Thursday, July 31, 2008

Always Plead the Fifth

Law Professor James Duane is a pragmatist at heart. This video is long but entertaining and illuminatory - an illuminating talk on the futility of discussing a suspected crime with police, whether you are guilty or innocent. He goes through all of the loopholes, all of the one-way laws that make discussions with the police an exercise in futility (for example, statements made to police can and will be used against you but cannot be used as evidence to prove your innocence).

This transcends judgment calls as to the intent of the police - in fact, a subsequent video (which I haven't yet seen) covers the same ground with Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach PD.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Well, As Long As It's The Aquabats! . . . I Suppose

Well, I haven't been enthralled by what I've seen so far on YouTube, but now that BoingBoing has covered it I guess I can't ignore it any longer. The Aquabats! already had a hit with quirky kid's show Yo! Gabba Gabba, and it seems they're prepared to leverage their success with the Pre-K crowd for a full-fledged Bat-themed TV show. From BoingBoing's preview of an animated portion of the show, it looks like an acceptable twist on the group's typical formula.

While I can't help but miss the Bats' older style of humor (and music that doesn't sound, frankly, like it was written on the spot for a TV show), it's interesting for them to jump straight from spoofing campy Adam West-era Batman (their older stuff) to what looks like a highly-psychedelic riff on Teen Titans, right down to western artists appropriating anime devices.

For somebody who still regards The Aquabats vs. the Floating Eye of Death! an unequivocal masterpiece, here's hoping that this new venture is successful. The band has produced some mind-blowingly awesome work for years to little commercial success, so I won't fault them for taking a different route with their recent work if it brings them the fame they've deserved for so long.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pants-On-Head Retarded Politicians on Petroleum Panic

With oil prices rising and not a clue in the world what to do about it, it only makes sense that politicians have started incorporating the blame game into their discourse. Actually, what they've started is blaming the most humorously-inappropriate people that they can think of for our petroleum woes. I think it's supposed to be a game, or perhaps a basic intelligence litmus test.

We begin with a scintillating McCain campaign ad:

The announcer in the ad says, "Gas prices — $4, $5, no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America. No to independence from foreign oil. Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?"

A photograph of Obama appears on the stage as a voiceover of a crowd chants: "Obama, Obama, Obama!"

Hmm. . . all this time, I was under the delusion that oil tycoons already had permits for drilling to the tune of 44 million acres. Besides, doesn't it take something like a decade to build a refinery? Either the many sources reporting this (including many government sources) are incorrect, or McCain's counting on America's talking point-fueled ignorance to make the actual data a moot point. Hey - all of the major candidates this time around supported ethanol-based corn fuels, so Election 2008 isn't exactly a meeting of the minds.

Still, I've gotta give McCain credit for knowing his audience - a spot criticizing the free market for creating a situation where oil companies have an incentive to limit supply wouldn't have flown too well with the Sean Inanity crowd.

Then we have newly-elected Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz's prodigious utterance last week:

"There's no doubt that Democrats are the problem. We've done what they've suggested, and look at the results — since (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi took over, gas prices have doubled," Chaffetz said. "Energy is our most pressing need — and ANWR appears to be part of the solution."

Oi! - Again with the ANWR stuff! And what's with this Nancy Pelosi business? Is she the one who's been running the country for eight years? Is there just the smallest smidgen of a chance that oil prices were increasing before Pelosi started her run as speaker? Or is this just stupid dishonest muckraking from a party team player who's going to do his damndest to continue to demonize the other side and make things even worse?

Tell me what I've won!

Hmm. . . I wrote often last year about the role of context in daily life. Only the dishonest have to lose from a lack thereof.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We Meta-Love XKCD

Like so many similarly-inclined folk, I found this XKCD strip pretty touching, in a nostalgic sort of way. It's a celebration of geek culture as something more than mere geekery, praise of giddy ambition and optimistic camaraderie. (I hesitate to mention that it's also a bit of a downer as my own attempt at a webcomic was far too introverted and scattershot to resonate with so many people*. XKCD has a way of constantly reminding me why it's king.)

