Tuesday, May 31, 2005

This past weekend, DeeAnn and I watched 5 episodes of Deadwood (ending with the season 2 finale), and even more time playing video games-- Halo (the original, in campaign mode) for me, Sims 2 for her.

In those latter endeavors, she was frustrated by one of our cats, Jasper, stepping on the power button of her laptop docking station and shutting down the computer in mid-play; I, by the zombie-infested Library level, which, no, I haven't cleared yet.

I get bored pretty quickly with most "action" video games because they're so damn repetitive. But I've learned something else about myself after Sunday's Halo marathon: I don't like resource management. This is why I always play on the "easy" setting, and don't tend to go for strategy games.

I enjoy the tactical dimension of being an operator-- exploring the map, learning the controls, gaining skill-- but I have no patience for busy work, like blasting my way through endless hordes of enemies. It gets in the way of what I actually enjoy about the game experience: exploration. Having limited ammunition makes it even more annoying. Go ahead, ask me how much I loved the "god mode" in Doom.

I do want to be challenged by a game, but I prefer searching to button-thumping. I like running around the ringworld, finding hidden chambers, using my intellect more than my instinct. I don't like having to shoot things all the time. It's fun for the first few minutes, but after that? Repetitive, repetitious, and repeating.

Playing Halo 2 against other humans is, of course, another story. I'm also told I might enjoy Splinter Cell online. Right, as soon as I get through the dozen or so other games I never finished playing. Maybe I'll start with, I dunno, Starcraft?

I am not the target audience, but I do enjoy reaping the side benefits.

But it's not benign, either, is it?

"[T]he act underlying the conviction -- 'persuasion' -- is by itself innocuous. Indeed, 'persuading' a person 'to withhold' testimony from a government proceeding, or government official is not inherently malign. Consider, for instance, a mother who suggests to her son that he invoke his right against self-incrimination ... or a wife who persuades her husband not to disclose marital confidences."

-- Chief Justice William Rehnquist, overturning the Arthur Andersen conviction in the Enron case

So the highest court in the land has struck down, based on a technicality involving jury instructions, the verdict which pretty much destroyed the consulting firm which had handled much of Enron's accounting data and, coincidentally, started an internal shred-a-thon just as Enron was being accused of evildoing. And once again, I ask: how soon will we be seeing this on Law & Order?

UPDATE 6/1: MotleyFool.com analyzes the decision in "Andersen Innocent? Think Again."

Friday, May 27, 2005

photo of the day

From dropthatsock.com:

Adding an amusing caption is left as an exercise for the reader.

Who knew?

Well, your parents always told you it would make you go blind:

"Federal health officials are examining rare reports of blindness among some men using the impotence drugs Viagra and Cialis... This type of blindness is called NAION, or non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. It can occur in men who are diabetic or have heart disease, the same conditions that can cause impotence and thus lead to Viagra use."

-- "FDA Looking Into Blindness-Viagra Link", SF Chronicle

I didn't know the city limits had expanded that far:

"[P]olice in the San Francisco suburb of Grass Valley arrested a man for taking still photos from his seat during a screening of Star Wars: Episode III..."

-- "More 'Sith' Raids", IMDB Studio Briefing

Last but not least, if you're tired of staring at the same old TiVo box all the time, you can get a new faceplate for just $30:

"The guys behind Weaknees [my link -C] figured out that you can interchange the front faceplates of TiVo boxes between almost any series 2 TiVo or DirecTiVo... the DirecTV versions always included basic TiVo nav buttons on the face... for die-hard TiVo fans a new button-filled faceplate might serve as a good backup in case your standalone TiVo remote ever dies."

-- "Give your TiVo a Facelift", PVRblog.com

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Though I could have told you this two years ago, when I worked at PalmSource, it should by now be clear to pretty much everyone that the PDA market is dying a slow but certain death. This is just one more nail in the coffin:

gandell writes "CNET is reporting that after only two years, PalmOne is spending $30 million dollars to become "Palm" again. From the article: "PalmOne, which makes handhelds bearing the same name, plans to change its name to Palm later this year, the company said Tuesday. At that time, its product line, which currently includes the LifeDrive, Treo, Tungsten and Zire devices, will be branded under the Palm name..."
-- slashdot.org

The tough times have continued for PalmSource. Its chief executive, David Nagel, abruptly resigned Sunday without giving a reason, and for the first time devices shipped using Microsoft's handheld operating system surpassed the Palm OS for the year in 2004, according to research firm IDC... More troubling is the fact that traditional handhelds are still the major source of PalmSource's revenues. That's not the way it was supposed to be.
-- CNET News.com

Note to Palm*: nobody cares about handheld organizers. We want handheld computers with digital cameras, full wireless capabilities, and enough CPU to play video games with 3D graphics while listening to mp3's and downloading the latest episode of Lost. Sony dumped PalmOS because they knew they were going to make a killing with the PSP. Get smart or get in line.

