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Movie Review: The World's Fastest Indian

Saturday, April 29, 2006
Last night at The Mission I saw The World's Fastest Indian, which is dramatized tale of New Zealander Burt Munro's legendary trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats on his 1929 Indian Scout motorcycle.

The movie was a true delight to watch. Filled with small bits of humor, the story flowed easily onto the screen and the characters were a pleasure to be around. My one objection to the movie was simply that Anthony Hopkins was shown sleeping night after night in his car, yet he always seemed to be well made-up and no one complained about the smell. That aside, the best line from the movie was: "Dirty old men need love, too!"

It's no secret that I enjoy motorcycles, and the scenes of his Indian motorcycle screaming along the beach or the salt flats was a blast to watch. It's a fun flick for just about anyone interested in bikes or New Zealand.

Final Word on The World's Fastest Indian: Very worth renting or seeing in a second-run theater.

Oil Profits

Friday, April 28, 2006
So now for my daily conspiracy theory rant.

In the news for the past 24 hours has been the federal government's response to our pending energy crisis caused by extraordinarily high oil prices. My favorite solution? Give everyone $100 to spend on more gas.

See, that $100 (which is basically the political majority using tax dollars to buy votes before the mid-term elections) doesn't actually accomplish anything except to really allow us to subsidize record oil-company profits, whereas it DOESN'T increase funding for alternative fuel research.

So here's my solution, revolutionary that I am: Tax the profits. Increase the taxes (slightly) on gasoline. Spend every dime of that on a) tax cuts for fuel-efficient vehicles, b) oil alternatives and energy alternatives (such as biodiesel, ethanol, nuclear power, etc), and c) mandate that every non-combat government-owned vehicle (tanks, police cars, armored vehicles) run 100% off alternative fuels - not just "flex-fuel", but 100%. The effect will be a national trend towards fuel efficiency and reduced oil usage, while increasing the amount of oil alternatives for our energy-dependent economy. The beauty of this is that once we reduce our dependence on (foreign) oil, our foreign policy will actually start to make sense.

Plugging PVP

One of my favorite webcomics out there is PVP, which I've been reading for years now. Today's strip, the first after a week or two of guest strips, is so amazingly relevant that I had to plug it here.

Usually PVP is more of a soap opera, with week-(or more)-long story arcs. However, when Scott Kurtz really turns his eye towards society he can be at his funniest. Check it out, read it often, you won't regret it.

Chernobyl

Thursday, April 27, 2006
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, one of the worst accidents in human history in terms of long-term effects on the planet and on humanity. According to the Wikipedia article, 56 deaths are directly attributable to the accident, but hundreds of thousands of deaths or illnesses might be triggered by it - and the area will be radioactive for thousands of years.

One of the most interesting perspectives I've read on the tragedy is here, where a guy describes his favorite motorcycle ride through the ghost town that is Prypiat, Ukraine, and - while describing the ride - also tells the story of what happened. It's a fascinating read about "a town where one can ride with no stoplights, no police, no danger to hit some cage or some dog." (A "cage" is a motorcyclist's term for a car.)

I can only hope that we as a species learn from what happened 20 years ago. Some mistakes will never be able to be undone, and although the Chernobyl reactor was entombed by hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete and sand, the protective enclosure was hastily built and is starting to fall apart. Work and funding are being sought to build another enclosure on top of the existing sarcophagus. With a litte more time on our hands (the original was built in 7 months following the accident) perhaps we can build an enclosure that will stand for longer - but not let us forget the double-edged sword that is nuclear power.

Sunchips & Math

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
So I was eating a bag of Sunchips today with lunch and I noticed on the cover they say "30% less fat" and indicate that the back side of the bag (in the "nutrition" area) has the details. Curious, I turned the bag over. There at the top of the bag they state the following:
Fat content of regular potato chips is 15g per 1.5 oz. serving; fat content of SUNCHIPS brand Multigrain Snakcs is 9g per 1.5 oz. serving.
I almost thought nothing of it until I decided to do a bit of mental math.

Waitaminute!

