g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, January 5, 2006
00:21 - A battle I'm happy to concede
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1907731,00.asp

(top)
Looks like the iTunes Phone experiment is, mercifully, over.

Motorola said hello to Linux and goodbye to Apple with its new ROKR E2 phone today, an update to the first iTunes phone that fixes many of the ROKR's problems—but lacks iTunes.

Fine with me. I thought it was a stupid idea from day one, and apparently the phone was no good anyway. From what the story's saying, the reason for ditching the iTunes alliance is part and parcel with a complete OS rework in the phone, and I guess Apple was never really that fully on board with the project—their 100-song limit seems fairly gratuitous and petty—so neither company sees much use in trying to go through all the motions again. Maybe it'll be a better phone with the new OS, but I doubt Apple will lose much sleep over not being part of it. And I'll certainly rest easier knowing I don't have to see cellphones being sold in the Apple Store.


16:41 - Vista Point
http://desktoppipeline.com/storypics/vistapb2/vista_pict1.jhtml

(top)
Here's the latest series of screenshots from Windows Vista. Note the funky blurred-out transparency effects on the title bars, and on all dead space on inactive windows (or even active ones, apparently):



Now, I've tried to be very good lately about not sniping at Microsoft for that most perennial of all affronts, "copying Apple". I mean, Apple's got two major releases on Windows by now, and for that matter they were already ahead of XP when it came out; so it stands to reason that some of the things in this slideshow will seem just a teeny bit familiar to Mac users. But I can't resist pointing them out, or giggling ruefully at how now the Windows-watchers consider these features to be worthwhile, now that they're getting them at last. Namely:

  • Parental controls (Tiger's got 'em)

  • "Auto-Play" controls, which look just like the CDs & DVDs preference pane

  • Indexing and Search Options (which we know in Mac-land as the mds and mdimport processes that support Spotlight, and will probably be just as irritating under Windows)

  • Wow! Sudo execution! Imagine that.

  • Windows Updatein its own applet, instead of a browser! My oh my!

  • iPhoto! Or something.

  • An iTunes killer if I ever saw one. Replete with Furiously Non-iPod MP3 Player™ icon.

  • Exposé, or some facsimile thereof. Note that they couldn't replicate Exposé's window-placement functionality exactly, though it would have been the most functional way to solve the z-stacking/window-finding problem, lest it look like too blatant a rip. So instead they've done this DirectX-based 3D-object-mapped stuff that requires entire motherboard chipsets to be labeled as "Vista Ready" (psst—Quartz ran with no performance penalty on legacy hardware at least a generation old upon introduction). The result, even if we accept that the jagginess will be fixed by the time it's released (I don't even want to know how well-thought-out the compositing engine can be if "jagginess" is a problem at any stage), is something that's rather less useful than simply tiling the windows in 2D; instead, you've got to pick a window from a 3D stack, where you can't see all of every window, and you have to be a lot more careful about where you click to select the one you want. The beauty of Exposé is that you spend a total of 1.5 seconds using it; there's no thought involved. You just click, see, and grab. Is it really an improvement if you have to rotate the desktop-universe around like Google Earth, looking for a sidelong view where you can both identify the window you want and click on it accurately? I'm afraid the result might end up being more like SphereXP—something that's good for eye candy, but doesn't actually give you any more functionality, and indeed only gives you more work to do (note that SphereXP doesn't give you access to all your windows at once—it's instead just a dolled-up virtual desktop manager, where you have to rotate the world all over the place until you find your window or get sick of running it, like one friend of mine did after using it for about three days, about two of which consisted of pretending the novelty hadn't yet worn off).

  • ...Where were we? Oh yes: Where have we seen this before?


Yes, yes, I know—the chances that I, or any Mac nerd who wants to retain the favor of the faithful, would react positively or without derision for Vista are bound to be pretty small. They could clone OS X entirely and we'd only mock them for the unoriginality, not applaud the implicit vote of confidence for Apple's implementations, let alone consider switching to Windows. So all the foregoing ought to be taken at least partly in jest; I'd be doing the same things if I were Microsoft, and as their implementation of the Exposé idea illustrates, sometimes copying a feature that's well-established is nothing more than the acknowledgment of a good idea. And Mac people ought to be quietly pleased with that state of affairs and go about their business.

