In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Digi-Cinema Developments
  2. Hot New Buildings
  3. Architecture and Sex
  4. I don't know why I worry
  5. Tacit Knowledge -- 30
  6. Pic of the Day
  7. Art Deco
  8. One of My Rave Faves
  9. Computer Games and Me Redux
  10. Link-o-rama

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Digi-Cinema Developments
Friedrich -- More bulletins on the state of the digi-cinema from someone who doesn't really know anything, and who wastes too much of his life reading cinematographers' magazines, looking at electronics ads -- and then leaping to conclusions, generalizations and predictions. I Want I Want I Want... My recent visit to the source itself (AKA Circuit City) was a heartening one. I'm here to report that the visual quality of the latest generation of CRT HDTVs -- tube versions of high-definition TVs, with the big, fat, heavy boxes -- is a marked step better than it was not so long ago. The imagery isn't just big and detailed, it's also creamier and more sumptuous, and offers more in the way of the depth, substance and texture. Sadly, this isn't true yet for the flat HDTVs -- the plasma or LCD sets. Cool and groovy though they are as pieces of design and furniture, the images they generate are still pretty crappy, especially when you set them next to a tube HDTV. They're still a little stuttery, jaggedy and smeary. They seem too electronic, and the eye still snags on and gets perplexed by 'way too much that it shouldn't. Plus, hey, the flat HDTVs cost as much as a car where prices of CRT HDTVs are falling into a semi-plausible range -- $2000 to $2500 will buy you a really nice one these days. Let's see: at this rate, I'll be able to afford one in about five years, assuming I forgo all vacation travel between now and then. Still, lovely to see video imagery becoming more pleasing. On the camera side, it seems to my amateurish mind that two recent developments are of some interest. One is a new Panasonic DV camera that looks likely to become a standard. It shoots 24 frames per second like a film camera; users find it thoughtfully designed; and it costs a mere (!) $3500. The cinematographers' magazines ran tests and report that the image it produces is comparable to a 16 mm film image -- better than functional if not yet smashingly good. Low-budget filmmaking types are already snapping the Panasonic up; a film-critic friend who gets to a lot of the festivals tells me that almost no documentaries are shot on film anymore. Amusing to see that film-camera people aren't just lying back and taking it. (You go, capitalism!) They've mounted a counter-offensive, improving the pricing, performance and maneuverability of what's called super-16 -- a small-format film camera that produces images dense enough to be attractive even when blown up to 35 mm. At this point, it's actually cheaper to shoot a movie on super-16 than on HDTV. The other digi-cinema camera story that tickles my brain concerns storage, namely hard drives, which have become so capacious, so physically small, and so cheap that they're now beginning to be used in DV cameras instead of tape. You can record hours and hours of sound and video onto the device's hard drive... posted by Michael at April 26, 2003 | perma-link | (22) comments

Hot New Buildings
Friedrich -- What the heck, why not a change of pace? Here's news from the establishment (ie., avant-garde/big-media/prizewinning) architecture world about two of that world's hottest new buildings. Holl's MIT dormitory In Cambridge, MIT is winding up a 15-building, billion-dollar construction campaign with a heavy emphasis on innovation and "reinventing the student experience." The anodized-aluminum-covered dormitory Simmons Hall, by Steven Holl, is one of its showpieces. It cost $68 million, houses about 350 students, and opened last fall. It's a "vertical slice of a city," it has a "sponge" concept, and "porosity" is its theme. (Holl's firm presents the building here.) MIT's gigantic new-building program has been masterminded by the university's Dean of Architecture (interesting to learn that he's now moving over to head the school's department of Media Arts), who has this to say about what all this new work has in common: The consistent use of transparency throughout the area and the creation of prominent presentation spaces have made the work of the departments much more visible. All this has done a great deal to strengthen the sense of community and common purpose. Hadid's Cincinnati Arts Center The Baghdad-born, British-based deconstructivist star Zaha Hadid -- routinely referred to as a "visionary" -- is finishing up her first building in America, the $34 million Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. It opens on May 3rd. Here's a description from the Art and Culture Network: From the outside, the building looks like a wacky tower of variously sized boxes. The boxes fit together in a weighty collage that appears to hang precariously over the intersection below. The whole resembles an abstract