Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Night's All Right For Blogging

This is an experiment. Every day I have a pile of ideas to write about. My backlog of notes stretch back for years. Almost every day I intend to write, but don't. So today I'm going to start up this text file, add arbitrary bits to it throughout the day as the urge strikes, and post it late tonight. It may be a lot, or very little indeed. We'll see how it goes.

I've been filesharing since long before filesharing was a thing. It started with copying programs on cassette for my Commodore Vic 20. Then the Commodore 64, with its 1541 disc drive and a program called Fast Hack 'Em (itself copied, of course). Weird side note: I once got a new bank card with the randomly assigned PIN of 1541. I didn't change it, because it was so easy to remember. Every time I used that card, I just had to visualize putting it into a Commodore disc drive.

A little later, when my friends and I started getting seriously into music, we habitually took turns buying albums (cassettes at this point). Only one of us would buy any given album, then the others would run off copies.

Around 1986, we had just started getting into Genesis. We only knew the singles from Invisible Touch that got radio play and an hour's worth of videos that were on a two-part MuchMusic Spotlight, which I still have it on a VHS tape somewhere. I remember (future-)Pastor Derek and I deliberating over who would buy which of their albums. I picked Abacab first because it included Keep It Dark. I don't remember which one he got - I think it was Duke or A Trick Of The Tail. Either way, he got the better of that arrangement.

I also remember that no one wanted to buy Trespass. We had never heard of any of the songs on it, and there were only six tracks, so it had to be really short and therefore a ripoff, right?

We would learn.

Given this well-established propensity to piracy, I was all over Napster when it came along. I still have the issue of Maximum PC that included the client software on a bundled CD-ROM. Over the years, I went through many other alternatives. Usenet, BearShare, Kazaa, DC++, Shareaza, WinMX, and many others whose names I have forgotten have come and gone.

Nowadays, of course, torrents are the way to go. I used uTorrent when on Windows, and have settled on KTorrent here in Linuxland.

I've always practiced hit-and-run strategies for any files that a copyright holder might object to having passed around. That is to say, any commercially available material. My default settings in KTorrent are to stop seeding as soon as my download completes. Impolite, perhaps, but it's kept me out of court thus far.

When I have something that I can safely leave seeding, though, I happily do so. Free open source software, concert recordings (usually safe to share, although not always), and anything with explicit permission to distribute stays seeded. I leave my torrent software running most of the time, and I've managed to rack up some good share ratios. Here's what I'm currently seeding, with ratios as of this writing:

Ubuntu Studio 13.04                41.32
World English Audio Bible       36.01
AVLinux 6.01b                           17.35
AVLinux 6.0                                17.23
Ubuntu Studio 12.10                10.42
LibreOffice 3.6.4 installer        1.83
Deep Purple 2012 concert        0.54
LibreOffice 3.6.4 Help files      0.41
Paul McCartney 2013 concert   0.28

(Sorry the numbers don't line up all pretty. I could insert a table or play with the spacing, but that sounds like more work than not doing either of those.)

I'm especially impressed that the newer version of AVLinux moved ahead of the old version so quickly. I've been seeding version 6.0 for over 59 days (actual seeding time only), but 6.0b for only 13 days. I'll probably stop seeding the old versions of AVLinux and Ubuntu Studio pretty soon, if only to free up some hard drive space, since all the demand is obviously for the newer versions. I'm also pleased with the demand for the audio Bible, although of course I'd like it to be way out in first place.

Volumes have been written about Kermit Gosnell, with much wringing of hands from the pro-abortion side, alternatively claiming that he did nothing wrong or that he is an aberration, a stain on the fine profession of abortionist.

The simple truth about Gosnell is that he's nothing unusual. The babies he killed wound up no more dead than those killed by any smiling ghoul in a clean gown, working in a well-lit facility to terminate the pregnancies of women who don't even look pregnant yet.

The stage of gestation is not the issue, the killing is. The actions of every abortionist are as vile as those of Gosnell, and deserve the same condemnation.

My bit about my new saw includes one joke that pleases me far more than it should. I know it's poor form to laugh at your own jokes, but if I don't, who will?

Anyway, there's one joke in there that seems like an easy, stupid pun but which actually works on a whole other level. Which is still a stupid pun, but one that generally gets missed. I've gotten eye rolls from people around me when I pointed it out, which makes it no less entertaining to me.

