Archive for November, 2004

Dowbrigade Ponders Podcasting

9

The Dowbrigade has always been a sucker for the latest
thrill. Whenever it looks like the other kids are having more fun than
we are, we have to get in on the action. So we have been casting increasingly
jealous glances at the Podcasting crowd, trying to figure an angle to
get us in the door, some form to apply the phenomena to what we have
been doing or are trying to do, some way to contribute to the movement.

We initially came up empty. Although we liked listening
to some of the podcasts we were downloading, it didn’t seems a natural
form of self-expression to us, nothing like the adrenalin rush we got
when we started blogging.

In fact, we were stuck on the same point which had gotten
us back when we
first considered
the great stuff Christopher
Lydon
was doing with integrated audio interviews on his blog. It
comes down to the essential differences between writing and talking.

These two superficially similar
uses of language are actually quiet different in  terms of cognitive
processing. When we participate in a conversation or listen to an podcast,
our attention is focused on the  voice and flow of ideas being communicated.
We are
forced to follow the train of thought in a more or less linear manner,
determined by the speed and linguistic associations of the speakers.
Although interesting comments, ideas and connections may flash through
our minds as we listen,
unless we
take careful notes or have an exceptional memory, they usually fade away
unexplored.

On the other hand, when we are reading we can stop to savor an idiomatic
gem, marvel at a lyric construction, note and develop those spontaneous
connections
that fill intellectual life with creativity and wonderment. Sometimes we will
spend an hour rereading and ruminating over a single paragraph; at others we
may skim an entire book in the same time. The speed and depth
of my
reading
are mine to control. We can check facts, look up contrary opinions and follow
idea paths that our reading inspires.

Our writing methodology is similar. Although
we take to heart the "unedited" aspect of the blogging model, we confess
to reading over our output before posting, polishing a phrase here or
there, experimenting with synonyms to achieve style, flow and alliteration,
removing an occasional unintentionally insulting adjective or otherwise
"revising" before posting.

We have survived enough situations with our foot lodged
firmly in our mouth to have little faith in our ability to "wing it"
verbally, and prefer the measured madness of our written voice.

This is not to minimize in any way the art and utility
of oratory and verbal exposition. We have a deep admiration and appreciation
of those who can develop and expostulate on the spot elegant word castles
and arresting arguments. But it’s not our thing.

Some people are great writers.  Others are great
talkers. There are even a few blessed individuals, (Chris
Lydon
and
Gore Vidal come
to mind) who are great at both, but most of us must muddle through with
flawed skills and hope our offenses against the mother tongue are not
capital
in nature.

Finally, while we actually like how our writing looks
and sounds up there on the Dowbrigade News, we have never been able to
stomach the sound of our own voice.  We cringe whenever we hear
ourself on tape, convinced we sound like a pompous, adenoidal know-it-all,
which is, of course, pretty much what we are. The idea of doing a 30
or even ten minute voice feed as part of our blogging output filled us
with dread and disgust.

Then we realized that we DO a stand-up, three-hour
vocal show EVERY DAY, five days a week, thirty two weeks a year, when
we get
up
in front
of our class and lecture, joke, drill, discuss, interview, instruct and
cajole them in the intricacies of Advanced Academic English. A Podcast
in the raw! If we just recorded our daily class, boiled it down to an
hour of highlights, and posted it to the class blog, would that qualify
as a podcast?

More to the point, would anybody be interested? Its
just an English class, for God’s sake. Despite our mastery of the genre
and renowned didactic skills, the audience for such a show would be
limited, to say the least. But maybe somewhere in China, or in a small
town in Sudan, or in a hospital somewhere in Siberia, there is a kid
who wants to learn English and would be thrilled to listen, almost live,
to a class delivered that day at a major American University.

Plus we can force those occasional students with flimsy
excuses to listen to every class they miss. Students could replay classes
when studying for tests. There would be no escaping the Dowbrigade.

Anyway, we have resolved to try recording our classes
on our iPod and posting the resulting mp3 files to our class blog, Monkeybrain. We have no idea if the resultant file will be audible or in any way interesting
or useful, but hey, we’ll never know until we try.

