Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 September, 2010

It May Be His Chat Session, But It's Sure As Hell My Computer

Today's Cap Times has an article about parental snooping on their kids' Internet activity/cell phone usage and the technology that enables it. According to the piece, there are many services and pieces of software out there that lets parents monitor the activity of their children. A company called SpectorSoft is doing brisk business with sales growing "by 25 percent a year for the past three years". They have a service that allows parents to read every text message their child receives in real time and have "sold 500,000 copies of its snoopware to families."

The article also mentions that these products and services appeal to parents "who are often left in the dust by tech-savvy teens". Sales numbers are one thing but how many non-tech-savvy parents were actually able to install the software and then learn how to use it effectively? I've worked in IT for a while and, let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there for whom "non-tech-savvy" is an understatement. Yes, I've encountered people who think the DVD tray is a cup holder. One guy, when told to close all open windows, got up from his chair and closed all the windows (of the glass kind) in his house. And then there are those who have never used the right mouse button before and, when told to do so, become fearful of ever using the left mouse button again. It's like they're scared that pushing both at the same time would be like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters and lead to total protonic reversal.

Snoopware is great but completely useless unless you know how to use the stuff.

I have an 11-year old stepson at home and I have Windows Live Family Safety on his laptop. While it has many features, I use only a couple. The one I use the most is time limits. I can make sure his session is locked when it approaches bed time and cut out his access completely when he misbehaves in such an egregious manner as to require denying access to the laptop as a punishment. The other one I use is web filtering. It's set on the lowest level so as to filter out only the most obvious stuff. There is also a log of web usage but I've only looked at it once or twice. I saw that the kid does e-mail, goes to YouTube, and goes to some online gaming sites but not much else so I don't bother to look at the log. Besides, I've got better things to do than perusing it – like being there as he creates worlds in Blockland.

But he's 11. Right now I don't have any reason to worry about him surfing porn because he won't do it. The easiest way to get him to leave the living room is to put on a movie that has topless women in it. The kid hates boobs. He's repulsed by the mere sight of them. This situation will no doubt change soon but I am not worried about porn in the least. Now, maybe his mother is but I don't know. I viewed the stuff as a kid but it was in magazines and I turned out OK. The only difference is going to be that he is going to the miss out on the pages stuck together. (And, if he's straight, the lovely forests of Venus.)

My worry is downloading. Viruses are a pain but that can be mitigated pretty well with anti-virus software and Windows' User Account Control. Hell, with my shiny new router I can put his laptop on a guest channel to shield my PC and his mother's. No, what I worry about is torrenting. The last thing I need is to be slapped with a lawsuit by the RIAA or MPAA, not to mention I'd probably have no bandwidth left.

As far as the issue of trust goes, I'm in the middle somewhere. I certainly trust that teenagers will do and say the stupidest things but I don't want to be Big Brother and monitor everything. Parents weren't able to snoop in on every conversation before the Internet and ubiquity of cell phones so why start now? I think it is a bad lesson to teach kids that Big Brother is going to be watching them. But, on the other hand, it's also a bad lesson to teach kids that they can have freedom without any responsibility.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see what the future holds and how the boy develops as a teenager. So much of this is contingent upon circumstances which vary greatly from family to family. Right now I have no plans to change anything unless I have reason to believe trouble lies ahead. I want the boy to understand that I want him to enjoy himself online, to flex his creativity, and feel that he has some privacy. But I also want him to understand that he is a child and that his mother and I are the ones in charge. He gets to earn our trust and the amount of freedom he has is commensurate with the responsibility with which he uses it.


Lastly I'll note that the new version of Windows Live Family Safety was just made available today along with the rest of the Windows Live Essentials suite. I am using a beta of this version now on a Windows 7 machine. One big difference I noticed was that it moves all the parental controls online. Out of the box, Windows 7 parental controls are apps on the PC. Now you are sent to log into a Windows Live account (or Hotmail) and access all the controls from a webpage. Once you save settings, they sync with your computer and are enforced.

While I like the idea of being able to 86 the kid's use of the computer remotely if he fucks up big time, it's been hit or miss as far as how long it takes the synching to occur. I actually posted a question at the Family Safety forums asking how long a delay I can expect between saving and synching as was told that "from their experience", it was pretty much instantaneous. This did little to allay my fears. Hey Microsoft, have someone with technical knowledge man the boards. I don't need all the details on the APIs or anything but it would have been nice to have gotten an answer based on the program's technical specifications along with some reasons why your mileage may vary. Also note that the program's website is much more interested in touting features than it is in giving documentation.

Going by balloon messages appearing in the Notification Area, I've seen changes applied after a few seconds, a few minutes, and a few hours.
|| Palmer, 1:09 PM || link || (4) comments |

Coming Soon: New Restaurants

I once asked Linda Falkenstein what kind of restaurant she'd like to see here in Madison and she told me that she wants to be able to go out and eat Burmese food. Well, there's no Burmese restaurant in town, yet anyway, there are some restaurant openings of note.

Of most interest to me, Steven Buchholz of Cream Café recently tweeted:

A little bird told me a former chef of Sardine is opening a New York style deli in the once "Africana" space on Atwood.

This is good news. There's some passable to good corned beef in Madison but, having grown up on some delis on Chicago's far north side, none stack the meat as they should. Like this:

On State Street, Pepe's Casa has opened. I assumed that it was going to be a Mexican joint but saw a sandwich board out on the street that said they had American food. I'm hoping this means that they serve both. Anyone tried their food yet?

The other day I noticed that a new candy store is going to be opening up on the 500 block of State Street. It's going to be called something like BeeBee's Campus Candy.

And thanks to Ms. Falkenstein, I've learned that the Underground Food Collective's Underground Kitchen will be opening on 7 October. Plus there's going to be more Italian available that same day with the opening of Nostrano on the other side of the Square. I have this feeling that I'll be referring to this joint as Nostromo.

|| Palmer, 10:33 AM || link || (6) comments |

29 September, 2010

Dumbest Person Ever Attends Obama Rally

I heard a couple humorous stories about Obama's visit yesterday...

The first involves someone who has to be amongst the dumbest people ever. Apparently some guy just had to satisfy his craving for cannabis during the event so he crawls into some bushes in front of the Historical Society and lights up. Secret Service agents spot him and do a double take because they cannot believe their eyes. Once they determine he's not a threat, they pawn him off onto the police.

Every law enforcement officer and Secret Service agent within a 30-mile radius is there and he lights up a joint. What a maroon!

Secondly, while Secret Service agents have a reputation for being very stoic, I was told that one of them invited a couple of hottie co-ed volunteers up to the press room. The perks of the job.
|| Palmer, 2:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

Intercity Rail in Peril

Wisconsin's Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker says he would put the kibosh on the extension of the Hiawatha line to Madison. Indeed, Republicans are a threat to rail projects around the country. But they are by no means alone.

Now some freight railroads are actively working against passenger rail.

Opposition from freight railroads is threatening the Obama administration's multibillion-dollar push to make high-speed passenger trains an integral part of the U.S. transportation network.

The standoff demonstrates the difficulties of introducing new passenger service to a rail network that is at least 90% owned by freight railroads and outfitted for slower trains.

To save time and money, government officials want new high-speed rail routes to operate on the vast system of train corridors that already crisscross the U.S., unlike European and Asian countries that have built dedicated tracks for high-speed rail.

But Norfolk Southern Corp., Union Pacific Corp. and other railroad companies are balking at sharing their tracks or rights-of-way with trains that would run between 90 and 200-plus miles an hour. They argue that mixing high-speed passenger trains with slower freight trains would create safety risks, prevent future expansion and cause congestion.

I read at one time that some freight carriers are more amenable to sharing track with passenger trains than others but I can't recall which carriers felt what way. To my knowledge, neither Canadian Pacific nor Wisconsin & Southern have put up a fight against intercity rail service to Madison.

Now, how W&S will react to both intercity and commuter rail here in Madison could be an altogether different story.

A side note on the above quote. ("unlike European and Asian countries that have built dedicated tracks for high-speed rail") Richard Longworth blogged about a paper by the Germany company Siemens, who build trains, called "High-Speed Trains Running on Freight Line Tracks: The Experience of Germany".

It's always been assumed, at least by me, that any real high speed network in the Midwest would need dedicated tracks, separate from freight lines, with all the expense this implies. The Siemens paper says this isn't necessarily so.

In Germany, it says, freight and passenger trains share the same rails: there probably isn't room for separate lines. This means that the shared lines have to be upgraded to handle both high speed rail and heavyweight freight, with curves straightened, grade crossings eliminated (for safety reasons) and "passing loops" installed. Rail automation has been upgraded to 21st-century standards to prevent accidents. (In 1998, 101 persons were killed in a terrible ICE accident: since then, there have been no fatalities on the system.)