Still, though, one can't avoid a sad shake of the head at the examples in this slideshow that show that in a lot of areas Microsoft still has a Cargo Cult approach to user-interface, and (as we can particularly easily see from the weird translucency effects) they've put in a lot of geegaws not because they see them as adding utility for the customer, but because it shows off something cool they can do. OS X's Genie effect serves a real purpose, for all its goofiness—it shows you where a window is going when you minimize it. Same with the drop-shadows—they help you differentiate windows—and the Cube transition, which (it can be argued) supports a tangible metaphor for a desktop or a set of slides. But having the controls on an active window be embedded in a semi-translucent, blurred-out UI pane that surrounds an opaque content pane (as in the above image)? If someone can explain the justification for that in terms of a real metaphor or demonstrable customer utility, I'll applaud the hell out of him.

But even the most cynical of skeptics has got to be pleased that Windows is finally trying to get serious about defending against spyware and viruses. It's about time; and that right there makes me feel a lot better about the computing world in general. We might even be able to make some real advances now, instead of being stuck on the reinstall-and-pray treadmill that essentially hasn't changed since 1995. And if Vista ends up spurring Apple to leap further still ahead, well—you won't hear me moaning that things ought to be different.

Via Daring Fireball.

UPDATE: David Pogue has a similar report.

You know, one side effect of this much time passing since the last Windows release is that Apple has received a whole lot more positive press opportunities as an OS developer than Microsoft has—all MS has been able to do is weather doomsaying columns about Vista's endless delays and a drumbeat of reports of viruses and vulnerabilities. I think the general public's impression of Microsoft has soured quite a lot in the intervening years, and Apple's been seen as a much more proactive player. I'm sure the iPod and the Apple Stores have played a big role in this increased visibility, but they've regained household-name status as computer makers too... and I haven't seen so few Apple-bashers in the continuum since—well, ever.

I don't think Vista's release will do much to dispel that, either. If people are whispering recognition of these features through the audience as being Mac OS X features, then all it'll do is cement this impression of MS in the general public. It's not a great time to be Bill right now...

Via Matthew N.


13:25 - Behind the Stevenote
http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,16376,1677772,00.html

(top)
Via Kris—a Guardian story by someone who used to work on the keynote preparations, with an interesting insight into the process.

Next, my team was given the task of locating movies, photos and music to be used when he created his sample DVD on stage. Most companies would just choose some clip art, or hire a video producer to make some simulated "home movies". Steve wanted material that looked great, yet was possible for an average person to achieve. So we called on everyone we knew at Apple to submit their best home movies and snapshots. Before long we had an amazing collection of fun, cool and heartwarming videos and photos. My team picked the best and confidently presented them to Steve. True to his reputation as a perfectionist, he hated most of them. We repeated that process several times. At the time I thought he was being unreasonable; but I had to admit that the material we ended up with was much better than what we had begun with.

. . .

So when Steve steps out on that stage, with its stark black-on-black colour scheme, and does his apparently simple demos, he brings the combined energy and talent of all those people and many more back in Cupertino, California, and channels it to the audience. It makes me think of a magnifying glass used to focus the power of the sun on one small spot until it bursts into flames.

Nothing we don't already expect of Steve, but it's always fun to see it from the horse's mouth. And never mind that the guys' name—no fooling—is Mike Evangelist. (He's also got an Apple insider site that's definitely worth a perusal.)


13:11 - Open request to the auto service industry

(top)
Would it be too much to ask if once, just once, you could perform some service upon my car without adjusting the seat and the mirrors?

You're installing tires. You're driving the car from the parking lot to the garage with the rack and back out to the parking lot; you're not screeching out onto the town with a buddy like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (I love my car, but it's not that cool.) You don't need to scoot the seat up six notches so I can't even cram myself in between the seat and the steering wheel when I've paid and am ready to move on with my day; I like to know where the little notch was that I had the seat before, and when I have to adjust it myself it never feels right even when I know it's in its accustomed slot. It always takes several miles to get used to it again. And what, do all service places exclusively employ hobbits or something? Is it that hard to reach the pedals from where my seat is?

