Showing posts with label robots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label robots. Show all posts

Friday, December 18, 2009

Panick Attack!

I know you're not supposed to think the end of the world is awesome. But there's nothing I don't like in this video.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Monday Evening Round-Up: Ro-bama, Beer, Dune

The Robo/ Disney Conspiracy

It seems Disney has joined with the robots to work against us.

Beer Surplus Jettison Cooperation

Leaguers will know that my one regret about opening the doors to League HQ in celebration is that we often wind up with a great deal of undrunk beer and beer-like items (Mike's Hard Lemonade, etc...). Well, this is a problem no more.

We have a house full of recently graduated Lutherans living across the street who, upon my offer, seemed more than willing to take the surplus off our hands. Once again, our fridge is free for the storage of leftovers and numerous tupperware items of indeterminate storage points.

I salute you, Lutherans, for your readiness to consume that which we could not.


So, Leaguers, I have a confession. I've never read Frank Herbert's Sci-Fi classic, "Dune". Nor have I seen the movie in its entirety. I think i watched the entire original mini-series on Sci-Fi (or, SyFy, as they've rebranded themselves this week), but since I can't recall how it ended, I can't say for certain.

Its embarrassing to have a weak point in my nerd-armor, but there you are. I've no real excuse, but I've also always been a much bigger fan of sci-fi movies than I have been that of books. I read a lot of Asimov and Bradbury at one point, and some other stuff, but sort of lost interest in bothering to read the actual books.

But during our celebration of independence from the bastards in England, I got caught in a 30 minute conversation on the subject of "Dune" between Steven, Lauren, Eric and Patrick. And I figured... oh, hell. I might as well.

So posts may be short for a while, because I'm actually going to read a book.

Yeah, I know...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I was in Waco today for a demo/ presentation for several schools looking to join our consortium. I have no idea if they will join, partially because it wound up that I ended up delivering most of the morning's presentations and I always feel like that could have gone better when I wrap up.

Saw the digitization lab at Baylor, and I don't mind talking about how awesome it truly is. The technology that's in place these days for archiving print materials to a digital format for preservation and digital distribution is both fore-head slappingly obvious and amazing that anyone has actually manufactured devices such as robot-arm-vacuums for self-page-turning, full book scanners.

Sadly, I arrived home to find Jamie has fallen ill. No idea where it came from, but she's fighting either a bad cold or a light flu. No way to go into your birthday. She's in pretty sorry shape. Wish I could stay home with her tomorrow to try to help out. Maybe I can cut out early.

Robot Show

Came home and caught up on some shows off the DVR, including the two most recent episodes of Terminator, which isn't the nerve-jangling ride it was when it started, but I'm still onboard with its exploration of the concepts inherent to the mix of AI and time travel. I'm also glad that the writers and producers know how to wrap up a plotline that I, honestly, felt was going nowhere fast. I'm not too sure the two episodes redeemed some of the clunkiness of the season, but its nice to see they had a gameplan for the characters.

I'm also still enjoying the B or C-plot of former FBI Agent Ellison and John Henry, the rapidly learning AI.

Sure, its still a program that if ou start to pick at it (oh... that would NEVER happen with a cyborg! and that wouldn't happen with time travel!), then, wow... way to go genius. You've somehow found the flaw in the show with the Very Attractive Robot. based on an Arnie movie. But if you accept the internal logic, its got its good points.

Work + Birthdays and Stuff + Comics - Time - Sleep = end of line

Its been very busy round here the last few weeks. I also got up at 5:20 AM today for my drive to Waco. I haven't had a chance to read many of my comics the past few weeks. I'm going to grab some and then I'm going to crawl into bed.

Buenos Noches.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Hey. Happy New Year.

So what does the future hold?
Lots of angry, angry robots.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

DITMTLOD Special: Robot Ladies of Interest Part 2

So... looks like we got derailed with the whole Matrix discussion last week. That's all right. It's probably an important movie in a lot of ways, and the discussion it engenders is probably a sign of the movie being better than I give it credit for.

But we're not here to talk about the Matrix today. We're here to puzzle over that oddest of topics: The Robot Ladies of Interest

Alice Krig as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact

I'm sort of on the fence with this one. ST; First Contact isn't one of my favorite movies, and I think Krig's character was more interesting as a special effect than as an actual character. But if you were a fan of the Trek series, her character added a new dimension to both The Borg and Data.

Technically, Borg aren't really robots. They're organic beings being piloted by robotic intelligence in a hive mind. I figure there's enough intersection on the mental Venn-Diagram that it's okay to cover our friends, The Borg.

But, really, if we want to talk Borg, we want to talk Seven of Nine.

Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine on Star Trek, Voyager

ST: Voyager was struggling in the ratings on the fledgling UPN network (now defunct). The show was a bit dull, from some perspectives (mine), as its primary conceit was leaving behind the very rich environment of the Star Trek corner of the galaxy. This was problematic. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the best rated syndicated show in history, and UPN executives had expected their new show to carry their network until other shows caught on.

Producers seemed to have decided that the primary reason the show wasn't doing well was that the show was missing a certain element.

Three guesses what they thought the show was missing prior to Ryan's arrival.

I can't talk too much about Voyager, Ryan, Seven of Nine, etc... I didn't watch the show and saw the move to drop in a character in a shiny, skin tight suit as suspect at best (no, seriously). But Ryan's arrival on the show did, in fact, boost ratings. So say what you want about Sci-Fi audiences, I guess. They're an easy enough read.

