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November 30, 2002

Solaris (2002)

According to WIRED, there are some unhappy purists in the world thanks to this adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's book. My Lem reading hasn't included this, and the 1971 Russian adaptation is a distant memory, so there's no aggrieved squawking from me on this one.

As much as it's fun to participate in a purist dog-pile now and then, I'm glad I got to enjoy Steven Soderbergh's version on its own. It's got a decent performance by George Clooney, who usually plays men of action firmly in control of their environment and does not in this role. It's pleasingly devoid of sci-fi hardware fixation. The light is clean and white. The sound is muted. The colors and tints are deep and pleasing, reminiscent of both Traffic and The Limey.

Perhaps the dialog clunks at one point, and it's certainly easy to imagine that Lem's work didn't get full consideration, but that doesn't keep this film from standing on its own. It was a pleasant, satisfying 90 minutes.

Posted by mph at 11:41 PM

solaris (2002)

According to WIRED, there are some unhappy purists in the world thanks to this adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's book. My Lem reading hasn't included this, and the 1971 Russian adaptation is a distant memory, so there's no aggrieved squawking from me on this one.

As much as it's fun to participate in a purist dog-pile now and then, I'm glad I got to enjoy Steven Soderbergh's version on its own. It's got a decent performance by George Clooney, who usually plays men of action firmly in control of their environment and does not in this role. It's pleasingly devoid of sci-fi hardware fixation. The light is clean and white. The sound is muted. The colors and tints are deep and pleasing, reminiscent of both Traffic and The Limey.

Perhaps the dialog clunks at one point, and it's certainly easy to imagine that Lem's work didn't get full consideration, but that doesn't keep this film from standing on its own. It was a pleasant, satisfying 90 minutes.

Posted by mph at 11:41 PM

Squammous and Gibbous

BitRot's DarG dropped a link to Tales of the Plush Cthulhu:

After all, while Sparkle Christmas Tree Sweater Bear, for example, was a friend to all boys and girls, and Ellie the Happy Elephant was beloved by all who knew her, neither they nor any of the other animals commanded a worldwide fanatical cult of believers ready to do their bidding, not to mention being an ageless, indestructible creature from Beyond the Stars.

Posted by mph at 10:43 PM


Sven sent along an article from the NYT on Google's uncanny sense of the zeitgeist. Evidently there's a cool ticker at Google HQ that just scrolls a (G-Rated) crawl of all the search queries the site receives. Google, of course, also provides the Zeitgeist in HTML (the end-of-year timeline is particularly neat).

Via Doc "Google Google on the wall" Searls, there's also a bit by Michael Kinsley on Google News.

I took a timid crack at what bugged me about Google's news service a few months ago. Since then, I've decided it's less of an editorial entity in the traditional sense of an editor out there looking for "what's best" as it is a topical zeitgeist aggregator of its own. Sorry, but there's no way it's judging the quality of the writing or the journalism, so that leaves it as an exercise in story popularity. No harm in that if you know what you're getting, and Kinsley's wry take on the whole thing is more useful than the BBC's initial shrill screeches of dismay or the countervaling noise from the Google fetishists.

I also think it's mostly useless for any "major" story if you don't like what's on the front page... it doesn't seem to understand that wire copy is wire copy is wire copy, though it seems to be favoring the standard light rewrite over AP bylines these days.

Posted by mph at 1:10 PM

Near Dark

Near Dark is an obscure vampire flick that both never uses the word "vampire" and rescues the whole idea from the Rice-ian "goth moper." Not quite perfect because some of the acting could be better, but some of it is truly inspired. It also hosts a mini-Aliens reunion with Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein. Also a small role by Trancers' "Jack Deth," Tim Thomerson. Good to see it getting its due 15 years later with a double-DVD special edition.

Posted by mph at 1:10 AM

You're Right... The Sky's Not Falling... But...

O.k. It's fashionable in some circles to carry on about John Ashcroft sucking and all our precious freedom going down the tubes because that's what we do when the wrong people (or Janet Reno) are in power.

But as much as it's good to keep the rhetoric toned down until our ducks are in a row, it means something to me when Nat Henthoff calls the current state of affairs an "Orwellian monster" and William Safire calls Admiral Poindexter a "ring-knocking master of deceit". Privacy Digest notes that Safire's being read into the Congressional record by Republicans and Democrats.

Because it entertains me, and because I never moved it over from the other site, here's the Office of Information Awareness logo:

Henthoff points to a burgeoning movement of "Bill of Rights Defense Committees" forming around the country that are standing in direct defiance of AG Ashcroft, and notes that there's even a national organizing Web site.

For light comic relief, there's some Flash to keep you entertained.

Henthoff via TalkLeft

Posted by mph at 12:59 AM

November 28, 2002


m sent me a link to another dismal Lindows is going to destroy Microsoft review.

I've been out of the "Linux space" for a long time now... almost nine months, and I still feel a stirring of outrage over Lindows.

Michael says it "seems to be a 'dumb people's Linux,' like a Swiss Army knife with a few major blades missing and random charges for using others..."


I had a few thoughts, too, on both the product and the review...

1. When you run Lindows, you're root. Period. In other words, WinXP
has a better security model.

2. They want $99 to subscribe to their click-n-go library. What's the
lifecycle on WinXP? And if Robertson is right and computers are
commodifying to the point of being appliances, where's the benefit
of paying $99/year to use apt-get on their servers when you've
already got an OEM-bundle of Windows for much less than $100 on
your "toaster" PC? At $119 for the box + your $99 year for
click-n-go, they've got you for the price of WinXP Personal if you
buy it on the shelf for full price (and who does that?) Robertson
says the value proposition is in not paying $450 for OfficeXP.
O.k. Remind me again of why I'm not going to just run OpenOffice
under Windows if I can't pay for MS Office?

