2 months Ago
- Argo (2012)
- Ben Affleck directs and stars alongside John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and Zeljko Ivanek in this movie about the CIA pretending to make a movie in order to smuggle US-embassy employees out of Iran during the hostage crisis. The cast is good and the idea isn’t bad but the execution is a bit slow, especially in the second act, where I felt that they didn’t sustain the suspense well at all. The direction and cinematography were quite good, but not exceptional for the genre (like Skyfall, for example). Perhaps I was just burdened by knowing that the actual story—which was more than exciting enough—had been adjusted to emphasize the CIA role and deëmphasize the Canadian one. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not a great movie. The Oscar nod it got as best motion picture of the year was likely just a way of sticking it to Iran. It’s good for fans of Arkin, Goodman, etc. but otherwise not recommended.
- This Is What Winning Looks Like (2013)
For a sobering and honest look at the situation in Afghanistan and the repercussions of the dozen years of war there, you could do far worse than investing 90 minutes to watch This Is What Winning Looks Like: My Afghanistan War Diary by Ben Anderson (Vice.com).
The lead paragraph of the accompanying article summarizes the film,
“I didn’t plan on spending six years covering the war in Afghanistan. I went there in 2007 to make a film about the vicious fighting between undermanned, underequipped British forces and the Taliban in Helmand, Afghanistan’s most violent province. But I became obsessed with what I witnessed there—how different it was from the conflict’s portrayal in the media and in official government statements. ”
The footage is crisp and high-quality and almost entirely of the Afghan citizens, their police force and their army. ¾ of the film is in Pashto and Dari with English subtitles and American/western soldiers are not features prominently at all, unlike in other documentaries. The shining exception is Major Bill Steuber, who is interviewed extensively, perhaps because of his honesty and forthrightness. He talks corruption among the police officials, struggling against his Sisyphean tasks (“Have you ever seen The Sopranos? [The corruption]’s vast.”).
And how can anyone build up trust in this region, with the leaders of the war working against the boots on the ground with drone and hellfire-missile attacks? One villager said, “They have hit me so hard that I am stunned. What can I do? I have lost four of my brothers. How can I look after their families now?” whereas another said “Life has no meaning for me anymore […] I have lost 27 members of my family. My house has been destroyed. Everything I’ve built for 70 years is gone.”
The conclusion is sobering and overall dismal, as expected of any war. The reality for those on the ground is quite different than that sold to Americans at home. Even the commanding officers are happy to hear only bullshit and tick a box on their checklists. They don’t want to hear how it’s really going; they want laurels for themselves. So has it ever been in war.
- Koch Brothers Exposed (2012)
- A Robert Greenwald documentary that digs into the various nefarious means by which the Koch Brothers exert undue influence on our society. Decent enough for background material, but not much new here.
- Slap Shot (1977)
- The quintessential hockey movie, starting Paul Newman, who claimed later in his career that making this movie was the best time he had in the movies. That’s a career that included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hustler and Cool Hand Luke. The film takes place in northern New England in the mid to late 70s. It’s a motley crew, who are joined by the … drum roll … Hansen brothers, 18, 19 and 20 years old, respectively and goons like the game has never seen. The attitude toward penalties is extraordinarily lax, but you’ll hardly care because this movie is such a good time. I’m biased because the time and place both speak to me, as I grew up near where they filmed most of the games (Syracuse and Utica). Hell, growing up, I even saw games in Utica featuring the Utica Devils, the farm team for the New Jersey Devils. Again, it’s a treat to watch an R-rated comedy back when they weren’t so formulaic and when they were still being made and when they weren’t over-the-top disgusting to earn their rating. It likely earned the rating just for swearing, but when you’re making a movie about a down-and-dirty f’in hockey team, what kind of language is the most honest? It even addressed themes that America has seemingly been saddled with forever: its class divide and its obsession with violence. When Newman visits the team’s owner, he learns that, while she’s happy that the team has turned a profit, she’d still rather take the capital loss for tax reasons than sell the team and let the players keep their jobs. He shouts at her, “You are totally fucked! You’re garbage for letting us all go down the drain,” a sentiment that resonates no less today. In the final act, the two teams in the championship game are beating the bloody bejeezus out of each other, which is just fine with the announcers and with the crowd. When one lone player starts a strip-tease, others take umbrage that he’s making a disgrace of the game. As ever, violence is just fine whereas sex and nudity are to be feared. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
- Hero (2002)
- An all-star cast of Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Zheng Ziyi, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung star in a highly stylized fable/history of the beginnings of modern China, telling the story of the unification of the six kingdoms into “Our Land”. A beautifully filmed, scored and paced film with an interesting story and quite lovely choreography. It’s not a beat-’em-up martial arts movie, but much more of a thinking person’s film. Saw it in Mandarin with English subtitles.
