October 2008

I went to see Jacques Pepin give a talk at the Baird Auditorium (in the National Museum of Natural History) on Wednesday night – one of the Smithsonian Resident Associate presentations. He’s my favorite chef, and I’ve been watching his tv shows, reading his books and cooking his recipes for 15 years or so (since his PBS show, “Today’s Gourmet”).
It was wonderful to get to hear him in person. He was interviewed by Joe Yonan, the editor of the Washington Post Food section. It was so much fun to hear him talk about cooking and doing cooking shows. Oh, and Jacques’ impression of Julia Child (and his anecdotes about doing shows with her) was hysterical.

Cookbooks are heavy, so I only brought 3 for him to sign. :)


Thursday evening Dylan and I went to see Prof. Bob Brier give a talk on the Secret of Egypt’s Great Pyramid. He presented evidence that supports French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin’s theory that an *interior* ramp was built and used to raise the huge blocks to the top of the 480-ft. high Great Pyramid of Giza. A few *million* such blocks (averaging about 2.5 tons each) were used to construct the pyramid. Fascinating talk/slide show.

Secret of the Great Pyramid

After the talk Prof. Brier was signing copies of his book, The Secret of the Great Pyramid. He inscribed my copy with the neatest inscription I have yet to get from an author. He wrote an Egyptian prayer – in hieroglyphs. It reads, “May you be given life, stability, and prosperity like Ra, forever.“. Beat that!

Interior pyramid

A new exhibit at the National Gallery of Art opened yesterday: Pompeii and the Roman Villa. Preston and I went to see it. For an active two-year old, Preston was surprisingly well-behaved. He was most impressed by the large bronze sculptures of horses’ heads (whazzzaaaat???!!) and the dogs attacking a wild boar (whazzzaaaat???!!).

At one stop Preston did point and say “MOM!!!”. However I couldn’t tell if he was pointing to a statue of Aphrodite or the blonde standing next to it. So I covered both bases with “Yes, that looks like mom, but she’s not here right now”. (The picture at left is not Aphrodite; it’s the daughter of Marcus Nonius Balbus. You’ll have to go to the exhibit to see Aphrodite). :)

The exhibit is in the East building, and is on two floors. The exhibit is free, though I recommend the $5.00 audio tour. I found the sculptures particularly captivating. I hadn’t realized before that the blank eyes on a lot of ancient statues actually originally had inlays. Most of the time such inlays have not survived to the present, but in a number of the exhibit sculptures they do. This made the art even more striking and realistic. The frescoes were amazing; such color and detail. One piece (rather small, maybe 1.5ft on a side) appeared to be drawn in red pencil on marble. The detail on that piece was absolutely amazing. They definitely had some very talented artists 2000 years ago.

The opulence of Pompeii does show through in the sculptures and frescoes. The exhibit also contains paintings and sculptures from the 19th century (and later?) that show an artists’ recreation of Pompeii before the disaster. Wow. I think it was Augustus (Octavius) who was so captivated by the area around Naples that he bought an island.

Today’s XKCD strip fairly clearly explains why DRM (“Digital Rights Management” – i.e. Copy Protected)-hobbled media is bad. It’s also the reason I still get all my music on physical CD. Not only do I support the artist, but I can rip the music to mp3 (or any format I choose) and put the music on my home server. I can also take the music with me when technology changes (all I have to do is re-rip the music into whatever new format). Also, (barring the not-much-used superaudio and such formats) CDs have the highest quality music. Think “Master” recording. Most other formats (mp3, etc.) are “lossy”, meaning they are of lower quality than the original.

Let me make myself clear here. The comic above advocates Piracy. I don’t. The artists don’t get any support that way. I advocate buying CD’s or non-DRM digital files. But the comic is still funny. :)

Apple is aware of consumers’ distaste for DRM, which is why they make some of the music on iTunes available in “iTunes Plus” format – which is of higher quality and has no DRM. I think they charge $0.30 more per track for this. From what I can tell, all music on iTunes from EMI is available in the “Plus” format. Apple would gladly put all iTunes tracks in Plus format as well -but the only record company to give permission is EMI.

The evil Wal-Mart announced a month or so ago that it was taking down it’s DRM server. This meant that anyone foolish enough to have bought digital music from them would no longer be able to play that music if the computer they used ever crashed or was upgraded/replaced. This created such a backlash from the community that they recently changed their minds. But such a scenario will certainly replay itself in the future. So: Don’t buy digital music that has DRM.

Note that Wal-Mart’s solution initially offered to it’s users: Burn your music to CD and re-import it. Whoa. That would drastically reduce the quality. So why not get physical CD’s to begin with?

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