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Friday, January 17, 2003
3:44 AM      

I seem to have stumbled across some limitations in the Blogger interface this morning. Can't tell you how many times I tried to post, and the entry either disappeared, or got truncated. So, it's two pieces now...

As I reviewed this entry, I had a couple of thoughts: 1) The people on the "right" seem to think the term is synonomous with correctness, rather than handedness. 2) The term "conservative" seems less and less to do with keeping things the way they are, and more to do with knocking down things that have been created. If anything "anti" is more fitting.

Please note - the first couple of sections here are not upbeat happy "proud to be an American" stuff. I make no apologies. It's my country too, I think we're headed in the wrong direction, and I think it's important to say so. Besides, it's my 'blog. There's some Flash stuff and other goings-on further below, but if you want the full experience, be sure to read the whole thing!


How War is Made - another example
On NBC nightly news, there was a report of how the weapons inspectors had found empty warheads in a bunker in Iraq. They went on to say that the shell casings could be used among other things for chemical or biological agents. In other words the shells were not exclusively for such applications. The inspectors also made it clear that the find was not considered a "smoking gun." The shells were empty, and may never have been filled. Also, they found no biological or chemical agents, only empty rockets.

By the time that story was reported on the 11 O'clock news, Chuck Scarborough was reporting that the inspectors had found biological weapons warheads. The same was true of a syndicated story that I found on the web. Apparently, the nuances were not important.


How to be a racist in the most insidious way (or, one more reason they call it the "White" House)
I'm thoroughly ticked. The dust has barely settled over the whole Trent Lott/Strom Thurmund incident, and now this bull-crap about "quota systems" involving the University of Michigan, its law school, and its admissions policies. The man who said that Lott's words did not represent the spirit of the American People one week, is out to undermine one of the few systems that attempts to compensate for some serious access problems in our system of higher education. The alternative (as practiced in - of all places - Texas) doesn't work nearly as well at the undergraduate level, and is essentially useless at the graduate level. What's more, the Texas system doesn't work at all in increasing minority student access in regions that are not segregated.

I was fortunate enough to have parents who, despite the odds against them, moved from the south to enhance their own careers and the opportunities that my brothers and I would have. I went to private school, and then to Harvard. I would not have attended Harvard, except for the fact that I went to private school. I was prodded into applying. But I'd also taken preparatory classes and even practice SATs for years to lay the foundation for my admission. Did I acknowledge that I'm black on my application? You bet. Did someone try to suggest that my skin color was the only reason that I got in? You bet.

That hurt, and it pissed me off, a little. But to hear black republicans (a strange oxmoron if you ask me) argue that affirmative action programs create a stigma for folks like them, who seemingly got where they are without the need for such a boost, really gets me. When the whole Lott affair was going full-tilt, I saw a black Republican member of the House (whom I'd never heard of and probably will never hear of again) refer to the black population as "the underserved community." Nice attempt to sound sensitive, except it begs the question: who could it be that has failed to serve that community?!

I would hazard to guess that one of the few times in their life when a white student is aware of skin color as a potential issue or even a liability, is when they're competing for a coveted seat in a selective school. Most of the time, they don't think of their skin color at all. It's rare that I go 3 days without experiencing something that calls attention to my skin color. It's not all racism, but it's certainly race-consciousness, and it's woven into the fabric of our daily lives.

It's stupid stuff, like the amusement park commercial where a large black woman on a ride with two kids gets so excited that she opens her eyes and mouth real wide, and presses the kids' faces into her breasts. It's the "Cops" mentality, where a supposed relationship between black skin and criminality are reinforced on a daily basis. It's the buffoon thing, where way too many "black" movies and TV commercials feature folks speaking jive. Looking back a few years to the Cosby show, the most common criticism of the show was that it didn't depict a "real" black family.

"There is no question about the long and tragic history of race discrimination in this country," Friedman wrote.

However, he said, the law school's justification for using race to assemble a racially diverse student population is not a compelling state interest. ...

Um... if the point is generating racial diversity, then isn't it a charade not to consider race? And why you might ask, is that important?...

University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger criticized the ruling.

"Our policy is fully constitutional. I remain as confident today as I was in 1992 when our policy was adopted that pursuing educational excellence through diversity is a compelling government interest," he said in a statement released by the university.

The law school's admissions policy calls for the enrollment of a "critical mass of minority students" to contribute to the diversity of the law school and discussion in the classroom.

OK, so I guess that means everybody who's black gets a free pass, right?

The school's dean, Jeffrey Lehman, testified that race was considered to the extent necessary to achieve that "critical mass." In some cases it played a determining role, he said, in others it played no role at all. ...

At the end of last year, another federal judge ruled the university's undergraduate admissions policy, which also considers race, is constitutional. The undergraduate case is likely headed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Both suits could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

And where, you might ask, is all this coming from?

