I'm just an animal looking for a home

November 16, 2012
by mitcharf

Bluetooth keyboard for Android

I want to write blog posts from the comfort of my bed, buried beneath cats. I generally leave my laptop on the kitchen table, tethered to monitors, speakers, etc. I am writing this entry using the WordPress app for my new Samsung Galaxy S3 Android phone. I’m liking the phone, and before it, I liked my iPhone 3GS (despite its lack of a camera flash at a time when even the cheapest phones had them). However, typing on a virtual keyboard is, for me, much slower and more prone to typos. The prospect of writing a lengthy blog post on here makes me long for the sweet release of death. While many would doubtless cheer anything which would induce more brevity in my writing, this sentence alone demonstrates how foreign to my nature that would be. The voice dictation system on this phone is surprisingly good, but still prone to mistakes, and not good with proper nouns. So I’ve decided to look into Bluetooth keyboards. I don’t have much more to say about this at the moment, since I haven’t done any research yet, and the true motivation for this post was to test out the Android WordPress app. But I’ll try to remember to post and let you know what I end up getting, in case anyone else has a similar need to be freed from virtual keyboard hell.

October 15, 2012
by mitcharf


This post is about the 2008 French movie Martyrs.  This post will contain spoilers that will absolutely ruin the movie for you if you have not seen it.  This movie is not for everyone, however.  If you do not like horror movies, then I suggest you avoid it.  Even if you DO like horror movies, a lot of people find Martyrs to be pretty disturbing on a number of levels.  I do not put it in the category of movies whose sole goal is to shock you, I do not think it is an especially gory movie (by the standards of modern horror), nor do I feel it is torture porn, but I am aware there are people who would disagree with me on those things.  In fact, that is part of what motivated me to write this post.  I am interested in discussing certain aspects of the movie with other people who have seen it.  If you do choose to see this movie, I highly recommend you avoid reading anything about the movie before watching it.  That’s how I first experienced it, and I think that it’s the best way to see this movie.  More than with most movies, knowledge of the plot will ruin things for you.

If you want to buy it, it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon.  It may or may not be available for rental at your local video store.

There are significant spoilers beyond this point.  If you have not seen the movie and ever plan to see it, I strongly suggest you stop reading.

Okay, so I have three main things I want to discuss.  I’ll start with the ending of the movie, since that’s what indirectly led to me writing this post.  So, at the end of the movie, the old woman who appears to be the head of the “cult” kills herself after hearing the testimony of the martyr.  We are told that the martyr’s testimony lasted for quite a while (I forget the exact duration, but over an hour I think).  Before the old woman kills herself, she has had some time to digest what she learned from the martyr, and she has a brief conversation with another guy in the group.  I am paraphrasing here, but I recall her conversation with the guy being something like this:

Him: There is something after death?
Her: Yes.
Him: Was she clear?
Her: Yes. Her testimony was clear enough that it cannot be interpreted in multiple ways. Can you imagine what awaits us after death?
Him: No.
Her: Good. Keep doubting. <kills herself>

The question, of course, is why did she kill herself?  What did the martyr tell her to cause this reaction?  I saw three main possibilities:

1) The martyr told her there was nothing after death.
2) The martyr told her that when you die, it is an utter paradise.
3) The martyr told her that there are terrible things waiting after you die (either for everyone, or perhaps just for people who had done evil like the cultists).

Option #1 would likely fill the old woman with despair, which could explain why she’d want to kill herself.  My initial reaction is that why would you kill yourself if you knew for a fact that there was nothing after death, but I guess for some people that could be an incentive to do it.  If you are deeply unhappy, then perhaps the only thing stopping you from killing yourself is the worry of being punished in the afterlife.  Or just the uncertainty of it.  I guess the knowledge that death would definitely mean the end of suffering could lead one to be more likely to kill themselves, especially if that person (like the old lady cult leader) had devoted a long time to learning what was after death.  She seemed convinced there was something, so learning that it was all for nothing could be quite a blow.  HOWEVER, she clearly states to the other guy that there IS something after death.  And if there was nothing after death, it would be weird for the martyr’s testimony to take so long.  I suppose she could have lied to the other guy, so as to let him live with some (false) hope.  And maybe she questioned the martyr for that long, trying to make sure that there was, in fact, nothing after death.  The more I write about this option, the more it makes sense to me as a real possibility.

