Saturday, December 20, 2003

100 meter rise


Here's a map indicating the effects of global warming on North America. The good news is, residents of north Georgia will be blessed with waterfront property.

Monday, December 8, 2003

SF Dream


I almost never remember my dreams. But I cut down on coffee and kept a notebook by my bed. So, for your edification ...

SF DREAM

Two spies, a man and a woman, are stalking around in a futuristic shopping mall. They’re up on a high level.

WOMAN: (bored) We always come here.
MAN: Where else are we going to go?

He looks around suspiciously.

MAN: We’ve got to get out of here.

He instantly leaps off a railing and grabs onto the wall right below it — it’s a sheer drop of 90 feet or so to the mall floor. Obviously not wanting to, the woman follows him and does the same. What they’re actually holding onto is some kind of plastic film on the wall. For a second or two, they’re just holding onto it. Then the thin layer of plastic starts peeling off like an enormous vinyl sticker. Still clutching onto it, both start to fall.

WOMAN: We’re not going to make it.
MAN: Yes we are.

The plastic film is peeling off faster and faster. The man and the woman go down with it. Sliding down the wall faster and faster …

But, just as they’re about to hit the floor, they leap off, do a tuck and roll, and walk away unharmed. The mall crowd seemes rattled, edges away from them. The two exit the mall into a outdoor courtyard. It’s bright daylight, a blue sky.

MAN: Try not to look suspicious.

She rolls her eyes.

Out of nowhere, instant nanotech skyscrapers start popping up out of the ground all around them and bursting up into the sky. They start running like crazy trying to avoid these.

A guy in a mall takes off a pair of VR glasses. It’s ME.
We start seeing things from my POV.

SALESMAN: And that’s just one of the exciting games going on right now at NanoCon24. If you …
ME: Thanks. Just give me the MDDs.
SALESMAN: Of course.

He hands me my two complimentary anime-action discs. These are like DVDs, only smaller. I take these and leave the mall. I walk out onto a platform where a floating, futuristic bus stops in front of me. (Its roughly cube-like proportions are more like a small movie theater; it looks more like a building than a vehicle.) I enter.

Inside the bus/building, I start looking for a seat. Everybody else is watching floating display screens in front of their faces. On one, an enormous buzzsaw cuts a car in half. A man inside screams.

VOICE: What’s in your wallet?

Two black soldiers, both dressed in the fatigues and berets of the Urban Anti Terrorist Squad, enter and start asking people for money.

SOLDIER: We’re collecting for disadvantaged inner city kids. All of your money goes to buy some poor damn kid a new pairs of pants. You can’t get anywhere in life without pants.

He holds up a jar with a sad kid’s face on it. It's actually a scanner. People start sliding rings and bracelets across it. Virtual coins and bills seem to drop inside the jar. The SOLDIERS continue down the aisles. Being cheap, I avoid them and sit down in my own seat. I’m the only one without a floating display in front of me.
An OLD MAN sitting next to me smiles.

OLD MAN: Not addicted, I see.

I shrug.

OLD MAN: (indicating the soldiers somewhat derisively) Urban Anti Terrorist Squad. You know what this bus needs? (leaning and whispering conspiratorially) A good detective. Like me.
ME: What the hell are you talking about?
OLD MAN: (whispering) What these soldiers fail to realize is that two terrorists are already on board.
ME: Where?

He nods up at the luggage rack where two Arab guys are lying sprawled and smiling beatifically. They seem hypnotized.

OLD MAN: And a bomb.

In front of me, a floating 3-D display graphic helpfully shows me a cutaway diagram of exactly where the bomb is.

ME: You mean you’re … so why don’t you?
OLD MAN: Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen. We have them conditioned. They’re not going to do anything.

Cut to their smiling faces.

MAN: We just need to know where … it’s all part of the big picture, see? The big picture. You know.
ME: Right.

He winks, makes a button lip gesture, nods, and closes his eyes as if falling asleep.

From another aisle, a woman in her late 50s looks at me. She seems dignified, has long black hair.

ROYAL WOMAN: I am Spanish royalty, you know. But in another life I was a Hindu saint.
ME: Sure you were.

Irritated that I don’t believe her, to prove her point she gets into a yoga posture, and does a good job of it. Perhaps she’s the real deal. Another woman – a SLOPPY DRUNK – notices this.

SLOPPY DRUNK WOMAN: Yoga? Yeah, I also do yoga. Watch me do yoga.

She gets into a yoga posture herself, embarrassingly putting her leg behind her head and wobbling in her seat in torn, stained stretch pants. It is not so dignified and impressive when she does it. The ROYAL WOMAN looks away and ignores her. I do the same.

