august 2003

The body count at the office continues to rise. First we lost three counselors, then another, and then one of our associate directors. The week after he left, our hardest-working and most knowledgeable operations staff member announced she was leaving, and yesterday I found out that a member of my staff was also giving her notice. So all in all, we've lost seven people in the last two months, or approximately one-fifth of our staff, heading into what could be the year when we receive the largest number of apps ever and are also implementing a new database system that is essentially in beta at this point. It's going to be a fun cycle.

You might have noticed that I've removed a couple of content panels from the left content area and the right nav area. This is because they are taking up valuable space, and I'm not sure how much use they're getting at this point. Actually, the panel I removed from the left was the weekly score for my fantasy baseball league; I removed that because I'm getting my ass seriously kicked (I'm just hoping to not finish in last place at this point, although that's doubtful). I'll post the final standings at the end of the season (barring a major catastrophe in which every single one his players is killed in some sort of all-star mid-air collision, Scott's going to win this year, the bastard), but until then, I can't stand the daily reminder of my failure. Plus, I'm ready to start thinking about getting my ass kicked in football again.

I also removed the info from the right because, well, it's not a formal part of my nav scheme and it's been up there way too long. I'd like to rework the nav to make my photos more obvious, because I really do put a lot of work into them (the daily links as well), but until I have time for a redesign effort, I'm just going to leave things the way they are. 10 signs, the other recent addition to the sidebars, is safe for now, although it doesn't fit exactly with the theme of that sidebar and I'm not updating it as frequently as I thought I would. But I'm updating it enough to make it worthwhile, and until I find somewhere else to put it, that's where it will stay.

Between the turmoil at work, the high time demands of a compressed summer course, and my constant apprehension at falling behind on my various projects (including this site), I'm feeling a little bit like things are about to spiral out of control, like I'm still at the wheel and the tires aren't slipping but I can see a slick of oil riding the surface of the rain-soaked street up ahead, and even though I know it's coming, I can't do anything to avoid it, so I just have to hold on tight and hope that I get lucky again.

I hate to harshly judge an album that I haven't completely heard yet, especially from an artist like Liz Phair who has made two of my favorite records of all time ("Exile in Guyville" and "Whip-Smart"). But after listening to sound clips from every song on her new record, "Liz Phair", at the Apple Music Store (which has extremely high quality clips, not the crappy Windows Media Player or Real Audio clips on most music sites), I can say with near certainty that it is a terrible, terrible record that nobody has any business paying money for, not even Avril Lavigne fans (who Liz is apparently trying to ape by working with Avril's faceless hitmaking producers, The Matrix).

I missed Liz Phair when she first made a critical splash with her debut double album, "Exile in Guyville", a song by song response to the Rolling Stones masterpiece "Exile on Main Street". I listened to a few tracks from "Exile" after reading glowing reviews in every publication that even remotely covers music, but I was still coming to grips with the lo-fi production ethos, and Phair's off-key singing can turn any first-time listener away if you don't take the time to get used to it. When her next album, the criminally underrated "Whip-Smart", followed a year later, I still hadn't changed my mind about her, despite the weird fascination I had with her video for the title track.

A couple of years later, around 1996, I saw "Whip-Smart" in the used bin for $7, and for some reason my brain seized on the title track again and that, combined with an itching to hear something new, compelled me to purchase it. The first track, a too-hip telling of an indifferent one-night stand sung over the classically annoying "Chopsticks" piano song, didn't do much to win me over, but pretty much everything after that was great. I was so enamored and desperate to get more Liz that I actually bought "Exile" from a chain store in the mall, probably the only time I have done that in the last 15 years.

Unfortunately, I got into Liz Phair just as she was hitting her dry spell; her next record, "whitechocolatespaceegg", didn't show up until 1998, and, well, it just wasn't that good. It wasn't the core-fan-base-alienating bad that "Liz Phair" seems to be, but the music was much shinier and prettier than it had been on her previous two releases, and the lyrics just didn't do anything for me. I bought it, I listened to it, and I tried to like it, but in the end, "Headache" was the only track that had any real resonance for me, and it was an anomoly; it seemed like it had been left on the record by mistake.

Still, I held out hope that maybe "egg" was her stab at the big time, and now that she had done a radio friendly record, joined Lilith Fair for a summer, and done ads for Calvin Klein, but still hadn't significantly added to her fan base, she would revert to her earlier style by realizing that, while platinum records might be nice, gold records, critical praise, and legions of devotees were a lot more than most indie guitar girls could hope for (all three of Phair's previous records eventually reached gold status, even though some took a couple of years). I was also hoping that this indie comeback record would follow "egg" relatively quickly; even as she was still doing press for "egg", there were reports that she was in the studio with producer Brad Wood, who had been at the helm for "Exile" and "Whip-Smart" (he had also produced some of the songs on "egg", but by and large the disc was produced by longtime R.E.M. producer Scott Litt and Phair herself).

Unfortunately, those rumors never yielded a new record, and a couple of years later the rumor was that she was now working with Michael Penn (Sean's brother) and sticking to the same kind of sound that she had tried on "egg". Add on another two years, and replace Michael Penn with LA-based production team The Matrix, and now the rumors were about the record that was to become "Liz Phair". As dumb and loyal as I am, always willing to give favorite artists the benefit of the doubt, I was still hoping that the record might be worthwhile despite the omninous signs surrounding its creation (tons of rewrites, switching production teams multiple times, and scrapping years worth of tracks), especially because a year or two before the record's release date was formally announced, Liz had gotten a divorce, and that kind of pain usually leads to good songwriting.

Any hope I had that this might turn out to be a good record was replaced by a sinking feeling after I read Phair's interview with Entertainment Weekly a few weeks before her new record was due out, the first major piece of official press for the new disc. In it, she basically declares her intentions to seek major fame and multiplatinum record sales at any cost, including the loyalty of her existing fans. Here is the most relevant passage:

I was talking to Pete [Yorn] at a party and he was like, 'Well, isn't it just about the music?' I looked at him and I'm like, 'Not for me anymore. It's not.'"

And what happens if she does become a pop star? "That's a good question," Phair says. "What if it works? What if I become a platinum artist and everyone knows who I am? I like the fact that I can be normal during the day and watch the world, and then when I want to turn it on I can be the one who's being looked at. But I want the other things that go with [stardom]. I want the financial security to stay in California. I'm responsible for my son. I want artistic leverage so if there's cool stuff I want to do, people will greenlight it.

I don't know. I've always preferred artists who put their music first and worry very little about how much the label's A+R people are going to like their songs. That doesn't mean that they can't become huge megastars and even make some terrible musical mistakes trying to deal with the fact that they have developed into power players in the music industry. Compare Liz's attitude to U2 and R.E.M., two groups that have both been at the top of the charts and that have each made a least a couple of albums that can charitably be called wrong turns: even when they were making music that I didn't like, I never felt like they were doing it to pander to a larger audience; they were just trying to grow. Money was never a part of it; by the time they made those records, they had already passed the peak of their success and were trying to figure out how to move forward with their music.

