Category Archives: Personal

Star Trek to Star Wars: Just One Thing About J.J. Abrams At The Helm

(Warning: This article contains spoilers for movies that have been out for at least a couple years now, though given the title if you are reading this article you have seen the films in question.)

Ars Technica has a good review of the Star Wars trailer because it doesn’t dive deeply into the details but instead looks at the overall context:

One alternate explanation for the excess of familiarity is that, unlike 2009’s Star Trek, The Force Awakens is a true sequel and not a reboot. Abrams’ first Trek film hit a big reset button for a franchise that was in much worse shape than Star Wars is now—even though reviews of Episodes I, II, and III were mostly negative and remain popular punching bags to this day, they were still big financial successes. The same cannot be said for Star Trek Nemesis and Enterprise, the final fizzling embers of the Star Trek revival that began with Wrath of Khan and The Next Generation. Abrams had a lot of latitude in reimagining Trek’s most iconic elements, but The Force Awakens is sticking closer to the aesthetic established in the original 1970s and ’80s films.

I agree about the prequels. Lucas fucked up. I saw all of them in the theaters, but I only ever saw them once. I have zero inclination to see them again, much less buy DVDs remastered or otherwise. For me, Episodes I, II, and III just never happened, and I will only revisit them when my kids ask “Hey, this is Episode IV. Where are Episodes I, II, and III?”

As for J.J. Abrams’ treatment of the Star Trek reboot, I have mixed feelings about them. For both the films, I really like the overall look and feel; the original uniforms with the movie iconography and sets. I think he really captured the overall aesthetic across the entire franchise that I grew up with.

The conclusion to the article sums up my feelings about these new Star Wars films:

Of course, this trailer gives us just a glimpse of what we’ll actually see in theaters in December 2015, and it tells us nothing about the stuff that really ruined the prequel movies—boring stories, wooden acting, and stilted, ridiculous scripts. We’re inclined to be hopeful, given Abrams’ track record, but we’re still in for a long wait.

This is also where I pause on Abrams taking the helm of Star Wars. Case in point: the plot to the second Star Trek reboot movie—you know, the one where Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan—because it speaks directly to my single biggest complaint about Hollywood in that there are so few original ideas. How many remakes of already-written plots do we need? How many Superman origin stories do we need set to film? Why have all of these action movie soundtracks been simplified down to non-orchestral bombastic textures? (I’m looking at you Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer.) As soon as Cumberbatch revealed he was Khan, I was ready to leave (but didn’t because the theater seats are way more comfortable than the lobby seats). When Spock and Kirk flipped the infamous engine room scene from Wrath of Khan, the Abrams version went into the same “I want two hours of my life back” bin I have for Episodes I, II, and III. My time for movies is severely limited, and I find more satisfaction out of other types of film than the current trends in high-end sci-fi/action. Maybe I’m just getting old and no longer the target audience for The Avengers, but my patience for seeing the same memes used across genres and franchises is already stale.

The point here is not that I expect an old plot will be rehashed in Star Wars—obviously, there shouldn’t be in what is clearly going to be a canonical sequel—but that Abrams has made what I consider to be showstopper mistakes with a beloved franchise. While I don’t think he will make a “second Death Star” mistake (speaking of rehashing old plots), there is still a lot of room for error here.

I do—however, ultimately, honestly, and truly—wish him the best of luck with Star Wars. The Star Trek reboot was a visual love letter to a great franchise, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first one if only because he gave Star Trek a long-needed “edginess” to it, and the Star Wars trailer looks to be the same. Seeing and hearing those X-Wings skimming on the water, and the Millennium Falcon taking on a couple of TIEs, had the kid in my craving much, much more. Abrams is clearly already more on the mark than Lucas was; amazing what a fresh pair of eyes will do to a franchise. But we still don’t know anything about the plot, despite all the picking apart by fandom with their rumors in hand, and we all know as irrefutable, immutable law of film that no amount of special effects will save a bad story.

