Grant Rants

Archive for the ‘Geekosity’ Category

A royal baby? Who cares? Cosmos returns!!!

- July 22nd, 2013

carl-sagan

“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

I have a rule when I am on vacation: no news writing. I do not write any news while on holidays because I use my time off to recharge. It is a rule which has, for the last two weeks, been beyond frustrating.
More scandals in the Catholic church (and to mention the hilariously moronic push by the Vatican to forgive sins if believers would just follow the pope’s Twitter page), the prime ministers official enemies list, and news that that pox upon humanity known as Glee is doing a two our special on the Beatles — Listen, you vile pestilence upon music, keep your hands off the Fab Four! You’ve already butchered KISS and AC/DC, leave the boys from Liverpool alone for frak’s sake!

But even as I fought the temptation to rant about these things and more, I was bombarded by news that Kate Whatsherface — the rich woman who married the British prince — is having her baby. It’s apparently a boy. Coverage of the birth of yet another privileged member of the impotent monarchy has become so nauseatingly wall-to-wall and given such a sense of importance that I’m expecting three Persians to show up at Buckingham Palace bearing gifts of gold, frankincense  and myrrh.

I cannot muster up even a little enthusiasm for the arrival of this child, who will one day occupy tabloid headlines and inherit a throne that is to Canadian politics what the appendix is to human anatomy.

And besides, there is way more exiting news than the spawn of a prince. Cosmos is back baby!

In 1980 the original Cosmos: a Personal Voyage was a 13 part TV series hosted by the late, great Carl Sagan. It was about history, discovery, science, astronomy and our place in an unthinkably vast universe. It was brilliant and for many people, myself included, an the perfect introduction the power and glory of science and reason and beautifully bizarre mysteries of the universe we inhabit. The series and its companion book left a deep imprint on my psyche.  From the moment I saw the first episode as a kid, I was hooked.

Since Cosmos aired, there has been talk of a sequel. But the show was not a quick knock off. It was an expansive series, using (at the time) state of the art special effects to add verve to Sagan’s commentary and lessons. It was as entertaining as it was educational and inspiring. Alas, Sagan passed away before any sequel could be made.

But the man many regard as Sagan’s successor as the public educator of science par excellence, Neil deGrasse Tyson is hosting the sequel titled “Cosmos: a space-time odyssey”. It is aSagan-Calrissian-Tyson-600x337lso 13 parts and will air next year. The trailer looks incredible. Tyson, who is basically what you get when you cross Carl Sagan with Lando Calrissian, is the prefect man for the job of filling Sagan’s shoes.

Interestingly, it is being aired on Fox in the United States, not exactly a television network known for broadcasting programing with intelligence. What this means, I think, is that the kind of wonder about the universe and science Sagan created in 1980 will reach the eyes and ears of those who normally might not watch a show about science.

Be prepared to feel gloriously small in a beautifully vast universe. No royal baby will ever be able to create that kind of wonder and light the fire of curiosity like Cosmos can:

Alas poor Tim Hortons Day 1: Grant Smash edition

- April 10th, 2012

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This might be uncharitable, but right now one of my fellow journalists has a voice that sounds like an angry hornet in my ear. It is unpleasant. If it doesn’t stop, there is a very real chance I might turn large, green and all ragey (with a cameo by Stan Lee, of course.)

Of course, I might be exaggerating. Maybe. It’s not quiet 10 am, and I have not had my daily fix of Tim Horton’s double-double.  I might be feeling some….effects. I have put this lovely elixir of life aside for a few weeks because arts reporter Angela Scappatura said I couldn’t. Today is day one.

I’ll make it. Oh I will. But if I destroy the city in the process, blame her. GRANT SMASH!

 

Why Bioware SHOULD NOT change the end to Mass Effect 3

- March 20th, 2012

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens, and the rest of you!

Alright, some disclaimers right off the start here: if you hate video games or simply do not understand we geeks, leave now. The level of geek here is about to reach a level beyond geekdom. Also, if you are one of my people and haven’t finished ME3 first, shame on you, second, there will be spoilers about the end – you have been warned.

So lately there has been this fanboy web meltdown about the endings to Mass Effect 3, a work of interactive entertainment that, at this point in video game history, is the Citizen Kane of video games. I can think of no other game that transcends the tropes of the medium to present us with something that is this visionary and entertaining.  It stands, in my view, with other science fiction works like War of the Worlds. It’s not just empty action. It has a brain. And it assumes we, the audience, have one too.

