Monthly Archives: January 2010

As you may know, I have a moderately anti-Apple bias. I spent my nights dreaming of sugarplumbs, fairies, and the iPhone being knocked off its blasted perch. However, though Apple engages in a lot of technical practices that I don’t like and I get endlessly frustrated with the computer people that give them a pass on things that they would excoriate Microsoft and others for, I do not doubt Apple’s design and marketing prowess. If I had any doubts prior to the iPhone, the iPhone relieved me of most of them. I figured the iPhone would be successful, but I didn’t think that it would suck all of the air out of the growing smartphone market. My bad.

So what to make of the iPad? For those of you that don’t pay attention to such things, the iPad is Apple’s entry into the nascent tablet market. They’re hoping to fill a gap that does not really exist (or at least has not been exploited) in the market yet: the area in between smartphones and notebook computers. Natural questions arise as to what, precisely, this means. With today’s announcement, Apple gave their answer to that question: a bigger and more expensive phoneless iPhone (also known as the iPod Touch).

Up until today, as more details have been leaked, I was extremely skeptical of Apple’s chances on this one. For instance, the rumors that it would include the Operating System of the iPhone instead of a lighter variation of the OSX left me underwhelmed. There are a lot of things that people will put up with a cell phone that they will not put up with on a computer-ish device that costs the rumored $1000.

The biggest example is the iPhone’s refusal to support Adobe Flash. I don’t have Flash installed on my smartphone. It’s really not that big of a deal. There are alternate applications for much of what I would use Flash for. YouTube has its own application on Windows Mobile (my phone’s OS) and I think that Rhapsody does, too. If I want to watch a video off the web, I’m more likely to use a laptop anyway. The iPhone has better Flash-circumvention support than Windows Mobile, so it’s even less of a deal for that device. If they want to use something that isn’t supported, such as Hulu, they can just go to their laptop.

I am not sure how well this attitude will carry over to something with the screen space afforded by the iPad. The screen on that sucker begs to watch videos on it and its inability to watch videos that don’t circumvent Flash will likely prove to be a lot more frustrating. And unlike YouTube, Hulu doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot of motivation to make it easier for people to watch shows from more places. For one thing, the networks feeding the content don’t want it to be too convenient lest people start declining to buy the DVDs, watch it on regular TV with all of the extra commercials, or subscribe to cable to get access to the programs. Maybe that will change once Hulu goes to the subscription model, but maybe it won’t. I also know that while I can watch Netflix on a laptop, I don’t know if that would be true for the iPad.

There are other issues along these lines. People are already complaining about the ability of the iPhone to multitask. But it’s a phone, so a lot of people give it a pass. Would they be similarly be willing to give a pass to something with screen space more similar to that of a netbook (where multitasking is possible, albeit not optimal)? There are reasons to believe that it won’t.

What Apple needs to do, then, is to let people know up front that this is not a laptop. this is not a skimmed down laptop. This is not a netbook. This is something different, much more similar to the iPod Touch, and people that want a laptop should buy a laptop. Apple seems to realize this because they’ve been playing up its relationship with the phoneless phone and downplaying it as the middle step to a laptop.

The biggest problem with all of this was poised to be the price. Apple’s control over perception may be impressive, but it is not without limitation. People that pay more for an iPad than they could pay for a laptop are going to expect it to do laptop things. There’s just no getting around it. So when rumors were that the iPad was going to cost $1000 or so, I just couldn’t see it being embraced. Yesterday, however, they announced that while people that want to spend a grand can (Apple never likes to displease that brand of customer) the starting price is actually $500. That actually opens up some possibilities.

Granted, $500 won’t get you a whole lot. People that think that they’re getting a neato netbook are going to be just as disappointed as the people I was suspecting were thinking would get a laptop. But people that think that they’re getting a more muscular, more versatile, and more expensive Kindle should be relatively satisfied with the low-end iPad. Right now Kindle sales themselves have not been very good and that’s an important point. However, Apple does manage to address some of the bigger reasons that I myself would not buy a Kindle. Among other things, it appears as though I will be able to read digital comic books on it in color. It appears as though there will not be the PDF limitations that the Kindle has. That’s even leaving aside the sorts of things that nobody would ever ask a Kindle to do such as play music and video. Which brings me to the other potential buy that could come out of it relatively satisfied: the potential iPod Touch buyer. It addresses some of the reasons that I have not bought an iPad touch: Namely, it answers the question “What can this thing do that my cell phone can’t and is it worth buying a separate device for?” The answer to that was previously “It can run iPhone applications!” That answer was insufficient. “It has a more usable keyboard” and “it has a larger screen” on the other hand, do provide a sort of answer to that question.