Across the pond, the UK Guardian's Rafael Behr explains why men love science fiction so much:

Science fiction has a hold over the imagination that is both obsessive and conservative. Star Wars, Dr Who, Star Trek all inspire loyalty in audiences completely disproportionate to their artistic merit. Deviation from the established formulae - the rules of the fictional universe in which the drama unfolds - is despised by the hardcore fans...

[T]he appeal of the sci fi system to the ordinary fan lies not just in its orderliness, but in its finiteness. As with any holy text, the science fiction universe is knowable in its entirety. You can watch every single episode of Star Trek and learn everything there is to know about it. You can contain an entire universe in lists and DVDs. The kind of universe that is knowable by heart is much less threatening than the real universe outside, off screen, full of unpredictability and disorder...

Science fiction appeals to geeks because it effaces all remants of the grown-up world. It is a parallel universe conducted entirely within the confines of childhood. Plus laser guns and space ships. And that, sadly perhaps, is sufficient to keep a lot of men very happy for a long time.

And though he might need to check into an anger management program, or just go see his therapist more often, the SF Chronicle's Mark Morford does make some keen observations:

Thank the great Sith Lord above that the massive computer-driven marketing hellbeast that is the overblown "Star Wars" epic is finally over... Episodes I-III are mostly one thing and one thing only: huge exercises in CGI acrobatics, manic video games writ large... [I]t's all just a little embarrassing.

Poor Ewan McGregor. Poor Natalie Portman. Poor Liam Neeson. Fabulous actors so completely drained of nuance and character you are left wishing Obi Wan would shoot heroin and dive into a toilet and have a deformed religious experience, and that Neeson might veer off and start asking Princess Amidala what her favorite sexual position is and how many orgasms she has in a month and what she really thinks about when she sees Vader's throbbing red lightsaber...

Harrison Ford carried the first three movies, period. Carrie Fisher was amusing enough, the droids were cute and infinitely annoying, James Earl Jones' Vader voice work was nearly a character unto itself. But no one topped Ford at delivering a cynical line or expressing incredulity or offering up that famous "Who, me?" look that would later come to such wondrous fruition with Indiana Jones. "Star Wars" without Ford's dry humor and bewildered mug is like a cheesy pinball machine without the ball: all bells and whistles, few genuine pleasures.

Finally, if you've got $80 burning a hole in your pocket and want to look like an ub3r h4xx0r (even if you're just a script kiddie), check out Das Keyboard, "an enhanced 104-key USB PC keyboard equiped with 100% blank keys mounted on precision and individually weighted key switches."

Me, I'd rather spend that money on an Indium LED Torch, which will at least be useful for The Game in July.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content

This article (linked in title above) by Clay Shirky, first published in September of 2003, does a pretty convincing job of taking apart the web's great white hope of micropayments:
The people pushing micropayments believe that the dollar cost of goods is the thing most responsible for deflecting readers from buying content, and that a reduction in price to micropayment levels will allow creators to begin charging for their work without deflecting readers.

This strategy doesn't work, because the act of buying anything, even if the price is very small, creates what Nick Szabo calls mental transaction costs, the energy required to decide whether something is worth buying or not, regardless of price... Mental transaction costs create a minimum level of inconvenience that cannot be removed simply by lowering the dollar cost of goods.

Worse, beneath a certain threshold, mental transaction costs actually rise, a phenomenon is especially significant for information goods. It's easy to think a newspaper is worth a dollar, but is each article worth half a penny? Is each word worth a thousandth of a penny? A newspaper, exposed to the logic of micropayments, becomes impossible to value.

I, too, thought for the longest time that micropayments using PayPal or a similar online payment system would fund the next wave of Internet content, and that it hadn't happened yet only because the technology wasn't quite ready for prime time. But having a bit more perspective now, I find Shirky's argument more persuasive than Jakob Nielsen's 1998 pipe dream.

My wife loves the squash-a-penny machines found in tourist traps across the nation. The trouble is, we rarely carry cash around these days, and it's usually bills; coins are so difficult to transport (won't fit in a wallet, skirts don't have pockets) that we get rid of them at the earliest opportunity, whether it's in a tip jar or a charity bucket.

So when we do run into a souvenir penny machine, we rarely have the three coins-- one penny and two quarters-- needed to operate the machine. And then we don't spend the $0.51 to squash a penny, not because we don't want to, but because we can't. The machine takes only one form of payment, and we don't have it. We could go find a store to make change, but that's a lot of trouble for a little souvenir trinket. So we skip it.