piece of contemporary sculpture, a larger version of the works inside. Inside, this boxy jumble turns out to be made up of separate rooms meant to function specifically with different art pieces. The environment for each work complements the work itself. Here are some words of description, meant in praise, from the CAC's own director, as quoted by Jeffrey Stein in the Cincinnati Post:  "The entire ground floor is surrounded with very high 18- to 20-foot windows,'' Desmarais said. "There also is to be what Hadid is calling an `urban carpet' or molded concrete that begins outside the building as a sidewalk and then flows into the interior of the Rosenthal Center." The visual experience for visitors won't stop with the urban concrete carpet. Desmarais said: "Crisscrossing in front of you in the (large interior) space are gigantic staircases that seem to be suspended in space because they don't need any columns to hold them up. "The staircases are supported at each end by one floor to the next.'' Visual interest continues with the ceiling, Desmarais explained. "The ceiling isn't one flat space above you, but, in fact, it's several different levels." Desmarais said the center, while quite sturdy and safe, gives "this sense of not danger but a slight insecurity about the building. Here it is this big, heavy concrete building suspended on a fragile glass base. "It's a building... posted by Michael at April 26, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, April 25, 2003

Architecture and Sex
Michael: Thanks for putting me onto Hugh Ferriss, the great architectural draftsman and illustrator. (Well, I guess I should say thanks, although you made me spend at least an hour last night when I should have been asleep scouring the web for images of Ferriss’ work.) Although I have a dim memory of an article in my childhood Encyclopedia Britannica on architectural draftsmanship by either Ferriss or one of his imitators, I was largely ignorant of the scope of his accomplishment—yes, I know, a sad admission for a Blowhard. Hugh Ferriss, High Priest of the New York Skyscraper Sex Cult Contemplating his images, my first reaction was the sheer Romance of Ferriss’s vision of New York. Adroitly managing plunging perspective lines, celestial illumination, and carefully parceled out detail, he manages to make New York skyscrapers look, well, pulsating with sex appeal. In his illustrations these buildings, real or imagined, look like altars to a particularly voluptuous primitive religion, bursting with blood and other bodily fluids. Thinking historically (which, to paraphrase J.M.W. Turner, is either my fault or my forte), the wild men of architectural drawing (Ferriss, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, G. B. Piranesi, Antonio Sant'Elia, etc.) all demonstrate the close link between architectural fantasies and sex fantasies. But only Piranesi seems to have been honest enough to admit that these fantasies have a masochistic quality to them, with the building becoming the ultimate dominating authority figure, the god or goddess we can only be overwhelmed by. C. N. Ledoux and G. B. Piranesi-- Wild Men of Architectural Illustration I have much the same reaction when I’m in real life Manhattan. I feel a mix of exhilaration wandering amid the superhuman shapes and oppression at being forced to scurry antlike through mazes of other people's architectural and economic power structures. I guess my ultimate reaction is to prefer such fantasies on paper or via aerial photography in movies or on TV rather than in reality—I found living in New York a bit like being trapped in somebody else’s wet dream. I guess that probably explains why I moved to suburban Los Angeles and why even there I go downtown as rarely as possible. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Ladies, I just wanted you to know that Mr. Ferriss was not quite as exclusively wedded to masculine sexual metaphors as the above might make it seem: he was, on occasion at least, an equal opportunity fantasist:... posted by Friedrich at April 25, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I don't know why I worry
Friedrich -- You're no doubt tired of hearing me complain about how the poohbahs of the architecture world refuse to engage in any critical discussion of such interesting recent developments as the New Urbanism and the New Classicism. And you're right: Why waste energy worrying about the silliness of the poohbahs? They're only choking off their own air passages anyway; all their uptightness accomplishes is to make establishment architecture seem ever more removed from common concerns. Meanwhile, the rest of us -- and god bless us -- seem to be as busy as ever getting on with life. Porphyrios's Grove Quadrangle at Oxford On which theme I did a little idle websurfing today, and in just a few minutes turned up the following: One article in USA Today ( ">here) discussing current efforts that some American cities, towns and neighborhoods are making to become more walkable. New Urbanists are being