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Links and Musings26 Oct 2008

From CNN.com: “Palin’s ‘going rogue,’ McCain aide says”.

Apparently there are complaints from within the McCain camp that Sarah Palin is trying to position herself for a 2012 run at the presidency. Unfortunately for McCain, this means she’s been going “off message”, promoting a “Palin/Joe the Plumber ‘12” ticket at the expense of “McCain/Palin ‘08”. I know she isn’t the first VP candidate to do this kind of thing, but given how much of a liability she’s turned out to be for the McCain campaign already, it’s surprising she’d actively try to compound things. I wonder if McCain is still happy with his choice of running mate…

There’s an article in the New Yorker called The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin, and it lets the air out of the popular notion that McCain found an outsider-governor to pluck out of obscurity and place on the national stage. It seems Sarah Palin has been working on getting noticed by conservatives in Washington for some time. This puts her in a new light, but doesn’t change the fact that she’s not remotely qualified for the presidency. I can’t imagine she’d manage to win the nomination in 2012, and if she did, I can’t imagine Obama wouldn’t wipe the floor with her in the general election, unless his first term ends up being a disaster. But the prospect of Mrs. Palin “sticking around” past this November if McCain loses is going to take some getting used to.

Links and Musings and Software09 Sep 2008

Somebody recently put me on to a neat monospaced font called Inconsolata. A monospaced font is one where each letter takes up the same amount of horizontal space (meaning that ‘l’ is the same width as ‘w’), and programmers love them because they make it easier to read source code. I’m not entirely sure why this is, beyond the obvious reason that it makes formatted text line up cleanly. What I do know is that when I started using Inconsolata in my code editors I felt… well… suddenly happier.

Looking at the screen became easier on the eyes, and the code seemed to flow more effortlessly out of my fingers. Amazing what a font can do for you. If you, like me, are in the habit of doing a bit of haxoring, go download this font and give it a try.

Links18 May 2008

This seems quintessentially American:

2 Colorado men exchange Taser shots over parked van

I want to know what happened afterwards. I can picture the two frazzled combatants getting up, dusting themselves off, and coming face to face with the question: “now what?”. Maybe they agreed to disagree and walked away.

Links and Software05 Dec 2007

XKCD, a wonderfully odd webcomic, features my favorite programming language today.

Eventually one returns to earth and writes programs in other languages, whereupon one discovers he has somehow broken his age-old habit of ending every line with a semicolon (and perhaps broken a build at the same time…).

Links and Music05 Nov 2007

(With apologies to François Girard and Don McKellar. Trivia: “the room” which is always being rented to a different roommate in McKellar’s classic series “Twitch City” has a “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” poster on the wall.)

I’ve been running into Glenn Gould more than usual lately (well, not the man himself, obviously). The Museum of Civilization, which I visited on Thanksgiving weekend, has a Gould exhibit running currently, in honor of the “Year of Glenn Gould“. Likewise, CBC has been playing more Gould-related programming than usual, including, I kid you not, Saturday’s episode of Fuse featuring five artists covering Petula Clark, “Gould’s favorite popular singer”. It was… odd.

Gould, was of course, famous for playing the Goldberg Variations (care of google video), but he also did a lot of work for the CBC is a broadcaster. His wonderfully odd tribute to/analysis of Petual Clark falls into the latter category, and you can hear it here (along with two of his other CBC programs).

I’m dying to hear “The Idea of North”, his “contrapuntal” radio documentary about the Canadian arctic, but no googling has turned it up.

Links and Musings24 Oct 2007

The way this video neatly sums up the climate change dilemma is not in any way earth shattering or novel. What is annoying, then, is that I haven’t heard any of the politicians and activists, not even Al Gore or Stéphane “My dog’s name is Kyoto” Dion, put it in these terms.

Their message is always dramatic: “We must save the earth or meet our doom!”. They end up undermining themselves by sounding shrill, and what should be a no-brainer becomes an intractable “controversy”. They’d be much more persuasive if they dropped the rhetoric and laid it out calmly.

At the end, he kind of channels JFK, if JFK had been a science teacher challenging us to save the Earth instead of a president challenging us to send men to the moon. And if JFK wore a SportsRacer t-shirt…

Links26 Sep 2007

This has been floating around the ‘net for a little while so maybe you’ve already seen it, but if not, I encourage you to watch it. Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Randy Pausch, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, gives his “last lecture”, titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. It’s a moving lecture, and it’s also really good advice.

Google video version.

Links and Musings18 Jun 2007

(My title is also an indirect reference to Doctor Who. If you are one of those people who has a TV, I alert you to the fact that Doctor Who series 3 is starting on CBC this week.)

Perhaps you lived with me in university. If so, you were no doubt subjected to my Dan Bern obsession. Bern is kind of a younger Bob Dylan, complete with an abrasive voice and well-crafted idiosyncratic lyrics. I’ve been a fan since I heard his song “New American Language” on the radio a few years ago. I lately realized that for someone who styles himself a rabid Dan Bern fanatic, I haven’t really been keeping up with his music, so I picked up his newest album “Breathe”. It’s a little different than his earlier stuff, a bit less raw, a bit more understated, but still rooted in his trademark lyrical insight.

The trouble with Dan Bern is that he wrote his best song years ago: New American Language. It’s a meandering stream-of-consciousness soliloquy on the nature of Love and the Free World (but mostly about love), hitting subjects as diverse as Martin Luther King Jr. (the song’s refrain is “I have a dream… of a new American Language / One with a little bit more Spanish”) to the Chicago Bulls. He has a lot of other songs that I like, but none of them touch “New American Language” on power and sheer scope.

The title track of “Breathe” finally approaches “New American Language”. In general, Bern express “pessimism about the present but optimism for the future” very well (it’s a key component of “Language”) and “Breathe” does the same trick. It’s another one of his “Dan talks to God or claims to be the messiah” songs (see: “Jesus’s house” and “Jerusalem”, among others), falling into the latter category. Sample lyrics:

Now with just a couple Snickers and some corn meal mush
I fed six thousand at a time
I spoke in St. Louie, ya gotta play St. Louie
St. Louie, it’s a rule of some kind
The blind came to me and I made ‘em see
Got the deaf diggin’ hi-fidelity
Card tricks, I could do card tricks you wouldn’t believe

I still think “New American Language” is his best song, but “Breathe” reaches in my ear and pushes some of the same buttons. I get goosebumps in the last minute of the song, exactly like I do listening to his earlier masterpiece.

Presently, you can an mp3 of “Breath” from his website: click on “News” and scroll down a little.

Links17 May 2007

Ug….

Links and Musings12 Apr 2007

This fascinating article concludes that “context matters”, but I think there is a larger point to be made about education.

“Context” is really someone else’s valuation. If you hear a violinist in a concert hall, it is because someone decided he is worth booking. If you find a painting in the trash, it is because someone decided it is rubbish.

My supervisor would say that an essential part of education is developing taste, so that you need not rely on judgements of others and can decide the merits of a thing for yourself. If you have taste in music, you aren’t fooled by the context, and don’t walk obliviously past Joshua Bell busking in the subway.

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