All this, of course, is hugely expensive. But the dual use allows the expense to be more quickly amortized. And virtually everyone agrees that this dense train network is crucial to German prosperity.

It would seem that freight and passenger trains using the same tracks at the same time would produce inevitable delays. Siemens says the Germans avoid this by scheduling most freight trains for off-peak hours, with most daytime traffic reserved for passenger trains.

And while I'm on the subject of transit, check out Jarrett Walker's post "The Perils of Average Density". He calls the notion "effective transit requires high density" a fallacy and proceeds to look at the various ways density is calculated. Here's something that folks in the Madison area should take into account when contemplating commuter rail here:

Transit reacts mainly with the density right around its stations. It is in the nature of transit to serve an area very unevenly, providing a concentrated value around its stops and stations and less value elsewhere. So what matters for transit is the density right where the transit is, not the aggregate density of the whole urban area.

This is one reason why the Transport 2020 plan for light rail in Madison turns me off. Some of the stops are in the middle of nowhere because the plan is to utilize existing rail which is not laid out with passenger rail in mind.
|| Palmer, 1:53 PM || link || (0) comments |

A Visit to Minhas (Craft?) Brewery

The boy and I went to Monroe a couple weeks ago for Cheese Days and while we were there, we took a tour of the Minhas Brewery. Minhas was formerly the Joseph Huber Brewing Company which was bought in 2006 by Mountain Crest, owned by Manjit & Ravinder Minhas – both Canadians. Unfortunately most of my photos didn't turn out but let me offer a few things.

You begin in the bottling area by watching a video that features both of the Minhases and a brewer e talk about the company, extol the virtue of their beers, etc. Since being bought out, the brewery now churns out a lot more beer than it used to. Two times more. (Heck, maybe even a greater amount than that – I can't recall the exact figures.) Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale is their best seller although some of the beers they produce are for the Canadian market so I can't say if Lazy Mutt sells the most overall or just in the States. Why this is I don't understand because beer I've had with the Minhas label is total crap. I bought one of their sampler packs which had, if memory serves, Minhas 1845 Pils, Fighting Billy Bock, Lazy Mutt, Swiss Amber, and perhaps a couple others. I couldn't tell the beers apart because they all tasted like watery, adjunct-laden piss water. One was advertised as being an all-malt and it too tasted for shite. They all tasted the same and none would even make a good lawnmower beer.

I want to say that I like Berghoff and I am raking on only those brews that actually have the Minhas label. Berghoff is a good middle-range brew like Leinenkugel's. It's cheaper than your top of the line craft brews but is more expensive than most swill.

Not surprisingly, they also make soda (Blumer's and Berghoff Root Beer) as well as energy drinks, none of which I'd ever heard of. Plus there were other beers I'd never heard of – Clear Creek Ice, Boxer Lager, and Rani Lager, a supposed Indian-style beer brewed here in Wisconsin and apparently only sold in Canada. That's globalism for ya. And I had no idea there was a Berghoff Artisan Collection. Anyone know what beers comprise it? The brewery has also introduced Minhas IPA. Not sure if it's been distributed yet or not as I've never seen it on store shelves. But there were cases of it in the warehouse.

While I think Minhas brews mostly total crap, they're doing well and keeping Cheeseheads employed. More power to 'em.

At the end of the tour we retired to the tasting room. I had a Minhas Oktoberfest while the kid went with root beer. The Oktoberfest was probably the best beer I've tasted with a Minhas label. While it was pretty watery, it actually had a bit of a malt backbone and something resembling a malt-hops balance. This was a good lawnmower beer.

Outside the tasting area was a gift shop and a beer museum with lots of memorabilia. One room was full of old bottles and also had an old Capital poster back from the days when the brewery was still named Garten Bräu. It reads: "A family of award winning beers from Wisconsin's finest lager brewery". In addition to a photo of a couple bottles and a glass, it also listed the brewery's offerings.

There have certainly been some changes over the years, not the least of which is the name change. The Lager (a.k.a. – Bavarian Lager) is gone. Weizen was brewed for the first time in a while this year but wasn't bottled. And oh for the days when Wild Rice was a seasonal! In college we drank Maibock every spring and Wild Rice every summer. I never knew I had it so good.

Despite the changes, it's heartening to see just how much of their line-up has remained the same. (Plus you've got all the new brews.) Capital certainly hasn't abandoned the lager though I hear that both the Dark and Special Pilsner aren't selling too well so I expect that one or both of them will be put into hibernation anon. That would truly be a sad day. But if it happens, might I suggest Mr. Kirby, a roggenbier or a zwickel as replacements?

Actually, I think my bitching in favor of lagers (and/or German styles) is paying off. At dinner recently, a friend of mine ordered a Capital Oktoberfest and told me that Capital was his favorite brewery and "I'm really a lager man at heart." Another friend related to me today that he had a Lakefront Riverwest Stein beer earlier this week and found it to be very tasty. And this is coming from someone who has been mainly sticking to IPAs and Belgians for a while, although he enjoyed many kölsches this past summer.

Love your lager!
|| Palmer, 12:34 PM || link || (0) comments |

What Kind of Beer Is That?

Here's an interesting (well, if you're a beer geek) article about a new style of beer and the trouble beer nerds are having in classifying it.

After thousands of years of brewing, it's not every day that someone comes up with a new beer style. But in the last few years, West Coast craft brewers have been churning out what looks like a porter but tastes like a sweet India Pale Ale. Everyone loves it. In its debut as a category at this year's Great American Beer Festival, it garnered 53 entries; only 15 of the 79 categories had more—and those were mostly stalwarts like blonde ale and barleywine.

The problem is, no one can decide what to call it.

Cascadia Dark Ale? American-Style India Black Ale? India Black Ale or India Dark Ale?
|| Palmer, 10:55 AM || link || (8) comments |

27 September, 2010

Janusz Prusinowski Trio and Kwadrophonik Stop In Madison

Head on down to Mills Music Hall this Thursday to catch a couple Polish bands pay tribute to the roots, inspiration, and music of Chopin.

The Janusz Prusinowski Trio plays traditional Polish village music while Kwadrophonik will mix folk with jazz and classical by using two pianos and an arsenal of percussion.

It will appeal to fans of world folk, experimental music, and Chopin.

Many thanks to Szymon Wozniczka, who also helps organize the Polish Film Festival here in Madison, for organizing this show. This Madison appearance is a real coup as the bands were only going to do two dates here in the States with stops in Chicago and then New York. But Szymon talked them into stopping here in Madison rather than having them wait around for nearly a week between dates. He inveigled them at first to reduce their fees and then finally to accept door receipts.
|| Palmer, 8:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

MadCon Recap 2

While Harlan Ellison was the guest of honor, he wasn't the only guest there. I got to meet Ace!

(I think that she's even taller than Sylvester McCoy!)

Sophie Aldred played Ace on Doctor Who from 1987-89. She was the final companion of the classic series and the template for Rose. She blew stuff up with Nitro 9, beat the crap out of a Dalek with a baseball bat, and generally kicked some butt. I think that it also had to do with the fact that she was relatively close to my age. I recall seeing Sylvester McCoy in La Crosse as part of a promotional tour he was doing. We would get to see DW not long after it had aired in the UK instead of having to wait for years for PBS to show them. Ace and the Seventh Doctor were current, as it were. They were of my time instead of a recent past.

Sophie was a real sweetheart and told some good stories. She talked about how she got into acting and recalled when she got the part of Ace. At the time she was doing Fiddler on the Roof. The guy playing a rabbi had also been on DW – he'd been a Dalek. When Sophie got the call that she'd been given the part, the guy gave her a postcard with three Daleks on the front. On it he had written "Welcome to the family. You will not be exterminated."

Sophie also related how she was a DW fan as a kid and had always been terrified of Cybermen. She had only recently tried to listen to any of the DW audio dramas she'd done for Big Finish. Her first was The Harvest, a Cyberman story. She'd put her children to bed one night and put it on only to turn it off after a short time because it was too damn scary to listen to alone at night. Along these same lines, Sophie also talked about the new series. One night, again after having put her kids to sleep, she and her husband watched "The Empty Child" – the Ninth Doctor episode with the kid who has a gas mask attached to his face and who goes around saying "Are you my mummy?". As they were watching it, she heard one of her kids saying something but couldn't quite make it out as the living room door was closed and the kids' bedrooms are upstairs. So she opens the door and looks up the stairs. All that can be made out is this short shadowy figure at the top of the stairs pleading, "Mummy!" Sophie said she was petrified.