The floating bus/building stops in front of a funeral parlor. I get out of the bus/building and enter.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR: (rushing up to me) I’m sorry, sir, you’re too late for the cremation. (holding up a pair of black men’s shoes, still smoking) But we saved you the shoes.

In the distance I hear an explosion.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Are you a replican or a replicant?


OK, kids. The topic of the day being "Blade Runner." The question of the day being, Deckard's identity. Is he is, or is he ain't, a replicant?

The facts are in, the dust has settled, the consensus has solidified.

Deckard is a replicant.

The robo-Deckard faction takes gleeful satisfaction in the fact. There's a Where's Waldo compulsion to pile up clues and say, "See, I told you so."

Deckard's glowing eyes.
You've done a man's job, sir.
Yatta, yatta, yatta.

Fine. I'm sticking to my story. I hate the Deckard-is-a-Replicant intepretation. The arch cleverness of the concept weakens Blade Runner's thematic spine. I.e.: Who's human and who ain't?

Let's say Deckard is human but a cold fish, nonetheless. Lacking in empathy. Let's say the Nexus-6 model is starting to develop empathy. Deckard (human) and the replicants live inside the fuzzy intersection of two sets. The replicants are developing humanity; the certified "human" is losing his. Discovering an empathy with the replicants reawakens Deckard's humanity. The point being: humanity isn't written in the DNA. To feel empathy is to be human. Humanity is a verb. Humanity is something you do. Some womb-born humans aren't human. Some vat-grown replicants are.

It's a strong point.

This point is lost if Deckard's fellow feeling for the replicants is explained by the fact that he is a replicant. I.e.: the Nazi concentration camp guard starts to think that the notion that Jews aren't human is a lie. He's starting to fall in love with one of the inmates. But, guess what? It turns out he's actually Jewish!!!!

It's a gimmick. It kicks the legs out from under the story. It rips its heart out.

Yeah, maybe Ridley had it in his head.

But I hate it.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Perverse paradoxical feedback loop


I've always been fascinated with systems analysis, have picked up bits and pieces.
One key aspect of any self-regulating open system is the feedback loop - approval ratings for politicians, applause for actors, telemetry for rockets, whatever. Once you look for it, it's everywhere. You also tend to notice …
Systems tend to fuck up. Systems tend to do the opposite of what they're designed (or have evolved) to do.

The common thread I've noticed in a lot of this is what I call "the perverse paradoxical feedback loop."

Normally, positive feedback keeps you ("you" including humans, robots, natural systems, whatever) on track when you're achieving or getting closer to some goal; negative feedback zaps you when you're of course, not getting it. Sometimes it works the other way around - hence perverse. It's often predictable, but at the same time, also a case of systems doing exactly the opposite of what they're designed for - i.e., IT SHOULDN'T HAPPEN - hence, paradoxical.

Examples - 

Railroad fatalities in 1810 are X per number of miles traveled. Over the years, designers improve the safety level of trains, tracks, tunnels, grades, whatever. In 1830, the level of fatalities is still X. The reason: engineers compensated for the increased safety by taking more risks.

A guy and a chick are having an argument. He's irritated, is driving too fast, a little erratically. She says STOP DRIVING LIKE AN ASSHOLE. The result: he drives faster, more erratically, more like an asshole. The reason: responding to the negative feedback would mean admitting, in fact, he was driving like an asshole.

Many of the perverse results arise because humans are aware of feedback systems and work to circumvent them. Why study, when you can whine and cry until your teacher into gives you a good grade? Why put on a good play, when you can use advertising pressure to bully a newspaper into giving a good review? Why listen to hard facts now that you're a Hollywood STAR when you can surround yourself with sycophants? Why accept bad news when you can shoot the messenger?

Perverse results especially crop up when the feedback loop is digital (on-off) as opposed to analog (a series of gradual corrections). I.e.: zero tolerance. If making ANY MISTAKE means getting fired, I won't correct my mistakes, I will do my best to cover up my mistakes and put the blame on someone else - hence there's absolutely no feedback.

So: airplane pilots are supposed to have perfect vision. The minute your eyesight weakens, you're out. The result is not pilots with perfect vision but pilots doing their best to hide any defects - not wearing glasses, cheating on eyetests, taking exams on their own time. (Lasik surgery's probably made this a dated example.)

Broadly speaking, if you create a system where anything less than perfection is failure, you destroy any possibility of self-correction through feedback. The ideal is constant real-world feedback of every step of the process from idea to execution. Demming got into this in the industrial process. You can apply the same principle to marriages, relationships, philosophical thought, whatever.

