May 12th, 2003
The Matrix: Rejected is one truly deranged web page.
A film franchise so sloppy, so irresponsible, so lowbrow that it's almost criminal. Here's 50 Reasons to stay away on May 15th.
Reloaded Ridiculousness, 2
I'm not joking; you'll literally feel your I.Q. drop watching this rubbish. For instance, the evil Matrix creates two new enemies for Neo, called the Twins. Their first priority is to blend discreetly into the simulated world of the Matrix, to walk among the people unnoticed. So of course the Matrix made them huge albino men with bleach-white dreadlocks who occasionally transform into shrieking wraiths.
"What's that, honey?"
"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon. I'm sure there's no need to question our fragile, sheltered grasp of 'reality' as we know it."
There are one or two points in this list which look at first glance like spoilers for The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions, but having read the entire list I think it's pretty safe to say that any resemblance between the world this writer lives in and reality – beyond the snippets of information which can be gleaned from trailers, anyway – is entirely coincidental.
(And yes, it is safe to say that The Matrix:Rejected is a joke. But it's quite a good one.)
May 12th, 2003
Google have launched regionalised versions of Google News, including Google News UK.
Whilst some are sceptical about the need for a regionalised version of a news site on a global medium like the internet, I think that's a belief that's much easier to sustain if you're based in the United States. Take a look at these two screenshots (NB/- each image is just over 300KB) of Google News and Google News UK and ask yourself which would be more useful to the average UK resident. Judging by the Google News site, if Clare Short hadn't resigned from the Cabinet today you'd have thought nothing had happened in the UK today.
May 11th, 2003
Warren Ellis addresses the masses at Slashdot.
For me, the most interesting comments were about what's to come in the second half of Planetary, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's fabulous – in several senses of the word – yarn about the adventures of a group of "mystery archaeologists." I've been reading the trade paperback collections, and the end of the second volume ("The game's afoot…" indeed!) left the story just when it had taken an especially interesting turn. I really want to see where Ellis is going to take Elijah, Jakita and The Drummer next.
May 10th, 2003
Rafael Goldchain's Familial Ground is a beautifully presented, hugely evocative meditation on family ties across the generations.
[Via Making Light]
May 10th, 2003
The 12 Dumbest Covers of American Comic Books is quite, quite amazing. Just as much fun, in a warped way, as the article to which it forms a companion piece, The 25 All-Time Greatest Covers of American Comic Books.
The latter page has iconic images like Brian Bolland's Wonder Woman #72, John Buscema's Silver Surfer #4 and Dave Gibbons' cover for Watchmen #1. Genuinely memorable, classy work every one. The "12 Dumbest" page, on the other hand, features the equally memorable (though not in a good way) The Living Bible #3: Chaplains At War and Criminals On The Run, which features an angler performing an uncanny feat of marksmanship with a wet fish. You don't see that every day!
May 10th, 2003
It looks as if it'll be a while before the Ectaco Personal Translator is ready to be unleashed on the general public.
The Ectaco Personal Translator proved the perfect icebreaker during a dinner party in rural France. It turned "thank you for the great dinner" into "it was disgusting," and "you are very beautiful" into "how much?" What better way to break the ice with a roomful of total strangers in a foreign country whose language you don't know?
May 10th, 2003
Jeff Vogel has posted a new instalment of The Story About the Toddler. Yay!
Cordelia has a playmate. Her name is Nora. She is about three months older than Cordelia. Watching the two interact in their awkward, stilted, "what the fuck is this creature and why is it sucking milk out of MY bottle" way provides an excellent laboratory for analyzing the evolution of interaction between humans.
Cordelia has reached the first milestone in human interaction: Taking Things Away. She is good at this. So is Nora. Watching the two of them steal pacifiers from each other has provided the entertainment for several nauseating evenings.
Even better is the account of how Daddy plans to prepare Cordelia for future playground encounters. But you should go and read that bit for yourself.
May 8th, 2003
Scientists have moved one step closer to the ideal of an electronic display you can fold up and put in your pocket.
