Jul 242019
 

Rutger Hauer was a Dutch actor. He is best known perhaps for his role in the science-fiction cult classic Blade Runner, in particular for his improvised tears in rain soliloquy, spoken by the character Roy Batty just before his death:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I just learned that Hauer himself died a few days ago, after a brief illness, at age 75.

 Posted by at 6:55 pm
Jun 182019
 

So on the one hand… here I am, praising Canada for being true to its values, only to learn yesterday that Quebec’s provincial legislature approved a ban on “religious symbols”. Not once in my life did I worry when I was being served by a person wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf that nature that they might discriminate against me. Should I have been? Perhaps naively, I always felt privileged to live in a society in which persons wearing kippas, crosses, turbans or headscarves were welcome, even into positions of authority. But now I am worried that a person whose religion demands wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf will not be allowed to serve me anymore. And that’s even before I look at the more hypocritical aspects of the bill.

But then, I learn that south of the border, social justice warriors scored another “victory”: at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, they managed to get the name of silent era film star Lillian Gish stripped from the university’s Gish Film Theater because a student union protested on account of her role in the rather racist 1915 silent classic Birth of a Nation.

I fundamentally disagree with the idea of judging the past by the standards of the present. I dare hope that our societies are becoming better over time, and thus our standards are higher, but it is grossly unfair to the memory of those from generations ago when they are judged by standards that did not even exist at the time. But putting all that aside… isn’t it obvious that such acts of cultural intolerance (committed, ironically, in the name of tolerance) are just oil on the fire? That those who are behind the rise of xenophobia, nationalism, racism and intolerance will see such acts as proof that their grievances of valid, that it is truly they (and by “they”, I mean mostly middle-aged or older white men) who are being prosecuted here?

Are these truly the only choices out there? Xenophobic nationalism and Islamophobia vs. social justice militants? Where have all the sane people gone? Please come back wherever you are and help put an end to this madness.

 Posted by at 5:44 pm
May 132019
 

I have learned to love the voice of Doris Day.

Her version of No Moon At All is one of my all-time favorites.

Early this morning, I found out that she passed away. May she rest in peace.

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
May 082019
 

Today was a most unpleasant day for a whole host of reasons, so by the time I finished my dinner, I needed a distraction.

And then I recalled: Just the other day, I read that China’s most successful sci-fi blockbuster to date, The Wandering Earth, is now on Netflix.

So it was time for movie night. I watched it. And it was… fun.

It is not a flawless movie by any means. And the so-called “science” is as warped, as bogus as the science behind any Hollywood blockbuster.

But it was fast-paced, visually stunning, engaging, and occasionally even had sparks of genuine humor, just in the right quantities.

In short, it is on par with any A-rated sci-fi blockbuster from Hollywood.

One suggestion: Watch it with subtitles in the original Mandarin. This is not meant to be a criticism of the voice actors of the English-language dubbed version. It just… didn’t feel authentic. And you might miss out on subtleties, such as (ok, this is one of the less subtle subtleties, I admit) when one character: a blonde, mixed-race Chinese-Australian man from Beijing who speaks Mandarin as a native throughout the film, suddenly shouts “Fuck this shit! No fucking way!” in unaccented English when he makes an uncharacteristically self-sacrificing move, risking his own life.

 Posted by at 12:51 am
Jan 092019
 

This editorial cartoon from the New York Daily News is not new; it seems to be from 2016, drawn by Bill Bramhall. I only just saw it though, in the feed of a Facebook friend.

Yet I think it is even more appropriate today, now that we have seen two years of the Trump presidency.

It of course is a reference to one of the scariest scenes from the 1979 movie Alien. I don’t know if the caption (those words were uttered by Ash, the film’s robot antagonist who is willing to sacrifice the spacecraft’s human crew in order to return the alien to his corporate masters ) was part of the original version of the cartoon, but it is this caption that makes the cartoon especially poignant these days.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Oct 052017
 

When I first saw the movie, Never Let Me Go, a few years back, it left me breathless. I mean, it left me gaping, with my best “what the fuck was that?” expression frozen on my face. It was, to put it mildly, a shocking film.

We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.