- Euro Trip (2004)
- A relatively well put-constructed teen road-trip movie. Good cameos by Matt Damon, Vinnie Jones, Lucy Lawless and Rade Serbedzija.
- Hall Pass (2011)
- An utterly awful film and a waste of what could have been a very good cast (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove (Leon!).
- Park Avenue: money, power and the American dream − Why Poverty? (2013)
- An Alex Gibney movie, so take it with a grain of salt, but it’s decent enough. The film discusses the widening disparity in American society by juxtaposing the richest people in New York City, living on Park Avenue with those just 10 minutes north, in the South Bronx. The movie covers how lobbying by the rich has changed laws to tilt the odds even more in their favor, a seemingly unstoppable tendency. You can watch it online .
- Salvation Boulevard (2009)
- Greg Kinnear stars as the unquestioning faithful fool and Pierce Brosnan is the sleazy head preacher at Kinnear’s mega-church. The plot ends up quite convoluted, with an atheist professor played by Ed Harris and a Mexican drug lord. Jim Gaffigan provides comic relief as well.
- Up in the Air (2011)
- George Clooney stars as a near-constant air traveler whose only life goal is to attain 10 million travel miles and be inducted into some sort of platinum club for travelers. Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zack Galifianakis, Danny McBride and Sam Elliot round out the cast. It’s a decent movie with some very nice shots landscaping a relatively predictable plot. Kind of a chick flick, but stands on its own as well.
- BBC: Surviving Progress (2011)
- A series of interviews about modern society, again with an emphasis on the increasing tendency toward wealth concentration and increasing inequality. It addresses how the upper echelons use propaganda to blind everyone else—and even themselves—to the fact that the society that buoys them up is hopelessly divorced from reality and shockingly short-term—not to mention, crassly unethical and cruel for almost everyone else. Resources are getting scarcer and being used up more and more quickly and that by an ever-more exclusive class.
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- Roger Moore plays James Bond in Greece, trying to retrieve an Enigma-like decoding device from the ocean floor. Lots of pretty vanilla underwater action with a much more down-to-Earth feeling than some of the more bombastic subsequent Bond films (e.g. another Moore film, Moonraker). There was a skiing scene that was strongly reminiscent of the famous opening sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me. The climactic scene involves a bit of derring-do as Bond scales a cliff face to get to the fortress/monastery where the enemy is holed up with the device. When a henchman knocks out a few of his pitons, he falls precipitously but hangs on to climb back up using a pair of Prusik knots made from his shoelaces. Saw it in German.
- The Expendables 2 (2012)
- Watched it again. Surprisingly my earlier review held up to the scrutiny of a second viewing.
- Repo Men (2009)
- A pleasant surprise: a bit gory at times, but otherwise a solid near-future science-fiction story loaded with metaphor and uncomfortably close to our world today. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker put in very solid performances, as does Liev Schrieber in a minor role. Good ending. Recommended.
- Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian (2002)
- This is a documentary about Jerry’s return to stand-up after a long, successful run on his show Seinfeld and ensuing semi-retirement. The parts with Jerry and most of his fellow comedians are quite good, with typically Seinfeldian insights. The parts with Orny Adams are utterly horrible; he’s an insecure shell of a man, probably representative, but nonetheless irritating.