70% of 15 grams (30% less) is 11.5 grams. 9 grams is actually only 60% (40% less)! I found this to be odd - that the numbers advertised are worse than the numbers quoted)

So I called them.

The official answer? "This is due to the rounding that happens in the numbers." Well, assuming that 15g and 9g are rounded, it still rounds out to a pretty nice 40% number, rather than 30%. At least, it's 40% less according to a test from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Taking one for the team

Let's talk about government leaks, whistle-blowers, and national security for a moment. In the news recently has been the firing of a CIA analyst who purportedly leaked information about the CIA's secret prisions to the press.

Listening to commentary by a reporter on NPR last night, I found myself agreeing with one theme. These people who leak information often feel that they're acting in the public interest. I personally believe that. I believe that leaks to the press (and the entire media itself) balance a government that would otherwise act without any sort of checks. In a government of, for, and by the people it is often necessary for the individuals to take a stand in exposing the wrongdoing of a public government.

Some noteworthy examples of whistle-blowing:
The government's domestic spying program
Nixon and the Watergate scandal
There are more, of course, but none that come quickly to mind.

What I find interesting, though, is the fact that with the same breath that some officials praise the firing of the CIA analyst, they also defend the admistrative branch of the government for doing the exact same thing with the Valerie Plame affair.

This is all to say that it is very often a case of one individual risking much to expose the actions (illegal or questionably so) of the government to the very people the government is supposed to serve. There are some that believe in a transparent government, there are some that believe that the government is meant to serve the poeple, and there are some that believe that the government is not always correct. Perhaps it is those people that can be heros for the rest of us to admire when it comes to defending our liberty from those domestic sources that might wish to otherwise limit it.

Spam Filters

Monday, April 24, 2006
To start out with, I'm sure somebody out there has noticed that you're not reading "walkingsaint.blogspot.com" but rather "walkingsaint.com" - a domain registered to ME. Part WalkingSaint.com is running this blog (currently through Blogger.com, but part of it is the technical project that is the server underneath my blog. As I've noted before, I run this server (and move it around all the time) as an exercise in the skills I've learned; it's fun and I get to implement knowledge in a hands-on way.

Well, besides being a web server, this computer is also an email server for me. It's not a very good one inasmuch as it's currently hosted on a home cable modem, which means it's bound to show up on a blacklist by that fact alone. (Email blacklists are lists that some mail servers look at to see if they should just automatically reject mail from that server.) However, like I said, this is as much a technical project as it is an actual server.

So my latest feat was implementing a satisfactory anti-spam routine. Since I receive email here I also get a lot of spam (for no particularly good reason) and I'm tired of having that clog up my mailbox. This server is running Fedora Core 5 with Postfix and SpamAssassin, a free spam-detection program.

It took me a while to figure out what I was doing with this and how I wanted to set it up. Thankfully, the tools in Fedora Core are frightfully easy to actually install. The catch is that SpamAssassin will DETECT email, but I have to make it do something one it's detected. I didn't want to run a bunch of different utilities to move the spam around, nor did I really want to even have a "junk e-mail" folder. All I wanted was to have spam (or likely spam) not show up. To that end I've decided that any mail that is probably spam won't even be delivered to me.

Here's what I did.
1) Configured Postfix with integrated spamd/spamc per this document.
2) Configured SpamAssassin to mark likely spam with a [*SPAM*] in the subject line.
3) Postfix will accept the mail, run it through the content filter (SpamAssassin), then take the mail back and deliver it. I set up a simple "header check" such that any mail that has [*SPAM*] in the Subject line will be re-directed to a specific user account (something like "spamking".)
4) Once a week, I run the SpamAssassin spam learning tool (sa-learn), which updates its lists of Bayes definitions; essentially it learns what spam looks like in order to detect it better.

It's all fun and good and it seems to work now... let's see how it continues!

Irony

Friday, April 21, 2006
Due to some "real-life" feedback, I'm changing the subtitle of my blog "Burton Speaks" from "Hi, I'm Burton. This is where I get to speak my mind" to the definition of irony, since there seems to be some confusion. I mean, when I write a post like this, obviously (I think) the intended meaning of my post is vastly different than the literal meaning. I didn't think I was incredibly subtle, or anything...

