August 27, 2003

Good neighbors sought

The behemoth duplex that's been being built next door to us since November of last year is finally up for rent. Each unit is a 2700+ square foot three-bedroom two-story townhouse. Only $1975 a month.

Birch Street

Creek Way

The pictures of the front are both of the one on Creek Way. The rest all seem to be of the one on Birch street. Don't expect that Tiger Mountain view from the Creek Way unit. Both have a lovely view of our silvery roof.

In addition to hardwood floors, granite counters, marble bathrooms and the biggest house in the neighborhood, you get the benefit of nice neighbors. Ask me if you want more background info on this place. I don't have anything to do with it apart from living next door.

Posted by jeffy at 07:51 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (0)

American Splendor

Harvey Pekar is a file clerk from Cleveland, Ohio. For many years he has been writing a comic book about his life called American Splendor (originally illustrated by his friend R. Crumb). At first glance, the title seems ironic. The comic is full of frames of Harvey walking down streets of urban decay, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his back humped, his head down. The stories center around the simple activities of his life like puttering around the house, going to the grocery store, or pondering the futility of his existence.

It seems a strange thing to turn into a movie.

The film blends scenes with the real people involved, actors playing the same characters, and finally animated versions of the characters as drawn by the artists of the comics. All these layers are blended so seamlessly that watching the film feels almost like reading a comic and having the pictures come alive in your head.

Like the comic, the story is just about Harvey's life. How he met his third wife, how he came to be a regular on David Letterman's show (I actually remember seeing some of these back in the 80s when I was watching Letterman avidly), how he survived a fight with cancer.

Harvey is a gruff, depressed character. He questions whether his life has any value. And yet he is not resigned to his existence. He changes things, and the changes are in the baby steps that all of us are able to make in real life. There's no magical breakthrough that transforms Harvey into a prom queen, but he is transformed through small personal changes and nudges from the people around him.

In the end, the title doesn't seem ironic at all.

While Harvey Pekar didn't originate the mundane autobiographical form (witness Pepys' Diary), the influence of American Splendor the comic on our popular culture is clear.

In a lot of ways, American Splendor is like a good blog, wresting beauty and meaning from the events of everyday life. And indeed, Harvey, his wife Joyce, and their daughter Danielle all have blogs! (Thanks to Jeff at Beans For Breakfast for that piece of info.)

Posted by jeffy at 06:19 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (1)

August 26, 2003

Dean in Seattle

Peace Tree Farm gives an eyewitness account of the Howard Dean appearance in Seattle last Sunday.

Impressive trait observed in this candidate: ability to graciously accept a correction when he is shown to be in error. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Update: Kayne at Pleasing To Remember was there and wrote about it too.

Update: Jake at Mental Ground Zero was there with a friend and some cool signs. He's got a link to an (12meg) mp3 of the speech too.

Posted by jeffy at 01:53 PM in Soapbox | Comments (3)

August 25, 2003

Larry's new toy

My friend Larry just took delivery on his dad's 1956 Chevy 2-door station wagon. For a car, it's pretty cool. The primer patches are a byproduct of an adventure with a thief who started turning the car into a hotrod thirty years ago. The car was reclaimed before any further damage was done, but the hood ornament and other brand plates were lost. If, by some freak of coincidence, you know where these parts might be found, let me know and I'll put you in touch with him ;-)
Posted by jeffy at 11:49 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

Insect industry

These ants have been conspicuously busy along one of the seams of the path I ride on to work each day. Today I saw what seemed like the same crew along a seam in a parallel sidewalk 30 feet away. They are more active than I'm used to seeing ants be.
Posted by jeffy at 11:38 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

Scenic shopping

I went to the outlet mall a couple weeks ago to buy some clothes that actually fit me unlike the stuff I already had. This is the view over the parking lot of Mount Si.
Posted by jeffy at 11:28 PM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

August 20, 2003

Kate & Leopold

katenleopold.jpgLiev Schreiber plays an inventor who finds a way to travel into the past. Hugh Jackman plays a 19th century duke who notices Liev's bumbling and chases him back to 2001. Meg Ryan is a market research executive and Liev's ex-girlfriend. Hugh and Meg meet and fall in love. Hugh has to go back to avoid temporal disaster.

