June 2nd, 2009

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Online Connection Re-established...

... at least for now, after several days with none. Since there were problems at the tower, some interruption may recur until repairs there are completed. Meanwhile I will try to catch up on backlog. Based on what I downloaded, I believe that a substantial number of messages may have vanished into the aethyr. If you tried to email in the last several days, and I haven't gotten back to you in the next day or so, ping me again. Sorry for the hassle.
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Poetry Fishbowl on Tuesday, June 9

This is an advance announcement for the June Poetry Fishbowl (gods and weather willing). This time the theme will be "the magic in everyday things." I'll be soliciting ideas for ordinary people, commonplace miracles, ordinary but important events, everyday objects or creatures, things we take for granted, folklore or superstitions about everyday things, and poetic forms in particular.

If you're interested, mark the date on your calendar, and please hold actual prompts until the "Poetry Fishbowl Open" post next week. Meanwhile, if you want to help with promotion, please feel free to link back here or repost this on your blog.

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Economic News

I'm going to bundle together interesting news from the last several days, sorted by topic. This batch is all stuff dealing with money.

Michael Moore | Goodbye, GM
Michael Moore, MichaelMoore.com: "I write this on the morning of the end of the once-mighty General Motors. By high noon, the President of the United States will have made it official: General Motors, as we know it, has been totaled. As I sit here in GM's birthplace, Flint, Michigan, I am surrounded by friends and family who are filled with anxiety about what will happen to them and to the town. Forty percent of the homes and businesses in the city have been abandoned.


This has its ups and downs. I believe that mismanaged companies must be allowed to fail, so I'm pleased that the government has stopped pouring money down this particular rat hole. However, much distress and damage had already resulted from this company's collapse; more is to come; and I'm unhappy about that. I think the situation could have been handled better, and that our social support network is disgracefully shabby.

Dean Baker | Investigating the Collapse: Looking for the Killer We Already Know
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Congress may establish a commission to investigate the causes of the economic crisis. This may be a useful exercise in publicly shaming those who are responsible for an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering. That would be a good thing. These people should be held accountable. Those in the financial sector who broke the law should go to jail, or at the least, lose their ill-gotten fortunes. The public officials whose incompetence and/or corruption allowed for this disaster should lose their jobs and never again be given a position of public trust."


I really like Baker's core premises here: 1) Analyze failures to determine why they happened. 2) Ensure that those whose incompetence, greed, and/or other foolishness caused the problems are censured and prevented from repeating the performance elsewhere. 3) Establish protections to prevent future repetitions.

Robert Reich | The Future of Manufacturing, GM, and American Workers
Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog: "We should stop pining after the days when millions of Americans stood along assembly lines and continuously bolted, fit, soldered or clamped what went by. Those days are over.... Any job that's even slightly routine is disappearing from the US. But this doesn't mean we are left with fewer jobs. It means only that we have fewer routine jobs, including traditional manufacturing. When the US economy gets back on track, many routine jobs won't be returning - but new jobs will take their place."


The problem I see with this is that the jobs we're losing are substantially better than the jobs we're gaining. Manufacture is skilled labor that traditionally commands decent wages and regular hours plus a benefits package with health care, pension, vacation time, sick leave, etc. The job market is overwhelmingly swinging towards retail and service jobs with low wages, short and/or erratic hours, few or no benefits, and low job security. This is part of how we got from an economy where one job would support a household to an economy where it takes 2-5 jobs to support a household. People are overworked, underpaid, overstressed ... and it's making them sick and insane in ever increasing numbers. This is not sustainable. We need to fix it.
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War and Torture

These articles deal with assorted flavors of institutionalized violence.

Chris Hedges | War Is Sin
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It
is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about
ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is
often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is
not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."


Yep, taking the Red Pill can make your life utterly miserable. That doesn't make the Blue Pill a good idea.

Why'd Obama Switch on Detainee Photos? Maliki Went Ballistic
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama reversed his decision to release detainee abuse photos from Iraq and Afghanistan after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki warned that Iraq would erupt into violence and that Iraqis would demand that US troops withdraw from Iraq a year earlier than planned, two US military officers, a senior defense official and a State Department official have told McClatchy."


Why? Because power tends to corrupt, and it's very difficult for people to resist using power that is offered sweetly to them and is advantageous to them, even if they know it's bad. We knew this would happen. It's disappointing, but it's not a surprise.

Former Interrogator Presses for McChrystal's Stance on Torture
Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent: "A former military interrogator who contributed to the manhunt for a senior Iraqi terrorist has urged the Senate Armed Services Committee staff to press Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Obama administration's nominee to lead US troops in the Afghanistan war, on what he knew about detainee abuse committed by troops in Iraq under his command when McChrystal goes before the panel Tuesday morning for his confirmation hearing. 'Gen. McChrystal, he was there in Iraq often, and he may have been separated from these things by couple layers [of subordinates] but it would've been his responsibility to know what was going on,' said Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of a former Air Force interrogator whose non-coercive interrogations in 2006 helped identify and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."


