Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Open Letter to Pocatello/Chubbuck District 25

To whom it may concern,

Your website contains some erroneous, misleading messaging. Please contact your Web admin to have "whatever it takes" and "caring about children" (see image below) removed from your homepage, as you have demonstrated this to be patently untrue.
With the termination of food service worker Dalene Bowden for "theft" of $1.70, when she offered to cover the cost of lunch for a preteen in crisis, you show that you do not care about kids, and you are unwilling to do whatever it takes to protect and support them. In fact, you punish people and practices that do support these lofty claims.

Aside from your stated practice of throwing a perfectly good meal into the trash when a student is unable to pay for their meal, itself morally reprehensible, the hypocrisy of claiming to do "whatever it takes" to serve your students while terminating a responsible adult's career over $1.70 is intolerable.

I no longer live in Idaho, but I was born in Pocatello. I have an emotional investment in this city, I keep up on the news there. I celebrate its victories over long distance and, in cases like your policy and practices, I burn with shame. I recognize asking you to behave with decency and compassion toward your students and the employees who serve them falls well outside "whatever it takes", so please clean up your homepage to more accurately reflect your real-world behavior.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sesame Credit Scare

My wife just shared this video with me:

If you don't have time to view it (which is ridiculous), the summary is thus. China is commissioning the predominant social media partnership to gamify adherence to their Communist Party. Sesame Credit monitors your social media presence, rewarding you for repeating state propaganda and punishing you for asking questions or talking about matters the government disapproves of; it monitors your shopping, rewarding you for buying food and work clothes, punishing you for shopping for imported or frivolous merchandise; it monitors your friends, punishing you for associating with dissenters and agitators. While there are no stated punishments for low-score players, currently, many bloggers and analysts are projecting what these could be: anything from restricted online use to ineligibility for real-world employment.

And it's being rolled out now, with plans to become mandatory for all citizens in five years, as of this writing.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movies, Society, and Consideration

Currently I'm taking a break from social media: I have to stay off Facebook and Twitter until I see the new Star Wars movie, because my friends are way too excited about it. Even if they don't spill the beans, some of them have friends with a poor sense of humor, who will find it funny to ruin any surprises the movie holds.

After a weekend of radio silence, one person has noticed my absence and emailed me to see whether I'm okay. No one else is aware anything has changed, or else they lack the curiosity (or are even relieved at the reprieve).

Rebecca and I saw two movies on Saturday, neither of which were Star Wars, if you can believe that. We were plotting our weekend and had nothing planned, which is a precious, increasingly rare delight, so she suggested some movies that we might see, Trumbo and Hunger Games Number Three Part Two.

I asked why we couldn't see both of them, and my wife transformed into a bubbly child: "We could see... two movies today?!" Her eyes were round and huge, and one of her hands gracefully alighted upon her chest, over her heart.

"Why not?" I said. "We're adults, we can do whatever we like. We can eat horrible food and stay up way past nine."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Another Podcast Review

Just another review in which I remember which podcasts I like and which pissed me off.

Podcasts are important to me because I have a 45−90-minute bus commute to and from work, five days a week. If I don't want to listen to disadvantaged adults abusing their children or tedious phone calls interrupting whatever book I'm reading, then I must don my over-ear headphones and listen to podcasts.

Now, even a podcast can affect my entire day, so mostly I'm looking for good comedy or interesting storytelling. Sometimes I feel guilty about not being more educated so I seek out nonfiction and professional analysis podcasts. Still other times, I'll try out anything that looks interesting, and sometimes my friends even have recommendations for me.

Recently I discovered my iPod can search and download podcasts without ever installing stupid fucking iTunes on my computer! What a relief! So I've been exploring that option, how to load my iPod with podcasts, without ever having to reinstall every lousy stinking goddamned iTunes update, remembering to shut off its background data hog subroutine between times. With the latest iPod update, however, my device now thinks it's January 1970 and refuses to be corrected on this, and despite how many unplayed podcasts I've cached, the Unplayed Podcasts button yields zero results.

