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August 27, 2002

QOTD

Culled from my ReplayTV, an episode of Andromeda. Becka Valentine is bemoaning the constant soldiering and adventure required to rebuild the Commonwealth, while walking the decks with Rommie:

Becka: Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt.

Rommie: Oh. That explains your wardrobe.

Lava and Rockets

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:22 AM

Parasite Eve

One other thing I managed to do this weekend was to begin playing Parasite Eve. This is an interesting game, as it is sort of a survival horror game, but it's also a turn-based battle game. Not too surprising, as it is by Squaresoft, the creators of the Final Fantasy franchise. In my first pass, I got my butt kicked by a large crocodile monster, but I've gotten past that now.

I'm sorta stuck in Jak and Daxter, not because the game is too tough, but because of a Catch-22. Kelly won't let me play without her, but she doesn't want to play while we are on the Misty Island stage. I think I've got it figured out: she wants to play when there are lots of platforms, trampolines, boats and cute devices for collecting Precursor Eggs, but she doesn't want to fight ugly monsters. Previous stages have had a lot of the former and few of the latter. Now we're on Misty Island, a 'spooky' stage, and there's lots of creeps to confront. So she doesn't want to play.

Until I convince her to let me 'play through' the Misty Island stage and get her in on the game again, I've gone back to my familiar haunt of survival horror games. This time it's with a twist, so the minor burnout I was experiencing after Resident Evil and Silent Hill doesn't apply. In fact, I'm looking forward to squeezing in a half hour or so tonight after puttin' the womenfolk to bed.

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:09 AM

Sunday

I spent Sunday morning doing my chores and exercising while Jean and Kelly were at the mall shopping for clothes for this Fall. I should take some snapshots and put them up. Kelly is looking very grown up. She's starting to wear pants, as opposed to shorts, skirts and culottes. The first pants experiment was a failure, since Kelly decided after purchasing that they 'itched'. The latest ones seem comfortable enough for her delicate skin.

Sunday afternoon, Jean and I left Kelly upstairs with her Gameboy playing Pokemon Crystal, while we adjourned downstairs to watch Gosford Park. At the time it was in theatres it was being promoted as a British murder mystery, ala Agatha Christie's tea cozy mysteries. But this is entirely beside the point. The murder is just the hatrack on which to hang all the characters' foibles. This is a marvelous example of a Robert Altman movie, with constant business in every corner. How accurate the portrayal of 'Upstairs, Downstairs' life in mannered England I must leave to someone else. But taken alone, it is consistent and fascinating. I'm very glad that Jean and I are having a chance to watch movies together again.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:29 AM

Saturday

Saturday was typical, chores chewing into most of the day. It was a NOVA weekend, so I had some joy. The new projector was unveiled and it was marvelous! Very crisp, adjustable image. Alan was creeping about on the floor testing a supplemental sound system, which worked pretty well when the source material was good enough.

We held initial nominations for the officers of the club, as elections are next meeting. I think the whole projector fundraising experience has heightened everyones' esprit de corp, because there were several nominees for each office. That usually doesn't happen without a lot of cajoling.

Someone, I think the young lad named Peter, blurted out my name for Secretary/Treasurer, though I don't think he was even sure who I was. Somebody seconded it, so I agreed to run, pretty certain that other candidates would spare me the task. If I do win, I think it should be straightforward, except for the need to clear a time slot to travel to the bank with membership monies. Fortunately, most memberships nowadays are paid with donations to the archive. Also fortunately, Kelly is getting old enough, that I can just haul her along on banking trips. We'll see.

After NOVA we slogged off to the theatre to see xXx. It's a nice recasting of the usual James Bond shtick, with a bit of attention to Goth, electronica, Kraut Rock and raves, and a lot of attention to extreme sports and major hardware, it leverages off of Vin Diesel's growing success as a 'young' (he's 35 years old, but they have him bantering like a teen skateboard rebel) anti-hero action star. Fun but definitely light.

