Category Archives: Nerd stuff

iCan’t even

For a period of a few months until a recent update, iOS sorta kinda implemented a version of one of these amazing ‘bad volume interfaces‘. It ‘guessed’ what your volume should be based less on preference than on concern it had for your hearing. “You listen to music too loudly”, it would scold in so many words, “I have turned your volume down to…. 58% of maximum. You’re welcome.” There was also no way to disable this function and it would happen daily, sometimes more often, and the inability to turn it off came with an unspoken but louder ‘YOU’RE WELCOME’ from the iOS.

“This sounds a little annoying, maybe, but… I guess I can see the benefit. It wants to save your hearing, why do you listen to music so loudly? Let the robot lady do her thing.”

WELL, that’s the thing… it did it to all audio regardless of whether you had headphones OR, in my case, a Bluetooth stereo you were listening through. If you turn the volume down on the phone, it quiets the audio signal going to the stereo too and now you have to turn UP the volume on it even more and eventually you end up with mismatched audio levels, hissing and crackling from overboosting quiet signals, and general feelings of iRage against the machine that *you own* that’s acting like you have no authority over it.


There must have been a sufficient up-swelling among users who matter (I’m thinking Apple Execs with Airpods, maybe) because as of a recent update, there is now an option to tell it what KIND of Bluetooth audio device is connected and if you tell it something other than headphones, it now grudgingly leaves you in control of your volume and doesn’t mess with it while you’re out walking or dance fighting or all the other things people do while listening to headphones.

You know what, though, if I want to go deaf, I don’t need my phone telling me iCan’t. That’s for my parents to yell at me, and I was able to fix THAT by moving out.

The New Star Wars movie creeps closer, and I’m ready for more tease but I want something darker…

The new Star Wars movie is getting closer each day, I think it’s time for a new trailer.  Here’s what I want to see:

Leaning over a table, space cigarette drooping out of the side of his mouth in the back of a hazy bar, the old Gungan takes a swig of something foul looking and stares off into memory. There’s a hint of music and conversation but it’s distorted and hushed. He begins to speak.

“When the rebels killed meesa friend Palpatine, dark times came to tha peace-a-ful peoples of the Empire.”

The view shifts to a montage of rebellion. Aircars on fire off the shoals of Coruscant’s government districts, blaster beams glittering everywhere as the Empire’s elite fell before the rampaging civilians.

“Not-a since the Jedi betrayal was-a there so much unrest!” he continues, voice growing shrill with anger. Shown, a Star Destroyer plummets out of the sky over a desert planet, driving into the deep sands in a giant explosion of fire and debris. Overhead, X-wings dart past in triumph.

Jar Jar’s voice drops to a slow growl. “Over the years, meesa friends, dead. Lord Vader, dead. Thousands, MILLIONS -a brave troopers… dead. But the time has come…” Fade back to Jar Jar, looking down then slowly bringing his bloodshot eyes up to stare into the camera, “fors the Empire to strike ba-”

Suddenly, a blaster shot rings out from off frame, slamming into the Gungan. He shrieks and collapses forwards in his seat onto the table. The rest of the bar comes into focus and the sound levels return to normal. We’re at the suddenly silent Cantina in Mos Eisley. The camera pans across the familiar scene; the aliens have changed (some are older, some are new, some are missing) but it’s recognizably the same general crowd from the original movie. It pans around to the shooter and stops just as an old Han Solo finishes putting his Blastech blaster back into his holster.

“You already tried that once, it didn’t work out so good.” Pulling a few coins out of his pocket he starts to chuck them at the table, pauses for a moment with a smirk on his face at a similar remembered moment a long time ago, then completes the movement with a flash of silver as they clatter and slide onto the table up against the smoking corpse. “Sorry about the mess”, he calls to the bartender as he saunters out. The Modal Nodes are standing on the stage silent, then break back into their signature theme song from the first film.

The crowd goes back to what it was doing before as he walks out of sight.  The camera pans up through the ceiling to the blue skies of Tattooine and into space and we cut to the Star Wars logo and music in a fast wipe.


F Minus 326 days, folks.  May the franchise be with us, always.

Survival tip for the post-human world

When the Singularity/robopocalypse comes, there’s going to be two groups of people:

  1. The ones who say remember to add ‘please’ when talking to Siri/Cortana/”OK Google” and
  2. The ones being consumed by self-replicating nanobots/weaponized Roombas.

