Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coming to terms with BCS

Breaking in again for football...

So, yeah, I broke my oath of silence once again. But, look, I just watched a day full of high-stakes college ball. UT played Thursday, Tech and OU played today. All are tied for the Big 12 South. Only one can advance.

Tech came out against Baylor today looking a little mushy, which surprised me. I figured they would come out swinging harder against Baylor, but their recent loss seems to have broken them a bit. Oklahoma had to really fight against Oklahoma State until the end of the game, but wound up 20 points ahead when the clock ran out.

All that's left is a wait for the BCS computers and voters to tell us who will wind up in the Big 12 Championship game next week.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty zen about the whole thing.

1) There's nothing UT could have done better, except for three or four things during the Texas Tech game. Aside from that, they've had a very, very impressive season. If something as small as Gideon hanging onto the ball had happened, UT would be the undisputed Big 12 leader.

2) The Big 12 was a tough conference this season. I'm always pretty impressed with our competition, and as I can't always count on UT to wind up in a BCS Championship game, I pull for the Big 12 as a whole.

3) At the beginning of the season, I looked at our schedule, reviewed what I knew and sort of sweated it a bit. I had serious doubts about our ability to beat OU, Tech and others. We've had such a great season (11-1) that I can't help but feel that no matter what the BCS finally decides: We had a great regular season. Hopefully we'll get sent to a cool bowl game.

Friday, November 28, 2008


After UT flubbed the last two meet-ups with A&M, I was pleased to see they not only were able to get a check in the win column, but that they got a decisive win. And Colt McCoy played a heck of a game.

For those watching on TV, I have no idea what was up with the field. It hasn't really rained here in months, so I guess someone left the sprinklers on the field too long. What a mess.

As pleased as I am with the win (this game and the OU game are, of course, the biggest games every year) I'll be watching the OU game with terrific interest. It's awful, because I respect the hell out of OU, but if they lose to OSU, it does huge things for the Horns. And OU is playing at Stillwater, so there's as much chance for something to go wrong for them as it did for us at Lubbock.

I am also morally obligated to remind you (and BCS voters) that UT defeated OU 45-35 this season. And, you know, if you're a Hesiman voter and have a vote to spare, Colt McCoy could sure use it.

We now return you to your promised radio silence for the weekend.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

I'm outta here for a few days.

Sure, I'll be in Austin, but I'm going to take a break and hang out with the family for a few days. So don't expect much more in the way of navel-gazing, complaining, or pondering about robots or Superman until late in the weekend.

Jason is usually pretty good about taking photos and posting them, so I invite you to hit his site.

Enjoy your days off if you have days off. Enjoy the folks around you. Go see a movie. Watch a football game or three. Give some thanks.

Now get out there and eat the hell out of some potatoes.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Robot Friend

I DVR every episode of the WB cartoon of Superman from Disney's sugar-fueled kid's cartoon network, Jetix. One of the oddities of networks like Jetix and Cartoon Network is that toy companies are pretty clearly buying up vast swaths of ad-time on these networks and aren't very discriminating about which shows their ads get folded into. Especially the late night ads for toys when you kind of hope the target market is off with dreams of sugar plums in their heads.

It being a month before Christmas, they're really going for the hard sell on all kinds of toys. Expensive toys. Stuff I am sure that, as a kid, would have flipped my gourd and caused some awkward discussions between me and KareBear as to why Santa couldn't bring me The Very Expensive Toy.

If you have any doubt that kid's toys are far more complex, if not far cooler than what we had growing up, I would point you to this year's line-up of interactive pals your kid can enjoy. We've moved beyond Teddy Ruxpin and his rudimentary/ creepy mouth movements.

Apparently... these semi-lifesized toys will respond to touch, sound, etc...

Here's Kota the Triceratops who will let your tyke sit astride his back, eat a leaf, make sounds, roll his head around...

Jason will frequently point out that as a kid, I was usually more interested in the potential of a toy than the actual toy, and would often wind up disappointed. If they sold a kid's microscope, I was ready to set up a crime lab. So part of me figures these toys aren't as cool as I think they are, but I also have as of yet to see one out of the box.

For people who want the magic of a child and a dog, but also want to not worry about the kid becoming too attached, or learning to love... there's Biscuit, the Fur-Real dog.

Or, for the parent who doesn't have the dough to pay for riding lessons, stabling fees, horse whisperers, etc... but can afford D Batteries, there's S'mores, the Fur-Real Pony.

There are also interactive dinosaurs, lizards, lion cubs, what-have-you out there. And the technology seems to be getting marginally better every year.

All of this reminds me, of course, of Kubrick/ Spielberg's AI. I don't know how sorry I felt for Haley Joel Osmont's eternal boy, but I did worry about his little, stuffed robotic pal, the Teddy bear. Which, by the way, they did try to market to kids. (Nobody seemed to notice the horrible fate the movie states robots are doomed to as humans look at robots as they would any other consumer electronic, despite rudimentary awareness... which... yeah, that's what you want to tuck your kid in with at night).

You have to sort of wonder, as the technology improves and kids are expected to abandon their toys, isn't it a little creepy to begin a societal trend toward creating emotive, responsive objects that can be thrown into the waste? Moreover, I know as a kid I would have read a heck of a lot into my robot dog's responses and been horrified at the idea of tossing it in the dump if it broke. How will we deal with our AI's as they become outmoded, break-down, etc...?

