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October 28, 2003

The Job Thing

Good to read Ed's back in the land of the employed.

Posted by mph at 4:48 PM

Death of a Jabber Server

If this season had an official motto, it would have to be "Damnit, Jim, I'm an editor/columnist/student, not a Unix sysadmin." Which gives me a certain fresh perspective when I say:

It's 6:52 a.m. Do you know where your Jabber server is?

This morning, unfortunately, I did not. The Jabber server has taken to falling over at odd intervals, and my quick parses of the logs don't really indicate why that may be. Today, unfortunately, I'm under three deadlines, which means that I either spend a few hours trying to figure out why my hobby Jabber server won't stay upright, or I work (and pause long enough to note that I'm shutting the silly Jabber server down and killing it before it drains away more of my precious bodily flu... er... time).

It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have editors with whom IM is my primary means of communication, but I do. I'd also consider running a Jabber-capable multi-client like gAIM, but the Win32 builds run for all of five minutes before falling over. Trillian does Jabber, too... for $25. There are also third party jabber servers running Yahoo! and AIM conduits, but every time one of those protocols changes, there are several days worth of unconnectedness to contend with while the server admins decide to get around to fixing things. So my options boil down to:

  1. Run more than one chat client.
  2. Settle on a single chat network.
  3. Run a chat multi-client that keeps me in touch with wife and job, with other networks being a bonus.

Hm.

So, in keeping with my ongoing policy of ruthless simplification, the Jabber server is gone (or will be shortly, once I confirm I'm not orphaning anybody).

You can find me as pdxmph on AIM, pdxyeti on Yahoo!, and mph@puddingbowl.org on MSN. If I ever find a good client that can handle two of those three protocols (MSN is really, really optional) and jabber, I'll probably reactivate my jabber.org account.

This probably sounds fairly huffy and snitty, but it's honest-to-god not. If anything, I'm looking at the process of choking back on assorted services and functionality as sort of liberating, and I'm digging the sense of constructive impatience that's informing that process.

Time to get back to work.

Posted by mph at 8:47 AM

October 22, 2003

Amnionaut

This is the last entry from Stork, which was going to be a "babyblog." I decided to drop it, so I moved the entries over here. The next two after this provide a little more detail --mph

The June ultrasound inspired us to set aside worries about names, and we took to calling him "Gummy" for a while.



Ultrasounds from June (top) and August (bottom)
(click for bigger versions)

The August ultrasound session was a lot more involved, and we've since got more serious about names, but we're still generally opting for "Junior" or "The Kid" in all of our "I'm not going to           when Junior          " conversations.

Posted by mph at 8:40 PM

Hope, Counterhope

Another entry from Stork moved over here --mph

Six months into Alison's pregnancy, and I'm still in the grips of a "conserve hope" frame of mind. Putting anything on a page somewhere seemed like a really bad idea -- an expenditure of forebearance from the people upstairs.

When I was six or seven, I began to realize that things never come out quite how we expect. A child's tendency to come up with a theory for an observed phenomenon built around a plastic conception of the world, combined with a child's essential sollipsism, led me to believe that the disconnect between outcome and expectation involved actively wanting a thing to happen: It invoked some sort of automatic depradation hex from God or his angels. If you want it badly enough, it can't happen. So I practiced not wanting things.

If we were in the car on our way to an amusement park, I tried to concentrate on anything besides what the amusement park would be like, let alone getting to enjoy it, because imagining the park or imagining it being sunny would invite the park to end up sucky, or rain falling. The theory extended over time to include sporting events (don't consciously root for the home team), Christmas (free your mind of "Santa's" obligation to honor your wish list), and birthdays (don't hope for a surprise party).

The idea mutated over time to include the notion that if I could trick myself into hoping for the opposite outcome, the depradation hex would carry out my will.

Some paradoxes began to assert themselves as my notions about God and his angels got more nuanced. Someone laid the head trip on me that God knew everything I was thinking, which got me to thinking that my attempts to hope for opposite outcomes were a hopeless effort: God would surely recognize the seed of hope for a certain thing, even if it only briefly passed through my mind before honed thinking habits conjured up images of its opposite to stave off Divine Disappointment.

By the time I was a teenager, the fundamental irrationality of the whole thing was manifest, but "counter hoping" was a habit crafted over years, so it stayed with me as a nagging caution toward wanting anything too much. Then it evolved into simple pessimism.

I don't know what you'd call a belief system built around not wanting things because God will keep that exact thing from you. I'm inclined to think it could be called a "childhood neurosis." I do know I was heartened when I talked to a Jewish coworker a few months ago who told me baby showers before a baby is born are unheard of in her family (and many other Jewish families) because it's "bad luck" and invites all sorts of trouble: a culture-wide, time-honored, centuries-old variation on my own neurosis.

When it comes to this baby, even though I'm well over any magical sense of God witholding things I want, I'm still feeling like a hopeless neurotic in the grip of deep pessimism about the way the cosmos conducts itself. Wanting the baby "out loud" feels like an invitation to a sort of pain that simple adult jadedness won't insulate against.

