Monday, December 31, 2007

2Wire Error Message Seems To Filter Content (UPDATE)

UPDATE 8/08: After many variations of workarounds, a user over at IMLocation found what would seem to be a definitive solution:
First, go into the Management Console of your 2Wire at the address:
Now, in the Advanced tab, click Configure Services. Once you are there, de-check the boxes for all “notifications” about connections or the like.
Thanks to SeanStreiff for the update and majestico for the solution.

I'm working from St. Louis on holiday, using my parents' ISP, SBC Global. Parsing their service is a 2Wire modem/router that fancies itself an intelligent component, sending error messages and blocking traffic where it should be acting as an open gateway. Ironically, all these messages come from the local url, even as it stops your communications.

As Vincent Gable explored here, there are so many problems with this error, it's hard to know where to begin.

First, it's an error message that leads with a "Success" headline, telling the user, "The error has been successfully resolved." If that's the case, why can't I reach the page I navigated to?

Second, the message urges you to quit in order to continue: "Please close down your browser and restart it to continue browsing online." So apparently the error hasn't been successfully resolved, because I have to restart. That would indicate there's still a problem.

Third, the "masthead.gif" at the top contains confusing directions and grammatical errors. It tells the user, "Internet Explorer may display a security message that is prevents [sic] the file download needed to proceed with AT&T Yahoo! Registration." What? a) This gif shows up in both Firefox and Safari; b) "that is presents..." may as well read "all your bases are belong to us..."; c) "file download" is redundant; and d) I didn't navigate towards anything resembling AT&T or Yahoo! registration. Oh, and the arrow icon points to the current tab, as if an error message will be popping up there for some reason.

Fourth, beneath that line, another message tells you, "If you see the message, click the message bar [file icon] and select 'Download file...' to continue." Hmmm. a) no message ever appears; and b) why would I want to download a file to complete a registration I didn't navigate to?

Fifth and finally, this success/error message pops up at random and seems to act more like a content filter than anything like to a technical resolution. It seems to happen on certain pages, while others load normally. The only bug is the page itself, declaring it has resolved a bug. It also eats your url, so you can't click "Back" to return to your page. Most infuriatingly, why is my modem sending me messages? It should be a portal, not an autonomous component arbitrating the data passing through it. This makes me especially uneasy because it's AT&T, who is complicit with delivering personal information to the NSA.

Consequently, I haven't been able to reach my business webmail and other sites I need to. Thanks for your defective design, 2Wire and AT&T. Your "Success" message has kept me from working all day.

The TSA Is Curiously Akin To DRM

For the holidays, I booked three one-way tickets on three airlines that required negotiating five different airports. And everywhere I go, I see the operations of the TSA as a grand, tired farce on the American public. An op-ed in the Times sums it up pretty well (via BoingBoing):

The truth is, regardless of how many pointy tools and shampoo bottles we confiscate, there shall remain an unlimited number of ways to smuggle dangerous items onto a plane. The precise shape, form and substance of those items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials, we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur.

And thus the TSA's most visual security efforts amount to little more than production value. Theater. Disrobing down to my socks into Rubbermaid bins before a flight is useless and dehumanizing, and makes me feel no more safe than before the almighty 9/11. As the article points out, the agency is a reactive beast, perpetually one step behind the latest plot, taking away pointy things and liquids and scanning shoes years after terrorist plots sought to exploit these means.

In this, there is a curious similarity between the TSA and the purveyors of DRM. The countless man-hours invested in both can be undone in moments, resulting in either a) a fiendish terrorist tragedy, or b) a duplicated DVD. In the case of the TSA, their porous security safeguarding can be broken through the unanticipated breach, rendering all reactive counter-measures for shoes and liquids useless. In the case of DRM, their millions of dollars in development can be defeated by one hacker in a few hours on a home computer.

The Transportation Security Administration and Digital Rights Management both seek to beat insurmountable odds by locking up impossibly porous systems. The trouble is, they can never solve the system for the 0.01% who actually want to break it, and instead present inherently flawed experiences for the other 99.9%. The antics of the TSA don't anticipate the dedicated terrorist, but do inconvenience millions who just want to travel from point a to point b. The efforts of DRM purveyors don't stop the avid hacker, but do inconvenience millions who just want to move their media from device a to device b.

The fundamental difference, of course, is that terrorists want to use public property for nefarious ends, while hackers want to use their private property (or licenses) for private entertainment. The TSA seeks to protect the public, while DRM seeks to restrict the public. Both achieve terrible results.

