Gadgets – Ubuntu? Not if I Bunt You First

February 11, 2010

So, as of last night, my netbook officially runs Ubuntu. For those curious, I downloaded and ran Easy Peasy, a distro designed specifically for netbooks.

A few observations on the process:

— I know that not all Linux users are raging snobs by a long shot. It’s just that the raging snobs obviously write the documentation. This is literally the first thing you read at Easy Peasy “Right a Wrong: Why was your awesome netbook shipped with that horrible operating system?” Because 90% of the world uses it, jackass.

This is a consistent tone throughout the documentation, the forums, etc. In their defense, they are at least informative. But the attitude is off-putting. I literally would not be here if I had A) any applications for my computer that were Windows-dependent and B) if I weren’t facing a Windows reinstall anyway. The fact that I had to reinstall the OS is what made me say “fuck it” and install Ubuntu; if I’m going to reinstall, I might as well reinstall with something that gets fewer viruses.

— I’m not really sure why I spent nearly four hours downloading an iso that was 825MB over a wireless connection that ranged between 50kbps and 100kbps, then downloaded a bootloader that downloaded another 600MB file, and apparently used precisely fuck-all of the 825mb file I had to restart three times.

— So, wait, you bill yourself as the easiest, simplest distro…and I have to go into the command line to turn on my wireless card, enable my webcam, and get the computer to turn off properly? This is a joke, right? You can’t seriously be that much of an arrogant shithead and have a free distro that’s broken in places it shouldn’t be. David Wong over on Cracked compared this kind of thing to an L-shaped condom; don’t hand us any shit about design, you know damn well what we’ve got.

— Also, don’t cop an attitude about Windows and then steal all your design cues from Windows 3.1. Just…just don’t.

As an OS, Ubuntu eee is perfectly functional, albeit clunky. It does its best to be elegant, offering various tabs instead of icons to click through and find what you need, essentially a full-screen version of OSX’s dock. But it can’t really hide that to get at anything, you’re digging around in the file structure. There isn’t a particular reason this can’t be a desktop like OSX or Windows, as far as I can tell. This was a problem Microsoft had licked back in XP, guys.

Most of this experience has been pretty instructive in why people don’t switch. The community can be rude and foreboding, and the documentation throws a lot of technical terms your way. The interface can be clunky if you’re not used to it. Setting up the OS itself can be, unsurprisingly, a pain in the ass. In short, switching seems to be a choice either for those who want to do it or for those who have to do it, instead of a better option. I find it hard to see any reason to switch beyond that: if you have no emotional investment in software, why bother?

Anyway, I’m updated now, and I’m staying that way. I’m going to need this computer, and I need to not worry about viruses. Hence the switch. But, so far, after years of being preached at by Linux nerds, as far as I can tell, Ubuntu isn’t better. Just different.

TV – The Tragedy of Captain Phil Harris

February 10, 2010

Watching “The Deadliest Catch”, which is probably one of the hardest-edged documentaries on Discovery, there was no figure more compelling than Phil Harris. Because how often does one see the circumstances and reasons of a man working himself to death?

Phil Harris died of stroke complications, an ending which was painfully inevitable to anybody who watched the show. Harris literally had to be forced off his own boat by his own sons before he’d go to the hospital, only to discover he had cancer. He literally would not stop working.

This gives the entire series a tragic tone. To the Harris family, if you’re reading, my sincere condolences.

Movies – “Cashback” is Aptly Named

February 10, 2010

Look, it’s not that “Cashback” is a badly done movie. It’s not, at least visually. The movie has plenty of visual tricks and ideas that at least make it pretty to watch and even somewhat engaging. It’s the story that’s the problem.

The main problem is the hero of the story is what every guy in college, especially in the arts, thinks he is, namely a sensitive old soul, and the writer doesn’t realize that actually he’s a callow little prick. I mean, this guy discovers the ability to stop time, and his use of it is to strip women naked in the supermarket and draw pictures of it, all while layering on the usual blather about the beauty of the female form. I dislike the theory of “the male gaze” for any number of reasons, but it’s like the writer and director, Sean Ellis, is out to prove it right down to the little details. He’s trying to use his intellect to justify his erections and blame his total lack of understanding of women on women.

And, of course, the girl who dumps him at the beginning and who he spends his nights mooning over realizes what a great thing she has, and he gets the chance to dump her. Oh, and also, out of nowhere, a gallery owner will see his sketches and think he’s a genius. Also, he’ll win the lottery.

OK, I’m making that last part up. But the script wanders into such blatant Mary Sue/wish fulfillment territory that it becomes painful pretty quickly.

Sean Ellis is a talented filmmaker, if a little too flashy for his own good. Hopefully he can find better outlets for his eye, or at least something less blatantly an attempt to rewrite his college years.

Software – Maybe Vundo Exists to Get Everyone To Switch To Linux

February 9, 2010

Right now I feel the way a dedicated carnivore must feel when he discovers he’ll have to go on an all-veggie diet, or when a rich Yellow Elephant gets arrested for something Daddy can’t fix, or when a staunch liberal gets mugged.

