May 27

Go ahead and jump

If you came of age during the 1980s, this video is guaranteed to push your nostalgia buttons. And even if you weren’t, how can you pass up a chance to see Donkey Kong sing the classic Van Halen song “Jump”? As you watch the video, keep track of how many ’80s video games you can identify. Give yourself a bonus point for each game you actually played.

May 25

Just a coincidence

So I’m on my way to work, practicing my vocal parts for Carousel as I drive. I have the cast recording from the 1994 Broadway revival playing on my car stereo so I can sing along. RLT‘s production of Carousel opens a week from Friday, and the more I practice the better. I’m stopped at a traffic light, and my attention is focused more on what I’m singing than on the view of the car ahead of me. But gradually, I realize what I am seeing on the car’s trunk lid:

It’s an advertising sticker for a car dealership in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Apparently someone drove a car from there to North Carolina just to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It worked.

May 25

German spam update

I just checked my Gmail spam folder and was astonished to find that the German spam has stopped. On May 22, the spam was still pouring in: 40 spam messages, 39 of which were German. But on May 23, I only received four spam notes — and on May 24, only three. All of those were in English. The German spam went from a torrent to nothing overnight.
I don’t know exactly what happened two days ago, but I can guess. I think somebody tracked down the zombie machines that were sending the spam, and either disinfected them or shut them off.

May 23


A Japanese research team has developed a fuel cell that can be powered by human blood. This is good news in the short term, because it means that pacemakers and other implants can be designed without batteries that have to be replaced periodically. But in the long term, it means that we’ll have to watch out for vampire robots. Will future Slayers have to carry a lightsaber as well as a stake?

May 20

Episode III

I saw Revenge of the Sith last night, and it did not disappoint me in any respect. I don’t feel motivated to write a review, so I’ll just point to the one Ben wrote.
I will say that my essay from 1999 turns out to be somewhat less appropriate for this movie. Revenge of the Sith is a grim and violent film, but that was inevitable given the ground that it had to cover (the annihilation of the Jedi, the horrible disfigurement of Anakin and his transformation into Darth Vader, the fall of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire). So my inner child did not come out and play this time because playtime was over in the Star Wars universe.

May 19

A long time ago, in a theater far, far away

It’s now after midnight. Along the East Coast of the U.S., audiences are watching the premiere of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I’m eager to see the new film myself, of course.
I’ve experienced this particular state of mind — Star Wars Premiere Anticipation, you might call it — before. But this is the last time. Never again will I see a Star Wars film that I haven’t seen before.
I tried to describe the experience six years ago, in an essay written the day Episode I: The Phantom Menace premiered. I didn’t have a blog back then, but if I had, that essay surely would have appeared in it. Well, it’s relevant today, so I’m posting it now. Here it is.

May 19, 1999
3:01 p.m.

