Today's YouTube Search: "tahrir Jazeera"

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NaNoWriMo Defibrillator

Alan, the protagonist for my novel A Rain of Dust, is modeled on Arkady Renko from Martin Cruz Smith's awesome Gorky Park books. I was stuck hard on the writing, until I let Alan call Major Pribluda, one of the characters from Gorky Park for a bracing picker-upper. It worked--there's a sprint in this phone call which eluded me in RL, and I went on to add another thousand words in the hour after I wrote this:

He looked at the progress bar in its agonizing crawl across the screen, and realized that all this database work was just slowing dow the novel. Fuck this too.
On the drive back north he used the hands-free for his cell phone.
"Misha, pick up the phone if you're in. I need a favor."
Nothing. He tried again.
"Major, are you there?"
"Renko?"
"No, but I fucking well should be. THis is ALan, from Rain of Dust. I'm stuck hard."
Pribluda was amazed. "And you want my help?"
"I need to know how a proper protagonist would handle this. I have found some people who are faking things in a government database, but I don't know why."
"This is your idea of a problem?"
"The integrity of the data in the database is my concern. I validate things in it, and I found something very strange. No sooner did I reach out to try to validate the existence of one of the supposed persons recorded in the system than I got thrashed to within an inch of my life. It was awful--I didn't lay a finger on whoever did it."
"You almost get killed and you have no clue who almost killed you. Are you sure this isn't Renko?"
"Why are you asking all the questions? You're not very helpful."
"Look. Nobody cares about what is or is not recoerded s some databse. What yo need to do is continually interact with other characters. Even in GOrky Park when Ranko muct look at beetles cleaning th skull of the Asanova woman, most of his own observatins were shown to us through dialogue, then merely confimed, or characterized, if you will, by ARkady's runing thoughts.
If you just sit n front of a computer all daym then what do you ecpst people to0 thkin about your job, or the story you are in,m for that mater?
Nobody wants to read page after page of you doiung something that even if I did understand it would bore me to tears, and guess what--I don;t understand it.
I am not saying that there';s no hoope for the story, but you are going to have to work much, much harder at getting some readerr interest going. Look at how quickly thiwe dialogue is going. If you cannot sustain writing like this,m then you yourself are probably not too excited about it.
Christ, you can add the puncttuation later. If wevwen you canot figure out what you wrote (assuming the tyops are not too terribly bad), then guess what, it needs to bere-written.
You are just going to ahev to let go and lt it go. There will be plenty of opotrtunities to ediut, and rewrite later.
Your problem is not that your problem is unintersting, although that may eventually become th case. The problem is that it is not interesting YET becayse of the glacial pace you are taking. You are too worried about leaving smething for the finale, but at the expense of dragging the first two nparts out., Guess wehat, nobody is going to mae it that far, because this book will wind up across more rooms than in them, if you know what I mean.
SO get the fuck to work, and quickly. Get on the goddamned plane to Japan. He;;, even SMith took a break from the Renko books, and did December 6th. The problem with that, of course, was that to Smith, every protagonist is Renko."
'Yeah, well, the battery's dying on this phone, sun's going down, got a plane to catch. Thank you."
"Now I know it's not Renko. Just the same. Don't call again."
###
Alan clapped the hne shut and hauled the car off the interstate down a short steep ramp with a light at the bottom. Well, he was just going to have to honor that red light in passing, as he cornered right around a bewildered-looking family of four.
He still wasn;t sure of the tickets claimed by the Atanasio group were real, but he had an address, some phone numbers, and a company name in Tokyo. Everything he needed, he could buy along the way.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Welcome to Kabul

Below, I quote at length a passage from an outstanding chapter by Lester W. Grau, author of "The Bear Went Over the Mountain". If you want to know what's wrong with Afghanistan, it's not the poppies, It's not the AMericans, and it's not Islam. It's the Soviets.

