Thursday, January 27, 2005

Spiders, spiders everywhere (but not what you think)

While monitoring my new security configuration in Apache, I've noticed a lot of hits by spiders - automated bots that crawl the Web (see how the spider lingo works?) and catalog your site for various search engines.

Google and MSN Search seem to be the most frequent visitors ("msnbot" and, more cutesy, "googlebot"). In fact, their cataloging power is a little frightening, especially in MSN's case.

Go to and enter "Keith, Jenny, Lisa, Andrea's b-day party". Or "Caden discovers my camera strap". It's a little scary how meticulous MSN is about archiving any text on your site.

The spiders account for enough traffic that I've split them off into their own logfile. This way there's less to sort through when I want to monitor traffic by real human beings.

Oh - coincidentally there was a real spider I had to kill near my closet today. But that's hardly newsworthy...

Sketchy bastards abound; Apache Strikes Back

A few casual advances in my Apache Webserver configuration unearthed something disturbing yesterday.

I had finally set up Apache to keep separate logfiles for each of my sites, creating a new log for each day's activity. Not a big deal, but it isn't immediately obvious how to do this when you first install Apache. But it was a nice step forward to a mature, Production-quality configuration.

At about the same time I rearranged the gallery directories - they had all been under the same directory, but as they grew in number they were starting to get a little crowded. So I sorted them out into subdirectories by year (e.g. galleries/2004/blah). And of course I fixed up my code to support the new structure.

Unbeknownst to me, this all had the unintended consequence of making it obvious that someone had been hot-linking to my images (aka image theft - they were displaying my images in their own Webpages, but the images were still being served off my Webserver and using up my bandwidth). In my new, cleanly organized logs I started seeing all these 404 Not Found errors because the hot-linker had pointed to my original gallery directory setup. The logs also showed the URL of the page that was attempting to display my images.

I followed the link - it was a photo posting forum with a post titled "university volleyball hotties". The poster ("orswich" supposedly a 26-yr-old from Canada) eloquently stated "i love sporty women in great outfits, especially the girls in universities and college" (his lack of capitalization, not mine). He then hot-linked to twenty of my UCLA women's volleyball photos.

He even magnanimously offered "i have diving and gymnastics also if interested" which, of course, referred to my diving and gymnastics galleries. One of the follow-up comments, courtesy of jimraynor from Illinois went: "I'm disappointed in the lack of ass-pat of approval, but there were some nice pictures."

This then prompted a follow-up post by shaebae from St. Louis who had his own v-ball pics: "to make up for the guy with the assless volleyball pics lol". To which orswich dutifully responded, "[your] pics were as good as mine.. i do have others with "more ass"..." Which he then proceeded to post - another eighteen shots from my v-ball galleries.

Did I say this was "disturbing"? I meant creepy and disgusting.

And infuriating how orswich referred to my photos as his.

I immediately emailed the forum moderator and reported the image abuse as inappropriate, a violation of my copyright, and a violation of NCAA regulations. I'm glad that I decided to start embedding my copyright statement in all of my posted pics.It leaves little doubt as to who actually owns the photos in question. But on the flip side it's discomforting to have my name attached to photos displayed in that type of environment.

So I was well-motivated to dive deeper into the complexities of Apache to see if I could do something about preventing this sort of thing from happening again. I didn't want to just copy-and-paste the cookie-cutter solutions posted on the Web. I wanted to be sure I understood what I was doing to my Webserver. And, of course, I wanted more functionality than those standard solutions were offering.

In the end I succeeded. Now whenever someone hot-links to one of my images they'll see this graphic instead. As it states, their attempt to access my image over a hot-link will be logged by my Webserver into a special "poachers" log - tracking both their IP address and the URL that contained the illegal hot-link. So not only will I know that the attempt was made, I'll know from whence it came. There are ways to circumvent this, but it's generally reliable.

Some legitimate browsers will mistakenly see the hot-linking graphic when they shouldn't, but most normally-configured browsers should be fine.

I was also a little worried about spiteful retaliation attacks against my Webserver. Most people aren't sophisticated enough to launch Denial-of-Service attacks themselves, but I didn't want to incur any more wrath than necessary. So I didn't write "screw you, ya damn poacher!" like I wanted to. And to the casual surfer, it's not clear that my hot-linking graphic comes from my site at all (I was originally going to say, "go to to view").