Speaking of fandom, the comments to the article are amusing in a William Shatner, Saturday Night Live skit kind of way (says the guy writing about a Star Wars teaser trailer on his blog), which I don’t normally read but I just had to look, and this one sums up the tone perfectly:

Yes, LET’S ARGUE ABOUT LIGHTSABER CONFIGURATIONS ON THE INTERNET IN THE TIME HONORED TRADITION

May the force be with J.J. Abrams and his team.

Is it January 2nd yet?

I find the holidays, in general, to be uninteresting. To put this another way, I don’t like the holidays the same way I don’t like lima beans or lime chutney.

This isn’t a religious thing. Just a totally secular and non-political distaste. The combination of red, green, white, the smell of pine, and outdoor lights just don’t move me the same way they move others. Turkey is not something I particularly care for and choose not to eat it any other time of the year. Like some people and coffee, I think turkey smells great being prepared but not great to consume. Pumpkin pie, frankly, is just unappetizing and unsatisfying. Cranberry sauce is disgusting, especially from the can. That stuff is foul and ought to be avoided if only on general principle. That’s where my lack of interest starts and stops. Purely superficial, with no insult to any deep-rooted sense of tradition or heritage intended.

I could go through the litany the complaints about holidays—particular relatives, shopping, traveling, and the like—but this is really no different than anyone else, and I don’t care enough about the holidays to give it that much energy. Nothing terrible happened to me as a kid that has ruined the holidays, no extraordinary dramas that have left me scarred. They were pretty blasé best I can recall. I just have a much harder time than most other people maintaining that façade of not just being perfectly okay with it all, but rather even just showing any interest. I don’t mind that other people enjoy it, I’m very much a “live and let live” kind of person when it comes to this sort of thing. I personally don’t care for or about the holidays, and I wish people would stop expecting more out of me than I am capable of giving on this one.

I figured having kids would turn me around on this, seeing the holidays anew through their eyes and all that. Nope. Instead, I found that I have to double down on the “fake it ’til you make it” for a couple of months. Don’t want to see Santa? No problem, kiddo, for we have better things to do. Let’s go build stuff with Lego.

Please pass me the wine on your way out the door, and let me know when the sun rises on January 2. Cheers!

Gates Notes: Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row

I don’t talk about my going to school much here, for a variety of reasons that I don’t delve into here, but this piece from Bill Gates provides a good overview of the current state of continuing education:

In my experience, what separates the great courses from the mediocre ones is the quality of the professors, whose passion and expertise bring their subjects to life, as much online as in-person. That’s why it’s critical that during this time of transition we keep our focus on the instructors. They are the ones who inspire and guide students. The best online learning technologies expand the reach of the most inspiring professors by allowing more students to be part of their classes.
Gates Notes: “Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row”

This, however, is just as important point as the above:

The biggest challenge facing all higher education institutions is how to ensure more students stay in college or university and complete their degrees. They are looking everywhere for solutions. Arizona State University, for instance, discovered that the college catalogue overwhelmed students with too many class choices and gave them too little guidance. So the university redesigned the entire experience. The new, personalized online catalogue features “major maps,” which outline a major’s key requirements, optimal course sequence, and career options to help keep students on the path to graduation.

I can see where students, potential and otherwise, would have a problem with course selection, as with anything where there is a lot of choice and minimal guidance. I’ve faced that dilemma a few times, especially now that I am mopping up the last of my non-credit requirements, and more able to choose the courses I want to take. But course selection is an answered question in the form of advisors. The key to good curriculum choices is to have a plan walking into school. If someone doesn’t have a plan, a good advisor will help create one. But, course selection is the least of my problems as a continuing education student.

The larger, and much harder, problem is balancing school with other responsibilities. There are times when my passion for school outweighs my passion for work. Work is, at times, mundane and uninteresting because I am in maintenance mode, fixing bugs in Applescripts and my utility apps because of some application or operating system upgrade. Compare that to learning something completely new to me in any of my classes, and I can’t get out of work fast enough to go to class or do homework. Then there are times like this semester when the opposite is true, where my passion for work exceeds my passion for school, and doing enough work to get good grades (not passing grades, good grades) is really hard. Add two kids in the mix—five and three this year—and I occasionally get overwhelmed. There’s been a lot of “take a deep breath” moments over the past several years because quitting my job, dropping out of school, or ignoring my kids is never an option.