Now think about how this happens on the web. How many people are using bugmenot.com instead of actually registering for nytimes.com and giving away their personal information? I'll wager that for most people, it's not the privacy concerns that stop them, it's the inconvenience. You can put in fake information, but it still takes a minute or two, and why do that when it's just as easy to surf on over to cnn.com and read the AP wire story there instead?

I don't know if advertising is the answer, but it's a good placeholder for now.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Gilmore Girls Redux

Reported by Maureen Ryan in the Chicago Tribune:
May 18, 2005 6:15 PM CDT: The 'Girls' are back

'GILMORE GIRLS' UPDATE: The WB's executive vice president for network communications, Brad Turell, said Wednesday that the network will broadcast the entire "Gilmore Girls" finale again some time in the next two weeks. The date of the rebroadcast will be decided in the next few days.

"We feel silly. It shouldn't have happened, but it did," Turell said of the unscheduled overtime. He added that the finale might be made available via the WB's Web site.

In the meantime, Chicago fans of the show can catch the crucial final scene on the WGN Morning News on Monday, May 23. The Luke-Lorelai scene will be broadcast some time between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on WGN-Ch. 9.

I'll let you know the date of the rebroadcast of the entire finale as soon as it becomes available.

It's nice to know that at least one network gets it (or claims to-- we'll see if they actually deliver on this promise). Don't screw over your viewers, and they won't hate you for it. No viewers, no network. Any questions?

UPDATE 5/23:
Gilmore Girls season finale re-broadcast
Missed it the first time? Want to see it again? Watch the dramatic cliffhanger of Gilmore Girls!
Tuesday, May 31
8/7c encore, "Blame it on Booze and Melville"
9/8c season finale encore, "A House is not a Home"
The season finale encore will NOT run-over.
-- WGN 9, Chicago
Looks like several WB affiliates are doing the right thing-- in addition to KBWB 20 in the bay area, there's KTLA in Los Angeles and WPIX in New York.

Or, if you can't wait, there's always b-i-t-t-o-r-r-e-n-t.

Star Wars Post-Mortem

A sampling of criticisms, now that "the saga is complete"...

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers is right: Lucas is a "skilled producer, clumsy director and tin-eared writer." And Travers is dead on with his assessment of the prequels as an "investment portfolio." Star Wars, the scrappy little movie that nobody believed in-- not even Lucas himself-- has become an institution, and nobody at Lucasfilm wanted to be the guy who came up with New Coke.

Roger Ebert is smoking crack. He recognizes the film's many flaws-- for example, "[t]o say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion." But Ebert still gave it three and a half out of four stars. Excuse me, but isn't the love story supposed to be the central fucking theme of this whole tragedy? And you're giving it a pass because hey, look at all the shiny spaceships? Smoking crack. And Roger, you need new glasses, because digital projection also sucks. Stop shilling.

The SF Chronicle's Mick LaSalle rightly calls it a swing and a miss: "the movie omits the one scene it most needs to show -- the one in which Anakin commits an act of such evil that there's no turning back. It's the 'Macbeth' moment, the scene this trilogy has been leading up to, the dive off the moral high board -- and Lucas just skips it." Sad but true.

(I, too, felt like the script missed lots of crucial details and failed to explain important developments. But then I remembered that this is not a film for thinking adults; this is a film for thrill-seeking adolescents and malleable younglings. I wonder if the original trilogy will seem as empty when I watch them again-- and I will, very soon. I've still got the original, unspoiled versions on laserdisc, where Han shoots first and not every character is a digitized cartoon.)

For more detailed and geekier nitpicking than I can muster, visit Glen Oliver at IGN FilmForce, who rants thusly:
Revenge of the Sith is not the "masterpiece" some make it out to be. It is, simply, a far more worthy installment than we've recently been fed. Its currently lofty status is a mirage, induced and perpetuated by the shameless hokum which preceded it. This being said, it should be noted that Sith, perhaps more than any other film in the sextilogy, tries valiantly to be a "real" movie – and often succeeds. But, in doing so, it also forgoes the most fundamental tenets of storytelling...

Just because we're in "a galaxy far, far away," for example, does not mean that the "laws" of that galaxy...or the intricacies driving stories told in that galaxy...can be ignored. This factor can be applied to any kid of broad-canvassed storytelling: mythology, science fiction, historical romance, etc. For example: on Earth, Superman can fly. But, what if someone came along and told audiences, "Superman can only fly on Tuesdays, even though he flew in last month's comic installment"? It would not make sense, because such rules and limitations had not been previously established or upheld in the Superman mythology. This is the kind arbitrary, sloppy thinking that ultimately dilutes Star Wars: Episode III, and prevents it from becoming all that it could have been.