Welcome to Kabul
Kabul is an ancient city that Alexander the Great passed through in 330 B.C. while enroute to India.[8] The largest city in Afghanistan, it had a population of 435,202 in 1969.[9] Three major mountains push through the city in various directions, and the Kabul river cuts the city in half. Like other Central Asian cities, Kabul’s center is composed of ancient adobe buildings set in a rabbit-warren of narrow streets and narrower passages. This tight, teeming bazaar is divided into separate sections where large groups of specialists live in an Eastern version of the medieval guild. Leather workers, jewelers, brass workers, and carpet merchants all have their own time-honored section of the bazaar for production and sales. Individual artisans and factories also produce items for sale in the town bazaars and for export. In 1979, the government officials normally lived in the “new city” where the ministries, foreign embassies, hotels, restaurants and cafes are located. The “new city” is generally north and southwest of the center. The “microrayon” is a region in the northeast of the city consisting of Soviet-style prefabricated buildings that were produced in a Soviet-constructed factory. At the time of the invasion, these multi-storied concrete buildings pierced the skyline, and new restaurants, stores, supermarkets and garages catered to the foreign colony and the growing Afghan middle class. The city was electrified, although power was unstable and problematic. Running water was not potable, although the Japanese were constructing such a system for Kabul. Modern plumbing was confined to the new sections of the city.[10] By regional standards, Kabul was a liberal and open city where women in cosmopolitan mini-skirts contrasted with those completely covered and veiled, and discotheques blared Western and Eastern music into the early hours.

On the eve of the Soviet invasion, it was winter in Afghanistan, and the snow was belt-deep in parts of the capital. Far to the north, at 0700 on 25 December 1979, two Soviet pontoon bridge regiments began guiding their floating bridges into position on the Amu Darya River in the vicinity of Termez, a Soviet city on the Afghan border. Meanwhile, the 40th Army commander, General Lieutenant Yuri Vladimirovich Tukharinov, met with the Chief of Operations of the DRA General Staff, General Baba Jan, in Kunduz, Afghanistan to coordinate actions in the deployment area.

By noon, the Soviet forces had received their orders signed by the Soviet Minister of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitri Fedorovich Ustinov. These orders directed that the 40th Army and Soviet Air Force planes would begin crossing the borders of the DRA at 1500 (Moscow time) on 25 December. The Soviet forces began their incursion precisely at the established time. The scouts and air-assault battalion of Captain L. V. Khabarov were the first to cross. They were tasked with seizing the Salang pass, a crucial choke point on the road to Kabul (twelve Soviet scouts would die in ambush at the pass). The remainder of the 108th Motorized Rifle Division followed the troops across the pontoon bridges.

Simultaneously, Soviet Military Transport Aviation aircraft crossed the border carrying elements of the 103rd Airborne Division (commanded by General Major I. F. Ryabchenko) and the 345th Separate Parachute Regiment to airfields in the capital and nearby Bagram. It took a total of 343 flights and 47 hours to transport the paratroopers and their vehicles and gear. The first aircraft touched down at 1615 on 25 December and the last touched down at 1430 on the 27th. General Colonel I. D. Gaydaenko directed the military air transport operation. The effort did not occur without casualties. At 1933 on the 25th, an IL-76 piloted by Captain V.V. Golovchin crashed into a mountain and burned during its approach landing. All thirty-seven paratroopers and seven crew members were killed.

On the 25th, the chief Soviet advisers to the Afghan military met in Kabul. They were ordered to prevent any Afghan units, which were opposed to the Soviet presence, from approaching Kabul. Those military advisers and technicians who worked with the DRA air defense forces were directed to prevent actions against the air movement of the paratroopers by taking control of all the air defense systems and their ammunition storage bunkers. The advisers temporarily disabled some air defense systems by removing the sights or physically locking them. Consequently, the Soviet air armada flew into Afghanistan unopposed.[11]

Read the whole thing at
Most Americans cannot explain this, but they know it in their bones. If the Constitution is not the supreme law of the land, then nothing is, and we refuse to devolve into a mob, which is where we were headed under the feckless bungling of the last two years.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stunner: Bill Maher Not Wrong For Once

Bill Maher Afraid Mohammeds, Islam Taking Over Western World | Mediaite: "I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?"

How is it that I agree with Bill Maher on anything?

I am not anti-Islam.
I am not pro-Islam.

I have friends who are Muslim and I wish harm upon no Muslim simply for his religion.

I am a big fan of western civilization, which, for all its warts, is pretty damned good.

The only problem I have with a live-and-let-live agreement is where basic human rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are infringed. We have made great progress in securing these rights for an ever-increasing percentage of people in the western world, and I feel that we do not have the right to sit idly by and enjoy these rights while others are denied them. These days, the deepest pit of despair, with the special exceptions of North Korea and perhaps Burma, is found in the great swath of the world most recently conquered into Islam.

I feel that an answer will come from within Islam and its cultures, as it has from within Judeo-Christianity and its cultures. Meanwhile, the two most urgent tasks are to defend western civilization and to liberate those most fantastically oppressed by the tyrants and bigots which are to be found in any society.

For this reason I volunteered to go to Afghanistan, and I will go again.

