« November 2003 | Main | January 2004 »

December 30, 2003


The really discouraging thing about The Register's coverage of Apple's dud iBooks is that Apple is several iterations into the snow iBook design, and yet the problems that plagued the line when it first arrived are still happening. I was pretty much set to "go Mac" for my laptop a second time, but I've already been through the whole "dead display" thing (twice, in fact), and I'm not so sure I feel like putting up with it again. Especially since AppleCare would represent a 25% markup on the price of whatever I buy.

Isn't this sort of weird for Apple? I know the conventional wisdom is to let Apple get a few revs of a new design under its belt before bothering, but the snow iBooks have been through at least three revisions and a jump in the CPU. What's up?

Posted by mph at 10:30 PM

Home is Where This Guy Is Not

After the first few sentences, I thought the ever good-natured Ed had composed a gentle rebuttal to my own post regarding the perils of coffee house wi-fi by relating the friendly bonhomie of his Macintosh fellow travellers in an uplifting tale of public computing. Then I read the rest.

One "computing community" was enough for me.

Posted by mph at 9:23 AM

AAA Itinerary-Waving Anarchists

"So I sez 'Buddy... hand over the almanac!'"

Posted by mph at 12:31 AM

December 29, 2003

'Round the Blogroll Redux

Early start on resolutions this year by cleaning out my NewzCrawler and NetNewsWire lists and adding a few links to the sidebar.

New on the blogroll:

Gretchin Lair, whom I met through Sven (whose link I've changed to reflect his personal blog). Gretchin and I come in contact most through stuff to do with Sven's assorted projects on the puddingbowl server. Good people. I read her personal blog frequently, and she falls under the "people who blog whom I've met" rule for my blogroll. Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo is the token political blog. Polytropos covers stuff that interests me, and he's a friend of a friend.

I've added buttons to the side for links to the OPML and HTML versions of my personal reading list, which has also undergone some heavy revising, mostly to purge it of political blogs and feeds, which have managed to make a normally exciting time of the political cycle an aggravating experience. "People reacting to a reaction to Howard Dean reacting to some news" makes for stultifying and boring reading, especially when, at the end of chasing down the root of the entire flapdoodle concerned, there's nothing there and I realize I've just spent ten minutes reading a TCP-enabled game of telephone.

So the political short list is now:

These folks, I should point out, are not all-season political friends. My patience with the crew at Hit and Run, for instance, would probably be exhausted much more quickly if it weren't for the war in Iraq: I'm not particularly thrilled with the stupid "massive concentrations of arbitrary authority and power are fine as long as they aren't originating with devil gubmint" reductionism I pick up in its discussion area. I think a lot of liberal bloggers are becoming far too glib in their quest to out-soundbite the right.

So I guess I'm in the market for good political blogs: Source-linking, thoughtful, and informed all score big. Reactive links to Ann Coulter's latest outrage are automatic disqualifiers. Snippy attempts to ding Instapundit for his typical gutless innuendo and "heh"-ing are also disqualifiers. Pages that link to mirrors of Andrew Sullivan's barebacking ad are also unwelcome.

Outside the political arena, the rest of the list is much skinnier than it was a week ago, when I had 75 or 80 sites. I took a few out I wish I hadn't, so they'll be going back in as I miss them over the next few days. New are Language Log and Snappy the Clam (who isn't new to me, and who continues to provide about the right amount of snappage at some of the more self-satisfied prats roaming the blogosphere).

Dropping in currency to the point I think they'll be going away are Slashdot, which isn't keeping up with much of anything these days; and MetaFilter, because its political stuff is almost invariably lame and distracting.

Sites that don't bother to syndicate aren't on the list, either. I've got a few of them bookmarked and I'll see about a way of including them in a list somehow.

Posted by mph at 1:11 PM

December 28, 2003

Home Is Where No One Else Is

There's been an embarrassment of riches in wireless connectivity in the 'hood lately. Cooper's, the generally pleasant (more on that later, once we position "pleasant" and "coffee shop" in relationship to each other) and mostly undiscovered coffee shop down on Stark St. has an unheralded access point (it feels like it's connected to a sloooow consumer-grade line, though, and the owners prefer the mocha-n-laptop crowd stay away between 11 and 1), and Powell's on Hawthorne has one, too (haven't tried it out). The Starbucks a block away from there has a T-Mobile access point (but it costs money). And there are always the Personal Telco nodes bobbing in and out of view, depending on where I am.

Ed's been enjoying a similar scavenger hunt for bandwidth in his own locale.

The problem with looking for good coffee shops with wireless connectivity is the whole "coffee shop" part, though. For instance:

If I've got to go to the bathroom, am I going to leave my laptop sitting out at my table for thieves or the merely clumsy to take/ruin? No. So it's getting packed up and it's coming with me.

