Saturday, June 30, 2007

Steven Levy

OK, I give in: a little bit about the durn iPhone after all...
I am not sure if I'll get one, I work from home so I don't use mobile devices very much. But I'm always interested in significant developments in technology.

Steven Levy has written one of my favorite books about the tech industry: "Insanely Great", about the development of the Mac. His book about the iPod is also very good. So I paid attention to his review in particular. He was laptop-less for a couple of days and so had a chance to give his review sample of the iPhone a good workout. Quote:

"During my travels and airport delays, I was able to keep up with my e-mail, negotiate my way around the downtown, get tips on the city from an old friend whose number I don’t normally have handy, check the weather conditions in New York and D.C., monitor baseball scores and blogs, listen to an early Neil Young concert and amuse myself with silly YouTube videos and an episode of “Weeds,” all on a single charge before the battery ran down. Now, just about all those things could have been done by devices that are already out on the market. But considering I’d had the iPhone for just a day, and never taken a glance at a manual, it was an impressive introduction. In contrast, I’ve had a Motorola handset for two years and am still baffled at its weird approach to Web browsing and messaging. What’s more, with the exception of learning to type on the iPhone, which requires some concentration, doing all those things on that five-ounce device was fun, in the same way that switching from an old command-line interface to the Macintosh graphical user interface in the mid-1980s was a kick."

People do say the screen keyboard does take some used to. But remarkably, Walt Mossberg says after a week's practice he can use it as fast as the Palm Treo he has had for years.

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak helps ring in the iPhone. (Oh no, I've caught the punning bug.)

It's funny how legendary Woz still is, considering he has not been working for Apple for nearly three decades.
I bought his book, "iWoz". I was surprised to find it is not a very good book, I read only about half of it. It's not well written, and he goes on about a lot of things I don't find interesting. For instance, for some reason he seems very proud of the fact that he made those dial-a-joke things in the seventies.

Some people think he invented the Macintosh, but he had a plane crash which put him out of commission before that.

I'm not putting down Woz, he was one of the most brilliant computer engineers of his time, and the PC revolution would have been different, and probably much poorer without him.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Watching King Kong again in HD splendor, it occurs to me how fantastic they could make it look if somebody made a Tarzan movie now. The fantasy landscapes, the creatures and animals, the heroics, the damsels in distress, the lost civilizations...

When I was a kid, I devoured all the Tarzan book published in Danish (something around 14 of the twenty-odd books, I think). And of course it's basically kids' adventure stories, but they are some of the most seminal adventure stories every written. There's a lot of stuff going on in there.

I don't recall ever watching a whole Tarzan movie, if I did it was when I was a child. And they were probably crap. But I believe they could make a really good one today. It would certainly be a f**k lot better than The Mummy 2! And I think the material is better than, say, Lara Croft Tomb Raider.

Hello, James Cameron? What do you say? Or Peter Jackson?
By the way, one of the few things surviving from my childhood is an amazing hard cover "comic book" illustrated by the famous Burne Hogarth, Tarzan of the Apes. Seriously, you have never seen a comic book look like this. I was probably like 12 when I bought this, and I remember my father being disgusted that anybody would throw away that kind of money on a "comic book". (It was probably like $50, adjusted for inflation.)

"Lights out for lighting up"

... Maybe I should start following the lead of magazines and news outlets and make puns in headlines, regardless of whether they are good or bad. For instance Reuter UK today: "Lights out for lighting up". Worse, somehow they managed to make the headline different when you find it in google, and it is: "England stubs out smoking for breath of fresh air".
On the other hand, maybe I'll wait until after my lobotomy.

In any case, I can't say I'm sorry about England banning public smoking from this Sunday, July first. I have sometimes come into my favorite place to have my lunch, and not be able to find a place which was not full of smoke.