Funny, while looking up his age, I found out he did the voice of the robot in Iron Giant. Seems more like a job for Frank Welker. Frank Welker, ladies and gentlemen! The busiest man in animation voice acting!

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:01 AM

August 26, 2002

QOTD II

And so David Bowie spent the mid-Seventies gadding about L.A. like a blond coat hanger with a dead rock star hanging on it.

Rock's 50 Greatest Meltdowns - Rolling Stone

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:48 PM

QOTD

Geez, just after posting a probing article about my lazy eating habits, here comes a quote from a practicing phychiatrist and weblogger, Eliot Gelwan:

If change were easy, it would be easy. There would be no grace or art to therapy if there were not a universal human tendency to avoid changing.

And no, I'm not implying that I need therapy.

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:23 PM

Thinking and Eating

Since I am by habit a pathetic junkfood junky, and I'm trying to lower my body fat percentage, I've got to actually wake up now and then and ask the question: what am I eating? As I think I've mentioned, I topped out at around 230 pounds. That's what I weighed about six months ago, but I hadn't weighed myself recently because the only scale I had was at the gym at work, and since we got the Bikler, I've been doing most of my workouts at home.

Then the Bikler broke (newsflash: we're supposed to get our replacement today!) and I started hitting the gym at work again. The good news was that I was down about fifteen pounds, to 215. The lesser news was that I had no idea if this had been a steady decline over the six months, or happened in one fell swoop anytime in that interval. In other words, I had no idea if anything I was doing now was contributing. Hence the desire for a scale at home.

Then there's the issue of body fat percentage. I can actually slow down on weight loss as my body adds muscle mass, but given that I'm not an ascetic in my diet, I may slide and add fat again. Hence the addition of a body fat monitor scale to my repetoire. And while it's only been what, twelve days, since I got the scale, the body fat percentage seems distressingly stable.

So I've reached a 'setpoint' in my exercise and eating habits, and need to look over the 'budget' to see where some more fat can be 'trimmed'. And I know the most obvious place. Two evenings a week I stay at work late studying for my betterment as a programmer. I usually run down to Burger King and grab a medium shake and onion rings, which I eat with a veggie burger I pack in from home. I've already decided to drop the onion rings, but I'm weaning myself here, okay? So the medium shake stays for a few more weeks.

But just so I'm not fooling myself, here are the fat percentages for the BK medium shake and it's comparable competitors:

Can that be right? A Burker King shake has less than half the grams of fat that a McDonald's shake has? If so, I chose the right horse. That's the quantity listed on their website. If instead you take the trouble to download their PDF of nutritional info, then the number is the heftier 42 grams. What the? It's hard enough getting reliable nutritional data for fast food online. But when the corp contradicts itself, I don't know what to do. I guess I'll just have to keep digging, and in the meantime assume the worst.

Interestingly, the McDonald's PDF agrees with their online info. Woe is me... The local BK is twice as far from work as the local McD's, but I always found their shakes tasted better. Now I suspect I know why.

I should probably keep the onion rings (16 grams fat) and ditch the shake. Still, that Frosty looks mighty tempting, and checking listings, there's one even closer than BK...

Posted by dpwakefield at 02:47 PM

August 21, 2002

Picnic

Forgot to mention that Sunday was the company picnic. One of the attractions this year was balloon 'rides'. I use the quotes because they were tethered. There's no other way they could give everybody a chance if they took them up in free flight, and drove them back to the loading area each time.

Prior to the picnic, Jean was fretting that I intended to go up, because she knew that Kelly would want to go to. "Kelly could fall out and die!" I assured her that everything would be safe as houses, and left it at that. Come Sunday, we arrived at work, and they were inflating the balloons. Kelly said "I wanna do that!" Jean shuddered.

The final story is that the balloons were indeed tethered, and they took them up about twenty feet, for about a minute a time. The basket was so large that when Kelly stood in one of the foot slots of the basket, she could just get her head over the basket to look out. Jean was relieved, I was amused, Kelly was happy...