Alison goes through the rollercoaster every day, too. The baby moves and she feels assured and relieved on some level she didn't know she needed to feel. He goes for a while without moving, and tension builds until he moves again.

Around the house, there are some manifestations of the sense that we're hanging in a balance, too, teetering between getting around to believing the baby's going to happen and living like something's going to happen but we don't know what. Small bursts of domestic energy have happened in the form of rearranging furniture, moving my computers out of the nursery, and scanning baby stuff in at Target. But other projects remain untouched: the nursery-to-be is in a shambles from me upending it to move out desks and servers, but I've closed the door and won't go in there except to bring out a book I need, or to feed the fish. I know I need to get in there sometime soon and truly prepare it, but there's that whole nagging sense of "what if?" What if it all gets straightened out and arranged and prepared, and things don't happen the way I hope? What if it becomes a big, empty reminder of a thing we both wanted so much and didn't get?

I'm writing a journal here, by the way, so I'm going to studiously avoid pretending that there's any closure on issues like this. I'm not over this fear, and probably won't be until it's proven groundless, which is a ways away. Phil tells me there are all sorts of anxious milestones even once a baby is born: that the worry about something going wrong is unavoidable, and I can see how that would be. I'm not digging that too much.

Posted by mph at 8:36 PM

Twitching

For those joining in who haven't seen the other site, here's an entry from Stork, which is getting rolled into Puddingtime! -mph

Sitting around on a Saturday night.

Just finished a viewing of "Heat," and I'm trying to think of a way to characterize what happened to Al Pacino. "Heat" wasn't his "last great role" or anything dramatic like that: he was headed downhill after being richly rewarded for AC-TING!! in "Scent of a Woman." But in "Heat" there's plenty to remind us of why he was great, and plenty to remind us that his conception of passion increasingly involves behavior I've never been exposed to among normal adults.

Alison says "What the hell is up with the baby?" and tugs her shirt up over her belly. It's moving around with sharp little motions, like when our cats twitch their flanks. She's been feeling the baby for weeks, and I've spent a lot of time sitting next to her with my hand on her belly trying to feel it, too. Frankly, it's a little annoying sometimes: I don't want to take it personally when the baby stops moving the second I put my hand on Al's belly, but that's been the way of it.

I try again, though, and this time I can feel him. First time ever.

So to catch people up, Alison and I are going to have a baby. Sometime in January. We know when the hell we conceived, but the doctors and midwives at the clinic have charts, tables, and special augur wheels they consult; and the ultrasound tech has her opinion, so we're just playing along and suspending all travel plans between the first and fifteenth of January, which ought to cover us in the absence of something more definitive from the prenatal brain trust.

Alison's showing in a big way. Today she wore a maternity top with horizontal stripes that made her look more pregnant than she ever has, which took me a second to absorb in a "Holy shit, I'm married and that's my pregnant wife" sort of way. I suppose it was good to get the tactile sensation along with it a few hours later.

Posted by mph at 8:32 PM

Death of a Mailing List

A while back, I set up a mailing list called "Scoop." I was out to see how far and wide the list would grow in terms of membership, and to keep in touch with friends. It was a pretty hands-off affair: I didn't dictate any particular behaviors, and I wanted to see if issues of netiquette would be resolved by the group dictating its own norms. I ended up getting pretty wrapped up in PuddingTime!, and the list eventually ran out of steam.

Yesterday I sent out a brief "end of life" mail for Scoop, which hasn't seen a new post since June, inviting subscribers to unsubscribe (or vote for its ongoing existence by not unsubscribing), with the caveat that I'd like to resurrect Scoop once people have had a few days to get around to killing their subscriptions. What I said, in part was:

"I'm discovering the limits of the weblog form for what I'd like to do, which is have discussions. Blogging is fun and all, and I've learned a lot about design and done a lot of thinking about stuff I hadn't had a reason to, but there's something very 'ex cathedra without the cathedral' about the whole blog enterprise that leaves me not commenting much on what I'm interested in because the act of putting stuff up on a web page seems so... formal."

This is, longer-time readers will note, a different take from my last post on the matter of blogging, in which I likened blogs to collages, and said of them:

"...people can eventually draw a thin, silvery little strand of connectedness to your collage... a relationship that is like the Web itself, but with links that are merely presented as hyperlinks when what they really are is expressions of some sort of kinship. I post a snarky one-liner about Andrew Sullivan wetting his pants at the prospect of going to war with Iran, and Snappy the Clam notes it, too, saying he got it from me, and he sends along a ping to let me (and people reading PuddingTime!) know: it's a small act of community, a way for a stranger to say "over here! I'm with you on that one!" There's a little self-serving "look over here for more like this!" or sometimes "look over here for why this clown you're reading is fucked!" going on now and then, but it establishes a state of relatedness and a sense that our ideas have become part of another collage of self-identification."

In the past seven months, I've given blogging a try based on that premise, and discovered a few things:

At the end of the day, as my free time slowly evaporates (I'm maintaining a pretty hefty amount of work on top of a full-time class load this fall), what I'm after isn't a place to air my views in public or wow the world with my outrageously good taste in links. I'm after a conversation that's personal, civil, and perhaps a little more private than the simple obscurity of maintaining a minor blog, because that privacy affords the opportunity to make mistakes and play around with ideas.

