Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Saw it. Not too bad. Better than the previous two, certainly. It still had some problems. Oddly enough, where I and II felt thin on story and thick with "filler", this one felt rushed in some crucial places. Like, f'rinstance, Anakin's turn to the dark side, where literally one line is "What have I done", and his next line is, "I will do whatever you ask," pledging his loyalty to the soon-to-be emperor.

Toward the end, I started to feel like we were going through a checklist of Things That Have to Happen to Set Up Episodes IV-VI: Luke & Leia born, check. Kids split between the Lars and Organa families, check. C-3PO's memory wiped, check.

Still left some unanswered questions, though. Like, how come Uncle Owen didn't recognize C-3PO, who he had apparently grown up with (after Anakin left him on Tatooine and his mother married Owen's dad)? And what are we now to make of the touching scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke asks Leia about her (their) birth mother, and Leia says she remembers her being filled with sadness... since we now know that Padme died in childbirth, so Leia never actually knew her at all. And since R2-D2 didn't have his memory wiped, how come he never bothered to mention to Luke anything like, "Dude, that's your sister you're kissing..."

Best Headline Ever

From Reason Online: "Rejected By Creationists, Monkey Embraces Polytheism"

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sengoku Jedi

I have a new picture up in my Renderosity gallery, but since Hello makes it so easy, I'll let you see it here, too:
 Posted by Hello

As noted in my gallery post, the title comes from an old review of the "Shogun: Total War" computer game, in which the reviewer accidentally referred to the sengoku jidai period of Japanese history as "Sengoku Jedi". I wanted to pay tribute to some of George Lucas's inspiration for the jedi.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Movie From an Alternate Universe

Someone sent me the stormtrooper pic below, in response to the thing about costumes. It seems awfully familiar, somehow...

Star Wars
Episode IV: Apocalypse Now
 Posted by Hello

Stormtrooper Captain Willard: "Coruscant. Shit. I’m still only on Coruscant. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one, brought it up to me like room service."

Vader [A shadowy figure with James Earl Jones’ voice]: "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight... razor... and surviving."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"A wookiee is a sometime food."

Apparently, Bill O'Reilly recently commented, "I'm not a 'Star Wars' fan. I can't tell a Wookie from a Libertarian," which prompted a response from the Libertarian Party. More importantly, it also prompted a "What's the Difference Between a Libertarian and a Wookiee" joke comment thread on Reason magazine's blog.

A few of my favorites:
A libertarian won't tear your arms out of your sockets when they lose.
There are enough Wookiees in the Galaxy to have their own representatives in the Senate.
There’s no such thing as a blue Wookiee.
One can be found in the woods with a crossbow and a bandolier, the other is an imaginary character.

Far funnier than that, however, is the Parade of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes.

They missed this one, though.

The Game Turn Indicator marker does not expend movement points, nor does it exert a Zone of Control.

So, a deal has been reached on the Senate filibuster issue. For now.

I'd like to offer an open-ended prediction: Any legislative action which requires a 2/3 majority, but which can have that requirement changed by an action that itself requires only a simple majority, will inevitably be changed, sooner or later, to require only a simple majority.

Why? Because sooner or later, the majority party will find itself in a situation like the one the Republicans were in here: They have a simple majority, but not a 2/3 majority. They don't have enough votes to implement an action requiring a 2/3 majority, but they do have enough votes to change the requirement such that the number of votes they have will then be enough. In other words, they have enough votes to do what they want to do, they just have to go through the extra step of changing the rules first.

In a game-design sense, the Senate rules are broken: A 2/3-majority-requirement that can be changed by a simple majority collapses to a simple-majority-requirement.

It's easily fixed: Just pass a new rule that any stated majority requirement cannot be changed by a majority vote of less than the stated requirement being changed. That is, if an action requires a 2/3 majority to pass, then the rule requiring it cannot be changed by less than a 2/3 majority either.

Otherwise, I guarantee something like this will come up again.

Monday, May 23, 2005

We Ain't All Baptists Down Here

Okay, this is just flippin' weird. And although CNN doesn't mention it in their version of the story, according to Fox News, it's not just a church, it's a Satanic church (Fox also demonstrates why there are certain categories of police investigation which should never be referred to using the verb, "probe").

Ordinarily, I'd be skeptical, especially when they say things like "details of the case have become increasingly graphic." This sounds almost exactly like the "Satanic Panic" cases of the late '80s/early '90s, which tended to "become increasingly graphic" as the supposed victims became more and more creative with the stuff they were making up. However, in this case, they're apparently getting their information from the alleged perpetrators, which makes it harder to discount.

I do just have to ask, though: "one count of crimes against humanity for alleged sexual acts involving animals" - How is a sexual act involving animals a crime against humanity? It apparently involved a dog, so a crime against caninity, maybe, but a crime against humanity?