consulted. Another USA Today article ( ">here) about how many of the old '60s and '70s-era shopping malls are being converted into mini-urban developments along -- you guessed it -- New Urbanist lines. A piece ">here about how Princeton University has signed up the Greek-American-British New Classicist Demetri Porphyrios to build a $100 million new residential quad in collegiate-gothic style. The bulk of the money for the project is coming from Meg Whitman of Ebay, who loved the style when she was a student there, and who says she doesn't want the campus -- which has been cluttered up with a variety of loudly new buildings in recent decades -- to lose its identity. Porphyrios, by the way, is the author of a very good book about classical architecture, buyable here. A gallery of student work from the school of architecture at Notre Dame, here. Although nearly all of America's architecture schools remain modernist in outlook and approach, a few have gone a different route. One is the University of Miami, which has a New Urbanist flavor. Another is Notre Dame, which re-made itself about a decade ago into a traditional Beaux-Arts-style school of architecture, where students immerse themselves in the history of architecture, where they get familiar with traditional forms, and where they actually learn how to draw and render by hand. An article by Catesby Leigh ( ">here), the only American architecture critic to my knowledge to give this kind of work any actual critical consideration, about Leon Krier's Poundbury, a new village in Britain that's being constructed along traditional lines. Sneered at by modernist architects and critics for being Disneylandish, widely expected to prove an embarrassment and a failure, it has in fact turned out to be a spanking success where the houses sell at a premium. According to Leigh, "Tony Blair's New Labour government has directed local planning authorities to consider the village a pattern for environmentally sensible town planning." Could this really be the same Tony Blair who began his tenure as a great sponsor of Richard Rogers' flop-eroo Millenium Dome? Krier's Poundbury All this... posted by Michael at April 24, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tacit Knowledge -- 30
Friedrich -- Much as you do, I enjoy taking note of the rules of thumb people in entertainment, the media and the arts work by. Why? Because they're the folk knowledge of these industries, and because they help people get oriented. I confess I also enjoy the existence of these rules of thumb partly because they confirm a conviction of mine: that art isn't and has never been a matter of free expression, that there are always rules (whether explicit or not) that people play by, and that without rules art play is impossible. In any case, I was thinking about a few such rules of thumb, and was struck by the fact that a few of them shared something in common -- they all concern people turning 30. Here they are. Pop music biz people say that many pop music fans start to lose interest in new pop music at about the age of 30. Book publishing people have told me that it's much easier to make readers in their 20s feel that they really, really have to read the latest hot literary novel than it is to make people over 30 feel any such thing. (The general hunch seems to be that people over 30 have realized that they're no longer in school, that they're free of reading assignments, and that they can now read to please themselves.) The final one comes from movie sound engineers, several of whom told me that it's at about the age of 30 that people start to find loud noises annoying. Younger people find loudness exciting; older people find loud noises downright painful. (In fact, the Dolbyizing of movie theaters is partly to blame for the low level of movie-theater attendance by older people, who just don't like exposing themselves to anything that loud.) Boys, I was also told, find loud noises more exciting than girls. But at about the age of 30, both sexes start to find loud noises annoying, and stop searching them out. I wonder what it is about the age of 30. Any thoughts? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Pic of the Day
Michael: Your posting on Art Deco led me, by some mental alchemy, to remember the architectural drawings of Antonio Sant’Elia. He was an immensely gifted young Italian, associated with Futurism, who cranked out a series of visionary architectural drawings before being killed in World War I at the age of 28. (I’m not aware of his having built anything, but a great many famous architects would be in the same boat if they too had died at 28.) His drawings are simply amazing. The implied tensions, dynamism and thrust are absolutely on a par with the most audacious abstract art. As architecture, however, they leave me with mixed feelings; I suspect I would react to some of his more flamboyant designs (if actually built) with a degree of horror. Several of his designs suggest a kind of 20th century, reinforced concrete version of the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle in the Wizard of Oz. (And they wouldn’t need flying monkeys to seem creepy.) So what does that make Sant’Elia—a proto Fascist? The world’s greatest set designer? (He’d get my vote.) A passionate young man who saw in industrial architecture a metaphor for his own boundless nervous energy? What would he have become had he lived? Would he have become more of a humanist? I don’t know, but it’s fun to speculate. What do you think? Some more of his efforts are in the small thumbnails below. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 24, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Art Deco
