W. S. Burroughs reading A Thanksgiving Prayer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted this. Unfortunately, I find it all too topical these days, thirty years after it was written.

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shat out through wholesome American guts.
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.
Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.
Thanks for the KKK.
For nigger-killin’ lawmen, feelin’ their notches.
For decent church-goin’ women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.
Thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers.
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind their own business.
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the memories — all right, let’s see your arms!
You always were a headache and you always were a bore.
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Readers Digest condensed Cliff’s Notes executive summary version: Do you have a Netflix account and a reasonable (1.5 MB/s or better) broadband connection? Then you should have a Roku player. That’s it.

So a couple months ago, I had a birthday, and with that birthday came some a little bit of spending money (courtesy of Prairie’s mom) that I wasn’t sure what to do with. As I’m in school, not making money, and existing solely on financial aid and Prairie’s good graces, I’ve gotten very used to spending money only on what’s necessary, and not on toys or frivolities. Because of this, I didn’t have much of a “wish list,” and the things I’m generally likely to spend money on — used books and vinyl — I currently have stacks of, waiting for me to find time to either read or import into the computer, so adding to the stacks (as enjoyable as that is) didn’t seem like the best way to go.

I let the money sit for a while as I played with various ideas, and eventually decided to go for something I’d been eyeballing for a while, but which had always fallen into the realm of “neat toy that could be fun, but isn’t really necessary right now”: a Roku digital video player.

Roughly two months in, I can easily say that this was one of the best impulse buys I’ve made in a long, long time.

First off, the basics, in case you haven’t heard of the Roku before. Originally developed at and for Netflix, and later spun off into its own company and opened to more content providers, the Roku is a tiny little set-top box that plugs into your TV, giving you access to the Netflix library of streaming “Watch Instantly” titles. Prairie and I had just recently started discovering the joys of Netflix’s streaming library (with the addition of my new iMac, as before that, none of our computers were new enough to support Netflix’s streaming service), but camping out in my office to watch shows on my computer wasn’t nearly as comfortable as our living room, so the Roku sounded like a nice addition to the house.

Setup is dead simple. The box is small, and if you have a WiFi network at home, requires the bare minimum of cables: power, and the connection to the television (if you don’t have WiFi, you’ll need to run an ethernet cable to the box). It has the three primary video connection methods (composite video, for old-school TVs like ours; component video, for higher-quality video on TVs that support progressive scan input; and HDMI for High Definition TVs) and both standard stereo and optical audio output.

Getting started took just a couple minutes: I plugged it in, told it which WiFi network to use and put in the password, and after a brief moment to let the box download and install new firmware and reboot, it was up and running. I popped into the Netflix channel, chose something in my Instant Watch queue, and was watching a show no more (and probably much less than) ten minutes after opening the box. Impressive!

The Netflix interface is slick and simple, and — thanks to a recent software update that actually came out just before I got the Roku — allows for searching and browsing the Netflix streaming library, and shows off all the recommendations of things that Netflix thinks we’ll enjoy watching.

There’s a lot more than just Netflix available, though. Roku’s channel store has an ever-growing library of options, with lots of internet-based shows and podcasts, sports channels, Pandora radio, and — our personal favorite after Netflix — Amazon Video on Demand. Last weekend after seeing Inception, Prairie and I were still in the movie mood, decided to see what new releases Amazon had available, and ended up renting, watching, and thoroughly enjoying Whip It!.

Our feelings at this point: Blockbuster is doomed. Outside of needing something rare enough that it’s not available to stream from Amazon or Netflix and soon enough that we can’t put in our physical Netflix queue, we have absolutely no reason to physically rent a video anymore. Movie theaters aren’t in much better shape, either — the entire experience of watching something at home is so much nicer, more comfortable, more convenient, and cheaper than going to the movies that we’ll be doing that far less than we already do (and we haven’t been going terribly often as it is).

