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ralph robert moore

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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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do they not know what's beneath the clothes?
november 3, 2001



As I mentioned last week, I bought a new computer.

The old one was starting to do strange things, like refusing to shut down, having a hard time getting up, and sometimes it would be in the middle of something and just stop, to where you didn't know for sure if it had forgotten what you had asked it to do, or if it was just deciding over a very long period of time how it wanted to do the task, sort of like someone in a hospital bed who, in answer to your question about whether or not they know when they'll be discharged, pulls the transparent tube out of their mouth, looks at it, brushes the fingerprint of their thumb across the little circular plastic mouth, and goes into very deep thought, eyebrows and white chest hair you never knew they had, while you wait in one of those visitor highchairs for their answer.

Mary and I always buy Dell, and I did again (Since the War on Terrorism has begun, we've been watching CNN and Fox News a lot more than we normally do, much like we did during last year's election mess. One thing that's struck me about CNN is that it has the same three commercials in constant rotation: a spot for Dell, followed by Billy Mays bringing you the wonders of Oxy-Clean, a kitchen-cleaning product, followed by a commercial for a Viagra substitute. CNN may be a global news-gathering organization, but if you only watched its commercials, you'd swear it was a low-wattage UHF TV station broadcasting from somewhere deep within the dark hills of rural Nevada. Its targeted audience appears to be impotent computer geeks with dirty kitchens).

What I have before me now is the Dell Dimension 8200, monitor, CPU, keyboard and mouse in the same dark gunmetal gray James Bond favored in his cigarette lighters. It has a Pentium 4 running at 2 Gigahertz, which seems an extraordinary speed to me, with an 80 gigabyte ultra ATA hard drive (I admit I don't have a clue what 'ultra ATA', means, but I'm glad I have it), 512 megabyte RD-RAM memory, 64 megabytes DDR NVIDIA GeForce Ti 200 Graphics card (don't have a clue), a floppy drive, rewritable CD drive, and 16X MAX Variable DVD-Rom drive. It comes with a nineteen-inch monitor, and a free scanner. Since the new pc runs on Windows XP, we bought a new HP printer which promised it would be compatible with the operating system.

I had some trepidations about getting Windows XP since it was just released (in fact, I received the computer a few days before the official release date). Microsoft does not have a good reputation when it comes to releasing new products. Most of them are buggy as a swamp.

XP itself is cosmetically quite nice. A few reviewers have complained they don't like the new layout, which tends towards explanatory pop-up windows and greater detail about files, but I found it helpful.

XP is supposed to be even less prone towards crashes, but so far I've had two serious problems with the operating system, with Netscape and Word 2000.

I ran Netscape 4.72 on my old system, Windows 98, because that's the version my Internet Service Provider, Southwestern Bell, supported. I would experience some problems with it occasionally performing, like the teenager who keeps his bedroom door shut all the time, an 'illegal operation', but overall, it was functional. Since installing it on XP, I've had tremendous problems getting it to run properly. Virtually every time I open the mail, it crashes, closing Netscape and throwing me back on the desktop. XP comes with a feature where you can run a software on an earlier version of Windows if it's not compatible with XP. I activated the feature, choosing to run Netscape on Windows 98, where it had worked. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever. A few days later, the problem seemed to mysteriously resolve itself, although it's now, tonight, reappeared just as mysteriously.

I've never had any problem with Microsoft Word until I used XP. Now, under Word 2000, sometimes when I try to save a document, I get a message saying Word 2000 has encountered a problem, and will be closing. It then adds that the document you've been working on all night might be lost, and apologizes if this loss of data causes any inconvenience. I love the 'if'. The apology does not suffice after I've just written two thousand words of a story I'm about to lose forever.

I went to the Microsoft site to try to get a solution to this problem. Do you know you have to pay Microsoft before you can talk to one of their customer service representatives? For fixing a problem their own incompetence created in the first place? (You have to provide the number and expiration date of a 'major credit card' before you even get access to customer service. If their advice doesn't work, or fucks up your computer even more, let's have a show of hands of how many people think Microsoft will give you a refund. After the September 11 tragedy, a lot of heroes came forward, entertainment and business leaders, and donated large amounts of their own money to the relief fund. A week or so later, Bill Gates, the richest man in America, gave what, considering his wealth, was a disgracefully meager donation. I can't for the life of me understand why some people admire Bill Gates, unless it's some kind of pathetic serf worship for the lord in the high castle. He's one of the most dishonest, most corrupt business leaders we have. The only thing disguising that corruption, effective only among the na´ve, are the bangs that flop boyishly across his forehead. If he combed his hair back, the way the rest of the lizards do, you'd see the naked greed in his face, the syphilitic nose).