Being smart about my time is at the core of that balancing responsibilities. Good time management means everything is strategized and planned, from what I eat to maintain a semblance of good health, to when I spend some time with the kids so they don’t feel ignored, and all the way down to when I go to bed to get enough sleep to press on the next day. Courses are at night by necessity, which means I don’t get home until 23:00 (at the earliest if I don’t need to speak with the professor right after lecture). I love going to campus and sitting in the classroom. Online lectures are convenient and I get the meat of the course, but nothing beats the atmosphere of being in a classroom watching the lecture live, and being able to ask questions. But, my morning alarm goes off at 04:00 for a variety of reasons, and there are times when I have to choose sleep over live lecture and instead watch the course online when I am in a better state to do so. Honestly, most nights I don’t go to be because I am relaxed and tired; I often go to bed simply so that I can get enough sleep for the next day’s activities. Not that any of this is a complaint; this is all simply a statement of fact. I will never complain about school because I have chosen to take on the challenge, and I believe one ought not to complain about those things for which one has volunteered.

I have a course I am taking this semester now where the professor is really great, very engaging as is the material he assigns, challenging coursework in all the good ways, but the papers are philosophical, therefore very time-consuming, and sections are required (though my understanding that is against the school’s policy, but, hey, each course is its own little kingdom as my advisor once told me). At the same time, I have a company-wide project I’m now leading at work that just got approved after years of flogging to the powers that be. For that, I need to be alert and awake for some really tough meetings where I have to make tough decisions. That sounds very cliché, I know, but it’s true. Building a content management solution that my company will live with for probably the next ten years requires making decisions at morning meetings that will impact our workflows for years to come.

All things being equal, a project with years of impact that will be a huge addition to my resume, unfortunately, has to trump one grade out of thirty-two I’ll complete by the time I’m done with school. To put it another way, school will be done in two years, but this system, and my job, will be around for a lot longer. Instead, I have to focus on the core coursework needed to get a passing grade and finish off the semester with my sanity intact. My professor likely wouldn’t agree, not that I would blame him, but my getting burnt out will do no one any good, least of all myself.

School is a lot of things, but in this context, it’s an endurance race. I don’t expect schools to address that issue for me as a student, and so I wouldn’t expect to see that in Bill Gates’ article. But, his article does cast a light onto a gap in the conversation about contenting education: how best to approach the balancing of school, work, and other responsibilities. Schools are doing amazing things now to accommodate non-traditional students (here defined as not having gone to school right out of high school), but their efforts are only a part of a larger problem for many people. There is not a government or school policy that is going to provide a solution to that problem.

Vimeo: Star Wars: Deleted Magic Pt. 1

Deleted scenes. Alternate footage. A look behind the scenes at what didn’t make it to the final cut of the Star Wars trilogy. (Edited in 2005, and revisited in 2009.)
Vimeo: “Star Wars: Deleted Magic Pt. 1″

Star Wars recut documentary-style incorporating behind-the-scenes footage, alternate takes, and deleted footage. This is really well done, and I will try to watch the whole thing this weekend. But one thing I went straight for was the scenes on Tatooine where Biggs Darklighter and Luke Skywalker say goodbye. Up until now, the only scene with Biggs I had ever seen is where he and Luke reunite in the hangers on Yavin IV before the Death Star battle; all I ever saw from Tatooine was still frames and set photos. (I suppose if I were a “true” Star Wars nerd, I could say that I can die happy now, but no, it’s still just a movie.)

Click here to see Part 2 (also linked in the page above)

Riffin’ on Shakespeare

Given the following…

P = A person or persons complaining about Q
Q = Something pointless that P is making a much bigger deal than needs to be

Update the following quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth as needed to express your frustration or disdain, or both:

[P]‘s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets [P’s article] hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: [Q] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

For example:

P = My bosses
Q = Putting cover sheets on my TPS reports

[My bosses are] but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets [their] hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: [Putting cover sheets on my TPS reports] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

There are a few more grammatical tweaks to ensure agreement between the subjects, but helpful nonetheless.

