Two out of Three Ain't Bad

I appear to have just finished updating Horton to Leopard. I upgraded Kool-Aid yesterday so now Tiny God is my only Tiger holdout. (As an aside, if anybody is having any trouble with hiddenjester email addresses please let me know. The web should be fine - the web server is still on a linux box as of this writing.)

I'm undecided about Tiny God. In a lot of ways it is the machine I'm most interested in upgrading, but it's also the machine that is most likely to not work. I know of two outstanding things that concern me. The first is that the Leopard compatible verison of VMWare Fusion is a "Release Candidate". The second is that Missing Sync has a message about things not being fully compatible.

There are a few other features of the Fusion RC that I'd like to have anyway, so I'm likely to try to upgrade Fusion under Tiger. Then I guess I'll just have to decide whether Missing Sync is "compatible enough" for my purposes.

I have to say, I just tried the "Back To My Mac" screen sharing between the two Leopard machine and it made me smile. I want to go to a coffee shop tomorrow, just to confirm it's really working across the internet at large.

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Daring Fireball: Blue in the Face

Unsanity’s response more or less boils down to, APE users should check for updates and upgrade to the latest version. That’s fine advice for any user who has knowingly installed APE, but the biggest problem seems to be that many of these blue screen sufferers had no idea APE was installed on their system. How could that be? The most common route is Logitech Control Center, the mouse “driver” software from Logitech. “Driver” in quotes because it’s utterly absurd and completely irresponsible for Logitech to base their mouse software on a completely and utterly unsupported-by-Apple system software modification. (If any readers are aware of other software that installs APE behind the scenes, please let me know.)
Daring Fireball: Blue in the Face Oh dear. So in the discussion of "Why I'm not rushing to install Leopard" I can add that I in fact use a Logitech mouse and have APE installed on my system - unknowingly so. Now I probably have a "new-enough" version installed, I'm having some trouble figuring that out. But nonetheless, it took three days for the fact that Logitech users would get nailed with this to surface. Boo on Logitech to be sure, but I'm still glad to have waited.

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Robot Monkey

The whole ridiculous situation was not my fault. If it hadn’t been for the Zoo Plagues of 2030’s the whole SimuApe project wouldn’t have existed and I wouldn’t have been programming robot gorillas in the first place. I wasn’t even alive in 2038 when Bobo, The Last Primate, died in the Tokyo zoo. It’s been over a century now that man was the only ape to walk the Earth, and it was touch and go whether we were going to make the cut ourselves for a while.

My fiancée Jill had thought the whole project was ridiculous from the first day she’d heard of it. “But Robert, another four years and you’ll have tenure.” she had told me.

“Sure. And that’s a license to stagnate for another forty-fifty years. Do you have any idea how cutting-edge the whole idea is? Long term autonomous non-human robots? Ten years from now artificial behaviorists will be split into people working on one of the SimuZoos and the old fogeys out to pasture.” I said, perhaps overstating the case. “Only when your field is academic they don’t call it ‘pasture’, they call it ‘tenure’.”

Jill giggled. “You can make it sound as noble as you want dear, but it still amounts to programming a robot monkey. It’s the opening act of a Godzilla movie, not some noble calling.”

“I disagree.” I shook my head while fighting back my own grin. “OK, sure I have to admit my inner twelve year old boy is clapping his hands and yelling ‘Robot Monkey!’, but it is a noble goal. If we succeed we’ll be able to unfreeze genetic material and create baby apes. Those apes will be raised by the SimuApes and in a generation we can have real wildlife again. What’s not noble about that?”

“Right.” Jill rolled her eyes. “I think your inner twelve year old just has gotten better at rationalizing.” Jill said, but the twinkle in her eye told me she wasn’t upset anymore.

***

CRASH!