The movie as a whole is cute and avoids some of the more annoying cliches of fish-out-of-water films. I like what writer/director James Mangold is doing with playing the integrity and manner of Jackman's character against the shamelessness of Ryan's 21st century marketing mentality.

The time travel aspects of the film are very sloppily handled. For instance, when Jackman returns to the past, Schreiber warns him that he will be returning before he left so he might have to re-live some of the day when logically what would happen would be that there would be two of him until the point where his original self went forward. Yes, time travel is theoretically impossible, but every other aspect of the time travel in this movie implies that your physical presence is what is transported, and this detail had Jackman's consciousness travelling back and replacing the one he had before. Consistency, please.

There are lots of anachronistic features. Most of them involve Jackman knowing about things that didn't happen until after he came forward, but one obvious one was the use of 50-star US flags in 1876 when it should have been the rather distinctive 37-star version. These kinds of blatant things are so easy to get right. I'm not going to quibble about historical inaccuracies like the economic conditions in Mangold's past, but if you're going to include flags, make sure they're the right flags. Sheesh.

But beyond these technical quibbles, there's still something just not quite right about the movie. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about the pacing or the shooting style or something that just didn't let me sink into the film.

The DVD includes the theatrical version as well as an original director's cut with 4 extra minutes. The extra minutes consist of a brief glimpse of Ryan's character in the past at the beginning of the movie, a long scene with a cameo by Mangold playing a director having his film shown at a test screening, and a number of brief references that show that Schreiber's character is Jackman's (and hence (spoiler!) Ryan's) n-great grandson. Apparently the studio had a problem with the fact that Schreiber's character was in a romantic relationship with his n-great grandmother (before the action of the movie). Whatever.

There are also some deleted scenes and a commentary track plus two forgettable featurettes. The commentary is Mangold doing one of those "here's what I was trying to say with this film" kinds of things. I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it was mildly interesting.

Posted by jeffy at 11:33 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

Why blog?

A friend (Hi Mike!) asked me yesterday "What made you decide to start a blog of your own? That's a lot of work!"

I told him the reason that first came to mind, which was the fact that blogging saves me from having to email the interesting things I might run across to all the people who I think might be interested (and saves them from having to read my spam if they don't want to). They get to come see my useless links when and if they feel like it. This suits my inclination to never bug people if I can help it.

There are a couple of other reasons that weren't on the tip of my brain when Mike asked.

I'd be doing a lot of this writing anyway. I'd been writing book reviews for years before I switched to the blogging software for the purpose. Adding movies is really a pretty small extra effort since Becky and I always talk about the movies we watch and had often joked about taping and transcribing those conversations. In my reviews you get my side of the conversation plus all the insights of Becky's that I agreed with ;-)

A blog entry can be a bookmark on steroids. Like the digicam post just before this one. I don't hold any illusions that anybody but me will ever find that useful, but for me it's going to save me all kinds of time because the synthesis has been recorded. When I get it into my head to think about getting a camera in six months, I'll be able to start there and see what's new rather than having to relearn the lessons that I learned today.

Finally, the blog lets me vent my tendency to pedantic didacticism.

Posted by jeffy at 07:45 PM in Administrivia | Comments (0)

tiny camera lust

I've become less and less satisfied with my Chameleon low-rez micro camera. Like all things, it has pros and cons:


  • small so can carry all the time
  • cheap so don't have to worry about losing or breaking it
  • super-low power consumption so batteries last months
  • decent macro mode


  • 640x480 max resolution
  • fixed focus
  • lens quality you'd expect from a cheap camera
  • no lcd, so can't review images
  • control beeps can't be disabled
  • requires custom software on desktop to download pictures (and no removable media so a card reader won't solve this)
  • flash is worthless

The indispensible Digital Photography Review reviewed three different 3-megapixel ultra-compact digital cameras back in May. They are:

Drool drool drool!

They all have some features in common:

  • approximate size of a pack of smokes
  • $380 street price (ouch!)
  • lcd display with rich user interface
  • 3-megapixel resolution
  • good quality optical zoom lenses
  • limited, but decent flashes
  • lithium rechargeable batteries with 2.5 hour run time (pretty good, really)

This size forces some tradeoffs too, and they all have some different ones.