Battlestar Galactica Reboot

In college I became nostalgic for a show I remember watching as a very young kid, Battlestar Galactica. For its time, and certainly for 1970's TV, it was a pretty awesome show. However, by 1997, when I watched it again... not so much.

After decades of attempted reboots, about five years ago someone finally re-did BSG and added what the original had been sorely lacking: really attractive Cylons.

Enter: Tricia Helfer as "Six". A robot seductress who tricks a top earth scientist into helping the Cylons wipe out the outerspace colonies.

an understandable error

Well, apparently that wasn't enough.

The show went on to introduce several models of humanoid Cylons, including Grace Park as Sharon, and Lucy Lawless as D'Anna.

If this is the doom that awaits me by steely, robot hearts... I am okay with that.

BSG is a surprisingly smart show, and unlike your average syndicated sci-fi program, there's a point to the Cylons' human appearance. I came in to the show too late to keep up, but what I have seen, I've really liked.

Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell

Yes, she's animated, but Motoko Kusanagi is a terrific character in a phenomenal movie. Just don't ask me what the hell's up with the ending.

It's a dark future in Japan (is there any other kind?) and the Japanese military/ police force has created a cyborg unit to keep up with the level of crime their having to deal with.

I saw this one on my own in the theater one night in college at The Dobie. It's a hell of a movie, visually, if the story is a bit muddy. I guess they've turned it into a whole franchise, but I haven't kept up.

The manga and anime of Ghost in the Shell would go on to be highly influential to the genre. It's tough to point to specific examples in American film where they've managed to evoke the same design, exploration of AI, etc... If anything, I'd say Blade Runner had a huge impact on the look, tone and issues of this movie.

Here's some music video that used Ghost in the Shell animation. Beware, non-sexual nudity is included.

Terminator 3 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I'm, like, legally obligated to mention Terminator 3, because it did star a woman as the base form for one of the shape-shifting sort of Terminators you saw in T2. But I really didn't like T3, so I don't want to talk about it (can you tell I was a little disappointed?).

I don't care

The lady Terminator was played by... you know what? It doesn't matter. She's gone on to be in a bunch of really goofy and forgettable stuff I hope you haven't seen. The producers felt T3 was so irrelevant that they used a neat narrative trick in the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to render T3 completely irrelevant.

Speaking of T:tSCC, remember 90's band Garbage? No? Well, you guys missed out. They had some good tunes. Anyway, their singer, Shirley Manson, has hung up her mic and moved on to play Catherine Weaver, a cyborg who has taken the place of a millionaire industrialist in order to further the evil, robot agenda.

Only happy when it rains...

The Sarah Connor Chronicles demonstrates the richness of the Terminator franchise once its been divorced from the star wattage of Governor Arnie. Look, I love Arnie as much as the next child of the 80's, but if he was attached to the franchise, the promise of time travel + robots just wasn't going to be fully achieved.

And now, we have Shirley Manson creeping me out.

PLUS, we have Summer Glau as Cameron Phillips/ Baum, a Terminator unit reprogrammed by future John Connor to go back in time and protect modern-day John Connor. Glau might be recognized from her work in Whedon's Firefly series where she played "River Tam". She was also in a spectacularly bad Sci-Fi original movie "Mammoth".

Wouldn't be Terminator without a steely stare and a messed up face

The show is using the long format of a weekly series to look into the actual character of a Terminator as it continues to learn as it lives among humans. The cast is very good, even the younger players.

Plus, the show features lots of robot fights. Nigh weekly. And, also, Glau is foxy.

That's it for this post.

If you guys have any robots I might have missed, pipe up. We'll do a Leaguer special!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

We'll get back to that Robot Thing On Monday

I noticed that Carla and Simon both hit my post from Pre-Turkey Day about Robots and Robot Toys. Carla pointed out that Fisher-Price, maker of beloved children's toys, has introduced "Spike" into the mix of robotic toys. Apparently a large robotic dinosaur with some sort of remote control. What struck me as really odd about Spike wasn't just his size for kids, but that he's part of the Imaginext playline of toys. Each of those toys is about 2 - 3 inches high. Which makes me wonder if Spike is supposed to be in scale with those, in which case, I have a whole new respect for Spike at 10x the height of helpless and delicious characters of the Imaginext line. All I'm saying is that Spike + Imaginext toys = awesome dino-laden destruction.

Simon, on the other hand, accused me (in good fun) of cribbing from The Matrix.

Others often find this surprising, but I'm not a fan of the Matrix movies. I saw the first one and didn't like it, so I didn't bother seeing parts 2 and 3. Even on cable, all I've seen is a car chase from one of them that seemed to go on a really long time and which reminded me that I felt the Wachowski's might be all flash and no substance.

What's amazing to me is how many people who hear I didn't like part 1, so I didn't go see part 2 or 3 address the issue this way (a) well, you should really see them, (b) no, they're not as good as the first one, and (c) they get kind of dopey.

It's never been a strong sales pitch.

I've also never seen most movies people think I should see, but most people won't watch "This Gun For Hire" or "The Killing" with me, so they can stick it in their ear.

I'm going to go read my new "Superman vs. Brainiac" collection. You're on your own.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A DITMTLOD Special: Robot Ladies of Interest (Part 1)

I'm going to go ahead and put a disclaimer on this one:

1. I find this whole enterprise kind of embarrassing for reasons I cannot begin to articulate.

2. Ladies, if you value your own sanity, it might be best if you sat this one out. You're not going to like this post one bit. Any reading you do below, you do at your own risk.