Friedrich -- So I notice that there's a big Art Deco show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, here. And there's a lot of press about it, for example here, here, here, and here. Lots of perfectly good coverage. Nothing to get indignant and Blowhardish about, in other words. And I'm thinking: Art Deco! Swanky but populist. Sensual, glamorous, and a little absurd. Evening-out, romantic-date architecture and design ... But I can't do any better than that. Yet I'm eager to pitch in, so I'm searching for a connection. And I remember that, years ago, I took one of those architecture tours of Chicago. And it was really, really, proud-to-be-an-American great -- Chicago's buildings really are everything they're said to be. Most of them, anyway. I remember the thought crossing my mind, "You know, I'm with all of this, all these buildings, they're all so cool, they make my heart beat faster -- right up through Art Deco. And after that? Well, may it all crumble and disappear." In fact, I told the lady at the desk when the tour was over about my reaction, and she told me it wasn't an uncommon one. So, buildings ... Deco ... And I remember that one of my favorite New York buildings is 500 5th, a 1930 Deco charmer by the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates. Fun to walk by. Fun to see from a distance. I've never been inside, I've never talked to anyone who works there, I'm just talking eye candy. And there it is, right across the street from the NY Public Library, looking like a 3D incarnation of a fabulous Deco poster, or the backdrop of a Cary Grant movie. A cocktail dream of a cityscape, all by its lonesome. Everything good And now the brain is beginning to buzz. I've just watched a perfectly OK A&E documentary about the making of the Empire State Building, which was also designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. Amazing stuff. The building was built in two years -- two years! -- using all sorts of innovative techniques. It was proposed before the Depression and finished during the Depression, and it took decades -- decades! -- for it to begin making its investors a little money. For years (years!), the owners employed someone whose job it was to go to all the empty floors after dark and turn the lights on, to give the impression the mostly-empty building was full and busy. OK, it's not that I'm that fond of the Empire State Building in pure design terms. It kind of sits there, huge but dorky. But still, let's face it, this is the Empire State Building. And this Shreve, Lamb & Harmon firm that designed 500 5th as well as the Empire State -- wow, they must really have been something. So I'm looking into them and their work. I click around and poke into websites. And the bottom drops out. The firm does perfectly fine buildings... posted by Michael at April 23, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

One of My Rave Faves
Michael: The New York Times of April 23 has a special section entitled “Museums.” Since museums are some of my favorite places (art, science, history, you name it, I like ‘em all) I eagerly scanned through the piece. While many of the ads and the stories seemed tantalizing to my museum-junky brain, the most intriguing was the ad for—of all places—the Cleveland Museum of Art: I don't know from art, but I know what I like! Not that I have anything against Cleveland’s art museum (I’ve never visited it); it just wasn't an institution I expected to see advertising in the New York Times or one that would showcase Indian sculpture. But if they wanted my attention, they made the right choice. I just love Indian sculpture. I’m crazy about the stuff. The combination of monumentality and cartoon-y design, of significant form and sexiness, of charged energy radiating out into space and the calm self-sufficiency of the design knocks me out. But perhaps the ultimate seductive aspect of this stuff is its ability to be wildly flamboyant (six arms! elephant heads! spherical breasts and buttocks! impossible contortions!) and at the same time totally disinterested in shock or confrontation. I assume that some unique combination of Indian culture, history, religion and whatnot allowed this spectacularly un-prudish—and yet unprurient—art of carnal and spiritual celebration to flourish, but that’s just a guess. Another unique aspect of this art for me is that I’ve never had the slightest