The Canon has a 2x optical zoom (35-70mm) compared to the 3x (35-105mm) on the Casio and the Pentax (which have the same lens system). (This brings up my big gripe with all the snapshot cameras I've looked at (digital and film), they never go wider angle than 35mm. I'd love to have 28mm!) The Canon also has the worst macro performance of the three.

The Pentax seems to have some weaknesses in the controls that would probably drive me nuts (power button where shutter should be, fiddly navigation control for menus).

The Casio doesn't have USB output, but instead relies on a computer-connected cradle which also serves as charging stand. There's no A/V output even from the cradle.

Of course it's not like I'm actually going to spend the money right now, but... I guess I'd lean towards the Pentax, but I'd need to play with the controls on one first to see if they'd bug me or not. Please comment if you have an opinion. Please send email if you have $400 you want to give me ;-)

Update: For another $50, there's the Canon PowerShot S400 with 4 megapixel resolution, and a 36-108mm zoom in basically the same form factor as the SD100 (the S400 is 4mm thicker). Hmm.

Posted by jeffy at 07:13 PM in Photo Log | Comments (2)

August 18, 2003

Fair and Balanced

Blogs everywhere are adding the phrase "Fair and Balanced" to their pages to illustrate to Fox News that they don't own the phrase even if they think they do.

If you aren't up on this little non-issue, Fox is suing Al Franken for using the phrase (in a purely satirical manner) in the title of his new book.

The thing that I find suspicious about this whole tempest is the fact that Fox could hardly come up with a better way to ensure that Franken's book will sell like hotcakes than to demonize their big ol' self by going after his little writerly person. And I don't think they're so stupid that they don't realize this.

I guess since they're suing him, they're hoping this will mean he'll have the bucks to pay the big settlement they think they'll get, but still, if they'd just kept quiet the book wouldn't have anything like the visibility it now does and hence their supposed trademark would have sustained hardly any damage.

Posted by jeffy at 09:12 PM in Bloggage | Comments (0)

August 17, 2003

Ron Weasley, chess maven

Dangerously readable fan fiction in which Ron competes in the Hogwarts chess tournament for the opportunity to represent the school at the World Wizard Chess Tournament. Centers mostly on Ron and Professor Snape. Quite fun, and does a great job of making chess games sound exciting.

Think I'll go to bed now.

(via a Making Light "particle")

Posted by jeffy at 03:16 AM in Bloggage | Comments (0)

August 14, 2003

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

pepper.jpg#92 on the IMDB bottom 100 films. We were going through some of our vinyl recently and listened to the Beatles albums that spawned this movie and I got a hankering to see it again (I saw it in the theatre when it came out!) The library had a copy (on tape) and Becky's off visiting Rosalind (and Steve & Hazel) so I feel like I can waste time watching really dumb movies ;-)

But it's weird because I think it's actually pretty good. (Not literally "pretty good" which is Becky's and my shorthand for 3 stars. Stars-wise it's more like "okay" or "okay plus" (2 or 2-1/2)). The deal is that they took all the songs on the Beatles albums Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road and a few other songs and used them as the score for a pop music opera. Even though all the Beatles were still alive when this was made (1978), none of them wanted to be in it so instead the producers enlisted the Bee Gees, fresh off their success with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and squared out the quartet with Peter Frampton. It's a testament to the surreality of the Lennon & McCartney lyrics that they form the only dialogue in the movie with the exception of some sparse narration spoken by George Burns (who sounds just like Peter Falk in The Princess Bride. Or Falk sounds like Burns, I guess.)

The bands involved all do acceptable covers of the Beatles tunes. The Earth Wind and Fire rendition of "Got To Get You Into My Life" is excellent. Aerosmith does nice work with "Come Together" and Alice Cooper contributes a creepy rendition of "Because". Steve Martin performs "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" in his late 70s pre-The Jerk persona.

There's an impressive number of music, tv, and movie personality cameos in the movie-ending number. Check out the list on the IMDB (click the poster as always) under "Our Guests at Heartland".