These are some of the petty annoyances that people of certain breeding call "first-world problems", where "real" problems only pass the test of moral relativism.

Anyway. Here's what I've been listening to in my latest spate.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Hallows' Eve 2015

Yesterday was crazy. No, it wasn't a full moon; that was Tuesday. Yesterday was Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis, Hallowe'en. All I wanted to do was bundle up my ingredients for a punch I was bringing to a friend's party. My wife made a gallon of raspberry liqueur, and I supplemented this with strong ginger ale, limeade (couldn't find pineapple anywhere), frozen raspberries and lime slices. I just had to transport this from Minneapolis to St. Paul via public transit.

It's hard to tell this story without sounding racist. The easy immediate reaction is, Why is it necessary to point out everyone's ethnicity? There are polite, well-behaved people and rude, ignorant people in every ethnic background. This is true, but to strip the events of last night of their context doesn't impart a full understanding of why people were acting the way they were. I don't want to say "they did this because they are black," because there is nothing inherent to either ethnic heritage that commanded this behavior; however, it is more accurate to bear in mind that X-person behaved because they came from a lineage of unaware privilege, and Y-person was the result of a heritage of abuse and limited options, and they clashed because each was operating in their own context without consideration for others, and they had reasons to not be considerate of others, and that's how things escalated.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hated Clothes Moth

Life is dense and heavy with dichotomic conflict: enjoying laziness versus working for money to buy food to stave off hunger; desiring casual sex versus getting mired in other people's lives; wanting to be well informed versus struggling with depression. Even our best escapist literature cannot feature an effortless Utopia but centers on conflict, demonstrating that misery and suffering are what make life interesting to others.

My most recent conflict involves loving my beautiful Irish sweaters versus the habitat and diet of moths. I have one fisherman's sweater that I think was picked up as a souvenir for me, though the label swears it was made in Ireland. I have two other sweaters that I obtained myself, a smooth, subdued green one from County Cork and a gorgeous, gray, coarse cable-knit sweater handmade in Killarney. The green sweater has tiny little holes all over it and the gray one has a quarter-sized hole right over my belly. These are from moths (whether webbing moths, casemaking moths, I don't really care). The worsted wool of the green sweater made it easy to identify the off-color silken sacs in which the moth larvae were cocooning, easy to pick these off and crush them with savory vengeance.

Here's the son of a bitch.
Today I was sitting at my desk at work, wearing my fisherman's sweater, and I noticed a pale spot on my black jeans. It was less of a spot, after focusing on it, and more a cylinder, and it was writhing. Rather than freak out and shriek and swat it away, I used the crappy camera on my smartphone to obtain as clear an image as possible. Then I mashed it in a Kleenex and danced on it before throwing it in the trash.

I'll save a bee's life, I'll spare spiders and centipedes, but when I saw that moth larva writhing on my jeans, having fallen by sheer luck from my sweater, I swore I would study the best information available to kill and prevent moths.

I plundered several websites: eco-responsible consumer blogs, New York Times and Guardian articles, and university reports. Now I know much more about the environments these little bastards find favorable, as well as how to end them and repel the pests. And since I have this information, I thought I should share it with everyone.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

More 'Kimjongilia' Drama

Hillary Choi's hot new look.
This just gets weirder and weirder (see previous post on Goodreads fake reviewers). When I originally wrote that post, I hadn't yet had the conversation with 'Loki', and I updated this post with further activity from various of the players in this little drama.

Today I discovered that 'J Yoon', 'Hillary Choi' and 'Book Readers' have locked down their accounts as Private, to conceal the dates of their account creation and the lists of their reviewed books. As well, 'Hillary Choi' deleted the conversation between me and 'Loki'. Lastly, all three have changed their account icons: 'J Yoon' is using a stock image purchased by an eye clinic; 'Hillary Choi' is using the image of a "hot Japanese girl", despite her Chinese surname and claiming to come from Korea; 'Book Readers' is using an image that appears to support gay rights but could be interpreted to be a slur against their detractors.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Goodreads: Paid Reviews and DPRK Spies

Me and my copy of Victor Fox's Kimjongilia.
People who know me know that I'm interested in studying North Korea. It tripped me out that any place in the modern world could be this unknown and mysterious, as is the Hermit Kingdom of the DPRK.

