Sunday, November 30, 2008
Screenshots of the Recently Viewed
I'm about to head out, so I'm just going to post a few screenshots from recently viewed movies. This isn't a continuation of the screenshot game, but I'll leave the titles off in case you want to guess... The answers are in the extended entry. (Hints in the alt tag and you can click on the images for larger versions...)
Again, answers and quick comments in the extended entry... And the answers are:
Posted by Mark on November 30, 2008 at 10:32 AM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Geekout: Alien vs. Predator
A while ago, I ran accross this McSweeney's article that pit Alien vs. Predator in a series of unlikely events like Macramé and Lincoln-Douglas Debating. Long time readers will know that I am a fan of the Alien vs. Predator concept, though the recent films have been awful (Alien, Aliens, and Predator are some of my favorites movies though, and the original AvP comic book was fantastic). In any case, I couldn't resist discussing and debating some of the events listed out, and the result was a pretty amusing (and incredibly geeky) conversation.
The first event under question was Breakdancing. I had picked the Alien for this and thought it was the obvious choice. My friend Roy disagreed, noting:
I think you've failed to take into account the unique physiology of the alien. Those tubes on his back? The tail? Those are going to make dancing very difficult. No backspins for him. I think that the Predator's upper body strength will help him to pull of some awesome moves. And, he doesn't have big pipes or tubes coming up out of his back.I have to admit that he had a point about the tubes on the Alien's back, but I still felt the Alien was the superior breakdancer. My response:
Point taken, but I still see the Alien having much more agility, thus giving them the ability to move more gracefully than the Predator while break dancing. While their backspins might be problematic, they do have that giant head which would enable them to perform some rather spectacular headstands and headspins. And while the tail could get in the way of a back-spin, it would also give them a valuable 5th pivot with which they could pull off all sorts of crazy moves. Back spins are an important part of break dancing, but there are no shortages of upper body, frontal, side, or sliding moves, and indeed, there seem to be more of those than back maneuvers. When you add in the Alien's unique physiology, you get something that would allow for all sorts of variations and indeed, even totally new moves. Really, I think the Alien would revolutionize the break dancing scene. The predator's upper-body streght would allow for some amazing handstand style moves, but in almost every other way they are less limber and agile than the alien or even most human break-dance experts. Indeed, the alien does not seem to have an absense of upper body strength, so it's not like that gives the Predator a decisive advantage (the way the alien's tail does). I suppose it's possible that not all Predators are as bulked up as the ones in the films, but there is no real evidence of that.Personally, I still believe I'm right on that one. The next event that came into question was Competitive Hot-Dog Eating. My initial pick was Predator, mostly because of his larger mouth and mandibles (when you look closely, the Alien's mouth is actually quite small). Anyway, Roy had some comments about this pick as well:
Totally goes to alien. Aliens are always hungry. They do nothing but eat and kill. We don't even actually know that Predator's eat meat. They're probably a bunch of annoying vegans. ;POnce again, I think Roy makes a fair point here, but it's ultimately unpersuasive. My response:
This makes more sense to me, though I do maintain that the Alien's multi-tiered mouth is still significantly smaller and thus represents a bottleneck during any sort of competitive eating contest. Yes, their activities are generally limited to eating, killing, building those crazy hives and reproducing, but I see that as just a further example of why they would not be good at competitive eating. Since that's all they do, they do not have to eat fast. It's hard to tell because the alien and it's motivations are so... alien... and unexplored. The Predators, on the other hand, clearly have some sort of civilization with technological capabilities well beyond our own. It stands to reason that they would have less time dedicated to eating, and thus would need to scarf down more in less time... which means they would be better suited towards competitive eating. Your point about vegan Predators is also taken, but what we know of their culture is that it is based primarily on hunting. While I'm sure there are vegan Predators, I think it's fair to speculate that a race of hunters values and prizes meat.I thought that was pretty good, but someone else stepped in at this point to defend Roy, noting that:
We know they hunt, yes, but in the hunts we've seen they take trophies, not food. I have yet to see a predator field-dress an alien. I mean, hell, how much meat could be on something like that anyway? It's all chitin and sinew, not really a meal at all, and that's before we think about the effects upon the stomach lining of that acid blood (ulcers like you wouldn't believe!!). No, it's not fair to speculate on their eating habits by looking at their hunts. Their hunts are trophy kills, rites of passage, not a means for survival. Everything we've seen of their society, we haven't been given clue one about their eating habits.This is certainly an interesting take on the matter. My response:
Interesting point, but I think it's reasonable to make some extrapolations based on their hunting culture. It's reasonable to assume that their hunts as portrayed in the movies are indeed trophy hunts and not a matter of survival or food. This makes sense on an additional level because they're hunting alien species and alien physiology may not react well with their digestive systems (as you mention, the alien would be particularly bad in that respect). However, it's also reasonable to assume that the reason for their hunting tradition is that they were required to do so in the evolution of their species. Yes, I'm extrapolating from human experiences here, but there are humans today who hunt purely for trophies. It's reasonable to assume that the reason the Predator race is so focused on hunting is that they were forced to do so on their home planet. Indeed, in such a case, the act of hunting could take on a more meaningful aspect because of symbolic or perhaps even spiritual reasons. The act of hunting clearly goes beyond survival for them, but it's reasonable to assume that it began as a simple survival technique on their home planet, and grew into a more meaningful practice as the race became more advanced.This thread went on for a few more posts and ultimately resulted in a stalemate, as we really don't know enough about either culture to say for sure. I still think it's reasonable to say that the hunting culture of the Predators implies a history of hunting and meat-eating.
