Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Monday, May 29, 2006
The enforcers of the new model are the search-based ad-placement services, mainly, at the moment, Google and Yahoo. Their business comes down to scale - in particular, the overall scale of internet use. To expand the scale of use, they want to ensure that there's as much content as possible available on the internet for free. Think about it. Every piece of content - indeed, every service - on the internet is simply a complement to these companies' ad placement business (and the underlying search business). It's thus in their interest to drive the price of those complements down as far as possible, preferably to zero. Subscription pricing, and any other barrier to the free availability of online content and services, is anathema to them because it necessarily constrains the use of the internet. I am not criticizing these companies. I am simply pointing out that they are very powerful presences on the internet and that their core business turns all other web businesses into, in their view, complements that should be free. For Google and Yahoo, the so-called "gift economy" is indeed a gift.This is, of course, why they fund programs like Performancing and services like Blogger.
Tanstaafl lives on, even in Web 2.0.
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Saturday, May 27, 2006
Do you think a library like that is a waste of time, since you only need to see a movie once? Or do you think a personal copy of your favourites might be a fun thing on a rainy night? If you have children a library for them might make good sense as a way to reduce rental costs and keep them away from less savoury fare. DVDs might also be useful to you as training materials, for excersize of language training, perhaps.
I don't fall into any of those categories, but I do think a few good choices are fun to have around the house. Here are some of the things I think about before making a purchase.
First, since I think this is a very frivolous purchase, it has to be cheap. Usually that will mean previously viewed copies that sell for well under $20 Canadian. Around $10 is the sweet spot, if I can get it.
Then, it has to be a movie that I think has a much better than average chance that I will sit down and watch it again. This is where things begin to get tricky.
What will lead me to watch a movie more than once? Certain genres are dead in the water as far as I'm concerned. Teen age comedies and horror flicks are to be avoided like the plague. So are musicals, because I simply hate them. There are very few well made comedies, so I'm seldom drawn in that direction.
Drama is my bread and butter, and there are two things above all that will make a film leap out for me. One is that the story simply has to be good, and not trite. Oh look, here's another film about the false idol of marriage and life in America. ** Snork **, whatever. American Beauty would be a stellar example. Crash is a better vehicle for this kind of tale it but has so much swearing in it that I would not want it in my house. Action movies tend to have very weak stories and be vehicles for stunt-work and effects; as a result they bore me to tears. Stories don't have to be original. Look, there are only so many story forms. What it must do is make me willing to overlook - or, if it is very good - to temporarily lose sight of the form.
Anytime we're dealing with film and moving images, we also expect those images to be at the very least interesting. Ideally they will be arresting. That doesn't mean bloody, explosive or sexual. Those things tend to make me feel exploited as a viewer, as if somehow this was the only way I could be captivated and entertained.
I like a film to treat the screen like a canvas and to fill it with rich imagery of the sort that don't get to see a lot of in day to day life. I love historical settings, when attention is paid to the costumes and the details of day to day life in strange times and places. Memoirs of a Geisha, for example, is a rich film in this regard, and it also has a good story. Ridley Scott can usually be counted on to make stunning visual films. Kingdom of Heaven is gorgeous to look at, for example. The story isn't terrible but it isn't quite up to the level of the visuals. (The stills above are from a HD Kingdom of Heaven clip on the Apple website. I used Quicktime to capture them; clicking on them should give you the full image.)
It's probably my fondness for films that look good that prevents me from having much affection for older film, despite the fact that a lot of them have stories I might like. Most films before the 1970's have cameras that are too static. The look like they are filming a theatrical production, with the odd close up of an actor's face thrown in. And while I might be willing to overlook this flaw on occasion - for Alfred Hitchcock, for example - as a general rule the oldies are a wasteland.
Today's picks (it's not like I do this often) were:
Pride and Prejudice, the recent version with Kiera Knightly. This is a great story and gorgeous cinematography make this the one I was looking for for weeks. Finally got a copy today.
Walk the Line. I really enjoyed this one. The acting is very strong and the music is wonderful. I don't have a copy of Ray, but it's also one that I would consider.
An Unfinished Life. This one stars Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jenifer Lopez. Rebecca and I saw it a while back and enjoyed the rustic life it portrayed, and the enduring friendship portrayed by Redford and Freeman. Lopez was ok.
The one the got away: Memoirs of a Geisha.
Still on the lookout and losing hope: Kingdom of Heaven.
Outside chances: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (best in the series thus far); Last of the Mohicans, and Minority Report. These just happen to available to me at the moment and since I didn't get them today, odds are I won't.
