Homo homini rodentius est

Yahoo! Historical Stock Prices

Yahoo! historical stock price
Yahoo! closing price (adjusted for splits and dividends) on September 21, 2001

Armchair stock analysts are making hay over the fact that Yahoo!’s stock price is again hovering around the point where Microsoft made it’s unsolicited bid for the company earlier in the year. Much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. But things have been worse. Back in 2001, the double whammy of the Web 1.0 stock bubble bursting along with 9/11 drove them to a closing price of $8.68 ($4.34, adjusted) on September 21 of that year. Relax, people — comparatively speaking these are the good times! It can get so much worse.

Dark Knight reviewed: Heath Ledger “mad-crazy-blazing brilliant”

All images © 2008 Warner Brothers Pictures
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Last night Warner Brothers began press previews of The Dark Knight and today the first reviews started appearing. Writing in [Rolling Stone], Peter Travers gives the 2 and a half hour epic 3.5 stars and goes into superlative overdrive, ending a glowing review by saying, “the haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It’s full of surprises you don’t see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams.” Elsewhere, he likens Christopher Nolan’s film to the Godfather Part 2 and A Clockwork Orange — other classics that redefined a genre.

He calls out Christian Bale and Heath Ledger for special mention — Bale’s Batman, driven by an almost mad obsession with crime and vengeance, mirrors his antagonist and struggles to overcome his own strange impulses as much as his enemy. Travers invokes Pacino’s Michael Corleone in describing Bale’s performance for its multi-layered complexity. As for Ledger, Travers writes that he could be the first posthumous Oscar winner since Peter Finch won for Network. It would only be justice, considering how he was robbed for Brokeback Mountain.

MTV [reviews] the movie against 6 “Key Superhero-Movie Factors”, including “Wow”, “Cheese” and “Darkness”. It comes out well on all and they end the review by saying, “It’s the best “Batman” movie ever made, hands down.”

Advance business on the movie is already heading toward Spiderman 3 levels. Better buy your tickets now — with 3 weeks until the July 18 release, Wired is [reporting] that early shows are selling out. I already have mine. 😉

Harold Arrives Late to the Party

The scariest thing… ever.

In the wake of AIDS, with the gay community furiously trying to reinvent itself as a caricature of 1950’s domesticity, one can barely remember what gay sensibility was like back in the 1970s. A bit darker than images of beaming pairs of grooms slicing into a wedding cake, to be sure. Growing up in a small upstate town, the images of homosexuality that made their way into my little backwater milieu were rare, often absurd and sometimes frightening — a glance at a Life magazine photospread about gay subculture, replete with shadowy shots of hirsute men in strange leather uniforms; the odd appearance on TV of flamboyant character actors like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde; the furtive peek at Playgirl (which even I knew was targeted to men as much as women). And then there was The Boys in the Band. I saw it on TV when I was very young and it scared the living hell out of me. The movie was meant to be an honest look at the experiences of gay men living in Manhattan, but its over-the-top portrayal of every hysterical stereotype extant approached Grand Guignol. Most frightening of all was “Harold” — a blasé character at the center of the storm, so embittered and disdainful that he can barely make an utterance that isn’t delivered like a lancet. I suspected I was queer and I dreaded that Harold was to be my fate. But the world would change before that could happen.

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The Trojan Horse with a Touchscreen

The Trojan iPhone

The tech sites are all atwitter — [literally] — with the news from Apple that the second generation iPhone will soon be released with more speed and utility for fewer bucks (at least upfront). The big news from the announcement is that the new phone will be targeting enterprise customers by offering compatibility with Microsoft Exchange. But the bigger news, I think, is the announcement of a new platform called [MobileMe] that promises seamless, internet-based, synchronization of information across multiple devices and operating systems. It’s a pitch at developing a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that will compete head-on with Microsoft’s Live Mesh and looks to leverage the Trojan Horse infiltration of the enterprise space by iPhone 3G to gain mind- and market share in this developing market. Very impressive.

