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
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Sunday, July 8, 2007
16:59 - There is no God, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies

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Okay, you're going to have to bear with me on this one.

I didn't go into Transformers with very high expectations. Indeed, I was confidently expecting, from everything I'd seen in trailers, for it to suck epically. And in the first five minutes, where the first thing you see is an Osprey full of soldiers over the desert of Qatar, telling each other stories of their wives and babies and white picket fences back home, followed in short order—to not the greenest of movie cynics' faintest surprise—by a catastrophe that leaves their entire unit exploded into tiny little bits, one gets to sit in one's seat and smirk at how perfectly according to plan the sucking is going.

There are some incidences of plot irregularities that you could pilot an Infinite Improbability Drive through. The classic "wook-wook-waak-waak-waaghk" transforming noise gets deployed early on, sticking out like a giant novelty sore thumb from a movie-reviewer-cliché-factory gift shop next to the overblown modernized sound effects that fill the rest of the movie's soundscape. Some callback one-liners manage to work ("One shall stand; one shall fall"), while others really don't ("More than meets the eye"—though at least that one gets played for camp value). The whole movie is probably the biggest-budget GM commercial ever aired, what with the Autobots ditching their traditional forms (not even a solitary Countach) in favor of Hummers and Solstices and the upcoming new we-can-do-the-Mustang-thing-too Camaro. There were some cases of uncalled-for recycling of names from the classic cast that dorks up some cherished canon elements, like "Devastator" as a stand-alone tank rather than a Voltron-style combination robot (though the reanimation of Wreck-Gar and his Junkions' parroting of human TV memes through a minor plot twist involving Bumblebee was an oddly sentimentally touching bit). And as I've mentioned before, the robot designs are way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way WAY way way way way way way way way way way way way way way WAY way WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY way way way way way WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAAAAAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY too complicated. I mean, honestly: they moved a lot better on-screen and had a lot more character than the trailers lead one to expect, but they could have made it look convincing—and instilled the characters with far more recognizability and humanity—without the gratuitous asymmetry and ten gazillion exposed bits of jagged metal all over everything. There was no reason on Earth or Cybertron for them to waste that much effort on designing and animating these indistinguishable, unappealing monstrosities.

But you know... that's about the end of my list of things I found objectionable at all about this movie.

I've got to be honest here: I had a freaking ball in the theater today. This movie is far more focused on the human characters and their dramas than the original was, even to the point of not listing any of the voice actors until after the entirety of the human cast. And this allowed the movie to spend more time on some well-developed character humor, in quite a number of genuinely wickedly funny scenes (the first of which being the used-car dealer and his mother, followed shortly by a scene that swipes at outsourced cellphone service call-centers and assured me that the first such scene was no fluke). I found myself laughing out loud far, far more throughout this movie's two-and-a-half hours than I expected to, and certainly a lot more than I did at the original—neither movie was really intended to be comedic, but then there's always room for humor in a drama or action movie (cf. Titanic). Besides, the Autobots may have had way too much physical texture, but their character was all intact and nicely restrained and modulated, thanks in no small part to Peter Cullen reprising his classic Optimus Prime delivery: narrator-y, but with a grandfatherly warmth and sense of human fallibility that you'd never get out of a Jim Cummings or a Lawrence Fishburne. (Plus it's good to see Charlie Adler get a crack at a bigger chunk of the Transformers pie than the bit roles he played back in the day when his career was young. Though whoever decided to put Hugo Weaving in as Megatron... whew. You sure that was money well spent? I can't help but think he was a bit wasted there; if he doesn't watch out, he'll become this generation's Leonard Nimoy.)