We’ll post the results of this experiment soon, together
with some more thoughts on the utiity  of podcasting academic lectures..

Around the World in a Flying Fuel Tank

1

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.
– Outsiders look at the GlobalFlyer, a single-seat airplane designed
to make the first solo, nonstop, unrefueled
flight around the world, and wonder how a pilot could function for
70 hours in a cigar-shaped cabin so snug he cannot even get out of
his seat.

Technicians at Scaled Composites, the company that built the plane, like to
call it the Flying Fuel Tank. At takeoff – on Jan. 4 or as soon thereafter
as the weather permits – it will weigh as much as a 50-seat commuter plane.
If it is successful, it will land nearly three days later weighing less than
a medium-size S.U.V.

On a recent test flight here it did not so much take off like a jet (which
technically it is) as glide into the sky. Fully loaded, it will need more than
two miles of runway to lift off.

The GlobalFlyer is first of all a feat of engineering – building a plane strong
enough to climb into the sky with so much fuel and efficient enough to fly
almost 20,000 miles without refueling. It is also a test of the pilot’s skill
and of human endurance.

article from the
New York Times

Outsourcing Torture

4

In
a particularly disquieting development a local law firm here in the Boston
area has been implicated in a despicable practice which has been largely
overlooked by the American public and press.  We are talking about
the circumvention of legal, moral and international prohibitions of torture
by turning selected suspects over to unscrupulous allies to do the dirty
work for us.

This is no less a crime than hiring someone to kill your
ex-wife. The connection to the Dedham Law firm is convoluted but unquestioned.  They
are the legal owners of a mysterious white private jet which has been
flying all over the world, picking up those selected for torture and delivering
them to the torturers at least since 1991. From the
Boston Globe
:

Since that time, the jet — apparently on long-term
lease to the US military — has surfaced in other alleged cases of what
the CIA
calls "extraordinary" rendition — the secret practice of
handing prisoners in US custody to foreign governments that don’t hesitate
to use
torture in interrogations.

The covert procedure, which must be authorized by a presidential directive,
has gained little attention inside the United States. Yet, "extraordinary
rendition," one of the earliest tools employed
in the war against terror, has outraged human rights activists and former
CIA agents, who say it violates the international convention on torture
and amounts to "outsourcing" torture.

"People are more or less openly admitting that there are certain practices
that we would rather not do in the US, so why not let our allies do it?" said
Ray McGovern, a former CIA operations officer who has frequently criticized
the tactics used in the war on terror.

In recent weeks, the practice has become nearly synonymous with the white,
20-seat, private Gulfstream jet, numbered N379P and registered in Massachusetts.

Obviously, torture is something we shouldn’t be associated
with in any way, shape or form.  At the same time, and as the gripping
"24" has dramatize, in a hypothetical situation in which terrorists
have smuggled a nuclear device into an American city, and the authorities
have an individual in custody whom they believe knows where it is, what
to do?

Who could argue, with millions of lives at stake, that
the authorities should not do whatever necessary to obtain the information.  Could
it not be argued that if they refrain from using force or torture and the
worst happens, they would be morally if not legally responsible for the
massive death and destruction?

Of course, that is an extreme and fantastic scenario.  The
problem is, if you admit the possibility of torture in such a situation,
where do you draw the line, and how do you avoid using it in cases that
are not so extreme, immediate or clear-cut? What criteria do you apply
to torture?

We do not have the answer, but are convinced that paying
(of course we are paying, but with what corrupt currency?) others to do
our dirty work out of the sight of decent people and the oversight of responsible
authorities is wrong, unAmerican and illegal.

article from the Boston Globe

Is this Possible?

21

We
have become obsessed with the idea of connecting a small digital video
camera directly to our ipod. This is not just because posting on the
topic allows us a chance to use these quasi-pornographic photos (if
not for their redeeming
social
value).

In a previous
posting
we outlined the basic problem;
the main drawback to using a digital video camera to record interesting
portions of your life is where to put the large digital files which result.
Digital Audio Tape requires time-consuming transfer, winding and rewinding
we thought we had left behind with audio cassettes. Flash memory is limited
to about 15 minutes of video per card, and recordable mini-DVD’s are
limited in availability, capacity and compatibility.

