Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Muse: The Resistance

Being a Muse fan, I have been looking forward to their new album, The Resistance, for a while.  It was finally released on September 14th, and, although a very strong effort, is a bit of a mixed bag.

Muse have long shown a penchant for flirting with excess; from the title track off 1999's Showbiz, to Origin of Symmetry's Rachmaninoff-esque Space Dementia, to the pseudo-epic Knights of Cydonia from their last outing.  Well, The Resistance is quite literally excess of symphonic dimensions.

The loud and funky Uprising opens the fare on a note which is rather, well, loud and funky.  It seems to pick up where Supermassive Black Hole left off and does little beyond proving that Muse haven't forgotten how to kick out a good din.  The opening bars feature a theremin-esque Phrygian melody which, lest my ears deceive me, reference the original Doctor Who theme music.  How prog!

The next two tracks, Resistance and Undisclosed Desires, left me a bit cold.  The former's preachy lyrics alienates and the latter can't seem to decide if it wants to be R&B or eighties' New Wave.  Desires' dubbed vocals and slap bass make me wonder if Bellamy's been shooting up with Dave Gahan.

The first major highlight of the album is the colossal United States of Eurasia.  Bellamy clearly wants to be both Brian May and Freddie Mercury on this track, with lushly multi-tracked vocal harmonies and a proper guitar solo that sounds like it was actually played through a VOX AC-30 amplifier.  Eurasia segues into the melancholic piano piece Collateral Damage - which is actually just a loose interpretation of Chopin's Nocturne in E flat major.

Guiding Light is another stand-out track.  Another eighties throwback, this tender power ballad enters the fray with reverbed snare drums and eventually delivers possibly my favourite guitar solo on Muse's entire discography.

The scary pipe organ opening Unnatural Selection promises much, but the song quickly devolves into a rather standard and pointless modern rock song.  MK Ultra left me equally bored.

I Belong to You/Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix made me feel as though I were listening to a tarantella in 4/4.  European folksy with a funk beat, it's fresh and interesting compared to the preceding couple of tracks.  It then develops into a montage of the popular aria from the French opera Samson et Dalila.  It also features a solo by what, I think, is a bass clarinet.  So good, so pretentious, so prog!

Finally we get to the album's big sell: the three-movement rock symphony Exogenesis.  An ambitious and long (close to fifteen minutes) piece featuring, I am told, over 40 musicians.  It evokes a calmer and more hopeful tone than the rest of the album.  If the prior eight tracks describe a world collapsing, then Exogenesis represents leaving it behind.  Traveling into the terrifying but promising unknown of deep space.  Entirely composed by Bellamy, it's his magnum opus and features more Chopin and Liszt inspired moments.  Stirring, clever, captivating and haunting.

The first half of the album is largely hit-and-miss featuring nothing we haven't heard before, while Exogenesis is so good that it could be boxed and sold on its own merits.  The Resistance is not a bad album by any means, but an album whose musical scope doesn't quite match the lofty heights of its concept.  Oh, and those pompous and preachy lyrics don't help.  Fantastic stuff, but progressive rock is all about doing something which is both good and inventive, and you won't find much of the latter here.

While I'm pleased with The Resistance, I'm hoping that for their next studio outing Muse return to playing to their strength, which is despondent, symphonic space-rock.

3.5 / 5

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eat your heart out, Alex Lifeson

So while I'm supposed to be recovening from serious illness, I find myself bored shitless and running out of ways to amuse myself.  Finally, I plummet to the level of submitting to YouTube a video of myself playing YYZ by Rush.  At least I had fun.

That's a negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full

A keen eye will spot some changes around here.  The blog's layout is still nice and minimal (well, the colour scheme is; the layout is still a fuckin' mess), but things are just a little bit sleeker, a little bit cooler, a little bit more... dangerous.  It's the Iceman to the previous layout's Maverick.