If you want spoon fed action, Mass Effect is not for you. The trilogy is not brainless, but the final game in particular is striking in its intellectual and emotional content.Mass Effect 3 Teaser Wallpaper

For those who do not know, Mass Effect has become for video games what Star Wars was for movies or, a closer analogy would be what LOTR is for books. An expensive deeply rich, fictional universe that invests you in the characters and every last little detail of what makes it believable and interesting.

The story follows the tale of Command Shepard, an archetype hero who is archetypal because you, as the player pretty well define what and who he or she is. Shepard’s gender, sexual orientation, attitude, politics, interpersonal skills , methods of problem solving and fighting style are all defined by you. Bioware, the company behind Mass Effect, draws you in with a compelling story, and graphics and characters. But you are in control of a great deal of what defines how the game plays out. Bioware sets the stage, but you play the part.

The first game is a cosmic whodunit, where Shepard works to identify and defeat a threat to galactic civilization, stumbling upon a genocidal race of god like machines called the Reapers bent on wiping out all advanced organic life in the Milky Way. The second game is built around a sci-fi version of the Seven  Samurai: (Or the Magnificent Seven, for the less cultured.) Shepard builds a team of unlikely heroes to confront agents of the Reapers, who are harvesting human beings.  (yes, that is just as creepy as it sounds – a sci-fi take on the Holocaust really.). By the third game, billed as the last (but probably won’t be) the Reapers finally arrive in force. The galaxy is in a full blown war for survival. It is a battle against extinction.

Along the way, you confront ethical dilemmas about war and politics, religion, about science and ethics, about race relations, about what it means to make a hard choice in hard circumstances, about what it means to be human. It even has  a healthy dose of romance and while it is not exactly J.R. Ward (lacking that level of steam), the story is written well enough for you to feel invested in the romantic subplots. (For instance I, along with a lot of Mass Effect players, were more than a little excited to get our Shepard’s girlfriend back after she made only an cameo in the second game. Shepard’s girlfriend’s back and she carries a frakin’ pulse rifle, so yer gonna in trouble. Hey, nah, hey,/ nah.)

None of it is trite, as someone who doesn’t know modern video games might think. But presented in a very mature, often challenging fashion.

But what has people tied up in knots is the ending of the trilogy. (Spoilers my fellow geeks. Twice warned is…well, twice warned).

Mass Effect does not end with Shepard winning the day and riding off with his lady love (or man love depending) into the sunset. Bioware takes the notion of total war very seriously, and the story is as grim as it is engaging. Victory is possible, but not without heavy loss and the total alteration of the status quo. The game can end in several ways, depending on how you play. Even the best victory scenario comes at a price, resulting in the death of friends and allies. In Mass Effect, as in life, you cannot always get what you want and you have to make the best with the options you have, even when those options are not good.

The end also is not straight forward, no matter what scenario plays out. The entire end of the game appears to be an exploration of the human mind. Bioware has taken a page, it seems, from Inception, making it unclear what exactly is “real” what and isn’t. My own view of it is the final sequences of the game are all in Shepard’s mind, as he attempts to fight off a process of Reaper brainwashing called “Indoctrination”. It’s surreal, unsettling, and makes you THINK about what is happening and why. It makes you consider every choice you have made up to this point in the series (one of the clever aspects of the series is that Bioware allows you to import your Shepard from one game to the next, coming with all the choices you have made, good, bad and ugly. Shepard always has baggage.) It makes you question your own assumptions and motives on several fronts, and how you deal with that impacts your final choices.

You do not come away from the end feeling happy. It is, regardless of what you do, a visceral punch to the gut, punctuated with the smallest ray of hope – a ray that is only there if you made particular choices through the series.

Some rabid fans of the game do not like this. They have started web petitions, written blogs, made Youtube videos all about how the end of ME3 “sucks”. There is not typical, flashy, shoot out with a final enemy to win the day. There is no triumphant hero pumping his fist in the air in victory. There is no simplistic, action movie, final moments. You are left instead, to think long and hard about what just happened and why  (which has interestingly resulted in some very cool talk about it, including my favorite bit of fan speculation known know as the “Indoctrination theory” about the end of the game.)