The fans, crucially, seem to be receiving this movie a lot better than the critics are, and I can see why: the critics aren't necessarily children of the 80s who grew up with transforming robots lined up on shelves in their rooms, or locked in perpetual combat tableaux on top of dressers and bookcases. This movie is rife with shout-outs to those kids who have been jealously guarding that side of their past and holding it close to their chests for nigh on twenty years now, and more of those shout-outs work spectacularly well than don't, though they'll be incomprehensible to a critic not of the in-the-know set. The updating of the robot cast, overblown design aside, is convincing enough—particularly when the robots are in their car forms, awash in testosterone and wreathed in V8 noises and '07-vintage cop-car bleeps and light-shows—that you find yourself buying it all over again, and you stop wishing Michael Bay finds some excuse to explain the bizarre premise of just why these robots transform into things to begin with, and you find yourself just as glad he leaves that plot point just as much of a mystery as the original cartoon did. You find yourself gradually opening up to this new telling of the tale, and by the time the Autobots and Decepticons are locked into their epic struggle in the streets of Los Angeles and Optimus Prime comes screeching out of an alley and oversteers with chirping and skipping tires onto the street, you realize that this movie's got enough heart in it to evoke some of that old-time religion. Genuinely great-looking camera shots abound, and Bay took the time to show the kids looking down the face of Hoover Dam—just because it's a cool view—against Prime's uncertain but optimistic voice-over about humanity's redeemability, and that little fifteen-second clip, which deftly illustrated the premise and texture of the original that so many of us identified with way back then, balanced out about 30 minutes' worth of senseless explosions.

It's not without its flaws, by any means. But I can't lie about something so toweringly important as a new Transformers incarnation. And the truth is that Michael Bay gave me more for my money than I've expected out of this franchise in decades. I love it when I'm pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, July 7, 2007
10:48 - Street cred
http://www.autoblog.com/2007/07/06/report-teens-covet-iphone-over-new-car/

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Was someone saying that the iPhone was going to whiff on the youth market, where all the volume cellphone sales are, but smartphones aren't exactly prevalent? I seem to remember reading that somewhere.

In 2007, it takes a different kind of mobility to boost cool. Mobile phones were the top desired possession among 16-29 year olds, with 32% saying one would impress their friends. Make it an iPhone, and, according to the researchers, that number almost doubles to 70%.

Other things more desirable than new cars were game systems, iPods, shoes and computers.

Apple's path forward is clear: they have to start making shoes.

Friday, July 6, 2007
23:15 - So we're told this is the golden age

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The iPhone wasn't the only thing that landed on the 29th. Another notable contender for the public's attention is Ratatouille, heralded in sidelong winking preview-reviews as Pixar's best effort to date, and already covered ably by Lileks, discussion with whom prodded me to write down some disjointed thoughts about my own reactions to it.

In short, it's awesome. I think it easily lives up to the hype, better than the iPhone does, in fact. To preface this with a pointless list of my Pixar bona fides: I've never been particularly fond of Finding Nemo; and Cars, while I appreciate a lot about it, didn't exactly spur me to a second viewing (something about Owen Wilson just pisses me off, I guess—and re-reading Lileks' post on the subject, I think it may simply be that he has too much preexisting "celebrityness" and typecast-baggage as a quirky smirking ironic pastiche of misremembered cowboy memes for his voice to sound like it's coming from a character other than Wilson himself—that drawling, open-R'ed languor kept Lightning McQueen from feeling like a real character to me, and in a movie where the conceptual stretch at perceiving "objects" as "people" was longer even than in shorts like Luxo Jr., that was a strike against it from the outset). On the other hand, The Incredibles was pure gold, and more ambitious and genre-crossing than my next favorite, Monsters, Inc., to say nothing of being the first to really dip into Pixar's well of teachable themes, what with its importance-of-family and not-being-ashamed-to-excel-in-a-world-of-mediocrity notes and oaky finish. The Toy Story movies will always occupy a certain spot in my heart as demonstrations that even at its most primitive, Pixar's work looked better and had more pitch-perfect storytelling than most other CG studios' stuff does more than ten years later, and A Bug's Life introduced the tradition of the prelude short film and the mad notion of fully rendered "outtakes" over the credits, a conceit that lasted through Monsters, Inc.—there to flower into an entire stage re-enactment of the whole movie by the kids of the cast—before evolving into the more subdued but still marvelous 2D animated credits sequences that we've seen in the last couple of outings. In short, a Pixar movie is less a weekend evening at the popcorn stadium, and more an event that merits being marked on calendars. It hardly seems fair to judge their movies against others working in the same genre, and invites comparisons only against its own past work. Pixar just seems to pour so much of itself, so unreservedly, into every one of its films—it's like they're bubbling over with so much excess talent and enthusiasm that they just can't resist overachieving, even if—like Dash in The Incredibles effortlessly outpacing the rest of the contestants on the track—it makes everyone else look ridiculously bad by comparison. Yes, it's Pixar's own lesson one might apply to this, but I consider such an insane pursuit of excellence to be all to the good, as long as they can sustain it and don't lose their footing.

