The USA in Iraq

The American public appears increasingly weary with the war in Iraq. While it's fun foor the rest of the world to laugh at Bush's incompetence, and by extension the stupidity of the electorate that returned him, the real villains are still at large. Bush has always been a sock puppet for the defence contractors that have vastly enriched themselves at the expense of the USA's credibility as a positive force in the world.

Now that many Americans are coming to accept that the present Iraq policy is not working, it's important to remember the principle, "you broke it, you fix it".

Underworld Evolution

As sequels often are, Underworld Evolution was unsatisfying. Kate Beckinsale is still cute, and there was adequate footage of her getting violent in PVC, but much of what attracted me about the first movie was lost.
Underworld captured the experience of having a sophisticated European girlfriend. The action was set in a generic Eastern European city, with a modern transit system but lots of quaint old buildings, and at the coven's luxury mansion on the outskirts of town. Michael began as a pleasant, civilized fellow. As he was whirled into his new life as both a werewolf and a vampire, he gained his first access to his animal nature and dark side. On the other hand, Underworld Evolution is about an unkillable goddess smiting a bunch of nearly-dead wretches.
- The existence and structure of multiple covens should be established.
- Selene should win because her cause is just, not because she's a superhero. Willing suspension of disbelief depends on a light touch. - One interesting villain per movie is all that's necessary. The winged vampire concept had lots of possibilities; there was no need to bring along the wolf man as well. - Killing every recognizable character creates problems for possible sequels. Evil can't be extinguished from the world. We can personify aspects of it in stories, and can sometimes get the better of it for a while.


One of my favourite movies of the autumn of 2003. The theme is familiar from The Matrix: a powerful and sexy female member of a secret society inducts an attractive but naive male into the society. The guy turns out to have super powers and be destined to improve the secret society by changing its basic nature. The powerful female, important male theme is familiar from Amidala/Anakin and Leia/Luke in the Star Wars movies and also from Chess.

The vampire theme is also popular these days.

Some might criticize Underworld for lack of originality, although I liked the neat explanation of how vampires and werewolves came to be, and how they're related. I'm happy that The Matrix, one of my favourite movies, has now become a genre, of which Underworld is an amiable and fun-to-watch example.

Aeon Flux

The point of the animated series was that the attraction between Trevor and Aeon transcends common sense. Their love is the only thing that redeems them; without it they are as mad and arbitrary as the fucked-up world they inhabit. The movie portrays them as conventionally good. Feh. Hollywood.

Tank Girl

Some of the comics were good, although by the second volume Hewlett and Martin were spewing self-regarding crap.
What is worth preserving is:

The Seige

When watching a disaster film, there's usually a sense that what we're watching couldn't actually happen. In this case, what has actually happened has so far exceeded the events depicted in "The Seige" that the film seems quaint.
The destruction of New York's World Trade Center was daring, brilliantly executed and effective. The terrorists wanted to provoke a general conflict between their culture and that of the West, to shore up traditional Islamic power structures in their home countries.
The current struggle in Iraq has cost the USA perhaps $400 billion, and resulted in an increased risk of terrorism throughout the developed world. It is likely that both Iraq and Afghanistan will need to pass through a hard-line Islamic period before real democracy can take root.
Iran is working flat out trying to build nuclear arms, as this is the most cost-effective way to defend their way of life against the Americans.
If instead of lashing out blindly, the US had given a small fraction of the billions it has spent prosecuting the war to aid agencies operating in Islamic countries, or invested it in the region through development banks, Al Quaida would by now have withered and died for lack of volunteers.

In the movie, the torture and killing of one enemy prisoner of war was enough to collapse the government's moral case for martial law. The Bush administration, representing a large fraction of the American people, muddles on.

A Practical Guide to eXtreme Programming

There are some elements of XP I do anyway:
- Aggressive refactoring
- Growing a system organically so you always have something working

There are some interesting new approaches in XP:
The test first philosophy is probably the most attractive part of XP for me. Although many kinds of graphical or interactive software are difficult to write automated tests for without external tools or a lot of work, Differences between my habitual way of doing things and XP: In XP, you generate user stories, come up with a bunch of test cases that test whether the system actually does something desirable, then make it pass the tests. Myself, I think about a problem I'd like the program to be able to solve, and let my subconscious grind away at that while building easy, interesting bits of the functionality. By the time my subconscious has designed an overarching structure, there are usually one or two bits of working code to slot into it. - Pair programming. Haven't tried it; it might interfere with the conscious/ subconscious rhythm.

Ad Astra Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

This con gathers many elements of the geek culture constellation together in one space: writers, fans, and fantasy role playing gamers. I noticed a fair number of goth and celtic enthusiasts, too. A trad sci-fi author I met was decrying the increasing balkanization of the subculture. The gamers tend to hang out in their own room, as do the Star Trek people, but a certain amount of mixing and cross-sub-sub-cultural mixing is inevitable and fun when it happens.