The video quality of the Roku is great, as well. Admittedly, ours is helped somewhat by my television (geekery: though it’s an older, standard-ratio TV, this model Sony Wega offers an “anamorphic compression” mode that squeezes the picture down to a 16:9 ratio from the standard 4:3 ratio, increasing the resolution as it does so; this allows me to tell the Roku that it’s connected to a widescreen TV, at which point it outputs an anamorphic signal that results in a higher resolution and better quality image than if it were outputting the standard 4:3 640×480 TV signal), but the image quality easily matches (or at least comes very, very close to) what we see out of our DVD player. One of the very few disappointments I’ve had with the Roku (and a very minor one at that) is that while my TV can accept component video, the Roku apparently will only output component video as progressive scan output, which my TV doesn’t support, so I’ve had to resort to the lowest-quality composite video connection. Still, the quality we get is good enough that I can’t really complain — and when we finally get around to upgrading to an HDMI-capable HDTV, the quality will only get better!

There are a few relatively minor caveats to the Roku. Most importantly, you do need a reasonable (1.5 MB/s) broadband connection, and for HD video (not an issue for me at the moment), it requires at least a 5 MB/s connection (which, even if I had the hardware to display HD video, isn’t available from Qwest at my address yet). A WiFi network, while not necessary, as the box does have ethernet input, is highly recommended, as it keeps you from having to string more cabling around your house. And, of course, with any online-based service, there is the potential for network or server issues to occasionally get in the way, though we’ve had very few times where this was an issue (and when it was, Roku and Netflix were both good about communicating with their customers, and we even got a bit of a refund from Netflix to make up for the service interruption).

In short, we love this box. We’ve been using it nightly, bouncing among a number of shows that catch our eye (recently: Bones, Futurama, Law and Order, Red Dwarf, and 30 Rock), and saving movies for when we have the time and interest to invest in a movie. This has increased our usage of the streaming service to the point where we’re considering dropping our Netflix subscription from our current 3-at-a-time down to the basic 1-at-a-time service, as Netflix (so far, and I hope this continues) is kind enough to offer their streaming service without limitation at all subscription levels. Good deal!

Once again: if you have Netflix and broadband, you really should have a Roku.

Chances are you’re either going to love me or hate me for posting this. Personally, I think this is great — my tolerance for cheezy pop is really high — but there will be no hard feelings if you blame me for wanting to brillo pad your brain clean after watching this. :)

Prairie and I went to the EMPSFM on Wednesday, using some free passes very kindly given to me back when I lost my job. I’d been to the EMP once before, just after I moved down to Seattle, but hadn’t ever gotten around to visiting the SFM side since it opened.

The last time I went, sometime around 2001/2002 or so, when it was just the EMP, I wasn’t entirely impressed, and came away thinking that it was neat, but more expensive than I felt it was really worth. No such worries anymore, though: I think the tickets have dropped in price a bit (I remember them being around $20 back then), and with the addition of the SFM and any special exhibits — especially the current Jim Henson’s Magical World — it’s totally worth visiting.

Finally getting to see the Science Fiction Museum was a lot of fun. Back when it was being created, I was excited enough to blog about it twice, but for one reason or another, I’d never checked it out. I’m glad I finally did, though — while not huge, they’ve packed a lot of neat stuff into that section of the museum, from old costumes and props to lots of first editions of classic literary sci-fi. In fact, one of the things I was impressed by the most was how much attention was paid to the written word — it’s not as “flashy” as film clips or movie props, but it’s such an important part that I was quite happy to see that it was celebrated, rather than neglected. They even had the entire handwritten manuscript to Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, which blew me away. It’s huge!

I’ve got a few pictures from the trip on Flickr, and below is a clip of me trying my hand at being a puppeteer for the Mudgarden Experience.

I think my puppet looks the best — not only did I know the lyrics, but I have that version of “Rainbow Connection” in my collection, so I was able to keep “Kurt” pretty synced up with the music. Fun!

I’m about halfway through cleaning up the audio import of the original Woodstock 3-LP soundtrack album, and was just reminded of one of the funniest little videos I’ve run across in a long time.

I love Joe Cocker‘s version of The Beatles‘ “With A Little Help From My Friends” (and his version of “Come Together” from Across the Universe — actually, as good as the originals are, I prefer Joe’s versions), but in all honesty, I’ve never been entirely sure just what he’s singing. I know what the lyrics are, or at least what they should be…I just don’t think Joe did.

