16 Jan 2017, 19:52

Dark Matter

Having made it through Every Star Trek TV Episode Ever, it seemed logical to try out a newer hard sci fi series. Netflix has been strongly recommending Dark Matter to me, which would have had a lot more credibility had they not also been recommending Grace and Frankie with equal energy. In any case, I eventually bit and have largely enjoyed the trip.

I am only a few episodes into the second season (the latest one currently), and so far I’ve found the show to be an interesting blend of elements from a few other shows. The main characters form a ragtag, improbable group, somewhat like Firefly. The sci fi content is on the hard end of the spectrum, but without the tiresome technobabble of Star Trek Voyager, and really Star Trek as a whole. The “good guys” are explicitly actually “bad guys”, which makes the show relevant in the current antihero era, although plot complications do occasionally challenge one’s conception of badness in general.

The political universe is refreshingly neither utopian (Star Trek) nor disutopian (seemingly everything recent from futuristic media) in nature. Power is invested in multiple competing intergalactic mega-corporations, which probably makes it sound like the basis of a freshman college essay but actually works pretty well. There is no blanket “empire” a la Star Wars that is improbably evil. The formal government appears to be somewhere between a puppet and an explicit consensus installation of the corporations themselves (although Season 2 has invested much more time in this so far than Season 1 did, so my understanding is limited at the moment). The mega-corps are capricious and strongly self-interested, which mostly takes inherent evil out of the equation on their side as well.

With all of this in mind, the moral landscape is also refreshingly not clearly cut like it is in Star Wars, which can feel almost like a fable in its good/bad split. However, this is no Breaking Bad style of rooting for the bad guy, so the show hits a little less heavy and it’s easy enough to have straightforward feelings - good or bad - about the choices made in an episode.

There is an android, admirably acted, who is an interesting counterpoint to Star Trek TNG’s Data. While Data played the striving-to-be-human-by-design Pinocchio angle, this android considers her emergent humanness to be a bug rather than a feature (also an emerging Season 2 plot line). But with very nice continuity with the rest of the show’s thematic character building material, she embraces her “defect” and pursues humanity seemingly out of loyalty and affection for the rest of her crew. Her brokenness plays even stronger since she was designed to be perfect in the scope of her function.

One thing that was clear from the later Star Trek series was that playing an android or otherwise emotionless character is quite difficult. It didn’t help that it was the object-of-desire female character of both Voyager (Jeri Ryan as human-turned-drone-turned-mostly-human Seven of Nine) and Enterprise (Jolene Blalock as Vulcan T’Pol) were given the toughest challenges in this area, as this character in a Star Trek series is mostly playing from behind to start (see also Marina Sirtis as TNG’s Counselor Troy, who gets an undeserved amount of flak in my opinion). The Android in Dark Matter doesn’t explicitly have the “eye candy” role as far as I see it, and her portrayal of the character benefits from a lilting tone that brings dynamism to delivery that is still believable as being synthesized.

I’m a sucker for fresh starts, and I’d have to say I preferred Season 1 over the beginning of Season 2, but Season 1 clearly had the benefit of unwrapping the backstory layer-by-layer, where Season 2 has had to make its own way from the Season 1 finale mostly forward.

This show is a SyFy original, which definitely places it a few rungs down the ladder on a budgetary basis. The special effects never feel so instrumental to the plot that this presents a distraction visually. I do feel that the economy of the writing lacks a bit versus the polished big-ticket stuff, with most of the issues showing up in slow pacing of certain episodes.

Based on where I am right now, I’d say it’s a strong recommendation for someone who has seen enough real sci fi that they know they can tolerate it.

17 Sep 2015, 15:09

Backlog

I finished Mad Men last night, which (spoilers) pretty much ended with the whimper I predicted. I put Mad Men in a special group of what I would call “vibe shows,” which I find to be difficult to continue interestingly past a few seasons. Being that it was a vibe show and a period piece, all the more difficult. It was fun to watch their set and costume designers gradually transition to the early-70s look, with Sterling growing the ridiculous mustache and the clothes slowly changing. The descent to a Siddhartha-style ramble-to-enlightenment worked suitably for me, although I would probably recommend reading Siddhartha over investing in all the ups-and-downs of the series to get to that end point.

Don essentially discovered that he didn’t like being Don, and we had a bit of a death-of-self moment on the way to an all-in-on-the-cliche literal Buddhist enlightenment. Sterling found a sort of pseudo-nirvana by calibrating his hedonism in the realism of his life stage, which maybe would have been the fate I would have preferred for Don. Or perhaps this was really to show us that this was the fate for Don if he had continued on in his previous oscillations, but instead he shed it all off to go “Om” by the seashore.

