Pruning needed

So many bad things in the news right now. What should I be worried about?

A nuclear Iran?

The Islamicization of Europe?

The Mexicanization of the U.S.?

Bird flu?

Morgellons disease?

I just don't know that I can worry about all of these things. I mean, if we get hit with a nuclear attack, it doesn't really matter what language everybody's speaking, right?

Update: Almost forgot: global warming? Supposedly Al Gore's new movie claims that sea levels will rise 20 feet in the next few decades, submerging all coastal cities. And he uses graphs so, you know, it's got to be legit.


The end has no end

We just saw Chen Kaige's "The Promise", which is something like mainland China's first attempt at a modern, high-budget, CGI-ful epic, and also possibly the worst movie I have ever seen in my life. Some movies are painful to sit through, but this one was also almost physically painful just to think about afterwards. I can only think of one other movie that had that effect on me, and that was the short Star Wars spoof called "Hardware Wars". Something about seeing people who sort-of looked like the Star Wars characters but not entirely made the 8-year-old me feel nauseous.

Anyway, this movie: I once had the idea for a symphony that would be about 30 seconds of music, and then the rest would be a "finale". You know, that part at the end of a symphony when they're stuck on the final chord and they come out with a series of blasts and cymbal crashes to let you know it's the end. It would be like that, but it would just go on and on. I'd imagine the effect would be first confusion, then amusement when people figured out what was going on, then ultimately total annoyance. This movie was just like that. From the constant thrilling background music to the shimmery soft-focus to all the "now I will kill you" dialogue, it was like a two-hour ending that never ended.

I wanted to see it partly because of a positive mention from NY Press' film critic, Armond White; here's his big tribute: "With The Promise, Chen Kaige joins cinema’s archetypal visionaries from Murnau to Kurosawa, Bertolucci to Boorman. He’s made an action movie rich with adult meaning and paradox." Armond White is my favorite film critic to read, because I really agree with his basic premise that there's a moral and political component to movies that colors every part of what we see on screen; so it pains me to say that he's totally wrong on this, and that I've been burned by him numerous times.

Here's what he said about War of the Worlds: "Bringing experience and existential contemplation together so forcefully, Spielberg joins the ranks of the most audacious avant-garde filmmakers: He turns the popcorn movie experience into a consideration of the abyss." Which is true, but as a movie it was bleak to the point of nihilism. I want to feel like there's some way out for the characters, which up until about the last two minutes there wasn't at all.

Here he is on "Spanglish": "James L. Brooks' Spanglish exposes all that nonsense "humanism" with an immigration and integration story that honestly questions the values of L.A.'s soft-headed and wrongheaded liberals. His complex view of family love and social commitment shows the difference between compassion and condescension." Okay, that sounds like a good movie, but that's not the one I saw.

He's been right on other movies, like how awesome "Minority Report" was, but I think his views blind him to how watchable a movie actually is. Like if it's not smug and doesn't go for cheap laughs, and it doesn't look like a TV show, then it gets a positive review, even if it's kind of a mess.


Fountainhead Cafe mystery deepens (update: then is cleared up)

Could this be the first-ever blog post written from the Fountainhead Cafe? I don't know. I'm here in a cafe, with free wi-fi, with a big "Fountainhead Cafe" sign outside it, so maybe. Apparently this place is just the West Village "Fuel", recently re-branded. How recently? Well, the guy at the counter thinks the place is called "Fuel", though, to be fair, he doesn't speak much English. Also, the counter is still full of protein shake buckets, the menus all say "Fuel" (and have non-vegetarian options), and there are no Rand quotes on the walls. I wasn't sure that I was at the right place, but another guy sitting at a table said they had just changed their name.

Well, that probably ends my career as some sort of C-grade Harriet The Spy. For any of you web searchers out there, since the address doesn't seem to be available anywhere else on the web right now, Fountainhead Cafe is located at 181 West 10th St., New York, right on 7th Ave.

UPDATE: Okay, now that there's more staff here, I talked to some guy who apparently helps run the place; he explained that the New York Magazine article that started the whole thing was totally premature; the writer from the magazine said they'd hold off on running the article for a few weeks, but then it got published anyway. The cafe is still very early in the transition process, and the whole thing's pending some funding.

But hey, free wi-fi. And the wraps are good. I'll chalk it up as a good discovery.


