Hour of the Wolf

Sleep doesn’t come down.

The hour of the wolf is that halfway time between midnight and dawn; it’s a bad time, threatening to one’s self-esteem, self-confidence and therefore, well-being. All that, but there’s one thing worse: seeing the sun rise in an insomniac dawn.

Ever had a headache so bad that you couldn’t sleep? Yeah? Well, imagine that having started in August. Of 2006.

Jiminy God!

MT4 and AmazonMP3

The reason I got into all this “trouble” with the blog layout is because Movable Type 4 (the collection of scripts from SixApart that I used to create and maintain this blog) was too smart. Too smart for my own good, really.

If I hadn’t been poking around at CSS—in particular, the structural/layout aspects of it—I wouldn’t have recovered anywhere near as fast as I did. And while it was much easier to get up and running than previous versions, there’s still so much lacking in web apps that it sends me scurrying back to the comfort of native-application bliss (as always, I’m using ecto as my blogging editor).

I’m biased here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t objectively (and subjectively) justify myself when it comes to native applications. I avoid doing any form of creation within a web page if I can help it. Lots of people trundle along quite happily using LiveJournal (EL-JAY! ugh) or TypePad or Blogger or—eek!—MySpace, typing their blog entries into a web form and clicking that Submit button.

But all you have to do is click the wrong button once, or worse, go visit another website while you’re in the midst of writing a blog entry totally forgetting that to leave the page often times means losing the contents of that page.

So here I sit on BART (the train, not the man) typing away. Yes, I have an internet connection, but I’m not sure I’ll finish this entry (you know how I get) before it’s time to disembark at Union City for my weekly visit to the Korean Herb Doctor. Yes, I could close the MacBook Pro and when I opened it later, the webpage would likely be there, but perhaps not. Perhaps Safari will try to connect to the web before I have a chance to reestablish an internet connection and its display of an error message will be enough to lose whatever I type. Probably not, but the best software is that which removes doubt from the proceedings and provides a sunny path to your goals.

Which brings me to Amazon MP3. Yuck.

I tried. I really did. I spent a half hour trudging through the site in search of my old standbys. I was fully prepared to shell out the $8.99 or whatever to repurchase an album I already had just to compare things.

Well, there’s two million songs, and then there’s two millions songs you’d bother with. In searches for “Billy Joel”, I ended up with cover-band albums and tribute albums, and even some weird Asian group of tweens listed only by their Americanized first names. Among Kay and Bobby and Tom was a boy called “Billy Joel”. The sad part is that it was better than most of the alternative listings which were primarily karaoke tracks. At least the kids were singing original material.

Searching for other well-established artists turned up similiar disappointments. I finally ended up with an older Sufjan Stevens album, “Illinoise”, but not after downloading an ironic client application which was required for downloading an entire album at a time.

The client application was the best part of the experience, though. After downloading that and installing it—which required quitting Safari and relaunching it—the purchase started a download of a .amz file, which was the album’s bundle of resources: artwork, songs encoded as MP3s, but at 256kbps and with no DRM.

iTunes Store songs are encoded as AACs (MPEG-4) at 128kbps. Don’t go thinking that the Amazon downloads are twice as nice because they’re encoded at a higher bit-rate because AAC is a much more efficient codec than MP3.

You also end up with a song file that’s 60% larger than an iTunes song of a similar length. That means that if your iPod normally can hold 10,000 songs from iTunes (or your own CDs encoded with AAC), it can only hold 6,250 Amazon MP3 songs. If your iPod is a classic or “classic” iPod with a hard disk, that also means significantly poorer battery life because the hard disk has to spin up more often to access the larger song files.

But I saved a whole $1.00 and the music I have has no technical restrictions on copying as much as I want. But then, I have yet to bump my head against the technological restrictions of the FairPlay (iTunes) DRM, so that doesn’t mean anything.

What a chore. I suppose they’ll get better, but then so will iTunes. Yes, I’m once again biased, but my biases are out in the open.

At the end of the day, that half hour could have been better spent—on fixing the CSS & HTML of this blog, for instance—and I’ll take the comfort of a ⌘S and a local file anyday.

Fake Steve Jobs, Not So Fake Agenda

When Fake Steve Jobs (FSJ) first hit the scene just over a year ago, most people found “him” outrageous. That is, in the sense that FSJ was funny and entertaining and how-the-hell-does-he-get-away-with-it? While playing at “being” Steve Jobs, he used time-honored schtick to lampoon the public character of Steve Jobs.

