Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Report: Alamo Slaughter Lane is pretty great

The newest Austin location of The Alamo Drafthouse has opened very close to my house, and I am extremely impressed.  The tradition of service and experience continues, as well as the obvious differences at this location which reflect The Alamo's continual desire to improve their theaters.

It should be noted, the other Alamo locations are hampered a bit by the fact that all were built out of existing structures.

  • The Original Alamo - I have no idea, but it was an old space dowtown, and the fact that you climbed about 50 feet of stairs and the space was kind of flat never worked terribly well
  • Alamo South - a former Fiesta Grocery
  • The Alamo Ritz - the Ritz movie theater/ venue/ lousy club I used to go to in college
  • The Alamo Village - took over the old arthouse theater in town where I'd seen plenty of films from 4th grade through about 2001.  It was an old theater then and showed it.
  • The Alamo LakeCreek - took over the multiplex LakeCreek, which I think was an AMC, and never my favorite theater.  Its no doubt better as an Alamo, and used to be the only location with this great Turkey Sandwich.  But you can still feel the 90's movie-chain vibe.

The new space is laid out with ideas like audience management in mind.  The queues of the Alamo South don't exist.  Instead, it works almost exactly like Southwest Airlines' seating, with groups going in by letter and number (something I'm becoming pretty damned accustomed to of late).   My lesson on this:  get your tickets as early as possible.  Yeah, if you're a "let's go to the theater and see what's showing!" at 7:00 on a Friday kind of movie-goer, the Alamo may not be for you, but its probably not for you, anyway.  You're going to want to know up to five days in advance if you're going to take in a film.  Now, you're going to also want to organize your friends a day or two ahead of that, so you can all enter together.

The menu hasn't changed much from the other locations.  However, I'd note the following:

  • The coffee is now French Press and easily 10x better than their old coffee service, which was just never as good as I wanted it to be.
  • Thanks to their co-habitation with a new cocktail bar, they've added a Maker's Mark Milk Punch which was even better than it sounds. 

The Alamo South has had a great "UFO's Blowing Up Texas" theme since it opened.  The lobby is full of old-timey carnival ride parts suggesting an epic battle between airplanes and flying saucers, with a mural of a drive-in getting vaporized.

The new location has gone for a sort of "man-eating plant is out of control" theme.

nom nom nom

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Transcendent Man (2009)

I really wish I had seen this movie when it came out, but it was just recommended to me by Co-Worker Ladd this morning.

As much as I like a good, Thunderdomish Dystopian look at the future, from a technology and academic standpoint, I fall much more in the camp of pointing at the shinier spacecraft and rocket pack visions of the future.  Prepping for a time of Robot Shock Troopers tends to make you start stocking ammunition and buying property in Queen Creek, Arizona, and I'm just not ready to cut the sleeves off all my camo jackets yet, and I look terrible in a crazy-man beard.

In fact, I like my job partially because its all about the future where we get flying cars and can download dissertations directly into our noggins.  Digital libraries!  Hoorary!

It seems that technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil showed up as SXSWi 2012, and Co-Worker Ladd (yes, his name is Ladd) managed to see him speak.  Kurzweil is one of those names I've heard on and off for two decades, not quite the way you hear of Tim Berners-Lee, but he pops up on BoingBoing and is a name that technology hipsters tend to throw around.

Frankly, I should pay a lot more attention to these sorts of figures, because Kurzweil's personal innovations are incredible, even if that's not really the topic of the documentary, Transcendent Man (2009).  Instead, the doc follows Kurzweil as he moves around the planet as a bit of a Conference Personality, but as he also meets with figures from Colin Powell to William Shatner to an arena full of Church of Christ Conference attendees discussing the concept of The Singularity.*

As we all know, technology is advancing from all angles in ways predicted clumsily by Moore's Law.  What Kurzweil is looking at and discussing is that its not just processing power, but other technologies, falling into three areas of interest:  Genetics (bioinformatics), Nantotechnology and Robotics (or AI).  The Singularity is a point at which those things hit a point on the graph where the nature of humanity will be forced to change by the technologies so profoundly that it will rewrite our definitions of everything from technology to humanity to consciousness.

Basically, we're in a mad race to see if we create a race of super artificial intelligences, if we can rewrite our DNA to beat disease and aging while recreating the human body, or if nanotechnology will be merging us into machines while it has the ability to connect us to the super robot brains while rewriting our bodies into all looking like Fabio in 1994.  Or will we upload our consciousness to Facebook?

Here's the thing:  I think I know just enough about technology and SCIENCE to know I don't know anything, but I also tend to think that Kurzweil, while maybe jumping the gun on the timing, is probably right.