I'm glad that I now have these protections in place. No solution is perfect (in fact this one is easily circumvented for those sufficiently motivated) but it will thwart the vast majority. And it's a source of geek pride for me that my Apache knowledge ("Apache-foo" in Keithspeak) is getting rather advanced. The experience has left me with a really gross, unpleasant feeling though. Taking this preventative action makes me feel better. Even still I'm somewhat on the fence as to whether or not those pics should be available at all.

More gymnastics; evolving results

I think my sports photography plateaued at the Nebraska-UCLA meet last Monday. I was once again relegated to shooting from the stands.

However I learned that my UCLA Bruin Card (issued to me almost four years ago when I took a single undergrad summer course) gets me into the closer reserved section for free. But I got in there too late and still couldn't sit close enough. It's hard enough to catch facial expressions (or faces at all for that matter) with gymnastics and rather unsatisfying to do so at distance. I was mostly indifferent or displeased with my results. Frankly the photos kind of bore me.

On the upside I ran into two friends from the gymnastics park at the meet. Robert, a big UCLA-phile, and Laurie, who competed for Nebraska in college. She had the day off from teaching since it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and was treated to a woeful performance by her Nebraska Huskers. They lost by almost five points - an enormous margin by gymnastics standards (a competitive meet will be decided by less than five-tenths of a point).

On Sunday I somewhat grudgingly went to the quadrangular meet at UCLA. Three teams were visiting from out of town. But none of my attempts to land a press pass succeeded (of the three school papers I contacted - Cal State Fullerton, Sacramento State, and UC Berkeley - I received a whopping zero responses). I did talk to the Bruin fan club/fundraiser organizer and gave him my card and photo gallery URL. Told him I'd love to shoot at-cost for the team/families/supporters in exchange for a press pass. Casting more lines out but so far no one's biting.

But at least I got to this meet early enough to land some great seats in the reserved section. Saw Robert again and he kept me company, providing conversation that was at times interesting and at times incessant. But the improved seats made a huge difference.

I was close enough to the floor and balance beam that I could actually get good tight shots when the gymnasts were at the near side. I also tweaked my camera setup from the last meet to try to experiment with better settings.

I felt much better about my results but as I've been going through them I've started to apply a stricter standard to which photos I consider "keepers" and which get immediately discarded.

I've reached a level where it's no longer enough to have caught a cool trick with good focus. That was a fine enough standard in the beginning. But now I have endless amounts of technically-sound shots taken with good timing. My next standard was that I had to be able to see the athlete's face in the shots (generally). But even that is too vague a standard now.

Now a shot must pass all previous standards (technical execution, timing, face) but must also have some actual impact. It can be a moment of incredible perfection (ala every move Kate Richardson executes) or - preferably - a moment with some emotional impact. A sparkling smile for the crowd; the worried, pressured, furrowed brow; the intense mental focus mid-trick; the elation and celebration with teammates. Or, in rare cases, true artistic merit.

This of course leads me away from the action shots and more towards the particular poses and team/personal shots. Besides pure action shots can be terribly boring and routine (no pun intended). I think it's a steady evolution and I think this latest gallery is an improvement but not a quantum leap forward.

One final note - the Sacramento State girls had some interesting choreography on floor ex. The shot of the girl in green further up and this one to the right show their oddly martial arts-like floor ex poses. It seems immensely silly out of context, but I find these shots all the more entertaining for their character.

If and when I do land another shooting gig, I'll have to adapt my style again (shooting on assignment carries different responsibilities for what you must cover). But at least I can now distinguish for myself the difference between assignment and enthusiast shooting.

Monday, January 17, 2005

1D enjoys its first daylight outing

The 1D performed flawlessly at this weekend's three-way Pepperdine-UCSD-UCLA diving meet. The camera's motion-tracking auto focus (AI servo AF) was able to catch over 95% of the shots with tight focus. That's a remarkable rate considering that I shot nearly 900 frames on Saturday.