OK, not really. I have no emotional investment in operating systems. They are software that enable me to do what I want to do. And as of tomorrow, the software that will be doing that is Linux.

This is not due to my seeing the light and becoming an open-source advocate. Good God, no. It’s because of the digital AIDS known as Vundo.

Vundo has basically rendered my computer semi-useless in the space of two days. I did everything right: I installed anti-virus software, I kept my descriptions up to date, I didn’t use torrents or open suspicious files. And I STILL got it.

My computer still functions for what I need it to do, but Vundo has broken the registry, Safe Mode, probably my Java, and Christ only knows what else. So basically, even if I effectively remove Vundo, I’m still going to have to do an XP reinstall. And at this point, if I have to reinstall the OS anyway? Fuck it. I’m installing an OS that doesn’t have these problems. Better to do this once than another five times.

So, yes, I am soon to be an Ubuntu user. My (gentle) mocking of Linux users has been rendered hypocritical.

God. Damn. It.

TV – “Leverage” Is Stupid, Fun

February 6, 2010

I’ve been watching “Leverage” off and on, because I love heist movies, and basically, it’s one heist per episode.

On one level, it’s kind of bad. The show has a rigid formula that it follows and the bad guys are little more than interchangeable parts. It also sometimes cheats by not giving us all the information, but this is a forgivable sin as the heist is not actually the focus of the show.

This is what saves the show a lot, especially since the writing is sharp enough that there are no “You know there’s a much simpler solution to this, right?” moments that completely undo the heist. There are a few details where it falls into that trap, but so far, nothing painful.

Mostly the show cruises on the comedy; there are some genuinely funny moments, especially between Hardison the hacker and Eliot the muscle, who have a…contentious relationship, and Parker the thief, who apparently suffers from some form of Asperger’s and has a hilariously creepy history (she bursts out laughing when asked to recall her father’s death). And the show keeps sprinkling in little details: apparently Eliot is a professional cook and one of the worst incidents of his life centers around…a monkey. I wish the show was more consistent with the flashbacks: I want more of these tantalizing little details that are never quite explained.

Overall, it’s a fun little show. Nothing brilliant, but it could be.

Nostalgia – This is The Stuff I Watched in High School

February 2, 2010

And I still find this stuff funny.

Stop judging me.

In all seriousness, I wonder what happened to this guy. There’s some great comic timing here and the animation is surprisingly good, especially for the time these were made (these have to be at least ten years old at this point). It’d be a shame if he stopped making comedy.

Oscars – The Mean-Spirited Reason I’m Rooting for Campion and Bigelow

February 1, 2010

I don’t really care about the Oscars, as you may have noticed. To me, they’re relatively pointless and never get it right anyway. But, there is a ray of hope, with this year’s Oscars. Kathryn Bigelow has won the DGA award, which makes her the front runner to win the Best Director award…

Which means, for once, maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to hear about how there are no female directors from the kind of people who can’t be bothered to actually go out and support female directors, but are perfectly happy to whine at length online or buy allegedly witty billboards about the topic every damn year.

This would be a victory for film discussion almost as sweet as the year Scorese finally won an Oscar. Not because the Academy had finally acknowledged Scorese with a de facto lifetime achievement award, although that was nice, especially since “The Departed” is pretty fun and Scorese obviously enjoyed the hell out of making it.

No, it was a victory because, finally, finally, that one asshole who always said “Oh, well I guess the Academy thinks [INSERT ANY WINNING DIRECTOR HERE] is a better director than Martin Scorese!” finally had to shut the fuck up. Seriously. We never, ever, EVER have to hear it again! Ever! Even about “Gangs of New York!”

And now, of course, comes Bigelow with her little movie that could.

I’m pulling for “The Hurt Locker” to win for a variety of honest reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it’s really freakin’ good. I don’t know if it’s the best movie of the year, but it’s certain ONE of the best movies of the year, and inarguably one of the best movies about Iraq.

But another part of it is all the people who whine about a lack of female directors would suddenly be faced with the fact that their winner is not somebody making a sensitive feminist classic because that’s what women should make, but a female filmmaker who actually followed her voice and did what she wanted to do. And it’s not something they like, being as it’s a big, burly movie about tough men slowly going insane in the desert. You’ll either see a lot of backpedalling or calls for Bigelow to now make her sensitive feminist classic.

OK, so that’s mean-spirited. I acknowledge that. But it’s a comeuppance that’s richly deserved, because I’m tired of female directors being trivialized. They can’t win. Either Hollywood shoves them in the rom-com pap box, or the indie world shoves them into the sensitive drama box. It’s infuriating, especially when a female director turns out something that isn’t some feminist parable of genuine merit and it’s promptly ignored because it’s not “female” enough. Bronwen Hughes turned out one of the best movies of the past decade, “Stander”, a heist movie/biopic/lingering consideration of the damage racism inflicts on society, not to mention a precursor of the nascent South African wave.

