George Carlin & War

I remember hearing George Carlin mention that the only active metaphor in the American community is the use of the word 'War'. In one of his shows, I believe it's Jammin' in New York, he makes a list of the different wars the United States are fighting, wars that don't mean much, but are nonetheless going on.

While watching CNN today, I only glanced at the channel for almost half-an-hour when George Carlin's list came to mind. Here are the wars the United States are currently fighting, and were covered during my short view. The names given are the ones displayed underneath the footage:

War on the Middle Class (problems with illegal labor)
War of Words (Hilary Clinton's rebutal)
War in Iraq
War on Terrorism
War on Drugs (Imported or otherwise)

The keywords that came up included: Homeland, security, threat, terror, danger, pentagon, attack, action, sieged, under, control, inspect, strength and all lovely words that mean power, oppression, control and fear.


ICKY Thump

I have just gotten around to fully listening to the new White Stripes album today, Icky Thump. I would like to congratulate those involved in making a great album which is COMPLETELY FUCKING UNLISTENABLE. This album features some of the worst CD mastering I have ever heard -- they did a real butchering job on this one. There is fantastic dynamic range on this album, but all the louder parts on the album clip, distort, and buzz like there's no tomorrow, to the point of giving the alert listener a major headache.

I was curious to know who mastered the CD. I should have guessed that it was Vlado Meller, affectionately referred to as "Vlad the impaler" in audiophile circles. This man is single-handedly responsible for fucking up more albums than anyone else. His master of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication is still without a doubt the worst sounding and hottest-mastered album ever. I won't get into the details of this process because I have already written about the problems with current CD mastering at length in the past.

So I decided that it might be smart to buy the vinyl of Icky Thump and do a digital rip myself -- I have all the equipment. Lucky for me someone has already done the work and there is a torrent floating around. Even luckier is that the vinyl was actually mastered by the two best mastering engineers in the business, Steve Hoffman and the lacquer was cut by Kevin Gray. Even better news is that they did it from 1" analogue master tapes. Apparently the vinyl sounds amazing! It's pressed on audiophile-quality 180g vinyl, too.

I keep wondering when people are going to wake the fuck up and realize that this hot mastering does a disservice to music lovers, as well as the artists and engineers who worked on an album. If at the end of the line, the mastering engineer decides to compress the dynamic range or boost the volume levels to the point of clipping (whether they did so on their own will or asked to do so by a producer, the artists, or otherwise), the hard work of everyone else is completely thrown out the window.

I urge everyone to stay the fuck away from this CD. Download the vinyl rip or go out and buy the vinyl. The SH/KG initials engraved on the vinyl will not steer you wrong. It's a throwback to the era where competent engineers pressed vinyl as a labour of love and hard work, and were confident and proud enough of the result that they signed it.

The last bit of good news is that Hoffman and Gray have been doing a lot of great remasters recently on behalf of record labels. Icky Thump is a good one (being their first from 1" analogue tape), but they have recently done the whole Creedence Clearwater Revival back catalogue from the original analogue master tapes. Other notable ones include the Dark Side of the Moon 30th anniversary remaster, Dire Straits, Wilco's latest, Built to Spill's catalogue, Yes' Fragile, etc.

Below are two waveform graphs showing the visible clipping all over the album. Good job, Vlad.


North Korea and Nuclear Agreements

I tend to become bafflingly parochial over the summer months. It's the short part of the year where I can unwind and try to forget about what I read, discuss, and write about for the rest of the year. I have been following a story for some time, though, and it's angered me to the point where I feel that I have to break out of my shell and write some comments on it.

In the past years, there have been legitimate concerns about the possibility that North Korea might be trying to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Talks between various nations and North Korea have seen very little progress. North Korea has typically wanted more aid money in return for them shutting down their nuclear power plants. Yesterday, North Korea finally shut down its Yongbyon nuclear power plant due to an agreement that was reached. The agreement stipulates that North Korea will be provided with heavy fuel oil from Russia and other nations. Of course, this benefits the oil industries in the allied nations, but I won't go to the extent of suggesting that there is a mass industry-related conspiracy going on here (although stranger things have happened in the past when it comes to US-led agreements of the sort). The agreement does, however, seem to be politically charged, and environmentally unsound. In the end, over a million tonnes of heavy fuel oil will be given to North Korea instead of them continuing the operation of their already-built nuclear plants. The reactors in place in North Korea are of the heavy water type (somewhat similar to the CANDU-type reactors which we use here in Canada). These reactors are generally considered to be safe, and they also have a lower potential of uranium enrichment which could be used for the production of nuclear weapons. And yet, the North is now in discussions to have a light water reactor built in the country instead, which seems to be a foolish decision that would have to be politically-charged.

