Sorry everyone for being MIA for the past few months. I have been having a very hard time dedicating time to this site since the birth of my new baby girl! Anyway, last week my wife and I found some time to watch the new Blood and Chrome web series on YouTube. Overall I think the acting, special effects, and plot are pretty good. I am glad to see that they didn’t try to make everything seem old. One thing that I found very annoying was the overuse of lens flare. I am pretty sure it was to hide the fact that there really weren’t any big sets to film on. Blood and Chrome is being released free on Youtube, then will air on SyFy then on Bluray, DVD, and digital download early next year.
I personally would have rather waited until all the episodes (~12 minutes each) were out, however my wife refused. I think it might be possible she’s a bigger BSG fan than I am. That’s saying a lot! If you are a big BSG fan like myself, you need to check it out.
Falling Skies takes place in a near future alternate reality where aliens invaded Earth and just about destroyed everything. The series opens with a kid describing the first contact and subsequent invasion. All of the major cities and most of the military was destroyed all in one swoop. The series follows a group of resistance fighters that are struggling to survive. Some people want to strike back, but the military commander is convinced that splitting up and going to ground is the best move right now. The main character, Tom Mason played by Noah Wyle, happens to be second in command of a small splinter group. He has three sons, one very little, another in his late teens, and the last one has been captured by the aliens. The general feel seems to be something similar to Terminator and the new Battlestar Galactica.
Tom Mason was a US history professor, so quite often he quotes how some historical battles were won by underdogs. His repetition of this got on my nerves a bit. Another thing that bothered me was that his youngest son wanted to wish for everything to go back to the way it was for his birthday. His son asked if that was OK to wish for and Tom said yes. That really bothered me, because the sooner his kid understands nothing will be as it was, the better. Overall I would have to say the premier was mediocre at best. Some of the acting seemed a bit weak, but nothing terrible. I’ll have to watch the next few episodes so I can form a better opinion.
For all of you geeks that have had your head in the sand, artificial intelligence has hit a milestone. Yesterday, IBM’s Watson trounced these bags of meat known as Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in Jeopardy. If I ruined the result of the match, I apologize, but I figure posting a day after is enough notice for anyone that was following this from the start. For some more background on Watson and behind the scenes info, check out my original post on this. I have to admit that I was rooting for Watson from the start. I was a bit worried when after the first day in the tournament Watson was only tied for first place. I’m not sure what happened between the first and second matches, but Watson rocketed ahead in the second day and never looked back.
I think IBM might have been in a rush to show off their new creation. It was interesting to see the answer confidence levels during the rounds, often revealing some really wacky possible answers. Watson crashed several times during the second day of filming, nothing a regular viewer would notice while watching the recorded match on TV. One criticism I’ve heard about the match was that Watson was fed the questions electronically rather than relying on voice and character recognition. I have to agree that the electronic delivery could have been an advantage. Had voice recognition and OCR functionality been used in Watson, the victory would be quite a bit more impressive. I could clearly see the two mere mortals struggling to buzz in and shake in frustration when Watson was faster. The producers touted the physical buzzer plunger that Watson had to activate, but I still think that Watson had the advantage.
I would be interested to see a rematch in a year but with only inputs into Watson be voice and video of the Jeopardy board. After all, Deep Blue was given a second chance versus Garry Kasparov, so why not give the humans a second chance on more equal footing? It is quite possible that programming algorithms over the year would improve enough so that Watson still would win, despite the reliance of voice recognition and OCR. In that case, the victory would mean that much more. Even if you know the outcome already, I still recommend watching the matches. I already saw the Nova special, so I skipped through most of the background stuff from the IBM folks. Here is a link to my YouTube playlist that has the three episodes broken into 6 videos. Check it out! Then you can tell your grandchildren how you watched a computer beat humans in Jeopardy for the first time. Then they’ll ask, “Humans were allowed to play Jeopardy back then?”
