Saturday, February 7, 2009

must-read punditry

You'd do well to venture over to Skippy's place and read his latest post on Obama. The piece starts off with a good thrashing of GOP/conservative hypocrisy, then moves on to its intended target, playfully known in many blogger circles as "Barry."



Today's major house project is the installation of a "graspable handrail," required by county code for indoor and outdoor stairways that have four or more steps. Dad bought a handrail kit that includes a white, heavy-duty, PVC-style handrail. The color matches much of the deck, but the shape is a little weird. I had been expecting a handrail shaped a lot like the railing inside a handicap toilet cubicle, essentially a squared-off letter C, whose corners are curved but imply right angles. The railing Dad bought suggests a C shape, but the ends of the railing are designed to loop way out, then back 180 degrees, attaching to the front and rear sides of the deck posts, not to the sides of the posts facing the actual stair steps. In other words, I was imagining this, but instead we've gotten something that looks a bit like this (imagine that both ends have a 180-degree turn-- not just the left end; it's also a tighter turn than shown in that graphic).

I'm going to see if I can persuade Dad to get a simpler railing. The kit he's got requires us to make angled cuts in the material, but without Mr. Jeong's table saw, such cuts will be hard to make. Getting a more simply designed handrail would eliminate most of our troubles. More on this later.

UPDATE: No dice. We're using the U-bend railing. It's actually not as horrible as I thought, but it still sticks out like a sore tentacle.


Friday, February 6, 2009

revisiting old BSG predictions

UPDATE: Damn, that was a tense episode! Well, we now know the fates of two of the most major characters in the series, as they both died by firing squad. We also got to see parts of the Galactica not seen previously. Yet another of the Final Five might be dead (last we saw, he had a head or neck wound), and a major conflict between Galactica and the rebel base ship was averted. The whole episode was an excellently played Mexican standoff; it kept me guessing right to the very end. The preview for next week's episode shows the return of Ellen Tigh, and she appears to be rising out of a Significant Seven-style resurrection bath, which again raises the question of whether the Final Five were ever part of Earth's population. Next week's episode promises answers to a lot of questions, especially now that the standoff appears over.

UPDATE 2: Is this 2007 entry from Ron Moore's blog a sign of what's in store for us BSG watchers?

UPDATE 3, August 16, 2009: This post has received a few visitors. I don't know whether the visitors are aware of this, but I've written more about BSG since this.

BSG: Final Predictions

BSG Musings:"Daybreak,. Part 2"

And a very long theological essay: BSG's Deity: Not Loving, and Possibly Insane

From an April 27, 2007 Facebook posting, before we knew what would happen in the final season of "Battlestar Galactica":

1. Starbuck is not the final Cylon.

2. Earth, when found, will not be the present-day Earth. That would be way too awkward: how to explain the near-exact parallel evolution of two cultures separated by so much time and space? No: I suspect this is an "alternate Earth."

3. The Adama-Tigh friendship will end in either a murder or a suicide. Most obvious bet is Tigh killing himself out of self-hatred. That's why I'm betting Adama will surprise us all by losing it and killing himself at or near the end of the story. That, or he'll murder Tigh.

4. Some Cylons will become humanity's permanent friends as the fracturing of Cylon culture continues.

5. As a result, the Cylon issue will not be resolved by the end of the series: you can't commit genocide against friends. Cylons will be with us forever.

6. Hocus-pocus mysticism will become even more annoyingly prevalent, and the series will lose all credibility with me

Remarks on each prediction:

1. Prediction (1) is presumably true, if we grant that Ellen Tigh truly is the fifth of the Final Five Cylons. But now that we have an Earth full of different types of Cylons, we've opened the door to Cylon parallel evolution and seem to have closed the door on the claim, from the 2003 miniseries that started it all, that "There are only twelve Cylon models." We've also opened a Pandora's Box regarding what sort of relationship these different types of Cylon have with each other. The so-called Significant Seven seem to have had knowledge of the Final Five for a long time: long enough to have developed a taboo about speaking of the Final Five.

It's still unclear what makes the Final Five objects of reverence for the Significant Seven. It's also unclear whether the Final Five were fellow Cylon Earthlings. A third unresolved issue is whether Starbuck qualifies as yet another type of Cylon, or is the missing Number Seven (thereby making the Significant Seven into the Significant Eight). Starbuck's status also has wider implications, because her reappearance-- along with that of her Viper-- implies the existence of a technology that can produce an exact copy not only of a humaniform entity, but of other objects as well.

