Monday, April 20, 2009

When Will Then Be Now? Soon!

Not American Violet. Or Lemon Tree. Also not Is Anybody There? Not even freaking Tyson, which is Sony Classics (not that that means anything to anyone). Wouldn't a Michael Caine picture be obvious at a theatre where so much of the clientele actually ponders the pros and cons of signing up for the life insurance that Alex Trebek pimps on daytime TV commercials? How about a movie in which the lead actress - a Palestinian! - won an award for her work from the Israeli Film Academy? Amy heard a piece on NPR last week about the film American Violet, and she was interested, and I'm sure she wasn't the only one. Naturally, she asks me if I think it will play Indianapolis, and what do I have to tell her? "Well, gee, if more people in New York had gone to see it..."


Saturday, April 18, 2009

NIH Draft Guidelines For Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding

As you may have heard, President Obama overturned the restrictive Bush-era “policy” - which was really an effective ban - on Federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells. Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health posted on their web site the list of draft guidelines that they plan to put in place to restrict the use of Federal funds for research on embryonic stem cells.

The guidelines allow Federal funds to be used only on stem cells that come from embryos created for reproductive purposes - and which (though this is not explicitly stated in the guidelines) would otherwise be thrown away. As well, the cells must be donated by the people for whom the embryos were created, and consent must be given at two separate points during the process. The guidelines further stipulate that certain research may not be funded with Federal dollars, even if the cells to be used in the research would otherwise be eligible for Federal funding.

And would you believe - as a hard-core liberal who backs science wholeheartedly - that I think these guidelines are entirely appropriate? It opens up a theoretically endless supply of new stem cells - you don’t imagine that barren women or guys firing blanks are going to stop having fertility treatments, do you? - and eliminates literally every objection that the religious right might have voiced in order to continue to obstruct this important scientific work.

Could the system theoretically be corrupted? Sure it could. After all, it’s being run by Americans with access to government money. Hell, in the current climate you would almost expect for it to be corrupted - but scientists are held to a higher standard than, say, bankers and other greedy scumbags. (They also do more important work, and they do it better, but whatever.) With apologies to Frank Zappa, they’re not in it for the money.

With that said, it is my sincere hope that everyone in the world (not named Palin) will visit the NIH website a week from now (see, especially, the page dedicated to stem cell information) and submit comments in support of these guidelines that will (finally) allow this very important work to begin progressing. According the information posted by the NIH yesterday, a URL will be set up for public comment once the guidelines have been published in the Federal Register, which they expect to happen by the end of next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beyond The Sea

I like Kevin Spacey. I like Bobby Darin, too. Okay...I like “Mack The Knife," and I don't have anything against the concept of Bobby Darin. But man...Beyond The Sea was tough to take. If there were truth in advertising, it would have been called Beyond The Sea: A Hagiographic Musicography. Spacey wore the hats of writer, director, and star in this picture (and he actually sang the songs), and it’s clear from the way Darin is portrayed in the film that Spacey thinks awfully well of him, even when his violent temper is on full display. We’re all of us more than willing not only to forgive, but oftentimes to overlook, the faults of our heroes, and that goes double for Spacey with respect to Darin. It’s even possible that Spacey is trying to absolve Darin of some of those faults by paying such a dazzling homage - complete with new song arrangements and some really fabulous choreography.

There are some nice moments in the first two acts - including when Darin, in brash fashion for a young guy getting his first invite to the club he’s always wanted to play, tells the manager of the Copacabana in Las Vegas that he won’t play the club if the black comedian Darin wants to open for him is barred from opening because of his color; but those moments get lost in the non-stop song-and-dance numbers and in Spacey’s unabashed worship of Darin. By the time the third act rolls around and real life has caught up to Darin’s fantasyland, it’s just not quite enough to redeem the film. It’s all well and good that Darin made an effort to save himself from himself, but the sharp juxtaposition of the rock-and-roll Darin from the first two acts to the beaten down, older Darin in the third act (throughout most of which he looks like an aged version of Napoleon Dynamite’s brother, Kip) is so unbalanced as to be jarring. Now that Spacey has this out of his system, I’m just going to hope that he never, never gets the green light to do it again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One Billion Apps

I'm not into that whole cell phone thing - something that used to be a good idea and is now pretty much just the height of pretension - but the iPhone isn't bad. It's not quite as old as Jackson, arriving at the end of June 2007 rather than at the beginning, and in those couple of years, users of the iPhone have downloaded close to a billion apps for their adorable little fruit phones. Apple has a countdown ticker (okay, it's counting up, not down - but who ever heard of a "countup?") posted on their website, and they're giving away some spiffy stuff to the person who downloads the billionth app.

