Month: March 2003

A night of surreal sights and sounds

The Alamo Drafthouse was having a “stag night” downtown. Gwen and I thought this sounded like fun, so we hied ourselves on down. There were a couple layers of difference between what I was expecting and what we saw. I was expecting, you know, stag movies. Grainy black-and-white porno shorts where the guy’s eyes had black bars across them. In fact, what they had planned to show was a more conventional porno movie, Fantasex Island (not even in the IMDB, but hey, look, it is in the Adult Film Database, mysteriously listing Holly Near in the credits!).

Well, it turns out that, according to the jackbooted thugs at the TABC, establishments that serve alcohol cannot show porno. So the people putting on the stag show edited it down to the non-pornographic parts–about five minutes (which, frankly, was enough)–and ran that.

For the main feature, they showed something much stranger: Sinful Dwarf, AKA “The Abducted Bride.” This was an English-language Danish horror movie, where a depraved dwarf and his hideous, washed-up showbiz mother lure young women into their attic, get them hooked on heroin, and use them as sex slaves for hire. Part of the schtick was that the sound was turned off, and a crew of four (?) live performers in the room took over all the voices, sound effects, and music. As near as I could tell, they stuck pretty closely to the original dialog, adding in a few of their own zingers along the way.

[Later] It turns out that none of the people in this movie have a Bacon number higher than 4. Amazing.

So, okay, that was weird. Watching it, we wondered two things: 1. What ever made anyone think that the movie had any artistic or commercial merit? and 2. How in the hell did somebody in Austin ever find this stinker and decide it would be fit to show in public?

After that was done, we then headed over to the Ritz for a night of ukulele music. The opening act was Sonic Uke (a great name that unfortunately appears to have been taken already). The three members all work at Cafe Mundi, so they were more or less familiar to me. The guy singing was doing a Bill-Murray-Lounge-Singer routine, and the chick had on a bizarre wig (as did Carl, on the uke). Most of their material was pretty weird, but not unpleasant–they do have musical talent, and they weren’t going out of their way to conceal it.

They were followed by Shorty Long, which always puts on a good show. The Ritz was filling up at this point, and not a lot of people really seemed to be into them, for some reason.

The third act was probably what most people came for: Petty Booka. A couple of Japanese chicks who cover a wide range of pop and country numbers in their quasi-Hawaiian style (along with some original numbers). I’d heard their stuff before, and appreciated it for the novelty value (which is high), but seeing them live, I realized that they really had serious musical talent, singing in harmony that reminded me a little of David Seville and a lot of a 60s girl-group like the Ronettes. I expected to see just the two of them–in fact they were backed up by a standup bass, guitar, and a very young-looking but talented Mexican guy on a slide reverb guitar. They covered everyone from the Ramones to Patsy Cline. Great show.

There was a fourth act on the bill, the Meat Purveyors, but I’ve heard them and it was already pretty late, so we left.

Jennifer Government

Just finished reading Jennifer Government by Max Barry, a blackly satirical story that answers the musical question “what would happen if Ayn Rand had her way?” The book has inspired an online game and is evidently being adapted to the screen.

It would actually make a good comic book, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s a fast read, and suggests visuals that would be a lot of fun.

The story is fun but improbable, the characters are a bit sketchy, the plot moves quickly. Joe Bob says “check it out.”

CSS rant

CSS is great, but it’s too hard. When even the guy who wrote the books on CSS admits that it has “made the veins in my forehead throb”, you know there’s a problem.

All the stuff I’ve done on the web for the past year or so has been in CSS, and I’ve been gradually re-working older stuff to bring it into the new millennium. So I’ve drunk the kool-aid.

One thing that would make it at least a little easier would be a hierarchy to stylesheet documents. I’m not talking about the cascade effect (which is really neat). I’m talking about a way to organize a single stylesheet document.

As it is, there’s no enforced, preferred, suggested, inherent, or obvious way to structure a CSS document. You’ve just got “selector soup.” This makes a complicated stylesheet hard to read and hard to write. CSS offers contextual selectors, which would be an obvious candidate for hierarchical organization. Rather than having

div#main {margin:2px;}
div#main h2 {color:red;}
div#main h3 {color:blue;}

It would seem eminently sensible to have

div#main {margin:2px;} [
    h2 {color:red;}
    h3 {color:blue;}
    ]

or something like that.