- The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)
- A documentary directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me! fame) that is very open about its sponsorships. In fact, the plot of the movie eats itself in that the movie is about the making of the movie. Spurlock documents his search for corporate sponsorship to make a documentary about a documentary that is sponsored by corporations. While the movie shows how strongly our major media is influenced by advertising dollars, it at the same time leaves you wondering how true to his vision Spurlock was able to keep, considering how much sponsorship he received for his documentary. He reads portions of the contracts in the documentary, wherein it is stipulated which beverages he’s allowed to drink, which cars he’s allowed to drive and so on and so forth. When several sponsors indicate that they want to be involved in the final cut, are we to think that the movie we’re seeing is really the full-on branding-exposé documentary we would have expected from Spurlock or, because of the very nature of the film, are we watching a diluted version of that beware-of-branding message that was collaboratively spun by the dozens of sponsors to make them look more sympathetic? That is, do these brands want to be associated with the movie because they really do care that they and other corporations like them are brainwashing people or because they want to pick up that, as Bill Hicks once said, “anti-marketing dollar, [which is] a good market”?
- Lockout (2012)
- Guy Pearce, uncharacteristically all beefed-up and looking—and sometimes acting—eerily like Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Snow, a CIA operative charged with rescuing the U.S. President’s daughter from a high-security prison in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). I am not kidding. The reason this works is that Luc Besson came up with the idea and helped write the screenplay. So, it works for the same reason that The Fifth Element worked so well: excellent sets, great tech, crazy/quirky characters and evil enemies, a decent plot and a wise-cracking, gritty hero with a checkered past. Maggie Grace as Emily Warnock (DOPOTUS) was nowhere near as cool as Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, but you can’t have everything. Sure, there are plot holes—the prison isn’t in a stable orbit? And then it crashes into the ISS? Really?—but they don’t get in the way of a rollicking space adventure.
A little while ago, I wrote about my experiences with the SBB automated ticket machines. The online experience is somewhat better but still has some mysterious bugs and omissions—it’s hard to believe that this software has been in use for years—and by millions of users.
Where’s the Zürich Hauptbahnhof?
One example comes from the list of suggestions returned when a user types in the “from” or “to” field in the route finder. One day, I entered what I thought was an easy match, one of the largest and busiest train stations in Switzerland: Zürich main station. In German, it’s called the “Zürich Hauptbahnhof”, which is what I typed, as shown in the screenshot below.
Where's the Zürich Hauptbahnhof?
As you can see, it utterly failed to match that train station (again, the “largest […] in Switzerland” and one of the “busiest […] in the world”, according to Wikipedia). You’ll note that I was using the site in German and I entered German text.
The trick to finding the Zürich main station on the SBB web site is to use the abbreviation “HB” instead, as shown below.
There it is – only under Zürich HB
Only if you use the abbreviation does the list of suggestions contain the Zürich main station. This is totally unacceptable; both should match but, if they had to choose just one, shouldn’t it be the actual name of the station?
Math is hard?
The other example I found occurs once you’ve managed to get a route between two stations. For the route shown, the web site indicates when the train leaves (“ab”) and when it arrives (“an”). It also takes care of the math for you and shows how long it takes, listing it under “Dauer”. In the screenshot below, however, the site seems to have subtracted incorrectly in every instance, mysteriously adding 10 minutes to each result.
Math is hard
I can attest that the ride from Zürich Altstetten really does take only 6-8 minutes. Why is the site adding these incorrectly? I ran the search again today and got the following results:
Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong
Instead of a constant 10 minutes, the site added 10, 0, 11, 10, 11 and 0 minutes respectively. Despite the confusing representation and the SBB’s less-than-stellar reputation, I was still convinced that there must be method to their madness. Curious, I expanded the first of the suggestions, as shown below.