I'm hoping things aren't too broken and, if possible, I'll be able to write some actual content.  Jesus, if I actually spent as much time writing posts as I do changing the layout, I'd have a Bloggie by now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Proposal for a new source code measurement unit


With the pace and scale of modern software development being what it is, it is very rare to find any application beyond university projects and weekend hack-jobs that amount to fewer than hundreds of thousands of lines of code in source form.  The truth is that the measurement Source Lines Of Code has become about as efficient and logical as measuring the distance between stars, not in parsecs, but in kilometers.


What, then, could we use as the programming equivalent of the astronomical parsec?  I propose the unit torvalds, uncapitalised to differentiate it from the name, to represent 200,000 lines of code.  Shortened to Tr with an initial capital to differentiate it from the Unix tr command.


Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, and an outspoken man in his own right, has many critics.  Recently, there's been a trend among those wishing to criticize the quality - or worse, the magnitude - of his contributions of pointing out the fact that only 2% of the kernel source code was actually written by him.  This may be true by certain estimates, but invariably they leave out the context:  that the kernel currently (as of version 2.6.30) comprises 11,637,173 lines of source.  That's almost twelve million lines of source code.  Since the first mention I could find of this fact references an unspecified minor revision of the 2.6 kernel, I'd say a safe estimate places the then-current kernel size at 10 million lines.

By this measurement, Linus' contribution of 2% amounts to roughly 200,000 lines of code which, by any individual standard, is substantial.


  • The Debian 4.0 distribution, at 283 million lines of code, amounts to 1415 torvalds (Tr).
  • Mac OS X version 10.4, at 86 million SLOC, equals 430 Tr.
  • The FreeBSD operating system which totals 8.8 million lines, comes to 44 Tr.

So, let's imagine...

"So, let’s imagine how [the September 11th attacks] could have been worse for example. Suppose that on September 11, Al-Qaeda had bombed the White House and killed the President, instituted a murderous, brutal regime which killed maybe 50,000 to 100,000 people and tortured about 700,000, set up a major international terrorist center in Washington, which was overthrowing governments all over the world, and installing brutal vicious neo-Nazi dictatorships, assassinating people. Suppose he called in a bunch of economists, let’s call them the 'Kandahar Boys' to run the American economy, who within a couple of years had driven the economy into one of the worst collapses of its history. Suppose this had happened. That would have been worse than 9/11, right? But it did happen. And it happened on 9/11. That happened on September 11, 1973 in Chile. The only thing you have to change is this per capita equivalence, which is the right way to look at it. Well, did that change the world? Yeah, it did but not from our point of view, in fact, who even knows about it? Incidentally, just to finish, because we [the U.S.] were responsible for that one."

-- Noam Chomsky

1973 Chilean coup d'état

Tip of the tinfoil hat to Mark_Logan on Reddit.

Twitter: How to exploit a million monkeys

I got a nice little mail informing me of an update to Twitter's Terms of Service.

For a long time, Twitter has claimed the following:

"Twitter has many appealing opportunities for generating revenue but we are holding off on implementation for now because we don't want to distract ourselves from the more important work at hand which is to create a compelling service and great user experience for millions of people around the world. While our business model is in a research phase, we spend more money than we make."

Well, the updated TOS seem to indicate that the time has come to cash in those chips.  The updated terms seem mainly centered around screwing you and me over for a buck.

Firstly, they're "leaving the door open" for advertising, which seems like no big deal, but the one that's going to piss everyone off is the following:

"By submitting [...] you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license [...] to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies [...]

Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services."
[emphasis mine]


As I point out in my copyright page, all of my Tweets are public domain anyway, so I don't really give a hoot that Biz Stone will be driving a new Ferrari thanks to my rapier wit.  But I can see how this is going to cause a real shitstorm among people who actually believed Twitter's old Terms of Service which promised never to infringe on your ownership of your tweets, and among privacy advocates (read: smelly hippies) who sincerely believed the accounts they marked "private" actually were private.

Ultimately, none of us have a right to complain.  It's a free service (free as in "beer", at least), and Twitter doesn't owe any of its users jack shit.

If you've ever considered moving over to, now's the time.  And to everyone who ripped on, I can only say "HAHA!".