Finally, my wife DeeAnn sums up her Episode III experience: "I went in expecting it to suck, and I was still disappointed. What does that say about the level of suckage involved?"

Sith Happened

Well, my friend Brian was right: It Sucked.

I'm not sure where to start. Random thoughts below, including spoilers. Not that it really matters. Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last twenty years already knows all the major plot points. And the details... well, you're probably better off making up your own. I know many, many people, most of them not even professional writers, who could have come up with a more compelling second act.

R2-D2 is a little bastard. Think about it: he knows everything. EVERYTHING. The complete history, all the facts, all the secrets, and what does he do? Nothing. Not a goddamn thing. Maybe he's bitter-- and rightfully so-- about being treated like a slave all the time, but when entire planets are being destroyed and millions of people are being massacred, you'd think he could at least step up and say something. Anything. But no, he just hangs out and watches it all go to shit. Fucker.

And Obi-Wan? Also a fucker. (Or, if you prefer, "tosser.") Sure, when your best friend turns on you and betrays everything you believe in, you gotta put him down, but at least finish him off-- don't leave him on the ground to die of third-degree burns. It's just plain cruel to let him suffer like that, even if he is evil. And don't tell me the Jedi code forbids killing, because dude, there ain't no "stun" setting on a lightsaber.

I wasn't convinced by Anakin's supposedly precognitive dreams. I needed more than two short, blurry shots to make it real.

If I were one of the Wookiee actors, I would hate George Lucas. Sure, man, we'll spend hours getting into full body costume and makeup and run around for weeks sweating our asses off just so you can get barely five minutes of footage that doesn't even belong in this movie and has absolutely no impact on the plot or characters. Sure. No problem. Just make sure there's raw meat on the craft services table.

Apparently, the new Star Wars movies are all about spaceships landing and taking off, because I swear half the running time of Episode III was devoted to that. Lucas has a vehicle fetish, but I guess we've known that since American Graffiti.

Okay, the special effects were awesome, but it was all sound and fury. There were some good ideas in the story, and the plot points all got connected as they needed to be, but it could have been so much more: more interesting, more human, more real.

Sure, if you go in wanting to fill in the blanks, you can make yourself believe that it's a grand tragedy, but it's not on the page. The writing, to be blunt, sucks bantha ass. And the acting? There's a reason Lucas calls actors "trick talking meat"-- he's got no respect for the art. They're just dolls (sorry, "action figures") to him, pieces to move around in his demented little play that is a mere shadow of the great works it imitates.

I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. You drooling fanboys can all go straight to pants.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why I hate Smallville

Here it is, in the nutshell that is the logline for yesterday's 90-minute season finale:

"A nightmare leads Clark to begin to understand why he was sent to Earth and he seeks counsel from Jor-El, who warns him that he must reunite the three crystals immediately or a disaster of epic proportions will befall the planet."

I haven't even seen the episode, but I already know it's going to suck.

If it weren't for Television Without Pity, I might despair that I'm the only Superman fan who thinks that Smallville has ripped out the heart of the DC legend, stomped on it, set it on fire, then put out the fire with hydrochloric acid. Which is to say, it stinks.

I hate shows that revolve around prophecy, especially when they make shit up in an attempt to give the illusion of purpose. One of the things I loved about the original Superman-- the real Superman, dammit-- was the fact that he was finding himself and deciding who he wanted to be of his own free will. Mark Waid's Birthright dealt with that very issue, and it didn't need to resort to lame gimmicks like prophecy or destiny.

Maybe it's because I'm an atheist, but I prefer my heroes to take responsibility for their actions. Sure, you can be tortured or affected by your past, whatever, but don't blame the invisible hand of fate when you're the one pulling the trigger.

And I can't describe how much I hate the idea that Kryptonians visited Earth long before Kal-El landed. The point, people, is that he's the last son of Krypton. Say it with me, now: Last. Son. Of. Krypton. He's a refugee, an orphan, a lost boy who finds his way because he is rescued by chance, not because it was planned for him to rule the world. He's Anne Frank, and the Kents are Miep Gies and Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl and Johannes Kleiman and they don't even know it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

TV wants to be free

Cory Doctorow tells it like it is:
America's entertainment industry is committing slow, spectacular suicide, while one of Europe's biggest broadcasters -- the BBC -- is rushing headlong to the future, embracing innovation rather than fighting it.

Unlike Hollywood, the BBC is eager and willing to work with a burgeoning group of content providers whose interests are aligned with its own: its audience.