Bioware, which pays close attention to fan reaction to games and often includes tweaks to its products based on that feed back, has said it is listening and knows some fans need more “closure” to the story than the endings presently give, suggesting they might offer up some downloadable content that will change how the story ends in some fashion.

This could be a mistake, in my view. Yes, yes, the fanboys will rant and rave and claim the ending is horrible because, basically, they are not being spoon fed a happy ending. Life doesn’t guarantee us happy endings, loose ends are not always tied up, something Mass Effect has accepted since the start of the series. What Bioware has done is craft an ending one has to deeply consider and interpret, a very rare feat in a medium that is still maturing into a full blown art form: Did Shepard really defeat the Reapers? If so, how much of what we saw was “real” and not just in his head?  The end offers up more questions and it does answers.

Rather than change the ending, my hope is that Bioware will do what it has always done – offer up downloaded additions to the game that expand the universe and lead us in new direction. But change the ending because some players have an over the top, fanboy meltdowns over it? No. We shouldn’t be asking to be spoon fed base pap. There is a legion of sitcoms and awful science fiction programing and lunk headed fighting games for one to delve into if you want that. What Bioware has created is something unique, that should be allowed to stand and players should learn that it is ok to have to think. The low common denominator they appear to ask for isn’t worth it.

Vic Toews, Jean-Luc Picard and drumheads

- February 16th, 2012

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens, and the rest of you!

I had an epiphany the other day. Now, this is going to sound a little ka-ray-zee, but bear with me. I think it will eventually make sense.

Our federal politicians need to take a break for a month and do nothing but watch Star Trek. Not the new movie, although it was pretty geektastic. And certainly not Voyager or the last, trippy season of DS9 (seriously does ANYONE understand the series finale? That thing was Lost before Lost was Lost.)

No, I am talking about the Next Generation. In particular, an episode (my fav. of the series actually) entitled “Drumhead” – named after a particularly ghastly 19th century military tradition in Europe where soldiers were tried on the battlefield in vicious kangroo courts. If you were called to one, well, you didn’t need to worry about polishing your boots ever again.

The basic plot is that there was a traitor onboard the Enterprise, which triggers this crazy witch hunt for more traitors. A kangroo court is convened, and any opposition to the process is regarded as a sign of guilt and treachery. The whole sad affair is finally brought to end by our favorite bald captain (after an innocent person’s career is ruined) with a short but brilliant speech about civil liberties:

 (The key bits from the episode are definitely worth watching, particularly the opening scene.)

So why am I going on about this bit of science fiction fun? Because it seems to me to the writers of Star Trek have a better grip on the balance between safety and privacy than our current crop of election officials.

I’m referring in particular to  federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. This week he brought forward a internet surveillance bill — originally called the Lawful Access Act, but since that sounds slightly sketchy, the name was quickly changed to the much more cheerful  Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act — that caused a whole lot of people go sit up and go “uh, yah, hold the phone.”

Essentially, the bill would force internet service providers to hand data on their customers – name, address, phone number, email address  and IP address – over to the police upon request without a warrant. Internet service providers would also have to install software and hardware to record the activity of its customers so the police could access it, although getting at that would require a warrant.

Needless to say this whole getting access to private info about citizens without a warrant stuff caused privacy experts and web denizens to have a freak out. It’s not that anyone says the police shouldn’t, when justified, be able to get that kind of information in timely manner (Internet service providers already cooperate with police requests something like 94% of the time, making the bill itself moot.) It’s just that they shouldn’t be able to get it willy-nilly. Police cannot come into your home, or get your phone records on a whim, so why should they be able to grab your internet info without a warrant?

All reasonable objections to Toews’ pet project. How did our public safety minister react? Did he take these criticisms seriously? Did he try to explain how the privacy of Canadian’s would not be abused should his bill become law?

No.

What he said was that critics of the bill can “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” thestupiditburns

That’s right. According to Mr. Toews,  if you question what the government is doing you are in league with criminal deviants who hunt children.

Clearly, a rational response.

We’ve heard this sort of pygmy minded nonsense from the feds before. Defense Minister Peter MacKay used to use this line with those who disagreed with the government’s plan to buy new fighter jets. If you debated the issue, he’d say, you hurt the morale of our troops and that would get them killed, so just shut the hell up would you?

