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Thursday, June 28, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Some of my more alert early-morning readers may have noticed that earlier today the site was magically transported back in time to the nostalgic days of a month ago. Power failure at the ol' Webhost, and old backups. Oopsie!

Thanks to Ian's alertness, I quickly re-applied the last month of updates, and everything should be normal again now. If anyone finds anything that still seems broken, lemme know. Oh, and one thing I may have lost is my copy of outgoing (not incoming) mail sent from davidchess.com or chess@theogeny.com. If I sent you something from either of those places since May 25th or so, and it's utterly and trivially easy for you to send me a copy of what I sent you, it'd be appreciated. No big deal, though; I'm just a packrat...

On the Memo to Atrus, reader famous writes:

It's weird to see you use an Australianism like "dunny". Or weren't you aware? Use the Macquarie Dictionary search on my homepage if not.

I was definitely unaware. How hysterically amusing! "Atrus of Outhouse". Maybe that's why he spells it "D'ni"...

Nicholas Urfe points to a Plastic thread on the Hague Convention on Jurisdiction bla bla bla, in which various people say that it's not such a big deal because they've been working since 1992 and not accomplished anything, other people say it's going to ruin the Internet, and so forth. Light weekend reading!

Hmm, a "plastic thread". Interesting phrase.

I wonder if that was Jessamyn talking about photocopying with a hairdryer the other day. I'll bet it was! Jessamyn on photocopying with a hairdryer. Jessamyn is pretty neat. I've always wanted to casually drop "this book of Russian poetry I'd found in an abandoned house" into conversation...

The Brian Aldiss story that inspired the movie "AI": Super-Toys Last All Summer Long.

So I've been rushing around quite a bit the last few days, and not posting any long profound discursions here. That's not likely to change real soon, as I'll be Otherwise Occupied much of tomorrow and perhaps the weekend, and may not even update at all until Monday or even Tuesday. But I know you'll all struggle on somehow!

Wednesday, June 27, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Princess Mononoke was an instance of lots of stuff that I like about anime: lovely visuals, cool music, rich and complex characters, mature themes, underlying mysteries.

Akira, on the other hand, seems designed to show lots of stuff that I don't like about anime, some of which is very similar to what I do like: detailed visuals devoted almost exclusively to things blowing up and people being killed, unsympathetic characters whose motivations are incomprehensible, "mature" themes only in the sense that they'd probably give kids nightmares, and underlying mysteries in the sense that it's not clear that the creators of the film had any more idea of what's going on than you do. Meaningless technobabble and a tottering plot that seem designed, like the transitions in a bad porn movie, just to stitch together the explosions and death (resp. sex) scenes. As you may have guessed, I didn't like it much.   *8)

Akira poster

In the next few paragraphs, I will rant about some of the more annoying continuity problems. This has spoilers, so skip ahead if you haven't seen it, think you might see it, and don't want spoilers.

In the opening credits, we see Tokyo destroyed in 1988, and then we're taken ahead in time, to "Thirty years after World War III". But by the end of the film, it turns out that Tokyo was destroyed when the boy Akira "achieved the level of pure energy", and no war of any kind was apparently involved. Did they just forget to go back and fix the titles? One elaborate scene is set up just to show us that the little blue people are afraid of blood; but for the rest of the movie they're apparently not at all afraid of blood. When we first see blue person number 25 (I think it was), he's terrified and inarticulate, unable to escape from his pursuers or do anything else except make the street blow up. Later in the film, a few hours or days later in film time, he's talking rationally, and can apparently fly and teleport (and, of course, make things blow up).

In one scene the Colonel is amazed that Tetsuo (or Kaneda?) has heard the name "Akira"; later on we find out that there is a popular Neo-Tokyo cult that worships Akira. So the Colonel couldn't possibly have been surprised that someone knew the name. What the heck was Kaneda trying to do with the laser-gun in the stadium? Was he trying to kill Tetsuo? But a couple scenes later he's all concerned about Tetsuo's fate. And in any case he'd just seen Tetsuo defeat (destroy) an entire freaking army equipped with laser guns and tanks, so how could he possibly have thought he could do anything with one? And for that matter what did the Colonel think he was going to accomplish with a pistol?? The fact that both of them did in fact manage to annoy Tetsuo, rather than being instantly killed, can only be explained by the fact that they were main characters. Phht to that.