The movie makes about as much sense as any musical (there's even a brief hoedown scene ;-). As a historical document of the late seventies movie musical boom, it's really kind of fun. That boom was largely the work of producer Robert Stigwood who did this one as well as Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Tommy (1975), Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Grease (1978)

If you can, see a letterboxed version (the DVD is) as there are quite a few scenes that suffer under pan and scan.

Posted by jeffy at 11:14 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

Demolition Man

demolitionman.jpgI didn't much like this movie. Except when I did. Sylvester Stallone stars as cop, John "demolition man" Spartan, so called for his tendency to destroy buildings in the process of catching bad guys. Wesley Snipes plays Simon Phoenix, a wacky psychopath who wouldn't be out of place in a Batman story. Spartan catches Phoenix, but lets the hostages die, so both of them are sentenced to a long sentence of being frozen. Fast-forward forty years and the world has outgrown violence in exchange for a goofy disneyesque rated G culture. Every swear word occasions a fine, and everything that's bad for you is illegal, and yet somehow this has all resulted in a complete lack of crime. Sorry, I'm trying to make the nonsensical make sense. Phoenix escapes from prison and goes on a rampage. Spartan is thawed out in the hopes that he can catch the 20th century psycho. Additional complication comes from Sandra Bullock playing Lt. Lenina Huxley, a bored police officer who pines for the good old days when there was action and adventure. There's also Denis Leary playing a rebel forces leader kind of guy named Edgar Friendly who, it turns out the benevolent dictator has programmed Simon Phoenix to kill.

No, it doesn't make any more sense when you're watching it. The movie has about as much cohesion as a smashed piece of safety glass. There's all these bits, but none of them fit together. Some of the bits are pretty good. Bullock plays her saccharine-sweet character in a charmingly goofy way that makes you expect her to break into uncontrollable giggles at any moment. Leary gets a few good lines in. Snipes is so over the top that "over the top" doesn't even begin to describe it. Unfortunately his character is so nasty that it's hard to enjoy his performance. Sly is Sly. The script tries to poke fun at the action movie genre, but mostly just makes fun of itself. And not in a good way.

Posted by jeffy at 10:33 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

August 12, 2003

Roger Dodger

roger.jpgCampbell Scott stars as Roger, a single advertising copy writer with the gift of gab. He is self-assured to the point of cockiness. He thinks of himself as (and is perceived as) a ladies' man. Roger's teenage nephew, Nick, appears in Roger's office and begs his uncle to give him lessons in the art of wooing women. Roger is unable to resist this challenge and the remainder of the film follows the master and the apprentice through the prowling grounds of New York.

As the evening goes on, the level of Roger's mastery of the subject comes increasingly into question. Layers and layers of veneer are burned away both from the jaded Roger and from the innocent Nick.

The film is fundamentally an extended character study of Roger. Everything that happens gives us a clearer view of who this man is. Scott's performance lets us see that Roger himself is learning some of these lessons along with us, though they are much more painful and difficult to accept for him. Writer/Director Dylan Kidd manages to keep the story honest and very personal. Every time it could have gone for the easy laugh or the cozy resolution, this story instead takes a turn into even more authentic territory.

The DVD is a film techie's dream. All the extras are about how the film was made, and seem to have been produced by the same crew that made the film itself. There's none of the usual banality of production featurettes, instead you get interviews with the costume designer and the producer and the casting director. We didn't watch the movie until it was already overdue at the library so we didn't have time to view either of the commentary tracks, but they sound like they'd be fun (one with director and DP, the other with director and Scott). From the sound of some of the interviews, the film got lots of criticism for the use of "shaky cameras", but I for one didn't really find that distracting at all. It felt like you were just in the room watching these characters a couple of tables away.

Posted by jeffy at 11:37 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

August 10, 2003

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

phoenix.jpgIt's Potter #5. We read the first couple hundred pages of this aloud in turns on a road trip to Eastern Oregon which was fun. The book is pretty predictable. Harry and his friends do the school thing while trying to figure out what's going on, they get into some tight spots, but with some timely intervention by their powerful friends, some luck, and some bungling by the baddies, they make it through (mostly) intact.

