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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.

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)

Letters of Note: 1984 vs. Brave New World

The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.. . . Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.
Aldous Huxley writing to George Orwell

I’ve posted about Huxley and Orwell in the past, but I never got around to what I said I would do until now: I just downloaded the audio book for Brave New World and will listen to it next week. Better late than never.

The Independent: ‘Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a “man” are a load of rubbish’

Even though we humans are (thankfully) moving on from seeing ourselves as two distinct kinds of creatures, there’s nothing wrong with being a man and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with doing traditionally “manly” things. Don’t be embarrassed by them. If you want to watch football on Sunday, or train in mixed martial arts, or grow a handlebar moustache, or buy a pickup truck, make no apologies. No, there’s nothing wrong with masculinity – until it’s used as a gauge for measuring and excluding people, whether they’re women or other men, or people who don’t identify as either.
The Independent: ‘Dear young men: The old stereotypes of what it is to be a “man” are a load of rubbish’

This only gets better the further you go. This also came to mind while reading it:

Dear Mr. Vernon

We accept the fact that we had to spend a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think it’s stupid for you to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms with the most convienient definitions. But what we found out is that each of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely Yours,
The Breakfast Club

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Prog rock: the sound of history’s future

It is the combination of the music and the cover that Lake explains is like a cocktail: “You can put certain elements into a glass and nothing happens. If you put one extra element in, the whole thing becomes effervescent.” This is the alchemy of rock and roll, where the songs, lyrics, art, and even the band’s logo can become a whole experience that you can hold in your hand when you hold an album.
Boing Boing: “Prog rock: the sound of history’s future”

I always have been, and will always be, a prog rock fan. Prog was the first genre of music that really captured my attention during my formative years.

EFF: Adobe Spyware Reveals (Again) the Price of DRM: Your Privacy and Security

The publishing world may finally be facing its “rootkit scandal.” Two independent reports claim that Adobe’s e-book software, “Digital Editions,” logs every document readers add to their local “library,” tracks what happens with those files, and then sends those logs back to the mother-ship, over the Internet, in the clear. In other words, Adobe is not only tracking your reading habits, it’s making it really, really easy for others to do so as well.
EFF: Adobe Spyware Reveals (Again) the Price of DRM: Your Privacy and Security

Adobe collects information about whatever book you happen to be reading using Adobe Digital Editions, which potentially means your entire ADE collection. Then ADE sends that information back to Adobe in the clear, meaning anyone snooping can read it.

Intentional or not, I find none of this surprising.

Github Student Developer Pack

There’s no substitute for hands-on experience, but for most students, real world tools can be cost prohibitive. That’s why we created the GitHub Student Developer Pack with some of our partners and friends: to give students free access to the best developer tools in one place so they can learn by doing.
Github Student Developer Pack

The list of software and subscription offers is truly impressive. I won’t use half the stuff, but others like Atom, I’ve been wanting to try, but haven’t for precisely the reason they give.

A Dream Come True

The JavaScript OSA component implements JavaScript for Automation. The component can be used from Script Editor, the global Script Menu, in the Run JavaScript Automator Action, applets/droplets, the osascript command-line tool, the NSUserScriptTask API, and everywhere else other OSA components, such as AppleScript, can be used. This includes Mail Rules, Folder Actions, Address Book Plugins, Calendar Alarms, and Message Triggers.
Apple: Javascript for Automation Release Notes

This is a dream come true for me; really heady stuff. Applescript has been foundational to my career, but I never once—not once—liked the syntax nor the environment. Giving Javascript a first-class implementation could be very beneficial, I think, as there are a hell of a lot more Javascript developers than there are Applescript developers. The problem still exists with wonky scripting support in applications (I’m looking at you, Adobe with your fancy-pants JSX). Perhaps by removing the Applescript barrier to automation will bring some new talent into this niche area that has been too specialized for its own good. Up until now, the Yosemite update was pretty “meh,” but now I’m excited.