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geeky Saturday

This morning I flashed my OpenMoko phone with the latest software and--miracle of miracles--managed to make a call with it. Whee! So maybe next month sometime I'll actually start playing with it again.

I spent much of the rest of the day deleting code. It's hard to describe how satisfying it is to replace a piece of code by something shorter and easier to understand that still does the same thing.

So, what else has happened in the last few weeks?

I went back to my French conversation group the last two Wednesdays after missing a month or so, and I've started listening to some francophone podcasts again--I quit for a while when my music player died, but I figured out the Nokia 770 I'd written off as a mostly-useless curiosity actually works pretty well as a music player.

But I find myself pretty much at the same stage: if I concentrate I can understand radio announcers, or people that are making an effort to help me understand, but when I hear casual conversation between two French speakers, sometimes it's like a totally alien language. And opening my mouth is always a mistake. Is there any hope for me? No doubt the only real way to improve would be to have a real reason to. Which, um, I don't. My obsessions are a mystery.

I've been trying to decide what to make of Warren Ellis's "Global Frequency" comics. They consist of twelve stories, collected in two volumes. Each is exactly 22 pages, and tells a single story: a problem is presented and solved somehow. The solvers are the "Global Frequency" of the title, a worldwide network of specialists, centrally coordinated via cell phones by a dispatcher named "Aleph". She and the organization's head ("Miranda Zero") are the only regularly recurring characters. The crisis often concerns some military program gone wrong. The first and last stories concern forgotten cold-war doomsday machines that are accidentally triggered.

My main first impression is of how *short* the stories are. That's partly a result of the obvious page limit and the decision to make each story self-contained (there's no larger story arc that I can see). The basic outline seems to be: here's a problem, here's how it's solved. Maybe there's a minor surprise at the end (involving a suicide in 5 of the 12 stories, for some reason), but the plots are mostly straightforward.

The stories are obsessed with murder, suicide, gore, and violence. Like some other American comics, they strike me as basically escapist adolescent hero fantasies. (Save the world by browsing the web and talking on your cell phone!) I assume that's what they inherit from superhero comics. But the few older superhero comics that I've read also have some sense of whimsy. The newer stuff sometimes seems to be trying to look more grown-up by being "darker" and "edgier" and losing the sense of humor. That grates on me for some reason. But "Global Frequency" is well done. And I like the structure as 12 short self-contained units: they're sort of variations on a theme. It's fun to see how much they can do with the same basic recurring elements.