Must-See DVD

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:08 pm

If you have not yet seen it, I highly recommend renting (even buying) a copy of the Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels. Photographer Zana Brisky spent a few years living among and photographing the prostitutes of Calcutta. She gradually became interested in the children of these families. She purchased cameras for a group of them and taught them the basics of photography. Under her tutelage, the kids blossom into truly accomlished photographers, and Brisky endeavors to help them take advantage of their newfound talent and opportunities to better their situation, within the confines of an ancient and rigidly structured society.

The story is told from the perspective of both the children and Brisky herself, and consists of videotaped interviews and cinema verite-style documentation of their lives. Interspersed throughout are samples of the children’s photography, much of which is astoundingly good.

On it’s face, the film sounds far more depressing than it actually is. The daily poverty, misfortune and privation are offset by the natural delight of children partaking of what life has to offer them. To be sure, you can’t help but feel badly for these kids, but the overall effect of the story is more uplifting than a downer. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…..it’s trite because it’s true.

Born Into Brothels is available now through NetFlix, and should be available September 20th everywhere else. I give it Eleven Thumbs Up.



Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:43 am

According to this article in the UK’s Daily Independent, coffee has been found to be rich in antioxidants, more so than many foods previously touted for that purpose. Yee-haw! I knew that funny feeling in my chest wasn’t heart palpitations; it’s the violent expiration of free radicals!

Well, off to the kitchen for more health tonic! I hope I don’t get so detoxified that I can’t type straight.


The Eyes Have It

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:28 am

Well, after a month or so of fine-tuning, our IP-camera-based home surveillance system (see my previous post on the subject) is fully functional, and I thought I’d take a moment to pass on my experiences.

First of all, the cameras. In my work experience I have installed and configured a variety of Axis network cameras, which are truly top-shelf. They offer terrific image quality and a lot of options for such things as auto-iris (for day/night operation), upgradeable lenses, and built-in wireless. However, they are expensive, and I decided I didn’t need a set of three-to-eight-hundred-dollar cameras to catch tweakers peering through our windows.

I then set my sights on the D-Link DCS-900W wireless network camera, but after purchasing one, I wouldn’t recommend them. The wireless range is pitiful, and the camera gets excessively hot during normal operation. I’m much happier with the Trendware TV-IP100W cameras I went with next. They’re essentially the same species as the D-Link (640 x 480 pixel image, 10/100baseT Ethernet and 11 megabit-per-second wireless built in, administered via a built-in Web server), but with much better range and without the improvisational space-heater function.

For software, I stuck with SecuritySpy for Mac OS X. Having looked around for a bit, let me tell you, people: if you want to run a small-to-medium-sized, Web-accessible security camera server, this is the product. Go to Craig’s List, find yourself a 500–800MHz Power Mac G4 with OS 10.2–10.3 on it for 400 bucks or less, and you’re off to the races. I’ll even help you set it up. Still image and motion video, Web server, motion capture, variable schedules, customizable scripting and maintenance routines….all for 125 smackers for a four-camera license. The only thing I’ve seen that compares on the PC platform is proprietary software for the Axis network cameras, called Camera Station, which costs over six hundred bucks for a four-camera license and will only run on a PC. Even Web-based access to the server is PC-centric, relying heavily on (shudder) ActiveX to display correctly.

If you must go PC, HomeWatcher is an acceptable alternative to SecuritySpy. It’s powerful and feature-rich, but poorly documented and confusing. One of its most aggravating aspects is the wonky “support” it offers for network cameras. With IP cameras, unlike USB-based web cams, HomeWatcher pulls single still images from the camera and uses them for comparative motion capture and creation of time-lapse “movies”. That’s all fine and it works well enough, but actually prying these images out of your camera can take some research. First of all, the actual location of said still image might be hard to find. Is it in the root directory? At http://x.x.x.x/images/image.jpg? http://x.x.x.x/pub/video.cgi?stillimage? Chances are good your camera’s documentation won’t tell you, and chances are 100 percent that HomeWatcher’s doesn’t. It generally takes some experimentation, looking at source views, and scouring the Web to find this information. Secondly, many cameras require a user name and password to access the still-image section of the camera’s built-in Web server. There is nowhere in the HomeWatcher options to enter this information. It must instead be made part of the http request. For example: if your user name is trouser and your password is weasel, your URL would look like this: http://trouser:weasel(“at” symbol)x.x.x.x/still_image_directory/still_image_name.jpg. Easy to do once you know that you need to do it, but it would have been a great help to have this information available to begin with.

If anyone out there is interested in setting up a similar system for themselves and has questions, feel free to post them here.