Judging by this report in Scientific American e-paper is still suffering from relatively slow update speeds (250ms is far too slow for full motion video, though it'd be fine for static text and graphics), it's black-and-white only, and no doubt it would cost a fortune in production quantities, but that doesn't matter. The point is that electronic paper, with all that implies for truly portable computing, is that little bit closer to reality.
May 8th, 2003
Sour Bob isn't cut out to be a cat-sitter:
Listen Here You Fucking Pussy
When my ersatz best friend asked me to take care of you for a few months, he never mentioned you had this kind of attitude problem, let alone that atrocious fucking breath.
I don't creep up behind you and start making weird noises while you're trying to eat, do I? Okay, maybe there was that once when I leapt out Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -style and yelled "Hee-yah!" at the top of my lungs, just as you were settling into your bowl of Purina Special Seniors' Blend. But even if you did hide under the couch for six hours, I still think you'd have to admit it was pretty funny.
[Edited to shorten the quoted extract, following an objection from the author.]
May 7th, 2003
Over at deviantART, Tim Shinn has posted a seriously impressive caricature of Agent Smith. Come to that, the same artist's sketch of Morpheus is none too shabby. I'd like to see his take on Trinity.
Talking of Morpheus, here's a nice line from Laurence Fishburne's latest press interview, quoted in CHUD:
Question: Was it hard to keep those sunglasses on?
Laurence: No, you just gotta be really cool when you wear them.
May 6th, 2003
You probably remember hearing about various large American companies going bankrupt in the last year or so because they'd been lying about how much profit they were making. The names Enron and WorldCom probably ring a bell, yes? You might think that the management of these companies would be feeling a little contrite now they've been rumbled, but you'd be wrong. Both the companies named above are in the process of asking for tax refunds from the US government, on the grounds that the amount of tax they paid was based on inflated profits reports.
That's the taxes which were calculated on the basis of the misleading profits reports the companies filed themselves, remember.
Before anyone points it out, I'll freely admit that this is strictly speaking nothing to do with me. It's not my government that's being asked to give money back to companies which lied about their profits, and I don't own any shares in WorldCom or Enron. It's even possible that this sort of manoeuvre is entirely routine in the business world, and it's only the size of the corporations involved and the spectacularly newsworthy way they went belly-up that even makes these latest developments worth reporting. It's just that it's such a mind-boggling notion that a company should claim refunds of taxes which were only payable in the first place because the company's managers told a pack of lies that I thought it worthy of a mention. The word "chutzpah" seems wholly appropriate.
[Via Rebecca's Pocket]
May 6th, 2003
Dark Horizons has some good news about an actor who will be showing up in X-Men 3, but balances this with a not entirely unexpected confirmation from Bryan Singer that he would prefer to direct a few smaller films before attempting another SFX extravaganza. Which doesn't rule out his signing on as a producer, but does open up that whole question of who the fans would trust to direct that tricky third film.
Me, I hope the studio keeps dropping barrowloads of money off at Singer's front door until he gives in and agrees to direct another X-Men film just as soon as someone can come up with a good story.
(Incidentally, I deliberately didn't name the actor is talking about returning for a very good reason. If you haven't seen X-Men 2 yet, do not visit the link to Dark Horizons above.)
NB/- the Dark Horizons link above is to a frame, and may not take you directly to the appropriate news page. If you find yourself at the main news page, you need to look in the archives for the news page for 5 May 2003.
May 6th, 2003
My Tiny Garden is a beautifully presented gallery of images of the wildlife in a typical garden. The photography is excellent, but what really makes the site is the terrific job Jay Dykes, the site's author, has done of using Flash to create a responsive, attractive user interface. (I could do without the ladybird or whatever it is that crawls across the page, but that's just me.)