I jumped as another barrel rolled off the the lab table at the far side of the room. Just where the hell had he gotten barrels from anyway? OK, maybe I shouldn’t have named the first full size beta unit Kong, and I’m sure the inevitable review board would probably conclude that my monkey database shouldn’t have included the old Peter Jackson film, much less the selections from classic video game history. That had been a late night whim, but it was tagged as fiction. SimuApes were only supposed to use the fiction stores when interacting with humans. I thought it might cause some funny interchanges at most. I guess the current situation might be seen as funny, if you weren’t me. Or Jill. Or any of my team. The media hadn’t decided how to cover this yet. If I shut Kong down safely we’d be the funny local color news story. If somebody died . . . well, I guess if somebody died it would likely be me so I wouldn’t care much.

The behavioral test labs had a huge domed area that was intended to allow for creation of long term habitats. But we weren’t even scheduled for those tests for another two years, so the biome had not yet been seeded. Kong had somehow raided the labs for raw materials and built this ridiculous contraption straight from our cultural unconscious. I scanned over the welded tables and lab carts as yet another barrel dropped down with a loud clang.

Kong had obviously planned his move well. Over the holidays we had shut the lab down for two weeks. For that matter Kong should have been in sleep mode. I hoped the review board remembered to look into who left a lonely SimApe online in an unmonitored lab! When we came back to work after the New Years holiday we were surprised to be locked out of the lab. It was six hours before Kong let us into Biome 1. As for how Jill got here . . . well Kong must have snatched her as she headed in to the university this morning. Which means he had learned to drive, and hadn’t even been around when the hacker boys were trying to convince the lab monitors to unlock an entrance.

Look, I didn’t study all that classic game crap closely. What kind of madmen made video games where monkeys raced go-karts against each other? I had to look up what a go-kart was in order to even know how much sense that failed to make. At any point, it was water under the bridge. Kong had gotten out, and he had snatched Jill, and he had built this crazy re-creation of “Donkey Kong”. Now my fiancée was perched up there on the top level screaming her head off. And I could totally tell she was going to blame all of this on me later.

Kong wouldn’t let me approach any closer until I put on the ridiculous costume. Red overalls, spotless white gloves and a silly little beret with a ‘M’ emblazoned on it. Apparently in the dawn of gaming this “Mario” character was extremely popular, but it all began with “Donkey Kong”. The false mustache in particular I felt was uncalled for. But Kong insisted, and he did have Jill hostage, so I had no choice but to play along.

My team had been frantically playing this old 2d flatscreen game, getting a handle on what Kong was playing at. I was just glad that I had’t seen anything on fire. There was an area inside the dome airlock painted off that said “1P Start”. We gathered that Kong wanted me to stand inside it. I didn’t want anything to do with it, but then Karl pointed out that some of the smaller Apes were building a new structure that looked suspiciously like level two of the damn game. Hopefully I could rescue Jill before it was finished. And as soon as I got close enough I would blast Kong with an override shutdown code, just as soon as I confirmed that Jill was safe.

I walked through the door and stood defiantly in the start area with my knees knocking in fear and anticipation. The foreboding mono music played over the loudspeakers. And just as I stepped forward the barrel behind me burst into flames. Crap! I guess I was just lucky Kong couldn’t reproduce the crazy intro sequence. If he had climbed a series of ladders with Jill tucked under one arm I’d be in even more trouble. If that’s even possible. I started forward toward the first ladder when I received another nasty surprise. Kong threw a blue barrel down, but it skidded sideways and stuck to the edge of the top row. I squinted and could just barely make out thin robotic arms clinging to the lip. Kong had reprogrammed some of the maintenance ‘bots and put them inside the barrels! The blue barrel clambered/dropped down behind me and jumped into the barrel of fire. I quickly climbed the ladder as the barrel ‘bot emerged, now cloaked in blue natural-gas flame. This was really going entirely too far!

“Look out!” Michael cried in my earpiece. I had worn Kong’s silly costume, but we had snuck an wireless earpiece inside the hat so I could communicate with my team. I turned to see a second robo-barrel that had careened down to my level. Luckily above me hung a large hammer suspended by a nearly invisible cable. I grabbed the hammer and began smashing it into the tabletop “floor” in front of me. The speakers blared out some different music and the robo-barrel obligingly jumped away as soon as I crashed the hammer down upon it.