Truth is, we actually know quite a lot about North Korea. We have a dozen active Instagrammers in the capitol, Pyongyang (and at least two have run Periscope streams), plus more cinematographers and art students all the time. And with 25,000 defectors ranging from peasants to elite cadre offering testimonies, yeah, very little is not known about North Korea. Yet mainstream media still wets itself a little over a new VICE article or some jackoff vacationer who says he snuck a few redundant photos into global Wi-Fi service.

Now, I read a lot about North Korea. I have robust RSS news feeds, I follow defectors and professional analysts on Twitter and Facebook, and I have a small library of defector autobiographies. I am not an expert, I have no head for history or economics, but I have read a lot about this secretive nation. Anyone can: I've shared my RSS aggregation and I run a blog and a Facebook page on the topic. Mostly I just reshare information that anyone else could find.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Trend Scouting

I'm going to go through a stochastic array of news articles, based on popular feeds and recommended articles. I just want to see if any patterns are currently emerging, because offhand, I don't see any.
No, I don't see any meaningful patterns. One meaningless thread that runs through most of these stories is that people are just shits. There's to do with that "revelation," however.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ambient Noise Generators

I go out to do a lot of writing. There are three coffee shops within easy walking distance of my apartment, and each of them has their own characteristics. Canteen has friendly service and the customers are quiet; Dunn Bros has indifferent service and the customers are down on their luck; Bull Run has friendly service (first-shift hours only) and the customers are obnoxious hipsters and independent businessmen. They make lots of phone calls and have loud conversations.

These noises need to be blocked out when I'm trying to write. Why don't I write at home? Two reasons: I'll get interrupted, and sometimes I need to change the vibe of my writing environment. I have to remove myself from the familiar to focus on creative writing. I need a chance of scenery, but the noises that come with it are unpredictable, whether it's a streaming online music feed that doesn't agree with me or some crusty old guy lecturing the trapped barista on politics. Or, of course, a series of banal phone conversations that must necessarily occur immediately around me, because that's my superpower, evidently.

A number of Web-based noise generators are available, and I think that number is four.

SimplyNoise was the first I was aware of. I sought a white-noise generator (having learned about white, pink and brown noise in a music class in middle school, concepts which have haunted me since) and found SimplyNoise. It's free but you can purchase the app for your mobile device. Besides levels of staticky hisses, it also provides natural sounds like "babbling brook" and the ever-popular rainstorm effect.

Some time after this I became aware of Noisli, probably through an online article. I don't recall. Immediately I was impressed with its layout: the screen rotates through various colors (the site links to studies on color-therapy) and an iconic menu offers way more than just static. You can select and combine noises like thunderstorm, nighttime insects, campfire, wind in leaves and many others. One option produces the ambient babble of a coffee shop. (And yes, I've used the coffee shop noise to block out the noise of a coffee shop. It sounds more like a New York deli, anyway.)

Noisli also offers a basic word editor, which is a great idea: set up your sound cocktail, then flip over to the text editor and go fullscreen for distraction-free writing. It's not great when it cycles through pale blue because it's very difficult to see your text, but it doesn't last long. Now they also have an app you can purchase for you Apple product, but they're dragging their heels for Android service.

The most recent update to Noisli permits users to start an account (free), by which they can save their favorite sound combinations and share these over social media. Super handy. I should note that the text editor allows you to download your writing so you don't lose it; unfortunately, now you only have access to the editor if you start an account. Given that Noisli's login screen can conflict with Chrome, this can be an annoyance, or you can simply set it to run in the background while you write in Word, Open Office, Scrivener, Celtx, Notepad, whatever you like.

That said, it's my favorite, my go-to, and I recommend it to all my writer friends.