Maybe it's a union thing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
00:27 - Children of the 80s, Unite
http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/285267

(top)
"A musical tale of the greatest battle to ever occur ever." It sure is.

Via Mark.


18:50 - Déjà Vu
http://arstechnica.com/staff/fatbits.ars/2006/1/2/2286

(top)
John Siracusa—no Pollyanna on Apple at any point in its corporate trajectory—is bullish on Aperture. Here's his thesis:

I'd be a lot more pessimistic about Aperture's prospects if we hadn't just seen the very same scenario play out over the past few years with Final Cut Pro.

Final Cut Pro was introduced into an even more competitive market than Aperture's, and had arguably more significant technical flaws in its early releases. (Most notably, it was saddled with a DV/NTSC codec that had serious artifacting issues—issues that remained until after Final Cut Pro version 1.2). Despite the promise of its elegant UI and the unrealized potential of the underlying technology, Final Cut Pro was a deeply flawed product out of the gate. Even professionals who wanted to like it found that they couldn't use it for serious work until some of the big issues were resolved. Starting to sound familiar?

. . .

I find the Final Cut Pro connection so blindingly obvious, and so important, that I'm surprised it hasn't dominated all discussion of Aperture. Aperture is Final Cut Pro all over again, only with an even better start this time. Aside from a few technical innovations, Final Cut Pro was essentially a "me too" product in a field crowded with well-established applications that did the same thing. Aperture, on the other hand, has no direct peers. Several aspects of Aperture compete with one or more specialized applications, but there is no other "one-stop shop" for professional RAW image organization, editing, and publishing.

. . .

It will take longer for competitors to match the feature set and overall design of Aperture than it will for Aperture to fix enough bugs and performance issues to finally become usable.

I'm not enough of a video geek to know anything about FCP's history, but I'll bet I know people who can confirm this take on things. And since I do know a little bit more about photography these days than I ever did about video, Aperture is likely to be of a bit more concrete interest to me, as I'm sure it will be to a lot of people like me who like casual photography enough to spend money on its attendant techno-gadgets but who aren't inclined to go the extra step into full-featured video production. They're different disciplines, to be sure, but the barrier to entry for the one is a lot lower than for the other. (And Aperture's and FCP's prices are commensurately proportional, I'd say.)

This is an interesting take on things, though: if true, it means Apple has been learning a great deal from Microsoft. Namely, they've learned how to dominate a software market: get something out early, even if it's buggy, and control the environment in which it runs, giving users the assurance that there will be dividends for loyalty when the revolution comes. Who remembers the horror that was Internet Explorer 1.0? Or even 2.0 or 3.0? Yet because it was always lurking on the edge of every Windows user's sight, by the time IE 4.0 came out, Microsoft had to do almost no pushing to get people to fall into its camp. Besides, when you've already been using some software solution that's inadequate and putting up with its shortcomings, there isn't much that's more satisfying—or more likely to cement your loyalty to the software—than having the inadequacies fixed in a painless revision and finding you can suddenly do more, and more easily.

Apple's apparently figured out how to do this—with the iLife apps, certainly, and with the Pro apps as well. Apparently even the professionals who think nothing of dropping $1000 on a software application are willing to accept serious shortcomings in it as long as they're sure they can trust that they'll eventually be fixed. For a pro, it's not about picking up a new tool and changing your workflow and habits every time a glowing review comes out; it's about establishing a workflow for the future, staking out an expertise in a particular application and learning how it says it works, so—as long as you can cope with the flaws in the meantime—it will pay off in the long run in simply doing everything you need in one well-marked place.

Apple has only been in the application business for about five years now. Before that, they adhered to the policy of releasing no software before its time; they had to be, because on the odd occasions when they put deadlines ahead of fixing bugs—e.g. System 7.5.1—they got their ass handed to them. And rightly so: the Mac OS was old by then and shouldn't have had any excuse to be as buggy as that release was. It had no future promise to look forward to; what it could offer was stability, and it failed abjectly on that count, leaving people with little hope except in switching to Windows. But those who stuck with it and saw the release of Mac OS X, as unfinished as it was in its .0 state, were wholly on board the moment they saw what the future could hold for an OS that had been completely rebuilt from the ground up with the infrastructure in place for advances undreamed-of at the time. Gradually, since then, those advances and more have been delivered. And yet there's been more and more infrastructure added as well, namely Core Image, Core Video, and so on, which provide a substrate for apps like Aperture.

