Archive for April, 2012

No longer zero

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

I should update one item in the new Cites & Insights.

On page one, I say:

That’s a simple story: Contributions for 2012 total $0.

No longer true. I’ve received a $25 contribution for which I’m grateful.

Also, one print copy of Library 2.0: A Cites & Insights Reader was ordered in the past week, and two PDF copies were ordered earlier in April. I suppose I should count $4 of each order (the amount I get) as contributions toward C&I. Grateful to see somebody found it worth ordering, at least.



Friday, April 27th, 2012

Here’s a real-world graph, representing honest information about a current situation.

And here’s the fun part:

  • What would you expect value #5 to be?
  • What about #6 or #7 or #8?
  • At what point will the value pass 100?

The real-world answers and probability in another week or two, I think.

Cites & Insights 12:4 (May 2012) available

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Cites & Insights 12:4 (May 2012) is now available for downloading at

The issue is 44 pages long. It is also available in a 6×9″ single-column version, optimized for viewing on edevices (and idevices bigger than phones) and available at That version (exactly the same text, but somewhat cruder appearance) is 82 pages long; if you plan to print, please download the regular version!

The issue includes the following (each essay also available as an HTML separate, noting that the single graph in the second section may not appear properly):

The Front  (pp. 1-2)

Breaking down The Middle: why there won’ be a long series of wholly miscellaneous sections with that heading. Also some notes on the reality since I took action based on reader polls (including the truth about people’s willingness, so far, to pay the lower suggested donations).

Libraries: Public Library Closures 2 (pp. 2-14)

Investigating 1998-2009. Another original research piece, this one involving a lot more research, reducing the number of apparently-closed (based on IMLS changes) public libraries over the last 12 years from 785 to…well, read the story. Includes a proud admission of error, a case where I’m delighted my original guess was way off base.

The Middle: Futurism (pp. 14-33)

A roundup of trends and other bits of futurism–but really the first half of a two-part roundup (the second half, Forecasts, probably in the next issue, deals with short-term assertions, the kind that can be checked readily).

Social Networks: The Social Network Scene, part 3 (pp. 33-44)

Completing the catch-up effort on social networking items that don’t fit into a subgroup. Some fun stuff.

314GB plus 20TB

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The context isn’t that important, but that was recently noted as the RAM and hard disk basis for a particular database.

For some reason, it struck me two ways:

Today, that isn’t all that much

Checking Fry’s for PC-level prices, for name-brand equipment, I see that you could get 314GB of high-speed name-brand RAM (actually 320GB, since it’s  8GB cards) for $1,600 (40 cards, each $40)…and 20TB of internal 7200RPM hard disks for $1,090. If you wanted solid-state storage, it would cost a lot more (not surprisingly): $27,300 (at $350 each for 256GB SSD modules).

So figure $2,700 for 314GB RAM and 20TB storage. Oh, plus a modest amount for the computers to hold the RAM, the RAID enclosures (and extra drives–let’s add another $500 for 50% redundancy)…maybe, what, $10K altogether? Of course, that’s PC-level equipment, but still…

And it wouldn’t take up that much space.

Just 24 years ago, that would have been essentially impossible

Looking back at 1988 prices, I find $63/megabyte for RAM (but on three megabyte cards, so you’d need a bunch of cards, so figure $5.12 million for the RAM (to say nothing of what you’d need to mount 100,000 cards).

Hard disks? A 2008 PC World story claims that a good price for PC-level hard disks in 1988 was $8,755 (in 2008 dollars: figure $4,990 in 1988 dollars) for a 150MB drive. That might be true, but that’s because 150MB was a huge disk for 1988 PCs. More realistically, the Seagate 251 offered 40MB for $400.

You’d need a mere half million of those Seagate drives (which sure didn’t spin at any 7200RPM!) for 20TB total capacity–and you’d spend $200 million to get there.

Let’s say $206 million total.

Consider the ratios

RAM prices pretty much follow Moore’s Law, since they’re integrated circuits. So the price for 314GB in 1988 was 3200 times what it is in 2012. (Ignoring inflation…let’s just do that for now.)

3200:1–a pretty impressive ratio!

Except that hard disk development has consistently been faster than Moore’s Law. Even with today’s shortage of hard disks (those 2012 prices are higher than they should be, thanks to weather-related issues), the price for 20TB in 1988 was 183,486 times what it is in 2012–or, including 50% more storage in 2012 for RAID reliability, call it 125,000.

