July 30, 2004
Spiraling into Mediocrity
How does one fall from the dizzying heights of the almost universally beloved Sixth Sense to make a film that scores a 39 on MetaCritic. M. Night, what happened to you?
A sampling of the criticism:
- A sense of humor might have helped "The Village." It couldn't have hurt. The truth is, nothing could have hurt. -- SFGate
- To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore. -- Roger Ebert
- If you long to hear dialogue like "You needn't be scared. We have the magic rocks. They will keep us safe," then M. Night Shyamalan's nubby woolen sock of a thriller "The Village" is the movie for you. -- Stephanie Zacharek
- The ubiquitous advertisements for "The Village," which opens today nationwide, promise that "nothing can prepare you." Nothing, that is, except M. Night Shyamalan's last three movies and a passing acquaintance with "The Twilight Zone." -- A.O. Scott
Nubby woolen sock, y'all.
July 26, 2004
The Free Software Experiment
On my old computer, I had a ton of software I'd acquired during college on education licenses and ... by ... er ... other means. Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, Cool Edit, and assorted other programs. My new computer was built by a coworker for about $350, and I'm currently trying to populate it with good software. But I'm staying on the up-and-up this time. I'm sticking to all software I can afford. Thanks to the $20 copy of Win XP my coworker got me when he visited Microsoft, I didn't get Linux, although I considered it. Here's what I've found so far in my foraging for software, all free:
- Expressions 3: My drawing program. MS took over the company that had made this software, and has for some reason made it free. I've been quite happy with it so far, although there's a bit of a high learning curve, especially if you're used to doing all your illustration in Photoshop.
- Star Office 7: My office suite. Sun's slightly gussied-up version of the open-source OpenOffice project, which I have maligned in these very pages. I haven't had to do any hardcore word processing at home yet, and I don't know if I will, but I think if I do, this should be fine.
- The GIMP: My photo-editing program. Pretty capable, although I'm so used to Photoshop that I haven't had the patience to really get down and learn it. I could not deal with the interface until I got this plugin, though.
- RagTime Solo: My page layout program. A beauty from a German software company. The version of the software for personal use is free, and is exactly the same as the commercial-use version, which costs Њ845.
- Audacity: My audio-editing program. Decent, although I'm considering trying ProTools Free again now that I have a computer than can handle it.
- Picasa: My photo organizer. Why I need a photo organizer, considering Win XP's photo display features are perfectly satisfactory, I don't know, but it's free. Whatever.
Other sundry free excellent software:
- Blender: 3d graphics program. Just check out the image gallery.
- Sea3d: An amazing open-source 3d Settlers of Catan application.
- Notepad++: An HTML text editor that's oddly comforting.
July 25, 2004
When I was seven, I saw "Transformers: The Movie" on the big screen and, it's true, I cried a little when Optimus Prime, brave leader of the Autobots, died.
And look at this--also posted on hollywoodreporter.com the same day, news of a movie version of "Watchmen," the greatest graphic novel ever published.
And! "All the King's Men"! My god!
These are three of the seminal literary experiences of my life, Snarketeers: tales of a valiant robot, a fallible superhero, and a wayward journalist. I can't wait.
(Thanks to Kevin for the Transformers link.)
July 23, 2004
Filtering Distributive Intelligence, and More!
I'll make my return to the Snahkmahkit with this paean to the beauty of distributive intelligence.
We've all heard of Google Answers, where anyone can slap a dollar amount on a question and buy the answer, and anyone else can see it.
Other cool things on the Web today:
(mostly from that craaaaazy Red Ferret)
- BookMachine - You're in the bookstore, looking for a book, but helas!, it's not in stock or out of print. Zip on over to the BookMachine, which will find your book in its online database, let you peruse through the first few pages, and print out the soft-cover, perfect-bound masterwork for you in five minutes. (thanks, TRFJ!)
