A couple of quick follow-ups to earlier blog posts:
First: Eris forfend that I re-open the Strikethrough '07 shouting match now that it's finally quieted down (after a mind-numbing 393 comments so far). But I was following up on a news story after seeing that the local prosecutor has dropped all of the cases that came out of the Dateline/PervertedJustice snuff-film episode; he won't come out and say it, but it's pretty clear that he has a moral objection to accepting evidence collected by vigilantes. While glancing to see what Perverted Justice had to say about this, I saw a link that they've spun off an entire second website: CorporateSexOffenders.com. And as I warned, who should happen to be at the very top of their hit list but our own LiveJournal.com and its parent company Six Apart. And if you read their entire beef with Six Apart, it's even worse than I thought.
What I predicted was that what they wanted was one change and that would be enough to make them go away, for LiveJournal to hire a full-time member of the abuse team whose job was to do nothing all day but run site searches for pedophiles and boot them off the service; even if that didn't get all of them, even if everybody knows it never could, that would be enough to convince Perverted Justice that they were making a good faith effort. That is, after all, what they settled for from MySpace and Blogger. But no, now they've got their sights set higher. They also want LiveJournal to boot off of the service anybody who in anyway suggests that teens having sex with adults is not the end of the world. In other words, they not only want LiveJournal to boot users who confess to crimes, or who attempt crimes. They also want LiveJournal to ban users who do anything to suggest that the law ought to be changed, or who defend the fact that the law hasn't always been this way.
See, that right there is enough to explain why civilized people and nations don't tolerate vigilantism, isn't it? Mission creep.
Second: A while back I recommended you tape or TiVo a new USA network TV series called Burn Notice. What I said at the time was that we'd need to see how good the writing was going to turn out to be to tell whether or not this was going to suck. Well, after tonight we're 3 episodes in. And in fact, the last two episodes weren't written by the series creator. According to the writers blog, USA threw a demand at them that sounds to me less like how business executives deal with a million-dollar investment than like some kind of reality-TV initiation stunt: with no warning they told him they wanted him to crap out 3 episode scripts in 10 days, including in that time the time needed to hire at least two more writers and bring them up to speed. The second episode, "Identity," suffered a little from being a little too obvious, not least of which because the main plot was lifted intact from several classic caper films and detective films. But taken as a whole, the 3 episodes are a solid body of work, certainly a better 3 opening episodes than in a lot of other successful series I could name. (*cough* ST:TNG *cough*)
Burn Notice is violating one of the cardinal rules of network television, the rule that says "show, don't tell." The industry is almost as violently allergic to voice-over narration as they are to foreign-language subtitles. And in fact the reason why almost every detective or spy show these days has a less-experienced partner, or one with different expertise, is so that they have an in-character excuse for expository dumps. The problem with that is that that bucket has been to the well too many times, the gag has gotten tired. No, the character of Michael Westin does his own voice-over narration ... but only of the "spy" parts of his job and life, not his actual personal life. And here's what I noticed about that. For one, it does a great job of giving the series a very literary feel, making it feel more like a great book than like a cheesy detective show, not least of which because the lead character is a lot more literary-sounding in his own head than he is in real life. In real life, as you'd expect of a professional spy, he's very laconic. Considering how much time he spends with nobody to talk to, if he weren't narrating the show it'd be very nearly silent. But just as interestingly, I started paying attention to what parts of what he's explaining, and how he explains them. Michael is explaining to some invisible bystander what being a spy is really like, and explaining it in the slightly condescending tone of someone debunking movie myths. This lets him say things like, "International spies are drawn to aid conferences for the same reasons that hookers are drawn to conventions. You can do a lot of business, and the drinks are free." Or to say things like, "If you have to deal with an angry drug dealer, give me a hardware store over a gun any time. Guns make you stupid. Duct tape makes you smart." Or to say things like, "Modern electronics makes it very easy and inexpensive to conduct remote surveillance on anyone. This is less glamorous than it sounds," as we're about to see him crawl over some business's filthy tar-paper roof to duct-tape a cheap camcorder to their gutter.
Or this one, from the pilot, that I think gives away the gimmick of the narration: "Hardly any spies come from happy families. People who grow up in dysfunctional families make great spies. They don't trust anyone, they learn to lie like a pro, and they're good at taking a beating." Michael clearly hates his late father for being abusive, and despises his mother for not protecting herself or the kids; he flatly admits to everyone but his mother that the reason he joined the Army at 18 was to run away from home, and the reason he became a spy was to have an excuse to be on the far side of the planet from his family. But as I was musing to myself about who in the heck does Michael imagine that he's narrating his life to? My first thought was that he's composing future mission debriefings for after he gets his job back, but no, he explains the wrong things. I considered the possibility that he's writing a book about his adventures in his head, but he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd do that. I considered the possibility that he's just seen too many spy movies himself, and absorbed the narrative device. But then it hit me: the parts of his life that he narrates are the parts that he can never tell his mom about. I strongly suspect that what the writers are doing here is that in his head, he can't help thinking how he would explain these things to his mom, if he could.
Third: Three quick notes about my new Nokia n800. One, it does chime when I get an incoming instant message, I just wasn't hearing it over the music player. Second, it turns out that the hosting provider for my vanity domain, DreamHost, lets you set up your own Jabber server, including gateways to ICQ, AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. Once my friend who takes care of the domain for me set it up, I was able to log into every instant messenger service account I have from my n800, very nice. And finally, the last piece of it came today: my iGo (was Think Outside) brand Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard. It's a lot bigger and heavier than I was expecting, as in slightly bigger than and about twice as heavy as the n800 itself. On the other hand, it is a full-sized laptop keyboard, and a big chunk of the weight comes from the fact that when folded it's completely encased in solid metal; no fear for this thing while it's rattling around your briefcase or luggage! And boy does it make writing emails or instant messages or text notes a lot quicker as long as I have a flat surface to unfold it on. Definitely worth what I paid for it.
If you do get one of these, one word of advice: throw away the driver CD, the drivers are built into the n800's OS. And throw away the installation instructions, which are incomplete and completely useless. Here is what you need to know. First, when you unfold it, you have to push the sliding bits together in the middle to turn it on. Second, there's a tiny concealed "on" button, that tiny white dot above the hyphen key that you need your stylus to hit the first time. Once you do that and see the LED next to it start blinking, go to the Control Panel on your n800. Set Hardware keyboard to "generic 105 key," then go to Bluetooth, turn it on, and hit Devices, then New. Now the tricky part: when it tries to sync with your keyboard, the non-obvious step is that you type the numeric password from the keyboard and hit enter. That should take care of it; everything else is automatic.