A new alternative places a tiny hard drive on a Compact
Flash size card. Each MicoCard costs $200 and holds 4 gigabytes, enough
for an hour of high quality video.

We were almost convinced. What a cool solution; a tiny
hard drive you could hold in the palm of your hand.  Then we realized
– Hey, we already have a tiny hard-drive we carry with us everywhere
we go! And it holds 40 gigabytes! Why can’t we record from our digital
camera directly onto our iPod?

We posed the question here on
the Dowbrigade, and despite a couple of comments, nobody had any idea
if it could be done, or how. We can’t find anything about the topic on
the web.  So we asked John and Jon, the tech twins who live in the
server closet at work.

They consulted and concurred that IF the camera manufacturer
adhered STRICTLY to the IEEE-1394 standards and protocols, it was theoretically
possible, but they doubted it would work in real life.

Thirsting for more expert advice, we visited the Apple
Store in the Galleria Mall, swamped with desperate Christmas shoppers.
The iPods were flying off the shelves so fast they didn’t even keep them
on the shelves; they were piled on a wheeled cart directly behind the
register, where they were periodically restocked as the mountain diminished.

After a respectable wait I was able to ask a cheese-faced
13-year-old clerk if it was possible to record directly from a digital
camera onto an iPod. He informed me categorically that it wouldn’t work
because the hard drive on the iPod isn’t fast enough to write video in
real time.

When we had a chance to think about this, it didn’t
really make sense. It occurred to us that our OTHER external firewire
hard drive can record an entire DVD-quality feature length motion picture
(for review purposes only) in about 3 minutes, could our iPod really
be that much slower? Sure, the movie has been compressed and
codexed, but isn’t there a way to do that on the fly?

Our next stop was Microcenter, the biggest and best
all-around computer store in the Boston area.  The sales guy in
the digital imaging section actually thought about our inquiry for a
moment and pronounced it an excellent idea.  However, he noted,
it would depend on the camera manufacturer formatting their output into
a data stream the iPod could recognize and record, and they really had
no incentive to do so. He further suggested that the most likely appearance
of this technology would be if Apple came out with a proprietary video
camera designed to record directly to their iPods.

Does anyone know how much of this is pure bullshit and
how much has a grain of truth.  If this is theoretically possible
but presently unimplemented, how hard would it be to do? In our imagination
it opens up a host of new possibilities.

We had always thought that the Warholian ideal of being
able to record and annotate every step of your waking life (why stop
there, remember Sleep?)
was decades away.  Even videoblogging ala Steve
Garfield
involved
lugging a ton of equipment and transferring and processing before posting.

But now we are imagining a palm-sized video camera attached
to a palm-sized iPod and a tiny omni directional microphone, all controlled
from a handy remote. The camera could be incorporated inconspicuously
into
a
hat or
helmet, so that at the touch of a single button you could record whatever
your eyes were pointed at and your ears could hear. Other people, even
right next to you, need not even know you are a walking documentary.

So once again, let me ask the blogosphere: Is it possible
to record live video onto an iPod? Are we nuts or is this the coolest
idea since podcasting itself? One significant difference; while podcasting deals with content diffusion and consumption, this enters the relm of content creation and media manager, using the iPod as an audio/video recorder, repository, mixer and master control device.

A Beer with Your Cheese?

ø

London, Nov 26 : France is known as the cheese capital of
the world and Vieux Boulogne, a cheese made from cows’ milk and matured
by washing with beer has been declared France’s smelliest cheese by a panel
of cheese experts.

Experts at the Cranfield University, Bedfordshire, said that the cheese
smelled of unwashed feet and unwashed tom cats, which was probably due
to the kind of beer it was washed with, reports the
Telegraph
.