interest in “studying” it. I know nothing—nada, zip, zilch, zero—about the artists, the dates, the periods, the styles, the iconography. I just walk around exhibits of this stuff (almost never well attended—I’ve no clue why) with a big smile on my face. Perhaps you remember our conversation during our West Coast Blowhard Convention back a few weeks ago, when we wandered around the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and its whole blissful department of Indian sculpture. As I recall, our conclusion was that on the one hand, this stuff comes awfully close to convincing you that further effort in the art of sculpture is no longer required (everything meaningful having already been accomplished), while on the other, it makes you want to immediately rush out and attack a piece of stone with a hammer and a chisel, it looks so darn fun. I know you have some brilliant pent-up piece about eroticism, India and art in you—when are you going to share it with the world? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 23, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Computer Games and Me Redux
Michael: Given your interest in—and frustration with—video games, perhaps a new direct-to-disc film, “Scourge of Worlds” will intrigue you. It’s an animated sword-and-sorcery flick, apparently drawing heavily on “Dungeons and Dragons.” Okay, I grant you, that doesn’t sound too promising, but the interesting part is that it’s at least partly interactive. According to an April 19 story in the L.A. Times (which you can read here): The movie has multiple breaks in the story’s narrative in which the player must make a decision. Fight or flee? Explore or stand firm? Each decision is registered with the press of a button on a DVD remote controller, which forces the story onto different paths that could include fights with aliens and debates over loyalty and friendship. The movie contains 900 possible story combinations and four different endings. I admit, that got me thinking about whether such a multiple path/multiple ending structure could be utilized in the context of a somewhat more ambitious production. Granted, to date, “literary” fiction and film has generally preferred the straight and narrow linear story path (even if occasionally presented out of order), but that may have been the result of technological limitations. After all, it seems like most highly stylized comedies could work out nicely with alternative story lines. I’m confident that Lawrence Sterne would have written “Tristam Shandy” in a parallel architecture if it had been workable in his day. And I daresay Thomas Hardy would have been enthusiastic about such a structure, because then he could have demonstrated that, no matter what choices his characters (or readers) made, they would all still come to bad ends. Far From Dungeons, Dragons and The Madding Crowd In any event, in what is news to me, the L.A. Times story maintains that interactive formats have been experimented with before, particularly in the porno industry. (I guess I’m just behind the times once again.) I’ve never seen anything in this format, dramatic, erotic or otherwise, but apparently “Scourge of the Worlds” has obtained a distribution deal from Warner Brothers, and will presumably be available at a retail outlet near you. (According to, it will be available for a mere $24.95 on June 10.) Have you ever checked anything like this out? Be interested to hear what you think. (Especially before I chunk out $24.95). Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Another interesting fact from the L.A. Times story—did you know that 87% of the 5600 video and DVD titles released never appeared in a movie theater? The notion of DVDs being a sort of afterthought to a theatrical release is obviously rapidly becoming antique; DVDs seem on the verge of becoming their own medium. I know you're a fan of DVDs--how do you see them evolving?... posted by Friedrich at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friedrich -- Will Duquette writes about how a math/econ/techie guy like himself also keeps up a major interest in reading and writing, here. And be sure to check out the latest issue of Will's book-review publication Ex Libris here. I've thought for years that the desktop metaphor is one of great cultural achievements of the last decades. It's fun, it's attractive, it's instantly-graspable (or almost) and it has made computers useful to millions who'd otherwise avoid them. (Name me one other recent cultural innovation that has accomplished so much. Well, maybe the web itself.) So I've always been puzzled when I've stumbled onto a Big-Think article where some visionary geek was arguing that the desktop metaphor has played itself out, and that it's time to devise a new way to use computers. Sez who? Yahmdallah (here) makes much good sense on the topic. Felix Salmon takes on an earlier posting of mine (here) and argues (here), if I understand him right, that 1) "Literary fiction" exists as a specific kind of writing (no argument from me here), and