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     Dark Materials
    Filed under: — David @ 5:11 pm

    I just finished reading (or rather, listening to) Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, the third book in His Dark Materials, the series that starts with The Golden Compass, which recently appeared in theaters. Critical response to that film was mixed (which was the reason I didn’t get around to seeing it), but it mainly made the news because of the story’s controversial nature. Basically, it portrays churches as corrupt, controlling, power-hungry organizations, and it advocates atheism.

    The atheistic agenda doesn’t really become apparent until the third book, and it was between my reading (listening to) the second and third books that the film came out and I learned what I was in for in the final installment. But I figured my faith was up to the challenge, and I was curious how the story ended anyway.

    One of the characters in The Amber Spyglass calls Christianity “a very powerful and convincing mistake”, in a way that sounds like it’s one of the primary messages that Pullman is trying to communicate to his readers. But the only piece of doctrine he actually attacks in trying to prove this claim is the idea of the vow of chastity (the character is a former nun), which is hardly a fundamental part of Christianity, since many Christian churches don’t subscribe to it. So it’s not really a worthy target for such a broad claim.

    The series also seems to promote the idea that religion is evil because evil things are done in its name, mainly because the Catholic church is portrayed (at least in an alternate universe) as an inherently corrupt organiation. But that just doesn’t follow. People also do evil things in the name of love, but I’d hardly call that a corrupt institution. What’s really going on is when people do evil things, they need an excuse, a rationalization, because they don’t want to face the evil in their actions. The most appealing solution is to hide behind something good, like God or the church, so it can take the blame instead. So this fallacy that churches are evil because of the failings of their followers falls apart pretty soundly. I would say instead that if you find a good thing that hasn’t been used to justify evil deeds, you might do well to question how good it really is. Those of us that believe in Satan would say the more good there is in something, the more he wants to attack it.

    (Spoiler warning for this paragraph) The third book is also supposed to have a kind of reenactment of the Adam and Eve story, but I just found that to be a disappointment. It was supposed to be the moment Lyra fulfilled her prophesied destiny, but it turned out to be nothing more than her first kiss, and unlike Eve with the forbidden fruit, there was no disobedience involved at all. The “Satan” figure in this instance “tempted” Lyra by telling the story of her own first kiss, but kissing hadn’t been forbidden by anyone. So this part I simply found disappointing and anticlimactic rather than objectionable.

    It’s interesting to me to compare the His Dark Materials series to The Life of Brian, since the release of that film was also met by protests from religious groups. There is a key difference, though (aside from being a comedy): Brian didn’t make fun of religion, but rather fanaticism - and not even religious fanaticism exclusively. The whole “People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front” situation gives equal opportunity to political fanaticism. The Sermon on the Mount scene is one part where Jesus appears in the background, and yet no jokes are made at his expense. Instead you have a bout of name-calling erupting in the fringes of the crowd, which is a classic example of people getting hung up on their own trivialities when the most important thing in the world is right there staring them in the face - and in this case, pretty much literally.

     A simple wiki
    Filed under: — David @ 10:43 am

    A while back I installed MediaWiki on my PowerBook for use as a personal journal and notebook. I chose MediaWiki because a) it was free and b) I thought the installation process would be educational. Well it was, but it wasn’t enjoyable enough to make me want to do it again on my MacBook Pro.

    So I’m thinking about alternatives. The problem with MediaWiki is that it’s not designed for the single-user scenario; just the opposite, it’s designed for super-sized situations like Wikipedia. I’ve looked at other wiki-like programs, but one of my concerns is being stuck with a proprietary format. As a personal journal, this is data that is going to be with me a long time, and it has a good chance of outliving whatever program I choose to use right now. So naturally the option of doing it myself has come to mind.

    Here’s my idea: an application with the easy inter-page linking of a wiki, but where each page is based on a simple standard format, like HTML (instead of choosing one of many wiki mark-up formats). Each page is also a separate document, and easily searchable with Spotlight. Most wikis keep an edit history for each page, but for my purposes that just isn’t important so I’ll skip that feature. I would use WebKit’s built-in editing features, with some stuff added on for easy links, categories, and a few other things. I suppose that, since it’s based on HTML, such an app could be used as a web site management tool. That depends on how it evolves.

    So, dare I take on another project? Well it looks like I can leave XVG in favor of GCDrawKit, so I just might have an opening.

     Belated Macworld keynote response
    Filed under: — David @ 12:15 pm

    Yes, it’s almost a week later, but since it’s a holiday I finally have time to jot down some thoughts.

    I may as well start with the biggie, the MacBook Air. I’ve seen a lot of pros and cons tossed around, and I think the only one that would be an obstacle for me is the hard disk size. On my MacBook Pro I’ve used 136GB out of 160, so 80 just wouldn’t do. But by the time it’s time to replace this laptop, it’s pretty likely the MacBook Air will have a big enough hard disk.

    I remain unconvinced that the time for online movie rentals has come. For one thing, I think not enough people have the effective bandwidth needed to make them convenient enough. I say “effective” because it’s still pretty common to get slow download speeds because the Internet is clogged somewhere else. Second, the rental terms are more restrictive than with DVD rentals: 24 hours versus several days to a week, plus the availability being delayed by 30 days, and all the restrictions imposed by the iTunes rental DRM. Third (and this may matter more to me than to most other people), online movie downloads - both rentals and purchases - still lack the extras that almost all DVDs have. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m still sticking with physical media: I get more content.

    I was impressed that some rentals are available in HD, although it seems that only applies to the Apple TV, so that’s useless to most people. I’m still debating whether I want an Apple TV or a Mac mini.

    The Time Capsule is the one new product I’m really interested in. It’s coming down to either the Mac mini, or a Time Capsule and an Apple TV. The deciding factor may end up being how noisy my backup drive is.

     No custom announcers for UT3?
    Filed under: — David @ 9:11 am

    I was poking around in the innards of UT3 last night, in particular seeing how Warfare nodes are given names like “east road node” or “tank node”. Part of this mechanism involves specifying the announcer sounds for the attack and defend directives. Then it hit me - in the shower this morning actually - that identifying the announcer sounds so explicitly will probably make it difficult to do custom announcers. Obviously the option isn’t currently in the UT3’s menus, but it seems the game’s own design makes it difficult to add this feature.

    It UT2004, custom announcers worked by identifying sounds by a simple name, like “Red_Flag_Returned” (used by UT2004’s CTFMessage class). The sound was then found in the selected announcer package. But in UT3, it’s a fully qualified name, including the package name, like “A_Announcer_Status.Status.A_StatusAnnouncer_RedFlagReturned” (see UT3’s corresponding UTCTFMessage class). In order to find a corresponding sound in another package, you’d have to pick that big name apart, which is ungainly to say the least. It’s as if they deliberately designed this feature back out of the game.

    I continue to be perplexed by the shortcomings of Unreal Tournament 3.

    Filed under: — David @ 3:17 pm

    I signed up for a Twitter account a few weeks ago and started using Twitterific, since I decided anything from my friends at the Iconfactory is worth a look. The idea is called micro-blogging, and because of the way you can follow and respond to other people’s micro-blogs it blurs the line between blogs and chat rooms. The posts tend to be about more trivial things, but they give you a fun and different perspective on the people that post them.

    As it’s now become a regular part of my routine (what with Twitterific sitting in my menu bar and all), I’ve decided to add it to my web site too, so I’ve added my recent “tweets” to my blog sidebar.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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