Cell phone talkers. At their worst in coffee shops. Gotta be heard above the espresso machine. My primitive ape brain responds to other primates acting out about their status (reflected in intonation or the mere angle at which their head is cocked), too, and makes me want to jump up on the table and yell "ook ook!" or perhaps lick them on the forehead in a show of dominance. No way to get work done while I'm struggling with millions of years of our common heritage as monkeys. It doesn't matter that no one thinks a cell phone confers status anymore, because people have mannerisms when they use cell phones that originated when cell phones did confer status. In other words, the inward turn of the head, the outward cock of the foot, and slow rotation around the trunk all mean "notice me! I have wealth and riches enough to talk on the phone anywhere, and a life important enough to require this ability." Ten years of cellphone nonverbal cues + ten million years of social evolution = if I look at you acting like that any longer, I will bite you and take your woman.

Dogs. Cooper's is "dog friendly," and there seems to be at least one loud dog exhibitionist buzzing through there with a curious, panting, too-damn-big-for-the-city mutt per hour. Working with even a relatively well-restrained dog around is impossible. At least, I'll admit that when an unfamiliar dog head suddenly thrusts itself into my space to smell my crotch, I have a hard time blowing it off in favor of thinking up a synonym for "enterprise." And in a dog-friendly place, jumping up and yelling "What the fuck!" while splashing a hot mexi-mocha all over the mutt to teach it a valuable lesson becomes my problem. That's fucked up, but enough dog owners are already o.k. with forcing me to dodge their beast's poo on the sidewalk that there's no way most of them are going to think there's anything wrong with letting little Muffin or Daisy or Baxter stick his snout in my pants.

Cost. Staying around long enough for only one cup of coffee is hardly worth it. I usually go for two rounds. And I like the fancy drinks. $3.50 per grande mexi-mocha = $7/day just to be able to soak in the ambience of using a computer wirelessly five blocks from my home.

Music. Can't control the music in a coffee shop. Headphones are an option, but at that point, I'm paying $7 to completely tune out where I am and act as if I'm in my own living room. And if I reach down into my pants and give my balls a good scratching, the smiles coming from behind the counter are going to become chilly or at least strained in very little time. I've known plenty of coffee shop employees. They notice things. Good regulars = militantly normal people who come out of the bathroom smelling like hand soap. Bad regulars = crotch scratchers, poets who share their work with the help, and anyone who's ever dated anyone who works there but does so no longer.

But I loves my coffee. So the answer is simple. I've already got a fast broadband connection (1.5 MB down, more than enough bandwidth), I've got a decent stereo, and I've got a wireless access point. So:

$50 down at the local Fred Meyer got me a Krups Bravo. Another $7 (that's one day of coffee at Cooper's) got me espresso beans to last a few weeks. A few more bucks gets me plenty of Abuelita chocolate to last a good long while. In a mere ten days, the thing has paid for itself.

Is it as good as what I can get at Cooper's? No. The steamed milk lacks that special creamy texture, and the steam (as opposed to pump) action of the Bravo means my spit will stay brown for only an hour or so before normal salivation and water intake return it to normal.

Posted by mph at 4:35 PM

December 26, 2003

I Hate it When That Happens

Anyone else remember the obnoxious SNL Billy Crystal character "Willy the Masochist"? Each week featured five minutes of increasingly horrible recollections like "Have you ever stuck a carrot peeler up your nose then just spun it around and around until there's no more pulp in there? Yeah... I hate it when that happens."


Who knew "The Nation's" Katrina vanden Heuvel was a fan?

"Have you ever wandered onto the set of the O'Reilly Factor, tried to talk over O'Reilly, been shouted down, and had your mic cut? Yeah... I hate it when that happens."

Weak. Is there some place I can go to initiate a recall on the Champions of the Left? The current crop isn't doing it for me.

Posted by mph at 5:11 PM

A Very Good Year

2004 is the year of the monkey, which my birth year was as well. Daily Yomiuri has some good stuff about monkeys in Japan.

Posted by mph at 4:58 PM

December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas!

Al and I exchanged gifts and spent a pleasant morning together, went for a walk through Laurelhurst Park in the early afternoon, and went to see "Return of the King" in the evening.

Here's a Christmas card for our loyal readers:

(click for a bigger one)

It's been a pretty good year. The looming arrival of junior has been the motivation for just about every major decision made since late April, and it has colored every event.