that 2) It's a better and more significant kind of fiction writing than any other. Hmmm. But it's a provocative posting, and kudos to Felix for making use of book-sales information in his reasoning. There's much yet-to-be-made-use-of wisdom to be dug out of book-sales information. Brian Micklethwait, well-known for his contributions to Samizdata (here) and Brian's Education Blog (here), has finally decided that enough's enough, it's time to get serious about cultureblogging too. So he's begun posting every day here -- which means a fiesta of fresh thinking and entertaining writing for culture-blogsurfers to enjoy. Three blogs! Brian gets my nomination for the hardest working man in the blog business. I'm not the only blogger musing about movies and digital video. Polly Frost (here) has watched Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity," and wonders about where digi-video may be taking the movies. In another posting, here, she asks why the new computerized movie spectacles feel so different than the old "everyone in that crowd scene really was there" spectacles. James Russell (of Hot Buttered Death, here) kicks in some brainy musings of his own in a comment on Polly's posting. I'm amused to see that there are still a few people in the world who are familiar with the work and thinking of the film critic and theorist Andre Bazin. Now there's a name that brings back memories. I'm a big admirer of Judith Martin, the etiquette-advice columnist known as Miss Manners. I take and enjoy her as a philosopher in the practical-and-useful American tradition of Eric Hoffer. (She's very interesting on the role etiquette and manners play in a society.) I also think she's a wonderful writer and public character, and I'm betting that her work will find a place in some future Library of America. (Felix Salmon is betting that it won't.) Of course, I'm also betting that in the future we're likely to have many different Library-of-America-style canons, and not just... posted by Michael at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Computer Games and Me
Friedrich -- Despite age, fatigue, and ever-increasing self-absorption, I still make the occasional effort to get in touch with the directions pop culture seems to be going. Computer games, for instance. Every few years, I go to a videogame parlor and drop a 20 trying games out. (I always wind up at the old-fashioned games, the ones with steering wheels or revolvers. Joysticks confuse me.) After we got our Imac, I watched over the Wife's shoulder as she got very good at Bugdom, the cute game that came with the machine. Remember the hullabaloo some years back about "Myst"? Finally, art and a computer game together, etc etc? I bought it and gave it a try, even if I did quit within 30 minutes. (The game insisted that I solve puzzles before moving on. Fat chance of that.) The Wife and I even watched (if mostly on fast-forward) "Resident Alien," the videogame-based movie that I'm told true videogamers approve of. Let's see ... The up arrow moves me forward, is that right? Idea and artwise, I do get what's interesting about the computer-game experience, or so I like to think. On a more basic level, though, I'm worse than hopeless. Last week, for instance, I became convinced for who knows what reason that what I most needed in life was to give myself the experience of getting really, deeply involved, with a computer game. How would I know what that's like otherwise? So I went out and bought Hexen II, which is said to be pretty good and to work well on pokey ol' Imacs too. I'm willing to put hours into exploring this game, I really am. I load it on the computer, I click into it ... Where's my gun? Er, my sword? Er, my rocket launcher... Ooops, too late. And I'm completely stumped. Back in our day, games came equipped with rules, and these rules were easily accessible, and you learned them before playing the game. With computer games, figuring out the game seems to be the game. Right. So I stare at the screen, jab at some of the keys on my keyboard, and try to puzzle this thing out. There are corridors. There are doors. There's some blah-blah under the embarrassing, movie-wannabe opening credits about something called "levels," and there seems to be some kind of backstory involving bad-fantasy-novel characters whose names I can't remember. I manage to deduce that using the arrow keys will move me through the corridors. But, despite my best efforts, I have yet to be able to fire off a bullet -- or a missile, or fireball, or whatever it is I'm meant to wield. I have yet to be able to defend myself, in other words, let alone actually get anywhere. Only a minute or two after I set out, Darth Vaderesque bad guys blast me into a zillion polygons. Once again, I feel like I'm trapped and helpless in someone else's nightmare database. So I went Googling for... posted by Michael at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Monday, April 21, 2003

Women and Men, Chapter 7,623,088