And it's even more impressive that it accomplished this with my 70-200mm f/4L lens. By AF standards an f/4 lens is adequate but not great. An f/2.8 lens (twice as bright) or an f/2 lens (four times as bright) gives optimal AF performance. To put f/4 into perspective, an f/5.6 lens (half as bright) is the minimum required for most AF systems. Beyond that most cameras will fail entirely. So f/4, while not terrible, certainly isn't doing the AF system any favors when it comes to the demands of fast action motion tracking.

The light kept changing as the sun moved from noon to 3pm, in and out of the tall trees adjacent to the pool. When the sun was on the divers its strong glare made the circular polarizer a necessity. It was able to tone down most of the glare and generally worked quite well (damn well better. That was a $120 piece of glass!).

This was also the first real test with the camera set up with some initially counter-intuitive button reassignments. The usual half-press of the shutter no longer controls auto focus. Instead AF is assigned to a thumb button - hold it down to AF on the subject or continuously track if in AI servo mode, then release to hold the focus as-is. The shutter half-press then becomes the auto exposure lock (AE lock). This is Custom Function #4, Option 1 (C.Fn-04-1).

In normal shooting this means: AF on your subject with your thumb, then point to an area appropriate for setting exposure and half-press and hold the shutter, then recompose and fully press to take the shot. Seems unnecessarily complex, I know.

But it makes more sense in action shooting. Your thumb controls when the camera will track the subject in motion. So if the subject stops, you can stop the AF system by releasing your thumb. Then you can recompose your shot and fire away. With the default button setup you would never be able to recompose - the motion-tracked subject would always have to be under your selected AF point (generally dead center). And no, you couldn't just switch from AI servo motion-tracking AF to normal one-shot AF on the fly. You'd have to hold down two buttons while shifting the control dial. It's just too cumbersome and would take too long.

Friday, January 14, 2005

EOS-1D has arrived; pics from our first date

Is it sad to compare my first night out shooting with a new camera to a date? Probably. Then again last night certainly went better than my last date (wherein which the phrase "just friends" was uttered). On the other hand that date's tab at the Cheesecake Factory was certainly much cheaper than the 1D's price off eBay...

The camera arrived intact and mostly as described. One of the buttons on the vertical shutter grip was a little mashed and barely functional, but I don't actually need that button anyway.

I was able to plug it into my computer and set the more obscure options (which can only be configured through a IEEE-1394 FireWire connection to a computer). I still don't understand half of the 45+ configuration options, but I got it set up well enough for my novice self.

I roamed around my neighborhood looking for shots, but it was already dark out. The Promenade wasn't even a minor bustle of activity on a Thursday night. But I did still find a few interesting things here and there.

The camera performed very well. The large bright viewfinder was wonderful in that dark evening light. And the new 35mm f/2 finally got itself a decent workout - I was well pleased with the perspective and view that lens offered on the 1D (a 35mm lens on the 1D is equivalent to a 45mm lens due to the 1D's 1.3x crop factor).

The 1D's sensor is definitely less capable than the Digital Rebel's newer CMOS sensor. The nighttime high ISO shots exhibit the 1D's peculiar problem with horizontally-clumped noise. And the drop in resolution from 6.3MP down to 4.2MP is noticeable.

But the 1D handles exceptionally well and its focusing abilities - even in low light - are impressive. Where the Digital Rebel would have struggled the 1D breezes through with panache. It inspires confidence and an odd sense of maturity - you're handling something that, until recently, was the pinnacle of its industry. It exudes quality, durability, and performance.

I am not disappointed.

Next up: Finally getting the 1D out under good lighting conditions at the UCLA diving meet tomorrow afternoon.

The P.E.G. Screenwriting Competition: Odds are looking better every day

P.E.G., the Princeton Entertainment Group - a splinter alumni org that has divided the loyalties of the officially sanctioned Princeton-in-Hollywood (PiH) group - has proudly announced that its first annual Princeton-only screenwriting competition netted fifty entries over three categories (Drama, Action, Comedy).

The finalists will be reviewed by a pretty good list of industry contacts (a William Morris agent, UTA agent, Benderspink exec, etc) to determine the winners in each category. Winners, and probably a few of the finalists, will net meetings with those contacts and where it goes from there is up to each individual.