I found a picture a few days ago:

(click for a larger image)

It reminded me of a project I abandoned pretty quickly, the Stork weblog, which now exists as three brief entries I copied over to Puddingtime. It reminded me of Stork because, well, there's my dad and there's me as a little boy. I don't know how old I was. We spent a day seeing the sights in Washington, D.C. (that's the Washington Monument in the background) as part of a bigger trip that included (I think) trips to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry. I can narrow it down to some time in first or second grade because I remember the house in Pennsylvania where I played with a cap gun musket I got from Gettysburg, and I know we didn't live there very long before it was time to pack off to Chicago.

But in the picture, Dad can't be much older than 30, and there he is with this little six- or eight-year-old me, plainly being The Dad. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I'm not seeing "The Dad" even though that eventuality is looming so close that we're talking weeks (or even days), and tomorrow afternoon is probably going to involve a visit to the hospital so we can figure out exactly where to take Al when it's time.

Too many entries spent dwelling on wondering if I learned to build model rockets well enough, or can be trusted to explain how to glue together all the parts of a model anklyosaurus in such a way that more generations of little Halls can continue to build rockets and anklyosaurs would make for a weird legacy for little junior. If he grows up with a quicker wit than his old man (and don't get me started on how slow I feel lately), I suspect his discovery of a carefully preserved CDROM in the baby book years down the road would result in some sharp interrogations:

"I was just looking over that Stork thing you did while you were waiting around for me to be born. Did you have any fucking clue?"

"Well, son, it's like this..."

"No. Shut up a second. Read the December 5, 2002 entry. I'm a month away from birth and you're blubbering about how there aren't any adequate rites of passage and that your army years just convinced you that our civilization is in decline. Jesus. Did you tell mom this stuff? Did she smack you?"

Best we never have that conversation. Some day the hard drive on which this entry resides will crash, and a backup will not have been made, and that will be that. I'll be much more resolutely Dad-like by the time the little fellow's able to read his baby book, which involves little more information than "Mommy is from Indiana and Daddy is from Texas ," with some space for hand and foot prints plus the guest list from his first birthday party.

Posted by mph at 10:55 PM

December 23, 2003

Communique Fully Operational Again

Good to see Portland Communique is fully operational again.

Posted by mph at 10:39 PM

Then the Iceweasels Come

I was wondering why everything seemed to be crawling today, then I noticed iceblog, which runs on the same connection as everything else around here, picked up a link from meta-filter. So iceblog, which has never moved more than 300MB in an entire month, has done around 1.25 gig of traffic today alone from 2700 visits, 5000 pages, and 61,200 hits, up from the previous highs of 96 visits, 427 pages, and 1600 hits.

So if things are pokey from the outside, that's why.

Posted by mph at 1:38 PM

Blood on the Donkey

The right wing of the Democratic Party... er... I mean, the credible, open, inclusive, hard-working, imaginative, progressive, persuasive, rational, energized, idea-based, and positive wing of the Democratic Party is not happy with its party's left wing, by which they also mean the peculiar, "progressive," (in scare quotes) loose-lipped, Left-ist, brain-dead, rage-filled, hallucinatory, revisionist pawns of Karl Rove.

It'll make a great video game.

"Your political party is dressed in a donkey suit and has a bomb strapped to its head. Can it make it through the primaries before the bomb goes off? Earn extra time by poking yourself in the eye and gnawing off your own feet! Watch out! You've set your own tail on fire and the donkey suit is filling with noxious fumes! Run the donkey suit over a cliff and into the ocean to clear out the fumes, but don't drown! And watch out for the bomb!"

(via TAPPED)

Posted by mph at 11:24 AM

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as "The Kurdish Chieftain"

Like Ed, I had more fun thinking there was some poetic justice involved in Saddam's apprehension. But Josh Marshall has picked at enough nits in the story that it's looking like "drugged, vendetta victim Saddam" needs to go on the ash heap of tall tales that aren't so after all.

Ed has updated the entry he made on the matter to reflect the debunking.

Josh could stand to re-look the item, though. Toward the top:

"So, I've had a slew of readers write in to ask, Is there something to this story?

"In a word? No."

But then toward the end:

"Let me be clear: I'm not saying there's nothing to this."

Personally, I don't think either version of the capture narrative is a particularly poor reflection on anyone, the administration included. If it was just good ol'-fashioned detective work that nabbed Saddam, then bully for the troops and congratulations. If it was a case of the Kurds actually not settling for just putting his head on a stick, then bully for them and spin points for the administration when it turns naked political opportunism ("We've got your boy... what's in it for us?") into "See? Even those most wronged by Saddam are able to put aside their hatred and need for revenge in the name of due process and the rule of law... now think how the rest of the Middle East will respond given time and a few select invasions!"