I quickly grabbed the book and read it, too. Its impact, if possible, was even greater. An amazing “cautionary tale”, to use Larry Niven’s expression: a piece of science-fiction that holds up a mirror to let us see the darkest corners of our collective soul.

And now the author, Kazuo Ishiguro, won the Nobel prize for literature. Well deserved. Very well deserved.

 Posted by at 10:02 pm
Jan 202017
 

It is well known that the despicable Biff Tannen character from the Back to the Future movies was based on a certain real-life despicable mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump. In particular, the “rich Biff” of 1985, having established a casino and real estate empire after receiving a sports almanac from the future back in 1955, was modeled after everyone’s favorite Trump.

In light of this and today’s historic events, it is only appropriate to imagine how the real-life Biff, I mean Trump, would have fared in one of the movies’ iconic scenes:

I hate manure…

Yes, I know it is more than a little crass to share this tweet. Even so, it is far less distasteful than the many racist caricatures that followed Obama’s inauguration and frankly, it makes it a lot easier to deal with this historic day.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Dec 252016
 

Today, I was trying to explain to someone the difference between entering a Web site’s address in the address field of a Web browser, vs. entering a search term in Google. I was not very successful. In the end, it doesn’t really matter… Google happily accepts a Web site address in its search field, and all modern browsers accept search terms in the address field, passing it on to the preconfigured search provider.

But this experience reminded me of a clip from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s when Scotty and McCoy talk to a factory manager and Scotty tries to show the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum”. When McCoy suggests the use of a computer, on old Mac sitting on a desk nearby, Scotty first tries to talk to it; and when McCoy helpfully points at the mouse, Scotty picks it up as though it was a microphone tries talking into it.

What I realized is that thirty years later, we basically gave up on the idea of trying to educate users. If that computer was built today, with users like Scotty in mind, we’d just put a damn microphone into the bleeping mouse. It’s just easier that way.

 Posted by at 10:09 am
Dec 232016
 

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Oct 212015
 

Oops! The DeLorean time machine has been recalled by Transport Canada.

The recall has since been canceled though. Apparently, Doc Brown was good on his word.

Or could it be that upper management at Transport Canada (or whichever department was responsible for this recall notice) decided that a sense of humor is incompatible with the Department’s mission?

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Oct 212015
 

Today is the day when Marty McFly and the Doc find themselves in futuristic Hill Valley, trying to fix the future while accidentally messing up the past.

 

Too bad things are not quite as the film predicted. No flying cars powered by portable fusion generators running on garbage. No hoverboards either, nor free-floating holograms. No self-tying shoes, no self-adjusting, self-drying jackets either. And no weather service that can control the rain.

On the other hand… a Pepsi doesn’t cost $50. USA Today is still around and a newsstand copy costs “only” $2, not 6 dollars.

And while there is no Queen Diana, there may yet be a female President in the White House 15 months from now.

Oh, and while we don’t have a Scenery Channel on cable, we have three others in its place: a Fireplace Channel, a Sunset Channel, and an Aquarium Channel. All in glorious digital HD. Yay! Welcome to the future!

 Posted by at 5:27 pm
Mar 272015
 

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, a former employee reveals what is a de facto Orwellian Ministry of Truth operated by Putin’s regime in Russia.

In St. Petersburg’s Internet Research center, professional Internet trolls are employed who post comments on various social media sites. The operation is sophisticated: employees play different roles, creating an impression of genuine debate in which, of course, the government line always prevails. Their activities sometimes become surreal, described as a parody of Orwell’s novel. But wait a cotton-picking minute… wasn’t it Orwell’s novel that was supposed to be the parody? What a strange world we live in.

 Posted by at 10:49 am
Mar 262015
 

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 2012 film Cloud Atlas. I love this film so much, I watched it at least 5-6 times already. Indeed, I went beyond merely watching it: for the first time, I actually contributed to IMDB, by describing some obscure goofs and anachronisms that I discovered in the film by accident.

I find it especially interesting how a high-budget movie can recreate a scene from the past. The movie features a storyline that takes place in 1973 San Francisco. However, it was not filmed in San Francisco, but rather, Glasgow, Scotland. Here is one example of a scene from the film vs. the actual street as seen on Google Street View (the overlap is not exact, but close enough I think):

Some of the changes were physical decorations no doubt; other changes were likely just clever use of CGI. Either way, I am impressed. Of course I loved the old cars, too.

