Month: January 2013


Another upload by tomtiddler1: Halloween '83, with Moon and Dweezil along. Amazing how much her vocabulary and inflection mirror her dad's, and it's nice to watch them all together -- here's a family that likes being around each other. And while there are the usual interview bits where Frank starts to roll his eyes, they really seem to bring out the kid in him, too.

Stray Thoughts

Bit of a sore throat today. Second consecutive day I haven't felt quite up to biking downtown for comics. Hope I'm not coming down with anything. I'm on a new inhaler (actually, I've started taking one I haven't taken in a couple years) but it started before that.

Speaking of meds, tried to buy my prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy last night, now that my COBRA's kicked in. They said my insurance card was rejected; when I said I was on COBRA they said I needed a new card. Today I called the COBRA line. When prompted, I entered the option for "I don't know my account number". So it asked me for other information -- first my zip code, then the month I was born, as a two-digit number. I entered 10 and it told me that was an invalid selection. I tried it again; it told me it was an invalid selection. Again and again. That was it. No other information, no option for exiting the loop; it just kept telling me that 10 was not a valid entry, and then telling me to enter the month I was born as a two-digit number. I tried 6-2, for the first two letters of October; I tried saying "October", "one-zero", "ten" -- same error message, over and over. Just for the hell of it I tried 11; got an error for that too. Then I pounded 0 until it disconnected the call, called back, and chose the option for "I don't have an account number" and was promptly connected to a human being.

She told me the pharmacy had been wrong, that my current card is the right one for COBRA, but that my insurance probably won't be processed until thirty days after I paid my first bill. Which is just grand, because my insurer took two months to get my information to COBRA in the first place. Man, health insurance in this country.

Speaking of horrible, kafkaesque looping menus, I also got an E-Mail from CareerBuilder asking me to fill out a survey. I usually do when they ask; I like to think it helps them improve their site, and sometimes they offer prizes.

But the goddamn thing was a mess. It kept asking me the same handful of questions, over and over again. Sometimes it would rearrange the order of the answers I could choose. I began to wonder if this was really a survey to see how I felt about CareerBuilder, or some grad student's psych project to see if my answers would change if the multiple-choice options were rearranged.

I spent about fifteen minutes at it, getting more and more of the same questions, and more and more complex and detailed questions that took longer and longer to answer, and then showed up again thirty seconds later -- and no, you couldn't just choose not to answer. Even if the question was "If you are currently working, how do you like your job?" and the options were "A lot", "Somewhat", or "Not at all" -- if you didn't select any of them, you'd get an error telling you you had to answer the question.

As you might expect, I did not answer the text-field questions more than once; when I started getting them repeatedly, I started putting in things like "I have already answered this question. If you need to find a competent Web developer to fix your survey, I know one who is currently looking for work."

It was about the time I noticed that the progress bar at the top of the page was actually decreasing -- it was at 55%, I clicked continue, and it changed to 53% -- that I finally gave up. I wrote something snarky in the last text box, hit Continue, and then clicked Exit Survey. They probably never saw my responses -- I'm guessing incomplete surveys aren't submitted -- but I did click Continue that one last time, just in case.

Other'n that, kind of a slow day. Got declined for an audiobook part (no big deal, that's part of the job; I'll record some more auditions tomorrow if my throat's better), called a contact for a job lead (left a voicemail). When my fiancée got home we took a trip up to Changing Hands; I bought a used copy of Starship Titanic (one of the few remaining Douglas Adams books I haven't read), and noticed that Cory Doctorow is going to be doing a signing next week. Guess you have to buy a book to get a ticket, so I suppose I should buy one of his books in print -- otherwise I guess I'd have him sign my Nexus 7, since that's where I've been keeping my copies of his books up to this point. Debating whether to go or not, but it would be fun.

Dinosaurs in the Home Depot: My First Audiobook

As you may have guessed from the various not-so-subtle hints I've been dropping over the past month, I've started recording audiobooks.

The first one, Dinosaurs in the Home Depot, written by Bret Wellman, has been released, and is available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

The audiobook is 18 minutes long and delivers what it promises. There is a Home Depot. There are dinosaurs in it. The story does not waste time on details like why there are dinosaurs, why somebody decided to leave them in a Home Depot, or actually bothering to give any of the characters names (unless you count "the ugly giant" as a name). It's mostly people fighting dinosaurs with power tools.

If you want to give it a read before you buy, it's available for Kindle, or you can read it for free on the author's website.

It's also bundled with Audible's DRM. Staunch anti-DRM advocate that I am, I regret this, but there's nothing I can do about it except let people know before they buy. You shouldn't have trouble playing it under Windows or OSX, and there are clients for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry as well. I haven't tried it under desktop Linux yet; I've read that the Windows player works under WINE, though users have reported playback issues with recent versions. You can read more about Audible's DRM format at Wikipedia.

