July 31, 2003

Bad idea

If you have a choice when walking in your front yard at 2am in bare feet helping visiting family members to unload their car I would strongly recommend that you not step on one of these. Ouch.
Posted by jeffy at 01:39 PM in Photo Log | Comments (2)

July 30, 2003

Short-term thinking

Kayne McGladrey over on Pleasing to Remember has some comments on a recent prediction that ten percent of tech jobs will go offshore in 2004.

I work for a company that's in the process of making that prediction a reality. (And in my position, I get to build the infrastructure so that the work my friends were doing before they were laid off can be done by less expensive engineers in India. This state of affairs is hard on my conscience, but that's another post for another time.)

I don't understand this selfish approach to business.

Companies pay people to make products which they then sell to other people. They make money by selling the products for more money than the sum of the material cost and the creation cost (labor, overhead, r&d). So to increase profits a company must lower their costs, increase their volume, or raise their prices. I get all that. (There's also all the illegal tactics, but again, that's another rant for another time)

So we see all the stuff that makes it so fun to live in these times. Incessant corporate cost-cutting which makes the news mostly in the form of reductions in force. Ubiquitous advertising seeking to woo consumers to purchase specific products. Increasing prices on products that shouldn't cost any more to produce.

Mr. McGladrey points out just the problem with this complex of tactics:

Moving US jobs overseas is not a way to encourage long-term financial stability in the global economy. Every job lost represents another family that has reduced purchasing power. Reducing Americans' purchasing power removes their ability to buy goods or services sold by American businesses. Prices are not going to fall, even if those businesses are predominantly staffed by overseas employees. Therefore, moving one in ten IT jobs offshore may create a short-term cost savings but a long-term crisis for American technology businesses. Once those jobs are gone, it's unlikely that they will return.

Constant grubbing after ever greater profit for shareholders who do no one any good except by loaning out their money at cutthroat rates is the root of all these evils.

In my utopian naivete, I picture corporations as mechanisms for providing two services to society: useful products to the general public and gainful, satisfying employment to their workers. A small profit for investors could be a reasonable part of this picture, but no one seems to be satisfied with a small profit. Or even a sustainable profit.

I haven't taken the time to work out at what point my utopian fantasy becomes the dystopia that all utopian visions seem to mask. Intuitively, I suspect that its fatal flaw is two-pronged. There are too many humans in the world and all our requirements for truly useful products are too limited to keep us all busy without an artificial inflation of desires and production.

Hidden inside this conflict is another utopian idea: if we collectively limited our labors to just those required to provide for the reasonable needs of all people, what could we do with the vast surplus of human time and energy that would result?

I'm afraid human nature would quickly provide my answer, but it's nice to dream about.

Posted by jeffy at 05:17 PM in Soapbox | Comments (2)

July 29, 2003

Ping pong

Everyone else has blogged this hilarious ping pong match which appears to have been filmed live before a Japanese studio audience and simulates all the cool Matrix-style special effects in that setting to wonderful comic effect.

I'm just putting it here for my readers who wouldn't otherwise see it. Warning: Don't bother looking if you're on dial-up unless you've got the time to wait for the download.

Posted by jeffy at 03:40 PM in Bloggage | Comments (0)

July 28, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

pirates.jpgMuch is being made of Johnny Depp's performance in this big-budget pirate movie, and every word of praise he is getting is deserved. He just exudes the perfect combination of depravity, feral grace, and self-imposed honorability for a pirate captain.

The movie's fun to watch even apart from Depp's Jack Sparrow, but the plot is too plodding and the pacing too jerky to let the movie be the masterpiece of light action fare it could have been. Geoffrey Rush is fun in his scenery chewing mode (and his teeth look like he's chewed a lot in this one!), and Orlando Bloom cuts a fine figure as the young man (and blacksmith and expert swordsman) with a grudge against pirates.

Keira Knightley is acceptable as the pretty governor's daughter Bloom pines over. I have to give credit to the writers for giving Knightley's character a bit more brains than is usual for this sort of part. Many of the strategic maneuvers are instigated by this character, but Knightley plays them more as if the girl is a natural strategist with excellent instincts. It would be nice to have seen it played more as the result of hard study and calculation on her part.