Option #2 would explain why the woman was in a hurry to die, but it does not explain why she wouldn’t bother to share this knowledge with the others first.  Why tell her associate to keep doubting?  Presumably this kind of revelation is exactly what they were all hoping for.  So I’m inclined to discard this option.  It does explain why suicide would be desirable, but it doesn’t explain why she didn’t tell the others first.

Option #3 was my original conclusion after seeing the movie.  I took the woman at her word that the martyr saw that there was something beyond death.  I assumed that whatever it was, it filled with woman with such despair that she couldn’t go on living.  But as a kindness she tried to give false hope to the others, rather than tell them the truth.  Does this make sense?  Well, if you knew that eternal torment awaited you after death, would you kill yourself and hasten that?  I guess maybe, if you were truly miserable in life, and you had a “let’s get on with it” attitude.  Perhaps the revelation from the martyr was that the actions of the cult were so horrific that they would suffer eternally for it.  Presumably the cultists felt that the ends justified the means, and that’s how they morally justified their actions to themselves.  To find out that the ends did NOT justify the means, and that they would be held accountable for their crimes… I could see where that could cause the woman to be consumed with both despair and guilt and regret.  So that could prompt her to kill herself both out of despair and ALSO as some kind of penance.  But does it explain why she would lie to the others?  Is she trying to offer them the gift of brief false hope before they too die and suffer eternally?  Possibly.  But you’d think that if what she had learned was so awful, she’d want to say or do something to shut down their cult.  Otherwise they may go on trying to create martyrs.  Although maybe that’s what she meant by “Keep doubting.”  That could be her way of telling them to stop trying to achieve certainty about the afterlife — since clearly such certainty drove this woman to kill herself.

Okay, having worked through this by writing about it, I could see option #1 or #3 as equally plausible.  If anyone reading this has any opinions on this, I’d love to hear them in the comments section.  Is there a possible explanation that I overlooked?  A flaw in my reasoning?  Or do you think one of the above options is the right one?

I recently re-watched Martyrs with my friend Jen C, and of course we discussed the ending.  Today I decided to Google it, and see what other people thought.  There were a number of discussion threads about it, but almost all of them quickly got off topic.  They would switch to discussing two other things, which are the two other things I want to talk about here.  Many people made the following two assertions about the movie:

1) The movie is extremely misogynistic.
2) The movie, especially the scenes of the eventual martyr being tortured after being captured by the cult, were excessive torture porn and served no purpose.

These two points are kind of related, as some people claimed #2 was evidence of #1, since the martyr was female.  But that wasn’t the only evidence offered for #1.  The other main evidence offered was the movie’s claim that women were easier to martyr than men.

I’ll kind of talk about both points at once, I think, since they’re kind of entwined.  In terms of the misogyny, it is claims like these which make me think I may not fully understand what the term means.  I have always taken it to mean “woman hating”.  There is a long tradition of female victims in horror movies.  And there are definitely some horror movies I watch where I find the violence against women to be disturbing.  Usually this is because it really feels like the film maker is intending the viewer to be enjoying it, as though they expect it to be titillating.  And that’s very disturbing to me.  I never got that feeling from Martyrs.  Neither the camera nor the cultists perpetrating the violence seemed to be enjoying the experience.  The violence was delivered in a very impersonal way, and the camera seemed very impersonal as well.  It didn’t move to get reaction shots of the woman’s face, nor was it shot as though from the point of view of the attacker.  It was just an observer in the room.  I am not saying that the scenes of violence were not disturbing.  But people compared them to movies like Hostel, and I really couldn’t see that.

I also didn’t feel that the scenes were unnecessary.  I thought they established a couple important points:

1) The cultists did not enjoy the torture.  True, they did seem inured to the pain they were causing, but at no point do they give the impression of enjoying it.  It was a means to an end for them.  I am not saying this as a defense of the cultists.  In fact, I think it makes the entire situation MORE chilling and disturbing.  It’s one thing to assume an evil person is committing evil acts because they are just evil and enjoy causing pain.  It’s another thing to think that a group of people could do terrible, terrible things while thinking it’s serving a greater purpose.  I think that latter is even harder to witness.