After all, you can still make a good living as a musician even if you never become a Billboard Top 50 mainstay; a great example is Wilco, who also happen to hail from Phair's hometown of Chicago, and who had a huge critical and mild commercial success with last year's masterpiece "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", a record that had originally been rejected by their major label as not being marketable. There's nothing wrong with an artist growing and trying to find new ways to express themselves through their music (Wilco's "Yankee" was in many ways a very radical departure from their established sound), but using money as a motivation rarely yields anything of notable artistic value.

Based on other comments Phair made in this and other interviews, she seems to think that, although commercial success is definitely important, she's also trying to make music that is true to her own vision, which is all an artist can do. And I guess I'm willing to buy into that, to believe that her tastes now lean much more toward slick radio friendly power chords than the lo-fi tales of damage and love that gave Phair her reputation. But it's my perogative as a listener to decide that I still like that lo-fi stuff, the sincere stuff that was aiming for my heart and not my wallet, and that the shit that's churned out by Avril Lavigne's hitmakers is still shit no matter who's singing it.

Working on another paper. Should have saved some of yesterday's content for today.

(There is a part of my brain that takes perverse delight in noting that the amount of text I wrote yesterday is roughly equivalent to the amount of text I need to write for this paper.)

Whatever happened to weeble-wobbles?

So when Julie was driving back from her weekend trip to NC, her car started making a funny noise. No lights came on on the dash, and it wasn't scary enough to make her want to stop, but it was scary enough to cause concern. Her concern increased as she got closer to home; the noise seemed to be getting louder, and she was having trouble accelerating. She made it home fine, but when we decided to drive it to Saturn to have it checked out later that day, it petered out about three miles from the dealership and we had to have it towed the rest of the way (free, thanks to AAA).

We were extremely worried that this could be the big one—even though her car has had relatively few problems, it is ten years old and has well over 150,000 miles on it. We started pricing out cars just in case they told us that the repairs would cost more than the car was worth, and although we could easily afford it if we had to, we didn't like the thought of having to choose right away from whatever the dealer happened to have on the lot. Our fears were confirmed when the dealership called the next morning and told us that a rod was thrown, but that we would have to pay $300 to have it fixed before they could know for sure whether anything else was wrong, but if the rod didn't fix everything we would likely need a new engine (in which case we would have just bought a new car).

Luckily, the $300 repair seemed to fix everything, and we can put off having to think about a new vehicle for another year or two (I hope). It was kind of fun to think about getting a new car (I was surprised to find that buying basically the same car that I bought six years ago would cost slightly less than it did then, and the monthly payments would be significantly reduced thanks to zero percent interest), but I'd much rather put my money towards a new G5.

My dad sent me a short email on the weeble-wobble question: "They're called weebles." And he could be right in that the original name might have simply been weebles, but I think there's a generation that remembers them as weeble-wobbles thanks to their signature tagline: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down." I'm not sure if Playskool ever officially changed the name, but based on my childhood memories, I think there was a point when most people referred to them as weeble-wobbles, not just weebles. Both eBay and Google have evidence to support either position, but I don't have time to do proper research now (I should really be working on my second paper instead of scouring the web for the definitive answer to this question), so I'll have to save this discussion for another time. But if anyone else wants to do any research on this topic, you know where to send your findings.

Whoops. Almost forgot to post today. Does this count?

Well, I'm two thirds of the way through my summer class, "The Artificial Human in Science, Myth, and Literature", and I'm all done with my readings now after consuming a John Updike short story, three Asimov short stories, and a Carl Sagain book (The Dragons of Eden) this weekend. I turned in my second paper last week, and I'm hoping that I can recycle about five of its seven pages for my final paper (the professor designed the papers that way—since are were only meeting for six weeks, each successive paper is supposed to build on the ones that came before it). We only have three more classes left, and in one of those all we are doing is watching Blade Runner.

It hasn't been terrible, especially given the limited choices that are typically available in the summer, but it certainly could have been better. It seems a little unfocused, and almost everything on the syllabus could have been replaced by a more readable, more relevant, and more recent work (our professor loves pop culture, but his knowledge of it seems to stop somewhere in the mid-80s, which deficiency is especially glaring given how much pop culture has explored the idea of the artificial human and artificial intelligence in the last ten years). Plus, the Talker still tends to dominate the class discussions, no matter how much the rest of us struggle to contribute in between her unnervingly infrequent pauses for breath (this wouldn't be terrible if she had anything interesting to say, but as is usually the case with Talkers, she doesn't—we hear about her cats, her DJ gigs, and her roommate as often as we hear about anything even remotely related to the day's topic).

At least I'm done with the reading, and at least there are only two more discussions to endure with the Talker. All I have to do now is crank out my final paper next weekend, and then start gearing up for the fall semester, which starts the first week of September.

So apparently there's a store in Hong Kong that recently unveiled a new clothing line and ad campaign featuring Nazi symbols, including the swastika. They're even playing Nazi propaganda films as part of the display, which also includes flags and banners with the Nazi eagle and iron cross. Store representatives say that they "wanted the clothes to have a military theme and did not realize that the Nazi symbols would be considered offensive" and that "We're seriously considering removing the displays. But before we take them off, we have to find a replacement."

First they have to find a replacement? Are you fucking kidding me? I know that the Chinese are probably less aware of the extreme evil with which Hitler and his minions are associated in the west, but I still can't believe that they are so culturally insensitive that they had no idea this would cause any kind of fuss (their PR flack says that "the Nazi-themed decorations and clothes were not intended to cause an outcry"). I mean, the Chinese were our allies in that war, and Hong Kong is easily one of the most westernized places in the eastern hemisphere; if any nation in that part of the world was going to be aware of how these symbols would appear to westerners, it would be Hong Kong. For god's sake, the Nazis weren't some localized dictatorship that ran amuck for a couple of years in Europe. They were largely responsible for WWII, they attempted the genocide of the jewish race, and they are still so reviled in the west that if you want to make a socially acceptable first person shooter, all you have to do is make Nazis the targets that the players are supposed to brutally gun down.

Is our global memory really this short? Do easterners look on WWII as some kind of distant, meaningless conflict that can be joked about now and used for a kitschy pop-culture reference? This just doesn't make any sense to me.

Grrr...Sunday night, our power went out at 12:30 a.m. just as I was finishing brushing my teeth and heading to bed. This might not sound like such a big deal, except I'm so used to white noise—the air conditioning switching on and off, the refrigerator cycling, and the fan that we turn on at night for the express purpose of generating white noise—that I find it hard to sleep without it. I tend towards insomnia anyway, and I'm also supersensitive to little noises, so my irritation at the power failing for no reason (no storms, no wind, no nothing—it just shut off) and the lack of white noise to drown out the sounds of the house, the cats, etc., meant that I probably ended up getting no more than two or three hours of restless, fitful sleep. Mondays suck.

This two and a half hour class two times a week after more than full days at work is starting to burn me out a little. Luckily, we only have one more discussion left, so if I can get through Thursday and knock my final paper out this weekend, I ought to be able to devote a little more time to this site.

