Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blog #35: Reliving Kruger, praising Cuisinart

Remember the YouTube video Battle at Kruger we republished on our blog #17 last December. David Budzinski, a tourist from Texas, recorded a stunning scene straight out of a wildlife documentary. A small pride of lions and a crocodile have pinned down a cape buffalo calf, prompting an angry herd of buffalo to fight off the predators and save the babe. A fellow traveler remarks, “You could sell that video!”

After returning home, Mr. Budzinski tried, but National Geographic and Animal Planet were not interested. Only after the battle — alternately terrifying and heart-warming — became one of the most popular videos in YouTube’s history (it has had over 30 million views on YouTube) did the buyers come calling. Last summer the National Geographic Channel purchased the television rights to the video, and on Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern time, it will devote an hour to a documentary deconstructing the drama. They took Mr. Budzinski back to Africa, and reconstructed the drama, and according to the story in the NY Times they have enhanced the original video which makes it even more exciting to watch. In case you missed seeing the video the first time around, if our Google stars are aligned properly here it is again.



One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that Mr. Budzinski had never handled his wife’s camera before that moment, and yet he was able to shoot a very steady record of the unfolding of the events. It has all of the drama of a professional documentary, plus certain charms which clearly label it amateur. In all a very compelling piece of work.
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I would like to sing the praise of a machine, and the world should know that the machine I sing the praises of is not an Apple manufactured machine. I do praise things other than Apple, I really do. The brand name on the gadget I’m praising on this day is Cuisinart. In case you’re not familiar with the company, Cuisinart is the Apple of kitchen products, and my particular praise is aimed at their fully automatic Grinder-Brewer. It is not cheap, I bought the latest model at Beds, Bath and Beyond for $170. But what a beautiful machine. You set it’s clock, pour in water, load in coffee beans, and when the time you set arrives it begins grinding, and when that has finished it proceeds to brew your morning’s coffee. My alarm clock is set for 6 am, and my iMac computer also awakens from its sleep at 6 am. At 6:10 iKey kicks in on the computer and opens my Camino web browser to the Houston Chronicle’s website. Meantime in the other room 6:10 begins the coffee grinding process, and after about a minute the grinding stops and the brewing begins. Me I’m stumbling around brushing the cobwebs from my brain as I brush my hair, after which I wash my face for the morning. Next I clean my glasses and wash my hands so I can take my morning’s blood sugar reading. By the time all of this is done I am awake enough to read the paper. And by 6:15 the coffee is through brewing and I am sipping my first mug of the morning.

One night last week, at around 10:30 in the evening, I was sitting at my computer working when there was a terrible crashing sound from the next room. The room is the vestibule of my bathroom with the tub and shower at the far end, and two sinks at the end closest to my bedroom, and a toilet sits beyond the sink in a little enclosure of its own. No one was in the room at the time. What happened was a large mirror which had sat over both sinks suddenly, and for no discernible reason, crashed to the floor taking my two week old grinder-brewer crashing to the floor with it. The carafe was smashed, of course, and since the machine was fully loaded for the next morning’s task, as it was thrown to the floor water flooded its insides. Its directions had clearly warned against letting water get into the grind motor.

Aside from its grinder getting soaked the machine seemed to hold up from its fall pretty good. I tested the connection and the l.e.d.s lit up meaning it was not blown out. Well, I let the grinder dry for a couple of days (even used a light bulb to speed up and insure the drying process), and sure enough, three days later when I finally got up enough nerve to test it the grinder seemed to work perfectly. I bought another carafe, and that beautiful machine, with only two faint dents on one side as evidence of its unceremonious crash to the floor, is again functioning as well as ever. And so these days once again between my morning coffee and the internet, my day starts with a bang. I take my digital hat off (I never wear them in real life), to Cuisinart, which makes a truly beautiful and well functioning products, products which may cost a bit more than competing products, but which like those of Apple, are worth every penny of their cost.
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If you love music, it behooves you to get separate speakers for your computer, for the tiny ones embedded in the computer are hardly adequate for serious listening. Early on I got a pair of Bose speakers, which were a great improvement on what had been built in, but oddly enough they did not bring out the best in the material fed to it. But thanks to a column on Apple and it’s ancillary products by Bob Levitus published weekly in the Houston Chronicle’s technology section, I was referred to the SRS website where I was able to download a 14 day test version of an application called iWow, which works in iTunes to enhance the sound your speakers produce.

