February 22, 2013

Inductive Charging

Being not a very romantic sort, for Valentine's Day I got Hil an inductive charging back for her smartphone, and a two-position inductive charger for us to share. (I also got her flowers, candy, and took her to a restaurant. I'm not completely hopeless at these things.)

I got it for her because her phone's charging port has been damaged, and it's a real PITA to keep the charging cable plugged in. Plus, her phone model doesn't have very good battery life. Combined, the two factors made charging her phone a continual irritation.

The Energizer-branded charger follows the Qi standard, which is a clever bit of branding. Basically, you lay your smartphone on top of a pad, and the pad and the phone do a quick EM handshake, then it starts to charge wirelessly. The handshake is so the charger won't operate if there's a chunk of unrelated metal sitting on top of it, which would be an obvious fire hazard. The phones charge about as fast as they do while plugged in, but without the hassle of plugging, tripping over cords, etc. I highly recommend inductive charging for everyone that has a compatible phone.

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November 15, 2010

X-Com

The good news is, there's a new X-Com game coming out. X-Com is a true classic, a turn-based small-unit tactics game combined with a strategic resource-management game. Both sections were deep and complicated, yet approachable. My entire dorm was playing this in the 94-95 school year.

The bad news is, the new one took everything good about the original and flushed it. The new X-Com is going to suck. As testimony thereof, I give you this, their official trailer.


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October 30, 2010

Basia

This evening I went to a concert starring Basia, who I'd never heard of. It's become a small world: she performs Latin Jazz. She's from Poland. Her band consisted of an American, an Englishman, a Sardinian, twins from Mauritania, and a Frenchman.

The music was excellent. She's very talented, as is her band. It was their first gig on the North American leg of their tour, and they did seem a little jet-lagged, but got it together after the first song. They did a two-hour set without an intermission, and seemed nicely crisp by the end.

The show was in a theater inside the Seneca Niagara Casino, and it was an interesting performance space. It was small, with stadium seating for 150 or 200. It had a thrust stage, which meant the audience surrounded the stage on three sides.

The biggest problem was the sound mixer, who had the speaker level much too high. Basia is vocally very talented, so there was no need to deafen the (very enthusiastic) audience.

I was there as a guest of my GF's father. I'm not saying he's a high roller– but the buffet had a line 60' long, which we bypassed after he waved a card.

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April 18, 2010

The Producers

I saw The Producers this weekend, the 2005 movie based on a Broadway musical that was itself based on a 1968 movie. That's an unusual pedigree in my experience.

Anyway, it's a singing comedy about a pair of Broadway producers that go about intentionally creating a flop. The plan was to raise far more capital than required for the show, then when it flopped, the investors would be unsurprised at not getting back their investment. The producers would raise $2 million, spend as little of it as possible, and abscond with the leftover capital.

The score was excellent, with witty songs and competant orchestration. The casting, though… I've got issues with the casting. Nathan Lane was excellent, unsurprisingly, as musical comedy is his thing. His producing partner was played by Matthew Broderick, whose singing did not impress me. The love interest was Uma Thurman who has been creeping me out for many years. Her singing was decent, but when she had dialog her accent came and went, which was distracting.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but I wish it'd had a better cast. The best people in it, aside from Lane, were Jon Lovitz and Will Farrell, who both had rather minor roles.

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January 17, 2009

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

It's a story as old as campfires. A Dark One arises, evil, cunning, lusting for dominion and doom. But there is a prophesy! From humble birth, a hero will arise, the nations will fall before him. This hero will gather an army to oppose the Dark One. But in the end, armies are for naught: the hero will face the evil, alone, the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

And, of course, evil wins, because good is dumb.

The book itself is set a thousand years later, with humanity still suffering under the undying boot of the unkillable Lord Ruler, who's empire spans the entire world. He's unkillable, at least by any method anyone's tried. And many people have tried- but he shrugs off decapitation, incineration, defenestration, and impalation.