When I entered my screenplay into the competition I figured the odds would be pretty good at being a finalist. There can't be that many alums aspiring to be screenwriters and among them, half probably aren't very good at it. With only fifty entries divided amongst three categories, I'll only have about sixteen other scripts to beat out. Not bad odds.

Finalists and winners won't be announced or another month or two.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Canon 1D high speed continuous drive demo

I compiled this animated GIF of Oregon State's Chrissy Lamun to demonstrate the 1D's high speed continuous drive mode.

It's obviously not motion picture framerate (24 fps) but pretty dang well fast enough to catch the peak of the action. Rather than requiring exquisite timing, I just held down the shutter and fired seven frames in sequence.

I was then able to pick the best of the series and choose the one perfect shot among the group. As one character says in The Shawshank Redemption: "Easy peasy Japanese-y."

What's crazy is that this might not necessarily be the 1D's top framerate. I assume Jeff had his camera set to its max speed, but there's no way to know for sure.

Now certainly there's no substitute for skill and flawless timing, but let's be realistic. If a professional tool like the 1D can make life easier, I'm not gonna complain.

Thank you, Canon. You make me look good.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Word of the day: reprobate

Courtesy of my high school writing teacher's list of SAT/ACT words and

1. A morally unprincipled person.
2. One who is predestined to damnation.

1. Morally unprincipled; shameless.
2. Rejected by God and without hope of salvation.

Dee-zam. That's a strong word. Test your own vocabulary-foo by perusing Mr. K's list here.

Oregon State Daily Barometer update

The photo editor of the Barometer did end up writing back to say thanks and to say that the shot worked out great for them. I wasn't really annoyed at the lack of communication in the first place. But it was definitely gripe-worthy.

Though I'd guess I'll still need to rely on my other contact to get a copy of that day's paper.

And to whomever left the comment on that previous post that the photo was an "unbelievable shot", I actually think that particular one was really quite average. Technically sound (though I had to adjust for terrible under-exposure on my part), but not really that exceptional as far as gymnastics photos goes.

I think the shot to the left is worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover and is my favorite gymnastics shot so far. From the NCAA Championships last year. I didn't have a press pass for that meet, but none of those photographers down on the competition floor could have gotten this shot from where they were standing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tsunami aid, political statement

In a previous rant I complained that the Bush administration was continuing to douse Iraq in money while our tsunami aid package remained among the worst of the leaders of the free world.

I decided that the most appropriate amount for me to donate towards tsunami aid was $300. This is exactly the amount that President Bush unnecessarily sent my way as part of his economic stimulus package. That package of refunds and tax cuts, along with the ill-advised, optional war in Iraq, has run up huge deficits that will take years to pay down.

I didn't want him to give that money back to me. And I do want him to invest more funds into tsunami relief. The answer seemed pretty simple. In one small way I have now corrected one of Bush's mistakes. How many people can make that claim?

As an added benefit my company has made the unusually generous decision to match employee donations for tsunami aid. My $300 has now become $600. I am pleased.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Oregon State Daily Barometer; Can AP be far behind?

One of my photos from Friday's gymnastics meet was indeed used in today's edition of the Oregon State Daily Barometer.

The Daily Barometer photo editor was utterly professional. I received exactly zero emails from him, zero answers to the questions I asked regarding image format, zero confirmation that they had downloaded the full-resolution images I provided for them on my Webserver (my Apache logs were kind enough to confirm that for me), and no assurance whatsoever that they would send me a copy of the paper (which constituted the entire sum of my photographer's "fee").

Nor was I surprised.

Also note that the photograper credit reads "contributed photo". Wow, it's like having my name up in big lights...

A Happy But Expensive Accident; Hello EOS-1D

On Friday I drove two hours through the recently heavy LA rain to photograph the Oregon State women's gymnastics meet at Cal State Fullerton. Armed with my press pass I had unprecedented access... in CSU-Fullerton's tiny gym.

But after the first event my camera died. Completely. The pro photographer next to me, Jeff, took notice. He points to his bag and says, "I've got a backup 1D over there. Go ahead and grab it." My jaw dropped open. In 2001 the Canon 1D was the pinnacle of professional digital photography. A $5,000 camera. A 1D was attached to all those white lenses you've seen at the Superbowl the last three years. It has since been replaced by the 1D MkII, thus its relegation to being a mere backup.