The other half of the equation is that whole "ex cathedra without the cathedral" bit. Try as I might, my sense of publishing to any public medium (like the web, or a newspaper, or a public bulletin board) is that there's an implied level of weight to the act of publication. It signifies something to commit words to a public venue. There's an implicit comment in the act: "Pay attention, this is important. You need to know this."

Perhaps it's the uncertainty of impending parenthood, my re-immersion in school, a moderately humbling setback on the professional front, or simple humility, but it's getting harder for me to argue that much of what I've got to say here is particularly worthy of preservation for the ages. As an e-mail to a small group of friends? Sure... that's what friends do: They bend each others' ears with the trivial and commonplace. As an enterprise where considerable technical skill and time are consumed for the purpose of publishing, presenting, and syndicating that stuff? I'm less confident cluttering the web is the right thing to do, even if it is "cheap" at first glance, and even if the web is technically unclutterable (or simply cluttered beyond repair at this point).

Perhaps it's also the large volume of trivia I disseminate here, and its impact on other outlets. I've written one book, and it was satisfying to hold it in my hands when it was done, even though I swore at the time I'd never do it again. A little ways down the road, I'm less sure of that. I got an oblique "What are you going to be when you grow up?" question a few days ago, and realized that it'd better be a writer, or I'll end up pretty unhappy. I can just about resign myself to letting friends see writing that matters to me before it's "done," but that's an intolerable prospect when the potential audience widens to random passers-by. Some people thrive on public performance. I find it messes up my inner compass beyond reckoning. If I spend my creative time throttling my output so I can bear to put it up on the web, I'm squandering it. And I'm already halfway through my allotted three score and ten.

I don't think this means "it's the death of PuddingTime!," but rather that I've got an eye on how to trim out some of the trivia and reapproach with an eye to using it for things on which I've devoted a lot of time and attention. If I'm going to presume a claim on your reading time, it's the least I can do.

Posted by mph at 3:03 PM

Simplification

Sort of in line with that entry about finding a mail host is a wave of simplification I think I'm about to inflict on Puddingtime! itself. Here are some things on the chopping block:

This race for simplicity is driven by a few things, but impending paternity is the big one. Too many loose ends make keeping up a pain, and keep me from writing, which is what matters most. The rest is overblown vanity plate stuff that's sort of nifty to do but ultimately distracting from the whole point (about which more later today, since I've got to get this week's Unix roundup in the can before heading out to class).

Posted by mph at 12:55 PM

October 21, 2003

Just Asking

So, we're looking into lightening the administrative load around here by handing off a few of the weblogs to another host (I've already got a volunteer), and shutting down a few of the site attractions that don't do much. The jabber server, wiki, and PuddingTime! would all remain intact, but we're curious about our mail options.

We don't want to hand e-mail off to anything other than a professional hosting service. My own status as a freelancer means mail has to work perfectly unless I want to cultivate a reputation as a flake, and I've got enough time invested in the puddingbowl.org domain that I don't want to settle on the address my ISP gives me.

Just as a conversation starter, I'll note that Yahoo!'s "Personal Address" option looks like a decent deal: $10/year for just having it handle my domain, plus another $30/year to boost the number of available addresses and get some decent features tacked on. The drawback is Yahoo!'s reliance on POP3 instead of IMAP for external access via a mail client.

There's also Fastmail, which comes out to $40/year for a few more features plus IMAP, but without some of the useful features Yahoo! integrates, like a calendar and notifications.

Anyone know of any other mail hosting services that handle personal domains?

Posted by mph at 4:03 PM

Like "People" for Fanboys

A few days ago a friend of mine mentioned the unfortunate legal condition of one of the Wachowski brothers, who won't be seeing any money from "The Matrix" or its followups until a final profit figure can be determined and a court can decide how much his wife, who is suing for divorce, gets. The tidbit is a bit of fanboy gossip, indistinguishable from any other celebrity dish that turns up in "People" or "US," with the difference being the association of the subject with a cool movie (as opposed to, say, a Hugh Grant movie), and its appearance in "WIRED".

The reader gets a rehash of what deep thinkers and reclusive dudes the Wachowskis are so the author can have the comfort of saying he was "just doing a profile" before getting to the purpose of the piece, which is to air lurid stories about Larry Wachowski's apparent thing for kink and gender-bending. It would come off, by virtue of placement, as an afterthought, if the author (or an editor who realized the piece would be losing readers left and right once they realized there was nothing they haven't read in "Newsweek" or "Time" within the past three years) hadn't managed to include a reference to the lurid stuff near the top.

What's sort of sad about the magazine's choice is that when Thomas Frank took "WIRED" apart in "Commodify Your Dissent", he was doing so because he despised the ideology of the publication, which provided something that required an answer. Looking at its descent into scandal-mongering, I'm feeling the urge to say "At least it had an ideology, once." At the moment, it appears to be reduced to running "unauthorized biographies" of the kind cobbled together from ancient interviews, slapped onto cheap paper, and shoved into the impulse buy endcaps at the local Kroger.