Webdesign circlejerk

Earlier, I ran into this little nugget from a "web design" site.  I'm convinced it's some kind of parody, because not only is the advice fucking stupid, but the site itself looks like it was put together by Tim Berners-Lee himself...  When he was a freshman.

The main gist of the article is that a site's logo should not link to the homepage.  Now, as we all know, yes it bloody well should!  But the counterargument by Jesper Tverskov (the brainiac behind the site) essentially amounts to "Just because everyone else does it, doesn't mean I should."

Funny enough, Jester - uh, sorry, Jesper - pretty much refutes his own argument in the first paragraph.  He cites another article written by some other moron saying that only one third of users ever click on the logo.  Firstly, the cited article was written in 2001 and we all know that nothing ever really changes on the Web, right?  Furthermore, is adding a link in your logo really that much of an effort that you're willing to risk scaring off one third of your userbase because your site doesn't navigate the way they expect it to?

I refuse to believe the argument from design.  This is not a goddamn design issue, it's a navigation issue.

Another point he raises is that redundant links to the homepage can be a nightmare for blind people using screen readers.  If by "nightmare" he means "minor annoyance," I agree.  However, and don't get me wrong here, I respect the disabled (or differently-abled, whatever), but I'm not going to cripple my site (sorry) for the vast majority of my users just to shave one second off of the browsing time of the 0.003% of visitors who use screen reading software.

After being wowed by the spectacular design of my blog, you may be truly shocked to learn that I'm not a designer.  No, I'm not kidding; I'm just a regular user like you.  Though, wouldn't that make me a good authority on web design, seeing as I know exactly what most people would want from a website, since I am one of those people?

Who knows, maybe I'm wrong and Jesper's right.  Even so, the most obvious difference between us seems to be that I actually want people to come to my site.

Jesper makes a couple of pretty good points here and there, but I'm not going to cover them because that won't be snarky, and that's the entire point of this post.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

OpenBSD needs money

OpenBSD CD pre-sales are an order of magnitude lower than expected.  Since the OpenBSD project is funded completely by donations and sales of merchandise, this is a worry.

With the scheduled release of version 4.6 being right around the corner, now is the perfect time to order a CD set and help out the project that has given us not only the world's most secure operating system, but highly successful related projects like OpenSSH, OpenCVS and OpenNTPD among others.  Regardless of your opinion on Theo personally, I'm sure you'll agree that the project deserves respect for its achievements and refusal to compromise.

I'll be ordering my CD set and maybe a nice T-shirt, too.  And a poster.  And, who knows, maybe a mug...

Recently, while playing a game of bridge at the Memorable Order of Tin Hats, I overheard an elderly woman comment that she thinks OpenBSD is becoming progressively redundant.  That its comparatively slow speed will cause it to fall by the wayside as it becomes easier to properly secure systems like Linux or FreeBSD.

This argument superficially holds water, seeing as an OpenBSD install does run slightly slower than Linux, FreeBSD, or most other good OSes.  But what it comes down to is that it depends on your needs.

If you need an OS that can squeeze every last ounce of performance out of your system, and you don't mind getting this optimization at the expense of (at least theoretical) security vulnerability, then there's no real reason to use OpenBSD.  If security is priority, then the choice is obvious.

Even if it were possible to get a hardened Linux to match OpenBSD's level of security (and it isn't, due to the Linux kernel's dependence on binary blob drivers), I don't believe this would be possible without a significant performance hit unless, as I hinted, compromises were made elsewhere by, for example, not utilizing the ProPolice GCC extension, Systrace sandboxing of untrusted applications, or implementation of W^X, mmap, or the strlcpy() family of string functions.

On the other hand, OpenBSD is already secure by default.  Let's face it, the weakest link in any system is its administrator, and the less security optimization work that is left up to him, the more robust the system would be in the long run.

There's no "best" operating system, only a best for your particular needs.  If you need security, go OpenBSD.  If you need performance, go FreeBSD.  If you need to SSH to your toaster, go NetBSD.  If you need application support, go Linux.  If you embrace gay pride, go Mac OS X.  And if you like the challenge of running a buggy, insecure, unstable, legal gauntlet of an OS, go Windows.

