Links
Amazon

A few recommended books, movies, games, and albums. If you want to look for more recommendations, feel free to look at the larger selection over at Amazon or my Amazon Store with more recommendations.

  • Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon
    by Neal Stephenson
  • DreamCypher
    DreamCypher
    Dancing Ferret
  • Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Walt Disney Records
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    by Robert A. Heinlein
Saturday
Jun042005

Tiger, Tyger, Burning Bright...

So now I've been using Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" for a couple of weeks, and I think I'm finally ready to spout off on it.

Since I have no intention of going to the depths that John Siracusa over at Ars Technica has on his review, I am going to try instead to give an impression of how the latest update feels in daily use, for better or worse.

The test machines are almost as varied as you can get and still run OSX. Two of my computers are Macs: an iBook G4 (14") and an aging but still reliable "sawtooth" G4/400, from the first G4 line to use an AGP slot. Both had plenty of RAM and the desktop had been upgraded with the first AGP Radeon card for the mac.

Let me cover the "ugly" first: those things which disappointed me.

Major disappointment number 1: spotlight does not by default index mounted network shares. Given that everything except email, iPhoto, and current-project files are shared on a linux server, that particular fault means spotlight, while still useful, is a lot less useful than I thought it would be. I understand the technical whys of this. At home it may not make much difference but imagine dozens of computers indexing a server... but it's irritating nonetheless.

Disappointment number 2: Mail. While going three-pane was an improvement over having a pull-out drawer that always seemed to hide or switch sides at the most inopportune time, they removed the familiar icons in the toolbar. Without the visually distinct shapes to guide you, it takes more effort to figure out which button is reply, which is forward, which is delete, etc.

That said, there are things to like in plenty.

First: Spotlight. Sure, it didn't do one thing I really hoped for it, and as Siracusa notes, it would be nice if it could easily do more complex searches, but it's already been an absolute godsend in tracking down emails from clients. It's also saved my butt several times digging up obscure client-related info.

Widgets. I'm less enthusiastic about this one, but not having to open up weather.com in a web page is a definite plus. So is having wikipedia, airline info, and the yellow pages at your fingertips.

I can't say much about the RSS. It works, and will gather up headlines for you. The best way to gather them is into your bookmarks bar nested into topic-based folders. It seems to be about as useful as any of the other free RSS readers out there and was easier to pick up on and use effectively than the RSS features built into Firefox. Me, I use the Pulp Fiction RSS reader client to gather, bookmark, store, and otherwise skim through my news.

I also haven't applied the user restrictions in an ongoing, real-world basis, but I have looked through them. They get some results that are ridiculously difficult even in XP pro, such as controlling user access to applications on a program by program basis. They also allow control of websites visited (with logs), approved email and IM buddy lists, IM logs, and other similar features, most of which cannot be done in Windows without buying often flaky third-party software or setting up proxy servers.

Other than that, the biggest improvement is simply that it runs smoother, even on my aging desktop (is it five or six years now?).
Sunday
May152005

A Worthy Seed

So I finally succumbed and rented the 2004 CGI-based remake of Appleseed.

The short version is - I like it. If you have the five bucks and a couple hours, go check it out.

The long version?

Appleseed is a story revolving around Deunan Knute, a female soldier with a fearsome reputation, and her boyfriend - cum - cyborg Briareos. She gets shanghaied/recruited to work for the ESWAT team for the self-proclaimed utopia of Olympus, the only shiny, active city left in the otherwise war-devastated earth. Over half of the city population is composed of bioroids, artificial humanoids that are basically biological, living robots. The bioroids run the city as well as much of its production, under the guidance of a council and a supercomputer called Gaia.

There are some who resent this, as all is not well in the utopia. As it turns out, there are decisions being made regarding the bioroids and humans that legitimately concern many of the humans who want to govern themselves, and this position, held largely by the military, also attracts bigots, and mean, spiteful men.

Of course, all hell breaks loose.

First, let me tell you what bugged me.

I haven't followed the anime scene closely for a long, long time. I've seen Bebop courtesy of Cartoon Network, and I'd regularly collected and swapped movies post-Robotech including various Yamato movies, Crusher Joe, The Iczer series (blech), and so forth. Nevertheless, it looks now, as then, that the Japanese still have the knack for taking the worst of a marginally appropriate musical style and applying it in a gawdawful way. There are good places and bad places to apply techno and electronica music. This movie, like the chase scene in the Bourne identity, was not one of them. I say this both as a huge Oakenfold fan and a person who thinks the haunting piece that opens Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is just too beautiful for words.

The consistency of the cel-shaded animation was absolutely fantastic. Body movements were far less stiff than the ever-so-mediocre Final Fantasy (beautiful still shots, though). The consistency of the texturing prevented any number of jarring incongruities like those you can see if you watch Titan A.E. Nevertheless, there are places where the shiny metal surfaces are just a bit too shiny. The biggest irritant is the faces. The eyes were sometimes wonderfully expressive, and sometimes.... just stiff, like a mannequin. The jaws never seemed to move when the mouth opened and closed, which was a jarring contrast to the smoothness and lack of puppet-like feel of the rest of the movements.