What’d she get for it? A decade in TV purgatory. She should be directing Bond movies.

Similarly, Jane Campion has been struggling to get anything off the ground since “In The Cut”, and all these sensitive feminist types have been all too happy to ignore the shit out of her because Campion doesn’t make easily digestible parables. Instead she makes genuinely complicated movies about genuinely complicated women that are if nothing else unlike anything you’ve seen, and she gets fucking ignored. These are the movies people claim to want, and what does Campion get? Rejected.

So, yeah, I’m pulling for Bigelow and Campion this Oscar season, because it’s a victory that shouldn’t have to be won, for women over people telling them what they have to be.

TV – “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” Is Shameless, Awesome

February 1, 2010

There was a time, namely the 1980s, when an R rating crossed with a pre-birth of Christ setting meant something very specific. Namely, that you were going to get nudity by the eyeful and gore by the bucket. Swords would be clumsily wielded, limbs would be hacked off, courtesans would get naked, in short, it was glorious.

And then, just as abruptly as it arrived, the ’80s barbarian movie vanished, overwhelmed by a combination of kickboxing, porn hitting more cable systems, and just a general shift in tastes. Aside from the occasional return from other countries, such as Russia’s “Wolfhound”, they literally just do not make them like they used to. Don’t even get me started about “300”, which was fun, but a little sterile and overly arty to really work.

Leave it to Sam Raimi to produce a series that brings all that glorious cheese back.

Now, granted, the price is we have to see John Hannah get a blowjob right before he humps Lucy Lawless against a wall in front of an audience, but if that’s the price we have to pay for Lucy Lawless lesbian scenes (which the show keeps hinting at, and I think I just heard half the Xena fanbase go “YEEEEESSSSS!!!”), goddamn it I pay it willingly.

Everything about “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is pitch-perfect cheese. The “300: The Series” intent is obvious but somebody, I’m assuming show creator Steven S. DeKnight, realized that it’s more fun to give a bunch of actors purple dialogue, make them get naked, and then act badly. One actor, playing Crixus, delivers an entire monologue about being a gladiator that is utterly devoid of (intentional) gay subtext, until you realize he’s delivering it buck naked. Why half my LJ friends (most of whom are gay or female) aren’t all over this show is beyond me.

Is it classic? No. Is it idiotic? Yes, but in a good way. This is can’t-miss television, especially if you have Netflix. Go check it out, and glory in the cheese.

Gadgets – The Apple iPad is a False Media Savior

January 27, 2010

So, Apple today debuts the iPad (…really, guys?), which is basically Apple’s idea of an eReader and a netbook smashed into one. I’ve little doubt it’ll be a popular, if niche, product, just like I have little doubt that it won’t do a damn thing for print media.

It’s worth asking: how does the iPad solve any of print media’s problems? It’s basically just Apple’s version of a netbook. It’s nice the New York Times has made a custom app, and I’m sure that’ll get it a few subscriptions…but enough to put off the fracturing of the audience? Enough to solve the problem of being able to get news from a thousand different sources? It’s worth remembering that Newsday’s paywall has yielded precisely 35 subscribers. And Newday isn’t a piddling little rag in the middle of nowhere.

It’s like the Kindle and all the other eReaders: I see it fulfilling a niche but I don’t see it catching mainstream acceptance. And even if it does, I suspect most of the iPad’s users will decide they only want to pay for the device.

It’s like the Times’ paywall scheme: most people go to the Times for news they can get elsewhere. Once they’re charged a fee, they’ll go to CNN.com or YouTube or any other of a thousand sources that can afford to give it away for free.

Movies – Weird Al’s Back!

January 26, 2010

For those who are not up on their culture, Weird Al Yankovic, in addition to his invaluable contributions to satirizing godawful popular music, made one of the greatest comedies of the ’80s: “UHF”.

“UHF” basically got screwed by timing: it tested incredibly well, it had a lot of kid appeal, Al was a popular performer…and then it came out the summer of 1989, you know, the same summer “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, “Batman”, “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, “License To Kill”, “Star Trek V”, “Lethal Weapon 2”, “Ghostbusters 2”, “The Abyss”…you get the point. “UHF” was drowned out and the movie went on to become a cult classic as people discovered it over video.

This is because it is incredibly funny, in fact one of the greatest comedies of the ’80s. “UHF” mixes Yankovic’s innocent yet deranged comedy (SPATULA CITY!) with a Mad Magazine influence, right down to a tribute to the magazine in the form of the character Uncle Nutzy, and it really, really works. Terrible puns, out-of-nowhere gags (“My work here seems to be done! I now must return to my home, the planet Zarkon.”), and non-bodily-fluid gross-out moments (find me one person who didn’t gag at the idea of the Twinkie weiner sandwich), combined with a real sense of place make it a great little movie.

Sadly, Al will not be starring in this new movie, nor is it a sequel to UHF. But it’s just nice to know that twenty years later, he finally got a second chance.