A few days ago I [wrote about] my trial of the Live Mesh service and I was impressed with what they were offering. Still am, but not so much. Granted, MobileMe may not be as ambitious as Live Mesh — but it delivers basic services, for an honest-to-gosh fee (remember those..?), and it’s shipping now. Mary Jo Foley over at ZDnet [wonders] if Microsoft’s slow development pace on Live Mesh is due to the kind of internecine competition that Microsoft is famous for. Perhaps the sight of Apple getting the jump on them (again) will help settle those squabbles.

Well, of course, if there are potential winners in the zero-sum game of “Who’s on Top” there also must be losers. Who’s the biggest loser on the platform playing field? It’s not Microsoft. As Steve Gillmor and others have [noted], Microsoft’s market share in the enterprise is so formidable that they can actually benefit from competitors opening up new market possibilities for them. First mover advantage is more important to the also-rans. Apple can take a bite out of their market share — maybe even a big one — but time is on Microsoft’s side. For now. No, the big loser is clearly Google. Aside from that little matter of riding a one-trick revenue pony, the [biggest problem] Google has always had is that they depend on a competitor, Microsoft, to provide access to a majority of their customers (and income). They are channel-bound in the worst possible way. Hence their rush into mobile operating systems with Android. But, alas, Android is still vaporware and the new iPhones ship next month. Perhaps to drive the point home about the potential loss to Google from their platform push, the Apple [product announcement] hits repeatedly on the fact that, “MobileMe web applications are 100 percent ad-free“. That’s gotta sting those Stanford-minted egos in Mountain View — Steve Jobs, the Reed College dropout, and his company not only have a beautifully-developed channel to their customers that can take advantage of Microsoft but is not bound by them, they actually get customers to pay for their products!

What a concept.

Review: Third (Portishead)

Portishead Third
Adrian Utley, Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow — Portishead

I took a swipe at the band Portishead in a [recent post], referring to their “suffocating sincerity”. Accurate, if harsh. Back in the early to mid-90s, the trio of Utley, Gibbons and Barrow became exemplars of the trip-hop genre — a uniquely Euro invention of borrowed influences ranging from American breakbeats and sampling to British spy film themes and that resulted in darkly lush songs that were strange and hypnotic. Their 1994 debut, Dummy, broke big and became a huge hit and was followed by the less-successful follow up, Portishead in 1997. And then… silence, for 10 years. Except for a live CD, the band didn’t produce anything until this Spring when Third was released to generally positive reviews.

For those fans who fell in love with the ingenious word and sound play of Dummy, Third could be a challenge. Dummy was like going to a dark carnival, alternatively scary and exhilarating. Gibbons’ plaintive ruminations on the futility of love at the end of the century were leavened by Utley and Barrow’s clever scratch-beats and exaggerated melodies. Third is not nearly as accessible as their previous work, and it is dark — almost angry. Loud discordances and abruptly cutoff song endings. Gibbons’ voice doesn’t display the dynamic range it once did and her singing of the (unrelievedly) dire lyrics is somewhat monotonous. Aural gimmicks pop up, as on the track “Machine Gun” — in which drum machine and synth are used to aggravating and too-obvious effect (given the title of the song…). The final track on the CD, “Threads”, is a relentless lament that ends with a minutes-long synthesizer drone that sounds just like the ominous bellow emitted by the Martians in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds right before they lay waste to all around them. Probably not intentional. All the tracks aren’t as disappointing — “The Rip” is a lovely song that starts with simple acoustic guitar accompanied by a signature Theramin, and slowly opens up into driving rhythm underneath a note held by Gibbons so long it begins to sound like a siren.

Portishead was emblematic of its time — romantic and scary and absolutely unique. But I guess that time has passed. The unique combination of talents that came together in their first two CDs is, alas, not evident here and I’m sorry to say that. I so much wanted to love this.

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