Wednesday, 22 April 2009

McSweeney's Internet Tendency

An excerpt from:


Week 5:
Grammar and Technique

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of Internet slang and chatspeak is essential to creating effective tweets, instant messages, and text messages. Students will practice using emoticons to create powerful dialogue and to establish dramatic irony. They'll learn to gracefully integrate complex expressions into their IM writing, substituting the trite LOL ("laughing out loud") and "meh" (the written equivalent of a shrug) with more-advanced expressions like BOSMKL ("bending over smacking my knee laughing") and HFACTDEWARIUCSMNUWKIASLAMB ("holy flipping animal crackers, that doesn't even warrant a response; if you could see me now, you would know that I am shrugging like a mofu, biotch"). Students will be encouraged to nurture their craft, free of the restraints of punctuation, syntax, and grammar.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


I'm throttled. Having hit my data cap for the month I've spent the last two days at dialup speed, leading me to question my very existence.

I spent many years on dialup— even longer than necessary— from 1998 to early 2007. I recall the days of flexing my fingers, of staring with disbelief at the monitor, of pounding my desk, and finally of slapping the side of my CRT. How could this be taking so long? It was information at a snail's pace.
I felt as though someone, somewhere, was playing passive-aggressive games with my data. Where did the malice lie? Was the site preserving its bandwidth? Was the fiber-optic cable running under the Pacific Ocean being gnawed on by a crab? Did my ISP despise me? Who was holding up the process? What modulated red tape must my data demodulate before it was released from international quarantine?
Then came the sneaking performance anxiety. My computer was too slow. My phone line was too noisy. My browser was less than optimal. My system had a bad attitude: you're giving up on the download? Be patient! You're timing out on the page load? Why did you wait ten minutes then? It seemed I was wrestling each connection to hard-won success, and running the gauntlet of mysterious technical protocol. I pleaded with the gods of internet voodoo to load 100% of "Alyssa_MilanoDVDcap3.jpg". Grant me this favour. It is only 44kb.

And now I am again at 56k speed, but this time there is no foreign spectre, no malicious goblin preventing me from realising my full bandwidth potential. It is only me. For I have sinned and downloaded the entire fifth series of The Office, and films, and games, and FLV files of mixed pedigree, and consorted with flatmates who did so. I must bear my burden of load times with wailing in sackcloth and ashes. With heavy heart I realise that the blame , as the Dane said, is not in our stars, but in our selves.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Six Bad Films

I rented six films which, according to Rotten Tomatoes and Metacric, are among the worst ever made. It is not that they are the cheapest (like Plan 9 From Outer Space) or the most disappointing (like The Phantom Menace) or even the most painful to watch (the 3D Jonas Brothers Experience currently holds that title). So what makes a movie the 'worst'?
It is unfair to call B-movies 'bad'. They are achingly underfunded, and often run with the B-film subculture, which has its own weird little conventions. There are likewise films which induce groans, like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (clip), but which are lovingly crafted and suffer only from the passing of fashion; they are not bad, merely dopey, and cycle back into kitsch (notable among these: Surf Nazis Must Die).

These films are well-funded, with recognised stars and directors. They had everything going for them except for needling fatal flaws which, over the course of the film, made you think, W...T...F...? How could THESE people make a movie turn out like THIS? It is the pleasure of schadenfreude and the delicate delight of sadism which make us watch what we hate. It drove these films to critical and commercial failure, and it hung around their creators' necks like millstones for years to come. This is what a bad film is: it is a thunderous fall from grace.

Swept Away
Guy Ritchie directed his wife Madonna in this awkward little theatre of cruelty. Her character begins as Cruella de Ville's less-nice sister, barking orders at underlings on a Greek cruise. After piling this theme on like a pooper scooper in an elephant stall, she is set adrift with a hardy fisherman who, upon being washed up on a desert island, proceeds to enact the Mediterranean version of Neanderthal discipline. Madonna responds wonderfully, at times bursting into song. Her aged and overmuscled physique inspires gagging at several points, though having her flailing huffily on a beach is a pleasant relief from hearing her tortuous attempts at dialogue.
Suggested improvement: Madonna is slapped with a large fish halfway through each line.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu are scraping the bottom of the barrel here. It's not that they're bad, but everything else is off: the script, the editing, the directing, the action sequences. What makes you cringe is not that it's a badly-made movie, but that you've never seen good actors made to look so bad. It's a death by a thousand cuts as the little mistakes, mistimings, zigzagging plot and funny angles combine to reduce what could have been an average actioner into an embarrassing shambles.
Suggested improvement: Upgrade to porn film.