Pretty pathetic.

Posted by mph at 3:45 PM

Expressionism, Fanboys, Clacky Keys, etc.

I haven't had a lot to say lately. Here's a rundown of some things o' note, though:

And that's about that.

Anyone interested in a "movie talk" mailing list? If so, drop me a line. Nothing snotty. Just your basic "normal folks talking about movies" list. If you already know of one deserving of a few new members, please let me know.

Posted by mph at 12:01 AM

October 16, 2003

All Hail iTunes?

Update: Rats! "In the Year 2525" is only available as a crappy techno remix! iTunes Music Store sucks! But it has "Ballad of the Green Berets"! iTunes Music Store Rocks! (ad infinitum).

For a more big picture assessment of iTunes Music Store (which involves a deal with AOL), there's also a report from my colleague at sv.internet.com.


Just finished downloading iTunes for Windows. A few days ago I predicted it would be a buggy, unstable mess. I don't know whether it is or not... that will take a few days, but here's the basic rundown:

iTunes is clever about building a library of available tracks. It'll discover anything in a "My Music" folder, and it can be pointed whereever else you might keep mp3s.

Burning to CD "just worked." I built a list of files, drug them to the sidebar, and clicked on the "burn" button. About five minutes later I had an audio CD.


iTunes for Windows

The killer feature as far as our household is concerned is probably music library sharing. We have one Windows desktop machine where I do most of my day work if it involves a word processor; and we have an iBook with an Airport card. After I had iTunes find all of my mp3s and add them to its library, it was a simple matter to open up the preferences panel, toggle a few options, and allow other iTunes users on the network to get at my library:


Setting up sharing on iTunes for Windows

The iBook spent an extra five seconds starting up iTunes before it found the library, then it was able to get at the tracks and play them over the network as if they were on its own hard drive:


iTunes on the iBook with access to a Windows-based library

That's all done through Rendezvous, which makes things finding each other on the network (like computers finding printers, or file shares, or instant messaging users) simpler.

iTunes for Windows also has full access to the iTunes Music Store, which provides $0.99/song downloads. The store's catalog still has some gaps of note, but it's improving. The best part of that service for my own uses are the liberal burning rights: There are limits on the total number of times a given playlist can be burned to CD, so's to prevent mass duplication of a whole CD, but the number of custom mixes that can be burned is unlimited.

This isn't going to please the "boycott the RIAA" element, for whom there can be no compromise. It isn't going to matter to people who remain unconcerned with the potential legal consequences of getting caught sharing enough files to catch the attention of the RIAAs litigators. It works for me, though. There are more good songs than there are good albums, and iTMS lets me get at them for a price that's probably reasonable for now (though we'll see if it goes down once the market gets competitive).

Finally, as a player, iTunes isn't bad. The interface on Windows is pretty much a clone of what shows up on a Mac, with the exception of the title bar and the open/close/minimize widgets. I suffered a little interface shear when I closed its window the first time: on a Mac, it keeps playing music because the application isn't truly exited. On Windows, close means "close this window and exit."

The closest thing I can compare it to at this point is MusicMatch Jukebox, which costs money, arrives in full-on advertising mode, and has an interface from hell. There's not much of a conversation. If the bottom doesn't fall out of iTunes, I'm done with MusicMatch: iTunes is cleaner, simpler, and nicer to use, and it has the benefit of talking to both desktop platforms I'm running here.

Posted by mph at 1:14 PM

October 15, 2003

The Forms They Are a Changin'

A Maryland paper has one of its reporters filing blog-like entries as he covers the John Muhammad sniper trial. It'll no doubt be hailed as a victory for the blogosphere by the "form = substance" crowd, but I think working professional journalists will be more interested in the impact this has on the traditional voice and style of news narrative.

Covering an unfolding story can be really irritating when it's done in the traditional "lead with the new stuff/invert the pyramid/recap what you know" mode, because some days it seems like a colossal waste of time and reinvention of wheels several times re-invented to do it that way. It's also deadly dull for readers, who start suffering from feelings of deja vu once they get to the part of the story that's recap, which can eat half an item on slow days.

I'm less excited by this as a sign that blogs have won some sort of legitimacy (a point the "form = substance" people will continue to dither about every time a blog pops up in some company or political organization, even if it all it does is reprint press releases with the word "permalink" at the bottom somewhere) and more as a sign that some newspapers are willing to look outside themselves to experiment with new forms.

Posted by mph at 2:47 PM

The Lizard in Winter

Mozilla 1.5 and Firebird 0.7 came out today.

Three years ago, I wrote an editorial about Mozilla. The project was still about 18 months away from releasing a "final" version, and it was under constant criticism. Detractors said the project lacked clear direction, that it was forsaking the clear need for a browser that wasn't Internet Explorer, that it was over-featured, that the developers were pursuing an egg-headed goal while ignoring a clear and pressing need among end users, that Konqueror was kicking its ass anyhow, and that, worst of all, it was a barfy mess to use. My own qualified support of the Mozilla project was built on a pair of beliefs:

  1. Mozilla was cross-platform, making it more viable across more computers than Konqueror.
  2. Mozilla had mindshare, resources from Netscape, and developer momentum other projects did not.

