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Archive for April 2003

the mandrake speaks

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On a different tack: I have years of experience with Microsoft’s Windows products, and I have been a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) since 1998. I’m attending the official Irish launch of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 (in Ireland) on this week. I still run Windows XP on this notebook, and most of my work involves Windows NT or Windows 2000 Servers on customer sites. Anyone reading this without knowing me would assume, at this point, that Bill Gates has both hands in my pockets, one on my wallet, the other… use your imagination.

Yet: I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years working and playing with Linux. I have an official work-related excuse in the form of Vmware ESX which, unlike the other Vmware flavours, is built using a modified Red Hat Linux core. This has opened the door to some formal training, on Vmware and on Linux in general. Besides my regular “office” PC, running Windows 2000, I have a second very old PC under my desk. It’s a Pentium 133, of about 1996 vintage, too old to run any Windows NT version with acceptable performance. Yet it runs Mandrake Linux 9 quite happily, though it still chugs if I do anything intensive.

Now Mandrake has invaded my home too: last night I switched my home desktop PC to Linux permanently. The operation was complicated by my second hard disk drive, with 44GB of various project stuff, that was formatted in NTFS – which Linux can’t handle properly. (No reason why it should, it’s a Microsoft proprietary format.) I had to take it to work, back it up, reformat to FAT32, and restore the data. Of course, FAT32 isn’t normally allowed on drives that big, you’re expected to carve it up, but I’ve done that before and it’s a pain in the neck. But the restriction is quite arbitrary, and PowerQuest Partition Magic just creates the required partition, which then works without fuss under Windows and Linux. Apart from that, the installation was painless, and I’m using Samba to let my notebook in, so I can back it up.

Since I’m happy that Linux can take care of the fundamentals, my next focus will be on applications: how well I can work with OpenOffice, play DVDs, games, etc. When non-geeks talk about Linux, they usually mean Red Hat, but I find myself preferring Mandrake for some reason. Maybe it’s because it’s French – it does seem a little more stylish. While Red Hat pushed the Gnome window manager (graphical desktop), Mandrake leans towards KDE, which seems more functional and less gimmicky to a Windows veteran. (Both Linux versions ship with both, anyway.)

If you have a system that may or may not be Linux-compatible, there’s a fairly easy way to safely test Linux on it: get a Knoppix CD. Knoppix is a self-contained Linux that boots directly from CD and runs in memory, without touching the contents of your hard drives. You can explicitly unlock them, for your own use, but Knoppix still won’t make changes of its own. It has come in handy on several occasions, especially when I wasn’t sure about the video hardware (long a sore point with Linux).

Mandrake had a little financial trouble earlier this year, but they seem to have pulled through, and I think I’m helping by paying for a DVD copy of new version (9.1). Free software is a great idea, but people need to be paid, or else they’ll just stop creating it…

Written by brian t

April 29, 2003 at 10:38 pm

kind of arthur

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Earlier this evening I went to an open audition for movie extras, for the forthcoming film King Arthur, chunks of which are being filmed in Ireland in the second half of this year. Not much of an audition – a few details, some measurements, and a photo. Still, they wanted people with long hair and beards; I haven’t had a haircut since last December, and as for the beard, well, I heard about the audition two weeks ago and stopped shaving. That’s all it takes for me to look like Cousin Itt. The beard’s coming off in a few minutes time: even if I get the part, filming only starts in June at the earliest, more likely August.

The film, apparently, is aiming for a realistic portrayal of King Arthur and his times; which means 5th or 6th century, Saxons, and the dregs of the Roman Empire. There will be no magic, but I suspect there will be some tribal aspects to the story, and apparently the Knights of the Round Table were Russian mercenaries. Currently, Clive Owen (Croupier, Gosford Park) is cast as King Arthur.

The director? Antoine Fuqua, who made the acclaimed Training Day a few years ago. Here’s his take on his new project:

“I don’t want to piss anybody off, but it’s going to be edgy! This is Arthur before Camelot. It’s before he became the king so it’s going to be a much more realistic version of what Arthur really was about, much more human. We’re going to have thousands and thousands of Saxon warriors and big battle scenes like “Braveheart” and “Gladiator”. I think choreography and horses and safety are going to be the biggest headache! It’s a fantastic project to do. It’s a dream to make a big epic film about a great legend”

Written by brian t

April 29, 2003 at 8:36 pm

Posted in history, ireland, movies

iraq now

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I believe he said he wasn’t going to do this; but Jerry Pournelle has written a very interesting article about what he hopes will happen in Iraq, now that the war has been won and the real work begins: Governing Iraq – What do we do now?