I intended to watch part of the show this evening and then return to it, but instead I watched the entire thing, slack jawed and in awe.  The movie manages to find genius after genius, players at the tops of their fields who all have different reasons to agree or disagree with Kurzweil in whole or in part, and its an absolutely gripping 80 minutes or so.  Especially as the director humanizes and builds a portrait of Kurzweil (a seemingly approachable gentleman, certainly) and digs into the basis for his quest and to see what drives him.

There are a tremendous number of questions occurring in the film, the sorts of things that have the longterm effects of global change, all without the pressure cooker or drive of a Manhattan Project.  Its happening now, and the minds pushing toward the future seem aware of the pitfalls and risks of the world they're creating, and seem to be sure that somebody else is going to deny the dinosaurs their Lysine.  Its absolutely riveting stuff.  And, again, this is a documentary.

The crowd that drifts into this blog is pretty smart and tech savvy, and I'd love to see what you guys have to say, if you've seen it or you get a chance to stream it from Netflix.

Highly, highly recommended.

*see my hilariously uninformed argument with my brother about the concept at his blog post from about a year ago.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Moment in History: The Final Space Shuttle Mission

The Atlantis lifts off for the final time

My heart breaks a little knowing that its the end of the Space Shuttle era. I'd be simply nostalgic if it meant that in 2012 the X-39 or a similar program were geared up to take the place of the Shuttle Program. But, instead, for the foreseeable future we'll be taking rides on Russian rockets to visit our own space station, and remaining earthbound after a half-century of touching the cosmos, even if it was only ever a glancing touch.

We looked into the face of limitless possibility as a nation, and we blinked.

In the years to come, they'll say it was a fool's errand, and a waste of resources. I'll be an old man, and the highest aspiration for kids will have long ago quit being being "Astronaut", which will sound antiquated and sad, almost how we smirk knowingly when you imagine being referred to as a "First Mate" on a ship.

And when we're old enough, or when we're gone, they'll say it never happened (just you wait). They'll say they never had the technology, that the will of a nation to spend the resources and capitol necessary just a few decades after the Wright Brothers flew their first place and the first rockets criss-crossed the skies... it was impossible. It'll be called illogical, fantastic and a hoax, written off like the sun-chariots in carvings in Egypt. And when that's said often enough, it'll be true.

Perhaps we went to fast, too soon.  Perhaps the kids I grew up with who squirmed their way through math and science took it for granted when we got to start making the rules, and maybe we were just a little disillusioned that they'd never asked us to suit up and go.  Like everything else, maybe we thought it would always be there.

As always, all we can do is hope that the tide will turn, and one day (perhaps when we're more deserving) we'll be ready, honestly and for real this time.

Until then, I thank the scientists, engineers, visionaries, and brave women and men who suited up and saw the Earth for us, and who went as close to the stars and further and faster than any of us.

The New York Times
AP Story at The Austin American Statesman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dealing with the truth, journalistic integrity and the world of "choose your own reality"

yesterday I stumbled across a pair of articles that I thought intersected nicely.

First, I came across this article on The Backfire Effect.  I suggest you read it, its food for thought.  The core idea of the article is that presenting conflicting evidence to folks with a belief based upon faulty evidence, heresay, rumor, faith, conspiracy, etc...  doesn't convince the believer otherwise.  It merely reinforces that belief.

This shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has had the pleasure of hanging out with a conspiracy theorist.  Suggesting that 9/11 was not an inside job just makes you a sucker, fool and a patsy (or, in a worst case scenario, ONE OF THEM).  But it doesn't need to be the case that one bring up something as inflammatory as 9/11 conspiracies or as ridiculous as Hitler-UFO-JFK conspiracy theories.  Our everyday politics hinge on this entrenching of our beliefs.

Surely it can't be that all conservative beliefs are statistically and factually correct while all opposing liberal beliefs are wrong.  And surely it cannot be that all liberal beliefs are statistically and factually correct while all conservative beliefs are wrong.  Its not even a question of a "happy medium" somewhere between the two.  Occasionally, someone is going to be wrong.  One policy is going to reduce teen pregnancy and one is not, and statistics can help us figure this stuff out (anecdotes, while moving, are not hugely useful).

I know that I have knee-jerk reactions to all sorts of things.  The article points out that this seemingly innate desire to argue and fight over what we already "know" or are comfortable "knowing" is essentially part of human nature, and our responses likely have their roots in evolutionary biology (see: something I'll readily accept because I don't find the idea that we're fancy apes at all offensive).  But tell me that we've got all kinds of fossil fuel in shale, and I'll raise a skeptical eyebrow and quote you science I vaguely remember from middle school ( I honestly haven't read up on this issue very much).