Reading the book I had the distinct impression that Rowling is responding to the world's responses to the books. Specifically, this one seemed to attempt to give Harry's friends a little bigger role in the proceedings. I also felt like she was writing with an eye towards how the book would translate to the big screen when the movie rolls around.

It's at least 50% too long. I was much more distracted in this book by the fact that there doesn't seem to be a framework for how the magic works. It seems like there's a spell or potion for every thing you might want to do, and you just have to know the spells and you're set. There doesn't seem to be any cost to the caster except the investment in learning and recall. As a reader of a fair amount of fantasy literature, I'm used to a richer magical context than is here.

All that said, the book isn't dreadful, it's just not particularly impressive.

Update: One thing I did really enjoy was the couple of times when Hermione explains to Ron and Harry the inner workings of the feminine mind of the girl (Cho Chang (and not the fictional swimmer from the "Special Powers" episode of Sports Night)) Harry has a crush on. Those scenes were very funny.

Posted by jeffy at 11:54 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Talk To Her

talktoher.jpgI always have a hard time with the really good movies. Almodóvar was nominated for an Oscar for his direction, and won for his writing, and rightfully so. The film tells the story of two men devoted to women in comas. One of the women is a bullfighter, the other a dancer.

The film stitches together music, dance, bull-fighting, care for the comatose, prison incarceration, and film. The dialogue is sparse, but perfectly builds all the characters, both major and minor, into believable people.

That's enough. It's a movie to be seen, not to be read about.

The DVD has a whole bunch of trailers which is a plus in my book. The only other extra is a commentary track by Almodóvar and actress Geraldine Chaplin who has a minor role in the film. We listened to (well, read the subtitles, anyway) the first 15 minutes of the commentary, and what we heard indicated that there's probably some interesting stuff to be learned from it, but you'd have to get through a bunch of Almodóvar narrating the action on the screen to get there. This seems to be a fairly common failing of director commentaries. But the lack of extras is not a failing at all. The movie stands nicely on its own.

Posted by jeffy at 10:45 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

August 08, 2003

Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887 by Edward Bellamy

No cover image for this one since I read the Project Gutenberg edition which, being non-corporeal, has no cover. If you need the book on wood pulp, there's a Dover Thrift edition for $2.50.

This book got a lot of attention around the turn of the millenium. Bellamy tells the tale of Julian West, a man from 1887 Boston, who goes to sleep one night in his home and wakes up, over 100 years later. What he finds at the other end of all those years is a society in which all the social problems of his day have been solved. At least all the ones that Bellamy recognized as problems in any case. The book follows West through his first week in the future as he is introduced to the changes that have been wrought in the world while he has been away.

I've been picking away at the book for the last couple of years after loading the etext into my Palm after reading a lengthy review by Robert L. Weinberg in The Nation (the review itself isn't online, you'll have to track down the paper copy...) This unfocussed and fitful reading leaves me with a ghostly memory of large portions of the book.

The basic gist of Bellamy's utopian vision is that the problem with 19th century life was the inefficiency of it all: production based on speculation, the vast array of middlemen in the distribution system. The solution depicted is that all production and distribution is controlled by one collectively owned and operated body. Everyone works for a portion of their youth in exchange for life-long support.

I don't know enough economic/political history or theory to comment intelligently about the plausibility or intellectual lineage of all this. But in reading it, there were several snippets that made it into my quote file:

There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support.


The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support.

As a predictive work, of course, it fails miserably. Our 2000 has much more in common with Bellamy's 1887 than with his 2000. Which brings to mind my dissatisfaction with most utopian novels, that they show the perfect world already in place and fully-functioning. The much more interesting story is the one of how they got from here to there. Bellamy's book gives none of that.

Posted by jeffy at 05:12 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 07, 2003

A Guy Thing

guything.jpgPlease don't let anything I say in this review lead you to believe that you should make any effort whatsoever to see this movie. It's really bad.

We got the movie from the library since it features Jason Lee (from many Kevin Smith movies and the charming Mumford), Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, the cute teen-retelling of The Taming of the Shrew), and Selma Blair (most notably Cruel Intentions, the surprisingly good teen-retelling of Les liaisons dangereuses). And indeed, all three of them manage to be appealing as long as you don't pay any attention to their dialogue.