- Croquet - You're working on a project with some geographically remote friends. Y'all hop on Croquet together, and your cyber-avatars interact with each other and each other's software in a 3D MMORPG-like environment. (See screenshots to mimic understanding. Thanks, Emergic!)
- Open-Source Web Design - Self-explanatory. Making the Web pretty. (I kees you, Red Ferret!)
- Odyssee - Turn every movie into the Back to the Future ride at Universal. And if you've never been on the BttF ride, you poor, deprived child. Basically, imagine watching Lord of the Rings in seats engineered to move along with the action onscreen. Yeah. (You can't do it for every movie, only the ones for which they have codes available -- everything from Big Fish to LOTR. BFF TRFJ!)
July 21, 2004
Deep Summer Doldrums
Holy crud! Where did Snarkmarket go??
Don't worry, Snarketeers. We're still here. Coming soon: David Brooks, "Grand Strategy," and the essence of education.
July 12, 2004
Policy and Polemic
At the same time, a simple (and frustrating) truth is that it is not people like Brad or me who change the world, it is people like Barbara Ehrenreich. Policy wonks then sigh, pick up the pieces, and try to convert the Ehrenreichian emotion of the moment into lasting programs. But without that emotion, we never get the chance.
From where I sit, policy wonks can do Ehrenreichian emotion pretty darn well sometimes. Am I the only who remembers the Declaration of Independence? (A quick refresher: that's the one that accused the King of England of sending "swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." Oh, and also: "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.")
Ehrenreich recognizes that sweeping rhetoric used to be a big part of official policy, and she also uses the Declaration to make that point.
Drum's contention that good architects of policy are just tremble and reserve gets at what I think is one of the biggest problems with our policy-makers today -- no boldness. It's partially because the country's split on a partisan razor-edge, and any lurches left or right could be disastrous for a party. But the effect is that politicians make their trade in these sly, sneaky little slivers of policy to which the public pays no attention, but corporations love. FDR's New Deal could never survive in this climate.
Historian H.W. Brands has made this argument much better than I could:
But Franklin would be dismayed by the popular denigration of politics, and exceedingly impatient with us for acting helpless in the face of problems that the Founders would have tackled at once. To take one example, arguments over the Second Amendment, with its almost certainly inadvertent ambiguity about the relation of militia service to gun ownership, would largely cease if we simply rewrote it. Gun advocates already treat the militia clause as a nullity; let them erase the clause—or try to. Gun opponents want the clause to govern gun ownership; let them rewrite the amendment—or try to. But almost no one suggests such an obvious solution to the problem. Instead we treat the Constitution as holy writ, to be parsed and glossed but not otherwise tampered with. We agonize over "original intent" as if what the Founders believed ought to determine the way we live two centuries later. They would have laughed, and then wept, at our timidity.
The one trait the Founders shared to the greatest degree is the one most worth striving after today—but also one that is often forgotten in the praise of their asserted genius. These men were no smarter than the best their country can offer now; they weren't wiser or more altruistic. They may have been more learned in a classical sense, but they knew much less about the natural world, including the natural basis of human behavior. They were, however, far bolder than we are. When they signed the Declaration of Independence, they put their necks in a noose; when they wrote the Constitution, they embarked on an audacious and unprecedented challenge to custom and authority. For their courage they certainly deserve our admiration. But even more they deserve our emulation.
Rise of the Pseudo-Blogs
Except it's totally not a real blog. It's just a sequence of memos presented in vaguely blog-like format.
Now, I'm not sayin' he's gotta be all like, "I had Cheerios for breakfast, I heart Dashboard Confessional, Bush sux, my name is Michael Powell, here is a link to Boing Boing" to be a legit blogger.
But the whole point of having a blog is to:
- keep up a steady stream of entries, like a little pulse;
- share ideas freely, even (or especially!) if they aren't fully fleshed-out or, indeed, self-consistent; and
- write with an authentic voice.
The FCC chairman fails on all of these counts. I'm a little surprised; this is a guy who's legitimately techno-hip, who understands new media and loves his TiVo.