I sort of have to wonder, though - is this the kind of excess of capitalism that inspires envy around the world, or the sort of thing that makes people want to enroll in flght school just so they can learn to "fly straight?"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Random Notes On Writing, Movies, And Music

First, I was reading a profile of author Mary Gaitskill last night in Poets & Writers magazine, and I read that her stories and novels tend to be dark and sometimes a bit lurid. The article describes her first story collection, Bad Behavior, as having “caused a sensation in 1988 with its finely wrought portraits of Dexedrine addicts, masochists, call girls, and johns.” I’m all for supporting those things that cause sensations because it’s a helpful part of the process of exterminating conservative thinking. Also, the writing tends to be pretty good (paging Bret Easton Ellis). Turns out that one of the stories in that collection was made into the film Secretary, with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal (in her first starring role). Never saw the movie, but sort of wanted to - and am even more interested now, though it will have to wait until I get around to reading the story first. (Unfortunately, no link to the story on the PW website.)

Second, for some reason I was thinking about the novel House Of Leaves at work tonight and I looked it up on Wikipedia, just to see what the venerable knowledge base had on what is easily one of the strangest - and yet oddly satisfying - novels I have ever read. Among other things, I found out that the novel’s author, Mark Danielewski, has a sister called Annie Decatur Danielewski, a singer who goes by the stage name of Poe - who had a hit single in the 90s called “Hello.” I loved that song. Pretty random. Pretty cool. Small world, yo.

Third, though there was no link to the Mary Gaitskill profile, the PW website did have a Postcard piece on novelist Tom Perrotta that talks about, among other things, why the main male character in Little Children has a different name in the movie than he does in the novel. There’s also a bit of information on the next film that will be adapted from one of his novels, and which will be directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who helmed Little Miss Sunshine.

Safari 4 Public Beta

I’ve never tried reviewing a piece of software before, so I don’t know exactly how this is going to turn out...but I’m going to have a go at it anyway. Apple recently released a public beta of the newest version of its web browser, Safari. Among the browser’s new features are two worth noting - the new location of the tabs for tabbed browsing, and the Top Sites splash page.

In Safari 4, Apple changed the way tabs are displayed when you enter tabbed browsing mode, moving the tabs from their former place under the bookmark bar (or under the toolbar, if you don’t have the bookmarks bar displayed) to the top of the window. Apple’s stated purpose for the change is to let you see more of the window you’re browsing, reducing the housekeeping clutter at the top of the window by up to one-third. It’s a lttle odd to get used to at first, but I didn’t find it off-putting, although some in the Mac community are grumbling about it.

The behavior of the tabs doesn’t change (much): CMD-T opens a new tab; CMD-C closes the current tab; and using the left and right arrow keys while holding down CMD and SHIFT lets you move from tab to tab. The only change is that you have to click on the adjustment triangle in the top right corner of the tab to change the tab’s position - you used to accomplish this by clicking anywhere on the tab and moving the mouse left or right.

The other new feature of note is Top Sites, a graphical splash page that displays the front pages of the sites you visit most often. Click on any of the pages and it swooshes up to fill the window as though you were loading it normally. Top Sites can display images in small, medium, and large sizes - the smaller the image, the more sites fit on the page. Small images lets you see your 24 most-visited sites; medium displays 12; and large shows 6. If one of the images has the top right corner peeled back to show a blue background with a white star, that means the site has been updated since you last visited. An edit button at the bottom of the page lets you delete any of the displayed images (the remaining images all move up one spot and the next site in line assumes the last position). Click on the Search History button and you can see your most recently visited sites in Cover Flow format, just like iTunes lets you view songs by cover art, sort of like fanning through songs in a juke box.

I do have a few minor quibbles with the new browser, though. There’s no longer a button you can push to stop a page in mid-load (although there is a keyboard shortcut to accomplish this), and the advancing blue bar showing page load progress in the address window is gone; but those are honestly very minor quibbles. It’s a solid piece of software, and it even feels a bit zippier than Safari 3. All new browser versions claim that they are the fastest browser ever in the whole history of the Internets, but this is the first time I can remember going to a new version of a browser and even having the vaguest sense that it’s actually faster than its predecessor.

Now, like I said, this is the first time I’ve ever written a sort-of review of software, and I’ve only been using the new public beta for a couple of days, so these are just first impressions, and not meant to be an all-inclusive list of new features. Click here to get more information on the new features from the Safari page on Apple’s website. Safari is a free download available for both Mac and Windows - so even if you haven’t had the good sense to buy a Mac yet, you can still benefit from the excellence of Apple’s software.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This Is What I'm Thinking About (#2)

Here’s another thing that I’m thinking about. I love Netflix. Have I mentioned this before? I know that it’s been around forever and that I was late to the party - although you might as well rename yourself Sisyphus if you want to attempt to catalog how many technology-related parties I’ve been late to - but now that I’ve started using it, I honestly can’t imagine ever going back to a bricks-and-mortar video store.