3. They've finally admitted WINE is a miserable bet for low-powered
machines (which is where they're pushing Lindows) so they're trying
to claim OpenOffice is "just as good" as Microsoft apps. They'll
be right 90-95% of the time when it comes to opening MS OFfice

Other areas where those low-powered machines running Lindows will make
life hard: gaming, multimedia (I've run QuickTime via Crossover on
machines that are similarly spec'd to what WalMart's pimping... it
sucks), and, of course, peripheral support.

A Lindows user wandering into CompUSA or Fred Myer's software section
won't know whether the stuff lined up on the shelf will run or not, or
how well. Robertson says they don't worry about running Windows
software anymore and the reporter lets him get away with it. Ironic,
considering the entire point of Lindows when it was announced was that
it would allow users to pop in a Windows-based CD and start running
its contents. It's like LandRover announcing that it's not worrying
about the part where its trucks don't bust an axle going over small

I guess I think it's bullshit. If I were that reporter's editor, I'd
tell him to take his advocacy elsewhere and I'd send him back to his
word processor. Claiming objections to Lindows are some sort of geek
elitism is just a cheap way to beg a lot of questions.

Lindows is the maybe/maybe not software and (peripheral) hardware
support of Linux with the rotten security and dumbed-down
straight-jacket interface of Windows... worst of both worlds,
guaranteed to alienate end users who will eventually come to despise
being told that their $50 software purchases and cheap peripherals
won't work and piss off nerds who simply don't need anything this
stupid to use their computers.

Posted by mph at 12:18 AM

Die Another Day

The 007 franchise rises up from the tar pit, mastodon-like and lizardy and promptly collapses, smashing all of its own internal organs into a putrescent jelly that covers the entire theater with its stink.

Explain why you can go to a PT Anderson movie and there are fifteen drunken chatty cathys sitting around you who don't understand that they're supposed to use their "inside" voices, but you go to a rotten, miserable, disaster like this and they all sit like they're at High Mass. Must be sheer stupefication.

Seriously: not even a good Bond movie, made worse by an attempt to introduce "bullet time" to a car chase. Gross.

Posted by mph at 12:01 AM

November 27, 2002

We Feel Safer Already

Henry Kissinger was appointed Lord High Commissioner of a panel out to figure out why 9/11 happened, and Get Your War On was ready.

p.s. - So was Christopher Hitchens.

Posted by mph at 5:39 PM

For-Pay Speedbumps

Jon Udell reports that Byte is in trouble and moving to subscriptions. The pain is that older content has been locked behind a "gee, sorry, now pay up" message. Their right, because it's their content, but this is the sort of thing that plays prominently in a bit I'm working on: Jon's work is just one example of the sort of organized knowledge that stands to drop into the bitbucket with the publications that own it. It doesn't have to be that way, but that's going to be the story as more and more "new economy" publishing ventures croak.

Posted by mph at 9:07 AM

De-subscribed by Salon and Living With It

Late last week Salon more or less quietly dropped off the NASDAQ as the company faces massive losses. One of the analysts from the company I work for shoveled a spade of dirt on them:

"It's sort of disheartening, but it should come as no surprise that online publishing, regardless of size and scale, cannot survive on advertising," Patrick Keane, an Internet industry analyst for Jupiter Research, told the Chronicle.

"Obviously, investors don't have patience for unprofitable companies anymore," Keane said. "This isn't 1999. It's pretty laughable that a company like this could go public."

Laughable? Sometimes my coworkers can be cruel: it's really just sort of sad. $79 million in losses have disappeared from the world to pay for Herman Miller chairs for the executive team and exorbitant salaries to "prove" the proposition that you can read features on the Web.

My month-long trial subscription to Salon Premium just ended. Well... it ended a week ago, but they let me have another seven days before lowering the boom and taking away my access to their online porn collection, a few features, and Andrew Sullivan's blog (the Salon version... you can get his ranting for free on his site, where his opinionating is pitched as a loss-leader to get him through the door of publications where he's considered a novelty act).

For my month-long sample, I got two stories I felt like passing on to others, a few more that were interesting to the extent they involved sending a shockingly naive reporter to go kvetch about all the commies in the anti-war movement, more blogs, blog content that became free three days after I "paid" for it, plus all the stuff the site gives away anyhow. Plus the stuff I paid for that it'll give away if you sit through a giant ad. Oh... there was also some calf-like bawling in one article about how "the boom" will come back if the damn venture capitalists just loosen up a little.

The magazine is also trying straight news coverage by alternately wasting its reporters on items the wires have handled in as much detail hours earlier, or carrying straight wire copy.

Five years and $79 million in losses and in its twilight, Salon is hawking bloggers to people who solemnly hand over their credit cards for the privilege of reading the likes of Andrew Sullivan, who gives his stuff away for free elsewhere.

It's fashionable to talk about how Salon "raised the bar" on the quality of Web content, and how it's an unfair and brutal market that dashed the hopes of a scrappy little contender from San Francisco before it could topple the East Coast print establishment. I'm not very enthusiastic about the market Salon helped to create.

Yesterday I fielded a call from a writer who's on the verge of getting out of my particular area of the business because she isn't making the money she expects. An entire class of writers has circulated through online publishing over the past few years, developing an expectation that their words are worth $1.50 or $2.00 apiece. What can you say to that? How do you help people regain their senses after they've pulled down six figures as a junior editor who did a little side work with some venture-capital-glutted publication? I'm not sure you can. I know a few people who have regained their senses: they're hunkered down in editorial positions with decent pay well out of the insane ranges they might have made four years ago, but they saw the end in sight and knew to take a comparative lowball to get at the safe port.

But back to Salon, which was paying some of those six-figure salaries. While I don't want to talk down the general quality of the writing (even if I never cared for the snotty tone that pervaded a lot of it) we've all seen as good in independent weeklies scattered around college towns and metro areas. It's not $2-per-word writing, and the sort of dementia it would take to expect a publication could pay that out and find an offsetting market for its banner ads is almost angelic.