UPDATE: I take back my endorsement of HomeWatcher: the program turns out to be riddled with spyware, avoid it at all costs. Instead, I recommend CrazyPixels’ CamUniversal. That’s what I’ve been using for the last year or so, with good results. At this point I would recommend this product over SecuritySpy: roughly the same feature set for less than half the cost, with no limit on cameras save the processing power of your PC.


Concerned: The Half-Life And Death Of Gordon Frohman

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:51 am

Anyone who is even remotely wired to Half-Life, Counterstrike or general computer-gaming culture should go take a look at this online comic strip. It may be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a year. Definitely start from the beginning. Thanks to Gary for bringing it to my attention!


Homeland Security Stress Disorder

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:00 am

While putting together Wednesday’s post about Cindy Sheehan, I jumped onto Google Maps to refresh my recollections about the layout of the White House. I entered “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC” into the search window, zoomed in to minimum elevation, and—just for fun—I used the “hybrid” option to superimpose Google’s map over a recent satellite image of the area. I checked my facts regarding the position of streets and other features, closed the browser window, and went about my business.

It was only this morning that I stopped to consider whether I may now have some FBI or Homeland Security ‘bot following me around the Web, waiting for me to pass my information along to my righteous brethren.

I’m going to go check my access logs. If you don’t hear from me in three days, somebody please call my parents. 😯


Misdirected Energy?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:43 am

I’m afraid I simply do not understand Cindy Sheehan.

I don’t think she’s being unpatriotic, I don’t want her to stop what she’s doing, and I’m sure as hell no apologist for the Bush Administration or the fiasco in Iraq. But I don’t get it.

She met with him once; that’s more chances than most grieving parents of American war dead generally get. She didn’t like the way she was treated; should that mean she gets a free do-over? She hates the way Bush is prosecuting the war; right on Sister, so do I. But I’m not waiting for our Commander-In-Chief to drop by the house so I can tell him what a shitty job I think he’s doing.

I think it’s that fact more than any other that makes me wonder what, besides inconsolable grief, is going through her mind. How many chances should the average American get to tell off the President directly to his face, and by what factor does that number increase if the American in question has suffered the loss of a loved one in a war instigated by said President?

It’s one thing to make impassioned speeches about making our leaders look the bereaved straight in the eye and tell them that this fight is necessary to the security of our nation. In principle it might be a good idea, but in practice it’d be a logistical nightmare. Do you line them up at the door to the Oval Office and out the door, through the rose garden, past the guard shack and onto Executive Avenue? Where will the soft pretzel and FBI sweatshirt vendors park their carts? Do you include the families of Iraqi war dead as well? What about the families of the approximately 250 civilian contractors who have been killed in Iraq? What about Afghans? (Interesting side note: the term is Afghan, not Afghani. “Afghani” is the name of the currency of Afghanistan. Because the Afghani does so poorly compared to other world currencies, calling a citizen of Afghanistan an Afghani is considered something of an insult. I get this straight from my boss, who had a meeting with two members of the US-Afghan Women’s Council. Long story.)

And where will all these people sleep while they’re waiting their turn? How long does each grieving family member get? Must each family elect one spokesperson, or do they all get a swing at him? What are the physical limitations? Can they shake a fist at him? Scream? Rend his garments? Spit in his face?

The mere concept of President Bush taking time out from his busy vacation to stop and listen to yet another person tell him that the war was a bad idea seems ludicrous to me. Hell, he doesn’t like hearing that sort of thing from his own staff, why would he go out of his way to listen to it—again—from Sheehan? Not to directly compare the two situations, but can you imagine Clinton sitting down to chat with the families of the folks who died in the Waco siege? What do you say to people whose husbands, wives, parents and children you were repsonsible for killing, no matter what the motive or necessity? “I’m sorry, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I can’t help but feel that this whole thing is nothing but a massive political exercise, intended to cast the President and the war in an unfavorable light. In fact, I truly hope that’s what it is, because that at least makes sense to me; it’s just politics.

Kind of like using right-wing foundation money to help prop up, propagandize and prosecute a spurious sexual harassment suit against a standing President. Except of course that this particular scandal actually exists in time and space, and has cost human lives and massive national resources.

Yeah, pretty much exactly like that except for those things. 😉


Neologism….I Said, NEOLOGISM!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:15 am

My darling wife came up with this one, and I love it.

Man-Deaf: the strange ability men have to utterly fail to hear something being said by a woman.

The term was born of her experiences at work, where certain male subordinates often seem physically incapable of hearing her give them instructions. They’re not ignoring her intentionally; like the frogs in the famous McCullough/Lettvin study, the sensoria of these particular men seem capable of perceiving only a limited spectrum of stimuli, the words of a woman not being among them.