I see a world where we can all live in peace, but it will be along time in coming. Meanwhile, there is work to do.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Careful With That Axe, Cee-Lo Green



What is Cee-Lo Green playing at?  Perhaps the smart kids are already all over this, but Cee-Lo Green's fantastic single has a troublesome title.  The song is called Fuck You, and it is worth every bit of the vulgarity.  Great song, great lyrics, great video, so get past the F-bomb.  It Happens.  The thing is huge.  I challenge you to watch the original "not so clean" version and not love it:



Now he has come out with a "clean" version, below, which is poorly done.  It is obviously poorly done.  It is obviously intentionally poorly done.  Don't take my word for it; watch the bleeping video:



So is this just a petulant Cee-Lo acceding to a record company demand?  I doubt it.  He would just as likely tell them to go forget themselves.  When I saw the original version, in full frontal crudity, I instantly adored it, and at the same time wondered if Cee-Lo were mounting a challenge to speech laws, in the spirit of George Carlin and his seven words routine.  After all, a song that catchy doesn't get that way by accident--it was designed as an atomic weapon in the pop charts arms race, and dropped with enough talent and style to end a war before it begins.  

The language in the original is no accident either.  In recommending the video a month or so ago, I noted that the language was justified, even necessary for the execution of this particular effort.  You may not like Eminem, but I do, and he has a point when he raps:

"Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his raps to sell his records
well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!"


Just try to pull that off without swearing.


Likewise, one of my favorite jokes simply does not work without dropping a juicy F-bomb right at the end.  It starts, "Two old retired racehorses are out walking out in a field..."  If you want to convey a certain level of surprise, jaw-droppedness, gob-smackedness, then having the speaker revert to gutter language is a good way to do it.  It shows that the speaker has been shocked right out of his manners.  Obviously, it should be for emphasis, even out of place a bit, in order to have impact.  Otherwise it is mere vulgarity, and a crass laziness on the part of the writer, or singer, or comedian; even a contempt for the audience.


Eminem uses vulgarity as a symbol of defiance--he parodies himself as he parodies his whole genre.  George Carlin used it in stand-up in a crisp, almost professorial tone, after a great deal of explanation about language in media and discourse.  Cee-Lo has a pleasant gospel-feeling bubble-gum toe-tapper with an old sailor's vocabulary. An old sailor who needs a shower.


Cee-Lo has crafted a pop chart monster, a song with instrumentation from a local church, a story straight from every single American's heart, and a bassline that reaches out to thump you and the horse you rode in on. The lyrics themselves, however, are dead on arrival in the pop charts.  Not-gunna-happen, wouldn't-be-prudent, read-my-lips, NO.  Can't play it on the air without hovering over the bleep button, or scrambling parts of the track.

And I suspect that this is the point Cee-Lo is making.  He releases the single on YouTube, with a link showing where the album can be pre-ordered, when it becomes available for pre-order.  So there's the business rationale.  Meanwhile, the Cee-Lo Green-consuming audience on YouTube is jumping to their feet and belting out the chorus with a bawdy abandon, upsetting their co-workers (or, uh, so I'm told); building an expectation.


Then he drops the "clean" version, with enough re-filmed and re-voiced parts to demonstrate that it is authentic, not some YouTube photoshop re-hash done by a fussy fan.  But having established the fact that it is indeed Green who has done the clean version, he then poorly matches some of the singing, poorly fits in what could easily have been done better, and unless I am struck by a particularly consistent video hiccup, even has the video stop as if buffering while to music plays on.


I think he is making a point about authenticity in art, about artistic freedom (license, even) and editorial control.  He has demonstrated in a more than one way, the difference between what the artist intended and what the industry will allow.  The video hang, the odd timing, and the obvious mismatch (at time) between audio and video--all of these are allegories in one form of quality for another.

"Fuck you" is a Subject-Verb-Object sentence with and implied subject of "I", so the whole thing is an imperative.  Variations on the verb do not change the nature of the subject and the object.  The two objects are "you" and sometimes "her".  It's easy enough to fir "her" into a narrative, but then who is "you"?  This is the same "you" in "I see you driving 'round town with the girl I loveIf "Fuck You" is a protest song, then is the nominal object (the girl who broke his heart) art itself, and the nominal direct object, the "you" in "Fuck you" to whom the song is actually sung, not a rich boy who stole his girl, but the music industry which used to have more control over Cee-Lo's art than he liked?  Well, it would certainly clear up one of the mysteries in the lyrics, which is why the singer focuses on the guy who stole his girl, rather than the girl herself.