I was somewhat less impressed by the fact that the film’s version of Van Ness Ave was a rather narrow, one-way street. That’s not the Van Ness Ave that I know! Nonetheless, it didn’t take anything away from the film, which for now, and for the foreseeable future, remains on the top of my list. Why? To quote a character from the film, it’s about “just trying to understand why we keep making the same mistakes… over and over.”

 Posted by at 7:53 pm
Mar 252015
 

Epic tales tend to be one sided. Hobbits: good, orcs: evil. Rebel Alliance: good, Galactic Empire: evil. And so on.

Except that sometimes, we do get a glimpse of the story from the perspective of the other side.

The conversations between orcs that we witnessed in later chapters of the Lord of the Rings kind of humanized them: they were not necessarily nice guys, but they were, well, foot soldiers in an army like foot soldiers in any other army. Russian novelist Kirill Neskov must have been thinking the same thing when he wrote The Last Ringbearer, a novel in which we learn that Mordor is a peaceful country undergoing an industrial revolution, which is threatened by backward, war-mongering imperialists led by Gandalf, who is seeking “a final solution to the Mordorian problem”. Wow.

As for Star Wars, I always wondered: When the Death Star was destroyed, for instance, how many innocent people: children, civilian employees, family members, cooks, nurses, doctors, and so on, were destroyed along with the artifact? More than that, what if the canonical account is really a one-sided, distorted version of the real story, and the Rebel Alliance is just a bunch of terrorists while the Galactic Empire is really a peaceful, progressive civilization representing law and order?

Apparently, I am not the only one with these thoughts. Here is an amazing short animation of a battle between the Empire and the rebels… from the Imperial perspective:

What can I say? Let’s hope the good guys win… whoever they are.

 Posted by at 8:58 am
Mar 052015
 

I am still digesting the news, which I received while in Hungary, that Leonard Nimoy, aka. Mr. Spock, is no longer with us.

And now there is breaking news that Harrison Ford, aka. Han Solo, aka. Indiana Jones, crashed while flying solo in a vintage WW2 aircraft in California. The good news: according to the LA Fire Department, his injuries were moderate and he was alert as he was transported to hospital.

I wish him a speedy recovery.

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Dec 262014
 

So tonight, my wife and I watched the infamous movie, The Interview, for the princely sum of 7 Canadian dollars, courtesy of YouTube.

Chances are that without the SONY hack and the subsequent decision to pull the film from theaters, we would never have seen it. To be honest, it is a rather crappy movie. And I chose that word with care, as much of the so-called humor was really lower body humor. There were perhaps a few decently funny movements (though none that would make me laugh uncontrollably, not even close.)

Still, let that be a lesson to pisspot dictators: clumsy attempts to censor the West’s entertainment industry only provide invaluable free publicity. An entirely forgettable piece of Hollywood trash this way became an instant immortal icon, mentioned along with classics like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

It appears though that the film found a receptive audience in China of all places. Great! Perhaps it will give Beijing’s communist government some food for thought as they consider the consequences of their continuing support for one of the world’s most totalitarian, most abusive regimes.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm
Dec 172014
 

The news tonight is that SONY has pulled The Interview from theaters, with no plans to release the movie at this time either through theaters or digitally.

This is wrong on so many levels.

Most importantly, because that grown up crybaby, that Eric Cartman from the land of dictators, should not have his way. Simply put, Kim Jong-un is not just a murderous jackass like his pa and his grandpa, he is also a vain little bully with a bloated ego who is throwing a hissy fit because someone dared to joke at his expense.

Dear little Kim Jong-un… grow up already. Right now, even South Park’s characters seem wise and mature in comparison.

 Posted by at 8:42 pm
Aug 052014
 

In the 1980s there was a joke I heard on the streets of Budapest. It was in the form of an official-sounding announcement: “In Soviet Union is no illiteracy… on written record.”