Don't let these complaints throw you off. The plot is tight, the action well-paced, and frenetic. I especially liked the interactions and politics involved between the various groups and factions. The bioroids had their own imperatives which could give pause to anyone who wasn't fully convinced that they would never try to take over, and one didn't have to be a paranoid bigot to be worried about it with some of what was going on. The military, played mostly as the heavies nevertheless had some very legitimate concerns that were not being addressed, and thus the brewing conflict.

Having seen the 1988 1-hour OAV version, I've got to say this does far better credit to the complexity of the original manga, and doesn't feel stripped of life or character.

It would be a spoiler to discuss which of the groups were really the bad guys. I will say that it's amazing to what lengths a person will go to to enforce their will when they think they know better than you do what you need or want.
Sunday
May152005

Has Feminism Killed Femininity?

That is the question asked in an posting over at BLACKFIVE.

I can't say I agree 100% with the article, but I do for the most part. Several things stick out.
On TV the other day I even saw a disposable toilet brush: the ultimate in decadence for the spoiled homemaker. No need to get your hands anywhere near those icky bristles (how many of us ever touch the brush end, for God's sake?)...

Yeah, and swiffers, and all those other disposable cleaning widgets and gidgets and wipes. About the only disposable cleaning tools I use are paper towels and baby wipes.

Besides, many women like to joke about how hard it is for men to learn how change a diaper (we men can't put up with something icky I guess). It's become a stereotype. Proof in point - look at any movie where guys get stuck taking care of babies and/or small kids. Even Ice Age did it. Now we get women who think it's too icky to handle a toilet brush?

About the only reasonable excuse I can think of is convenience. As she point out later - working a full day has you coming home drained, tired, often tending toward cranky, and with low reserves of patience for anything. If wasting money on disposable floor wipes saves you time so you can kick up your feet and read (or more likely, watch TV for most households), hey....

Time is, after all a resource that cannot be expanded, that everyone has to spend in equal amounts. Twenty-four hours a day, no more, no less. If you want more time at home, you spend less on work, you become less useful to work, and your promotion opportunities go down. I've also seen this hold true for guys as well when they decide to spend more time with the family than advancing their career track.

Go read it, it's thought-provoking.
Friday
May132005

No, the Parents Should be the Coaches...

From Roger Eberts review of a movie called Kicking & Screaming:
The problem with team sports involving kids is that the coaches are parents. The parents become too competitive and demanding and put an unwholesome emphasis on winning. One simple reform would enormously improve childhood sports: The coaches should be kids, too. Parents could be around in supervisory roles, sort of like the major league commissioner, but kids should run their own teams. Sure, they'd make mistakes and the level of play would suffer and, in fact, the whole activity would look a lot more like a Game and less like a Sporting Event. Kids become so co-opted by the adult obsession with winning that they can't just mess around and have fun.

I'll admit, at the beginning, that everyone has seen the stereotypically overwrought parent who can't seem to accept anything but perfection from Little Johnny/Jennie and his or her coach on the field. It does seem worse these days, especially with the high-pressure drive for perfect lives with perfect little children and soccer games and football and art classes and the perfect dinner too. I suspect that this drive for perfection in all aspects of life just makes the incidences of parents-as-sports-monster worse.

That said, I think he's wrong.

First of all, kids do get to "be their own coaches." Even in this day and age of parental hyper-concern over predators, and nerf-society concern over bike helmets and not letting Johnny out of sight, kids get together to run around, play games, bike, play kickball, and so forth. They set their own rules, choose their sides if any apply, and get to make a mess of things or not as they see fit.

This is an invaluable experience and provides them a chance to make mistakes and just mess around.

That said, there is a darker side. We all know the stories of the playground bullies, the kids who don't get chosen (or otherwise ostracized), and such, that without parental involvement kids have to deal with.

Organized sports with parent coaches doesn't just serve the purpose of parental supervision, it's an education. Sure, we can still have weak-spined coaches who don't shield the kids from their own parents, and jerks who are just as mean as the parents or play favorites. Even then they are more likely to be fair, or fairer, and push the kids to reach beyond themselves to new heights.

It's an education in sportsmanship, fairness, and teamwork that you will not get from other kids without a decent adult handy.
Friday
May132005

The Forgotten War

Captain's Quarters has a note on the History Channel's special on the war of 1812, and recaps some of it's highlights.

While needing review on the subject myself, I must say that I'd found Theodore Roosevelt's (Yes, that Teddy R.), volumes on the naval battles a worthwhile read on the naval aspects of the war.

On another note, being raised in the Marines, I grew up with the lore that the barracks weren't torched with the rest of Washington D.C. because the Marines were the only soldiers the Brits had respect for.