-- "The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth", Wired News
There's capitalism and then there's capitalism. One day, soon, the entertainment media conglomerates will wake up and realize that they can no longer make good money by monopolizing distribution channels. When every industrialized nation is blanketed with free, reliable, mobile wireless access, we won't need TV channels or radio stations any more. All we'll need is sensible meta tagging, a good search engine, and cheap storage. We're not out of the woods yet, but we can see the clearing. We're going to make it.

With apologies to Joss Whedon: You can't stop the BitTorrents.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bad Aftertaste

Last night, some friends and I took a Local Tastes of the City Food Tour through Chinatown and North Beach. It was not good.

Our guide, Tom Medin, was so genuinely excited about his cheesy and sometimes blatantly untrue San Francisco history, I almost felt sorry for the guy. But mostly I was embarrassed that the other people in our group, from Massachusetts and Australia, would leave with such a lame impression of the bay area.

It's like Sars says:
[T]he people who want to tell you some shit about What New York City Is All About? Almost never from here. Almost never from anywhere close to here. It's always the people from West Truckstop, Ohio who get all defensive about What New York Means and don't want it to change because if it becomes too much like where they came from what's the point, and -- okay, I totally get that, and it's true that one of the great things about this city is that it can save your life, but whenever somebody's whining about how 42nd Street is too "sanitized" now? It's somebody who didn't see it twenty years ago[.]

-- "Cirque Du Shut Up", tomatonation.com

Caveat Emptor

The sad thing is, I totally believe this story:
Several years ago I went to Nordstrom at Christmas to do some shopping. The place was a mad house. The clerk took my credit card to ring up my order at another register. I was watching her as she rang up the card and nonchalantly looked around the store while putting my credit card into her pocket.

When she came back, I asked for my card back, and she kept insisting that she already gave it back to me. Grrrrr!

I called her supervisor over and told her that I wanted my credit card back from that girl's back pocket.

The supervisor had her check her pocket, and then kept insisting that it was just an honest mistake.

It sure didn't look like a mistake to me.

-- forums.monstersmallbusiness.com
And you wonder why I don't like dealing with people. Seriously, I'd do everything through mediated interactions if I could.

Anyway, check out my own CAVEAT EMPTOR page for more bad businesses to avoid. Eternal vigilance is the price of a free market.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'd like to have an argument, please

I did a search for "creative commons" on neilgaiman.com and turned up this amusing anecdote:
I think the first thing author Steve Brust ever said to me was "Let's have an argument. Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light [my link -C] is the best book anyone's ever written."

"Ah," I said, "If you make it best SF book of the 1960s, I'll go along with it."

"Oh. Fair enough."

It was the first of a long line of failed arguments.

-- Neil Gaiman, 29 May 2004

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Long Tail

USA Today has published some excerpts from a recent Churchill Club panel on "What's ahead for [the] Net [and] digital entertainment". Here are my favorite quotes from the piece:
"I want TiVo for BitTorrent."
-- Roger McNamee

"The search tools that you use to find information, like Google and so on, don't generally work in video."
-- Michael Ramsay

"What's been wrong is that capital, the money, has always been tied to distribution. The reason my firm [Elevation Partners] exists is to change that, to put the capital with the content, with the creative people."
-- Roger McNamee

"People still hate computers and can barely figure out what we're talking about. I want to see my grandfather blog about the war or make a movie about his experiences in his life before it's too late. People are missing that boat. We're designing (technology) for the young males and the hard-core-technology demographic."
-- Blake Ross
That last one resonates especially well with me. My friend Loren recently said, "I think old people should blog." I agree; there's so much information, so many great stories locked up in the heads of people who've been through amazing stretches of history, it seems a shame that most of it will be lost simply because they didn't tell anyone who would record it.

On that note, if you haven't already, go read Art Spiegelman's MAUS, the only comic book graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize... so far. (Well, we can always hope, can't we?)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Can't Stop the Signal

San Francisco sold out in less than an hour.

After the success of last week's Serenity screening, Universal decided to do it again-- they added ten more theatres, doubling the number of venues, and scheduled the encore for Thursday, May 26th. That was the good news. The bad news is, the theatres involved weren't prepared to provide the appropriate level of service to screaming hordes of rabid Browncoats.

The studio posted screening info at cantstopthesignal.com-- theatre addresses and phone numbers, plus links to buy tickets online-- but they were slow to update the page, and people just called the theatres in the meantime. All but three of the venues were sold out by half past noon. No word yet on whether people bought in bulk, and if so, whether those people were scalpers or Browncoats. We're all hoping for the latter.