Maybe Aperture 1.x sucks; maybe it will for the foreseeable future. But Mac OS X sucked too for at least two more major versions; its shortcomings overshadowed its objective merits. But they didn't overshadow its promise, and the people who bet the farm on it are generally pretty glad they did.

UPDATE: Of course, when it comes to hard-core data-center stuff, people won't buy unless they're convinced you've got your story straight. Looks like the South Park guys think Apple's made it:

Franzen said he chose Apple hardware based on a “gut” feeling that its technology would be good, and so far, he has not been disappointed. Franzen said he now expects to add two more Xserve arrays for a total of 15TB of storage and place his disk storage behind a couple of switches from Cisco Systems Inc. in order to make managing his storage easier.

A gut feeling makes him switch from Legato to an Xserve-based SAN? Maybe he didn't take that much convincing after all. Good thing it worked for him!

Via evariste.


12:45 - The next generation of British battle tanks will feature clear plastic and rounded corners
http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/ptech/01/02/ipod.designer.honor.reut/index.html

(top)
Wow, Jonathan Ive has been made a Commander. (Okay, sort of.)

London-born Jonathan Ive, 38, Apple's senior vice president of design, Friday was awarded the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth.

The title recognizes Ive's achievements in industrial design as leader of the team that produced not only the iPod but also the iMac, iBook and Powerbook computer lines in his nearly 13-year career at Cupertino, California-based Apple.

Most excellent!

Via Steven Den Beste.


12:36 - China and Microsoft: Peas in a Pod?
http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2006/01/microsoft_takes.html

(top)
I guess it says something about my disinterest and softening on Microsoft lately that this comes as a surprise to me.

This part is interesting:

Can we say, snakepit? It’s actually not uncommon in China for people in one company to actively “tattle” on their rivals and get them into political trouble in order to gain a competitive business advantage. I saw it happen several times in the media and entertainment worlds when I was living and working in Beijing. This is one reason the communist party will stick around longer than many outsiders think. Businesses get greedy and try to manipulate the authoritarian system to their advantage, rather than working together to make the whole thing more fair, accountable, and transparent. Microsoft clearly isn’t taking the high road either.

I remember that MAD Magazine (the source for all my profound political insights in my adolescence, which ought to explain a few things) repeatedly caricatured Chinese society as a place where (for example) everyone misses important mandatory televised speeches because they're all out spying on their neighbors to make sure they're watching. The competitive spirit is very much alive in China; it's just been squeezed and mashed into unrecognizable forms by generations of hideous social experimentation, both foreign and home-grown, to the point where the tools of innovation—usable by the common man—are plagiarism and state thuggery. A free China would be an economic powerhouse unlike any the world has ever seen; if China hadn't been crippled by imperialism and Stalinism, I have to imagine it'd be far and away the world leader in invention and creation. I can only begin to imagine what the world would be like under those circumstances.

It'd be a great thing for that much freedom to be added to the world. But that would require the excision of many pernicious forces that seem dedicated to keeping Chinese society down, and Microsoft appears to want to be part of the problem rather than of the solution. I sure hope the money's good.

Monday, January 2, 2006
20:30 - It's so sensible, it must be fatally flawed

(top)
Lance was talking about something over the weekend—a possible scheme for solving, or at least alleviating, our power consumption problems.

The problem in question is that most forms of power generation produce power at constant rates, particularly forms like hydroelectric dams and geothermal plants where there isn't any consumable fuel to worry about depleting. Yet power consumption rises and falls over the course of the day, since by its nature "consumption" is the same thing as "demand", and the power plant has to bring more of its available current online to meet demand, and disconnect it as demand falls.

They can't store power. If they could, there would be a whole lot more of it available. Instead, dams and turbine plants have to essentially waste the power they're producing for half the day just because nobody wants it at that precise moment.

