Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Killer's Account Can't Provide Answers

Hartford Courant columnist Helen Ubinas asked in her blog today for reactions to the fact that a book based on an accused murderer's account of a horrific Hartford-area crime is sold out at bookstores across the city. This despite near-universal expressions of disgust at the book's publication, and proclamations that no decent person would ever read it.

Something prompted me to write a comment to Ubinas's post, and as I typed what I thought would be a couple of sentences, my thoughts expanded into a short essay that started to feel like a blog entry of my own, so here it is:

Based on the description of the book in yesterday's Courant -- it contains horrifying details, many supplied to the author in lengthy handwritten notes, which the killer concluded with smiley faces -- the book is a window into an unspeakably twisted psyche. I question the wisdom of peering into that window (I haven't sought out the book), but I think the impulse to do so goes beyond train-wreck voyeurism.

Looking at an accident scene invites us to put ourselves in the victim's place, and reminds us how fragile life can be: A moment's carelessness, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can change everything forever. If we know the victims, even remotely, or if we're feeling contemplative, an accident can also prompt us to ask why such terrible things can happen. Partly in order to avoid the same fate ourselves, but also on a more cosmic scale -- why do bad things happen to good people?

Those feelings certainly apply to the Petit family, but their tragedy goes beyond the scope of "ordinary" accident or mischance -- and the book promises at least a partial answer to the the "Why?" question that goes unanswered in more random events: Human beings (for lack of a better term) decided to inflict this horror on innocent people, on children -- and from the brief account in the paper, they did so on a whim, as some kind of sick amusement. It's only natural, I believe, for us to want to try to make sense of that, and I think that's where the appetite for this book arises.

The motive for publishing the book is obviously self-serving on the part of the killer -- and he is a killer, under the law and by any moral measure, even if we accept the transparently "exonerating" account that pins all homicidal acts on his partner. Depending on how the book is put together, the author and publishers could be seeking a quick buck by exploiting a terrible tragedy, or making a good-faith effort to shed light on the workings of the criminal mind.

Either way, I think the likelihood that the book will offer meaningful insight is nil: Only sociopaths could have done what was done to the Petit family, and sociopaths by nature are incapable of seeing people as anything but objects for their exploitation. The sociopath's fundamental lack of empathy means he would never put himself in the place of an accident victim or ask why something terrible could befall another person. The incapacity to ask that question means he can never answer it for the rest of us.

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paging Mr. Herman.

Pee-Wee is back, and he doesn't look a day over -- well, however old he was when we last saw him in his man-child suit and bowtie.

Pee-Wee turned up on Jay Leno's show Tuesday night, and his appearance evidently gave the dull program a ratings boost over what the relentless NBC hype machine could deliver. I tuned in only for Pee-Wee, and the tepid monologue and goofy schtick that preceded his arrival were a chore to sit through: Gyrating Shakira was pronounced "Hot"; Tom Delay on Dancing with the Stars, "Not Hot". Batten down for gales of laughter!

Pee-Wee (Paul Rubens was NOT in the house) was a little subdued compared to appearances of old. I remember him back in the late 80s on Letterman (I think), being much more manic and smart-aleck bratty (for lack of better term). With Leno, he was still a little nutty, but polite and even officious. His best joke was his opener, in which he responded to Jay's "What's new?" query by ostentatiously displaying a gold band on his left ring finger. "It's my abstinence ring," he explained. Someone at CBS news evidently didn't get the joke.

Pee-Wee is promoting his live theatrical show, which (he announced at the end of his segment) has proven so popular that it had to be relocated to a larger theater to accommodate all who want tickets. The show combines elements of the kiddie-oriented "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show with the original "Pee-Wee Herman Show," an adult-focused (and double entendre-riddled) revue that introduced Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, and other characters who would later be part of the "Playhouse" gang.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Tim Burton's feature-film directorial debut, remains a favorite movie of mine. (His follow-up flick, Big Top Pee-Wee, is an unfortunate mess.) I'm a big fan as well of his TV show, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. It had fantastic production design and was subversive, for kiddie fare in the bland "Care Bears" 80s. I was in my 20s when it aired, but I loved the "everything talks" conception of the playhouse; the idea of kids across America waiting to "scream real loud" whenever anyone at home said the Secret Word of the day; the vintage "King of Cartoons" animations; the "bad influence" of Pee-Wee's tough-guy puppet pal Randy; and the authentic 50s-kiddie-show cheesiness of Conky the Robot.

I won't be in L.A. anytime soon, so I hope the new show gets taped, or that there's some other way in which I can check out the revival of Pee Wee from here on the East Coast.

In the meantime, there's a consolation prize. Leno wasn't the only place PW turned up this week. He's a trending topic on Twitter today, and I just learned he's tweeting as @peeweeherman! Hope I made you look!

Posted via email from Jim's posterous

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All Kids Love LogMeIn!

Secure remote access via LogMeIn is a great free service!

I just learned about this nifty tool from Ren & Stimpy fan Jeff Pittelkau, an esteemed friend and former colleague. LogMeIn provides secure remote-control access to your Mac(s) and PC(s) from any Web browser. Very handy -- and, at it's most basic level, also free.