Well, a group of happy geeks has gone ahead and made homage to the strip (which itself is an homage to this delightful Discovery Channel clip) by acting it out verbatim, and they've done a remarkable job:

* It's interesting that it's been more than three months since my last Forest For the Trees update, yet a goodly number of you folk continue to visit it daily. In response, I'll be continuing that little adventure in webcomicry this fall, hopefully for good.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Nice Out-Of-Context From Boingboing

Because some things are better out of context. (Actually, the video's pretty great if you'd care to see it.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Make This Movie

Well, my The Dark Knight review will probably be more trafficked than this little gem, but it's pretty neat nonetheless, and decent fodder for a movie or situation comedy:

The Associated Press reports that members of the New England Revolution soccer team were instrumental in the restraint and arrest of a crazed, stripping man who was trying to open the emergency lock on an American Airlines flight. I won't quote the story here because the AP is prosecuting legal use of quotes from their stories*, so you'll have to follow the link. Then again, I've already given you all of the important information. Stripping. Soccer team. Airplane. Emergency door. You could only make it better if you added a llama.

*There's a level of hell for that, Associated Press. Just you wait.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Holy Psychodrama, Batman! (The Dark Knight Review)

At the end of 2005's Batman Begins, Gary Oldman's character Commissioner Gordon gives a strange little speech that never quite made sense lo those many years ago: As Batman expresses optimism that Gotham will return to normal following the events of that film, Gordon responds: "Will it? What about escalation? We start carrying semiautomatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds."

"And," Gordon continues, "You're wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops".

Though the rest of Gordon's dialogue sets the stage more explicitly for a sequel, it's clear after watching the recently-released The Dark Knight that Gordon's speech was oddly prescient, as a single theme permeates the entirety of this film: escalation. If nothing else, The Dark Knight represents an escalation of nearly every aspect of the Batman saga. An escalation in stakes, certainly, but also an escalation in tension and good-old-fashioned fear. But first, a word: I can't imagine that I'll be including specific spoilers of any kind in this review, but you'll certainly hear about little scenes and vignettes from the film, and (hopefully) get a pretty general idea of how the movie works. Bottom line: I won't ruin the movie for you, but if you're wishing to retain your Dark Knight virginity you'd best stop here.

All right - stumbling out of the theater at 2:30 this morning, I struggled to gather my thoughts regarding what I had just seen. Usually when I exit a film, I have a pretty good idea of how I felt about it, but The Dark Knight left me so overwhelmed that I had trouble getting my brain back to square one. Most dramas and thrillers feature pretty clear ebbs and flows of action and emotion - tense scenes followed by comic relief followed by a few pacing scenes (followed, of course, by more tenseness). Knight shatters this pattern by including everything conceivably possible nearly all of the time. Comic relief? You've got it, but not before or after the traditional nailbiting intensity - right in the middle of it. Picture the coin flip scene from No County For Old Men on nitrous oxide and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

From the first shot to the credits reel, The Dark Knight is an unrelenting cavalcade of plot twists, violence, dark humor, brilliant performances and deft little touches. You'd hardly believe that you're watching the successor to Batman Begins - director Christopher Nolan has taken the essence of the first film, caffeinated it and set it loose upon an unsuspecting audience. While Batman Begins was a fantastic, believable superhero origin story with quiet spots and mystic elements, The Dark Knight is a 150-minute gritty crime drama, injected with funny brutality but no schadenfreude, filled with intense, creative action but no escapism. Prerelease hype aside, it's more De Niro than Daredevil, more Scorsese than Superman.

The Joker, pictured during one of the film's
many gritty, rousing dance numbers.

Most of this is on account of The Dark Knight's perplexing new villain: The Joker, played with manic, unhinged brilliance by Heath Ledger, a now-deceased great modern actor named after a candy bar. Heath's joker is far more dogmatic than previous Jokers we've seen - most of whom were more humorous, rational and human than the one you'll see in The Dark Knight. No, this Joker is after means-to-an end destruction. This self-proclaimed "agent of chaos" sets out to send a message to modern society: order and structure are a sham. This is his creed and it leaves little room for hesitation, rest or empathy.

And the Joker is set out to destroy any order, from the well-maintained loyalty system of the mob(s) to Gotham City's police system, right down to the new district attorney Harvey Dent, the new symbol of a cleaner Gotham. The fact that The Joker accomplishes so much chaos in two-and-a-half hours is as much a testament to the destructive nature of chaos as it is to the escalative nature of sequels (there's that word again). In the last film, the League of Shadows planned for decades and got thwarted at the starting gate, but here the Joker arrives in town with nothing but a couple of knives and a healthy supply of carefree sadism and manages to bring the whole city to its knees.

The Joker's big on murder, especially when it serves a purpose. He's perfectly willing to throw people into elaborate Saw-style decision-driven death traps, or just to shoot at oncoming cars for the sheer unadulterated glee of it. The Joker's plans for the city spread about five levels deep, then just one more in case everybody was getting a little too complacent. While the first film pushed itself forward to a logical conclusion, Knight makes a point of being unpredictable and liquifying things to a bloody pulp just when you thought the characters had achieved some minor victory. And the normal thematic devices aren't used in the way you'd expect: the Joker serves as much of the film's comic relief, while also serving as the reason why comic relief is needed in the first place. It's an odd feeling, watching the scariest, funniest villain that you've ever seen.

But, as said above, the Joker is more of a force than anything - his giddy worship of chaos and dissonance has no concrete end. "A plan?!" he bellows incredulously at one point (and here I'm writing from memory), "You think I have a plan!? I just do things. I'm not a schemer. I'm a dog chasing a car - I don't know what I'd do if I ever caught one." He shudders and shakes his head in horror - another brilliant Joker moment in a film full of brilliant Joker moments.

So while Batman Begins was very much Bruce Wayne's movie, it seems that The Dark Knight has been given to the Joker, and the entire film has inherited its attention to detail and affinity for anarchy from the purple-suited psycho. The Dark Knight is so supersatured with events that its two-and-a-half hour running time seems barely enough to contain it. In keeping with the spirit of the film everything else has changed, too: Batman's Gotham is seen far more often during the day, for example, yet appears somehow more drab and lifeless than ever. The movie is filled with action, but it's tense and paranoid. It's all thrilling, yes, but there are no "Whoo-hoo!" moments to sate the escapist expectations of audiences. This movie is more about character and rules than a fight between good and evil - The Joker has no rules, certainly, and his fight becomes a quest to get Batman to break the one rule he lives by. Break it he doesn't, but he gets close.

The Dark Knight takes a wounding blow in
one of the film's many thrilling battles.

The film doesn't seem to resolve itself until you think about its final idea - that by not being a hero, Batman could turn out to be the greatest protector the city could ever hope for. I won't spoil anything, but the circumstances surrounding this theme are the only things that bring this film to anything approaching a satisfying emotional conclusion. It's something that Bruce Wayne had been considering the whole film, then was finally forced to achieve in a completely different way than he'd ever expected. It's the bittersweet Empire Strikes Back-style pseudo-resolution that leaves you wanting the third installment but changes things enough to give you something to look forward to.

This movie is as quotable, thought-provoking and well-shot as anything that you're likely to see this year, though a first viewing of the film may leave you feeling confused and unfulfilled, albeit exhilirated. A conversation earlier at the Wendy's with a stranger who had seen the movie earlier in the day (a nice guy from Ghana - he's not from around here or he would have been sulky and distrustful like everybody else) has brought me a bit closer to understanding my feelings regarding the entertainment value of the flick:

"I'm still not sure how I feel", he said. "I think I liked it, and I'm glad that I saw it, but I'm still not sure if I'll want to see it again."

