31 August 2010

Post 228

I noticed recently that my Firefox browser has a "private browsing" option in its tools menu. Not sure what that was, I consulted the Firefox help website and found this explanation:

{Open Quote}

History is used by the browser to enhance your experience on the Internet. When the browser remembers a website you previously visited or the username and password for your favorite web site, this information is considered your history.

However, there may be times when you do not want other users of your computer to see or access such information. For example, if a friend or family member shares your computer, you might prefer for them not to be able to see what websites you've visited or what files you've downloaded.

Firefox 3.5 and later provide "Private Browsing," which allows you to browse the Internet without Firefox saving any data about which sites and pages you have visited.

Note: Private Browsing prevents information from being recorded on your computer. It does not make you anonymous on the Internet.

{Close Quote}

Can anybody think of a reason that "you might prefer for [your family and friends] not to be able to see what websites you've visited or what files you've downloaded"--other than a hidden porn addiction, I mean. Near as I can tell, this is an option by the porn addicts for the porn addicts, and that makes me sad. The only other thing I can think of is, like, Christmas shopping, but unless you're making a mix CD for your teenaged love-crush, I don't know why you would need to hide your downloading history.

27 August 2010

Post 227

A cruel trick has been played on me, readers--too cruel, almost, for me to bear.

Where to begin?

I discovered recently a sanctuary to save my sanity from my oppressively mindless and menial occupation (chiasmic alliteration, anyone?). It's called Librivox, and it's fantastic. Theric once told me that one of the most charitable things I could do with myself is to contribute to Wikipedia and thus add to the mass of readily available knowledge that is now at mankind's fingertips, and I believed him, but should I ever find a spare day in my near future, I'd much rather record a story or two for Librivox and thus similarly add to mankind's memory. Librivox.org is a place where audio recordings of works that are in the public domain are available for free. The idea is that people volunteer as readers and editors and organizers and work toward the goal of getting everything that is in the public domain recorded and downloadable.

My job is, as I said, more than usually mindless lately, and I have therefore been reading (or rather listening to) a wide variety of worthwhile old time stories. In the past couple of weeks, I have listened to The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as several shorter Sherlock Holmes tales, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, several short stories by Poe and Twain (some were very funny, which is a tribute to both men, and some were not at all funny, which is a tribute to Poe but not Twain) and several other authors, some of whom I'd heard of and some of whom I hadn't. I must confess that I enjoyed most of what I listened to, most especially because they were things I never would have gotten around to reading for myself.

I had so much I wanted to tell you about these old works, but now I can't because I'm so upended by this nasty trick.

Those of you who remember this blog's heyday back in 2008 might also recall my attacks upon the world of fiction. Much of what I said was sensationalized to promote ongoing discussion and hatred, but all of what I said had some tinge of honesty to it and, though I've mellowed out a lot in recent days, I still feel as though I have no time that I can sacrifice to the golden calf of fiction (except for the occasional movie with my wife)--and if I ever do find time to sacrifice to it, I'd much rather spend the time carving my own calves than admiring the existent herds. But listening to these books has been different because I have been able to do so while doing all that is expected of me by my employer. I have been, I suppose, reading for pleasure's sake alone and (worse yet!) as nothing more than an escape from the drear of my bread winning.

The Schmetterling of 2008 would slap me with a furious antenna, I'm sure.

But that's precisely why the trick was so cruel. You see, yesterday and today I listened to The Man Who Was Thursday, which I had never heard of before a few days ago when a friend mentioned it in passing. I looked it up on Librivox and read the description. It sounded like an exciting and thrilling tale: a Scotland Yard man undercover among anarchists--what could be a better distraction from my humdrum life of find-and-replace?

(If you know the book, which I'm not really counting on, you might well be laughing at me now, and you have every right to.)

Yesterday, I got through a good chunk of the book, and it was everything I had hoped for. Some of it seemed contrived and hokey, but it was fun and engaging and unpredictable and curiously funny at times. As I listened, I downloaded a Gutenberg etext so I could copy excerpts to email myself, and I spent large parts of last night wondering how on earth the tale would end.

