that. But let’s stick with $87 billion. Of that, most of it will go to pay for American forces over there; the rest will actually be used for reconstruction (that is, Halliburton contracts).

But even the $20 billion or so for actual reconstruction is a lot of money, and some Democrats have shamefully proposed–and some Republicans supported–the idea that the money should be treated as a loan to Iraq, which that country would repay.

Now, never mind the whole blood-for-oil slogan. Never mind that the administration mistakenly thought that the Halliburton welfare project rebuilding effort could be paid for out of oil revenues. The idea that one country would invade another, blow it up, and then charge it for repairs is appalling. The Mafia has it figured out: they charge you protection money up-front, so that nothing…unfortunate happens to your country. We could save everybody a lot of trouble if we’d just extort rather than invade and then try to take money.

American Splendor

Finally got around to seeing American Splendor last night. Very good. If I’m ever feeling down about my own life, I can console myself with the thought “at least I’m not Harvey Pekar.” That sounds mean, but come on–a file clerk who says “every day’s a struggle” is automatically pathetic and self-involved.

Despite the aggressively mundane quality of Pekar’s world, and his almost complete inability to find any joy in it at all, the movie’s funny. The little observations within the movie are funny, and the wacky metafiction mashups are funny: the real Harvey Pekar provides voiceover, and occasionally the scene shifts to a white space, cluttered with some of the set dressing from the previous scene, with the Real Harvey giving some insight on what’s going on. This might sound annoying, but it is necessary, if for no other reason than Toby. Toby is one of Harvey’s coworkers depicted in the story, and he is such an oddball character that one would be forced to conclude that his depiction, if not the person himself, was fictionalized. But eventually we cut to the Real Toby, and that’s exactly what he’s like, and we realize fiction is hard-pressed to keep up with truth for strangeness. In that shot, we see Real Harvey talking with Real Toby, as Paul Giamatti (portraying Harvey) and Judah Friedlander (portraying Toby) sit on folding chairs in the background. That’s meta.

Paul Giamatti wears a scowl through the whole movie that’s constantly on the verge of a grimace. He probably had to do face-yoga at the end of every day of shooting. The shots of Pekar himself today show that he’s mellowed a little bit with age, and he occasionally breaks into a smile.

Ideal double-feature companion to this movie: Ghost World. Both are comics-inspired, and Harvey Pekar seems to have been the inspiration for Seymour in Ghost World.

Forever Peace

Just finished reading Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace. Very good. Some years ago, I read his book Forever War, one of the standards in the science-fiction canon. This was not a sequel to that, rather a sideways look at some of the same issues in it.

The book starts off slowly with exposition. He’s set up an interesting near-future world for the reader to get acquainted with, and if that were the extent of the book, it wouldn’t be bad. But right in the middle of the book, when things are starting to slow down, he throws a crisis at us, which is merely the butterfly wing-flap that precipitates a boggling storm of events. Everything starts happening very quickly.

I’ve always said that a cynic is a disappointed optimist, and I think Haldeman is a cynic when it comes to human nature: he hasn’t given up hope, but he’s arched his eyebrow at his fellow man for so long that those muscles have just given out. The book was written in 1998 and the action takes place in 2043; I suspect that every day now he cradles his head in horrified amazement at his own premature prescience.

Chilly processor units

Anyone who has used a laptop atop a lap is intimately familiar with the heat that a modern CPU can generate. Every watt of that heat is wasted.

Talking with Dave earlier, he mentioned that he had converted one of his PCs to liquid cooling, silencing at least some of the fans that had made the thing sound like a damned airplane. He explained how the cooling system used an aquarium pump to circulate water; I hypothesized that the pump was probably redundant–the CPU itself probably put enough energy into the system for natural convection to circulate the water adequately, as long as there’s a one-way valve in the plumbing somewhere. He was skeptical.

Anyhow, if it hasn’t been done already, it would make a good project for a casemodder. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized this idea had a lot of potential. Take it a step further: rather than using energy to cool the system, actively scavenge the processor’s waste heat. I can imagine a couple ways to do this:

  1. Install a water turbine in the radiator. This could drive a generator to produce a little juice, or be mechanically coupled to a fan. This would be quite elegant: the computer would become a homeostatic system that cooled itself down as a natural consequence of heating up.
  2. Install a stirling engine in the case. Again, this could be coupled to a fan or a generator.

Imagine the steampunk/geek-cred you’d earn by having a functioning stirling engine installed in your case.


When I got my current computer, a Powermac G4, I started using the mouse that came with it, a featureless polycarbonate ovoid. It’s a beautiful mouse–nice heft, nice materials, nice shape. But a one-button mouse. These days, many mice have four buttons plus a scroll-wheel that can also be clicked, and OS X is built to recognize two buttons plus a clickable scroll-wheel with no extra software required (unless you want to remap the button functions).

Perhaps out of exasperation with my button-deficient mousing lifestyle, my über-geek friend Drew just flat-out gave me a new-in-box Microsoft mouse with two buttons and a clickable scroll-wheel that he happened to have lying around (this isn’t that surprising–as near as I can tell, he’s got 8 computers in varying levels of service). So I plugged it in this morning and have been using it.

My findings: In terms of shape, materials, and build-quality, Apple wins hands-down. As to the extra controls, I’m actually a bit ambivalent. The scroll-wheel is a big advantage, no question. But it clicks along in steps, not smoothly, which is actually jarring when following a screenload of text. The second button is also handy (though not as frequently so), but it forces me to pay more attention to what I’m doing. And despite that, having two extra buttons doesn’t quite feel like enough. With a one-button mouse setup, I use the keyboard more to make up for the mouse’s deficiencies. If I’m going to really use the mouse, I need to be able to use it more. Chorded input would give me 7 possible clicks from three buttons, but I’m not sure if that can be accomplished, and I am loathe to install Microsoft’s bloated (4.9 MB) mouse software to find out. A mouse with more physical buttons would do the trick, though perhaps at the expense of a lot more mistaken clicks. There are other mice out there that offer multiple buttons with better ergonomics, and I might break down and try one out.