Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pwned by the Owner: a hilarious account of a computer thief's public humiliation


You probably shouldn't steal computers, but if you do, don't steal a hacker's computer. Despite being roughly as funny as any Chris Rock act, Dr. Andrew "Zoz" Brooks (who earned his PhD at MIT) reminds us that our computer security is only as strong as our weakest oversights. What kind of guy steals computers? The kind of guy who can't even spell his own name right on his Facebook page, that's who. 

Dredd is a surprisingly good movie

Don't call it a remake. Dredd is exactly what the Sylvester Stallone vehicle should have been in the nineties. Not that Judge Dredd was a horrible movie, Rob Schneider and Sly's catchphrases notwithstanding. I always thought it was better than most people claimed. It's just that it kind of bent the source material over a rail and had its way with it. I'm not entirely familiar with the source material, but I've read enough of it to know 2012's Dredd respects it. This isn't a movie made for kids and the violence, though graphic, doesn't contain an ounce of unnecessary shock value.


In the future, Judges are also cops and executioners rolled into one. The film starts with an obligatory cold open. Dredd is chasing some bad guys who are high on slo-mo, a drug which makes users perceive time at 1% of reality. The following isn't really a spoiler: Dredd sentences them all to death, the last of which is dispensed in one of the coolest movie deaths I've seen in years. Afterwards, Dredd is assigned a new partner, Judge Anderson, who failed her tests, but their superiors are interested in her because she demonstrates psychic abilities.

Dredd's job is to assess her throughout the day. If she passes his testing, she becomes a Judge. (I can't believe how tired this all sounds in writing, because it actually plays very well in the movie.) Their first day together on the beat involves fielding distress calls. Dredd tells her it's a fact of life that Judges can only respond to a fraction of the calls. He lets her choose which one they'll take. Anderson chooses a two-hundred story slum which just happens to house the distributor of slo-mo, an absolutely evil woman named Mama.

During the course of an investigation that involves three bodies (skinned alive) the Judges kill a few perps and make an arrest. As they're leaving, Mama hacks into the building's security system and closes the blast doors. There's no way to get in or out. Mama makes an announcement to the tenants of the building: she's not opening the doors until Dredd and Anderson are killed.

That's the entire movie. It doesn't sound like it's particularly fresh or entertaining, but I'll be damned if I didn't feel engaged throughout. The film is very well made and rarely offends your intelligence. I've rarely seen subject matter like this that's handled so tastefully. 1995's Judge Dredd was way too over-the-top in terms of performances and action. This film's keyed down and that's exactly where it belongs.


For one, there's the slo-mo gimmick. The filmmakers restrained themselves from abusing the tactic and it makes for some really interesting photography. Another thing is the movie doesn't insult us with the usual buddy cop bullshit. When Dredd is told he has to take on Anderson, it isn't, "Like hell I will!" It's simply, "Okay." That's five to twenty minutes of bullshit right there that are thankfully left out. And although Dredd is expectantly stern with Anderson, you always get the feeling he respects her, something most of these movies save as a cheap payoff for the end.

Which isn't to say there aren't missteps. When four Judges are revealed to be bounty hunters who'll kill Dredd for money, I felt the movie meandered. I'm not talking a total derailment, but I wondered why the filmmakers bothered. There's also a damsel-in-distress subplot that appears at an awkward time. Other than that, the movie escapes the usual standards by which I view movies. How? By simply being good—exceptionally good. It's a certain type of movie that's nearly gone extinct, but it's a fine and solid example thereof.

In the trailer, Olivia Thirlby (she was Juno's best friend) seems like a terrible choice for Judge Anderson. In the context of the movie, however, she's pretty good. In the 1995 production, the producers were too uptight to put Stallone in a movie in which he never shows his face; he spends more time with the helmet off than on. In this one, Karl Urban never takes the mask off. You could call his portrayal of Dredd monotone, but I gotta hand it to him: it's hard to be taken seriously when you're wearing a costume like his and speaking in a gravelly voice.

These movies are only as good as their villains and this film has a good one. It's cool to see a woman in a role like this. When Mama beats the shit out of a man twice her size, you believe it. When I saw the trailer, I thought that character above all would be my biggest complaint. Turns out it was my favorite aspect. As far as these comic adaptations go, this one is superb. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the origins story. It's nice to see something start in the middle of the action. It's a simple film, sure, but there's an elegance and very few things explode.

I miss movies like this. In the nineties, you could market R-rated films to children (there used to be Alien, Predator, and Terminator action figures), but the era of the multiplex brought stricter parents and movie theaters that actually carded. It's a sad fact of life that Hollywood has pandered so much to children in recent years, who are now turning their backs on movies for video games and mobile technologies. Adults rarely have a good excuse to go see a movie, but Dredd's one of the better ones. As of this writing it hasn't recouped half of its modest budget. It's a shame, too, because I'd actually be interested in a sequel.

Note: I didn't link to the trailer because it's got more than one significant spoiler in it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney supposedly likes science fiction

The response from most science fiction fans: What the fuck is he talking about?

 

He claims to like Star Trek, the show which preaches tolerance, condemns military-obsessed societies, and espouses the dream of humanity one day leaving capitalism behind forever. And have you ever seen anyone pay for healthcare in sickbay? That's a curious form of entertainment for someone with Romney's stances. 

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt interviewing Romney in 2007:

“I hope your favorite movie isn’t ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,” Hewitt joked. 
“I’ll stay away from that,” Romney said laughing.

Huh? How many science fiction fans would "stay away" from one of the finest movie examples of the genre? And seriously, fuck Hewitt for suggesting there's something wrong with liking it. It currently holds a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, dipshit—could you possibly be more out of touch?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Keeping the fringe alive: a Troma special on CNN


I thought I'd share this CNN piece on Troma from a few years ago. As of right now, Hollywood is remaking Toxic Avenger (spoiler: it's going to suck) and Lloyd Kaufman is directing the fourth installment of Class of Nuke'em High. Be careful where you open that link; there are less pornographic trailers for actual pornos.

Kaufman has said for years that Troma's in financial trouble. According to the grapevine, it's in more trouble than ever before. It seems Troma's response to their difficulties is uploading their library of films to the net to watch for free. I guess the idea is to generate revenue from the ads that display during the movies. You can watch their movies here

My two all-time favorites are Tromeo & Juliet and the more recent Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, a chicken-zombie musical that skewers the fast food industry.

Friday, September 21, 2012

James Rolfe's tribute to TNT's Monster Vision

I can't embed the video here (at least I don't think I can) so here's the link.

I'm not particularly persuaded by nostalgia, but hot damn, Joe Bob Briggs is one of my favorite people alive. Perhaps it's because he's a fellow southerner who somehow doesn't seem retarded. Not many people can get away with wearing cowboy boots and bolo ties, certainly not while checking off lists that count the number of breasts and severed heads seen in a movie.


Things that surprised me about Rolfe's video:

  • There was a Monster Vision before Joe Bob Briggs. I'm sure I knew about this back then, but either way, I didn't know it now. 
  • Penn & Teller once hosted the show for a month. 
  • Monster Vision ran longer than I suspected it did. It wasn't cancelled until 2000.
Here's the link to Joe Bob's official website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Think: Excellent speech on why the technology itself shouldn't be feared

The bluetooth keyboard that fits in your pocket

AUGUST 2015 UPDATE: Inexplicably, this post has been getting a lot of views lately, but it's pretty old. I thought I'd point this similar keyboard out. (That's not an affiliate link, by the way. I make no money directly off of this blog.) The linked keyboard is, at the time of this writing, $35 and it's got good user reviews. If anyone cares about the original post, here it is:

I love it.

the Jorno pocketable keyboard

One of the things I like about writing all my documents in Google Drive is the fact that when I go to bed, I don't have to get back up and go to my computer when I think of something to add to a story. I just grab my phone and touch the Drive shortcut on my home screen. It takes maybe two more clicks to find the last document I was working on. The only thing that sucks, however, is typing on a virtual keyboard.

If you take advantage of Jorno's Kickstarter project, you can get one for $79. After that, it'll retail for about $119.

Ethan Hawke's in a horror movie that's flying in under the radar

I think it's safe to say old fashioned horror films just aren't going to be made anymore. Not in this country, not for mainstream audiences. The sooner you accept this sad fact, the sooner you can enjoy trailers like the one below. I'm 60-80% convinced it's going to suck, but hey, I want to believe.


Release date is October 12th. Via io9.

Friday, September 14, 2012

FTL is an instant classic in space sims (FTL review)

This is the game I've been waiting for.

I'm not what you call an early bird, but this morning I woke up at seven as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. I checked FTLgame.com to see if the game had gone on sale earlier than I expected. It had! Maybe it was a glitch, but the price tag was only $9. I tipped them an extra dollar and received my Steam key within seconds. Two minutes later, the game finished downloading. Five minutes after that, I'd finished the tutorial.

The gameplay is as deep, but picking it up is easier than Microsoft's Freelancer. This is a game that would be perfect for mobile operating systems like Android and iOS (and a comment made by one of the site admins suggests it will eventually make it there).


There are three crewmen available from the start. I name one Grant (he'll be the captain, of course) and keep the randomly generated names for the other two: Sem and Maria, who primarily man the engine room and the shield generator respectively. So we set sail into the wide unknown, pushing the outer edge of the final frontier. I don't care how nerdy I sound right now... who the hell hasn't dreamed of piloting a friggin' starship?

After a couple of dogfights which couldn't be avoided, a distress call turns out to be a pirate ship wedged between a couple of space rocks. It'd be easy to blast the wounded ship to oblivion and collect whatever scrap and cargo survives, but I remember Captain Picard's policy of keeping the peace. Unfortunately, the trapped ship is destroyed during my attempt to save it, anyway. I then make the light jump to the next destination, satisfied in knowing I did my best.

Then there's a decision to be made. While the evil rebel fleet is hot on my ship's trail, we can travel through a hostile sector or try to make our way through a nebula, which will shut down certain portions of the system's electronics. I decide it's better to risk the nebula and, hopefully, avoid a number of space battles in the process.

Traveling through a nebula is eerie, not to mention dangerous. Despite the simple graphics and the cheerful chip tunes, the ship's sensors shut down and I'm piloting more or less blind. We encounter a few hostiles along the way, but most of the time we can use the nebula as cover and slip by.

Most of the time.

The worst encounter in the nebula involves pirates who board the ship. Because the sensors are down, I don't know what's going on in the ship beyond the rooms that contain crew members. So, blindly, I open all the outer doors and try to flush the hijackers out. Did it work? I have no idea... but then the door to Maria's shield room turns red as the pirates breach it. I command her to escape into an adjacent room and open all the doors between the outside of the ship and the shield room. The hijackers run out of oxygen just in time. Another narrow escape.

Every escape in this game is narrow.

Scrap is currency in FTL's world. The more you fight and survive, the more scrap you earn. I'm more interested in flight than fight, however. I avoid encounters whenever possible and help wounded enemies rather than capitalize on their misfortune. I don't make much scrap as a result. I come across some good deals in the cosmos, but can't afford to partake.

One distress call turns out to be a planet on which an infectious disease is spreading. The government there can use our help, but it would be wise for my crew to keep moving. I send a party down to the planet, anyway. Seriously, though, what would Captain Picard do? (WWCPD?) We successfully help them stop the infection from spreading further, but one of my crew is showing symptoms of the illness himself. I'll be damned if it isn't Captain Grant.

Sem and Maria leave him behind and share piloting duties. Things go pretty smoothly despite Grant's absence.

Maria's later killed when asteroids rain down upon the ship during an escort mission. Sem narrowly escapes, but helps a wounded ally to safety. For the first time the ship is wealthy in scrap. At the next stop, Sem hires two alien crewmen to take up Grant and Maria's duties. All is well until they encounter a seriously overpowered rebel drone in the most hostile of environments. There's no hope for Sem and his alien crewmen, but they put up a hell of a fight.

There is no loading of previous save points. No second chances. "Game Over" truly means your game is over. FTL truly is rogue-like in that respect and I only wish there was some end goal to obtain. Otherwise your only goal is to see how far you can get, how much you can explore. In the end, I've destroyed ten ships, collected more than four hundred units of scrap, and responded to forty-eight distress calls.

I also wish the game recognized who you consider the captain, the lieutenant, and so on. It'd be great if you could ask other members of the crew for advice when difficult decisions have to be made. Nonetheless, FTL is one of the best games of the year and it will more than hold me over until Tuesday's release of Borderlands 2. In fact, if you're a fan of frequently returning to Freelancer, you're likely to get a lot of mileage out of FTL.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have another ship to command.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Notch talks about 0x10c in Penny Arcade interview

I'm sitting here doing everything I can to take my mind off the upcoming release of FTL.

I love space games, so when it was announced Markuss "Notch" Persson (developer of Minecraft, the hugest indie game ever) was making a space game, I've been following the news every week since. One of the best resources for this information, other than Notch's Twitter account, is Reddit's 0x10c sub. Notch himself occasionally pops in to speak with his fans. (Recently, he apologized for the lack of updates with a surprisingly personal excuse: he was going through a painful breakup. He promised to get back to work right after PAX.)


So how do you pronounce 0x10c? Straight from Notch himself:

"Yeah! You can pronounce it any way you want."
(In case you're wondering, it seems the most official way to pronounce it is, "Ten To The Cee.")

Read more of the interview here. I'm just hoping FTL holds me over long enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Boy And His Dog. Why don't they make trailers like this anymore?

A trailer reminiscent of Clockwork Orange's irreverent marketing campaign:

"an R rated, rather kinky tale of survival"

Fantastic article on the Wachowskis, makers of Cloud Atlas


On the monitor screen, Tom Hanks’s eyes, in extreme closeup, flickered through a complicated sequence of emotions: hatred, fear, anger, doubt. “Cut!” Lana Wachowski shouted. The crew on Stage 9 at Babelsberg Studio, near Berlin, erupted in a din of professional efficacy, preparing for the next shot, while Hanks returned to his chair to sip coffee from an NPR cup. Lana and her brother, Andy, who are best known for writing and directing the “Matrix” trilogy, were shooting “Cloud Atlas,” an adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 best-selling novel of the same name.

Read more at The New Yorker. I typically skip these kinds of pieces, but this one kept me up the other night when I made the mistake of reading it past my bedtime. Cloud Atlas, which will either be one of the greatest movies ever made or the worst, seems to be pretty damn good if this journalist is to be believed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Every issue of Omni Magazine is now available on The Internet Archive

Click here to go there.

As a huge fan of Omni Magazine, I can't put into words how happy this makes me. I rarely see back issues at used bookstores anymore so this is a fantastic treat even if the scans aren't that great. (Okay, "aren't that great" should read "nearly dismal.") Nonetheless, there are different formats including epubs and Kindle files.

A "Best Of" edition edited by Ben Bova and Don Myrus. Sorry, my scanner's on the blink.


More info from the site, via Wikipedia:
In its early run, OMNI published a number of stories that have become genre classics, such as Orson Scott Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata", William Gibson's "Burning Chrome" and "Johnny Mnemonic", Harlan Ellison's novella "Mefisto in Onyx", and George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings". The magazine also published original sf/f by William S. Burroughs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Carroll, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and other mainstream writers. The magazine excerpted Stephen King's novel Firestarter, and featured a short story, "The End of the Whole Mess". OMNI also brought the works of numerous painters to the attention of a large audience, such as H. R. Giger, De Es Schwertberger and Rallé. In the early 1980s, popular fiction stories from OMNI were reprinted in "The Best of OMNI Science Fiction" series and featured art by space artists like Robert McCall.