4 February 2009

25 things, as seen on facebook

Those of you with Facebook accounts likely know what follows.

To everybody else, there's a so-called meme going around to get people to the use Facebook Notes feature that has people writing 25 facts, goals, thoughts, and whatnot about themselves and then 'tagging' 25 people connected to them on Facebook to presumably do the same.

If you happen to be in the former group, feel free to comment there instead of here.

I may have written about some of these things before. None of the below is a boast about my stellar memory.

1. I don't like to pick favorites or rank things in order of personal preference, generally. I wrote this list out without numbers first* and then reordered them several times. To my knowledge, they're not supposed to be in any particular order anyway, but I'd hate to have some sort of preference or priority suggested by them.

2. The backpack I carry every day to work with me is the same one I used in sixth grade. The zipper got replaced once or twice, but that's about it. I now realize that, back in high school, when I used to scrawl slogans and jokes on it atop pieces of masking tape, that doing so was a good thing lest I show up at work with a bag suggesting we "PAVE THE WHALES". Why I also had electrical and gaffer's tape with me as well was not really clear then and even more so now.

3. I once owned the domain name peanutbutterandjelly.info but never got around to doing anything with it before it expired.

4. I've never been entirely satisfied with capitalization. I Really Hate When All The Words Are Capitalized In A Sentence, Or Song Title, Or Headline, Et Cetera. Sentence case, on the other hand, isn't always entirely appropriate either, particularly when it comes to band names. I may go to my grave not knowing exactly how I'd want to capitalize, say, the dysfunctional psychedelic Waltons, or I am the World Trade Center. all lowercase looks immature and unfinished to me, whatsisname cummings be damned.

5. I spend far too much time correcting titles and artists (and capitalization) of my mp3s.

6. Early in my freshman year of college I was threatened with a lawsuit from the RIAA, for operating an mp3 distribution FTP site. At the time the amount being thrown around was $15 million, but fortunately after deleting all of them, giving up my school-provided email for a year, and writing some 'informative' newspaper columns, I was off the hook. They never filed suit. This was before they started cracking down on everybody.

7. Also in college I got in trouble with the computer lab guys for hiding rc5-64bit encryption-cracking programs (for science, and a competition, not hacking) on the workstations with processes named like 'ps' and 'grep'. Apparently their long run times and CPU usage were a dead giveaway. I told them I'd stop doing it, and haven't contributed to any distributed computing effort/contest since then, using my computer or anybody else's.

8. During high school I was on the local YMCA swim team. I wasn't very good at it (the best I think I did, other than garnering a 'most improved' trophy, was winning my heat at regionals, once. Afterward, when picking up my ribbon, I learned that I was 31st of 36. Somehow I managed to be in the same pool with the every single swimmer slower than me), and now when I get into a pool I find myself wondering what I'm supposed to do to pass the time.

9. I know I abuse parentheses in my writing, though I would not consider my use of them to be improper (see above).

10. My only home internet connection was dialup well into early 2008. I even played World of Warcraft over it for quite some time.

11. I don't play World of Warcraft anymore, and haven't for quite some time. It stopped being fun when I couldn't play at the same time as my friends and I wasn't finding a dollar's worth of entertainment in it every day.

12. I've found myself to be fiercely competitive when the stakes are low or nonexistent, even to the point of cheating if I know I can get away with it. This does not apply to playing board and card games with people, though. I don't try to cheat anymore - it's no longer fun to win by cheating. I'd rather play and have a good time, then work to make sure I win at the expense of the fun.

13. There is a great disparity between the number of words I recognize, and the number for which I know the correct definition. It's always a pleasant surprise when I go out on a limb and use one I think is appropriate, and it turns out to be particularly good in context. In a recent conversation I tried this with "austere" and it was just right. More than once I've completely misused a word.

14. I haven't bought anything off of eBay in at least three months. This wouldn't be that surprising except that I've probably won some 200 auctions over the last decade there.

15. I claim to never watch TV but can't say that without many caveats. I am fairly current on a small handful of shows, and would like to be so on a few others, but I only ever watch them online. The last time I deliberately watched a TV show at the same time it was being broadcast was the episode of The Simpsons that followed a SuperBowl and preceded the (horrible) pilot of American Dad. I also watch a great number of shows on DVD, and even own a few.

