Go See Serenity, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You; a Reasonable Editorial by Sandy Smith

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

So you may whine that there’s been little good at the theater this year. The blockbusters barely demolished a mailbox, let alone a block. That is about to change. Why?

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

Because you are going to see Serenity, and you will love it. How do I know? I know you’ll love it because I’ve seen an advance screening. I know you will go and see it, because otherwise I will come to your house and kill you.

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

Now, I realize you may be saying, “Sandy, threats are not really an effective form of behavior modification, not to mention illegal.” And I grant you that, though I note that silly parody is generally given broad protections. But threats work. After all, Al Quaeda managed to make Spain leave Iraq by just blowing up a mere handful of people and threatening more. They managed to force a theocratic government on the US and removed most Constitutional freedoms from Americans just by threatening more acts of violence.

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

You may also be saying, “Sandy, more people will not see Serenity than you can kill, even if you were a hyper-efficient killing machine like Killdozer, who was so rad and cool and awesome in that one movie.” That is why I will immediately devote my life to two goals: achieving immortality and bringing back people from the dead.

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

Why? I will achieve immortality so I have an infinite amount of time in which to kill everybody who didn’t see Serenity. “Ah,” you object (rather ineffectually), “we’ll die of natural causes before you can kill us.” That is why I will learn how to bring back the dead: so I can kill you. Even dying won’t save you from being killed.

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

So you’ve been warned. Serenity is the coolest thing ever, and seeing it will make you forget how much you hate George Lucas. And it will prevent you from being brought back to life just to be killed again, so you’ve got that going for you.

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

And deep down, isn’t that what we all want? To not be brought back to life just to be killed because we didn’t see a movie we should have seen anyway?

Go See Serenity, the mostest Awesomest movie EVAR, Or I Will Come To Your House and Kill You

Microsclerosis, Redmond Style

Could Microsoft be in trouble?

On the surface, it seems silly, and I remind myself uncomfortably of the people who were predicting Apple’s demise when they had $4 billion in cash reserves. Microsoft has many times that amount in cash, and they could operate for a couple of years with zero revenue. But note that I’m not saying Microsoft is about to fold; I’m just saying they’re starting to act like a, ahem, “beleaguered” company.

Windows Vista, their new operating system, is starting to look more like a failure than a successful upgrade. Various reviewers compare their promised features to Apple’s current operating system, 10.4–but the Big Deal, improved search a la Apple’s spotlight, isn’t even estimated to ship until 2007. Apple will likely be two operating systems further down the line by then. Google may take two features out of beta in that time period.

That coupled with the massive reorganization announced recently makes Microsoft look like a troubled company. The years of spending more time utilizing and protecting their various monopolies rather than even stealing good innovations (I can only think of one or two innovations that came from within Microsoft, and weren’t simply purchased from outside) has caught up with them. The lax attitude toward performance and security has caught up to them. They’re actually slipping in market share.

But none of it brought the point home to me as much as a product my friend Jason pointed me to: Microsoft Codename Max. This software, quite frankly, is a copy of Apple’s iPhoto–except it’s not a copy of the current version. Its feature set resembles iPhoto 1.0, which Apple released three and a half years ago. The current version of iPhoto is iPhoto 5. Even one of their icons is a direct ripoff of an Apple icon:


Usually Microsoft has at least one feature that doesn’t exist on another platform, even if it’s poorly implemented, so their apologists can claim it’s “better” than all the competition. From the feature descriptions, there is no such thing with Microsoft Max.

When even your copies are years late to the market, something is deeply and fundamentally wrong. Maybe Microsoft’s reorg will help, though I honestly think that the best thing that could happen to the company would be spinning off these divisions into separate companies. Once they stop wasting effort trying to reinforce and extend the monopoly, and put the effort back into competing, you could actually realize some of the potential that seems to be wasted. They supposedly hire the best and the brightest. But if Microsoft Max is all they can produce, they’re going to need that cash reserve.