But why quibble about details? This is a perfectly good summer movie with cool effects, pretty people, and, hell, yes, excellent pirates.

Posted by jeffy at 02:16 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

July 26, 2003

Lost Glove #7

In Seattle waiting for a light at 50th and Stone Way, saw this glove a couple of cars away. My camera isn't really up to this shot, but if you click through to the full-size version you can just make out the thumb sticking up.

#6 | #5 | #4 | #3 | #2 | #1

Posted by jeffy at 11:10 AM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

July 24, 2003

Draw Bridge

Coming back from a concert at the Woodland Park Zoo (impressive URL), we had the opportunity to watch the Fremont Bridge do its draw thing to let a sailboat head out to the Ballard Locks and Puget Sound. This shot is at about 80% of maximum rise. The neon in the tower on the right is a depiction of Rapunzel with her long golden hair going down the side of the tower.
Posted by jeffy at 04:19 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

July 22, 2003

Cool spot

It's been hot. The cats are pretty good at finding the cool spots in the house (As long as you ignore Alice's tendency to hang out in the hottest spot in the house about half the time...). They were taking turns stretching out in this spot at the conjunction of two hallways and two rooms. I tried it out and it was pretty cool, both for the air moving around down on the floor and for the view up towards the ceiling with all those door jambs pillaring up.
Posted by jeffy at 10:25 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

July 21, 2003

Cherish

posterRobin Tunney plays Zoe Adler, a misfit computer graphics designer who can't sit still. Early in the movie she is arrested for running down a police officer with her car while drunk. No one believes her when she explains that she didn't do it, that it was actually the scary stalker guy who had forced her to drive drunk and sent the car crashing into the poor cop. Her lawyer (played with flair by Nora Dunn) plans to stall the trial as long as possible and somehow gets her out of jail and into the "bracelet program" where she is under house arrest with a location tracking bracelet on her ankle to ensure she doesn't get away.

Whew! complicated setup.

This film mixes up a brew of events that range through horrifying, depressing, pathetic, hilarious, suspenseful, sexy, heart-warming, triumphant. The amazing thing is that in the process, writer/director Finn Taylor has managed to make a movie that isn't a big muddle. Watching it, I was completely transported into Zoe's world and was able to accept all that variety of experience as the normal course of her not-so-normal life. In short, it felt real. Examined intellectually, the story doesn't seem very realistic, but still, somehow the overall effect is believable.

A lot of that verisimilitude has to do with the performances turned in by Tunney and the always wonderful Tim Blake Nelson who plays the lonely police technician who services her tracking bracelet and falls in love with her.

The soundtrack of 70s/80s hits you haven't heard in awhile is integral to the plot (the songs are those played by Tunney's character and are the soundtrack of her fantasy life) and makes it all seem more real as well--not something you usually get from nostalgic soundtracks.

Finally, the movie is full of little visual quotes from other movies from Run Lola Run to The Shawshank Redemption.

The DVD has a couple of deleted scenes (the first of which is a quote from Tunney's role in Empire Records), there's also a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Taylor, Tunney, and DP Barry Stone.

The only thing I don't like about the movie is that you run the risk of getting the title song stuck in your head in spite of its sparing use in the film. Small price to pay.

Posted by jeffy at 11:28 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

July 18, 2003

Boat ferris wheel

This is one of the craziest things I've ever seen. It looks like it should be a prop from a high-budget science fiction movie.

The Falkirk Wheel in Scotland is two sections of canal mounted in a gimbals on a pair of big swinging arms. Boats toodle into the canal, the end is closed off and the whole thing pivots around like a 2-car ferris wheel lowering one bucket of water and boats while raising another.

Capable of lifting 600 tonnes of water over 35m in less than four minutes, The Falkirk Wheel is powered by 10 hydraulic motors that turn the two caissons, each of which may accommodate up to four 20m long boats at any one time. Despite the scale of this power, each turn of The Wheel uses virtually no water and the same energy as just two boiling kettles.