Does that provide a $500 answer? Right now, it doesn’t. At least, not for me. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on. The multitude of applications that are available on the iPhone/iPT but not on its competitors is a seductive army. Despite Apple’s unconscionable app-blocking policy, there is simply no other smartphone platform that can really compete if I simply pretend that the applications blocked simply never existed. Advanced users will jailbreak their iPads the same way they jailbreak their iPhones. Non-advanced users like my sister-in-law will simply go on as though the programs don’t exist. The counterquestion is, though, how useful are these little apps on a device that’s not as portable as an iPhone? A lot of the value of iPhone applications are that they are on a device that you have with you nearly at all times.

But the biggest question to whether or not the iPad will succeed or fail has less to do with Apple and more to do with us. Contrary to what Appleheads say, the iPhone did not invent an industry. It belatedly joined a burgeoning one and then dominated it. The distinction is important. Had the iPhone never been invented, there may be less smartphones out there than there are today, but there would still be a whole lot more of them than there were just a few years ago. The current market for tablet devices just does not have the same sense of destiny as did smartphones three years ago. They won’t be able to rely on the “I was thinking of buying this sort of product anyway, so I should buy Apple’s variation.”

How big of the iPhone’s market segment is this? I think it’s a lot more than most techheads realize. I like to use my sister-in-law as an example. She’s happy with her iPhone, but she chose the iPhone after she decided that she wanted a more muscular phone. The likelihood that she will buy a tablet of any sort is remote. That leaves the market mostly relegated to techheads. Techheads are probably most likely to be take notice of the things that the iPad is not capable of doing. There are many that will give Apple a pass because it is Apple, but those that are not Apple partisans are less likely to join the bandwagon this time around. In other words, I see the iPad running into the same sorts of problems as the Kindle, except moreso.

At the same time, though, I am really reluctant to actively bet against Apple. The success of the iPhone, which I understand completely on one level, completely elludes me on another. I’ve always been a little surprised at what Apple fans are willing to pay for when a product is made by Apple, but the iPhone demonstrated pretty clearly that they know something even about non-Apple customers that I don’t. As a computer guy, I tend to be more understanding of the average user than a lot of other computer guys, but apparently even I have my blind spots. So I really don’t know whether the iPad will succeed or not.

Jon Last makes the following astute observation:

With nothing more than the iPhone OS, it’s a super-slick smart-phone/Kindle/netbook hybrid. Only it lacks a smartphone’s portability, the Kindle’s readability, and the netbook’s power.

That could be a bad thing, although it could be a good one. If someone doesn’t need it to be quite as readable as the Kindle because they’re so used to reading off screens, doesn’t need it to be as portable as a smartphone because they’ve got the phone thing squared away and don’t need a or have with it a PDA, and doesn’t need a netbook’s power because they have a notebook or netbook… it’s a great way to have something that’s not as restricted as the Kindle, more portable than the netbook, and not attached to a phone plan like a cell phone is. He asks if we really need a third device. No, but the same could be said for a second device and people have been predicting the death of the desktop since forever and yet people still buy them.

So… it looks like it could be a pretty neat toy. But who will want to pay for it? Apple can often get away with lower sales numbers because they have such high margins, but they seem to be taking a different tact with this one. At $1000 a pop, they could get away with only the enthusiasts buying it, but does $500 provide that kind of margin? It seems to me that they’re actually banking on more widespread adoption for this to be considered something less than a failure. Apple has succeeded in the past largely by not playing that game. Now the question is… do they have the constitution to play and win it?

In addition to know knowing whether or not the iPad will succeed, I also don’t know whether I hope it succeeds or not. The more I think about it, the more attractive I find the notion of tablets. The more I like the idea of an iPad, even if I am unlikely to purchase one myself. If Apple is successful, I have no doubt that competitors will come out with their own products and I suspect that what the competitors come up with I will be more likely to buy myself. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if the smartphone market has been actively damaged by the iPhone by this point. It was previously beneficial to the industry and could remain so if it gets knocked off its perch and more open-minded competitors take over. But if iPhone’s (relative) domination does not stop, we’re going to be stuck with a standard where the hardware, software, and user is largely controlled by a single entity. Everything computer people accuse Microsoft of doing… except this time far more real.