Last night I got hit up by a rival service, Defonic, over Twitter. They appear to be a bald-faced ripoff of Noisli, but what do I know? I had to research to see which came out first. Hexillion tells me that Noisli's URL was registered in 2013 and Defonic's was in 2006, but the Internet Archive indicates that Defonic's URL was attached to a changing series of online services. The first recorded instance of Defonic offering a sound menu was in November 2013, while Noisli's October 2013 version (its first archived appearance) looks like it does today, with fewer options.

So if I had to guess, based on my research, I'd say that Defonic purposely aped Noisli's concept and interface. That's one strike against it in my book, regardless of how it performs. Blatantly imitating another site or service is low-down and underhanded; if they redid their interface, that would absolutely clear all this up.

As of two days ago (as of this writing), Defonic offers an Android "Soundscaper" app that lets you play combinations of sounds. That explains the Twitter push. Incidentally, they have 22 tweets that start in July 2014; Noisli has over 11,000, starting in Sept. 2013. Another indicator of chronology.

Anyway, how are their sounds? Pretty good. Despite the iconic selections looking nearly identical to Noisli's, their sound catalog is discrete. You can tell Defonic's thunderstorm, for example, is not Noisli's thunderstorm. They also offer nearly twice as many sounds: the snowflake produces the hiss of a snowstorm, clicking the umbrella gets you the patter of rain on a tin roof. The music note starts playing the famous "Gymnopedie No. 1" by Erik Satie. If you don't recognize the name, you will doubtlessly recognize this tranquil soundtrack to thoughtful moments, adored by filmmakers everywhere.

They don't use Noisli's color cycle: you toggle between a daytime or nighttime color scheme. They don't offer a text editor (update: they do, see below), but if you click on the HD button, you get taken to a new landscape entirely. The screen fills with the shore of a lake at sunset, and you just stare at this and listen to ambient natural sounds or, I guess, leave it running in the background while you do other things. There are buttons to inject the chirp of insects or superimpose Satie's relaxing piano upon the idyllic setting. It's actually kind of nice.

And in that screen, scroll down: there's another menu of backgrounds and sounds! You can look at and listen to a campfire; look out a rainy window while sitting in a cafe; let the frenetic lights of the city dance on your screen while tires on pavement and quiet engines generate a strangely calming effect.

They offer even more options, too. If you're willing to tweet your progress, you can slide down the rabbit hole into an array of international ambiance, courtesy Hipster Sound, with a hidden menu for "piano bar," "jazz club" and other pretty well done effects. The songs in these are long fragments: they go on a while but they're incomplete, so, heads up if that kind of thing drives you crazy. Tweet again for a ZIP file of geometric backgrounds and music.

I'm no hipster, but I used to be goth, and I remember when a band tried to break into the scene by announcing that it was goth and it was targeted toward goths, it didn't do so well. The best way to be accepted in the goth scene was to do your own thing and wait for them to discover and assimilate you. I wonder if hipsters work the same way. Probably not—they revel in consuming everything wrong.

Still, more options is more.

UPDATE: My error. I discovered where Hipster Sound keeps their basic text editor (in the Settings icon). It accepts basic keyboard commands for bold, italic and underscore. I don't see an option to download your copy, but it's easy enough to select all, cut and paste into your own file.

UPDATE: I also discovered where Defonic keeps their text editor: click into one of the 2D video/audio options and scroll all the way down. There's a window where you can write right over the video image, which could be relaxing and fun.

The last one I have to talk about is RainyMood. I hadn't heard of them until I followed Defonic's recommendation to another Twitter user, who stated he was addicted to RainyMood. As you can see on RainyMood's main screen, they are fully engaged with social media. Scroll down for more options: they're available for Apple and Android products, which, you know, everything should be unless they're trying to be a divisive, tribalist tool.

All it is, is rain. A thunderstorm. The screen is one huge image of raindrops clinging to or trickling down a window, which of course is attractive, and your speakers emit the classic rainstorm effect. The only controls are to toggle through three volume levels or to click on the music of the day. Users are encouraged to suggest a song to play along with the storm. I checked out today's selection and a YouTube video was embedded in the center of the screen, featuring Elvis performing "My Way." Go figure.