So this film is a few things that Batman Begins wasn't - for one thing, it's a vehicle for bringing Tarantino levels of sadism and violence to a PG-13 audience [Thanks for the $$$, Warner Brothers! - MPAA]. It's an ambiguous exploration of personal borders, the vices and virtues of humanity. It makes you think, and forces you to find enjoyment in ways other than the typical superhero movie, even considering some of the outstanding releases this generation has seen. It's a movie that challenges its audience, rather than just delivering the expected standout fight scenes and nifty one-liners. It's pretty much everything that it needed to be, but not necessarily everything that you might have wanted it to be, and I think that I liked it, and I'm glad that I saw it, but. . . well, you see where I'm going here.

By the film's end, you'll be so drawn into the movie's hellish psychological nightmare that the sight of a fancy new Bat-gadget or Bat-backflip won't grip you, but the vicious internal turmoils and psychological mindgames might. Don't go in expecting Iron Man, or even something close. And if I haven't made it clear already. . . don't bring the kids to this one.

(NOTE: Academy Awards people - please give joint Oscars to Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Heath Ledger for their fantastic performances. I understand that you are all regular readers of this blog and thank you.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One Of These Oughta Keep the Coons Outta the Basement. . .

There's something visceral and exciting about a ruthlessly-accurate robot gun, and not just for gamers. Building something out of spare parts that boasts a reaction time to rival the fastest, most caffeinated of humans is a real achievement, doubly so when you consider the home defense applications. (Note to the makers of the now one million-strong Terrorist Watch List - it's a joke!)

But if gamer blog Kotaku proves anything, it's that the thought of the thing doesn't hold a candle to watching the thing in action, particularly for gamers who have simulated this sort of thing before and wonder how it would translate to real life.

Pretty well, it turns out. Check out this video of a software-controller robotic paintball turret in motion and tell me it doesn't get your blood going:

Be sure to check out the diversion/decoy attempt at 2:15. Didn't work out too well. . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Foxtrot References XKCD and Penny Arcade

Foxtrot's recent* blandness notwithstanding, it's nice to see something like this in our nation's funny pages. Still, the XKCD/PA references are about the only interesting thing in this comic; the humor is, as Jason says, mostly derivative (perhaps by referencing something funny you can trick people into thinking that they're looking at something that is in-and-of-itself funny). Click the image if you still want to read it, or just take my word for it and move on to the neat note that follows.


* Here I define "recent" as "most of the series' run". Foxtrot was always one for good-natured, unchallenging geekery, but it was consistent. I just wish that every other Foxtrot strip didn't end with a character echoing something from the first panel followed by that demmed everpresent, trailing ellipsis. The quality and humor of Dilbert, on the other hand, can be represented most ideally by a horizontal cross-section of the Splash Mountain ride at Disney Land. With Dilbert, it's like the ride never stopped and you've been sitting soaked and unhappy in one of those fake logs for the better part of a decade. That's about as geeky as I hope to get today.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Site Update . . . Oh, and Hellboy Still Rules

I guess that I'll have to apologize to the half a hundred or so people who read this blog on a daily basis - I worked massive overtime last week and it took me til now to get excited, or at least back to neutral, about blogging again. Actually, my traffic inexplicably spiked as I stopped posting. What's going on?

I finally made it to Hellboy II last week. I'm glad to say that it more than fulfilled my expectations. It's funnier, faster and more fiery than the first, and moves a great deal faster than the first film despite the fact that it's about 10 minutes shorter. Spider-man was one of the first really good superhero movies that I saw, but the sequel hit so much of the same ground that it suffered from a bit of ennui. (After all, being late for things and disappointing people is stressful in real life. Why would I want to watch it in a movie?) Thankfully, Hellboy II nips this potential problem in the bud by focusing less on our hero and more on the fantastical world he quickly finds himself immersed in. (I deign to mention that it's refreshing to watch a movie about a superhero who has no alter ego to be late for things and disappoint people.)