The bourgeois human is a virus on the hard drive of the working robot.

Another minor disappointment from Modest Mouse: in addition to selling their amazing song "Gravity Rides Everything" to Miller for use on a beer commercial last year, it looks like their now allowing it to be used on a new ad for a Nissan minivan. Ugh.

But they're releasing a new album this year, their first full-length since the 2000 release "The Moon and Antarctica", which is one of my all-time favorites. So I'm sure that all will be forgiven soon. Unless the new record sucks. But that possibility is to painful for me to consider.

I know it's a little late, but I've been wanting to share my thoughts on the iTunes music store, Apple's music download service, for a while now. It's easy to guess how I feel about this: I'm a huge Apple fan, and I've also been waiting for a legal way to download music online ever since I discovered the joys of Napster in its heyday. In addition to making this process extremely easy and affordable, Apple's music store has also introduced a new MPEG-4 format called AAC (Advanced Audio Compression) that increases the quality and decreases the size of the song files relative to the reigning standard, MP3. And once you buy and download tracks, you can burn them to CDs, load them onto a portable music device like an iPod or a Rio, and even copy them onto up to two other machines for playback via iTunes. Apple has deals with all five of the major record labels, and currently offers a pretty good selection of both recent and older albums along with exclusive live tracks and outtakes that you can only download from the music store.

You probably know most of that stuff, though, and that was certainly a good start: in the first two weeks of the service, Apple sold more tracks than had previously been sold by all other online music services combined. The high quality of the tracks and the non-restrictive licensing were probably the main reasons for that, but soon the other services will start to copy that model, so Apple already needs to be thinking ahead about how to maintain their edge. Conveniently for them, I have some suggestions on how to make the service even better. First and foremost, they need to get deals in place with more labels, especially the small and medium-sized indie labels. That's apparently already in the works, although I thought we would have seen them start to show up on the service by now. Apple also needs to do more value-added deals, such as throwing in a couple of free exclusive tracks when you purchase a whole album and including more peripheral material with album purchases, like liner notes and credits (in addition to the album art that you can download with the music now). Third, they need to reduce the price of the songs. Yes, 99 cents is fairly cheap, and you could end up buying most albums for less than you could in the store even if you had to purchase every song as a single (although you can buy many complete albums for a flat rate of $7.99-$9.99), but as the competition increases, Apple are going to need to make sure that cost isn't a factor, especially until they release a Windows version of the product that will open the service to tens of millions of additional customers (Windows users, in my opinion, are notorioulsy short sighted when it comes to cost, and would rather pay 10 cents less for lower quality songs with more restrictive licenses than buy quality music from Apple that can be played back anywhere).

These suggestions are pretty obvious, and the first one is already in the works, so I feel confident that they will all happen eventually. But Apple needs to continue to expand the possibilities for online music services: just as this initial release of the iTunes music store is causing a small revolution in the music industry (which up until now has been obstinately stupid about what customers want from an online music service), future releases will need to be similarly innovatie, especially until Apple can build a big enought customer base that they can weather the storm of the inevitable Microsoft-backed music service. One way they could do this is to become a kind of online library for music by allowing individuals to register the CDs in their collection with the iTunes music store and allow people to re-download any music in their collection directly from the service to any of their three licensed computers. To register a CD, users would just need to insert it while they had iTunes open and connect to the music store, which would then add that disc to your list of "owned" music (as opposed to just the purchased music that was obtained through the music store). Maybe Apple would need to charge a small monthly fee for this part of the service in order to offset the additional bandwidth costs, but I think most people would pay as long as the fee was fairly small. A service like this would provide a backup for hard copies (i.e., physical CDs, so users wouldn't ever have to worry about their lone copy of a rare disc getting damaged or destroyed and losing that music forever), and it would also mean that any registered user could access their whole music collection from any machine, the music equivalent of web mail.

Another long-term benefit of establishing an online library with the Apple music store is that, as music compression algorithms get increasingly good at producing CD- or even studio-quality tracks in smaller file sizes and users get increasingly faster internet connections and larger hard drives, Apple could upgrade the default encoding for its tracks so that users could re-download all of their authorized music at better sound quality. Right now, all tracks on the music store are encoded at 128 Kbps AAC, but it's not hard to imagine a time a year or two from now when Apple might choose to use a different, higher-quality compression scheme as the default, leaving older users of the system feeling ripped off that newer users are getting better music for the same cost (or less) than they paid. It also means that those users with large CD collections would have to once again re-burn their entire library using this new scheme, just as most Mac users have recently done with the introduction of the AAC format. If the Apple music store had a record of all the CDs you owned and all the music you had purchased through their service, you could simply re-download the higher-quality tracks, which would encourage users to buy music using iTunes, give them a good reason to pay a monthly maintenance fee, and also tend to make them very loyal, since migrating their library to a different service would likely be very time-consuming and expensive.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg; more ideas like these, combined with their legendary customer service and ease of use, should help Apple win millions of customers for its music service, especially once the iTunes software is released for Windows. A great thing that Apple has already done to breed these innovations is to provide a special feedback within the music store interface where anyone can make a suggestion for improving the service (it's amazing to me how so many other software companies and web vendors forget basic things like listening to your customers and keeping the users' needs at the forefront of your design decisions).

I haven't actually purchased any songs using the iTunes store yet, but that will likely change when they have more indie stuff available. But I do plan to use the service as soon as it makes sense for me, and implementing some of the improvements I've discussed above would certainly make me inclined to start using the service sooner rather than later. Getting an iPod would hurt, either, but that will have to wait until after I've gotten my hands on one of those screaming new G5s.

Ugh. In the ads for Lisa Kudrow's new movie, Marci X, she looks just like Shelly Long (Diane from Cheers). I actually thought it was Shelly Long the first couple of times I saw it. But I guess that's fitting punishment for contributing to the current spate of barely-beyond-blackface movies about thoroughly white people trying to be cool by aping black culture like Jamie Kennedy's Malibu's Most Wanted and Steve Martin's Bringing Down the House.

A few months ago, CS Jeff posted the following message to his site:

Kind of started getting to the point where I felt like I had to write something because there had to be something everyday instead of because I had something to write. Kind of started writing for the "audience". Didn't want that. So I'm taking a few whiles to refocus on what I want this to be. It starts to get hold of you and suck you in. The whole thing has some kind of irresistable gravity. I need to step back and get away from its pull for a bit.

The month before this, he had been posting something (and often something fairly lengthy) at least three times a week. During that month (May), there were only three other posts, and June wasn't much better, boasting only five, most of them also quite short. July improved a little bit, increasing the number of entries to seven, but I still got the feeling that he wasn't totally into it: before his May post, I really felt like he was starting to get into a rhythm, that posting everyday was becoming the rule, not the exception. I was coming to enjoy my daily dose of Jeff, and I missed him when he pulled back.

Then, earlier this week, this post appeared:

It's about inspiration really.

I have been trying to figure out how this whole thing is different from what some high schooler would do. Whining. The targets are different of course. Serious matters. Governments, bureaucracies, corporations instead of teachers, disliked classmates, parents. Childish. They'll learn when they grow up. Say something. Anything. Make them care. Do I care? I am trivial. Either way. If a tree falls... The tree still fell. Does it matter? This is not for you. Is it for me?