The Atlantic has a couple pieces on the iPad that are worth reading, one pro and one con. David Indiviglio makes a point that had occurred to me that I didn’t really explore, which is that this is a better device for good economic times when people are looking for cool things to spend their money on. It’s a luxury device in non-luxirious times. That could prove to be a problem. Derek Thompson takes a more positive view.

Category: Server Room

District 9 came out to the theaters shortly after I lost my job, so I decided that I would treat myself and see it in the theater. This turned out to be a good move because it was a really good movie visually and something would have been lost seeing it at home on TV or even in the low-rent theater where I see most of my theaters.

The movie was entertaining throughout, which I guess is mostly what you’re looking for. It was also well-paced. That’s about all I can really say about it. Beyond that, it was pretty disappointing. Not because the movie wasn’t good, but rather because it wasn’t the movie that I wanted to see. I can’t put the blame entirely on myself for this, because it either made the claim (or had the claim made on its behalf) that it was the kind of movie that I wanted to see: something thought-provoking, allegorical, and even insightful.

Instead, it was mostly just a movie about a guy being hunted by an evil, multi-national corporation. It was sort of like how I felt after watching X-Men. A movie that was supposed to transcend the superhero genre turned out instead to be a movie about a deathray (of sorts) emanating from the Statue of Liberty. The joke Wolverine made about wearing a yellow costume rang hollow because, given the plot of the movie, he might as well have been wearing a yellow costume. Or at least a costume of some sort that draws it in tighter with the comic book. The problem is that X-Men couldn’t decide which sort of movie it wanted to be, tried to be both, and had me coming out feeling disappointed.

Likewise for District 9. The aliens as apartheid South Africans was a fascinating concept, but it was almost entirely relegated to the backdrop. The movie did not tell us anything interesting about the Apartheid. The villains were so dastardly that we really could not see ourselves in them, which is one of the things you want to do if you’re wanting us to question our allegiance to social justice and liberty and all that. For instance, it doesn’t really challenge our government’s previous support of the white South African leadership because, for all their faults, weren’t doing what the MNU folks were doing. There was only one side to this story and when it’s absolutely clear that one side is good and one side is evil, you do get the audience to side with the good guys, but not in any way that’s applicable to the world around them.

I spent a portion of the movie figuring out what I might have done differently. Making the villains a little less villainous would have been a start. I might have gone a step further and said that they should have made it morally murky. Instead of trying to take the prawns’ technology for eeeevil weapons, I would have made it about a form of alternative energy. So on one hand you have people that are trying to save the world by creating a form of energy that will save the environment… but they’re having to do unconscionable things to get there. That would have been a far more interesting movie, in my book.

But it would have made it a far less compelling action movie. Being hunted by evil corporations, on the other hand, makes for a nice, simplistic action movie. And a good portion of the audience likes to know right off the bat who to root for or against.

After I watched GI Joe, before I watched D9, there were a couple of people were talking about the movie as being fascinating and thought-provoking. Maybe if I’d never heard that conversation, I would have liked the movie a lot more than I did. Or at least if I hadn’t heard the buzz surrounding it. Not unlike my view of X-Men being somewhat dinged by my roommate’s constant talk about how it was going to be a different sort of superhero movie. The thing is, though, were it not for the potential of it being more than an action movie, I never would have seen it to begin with.

Category: Theater

I ran across this image attached to a rather vitriolic post (the thrust of which was, in essence, “only stupid inbred hicks oppose gay marriage and this map proves it”), but it struck something of a thought process. Here goes.

First of all, the map’s not entirely accurate with respect to what the author was trying to say. Five states, at least, shouldn’t be listed as “allowing” cousin marriage, since their restrictions make it so that an impossibly small portion of their population will realistically participate. There’s a considerable overlap with gay and cousin marriage allowability in the northeastern section of the US. And of course the Granola State on the west coast, a place which carries almost entirely the opposite of the “inbred hick” stereotype, allows cousin marriage and has gone back and forth on the issue of gay marriage for a few years now.

Secondly, the science against cousin marriage is muddled. The usual argument put against it is that it encourages genetic diseases. In certain populations, specifically populations where cousin marriage is encouraged and founder effects come into play, this is true. Small, isolated rural villages of current/past ages, the inbred lines of European royalty, and the lines of fundamentalist Mormonism come to mind here. Another example is the Dutch settlers to South Africa (the “Afrikaners”), who carry magnified risk of Huntington’s Disease because an abnormal percentage of the original settlers were carriers.

