June 17th, 2003
What score do you get on the Geek Test? I got a measly 21.69625% and was rated as a mere "Geek", but I'm convinced that this is mostly because the list of TV shows the test invites you to choose shows a bit of a US bias. Throw in some UK geek TV and my rating would have increased to at least "Major Geek."
Besides, 21.69625% isn't bad considering that my job doesn't (officially) involve any geek skills: I earned that rating based on my out-of-office activities alone.
[Via web-goddess, who is a "Total Geek"]
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June 16th, 2003
The Matrix Reloaded: The Abridged Script.
Hurry, we have to get Randall out of here!
And take him where, exactly?
Uhhhh.. away from the bad guys? It doesn't matter, we're just waiting for Neo to save us.
Don't you realize that without any real goal, this scene is utterly without tension, regardless of how cool it is, stylistically?
This is a matrix film, there's no point to anything other than style.
They are CHASED by TWO ALBINO RASTAFARIANS. More video game music plays in the background.
ALBINO RASTAFARIAN #1
We are utterly pointless.
ALBINO RASTAFARIAN #2
Yes we are.
As you'd expect, there are plenty of spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the film. But if you have, this is definitely worth a look.
June 16th, 2003
Over at plasticbag.org, Tom has come up with a neat idea about how to deal with a world where the next generation of digital cameras-cum-mobile phones is wirelessly networked: make them ask the people they're taking photos of (or rather, those people's cameras/mobile phones/PDAs) for permission before permitting them to take a photo/distribute it to third parties.
It's a sweet concept, at least to a confirmed cameraphobe like me, but sadly it's unlikely to come to pass considering how popular "candid" shots are, not to mention the problem of figuring out how to deal with situations where those in the frame have differing views on the desirability of being photographed. But then, it's not meant to be a practical proposal, just a thought experiment. Would people find that being forced to go into "rude" mode to take some of the pictures they want tend to make them more considerate of their subjects' wishes? Would those who didn't fancy being permanently available as photographic subjects end up being regarded as spoilsports who deserved everything they got and were actively sought out? Am I, as someone who'd definitely select the "No Photos" setting, demonstrating just how paranoid I am just by raising that last question? :-)
In the meantime, legal means will continue to be applied to the same end: see, for example, this post at Boing Boing about a proposal by the authorities to ban phone cameras from public baths and beaches. The linked articles are all in German, so I can't figure out whether there's already a ban on bringing plain, boring old non-digital, non-wired cameras onto those premises. Other than the ease of distribution of digital images, is there any reason digital cameras should be singled out like this?
June 15th, 2003
Michael Barrish finds himself with no choice but to listen to his roommate have sex with her boyfriend.
Believe it or not, it's all the fault of Apple Computer.
June 15th, 2003
Lt Frank Drebbin takes a trip to Iraq in The Naked WMD
Drebbin (voice over ): It was hotter than Hollywood on Gay Pride Day, and as smelly as Shaq's armpits in double overtime. But this wasn't LA. It was Baghdad — a sweltering slum of a city filled with brutal thugs, corrupt bureaucrats and sleazy quick-buck artists. And the Iraqis were a nasty bunch, too. Like an POW in a British prison camp, I was gonna have to stay on my guard.
Drebbin: (voice over ) It was a Saturday, and I should've been sitting in Dodger Stadium, watching the game and enjoying a tall one — maybe drinking a beer, too. But I was on special assignment. My mission: To find Saddam's missing weapons of mass destruction, before they found America. Another story from the files of ( pause ): WMD Squad!
The words "WMD Squad", bracketed by a pair of Scud missiles, zoom out and fill the screen. The soundtrack rises — more brassy Mancini music.
As the title and soundtrack gradually fade, Drebbin turns into the doorway of an Iraqi police station. He waits patiently as a line of looters exit the building, one after the other, carrying a computer monitor, an office chair, a sink, a bird cage, a sequined tuxedo, a giant hookah, a torah scroll, a live goat, and finally, a large canister marked "Anthrax." Drebbin lets them pass, then enters.
Seriously silly stuff. Strongly recommended.
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June 15th, 2003
I thoroughly enjoyed Scott Westerfield's Evolution's Darling when I came across it last year. It felt a lot like one of Iain M Banks' Culture novels – which is definitely a good thing in my book.
Judging by David Kennedy's review on rec.arts.sf.written, Westerfield's follow-up, The Risen Empire is a more conventional tale. A quick taste of Westerfield's style, quoted from David Kennedy's review:
The constellation of eyes glistened, reflecting the sunlight that penetrated the cultured-diamond doors sliding closed being Senator Nara Oxham. The ocular glint raised her hackles, marking as it did the eyes of a noctural predator. On Oxham's home planet Vasthold, there ranged human-hunting bears, paracoyotes, and feral nightdogs. On some deep, instinctive level, Nara Oxham knew those eyes to be warnings.