The one even slightly sympathetic character in the film is Tetsuo's girlfriend Kaori, who is mashed into a bloody pulp in a brief scene that I really could have done without. Tetsuo says that her "brain is inside" him, but it's not clear if it's still a functioning brain, and in any case she's never mentioned again. The character could have been left out entirely. (Did Mononoke have extra disposable characters? Did Run Lola Run? Didn't think so.) Tetsuo discovers he can fly in one scene (that being the best way to introduce explosions and death into that scene), but shortly afterwards he walks across the city to the stadium (that being the best way to introduce explosions and death into that scene). I could go on and on (but tonight, I've got a headache).

So anyway, now I'm done ranting. It may have been a really good manga (graphic series on paper), and the film may just have failed to compress it into a good standalone movie-length story. Maybe Japanese animation before Akira was insipid and lifeless, and it was breakthrough stuff in comparison. But considered on its own I'm not impressed.

Don' need no steenking:

badges, of course.
fake Mexeecan accent
polygamy but I can't think of a very good reason why.
polls -- Might makes right!
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" ripoffs
backups. (Famous last words?)
... wildest dreams.

From Geegaw, the very fun Markov toy. A slight variation on the usual Dissociated Press algorithm, in that you can choose two classics to fuse. For instance, here's a memorable bit from The Communist Manifesto of St. John the Divine:

Then the peasant, a state, that compete with the manufacturing industry, under which cannot take place in the population and their train of things that I saw a sharp sword and deserted with a crown of the Lamb.

My second Metafilter posting! About a SciAm article about hypnosis, including a video of a real-live scientific hypnosis session.

Google's image search engine! (in betatest; seems to find stuff fine, although clicking on the thumbnails does odd things to Opera.)

Other recent reader input of note: into the old "Reality is better than:" box, some wag typed "nude david duchovnu", which brings back memories. This site is in fact now the Official Site for Nude David Duchovnu information!

Into that same "Reality is better than:" box, someone has typed (twice) "xxx pics". Which is quite correct, in general. Thank you for that wisdom, anonymous reader!

Tuesday, June 26, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Now it's Tuesday.

A Computer's Perspective on Moore's Law

Humans are getting more expensive at an exponential rate

Now there's a meme that deserves some extensive development! (From adages, tx to Anton Sherwood.)

Blind Link o' the Day (odd and British).

So this guy Mark Pasc, commenting on an article about weblogs, paid this here log a great compliment, by saying that we are the first blog he thinks of when considering "catalyst 'blogging", where a bunch of links embedded in the text support some overall idea that has sort of crystallized around them. We're very flattered! That's definitely a mode that we like to write in.

The article about weblogs itself isn't karmically pure. It suggests some styles of weblog that people might want to play around with (including the "catalyst 'blogging" style), which is good. But it spends most of its time ranting about how awful existing blogs (and especially existing blogs of the "each paragraph is a link and a brief description of what's at the other end" style) are, using all sortsa the usual insulting terms ("confused, disorganized... madly tiring... why should we care?") and the usual condescension ("there could be a useful purpose for them -- given some discipline"). See my ancient rant about things that don't suck for why I think this is silly.

To the author's credit, he does acknowledge in a postscript on the current version of the page that a personal website is useful as long as its creator has fun doing it. He says he thought it was too obvious to mention; but in fact he actually said exactly the opposite, so presumably he didn't consider it all that obvious at the time.   *8)

Mark Pasc also liked our Memo to Atrus; clearly a gentleman of taste and discernment.

Both Red Rock Eaters and Nicholas Urfe have drawn my attention to the Hague Conference's recent messing-about on jurisdictional issues, and which countries' laws apply where. It's all tangled up in European Bureaucratese and hard to figure out just what it means. Perhaps nothing, but various clever people seem to be worried about it. Readers interested in, or worried by, this sort of thing might want to delve deeper.

Live maps of air traffic around San Francisco! When it's working, anyway. (Requires Java and luck.)

Corporations behaving badly: McDonald's is given access to school kids, during school, to recruit. A kid says something negative about large corporations during the event, and is forced to apologize to the entire school. A local radio person points out what a bad thing this is, and McDonald's pulls its advertising from the station. (This from Mark Pasc again, whose linkline I liked very much: "At McDonalds, we love to see you smile. But we don't want any of your lip.") (See also the Plastic.com discussion.) McDonald's Sucks?

Also odd and British: tvgohome.

On the naughty words thread, this from Geegaw: F***king Headlines: News organizations struggle with expletive in popular Web site's name. Hee hee hee!

