August 31, 2006

The Descent (4/5)

After our failed plans to see The Descent (recommended by noneotherthan Bobafred and Mingaling) last Friday, we decided to go last night. It was a predictable setup but with enough variation to become one of the better genre flicks. A group of friends go off into the wilderness, one has had a traumatic experience and so is the unreliable observer, non-supernatural problems occur, weird freak-out shit begins, friends die one-by-one. The odd variations really really made this movie though. The first notable twist was that all of the friends are female. This choice allowed the movie to completely abandon the sexual dynamics you usually get, and the writer mostly avoided overly cliched female group roles. Mostly. I also liked the amount of time spent in the caves anticipating the trouble. I've never gone spelunking, but I'm pretty sure now--weird monsters or no--that I don't want to.

I loved what I think were two movie references within the movie. First was the lead's Martin Sheen Apocalypse Now impersonation as she guardedly emerged from a pool of blood. Then, was her blood-drenched Carrie pose and another Carrie moment later when she thrusted her hands out of the ground. Overall, her transformation in the film--and everything that's suggested in the final scene--was the most satisfying. I think my only complaint is that some of the fight scenes were (just a little) too choppy.

posted by sstrader at 8:43 PM in Cinema | permalink

It's supposed to be good for you

Don't be taken in by the idiot rantings of James Robbins over at The National Review. Check out the ScienceBlogs' various responses here (Page 3.14, The Island of Doubt, The Questionable Authority) and here (The Loom) and here (Cognitive Daily). Hooray for Global Warming indeed...

posted by sstrader at 1:28 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 29, 2006


Decided to use an Amazon gift certificate that's been burning a hole in my inbox and get a new coffee maker:

coffee maker


With a timer and grinder aaaaand since I don't have whole beans on hand I bought some from Amazon's new-ish grocery store. Price was almost exactly the same as if I would have gone to Publix or Kroger, so no big deal.

Then, tonight, we were about to watch a movie and our nearly new DVD player (purchased in April) that had been acting quirky finally decided to stop acting completely. The now-dead Philips DVP642 came recommended, but I guess something that inexpensive also has to be cheap. Risking a repeat, I just purchased the Philips DVP5140.

posted by sstrader at 11:17 PM in Home Network & Gadgets | permalink

August 26, 2006

Katrina timelines, re-post

My list from September of last year of several timelines of key events.

posted by sstrader at 11:26 AM in Politics | permalink

August 25, 2006

Where was I?

Last week:

Friday at Dan and Alicia's for grilled pizza. Completely exhausted from the previous evening's b-day get-together for Cathy, but I made it to an acceptable hour.

Saturday an early dinner at The Best Restaurant in Atlanta, according to Atlanta magazine, The Globe, where the chef created what I can only assume was a culinary joke: seedless watermelon salad with feta and pumpkins seeds. Not a hilarious joke, but I still think he was up to something.

Sunday morning we finally made it to the aquarium. Favorite fish: the fish that looked like leafy plants and the colorful worms who swayed like fingers sticking out of the sand in one of the smaller tanks. They would peck at the random fluff that would float by and then disappear into their holes when their larger tank-mates would swim by. In the evening we went to Little Miss Sunshine at Atlantic Station. Great film and a solid cast. The young girl lacked all of those affectations that make you hate seeing children in movies.

Tonight is The Descent (83% on Rotten Tomatoes) and then dinner at Kyma with our $20 coupon. That's one free glass of wine!

posted by sstrader at 6:31 PM in Cinema , Where was I? | permalink

August 24, 2006

Madame X

Always stunning. Here, Sargent the virtuoso matches Whistler the impressionist in abstraction. A narrow range of colors throughout just punches you in the jaw. Look at the layers of scumbling in the background with the lightest in a diagonal from the upper left to the lower right. The weight of the bright contrast in the lower left corner and her heavy right arm resting against the table is offset, simply, by her gaze to the right. And that big nose. Abstract design principals can be balanced by representation aware of its placement in a composition. The chiaroscuro and the gold tones also suggest Rembrandt who, like Sargent, was a master of the concise and precise brush stroke.

madame x
posted by sstrader at 11:44 PM in Art | permalink


Schneier is the voice of reason in an otherwise cravenly stupid world.

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute. ...

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

From now on, anytime any of your idiot friends spout air-wasting stupidity about the dangers of air travel and how the FAA's rectal x-raying is somehow protecting our freedoms, kick them in the nuts. It's really the only sane response.

posted by sstrader at 3:22 PM in Culture & Society | permalink


Was there a "war on X-mas"? Ignoring the fact that "X-mas" and even "X-tians" have long been acceptable terms, the assertion is as laughable as saying there's a "war on women's work" or "a war on cartoon racial stereotypes" (I've actually heard complaints of the latter). Our society has become more egalitarian and less focused on one set of imposed mores than in the 1950s or 1920s or 1800s. Our society is not only becoming more secular but more diverse--the latter may be a cause of the former--and the American fundamentalist backlash like Middle Eastern is, as Reza Aslan puts it, the death throws of a threatened existence.

