Random News from the Month of May

Yesterday Susan and I braved the scattered rain to attend Dallas Artfest 2005. It turned out to be overcast and cool but only a tiny bit of rain fell. Susan found some interesting jewellery and it made a nice break from work.

I’ve been working with David Anderson in porting his robotics library for the MRM board to gcc 3.4.3. I’ve added a little code of my own in the process and I’m using Doxygen to produce pretty web-based documentation for the whole thing. We still have a ways to go but I’m hoping to release the completed library as a DPRG project in a month or two (under GPL of course).

We saw Hitchhiker’s earlier this month and found it sadly disappointing. It appears to have been adapted to the big screen by people who had no clear understanding of Douglas Adams brand of humor (or British humor in general). It almost appears they didn’t understand it was supposed to be a funny story and tried very hard to turn it into an action movie by excising anything remotely amusing from the script. Even worse, they frequently removed the setup for jokes but left in the punch line or left in the setup and removed the punchline, making the story incomprehensible (or at least very non-funny) for those who hadn’t read the book, heard the radio version, or seen the TV adaptation. The one redeeming moment was when the real Marvin made brief cameo appearance. I suspect everyone reading this has seen the movie by now but if you haven’t, save your money and buy the very nice DVD of the BBC television version which is a lot more fun.

We also saw Revenge of the Sith. What can I say. At least it’s finally over. It was better than the last two but I’m afraid the original version of the first movie is the only one that was really fun as a stand-alone story.

I’ve had some time to start working on mod_virgule again. My highest priority is porting it to the Apache 2 module API so I can finally ditch Red Hat 7.3 on the robots.net box. I’ve almost got a clean compile but it’s going to take a little while to get it debugged and stable before I switch robots.net over.

Sousa, Meat Paddles, and Clones

I’d better catch up on news before I start falling too far behind. For the 4th this year, Susan and I went to a an event up in Frisco. It was held at the Hall Office Park near the Texas Sculpture Garden. We saw the best fireworks we’ve seen in quite a few years. Prior to the fireworks we wandered around and marvelled at the size of the event – 20,000 people or something like that. And we listened to a short set of music played by Three Dog Night, an old 70’s era rock band hired for the event. A couple of the tunes sounded vaguely familiar but it wasn’t exactly Sousa-quality 4th of July music. Based on the last few years experience, the best music is to be heard at the Irving event held in Williams Square – where an actual orchestra plays Sousa marches the way God intended.

Meanwhile, mod_virgule development has started up again now that Gary is back on the job. My patch to make Raph’s new diary rating stuff configurable and fix a segfault caused by the new locking code made it into the latest release. More importantly, Gary has completed enough of the merges to completely eliminate one of the mod_virgule forks. Advogato and Badvogato can run off the same code now. We’ve still got some work to do before I’ll be able to get robots.net running on the main code base but hopefully that’s not too far away.

We also saw a couple of movies over the weekend. The Bourne Identity was fairly interesting. The only weird thing was the sound effect used during the fights. Rather than using traditional meat-paddles to get a realist fist into flesh sound, they came up with what sound like someone whacking a piece of plywood with a hammer. So every time there’s a fist-fight, it sounds like the characters are hollow and made of wood. I guess somebody thought it sounded cool. Probably the same people who add those totally unrealistic gunfire noises to movies.

Men in Black II was next on the list. The reviews are pretty much dead on. It’s fairly entertaining but not nearly as good as the first one. They only had about a 30 minute story and somehow managed to pad it out to 90 minutes. And annoyingly, almost all the good stuff was shown in the trailers and ads so there are really no surprises when you see the movie. The Peter Graves cameo was inventive though.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it previously but we’ve now seen Attack of the Clones at both a traditional film theater and one of the new digital theaters. Bits of it looked better all-digital but other bits, like close-ups of the few live actors, looked better after film transfer. I’d like to see a real film at both to get a better comparison. ATOC is 99% computer animation so it’s kind of hard to judge how badly the lower resolution of the digital theaters is going to affect the quality of movies that are shot on film. As for ATOC itself, I wrote a lengthy review and then deleted it. Too many reviews and nobody really cares anyway I think. Basically it’s another Star Wars sequel. Like the rest of them, they don’t live up to the original and like episode 1 most of it has that animated look that makes you feel like you’re watching a cartoon rather than a real movie.

TV Shows, Movies, and Books

No work today. Sometimes you just have to take a day off to get the stress levels down. The RSX got an oil change. I mowed the lawn. That was about it.

I still haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie. Maybe next week. I did see Spiderman recently. For a comicbook movie it wasn’t bad. It was very, very predictable as it follows the same storyline as Superman… boy discovers he has super powers, his father figure dies, he gets a job at newpaper, gets a colorful suit, fights some crime, gets the girl, loses the girl… The villain was pretty lame – just a guy in a plastic power-rangers suit. Still, it was fun in spite of all that. The Danny Elfman sound track helped a lot. They played the really goofy Spiderman Theme song from the old cartoon as well. Susan claimed she couldn’t get it out of her head for several days.

Saw the season finale of X Files too. It was okay. Pretty much what one would have expected but nothing spectacular.

Somewhat more interesting was The Chronocide Mission by Lloyd Biggle Jr., which I just finished reading to Susan. Even though it’s a new book it reads very much like classic science fiction from the Golden Era. 300 years from today, a majorly screwed up Earth is being destroyed by war for a second time because of an artifact called a Honsun Lens that can unleash huge amounts of energy and distort time. A small group of conspirators decide that the only way to save the world is to destroy it – or, at least, the particular timeline that leads to it. To that end they form a plan to use the time distortion capabilities of a Honsun Lens to go back in time and kill the man who created the lens. As usual, the fun is in finding out whether or not they can pull it off. Recommended.

The Phantom Menace – Again

We went to The Phantom Menace a second time last night. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen a movie twice in the last 10 years. Susan and I both saw the original Star Wars movie quite few times. Susan saw it exactly 21 times at the theater. I lost count along the way but I’m sure it was at least that many. It ran at the theater for over a year and I used to see it with friend from high school nearly every weekend. Of course, that was the real, original Star Wars, before the “special edition”, before they stuck “episode IV” on the opening credits and re-edited the scenes, back when it was just one movie and nobody, including Lucas, thought there would be another.

The Phantom Menace

Okay, we saw the new Star Wars movie this weekend. Yes, it was a disappointment as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. But don’t let that stop you from seeing it. In spite of all its problems, it’s still worth seeing once. The last thing the world needs is yet another review of the movie so I’ll just make a few quick comments. There is way too much CGI in the movie – at some points it feels like you’re watching a cartoon rather than a live action film because there is simply nothing real in sight… animated aliens fighting animated robots on animated terrain. The reviews you’ve read are right on several points: Jar-Jar Binks is very annoying, Darth Maul has one whole sentence of dialog and maybe two minutes on screen, the story is very disjointed and slow compared to the older movies (whereas the spaceships all move much faster than they used to). And what’s with the force? The force is no longer a “force” it is now apparently a sentient entity of some sort that has a will and makes plans for people – and only those with a particular parasitical virus can sense or use it.