The defensiveness of some smokers of their right to pollute the bodies of others is a marvel to behold, though. Once I was sitting in a group of people in a small room, and the woman next to me lit up a cigarette. I did not attack her, I did not even ask her to smoke somewhere else. I just moved to the other side of the room because the smoke was bothering me. And still she snarled at me like I had slapped her face. Weird.

Alex expanded:

I went through California's transition from smoking to non-smoking. It was kinda interesting to see. There was outcry at the idea of not being allowed to smoke in restaurants, but by the time the law came into effect we'd already had restaurants which were 60-80% non-smoking with separate air conditioning for each half. These just became 100% no smoking.

Around this time I took a road trip to NY. One restaurant in the Carolinas, when we asked for no-smoking, showed us one of two tables near the door. We laughed it off, remembering how that was how it always used to be, but it did detract from the meal.

When it came to changing the regulations for bars, there was an outcry. It almost didn't pass. Then there was a re-interpretation of "no smoking in the work place". A bar is a place of work for the bar employees, and so it became enforced.

I used to enjoy a good evening out in the pubs, but couldn't settle after because of the lingering smell of cigarette smoke in my hair, something smokers don't notice.

The interesting effect is that you really notice smoke now. If you are in a traffic jam, and the guy in front is smoking, you can smell it. It's very commonplace for drivers to hold their cigarettes out the window, so as not to stink up their own car.

We've seen many laws passed in my life that try to make the air better for us all. In CA there is no MOT [Ministry of Transportation] like in the UK, only a smog check. I know Britain has now introduced air quality control into the MOT.

California has changed regulation on diesel emissions. Since 2003 you have not been able to by a diesel car in CA. In the UK there was a to-do when unleaded fuel was introduced. This again was to remove pollution from the air. Why should pedestrians have to breath air poisoned by motorists?

Britain suffered killer smogs back in the 60's. As a result fossil fuel usage became regulated, coal being replaced by coke, anthracite and furnacite.

I actually believe that smokers have the right to smoke. It is a legal product, permitted for personal consumption. My electing not to smoke is my choice, and does little to impact the average smoker. I have had friends who elected to step out for a ciggy, even in the pub, so as not to offend us non smokers. On occasion I elect to join them for conversation, and we shuffle around the wind to keep me in clean air.

However, when a smoker elects to smoke in an enclosed area, or densely populated patio/beer garden, then they are imposing their smoke on others, and going against the non-smokers right to "clean" air. With the demonstrated health impact of second hand smoke, then this behavior seems very anti-social.

Since most of us live in dense urban areas we have to respect all around us. This extends beyond cigarette smoke, it embraces noise pollution, use of lighter fluid on barbecues, types of fuel for vehicles, fuel for fires, one could even say how we dress and present ourselves is of import too.

Long and short of it. It's a tough transition. It is a decision no nation/state enters into lightly. Smoking is restricted, not outlawed. There are too many of us jammed into overflowing cities for us all to have complete freedom, and we must find a sane set of guidelines to allow us to live together.

Update July 7:
Final Identity joined in:

I'm what I hope would be identified as a "considerate smoker." I use a tobacco pipe with tobacco that has pleasant-smelling off-gasses. If indoors, I only smoke in enclosed private places where I have relative assurance that my smoke is tolerated, expected, or welcomed, by all other humans in vicinity (examples: tobacco room at coffee bar; cigar shop smoking room; designated separately ventilated smoking area at airport). If outdoors, I smoke down-wind of others.

My family does not know that I smoke. I am attracted to it because it is a "gourmet" experience, much like knowing a lot about fine wines, careful facial shaving with vintage equipment, or model trains. Also, I enjoy the "reverie" through which nicotine aids me in relaxing and concentrating, but I am not so addicted that I "require" it. In fact, I often go months without getting out the pipes and tobaccos from the box hidden in the bottom of my closet.