On the other hand, research into larger, more diverse genetic populations indicates that “once in a while” cousin marriage carries relatively small risk – about the same risk as a woman having kids at the age of 40 rather than 30. The further argument is that laws against it in the US were motivated not by risk of genetic disease, but by a desire to force immigrants to intermarry into the population (and thus assimilate) in a quicker manner.

Oddly enough, the argument about “inbred hicks” falls apart when comparing the map of European gay marriage laws. I’d put a map up comparing it to European laws about cousin marriage, but there’s no real point to it: cousin marriage is legal in 100% of Europe. Two countries have recently begun discussing the option of banning it, and oddly enough, it’s not even the condition of their oddly buckteethed/colorblind/hemophiliac (that last being the origin of the term “blue-blood” as a reference to royalty) royal lines that did it, but rather the high rate of genetic diseases in recent immigrant populations from the rural sectors of Islamic countries, who perpetuate societal cousin marriage rates of 55% or above in a population where it’s not uncommon to be the child of a chain of 8-10 cousin marriages (including “double cousin” marriages, wherein the kids are not simply cousins but where mother/aunt and father/uncle, or mother/uncle and father/aunt, constitute sibling pairs as well making the kids almost genetic siblings) in a row.

The trouble with this is discussion that it’s a perfect example of a “where do we draw the line” sort of argument. On the one hand, in a (mostly healthy) genetic population where cousin marriage would be rare and genetic diversity a given, arguers against cousin marriage would quickly expire upon the line of “well why do we let 40-year-old women have kids then?” On the other hand, we have definitive proof of the genetic risks of allowing multigenerational cousin marriage. There even comes the risk that at some point, society could start stopping non-sibling people from marrying because they both carried a recessive gene for some debilitating genetic disease like Huntington’s or Tay-Sachs, or even something as merely inconvenient as Celiac. It’s not that farfetched; some states to this day still require a blood test, a holdover from times when they were screening for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. Another justification (now that the technology exists) for genetic testing as a marriage requirement could be to ensure that they aren’t unknowingly marrying their half-sibling or even full sibling, due to the high percentage of absentee/unknown fathers or potential for siblings to be separated too early in life to remember each other in certain populations.

This looks pretty sweet:

It also brings to mind one of the common sentiments I’ve had towards video games, which probably shows my age as much as anything else. Namely, this game looks fun and easy to play. As video games have become more and more complex, they’ve really moved away from that. There seems to still be a good market for it. The Nintendo Wii capitalizes on it somewhat. But so does the iPhone. Seven years or so ago, it seemed to be all about combos. Nowhere was this more evident than with the fighting games, which eventually became more about remember specific keystrokes than about dexterity and creativity. I’m not an avid gamer, but it seems that the focus has shifted at least a little away from that. I wonder if it’s because back in the day they could sell magazines with the keystrokes whereas now everything is out there for free on the Internet. But it probably has more to do with the facts that fighting games themselves have receded as game-designers have not had to choose between intricate fighting and storyline.

Category: Theater

A while back, Web and I got into it over tasers. One of the items of contention was this video:

Web and I both agree that the pastor is question is a jackass (even if we are not in precise agreement as to why). One of the difference seems to be, however, that when it comes to the enforcement of some crimes, including drugs, he is inclined to give police a greater amount of leeway in enforcing the law compared to, say, traffic stops, which represent infractions much less significant to public safety:

When it comes to dealing with violent criminals, illegal drug/personage smuggling, gang violence, or other things of that nature, though, we’re getting into a different area of law enforcement.

I hear him on that point. For better or worse, we call it a “war on drugs” for a reason. And unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I am not in favor of mass decriminalization. And while I believe that civil rights are important in the abstract, there’s no point in denying that I am less concerned with the crossed T’s, dotted I’s, and so on when it comes to a certain criminal element. At the same time, the spillover that occurs in attempting to identify those individuals from regular citizens represents a significant problem in cases when police officers are acting in good faith. Web has a good deal of skepticism towards Pastor Anderson. I share some skepticism, though I don’t believe nearly to the degree that he does. However, I do have a general skepticism of Arizona law enforcement. A skepticism, I should add, that pre-dates my learning of this incident.