Mystery solved! Walking time is included in 'dauer'.
The times are from when you enter the first train and leave the last one, not for the whole journey. If the trip includes a walk between two trains, then that walking time is included in the “dauer”; if, however, the walk is before the first train or after the last train, that time is not included.
Good to know, I guess.
3 months Ago
4 months Ago
I was recently given the book The Next 100 Years
(2009) by George Friedman
by a friend. After the first few dozen pages, I’d made so many quizzical notes that I had to look up the author, because I’d never heard of him. It turns out that he’s “the founder, chief intelligence officer, financial overseer, and CEO of the private intelligence corporation STRATFOR, a global intelligence company founded in 1996”
, according to Wikipedia
. That helped set the context for the book a bit better.
There seems to be something about the having last name “Friedman” that leads someone to think that he is an authority on absolutely everything under the sun. Not only that, but he sees no need to delve into the works of other authorities in the field before holding forth and tying everything in to a holistic “this is the way the world works” predictive scheme that kowtows to the way he wants the world to work. This involves, of course, ignoring a lot of history and a lot of science, research and philosophy to the say nothing of basic logic and rational reasoning.
The book is not very long for such a portentous title, weighing in at 273 lightweight pages. Large parts of the early chapters are filled with somewhat superficial regurgitations of U.S. textbook history that reads as if it was written by high-school junior trying desperately to copy something from Wikipedia without getting caught for plagiarism. I wondered while reading it whether Friedman had managed to write any other books because it seemed as if he’d thrown in a reference to everything he’d ever heard of or learned into this book. And it still didn’t crack 300 pages.
When he does extemporize, Friedman isn’t shy about holding forth on the topic of a woman’s “traditional” role in society as well as what all of the world’s major religions would like that role to be. These bold assertions serve as the base for a prediction that world population will actually drop. This treatment leads then seamlessly into interpretations on what Osama bin Laden really meant in his writings and then lurches into a lesson on how computers work, starting with “[t]he computer is based on binary logic” and quickly working his way into describing ASCII encodings.
This, all without a single footnote or reference to any scholarly works or sources for any of his statistics. Is it possible that the human population will stabilize and perhaps even go down in the next 100 years? Sure it is, but not before it goes up to about 8 billion people and, more importantly, not before many of these people will want the same lifestyle that George Friedman himself, as the founder and CEO of Stratfor, has, complete with the extra energy and resource demands. All of this was not discussed at all, leaving his discussion purely in the realm of superficial and largely non-interesting speculation. He lets his readers assume that this population reduction will be good for humanity when, in all likelihood, it will either not happen or will happen as a result of catastrophic die-back.
As with many predictive books, you can read it one way or you can read it another. Turkey will rise to the level of a world power…or it won’t. Russia will fall…unless it gains power first or loses it more slowly. Or whatever. The point is: the author will have been right. The only very consistently correct—in this author’s humble opinion—prediction is that the U.S. will continue to be savage—barbaric, in his words—brutally unfair, pressing for every advantage with no thought for any principle other than “he who dies with the most toys wins”. Friedman constantly treats the U.S. as an “it” looking out for itself without a thought for what its citizens may be able to bring about. He does this for all countries, and he has a sole emphasis on history as created by state actors: terrorism isn’t mentioned as an influence at all (at least not in the first 170 pages).
Not only that, but climate change also has no influence on world policy for the first 30 or 40 years, either. Energy seems to be in great supply as well, with no explanation given (other than space-based microwave cannons, which themselves would have required only a minor up-front energy and materials investment, as hand-waved away by Friedman).
Instead of that, he places an inordinate amount of emphasis on not just military power, but specifically maritime military power. Oh, and “develop[ing] significant capabilities in space” is something that many nations will do (Poland, Turkey, Japan, etc.) even though it’s something that the up-and-coming power United States (according to Friedman) is incapable of doing right now (U.S. astronauts currently fly out of Kazakhstan).