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:59 AM

August 20, 2002

Dental Art of Self Defense

Here's a guy named Leon's hilarious review of the Teledyne Water Pik, pointed out by Pascale Soleil, on her weblog, both2and: beyond binary. Thanks Pascale, I needed that!

Posted by dpwakefield at 02:32 PM

Litigious Losers

Just because I've been seeing alot of this sort of activity in the tech arena lately, including the related 'crime' of patent abuse, I thought I'd link in the definition of barratry. I'm pretty sure that Cicero talks about these lowlife sorts ruining the legal system in Rome, but I couldn't find a reference. Anyone?

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:51 AM

August 19, 2002

New Glass

I took delivery today of a Sigma 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. Yes, photo purists, it is a zoom, and it is not a Nikkor. This is just a lens intended for all-purpose travel photography, mainly for my trip to Anime Expo 2003 next summer. Even so, I expect I'll use it for other mundane purposes, like the next Bridgeport School Recital. I drew chauffeur duty this afternoon as Jean had a test, so I drove Kelly to her swim class, and took a few pictures with the new lens. If any of them turn out okay, I'll scan 'em in and post them here.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:47 PM

Quick Popcorn

One of the books I scanned (from the library) was Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food. There's a big emphasis on meat, and as I don't do much in the way of meat dishes, it wasn't really a book I'd purchase. So back to the library it went.

However, I glommed his recipe for microwave popcorn. You gotta experiment, let me tell you. The basic recipe goes like this:

Put 1/3 cup of ordinary popping corn into a paper sack, staple shut with two staples. Place into microwave on high for 8-10 minutes or when the pops are at least five seconds apart. Remove from microwave, open bag carefully and apply whatever fixin's you want.

He swears up and down that if you use plain popcorn without oil in the bag, you can't burn the popcorn. Wrong! He says he tried this recipe in six different microwaves, but apparently not ours. Our house still smells of burnt popcorn. The second try I got it right. It turns out there are a few variables, most important of which are your microwave (power, capacity) and the lunch sack you use (1/3 cup of popping corn was too much for the sacks I bought). So I modified the recipe to use 1/4 cup of popping corn, and ran the microwave about 2:15. The corn all popped, none burned, and there was no fat except what I added (butter for Kelly, olive oil for Jean, none for me, thanks). We don't have popcorn salt, so table salt sufficed.

I wornder if Nero Wolfe ever rhapsodized about popcorn?

Posted by dpwakefield at 02:01 PM

August 15, 2002

Is This Book Void?

Gosh, I seem to be running through a number of disappointing books. Each has an interesting premise, the presentation (or marketing if you will) of the book is tantalizing, and when I dig in and read, I'm either disappointed or annoyed. Case in point:

Patterns In The Void: Why Nothing Is Important by Sten Odenwald. I was hoping for a discussion of all the things which a 'vacuum' actually contains, from dimensionality to virtual particles. And it looks like he will cover all that as the book progresses. But the first chapter bodes ill for the rest of the book, as he spends inordinate amounts of time soliloquizing over how we fear the dark, how the Incas had constellations which were outlined by the dark spaces in the Milky Way, and how we might transform our fear of the void by understanding how powerful and lively it is.

The science books I've enjoyed have generally been written by authors who recognized that philosophy can, if you`re not careful, dilute the point of science. Pondering, pontificating, telling us why we are all afraid of the dark, just distracts from the interesting stuff. Only a very skillful writer can mix philosophy and science. I'm not ready to put the book down yet, but reading that first chapter definitely gave me a sinking feeling.

As an aside, I commented to Jean this morning that the author had a gloomy outlook because he is Scandinavian, in keeping with my running joke about being Finnish and entitled to dour moods...

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:05 PM

August 14, 2002

An Unnatural History of Objects

Yesterday after work I drove Kelly to the YMCA for her swim class. I took along a library book, The Evolution of Useful Things, by Henry Petroski. I basically scanned the whole book in the space of, say, forty minutes. It had many interesting tidbits, but suffered from being far too complete. Petroski has the habit of worrying a topic to death, covering every interesting and uninteresting detail until there is no life in the animal at all.