Philosophy Talk

Thursday nights at 8:00 on OPB Philosophy Talk comes on the air. In this latest show they were talking about religion and secularism in a democracy. It's been said (but I can't remember or seem to find out by whom) that "Democracy is the oppression of the minority by the majority."

I prefer to think of the preamble to the United States Constitution, wherein mention is made of "secure[ing] the blessings of liberty". If we think of liberty as "freedom" and define freedom as "the ability to do what you want so long as it doesn't impede the freedoms of others", then the fact is that laws that define morality should have no place in a government, because morals are value-based and the moment the majority starts defining values is when the minority has their liberties taken away.

Religion should, in my opinion, be kept separate from the government (hey, those "founding fathers" might have been on to something!) Being as we're a very diverse and (at times) religious country, any move on the part of "the faithful" to move their values into law is really an attempt to force the values of one culture onto another.

The rise of fundamentalism in any religion is a danger to a free society because a fundamentalist (as former President Jimmy Carter has put it:
"A fundamentalist believes, say, in religious circles, that I am close to God. Everything that I believe is absolutely right. Anyone who disagrees with me, in any case, is inherently wrong and therefore, inferior. And it violates my basic principles if I negotiate with anyone else or listen to their point of view or modify my own positions at all."
Fundamentalism and secularism are antonyms, really, and I believe that a secular state can and should lead to a more tolerant state and a more free people, as well.

For Sale

Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Motivated by my oft-mentioned but never discussed secret plans, it's now time for me to get rid of a couple expensive things I own or am buying. With that said, if anyone wants to purchase either of these it would make my day. Seriously.

1) 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Phoenix Red, < 20K miles, balance of factory warranty, 7 speaker 300-watt factory sound system (includes sub), 5-speed, 162 hp MIVEC engine, custom leather seats, keyless entry, power windows, door locks, and mirrors, cruise control, and front and side-impact airbags. $14,650.

And then there's the really hard one:

2) 2001 Triumph Sprint ST
British Racing Green, < 12K miles, factory hardbags (slightly scratched), performance exhaust (slighly scratched, but with the original aluminum silencer included, too), 955cc 110hp Triumph triple, rear hugger, service manual, etc. Trust me, I love this bike. $6,500.

The hard part about a plan like mine is it calls for a few sacrifices along the way. The car's just a car (as much fun as it is to drive) but that Triumph is a thing of beauty. Sigh...

(Please note: the images are borrowed. What I have looks more or less exactly like what's there, but I just moved and my computer's not up yet.)

A great idea

I have a great idea. In order to really bolster our oil-dependent economy, let's stir up a crisis in the Middle East, where most of the world's oil comes from. What should we do? Let's invade a country, in order to set it free (and get rid of thier weapons of mass destruction, like nukular devices.) Of course, freedom comes from within, so let's establish a government that never does anything, and set the country on a crash course towards civil war while we find no evidence of "WMDs".

Step two in my great idea? Let's get involved in a nuclear crisis with the country next door to the one we invaded. I mean, heck, while we're there we could always 'liberate' them, too, right? It would be good for everyone involved. The locals get to shoot at some Marines, the hardline Muslims get to continue blaming it all on the Jews, we get a war economy going and the oil companies make big bucks when the price of crude shoots through the roof.

Everyone wins, right? Oh, wait...

[Editor's note (6/12/06): It's been pointed out that many Americans are too stupid to recognize irony so I'm forced to point out here that this is not a serious opinion.)

Good science

In the news this week is the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Listening to a report on NPR this morning, they made mention of the Lawson report, a scientific report made to Congress that detailed what happened during the earthquake.

Think about this: a hundred years ago a natural disaster struck California. The result was that immediately dozens of scientists were sent out to notice and record everything relevant that they could. They did such a great job (with the tools avaialable at the time) that the data is still being used today and the document - a century old - is still held in high regard in the scientific community.