16. I own a couple laserdisc players, and some 100 laserdiscs or so. I haven't watched one in a while, and the number of them that I can't replace with DVDs dwindles every year. I got into them in the month that everybody but Pioneer stopped making them, and picked up a great many of them for a dollar or two. The rest, primarily Criterion Collection discs, were grabbed here and there at resale shops. I don't recall paying any attention to them in the days when they could be bought new in stores or rented.

17. In 2007, on a lark, I willingly and deliberately watched over 60 Bollywood movies. Apparently this makes me some sort of guru in the eyes of the other white suburbanites.

18. I'd like to drive a classic 70s muscle car or two sometime.

19. On the average, I consider myself to be a better driver than most people who consider themselves better than average.

20. I've had two bikes stolen over the years. The second one was even locked to a rack.

21. I think I got the MVP award for Academic Challenge my senior year of high school out of some sort of misplaced pity - I wasn't really that big a contributor to our (less than stellar) scoring. I've never done anything with the corresponding fabric varsity letter other than file it away.

22. I can't help but proofread the things I read, finding typos and other mistakes. Which is all the more ironic because the first time I published this, having read through it a number of times, both #2 and #22 were exactly the same. It's not like I used an apostrophe wrong, but still...

23. As a kid I loved to doodle. Somewhere in the intervening years I lost the ability to doodle new things, and often find myself drawing the same cars I used to draw back then, other than the odd website layout.

24. My handwriting has not improved one bit since seventh grade.

25. The same may well be true for my writing in general - I was an adequate writer back then, from what I've seen since.

(Thanks, Morydd, for being the tipping point in me finally doing this.)

* I originally planned to put "I put two #8s in this list" in the middle somewhere, but fortunately thought of something else to write for that last salacious factoid.

25 January 2009

something less than a return to form

Right now the date of the previous post just below this is from last year*. I'm not going to make much in the way of excuses for the gap. I've posted enough of those before. Believe me when I say the last several months were not uneventful.

Just before, or soon thereafter, that aforementioned previous post, I was told at work that my position was being moved to another non-downtown location, and my computer, my phone, my chair and me would move with it. At the time I was more than unhappy about that prospect, and everything hasn't yet played out completely, but for the time being I'm pretty happy there with things and people as they are. I just hadn't felt like writing about it. More changes are to come later this year as we are due to move again, so I can't get used to too much yet.

So what else? Why haven't I written? I've still been doing pretty much the same stuff, save for writing about it. I've been watching just as many DVDs as before, playing some video games here and there (I've come to think that the PSP was a great platform that is not too far from being the next Dreamcast for how a system's actual potential turns into how well it does for the market at large) but none of them was so noteworthy as to merit anything more than the odd mention on Twitter.

Oh yes, Twitter. To say I haven't written since August is to ignore all the words I've txted and tweeted to my Twitter status updates several hundred times, up to one hundred and forty characters each. It's no substitute for this site, and at some point I'll probably need to come up with some sort of export/dump so I can grab that chunk of my digital output and shoehorn it in with the rest of this, assuming I have some sort of output in the days and years ahead.

But enough with the melancholy. If I try to fit everything in I'll lose steam on what got me back at the keyboard in the first place. This post isn't very good, but I'm rather a bit out of practice. If you'd bear with me for a couple weeks (assuming I write during them) that'd probably be best for the both of us.

So I just watched a DVD. It was called Who killed the electric car? and it was not a great film, documentary or otherwise. It was too long, too slanted, too unfocused, and too often contrived. I recognized that, even while I was watching it (and really, knew about it going in thanks to most of the less-than-favorable reviews it garnered back in 2006), but it still got to me.

The argument put forward by the film, and I hope I'm not spoiling it in any way because people really should see this movie, is that the Zero Emission Vehicles mandated in California a decade ago, and produced by GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford and probably others not mentioned, were great technology that worked, and deserved far better than to have been swept under the rug, the cars not only forgotten but crushed and/or shredded, and their environmentally-friendly mantle taken up by less-than-worthy successors, and the blame falls upon not only the car companies, but also the government(s) and consumers alike. And a few other "suspects", but I don't want to give everything away.