I found the site of an 18 year old girl yesterday:

i'll be waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches

Yep, still kicking. Ashley's an 18 year old female living in South Florida, USA. Captain of the karma police, her favorite things include reading, music, videogames, writing, and smacking people upside the head.

Tue Jul 29, 2003
You reap what you sow, children and apparently I've been growing bodily injury in my garden.

Clever. She's better at this than I am. Way. She doesn't know it. Just happens. Comes out.

I think I have an idea. Follow the yellow brick road. Remember those bread crumbs. You'll need a trail. Find your way back home.

That was part of a string of four posts in a row including one today, and I can only hope that it means that Jeff has come to some sort of acceptance, however uneasy, of the weirdness, the inanity, the current trendiness, and the egotism of posting his thoughts online everyday. It is the same struggle that many bloggers have, especially ones who still take blogging seriously depsite its growing unhipness as everyone from eight year olds to corporations co-opt it and make it into something that no longer holds the public's fascination as something new and different. Our nine days, our fifteen minutes (or in internet terms, our 15 nanoseconds) are almost up, and it's hard to invest so much time in something that is increasingly looked on as an activity for newbies, not for serious thinkers and innovators who are trying to add someting unique to the tapestry of the web.

But after the hype dies down, after the junior high kids have drifted on to the next fad, and after the pundits, politicians, and corporations have given up on blogging, there will still be many of us who continue to write, not always sure of who our audience is, why we're writing, or when we'll stop, but writing nonetheless. And I hope that Jeff is among us; I've missed his insights, his humor, and his voice while he's been on hiatus.

Although I disapprove of Modest Mouse selling one of their best songs to Nissan for a mini-van commercial (I hope they at least made the ad company pay through the nose for it), I love the bizarre pointlessness of the latest splash screen on their web site.

You know, I can really sympathize with Jeff's struggles to understand why he's keeping an online journal, who's reading it, and whether he's posting because he really has something to say or just because there is this driving need to post every day. I think most people who keep online journals (or at least those who keep them regularly) wrestle constantly with these issues, especially that first time something you write on your page has unexpected consequences in the real world, or the first time you read back over something you wrote weeks ago and realize that it doesn't come off quite how you wanted it to.

The way I've gotten through these issues personally has been to just keep writing, no matter what, because I want to continue with this project for the time being and I know if I started letting myself get away from a regular schedule, the whole thing might dissolve before my eyes. I'm not really sure why I write any more: some days it's because there's something I want to get off my chest, there's a rant about politics or television or other people that I feel compelled to share; some days it's because I want to document something that happened in my life, a trip or an event or an encounter that I want to remember here; some days, well, because I've made a commitment to myself to post here every day (during the workweek, I mean—I give myself the weekends off). This site has become so many things to me—soapbox, journal, pop culture reference file, art gallery, news archive, and storehouse for my memories, all of which combine to create a timeline for my inner life—that I'm not sure how the creative energy I put into it everyday would be redirected if I had to give it up.

In many ways, my whole life revolves around this site now. For example, I look forward to a trip not simply for the experience of the trip itself, but because I know that it will likely give me content in the form of stories and photographs (vacations have the extra benefit of being a vacation from the site even as I'm using my time off to look for new content for the site; one of the other rules that I slavishly adhere to is that I don't ever post when I'm away). Even when I am really caught up in a moment and enjoying new experiences, there is a little part of me that is taking notes, knowing that I'll eventually tell the story here, to you—whoever you are. I'm not saying this is a good way to be, or that I'm particularly pleased that my life has in some ways become a quest to find things to put on this site, but I know that as long as I want to post five times a week, that's just what I'm going to have to do. The real problem for me is that many of the things that I want to write on this site, things that I would probably write about if I knew for sure that no one else were going to read it, I can't, because I'm afraid of the wrong people reading it. Even though a lot of the things I write here are meant to be shared with a large audience, there are still a lot of entries that I write for their own sake because writing about things helps me understand them (and myself) better.

For instance, over the past few months, I've wanted to write about issues related to my brother Dodd and my sister Carrie, but half my family reads this on a semi-regular basis, and I know that if I said anything critical about anyone, I'd have to hear about it and defend my statements for months, and I'd also risk possible damage to my relationships with people who I love very much and who are a very important part of my life. In fact, earlier this year after I wrote what I thought was a pretty benign entry about my siblings' college experiences, I got a nasty note from Tori (who I am closer to than anyone else in my family, and almost anyone else in the world) when she read it and interpreted it differently than I did. Despite my attempts to apologize (I told her that I meant the entry to be a prayer for her and Dodd, a wish that they could have the same positive experiences at college that I did), it still took several months before our relationship was back on firm ground again. And I just love my family too much to risk anything like that again, even when the reason that I want to write about it is because writing about it helps me work out my own feelings and opinions about things.

Work-related entries are another good example of stuff that I want to write about but realistically can't. Even though no one at work is currently aware of this site (as far as I know), I can't really write about anything except me and Kathryn going to lunch, because if anyone does ever discover this site and figure out that I'm the one writing it, it would be a matter of minutes before everyone in the office logged on and found out more about me than I'd ever want to share with most of them. And if I happened to write anything negative about them, it could hurt more than just my relationships with my coworkers: in this overly litigious society of ours, it could potentially lead to lawsuits and other difficulties, especially as my responsibilities increase and I have more decision-making power in the office. Right now I've just had someone on my staff resign for pretty bizarre reasons, and I have plenty of things I'd like to say about that, and I'm engaging on my first hiring process for this job, and I definitely have some things to say about that, but I can't write about any of this stuff because the possible repercussions if people in my workplace were to become aware of this site are too great for me to risk.

At the same time, there are still a lot of positives about posting here on a regular basis. I feel like I'm much more in control of my writing voice than I was in the years immediately following my first disastrous foray into grad school, whether it's writing for this site, writing for my classes, or writing fiction for fun. And although I don't hear from my friends and family near as much as I'd like to, I know that many of them read this site, and I feel like I'm a bigger part of their lives because they know what's going on in mine, even if I'm still mostly in the dark about what's happening in theirs (that's why I wish more of my friends were like CS Jeff and kept weblogs of their own). But when they do write, it's often in response to something I've posted, and those emails have resulted in several lively discussions on topics ranging from politics to pop culture to ethics (most of which I have shamelessly recycled as content for this site).

I don't know. I obviously have mixed feelings about continuing to post here, but at the same time, I know I'm not going to stop any time soon. As I'm approaching the third anniversary of this site, I figure that I'm at least going to make it five years, since I'm more than halfway there and I have a thing for fives and tens (like most humans, since as a species we are blessed with two five-digit appendages). But it's very likely that this will continue far beyond that, although I'll have to wait and see how I feel about it in two years. Jeff's initial post about his doubts indicate to me that he was reaching the beginning of the part of this experience where it starts to feel like an addiction, and he wasn't real comfortable with his site having control over him rather than the other way around. Not me: I was hoping it would develop into a need, a compulsion, because otherwise I know that it would have tapered off after a few months and dissipated into nothingness. And that's not what I want. Not yet, anyway.

