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Monthly Archives: August 2007

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If Only It Didn’t Feel Like Busywork

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration will conduct a meeting this fall to hear Americans’ advice on how to stem a wave of unsafe imports from China and other countries, officials said on Thursday. The all-day meeting on October 1 at the Agriculture Department in Washington is designed to gather suggestions about how the government and companies can better ensure the safety of imported food and other products

An Agriculture Department official said comments from October’s meeting, made in person or teleconference, will contribute to the second report which will set out specific actions the government can take to safeguard against perilous products.

Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t coming up with ideas on how to ensure food safety something we pay the government to do? I’m really glad about this open door policy and all but we’re kinda spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund entire government agencies which then turn around, spread their arms and ask us for suggestions? If a government agency solicits us for suggestions, they had better begin refunding some serious tax dollars.

Right now this smacks of three things

1. A publicity attempt to make the public feel involved while the government does nothing

2. An attempt to paint whatever report they come up with as something drawn from the will of the american people, based on the suggestions they cherrypicked (See LMDC World Trade Center rebuilding)

3. Absolute cluelessness

Back in WW2 when the British government solicited the public for ideas on stopping the bombing, it was indeed a sign of desperation and the suggestions such as positioning a mirror to reflect the sky and fool the bombers, tended to be useless

Right now we have a real problem and that means the government needs to take action instead of taking meetings

An Apple product designed by Hitler

What do you get when you combine Apple and Volkswagen, I mean besides crap. Steve Jobs got heavily criticized for his Microsoft peace treaty with Bill Gates. Just imagine the criticism for fusing the Apple brand with a product designed by Hitler. Anyway Apple and Volkswagen brass are meeting to discuss some kind of fusion of their products. Since both Apple and Volkswagen are cases where branding triumphed over substance and the iMac and the new VW Beetle were both trendy late digital century products that were overpriced and sucked to use, the companies have a lot in common. That and the fact that VW is somewhat ahead in vastly overreaching their product line and collapsing their whole corporate vision.

U.S. computer company Apple (AAPL) and German automaker Volkswagen are discussing the possibility of building an “iCar” which would feature products by the producer of the ubiquitous iPod personal music player. There are “scores of ideas,” but few concrete plans at this point, Bode said.

Uh no kidding. What exactly would the iCar feature? What other products does Apple have? eMac? How do you integrate that? iPod, easy enough to do but who really cares. Most people have their own iPods, why would they want a built in one. The whole point of an iPod is its portability after all. Apple TV? Don’t make me laugh.

But on the bright side if the iCar ever comes to be, it will officially be the most evil Apple product ever. Finally what Apple geeks always wanted, an Apple product designed by Hitler.

Fun with Windows Update

In the wake of the Vista WGA disaster I still was not paying nearly enough attention to Windows Update and when I got a pop up about Windows wanting to install some sort of category update for Windows Media Player, foolishly enough I agreed.

One minute later I notice that Windows is installing Windows Media Player 11. Now no doubt Windows Media Player 11 represents a category update but that’s disingenuous and dishonest at best. Some people want Windows Media Player 11. I don’t. My media player works fine for me. I tried Windows Media Player 11 on my laptop. I found it unusable.

Yes the styling was very much Vista, but I don’t use Vista. It looked cool but after 5 minutes I still couldn’t manage to get it to simply keep playing the same track over and over again the way I like to when I’m working and find a song that gets me into the groove. So I dumped and I don’t want it.

Now I’m working again after wasting 15 minutes dealing with the aftermath of the problem, including using System Restore to jettison the unwanted update and now checking to see if the Subsystem Spooling error message I got about a dozen times on startup represents some sort of serious problem. But at least Windows Media Player is working again. Thanks Bill.

Frank Darabont’s The Mist Trailer is out

And I guess this is what a lot of people were looking forward to. To me the idea of the project at once seemed very cool but its implementation very difficult. After all reading the original Stephen King novella The Mist, what exactly sets this apart from every other monster movie on the planet? It’s the psychology of it. It’s watching people wrestle with the knowledge that the human race is all but wiped out and that the earth has been hideously transformed not by monsters but by an ecosystem on a whole other scale in which we are nothing but ants.