From the look of it, that's no danger. Ratatouille is a feast for the eyes, as one might expect from the masters of the CG feature—and yet even more so for the ears and the imagination that loves a good story. It's not a particularly complex one this time around; none of the criss-crossing twists and shifting allegiances of Monsters, Inc. or Toy Story 2, but still a good deal more involving than the linear trundle of Finding Nemo. This is no bad thing, because in this case there's just so much texture everywhere—in the dialogue (of which there is just a ton), in the background art, in the gastronomic premise (I wonder if all Pixar movies are going to revolve around some pet obsession of one of the filmmakers from now on?), and in the characters' own movements and gestures and purely physical acting.

Lileks says:

There’s a scene in which Remy is trying to escape the kitchen; he passes a pot of soup, and can’t help go back a few times to add more ingredients. You see him think; you see his decisions in his posture and gestures. Not for a second do you think you’re watching a texture-wrapped wireframe. You buy it absolutely, and it has nothing to do with the voice, and if you think it would be better if Eddie Murphy or Jack Black voiced the character and the movie had more fart jokes and winking pop-culture references and ended with everyone singing “Mr. Roboto” or some other so-bad-it’s-even-worse song over the credits, fine.

There's something about Pixar movies that I think I only grasp in the five minutes after the movie's over, and afterwards it slips out of mind. That something is all the little "bits" of physical comedy that I store up during the watching, after which I want to turn to my friends in the still-darkened theater and say "Hey, remember that one bit where...?" These are places where the particular form of acting or movement or visual gaggery was memorable in its own right. Not the big plot points or the showstopping scenes, but the moments of pure concentrated insight into how people act and interact with the world around them, stuff that brings out my inner Chris Farley, like: "You know when they're back in the meat locker and he rips off his smock and he's all covered in rat bites, and the way he goes AAaahhghhh! AAAAAHHHGGH! And the way he waves his arms around, and expression on his face—remember? ...That was awesome!" Or "Hey, remember the way the spaghetti shakes out of the box?" Or "Did you see that little Well, you know... acquiescent shrug and eye-roll, when he asks Remy whether he can cook?" And you sit there in the aisle blocking traffic for the next five minutes just reliving the moments that you want to keep yourself from forgetting, even though you know you will by the time you get home. No reviewer can capture that kind of feeling, that enthusiasm for a craft brought so exuberantly to life that describing it in the same space you'd last week used for Wild Hogs or Evan Almighty just seems, well, wrong.

I keep noticing one of the aspects of modern humor being the "funny because it's so realistic" thing. You know, the stuff you see in Family Guy all the time, and other vehicles of the post-Space Ghost let's exhume the 80s landscape... where someone will rattle off some line that's crafted to sound soooo very casual and true-to-life, like what happens when you share an apartment with Superman. I mean, we've all been there, right? It's the realism that's allegedly so funny about stuff like this—just the cognitive dissonance inherent in the fact that people just don't talk like this on TV. Whether that's because traditional dialogue is usually better written than the way you talk when arguing about whose turn it is to buy the Mr. Pibb, well, that's sort of an open question, as is the efficacy of the comedic device after it's become a cliché in the circles that birthed it.