125,000:1–now that’s an impressive ratio!

[Want solid-state storage instead? Figure about $27,300 in 2012–a lot more than $1,090 or $1,600 with 50% overage. Which suggests that the real Moore’s Law change should be about 7300:1, not 3200:1.]

Still, 125,000 is impressively more than 7,300.


Ignoring the much faster performance of those 2012 hard disks, each of which has a RAM cache almost as large as the Seagate 1988 disk (32MB).

Ignoring the much faster performance of that 2012 RAM.

Ignoring the reality: The system mentioned is certainly not running on PC-level equipment, although my understanding is that Google, at least, does use vast arrays of PC-level hard disks (my understanding could be wrong). It’s not realistic to have that much RAM on a PC for physical reasons, for example…

Ignoring the limits: Well, actually, the only limit even in PC terms is that Windows 7 [Ultimate, 64-bit version] can “only” address 192GB of RAM. (The limit for hard disks is apparently 256TB, so that’s not an issue…)



The worth of creativity: From jerk to troll in three easy steps

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012


I was finishing up the draft of one (long) essay for the next Cites & Insights, looking at posts about the future (but not one/two-year forecasts: that’s the second half), and got to a commentary by Jason Scott at ASCII, his weblog: Dated November 10, 2010, entitled “Your Roger Corman Future.

You may want to read the whole thing. It’s 2,500 words, plus 38 comments of varying length. Scott writes well and forcefully, even if he has one of the most unpleasant to read blog designs I’ve encountered: White text on a black background and, if you let the site specify the typeface, you get a bizarre monospaced (like Courier!) sans serif. His writing makes up for it, I think.

Scott does documentaries related to the history of computing (one on bulletin board systems, one on text adventures), along with a bunch of other things (he’s really good at saving tech-related stuff that would otherwise disappear entirely, and now works at the Internet Archive).

When he released GET LAMP, his package on text adventures (actually three documentaries “combined with a coin,” he priced it at $45, which isn’t bad for quality independent productions. And he’s grossed (not netted) six figures on it, which–as he says–makes him hot stuff where true indie filmmaking is concerned. (He’s also a whiz at Kickstarter, to be sure.)

But he got pushback…some of which resonated with what I’ve encountered, but Scott gets it in much more abhorrent ways.

All of which leads to this post.

The Premise: You’re Not Willing to Pay the Price for Some Creative Work That You Might Want to Read/See/Whatever

Here’s what all levels discussed below have in common. Somebody has created something (available in multiple copies). They, or their publisher or distributor, has set a price for copies, possibly one price for physical copies, another for digital copies.

You’re interested in that something, but you’re not willing to pay the price set by the publisher or creator.

The levels come in what you do about it.

Level 0: You don’t pay. If it’s available at the library, you borrow.

This is “level 0” because you’re not being a jerk at all. You’re exercising your entirely valid and reasonable option of not buying something because the price is higher than you’re willing to pay.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

Oh, and if a library you have access to is willing to pay the price and you choose to borrow it from the library? Good for you.

There’s a related level, where you’re also not being a jerk in any way, but it’s a level that only affects some creators and some would-be readers/viewers:

Level 0b: The creator asks for feedback on the price and you say it’s too high

Nothing wrong there either–at least if you’re not abusive in your response and don’t make a point of suggesting a “digital price” that essentially says to the creator “your time, energy and creativity aren’t worth squat.”

So: If I say “I have a new book prepared on Topic X. It’s 200 pages long or a 1MB PDF. I think $45 for a paperback, $55 for a hardcover, and $30 for a download is about right. What do you think?”

You’re being perfectly reasonable to respond “I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for the download or $15 for the paperback” or some variant on that.

If you say “You must offer the download for free” or “A 200-page paperback costs $8.50 to produce through Lulu, so $9 is the most you should charge” -well, now you’re starting to be a jerk. You’re explicitly saying that my (or Scott’s) work is not worth anything.

But let’s move on:

Level 1: You post public messages asserting that my price is outrageous and that only a price directly related to the cost of producing a single copy is reasonable (e.g., $0 or so for downloads)…or, for works involving a publisher, you blame the author for the price set by the publisher.