But the only way it works is if it's safe to be open.

Hence: if we approach 9-11 as a "catastrophic failure of the intelligence community" with the intention that someone - better still, a whole line of someone's - must be crucified for it, a nice little Appian Way of crucified FBI, CIA, NSA and other governmental fuck-ups, because it HAS TO BE SOMEONE'S FAULT - the result will be that everyone involved right on down the chain will do their best to make everything about what they do opaque - to cover asses, shift blame, destroy, disappear or lose evidence, not put two and two together, to stonewall, obfuscate, lie or find sacrificial lamb if need be because IT'S YOUR CAREER. The result will be we'll learn very little or nothing, won't refine, fix or improve the process, won't learn any lessons, won't be ready next time.

The smart thing is to say what happened was, literally, psychotic and inconceivable - that it didn't occur to us because we are a healthy, open, non-psychotic democratic society - that they're the motherfuckers, not us - that the thing to do is dispassionately examine the chain of what happened and figure out what to do differently so it'll never happen again. But that can't happen if you're looking for scapegoats.

It has to be safe to be open.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Dylan and the Dead








Sterile mega-church on steroids

Daniel and Andrew

JOAN OSBOURNE: I've been a good girl all of my life. Now I'm gonna be be bad. Sophie Tucker, Mae West, they're my role models. I used to be Snow White, but I drifted. Delta Blues. John Lee Hooker, EWaters, Robert johnson. Store walking blues. Oh brother where out there. Looks like a category 3 to me.Blye goose, Crtoss roads spirtual and canral commingled roots. Your line is draggin.

Gris gris.
Hank Williams Patsy Cline more bluees than balladeers.

Kevin Xioarnwe vuddLOI VILL ns rhw insiNA
I FO OUR Qlkinf
sWNNIA QUIAID SEG JOURNEY

bACKGROUND MYSIC,. gOOD STUFF, AS STUFFNESS GOES BUT NOT DRIVING AND INSISTENT. fUZYT. Maybe even slightly sticky. I like it,but iut starts to sound the same after awhile.

I think it's a great production instead of just standing up there easiuly do.

Joan Osbourne adds grace slick gnarly J.A. gibe
catchj the hippy
Mr. Blue man group.

Mr. Blue Man Group




The concert is reserved seating. There's a roped off section in the middle of the auditorum with the best seats. This concert being a Dead concert, folks want to jump in there and dance like loons, even such folks as didn't come with tickets. The securityu guards keep tossing them out. They keep jumping back in. So it goes.

[Daniel laughs and sez: "They're playing catch the hippie."]

Now, there's this one guy who's shaved his head. That's cool. It's a valid fashion statement. In this crowd, he's not alone. But he's also painted himself blue.

He looks like a refugee from the Blue Man group.

A Smurf with a glandular condition is also an acceptable comparison.

He keeps jumping in and dancing like a spaz.

The security guards keep throwing him back out again.

Now, it occurs to me, if you want to jump over security barriers and dance around like a doofus, painting yourself blue is probably not a good idea. It sorta attracts attention. I figure he hasn't figured that out yet. He's thinking. How do they keep finding me?

It's Blue Man persecution, I tells you!

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Bill Gates rant

Actual letter from Bill Gates below jump ...


Friday, May 30, 2003

A Mighty Wind

This is cute, softball satire from director Chris Guest. The ten people in America who dig folk music will spot various correspondences. (Oh! They're the New Christy Minstrels!) Harry Shirer, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catharine O'Hara and various other Second City refugees get to do funny, character-based improv. It's funny enough. I wanted to like it. But satirically, it's weak. As film-making, it's just plain lazy. Here's why ...

Pseudo satire
If you satirize something, satirize it. If you do a caricature of Jimmy Durante, draw a big nose for Christ's sake. In terms of American folk music, anti-war anthems and leftwing politics are the pinko elephants in the room. Chris Guest chooses to ignore those elephants. He satirizes a parallel world folk movement in which Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger never existed. That's not satire. It's gutless nostalgia disguised as satire.

Lazy film-making
Like a good forgery, a good "mockumentary" works when you can't distinguish it from the real thing. Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap succeeded because he took its premise seriously. He did his best to pretend that a real documentary filmmaker was following a real heavy metal band around. Reiner gave you the camera angles, editing and interaction between director, film crew and band that would have actually happened in real life. Reiner told his joke with a straight face, and that's what made it funny.