Maybe my skepticism is warranted and maybe it is not. But there are a lot of reasons to have a degree of skepticism of law enforcement in general. I don’t believe that we should mistrust everything they say or do or automatically lend faith to people that make accusations against law enforcement. On the whole, I consider myself to be pro-cop. When a suspect says A and the cops say B, I am more inclined to believe B.

On two occasions I have actually let officers search my car. Once I did it because I was young and the notion that a cop wouldn’t be on the up-and-up hadn’t fully occurred to me. More recently because I got the sense that the cops were looking for someone in particular who was not me and I made the determination that the faster they realized that it was not me the better off everyone was going to be. Sure enough, they determined that I wasn’t the guy they were looking for and once they got over their curiosity of some brown powder in the back of my car, I was released thereafter.

However, there are parts of the country, including pockets of the south, Arizona, and Odessa, where I would not be so obliging. And there are some circumstances in which I wouldn’t trust cops anywhere because I might be worried that they were more concerned about finding something than whether or not I am actually somebody up to no good. Particularly in the age where highway departments can impound a car that they find drugs or a weapon in and the treasure goes to the department or their retirement fund. Even if you have faith in the court system to find you not guilty, they can still keep your car. I have to think that the vast majority of cops are above planting something, but I am to say the least unenthusiastic at wagering my livelihood that the cop I am dealing with isn’t an exception to the rule.

That brings me back to the Arizona checkpoint. On the whole, I am probably less inclined to assume the best at checkpoints. The motive and opportunity are there. They have to justify their existence, which means that if they don’t find people with drugs they could lose their funding. Further, if it’s a state that raises revenue off of forfeitures, that provides an additional motive. I believe (and want to believe) that the vast majority of cops have better motives than that. But if an officer was not above that sort of thing, checkpoints would provide the perfect opportunity to be below it. Catch a legitimate drug trafficker, put a little of the evidence off to the side, and plant it on the stud driving the Camaro that would bring in some serious cash at an auction. Or on the guy that just really looks suspicious. Or on the guy that’s way too cocky and disrespectful. Maybe I am just being way too paranoid here, but again, I’m not comfortable betting my livelihood that I am.

I act as though I have a choice. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t. If the cops say that the dog smelled something, either I get out of the car voluntarily or they force me out. In the event that they “find” something, I am going to be dealing with jurors like myself who is going to believe cops over some drug-carrying miscreant.

That’s why, despite sharing with Web a real distaste for Pastor Anderson, what happened to him makes me extremely uncomfortable. Maybe he had put some traces of drugs solely so he could make a movie. Maybe the dog smelled a ham sandwich. Maybe if he hadn’t been holding a camera or hadn’t been a jackass they would have let him through. But while any of these things could be the case, they really don’t have to be. It’s a corrupt cop’s dream. And there is very little recourse if you happen to be the chump that they’re going to make an example of.

Of course, at the same time we have to have at least some faith in the cops for the system to work. If the cop says he saw A and the suspect says B happened and we always believe B and there is no hard evidence either way, the result could be making their jobs nearly impossible. Cops would be the only people in front of whom it would be safe to commit a crime.

I’m not sure what the solution to this dilemma is. One of the things that law enforcement has been doing more and more of is taping their interactions. This has the potential to be a win-win because when people make bogus claims against the cops they can immediately show them to be bogus. Likewise, in cases where there is actual abuse, we’re not left giving all benefit of the doubt to the officers if there is video tape. And just by knowing that they’re being taped, it makes abuse less likely to begin with. Another thing that would make me more comfortable is if there was an independent witness that I was allowed to call. Someone that could watch the cops searching my car and make sure that everything is on the up-and-up and if everything is not could testify to that effect. But having something to avoid being railroaded by corrupt cops would make me a lot less uncomfortable with what happened to Anderson and make me identify less with people that charge police misconduct during drug searches.

Category: Courthouse

Over the last few months, it’s felt like we’ve been homeless. Not “sleeping on the street” homeless, of course, but more on the “man without a country” sense. Or “man and woman without a state”, to be more precise.

It all started with our round of interviews to Gemini Falls and Arapaho. It was followed a week or so later with another trip to Gemini Falls. Then we had our trip back to Delosa for Thanksgiving, a couple weeks back in Cascadia, then another couple weeks in Delosa for Christmas. Coming later this week is another trip to Arapaho. If all goes well, we’ll be back here for a month or two packing to move. Otherwise, expect another spate of interviews.