And, I feel that this must repeated: though he claims that his “book is not meant to be a celebration of the United States”, it is. It just is. Actions by the U.S. turns out to be advantages where the same actions by opponents are deadly missteps. America seems to win, no matter what. The world-spanning war he envisions is also just ludicrous. His hypothetical military actions are ubiquitous, strangely antiquated but also surgically clean, with large swaths of territory changing hands with almost no casualties.
Several times, he pauses to remind us that he’s “laying out logically” a very plausible future, but he’s really just talking out of his ass. He copy/pasted a bunch of 20th-century history together, took his preconceived notions of how the world works and should continue to work and had at it, no footnotes, no references, no data. Nothing.
It is people, in general, that are missing from Friedman’s book. There is no discussion of living conditions, advancements in social or human-centered technology, nothing about poverty, health care … nothing. His thoughts about the future are centered on military states. In the late 2060s, when “America presides over a golden age of stability”, one can only presume that, not only are the people of the world kept on a short leash by the newly rebuilt Battlestars (the aforementioned microwave cannons—I am not kidding), but even the people of the U.S. are probably not doing so great (as e.g. now with stock market soaring but many people not working, underwater on homes, in prison or otherwise dying of poverty).
I jotted down a few notes while I was skimming/reading the book.
- Page 24: He seems utterly oblivious to irony when he says that China will fall because of a class divide engendered by people on the coast doing better than those in the middle of the country (hint: he might as well be describing the U.S. – why does it work for them?)
- Page 26: common sense is for pussies. Cool, no wonder there are no footnotes.
- Page 29: what about perestroika? What about Tuchman’s many examples in her excellent March to Folly?
- Page 31: How was the twentieth century a wholly European century, with only the last decade belonging to the U.S.? The U.S. owned a majority of the world in 1945 already. The U.S. is ascending only now? Really?
- Page 33: And there is it: global warming is an irrational fear. And, prediction of America’s downfall was wrong once (in the 70s), ergo future similar predictions are also wrong. Q.E.D.
- Page 35: the biggest industry requires a lot of imported oil, but if that’s gone, what happens to that industry? And how long will that soil remain arable? Aren’t there a lot of problems already? How the hell is Alaska considered uninhabitable, but he says nothing about somewhere like Montana?
- Page 64: “overdramatize?” I imagine he refers to the wailing about lost American lives. Considering the amount of damage done to the rest of world per lost American soldier, it is absolutely correct to characterize our histrionics as overly dramatic. However, millions have been killed in these actions that he just dismisses, to say nothing of the lost opportunity costs of trillions of dollars wasted on “confusing” the rest of the world and preventing it from getting organized. What a bizarre theory: it explains why it always looks like the U.S. is fucking up royally … it’s all part of the plan.
- Page 67: Christ, that’s deft (or daft?), turning the U.S. inability to win a war in any real sense into a string of “actual” victories by claiming that the intent was only ever to destabilize. And the myth that the entire Muslim world wants to establish a Caliphate is just taken as established, credible fact.
- Page 96: At the same time—on the same page—he exhorts us to “expect the unexpected” but also that “this is not the most likely” outcome. What the hell?
- Page 97: Iran is at fault for the U.S. obsession with it, of course. Iran will be perceived as being “prematurely aggressive” and will have rightfully earned the baleful wrath of the U.S.
- Page 101: He constantly discusses population and labor force as seemingly purely fungible resources; he never mentions education, training or skill sets
- Page 130: Here he’s unduly harsh on the paranoia of the Russians: they quite reasonably think in terms of having been constantly under threat or attack over the last 100 years. Look at the current European attitude toward them, which crosses the line into racism, even at the State level.