But what of the threat of nuclear weapons? Of course, North Korea is the greatest threat currently to the south Asian countries, but are they really that much of a threat? The country's economy is in shambles, and they are in dire need of aid. Poverty is rampant outside of the major cities, and even in the major cities. They are essentially still an agrarian-based society with a limited manufacturing industry that is, for obvious reasons, subsistence-only. We can be reasonably certain that North Korea tested a nuclear device of some sorts not long ago, but the test was a failure. We also know that even if they did produce a successful weapon, they would only be able to launch it by plane, which could easily be tracked. North Korea does not possess a missile with enough payload capacity or range to be a threat to any neighbouring state.

And what if North Korea was lying? It is very probable that they would exaggerate their nuclear capacities in order to act as a deterrent to the United States and other countries. Their sovereignty depends on it. In doing so, they would also be able to receive the types of concessions that they really want and need -- namely, oil and other types of aid -- precisely what they are being given in exchange for the closing of their legitimate nuclear power stations. Dictator or no dictator, I feel that forcing North Korea to shut down nuclear plants is unsound. These plants do not have the capability to produce enough enriched uranium for any weapon of significance. Should they choose to pursue a uranium enrichment program, they could likely do so in a covert manner which wouldn't have anything to do with their power plants. Although it is doubtful, again, that they have the technological capabilities and expertise as of yet to produce a viable weapon. There is no doubt that they should be prevented from proliferating nuclear weapons, but I am doubtful of what sort of a threat North Korea in fact poses, as well as how effective this recent agreement will be. There was a similar agreement during the Clinton years in which they agreed to build a light water reactor in North Korea, but it ended up falling through. We could be seeing a repeat situation -- who knows?


Client Analysis: Short, balding fat man.

Are clients representative of the population that surrounds the store? I've been posting a few things here and there about people and how they react around my work. I've seen many interesting people, and seen many stupid things happen.

Being a clerk is an experience in and of its own (good enough to make two movies out of). Clerks get to see many people come and go, ask smart and stupid questions, figure out how to scam the store and how to get caught doing stupid things. Being a clerk is a unique experience. It's as if one is to look at the world from inside an aquarium looking out.

For one thing, the whole faith of the store depends solely on your shoulders, and yet you get the lowest salary in the joint. Several myths about clerks are in circulation: Clerks have to do whatever the customer asks of him (false), the customer is always right (false), the clerk gets to sit and be polite while a customer screams and acts as he wishes (also false), he knows the inventory of the whole store by heart (false), do I need to keep going?

I remember how the restaurants LaFleur had bothered to bring in outside consultants to gather data on how the store operated its revenues on specific weekdays when for a much cheaper price, they could've simply asked a clerk.

A man walked into my store today that gave me the idea that taking clients and analysing them is a great way to entertain oneself. First up: short, balding, fat man.

It's Saturday night, 7:55pm, a short man walks through the front door of the store. I can tell he's rather short as he happens to be the same height as a 14year old who is in the process of choosing his film. This man also happens to be quite large. Very wide at the shoulders, he wears glasses and has short hair as he is slowly balding. The man must be in his mid 30s.

The fat man haslty walks to the back of the store without making eyes contact with me and with one leg he stops his advancement and stretches his neck so he can see around the corner. On his way back, he makes quick eye contact with me before looking at the posters around him. With that, he returns to the complete front of the store to log onto the machine.

I have the pleasure of hearing him hit the keys as hard as he can possibly do it. Which reminds me that the keys on the machine to the far right aren't responsive anymore. Did I solve the mystery? I start thinking of all sorts of machines: Touch screen picture printer machines, ATMs and PCs. Are these victims of such people to? I then think of the clerks who have to deal with people who break the machine following such abuse: Return items clerks, back clerks, camera shop clerks, all these poor souls. He robotically hits the button without mercy. At half a second interval. Over and over again: click...click...click...click...click.

He finally makes his selection and walks over the machine to retrieve his film. I notice he never looks up until he has to place his card inside. The rest of the time, he simply looks down. Once the machine spits the movie out. He grabs it and walks up to my counter looking a bit annoyed by the position he finds himself in: He must talk to me now.

He states that one film is marked as being out. So far, he knows what he's talking about. He then dips into a thouroughly annoyed tone: "You only have one or -". I cut him off. I tell him they're several copies, and all of them are out. He gives a suprised look. I wasn't impolite, but he finally seems to realize that whether I was lying to him about the amounts of copies we hold or not, it wouldn't matter: The movie, and all of its copies, were not available. He keeps up the suprised and dissapointed gesture and speaks a bitter "Oh, so they're all out." before he leaves. He slouches a bit, I notice, on his way out.

He is one of many who asks the question: How many copies? As if it mattered truly, the number of copies turns out to be, as are the ones in circulation, out of their reach, and out of their control. This man seemed frustrated at the lack of insight in the answer, and certainly the fact that he would never find out. What's interesting is the fact that no matter the number of copies, the number would turn out irrelevant to him. The only number that makes a difference is 0.