Don’t get me wrong. I love visiting my family and have greatly enjoyed my time back in Delosa. I’ve also enjoyed our trips for the interviews and am looking forward to giving Dent County, Arapaho, a longer, harder look. And even the impending move, painful though it will be in terms of stress and headaches, will land us in our next and perhaps permanent destination.

But it’s all extraordinarily exhausting. Trips to the airport, multi-hour drives across the interior northwest and across Delosa. In cars without MP3 players, in some cases! I know, cry my a river, but you get used to certain things. I barely have time to get settled in anywhere before we’re about to go somewhere else. Even during our two-and-a-half week trip to Delosa, we split our time between Colosse, Beyreuth (where her family lives, on the other side of the state), Genesis (her ancestral home), and Ephesus.

It’s also created some logistical problems. I can’t really order things because I don’t know if we’ll be in Soundview when the package arrives. Further, anything I order may just have to be boxed up in a couple of weeks and so I’m disinclined to replace the faulty wireless keyboard, get new batteries for the laptops, and so on. Two of the really nice things about being unemployed was that it was easy to stay well-rested and that I could receive packages.

Assuming that Arapaho works out, it’ll be the case that Soundview will never be “home” again and that it will retroactively ceased having been so about four months ago. In the meantime, I got back from Arapaho earlier this week. Next week or the week after, it’s off to Arapaho.

Category: Road

Clancy’s Toyota Camry has a bit of a leak on the passenger side rearview tail light. It’s a small crack up top. Not even a damage crack… it’s just a bit displaced. Just displaced enough to let water in and short out the tail light. It seems likely that I can tape over the little crack, but I don’t know what kind of tape to use.

Duct tape seems kind of harsh.

Packing tape does not seem harsh enough.

Electrical tape seems like it could work, but I’m not sure it’s wide enough to get a really good hold on both sides.

Clancy mentions seeing some sort of tape that people put over their tail lights that’s translucent but also (apparently) strong enough to withstand the outdoors. Does anyone know what kind of tape that might be? Is there a particular kind of tape that I can buy for this sort of thing? Maybe at an auto parts store?

Category: Road

A few noteworthy tidbits about Haiti right now.

The canned outrage demonstrated in the comment section here and elsewhere is really aggravating. About the worst thing that can happen to Haiti right now is to lose their tourism industry. Their capital is in ruins, but there is a whole rest of the nation to think of. It’s easy for people in Britain and the US to talk about how the people on those boats should roll up their sleeves and volunteer or just give away the money that they were going to spend vacationing, but just because they’re on a boat near Haiti (or going there) does not make them obligated in a way that the rest of us are not. What they need most right now is money and if you’re spending money on anything except bare sustenance, by the logic applied to the tourists, you’re hating on Haiti.

It reminds me a bit of an old Hugo Schwyzer post where he basically apologizes for hiring a maid because the notion of paying someone else to do the housework you’re too “good” to do has moral implications. Being the capitalist drone that I am, my initial response is “better that they be unemployed?” Well no, better by their thinking that you do the housework yourself and pay the (would-be) maid so that she can lay the foundation for more gratifying work. It was hard to read through the comments and the self-lashing “I am a sinner!” tone by those that employ housekeepers and the smug superiority of those that clean their own filthy sheets. At some point it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the thrill of moral condemnation itself is part of the motivation.

The other part of the motivation is the frustration about the gulf between the haves and have-nots. The imagery of cruise folks maxin’ and relaxin’ on a beach while a bunch of poor people scramble for their very lives understandably doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. However, if you live in Britain or the US and you are living comfortably enough to have a computer and Internet connection to comment on the Guardian’s website and/or some blog, you have a whole lot more in common with the cruise folks than you do with the people rolling up their sleeves and helping the Haitians. If you’re going to get right down to it, there’s no excuse for living a lie of any comfort save for a belief that the ways of the world are not fair and your being miserable or indignant over it doesn’t change that. Easy for me to say that from the comfort of my apartment on my nice laptop.