Here's the story: Jason is engaged to Selma. After his bachelor party he wakes up in bed with Julia who he later learns is Selma's cousin. From that you can almost guess where the movie goes. Jason falls for Julia. Selma ends up with Jason's buttoned-down brother. You've seen that movie a dozen times. Director Chris Koch (Snow Day, the universally panned Chris Elliott vehicle), and principal story/screenwriter Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents, another movie to avoid) try to make up for the hackneyed concept by borrowing other hackneyed concepts from other popular films. Jason catches pubic lice leading to much crotch scratching and embarassing moments at the pharmacists counter. Har har. Julia's ex-boyfriend is a psycho cop who uses his power to harrass Jason (who gets recruited by internal affairs to wear a wire so they can catch the guy). Jason claims to have diarrhea to explain why he's hiding in the bathroom to avoid Julia. The gravy at the rehearsal dinner gets dosed with marijuana.

Even with all that, there is a watchable movie trying desperately to escape from the layers of kitsch. The title reference is from several occasions where complete strangers back up Jason in his pointless lies. Some of these are actually kind of cute, and if they'd pulled that element of the movie more to the foreground they might have been able to get something more in the spirit of The Tao of Steve meets dorky wedding movie.

As it is, the only redeeming quality is the personal charisma of the principals.

The DVD has gobs of extra stuff including deleted scenes, and a gag reel with scene after scene of the actors laughing in a way that seems to me to mean "I can't believe I'm in this worthless movie, I have to laugh so I won't cry."

Posted by jeffy at 11:57 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

A girl and her fishie

Alice got this little catnip-stuffed fish from her grandparents a couple of Christmases ago. She loves it, but she still hasn't written a thank-you note to Grandma.
Posted by jeffy at 11:01 AM in Photo Log | Comments (0)

August 06, 2003

Lost Glove #8

This one's on the running board of a 1940s International truck parked out back of my father-in-law's place on the North Fork of the John Day River in Eastern Oregon.

#7 | #6 | #5 | #4 | #3 | #2 | #1

Posted by jeffy at 09:44 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

Language counts

WashTech, a technology worker's union from Washington State has received an audio file of a recent IBM-internal presentation about their plans to move many jobs offshore.

The gist of the presentation is: It's cheaper to use people overseas. Other companies are doing it. We have to as well (despite "significant employee relations concerns").

One thing that struck me as I was listening didn't have anything to do with offshore oursourcing, but instead with the decline of computer customer support service.

The suit in the audio repeatedly refers to "call center" functions.

If management's view of this function is, as this language implies, that it boils down to answering the phone, it's no wonder that getting someone to actually help you solve a problem via a customer support hotline is so hard.

I think this is the same phenomenon we've seen with the advent of the term "IT" (Information Technology) to describe what used to be system administration and user support.

When it looks like all an employee does is answer the phone or technologize information (whatever that was supposed to mean ;-), it becomes easy for some pointy-haired twit in his rosewood-panelled office to say "hey looka! those suckers over there will do that stuff for a third the money we're paying these whiners over here!"

I mean no disrespect for the workers in India and other locales who are picking up all this work. They're smart folks. They have good skills. But the other thing that's going to happen is that people who've been doing their jobs here for years will be asked to train their replacements in days. How much domain experience is going to get thrown out in this process? I expect to see the companies using these tactics churning around internally reinventing their product lines. You're going to see old problems coming back into products and new problems that would have been easily avoided by people who understood the application domain.

I'm not just making this up. Over on Joel On Software, Joel recently did a piece on finding real estate for his company in NYC. In that very interesting article, Joel talks about an exodus of companies moving from NYC out to the suburbs of Connecticut in the 50s and 60s studied by William Whyte [link to Joel's Amazon store -jy] who, in Joel's words:

...showed that these companies all tanked after the relocation. With, I believe, but one exception, companies that left New York City to be closer to the CEO's house in Connecticut or Westchester had dismal stock performance compared to companies that stayed in Manhattan.