I think cigarette smokers are the worst offenders. Their "need" for the nicotine hit supersedes their ability to be cognizant of other humans' needs and rights. Cigarette smokers tend to disbelieve that their second-hand smoke can annoy others -- I have had many conversations in which a cigarette addict informed me, "Oh, get over yourself, it DOESN'T bother you, you're just making that up!" This despite my watering eyes, repeated sneezes, and insistence that we get out of the smoky room before I die. In general, the concept of the "social contract" (according to the French and Scottish et al. Enlightenment philosophers upon whose ideas most Western democracies are based) is that they can use tobacco only in as much as it doesn't interfere with my own (or anyone else's) interest in clean air. Cigarette smokers tend to forget that premise and arrogantly assume they deserve greater rights than others. Very rude.

In fact, it is no surprise to me that the (few) pro-smoking advocates on this thread are quite rude about advocating in favor of (what they believe to be) their rights. No logic, very little syllogism at all, a great deal of flaming, a rejection of commonly held scientific understandings (which may indeed be false -- but to reject common understandings, an intelligent writer would address the understandings, and their usual support, not merely contradict them and thereby assume right). The usual types who advocate for the usual types of smoking tend to be similarly inept at thinking.

There are good reasons to keep tobacco legal and easily available. I can list a few: 1. people like it. 2. Large companies depend on the profit of it. 3. Tax revenue from it is quite helpful to the government for things like education, etc. 4. People who do it privately and respectfully (as I would hope I am doing) have a right to making their own choices, whether detrimental or beneficial to themselves, in all their private affairs. 5. The ill effects of tobacco are only roughly equally as detrimental as the ill effects of many other items which we are not even THINKING about outlawing: highway travel, greasy food, etc. 6. The "nanny society" is a bad plan, in general, for a large state which claims to be mostly a democracy.

I don't find all of those arguments compelling, actually. I just thought I'd list a few, to indicate that this conversation COULD be civil and intelligent.

Here's why I smoke and continue to do so despite two compelling arguments against. (Those two are, 1. carcinogens 2. emphysema.) I continue to smoke because I like it, because I do it in a manner that minimizes health risks, and because it adds to the quality of my life rather than detracting from it (enjoyable hobby; fun fine accoutrements; interesting knowledgeable acquaintances; personal time occupation; etc.).

I can't really image a good reason to stop, nor do I wish to. And I have tested myself several times -- I have no trouble doing "without" for up to three months. The medical reasons, I don't find compelling. For habitual, addicted, lung-oriented cigarette smoking, I do; but for intermittent pipe smoking? Naw. There's not even a demonstrated casual correlation between pipe use and any form of cancer (though many might assume there is, merely because tobacco smoke has been proven to contain carcinogens). I think I'd be worse off going to a smoky, poorly ventilated bar for three nights a month but never taking up smoking, than I would be while doing as I do now, enjoying a careful and diligent pot of pipe tobacco once or twice a week.

Well, I still support stop-smoking campaigns, for several reasons. First, I'd be happy if cigarettes never were manufactured again. They're the cheapest, crassest form of tobacco distribution and use, to the point that many people are simply smoking sticks and twigs. The dastardly devious devices used by the manufacturers to "hook" people and fool them into thinking they're getting less negative impact than they're actually getting, make clear that the manufacturers know there's something deadly about them. And I always want to support any human who involves himself in any perceived form of "self-improvement" or "self-actualization," so as long as somebody's set it as a goal for himself, then I'm going to hope to help that somebody to reach it! The addictive nature of nicotine means that the goal is all that much harder to attain for many, so I understand the difficulties they're going through.

I personally won't succumb to the "guilt" messages. People who WANT to quit cigarettes, but find that practically speaking they CAN'T, often feel terrible about themselves. For me, it's a different issue. I do what I choose, and am happy with my choices. So I don't really lump myself in with the crowd who complained that no smoking in a bar would ruin the bar. Fact is, that change only ruined it for the rude people who had been ruining it for you and me for generations!

Thursday, June 28, 2007


For once I'm an early adopter: I just got a high end HD television and an HD-DVD player.
(OK, admittedly I've sometimes been an early adopter with cameras too. And, er, Macs. Ah well.)