From Pursed Lips: this year the Queer Issue of "The Stranger" will be written entirely by non-queers. Clever idea, and also some good content.

A funny on virus hysteria from VMyths:

Number of times a "plague of crickets" in Utah caused governor to appeal to federal government for assistance: 1

Estimated cost of Utah's "plague of crickets" in June 2001: $25 million

Estimated cost of the LoveBug (aka ILoveYou) virus: $2.6 - $15 billion

Number of times LoveBug virus caused U.S. state governors to appeal to federal government for assistance: 0

Reason Magazine "Live from Extro-5" (a report from a recent Extropian convention). I posted this as my very first MetaFilter post. Now I'm in the In-Crowd!

Interesting UCITA development:

The American Bar Association may vote at its annual meeting in August to oppose UCITA unless the controversial software licensing law is extensively revised.

On the Speakers: JazzRadio Berlin. Cool jazz, and the announcers speak in German, which is very nice especially if you don't speak German.

Great, so on the day I talk about how I like to do Catalyst Blogging rather than Random Links Blogging, I do almost nothing but the latter. Entirely to be expected, actually! Maybe reader input and stuff tomorrow; who knows?

Monday, June 25, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

(Weekday readers note: another entry over the weekend! Memo to Atrus.)

Run, run as fast as you can,
You can't catch me,
I'm the gingerbread man!

DVDs are wonderful. On Saturday night after everyone else was asleep, I curled up on the couch with the laptop and watched Run Lola Run (aka Lola Rennt) on a DVD from our local Blockbuster. A long, long time ago (I can still remember) Morton brought a copy of the disc to work, and we reserved the big conference room late in the afternoon and sat around watching it. It was neat, but the subtitles weren't working, and I could only stay for the first half-hour anyway.

Lola, running

So Saturday night I watched it all in German with English subtitles in the privacy of my own lap. It's a great movie, and it works on all sorts of levels. If you're feeling all eyes and ears, you can watch it for its aural and visual scrumptiousness (I want the soundtrack). If you're feeling intellectual, you can watch it as a puzzle, or a set of puzzles, and look for the ways everything fits together. If you want to find meaning, there's all sorts of stuff about love and fate and the arbitrariness of events. And at only eighty minutes, it doesn't demand a big investment.

Then after watching it through and sitting and basking in the afterglow for awhile, I fiddled with the DVD features. Watched a few scenes dubbed in English; didn't like the effect much, maybe only because I watched it in German the first time. Read the artists' biographies. Turned it over (I didn't know DVDs had two sides; do most DVDs have two sides?) and decided I didn't want to watch the "formatted to fit your TV" version. Turned on "Director and Lead Actress Commentary" and listened with great pleasure to Tom Tykwer and Franka Potente chatting through the opening titles, and then realized that it was well after midnight and I ought to be getting to bed.

So on Sunday (which was actually today as I'm writing this, but yesterday by the time I post it) I watched it all the way through (in German, with the subtitles off this time, and wearing headphones while M and the little boy watched cartoons on the big TV), with Tykwer and Potente commenting the whole time. It was great! Lots of detailed operational stuff about how many takes various scenes took, how hard it was to keep passerby out of the street during filming, how tired Potente got running and running and running, how they got the clock to shatter at just the right time. And also some insight into the structure and intent of the film, what they felt they were trying to do. And, one level up, a reminder that actually shooting a film involves so much of the former compared to the latter. Great stories in any case; I heartily recommend the commentary (but do watch the movie through at least once on its own first!). These are extremely cool people.

I even got to feel smug a couple of times, when Tykwer said that "some people don't realize" this, and most people don't notice that "until they see it four or five times." I spotted them both right off. I'm so clever!   *8)

Saturday, June 23, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

The importance of basic home security.

So I finished Myst III: Exile last night.

Memo To: Atrus of Dunny
From: The friend who has once again saved your sorry arse

I am getting tired of saving your sorry arse. I mean the Myst thing was understandable; no one's entirely accountable for how their kids turn out. And the Riven thing wasn't entirely your fault. But this time, you have no one but yourself to blame!