I'm glad Dexter is wrapping up. I've had a complicated relationship with this show. I like the premise, and I like Michael C. Hall's acting, so I figured it was worth a shot. About a year ago I borrowed the first two seasons from a friend, and... obtained... the rest of the seasons (remember my first big topic today?).

Season 1 was awful. Around the time that Dexter found the doll parts in his freezer, I turned to my wife and said, "The killer's going to turn out to be somebody from his past that he doesn't know about. If it's his long-lost brother, I'm out."

A few episodes later, the killer was revealed as Dexter's long-lost brother, and I was out.

Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.

If only there were some way to go back up and insert that warning earlier. Ah, well, perhaps someday such technology will be within reach of the common man.

Anyway, I gave up. My wife persevered. She assured me that it got better after season 1, and I really enjoy Jimmy Smits's acting (he's why I started watching my all-time favourite show, NYPD Blue), so I decided to give it another chance, at least until Smits did his bit.

The writing still varied widely, but was good enough to keep me in. Barely. I loved the John Lithgow and Colin Hanks / Edward James Olmos seasons (the Hanks / Olmos twist is the only one in the entire series that I didn't see coming). However, I despise the "long lost relative" trope, and they've gone to that well twice.

I've long gotten the impression that Dexter has a senior writer or two with a lot of clout but no fresh ideas. They churn out the hackwork, and generally drag the show down to the lowest common denominator. However, the writing staff also includes at least one or two people with good ideas but little influence. They manage to slip some quality material past the guards here and there, but mostly get quashed. If those fresher voices had been louder,  the show could have been great.

They're three episodes into the final season, and I'm glad it's ending. I want to ride the show out to the end at this point, but I wish they were only doing six episodes. Everyone involved seems to be phoning it in this year.

This season seems like a Greatest Hits compilation, only in Dexter's case they're revisiting the worst aspects of the series. Deb being whiny, ineffectual, and so annoying that I spend every episode hoping someone - anyone - will kill her? Check. A serial killer expert shows up and makes Dexter nervous? Check. New character has extensive but never-before-hinted-at ties to Dexter's past? Check. Painfully bad dialogue, especially in Hall's narration? Check. Misuse of technical terminology by characters who are supposed to be experts and therefore know better (there's a difference between "psychopath" and "sociopath", and every time Vogel opens her mouth she proves she doesn't know it)? Check, Check, a thousand times Check.

Even the technical aspects of the show are getting lazy. Watch any scene with dialogue between two characters. Every time the camera angle switches, say from a front-angle two-shot to a shot over a character's shoulder, the actors' head positions jerk around wildly. They go from looking straight at one another to one looking down to either or both staring off into the distance with each new shot. Nobody involved could be bothered with little details like continuity between shots.

I can't imagine Bryan Cranston tolerating Breaking Bad sliding off a cliff this badly.

All dramatic writing is about getting from Point A to Point B. With Dexter, I often hate Point B (long lost relatives ahoy!), but how they get there can be interesting. On The Walking Dead, Point A and Point B are consistently good, but how they get there can be lazy. Case in point - everyone disagreeing with Dale about whether to kill a prisoner, even though several of the characters would clearly have sided with him. However, they needed to alienate Dale from everyone to make his death later in the episode all the more tear-jerking ("I never got to tell him... sniff..."). The characters get moved around like pieces on a chess board, characterization to this point be hanged.

Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.

The Walking Dead has gotten better on this score. I think the writers may have even realized their mistake. Glenn gave an out-of-nowhere speech in a later episode about how Dale had been right and he shouldn't have abandoned him like that. Well, yeah, Glenn, and you wouldn't have if your writers had been more conscientious.

For the ultimate in good writing, though, nothing beats Breaking Bad. Point A and Point B are both terrific, and how they get there is always compelling and unpredictable. I'm not glad that Breaking Bad is ending, but I am looking forward very much to seeing how they do it.

Helen Thomas, the terrorist-sympathizing former journalist, has passed away. The CNN Breaking News e-mail bulletin says, "Thomas retired in 2010 after she made controversial comments regarding Jewish people."