This is going to require a clever plan… and thus this novel is not traditional heroic fantasy, but a recently-popular subgenre of low fantasy, what I'd call "heist fantasy". A group of talented individuals of dubious moral fiber get together to take on an impossible task. Twists and turns and betrayals.

In addition to that, it's a coming-of-age story. The viewpoint switches back and forth between the leader of the gang (a tough old con with a heart of gold), and a young thief and urchin, brought in when her latent powers are noticed.

Ah, powers. The author has created an interesting new magical system for the book, too. It's called Allomancy, and, to summarize, rare people have the ability to metabolize one of eight metals or alloys, which gives them a superpower. Tin gives hightened sences, Pewter gives the body strength and endurance, etc. A very very few individuals can use all the metals, combining their powers, making them impressive individuals indeed. The young heroine is one such, so she must learn a life beyond dog-eat-dog, at the same time coming to terms with her new powers.

It's actually a trilogy; all three books are out, but I've only read the first. I am going to read the other two forthwith.

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October 16, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is a computer-animated kid's movie, starring the voice of Jack Black as a panda that works in his father's noodle shop, but dreams of being a kung fu hero. Then, the call goes forth: the land needs a kung fu hero! Sadly for Jack, he's an overweight panda with masterful skill- in cooking. But he's got a fire in the belly, even if it's a fire for dim sum instead of training. Plus, he's pretty much indestructable, which is a good start for any martial artist.

I thought it was amusing, and there were a decent helping on in-jokes for fans of classic Hong Kong wushu flicks. It's officially a kid's movie, but I wouldn't take anyone really young, because the bad guy is actually rather scary, especially if you still believe in evil talking snow leopards.

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October 06, 2008

The Brothers Solomon

Imagine Dumb and Dumber crossed with Three Men and a Baby. Except pre-natal hi-jinks vice infancy hi-jinks. And not as funny.

Watching The Brothers Solomon is like being stuck in a Kids In The Hall marathon: occasionally funny bits, surrounded by acres of painful mugging and weak jokes. This movie is irretrivable dumb. My LCpl C, whose standards are much lower than mine, finished watching this movie and said "I am now just a little bit more retarded."

Executive summary: Do not watch.

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October 05, 2008

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is an overnight sensation in the SF world. Like most overnight sensations, he spent years and years working at it before becoming known.

The Android's Dream is his third published book. It's full of references to the authors that have come before; the major inspirations seem to be Keith Laumer and L. Ron Hubbard. No, really. There are plenty of other influences, of course; I picked out nods to Orson Scott Card, William Gibson, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison, and Phillip K Dick too.

The main character is Harry Creek, a geek genius working for the State Department as a "Xenosapien Facilitator"; his real job is "Bearer of Bad News". He's calm and has combat experience, so when someone's got to talk to an alien and it's unclear if the alien is going to get unhappy and start spraying acidic ichor, Harry gets the job. So he gets to go break the news that, say, an insectoid ambassador's wife has been denied a visa because she's in a family way.

Harry's got friends in high places, and he owes them some favors, so when a diplomatic situation goes first downhill and then asymptotic, Harry gets the call to find a particular sheep. One sheep on the whole planet Earth, needed to head off an interstellar war that Earth will certainly lose.

Except the sheep isn't really a sheep, it's a woman. Robin Baker. She had deactivated sheep genes inserted into her genome before conception. She had no idea she has sheep genetics, and in fact finds the whole idea rather distasteful. She'd really like to continue running her small pet store. But before you know it, there are three species of assassins closing in, and the only help she's got is the capable but overtasked Harry, and a band of Scientologists, err, "Cultists of the Church of the Evolved Lamb".

It's a decent book, although the first two chapters were an unnecessary shaggy dog story, and the ending seemed a little forced. In between, the hero gets credit for an idea so brilliant that no one had ever thought of it, including hundreds of alien species; but that idea has been discussed in (human) science fiction for the last sixty years.