2. Item (2) was a fairly safe prediction, and it turned out to be partly true: Earth is apparently Cylon.* But the Earth we see in Tigh's and Tyrol's flashbacks to 2000 years ago looks exactly like colonial civilization, i.e., modern North American civilization. So in a sense, the Cylon-populated Earth (no word yet on whether Earth was purely Cylon) is like our Earth. This was an unexpected turn of events, and I again have to give BSG credit for doing the unpredictable.

3. Prediction (3) came pretty close to happening, as Adama drunkenly tried to goad Tigh into shooting him. Since that episode, though, Adama seems to have come to terms with the fact that his friend of many years is a Cylon. Perhaps he's rationalized this by focusing on Tigh's otherness: he's one of the Final Five, and as an individual, Tigh has been nothing but loyal to his uniform. Effectively speaking, he's Colonial through and through, and that's why, in last week's episode, Adama faced the renegade fire teams with Saul Tigh at his side and said, "It's been an honor to serve with you."

4. As for Prediction (4)... I think the jury's still out. Have the rebel Cylons become humanity's friends? DeAnna has chosen to remain planetside and die "with the bones of [her] ancestors" (though I'm still unsure these Cylons qualify as ancestors, any more than spider monkeys qualify as our ancestors). She has never really shown much love for humanity, making her a lot like the Cavils, Simons, and Dorals. The rebel Cylons-- primarily 6s (Boomer, Athena) and 8s (Natalie, Gina, Head-Six, etc.), but also the 2s (Leoben)-- have chosen to side with humanity for mostly practical and religio-philosophical reasons, not out of love. Plus, as the last few episodes have shown (and tonight's episode will continue this), large chunks of the human fleet are dead set against any alliance with the Cylons. It's not obvious that humanity as a whole will learn to live in harmony with Cylons of any stripe.

5. Prediction (5) is looking likely, but we have to wait until the end of the series to know more.

6. Prediction (6) has come at least partly true, especially with the scene in which Baltar appears to be lifted off his feet by an invisible force, but the series hasn't driven me away. The question of what sort of universe this is has been a major one throughout the series, what with visions and prophecies and characters that seem to have angelic and demonic functions. Is the BSG universe a theistic one? Are the Cylons justified in worshipping a single god? Is Colonial polytheism (by the way, has this religion ever been named?) the true religion?

You already know that I'm leaning toward a "there are only Cylons" thesis. This would account for the prophetic visions and the apparently rigid eternal recurrence of events, right down to the re-creation of modern North American language and culture 2000 years later. In the structured, rule-governed world of machines, where perfect middle knowledge is possible, predictions masquerading as prophecy make a certain amount of sense, as do all the fantastic coincidences in the series, as well as various characters' visions of the dead (or visions of the contents of each others' heads). Relentless, high-fidelity repetition is something machines can do far better than people can; humans might say that "history repeats itself," but this can't be taken literally when humans say it, because human history never repeats itself exactly, and people have obviously made progress in many areas (perhaps a subject for another post, but I'll just end up quoting Stephen Pinker on this matter).

With all that said, I admit I'm intensely curious to see whether poor Adama gets airlocked tonight, and whether Saul Tigh is really dead, as the episode preview slyly suggests.** I'm torn between rooting for the human race (which may not even exist if everyone really is a Cylon) and hoping that Ronald Moore takes the series to a very dark and gloomy conclusion. That conclusion seems more and more likely: the series has featured plenty of deus talk, but no deus ex machina-- no miracle planet stocked with herd animals and resplendent with arable land. With 39,000 humans left, no stone un-nuked, no animals to speak of, and nothing but processed algae for food, it's unlikely that humanity can be fruitful and multiply. At this point in the series, the only option humanity has left is to wink out. Watching humanity's inexorable slide toward nonexistence makes for gripping TV: the series evokes a great deal of morbid curiosity, which has to be one of the weirdest ways in which to attract an audience.*** In that respect, Prediction (6) was wrong, because I'm still hooked.