Solutions diverge as well. In principle, the TSA is a much-needed protective agency. It should, however, be the last line of defense before terrorists reach our transportation systems. Intelligence and immigration should police suspected parties instead of dragnetting the masses moments before boarding. DRM, meanwhile, is a principle of restricting fair use of copyrighted material. The notion is that profits can be maximized by restricting access to content. On the contrary, the free use of such material acts as promotion and creative fuel, encouraging properties far more monetizable than expensive locking mechanisms.

Only the overhaul of the underlying principles will effect any change in these flawed systems. In both cases, the systems are inhibiting the growth of the industries they seek to protect: because of them, I fly as little as possible and buy no media infected with DRM. In other words, the TSA is killing the airline industry. And DRM is killing music.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Radiohead made more on InRainbows than all other albums combined

Here's a mindblower from Thom Yorke in the most recent Wired, where he talks with David Byrne about music:

In terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net. And that's nuts. It's partly due to the fact that EMI wasn't giving us any money for digital sales. All the contracts signed in a certain era have none of that stuff.

So InRainbows, released as a cost-optional download, made more for the band in three months than Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail To The Thief combined.

The qualifier is "in terms of digital income" of course — and Radiohead isn't on iTunes, the top-selling digital marketplace. It looks like they're on Amazon's, and I'd check Napster and eMusic, but you can't search their titles unless you're a subscriber (a design flaw for their services).

But still, wow. Three months trumping a storied 15-year catalog is pretty amazing. EMI is either doing something wrong or keeping all the money for themselves. I'd guess both.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Vis à vis, the bean pie.

Here's a short doc by a classmate in my masters program. It's about bean pies. Vote for it if you like.

I had a bean pie once, thinking it was pumpkin pie. It was good. I didn't know it was an American Muslim cultural innovation. But now I feel diversificationally validated.

Now I'll say, "Pass the bean pie — my brother. As-salaam alaikum."

Reality TV's most hackneyed phrase...

... is, without a doubt, "thrown under the bus." As in, "She threw me under the bus!" or, "If I don't have immunity, they'll throw me under the bus!" This is the betrayal, the heartbreaking of reality rejects who make poor alliances because they can't read character or can't compel an alternative. People get thrown under the bus by the minute on reality tv.

Contestants spout off this phrase compulsively whenever a voting-off-the-island is about to happen, but if I really dislike the show, I'll imagine I hear it four to five times per episode. Tonight I heard it on the Biggest Loser finale on NBC. On the finale. How can anyone get thrown under the bus on a weigh-in finale? The only thing you hear more than "thrown under the bus" on Biggest Loser is the pernicious Subway plugs. I wouldn't be surprised to find they sold the phrase "thrown under the bus" to Greyhound, who pays them every time it's said. Lord knows some of the participants live for reading product placements on camera. 

This may be the worst possible time for a writer's strike from an entertainment point of view. NBC already announced that they're weaning off drama and serials for more game shows and reality tv. The problem is, both of these genres painted themselves into a corner years ago. Reality tv is dead. The format holds no drama: group of 20 is whittled down to one by voting or judging, and challenges win them prizes or immunity along the way. This holds true for everyone from aspiring supermodels to the morbidly obese, exploited pioneer kids, seamstresses, chefs, and those odd few hoping to sway an ambiguously bi-sexual MySpace web-lebrity. (That is, ANTM, Biggest Loser, Kid Nation, Project Runway, Top Chef, Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. Kind of an apocalyptic gathering.)

That said, I'll always tear up at watching fat people lose weight. It's life-changing.

Game shows, meanwhile, have become fixated on giving away the most money for the most banal tasks. The bar is set low to make everyone feel like a challenger ("I coulda been someone!"), and the contestants are inundated with spotlights and pounding drums and minor chords, and then the guys says, "We'll find out... when we come back!" And the audience groans like what we only ever wanted in our hearts, in our heart of hearts, was to find out if that case had $1 or $1,000,000 in it, when the guy could've just walked away with $37,500 for no compelling reason. The tide was turned with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the tradition continues with Deal or No Deal and 1 versus 100. I feel bad for accomplished comedians who have to pay the bills by hosting game shows. They did something real to get there, they got out there and worked their material and carved out a niche in the toughest job in show business, and then they took their accomplishment and cashed it in for a career in white bread. It's like cutting your teeth on punk rock to make a lateral move to Musak. (Though it's a step up from Funniest Home Videos for Bob Saget.)