I don't know if it was intended as a sequel hook, or just the author running out of gas, but the nature of Harry and Robin's relationship was also left hanging. Still, it was a decent read. Especially for someone widely read in SF, who will catch the in-jokes. But to start with Scalzi, I'd recommend Old Man's War instead.

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July 18, 2008

Iron Man

When the Burma mission was called off and we all got back together on the Essex, the Thailand shore party (bunch of skaters!) brought with them a bootleg copy of Iron Man. After watching it, I'm not impressed. I kept yelling at the screen for the general idiocy going on. Just a few points will illustrate my irritation:

1) Iron Man's power source on his chest provides, as the hero ("Tony Stark") declares, "Three gigajoules per second." Gee, if only there was some kind of unit of measure equivalent to a joule per second. It's really cumbersome, the way we label light bulbs as "100 joules per second" and "60 joules per second" and so forth. Stark is supposed to have summa cum laude engineering degree from MIT. I dunno what the hell they're teaching these days, if MIT grads don't know what a joule per second is.

2) That power source, which looks to be about ten cubic inches in size, puts out 50% more power than the Hoover Dam. It is highly unclear why Stark Industries is a defense contractor. His power source kicks cold fusion to the curb. Weapons are low-margin: he could make much more money by putting the oil and coal industries out of business.* The power supply also appears to not give off any unpleasant radiation or pollution, seeing as how it's inserted into his chest.

3) Stark claims that the power source will produce energy for "three lifetimes". I'll estimate that to be three hundred years. So it'll produce 2.840E+19 joules over it's lifetime. For comparison, that's roughtly the energy given off by the detonation of a 14.7 megaton bomb. Per e=mc^2, it'll convert 316 Kg of matter into energy over that lifetime.

4) Our hero is warned that he's been neglecting the business, and the board has removed him from control of Stark Industries. He complains that "I own 56% of the voting shares!". His assistant sadly shakes his head and says "Yes, but the board has rights too, and they just removed you." Seeing as how it's a major American defense contractor, I'll assume that his company is incorporated in the United States. In which case the board doesn't have any rights other than whatever rights Tony wants to give them. The next scene in the move should have gone down like this: Stark gives one share as a gift to his secretary. He announces a shareholder's meeting to begin sixty seconds from now. One minute later, he calls for a quorum: because he's in the room, they've got it. He moves that all the directors be fired effective immediatly. His secretary seconds. The motion carries, 56% of shares voting in favor. The laws on corporations generally require a board of directors, so he now nominates a new slate of directors, to consist of himself, his secretary, and his dog. Motion carries with 56% of shares voting yes. Move to adjourn. Next, the new board of directors appoints one Tony Stark as new CEO of Stark Industries, and recommends he take out a full-page ad in the New York times, to consist of photographs of the old board of directors, under the headline "You Lose, Suckers!"

Now, I'm told that according to the comic, #4 would never occur to Stark, because he's a drunken idiot. But he's not protrayed that way in the movie, plus he has a loyal assistant who certainly would know the way companies work.

All that above is criticism to the movie's writing and worldbuilding. The actors do a credible job, at least as good as the typical superhero movie. Similarly, the directing is unoffensive, if also uncreative. And I didn't spot any boom mics hanging into the picture, so I guess that counts for something.

In general, I wouldn't recommend spending money watching this movie. Wait for it to show up on network TV. Or skip it entirely.


* Footnote: Oil would still be useful as a petrochemical feedstock, and coal to purify into carbon for steel and other industries. But Stark's power supply would replace most forms of internal and external combustion overnight. And we know that his power source is incredibly cheap to manufacture, because he builds one out of scrap metal inside a cave in Afghanistan.

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April 07, 2008

Flightplan, Starring Jodie Foster

Not a good movie. It's sort of half psychological thriller and half heist movie. But the psychology wasn't interesting, and the plan to steal $50 million was so outrageously stupid that I can't understand why anyone would have thought it would work. I wonder if the first draft had a plan that made sense, but it gradually morphed over dozens of script revisions until no one realized how stupid it had become?

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