2) If you did not witness the progression of the eventual martyr from her starting point to her eventual martyrdom, it would be very hard for the view to accept such a strong, resourceful person as completely giving up and letting go.  I think the viewer had to see the experience from the martyr’s point of view, in order for the transformation to make any sense.

Anyway, readers, I’m curious if you thought Martyrs was misogynistic, was excessive in its violence/torture, or engaged in torture porn.

I will close by saying that I think Martyrs is a great movie for a few reasons:

1) It leaves you with things to think about and does not neatly explain every last thing
2) It takes very unexpected turns and is almost three different movies stuck together
3) It’s original — I watch a lot of horror movies, and it is rare for one to truly surprise me

Okay, I’ve run out of steam here, and I need to go home and feed the cats.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie!

October 10, 2012
by mitcharf

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

“But as to how the food is conveyed to her,” exclaimed Miss Greysteel, “no one knows for certain. Signor Tosetti believes that her cats carry it up to her.”
“Such nonsense!” declared Dr Greysteel. “Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful!”
“Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner,” said Strange. “That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon one’s imperfections.”

From the wonderful novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  Thanks so much to Nikki for recommending it to me.  It’s historical fiction about an alternate England in the early 1800’s.  In this world, it is generally accepted that magic was real and used to work, but for some reason no longer does.  Until, quite without warning, it begins to return.

If fantasy isn’t your thing, fear not.  For me, anyway, the real pleasure in the novel is the dry humor and use of language.  The book DOES have footnotes, in case that’s a turnoff, but don’t let that stop you from reading this great book.

June 28, 2012
by mitcharf

So many monitors!

I’ve been meaning to write a quick post about this for a while now.  Rarely does a week go by at work that someone doesn’t remark on my workstation setup and asks how to do it.  Behold it in all its nerdy glory!

In some cultures, the number of monitors a man uses are a sign of his virility…

Why so many monitors?  I tend to do a lot of multitasking at work and have many windows open — source code, telnet sessions, web browsers, etc.  It’s nice to be able to find things at a glance, rather than have to shuffle between the multitude of open windows and applications.  For a long time I muddled along with just my laptop and one external monitor, which was all that my laptop supported.  I added a docking station but was disappointed to learn that this did not allow me to use additional monitors, even though it did give me additional graphics ports.  What was a frustrated nerd to do?

Finally I found this lovely device:

It is a USB graphics adapter.  Each one connects to a USB port and allows you to add an external monitor.  In my current setup I am using two of them, and I am considering adding a third.  You can buy them on Amazon for around $45 (they are the same price on newegg, last I checked).  Highly recommended to anyone who has longed for extra screen real estate!  I wouldn’t recommend them for PC gaming, and I haven’t tried them for HD video, but they have served me well for general use and productivity.

June 25, 2012
by mitcharf

Dragon Age sale (and other computer game stuff)

If you like story-rich computer role-playing games, and if you haven’t played the Dragon Age series, then I recommend you check them out.  I mention it because they’re on sale for a ridiculously low price on Amazon right now.  They’re selling Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition and Dragon Age 2 together for $9.99. (the Ultimate Edition includes all expansions/additional content)  You can also buy Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition by itself for $7.49, or Dragon Age 2 by itself for $4.99.  I think the first game is superior to the second one, but both are excellent RPGs and well worth playing.

Speaking of PC games, I just finished my first play through of Mass Effect 3 (the final game in another great RPG series).  Now most of my gaming is spent on Battlefield 3 (which I’d highly recommend to any first-person shooter fans, particularly if you enjoy team-based play).  If you’re playing BF3, I recommend you pick up Battlefield 3: Premium.  It includes all current and planned expansions for BF3, which cost more individually than the premium package costs.  It also has some additional perks, but the expansions alone make it a great value for fans of the game.  If you play BF3, my name on there is mitcharf — add me as a friend and we can play together!

April 18, 2012
by mitcharf
1 Comment

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

I recently read an article which said that the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books are being reprinted in new editions, but that the publishers are not using the illustrations from the original books.  Anyone who has fond memories of being frightened by these books as a child will realize what a terrible decision this is, especially if you see the replacement artwork.  Once I read the article I tracked down a used copy of the original books, in case they become hard to find.  It arrived in the mail today!

