About iRi
Mar 14, 2007

After a long search for what iRi is, I have finally found it, and now I'm taking the time to write it down, or at least part of it.

iRi is the leftover stuff in my life. Talking about politics, religion, ethics, science, programming, epistemology, all that jazz is important to me, but I can't talk about them in "real life" because talking about this stuff is really, really hard in the real world, due to the limits of the conversational form.

iRi is my platform for getting such things off my chest. As such, you are welcome to read it, but that is a secondary concern to me.

Read the rest...

Amazon Unbox + TiVo: Thumbs Down
Mar 12, 2007

Per the recent news about TiVo and Amazon Unbox integration, and a $15 dollar credit for trying it out before April 1 (or so), my wife and tried it.

First, at least TiVo series 2 machines don't download very quickly, a problem I've already had trouble with when trying to download things from the TiVo directly. It's not much better with Amazon Unbox; a 42-minute TV program took quite a while to download, two hours at least. (We weren't obsessively paying attention.) This is definitely a TiVo problem, though, not an Amazon problem.

The quality was good, on par with or better than Best recording (better source signal), with a smaller file size. (Offline MPEG encoding can be a lot better than on-the-fly MPEG encoding by a chip designed to be cheap, not good.) The website is slick and reasonably useful; I can believe it might work well with a large library of media files.

However, after the initial slick experience, it came apart. We ordered the second and third episodes of the television series we were testing with, and I have not been able to figure out how to receive them. I've made repeated attempts to have the program downloaded to my TiVo, and it never gets downloaded. In frustration, we downloaded the PC version of the player, but we couldn't convince that to download the video either.

The good news is that we're not showing as consuming any licenses that we shouldn't be, but that's small comfort.

Bear in mind I'm a professional computer programmer, so I'm pretty sure I've tried several things most people wouldn't have thought of. Also, other than installing Firefox on my wife's computer I haven't really done anything to it, so even the "over-customized computer" scenario shouldn't be in play.

The only difference between the first and second order is that the first order was for one program, where the second one was for two programs in the same order. But what that would have to do with anything I don't know.

All in all, totally unimpressive to us and I'm not even inclined to try to finish my $15 credit, nor am I inclined to fuss with tech support over something so small. If you've got a TiVo, you may want to give it a try; maybe it'll work better for you and if it does, it's at least $15.

However, the usual major digital-distribution complaint is in full force: I have to provide the bandwidth and storage, I don't get a box or liner notes, I don't get a factory-pressed DVD physical medium (which doubles as backup), and for some mysterious reason prices range from "as expensive as a DVD" and up. Only higher-end DVD TV collections can charge $2 an episode, and as more DVD TV collections age on the shelf, an increasing number of quality shows are available at $1 an episode or below for the DVDs.

Before we realized it wasn't working, my wife and I actually briefly did the math on cutting off our cable service and going to pay-only TV (as cable prices rise this gets increasingly attractive), but at $2 an episode of anything that's not feasible. That's not necessarily a complaint, just an observation, but a flat $2 an episode is pretty silly. Last week's Survivor is not equally valuable to a first-season Cosby show episode, or other such TV Land classic.

Mar 11, 2007

The commercial for The Last Mimzy attracted my attention, because it sounded an awful lot like the 1943 Mimsy were the Borogroves by Lewis Padgett. I'm not sure I can quite call it my favorite short story ever (there are so many other good ones), but it's in the top 5 for sure.

But I seriously doubted that, because Golden Age science fiction stories do not frequently make it to the silver screen, especially in the 21st century. And certainly not ones I like.

But it is. I'm shocked.

The movie comes out on the 23rd, apparently. There aren't many reviews out yet for obvious reasons, but the Hollywood reporter review says it is "unlikely to offend many purists in their update of the original work", so here's hoping. The original story is only 35 pages long, so some padding will be necessary to get it to the running length of 90 minutes.

I could go on about this for a long time, but I'll just confine myself to the observation that adaptations of classic science fiction really haven't fared too well at the hands of Hollywood. There's decades of good stories to be mined there, but Hollywood insists on viewing everything through the lens of Star Trek or B-movie monster stories, or through modern prejudices that have nothing to do with the work or sometimes even actively contradict the work.

Hope this does well enough that some other people start combing the voluminous back library for other good stuff. I suggest starting with Fritz Leiber, not because he's necessarily the best, but because I think his stuff would have an above-average filmability. If you're willing to skip ahead a bit, much of Niven's stuff is pretty filmable, and may also have enough Star Trek in it to satisfy Hollywood. (Try to tell the execs that it's already similar to Star Trek and doesn't need to be any more similar to Star Trek.)

(And on the off chance Larry Niven ever reads this: Dude, sorry to compare your work to Star Trek. I just mean that it's got enough superficial similarities (aliens, "rayguns" and exotic weapons, spaceships and something like "warp") to keep them happy. I wouldn't mistake Known Space for Star Dreck*, but it'd be to your advantage if Hollywood did, at least long enough to be greenlit.)

(*: How I feel like I've simply outgrown Star Trek would be another post entirely.)

Getting back to the topic at hand, I make no promises but I'll probably have a few words to say about Mimzy. (Boo to whomever turned that to a Z.) I may also discuss ways in which the movie deviates from the short story, but at the moment any such discussion would inevitably include spoilers.

Mar 08, 2007

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Outrageous Okana, it is revealed that the funniest comic in history was "'Stano Riga', a 23rd Century comic who 'specialized in jokes about quantum mathematics.'"

I've always wondered what kind of real-life situation would lead to someone being able to successfully become a comic with such niche appeal.

The answer, of course, is the Internet. In the last month I've been treated to two funny comedians that are very, very niche; one in classical and modern music, one in economics. And they are actually good, if you like the source material at all.

Suddenly, a 23rd-century comic specializing in Quantum Mechanics jokes doesn't seem so implausible. It's not that everybody suddenly loves quantum physics (which given that Star Trek humans are just the humans of today with better training and equipment, is completely implausible), it's the power of point-to-point broadcasting to effectively serve niche audiences.

Now, if only Star Trek's writers had had a clue, then perhaps we could give them some credit.

In the niche humor department, I also enjoyed the beginning of the episode summary I linked to. There are some funny and generally applicable observations in there that I might have to talk about later. I've become increasingly sensitive to the phenomenon labeled "Informed Attributes", although I haven't noticed it so much in the context of one character so much as in the context of the general message of a television show. So often, a show that I think is supposed to carry A Message actually undermines it if you actually think about what really happened and what it really means. Sometimes the authors may be trying to be subversive, but I don't think it's anywhere near all of the time that I have this problem. ST:TNG is among the worst offenders in this regard; I'd have to dig for specifics but I'll make the general observation that if the Federation is supposed to be a model human society (something at least some of the writers must have believed), then it sure has some disturbing failure states (such as the near-coup mentioned in this essay in the episode Paradise Lost).

And hey, as long as I'm here, see Wil Wheaton's reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. Wil Wheaton of course played Wesley Crusher, so his observations about that character have a unique perspective.

Blogging, the nihilist impulse
Mar 07, 2007

You'll need to read at least some of that piece to understand the ways I'm critical of it, but you don't need to read it all. Be sure to get the last paragraph (quoted in my post body).

I find myself agreeing with about a quarter of it, disagreeing with the reasons given but agreeing with the conclusions for about a third, disagreeing with the rest, and finding some of the implicit casual assumptions to come pretty close to "arrogant asshole".

All in all, a stimulating read, which is why I blog about it.

Read the rest...

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