I guess you could say that. She accidentally let her anti-Semitism show in front of the camera, and "retired" a week later. If a public figure to the right of Mao had made those kinds of statements, they'd still be reviled and propped up as an example of the "racism of the right". But since Thomas was a credentialed (literally) leftist, it's a dog-bites-man story and the media lets one of their own "retire with dignity".

I've been listening to the new, complete audiobook version of World War Z by Max Brooks. It's pretty good, and the voice cast is top-notch. It probably works better as an audiobook than as a novel. One of my main criticisms is that the dialogue doesn't really offer different "voices" to each character, with little to distinguish them in terms of vocabulary or speaking style. Having different actors play each character ameliorates that problem, but doesn't solve it completely.

I will one day watch the movie, which by all accounts I've been able to take seriously appears to be a soulless Hollywoodized disaster, just out of geeky completionism. I certainly won't pay ten bucks to watch it in a big dark room with noisy texting strangers. I'll wait until the DVD rip hits the torrent sites is released and available at my local Blockbuster store.


I think they missed a bet with the World War Z adaptation. It should never have been a movie. It should have been a TV series. The self-contained episodic nature of the book would have made for a great series. Each episode could have had the interviewer going to speak to another survivor, switching to their story told in flashback as they spoke. Of course, you could have the interviewer's support staff, UN personnel, etc., as recurring characters. It would essentially be an anthology series with a stable framework. Although anthology series are a tough sell to an audience these days, I think the zombie / survival horror fanbase would be large enough to get the show off the ground.

Alas, what could have been.

I haven't finished the audiobook yet. If Brooks ever reveals what happened in North Korea, don't tell me. Everybody hates spoilers, right?


A woman in the U.S. found out that her unborn baby has down syndrome. Unwilling to raise the child (for the record, I have no problem whatsoever with her making this decision - giving a child up for adoption is always an option), she put the word out: if anyone would adopt the baby, they could have him or her. (I try to avoid referring to unborn children as "it", which concedes important linguistic ground to those who would deny the child's humanity.) If no prospective adoptive parents stepped up, she would have an abortion.

The plea went online, and over a thousand people volunteered.

I've frequently railed on the cognitive dissonance and refusal to accept facts that are inherent in the pro-abortion position. Can even this case make them finally pack in the ludicrous "who's going to raise all the unwanted babies" argument? Probably not, but I can hope and pray.

Parents are available for unwanted children. I have friends who waited years for adoption. We're a long, long way from running out of loving homes for any child who makes it through the gauntlet that the world offers those with doubts about having a baby.

There are no unwanted children. There are just a lot of people who project their own unwillingness to be a loving parent onto others.

I was almost in an adoption situation myself several years ago. My wife heard a woman say that she just found out she was pregnant, and wasn't happy about it. She wasn't seriously considering abortion, but was hesitant to raise the child herself and was musing about trying to find adoptive parents. My wife told me that she very nearly volunteered on the spot. She wasn't 100% sure I would agree, but knew that it was a pretty safe bet. She was right. I assured her that if she's ever in a situation like that again, she has carte blanche.

The pregnant woman wound up keeping the baby and raising her herself. They live in our neighbourhood, and that no-longer-baby goes to school with my son. Everything turned out OK, as it usually does.

There is no shortage of homes for "unwanted" children, at least in North American society.  I can't speak for the rest of the world, but last I heard international adoption was a thing that people do. Anyone who clings to the "all the unwanted children" argument is demonstrating that they're too ignorant (willingly or unwillingly) to take seriously in a discussion of life-and-death issues.

"You can't argue with results" is just a prettier way of saying "the ends justify the means."

"To each his own", depending on context, is usually just a prettier way of saying "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

I recently saw this listing on a classified ad site. I've touched up the grammar and punctuation, which were atrocious, partly because I couldn't stand them and partly to make tracing the post to its source (not the point) less likely:
$290.00 Crib Voucher for sale! You pick out the crib, and I'll buy it at the store for you (the voucher has my name on it). Reason for selling: I have no space for the crib at the moment. Selling it for $225 (brand new).
I can't come up with any theory for this that doesn't involve words to the effect of "The kid can sleep in a cardboard box. Mommy needs crack money!"

Can anybody else?

This has gone better than I had expected. I think I'll stop now.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some of my PC Gamer magazine collection, rotated to maximize the nerdiness.