“Nice work, Bob. But now you can’t climb a ladder until the hammer wears off.” Michael said.

“Screw that. This isn’t a game, that’s real fire Kong is playing with.” I muttered into my throat mike. But as I reached for the ladder both the ladder and the hammer shocked me! Kong apparently had programmed the environment to enforce his crazy rules. I frowned and almost absently tapped the next barrel with the hammer.

“Time is up . . . now!” Michael said and sure enough the hammer shocked me again. I tossed it away, noticing that another cleaning robo t scurried out from a hutch and picked up the hammer. Damn Kong anyway!

Without the hammer I could safely climb the ladder. Well, safely in the context of “trapped in a reenactment of an ancient video game by an insane robot monkey” anyway. I realize most people wouldn’t characterize that as “safe” but I didn’t have time to think about it as another damn barrel-bot rolled towards me.

“We’ve analyzed the kinetics. Jump on my mark and it should work. Wait . . . and MARK!” Michael said. I jumped as hard as I could. It was immediately obvious that Kong may have replicated the timing of this ancient amusement, but my physique was not up to the task. Luckily the barrel-bot sped up and actually seemed to shrink, gliding just under my heels before I landed heavily. I pumped my fist in the air and grinned maniacally at Jill and Kong, barely visible three levels above me.

“That’s right. 100 points, boyo! Jill, I’m coming to rescue you!” I yelled as I dashed past a broken ladder and watched the shadows from overhead barrels. As one rolled past the good ladder I bolted up another level. Two left!

More confident now I jumped another barrel and then climbed to the penultimate level. There was another hammer to my left and I grabbed it, smashing another couple of barrels before coming to rest just to the left of the only complete ladder at this level. This ladder, than one more to reach the short platform where Jill stood. I swarmed up the ladder quickly and glared at Kong. I honestly didn’t know if Kong had built the scale of this “level” to suit, but I had the remote tucked in my ridiculous, stereotypical overalls and Kong’s built-in data receiver had a range such that all I had to do was reach Jill. At that point where I would finish the level was just inside the range where I could shut Kong down. And frankly, once he was down I was prepared to EMP the crap out of his fucking barrel-accomplice-bots.

It was almost anticlimactic really. I jumped one more barrel with Michael’s timing help and climbed the last ladder. I clutched Jill to my side and triumphantly zapped Kong with my override remote. Now in the game there should be a big heart overhead, which breaks as Kong climbs away and grabs the girl. Kong didn’t get that part simulated right I guess. Jill slapped me so hard my ears rang. As I saw stars overhead I would have sworn I heard Kong grate out one phrase as he fell down. It’s not on the recordings, and Michael insists I imagined it. Nonetheless I know what I heard. As Kong toppled he said a phrase that sent a chill down my spine.

“How high can you get? That was only 25 meters Bob.”

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Spook Country Reviewed

I gloated about receiving Spook Country but I never got around to reviewing it. So let's remedy that, shall we?

For once I don't have to babble about sequels and what I'm going to spoil and what I'm not. Although SC is loosely tied to Pattern Recognition it's not really necessary to read PR before SC. If you've read PR there are a few points where you go "Aha, I get that reference." but you won't be lost if you haven't.

I mentioned in the previous post that I frequently find it a struggle to empathize with Gibson characters and that SC aggravates this by having three POV (Point Of View) characters. I have to admit I never did establish any rapport for one of the main characters (Milgrim) and that was a problem for me.

Overall, I'm not thrilled with Spook Country. It's an alright read, but it may be my least favorite Gibson book. There are several problems I had with it. First off, there's a plot thread running through it that involves virtual reality gear and it feels a little too much like somebody trying to write Gibson, if that makes sense. Part of the problem is that it's set very specifically in 2006, and that means he's got no wiggle room for the technology. It's not a question of suspension of disbelief, it's a question of whether he nails the historical information and I didn't really feel he that he did.