Short, balding fat man walked away with a film in hand.


CSI: Miami & The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again"

The greatest comedy on TV truly stems from CSI: Miami. The show is the simplified version of its counterpart. Lots of style compiled into one hour of television makes the show seem rather humorous compared to the original CSI who spends time on monologues that add some extra insight into the different cases.

Miami cuts this down into simple form. Machines have big flashing lights that has simple words like "Deadly" pop up to clearly display to the audience that the killer meant harm. Every single chemical has visual dyes added into them so that the audience can understand what's going on. The great part is that where CSI places in the line "I've added a dye" Miami eliminates the phrase and goes in for the visual hyper drive. The show has clearly defined characters, with bad guys being real bad and confessing with ridiculous one-liners such as "We can have it all you and I!" and the lead answering "We will, but you'll be getting yours in a 6X9 cell." and then walks away.

But the greatest of all jokes stems from the song they've chosen to attach to this show. The song "Won't get fooled again" by The Who was written by Pete Townshend who meant it to be about an oppressed civilization who would rebel as the song progresses. It's interesting to mention that the lead of Miami, Horatio Caine, seems to have an unlimited amount of resources at his disposal, an unlimited jurisdiction and certainly chooses to waive citizen rights on some occasions.

In a show where the main characters and protagonists are in charge of every department of an investigation and use unlimited amounts of tax payers money, it's funny to think they are represented by a song that chooses to deal with oppression as something that is being fought. But in a world where the bad guys are truly bad people, and proud to be unethical and evil is a word with a meaning, I guess it makes sense to have such good guys who are willing to take control of anything and everything to get the objective done. You've got to break the law to enforce it.


Outside Observers

There are numerous occasions which I can recall where I was surprised by something that a friend discovered while they were at my house. It seems like we can know our environment intimately, but up to a certain point. By this I mean that we can, for example, know specifically where the floor in our house creaks, or other such oddities of living in a particular environment for a long time.

However, there still appear to be strange details which we do not or cannot observe for any reason, and it takes an outsider to notice these things. Case in point: a little while ago a friend of mine was over at my house. She commented on a vase that we have in the kitchen which has fake flowers in it. She starts laughing and tells me how funny it is that these fake flowers have been put in a vase which has water in it -- as if it mattered. I looked at it and noticed that there was indeed water at the bottom of the vase, and I started to laugh.

I kept looking at this a little closer and noticed that it actually was not water, but rather some type of hard jelly which was meant to look like water. The flowers were actually stuck inside this jelly. I'm not sure that I ever would have noticed this had my friend not pointed it out. So I kept laughing at the fact that this vase was somehow designed with the idea of "keeping up appearances" in mind.

Eric's recent post reminded me of a few things we had discussed in the past, and this prompted me to recall this story about the vase. It's funny how whenever I go to a person's place that I have never been to before, I always have to satisfy my curiosity by poking around and noticing all the strange objects and things which seem to serve no purpose, or are very strange by nature, and yet those who live closest to them have never even noticed.


Just an advertisement

This web-site isn't much for advertisement, but I would like to point out a book that might interest anyone who has read this blog.

French author Roger-Pol Droit wrote a book entitled "How are things?" translated to English by Theo Cuffe and it covers short essays on objects. Its approach sounds quite a bit like what Eric and I wrote about a few years back. Of course, it isn't as angry or sarcastic as we approached it, it's more philosophical and calm, but worth a read.

It covers mini-essays on objects. From their usefulness to what they mean for human beings.


Eating Times

As I called a programmer the other day to fix the machine at work, I got a response from him that felt quite vague. He said he'd call me back after supper. I answered that it was alright with me and that I would wait his call.

No wait! Why did I do that? Who am I to know when this man would eat? This guy could eat from 4pm until 9pm for all I know. I naturally assumed 7pm would be the optimal call back time. Why think that way? Thinking of it now, I'm not sure.

Growing up, I always thought that the average supper time was 6pm. So I always made the assumption as I grew older that people generally ate around that time. When I asked someone about the technician calling me back after supper, the person answered with a question: "What nationality is the technician?". The question was a surprise but sounded like an intelligent one. The technician is French-Canadian (Quebecois for the sensitive). The person then said "Oh, so he should be done eating by now, Quebecois eat around 5pm".

5pm? Way lower then what I was expecting, but it is a good remark. As a child, 5:30pm was the time at which we use to eat. When I went to my friend's house, if they were French-Canadian as well, that was the time at which we ate.

But hold on, if there is a cultural correlation, then why stop there? Friends of mine are Jewish Persian, they eat around 9pm. Others I know from different cultures eat earlier. What does that tell me culturally about each one? Does it mean anything at all?

Is there a correlation between eating times and some other social part of our culture? I remember often hearing that people were finished eating "just in time for the news" which are shown here at 6pm. Does this mean anything?