To use it, you create a user account at LogMeIn and install a small application file on each computer you want to control. If you plan to use specific computer(s) as "command center(s)," you can install an optional Firefox plug-in on them to streamline the LogMeIn log-in process, but any browser will work, plug-in or no plug-in.

When you log in to your account, LogMeIn shows you a list of the client computers you've configured. Choose the one you want to drive, enter your user ID and password for that machine, and the desktop of the target computer appears in a browser window. Mouse movements/clicks and keystrokes within that window affect the remote machine. So you can launch and close applications, move and rename files, etc. You could, for instance, open Gmail on the remote machine and email a photo to yourself (or anyone else). You can't, in the free version of LogMeIn, download the file directly to the computer you're using to drive the remote machine, but a (PC-only) pro version of the software enables drag-and-drop file transfers, local printing of documents on the remote machine, and other cool features. 

Special controls in the LogMeIn window let you adjust output volume on the target machine, save shortcuts to folders and applications you access frequently, and force-quit applications on the target machine (needed because typing CTRL-ALT-Delete, even in the remote-control window, will trigger force-quit on your local computer, not the one you're controlling).

The speediness and responsiveness of the remote computer will vary, presumably with the speed/bandwidth of your Web connection. There's a little sluggishness, but nothing that makes it unusable. After all, this is an "I need that in a pinch" kind of tool; it's not meant for long work sessions. I've set it up so I can safely access my own Mac, and I plan to install it on my dad's MacBook as well, so I can help him troubleshoot occasional glitches.

Thanks for the tip, Jeff!


Posted via email from Jim's posterous

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hubble Humbles

Great slideshow of images from the revamped Hubble Space Telescope. Favorite image, and favorite caption: Slide 5, "Galactic Wreckage in Stephan's Quintet". Can't wait for the King Crimson song it inspires. ;-)

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Google's Comic-Con tribute logo

Superman must be on a mission. Or maybe Clark Kent is live-blogging from San Diego.

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Friday, July 17, 2009

New to me: 100 Creative Twitter Backgrounds Featuring Illustration (via @nicholaspatten)

This was posted a couple of weeks ago, but I just tripped over it via Nicholas Patten, my newest subscriber on Posterous, whose work is among the highlighted examples. Thanks, Nicholas!

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The words she knows, the tune she hums"

I'm psyched about surprise gift this week of tix to see Elton John & Billy Joel at Gillette Stadium Sat. night. It's probably a long shot, but I'd love to hear "Tiny Dancer," which I loved even before it was featured in this awesome scene from "Almost Famous"

Posted via web from Jim's posterous

Friday, March 27, 2009

Microsoft's Slot Machine

Microsoft's new banner ad, targeting Apple notebook computers on price, really irritates me. Not because it inserts itself between the masthead and the mainbars on the homepage, like Apple's  "ladder" ads. Not even because,  unlike the  "ladder" ad, it doesn't give me the option of closing it so I can have the news space back.

It bothers me because it's such a lie -- and one I think insults the intelligence of anyone who knows anything about computers, or who's used a Windows PC in the last 10-15 years.

The ad shows the roller windows of two slot machines, which are "turning" when the ad loads. When they stop, the rollers on the left depict an Apple Macbook model and its price, along with two worthless items -- a matchbook and pocket lint, for example. The rollers on the right depict a Windows laptop (from any of several vendors) and its price, along with two other items you could presumably buy with the money you'd save buying the PC instead of the Mac. The extra goodies include cellphones, a Zune, an XBox 360, and lots of lattes.

It's a fairly clever idea. But if it were true, the rollers next to the PC would show the extra stuff you HAVE to buy when you get a PC, just to keep it running. Antivirus software. A firewall. Spyware blockers. Let's give the benefit of the doubt and say you buy an all-in-one malware prevention kit (which still probably installs as three different programs). That'll add a couple hundred bucks to your PC price at least. Then, factor in that these programs are really "subscriptions" to virus- and malware-update patches, and that you'll be on the hook for another $50-$100 a year to keep them usable after your first 12 months of ownership. Let's hope you'll keep the machine for at least 3 years? So add in another $150 or so, at least.

Furthermore, if the slot machine were accurate, it would take into account the value of the great software -- for video editing, photo management, web-page and podcast creation, even music composition and recording -- that comes preinstalled on every Mac -- and that are all designed to work together seamlessly. The iWeb publishing tool can pull pictures from your iPhoto album, and podcasts from GarageBand's library easily, without making you hunt for files in folders, create umpteen copies, or move them around. It's smart, elegant software.

Some PCs come with some of those programs included (the slot machine doesn't say what's on the PCs it touts), but others don't. Each PC vendor offers a different package of preloaded software. These preinstalled programs are typically rinky-dink and/or "lite" versions of programs you have to buy to get sophisticated tools. To get equivalent capabilities on a PC will cost you hundreds more -- and you'll never find a set of PC programs that work together as well as Apple's do.

Add it up and decide whether it's worth the gamble.

Blogged with the Flock Browser