I've got two more audiobooks coming sometime in the next few weeks; I'll write about them when they're available.

Discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

Who Are the Brain Police?

Video by, and uploaded by, Ed Seeman.

Ed adds:

You watched Zappa being shot through the whiskey bottle he was drinking from while doing a foot performance with his toes. You saw Zappa's groupie for the night whose close up lips have embraced your favorite musician's parts. You sae a meeting in a hotel room attended by Herb Cohn their manager, THE ORIGINAL "SUZIE CREAMCHEESE "PAM, as Frank decides to eat alone as Herb is discussing DONAVAN with his manager. You Saw ZAPPA Meets ARTHUR BROWN. Albert Hall opening, & Fans dressed in 60's clothes.

and you heard a great rendition of WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE. You also saw some 60's improvised 16mm shooting with no lights and crew. The dark footage is the result of this .jpg video suffering from too much duping from my original footage that rests in much better quality in Frank's Vault along with the rest of my 14 hours of film shot over a period of almost two years. No budget and available light was all I could afford.

DES Fixes It

Worth getting up a little early for: today I got a call from DES telling me that I would finally be getting my unemployment check for the week of January 5. (I'll have to take his word for it since I can't log into the website this morning, but...well, if that keeps up I guess I'll have more to tell later.)

To recap: I've been doing some freelance work which paid no money upfront and which will pay an unpredictable amount of royalties in the future. I asked how to report this on my weekly unemployment claim, and a nice but incorrect lady told me on the phone that I should say Yes I worked and my earnings for the week were $0.00. This resulted in DES paying me nothing for the week, and I've spent most of the month trying to get it corrected -- I've posted about it previously on 01-09 and 01-17.

Well, after the failed phone call of the 17th, I submitted an E-Mail asking for help. A week later, I got a call back. I missed it; I noticed it late the next day and, since it was Friday by then, I didn't get a chance to call back (at last! a phone number for a real person!) until yesterday.

It wasn't what you'd call a productive conversation. We talked in circles; she said I should estimate my earnings and correct them later if the estimate was wrong, I said there was no way for a reliable estimate, she said I should just estimate $240 (a week's unemployment pay) then, I pointed out that well then I'd be SOL if the thing never made that much money, this repeated for awhile until she offered to put me through to her supervisor. I got his voicemail and left a message.

And he got back to me this morning. He told me that, while the lady I'd talked to yesterday was right for the general case (like if, say, I'd built some furniture with intent to sell it), in rare cases like mine where there's no reliable estimate, I shouldn't report the work when I do it, I should only report it when I get the income from it. Which, you know, I'd figured out three weeks ago, but I guess it's nice to get it from an official source after only two letters, two E-Mails, and seven phone calls.

He added -- and I already knew this, too, but it bears mentioning in case any other poor soul winds up in the same predicament -- that the important thing is to make sure I keep looking for work and logging my search, even if I'm working on a freelance job in the meantime.

So, if you're in Arizona and face the same issue I did -- producing work on a royalties-only basis -- that's the official response from DES: don't report the initial work, report the money as it comes in, and don't stop looking for other work while you're doing it.

I can't vouch for other states. If you're not in Arizona...well, typically I'd say "You should ask your state's DES," but to be perfectly honest asking is what got me into this mess in the first damn place. So if I were offering a recommendation, it'd be do it the same way: keep looking for a day job, don't report the royalty gig until the money comes in. (Obviously if you're getting money upfront, as most people working for royalties do, do report that; I'm only speaking of cases where you get just royalties with no stipend/advance/etc.) If it turns out that's not the way it works in your state, I think you're better off apologizing and correcting it later.

It should go without saying that this isn't legal advice, it's advice from an out-of-work computer scientist who just spent most of a month trying to get an unemployment check. Like most of what's on this site, it's worth exactly what you paid for it.

You Are What You Eat

Via uploader br1tag:

You Are What You Eat (1968) is a strange, psychedelic and convoluted film as incoherent as its hippy brethren 200 Motels (1971) and Rainbow Bridge (1972). It belongs with that small collection of movies in which more people own the soundtrack than have actually seen the film. The soundtrack is phenomenal. The bright yellow cover is as eccentric as the vinyl itself that features audio cut-ups, squealing Moog synthesizers, relentless psychedelic improvisations, lounge music, Tiny Tim oddities, and the final appearance of The Hawks before they changed their name to The Band.

The list of those involved with the film is an incredible roster of counter culture heroes and weirdos. Tiny Tim, The Electric Flag, Frank Zappa, Peter Yarrow, Paul Butterfield, Super Spade, David Crosby, Hamsa El Din, Barry McGuire, the radio personality Rosko and several others.