This is basically how I see you people.  Well, me.  You're more like hobo chimps.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

iPhone comes to Verizon

It looks like iPhone is finally coming to Verizon in February. I am not one who cares all that much as I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid on Apple product, but it's nice to have the option. Its time for my upgrade, and I am well aware that the iPhone has a lot more apps, etc...

Really, part of me wants to get an Android just so I can give that blank look to Apple-Zombies when they start insisting I've made the wrong choice. I confess, that look of anxiety and consternation I get in reply is just really gratifying.

Verizon's announcement page.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SW Watches: The Social Network

Firstly, let me say:  This is a pretty darn good movie.  I don't have any rating system, and perhaps I need to develop one.  But, I guess I'm saying:  You don't have to see this in the theater (its not going to be less impressive on your TV), but you're likely going to want to see the movie so you can follow the references made to the movie for the next three months.  Particularly, its a movie of the moment, perhaps more so than any other movie I've seen.  And, frankly, its a bit lucky that this thing made it to the big screen before we'd all moved on to using YouFace or whatever is the next shiny object to blitz the zeitgeist.

EVERYTHING BELOW CONTAINS SPOILERS (Sorry, but I'd like to actually discuss the movie a bit. )

I'll go out on a limb and say:  There's not much in the way of originality in the tale of Zuckerberg and Facebook, particularly if you read the occasional tech website or know much about Facebook's often public legal woes.  Or if you follow much in the way of tech news for companies that tend to get bigger than a bread-box.  But the movie also occasionally has a feeling of "been there, done that" from a narrative standpoint (and we'll get to that in a bit).

I tend to follow Facebook's Privacy issues*, so I've criss-crossed paths with a few stories, and for a company that's got a short lifespan, holy hell, have these guys managed to find themselves in Lawsuit Land an amazing amount.  Of late, however, the stories have mostly focused on "what's real and what is fiction in The Social Network".  The veracity of the story told in The Social Network can and does matter, unless you really want to view it as some sort of modern parable, but somehow that feels a bit lazy.  But it is a movie, so no matter how talented the writer, director and cast, the movie will always exist as a fictional construct.  If that's a disservice to current and ongoing issues...  I can't be sure. 

Business is messy.  The amazing fortunes made by young people starting, HP-style, in garages and dorm rooms aren't mapped out from Day 1, and that leads to some pretty wacky tales.  You don't become a multi-billion-dollar company without leaving a few bodies in shallow graves, metaphorically or otherwise.

The movie doesn't pull the same weak stunt as the very pretty Immortal Beloved and have someone following up on clues in the wake of Zuckerberg's death**, but in many ways, the film has echoes of Citizen Kane, including a final scene I thought was probably necessary for a portion of the audience, but...  What seems to be missing from The Social Network, however, is Zuckerberg's ambition.  Was he the socially maladroit nigh-innocent portrayed in the movie?  Was he really trying to make something cool to find a way to impress the ladies as the movie would have it?  Its hard to imagine the off-screen maneuvering occured without his input, consent or knowledge.

But what the movie kind of hints at that the press seems to only remember in "oh, gosh, can you believe it!" tones is that Zuckerberg was a college Junior as Facebook was getting cranking, but the decisions made and avenues pursued are looked at as if Zuckerberg (I don't think anyone would question his intellectual capability) had the emotional maturity of a few years' worth or work or someone just generally older. *** No @#$% this went a little off the rails.

Zuckerberg's ongoing issues seem to mostly stem from an unstable cocktail of a lack of maturity and (and I know this is going to get me in trouble, but...) the same sort of "I will tell the people what's good for them!" attitude I've seen in many really bad IT and programming shop situations.   And watching Zuckerberg both in the film and real life, I can't help but think "Oh, he's that guy...  Only with 4 billion dollars."

The movie does manage to make some astute reflections upon the entrenched modes of obtaining/ retaining success versus the path of insta-wealth mogul, and I don't know if I can add much that you aren't likely to find in a better review from a smarter writer.  But (a) I appreciated the fact that they managed to show rather than tell via endless exposition, and (b) if I can get judgy for a minute here, it doesn't feel entirely inaccurate.

