Balancing incompetence

I went out in a proper single yesterday. For those of you scrabbling for context, we’re talking about rowing. I’ve been out in a recreational single before, which while tricky to row in a straight line have the great advantage that one of the straight lines they don’t do is straight down. The single I tried last night, however, had no such natural propensity, so it was up to me to keep it stable. I was hampered in this by the fact that the boat was incorrectly rigged; it was set up so that during the recovery (when the oars are supposed to be out of the water) my port blade would dig in and try to flip me. Unfortunately I didn’t notice the incorrect rigging, just the effect. And as I expected to suck, it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t necessarily entirely my fault. A passing single pointed out my problem, so I limped back to the dock and fixed it, but decided I’d tempted fate enough for one day.

To give you an idea of how tricky these things can be to balance, the one I used was probably around 24 feet long, and no more than a foot wide at the waterline. With your blades on the water acting as stabilizers it’s remarkably safe. Unfortunately you don’t go very fast in that position, and once you start waving the oars around it can all go horribly wrong.

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I was chided by a friend for not having posted in a while. Far be it from me to keep my fan waiting, even when I’m taking a mental break from all the nauseating excesses of the political and ‘cultural’ world. So instead, I thought we’d go with inanity.

Fire up Google’s map site. Mouse carefully over to the zoom bar thingy on the left, and switch to ultra-zoomy mode without changing the view in any other way. You’ll find that the google-center of the US is just north of the Coffeyville Country Club, which in turn is just north of Coffeyville, Kansas. And why is Coffeyville interesting? Well, frankly it isn’t. But it does have the distinction of not being labelled on Google’s map. Nearby South Coffeyville, scraping out a precarious existence as a lawless Oklahoman border town, gazing jealously across the divide at its rich northern sibling, and while we’re on the subject where the hell does Coffeyville get off not having a compass point attached to its name, why do we proud South Coffeyvillians have to have that hateful qualifier attached, like we were the musty basement of Coffeyvilles? Just because Kansas became a state 46 years before us Coffeyville thinks they can lord it over us like some kind of…big…lordy thing. Heck, they’re so stupid they had to have two goes at incorporating their town. Anyway. South Coffeyville is labelled, from which it is possible to derive the name of its much larger neighbor, but this would seem like a stunning indictment of something if I could be bothered to work up the energy.

More ‘interesting’ facts (OK, fact) about the villes Coffey. If you’re a young bachelor with thoughts of taking a lusty Kansan (or Oklahoman) farming wench for your own, head for the border. The southern Coffeyville has 100 women for every 86.5 men, while just a few miles north in the bustling metropolis that is Coffeyville proper, there are a stunning 100 women for every 82.1 men. No word on how many still have their teeth.

Lest you think I was making up all that stuff about the border, btw, take a look at this amazing map (Coffeyville is the grey checkered pattern just north-east of center). Who knew the border was so prominent?

Next week: Crewe, Coffeyville of the UK.

Compare and Contrast

From CNN:

The officials emphasized that because it was not a sanctioned government release, the United States is not in violation of the Geneva Conventions, although an individual might be. Under the conventions, a picture holding up a prisoner to ridicule may not be released.

From the NYT:

At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

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I am the happy owner of an iPod shuffle, which has improved my cycling commute experience greatly, except for one small element. Before the iPod I used a radio to listen to MPR, which is mostly talk. A few times per hour, however, they would play a snippet of music as a transition between stories, or to make some point. This used to drive me nuts, because I was listening to quality radio.

Why does the quality matter, you ask? Commercial stations, desperate to sell ears to advertisers, modify the sound they are sending out so that it seems to be louder than your average station (though of course they’re all doing this, which gives us the vary Minnesotan situation where everyone is above average). The idea is that as you bounce around the dial the loud signal wil capture your attention. A similar thing is done directly to many CDs, compounding the effect. None of this is good for the sound quality, but as CDs and radio are both mostly about sales, not quality, that’s not a problem.

MPR, on the other hand, is from a technical point of view at least, a quality station. That means that the sound isn’t pumped up to grab your attention. A fine thing, as one of the results of this care is a greater dynamic range; quiet bits are quiet, and bits that are supposed to be loud are loud. All of which is great, except when you’re listening in a compromised environment such as your car, or even more so on a portable device in the street. To overcome ambient noise you have to turn the volume up, particularly so when you are listening to speech, and even more so when you need to catch the soft parts of an individual’s speech. Not a problem in itself, but then A DELIBERATELY LOUD MUSICAL ‘STING’ COMES ON AND SUDDENLY YOUR EARS START TO BLEED. See, wasn’t very nice was it? Now imagine actually being able to hear that.

Where am I going with all this blather? Well, up to now this was an intermittent problem when listening to the radio. But with my iPod, and my propensity to listen to a mix of music (loud) and spoken-word podcasts (quiet) I get to be deafened on EVERY OTHER TRACK. See, it doesn’t get any better does it?

There are solutions to this. One is to use Replaygain in the podcast and players. Another is simply to pump up the relative volume of the podcast, to make it more consistent with the average music track (compared to the audio compression podcasts use the quality loss is negligible.) This would seem particularly sensible given that many users will be listening on portable devices such as, erm, iPods, and are therefore most vulnerable to SUDDEN CHANGES IN VOLUME.

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