But Pixar doesn't have to worry about such things, because while realism is their stock-in-trade, for them it's not about irony or the clash of genres like pontificating superheroes versus passive-aggressive apartment roommates; it's sincere. Pixar's realism is primary-source. It's funny and engaging because it's stuff we relate to directly, stuff we've all done and heard and said—but that's because we share the experience of humanity with the characters on the screen, and their motivations are our motivations. We recognize Remy's semi-committal shrug or Linguini's incredulous arm-flailing wail of rat-bitten pain because that's exactly what we'd do in such a situation. Somehow, Pixar is able to translate these impulses of shared humanity right through the stilting barrier of artful script-writing, to the other side into a universe of specific acting that parallels the lives we live day to day. It's impossible to describe these movements and emotions in words—I sure can't, anyway—and I'll bet you they didn't try to capture them in stage directions on the script. But the animators get it. They understand life, or the fabled illusion thereof. They bring it all back to the screen through animation richer and more immersive than anyone else is doing today, more so than any live-action film, even—Jim Carrey or Robin Williams notwithstanding. This is the stuff that John Kricfalusi is always rattling on about, but let's be honest: Pixar does it better than he does.

It's hard to say much about Ratatouille that isn't redundant or so focused on trivialities like plot and premise that it ends up reading like a fourth-grade book report, entirely missing what's so significant about the movie as the craft of the master at the top of his game. I can only say that every Pixar movie to date, during its preview process, has left me scratching my head over trailers and sneak peeks that seemed to hint at a movie that I wasn't particularly interested in seeing. For some reason, the trailers always seem to undersell the movie, to paint it in unflattering light. Yet somehow—or perhaps this is part of the intentional scheme—the movie itself always seems to come together into something that surpasses all my expectations. By the same token, I'm not sure what to make of Wall-E, next year's follow-up feature. It looks (and sounds) odd. I can't say I'm itching to see the movie it slimly describes. But I will, and I'm quite sure that it will blow my face off. It's all part of the master plan, apparently, of a studio run like an orchestra full of virtuosos, where people feel the sincerity of what they're doing, where nobody is just going through the motions, where everyone believes in his character and his effects animation and the Platonic ideal of the background art he's constructing. Plus they know what 2D animation principles underpin everything they do, and they're 2D animators at heart; they can't resist a little dip into it, like when the cookbook image of Chef Gusteau comes to on-ones life to dispense advice. And when a film like this ends with a tagline like this in the credits:

Our Quality Assurance Guaratee: 100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film.

... You know you're dealing with the kind of people they'll be writing books about in ten years, and studying books about in twenty.


11:28 - You had me from hello
http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=f390265dcbb9e1f1da97a69637e921d39b6c99aa

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David Pogue isn't just a columnist and tech writer; he also apparently makes amusing parody musicals, and doesn't do a half-bad job of singing in them, either. New (via TUAW) is "iPhone: The Musical".



Seems New York is full of people who will bravely belt out a solo while standing in line at the Apple Store, too.

Thursday, July 5, 2007
02:41 - All in good fun
http://www.autoblog.com/2007/06/28/scions-web-persona-gets-a-little-deviant-and-cree

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I know this probably shouldn't bug me, but it does.

Scion's feeling that it's time for an advertising change, and they're taking the campaign dark...

LittleDeviant.com has you being a "Deviant," with the mission of genocide. The city is filled with "Sheeple," beings that blindly follow (Camry purchasers?). Deviants are seriously bloodthirsty -- you need to complete various tasks such as throwing Sheeple across the city and a sicker version of whack-a-mole in which you juice the Sheeple like oranges.

Isn't that great? Nowadays, it's not good enough to just be an individualist. Now, to be cool, you have to be a deviant.