So, if it's silly to say there's a war on X-mas, is it equally silly to say there's a war on science? This is at least forcing us to define our terms. The war on X-mas is presumed to be a conspiracy of secularists as opposed to a simple drifting of social norms and capitalism's response to those norms. Corporations are held up as the primary conspirators as if they would ever raise "evil-doing" above simple profit. Would a company be more likely to bow to the requests of the ACLU or the profits of greater market share?

So then, is there a conspiracy of powerful groups aiming to eliminate (specific yet important) scientific beliefs from society? What do we make of Pope Benedict's reversal of John Paul's simple acceptance of evolution? Or with Bush's smack down of most all respected scientific beliefs? Are these battles in a war or simply a "drift of social norms"? On the one hand we have powerful corporations eliding religion and on the other we have powerful governments and religions eliding science. Corporations and the US government are secular, religions are not, so the only guilty party is the government.

posted by sstrader at 2:33 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

August 23, 2006


Not to over-romanticize the notion, but this is sad.

His friends are said to have stated that he currently finds mathematics a painful topic to discuss; some even say that he has abandoned mathematics entirely. According to a recent interview, Perelman is currently jobless, living with his mother in St Petersburg, and subsisting on her modest pension.

I very much enjoyed the story of Andrew Wiles proving Fermat's theorem and am about to dive into Perelman's story in the August 28th New Yorker. I respect the passionate scientist, I think, more than the passionate artist.

posted by sstrader at 11:22 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 22, 2006

Better mileage

The process begins to get my stupid car to do better than 27 MPG. I've dropped down to going a maximum of 70 MPH on the highway to see if that helps. It's agonizing to go that slowly. I've also been hearing mixed recommendations to stop using air conditioning. I, along with The Straight Dope, have my doubts. Wikipedia's entry on fuel efficiency gives a weak recommendation to stop using A/C. Many sites compare using full A/C with none. Who cranks it all the way?

Tires, oil, and air filter are all good. A co-worker recommended some sort of thing called the Tornado for air intake. I think I'll advise him that he should remove the one from his car.

posted by sstrader at 8:30 PM in Personal | permalink

August 19, 2006


posted by sstrader at 11:08 PM in Science & Technology | permalink


This too is demoralizing.

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

I've recently had direct contact with otherwise educated individuals (hey, I'm in the tech industry) who doubt some of the most basic tenets of modern science without ever having made the effort to study them. Does the free information that's been made available on the internet devalue knowledge in some way?

posted by sstrader at 5:20 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 17, 2006


This is demoralizing.

Here's Lech Walesa on Grass's honorary Gdansk citizenship:

Who will talk to him here now or invite him? I am happy we never met, that I never had to shake his hand. I lost my father in the war and Grass was in the SS.

- from Reuters

posted by sstrader at 3:02 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 12, 2006

Currently listening to

The first two Peter Gabriel albums paired with his last one. Have fun noting the similarities across the 25 years from his beginning as a soloist in 1977 to his possible final statement in 2002. One noticable difference is his use of genre musical styles on his first two albums (blues, honky-tonk, and even cool jazz) abandoned on all subsequent ones. There are some gems but unfortunately many throwaway items too.

From 1, "Moribund The Burgermeister" has his oddball storytelling that could have come from Tresspass's "The Knife" or Nursery Cryme's "Harold the Barrel," just as it reappears in Up's "The Barry Williams Show." Apparently, the townsfolk that Moribund is responsible for are having some sort of Woodstock freakout and he runs to his mother to help him bring them back under control: Mother please, is it just a disease, that has them breaking all my laws, Check if you can disconnect the effect and I'll go after the cause. "Humdrum" has a nice, short binary form that contrasts the mundane against the grandiose. The most notable song is "Here Comes the Flood:"

Lord, here comes the flood
We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.

This should have had more attention than (the obscenely over-played) "Solsbury Hill."

From 2, it opens with another silly misfit story in "On the Air," where our hero is a bum who lives out his fantasy life through television. The intended jab is not subtle, but the humor is well-placed. "Mother of Violence" holds up by its spare and timeless lyric Fear, she's the mother of violence, and "Indigo" is an effectively moody song about dying, reminding me of "In the Rapids" from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

Up is appropriately reminiscent of his first few solos and contains songs that are a hybrid of his early eccentricity, his middle obsession with world music, and his later commercial production. The strongest tracks are "Darkness," "Sky Blue" (also from the sad film Rabbit-proof Fence), "My Head Sounds Like That," and "Signal to Noise." And like PG1's closing "Here Comes the Flood" and PG2's closing "Home Sweet Home," Up closes with a reflective piano/voice composition called "The Drop."