So I'm down $9 or whatever I paid for a month of the "newly wise" Salon that finally decided to start charging for its content. I went ahead and shelled it out because for every greedy CEO or callous moneyman at a publication, there are a few writers and artists who might have believed in what they were doing or, worse, believed their own press releases. If Salon was going to be saved by an outpouring of reader loyalty that would allow it to go on as some sort of experiment in extra-dimensional economic theory... well... I paid full price to get into Star Wars: Episode II, too.

Posted by mph at 2:00 AM

November 26, 2002

Go Wiki

Sensei's Library is a nice collection of Go material, including software links. It has a strong user community contributing. Nice stop. A wiki to admire.

Posted by mph at 11:35 PM

Buy Nothing Day Approaches

Sure to enrage your local Objectivist or other market fetishist, Buy Nothing Day is this Friday (November 29th).

The BND site maintained by AdBusters is optimistic:

"More than a million people will celebrate 11 years of opposition on the unofficial "opening day" of the Christmas frenzy. Play this one right and we will make Buy Nothing Day 2002 a global event on par with Earth Day. Previous participants have come up with the traditions: swap meets, teach-ins, concerts, street theatre, credit-card cut-ups, postering, potlucks. But hey, it's a culture jam - no one's drawing up any rules."

Lots of people will experience varying mileage on the issue, and there are probably people who will maintain that spending even a day refusing to buy because "it's the holidays" is flatly unpatriotic during hard times.

It's also interesting to note that Mennonites in Canada have decided to launch Buy Nothing Christmas. AdBusters claims it's part of a broader drift among religious groups to protest the rabid consumerism of the season. Progressives like to smirk when they see the "Jesus is the reason for the season" signs. Sad that they decide to protest the fundies by going out and buying more shit.

Anyhow, even though I'm not convinced it amounts to much as a protest that's heard, it's an interesting exercise in taking time to think about consumption. And it's pretty cool that AdBusters finally managed to buy some ad time.

Posted by mph at 9:07 PM

Emissaries from Across the Street

Cool! Spencer and Fiona brought us a 'thank you' card for last night's pie. A pie delivery to our duplex neighbors didn't go so well: I think it was off-putting to them. I'm back to last night's thesis:

30-somethings who are seen stalking around the house in their pajamas all day long are perhaps a little more off-putting when they turn up on your doorstep bearing pies.

Posted by mph at 7:33 PM

Scorched finder

As a newbie to Mac shores, drawn here entirely on the strength of OS X, it's sometimes hard to remember that there are "real" Mac people out there in the world... "gold star Mac people" who were bemoaning Centrises while I was still playing around with DRDOS, which hadn't broken yet.

So when I arrive by buying an iBook and eventually deciding I'm staying, all I'm doing is crashing a party that's been going on for a long, long time among people with a level of devotion and loyalty that's only occasionally touched elsewhere.

Daring Fireball's manifesto on "That Finder Thing" is a decent peek into the minds of "Apple people" who are still discomfited with the changes from MacOS 9 to OS X. Not for people who think impassioned pleas for interface sanity are unreadable regardless of the quality of the prose.

Choice quote:

The hallmark of the classic Finder is spatial orientation. That’s a buzzword, to be sure, and even long-time Mac users have little idea what it really means, mainly because you don’t have to know what it means to use the Finder.

In the classic Finder, there is no abstraction between the actual file system and the view of the file system presented on screen. A folder is either open or closed. If it is open, it is represented on screen in its own window. The size, position, and viewing options for an open folder’s window are always remembered, and are unrelated to the size, position, and viewing options of parent, sibling, or child folders.

There is a clear, cohesive paradigm at work. An open folder is a window; a window is an open folder.

There are rules; laws of physics for the Finder universe. One such rule is that Finder items can only appear in one place at a time. For example, let’s say you have a Finder window in list view, and you use a disclosure triangle to display the contents of a folder within that same list. If you then double-click that folder to open it into its own window, the disclosure widget in the list view window will close automatically, preventing the folder’s contents from being displayed in both windows at once. The reverse is true as well — if you go back to the list view window, and click the disclosure triangle for the open folder, the folder window will close automatically before the folder’s contents are displayed in the other window.

From my enthusiastic newbie perspective, OS X's just great. There are nags, but I've bought my way out of them with a few $7 (or free) haxies. It'd be easy to just poke sticks through the bars at the Mac people who aren't so happy and periodically laugh at them when they admit to using Classic, but we (new OS X emigres) are neighbors to them now, and their dismay is probably going to inform future change.

Worth a read, on a site generally worth following without me reminding you.

Posted by mph at 2:00 PM

November 25, 2002

Pie Diplomacy

Well, Alison and I trooped over to Jean/Trixie and Spencer/Dexter's home this evening with a still-warm pumpkin pie in hand. It took her a second to recognize us (she blamed our hats a moment later), but it was a cordial visit marked only by a promise to have us over for her bourbon-spiked eggnog at some point in the near future.

If you're just joining, the issue that provoked the bearing of pies is detailed in a pair of previous posts from November 9 and November 15.

My thoughts about the whole thing are considerably less strident than they were a week ago, but I'm still working on what it means to be a good neighbor, conduct myself with humility, and get over the instant passivity that seems to grip me when confronted by inconsiderate people. There's a lot of literature on "asserting boundaries" and "being assertive," but I've never much liked the culture surrounding that. It seems brittle and fake, or over-assertive and controlling: at root either passive aggressive or merely aggressive and designed to strike first when working out group norms.

Anyhow, back to the pie-giving:

Spencer allowed as how pumpkin is his favorite, which I guessed when I decided to give them that one and not the pecan pie I've got in the oven. I'm not sure what the attitude toward pecan pie is anywhere besides the south. I love it... Alison says it frightens her. Staring into the mixing bowl when it's still in its "brown sugar slurry with pecans bobbing around in it" stage, it does look... energy-laden.

It was an uneventful visit. We reminded them of our names, they invited us in, but it looked like a harried sort of evening. Baby Fiona was wandering around crying and closet doors were open. So we kept it brief and got out quickly.

