November 1, 2002

Nov 01 2002

I’m having one of those days where all I want to do is write. This is probably a result of staying up until 5:30 a.m. last night, watching all sorts of films.

So, let’s play the List Of Films Watched By The Blog Author Game. Everyone else does it.

  • Series 7 (official website, reviews) is a devastating parody of reality TV, which is surprising considering it predates the reality TV craze. In any event, the film presents itself as a marathon of episodes of The Contender, a reality TV show where every player gets a gun, and the last one remaining alive wins. What’s interesting is how everyone reacts to this — families splinter, relationships are strained, people go berzerk, and the camera’s greedily slurping it up the whole time. As Ebert puts it, “It leaves you with time to think about television, celebrity and shame.”
  • Some films are wonderfully horrible experiences in campy, cheesy moviemaking. Where fantasy swordplay is represented by muscular guys swinging blunt pieces of metal in roughly their opponent’s direction. Where special effects don’t even match the action on the screen. It’s so bad, it’s fun to watch and catch all the mistakes. Well, Iron Warrior (this hilarious review is worth reading; a quote: “Now that we’ve grown resigned to this band of freaks, the plot starts.”) sort of falls into that category, but mostly, it’s just really really bad. The jump-cuts were so sudden I got whiplash. One character says, “You must go to the Island of Sistra,” and we immediately cut to the heroes there on the island, walking down a mineshaft. Smooth. And the plot literally makes no sense; the characters fall down a cliff and wake up in a cave. And no, no magic is involved. But on the other hand, there are good bits to this film: the swordplay looked good to my eyes (the fighters actually parried and attacked weaknesses), and the actors probably could have pulled off good performances if they’d had anything to work with. Instead, most of the dialog consists of lines like “You have saved me, Ator!” Ouch.
  • My parents have grown a strong appreciation for Bruce Willis’ work, and so we ended up watching most of Unbreakable. I still think that it’s a very strong film marred by overlong shots and possibly the most ill-conceived ending in the history of motion pictures.
  • What got me into all this was a late-night showing of Nosferatu. I’ve been curious about it for years, having seen lots of little references to it, which is impressive for an eighty-year-old horror flick. And I am impressed. Unfortunately, most of the film suffers from too much bad 20′s-era overacting, and a sense that everything’s very staged (the camera rarely varies from a bland head-height angle), particularly compared to Metropolis five years later and the astonishingly modern All Quiet on the Western Front only three years after that. But those issues aside, Nosferatu clearly tries to be a spectacle, a unique work of film. Many of its little special effects — simple as they are — are effective even today; Nosferatu’s rise from his coffin has been endlessly imitated, but still creeped me out. And Max Schreck’s portrayal of the title character is magnificent. As the count, he is a doddering old creep. As the physical vampire, he is otherworldly. As the ghostly manifestation, he is mysterious and even impish (I was particularly struck by one shot in which his ghostly image grins nastily at a horrified sailor). So, there’s lots to be impressed by; it’s a shame that the overall presentation can be difficult to sit through.
  • I also caught a bit of Halloween, which still amazes me for the fact that it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen and has no blood (except for a bit at the end). Incredible.
  • And this isn’t film, but the reason I was up for that long was the Monty Python’s Flying Circus marathon. Can’t get enough of dead parrots, cheese shops, and cross-dressing Englishmen.

It’s funny how one’s opinions change. At one time, I would’ve rooted for The Point Not Taken, agreeing totally with the author. But now…I think something’s wrong with his arguments.

I generally agree with the first half of the article: If an average user has to choose an operating system, s/he is not going to be worrying about whether it can run some specific Mac-oriented piece of software like Quark Xpress. And this is an important point when discussing the viability of an OS for average users.

But one of the problems with this concept is something that Joel Spolsky points out about Microsoft Word: While nobody uses more than 10% of the features, everyone uses a different 10%. Your average user may not care about Quark Xpress, but there may be some other piece of software that s/he is really interested in running, like iMovie. There’s a major fallacy in believing that “average users” only want basic software.

But it’s the author’s final statements that really struck me as flawed:

“In the end, the point is not whether or not Mac OS X can serve a particular “speciality” community best (such as publishing), but rather if it can serve the average user best. So far, no one has been able to argue that this is the case, and for good reason — the average user is unlikely to need any features that Mac OS X has that GNU/Linux does not.

“And if that’s the case, why choose a proprietary — and expensive — system over one that is Free as in both freedom and price?”

— Timothy R. Butler, Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business

I’ll tell you why: the word Linux.

“Average” users are intimidated by that word. You may claim that installation and system use are easy, but there are too many horror stories to convince average users. Linux is perceived as too technical.

Heck, this works for MacOS, too. People associate the words “Apple” and “the Macintosh” with ease-of-use and attractive interfaces.

Butler seems to be operating under the assumption that operating systems are chosen on technical merits alone. Not so. Even if Linux is trivially easy to install and use, it’s seen to be difficult to install and use.

One of the big problems I see in the Linux advocacy community is the lack of real end-user tests of Linux. I read of testimonials written by five-year Linux veterans who proclaim that Linux is so much easier to install and use than it has been. Great. But give a fifty-year-old secretary a Red Hat CD and see what happens. I think that a lot of Linux advocates would be surprised.

OTOH, Butler isn’t alone in believing this, and it isn’t limited to the Linux community. When people are hunkered down and staring at the nitty-gritty details of a project incessantly, they lose the ability to ascend above and get a more detached view of the project.

What’s the point? Resist community fervor in technical projects. Communities are great, but they tend to present a myopic view of community projects. Specialization is for insects.

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