URLs du Jour

2008-11-29

  • I have mixed feelings about this story describing efforts to make a movie based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation. I blogged about re-reading the book here: while I loved Asimov, the talk/action ratio in his books is very, very high. (At Granite Geek, David Brooks has a similar reaction.)

    Apparently a movie based on The End of Eternity is also a possiblity; that might work better.

    But the same old questions come to mind whenever they talk about making movies out of classic science fiction works: where is the movie version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Stranger in a Strange Land? The Door Into Summer? And why couldn't they have played Starship Troopers straight?

  • This isn't much of a URL; you can only read the first 100 words of a front page WSJ story about Robert Rubin, but the lead paragraph is probably enough:
    Under fire for his role in the near-collapse of Citigroup Inc., Robert Rubin said its problems were due to the buckling financial system, not its own mistakes, and that his role was peripheral to the bank's main operations even though he was one of its highest-paid officials.
    Hey, Citibank? One of your card-carrying customers here. Although I lack even a diploma-mill MBA, I have an suggestion: stop paying huge salaries to people who are peripheral to your main operations.

    Just a thought.

  • Many, many programmer jokes. I'd heard this one, but I still get a chuckle:
    Q: How do you tell an introverted computer scientist from an extroverted computer scientist?

    A: An extroverted computer scientist looks at your shoes when he talks to you.

    (Via BBSpot)

  • And a belated link to the latest Rochester (NH) Police Log. I appreciated this note of resignation:
    Monday, Nov. 10

    8:38 p.m. — Someone drives "like a maniac" on Rochester Hill Road. There are hundreds of suspects.

Fedora 10 Impressions

Posting has been light the previous few days because of… Thanksgiving? No! Well, at least not that much. Instead, a lot of my time has been devoted to explorations of Fedora 10, a new version of the Linux distribution I use at home and work, released earlier this week. Some random notes:

  • I opted for fresh installs on unused disk partitions. Although an "upgrade" path is available, the docs say "In general, fresh installations are recommended over upgrades." And for once, I decided to go that way.

  • That's fine, although my old Fedora 9 systems had accumulated months worth of tweaks, addons, and customizations. And also some forgotten now-worthless experimental cruft. So: distinguish the "good stuff" from the cruft, and carefully fold it back into the familiar-yet-new system. Maybe come up with better ways to do things, like integration of my mail program (Mutt) with LDAP and a local address book. This is an ongoing process. Fortunately, to the certain sort of geek I am, it's also fun.

  • Booting the installation DVD still did not recognize the USB keyboard on my work system, a Dell Dimension E510. I was presented with a nice, attractive menu from which I could select… nothing. Fortunately, it had the default behavior I wanted, after waiting for a minute.

    (There's apparently a workaround if you're fast enough with your fingers before the GUI menu appears. I didn't really need it.)

  • It finally did the right thing with my Dimension's display chipset (ATI Technologies Inc RV516). This has been a major toothache with previous versions of Fedora.

  • But post-install, the system locked up twice, necessitating a finger on the power button. Both times after I had left for the day. Grrr, major inconvenience.

    Possible source of the problem: I had deleted the installed GNOME screensaver, and installed the superior 'xscreensaver' and associated packages. My speculation is that there was some weird incompatibility with the X video driver and one or more of the packaged screensavers, which triggered the lockup. After (regretfully) removing xscreensaver, and reinstalling GNOME screensaver, the system has remained up. Albeit with a lame screensaver.

  • In contrast, my home system (an older Dell Dimension 4500) installed with only one hitch: installing from multiple CDs, the system demanded Disk 2 be inserted, but refused to eject Disk 1. Arrgh. After some fumbling, the only solution was to shut down, resulting in an unbootable system. Fortunately, starting the install up again worked fine.

Bottom line: I can't recommend Fedora to non-geeks, but I like it.


Last Modified 2008-11-30 6:20 AM EST

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Everyone's favorite argument for nurture over nature returns! Again, it's pretty good, with generous helpings of humor, imaginative design, and great special effects.

Long ago, the supernatural world warred with mankind. They were aided by the titular "golden army": a juggernaut of invincible robots. But eventually peace was declared, and the robots were stored away at an undisclosed location, never to be used again.

Which brings us to the present: the bad guy, elf prince Nuada, has re-declared war on humanity—I hate it when that happens—and determines to reactivate the golden army. All he has to do is to figure out where they are, and grab onto the three pieces of the magic crown that allows them to be commanded. And guess who is tasked to stop him?

But the golden army is like Chekov's gun: you can't put it out there without it eventually going off. This climactic scene doesn't happen until the very end, though. The journey to get there is a lot of fun.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 1:26 PM EDT

The Big U

[Amazon Link]

Why yes, I did read two Neal Stephenson books in a row. Good catch.

Specifically, after reading his latest book (Anathem), I read his very first book, The Big U, which came out in 1984. Even after nearly 25 years, its sharp satire of college life still resonates on a large number of notes. The computer technology is dated, of course, but otherwise…

The Big U follows a loose collection of students, faculty, and staff through a (tragically truncated!) academic year at American Megaversity, an institution of higher learning completely contained in a single huge building, the Plex. There's Sarah, president of the student body; Casimir, physics geek; Bud, a new professor; Septimius Severus Krupp, Megaversity president; and a host of others.

It starts out as kind of a Tom Wolfe-style satire of faceless bureaucracy, commodified education, political correctness, and various student types. But around December, things get a little weird. Then things get very, very, out of hand, and stride boldly into territory into which Tom Wolfe has never ventured.

Eventually, even I started to recognize some obvious real-world parallels between Stephenson's portrayal and a certain actual institution about 75 miles south of here. A quick Wikipedia check said: yup, Stephenson wrote this while a student at Boston University.

It's also said that Stephenson is "not proud" of this novel. While—OK, sure—it's not Cryptnomicon, taken on its own terms, it's perfectly fine and worthwhile.


Last Modified 2012-10-09 1:27 PM EDT