Some of the commenters on the post rightly guffaw that anyone who thinks an ad campaign like this will turn kids into murderous psychos probably also thinks the Columbine shooters were inspired by Grand Theft Auto and Quake. But while I maintain the requisite airy assurance that virtual violence does not a killer make, still, I can't help but think that feeding teenagers lines about the merits of being a "deviant" and of slaughtering the "sheeple" (how proud they must be of having invented that word for the first time ever, too) might just be a teensy bit socially irresponsible, hmm?

But hey, who am I to judge... guess I must just be old.


00:10 - I beg your pardon
http://kipaji.livejournal.com/105036.html

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Everybody's making identical hay over what would seem to be the perfect illustration for the narrative of the decade:

Back when the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity began, Mr. Bush insisted that if anyone in his administration had violated the law, “that person will be taken care of.” Now we know what he meant.

I guess this is what happens when you treat history like a fantasy novel. Mustn't let facts get in the way of a good one-liner, must we?

I mean, criminy—this is the first time I've even heard about the whole Plame thing since it was revealed that the person actually responsible for the leak wasn't someone the media had wanted to roast. First it was the Scandal of the Century, then suddenly it disappeared, for months. And now it's all over the news again, because Bush waved his Dark Wand of Absolution and commuted Libby's Texas-style death sentence? Sheesh.

The revelation that Armitage was the source of Novak's column is somewhat anticlimactic for Bush administration critics who had used the story as a weapon in Washington's partisan battles.

As though Joe Wilson's testimony had the slightest importance with regard to the case for war, or Valerie Plame's identity had the slightest significance to anybody but her and Wilson. As presidency-a-sploding bombshells go, this is pathetic stuff. This whole stupid national obsession looks to me like what would happen if people had decided to try to bring down Hitler's regime by accusing some Vice-Goebbels' aide—falsely—of cheating on his wife. It's like, don't you have anything better to nail these guys with?


09:17 - Pip pip
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/telecoms/article2028

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Wait a minute. I thought it was illegal to sell phones in Britain that are locked to an exclusive provider. Wasn't that the whole basis for everyone's "Buy an iPhone in England and have it shipped here" schemes?

Via Daring Fireball.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007
14:24 - That didn't take long
http://nanocr.eu/2007/07/03/iphone-without-att/

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I might have known that the first person to crack the iPhone's AT&T lock-in and provide the keys to turn it into a fully functional touchscreen iPod with wifi and no activation would be DVD Jon.

Via CapLion.

Monday, July 2, 2007
19:53 - Almost infuriatingly superior
http://www.penny-arcade.com/2007/07/02

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Penny Arcade reviews the iPhone.

Having serviced Macs at one point in my illustrious IT career, I understand that there is simply an Apple Way of doing things, and it is often a very, very good way but it's still their way as opposed to some natural ratio of the universe. It's not universal, and there are strange blind spots, but there is a reason that their chosen people hoist the banner. My old phone, one based on Windows Mobile 5.0, had almost every feature the iPhone has - point by point. The differences between the products (like the differences between their desktop cousins) have to do with how functionality is exposed to the user. In this matter, you'll find that Apple's product is almost infuriatingly superior.

I have been waiting for the ability to manipulate technology by pressing dynamic symbols for basically ever. If you find such things unpleasant, then I suggest you develop a taste for forced labor because by the year twenty-twenty all that sneer is going to get you is a slot in the underclass boiling corpses. Get with the fucking program. Come and touch the neon glyphs.

See the previous post too—and don't forget to check the related comics.

In other news, scuttlebutt is that AT&T's EDGE network crashed all over itself today—apparently completely unprepared for the number of new data users suddenly on it.

UPDATE: The iPhone's gonna flop. You heard it here first. ;)


09:02 - Collective hallucination
http://hissomnia.com/wiki/

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It's the iPhone Dev Wiki. It doesn't seem to be quite properly configured, but it's under huge load already, which must bespeak a certain demand...

Via David G.

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© Brian Tiemann