The Golden Compass: Neither Great nor Poor

Gee, what a surprise, no CGI can do justice to “broken-down drunk exiled prince of the armored polar bears.” But The Golden Compass was not nearly as incomprehensible to those who hadn’t read the books as I thought it would be. My wife quite liked the movie and hadn’t been prepped for the story (other than by me saying things like “The books are Lord of the Rings good”). For one thing, the movie starts by explaining there’s a multiverse, that daemons are souls, and that Dust is central to tying everything together.

My biggest problem with the movie, actually, was that it lacked Pullman’s spine of suspense and discovery. Compared to the books, it was just one damn thing after another. I had other problems, too, like the alethiometer (“golden compass”) being a freaking television set when the whole point was that it was symbolic.

The movie was actually more openly anti-Magisterium/Church than I remembered the first book being, which goes hand-in-hand with the overall simplification of the text: there is no question from the get-go who are allies and enemies. On the other hand, at this point the Magisterium is presented as a pseudo-militaristic fascist power and you’d have to be wound pretty tightly to bristle at what’s on the screen. (Now, how they can do the third book without the anti-Narnia stuff being on the screen, I dunno’.)


CGI’s come an incredible way, of course, and fur seems to be a done deal (Pan as a wildcat was done well, and for that matter, Pan in general was very good, with lots of shapeshifting). I think with big animals (like, say, armored bears) they’re still falling short. They don’t give proper attention to musculature (which is amusing, because if you look at 300 or Beowulf, you see an attention to human muscles that borders on fetishistic). One of the sublime moments in my life was seeing the back of a blue whale flex as it dove and seeing the flex of muscles 3 feet wide. Power, more than scale, is what is humbling about large animals.

Tagging Languages And Monolithic Code

The biggest problem with tag-based languages (<h1><% someCode %></h1> : the ASPs, the ColdFusions, the PHPs…) is that they facilitate monolithic code. This is related the big criticism of XML and DOMs for data structures, too: they facilitate the creation of hierarchies, not graphs. (As always with programming, the issue is “facilitates” not “possible”…)

My dear friend “Bob” creates horrific pages that are hundreds and even thousands of lines long, with <cfif> at line 100, and then a <cfelse> at line 837 and then a … and ColdFusion isn’t valid XML and there’s a combination of HTML indentation and ColdFusion code indenting.

Just absolutely impenetrable stuff, and while I’m more than willing to blame many problems on Bob, I think this is a problem that the tool he uses (ColdFusion) is facilitating.

Microsoft Volta Initial Reaction: Too RPC-y

Microsoft’s new Volta toolset allows developers to develop their applications using standard OOP techniques and then use “declarative tier-splitting” to specify which functions should run on the client and which on the server. Erik Meijer says:

Volta starts with a client-side perspective. That is, once developers are satisfied with an application’s functionality and fully understand the internal object interactions, they “decorate” the code with declarative attributes, or annotations, to indicate the parts of the application that should run on other tiers…. Moreover, Volta allows developers to delay irreversible decisions until the last responsible moment, greatly increasing the agility of development in intermediate phases where change is often rapid. Since developers initially create easy-to-manage, single-tier client applications, and then incrementally distribute parts to other tiers through a “refactoring” technique they are already familiar with, they can apply familiar skills to new problems ? reducing development cost and risk.

I’ve not explored Volta, but…

This sounds like a bad idea to me. You can’t refactor away the difference between an in-memory method call and an Internet message: one happens in nanoseconds and the other in milliseconds.

Meijer says “Volta dramatically reduces the amount of ‘new stuff’ developers must learn….” which is all well and good, but “Making lots of function calls over the Internet is a bad idea for performance, scalability, and maintenance” doesn’t qualify as ‘new stuff’ and I think pretending otherwise is wrong-headed.

Mandelbrot via LINQ

Jon Skeet’s generation of the Mandelbrot set via LINQ chaotically oscillates between absurdity and relevance, sensitive to the input of what aspect of concurrency you’re thinking about. If you’re thinking about efficiency, you rapidly head towards “absurd,” but if you think about mental models, it rapidly heads towards relevance (by way of “declarative programming”). But as soon as your train of thought moves forward, you may find yourself flung towards either side of the spectrum. I like it.

Oh, by the way, I was going to say some things about chaotic oscillators and concurrency and I realized how sad it is that I’ve never mastered Flash (I can program Flash, but every time I do I have to go through a learning curve again). And then I thought about Silverlight 2.0 (nee 1.1), which I can’t get to run on my dev machine because I quarantine alpha and beta products in VMs and for some reason I can’t get Silverlight … but then I thought about Mathematica and how it now has a runtime player …

No Single Device Suitable for Different Reading Types?

Jeff Duntemann (a great competitor/friend from the Computer Language days) opines that:

[T]here are three different kinds of reading:

  • Meditative reading is reading to change your state of mind….
  • Autodidactive reading is reading to teach yourself something….
  • Developmental reading is reading within the process of creating texts for reading or presentation….

What kind of reading we do bears heavily on what kind of ebook reader we’d like to have….

There will come a day when the tech is good enough so that all three kinds of reading can be done exclusively on electronic devices. But I’m also pretty sure that a single device will not serve all kinds of reading.

Which certainly seems to be supported by my Kindle experience, which continues to be excellent with “meditative reading” but could certainly not support “developmental reading,” which Jeff accurately describes as involving “reading that involves quick changes of focus from one book to another, with occasional dashes to the Web. I sometimes sit in my chair with four or five books lying face down on my nearby desk, the chair arms, or the floor, like bugs.”

My Friend Who Robbed An Armor Car

This story of a couple that stole $7 million on Monday and were nabbed this morning reminds me of a second-tier friend from High School who was very dim. A few years after HS I heard that he had gotten a job with an armored car company doing ATM refills.

“Apparently, he decided that he’d skim some $20s off the top and who would be the wiser?”

“He got caught?” I asked.

“He got caught before lunch.”

I always liked that gradation: there’s risky, there’s fool-hardy, and then there’s caught before lunch.