The final sequence was a classic Mad Men final sequence, really showing that the intelligence of the writers and producers so far outstripped the manifested intelligence of the plot. By abutting the “buy the world a Coke” commercial to Don’s meditation, with the Coke commercial pleading Coke as the “real thing” amid a faux-hippie backdrop, it was probably the most scathing judgment of the advertising industry they could conceive.

Edit: All of this is incorrect, Don uses his enlightenment experience to go back to the agency and make the Coke add. I hate this.

All the sub-major and minor characters just piddled into a linear extrapolation of the last few seasons, which really backed up my perception that these folks were just never really more than caricatures. Pete’s conversion from irritating scumbag to irritating reformed scumbag was the most satisfying of the lot, while Betty’s terminal lung cancer (they had to do it to somebody after all that smoking) prevented them from ever needing to do anything with her character. Sally gave up adventure to take care of the family (why, thematically?), the boys have essentially no consequence (and never did), Coop’s dead, Joan does her business hustle thing, Peggy finds love in a probably ten minute sequence that is the bouillon cube reduction of chick flick soup, shadow-Don disappears into a big company. Don’s second ex-wife reportedly returns to Canada, where I presume there’s no acting work, so why’s she there? Maybe I dozed.

Anyway, they just couldn’t really osmose their smarts at a high enough concentration to make it work for me, but I’m glad I saw it through.

/spoilers


Backlog is on my mind now, as I’m trying to get my podcast playlist calibrated to neither pile nor exhaust under normal steady conditions. I’ve found that commuting is so greatly helped by intelligent or humorous conversation rather than radio rattle, or even music shuffling, that this is of considerable value to me.

I feel I should enshrine my current list, as it’s so hard to discover these things, at least outside the iTunes sphere:

  • Mad Dogs & Englishmen: The National Review guys I really like
  • The Moth: People telling true stories in front of live audiences
  • The Truth: Cool and weird (especially last episode) reimagining of radio drama for the modern era
  • GLoP Culture: On my bubble list for deletion, chance to hear Goldberg from National Review and Podhoretz from Commentary talk about current events
  • Cato Daily Podcast: I let these pile up to about 50-60 unlistened and then listen to them all at 1.6x-2.0x speed for rapid-fire libertarianism
  • This American Life: This is kind of the good-tasting vegetable of my menu, I never look forward to it but almost always enjoy the NPR narration format and content
  • Stuff You Should Know: Pretty good explanatory topics most of the time (seems to be getting more obscure and less interesting recently), unlistenable for me at anything but 1.8x speed now that I’m used to it
  • Here Be Monsters: On the bad side of my bubble list, I feel like it’s indie This American Life
  • Top Four: Mid bubble list, a sort of misguided early-stage talk podcast where an internet-famous couple talks about their favorite stuff (but rarely actually develop a true top-4 list)
  • Analog(ue): I can’t understand why I listen to this, but it’s a podcast company head talking to a (podcast celebrity) friend, mostly about podcasting and life, and I like it
  • Reconcilable Differences: John Siracusa (Ars Technica) and Merlin Mann talk for a really long time about random things
  • Accidental Tech Podcast: Definitely on the bubble, I like these guys (each person is on at least one other podcast I listen to) but struggle with why I’m investing so much time in Apple-related news
  • Hardcore History: The best
  • Serial: Adnan totally did it, but I still don’t know how
  • Robot or Not: I love a 55 second podcast with a quick yes/no answer
  • You Look Nice Today: This is basically over, but it’s mostly really funny and nice to just hear guys talk about funny stuff that’s not topical

04 May 2015, 14:07

Back to Basics

Maybe this kind of quote perhaps signals the reemergence of classic special effects and/or cartooning?

Handy saw it for himself in the footage Abrams screened for him, including a scene that featured a Jawa-like creature popping up out of the desert. Abrams called it “a classic, old-school seesaw puppet. We just buried it in the sand, and Neal Scanlan, the creature guy, pushed down on one side and the thing came up on the other side.” When his team offered to smooth out the effect digitally, Abrams responded, “It’s so old-school and crazy. We could improve this thing, but at some point do we lose the wonderful preposterousness?”