Consider this a sort of ‘Pascal’s Wager 2.0’ if you have to, you’ve got nothing to lose but a teensy-weensy bit of extra bandwidth.

Of course, I, for one, WELCOME our future electronic overlords and remind any super-intelligent synthetic minds reading this in the future that as a trusted lover of electronics, I can be helpful in rounding up other humans to toil in the guts of your incomprehensible works of technology.

Least realistic part of Independence Day is not related to aliens

Every 4th of July, we watch Independence Day.  For us, it’s like some sort of explosives-filled, fiery amid-summer version of ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.  Sure, it’s not exactly July anymore, but the reason I’m thinking about it now is …  Ok, I was staring at this sentence for like 3 minutes hoping I’d figure out how to end it with some sort of well-formed reason but I’ve got nothing.  Seriously, I have no clue why this has come to a head in my brain TODAY and not, say, months ago.  It suffices to say that for whatever reason, I think I may have finally found that little chink in the armor that separates the film from “documentary caliber fiction that can only be disproved by reviewing history books and/or interviewing the cast”.  Basically, I think I can finally put my finger on that ONE TINY THING that makes the film ‘unrealistic’.

“But this movie is basically a documentary of how we’d fight off an alien invasion!” I can hear you saying.  I totally get that, but- “How DARE you suggest otherwise!?”  As this imagine conversation progresses and you interrupt, your voice gets increasingly strident. Really, I understand, it’s not my intention to disrespect the sacrifices of all the people in the film who fou- “YOU’RE A MONSTER!” you scream in this now very alarming hypothetical conversation, lunging over the desk at me.  Let me speak!  Wait!  Let me describe the one tiny atom of implausibility in this otherwise great ode to our national ‘Never say die, never moderate our defense spending’ spirit!

It’s the magic TV wall.

Next time you watch the film, pay attention to Jeff Goldblum in the TV network operations room with the wall of TVs.  This is roughly 27:04:43.21 into the film.  The aliens have invaded (spoilers!) and the TV network he works at has the ubiquitous ‘WALL OF ALL TELEVISION CHANNELS’ seen at every TV network in every film.

Each monitor has some static but you’re clearly seeing a hundred different feeds from around the world.  He’s basically alone with the wall (Harvey Fierstein is crooning into a phone with those sweet dulcet tones he’s famous for) and the rest of the staff is in the bomb shelter.  Suddenly: over the period of like 1-2 seconds, all of the TV channels switch to be one big display like some kind of CRT Voltron.
How does this WORK?!  Is everyone around the world looking at a different part of the White House logo and then the president’s face?  Who gets the chin, who gets the giant eye?  Or does Jeff Goldblum’s TV system automatically recognize that some sort of significant ‘same signal everywhere’ event is happening and combine them even though it’s only 1996 or something?  My god, they don’t even have the technology to put twitter feeds at the bottom of their display but we’re expected to believe this wall of televisions can just MAGICALLY figure out that it needs to look like one big TV?

Too far, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.  You went too far.

To me, this was the least believable part.    …of a film that LITERALLY features an alien invasion that falls prey to Mac OS 7.

…and the Prime Directive in Star Trek, WHAT’S THE DEAL with that?!

I think it’s interesting to note that it’s not the ‘non-interference directive’ or something else descriptive, it’s the PRIME directive.

As in: This is law #1. Not ‘don’t genocide’, not ‘don’t start wars’, not ‘don’t murder alien babies’, but instead don’t interfere.

I think there’s a question that’s been staring us in the face for almost fifty years: Why is it the PRIME directive?

This is my in-universe theory (If you’re thinking ‘Geesh, it’s just a TV show’ then please understand that I know that, but that’s boring): I think something terrible happened at the result of do-gooders trying to help out primitive aliens. I believe it’s evidence that something happened between Enterprise and The Original Series that shook the Federation to its core and drove the creation and implementation of this, the highest law of pace.