Pont L’Ejaque, a brine-washed cheese from Normandy was voted the second
smelliest cheese while Camembert, the mostly widely imitated cheese in
the world, was rated third.
The ten smelliest cheeses were:

1 Vieux Boulogne: cows’ milk cheese from Pas de Calais. 2 Pont l’Ejaque:
cows’ milk cheese from Normandy. 3 Camembert de Chienmort: cows’ milk
cheese. 4 Menstruel: cows’ milk cheese from Alsace-Lorraine. 5 Brie de
Merde: cows’
milk cheese from Ile de France. 6 Entrailles: sheep’s milk
cheese from near Toulouse. 7 Rancevomi: cows’ milk cheese from Savoie region.
8 Lingots
Vertes: cows’ milk cheese from Normandy. 9 Banon: goats’ milk cheese from
Provence. 10 Sueur de Sanglier: cows’ milk cheese from Burgundy.(ANI)

from ANI

Another Endangered Species

ø

It
is not only at the university level that foreign students are an endangered
species in the United States these days. That time-honored stable of
the 60’s and 70’s, the foreign exchange student, is disappearing from
high schools across the country.

Long the butt of crude jokes and stereotypes, these
teenaged foreign ambassadors were our first exposure to people who
looked, dressed, spoke and addressed life differently than our parents
and the
other kids in our middle-class suburban universe.

In fact, we would like to take this opportunity to appologize
to little Gretta Erdhoffen from Dusseldorf for  taping those Hogan’s
Heroes posters to her locker.  Only now do we realize how brave
and tolerant these students are, to come
to such
a
strange
land
and put
up
with such
boorish
behavior. Or were…

”We don’t really have a lot of research into why it is happening,
but it is happening. There are fewer students," said John
Hishmeh, executive director of an umbrella group for most of the
large exchange
programs in the country.

Last year, 27,742 foreign students visited the United
States through programs accredited by Hishmeh’s organization, the Council
on Standards
for International Educational Travel. There were 44,291 in the 1999-2000
school year and 62,005 in 1993-94.

Is isolationism the new American reality? Do we truly
want to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world? It’s not just that it’s harder for them to get in, many of them have no interest in or fear of coming to America. Is this in any way related to our underwhelming popularity among the youth of the world, many of whom are now studying Chinese?

article from the Boston Globe

 

Comic of the Day – Missing Rather

ø

missrather

Build a Vacation Home for Under $500

22

One of the things we learned on our recently completed
Great Experiment is that economic reality is like all other realities;
strictly local in jurisdiction. Comfortably deep in an Andean valley,
nestled beneath snow capped mountains and beside a crystal mountain stream,
we watched as our sons raised a series of tourist bungalos for under
$500 each. For a quick primer on how to construct a simple house
in adobe (the original, not Photoshop), CLICK HERE

Ingenious New Use for Our iPod

4

As
prices for digital camcorders are finally falling near the Dowbrigade’s
reach, we have been comparing models and media. The main differentiation,
and sticking point, seems to be how they save the VERY LARGE digital
files they create. Flash memory is still limited in size, DAT is fragile
and cumbersome to wind and rewind, mini-DVD’s are neat but hard to find
and limited to 30 minutes of video per, and keeping your camera hooked
up to a computer is impractical. The New York
Times
reports
that
one
company
is moving in a promising direction – tiny hard drives on a card the size
of a Compact Flash chip. This is from “Camcorders Finally Find Hard Drives"
by David Pogue:

No, the real future of camcorders suggests itself every time you see
somebody wearing those white iPod earbuds. Earth to electronics companies:
Hard drives! A 60-gigabyte iPod’s hard drive can store 15 hours of video,
and it’s only 1.8 inches in diameter. Now go build one into a camcorder!

JVC is the first company to see that particular light. Next month, it
will release its new Everio GZ-MC100 and GZ-MC200: a pair of breathtakingly
small, tape-free camcorders.

Unfortunately, these tiny hard drives only hold 4 GB – enough for one
hour of video at the highest quality, and cost $200 a pop. Which begs the
question: Why can’t we connect our digital camera directly via Firewire
and record on the hard drive on the iPod that I ALREADY HAVE?
By
my calculations
I should be able to store 2 and a half hours of high quality video and
still have half the space for my music and podcasts!

