January 29, 2010

"Later in life I saw the movie "Conspiracy Theory" with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, and then it hit me: the book was about MK Ultra and the CIA."

Here I am blathering a bit about the Catcher Cult on the Huffington Post.

(This post's title is from a comment left on that post.)

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January 27, 2010

I learned some stuff

Check out this extensive, photo- and link-laden interview with my super agent, Steven Malk.

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January 22, 2010

Getting in Tune

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January 21, 2010

That Prozac Moment

Matt of 41 Gorgeous Blocks on the uke.

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January 20, 2010

With Features like These...

Are you aware that Safari 4.* saves two snapshots (a png and a jpeg file) of each web page you visit, as well as some seemingly random ones from your history or bookmarks? I wasn't, till I accidentally stumbled on it yesterday.

The culprit is an executable file called Safari Webpage Preview Fetcher in the Safari package. Its only function that I can see is in aid of the Top Sites feature of this release of Safari, a cool-looking but more or less useless routine that displays sites in a table, and illustrates the browsing history with images. I haven't found an easy way to turn only it off, though "Private Browsing" does knock it out along with everything else it knocks out. There's also an option to "stop loading previews" when you're in Top Sites, but that doesn't prevent the images from being generated and saved when you visit sites. The "Reset Safari" dialog box has a checkbox to clear the files that are already accumulated, but it doesn't stop new ones being generated. It's less hassle to remove them manually, but it is still a hassle.

These files can take up a great deal of space if this thing is left running over time. My folder of previews was over 2.5 GB on a machine I've had for two months; and only a few minutes of routine browsing can quickly accumulate hundreds of these files. It is also a potentially awful security risk if you use webmail, especially since, as I assume, most people who are using it have no idea that it's there. Counter-intuitively, clearing your history and/or cache has no effect on it, even though the directory in which the images are saved resides in Library/Caches.

Anyhow, I thought people might like to know.

UPDATE: In the comments, Sigivald points out this Apple Support discussions thread with a few work-around type solutions. The easiest one is simply to empty and then lock the $HOME/Library/Caches/com.apple.Safari/Webpage Preview folder manually in the Finder. That doesn't turn off the Web Page Preview Fetcher, but it prevents it from writing anything to that directory. It will still try to, though, which is a waste and which will generate an error for every single webpage you load. But it's not as much of a waste as constantly writing thousands of big, useless files in the background.

Another solution mentioned is to enter the command in the shell:

defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSnapshotsUpdatePolicy -int 2
This is supposed to shut the whole thing down. I haven't tried it, so I can't verify that it works. If it's valid, I would guess the way to reverse this simply to delete it (i.e. "defaults delete com.apple.Safari DebugSnapshotsUpdatePolicy") but I'm not sure. I'd be careful about editing defaults you don't know how to reverse, because that kind of thing can cause havoc when future updates are applied.

As some commenters point out, even just locking a folder in the library can have "side effects," but it's easy to uncheck the box. It's not ideal, but until they write a way to toggle it in the preferences into the program, the locked folder approach seems like the way to go.

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My uncle used to love me but she died

The "…and I will be with you" 7" is featured in this post on my band and the history of the concept of the novelty song from the excellent Music Ruined My Life blog.

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Don't Send Me No Flowers, I Ain't Dead Yet

As the Valet Reader mentions, I'm doing a reading thing at the Ferry Building Book Passage store in San Francisco on Thursday, Jan. 21. 6PM. Come on by. I'm gonna bring my guitar and books and just kind of see what happens.

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January 19, 2010

Gone Gone Gone

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January 18, 2010

Gone Gone Gone

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January 14, 2010

Better Take an Ax and Bust 'em

The mind is a funny place, or thing, or whatever it is.

Don't ask me why, but yesterday I was trying to see if I could remember the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I couldn't remember much of them, and, as might be expected, my memory of the genuine lyrics soon elided into the much more familiar kid song parody about the "burning of the school" where the "teacher hit me with a ruler" and gets shot with a "loaded .44" in the end.

I'm pretty familiar with this version of the song. In fact, I'm not at all sure I didn't think the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body" weren't spectacularly unfunny parodies of it rather than the other way around when I first encountered the original.

But in the background of these vague images of my little kid self imagining a burning school and being hit with a ruler and getting revenge with a gun while actually sitting, gun-less, in a non-burning school, a very strange image began intrude. This was of a giant insect, like a mantis from a Japanese movie, but made of metal, looming over a cartoon-like girl with a big smile on her face. The girl looked a little like Nancy from the comic strip.