Hacker’s Delight

I have been musing lately about the great disservice Apple did the world by making computers easy to learn — namely the fact that few people ever bother to learn about them. Who bothers to learn about them when, on the iPhone for instance, the case is sealed shut, the lifespan is 1 or 2 years for many purchasers, and the platform is closed in lots of ways?
Complete.org: My boys love 1986 computing

I hadn’t thought of the Mac that way before. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that they have done everyone a “disservice,” but developing for Apple is not nearly as open or cheap as is developing for Android. Weighing the relative benefits of each is another discussion entirely.

To the point of the article, hacking away on some of my old Macs is something that I am looking forward to after I finish school. Back in the day, when I was plunking along on my Commodore 64, I was either playing cracked games or doing my homework in GEOS. GEOS was what got me to truly realize the computer’s potential, where I did a bunch of papers and art for classes. Even after the requisite computer classes, all I really walked away with was the ability to LOAD "*",8,1 enough to get to games and GEOS.

But now that I am wrapping up my computer science curriculum at school, and mopping up the last of my non-credit requirements, I am looking forward to booting up the original iMac in OS 8 I have sitting downstairs. I still have loads of old software and seeing some of what I missed using it the first time. I’m a different user than I was so many years ago. Sharing all that with the kids is a pleasant bonus.

Medium.com: The 36 People Who Run Wikipedia

Participation and administration works not because anyone is paid or recognized, but apparently because people are authentically interested in the project. In fact, many stewards have expressed adamant opposition to payment. Among the stewards I talked with, satisfaction depended only on the intrinsic nature of the project itself: instant gratification from immediate publishing, the ability to spread knowledge, and learn — and yes, because it is fun.

Yup, the largest and most successful collaborative project in history, the modern center of human knowledge — a radically participatory model for this technologic age — is possible because people find it inherently satisfying to participate.
The 36 People Who Run Wikipedia

It’s an old story but it’s true: loving your work matters in the deepest ways. If you don’t love your work, questioning your motivation is fair, if not required. Those motivations may outweigh any satisfaction derived from your work, but work satisfaction does make for a clear benchmark.

On the flip side of this, however, is that in my first class at school, my professor absolutely drilled it into our heads that Wikipedia is really only good for a very general, broad overview of any topic, a place to find a starting point for deeper learning elsewhere more than anything, and that it cannot be trusted as cited, reference material for an academic paper. For everything that Wikipedia content gets things right, there are enough other things that are wrong, so trusting Wikipedia is next to impossible. For those areas where I have deep knowledge I found it lacking in detail much more than getting things wrong, and that could be argued as being just as bad. Whether or not inaccuracies abound in all areas I can’t really say, but that professor definitely changed our views of Wikipedia in an instant. Wikipedia is still admirable in its ambitions and outcomes, all the same.

“It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.
Thomas Jefferson

Election Day

  • If you don’t like having your views challenged, then discussing politics (and making grand assertions in general) is not for you.
  • Understanding the ballot measures being provided is vital to making elections work. Coming to a decision isn’t necessary up until the moment you vote. In fact, I would argue that letting things swirl around a bit before coming to a decision is the better option, if only because you will come to a more comfortable, reasoned conclusion. You may come to the same conclusion as your initial impression to the measure and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But you at least need to understand what voting “Yes” will do and what voting “No” will do. I’ll concede that they way these measures are written is not the best, but then all the more reason to ensure you understand your vote’s influence before going to the voting booth. Also, understanding the measures fully will help ensure that your votes are in line with your day-to-day complaints. For example, if you complain about how your roads are in need of repair, then accidentally voting against tax revenue streams that go directly, by law, to fixing those roads because of you misunderstanding how the measure was written is not a good way to get your complaints addressed.
  • While seeing any party other than Democrat and Republican on the ballot was great—both parties have had their day and I think it’s time we all moved on—I just can’t take seriously anything called “Green-Rainbow.” Sounds like a flavor of Bubblicious bubble gum, and their website is unprofessional in my view. I don’t care how earnest or correct they may be, presentation counts. A lot.