The part of the whole exercise that's hard is over for me. Alison and I are both pretty shy, so it took an act of will to get the pie across the street and into their hands. I hope, though, that their offer to have us over for eggnog and "a chat," as Spencer called it, happens. If they don't get around to it in a few weeks, I suppose it'll be time to lay in the basic cocktail fixin's and invite them over.

We just got new neighbors in the other half of our duplex, so the pecan pie in the oven right now will go over there tomorrow some time. Sort of a shame, because the whole "still warm from the oven" bit is good PR that undermines any suspicions that I might have bought one at Fred Myer and transferred it into a pan of my own. We've got an interesting family across the other street from us that I want to give something, too. They've been fine, with the exception, I think, of calling my old Volvo in to the police as a derelict when I didn't update the license plates after we moved here, but that's offset by the nearby presence of a rat-infested garage/service station with many abandoned wrecks the owner parks out on the streets when he needs overflow space. Neighborhood tempers are running high over that.

It seems it's most important, though, to strike when a neighbor's new. We've had a year among most of the people on our block. I think it's best to have the pretense of greeting new people into the neighborhood instead of hobbling over after a year, immediately after an embarrassing incident.

I'd guess the whole effort is going to get a mixed reception. When Bill Benysh and I lived together, the old folks from across the street bringing two bags of apples over seemed like something kindly old folks would do. 30-somethings who are seen stalking around the house in their pajamas all day long are perhaps a little more off-putting when they turn up on your doorstep bearing pies.

But my intent has shifted since I first started thinking about the whole issue of Jean ramming into neighborhood cars and demanding we clear the way and how to go about trying to get her to stop or at least help her develop a sense that she's wrong without having to gird for battle or get snarky about it. I'm feeling a lot more programmatic about "pie diplomacy" as an anchor for being a better neighbor in general, in hopes that it reaps some benefits by helping to instill a sense of neighborliness in others. I don't see this as undermining a fundamentally pacifistic outlook on problem-solving. The act of "de-strangering" people makes it easier to treat them like I'd want to be treated, which includes getting checked when I fuck up, and doing so in a respectful and kindly manner.

It may be that the entire effort will net little from the neighbors, but as a habit to adopt -- sharing with strangers and maintaining human contact with the people around us -- it seems beneficial to the general mental well-being of the neighborhood and my own personal sense of integrity, which is battered every time I let a clod step on my toes without so much as a reminder to them that what they're doing isn't something with which the rest of us should "be cool."

Posted by mph at 8:50 PM

anticipation.... mounting....

Popular Science devotes five pages to 'Massive', the software driving the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies:

Until recently, relatively simple simulations of physical interactions have driven digital crowd sequences. Using basic rules governing attraction and repulsion, designers aimed single points called particles at each other. Each particle represents a different individual, and when a satisfactory mix is achieved to portray the movements of a group or crowd, animation is added: The particle is rendered as a digital human or creature. The result is cost-effective but not always natural-looking; particle trajectories emulate pool-table-level physics across a two-dimensional space. The movement of real people, especially in battle over rough terrain, is a hugely more complex challenge for the programmer.

via /.

Posted by mph at 3:55 PM

why she blogs

Beth Bartel of iceglog has typed up an informative entry on what she's up to in Antarctica.

Posted by mph at 8:55 AM

Welcome back, SomaFM

An entry on Doc Searls' page reminded me to go look: SomaFM is coming back November 30th, but they have streams playing now. Google News has the backstory, which you might have read on these pages, too.

Posted by mph at 7:39 AM

November 24, 2002

bean hax0ring

Some people optimize computer hardware, and other people optimize coffee grinders.

I've begun looking for a new coffee maker, and I'm already sorry I didn't start looking at, say, the neighborhood department store instead of the Internet, where the issue is rapidly complexifying as I encounter the normal 'net mania for perfection, ever stalking the elusive god shot.

My current, erm, rig is pretty simple: a cheap whirling blade grinder and a press coffee maker. What's the optimal setup? How much is too much for a grinder? Are these vacuum coffee makers really all that or are they a bit of bizarre-o fetishism of an all-too-familiar sort?

Posted by mph at 10:11 PM


Mel Gibson's "historical" epic has a few good moments, some good costumes, impressive battle scenes, and a 97 hour running time that takes us from the beginnings of the Scottish resistance to British rule to the opening "carrier deck" sequence of Tora! Tora! Tora!.

A good example of later work casting a pall on earlier work, Gibson's remake in the form of The Patriot has a less than salutary effect on reviewings of Braveheart.

Posted by mph at 8:26 PM

Lord of the Rings: The Felllowship of the Ring

This movie can't go to 11 yet, because we have two more installments to go. It gets a four, though, because director Peter Jackson, confronted with the hopelessness of his task, went for it anyhow. Holy cow. It succeeds not just because it's exceptionally well-crafted, but because Jackson understands Tolkien in a way that allows him to drill down to the essence of the source material, which liberated him to make some hard decisions about what to cut or consolidate.

Watched the extended DVD release to jot this down. The viewing party didn't reach consensus on all of the additions, but did walk away much more pleased with added exposition and Hobbit scenes. The additional material is not merely the normal "deleted scenes," but scores of small edits that went toward refining the movie. Probably more of a treat for fans in general, a win for enthusiasts on balance, and wise cut choices for the general theater audiences in the end.

Hugo Weaving remains unable to transcend Agent Smith for most, which is a pity because I sort of like his Elrond with the exception of his "delighted bafflement" scene with some Hobbits.

Posted by mph at 10:54 AM

Flash Gordon

1980 Dino de Laurentis crack at the classic serial/comics. Prepared for a plod, I was pretty happy with this one (hence the bestowal of an '11' for a rating). Unlike Buck Rogers, which suffered from its actors trying to act like real people, de Laurentis' genius is in turning the entire planet Mongo into a hive of kink with black leather, glove-tightening, flogging, and torture by bore worms.