Continue reading "Currently listening to"
posted by sstrader at 2:13 PM in Current Interests , Music | permalink

August 10, 2006


That was the first time I ever got caught jogging in a bad thunderstorm. It sucks. Primarily because you have to cut your route short.

And there's the freaky lightning.

posted by sstrader at 7:11 PM in Personal | permalink

August 8, 2006

Weird politics

Apparently it's those who cannot be classified that deserve smear campaigns from the conservatives. From the Wikipedia entry (note the odd combinations):

Congressman John Murtha is a Democrat with a relatively populist economic outlook.[3] He opposes abortion, consistently receiving a 0% rating from NARAL; however, he supports stem-cell research. Murtha was also one of the few Democrats in Congress to vote against the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. However, he is strongly “pro-labor”, and opposes both NAFTA and CAFTA. Like other Democrats, he opposes Bush's tax plan and Social Security privatization, and he also opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment. Unlike other Democrats, he generally opposes gun control, earning an A+ from the National Rifle Association. He supports conscription and is generally more supportive of military excursions than is the typical Democrat.

In 2001, he co-authored (with Congressman Duke Cunningham, R-CA) the Flag Desecration Amendment which passed the House of Representatives, but not the Senate.

In late 2005, he led the effort of House Democrats to offer a motion to endorse language in a military spending bill, written by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a fellow Vietnam veteran, that would prohibit abusive treatment of terror suspects.

[ 10:34, 8 August 2006 ]

I would say "hell no" to Murtha on some issues and "hell yes" to him on others. Would I try to denigrate his service? Man, I hope not.

posted by sstrader at 11:08 PM in Politics | permalink

August 6, 2006

Where was I?

Thursday was The Maltese Falcon (and Key Largo) at The Fox. We got restless and hungry after The Maltese Falcon so skipped the second feature and had dinner at Ecco. Su-poib.

maltese falcon

Friday was finishing up on a release to QA at work. We were to have all of the code in by 4, but several events conspired to continue the fun until Saturday afternoon. A post mortem:

  • I missed a key design decision and expected a low-level module to have access to data within a high-level module. It took a few hours to write a proxy to the low-level module.
  • Our database server ran out of space (!) at noon.
  • A database configuration change that didn't make it in until Thursday broke everything and had to be backed out Friday morning.
  • The low-level libraries we use from another group were reorganized on Friday morning and caused some build issues.

All-in-all, not horrible but still something to learn from.

Saturday night was Fellini's 8 1/2 [ IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes ]. The DVD had an interview with Terry Gilliam praising its examination of the life of a movie director. I thought that was the least interesting aspect simply because it was the most indulgent. I would focus less on the specifics of the director as character and more on the generalities of the character in life. Throughout the file, the lead and others are doubting the path they've taken in their lives and are responding to that doubt differently. The lead has tried to achieve everything and now doubts that he's accomplished anything and fears that he has lacked focus. His wife feels that there was no alternative choices to those that she made. The movie is filled with dream sequences that get silly at times but still ring true. Their drifting logic is in fact not much different from that of other scenes.

I wasn't as happy with it as La Dolce Vita (that I'd watched back in March) but still recommend it. These are the only Fellini films I've watched and I have to say his signature is unmistakable.

Continue reading "Where was I?"
posted by sstrader at 6:04 PM in Where was I? | permalink

New Mindstorm

The new Mindstorm is out! And there's also a book for developing Mindstorm robots with Java by Brian Bagnall. Wikipedia has a brief but useful entry with lists of supported languages and links to relevant source material.

I'm assuming that languages developed for first generation Mindstorm (RCX) will not work for NXT. Brian Bagnall is one of the contributors to the LeJOS VM (used to control a robot that visited the ISS in 2001!) and wrote the Core Java book on programming the RCX, but LeJOS's SourceForge page hasn't been updated since January.

The built-in language is LabVIEW, a visual programming language with lots of drag-and-drop fun (this is a toy, after all). In November 2004, I had looked at a very high-level visual programming language called Alice that is intended to teach programming through narrative. The demos were amazing. LabVIEW appears to be a little more gritty but still very kid-friendly. All the same, I'd stick with Java.

Continue reading "New Mindstorm"
posted by sstrader at 11:40 AM in Programming | permalink

August 1, 2006


I continue to read tortured explanations that attempt to obviate the seriousness of Bush's rhetorical bumbling. And yet none of that can explain away his transparent and destructive simplemindedness presented with many examples by Matthew Yglesias in his article for The American Prospect. You see, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's all over. Everyone focused on the explitive (and, inexplicably, many were impressed by its supposed "honesty") and somehow missed the sixth-grade stupidity of it all.

Enough with the Bush apologies: he's more ignorant than the office of President should allow and you know it.

posted by sstrader at 10:29 PM in Politics | permalink