The creatures were splayed – fifteen or twenty of them – on an invisible bed of lovely gravity. They wafted like polychrome clouds down the wide, breezy hallways of the Emperor's inner palace, carried by the ambient movement of air. Her apathy bracelet was set to high, as always here in the crowded capital, but sufficient sensitivity remained to feel some measure of their inhuman thoughts. They regarded her cooly as they drifted past, secure in their privilege, in their demigodhood, and in their speechless wisdom, accumulated over sixteen centuries of langour. Of course, their species had never, even in the millennia before Imperial decree had elevated them to semidivine status, doubted its innate superiority.
They were imperious consorts, these personal familiars of His Risen Majesty. They were Felis Domesticus Immortalis.
They were, in a word, cats.
And in a few more words, cats who would never die.
Senator Nara Oxham hated cats.
[…] Nara Oxham's constituency was an entire planet, but here in the Diamond Palace the mighty senator found herself intimidated by the housepets."
I'm always up for a thoughtful space opera, so I'll be keeping an eye out for the paperback edition of The Risen Empire.
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June 15th, 2003
In Tennessee, a guy sees a sign in front of a house: "Talking Dog for Sale."
He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a black mutt just sitting there.
"You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the mutt replies.
"So, what's your story?"
The mutt looks up and says, "Well, I discovered this gift pretty young; and I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.
"I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running.
"The jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in, I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals.
"Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
The owner says, "Ten dollars."
The guy says, "This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him, so cheap?"
The owner replies, "He's such a liar……. He didn't do any of that shit."
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June 14th, 2003
Over at Science Fiction Weekly, Nick Gevers conducts a long interview with Michael Swanwick, the reigning champion author of short-short SF stories, including the wonderfully droll Periodic Table of Science Fiction. Another of his pet subjects is dinosaurs:
Having caught the paleontological bug: Why, in your view, do dinosaurs constitute such a powerful cultural and intellectual icon, within SF and without?
Swanwick: That's an easy one. It's because dinosaurs are (a) monsters, (b) real and (c) safely extinct. It's an unbeatable combination! My paleontologist friends hate it when I use the M-word, but let's be honest here, that's the appeal. There's a story that Kenneth Carpenter saw a Godzilla movie when he was a boy and immediately decided that he was going to devote his life to studying such creatures. Then, when his parents gently broke it to him that Godzilla was imaginary, he switched his loyalties over to dinosaurs, as the next best thing. Decades later he discovered a new species of theropod and named it Gojirasaurus. Thus keeping a better faith with his younger self than most adults do.
This is one reason that I deplore the rush to represent all dinosaurs as being covered with feathers, even those for which we have perfectly featherless skin imprints. Where are we going to get the next generation of paleontologists if T. rex looks like a gigantic parakeet? The mind reels.
Not only was this an informative and amusing interview, but as a bonus it expanded my vocabulary by introducing me to the word "abecedary."
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June 13th, 2003
June 13th, 2003
A few weeks ago I linked to a couple of caricatures of Agent Smith and Morpheus by Tim Shinn. Now he's finished off his series of Matrix-themed work with a knockout of a wallpaper image featuring Neo, Morpheus and Trinity. (If you look closely at Neo's shades you'll spot Agent Smith too.)
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June 12th, 2003
On the one hand, we have Dr Cynthia Breazeal (NB/- New York Times link – free registration required), who wants to make robots with which it's possible to interact socially. On the other, we have Jon Carroll already feeling way too much empathy towards his vacuum cleaner.
[Interview with Dr Breazeal (aka Dr Susan Calvin) via Amygdala]
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June 12th, 2003
You've been heavily involved in philanthropy over the years?
Oh. I gave away almost all my money. Absolutely. To very good causes. I'm so glad of it.
[List of philanthropic efforts snipped]
Are you still involved in this kind of work?
Yeah, but very little, very little. I don't have that much of the money left. About nothing [laughs].
You don't seem to care.
Oh, no no. What do you care about in life? People grow up with different value systems.
And I never sought money. I didn't start Apple to make money. I never once went for it and it was just strange. It was just there. It's an encumbrance I have, and I've got to try to use it wisely. Solving worthy needs is more important.
It's sorely tempting to contrast the Woz attitude with that of a certain Mr William H Gates III, but that's not entirely fair: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is ploughing vast sums into equally worthy projects in America and around the world. The big difference is that Gates is both a philanthropist and a ruthless businessman, whereas Woz is a tremendously clever engineer who was happy to leave being a businessman to Steve Jobs and Mike Markkula. Wait another forty or fifty years and the name "Bill Gates" will probably be associated more with philanthropic works than computer software.