I just added four movies to my queue that I wanted to see to varying degrees when they came out, but never got around to seeing. I don’t know that I ever would have thought to look for any of these movies at the video store, and that they came to be added to my queue just now is pretty much completely random. The only reason I even loaded the Netflix web page when I did was to see how quickly it loaded in the new public beta version of Safari 4, which I downloaded and installed earlier today. (Initial reaction: I like the new browser, and the much-maligned new feature, which has the tabs for tabbed browsing positioned at the top of the window rather than below the toolbar, doesn’t bother me at all.)

So anyway...I loaded Netflix, logged in, and found that it did, in fact, load pretty quickly. For no good reason, other than that I was there, I arrowed down the page to see what the wacky movie gurus at Netflix were currently thinking I would be interested in, and somewhere down the page was Gia, with Angelina Jolie. Never saw it, but remember hearing about it because much of it featured Angelina Jolie naked. Never would have occurred to me to rent at a video store because I always go to the video store with Amy, and it’s not her kind of movie; but with Netflix, it’s easier to watch movies that Amy wouldn’t want to watch because I can keep them as long as I need to in order to fit them in after she’s gone to bed or in the afternoons on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when I’m watching Jackson. In this way, I’ve already managed, in less than a year, to catch about two dozen pictures I wanted to see when they came out but somehow managed to miss.

I added Gia, and then saw Girl, Interrupted in the overlay that popped up, showing me movies most like Gia. Again, never saw it but sort of wanted to - even though I read the book and didn’t think it was anything special. Added that, too. Somewhere in there, I also came across Bringing Out The Dead and Corpse Bride and added those. Not sure if Amy will want to watch any of them - okay, I know she won’t want to watch the Scorsese, but then I can’t think of any of his movies that she would want to watch, other than maybe The Age Of Innocence - but I do know for sure that I might never have thought to rent any of them at a video store.

And yeah, this isn’t much more than a testimonial for Netflix, but it was on my mind so I thought I would write about it. I’ve been making a conscous effort to do a lot more writing of late, including daily entries in my journal and around a page a day on the current version of the phantom novel I’ve been working on, yeah, a long fucking time now. And hey...if I can sell someone on the joys of Netflix, there’s that as a bonus, too.

Monday, April 06, 2009

New Photos #4

Saturday was an excellent day for being out and about and we took advantage of that excellence twice during the day - first going to the zoo in the morning and then going to Southeastway Park for a picnic later in the afternoon. Amy’s punk ass brother and his fiancée were supposed to go with us, but begged off at the last minute, so it was just the three of us, and a boatload of food. Nothing particularly photo-worthy took place at the park during the picnic, so there are just two sets of photos from the zoo. The first set has various shots of Jackson wandering about the zoo, feeding the giraffe, and eating lunch. The second set contains various shots of the new Alaskan brown bear cubs hamming it up for the onlookers.

The pictures of the bears might look a little bit odd, and if they do it’s because they were taken from behind glass. The bear exhibit has a space where you can see the bears directly and also a space where you can watch from behind glass while they frolic in the water. They were frolicking while we were there, and I was only able to get a look at them from behind the glass. Hopefully the pictures are adequate.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

This Is What I'm Thinking About

In Shane's most recent post over there at his Experiment In Living, he mentioned that it seemed like his friends weren't blogging much anymore, and that he missed knowing what was going on in their lives and what they were thinking. The last bit of that got me thinking...about simply blogging about the things one is thinking at any given moment. The idea stuck with me, and I had some thoughts while I was out taking a walk today, and I decided to write them down and blog them out. So here we go...

Just walking...downtown walking on a nearly perfect spring afternoon...across Jackson Street to look up and to the left at the imposing but elegant face of the Grand Hall at Union Station...then across Illinois to look above Pan Am Plaza at the hole in the skyline where the Hoosier Dome used to be...and then a bit later, Illinois Street again, this time at Vermont and passing Acapulco Joe's with its rich smells of onions and corn tortillas heavy in the air, almost its own atmosphere...and then walking down into the grass at the American Legion Mall, the library ahead of me and the city's skyline behind as I head toward where I think that new Moroccan restaurant is, somewhere near the Murat (it's actually on Ft. Wayne Avenue, one side of the triangle that comes to a point where Ft. Wayne meets North and Pennsylvania Streets, nearer the Federal Building than the Murat), and I change my mind about going in to get a menu when I realize that it's more of a sit-down place than a take-out place...and then I cross Pennsylvania and sit down at one of the picnic tables in Obelisk Square to write all of this down so I won't forget. And I think later tonight I may go to the Chatterbox and have a beer. Yeah...