Highlight performances by Max Von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, and Peter Wyngarde as Klytus. Soundtrack by Queen.

Posted by mph at 10:38 AM

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

1979 Glen Larson remake of the old Buck Rogers serial that went on to be a tv show for a two years. Chief distinction is Buck's PG-rated lechery and some charming "space disco" sequences. Opening titles rule, too: space babes in silver spandex and giant sunglasses roll around on a lighted floor sexily, like Barbarella only not nearly as horny. Gets a 1.5 because it is that bad, and its badness doesn't transcend to greatness.

Posted by mph at 10:26 AM

November 23, 2002


Falls short of three stars on the nonexistent pace, but it's a respectable movie that is lurid only because we all know what the hell happened with the subject. Low-energy examination of Jeffrey Dahmer that wanted to be a little more than it ended up being. The red lights all over his apartment (especially his bathroom) are a little over the top: o.k... I get it... his apartment is, like, totally the gates of Hell.

Posted by mph at 1:32 AM

November 22, 2002

surprised by...?

esr is a potential target of kidnap and torture by terrorists .

Posted by mph at 4:20 PM

When Worlds Collide

This MacSlash article and the ensuing laceration in the comments tells us perhaps the great UNIX nerd/Mac person fusion is still a work in progress.

Posted by mph at 4:01 PM

Ellen Speaks!

WIRED reports that Ellen Feiss has broken her silence and given an interview to a newspaper at Brown. Big revelation: she was, indeed, on drugs when they shot her ad.

There's a text version of the interview that will have to do until the original quits being slashdotted.

Update: It's reasonable for Apple-avoiders and people with other concerns to ask who the hell Ellen Feiss really is, so the appropriate WIRED article is in order.

Posted by mph at 8:38 AM

PuddingFlicks set up and seeded

Realizing that I'm both in class with a mandatory film-a-week diet and have a more general and standing flick or two or three a week habit, it seemed like I might as well start logging and rating them, so now there's PuddingFlicks, which I've larded with a few recent viewings. No need to go visit: there's a feed on the right with the latest items. I'll probably put anything lengthier about movies there, too.

Posted by mph at 1:00 AM

November 21, 2002

Erin Brockovich

Class required viewing. I didn't want to like this one, but an hour trapped in a room with a hyper-caffeinated screenwriter convinced me that there's a lot there to admire in structure, even if you don't care for tarted up Julia Roberts or her sanitized biker boyfriend.

Salon's review is close enough for my tastes, if a little effusive.

Posted by mph at 11:49 PM

November 20, 2002

iceblog! comes to life

iceblog! has come to life, with some entries from Beth that detail her trip to Antarctica along with some photos. Cool.

Posted by mph at 8:17 PM

Wikis and Weblogs for the Dockers Set

This week's Crossnodes column introduces wikis and weblogs to my audience, including an obligatory nod to Microsoft's stealth-blogging software, Sharepoint.

I usually slip these items under the door and avoid sending them out to the company's internal 'pitch' list because, well, wikis and weblogs aren't normal fare for corporate networking sites. One of the bosses thought differently today, so my experiments in stealth punditry have been exposed.

Posted by mph at 2:50 PM

November 19, 2002

Hookers at the Point

Rated down the middle. The director is following up on his documentary Pimps Up, Ho's Down by concentrating on the hookers this time. It's disjointed in construction. Bleak, bleak viewing. Amateur cultural anthro types might enjoy the intense look at a grim sample of the culture around prostitution.

Pimps fans may expect the same sardonic voice, but it isn't present in this one. It's just a documentary about people who whore for crack and lose all their teeth by the time they're 30.

Posted by mph at 2:46 PM

November 18, 2002

Spy Kids

A fun 'family' movie from Robert Rodriguez of El Mariachi and From Dusk 'Til Dawn. Antonio Banderas does ok at self-satire, the kid acting is tolerable, and it has PeeWee Herman (from whom we're about to never hear again... again).

Posted by mph at 2:37 PM

November 17, 2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Solid three stars for a solid production. Loses some value as an adaptation by going for plot and visual faithfulness at the expense of tougher themes that make the books valuable adolescent literature.

As with Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, the children seem more awestruck than disturbed during key scenes. The books convey adolescent akwardness and self-discovery. The movies render that into "Wizard Country Wild Safari Tours."

Posted by mph at 2:27 PM

November 16, 2002

8 Mile

Eminem gets rehabilitated by Hollywood. High production values. The women in this movie suck (as characters, and Kim Basinger has seen better turns). Rousing climax. Cynical and gratuitous "Em loves the little gay man" scene.

Posted by mph at 2:31 PM

November 15, 2002

Battling Trixie

After my initial encounter with the neighbor over her tragic car-backing skills, I did some fretting over what it means to be silent in the presence of people who are just plain inconsiderate. I mailed it off to scoop and thought better of it pretty quickly, but here it is in mostly unaltered form:

I just finished a book entitled The Riddle of Amish Culture, which is mainly concerned with explaining the numerous things non-Amish are apt to call "inconsistencies" in the way the Amish themselves interact with technology. Key to the Amish world view is a concept wrapped up in the German word gelessenheit, which means "submission or yielding to higher authority" but plays out in practice to "obedience, humility, submission, thrift and simplicity."

It's a hard idea to confront for "moderns," because even though the Drews and Trixies of the world are obnoxious outer limits of individualism we all recognize, most of us are infected with a craving for "ours," or at least a niggling concern that we face this world alone... our fifteen minutes and pieces of the pie contingent on our own action.

Indeed, I've never felt like a "real" Anabaptist (the tradition to which the Amish belong, along with the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Hutterites) despite my family's church affiliations with the Brethren, because part of the "familial rhetoric" on the southern fundamentalist side of the family was a fiercely paranoiac view that everyone around you is happy to alternately help, let, or watch you fuck up; and that success is a thing you have to claw from the grasp of the world and others, bought at someone's expense.