*Remember "Star Trek: First Contact"? The Enterprise follows the Borg sphere as it travels backward in time; while stuck inside the Borg sphere's chrono-energy contrail, the Enterprise crew has a brief, nightmare vision of an alternate Earth that is 100% Borg. I was reminded of this scene when Baltar claimed that the thirteenth colony was Cylon. It bothers me, though, that he would make such a claim after such a brief survey of the planet. If Cylons are hardier than humans, could it be that human bones have deteriorated faster than Cylon ones? In fact, that whole question of Cylon biodegradability is somewhat nettlesome. If a Cylon is shot in a forest, will the forest creatures pick at the corpse?

**If Ellen Tigh truly is the fifth of the Final Five Cylons, and if she's truly dead (Saul killed her at the beginning of Season 3, as you'll recall; we haven't seen her since), and if the Significant Seven Cylons suffered no psychic distress at her passing (hell, they didn't even know they were torturing a fellow Cylon when they removed Tigh's eye)... what does it matter to the Significant Seven whether Tigh is killed?

***Then again, it's not an uncommon dramatic technique. "Lawrence of Arabia" comes to mind as a classic example: the film begins with TE Lawrence's death, then takes you through the events leading up to it. Albert Camus' The Stranger, another classic, goes rapidly downhill after Meursault shoots the Arab for no good reason. In both cases, the fun lies in watching the deathward slide.



I'm done with the onslaught of proofing-- at least for the moment. Today, I've got plenty of chores to keep me busy, and the time has come to restart transcription.

One change in the walk, when I start up again in about two months, is that I plan to leave out the part about "this is purely for transcription purposes" when I ask people whether I may record their voices. I agree with the commenters who've said that it might be easier just to upload the audio files and worry about transcription later. I'm not sure how many people will consent to having their voices put online, but I'm hoping that people who speak with conviction about religious issues will be willing to stand up publicly for what they believe-- whatever that belief might be. And if those folks don't consent to having the audio of their responses online... I'm hoping they'll at least allow an audio recording so that I can make a transcript later on.

I don't know what sort of equipment to buy to increase the audio quality of the interviews; I have a clip-on mike that works pretty well, but I think I need another one, plus some sort of splitter, so that (1) I can plug two mikes into the same recorder, and (2) both my voice and my interlocutor's will come out crisp and clear. If I happen to be interviewing a group (and the next transcript you see will be from a group interview-- the good folks at the Metanoia Peace House in Portland, Oregon), I might need some sort of omnidirectional mike... but here, we get into the question of how bulky such equipment is. Anyone have any ideas about how I can travel light, swift, and deadly?

So there we go: these are the questions preoccupying me this weekend. As always, constructive comments are welcome.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

ah, the things you learn

I had no idea that "human respect management" was a legitimate business term.

In Korea.

As far as I can tell, the term exists nowhere else.


still busy

I got two more proofing requests during the night, so I'm still busy. More when I have a moment.



For the past several hours, I've been stuck on a most alien turn of phrase:

Company X Declares "Field Management"

It's the headline for one of the magazine articles I've been proofing (I don't feel I'm at liberty to reveal the company's true name, hence "Company X"). I finally gave up and wrote BK to request the original Korean version of the article: my Google searches for the exact phrase "declare field management" (and its inflected variants: declares, declared, declaring) turned up zero hits. They also turned up far too many examples of "field management," which means a million different things depending on context.

So I got an email with the Korean original attached. In Korean, the locution in question is "X 현장경영 선언." I'm now re-tailoring the sentence to read "Company X Announces New On-site Management Strategy," which isn't an exact translation, but which makes for a clear headline. Let's break this down:

현장 = field, site, (current) location, locale, spot, scene
경영 = management, administration
선언 = declaration, proclamation, announcement

The sentence "Company X declares field management" is gibberish. The phrase "field management" is vague and therefore conveys no information. The verb "declare" further blurs things because it's an awkward word choice.

If we change this to "X announces field management," we're still speaking gibberish. "Announce" is the correct verb, because companies often announce big changes, but what follows that verb still points to nothing specific.

When you Google the exact phrase "on-site management," however, you get over 1.1 million results, which is a small hint that that phrase means something, and is probably widely understood.

But we still have a problem: the sentence "X announces on-site management" sounds unnatural in business English. Something seems to be lacking, and that's why I've taken liberties by adding "new" and "strategy." Now we've got an intelligible headline!

Company X Announces New On-site Management Strategy

It plays. And it's consistent with the article that follows it.