So there you go! I'm sure there are many others, but as you can see many sites will begin to repeat each other. Whether they make better noises or offer better options is up for the consumer to decide.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Time's Up! Google as Nanny State

Because Google has chosen to suck rather than rock, I'm migrating all my blogs away from Blogger.

In March, Google will begin deleting (new and preexisting) adult-content blogs that do not voluntarily hide themselves from public access. Google lures users in with wonderful free services and promises to be good to them, but once you rely on them, they start changing the rules. The latest rule is censorship, as Google dons the mantle of Morality Police.

Even if you don't have an adult-content blog, you must acknowledge Google's perimeter of free speech just got smaller. A widespread and influential Internet organization that attacks free speech is a dangerous combination.

Many of my blogs are being recreated elsewhere:
Postalatry and Chosun People are looking for new homes, probably WordPress. The rest are being archived and deleted from online presence—they were never very popular, doesn't matter what happens to them. I'm not sure what will happen to Sweven Volant as it was my dumping ground for random topics. I'm not sure it needs to be preserved elsewhere.

Google is causing me a lot of work with their policy of censorship, but I choose to stand with freedom of speech and not with Google.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Open Letter to Google: You Really Suck

You suck, Google.

I've boosted you, I've supported you, I've promoted you to all my friends. I've dumped so much of my creativity and labor into you, creating a dozen blogs, a few websites. I played along with your experiments and was disappointed to see you abandon them, but I stood by you.

Now that I'm invested in you, with blogs that are difficult to transfer and extricate (I've been running this blog for eight years!), now that I've laboriously cultivated what few followers I have... you decide this is a great time to turn into a conservative watchdog and impose your newfound morality upon your constituency.

You've given adult-content bloggers two choices: hide or be deleted. Writers and bloggers have relied upon you for a decade, and your response to them is, "don't let the door smack you on your way out." Adult content, of course, is the borderland we all must watch, to anticipate the encroachment upon our personal liberties and freedom of speech. You have declared yourself against freedom of speech, and you have brought the battle that much closer to the rest of us.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Depression by Definition

Angst - an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; usually reserved for philosophical anxiety about the world or about personal freedom.

Malaise - physical discomfort (as mild sickness or depression).

Turmoil - a violent disturbance.

Weltschmerz - sadness on thinking about the evils of the world.

Ennui - the feeling of being bored by something tedious.

Despair - the feeling that everything is wrong and nothing will turn out well.

Melancholy - a feeling of thoughtful sadness.

Morose - showing a brooding ill humor.

Gloom - filled with melancholy and despondency

Despondence - feeling downcast, disheartened, and hopeless.

Depression - a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity.

Megrims - a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Four Months of Unemployment

And it's not like I haven't been looking. I went through the three stages of rigamarole:

ONE: Ward off all the India-contracted placement agencies and spam-bots. "Hill-lo! Muy neme is... Petrick... Juhn-sun." As soon as everyone knows you're jobless (and they can scent this like bee-pheromones), your email will fill with noise and your phone will ring off the hook. All these inhuman, soulless entities will promise you they've looked at your resume and assure you they've given this a lot of thought, and in blatant contrast to these two statements they will offer you a position in sales.

Response: Unsubscribe, "do not call me again," modify your resume on Monster and CareerBuilder.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Scottish Comedy Television

Falconhoof, your guide. Image: BBC
On Twitter, a comedian I follow posted a link to a funny video. I can't remember the comedian, but the sketch was about a call-in show where you pay to see someone enact what sounds like a text-based adventure from the early dawn of personal computing. An enthusiastic young man in goatskins named Falconhoof invited travelers to his show, Adventure Call. I saw the one about the troll, and then I compulsively binge-viewed every single available video.

Well, I had to know what show this video was from. It's Limmy's Show, written and directed by Brian Limond, a Glasgow comedian resembling a young Simon Pegg plus his own youthful idealism. He's pure magic, and I've been studying all the episodes YouTube can provide. (If you don't understand the dialect or certain jokes, the comments to Limmy's videos are uncharacteristically helpful and informative.)