Friedrich -- Do you have any luck getting your wife to talk about ideas, art and politics? I pretty much have to put a headlock on mine in order to make such conversations happen -- this despite the fact that she's far more interesting, more sensitive, and more insightful than I am. Left to her own devices, though, she'd spend 90% of our conversation time talking about her feelings, pulling apart relationships, and discussing the maintenance and upkeep of her own wonderful self. (The rest of the time she'd spend talking about food.) But the really awe-inspiring thing is the way she takes any attempt on my part to get the conversation on to any other topic as something cosmically unjust. What's normal and just is talking about feelings, etc., while any desire of mine for, say, a casual exchange about the morning's headlines is apparently a perverse quirk, and barely to be tolerated. As corny a guys=Mars/gals=Venus cliche as this is, there you have it. I do notice one thing that might qualify as an original perception: while her hours of gabbing about relationships etc leave me feeling drained and exhausted, they leave her feeling all charged up -- stoked. From which I deduce that, in the Wife's mind, the right and proper thing is for the man to burn himself up and be left a charred husk so that his woman might spend an hour or two feeling good about herself. I got the Wife's consent to run this posting, by the way. I asked if it would be OK to write and post it. She gave me one of those "men will ruin everything unless you watch them carefully" looks, then said, "As long as you let everyone know how much you love me." (I do, I do!) And then we had a good, long, searching talk about how she's been feeling about herself recently. Best, if a trifle charred-huskish, Michael... posted by Michael at April 21, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

Policy Break--Traffic Congestion Charges
Michael: I don’t know about you, but I’ve been following the news of London’s initiative to reduce traffic in the most congested part of the city eagerly. Why? Because living in Los Angeles, which is gradually grinding to a halt, traffic-wise, I’ve long been fascinated by any attempt to introduce rational resource allocation to the automotive transportation sector. London Traffic in the Pre-Congestion Charge Era In February, Transport for London started charging cars five pounds (roughly $8) to enter a 21-square-kilometer zone in the central city from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. At least in the short term, the result seems to have been a 20% reduction in the number of cars entering the zone and roughly the same reduction in street traffic. The scheme is enforced by the presence of hundreds of cameras that automatically capture license plates and compare them to a database of payment records. According to a Reuters story (which you can read here): These days, cabbies marvel at record journey times across town, while some pedestrians claim even the air they breathe seems less polluted. Politically, of course, the move was simplified by the fact that London’s central city contains its financial district, thus creating the impression that people being hit up for the daily charge could afford to pay it. London Traffic in the Post Traffic Congestion Charge Era Regrettably, this is in contrast to the situation found in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. There, many of the most high-mileage users of the freeway system are the less affluent, who have moved to more distant suburbs in order to find affordable housing. This same pattern seems to have prevented the use of similar traffic congestion charges in other major cities as well. One Solution to Current L.A. Traffic Congestion--Are There Better Ones? However, it seems to me that this problem could be resolved by stealing an idea from pollution management schemes. During high congestion times, cars would be charged for using the superhighways; this would be paid for with allowances. Everyone would be grandfathered with allowances for the number of mile-days equal to what they drove last year. People could buy and sell such mile-day allowances via a central exchange. However, in every transaction, some fraction of the units would expire (say 10%). That way, people for whom allowances are worth more (say, trucking companies) would buy additional allowances, but the total number of mile-days in the system would, over time, decrease. In the pollution control field, this approach has been quite effective in both reducing the total amount of pollutants going into the atmosphere and in getting individual polluters to reduce their emissions. Hopefully in the world of traffic control, this plan would encourage fewer cars on the road by getting people to think about how to reduce their need for driving on superhighways (like shopping and working locally) and by shifting traffic demand from rush hour to less congested times of day. (I’ve seen studies that put the number... posted by Friedrich at April 21, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments