June 4, 2012

Today, In Orbital Panopticon News

Filed under: doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,science,toys — mhoye @ 3:23 pm

This is really astounding, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. The Department of Defence has given NASA a gift of two better-than-Hubble telescopes it built but never used, because despite this quote describing them…

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

… it considers them to be outdated. That’s right – 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, more maneuverable and able to take far more accurate pictures, hugely better than any instrument available to any civilian anywhere, and apparently an antique. As The Atlantic notes:

“That’s right. Our military had two, unflown, better-than-Hubble space telescopes just sitting around. […] This is the state of our military-industrial-scientific complex in miniature: The military has so much money that it has two extra telescopes better than anything civilians have; meanwhile, NASA will need eight years to find enough change in the couches at Cape Canaveral to turn these gifts into something they can use. Anyone else find anything wrong with this state of affairs?”

Maybe just the fact that those cameras were intended to be pointed down, not up.

The issue’s not whether you’re paranoid, Lenny, I mean look at this shit, the issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.

Strange Days, 1995.

May 31, 2012

The Pre-emptive Machine-Vision Horror Trope Needs A Better Name

Filed under: arcade,awesome,doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,toys — mhoye @ 9:27 am

That’s a game called StarForge, a kind of minecrafty farm/build/survive game that looks pretty promising. Trading off the eight-bit charm of Minecraft for a lot of FPS aggro, it looks like a boots-on-the-ground, shovels-in-the-dirt revisiting of classics like Dune II or Command And Conquer.

There’s a moment in there at about the thirty second mark, though, that gave me a surprising amount to think about; it would have been interesting to see a longer buildup to this, maybe with an explanation of the world and some more examination of what the player’s built up, leading up to the alone-in-the-dark moment where the turrets suddenly spin up and start grinding through ammo before the player can even see what’s coming. From a gameplay perspective this is a great demo; you can tell by the way the entire internet is trying to turn his poor server into one of the smoking craters you see in the video. But from a human-experience perspective, there’s a new thing on display here.

We have tools now that can see a lot further into the dark than we can, make decisions about what they find and then act on them immediately, deploying an staggering amount of force with remarkable precision. It’s sudden, and there’s a good argument to me made that it has to be as sudden as possible – the delay of a warning, a supervising authority or even just a human interaction might be an unacceptable delay, a burden the selection pressure of a technological arms race will quickly discard. Often, in fact, the best-case scenario there is that these tools leave enough of an audit trail that a complex situation might be understandable in long hindsight. But more often you’ll have a few thousand spent casings, a few dozen empty rocket tubes, the burned out shells of a few smoking buildings, the charred husks of their residents and no way to reconcile that with justice or conscience.

So now there’s this moment, that a human can be alone with their anticipation in the crowding dark, when machines we’ve built whose judgement we don’t really trust suddenly act with incredible violence on things we can’t see for reasons we don’t understand.

It’s really a perfect moment – the visceral panic of survival horror, that existential sense irrelevance that lives at the periphery of monstrously outsized forces, the deep-seated, voodoo suspicion of incomprehensible tech… “Your support tools or personal network suddenly goes insane” is going to be the spring-loaded-cat of the 21st century, I think, and for good reason.

I really need an “overthinking” tag.

April 3, 2012

“I ain’t in this for your revolution and I’m not in it for you, Princess.”

Filed under: a/b,arcade,digital,doom,fail,hate,interfaces,losers,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:54 am


It’s an old joke, with that wonderful undercurrent of bigoted misogyny that so many old jokes have: some creepy old dude propositions young woman by asking if she’d sleep with him for a million dollars, which she concedes she would. He follows that up asking if she’d sleep with him for a nickel; she replies, of course not, what kind of person do you think I am?

“We’ve established that”, he replies. “Now we’re just haggling about the price.”

The sort of horrid old joke told by horrid old people, to be sure, but there’s a tiny kernel of capital-T Truth in there: we should be honest with ourselves, at the very least, about when we’re talking about matters of principle or when we’re dickering over the price tag, and what that means about us.

Exhibit 1: George Lucas testifying before Congress in 1998 about copyright and the importance of artistic integrity.

“The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.”

“[…] People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.”

“These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.”

“In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.”

Exhibit 2: Dancing to “I’m Han Solo”, in the Kinect Star Wars video game, a rewritten version of Jason Derulo’s “Ridin’ Solo”

I’m feeling like a star,
You can’t stop my shine.
I’m lovin’ Cloud City,
My head’s in the sky.

I’m solo, I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo, Solo.

Yeah, I’m feelin’ good tonight,
Finally feelin’ free and it feels so right, oh.
Time to do the things I like,
Gonna see a Princess, everything’s all right, oh.
No Jabba to answer to,
Ain’t a fixture in the palace zoo, no.
And since that carbonite’s off me,
I’m livin’ life now that I’m free, yeah.

Told me to get myself together,
Now I got myself together, yeah.
Now I made it through the weather,
Better days are gonna get better.
I’m so happy the carbonite is gone,
I’m movin’ on.
I’m so happy that it’s over now,
The pain is gone.

I’m puttin’ on my shades
to cover up my eyes.
I’m jumpin’ in my ride,
I’m heading out tonight

I’m solo, I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo, Solo.

I’m pickin’ up my blaster,
Put it on my side,
I’m jumpin’ in my Falcon,
Wookie at my side.

I’m solo, I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo.
I’m Han Solo, Solo.

Possibly the worst part being that this is actually an inoffensive, blandly-rehashed second-order derivative of a parody MC Chris did better.

March 31, 2012

Finished (Updated…)

Filed under: a/b,digital,documentation,doom,fail,hate,interfaces,losers,vendetta — mhoye @ 8:08 am

UPDATE: Scroll down. But they’re still finished, make no mistake about that.

I’ve mentioned in the past that RIM’s fundamental problem is that they’ve been shipping the same goddamn device, over and over again, since at least 2004. But check this out: on the heels of Blackberry’s recent announcements of collapsing financials and a management purge, I’ve just been informed that a new simulator is available for the upcoming Blackberry 9220, for developers to test on.

Noteworthy features include:

  • 320 x 240 resolution, 164 dpi
  • Memory: 512 MB Internal Persistent Storage, 512 MB RAM
  • 2 MP Camera, 5 X digital zoom
  • FM Radio

It apparently will play video, though at a maximum of 15 frames per second.

It’s got more memory, and adds wireless-N to the B/G (and, woo, an FM radio) but that’s the same screen and camera resolution that shipped in the Blackberry Curve 8320.

That shipped in 2007.

What. I. Do. Not. Even.

So, if you have RIM stock and haven’t gotten rid of it already, get out now.

UPDATE – Brought to me by Jasper in the comments: holy crap, check this out. The first mention of the 9220, dated 2008. Given that specs made perfect sense in 2008, this is craziness – Jasper rightly observes, it’s either been in development hell for four years, or they’ve just found a warehouse full of them somewhere and they’ve got to figure out how to get them out the door before RIM goes belly up for good.

I’m pretty sure – judging from the last of the comments – that this is just a numerical overlap. The first 9220 looks like the one they’re preparing to ship now, and the “9220 Curve” mentioned later in the comments (with specs that are significantly better than the 9220 of today, bizarrely) simply doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless – what a gong show.

March 27, 2012

A Different Kind Of Fear

Filed under: doom,future,parenting — mhoye @ 9:46 pm


So, yeah. That happened.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my garage defibrillating myself.

Fear In Its Purest Form

Filed under: awesome,digital,doom,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta,weird,work — mhoye @ 9:35 pm

More Of The Same

The one thing that makes gives me more of that bone-chilling existential dread than anything else in the world, the thing that makes me question the fundamental physical underpinnings of the universe and fear the answers, is code that stops working as you’re staring at it, at the exact moment you realize that it should never have worked in the first place.

Not cool, universe. Not cool at all.

February 18, 2012

Let’s All Act Surprised Together

Filed under: doom,fail,hate,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:37 pm

Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, seen above denying (on camera) having said the thing he said (on camera) one day previously, today expressed surprise at the contents of Bill C-30, the same bill whose opponents he accused of supporting child pornographers.

I suppose that it would be too much to ask of our public officials, that they’ve actually read and understood their proposed legislation before accusing its opponents of supporting child pornographers. I guess if we insist on competent legislators then the terrorists win.

January 28, 2012

A Bit Part

Filed under: awesome,doom,interfaces — mhoye @ 9:19 pm

I was part of the zombie apocalypse before zombie apocalypses were cool.

The short film that earned me my only IMDB credit as “Man Outside” (which to this day, I think, is the most perfect title I’ve ever had) is now up on Vimeo. It’s called Sunday Morning, written and directed by Mark Zanin; go take a look. Can somebody playing a zombie be a bad actor? Might be possible!

January 26, 2012

Ferris’ Wheel (Updated)

Filed under: a/b,awesome,doom,fail,hate,losers,weird — mhoye @ 4:53 pm

16:11 < colleague> if they do a sequel I so dearly hope ben stein and charlie sheen aren't invited
16:11 < mhoye> "... Drugs?"
16:11 < mhoye> I think they have to be.
16:14 < second_colleague> why no ben stein?
16:14 < other_colleague> cause he's gone INSANE
16:16  * mhoye thinks they should swap roles.
16:16 < colleague> yeah, ben stein took a leap off the pier of reason a few years ago
16:16 < colleague> what with that anti-evolution movie, etc.
16:17 < other_colleague> "who stole ben stein's brain?"
16:19 < mhoye> A beat down, leather-clad, exhausted looking Ben Stein, sitting in a police station, turns his bruised hangover towards Jennifer Grey, and mutters "... Drugs?"
16:19 < colleague> perfect
16:25 < mhoye> Earlier in the movie a pale, drawn Charlie Sheen, his skin drumhead-taut from years off staving off a sudden transformative collapse into becoming Keith Richards, stands in front of a class of middle-aged losers in an adult high-school trying desperately to act bored and boring and failing miserably. His eyes dart around the room like a cornered animals'; he practically vibrates in place, grinding his clenched teeth together as he slowly mutters the words "Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?" over and over, desperate to hear somebody, anybody say 'cut'.
16:28 < mhoye> Meanwhile in a trailer somewhere a resigned Jeffrey Jones sits with a half-empty bottle of rye, wearing a pre-tattered suit, a scorched bowtie and the black eye makeup grafted onto his cheeks three hours ago, waiting for the knock on the door that means he's going to get pulled through the thresher again.
16:29 < mhoye> Honestly, the making-of movie here could be far, far better than the movie itself.

Seriously. A documentary about the making of a middle-aged sequel to a much-loved teen movie has the potential to be some of the darkest comedy, the most grimly existential filmmaking the world has ever seen. “Ferris’ Wheel”, I’d call it, in the spirit of Jacob’s Ladder.

UPDATE: It’s just a super-bowl ad. That’s about as saddening as possible.

“By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising, kill yourself.”

– Bill Hicks.

Added the “losers”, “hate” and “fail” tags.

A Short Course On The Tragedy In Act One

Filed under: digital,documentation,doom,fail,future,hate,interfaces,linux,vendetta,want — mhoye @ 12:35 pm

Back in 2003 Raymond Chen, noted Microsoftie and venerable author of the excellent Old New Thing blog, wrote a bit about the propensity programmers had for, and problems caused by, reverse-engineering Microsoft’s APIs and hooking into them in unapproved ways:

“For example, BOZOSLIVEHERE was originally the window procedure for the edit control, with the rather nondescript name of EditWndProc. Then some people who wanted to use the edit control window procedure decide that GetWindowLong(GWL_WNDPROC) was too much typing, so they linked to EditWndProc directly. Then when Windows 2.0 (I think) removed the need to export window procedures, we removed them all, only to find that programs stopped working. So we had to put them back, but they got goofy names as a way of scolding the programs that were doing these invalid things.”

He’s a pretty good writer, and this stuff makes for a good story, but this “too much typing” line is… uncharacteristically disingenuous of him; the other side of that story was told, to put it mildly, a little different.

The Microsoft of the day was the Microsoft that came to be known as the evil empire, and for good reason; the combination of a dominant market position, rapid growth across a growing number of markets and no compunction at all about using what their consulting and support arms had learned about your company to leverage their growth into your market segment was legitimate grounds for a healthy dose of fear.

If you wanted to sell software you used their compilers and their APIs to talk to their OS and you consulted their support when you had problems. So if they suddenly developed an interest in your market niche they had a pretty good idea what the shape of your business looked like already. And their ability to leverage that information was very real, so much so that Microsoft’s announcement that they had plans to eventually make a similar product was sometimes enough to run competitors out of business.

This era is where the term “FUD” comes from, also not for no reason.