Canon EOS-1D: Unbelievable
The first thing I noticed was that it was heavy. About 3.5lbs without a lens. Add my 1.5lb 135mm f/2L lens and you've got a beast on your hands. Jeff quickly set the camera up for me - I had no clue how to use it. Even though I'm quite experienced with Canon cameras, their pro-level interface is a whole other ordeal. It took a minute or two for me to figure out just how to change my exposure settings.

  Canon Digital Rebel: No comparison
When I looked through the 1D's viewfinder I almost gasped. The viewfinder is so large, so clear, and so bright. I felt like I was staring at a poster in there. I could see everything and could accurately judge focus. My Digital Rebel's viewfinder is tiny, dark, and nearly impossible to discern focus at all. After a typical day of shooting with the Rebel, my eyes are so strained and tired that I can barely see.

Small viewfinders are a problem with all SLRs with smaller sensors, including Canon's new and highly lauded 20D. Both have a 1.6x crop factor, meaning it's only 63% of the size of a normal 35mm optical system. The 1D's less severe 1.3x crop factor makes its viewfinder at least 23% larger than the Rebel's. I don't know why this crucial difference isn't considered more often.

Then I put my finger to the shutter release. I half-pressed to focus the lens and accidentally took about four rapid-fire shots before I even realized what I'd done. It was SO FAST!! 8.3 frames per second by most accounts. Not only was it fast but it was undescribably smooth. The shutter release was superbly responsive to varying degrees of pressure. The mirror slap and shutter actuation were closer to a "whir" than the usual "ka-chunk". And at 8.3fps that whir sounds more like a soft fan cutting through the air. The moving parts cause no perceptible physical force - they're all dampened to avoid creating camera shake.

And at 8.3fps there's a mere 0.12 seconds between frames, allowing you to capture the precise moment desired.

The viewfinder blackout time was remarkable. All SLRs go black when you trigger the shutter - the mirror has to move out of the way to expose the film or sensor plane. The 1D blackout time was perceptible, but only just. Slower than instantaneous but faster than a blink. 45ms to be exact.

The sensitive trigger and the immense response time make it feel as if you merely think about shooting and it happens. No joke. The camera feels psychic. And I'm not the first person who's ever said that. The Digital Rebel on the other hand has a very noticeable delay (200ms?) that forces you to anticipate the timing of shots before the moment actually happens.

Here's why the psychic comment isn't completely unfounded: The 1D has a ridiculously fast 55ms response time. Nerve impulses take between 8ms and 1000ms to travel the length of your arm to your brain. That means that when you take a shot, your eye might see the mirror actuation before the nerve impulses from your fingertip can tell your brain that you pressed the button.

I haven't even mentioned the solid, nigh indestructible build construction. The lighting-quick autofocus. The servo autofocus tracking of moving objects. The incredibly fast processing speed allowing for immediate image display. The 16-shot frame buffer in RAW mode, even during 8.3fps bursts.

Needless to say I had to buy one. And did. Picked up a three-year-old used 1D from eBay from a pro in Illinois on Saturday. What was a $5,000 camera in 2001 is now a mere $1,500. With about 50,000 shots on the camera's shutter it still has a ways to go before reaching its factory-rated 150,000 shot lifespan.

However, the 1D is three-year-old technology. Even my feature-stripped Rebel benefits from its two year advantage in sensor R&D. Its 6.3MP (MegaPixel) CMOS sensor exceeds the capabilities of the 1D's 4.2MP CCD sensor. I hope the 1D can keep pace well enough with the Rebel's image quality. But I may have to keep both cameras - one for sheer speed, handling, and performance. Another for pure image quality. Not ideal, but it'll have to do until the 1D MkII drops in price. The 1D MkII is the best of all worlds. The paragon. And one day it will be mine.

I got everything I could out of my Digital Rebel and learned enough to outgrow it in fifteen months. And now I'm absolutely thrilled to join the ranks of photojournalists everywhere (the majority of which are still shooting with the original 1D). It's a huge dent in my bank account, but it's well worth every penny.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

NYT op/ed: Save Social Security via new universal 401(k)s

Gene Sperling's op/ed piece in yesterday's NYT - No Pain, No Savings - offers an interesting alternative to the Social Security deadlock between creating private investment accounts and sticking to the status quo.