- Page 132: His analysis is based heavily on what feels like decades-old military strategy and tactics (e.g. focus on naval forces), ignoring—or not mentioning nearly as much—the much more prevalent economic strangulation and colonization. Already today, we have drones, cyber warfare, nuclear weapons (which he dismisses as not usable; why?) as well as all sorts of asymmetrical terrorist and guerrilla tactics. All of this is not discussed, favoring missile porn about hyper-rockets that travel at 10 times the speed of sound
- Page 138: His ideas about the mobility of labor have no basis in reality. He makes it sound like blue-collar labor forces just jump around, optimizing their incomes by location. There is no reason to believe that this will become easier (even were immigration restrictions reduced as per the mysterious “population bust” he posits).
- Page 145: Once again, he waves his hands and makes history happen with utterly unexplained forces
- Page 146: He casually mentions 401ks as a saving vehicle when, for many people, those had been literally decimated just a year before his book’s publication. He also ignores the massive financialization of the U.S. economy, treating it instead as a GDP comprised primarily of industry and exports.
- Page 147: lots of bla, bla, but essentially boils down to very generously explaining how a large part of the U.S. economy (the financial part, at least) is based almost purely on fraud. He used far more words to get there, but I’m sure he also has many, many friends that he is trying to avoid offending.
- Page 149: Here he talks about Social Security as if he’s the first one to think about the baby boomers and as if the SSA has no actuarial division that perhaps anticipated it (i.e. he thinks we have to raise the retirement age, of course). Despite all of these problems, though, the U.S. will still easily come out on top in the world standings in the next century.
- Page 152: Here he posits a population slump in OECD countries, engendering a situation in which “immigrants will certainly comparison-shop”. This would be a sea change indeed, but there is no factual argument made for this coming about, other than reverse population pressure. And, even given that, the vacuum of U.S. desire for labor doesn’t making moving to another country any easier, really.
- page 162–166: Purely old-school militarism with no mention made of the potential for nuclear war or other less conventional attacks. Just armies moving back and forth as they always have done.
- Page 167: “[…] intensification of the crisis of confidence that has undermined France and Germany since World War I.” Really? Wasn’t Germany just brimming with confidence somewhere in the middle there? Does anyone else recall something like that?
- Page 172: Is this some neocon fantasy? Instead of being on the rise and riding a resource boom, Russia disappears on its own? Again? Why does the U.S. get to ride a resource boom, but not Russia? Why does China implode due to class divides but not the U.S.? No reasons given, other than it makes the prediction more palatable to Stratfor’s customers.
- Page 173: So, wait a minute, just a few pages ago, the U.S. had unparalleled economic and military power over the world, but still allows Japan to develop into a James-Bond–villain–like power? Methinks he’s just getting a hard-on describing the awesome military hardware they will all have.
- Page 174: It’s weird, because as the world develops, he keeps reaching back to the 20th century for patterns, envisioning ever-expanding, classic empires which would seem to require much more military personnel and energy. He makes no attempt to describe how this will all transpire and how energy budgets will work; instead, he just asserts that it will (work). And one large empire is threatening to break up (the EU)—what is the justification for believing that any other country would want to expand to more territory and leave itself even more exposed? There’s more confusion here because, once the Turks have expanded far northward, they can then magically “tell the U.S. [what] to do”? And Iraq will be “torn apart by traditional internal conflicts” but this is more historical work than prediction, no? And he predicts that Iraq will somehow build up into something useful in 30 years but will then fall apart again because “Russia withdraws support”? Wouldn’t decades of U.S. sanctions and war be more to blame here? Or are we just going to look ahead and forget that all happened?
- Page 175: “Force Israel into an accommodation.” Did he write that with a straight face? This has barely happened in the last 60 years and, with its major ally in nigh-unimaginable ascendancy (Friedman’s prediction), it isn’t likely to happen in the future either.
- Page 185: I call them “Battlestars, for no other reason than that it’s a cool name.” Yep, definitely getting a hard-on over military hardware.
- Page 186: Why would the “Japanese be alarmed by Battlestars”? Following current trends in U.S. education and technical expertise, wouldn’t the Japanese most likely have designed and built them? And would these plans not have been available online since pretty much the project inception? Or does the Internet no longer exist? Or perhaps Wikileaks gave up and went home?At any rate, The Japanese would have presumably kept a Battlestar for themselves. Or are we still assuming that, as in the 1960s, only Americans can build technology?