(via Ken MacLeod's The Early Days of a Better Nation)

Referring to the "ferris wheel" it occurred to me for the first time that it was probably named after its inventor, and sure enough, it was. Here's a (pretty awful) poem about George Washington Gale Ferris and his invention.

Posted by jeffy at 03:27 PM in Bloggage | Comments (1)

July 14, 2003

caterpillar

Bright yellow caterpillar with a black racing stripe. I struck out trying to find it in Google (but got an amusing number of tractor sites ;-). Neither of our field guides to butterflies has a single picture of a caterpillar.

Anybody know what this pretty little guy is?

Posted by jeffy at 11:47 PM in Photo Log | Comments (8)

July 13, 2003

Distributed Proofreaders

The other thing that's been sucking up my time for the last few days (besides writing a whole bunch of bloggy backlog...) is Distributed Proofreaders.

DP is an interface for spreading out the work of proofreading the scanned and OCR'd text of out-of-copyright books that are on their way into the archives at Project Gutenberg.

They present you with the original scanned image, and the OCR text. You compare the two making changes to the plain text so that it matches the image.

I keep at least a couple of books in my Palm at all times. Don't want to get caught without something to read! Currently I have Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and Trader by Charles de Lint (this last is a current release I got free in a Palm promotion). I've got my eye on Treasure Island.

DP provides a fun way to give something back to the cause. They ask for a page a day, but whatever you can do helps. I've found for the pages I've seen (mostly novels) it doesn't take more than 5 or 10 minutes to do a page, and it's very satisfying to know that because of your 5 minutes no one will ever have to puzzle over "whielc" when the word was clearly "which".

Getting started is pretty easy, though I had to poke around a bit to answer a few of my initial questions. There are proofing guidelines to follow so that everyone marks the confusing stuff in close to the same way. But you don't have to stress about it too much because every page gets two rounds of proofing with the second round reserved for experienced proofers so any newbie mistakes will likely be caught in the second round. And not only will they be caught, but the second round proofers will usually send you a note pointing out where they changed what you did so you can learn for next time.

If you decide to give it a try and need some pointers, drop me an email and I'll try to help.

Posted by jeffy at 12:49 PM in Bloggage | Comments (0)

Moyers and Stewart

Here at Flying House, we've been TV-free since the mid 1990s so we rely on others to let us know about the few things on TV that actually have some value. We don't get a lot of calls.

However, Rachel has been slipping us the occasional video tape of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, a funny and pointed daily commentary on the news.

Here's the transcript of Bill Moyers interviewing Stewart about the show, the media, and the level of political discourse in our country.

(via Anita Rowland's LOL)

Posted by jeffy at 12:11 PM in Bloggage | Comments (0)

Whew!

One of the disadvantages of my practice of trying to enter my book and movie reviews on the days that I finish the book or watch the movie is that I feel like I have to hold off anything that happens after any reviews I haven't gotten around to writing yet so that my readers won't miss anything if they go back until they see something they've seen before each time they visit. (reading that over, I realize that that is one messed up sentence, but I can't bring myself to rework it to actually make sense because I'm not sure that's possible.) The problem is that this forces me to get further and further behind, especially when I see or read something that I want to think about a bit before reviewing.

This evening I've been clearing out the backlog, and in the process noticed a couple of movies that fell through the cracks, so if you're a completist, you'll have to pop back in time and see the review I forgot to write until tonight of Moonlight Mile in addition to scanning back over the stuff that has appeared since the last time you were here.

Of course since I only have about 5 regular readers, this isn't quite the catastrophe I'm making out ;-)

Anyway, as of now I'm all caught up for the first time in a long while.

Posted by jeffy at 02:45 AM in Administrivia | Comments (2)

July 12, 2003

Zoolander

zoolander.jpgVery silly movie about a dim-bulb male model who is brainwashed and programmed by an evil fashion designer to kill the new Prime Minister of Malaysia whose progressive policies threaten to put an end to cheap sweatshop labor. The social commentary takes up about 2 minutes of screen time, with the rest dedicated to a series of campy modelling skits. Ben Stiller as Derek (he also directed and co-wrote) manages to maintain the spacey dim-wit aura throughout. Owen Wilson is his usual hilarious deadpan self as a rival model. Will Ferrell is completely over the top as the evil designer--a completely shameless and very funny performance. The movie is also distinctive for having dozens of fashion and movie personalities in cameo roles. Mindless fun.