3. This whole thing is pretty spoiler-laden. I wind up accidentally giving away a lot of plot on all movies/ characters discussed.

On to the pain.

Historically, the first robot lady of interest that we can probably trace back to in Western Culture is probably Galatea, the woman brought to life by Pygmalion from a statue. There are all sorts of contexts in which the story is reviewed, some more flattering than others, and most certainly influenced by both the intention of the teller of the tale's vision (romantic tale, tale of hubris, etc...), and certainly the popular view of gender relations in which a tale is told. In today's society, it may seem difficult for readers to get past the easy reads of Pygmalion's misogyny that the story hinges on.

But more to our point: Sexy Lady Robots.

The first of which I can probably think of in film would be Fake-Robot-Maria from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".

Basically, it's the future and all the rich folks live in palaces miles above the Earth, while everybody else toils below. Maria is a community organizer of sorts who is giving the worker bees hope (and a rich dude falls for her). An evil scientist guy has built a robot to take the place of his lost love, but disguises the robot as Maria, who he's kidnapped.

Anyway, instead of whining about the poor, Robot Maria ruins Human Maria's credibility as she ascends to the towers of the rich and parties it up. Actress Brigette Helm plays both roles (evil and good Maria) exceedingly well, and sets up Evil Robot Maria as a Robot Lady of Interest (RLI) as early as 1927.

I don't know how hard you have to party before you wind up in this situation, but that robot is programmed to get her crunk on.

Keep in mind, the term "robot" came into the parlance as late as 1921 thanks to Czeck playwright Karel Capek's play "Rossum's Universal Robots". It's generally thought to be the first appearance of the word "Robot", although "automaton" had appeared previously.

Depending on your definition, one could also include Elsa Lanchester as "The Bride" in 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein". I'm mostly including her because, due to the hair-don't the Bride sports, Lanchester is often overlooked.

Made for each other?

I'm not as familiar with pulp science-fiction as I should be, so I'm going to leave a big old gap here that could certainly be filled with all kinds of paperbacks and magazine stories about robot love.

1973's "Westworld" featured life-like robots which would join in all sorts of adult shenanigans with the tourists. Yeah, I found that a little yicky, even as a kid when I first saw the movie. But if you make it through that portion, the movie gets really awesome really fast.

The 1975 film "The Stepford Wives" is a bit of weirdness we can all enjoy (I've not seen the remake). A movie that's a refelction of its time, the Stepford Wives big reveal is that the reason the wives seem so perfect in the Stepford enclave? When the wives become problematic, the husbands replace them with robots.

So, basically, yeah, it was a horror movie for NOW-era feminists, with a less abstract threat to represent the specter of the lives many felt would be foisted upon them if the push for women's lib wasn't successful. Just, you know, in a cheesy way, with robots. But there's a reason the term "Stepford Wives" is ingrained in our vocabulary. Worth checking out.

The 1980 film Galaxina seems to include a robot who is intended to be eye-candy in what seems to be a comedy. The titular character was played by the lovely, but doomed actress/ model Dorothy Stratten. I've never seen the film, so I don't have much to say about it.

I haven't seen the movie, but here's a pretty strong pitch for checking it out.

We've already covered Sean Young as Rachael in Blade Runner.

As I write this, I realize Blade Runner should really get it's own post, but what are you going to do?

Blade Runner features several androids, including Rachael, Pris and Zhora. If you don't know the plot, (a) I pity you. Get a DVD player. (b) It's about a detective who must track down several renegade "replicants", basically flesh and blood robots with pre-programmed minds and a four-year lifespan. One of my favorites of all time.

Pris was played by Darryl Hannah, who... well, who did all kinds of crazy film work in the 1980's, but whose profile dropped a bit in the 1990's. I'm not sure why she isn't used more. She's lovely enough without a mermaid tail, and I always liked her. But what do I know? (answer: nuthin')

We don't know why it works. It just does.

Joanna Cassidy played Zhora, some sort of former soldier-droid, I believe.

Your mileage on naked robots covered in glitter and draped with snakes may vary

Zhora doesn't get much screen time, and viewers may note that she looks particularly weird during her death scene. Well, that's some stunt-person in a fright wig and plainly not Joanna Cassidy. According to sources I've read, documentaries, etc... nobody was happy with how that turned out. But when you're watching the scene, she looks so weird during her death, its kind of disquieting.

Before that sequence when she's talking to Deckard... maybe less disquieting.

Kelly LeBrock as Lisa in "Weird Science".

I'm not sure if she's a robot, but she is some sort of computerized artificial construct, right? Anyway, kudos to John Hughes for one of the weirdest and oddly non-skeeviest teen comedies (that, from its premise, should have been in there with "Hamburger: The Motion Picture").

"Lisa" (probably named for Apple's early-era personal computer) was the result of two nerds' hacking back in the 1980's when computers were about as accessible as atom smashers. Thank God for icon-based interfaces, says I. Back then, it seemed entirely reasonable that two motivated teenagers might accidentally create Kelly LeBrock on their computer while their parents were out of town.

What couldn't you do with a 2400 baud modem?

If you've never seen "Weird Science", it's a teen-classic. We'll revisit this movie some other time, because, darn it, I love "Weird Science". And Kelly LeBrock. Who unfortunately was married to Steven Seagal for a while. What must that household have been like?

Nevermind. I don't want to know.