Drama, as it were, or theater — theatre, if you will, is dead. Dare I say, kicked the bucket. And since I've already declared reality TV dead and what the hell, game shows, let's make some more DOA proclamations: cop dramas — dead. Poorly repackaged Sex And The City knock-offs — dead. Comedies with overdrawn wha?? titles (e.g., "The New Adventures Of Old Christine")— dead. Dead, dead, dead.

Television, theater, drama, writing, the creative urge itself is in dire need of a renaissance or revolution or reconciling or reorientation or retardation or something "re". Given, most of these things beget the mediocrity they seek to overhaul. But I'd love to see a play written by Beck followed by an abstract animated short by Woody Allen with a cubist sketch show improvised live by Dave Eggers and a 12-piece band played all by Zach Galifianakis with a short film chaser by Shiina Ringo.

I think what I'm saying is, TV needs to be challenging to watch sometimes. Nothing much is as of late. I'm signing off with that.

Friday, December 7, 2007

One Night In Atlanta: Vincent Gallo, Cock Rock & Maritime Tunes.

I was in the ATL on a rare business excursion this week, and I thought I must seek out some local sounds. At a dusty-crates record store on Peachtree, I quizzed the clerk on the clubs, and he wrote some ideas on a notepad. I was off to Little Five Points, the adopted spot for Atlanta hipsters.

The first stop of the night was the Star Bar, where some meaty cock-rock bands were gearing up for a go at awesomedom. A fellow named Johnny La Rocha worked the bar, striking a fine Vietnam vet or Jesus, depending on one’s perspective. He told me the real show was over at Eyedrum, where some of his friends were seeing Vincent Gallo’s new music-art project. He said it was only 10 minutes down the road and that I could probably make it.

Abstaining not from serendipity, I drove over and dropped $15 at the door of a rugged concrete-and-I-beam structure, which featured installations and exhibitions by local artists. Eyedrum is the kind of place I’ll own when I’m independently wealthy. Beyond the gallery, a hushed crowd stared intently at a quartet making loose jangles of sonic atmosphere. Gallo sat hunched over a mirror-plated guitar, sporting a thick blonde wig bound with a headband, A thin brunette in a blue jumpsuit touched a keyboard. A long, red nightshirt hung from a tall blonde dude playing guitar with his back to the audience. The fourth wore only tiny gym shorts and tapped cautiously on a drumset bearing their name, RRIICCEE.

Signs reading “There should be no photographs taken during the performance” plastered the walls, so I did a quick study of the show on my hand with a V7. Two small fluorescents lit the stage. The sight dripped with pretension, much like that of Gallo’s controversial movie, “The Brown Bunny.” I liked that film, awash with self-indulgence, and I liked RRIICCEE.

The overt communication of the group was limited to a slight nod from Gallo to the drummer as they felt their way through a tuneless landscape. After about 15 minutes, Gallo mumbled something and they left the stage to uncertain applause. A girl behind me asked if she had missed that much by coming late. People began to filter out quietly, some griping. Someone said the idea was that they never rehearsed. A dreadlocked white guy complained that the drummer never even touched the hi-hat.

I headed back to the Star Bar, where a thick foursome belabored some power chords. I talked with John some more, having traded CDs and listened to some of his band, Ocha La Rocha, in the car. He writes songs with a fiery weave of acoustic/electric distortion, to pleasing effect reminiscent of The Black Crowes and others I couldn’t put my finger on. He told me he was really into the psychadelia sound and gave me names of LA acts to check out.

John asked, “You wanna go to the real party?” The final act was sound-checking angry pentatonics. Amidst the Goths and punks, someone asked me if I was reviewing the show. “Yeah… you don’t wanna be here tonight,” John said. He told me the real spot was an unlabeled club over on Ponce De Leon, behind the Chipotle, called MJQ. MJQ was celebrating its tenth anniversary with some local bands and DJs. I listened to the final band’s first song and decided to head to my third club in as many hours.

Behind the Chipotle, a gray clapboard shack drew down to a crazy space beneath the parking lot. Blue-tinged and strung about with shiny streamers and stuffed fish, the theme was the proverbial “Fish Under The Sea” dance (if Back To The Future is a proverb). The crowd was thick and smoky around the bar, but fairly sparse on the dance floor, where a five-piece called Tongo Hiti played “maritime songs” on ukelele, theramin, guitar, drums, and rubber chicken. They had a convincing sound for their chosen niche.