I bought a hardcover edition of the Scary Stories Treasury.  This includes all 3 original books by Alvin Schwartz featuring the artwork of Stephen Gammell.  You can buy it used on Amazon.

February 9, 2012
by mitcharf

Funny/Thoughtful YouTube Videos

Just collecting a bunch of my favorite YouTube videos of comedy and/or philosophy.


February 8, 2012
by mitcharf

Battlefield 3

A post of interest exclusively to fellow PC gamers.  I’ve been playing Battlefield 3 regularly lately.  It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re not a fan of traditional first-person shooters.  Part of the appeal of the Battlefield series has always been the crazy and unpredictable things which end up happening as a result of the vehicles and physics engine.  Just being a passenger in a jeep when my brother Matt is driving it is an experience unto itself.  Anyway, if you have the game, please add me to your friend list.  My username is mitcharf.

If you don’t have the game, you can buy it here: http://store.origin.com/bf3

Here are some YouTube videos of actual gameplay to give you an idea of what it’s like:

January 26, 2012
by mitcharf

Republicans support domestic abuse (just like Democrats hate the rich)

This afternoon I saw the following article posted on Facebook:  New Hampshire Republicans Propose Bills That Prevent Police From Protecting Domestic Abuse Victims

This prompted me to share the article on my wall along with a novel-length block of text.  I then realized this was more appropriate for a blog post, so I’m cutting and pasting it here:

Given the anti-Republican source of this article, I tried to do additional research on this. I couldn’t find any other media coverage on it, but I did find the text of the bills themselves. I’m mainly curious how the bill sponsors are explaining the necessity for these changes. It’s all well and good to demonize the Republican party (I know I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past), but generally there is a rationale behind any proposed legislation, even if it’s one with which I disagree.

In the case of HB 1608, it’s a moot point now, since I did find a news report that it never made it out of committee after the bill’s sponsor refused to show up for two consecutive hearings on it. But it sounds like the first bill, HB 1581, may still be considered this session.

The only justification for HB 1581 that I could find was in a statement of intent within the bill itself, which said “This legislation supports Part First, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution for the United States, and article V of the New Hampshire Republican Party Platform.”

I presume they are invoking the US 4th amendment’s protection against warrantless or non-judicially-sanctioned arrests. The part of the NH constitution which is mentioned covers much the same ground. Article 5 of the NH GOP party platform is pretty vague, and covers things ranging from separation of powers, states’ rights, English as an official language, and preserving individual liberty.

So, based on all of that, the best I can tell is that this bill was proposed on the grounds that if a police officer arrests someone for an act that they did not directly witness, then this is an infringement of the rights of the person being arrested. With no additional context, I can understand that point. Certainly I in general oppose expanding the powers of the police and of the government, and am a strong supporter of individual rights and liberties. And the laws being changed do address more than just possible domestic abuse cases. However, some sections of these laws are clearly narrowly focused just on domestic abuse, and these sections are being changed along with the others. Given what we know about domestic abuse and the psychological power an abuser can have over his or her victim, I think this is a situation where it is understandable for a police officer to make an arrest based on probable cause, even if they did not witness the victim being beaten.

Anyway, I’m just curious if anyone has any better information on how HB 1581 was justified. I’m guessing it will meet a similar fate to HB 1608, but I’m still interested. In general I am very interested about the motivations and beliefs of those with whom I tend to disagree.

In case it’s not clear, I think most people, regardless of political affiliation, are trying to do what they believe to be the right thing. Well, maybe with a healthy dollop of self-interest thrown in there. But I don’t think many people are motivated by a desire to cause harm or do evil. I wish all politicians would accept this as a given and stop trying to demonize anyone who disagrees with them, declaring them to be evil, greedy, unpatriotic, unAmerican, etc. It doesn’t help us move forward.

January 12, 2012
by mitcharf


I’m incredibly happy right now, and not just because it’s my birthday!  Normally I don’t like to post deliberately mysterious stuff like this, but for now you will just have to wonder about the cause of my happiness.  So there!