General Chaos

Live Steamers!

A picture named steamengine.jpg On Saturday, I went with my wife and daughter to Baltimore's Leakin Park for the annual Herb Festival. But the first attraction of the day at the park was the trains.

The Chesapeake & Allegheny Steam Preservation Society operates a scale model railroad on the grounds of the park. And these just aren't any model trains–they're working scale model steam engines that run on coal. And you can ride on them around the grounds of the park–for free.

We went for a ride. The sensation of riding on a 2-foot high rail car on a 3-foot gauge track was akin to sitting on a coasting skateboard–a steam-powered skateboard at that. We got held up for a bit at the end, as an engine ahead of us had gotten caught at a switch. It took a few minutes for the engineers and conductors to do the requisite backing and maneuvering to clear the switch, and then we rode the last 40 feet to the depot.

These “live steamer” guys are a great bunch. And it's no mean feat to drive one of these engines either–you've got to run the throttle and the brake, pull chunks of coal from between your legs to feed the boiler, and stoke your own fire all at the same time.

General Chaos

Attack of the Clones

Blogged on my Handspring on Friday night:

I'm sitting in the historic Senator Theater here in Baltimore, with my sons waiting for the start of Episode II. Kevin & Jonah are engaged in a vigorous debate with a kid in the row in front of us over the relative merits of Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64 and Super Smash Brothers Melee on GameCube, as well as the quality of the stories of the N64 “Zelda” games.

Now the movie's rolling. Previews: one for the Matrix sequels, one for a kid movie called “Like Mike” (a kid with no game finds a pair of Michael Jordan's sneakers hung over a telephone wire, gets hit by lightning pulling them down, and turns into a b-ball wunderkind), and one for Minority Report.

Handspring off for the feature.

And now the wrap-up

Attack of the Clones has now rolled credits. I have to say I enjoyed it, honestly–despite the mechanations to tie all of the plot points from the original series into the movie, it worked for me (and more importantly, my kids). I guess that's partially because I came in with low expectations. But I think the lambasting that the movie has gotten from the critics is, at least in part, George Lucas' own fault.

Okay, the acting was somewhat wooded; Yoda was the most well-developed character. But given the amount of action in the film, and the limited room for character development, it was almost a non-issue. The real problem is that Lucas' skill in producing escapist, “turn-off-your-brain” entertainment runs against everything everyone wants to attach to this movie–including Lucas' own “higher” goals of a love story. The lead weights attached to this movie are the story points George has to hit for continuity–the whole backstory for the original Star Wars depends on what happens in this movie, and that weight is what robs some of its energy.

Annakin is written and played as a sulking teenager. My 11-year old can connect with him on a base level. Any male who went through puberty can; Hayden Christensen plays him as the adolescent id, with little if any impulse control. He's all emotion, no intellect–the high school quarterback with super powers, trying to impress the head cheerleader. That doesn't make for a whole lot of sympathy for him from adults, mind you. But you can see where he's going.

Criticism of the performance of Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen is pointless. There's so little to work with for the two of them to develop the “love story” grafted onto this action film that the chemistry can seem forced at times.

But chemistry is not what the core Star Wars constituency (male geeks, teenagers and preteens) cares about. All the older ones *really* want to see is Natalie Portman in something as close to the slave girl outfit Carrie Fisher had to wear for “Return of the Jedi” as possible.

Given that George Lucas is making these movies as wholesome as possible for the preteen toy-demanding set (aside from all the computer-generated violence crammed into them), it's doubtful that they'll ever see something like that again, or anything more passionate than light kissing and low-grade sexual tension in the final installment.

But my kids don't care. My 8-year old closed his eyes through the few kissing scenes. And my 11-year old was more concerned about the fate of Jango Fett, the bounty hunter–whom he considered the most interesting character in the movie. (Frankly, I did too, and found myself rooting for him against Ewan McGregor's Obi-wan).

So the movie works for its real intended audience–kids who can't get into a PG-13 movie on their own. It's the most expensive sci-fi serial adventure series of all time, 40 years after the genre's prime. Like Lucas says, “It's just a movie.” If you want some real exploration of psychology, go see a Sam Raimi movie–like <a href=Spider-man.

General Chaos

explore this

I'm so damn sick of the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser for Mac OS
X. It crashes at least four times a day. So I've downloaded the beta
of Opera for Mac OS X. Some
minor issues–cascading stylesheets are broken, so the template graphics
don't show up on my Radio blog interface . But it's faster–and for a beta, it seems much more stable than the
crap Microsoft ships. I'd use Netscape's browser (I have it loaded
on my laptop), but it's even slower than IE and only somewhat more
stable in its current shipping version. (Not to mention it's AOL

General Chaos

More scribes released into the wild

Ziff is shutting down The Net Economy today, after forming a relationship with Advanstar Communications. The assets of Net Economy will be combined with the Advanstar publication America's Network. Advanstar has 92 business publications, and 79 tradeshows.

Apparently tradeshows are part of the reason for the deal; Ziff doesn't have any events to speak of. But events (at least tech events) aren't doing terribly well these days either…

Net Economy was a relatively new pub, targeted at the xSP segment –businesses that provided Internet-based and telephony-based services. It was a great magazine. Unfortunately, the market it served cratered shortly after the book launched.

Ed Cone reflects on the contrast between the high times (all of 2 years ago) and the low ones (which I guess would be now).

The note Ziff CEO Bob Callahan sent out about the deal was as upbeat as messages like this can be, talking about the benefits of the deal to Ziff. He also took time to hammer an unnamed competitor for spreading lies about the future of other Ziff pubs.

I've been through this cycle before; the ads are hard to come by, so salesmen will say anything they think anyone will believe (and some things they just hope they'll believe). There's always a grain of truth in the best lies.

The question is, at what point do the salesmen who run publishing companies start talking to editors like they're customers?

This happened at my last company. A magazine I was running was a new launch, and I was reassured over and over by my boss (a salesman, I should add) that the pub was going to be given time to take off, that it was strategic to the future direction of the company, yadda yadda yadda. I knew the magazine's original model was flawed (though it was tough to sell that up the chain, because the company president's significant other did the market research behind it), and I was close to fixing it I was the last person to find out the magazine was being shut down.
The problem these days for word jockeys like me is that even if you think you're getting more sales pitch than truth from above, there's not a whole lot you can do about it. I'm inclined to give my bosses the benefit of the doubt, but even if I didn't , my options would be limited–I certainly don't see me monetizing my blog anytime soon.

But I'm told Baseline is doing well, so I try not to worry too much about the background noise of debt restructuring and closing publications. Happy Happy, Joy Joy.