The next topic under debate was the Wet T-Shirt Contest, which I had originally given a tie. After all, for the most part, we see both the Alien and the Predator without their shirts on, so what's the point of a Wet T-Shirt Contest? However, someone interjected a brilliant point that totally convinced me that I was wrong; the Alien would undoubtedly win this event.
Wet T-shirt: Alien. Preddy has been noted on several occasions to be "one ugly motherfucker."There is simply no arguing with that one.
Posted by Mark on November 26, 2008 at 11:32 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Another Link Dump
I try not to make a habit of just throwing up a bunch of links, but when time grows short, it's difficult to give certain subjects the thought and attention they deserve. I've started a couple of posts, but they're both turning out to be monsters. One is a review of Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Anathem, which I finished this week and have been thinking about a lot. It might take me a bit to sort through it all. The other is a discussion of ratings systems for movies - a subject that seems relatively simple at first, but which grew more complicated the more I thought about it. Unfortunately, I was traveling for most of this weekend, so I didn't have much time to devote to either of these ideas... and this week promises to be busy as well. In the mean time, here are a few things I've run across lately that are worth watching or reading:
Posted by Mark on November 23, 2008 at 07:06 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
SF and Real Life Space Exploration
This summer, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin criticized fantastical Science Fiction TV shows and movies, claiming that they are responsible for a lack of interest in real space exploration.
"I blame the fantastic and unbelievable shows about space flight and rocket ships that are on today," Aldrin said in an interview during an ice cream party held by the National Geographic Channel at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., this week. "All the shows where they beam people around and things like that have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It's not realistic."This caused a bit of a stir this summer and just recently, SF Signal posted a series of responses by popular SF authors. Several responses are worthy of note. First, let's get John Scalzi's response out of the way:
Absolutely. This also explains why the unrealistic science in CSI has completely killed interest in forensic pathology. And why the upcoming show Buzz, The Cranky Old Astronaut What Shakes His Fist at the Kids These Days will ruin the joy of illicitly playing on Aldrin's lawn for generations to come.Heh. Ok, so most of them take a more serious approach to the material. Ultimately, most of the responses boil down to "He kinda has a point, but not really." But there are some good points made in the process. First, Jack McDevitt actually agrees with Aldrin... but then he also claims that without SF, we'd never have had interest in the first place (and presumably, Aldrin thus wouldn't have had the chance to go gallavanting around the moon). J. Michael Straczynski makes the obvious point:
The only thing wrong with Buzz Aldrin's statement is that it's not true.Mike Brotherton makes some excellent points and also has a few good suggestions:
Real space exploration has been slow, expensive, and dangerous, a far cry from rugged, unintellectual heroes and their droids popping into hyperspace, or taking a quick excursion to blow up an Earth-destined asteroid the size of Texas.Personally, my first thought was that Aldrin was nuts. Then I realized that he only really mentioned TV and movies... and when I really thought about it, it began to make a little more sense. I don't believe for a second that fantastical TV shows like Star Trek actively discourage people because they feature FTL drives and transporters, but at the same time I can't think of many SF shows or movies that really do focus on the realities of space travel. In general, true hard science fiction is poorly represented in TV and film. In books, it's a different story. They tend to also contain McGuffins like FTL drives, but they try to minimize that in favor of scientific rigor. But books seem to work better at that than visual mediums. As Mike Brotherton noted above, space travel is slow, expensive, and dangerous. The "dangerous" part would probably make for good TV, but the tedious, slow and expensive parts probably don't. The fact is that realistic space travel isn't anywhere near as glamorous as it sounds at first... a fact that is completely antithetical to TV and movies. That doesn't mean that great stories can't be told in a realistic and engaging fashion, and I would gladly watch a show like that if it were aired, but I'm not holding my breath. Would such a show really spark that much interest in the space program? I'm not sure. In general, I tend to believe that art reflects the culture it was created in... and that this hypothetical hard SF show we're talking about would only really become popular in a society that was already interested in space travel. Fortunately, I don't think it's that hard of a sell. It may not be as glamorous as it seems at first, but that's a problem all technological fields face... and technological advances don't seem to be slowing either...