Weekend Movie Roundup

Another light week for movie watching.

Team America: World Police (Extended/Unrated Version): Still as funny as it was in theaters, but with more puppet sex (I didn't notice any other major additions). Probably not quite as good as South Park (the movie or the series), but still plenty entertaining. No commentary, unfortunately, but the making-of extras are interesting.

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns): Your basic story-of rock band documentary, nothing outstandingly good or bad about it. Recommended for those who like They Might Be Giants. I assume it probably wouldn't convince anyone who doesn't already listen to them.

Van Helsing: I don't know how this Dracula keeps his fangs sharp, with all the scenery-chewing he does. Overacting aside, there's really nothing much to recommend this one, unless you enjoy watching flying vampire babies die by bursting like jelly-filled popcorn kernals. Also, it is fortunate for this movie's PG-13 rating that vampire women are discreetly nipple-less. For those who have seen it, and hopefully without giving too much away, am I the only one who thought they missed an obvious call-back: Van Helsing, at some point at the very end, should have said, "I will see you again." I suppose that would have come dangerously close to showing character development and growth.

On a related note, I see that Time Magazine has published their critics' list of the All-Time 100 Best Films. Kudos on some unconventional choices, like Brazil and Miller's Crossing. Interesting decision to include made-for-TV miniseries, like Berlin Alexanderplatz and The Singing Detective. I'm not sure I agree with that decision, and having made it, I'm not sure why Roots isn't included in the list. Some other issues: Ikiru and Yojimbo, but not Ran or Seven Samurai? And Drunken Master II? I love Jackie Chan, but I'm not sure I'd rank this among the Greatest Films Of All Time.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Bring on the porn!

Actually, given the obvious and inevitable application of this technology, it's vaguely disturbing that it's first being tested on chickens, and to hear the team leader describe it as "the first human-poultry interaction system ever developed." Ick.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Weekend Movie Roundup

Not too much this weekend. Mostly just clearing space off the TiVo.

Richard III: Very nice. Ian McKellen is predictably wonderful in the role. The "updated setting" works, for the most part. It's not as far out as, say, Titus, but the vaguely fascist trappings of Richard's reign do sort of underline some of the things Shakespeare has to say about him. This would also make a good double-bill with Looking for Richard.

The Core: Ranks right up there with Supernova among Movies To Avoid, with laughably bad science, formulaic and predictable plot, flat characters, etc. While watching this, I came up with a phrase to describe this kind of movie: It has an ablative cast of characters - most of them exist solely to die in one way or another, so that the one or two main characters can live happily ever after, while still allowing the movie to have a decent body count. My particular favorite bit in this movie, though, is the notion that they are going to start the liquid outer core of the Earth spinning again by detonating five 200-megaton bombs. Do you know what a 200-megaton bomb would do to the Earth's core? Well, you know what it feels like when a gnat lands on your arm? (That "bad physics" page estimates the normal rotational energy of the outer core as the equivalent of about 32,000 200-megaton bombs...) Though a close second has to be the EVA they do: Emerging in their shiny-cloth spacesuits into the tens-of-thousands-of-pounds-per-square-inch pressure, one announces, "It's a good thing the suits can withstand the pressure." Yeah, you'd almost think it would take some sort of rigid suit design to stand up under all that. Oh, and then there's the bit where they increase the explosive yield of their 200-megaton bomb by setting some plutonium next to it... and.... I'd better just stop now.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Minority Opinion

A whole series of them, in fact, from Mark Thornton (senior resident fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute):

"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, one of the finest allegories on classical liberal political economy to ever appear on screen."

"People will no doubt eventually recognize that Lucas is writing a reflection of Western civilization, a reflection of our own experience."

"Therefore we can trace Anakin's problems back to government intervention in the economy."

Take This Job And...

The 10 Most Bizarre Employment Cases of 2004

213 Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do

Pizza Delivery Rants
"It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever," he said. "Have you thought of going into teaching?"
(Terry Pratchett, Mort)

My Evil Twin

For some reason, whenever anyone I don't know very well calls me by the wrong name, they almost always call me Steve. For years, I have said that this clearly means I have an evil twin named Steve out there somewhere. It's the only logical explanation.

This morning, I had an email waiting for me in my inbox at work:




Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I knew it!

Way back when, I commented on the "no gay marriage" amendment issue thusly:
[Sen. Santorum is] afraid ... that if gay marriages are legal, hordes of straight people will abruptly turn gay, and people will stop reproducing altogether. Kind of makes me wonder if the good Senator lies awake at night thinking to himself, "Boy, if only homosexual marriage were legal, I'd be wearing glitter makeup and buggering that hot pool boy, Ramon, inside of a week," and therefore imagines that the rest of us feel the same way...

Now, I have further evidence that the "religious right" thinks precisely that way.