DVD gripe zone: Why do film makers insist on releasing DVD's that force you to sit through previews and ads? I'm just going to turn the sound down and make popcorn anyway. Idiots. The menu system exits for these kinds of things and you go and disable it so five years from now people will still be forced to find a way around your hopelessly dated ad.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Spinoza recognizes that he needs what he himself calls his "cumbersome, geometric order." People, he shows, are constantly being led astray by the randomness of their sensual experience, by their imaginations and passions. Only mathematics provides a model for conclusions that cannot be refuted, that are either right or wrong: "I will write about human beings as though I were concerned with lines and planes and solids."Surprisingly, the Ethics opens by establishing basic truths about God and nature. Everything that exists is part of the single substance of the deity, who, in fact, is identical with Nature, or as Spinoza invariably writes "God, or Nature." Because everything is inherent in God eternally, there are no goals or ends for man or the universe. As Matthew Stewart says in The Courtier and the Heretic (Norton), a highly recommended new biographical study of Spinoza and Leibniz, "To the fundamental question -- what makes us special? -- Spinoza offers a clear and devastating answer: nothing."
The Harvard researchers have also done extensive interviews with sports fans who just know they'll never smile again if their team loses but, of course, recover speedily after a loss."The human brain mispredicts the sources of its own satisfaction," Gilbert says, "and the reason is that we fail to understand how quickly we will adapt to both positive and negative events. People are consistently surprised by how quickly the abnormal becomes normal, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. When people say I could never get used to that, they are almost always wrong."Gilbert believes we have an emotional immune system that helps us regain our equilibrium after catastrophic events."The studies of Holocaust survivors are clear - most went on to lead happy and productive lives," he says.
Is there a better way to predict what will make us happy than using our imagination?"Yes," says [Gilbert], "but no one wants to use it. It's called surrugation, and it circumvents biases and errors. If you want to know how happy you'll be if you win the lottery, ask a lottery winner — it's a mixed blessing. Will having children make you happy? Observe people who have them."People discount this approach because of what Gilbert calls "the myth of fingerprints.""Most of us have the illusion of uniqueness," he says. "We believe that other people's reactions won't tell us about our likes and dislikes. But we are remarkably similar. We share the same biology, and others' experiences can teach us a great deal about our own."As long as we maintain our illusions about our uniqueness, we will continue to ignore information that's in front of our noses."
Taking On Liberty and Principles together we find, in fact, a premonition of much that conservatives object to in the modern liberal worldview. The "harm" doctrine of On Liberty has been used again and again to subvert those aspects of law which are founded not in policy but in our inherited sense of the sacred and the prohibited. Hence this doctrine has made it impossible for the law to protect the core institutions of society, namely marriage and the family, from the sexual predators. Meanwhile, the statist morality of "Principles" has flowed into the moral vacuum, so that the very same law that refuses to intervene to protect children from pornography will insist that every aspect of our lives be governed by regulations that put the state in charge.Mill famously referred to the Conservative Party as "the stupider party," he being, from 1865, a member of Parliament in the Liberal interest. And no doubt the average Tory MP was no match for the brain that had conceived the "System of Logic"--an enduring classic and Mill's greatest achievement. Yet Mill suffered from the same defect as his father. He never understood that wisdom is deeper and rarer than rational thought. He never understood that the intellect, which flies so easily to its conclusions, relies on something else for its premises. Those conservatives who upheld what Mill called "the despotism of custom" against the "experiments in living" advocated in "On Liberty" were not stupid simply because they recognized the limits of the human intellect. They were, on the contrary, aware that freedom and custom are mutually dependent, and that to free oneself from moral norms is to surrender to the state. For only the state can manage the ensuing disaster.
It seems to me that all of his observations are true. I'm from a German family but was born and raised in an English country - Canada. English is not only my first language, it is what I studied in University. Germans do indeed have a very hard time with irony and double entendre and that probably goes a long way towards the English description of them as humourless. It must also play a role in the peculiar nature of German jokes. If you've listened to them in translation, or even if you read the ones at the end of the article, you'll know what I mean.An English couple have a child. After the birth, medical tests reveal that the child is normal, apart from the fact that it is German. This, however, should not be a problem. There is nothing to worry about. As the child grows older, it dresses in lederhosen and has a pudding bowl haircut, but all its basic functions develop normally. It can walk, eat, sleep, read and so on, but for some reason the German child never speaks. The concerned parents take it to the doctor, who reassures them that as the German child is perfectly developed in all other areas, there is nothing to worry about and that he is sure the speech faculty will eventually blossom. Years pass. The German child enters its teens, and still it is not speaking, though in all other respects it is fully functional. The German child's mother is especially distressed by this, but attempts to conceal her sadness. One day she makes the German child, who is now 17 years old and still silent, a bowl of tomato soup, and takes it through to him in the parlour where he is listening to a wind-up gramophone record player. Soon, the German child appears in the kitchen and suddenly declares, "Mother. This soup is a little tepid." The German child's mother is astonished. "All these years," she exclaims, "we assumed you could not speak. And yet all along it appears you could. Why? Why did you never say anything before?" "Because, mother," answers the German child, "up until now, everything has been satisfactory."The implication of this fabulous joke is that the Germans are ruthlessly rational, and this assumption leaves us little room to imagine them finding time to be playful. But be assured, the German sense of humour not only exists, it actually flourishes, albeit in a form we are ill-equipped to recognise.