The internet bill rationale being kicked around gets even more ridiculous, with some saying that, well, if you are not guilty of anything you don’t need to worry about it, do you? Even the writers of a science fiction TV show knew this kind of police state drivel was nonsense. I mean, seriously, how much trouble are we in when Captain Picard makes more sense than our elected officials?

So I am going to say this as plainly as I can before my head explodes out of frustration thinking about this:

Dear Conservative politicians: Canadians who disagree with you are not automatically siding with terrorists and criminals. It is possible to have a policy disagreement with you without being some kind of super-villain. When you suggest the only option is to agree with you or destroy the country, you make us want to lock you all in a room where you have to sit beside someone who is knitting something that isn’t there whilst endless singing the Coconut song. (Just saying that already put the song in your head, didn’t it? So don’t push us.)

If that isn’t clear enough let me try it in words of less than two syllables: Stop it!

So, Mr. Toews and gang, take a break, buy some Star Trek DVDs and maybe you’ll learn something.

“We fight or we die, that’s the plan!” GEEKGASAM!

- June 29th, 2011

Ok, so I am going to geek out on here for a second. EA and Bioware recently released a new trailer for new year’s Mass Effect 3. And, not to sound like a teenaged valley girl here, but OH. MY. GWAD!

This is going to kick more ass than Bruce Lee whomping on Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon. And yes, Norris is a wus compared to Lee. You can argue with me, but you’d be wrong.

Anyway, Mass Effect is maybe the best video game series ever produced. A fantastic combination of powerful story telling and character study combined with great action and its just….OH. MY. GWAD.

Anyway, check it out:

First a game show, then Skynet…

- February 16th, 2011

ibm-watsonhal9000GethTterminator_10rosieFullview_CylonPortrait

Oh this is just not good. No, not good at all! This is how it all starts people. Haven’t we learned anything from our science fiction? Making computers smarter than us is how the robopocalypse always begins.

It is not prefect and its limitations were exposed even as it beat down its meat bag competition.The final question’s answer was Chicago but Watson oddly choose Toronto as its answer.

I’m also not sure why they named it Watson. I guess it’s less scary than “Machine Mind Overlord that will soon rule the world, meat bags!”

Apparently, the computer system itself will eventually be used for medical purposes and other applications for tasks that involve large amounts of complex data. It’s actually pretty amazing stuff and while it’s not exactly a true AI, it shows we are inching closer to it. Yah for science!

Well, yah, but I was raised on science fiction and watching Watson in action reminded me way way too much of Hal 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A space Odyssey.  It’s a pattern repeated over and over. Hal, the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, the Geth from Mass Effect, Rosie that super creepy maid from the Jetsons.  It never ends well for the non digital fleshy human creatures. I mean, sure, IBM could be making a computer that will improve our lives in ways we have not figured out yet….or they are building the first step toward Skynet. First the machines best us at quiz shows and then, well, this:

Behold, the Spidey…..cod piece..in 3D?

- February 4th, 2011

Ok so I am a bit of geek. Yes, I have covered crime most of my career, and I read constantly and love the classics, but I have been reading comic books long before I ever picked up a copy of Plato’s Republic.

So in my geekhood, I follow superhero movie news, video games…the whole lot. And like geeks everywhere, I am often pleased with the more recent results of adaptation of my favorite comic book stories. The present Batman films, Iron Man, Hellboy, not to mention video games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, are simply geekgasam worthy.

After the train wreck that was the film Spiderman 3, Marvel announced it was rebooting the franchise. I wanted to be rather luke warm about it, but geeks sadly have a kind of stupid gene built into us and I was, therefore, more than a little interested. (and before my fellow geeks get all bent out of shape, ask yourselves why it is that George Lucas can keep reissuing copies of the same movies over and over and they keep on making him tons of money. BECAUSE WE KEEP BUYING THEM! Which is, on the face it, stupid. Han shot first, he didn’t shoot first. ..Who cares? But like chumps, we keep on bellying up to the trough.)

Anyways, the following images of the new Spiderman costume have been kicking around the interwebs today and…well the changes to the traditional costume’s pattern isn’t what gets your eye. It’s not even the really strange silver bits on his boots. (I assume these are reflective to make it safe for Spidey to go jogging at night). It’s the giant black cod piece on the outside of the suit. I mean what? they couldn’t at least paint it blue or something? Spiderman makes his suit from discount hockey equipment? I don’t get it.

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