I just think that's really awesome that someone saw this event and said "we need to study this" and gathered everything they could about it, despite the fact that seismology was still a relatively new science. The NPR report talks about measuring how it felt by milk splashing in a pan versus headstones being sheared apart. I just found it to be fascinating, and anyone who can should listen to the reports as well.

Direction

Monday, April 17, 2006
A man sits and ponders
his direction, his future, his present
what should he do?

Does he cling to the past
familiar, comfortable, wonderful, desirable
good in so many ways?

Does he change his present
tumultuous, shaky, unstable, unloving
blindsided by the truck of reality every way her turns?

Does he stare into the future
uncertain, unknown, strange, unpredictable
oblivious to the world going on around him?

A man sits and thinks
looking around, inside himself and out
Wondering if it's all worth it.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Sunday, April 16, 2006
Current Mood: Very blue

I'm all moved out. I'm done with the old place. After almost 3 years, which is the longest I've lived in any place since 1996, I've moved. But I'm very sad for a bunch of reason; I've left the memories, the happiness, the heartache, the heartbreaks, the joy, the pain, the freedom, and the dust all behind. My eyes have watered up thinking about this point in my life and who I am and how I feel. Sigh.

Traffic Circles, Roundabouts, and Fuel Economey

In the last year a roundabout was built at the intersection of Stafford and Rosemont, sort of between Lake Oswego and West Linn. (Map not updated.)

Prior to this construction, Rosemont traffic was forced to stop while Stafford trafic had right-of-way, though would often stop while waiting for the left-hand turn onto Rosemont. (Atherton, the on the other side of Stafford from Rosemont, didn't see a significant amount of traffic.) Now, all traffic entering the circle must yield to those in the circle, which is designed for traffic moving at about 25 mph.

This is brilliant!

Cars use the most fuel getting up to speed. Every intersection where, in anything but heavy traffic, cars aren't required to stop at all is an intersection that raises fuel economy, thereby making life better for all sorts of reasons. We (as a society) ought to really dump some money and time into studying ways to make people have to stop less in our day-to-day driving; there would be benefit to all of us.

(I'd also like to plug the usage of small roundabouts to slow down traffic rather than speed bumps. Speed bumps were created by Satan himself to ruin suspensions; roundabouts can actually be fun!!!)

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Saturday, April 15, 2006
Current mood: Gray

It's been a long day, a long week, and a long last month and a half. Between a company move, a personal move, headaches, heartbreaks, and stress... I'm just tired. Tired of a lot of things. Sad about a lot of things. I'm optimistic about the future; I just have to make it there.

Moving Day: Addendum

Of course it rained like a bastard on the day that I moved. I mean, any time any piece of furniture went outside, I'm convinced it rained harder. But after returning the truck today I was driving back and the sky was clearing up. Birds were flying around, chirping, as the sun peeked majestically through the clouds. It was then that I saw the most amazing, deeply hued rainbow. It was beautiful... and just in time for Easter!

Moving Day

I usually try not to talk too much about myself in this space, and I definitely try not to swear on here. However, I'm about to do both so if that offends either of my readers now would be the time to skip this post.

I hate moving. I fucking hate it. Packing is even worse, but that's like saying that I dislike Hilter more than Stalin. I mean, neither is really good, you know?

However, this is where my few friends come in. My true friends. The good ones. The ones that I'll always be friends with and would go to the ends of the earth for. These are the friends who will stay out till 3 in the morning partying, but show up at 10 the next day to help move and never, EVER complain... not even once. You guys are rock stars.

My family is also awesome. Awesome for a lot of different reasons, too many to describe here. One day I wish I could be more like them.

What's interesting about this move is I'm putting stuff in short term storage (roughly 4 months) and long term storage (2+ years). I find it fascinating (and liberating) to realize that despite how much material shit I've collected over the years, I can put HALF of it away to where I don't need to access it. Hell, some of it I haven't touched in years anyway.

But I'm down-sizing my life in more ways than one. I think I'll be happier being less tied down by the crap I've accumulated. I'm sure looking forward to finding out...

Data Management

Friday, April 14, 2006
So I'm moving. I hate moving.