Since then, both my points remain valid, though there are some qualifications. The guts of Konqueror have gone on to drive Apple's Safari, Mozilla is still "supported" by Netscape in the form of money and server space, and developer momentum still exists. The core of Mozilla is in use in several browser projects, proving that it's a usable engine for other browsers.

It's probably hard for people who've not strayed from Windows very far to appreciate the hysteria that surrounded the Mozilla project.

A year before I wrote my column, one of my predecessors at Linux Today wrote his own panicked call to arms in support of a decent browser for Linux, arguing that if Mozilla didn't succeed, Linux was doomed.

"This is the battle that could cost us the war," he wrote. "If we come together and push all of our might toward a Free Web Browser for Linux, we have a good chance of winning this battle. If we fail, we will lose the war."

For those not versed in Linux codetalk, "the war" is with Microsoft, and as far as the browser front goes, it's now 2003 and there's little indication that either Microsoft lost (it did not) or Linux collapsed on the desktop (it's no less popular than Macintosh, regardless of the stammering qualifications Mac-heads will throw at anyone who brings that up). Mozilla continues to move along, but it didn't crush anything except a few minor browser projects, and it's taken its share of dings, too. The Macintosh-only version of the project, for instance, was clearly derailed when Apple released Safari and sucked all the oxygen out of the "Anything But Microsoft" space Mozilla had dominated.

Mozilla has also undergone a change in course (which its fans will tell you isn't really a change at all), moving to "end-user-friendly" versions of the project called "Firebird" (the browser) and "Thunderbird" (the e-mail component). At the same time, the project has been promising an end to development of the Mozilla browser suite proper, and a focus on what end users need.

I reserve judgement on Mozilla's hopes at this point. I've been a cheerleader for the project more than a few times, but it's a hard sell to make in a Windows/Internet Explorer dominated world. Mozilla has some nice features, sure, but people have been making do with Explorer for so long that there are questions of inertia. There's also a question of whether the people running the show at the Mozilla Project really know how to proceed from here. It can't be coincidental that as Mozilla matured, they began casting about for a new direction. With a solid, reliable browser on their hands, they decided it was time to pour their efforts into something new, reintroducing bugs and problems their long-time userbase had endured and patiently filed bug reports on for years.

Perhaps even more meaningful than my own luke-warm reception of the project's latest effort, though, is Sam's list of his Top Eleven Firebird Annoyances. Sam's more of a Mozilla partisan than I ever managed, even at my most vocal and public, and it's hard to miss the note of fatigue in his comments.

One of the great themes of open source software development is that its projects are often started to scratch an itch, and remain viable to the extent they become useful to others who want to help make them better. I wonder if Mozilla hasn't moved into a stage where the itch being scratched is less "build a solid browser with optional messaging components" and more "continue to experiment with developing a browser." It's ironic that the latter is being equated with taking better care of end users, who were probably hoping they could forget about chasing Mozilla downloads for a while once the project grew up, something the former was finally set to allow.

Posted by mph at 12:14 PM

In Cartoonish Terms

In the past few days my Dune Prequel screed has provoked a cordial e-mail from a friendly stranger and a nod from someone on alt.fan.dune.

penny_dune.jpg

So thanks to Ed for noticing that Penny Arcade has wrapped up the anti-prequel trifecta.

Posted by mph at 7:54 AM

October 13, 2003

We've Been Assimilated

For folks keeping score on the IM front, puddingbowl.org's Jabber server now has an MSN messaging gateway established. If you use MSN, I can be reached at mph@puddingbowl.org on that network.

As always, I'm inviting anyone who's on MSN or another IM network to consider hitting the link above and trying out a Jabber client. With our Jabber server, you can still talk to all your contacts from AOL, Yahoo!, or MSN while transitioning to an open standard in messaging that doesn't involve support of the overall brokenness of instant messaging over the Internet.

Posted by mph at 2:48 PM

October 12, 2003

Spam Comes to Frogtown

Sorry to report that there's a wave of spam sweeping MovableType blogs, including this one. I haven't bothered to check the logs out too closely to find out if it's a bot or just a jackass with a browser and a lot of time on his sticky little hands, but I've taken a few steps to fix it. In the mean time, my apologies if you find yourself following a comment to a "barely legal lolitas" page.

If you're maintaining a MT blog, a plugin is on the way, hopefully tomorrow, to handle both the spam and some related ease-of-use issues where deleting offending comments are concerned.

As a by-the-by update, Electrolite has been having the same problems from the same people as we have. We agree with him when he says:

"I would be utterly opposed to personally harrassing Guy McFarland, who lives at 9 Dancing Cloud Ct. #42, Destin, Florida, 32541. I certainly would oppose any and all efforts to pester him via his phone number, (850) 269-3388. Goodness, that would be ever so wrong. How we would deplore that."

It's the anabaptist upbringing, see?