Today I listened to the last half, and it became inexplicably hard to pay attention to after a while. Then the inexplicability became perfectly clear: I was having trouble following because it was all falling apart. The plot vanished; the characters started fading away. An opaque sort of meaning distilled upon the lens, as it were, distorting the clarity of the story, and then the whole thing ended in an instant, absurdly arriving somewhere near (but not precisely at) the place where it began.

I felt robbed. Where is my denouement? I demand a denouement! I asked Wikipedia what had happened, but it only hinted, delighting in the secret it so politely kept for the book and impolitely kept from me. Dash it all, Chesterton, what has happened to this adventure?

I turned on Pandora and returned to my work, brooding. And then a dismal light dawned somewhere in the fog of my intellect and I beheld the grandest and cleverest but also cruelest and most elaborate trick that anyone ever pulled on me, and I'm not even sure who to blame for it.

In all my raging against the beast of Fiction, I never once concluded that it was incapable of enlightening its readers. Of a truth I intended to argue that it was perhaps better able to edify than nonfiction is, but its aim is so often to merely entertain, and that was the sin that led me to seek so intensely to crucify its advocates. In my mind, Fiction's great crime was not its inability to improve humanity (impotence is a disability and not a crime); no, the crime of Fiction was that it ignored its almost limitless potential and thus became a guilty bystander that observes crimes without punishing them. I hated fiction because it seemed to me an infinitely wealthy man who says, "Be thou warmed and filled" and yet gives nothing.

And then the trick. Just when I sit at the table and say, "Fine, my fair French Princess, I will eat cake. How I wish I had some bread because I'm starving here, but I will feast upon your well wishing. Bring me the feast of the multitude of nations, and I will be the man who dreams that he eats and awakes to an empty soul or dreams that he drinks and wakes up faint; only let me dream that I am filled and I will be satisfied till morning." I sit like Peter Branning with the lost boys, merely pretending to feast, starving and yet momentarily satisfied by the illusion. Herein lay the trick: in the midst of this absurd meal, I found the meat and potatoes I had often sought, the hearty meal I thought I was only pretending to eat. But cruel, cruel world--I wasn't paying attention! I thought, "Hum! This plate of phantasm is curiously tough to chew!" and swallowed it before I knew what it was!

So I'll never know how good a meal it was because I never intend to eat it again, but I daresay there was meat of some kind in there, and even if it was only a McNugget of thought, I wish I'd given it a bit more attention than what I did because I think it came from the breast of one of my favorite theological questions.

[P.S. Is it apparent that I've had hours and hours of literature fed to me through my ears? My words sound stilted to me even as I type them.]

21 August 2010

Post 226

I have solved a mystery, readers, and uncovered a heretofore unnoticed tragedy (at least by me).

As you might know, Billy Joel is by far my favorite musician (see my profile). I own more than half of his studio albums and have at various times had ambitions to own all of them (this desire only flags when I realize that I already have more than 9 hours of Billy Joel music, which is already far more than I am able to listen to on a very regular basis). Someday, I would love to publish an article (only on this blog, no doubt) reviewing all of his albums, giving each a nickname, and providing thoughts about each. Ya see, Billy Joel is--um--heck, I'll just make up a term--Billy Joel is what we connoisseurs call an Album Artist. I have heard in him several interviews say that he writes albums. He doesn't just write a bunch of songs and throw them all together to make an album; he decides what he wants an album to be, and then he writes songs to render the effect he was going for, so listening to any of his songs outside of the context of its album (he says) is unfair to the song. That's why, in this era of individually sold mp3s, I continue to buy entire albums on CD--so I can pop it in and listen to it straight through in the way that the artist intended. Doing so has made it obvious to me that he really does write albums, and that the songs do have a little something extra when surrounded by their siblings at home (as opposed to hanging out with friends at the Greatest Hits Club, I guess).

Anyway, this really has nothing to do with what I actually wanted to blog about (which is a good sign I'm getting back to the good old days of prolific blogging).

Billy Joel's song "The Entertainer" is one of those "Wo is me! I'm a world-famous rock star!" sorts of songs. These sorts of songs usually get on my nerves, and this one did initially, but the music is just so good and the lyrics are so well crafted that it won me over. Still, one line always confused me.

