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April 2009
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This is really quite remarkable: Pure Komachi knives by Kai. Knife nerds will immediately recognize Kai as being the genuises behind Shun and Kershaw, probably some of the best knives in production today. Lovely Wife and I stumbled on these in KTA up in Waimea this afternoon and upon learning they were a whole whopping $17 bought a hollow-ground santoku (in purple-pink) and a yellow vegetable knife, figuring "well, at least we have something for the condo, if nothing else." (I had been contemplating ordering Fibrox to replace the lousy Sabatier knock-offs we have here right now.) A Kai knife for less than $20? Yeah, ok.

I am shocked, shocked, shocked by the performance. Blown away is more like it. I'd never, in a million years, think I would have found a knife that performed as well as my Kyocera ceramic knives for, like, a tenth of the cost -- but there it is, in purple-pink. I'm seriously rethinking my knife acquisition strategy as a result of this.

Plus, they're colorful! Kitchens need more color. It's just amazing.

(See also Kuhn Rikon for colorful, ridiculously good knives that are suspiciously cheap.)

Current Mood: impressedimpressed

William Langewiesche, The Devil at 37,000 Feet:

The site smelled of jet fuel, which had soaked into the soil and spilled into two small streams that flowed through the forest there. It also smelled of death, or more accurately of organic decomposition, which in the heat was well advanced. Perhaps a hundred soldiers were at work, expanding a helicopter landing zone, and collecting and bagging the victims. They had built a camp out beyond a cluster of wreckage from the Boeing’s wings, where the landing gear could be seen still desperately extended. The main wreckage lay just to the north in a dispersed chaos of torn and twisted metal, shattered machinery, bent hydraulic lines, tubes, wiring harnesses, cockpit displays, cabin seats, and all the transported contents of the airplane—a sad spillage of luggage, purses, briefcases, clothes, medicines, cosmetics, photographs, trophy fish that sportfishermen had been hauling home from Manaus, and thousands of computer parts that the Boeing had been carrying in its cargo hold and that now littered the forest and slumped into a stream. The debris had dug into the earth on impact, and had drawn trees and branches into the tangle. The condition of the dead should be left unsaid, except to note the mercilessness of the slaughter, and the fact that after Gol Flight 1907 hit the ground hardly any corpse remained intact. Carnivorous tigerfish had braved the poisoned streams and were feeding on flesh that had fallen into the water. This is what happens when a wing is severed in flight. The Caiapós are warriors, perhaps, but they were deeply disturbed by the scene.

Langewiesche has always had a distinct flair for clear, powerful writing, but this piece, on the mid-air collision between N600XL and GLO1907, reminds me of nothing so much as Raymond Carver's fiction -- sparse, precise, commonplace language that ultimately endows its subject with startling power. I understand the technical details of what happened over the Amazon that day -- I understand the technical details of most aviation incidents better than most -- but I've never read an accident report quite like this before, one that sent shivers down my spine.

If living on the prairies taught me anything, it's that it's far better to shovel 2" of snow twice rather than 4" of snow once. So in that spirit, I attacked the driveway here at 2100, clearing the roughly 3" that had accumulated since Snowpocalypse, Round III began at ~1700. I then went and did other things for 4 hours, only to come back to five more inches -- thank you, increasingly heavy snowfall! That took an hour to clear. There's now enough snow around that I've run out of places to put it; my neatly-constructed piles are avalanching themselves, and I can't seem to keep anything in place. I have given up trying to keep the sidewalk clear -- I can't even find the sidewalk anymore. Unshoveled areas feature suicidally high cliffs of snow, and I am dreading daybreak.

So last month, Sirius-XM went ahead with their channel merger, blowing up basically every channel I actually listened to. Lucy, the alternative hits channel -- gone. The System, a WorldSpace trance channel -- gone. POTUS, kind of like talk radio without the morons -- gone on XMSR Canada. XM Chill -- horribly disfigured. Bluesville is OK, for now, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope for it. Thanks, Sirius-XM! I'll be waiting to see if the Mariners suck before deciding whether I'm going to cancel my subscription.

What amazes me is that the only thing I actually wanted on Sirius -- CBC on satellite -- didn't get merged over. Blows my mind. Buncha apes. I fail to see the point of paying for subscription radio services that don't sound all that different from the crap that's on commercial radio for free.

