Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Symptom of Too Many Meetings

Programming languages, there were many they knew.
Algorithms, APIs, and some frameworks too.
Yet the work would still stall,
because underneath it all
the computer still just does one plus one equals two.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Monster or Beast?

"We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us..." - 1 Corinthians 13:12, The Message translation
Secret knowledge, enlightened views, illuminated minds. Conspiracies are often built around the idea that people are blind to the truth around them, but you can learn if you just listen to the lessons with an open mind. Once you know the truth, you are part of the group, you belong (or perhaps are capital ess Saved), and that can be a powerful hook for people. The trick with secret knowledge is knowing when you have crossed the line from things hidden in plain sight into reading too much into things.

Case in point: that the sugary, caffeine-y Monster energy drink, when consumed regularly or in quantity, is deleterious to one's health is common knowledge that drinkers largely ignore. Saying the maker of such unhealthful drinks are knowingly putting profit above the good of mankind is a reasonable extrapolation. From there it's just a wee jaunt down the road and little projected symbology to demonstrate that the drink is literally Satanic. And thus we travel from scientific fact, through pessimistic speculation, and on to a pervasive conspiracy.

Interestingly, the lesson is the same at all steps (i.e. you probably shouldn't drink that stuff). There are proselytizers at all the steps trying to get their "word" across to you. And of course, skeptics abound for all these steps too. So where then is the conspiracy? It seems that in this age of embattled objectivity, the conspiracy is wherever your views are not. And therein lies the danger.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Yamato 2199 Streaming in the US

Just wanted to make note that the 2012-13 remake of my first space opera, Space Battleship Yamato, is finally available for legal streaming in the U.S. via Crunchyroll (free SD with ads, HD with sub) and Funimation (sub only). Having now seen the full run, it is a solid remake with a that's more serious in tone than the original. Fans of the original will recognize many of the show's set pieces, but there is enough new to keep things fresh. The spaceship art is magnificent and the character art is great, though it does suffer from some anime tropes.

It looks like the second series has started airing, and it will be interesting to see where they go with the Comet Empire. The models of the Andromeda that are out sure look good. I'm kicking myself that I didn't grab one of the small Bandai mecha collection ones when it came out.

The original series does seem to have vanished from the streaming services, which is a shame. I would have liked to compare the second seasons of original and remake.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Star Wars: Growing Up

Rey's story begins as an abandoned, lonely kid, a scavenger competing with other scavengers on a harsh world. Luke has foster parents, friends, and a path forward. Luke dreams of the future, looking away toward the horizon. Rey counts days past looking to the skies for someone to return.

Leia is a child of the nobility, educated, bold, assured, joined wholeheartedly to her father's cause, and looking to overturn that which she sees as unjust. Kylo is a child of noble lineage, born into a legendary destiny, but unsure of himself, confused and afraid of the powerful figures around him and the hold they have on him.

The dream of The New Republic, born of the preceding generation's fight against fascism and Empire building, lies crushed by the resurgent forces it believed had been defeated.  What victories the remnants of the Rebel movement can claim are universally pyrrhic. The aging warriors of the past generation soldier on, or don't and try to return to an earlier role they can never really fit back into again. Meanwhile the new generation comes along, and they just don't follow the expectations of the previous. They seek their own knowledge and their own path. Some ask for guidance, some reject the received wisdom, some make brash and foolish mistakes. Some fall bravely in love, and others struggle with cowardice.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, like all art, reflect the world they were created in. It is all too easy to project politics, morals, values onto movies crafted from the fabric of fable. After all, fables exist for just that reason. It is too easily forgotten that when Star Wars was first created, America was the Empire. And in the glaring light of 21st century America's miraculous technology and increasingly unbalanced economy, the old shadows of racism, tribalism, and corruption seem all the darker. Once again the old dismiss the young, say the new generation has lost something they had, never considering they never had it at all. And so it goes with Star Wars films too.

And then, on occasion, an aging wizard looks at an eager youth and realizes that he's only felt a power that strong once before... And once again the choice presents itself, and it is still just as hard. Difficult to see is the future. It does not go the way you think it will go. The choice remains. Trust and love, or fear and hate. No matter how much you want to resist, the Force will be with you, always.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Star Wars: Letting the Past Die or Killing It?