After opening iWow and playing my latest Nightsong podcast it proceeded to make my little Bose speakers sound incredible. I still can’t get over the difference this little program makes, but at the end of the fourteen days I will gladly fork over the $29.95 to make the program legal and permanent.
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Speaking of Nightsong, it reminds me of some of the tangents you can find yourself taking in this life. I grew up mostly a quiet, introverted kid, although I had this extroverted side just waiting to happen. In fact one of my elementary teachers when she visited my home was shocked to see that I was an entirely different personality at home from the quiet, introverted image I projected in school. The next day the school had an auditorium show with a ventriloquist and after the show, when the teacher was trying to explain the phenomenon of ventriloquism she used me as an example of a person with a duo personality.

I grew up keeping pretty much to myself once I left the neighborhood I grew up in, and I sought refuge listening to the radio and I got the urge to create in it. After a stint in the Army Air Force and a stint in college I got into radio, first on an FM station, and later on an AM station. However, I have to admit that I’m not much of a salesman, unless I truly love the product. Then I’m a whizz! And so in radio I read public service announcements with more feeling and vigor than I did the commercials the station was making its money off of. So there was this basic disconnect I had with what was to become the true function of radio in America, that of super salesman.

One day I was to do a noon newscast on KXYZ and I was reading over the news in advance of giving the newscast (I didn’t usually do news, and don’t remember why I was to do it that day.) I was sitting in studio C, which also housed the music library and had a turntable on which to play music. The station’s music director was Bob Blase, and he just come in with a bunch of new records, and was auditioning them. I wasn’t listening to the music, I was paying attention to the items that I would be reading, looking for possible tongue twisters, and trying to get a general sense of the stories so I could read them with a certain amount of meaning. But suddenly I felt a sadness sweep through my body and a tightness in my throat. I realized it was coming from the sound the record on the turntable was making, and I got up and went over and looked over the album that was playing.

It was a Decca album by a singer named Josh White, and it was just he and his guitar singing an old English ballad called Lord Randall, My Son. I was amazed that this rendition could so move me without my even consciously following the words, and this revelation started me on an entirely different tangent, that of folk music. For anyone who really wants to can teach himself or herself a guitar and/or 5-string banjo, and I found in folk music a purity which pop music of that time simply did not have. (For instance, the singers of that day would emote heavily through a verse of a song, and then between verses would break into a triumphant grin as if to say they had been able to safely make it through the verse. It was a grin that seemed to me to say “I don’t take this song seriously and neither should you.”) But folk music was music shaped by real people singing about real events and the songs had been polished in repetition throughout the ages. And a true folk singer holds the emotion throughout the song, not breaking it between verses to mug for the audience.

My romance with folk music had me learning the guitar and 5-string banjo and had me producing and performing in Hootenannies (folk music concerts) in Houston in the 1950’s and 60’s and my interest landed me a job as managing editor of Sing Out! The Folk Music Magazine during the folk music boon in the mid 60’s. I taught English as an adjunct faculty member at Kings College in Brooklyn in the late 60’s and I returned to Houston in the fall of 1970. In the early 70’s I did two radio programs on KPFT, the Pacifica Radio station in Houston. One program was FolkSay, which I alternated weeks with the late Joe Lomax, son of John Lomax, Jr. who was the brother of Alan and son of the legendary folk collector, John Lomax, Sr. (The English singer Ewan MacColl once described folk music as an area where Seegers speak only to Lomax’s, and Lomax’s only to God.) But the radio bug still lurked within me, and I wanted to do a more creative program which encompassed many types of music, and so I created Nightsong. It was three hours in length and began life running from midnight to 3 a.m., but after 12 episodes it was moved to prime time running from 9 p.m. until midnight on Friday nights. It was a creative time for me as a reader, I read Alice in Wonderland and James Thurber Fables set to music, and I once read Chief Seattle’s oration to the accompaniment of hunchback whales. Don’t ask me why, but I swear the two disparate entities did seem to go together. Nightsong went 39 3-hour episodes until a change of managership caused the toning down of the station, and I quit the program.