That's it for this installment. More later this week. We'll get to BSG, Terminator and more.

But from the 1980's and earlier, what did I miss? Help a brother out...

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

For Randy

If this will please anyone, it will please Randy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Austin Books, Terminator, Job, Werewolves, Superman and Batman

Special Thanks to Brad @ Austin Books

Service, Leaguers.

It's not something you expect in this day and age of dead-end call centers and box-store "it's against our policy" wage-slave assistant managers (screw you, Target).

Anyway, a while back I mentioned to Brad at Austin Books that I'd like a copy of the Middleman collection, as Jamie and I were both fans of the TV show. Brad knew it was sold out in the store, and double-checked to find that it was also out at the distributor. Alas. What's a comic geek to do?

I should mention, I looked elsewhere online afterward, and it was sold out. Everywhere.

Today I got an e-mail from Brad. I don't know how he did it, but he landed a copy for me and Jamie.

Once again, the hat is off to Austin Books.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I'm still watching the Terminator TV show. It's still one of the better things on TV.

As per other shows like "Battlestar Galactica", mixing the episodic with the serial and an adult's perspective has led to a far more engaging, character driven show than, say, the original Knight Rider.

Shirley Manson (the singer from Garbage) is now on the show as a Terminator, and she's increasingly creepy. For someone without an extensive acting resume, she's impressing me.

In general, the whole show feels very well thought out. They haven't perfected the issues with time travel (which would drive JimD mad), and its occasionally a somewhat hopeless experience as, unlike T2, they're not trying to stop the future from happening, they've sort of accepted its an inevitability, so its much more about just surviving until they pass some certain point in the timeline when the Terminators won't be coming for John Connor.

The Job

A few people have asked what I'm doing for a living. I'm working for these guys as a program coordinator. It's not exactly too technical to explain, but I won't bore you with details.

It's a pretty cool project, and I feel lucky to have found something like this. Still getting my head around all the moving parts, and I have a LOT of people to meet and get to know across the great state of Texas, so the ramp-up is going to be interesting.

The Howling

Jason already mentioned we watched this movie over at his blog, but I also dug it. Sure, the FX are about what you'd expect for a 70's horror flick, but the story was surprisingly engaging and the movie well directed (story by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante, so go figure).

It's always interesting to see a movie that you can point to as a start of a trend in genre, no matter how niche that genre might be, and even if modern creators aren't aware that's where the trend began. But... anyway...

Some Superman and Batman Stuff

Batsignal humor

A nice cartoon about why Superman is a bad fit for a Batman movie

Thanks to Randy for both.

With the Morrison/ Quitely All Star Superman wrapped, Grant Morrison does a multipart interview with Newsarama.

Here's part 1

I'm going to quote liberally here, so go to Newsarama and click on a bunch of ads so they don't sue me.

But, anyway, I see a lot of why my vision of Superman jives so well with Morrison's (and keep in mind, we both love Batman, too). There's also a bit of a spoiler, but... oh, well...

I immersed myself in Superman and I tried to find in all of these very diverse approaches the essential “Superman–ness” that powered the engine. I then extracted, purified and refined that essence and drained it into All Star’s tank, recreating characters as my own dream versions, without the baggage of strict continuity.

In the end, I saw Superman not as a superhero or even a science fiction character, but as a story of Everyman. We’re all Superman in our own adventures. We have our own Fortresses of Solitude we retreat to, with our own special collections of valued stuff, our own super–pets, our own “Bottle Cities” that we feel guilty for neglecting. We have our own peers and rivals and bizarre emotional or moral tangles to deal with.

I felt I’d really grasped the concept when I saw him as Everyman, or rather as the dreamself of Everyman. That “S” is the radiant emblem of divinity we reveal when we rip off our stuffy shirts, our social masks, our neuroses, our constructed selves, and become who we truly are.

Batman is obviously much cooler, but that’s because he’s a very energetic and adolescent fantasy character: a handsome billionaire playboy in black leather with a butler at this beck and call, better cars and gadgetry than James Bond, a horde of fetish femme fatales baying around his heels and no boss. That guy’s Superman day and night.

Superman grew up baling hay on a farm. He goes to work, for a boss, in an office. He pines after a hard–working gal. Only when he tears off his shirt does that heroic, ideal inner self come to life. That’s actually a much more adult fantasy than the one Batman’s peddling but it also makes Superman a little harder to sell. He’s much more of a working class superhero, which is why we ended the whole book with the image of a laboring Superman.

He’s Everyman operating on a sci–fi Paul Bunyan scale. His worries and emotional problems are the same as ours... except that when he falls out with his girlfriend, the world trembles.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still has been re-made

So a while back I heard a rumor that they'd cast Keanu Reeves as Klaatu in "The Day the Earth Stood Still", a remake of the 1951 classic of the same name.

It's the sort of casting rumors you hear, like "Mariah Carey wants to play Wonder Woman!" that really make you shudder. Michael Rennie's portrayal of Klaatu is memorable partly for its matter-of-factness about the whole business. I don't know if Reeves is the right man for the job. In fact, I'm positive he isn't, if "Constantine" is any indication.

From the trailer, I'm guessing they've changed a lot, including the landing spot of Klaatu's ship, sort of defanging what it means to land a spaceship in the middle of the seat of power for the free world.

And, no doubt, the message of the movie will be muddled with somewhat as today's reading of the 1951 movie would be met with cries of "Why do you hate freedom?" and "Why do you want to appease the terrorists?" We're still living in a world where we're constantly on the brink of nuclear armageddon, but we're not... at least nobody has really brought that up in a while. (Curious what things we just sort of forget about.) But that was certainly the world in which the original appeared.