This assumes that I didn’t say “How much should I charge for this?” It’s not the same as saying “This might be interesting, but I’m not willing to pay $X.” it’s saying “It’s wrong for the creator to charge enough to yield any net revenue for his or her work”–perhaps not in those words, but in effect.

You’re being somewhat of a jerk. You’re telling the creator that creativity is worthless.

I’ve had that happen. You learn to live with it pretty quickly.

[Perhaps at this same level: You’re asked how much you would pay for something. You (several of you) say “I’d pay X.” The creator sets the (suggested) price at X. Nobody pays that amount. Not that that would ever happen…]

Level 2: You post negative reviews about the work, even though you haven’t read or seen it, based entirely on the price (or on assumptions about the work that you haven’t checked).

Now you’re being a major jerk: You’re trying to discourage other people from paying for creative work, since you know (or should know) that people look at star averages sometimes without actually reading the reviews. “Geez, the only review is one-star: It must be crap.”

I was looking up replacement string reels for my electric edger, to make sure I had the right part and approximate price–after two years’ use, it finally ran out of “string.” One site had three reviews, all of them highly negative. Why? In two cases, because the person purchased the wrong thing, and therefore it was a bad, bad thing. The third one was just mysterious.

Need I say Open Access: What You Need to Know Now–where a science blogger assailed the book because he/she assumed ALA had commissioned the report and, therefore, should release it for free (you know, since every scientific organization releases all the work appearing under the organization’s imprimatur absolutely for free, like the American Chemical Society), and a “reviewer” (possibly the same person) wrote a one-star “review” at Amazon that was based on a price I had no control over and an assumption that this was a “white paper” (presumably paid for in advance). (I normally wouldn’t link to Amazon, but since that’s where the review is…

This is the kind of thing that gets discouraging. And it’s the worst I’ve encountered. But not Scott: He’s been subjected to…

Level 3: You inform the creator (publicly or otherwise) that the asking price is outrageous and, therefore, you are wholly justified in looking for a pirated version, which you intend to do.

Now you’ve gone from jerk to troll (probably not the right word, but I still don’t like “pirate” for copyright infringement, even in this most blatant of cases): You’re saying “I want what you’ve done; I don’t think you deserve payment; therefore it’s ethical for me to break the law in order to acquire your work without paying you for it.”

Go read the post and comments. Scott says this sort of thing a whole lot more eloquently than I ever will.

A post not written

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I was just writing a post about an odds quandary (related to video poker), a case where I couldn’t accept what I’d read. (To wit: that the odds in triple-play/three-hand slot power, where each hand is drawn independently from the 47 cards remaining after the initial deal, are *exactly* the same as in Spin Poker, where the three rows are filled in from the single set of 47 cads remaining after the initial deal.)

And as I was writing it, I was spelling out the calculations involved (my problem: in triple-play starting with three of a kind, it’s possible to get two or three four-of-a-kind; in spin poker, that’s not possible, since once the fourth card is dealt, it’s gone–so I figured spin poker has slightly inferior odds). And as I spelled them out, and did them…

I realized that what I’d been reading was right. Your chances of getting one four-of-a-kind in spin poker are a little better than in triple-play because the draws aren’t independent: Just enough better to make up for the impossibility of getting two four-of-a-kind rows.

Well, so much for that post…except that I wrote this senseless one instead.

With a little side note: I was playing a round of Spin Poker, today’s contest, playing deuces wild, and 45 coins per hand (something I would never do in an actual casino) because that’s how it works.

And I was dealt 810JQA of spades. A sure-fire winner: 9 x 15.

And I kept the 10JQA, dropping the 8. And got nothing. Zero. Nada.

It was absolutely the right thing to do. The odds were (roughly) 3/47 of drawing a pure royal flush, which pays 4000. (They were roughly 12/47 of drawing a royal flush with deuces, which pays 125, and there’s even the chance of drawing two or three of those…and, of course, a good chance of getting back the flush.)

But it’s still painful–and would be even more so if I had, say, $4.50 in the machine (playing dimes) and saw $13.50 turn into $0. Fortunately, it was only electrons. And made a nice break from working on an essay.

Why I’m Giving Up Wired: Exhibit 1

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Some time back, I was offered Wired Magazine on one of those airline miles-for-magazines deals, from one of several airlines I don’t expect to use much in the future.