As I said above Sophie was a great. Luckily she and her handler (a friend of hers) went downtown and around campus. They saw the Capitol, wandered State Street, and eventually made their way to Memorial Union. She said that it was lovely and was surprised at the lack of tall buildings here. I say she was lucky because I ran into one of Harlan Ellison's friends outside who finished a sentence with an emphatic "Fucking Madison!" as I approached. When he saw me he apologized and I asked what the problem was. He said that, whenever he comes to Madison (the guy is from the UK), he always gets stomach problems from the food. This, I discovered, was because he always stays out by East Towne Mall and eats at buffets in the area. He said he was friends with Jamie Oliver, has taken meals with Anthony Bourdain, and used to be a chef and restaurant consultant.

I told him that his problem was that he sticks around the 1960s suburban mall part of town. "Head downtown," I urged him. "We do actually have good food here." I directed him to the Japanese restaurant across the street and to Maharaja. I hate to see a visitor come here all the way from England get stuck eating crappy food in a crappy mall and not seeing the more scenic aspects of town and eating some of the great food we have on offer.

Above are some of the other guests at the con. You've got sci-fi authors Mark Tiedemann, Gene Wolfe, and Pat Rothfuss plus uber-fan Richard Russell. I believe this was from a panel discussion the topic of which was "Style or Substance – What Got Us Into Science Fiction & Fantasy in the First Place?" Now, aside from Harlan, I didn't know squat about these other guys. I'd heard of them but had never read anything by them. (Rothfuss is from Madison originally and he now resides up in Stevens Point.) This was one of those panels that I hadn't originally decided to attend but did because of the way my schedule turned out and I found it immensely interesting. (This is often the case at cons.)

There was a long, rueful discussion about how sci-fi/fantasy was, at some point, segregated from literature generally. It's like there's mainstream fiction and then its bastard children of sci-fi and fantasy. I believe it was Gene Wolfe who brought this up first. I was reminded of a book that I'd read recently - The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. In it the author talks about how royalty would often listen to books being read to them. One example was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. There was a time when stories of the fantastic were mainstream. They weren't considered unserious or childish but rather to be fit for adults and part of the corpus of great literature. (Oh, and poetry too.) I suspect that this view didn't end with the arrival of the Renaissance and is more likely a 20th century phenomenon.

Wolfe also said that mainstream literature today is dominated by those in the upper-middle class, i.e. – university professors. True or not, I don't know but it made me wonder about sci-fi/fantasy. If the guests at the con that weekend were anything to judge by, I'd say Tor Books doesn't churn out fantastic fiction by a coterie of blue collar workers. Wolfe is surely right to say that railroad engineers don't write mainstream fiction but I'm not sure they write sci-fi either. And, in looking at the con's attendees, I have to wonder about the fans' class status. I recently found the blog of Christopher MacDonald who wrote the book Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown and I just couldn't help but wonder if sci-fi/fantasy is, however fantastic lit had been considered in the past, a middlebrow pursuit. (There's my deep thought for you, my antagonistic anonymous commenter.) I have no statistics to back up this view but I would offer it to anyone reading this who finds him-/herself in charge of programming at a con. "Is Science Fiction/Fantasy a Middle-Class Pursuit?"

Another writer I encountered there was Allen Steele. Again, heard the name but have never read him. He seemed like a really nice guy. Can I retract that? Nice guys finish last. Steele seemed to me to be a very dorky guy. Friendly and dorky – the perfect combination. He broke down during a reading of his and had to leave the room to regain his composure. Apparently a tragedy had befallen his family and there was some stuff in the story that brought him back to it. I met him outside afterwards – he's an evil smoker like me – and chatted briefly. I told him that that same tragedy nearly befell my family so I was sympathetic and kinda sorta vaguely understood his pain. He thanked me for the kind words before heading in to take a seat at the banquet. I hope to meet him again and hear him talk more at a future con.

These are just some of the people behind Night of the Living Dead – The Puppet Show. Some crazy theater geeks in Milwaukee devised it. They weren't able to perform it live and so instead we got shown the DVD and had a Q&A afterwards. It was pretty funny. Definitely a lo-fi production deserving of some more technical virtuosity which I'm sure will come with time. I can imagine that seeing it done live is a much better experience. The next performance is on the 28th of next month at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee.

Maddie – the significant other of Dane 101's Jesse Russell and whose last name I don't know (sorry, Maddie) – was also in the audience and asked if they'd ever performed in Madison. They have not. She got that look in her eye which led me to believe that this situation might be changing soon. Keep an eye out at Dane 101 for its sponsoring of a weird zombie/steampunk night out on the town.

On Sunday I attended a panel on the book Chicks Dig Time Lords which is a compendium of essays and interviews by and about women in Doctor Who fandom. I'd seen a similar panel at Chicago TARDIS last year but at MadCon there were eight contributors instead of just a couple. I'm sure I'll write more about this subject after I read the book. But let me offer two things:

1) Christa Dickson contributed an essay on DW slash. She's firmly in the pro-DW smut corner. So does she just enjoy slash or is she also a kinky vixen? I personally don't have a problem with people writing and reading stories about The Doctor getting buggered by Captain Jack. It doesn't ruin the show for me, doesn't insult me – go for it. Dickson doesn't have to defend it to me. But what does it say about slash fans?

2) Secondly, Carol Barrowman, sister of John (a.k.a. – Captain Jack) was a stitch. She was a funny lady in her own right plus had some hilarious tales of hanging out with her brother in Cardiff, where Torchwood is filmed. For example, there's a Doctor Who exhibition in Cardiff. While they were there one time, John had Carol guard the entrance to the new series section. He proceeded to remove the wax figure of Captain Jack and take its place. So a couple children walk up to him and he jumps out at them screaming which scares the living crap out of them and they go running off. Good times.

I brought home a sonic screwdriver for the kid as well as a couple fantasy novels. I’d bring him to cons but he’s just not ready in either age/temperament or geekiness. But you’ve gotta start somewhere. Of course there were a couple books for me as well. I grabbed one by James Roberts who, in addition to being an author, is also on the board of the August Derleth Society. We chatted for a bit and I found that he was a really nice fellow. Plus I got to hang out with my fellow bus rider Paul who is also a chair of OddCon.

All in all, a successful weekend.
|| Palmer, 6:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

MadCon Recap 1

Harlan Ellison may have been ill and he may have decided that his appearance at MadCon this past weekend was to be his last but I think the whole "Harlan Ellison is dying" meme out there is a bit presumptuous. He may have some terminal disease I don't know about but I can tell you that neither he nor any of his friends with whom I spoke at the con gave any indication that Harlan has anything but a case of old age.

His writing hand shook at times, which made autographing impossible but the guy talked for 6+ hours over the course of the weekend. He's 76. He's old and it showed. While Ellison wasn't in peak physical condition, it's not like he was brought into the room in a wheelchair. Similarly his memory may not have been perfect, he was still very sharp.

Holding court on Friday, he talked about having attacked a guy at a signing at Frugal Muse earlier in the afternoon and having made a kid cry at Old Country Buffet that evening. The exact nature of these events was not revealed on Friday. I caught only about half of his talk on Saturday and left it still not knowing of Ellison's exploits here in Madison. Finally on Sunday he explained the Old Country Buffet incident. OCB came in for quite a drubbing with their prime rib and clam chowder having been singled out for being especially horrid.

Firstly I was taken aback by the fact that Ellison was taken to OCB as I was told by one of the con's co-chairs that Harlan had specifically asked to go to Quivey's Grove after the signing at Frugal Muse. Things just didn't work out and they were short on time, apparently. And so some little girl ended up being terrified by Ellison. The reason is thus: Harlan did not get along with his sister very well (he may have said he hated her) beginning at a young age. She teased him mercilessly. And so when he saw a girl harassing her younger brother at the OCB, Harlan stepped in and told her that, if she didn't stop, something would come and eat her brains out of her head.

I never did find out what happened at Frugal Muse.

But there were plenty of other good stories to be had. For instance, I learned about him dissing a former high-ranking KGB official in Sweden as well as his adventures with the guy he claimed was the model for The Godfather's Luca Brasi. This same guy also, shall we say, lobbied on behalf of Ellison in his quest to regain the rights to some of his material. The accountant at a publishing company was quite surprised to have a guy built like a brick shithouse approach him and give him notice that he knew where his daughters went to school.

So, whether Harlan is about to croak or whether he's just old and creaky is beyond my purview. However I will say that his performance at MadCon sure made it seem like the latter. Methinks this Harlan-Ellison-is-dying thing is just another of his cons.
|| Palmer, 6:29 PM || link || (2) comments |

Viking Brewing Update

As I noted last week, Viking Brewing has been resurrected and will soon be undergoing a name change.

I contacted owner/brewmaster Randy Lee about when we can expect his beer back on store shelves and he replied that he's looking at mid-December. So it looks like The Dulcinea will have her Hot Chocolate before the year is out.

|| Palmer, 1:23 PM || link || (0) comments |

Beware The Daily Page

Caveat surfer. Isthmus' site, The Daily Page, is giving lots of viruses. Or, more likely, the ads on the site are giving viruses. Infected PCs are getting Anti-Virus Studio - malware.