June 12th, 2003
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June 12th, 2003
Susan Wloszczyna, writing in USA Today, has word of some of the goodies on the extended edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that will stretch the film to a mind-boggling 3 hours and 43 minutes. More Ents! Eowyn cooks! A flashback featuring Boromir! Aragorn whispering sweet nothings in Elvish! How can I not buy this DVD?
June 11th, 2003
Inspired by the news that a sequel to V might be in the works, Max welcomes Newsday TV critic Noel Holston's suggestion that there's a long list of 80s SF TV shows which are ripe for a CGI-heavy remake.
I think this is an awful idea. Or rather, better special effects should be about the seventh or eighth priority, not the first. To the extent that V – by which I mean the original mini-series, not the sequels – was a success, it was mostly because the story drew parallels with World War II and the Holocaust in a science fictional setting, not simply because of the pretty flying saucers. (When I saw the opening episode of V I found the special effects to be just fine: specifically, my first thought was "They've just nicked the opening scene from Childhood's End!", not "Hey, that's a barely adequate bit of SFX work.") Holston suggests that the miniseries of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles would be a candidate for a remake because the special effects and makeup work was poor, but it seems to me that of all the early 80s SF series that would be the one which was least reliant on high quality effects work in the first place. Yes, there were spacecraft and Martians, and the special effects weren't great, but that didn't get in the way for this viewer.
Granted, you can use CGI to tell some stories which just weren't practical on a TV budget a decade or two ago: without the ability to cheaply depict different planets and spacecraft, not to mention a variety of reasonably convincing (albeit humanoid) aliens, shows like Farscape and Babylon 5 would have looked very different. Even so, I genuinely believe that those stories could still have been told even with Blake's 7-level effects. In the end, I cared about the people and the situations they found themselves in much more than the eye candy. (Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy the eye candy.)
By all means tell the 80s stories again if you think you can get the message across more effectively now, or where you think a story will have a greater resonance in the light of current circumstances. But don't do it just because you can do flashier SFX now. Is the world really crying out for a better-looking remake of Logan's Run or Manimal?
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June 11th, 2003
Futurama producer David X Cohen discusses the Futurama video game, working with Al Gore and how tricky it was to find Bender's voice.
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June 11th, 2003
Embarrassing Stories: fifteen thank-$DEITY-that-wasn't-me moments. For example:
My boyfriend bought me a vibrator for Valentine's Day about a year ago. Still living at home I knew I had to hide it. Well, after having some fun one night I just put it under my mattress.
The next day my brother came in and laid on my bed, when he put pressure on the mattress, my vibrator turned on and started to buzz like crazy. Well, not knowing what it was he came in the living room and said, "sissy this was buzzing under your bed" and handed it to me.
It was a Monday, so my mom and dad and I were watching Fear Factor, and looking at the size of my vibrator, my mom laughed and said, "apparently fear is not a factor for you." And now my dad goes around saying, "BZZZZZZZZZZ." I have never been more embarrassed in my life.
I think my favourite is Story #1, about a very tall man and a particularly cramped aircraft toilet.
[Via dutchbint dot org]
June 9th, 2003
Gollum gave an hilarious acceptance speech on besting Dobby, Kangaroo Jack (!), Scooby-Doo and Yoda to win the Best Virtual Performance award at the MTV Movie Awards.
As TheOneRing.net seems to be struggling to cope with demand for the clip I've mirrored the 8MB Quicktime movie version of the acceptance speech here. Other mirrors can be found in this Slashdot thread.
I'm pretty sure that whirring sound you hear is the late Professor Tolkien reaching about 10,000rpm…
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"It's really hard to believe someone is funny when you've seen a room full of people stare at them like they were the Nuremberg Trial defence team."
June 9th, 2003
Danny O'Brien went to a tech conference and ended up having a flashback to his days as a stand-up comic.
Me and Quinn (who was on the panel too) were both in the same state. We hadn't really worked out who the audience was, and we're both a bit rusty at public speaking. Also, we've had three months fairly intensive dialogue coaching in going "goo goo goo goo goo issy waddy baby!", which may have influenced our normally punchy style.
I think we managed to pull back some credibility in the end. I'm pretty good at damage control. Quinn has a background in bad stand-up gigs as well. I didn't cry when that drunken woman in Edinburgh climbed onto a table and started singing the "Yoooor shite" song to me, so I'm not going to cry when the man from Microsoft says that we're doing his whole industry a disservice. No, no, I sucked up to him instead. Mmm, five minutes on why Microsoft rules. Yeah, that was straight from the heart. No panic in my jellied bloodstream there.
Speaking as someone guaranteed to dry up completely in front of an audience of half a dozen, I have the utmost admiration for anyone who can function in that situation. Writing a funny, insightful article about the experience that same day is blogging above and beyond the call of duty.