If you read this far without suffering an aneurysm, don't forget to visit the OpenBSD ordering page to buy some great swag if you so please.

Linux 2.6.31

Linux 2.6.31 has been released.  Read Linus' announcement on the Kernel Mailing List.

Important updates include:
  • USB 3.0 support.
  • FUSE extension that can be used to, for example, "proxy" OSS audio through the ALSA userspace layer allowing it to be used as a replacement for the in-kernel ALSA OSS emulation layer.
  • ATI Radeon Kernel Mode Setting support.
  • Improved desktop performance under memory strain.
  • 802.15.4 support
  • Fsnotify.  A backend for filesystem notification.
  • Preliminary NFS 4.1 client support
  • Context Readahead algorithm and mmap readahead improvements.  Benchmarks show cooperative IO performance gains of up to 40%.
  • Much more!
Personally I'm happy to see some updates to the aes-ni crypto module, and improvements to Radeon and Intel graphics support.  Soon we'll see open source drivers with great performance for all graphics hardware.  If only Nvidia would stick its binary blob up its ass, and follow Intel's example of releasing an open source driver.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thinkgeek ads

Unless I really suck at advertising, you may have noticed one or two ThinkGeek ads on the blog.  Well, being a happy customer of theirs (I'm eating soup out of my "/dev/mug" latte mug as I type this), and believing that their catalogue of cool items complements the nerdy tone of my blog, I've signed up for their affiliate program.

This raises the obvious question: does this mean that, in the forceful grip of greed, I'm holding Convergence hostage to ads?  I shall attempt to settle this unfortunate query by saying yes... yes, absolutely.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

District 9: A Christian allegory?

Spoiler warning!

While I was busy not doing anything better, I found myself wondering how far (if at all) District 9 took the Christ allegory.  As I mentioned in my little review of the film, District 9 does stick pretty closely to the Monomyth pattern with regards to the main character Wikus, and where would you find a more famous application of the Monomyth than the story of Jesus of Nazareth?

At this point I came to an interesting realization: Wikus isn't an allegory for Christ... The alien Christopher Johnson is.

Let's start with the most obvious point: his name.  Christopher Johnson's initials backwards form JC.  Okay, so maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.  Further, the name Christopher (a rather unusual name for an insect-like alien, don't you think?) is of Greek origin and literally means "bearing Christ inside."  Another allegory could be the connection to saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers who, according to legend, carried a small child across a great river.  Recall in the film Christopher, having confiscated the mothership, taking his young son across the galaxy to their home planet.

Now, let's look at a few parallels between the lives of Christopher Johnson and Jesus.  Christopher is descended from a race who are being persecuted; he is on a quest to save his people; while on this quest, he is betrayed by someone he trusts (Wikus, who knocks him out and steals his shuttle); and finally, he "ascends to Heaven" with the promise of his return, and with it the salvation of his people.

Maybe I'm reading a bit too much into it, but I think it's an interesting perspective.

Emacs and redo

Emacs has a superb undo system with practically infinite undo levels.  However, I've always assumed that Emacs lacks a proper redo system.  It turns out that I was wrong, but redoing in Emacs is not immediately obvious; when redoing a command, you're essentially "undoing" an undo.

After an undo, do a C-g followed by a C-x u (or whichever undo command you prefer, be it C-_ or C-/ ).  Just like with a standard undo, you can use the repeat command of C-x z to save those carpals (because redoing literally is the same thing as undoing).


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Bash prompt fun

Like your sexual preference, your taste in wine, or your favourite Backstreet Boy, your shell prompt is a very personal thing and can say a lot about you.

Some old-school hackers prefer the minimal '$' you get by default with, for example, pdksh, and whine that any information displayed by the shell prompt is better gleaned from running a relevant command when needed.  For example, instead of having the current working directory on your screen at all times, just type pwd when the need arises.  This is perfectly fine if it suits your needs and circumstances, but these differ from user to user.