The dismal stock performance probably came from the fact that when you relocate more than a couple of miles, some employees' lives would be too disrupted to make the move, so you lose a lot of employees, and all the institutional knowledge, skill, and experience that comes with those employees. While I was working at Viacom one of their companies, Blockbuster, decided to move from Florida to Texas after they hired a new CEO who lived in — Texas! What a coincidence! Only a small portion of the employees made the move. For years and years the business press watched agog as Blockbuster made mistake after inexcusable mistake, re-trying all kinds of ideas that had failed only two years earlier.

Now would be a fabulous time for someone with deep pockets who's actually interested in producing useful products and giving gainful employment to smart people to hire up all this brain power that's being thrown away by the big dumb behemoth companies and get some products in the pipe that will be ready to pick up the slack when the IBMs and Microsofts start faltering in the wake of this miscalculation.

Posted by jeffy at 01:04 PM in Soapbox | Comments (0)

August 05, 2003

Die Another Day

dieanotherday.jpgIt's a Bond movie. Cool gadgets, fabulous babes, over-the-top baddies, big explosions, absolute nonsense plot. Not as bad as The World Is Not Enough (Denise Richards as a physicist? Please.) or as good as Tomorrow Never Dies (Michelle Yeoh!)

This is the 20th (canonical) Bond film. If you look in the trivia section of the IMDB entry behind the poster picture at left you'll find a summary of all the homages to the other 19 films that are embedded in this one. This goes a long way towards explaining why this one feels over-long. First-time Bond director Lee Tamahori throws in a few Hong Kong-style bullet time and other quick-take effects, but they're so sparse within the whole picture that they're more distracting than fun.

Posted by jeffy at 05:16 PM in Movie Reviews | Comments (0)

August 04, 2003

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

cheese.jpgI have a hard time even putting a review of this book in here, but I did read the thing, so I may as well.

Who Moved My Cheese? is a tiny little book containing four things: 18 pages of shameless self-promotion, 21 pages of framing story, 37 pages of parable about maze-dwelling cheese-seekers, and 15 pages of single aphorisms inscribed in a picture of a wedge of cheese.

"Pages" is kind of a mis-nomer since even the most packed page has only about 270 words, and most of the "pages" have half that. Add in some nice thick paper and you get a hard-cover "book" that's barely a half-inch thick. And they're selling this tome for $19.95. And even more crazy is that even at that absurd price it's selling like hotcakes.


If it were well-written and deeply insightful, I'd be less disgusted. But the parable could easily be told in 5 or 10 pages. The framing story is full of people who say things that no human being would ever say without an author holding a sharp pen to their back, and the rest of it is a waste of wood pulp.

Okay, there's the snobby elitist stuff out of the way. What about the message?

Here's the parable in 147 words:

Sniff and Scurry are mice and Hem and Haw are little people. They all live in a maze. Their job is to search for cheese. They find a seemingly endless supply. They chow down. Eventually the supply dries up. The mice shrug their shoulders and head out into the maze to find the next bonanza. The little people go through the grieving process, but mostly get stuck in denial. Haw finally realizes the old cheese isn't coming back, and heads back out into the maze. After searching for a while (and writing a bunch of aphorisms on the maze walls) he finds a new cache of cheese and resolves to not take so long to start looking next time one dries up. As far as we can tell, Hem never gets off his duff and goes looking for new cheese but just starves to death. The End.

The point of this is supposed to be that change happens and rather than trying to resist it, one should shrug one's shoulders and start making lemonade out of all those lemons.

There are many situations where this is fine advice. Much of the change we have to deal with is beyond our sphere of influence. We can't stop it so we have to go with the flow.

The biggest problem I have with the book is that it doesn't make the distinction between change that should be accepted and change that is a sign of a larger problem that should be fought with all the power and skill at one's disposal.

Granted this second path holds the danger of turning one into a quixotic figure, but I worry that blind acceptance of authoritarian imposed change will lead us to be the plug-and-play work-units that corporate managers have so longed for.

The fact that one of my bosses bought copies of this book to lay around the department following a recent layoff and off-shore outsourcing makes me wonder whether he's trying to tell us to buck up and get with the program, or read the writing on the wall and start looking for another job.

There was one aphorism that echoed some of what I've been learning in therapy:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Be more quixotic, maybe?

Posted by jeffy at 02:50 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)