Archive for April, 2005

Vietnam: a noble cause

It’s the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, when the invading North Vietnamese rolled in and turned the entire country of Vietnam into a communist  hellhole. The aftermath of the war and the US retreat was a horrible thing, and certainly nothing to celebrate:

In retrospect, the only thing I find genuinely contemptible in our
exit was that, after the U.S. troop withdrawl, we broke our promise to
the government of South Vietnam. We suddenly, and with little warning,
cut off all the funding we had promised to give them so that they could
defend themselves–and then sat on our hands while hundreds of
thousands were butchered in the camps and millions more fled for their
lives, with quite possibly as many drowning or dying of exposure as
died in Uncle Ho’s "re-education" camps.

Indeed, even while all that was going on, some of the dips**t
radicals here at home were still congratulating themselves and patting
themselves on the back.

But don’t expect much actual reporting on that aftermath, not on a day when protestors and activists are intent on reliving their glory days of 30 years ago. How can they reconcile the cold facts with their own gilded memories? Lots of denial and rationalization, of course, just like they used back then:

Another way some people (a much smaller number) dealt with it all was
to see the stories of what was going on in Vietnam after we withdrew as
an exaggeration or a lie. These people felt that the situation wasn’t
really all that bad; that the Vietnamese people, as John Kerry had famously stated, didn’t
even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only
wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and
bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country
To those who believed this, they felt it was just a tiny
proportion of the South Vietnamese people who were suffering; and that
most people didn’t care what form of government they had, they were
just happy to see peace at least.

Substitute "Iraqi" for "South Vietnamese" and you can see how Vietnam still  poisons the public debate today. Some, like the author, have realized that in the years since. Others haven’t

In one way, however, Vietnam was only part of a much larger war, the Cold War. Here’s a very interesting perspective on how the Vietnam War led to a better future for the rest of Asia:

Prosperous Southeast Asia proof U.S. didn’t fight in vain.

Dulles wanted to save "essential parts" of Asia. America understood at the outset it was unlikely to save all of it. And America succeeded. It may have lost Vietnam and been unable to stop the communist takeover that led to the death of a quarter of Cambodians in the "killing fields." But the dominoes did not fall. Only four years later, in 1979, American trade with Asia had surpassed trade with Europe.

Asia in the 1950s and 1960s was an economic backwater ripe for takeover by communist forces backed by the USSR. We couldn’t stop all the dominos from falling, but we managed to break the chain. And just look at stark contrast between the free countries of Asia and those where the communists won.

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50 Years Forward

Hepcat Willy’s has scanned an article from the February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics (which I probably have around here somewhere):

Miracles You’ll See In the Next 50 Years!
(click on the thumbnail of the magazine cover to read the article in PDF format.)

I have to give them credit – they get a surprising amount right. Most of the technology they predict could be real, if there was a market for it. Much of it just isn’t practical or isn’t wanted. Throwaway houses, men’s facial depilatory, and dissolving dishes, for example.

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You don’t have to read Japanese to explore these galleries of abandoned buildings. Lots of spooky places. I like this decaying factory (at least I think that’s what it is).

With the high population density and property values in Japan I always assumed they’d be typically fastidious at eliminating or refurbishing old, decaying buildings. I guess they’ve got other priorities.

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Mighty Macros

Via Boing Boing, a nice gallery of insect macro photos, taken handheld and in natural light.

Unfortunately they’re in relatively low resolution, and have a HUGE GIANT COPYRIGHT NOTICE superimposed on every photo. Far be it from me to tell a fellow photographer how to present his work, but is it really necessary to degrade the quality of our pictures before we’re comfortable sharing them? These other macro photographers don’t seem to think so.

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Corante corrects LA Times Claim About Pedophiles Wrong: Corante > a ridiculous LA Times Claim About pedophiles and Star Trek>.

Once again showing that the juicy statistics reporters like to treat as important facts are often just made up.

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New toy – Canon S410

This past weekend I bought a Canon PowerShot S410 digital camera at the local Target. They’re rearranging their electronics department and happened to have a pristine display unit on sale for $175, which fell under my self-imposed $200 limit. That’s a really good price when you consider the camera still sells for around $275 most places. I had to make another trip to pick up the battery charger, which they’d misplaced, but it all worked out fine. Sometimes shopping locally has unexpected benefits.

So why another camera? While I love my Canon 10D and use it all the time, there are times when a pocket-sized camera is more practical to carry around. (My recent business trip to Washington DC, for example.) I almost bought a previous-generation SD110 on sale from Amazon before I decided to wait and see what else turned up. The S410 is a tiny bit bigger than the SD110, but it uses the same CF cards I already have for my 10D and D30, has a nicer 3x zoom, and a higher 4.0 megapixel resolution.

