Friday, November 16, 2007

More on the Writers' Strike

A Daily Show writer covers the strike in Daily Show style:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Future Sound of London

Radiohead releases their latest album for download on a "pay what you want" model.

The Eagles decide to cut major recording labels out of the distribution of their newest album.

Trent Reznor, the man behind Nine Inch Nails, happily confesses to downloading music from peer-to-peer and torrent sites (would that Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer and notorious foe of internet downloaders be as candid about his tape copying past).

Are we seeing the decline and fall of the recording companies?

Ask not for whom the modem tolls...

Saturday, November 10, 2007


So, law enforcement in Canada has more important priorities than hunting people who download music from the internet.

I wish the recording industry would stop looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Caught in a web

MadJenny posted this video from the Writers Guild of America explaining the reasons for the Hollywood writers' strike. It succinctly explains their side of the issue:

Go to her site for more.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Suddenly Seeking Search Engine

Cross-posted at Map of the Informatique.

At work, I've been asked to train one of the library board members on "advanced Google searching". I'm not entirely sure what he means by that (the training session has yet to materialize), but I suspect he wants to go somewhat beyond typing one or two words into Google's search field.

In the hopes of providing a full exploration of the topic, and to show exactly why I'm worth the (not so) big bucks they're paying, I've been doing a bit of research on the Google phenomenon. Two books on the search engine king were released in 2005, probably to capitalize on Google's initial public offering and some of the fallout in the year following that seemed to tarnish the seemingly-untouchable lustre of the Internet's fasting-rising company and its likeable founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page (as of October 2007, both men are tied for 26th richest person in the world, worth about $16.6 billion US each). I read one at the time, that being The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle. Like many non-fiction authors these days, Battelle maintained a website detailing some of his research and writing, and continues to use the site to promote his book as well as blog on internet search more generally.

The other book, which I just finished, was The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology Success of Our Time, by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed, whose authors also maintain a website.

Both books are valuable for anyone who wants to learn more about the current master of internet search, and complement each other very well. Both books focus on Google and how it used internet search, a feature the rest of the internet industry had dismissed as useless and unprofitable, to rise above the bursting of the dot-com bubble and become the fastest-rising technology company in history. But I would call The Google Story more of a business biography, while Battelle's book is more of technological history.

Vise and Malseed focus on Brin and Page and the business they built, from their fated meeting in the computer science graduate program at Stanford, to the humble beginnings of Google on campus, tracing the company's development to its IPO and some of its legal and public image troubles following that, ending with some of Brin and Page's hopes for the future of search. While the account is thorough, there is a mood of triumphalism that permeates the text, a narrative of two smart kids with a new idea done good. The focus is more on how Google transformed business culture with its very different approach. Brin and Page, academics and the children of academics, run Google more like a college campus than a business (the PageRank system at the core of Google's search technology is based on the citing practices and impact factors of academic journal articles). One of their more revolutionary practices is the 20% rule. In the academic world, professors are given 20% of their time (generally, one day a week) away from lecturing and administrative work to work on their own research and projects. Employees at Google are also given 20% of their time to work on their own projects. Sometimes these go nowhere, but other times they result in new applications like Froogle and Google News. Vise and Malseed even devote a chapter to Google's former head chef, Employee #53, Charlie Ayers, as part of their description of Google's corporate culture. Google is also known for its humour, evidenced by its regular April Fools Day jokes and the Google Labs Aptitude Test, or GLAT, a spoof of the battery of standard tests used by other firms.

Meanwhile, Battelle begins with the history of internet search, tracing the development of some of Google's more noteworthy forefathers, from Archie at McGill University, to the web's "first truly good search engine", AltaVista, to those other two Stanford PhDs at Yahoo!, Jerry Yang and David Filo. While the spotlight of his text then shifts to Google, his overall focus is on internet search and search engines. In the mid and late-90s, other dot-coms were trying to build "portals", which were actually destinations. The idea was to draw in users and keep them on the site, which was awash in visual and pop-up ads. Anyone who remembers Yahoo!, Excite and Altavista back then remembers the slew of ads, internal links and flashy banner ads splashed over every square inch of the site. Search was seen as just another service provided by the portal, along with email, personal ads, weather reports, and so on.

Along comes Google with its bare bones white screen and a single search field, but that simple field offered the keys to the World Wide Web. While others were adding to the clutter of the internet's closet, Google provided the sense of organization to all that clutter, while making billions from advertising that was so unobtrusive, few people recognized the ads when they saw them. In just a few short years, the search engine named for the impossibly large number garnered the greatest brand recognition in the online world, even becoming a verb related to internet searching in the process (e.g., "I Googled him last night").

Both books offer a very comprehensive coverage of Google's rise and dominance of the market, while focusing on different aspects of the company. The Google Story, true to its title, is a biographical narrative of the company's "life", largely holding to a tone of triumphalism throughout. Only in a handful of later chapters, when discussing threats to Google's public image and through the courts, is the clarion call muted. The Search is more illustrative of the search technologies involved, without getting overly technical, and is probably more interesting to my fellow library and information science professionals.

