Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quicker, Easier, More Seductive

At work we're planning to switch from Java to .Net, because we're switching our existing Java portal for a .Net portal (both proprietary, by the way). We've received books and a short time in the future the portal vendor will send someone out for a three-day training in portlet development. As time and duties allow, I've been skipping around in the books, researching various .Net resources and projects online, and trying out some code just to test my growing understanding. We don't have official development environments set up, so no Visual Studio .Net 2003 on my computer yet. 2005 appears to not be recommended by the vendor since the portal hasn't yet been ported to .Net 2.0. It seems to me that any modern tool should be able to target a particular platform version, but whatever.

I do have to say that, even without Visual Studio, the books and the code that I have experimented with give the impression that the ASP.Net framework has its act together. There are web controls, validation controls, the ability to make custom controls. Each control "knows" what it has to generate on the page and it exposes clear properties or attributes to make it fit into a given situation. And the programming model is all event-driven, with the server firing events from controls in a predictable manner. (Hmm, suddenly I don't think this resemblance to JSF is accidental...) C# is Java but without its warts. Then there's Boo, which I found just earlier today. Boo is Python for the .Net CLR but without its warts. .Net has a large number of third-party controls floating around to experiment with, in addition to Java doppelgangers NHiberate, NAnt, iBatis, etc. The .Net API has so much thrown in, and it makes data access and binding simple enough, that there may not be as much call for external libraries or frameworks.

I'm not convinced that this .Net approach of closely coupling code to page components is better for maintainability than a clean separation from View to Action (*cough* WebWork *cough*). Meaning, I'm not sure this .Net approach is more powerful, but I can say that even without Visual Studio it seems quicker, easier, and more seductive than the usual Java EE.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reaction to the Spider-Man 3 teaser trailer

Short form: wow. Long form: Unless the trailer is being purposefully deceptive, a lot of the grandiose hints and guesses on the web appear to have been right! Don't knock yourselves over patting yourselves on the back, fellas. The Goblin, Sandman, creeping dark oozy costume. Only anyone who thought the Lizard would make it in will be disappointed. (Well, also those who were expecting the Beetle).

As someone whose main exposure to Spider-Man was through (one of) the animated series, I am stoked. That series introducted Venom through a three-episode story that left such an impression on me that I bought the DVD. The downside of these episodes is the low-budget but still adequate quality of the animation.

Here's a summary of the important points: a moving alien ooze, which in reality is a sentient symbiote, makes contact with Spidey at a space shuttle crash. It acts as a dark but shapeshifting costume that obeys his thoughts while also taking the initiative to be protective of him. More importantly, it increases his superpowers to an intoxicating degree. Peter revels in his newfound majesty, but at the same time his moods and attitudes take a turn for the worst. New levels of aggressiveness, selfishness, and peevishness change his actions and inner monologue. Only when he realizes how he is alienating all the people in his life as Parker, and how close he comes to needlessly pulverizing his supervillain opponents, does he force the costume off him using loud noise. The costume finds a host who happens to hate Spider-Man with as much passion as it does. The two merge to become Venom, a villain with all the power that Spidey had when he was wearing the costume. Meaning anything Spider-Man can do, Venom can do better. Venom commences a systematic campaign to scare and torment both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. In the end, Spider-Man wins by luring Venom to a shuttle launch, using himself as bait. The noise weakens and forces the costume off its new host so Spidey can attach the symbiote to the shuttle and wave it goodbye.

I think the reason the story is so compelling to me is because the symbiote is a metaphor for the use and abuse of power/pride. People can flaunt it, try to use it to lord over others, pursue it desperately for the sake of survival, or just fall in love with it to the expense of all else. Unfortunately, power can also corrupt the user, and leave him or her alone with a resulting mountain of regrets. Since the power-corrupted can only view others as below him or her, there can be none of the healthy relationships that form among equals. Although power is a potent drug, seeming to offer freedom from fear, it's nothing without morality to moderate it so it doesn't devour itself.

If the movie taps into this same theme for the symbiote costume (the destructiveness of: 1. power, 2. the exercise of power, and 3. the pursuit of power), well, here's a preemptive I told you so.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In praise of the Smartly Stupid

I've been watching episodes of the Sam and Max cartoon lately. I like it a lot, but I have trouble classifying its best moments of humor. Are they stupid or smart? Well...neither.
  • Stupid humor takes no effort to understand and probably not much effort to create. There's not necessarily anything wrong with this. The problem is that it gets old quick, if your mind is engaged (if you're tired or lightheaded it's easy to just laugh away). Think fart jokes and slapstick. Humor that sucker punches you in the gut.
  • Smart humor required the listener to mentally walk through a maze of thought connections to understand the punchline. It takes a clever person to make a good joke of this kind. Unfortunately, this type of humor can be exhausting and confusing. Moreover, some of these jokes can be so obscure that only listeners with the right preexisting knowledge will have even a clue as to why the joke is funny at all.
Of course, the Sam and Max show had its share of stupid or gross humor. For the record, I stopped finding armpit noises funny a long time ago. But the jokes I liked best were the ones that weren't stupid but also weren't complicated. The Smartly Stupid. A smartly stupid joke consists of taking a simple, everyday concept and putting an imaginative, unexpected spin on it. These jokes don't require you to think (hard), but make you think (and laugh). For instance, "an idle mind is the devil's monkey bars". Take a familiar saying, twist it, and it's funny. "I never dreamed we could have so much fun and still be suitable for young viewers!" The smartly stupid is stupid humor that doesn't insult your intelligence. Zoolander talks about being a "eugoogilizer" at a funeral. Bugs escapes his pursuer by twisting reality itself. The thread of smartly stupid runs through a lot of the entertainment I enjoy.