Posted by Mark on November 19, 2008 at 06:36 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
The Holiday Movie Season
I know this tends to be an annual refrain for some people, but this year is not shaping up to be a particularly good year for movies. By this time in 2006 or 2007, I had already seen the grand majority of the films that would show up in my top 10 movies for both years. This year, I've seen two movies that are definites. There are a few other borderline picks as well, but few films that could compete with the past two years (and I thought 2007 was a distinct step down from 2006). We're also coming up on the time of the year when Hollywood eschews the traditional big-budget blockbuster and starts putting out their prestige fare in the hopes of garnering an Oscar... but this year is not looking especially strong in that respect either.
I'm not sure what the issue is here. Perhaps we're still seeing the effects of the writers strike earlier this year. Or maybe the independent arms of the big studios are in a bit of a crunch. Whatever the reason, the upcoming holiday movie season seems lacking. Will there be enough to round out my top 10, or will I need to reduce the list to a top 5? Regardless, here are some films I'm looking forward to:
Posted by Mark on November 16, 2008 at 03:34 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Hellsing: Assorted Thoughts
I mentioned the other week that I wanted to try out a horror Anime series. I initially wanted to watch Vampire Hunter D because I'd seen the original and I'd heard it was just as good if not better than that film. Alas, it was not available on Netflix, so I had to find something else. Keeping with the theme of vampires, I found a couple of good reviews of Hellsing. This was an interesting experience, because my usual guides to the world of anime had almost nothing to say about Hellsing. It didn't even warrant consideration on Steven's Future Series page (not that he'd like this series, as it easily meets two of his criteria for rejection: "grim and gritty" and "blood and gore")! In any case, it seems to have good reviews and it was a short series (13 episodes), so I figured checking out the first disc was worth it. Below are some assorted thoughts and the extended entry has more screenshots and thoughts as well...
Update: Author comments. I must be somewhat frustrating to other members of the Otakusphere in that I'm not constantly posting about Anime and will sometimes go through prolonged droughts while I work through some other obsession (most recently, the 6WH marathon). This time, I was delayed in part because I went back and watched Crest of the Stars and got a little sidetracked while I waited for the final disc from Netflix (incidentally, the final disc did come at some point, and I stand by my recommendation not to skip Crest before watching Banner.)
Fledgeling Otaku also comments. He's intrigued by Alucard's invincibility and draws parallels with Avatar: The Last Airbender and even Superman (who is just about the opposite of Alucard in every way except for their theoretical invincibility - perhaps Alucard is more like General Zod?). It's an interesting perspective...
Alucard and his big gun
Did I mention that the series has lots of uber-cool shots of people pointing guns directly at the camera? That seems to be one of Alucard's favorite moves.
Here is one of Alucard's guns. Because of his superhuman strength, Alucard can cary bigger, heavier guns than a mere human. As you can see, this particular gun uses .454 Casull ammunition. This is a real caliber, and for a short time, it was the most powerful commercially produced handgun round on the market (it has since been eclipsed). I've actually shot a .454 Casull handgun, and let's just say it's a rather powerful round. Later in the series, Alucard even upgrades his weapon to a more powerful round, but he still keeps this gun around in case he wants a gun in each hand.
This is Alexander Anderson. As previously noted, he works for the Vatican's vampire hunting wing, the Iscariot Organization. He's also a Regenerator, and thus he doesn't seem to be able to die. Devoted to hunting down and killing monsters, he seems to disagree strongly with the Hellsing Organization's use of vampires, and thus he has attacked Alucard and Seras Victoria on multiple occassions. He has survived his encounters with Alucard though, and seems to be able to hold his own (though he's clearly not as powerful as Alucard).
This is Incognito, the second most powerful vampire in the series (behind only Alucard). It is mentioned that he is from "the dark continent," presumably a reference to Africa. It's also mentioned that he serves a human master, though we never really find out who that is or why it's important (as I mentioned above, this might be a source of strength for vampires, though it isn't really explored in detail).
Did I mention that this series seems to revel in creating neat visuals like this one of Alucard emerging from the smoke? Yes? Good.
The name Alucard itself implies that he is actually Dracula (Alucard backwards is Dracula - this is an alias used in Bram Stoker's original novel), but just in case you don't follow, the series really rams it home with this quick flash, followed by a picture of one of Alucard's enemies impaled on a spike.
And that about wraps it up for Hellsing. Overall, I enjoyed the series. Though I would have preferred a little more depth, they made up for it with lots of neat battle sequences and a lot of implied details...