I dunno... the hard truth is that I will probably see this. But I would be far more excited about this movie if they'd cast someone with a bit more... gravitas... in the role.

The remake

The original:

Keep in mind, the original was made by director Robert Wise. The new one is being made by... some guy.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The League supports Wall-E

Mangum must be getting soft in his old age. Ten years ago the mention of going to see a cartoon would have been met with snide derision, even if it featured a robot and dystopian visions of the future.

But... in the intervening years, Mangum has become a shell of his former punk-rock self. He has begun to fill his home with photos of kittens and lots of little statues of clowns holding balloons, and is always looking for new recipes for quiche and cupcakes.

Never give up smoking, kids.

Anyway, he pitched to me a screening of Wall-E, the latest Pixar venture. So, Sunday night we met he and Nicole at the Alamo South, and we were also met by Heather Wagner. And while we were all convinced that should Nicole and Wagner ever meet, time would stop and the universe might split in two, all I noticed was a small popping sound, like bubble wrap.

Nicole also got a new haircut. She looks sharp, but for some reason she felt self-conscious about it. And I should probably apologize to her about my attempt at complimenting said 'do.


I'm always far more excited to see a Pixar movie than any other cartoon. Its not just that Pixar is consistently 3-5 years ahead of everyone else as far as technology goes, but because Pixar's ability to tell a story is so very, very, very much better than what you see in 99& of the rest of family entertainment.

I'm on record with my lack of enthusiasm for the current post-Robin-Williams-in-Aladdin, post-Shrek belief that pop-culture references make a movie, or that having known comedians constantly riffing is character. I think kids and parents deserve better. I think if they want my dollar, I deserve better.

I haven't always loved every Pixar film equally. I think "Finding Nemo" is a little blah. There are parts I like about "Monsters, Inc.", but it felt like it was drifting into "celebrity-voice-theater" as its focus. That said, I'm a big fan of both "Toy Story" movies, so go figure. And I've never seen "Cars". Because, really? Owen Wilson as a NASCAR car?

My feeling is that the Pixar creators took a look at how well their short films work, and how audiences seem entirely pleased with those shorts, and took a gamble to apply that same craft to a feature length film.

Wall-E is a movie about a lonely little robot, left behind on Earth as mankind abandoned a trash-strewn, presumably polluted Earth for the stars and greener pastures. Wall-E spends his days packing, crushing and stacking the garbage strewn about the planet. Mankind hasn't returned, and in the ensuing years, of all the many, many droids just like him, only Wall-E remains, carrying about his tasks, with only a cockroach to keep him company.

How anyone managed to make a roach sympathetic while refusing to de-buggify the thing is a testament to the craft going into the film.

Wall-E has built a small home for himself, full of items he's begun to collect. And he's a fan of the movie and music of "Hello, Dolly!" which he likes to watch on a top-loading VHS player (oh, yes. Its the small things in the movie). While the movie brings him joy, it also reflects upon his desire for companionship, which is met one day with the curious arrival of a space probe robot seemingly designed by the engineers at Apple.

I don't really want to tell much more. The pacing of the story is fantastic. And though there were actually few children in our theater, the fact that the movie is incredibly light on dialog and doesn't rely on borscht-belt humor, nor fart gags for laughs, the audience stayed with the movie every step of the way.

Like much classic sci-fi, Wall-E is really a cautionary tale. Like "Idiocracy", the movie is really about mankind's consumerist, wasteful culture... but to tell more is to both give too much away, and to suggest some sort of political agenda to a movie that doesn't have one. It is a movie for our precarious place in time and for each of us as a steward of the future of the planet, and ourselves.

The visuals on Wall-E have passed from the flat, cartoon world of Toy Story to a world in which these two eyes (as bad as they are) often couldn't tell if some items/ shots/ etc... were CGI or photo compositing. And its something Pixar absolutely makes work.

Add in terrific management of a multitude of characters who, essentially, don't speak, terrifically directed scenes, and humor based on characters, motivations, etc... that actually works, and I think you've got the best Pixar movie since "The Incredibles" (which is, by far, my favorite).

Kids or no kids, The League thinks Wall-E needs to be on your summer movie viewing list. And, for the love of mike, see it on the big screen, where it belongs.

And now I kinda want to rent "Hello, Dolly", which I haven't seen since 1994.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Monkey/Robot Masters...?

I suppose at some point I was going to pass some line on a curve and become the Jack Van Impe of predicting doom by robots and/ or monkeys.

But what if the monkeys and robots joined forces...? I know you haven't thought too much about this. Fortunately for you, I have.

So, yes, I volunteer the pages of LoM for alerting people to the impending robot/ monkey apocalypse.

Erstwhile Leaguers Randy and JAL sent along this story, knowing that I would be rightfully concerned, and I would, in turn raise this concern with YOU, my Loyal Leaguers, who also see the spectre of the robot/ monkey menace for what it is...

Please click here for the first signs of the endtimes.

And, of course, here.

Just remember, it always starts small. The Romans thought the Barbarians were adorable little tykes at one point, too.

We may have literally dozens of chances to prevent this unlawful marriage of cybernetics and simian before its too late, but what will YOU do to speak out against them before they're forcing you into a banana labor farm or keeping you around to polish their shiny feet and posteriors?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

NASA assists in development of SkyNet

Why not just paint a big, red target on humanity and put a countdown clock on every desktop?