An Associated Press article (posted to the Web at 5:00 a.m.) describes the reactions of fans exiting a midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie: They love it. Typical comments included “Excellent!”, “Fantastic!” and “The best of the bunch!” This is remarkable in view of the generally lukewarm reception that Phantom Menace has received from film critics, who complain that it lacks character development and human relationships.
I think I know what’s going on. It dawned on me as I was discussing the upcoming premiere with Ruth, who turns 13 in a couple of weeks. “You may have been waiting for this movie for 16 years,” she said, “but I’ve been waiting my entire life for it.” She has a point. Ruth has never had the experience of going into a theater and seeing a new Star Wars movie. I’ve done that three times, so what right do I have to complain about how many years have gone by since I did it last?
In some ways, though, 16 years is a lifetime. When I walk into the theater tonight, I’ll be doing so as a 39-year-old husband and father of two. The last time I did this, I was 23, newly graduated from college, and not yet married. To say that I’m a different person now is putting it mildly. It’s not just the years, as Indiana Jones said; it’s the mileage. After all that I’ve been, done, and seen in the last decade and a half, I doubt that I have much in common with the person I was at age 23. Certainly my views and tastes have changed a great deal since then.
So, should I be worried that I’ll react the way the critics did? Will I find that the sort of movie that thrilled and captivated me in my youth come across today as a shallow, superficial collection of special effects? Instead of leaving the theater with stars in my eyes, will I do it with a scowl of disappointment?
I don’t think so. Some things defy time, and Star Wars is one of them. It’s true that I’m a decade or two older than the kids who’ve been camping in line for the last month, and they’re the ones who are raving about this film. But think about what that means! These kids were raised on Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Titanic. They take cutting-edge visual effects for granted, and it takes more than that to impress them. Yet they love Star Wars, a movie made over twenty years ago. They loved it even before George Lucas refurbished it and rereleased it two years ago. How many other science fiction films from the 1970s get that kind of response from today’s teens and twentysomethings? These movies are timeless.
I learned that in 1997, when I saw Star Wars: The Special Edition. As the theater lights dimmed and the words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .” appeared on the screen, the years melted away and, for two glorious hours, I was 17 again.
That’s where the reviewers went wrong: they went into the theater as film critics, ready to analyze The Phantom Menace and measure it against the standards by which all films are judged. This is their job — but Star Wars films defy that sort of analysis. Roger Ebert understands this. “Call me a hopeless innocent,” he writes, “but I don’t go to a Star Wars movie to see human relationships, not even when they involve aliens and androids. I go to see amazing sights, real big and loud, one after another.” One cannot experience the Star Wars universe as an adult. You have to leave your maturity, your wisdom born of experience, your jaded cynicism at the door, and become a wide-eyed child again.
And I know that’s what will happen to me tonight, as those house lights dim. The middle-aged technical writer with the receding hairline will quietly fade away . . . and for 133 minutes, his inner child will come out and play.

May 18

He’s everywhere!

With the premiere of Revenge of the Sith only hours away, there’s no escaping the image of Darth Vader. You see him on billboards, cereal boxes, and magazine covers. But on the roof of the National Cathedral? Yes, he’s visible there too, if you know where to look.

May 17

German spam

About two days ago, I started receiving numerous spam e-mail messages in German (courtesy of the Sober worm, according to news reports). This affected my old Road Runner account as well as my Gmail address. I don’t really care about the RR account, because it already receives tons of spam and I’ve stopped using it for anything important. But Gmail is my primary e-mail tool, and the sight of dozens of spam messages in my inbox was quite a shock. Gmail’s spam filter is normally very effective, and I’ve grown accustomed to having it stop virtually all spam. But German spam seemed to defeat the filter completely. Apparently it was scanning for key words or phrases in English.
Fortunately, this turned out to be a temporary problem. Gmail’s interface includes a feature that lets you select messages and then click a “Report spam” button. Doing so not only chucks the offending messages into your Spam folder, but also forwards copies of them to Google for use in refining the spam filter. I gave that feature quite a workout over the last two days, and I’m sure many other Gmail users did the same. By this morning, I could see the results. The German spam was still pouring in, but almost all of the messages were being automatically shunted into the Spam folder. The filter had learned.
A single German spam note reached my work e-mail inbox this morning. I was impressed that even one such note had managed to sneak past the industrial-strength filters that IBM uses on its mail servers. Sadly, its journey was in vain. I’m beta testing an anti-spam filter for Lotus Notes on my IBM desktop machine, and it also learns from experience — when you select a message and hit the spam button, a copy is forwarded to a central server and used to update the filter. By this morning, the filter was obviously aware of the German plague. It spotted the offending note and flung it into a spam holding cell without any prompting from me.
Auf wiedersehen, spam. Du bist kaputt.

May 16

The Empire strikes . . . Paris?

In a stunning preemptive move, the Galactic Empire has invaded France. Triumphant Imperial troops marched through the Paris streets yesterday, as weeping French citizens watched helplessly. Observers reported seeing hundreds of Darth Vaders, indicating that the Empire is now using Kaminoan cloning technology to create copies of the Dark Lord of the Sith. “Very disturbing news this is,” commented a high-ranking Jedi source. “Contain armies of Sith we cannot.”