Shifting gears slightly for a moment, I must admit I have a problem throwing things away that aren't yet broken and useless. The headphones I use daily at my desk only work in one ear. At least two of the digital cameras I use have pieces broken or missing. My iPod, already on its third hard drive, often needs less-than-gentle encouragement (that is, whacking it with my hand repeatedly) to get going. One of our cars, not my daily driver anymore, doesn't have working air conditioning. I'm using reclaimed car speakers for my home theater system. I have piles and heaps and bins of stuff that may turn out to be useful (and many have, though less than a majority of the things I haven't thrown out). So just seeing the stacked GM EV1s (read about them here), crushed and left to rot, bothers me on that level. Never mind the environmental aspects of crushing all those batteries, and metal and plastics that likely won't get recycled.

When those cars were crushed (and likewise the shredded Hondas, etc) with them was crushed a major hope for making things better for today and tomorrow both. Here (and now I'm talking about those EV1s) was a fleet of perfectly adequate, technologically advanced but entirely functional, people moving vehicles that people wanted to own, liked to drive, and loved to talk about. Sure, there are some doubts that switching cars from burning fuel to running batteries charged by burning other fuels, but those concerns could be handled easily if we, as a country, if not as a global society, stopped looking backward and dragging our heels today and looking forward with fear and trepidation, and embraced new and promising technologies for what they could do to get us from always needing to burn things to get what we want.

To oversimplify a related issue, new nuclear power plants could generate a whole lot more, relatively clean and considerably safe, electricity, but they happen to produce some by-products that could be devastatingly useless (read: dangerous and deadly) if they fell into the wrong hands. Fear of terrorism isn't the only thing keeping American reactor technology in the 70s, but from what I've heard, it's one major contributing factor.

Back to the cars, though. It's easy to follow the filmmakers when they point out that barely a month passed between GM's acquisition of the Hummer nameplate, and the shutdown of the EV1's assembly line. Hummers could, and did, make money for GM hand over fist, and they weren't the only oversized peoplemovers on the road, just the most ridiculous. It should be telling that the suburban SUV is an American cliche, this being the land of selfish demand and greed. It's easy to follow their implication that the auto companies wanted nothing to do with the electric cars because it would shut down the whole regular maintenance and repairs and replacement part revenue streams. That there partially explains why so much more support has been thrown behind hydrogen fuel cell cars (untested and as-yet-unavailable technology) and gas-electric hybrids (the benefits of an electric motor along with the regular maintenance of a gas one too!) instead of all-electric ones.

Anyway, I'm losing steam quickly. My rage and sadness are subsiding, somewhat. It's easy to see this whole thing in the same light as the current economic crisis, brought about by unchecked and rampant greed in the housing and mortgage industries. It's all about greed. I'd say I'm all for capitalism, but honestly, if there's a better way to make a better future than sheer profit motive alone, that'd be super. If there's a way to stay in business, and satisfy shareholders, while doing something innovative that can lead some real change (like, say, creating a fleet of working electric cars and pickups and actually letting normal people drive and buy them), companies should want to do it. Even if it means they take a hit on their bottom lines for a while. Hell, right now everybody's taking a hit anyway, and for doing business as usual, not from worthwhile research and trailblazing new technologies.

If I were in charge, I know which I'd want to make a case to do, but then again, I'm not in charge.

I have a daughter, and I'm likely not finished having kids, either (as scary as that thought may be, for you and for me) and I should not, cannot, must not act now without every thought of the consequences to the world I'll leave them. Hell, if I do no better than both of my grandfathers, I've still got sixty years of living here too.

* I'm of divided mind as to what to do with the only other unpublished post I even got around to creating in draft form. Most likely I'll publish and date it that day, instead of backdating it as I had many a time before. And at the rate I'm going, I'll be doing that around Independence day. Hopefully sooner.