With a structure like this, it would be possible to distill an HTML document down to its tags, and generate a structured list of selectors, to create a stylesheet skeleton.

The other bear, for me, is the layout of major page elements. The whole box model is pretty powerful, but it is unintuitive and there are some things it just can’t do. Imagine a page laid out like this:

header:left header:right
main content navbar
footer:left footer:right

Near as I can tell, this is almost impossible using straight CSS. It might be possible if the header and footer areas are fixed height, probably meaning they contain mostly graphics. It would probably require a lot of extraneous DIV tags. DIV tags are fine up to a point, but nesting a bunch of DIV tags just to get a page to lay out correctly goes against the spirit of structured HTML. Might as well use a table-hack layout after all.

It seems like something that was cooked up to be elegant on a theoretical level without much regard for the kinds of layouts people might actually want to achieve. The layout of this page was achieved through some code that I consider inelegant and brittle.

Wisteria

Had lunch with Gwen at Saltillo Plaza, the train station to nowhere on East 5th St. The place is going crazy with wisteria.


Microsoft’s slogan

Heard on NPR: “Your potential inspires us to create the software to help you reach it.” Or something like that. Microsoft’s bloatware philosophy applies to advertising, too.

The bidding to rebuild Iraq has already begun

This New York Times article suggests that Gulf War II isn’t about oil as an end–it’s just a means to an end: to enrich American construction firms like, oh, Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s employer (note that I intentionally left out the word “former”)).

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. We (for the purposes of this entry, “we” means “they”) declare war on a country and bomb it back to the Stone Age. In a vast ($25 bn+) humanitarian undertaking, we rebuild the country, using Iraq’s oil money to pay for it. Sort of a roundabout way to transfer Iraqi wealth to corporate America.

Some thoughts:

  • Iraq has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves. I can imagine a scenario where the USA keeps the forthcoming client regime on a short leash, forcing it to keep oil prices low. That will depress oil prices throughout the world (Good for SUV drivers!), and keep Iraq in debt to the USA (or more accurately, corporate American interests) indefinitely, since it won’t be able to pay down its boggling debt quickly.
  • It would have been nice if we could have just concentrated on rebuilding (or building) Afghanistan instead, but they don’t have the oil reserves
  • I sure am glad the bidding process has received all the public scrutiny it deserves.

Lost in La Mancha

Saw Lost in La Mancha on Friday. This is a documentary of the doomed effort to produce Terry Gilliam’s magnum opus, the story of Don Quixote. Gilliam had been working on the idea since 1991, and only managed to start filming in 2001. The undertaking was terribly precarious even before it began, and as soon as it did begin, almost everything that could go wrong did, from big things to little. Floods, fighter jets, illness, and recalcitrant horses.

The documentary made the point that Gilliam himself was somewhat like Don Quixote on a gallant but unrealistic quest, and indeed, there was an amazingly tidy parallelism between the story and the story-in-the-story. But something at the very end of the movie made me think that Don Quixote is the wrong fictional archetype to describe Gilliam. Ahab is more like it.

France fest

Not sure how I got on this mailing list, but I just received a notice of an upcoming event at Escapist Bookstore called (in an unfortunate apparent confusion of Spanish and French) “Viva la France.” From the message:

Womens of Masse Production bring you Viva la France!, a party honoring French culture in particular and American diversity in general. With food, drink, live music by Dakota Smith, and readings of French literature by local notables. Thumb your nez at wine-dumping, the breaking of windows of French-owned businesses (in Austin, Chez Nous was a recent victim), and other anti-Frenchist stupidity, and celebrate open-mindedness and the human spirit.

The details are:
This Friday: March 2, 6–10 pm

Escapist Bookstore

2209 South 1st St., #D

$3 donation suggested, no one turned away for lack of $

Call 912-1777 or visit www.escapistbookstore.com for more info

In related news, I had lunch at the Fredericksburg Brewery yesterday, where the “French” in “French fries” had been blacked out on the menus.