- Page 189: “U.S. intelligence, of course, will pick up the diplomatic discussions […]” because, in forty years, we still won’t be using encryption for anything so that the eavesdropping infrastructure continues to work just as well as it does today.
- Page 190: Apparently, he’s going to ride the “only Americans can design and build technology” horse until it dies out from under him.
- Page 192: It’s really getting a bit infuriating how he’s so understanding that the U.S. considers any minuscule or barely potential threat to its hegemony as life-threatening and an “offensive maneuver”.
- Page 200: bla, bla, bla, more war porn … moon bases! Moving on…
- Page 203: “As we have seen, nuclear weapons are more frightening before they are used than after […]” I’m not even sure how to respond to that. Is he sure about that? Japan has been pretty quiet, no? They used to be quite dedicated militarists and are now quite dedicated pacifists. They invented an entire film genre with plots dedicated almost solely to working through the angst engendered by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That seems like a spectacularly insensitive and wildly inaccurate thing to write.
- Page 229: The massive, world-spanning war will cost only 50,000 lives in all. Naturally, collateral, second-order and third-order effects of such a war are not counted toward the body count. If people starve to death because a death ray wipes out their crops or power centers or clean water, that’s their own fault, and is naturally not attributed to the war. The scenario he depicts would require so much energy; where does it all come from? It feels like Michael Bay helped him right that chapter.
- Page 233: Here he once again takes up those 50-year cycles of American history. He explained how American history can be roughly aligned—very roughly, because you can only use the official history and must ignore other significant events that don’t line up so well—in 50-year blocks. He does not explain why this pattern is inescapable.
- Page 235–238: More tech porn, listing historical technologies and throwing in every technology he can think of. I’m not sure what the purpose here was, though. Perhaps just padding to fill out the book a bit more.
- Page 245: Here he has a good 3-item list that describes how technology is developed (hint: the first step is publicly funded research at universities and grant programs, the second is publicly funded military development and the last step is private industry making money off it, for free). Nothing new to see here.
5 months Ago
Opera has officially released their first desktop browser based on the Blink engine (forked from WebKit). The vision behind Opera 15 and beyond by Sebastien Baberowski (Desktop Team) explains how Opera 15…
…is dead on arrival.
Choose your market
For years, Opera has held a steady 1.7–2% of the desktop browser market. This seems small but comprises dozens of millions of users. More capitalist heads have clearly prevailed at Opera. They’ve struck out for a more lucrative market. Instead of catering to the 2% of niche, expert users that were die-hard, loyal fans, they will create a clone of Chrome/Firefox/Safari that will cater to a much, much wider market.
In terms of fiscal reasoning, it’s not hard to see why they’re going in this direction. They will abandon their previous user base—the hardcore market—to the thankless chore of downloading and configuring their browsers with buggy extensions that offer half-assed versions of the features that used to be high-performance and native.
As one such user, I am saddened, but am also almost certain that there is no turning back. It’s been a good run, though. The browser market will be quite homogenized, but perhaps some enterprising open-source project will take up the flame and build us a better Opera.
Here’s how another user put it in the comments for the article,
“Opera’s main reason was not to spend their time on browser innovation, but to save money. Opera became misinformative, untrustworthy company, disrespectful towards long-time and power users, whose disappointment Opera now tries to appease by extensions and “future” features.”
That has been my impression, as well.
Opera does too have features!
Though many of the features that defined Opera for its users are gone—perhaps to be resurrected—the company goes out of its way to trumpet its innovation in this latest incarnation of its browser.