Unix users can generally be divided into two groups when it comes to their taste in shell prompts: the putter-inners and the taker-outers.  The taker-outers go minimal; removing what they see as cruft from their shell prompt.  They feel that maximum screen real estate should be given to the output of commands, and anything that diminishes this or distracts from the output - such as escape sequences and colours - should be removed.  When taken to the extreme, this results in a user who needlessly types commands from time to time when he could have comfortably fit the relevant information into his shell prompt.

The putter-inners, however, are in danger of adding so much needless crap into their shell prompts that they're in danger of melting their CPU everytime they hit Enter.  I am a putter-inner.

My shell of choice is Bash, and due to my personal requirements there are some elements I insist on having in my prompt.  Before we get to that, though, an obligatory screenshot of my prompt in action:

Okay, it's not pretty but I like it and it gets the job done.

Firstly, I like having a colour prompt.  Some people find it distracting, but to me the colour neatly separates the prompt itself from the output of a command.  I use a multi-line prompt because, even on the rare occasion I'm not in X, I'm using framebuffer console so my terminal window is always large, thus there's no shortage of screen space.  This allows me to have a lot of information in my shell prompt without constantly having to flick my eyes from right to left on the screen.

As for the contents of the prompt, I'm always on the network so I like having my user@host visible.  I use history commands so I want the history number visible, too.  The next number is the number of jobs the shell is currently running.  Since I use Emacs and Ctrl-z a lot, this is quite important to me.  Similarly, I am often using GNU Screen, so I have the current TTY echoed as well.  The red exclamation mark only shows if the previous command exited with a non-zero status.  Since I'm often debugging code, this is crucial.  The last element on the next line is, obviously, the current working directory.  I need this as I am always moving around in my directory tree.

Some common prompt elements I don't use are the time and/or date (if you need to be reminded of the time - or even worse, the date - each time you hit enter, your shell prompt is the least of your problems), and the familiar UID character ('$' or '#') as I am very much a sudo advocate.

The code in my .bashrc for the above prompt follows:

# Multi-line prompt to display: 1. user@host; 2. history number
# of the current command; 3. number of jobs; 4. tty;
# 5. exit status of previous command; 6. working directory
# "\033(0" drops term into line-drawing mode. "\033(B" takes it out.

function sweet_prompt {
local cur_tty=$(temp=$(tty) ; echo ${temp:5});
local LIGHT_RED="\[\033[1;31m\]"
local LIGHT_GREEN="\[\033[1;32m\]"
local LIGHT_BLUE="\[\033[1;34m\]"
local NO_COLOUR="\[\033[0m\]"
PS1="$LIGHT_GREEN\033(0\154\161\033(B$LIGHT_BLUE($LIGHT_GREEN\u$LIGHT_BLUE@$LIGHT_GREEN\h$LIGHT_BLUE)$LIGHT_GREEN-$LIGHT_BLUE($LIGHT_GREEN\!$LIGHT_BLUE-$LIGHT_GREEN\j$LIGHT_BLUE-$LIGHT_GREEN$cur_tty$LIGHT_BLUE)$LIGHT_GREEN\033(0\161\161\033(B\`if [ \$? = 0 ]; then echo \[\e[34m\]]\[\e[0m\]; else echo \[\e[31m\]!\[\e[0m\]; fi\`$LIGHT_BLUE\033(0\176$LIGHT_GREEN\161\176\176\033(B\n\033(0\155\033(B$LIGHT_BLUE($LIGHT_GREEN\W$LIGHT_BLUE($LIGHT_GREEN\033(0\161\176$LIGHT_BLUE\176\033(B$NO_COLOUR "

PS2="> "

Ugly, I know, but I don't have the inclination to de-spaghettify it.

I use rxvt-unicode as my terminal emulator with the Terminus font (the best monospaced font ever.  Perfect for those who stare at the screen for 8+ hours a day).  I can't guarantee that the above code works under different circumstances.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Federation vs Empire

Star Trek vs Star Wars nonsense.  Possibly the nerdiest comment I've made on Facebook thus far:

I stand my ground on the issue, though.