This seems like a natural solution.  The iPod fits
in our breast pocket or clips on our belt, and can go wherever the camera
does.
Surely there is
no technological reason this can’t be done, just that camera companies
haven’t
thought of
it yet
or
don’t
want
us doing
it. Or is it possible? Anybody more knowledgeable know if there is a way
to do this?

article from the New York Times

Getting Out of Dodge

4

As
mentioned in the posting below, it is hard to predict what will open
the floodgates of memory. Some are fond and fulfilling
memories, making connections and explaining enigmas.  Other’s make
it immediately obvious why the memory was forgotten in the first place.
Such a treasure trove of mercifully forgotten memories was rubbed raw
again by a feature in today’s Boston Globe on Adult Dodgeball. Apparently,
this archetypically
American Darwinian elimination activity is experiencing a comeback.

As vicious an outlet for pre-teen and adolescent sadism as has come out
of middle America, Dodgeball has been largely condemned and forbidden
in the recent past, our "enlightened" times.
For those of our readers too young or alien to be familiar with this childhood
trial by fire, let us explain the basic rules of dodge ball. A large group of
players, often mixed boys and girls, start out standing in a loose
knot in the center of an indoor gym or outdoor blacktopped playground.

One or more round rubber balls are introduced into this mix, and the object is
to take the ball, and fling it as hard as possible at any of the other players.
Should the ball strike any part of the target player, he or she is "out",
and required to leave the field of play. Should the target manage to catch the
ball before it hits the ground, the thrower was declared "out". In
a time-honored American tradition, reminiscent of the Shootout at the OK Coral,
the "last kid standing" is declared the winner.

Although seemingly innocuous, that textured red rubber ball, in size and weight
somewhere between a volleyball and a basketball, flung with all the force sugar,
hormones and frustration can generate in a pre-teen body, could painfully sting exposed
flesh, and so who would aim anywhere else?

Many of the non-athletically incline kids would awkwardly expose themselves on
purpose, or even throw gentle poofballs at each other, in order to be eliminated
as quickly and painlessly as possible, retiring to the sidelines to relax and
watch
the
remaining contestants embarrass themselves in a variety of manners. The bigger,
more coordinated
kids took sadistic pleasure in eliminating as many of these dweebs as quickly
as they could, flinging the ball with all their strength in attempts to elicits
cries of pain or better yet, cowardly spastic efforts to avoid the physical and
emotional pain of early elimination.

This dubious form of recreation and athletic activity was especially popular
in "primary" school,
grades
1-6,
which
in
the
US
means 7-12 years old. Gym teachers like it because it required almost no equipment
or active supervision; basically they stood around and watched us kids slap
each other silly. For
these
and
other
reasons
Dodgeball
has
largely been eliminated in today’s enlightened educational environments.

Being almost totally bereft of athletic skill, yet cursed with a highly competitive
nature, the adolescent Dowbrigade developed a cagey tactic of blending in with
the crowd, trying to avoid attention or attractiveness as a target by becoming
invisible. Moving around the fringes of the group, keeping away from the other
players still "alive" (offering the aggressive players less attractive
shots and fewer chances to fling the ball at a knot of victims hoping to kill
any one of the group), we were usually able to survive until there were only
three or four players left. By then, rivalries had developed between the most
vicious killers so that they were often blindly determined to eliminate each
other, forgetting us entirely until we were the only opponent left. At this point,
at least we had a chance, to dodge a few shots and hope to catch one before one
caught us.

So this is one sleeping dog we would rather let lie.  However, for
those sick bullies who haven’t had much fun since Dodgeball went out of
style, here’s how to get your jollies:

The new adult twist on the game was dreamt up by Paul Naddaff, 23, and
Sean Kemery, 28, and was appropriately inspired by Ben Stiller’s ”Dodgeball." ”Paul
and I went to see the movie and we both really liked it," Kemery
says. ”And I started mentioning how much fun I used to have playing
it, and
how I’d love to play again, and Paul’s reaction was, ‘I’d like to play,
too.’ "

If Big Kids Dodgeball takes off, Kemery and Naddaff hope to expand to several
geographical regions around the state. Meanwhile, Kemery says he’s not
surprised at the favorable response to the league.