Posted by mph at 11:06 AM

December 22, 2003

Street Preacher

Street Preacher & Son, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland

Posted by mph at 4:48 PM

December 21, 2003

pop culture relevance is a key dynamic in modern brand strategy

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," if you're looking for someone without a soul, you're looking for a vampire. In the real world, if you're looking for someone without a soul, you could always start with the folks compiling American Brandstand.

(via memepool)

Posted by mph at 11:11 PM

Roofies for Saddam

Ed's got some linkage about whether or not Saddam was sent special delivery from the Kurds.

More plausible than the "unseasonal dates" story me-fi was pimping this morning, I guess.

Posted by mph at 6:57 PM

December 20, 2003

It's Cabbage, Most of the Time

We had to venture out to the asphalt part of town today, so we consoled ourselves with a trip to the Grand Buffet. I thought it was just a Chinese place, but they also have a taco bar and a Golden Corral style area. I haven't been to a buffet in a while. The big find was the tub of kimchi sitting next to the cantaloupe.


A year in Korea turned me into a pretty big fan of kimchi, where it was even served in the chow hall. I didn't expect to find it at a "foods of all nations for $6.95" buffet, though. I also didn't know that the Korean kimchi industry has a mascot.

Posted by mph at 2:26 PM

December 19, 2003

RotK Note

Spent Wednesday afternoon standing in line for or watching "Return of the King" on the Lloyd Center big screen. It rocked my world, and it was worth the wait. I think more writing energy is going to keeping up with or thinking about what I'm reading on scoop, so I doubt I'll have much to say about the movie here. This is from a recent scoop mail, though, and pretty much sums it up for me:

I think of the reviews I've read, I most like Andrew O'Hehir's [watch the ad, it's a good review], which called the movie(s) "the grandest and most delicate of pop spectacles." It has heart and a fundamental sweetness that makes Tom Cruise grimace-smirking through "The Last Samurai" or the Wachowski Bros. tossing CG kung-fu sock puppets around in a rainstorm look like barkers for tinny side-show diversions sweating too hard under their pancake. I don't imagine there'll be too many more trips to the cineplex for me in the next while, but "Return of the King" left me buzzed enough to not really care.

Posted by mph at 11:30 PM

December 16, 2003

Feeding the Troll

Sometimes a work of trollery needs to be acknowledged. Take, for instance, San Diego Union-Tribune film critic David Elliot, who really hated "Return of the King".

We should all pause a moment to be grateful for movie reviewers who take the time to remind us of little-known and little acknowledged gems such as the obscure "Godfather" and the uncelebrated "Lawrence of Arabia." Without dedicated professionals like that, we'd be unaware of the lickspittle Jackson's cave-in to feminists and his uncalled for insertion of a giant spider, which happens nowhere in Tolkien's work. Oh... wait.

On second thought... David, you ignorant slut!

Posted by mph at 11:44 AM

December 14, 2003

You Heard it Here, Uh, Second.

No comment on Saddam's capture outside of "Good."

I was more intrigued by the mail that appeared in my inbox this morning with the headline "Saddam Captured.. Get it first with Dish."

Except I seem to have gotten it first with spam.

Posted by mph at 1:40 PM

December 13, 2003

Mr. Baker's sleighride

Yesterday, Billmon, with help from Josh Marshall, looped together an interesting analysis of what's at stake with Jim Baker's new mission. (If Baker's going to keep popping up like this, they should get him a wacky sidekick, like a Wayans brother, or Martin Lawrence. America loves his scabrous hijinks! Or Bush himself could go along, "to learn something," like Dudley Moore and John Gielgud in Arthur. Remember Arthur? It was about a rich, drunk idiot-boy and his stuffy old butler who fixed everything for him.)

Anyway, Billmon outlines just how unsettling the problem of Iraqi debt relief is, for Bush in the short term and America in the long, and how the Pentagon's clumsy diplomatic co-inky-dink ("No soup for you!") just as Baker went wheels-up for Europe, and Bush's typically macho, brain-dead defense of it, was really, you know, not good. (No snips, but edited a bit for brevity.)

[A]s the internationally recognized occupier of Iraq, the United States has assumed legal responsibility for the country's debts, all $150 billion or so of them. Presumably, the Bushies will seek to offload those obligations onto whatever sovereign Iraqi regime they can cobble together between now and next July.

But how easily can that be done? What exactly is the mechanism for "un-occupying" a country? [P]resumably, a new Iraqi government would have to be recognized as sovereign under international law before the debt burden of the old government could be returned to it.

Who would provide that recognition? The U.N. Security Council? And if that's the case, the question arises: Will the creditor nations represented on the council -- France, Russia, perhaps others -- be willing to vote for recognition, thereby transferring their financial claims from the very deep pockets of the U.S. Treasury to a feeble American puppet regime beset on all sides by violence and political intrigue?

No wonder Shrub wanted to call his lawyer.