This has been a crazy week and I haven’t had much time to enjoy the new camera yet. There are a couple SD410 photos in my flickr gallery if you want to take a look. More to come soon.

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After thinking it over for a while I finally decided to sign up for a flickr photo sharing account this past weekend. You can see a selection of my pics over to the left. The company was recently purchased by Yahoo and as a result they were able to cut the cost of their Pro accounts in half. At $25 a year for unlimited space and a great user interface I just couldn’t resist. (The subliminal messages they embed in all their photos probably helped too. (Just kidding!))

There are lots of photo sharing sites out there and no one site can be everyone’s favorite. I didn’t get flickr’s interface at first but after I played with it a bit I really liked it. They’re using some clever techniques that I appreciate as a web designer: tags, edit-in-place fields, and a Flash implementation that’s actually useful.

One less obvious benefit of flickr is an amazingly active user community and a site design that encourages everyone to interact and share their work, rather than just tossing their photos into the online equivalent of that drawer full of pictures that no one ever sees. There are user created discussion groups and photo pools catering to almost every interest and style of photography you can think of. For example, I like abandoned places and B&W pictures, and I have a Canon digital SLR. Users can leave comments and notes, mark photos as favorites, and easily link to other pics they like.

If you’re not already established somewhere else I recommend you try a free account and see what you think. If you decide to try it, look me up add me a contact.

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After my Bettie Page post the other day there has been some speculation that I’m going to turn Bryan’s Basement into a porn site. I’d planned to make the transition gradually, but now that you guys are on to me, I guess there’s no use waiting. So here’s my latest sponsor. Enjoy!

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I understand why vendors find copy protection attractive. I really do. Vendors are convinced that each unauthorized copy is a lost sale. Some contend that whole potential markets have been destroyed by software piracy. I don’t think that’s necessarily so, I can’t fault a company for wanting to preserve sales. If you don’t sell your product you won’t be around for very long.

Unfortunately it never works. I’ve been playing with computers and maintaining systems for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen a successful mass-market copy protection scheme. It’s snake oil, plain and simple. Individual coders and cracking groups defeat each new method as fast as they are released; they’re damn clever and highly motivated. The only people who end up being hampered are honest users who just want to use the software without jumping through hoops or worrying if their next system upgrade will mysteriously deactivate their bread-and-butter applications.

Example: Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2) has been equipped with an activation system even more stringent than the previous version. It hasn’t even been officially released yet, but it’s already up on Bittorrent complete with a keygen to transparently bypass the copy protection.

People who are intent on using the software without paying will have an easier time of it than the those of us who actually buy the software. And many legitimate users who actually buy the software at full price will also download the cracked version to avoid dealing with the copy protection. This is a perverse incentive. A whole new generation of users is being taught that the route to trouble-free computing is to download software instead of buying it. That can’t be good for anyone, including Adobe.

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Thank you come again!

Today’s Bleat is, as usual, a great read. Lileks’ expounds on two of my favorite topics: Customer service, and Star Trek.

Here’s quotes on both:

As it stands, you end your Best Buy
transaction by saying NO, NO, and NO. They might consider ways to let
people leave with the word “yes” fresh on their lips.

Yup. People don’t like to be pestered and the checkout like is not the place for Columbo-esqe "just one more thing" tactics. Barring exceptoinal circumstances the customer should always go away happy. Not annoyed at the store or wondering if they’ve been tricked by some fast-talking salesperson.

And on Star Trek:

I feel sorry for people who sniffed
at Enterprise early on and tuned out. Of course, they were probably the
same people who rolled their eyes at Deep Space Nine, think that every
episode of the Next Generation was as good as “Inner Light,” and regard
the original show as some pure & perfect product that only dipped a
toe into the shallow pool of sucktitude once or twice.

And he’s right. Every Trek series has had weak spots, and Enterprise was no exception. But it really got moving in the second season and the most recent episodes have been very entertaining glimpses of Trek Fanboy Heaven. We’ve finally found out how the Klingons lost their ridges, seen plotting Romulans lurking in the shadows setting up the pivotal Earth-Romulan War, and obscure references to all sorts of other minor bits of Trek history.

And now, in the same episode, we get to see the Enterprise crew’s eeeevil counterparts from the Spock-With-A-Beard Terran Empire (complete with bare-midriff miniskirted female crewmembers) and find out what happened to a starship that went missing way back in the original series. And the whole thing is presented as a TV show from the Mirror Universe itself. The writers are obviously having a lot of fun with these final episodes, and I am too.

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