My sister-in-law did some work in Haiti recently, but thankfully is not there now. Talk about how this could be the best thing to happen to Haiti because of the money they’re getting is, according to her, poppycock. Haiti doesn’t have the infrastructure to rebuild the same way that New Orleans is being rebuilt. The only way to rebuilt it is for entities to take the same sort of control over Haiti that the federal government has the latitude to take over New Orleans. In other words, we would need to try to rebuild it the same way that we’ve tried to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if the former is actually better off now than they were under Hussein’s rule, I don’t believe that we have the stomach or the resources to take that kind of control. New Orleans was also helped out by the diaspora and that’s not quite so much an option for Haiti, either, since adjacent states had to accept Katricians and there is no such obligation for Haitians.

It’s hard not to get a kick out of the second letter here. The gist is that the devil is writing to Pat Robertson saying that Pat is giving the Devil a bad name. The Devil takes his toll in the next life but pays out in the current one. Haiti, of course, has never had any outworldly entity (good or evil) looking out for it effectively. I’m not sure that’s right, though. While the Devil takes his due in the next life, he would only pay out as much as he had to in this one. The best deal for the Devil is to be able to give out some fake reward in this life, comparable to giving someone who wants a million bucks a million deer. According to the Robertson, the deal with the Devil was comparable to that: they asked for deliverance from French rule and got it. That it materially left them worse off is no skin of the Devil’s nose.

None of this is to say that Robertson isn’t deserving of every bit of ridicule he has received, and more.

I wrote a bit about the immigration repercussions of what’s going on, thinking of carving out an exception when talking about immigrants from Haiti and Cuba instead of those from (more potentially contentious) Mexico, but ultimately decided against it. So wherever we go with this conversation, let’s not go there. For that matter, let’s not go the typical areas where I ask us not to go, including badmouthing Katrician immigrants into other US cities.

Category: Newsroom

Since getting home from Arapaho, I’ve been fighting a trojan that has affected my primary data server. My Microsoft-hating friend Tony said that he didn’t even have to worry about it when he had Windows because he didn’t use Microsoft products like IE and Office, which have been known to invite virii.

Actually, it looks like in this case, Firefox itself was to blame. Or rather, the Trojan that nailed me (and has attempted to nail me twice since) was aimed specifically at the non-MS browser.

So if you use Firefox, be aware of this: Firefox crashes. When Firefox comes back up, it asks you if you want to restore the Windows as it has since FF 3.5. However, if you look carefully, you’ll notice that the yes/no button is itself a unilink. Meaning that even if you don’t have the cursor over a button, it shows the hand as though you’re clicking on a link. That’s because the entire thing is an image, and clicking on it will install the malicious software. The other giveaway is that the pop-up shows up as a different Firefox Window. So if you see two Firefox windows on your taskbar, the second could be inviting bad things into your computer.

The nature of the infection is that it will act as though Windows has discovered one security breach after another and will ask you if you want to run a scan. Notably, the screen it shows you copies the Windows Vista Security screen to the letter. This is a bit more conspicuous if you’re running XP, which I am, and fortunately that’s one of the ways I was able to prevent the situation from getting worse. I’ve read up on the pusher of this software, called “Malware Defense”, and apparently what it will do is pretend to scan your hard drive, find a bazillion breaches, and then ask you for money to “fix” them.

Removing it was a hassle-and-a-half. Malware Defense apparently knows what most of the tools are for rooting it out and it will prevent them from running. Or it will make it seem like something has gone horribly wrong. One tool that I used, would result in Windows locking up, the computer rebooting, or the taskbar disappearing. The latter is the ineffective one because you can bring it back by going into Task Manager. Run it enough times (it took me six) and eventually will temporarily kill the file.

The next step is to run an application to kill the trojan while it’s down. My friend recommendend Malwarebytes anti-malware program, downloadable for free. However, Malware Defense fights back against this, too. It blocks you from running any application with the name of this one downloads as (mbam-setup.exe). I discovered this inadvertantly when I downloaded the program twice and it worked on the second one (which Firefox had renamed mbam-setup(2).exe). However, even once the application is installed, it does the same thing again. So you have to rename mbam.exe to some other filename (anything without the four letter “mbam” should work) and you have to take it out of Program Files and run it from somewhere else.

Once I did that, it took care of most of the problem. I still get IE popping up every couple hours with some site on it. I’m not sure what I can do about that. It’s probably past time I formatted and restored the computer in question.

I should add that I am not the only one that has been experiencing problems lately. The friend who recommended said that he’d been nailed once or twice recently, as well. I’ve also been hit three times with the Firefox “crashes”. I’m guessing that some site I’m visiting has a bad advertiser. I’m going to monitor the situation closely. In every instance, it’s been a Firefox crash. In all instances but one it was a window asking me if I wanted to restore my tabs. In the last instance, it was a window asking me if I wanted to make Firefox my default browser.