Of course, as I often say, I welcome our coming robot masters.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Terminator on TV

So Friday night I watched the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (Beware any college-kids reading this.... eventually you, too, will not feel like going out on a cold and rainy Friday, staying in for a meal of tuna melts and apples).

Folks who've known The League for a while will know The League is a big, big fan of the first two Terminator movies (but not so much the third in the series). It falls squarely in with the high-budget sci-fi action flicks that were a huge part of The League's youth.

And, honestly, I kinda liked Terminator 2 more than Terminator. Tracking further back, when I was in middle school and high school I was a pretty-darn big fan of anything Arnie put out. There was a time when the only Arnie movie I hadn't seen was "Kindergarten Cop" (I'd watched a good chunk of "Hercules in New York" on basic cable). T2 had a bigger budget, more explosions, and the kick-ass performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Add in what were, at the time, unbelievable new CGI effects.

I was deeply skeptical of anyone taking the place of Linda Hamilton. In Terminator, Cameron had given us the glimpses of the female action hero that was not part of the usual American film scene. We'd get an occasional Princess Leia, but by and large, it was still up to the male lead to save the day. In T1, Hamilton still played the damsel in distress to Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese. In "Aliens", Cameron gave us Sigourney Weaver as the full-blown action heroine who might get some side-kicky type help from Michael Biehn, but who is fine on her own. This all paved the way for T2, in which we got a shotgun-toting, face-punching Linda Hamilton who only grudgingly accepts the help of the new Connor-friendly Terminator. This was all awesome, and I have graphs and charts to prove it.

Less awesome was T3, despite the inclusion of Claire Danes. The only thing to like in T3, really, was the obvious conclusion that SkyNet was not a single system, but a software system which had gone all self-aware and virus-y haywire.

The TV show's pilot (I've not yet watched the second episode) seemed to pick up after T2, rather than acknowledging T3 in any way. And that's okay. SPOILER ALET: Sarah Connor was supposed to be dead of leukemia before the start of T3. Something I never bought, although it provided a reasonable explanation of why they wouldn't bring Hamilton back while propelling John Connor forward as the protagonist in the franchise.

But,as the producers are aware, it's not John Connor who is the star of the Terminator franchise, its Sarah Connor. Terminator is not about the war of the future, its about trying to stop the war from ever happening.

Lena Headey takes the role of Sarah Connor, and, judging from the pilot, she will be able to fill the boots Linda cobbled herself back when I was in high school. Headey's toughness in teh role may not come as a surprise to those wh saw her in 300 as Queen Gorgo, but her role here is a bit more direct.

ChronSnob calls into question the age of Headey, but the show does state, flat out, that Connor is 33, the same age as Headey. However, with a 15 year-old son, I'm not sure how that manages the continuity of the first two movies. Certainly Hamilton was never supposed to be a teenager in T1?

Thomas Dekker's young John Connor never feels like the mouthy, semi-precocious brat that Edward Furlong seemed to portray in T2. Nor does he come off with the Andy Rooney-with-an-edge that Nick Stahl brought to T3. He seems like an overwhlemed kid, understanding of his situation but still trying to avoid his destiny.

The buzz will probably be around Summer Glau, who sci-fi dorks will remember as Rain from Firely and Serenity. Poised as a Lady Robot of Interest for both the fanbase and John Connor, Glau plays Cameron (yeah, they went there), a Terminator sent from the future with a bit more of a plan than "Save John Connor".

Pity Glau, for she is about to become the subject of many-a-nerds' rich make-believe love life.

What will surely drive sci-fi fans and lovers of logic insane is that the show seems precepted on the idea that the future is fluid. I am sure the time travel elements of the show will be handled with varying degress of logic and competence. But its hard to see how the future timeline of a war with robots can be erased unless someone with knowledge of that war is sent back to stop it. Which, of course, means that the eprson from the future would have no knowledge of the war and would have no need to travel back in time.

So you see where I'm going with this.

The actual feel of the pilot was very, very close to the first two movies (I actually kind of thought the third movie felt a bit like a made-for-TV movie), right down to the vividness of Sarah Connor's dream echoing portions of T2. The soundtrack uses elements of the T2 music to good effect, and that certainly helps to draw you back into the Terminator universe as well as a through-line regarding reconnecting with Dyson's family in what appeared to be the same house from T2.

Jamie's concern, and one I share, is that few series are able to come off of a good pilot and sustain the quality. A quick glance at IMDB, as well as some of Glau's dialog suggests that this will not be the Connor's + robot moving from town to town to solve crimes, a la The A-Team, but rather them digging in their heels for a fight. Which seems kind of... like not a good idea when an endless line of killer robots diguised as people is coming for you.

Only future episodes and time will tell.

I am a bit down knowing that Arnie will, most likely, never appear on the show. One would assume he's a bit busy, what with being Governor of California and all. But I think the Sarah Connor character is strong enough to hold her own, especially if given a decent supporting cast. But, still... that's 100% less Arnie than I usually like.

Check out both Jason's review and ChronSnob's mention of Jason's review.

Monday, January 07, 2008

How Much is that Robosaurus in the Window?


Robosaurus is on the auction block.

For the first time, I know exactly what I want to do with my life.

Read here.

Thanks to Randy for sending the link.