”I really remember loving dodgeball when I was a kid, and I think
a lot of people feel the same way about it," he says. ”I hate
to sound cheesy, but you can be a big kid again."

from the Boston Globe

Sail on, Sailor

9

Memories swim up from the distant past at
the most unexpected moments. Recently we had cause to remember one of
the signature events of public education in grade schools around America
– the school assembly.

Most of these assemblies were educational boilerplate;
district mandated citizenship training, patriotic pep rallies, ritual
readings of the riot act, feeble presentations by in-house choirs, bands,
cheerleaders or drama clubs or pathetic debates prior to student council
elections.  Mainly, they were seen by the students as a chance to
get out of the classroom, sit next to hot girls or amusing troublemakers,
pass
notes,
play footsie, mock the teachers, the performers and the entire educational
paradigm, and maybe sneak away from the pack in the mass confusion of
several hundred wild kids in the days before attention-deficit drugs.

But there was one assembly every year back there for a
while which we realize now, 40-some years later, probably had as much
influence as anything else in the eventual arc of our career and peripatetic
life up to this point. Once a year, back when the Dowbrigade was at his
most innocent and impressionable, our school was visited by a local couple
quite unlike anyone we had known.

Electra "Exy" Johnson and her husband Irving were inveterate
sailors who abandoned life and careers ashore and dedicated themselves
to taking students and paying customers on 18-month trips around the
world. They would leave from Gloucester, MA, their home port on Cape
Ann, sail down the eastern seaboard, through the Panama Canal, and down
the Pacific Coast of South America.  It was not a race; they would
stop and explore, trade for supplies, investigate ruins, and photograph
everything.

From South America they would set off across the Pacific,
stopping in Galapagos to visit the tortoises, fart around Tahiti and
the South Sea Islands for a few months, then down
the coast of Asia, south along the coast of Africa, around the Cape of
Good Hope, up the other coast of Africa to Morocco and Spain, and finally
back across the Atlantic to Gloucester.

They did this amazing route SEVEN times over the years,
taking 18 months each time. Between circumnavigations they would take
18 months "off", cruising up and down the East Coast and giving lecture/slide
shows at schools along the way.  Hence our assemblies.

From Exy Johnson we learned to the existence of places
which would later figure prominently in our own saga, spots like the
Galapagos Islands and Cuzco, the Imperial Capital of the Inca Empire.
We still
retain tales, locked deep in forgotten closets of our mind, of places
we have never been, but would still jump at a chance to see, without
really remembering why -places like Fiji, Tonga and Fez.

But what amazed us the most, and opened our mind to the
breadth and possibilities of the wider world, was the mere fact that
a person from Rochester, New York could go to places like that and see
things like that, and come back to tell the tale.

We had forgotten completely about the existence of the
Johnson’s and their effect on an eight-year-old Dowbrigade when we read
the following in this morning’s Boston
Globe
:

HADLEY, Mass. — Electa "Exy" Johnson, who took young people
on seven around-the-world voyages on tall ships, died Friday at a
nursing home in Holyoke. She was 95.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Johnson attended Smith College and the
University of California at Berkeley. While returning from a summer
in France aboard
the schooner Wanderbird, she met Irving Johnson, a crew member. They
were married in 1933 and she began her adventurous life at sea.

Thanks for the tips, Exy.  You showed us a way. Clear
sailing.

from the
Boston Globe

More Than We Need to Know Dept.

3

A
Dutch actress is to have x-rays of her breasts posted on her website to
prove they’re all natural.

Georgina Verbaan wants to disprove claims she’s had implants – and warns
she’ll sue anyone who says different.

Verbaan shot to stardom in her homeland as the 16-year-old star of soap-opera
Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden, or Good Times Bad Times, in the 1990s.

But a recent model shoot by the now 25-year-old, ignited speculation over
whether her chest was real or silicone.The x-rays have been published on
her website, www.georginaverbaan.nl,
.
Verbaan claims her larger breasts were just because she had put on weight, "luckily
in the right place", when she started taking the pill. She also
pointed out she was no longer 16.

from Ananova

Dowbrigade Extra!: Georgina has a Blog! Yea! But it’s in Dutch! Ouch!