All posts by daemon

Avatar, Smurfs and Multi-Dimensional Porn

I was not in the rush to watch Avatar but it finally caught up with me. Thanks to the promo at local movie rental place I’ve got 3 movies for $5 for 5 nights – pretty good deal. One of those movies was Avatar.

Some time ago one of my friends described to me Avatar as a Smurf-Movie: bunch of blue (mind you, somewhat overgrown at 3m tall) people running across the screen. They live in a commune, got Papa-Smurf etc. Well, I laughed and thought it was funny. Now I have to tell you that both me and my wife have this weird connection when we hear “Smurf”: “porn”. I’ll explain – as kids we didn’t have much exposure to “Smurfs” as a cartoon. Our teen years coincided with the growth of Internet (otherwise known as “porn DB”). And Internet was full of porn Smurf spoofs – all those cute characters with over-sized genitalia “having it” with each other left, right and center. I think I don’t have to explain logic any further. In other words somewhere on subconscious level I expected “porn”.

While having all of the above on my mind I watched the movie casually noticing that it did deliver in soft-porn department – with semi-naked Na’vi (Smurfs) running around culminating in a scene of “mating” between main character and his newfound love. And movie has managed to keep us mostly interested until the end not only because of “porn” theme 😉 Lots of special effects and liberally sprinkled battle scenes do their job well, keeping you entertained and glued to the screen.

For me however movie really starts after you have finished watching it – when you start analyzing it. My main criteria typically are:

  • Can you compress the plot into 1 sentence or less?
  • Could you tell the ending of the movie 10-20 minutes into the movie?
  • Did main characters make you sick with their righteousness?

In reality it’s a bit more complicated, but you’ve got the idea. Guided by common sense and curiosity I started to explore. Some things that I found were not speaking in Cameron’s (or movie) favor (from Wikipedia):

Cinema audiences in Russia have noted that Avatar has elements in common with the 1960s Noon Universe novels by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which are set in the 22nd century on a forested world called Pandora with a sentient indigenous species called the Nave.

That naturally spiked my interest in Strugatsky’s books, but not in the movie itself.

Analyzing movie some more I realized that I wasn’t interested in the movie but rather things about it or related to it. Having as many contradictions as it had, not to mention that I could compress storyline into one sentence: “White American guy comes and rescues alien species who couldn’t defend themselves it on their own” it is hardly surprising that my interest in the movie itself was low (you want to dig deeper on that summary, look up Avatar’s meaning in Hinduism:

Avatar (Hinduism), manifestation or appearance of a Hindu deity

Which makes Jake-the-white-American-marine what? Deity?)

Now to the 3D part – we watched movie as a “mundane” DVD movie – no 3D gimmicks except that I cranked our sub up a notch for more dramatic effect. In that setup we both were able to pinpoint sections of the movie designed specifically for 3D – it was too bloody obvious. Not a single time did I feel myself being “robbed” of that extra dimension. So much for 3D. (BTW – we did watch 3D movies in iMax and so far only 1 really delivered on 3D front – “How to Train Your Dragon”, but I’m digressing).

In summary: despite the claimed “3D”, movie was seriously uni-dimensional. Characters have no depth; story is as straight as a line and stretches no farther than two inches from start to end. While gaining “extra” dimension visually in fact it lost at least one as far as I can tell.

I have to mention that among the rented movies was also “Jade Warrior”. Budgets of both are incomparable, latter doesn’t claim 3D. However that movie has way more dimensions than Avatar has. Interesting twist presents blend of: Finnish and Chinese cinematography, mythology, cultures, etc. Movie is rather poor in battle scenes department (comparing to Avatar). It’s budget was around $2.7 EUR which is a far cry from Avatar’s $230M (I suspect it could’ve been done even cheaper – because I didn’t care much for special effects but story was rally engaging). Yet characters have depth – story keeps you engaged until the very end, and while you and sort of kind of predict the end and the twists of the plot – you are never sure. …and I can’t really compress storyline into single sentence – I’ll need at least two 🙂 Don’t get me wrong – “Jade Warrior” is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but when compared to Avatar it sure feels like one.

Now back to the Smurf business. In a conversation with one of my friends I have realized what movie category Avatar falls into: porn. Yes, it is a Sci-Fi Porn. Judge for yourself:

Pornography or porn is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.

The word derives from the Greek ??????????? (pornographia), which derives from the Greek words ????? (porn?, “prostitute” and pornea, “prostitution”), and ????? (graph?, “I write or record,” derived meaning “illustration,” cf. “graph”), and the suffix -?? (-ia, meaning “state of,” “property of,” or “place of”), thus meaning “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution.”

as compared to eroticism:

Eroticism (from the Greek ????, eros—”desire”) is a philosophical contemplation with a focus on the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love. Unlike sensuality, which concentrates on the pleasures of the senses, eroticism is concerned with heightening those pleasures. To achieve that objective, eroticism can involve a delay in sexual gratification in order to intensify the satisfaction level by extending the period of yearning desire.

The way I see it: porn is about displaying it all in full view, erotica is about hinting and letting your mind fill all those dirty details for you. In Sci-Fi terms Avatar is porn: it explicitly shows every detail without leaving much for your mind to feast on. Compare it even to such uninspiring item like “Chronicles of Riddick” and you’ll understand what I’m saying (better yeat – read my “Battlestar Firefly” post). There was no reason for it all to “hang out there” but Cameron decided it should, and “hang out” it did.

If after reading all of the above you ask me: “What do you think of 3D movies?” I’d reply: “It’s a poor substitute for depth of characters and screenplay”. And if you ask me what comes to my mind when I hear Avatar?” I’d say: “Smurfs” 😉

Tea and Tranquility

Tea cupAside from other things I’m passionate about tea is one thing that caries me through the day. Sometimes I really need my tea. My addiction is not of chemical sort – it is a mental addiction – tea is just a symbol, a ritual to break daily routine and get some space for myself where there is none.

Tea is my reason to get out of my chair – walk down the hallway put on kettle, wait about 5 minutes for water to boil, pick my tea in the meantime – green means I’ll have to use my cup to stage boiling water through – transferring water through cup should bring temperature down about 5-10 degrees if needed I can let it cool down bit more for couple more minutes to get the best brew. Black tea shortens the time by eliminating cup as a transit station but extends brewing time. All boils down (pun intended) to about 10 minutes for myself – for my ritual – away from grinding routine, away from dark political matters from social injustices from everything that makes me feel down.

My subtle addiction to tea culminated in purchasing the book “A brief history of Tea, The extraordinary Story of World’s Favourite Drink” by Roy Moxham. I’m far from being through the whole book but have learned quite a few history lessons already. The rise of monopolies in 18th century (East India Company and such), governments offloading their responsibilities onto corporations, which in turn rip off everybody they deal with, lobbying that goes a tad farther than subsidies and culminates in international military conflicts. The darkest so far for me is Opium trade in China in 19th century. British Empire exploiting Chinese weakness against that powerful drug that didn’t stop at simple distribution – distribution was pretty much enforced and legalized to increase British profits all in the name of recovering silver to be able to buy more tea:

The exchange of opium for tea was a disaster for China. While it was true, as British were ever fond of pointing out, that no one forced the Chinese to smoke opium, it was also true that exports from British territory and the smuggling by British merchants undermined Chinese efforts to stem addiction… Perhaps most seriously of all, the British military expeditions sent to protect the opium-for-tea trade destabilized the Chinese regime and fueled xenophobia…

In other words another corporation creates this new market – hooks entire country on it, then forces everyone else to pay the bill for it’s wrongdoings, washes off their hands and moves on to its next target barely affected. What, Microsoft, IBM and Apple (I can name more but that’d be boring 😉 ) tactics are not new???

History is always complex. It’s always one little thing that triggers another that causes chain reaction with the following explosion of revolution, war, conquest etc. But why did it have to involve the drink that I like?

So now even my tranquility moments have been invaded and sabotaged by corporations, governments and not-so-smart general population. No hiding from it now. Just like in “No Logo”: there’s “No Space” left for personal, it is all overtaken by other entities. Not only on the streets but also in our minds. I will fight for my space though. I do not let go of things that are mine by right, so easily. I won’t stop drinking tea. What I will have to do is “invert” the space around me: just like army taking battles from the streets inside the houses and moving through the corridors and roofs – I will invert the space around me and walk along the crevices and claim some of them as mine and expand from there.