People are pretty wretched with their pets to begin with, so I'm not sure if (as technology improves and these toys begin to actually demonstrate AI) we're reinforcing bad behavior to begin with by teaching kids to shove responsive objects into a corner or expect it to turn off with the flick of a switch. That, in no way, has anything to do with actually owning or caring for a pet. Pets do not simply turn off. Sometimes they wait until you've just fallen into a deep sleep to begin meowing as loudly as possible for no discernable reason. Other pets stick their nose in your eye because they feel you've slept too late and it is time to play with the puppy. And simply "turning them off" is called animal cruelty (no matter how right it seems when the puppy jumps on you on Saturday morning).

Yes, I know... the robot dog is supposed to be a toy, but...

The other part that makes me lose some sleep is what AI and emotional responses we choose to bestow upon our creations. Especially as I consider the work of Dr. Cynthia Breazeal and her emotive robots. She seems to be leading the way for becoming her own Dr. Susan Calvin, building robots which can currently respond to certain stimuli, mimicking what we recognize as an emotive response. The leap hasn't been made yet to actually make a robot feel bad when its chastised, but how far down the road can a matrix of emotional responses actually be? And if we attach that response to an ability to learn, what are we building?

I see no reason to believe we won't see AI's in my lifetime. Or rudimentary robot pets. I don't know if they'll have a capacity to learn, adapt, or merely perform routines based upon certain stimulus or commands. Right now roboticists like Dr. Breazeal seem poised to teach robots to learn. Which, of course, loops me right back to the sad, doomed little teddy bear of A.I., thrown to the junk heap, and still functional.

Oh, and, yes... the MIT labs are working on a robotic teddy bear.

Robots will have no legal rights, its safe to assume. No matter what traits we embue them with, will they ever be a part of the family as many people treat their pets?

Right now Biscuit the Robot Dog is little more than a mass of wires, plastic and fake fur that performs simple functions based upon certain stimulus. I hate to break it to you, but we're basically bags of meat and bone that respond to stimulus, too. Sure, we respond in infinitely more complex ways, but that's basically our deal. We just have a few billions years of leaping from single-celled flagellates to avid fans of "Paris Hilton's My New BFF" behind us rather than 100 years of useable electricity and 50 years of computer engineering.

All I know is that when our robots turn on us, I won't be at all surprised. Especially if their vanguard is comprised of a legion of disposed of Teddy Bears, Fur-Real puppies, and fuzzy triceratops. And if I have to go, I hope its at the hands of an enraged teddy bear.

All that said, if you are looking for a robot for under my tree:

If you have to face down a machine that will turn on you and kill you, it might as well be Summer Glau

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lost my edge. Completely.

I was reading back over posts from the past month or two, and holy @#$%. Whatever edge I once had has been replaced by sunshine and puppy dog tails. I guess that's what happens when you're in a relatively good place. I guess if you have to trade engaging blogging for whatever the alternative was of career flame-out, poor health, what-have-you...

Anyway, I will also try to break it up a little more around here. It looks like I'm only covering a few items, but I also don't know what anyone whose left around here cares about reading (seriously, I haven't got a clue).

That's it for tonight. Jason and Jamie both told me I looked awful tonight (I slept poorly last night). So I'm off to get 40 winks.

Not enough this

Too much this

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ring Ring Ring

What better way to show your Thanksgiving Spirit than donating to the League of Melbotis Red Kettle?

All you have to do is click here to help out that most venerable of institutions, the Salvation Army.

We could really use your help to get the ball rolling.

Being Thankful

I'm delicious

So I saw Meredith has wisely posted her Thanksgiving column before the Thanksgiving madness had begun. And, as much as I am unsure of my own schedule this week, I don't want to write this thing for an audience that has skipped out on me for the annual tryptophan overdose. And while most days I'm unsure of whose hanging about and reading, if I'm going to spill my heart, I ain't doing it for, like, 5 hits.

Anyhow, for me, personally, its been a... weird year. But that doesn't mean I have nothing to be thankful for. To the contrary! Sometimes a sorta-off year pulls things into focus, and you can re-evaluate.

This year I am thankful for Jamie's relatively stable good health. We've had a bump here and there, and we have a lot to think about next year. But it's been a good year, and despite Jamie's many challenges, I think she's doing well.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to work, of course. 2008 did not go at all how I would have liked professionally, and it wasn't much fun. But good people gave me a second opportunity when they could have easily passed on me for contract work. Then, of course, I've landed what I consider to be an enormous opportunity back at the University. And all during a period when many, many other people are in less fortunate positions.

I'm thankful for old friends, new friends, and old friends with whom I've re-connected. For a family who is as supportive as someone could ask for, and who is also physically closer (and/ or is planning to be). I'm also thankful all of you Leaguers out there in Leaguer-Land. You're tops.

It's a tough time out there for a lot of people this year. Perhaps more so than usual. The press is going to have you believing that the future is more uncertain than usual. But we never really know (or we wouldn't be in half the jams we're in now). Be thankful for what you've got. Make sure you let people know how glad you are that you've got them.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving planned.

Gobble gobble.

Now go have some Turkey.

Also, I am thankful for UT's inexplicably high BCS rating, Superman comics, jobs where you can wear jeans, new comics on Wednesdays, good Batman movies and probably a hundred thousand other little things.

"The League" fan film, shockingly, not about me

This is interesting. Here's a short film produced independently about superheroes in a sort of Watchmen pastiche. Actually, it owes a heck of a lot to Watchmen. Nonetheless, it's pretty darn well done from a design and acting standpoint, and demonstrates that even indie fanfilms now look and feel better than most superhero films up until Spider-Man.

It's about 20 minutes long. Check out "The League" (again, not about me).