Update: This discussion prompted a lively (and predictable) debate on Reddit.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Just another Perl hacker

I was lucky enough to stumble onto the first JAPH I ever wrote - a whole two days after I first started learning Perl back in 2004.

It turns out to be something of a word game:

perl -e '$c="ePreh";$k="tonat";$h="ckeJ";$a="ahlr";
$e=reverse($e);$e=~s/stan/st an/;$e=~s/rP/r P/;$e=~s/rlh/rl h/;

And an analysis with strict, warnings, and mys added (spoiler warning):

/usr/local/bin/perl -w
use strict;
my $c="ePreh";
my $k="tonat";
my $h="ckeJ";
my $a="ahlr";
$h=reverse($h); # $h = "Jekc"
my $e=$h.$a.$c.$k."sur"; #$e = "JekcahlrePrehtonatsur"

# This next part makes my eyes cross when I look at it for too long.
# It switches the first and last character of $e.

$e=reverse($e); # $e = "JustanotherPerlhacker"
$e=~s/stan/st an/; # $e = "Just anotherPerlhacker"
$e=~s/rP/r P/; #$e = "Just another Perlhacker"
$e=~s/rlh/rl h/; #$e = "Just another Perl hacker"
$e.="\n";print($e); #append a newline to $e and print it out.

Good times!

Why I hate Eric Raymond

Eric Steven Raymond (who likes it when people call him "esr" for pretty much the same reason I'd like it if people called me Optimus Cal) is a self-professed hacker.  I use the term "self-professed" with more than a dash of snark here, because anyone who consciously and unironically refers to themselves as a hacker in today's world is on par with those who publicly label themselves geniuses - presumably because nobody else can do so with a straight face.  In short, something of a sexually unappealing Kanye West.

Eric has been active in hacking circles since the seventies, and has been actively promoting the open source movement since it started, well, moving.  He is also the current maintainer of the legendary Jargon File.  I have a lot of respect for Eric for these - and other - positive contributions.  Unfortunately, this respect is outweighed by the simple fact that Eric is a giant douchebag.

This dislike is born from a number of reasons, mainly Eric's...

1. Overinflated sense of self-importance.

Eric describes himself as one of the most significant figures in the history of free software.  In his own words, "Today I'm one of the half-dozen or so most influential people in that movement; in fact, a lot of people would put me among the top three, with Linus Torvalds and Richard M. Stallman."

That's a very bold statement, and you would expect the person who makes it to be (in addition to an asshole) a talented coder who has authored software that can be listed alongside a kernel estimated to be worth $1.14 billion USD, or one of the most popular compilers on Earth.  However, probably Eric's primary contribution in the form of actual code is originally authoring the fetchmail utility: a mail client whose poor design and security holes have been criticized by, among others, one of my personal heroes, Daniel J. Bernstein.

More hubris: "I either founded or re-invented [...] the open source movement.  If that term means nothing to you, think Linux... "  I just love the subtle implication that Eric's actually had a direct and significant role in Linux development.  That's logic from the Steve Smith school of reasoning: "I've met Linus, Linus created Linux.  By the transitive property, I created Linux.  Algebra's awesome!"

In reality, though, Eric's main attempt at a contribution to the Linux kernel was in the form of CML2, a code configuration system, which was rejected by the kernel development team and the original CML was eventually replaced with LinuxKernelConf.  The possibility that it simply wasn't good enough being incomprehensible to him, Eric blamed the rejection on "politics."

2. Political views.

Eric calls himself an anarcho-capitalist (one of those terms freshman political science students call themselves until the second semester when they actually learn what the fuck they're talking about) and a libertarian.  This is especially rich considering his support for the war on Iraq.  He also called for an "imperialist" campaign to "civilize" the Muslim world.  A rather significant personal stance that is conspicuously absent from the later revisions to his Wikipedia article.

He is also a bit of a gun nut, which I have little problem with, but it does become more than a little creepy when you consider that he privately threatened Bruce Perens to the point where Perens feared for his safety.  Again, suspiciously absent from Wikipedia.

