Apr 29, 2012

On The Beach: Pass-A-Grille, Florida

A manatee swims right up to the concrete fishing pier at Pass-A-Grille, a charming beach town that juts into the aqua waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They can stay underwater for a long time before having to surface for air. Like a sea cow, the manatee is docile, peaceful and, unfortunately, endangered because of collisions with motorboats. Many manatees have scars on their bodies from such collisions.

Apr 27, 2012

Publishing Executive Admits Breaking DRM On His Own E-Books

Laura Hazard Owen has an interesting blog post about how a publishing executive broke the DRM on the e-books he bought for himself, because they wouldn't work on all his devices. In the process, he realized how anti-consumer DRM is (not to mention easily circumvented). 

When you buy an e-book from Amazon, you are not buying the book. You are buying a license for that book, one that can be revoked at any time, without warning (such as the incident where Amazon deleted the copies of George Orwell's 1984 from customers' Kindle devices, read about that HERE). 

Amazon's move backfired spectacularly, making people aware of the downsides of DRM. Any e-book you buy can be removed from your device at any time, and you are prevented from "loaning" your book to anyone else. Imagine a publishing company walking into your house to confiscate books you've purchased because your rights to own it have changed.

This is an interesting interview with a publishing insider who has had a change of heart about DRM. 

Apr 26, 2012

Disney's Animal Kingdom and EPCOT: Looking At the Details

With the last of the Disney passes I received for marching in Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios last year, Deb and I made one last trek to the Animal Kingdom and EPCOT theme parks. Since I have been to both so many times before, I decided to look for the little details scattered throughout the parks, small flourishes that most people do not consciously notice, but serve to give the park its distinctive atmosphere.

It's amazing what you see when you really look.

First up: Animal Kingdom


Don't know where this shot was taken?

It was taken inside the huge golf ball that dominates EPCOT, Spaceship Earth. The slow shutter speed caused light trails as the ride moved through the sphere

Below pictures: park visitors jockey for space to watch the impressive nightly fireworks display

Apr 21, 2012

Tree Frog

This cute little guy was perched on the door handle of a screen door, not caring a bit that I was taking his picture.

He even let me pet him.

Apr 19, 2012

CISPA: More Efforts To Threaten On-Line Freedoms

Here we go again.

I try to limit the number of activist posts on this blog to those that I feel directly affect this blog's followers; who wants to read a constant series of protest rants? Not me, that's for sure.

But, every so often a threat to our Internet freedoms comes along that is so overly broad and just so repugnant that I feel it's my duty to let you know what is happening, and how it will affect you, whether you know it or not.

Like my posts about SOPA and PIPA, I'm raising the alarm about the newest threat to our free speech: CISPA (I know, alphabet soup...I don't like it either, trust me).

CISPA stands for The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, a cybersecurity bill allows companies and the federal government to share information to prevent or defend from  cyberattacks. However, the bill also authorizes monitoring of our private communications, and is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large amounts of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a huge loophole in all existing privacy laws.  

In a nutshell, CISPA would:  
  • allow a private company to read all of your e-mails
  • allow the government to read all of your e-mails
  • allow your Internet service provider to hand over your communications to the government without your consent or knowledge
  • prevent you from suing a company for invading your privacy or sharing your information
  • allow the government to keep and use your information for whatever purpose it wants
Is this what's good for the Internet and its users? I think not.

It won't take much time or effort to make your voice heard. Please do: this is important. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has made it easy to register your objections to this awful legislation. Below are some links. The more voices that are raised in opposition, the more hope we have of killing this terrible legislation (just like we did with SOPA and PIPA).
The video below asks a larger question: copyright exists to "promote the useful arts" according to the Constitution. But is it still doing that? And should the government protect so-called "intellectual property" in the same way it protects other forms of property?

 If you steal a car, the owner no longer has that car. If you download a movie, the studio still has its movie, although it is not making as much money as it would like. Regardless of whether you think downloading movies is wrong or not, is it the same as theft, in the true sense of the word?

This is an interesting debate about this divisive issue.

Apr 17, 2012

Salesman - The 1968 Documentary

This is a real treasure of American documentary film making, and well worth watching.

Salesman is a low budget documentary filmed in 1967 and follows four door-to-door salesmen who deal with constant rejection, homesickness and the inevitable burnout as they go across the country selling very expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families.

The focal point of the film is salesman Paul Brennan, who is the Willy Loman character in this film, and it is heartbreaking to watch him struggle to make sales, as it becomes obvious his heart just isn't in it any more.

What makes this film so special is its honesty. Filmed on a shoestring, there are no staged camera interviews and no fancy production values. This is a pure slice of American life that follows four door to door salesmen in their quest to sell overpriced bibles to poor working class families that cannot afford them. Once you start watching it you'll be pulled into a world that doesn't exist anymore. Below is a fourteen minute clip. Link to official website

The director talks about making the film, and his friendship with Paul Brennan HERE

Apr 16, 2012

Dark Sky Festival 2012

Dark Sky 2012 has concluded once again, the fourth year I have organized the 501st Legion's participation in this fun event. This year we had only three members who could troop this one, as the Legion was stretched thin. There were a lot of events taking place this particular weekend, and the Legion is a strictly voluntary organization of costuming professionals.

However, as always, the people there were great to hang out with, and we all had a great time. I want to send a shout out to the town of Harmony for taking such great care of us, and also to the staff of the Lakeside Inn, where we spent the night when the festival was over. It's a beautiful, very retro motel minutes away from the festival, and right on the water.

This little boy was scared of Darth Vader, but he succumbed to the dark side

I love the smiles of the faces of these two girls. This reaction is what makes events like this so much fun


And night falls, and Lord Vader's light saber is unsheathed!

Below: this little girl was at Dark Sky last year (below left), and Darth Vader helped himself to some of her popcorn. This year she was back and told her mom she was afraid Darth Vader would take her popcorn again. I assured her her popcorn was safe and she got her picture taken with us, holding my blaster (below right).

 Lord Vader demonstrates his skill with the Force and his light saber

The next morning I took some pictures of the mirror-flat water at the Lakeside Inn. There was a family of waterfowl that was on patrol, waiting for handouts, and were pretty bold, coming right up onto the deck while people were eating breakfast and made for charming morning company.