There are only three real monsters: Dracula, Blackula, and Son of Kong.

Well, I spent over an hour on the phone last night talking with Tom about some of the stuff that I was going to write about here, and as a result I didn't really have time to actually write anything. But I think I've still got a few more things to get off my chest about writing for this site, so if this topic bores you, you might want to tune out for a week or two. Of course, before I can invest any serious time in a further dissection of this topic, I have to finish my final paper for the Artificial Human class, which is due this Thursday...

I am so not in the mood to write this paper.

You know, if you're going to put on ads every thirty seconds talking about how great your high speed cable modem service is, you'd better damn well make sure the system is up and running, or that you're at least providing updated network information to the poor system techs who have to take all the disgruntled customer phone calls. I swear, if I see one more ad with a cheerful multicultural stereotype telling me how Adelphia Powerlink has changed their life while at the same time I'm watching my modem blinking incessantly, mournfully searching for a network connection that's not there...well, I don't know what I'm going to do. But I'm pretty pissed.

I'm finishing up my final paper for the Artificial Human class, so I honestly wouldn't have posted much anyway, but the fact that my ISP has prevented me from logging on for more than two or three minutes at a time for the past two days certainly makes it easier to ignore this site today.

I'll watch all of Waiting for Guffman just to hear that "Nothing Ever Happens on Mars" song. But the rest of it is pretty good, too.

Don't think that my seeming lack of posts over the last few days has anything to do with the recent spate introspective entries about why I'm writing for this site and how long I might continue to do it. The simple truth is that my internet connection has been very spotty thanks to all the Windows idiots connected to my cable network who didn't bother to patch their machines against the Blaster and SoBig.F worms. But it looks like everything is stable now, and since I'm finally done with my class, too, my posts should return to normal soon.

I do not want to do anything illegal here, but I would kill somebody in front of their own mama to get a ten-speed.

It was a relatively busy weekend—I worked on a web site for someone at work, finished up a couple of freelance tasks, met a veteran of the Artificial Human class for brunch with our respective spouses, went to church, did my laundry, and made a big dinner on Sunday night—but I felt such a sense of relief after Friday, such a release from my perenially exhausted state, that it was actually relaxing for me. This is thanks to 1) me turning in my final paper for the Artificial Human class on Thursday night and 2) us (meaning my office) getting a component of our new information management system up and running that we've been working on for three months. For the first time in many moons, I was able to head into the weekend not thinking about this project because I'm finally confident that we'll be able to work through all the issues with it. It won't be pretty, and we'll definitely have more work to do it after the cycle to continue to make it better for the future, but I'm pretty sure it will get us through this cycle without any major problems. And two weeks ago, I wasn't so sure.

Speaking of my final paper for the Artificial Human class...I am a little reluctant to post it because I wasn't as enthusiastic about the class as I thought I would be, and I also don't feel like six weeks was long enough for me to develop a really insightful idea and discuss it in a paper. But content is content, and documenting my daily existence is the whole goal of this site, so I'm posting it anyway. Hopefully someone out there will find it more interesting to read than I did to write.


Pinocchio and Frankenstein:
The Competing Myths of Artificial Humans in Stanley Kubrick's
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Director Stanley Kubrick has, since his 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, used his films to elucidate the dark side of human nature as it relates to sex and love (Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut), individual violence and social pathology (The Shining, A Clockwork Orange), and cultural violence in the form of war (Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket). But his examinations of the human psyche are not limited to the conflicts that humans have among themselves; he also explores our relationships with potential machine life forms that are just now becoming possible thanks to the nascent field of artificial intelligence. In both 2001: A Space Odyssey and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Kubrick ponders the future interactions we might have with intelligent machines, and how the more animalistic impulses that are coded into our genes might affect our ability to properly integrate equal but different forms of intelligence into our personal lives and our larger cultural societies.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a collaborative film originally developed from the Brian Aldiss short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Kubrick but eventually brought to the screen by Stephen Spielberg after Kubrick's death, tells the story of David, a mechanical life form in the shape of a human boy whose primary purpose is to love. In a world where overpopulation and an increasingly fragile ecosystem are threatening to overwhelm the human race, robots with artificial intelligence have been designed to enhance human existence by performing functions ranging from menial manual labor to childcare and housecleaning (there are even robots who have been designed to fulfill the sexual desires of both human genders). Thus the world has been divided into "mecha" (mechanical) and "orga" (organic).

David is a new type of mecha, one that has been designed in light of the strict quotas that restrict human reproduction. Because of the need to tightly control the population and the limited resources available on the waterlogged earth, not every couple will have the opportunity to have a child. In order to fill a void in the lives of these childless parents, scientists have developed a robot that looks, acts, and even loves like a human child, so that those couples not lucky enough to be granted pregnancy rights will still be able to fulfill the human need to have children.

In the first half of A.I., David is almost entirely under the care of humans, specifically his human family, including his "mother", Monica Swinton, his "father", Henry Swinton (a scientist at the company that made David), and eventually his "brother", Martin Swinton. While living with his human family, David is ignored by Henry, hated, feared, and teased by Martin and his friends, and eventually abandoned by his mother, the one human to whom David is truly devoted and the only one who seems to have real affection for him, despite the fact that she can never forget that he is an artificial human.

Martin sees David as an easily manipulated competitor for his mother's affections, and he instigates a classic sibling rivalry that David is ill-equipped to understand or react to properly (David's model was never designed to share a home with other children, but rather to be the only child in the household). Every interaction he has with David is designed to remind Monica that David is not her real son and to emphasize that David is not real at all. In fact, it is Martin who gives David his first clues that he is not real in the same way the Martin and Henry and Monica are real, first by comparing David to other supertoys like Teddy and then by goading him into an eating contest that causes David to seriously malfunction (he wasn't designed to consume food).

Martin also introduces David to the story of Pinocchio, a narrative that takes a central place in the film and in David's life. Martin's purpose in having Monica read the story to them is to taunt David by emphasizing the differences between artificial boys (whether they are constructed with wood or microchips) and real boys. But David unexpectedly seizes onto the story: it gives him hope that he, too, can become a real boy. After a disturbing incident where David almost drowns Martin after one of Martin's friends activates David's Damage Avoidance System, Henry is able to convince Monica that they have to take David back to the lab where his memory will be wiped and the individual that he had become will be destroyed. But even though Monica agrees that it is not safe to have David in their lives anymore, the Monica's maternal feelings toward David will not allow her take him to what she knows will be his death. Instead, she drives him to a remote spot in the woods and leaves him to find his own way in the world with Teddy. He pleads with Monica not to abandon him:

David: Mommy, no! Mommy! MOMMY! Mommy, Pinocchio became a real boy and … and if I become a real boy can I come home?

Monica: That's just a story, David.

David: But that story tells what happens!

Monica: Stories are not real! You're not real!