The problem apparently is a lack of good ways to store such power. You can't just hook up a bunch of NiCds to a charger and expect to do anything useful with them. But what's wrong with setting up giant, house-sized flywheels made of concrete? You could spin them up using the power produced during the off-peak hours, and the cities could drain from them during peak hours. It would even out the supply side (like a capacitor) and reduce the need for power plants to have to respond quickly to fluctuations in demand. And it would probably reduce by at least half the amount of power generation infrastructure we'd need to have running, as more and more of these flywheels could be built to store up power in little unobtrusive buildings that could even be dressed up to look like cute little houses with white picket fences and everything. And just think—when Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door, they'd be answered by a GIANT SPINNING PIECE OF CONCRETE. Converting that kind of power would be really fun to watch.

Has this been done before? If so, what hideous disaster occurred that prevents it from being widely discussed today? If not, why not?

I won't even presume to break Steven Den Beste's "DWL" edict on something like this, but I'm sure he of all people knows...

UPDATE: What I'm hearing is that the major problem is containment; the flywheel has to be in a vacuum, and that's awfully hard to maintain efficiently at large sizes (and all failure modes are spectacular—picture a fifty-foot-diameter concrete barrel rolling through downtown LA on the way to the ocean). And yeah, I do remember reading about the experiments they did on flywheels in cars; if I recall correctly, they went very fast down the straightaway on the test track, but when the driver tried to turn, the car had other ideas and torpedoed through the embankment in a perfect straight line...

UPDATE: SDB responds:

A house-sized flywheel made of concrete would fly apart if spun fast enough
to store the amount of energy you're describing. Concrete has tremendous
compressive strength, but terrible tensile strength. (That's why it has to
be steel-reinforced when used in bridges and similar structures.) You'd have
to make such a flywheel out of something which had decent tensile strength,
likely steel. So let's run some numbers, based on the simplification
assumption of a wheel with virtually all its mass on the outer rim, storing
its power as kinetic energy. And because we're just trying to get an idea of
the problem, we'll use rough numbers and estimates for a first order
approximation.

The state of California uses power at rates which vary between about 25
gigawatts and about 40 gigawatts (and that's daily fluctuation). So in order
for an energy storage system to make any significant difference, it would
have to be able to store enough energy to be able to produce two hours of
power at 2 gigawatts. In other words, about 14 terajoules.

Just to pull a number out of my ear, let's assume that the rim mass of the
wheel is 50 metric tons, or 50,000 kilograms. The formula for kinetic energy
is:

e = 1/2*m*v^2

v = sqrt((2*e)/m)

So the rim velocity turns out to be 23.7 km/s. That's 63 times the speed of
sound. It's also twice the escape velocity of the earth. That's really
cooking.

Pulling another number out of my ear, let's assume that the radius of the
flywheel is 10 meters. Then the circumference is about 63 meters, which
means the flywheel would rotate 375 times per second. What kind of bearing
can spin that fast, for hours (or weeks) at a time with negligible energy
loss, supporting that much weight, without failing? I don't think anyone
knows how to design such a thing.

And what kind of containment housing do you put that sucker in, which is
capable of preventing anything from escaping if the bearings fail or any
other kind of catastrophic failure takes place? Pretty much any significant
mechanical failure of this system will be catastrophic. For instance, that
wheel has better be damned well balanced, because any imbalance at all will
cause the system to shake itself apart at speed.

Flywheels which can be supported by feasible bearing technology wouldn't
store enough energy to make any difference unless you used thousands of
them, which would be grossly expensive.

This is another idea which looks really good as long as you aren't the one
who has to implement it. (And I haven't even talked about the efficiency,
the percentage of the energy going into the system which can come back out
again. Nor have I bothered to calculate whether the centripetal force on the
flywheel described above even exceed the tensile strength of steel, though I
would bet that it would.)

As to hydro power, I'm afraid you've got it totally wrong. It is extremely
easy to control the output of a hydro plant. In fact, it's easier than for
any other large source of power we currently use.

Shows what I know.

UPDATE: Be all that as it may, here's the story on what sparked the discussion in the first place. (And here's a company that might be able to make it work.)