He offers the idea that we roll these proposed Social Security private accounts into our own 401(k)s and open new 401(k)s for those too poor to save. In the worst case the lower-income workers would be no worse off than they'd be with the current privatization proposals.

But in the best case scenario, the power of compounding interest comes into play as our 401(k)s grow by our own contributions, employer contributions (should you be so lucky), and whatever Social Security contributions are envisioned in the private account proposals. And the concept itself leverages the best features of 401(k)s - that they encourage personal savings. Lower income workers may not be able to invest much into these proposed 401(k)s, but at least they'd have the option and some seed money from Social Security.

I'm not nearly well versed enough on tax law, 401(k)s, or the current privatization proposals to tell if this is a ridiculous idea or not. But at least it passes the smell test, certainly moreso than Bush's "it's your money" credo for his backing of private savings accounts in Social Security. Whatever form those private savings accounts might take, they'd simply be too small and insignificant to ever amount to much of anything. Throw in the increased risk of personally-managed investing and you've got a bad situation.

401(k)s have been around for a while now and I don't hear much rumbling against them. This seems like a fantastic idea to me.

Comments? Could it work?

Quote of the Day: on letting go

Just re-watched the brilliant, brilliant Shawshank Redemption. It's hard to imagine a better film.

Red: I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend.
        - The Shawshank Redemption, screenplay by Frank Darabont; short story by Stephen King

Landed a photography gig; Gadget fetish continues - EF 35mm f/2

My contact at the booster club for the Oregon State women's gymnastics team managed to get me a press pass to shoot their upcoming meet at Cal State Fullerton. I'll be down on the competition floor, standing next to the other pro photographers. Sort of. Cal State Fullerton won't exactly be drawing Sports Illustrated coverage. Most likely one pro and a student shooting for the Fullerton paper.

But it'll be exciting for me. I've never had access like that and being close to the action will present all sorts of new opportunites and difficulties. Closer means shorter lenses. And my short lineup isn't bad - 24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8 - but there are gaps. The 24mm will be too wide for most of the action. The 50mm will be too long for anything other than floor. So what's a guy to do?

The only solution, of course, is to buy a new lens! Welcome the EF 35mm f/2 to the lineup. Sits perfectly between the 24mm and the 50mm. It's closer to the 24/2.8, but it is one stop faster (f/2 vs f/2.8) and therefore carves its own niche. The 24/2.8 is still ideal for tighter indoor spaces so each will get plenty of use.

At least I was reasonable - Canon also has a $1,100 35mm f/1.4L. My "cheap" 35mm was only $230. See? Totally reasonable.

The photos will be used on the booster club's site - and - in the Oregon State school paper the following Monday. It's not the LA Times or anything, but it's a start.

Now the only problem will be driving to Fullerton through rush hour traffic tomorrow night. Looks to be two hours on the road, minimum.

Cal State Fullerton: Really freakin' far away

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bush to America: We're broke; You pay for tsunami aid

As of September, 2004 the Iraq war and subsequent occupation cost $119 billion (source: The US deficit for fiscal year 2004 was $422 billion (source: CBO), the largest deficit ever recorded (though not a record on a percentage-of-GDP basis).

After the massive tsunami disaster in Asia, the United States promised $35 million in aid. The UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, then quite appropriately admonished all rich nations for not offering more aid. The Bush administration then increased their donation to $350 million.

The $35 million offer is outlandish in its insincerity. But even the increased $350 million is a shameful, shameful pittance. Let's put our apparent priorities into perspective:

$350 million in aid vs Iraq's $119 billion == 0.29%

Our aid package is less than one percent of what we've spent on Iraq. That's 340 times more money for Iraq than we've pledged to help the hundreds of thousands suffering in Asia. Another $60 billion is allocated for Iraq in 2005 (with some going to Afghanistan). Yet we can only offer $350 million as an initial donation? Japan - hardly known throughout the world as a generous nation - increased its initial $30 million pledge to $500 million. Shame on us.