To their credit, AlwaysOn, the site hosting Powell's "blog," refers to it in some places as a "regular series of columns," which is more accurate.
("Apparently another characteristic of real blogs," you say, "is that they belabor points that don't actually merit public comment or discussion. Such as whether the FCC chairman's blog is really a blog." To which I reply: Aww, go read a book.)
Space probes, why do I love thee?
Because you represent the best in us: ingenuity, long-range planning, a sense of wonder.
And because you deliver such rockin' images!
Hmm, then again, when we were talking about space probes vs. renewable energy, Matt did argue, "It's a matter of priorities. Pretty pictures vs. a tremendous growth industry with clear economic and environmental advantages."
Sigh. But where else am I going to get such awesome desktop patterns?!
(Thanks to MemeFirst for the link!)
July 11, 2004
Happiness = (# of Blog Readers * Average Coolness)/π
How can you not love economists? Eric Dash reports on a new study on money, sex, and happiness in the NYT:
A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year - that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.
Of course, the enduring problem with studying happiness is this: "Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale."
I'm of two minds. One says, false consciousness be damned, if we can't trust people to know what's best for themselves, we're screwed.
The other says, um, clearly people don't know what's best for themselves--e.g. cigarettes, cocaine, Tijuana Flats queso for lunch*, "What's the Matter with Kansas," etc.
*It's just sooo cheesy and good...
Now, it's possible that there are downward-shifting errors (irrational pessimism? the frump factor?) to match the upward-shifting errors of false consciousness (in the broadest, least-Marxist sense, here), and it all comes out in the wash.
But maybe we shouldn't be asking people about their own happiness in the first place, and instead we should rely on a cocktail of more concrete measures, like the Human Development Index somehow brought down to individual scale. Health, both physical and psychological, would probably be the key metric.
Or perhaps it's much simpler, and The Sims has it right:
no hunger + energy + empty bladder + hygiene + fun + nice surroundings = happiness
July 10, 2004
So, as you may or may not know, depending on your degree of nerdiness, Google busted out Gmail a few months ago, with a gigabyte of storage space and some hot new features.
In response, Yahoo! anted up with 2GB of storage. And now they've acquired Oddpost, a funky e-mail company with like 12 users but a great reputation for innovation.
So clearly Yahoo! is saying, Bring it. Which is awesome, because when Google brings it, it gets brought.
I predict in two years we'll be choosing between 100 gigs of free Gspace and a Yahoo! account where you get paid a dollar every time you send an e-mail.
July 8, 2004
As Florida goes, so goes the nation!
Your faithful Snarkorrespondent (natch!) was on hand see Johns Kerry and Edwards whip up a crowd at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg this evening.
Kerry: Actually really fun and funny when he's speaking off the cuff! But then he gets rolling into his stump speech, and zzz.
Edwards: No mojo. I tell you, it's a myth.
Teresa Heinz Kerry: Best speaker of the evening. Invoked deep themes with grace.
Kerry/Edwards combo: It works, because they're like your two uncles: the nice, nerdy one and the cool, slightly-too-smooth one. Yeah, I like that, because then Elizabeth Edwards gets to be your nice aunt and Teresa Heinz Kerry gets to be your weird mystery aunt. (The one that always gives you a bizarre but ultimately entertaining board game, purchased in Germany, for Christmas.)
Can John Edwards Really Be Over 50?! Clearly not. Another myth.
Best 'Line' of the Night: "We have a better sense of right and wrong and what's fair," said Kerry, "and we have better hair!"
Best Line of the Night: "This is the most important election of our lifetimes," said Kerry. Cue wild applause.
Most Unexpected Cue for Wild Applause: When Kerry mentioned... stem-cell research? Apparently a crowd-pleaser!
Most Human Moment: Your weird aunt Teresa totally falling asleep onstage -- stifling yawns, fighting back those looong blinks. I think at one point she was pinching her hand to keep herself alert.