Yeah. And it's so colorfully "down-home" when the president mocks the very idea of international law. You could see yourself having a beer with a guy like that. In fact, there's probably a lot of guys like that having a beer right now.

Posted by pk at 9:31 AM

December 11, 2003

Ranking the Guest Mockumentaries

Recently finally got around to seeing "Waiting for Guffman", rounding out my viewings of the mockumentaries with Christopher Guest somewhere in them. IMDB purists say "Spinal Tap" is not to be included in this list because Guest didn't direct, but I disagree enough to include it in the ranking:

  1. "Spinal Tap": The best on a pure "test of time" basis. Like The Bible, there's something in 'tap for every one of life's moments. And the sublime moment I had actually going to a 'tap concert and watching two juveniles rocking out like they just had been for The Birdmen of Alcatraz made it something more than mere film.
  2. "Best in Show": More manic than "Spinal Tap," which I respond to well.
  3. "Waiting for Guffman": Pretty fun. Short in a good way.
  4. "A Mighty Wind": Least favorite by far. Goes in for the kill on jokes in a way that suggests Guest & Co. have figured out the formula and forgotten the timing.

Posted by mph at 9:31 AM

December 10, 2003

Fundamentalist Galactica

Continuing the post-Galactica web-crawl is this interview between Ron Moore, who wrote the Sci-Fi remake, and the maintainers of Cylon.org, a Galactica fan site.

Moore's clearly a smart enough guy, and his defense of decisions he made to change things around is solid enough. Solid in the same way Peter Jackson's defense of what he had to do to Faramir in the "Lord of the Rings" films is, anyhow: You might not agree, but there's some reasoning involved that's, well, reasonable.

Moore's obvious intelligence, though, earns him no break from the interrogators, who seem to be irritated about everything from Starbuck being turned into a woman to the presence of names and callsigns on the fuselages of the Vipers.

The truly deep question comes from a latecomer to the interview, who's dying to know:

CA Chat: Did you retain the "frak" and "felgercarb" from the original series?
Ron Moore: Frak is in there big time. I tried but I just couldn't make the felgercarb work.


Posted by mph at 4:49 PM

Which _____ Am I?

Evidently Sven and I have more in common than previously imagined:

The GashlyCrumb Tinies - You have a terribly wicked
sense of humour and people are drawn to your
wit. Children beware of the thin, pale man
with the black umbrella!

Which Edward Gorey Book Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by mph at 12:22 PM

Galactica Redux

So, that "Cattlecar Galaxica" title in the previous entry is a reference to the MAD Magazine parody of the original "Battlestar Galactica" (July '79 issue). Someone on a Yahoo! group posted the text of the entire parody, of which this is part:

STARBUFF: Here come the Cyclones!! Let's defend ourselves!
ATHINNER: Starbuff! Something very *strange* just happened! I fired ONE Zucchini missile, and FOUR Cyclone Raider Ships exploded into bits!
STARBUFF: That's because our missiles are armed with deadly "Hollywood Movie Logic"! It's a highly advanced form of the same "Logic" that lets ONE Cowboy bullet kill TWENTY Indians! This is the part of the show that the viewers really turn on to... the fantastic space battles! Let me pick out some stunning effects for them.

I was involved in a conversation recently about the nature of satire and parody in which the assertion was made that "satire is the humor of age and experience." And while it makes sense that our taste for satire will grow as we accrete more experiences to which we can apply it, MAD certainly did a good job of giving a lot of kids a taste for it early on.

There aren't a lot of things about which I say this, but I would love to have my old stack of MAD magazines back.

Finding that text also reminded me why the fans who've gone into total conniptions over the Galactica remake are probably not getting all fundamentalist over the right things: That show was awful. It worked for me when I was ten or eleven and desperately wanted anything that was even a little like "Star Wars." I remember the grown-ups around me watching the pilot episode, shouting out alternate dialog and hooting at the screen. I thought they just didn't get it. But criminy! By the time the series got to the "Apollo crash lands on the planet where it looks like the old west and he has to fight a Cylon fast-draw expert who hangs out at the saloon," well, I think I was beginning to get both MAD and my parents' point.

My own savage fan fundamentalism, by the way, is perfectly reasonable and not at all to be questioned.

Posted by mph at 9:44 AM

CattleCar Galaxica

Just wrapped up a viewing of the second half of SciFi's "Battlestar Galactica" with the obligatory web crawl to fan sites. Every generation needs an Adam West.

Posted by mph at 12:22 AM

December 9, 2003

Hush Children... It's Time for the Blipvert

More on this later, but DirecTV made its way into our home, finally. Had I held out a day or two more, I would have learned that I'm about to start forking over dough to Rupert Murdoch, which is fairly galling. But I'm not here to complain about that, or the wonders of TiVo. What's shocking to me, having spent the last decade not living in homes with cable or satellite television, is the way television looks.