UPDATE: Chris M. says:

SDB's back-of-the-envelope calculations are OK, but designs for modern flywheels for power storage actually *don't* put "virtually all its mass on the outer rim". The modern designs are somewhat bell-shaped and run at extremely high speed. As for bearings, the usual bearing is a magnetic one for almost zero friction.

He also notes this press release on recent advances made in the field.

Meanwhile, Bob P. says:

I agree with SDB...to make a decent difference you would need an energy storage system that stores 2gigawatts for 2 hours, not 120kw for 20 secs !

If you calculate how many of the pentadyne systems it would take to store 2GW for 7200 seconds you get

2GW/120KW * 7200/20 = 6 MILLION

With 33 million residents that means one of these pentadyne thingies for every 6 people !

Yeah right as we say down here...pehaps pentadyne has been set up to extract research grants from gullible lefties who can't do math

Heh. (Boy, this must be how Glenn feels.)


19:21 - ...As possible under the circumstances

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From time to time, people bring up the weird idea of what would happen if the US and Canada were to merge. It's always seemed like a rather silly idea to me, though I have to admit it's always had a certain appeal—not because I think it would be cool for the US to be bigger or to avoid having to whip out the passport eighteen times on the way to Alaska and back, but because it would imply that someone wanted to be part of the US. I'm not above a little plaintive wishing-people-would-like-us-that-much.

I don't begrudge the Canadian people wanting to preserve a culture distinct from America's, even though it grates after a while to never hear the words "American culture" except from a northerly direction and accompanied by an eye roll or sneer. But I do find myself thinking, in this modern age where fragile cultural blocs are—like it or not—growing more important than national identities, that it's not entirely encouraging for whole TV shows to be generated whose purpose is to reinforce national differences, like Atomic Betty, whose original premise (which seems to have been dropped for the series' larger production) was to be uniquely Canadian in character... and thus, as far a the rest of the world is concerned who is accustomed to seeing movies and TV shows with North American accents and assume they're from Hollywood or New York, to establish itself as "not from down South". Nice idea, guys, and I don't want to sound parochial here, but I can't help thinking that such a thing would look to inimical forces overseas rather like a case of infighting between what are supposed to be friends than an expression of justified national pride.

We've all established that racism is bad, m'kay, but cultures are still fair game for studying under microscopes and characterizing with sweeping generalizations, if we're not interested merely in putting them all in bell jars in museums for the amusement of the schooled; but something I don't see very much of is any interest in Western culture. My high school taught "World Cultures & History" instead of the more traditional "Geography"; it was a great class with an amazing teacher, but needless to say there wasn't any component in it that explained what our culture was all about. Yet we did study "the Middle East" and "Southeast Asia" as broad cultural paradigms, along with units on Russia and China, where we learned all about exploding televisions and how to read Cyrillic. We didn't study Yemen and Iran and Egypt and Morocco all separately; we considered them in the contexts of the cultural values that bound them together. I daresay that if this class were taught in foreign lands, it would have a unit not on "American culture", but on what looks to outsiders like a shared history, language, accent, and set of traditions spanning all of this continent north of the Rio Grande. As much effort as the National Film Board and CBC put into ensuring that Canadian pop culture has a character disctinct from ours, I daresay the differences from thirty thousand feet, to someone not in the industry, are largely academic. It would be interesting, then, from a cultural standpoint, to consider the US and Canada at the very least as a "North American culture" bloc, and in so doing to at least establish that it would be nice for us not to have to be so wary and suspicious of each other as to inject national differentiation within that bloc into children's cartoons.

So at least from the cultural point of view, having a single unified country in non-Latin North America seems to make some sense. I know Canadians aren't pleased by the idea of American culture overshadowing their own uniqueness, and political unification would surely be the very antithesis of what any Canadian with a shred of national pride would want to see. But as a thought experiment it's still interesting. And as to how it would potentially affect the political equation in the proposed greater nation, Paul Denton runs the numbers.

The upshot: it wouldn't have that big an effect on anything, really. So even for those people who seem to passive-agressively want to see some kind of unification just because it would ensure a more liberal America, Paul's numbers suggest that it'd be far too small a payoff for far too high a price. I'm inclined to agree.