One of the fun things at these events is the dealer and art auction rooms, in which one can purchase objects demonstrating one's identification with one's favourite story, TV series or subculture. Viewed as art or craft, these objects run from exquisite to embarassing, but I was consistently struck with the earnestness of their creators.

I went to panels on how to pick a first line in a story, how to buy a sword, and corset design. As the presenters were often enthusiasts and fans rather than professional speakers, the presentations sometimes lacked organization, but everything I went to was informative and worthwhile.

Saw Heather Dale perform, which is always fun.

Discovered the Utilikilt.

hacker emblem

Hacker/Geek Culture

Kristin believes that geeks have become cool now that many of them dress stylishly and people are beginning to make the connection between tech savvy and personal effectiveness.

Tangentially, I see an arc: Back in the days of TRON, the imaginary world within the machine was ghostly, linear, and populated by accounting programs. Now we have the Matrix, which has achieved parity with our own reality. In another twenty years? Paradise will exist within the machine, a constructed land like C. S. Lewis's description of heaven: a deeper and more profound Narnia. Here everyone will proceed along their own pleasant path ever closer to perfection. This newer, better reality will begin to spill its overflowing light back into the drab, everyday reality from which we came, and which we will one day leave behind.

Firewalls and Internet Security, 2ed

Over the last couple of years I've gradually been changing my career from application development in C++ to internet development in Java. This allows me to continue doing cool stuff while avoiding imperial entanglements with Microsoft.

Firewalls' is an entertaining introduction to one aspect of life on the internet. Although the book's advice comes down to "close all unnecessary ports, update regularly and use ssh if you have to talk to anyone outside", the discussion illustrates how computers connect to a network.

Lord of the Rings

I like the movie versions. The books were good enough that it would be difficult for any movie to live up to them. We're entering an age in which it will increasingly become possible for viewers to take control of movies by downloading pirated versions and editing them at home. Because LoTR has so many readers, it's likely that there'll be several different realizations.

Some of the changes I would make:

Saruman's voice should be richer, more rhythmic and more hypnotic. The sound aspect of the film is not as effective as the visuals, which might be fixed by reprocessing the original recordings.

In the books, the Ents' tragedy is clear: there have been no female ents in a long time so putting down Saruman is the Ents' last appearance on the world stage. This ties in with Tolkein's end of the third age of the world theme: the world is becoming safer but less magical. The Ents make the decision to attack Saruman, and Merry and Pippin are bystanders. In the book, M+P acquire heroic qualities passively, playing minor roles in historic events. In movies, heroes have to actually do things to be heroic.

Strider and Gandalf are not as I imagined them. My imaginary Strider is older and more weathered, like Clint Eastwood. Gandalf is harder to pin down, although Patrick Stewart would be closer. In the movie he's presented as being old, but I see wizards as being timeless. They aren't human although they appear in human form. It might be worth giving him a slight aura that expands when he's doing magic.

Kill Bill

Bill's aim was deflected by the bride's assertion that her baby was his. Lacking the will to kill her (for marrying another?) he did not succeed in doing so.

Bill prevented Elle from killing the bride not because it would morally lessen the organization, but because of his love for the mother of his child.

The bride's supreme level of martial skill remains unexplained, although it is reasonable that Bill would be most attracted to his most effective operative.

Perhaps this is a morality play in which the morally superior must win: the bride left the death squad and got engaged to someone other than Bill because of her conscience.

Moral superiority is relative in a Tarantino universe, when you consider that she kills about 92 people in the film (sparing Mr. Bell and his daughter, and the immature Crazy-88 member). Note the similarity between the fight with the Crazy 88 and the burly brawl in the second Matrix movie.

An argument is made that Kill Bill is self-indulgent on Tarantino's part. Certainly the story could be told more economically, with less and shorter scenes and less gore. My theory is that Tarantino is an Impressionist, less concerned with narrative than with conveying a feeling.

I'm not attracted to Uma Thurman. She's striking, so I can see how Tarantino could fixate on her as his muse, but she's not sexy. Darryl Hannah was cute, though.

Florence, Italy and The Agony and the Ecstasy

A couple of years ago after Hotline shut down, I went on a tour of Florence, while at the same time reading Irving Stone's biography of Michaelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy. Although Florence has become a tourist town, the art and architecture are still interesting, and in many of the galleries you can get right up close to the works on display.

Florence is interesting as ground zero of the Renaissance, Michaelangelo as an early geek. As he's depicted in Stone's book, M is driven to create. His powerful clients provide the funds for him to do so, while often making his life difficult in one way or another. It was fascinating, reading about him while walking around the town where he lived and looking at his work.

I found I was more drawn to the sculpture than the painting.

One of the things that intrigues me about the renaissance is the corporate creative process. Artists would usually start out working as junior members of a major creator's studio, gradually taking on more ambitious roles within the studio until they became skilled enough to strike out on their own. A major artist's work would include contributions from numerous apprentices and assistants.

The lack of distinction between engineering and decorative art is attractive. Gothic church designs unify aesthetic and structure.