Updated RSS feed

For those who are interested, I’ve updated my full-text RSS 2.0 feed to include comments. To use this in Movable Type, open your template-editing screen. Click on “RSS 0.91 index”. Rename that to “RSS 2.0 index”. Replace the contents with this file. The output filename should still be “index.xml” unless you have a good reason to change it to something else. You may want to change lastn="10" to some other number–this shows the last 10 posts. The comments section is set off by blank lines, and can be tweaked.

This is based on the template provided by Mark Pilgrim at feeds.archive.org, but removes your e-mail address (which spambots might find) and adds the comments. It still validates.

[Later] Made a slight change to make the RSS feed friendly to foreign scripts: my template now uses the tag, which I believe is new to MT 2.6. For this to make a difference, you need to be using MT 2.6, and edit your mt.cfg file: de-comment the line containing PublishCharset and
set the appropriate charset (I’ve set mine to “utf-8”–unicode); also I think you need to de-comment the line NoHTMLEntities 1. This only matters if you use non-Roman script (Japanese, Cyrillic, etc).

[Later still] Fixed a few more minor things, including a link to extended entries (tip o’ the cap to David Nunez).

Wired at 10

I picked up the tenth anniversary issue of Wired yesterday.

I remember when Wired came out (and still have a copy of issue 1.01 lying around somewhere). It was very exciting at the time. On a trip to San Francisco around then, I went to a party for Wired (which was headquartered in the same building as a friend of a friend). That was pretty cool. I subscribed. I enjoyed it, as did many people–I knew one couple that lived together but had two subscriptions so they wouldn’t fight over who got to read it first.

As the dot-com bubble expanded, Wired changed from a fairly experimental, counter-cultural, brash magazine to a neo-establishment, business-oriented, smug one. It was as if the vertiginous success of the way-new economy had validated all its earlier futurism, and so it redefined itself as the establishment. The graphic design became a lot calmer (probably for the best, on balance). With a few brilliant exceptions, the stories it ran interested me less and less. I stopped reading it.

I haven’t looked at it much since the dot-bomb, but decided to pick up this issue for old-time’s sake. Perhaps only for this issue, they’re back to the wild graphic design.

Wired seems as if it should be the first in line to be superceded by Net-based media. It speaks to, well, the wired population that can get all its news online. And after all, sites like Gizmodo do a better job of reporting gadget news than Wired ever could, personal blogs often have insightful and informed commentary on the world at large, and the Web offers more fertile ground for visual experimentation than print, right?

Well, yes and no. The fact remains that online journalism still isn’t really a going concern. A print magazine can still send reporters on assignments that bloggers would not be able to cover. And although there are some websites that are amazing design experiments, the fact is, most of the ones I peruse (to the extent I bother to leave my RSS reader) are using plain, quick-loading designs. Print still looks a hell of a lot better. And is much more portable.

Celis is back

At Central Markup yesterday, I noticed a familiar label out of the corner of my eye. I almost failed to give it a second thought, but realized “Hey, that’s Celis beer!” I asked the beer-and-wine guy about it. Turns out the Michigan Brewing Company has bought Pierre Celis’ copper kettles and recipes, and is running his exact formulas (apparently a condition of the sale). For the time being they’re just making White and Pale Bock; I’m awaiting the return of Grand Cru.

Just in time for summer.

Also spotted at the store: complete turduckens for $80. Quite a sight.

Democracy and war

I ran across this chilling quotation yesterday:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

— Hermann Goering, April 18, 1946

This is exactly what is happening in this country.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Finished reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Very enjoyable. Partly, to me, because of its involvement with the early days of comic books (I collected comics when I was younger), partly because it’s just an engaging story. Michael Chabon seems to have done a prodigious amount of research to fill in the details of the story he’s telling. I have no idea whether there was a Hofzinser Club for magicians in Prague, or what it was like, but Chabon’s account of it has the ring of truth. His writing style occasionally treads a blurry line between inventive and precious, and sometimes comes close to annoying me, but is mostly straightforward. The story–of the brief golden age in the days before the war as the USA emerged from the depression, of the closing Holocaust in Europe, of creating a comic-book empire, and inevitably of men and women–makes for a good read. The themes–of tragedy, of opportunities foregone, of emergence, and so on–are common enough but not less worth reading because of it.