However, as I was taking apart my computer stuff, I got to thinking. I have well over 300 gigabytes of storage space among my various computers; I'm nowhere close to filling it up. I do have a lot of stuff (over 100 gigabytes worth of data), but how much of it is useful? Is it more economical for me to just keep adding space, or would I be well served by taking some time to really trim out the stuff I don't need?

I was listening to public radio tonight and I heard the tail end of an piece on the price of natural gas. One idea that was tossed around was searching for more natural gas deposits around the US. However, in Wisconin they're talking about reducing demand instead. It's the idea of managing what's there versus simply expanding supply to meet demand.

And every year this topic comes up when talking about energy conversation. Much talk is made about increasing generation capacity (because we've got more people and are using more and more energy) but they also talk about ways to more efficiently use the energy we already have. It's data management applied to a different industry.

Anyway, this is not news to some. It just popped in my head earlier and I finally made the mental data management connection.

Acts of God

As both readers of my blog are well aware, I run my blog on my own server. It's fun to do, it's a great exercise in skills, it grants me total control over the site, and, well... did I mention it's fun?

Well, that's all great and stuff like that until PGE has an unannounced power outage. As I'm too cheap to buy a uninterruptible power supply, that means that when the power goes out, the site goes down. Son of a ...

What about the future? Since my future financial outlook doesn't look especially strong, I'll be at the mercy of the power gods for the forseeable future.

Site Successfully Moved

Thursday, April 13, 2006
Well, if I didn't tell you, y'all probably wouldn't know. But the aforementioned site move is done, and it was done pretty successfully. I rule.

Now, I sleep.

Site Migration Coming Soon

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Well, this site will be migrating to a new server shortly. I'm actually taking a step DOWN in hardware (going back to what I had roughly 5 years ago) for the sake of moving away from my Mac mini (running Mac OS X) to an cheap VCR-sized PC running Fedora Core 5 (so's I can keep up on my Red Hat skills).

This move is partially motivated by the fact that I have to move, but also by my secret plans. (Insert maniacal laughter here.) Eventually this server will NOT be located at my home. Far out! :)

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Monday, April 10, 2006
Current Mood: Yellow (as in "sunny"), but it could also be considered blue, I suppose.

There's something distincly theraputic about donning the sunglasses, rolling down all the windows, opening the moonroof, cranking up the Lynard Skynard, and commuting home at warp speed (or 70 mph, whichever occurs first.) Of course, that could also be instructions on "how to give your car the aerodynamics of a parachute", but that's another story. Anyway, moments like that make me feel good. :)

Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking

This weekend I saw the fine film Thank You for Smoking with some friends. What a truly fantastic film!

The movie focuses on a character named Nick Naylor (played by the under-rated Aaron Eckhart) who is a lobbyist and spokesman for "Big Tobacco". We watch as he takes on the morally questionable job of persuading people to smoke while he mentors his son in the art of arguing - all while trying to be a good role model. That's the real theme of the movie, I think - showing how powerful persuasion can be and in what forms it appears.

The movie is replete with irony and full of good laughs at the absurdity of some of the situations we see. None of what happens is unbelievable - which makes it all the better. I personally like the interaction between Nick and his son Joey, which I think comes across as a good father-son dynamic. The characters in the movie are - for the most part - as multi-dimensional as supporting characters can be. Most are bizarre, but the important ones are shown as thinking, feeling beings. All in all, it's just one of the best movies I've seen recently.

Final word on Thank You for Smoking: See it, love it, see it again.

That's great, but...

Friday, April 07, 2006
So in the news today was an English judge's decision that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code didn't actually plagiarize the themes from another book for his "hugely successful" novel.

This is great, on one hand, because the book he was accused of stealing from ("Holy Blood, Holy Grail) is a work of historical fiction that explores different possibilities in history. Dan Brown borrowed some of these ideas for his book; this is not in question. However, did he "steal" the themes? According to the judge, no. This means that many authors worldwide can breath a sigh of relief because they won't get sued if they include the work of another author as a theme in their own.