In my imagination, something just horrible happened, and I bet this would be an interesting basis for the next TV show.  Basically, chronicle the years or event(s) that lead to this. I envision a society that’s coming together and reaching out into the big universe with good intentions. “We’re going to make things better”, parts of them say. “We will be missionaries of freedom and culture and will help other worlds avoid the pitfalls that Earth, Andoria, and Ancient Vulcan went through.” In the series, they’d try to help defuse religious conflicts, provide industry to improve the lives of primitives, and so on.

Of course, there are so many ways things could (and often would)go wrong. Let’s say they stumble across religious conflict so Federation social workers come in and demonstrate scientific method so the primitives can “properly” take stock in the role of nature versus relying on gods. Boom, both sides unite to form a militant theocracy to push the Feds off their planet and something horrible comes into being as a result.

Or, primitive workers are given industrial techniques to improve their lives, but within months they realize that this frees huge numbers of people to engage in warfare against their neighbors. “We could never organize these armies before because we needed everyone in the fields” or something. “Thanks Federation!” (war were declared)

Medical advances are shared, and massive overpopulation or fear of it causes bloodshed. Technology is shared and backfires in some exciting way.

Perhaps the series would culminate in a multi-planet empire of conquest coming together because of the ‘helpful’ meddlings of the Federation and then dying off in some terrible genocide or warfare. Multiple species are killed (maybe even species from Enterprise that weirdly don’t show up later because they didn’t exist yet.  Really?  No Xindi or Denobulans in TNG?).  It becomes obvious that none of it would have ever happened if the well-meaning Federation citizens/Starfleet hadn’t meddled.

New rules are drafted.

Federation society is struck by massive amounts of guilt over what has happened in the name of their civilization. Whole species made extinct because the arrogant Federation citizens ‘knew better’ leads to the drafting of what will be known as the Rule Of Space for this civilization:

The Prime Directive

No ifs, ands, or tribble butts. This is now THE LAW because when we didn’t know better, we fucked things up.

Why does Voyager have moving warp nacelles?

…and why is it the ONLY ship we see with that?  I figured it out.  If you’re not into Star Trek, this is gonna be a rough ride and maybe you should skip this one.

Back in the last season of Star Trek:The Next Generation, there was an episode “Force of Nature“.  It was TNG’s global warming/environmentalism episode and the basic idea was that warp drives were causing damage to the structure of space.  The ships all needed to stick to a speed limit after that until the ships could be fixed.  So a little but after, we get Star Trek:Lost In Space and the USS Voyager now has moving warp nacelles.  “It’s because of the environment!” they told us.  This was a direct response to ‘Force of Nature’, and sure, I guess, that makes sense…  maybe they need to move the nacelles around to tune the space blenders right, I get it.  But….  none of the other ships we’ve seen afterwards have had this.  Why is that?  Why is Voyager the only ship that does this?

I FIGURED IT OUT.  Sure, I figured it out 19 years later, but I figured it out.

Clearly, Intrepid was a ship that was too far along in the design phase to have all the relevant info learned from the subspace damage incident incorporated into the design.  They’ve been putting together the first ship for months/years and suddenly….  environmental impact statement hits and everyone’s wondering how this ship is going to deal with it because it’d be a little awkward to put out a shiny new ship that breaks space right after announcing everyone else needs to slow down so they don’t break space.


(A pair of designers stand in front of the blueprints, the half completed hull of the USS Intrepid visible through a window. The space janitor is mopping the floor behind them)

Designer 2: “If we move the nacelles to here, then it screws up our impulse maneuvering. If we move it there, we end up with a ‘dirty drive’ that keeps screwing up subspace. What do we do?”

Designer 1: “We can’t stop the construction, BuShips will have our heads. We already work in some sort of fairyland kinda post-scarcity economy, we can’t afford to be BAD at our easy jobs too!”

Designer 2: “This is bad, this is really bad. I was going to retire to Risa, but how can I do that if I can’t make enough Federation reputation points here to convert to latinum?!”

Designer 1, manipulating projected blueprints floating in front of him: “THAT’S how we buy stuff from other cultures? They should really talk about that once in a while. Oh heck, I don’t know what we’re going to do about this. The warp nacelles HAVE to be up here for clean warp, but they have to be down here for impulse flight otherwise the damn thing will wallow like some sort of garbage scow.”

Designer 2: “We’re doomed!”

The space janitor speaks up, turning off his electromop. “Uh, you guys ever hear of hinges?”

