Monday, March 31, 2008


Obama has an amazing talent for summarizing history and relating it to the issues of today (watch A More Perfect Union and see Barackidiness1). "It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war... But the right is more precious than peace." In a speech on March 19, he used this quote by Woodrow Wilson just prior to WWI to question Bush's invasion of Iraq. He notes that the Iraq war has now lasted longer than WWI, WWII (America's involvement in it), or the Civil War and will cost at least one trillion dollars.

For some fun, here's a remake of Hilary's visit to Bosnia where she encountered sniper fire. has a number of funny spoofs, including ObamaGirl who fights the of the political world, but can be overcome with emotion.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Derrick, a Barack fan

Here is a good video that has generated much discussion on YouTube. Derrick Ashong is an eloquent supporter of Barack Obama and discusses why he supports Barack in this video. He is also the lead singer of Soulfege, so the video was also featured on Calabash Music.

It was followed up by a second video that corrects some misconceptions about the video, e.g., whether the Obama campaign sponsored it and has Derrick speaking in a more personal manner. I love the quip about his mother not being impressed that he had gum in his mouth for the shooting of the first video.

It is interesting how the race has progressed so far. Clinton has won the large states that have large economies, although by a slim margin in most cases and Obama has won across the nation with little regard for corporate interest (most of his campaign financing comes from individual donors). Texas and Ohio showed how readily voters change with the wind of the media. I hope people get back to thinking and trusting their gut rather than worrying about experience (do Clinton's years as First Lady really count?) and what Obama's retired minister said. It's as ridiculous as Fox News' headline story with "latest developments" on the school he attended in Jakarta, see CNN's debunking of this story here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

mp3Fiesta: an iTunes alternative

Music on the net involves a quagmire of issues: who gets paid, if any one. I myself prefer direct distribution from the artist and have been unsatisfied with the limitations of DRM (Digital Right's Management, the authorized computer function in iTunes and WMP) music, especially when I can't put music on devices like my PSP (see Music, Shock Rock and Gracenote for more). Lately, I have been downloading music from mp3fiesta, one of many legal download sites based in Russia. The major advantage of these sites is that they are cheap $0.10 a song or $0.99 an album, 1/10th the price of iTunes. I don't know how they can be so cheap and legal (the website explicitly states that they pay copyright fees), but the fact they are based in Russia probably has something to do with it. The reason that I never got into torrents and other free downloads is that I value art and the artist and want them to get their cut. If mp3fiesta can pay the artist and make a profit, it shows how little the artist gets from the record company. Anyway given that very few recording-artists offer direct downloads, I'm left with little choice for music.

Another advantage of mp3fiesta is that it offers music at much better bit rates (162 kbps and higher) than iTunes (128 kbps) and the rest (Napster, Amazon, and Wal-Mart). Bit rates for newer albums can be as high as 320 kbps, so I never feel the need to buy the CD anyway for better quality (something I often feel with 128 kbps). Also, downloading can be a good alternative to ripping your CD collection, since it's faster and less hassle (after re-purchasing your albums let them download at night) and way cheaper than using a ripping service. The catalogue is respectable, so you'll find much of mainstream music and less of the obscure. The process is simple: sign-up, pre-pay, and download. The pre-pay feature is common among sites of this type and helps them keep their price down, for some it's a pain, but I prefer it to a number of $0.99 charges on my credit card statement. The site is no where near as elaborate as iTunes, so it is a bit awkward to listen to a sample and download the tracks. Unlike, iTunes, which puts them directly into a playlist in no time, each song must be downloaded separately and then added to the iTunes or other player's catalogue.

Bulk downloading can be accomplished by using Firefox (simply the best browser) and the add-on DownThemAll!! (you click on the "Add to Firefox" link to install it). Then DownThemAll!! has to have a filter added to it to identify .mp3 files. Open the program, in Firefox under Tools, and click Preferences then Filters and Add New Filter. In the caption box type ".mp3" or something like it and in the extensions box type or paste (no quotes), "/\/[^\/\?]+\.mp3$/". Now you're ready to go to .mp3fiesta's download page (or that of any other music site). Open DownThemAll!! and click Start. The downloads will begin immediately. The program downloads files very fast by downloading a number of packets simultaneously and then reassembling them. DownloadHelper is another good program that can be added to Firefox in the same way and requires little modification. Although this program identifies media files quickly and downloads them, it opens the download window after each download or batch download, which interrupts your web-surfing. Nevertheless, you can disable the Downloads window in Tools/Options/Main or minimize it. I have installed both to ensure seamless downloads and both work well for video downloading as well.