Mind you, I wouldn't go storming around waving placards in protest if Canada decided of its own accord that it wanted to join the US, whether precipitated by some massive Quebec-shaped upheaval or what-have-you; it would certainly be nice to get that vote of confidence after all the backbiting that has taken place over the past few years, and it would be uniquely nice if everyone on this continent had a single national interest to bind us in the face of the global power struggles that don't appear to be getting less likely to erupt in coming years. But it'd be nicer still for there to be the two countries that there are now, just seeing a little more eye to eye.


12:57 - Once again, I'm the only one here

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I don't think anyone around here knows what days are supposed to be off work.

It's been a bizarre few days anyway. Two nights of wind storms nearing 50 mph, blowing trees down and rain sideways and knocking out power and cable and Internet service all over the place. One weakness I've discovered of having both your TV and your Internet come through the same cable is that if it goes out, all possible entertainment options are eliminated.

So I went and saw King Kong. Damn good, I say. Though not pleasant if you've got a bug phobia. Heh. It's unmistakably a Peter Jackson movie; not just because it's well over three hours long and feels every minute of it, but because the color balances all have a very LotR-like cast to them, all jagged rocks with overbright/undersaturated gray washed over them. I wonder if it's because they're still using Alan Lee (once a Tolkien calendar artist, and not my favorite of them) as the conceptual artist and they keep slavishly matching the matte paintings and CG sets to his dingy watercolors? Not that I'm complaining; I think it's a very effective—uh—effect, and a welcome change in a movie landscape where everything these days seems to be gloomy and oversaturated at the same time. Also Jackson's signature "climactic moment" directing is in evidence—you know, where the sound all drops to silence, dialogue (including screams) issues noiseless from slow-motion lips, and you hear only soft and distant music while a couple of exaggerated foley effects clatter in the foreground, like an arrow glancing off a rock or a foot scuffing as it loses purchase on a rock or building. I think Jackson can claim that style as his trademark, if not his invention.

The lavish period-ness is just a joy, though. Oh, the Times Square of 1933, in all its gritty December neon-Depression glory, in the age where Broadway was a place where you wore a tux or evening gown, and where stages and sets and balconies—while certainly no more objectively grand than the ones running the headline shows there today—look like something from a planet designed by the Magratheans for a batty old theatre-loving galactic tycoon. This movie plus The Aviator would be a nostalgist's dream doubleheader.

And though some people seem to think Jack Black's acting was subpar, I think it was an unexpected hoot to see him in a pseudo-serious role for once. His character (the opportunistic filmmaker who captures Kong and brings him to New York) almost qualifies as the protagonist, and almost qualifies as the villain; the fact that we see him as both, and alternately recoil at his heartlessness and sympathize with what seems like his genuine attempts to be honest and brave and dutiful and to grab at a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win at a game in which he seems at first to be in over his head, is a great credit to both the writing and the acting. He's not just a one-sided moustache-twisting caricature we all love to hate, like he easily could have been—his motivations come from real character that we can all relate to. (And who doesn't feel sick at heart, petty as it all was, to see his busted camera and ruined film?) The acting is a little bit goofy, but so's the character. I'm just as glad to see such a non-standard role thrown at us. (Likewise with the real male lead, the writer, who looks anything but the part, with his huge crooked schnoz and his hooded eyes, who's presented in direct counterpoint to the ostensible leading-man of the group, the square-jawed movie star, who says, "Heroes don't look like me in real life... they've got bad teeth, a bald spot, and a beer gut. I'm just an actor with a gun... who's lost his motivation." Marvelous.)

People keep saying how the movie industry's carping about low ticket sales this year ought to tell them something about the low quality of movies lately. Well, with movies like King Kong, and Narnia, and several other genuinely monumental achievements in recent years of moviemaking, I'm having trouble seeing what I'd do better were I in their shoes.

Heh. Well, the motion-sensitive lights just went off, so I guess people's absence here is to be taken seriously. What a perfect opportunity to get some work done.

UPDATE: On the other hand, for every grand achievement in entertainment, there is always something embarrassingly stupid to go with it...

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© Brian Tiemann