Well, there is no racism in Hungary either. At least not on the record. Everything that happens, happens for a sound, sensible reason. When Hungary’s Minister of Human Resources announces that there was no Roma Holocaust in Hungary, as Hungarian Roma were only deported from Austrian territory, he of course speaks the gospel truth. When the third largest city in Hungary begins a systematic eviction of mainly Roma residents, it is just an eminently reasonable attempt to clean up a bad, run-down part of town. And when a state-sponsored film festival in the same city declines to show films on the subject of the Roma, it is an entirely logical decision, aimed at avoiding controversy just before municipal elections.

Everything is based on sound reasoning, everything makes perfect sense. Just as it was entirely reasonable when a small town mayor in Hungary this weekend presided over a symbolic hanging of an effigy of Benjamin Netanyahu, in protest against the “Freemason Jewish terror state’s efforts to rule the world.” No, there is no racism in Hungary. How could there be?

 Posted by at 5:40 pm
May 162014
 

So here I am, sitting in a hotel room in the 21st century city of Abu Dhabi. After a long day in front of my laptop, I spent some more time with said laptop, this time watching a movie. I bought the DVD of Cloud Atlas a few months ago, but I never had the time to watch it… until now.

All I can say is… Wow. If you give this movie the attention it deserves, it is immensely rewarding. Cinematic science fiction at its absolute best. A movie that borrows some elements from other works, e.g., Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey, or Soylent Green, or The Fifth Element… but it is an absolutely original, astounding tale or rather, six interwoven tales set in the past, present and future, forming a true cautionary tale in the best traditions of classic science-fiction.

I know I’ll watch this movie again… probably many times. For me, it’s going to be one of those movies that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Oh… and the movie should have received an award, if only there was one, for the most creative cinematic use of a cat. I laughed so hard, I almost had an unfortunate accident involving pants and other unmentionables.

 Posted by at 6:26 pm
Apr 292014
 

The other day, I watched a delightful 30+ year old movie that I never saw before, The World According to Garp. In one scene, the protagonist decides to buy a house after a small airplane crashes into it, explaining that it is unlikely to ever happen again; that house has been “pre-disastered”. (Yes, it’s a logical fallacy, but the scene was still funny.) I think it was this movie that inspired me today, when I finally managed to talk to a human representative at Scotiabank, after being endlessly and needlessly frustrated by a voice recognition answering system.

450px-Sony_Qrio_Robot_2Voice recognition systems infuriate me. I am not alone, and this should come as no surprise. The phenomenon when something that looks, feels (or in this case, sounds) almost, but not quite, human creeps out people is so well known, it even has a name: Uncanny Valley. I am perfectly comfortable with answering systems that ask me to make menu choices by pressing buttons on my phone. Yet I am filled with blind fury and rage by voice response systems that, usually in an overly friendly and syrupy-sweet voice, ask me to explain, in words, what I am calling about. “I WANT TO TALK TO A FREAKING HUMAN YOU STUPID MACHINE!”

Fortunately, my self-control prevailed this morning. When (after stabbing “0” more than a few times with my finger while shouting nonsense, finally convincing the voice recognition algorithm to give up) I was at last connected to an actual (very nice) human lady, I remained polite. However, at the end of our conversation, I could not refrain from asking her to please pass on my request to the Powers That Be at Scotiabank to get rid of this stupid voice recognition system. She agreed that indeed, many customers are annoyed like I was. I commented on the fact that it was usually people like her who become the victims of their callers’ anger… when they arrive, like I did, pre-high-blood-pressured. She laughed so hard… I think I made her day.

As I am writing this, I am thinking that there might be another way to climb out of the uncanny valley: better AI. This is, after all, 2014, the age of self-driving cars and Google Search that knows what you are about to type even before you do. I could easily imagine a voice recognition system that, instead of spoon feeding me instructions like I was mentally retarded, began a natural conversation: “Hello, this is the Scotiabank automated assistant. This call may be recorded for quality assurance. How can we help you today?” (Avoid talking like the caller was retarded. Avoid using “I” because you are not a self-aware person. Speak in a natural voice, not like you were talking to someone hard of hearing, not unless they indicate that they are, in fact, hard of hearing.) If this system could actually carry out a decent conversation instead of being a poorly thought-out replacement of a touchtone menu system, it might work a lot better… and, for that matter, may even reduce the need for human operators as I bet it could respond to many inquiries successfully without human intervention.

 Posted by at 9:09 pm