Because in this case, his beloved is not a thinking actor, but a thing of beauty without freewill, the art itself.


So the question is this: if Cee-Lo Green has been prevented from executing his art as he sees it, but now has the power to push back against the industry, and has reached great success with his new girl, so to speak, where does that leave the girl from the first video? 

I think Cee-Lo has a trip back to that diner in his future.  Expect a mix of very thoughtful and very raw work in the near future.  More of this, perhaps:



Now ain't that some shit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

SQL, Active Directory, and lastLogonTimestamp

There's a fair bit of advice out there about converting the miserable integer8 (ANSI) date format into something you can use, but for some reason, none of it quite works for me.

I have been using MS SQL SERVER 2005, which may or may not be a specific part of the problem.

ANSI dates begin 1/1/1601, while Microsoft dates have, until recently, begun 1/1/1900.  Also, I believe MS dates are/were measured in millisecond, but I'm not sure.  I do know that the ANSI timestamp is represented in units of 100 nanoseconds since 1/1/1601, which is where we start.

If you grab the lastLogonTimestamp from Active Directory (say, by doing a csvde -m -f output.csv and the using the Jet.4.0 connector to represent the directory as a linked server's database and the csv file as a table...), you are presented with a number like 1.28nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnE+17, which is awful.

There's a formula aout there which tells you to divide the bignum by 60, then by 100000000, then by 1440, and that's all good, but the magic number there is divide by 864,000,000,000.  This will convert 100-nanosecond slices into the number of days passed since 1/1/1601 (with the decimal portion as usual representing the fractional part of a day, so that dd.75 means 6 in the evening on day dd), and I encourage you to work through the math yourself to prove it.

But at this point, it is just a big floating-point number, and will display as such.  The problem comes in when you feed that number into a function such as CONVERT(), and try to get a datetime representation.  It says that somebody's last logon was in about the year 2309, which is not likely to be true.  This is where all the available guidance abandoned me, which is why I suspect that perhaps SQL SERVER 2005 does it a little differently--if it has borrowed Excel date functions from the 32-bit library, or something; I have no idea.

On a hunch I took the DATEDIFF() between 1/1/1900 and 1/1/1601, which yields 109,207.  This is the number of days between those dates.  I then subtracted that amount from the big float which purports to be a last logon time, and Voila!  The result was yesterday's logon (from a midnight data pull).

So for some reason, even when I brought the lastLogonTimestamp over in the fashion recommended by all of the guidance I could find, I wound up with my dates being interpreted as belonging to the wrong epoch.

Subtracting 109,207 (days) from a 1/1/1900-based date converts it to a 1/1/1601-based date.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Medical Civil Disobedience

Doctor Cassell's notice to customers. [Fair Use Claimed. Original caption and credits: "Sign at the office door of Dr. Jack Cassell, a Mount Dora urologist. (Photo by Deirdre Lewis / April 1, 2010)"]

As reported in the Orlando Sentinel: Mount Dora doctor tells Obama supporters: Go elsewhere

I admit that I'm torn as to whether this is acceptable for a doctor, as opposed to a different sort of business.  After all, I think that we are all fairly opposed to seeing a notice on the door of a medical provider telling you that you will be seen based on your politics.

In the end, however, I find it acceptable.  Here's why:

The doctor is committed to providing the best care that he can to his patients. If the doctor is convinced that Obamacare is going to reduce the care he can provide to all of his patients anyway, then is he not oath-bound to work against it?

So while I think that in general it is wrong, I also think that it is healthy for the nation to have this sort of thing happen a few times. I view it as a form of civil disobedience.  Blocking traffic and impeding others as they go about their business is wrong in general, but in the aggregate, for a good cause, it is of benefit to us all.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Drydock 1, Yokosuka

Keeping your bottom dry since 1871


Following text peeled shamelessly from Wikipedia:

In 1866, the Tokugawa shogunate government established the Yokosuka Seisakusho, a military arsenal and naval base, with the help of foreign engineers, including the French naval architect LĂ©once Verny. The new facility was intended to produce modern, western-style warships and equipment for the Tokugawa navy. The construction of the arsenal was an important first step for the modernization of Japan's industry. Modern buildings, an aqueduct, foundry, brick factories, technical schools to train Japanese technicians were established.

After the Boshin War and the Meiji Restoration, the new Meiji government took over control of the facility in 1871, renaming it the Yokosuka Zosenjo (Yokosuka Shipyards). The first dry dock was opened in 1871, and is still in operation today. Japan's first domestically produced warship, Saiki, was completed the same year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

While I Was Away

...that should be the title of my memoir.