Thu, Mar 26, 2015

: Chappie

I had such high hopes for this flick. Coming from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, I thought he’d do something amazingly realistic and awesome.

Unfortunately, it’s clear in the first few minutes that Neill knows next to nothing about robots and artificial intelligence. While the humanoid robots look mildly interesting, they’re nothing remarkable (very similar to the robot in the 80s comedy Short Circuit), and they’re full of nonsensical items such screens on the back of the neck that stay on all the time, running the robot’s battery down for no purpose.

The plot was also not what I expected. I knew it was about a robot that becomes sentient, but it turns out the robot’s “adopted” by a band of moron criminals who proceed to teach the “baby” their questionable morals and ways. While that could have been interesting, the way it’s done is depressing: we don’t really like the bad guys and watching a robot swear like a gangster just isn’t as amusing as Neill seems to think.

The film just has tons of serious flaws. The title is stupid and awkward (there isn’t even a creative way the robot gets the name), about half of the movie’s dialog is delivered in severely accented South African English that’s difficult to understand, and there are dozens of bizarre and puzzling aspects. For instance, the “rich” robot corporation looks like a dump with crappy cubicles for their top engineers and even the CEO has an average-looking office, and I didn’t why on earth the kidnappers just let the kidnapped scientist go home after stealing his robot.

Almost all the characters are cheap stereotypes, from the gun-toting ex-military madman to the Indian programmer, and even the more interesting people (the weird-looking drug dealers) are never defined outside of their profession. You’d think the titular robot would at least be fun, but even it doesn’t have much personality.

Even worse are all the scientific inaccuracies and absurdities, from the way software is written (the compiler reports no errors so presumably the program is perfect though even a first year programmer knows that 99.9999% of bugs are only revealed through empirical testing), to a lot of jargon that means the nothing or the opposite of what the writers think. That’s all magnified by an absurd ending with even more over-the-top implausibilities. In comparison, Short Circuit is a marvel of scientific accuracy!

What’s really sad is this movie had so much potential: while the idea of a sentient robot is nothing new, one that emerges as a naive baby and learns about life from criminals is innovative, and it would have been cool to see moral conflict and emotion from the robot. There was also a lot of room in the film for exploring the differences between artificial intelligence robots and robots controls by human means (like drones), but while that was touched upon in the plot, it was never explored. I wouldn’t even recommend this to robot fans. Sad.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Mar 18, 2015

: New Car

I just bought a new 2016 Mazda CX-5. Yeah, that’s not a typo: we’re only three months into 2015 and I’ve already gone ahead to next year and brought back a car!

It’s wonderful. I took some amazing pictures of it up at a local vineyard (click to see all the pictures):

While I love small, sporty cars, they just aren’t practical unless you also own something bigger for cargo. The CX-5 is the perfect blend of a mid-size SUV with reasonable gas mileage (30 highway, 26 average), while still retaining some of Mazda’s renowned “zoom-zoom” sports car drivability. (Comparing the CX-5 to Jeeps and Hondas and others I test drove, the Mazda was way better.)

No, it won’t win any races, but it sure is fun to drive. It has a “sports” mode button that gives you extra pep when you need it, and there’s even a “manual” mode where you can control the gear shifting yourself (without the hassle of a clutch). It’s the best of all worlds.

With the all-wheel drive, this thing is fantastically stable, even in the pouring rain. It doesn’t feel too big, either. I had been nervous about switching both vehicle type and manufacturer (my last three cars have all been Chryslers — not planned — it just worked out that way), but from the first test drive I was as comfortable in the Mazda as if I’d been driving an SUV for years. All the buttons were right where I wanted them.

I got it with lots of amazing tech. Some stuff I knew about and wanted (Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, support for iPods, keyless entry, push-button start, backup camera, dual climate control, navigation, moonroof, gas usage info, etc.) but there’s a lot I got that’s new to me. There are blind-spot sensors (the side mirrors light up when there’s a car in a blind spot), fantastic headlights (LED and they rotate with your turn), garage door opener buttons on the rear view mirror, rain-sensing wipers (ideal for Oregon), automatic braking (front collision detection), and much more. My favorite is the rear cross-traffic alert: it beeps when you’re backing up and cars/people are passing behind you. It’s great for busy parking lots, but also really useful when I back out of my driveway (I have a tree that makes it hard to see if a car’s in the road).

There are many habits I’m going to have to relearn: I keep wanting to shift (my previous cars have all been stick shifts), take my keys out of my pocket, turn the headlights and wipers off, etc. It’s really hard to just walk away from the car without locking it (it auto-locks when the key moves out of range), but I’m sure I’ll adjust from all these terrible hardships!

Topic: [/car]


Tue, Mar 17, 2015

: Android’s Dream

Author: John Scalzi

What a crazy novel! It begins with the assassination of an alien via farting during a peace negotiation, and then things get odd. The plot has something to do with a custom breed of blue-haired sheep called Android’s Dream that’s key to preventing a war, but I won’t say more than that because it’s really impossible to explain anything about the story without a lot of detail that would spoil everything.

Just understand that while the book is hilarious and absurd, it’s extremely clever and doesn’t take any cheap shortcuts. (It’s actually plausible in terms of science.) Reminds me a lot of the HItchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. Two thumbs up.

Topic: [/book]