In fact, those echoes are strong enough that when I'm confronted with injustice or feel like I'm being wronged, I joke that it's convenient that cowardice and humility can be so easily confused. Underneath a layer of more and less digested King, Gandhi, and Buddha is someone raised among Texans who sometimes beat each other senseless at family gatherings. That, in turn, leaves me wondering whether my inaction can be ascribed to well-practiced Anabaptism and its attendant pacifism, or poorly practiced and cowardly red-neckism.

A paradox Ken Brown laid on me 15 years ago is that pacifism wields a rare moral power that diminishes as it's adopted by cowards, so I've got to own up to cowardice when dealing with the likes of Trixie, because the moral strength of pacifism doesn't lie in taking abuse all day long. It lies in accepting abuse and resisting it with humble appeals to one's transgressors and, eventually, their sense of shame.

It's true that I don't want to break "the peace," such as it is, with Trixie. But any foundation for my belief in Trixie's lengthy stint in car abuse purgatory that doesn't implicate me as their accomplice is tied up in the proposition that taking abuse to avoid the consequences of resistance is something the universe will reward.

As much as it would be convenient to believe that, I feel more compelled by the latter, because I accept Ken Brown's assertion, as first expressed by Gandhi: "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our breasts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence. Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent. There is no such hope for the impotent."

I spent a few years of my life proud that no one around me could ever accuse me of cowardice. But until I'm on Trixie's doorstep with a gentle, firm word about the harm of her irresponsibility, I don't think I ever get to really believe that about myself.

Posted by mph at 9:00 PM

Validating the Daring Fireball

In his article "A Valid Point", John Gruber provides a reasonable (if tart) rundown of what Web validation's all about. My own attempt at explaining standards and the process of upholding them was a nervewracking experience of t-crossing and i-dotting I hope to never repeat.

Gruber's account deserves a bookmarking for anyone interested in using HTML. Validation is an important part of the process of upholding standards and making the Web a decent experience. Even if the little "I'm compliant!" badges and buttons littering pages can be the mark of sour-faced puritans with dismally painful senses of self-importance, standards matter (even when you're still puzzling over how to comply with them yourself) and it's refreshing to read about them in decent English.

Gruber also gets good notice for using a blog (if that's what you want to call it... I'm sick of the word) to bring some real light to an issue instead of barfing up a hairball of speculation and calling it an "old media" killer. He's been wrong about some stuff, but he's trying and he responds to fact-checking, which is all any pro can do.

Posted by mph at 8:50 AM

November 14, 2002

How To Make An American Quilt

Class requirement. Winona Ryder demonstrates why jail time for shoplifting might just be karma. Heard the author of the source novel speak on this film after viewing it... she was adamant that it's rude to call it a chick flick, but I don't think she meant that it's rude to chick flicks to do so, which would be true.

Posted by mph at 2:50 PM

November 13, 2002

Training to Kill Reflexively, But Not Too Reflexively

The New York Times offers "A Bulletproof Mind", a more-detailed-than-normal look at the training Special Forces soldiers undergo, including some detail on a particular close quarters combat incident in Afghanistan and some discussion of the conditioning process involved. Since David Grossman, author of On Killing is cited, it's no surprise that you may find some sentiments expressed familiar reading.

My copy of On Killing arrived a few days ago. As soon as I can clear my plate of a few other books, I'll read it and probably try to write it up in a few chunks.

Posted by mph at 9:58 PM

November 12, 2002

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Kirk saves some whales by travelling back in time. Second-favorite Trek movie. Fun for the cast. Female love interest/plot driver is so awful they should include disclaimer commentary on the DVD, but history vindicates her with the next in the series.

Posted by mph at 2:48 PM


Took a trip to the zoo over the weekend. Here's one picture (clicking will pop up a 1280x960 image):

Some more pictures are posted on the gallery, and there are a few yet to be processed.

Posted by mph at 12:44 AM

November 9, 2002

Trixie at the Gates

The woman from across the street came to our door this morning with a question.

I don't remember her name. Alison knows it and corrects me whenever I get it wrong, so I've taken to just offloading the job of knowing her name to Alison and I settle for variants on "Marcy," "Trixie," "Peppermint Patty," and "Mommy." Her husband also has a name I've decided to not remember, and he's alternately "Dexter," "Thurston," or "Derwin." For purposes of this dispatch, call them "Trixie" and "Dexter," though Alison tells me they're really "Spencer" and "Jean" and little baby "Fiona," who Alison wants to call "Fabian."

So we were still in bed at 9:47, sleeping off last night's little gathering, when the doorbell rang. It ended a troubling but interesting dream, which was irritating. I peeked around the corner of the hallway and through the window to the front porch. The shades hid the upper body, and I did not recognize the crotch or ass that were shifting in and out of view as their owner impatiently jiggled and bounced and twisted.

As I pulled on my pants, our visitor pounded on the door. A lot of thoughts went through my head as I walked out of the bedroom: did I park on someone's cat last night? Is the stone Buddha under the tree idolatrous and offensive to a heretofore unknown fundamentalist living on the block? What? What? What had I done?

I pulled open the door. It was Trixie.

Trixie has been the source of some discomfort for us since she and Dexter moved into the neighborhood last Fall. Alison mistakenly called baby Fiona a boy, which seemed to induce some irritation. With some people, no mistake is innocent and everything is obvious, including the sex of a two-month-old child wrapped head to toe in a blanket with only the nose and mouth showing.

My own single interaction with Trixie prior to this morning involved my car, which I used to park in front of our house, across the street from the opening of Trixie and Dexter's driveway. That changed a few months ago when I came home from the store and Trixie was waiting in her driveway. She called me over, and when I walked over to her she said "You shouldn't park your car there. I have a big SUV that I back out of our driveway every morning and I can't see behind me. I'll probably hit you."

I nodded and thanked her for the warning, because I'm a passive person and it never occurs to me to get indignant over foolishness when it's happening... I'm far too compliance-oriented.

