Friday, February 24, 2006

Does this cancel out the China thing?

Google is digitizing the national archives.

Download it straight to your video ipod. I really wonder how fast this will go. Amazing stuff for doc producers. Makes wandering the stacks accessible to us all...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Learn your history, it's weird!

Interview with a guy who worked on ENIAC.
Eniac was the first electronic computer, more or less. It was intended to work out trajectory tables for bombs and mortars during WWII, but as with some many computer-oriented projects, the schedule slipped. They ended up using it to do some solid work on the h-bomb though.

From wikipedia:
A difference engine is a historical, mechanical special-purpose computer designed to tabulate polynomial functions. Since logarithmic and trigonometric functions can be approximated by polynomials, such a machine is more general than it appears at first.

Charles Babbage designed the difference engine in 1834. He never even finished building one. In 1985 the British Science Museum started building one and completed it in 1991. It's said by many that he intended to use it make a killing at the horse-races.

Some guy built a freaking difference engine out of LEGO.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Newsflash: I was shooting at things.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to let everyone know that last night I spent approximately 1 hour shooting things in HALO. I'm sorry it took me this long to let you know; that's my fault and my fault alone.

I've often thought that as much fun as the 1st person shooter games can be - and I do think they are fun - they often reduce to a highly dressed up version of the moving tin ducks you can shoot with a bb gun out at coney island, or in a thousand carnivals around the country. I played the same section of Halo over and over yesterday; it's a slighly tricky section, but I love the parts where you get to fly around in the alien spacecraft while it's snowing; it's really beautiful. Anyway, I'm playing this same section over and over while I fail to get all the shots right, and it was very fun and after an hour I thought to myself, "time well spent, but time to stop". Things exploded, I got a lot of time in the air, and honed that itchy trigger finger as millions do playing similar games every day, and for all the press about violence in video games, apparently in general violent crime is down.

Can somebody teach Dick Cheney how to get his computer on the interweb so he could just play Halo like the rest of us?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

tristam shandy - random thoughts

Very funny, and in an oblique way extremely faithful. It amuses me to see how we've become used to odd storytelling structures so that it's not even really an issue. (and of course, the book being adapted is proof of how long people have been confounding audiences with bass-ackward yarns).

For me, a nice surprise: some michael nyman music, early in the film. Thanks to modern technology, one cue recycled from Draughtman's Contract sounds about a million times better than it did in the earlier film.

The crowd at the Angelika was definitely a bit more mature than is usual for a friday night crowd...and as the lights came up, a gentleman sitting behind me proclaimed it 'one of the worst damn movies I've ever seen. Not one damn funny scene in the whole film.' - I 'd love to know what he was expecting. I guess he thought the book was better. (or maybe aforemention moebius-strip diegesis is more trouble than I thought!)

There is some fine artistic philosophizing wrapped up in all the low-rent humor, which for me helped sell the whole thing. Neat discussion of the value of battles and conflict in a story structure.

Two stars!

(via cellphone - apologies for the telegram style terseness. Full stop.)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Phone pics

I like this picture.

Jack Bauer vs. really bad guy from Serenity.

I never watched Firefly when it was on tv, but was a Buffy fan, and I was fairly impressed with the movie. The critic in me realizes that it didn't quite add up to a lasting piece of work, and the fan and creative voices tell me it was a hell of an effort. Lots of things I liked, a few big problems. I watched it a second time with my folks on DVD, and had more or less the same reaction; a few of the cheesier decisions were more apparent the second time through. But I noticed something that made me feel a little uncomfortable - and that makes me think slightly better of the whole thing.

When I think about the movie, "the operative" character seems almost like a good guy, and not a bad guy. I don't think this means I'm a fascist, though it's obviously something to consider. But the man who fights dirty to maintain the order of the society, who follows orders without asking why, even when it seems clearly against the stated goals...he just seemed like a dude with a really hard job, who was severely competent, and relentless in his application to his duty. Where Serenity is brilliant is how that fight between Mal (the captain) and the operative, gets blurred. Honestly, when watching, it's pretty clear, because we root for the team of scrappy heroes. But the operative is pretty appealing - his idea of order may get shot down, but he survives. He has something he believes in, a structure, and he's willing to risk his life for that. He's honest about it; not a religious nut who doesn't see the holes in his schema.

Anyway, most of us are probably more like Mal, and inasmuch as the film seems to be a story about order versus disorder, I appreciate very much the benefits of disorder in art, in life, and in social structure. It's the random twitch in the DNA replication that makes the world the fascinating place it is. ("I'm a leaf on the wind...") But I think we all probably have some desire to be the other guy, with rule to follow and a clear plan we don't second guess.

So. 24 is on again, and I'm watching and I'm loving it. I start thinking in a silly way about how many folks Jack kills during the show, and it looks like this so far (conservatively):

07:00-08:00 1 directly - the assassin
08:00-09:00 Possibly one FBI agent.
09:00-10:00 (jack is busy with paperwork and expense reports)
10:00-11:00 3 terrorists (one by vest, 2 by shooting)
11:00-12:00 1 assassin (again!)

Making it a total of at least 5 people before 1pm.
(note: i still need to go back and check the hours and the count to make this more accurate)

Which means that Jack is the scruffy version of the fascist enforcer. He'll do anything to get his man, no matter how far over the line of propriety it takes him, because he believes in the idea of the society he works for. It's not entirely articulated in the show; we know he respected the presumably democratic & african-american president palmer and doesn't respect the current nixon look-alike, but he serves respectfully. Since there is always a clear-and-present-danger, Jack's excesses seem understandable if not commendable. But of course, he's basically insane, and this rule-following, unyielding submission to an ideal ends up destroying every human relationship he has.

Which only leads me to think that maybe the actual subject of 24 is the family. It's always been a big issue on the show, and we're getting a variety of angles into that subject this time around.