Posted by mph at 1:04 PM

Iceblog Lives

Beth's headed back to Antarctica.

Posted by mph at 9:05 AM

October 11, 2003

Kill something, anyhow.

Back from the cheap show of "Kill Bill."

After "Jackie Brown," I thought Quentin Tarantino had perhaps grown up a little. In fact, I almost managed to feel sorry for him when that movie didn't succeed in the box office. His audience, it seemed, had turned on him when he tried to tell a story with real human beings acting like people (even if it wasn't really his story to begin with).

So when Tarantino went away for a while after "Jackie Brown" and contented himself with pushing his brand in the form of "presenting" and writing, I hoped he might come back with more of the human warmth that drove that movie.

Prior to "Jackie Brown," my feelings toward his work were more mixed. I respect "Pulp Fiction," but I was away in Korea the year it came out, so I never felt quite as touched by the hysteria it seemed to spark. I've sat in classes where the word "brilliant" gets trotted out to describe it, but it seems the film's impact is described more in terms of market effect as time goes by.

"Reservoir Dogs" was problematic to me, and contributed to the unease I've had with Tarantino, which has centered around that movie's dogged emptiness.

So it's 2003 and Tarantino's out pimping "Kill Bill" as the movie he's always wanted to make, and I'm inclined to say he's done little more than successfully relegate "Jackie Brown" to the status of "anomaly," lost what he established in the way of an authorial reputation with "Pulp Fiction," and reconnected with the gore and nihilism of "Reservoir Dogs," only with a bigger budget and a new-found sweet tooth for martial arts flicks that's a little transparent in the wake of four years of post-Matrix hysteria.

It's pretty to look at much of the time, but its extreme style occasionally misses in a way that sucks all the life out of the room for a few painful beats. There are buckets of gore and there's a lot of noise. Frankly, it's not hard to imagine that little ten-year-old Quentin was probably the kid on the school bus who took the most delight in telling "What's grosser than gross?" jokes. After a while, the violence moves from flinch-inducing to something past numbing.

When Jerry Bruckheimer's name turns up in the credits of this sort of concussive, bruising, over-stylized noise, we wrinkle our noses because Bruckheimer and other purveyors of grotesque spectacle are too overtly populist and pandering in their efforts. They swing for the box office bleachers, make a lot of money, and they're justly derided as schmaltz merchants. Tarantino, on the other hand, will probably get a pass for this: His pandering is aimed at an audience convinced that all the bloodshed and mayhem are merely ironic, and smug in the knowledge that wearing an ill-fitting "Dukes of Hazzard" t-shirt is an act of supreme authenticity.

Posted by mph at 12:03 AM

October 9, 2003

iTunes for Windows Launch Next Week

Apple's getting ready to launch iTunes Music Store for Windows next week.

Off the hip prediction? MusicMatch's own download service launch forced Apple's hand. Once people settle on a service, getting them unentrenched will be a challenge. If Apple doesn't move to save the market it provided a proof-of-concept for by getting into the Windows space, it's doomed. I expect iTunes for Windows will be a buggy mess meant to act as a four or six week placeholder for a 1.1 release that actuall works well.

I'd love to be wrong. I hate MusicMatch and I'd like it if my Mac-based iTMS account could actually interoperate with one on my Win box.

Posted by mph at 11:49 AM

It's Hell, But Now I Own My Own Piece of It

So IM sucks. On the other hand, it's sort of cool, too. Over the past three or four years, it's been a happy medium between the phone and e-mail for most of my professional relationships. It's a fragmented, over-contested mess and a pain in the ass, but when it works it's handy. Yeah, it's too messed up to warrant hanging a permanent identity on it (though I have to admit a sneaking admiration for Microsoft's whole Passport gambit), but it's not too messed up to work with.

So the science project over the weekend and early this week was getting more than just basic Jabber services up and running. Jabber itself is easy: build it, replace a few occurences of localhost in the configuration files, and make sure to open a hole to port 5222 on the server that's running it. On a Debian machine running Woody, a running jabber server's just an apt-get install jabber away. Getting things like AOL and Yahoo support for it are less simple for now, but doable, so I'm documenting that part of it on the JabberOnDebian page.

Meanwhile, if you do IM, here's a collection of addresses to try while I pound on Puddingbowl's new jabber server:

If you're curious about Jabber, go grab a client and feel free to open an account on the puddingbowl.org server. Most of your IM-using friends won't be on Jabber, but you can get at them using our AIM and Yahoo transports, and you'll be doing The Right Thing™ by supporting an open standard anyone can use vs. a closed system that gets broken at the convenience of its owners.

Update: A weird bug in my router's software kept one of the jabber server's ports blocked off. If you've been drawing a jabber blank on trying to connect to puddingbowl.org, that's why. Fixed now.

Posted by mph at 9:58 AM

October 7, 2003

Clay Henry Could Kick Jared's Ass

Slate asks of Subway's Jared Could they really get rid of him? and goes on to wonder at the latest spate of "What Would Jared Do" Subway ads. (It includes links to the ads, which I know for a fact pk is dying to re-view.)