I took her warning to heart, though, and since I only drive my car about once every week or two, I decided it best to move it out of her SUV's way, and did so immediately. As I got out of my car the second time, she was still standing in her driveway and she called out to me "I didn't mean you had to move it immediately!"

Since my reflexive passivity was wearing off, I thought to myself "Thanks for clarifying your orders, ma'am," but I just shrugged at her and went into my house, dwelling on the sort of impotent sourness that would make me think sarcastic thoughts instead of pointing out that she should consider parking on the street, and thinking that perhaps what at first blush seemed like a colossally arrogant and irresponsible approach to neighborliness was mere uncharitable bitchiness on my part.

When I saw someone parking opposite her driveway that night, I walked up to him and said "this is really stupid, but the neighbor lady says she can't be held responsible for backing into our cars if we park them there." He gave me a sullen shrug and huffy laugh and went on his way. I was put off that my warning was ignored because it made me feel like I'd become some sort of tool for Trixie, doing the dirty work of broadcasting her irresponsibility instead of letting her wander the neighborhood until someone more honest tells her to just park on the street.

The next morning, there was a loud crash. Trixie had backed into his car.

The next time I saw Trixie, she called across the street to me "See!? I hit a car!"

I called back "What are you gonna do?" and shrugged expansively. Dexter glowered.

I didn't get many data points to add to the Trixie and Dexter file for many months after. Here are a few:

So that brings us to this morning, and Trixie is standing in my door with a question.

"Do you own a Honda?"

"No." (I'm relieved... whoever did something wrong, I can't be responsible.)

"A blue Honda!?"

"No. I don't own any Hondas at all."

"I just hit a blue Honda."

"Oh, no."

"Damn blind spot! Aaaaaargh!"


She turns and runs down our steps.

"Damn FUCKING blind spot! I hate that damn blindspot! aaarrrgh!"

Her voice is echoing off the buildings on the street. I close the door and go back in the bedroom.

"Who was that?" Alison asks.

"Trixie," I say, "She's hit another car."

Posted by mph at 6:06 PM

Our Exploding Guinea Pigs Abroad

United Press Internation reports on issues over the Army's report on the murder outbreak around Ft. Bragg. At the center of UPI's report is a drug called Lariam, which has been identified in a number of incidents involving soldiers, airmen, and Marines suffering hallucinations and (non-sanctioned) homicidal impulses:

"Lariam's label warns of psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, aggression, tremors, confusion, abnormal dreams and rare reports of suicide. It also says mental problems can last long after taking it. "

Despite this, soldiers continue to receive it, as do Peace Corps volunteers.

UPI offers some firsthand accounts:

"Roche's 1994 safety report cites a 26-year old American woman who experienced 'aggression, compulsion to ('stab') attack boyfriend and to use obscenities;' a man who destroyed a hotel room and window while psychotic and in the grip of a paranoid 'fear of Nazis' that led to him being imprisoned and hospitalized; and another case described as, 'psychosis -- hospitalization required, endangering himself and others.' "The 1994 Roche safety report includes a reference to a patient 'in U.S. military/Somalia' who was hospitalized suffering from 'psychosis, confusion, depression, fatigue, hostility, agitation' and paranoia. "UPI has interviewed a number of soldiers who say Lariam has given them long-term mental problems since the U.S. military began widely using the drug on over 20,000 troops deployed to Somalia in the early 1990s. U.S. Army officials told UPI they never saw evidence of any problems with the drug there.

"'There is so much darkness in your brain and so much violence. And you know what you are capable of,' said G. Mayes, a member of the Army reserves who was called up in 1993. Mayes said that while she suffered no mental problems before then, the Lariam the Army gave her brought on hallucinations, confusion, depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and even thoughts of homicide that she struggles with to this day.

Posted by mph at 2:29 PM

175 Down, 29,825 to Go

The San Jose Mercury news reports there are about to be 175 less McDonalds in the world:

"McDonald's shares fell by as much as 13 percent Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. The news also pushed down the stock of competitors such as Wendy's International and Taco Bell parent Yum Brands.

"The restructuring includes a planned exit from three undisclosed countries where McDonald's already has operations. The overhaul is the latest attempt by McDonald's Chief Executive Jack Greenberg, who has been at the helm for four years, to take costs out of an operation that has struggled with weak sales in the United States, with troubled economies in major markets such as Latin America, and the impact of mad-cow disease outbreaks in Europe and Japan."

Posted by mph at 10:41 AM

November 8, 2002

Heroes of the (Left Liberal) Revolution?

So, today I'm up to my gills in the left-leaning Web.

The post-election post-mortems are flying around. I occasionally go to visit a right wing site because their smirking and high-fiving is comforting: they believe in their heart of hearts that the political map's most leftward edge is Hillary Clinton, which means there's nowhere left for Democrats to go but the dustbin of history.

The least thoughtful righties, of course, believe Tuesday's mess wasn't the result of the Democrats dropping any balls... they believe Democrats are universally hated. Whatever... the smart ones at places like the National Review are already making the token significations against the dangers of hubris, lest it provoke a backlash.

But I'm sitting here, a 34-year-old dotcom worker who spends most of the day in his jammies, thinking that one of our most cherished political axioms, that you can't hope to change anything if you don't vote, is right in the same way saying the sky isn't usually a nice shade of pumpkin: there's more to it.

On Wednesday morning I said my hope (and that of others) was that the 2000 debacle would force Democrats to the table with the progressive voters they were getting really, really strong messages from in the form of Nader defections. It didn't happen. 9/11 hogtied them, and the analysts are beginning to note that Bush campaigned the hardest against some of his most friendly supporters in the Democratic party, letting the lefties be lefties while he managed to make rightward Democrats look like cubic zirconium Republicans: why vote for the cheap imitation when you can choose the genuine article and get a tax cut, too?

So when a political party becomes useless as even shrill opposition, it seems like voting becomes less useful than normal.