3. Social views.

Eric believes that IQ distribution among women does a better job than cultural sexism of explaining why the high achievers in most fields are male ("get back in the kitchen!"), and - possibly more explosively - that African Americans are responsible for a disproportionate percentage of crimes because they have lower IQs:

"In the U.S., blacks are 12% of the population but commit 50% of violent crimes; can anyone honestly think this is unconnected to the fact that they average 15 points of IQ lower than the general population? That stupid people are more violent is a fact independent of skin color."

His views on homosexuality are equally repulsive, equating homosexuality with pederasty and pedophilia.

I can see why Eric decided to develop fetchmail in the first place: he probably didn't want any mail he sent or received to be touched by a piece of software written by a gay man, so he attempted to author a sendmail replacement, couldn't wrap his head around UUCP, and just gave up and wrote a mail retrieval agent instead.

4. Fucking up the Jargon File.

Many hackers feel that after taking over maintenance of the Jargon File, Eric began to change it to reflect his own warped political views and personal agendas.  He has shifted the tome's focus away from early, pre-Unix hacker culture, added words to the glossary that nobody except he has ever used, and - among other controversial edits - changed the description of hacker politics from being "vaguely liberal-moderate" to the more Eric-centric "moderate-to-neoconservative."  The Holy Bible of hackish culture has been reduced to being Eric's personal vanity document.

In conclusion, I can't say it any better than one of Eric's many fans once did on Wikipedia.  Eric, you are an asshole.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tetsuo: an in-depth review

It’s not often that a film comes along that, by comparison, makes David Cronenberg seem as lucid as an encyclopaedia editor: Tetsuo is such a film.

A metal-fetishist (think "scrap metal" not “hair band,” though the idea of someone jacking off to Rob Halford is a unique horror premise in itself) is run over by a car. Presumably, the sentence for accidentally hitting a pedestrian in Japan is death, because the driver of said car decides that it’s a wiser option just to dump the body into a ravine and forget about it than report the incident to the cops. Yeah, I know; we’ve all been there.

This being Japan and all, the fetishist (let’s call him Ray. He just looks like a Ray, you know?) starts haunting our kindly, white collar, hit-and-running protagonist (henceforth referred to as Chuck). At the same time, Chuck starts sprouting mysterious metallic growths on his skin. Despite peddling a "new and improved formula," the people at Clearasil are evidently lying cocksuckers.

With Chuck constantly having pieces of metal growing out of his body, the movie starts getting so weird that, in order to follow, you’ll have to drop at least as much mescaline as the director did at the time of filming, which, trust me, is a shitload. In my favourite scene, Chuck finds that his penis has transformed into a gargantuan power-drill, then proceeds to bone his girlfriend in ways that only Lex Steele could possibly top. I wish that the character designers for the Transformers movies had taken some inspiration from that scene, because, let’s face it, we have all at some point assumed that a robot as manly as Optimus Prime must be decked out with a giant mechanical schlong.

At around the fifty-minute mark, the mescaline just doesn’t cut it anymore; you have to be flat-out batshit insane to figure out what the hell is going on. Apparently Chuck and Ray, now both giant metal monsters with appliances for limbs, have some kind of fight. Chuck bitchslaps Ray and they then proceed to merge and become Megazord or something.

Some people like to label this film as Kafkaesque. I’m gonna take a wild stab in the dark here and guess that it’s because the movie involves a metamorphosis, and because it makes no fucking sense whatsoever. I’m glad to see that your major in European literature helps to keep you busy in between shifts behind the grill at Burger King, but you fail to mention that an Etch-a-sketch drawing made by a palsy sufferer on crystal meth could be considered Kafkaesque; it doesn’t really mean anything. Suffice to say, this black-and-white movie is creepier and more bizarre than a Mormon cake-sale. Unmissable.

See the trailer.

District 9

IMDB: 8.6
Rottentomatoes: 89%

Like a dog waiting for table scraps (except that the dog is also the chef), South Africa finally got the opportunity to see District 9 when it opened in theaters on the 28th of August, but, mainly due to illness, I was only able to see it the following Tuesday.