Posted by mph at 11:50 AM

Get Your Feed On

:tpm: now has a real RSS feed all its own. Works great in :nnw:, but the plugin I use to parse feeds for the sidebar doesn't like it much. I think I'll stick with Ed's.

Posted by mph at 10:21 AM

No Cluetrain Whistlestop Here

There's now an Official Bush/Cheney '04 Blog. Not one but four RSS feeds, and entries by George W. Bush, er, GeorgeWBush.com him... itself.

Having struggled long and hard to work out the best categories for PuddingTime! (it truly takes flare to think these things up), I'm pretty envious of George W. Bush, er, GeorgeWBush.com, because we didn't think to have a "compassion" category. No blogroll, though, so we won't be able to tell who, alongside Rush Limbaugh, is a "national treasure".

Ever the businessman, Dave Winer is already on hand to bash his competitors, which, I suppose, is better than having to read a bunch of self-righteous "the revolution will be blogged" claptrap about what will probably amount to something as personal as any other press release or mass-printed fundraising shakedown. Were the site running Radio, I'm sure he'd have told us it marked a triumph of the human voice and better living through software.

Long live the revolution.

Shop as usual.

Posted by mph at 8:37 AM

October 6, 2003

"Left... no.... right!"

Just got around to finding where my GPS receiver's data cable went after The Great Office Move, so I was able to download our route through the corn maze and draw it on a map (click it for a bigger picture):

I'm still not sure why I continue to be entertained by going somewhere, making the GPS record where I've been, then going home and loading the route onto the computer. It's not like we're sitting around saying "See that little jog in the track down there in the lower right? That's where you made that funny joke about John Ashcroft!"

Software Plug: It doesn't have the fancy trail plotting or pretty pictures of National Geographic's "Topo!" series, but ExpertGPS is really nice for managing waypoints, routes, and tracks, and its basic aerial photos and topo mapping are just fine for most purposes. It's great for a quick visual sense of a geocache's location, or as a way to orient on remote locations via a massive database of waypoints.

Posted by mph at 11:30 AM

October 5, 2003

Things They Didn't Teach Me, #452341

How to Write a Thank-You Note explains its subject in clear, lucid, and no-nonsense terms. Advice like

"Beware the just writing trap. You are not 'just writing to say as in I am just writing to say; thatís stating the obvious. If the giver is reading, clearly you have already written. Therefore use the present-perfect tense, which essentially means write as if whatever you say is happening in the moment."

tickles the part of me that wants to be The Economical Writer and comes off like gold tablets from on high at the same time.

It probably seems like common sense to everyone else, but I'll be damned if I ever had that sort of thing explained to me. I wasn't raised by wolves, exactly . . . I just don't think I ever got the block of instruction on how to say "thank you" without feeling like I was either being too simple about it (and offending people by seemingly undervaluing their generosity), or too effusive (which I assume would make people as uncomfortable as effusiveness does me).

And while I'm on this, I'll confess to thank-you notes just being one of a hundred things I go around convinced everyone but me is doing. I had this conversation with pk a few months back when we got around to swapping birthday info. I told him I'm certain there's a huge community of social corresponders passing around friendly cards and notes on a daily basis, living gracious lives of simple courtesy and quiet bonhomie. I think part of that conviction comes from the trauma of living in a small, southern East Coast town for a few years where it was hard to go a day without hearing a lamentation on someone else's lack of social graces from one of the young professionals I worked with.

It never occurred to me, as these things never seem to, that all the complaining should have been taken as a sign that everyone around me was messing up, too. :mefi:

Posted by mph at 6:59 PM

Instant Mangling

A few days ago, Ed had something useful to say about the state of instant messaging, which is that it's what e-mail could have been had it remained where it used to be, as a service offered by each network provider. In other words, it's a balkanized mess.

I certainly remember my first major dialup service account: it was with Quantum Link. It involved a 300 baud modem and all the basic tools we've come to expect, including a sort of instant messaging and e-mail.

In Q-Link's hermetically sealed system, there wasn't an outside world to communicate with. E-mail was between Q-Link users, as it was for the people living in Compuserve, Delphi, Prodigy, Dow Jones, and the rest. I graduated from Q-Link well before it morphed into America Online, and I remember being vaguely mystified the first time I encountered a VAX VMS system that could send mail messages to other systems via Bitnet ca. 1991. A year or so later, I had a bona fide "Internet account" with a university, and that was that: I could deal with e-mail about the same as I do today. If I had someone's address, I could mail him. It worked from a dumb terminal, it worked from a PC running Pegasus, and it worked from South Korea, even if I did once clock a message at 28 hours when an ocean storm killed the Korea/Japan link briefly.

Wish I could say the same about IM.

My current IM outlay includes accounts on three different services (AOL, Yahoo!, and my own Jabber server). AOL's mostly for work contacts, Yahoo!'s for some friends, and Jabber's because if there's another soul who wants to use it, I won't be the one to discourage him.