I've been getting rid of it by going into Safe Mode and deleting the folder in C:\Docs and Settings\[user name]\App Data, emptying all temp folders, and clearing browser cache. Let's hope this gets cleared up soon.

UPDATE: The crack IT squad at The Daily Page is on the case. I presume it should be cleared up soon, if not already.
|| Palmer, 11:21 AM || link || (3) comments |

Hamster Patrol

I'm just keeping the hamster safe - honest...

|| Palmer, 10:15 AM || link || (0) comments |

24 September, 2010

MadCon 2010 - Day 1

I ran into a few people I know at the con including JM of Eating Madison A to Z. It was hardly a surprise to see him in the gaming room.

Sophie Aldred was a total sweetheart. She told some really funny stories. Of course I completely forgot to bring the stuff I wanted to her autograph with me. Must remember to pack Night Thoughts and Ghost Light. I asked her about the upcoming Lost Stories audio adventures and she said that most of them were recorded. In addition, she said that she loved A Death in the Family, a new DW that wasn't lost and that will be released next month.

Harlan Ellison was, considering his ill health, exactly like I expected him to be. For a guy who is dying, he had no problem holding court for nearly two hours. Tomorrow I hope to find out what he did to the guy at Frugal Muse earlier today and why he made some kid cry and Old Country Buffet this evening. And, while I'm at it, why he was at Old Country Buffet when he was supposed to be at Quivey's Grove.
|| Palmer, 11:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

Hey, where the white women at?

Now you can find out with this neat map. It shows the distribution of race and ethnicity in Madison. Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Gray is Other, and each dot is 25 people. A super-sized version is here.

|| Palmer, 3:42 PM || link || (0) comments |

Viking Brewery Resurrected (And Books On the Way Too)

This spring Viking Brewing up in Dallas went on hiatus. Well it looks like Randy Lee was made an offer he can't refuse. An Icelandic brewery with the same name has been looking at distributing in the States and has bought the rights to the name here and provided Lee with an influx of cash to resurrect his brewing outfit.

After sixteen years, the Viking Brewing Company of Dallas, Wisconsin need’s to find a new name. Recently, the brewery sold its U.S. Trademarked name “Viking” to the Viking Brewery - Vifilfell Ltd. of Akureyri, Iceland who wanted to import its Viking beer into this the U.S. Randy Lee, owner of Viking Brewing Co. USA had this to say, “We’ve been in negotiations with Viking, Iceland for some time now, and we finally reached terms that we can both live with. It’s going to be difficult to come up with a new name because we’ve been Vikings for so long that we just don’t know how else to behave, but I guess, now we will have to become civilized.”

To celebrate, there will be a viking funeral up in Dallas on 2 October. Yes, they are going to torch a viking ship on a pond. And The Dulcinea will be able to drink their Hot Chocolate again.


In other beer-related news, I hear that photographer Carl Carey will soon be releasing a book of photos of Wisconsin taverns. Plus a different author is hard at work on a book about the history and architecture(?!) of the same venues. Expect that book out in a couple years.
|| Palmer, 11:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

22 September, 2010

The Economic Ties That Bind (Madison to the Rest of the World)

Foreign Policy magazine has published a Global Cities Index for 2010 and I see that Chicago ranks sixth. We here in Madison are only about 140 miles away from one of the biggest and most influential cities on the planet. But this isn't really news. Lots of Madisonians head south to take in a concert by a group that rarely, if ever, comes to Madison to perform. Despite all the buy local hoopla, tons of the food on our grocery store shelves comes from Chicago. (This is probably especially pronounced in the ethnic grocery stores.) And I'm sure there are countless other examples of how Madison is, in certain ways, a satellite of Chicago.

It seems to me that with Amtrak service coming to Madison in less than three years, we have a good opportunity to create more ties to the Midwest's most important portal to the world. I nodded my head in agreement with urban planner Barry Gore's quote in a recent CapTimes article:

Gore is particularly miffed by the mayor’s efforts to piggyback a public market project onto the train station and a new parking ramp. He says Cieslewicz is more concerned about turning the downtown into a tourist attraction than fostering any tax-generating business development.

“I can’t see why a public market is suddenly the most important land use to pursue,” says Gore. “Are we to believe that businessmen and women coming to Madison from Chicago or Milwaukee on the train will want to buy some asparagus on arrival or departure?”

While I'm not against putting a public market in Madison, I do question the wisdom of making it a priority to place it across the street from the train station. It is very disappointing to see our mayor eschew/demote the view that the train stop is going to be a portal to A) Milwaukee, our state's largest city and B) Chicago, the region's powerhouse and a global city and instead advocate on behalf of asparagus. Not that his promotion of the public market is proof-positive that he isn't taking a wider view but, for me, it certainly makes his concerns seem very parochial.

A lot of what having a train stop here will or won't do for Madison is dependent on our next governor. Scott Walker has pledged to put the kibosh on the whole thing if elected. He oversaw Milwaukee County's Income Maintenance Program's descent into disaster and, if this article by Steve Jagler at Milwaukee's BizTimes is any indication, he isn't particularly interested in anything other than promoting himself:

County government has played virtually no role in the attraction of economic development and jobs in recent years.

The county also has been the slowest among the local government players at the table to embrace the aerotropolis concept of development around General Mitchell International Airport. The county-owned land in the former Park East Corridor still stands vacant.

By contrast, the City of Milwaukee government has been the driving force in bringing companies and jobs to the Menomonee Valley, the 30th Street corridor, the former Tower Automotive site and other developments, including the Manpower Inc. headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the county’s economic development director position has been vacant since October of 2008, when the county’s previous director of economic and community development, Robert Dennik, left the job to become a vice president for Pewaukee-based VJS Construction Services.

And, ironically, who does he finally pick for the position?

Walker, who is campaigning as the Republican nominee to be the next governor and is vowing to stop the federal high-speed rail project if elected, is asking the county board to approve the appointment of a former high-speed rail planner in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration to be the county’s next director of economic development.

One conclusion that Jagler reaches:

Whenever possible, Walker has taken a minimalist position of government advocacy and involvement. He has tried to diminish the size and the reach of the county government. He has tried to privatize much of county government. Walker believes the private sector is best left alone.

While there are certainly areas that the state government apparatus should stay out of, I do believe it has a role to play in advocating for Wisconsin's businesses and economy as a whole. And Walker doesn't seem to be the least bit interested in doing so. What we need is a governor who is willing to step up to the plate and work with the private sector to strengthen our economic ties to Chicago, not one who fiddles while Rome burns.

An example I read somewhere (Richard Longworth's blog?) was about a hypothetical Chicago law firm with a global clientele. The Chicago office would do the global business (partners are there as is O'Hare) but it could have satellite offices elsewhere to handle business within the U.S. Perhaps Milwaukee or Madison could have one of those offices instead of somewhere like Indianapolis. Again, it's purely a hypothetical. However, Barrett seems more like someone who would try to partner with Chicago/take a more regional view to try and get Wisconsin's foot in the global door than Walker who seems more interested in aggrandizing his own power while his backyard falls to pieces.

Similarly, Madison needs a mayor with a wide view of our city and its place in the region. Cieslewicz may be the right man for the job but linking a public market to the new train stop doesn't instill any confidence in me that he is. Madison is home to what I am told is the largest private venture capital fund in the Midwest - Venture Investors - as well as the UW, which is a huge research institution and apparently also has a kick-ass entrepreneur program. I don't know the exact role city government has in putting together seemingly disparate pieces of the economic puzzle but instead of saying, "Come and buy our asparagus", perhaps the mayor could be looking at the Amtrak stop as a potential way to get law firms to open satellite offices here or of having firms partner with the UW here in developing solar technology, et al.
|| Palmer, 1:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

Harlan Ellison to Make It to MadCon After All

While there was some question as to whether Harlan Ellison would be here this weekend for Madcon 2010 due to health issues, it has been announced that he will be here as he is feeling well enough to attend.


|| Palmer, 12:05 PM || link || (0) comments |

21 September, 2010

Rumor Mill

President Obama is coming to Madison on the 28th. He'll be speaking at a location somewhere on campus that remains secret.

From the rumor mill: it's to be at Camp Randall.

That seems odd. Late September and you want to hold a rally outdoors? Well, there ya go Ms. Ziff.
|| Palmer, 3:53 PM || link || (0) comments |

Harlan Ellison May Not Make Madcon

(Nevermind. He'll be there after all.)


Bummer. Harlan Ellison has taken ill and may not make it to MadCon this weekend.