Battlestar Firefly

I like good movies. Scratch that – I LOVE good movies. Jim Jarmusch have opened so many great actors for me and his movies are the ones I keep going back to over and over again. Peter Greenaway let me explore my dark side, taught me the art of irony and sarcasm exploding human nature into some grotesque forms. Babbling and insecure Woody Allen made me feel better about myself. Kar Wai Wong, Yimou Zhang, Alice Wu shown me sides of Asian cultures that are free of Manga, Godzilla and flying kung-fu masters (although I do enjoy watching those on occasion). Point is – I like when movies get serious, I like depth, I like something I can watch over and over and over again and still enjoy it and be able to discover something new – some hidden gems, some imperfections (in the wabi-sabi way, of course) and some unexplored sides of the characters. And to complicate matters I do enjoy a good Sci-Fi (I wouldn’t be geek if I didn’t, now would I?)

Good Sci-Fi movies with depth are hard to come by and when you turn to shows things get even worse. So while frustrated with the lack of real choice in that category (Sci-Fi TV Series) I have learned to not expect much from those shows and my disappointment levels dropped significantly. For quite a while I thought Babylon 5 is “it”. It had mediocre depth to the characters, but it did have some storyline stitching the entire show together (well at least first 4 seasons). Then, one night, we were visiting our friends – it must’ve been party of some sort, but TV was on and somehow it was stuck on Sci-Fi channel right at the time when Battlestar Galactica miniseries were on. That was the night when my expectations for the Sci-Fi shows grew to the new level. All of sudden characters made sense, the whole scenery looked real, nobody was babbling about new inventions – everybody was busy using them and the laws of physics seemed to apply. “Oh, my $deity!” I thought to myself – it can’t be real. And then the full-blown series came out. It was a very new experience for me just like for the rest of geek population on the planet. Not only did this show turn upside-down formula of Sci-Fi show it also blew out of the water theories about piracy hurting entertainment industry (the last one being an unintentional side-effect that even the show-makers won’t admit to):

While you might assume the SciFi Channel saw a significant drop-off in viewership as a result of this piracy, it appears to have had the reverse effect: the series is so good that the few tens of thousands of people who watched downloaded versions told their friends to tune in on January 14th, and see for themselves. From its premiere, Battlestar Galactica has been the most popular program ever to air on the SciFi Channel, and its audiences have only grown throughout the first series. Piracy made it possible for “word-of-mouth” to spread about Battlestar Galactica.

Back to the subject – for a while there I thought BSG was the only game in town and in fact are trail-blazers in the area of character depth in Sci-Fi shows. Then I came across Firefly. Let me be straight here: I do not like Joss Whedon and his creations, none of them. Except Firefly. Buffy and it’s spin-offs had no characters with depth, even the ones that seemed to have depth had it only 1″ deep. Firefly all of sudden presents an interesting phenomena – characters have enough in them for you to want explore them, their stories go for miles and mix of corny humor, unique vision of future and “in your face” cutting through stereotypical behavioral patterns for both Westerns and Sci-Fi shows really sets it apart. Read through the comments in IMDb and you’ll see it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of show. People either hate it right away or they fall in love. But people do react: 100K comments is a very impressive number in my books – that is how many people decided it was worth their while to post a comment on IMDb just on account of Firefly.

So recently I came across an article on The Register titled “Shut up, Spock! – how Battlestar Galactica beat Trek babble” and while agreeing with most points made by Kevin Grazier about the science behind BSG and how it made it all more believable I realized that quite a few things mentioned there apply to Firefly as well. And it also looks like Firefly beat BSG to a punch by a narrow margin, but it did. Firefly was first to give characters some depth (in it’s own, unique way), it had no techno babble: “Okay, I need that in captain dummy talk, Kaylee.” and avoided most of the cliché’s of action movies like long villain/hero long talks before acting, disregards for chain of command, ships were actually worn out, people tired, nobody wears dorky bodysuits, no blasters left right and center and everybody speaks Chinese. Is it really that important who was first and who wasn’t? No. But I’d like to set the record straight anyway 😉

What does all of the above mean? Does it mean anything? Well, it does. To me it means a lot. It means it is possible to create a Sci-Fi show that I can enjoy on several levels and not only on a Sci-Fi level. It also means that the new standard has been set and now other shows will try to match it. And on top of it all it means that my respect to “Earth Final Conflict” (what a disaster! Re-watched it now after 10 years or so and still can’t figure out what did I see in it?), Lexx (just got DVDs delivered recently and setting my expectations sufficiently low) and “Star Trek” (the original series, I terrified to watch it again – the memory of it may be tarnished forever) is fizzling and the only way I can still watch those if I remind myself that at that time those were the best we’ve had. And they were “damn good shows”.