The object of my affection...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hey, Leaguers. Sorry about the sad lack of posting. I've just had some busy days, and then, when I wasn't busy last night, I chose to roll over and go to sleep. I suggest you all write my bosses and tell them I'm entirely too busy and its preventing me from blogging, thus, denying the entire world a vital resource.

Minnesota Bridge Collapse

I keep turning the Minnesota bridge collapse over in my head. Of course thoughts and sympathy go out to those folks.

Part of what I find so depressing is that we know these things can happen and we still turn a blind eye. You hope as a kid that adults will make the right, obvious decisions, but...

If its not in the budget to fix the bridge, then we can't fix the bridge. Anyone who reads the paper might know that a vast number of bridges in our country are not considered safe, but there's an economic incentive not to touch the bridges as it would stop the daily commutes of millions of Americans if we were to actually bring those bridges up to code. That, and raising taxes to actually fix the bridges...

I cross an unknown number of bridges into work. I take at least one bridge over train tracks on William Cannon and, of course, I cross the South 1st bridge when I head over Town Lake on my way in to town each morning. For various reasons I took the Congress Avenue bridge leaving town this evening, but generally, it's the expansive S. 1st/ Lavaca bridge two times a day.

I may also pass over smaller bridges as I cross gullies and creeks on S. First, headed toward town. Certainly there's a dip that, when I think about it, certainly isn't flat with the ground, so that's most likely a small bridge.

Jason crosses the Lamar Street bridge twice a day or more.

I do not think about the possibility of the bridges collapsing. Never. Until
today, when suddenly you realize all those "1/3rd of bridges are considered unsafe" statistics apply to you. I am deeply saddened that the bridge collapse occurred. I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in the position of the commuters.

I wish the victims and families of the victims of the bridge collapse my best.


Hey, it's not just time for a new season of "Who Wants to be a Superhero?", there's a new show on PBS. So, may The League recommend...

Nova ScienceNow

I know, Nova is a show for geeks. BUT... it is informative and very well produced. This new version is hosted by the astrophysicist guy who makes routine appearances on The Daily Show, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Nova ScienceNow is broken up into shorter, roughly 20 minute segments, far briefer than the usual hour-long Nova shows. Each segment focues on a wildly different topic, with Dr. Tyson popping up between segments and then give you "the cosmic view" at the end. Sort of like "Springer's Final Thought", only... not a rambling bit of incoherence.

One of my life's great regrets was that because I struggled with math in grade school and middle school, I sort of gave up on math and the possibilities for a career in anything which required a strong math or science background. Other topics came more easily, or I could skate by. So, before I ever really understood anything about math or science I was vainly deciding that I'd prusue something a bit more abstract or artistic or something. I had good teachers, I think. I loved Physics and Biology in high school, and I took a boatload of Geology in college, as well as biology, anthropology and other stuff (knowing full well I'd be doomed in physics.) I sort of thought of science, at the time, as something completely out of my grasp. Which was kind of sad and dumb of me. But if it came down to getting low marks in a class or getting the easy A in theater arts, I was going for the easy A.

Nova ScienceNow manages to simplify things so that a brain as ill-functioning as my own can understand the concepts. They're going for the coolness factor and skimming over some of how stuff actually works, certainly, but... Hell, you get to see some really neat stuff and understand how science can make a better world. Plus, you know, robots and dinosaurs.

I was particularly interested in a story on the work of Cynthia Brazeal at the MIT AI labs. She's making social robots that are learning to react to human emotions at a certain level. It was one of those moments when you see a small part of the future, and all those Asimov stories don't seem so crazy. And, for some reason, when they showed the POV of the robot, I was profoundly sad. I don't know why. I guess the idea of the little robot's brain being brought into the world and trying to see and understand the world is that first step beyond being merely a machine. It's sort of a beautiful thing, seeing those silicon neural synapses firing, and wish fulfillment of generations of kids. But you can also almost see the thing struggling.

Sure, in fifty years when the robots have driven us all onto the coasts and we've got our backs to the water while the AI gunships are hunting us down, its not going to be pathetic and heartbreaking... But now... Well, let us hope we are kind to the things we bring into this world.

Anyhow, check out Nova ScienceNow. For us armchair science enthusiasts who are still bstunned by shiny objects and promises of a future full of flying cars and cloned dinosaurs, its a great show.

Christmas is coming...

I'm just saying...

Also just saying...

More Prison dancing action!
From Randy. And this time... QUEEN!!!

Astros Win in the 14th!
Of course I wandred off in the 11th thinking they'd lose...

I Am Popeye

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Heart Robocop

I do.

I saw Robocop for the first time during one of our annual family vacation trips to Upper Michigan. Mom was cool enough to take us to the theater (1 screen, of course) in Ispheming, Michigan. To this day I recall that one of the trailers they showed prior to the movie was for a re-release of Disney's "Snow White". And then they showed one of the most intensely violent movies I had seen in my young life.

The movie has aged a little oddly. Some of the fashions thought no further than 1988. A good chunk of the technology barely surpasses 1990. But the movie's wink-and-a-nod look at corporate control of public trusts and the interstitial TV bits feel a little bit on the nose... Especially the Yamaha artificial heart commercial which seemed absurd in 1987, but now...

I also dig the story about Murphy recovering himself despite what's been done to him by crooks, OCP R&D, and what befalls him when he tries to move beyond his programming.

