buyouts at the dmn

For those interested: Here’s a [partial] list of my coworkers taking the buyout from my employer. It’s a sad list, including a lot of good people, a number of my friends, one ex-girlfriend, and even a few readers. (Not to mention the guy who sat to my left, the woman who sat to his left, and the guy who sits behind me.)
But as painful as it is, we’ll keep publishing a damned good newspaper. No question about that.
Meanwhile, thanks to my anonymous coworker.

erin mckean and authors at google

Friend-of-Crabwalk Erin McKean lectures on dictionaries at Google. Watch out, toward the end, for her globally rare use of the words “doggy dog” without the phrasal prefix “Snoop.”

Google Video, perhaps chagrined by its ongoing mind-share defeat to YouTube, has posted a whole bunch of interesting videos in its Authors@Google series. I enjoyed the Seth Godin talk; others I might recommend (‘though I haven’t yet sat through them) include chimpaphile Jane Goodall, various Dave Eggers hangers-on, double-helix-discoverer James Watson, historian Simon Schama, famous-in-D.C. Gene Sperling, China writer Peter Hessler, and conservative bête noire George Soros.

MP3 Monday: September 5, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday (Observed) celebrates the genius of Matt Murphy — in this reporter’s opinion, One Of The Greatest Musicians Of The Last Half-Century. It’s sad that there’s not overwhelming global agreement on that point. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had to write his Wikipedia entry my damned self.) As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
10 Lbs.” and “Better Call” by The Super Friendz. From the album Mock Up, Scale Down (1995).
Matt Murphy grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was part of the ’90s scene there that generated bands like Thrush Hermit, Jale, and (a favorite for over a decade now), Sloan. His band was the Super Friendz, a deliriously good power-pop band. They had the nervous energy of kids and the songcraft of…well, people who could write really good songs.
Like a lot of those Haligonian bands — and in typically Canadian style — the Friendz didn’t believe in letting one member hog the spotlight. So three members alternated songwriting and singing duties. Now, I’m all for band democracy, and his bandmates weren’t awful, but come on — when you have a weapon like Matt Murphy in your arsenal, you don’t bother with slingshots.
The songs here are from the Friendz’ awesome first album: “10 Lbs.,” a plea to a girlfriend not to get too skinny, and “Better Call,” whose Lady Chatterley’s Lover reference in the opening line was the first of several lit-nods in Murphy’s work. (He remains the only rock star I know of to sing: “Who’s your favorite author? / Mine’s Graham Greene / He started with the start / And kept his sentences lean.”)
Getting Super Friendz albums in this country has always been difficult — I’ve had to special order mine from Mesopelagia — but if you can, track down either Mock Up, Scale Down or (even better) the later greatest-hits Sticktoitiveness, which includes almost all of MUSD plus some later greats.
Where the Change Is” and “It’s Alright” by The Flashing Lights. From the albums Where the Change is (1999) and Sweet Release (2001).
After the Super Friendz broke up, Murphy moved to Toronto and started a new band, the Flashing Lights. Screw democracy — this was going to be a Murph project from the get-go. They sounded a little more polished and little more ’60s/’70s — some Kinks, some Badfinger — but still awesome. A significant portion of their oeuvre is perfect for loud cranking while driving down the freeway.
The key moment in the FLights early history was apparently a show at a small bar in East Toledo in 1999. They were opening for Sloan and were, at the time, completely unknown in the States and unsure how the band would fare. (As opposed to later on, when they’d only be overwhelmingly unknown in the States.) Anyway, the band was terrific, and the crowd ate it up. “The [shows] were amazing…We actually sold out of our CDs that we brought. People were really into it…It was really successful and I can’t wait to go back.” I was at that show, cheering very loudly, so I take credit for Murphy’s continued presence in the music biz.
Both Flashing Lights albums get a big thumbs-up (as does their rarer Elevature EP). “Where the Change Is” is a groovy rave-up in the style of much of the first album; “It’s Alright” is an amusingly rawk-star jam from the looser, excellent follow-up.
The Sad They Walk On” by The Super Friendz. From the album Love Energy (2003).
The Flashing Lights went into hiatus somewhere around 2002, which made the time perfect for a one-off Super Friendz reunion concert back in Halifax. That one-off turned into a microtour and this album. It’s not great, sadly — a lot of the non-Murphys, if you get my drift — but “The Sad They Walk On” is a classic bit of propulsion.
Whiskey, You Can Save Me (Live in Toronto)” by Matt Murphy. From the album The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico: Bring It Back Home (2005).
In 2005, Murphy stretched into acting, playing the fictional country-Canrock ’70s icon Guy Terrifico in the mockumentary The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. The reviews of the movie were, well, not great, but all the ones I’ve read singled out Our Hero for a bravura performance. (Quoth the CBC: [H]e’s a charmer. The string-bean Murphy…proves himself a perfectly capable actor, and his voice makes the songs (co-written with [director Michael] Mabbott) the loveliest part of the picture. The film, unfortunately, is not as charming as its lead.”) This gramparsonsalike song is from the soundtrack.
What’s Matt Murphy up to these days? There’s talk of the Flashing Lights being turned on again. His main gig these days is the puzzling Toronto band City Field. For some reason, Murphy doesn’t sing on most of the songs, and it doesn’t sound like he’s writing them either. Instead, some Fred Schneider wannabe handles lead vocals. Oh, well — hope springs eternal.