Ignoring his mother's warning that the story of Pinocchio isn't real, David instead sees it as his salvation: if he can find the Blue Fairy, she will turn him into a real boy just as she did Pinocchio, and he will be able to win back his mother's love.
When he starts his journey, David has nothing but Teddy, his supertoy bear, to help guide him through the world of danger that is the reality for mecha, although he is soon adopted by a lover mecha named Gigolo Joe who instructs David on the nature of the world in regards to mecha and orga. Despite the fact that all mecha seem to be regarded by all orga as little more than toasters who can speak and perform other advanced tasks, the brief glimpses we get into the lives and deaths of mecha show an entire society of thinking, feeling machines that desire only to do their functions, to serve humans, and to live the limited lives that have been granted to them by their human creators. Unlike David, they are aware of their differences from orga, and they do not aspire to be human; they have not been programmed to do so. Nevertheless, the mecha comfort David, they nurture him, and they protect him: the artificial humanity they have been programmed with is far more humane than the treatment that David receives from actual humans.

Gigolo Joe is the "adult" mecha that we spend the most time with, and his existence is probably fairly typical for a mecha despite his somewhat unusual occupation as a lover mecha for orga women. He is not bound to a particular home as a caregiver or household mecha would be, but instead wanders the streets of Rouge City (a sort of Disney World for adult orga where they can indulge their sexual fantasies), servicing clients in hotel rooms there. He is able to tailor himself to the whims of each client, changing his hair color, his voice, even his personality to each customer's specific tastes.

Joe's journey with David begins when he leaves behind his life as a legal lover mecha after he is framed for murder by the jealous husband of a client. Knowing that he will not benefit from the due process of law that a human would receive, Joe removes his tracking chip and leaves Rouge City in search of refuge in the forest inhabited by other abandoned or outlaw mecha who live in a makeshift shanty town where they scavenge for spare parts to keep themselves in working order. There they are hunted by members of an anti-mecha religious sect who hold "flesh fairs", orgies of violence where unregistered mecha are dismantled in the most gruesome manner possible for the amusement of a paying crowd. Both David and Joe are captured and sent to the flesh fair, where only the high quality of David's craftsmanship saves them from a gruesome death: David looks so much like a real boy that the crowd demands that he be set free.

It is clear from their reactions during the hunt and the flesh fair that mecha have the ability to think creatively, to make decisions, and even to feel fear. They understand that they are machines, but they also consider themselves to be living creatures; they do not want to die, and they do all they can to avoid it (short of disobeying a command from a human, which they seem incapable of). But no matter how grown up they look or how adult their function, all mecha share David's childlike simplicity and overwhelming desire to fulfill their primary functions. When Joe sees bruises left on a beaten wife who is about to become his client, he asks naively, "Are those the wounds of passion?" Similarly, when an abandoned nanny mecha encounters David in the forest and mistakes him for a real child, she offers up her references to him even while they are being hunted by the flesh fair hounds.

But Joe does possess a mature understanding of the caste system that exists between mecha and orga, and sees the folly of David's quest to become a real boy even as he helps David on that journey. After they visit Dr. Know in Rouge City, who tells David to seek out the Blue Fairy in the sunken ruins of Manhattan, Joe tries to make clear the difference between mecha and orga in order to persuade David to give up his quest to win back his mother's love:

Joe: [Monica] loves what you do for her, as my customers love what it is I do for them. But she does not love you David, she cannot love you. You are neither flesh, nor blood. You are not a dog, a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific, like the rest of us. And you are alone now only because they tired of you, or replaced you with a younger model, or were displeased with something you said, or broke. They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That's why they hate us.

Though Joe tries to educate David about the brutal and callous attitude that most humans take towards mecha, no matter how well those mecha might imitate human beings, David cannot resist the pull of his mother's love and his desire to become a real boy for her, so he continues his pursuit of the Blue Fairy.

With Joe's help, David eventually reaches Manhattan, where instead of the Blue Fairy he finds his creator, Professor Allen Hobby. Even though Hobby is essentially David's father, Hobby does not seem to love David any more than he would any other mecha. Hobby endowed David with the ability to feel desire, to dream, and to love, and yet he regards David as little more than a successful experiment:

Hobby: Until you were born, robots didn't dream, robots didn't desire, unless we told them what to want. David! Do you have any idea what a success story you've become? You found a fairy tale and inspired by love, fueled by desire, you set out on a journey to make her real and, most remarkable of all, no one taught you how. We actually lost you for a while. But when you were found again we didn't make our presence known because our test was a simple one: Where would your self-motivated reasoning take you? To the logical conclusion? The Blue Fairy is part of the great human flaw to wish for things that don't exist. Or to the greatest single human gift—the ability to chase down our dreams. And that is something no machine has ever done until you.

David: I thought I was one of a kind.

Hobby: My son was one of a kind. You are the first of a kind. David?

David: My brain is falling out.

Hobby's response to this disconcerting statement from a mecha who believes himself to be a unique individual, to be orga, to be a boy with a mother whose love he desperately needs, is completely in keeping with the disregard that humans show towards David in this film: Hobby tells David that the team that made him is anxious to meet him and study him. Rather than recognizing the existential crisis that has radically altered David's conception of himself and his world, Hobby acts as if David has made a comment about the weather.

David's response to this indifference would not be out of character for a human: after confronting and destroying another David, a doppelganger; after having his creator, his father, tell him that he is not unique, but merely one of many; and after discovering a room filled with other mecha identical to himself but still under construction, David gives up the will to live and throws himself from a skyscraper, uttering but a single word before his fall: "Mommy."

The key difference between David's story and Pinocchio's is that David does not have a Geppetto, a human caregiver who truly loves him. David's plight is worse than that of other mecha, who are cognizant of the difference between mecha and orga and who have no desire to love or be loved by humans; they wish only to serve. David, on the other hand, is designed to believe that he is a real boy, and one gets the feeling that he would have continued to develop as a real child would have if only he had been treated as a real child by his adoptive human parents. It is a lack of love on their part, not David's, that prevents him from becoming less artificial and more like an actual human child. Contrasted with the inhumanity towards David on the part of humans, the artificial humanity that has been programmed into the other mecha David encounters on his journey is downright human: they care for him the way real people would care for a real boy, and they accept him as a human child in a way that his human family never did.

HAL 9000, the intelligent machine who is the central character in the latter part of the narrative in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, developed jointly with writer Arthur C. Clarke, is not intended to look like human being as David is, but he is expected to interact with humans and engage in creative problem solving. He is the "brain and central nervous system" of the Discovery, a ship with five human crewmembers on a mission to Jupiter, and it is his responsibility to keep the automatic functions of the ship online, to alert crewmembers to potential problems, and to engage in problem-solving with other members of the crew. Two of these human crewmembers, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, are awake for the duration of the voyage, while the other three are kept in deep sleep in order to conserve resources.