The suits were brought by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights. The law school case was brought on behalf of Barbara Grutter, a white woman who claimed she was denied admission in 1997 because less-qualified minorities received preferential treatment.

The center, a conservative legal group, brought down affirmative action at the University of Texas law school in 1996. The Texas school, as did Michigan, argued that race-conscious admissions foster diversity.

[You can read the whole thing here]

Let's face it, we live in a country with a legacy of racism that has not been addressed, and is not likely to be addressed any time soon, especially when conservative groups advance race-conscious arguments against race consciousness in favor of the "less qualified". The problem is systemic, and is often hidden. Many of the most pernicious practices of racism are manifested in the "liberal" north and northeast, places that supposedly never had a "race problem." Consider, for example, that the northeast shows the highest de-facto segregation of any part of this country.

The thing is, when a white public figure speaks with a bit too much candor, he's sacked, as if shooting the messenger alleviates the problem. There is no soul-searching going on here. Things are fine. There's nothing to address, beyond loose tongues.

Although the death penalty has been disproportionately applied to poor black folk, His Bushiness hasn't lifted a finger in the issue. It's a system that likely continues to put innocent people to death, but the entire public "debate" has been centered around the wishes of the victims' families - wishes of revenge.

Ol' George didn't seem to mind when Texas executed a mentally-ill man, either. No, his only concern for fairness seems to lie with whether white kids, and particularly well-heeled white kids with the connections and the bucks to go to law school or business school, can get a fair shake. They are, by the way, the same folks who are likely to pour a few extra bucks into Republican campaign coffers.

This, of course, is happening against the backdrop of the saga that is unfolding in the New York City school system, which has disproportionately failed to serve the minority community for years. If you want to guarantee that minority students don't "steal" seats away from deserving white kids, you do two things: make it illegal for universities and graduate schools to come up with their own selection process, and make it unlikely that minority students will receive the kind of education, support, and mentoring that will make them successful graduate school candidates in the first place.

In the end, the university's evaluation process is an easy target. They openly acknowledge that race is a factor in their selection process. It is not the only factor. If the issue is fairness, then why stop with university admissions policies? No, let's take a look at the many places where blacks are systematically excluded even now. The intresting thing is, in many of those cases, a fly on the wall wouldn't even hear the word "black" uttered.

</End of soap box.>


Got pretty far today with the new portfolio. I've sliced the splash page in Fireworks, picked out and organized most of the material that I plan to put into the internal pages. Found a small display problem with Safari's rendering of tables: some of my graphics showed about a 2-pixel gap where there shouldn't have been one. Looks perfectly fine in IE. I dashed off a bug report.

I also spotted an interesting job on the SVA website. It's been posted a week. Hopefully, they're not already snowed-in with responses. I wrote them right away. Not only would the job itself be a decent challenge that uses a lot of the skills I already have, it would put me in close proximity to one of my favorite MFA programs. That's worth angling for. Now, how to get above the noise threshold of the "generic" e-mail candidate... It's not a job where I need to have a portfolio, but I'm hoping to have mine pretty final by the end of the weekend, in case I spot something else.

[ link | e-me ]

3:49 AM      

The promised Flash stuff
I suspect I won't hear from the folks at Panic. I just downloaded Audion, and since my editing experiment was my first outing with the product, I have no intention of paying $30 to get tech support and find out that it won't do what I want it to do anyway. I'll have to look around and see if I can find some other MP3 editor. Maybe one with fewer accolades and features, but one that accomplishes two specific tasks - downsampling, and fade-out. I had tried one other editor. It did fades, but the interface was strange, and it was still in beta. After a couple of crashes, I figured I didn't want to be bothered.

I say that, because at 3 megs, I won't bore you with the download associated with my little song player. I will, however share a few bits of code. In designing the application, I thought about aggregating functionality around certain objects. That quickly took me in the direction of extending the functionality of the "standard" sound object by adding new attributes and methods. By overloading the sound object, I don't have the problem of "junk" floating around in variable space. The more I thought about it, the more I moved in the direction of a metaphor that mimicked, say, a CD player: you have the media, the head and drive mechanisms, and the display. For the sake of simplicity, I lumped media, head, and drive metaphors into a single object: the sound object. I implemented the display as a separate "object," but I didn't get rigorous and actually instantiate an object. Still, by naming my functions and variables accordingly, there are clearly a sound-playing thing and a diaplay thing. Similarly, I implemented the user interface as movie clip buttons, which are most definitely objects.

I have to warn you though, it worked out to around 90 lines of code. I've added a lot of comments - Flash comments, and a caption or two to help explain what's going on. Enjoy!