Here’s one person’s take on interpreting Joe’s mumblings, apparently done as a birthday present for a friend. I love this…absolutely hilarious.

Slightly over a year ago, I found an inspired bit of silliness which replaced the text from an old Archie comic with lyrics from Pulp’s “Common People.” Deciding to continue the silliness, I used iMovie to put the audio of Pulp’s song under some simple ‘animation’ of the altered comic panels, and uploaded the end result to YouTube. At the time I did this, YouTube’s draconian audio scrubber that the music groups use to try to assure that we only listen to and enjoy music in ways that they approve of told me this:

Dear Member:

This is to notify you that your video Archie vs. Pulp: Common People has been identified as containing content that may be owned by someone else. The material identified in your video, the person claiming ownership of the material, and the policy they have designated for its use on YouTube are detailed below.

Material Copyright Holder Policy Countries
Audio from PULP-COMMON PEOPLE UMG Allow Everywhere

If the policy listed is “Allow,” you do not need to take action.

All seemed fine — though the song had been recognized and flagged, UMG had an ‘allow everywhere’ policy, so the video was fine. I thought that was nice, and thanked them in my blog post and on the YouTube page.

Apparently something has changed at UMG, and they’ve decided that graciously allowing fans to use bits of their artist’s music in projects like this isn’t kosher, because this morning I got a somewhat innocuous sounding email from YouTube…

Your video, Archie vs. Pulp: Common People, may have content that is owned or licensed by WMG.

No action is required on your part; however, if you are interested in learning how this affects your video, please visit the Content ID Matches section of your account for more information.

…which didn’t sound too horrid. My video “may have content” they own, “no action is required,” if I want to know how this affects my video, etc. Well, sure I wanted to know how this affected my video, so I went to YouTube, and found out that this affected my video quite a lot: it doesn’t exist anymore.

Your video, Archie vs. Pulp: Common People, may have audio content from COMMON PEOPLE by PULP that is owned or licensed by UMG.

As a result, your video is blocked worldwide.

What should I do?

Use AudioSwap to replace the audio in your video with a track from our library of prelicensed songs. After you swap, your video will be available globally.

Under certain circumstances, you may dispute the copyright claim from UMG. These may be any of the following:

  1. the content is mistakenly identified and is actually completely your original creation;
  2. you believe your use does not infringe copyright (e.g. it is fair use under US law);
  3. you are actually licensed by the owner to use this content.

Great. So I can replace the audio with different music — which wouldn’t exactly make sense — or I can enter the dispute process and try to convince someone that my use is Fair Use. I believe it is, but I’m guessing I’d probably end up on the losing end of that conversation.

And, of course, I don’t have the original iMovie file, so I can’t re-export the video to find some other way of hosting it.

However…

When I loaded my blog post, it seems that the block wasn’t totally implemented yet, as the embedded version of the video was still active (though I don’t expect this to last very long). After switching the video to High Quality to make sure the best possible version was downloaded to my computer for playback, a little bit of digging into Safari 4’s Web Inspector gave me the Google Cache URL of the video.mp4 file. A quick copy-and-paste of that URL into Safari’s URL bar, and a few moments later, the video file was sitting in my Downloads folder.

So, once again, after an upload to my webserver and through the magic of self-hosting, the video lives!

[flashvideo file=files/2009/04/archiepulp.mp4 /]

As before, credit where credit is due:

Twenty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the original Macintosh: “The computer for the rest of us.”

It’s funny to see just how much hasn’t changed in the past 25 years — especially Jobs’ consummate showmanship and flair — and how much has. That little machine that started it all is certainly a far cry from what’s being offered today, but it’s very easy to see how much today’s Mac still owes to the original, in everything from the interface to the advertising (I was really amused at how similar the two ads at the very end of the above clip are to many of today’s ads from Apple).

So happy birthday, Macintosh! And here’s to another 25 years to come!

The legacy of President George W. Bush:

George Walker Bush. 43rd president of the United States. First ever with a criminal record. Our third story tonight, his presidency: eight years in eight minutes.