This is in contrast to Donald Norman's Things That Make Us Smart, on similar topics. I read this years ago and was fascinated, especially with his mindset. He was the first writer I'd been exposed to who would frame a pencil and paper as 'cognitive multipliers'. By contrast, Petroski's book could have benefitted by being edited by Cecil Adams.

So it goes back to the library this weekend. Heaven help me if I'd tried to read his other 'engineering of everyday things' book, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. Two or three hundred pages about pencils. Imagine.

Posted by dpwakefield at 02:09 PM

Jelly Roll Wakefield

I ended up purchasing a Tanita TBF-622 Body Fat Monitor/Scale combo at Fry's yesterday. They wanted $20 less than the web site, which is why I shifted my model choice. I've fiddled with it since, both alarming and amusing myself.

First the alarm. I'm nearly 1/4 fat! Gotta keep grinding that down. The scary thing is, I know that I was carrying even more lard six months ago. 30%? 33.33333333......???

The amusing thing is that I weighed myself just before bed, and just after rising. Bed: 217.5 lb. Rising: 212.5 lb. Between trips to the restroom and respiration, I shed five pounds. Pity that's gonna map as a sine wave, rather than a monotonically decreasing function.

Posted by dpwakefield at 01:54 PM

Contrarian

Okay, I'm pretty sure I don't have Summer Affective Disorder, but I still look forward to the return of overcast days, and yes, rain, this fall.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:12 AM

August 12, 2002

Life Imitates Nero

Yesterday afternoon I decided that I wanted to do something fun, so I suggested that we go to Nature's Fresh Northwest to get a treat. Jean, Kelly and I piled into the car, each with a budget of $5 to buy whatever took our fancies. I was like a kid in a candy store, wandering from section to section. Eventually we all settled on our choices:

What inspired me to get the corn was a recent viewing of a Nero Wolfe television episode, Murder Is Corny, in which Nero Wolfe extolls the virtue of roasted corn on the cob. Of course, he requires that his corn be picked hours before consumption, and has other culinary restrictions, but I figured it would be fun to try oven roasting anyway.

A quick search of the web revealed a recipe, if you can call it that, since it's so simple. My verdict: this is the only way I'll prepare corn on the cob in the future. It tastes so much better than boiling. Jean tasted it and agreed. "It's moister," she noted.

Posted by dpwakefield at 01:11 PM

Game Discovery

It turns out that having Kelly play Jak and Daxter with me adds value. Her playing style is by turns novel and frustrating. When she gets stuck, in a non-threatening situation, i.e. no monster lurking or approaching, she will just fiddle with the controller, rather than giving me a turn. I'm treated to endless loops of Jak charging walls with his head. Sometimes he pogos, sometimes he runs in tight little circles. I eventually took to carrying a book downstairs for our gaming sessions, since I was bordering on making irritated comments.

Recently I noticed that she was making Jak do somersaults, something which isn't documented in the instructions, or mentioned in the game. I asked her how she did it, and she didn't know. Eventually I caught what she did, watching while it happened. Once she knew, she added this move to her fiddle repetoire. I had been stuck in one area, unable to make the leap from one pillar to another. So she tried somersault/jumping, and succeeded where I had failed repeatedly. Now we know that this is the way to leap across most pillars. Score one for Kelly!

Now if I could just get her to stop setting me up for a beating. She never wants to fight monsters, but too often, she'll wait until they are nearly on top of her, then throw the controller at me, forcing me to take vital seconds just getting my hands on the controller buttons (and often toggling off zoom or some other obscuring mode she has triggered accidentally while flinging the controller at me). By the time I'm ready, I've already gotten slapped a couple of times. Oog!

Posted by dpwakefield at 12:57 PM

Coraline

I got another book from the library with the intention of reading it with Kelly. We sat down Sunday afternoon and started working on it, and to my surprise, we've already covered fifty pages (out of 176 pages total). I wasn't sure Kelly would want to read it, since it is a 'scary' book. The book is called Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. I've read a few of his other works, including Good Omens (which he wrote with one of my favorite humorous writers, Terry Pratchett), and his graphic novels about that demi-god, the Sandman. He likes to write stories where the characters are not 'safe', and reality always has a slight bend.

Coraline has just moved to a big house with her parents. The house is divided into apartments, and the other tenants are strange. Her apartment has 21 windows and 14 doors. But one door opens onto a brick wall, because the house has been divided into apartments. One day Coraline is exploring and discovers that the door now opens onto an apartment exactly like her own. Well, not exactly. In this apartment live her 'other' parents, whose white skin and button eyes don't seem all that scary. They want her to come live with them, "for ever and ever." From here things take a turn for the worse, and Coraline struggles to save her parents and three children trapped in a mirror in the 'other' apartment.

It's just creepy enough that I wasn't sure Kelly would be up for it, but it's not Grimm's Fairytales, so no gore. We're planning on doing a chapter a night, which should see us through the book in a week or ten days from now. I'll report on Kelly's impressions when we're done.

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:47 AM

Book Finished

I finally finished When Things Start To Think by Neil Gershenfeld. I had begun to think i wouldn't, since it is one of those aggressive visionary books outstripped by the future. The middle chapters are hobbled by the fact that he spends time talking about virtual money and the 'New Economy'. Apparently Yahoo! was valued at more than GM and (some other large physical product company) combined. There are a couple of other gaffes like that in the middle of the book, but by the latter third, he is back into comfortably unknown territory .

Whether any of the ideas he discusses comes to fruition or not, this is a neat what-if book. The chapter on quantum computing at least finally helped me to understand how people (NSA folks especially) hope to perform computing using quantum effects. I'd have a hard time explaining it, but I grasp the general notions now. For a better explanation than I can give, I'll just point people to this book!

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:23 AM

August 09, 2002

Good Pounds, Bad Pounds

As I'm trying to lose weight, I want to keep in mind that what I'm really trying to lose is fat. I don't strength train enough for muscle bulk to confuse the issue, but I'm still interested in my body fat percentage. I'm too lazy to ask my doctor to set up some caliper measurement or water-displacement test, so I did a search for body fat monitors and found one I want to keep track of. Hence, this entry, to log the link to Tanita Body Fat Scales.

After looking over the models on their site, I'd say the BF 625 seems good enough. Kinda steep price, but in the range of other products that include body fat measurements. If I just wanted weight, approximated only, I could buy a scale at Fred Meyers for $14. But I'm a tech geek, right?

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:30 AM

Whose Game Is It, Anyway?

I mentioned Wednesday that Kelly has told me she doesn't want me to play Jak and Daxter without her. The other night I had another exposure to this attitude. Let me set the stage...

Jak and Daxter, like most platform games (3D or otherwise), separates play into multiple stages or worlds. J&D tries harder than others to seamlessly integrate these stages, and in fact you can see one stage from another in many locations. The link above describes the authors' attempts to sustain this illusion. Within each of these stages, you can save one of two ways: directly, by invoking an options menu and choosing 'save game', and automatically, whenever Jak recovers a 'power cell'. If you quit the game then, you can start up from your last save.

However, starting from a set of saved data doesn't start you up in exactly the same location, just in some standard location for that stage. There appear to be multiple 'launch points' within a stage, but they don't necessarily overlap the location where you saved. And herein lies the rub, as I am sure you can anticipate.

I went downstairs and fired up the PS2 while Kelly was brushing her teeth. No waiting to play the game when she was ready, you see. When she came down, there was Jak, Daxter on his shoulder, bouncing idly and waiting to find those Precursor Orbs. Kelly took one look at him and said "Dad, have you been playing without me?"

"No," I replied. "What makes you think that?"

"He's not where we left him last night. Are you sure you haven't been playing without me?"

So I had to explain game mechanics to her, and we established that he didn't have more Orbs, Flys or Power Cells than when we quit the night before. But sheesh! I bought this game to give myself a break from RPG/Survival Horror games, and now I can't play the darn thing outside of Kelly's schedule! TANJ!*

* There Ain't No Justice

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:16 AM

August 08, 2002

Pretentious Reviews

I remember reading the essay by B. R. Meyers when it came out in the Atlantic. My main impression was 'strident'. Sure, many modern novels are overwrought, but I like Cormac McCarthy's dense prose. I actually got a shiver reading the final passage of Suttree. In fact I think I drove Jean crazy with my constant demands that she listen to the various passages I was drooling over. So now Meyers is coming out with a book length version of his essay, the better to tell us what is okay to read, I suppose.

The folks on Metafilter speculated on where Raymond Chandler would stand in Meyers' pantheon, and one came up with the perfect response:

Raymond Chandler doesn't need a defense, see? He's always had the iron to get the job done; and every nancy critic with a typer in town can go suck dum-dums.

Strictly speaking, it doesn't sound anything like Chandler, but it was still a hoot.

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:34 PM

Mein Kampf

I'd been thinking about my struggles with weight control over the years when what should I see, but a very public discussion of same on Cameron Barrett's weblog (Wednesday, August 7th, 'Diet and Exercise'). As I've been trying to shed the pounds again after a steady slide, I decided to 'share pain' with him. Here's my note to Cam...

Cam:

I was interested by your approach to weight loss. I've always had a bit of a spare tire, though it's size has varied most of my life. I'm curious as to why eating more fruits and/or vegetables 'can be difficult'. Given that they have fiber and phytochemicals not generally found in vitamins, it's better not to treat vitamins as a substitute. True, when you're young, your body can get away with a lot of abuse, but take it from this 45 year old that the abuse adds up.

A few years ago I had a lot of success following the advice in this

book:

Dr. Bob Arnot's Revolutionary Weight Control Program

Yeah, I know, TV personality, all that. And the book does have it's flaws. He seems to think you have unlimited funds to buy those rollerblades, and can take off from work for an hour at lunch to go exercise. But the chapters on the effects of food on your brain and body are real eye openers.

When I was following the 'lifestyle' in the book, I got my weight down to 190 lbs. (I'm 6' 2" tall, stocky). Over the years, that crept up on me again, especially after I *really* messed up my ankle and had to stop running. I kept exercising regularly (still do, using an elliptical trainer and a Bowflex), but the intensity doesn't match running 45 minutes a day.

About six months ago, I topped out at 230 lbs. When I started developing sleep apnea, I decided it was time to get serious about weight loss again. It's tough, I've gotten lazy about buying food at the company cafeteria, or going out to lunch with friends. So I'm trimming that, eating more like I did a few years ago. I haven't increased my exercise schedule, but I'm losing weight again. Yesterday, I weighed 216 lbs.

So it's doable. You know all the old saws ("you didn't gain the weight overnight, don't expect to lose it overnight"), so I won't belabor that. I'm just writing to encourage you and say good luck!

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:05 AM

August 07, 2002

Chained

Well, it's official. Kelly informed me last night that I am not allowed to play Jak and Daxter without her .

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:10 AM

August 06, 2002

Hit

A more satisfying recommendation from Viridian Notes is When Things Start To Think. I'm actually gonna finish this one. It's coming right on the heels of Emergence, so that'll make two tech/society books in a row, though from different angles.

Neil Gershenfeld gets to play at the MIT Media Lab, and as a result gets to think about how technology works, and how it doesn't. Most importantly, he gets to think about why it should work when it doesn't. Up to this point I've read the chapter about electronic ink, where he posits that 'electronic books' will only overtake paper books when they become better than paper. Not a clunky computer, but a sheet of paper which can be taken anywhere, and can change it's contents on demand. I already knew about this technology, but his philosophical take is interesting as well.

The other chapter I've finished describes his experiments in creating advanced computer instruments in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. This is actually a very interesting chapter, further expounding on the goal of only using computers when they can do a better job than the original physical artifact. He notes that Ma and other musicians are not sentimental about instruments, do not rail against technology, and get quite excited by what his computers enable them to do. But in the end, Ma elects to continue using his Stradivarius cello, since it fits in a single case, is ready to use immediately, and requires no power. This in opposition to the several cases of equipment that Gershenfeld requires for his supercomputer equipment, the minutes it takes to boot things, and the power cables trailing off stage. But Gershenfeld speculates that by the time the book is published, he will be most of the way toward fulfilling Ma's requirements.

So I'm not done, but I'm committed. I'll keep posting info as I dive deeper into the book.

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:10 PM

Miss

Bruce Sterling's website, Viridian Notes has a list of books recommended by members of his mailing list. A few of them, on the face of it, seemed interesting, so I reserved the ones I could from the library. I just finished scanning one, and I'm disappointed.

Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic {The Aesthetics of Consumerism}, by Daniel Harris, held some promise, on the title alone. But it turns out the guy just rubs me the wrong way. I admit to enjoying writing a snide essay now and then, but this book is one long snide diatribe. As an example, he treats the notion of 'quaint' by giving his views of the Society for Creative Anachronism. They are unflattering, but they are also unfair:

If historians seek to know the past intellectually, those who revel in that most ahistorical of aesthetics, quaintness, seek to know it sensually, not through knowledge but through atmosphere, stripping it of facts and mining it for sensations. Quaintness focuses squarely on the physicality of Olden Times, on their creature comforts, and is therefore set more often in the nineteenth century than the Middle ages, which bring to mind cold flagstone floors and drafty, smoke-filled dining halls draped with mildewed tapestries, whereas the nineteenth century conjures up images of toasty Christmas interiors, brisk sleigh rides and cups of piping hot cocoa.

Sure, read the SCA homepage, and you get the full-blown rhetoric of "researching and re-creating pre-17th-century European history." But talk to people who actually partake of their activities, and you see it's a lot more varied and complex than that. Friends I knew who were in the SCA were avid hobbyists. They knew the era SCA dwelt in, but when they participated in events, it was recreation in the restorative sense, not the historical one. They knew this. None of them was dumb enough to think that the Middle ages was a picnic. Conversely, their SCA outings were just that, and they knew it. So Harris basically takes the marketing pamphlet and has a field day with it.

This book reminds me of the time I was reading The Socratic Dialogues lo these many years ago. I found myself becoming ever more irritated the further I got into the book. Finally I asked my wife, "how come these guys never ask him any smart questions?" In other words, it's easy to make the other guy look like a rube when you are the one putting words into his mouth.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:53 PM

August 05, 2002

Bloodlines

At Saturday's NOVA meeting we got to talking about members we haven't seen in awhile, including Jeff Milburn, the founder of the club. Whatever happened to him? I know I ran into him in the airport for about five seconds a couple of years ago, and I know an email address he used to use is still 'attached' to the NOVA mailing list, but that's about it.

Seque to work, in what at first seems a non sequitur. I keep running into a guy in the elevators who thinks he knows me from somewhere. Every time I see him he asks, "did you used to work at Tektronix?", or some such question. I always answer no. And if he was ever familiar to me in any other context, these repeated elevator meetings have overwhelmed that. So this evening I run into him, and he appears about to speak. I get ready to say "no", when he says, "did you ever go to an anime club around here?"

I said, "yeah, a club called NOVA."

He said, "I knew I'd seen you somewhere before. I'm Jeff Milburn's brother!"

Well, we didn't talk a lot, as we were both heading to our cars, but Jeff is now a product manager at Intel, and has a house in Hillsboro with his wife and two sons. I'm sure I will get more info on the next elevator collision...

Posted by dpwakefield at 06:26 PM | Comments (1)

August 04, 2002

Sunday Movie

Jean and I have begun to set aside a regular time for watching movies together. Last week we watched Chocolat (hey look, they mis-spelled Chocolate! Tee hee!). This week it was A Beautiful Mind. And of course the genesis of this budding tradition (or revived tradition, thinking back to our pre-child life) was the recent viewing of A Taxing Woman.

I don't want to write full-blown reviews of each of these, so I'll just give capsule impressions. Of course I'd seen A Taxing Woman before, about a year after it's release. I liked it quite a lot then, and it led to my tracking down three other movies by Juzo Itami, The Funeral, Tampopo and A Taxing Woman Returns. I was saddened to learn that he died in 1997.

Chocolat is Magical Realism Lite. It was charming, feel-good, and funny, but felt like somebody had watched about fifty European movies and wanted to do one of their own, after reading the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges. I don't mean to come across too harshly, the movie is definitely worth watching. It just has a bit of a flavor of 'watch me, watch me!' to it.

Watching A Beautiful Mind I felt that Russell Crowe gave a fine performance as a mentally ill geek. Watching the film's handling of schizophrenia made me feel more certain that Philip K. Dick, a favorite author of mine from way back, probably suffered from something like this. His stories are all concerned with both what makes reality real and what makes us human. This movie is touching and human in a classic manner. Definitely worth seeing.

So that's the list of most recent movies worth mentioning. I recently saw Austin Powers in Goldmember, and can summarize it with: better than two, not as good as one. Most other movies I've seen recently were not worth mentioning here. That's it, gotta put the kids to bed!

Posted by dpwakefield at 08:30 PM

Saturday Movie

After NOVA yesterday, we went to see Signs. If you are willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, it is a suspenseful and entertaining film. I was quite pleased at the level of humor mixed in with the creepiness. The final five or ten minutes left me feeling cheated though. WARNING: Spoilers in the next paragraph!

It seems to me that Shyamalan's never read any science fiction. At least, not in the Golden Age. And he seems to have little knowledge of comic book cliches, for somebody who did a critical reinvention of the comic book superhero. [Okay, spoilers ahoy!]

So aliens come to Earth in vessels which can hover in place, erect invisible shields, silently construct crop circles, and so on. The individual aliens can outrace an athelete, jump ten feet to the top of a roof, and have spurs which emit poisonous gas. Yet when they finally choose to engage, they attack hand-to-hand, and are defeated by water? What kind of incompetent boobs are they anyway? Can't they wear raincoats when they attack?

Then it occurred to me. This was not an alien invasion at all. It was hunting season. Earth supplies an animal which can potentially put up a rather challenging struggle. The Intergalactic Gaming Commission sets the rules. You may only hunt on Earth once every XXXX years. You may not take advanced weaponry. You must stay within XX miles of the preserve markers (signs). You may not wear flak suits. Sorry buddy, that's the challenge. It's a water world, the inhabitants are 80% water, and you just happen to have a severe allergy to molecular water. Cry me a river. Do you want the permit or not?

So there you go. The only logical explanation for the aliens' incompetent approach to invading Earth, and why they conveniently bailed after one night of actual aggression. They weren't actually 'defeated' by the 'primitive defense'. The hunting season was just one night. Everything leading up to it was just the tailgate party!

Posted by dpwakefield at 07:59 PM

August 02, 2002

Silent Hill Finally Silenced

While waiting for Godot, er, the repair man, I fired up the PSOne and played Silent Hill. And I finished it! Overall rating: A-. I'd give it an A, but I'm still steamed at that arbitrary item I was supposed to divine that I'd need to get the good+ ending. But all told, it was a lot of fun, and made for a good little interactive horror-show!

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:38 PM

No Bikeler

I took the morning off to meet the Bikeler repair guy. Oh, that's right, I forgot to mention that the darn thing's been out of order. It had a wretched squeak, which we took to mean equipment failure, and a call to the service number confirmed it. We've had to wait several weeks for back-ordered parts, but they all arrived and the repair man came today.

Long and short is that the parts won't help. There was a weld failure. Continued use will snap the axle so we're back to waiting. On the plus side, Nordictrack intends to replace the entire unit, no charge. In the meantime, I'll continue using my genuine bike to get exercise. Good thing this happened during the summer. I'm paranoid about riding it when the roads are wet.

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:16 PM