I tuned into a History Channel presentation about the Samurai in Japan. (I can't find a link to the specific show, but it's part of the History Channel's "History vs. Hollywood" series.) For starters, Tom Cruise seemed to know more about the subject matter than the producers, who condensed events like "Commodore Perry opening the ports with cannon fire" down to not mentioning the cannons and framing the eventual Japanese capitulation as a good business decision. It got all of three seconds.

Beyond the content, though, is the form. The hideous, numbing form. It's a history show for chrissakes. Why does it need jumpcuts when the only thing in the camera is the host? Why the jarring shift from "camera eye view of the host" to "desaturated camera eye view of the camera recording the host?" A National Geographic doco I caught was the same way, with the annoying habit of simulating vertical hold problems to transition from one shot to another. It made me queasy and agitated, which are things I don't want to be when I sit down to watch a documentary.

Posted by mph at 10:40 AM

December 8, 2003

Look for the Java Label

I'm beginning to think that the worst mistake Sun made in the past few months was naming its "Mad Hatter" product the Java Desktop System. Why? Because, I suppose, Java has next to nothing to really do with the product. It's a SUSE Linux system using GNOME, Mozilla, and StarOffice wrapped up with a little bow. They bundle a current Java runtime with it, sure, but the whole system isn't "java-based." If anything, it's Linux-based.

That doesn't, however, deter eWeek's intrepid (but not particularly curious) Peter Galli, who should know better, from quoting and not qualifying an "analyst" who says "in terms of how well it can do, I believe 100 percent that a Windows-powered device would do far better than a Java-powered device" when referring to a potential WalMart deal that would put Sun JDS-powered PCs and laptops on the shelves. Nor does he qualify the comments of an "IT manager" who prefers to go unnamed when that source says:

"I personally keep Java off my computer because it crashes the system," he said. "If Sun had the interests of the customer in mind, then the Sun desktop would be written in C and donated to Linux. Sun is no better than Microsoft."

Bwah? GNOME is pretty much "written in C," and while it hasn't been "donated to Linux" I'm fairly sure the kernel isn't the place for desktop environments.

Sun has only itself to blame, though: "Java Desktop System" sounds like it means "Java-based" at first blush, and it's the first blush reaction you'd better count on when the coverage starts.

Posted by mph at 12:17 PM

December 7, 2003

The $79.99 Dongle

So, a few days ago Alison looks up from the iBook and notes that the charging indicator isn't glowing. We both look down at the extension cord the adapter's plugged into and see that it's connected. Odd. So I wiggle the wall-wart and there's a crackling noise followed by a brief flicker of light on the charging light. Then nothing. I find that only by holding the wall-wart firmly will enough contact be made to get a charge.

In its ergonomic wisdom, Apple made its power adapters with interchangeable connectors for use with, for instance, European sockets. So the actual prongs that plug into the socket can be slid off the wall wart and replaced depending on the country you're in. In order to make the adapter more transportable, the prongs fold down into the plastic they're anchored to so they don't stick out and snag things when the adapter's being transported. It's all very nice design and I appreciate it most of the time.


After a little poking around, I figure out that, for whatever reason, the prongs aren't making good contact with the leads inside their plastic housing when they fold out to be plugged into a wall. So I've got a piece of plastic with two bits of metal for the prongs and two leads (presumably copper) inside that allow the prongs to pass juice from the wall to the wall wart, and on down the cord into the iBook. I think to myself "quick call to the Apple store, and they'll gank me for $9.99 for a $.53 collection of plastic and metal and I'll be done."

Nope. Apple won't sell you the little piece of plastic and metal. They'll only sell you a whole new adapter. $79.99.

Posted by mph at 12:46 PM

December 5, 2003

That Old Time Religion

The Elder Gods are coming, and everyone is doomed!


Posted by mph at 10:05 PM

December 4, 2003

The heartland's temperature

Two nice pieces in the Village Voice: an essay on "how the rich rule the stupid," and a story on how Republicans are losing the affections of threatened workers staring down jobs at Wal-Mart in north-central Illinois (home grounds of me and mph's friend Gary).

Both sort of delve further into what I was saying about the thorny problem of liberals/Democrats winning over folks who are by nature small-c conservative and by habit uninterested in the finer points of history, foreign policy, and economics. (Without as much of the condescension and spite to which I am admittedly prone, which the second article shows is perhaps often misplaced.)

Posted by pk at 7:28 PM

XML XMschmell

I think I'm going to form a foundation that offers tech journalists rewards for failing to mention that a given application or protocol is "XML-based." XML is so malleable that pointing out its use borders on meaningless unless you're going to really get into it on some level I don't think the average trade press hack is interested in (or up to).