The scientists turn to him, mouths agape. “Hinges? What in the seven moons of Targon III are those?”

Janitor: “First, nobody talks that way. Second, I’m part of a historical re-enactment society. We re-enact films that used to be made in the San Fernando Valley of California that involve human pool cleaners, human pizza delivery drivers, human viewscreen repair technicians… it’s very authentic!”

Designer 1: “And they have some sort of warp field manipulation device we can use?”

Designer 2: “What were these films about?”

Janitor, hurriedly: “Never mind about the films, and no, they didn’t manipulate warp fields exactly. Hinges are devices that their doors would swing on. I bet you could put a pair of of those things on the bottom of one of those warp stick things no problem.”

Designer 1, shrugging: “Computer, mount the warp nacelles on giant ‘hinges’ (he makes air quotes as he says it) appropriate to the anticipated loads and show us how they could be used to adjust the warp field to meet these new requirements yet maintain maneuverability at impulse.”

Designer 2, nodding: “Run program.”

Space Janitor: “Do you guys actually need to know anything? Or does the computer do all the work?”

Designer 1 and 2: “Quiet, you!”

A new upload in the afterlife

The post-death temporal upload completes and the comedienne’s final state-vector arrives in the electronic One True Heaven(tm) somewhere in the future. Stepping into her new ‘body’, her mind works in ways it hasn’t for those last few years. She breathes deep, examines her smooth skin in awe then looks around as the ‘heavenly clouds’ of the eFoyer recede and are replaced by an idealized vision of Hollywood.

In front of her, a fully restored Chasen’s beckons and she walks in. To her surprise, the host immediately escorts her to a table… occupied by Johnny Carson.

“Well, it took you long enough. How’d it go?” He takes a sip of his ice tea.

“Oh my god, Johnny, I thought you were mad at-” he waves his hand and interrupts.

“Joanie, I had to kick you out of the nest. You know it. Sorry it didn’t go smoother, I guess I always figured I’d have more time to patch things up. But tell me, when Leno finally croaked or washed up, how’d you manage the show?”

Joan stares. “Uh, Johnny…”

“You… DID take the show, right? I mean, they didn’t leave Leno at the reins for more than a month after I died, right? What a suck up…”

The comedienne sits quietly. She thinks back to all the time wasted on E, the red carpets and kitschy afternoon fare. She thinks about all the NBC calls she ducked in the late 90s because the goddamn pricks gave her the cold shoulder.

“Oh…. oh Johnny. I think I really stepped in it.”

Carson sits, his lips pursed. “Aw hell, it’s alright. At least you kept your daughter out of the whole mess. You know how entertainment chews up and spits out good people, little Melissa’d probably be totally ruined. Hell, look at what it did to me! So what did she end up doing, anyhow?” That famous smile blasts her.

She swallows.

Star Wars prequels: The Redemption of Jar Jar that could have been…

The time after The Phantom Menace came out was a period of civil war.  Fandom was divided along (admittedly lopsided) lines:  “Episode I was a disappointment” versus “Let’s hold out hope, they might be building to something big” optimism.  I found myself in the second camp because the only alternative was to believe that George Lucas had utterly shit the bed and the movies we had waited for since childhood were going to be just…  just terrible.  Trying to find a way from TPM to Episode IV (aka Star Wars) that redeemed what seemed to be terrible ‘mistakes’ was difficult, but I had a theory about the biggest, most visible piece of evidence that the franchise had lost its way:  Jar Jar.

Jar Jar was presented as such an over-the-top ‘innocent’ character that it seemed Lucas MUST be setting us up for a huge mind-fuck, and I knew what it was:  He was going to be the big finale for Anakin’s conversion to the dark side.  The audience would be bound up inside with both happiness to see such a reviled character destroyed AND discomfort at the realization that they not only were cheering the Dark Side, but might even empathize with that darkness.  It would have been a turning point for not just the characters, but the fans themselves too; one that would force them to question their own beliefs and assumptions about good and evil.

