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by Rodney O. Lain

Comics, Unix, Mac OS X & The Mythology Of The Impossible

December 1st, 2000

We live in mediocre times.

Samuel L. Jackson, from the movie "Unbreakable"


We have a long and difficult journey ahead of us

Rev. William Kane, from the comic book Rising Stars


In his Foreword to the comic-book-cum-novella Rising Stars, comics great Neil Gaiman describes an instructive scene from The Phantom Tollbooth, a children's book by Norton Juster.

At the end of the story, after having just completed his quest -- a "mighty quest," according to Gaiman. After completing his mission, the protagonist is given a piece of information denied him before he began his quest: the mission he just completed is impossible; what he just completed is not humanly possible.

Sure, Gaiman was using this story's moral to sing the deserved praises of J. Michael Straczynski, author of "Rising Stars," most well known and worshipped for creating and writing the herculean Sci-Fi epic known as "Babylon 5." You see, Straczynski proposed "Babylon 5," from the very beginning, to be a five-year story – the TV equivalent of a novel, if you will. From its conception, it had a beginning, middle and ending. Nothing like Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is an "Archie" comic by comparision, with its plots that were resolved every week within its tidy, 47-minute time frame – notwithstanding such multi-parters like the excellent finale "All good things..." (let the Trekkies who readeth, understandeth).

Anyway, "Babylon 5" was an impossible feat, Gaiman said. And he is right. I mean, look at the pap that passes for TV shows nowadays. I won't name any, for fear of offending the teenybopper contingent of my readership. Oh, what the hell: I refer you, gentle reader, to "Dawson's Creek," "Jerry Springer," and Showtime's "Gay as folk" (which I haven't seen, but have read the show's premise).

All of the above is a nice segue to this week's rant about OS X.

Eunuchs or Unix?
I've been vacillating between love and hate of OS X. I had to reinstall it last month after an unrecoverable crash (that's the hate part). The GUI has taken some getting used to, but used to it, I am (that's the love part). However, you can only play with TextEdit and The Dock so much before you wish you had applications to run (hate).

So, I began to gripe. And gripe. And gripe.

Until, a friend pulled me aside and suggested that I check out the excellent Unix resources on the web, and he promised that I'd be surprised by the amount apps and shareware (yay!) that I'd find.

I'm feeling mucho love for OS X at the moment, but that can change. But I've found hope and help that I want to pass on to you guys, from one average guy to another average guy. Go to web sites like X-Appeal and soak up the information on things like hacking OS X. For example, if you can't get your USB printer to work with OS X, they have a fix for you at X-Appeal. Want your AirPort to work with OS X? X-Appeal's got the skinny.

BTW, any OS X application with the word "Omni" in its title is good, in my book.

But, this column had a point, so let me make it

At first, it's good; later, it's great
We saw the movie "Unbreakable" last weekend.

A tip on movie viewing: Never listen to critics. They rarely hate anything. They heaped upon "Unbreakable" praise laden with superlatives, but be warned. It is NOT for those of you who are into scenes of extreme property damage and high body counts. You must clear your mind and let the story unfold. Hang in there; there's a point to the plodding exposition and character development. Hint: Pay attention to the comic-book motif.

Director M. Night Shyamalan did a masterful job, in that, as soon as the movie's ending was revealed, á la "Sixth Sense" ("I see dead people"), you have to rethink all that has gone before. You see, I didn't do any thinking. First thing I did after the screen darkened was stretch both arms out towards the screen and shout "what the hell was that?" My wife ignored me, because I do that after every bad movie – which has been an all too frequent event this year. Can you say "Red Planet"? How about "Mission to Mars"? Remember "Titan A.E."?

Anyway, I thought about the story for a few seconds and realized that "Unbreakable" was a well-thought-out story that may not be a homerun for us short-attention-spanners reared on a steady diet of MTV's rapid-fire imagery.

OS X is parallels "Unbreakable." In the beginning, I thought at various times "what the hell is this?" but I've come to seen levels of ingeninuity. The Unix underpinning is the key. When was the last time you met many PC people excited about the Mac platform? This is what I am seeing. And that bodes well for the number of software developers for the platform.

Likewise, my wife pointed out that "Unbreakable" is deeper than I think. I thought about it and had to agree with her.

I then thought about OS X, in light of Unix lovers' comments. They are right. There's depth and potential here that's only beginning to be realized.

Is Apple on a march to turn out to be the Straczynski of computerdom? In spite of detractors pointing out the impossibility of the OS X launch, Apple my be able to pull off something that lesser companies would never have dared dream possible.


Your comments are welcomed.

Rodney O. Lain is a junior manager at a major corporation. He enjoys public speaking, mentoring minority college students, and helping community multicultural-awareness efforts. He also "preaches the Gospel" at a Minneapolis Micro Center -- he's the bald black guy. Rodney "drives" a G4 Cube and a PowerBook G3. After enjoying a popular run at Mac, "iBrotha" was axed, to readers' dismay. Back by popular demand, it now runs exclusively at Mac Observer every other Friday, replacing "Rodney's Soapbox."

[Editor's Note: Rodney O.Lain passed away in June, 2002.]

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