MadCon 2010 has been informed by our Guest of Honor, Harlan Ellison, that due to ill health it is very likely that he will not be able to travel to Madison for MadCon. However, Harlan is determined that even if he is unable to travel to MadCon that he will still be appearing at MadCon telephonically for his talks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including his after-dinner talk for the Saturday Night Banquet with the Guests. Additionally, he is sending along a package of signed, tip-in bookplates.

A final decision will be made by Harlan on Wednesday, Sept. 22, as to his ability to travel. MadCon is making the necessary arrangements on the assumption that Harlan will not be able to make this trip, and will do everything we can to make sure that we have the best possible audio set-up so that Harlan can hear your questions and that all of MadCon's attendees can hear all that Harlan has to say. He has made it very clear that he will not disappoint his fans and that these talks are not to be missed.

Well, at least I'll still be able to meet Ace and get my copy of Night Thoughts autographed by her.
|| Palmer, 9:32 AM || link || (0) comments |

20 September, 2010

Feingold Falls Behind in Poll

Today over at Glenn Greenwald's Twitter feed he posted:

Horrible: RT @markos "New PPP results for dkos, will post tomorrow-Feingold down by double digits, MASSIVE intensity gap"

What do people see in Ron Johnson? Hey folk up nort - Feingold is not going to take away your guns. He voted against the TARP bailouts. Or did he?

On Ron Johnson's site it says "His [Feingold's] vote for the $862 billion failed stimulus bill is a prime example of a career politician..."


About the only thing Johnson has going for him, to my mind, is his willingness to drill for oil in the Great Lakes.
|| Palmer, 6:17 PM || link || (0) comments |

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

This looks to be absolutely terrifying.

|| Palmer, 4:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

Wisconsin Brewers Bring Home the Bacon, Are on TV, and Jump on the Belgian Bandwagon

The winners of this year's Great American Beer Festival have been announced.

Gold medals went to Point for their Horizon Wheat in the American-style wheat beer with yeast category and Titletown of Green Bay got it for their Boathouse Pilsner in the Bohemian-style pilsner category.

Both Capital and New Glarus took home the bronze. The former for Weizen Doppelbock – German-style wheat ale – and the latter for Raspberry Tart in the fruit beer category.

Oh, and Miller took home some awards too.


BrewingTV has been hard at work chronicling all things zymurgylogical and, unsurprisingly, their travel itineraries have included Wisconsin. Their latest episode is a profile of New Glarus Brewing.

Brewing TV - Episode 18: New Glarus Brewing Co. from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

Considering how brew Dan Carey praises lagers in the video, I find it odd just how few they have brewed this year.

Way back in episode 9, the hosts spent time with Fruthermore's Aran Madden and company.

Brewing TV - Episode 9: Furthermore Beer at Vine Park / Tomax + Xamot from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

And I can't forget that the last episode was all about hops and included a trek to Dodgeville's Simple Earth Hops.

Brewing TV - Episode 17: Hop Madness 2010 from Brewing TV on Vimeo.


Lastly, while Belgians are not exactly the new IPA, it is worth noting that both Sprecher and Lakefront now have lambics. Sprecher will be releasing their Kriek Lambic this Saturday at their 25th anniversary bash while Lakefront's Rosie, an oak-aged cherry lambic, is now available.
|| Palmer, 2:38 PM || link || (0) comments |

Jack Craver: Fairness for Me But Not for Thee

A group of men decided to eat at a Culvers here in Madison on Saturday night while carrying unconcealed and holstered pistols. Presumably someone called the police and eight of Madison's finest showed up. The guys packing heat were asked for ID and 3 of the 5 complied with the officers' request. Two remained silent and were subsequently arrested for obstruction.

Now here's how Isthmus blogger Jack Craver referred to the incident:

The constitution clearly says people have the right to carry bazookas in the street. So it's clearly an affront to democracy when a guy strapping a glock at a Culver's is pinched.

Where does this whole bazookas thing come from? Why be substantive when hyperbole will do, right Mr. Craver? And no, you dumbass, the affront to democracy isn't about, as you imply, a guy getting busted for carrying a pistol. If you'd bother to read the very article you linked to, the guy was arrested for not providing identification to the police. The affront to democracy is that some of the police – you know, those people who are supposed to uphold the law – apparently don't know what the law is and so arrested two people who had not broken it.

Here's a quote from the Henes v. Morrissey decision found in the City of Madison's Legal Update:

We do not equate the failure to identify oneself with the act of giving false information…mere silence, standing alone, is insufficient to constitute obstruction under the statute… without more than mere silence, there is no obstruction.

Considering that the City of Racine and two of its police officers were successfully sued over this very issue just six months ago, I am going to assume that it's still the law of the land.

So where is Craver's mockery of police who apparently don't even know the law? We've got a pretty good prima facie case here that it was the police who were in the wrong yet he gives them a pass. If it were he that got arrested for engaging in lawful activity, you can bet that he'd be shouting from the highest mountain that he was wronged. It's too bad he's only willing to extend fairness to those with whom he agrees. If a lefty gets unlawfully arrested, it's tragic. But if it's a "gun nut", then, well it's OK and they deserve mockery, right Mr. Craver? The future of Isthmus is assured with the likes of Craver.

And how much do you want to bet that, if it is found in a court of law that the police officers illegally arrested those two guys, absolutely nothing will happen to those officers? When citizens plead ignorance of the law, we're laughed out of court and told that that is no excuse. But when it's the police, all too often it’s a shrug and a sigh and we all move on. Heck, even when they're simply being investigated they get nice paid leaves.

Lastly, kudos to the 2nd Amendmentarians for recording their encounter with the law. Recording interactions between citizens and law enforcement officials can help provide accountability for both sides. Ask John McKenna how important that is. Most Madisonians don't pack heat but it still means that any encounter with the police has lethal weaponry present because it's the cops who bring it. (Along with the non-lethal variety.) And while the Madison police officers I've known and encountered have been great people, there are still plenty of cops in this country who get off on beating the living crap out of people.
|| Palmer, 10:53 AM || link || (10) comments |

17 September, 2010

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Next year brings The Sims Medieval and no doubt there are many gamers around the world salivating at the chance to dress their Sims in doublets and enter them in jousting tournaments. But for anyone interested in just how well the next iteration of The Sims will simulate the Middle Ages, a good starting point is Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England.

Mortimer's examination of life in 14th century England takes the form of a Fodors guidebook. He surveys the land and its people, how they dress and what they eat. Also offered are popular travel destinations and descriptions of inns you'll find on your journey. And a lot more besides.

The book begins with a description of a traveler approaching the town of Exeter. It is the cathedral that appears first, the tower looming over the town's wall. Moving closer, one aspect of medieval life that gets scant attention in movies or on TV is the smell. A brook near the town is filled with garbage and sewage. Unsurprisingly, it is called Shitbrook. In 1377 London was home to some 40,000 people and had no sewer system. Human waste, decaying plant matter, and the corpses of various beasties were serious problems on the streets of the city. Let's face it – the Middle Ages stank to high hell.

Mortimer does a wonderful job of bringing the past to life. I appreciated the way he described the hustle and bustle of town and city life. Yeah, the streets were filled with shit, but they also overflowed with markets with people buying and selling their wares and services. I'm not sure where the word "-mongers" came from but it seems like there were a lot of them back in the day. Fishmongers, spicemongers, etc. (Next time you're at Penzey's, call the person behind the counter a spicemonger and see what happens.) You've got cordwainers making shoes out of leather in one shop and cobblers repairing shoes in another. Mercers are selling leather while fullers clean wool.

These markets are weekly affairs. Some towns, however, have an annual fair where merchants bust out the exotic stuff. Imagine what it must have been like to see oranges and lemons for sale but once a year. We can go to any grocery store around and get citrus fruit cheap. But back in the 14th century they were exotic fruits from far off lands where most people wouldn't even dream of going.

There are all kinds of things in addition to commerce addressed here. We learn about the feudal system whereby villeins are tied to the land. Want to know how to address people or what the etiquette at a feast is? Mortimer is more than happy to tell you. Back then doctors also practiced astrology and would let blood only when the stars were correctly aligned. If that ale you bought was not good and set, do you report it to the shire reeve or the chief tithing-man? Read the book and you'll know.

In addition to the smell, another horror of medieval life was the frequency of nonmeat days. The Church forbade eating meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and throughout Lent and Advent. For over half the year people were forbidden from eating meat. (Although what counted as meat back then may surprise you.) I don't know that I could handle that.