I tried to buy tickets for SF online, but movietickets.com hadn't been fully updated; it let me go all the way through the purchasing process, then spewed an error message which told me to call the theatre. Hell with that. Call me antisocial, but I prefer online transactions to dictating my billing information in real time and having to spell my last name and street name and explain that "Mountain View" is, in fact, two words. And then after I hang up, if I'm lucky, I've got a confirmation number scribbled on a post-it note.

I'll give you my money, but not if you're going to waste my time.

Anyway, DeeAnn thought it would be pretty funny if Universal just decided to keep doing these screenings through the summer, going slightly wider each time. They know they're going to sell out every house, at least the first five or six times, and that's a pretty good chunk of change.

Let's do the math: average ticket price, call it $7.00. Average house size, say 250 seats (we got a smallish screen even in SF). That's $1,750.00 from one screen. Ten screens, $17,500. So after these first two events, Serenity will already have grossed over $50,000.

Okay, so it's not a $20 million opening weekend, but it's only 30 shows. For comparison, Hollywood considers an opening weekend per-screen gross north of $10,000 to be good business. (Blockbusters like Star Wars are in the $15,000 range.) Three days, and four shows per screen per day, means an average take of $833 per show, or approximately 119 people-- less than half a full house.

It all comes down to understanding your audience. I'm glad that at least one studio seems to understand that fans are willing to do crazy things that you couldn't pay any number of PR or marketing people to do. But you gotta ask them nicely.

Friday, May 06, 2005


In one of the most ballsy promotional ideas seen in ages, Joss Whedon and Universal decided to let fans in 10 US cities get a sneak preview of Serenity four months ahead of the pack. All the showings sold out in record time, reinforcing the message that should have come across when the DVD collections of Firefly sold like wildfire: WE LIKE YOUR SERIES. IF YOU BUILD MORE OF IT, WE WILL COME.

-- Chris Eng, "G33K (May 5, 2005)", terminalcity.ca

I have seen Serenity, and it is mighty.

I'm still processing everything from last night-- in addition to the advance screening of the film (a mostly finished work print with some temp music and VFX), which rocked, Alan Tudyk and Gina Torres showed up in San Francisco to warm up the crowd and answer questions afterward. The studio also gifted us with Serenity keychains and autographed 8x10 lobby cards on the way out.

The movie was preceded by a filmed message from the man himself, Joss Whedon, in which he praised the fans-- Browncoats-- for loving the show and supporting it long after its cancellation. In his usual joking manner, he also implored us to spread the word about the movie, tell non-fans why they should go see it in September, and generally preach the gospel of Firefly.

Now, I plan to do my part, but I have no illusions. To paraphrase Steven Barnes, "Your movie is not for everyone." He was on a Worldcon panel a few years ago, advising writers on how to market their books, and made the point that no matter how good your work is, it will never be appreciated by everyone. The Modern Library recently picked James Joyce's Ulysses as the best novel of the 20th century, but raise your hand if you've actually read it-- and loved it that much. Yeah, that's what I thought.

I know Serenity will never be as big as, say, Star Wars, because its audience is much more specific. This is a science fiction movie for adults-- the MPAA will give it a hard R rating, no question-- and it is that rarest of beasts, an action movie with both brains and heart. (Maybe more of the latter than the former, but hell, if I had a fifteen-foot-tall canvas, I'd sure as shooting rather paint a space battle than talking heads explaining why the frobbotronic widgetizer can't interface with the psychotastic gizmodulator.)

But I believe that a great story like Firefly can speak to more people than it does now, if given the chance. I believe that word of mouth is still the best advertising that no money can buy. I believe that the Browncoats can win this time-- even if only a small, moral victory-- because it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the underdogs.

You can't stop the signal. For the signal is strong.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rajesh Y. Krishnan
Date: May 5, 2005 11:45 AM
Subject: Do I lie?


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Kung Fu Monkey: Feedback & Criticism

Not that I don't appreciate you, dear reader, but I wish you'd tell more of your friends about my HotSheet and then post thoughtful commentary like the kind to which John Rogers responds in Kung Fu Monkey: Feedback & Criticism.

Maybe I should just write about more topical matters of general interest. "Learn to say 'ain't'," as Rogers advises. But I've never been a joiner. In fact, I'm such a nonconformist, I'll shy away from a subject that I feel is being overdiscussed. Terry Schiavo, Michael Jackson, the Bush administration... Why add my voice to a cacophony of obvious opinions?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Trek Must Die!

The original "Star Trek," created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad... As science fiction, the series was trapped in the 1930s — a throwback to spaceship adventure stories with little regard for science or deeper ideas. It was sci-fi as seen by Hollywood: all spectacle, no substance...

The later spinoffs were much better performed, but the content continued to be stuck in Roddenberry's rut. So why did the Trekkies throw themselves into this poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series with such commitment and dedication? Why did it last so long?