Suddenly, new lyrics made themselves known:

Mine eyes have seen the folly of the automated age
where computers write the checks and put employers in a rage
when they find out their employees have been paid a triple wage
the bugs are still not gone

Glory glory you can't trust 'em
even though you fix 'em and adjust 'em
better take an ax and bust 'em
the bugs are still not gone

I'm pretty sure it is from MAD Magazine. I mean, it has to be right? And I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it or thought of it since I first read it way back whenever that was. I believe the cartoon girl image came from the magazine, too, meant to illustrate the only other line I recall, which is: "when they send five gross of girdles to a five-year-old in Maine."

As for the giant mechanical insect, I suppose at the time the notion of "computer bugs" didn't mean enough to me to imprint in my mind as a functional metaphor, even though I doubt I really thought the song was literally about bugs. Or perhaps my memory was just punning of its own accord, just to mess with me.

I could well be wrong about the source. I couldn't find it via google, though I did find this, which seems to be a garbled version of the one I remember. (Mine seems like the original because it scans and rhymes properly.)

Anyway, in view of all that, this seems worth the $35.

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January 13, 2010

Martian Dunes


(from here.)

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January 12, 2010

Right Guard will not help you here

Beyond a general awareness that there may have been a Western academic apologist or two among the victims of the Khmer Rouge, I knew nothing of the strange tale of Malcolm Caldwell's fatal holiday in Cambodia till I read this fascinating piece in the Observer. Quite a story.

(via Norm Geras, who adds apt comments.)

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January 08, 2010


I'm going to be at Book Passage at the Ferry Building in San Francisco on Thursday, Jan. 21. 6 PM.

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January 06, 2010

Top These

There are quite a few Top 5 of 2009 lists over at the Hipster Book Club, and one of them is mine.

I should mention that since I submitted my entry, hulu.com has finally put up the first five series of Peep Show (thirty half-hours of TV brilliance.) You have to sign up for an account and sit through commercials, but it's still better than the nine-minute-segment youtube method I describe in my list. The sixth series was originally up there as well, but they took it right back down for some reason.

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January 01, 2010

Come on and Jade Me

So: Avatar

Pretty good. The 3-D effect and animation worked really well, so well in fact that I stopped noticing that anything special was going on after the first twenty minutes or so. If nothing else, then, I have learned something valuable about myself, which is that twenty minutes is how long something takes to "jade" me. I know that's kind of sad. On the other hand, the film's mall head shop color scheme is something you'd think I'd have become desensitized to long, long ago, but no: I noticed that all the way through, so maybe there's hope after all.

Anyways, the comparison to Dances with Wolves that everybody makes is apt, though I have to say I was able to make it through this one all the way to the end, which I can't say for DwW. (It was a near thing, though. I came close to dozing off a couple of times; the glasses woke me up.)

So it's a bit DwW, a smidgeon Eragon, a tad Pocahontas with Lion King overtones, a jot Braveheart, and a whole lot The Word for World is Forest, but it is a little weaker than the last two because those in the aggrieved population are so relentlessly one-dimensional, pure, good, noble, sweet and quaint and victim-y. Surely there could have been some bad guys in there somewhere, some collaborators, exploiters, opportunists, that type of thing? The final battle is well-orchestrated and inventive and among the best of its kind I've ever seen, so far as it goes, but all the spills and chills might have meant more if it ever felt like something was at stake. In the event, it's more like a formality that must be observed, a set of motions that must be gone through; despite all the skillfully-engineered action bursting out of the screen, it feels inert. This is a movie where all questions are rhetorical, all conclusions are thoroughly forgone, and no ambivalence is allowed to get in the way of the Important Message about global warming or whatever.

Well, it takes a singular vision to create a film that makes a person yearn for the subtlety and nuance of Braveheart. With all the good will in the world, it would be fair to say it's kind of a dumb movie. I understand why some people also characterize it as a "bad" movie, but I can't say that because I did have a pretty good time watching it. Ignore the Important Message (which, like the 3-D, became nearly invisible for me after it had hit me over the head a few times) and it's a pretty good ride. Dumb stuff can be fun, of course, and it's nice that someone steps up to spend a gazillion dollars to test that rule every now and again.

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