Even if you don’t read the whole thing, I think it’s crucial to start the way he does – by using Aristotle’s definition of democracy: democracy is rule by the middle classes – “those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation”. Not the super-rich, or those who become super-rich by their position – that’s oligarchy or dictatorship. Not the lower-class “proletariat” – it doesn’t work, because they have nothing to lose and tend towards communism or anarchy.

Or, as Jerry puts it: can you afford to lose the election? Will you survive, and go back to work as before? Or, as has been seen in Africa in particular, will losing a vote carry a high personal price, something to avoid at any cost? He suggests keeping the USA involved for at least a generation, as guardians of what should be a natural process, but has been bent out of proportion by the disparities in wealth and status that have existed in the region for thousands of years. “If we are going to build democracy, we have no choice but to be imperial: not in the sense of an emperor, but in the sense of retaining command.” (I’m not sure I see the distinction – those under control might not see it either.)

Not everyone will agree with Jerry Pournelle – he is, after all, an acknowledged “Conservative”, who wrote parts of Reagan’s SDI (“Star Wars”) speech and even managed the Congressional campaign of Barry Goldwater Jr. From what I’ve read, though, he takes positions based on the merits he sees, and doesn’t lean in a particular direction by default; his interests are more scientific and historical, he has little to do with the current political landscape in the USA. Well worth reading, in my opinion.

Written by brian t

April 29, 2003 at 2:31 pm

Posted in america, countries, demographics, politics

Tagged with

the curses

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Thoughts for a strange day from a strange week:

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
— Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Culture is the curse of the thinking classes.
— Neil Peart (Ceiling Unlimited, 2002)

Written by brian t

April 23, 2003 at 8:27 pm

Posted in culture, philosophy

mid sombre

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I guess I must be on a mild Shakespeare bender at the moment, since I spent yesterday evening watching A Midsummer-Night’s Dream. It took longer than it should have, because I was partly following the text at first. I soon gave that up, for now, because some bits are shifted around, others left out. Some of the soliloquies are cut off at their peak, and not allowed to wind down as per the text – but they’re the better for it.

Ebert and other critics have commented that the four “young lovers” in the play are almost interchangeable; so here the director has chosen distinct character actors for the roles, including Christian Bale (Empire Of The Sun, American Psycho) as Demetrius, and Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal) as Helena, in an enjoyably over-the-top portrayal of a highly dramatic character. Not that it matters when they’re all wrestling in a pool of mud, after Puck (Stanley Tucci) confuses their emotions by drugging them.

Helena spends much of the time passionately chasing Demetrius around the forest on a bicycle, then clashes with Hermia (Anna Friel), who has eloped with her lover Lysander (Dominic West), to escape her father, who insists she marry Demetrius, the son of the local godfather Thesus (David Strathairn), who’s about to get married to Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau). Hermia naturally tries to encourage Helena to win Demetrius over, as a way of resolving the conflict:

Helena: O! teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.
Hermia
: I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
Helena: O! that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill.
Hermia: I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
Helena: O! that my prayers could such affection move.
Hermia: The more I hate, the more he follows me.
Helena: The more I love, the more he hateth me.
Hermia: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
Helena: None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!

I’m not going to describe the whole plot here – but the fact that I could is a compliment to the writers, who turned a slightly confusing play into a well-plotted film. As with Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a “play within a play” as a structural device, this time played as a farce, since Bottom (Kevin Kline) and his friends aren’t very good actors, frankly. Pity the poor actor playing “The Wall” on that stage.

This was my first experience of the play in any form – I’ve neither read it before nor watched it staged. I can see the fascination it holds for many, and how its ideas have been used elsewhere. I can imagine a gritty modern version, where the “fairy dust” spread around by Puck is replaced by Rohypnol

Written by brian t

April 23, 2003 at 1:15 pm

Posted in books, history, movies, poetry

Tagged with

kaufmanesque

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I’ve just finished watching Man On The Moon, a biopic of the late comedian Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey. Several critics have asked why the film was made, commenting on the apparent emotional and psychological problems Kaufman had, and the nasty tricks he played on everyone, friends, family and audience included.

His girlfriend once said “Andy was the most psychologically sound person I ever met in my life. He had no neuroses. He didn’t have a personality disorder. He just had numerous personalities.” He had strong ideas about his art; which didn’t always live up to the ideals, it must be said. When he tried telling people he was terminally ill, no-one believed him – he had cried “Wolf!” too often in the past.