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

in-box is piling up

I've got a stack of proofing to do from both my jobs, so I'll be quick. To borrow Dr. Vallicella's terminology, I'm more linker than thinker for the moment.

1. Read Malcolm's discussion of chi.

2. Read Peter's post on whether determinists are evil.

3. Read Charles's insightful post on criticism.

A few remarks about "24": I'm rooting for Mr. and Mrs. Motobo, who are portrayed by two excellent actors. I fear something terrible is going to happen to one or both of them, and I also suspect that FBI chief Larry Moss is going to meet an untimely end before the day is done-- something along the lines of poor Ryan Chappelle. Also, I had to laugh when, in the most recent episode (2PM to 3PM), the Canadian Embassy-- a very familiar building to those who know DC-- was renamed "the Ritter Building." I think a lot of DC-Metro natives have had a good chuckle at how "24" plays fast and loose with DC's geography.

One last thing: avoid Red Bull, which gives you wings only in the angelic sense.


separation achieved

Dad's been gracious about how much I've been hogging his computer since I got home, and he hasn't uttered a word of complaint, but I bet he's glad I'm finally-- finally-- out of his hair.

That's right: I've set up my base of operations downstairs in my old bedroom (a.k.a. The Dungeon... seems as if I'm reliving my teens) after figuring out how to obtain wireless access to Dad's FiOS service. Many necessary programs have been downloaded, including the all-important Google Earth; I got my optical drive, uploaded MS Office and Photoshop Elements 6.0 without a glitch, downloaded East Asian fonts (they were missing from the Eee's character map), and over the course of several days, I've ferried almost all of my personal data from Dad's computer to my laptop. This itty-bitty Asus comes with 160 gigs of memory, which is, honestly, more than I know what to do with. Heck, I might start doing video interviews, since I've got Windows MovieMaker on this computer.

Now, I need to incorporate the computer into some walks to get a feel for how this is going to go-- how I'm going to work while on the road. More on that as it happens.


Monday, February 2, 2009

almost forgot

Happy Groundhog Day!

In Korea, Groundhog Day works this way: the evening before February 2, a groundhog is placed inside a closed room with a running electric fan. If the groundhog is alive in the morning, then South Korea must give North Korea $500 million in food and fuel aid.

Works like a charm, right? "Fan death" kills the groundhog every time, and South Korea never gives any aid to North Korea.

Oh, wait...


warm and fuzzy

Britain gets a taste of global warming.


Sunday, February 1, 2009


I'm glad I decided to watch the Super Bowl with my folks, because the first half ended with a one-hundred yard interception return-- a play never before seen in a Super Bowl. The guy who did it? A freakin' linebacker. You know-- the big, beefy dudes whose main purpose is to act as a moving wall. Linebackers aren't known for balletic grace or explosive speed, but James Harrison, Number 92 of the Steelers, may just have changed all that. It's not often that anything on TV moves me to shout (Dee's totally unforeseen suicide on BSG is one such moment), but I found myself shouting at 92 to go, go, go! And go 92 did. Amazing.


sports news

Superbowl Sunday! A big day for Americans, and for practically no one else. My father puts it this way: "If another country wanted to attack us, this would be the day to do it." Indeed.

But I'm not writing about football right now. Instead, I'm writing to ask whether you heard the news that a British publication called News of the World has published pictures of swimming hero Michael Phelps-- he of the eight Olympic gold medals and those goofy language-learning software commercials-- smoking a bong.

While it doesn't surprise me that a celebrity might go off the rails, I do have to wonder how it is that Phelps, who seemed like a rather balanced and sensible individual, would be stupid enough to engage in an activity so detrimental to his public image.

I'll be honest, here: I don't particularly care how Phelps handles his personal life, as long as he's clean when he's competing. I'm not a young athletic hopeful in need of inspiration; I don't have any ideals that will be smashed by this revelation of Phelps's "darker" side. As far as I'm concerned, I have no need to forgive Phelps because there's nothing to forgive. Smoking pot? Come on-- that's nothing. Truth be told, I'm leaning toward the school of thought that says we should lower the drinking age to 18 and legalize certain drugs.

But I still think Phelps should have known better-- if not for moral reasons, then at least for practical reasons. I can already see the fallout from this: Phelps will be barred from competition, he'll lose all those lucrative commercial deals, and worst of all, Mark Spitz is going to have the last laugh.