I tried going in with no expectations, for I would hate myself if I let hype ruin it. I think it's safe to say I was successful, as I loved the film. South African viewers, most of whom will have lived first-hand through Apartheid (or at least its legacy), and xenophobic violence will react differently to those in the US. We will invariably feel stronger connections to the events depicted in the film, and by the same token have less tolerance for improper treatment of such subject matter. With this in mind, I felt that the political allegory was clear, but never heavy-handed.

The protagonist, Wikus van der Merwe, was the biggest surprise for me. The character seems to have had a great deal of time spent on his development during the writing phase, but this is simply not true. Amazingly, the majority of his dialogue and actions were improvised, and his development occurred on camera. This is mainly thanks to the previously unknown talent of Sharlto Copley, a first-time actor who creates possibly the most emotionally engaging action hero (and I use the term loosely here) in decades. Taking Wikus from nerdy middle-management bureaucrat to saviour of an entire race, Copley goes through a whole range of emotions. He's simultaneously the film's emotional gravitas, action hero, and comic relief. Wikus is ultimately a character who, despite winning the affection of the audience, is not entirely likeable, which makes him very real indeed.

With Weta being involved, it's needless to say that the effects are amazing, but it certainly helps that you have a director with a background in special effects who knows how to set up a shot in order to get the most bang for buck. It is in the aliens themselves where this expert utilization of modern visual effects is most striking. These aliens aren't Star Trek's humans with scant prosthetics; District 9's "prawns" are possibly the most alien looking aliens ever put on film. The fact that these inhuman monsters become truly emotionally captivating speaks well of the director's ability to manipulate the viewer's emotion and steer it in the direction of his choice. It also validates the film's underlying message that, due to mankind's inherent flaws, even creatures such as these can be more human than humans themselves.

Despite following an inflexible application of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, the story kept me guessing until the end. I'm not sure if the ambiguous ending is purely to leave room for a sequel, or if it is meant to engage contemplation in the viewer, but it does both. Long after the credits rolled I found myself thinking about the questions that the film raised, and that is a trait which elevates a good science-fiction film into a great one.

Number of F-bombs: 137.

Blog update

The astute eye might catch a slight change in the layout and theme of the blog. Naturally, you may have some questions. Let me throw you a bone:

What was wrong with the old theme?

A few things. Mainly that the light on dark became increasingly difficult to read. I also decided that the old theme was extremely kitsch; whenever I'd visit the blog, I'd feel as though I'm on the personal webpage of the world's biggest asshole. Now, I realise that I may in fact be the world's biggest asshole, but I don't want to be reminded of it everytime I read my own blog.

Why the minimal look? Is it 1994 all over again?

A simple layout is quick to load, quick to render, and ultimately doesn't distract from the content (because I'll let nothing diminish my classy content!). Remember, designers: the medium is not the message, the message is the fucking message.

Why the big font?

Oh, come on. It's not that big! Besides, I have bad eyes and a monitor that's not tiny - 17" isn't exactly huge by today's standards, but it displays the site adequately.

Does this mean you'll be updating content more frequently?

Ha! Don't bet on it! Seriously though, I hope to... But no, really, don't bet on it.

What happened to the Eve Online ads?

I've stopped playing that game a long time ago, so I don't even know why I still had the ad up. Oh yeah, because I'm greedy. Well, the ad looked okay on the old layout, but it's ugly and distracting on Convergence 2.0, so I got rid of it. The only ads you'll find now are unintrusive Google text ads. Well, they're not that unintrusive, but you won't wake up one night to find them standing at the end of your bed or anything. Anyway, I still think EVE Online is a great game and I hope to get back into it when time permits.

What's with the Reddit links on the sidebar? I thought you were into Digg. Did you cross over to the dark side?

Actually, after joining Reddit about a year ago I realised that I had been on the dark side all along. I lost almost all interest in Digg and never looked back, so when Digg banned my account a few months ago for unknown reasons (read: trolling), I didn't even care. Like all of the cruft on the sidebar, the Reddit links may move or disappear altogether, so they may not even be there anymore when you read this.

Happy reading, and drop me a line if you need to.