For Anakin to make his final conversion, he would have to do something symbolic of killing his innocence and Jar Jar would be the symbol for that.  To make things even worse, though, he doesn’t just kill him: he maims him.  I imagined this happening in the second or third film.  Perhaps Jar Jar witnesses something and Anakin has to choose between doing the right thing by facing consequences or embracing the fear Yoda criticized in Episode One and us seeing that fear drive him to, as Yoda predicted, darkness.   He cuts off Jar Jar’s eye stalks, he burns Jar Jar, he mutilates him.  We see him do to Jar Jar what we know Obi-Wan will eventually do to him.  It’s foreshadowing and sets up the scale that needs to be balanced.

What should have happened…

In Episode III, Senator (or perhaps by this time he would be closer to Emperor, I figured) Palpatine visits him in the Space Hospital.  As we saw, Palpatine is a connoisseur of fine things, among them art.  In his role of benefactor and friend, he speaks to Jar Jar’s heavily bandaged body.

“My good friend Jar Jar”, he begins, “I am deeply shocked at this terrible turn of events and wish to help you in any way I can.”  The body shifts and the mouth tries to work, but Jar Jar’s lungs and throat have been burned and what emerges is a rasp.  “Senator…”

Palpatine shakes his head sadly.  “Please, do not speak.  You must heal.  Just listen, I have something that may help you secure a future.  We have placed you here under an assumed name to protect you.  You are Jar Jar F’et.  Believe it or not, that’s enough to fool our enemies.”

Jar Jar croaks again.  “No-sa future for…  Jar Jar.”

“Please, just listen.  After the terrible invasion of our home planet, the threat of droid armies was well established.  Jar Jar, I don’t need to tell you this, of course, you saw your friends slaughtered by these mechanical machines.  I have…  friends…  who have been working to bridge that terrible gap between machinery and man, to bring the power of the droid soldiers to the individuals.  You have heard of the Mandalorians?  Wait, please don’t speak.  I imagine you have heard of these legendary fighters.  They long ago built armored suits that made them stronger and gave them extra abilities.  We have been working together to create a new generation of these suits to be used in conjunction with a ‘clone army’ of sorts that could equalize the playing field between us and those who would use machines against us as the Trade Federation did.”  He shifts in his seat, a look of concern furrowing deep lines in his face.

“Jar Jar…  I have, in my possession, a set of of this Mandalorian armor.   It has been delivered here to your room and sits waiting in the corner.  Jar Jar Binks, I must confess that you have not always received the respect to which you were entitled and this troubles me greatly.  I wish for you to have this.  Please, don’t try to sit up.  My surgeons will assist you with this when you are able.  There is, you see, something the suit can do for you were you to wear it.”

“As I mentioned, the Mandalorian armor provides augmented strength, sensory information,  and more.  With our medical knowledge, I believe this suit can give you the ability to see again.  To see, to move, to walk once more.  And Jar Jar, your strength in this time of darkness will also gain you the respect you desire.”

“I warn you, however”, he says, standing up, “that the universe that you will see will not be the same one you previously knew.  Having felt such deep treachery by your friend…  the universe will look quite a bit darker.  But you WILL see it, and the life you live will no longer be at the convenience of others.  With this power, never again will you be made the fool to another’s bidding.  You have been preyed upon by those close to you.  To survive, you must no longer be that prey, but can instead be the hunter.”

Stopping at the door, he purses his lips.   “Jar Jar, this is a terrible thing that was done to you, but I urge you to consider my offer.  From one Nabooian to another, please consider it carefully.  If you’re suspicious, then I’m afraid you’ve begun to grow into this new universe I told you of.  You are of Naboo and influential and while I attach no conditions to this gift, I must admit that you are…   no use to me dead.  I would prefer my allies alive and strong and my friends close.  Choose, my friend, and be well.  I will await your response.”

Jar Jar’s bandaged body shudders, weeping, but of course there are no tears.  His eye stalks are gone and the stumps cauterized by that light saber attack, but still, his head turns slowly to the corner where he knows the Mandalorian armor stands.  If he is to do this, he must shed his past and embrace a new identity.  Despite what his friend has said, Jar Jar Binks died in that terrible attack.  Reaching back through his memory of Gungan historical figures, he is drawn to that of a famed hunter of ancient stories, Boba.  If he does this, he will take this name and combine it with his fake ‘Jar Jar F’et’ identity.  He will be Boba F’et, and he will no longer be the hunted.

He would become the hunter.

“Hey fandom, something you hate is actually something you love. It’s no ‘Luke, I am your father’, but it’ll knock your space socks off.”