Google continues to maintain a high profile in the public eye, as even the company's former masseuse is ready to tell her story:

Bonnie Brown was fresh from a nasty divorce in 1999, living with her sister and uncertain of her future. On a lark, she answered an ad for an in-house masseuse at Google, then a Silicon Valley start-up with 40 employees. She was offered the part-time job, which started out at $450 a week but included a pile of Google stock options that she figured might never be worth a penny.

After five years of kneading engineers’ backs, Ms. Brown retired, cashing in most of her stock options, which were worth millions of dollars. To her delight, the shares she held onto have continued to balloon in value.

“I’m happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it’s been pouring,” said Ms. Brown, 52, who now lives in a 3,000-square-foot house in Nevada, gets her own massages at least once a week and has a private Pilates instructor. She has traveled the world to oversee a charitable foundation she started with her Google wealth and has written a book, still unpublished,
Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Review: Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

October 4, 2007 marked an important historical anniversary. The 50th anniversary of humanity's exploration of outer space. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial object launched by human beings to escape the Earth's gravity (for six months, but a milestone).

In Red Moon Rising, Matthew Brzezinski covers the intense rivalries that served as the catalyst to the great space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would eventually culminate in landing men on the moon, and laid the foundations for today's space program, including the International Space Station.

Although the obvious rivalry between the Americans and the Soviets plays out over the course of Brzezinski's account, many other more personal conflicts come to the front of the stage. For the USSR's head of missile development, Sergei Korolev, his childhood obsession to touch space drove him relentlessly. Even years spent in Stalin's gulag did not dash the dream from him. His drive to put a satellite in orbit allowed him to navigate the treacherous waters of the Soviet military community.

Rivalries were, if anything, were more pronounced on the American side of the missile race. The army, navy, and nascent air force all had ballistic missile programs in the works, though it was the Army's that would place the first American satellite in orbit, thanks largely to the stubbornness of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's commander, Major General John B. Medaris, and ABMA's chief engineer, Wernher von Braun, the man behind the German V-2 rockets.

Brzezinski's book is a fast-paced, enjoyable read giving a lot of insight into the scientific and political environments of the USA and USSR of the late 1950s. The personalities involved leap off the page and come alive, shaping the course of the historical narrative. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You can't kill The Metal

OK, this news nearly made me squeal with glee like an anime fangirl:

Swedish metallers OPETH will support DREAM THEATER on the prog-metal giants' next North American tour in April/May 2008. More details will be announced soon.

Two of my favourite prog-metal acts on the same bill!


Monday, November 05, 2007

In his house at R'lyeh Cthulhu pwns n00bs

For more fun, read The Tales of Plush Cthulhu.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The areas of book-writing expertise

I've been listening to the audiobook version of The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman. Hodgman is best known as the "Resident Expert" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or as the PC in the Apple "Mac vs. PC" commercials.

Resident Expert of The Daily Show

PC vs. Mac

He is also a professional writer, and a former literary agent for the likes of actor Bruce Campbell, and in honour of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I'd share some of Hodgman's advice from The Areas of My Expertise:

What is the best kind of book to write?

I was asked this many times when I a professional literary agent, and the answer at the time was obvious: the most marketable kind of book to write, was one in which vampires fight serial killers, but the best kind of book to write, was one in which the vampires fight large weather systems and perfect storms. Of course, that answer is not correct in today's publishing environment, as neither of those old examples includes a worldwide conspiracy, overseen by a centuries-old religious secret society. While my initial response dates me hopelessly, I realize literature, blessed, ever grows and matures.

And one more:

Throughout history, all effective stories are based in some sort of conflict, and most critics agree, that in literature, there are five primal conflicts:

These are:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Himself
and Man vs. Cyborgs

If you think of a story, any story, I trust you will find it fits neatly into one of these rubrics.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A tale of murder most fowl...

Since this is both National Blog Posting Month and National Novel Writing Month, I thought I'd share a story of mine. This is a scenario I wrote to resolve a plot in one of the live-action roleplaying (LARP) games I'm a member of. It might be hard to follow the plot, not knowing the context. If that's the case, let me know!

A Murder of Ravens

The night rain beat a steady rhythm on the corrugated aluminum roof, like a thousand desperate heartbeats sounding in cacophony. To the fugitive, they were a dull roar overwhelmed by his own desperate heartbeats.

He was chilled, but not from the dampness on his skin. In fact, the warm blood on his arms offset much of the climate. The source of that blood was what froze his own solid.

I didn't…it wasn't…I could never … The gears of his reason attempted to rationalize the actions of the past few hours, but could not gain purchase. He remembered one of his former patients. The man had let his friend drive after a night of hard drinking. What's a couple of beers? He's only going a couple of blocks.

That night, Mr. and Mrs. Patel missed their son's high school graduation, just like they would miss his acceptance into his grad program, his wedding, and the births of their grandchildren.

It was a night like this, too, the fugitive recalled. He quickly glanced over both shoulders as lightning lit up the path between buildings, followed by the loud crash of thunder. It sounded like judgment.


The man looked around the living room, or what was left of it. Scarlet paths cut their way through the white carpeting. Most traced a mandala in the centre of the room, where the man of the house hung suspended from the ceiling fan by his own entrails, like some grisly piƱata.