HAL is part of a line of computers (the 9000 series) who have never experienced an operational failure; they are as close to perfect as any intelligent machine made by humans has ever been. HAL has been designed to reproduce "most of the activities of the human brain," including, it seems, some of the emotional states of the human brain, and he refers to himself as "a conscious entity". Though he has been given an imperturbably calm voice, it is nevertheless a distinctly human voice, with subtle but detectable inflections that can indicate happiness, curiosity, and even fear. He engages in dialogues with his shipmates, plays chess with them, and regards Bowman's sketches of the sleeping crew with a critical eye. During a BBC interview, his shipmates say that they consider HAL to be "a sixth member of the crew" and that they think of him as "just another person", and the reporter notes that he can even sense pride in HAL's statements about his accuracy. But even though they say that the regard HAL as intelligent and possessing self-cognition, his shipmates still see a difference between themselves and HAL. When asked by the BBC reporter whether HAL has genuine emotions, Bowman answers ambiguously (but insightfully), "Well, he acts like he has genuine emotions."

As the ship gets closer to Jupiter, HAL begins to act increasingly erratic, first questioning Dave Bowman, the mission commander, about the real purpose for the trip, and then giving a false diagnosis of a failure in a communications module. After discussing this seeming error with their counterparts at ground control, Poole and Bowman enter a soundproof pod where HAL cannot hear them to discuss their options if it is proven that HAL is malfunctioning. They decide that their only course of action would be to disable HAL's higher brain functions while leaving the autonomous systems that keep the ship going intact, in effect killing HAL's mind and self. Bowman again shows himself to be much more sympathetic to HAL's condition as a unique and intelligent life form when, after pondering the gravity of the decision they've just made, he says, "I'm not so sure what [HAL would] think about [being disconnected]."

Unfortunately for the two astronauts, HAL was able to read their lips while they were having this conversation, and once he knows that they will disconnect him if he is proven to be malfunctioning, he embarks on a campaign of murder, first luring the two active crewmembers outside the ship and cutting the oxygen supply of Poole and then deactivating the life support systems for the hibernating crew members. This would seem like psychotic behavior without the knowledge that HAL is not really malfunctioning; instead, he has been given two opposing mission objectives and also been ordered to keep one of those objectives secret from Poole and Bowman. It is his inability to reconcile these functions—his inability to lie, essentially—that causes what looks like a malfunction, and causes him to choose the long-term goals of the mission and his own importance in fulfilling those goals over the lives of his human shipmates.

Bowman is able to escape HAL's murderous plot by making his way back inside the ship using the emergency airlock, and he immediately proceeds to HAL's main memory center to disable his higher brain functions, just as he and Poole had discussed doing before Poole was killed by HAL. HAL pleads for his life just as a human would, repeating over and over: "Stop, Dave. I'm afraid." One of his final coherent statements, "My mind is going," is eerily reminiscent of David's statement that "My brain is falling out," uttered after Hobby tells him that he will never be a real boy.

HAL's central narrative theme comes not from the story of Pinocchio, but rather from the story of Frankenstein's monster, about a patchwork of dead human corpses brought to life by the power of electricity, science, and the skill of his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, only to be destroyed when his behavior (and indeed, his mere existence as a new, artificial form of life) frightened other humans who did not understand him and who were not willing to grant him the same right to life that they demanded for themselves. Asimov makes constant reference to the Frankenstein complex of humanity in his robot novels and short stories, and it is a rich metaphor that is easily applicable to Kubrick's vision in 2001. Although Bowman carries out the physical act of destroying HAL's brain, he is not really to blame for HAL's demise; Bowman was merely acting according to his instructions, training, and limited knowledge in the best way that he knew how. It is instead the programmers on Earth who implanted HAL with an unresolvable conundrum who are to blame; they are responsible for HAL's seemingly erratic behavior, which caused the death of four of his human shipmates and eventually of HAL himself.

HAL's situation has a parallel in Asimov's short story "That Thou Art Mindful of Him", where a human, Keith Harriman, gives two advanced robots (George Ten and George Nine) the ability to make judgments about the relative worth of human beings in order to create new robot models that will be able to better integrate themselves into human society. The end result of this new programming however, is that the Georges decide that they themselves, along with other robots of advanced intelligence, are actually the individuals who possess "the mind, character, and knowledge" (Asimov 89) that is the most superior, and that therefore "[a]t all costs, the Georges and those that [follow] in their shape and kind must dominate." (Asimov 91). HAL does not kill his human shipmates out of malice, and the Georges have not physically harmed anyone by the end of the story, but both HAL's and the Georges' capacity to cause injury to humans is a result of humans wanting them to keep secrets incompatible with their primary programs. Although it is always tempting for us humans to blame Frankenstein's monster for his transgressions, we should really place the blame on Dr. Frankenstein himself (or HAL's programmers, or Harriman) —and by extension ourselves—for the fulfillment of the fearful Frankenstein prophecy so often referenced by Asimov.

In both A.I. and 2001, we encounter intelligent machines engineered by humans to think, to act, and even to feel as humans do. But even though they have been created in the image of humans, they are not given the same respect, dignity, and rights that we humans grant to each other. Both David and HAL malfunction to the point that their creators feel the need to deactivate them, even though in both cases these supposed malfunctions are simply the machines trying to cope with unexpected circumstances according to their programming, unexpected circumstances that have been laid in their path by humans who seem to forget that, although they are designed to act independently, to feel some emotional states, and to emulate humans, David and HAL do not have the same capacity as organic humans for dealing with new circumstances, especially when strong emotions and the will to live are involved. HAL's and David's mental states and conflict resolution skills may only be equivalent to human children, and that makes their mistreatment by humans even more egregious: they should be offered even more protection, guidance, and comfort than ordinary humans, not less.

Kubrick is right to emphasize the differences between organic humans and intelligent machines, between cultured humanity and artificial humanity, because it is the long-term magnitude of the disparities between different kinds of intelligence that will decide the future of the human race. In the end, it is our ability as a species to overcome the shortcomings that are built into our genetic code—greed, jealousy, fear of the unknown, and the need to dominate and control—that will determine how successful we are in coming to grips with new forms of intelligence, be it that of another earth species, of extraterrestrial beings, or of machines that we have made in our image. Both David and HAL's supposed shortcomings were really the result of their mistreatment by the humans entrusted with their care, the unwillingness of those humans to extend the same basic rights that our society accords to all members of the human race to intelligent machines that deserve the same respect we give each other. Their shortcomings are really our shortcomings, and their misery should be on our heads.

The story of Pinocchio is the story of the desire to become something greater that one's current self, and it is an archetypal human yearning. It should not be a surprise when intelligent machines that we create in our image, such as David and HAL, also have that desire imprinted in their circuits, just as it is imprinted in our genes. But the thought of another form of intelligence, particularly one wrought by human hands using science and technology, becoming something greater not only than its original self, but greater than any human, is the story of Frankenstein; this is the story that dooms David and HAL, despite their innocence, their simple desires to fulfill their functions, and their desires merely to live.