The Coolest Thing EVAR (So Far This Week)

Peep dis, yo. That’s right: an Atari 2600…not the crappy inside-a-controller version, but an officially licensed miniature version of the console with buttons instead of those stupid switches and original game controllers…for $30 US. Available at Wal*Mart (who pays better than the unions protesting it) and Best Buy, among others, in October.

It even comes with Yars’ Revenge and Yars’ Return. I played one of the Yar games for many, many hours. The thing even comes with Battlezone, which is arguably the first 3D first-person shooter (though the first version of Battlezone was a black-and-white arcade game…actually green-and-black if memory serves). Follow the links and check out the online manual with original-style package graphics and some super-cool screenshots. Behold, kiddies, this is what we had to make do with for game-playing experience 25 years ago. Bet your pixellated sex acts don’t look so crappy now, huh?

Government Failure or Political Failure?

I’ve seen (and received) arguments that what happened in the preparation for and aftermath of Katrina was a political failure, in the sense that we simply elected the wrong guys and if we just would elect the right ones, all this would go away. Such things aren’t inherent to government, they argue, just the current, exceptional crop of incompetents. This accounts for both the response to the crisis as well as the failure to fund flood control measures.

I have some sympathy with the view that there is more than typical incompetence at work here, particularly in the leadership of FEMA. However, I maintain that the failures are pretty typical of a national government of a large country in effectively dealing with the sorts of things that insurance, private businesses, and private charities do much more effectively. Furthermore, the failure to address flood control started before January 2001 and is not a failure of funding, but a failure of budget allocation caused by just the sort of short-term pork projects that are endemic to a representative democracy–which is why it’s so important to keep the feds out of anything that they don’t absolutely have to be involved in.

Fortunately, Russell Roberts has summed up the two key examples that, if not refuting the political failure argument, should give its proponents pause to check for leaks in their rhetorical boat.

The first is the fact that over ten thousand people died in a natural disaster, and the government failed to act quickly enough, especially ignoring the elderly and poor. Damn those free market Republicans! Oh, wait, I meant the socialized-medicine-having French, from a story entitled France heat wave death toll set at 14,802.

The new estimate comes a day after the French Parliament released a harshly worded report blaming the deaths on a complex health system, widespread failure among agencies and health services to coordinate efforts, and chronically insufficient care for the elderly.

Sounds like it would take more than voting for Al Gore or Hillarycare.

Oh, and turns out the Army Corps of Engineers had a fair amount of money in Louisiana…unfortunately, they just didn’t spend it on flood control.

In Katrina’s wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush’s administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state’s congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana’s representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

Damn Republicans, voting for pork!

Oh, wait:

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River — now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the project’s congressional godfather — for barge traffic that is less than forecast.

If this is a political failure, it’s a failure of the entire political system, not just a few miscreants here and there. If you want to preserve government power, you can either reduce political control of the system, which is more like the system France has, or you can attempt to give more political control, even further rewarding short-term political ends over long-term planning.

Or, you can try taking government out of the equation when it has consistently failed to address a problem and there are viable alternatives. Ending federal flood insurance would, in the long-term, prevent people from living in flood-prone areas. In the short term, letting private charities handle disaster response would get food and first aid get to disaster areas. If there are security problems, you can either use private forces or call the government in to restore order to those pockets of insecurity. However, if people get enough to eat they’ll be less likely to loot or riot, and areas with no instability can get aid instead of waiting for the last pockets of resistance to be quelled.

Why do I care so much? Self-interest. I live in an area more likely than most to experience a terrorist-caused disaster on the scale of Katrina. After having seen government try to respond to Hugo and Katrina, I can’t count on them to help. It’s that simple. But right now government policy is to prevent people who could help to reach me. I want to remove that obstacle, and if it means relying entirely on the people who have proven they can help, so be it. I’m willing to bet my life on that. Are you sure you want to bet your life on a bunch who mandate that firefighters get sexual harassment training before they can come help?

Disasters always are disastrous–hence the name. They are marked by suffering and pain and loss. But it doesn’t have to be this bad. At the very least, fans and foes of government should unite to end the practice of blocking private charity to disaster areas. Can we at least agree on that?

