Month: April 2008

Gattaca (1997)

Another Netflix suggestion – I would love this movie because, after all, I loved 12 Monkey. Well, stinking suggestion engine, the only thing the two movies seem to have in common is a fondness for naked males, otherwise they couldn't be any farther from each other.

I had the first inkling of catastrophe when I read "Written and directed by Andrew Niccol". Movies written and directed by someone frequently have this crusading tone, and the mixture of crusade and science fiction is usually lethal.

That's exactly what's going on here. The movie, a mere ten years old, is already behind on most innovations, such that instead of being in the "not so distant future," it already looks antiquated. 

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Adding Google Maps behavior to Weight Table

I woke up this morning and checked a bug report on the Tcl weight table utility I wrote. I have now several years of (admittedly intermittent) weight data, so now the utility loads a little slowly, and then you have to grab the scrollbar to move around the many years.

As you quickly learn, idioms and paradigms move on the Internet. I remember the day I picked up a mouse in a computer store in Germany, not knowing what to do with it, in a scene reminiscent of Scotty in Star Trek IV. Nowadays we are so used to a mouse, we don't even know how to use a computer without it (nor is there a realistic way to use X or Windows or Mac OS X without one, thanks to keyboard-hating developers).

Once, maps were an image with scroll buttons on the sides. That's how 411.com worked (later sold to Yahoo!, I believe), then MapQuest. That paradigm led the way for a long time: it is understandable, requires no prior knowledge, and doesn't force you to reload a lot. The downside? It's atrociously slow and doesn't really give you the map you want. 

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Four Novels of the Sixties (P.K. Dick)

The Library of America (loa.org) decided it was time to honor Philip K. Dick and published four of his most famous novels in one volume. Good choice, since Dick's novels are in general quite short and publishing only one would have left the reader dissatisfied, given the tomes that are usually produced in the series.

The 60es were a crazy time by anyone's reckoning, at least in the United States (in Europe, the 70es would assume the same significance). Philip Dick, who was genuinely mentally troubled, works well as a paragon of the time – Dick and the Sixties, a match made in heaven.

The four novels in question are The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Ubik. They have some themes in common, yet they show a visible evolution in the writing and thinking of the author.

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Friedlander @ SFMoMA

In the pantheon of photography, there is always room for someone that has spent the last 50 years taking pictures of America as it has grown and changed. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art decided to honor Lee Friedlander, just such an artist, with a giant exhibit.

With an ouvre that vast, the gallery decided to go for a roughly chronological setup, showing the artist's work from the 60es to present times in a series of walls that, mostly, each come with a thematic setup. When I say that you easily get lost as to what the next wall should be (left or right?), you'll just as easily guess that Mr. Friedlander shows a remarkable unity of style from the first to the last picture.

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Frustration = Opportunity

Thinking about it, people move into something new only if the old is not working for them any longer. If that's the case, then frustration is the driver of innovation to a much larger extent than the realization of opportunity. The interesting thing about this notion is that frustration is measurable, while opportunity is not.

You can ask people what they don't like about the world around them. Usually they won't give you accurate information, since they have no understanding of their own pain – but that still beat asking yourself what opportunities there are out in the world. Even when you find an opportunity, you'll have a hard time selling it to others if there is no pain associated with it; that's my summarizing of the Internet bubble: solutions to problems nobody had. 

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Dreaming in Code (S. Rosenberg)

Confession: I had the hardest time understanding relativity. Not such a big deal for the average Joe, but quite a handicap for a physicist like me. I could certainly apply the equations, that was straightforward enough. The inner logic of it all, though, escaped me.

Take the twin paradox, for instance: one of two twins leaves for an extended trip to another star, and the other one is left behind. When the traveling brother sees the other one on screen, the latter's speech is slowed down, a relativistic effect. I saw that on Ustinov explaining relativity. The Earth-stuck twin, in turn, sees the fast brother talking at twice the speed. Says Asimov. 

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