Quick hits

A new vegetarian objectivist cafe in New York's West Village, called "Fountainhead Cafe". Seriously?

Montenegro is splitting off from Serbia - is that good or bad? Publius Pundit applies the protest babe theory.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is right about Iran: "to allow the Iranian government to get weapons of mass destruction, the world will regret it."

Dawn Summers has a cute photo of a cat with a gun.


Good online software in one sentence or less

A rare software-based entry (well, I guess they're all rare at this point), since software is pretty much all I'm doing these days: I have yet to find a guide to making good software as concise as this page, which I first saw about a year ago:
Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?

It's just the littlest bit simplistic, but its heart is in the right place: in the web age, if you're a programmer and you're not writing space-shuttle-control apps or financial apps or games or some such, chances are the software you're working on is somehow involved with people creating content that other people will be able to see, whether it's art or music or political musings or calendar events or whatever. And the true goal of any such software is to give as many people as possible as favorable an impression as possible of the person using the software. Thus the "getting laid" shorthand (and it is shorthand - not every user is in it just for the recognition or the other stuff of course. But can that be said to represent the "base level" of users). And every new application, and every feature a programmer considers adding, should be judged with that in mind. So, for instance, creating the world's millionth "personalized search" engine might not pass that test.

I'm hoping my own online app will lead to positive results for some lucky users...


Eminent domain made fun

The mayor of Piscataway, NJ helped seize a farm for public use through eminent domain. Ivan Lenin and comrades show up to congratulate the mayor for his glorious revolutionary activities.


More wiretapping, please

Mark Steyn has another good column on the importance of NSA wiretapping and other surveillance measures. The information about what phone calls you've made is fairly non-private to begin with, anyway - a private detective could easily dig up the call history of any one person.

It reminds me of all the people who excitedly bring up the August 2001 memo "Bin Laden determined to strike in US" as some sort of "smoking gun" showing that President Bush failed to protect the country. But, ideally, what should Bush have done with that knowledge? Attacked Afghanistan preemptively? Started profiling airline passengers? Shaken up the CIA to get better intelligence? They never say.


Music video roundup

Video for Coldplay's "Talk", directed by Anton Corbjin (scroll to the bottom for the video). They basically just added new lyrics to Kraftwerk's "Computer Love", but that's enough right there to make it one of Coldplay's best songs. Also, robots are featured.

Mariah Carey's "Say Something", featuring Pharrell and Snoop Dogg. The Neptunes (who produced it) really know how to use major-7 chords. I read a short interview with Pharell once where he said Stereolab was a big musical inspiration for them, and this song really proves it. Also the video manages to make the city of Paris look good, no easy feat.


Tuesday fun link

This is a neat one-minute movie showing a computer map of Fed Ex planes arriving at a Memphis airport during a thunderstorm.

Watch it a few times and you may just achieve some sort of zen enlightenment about the patterns present everywhere in our world.

Or you may just think, "hey, Fed Ex has a lot of planes".


Rolling Stone 1000th issue party

I was at this party! The Rolling Stone 1000th issue party, featuring The Strokes; my girlfriend got us in through her magical connections. There were free drinks (thank you Jack Daniels and Heineken) and nice swag, and the the event was thankfully free of politics. All in all, a good show. The Strokes are a great live band, and they know how to keep a tight set. When Eddie Vedder joined them for "Juicebox" he surprised me with his amazing voice. Who knew? I guess many people. We got to see a lot celebrities, though seeing Lou Reed do "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" with The Strokes might have been the highlight.


A little more on Army of Davids

Since someone asked, I finished the book: well, my suspicions were pretty much borne out. I still recommend the book, but the second half is mostly digressions on Reynolds' pet topics like nanotechnology, space exploration and genetic engineering. Interesting topics, and they're all worthy of a book about the future, but they don't fit into the central thesis (about harnessing the power of distributed computing and communications) at all. It's too bad he couldn't have stuck to that theme and come up with more topics around it.

You could argue that it's just because Reynolds ran out of things to say and needed some padding, but I can think offhand of a number of really interesting branches of the "Army of Davids" theory he didn't get to:

It's more likely that he just really wanted to write about his pet topics in whatever forum he can.

Still very much worth reading, though I think if had stuck to the main idea it could have been a classic. Then again, as Reynolds himself might say, if you don't like it, you could just write your own book.

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