To Guest, the pseudo-documentary nature of "A Mighty Wind" is an inside joke with his audience. He's going through the motions, but doesn't take the premise seriously or bother to make it realistic. My most-hated scene? The Folksmen have a conversation in a car; there's no hint that the cameraman is actually sitting in the car with them. My second most-hated scene? The Eugene Levy character goes nuts and wanders onto Times Square. The camera follows him, but who's holding the camera? Everybody inside the auditorium is frantically looking for Levy's character -- who's supposed to go on stage for a big number with his ex-wife. The phantom cameraman doesn't bother to explain, "Hey guys, he's out here." To make matters worse, Guest intercuts the objective shots with Levy's first-person, subjective POV. Evidently, the documentary filmmaker had cameras inside his eyeballs.

Some funny songs. Some touching character moments. Yeah.

But it could've been better.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Morpheus speech - rewrite

Original
Morpheus: Zion! Hear me! It is true, what many of you have heard. The machines have gathered an army, and as I speak that army is drawing nearer to our home. Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it! I stand here before you now, truthfully unafraid. Why? Because I believe something you do not? No! I stand here without ear because I remember. I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but because of the path that lies behind me! I remember that for 100 years we have fought these machines. I remember that for 100 years they have send their armies to destroy us. And after a century of war, I remember that which matters most. We are still here! Tonight let us send a message to that army. Tonight let us shake this cave! Tonight let us tremble these halls of earth, steel, and stone! Let us be heard from red core to black sky. Tonight, let us make them remember. This is Zion! And we are not afraid!

Rewrite

Morpheus: Zion!


The dancing people give him their attention.

Morpheus: I'll get right to the point. You've probably heard the rumor. The machines are coming for us. The final fight is days away. It's not a secret anymore. The rumor is true. You people already know that. But you're still dancing. At a time like this? If the machines could see you now ... This is completely illogical! (shouts) You people must be out of your minds! I am, too. (laughs)

The crowd shares his laugh.

Morpheus: The machines will never understand. That's what makes us different. That's why we fight. That's why we'll win. Keep dancing!

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Matrix Rebloated

OK. The Matrix Reloaded. Close, but no cigar. This is to be expected. Aside from violating the second law of thermodynamics, the original Matrix was a near perfect SF movie. Smart, Phildickian ideas. Kickass pacing. Inspired visuals.

The first movie ended with revolution's promise. Neo stands at an outdoor payphone. He phones the Agents and informa them he was going to start waking people up and show them what was possible. And spread the DNA of his revolution. We pan up from the payphone. Neo flies up into the sky like Superman to the tune of Rage Against the Machine. Cool.

What's even cooler -- the ending of the first Matrix implies that Neo will start a revolution in the next sequel: a system-wide awakening of humans throughout the Matrix. I would've liked to have seen that movie.

This is not that movie.

Hey, I'm not saying it's a bad movie. Just not the near-perfect, groundbreaking triumph the first one was.

Instead of an awakening an uprising, we get an Antagonist with a capital A. Agent Smith. He's back, baby. Smith, after being ripped to snotgreen cybershreds, is resurrected as a "free" Agent. (Hey, that's a good one.) No earjack. He's Agent Smith, unplugged. (OK, that's fucking enough.) But Smith turns to the dark side and -- by imposing his code on other beings within the Matrix -- starts spreading himself like a virus.

OK, so the big story structure is Agent Smith vs. Neo. Let's get ready to rumble! Aside from that, there's lots of complicated kudzu. Hey, it's interesting kudzu. It's exciting kudzu. There's more kickass fighting that's fun to watch but moves the story like a fucking millimeter forward.

Remember Neo's fight with Morpheus in the virtual dojo in the first movie? That had a point. He was learning the cartoon warrior possibilities of freeing your mind. In this installment, there's a long, drawn-out battle on top of semi trucks. It had something to do with the fucking Keymaster. This tiny oriental guy who grinds keys that open doors. A, uh, literal Keymaster. Evidently, the Doormaster was busy.

Kudzu, red herrings, more kudzu. Where the plot of #1 is as clean as the flight of a Zen arrow, this is as convoluted as a bad lie. There's Merovingians, scary, twin, albino ghosts with whiteboy dreadlocks, a love story and a clip of George Bush on the Architect's TV. (Evidently, the AI IT guy.) Oh, yeah. And one really bad, long, boring speech that Morpheus gives at a rave in Zion. Morpheus is the god of sleep, of course. He lives up to his fucking name.

In the end, the big reveal is that Agent Neo is a Jesus/Judas Goat who gets generated every few years or so to lead a bunch of merry meatbags to Zion so the machines can kill all the other humans plugged into the system -- then reboot it to 1999. The machines then plug all the merry souls back into the new Matrix. They form the basis of the rebooted society until it's time to hit the reset button again.

