Roman Holiday

Instead of recapping the last week in Rome, here is a sums-it-all-up Sistine Chapel story. One day we visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. Everything about St. Peter’s is beyond human scale: its physical dimensions, its luxurious details, its place in history. The collection in the Vatican museums is also lush, the Roman Catholic Church having acquired a staggering number of tchotchkes. Our visit ended with the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s frescoes in all of their restored glory. There were probably 500 visitors in the room, everyone craning their necks to stare at the high ceilings and walls. Entering the Chapel one sees International signs advising visitors not to sit on the steps, speak, or engage in other disrespectful behavior. Near the altar and The Last Judgment stood a circle of six guards talking, laughing, gesticulating, and completely ignoring everyone else in the room–except that every few minutes one would turn, shush the crowd, and yell “no photos!” After this admonishment he turned back to yak with his pals. After a brief period of relative quiet the crowd would continue as before, talking, pointing, and shooting flash pictures. After a half-dozen flashes another guard would lift his head from the conversation, yell “shush!”, and shout “no photos!” We were also treated to a multiple-language announcement instructing us not to take photos or talk. The lapsed catholic in me could still imagine eternal damnation for ruining the Sistine frescoes so I stayed flash and photo free, but it is no surprise that many tourists ignore the rule. Everywhere else throughout St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums photo flashes are as common as lightning bugs on a hot summer night. The obvious way to enforce the no-flash no-loud-talking rules effectively would be to deploy the guards to the corners of the Sistine Chapel. Instead they hang in a knot and act like middle-school boys on lunch break.

The guards do their jobs by paying lip-service to enforcement; the tourists observe the rules by paying lip-service to obedience. Benign chaos. That’s Roma.

News Flash

Jet Blue, Delta, and Southwest today announced their merger to form a new air-travel giant: Mea Culpa Airlines. The troubled carriers noted that air travelers will see no improvements in performance, cost, or comfort, but they do promise to be sorry–deeply, deeply sorry–for any and all inconveniences.

[From today’s New York Times: Airlines Learn to Fly on a Wing and an Apology; With 3,200 Flights a Day, A Few Problems; Storm Brings New Woes to Travelers at Kennedy (Our nearly-three hours on the JFK tarmac following a nine-hour flight from Rome were small potatoes. A Royal Moroc Air jet ambled around JFK for 14 hours before throwing in the towel and releasing passengers)]

Close . . . so close

BU Today announced the winners of its Show Us Your Blog contest. A Foolish Consistency made the cut for the judges’ consideration, but didn’t walk away with a medal. Maybe next year. Congratulations to the winners:

And yet–if you vote for A Foolish Consistency it can still garner a prize in the “it may not have the best design or most links to or from other blogs, but I still love it” category. Check out all of the finalists here and if you opt to vote for my humble efforts, I won’t complain.

Music Mishegas

It started last week. I synced my iPod and noticed that a half-dozen podcasts failed to transfer from the hard drive. Around the same time iTunes started to crash without apparent cause: when I double-clicked on iTunes playlists, when I played music from the iTunes library, when I updated podcast subscriptions from the iTunes window. Within a few days iTunes would crash as soon as I played anything. I uninstalled and reinstalled iTunes three or four times (I lost count, it was so much fun). No change. I Googled “iTunes crashes windows XP” and “iTunes troubleshooting” and found a number of similar tales but no explanation or solution. I tried some of the suggested fixes–deleting the iTunes program folder, adding “.old” to the iTunes library program files–but nothing changed. I’ve updated and run my antivirus and antispyware programs and run Registry Mechanic three times in the past seven days. I’ve ignored the suggestion to reformat the hard drive and reinstall Windows XP, iTunes, and every piece of software, testing after each to identify the culprit. If it comes to that I’ll throw the computer out the window to have the satisfaction of hearing it shatter, and buy a new one.

Now it gets weirder. I wanted something to play music files and installed Winamp. I also installed Anapod Manager to manage the music library and iPod files. The first few times I played music on Winamp it worked fine. I don’t like the cluttered, busy, teeny-weeny interface but it worked. Until it didn’t. Last night, clicking on a file to play it, Winamp crashed. It crashed three more times, just to make sure I got the point: your music files are screwed up. The questions are why?, and how do I fix the problem?

Maybe I should dust off the turntable and pull the albums out of the basement.

Security Theater

Security consultant, author, and expert Bruce Schneier had in essay on titled In Praise of Security Theater. A sample:

Security is both a reality and a feeling. The reality of security is mathematical, based on the probability of different risks and the effectiveness of different countermeasures . . . But security is also a feeling, based on individual psychological reactions to both the risks and the countermeasures. And the two things are different: You can be secure even though you don’t feel secure, and you can feel secure even though you’re not really secure.

The essay embodies Schneier’s typically clear-eyed analysis of security issues. It is worth reading in full, either at the link above or at Schneier’s blog.