Focal Curve

2003, The Obligatory Year in Review

The new year is upon us and ’tis the season to look back on everything we just lived through. G.fc has continued to flounder, with little or no community activity and very low traffic. It’s become very much a personal project, essentially my own blog with occasional contributions from a few good friends. The impending site overhaul has been relegated to the back burner, as I’ve been too busy with work to really devote a lot of spare time to it. The conversion to PostNuke has been troublesome and I haven’t even started working on the new standards-based design. But it’ll happen soon. Other than that, there’s not much news from our end.

Beyond the windows of G.fc, plenty has been happening in the big wide world, more than I could possibly summarize here even if I wanted to. So I’ll just stick with the general blog-like tone and run down a few items of interest to me personally. Read on for my thoughts on the year that was ought-three.


In world events, ShrubCo continued the campaign in Iraq against the better judgement of every sensible peace-loving world citizen. In late October, the official website of the White House modified their robots.txt file to block search engines from indexing and caching pages reached by searching for “Iraq.” It appears this was done to facilitate historical revisionism, since at least one archived article was modified after the fact to suit a political agenda. Bush declared “the end of combat in Iraq” but when combat continued beyond that presumptuous declaration, the article was later changed to claim the end of major combat. A subtle update, but without cached copies of the original, who is to say what the original article really contained? How very Orwellian. But then Saddam Hussein was captured in his spider-hole and cleaned up for the cameras, so with luck the fighting really will stop eventually. Probably not until the election.

The biggest Internet story of the year was the misguided and ill-advised passage of the federal CAN-SPAM act, which goes live next week. As of January 1st 2004, spam will be officially legalized. American spammers will continue to deluge innocent inboxes the world over, now with impunity as long as they follow the government’s clear guidelines for legal spamming. The law will not stop a single unsolicited message from being sent and it will remain the burden of the recipient to validate their addresses by asking the spammers to please stop spamming them. Our only hope is that a few of the major spam outfits will screw up, get busted, and be fined into submission. If Alan Ralsky, Scott Richter, Eddy Marin, and a few more of their most prolific and sleazy brethren are put out of business, we’ll at least enjoy a brief respite before dozens of other spammers take their places.

One good thing Congress did this year was pass the National Do-Not-Call Registry. I was one of the millions of Americans who signed up right away, and I must admit that I have not received a single telemarketing call since the list went active in October (or at least I haven’t been home when they called illegally). Between the universal hatred of spam, the banning of telemarketing, and the increasing popularity of pop-up blocking software, the advertising industry is being repeatedly beaten over the head with the clear message that “invasive marketing pisses people off.” We’ll just have to wait and see how much blunt trauma it takes for them to start listening.

Some of the biggest geek movies of the year were the second and third installments in the Matrix trilogy. Since the 1999 original was so incredibly cool, anticipation for the followup flicks was high. But Reloaded and Revolutions just couldn’t live up to the coolness standard The Matrix established. Revolutions was at least considerably better than the highly disappointing Reloaded, but all in all the sequels diminished the value of the entire trilogy.

Not so with the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. This third installment actually exceeded expectations, in my opinion, and cemented the trilogy as likely the greatest epic ever filmed. The battle for Minas Tirith makes the then-awesome battle for Helms Deep in the Two Towers look like a minor spat. The ending did kind of drag a bit, but it was only long, not superfluous. I was still sad to see it end, not just the movie but the entire story. It’s been a good ride for three years, and I look forward to the inevitable deluxe extended special edition director’s cut collector’s boxed set. My top five movies of 2003 would probably be:

  1. The Return of the King
  2. Kill Bill vol. 1
  3. Finding Nemo
  4. X2: X-Men United
  5. 28 Days Later

And just so you don’t think I only watch action movies, I should mention that I omitted About Schmidt and Adaptation since they were technically released in ’02, I just didn’t see them until they were available for rental in ’03. Yes, 28 Days Later was also a 2002 movie, but its US release was in ’03 so it qualifies. About Schmidt was marketed as a quirky comedy, and indeed it is, but there’s a subtlety and nuance and quiet sadness about the film that made it actually quite touching. Adaptation is another quirky one, a movie about a movie which becomes the movie you’re watching. The self-reference manages to avoid being too gimmicky, and it remains focused on the collection of characters whose lives become entangled.

In print, this year I was turned onto the books of China Mi?ville, none of which were printed in 2003, but that’s when I read them. His three novels thus far are King Rat, Perdido Street Staton, and The Scar. These books came highly recommended, and I have since recommended them to others. They’re difficult to summarize briefly so I won’t even try, just please read them. Mi?ville’s style of writing is poetic and smooth in a gritty film-noir way. His characters are well-fleshed, flawed and motivated, the plots are complex and twisting, and where this author shines brightest is in his richly textured settings. The first and shortest of Mi?ville’s novels, King Rat, is a twist on the old fable of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, set in the sewers and rooftops of modern-day London. The other two novels are set on the semi-mystical world of Bas-Lag, where ancient magic coexists with victorian-era technology. It’s a world of deep history and tangled sociology, complexities only loosely indicated in the text, hopefully leaving room for many more novels to come. His next book, The Iron Council, will be published in July.

On Easter Sunday 2003 I finally bought a Playstation 2 and my first game was Final Fantasy X, to which I quickly became addicted. That is, until I came up against Evrae, a big winged dragon thing. I fought it repeatedly and was consistently defeated until it just stopped being fun. Whenever I reach a point like that in a game, I set it aside for a while, but now it’s been months and I still haven’t returned. It’s an excellent game and I fully intend to finish it some day, but meanwhile I’ve been playing Silent Hill 3 (I’m almost finished) and just started on Soul Reaver 2. I’m not really a hardcore gamer, so I tend to take a long time to finish one. What I’ve played of all three of these has been really good, so I can still recommend them even without completing them yet.

2004 will surely bring plenty to more talk about. Spider-Man 2, Kill Bill v.2, Hellboy, The Punisher, Van Helsing, Troy, an Exorcist prequel, Shrek 2, the next Harry Potter movie, I Robot, Alien vs. Predator, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and The Incredibles. The delayed release of Half-Life 2. More Dune prequel novels. A presidential election. It should all make for an interesting year.

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