The DVD has even more of it with deleted scenes, extended scenes and outtakes as well as a music video, photo gallery, commentary, etc. etc. etc.

Posted by jeffy at 11:23 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

What Dreams May Come

dreams.jpgI'd wanted to see this ever since seeing the trailers in which the visual effects looked really cool. I expected the movie to be unbearably schmaltzy, and I wasn't disappointed. What I didn't expect was that it would also be pretty dull. Definitely could have used some major tightening up. The painterly effects were indeed very cool, but I'd have to say that it wasn't quite worth sitting through the whole movie to see them.
Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

July 11, 2003

flashback

I was just reading the comment thread over on Making Light following Teresa's post about how the publishing trade really feels about Rowling's Potter grand slam (briefly: "Surf's up!"). The discussion has wandered about into issues around book marketing including a few derisive references to paperbacks with die-cut and gilded covers.

One of these references took me back to a day when I couldn't have been more than 8 years old. I was perusing the paperback wire racks at the small town department store we frequented and saw such a book. It had a green cover with a little window in it through which you could see a woman's face. I thought that was really cool and I grabbed the book to show my mom. Hey! looka! And I remember how embarrassed I was to discover that when you opened the flap, the woman was in some state of undress. Never mind.

Posted by jeffy at 03:32 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (0)

July 10, 2003

The Bank

thebank.jpgIt's an Australian thriller about banking and mathematical modelling. We picked this up from the library largely due to it starring David Wenham who has been seen more recently in The Two Towers. In The Bank, he plays a genius mathematician who is on the verge of perfecting an algorithm for predicting what the stock market will do. He is hired by a bank CEO played with relish by Anthony LaPaglia. LaPaglia's character gets to stand in for all that's evil about the banking industry in particular and big corporations in general.

The magic algorithm (for magic it would have to be to do what they show in the film, Clarke's Law be damned) is supposedly made possible by some aspect of chaos theory which is represented in the film by some spiffy rendering of the Mandelbrot bug and copious references to Benoit Mandelbrot himself. Gotta like that. The mathematical side of the film is also represented in some really cool cinematography.

The other part of the movie is a view of banking from the point of view of some hapless small business people who lose their business due to having taken a loan that was backed by some strange foreign currency arrangement that my decidedly non-bank-savvy brain can't quite parse. This being the case, I had quite a bit of sympathy for these characters even though their part of the story seems tacked on until you get close to the end and start figuring out what's really going on here.

There were other parts of the movie about which I had mixed feelings. Like their handling of computers which had all the usual movie problems of flashy graphical displays that don't seem to do anything except look cool. Then they turned around and had the most realistic looking super computer since Hal 9000: a big black box with a single line of 3 glowing LEDs and a small logo plate.

Despite the niggling annoyances, this is a smart, good-looking, suspenseful film.

Posted by jeffy at 11:19 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

July 08, 2003

Woman On Top

womanontop.jpgIn this magical realist confection, PenÚlope Cruz plays a young chef with extreme vertigo unless she is piloting whether it's in the kitchen, in the car, or in the bedroom. Her husband cheats on her after becoming frustrated with this last, and when she catches him at it she leaves him and Brazil to go to San Francisco where she promptly lands her own TV show where she eventually loses control all over again (this time to the always enjoyable John de Lancie). It's a cute, dippy little story with pacing problems, but hey, it's got PenÚlope Cruz in it which makes up for a lot.
Posted by jeffy at 11:18 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

July 04, 2003

Independence Day

Spent most of July 4th out at Howdy Acres, the home of our friends Kate and Mark.