I’d subscribed to Wired back in the days when reading it was an ordeal thanks to “innovative” design and typography. While I found much of the writing good, I found the overall attitude so absurdly deterministic (digital is always better, the new always replaces the old, Negroponte and Jobs are both saints and never ever wrong) that I give up on it.

When it started coming again, I saw several things:

  • The layout is much more conservative. It’s easier to read the text.
  • It’s a Conde Nast magazine–which means it’s not only generally well written but generally well edited and even proofread, with strong production values.
  • But it’s still Wired–except that now it seems to be an even stranger mix.

It’s possibly worth noting that I’d also been visiting every day or two. I stopped doing that because I didn’t need more material for the snarky sections of Cites & Insights and eventually found the cheerleading and oversimplification (and, yes, Apple-worship) tiresome.

That turned out to be true in the print mag as well–even though along with the  product reviews that reminded me how silly most product reviews are (outside of Consumer Reports and specialist magazines) and the sheer digital triumphalism, there were and are some first-rate pieces of journalism.

I’d decided to give it up. That turned out to take a lot longer than I expected–because another mag-for-miles deal, Conde Nast’s newish business magazine, folded before I received my first issue and the publisher chose to extend my Wired subscription.

Now it’s finally coming to an end: The June 2012 issue is the final one.

The publisher’s been trying pretty hard to entice me to stay (it’s all about the guaranteed base circulation for advertising rates). The last two offers have been on the absurd side: $15 for two years of a monthly magazines.

Was I tempted? Well, not very much, but…

Your Next Car Will Drive Itself

There’s the killer. The 72pt (inch-high), all-caps, bright red text on the February 2012 cover. (I’m a couple months behind on magazine reading.)

In somewhat smaller type: “NO TRAFFIC JAMS   NO CRASHES   UNLIMITED TEXTING.” Now there’s an interesting trio…and I’m guessing that “UNLIMITED TEXTING” is at least as important to the target demographic as the other two.

My immediate response to the big bold text?


I knew damn good and well that for a fair number of the well-to-do folks who read Wired (and yes, there are lots of those), their next car would have been purchased between the time this issue was published and the time I read it. Not one of those cars would drive itself.

I finally read the article. “Let the Robot Drive.” It’s a pretty good article, actually–and, of course, it certainly does not say what the cover implies. The most optimistic projection (and I’m suspicious of that) was that by the end of the decade, self-driving cars might be fairly standard.

In other words, for the cover to be right, no Wired subscriber can buy a car for the next eight years.

[Realistically? Yeah, I’d love to see self-driving cars, if the car mfrs. assume the liability when things go

wrong (oh, that’s right, things never g

o wrong where computers are involved). I’m not at all convinced that they can really work effectively unless every car is self-driving and it’s not possible for a self-centered idiot to override the autonomous features. Think that’s gonna happen next year? Next decade?

Maybe. I’d love to see it. But the cover turns out to be such a pure example of the hype that makes Wired run that I’m tempted to save it, just in case the publisher comes back with even more absurdly low renewal prices.

I’m just as happy not to have the website and the mag as unending sources of stuff to make fun of in my own writing. There’s enough of that around in any case. If you love Wired, I’m sure you’ll continue to do so. Don’t let me discourage you.

Remaining uncertainties

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Thanks to various state library folks and some others, I’m now down to this short list of “libraries that are either closed or operating entirely under the radar, but I’m not sure which”–with the note that Volon’s almost certainly in the “closed” category. (Note that “no longer a public library, but operating as a reading room or all-volunteer collection” is a different status. If you know that about any of these, let me know.)

Any further help? By Monday, 4/16, if at all possible?

Florida: Surf-Bal-Bay Public Library, Surfside

Kansas: Summerfield Public Library

Nebraska: Cook Public Library, Edgar Public Library, Royal Public Library  All closed: see first comment

New Jersey: Cedarville Publiic Library

Oklahoma: Nash Public Library

South Dakota: Volin Public Library

Vermont: Ryegate Corrner Public Library


Astrology is real. So is homeopathy.

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Hold on. Before you light the torches or prepare your pithy comments, read on.

I mean it. Astrology is real. So is homeopathy–and by this I mean homeopathic remedies, not homeopathic practitioners (they’re also real, but it’s a different argument).


What do I mean by real?