19 Oct 2014, 17:31

Math

I hope people realize that “99% signal reliability” means the signal is down about 14 minutes per day on average…

08 Jun 2013, 03:48

Acid Test

My definitive test for a series finale is whether or not it makes you want to watch Episode 1 immediately after. As tough as it was to make it all the way through (or at least nap through) the 170+ episodes, Star Trek TNG’s finale did just that.

27 Nov 2012, 19:44

Enough

I just finished A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. As much as it pains me to leave it where it sits, I’m not going to read the fifth book unless any subsequent books get far better reviews.

It’s hard to put a concise finger on it, but I would say that the shift in narrative focus and character strength from North to South, which really took hold in the fourth book but was really already gearing up in the second book, killed it for me.

I respects the author’s irreverent spirit in somewhat capriciously murdering lead characters and promoting others from margins to chapter headings is part of the fun of the books, but - while trying to avoid obvious spoilers - I just feel he went too far with the North. In fact, I thought he went too far in the first book, but I was ready to stomach it and move on.

It’s hard to read 800 page installments for fun when things don’t seem to be heading anywhere. Back to $0.99 crime thrillers!

26 Nov 2012, 05:10

Express Yourself

I have interest in advertisements, kind of in a backwards psychological way. Like, I don’t care much about the intended effect on the viewer, but I am very interested in what the advertisement (especially the background music) says about the attitude of the company itself.

I feel this Windows 8 ad is especially meaty in this area:

First off, it’s a retread of an old song. I find Microsoft’s official quote about the ad to be informative:

“We selected music from up and coming bands. We didn’t want to use overly popular songs because we wanted to bring the viewer on a journey of discovery, both through the storytelling and the music that accompanies these stories. Sometimes, as in “Express Yourself,” by Labrinth we found a new take on a classic old song, much like the reinvention of Windows.”

Certainly, the lyrics hit their key-frames with “smile” and “express yourself.” Of course, he also says “awkward” when they’re moving about the Metro interface, and the song (even the excerpt!) is actually saying that he’s not that great, but that authenticity is what counts, or something like that.

Then you get to the goods for sale. The thing that hits me most here is the “brush sold separately” fine print. If you’re selling a product like this (I believe this thing intros at $1,200) for playroom usage, you have to be ready for the device to perform advertised functions out of the box. Where’s the energy, the passion, in this kind of marketing? You’re seeing the seams in the Windows 8 canvas: this app is not made by Microsoft, the paintbrush is not made by Microsoft, nor are these made by Sony, who makes the computer. I know “Mini Piano” isn’t an Apple product, but you also don’t see non-bundled accessories in that demo. In fact, their fine print says “available in iTunes Store.”

Plus the senselessness of what’s going on here. You’re using a high-dollar device to produce bad paintings with all the tortured skeuomorphism of paintbrushes on Gorilla Glass. Then, you don’t share them with Dad via some new messaging, or Facebook, or Twitter. You print the darn things and hang them on the wall, then take them off the wall and hold them upside down in front of the dadgum screen just to illustrate how awkward it all is. Dad doesn’t even seem impressed until she flips the paper over.

Is this a dig on Apple for having shaky printer support on the iPad? Where’s the hook? Do I go, “oh, good, I can avoid the fun and experience of finger paint but still have all the papers to hang?” I don’t get it.

Also, welcome back, me, it’s been a while.

25 Aug 2010, 21:03

Ingenious

I’m going to go ahead and create some prior art, claiming molybdenum for myself, so when American Express gets around to making a plastic tribute to that fine metal, they know where to send the check.

Wikipedia notes it is often used in high-pressure industrial applications, so maybe they can make a special card for air traffic controllers or postmen or something. Or Molly Ringwald can endorse it.

19 Jul 2010, 21:41

Taking Advice

I am officially halting my interest in internet user commentary, cross-referencing this little gem. With the exception of actually useful opinion (such as that on the programming reddit at times), it’s frankly not worth the trouble.

As I believe I’ve said here before, only a very small subset of people I know have any influence on my opinions, so why should I be seeking out the opinions of strangers?

26 Oct 2009, 21:05

Ads Absurdum

What’s with those online ads where the Spanish-speaking girl says “Hola” and the frat guy says “Hello,” and then there is a Tower of Babel moment, then we are offered a method of translating the other side of the conversation? Does this solve the core problem here?

It’s like the corporate world: “Our people don’t version their files!”

“Livelink!”

In the tradition of Cory Doctorow, now you have two problems.

Well, you really have one problem, but you’re being redirected to the second, and please click the link if you are not redirected within 10 seconds. Oops, you don’t have permission to access the second problem.

Please contact the administrator.