Howard the Duck
George Lucas, flush with success from the Star Wars trilogy, spent many millions on this comic book adaptation which was aimed at precisely no segment of the market. Although I found it in the Family section, parents would be horrified to see a half-animatronic middle-aged duck make several creepy passes at teenage girls and dive into (occupied) strip club hot tubs. With a personality halfway between Ferris Bueller and a pet rock, Howard is stultifying as a lead; any momentum the film generates grind to a halt when you realise, yes, you are looking at a puppet being passed off as sentient. Appropriately for the Boy-George-style cultural backdrop, the film suffers from a serious identity problem.
Suggested improvement: Howard cooked in second scene; replaced with LOLcat.

Battlefield Earth
John Travolta stars as an 8ft Star Trek alien whose people have enslaved the human race in this adaptation of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The plot begins like The Planet of the Apes and ends nearer Independence Day. The film overshoots on 'deadly serious' and lands in 'camp' -- certainly the Coneheads outfits don't help much. There is plenty of red meat for the skeptic: I gave up around about when a squadron of cavemen learned to fly jumpjets. It's not a badly-made movie, but the cumulative effect is one of high regret.
Suggested improvement: Plot replaced with Scientology manifesto.

Who makes a movie about strippers that runs over two hours? Paul Verhoeven, that's who. The Dutch flaneur of American popular culture also directed Starship Troopers, a film that works on a few levels. Showgirls just has the one: ambitious bitchy girl gets chewed up in the greasy cogs of Las Vegas. It's both unpleasant and dull, offering neither revelation nor titillation. Star Elizabeth Berkeley seems to be too distracted by a rabid desire to shed her Saved By The Bell image to make any serious attempt at depth, or at a second facial expression.
Suggested improvement: Crossover with 'The L Word'.

Halle Berry came to this role straight off her (not particularly deserved) Oscar win, so the superhero schtick is a stark contrast. There's not actually much wrong with the film beyond a few dopey lines and costumes, though the grrrrrl-powa theme was played out even when the Spice Girls were doing it. Combined with Benjamin Bratt's casting, you have a flick which was five years too late. Greater crimes have been committed in cinema; Catwoman is a mere misdemeanor.
Suggested improvement: Blaxsplotation makeover. Afros and knife fights.

There were two DVDs I rented but couldn't bring myself to watch:

The Wicker Man
2min YouTube link below of the best/worst parts.
Nicholas Cage, why?

Heaven's Gate
If you can sit through 4min of a rollerskating fiddler, you're a better man than me.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Europe > America?

Does the European way of governing—high tax, high government spending on social programmes—provide a more equitable society? The following data came out recently comparing government spending vs. income disparity.

The blue and green dots are the First World countries, and you can see that with more government spending comes greater equality. However in the poor countries (red and orange dots) it is much more random. It could be that big government in poor countries look out for the rich instead of the poor.
But does high government spending cause equality, or does a European belief in equality cause government spending, to try to correct perceived injustice? It could be that the spending is a symptom of a society that prioritises equality, rather than the sole factor which drives it.

All of this is discussed in, where this graph came from.

What's not clear on the graph above is which dot = which country. The chart below, from Wikipedia, shows inequality since WW2 in a range of countries. (Click to view full size.)

It's interesting to track various countries and think of the causes for their shifts. For example, China's inequality increased since 1985 because of their industrial boom which created many millionaires. A number of former Soviet countries have had greater equality since the fall of the Berlin Wall and their admission to the European Union. Australia's fate leaps up and down with changes in government, while Canada remains on an even keel.

What's clear is that among the richest countries America perpetuates income inequality. This is an ideological difference and has only increased, and is a topic of widespread debate in America and internationally. It is particularly interesting now because with the financial bailouts, stimulus package, and new government programmes, Obama's America is swinging strongly towards a European-style social democracy. With the Republican party particularly weak now—and probably for the next three years—it will be interesting to watch a much-weakened America make humbler choices.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Being Evil as a Career Move

Q: All ethics aside, do you think you could make more money obtaining sensitive information about high net worth individuals and using blackmail/extortion to get money from them, instead of writing books, founding companies, etc.?

A: Basically, you’re asking if crime pays. Most of the time, it doesn’t, and the problem is the different risk characteristics. If I make a computer security mistake — in a book, for a consulting client, at BT — it’s a mistake. It might be expensive, but I learn from it and move on. As a criminal, a mistake likely means jail time — time I can’t spend earning my criminal living. For this reason, it’s hard to improve as a criminal. And this is why there are more criminal masterminds in the movies than in real life.

"Bruce Schneier Blazes Through Your Questions"
Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics (NYTimes Blog)
December 4, 2007