  • The fields produce real income. Astrology columnists get paid, as do some folks who call themselves astrologers. People take homeopathic remedies and pay good money for them. Hell, there are even peer-reviewed journals, including one (Homeopathy) published by Elsevier, so it must be real. (The journal is only $277/year for institutional print access. Quite a bargain by Elsevier terms. I’d suggest offering your entire print budget at a homeopathic strengthening level, say 200C. Oh, look it up.)
  • The fields have real effects on some people. People who believe in astrologers’ forecasts and astrology columns will have their lives affected by those forecasts. People who take homeopathic remedies that they believe work are likely to find that their symptoms improve in anywhere from 10% to 90% of cases.

How real can you get? The field makes money and changes people’s lives.

Scientifically meaningful

Oh, well, that’s an entirely different thing, in’it?

Do I believe astrology and homeopathy are scientifically meaningful? Not so much. (Not at all, if you must know.)

I think they fall into the same realm as Santa Claus and a fair number of other concepts: Useful under some circumstances…and only dangerous if you spend money on them that you can’t really afford or, much more commonly, if you substitute them for things like effort (for astrology) and medicine/sound health practices (for homeopathic remedies).

Incidentally, if you do believe (or know someone who believes) that a given homeopathic remedy (at 12C or higher) is working, in the absence of the homeopathic practitioner, I have a money-saving suggestion once you’ve gone through the initial bottle:

My local supermarket sells a superb general-purpose homeopathic remedy that should work exactly as well, once it’s poured into the same bottle with the same label and the same assumptions. Around here, you can get the general-purpose remedy for about thirty-five cents a gallon, if you bring your own containers, or maybe $1 a gallon if you need a container. You may find that your supermarket has big machines over in one corner that will fill your containers with this general-purpose remedy. (Do be cautious: Under the wrong conditions, this general-purpose remedy is one of the most universal solvents known, and many people have died through excessive and inappropriate consumption.)

Why do I separate homeopathic remedies, especially those you can buy over the counter such as one that’s apparently dynamite for flu and uses duck liver at 200C, from homeopathic practitioners? Because the practitioners are looking at the whole patient and almost certainly offering appropriate advice, and I have no reason to believe that the advice they offer isn’t in many cases effective. Whether the effectiveness of that advice has anything whatsoever to do with the liquids or pills they provide….ah, that’s another question.

Update: I forgot my other tip, one for believers in astrology. You can get an equally valid individualized forecast in almost any American city of any size–delivered in an edible wrapper after a good meal. Just go to most any Chinese restaurant (except maybe the fanciest ones). I can assure you that what the throw in free at the end of the meal is as good as anything in the astrology column.

Box Office Gold, Disc 8

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Eliza’s Horoscope, 1975, color. Gordon Sheppard (dir.), Elizabeth Moorman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rose Quang. 2:00.

An 18-year-old country girl north of Montreal shows up in a not-so-great part of the city, somehow at an odd apartment building, meeting an ancient Asian astrologer and… OK, the sleeve says she’s “looking for a new life,” moves into this boarding house where Tommy (Tommy Lee Jones) also lives and has a “checked past,” and that the astrologer tells her (the sleeve says an Astrologer who tell here: the person must have actually watched this just before writing it) she’ll meet the love of her life and she starts a hunt for the man.

What I saw: random characters and worse than random filmmaking, with lots of visual hiccups—you see the first second of a shot, then the same first second followed by more—and occasional random inserts of scenes for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s supposed to be trippy, but it felt like stone incompetent direction and editing. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there is no point.

Even with a young Tommy Lee Jones, I could barely last for half an hour before giving up on it. After reading the odd set of IMDB reviews, I conclude either that the movie’s simply too deep and artistic for my cloddish soul—or that it’s a badly-made piece of pseudo-mystical crap. I note that the director was also the producer, writer and editor—and never directed, produced, wrote or edited another feature film. The star apparently never acted in another movie either (but did stunts in one) Tommy Lee Jones (“Tom Lee Jones” at the time) does not save the picture; not by a long shot. Decent print, I guess. Even in “headier” days I would have walked out on this; it’s possible that if you’re sufficiently stoned, it would be wonderful. Or not. No rating.