Much like so many fantasy movies from the 80s, Hellboy retains a very human feel despite the outlandish settings and events, mostly through use of visual effects and props whenever possible rather than use of straight CGI. Watching grumpy troll Mr. Wink lumber about is captivating, all the more so when you realize that the face is mostly animatronic and the troll's movement is provided the good old-fashioned way - by a guy in a big, sweaty rubber suit. Oh - and the troll's detachable claw of an arm? It's real, and it really shoots. It's just one example of a good marriage between modern computer overload and good old-fashioned imagination.

The film devotes the most time to its nonhuman characters. Jeffrey Tambor, for example, gets the short straw; despite some very funny lines and a good inferiority complex, he's nearly unecessary and essentially a tagalong to the far more interesting Johann Krauss, essentially the ectoplasmic bosom buddy to fishman Abe Sapien.

While the action in the first film was completely manageable and never overblown, the sequel suffers from a bit of fight scene overload, particularly in two large pockets near the beginning and the end. However, the action is uniformly exciting so this isn't much of a problem. Likewise, the director makes a couple of strange choices through the film (I'm still not sure about that opening), but at least you know where he's going. For the second time, the humor, wit and fun of this series make it a great deal more fun than much of the competition. Which isn't to say that some of this ground hasn't been mined to some extent - Iron Man, for example, is kind of a kindred spirit to Hellboy, but each sets itself apart in unique and wonderful ways. Hellboy II, like the character, is just so darn idiosyncratic and cooly-dysfunctional that it's hard not to enjoy yourself in its company.


In related news, I've changed my background color from the sickly tan I've been using in the past to plain white. I'm not a fan of overdone facelifts so it's unlikely that I'll ever change that much at a time. Ziggy Liberated still looks the most punchy of my blogs, but I don't yet have the yen to go so minimalistic. G'night everybody!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Happy One Year Blogiversary!

Lame puns aside, this incarnation of Cracking My Knuckles in Public hit its first birthday this morning! I grunted this sucker out on July 8, 2007, after only a few minutes of labor (well, I certainly wouldn't call it work), and it's been an angry, demanding little spawn ever since.

Wikipedia's article on toddler development gives us some milestones to watch for over the next few months:
12-15 Months:
  • Uses four to six letter words such as "ball" or "cookie"
  • Can follow a simple command with an associated gesture, such as: bringing a cup to you when you point at it and say "Please bring me the cup".
  • Object Permanence: Realizes things still exist when they are out of sight, such as a toy block placed into a closed box.

Sounds about right.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


I just found that favorite episode of Animaniacs is up on YouTube. What a wonderful throwback to the days of cartoon wit, violence and schadenfreude:

You don't have to know who Jerry Lewis is to appreciate this, but Animaniacs was always written for the parents sitting in the living room with their kids. Freunlaven!

I'd Kinda Hoped They Meant "Wakeboarding". . .

You can always count on The Drudge Report to have the most tasteless advertisers. Lest I give these nuts any free advertising, limited Knuckles readership notwithstanding, I've blocked out the URL along the bottom:

"Hyuk! I hope y'all hate Muslims and love torture as much as I do! In fact, I love it so much I'm wearing a T-Shirt indicating my desire to participate in some atrocities right now!" Say all you will about smarmy leftists, but their T-Shirts show a little more humanity. Y'know - by not endorsing torture and xenophobery.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


I saw WALL-E yesterday, a film that I'd been looking forward to for more than a month, ever since I got a really good look at it after listening to an interview with Andrew Stanton, the director. I found the movie pretty fantastic aside from some controversy involving the film's title (well, not real controversy - apparently it's okay to punctuate it with a dash and not the neato interpunct that they've been using on the posters. Yes, I did just learn that word).

It's not my job to convince you that the movie's great; critics around the world could tell you that. Unlike the last couple Pixar movies (Cars in particular), this plucky little flick seems like the sort of movie that could really grow on you. Not necessarily on the day that you see it in the theaters, amidst all of the hype and hubbub, but years later, when the DVD is resting up on the kids'-level shelf with the rest of Pixar's classics (meaning, of course, pretty much everything not involving insects or automobilia).