It's an interesting idea. It's an idea that throws the original Matrix on its head. "The One" isn't really the savior -- he's part of the machine's control system. Didn't see that coming. I kinda like it. I was never comfy with the notion of Neo as Jesus with sunglasses.

At the same time, it's too much of a switcheroo. Sequels seem to have two big pitfalls. Either slavishly repeating the original and turning it into a formula. Or subverting what was good about the original by changing the recipe too much. I think the brothers Wachowski did the latter. They turned a gnostic parable of liberation into an overblown, CG-heavy, cyberpunk action flick stuffed with sophomoric philosophy. Not to mention Cornell West. And the fucking Keymaster.

But there's still a way to save it in the third sequel. Let's say this is all misdirection. Zion is another level of the Matrix. A different system where the machines let the human malcontents escape to. All this horseshit where they're trying to wipe the humans out is just a game the machines like to play. Neo, Morpheus and friends still haven't awakened yet. They real revolution hasn't even started.

And now you've got the basis of a Matrix 3 that would truly kick ass.

While we're at it, we could explain that the humans really aren't batteries. That's a joke the machines are playing on us. They're really using the humans as a networked system to run their software -- because the connections in our organic brains exceed the possibilities of silicon. The Matrix, in other words, is running in us. Humanity isn't the power source. We're the hardware.

But I'm probably not going to see that movie either.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

!@#$$%

For years I've been struggling to write a story based on the concept that earth is a giant TV show created for the amusement of aliens. "South Park" did it tonight. In a 23-minute cartoon called "Cancelled."

Friday, March 21, 2003

Porky Pig vs. the Anarchist

For the record ...

For the record ...

Hearing George W. Bush & Co. say, "We're going to fix the problems in the Middle East" is equivalent to hearing the Three Stooges say, "We're going to fix your house."

Thursday, March 20, 2003

To war, to war, to war we're gonna go


Jesusfuckingchrist, we're invading Iraq. What a jolly note.

I have absolutely nothing clever to say, so I'll just quote from the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup ...

Then it's war!
Then it's war!
Gather the forces!
Harness the horses!
Then it's war!

Fredonia's going to war!
Each native son will grab a gun
And run away to war!
At last we're going to
Feet will beat along the street to war!
We're going to war!
At last the country's going to war!
It seems the country's going to war!
At last the country's going to war!
We're going to war!
This is a fact we can't ignore
We're going to war!
This is a fact we can't ignore
We're going to war!

In case you haven't heard before
I think they think we're going to war
I think they think we're going to war
We're going to war!
I think they think we're going to war
We're going to war!
We're going to war!
We're going to war!
We're going to war!

To war, to war, to war we're gonna go!
Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho
To war, to war, to war we're gonna go!
Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho
Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho
Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho
Oh, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de, hi-de-ho
Oh-ho, oh-ho oh-ho oh-ho oh-ho
Oh-ho, oh-ho oh-ho oh-ho oh-ho
Hooooooooooo

They got guns
We got guns
All God's chillun got guns
We gonna walk all o'er the batterfield
'Cause all God's chillun got guns

Oh, Freedonia
Oh dnya cry for me
Cos I'm comin' round the mountain
With a banjo on my knee

Oh, Freedonia
Oh dnya cry for me
Cos I'm comin' round the mountain
With a banjo on my...

To war, to war, to war we're gonna go!
To war, to war...

To war, to war, we soon will say goodbye
Oh, how we'd cry for Firefly
If Firefly should die
A mighty man is he
A man of brawn who'll carry on
Till dawn of victory
With him to lead the way
Our spirits will not lag
Until the judgment day
We'll rally round the flag
The flag, the flag, flag

Monday, January 13, 2003

Iraq is bad, m'kay?


Why the are we gearing up to invade Iraq? Why are we even talking about it? What’s the big rush?

The stated motive:

The sumbitch actually has weapons of mass destruction.

I think that’s a pretext. So what's the real motive?

The top three possibilities:

A) Al-Qaeda gave us a black eye and set a bad precedent. We need to make an example of some Islamic country. Whipping Afghanistan ain’t good enough. It’s like beating up the runty kid with asthma. Iraq is the baddest kid on the block. So we'll take out Saddam as a show of force, just because we can. This sends out a message to tinpot dictators everywhere: Watch your ass. We can give you the same treatment whenever we feel like it.

B) We want to the Middle East to love us. We’re planning to spread democracy.

C) It’s all about the oil.

My vote would be (A)