The creatures in The Mist are not the monsters. We are simply mites in the ecosystem of creatures the size of mountains and their parasites are feeding on us. It’s a horrific concept and Stephen King pulls it off by refracting it through the layer of personal experience.

Now how well does The Mist trailer seem to pull it off? Well there’s no doubt that Frank Darabont is a talented director but this is a movie scaled a bit above him and I couldn’t help but get a real Bug vibe about it. He has the monsters and the CGI seems good enough. The trailer projects some of what’s needed. Thomas Jane isn’t as annoying as I thought but the woman really is. All told though I’m not sure it has the right atmosphere and in the end it’s the atmosphere that makes it work.

Star Trek: The New Universe

This seems more like aimless fan speculation but since it comes from AICN which has had a pretty good track record of knowing what JJ Abrams was up to before he even announced it, from the Superman script to Cloverfield, I suppose it carries a certain amount of heft and weight to it.

Well if AICN is right, the JJ Abrams plan for the new Star Trek movie is to reboot the Star Trek universe by treating the current universe as an alternate timeline created by some time traveling Romulans? Or at least that’s about as much as I can dig up from Moriarty’s words or speculations.

You may have better luck.

Okay… you know the scene in BACK TO THE FUTURE 2? Where Doc Brown explains alternate timelines? Well, this is sort of… ummm… TREK TO THE FUTURE, I guess you would call it…

Picture an incident that throws a group of Romulans back in time. Picture that group of Romulans figuring out where they are in the timeline, then deciding to take advantage of the accident to kill someone’s father, to erase them from the timeline before they exist, thereby changing all of the TREK universe as a result. Who would you erase? Whose erasure would leave the biggest hole in the TREK universe is the question you should be asking.

Who else, of course, but James T. Kirk?

If Spock were in a position to change that incident back, and then in a position to guard that timeline and make sure things happen the way they’re supposed to, it creates…

… well, what does it create? Because evidently the plan is to use this second timeline as a way of rebooting without erasing or ignoring canon. These new voyages of the ENTERPRISE, they’re taking place in whatever timeline starts with this story. Maybe this timeline features dramatic differences. Like… say… if Vulcan were to be blown up. If the Vulcans in the series were suddenly the last of their kind, alone in the universe, it would change who they are and maybe even redefine their strict rejection of emotion in favor of logic.

You can introduce these Universe2 versions of classic TREK events and characters, and you can play with the audience’s expectation. Things have changed. Some things play out the way you expect… some don’t. It’s basically the same solution Marvel Comics has in terms of publishing, the way they use their ULTIMATES line to reboot continuity.

My officially unofficial response. Meh. Just tell the bloody story. We don’t need to mess with classic Star Trek. They got it right the first time.

The XBox Live Family

The whole impetus behind the bloody Microsoft vs Sony duel, XBox vs PS3 was about more than selling video games kids, it was about something called living room dominance, in which either the XBox or the Playstation 3 was supposed to emerge as the device de jour which people would use to watch movies and that sort of thing. Of course that never really emerged and Nintendo which created the Wii for kids who wanted to play games ended up kicking both Microsoft and Sony around the block. Not because the Wii is superior but because it was affordable and worked and because Nintendo remembered who its target audience is.

But Microsoft and Sony are still keeping alive the dream of out-ipoding Steve Jobs by turning their consoles into content sales devices. The XBox 360 has gotten closer than ever now with a deal to sell Family Guy episodes through the XBox Live marketplace, which before this only stocked that armored horse model for Oblivion that was absolutely useless and did nothing in the game.

Of course the problem with selling episodes to XBox Live is that while it’s connected to your TV, it’s also basically dumping a paid product on a hard drive where it can be erased at any time.

An Hour on the Stage

Somehow Leona Helmsley had become, through the magic of the press, New York’s Wicked Stepmother, a real estate oriented Cruella DeVille, a harsh greedy meanspirted figure drawn and sketched through the caricatures of the press. The culture that transforms people into celebrities with and without their cooperation like a Hollywood movie requires many parts that must be filled. From the golden girl to the working boy makes good, from the crusading politician to the corrupt Tammany Hall boss, from the wicked witch to the black widow. Yet the reality of human character is much more complex than what the media culture will allow for often the golden girl is also the black widow and the crusading politician the corrupt boss. The working boy makes good becomes the politician becomes the boss and the golden girl becomes the black widow and the wicked witch.