If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d think that it’s a plot to deny us pleasure of enjoyment of all shows and hooking us to new stuff forcing us to abandon all those purchased VHS tapes and DVDs for the sake of new Blu-Ray collections and anxiously wait for more new stuff. But it can’t be true. Can it?

Blu rays of death

There is an onslaught of infuriating things coming to my attention lately. And being the person I am I can’t just let it slide – it irks me. So here’s another one: doing a bit of casual research about Blu-Ray support in Linux I came across some happy blog talking about MakeMKV so, naturally I went on exploratory mission (it would’ve not been me if I didn’t)  and came across some interesting material about BD+ and SVQ files :

For example, if a blu-ray player is connected to home network then a BD+ program can scan all shared files on all computers on the network and upload the report to a remote server. While it is very unlikely that studios will put such an evil program on a disc, it is technically possible.

Whoa! What?!?!?! I was musing before on the subject of possibly revoked keys on your Blu-Ray device via acknowledged firmware update to accommodate newer disks requiring firmware higher than rev X, but this blows even my conspiracy theories!

Wikipedia article doesn’t alleviate the fears – it makes it oh so much more real:

BD+ is effectively a virtual machine embedded in authorized players. It allows content providers to include executable programs on Blu-ray Discs. Such programs can:[8]

  • examine the host environment, to see if the player has been tampered with. Every licensed playback device manufacturer must provide the BD+ licensing authority with memory footprints that identify their devices.
  • verify that the player’s keys have not been changed.
  • execute native code, possibly to patch an otherwise insecure system.
  • transform the audio and video output. Parts of the content will not be viewable without letting the BD+-program repair it.

While everybody was thinking that Blu-Ray devices were made for viewing movies by their owners, things are exactly in reverse – those movies are watching us. How can we be so stupid and let ourself be fooled into that?

While I have no problem paying for movies and I do exactly that to which I have a proof – my 300+ DVD collection, I object to any snooping done by any third parties in my house. My freedoms are being tampered with; I am being stripped of my privacy, my rights and my choices. I seriously, truly hate that.

Yeah, we all want high-def content on our monster-TVs, but I am not prepared to trade-in my freedoms for that. No way. I hope BD+ gets hacked just like DVDs were – once and for all. I do not to feel like criminal doing whatever I please with the Blu-Ray content within my Fair Use rights. I will not tolerate piece of equipment in my house that doesn’t play by my rules.

Blu-Ray spells death to consumer freedoms, death to privacy and death to democracy. You don’t have to think hard to imagine scenario where disks could be programmed to disable all “unwanted” content. As you’ve seen from above quotes and resources – any disc is allowed to “patch” your Blu-Ray player as it sees fit, including modification of locally stored key chains. And we though Microsoft was evil. There are new games in town that are bigger and meaner than Microsoft. Microsoft paved the way to all those new and brave entrepreneurs willing to grab you by the balls and squeeze it until you scream and then back off a little.

I am not exaggerating here. Yes, above post indicates that studios are not likely going to do it, but Sony CD rootkit scandal begs to differ. Corporate mentality dictates 2 things: maximize profits and do whatever it takes to get things done your way. Everything is evaluated as a price and apparently our freedoms cost very little in comparison to the opportunity to sell copious amounts of digital copies on different media while keeping a close eye on those who may step out of line. It has been proved over and over again – those who “pirate” content did not intend to buy or rent it in the first place so there is no “lost sales”. It is all boiling down to “creating new markets”… and selling MORE content. We who buy content may download a thing or two on occasion only to buy that same content on our next trip to the store. It is all about the availability and accessibility of content, Blu-Ray does nothing to cover those. Read “Piracy is Good?” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Blu-Ray design proves that it was intended as a lock-in mechanism, and until I see some moratorium statement from **AA’s and elimination of accompanying functionality from Blu-Ray devices I won’t believe otherwise.