Until recently, I’ve not had to worry too much about infections. I mostly do this by not downloading and running software that I am unfamiliar with or that I haven’t checked out. I also avoid a lot of the scams that other people fall for. Clancy is unadventurous with the computer and that helps, too. This time I simply overlooked the slight symptoms that something was wrong. It was late, I was tired, and Firefox has been cracking up on me so it’s crash did not cock my eyebrow. I almost got burned by the question of whether or not I wanted to make Firefox my default browser because the intermittent IE pop-ups hijack the file association and so I’m asked that question legitimately every time I open Firefox.

So with some due diligence, this can be avoided. Tony would point out that this can also be avoided by running Linux.

Category: Theater

It looks like Sony is going to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. The speculation is that it will it will put Peter Parker back in high school. It’s been confirmed that everyone will be recast. This is not dissimular to what was done with Batman Begins.

The problem is that Batman Begins was released eight years after the last of the previous franchise and ten or thirteen years after the last Batman movie that Batman fans will acknowledge as having existed outside of some dreadful nightmare. Further, Christopher Nolan’s Batman was a significant departure from either the Joel Schumacher or Tim Burton visions for the character. What, precisely, is the new vision going to be for Spider-Man? Raimi pretty much nailed the character, insofar as I am familiar with him. Maybe a Marvel fan can correct me if I’m wrong.

At the same time, there are two reasons why this could be a good idea. The first is 3D technology is finally cracking through. Starting midway through a franchise with 3D is a bit iffy. That could be the hook even if they don’t toy around too much with the character. The second reason this could be a good idea is that Raimi burned through a good number of the Spider-Man villains, much as the 90’s Batman franchise did.

This strikes me as part of the problem with the movie franchises with the notable partial-exclusion of the latest Batman franchise: a failure to think ahead. When it comes to their principal properties, both Warner and Marvel (and/or Sony and those that Marvel signs out their rights to) tend to think of things in terms of movie and then maybe a sequel or two. I think that they really need to consider thinking five or more movies ahead.

In the first Batman movie, Tim Burton introduced and then killed off Batman’s primary adversary. In the sequel, he brought out and disposed of two more adversaries. Then two more for the third. So by the time they got to the fourth, the only villain they had on their that most people were familiar with (meaning, the one that appeared in the Adam West series) was Mr. Freeze. Had they made a fifth movie, they would have had to go with the likes of Scarecrow or Ra’s al-Ghoul!

Of course, that’s what Nolan did, but the difference is that the Burton/Schumacher series put so much emphasis on the villains that it is unlikely that either of those two would have carried the day. Nolan wisely decided that since the first Batman movie would focus on Batman, there was no need to waste a first-string villain for that film. That, combined with the fact that he keeps his villains alive*, means that they can keep making Batman movies in perpetuity, each one building on the last.

Spiderman fell somewhere in between the Two Batman franchises. While Burton really only intended to make a movie, Raimi obviously set out to make more than one. But Raimi still seemed in a hurry and things seemed kind of rushed. The Venom suit and Venom the villain could have been broken out into two movies. Venom, Sandman, and the Green Goblin all shared the screen in the final movie. There were a lot of things that they could have done to make the series more sustainable, and they didn’t. While a movie about Iron Man or Daredevil needs to get to its points and use its better villains early since the franchises are risky, the same isn’t true for Spider-Man or Batman. There’s really not much reason why they can’t just count on having a new movie come out every couple of years.

Eventually, of course, you have to concern yourself with the cast and whatnot, but I really don’t see that as all that big of an issue. First, as Batman Begins demonstrated, you don’t really need stars in cases where the character carries himself. If you want brand names, giving them smaller parts such as Lucius Fox works fine. Then, when the actors become too expensive, you can replace them. People have gotten used to that sort of thing. When you need to punch things up, you can start doing team-ups. If one flops, you know what? You can just fix what was “broken” and go from there like Marvel did with the Hulk. The number of potential stories are nigh-infinite. No reason to keep retelling the same ones and every reason to build on the characters and move forward rather than start over.

* – Okay, they got a really bad break with The Joker. But that’s not Nolan’s fault. And he did waste Two-Face. Bad move.

Category: Theater