I caught only two songs before they wrapped up their set. House music came on and people flooded the dance floor, breakdancing and shaking about.
I discovered a back stairway up to the parking lot. The doorway at the top fumed like the chimney of a greasy barbeque, venting all the cigarette and club sweat manufactured below into the crisp night air. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of smelling like ass after a night of music. As most of the cities I’ve lived in have banned smoking in clubs, I’ve become spoiled with the smoke-free experience. But it’s a fair price to pay for a nice little triangulation around Atlanta’s indie scene. If that’s a typical Wednesday, a proper weekend is highly anticipated.

Stealth Burger Reviews: McDonald’s 1/3 Pound Angus Burger

Stealth Burger Reviews provides a snapshot of the manifold configurations and in the crowded SoCal hamburger market.

Stealth Burger Reviews: McDonald’s 1/3 Pound Angus Burger

Pacific Coast Highway, El Segundo, 3:50 pm

Am I seriously reviewing McDonald’s? This is like reviewing the mass-manufactured teddy bears you win at the carnival, the ones that look amazing above the ski-ball but are filled with Styrofoam when you actually win one.

Actually, that’s fitting, because I feel like McDonald’s does manufacture toys — colorful, edible toys in the shape of fast food. Under-flavored and over-preserved.

When I founded Stealth Burger Reviews, lo, these many days ago, I didn’t envision writing about national burger chains. But I’ve noticed that all the chains are doing a variant on The Six Dollar Burger, boasting Angus or Sirloin or whatever it takes to set their sandwich above the dollar menu and beyond their competitors. And under the gun recently, I got some Mickey D’s. So I picked their contender, the 1/3 Pound Angus Burger.

The 1/3 Pound Angus Burger is clearly intended to go head-to-head with the other confabulations on the market. Same approach of building your backyard barbeque burger: real hamburger with thick pickles, tomatoes and leafy lettuce, sesame seed bun. There are only two real differences from Carl’s Jr.’s Six Dollar Burger: purple onion and lots of mayo. The purple onion is a nice touch, honestly, because you rarely get such an organic color in fast food. And the mayo, the gushing mayo, well, it would be a little much for a choosier palate. But perhaps that assumption is a prerequisite for this discussion.

I must say, the 1/3 Pound Burger is the first thing I’ve had at McDonald’s in a long while that is reminiscent of food. But it still had that lingering flavor of homogeny that plagues everything made at McDonald’s — that bland sameness that ensures you have a uniform experience worldwide. It’s a better burger than they’ve made in awhile. But it’s still McDonald’s, and it doesn’t measure up anywhere close to In ‘N Out, Five Guys in DC, or Dick’s in Seattle. Burgers made by hand daily have the one ingredient that an assembly-line meat product can’t: love.

Then again, I love Slim Jims…

Monday, December 3, 2007

DC City Paper on Analog Jetpack: "We The Geeks"

The DC City Paper has published a good review by Ben Westhoff on Analog Jetpack's new album, And How They Flew. I have mad respect for Ben, as he's published music reviews and insightful music features in weeklies nationwide. When we met, he was writing a story for St. Louis' Riverfront Times on my brother Jonathan Toth from Hoth and Tucker Booth and their epic hip-hop escapades with The Frozen Food Section. Described me in the story as a "squeaky clean, 28-year old folksinger." Since then, Ben has sat down with 50 Cent, caused a messageboard uproar by calling Jay-Z "hova-rated", waxed big booties for the Village Voice, and served updates on  Trent Reznor, Val Kilmer's music career, and the brains behind

In this good company, I don't mind being called out too:
Rob Getzschman, a former D.C. resident now living in Los Angeles, has toiled in relative obscurity for years, releasing mostly anti-folk solo albums that wear left-field politics (Songs for the Anti-De-Counterrevolution), sense of irony (Heirs of Pretension), and high self-regard (Hypocrisy in the Genius Room) on their jacket sleeves...
...even at its poppiest the band isn’t exactly mainstream—on “ICBM,” the group sounds more like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies than anything now on the radio. On the album’s opener, “We Are the Freaks,” Getzschman addresses his intended target market: “We are the freaks/A loose union of disillusion/Cold distinguished by the company we keep.” That seems a little off—they’re the geeks, of course, disinclined to do anything more radical than fashion fun hooks and embrace their inner nerds.
Funny that this should come through so powerfully.  The Six Points Music Festival summary by On Tap reduced Analog Jetpack to "Clever and nerdly pop-rock blendings." As if comics and obsolete technology aren't cool or something? Surely the geek niche is looking for a rock band laureate...

Read the full review here.