Archive for January 2011

The Professionals: Memorable Movie Hitmen

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Over at Amazon’s Armchair Commentary blog, Andrew Wright offers his list of Memorable Movie Hit Men.

I’m familiar with several of the entries on this list, including…

The Killer” – The movie’s tagline, “The Biggest Body Count in History”, might very well be accurate. John Woo directed Chow Yun-Fat in this intense bullet ballet made in Hong Kong before they both went to Hollywood. The English subtitles are unnecessary for much of the film: you won’t need a translator while the bullets are flying.

Pulp Fiction” – I’m not as big a fan of this movie as many people are. The best part of Quentin Tarantino’s movies is the dialogue, including the back-and-forth between hitmen John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in this movie. Oddly enough, his violence seems more gratuitous to me than Woo’s—or maybe it’s just less graceful.

Grosse Pointe Blank” – John Cusack is a hitman whose upcoming assignment happens to intersect with his high school reunion. Minnie Driver is the old flame that he hopes to reunite with, and Dan Aykroyd is the whack-job competitor.

But the best hitman movie of all time is probably Luc Besson’s “The Professional“, which was a Glaring Omission from Wright’s list. Jean Reno is Leon, the title character. Natalie Portman is the neighbor’s child who lands in his lap, and Gary Oldman is great as the villain.



Written by breckfield

January 31, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Being Mean Just Gets In The Way

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I have seen gross intolerance shown in support of tolerance.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There’s been a lot of discourse recently about Civility. From the White House and Congress to forum and blog comments, people are standing in line to lecture us to “moderate our tone” and “avoid the violent rhetoric”. It’s easy to get off-track and carried away: even some of those lecturing us fail to practice what they preach. Politics and religion are well-known as topics that can incite emotional responses. But many of us have also seen discussions of programming languages and code editors escalate into religious wars.

Each of us could benefit from reading Paul Graham’s essay “How to Disagree“. Graham sketches out a “disagreement hierarchy” to define the level and quality of a dissenting opinion. Being a programmer (among other things), Graham’s hierarchy starts at DH0 (name-calling), and runs through DH6 (refuting the central point).

Why bother with this? As Graham explains:

The greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier. If you study conversations, you find there is a lot more meanness down in DH1 than up in DH6. You don’t have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don’t want to. If you have something real to say, being mean just gets in the way.

Before you voice your reply to someone, online or in person, ask yourself: What’s your goal in responding to someone you disagree with? What is it you want to accomplish? It’s easy—and satisfying—to dismiss someone as a “moron”. But if your goal is to show that their argument is incorrect then, as Paul Graham says, being mean just gets in the way.

Written by breckfield

January 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

Screw Nazis: Apple’s Struggle for Absolute Control

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Apple is switching to a new type of screw on iPhones and other Apple products, to prevent owners from being able to open up their products to perform repairs and battery replacements themselves.

PC World reports:

New MacBook Pros, iPhone 4s and MacBook Airs will have the Pentalobular screw, making it harder for do-it-yourselfers to make repairs. What about existing products in the field? Pentalobular screws might find their way into them, too.

But wait! There’s more:

Apple technicians have been ordered to replace the Phillip screws with Pentalobular screws in every device they service, according to Wiens. Apparently, you won’t get your Phillip screws back.

I assume that Apple has a legal right to do this, but is it The Right Thing To Do?

Apple makes great hardware (we own a MacBook Pro and 2 iPods). And their design and marketing savvy has produced a consumer cult that is the envy of the corporate world.

But are they taking unfair advantage of their loyal customers? Some members of the Apple family seem to think so. According to iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens:

We’ve spoken with the Apple Store geniuses tasked with carrying out this policy, and they are ashamed of the practice.

Apple has a long history of trying to maintain strict control over its products, wielding a wide variety of legal and technological weapons to defend its domain. This is one of the major reasons why they failed to achieve a significant PC market share. While Microsoft actively encouraged PC manufacturers to install its operating systems in the 1980s and 90s, Apple sued to prevent its OS from being used on anything but Apple’s own hardware. Not surprisingly, Microsoft crushed Apple in the battle for market share.

The iPod and iPhone have been huge successes for Apple, rescuing it from the financial doldrums that it had found itself in. Since then, Apple has maintained strict price controls on its products and micro-managed its App Store.

The Pentalobular Affair will not register much of an impact with Apple or its customer base. Let’s face it: relatively few people will have much interest or need to crack open their Apple devices.

But, as the old saying goes, It’s the Principle Of The Thing. And this is just one more shot fired in Apple’s battle to maintain absolute control.

Written by breckfield

January 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Why You’re Probably Less Popular Than Your Friends

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Mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos explains why you’re probably less popular than your friends:

Are your friends more popular than you are? There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason to suppose this is true, but it probably is. We are all more likely to become friends with someone who has a lot of friends than we are to befriend someone with few friends. It’s not that we avoid those with few friends; rather it’s more probable that we will be among a popular person’s friends simply because he or she has a larger number of them.

Read the entire brief article. And if such topics are right up your alley, check out Paulos’ books, especially Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper.

Written by breckfield

January 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

Gil Meche Walks Away, Head Held High

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Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche has decided to retire at the age of 32, walking away from a contract that would have paid him $12 million this season.

“I didn’t want to go try it again for another season and be the guy making $12 million and doing absolutely nothing to help this team,” he said.

Meche retires with a mediocre record: 84 wins, 83 losses, and a 4.49 ERA. Kansas City was heavily criticized for signing him to a 5-year, $55 million dollar contract prior to the 2007 season. The criticism proved valid, as Meche had only one winning season (2008) under that contract, and developed shoulder problems in 2009.

But today Meche is being praised as a man with integrity, class, and even nobility (from MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal).

All this sudden praise reminds me of Bogey’s cynical line from Casablanca:

Yesterday they were just two German clerks. Today they’re the “Honored Dead”.

But give credit where credit is due: in a world where it’s easy to rant about overpaid ballplayers, it’s encouraging to know that, for some, money isn’t everything.

Written by breckfield

January 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Posted in baseball, sports

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Admit It: You Don’t Know

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When someone regularly says “I don’t know”, you trust them more when they say they DO know.

Chad Fowler[1]

We all feel pressure—as leaders, experts, parents—to always have the answer, no matter what the question may be. But sometimes that pressure comes from within. We think we know it all, or that we are expected to know it all.

The next time you don’t have a real answer for someone, try telling the truth: “I don’t know.” Where possible, add “but I’ll find out for you.”

Not only will your Reputation as an Authority survive, but it may very well boost your credibility.


[1] By the way, I can highly recommend Chad Fowler’s “The Passionate Programmer” to anyone who is a professional software developer—and to many who aren’t.

Written by breckfield

January 16, 2011 at 7:55 am

A Gun Is A Tool

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A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.

Shane (1953)

Written by breckfield

January 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Posted in movies, politics

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