Early in 2001 the U.S. fingered Al Qaeda for the bombing of the USS Cole. Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke had a plan to take down Al Qaeda. Instead, by February the NSC had already discussed invading Iraq, and had a plan for post-Saddam Iraq. By March 5 Bush had a map ready for Iraqi oil exploration and a list of companies. Al Qaeda? Rice told Clarke not to give Bush a lot of long memos — “not a big reader.”

August 6, 2001, a CIA analyst briefs Bush on vacation: “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” Bush takes no action, tells the briefer, quote, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.” Next month Clarke requests using new predator drones to kill Bin Laden, the Pentagon and CIA say no.

September 11th: Bush remains seated for several minutes to avoid scaring school children by getting up and leaving. He then flies around the country and promises quote a full scale investigation to find “those folks who did it.”

Rumsfeld says Afghanistan “does not have enough targets, we’ve got to do Iraq.” When the CIA traps Bin Laden at Tora Bora it asks for 800 rangers to cut off his escape, Bush outsources the job to Pakistanis sympathetic to the Taliban. Bin Laden gets away.

In February General Tommy Franks tells a visiting Senator Bush is moving equipment out of Afghanistan so he can invade Iraq. One of the men who prepped Rice for her testimony that Bush did not ignore pre 9-11 warnings later explains, quote, “We cherry picked things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about Al Qaeda…they didn’t give a bleep about Al Qaeda.”

July, and Britain’s intel chief says Bush is fixing intelligence and facts around the policy to take out Saddam January ’03. Bush and Blair agree to invade in March. Mr. Bush, still telling us he has not decided, telling Blair they should paint an airplane in UN colors, fly it over Iraq, and provoke a response, a pretext for invasion.

The man who said it would take several hundred thousand troops: fired. The man who said it would cost more than a hundred billion: fired. The man who revealed Bush’s yellowcake lie: smeared, his wife’s covert status exposed. The White House liars who did it and covered it up: not fired, one convicted — Bush commutes his sentence.

Then in Iraq, “stuff happens:” Iraq’s army, disbanded. The government de-Baathified. 200,000 weapons, billions of dollars just
lost, foreign mercenaries immunized from justice. Political hacks run the Green Zone. Religious cleansing forcing one out of six Iraqis from their homes. Abu Ghraib, the insurgency, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Other stuff does not happen: WMD, post-war planning, body armor, vehicular armor.

The payoff? Oil, and billions for Halliburton, Blackwater and other companies, while Mr. Bush denies VA healthcare to 450,000 veterans, tries to raise their healthcare fees, blocks the new G.I. Bill, and increases his own power with the USA PATRIOT Act, with the Military Commissions Act, public orders exempting himself from a thousand laws, and secretly from the Presidential Records Act, The Geneva Conventions, FISA, sparking a mass rebellion at the Justice Department.

Secret star chambers for terrorism suspects, overturned by Hamdan v Rumsfeld. Denying habeas corpus, overturned by Boumediene v Bush. 200 renditionings, sleep deprivation, abuse.

Rumsfeld warned in 2002 that he was torturing, that it would jeopardize convictions. Out of 550 at Gitmo, hundreds ultimately go free with no charges. Dozens are tortured, eight fatally — three are convicted. On U.S. soil twelve hundred immigrants rounded up without due process, without bail, without court dates, without a single charge of terrorism.

It wasn’t just Mr. Bush no longer subject to the rule of law. He slashed regulations on everyone from banks to mining companies. Appointed 98 lobbyists to oversee their own industries, weakening emission standards for mercury and 650 different toxic chemicals. Regulators shared drugs, and their beds, with industry reps. The Crandall Canyon mine owner told inspectors to “back up” because his buddy, Republican Mitch McConnell, was sleeping with their boss. McConnell’s wife is Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Her agency overruled engineer concerns about Crandall Canyon, and was found negligent after nine miners died in the collapse there.

Mr. Bush’s “hands off” as Enron blacks out California, doubling electric bills. After months of rejecting price caps Mr. Bush bows to pressure, the blackouts end.