However, for me, what makes history books such as this so fascinating is not learning how different things were a long time ago but rather how some things are the same. Take food, for example. To be sure, there are many differences. They didn't have corn tomatoes, potatoes, and all the other foods which originated here in the New World. And yes, we generally don't eat snipe or lark. Hyssop, galingale, and red sandalwood are not common spices today. But we all love pepper, ginger, and cinnamon just as they did back then. Time travelers would be happy to know that medieval folks ate onions, garlic, cabbage, and peas from their gardens. Beef and pork were eaten as well. There were meat pies, savory tarts that we would refer to as quiches, stews, roast animal flesh, jams, cheese, bread, et al.

The chapter entitled "What To Do" probably contains the most instances of the more things change, the more they stay the same. Medieval people loved to listen to music and dance. I grant you that Lady Gaga is very different from some guy jamming on a hurdy-gurdy while another person plays a rhythm on a tabor, but it's a distinction without a difference. We humans love music and love to dance. Mortimer also notes that plays were extremely popular. Medieval people would flock to them. We still perform plays today and I would argue that movies and television are merely the newest incarnations. Games were also popular. The precursor to soccer – campball – was a big to do often involving hundreds of people and is violent. People are maimed and die from playing in a match. Hockey and tennis were also popular.

Children played "hoodman bluff" which is essentially blind man's bluff. They also played "follow the leader" and blew soap bubbles from pipes. Once big difference is that kids today are much more likely to be found online than cockbaiting, which medieval children loved. This is basically stoning a tethered chicken. Yikes!

In the end, The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England was a fascinating read and will certainly appeal to people with an interest in the Middle Ages but who don't hold degrees in medieval history. If I were to cite a fault it is that there are times when Mortimer doesn't fully define certain terms, mainly objects. While he was good at explaining job titles – e.g.- that a gongfermor was someone who emptied barrels of human waste and cleaned toilet pits – he would mention articles of clothing with which I was unfamiliar and not describe them. In another section he notes that a cloth merchant sold verdigris for cosmetics and ointments. I had to look verdigris to discover it was a green dye made from exposing copper to vinegar. But this complaint is minor and nothing that couldn't be overcome by consulting a dictionary.

I recently listened to a radio documentary called "Almanacs: The Oldest Guides to Everything" and a historian had a great quote at the end of it. While I can't give it to you verbatim, he basically said that human history isn't so much a series of eras strictly separated from one another but rather it was more like a conversation with people from the past being constant interlocutors with those in any given present. And that's one reason why love this book so much - it helps me tap into that conversation.
|| Palmer, 2:02 PM || link || (1) comments |

16 September, 2010

Cthulhu Sells Out

Now he's endorsing body wash.

|| Palmer, 9:27 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 September, 2010

Werner and Errol Holding Court

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
|| Palmer, 3:36 PM || link || (0) comments |

An Evening With Harlan Ellison at the Barrymore

If you're a Harlan Ellison fan but don't relish the thought of going to MadCon 2010, where he's the guest of honor, to hang out with a couple hundred sci-fi/fantasy fans (read: geeks) you are in luck. After the con is over on the 26th, there will be a special screening of the documentary about Ellison - Dreams With Sharp Teeth - at the Barrymore that night. Harlan will be there to take questions and autograph items after the show.

To cap off the weekend's festivities, MadCon 2010 is adding an additional event on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 26, after MadCon has closed up shop at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

We've booked the Barrymore Theatre for an Evening With Harlan Ellison, which will include a screening of Erik Nelson's documentary about Harlan, Dreams With Sharp Teeth, and will be followed by an onstage interview with Harlan, a Q&A with the audience, and a book signing. Doors will open at 6:30 PM, and the film will commence at 7:00 PM.

For more info, head over to the MadCon programming page.
|| Palmer, 3:14 PM || link || (0) comments |

10 September, 2010

Portal: A Classic Video Game of Yore

I remember playing this game. Never got very far, though. Luckily I have it and now all I need is a Commodore 64 emulator.

It was an attempt at an interactive novel. I suppose that it was an advance on all the Infocom games like Zork, etc.

|| Palmer, 3:52 PM || link || (0) comments |


Gotta be careful with those jury-rigged ballistae.

|| Palmer, 3:35 PM || link || (0) comments |

More Movie Madness

A few additions to my previous post on cinematic thingies.

Firstly is Spotlight Cinema at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts. It's a five film series that features indie and art films – narrative and documentary. One each September through November and two in December. It begins on the 16th of this month with Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench:

I heard someone on WORT a week or two ago talking about Spotlight. The guy said the idea was that they'd be bringing in some films that area cinemas had decided to take a pass on. One of those films is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives which won the Palme d'Or this year at Cannes. I can see movie theaters in Rhinelander taking a pass on it but it's disappointing that someone apparently had to start a new film series from scratch to get a film that won such a prestigious award shown here in Madison. Then again, I am not familiar with the movie's distribution history.

Regardless, more movies are always welcome.

In other news, it looks like we'll be getting the two Mesrine films here this month. Part 1 on the 17th and part 2 the following week. Oh – at Sundance.

There is going to be a sneak preview of Freakanomics: The Movie at the Union on Wednesday the 22nd of this month.

On 20 October there's going to be a special showing of NoNAMES. The movie was shot here in Wisconsin and played at the WI Film Festival this past spring. Producer Robin Van Ert, co-producer Nicholas Langholff, and actor Darron Burrows will be in attendance.

Sorry about this… Here's some highly disconcerting news: Uwe Boll has made a film about Auschwitz. Please tell me it's not based on a video game.

Lastly, I want to admit that I just could never do this.
|| Palmer, 3:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

Guess the Film and Other Movie News

I am reading a wonderful book called The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England which describes everyday life across The Pond in the 14th century. While reading about mystery plays (those which depict Biblical scenes) this morning I was reminded of great movie. To wit:

Each play is staged on a two-story wagon, with a stage on the upper floor and the changing room and props area below. These wagons are pulled between the twelve watching places around the city. So all you have to do is turn up at one of these places and see each play brought to you, over the course of several days.

Ring a bell? Here's a hint.

While I'm on the subject of Terry Gilliam, I was sorry to hear that funding for his take on Don Quixote has fallen through. Again. At least no equipment got washed away in a flood like the last time he tried. Well, Orson Welles couldn't pull it off either so he's in good company.

In better film news, Terrence Malick's latest effort, The Tree of Life, now has a distributor and is to be released next year.

Douglas Trumbull is doing a documentary about working on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Rashomon opens today at the Orpheum. I saw it last Friday at the UW Cinematheque but may have to go again.

It will be interesting to see if Windfall gets shown here in Madison. The movie chronicles the town of Meredith, New York as residents debate the pros and cons of wind turbines in the area.

Do you think this movie would fly here in Madison? On the one hand, it's about renewable energy. But on the other, it tries to tack a neutral course on the issue instead of outright promoting it and, in the process, vilifying a large corporation and/or industry. Madisonians seems to have an insatiable appetite for lefty agitprop such as Food, Inc., Fresh, Crude, anything by Michael Moore, etc. but will they warm to a film that doesn't just repeat what they already believe back to them and demonize the usual suspects?

I can't see it getting a run nor being shown by the Willy Street Co-op as part of their film series but I'd be surprised if it didn't at least make it to the Tales From Planet Earth film fest.

ADDENDUM: Waiting For Superman opens at Sundance next month. Where is The Cartel?
|| Palmer, 1:18 PM || link || (0) comments |

Hipster Dinosaurs

For some reason I just find these to be really funny. Probably funnier than I ought to.

|| Palmer, 12:31 PM || link || (1) comments |

Yet Another Lunch Date With Those Eating Madison A to Z Folks

Head over to Eating Madison A to Z to see how my lunch date with the gang went last month on Library Mall. I had tacos:

|| Palmer, 12:28 PM || link || (0) comments |

Katze Face-Planted

Our katze must have been quite tired.

And I see that she is not alone.

|| Palmer, 12:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

Response to Lukas Diaz's "Powerful Argument"

Lukas Diaz wrote a post at his blog a couple weeks ago called "A Powerful Argument for a Good Mass Transit System" at which I left some comments. My final comment did not get posted for some reason and I've decided to address Diaz's last reply to me here after having re-read everything and reconsidered some things.

The post itself is very short and our exchange ended up being about commuter rail.

Here's the our exchange in the comments section:

Mich: Why do you want to use rail? From this comment alone you come across as someone who thinks we need rail simply because it’s cool or some kind of symbol of urbanity.

Can you make the case that commuter rail would work for Madison? If “The focus shouldn’t be on a specific technology but what makes the best mass transit system”, then why is rail the best for you? What criteria are you using?

LD: "From this comment alone you come across as someone who thinks we need rail simply because it’s cool or some kind of symbol of urbanity."

It’s a silly thing in some ways, but there are people who would use rail but not a bus. The more people using the system the strong the system.

Mich: Thanks for the reply.

Do you know anything about transportation issues, out of curiosity? Do you know under what conditions rail works well and under what conditions buses work better? You don’t seem to have put a lot of thought into this issue other than, well, for tens of millions of dollars, we can get some riders.