The only bright spot in the channel realignment is that I now get BBC Radio 1 -- not a subset, not a stupid branding with a bunch of poncy accents -- no, we're talking about the real, live, actual Radio 1 feed from the UK. Of course, I'm too old to fit in Radio 1's demographic, and I'm listening to it eight hours out of sync (hooray for 0300 programming in Britain!), but man, this is what satellite radio is supposed to be! I'd kill to be able to get radio feeds from other English-language radio networks. That'd be awesome.

But that's not the point of this entry. I've been diving back into my music collection, and trying to find new and interesting stuff to listen to. Pop music these days mostly makes my teeth hurt, or makes me miserable; the last truly great new pop song I heard was (and I'm almost ashamed to admit this) Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love." Everything sounds the same. So I'm back exploring what, for lack of a better term, could be described as "sonic landscapes" -- instrumental, electronica, trance. Start with Sigur Ros and E.S. Posthumus and get stranger from there.

But I stumbled on this thing tonight, and it was so striking, so startling that I had to share. It's Max Richter's "24 Postcards in Full Color" (available on iTunes for the damned, but in a DRM-free format). This is 24 tracks, none of them longer than about 2:30, using a string quintet, a guitar, and a piano, with a bunch of other, stranger found sounds. The goal was, apparently, to explore -- get this -- the ringtone as a musical form.

Yeah, right was my initial reaction. But here's the truly weird part: it actually works as music. They're like, I dunno, musical amuse-bouches. It's some of the strangest, most interesting music I've heard in a long, long time.

The defining moment of Campaign 2008, for me: standing in the lobby of the Rio in Las Vegas, having just gotten out from Penn and Teller, watching mobs of people surge through the hallways, some of them crying, some of them laughing, some of them hugging, all of them chanting, in one voice, with the force and joy and certainty of the vindicated: "Yes we did."

20-odd hours later, it still rings in my ears. "Yes we did."

I could be cynical about this. I'm cynical by nature. But I can't be cynical about this.

Dorothy Gambrell gets it exactly right.

A collection of things I've been reading:

  • Fascinating thread on cryptography (which hilariously few people read) on the street price of illicitly obtained digital goods, by analogy with the price of heroin as a measure of the success of the war on drugs. I had no idea this stuff even existed, never mind was tracked (though in hindsight I guess I shouldn't be so stupid).
  • Also from cryptography, is privacy possible in public places? Answer: Probably not.
  • Chantal Hebert has a blogue.

Dear Edie Carey,

Last night was simply spectacular. But I have a complaint: Where the hell have you been all my life?

Read more...Collapse )

Current Mood: synaesthetic bliss
Current Music: what in the hell do you think?

N823AL, a Boeing 737-200 belonging to Aloha Airlines, at Keahole Airport (PHKO)
30 January, 2008

News of Aloha's suspension of passenger service has spread throughout the air travel world, and we're now 24 hours into a post-Aloha passenger universe. Aloha is one of the first airlines that I remember clearly, and one that played a pivotal role in forming some of my most treasured memories as a kid. Going to Hawaii was always a great thing; going through Honolulu, over to the inter-island terminal, with the bus station atmosphere, the dark floors, the generalized mayhem, to end up on one of these psychedelically painted planes and whisked off to the Big Island -- it was heady stuff for me. So much so that, when I went back to Hawaii for the first time in way too long last year, and climbed aboard the Aloha flight to Hilo in Honolulu, settled into my seat and got a small plastic container of guava juice once we hit cruise... it was a lot like nothing had changed, and I was 8 again.

Seeing N823AL on the ramp in January I thought I was looking backwards into my past. No other plane looked so ridiculous and yet so sublime. I'm a lot older now and way more jaded, and yet I felt a little weak taking this picture from the departure area while I waited to leave.

We didn't fly on AAH earlier this year and it had more to do with availability, timing, and fares than anything else -- we were leaving PHKO and heading back home and trying to find an available seat on an AAH flight was difficult. So instead we few Hawaiian, and I had one of the most pleasant short-haul flight experiences I've had in a very long time. Now I feel bad, because I thought I'd come back to AAH the next time around, and there won't be a next time, now.

It's strange how we invest emotional energy in things like airlines. I remember watching CP turn into Canadian, loving every minute I spent in the air with Canadian, smirking at anyone dumb enough to fly Air Canada by choice. And then it all fell apart; my last flight on Canadian, to Boston in May of 2000, was bittersweet because the return was on Air Canada metal, and the contrast was stark, obvious; I didn't like it at all. Now I put up with Air Canada and I tolerate WestJet, and am shocked when I have an ACA flight that doesn't come with a side order of extreme annoyance, or a WJA flight that doesn't make me grit my teeth over some issue or another. Air travel doesn't seem like much fun anymore, and yet it continues to hold some kind of silly appeal for me.