As recently as three or four years ago, you couldn’t read about Apple, Inc. (née Apple Computer, Inc.) without “beleaguered” prepended to each and every mention, but since its fortunes have changed (the iPod introduced many people to the real talent of Apple) the world has gone almost overnight to calling it a monopoly. It’s not just people who’ve lost the knack of moderation, just as it’s not just gay men who can be huge drama queens. Story for another day, though.

There was a hunt going on for a while to discover who exactly FSJ was. Reminding the world that the cheekily-named (the clever stops there) “Valleywag” is a one-trick pony, they searched for weeks and weeks and came up empty. It took Brad Stone, a New York Times reporter, about a second and a half to find out it was Daniel Lyons, a Senior Editor at Forbes Magazine. Gooooo, Valleywag.

Forbes is well-known for championing static inertia and the almighty dollar, but for a while it seemed that Dan Lyons—also well-known as anti-Open-Source, anti-blogger and overall a pro-Microsoft kinda guy—would keep playing at his parody without agenda: FSJ was a particular point of view, albeit one synthesized doubly-indirectly as a sort of WWSJD? kind of thing. Still, FSJ was funny, and biting and like all good parody, an entertaining—if often conflicting-with-reality—voice.

But more and more, FSJ is emerging as Dan Lyons. For real. The first smack of something going wrong was when Lyons started to trash OLPC (one laptop per child), Nicholas Negroponte’s initiative to get computers into the hands of kids in third-world countries, something I consider admirable and admirably-long-term in its thinking. Yet Dan Lyons takes every effort to trash the whole thing. It’s not funny stuff, it’s just plain mean. Mean in the sense that he appears to make every effort not only to poo-poo it, but to bring it down.

Who the hell would attack a charitable effort? Who the hell wouldn’t want to promote egalitarian ideals, to say nothing of the material benefits of third-world countries helping themselves? Oh yeah, a pro-money, pro-Microsoft guy who works for Forbes. All those countries are just “new markets” to a guy like Lyons, and OLPC is a threat.

Even with all that, it’s still occasionally fun to read FSJ when he’s going after other public figures—including Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jonathan Schwartz and “himself”—but as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to read as it gets more and more strident and ugly.

And that’s not funny, that’s just sad.

I Don’t Like Nihilism

I honestly don’t know if fatalism and nihilism go hand in hand for the average bear (spare the irony), but it seems so for me.

Ofttimes when I’m out in a crowd, there’s a certain something that hits me and makes me want to turn tail and run. Run from? Maybe. Run to? Maybe. Yes, it’s confusing for me, too. But I run nonetheless.

The introverted might identify with this, but I’m certainly no introvert. Some might choose to interpret this as a sea-change, but not me: the extrovert makes the startling self-discovery? I promise that it’s nothing to do with that.

You’re out with your friends in a crowd and you look about and you see various levels of commingling and some you find distasteful and some you find inappropriate. Still others you find ridiculous, which sometimes over time becomes just boring. And other times it refuses to become boring background and instead just digs at you. And when you find yourself wishing for less-interesting times, you know something’s fucked.

You see the couplings, in various forms of prurience and undress—but never redress, I’ve noticed—and you wonder if this is really all there is. And you stop short of asking: “Is it?” because you can’t fathom life after you get an answer to something like that.

This is the point where the weaker-souled turn to cosmic crutches. But for me? I’d rather lavage than be suborned. Short-term solutions to long-term problems and all that. That’s the the flip-side of the existential-angst condition, the one that no one notices: the bird’s eye view of the lack of meaning lends a meaning all its own. That same 10,000 ft view also lends distance, didn’t you know?

And it’s that faraway point of view that makes you feel like a man apart, wishing that there was that someone-other who knows how to span the distance, even if just to say hello.

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My Hero, A Republican

Sometimes a thing happens that is so surprising and so meaningful and so genuine that it sends sarcasm, irony, cleverness and conceit scurrying under furniture and into dark corners. Dark places are where such belong when good will and honest candor rule the day.

It’s the fault of everyone and no one that these wonderful and joyous qualities do not rise each morning with the sun.

Jerry Sanders, the Republican Mayor of San Diego, is my hero. Not because I have some personal stake in what he talked about; not because he’s sticking it to the standard Republican party line; not because of anything other than the willingness to side with what is right instead of what the right says or what anyone says. For being a compassionate man, for being a good father. For being a fine human being at the end of the day.

My own writing here is in the way of something and someone eminently more….well, just more, so here he is. Click on the image to watch.

Picture 7