I still have the Sone DVD player and the 26-inch Sony LCD TV I have used for 2.5 years. And now I also have a Toshiba HD-E1 HD DVD Player and Sony 40-inch 1080p HD TV (KDL40W2000 Bravia) All of these are very good products in their range, especially the big TV. (If you are not aware, many HD TVs can only play the lesser "720p" format. This TV plays the full "1080p" format. The number refers to the vertical resolution.)

Here are comparison screenshots from the regular DVD of King Kong and the HD-DVD. As you can see if you click on them, in still shots the regular DVD picture looks awful in comparison, but as I tell you, it's not because it is a bad player or TV, au contraire. It's only by comparison. (And because a still shot of video always looks worse than the live video. Of course that counts for the HD picture too.) I also wanted to take pictures of the old DVD playing on the new HD system, but sadly it's a region one disk, and the bloody machine is not region-free.

As a note I will say that it's a bit silly to buy HD this year. For one thing the Blue-Ray/HD-DVD war is not over. For another thing, there are very few discs available yet. I had to struggle to find any titles at all I was interested in. But anyway, I suspect that in five years, like happened with VHS vs DVD, I will barely be able to watch regular DVDs anymore.

Vicar of Dibley - End Joke

Vicar of Dibley is a wonderful English TV show featuring Dawn French as one of the first female vicars in Britain. And a very lively one too. She is stationed in the tiny village of Dibley (there are many villages called that), where the people are excentric and generally not too bright, but still nice, and entertaining.

One of those, and one of the least bright ones, is Alice, who is the vicar's helper, and who is featured each time in a little end note after the credits, along with Geraldine, the vicar herself, who attempts a joke.

I have ripped three of them for you:
End Joke Transylvania
End Joke nun in bath
End Joke Octopus

I wanted one more, but my machine did not work with that disc sadly. It was: they are launching a new line of communion wafers. They are fat-free. They are called "I Can't Believe It's Not Jesus".

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Girls Just Want To Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper

Girls Just Want To Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper. The video part is a bit "eighties", but great song, and what a voice.

Isn't it funny how any web site with free, unauthorized MP3s of music would be shut down so fast the server would not yet be warm, but you can get the same songs on YouTube including video?

I looked up Cindy because she was cast in the The Wall concert as the young Pink, running around rather alarmingly alluring in a schoolboy uniform. Talk about casting against type! Good job though. And big hair!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Thoughts on 'The Wall'

I'm just watching The Wall - Live In Berlin. It's excellent, maybe better than the movie. It has a strong sense of event, and many outstanding guest stars.

Back in the eighties when the movie came out, I went to see it with my roommate and my girlfriend. My roommate and I were both fans of the music, and thought the movie was pretty awesome. But my girlfriend commented: "when I was in nurse training, they showed us a movie made to illustrate how the world looks from the mind of a schizophrenic. But I think this movie would have done a better job."

And she has a point. The story it tells is pretty damn depressive. "... dragging behind you the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes..." One might get the idea that Roger Waters is not a happy-go-lucky kinda guy. :)

But dang, the music is good.

One of the guest vocalists is Ute Lemper, singing on Thin Ice. I was not aware of her. What a beautiful woman. What a voice. What a nice dress... so virginal and proper, and yet so sexy.

One of my friends was there in 1990 in Berlin. He still talks about it.
There was an uncounted number of people, but it might be over 200,000! That's a lot of audience. And yet they say the concert did not yield the intended profit for charity. Weird.

Writing simply

Scott Adams (Dilbert) has some tips about writing. Good ones. If everybody really learned this in school, reading would be much more of a pleasure. Most books and articles are too long and too confusing.
I think I'm avoiding that. At least I know I always try. One reason is that I'm too lazy to write a hundred words if I can do it with fifty. Another one is that I want to get my point across if I do the work, otherwise it's wasted.