It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time, 1975, color. John Trent (dir.), Anthony Newley, Stefanie Powers, Isaac Hayes, Lloyd Bochner, Yvonne De Carlo, Henry Ramer, Lawrence Dane, John Candy. 1:30.

There’s a lot right with this farce—a great cast, good photography, a good print, and some genuinely amusing moments. Stefanie Powers is a beautiful woman with somewhat questionable morals: She divorced her first husband (a starving playwright, played by Anthony Newley) to marry a wealthy construction magnate—but she sleeps with her ex once a week, and when she gets involved with a politician’s campaign she’s clearly ready to sleep with him as well. She also wants to save her feisty mom’s house from being torn down, by her husband’s company, by getting it declared a landmark, and gets the politician involved in that (but he’s double-crossing her). That’s just the start of a fast, frequently funny flick that never stops moving.

So what’s the problem? It tries a little too hard, from the opening cartoon credits to the use of cuckoo-clock sound effects each time the armed mom is about to do something nefarious. (It’s also a panned-and-scanned version of a widescreen flick, but that’s par for the course.) Still, it is a remarkable cast (with Isaac Hayes as a drunken sculptor, a young (and slim) John Candy as a hapless junior-grade cop and more) and while I don’t grant “hysterical” it is amusing in a frenetic way. (It is not a “John Candy film” by any means: his role is relatively minor.) $1.25.

Mooch Goes to Hollywood, 1971, color, made for TV. Richard Erdman (dir.), Vincent Price, James Darren, Jill St. John, Jim Backus and, mostly in cameos, Marty Allen, Richard Burton (voice), Phyllis Diller, Jay C. Flippen, Zsa Zsa Gabor (voice), Sam Jaffe, Rose Marie, Dick Martin, Darren McGavin, Edward G. Robinson, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney. 0:51.

Sometimes a picture is so astonishing that it raises fundamental questions. Such as, in this case, how did this thing ever get made—and, better yet, why? The plot, if you want to call it that, is that a mutt jumps off a freight car (hobo’s bag & stick in mouth) and wanders around Hollywood, instantly charming a number of movie actors—specifically, the first four listed above—and twice getting taken to the same sinister vet’s (I say “sinister” only because I’ve never seen a real vet who’s so bad with animals).

Oh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor narrates the whole thing.

A remarkable cast, although some of them are barely in the picture at all (I think Mickey Rooney’s on screen for ten seconds or less, with no lines, and Phyllis Diller’s part isn’t much bigger). I know I remarked on it: “Don’t all these big names have anything better to do?” Followed by “Did Jim Backus—who co-wrote and co-produced this—really have that many favors owed him?” One repeated sequence (repeated with each of the four main players) is dumb the first time and a little creepy by the fourth. (Apparently the dog playing Mooch was the original Benji, for what that’s worth.) Decent print, good color, wholly pointless, and even as a bizarre little flick it’s not worth more than $0.75.

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, 1970, color. Burgess Meredith (dir. & writer), James Mason, Jack MacGowran, Irene Tsu, Jeff Bridges, Peter Lind Hayes, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Burgess Meredith, Broderick Crawford. 1:29.

I’m not quite sure how to describe this movie, set in Hong Kong while it was still British-controlled. We have James Mason as a half-Mexican, half-Chinese evil power broker (who turns good halfway through the movie); Burgess Meredith as a grumpy old Chinese acupuncturist/herbal medicine purveyor (Meredith also wrote and directed the movie); Jeff Bridges as a deserting soldier who’s also a James Joyce scholar/writer (I guess) and, on the side, blackmailer; Irene Tsu as his Chinese wife/girlfriend/companion; and narration by Buddha (who apparently can, once every 50 years, cause a transmutation in one person when the world needs changing). Oh, and a crass CIA agent who’s also a Joyce scholar and who has trouble dying (he’s as ineffectual at that as at everything else). Some really annoying pop-style songs. As one review says, fight scenes “right out of Batman”—that is, the series in which Meredith was the Joker, certainly not the movies. Jeff Bridges’ first feature film (he was 21), although he’d done TV before that.

That’s just the beginning. There’s lots of plot. Tsu has wardrobe problems throughout, as do a number of lesser-known Chinese actresses. It’s a truly odd flick. The print’s soft but watchable; the flick’s weird but watchable, even if I did sort of go “Huh?” when it was all over. As a not very good curiosity, I’ll give it $1.00.