I blame Microsoft, which figured out that embedding proprietary data in an XML file format is the best of both worlds: proprietary lock-in, and the April-fresh smell of "open standards" breast-beating all in one maggoty pie of self-righteous hoo-ha.


If I can't get enough support for rehabilitating these people outright, I'll consider giving a nickel to anyone who saves mentioning it for somewhere after the lead paragraph.

Like that graphic? It's jpeg-based.

Posted by mph at 12:17 PM

Turkeys can't fly

President Bush's turkey run is another one of his handlers' manufactured episodes that's troubling more in principle than in fact. On the face of it, he did a nice, even arguably brave thing, and anyway he did no harm, so criticizing it seems petty, paranoid, and, in any event, futile.

What matters is whether it passes the smell test with Bob and Peggy Armchair, and they're mostly unaffected by the gasps and pursed lips of political opponents or editorial-page commentators (or bloggers). If they do take note of his critics, they may see any fuss as sour grapes over a point scored, or be nudged into sympathizing with Bush by their general distaste for conflict.

People who get misty at such theatrics will never believe the theatrics are insincere--or, more importantly, irrelevant--because then they'd have to believe that they're chumps, and it's the murky fear that they may be chumps that makes them resent and distrust the complaining "elite" politicians and commentators who seem always to be threatening to brand them as such. Not that I just did, but if I did, it's only because I'd hate to subject them to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Anyway, that's a digression from a more complete theory on How America Lost Its Way. Sitting in my own armchair, I have gradually tried to suss out what's truly troubling about last week's stunt. As was no doubt part of the Bush team's calculations, like most of America I missed first-hand reports because I was in the blackout conditions of holiday ritual. I overheard a news item and thought I must have heard wrong--a secret trip to Baghdad? The president?!

Believing that everyone's digestion of the episode has been similarly out-of-time contributes to a general impression of intentional misdirection. That Bush held up a decorative turkey is more a symbol of the affair's disingenuousness than specific evidence of it. As for the supposed British Airways communication thing, I have no idea whether something/nothing did/did not happen there. Was some wag from the White House communications office just trying to drop a humorous, Disney-esque double-take into their little caper? "Did I just see Santa's sleigh?"

But these things add up, from the canard about Clinton staffers trashing the West Wing to who put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner (and to what "mission" it referred) to where Saddam and his weapons and his al Qaeda connections are. Sometimes it's reasonable (and disposable) political gamesmanship, sometimes it's destructive national policy, but always it is of a piece, consistently reflecting this administration's ideology and methodology.

In this case, the twain (trivial politics and grave policy) seem to meet. I suppose you could say it made some soldiers feel good, indirectly supporting a (now-) critical initiative that is clearly on shaky legs. But come on. They're soldiers, and adults. Surely some of them only felt used by Bush's prop department.

At best this offered an extremely modest boost for our mission in Iraq, yet so delicate a political football are our servicemen and -women that it is taboo to accuse a leader of utilizing them: it is tantamount to questioning his or her patriotism. Which allows anyone shameless enough (or naive enough to believe they're not doing it) to do so with impunity. But whether or not you believe that's what Bush did, it's merely despicable strategy in the trivial game of politics.

In the realm of governmental gravity, I believe it's much more serious. On Thanksgiving morning, the media was informed, and you and I heard, that the president was spending the day in Crawford, and would be making a few calls to troops in foreign stations. That was misinformation: a lie. He wasn't, and many people knew he wasn't--people who serve the country, and people who serve the press, whose job it is to tell the country the truth. The President of the United States was to undertake a planned, secret mission into insecure territory, with a hand-picked corps of complicit "journalists," to stride and pose before some soldiers.

Every citizen will decide for him- or herself whether it was an OK thing to do. I've decided it was a dishonest, potentially dangerous or even catastrophic stunt, undertaken solely for the president's individual political gain; an irresponsible utilization of the military, the presidency, and the press, disguised as a warm morale-booster. None dare call it treachery now, but it sets a disturbing precedent. Having pulled this off, what charade will the White House and its press-corps lackeys perpetrate upon us next?

Posted by pk at 10:46 AM

December 3, 2003

The PoMo Presidency

Josh Marshall dissects the White House team's sudden interest in truths "people know" as opposed to the literal kind I prefer when our country's at war and I'm trying to make sense of it.

I guess it's o.k. for the administration to tell tall tales as long as they assure us the issue is form, not content, and that regardless of any signifiers to the contrary, the signified remains a doting, besotted Maximum Father to our troops.