Oh Yeah, And: There were approximately a gazillion people there! No, seriously: Several thousand waited in line, I estimate (using my preternatural gift for crowd appraisal), and less than half got into The Coliseum before the fire marshal closed the doors. Kerry said he'd go outside to greet those who couldn't make it in.
But by the time that happened, your weary Snarkorrespondent was scooting home through the darkened streets of St. Petersburg.
Blurry digital picture of one or more politicians TK. Done!
Update: St. Pete Times on the rally.
July 7, 2004
Journalists Are So Weird
NBC News' Andrea Mitchell broke the news in the Official Media™ that John Kerry was picking John Edwards to be his veep. She reported the story a whole hour-and-a-half before John Kerry announced this news himself. What flaming hoops did she have to jump through to squeeze this story out a full 90 minutes before the rest of the world would know? The WaPo has the dish:
Mitchell said she stayed up all night -- "I went home to change and bathe, in the interest of being collegial" -- and started bugging her sources again at 5 a.m. After getting a second confirmation, Mitchell reported at 7 a.m. that Kerry's running mate was "very likely" to be Edwards. By 7:30, following a conversation with a third source, she was reporting it as fact.
"This was pulling teeth," she said. "This was one of the hardest I've ever had to get. Some people I've known for decades wouldn't talk to me."
I hope to God that I am never that reporter. Was the world served in any way by her act of sleepless devotion? By her unflagging pestering of age-old confidants? Did those 90 minutes of foreknowledge of John Kerry's Vice Presidential pick alleviate a single one of the world's problems??
And besides, she was scooped by the Unofficial Media like 12 hours earlier.
Just Who IS John Edwards?
Let's ask the Republican National Committee.
O-ho! It seems Edwards is not only disingenuous, he's also unaccomplished!! And, worst of all, folks, prepare yourselves, shield your children's eyes and ears ... Edwards is also a friend to personal injury trial lawyers!!! A friend!! The very thought!
Come now, surely they could have done better than that against Edwards. Especially given that they clearly had the site at the ready (ahem, KerryPicksGephardt.com, KerryPicksVilsack.com, KerryPicksBayh.com, KerryPicksClark.com, KerryPicksBiden.com).
The DNC site is a bit less worse. (At least it includes no really crummy Flash movies, as far as I can tell.)
If you're going to unleash a fabled $200 million war chest on somebody, why not at least do it in style? Joshua Green attempts an explanation in this month's Atlantic Monthly, but the guy whose ads he chooses as examples of sophisticated, clever marketing sounds neither sophisticated nor clever:
On a giant-screen television Brabender first played "Waste," which he created for Rick Santorum's successful 1994 challenge to Senator Harris Wofford, of Pennsylvania. It opens with a hand daintily snipping a sliver of paper with red kiddie scissors. "This is how serious Harris Wofford is about cutting government waste," begins a gentle voice, over the lilt of chamber music. Cut to another pair of hands as a chain saw tears through an enormous stack of paper. The voice becomes a bellow fit for a monster-truck-show announcer: "And this is how serious Rick Santorum is! In the last term of Congress he introduced more original bills cutting government waste than anyone else! Join the fight!"—a boxing glove smashes through the screen—"Santorum for Senate!"
It's not like it costs that much to make a decent ad. I mean, how much could it have taken for MoveOn.org political ad contestant Christopher Fink to have made this? And even though the ad's slickness means Charlie Fisher probably threw some money and experience into this, it can't have been as much as John Kerry probably paid for this.
July 6, 2004
Movin' On Up
You may not notice the improvements, but we've forgone posting the last few days to make the site a happier browsing experience for all. Firefox users will be stunned by the miraculous appearance of a logo at the upper left, while IE users can bask in their newfound ability to select text (try it, it's fun!). Users of Netscape 4, however, which is no longer considered a "browser" under W3C standards, continue to suffer in the pit of despair.
You can now also search the site from the Snarkives.
Don't stay up too late playing with the site, kids.