Mr. Bush further deregulates commodity futures, midwifing the birth of unregulated oil markets which, just like Enron, jack up prices to an all time high until Congress and both presidential candidates call for regulations, and the prices fall.

Deregulating financial services and lax enforcement of remaining rules created a housing bubble, creating the mortgage crisis, creating then a credit crisis, devastating industries that rely on credit, from student loans to car dealers. Firms that had survived the Great Depression could not survive Bush. Those that did got seven hundred billion dollars. No strings, no transparency, no idea whether it worked. Unlike the auto bailout, which cut workers’ salaries. A GOP memo called it “a chance to punish unions.”

But Bush failed even when his party and his patrons did not stand to profit. Investigators blamed management cost cutting communication for missed warnings about Columbia. Bush administration convicts include sex offenders at Homeland Security, convicted liars, every kind of thief in the calendar, and if you count things that were not prosecuted, the vice president of the United States actually shot a man in the face — the man apologized.

Mr. Bush faked the truth with paid propaganda in Iraq on his education policy, tried to silence the truth about global warming, rocket fuel in our water, industry influence on energy policy. Politicized the truth of science at NASA, the EPA, the National Cancer Institute, Fish and Wildlife, and the FDA

His lies, exposed by whistleblowers from the cabinet down. “Complete B.S.,” the treasury secretary said of Mr. Bush on his tax cuts. Rice’s mushroom cloud, Powell’s mobile labs, Iraq and 9-11, Jack Abramoff, Jessica Lynch. Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman again. Pat Tillman, again. The air at Ground Zero, most responders still suffering respiratory problems. Global warming, carbon emissions, a Clear Skies initiative lowering air quality standards, the Healthy Forests initiative increasing logging, faith based initiatives, the cost of medicare reform, fired US attorneys, politically synchronized terror alerts. The surge causing insurgents to switch sides, that abortion causes breast cancer, that his first recession began under Clinton, that he did not wiretap without warrants, that we do not torture. That American citizen John Walker Lindh’s rights were not violated, that he refused the right to counsel.

“Heckuva job, Brownie!” Some survivors still in trailers, New Orleans still at just two-thirds its usual population.

The lie that no one could have predicted the economic crisis, except the economists who did. No one could have predicted 9-11, except one ass-covering CIA analyst, or thirty. No one could have predicted the levee breach, except — literally — Mr. Bill, in a PSA that aired on TV a year before Katrina.

Bush actually admitted that he lied about not firing Rumsfeld because he “did not want to tell the truth.” Look it up.

All of it, all of it and more leaving us with ten trillion in debt to pay for 31% more in discretionary spending, the Iraq War, a 1.3 trillion dollar tax cut. Median income down two thousand dollars. Three-quarters of all income gains under Bush going to the richest one percent. Unemployment up from 4.2 to 7.2 percent. The Dow, down from ten thousand five hundred eighty seven to eighty two hundred seventy seven. Six million now more in poverty. Seven million more now without health care.

Buying toxic goods from China. Deadly cribs. Outsourcing security to Dubai, still unsecure in our ports and at our nuclear plants. More dependent on foreign oil. Out of the international criminal court. Off the anti ballistic missle treaty.

Military readiness and standards down, with two unfinished wars, a nuclear North Korea, disengaged from the Palestinian problem, destabilizing eastern European diplomacy with anti missile plans and unable to keep Russia out of Georgia.

2000 miles of Appalachian streams destroyed by rubble from mountaintop mining. At his last G-8 summit, he actually bid farewell to other world leaders saying, quote, “goodbye from the world’s greatest polluter.”

Consistently undermining historic American reverence for the institutions that empower us. Education, now “academic elites,” and the law, “activist judges,” capping jury awards.

And Bin Laden? Living today unmolested in a Pakistani safe haven created by a truce endorsed and defended by George W. Bush.

And among all the gifts he gave to Bin Laden, the most awful, the most damaging not just to America, but to the American ideal, was to further Bin Laden’s goal by making us act out of fear rather than fortitude.

Leaving us with precious little to cling to tonight, save the one thing that might yet suffice:

Hope.

Tomorrow’s inauguration can’t come soon enough.

(via windycitymike, transcript from Daily Kos)