Monday, May 22, 2006
a follower of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, is now the Equality Minister in the Blair cabinet, bringing calls for removal from some gay groups. I think those groups are mistaken. Kelly has every right to her religious faith; and she has also publicly insisted that as a public servant, her first loyalty is to uphold the laws as they stand. That's exactly the right position; and exactly the right distinction between faith and politics.
One indicator of how much the early 21st century has come to resemble the era of religious wars is the revival in various guises of the concept of cuius regio, eius religio "a phrase in Latin that means 'whose rule, his religion'." The Free Dictionary notes that cuius regio eius religio forms the basis for state sponsored religions, and once granted that Political Correctness constitutes a religion in all but name it becomes apparent that all candidates for high or official positions will become subject to a doctrinal test. The Inquisition returns in its modern form, asking after Blasphemy and Witchcraft - put differently of course.It is perfectly understandable that a democratic populace would want to be sure that members of its government will uphold the laws as they stand. That is what the Rule of Law is all about, after all. Yet surely this cannot be legitimately extended to mean that government members cannot argue for appealing or even repealing current laws. Nether can it be argued that some "sensitive issues" are simply beyond the reach of public debate. To do so would impoverish our democratic institutions and our understanding of the issue at hand. Such Democratic ghettos can't be the solution; this is the step to the unnamed state religion Wretchard notes above.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
I don't like the old coot either - meaning Freud, of course. Spengler I like just fine. The Left will say that I'm trying to force everyone into the same box, but that's not the case at all. It makes their job easier to paint me into that box, but that's about all it does. Of course not everyone wants to have a family. Some occupations and vocations are ill suited to it and make no mistake we need people to fill those roles. What I am saying is that more people want a happy home than can admit it publicly, and that's a situation that might be connected to depression, as Spengler contends. For most of us, a job will only be a job. Fulfillment - that comes from a safe place in a social web with ties to a future and a past. When you live in the moment, nothing ever blooms, because nothing is planted and tended.Having cured society of repression by making sexual pleasure a commodity, enlightened opinion is shocked, shocked to discover an epidemic of depression. In consequence some 70 million Americans have taken anti-depressants. Psychotropic drugs, I hasten to add, work miracles for many who suffer from imbalances of brain chemistry, and I mean no criticism of psychopharmacology in general. But the vast numbers involved suggest that a spiritual ailment is epidemic for which anti-depressants cannot be the solution. ...Human beings are not beasts content with daily fodder and rutting in season. To be sentient is to be sentient of one's mortality. The status of wife and mother in a family within a community offers women an honored position and a link to the eternal. Sexual objectification leaves women with a foretaste of death, and it should be no surprise that Freud's program drives women into deadly behavior. It will take long and painful efforts to repair the damage, but putting a stake through the old reprobate's heart is not a bad way to begin.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
the fundamentals of the Christian creed can be summarized in a few sentences easily learned by schoolchildren and recited aloud from memory by the whole congregation on Sunday. They are great mysteries to be sure - Trinity, incarnation, redemption, salvation, crucifixion, resurrection - but they are simple enough to explain. Contrast that with the account Mr. Brown offers of a centuries-long fraud, sustained by shadowy groups, imperial politics, ruthless brutality and latterly revealed by a secret code "hidden" in one of the world's most famous paintings.
The Christian Gospel offers a coherent, comprehensible account of reality that invites the assent of faith. It requires a choice with consequences. Mr. Brown's dissent from Christianity offers a bewildering and incredible amalgam of falsehoods and implausibilities, painting a picture of a world in which the unenlightened are subject to the manipulations of the few. Call it paganism, Gnosticism, or simply hucksterism, but Mr. Brown is in a long, and occasionally lucrative, tradition.
My suspicion is that the popularity of The Da Vinci Code lies precisely in that it avoids putting the simple choice of faith before us - a choice that has consequences. It provides instead the comfortable paralysis of not being responsible; after all, if the whole religious architecture of the West is the mother of all frauds, what is left to do but simply go to the movies?
Monday, May 15, 2006
And Survivor stuff too!