Follow me on this: One of their arguments is that allowing gay marriage will lead inevitably down the slippery slope to people marrying goats. Now, as Ellen Degeneres says, "I've never even wanted to date a goat."

But on Alan Colmes' Fox News radio show, anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley revealed recently just why right-wingers are so afraid of that particular slippery slope (audio and transcript):
AC: "You had sex with animals?"

NH: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule." [...] "You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually. You're naive. You know better than that... If it's warm and it's damp and it vibrates you might in fact have sex with it."

Now, I'm not shy. I'll happily admit I'm a raving perv, but even I have higher standards than "it's warm and it's damp and it vibrates", and I've certainly never even considered having sex with a mule.

So there it is: The right wing fears permissiveness because, unlike the rest of us, they can't control their own disgusting urges.

Denver, CO: America's Dog-Killers

Pit-bull ban may reveal unwarranted prejudice

Apparently, a pit bull killed a kid. Denver decided that the proper reaction to this tragedy was to round up all the pit bulls and kill them. That'll learn 'em!

We'll just ignore the obvious: "...there have been fatal attacks in the U.S. by Pomeranians, that half a dozen attacks that caused death or serious injuries were by cocker spaniels." Nope, it's gotta be the breed. They're born bad.

Just like their owners, perhaps?
"There appears a racial end of this," Bill Suro says.

"Look at the dogs that have been impounded, and the surnames of their owners. . . . They aren't killing dogs from Cherry Creek. They pick on the easiest people to pick on, the ones who give up easiest," he said, adding that he has forwarded this claim to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mine! Mine!

Up for auction on Ebay: The Entire Universe.

Unintended Consequences

Let's assume, just for a moment, that global warming is a real, immediate threat, and that one of the symptoms is that the glaciers are melting (yes, yes, I know, "There is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years", just pretend for a moment that there is).

Swiss wrap glacier to slow ice melt: "The fleece-like material, hard to distinguish with the naked eye from snow, will reflect the rays of the sun."

Presumably, it will reflect the rays of the sun more effectively than snow itself would. The goal, apparently, is to prevent the glacier from melting by reflecting away the heat from the sun.

That means that the latent heat energy that would otherwise have been absorbed by the process of melting the ice and snow of the glacier, transforming it from solid to liquid state while keeping its temperature constant, will instead be reflected into the air...

...where it will raise the temperature of the atmosphere, thereby exacerbating the problem of global warming.

Isn't it the environmentalists who keep going on and on about the precautionary principle? It's the First Law of Thermodynamics, folks: Just because that energy doesn't melt your precious glacier, doesn't mean it quietly ceases to exist.

Line Forms Here

Motorola Debuts First Ever Nano Emissive Flat Screen Display Prototype
“And according to a detailed cost model analysis conducted by our firm, we estimate the manufactured cost for a 40-inch NED panel could be under $400.”
Motorola’s industry-first working prototype demonstrates:

• Operational full color 5" video section of a 1280 x 720, 16:9, 42-inch HDTV
• High quality brightness
• Bright, vivid colors using standard Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TV phosphors
• Display panel thickness of 3.3 millimeters (about 1/8th of an inch)
• Low cost display drive electronics (similar to LCD, much lower than Plasma)
• Display characteristics meet or exceed CRTs, such as fast response time, wide
viewing angle, wide operation temperature

Ok, manufactured cost of $400 probably means retail price of around $800, once the initial price-gouging has been cut down by competition. Assuming the price scales linearly, that would make a screen the size of the one I have now around $1,100 retail, which compares favorably to the $1,800 or so we paid for it about 18 months ago. I'd say by the time I'm ready to buy a new TV, these should be well within my price range. 1/8th of an inch thick, with response time similar to CRT? Sounds good to me. If I'm upgrading, I might hold out for one with more than 720 lines of resolution, i.e., one that could display a 1080p picture, but now I'm just being picky.

What I really want to know, though, is whether I'll be able to buy one of these sets that doesn't have its own built-in speakers? For that matter, I don't really even need a built-in tuner. I'll mostly be using direct source inputs (cable box, DVD, TiVo, game console), and if I really want to pull one of the local channels in through the antenna for some reason, I can just use the tuner in either of the two VCRs I have sitting there. The vestigial speakers are the main things I want to lose, though. They're never going to be high enough quality to compete with what I can get separately, and I'm tired of paying for bits of electronics I have no use for.

I realize it's a somewhat alien concept to the generations (like, er, mine) used to TVs being big bulky self-contained boxes, but I rather like the idea that in the future (even more so than now), my television will be strewn about the room in small bits: "There's the screen, the tuner(s) are over here, the volume control is on the other side, and the speakers are all over the damn place."