LD: And thank you for your tough questions :)

I would classify myself as an interested amateur. I have some ideas about how transit works and how it should work, and when I’m not sure, I rely on some people I know who are transit experts and who I generally agree with, to fill in the gaps.

Have I ever implemented or run a transit system? Well no…

My reasons for supporting commuter rail, aside from the potential to expand mass transit by bringing in new riders, in no particular order, are:

1. I like the technology, overall I think it offers the most potential for speedy transit.

2. I like using commuter rail (kind of a personal reason, but yeah, I think it’s a great system to use).

3. I think it’s cleaner than buses, although there is some debate about that.

4. A political consideration: As far as I can tell and judging from the way the people on the committee on talk and who is on the committee, the RTA is going to include commuter rail. Since I want a regional transit authority, it’s critical to defend the commuter rail part of it.

5. The potential to spur economic development.

I’m curious, what is your preference for what the RTA should look like?

OK. Here's the first sign that discussing a topic with Mr. Diaz will only end in tears: "I rely on some people I know who are transit experts and who I generally agree with, to fill in the gaps." So people with whom Diaz disagrees just aren't worth his time. Nothing to be had, nothing to be learned from other viewpoints. I give him credit for being honest about his closed-mindedness and love of confirmation bias.

In a reply to a comment by Susan De Vos of the Madison Area Bus Advocates, Daiz says, "The focus shouldn’t be on a specific technology but what makes the best mass transit system" yet he singles out rail in his post. What perturbs me about his rail-related posts is that he sees the current situation (no rail) and a nebulous utopia of the future (with rail) but never address anything in between. Furthermore, I am scared at the prospect that he thinks that liking the technology and liking using commuter rail should be prime factors in raising taxes and spending millions of dollars to direct urban planning here.

"5. The potential to spur economic development."

He makes it sound like trains are people and can just pull development out of its locomotive ass. Sure, trains can be a part of development but they, trains, are neither necessary nor sufficient for development to occur. There has been a lot of development here in Madison without passenger rail. Things such as, oh, government policy have a big impact on development. When you are willing to throw $16 million of TIF money in for a patio, that helps development. As transit planner Jarrett Walker notes:

"Stimulate," remember, doesn't mean "cause to occur all by itself." It just means "help to occur, in conjunction with a lot of other favorable factors."

That's something rail supporters here avoid, in my experience. Factors. Many simply look at places like Portland and immediately think that Madison can replicate all the good things by simply bringing rail here. Population size and density are two factors I rarely hear pro-commuter rail folks talk about. Can we learn anything from studies such as that done by Nathaniel Baum-Snow and Matthew Kahn - "Effects of Urban Rail Transit Expansions: Evidence from Sixteen Cities, 1970–2000" even though their study looked at cities which already had rail? (I'm not expecting Diaz to do so as the authors don't agree with him, hence their research is of no use to him.)

"Consistent with the conventional wisdom, we also find that, overall, new rail lines have been more successful at drawing new riders in denser, more centralized cities." Otherwise new train routes tended to draw bus riders. And there's that density thing. Is there good reason to believe that a train here will draw new riders to public transportation?

Trains may or may not be a good fit for Madison. But, for Diaz, they deserve to be a foregone conclusion that requires no discussion. He has listened to people who say things he likes to hear and they say it's good so what more could a community need? Unlike Mr. Diaz, I want someone to make a nice, detailed case for me. My fellow Madisonians should demand this too, because if Madison gets light rail and it's a complete boondoggle, then it will be all the more difficult for future public transportation issues to get a fair hearing. Madison Metro will surely suffer if the rail system doesn't work well. Furthermore we should be concerned about the potential of the reallocation of funds from buses to rail. When costs go up, and they will, do we just keep raising the sales tax? Or do we shuffle money around rather than raising taxes again and again?

As for what I think the RTA should look like: I'd like the RTA to engage in more (and more constructive) PR. In addition to having to overcome the image of being solely a method for introducing light rail, I think the RTA needs to do more (in conjunction with others) to provide information about public transportation generally. Let's start a conversation about parking.

Let's collectively brainstorm making bus service here better. Let's address new development in the RTA zone and how cul-de-sacs and streets that look like a pile of spaghetti on map are not conducive to buses. (Or trains, for that matter.) Check out Fitchburg's 2008 transit survey. There are people who say they would take the bus but that it isn't convenient. And look at page 9 - where respondents live. Public transportation can't effectively reach those people who live far from a main road in those suburban cul-de-sacs. The RTA should, at the very least, be discussing planning options so that street layouts like Fitchburg's aren't replicated near Madison.

Look at University Research Park II. Does that look public transportation friendly to you? It looks like suburban sprawl to me. Once that has been built and development really kicks in west of Junction Road, do you think it's going to be done in a manner that is amenable to running buses out there? I certainly don't. And I think the RTA should be on this issue telling the University that it is fucking up big time by building a suburban business park that is resistant to public transportation. Unfortunately I suspect that it's too late to change anything barring an executive fiat from the governor. That place is projected to have 10,000-15,000 people working there. Traffic will surely get exponentially worse. And, from what I've heard about how land was procured for this project, I have no doubt that more farmers will be made offers they can't refuse so more subdivisions and more PDQs can be put in.

In short, I want the RTA to be a catalyst for discussion about transportation generally not to be simply a way to raise taxes for buses and trains. There's more to transportation than vehicles. I'd like to see the RTA lobby for urban and suburban development that is amenable to public transportation instead of street plans that place homes and places of work far from arterial roads.

And can we hear from Wisconsin & Southern Railroad? They own the tracks that are going to be used by commuter rail trains here unless we decide to lay our own track. How does commuter rail fit into the scheme of things? If gas prices rise to $4+/gallon and freight moves from trucks to rail, how much wiggle room does WSOR have to accommodate the new business? Now that the Charter Street plant has gone biofuel, it requires more trains consisting of more cars to deliver the mercury-laced wood chips. Will commuter rail have to contend with these trains? Lastly, the freight rail industry has begun to push back against high speed rail so let's not count our chickens before they're hatched.

In the end, it is deeply disappointing to hear Diaz say that the issue of whether commuter rail in Madison makes for the best transit system or not has already been decided. He seems to have no interest in any questions about commuter rail here other than when it starts.
|| Palmer, 9:28 AM || link || (2) comments |

07 September, 2010

Combat Ain't Over Til It's Over

Despite President Obama saying combat was over in Iraq, our "non-combat" soldiers are still fighting:

Days after the U.S. officially ended combat operations and touted Iraq's ability to defend itself, American troops found themselves battling heavily armed militants assaulting an Iraqi military headquarters in the center of Baghdad on Sunday. The fighting killed 12 people and wounded dozens.

It was the first exchange of fire involving U.S. troops in Baghdad since the Aug. 31 deadline for formally ending the combat mission, and it showed that American troops remaining in the country are still being drawn into the fighting.

And they are still coming home in body bags:

Two American soldiers were killed and nine injured Tuesday when a man wearing an Iraqi army uniform opened fire on them inside an Iraqi commando compound in the province of Salahuddin, highlighting the continued danger to U.S. troops in Iraq despite the formal end of combat operations announced by President Obama last week.

Yay. /sarcasm

Obama loves his Orwellian doublespeak just as much as Bush did.
|| Palmer, 3:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Friendliest Victualler Ever

Back in July I drove down South Gammon Road for the first time in ages and noticed an Indian and Mexican grocery store tucked away in a mall on the 800 block. It took me a while but I finally stopped in to check things out there this past weekend.

My first stop was India House. I walked in and began wandering aimlessly – just checking out the lay of the land. It wasn't long before the guy behind the counter approached me. He began by asking me if I'd been there previously. I replied that I hadn't and he introduced himself as the owner. Immediately he began giving me a tour of his store. And not just any old tour. It ended up being incredibly thorough.

He led me through every aisle and pointed out items on every shelf and in every cooler/freezer. "These are spices from Southern India", he told me pointing up at a display on one shelf. "These over here are from Pakistan." His store had several varieties of naan and he showed me all of them. Proudly he pointed out the four brands of basmati rice that came in ten pound sacks. There were also other varieties of rice and my host was eager to inform me how they would alter my humors. Apparently basmati rice generates head while some of the other varieties induce coldness.

There were several brands of pre-mixed spice pastes. All a prospective vindaloo eater has to do is add the liquid and meat. I was told that a particular brand was the most popular with his Indian customers and so I grabbed a packet of Butter Chicken paste. He also had a smattering of produce including some eggplant and okra. I grabbed a bit of each. Over at the beauty supplies area I was introduced to toothpastes of varies flavors, a laxative, soap, and what I think was some skin lightening goop. The guy left no stone unturned.