Strangely enough, this neologism coincides with the recent release of the findings of a study conducted by scientists at Sheffield University in the UK that shows that men have more trouble processing the highly modulated sounds of the female voice than the simpler tones of the male voice, and in fact process female voices in the same part of the brain that processes music.

Sorry Dear, but it seems they might have a quasi-legitimate medical excuse for their inattention. My advice is not to press the issue; they might end up applying for protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act. 😀


Truth In Advertising, Part 3

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:20 am
Truth In Advertising, Part 3

This is a little gauche, but it’s pretty amusing. Photo is courtesy of Natalie (thanks Natalie!).

This is the box for a three-dimensional woodcut puzzle of a rooster, made in China (the puzzle, not necessarily the rooster). As is wont to happen, the language barrier has provided the viewer with an unintended giggle. Remember folks: cock is not for children under five!

I’m not even gonna get near the double-whammy of “small parts” and “choking hazard”.


Neologism At The OK Corral

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:49 am

This one came to me while thawing some dead animal parts yesterday evening.

Zipleaks: the used resealable bags that you keep around despite the fact that they are so decrepit they leak from just about everywhere but the patented handy-dandy reclosable seal.


More Web Wierdness

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:59 pm

So I’m looking through my http access log this evening (a log of all the computers that have visited my Web site), and I come across the following entry:|-|-|06/Aug/2005 20:48:51|GET /blog?p=26 HTTP/1.0|301|311|-|Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; MSIE 5.5; Windows NT 5.1)|pteranodon.local

For the uninitiated, this translates roughly as: “At 8:48pm on August the 6th, 2005, someone at the Internet address visited your Web site (pteranodon is the name of the computer hosting my Web site), going directly to the address /blog?p=26.”

Thrilling, I know, but there’s a bit to be wierded out about here. First is the IP address of the visitor. I ARINed the address, and it belongs to a British Internet Service Provider called AMEN LTD. IP itself is from a network cloud in France.

Now, this by itself is not particularly startling. So someone in France made their way to Uncle Andrew Dot Net, so what? The wonders of the Information Age and all that. The conceptual stumbling blocks for me are 1) their final destination; and 2) the lack of a referrer.

This person came into my blog at a specific point, namely /blog?p=26, which happens to be a rant I wrote called “God Told Me That Men Don’t Wear Skirts“. They didn’t go to Uncle Andrew Dot Net and search for that article, just zeroed right in on it.

Furthermore, the lack of a referrer suggests that they didn’t get there by way of another Web site, search engine, etc. If they had, the site through which they had found me would show up in the log as a referrer.

And this isn’t some kind of attack or comment spam offensive, either. If it were a security hack of some sort, the log would reflect the offending computer’s requests for vulnerable scripts or DLLs in hard-to-find directories, or else page upon page of gibberish intended to result in a buffer overflow; it certainly wouldn’t make so inocuous a request as, “show me the blog entry at p=26, please!”

And if this were an attempt at comment spam, it would not contain a GET command, which only requests data, but would instead contain a POST command, which attempts to send data, in this case spurious blog comments regarding Herbal Viagra or Texas Hold ‘Em.

In other words, by all appearances, some anonymous person in France opened up their Web browser, typed or otherwise entered http://www.uncle-andrew.net/blog?p=26 into the address window, and let ‘er rip. Seems like a pretty strange thing to do.

This is the kind of thing that keeps geeks up nights.

UPDATE: Figured it out. Some folks had found an unsecured pingback-enabled blog entry they could use for the purposes of pingback spam; a scheme where the site in question establishes a false pingback link to thousands of unwitting blogs in order to increase their page ranking in search engines. Finally saw the light when I noticed some new direct visitors to that very same blog entry, only these fuckers were nice enough to leave referrers: Texas Hold’em and Party Poker, indeed. Bastards! Chicken diddlers!

So, off go the trackbacks again. Damn, and just when I thought I had this whole spam thing under control…..

Blood (Boils) On The Highway For Fun & Profit

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:08 pm

About a year ago I traded in my ridiculous Hot Wheel of a 4×4 Mazda pickup truck for a 2004 Subaru Forester. This vehicle is everything the pickup wasn’t: practical, comfortable, stable, and fuel-efficient.

I only got the truck as a rebound vehicle, when my adorable little Ford Festiva was beaten to death in a rear-end collision with—this is a little embarassing—a Corolla FX. Total writeoff. (Note: the Corolla read-ended me, not the other way around.) After the accident, I wanted to get the biggest, burliest car I could afford, and a four-wheel-drive pickup truck seemed to fit the bill. Since then I have come to my senses. Fixed-differential four-wheel-drive is great in three feet of snow, but horrible on slick pavement. A vehicle with no weight over the drive wheels is always perilously close to laying a patch or spinning out of control. And pickup trucks are one of the most profitable segments of the auto industry for a reason; they’re built cheaply, with little of the safety features and extra reinforcement that come standard on so-called “passenger” vehicles.