I truly and honestly hope that *AA gangs will choke on their greed and drop dead sometime soon. But that is not happening and not going to happen. I see people giving into the temptation of having “more” and it is sad. We do not ask questions and we do not think until it’s too late. Reminds me of Adbusters article” After America, there is no place to go” by Kitty Werthmann ( Issue #92 :  The Carnivalesque Rebellion Issue ). Looks and feels like we’re going through the same issues as Austrians in 1938 – they elected Hitler because they were OK trading in a “piece of freedom” for a “piece of mind” and a “peace of bread”. Very soon Austrians discovered that status-quo didn’t last. Within a year things have changed and freedoms eroded more and more every day while piece of mind and piece of bread were not forthcoming either. Our present freedoms are being taken away every day. We have elected our Hitler – the overpowering drive for “more” with Industry Admirals (or should I say Großadmiral’s?) at helm.

Don’t get me wrong, capitalism is a good thing and I do not pitch communism here, but what we currently have is not capitalism and democracy, it’s a corporatism and oligarchy – look up definitions and you’ll see I’m right.

Boxed Communism

Got thinking about iStuff vs things like Android and other [semi-]open initiatives today. I have come to realize that iProducts are representing the poor choice we had during communism times. Look: you come to the store, ask for 200g of sausage, you don’t ask which kind – there is only one, and the closest you can get to a “variety” would be question: which newspaper do you want to wrap it into – yesterday’s or today’s? iPhone differentiation is only superficial – skin-deep if you will. “Look, I’ve got pink skin!” or “Look I’ve got neat wallpaper”. Somehow the rest of the industry managed to at least make it look like there’s a variety. Not to mention that iProducts share an oversight of Mao and Party.

So here’s the dilemma – for an unsuspecting user platforms like Android or Symbian (or even Windows mobile, for that matter) are complex and hard to comprehend – “Hey, Joe! You’ve got to get yourself an Android – awesome apps etc. What do you mean which one? Oh, there’s Galaxy, Nexus, Desire… What do you mean simple? No, Joe, you’ve got to take a look and see what you like.” Whereas with iPhone – “Joe, buy yourself an iPhone”. Done.

We are our own enemies – we kill selection by being lazy and then complain that we’re being duped on every corner by monopolistic corporations that disregard our opinions and tell us what to do.

Ok, so here’s what I think should happen – we stop following somebody else’s orders/visions and start thinking for ourselves. Easy enough, right? No.

Here’s where I get to the real communism (USSR-style). How many parties do we have to choose from? Well, here, in Canada it’s major 4 (in Alberta it’s major 1) and how deep the difference goes? Not very. We cry and we bitch about Copyright reform in Canada pushed through by Conservative, however it’s Liberals who introduced it, and while NDP was oposing it, they are seeking merger with Liberals. Where does that leave us? Exactly where we are.

I’m the opensource guy and I am being labeled as “communist” at times and Ballmer scares people with stories of OSS turning countries into communist state but here’s the problem – it’s people like Steve (heh, got both of them here) who turn state into communist state and not the communist state Marx and Engels are talking about – the one that was implemented in USSR and the one that spread over eastern Europe.

Thankfully there are beacons of reason out there: Fair Vote Canada is trying to spread the knowledge on alternative forms of elections – the ones that would actually represent *all* of the population rather than minority (do you math: only 30-40% of population goes to vote and 40% of those voted elect your government – does that seem right? FSF and EFF are working hard educating governments and users about what “freedom” is in IT and what can be done to preserve it.

Back online

Took me a while, but I’m back online… pihua is dead and now I’m trying the new concept. This time I won’t make the same mistake and will backup my database 😉

This time it’s an experiment in ego-measuring contest with no rules. This time it’s all about me, my narcissistic self and all I care about. Good portion of Internet population is already indulging in self-promotion and streaming their thought onto unsuspecting public, so why should I sit idle? We should either overload this media with sufficient levels of noise or bring the level of average blog to a sufficiently high level to discourage any participation from folks who have nothing to say.

I do have something to say. I have a lot to say. Not sure if anybody cares to listen. I’ll make it my diary to confide in, my stick to beat all the issues that bother me, my empty stage for yelling out loud when nobody listens. I will be here even if nobody comes.

Get ready – it’s going to be rough, unedited, plenty mixed up and #$cked up too.