As You Were

Devin Coughlin's blog.
Styles: Serious Spare

February 25, 2007

Best Picture Nominees 2007

I haven't been able to make it to many movies this last year and, until yesterday, hadn't managed to see even a single one of the Best Picture Nominees.

Well now I've seen all of them. I entered the theater at 10:30am yesterday, forked over $30, and left at 11:45pm, feeling slightly woozy but satisfied with the results.

The AMC Best Pictures Showcase, which I discovered via Kathryn Yu, was an awesome way to see the nominees. The movies were all shown in the same theater, with 15 - 20 minutes between them. We got free refills on popcorn and soft drinks (ugh) and it was very nice to be able to keep our seats.

I was surprised by my reactions to the movies — I didn't like the those I expected to like and was pleasantly surprised by those I expected to hate. So, mini-reviews, in the order I saw them:

Babel — Double-meh. This was not a good movie for 11:00am. Also it wasn't very good. As the young Dawson Leery behind me kept saying to his date, the only interesting storyline was that of the deaf Japanese woman. Redeeming qualities: Gael García Bernal as a sweet but dangerous twenty-something troublemaker and Adriana Barraza as his saintly, long-suffering aunt.

The Queen — Meh. This was a good movie, but I don't know if it is really Oscar quality. Mostly it was a reminder of how far Tony Blair has fallen. Redeeming quality: Hellen Mirren was very, very good as Queen Elizabeth II.

The Departed — Excellent. This is the best Scorsese movie I've seen in a long while. It was probably too long, but the some of the acting was so good I didn't care. Mark Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his small role in this movie. He was great, but I thought Matt Damon was even better. The scenes where Damon's character flirts with a police psychologist (played by Vera Farmiga from the much-missed [apparently only by me] American version of Touching Evil) make the whole movie go pop, pop, pop. Less than amazing: Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio's character isn't interesting enough to be the hero.

Letters From Iwo Jima — Excellent. I was expecting more of the Greatest Generation crap we've seen recently, but there was surprisingly little of that here. Ken Watanabe seems to have the doomed soldier thing down, and if this movie doesn't make Kazunari Ninomiya, who plays an adorable baker-turned-soldier, an international star, I'll eat my hat. It was the only movie I saw yesterday where the music jumped out at me — I thought it was very good. Less than amazing: Some of Watanabe's speeches are about as subtle as those in Ayn Rand. More on pre-War Japanese politics and a little less America worship ("America makes 5 million cars a year, so pillboxes won't work against them") would have been better.

Little Miss Sunshine — Meh. Based on the rave reviews, I was expecting something much better. It was funny and good, but Best Picture it is not. Redeeming qualities: Steve Carrell is pretty funny as the suicidal world's 2nd most prominent Proust scholar.

And the winner is? I don't know. My guess is The Departed wins. It has an all-star cast, a star director, and it was really very good. But: no social conscience whatsoever.

Update: And the winner is The Departed.

Posted by coughlin at 12:16 PM

February 19, 2007

Standard Menu Items and User Expectations

John Gruber (of Daring Fireball) posted a bit about What ToDo and complained:

"(Note to Mac developers: If the one and only item in your Help menu is a YourAppName Help command, and the only thing that command does is show an alert that says “Help isn’t available for YourAppName”, you should just get rid of the entire Help menu. Not having a Help menu at all at least makes it clear there isn’t any help; making it look like there is help but then telling me there isn’t only after I ask for it is irritating.)"

This has been the single biggest complaint from my users. A related issue is that the Preferences menu item is greyed out because there aren't currently any preferences. Many users have mistakenly interpreted this to mean that the prefs are disabled until they register. The take-home message: if you have a menu item, users will expect to be able to use it. If you don't support the feature, get rid of the menu item, even a standard boilerplate one whose removal makes the menu look wrong. Better yet, implement the feature.

Posted by coughlin at 4:07 PM

February 17, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Threading

ridiculous_fish has a ridiculously long (but good) blog post up about the interaction between C, compiler trickiness, and processor I/O reordering with a dose of double-checked locking for good measure.

I've promised myself that I'll re-read C++ and the Perils of Double-Checked Locking every six months until it takes me less than an hour to fully grok on each read-through.

And I'll offer a new postulation, called Coughlin's Probably Stolen Law of Multithreading in Imperative Languages: performance, simplicity, correctness — you're lucky if you get to pick even two.

Posted by coughlin at 11:05 PM

Unions and the quality of schools

Steve Jobs has set off a minor firestorm in the Mac community for his comments on the role of teachers' unions in school quality.

"Comparing schools to small companies and principals to CEOs, [Jobs] asked rhetorically what kind of CEO can’t hire the people he wants, get rid of workers who aren’t performing or pay better workers more.

American schools “have become unionized in the worst possible way,” Jobs said.

Until that is remedied, he said, schools won’t be able to attract the best teachers and administrators."

I have to say I just don't get why people are so obsessed about teachers' unions. It's pretty obvious that the most important factors in determining the quality of a school district are, in rough order,

  1. Property prices
  2. Education level of the parents in the district
  3. Level of respect for education of the parents in the district
  4. Attractiveness of the area for the creative classes

It's not an accident that most of the good public schools in the country are located in rich college towns and around research centers -- this is where the people who value education the most tend to move. Huge cities like New York City also tend to have some extremely good schools, but this is probably due more to the variation made possible by large, dense populations and magnet programs than to anything else.

Your average rural town or rust belt city is not going to have good schools because most of the people there who you would want to have be involved in schools, whether as parents or teachers, will find better places to live when they grow up.