It's easy to be disgusted with "the Democrats" in the third person, complaining about how they keep selling "us" out, or how they're rudderless, or how they need to come to the table with progressives. But as long as they're "them" and I'm "us," it'll keep being that way.

A couple of nights ago, Michael B. and I came to independent but similar conclusions: whining about how bad the Democrats suck is as pointless as voting for Nader every year...it doesn't work, nothing changes, and we keep getting stiffed, which means we're left with the option of either pantomiming political involvement every two years and pulling the levers like monkeys hoping for a treat instead of a nasty shock, or becoming part of the problem in hopes of maybe getting to be part of the solution.

So Michael ran out and found the local Democratic Party Web page where you can volunteer to do stuff, and I'm fairly convinced that even if it's as a foot soldier or grunt, I'll be doing something. I wouldn't pass a background check, so it'll be as a "party worker." Maybe it'll end poorly: political parties are gigantic machines with entrenched players who know what they want and regularly crush obstacles or coopt resisters. But there's nothing much left. The Supreme Court crushed fusion voting years ago, affirming a de facto two party system, so we're stuck with what we've got.

I think I'd rather know that I was within spitting distance of the people who set the agenda long before I ever get a lever to pull than continue to deny votes to the candidates I like best and complain about the ones for which I feel forced to vote.

Quixotic? Alarmist? The Democrats will self-heal into a force for progressive voices in government?

Posted by mph at 5:54 PM

Television Convergence

Wednesday night we finished a West Wing episode where Tuesday didn't happen. Hearty but rueful laughs around the living room over how nice it is to have a fantasy land to escape to.

As an American Prospect article explains, The West Wing is losing viewers this season, maybe for the same reason the Democracts lost voters:

"The show's creative mastermind, Aaron Sorkin, apparently constructed this season as a critique of the "demonization of intellect" in American society, as he recently told Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly. [...] But instead of an abstract argument promoting intelligence as a virtue, each episode has become a scathing critique of the Bush administration as a cult of stupidity -- despite Sorkin's rather unconvincing protests that the show's Republican presidential candidate was not modeled after a specific contemporary politician. "

....in declaring war this season on the "demonization of intellect" in America -- code for declaring war on George W. Bush -- Sorkin has fallen into the same trap that also snared the Democratic party this past Tuesday: He and his fictional creations have begun defining their political agendas in terms of Bush. Of course, real-life Democrats may have hastened to align themselves with Bush -- on issues such as Iraq and even the tax cut -- while Sorkin has bent over backward to create distance. But in the end, the problems with this approach are the same: Bush has put the issues -- the importance of intelligence and passion for the presidency, the appropriate response to foreign threats -- on the table, and Democrats have fallen over themselves to respond. Like children stamping their feet to be heard, they have mimicked or rejected the positions of Republicans in a vain search for approval, too timid to strike out on their own. I think we should go to war with Iraq, too! Criticism is not the same as anti-patriotism! Intelligence is important! Stamp, stamp, stamp. "

Posted by mph at 4:34 PM

November 7, 2002

Virginia Gets the Sniper Case

TalkLeft reports that the sniper suspects are to be tried first in Virginia, and goes on to explain why the decision is troubling.

Posted by mph at 11:36 PM

Our Guinea Pigs Abroad

WIRED reports on forced/covert medical experimentation on GIs during Gulf War I:

"The results of our investigation showed a reckless disregard that shocked me," said Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV. "The Pentagon ... threw caution to the winds, ignoring all warnings of potential harm, and gave these (investigational) drugs to hundreds of thousands of soldiers with virtually no warnings and no safeguards.

"If that wasn't bad enough, they administered these drugs and vaccines in such a way that there is a very good chance they wouldn't have even worked for the intended purpose."

If the plight of a few hundred thousand GIs isn't of concern to you, WIRED has already reported that you might be next.

Posted by mph at 8:55 AM

November 6, 2002

How to Read Chinese Restaurant Menus

Via Flutterby! we get a guide to reading the menu in a Chinese restaurant.

Posted by mph at 4:56 PM

November 4, 2002

AOL Instant Messaging Back on the Reservation

eWeek reports that AOL enterprise instant messaging is out to the tune of $34 to $40 a seat for starters. The big features are access control, logging, and auditing.

It's amazing that it's taken this long for AOL to get around to going after this market. My own company has an informal AIM roster that gets used a lot. Jabber was trying hard to move on the business market while AOL slept, as well. It raises some questions, though, about the interaction of technology and culture and "why things succeed." IM has some appeal because it's more spontaneous than e-mail, feels a little less formal, and because your IM "presence" won't tend to be used against you by your boss because it's voluntary. Won't it be different if your 'welcome to the company' IT packet includes information about how to log in to IM the first time? I think it will.

e-mail has the advantage of being a little more asynchronous... you get a mail and, even though there are often ways of knowing whether you've read it or not, you can always not read it for a little while. An instant message demands immediate response. Phones, similarly, make no comment on whether you're there or not if you don't answer (except the tell-tale "voice mail picks up on the first ring" giveaway). IM says "Oh yeah... he's been IDLE for x minutes."

In fact, the more I think about how much I've used IM in the last few years as a home worker, the more I realize I participate in it at all because a.) it keeps my phone quiet, b.) I don't have to, and c.) I'd use it anyhow to keep in touch with friends.

On the plus side of maintaining IM presence, though, are a few things a corporate-managed IM setup will eliminate:

I don't seek to comment on the "rights" of companies to bring a technology like IM in the fold: of course they have the right. What I'm curious about is if this will be a case of a technology's broader social overtones being changed by formal uptake, and whether, perhaps, the simple sense that a formerly horizontal technology is now tied up in the hierarchical and vertical world of the corporate communications context will hurt its usefulness in the companies trying to bottle the vibe.

Posted by mph at 10:55 AM

November 3, 2002

Spirited Away

Animated feature from Princess Mononoke director. Gorgeous, enchanting, compelling.

Posted by mph at 2:32 PM