Ever since seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I have been trying to put together how to convey its effect on how I see the new trilogy. Too many people have already had their takes, so what can I add at this point. The Force Awakens almost wasted some lovely and well performed new characters with a reboot plot and an unnecessary re-branding of the continuing conflict between Republicans and Imperials. The Last Jedi treated the mysteries set up in Force Awakens the same way Luke treated his father's lightsaber, indifferently tossing them aside. Episode 7 attempted rebirth via recycling, and was only saved by the bits that were actually new and some strong performances. Episode 8 attempted rebirth via deconstruction, wherein the bad guy carries the thesis statement: let the past die. All of the spectacle, better than ever before, but rejecting the depth. Instead of "I expect to be well paid" returning at the last minute to save the day, "it's just business" is just business. There are many things to like about these movies, but it seems almost in spite of the writing rather than because of it. [edit: The previous sentence is stronger than it should have been. There is plenty of good writing in the movies. Particularly TFA, which is a good SW movie with a recycled framework. The real split between the two is how TFA's characters interacted believably within the recycled, hole-ridden plot, and how much weaker both the plot (based on failure all around) and interactions were in TLJ. With the exceptions of Ray and Kylo.]

Maybe authoring a good, mythologically framed, pulp adventure space opera is not easy. Maybe I am older now and have a different, more jaded perspective. Maybe Star Wars is kids' stuff that isn't meant for me anymore.

Maybe the release of Star Wars into the Disney machine means my head-cannon is now freed to roam where it will.

Maybe Maz should have been in the employ of Lando. If nothing else it would mean a plausible reason for her to have that lightsaber...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bookworming: Authority

Authority, Jeff VanderMeer, ***
The pattern here is broadly the same as Annihilation. An ill equipped expert is inserted into a seemingly intractable situation. Shallow to non-existent characterizations. Odd pacing. The same sense of being in a world inexplicably beyond understanding. However, instead of the mutated nature of Annihilation's Area X, we are brought into the offices and environs of Southern Reach in the aftermath of the previous novel's expedition.

Again, reviews are all over the place and whether you enjoy it will likely depend entirely on personal taste. I found it perhaps more unsettling than the first one, if only because of the relatively familiar environment. Those looking for answers to questions left open in the first novel will not be satisfied, nor those looking for more of Area X itself. But if the tone and tenor of the first book hooked you, this is very much a different perspective on the same themes.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Programming in Star Wars?

"Sir, my first job was programming binary load lifters, very similar to your vaporators in most respects." — C3-PO, Star Wars: A New Hope
While computers are ubiquitous in Star Wars, we do not generally see people doing any programming. Obviously, this is because depicting programming would be a rather boring thing to do in a fantasy adventure movie. However, there is one throw away line from C3-PO that tells us something about how programming might exist in the Star Wars universe.

C3-PO is described as a protocol droid, fluent in millions of forms of communication. In the films, he is used most often in the diplomatic sense of the word protocol, translating and otherwise facilitating negotiations. But his pitch to Owen shows that he also knows protocols in the technical sense used by programmers and engineers. One might speculate the implications of this in the Star Wars universe. Has communication between computers and humans has evolved into or along natural language lines? Would "the binary language of moisture vaporators" be a dialect more akin to Spanish Spanish vs. Argentinean Spanish as opposed to Python vs. Pearl? Are the Star Wars programming language interfaces advanced enough that a translator can facilitate communications with a humanoid natural language? This would seem to fit with a world where droids fill the role of advanced computers. They are at least semi-sentient AI, possessed of hyper-advanced, self-contained voice recognition, synthesis, and comprehension. And if that level of capability exists, you already have everything you need for an essentially transparent computer interface.

Of course all of this falls into the realm of magical fantasy AIs. But it amuses me to think that Owen bought C3-PO so he could make repairs on his machines in much the same way farmers buy illicit software for their John Deeres today.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bookworming: Annihilation

Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer, ***
I waited quite a while before reading this one because the reviews are all over the place. I can understand why. Annihilation proved to be a compelling read, pulling me forward with vivid imagery and mysterious setting. One thing you will want to know before deciding whether to dive in, and the reason I give this one 3 stars instead of 4: it is all about the journey. Those seeking conclusions and neatly wrapped up plot lines should perhaps move on.  It becomes very clear early on that the expedition members are in over their heads and bound for an ill fate. But this is not a pride-goes-before-a-fall thriller like Jurassic Park or The Island of Dr. Moreau. Thankfully for my tastes, the mysterious Area X is also not J. J. Abrams style "mystery box" plotting on the part of VanderMeer, but rather more Lovecraftian, rather more allegorical in its scope and pervasiveness. It was very effective at getting across the feeling of being lost in something you don't, and maybe can't, understand. The deliberately shallow to non-existent characterization and occasionally odd pacing play into that effect enough for me to assume it was deliberate. This book will not be for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it and will certainly be continuing to the second book in the trilogy.