Inner cities also struggle to provide good schools because their property tax base is terrible and most parents living in the inner city are not well educated themselves. But at least inner cities can attract good teachers without requiring them to move to Podunk-ville.

I don't think that teacher unionization is a major factor in the quality of education (although is is a big deal in the quality of life for the teachers). People who harp on it seem to be deluding themselves about the real problems in our education system.

Posted by coughlin at 5:22 PM

February 15, 2007

Late Night Cocoa Podcast

The Late Night Cocoa Podcast is getting really good.

The most recent episode tackles the Cocoa text system and manages to make an API that I've always found to be utterly inscrutable make sense in a medium with no visual component. That totally rocks.

Posted by coughlin at 5:13 PM

Real Artists Ship

Announcing What ToDo 1.0.

Update: And the inevitable, embarrassing 1.0.1 release is out. Fixes a really embarrassing oversight on my part: if you closed the main window there was no way to get it back without quitting the app. I'm such an obsessive Command-Q'er that I never realized this was the case.

Posted by coughlin at 9:33 AM

February 12, 2007

This means War!

Well, this means War.

But how to wage it? It's not enough just to win the presidential anymore, something has to be done to change the way things work in this country.

Posted by coughlin at 10:27 PM

February 11, 2007

Cruel But True . . .

Daniel Jalkut opines that:

  1. Those who can, do.
  2. Those who can’t do, write ToDo apps.
  3. Those who can’t write ToDo apps … eventually figure out how to do.
and I find myself nodding in agreement.

I think it takes a particular lack of creativity to commit oneself to implementing a ToDo app...

But I'll have something more to say about that in a couple of days. . .

Posted by coughlin at 10:28 PM

February 10, 2007

In Defense of Amanda Marcotte

I have been very disappointed that the main actors behind recent hubbub about the Edwards campaign's hiring of two liberal bloggers, Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) and Amanda Marcotte (of Pandagon), are either extremely misinformed or are cherry-picking evidence in order to lead people to a conclusion that is obvious false.

Melissa McEwan hasn't written anything remotely offensive

The critics of Melissa McEwan have tried to paint her and Amanda Marcotte with the same brush, but the most controversial things McEwan is said to have written are that 1) some of the most prominent Christian leaders regularly speak out against tolerance of gays and 2) that many conservative Christians leaders are obsessed with what goes on in people's private beds.

These are hardly controversial statements. The main critique of Melissa McEwan seems to be that she disagrees with the Religious Right and that she swears sometimes. These are not disqualifications for a Democratic (or even moderate Republican) primary campaign -- the fact that some say they are implies that they aren't being very truthful.

Amanda Marcotte is not anti-Catholic.

Much has been made of the allegations by Bill Donohue that Amanda Marcotte is somehow anti-Catholic. I've been a regular reader of Amanda's blog since before she even joined it, and I can say with certainty that Amanda is not anti-Catholic. She is a fervent feminist and atheist and is against all religions that teach that women should be subservient to men.

The Catholic League has been misleading in choosing from Amanda's site only excerpts that are angry at the leaders of the Catholic Church for their stance on birth control and on the role of women. But, in fact, Amanda has been equally critical of other religious groups that demean women, such as the Protestant "Quiverfull" movement. To cast her views as explicitly anti-Catholic is especially misinformed given that most American Catholics agree with her on the issues of birth control and the rights of women.

It particularly galls me to see that some have misconstrued disagreement with the official position of the Catholic Church as being anti-Catholic in an ethnic sense. This is a fallacy congruent with believing someone is an anti-Semite because they disagreed with the Likud political party. That fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church holds a number of extremely regressive views that manifest themselves in immoral policies (the prohibition against use of condoms is particularly unhelpful in the fight against HIV/AIDS), and there is nothing wrong with criticizing the Church about such issues.

Bill Donohue does not speak for all Catholics.

Bill Donohue, leader of the Catholic League, has implied that somehow Amanda has offended all Catholics and has said that he will lead an extensive campaign to expose her so-called anti-Catholicism. It is worth noting that he doesn't speak for all Catholics (although he does pretend to). Frances Kissling, President of Catholics for a Free Choice, wrote the following in a letter the the New York Times:

"It would be unfortunate if John Edwards were to cave to the mindless bullying of groups like the Catholic League or even think that groups like it have any influence with mainstream Catholic voters ... Despite the Catholic League's attempts to paint all critics of the Catholic church as anti-Catholic, the reality is that comments by its own leaders do far more to the brand Catholics as bigots that any critic of the church could ever do."


She goes on to note that if Bill Donohue's own statements were to be subjected to the same treatment that he has given to Amanda Marcotte's, he would be branded anti-gay and anti-semitic.

Is being mean a firing offense?

A more honest critique of Amanda's writings is that she was being mean and purposefully attempting to offend the Religious Right with her vulgarity, her profanity, and her blasphemy and that this shows a lack of respect for "people of faith." But look, if a group of people is using their religious beliefs to try to take your rights away, why should you respect them?

Amanda was mean and petty to right-wing Christians, and that may be a firing offense, but it's not anti-Catholic and it pales in comparison with the rhetoric that conservative Christians use against groups they oppose. I find it very disheartening that being mean to the Religious Right may get you fired, but being mean to women, gays, and Muslims will not.

Posted by coughlin at 12:44 PM

February 3, 2007

Fresh Air is now podcast

Via Dave Winer, I learn that Fresh Air is now available as a podcast. Like Dave says, this is a big deal. I'll be a much more regular listener now, that's for sure. With Democracy Now and TAL also available as podcasts, the trifecta is complete.
Posted by coughlin at 5:09 PM