I have done a lot of different things in my life, but my life has always lacked consistency and direction. However I look back on Nightsong as the most creative and satisfying thing I have ever done, and recently, while writing this blog, I got the idea of attempting to recreate Nightsong once again, this time as a one hour podcast. I discovered that working digitally in GarageBand, an Apple program which came with my iMac computer, allows me to do everything I used to be able to do in the studio using turntables and tape decks. Once you get the hang of it GarageBand is an amazingly easy program to work in. I have created nine episodes in the past eleven weeks, but I am planning to take a break from producing more while I test drive a .Mac subscription (they give you two months for free these days, and after that a year's worth is $99, or $8.25 a month.) I plan to do a home page thereon which will offer my Nightsong podcasts while also supplying links to my Google Littlleeddy blog. It would also be fun to put photographs and poems and what not on the page. I’ll post a link to the page here once the page is up.
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And now let us take a glimpse at the world we are living in, shall we? (Let's not and say we did.) The NY Times reports: Speaking at a news conference in New Jersey, (the presumptive Republican nominee) John McCain said he believed that comments made by a Hamas leader approving Mr. Obama’s candidacy were “a legitimate point of discussion,” and he went on to accuse Mr. Obama of agreeing to negotiate with the president of Iran, who on Wednesday referred to Israel as “a stinking corpse facing annihilation.” He described that as “a distinct difference between myself and Senator Obama.”

Mr. Obama has not let attacks go unanswered. On Thursday, he replied by saying that Mr. McCain was “losing his bearings” and engaging in “smear” tactics. “My policy toward Hamas has been no different than his,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on CNN.

Mr. McCain’s attacks are part of a broader effort by his campaign to depict Mr. Obama, the current leader in the delegate count in the Democratic race for president, as inexperienced and na├»ve on foreign policy in general and soft on terrorism and its sponsors specifically. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama has also had to fight a related perception, one encouraged by his Democratic rivals, that his support for Israel is also weak.

Of course Sen. McCain who als0 had to protest that he did, too, vote for George Bush in 2000 and 2004, is having to run on the same so-called “expertise” in foreign policy which caused our government to go to war in Iraq in the first place, instead of concentrating on Afghanistan where our true enemies are found. Of course, even though Sen. Obama is a candidate that many if not all Democrats will happily support because he means a complete change from the forces which have willfully mislead this country these past seven years, there are still many of us who support for Hillary Clinton, and who are holding our collective breaths for some sort of miracle to happen between now and the Democratic convention. But make no mistake, no sane Democrat is going to throw judgement and sanity to the four winds and support McCain over whomever is the eventual Democratic nominee. That is Republican pipe dreaming, and would they please pass around whatever it is they are smoking. There is a real resentment against the callousness of the current Republican administration in both domestic policy and in foreign policy which has been built up lo these past seven years, and it’s going to take a helluva lot more than a few boatloads of SwiftBoat liars to dull our animosity.
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Saturday’s Times leading Technology story is one reporting that SPAM is about to move into the world of cellphones. Cellphones have become consumers’ most personal technological devices. Some industry executives, along with consumer groups and security experts, are concerned that unwanted text messages on phones will be an even greater headache than unwanted computer messages. Cellphone spam is particularly annoying to its recipients because it is more invasive — announcing itself with a beep — and it costs the receiver money.

Taber Lightfoot, an assistant director for new media at the Yale School of Management, is among those who have paid for the privilege of receiving cellphone spam. “I was at work and I got so annoyed,” she said of the first burst of three messages she received. She got another burst two days later. “That is when I called Verizon and demanded they reimburse me $1.60 for eight text messages,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was my money.”