Here's what I think: Most people weren't reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren't reading at all. So when they saw "Star Trek," primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.

-- Orson Scott Card, "Strange New World: No 'Star Trek'", Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2005

My earliest memory is from infancy, of looking out through my crib at a television set, watching reruns of Bewitched, Space: 1999, and Star Trek. It was 1973, and by then, reruns of American TV had made it across the Pacific to Taiwan.

I was hooked immediately. I hadn't been around for the Golden Age, and neither have most of Trek's current fan base-- something that Card grumpily chose to ignore in his diatribe. We didn't miss the revolution on purpose, okay, grandpa? This was my first exposure. But after I'd had a taste, I wanted more.

(Aside: due to irregular syndication schedules, I didn't see "The Trouble with Tribbles," widely regarded as Trek's best comedic episode, until years after I'd seen every other damn episode of the original series several times. It drove me crazy, and you kids should be glad that you have TiVo to make such annoyances obsolete.)

As soon as I learned to read English, around 1979, I began knocking back the hard stuff: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, Niven. Sure, I was still blowing my cash on Star Trek novels all through high school, but I had discovered a whole universe of science fiction and fantasy. And even if most of it was better than Trek, I still had affection for my first love.

And then Enterprise broke my heart. Forget being good science fiction; it wasn't even good television. Insipid characters, rehashed plots, and blatant disrespect for even internal consistency-- let's not get into how egregiously the producers flouted 35 years of Trek continuity at every turn. And now they've just thrown up their hands and turned the final season into a fanfic free-for-all. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I'm glad it's over. One can only hope that now, with the media all atwitter about how Trek's time has passed, someone with a great idea for a real science fiction series (not a space opera) will get a chance to explore new frontiers.

Then again, look what happened to Firefly.

There ain't no justice.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Road to 720p

From Tom Norton's report on Home Entertainment 2005:
Since most TVs and projectors today operate at a native rate of 720p (slightly different in the case of some flat panels), a 1080i high-definition source must be converted to 720p for display. Silicon Optix claimed that most TV manufacturers do this by using just one 540-line field from each 1080i frame, scaling it up to 720p, because this requires much less processing horsepower than deinterlacing 1080i to 1080p and then scaling to 720p. I reported this technique first in my review of the InFocus ScreenPlay 777. (So far I have not seen it mentioned in any other publication.) This essentially limit's[sic] the resolution of such a source to 540p, which, technically, is not high definition.

In case you're wondering, the ScreenPlay 777 is a $20,000 front projector which uses 3-chip DLP, widely regarded as the best consumer HDTV technology available today. Here's what Mr. Norton review had to say about its scaling methods:
For conversion to the native 720p resolution of the projector, 1080i material undergoes an interesting process. Consider each 1080i frame as two 540p fields. Each of these 540p fields is converted to the 720p native resolution of the 777. These upscaled fields are then displayed sequentially. One could, I suppose, make the argument that this potentially reduces or eliminates the temporal (motion) problems inherent in 1080i material. One could also make the argument that it eliminates any spatial (static) resolution advantages that 1080i has over 720p—or indeed over even native 720p sources. But since both 720p and 1080i material looked superb on the 777 (more on this a bit further on), I haven't yet considered the implications of the process too deeply.

But wait, there's more! Prompted by this controversy, a slashdotter expounds upon spatial vs temporal resolution:
1080i is 1920x1080 @ 59.94 fields / second, meaning at any one instant in time, you're looking at a 1920x540 image made up of every other line of the picture (the odd fields, if you will.) Then, ~1/60th of a second later, you see the even fields. 720p is 1280x720 @ 60 FRAMES per second, meaning at any given instant you're looking at EVERY field of the image...not just the odd or even fields. If you were to try and take all 1080 lines from the original signal, they wouldn't really map properly to 720 at any given second because half of data would be from that same ~1/60th of a second later. Scaling the fields up is really the best way to go, at least for stuff that's been shot interlaced.

Is your brain hurting yet?

The next big thing in HDTV is 1080p, the highest possible resolution supported by the current standards. But even though several manufacturers are working on affordable 1080p displays, I've yet to hear any broadcasters talking about 1080p. Which means that when you get that astronomically overpriced 1080p HDTV this Christmas, you'll still be watching video that's been de-interlaced-- even if it was shot in 1080p, it'll have been broadcast in 1080i, which means that it lost half the data before transmission, and your TV is interpolating to re-create that data for display.

Of course, unless you're a hard-core videophile, you probably won't care. Sure, most people can tell the difference between SD and HD, and at least subconsciously sense that non-interlaced displays are better (my wife, who has a penchant for coining her own terminology, calls them "crispier" than interlaced), but just don't think it's that much better-- certainly not to spend over a thousand dollars on one TV set.