Microsoft Word itself has always been woefully unsophisticated. The people who like it tend to be, in my experience, those who aren't familiar with other word processing software. The unfortunate thing about Microsoft isn't so much that it's a monopoly, but that it's a monopoly that turns out such shitty products. It's bad enough Microsoft has stolen every idea it's ever had from someone else, but if it is going to steal, couldn't it at least steal all of an idea, so that it works, instead of just stealing part of an idea? It wasn't until Word 2000 that Microsoft finally came up with a spell checker that can recognize when two words have been run together-- i.e., recognizing that 'runtogether' is meant by the typist to be 'run together'. WordPerfect did that a decade ago. Likewise, it took MS Word over ten years to figure out how to reveal codes in a document, an important function WordPerfect has been doing since the eighties. Word also is far too mouse-dependent, to where you have to stop what you're typing and handle the mouse in order to add attributes like bold or italics or underlining, whereas in WordPerfect you can cue those attributes from the keyboard. And don't even get me and the rest of the world started on the clumsy, klutzy way Microsoft Word mishandles bullets and numbering.

The acceptance of incompetence may in fact wind up being the biggest impact of the digital age. We now spend several hundred dollars for a product we know in advance is not going to work properly without several hours-long phone calls. We tolerate in Microsoft what we would never tolerate in toasters.

We tested the DVD-rom drive by renting Stanley Kubrick's The Shining at our local Blockbuster. XP has its own built-in program for playing DVD's, which (surprise!) was of a low quality. Even at top volume, the sound was low, and the picture not that impressive. Fortunately, the Dell set-up came with an alternate DVD function, which performed much better. Picture and sound were both much improved. Stanley Kubrick was one of those directors whose latest release I always gleefully anticipated. The beginning of The Shining, with its snaky following along the mountain roads, was amazing on the DVD, even more so than when we saw it in the theatre during its original release. Picture quality was very high. Even when I leaned in towards the glass of the nineteen-inch monitor, it was hard to see any pixilation.

Speaking of movies, earlier this week I started to watch David Lynch's Blue Velvet on Bravo. Blue Velvet, to me, is one of the greatest films made in the past few decades. It ranks high on a top one hundred list of all films ever made. I don't know of any other film, ever, that produces such a profound reaction in viewers. I've seen it perhaps ten times now, and still pick up more and more detail each time. It's like a dark jewel that constantly rotates in and out of focus. Bravo announced, several years ago, that it would no longer show any nudity in the films it airs, editing it out, which struck me at the time as a rather childish position to take. Do the owners of Bravo never undress? Do they not know what's beneath the clothes? Given that this is their policy, I could not conceive of what they would do with a movie like Blue Velvet. In fact, they absolutely butchered it. In the famous scene where the Frank character, played by Dennis Hopper, is first seen with Isabella Rosalini, instead of him saying 'Baby wants to fuck', we now have him saying, 'Baby wants to play'. Likewise, in the same scene, he now screams at her, 'Don't you freakin' look at me!' The voice in the gelding sounds like Hopper's. If he did participate in this disgrace, shame on him. And shame on Bravo, in any event. They're misnamed.

On October 31st, late afternoon, shadows on the grass, sunlight around the tree trunks, I caught the end of Rear Window, and the beginning of Vertigo. Both star Jimmy Stewart, and both, of course, were directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both feature classic scenes of dread (In Rear Window, the murderer, who has been spied on through telescopic camera lenses throughout the movie, suddenly, realizing, looks directly at the viewer; In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart leaps from a flat roof across high empty space to the steeply slanted rooftop of a nearby apartment building in San Francisco, falling down the slant clutching desperately onto the bending rain gutter, the cop who made the leap more successfully sliding down the slanted roof to give him a hand-up, then pitching off the steepness himself, falling, limbs flailing, to his death stories below). As I watched the films, I thought, what make these movies different from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, and so many other subsequent movies? I realized it was that in the Hitchcock films there was, in each scene, a pervasive assurance, in the actors' demeanor, the set design, the camera pans, that the world made sense, and that the horror depicted was an aberration from that order.

We don't usually get kids for Halloween, and didn't expect to this year, given all the dire warnings, but in fact, we were flooded. The costumed onslaught started about six-thirty and lasted until seven-thirty. That's not a long time, but during it, we were constantly getting up to answer the doorbell. At first, we worked upstairs, in our studios, going downstairs each time to pass out candy, but after huffing up the double flight of stairs each time, only instantly to be doorbelled back down, we simply sat on the lounges in our living room, waiting for the latest set of shuffles and knocks.

Some of the kids' costumes were nothing more than caps on their heads, but a few were elaborate, store-bought shows. One kid had a Scream elongated white face mask that streamed neon blood down its chalkiness.

After we gave out candy for a while, we switched to money. We have a large white and black bowl in which we've tossed our chump change the past ten years. We offered it to the trick-or-treaters, allowing each to grab up a handful. Some of the taller goblins were smart, selectively picking up the quarters, like choosing purple M&M's. Most of the kids were astounded we were offering them cash. "For real?" A couple of the girls had incredibly large hands, which they carefully, with great thought, lowered into the bowl like the steam shovel in arcade attractions, lifting up as much as they could. We got a lot of little ghosts and butterflies stooping over in front of our tall door to pick up quarters that had dropped to the green welcome mat.

In almost every case, we noticed the parents were standing a discreet distance away, outside the yellow bell of the front porch light, on our dark lawn, waving to us once they realized we were okay. One father carried a big stick.

We didn't see any Bin Laden costumes. I figured it was because the parents were afraid the door might open on a right wing militant nut, who seeing the face would immediately get confused and shot-gun the wearer to the door mat. "Call the President. I just got Bin Laden. You won't believe where he was."