Hm, let's see ... torture is what barbaric despots do. Didn't we used to be against that sort of thing?
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My New Camera

My new digital camera is a 98379 Series Digital Camera from Digital Concepts/Sakar International Inc. It uses PhoTags Express (which I like) and WebCam Express (which I have not tried) software. It requires two AAA batteries; I haven't had to replace them yet, but they didn't stay fully charged for very long. Special thanks to browngirl and my partner Doug for this highly educational experience.

I have taken the camera outside three times for photo shoots to explore its features. So far I've taken, hmm, probably around 150 pictures and kept maybe half that, mostly so I can see what I did.

Some stuff I have already learned:

* This camera is very lightweight and compact. It's the nicest in hand since one I lost when I was little.

* Hardware interface is pretty good. I can use the buttons. I can read the menu icons on the preview screen. I can't see much detail in the preview screen for photos, alas, because it is only about 1" wide and 1/2" tall. The camera is still functional; I haven't killed it yet. This is promising for my ability to use digital cameras in general.

* Software interface is quite good. I like many of the features, particularly the tagging and keyword functions. There are options for adding captions and simple shapes too. I am especially impressed that this software makes these things a separate layer rather than burning them into the picture file itself; I am unlikely to be satisfied with other software lacking this feature, although I could wish for somewhat more flexible manipulation options. On the whole, I'm pleased enough to recommend it.

* This camera does not focus well. None of the photos are really crisp; many are so blurry as to be illegible. Bracing the camera against my body and/or concentrating on remaining motionless produces modest improvement in quality, but bracing it against a solid object such as a fencepost does not produce another level of improvement. I am used to getting much better results out of a film camera than this. I am not sure whether the cause is: 1) I'm out of practice, 2) the camera is very lightweight, or 3) it's a cheap camera.

* The camera has an auto-shutdown for power saving that turns it off after 30 seconds. I understand that this is a feature, not a bug, because the batteries are already not lasting very long. But it's driving me NUTS. I have the aim of an archer and the patience of a hunter; these do not interface with a camera that turns itself off two seconds before I intend to push the shutter button.

* The camera does not seem to have any stop-motion ability. Even small motions in the target render the picture illegible. This means that the "continuous capture" feature -- which takes 3 photos in rapid sequence -- is useless. If it actually worked, it would be cool.

* The hi-resolution VGA (640x480) mode produces mediocre images. The lo-resolution QVGA (320x240) mode produces lousy images. One of the exercises I did involved shooting several photos at hi-res and then several at lo-res, for comparison.

* The compression and noncompression modes don't seem to look any different in the photos.

* The color accuracy is not great. Things in the pink-red range don't come out as bright as they should; I've got shots of red (dark-pink-colored) and white clovers that look almost the same color. Things in the blue-purple range seem to fare better. Greens are sometimes a little muted. Bright reds and yellows seem to come through okay.

* The light/shadow distinction is wretched. I understand that all cameras have some limitation of how dark or bright things can get before losing detail, which is why it's hard to photograph fire. But this camera is consistently losing detail on white flowers, clouds, etc. and sometimes darker things like deep green leaves. I've seen this problem before, but not to this degree; it's probably either this camera, or the digital medium.

* The viewfinder and the actual lens are about an inch apart. Also the capture zone seems to be rather smaller than the viewfinder zone. Those are mechanical limitations; I know that going to a more expensive single-lens-reflex camera would solve that problem. Now add the fact that I'm dyslexic; it makes the compensation more challenging. I've dealt with this before; it just takes practice.

* I don't have as clear a sense of the pictures I'm taking with digital as with film. Part of that is unfamiliarity with the equipment, but part is an actual sense that connects me to my subject; that sense is dimmer, like I'm working through gloves or something. This could be due to the camera, but is more likely due to me; could be temporary or permanent.

* If I were to shop for a better camera, things I'd look for would include: interchangable photo storage that could be increased, better battery capacity (even if it made the camera a little heavier, but not too heavy: I like that this one doesn't kill my wrists), higher resolution, better color accuracy. Adjustible aperture and shutter speed ... maybe. Too many gizmos on a camera are out of my skill range. But I had one once with a simple twist-ring for adjusting how much light got in, and I liked that.

On the whole, I am used to getting average to good results from a film camera of basic or enhanced basic quality. Out of this camera, I'm getting bad to below average results so far. I'm still trying to figure out all the reasons for that -- whether they are due to my skill level, this individual camera's quality, the digital medium, or some combination -- and what improvements could be made. But I have determined that touching a digital camera doesn't necessarily entail instant total death of equipment, and that at least some features and software are usable for me. It's the results that are less than ideal.
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Handle Problem

I was trying to post some photos to my blog, and got an error saying "the handle is in the wrong position." This has happened before, and sometimes I'll be able to load a given photo once but not again. Does anyone know what this refers to and how to fix it?