One of the many features I truly love about my new car is the automatic transmission. For many years I felt that a standard transmission gave me “more control” over the vehicle than an automatic, and from a truly empiric standpoint this is probably true. However, having more control over your vehicle can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how good you are at controlling it. Other than downshifting when descending a hill, I’ve never used my extra control over my truck’s manual transmission to any good effect, and often used it to my detriment, lugging the engine during a poorly-timed upshift or popping a jackrabbit start when a light changed abruptly. I figured that, all things considered, having the car, constructed as it is by highly-trained engineers and designers, decide when it should change gears was probably a step up. Between that and the all-wheel-drive—you feel like you’re velcroed to the road, I’ll never own a car without it again—I feel like my car is taking care of me, looking out for its and my best interests. Which sure as hell beats leaving this up to me, whom I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw me.

And then of course there’s the question of traffic. In case you do not live in the Northwest, lemmetellyou, traffic around here can be a truly horrid experience. I generally don’t have to deal with it, since most days I telecommute. However, once or twice a week I drive south about 90 miles to visit the office, and the trip back is invariably anything from nasty to outright torture, particularly in a manual-transmission automobile. I clearly remember coming home some days with my left leg shaking and throbbing from two to three hours of clutch-in-clutch-out. Now that I have my Subaru, traffic is almost no big deal; I can catch up on my long-distance correspondance, listen to music, take a nap—er, scratch that last one. Nope, never do that, nosiree.

When I got my new car, however, I made a solemn pledge, both to myself and fellow travellers on the road: never would I fall prey to the Curse of the Automatic Ankle.

People who have driven nothing but automatic-transmission vehicles all their lives tend towards a truly aggravating behavioral trait on the road. Without getting into a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo—which I probably don’t understand anyway—the key feature of an automatic transmission is that you do not need to disengage and re-engage the clutch in order to shift gears. In fact, there is no clutch; a device called a torque convertor handles the transition from one gear to another. Since there is no clutch, a driver with an automatic-transmission car does not need to concern him/herself with the revolutions-per-minute (RPM) of the engine, in order to decide when to shift gears.

The upshot of all this is that drivers of automatic-transmission cars can accelerate as s-l-o-w-l-y as they like, and often do. This is what I call the Curse of the Automatic Ankle.

You know the situation: the nonagenarian behind the wheel of the Crown Victoria in front of you at the traffic light, who, as the light turns green, accelerates at a glacial one-mile-per-hour-per-hour. Civilizations collapse and stars go out in the time it takes for these people to get up to 25 MPH. Meanwhile, drivers with manual transmissions unfortunate enough to be stuck behind them are lugging and jerking and bouncing along. Their vehicle cannot accelerate slowly enough with first gear engaged to keep from overtaking the ‘Vic, so they have to throw in the clutch again, or else risk stalling their engine. Lather, rinse, repeat, until the old guy finally gets up to a first-gear-friendly speed or a passing lane becomes available. In the case of the latter, those drivers of lesser age or maturity tend to indulge in rapid—even dangerous—acceleration, socially unacceptable digital sempahore, or quite possibly both.

In the off-chance that someone who suffers this malady may be reading this, please take note: those drivers who peel back the pavement as they screech around you at the nearest opportunity may be assholes, but they also have a valid point. They don’t merely want to accelerate faster than you care to; the vagaries of physics dictate that they need to accelerate faster than you care to. Modern automotive technology requires a car with a manual transmission to accelerate in real—rather than geological—time. Please bear this in mind when you take to the road.

This has been a public service announcement.


Irony Supplement, Part 7

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:24 am
Irony Supplement, Part 7

I took this picture at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a not-for-profit wildlife parklet outside of Yellowstone. It’s part of a small gallery of so-called “bear-proof” refuse containers, all of which have had a serious can of ursine whoop-ass opened on them.

The fact that this particular container—ahem—”bears” the URL of the manufacturer makes it even ironicer. Er, more ironicer. Whatever. This particular model is even featured on the home page of bearproofsystems.com’s Web site.

What I’d like to know is: just what made the manufacturer think that adding a thin metal collar around the lid of a plastic trash can would suffice to prevent something as large and powerful as a grizzly from getting into it? Hell, I think I might be able to give that thing a run for its money, if I thought it contained a pic-a-nic basket.

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