Posted by Mark on November 12, 2008 at 08:46 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
It's been a little while since the last link dump, so let's see what's queued up in my del.icio.us account:
Posted by Mark on November 09, 2008 at 08:29 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Anathem is Referential
I am surprisingly only about halfway through Neal Stephenson's new novel, Anathem. Of course, this has nothing to do with the book itself and is more a result of a certain baseball team's improbable World Series win (Go Phils!), a particularly eventful election season and, of course, watching ridiculous amounts of horror films in preparation for Halloween. Also, since Stephenson only tends to put out books at a rate of about once every 3-4 years, I figure it's a good thing to savor this one. So far, it's excellent, and I can't wait to see where it's going.
There are a couple of interesting questions that keep popping into my head though, one of which has to do with the referential nature of the setting. The story takes place on an alien planet named Arbre. This planet is remarkably similar to Earth in many ways. The civilization on Arbre is a few thousand years beyond where we are, but again, there are many parallels between Arbre's history and Earth's history. Since it's an alien planet, there are different names for lots of things or historical figures, but it's often very clear who has inspired various ideas in the book. The book actually has a glossary in the back and peppers various dictionary definitions throughout the book to keep the reader up to speed on various differences between the planets. This can be a bit tricky at first, but after the initial shock, I realized that it was pretty easy to follow and even fun to puzzle out the various connections (in other words, I don't think the glossary is as necessary in Anathem as it is in a book like Frank Herbert's Dune, where I found it necessary to frequently reference the glossary). However, I can't help but wonder, why place the story on an alien planet at all? Why not just set it far enough into the future that you can still hint at the various historical connections and ideas without having to specifically call them out? Perhaps there's more to it than meets the eye. As I've mentioned in an earlier entry about Anathem, decoding all the references is part of the fun of SF.
And indeed, I do get a kick out of reading Stephenson's description of Hemn Space and thinking to myself, that sounds an awful lot like a Hilbert Space! It was oddly satisfying to recognize some obscure reference like Project Orion just from the description of a cosmological observation made by some of the characters. And there are a ton of these: Protas is a philosopher who is clearly supposed to be analogous to Plato, Adrakhones is like Pythagoras, Gardan's Steelyard is similar to Occam's Razor, and so on. When I did a quick search, I found that there were tons of other references that I didn't even pick up on... One of my favorite references is actually rather trivial, but it makes sense in terms of the story and it gives us SF nerds something to geek out on. (from page 47 of my edition):
"...what is the origin of the Doxan Iconography?"The series is obviously an analog to Star Trek and Dox is clearly a reference to Spock. If I had more than 5 readers, there'd probably be one who was really into Star Trek and they'd probably be fuming right now because the description above doesn't match exactly with the real Star Trek (I mean, duh, the Enterprise's mission was to explore space, not to attack an alien race!). Perhaps Stephenson set the story on Arbre so that he could avoid such nitpicks and get people to focus on the story. Indeed, this wouldn't be the first time he sought to avoid the nitpicking masses. In Cryptonomicon, Stephenson's characters ran around using computers with the Finux operating system, an obvious reference to Linux. Stephenson has an FAQ where he explains why he did this:
> Neal, in Cryptonomicon why did you call Windows and MacOS bySo perhaps setting the story on Arbre just affords Stephenson the creative freedom to tell the story as he sees fit, instead of having to shoehorn everything into Earth history and worry about people missing the forest for the trees. In the process, the story becomes more cognitively engaging (in the way most referential art is) because we're constantly drawing parallels to Earth's history.
As previously mentioned, this is a somewhat common feature of the science fiction and fantasy genres. It's one of the reasons SF/F fans enjoy these books so much... Alas, it's probably also why true SF doesn't get much of a mainstream following, as I can't imagine this sort of thing is for everybody. In any case, I'm really enjoying Anathem, and now that my various distractions have calmed down a bit, I'll probably tear through the rest of the book relatively quickly.
Posted by Mark on November 05, 2008 at 08:45 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
At ZDNet, Robin Harris makes a mildly persuasive argument that Blu-Ray is dying and will end up becoming a videophile niche format like laserdisc. When Toshiba threw in the towel and gave up on HD-DVD about 8 months ago, it looked like a major victory for Sony on multiple fronts. First, they were the uncontested heir to the HD movie market and second, fence sitters in the next-gen gaming console market had a reason to plunk down a little extra for a PS3. But 8 months later, things haven't changed a whole lot. Standalone BR players have come down in price and will be reaching affordable levels shortly. PS3 sales received a bump, overtaking the XBox sporadically during this year, but it looks like Microsoft's price cut has reestablished PS3 as the loser of the next-gen gaming market (of course, both are being clobbered by Nintendo). Sony is betting on the release of several highly anticipated games for the PS3 this holiday season, which should sell consoles and thus increase BR market penetration.
There are lots of things to consider here:
Posted by Mark on November 02, 2008 at 01:02 PM .: link :.
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