It’s not always clear, in the film, whether his art was accident or artifice, but the results as shown had a strong surrealist or situationist ethic to them. My favourite of these incidents was the college gig where people started calling out for the character he played on the sitcom Taxi. His response was to start reading The Great Gatsby in an English accent. When that fell on deaf ears, he put a record on; the same voice reading the same book! Finally, he came back out, and finished the book. By the end there were about four people in the audience, half of whom were asleep, and only one person “got” it.

I can always start watching a film, but since I finished this one, the question for me is not whether Andy Kaufman was a good person or a bad one, but whether or not he was interesting. And if Andy was interesting – which he was – it was because he did interesting things. If only half the scenes in this film were based on reality, then the justification for the film is right there on the screen.

I’ve just read about the press conference for the film, during which Jim Carrey was attacked by Tony Clifton – an alter ego of Andy Kaufman’s who makes several appearances in the film. Imagine the worst lounge singer in history, then throw in all the racist and sexist jokes you can think of, and you may get the idea. Never mind Dr. Freud; Dr. Spock might be better placed to review this one. Fascinating.

Still, if we’re going to start making biopics of dead comedians, where’s the Bill Hicks movie, eh?

Written by brian t

April 20, 2003 at 11:14 pm

Posted in culture, humour, movies

mary jane says hi

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I haven’t done any 3D work, but I have been writing a little, after a major swabbing of the house bathroom. (I even washed the ceiling.) Now I’m chilling out in front of the TV, and I’ve just seen something that reminded me of someone I knew back in the late 80’s. Anthony was a fellow Scot, but that was where the similarity ended. He was about six foot three, with freckles, and bright ginger hair – in dreadlocks. He was the first marijuana smoker I met, and still the heaviest user I have ever known – which, in South Africa in the 80’s, is saying a lot.

He was into the whole Jamaican experience, down to the clothes, the accent, Rastafarianism, and reggae, which is where I came in. Once he heard I was learning the electric bass, he had to get me down to his place to try some Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ), Peter Tosh, and (of course) Bob Marley. Through big speakers the dub bass really came out, and when I plugged in and played along, I didn’t have much trouble with the notes themselves. The right feel was a totally different problem, though, and that’s the reason why players such as Robbie Shakespeare get the respect they do.

What I’ve just half-watched was an episode of UK motoring program Fifth Gear on the Discovery Channel, which featured what they claim was the first on-road test of the effects of cannabis use on driving skills. The UK Government had previously held tests using driving simulators, but this test was performed on a closed track, for obvious legal reasons. The results did not surprise me at all.

The (admittedly empirical) study corresponded with the government study; they showed that a driver on a reasonable ganga buzz knows he’s tripping, and compensates accordingly. There was no major deterioration in skills such as judgement of distance and reaction time. I saw this first hand on one occasion, when a car pulled out on front of Anthony and I while blue smoke was pouring out of my window past my head. Anthony was explaining some Rastafariana to me, but he appeared to sober up instantly, and braked the car under complete control. When the danger was past, the mellow ship sailed again under its own steam.

I don’t know why we got on well, despite the fact that I have never smoked anything. (If I did, my lungs would simply pack up and go, I think.) I was just enjoying the experience, the reggae, and I think he appreciated that I never judged him for his lifestyle. (At least he had one – I just had a job.) My favourite memory involving Anthony was the time he was asked to leave a college class, because he had come back from lunch break on some extreme buzz, and could not stop talking and laughing at everything the lecturer said. I found the smell less offensive then than I find the smell of tobacco now, and I’ve seen alcohol do far more harm than than marijuana, over the years. Anthony did both, sadly, and I lost track of him after he just left town, one day, after getting a warning from his boss about his lack of attendance at work.

As you might guess from my experience, I think it’s only logical that marijuana be legalized, eventually. I can easily imagine being in the pub with a beer, while one of my work colleagues pulls out a pack of Marleys™ (a Philip Morris registered trademark) and lights up. Because the TH content is marked on the pack, and she’s used to doing this, she know how many she can have over the evening and still be safe to drive home. If she had too much, and the police stopped her, the new breathalyzer test would pick that up – the same as with alcohol. Me? I’m far more likely to give up alcohol altogether, than to ever willingly inhale smoke into my lungs, but I regularly see and tolerate far worse behaviour from people drunk on power.

Written by brian t

April 20, 2003 at 7:09 pm

Posted in culture, philosophy