5 January 2009

2008 bullet points

This was meant to be a list of accomplishments, but somewhere along the line I got sidetracked*

In 2008, I

  • survived a tax audit (well, it was only the city, and they told me I didn't need to make up the difference. I already figured out how much it was and how I'd missed it when I got there).
  • stopped playing MMOs, again.
  • watched ten Bollywood movies - fifty fewer than 2007. Maybe I got a little burnt out on them after all.

* I'm publishing this in March in an effort to clear up old unpublished material. Why not, I figure, fix up the stuff I started writing and abandoned, rather than trying to create new material from scratch?

22 August 2008

look before you leap

I realize I'm a little late to the party in bashing Jumper, but I felt (uncharacteristically as of late) like writing, and hadn't dissed the movie thoroughly enough when last I mentioned it. It's not a good movie.

When I described it to my friend yesterday I detailed the first twenty minutes being passable, if not faithful to the book, and those twenty minutes being let down by the ensuing hour or so of crap.

I should point out that I have not recently read the book sharing a title and a few moments with this movie, but I recall liking it enough to be unhappy this movie is so bad. I can't remember it in enough detail to really criticize the film for accuracy, but from what I do recall, and what reviewers have written, there's not much left of the original idea.

Spoilers abound ahead - for the last few of you who ever intend to watch the movie despite my warnings (Don't watch it!) you may want to look elsewhere*

The movie begins with what is probably a common occurrence for the protagonist, David (played by some kid other than Hayden Christensen): he's trying to give a cute girl a snow globe, and a bully thwarts his plan and humiliates him. The globe gets chucked onto a frozen river, through the ice of which David soon plunges. Panic ensues, but nobody could anticipate what happens next: swept along by the river current under the otherwise intact ice, he doesn't drown but finds himself (and a large puddle) suddenly appearing amidst the stacks of his local library. Several books (shelves worth of them, really) are likely destroyed, in what can only be seen as a literal attack on literature, namely the source novel.

In that one scene (or perhaps the later one where he drops an entire house on said library) pretty much every suspicion I had about what the movie's producers thought should be done with Gould's novel should've been confirmed, but I kept going.

And it only got worse. Sam Jackson appears, stabbing some random flickering kid (another jumper?!) in a jungle somewhere. And he's got white hair, which I could see as an unsubtle nod to the fake albino antagonist of The Da Vinci code, which I have neither seen nor read. Regardless, from that point on the movie is more or less a cliched chase action movie.

Now, there's the element of the chase to the novel, too, but it's surrounded by the story of a kid coming to grips with learning to use his power, and to become a well-rounded, decent human being at the same time.

The movie dispenses with the former in a quick montage, and never gets around to doing the latter. David, as played by Hayden Christensen, is a brooding, spoiled brat who finds fit to steal lots of money, but leave childishly-scrawled IOUs in the vaults, to pay for all the toys with which he fills his massive apartment. Davy in the book preferred a cave out west along with the amenities of his childhood house, but the idea of a lair like that only shows up in the movie when we find Griffin, another jumper (and star of Gould's tie-in prequel) who has apparently taken over a small cavern system based on how much space he seems to have.

Key to several plot points is a new jumping mechanic in the movie: so-called "jump scars", a residue left after a jump that allows other jumpers, and Sam Jackson with advanced technology, to follow the first jumper around. Why the screenwriter found fit to add that, and the whole Paladin/jumper war, and all the rest is beyond me inasmuch as the book was pretty good on its own without any of those elements. Davy in the novel also grows up considerably over the arc of the book, whereas even late in the film David's talking about comic books and whining and overall acting like a petulant toddler.

There was a sequel to the book (Reflex) that tends to get shelved with the grown up books (not in Young Adult as Jumper, and it's a good read. From what I've heard a sequel to the movie is also planned, and as David, after half-befriending, teaming up with, fighting, and abandoning Griffin and marooning Sam Jackson somewhere out west, gets the girl and learns the shocking truth about his mother, stands, girl in arm and wistful gaze in his eyes looking vacant at the end, such is not an impossible thing. But it's going to need to be a lot better for me to consider watching it. And re-casting David wouldn't hurt.

* Which, frankly, is sound advice ("look elsewhere") to those people when faced with the movie, but I suppose I'm repeating myself. Don't watch it!