The article lightly covers the same four f&#king features that they won’t shut up about—Speed Dial, Stash, Discover and Off-road Mode—and tells loyal Opera users that if “you find that Opera 15 doesn’t have a feature you depend upon, first check the growing list of extensions”. In other words, Opera is now just Chrome without Google? All of the out-of-the-box features that Opera users have come to expect have just been shitcanned? And we can all hold out hope that the community develops them for Opera? And we get to spend a shit-ton of time evaluating, downloading, testing and setting up these extensions?
I can “discover” the web just fine on my own without Opera’s help. This feature feels more like an AOL/Facebook/Google+ crutch to get me to read catered content. Where’s the pro version of the Opera browser? I’m browsing on a desktop with a 150Mb Internet connection—Off-road Mode is utterly useless for me. Just as Turbo was useless before.
Stash, the Process Model and Memory Hunger
And shall we guess why they’re pushing Stash so hard? Because they want to train us to stop keeping so many tabs open. You see, keeping dozens and dozens of tabs open brings any browser other than Opera to its knees. Either that, or the browser soon takes over most of the resources of the machine on which it runs and brings the OS to its knees.
Now that Opera has inherited the process model from the Blink engine, well, they suffer from the same issues that Chrome has: it’s just not very good at keeping dozens and dozens of tabs open. Kudos to Opera for at least recognizing the problem and trying to train its users to be more reasonable. It’s a bit weird for Opera users to hear this, though, because that was one of the reasons we used their f*$king browser in the first place: it just worked and didn’t make us change our work habits to accommodate the tool.
Next? Beta? Alpha.
The halcyon days of faster, better and slimmer are, apparently, gone. At least for now. Version 15, though it’s called an official release, is, for an Opera user, not even a beta. It is, at best, an early alpha that is nowhere near feature-completeness.
I understand that you want to trim the fat: some non-browsing features can legitimately be moved to other apps or put to sleep. It’s utterly arguable that a browser doesn’t need it’s own IRC client, an RSS reader, a mail client, something called Unite.
But intimating that “Fit to Width” is too confusing a feature and won’t come back? Removing bookmarks? And sessions? And the whole “Reopen closed windows” feature? And replacing it all with a single-level Speed Dial and something called Stash? And, of course…
Extensions to the rescue/whither Opera Link?
The article goes on to cheerfully explain that there is a bookmark manager extension. This extension comes from Opera itself and is the official recommendation from the press release/article linked above. The first few comments should be enough to scare off anyone. This isn’t too surprising: the bookmark manager in Opera 12 was barely adequate and had seen little love for years. But it worked. It had folders. It synced via Opera Link.
All that is gone. Use Stash instead.
Oh, and anything you configure will be local to that machine until Opera Link is reactivated. No roadmap for that yet. No roadmap for anything, in fact. Just a bunch of promises that “we are looking at your comments and feedback”. There’s nowhere to actually register that feedback and see whether Opera’s considering it (something like Microsoft’s “User Voice” would be nice). I can’t believe I just wrote that I wish Opera would be more like Microsoft in engaging with the community.
Who thought this was a good idea? Hey, maybe there’s an extension for Opera Link? Maybe I can cut&paste my browser together from dozens of extensions? Isn’t that why I was using Opera instead of another browser? And even were I to do this, I get to repeat this configuration on absolutely every machine on which I use Opera because…you guessed it: Opera Link is gone, so I don’t get any data-synchronization anymore. Not for bookmarks (which are gone anyway) but also not for the Wand (which is gone anyway) and certainly not for extensions, which were never synced, even in Opera 12.x.
How in the name of all that is holy is moving bookmarks to an extension a move that offers a “UI simple enough to be intuitive for a consumer who wants a solid, fast browser that just works”?
Well, of course everything just works—your browser no longer has any features.
So the check list of features in Opera 15 consists of “show web pages” which comes free by including the Chromium project. Whoop-de-f&#king-doo.
Wait and see
I can’t believe I’m writing this because I’ve always upgraded to the latest version, but: you can stick Opera 15 where the sun doesn’t shine; I’m sticking with Opera 12. I’m happy with that for now, but I know it’s not a long-term—or even medium-term—solution. Sigh.