Gruber on iTunes 5

I almost posted this morning, predicting that there would be commentary/scorn on the new iTunes interface from John Gruber, but was too busy. The interface is unlike anything else on Mac OS X–again.

Sure enough, here it is, in the form of a Hollywood script.

I have just a couple of notes.

  1. The rounded corners of the Brushed Metal take up a lot of space. This new theme rounds in fewer pixels, giving more room for content.
  2. The Mail.app theme Gruber contrasts it with turns into an Aqua-like window when focus isn’t on it–I just noticed this tonight. The new theme on iTunes behaves like Brushed metal, in that interface elements dim and there’s a drop shadow from the foreground window on unfocused windows, but other than that there’s no distinction between the focused and unfocused states.
  3. It’s prettier than Brushed Metal. But Brushed Metal is supposed to be used for applications that mimic real-world interfaces. So here was an area where Brushed Metal was used appropriately according to the Human Interface Guidelines, but it’s no longer used! Here’s hoping it replaces Brushed Metal, and that Safari gets the Mail.app treatment. And that developers either stick with Aqua or the Mail.app theme unless there’s a REALLY good reason for it.

The Steve, He Listens to Me

So I noted Apple’s introductions yesterday long enough to determine that the “iTunes Phone” sucks donkey balls (100 songs? no matter how much memory you have? cell companies suck) but noticed that they’d released iTunes 5.0, and it has a feature I’ve been dreaming of since it came out (and bugging Apple for): you can shuffle your library by entire albums.

This makes it function like a shuffling CD jukebox that can hold hundreds of CDs, and it’s really good for those of us who listen to album-oriented music. Progressive rock was not really meant to be listened to single-by-single. Classical for damn sure isn’t.

They can also vary the algorithm they use to correct for the statistical likelihood that two songs in a row will be by the same artist.

The iPod nano also looks sweet, but sadly too small for my needs, were I to break down and acquire an iPod. But if you added phone capabilities to an iPod nano, I could get interested…

FEMA Makes South Carolinians Look Erudite and Competent

Why? Because FEMA gave the residents of Charleston, South Carolina a half hour to prepare to receive a planeload of refugees (the plane trip from Louisiana to South Carolina is much longer than a half hour). Busses, ambulances, medical personnel, and relief workers managed to scramble to the airport in record time.

Then, nothing happened. They contacted FEMA, to find out that the planeload had indeed arrived in Charleston…WEST VIRGINIA.

This is right up there with Chertoff commenting on how Louisiana is a city underwater.

Charleston, South Carolina has good reason to already loathe FEMA, as they were useless in 1989 for hurricane Hugo, crowding out real first-responders and then offering to mail checks in a few months or so.

So FEMA: useless yesterday, useless today, useless tomorrow. Let’s just ditch it, and give any funds left over to standardizing the National Guard so groups of states can coordinate security after a disaster and let the Red Cross and other charities handle emergency relief and evacuation. So far, they have consistently done a better job.

Modern Prog Rock Makes the Big Time – With Half an Ass

OK, so modern progressive rock has its own iTunes Essentials listing. Great, except there’s nothing by Spock’s Beard or echolyn, both of which are on the iTunes Music Store. Really, it’s more of a Neoprog collection, which isn’t the same thing (in my opinion, it’s pretty boring stuff).

I was happy to see that Farpoint was represented. They are not typical prog, either, but having grown up in the same area of South Carolina, I can say that producing anything unconventional is an act of courage and perseverance in that environment. Trivia: the drummer I mean, uh, lead singer–sorry Clark–was Jesus in a local production of Jesus Christ, Superstar I once played for.

All that being said, the classic progressive rock iTunes Essentials listing is quite good, including even a couple of tracks I haven’t heard before. I question having “Nothing at All” by Gentle Giant as really essential when compared to some of the rest of their output (something off In a Glass House, perhaps?), but the collection was obviously put together by somebody who knew what they were doing.