If you expect to have anyone show up and save your arse in the future, please consider the following principles:

  1. Your sons spent Maker knows how many years cruising your Ages, oppressing the inhabitants, undermining local customs, despoiling resources, and probably raping the women. You've cleaned up one or two of their messes, but you've been awfully casual about it. You should now visit every age to which either of the little scamps might have had access, and at the very least ensure that there aren't any more trapped natives going slowly mad from solitude.
  2. Backups! If you spend years of your life writing the perfect Age for the Dunny to spend their dotage in, write some bl--dy Linking Books to it. The universe is liberally peppered with Myst and Jenanin and Riven linking books; jin up a couple dozen for Releeshan before this sort of thing happens again.
  3. Basic Home Security. Repeat after me: "I will create no more linking books that lead directly into my living room. All future homeward linking books will lead into a special reception chamber, separated from the house by a lockable door."
  4. Enough with the apostrophes, already! If it's pronounced "Dunny", spelling it "D'ni" just makes you look pompous. Same for "J'nanin" and wh'tever.
  5. The Dunny have never taken to mass production, and I greatly appreciate the hand-crafted aesthetic of the result. On the other hand, there is no reason to continue the bizarre tradition of giving every device a million non-working states for every working state. The next time some Dunnian designer says "Let's divide the electrical contacts for the generator into six groups of five, each mounted on a rotating crystal disc that can only be seen from the top of the tower, with a set of hand-etched copper control levers at the base of the tower that can be used to select the one operating state from among the fifteen thousand non-operating states", send him off to inventory the inkwells or something, and hire somebody with a clue.
  6. Your license to write inhabited Ages is hereby revoked. I realize it's probably fun and all, but every single time you've written an Age with people in it, said people have gotten royally screwed over. I don't care whether you're creating the Ages you write or simply accessing them; either way, the ones with people in them will thank you for butting the heck out of their islands.
  7. Speaking of which, what is it with you and islands? Would it be so hard to write an Age where the central part was surrounded by mountains of teeth or gnarled expanses of Feta cheese, or the entire thing was enclosed in a bubble floating in an irridescent void, or something? Use your imagination, man!
I must admit you have been doing a nice job with the aesthetics lately. So lay off the overcomplex devices and the hapless inhabitants, concentrate on the art and the music, and remember to take backups. And keep a closer eye on your kid this time!

Love to Catherine and the baby,
Your friend,
  You Know Who

I didn't get to the Best Ending the first time through: I survived, but I lost the book (although frankly cutting Releeshan off from Atrus probably isn't such a bad idea; see (6) above). Then I got bashed on the head twice. But the fourth time I got it Just Right. It was fun, and I recommend it to the six people in the world who aren't already planning to buy it. The Deluxe Version (which is what M got me for Father's Day) comes with the hint book. I only used it twice, both times to make sure that I wasn't just wasting time hunting around in a particular area. Turns out I wasn't, and should have just trusted my instincts, but hey...

Friday, June 22, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

We have a rare treat today; I'm still at work, but the little daughter and the little boy are bouncing around in the office (M was here for lunch, but she went home). The little daughter is lounging in my spare chair (wearing a spare DeCSS T-shirt because she was cold) playing Pokemon on her Game Boy Advance; the little boy is on the floor drawing pictures of things blowing up and stuff.

Let's see if we can get them to say a few words for the weblog!

Little Boy: boom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Little Daughter: STREETRAT is hurt by poison!

So there you go: What the Youth of America is Thinking!

How confusing:

Their uncle is also their father. They are twins, except they have two different mothers. And their parents are now a brother and sister couple - aged 52 and 62 - with a history of mutual hatred.

Who Would Buy That?

Three Long-Running Science Experiments. Cool.

On the Antonin Scalia thread, I will note that as well as Texas v. Johnson, Scalia also sided with a clued majority in Reno v. ACLU, defanging the infamous Communications Decency Act. Which raises my opinion of him somewhat, but also increases my amazement at the lengths he was willing to stretch to read a "homosexual exception" into the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the Singularity thread, a friend (one of the old-fashioned kind that you actually see in person now and then) passes along Singularity Watch, full of good pointers to That Sort of Stuff, if you're interested in That Sort of Stuff.

So now I've finished the big-tree world also in Myst III: Exile. It got pretty frustrating; one place inside the tree looks very much like another, paths sometimes look completely different coming than they did going, and it was easy to get turned around and find yourself back where you started, or at the g-sh d-arned place with the two big flowers again. I suppose that's a reasonably accurate reflection of what it'd really be like to be clambering around inside a big surrealistic tree, but still...

Game Design Question of the Day: when the user interacts with a simulation of something that would be frustrating in the real world, how frustrating should the experience be? (Maybe there should be a Frustration Slider in the game options...)


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