Here's Mark and me (left to right) geeking out. I had to do some work so we were trying to get my windows laptop configured to talk to Mark's wireless network. Between windows, the lame cisco software, and my company's paranoid configuration of my machine, it took us (both pretty computer savvy guys, Mark especially) 15 or 20 minutes to get the stupid thing set up so I could VPN into work. As you can see from the picture, Mark has at least partly switched to macintosh and OSX. He says all he had to do to get the mac to talk to his wifi was click "ok" when it asked if he wanted to talk to this nice network it had found lying around. Sweet.

Here's Chewie (yes, it's short for Chewbacca) in what Kate calls his "hood ornament" which he had to wear to keep him from tearing out the stitches that resulted from a nasty gash on his chest from unknown causes. Chewie is pretty entertainingly dippy even without the cone head effect, but with it, he's a barrel of laughs--and a little sad.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

The pinky gold color in this is purely an artifact of the late afternoon sunlight and the limitations of the chameleon ccd, this tower is the same silvery grey that all such towers seem to be.

SPECIAL AREA
REFER TO SPECIFICATIONS
AND/OR OPTIONS
Some foxglove which really was pretty much that shade of pink.

Chewie betraying his ostrich heritage

Posted by jeffy at 10:58 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

July 03, 2003

Treasure Planet

posterMostly forgettable Disney animated sci-fi fantasy retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. What's fun about this one is the juxtaposition of 19th century swashbuckling style on far future star-faring techno culture. And Emma Thompson voicing a kick-ass felinesque alien starship captain is pretty cool too.

A friend who is more into animation than anyone I know was telling me that the art of the backgrounds in this movie appeared to be lifted straight from Titan A.E. I can see what she means. Though they also just look a lot like the amazing pictures that keep coming out of the Hubble which I'm sure were at least partly their shared inspiration.

Far more extras on this DVD than I had any desire to explore.

Posted by jeffy at 10:18 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

July 01, 2003

Castle In The Sky

castleinthesky.jpgDisney is finally releasing the various Hayao Miyazaki films whose US distribution rights they've been sitting on for years now. This one is set in a world where there are all sorts of surreal flying machines including an entire island complete with integral castle (hence the title). A young girl with a magic crystal discovers that her ancestors are from this flying island. She is being chased by some government agents who want the crystal as well as some pirates who want the treasure that's rumored to be on the island. This is all a little more linear than the actual unfolding of the plot, but this movie has an unusually linear plot as anime goes. The girl finds a boy whose father was obsessed with the floating island, and together they run from the various bad guys and towards the island.

As usual with Miyazaki, the visuals are top notch, and in this case, the imagined world is beautiful and cool.

The other thing Disney is doing with these releases is dubbing them with American actors' voices. The dubbing on this one is acceptable, but after watching a few minutes of the subtitled Japanese, it appears that they made major changes to the script (assuming that the subtitles are more faithful to the original, which could very well not be the case) which based on the small sample I read (had to get the DVD back to the library) were mainly intended to make the movie funnier in a pretty Disneyesque way. Bleh.

Posted by jeffy at 11:22 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Golden Fool by Robin Hobb

coverThe second volume in the third clump of books by Robin Hobb. This one ties the first two trilogies together by having a delegation from Bingtown visit the Six Duchies looking for help with their war with Chalced. That and ongoing negotiations with the Outislanders to wed their young princess to Buck's Prince Dutiful form the political foreground of the book. In the political background are relations with the persecuted minority of the Old Blood who, like the main character of the first trilogy (and of this current cluster) Fitzchivalry, can communicate and bond with animals. That would be enough intrigue to form the plot of any book, but in this one, the story is told through the life of Fitz who is disguised as servant, Tom Badgerlock. This book is the first where Fitz comes to life as a truly social being. He maintains relationships with dozens of different characters in the course of this book, and in virtually every one of them he has to maintain a different level of deceit to preserve the various and sundry dangerous secrets he must keep. Watching him keep all these balls in the air (and the occasional drops) make Golden Fool a gripping read. Can't start here, though. If you want to read Hobb, you'll have to start with one of the first two trilogies which are mostly disjoint. This set won't make much sense without having read both of the previous ones.

Posted by jeffy at 08:00 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)