Because Microsoft could, and would, run the full-court press on your market segment if they decided it was worth their while. Veterans of the technical wars of the day can vividly remember their surprise, walking through decompiled assembler to discover the reason their program’s performance was in the toilet was because going through the official, approved-for-general-consumption Win32 call meant nothing more or less than calling a delay loop before passing unchanged arguments into a private API. Not for any technical reason, but as a defensive posture; just to guarantee that you couldn’t build a product as well as Microsoft could on the off chance that they woke up one morning and decided they wanted your niche.

So it really wasn’t about how long it took to type “GetWindowLong(GWL_WNDPROC)”; it was often the fact that, if you had to call that or something like it thirty-two thousand times and didn’t run that hack, your customer’s 386SX would spend twenty unresponsive minutes off in the weeds instead of fifteen seconds. Chen’s stories about having to reverse-engineer and accommodate poor programmer behavior are epic, and technically brilliant stories to be sure, but you should remember to read them in this light – these weren’t stupid programmers crawling up an unprotected stack for no reason. The Microsoft of the era just wasn’t a trustworthy collaborator. And for all the incredible, very-nearly-miraculous, brilliant work they’ve done maintaining backwards compatibility for applications doing horrible things, they brought an awful lot of that burden on themselves.

It took a protracted antitrust investigation, the long tenacity of free software and rise of the Web (with Mozilla keeping that torch lit through some long, dark years), Apple and later the primacy of mobile to really push Microsoft to the margins of relevancy where they are today. They’re still huge, they’re not all that evil anymore and they legitimately make some great products, but nobody really cares. They’re not making much of a mark on the things people do care about these days, mostly the social and mobile spaces. People aren’t afraid of them anymore because what matters changed, and developers and customers largely moved on.

That was a long time coming, too. But it’s starting to look like somebody’s getting ready to pick up that ball and run with it. A challenger appears!

This is just one example, but it’s really been part of a trend recently, and a good one to point to: take a look at this web-based Angry Birds demo, if you can. You might not be able to – it doesn’t work in Firefox – but the thing is, everything in there runs just fine in Firefox. Google has just decided that it won’t; not for any technical reason – they check some webkit-only CSS shim, it works fine in Safari – but just to keep it from working in competing browsers. Classier still, through the magic of view-source you can see that indignity bundled up in a <div id=”roadblock”> tag, a name I’d like to think gave somebody a moment’s pause, but I doubt it.

Larry Page said, back in the day, that Google wouldn’t put their own results ahead of other people’s because that would be bad for users, but that statement is apparently no longer operative. Likewise this 2009 statement from Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP, Product Management about open technology and open information:

Open technology includes open source, meaning we release and actively support code that helps grow the Internet, and open standards, meaning we adhere to accepted standards and, if none exist, work to create standards that improve the entire Internet (and not just benefit Google). Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information.

I’m ready to believe there’s still a lot of people at Google who really believe in this, and I’m sure that inside Google HQ they still have that kool-aid on tap. But those people are clearly not the ones at the helm anymore, and that’s going to have some broad repercussions – people who are using Gmail pseudonymously, for example, are well-advised to start planning a defensive migration, because that day’s coming.

But God knows to where you’d migrate to. The lunatic thing is that if you want the relative privacy of pseudonymous communication the way, back in the bad old days, you might have wanted basic computing functionality – that is, without kowtowing to an arbitrary, vaguely menacing megacorporation with arbitrary, vaguely menacing policies about your data – we might be getting back to the point where you need to rack your own box and learn how to roll it all yourself.

Dear Googlers: We’ve done this. It sucked. It was awful, a decade of near-total technical stagnation. It was WinCE 5.0 and Office 2003 and OSes with eight-year lifecycles and fucking Flash being the only way to deploy a new UI and everything interesting and promising and new pushed to the margins and excluded so that one company’s crown jewels stayed safe. And we might do it again, and it could be a tragedy or a farce or probably a bit of both. Trying to be more Apple than Apple and more Facebook than Facebook just means you’re trying to be less Google every single day.

It’s amazing, it is flat out astonishing, how much of the future depends on Google being the company that you, once upon a time, believed it could be. And you can still get there. To borrow a phrase, I’m not saying it’s too late for you, but the longer you wait, the closer you get to being Too Late.

But you need to do good. Saying you’re not evil isn’t good enough.

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