The world changes, you heard it here first. There are all kinds of things you can no longer do on airplanes; some, like the decline and fall of catering standards and service, are a function of the business climate. Some, like riding in the pointiest part of a 767-200 all the way to Toronto, are a function of our time. (This remains the coolest thing I have ever done in an airplane I wasn't being paid to ride in to date.) That's lost and gone forever. You'd think, though, that the joy of travel, the experience of getting somewhere, would still hold some fun; now, it's drudgery at the airport, ritualistic humiliation at the screening point, cattle-class service on board, and baggage roulette at the final destination. No wonder people are down on the airlines -- it's not fun anymore.

Aloha had its share of problems. I didn't really enjoy flying with them last year, but that experience hasn't changed my memories or my love of the airline any. I have decades of warm, happy thoughts for AAH, and I'm really going to miss them. They, more than any airline I spent time on as a kid, were the providers of the last of the "fun" trips, from start to finish.

I was cleaning out a directory tonight (this is what I do these days when I'm tense or angry, I go and clean out my hard drive) and I came across the original version of Russ Allbery's magnificent rant about... I'm not sure what it's about, actually.

Superficially it's about Usenet, my first true love on the net, but if you dig a bit deeper, read a bit between the lines, it gets at some of the core issues around the Internet and inter-networking generally -- how the network itself, while interesting and fun to play with, is entirely secondary to the goal of allowing people to connect with each other; the value of the relationships forged on the network; the exclusivity of some of those relationships; the ability of this phenomenal tool to bring people together, and what happens when it is under threat from people who don't understand that.

The post is ten years old this month. It feels, in its broad images, like it could have been written yesterday. It dates only because the technology and the specific source of the problem has changed; the essence, its core, is as true as it ever was.

Now nearing the end of my second decade on the Internet (and its predecessors), I see this more clearly now than I ever did. Spam, trolls, denials-of-service, flooding -- all of this is, in some way, an attack on the infrastructure itself. Yet although no one cries when a router screams because its table is overloaded, a great many people cry when jerks invade their bboard or flood their favorite blog. We don't care about the physical reality of the Internet -- most of us probably never did, and wouldn't know a router from a switch if it bit us in the face. We care about the space in our heads, the collective space we all made, the space that was special to us and meaningful, the space that got chewed up when some vandal came roaring through.

I used to argue about spam as though it were some kind of stolen resource. It is, in the purest sense of the term, but I didn't get sad because my mail client had to spend a few more seconds processing mail. What saddens me about the e-mail spam problem is that I've had to implement filters, wall off entire countries, and disable even the most basic diagnostic messages because I can't deal with the volume of junk flowing back to me. The platonic ideal of e-mail, to my mind, no longer works -- and while there's a technical side to this, I'm not really upset that no one with an e-mail address that ends in .hk or .tw can send me mail. I'm upset that no person with an e-mail address ending in .hk or .tw can reach me anymore. It's sad that we've reached this point, yet I don't know how a reasonable person can do anything else. This was, ultimately, one of Russ's points. "The difference, to me, between those things that Usenet is for and those things that Usenet is not for, is one of manner and quantity. Not one of content. I do not want to see any person excluded from Usenet, even if they believe that Usenet should be used for machine-generated spew. I just want to stop the spew, because if it goes unchecked it will drown out and destroy the beauty of what Usenet is."

Perhaps I am not explaining this well; perhaps I am rambling. It's late and I'm up past my bedtime. But I am thinking about the things that I love, and have loved, and how they make me feel, and I think back to the arguments we used to have about the nature of the network, and I keep thinking that we were all missing the point -- that maybe we're all still missing the point. The point is the contact. The point is the connection -- the ability to reach out and find someone to make you feel less lonely. I think we sometimes forget how precious and special that is, and how sad we are when other people ruin it for us.

Talking about the problem in that sense -- in terms of the effect it has on people trying to reach each other -- somehow feels more honest than worrying about computational cycles and mail server load. Russ's rant was shocking because he put into words what many of us felt but could not explain; we couldn't defend the emotional damage we felt when a part of Usenet (or the network generally) broke because of someone else's malfeasance. But he could, and he could focus that hurt and anger like a laser beam on a very specific example, which gave his rant a shocking degree of power. It's not the anger that amazes me, ten years later -- I remember being plenty angry on Usenet. What amazes me is the passion.

I wish I could write such an empassioned defence of the Internet.

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