We are all more than one thing and the media caricatures of a celebrity culture freeze people into one role. I am not calling for sympathy for Leona Helmsey. Her life was never that bad, despite the vicious treatment she received in the press and by prosecutors more interested in making headlines for themselves than in the rule of law. As long as our culture is dominated by the tabloids we shall always need wicked stepmothers and wicked witches and if Martha Stewart had been increasingly drafted to fill that role when Leona Helmsley increasingly diminished her presence on the stage, it is only because sensation requires change.

Sony Gamely Tries to Compete with Nintendo

Sony of course had assumed that the PS3’s biggest competition would be the Microsoft XBox 360 (if in its corporate arrogance Sony even took the XBox that seriously), it was not of course counting on the Nintendo Wii to fly under the radar, appeal to casual gamers and the younger demographic and steal its thunder.

Now Sony is gamely trying to compete with the Wii (yes that was a pun) by releasing a tricked out PS2, which after all is still the most popular gaming system around and superior to the Wii obviously (but then again a broomstick on wheels is also technologically superior to the Wii so that ain’t saying much). The Sony PS2 Ceramic White edition is colored like a Wii and seems geared toward younger kids and girls in particular. Consider the bundled offering;

Ceramic White limited edition of PlayStation 2, bundled with SingStar Pop, the second installment in the popular SingStar franchise. SingStar Pop for the Ceramic White PlayStation 2 includes tracks from renowned artists like Alicia Keys, U2, Rihanna, Ashlee Simpson, The All-American Rejects and The Clash. With microphones in hand, aspiring pop stars can put on a concert in their living rooms by performing along with their favorite artists, singing duets and one-on-one battles, and even singing with up to eight players in a “Pass-the-Mic” social frenzy.

The obvious targets here are teens to twins and social room gaming and well it isn’t teenage boys who are really into singing Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Ashley Simpson. The Wii has been perceived as more friendly to women and with Sony’s attempt to appeal to casual gamers, the previous pink and now white PS2 is Sony’s attempt to veer a bit away from the GTA crowd and toward the American Idol crowd.

Microsoft is Scrambling with the Updates

Vista has hardly been released out into the wild and Microsoft is already scrambling with a Vista Service Pack 1 at the beginning of 2008, needed to fix many of the bugs and problems that Vista had been having out of the gate. As quite a few people had commented, Vista is in many ways closer to a Beta release and Vista Service Pack 1 will bring it back to a moderately workable level. Just as Windows XP really did not become fully functional until Service Pack 2 (as noted by the fact that SP2 is the minimum for Microsoft integration)

Microsoft has had to rush out Vista SP1 out the door now because Vista adoptions by companies, key to Microsoft’s business strategies have been lagging, because of problems involving Vista. Vista SP1 is meant to reassure the business world that Vista is the operating system to switch to.

Meanwhile an underhyped Windows XP SP3 release is also coming out which will basically wrap up all the online updates and some drivers too in the bargain. And what a bargain it is.

Deaths and the Media

Leona Helmsley donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity and left 12 million dollars to her dog. In a man bites dog vs dog bites man media culture, the focus has been unsurprisingly on the dog donation, rather than on the hundreds of millions of dollars Leona Helmsley gave to a variety of causes, including a 25 million dollar donation to New York Presbyterian Hospital. Post 9/11 Leona Helmsley gave extensive donations that were never acknowledged or reported on, because she was after all the “Queen of Mean” and denting that stereotype in any way was officially forbidden. The press worrying about government censorship is absurd because after all the press censors itself far better than any government could, to no end but to reduce human beings to cartoons that can then be used to sell newspapers.

If anyone asks me whether I mourn the death of the press, I only need to point to the average tabloid as evidence of why neither I nor anyone else should. Leona Helmsley was often a bitter and even cruel woman in life, but then again so was Mother Theresa. But both were reduced to simplistic stereotypes, one to a saint and the other to New York’s wicked stepmother, not out of any sense of belief or even active malice but simply because cartoon characters make better reading, reducing someone to a monster or a saint allows you to transform the world into a simplistic black and white sketch distorted out of reality.

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