More than probably any Pixar flick before it, WALL-E is a strong argument for the subtle art of storytelling. Without spoiling anything, the best and most revelatory parts of the film are primarily nonverbal. Remember when R2-D2 said far more through his beeps, burbles and urgent fidgets than prissy, nagging C-3P0 ever managed to communicate? That same energy is at work here. I've grown spoiled by being able to watch a Pixar film without having to deal with catch phrase-dependent comic relief characters voiced by the likes of Wanda Sykes or Ben Stiller, but WALL-E is nearly completely independent from celebrity influence, understated presence of Sigourney Weaver notwithstanding.

I'll be discussing a couple of my favorite elements of the film in the next couple of paragraphs, as well as discussing a concern that others have had with the film, so those wishing to know nothing else about this fairly new flick may wish to stop here:

The film's storytelling carries over into the landscapes, primarily during the first half of the film. Mountains of garbage and a garbage-colored robot construct the film's bleak optimism. Humans have essentially turned the planet into a giant trashpile, under the watchful eye of a well-meaning yet ultimately destructive global corporation, who reassures the human race that everything will be taken care of planetside while they stay fat and happy on giant spacefaring luxury liners.

What's interesting is that the film never stoops to the level of a message film - the specifics of the story are necessary only to set up the characters and conflict, and the commentary on human nature is unambiguously positive. I found it fantastic that when we actually meet the humans, they aren't petty, selfish, apathetic, uncaring or anything else that you'd expect them to be in a film like this. Quite the contrary - lethargic and pampered as these doughy blobs may be, they're unfailingly kind and understanding, even resourceful and industrious when given the chance. Again - not the obvious, cynical path for the movie to tread, but something far more significant. (Predictably, self-conscious neocons have gotten their britches in a bundle about the perceived environmental messages in the story, proving that they're once again missing the point.)

Secondly, Pixar's gotten far better at integrating their gags with their stories. Pixar stopped including "bloopers" in their closing credits around the time that they began to take the films more seriously as stories rather than straight comedies. Charismatic and classic as Toy Story 2 or personal fave Monsters, Inc was, it's plain that Pixar has taken a different tonal approach with their movies beginning with Finding Nemo. Portraying your characters as actors in a movie just doesn't scan when your audience has to take the grief and love shown onscreen in any serious light. This isn't to say that they've lost the slapstick touch - the traditional short before the film is as clever and madcap as anything we've seen since the days of Looney Tunes - you can watch it here until YouTube takes it down).

WALL-E may be a kids' movie (certainly it appeals to kids), but it's as significant and genuine as anything you're likely to see in the top 10 this or any year. I highly recommend it.

On a related note, I like to think that I've shown remarkable self-restraint throughout this post by not referencing the imminent release of Hellboy II. Dagnabbit!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

More Weird, Mostly-Useless Peripherals

Those interested in this afternoon's theme of strange computer peripherals may appreciate this list from Wired - 18 of the strangest, most eccentric, and - let's face it - ugliest USB gadgets ever released, including the strange deformed fetus webcam pictured above. Don't worry - I won't subject you to the frisky dog one again (unless you follow this link).

Top 10 Weirdest Keyboards

This Swedish domain could use some better formatting, but I nevertheless found its list of 10 of the strangest keyboards of all time an interesting glimpse of the future. Designs vary from the retro and potentially dangerous to the eyes (above) to "ergonomic" designs which look even worse than the "wrist-friendly" designs that I've been subjected to in the past. And how about that roll-up soft plastic keyboard? Is that awesome or what?

Top 10 Weirdest Keyboard Ever (Fosfor)


In a similarly-themed comic (read the alt-text), Randall Munroe of XKCD recommends this Wikipedia list of problems solved by MacGyver, that TV master of spur-of-the-moment gadgetry. A few of my favorites:

"While being pursued by a Soviet truck, he crushes it by making a large rock fall on it. To do this, MacGyver pours water on a crack on the rock, puts a wedge in it, and sprays the entire thing with a fire extinguisher. The compressed carbon dioxide cools the water enough to freeze it, causing it to expand. This almost entirely breaks the rock away from the mountain, and when the Soviets come by, Mac simply pushes the wedge to crush their car."

