Friday, December 10, 2010

This Is What Sanders Means When He Calls Himself A Socialist

Sanders Is Busting, How To Make A Point On The Hill

Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent from VT) is holding a sort of preview filibuster over the massive tax break millionaires are about to get.  He's making the hell of a lot of sense, and Senator Mary Landrieu (Democrat from LA) has joined his cause. Who would have thought it would only be the one Independent and a Democratic colleague fighting for deficit reduction in the Senate.

Watch it live at c-span.

I'm a fan of Sen. Sanders.  He was the subject of one of my first posts at The Snare General, which dealt with wealth distribution.

Here's The Hill's run down of what is going on here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Mars Volta - Goliath (Good Music)

The Changing Face Of UMass Amherst

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is changing.  The nearly century and a half old state university is trying to revamp its reputation.  This effort means a more selective admissions process for incoming students, and a recently launched re-branding campaign.

"This Is UMass Amherst.  This is Next," according to the knew campaign.  Apparently we're also wide open, and just crazy about maroon.

There's no doubt that UMass Amherst can use a better public image.  For decades it's been denigrated around fancy dinner tables as being a second rate institution, more of a party school than a haven for serious academics.  In fact the re-branding effort has raised hackles, even prompting a flurry of slightly insulting op-eds from the Boston Globe.  The schools president and student paper both responded thoughtfully, but the fact that the Op-Ed Battle of 2010 even happened demonstrates how badly my school needs the ongoing face lift.

And nowhere is that process more visible than on campus.  Lets move away from the domains of bureaucrats and media critics, and take a look at the physical changes taking place on campus.  As students and staff make their way across the school grounds, they see a major facilities improvement campaign underway.

That's right dear blog reader, the UMass Amherst campus is the subject of a major construction and rehabilitation push.

If you're interested in a full list of ongoing project, you can check out the informative Facilities Planning web page on campus projects here.

I found myself gravitating toward two of the "Major Project" pages, the new Marching Band Building, and the New Laboratory Science Building.

I've been walking past the busy site of the new band building all semester, and I've really enjoyed watching it come together.  For most of the term the campus band has been practicing outside, banging their drums and bashing their cymbals.  Progress has been moving along at a steady clip, and since I've been watching, its changed from a rebar shell to a fleshed out angular brick shelter, the workers apparently not distracted by the band's best efforts.  According to the project page, the new building will be able to contain our school's 300 member band without issue.

On the other side of campus another, much larger project is underway.  The New Laboratory Science Building seems to be moving along swiftly, and is slated for completion in the Summer of 2012.  The project site describes the architects dilemma in building a flexible research space:

Since the future course of scientific research cannot be predicted with exact certainty, it is critical that new facilities create large, flexible and adaptable systems that can easily accommodate growth and changing paradigms. 
I'm a bit of a futurist, so I like that kind of language.  On top of that challenging requirement, the contractor has been charged with a phased construction plan, which will allow researchers to use completed sections of the building while work is being done on later phases.  I'm not a scientist, so I wont pretend I understand the significance of all this, but as a fan of human progress, I'm on board.

Those of us trapped in the crumbling ruin that is Bartlett Hall will have to wait a bit longer for our life boat.  The good news is that a new, $85 million academic building is planned to serve a number of Humanities departments, including Journalism.  The bad news is that it's not slated for completion until January 2014.

Take a quick visual tour of the campus under construction:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Assorted Link Goodness, Dec 02, 2010

A few interesting tid-bits to get your day started:

Smuggler tunnels are popping up along the US southern border.  This is pretty remarkable, apparently the earth along the US/Mexico border is conducive to the construction of self enforcing tunnels.  There you have it, our War on Drugs is contributing to our inability to secure our national boundaries.

Foreign Policy has a great slide show of stories that were under reported this year.  This is recommended for non-news junkies.  I love these sort of articles.

The BBC posted a short story featuring satellite images of North Korea.  I'm fascinated by this crazy country, and these sort of "Inside NK" stories are few and far between.  The most interesting bit deals with the compound the nations elite live in.

I'm a geek.  As such, I like Star Trek, including the recent J.J. Abrams movie.  Here's a bunch of behind the scenes pictures from the set.

Ubuntu Gaming

About a week ago I found myself staring at a blank computer monitor.

Just moments before, my shoddy monitor had shown my XP install crumbling before the onslaught of a virus.  In disgust, I'd jammed my chubby thumb into my tower's power button.  I held it in until the ancient fans finally shut down. 

It was satisfying.

I've been using XP for nearly a decade now.  I've tried Vista, and Windows 7, but I never saw the point of either.  As long as games supported XP, I was perfectly content to putz along with my speedy and stable OS.

I decided I wouldn't try and do a system recovery.  With my school work on Google Docs, and the few games I cared about on Steam, what was the point?  To recover my bloated chrome favorites folder, or the hundreds of pending todo.txt files?  pish

An hour later, and I was still rooting around my apartment.  I'd over turned boxes, displaced my mattress, upset my closets.  That damned XP disk, where was it?

Then I looked under an itchy sweater, and there sat an Ubuntu install disk.  I'm flooded with relief, at least now I can get back online and compulsively check my RSS feeds.  Install goes well, a massive update took a while, and reddit told me how to kill IPv6 ( I don't know what this is, but it's hateful).  Things were groovy, until my trigger finger started to itch.

I can do everything on my new Linux box.  Everything except game.  Here's hoping I can get my fix with help from this site.  It's not much, but I'm sure as hell not shelling out a few hundred bucks for a new operating system just to play over-priced "AAA" games.

Fellow Linux users, where else can I turn for supported games?

Game Of Thrones Trailer, How Am I Just Finding Out About This?

Here's hoping this heralds a second renaissance for medieval themed film.  I knew the Pillars of the Earth mini-series couldn't be the end of it.

NASA Wants To Tell You Something

NASA is teasing nerds around the world with a press release from the 29th of last month.  Here's the most intriguing part:

WASHINGTON -- NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
I know I'll be disappointed when they actually make the announcement, but the kid in me wants to pretend this is going to be about a newly discovered life-hospitable planet. 

You'll be able to watch the news conference at 2 p.m. EST here, according to the post.  I'll be in class, but I'll be watching in spirit.

Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart (Good Music)

Wikileaks Is Doing A Good Thing

I've listened as countless influential and supposedly serious people have called Wikileaks a terrorist organization, called for Julian Assange's assassination, conducted a blatant smear campaign against the same, and tried to paint the leaks as irrelevant TMZ level gossip. 

I don't know when I've been more disappointed with the establishment press or culture.  Probably last week. 

Glenn Greenwald summarizes a lot of what is wrong with our media and our leadership, and writes what I imagine will be one of the more conclusive posts about the right/wrong of what Wikileaks has done, and will continue to do.

The only way for this whole semi-democratic experiment to work is if the press does its job.  That means "stop repeating talking points and tell us what's actually going on."  Wikileaks is engaging in what I'll call primary source journalism, and it's a friend of freedom and democracy.  I mean that literally, not rhetorically.

We need this sort of information if we're going to have a meaningful national debate, and the mainstream press consistently fails to deliver that information.  Most likely because the bulk of the "news" marketplace wants to read about Glee and hear recycled PR talking points.

And another thing:  Whenever Wikileaks leaks, the conversation usually shifts to whether or not what they're doing a good thing, instead of investigating what they leak.  I'm going to come back to that point when Wikileaks dumps their bank documents.