Tonight with my wife, I watched an interesting episode of Nova titled “The World’s Smartest Machine.” Romantic, right? You can tell we are a couple of geeks at heart. Being a huge fan of Asimov and his robot creations, I am continually amazed at the progress of robotics and artificial intelligence. As a kid I was playing chess as early as the 3rd grade. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good chess player. When I heard about a computer that supposedly could beat a world champion chess player, I was intrigued. Garry Kasparov battled IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1996 and won, however he eventually lost a rematch in 1997. Well, IBM is back at it, this time taking on Jeopardy. Nova takes us behind the scenes with the developers of “Watson,” the next step in AI. I was disappointed when the episode ended and it didn’t say who won. I didn’t realize until logging on PBS.org that the contest actually was taking place while I was watching Nova (on my media center PC). After some frantic Google searches, I eventually came across a Twitter feed with a link to a Youtube posting of the episode. This was not quite 2 hours after the episode aired! Isn’t technology great? I expect the Youtube post to be served a DMCA take down, so watch it soon if you plan on it. In addition to the episode at the end of this post, I’ve embedded the Nova preview and an humorous parody of the challenges Watson overcame during his development. I suggest watching the Nova episode first. If you are at all interested in AI, you must check these out!
There are two more nights to the match, airing Tuesday February 15th, and Wednesday the 16th. Be sure to check them out, along with some live blogging on PBS.org. I find myself rooting for Watson, not because I want to see humans defeated, but because I want to see humans capable of making something smart enough to do it. Who do you think will win? Who do you want to win?
A couple days ago I was able to visit with some friends I haven’t seen in a few years. After one of them cracked open a bottle of wine, we eventually ended up talking about gaming. One thing led to another and one of my friends asked, “Have any of you heard of Mazes and Monsters?” In mere moments we were watching one of the most horrible acting performances I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t sure if I should be shocked or amazed. In retrospect, the alcohol definitely enhanced the experience. We ended up adding our own commentary, MST3K style. About half way through I regretted that we didn’t start recording our comments to dub in later on. My friend actually had the recording equipment to do it too.
The movie starts out with a scene with a bunch of police cars and fire trucks responding to a missing persons report. A university student got lost in some caverns in a game of Mazes and Monsters that got out of hand. I was battling with trying to figure out if this was supposed to be some type of spoof or just an anti Dungeons and Dragons flick. After watching it all, despite how close it comes to seeming like parody, I think they were actually serious. In the midst of all the no-name actors this guy by the name of Tom Hanks shows up in one of his first roles. I’m sure if you ask him about it today, he’ll try to deny any involvement with this feature.
I’m pretty sure that anyone that has played classic DnD would be amused by this movie. Just watch it with a few friends over a few drinks, and I am sure everyone will have a blast. Here is a clip, it doesn’t contain any real spoilers.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from The Plan except that it was more BSG content, and that I just needed to watch it. The first glimpse I had of it was toward the end of the BSG series finale when there was an ad near the end. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was another series, mini-series, or just a feature like Razor. I was already pumped about Caprica, which came out just a little after the series finale. Because Syfy (formerly SciFi) released The Plan so much later, I had completely forgotten about it until one of my friends told me it was out. Continue reading »
In 1992, the year of his death, Isaac Asimov was awarded the Hugo Award for best novella for writing Gold. This story, along with many others was published in 1995. Along with 14 other short stories, there are collections of essays called “On Science Fiction,” and “Writing Science Fiction.” Interestingly enough, I found the essays much more interesting than the stories themselves. I think this is partly because I have read a TON of his fiction, but haven’t got around to reading his non-fiction. I’ll give a brief overview of the essays, saving the stories for later. Continue reading »
When I first heard of Flash Forward, I was intrigued. Time travel stories always have piqued my interest. This new show isn’t a typical time travel story. One day all of humanity is knocked unconscious, and most of them see what appear to be hallucinations (2:17 minutes worth) of the future. The rest of this pilot episode is the main characters picking up the pieces from the fallout of this event. Can you imagine the scale of destruction if that would really happen? Interestingly enough, by the end of the day everyone is home and contemplating what their visions actually mean. I would think they’d be busy cleaning stuff up for weeks after all of the crashes and looting that took place. I’m not sure if it was poor scripting or what, but quite a few times I felt like I was being spoon-fed information and “insights” as the actors tried to piece things together.
For example, some of the visions were disturbing. They didn’t like what they saw and were afraid the vision of the future would come true. The flipside of this is also touched on, but what about those that had no vision? Also, how will seeing the future affect the future? It is apparent that some will fight FOR the future, while others will fight AGAINST it. Who will win? Can both sides succeed? I am waiting to see how the writers can add a unique twist of their own.
First, let me say that Battlestar Galactica is by far my favorite Sci-Fi TV series of all time. I was addicted from the beginning of the 2003 miniseries and followed it up until the series finale this week. I liked it so much that prior to season 4.5, I re-watched all of the previous seasons so I would have them all fresh in my mind. In doing so, I managed to get my wife addicted as well and took her along for the ride. I highly recommend everyone watch the entire series.