"The Entertainer" is on Streetlife Serenade, the album that came out after Piano Man, and one verse runs thus

I am the entertainer,
I come to do my show.
You've heard my latest record,
It's been on the radio.
Ah, it took me years to write it,
They were the best years of my life.
It was a beautiful song.
But it ran too long.
If you're gonna have a hit,
You gotta make it fit--
So they cut it down to 3:05.

This has always confused me. The only song this could possibly be talking about is "Piano Man," but a quickly glance at that song in Window Media Player shows it to run 5:38. What gives, Bill?

Well I've figured it out, readers, and I'm very sad about it. I have been nearly evangelical at times in sharing with people just how awesome Mr. Joel is. I proudly tell people that Billy Joel is by far my favorite artist, that he does, in my opinion, leave far in his proverbial dust all other bands, singer-song writers, artists, and musicians. My friends often say, "But [Shmetterling]--what does he sing besides 'Piano Man'?" to which I respond, "Wellletmetellya!" and I rattle off songs that I know they know (longesttime,riverofdreams,wedidn'tstartthefire, etcetcetc). I have often thought to myself how sad it is that they only know to associate one song with this great man--but now I feel differently.

Now I feel that it is downright tragic and a horrible injustice to music and humanity that they know even less than that!

Several months back, I was sifting through radio stations in the car and found one that was playing "Piano Man," so I sat back and sang along. And then--wait, what? Suddenly, I was on the wrong verse. Somehow, the song had gone straight from the bartender ("...but there's someplace that he'd rather be") to the rest of the crowd ("And the waitress is practicing politics...")--it skipped, like, two verses! And then it skipped another verse and went straight to the end!

What the heck?? Five and a half minutes from the greatest musician to ever step foot on the rock 'n' roll scene is not too much to expect of a radio station--especially in a world where "American Pie" is far from absent on the airwaves. I tell you, friends, if ever there was a sign of a cultural misappropriate of priorities, this was it!

Anyways, a couple of days ago, I was driving up State Street to pick my wife up from work, and the radio station I was tuned to started playing "Piano Man." It took me the first couple of bars to remember my duty to society, so by the time I looked at my watch, I was a few seconds late, but when the song ended, my best estimation is that it did, in fact, run just a little more than 3:05.


15 August 2010

Post 225

Okay, readers, help me out, here. Political discourse of any description usually gives me patriotic tingles up and down my spine, but I have no idea what to make of this video:

I admit that I'm really out of touch with current events, but can anyone answer these questions for me?

0:40 "You claim you have not heard us." - What does this mean? Has President Obama said, "I hear that people have said that they reject my vision for the country, but I haven't heard them, so oh well!"?
0:51 "You claim you have not seen us." - Is President Obama on the record as having said, "Tea parties? What tea parties?"
0:58 "...as President Wilson said, 'a leader's ears must ring with the voices of the people'" - What was President Wilson talking about? Also, do we look to Wilson as an advocate of the rights of "the People"? I know some not so savory things about the way the privacy of "the People" was flouted during his reign.
2:01 "That unfinished cause for which our soldiers willing go to battle" - ...is analogous to Gettysburg how?
2:44 Obama has "violated our Constitution" - how, precisely?
2:46 Obama has "confounded laws" - what does this mean?
2:50 Obama has "destroyed jobs" - how?
2:52 Obama has "perverted our economy" - what does this mean?
2:54 Obama has "curtailed free speech" - how?
2:56 Obama has "corrupted our currency" - what does this mean?
2:58 Obama has "weakened our national security" - how?
3:00 Obama has "endangered our sovereignty" - how?
3:05 "By compromising our nations cultural, legal, and economic institutions" - How has he done this? What is a "cultural institution"?
3:16 "Through generational theft you are robbing the unborn of opportunity." - Very poetic, but what does it mean?

Just a little confused. I myself am a little unsettled by how much money has been spent in recent days, but Mr. Obama is signing the bills that Congress puts in front of him, so let's not just blame him. I don't really mean to defend our president (I lack the political interest to do so), but I'm not a fan of rabble-rousing, and I think that's all this is.

02 August 2010

Post 224

"Stoned wallabies make crop circles" might sound like a headline from The Onion, but it's actually from BBC news.

Check it out.