This is not great, however, because Dan Brown can't write a novel to say his life. The Da Vinci code isn't the WORST novel I've ever read, but it's in the list. It's his best work, but it's still one of the first books I'd grab to wipe my ass with if I ran out of toilet paper. His characters are largely one-dimensional, his writing style is fantastic (see definitions 2b and 2c), and I feel like a lesser human being for even having owned the book. (Yes, I gave it away.)

So that's my take. Good legal decision, but did we have to give the publicity to such a terrible writer?

The end of times

Wednesday, April 05, 2006
The end of times is upon us, as Apple (the world's trendiest computer company) has actually released official support for running Windows on a Mac. (This announcement from Apple comes shortly after third party developers succeeded in putting Windows on a Mac themselves.)

It was discovered - shortly after Apple jumped to using Intel chips - that the fastest Windows laptop was actually a Mac. This surprises no one, of course, since Apple's long been known for making high-quality (but very expensive) hardware.

This whole thing strikes me as funny because for years people have been clamoring for Apple to license the Mac OS to third-party vendors so they could make Mac clones (again). I believe that Mac OS X is a fine product, but it's not a money-maker for Apple. They'll sell it as an upgrade, but they otherwise bundle it free with every Mac they sell - and they make the money off the hardware. (Much like they make a ton of money off the iPod.)

If Apple wants to make a ton of money strictly on hardware sales, that's fine. The stock market seems to think that's a good idea. The problem is that Windows is not - in my humble opinion - a great product and the excellent user experience of the Macintosh is partially related to the simple and easy-to-use Mac OS. I hope that the negative experiences of MacWindows users don't reflect on the Mac itself.

Creative Conspiracy Theories

Tuesday, April 04, 2006
In honor of The Doc, who encouraged me yesterday to figure out a way to disagree with the administration by any means necessary, I've come up with a conspiracy theory that is both obvious and directly attributable to the far right.

As much as I personally complain about Daylight Savings Time and the gain or loss of an hour of my life by legislation... at least I don't have to work during those hours. Let's examine the following concepts:

1) Generally, workers are divided into two categories: hourly workers and salary employees.

2) I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm going to guess that most employees who are working between midnight and 4 am are of the hourly type, not the salaried type.

3) Late-night hourly employees are not in the top third of the income bracket in our country. This is just a guess, of course, but it seems reasonable.

4) In late-March/early-April we actually subtract an hour. There's no 2 AM to 3 AM - we simply skip an hour.

Therefore, this action - which subtracts an hour of wage from the late-night hourly employee (right before tax time!) is clearly an attempt by "the man" to keep those in the hourly working class oppressed by taking away an hour's worth of wages right when they need it the most!

Obviously, we need a revolution.

mmmmmgh... brraaaiiinss....

Monday, April 03, 2006
Zombies attack this morning, the first bright, beautiful morning after Daylight Savings Time. Everyone knows I'm a morning person, of course, but I'm just really dragging to day without my beauty rest. Is it nap time yet?

Movie Review: King Kong

Sunday, April 02, 2006
So a friend and I rented Peter Jackson's King Kong this weekend. The movie is, of course, a tale about a movie crew going to an island to film a movie and encountering a giant gorilla (to whom the lead actress is offered as sacrifice). She immediately sees the gentleness in him but the crew captures him, takes him back to NYC, and displays him where he escapes and climbs to the top of the Empire State Building and is shot and killed.

Without spoiling anything, the build-up to the humans capturing Kong and displaying him before the world before he escapes and we kill him was long and perhaps over-done. Legend has it that there's a scene in the original where Kong knocks a bunch of guys off a log into a ravine filled with giant spiders. That was, apparently, cut back in 1933 due to poor audience reaction. Well, Peter Jackson decided to put the scene in this version and it didn't really need to be there.

What's my primary gripe about this movie? Weighing in at just over 3 hours long, this movie is tough to watch in just one sitting. It's just plain LONG. I'm not going to say it's as bad as The Patriot, which could have easily lost an hour, but King Kong could have been a 2.5 hour movie and no one would have been sad.

Final word on King Kong: Rent it when you have plenty of time on your hands

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