Posted by mph at 11:51 PM

Paging Dick Vitale

In addition to the Two Towers videogame pigout, I also got hooked on NBA Jam this weekend. Highlight: The white-bread announcer shouting "What do we say? We say DUNK YOU very much!"

Posted by mph at 10:46 AM

"A Man and a Woman"

Saw "A Man and a Woman" in class tonight. French. Sharp look from woman next to me when I snorted as the lovers ran toward each other on the beach. I wasn't snorting at the sentiment. It was more of an aborted laugh of delight, in a sort of "If this were a Leslie Nielsen movie, they'd bonk heads when they meet and then they'd fall over, but it's interesting to be seeing the classic 'running to each other on the beach scene' in its native habitat anyhow" way.

Posted by mph at 10:44 AM

He Shoots, He Scores!

Best of times, worst of times: There's no way in hell I can get out of school next term. I can't get all the classes I need.

School sucks!

On the other hand, I got into the always filled-up Tolkien class.

School rules!

Posted by mph at 10:43 AM

Little, blue, different, repulsive.

Why is it that I can't quite square this guy as a spokesmodel for natural male enhancement?"


And it contains "thymus gland."

Posted by mph at 10:25 AM


I got an offer from Landware this morning for a free copy of the company's tip calculator for the Palm. I think I solved the problem this software addresses in high school, by habitually assuming a 20% tip (which is really easy to calculate for anyone who can divide by five, or divide by ten and multiply by two). But I think "the baseline 20% tip" is an indicator of Marxist leanings in some circles, where my "service was slow and it was all your fault" punitive 15% tip (trickier: divide by ten, keep that sum, divide it by two, add that result to the original sum) is the default, and then grudgingly.

We walked down to a coffee shop we've been favoring the past week and I got my Mexican mocha from the woman I believe is the owner. Tipping the owner is weird, so I didn't much mind that I didn't have any change to plunk in the tip jar on the counter. Then I thought "now she'll think I'm a cheapskate, because she probably doesn't know that I know she's the owner." Then I thought "Well, that's her problem." Then I thought "But what if she just leaves the tip jar alone and lets the afternoon/evening shift just have the day's take?"

I found a quarter and a dime and managed to give them enough of a spin coming out of my hand that they sounded like several large coins... $0.75 easy if she was listening.

Posted by mph at 10:15 AM

December 2, 2003

Three Joysticks for the Elven Kings

I think we're reaching Tolkien saturation here. In addition to the LoTR viewing marathon that was this past weekend (the documentaries on the DVD are excellent. Lots of "wows" and "ah hahs" going on there), there was an unhealthy amount of the Two Towers Playstation game, which also comes with interviews and documentary footage as levels are unlocked. Favorite part so far: Hacking through five levels of orcs in a secret area to get to Saruman floating around in the air and booming out "You have elected the path of PAAAIN!"

Several years ago, at the dawn of the 32-bit gaming era, there was more than the usual amount of static about "whether video games can be art." My off-the-cuff answer would have to be "why the hell not?" I've got a pretty loose definition of the word, I guess, so it's got plenty of room for just about any medium an artist cares to work with. If we'll admit film into the blessed circle of legit art forms, the question really can't be "can video games be art," but rather "when are we going to get the first video game that people widely acknowledge to be art?" What will be the video game form's "Great Train Robbery" or "Passion of Joan of Arc?" Got me. I'm definitely not saying the Two Towers game is some evocative masterpiece, but for a simple action game it has a ton of interesting narrative elements:

There are breaks in the game where we cut away to action elsewhere in the game world, there are useful animations bookending each level to ease the player into the action, and there's a startling willingness on the part of the game designers to mess with the foreground with falling debris and general battlefield clutter, which contributes to a sense of fantasy battlefield chaos.

Several of the actors from the movies did voice acting for the game, the Howard Shore soundtrack plays in the background, and there are good samples of movie sound effects. The prologue from "Fellowship of the Ring" is lifted straight from the movie in its entirety, too, providing a moment where the film footage of the battle at the foot of Mt. Doom almost seamlessly turns into a video game brawl with the player controlling Isildur. The characters themselves (you can play Legolas, Aragorn, Gimli, or Isildur) are all motion captured in wonderful detail.

It seems that most of the technical pieces are in place to create a film/game fusion that's palatable to a mass audience. This game isn't it: It's far too dependent on twitch reactions and twiddling controls around, and many of the games I've seen that come close in their own ways miss because of elements that are too much like "Dungeons and Dragons on your teevee" to be pleasurable. But with the quality of the graphics, the ability to use video and music, and the obvious sense of cinematic flair game designers have been picking up over the past few years, I'm pretty stoked about the next few years, and really curious about what else is out there.

Posted by mph at 6:11 PM