While the onlooker could still be inwardly horrified by such carnage, it troubled him that his body betrayed no physiological reactions. I'm getting used to these things, he thought, and that's frightening.

Two men walked down the stairs in a grim-faced procession. The one in the trenchcoat would have been handsome, if his features were not perpetually set in stone-faced determination. Behind him, the man in the suit was even more impassive.

"It's even worse upstairs," he told the onlooker. "You really don't want to know."

"It was definitely him, though," said the Councillor, slowly pulling a rifle from beneath the folds of his trenchcoat. "And it wasn't long ago."

Two older men joined the three from outside.

"We have a trail," said one.

The Herald stood straighter, taking some weight off his cane. "My associates have been quite forthcoming on the subject," he said in his impeccable Received Pronunciation. "They despise the Intruder and its medium even more than we do."

The first man looked around the room one more time. "Why are we wasting anymore time then?" the Sentinel demanded.


Cold and wet, the fugitive reflected on how things had gone wrong. His order often required someone to pull a trigger so others wouldn't have to. It was a form of self-sacrifice that was never to be undertaken lightly, and always for the greater good, the self be damned.

As time went on, however, he found himself pulling the trigger more and more often, and less for the greater good, and more because he liked it. He wasn't going to let an affliction slow him down, and if it meant giving over control of his body for an hour or so, what was the harm?

Why won't the blood wash off? He held his hands out to the falling rain. His companion offered no explanations.


"This way!" His companions followed the interjection between the buildings. The rain was harder now, battering the docks with its staccato beats. The five ran hard, bearing arms conventional and otherwise.


Seeking shelter in a warehouse, the fugitive tried to rest. Rain and sweat turned to vapour on his face, and only made him hotter. He tried to relax while his heart continued to pound a desperate pattern.

The Voice came to him then.


No! You got me into this!




That's not true!


I am not a murderer! I kill only for the greater good!




No, that's not how it works—


he stumbled with his thoughts. He turned to his companion, but could no longer find the solace that was once there. Its once noble and proud features seemed twisted into the feral visage of the most cowardly and savage of predators.


"You're sure he's in this building?" the Sentinel asked.

"Positive," said the Herald.

"I can confirm that as well," the Councillor agreed.

"OK, then." The Sentinel quietly stalked his way around the warehouse, stopping every few steps to inscribe a mark with his pocketknife.

The Herald and the other older man bent their heads together in discussion, before seeming to address the empty air.

The Councillor readied his rifle with a practiced hand, while the man in the suit closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

The Sentinel returned.

"It's done," he said.

The man in the suit opened his eyes. "Everyone remember the plan?" asked the Councillor. Four heads nodded their assent.

"Let's do this."




No wait, come back! I…


I will! I'll just…

The fugitive gesticulated wildly in the air and drew upon his power, power which never came.


In his mind's eye, he could see the golden lines of primal energy surround the building.

This is my cage.


The door blew off its hinges as the axe-wielding Sentinel crashed through.

"Raven, Walker of the Path of Pandemonium! The Council of the Mens Ferrum finds you guilty of Hubris and conspiring with the enemies of Ascension! Submit to their judgement!"

"You won't take me! I'll…" He called upon his power again, and again failed. The Herald stood with a look of intense concentration.

"Get them!" the fugitive beckoned his companion, only to notice the companion had problems of its own.

"You can't stop me! You don't have the…AARRGGGHH!!!" Blood trickled from his nose and eyes as spears of intense pain shot through his head. The man in the suit stared at him, sweat beading along his brow.

"I'll kill you all! You don't have the stomach for this! That's why you need me! You need…" His last sentence was clipped short by the rifle round piercing his chest.

The Councillor stalked forward, ejecting the spent casing from his weapon. "No," he said impassively. "We don't."


The fugitive knelt on the floor before the Sentinel, the Herald and the other man. The man in the suit and the Councillor stood behind him.

"You three can leave," the Councillor said. "We'll finish up here."

"Indeed," intoned the man in the suit. "Your services have been exemplary, but this is our matter now."

"No way," protested the Sentinel. "We did this together, we finish it together. It's my job."

The Councillor shook his head slightly. "No, your job is to fight the battles. Slitting the throats of whoever's left on the battlefield is our task. Now go."

"I won't."

"Witness if you like," said the man in the suit, cutting off further discussion, "but the task is ours."

Unholstering his pistol, the Councillor placed it at the back of the fugitive's neck.

"Farewell, brother," the man in the suit whispered in the fugitive's ear. "We now return you to the Diamond Wheel. May you choose a better journey next time around."

The only response was a gunshot.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An image is worth a thousand blurbs

Found this internet meme: do a Google Image search for your name and post the first picture that comes up.

With my first name, I get a picture of Joe Jack Talcum of early 80s punk band, The Dead Milkmen.

Not sure what that means, since I'm not a huge punk fan (except for The Clash) and have probably never heard a Dead Milkmen song in my life. We're both Italian and play guitar, I guess.

With my full name, I get someone's old family photo (not my family).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Golden Compass Trailer!

Right here.

I can't wait!