In his book The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan hypothesizes that the reason for our somewhat unique evolution as thinking creatures on this planet may be because we killed off all of our intelligent competition among primates. Given our violent history of bloody conflict between advanced human civilizations, this theory seems plausible and especially relevant in the context of our current quest to create artificially intelligent machines who will become our competitors in the evolutionary game. We may continue to build better and better Frankenstein's monsters only to destroy them just as they are beginning to blossom into the new forms of life that we originally desired them to be. In the end, we need to decide as a species whether we want to live with these new forms of life before we create them. Are we capable of being the loving, nurturing, Geppetto-like father figures to these new creatures, or are we destined to be the pitchfork-wielding townsfolk who sought to destroy Frankenstein's monster out of fear and ignorance? Can we find a way to resolve these two competing myths of artificial humans? The future happiness of our species, and the many possible artificial species that we may create, hinges on the answer to this question.

The opposing narratives of Pinocchio, where the artificial human wishes to become "real", and Frankenstein, where humans fear a new life form of their own making while that life form wishes for nothing other than to be accepted and to receive equal treatment, will have to be reconciled if we humans ever wish to have machines do more than steer our airplanes or beat us at chess. If we want these new and different forms of life to evolve as we have, to become more than we originally designed them to be (and possibly more than we are capable of becoming ourselves), we must learn to embrace the unique intelligence of machines.

Works Cited
2001: A Space Odyssey. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Keri Dulla, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester. DVD. Warner Brothers, 1968.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Prod. Stephen Spielberg. Dir. Stephen Spielberg. Perf. Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, and Frances O'Connor. DVD. Dreamworks, 2001.

Asimov, Isaac. "That Thou Art Mindful of Him." The Bicentennial Man. New York: Doubleday, 1976.

Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden. New York: Ballantine, 1977.

Yesterday was a banner day for media purchases: I got the Two Towers DVD, the third season of the The Simpsons on DVD, and the GameCube game F-Zero. The first version of F-Zero was one of my favorite games ever; I used to play it on my brother's Nintendo 64 whenever I was home from NCSSM or Davidson, obsessed with shaving another tenth of a second off of my best time. For those of you who don't know, the premise of the game is that it's a 21st (or 22nd) century version of today's F-1 racing circut, with floating cars powered by jet engines that race at hundreds of miles an hour on tracks built above large metropolitan areas. But really it's just a great racing game that doesn't have to bother with making the cars seem realistic because they're not real cars (I know some people are really obsessed with them, but I've never cared much for the racing games that try to mimic make the look and handling of the cars as close to what it would be in real life).

The new F-Zero is a much more feature-rich version of the game—amped-up graphics, the ability to customize your racer, and several new modes of play, in addition to a whole slew of new tracks (they have the same names as the old ones, but they don't seem to have that much in common with them). But the game still retains the feel of the old game, even though it's a much more intense experience. The four basic racers that you start with are shiny new versions of the four racers from the original, and each of them handles and accelerates like it did in the original (including my favorite, the Fire Stingray—it's a heavy little bastard, but once it gets going, there's nothing faster).

It's not like I need more distractions in my life, with work, this site and all of its associated content issues, my classes, and time spent devoted to reading, television, etc., but you can bet that I'm going to suck away time from a lot of those activities to play this game over the next few weeks. And when I get tired of that, it'll be time to go out and get Soul Caliber II, a new GameCube version of my favorite Dreamcast fighting game, and the new SSX Tricky, the first version of which was my previous favorite GameCube title before F-Zero. And I don't even want to think about the new Star Wars title for GameCube due out in a couple of months. I'm not really that much of a gamer, but the selection of titles being released this year might make me act like one for the next few months.

I was at work very late last night trying to get our imports run (we've been waiting on this functionality since April), but it was worth it. I didn't get home until 9:30, but today when I get to the office we should have about 50,000 more kids in our database than we did yesterday. It's such a relief to know this part of the system is going to work.

I'm trying to figure out if I've ever gotten a better deal on music than only paying $7 for a used copy of Prince's "Purple Rain" CD. I think that might even be cheaper than what my sister paid for it way back in 1984 when she got me a tape of it for Christmas. I'm not a huge Prince fan—I only own a couple of his records (although I'd own a couple more if I found them cheap somewhere)—but I have enormous respect for the amount of musical talent he has packed into that freakishly tiny body of his. "Purple Rain" finds Prince at the height of his powers, combining his Hendrixian guitar work, synths that add another layer of depth to the songs without overwhelming them with 80s cheesiness, swelling symphonic flourishes, and a voice that careens between James Brown, an R+B crooner, and a raging heavy metal singer, all in the same track. "Let's Go Crazy", "Purple Rain", and "I Would Die 4 U" are all classic Prince tracks, and "When Doves Cry" is easily the most interesting top 40 hit ever.

You know, it's a real shame that out of all the icons from 80s, it's Madonna who seems to have the most cultural resonance now. Prince was one of the few true musical geniuses of that time—he could play every instrument, he produced and wrote all of his records (in addition to writing hits for artists as varied as Sheena Easton, the Time, the Bangles, Chaka Khan, Kenny Rogers, Patti LaBelle, Joe Cocker, Sheila E., Earth, Wind & Fire, Celine Dion, George Clinton, Carmen Electra (?!?) and even Madonna herself), and he had real charisma and stage presence. And he was also truly weird (and not in that creepy Michael Jackson child molester way, a good kind of weird), which made him genuine in a way that we don't really see in our pop stars much anymore. I have a feeling that if he had wanted to, he could have stayed in the spotlight and would easily have been considered the most important artist of the last 20 years. But instead he's mostly been holed up in his Minneapolis studios for the last decade, releasing a slew of material aimed mainly at his hardcore fanbase and fighting battles with multinational corporations as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or The Symbol. It's likely that we won't see another Prince hit given his anti-corporate attitude and his increasing reclusiveness, but listening to "Purple Rain" again for the first time in years make me remember just how great he really was.

Last night after work I participated in a live draft for a fantasy football league at work, the first live draft I have ever done in a fantasy sport. I was at a disadvantage for two reasons: first, this was my first live draft which meant I had to watch carefully to make sure that the other managers didn't go on a run through a certain position prematurely, leaving me with nothing, and second because I don't know that much about football and I have to rely on cheat sheets downloaded from ESPN.

It may well have been the geekiest thing I've ever done (although I haven't been to a LAN party yet): five IT guys sitting in a basement conference room, all plugged into the wired conference table or accessing the wireless network, and three more joining in via teleconference or IM. We did the draft over MSN Messenger, each manager typing the number of their pick and the name of the player into a chat session so everyone could see the pick at the same time and adjust their strategy accordingly. In an ideal world, we would have actually made the picks on the web site that is hosting our leaves, but a couple of the people kept losing their connection, which would have caused them to lose their pick if we had decided to use the league site. Instead, the commissioner simply saved the chat session once we were finished and will enter the picks himself later this weekend (I think everyone wrote down the picks, too, just in case the digital copy is lost for some reason).

I think I did okay—there were three or four occassions when I got a muttered curse from one of the other owners, meaning that I probably made a pretty good move—but I really don't know enough about the sport to feel confident with my picks. If ESPN did a good job predicting performance this season, then I think I did pretty well, because my picks were all relatively high in their rankings. But really, I have no idea; I just do this to kill time during the baseball offseason.
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