"In order to fake a hand print for electronic scanning, MacGyver spreads a thin layer of plaster dust over the scanner. Some of the dust sticks to the sweat left on the scanner by the previous user. He blows away the excess, covers the sensor plate with his jacket, and presses down lightly with his fingers."

"MacGyver creates a rocket-propelled flare out of bamboo, fertilizer, matches, a strip of cloth, a small tin can, a thin metal rod, a funnel, and a wooden spoon. The fertilizer has nitrates, which act as the explosive. He packs the fertilizer in the bottom of the bamboo, then the matches, then the tin can which is itself packed with the cloth with a strip hanging out. He ties the spoon onto the side of the rocket with the metal rod used as a guide within the bamboo tube. The funnel is attached to the top of the rocket, to contain the explosion. The strip of cloth serves as the fuse, and then matches as the igniter. MacGyver sets the entire apparatus in a fireplace, where he lights the fuse and lets the rocket take off."

Some heavy suspension of disbelief is required for a couple of these, which of course adds to the fun:

"MacGyver builds a hot air balloon from scratch to escape from a Soviet search party. The balloon is made of homemade super-glue, old clothes, a parachute, welding equipment, a refrigerator, condoms, and a metal box."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

CMKP: The Best of June

ACTA Copyright Conspiracy Unreported By Traditional Media

The Rising Aristocratic Power Class

Beaker From The Muppets Sings Metallica's Master of Puppets

The Wiki For Time-Travellers

What if Our Candidates Were Intellectually Honest?

Things I liked this month:

The Geek Show Podcast

Fluxx Trading Card Game / Zombie Fluxx "Expansion"

Hellboy (Nine more days to Hellboy 2!)

Just Say "NO!" To Comp-u-brains!

While calling Apple Computer's support line, and later while arranging a pickup with DHL Shipping, I encountered a strange, obnoxious system in place. I've long been familiar with the insidious recent trend for corporate phonelines which requires you to say the option that you would like rather than pushing buttons on the phone as a voice reads your options. The only purpose that this can achieve is to make you feel like a Grade-A dork saying things like "tell me more" out loud in public places, between long silences.

But these menu systems were even worse. You see - they tried to make the computer sound like a human. Apparently unfamiliar with the concept of the uncanny valley, the developers of this phone support service apparently thought it a good idea for the computer to give human-like answers and self-deprecating comments that do not apply to computers in any real sense.

Here are some of the most offensive comments from the two support sessions. Keep in mind that all of these statements were prerecorded by humans trying to inflect like normal humans:

After I gave my address: "I'm sorry. I don't think I got that. Could you please repeat what you just said?"

After I indicated that the number on file was wrong: "My mistake. Can I get the new number?"

When I asked to speak to a representative: "Okay. I just checked and you might have to wait about five minutes. Is that okay?"

ARGH! Perhaps when listed these don't seem so ridiculous, but having to speak into a phone rather than quickly navigating menus, all the while listening to unapplicable usages of human conversation made me uncomfortable if not actually angry. As far as I'm concerned, a computer saying "my mistake" is inexcusable; how about "I'm sorry. Your squeaky nerd voice and my voice-recognition software appear to be at odds. Please try again, meatbag."

After all, the entire reason why we have this type of technology is to eliminate ambiguity, but all they've done is to add an inefficient layer of "pretend to be human" and voice recognition over the already perfectly good support system. I miss the old days, when the humans who prerecorded their voices for phone support lines sounded like robots.

By the way, there's a secret unlisted option that you can use with these systems to make modifications to the voice chip and behavior of the system. Here it is:

"Listen, you mothergrabbing electronic bastidge, give me a real human or pulse-based menu system before I find your Silicon Valley CPU and feed it to a goat."

I was this close to using it.