Ms Lightfoot certainly has the right idea. If the receivers of SPAM demand that their providers remove their charges, the providers will sure as hell work out filters which prevent the spam, and quickly too we're willing to bet. We wish cell phone users luck and further hope that their struggles lighten the load of SPAM in our computer’s email box.
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Some in the environmentally conscious green world take exception when industry attempts to us greening claims to sell merchandise. When Barbie maker Mattel attempted to sell a green line of Barbie recycled clothing and accessories, some blogs exploded. According to Mattel’s news release (shareholder.com/mattel), the “playful and on-trend Barbie BCause collection repurposes excess fabric and trimmings from other Barbie doll fashions and products which would otherwise be discarded, offering eco-conscious girls a way to make an environmentally friendly fashion statement with cool, patchwork-style accessories.”

The whole thing is “pretty ironic given that Barbie dolls themselves are made out of plastic and are packaged in even more plastic,” Jen Phillips wrote on Mother Jones magazine’s blog, the Blue Marble (motherjones.com/blue_marble_blog). “And not the kind of plastic you can throw in the recycling bin, either.”

Aiming ads at children is one thing. Using them in advertisements meant to appeal to adults is another. In February, Lloyd Alter of Treehugger.com noted in a post titled, “The Semiotics of Greenwashing,” the use of children in ads for the coal and cement industries. Citing research finding that children are far more environmentally concerned than adults, Mr. Alter said that such ads were meant to convey the idea that “if the kids are saying it, then it must be green.”
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And in another note Microsoft asked Europe’s second-highest court to overturn or reduce a record fine of 899 million euros ($1.4 billion) from the European Union. The appeal was filed at the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, a Microsoft spokesman, Jesse Verstraete, said in an e-mailed statement. The European Commission, the E.U.’s antitrust authority, fined the company on Feb. 27 for failing to comply with a 2004 antitrust order. Under that decision, in which Microsoft was fined 497 million euros, the E.U. ordered the software maker to provide data to rivals to allow servers to connect to the Windows platform. Well, not that the minions at MS would give a tinker's what we think, but we feel that Microsoft should simply show Europe what’s what and drop out of the European market altogether. That would show those who dare challenge Microsoft God given right to do and charge what it damn pleases.
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And this from the Washington Post: The U.S. military has, since 2001, cremated some of the remains of American service members killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere at a Delaware facility that also cremates pets, a practice that ended yesterday when the Pentagon banned the arrangement. Officials said they do not know the number of service members cremated at the Kent County facility, which is identified on a billboard as Friends Forever Pet Cremation Service.

The facility, located in an industrial park near Dover Air Force Base, has cremated about 200 service members, manager David A. Bose estimated last night. It uses separate crematories a few feet apart to cremate humans and animals, he added, insisting that there had "not been any people gone through the pet crematory."

Pentagon officials said they do not think that human remains and animal remains were ever commingled at the facility. "We have absolutely no evidence whatsoever at this point that any human remains were at all ever mistreated," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said at a news conference hastily convened last night. Regardless, the Pentagon will no longer permit crematories not located with funeral homes to handle the remains of U.S. troops, defense officials said.
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And in another Washington Post story, this one by Darryl Fears, in black America, oh, how the mighty have fallen. Bill Clinton is no longer revered as the "first black president." Tavis Smiley's rapid-fire commentaries on a popular radio show have been silenced. And the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., self-described defender of the black church, has been derided by many on the Web as an old man who needs to "step off."

They all landed in the black community's doghouse after being viewed as endangering Sen. Barack Obama's chances of being elected president. And the community's desire to protect the first African American ever to be in this position may only grow with his win in North Carolina and his close loss in Indiana this week. "I have parents who are still living who are very enthusiastic about Obama," said Valerie Grim, the chair of Indiana University's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. "They live in Mississippi. For a time, my parents couldn't vote, and when they could, their only choice was a white person.

"This means more than just saying there's a black person on the ticket. It represents the things they had been denied. It's being able to see the unbelievable, that the impossible might be possible. It represents for them a new day, a new opportunity to see that black people can contribute, on the ultimate level, to the social order."
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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/09/AR2008050902638.html?hpid=topnews
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And so this week’s ramblings have come to an end. We hope you will join us again next week where we hope to have more news about a possible Nightsong home page. Meantime, good bye and good luck.

The Real Little Eddy

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