Backing Up Wii Data -- All of It

So I've been having problems with my Wii. It's stopped running discs entirely -- I put one in, it spits it right back out. I suspect the spindle motor, and I'm going to try fixing it myself with a little help from the guides and parts at Console Zombie -- but before I go taking my Wii apart and poking around in its innards, I figure I should probably back all my shit up.

Course, as you may know, the Wii doesn't allow you to back up everything onto an SD card. Certain downloads and save files are copy-protected. This is what is known, amongst technical people such as myself, as a bunch of stupid fucking bullshit.

See, the way I see it, I should be able to back up my saves in case my console gives up the ghost. Or, say, go over to my brother-in-law's house and have access to every course on Mario Kart without having to unlock them all again in fucking single-player mode.

So I did a bit of reading up and found a utility called Savegame Extractor. It requires installation of the Homebrew Channel.

I have an old Wii and the latest version of the Wii System Menu (4.3U). After some reading, I found that the appropriate utility for my system was LetterBomb, and there are installation instructions at

It was about as simple and painless as root tools come. Select your firmware version and input your MAC address, then download the LetterBomb zipfile. Rename the private folder on your SD card, copy the boot.elf file and private directory from the zip to the root. Put it in the Wii, power it up, open up the messageboard, and click on the LetterBomb icon. From there I installed the Homebrew Channel, and installed BootMii as boot2 (apparently on recent Wii revisions you can only install as IOS, ie overwriting the Wii firmware).

Once you boot up again, you'll need to use either a GameCube controller or the buttons on the Wii face (Power to move the cursor, Reset to select an option) on the bootscreen. You should back up your NAND memory (provided you've got 512MB free on the card; it's under the gears icon, then the icon with the arrow pointing from the chip to the SD card).

Next thing: install the Homebrew Browser.

Create an apps directory on the root of your SD card. Download the Homebrew Browser, extract it, and copy the homebrew_browser subdirectory to apps. Once it's on the SD card, you can load it from the Homebrew Channel; from there -- well, from there I got a stack dump and had to reload it. But I reloaded it, and from there you can download all sorts of useful apps -- including Savegame Extractor.

In fact, there are a few variations on it -- there's Savegame Manager, which combines Savegame Extractor with Savegame Installer, and which also just flat-out stack-dumped every time I tried to use it -- but there's a fork called SaveGame Manager EX, which works great, comes with a GUI that mimics the Wii's, and has a nice batch option to extract everything from the Wii at one go, eliminating all that tedious clicking on each individual file and then selecting Copy. (And, okay, also copying over some other shit that you don't really need to expend the space on backing up, like the Netflix Channel. But hey, still.)

Soapbox time: I'm not doing this to play pirated games. I'm not doing this to cheat at online games. (I'm not doing it to cheat at offline games, either, but if I were, that would be none of anybody's goddamn business but my own.)

I'm doing this to access my data, the games I bought and paid for (and, all right, one that Brent got me for my birthday), the saves I slogged through hours of stupid bullshit single-player Mario Kart to get.

And I shouldn't fucking have to install a bunch of hacks to do this.

I like my Wii. Rather a lot. I mean, Jesus Christ, look at how much effort I've gone to to keep all the stuff I've got on it, and that's before I've even started taking it apart.

But Nintendo is completely fucking ass-backwards in its approach to modern technology in general and network play in particular. Its "safeguards" are asinine and poorly-thought-out. They won't stop some guy with an Action Replay from unlocking all the karts on Mario Kart or all the fighters on Smash Bros and then going online (and hey, Nintendo? Maybe if you didn't make it impossible to unlock anything on multiplayer in Mario Kart, and a pain in the ass to unlock everything on multiplayer in Smash Bros, people wouldn't be tempted to cheat to do it?). They just put up barriers to prevent people with broken consoles from getting their data off. Which, again, includes games they paid for.

...and frankly they're not very good barriers. This was really a breeze. I'd like to thank the developers of all the various tools I've mentioned, and the writers of the walkthroughs on how to set them up. Because this was pretty damn painless, and to be frank I enjoyed doing it.

Tune in next time to see how I do at taking my Wii apart and seeing if I can fix it.

If I even get that far. I don't have a tri-wing screwdriver onhand, so I'm going to see if I can get the screws out with a small flathead. If not, well, tri-wings are like $5 on Amazon.

You Didn't Try to Call Me

Per uploader vinzer72frie:

Frank Zappa
June 18, 1970
Uddel, Netherlands
Live at the "Piknik" show, VPRO, Dutch Television.

Not great sound quality, but a neat bit of history.