Because it was my first time there, I was given a pack of cashew cookies, what was called an Indian banana (looks like the kind with which I am familiar but smaller), and a couple of what I think were raw dates. Customer service should be so good at every store.

I put my bag stuffed to the brim into my car and headed next door to the Mexican grocery store, the name of which I cannot recall. The shelves are a bit bear and there are some empty ones, but all of the staples are there. Upon seeing me, a kindly and pulchritudinous young woman at the counter in back immediately pointed me at a Nesco containing tamales. Luckily for her I can't resist them and promptly pulled out a bag of a dozen of them. Next to it was a cooler with a tray of carnitas. The sample I was given was quite tasty. (Next weekend they'll be featuring menudo.)

Although not made with lard, the tamales were quite good. Each gallon freezer bag has four each of three flavors. There was chicken with chili, jalapeno & cheese, and tomato, onion, and cheese. All were really tasty and had a little kick to them.

I don't grocery shop much on the west side but I am sure I'll return to these places at some point or another.
|| Palmer, 1:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

Unhelpful Help

I bought a new router yesterday as my old one is a couple iterations of 802.11 specs behind and seemed ready to give up the ghost. The Cisco Connect software makes it sound like all you have to do is run it and go. Well, that didn't happen.

First I get an error that I have no Internet connectivity:

I clicked help because of a warning saying essentially, "If you try to manually configure things, you'll ruin everything!" and what do I get?

So, if you can't get onto the Internet, then go on the Net for help. That's just swell. Fortunately I am an IT geek so it took me 2 seconds to figure out the problem and go into the router settings to correct it. But I can imagine your average user being totally flummoxed here. Why not direct people to the PDF documentation provided on the installation CD?

Anyway, the new router is working just swell. Streaming Netflix via our Wii should be a much better experience now.
|| Palmer, 6:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 September, 2010

Spending the Day at Yahara Bay

Last Saturday Yahara Bay Distillers threw a bash in honor of having gained 1,000 Facebook friends or something like that. ( I'm not sure because I don't have a Facebook account.) The Dulcinea and I went over there for a bit to check out the place and sample their booze as we'd never had any of their spirits prior to this.

We parked and smelled a grill at work in the back so we wandered that way. The warehouse door was open and we headed in and found ourselves surrounded by, amongst other things, lots of jugs and barrels.

Most of the barrels contained YB product but apparently they also bottle booze for Vom Fass and so there were also those containing scotch as well as jugs of liqueurs ready to be bottled and shipped out to the store on University Avenue. Plus there were those kettles.

I had no idea that there was an outfit in Milwaukee making craft bitters - Bittercube. Apparently those boys trek here to Madison to macerate their herbs, roots, and whatnot. From looking at their flavors, it seems that one should be mixing bitters in more than Manhattans. Additional investigation is needed…

And of course there was the still.

That behemoth was made in Germany. The Germans just have a thing for copper devices that make alcoholic beverages, I guess. The distiller himself informed me that roughly the first 10% of any batch comes out as essentially methanol and he gave me a whiff. It smelled like isopropyl to me and probably could have used it to clean my electronics. He said that he gave some to a couple guys who wanted to try and run a car with the stuff. It worked but they couldn't get it beyond 20M.P.H.

In addition to free food (I loved the cucumber salad), there were spirits. Free samples galore and folks ready to mix you a cocktail for a reasonable price. Yahara Bay now has a number of spirits to their credit. I had a cuba libre made with their Mad Bird Rum, the darker of their two rums. I'm not rum expert but it was tasty with the appropriate sweetness and woody overtones. Gin & tonics are a favorite cocktail of mine and so I indulged myself. YB's gin had a fuller, more sprightly flavor than something like Bombay Sapphire. It's a bit like comparing a fresh herb to the dried stuff.

Their Apple Crisp Liqueur was excellent. It made we want to go out and buy a wide log of pine because this stuff would be perfect for a few rounds of Hammerschlagen. The apple brandy was no slouch either. The D ordered a cocktail with the Lemoncella and it too was delicious. It had a nice bright, tart lemon flavor.

Behind the sampling table I noticed this:

After inquiring I was told that the Kirschwasser (German for "cherry water") was done and would be available in a week or so. (I think they were waiting for approval for their label from the FDA or something like that.) I'm not the biggest Kirschwasser fan ever, but I've used it for cooking and usually do a shot of it before I pour some into a cake batter or whatever it is that I'm whipping up. I've not yet investigated what cocktails it is used in.

The front of the place has a bar and, surprisingly, doubles as an art gallery. On display during our visit were works from Union Cab employees. One loved cats while another did what I think were self-portraits seemingly influenced by German Expressionism.

We walked out with a bottle of the Lemoncella. I suspect we'll get the apple brandy or the apple liqueur as the weather cools. I should also note that the YB crew was very friendly. Any questions we had were answered with a smile and we were thanked as we left. The place just had a really nice homey vibe to it. Good folks.

OK, mixologists out there: what kind of booze goes with cherry bark bitters?
|| Palmer, 4:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

I Ated the Purple Berry

My visit to the Natural Juice cart with the folks from Eating Madison A to Z has now been blogged.
|| Palmer, 5:53 AM || link || (0) comments |

02 September, 2010


Restrepo follows a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, once given the moniker of "deadliest place on Earth", through their 15-month deployment starting in 2007. The title comes from Pfc. Juan Restrepo, a medic in the platoon who was killed in action. His comrades honored him by naming their forward operating base after him. The movie alternates between the footage Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger shot while embedded with the platoon and interviews they did with the soldiers in Italy. And so you get a mix of life in the Valley as well as talking heads reflecting on their experiences.

It opens with some home video footage of Restrepo and his friends on a train in Italy shortly before deployment. They are drunk and ready to take on the world. We then find the camer riding down a dirt road in Humvees when suddenly an IED goes off and disables the vehicle ahead of the one that the two filmmakers were in. A close call. But the adrenaline rush of this scene dissipates as we are given some background on Kornegal Valley and slowly get to know the members of the platoon.

We hear that the soldiers will get shot at every day but much of the time we see them clowning around and getting their base in order. Another scene involves the weekly meeting that Captain Kearney has with the local elders. He talks about building a road which will make these people rich while the elders demand justice for the cow that the soldiers had killed. There is a great close-up of one of the elders fumbling around with the juice pack given to him by the soldiers. He just rolls it around in his hands and never manages to get the straw in. It's absolutely perfect. All the Afghans are older while the Americans are younger. The Americans talk about a promising, wealthy future while the Afghans are concerned with the here and now and just getting by. To me, these scenes really symbolize our whole venture there.

I was surprised at how few combat sequences were shown in the movie. But, when it was going on, it was intense. During one Kearney calls in an airstrike and an A-10 is happy to oblige. Afterwards some of the platoon investigates the damage. One family's house has had walls reduced to rubble and there are many casualties. An Afghan man holds the lifeless body of a child and says, "We have five dead and 10 women and children injured. Show me which one is the Taliban." It was heart-breaking.

The audience gets to know the members of the platoon as we see them fortifying their bases and joking around when they have some free time. For instance, one guy puts on some music and three others start dancing with him. But there are also those interviews. A guy named Pemble relates how he was raised by hippie parents and was never allowed to have toy guns. Yet there he is all grown up manning a machine gun.

Restrepo isn't a particularly political movie. There are neither politicians nor generals. It's just the guys in those boots on the ground. While I appreciate all of this, I'm still ambivalent about the movie. It paints a fine portrait of soldiers who put their asses on the line in the course of duty. They seem like everyday guys you'd meet on the street. But I was disappointed as there seems to be a lot more talking about combat than actual combat. Operation Rock Avalanche is described to us as a pretty big fuck-up yet we essentially only get to see a bit of the aftermath. I can't know where the cameras were when it all went down so perhaps there just isn't any footage of the ambush. But I left the theatre feeling that I wanted more of the cinema verite footage and less talking heads. Sure, combat footage gives you a visceral thrill, but it's a war we're talking about. Why so little? It's not that I'm against reflecting on events but I just found scenes where the soldiers do so in Afghanistan right after the events to have a bit more impact. For instance the one soldier who confesses after battle that he has no idea how he's going to deal with all this stuff back home. Now, for me, that confession just rang truer or seemed more potent to me because it was said there in Afghanistan instead of in Italy.

Despite all this, Restrepo was a very potent movie. The woman sitting a couple seats down from me had her hands to her mouth for most of the screening. It was nice to see our boys in Afghanistan get some recognition because they've been all but forgotten it seems. And while I feel that the movie wasn't able to balance talking head interviews with footage shot in the field perfectly, I still think that it gave good portraits of the people fighting the war over in Afghanistan and what is happening over there in our name.

|| Palmer, 4:23 PM || link || (0) comments |