Second, this is the second Gibson book to have a lot of oblique references to September 11th. In PR it was still sort of a fresh thing to deal with in fiction. Not anymore. I used to like to watch Dennis Miller when he was on HBO, but I think he was permanently broken by 9/11. I kept thinking of Miller while reading SC - I really hope the next Gibson book doesn't mention 9/11 at all. In PR it worked and there was a unique plot thread tied to it. In SC it feels to me like he's just gotten . . . stuck somehow.

Lastly, I don't think I like GIbson writing contemporary fiction. He's not a technologist, he's actually sort of famously almost-Luddite - the whole thing about writing on a typewriter well after everyone else went digital and so forth. I accepted the modern setting in Pattern Recognition because it was a strong story. I'd argue that what Gibson does well is to evoke foreign places and extrapolate trends. He nails how London appears to an American in PR. I've never been to Japan but everyone who has tells me that his Tokyo is incredibly authentic. Moving into cyberspace (to be a little 1984'ish for a moment - fitting when discussing Gibson) his description of online forums in PR is just perfect. But for me Spook Country doesn't cover foreign cities, it's all New York or L.A. I was dubious about the modern setting when I started PR, but it won me over. Oddly enough that process was reversed for SC - I went in expecting another Pattern Recognition and got something . . . less.

Again, not bad but not what I hoped it would be either. I don't want to sound too down on it, I enjoyed reading Spook Country. I was just hoping for great and I got OK.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Seven

I actually finished the book yesterday, but we had dinner plans and I had to rush out as soon as I put the book down. Then I thought I'd address something "quick" this morning and it took all day. (sigh).

So the Epilogue closes at page 759. I thought about stopping at page 700 to blog, but frankly there was a big fight and I was running out of time. It got a bit confusing, but I think there were eight deaths in this installment. There's a mention of 50 bodies at one point, but I'm pretty sure the named deaths are more on the order of 8.

Now that I'm done, what do I think of it? Well I'm glad to have read it. It's a bit long, I think some tighter editing would have been beneficial. There is an Epilogue and I think that it is rubbish. The Epilogue didn't address the things I would have been interesting in seeing addressed. I read a comment online that the Epilogue seemed written with the screenplay in mind - it could run underneath the credits. I think that's a fair assessment, I'm not sure that's why it was written but it certainly has that Hollywood beat-about-the-obvious sort of finale to it. I don't like any of the "teen angst" plot threads of the last three Potter books, and this is no exception. The teen angst is reduced compared to book six though, so that's a minor complaint. The "Deathly Hallows" seemed unnecessary to me - it felt very much like she didn't have a "Harry Potter and the Foo" title ready, so she jammed in something the story didn't really need. Very little of the book takes place at Hogwarts and it's something I missed. Hogwarts is for all intents and purposes at the core of the series, almost as much a character as Harry himself. I don't think there's a single scene in the Gryffindor common room, for example. The deaths that really tug at the heart-strings are oddly placed and odd characters to boot.

Overall, I don't think it was as good as book six, but it's a worthwhile conclusion to the series. This is sort of a silly discussion - if you've read the first six books, you'll read book seven. I could almost agree with somebody stopping after book five, but only almost. Six is good enough to redeem the series, and I might not like seven as much as six, but I liked it better than five. Does that help anyone?

Anyway, that's my book excitement for almost three weeks (Amazon says 17 days until I get Spook Country, which I'm excited about, but probably won't rip through in the same fashion I devoured the Harry Potter.)*

*For those wondering why I know how many days until I get Spook Country there' a fabulous Dashboard Widget for OS X called Delivery Status which lets me put a widget up for upcoming dleiveries. It will send messages to Growl as well. So when I said to myself "How long for Spook Country?" I just clicked my middle mouse button, read the status, and clicked again to dismiss the Dash. I know it's sort of cool amongst the internet kids to hate on the Dash, but I like being able to hide a bunch of stuff behind a "click to see" veil. I'll be curious to see how Dashboard and Spaces interact once Leopard ships.

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