Robocop shoots a ton of people in this movie

The action sequences were cool if not a bit pre-dated by Terminator's equally nuts robot stop-motion and crazy gunplay sequences. The villains were some seriously evil, evil dudes, played by guys who would go on to star as Eric's dad on "That 70's Show" and another guy who wound up as a doctor on ER for a while (Jamie informs me his character lost an arm to a helicopter. I'm not clear on the specifics.) Plus, a young Miguel Ferrer, one of my favorite guys in any TV show or movie.

Dead or alive, you're going with Robocop

Peter Weller rocks as Robocop/ Murphy, and manages to make the transition from man to machine and back again in a way a lesser actor might have stumbled. And, darn it, why doesn't Nancy (Officer Anne Lewis) Allen get more parts? The last time I saw her was in "Out of Sight", I think, playing a supporting part. (And speaking of Allen's... why don't we see more Karen Allen? I know she isn't in Robocop, but I like Karen Allen, too).

Plus, you know, ED-209. Oh yes, ED-209.

You have 20 seconds to agree that ED-209 is totally awesome

Like many Verhoeven movies, Robocop is exceedingly violent. Not Wild Bunch violent, but its got its moments. So if you've just seen the movie once, and all you remember is a lot of squibs bursting open... I suggest you check the movie out again and note that there's a very sci-fi but kind of sad story about a dead cop, corporate corruption and a world slowly going nuts beneath the heaped upon layers of smoke and bullets.

Verhoeven also directed Total Recall, another sci-fi action flick/ satire that ALSO becomes more enjoyable on multiple viewings (and, to a lesser extent, Starship Troopers. A movie which always makes me cackle.). Total Recall also throws in a heaping dose of Arnie, so it's just a big stew of the stuff I loved in the late 80's.

Anyhow, I salute you, Robocop! Your sequels and TV shows got steadily goofier, but the first movie is still a good movie to stumble upon on a Friday night.

I dunno. I just really like Robocop. I thought I'd share.

Still, it is no R.O.T.O.R.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Transformers Plus Robosaurus = Awesome x 1 Zillion

Tonight was Transformers + Robosaurus = Awesome. Peabo, if you heard lots of roaring of both crowd and robotic dinosaur from your home, you were right to tremble with fear and awe.

We were joined by JackBart and his fried, Tara. We also caught up with Denby (and hubby Mike) as well as Amy C. Steanso, of course, was in attendance.

The Alamo South promised a transformative experience

I am afraid I am at a bit of a loss for how to describe "Transformers". Some parts seemed set for an adult crowd, and then, literally the next moment, you would be reminded "ah... this is for kids".

Little boys will love this movie. And big boys, like myself, will be severely disappointed one moment and then rapt in amazement at the craziness I am seeing on screen. If nothing else, Transformers delivers a superhero picture on a scale worthy of the Transformers franchise. It's a bit tough to convey how amazing some of the sequences really were. It's also a bit stupefying how utterly goofy I found much of the movie.

I've decided to come down on the side of "Wow, what a crazy technical achievement". But I still think Michael Bay is one of the most questionable talents in Hollywood. As much effort as he was willing to put into the movie, it wasn't that he didn't seem to take the characters seriously, it was almost as if he was experiencing some of that embarassment that directors used to feel making big budget superhero films in the 80's and early 90's, before Spidey made it respectable.

But, as Jason said, "What did you want? A grown up movie about a line of toys for kids?" I dunno.

Pair that with some of the most incredible stuff I've seen on film in quite a while, and I have to state that it's at least worth seeing on teh big screen for the damn spectacle of it all. And... Optimus Prime.


But if you're looking for 4th of July viewing, I'd probably still recommend Ratatouille first, which is a cartoon about a rat which is probably better suited to adults who like a good glass of wine than kids looking for fart jokes.

But let's get real... we came for the movie, we stayed for the Robosaurus!

ROBOSAURUS!!! He's destroying cars for the Spirit of 1776.

Apparently folks who landed tickets for the 8:45 show got rained on and Robosaurus spit no fire. We were dry and got two shows' worth of fireballs and amazing carnage. Add in a live band, wanton destruction, the fire department (on hand in case an audience member spontaneously combusted from sheer awesome overload)and the most baffled MC to hit S. Austin in many a moon...

The poor MC was clearly used to Monster Truck shows and dirt bike rallies and seemed a bit confused by the fact that the mention we were in Texas did not elicit applause, nor when he went oddly jingoistic and declared (with no trace of irony) that Robosaurus was tearing cars apart for the 4th of July and the The Spirit of 1776.

What did get applause? Fireball.

Okay, you guys got my cameraphoen shots, and I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

The car-nage

Thursday, June 21, 2007




That's right... for one night only, ROBOSAURUS + Transformers = SO MUCH AWESOME I WILL BLEED OUT OF MY EYES

For details, look here

If all you see in the spot above is a blank spot, its because your eyes are not programmed to handle all the radness

I'm not sure I want to live in a world where I've by-passed an opportunity to see Robosaurus. Throw in a Michael Bay movie featuring OPTIMUS @#$%ing PRIME, and I think it's no exaggeration to say that this will be the best thing that could ever happen, ever. Like, ever. So...



Yeah, I've already got tickets! Do you...? Can you really afford NOT to see Robosaurus (and Transformers?)

EDITORIAL ADDENDUM: We will be attending the 7:00 show! It seems the Alamo was aware of the onslaught of folks who would want to see Robosaurus, plus Transformers. Anyhow, we're doing the 7:00 show so I can go to work the next day with as much time between me and Robosaurus as possible.

It seems a number of you are also down for the awesomeness, so I will be posting soon in regards to a potential meet-up.