Then you can put the downloaded songs into files by artist and album, if you like, before adding the files/folders to iTunes. If you're not using iTunes you have to do this most of the time anyway. The best thing about the site is that albums are so cheap that you won't feel bad if you don't like it. Lastly, ensure you backup your purchases because you can only download them for 48 hours (to keep traffic down on their servers). Have fun!

Calabash Music, which I've already mentioned in Music, is a great source for world music, including North American folk music. The best thing about this site is that they offer ten free songs a week! They have a good catalogue and a strong mandate for supporting the artist through promotion and granting a fair-share to the artist. There is also a lot of good information on the site about world music, since it is also the operator of the National Geographic world music site. The service works like mp3fiesta (pre-pay and download page), but is more expensive, $0.99 a track. The one disadvantage is that DownThemAll, which works flawlessly elsewhere does not work so well here. DownloadHelper also misses tracks but has more success, damn pop-up window. Expand your musical horizons by using Calabash.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Those of you who have spent any time with me are familiar with my passion for the environment and purchasing of fair-trade items. I now, thanks to Ten Thousand Villages, regularly purchase fair-trade olive oil (the purchase of Zaytoun olive oil also supports Palestinian farmers), sugar, spices, chocolate, tea, and, of course, coffee. In addition to the awesome textiles and crafts at Ten Thousand Villages you can purchase fair-trade clothing at MEC and other awesome stores (lower Johnson Street in Victoria rules for this). Although some major outlets, such as Costco Canada now offer fairly traded coffee (it's not a joke), the mighty Wal-Mart has not. Wal-Mart with its huge purchasing power and demand for ultra low prices from suppliers goes against the very principle of fair trade. Read The Wal-Mart Effect to get some idea of the extent of its power. Many I talk to find Wal-Mart's allure hard to resist, but it can be done: I have yet to purchase an item from a Wal-Mart. Who needs all that cheap plastic crap that purchasers rarely recycle. To see how scary the Wal-Mart effect is watch this:

Awareness is key. Do you think it is possible to produce products super cheap without exploitation and extreme environmental degradation? Vote with your dollar and say yes to fairness. In addition to fair-trade and organic products you can look for businesses participating in the onepercentfortheplanet program. If you need some more motivation calculate your ecological footprint or travel to a developing country.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sacred Spaces

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been working on my thesis and a talk I gave at UVic last week. I have been researching the impact of natural features, such as caves, springs and forests, on the placement of sanctuaries. Here are a few photos I found of modern examples of this phenomena.

Catholic church in Palompon (Leyte, Philippines).

Church in Cairo.

Athens in a cave under the acropolis, an ancient shrine converted to a modern one. I shall have a good chunk of my thesis done very soon. When that is done I have a bunch of posts that I've roughed out that will get fixed up and posted.

Latrines to Lavatories: an aesthetic journey

Roman latrines were a technological marvel that brought efficient and large-scale sanitation to the world.

This latrine at Ostia, though heavily re-constructed, shows that some care was taken in its decoration (the walls would have been plastered), especially compared to the "facilities" of the Middle Ages:

Of course, there were some sophisticated examples:

In the modern age, the lavatory in the Sao Joao da Madeira shopping center in Portugal surpasses all.

The Cafe Batavia has the coolest sinks.

Here's a more complete history.


A week ago Barack Obama took viewers on an eloquent journey through American history. In his characteristic manner he empowers Americans, and fans from other countries, to create the picture envisioned by America's founding fathers. His vision, clarity, €understanding, wisdom and qualification to govern America is made all the more clear when this speech is placed on the backdrop of Hilary's exaggerations.

Also you can read the transcript. Drew Westen in the Huffington Post states that it was a brilliant discussion of race, class and patriotism shows substance unlike any politician in recent history." I love his description of Obama's response to the "'pre-game show' of cable commentators: But then, for 45 minutes, I saw a man who for days had appeared somewhat at sea, buffeted by waves that relentlessly pushed him off course, seem to find his compass and chart a course directly into the eye of the storm. I saw a man with the inner confidence, and the steadiness of a captain who knew he was sailing on uncharted waters but needed to go there anyway, take the nation with him and land them safely on the shore."


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