I'm sorry that posting to this site has become such a rare event. As I've written here before, the time available for blogging is not what it was. The primary culprit remains that I'm missing about two hours plus out of my day, every workday. What free time I've had has gone into playing with the Mac. David Pogue's Missing Manual is my primary reading material again. It makes more sense now that I'm more familiar with the Mac interface, and it contains a lot more information that Leo LaPorte's book. LaPorte was great for an introduction but left too many side-roads unexplored. I wanna see everything! I'm that kind of guy.
I don't want to bore you with it, but...
Today I realized that OS X's "services" include the ability to send e-mails composed in programs other than Mail. Programs like Pages, for example. Pages is Apple's word processor and it's very pleasant to use. It's better than Blogger's compose window (anything is better than that), and better than G-mail's because it's less cluttered. Unlike Apple's Mail program, Pages will easily allow me to keep a copy of my postings on this computer. I can compose and format here, and call up services --> mail when I'm done. Presto, my post appears in Mail, needing only to be addressed to NWW.
I like it. I'm also (slowly) finding a few very handy keyboard shortcuts. Cut and paste were easy, and I finally figured out how to send my cursor to the beginning or end of a line (command arrow left or command arrow right) while editing. Add little command tab action for fast switching between apps and slowly getting a grip dealing on screen clutter and things are starting to come together. Hiding programs (command H) is brilliant, as is Expose.
Rebecca and I are also messing about with some of the iLife apps. Rebecca used iMovie, for example (or was it iDVD?), to create a slideshow for a church event. It was played on the DVD player there as a background for a social event. I upgraded to the full version of Quicktime, primarily so that I could copy HD video clips to this computer for future playback. They look terrific! I do wonder, though, if I am in fact seeing them in the full HD. Does anyone know if the iMac screen is capable of HD playback? To my eyes, the HD clips I downloaded from Apple look better than the DVDs I've viewed here.
And the Survivor stuff? Well, I won a pool at the office when Aras took the prize last night. I can't say that I particularly liked him. It's not that he is totally unlike-able, but he a couple of character flaws that did grate on me. Some of that is simply his youth, like when he berated Terry over the older man's take on the whole mother - wife issue. Frankly, Aras' looked and sounded every bit like a child during that exchange. Yer mum, kid, is a warm cocoon that you'll be very close to all your life, even after you've molted out of dependency on her. Yer wife is more like your left arm. You don't outgrow her. You might make headway on this issue if you get out of the basement and find yourself in a relationship that isn't based on depenency. I'm rather skeptical that an unearned million bucks to help you "find yourself" will help much. If he is not careful, Aras may in fact wind up with someone dependent on him. The taunts about Terry and women were a pathetic smear and only made Aras look like five year old who'd just learned a new taunt on the playground. Kinda like holding a hammer makes everything look like a nail.
Still, I have hope for Aras. I think he has potential.
The other choice in the final was much worse. Fake boobed, fork tongued Danielle was impossible to warm up to in any way. How can she ever have expected anyone to take her offers of alliance and reciprocity seriously when she never followed through? Every time it was her turn to return a favour, her response was "I have to see how this will play out for me. You understand, right? You'd do the same. It's only rational." Frankly my dear, this attitude is completely irrational. I know the game prompts you to break promises but the point here is to balance that off against the very human need to form and maintain reciprocal relationships. I'm not talking about contract law here, I'm talking about everyday life. Danielle was repulsive through most of the show and the fact that she only got two votes last night ought to hammer that home.
Both candidates displayed the unthinking narcissism that is the calling card of too many young adults. Displaying it is not the most horrible thing - after all, we have to grow out of it by seeking transformative experiences. Aras, bless him, did display some of that seeking, as did the tiresome Courtney. They tended to express it as seeking self fulfillment and perhaps that is understandable in our culture, a give me, I want, I need kind of culture. If you think I'm being too hard on them you have to understand that I'm not saying anything of them that I would not say of myself at that point in my life. I think that attending Mass every week has sharpened my thinking about my relationship to the community considerably. You have to give, sometimes without any realistic hope of getting anything back. You simply do it because it is right.
Courtney talked last night about how difficult situations can be gifts and in that she really was onto something. Giving without counting the cost is hard, as is learning to see all of the needs that cry out for us to respond to. Doing so leads to real personal growth, however. Unless Danielle realizes this, she will be a terrible candidate for someone’s wife. "Yes, know that I said for better or worse, in sickness and in health, but I'm really bored with you and I want a divorce. You understand, don’t you? Besides, I have better offers and I need to do what's best for me. And that cancerous lump of yours is so, like, gross. Ta!"
Hmm, it seems links created in Pages don't make the jump to Mail. Or something. I've no time to add them, sorry, but you can tell where the intended links are by the colour. At least the one added from within Mail still works. I'll work around that in the future.