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Fiendish Star Wars Experiment

The Science of Consistency
Ah! but here was the genius in Dave’s proposed Fiendish Star Wars Experiment: he would show the films to Charlie in numerical order (and thus fictional-chronological order) rather than in the order that they were released. Charlie would meet Vader as a child before the character becomes an evil adult.
Getting the child to watch the series with fresh eyes from Episode I through VI in order, in a way that we Generation Xers never can, would enable us to watch the child for signs of confusion: the child might spot contradictions that our chronology-skewed brains never would. Other obvious research questions suggest themselves: When would Charlie first notice that Senator Palpatine is a bad man who wants to become Emperor, for example? When would he first have doubts about Anakin? Would Charlie be saddened that in Episode IV Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru don’t remember their old friends C-3PO and R2-D2?
Tragically, the entire investigation—upon which so much theorizing rested—was cut short when Charlie’s mother, Sharon, in a misguided attempt to please the child, rented Return of the Jedi (which is Episode VI, not even Episode IV or V!) before Episode III came out in theatres.

Fortunately, any children born after next week can be guaranteed to be uncorrupted, so at worst, it should be no more than five years or so before we can learn the results of a similar experiment with a new subject.

Unfortunately, that also gives Lucas time to re-release episodes IV through VI in new versions that resolve any remaining paradoxes and contradictions created by episodes I through III.

Weekend Movie Roundup

Some furious DVD-watching went on this weekend. In the order we watched them:

House of Flying Daggers: Very pretty. Probably not quite as good as Hero, overall, but still well worth viewing. Brenda commented that the plot was like an opera, what with all the tragic love-triangle business.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection DVD. The movie, as everyone should know by now, is amazing, visionary, prescient, etc. Criterion has released this in what may be the coolest DVD packaging ever: The outside of the 2-disc case is printed to look like an old Betamax videotape, and slides into a slip cover like the ones around such tapes.

Meet the Fockers: Eenh. Harmless, light fluff, about what you'd expect. The outtakes of Dustin Hoffman goofing around are funnier than most of what's in the actual movie. I anticipate with vertiginous dread the inevitable sequel, "Meet the Little Focker", in which their baby is born and/or enters toddler-hood.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Wow. This movie does what so much good SF does (and what so much bad SF doesn't): It uses a technological development as a vehicle to explore some aspect of what it means to be human. That aspect, here, is the question of whether ridding yourself of the bad memories of a love lost would be worth the cost of also losing the good memories of that love, from before it was lost. I tend to agree with the film's ultimate answer to that question: "No."

Saved!: Cute teenage romantic comedy. Some reviewer, I think it was Ebert, said when this came out that it was very even-handed, that the religious people in it weren't caricatured. I disagree. In fact, several of the religious people in it are caricatures, and you can even map the degree to which the characters are well-developed, non-caricatures by how far away from the born-again Christian view they move over the course of the film. The more faithfully "born-again" they are, the more shallow and egotistical they are. As an orthodox atheist, I'm not exactly offended by movies making fun of religious folk, but I don't think this movie could really be called "even-handed". "Heavy-handed" would be a more accurate description of a film in which one character throws a Bible at another, who picks it up and says, "This is not a weapon." One does not even need to notice the "Special Thanks" to the book Atheism: The Case Against God in the closing credits to know what the film's philosophical viewpoint is.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Marvelous Man-Sheep!

Face front, true believers! "Jocular" Jason Chamberlain presents The Marvelous Man-Sheep!

The “idea that human neuronal cells might participate in 'higher order' brain functions in a nonhuman animal, however unlikely that may be, raises concerns that need to be considered,” the academies report warned.

350, and "I don't see any end in sight"

Watching the two new "Simpsons" episodes last night, I was moved to remark, "Sad, isn't it, to see the once-great "Simpsons" brought down to such a level?"

So it's a little disheartening to read Matt Groening say:
"I'm particularly proud of our recent episodes. I think they're as sharp and surprising as anything we've done since the beginning of the show," Groening said.

Now the article does to on to say:
(He concedes that some fans carp the new episodes are inferior to old ones; being measured against a fond memory is a standard problem for comedies, Groening argues.)

But part of the problem I've had with them lately is not that I'm measuring the current episodes against a fond memory, it's that I'm measuring them against the current episodes of "South Park". I may have said this before, but: I'm not sure exactly how or when it happened, but "South Park" is now a better show than "The Simpsons". It is consistently funnier, and they have a considerably defter touch when it comes to socio-political satire. At its height, as I remember it, "The Simpsons" was better than "South Park" was at the same time. Since then, they've traded places, presumably through some combination of "South Park" getting better, and "The Simpsons" declining.

Throughout last night's hour of new "Simpsons", I found myself occasionally chuckling, but with no real laugh-out-loud moments, and worse yet, there were multiple times I noticed that I wasn't laughing at all at something that was clearly meant to be a laugh line. When your audience becomes self-consciously aware that your jokes are completely falling flat, there's a problem.