When consumers are willing to tune in to static-laden UHF stations and spend most of their 7+ hours of TV watching per day on reality shows, and most HDTVs are big-screen monsters marketed as luxury items instead of appliances, do you really expect the FCC to be able to flip the switch to HD just 20 months from now? Answer: No.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Mediocrity

I didn't think it was all bad, it was just... ordinary. Minor spoilers below.

The best thing in the new film version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the opening musical number: Earth's dolphins singing "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" before abandoning the doomed planet. I daresay it approaches Monty Python in its sublime brilliance.

If only the rest of the movie had lived up to that promise.

I can't provide a better cinematic analysis than MaryAnn Johnson has, so go read her review at flickfilosopher.com. I also don't have the abiding hatred for the movie that she seems to, but I can see where she's coming from-- if I'm not on her planet, I'm in the same solar system. Go spend your nine dollars on the book instead, and if you must see the movie, wait for DVD.

Now, I had no expectation that any movie adaptation could be fully faithful to the book, with its meandering asides and Douglas Adams' inimitable prose, which just doesn't work unless the words themselves can get into your head and worm around until they hook up with all the other bits of your brain that are vibrating on the same multiplexed wavelength of paranoia, resentment, apathy, and the faintest glimmer of hope that only exists because of the expectation that nothing could ever-- or should ever be allowed to-- prevent you from taking afternoon tea.

You see? I don't claim to be as good a writer as Adams was, but even that paragraph above has very specific rhythms and serial concepts that don't work unless they're written out and strung together just so. Adams' genius was not in his dialogue, it was in his narrative observation: third person, British, more than a little sarcastic, with humor so dry it would make you thirsty. And there's no way to capture that on film, even in voiceover. Are you seeing the problem here?

There's even a larger issue, upon which Neil Gaiman expounded in his recent Nebula Awards speech:
[W]e're now living in a world in which SF has become a default mode. In which the tropes of SF have spread into the world. Fantasy in its many forms has become a staple of the media. And we, as the people who were here first, who built this city on pulp and daydreams and four-colour comics, are coming to terms with a world in which we find several things they didn't have to worry about in 1965.

For a start, today's contemporary fiction is yesterday's near-future SF. Only slightly weirder and with no obligation to be in any way convincing or consistent.

It used to be easy to recognise SF written by mainstream authors. The authors always seemed convinced that this was the first novel to tackle Faster Than Light travel, or downloadable intelligence, or time paradoxes or whatever. The books were clunky and proud of themselves and they reinvented the wheel and did it very badly, with no awareness of the body of SF that preceded them.

That's no longer true. Nowadays things that were the most outlandish topics of SF are simply building blocks for stories, and they aren't necessarily ours. Our worlds have moved from being part of the landscape of the imagination to being part of the wallpaper.

I wanted this new Hitchhiker's movie to be extraordinary. Forget the badly structured screenplay and shallow characters for now-- I just wanted more of a sense of wonder to permeate the thing, the same awe that suffused me when I first read the book and had to wrap my head around the notion that my entire planet of six billion miraculous souls would only rate the words "mostly harmless" in a galactic travel guide.

You see, that bit isn't even in the movie, which is so Earth-centric and human-centric as to encourage isolationism, and goes for a string of cheap laughs instead of the deeper, smarter satire that one might have expected-- or hoped for. I blame Hollywood for wanting a big skiffy action movie with only a veneer of wit, but then again, what else can you expect from Hollywood?

Movin' On Up

Three hundred and six straws have broken the proverbial camel's back.

On Friday morning, a Belarussian spambot posted spammy comments to 306 of 351 entries on my blog, CKL's HotSheet. This has happened in the past, but never on this scale. Enough is enough. Time to make it stop.

I had been using Greymatter, which stores its data in flat files, so it was easy to remove the spammy content with a Perl script. Fixing the meta-data was not so easy, since GM's web admin interface only supports deleting one comment at a time. I wasn't going to do that 306 times. No freaking way.

But I did remove the spam itself, so that's taken care of. And now, to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future, I'm moving the HotSheet to Blogger.com. I've been using it for a while now to serve The Richter Scales Blog, and it's nice; lots of features that GM doesn't have, including the most important-- restricting comment posting to registered users. Plus I get a shiny new XML feed! What's not to like?

It does mean that I now have multiple older strata of archived HotSheet posts in different layouts, but that's no big deal. Besides, it'll be nice to keep those around so that, in fifty years, I can pull them up in my neuro-holographic memory cortex and be amazed that I was ever such a lazy writer.

Welcome to the future.