  // ::: Initialize the sound object

mysnd= new Sound();
with (mysnd) {
    pos = 0;
    playing = false;
    isLoaded = false;

If you're not familiar with the "with" action, it creates a kind of shorthand. The above lines are like saying mysnd.pos=0; mysnd.playing=false; mysnd.isLoaded =false;

// ::: add sound methods

mysnd.play_sound = function() {
    if(this.isLoaded) {
        if (! this.playing){
            this.playing = true;

        } // /!.playing
    } // /.isLoaded
} // /play_sound

mysnd.pause = function() {
    this.pos = this.position/1000;
    status_txt.text = ".:: Stopped ::.";
    this.playing = false;

mysnd.updateCounter = function() {
    var tsec = this.position/1000;
    var min = math.floor(tsec/60);
    var sec = math.floor(tsec % 60); // modulo - get the remainder of dividing by 60
    status_txt.text = (min<10?"0":"") + min + ":" + (sec<10?"0":"") + sec;
    // the ternary operator: [condition] ? [result if true] : [result if false]

mysnd.updateLoading = function() {
    bytesin = mysnd.getBytesLoaded();
    bytestotal = mysnd.getBytesTotal();
    if (bytesin >= 4){
        status_txt.text = "Loading... " + math.floor (bytesin / bytestotal * 100) + "%"
    } else {
        status_txt.text = "Loading... "

mysnd.onLoad = function(){
    status_txt.text = ".:: Loaded ::.";
    mysnd.isLoaded = true;

// ::: user interface

play_mc.onRelease = function(){ mysnd.play_sound() }

rew_btn.onRelease = function(){
    with (mysnd) {
        pos = 0;
        if(playing ){ start(); }
    } // /with
} // /onRelease

function displayOn(){
    this.onEnterFrame = function() {
    // "this" above refers to the root timeline.
        } else {
        } // /isloaded
    } // /onEnterFrame
} // /displayOn

function displayOff(){
    // saves processor cycles
    delete this.onEnterFrame;

// ::: This code runs when the stage is loaded.

play_mc.gotoAndStop(3); // greyed-out state for the play button
displayOn(); // turn the display on so we can see the load updating
mysnd.loadSound("Marlena.mp3",false); // load the MP3 file, non-streaming

[ link | e-me ]

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
2:59 PM      

Interesting few days. Yesterday, I saw a pice on TV about "Senator Fred" Thompson. You've seen him in movies like "Hunt for Red October." Now, he's on Law & Order, and out of the Senate. He's credited with having said that life in Washington made him long for the real world — Hollywood. He served his 8 years and has no plans to run for any more offices. Another of his comments: The Senate is designed to get very little accomplished... and it does that very well. He also said that George Washington served his 8 years, got on his horse and rode out of town, and never looked back. Apparently, he plans to follow that model.

Comments by a former ambassador and weapons inspector piqued my attention: He said that if the US and Great Britain rush into a firefight with Hussein, it's the equivalent of a lynch mob. The build-up seems unstoppable. Yet, we're willing to kiss North Korea's butt, and pretend that we're not backing down. I suspect that North Korea will only be able to buy oil from "friends" - meaning an increase in oil demand and a payday for somebody close to Bush's heart.

Funny thing [not really] — out of all the news stories that ran last night, I don't remember any of them being about the economy, but I remember at least 2, maybe 3 about war.


I got some pretty nice code happening in Flash - a jukebox interface that plays MP3 files. Right now, it has play/pause and rewind buttons. I'm thinking about doing some skip code, and definitely need to design a volume interface. MP3s get BIG, so I fooled around with Audion, trying to get the size down. I don't understand the interface that well, and I suspect a few features are missing. Even though I reset the sampling to 48 KHz mono, the output file still seemed to be 60 KHz joint stereo. At least I managed to get some pretty clean edits... took a little doing though. The file started out at 5 MB, and it's down to 3-1/2. If I can figure out how to do a nice fade- out, I can probably cut it down to about 2 in stereo, which ought to be closer to 1 in mono. Depending on how things turn out, maybe I'll post a link to the project. Otherwise, I'll probably post some code when it gets a little further.

I think I understand most of the component architecture now. Very powerful, and very flexible. The dataprovider class makes it a fairly simple matter to have multiple interface elements that update whenever the source data changes. That includes list boxes, combo boxes, charts, and more. I plan to pull some of the newer components that don't ship with Flash off the Macromedia site in the next couple of days and play around with them.

Today's topic: getting a handle on skinning, particularly dynamic skinning and live preview.


Meanwhile, the redesign on my portfolio site is going well. I've got my branding solidified, and have the major sections defined. I've got a little bit of sub-navigation stuff to work out, and then it becomes largely an exercise in content building. My workflow has been to define pages in Illustrator, then move them into Photoshop/imageready for slicing. I thought I'd end up using Fireworks, but may not - there's a scaling problem going from Illustrator directly to Fireworks.

[ link | e-me ]
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