In building the case (real or imagined) for how and why Zuckerberg decided to pursue something like Facebook, and in the conflicts that arise, writer Sorkin and director Fincher are quietly damning of the origins of final product, and, by extension, the jaded and sordid forms of communication supported in microbursts and what we gain from online profiles and existence (Country, Cities, Online).  Why do we communicate?  What do we gain from communicating on rails set by other people?  Particularly when those rails were originally designed for 18-23 year olds?  And when the rules are managed by a man-boy for whom communication itself is portrayed as fraught with peril to begin with?

Is this the face of success?

I'd take this opportunity to point you to Steven's recent conversation upon similar topics after reading The ShallowsHe starts here and continues for several fascinating posts.

The movie leaves some threads open that I wish had been better explained.  When did Facebook go public and ditch its .edu exclusivity?  When and how did the conversation about ads change?  How does Facebook make its 100's of billions other than on the wishes of unicorns and irrational exuberance?

For the faults of the movie (its iffy relationship with reality, its echoing of well known stories - both real and fictional), the movie has some powerful stuff and can and should at least give you a moment of pause to wonder what the hell you're doing hunting and clicking on that damned website all day.

If I may:  technically, I loved this movie.  The young cast (including Mr. Timberlake) was uniformly pretty amazing.  The script was the kind of smart stuff that seems to pop up only once every 6-18 months or so as per dialog and structure.  Fincher's direction, of what i can see of that stuff, anyway, seemed pretty damned well spot on.

Anyhow, I open the floor to discussion:

*A pal of mine is an EFF lawyer who I tend to follow as he comments upon Facebook's latest brainstorms, and I thought danah boyd made a great argument last year at SXSW, which seemed to lead to nigh-immediate action on the part of Facebook. 

**as of this writing, and at the time of the film's release, Zuckerberg is reported to be in the pink of health

***In a previous incarnation, I couldn't trust student workers with tasks that required a part C as well as a Part A & B, and those were engineering grad students.  No chumps.  But...  I sort of wonder about the wisdom assumed by the populace when we look to the shockingly successful.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DCU Digital Announcement: Brilliant or Lucky?

It just now occurs to me that Marvel may have miscalculated by tieing their digital comics launch in with the launch of the iPad. What's the bigger news that day? iPad or "oh, look, Iron Man!" Of course, it seems to have fit neatly with the release of the Iron Man movie, but people are buzzing about DC's efforts as if we hadn't already seen Marvel pull this off already, and Boom! make an announcement just last week.

That said, I was discussing iPads with my boss, and I think I am waiting for the HP Slate and whatever Dell produces. Not just to be contrarian, but I like to look at YouTube and stuff.

Time to get an iPad: DC Comics goes digital

As recently as Monday, DC wasn't publicly committing to anything when it came to digital comics. As of this morning, DC Comics are available via iTunes. Including the release of Superman #700, which is released today.

In no way does this appear to be an original strategy, but at least they didn't wait much longer to unveil part of the plan.

I have to wonder if plans were to roll out the digital initiative at some other point (San Diego?), but reports that began surfacing this week about Marvel's relative success, and possibly even the story about Hastings getting into the comics game didn't drive the decision to flip the switch.

Well, iPad users, your time is now.

Update: DC's official press release.

Update Update: I was a bit curious as to why DC teamed with Playstation rather than X-Box when it came to their upcoming DCU Online system, which is PC specific for computer and PS3 specific for consoles. But I am guessing that the Playstation Comics thing was already planned, or part of that strategy.

Put Yourself in a Cheap "Twilight" Knock-Off!

As if the heroine of Stephanie Meyer's golden goose, Twilight, wasn't pretty much a stand in for every female who can turn a page, it seems that a company has come up with a brilliant scheme to really, really exploit the concept.

Just fill out the form, add a few details, and... voila! Ladies, you're Bella-@#$%ing-Swan! And that hunky man of your dreams? Edward "Sparkles" Cullen.

You can sample the finished product with three separate scenes. I've cut these a bit short, but they give the general idea...

Now, for just $24.95 (plus shipping and handling), ladies, you can be the star of your very own hastily written Twilight fan fiction.

Click here to order!

Or, you know, search the catalog. If you look at the romance books, apparently you can add anybody you want into what seems to be a steamy, trashy, novel-length tale of inadequate telling! And in genres from werewolf to pirate (with genre specific love scenes).

And now... some samples... You really cannot make this stuff up.