Bonus link for Belgian turlingdromes: a frackling list of frelling fictional swear words for your kriffing use. Ah, shavit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Ridiculous Language Hang-up

Is it really so insane that I'm annoyed by the lack of third-person plural pronouns for mere objects as opposed to people? One person is a he or she or him or her, but one gender-neutral object is an it. More than one person is they or them, but more than one object is also they or them! Such a tiny inconsistency in language rules shouldn't bother me, but there it is. Just group objects together and then you can treat them like syntactic people. Offend someone by calling him or her "it", but who takes offense on behalf of the innocent objects who get called "they"? I do, that's who! Oh curses, those nice young men in the white suits are approaching me with restraints again. I'm so sorry for thinking outside the language box . After all, it's all doubleplusgood .

Monday, June 19, 2006

Xmen III gets well-deserved Editing Room treatment

The Editing Room recently made one of its "Abridged Scripts" for X-Men III. If you don't mind a lot of creative profanity/crude humor, and you've already seen the movie, have a look . It matched most of my own opinions. I know nobody would visit this blog solely for links, since I know there are much better places to visit for gathering Web links (BoingBoing, Digg, Metafilter, etc.), so here's some original content: my unsolicited opinion.

Good things about X-Men III:
  • The mutants get to do a lot of flying. This may seem trivial, but considering how many people have actually dreamed about being able to fly, it really isn't.
  • Good visual effects. I like to see mutants toss cars around. 'Nuff said.
  • Juggernaut and Beast made it in. See below in the other list for why this is also a bad thing.
  • Grand, epic battles. Some people complained about the first X-Men not having enough action. No chance of those complaints this time.
  • Deaths, both physical and metaphorical (cured mutants). I'm not a fan of tragedies in which everyone dies at the end, but a death or two can up the emotional ante.
  • Phoenix. Constant muttering about mutants "levels" aside, the raw power of Phoenix came through loud and clear. Giving Famke more screen time is another plus.
Bad things about X-Men III:
  • Juggernaut and Beast were disappointing. Maybe Juggernaut's size just doesn't translate well from the comic to the movie. And his lines were sort of funny, I guess, but it made me long for his performance in Snatch as Bullet-Tooth Tony. Beast looked fine, although once again there's a "size"-able difference between the comic and the movie. I was hoping Beast's personality and intelligence would be showcased more. Give Frasier something more to chew on.
  • Other new mutants. They just came off as lame. I'd rather keep more of the old ones alive than toss in those.
  • Too few of the great character moments or sly in-jokes from the first two movies that reminded us the mutants were people - a general slump in dialogue quality.
  • The frantic, overstuffed pace. Maybe this could be blamed on the director switch or one too many script writers. In any case, the movie tried to include too many fan-pleasing elements in too short a movie. Then again, if the movie had been longer, I imagine more would have just been packed in to compensate.
  • Spotlight on Storm, or should I say Halle Berry. Yay, Storm has a lot to do. She gets to have personal growth. Whoop-de-friggin-do. The Editing Room's abridged script zeroes in on this point perfectly and then obliterates it.
With all that said, I enjoyed the movie. Whether it'll stand up to repeated viewing as well as the other X-Men movies, only time will tell. (I have a sickening feeling that I'll watch its DVD by skipping over the more melodramatic Storm parts just as I skip over the Jar Jar parts when I break out Phantom Menace for nostalgia watching).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Spider Riders? Seriously?

Maybe what I'm about to point out isn't news to people who keep track of such things, but I have just concluded that most anime kids shows consist of the same set of endlessly rehashed story elements.

Let's make one, right now. It can be like mad libs.
  1. Alternate reality - a universe inside a refrigerator.
  2. Main character(s) - one spiky-haired heroic kid and one nerdy kid with big glasses.
  3. Proxy entities that do battle - pickles.
  4. A long line of cannon fodder enemies - those damn dirty spuds.
  5. Enemy kingpin with super ultimate great power - lasagna.
  6. Title - Gherkin Warriors.
Feel free to steal this idea. Hmm, it's even better if the proxy entities are deceptively small and cute. "I choose you, baby dill!" "I invoke the power of the hamburger slice!" Perhaps there could be some elaboration on how the pickles view the pickling process. Would it be like birth? Maybe it is a great honor to be pickled into a warrior. I could go on and on.

Art Imitates Life, or Life Imitates Art, er...

I was looking to kill some time earlier today, so I half-watched an episode of Matlock because it had Don Knotts in it according to my MythTV computer. That episode also had Drew Carey. Not Drew Carey , but "Drew Carey", an annoying, abrasive minor character that Matlock had the bad luck of representing. It was unintentionally funny hearing Matlock complain about not being able to restrain Drew Carey in the courtroom. Of course, it got old really fast, seeing as how it was an episode of Matlock. I ended up skipping to the sections with Knotts, watching them somewhat wistfully (he's dead, dont-cha-know). There was a scene at the end in which Matlock was sitting side by side on a small piece of furniture with whatever character Knotts was, and the two of them were drinking wine. It was a little uncomfortable to watch...

Sad to say, this isn't the first time I've been sucked into watching Matlock. The other time was because it was an episode with Terry O'Quinn. He played an eccentric rich guy (as I've heard, poor people are crazy but rich people are eccentric) who taunts Matlock by telling him about his murder plans ahead of time. It was a pretty good episode, actually.

No, I'm not an old fart like Abe Simpson for talking about Matlock once. This will be the only time.

First post!

I thought it might be fun to have a blog. I will try to not babble on about the insignificant string of occurences which is my everyday life. My purpose here is not to promote myself, but to provide a public avenue of expression. So I'll only post as I feel like it, about whatever topics I feel like...if anyone actually reads this, that would be dandy.