May 6th, 2003
What Comics Can Teach You About Being A Real Girl: Part 1:
Comics are full of great role-models. They have really pretty hair, and they flip it around all the time, and they always take the time to Put Their Face On and Look Their Best . And they're all on great diets, too, you can tell by the way their internal organs have shrunk. And there's more! They have their own individualized codenames, sometimes even their own titles, and when they kick butt, fight evil, right wrongs, defend the innocent, discuss complex moral dilemmas, and only get the guy if they want the guy, they do it all in a very feminine, Taking Back The Girly Toughness way that is very inspirational and cool. We could all learn a lot about being more complete, attractive women from these wonderful Girly Heroweens, and here are some basic tips to help you get started.[…]
3. Self Defense. All Girls should be able to defend themselves from unwanted attention. Good Girls may not use lethal weapons for this, but are encouraged to get so good at Martial Arts that it's purely academic. Naughty Girls should not be quite so good at Martial Arts – he can't pin you down and be entranced by your heaving bosom if you're too good at it to be pinned! – but are permitted sexy pointy weapons. Not by law, obviously, but we here at the Girly Perfection Institute are working on that. A Bad Man lawyer can be flown out to you if your relentless quest for girly perfection lands you in trouble with those mean ol' policemen.
[Via Bookslut – see entry for 6 May 2003]
May 6th, 2003
Just a quick note to say that my hosting company is taking the server which hosts this site offline at 1500 BST for an upgrade. The work is expected to take about thirty minutes, so in theory the site should reappear shortly after 1530 BST.
May 5th, 2003
Apple's new music store (which isn't selling to customers whose credit cards show a non-US address, unfortunately) is charging just US$0.99 per track. As anyone who's followed the long story of the quest for a viable micropayments system knows, credit card company transaction charges are sufficiently high that using a credit card to pay such a small charge isn't worthwhile for the vendor. So how does Apple do it? Jonathan 'Wolf' Rentzsch thinks he knows how.
Basically, a credit card transaction falls into two stages – authorising the transaction, then capturing (i.e. transferring) the funds. These two stages don't have to happen at the same time, and could in theory take place several weeks apart. According to Rentzsch, when you use your credit card to pay for your first track Apple could in principle seek authorisation for a higher charge (say US$9.90, or ten tracks-worth of charges) then if you don't make further purchases they'll just amend the value of the transaction when they seek to capture the funds. Sometimes you'll only buy a couple of tracks before they capture the funds, in which case they'll lose out. If you've bought ten tracks by the time they capture the funds, they've rolled up to ten transactions into one and only pay one transaction charge.
It all sounds pretty logical, but I see a small problem. According to Rentzsch's account of how these transactions work, at the authorisation stage the merchant "tells" the credit card company that the cardholder has authorised them to charge a sum (in the example above, US$9.90) to that account, which means that the customer's credit card balance is effectively increased by US$9.90. Now if Apple adjust the sum at the capture stage, this will be fine as the amount the credit card company thinks has been spent will reflect the amount the customer thinks he/she has paid. However, in the interval between authorisation and capture there's a discrepancy between what the customer thinks Apple are charging him and what the credit card company think he's being charged. Unless Rentzsch's assertion that the credit card company adjusts their customer's balance at the authorisation stage is incorrect, Murphy's Law tells us that somewhere along the line this is going to lead to someone going over their credit limit without their realising it and turning round and blaming Apple for authorising a greater charge than the customer thought he/she was paying.
Granted, the sums involved won't be large – not to mention that the notional figure of US$9.90 is purely for illustrative purposes and may not reflect the amount Apple actually charge – but it's the principle of Apple charging a sum to the customer's credit card which is different to that which the customer thinks was charged that presents a problem. It's possible that the small print in whatever agreement you accept at the music store when making a purchase covers this, but even if that's the case I can see some very bad publicity coming Apple's way over this. It might be better for them to be upfront about charging, say, US$10 to your credit card and making it clear that you have X days to spend the balance. But that doesn't sound half as inviting as "US$0.99 a track!"
May 5th, 2003
Steven Poole interviewed William Gibson in Saturday's Guardian. Unfortunately Poole exhibits some of the customary lapses when a mainstream reviewer speaks to a science fiction writer – for example, until Gibson came along apparently science fiction "[…] had been largely about exploring other physical worlds" – but there's enough good stuff here to more than make up for that sort of nonsense. For example, I didn't know that one of the forces which nudged Gibson towards the idea of depicting virtual environments was his perception of his limitations as a writer:
"When I started writing I had a problem of physically moving the characters around," he confesses. "I could do Joe in his room, but getting Joe down the stairs, into the cab and on the plane to Chicago was too much. I think in the very first short story I wrote, I came up with the conceit of a character replaying recorded memories of an ex-girlfriend, and it was marvellous for me because he'd recorded these bits at random, and it was just like these total jump-cuts, and every time I hit a jump-cut the Ballardian ante went up, and I thought, 'This is great, I can do the whole thing and he's actually sitting at his desk!'"
While we're on the subject of mainstream reviewers trying to avoid calling a piece of work "science fiction", I can't resist pointing to a particularly nice example from the As Others See Us section of the current edition of Ansible:
Patrick Gale's review of the new Margaret Atwood novel admires her 'gleeful inventiveness' in imagining unheard-of wonders like 'rats genetically spliced to snakes' or 'pain-free chickens developed to produce only multiple breasts', yet deftly avoids calling this sc**nce f*ct**n: 'In Oryx And Crake she makes a welcome return to fantasy. She would probably chuckle at that and murmur "if only" for, like The Handmaid's Tale, it is less a fantasy than an imaginative projection with a rational foundation in current facts.' Gale's other acceptable code phrase for the genre that dares not speak its name is 'dystopian myth'. (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)
May 5th, 2003
The Longaberger Building in Newark, Ohio might just the strangest office building in the world. How would you like to go to work in an eight storey wicker basket?
Still, it must make it very easy for their receptionists to give directions over the phone to would-be visitors. I mean, you're certainly not going to mistake it for the next office block down the street…
May 3rd, 2003
I've been reading a few reviews and Usenet posts about X-Men 2 today. I came to the film as a SF geek and occasional comic reader, but it looks as if the fans have mostly come down in favour of the sequel too. Jon's review is the best fannish review I've read, a lucid analysis of the film's many strengths which notes several pleasures the film offers long-standing X-Men fans.
One review which really struck a chord with me was that by Stephanie Zacharek in Salon (NB/- readers without a Salon Premium pass will have to sit through a 15-second ad before gaining access to the review itself), which noted how much fun Mystique was:
But I'm most entranced by Romijn-Stamos' Mystique, that scaly, growly blue Amazon with red hair and eyes to match. Who could love a girl like that? She's one of the borderline "bad" mutants, having aligned herself with the wily, misguided Magneto (himself a Holocaust survivor — nothing is black and white in the world of the X-Men).
Yet Mystique, who rarely speaks, is completely arresting. Not just because her painted-on blue costume is sexy (it is), but because her silky, half-reptile, half-feline way of moving is simply hypnotic. Even the way she fends off opponents with her impossibly long toes is fascinating. Mystique slinks through "X2" with the mysterious allure of another movie anti-heroine, one from long ago: Irma Vep, the center of Louis Feuillade's silent 1915 epic "Les Vampires." Irma Vep (played by the legendary French actress Musidora) is a cross between a jewel thief and a vampire; her form-fitting black outfit, a unitard that clings to her rounded tummy and thighs, was shocking for 1915, but it works today, too, as a symbol of the mingled threat and promise of womanly sexuality.
Mystique, like Irma Vep, is all threat and promise, tiptoeing about in her various disguises, but she's most magnificent when she's simply being herself. Romijn-Stamos plays Mystique with an enviable physical confidence. Her movements are her line readings: They tell us everything we need to know about her without using anything so mundane as words. She slinks through the movie as if she were on a covert mission to sneak off with it, leaving us (not to mention its director, its writers and its other actors) blinking in disbelief and wondering, "Where did it go?" Romijn-Stamos has "X2" in her pocket. It may be the first big blockbuster of the season. But on her, it leaves nary a bulge.
I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that Romijn-Stamos stole the film – Alan Cumming would put up quite a tussle for that honour – but I can't help thinking that in a world where Jennifer Garner's Elektra is going to get a spin-off movie and they're still trying to put together a Catwoman movie it's just not right that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' magnificent Mystique is stuck in a franchise where she's destined to remain just part of the bad guy team.