Our Heroes Meet

Jamie could feel the heavy shelves wobble and tilt precariously. Before she could even think of escaping out from underneath, she heard the sound of sudden footsteps and the slap of wood against flesh. She looked up, surprised. A young man in a dark brown leather jacket smiled at her, one arm stretched mere inches above her head as it held back the skewed bookcase.
First Bite: Personalized Vampire Novel
Their romantic ideal is a vintage late 80's college rock fan

“Pardon me,” Ryan murmured with a slight smile, and with a movement as smooth as a dancer’s, he turned and tipped the heavy bookshelves back into their proper position.
Her heart hammering, Jamie scrambled to stand up. She was so shaken she nearly tottered back off her feet, but the stranger reached out to steady her, his touch lasting only seconds. But it was enough.
“Are you all right?”
Like his clothing, his voice was soft and rich. The light fell gently on him almost like an aura—very appropriate for a guardian angel, Jamie thought as she pushed away some messy strands of blonde hair from her face. “Thank you,” she said after a few speechless moments, one hand patting her heart to calm herself. “Those shelves could’ve killed me.”
“You should be more careful,” he chastised lightly. “This is an old building that’s falling apart. I advise greater caution.”
“I know. I usually am—careful, I mean—but I was so happy to find this book…”
Jamie hugged the red leather to herself, flushing under his piercing gray gaze. Why am I babbling like this? “I didn’t even know you were there. Lucky for me you were, huh? You always keep an eye out for klutzy bookworms?”
“Only when there is need, I assure you.” He smiled, teeth reflecting brightly and his broad shoulders casting a shadow over Jamie. “But you do yourself an injustice. There is nothing wrong with loving books, and you are certainly no klutz.”

Male Hero and Pal:

Ryan had been staring out into the stars for a while when a familiar low voice interrupted his thoughts. “Friend, you’ve got to get over this girl.”
Moonlight Night
This totally looks exactly like TheDug

He whipped his head around and saw TheDug climbing up with practiced ease onto the roof to join him. The other vampire continued, “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so taken with anyone. Especially a mortal!” TheDug spat out the word with disgust. “They are ours for feeding. You treat this one as if she were your pet.”
“No. Jamie is not a pet. I think I am in love with her.”
“Oh, I see. Forgive me if I have a hard time understanding that one, Ryan."
TheDug bared his teeth in a wicked smile. “I must say, your strength in her presence is admirable. I’m certain that I could not contain my desire to taste of her sweetness.”
Ryan shot his friend a glare that could have punctured like a dagger. “You shall not touch her!”
“Calm down. I wouldn’t dare face your wrath. But don’t you see the pointlessness of all this?”
“I’ll tell her, truly I shall. Soon.” Ryan stared up at the unforgiving night sky. “She is a modern woman. Perhaps she might understand?”
TheDug chuckled softly. “Perhaps.”

Our Heroes stand around yapping

“Did you enjoy the party?” Jamie tilted her head and reached up a hand to remove her earrings as she watched Ryan in the mirror. That’s another myth gone. His reflection’s as visible as mine.

Kiss from a Vampire
There's a fine line between models and the people I see at truck stops.

“Let me,” Ryan whispered, circling her ear with one night-cool finger. “Ah, the party. It was interesting. Your friend Kristen has a great deal of energy.”
“That’s one way to put it! No fear, no speedometer, no brakes. That’s what she’d say.” Jamie smiled fondly. “She’s a good friend.”
“Yes.” He looked deep into the mirror, seeing something she could not find; he forgot to pretend to breathe, lost in thought. Jamie waited, curious and concerned, idly admiring the line of his jaw, the sparkle of his gray eyes.
A slow nod signaled his return to the moment. “Kristen has suspicions about me. About what I am.”
Jamie froze. “Are you sure?”
“She seems to have held her ideas for quite some time, on little evidence. Is she one of those who romanticizes my kind? There are many who seem strangely fascinated with my fictional brethren.”
“Well, Kristen likes vampire flicks, but she’s no Goth.What exactly did she say?”
Ryan repeated the conversation verbatim. “As I said, she has little evidence, but still she persists in her conviction, and I cannot argue. She is, after all, correct about what I do.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

DC Online Set for November

Well, we've only been hearing about it for five or more years, but the DC Comics Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game should be hitting in time for Christmas. Which means, I can start figuring out what platform I'm going to play this thing on. I don't really want a PS3, but its cheaper than buying a new computer, I guess.

The game promises to let players design their own characters and take to the streets alongside their favorite DCU heroes. The game has had plenty of other predecessors to blaze a path, and they have to have heard fan questions and reactions long enough to understand expectations. Setting the game in the DCU certainly raises the ante, as so many will have sky-high hopes of team-ups with Superman, Batman, etc... And this writer will be very sad if he never sees Jimmy Olsen in action.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

DC Comics' Digital Strategy

I wrote a post about DC and their seeming lack of a digital strategy (at the moment) over at Comic Fodder.