I don't know what sort of consensus process drives the stereotypical online teen who communicates with all of her friends over IM. Perhaps simple adolescent pecking order hierarchies assert themselves, so if Heather, Heather, and Heather are all using Yahoo!, Veronica and Martha know they'd better as well. As Ed also noted in a chat we had on the matter, adults are harder to sway. He's got AOL and Yahoo friends who are intransigent because they're just set in their ways (and that's fair enough), so if he wants to stay in touch that way, he better have an account on both networks.

The latest irritation happened when Yahoo broke outside access to its network, forcing client developers to scramble to figure out how to reconnect. It broke my favorite client for several days.

Personally, I think I've had it. I've got an e-mail address and it works reliably enough: IM is just enough of a hassle that I won't pin any part of my online identity on it.

Posted by mph at 2:13 AM

October 4, 2003

All You Can Eat

At some point in the past year, I picked up the habit of renting or borrowing entire t.v. series seasons. I think it started when a few episodes of "Angel" got us interested in making sure we knew everything there was to know about the Buffyverse. Since then, we've been through the available seasons of "Angel," most of a season of "Bablyon 5" (I'm sorry... I just don't get the appeal), the first season of "The Simpsons," "Six Feet Under," and "Dark Angel." We're also nursing a fairly hefty "Sopranos" jones, and that's what motivated me to go ahead and subscribe to Netflix. We're in line for the fourth season, which will beat kicking and scratching at the video store. They'll come when they come.

So I've got a new sidebar item down there on the left, powered by Oscar Hill's Netflix Suite plugin, which shows what's in my movie queue. As a sidenote, if you google for "netflix movable type," you'll probably end up with Ben Trott's plugin, which appears to be broken at the moment. Oscar's works. He really oughta go ahead and either submit it to plugins directory or at least tell Ben what he did to fix it.

Update: Well, Oscar's plugin spews a lot of error messages when the indexes are rebuilt with a script I've got to do that. I won't call my endorsement complete until I can debug, or see what Oscar knows about it.

Update redux: Yes, there's a fix for Ben's plugin posted in the directory. Yes, I applied it. No, it did not work for me. Also, the error messages I'm getting as a result of running an index rebuild with mt-rebuild.pl can be fixed by adding a simple redirect of stderr to /dev/null, like so:

mt-rebuild.pl -mode=index -blog_id=2 -template="Main Index" > /dev/null 2>&1

This has the effect of killing all error messages, so it's a good idea to perhaps run one ringer rebuild at a specific and odd time now and then just to make sure other problems haven't crept in over the course of adding plugins or making changes.

Posted by mph at 10:53 PM

"It says we're lost."

Spent part of the Saturday at a local "corn maize."

pumpkin_green.jpg
(click for more)

It wasn't a bad operation: A local farm uses it to get folks in to buy pumpkins, take hay rides, and shop for fresh produce. Little kids everywhere.

We took the GPS receiver, which did help us know where we'd been while we were roaming down yet another dead end lane. We also got stuck behind a family being flogged forward by a man we decided to refer to as "Type A Dad." Truly an epic display of working jaw muscles and a clenched ass.

Posted by mph at 10:27 PM

You Have Ten Seconds to Comply

Yep, another link to paying work, but I'm doing it this time because it isn't every day you get to mention the bloody machine gunning scene in "Robocop" while writing about intellectual property infringement.

Posted by mph at 9:01 PM

October 2, 2003

Document Document Document

PuddingTimeNotes is a wiki entry for keeping track of how Puddingtime is put together with MovableType, which plugins get used, and some design considerations. I'm also keeping a list of macros I've put together on the MtMacros page.

If you know MT very well and see me crying out for help in bold case, by all means hit the edit link and help me out.

Here, by the way, is the source of this entry as entered in MT, just to illustrate what a simple macro can do:

<p><pwiki>PuddingTimeNotes</pwiki> is a wiki entry for keeping track of how Puddingtime is put together with MovableType, which plugins get used, and some design considerations. I'm also keeping a list of macros I've put together on the <pwiki>MtMacros</pwiki> page.

Now it's time to go pick apples.

Posted by mph at 11:40 PM

October 1, 2003

PuddingWiki Updated

PuddingWiki has been updated and improved a little.

It's been around for about two years and still gets the occasional content update. Thanks to some new features, I think it'll end up being tied in with Puddingtime! a little more often than it was in the past, and I'll start using it more.

Posted by mph at 2:52 PM

"Baby, if you ever wondered. . ."

. . . wondered what ever became of the original music in "WKRP in Cincinnati" reruns, that is . . . the answer is livin' on the web at A Guide To Music Changes In "WKRP IN CINCINNATI". Sample entry:

39. "The Americanization of Ivan"
Music changes: Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" replaced.
Dialogue changes: Every time Ivan quotes a line from the song "Tiny Dancer," it's replaced. At one point he calls Bailey "blue jean baby"; this has been changed to something that sounds like "Bejing baby." Ivan's line "Hold me closer, tiny dancer" is replaced twice; the first time (to Bailey) it becomes "Hold me closer, [mumble mumble]," the second time (to Les) it becomes "Hold my order, terrible dresser."

Why? Blame ASCAP.

(via bitrot)

Posted by mph at 7:52 AM