how i backup

(Apologies in advance for the wonkiness of this post. Feel free to skip it if backup plans aren’t your cup of tea.)
Backing up your computer: You know you should do it, but you don’t. I only got religion a year or two ago, but now I’m pretty anal about keeping extra copies of everything. (The thought of my digital life — including every email I’ve sent or received since 1993 — disappearing is shattering.) Here’s my system, presented in the hopes that it might be useful to someone.
My computer: I’ve got two internal hard drives, a 160GB boot drive named Huey and a 250GB drive named Earl. Earl holds my MP3s; Huey holds everything else. It’s a Power Mac G5 running 10.4.7.
The most important content on my computer is my email. It’s also the part of my computer most likely to change from day to day, so if I lost a few days worth of material in a disk crash, email would be the most likely to be lost. So:
First Line of Defense: A nightly backup of my email on Huey to Earl. I do it with Email Backup, a dead-cinch-easy way to automate the process. (It looks like it’s just a front end to a cron job, but hey, it’s free and one fewer step.) This way, if Huey goes belly-up one day, I’d lose at most one day’s worth of mail.
But what about the rest of Huey? There’s tons of important stuff on there. Or what if Earl goes? So:
Second Line of Defense: A weekly backup of both Huey and Earl to external Firewire drives. I use the great SuperDuper for this, since it’s perfect for incremental backups. (In other words, you don’t have to recopy the entire hard drive each time you back up — SuperDuper can tell which files have been updated and copy only those.) Huey and Earl each get their own backup drives (250GB Porsche drives named Speedy and Dorian). And the backup drives are bootable — meaning that if Huey suddenly dissolves, Speedy can take its place in less than 30 seconds.
A lot of folks would have SuperDuper do its backup automatically. But that would require me to keep Speedy and Dorian powered on and mounted all the time. I don’t like that idea for a couple reasons: It would put a lot of wear on the drives and it would leave the drives to something external and bad (hackers, lightning, etc.) that could screw up my computer.
Instead, I leave the external drives turned off. But I set up my Yahoo! Calendar to send me an email at midnight every Sunday morning reminding me to backup. All it takes is turning on the drives and a couple clicks in SuperDuper. On average, it takes about two minutes to backup Earl and about 20 to backup Huey. But you can go on merrily working while it works.
So, I’ve got a complete backup of my entire computer that’s at most a week old. But…that backup is sitting in the same room as my computer. What if my apartment catches fire? What if burglars break in and steal my computer — without thoughtfully leaving my backup drives behind?
I hope to eventually get a completely off-site backup in here. Even broadband speed isn’t fast enough for reasonable online remote storage of 500GB of stuff. I’ve thought about backing up my MP3s to offsite DVDs, but damn does that sound daunting. (At 216GB, it’d take 47 DVDs at the moment.) I could buy another set of backup hard drives and keep them at my office. But I’m not there yet.
So, again, I fall back on the backup that’s most important to me:
Third Line of Defense: A monthly backup of my email to Amazon S3. For those unfamiliar, S3 is basically online disk space that Amazon rents out to anyone who wants it. (“It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, inexpensive data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites.”) There are a million potential uses for it, but backup is one of the most obvious.
Accessing AWS directly takes a lot more programming mojo than I have. But a program called Jungle Disk provides a usable front-end (for Mac, Windows, or Linux). On a Mac, at least, you log on to the web space as you would a normal local server, and you copy and paste in the Finder as you would anything else. Jungle Disk handles the actual uploading. (It’s a goofy Mac app — normal interface cues don’t work — but it’s wholly functional.) I get another email from Yahoo! Calendar on the first of every month reminding me to backup.
(A hint for Apple Mail users: Zip your mail directory (~/Library/Mail/) before you upload it. Apple Mail stores each message as a separate file for Spotlight purposes, and all those tiny files really add to the size of your upload and the time of your backup. And if you really want to get everything email-related, you should also backup ~/Library/Mail Downloads/, ~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook, and ~/LIbrary/Preferences/
Now, Jungle Mail is dog slow. It takes almost an hour to upload my complete email archive, which compresses to about 130MB. You can’t do incremental backups, so it wouldn’t work well for huge data stores. But it all happens in the background, so you’re free to do other things. (Like write this post, for instance.) And it works. And if a dirty bomb explodes in my closet tomorrow, my email will be safe on some server in Seattle.
One incredibly small caveat: Amazon S3 isn’t free. They charge for both storage space and upload bandwidth. But the prices are laughably cheap. My bill last month: $0.07. The month before: $0.05. At this rate, my total outlay will reach one American dollar sometime in early 2008.

more cheating stories

Here’s my story from Saturday’s front page:

The Texas Education Agency is leaning toward severing ties with the company it hired to look for cheating on the TAKS test, in part because the results have generated negative publicity for the state.

The agency also has some concerns about some methods used by the company, Caveon, officials said.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in them anymore,” state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said. “Right now, I’m sure not inclined to ask Caveon for anything anymore.”

And here’s my story from Sunday’s front page — also about cheating, but probably much more interesting to the casual reader:

It’s the sort of case you might expect Encyclopedia Brown to tackle.

Two kids seem to have cheated on Professor Harpp’s final exam. Can he prove the culprits did it — before it’s too late?

But when McGill University professor David Harpp suspected some of his students were up to no good, he didn’t hire a boy detective for a shiny new quarter. He did the job himself.

He devised a statistical method to determine whether two students were copying test answers from each other. He found that, on a 98-question multiple-choice test, the pair of students had 97 answers exactly the same — including 23 wrong answers.

Confronted with the evidence, the students confessed.

To the untrained observer, it may seem strange that cheating can be reliably detected with statistics, formulas and math, as Texas officials have hired an outside firm to do. But decades of research around the world have produced methods that prove quite effective at smoking out cheaters in ways even the best proctors often can’t.

With a sidebar, another sidebar, and a graphic.
Unfortunately, I failed in my attempts to work Bugs Meany into the narrative. (I’d also like to point out that Encyclopedia Brown was preceded — by several years! — by Brains Benton.)