The Bush administration's solution then is to ask private citizens to pay for disaster relief ourselves. Should private citizens and corporations contribute to disaster relief? Without a doubt.

But how aggravating and ingenuous is it of our President to implore the citizens of this country to give all they can when his own administration has fallen so far short of the mark? We are a generous, good-hearted people. And our government is the most powerful aggregation of our collective resources and wealth. Our government is the tool through which we can help the rest of the world. This administration should be leading the way rather than just imploring the rest of us to do what's right.

I'm not so naive as to think we can just magically hand over any sum of money we choose. Of course there are consequences. But when our deficit has already reached $422 billion it's hard to argue that another one, two, or even five billion dollars in aid would make much of a difference to our bottom line. The international respect that a genuine aid package would garner would have been worth the cost. But now it's too late. Our bad reputation has been made even worse.

And of course the US is mustering its military forces to aid however it can. This certainly is admirable and significant. But even taking this into account, we're still not doing enough. When Congress weighs in on the aid package they'll have an opportunity to increase it as they deem fit. Let's hope they show the world some leadership.

I didn't want my tax dollars to be wasted on Iraq but they were. I do want my tax dollars to be spent as international aid but that's not really happening. How fucked up is that?

Quotes of the Day: Buffy/Angel witticisms

The skeptics never believe it, but Buffy and, to a lesser degree, Angel had fantastic writers. Creator Joss Whedon's Emmy nomination for Buffy and Academy Award nomination for co-writing Toy Story seem to be easily forgotten when people consider the merits of a show about vampires and mysticism.

Jenny Calendar: I know you feel betrayed.
Giles: Yes, well, that's one of the unpleasant side effects of betrayal.
        - from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Passion"

Cordelia: If Julia Roberts ever makes a realistic movie about being an escort, I think it should be called "Pretty Skanky Girl".
        - from Angel, "Carpe Noctem"

Anya: This tone of my voice -- I dislike it more than you do. And I'm closer to it!
        - from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Flooded"

Spike: Love isn't brains, children. It's blood. Blood screaming to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it.
        - from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Lover's Walk"

Monday, January 03, 2005

Chevy Malibu Classic: Worst car ever??

I got stuck driving one of these things during my recent trip to Chicago. I was supposed to get a Ford Focus (which I myself happily own) but was instead "upgraded" to the Chevy Malibu. I begged the rental car guy not to upgrade me, but the Malibu was the only car he had left on the lot.

Worst car ever?

Generally speaking, the car goes in the direction you steer it. Generally speaking. The steering is so indistinct and mushy that it's impossible to discern meaningless minor wheel movement from actual steering input. The line is crossed so easily that it's actually quite difficult to drive this car in a straight line.

The brakes are soft and not terribly reassuring, which is exacerbated by the car's apparent heft (certainly heftier than the Focus). The door mechanisms are mushy, making it a little difficult to realize you haven't actually closed the door all the way.

And there are a handful of foolish finishing touches: the radio doesn't turn off until the driver's door is opened; the windshield wiper fluid is channelled up through the wipers rather than shot from the hood; the radio tunes incredibly fast - so fast that it's oddly difficult for your ears to process the new song since the swap between channels is instantaneous.

They should have shelved these "features" and instead improved the many other crappy areas of the car (starting with the ridiculously cheap-feeling buttons and terrible plastic interior design).

Okay, it's not really the worst car ever. But it sure ain't the best.

Back in LA; Holiday Photos In Progress

I was welcomed back to LA by being seated on the plane next to a somewhat vapid model-in-training. Quite apropos. Her attractiveness couldn't overcome my complete lack of interest in talking to her.

On a more positive note, I've already posted a number of photos from my trip. The first gallery consists of family pics and will mostly be of the new babies in the family.

The second gallery has shots of my friends and I (or their Christmas presents, in this case). I never used to put much effort into getting pictures of myself with my friends, but now that I realize I have almost no pictures with my friends, I thought I ought to give it a try.

The final gallery is a handful of shots I took while touring downtown Chicago with Stephanie. She had come in for a quick visit from Ann Arbor while en route to St. Louis. I borrowed Dawn's Canon S400 pocket digital camera for these pics and it did a pretty good job.