Thursday, March 03, 2005

What Happened to Star Wars?

I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan. But the newer movies just don't make any sense. I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time last week, and I have to say, it's pretty confusing. The last time we saw Darth Vader, he was tumbling through space in his TIE fighter, and then he lands on the NEW Death Star in some kind of Y-Wing? And when did Han Solo get turned into stone? What I really can't believe is that none of the Rebels figured out that the black guy, Londo Corellian, was one of Jabba's spies. I mean, the first time you see him he's guarding Jabba. How dumb are these Rebels? You'd think that the words-flying-through-space thingy (who built those things, anyway?) at the beginning of Return of the Jedi would explain some of this stuff, but it's no help.

As if that wasn't bad enough, then I tried to watch Attack of the Clones with my kids, and it was even worse! We found out in Return of the Jedi that Darth Vader's name was really Anakin, and he died at the end. But in this movie he's somehow come back to life as a teenager! And Obi-Wan Kenobi has also been replaced by a younger actor and is supposed to be 'alive'. The biggest letdown was the bounty hunter that we saw fall into the Rancor pit in Return of the Jedi, I believe his name is Ponda Boba. How did he make it back to the land of the living? Is that why it's called Attack of the Clones? It seems like Spielberg is just bringing characters back to life as young people to make the movies attractive to kids. I guess it worked for him in Titanic. At least with Anakin and Obi-Wan I could see some justification for it, since they were such popular characters in the earlier movies, but why oh why did Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru come back to life? Was it just to sell some more action figures? At least the new stormtroopers look cooler than the old ones, but they seem to be helping the Jedi now. It's all very confusing, but my kids don't seem to mind all the gaping plot holes.

Maybe Spielberg will clear all this up if he ever gets around to making those 'prequel' movies everybody's always talking about. Until then, I'm sticking with Star Wars Episode I, the one where Luke blows up the Death Star. The other movies suck (except for ET, since it took place on Earth and was much more realalistic).

Hey, this stuff is _ancient_!

Congratulations, you must be one of the dozen or people who knew me before I started blogging earlier today. Yes, I'm just now getting around to posting a small fraction of my immense backlog of genius--which belches forth volcanically from my brain in an unstoppable torrent of awesomeness. If you want to see the new stuff, you can have a seat right over there and peruse a used Cosmo Girl for a few hours. The nurse will page you when it's your turn.

Overheard at NASA

This is a partial transcript of an actual NASA briefing.

"Okay, everyone, let's go over the final checklist. Humphries, did you make sure that none of this damn thing's software uses English measurements?"

"Yes, sir. All of the measurements are either in American or metric units."

"Great. Sanderson, did you make sure to add something that has to be turned on manually, so they'll be forced to invite us all to mission control in eight years?"

"Yeah. I actually made sure that all of the essential functions require human commands."

"All of them? That's all right, I suppose, but where did you find time for your other work? You were also supposed to make sure that high-gain antenna will unfold properly."

"Oh, yeah. I did that back when it arrived, just before we bolted it on."

"Was that before or after Michaelson dropped it?"

"Before."

"Good enough. Pennyweight, where are we on that radiation leak?"

"Ah, it's still there, but it shouldn't affect any of the instruments."

"What about safety?"

"Well, the radiation's coming from the module the Russians sent, so if anything goes wrong, we're off the hook."

"Excellent. All right, folks, this is looking good. Anything else?"

"Is it too late to add a rover?"

"Dammit, Jenkins, this probe is going to Jupiter's Great Red Spot! What the hell is going to do with a rover?"

"Well, look, everybody loves the rovers. That hottie on CNN always flips out and talks about how cute they are. Besides, Mars got two, and it's only one-sixth the size of the Great Red Spot."

"You may be onto something. What do you think, Kettlebroom? Is it too late to add a rover?"

"No, we could fit one on. In, ah, equipment bay 3C."

"We're not using 3C?"

"We were going to put the backup hard drive in 3C, to store some mission data in case anything went wrong with the high-gain, but we scrapped that during the third cost-overrun damage control workshop. You remember, the one at JPL where they served those little quiches."

"Oh yeah. I love those things. So the rover will go in 3C. Do we need to update the mission profile?"

"Well, the rover does have a high matter inertia loading score and it will probably induce minute three-dimensional oscillations in the trajectory of the instrument delivery system, but I'm confident we can deproblematize the mission profile during trans-space ballistic movement using the remotely-operated orientation correction system."

"That sounds pretty thorough. Now, what have we got left? Daniels, did you ever find the other half of that sandwich?"

"..."

"Speak up, please."

"Ah, no."

"Do you have any idea where it might be?"

"Um, I think I left it on the CPU."

"You mean the CPU that is currently bolted, soldered, and glued behind sixteen million dollars of expensive, fragile equipment?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"How long can the CPU hold out with a moldy sandwich sitting on top?"

"Well, I actually ran some numbers. The vacuum will kill all but the worst of the bacteria, so the sandwich shouldn't cause a problem for at least five years."

"Okay, great. I should be at Cornell by then anyway. I think we're done here. Nice work, people. Now get some rest, we've got that comet flyby on Monday."

"Sir? We lost contact with that probe last week."

"Okay, I guess we'll get a long weekend. Thanks everyone."

Awesome New Video Game

I just got done playing the coolest video game EVER! It's been around for a while and some of you may have played it before, but if you haven't it is definitely worth a look.

The game is called "Traffic School" and as far as I know it is only available online (sorry, Nintendo and Playstation afficionados). The gameplay is really simple: you go on a series of quests, referred to in the game as "lessons," and after each lesson-quest you have to fight a boss called the "Quiz." At the end of the game there is a mega-boss called the "Final Exam." Okay, here's the cool part. You can defeat the bosses using the information you gather during your lesson-quests! After a while you will notice that the some of the bosses have the same weaknesses. For example, I used the 0.08% blood alchohol rune of power to take one hit point of off Quizzes 7 and 10. I even used that one successfully against the Final Exam (be warned, though, the Final Exam has a lot more hit points than the lesser bosses).

The most controversial thing about the game is that after going a few of the lesson-quests you will have committed some of the runes of power to memory without even knowing it. The "Never Turn Against A Red Arrow" incantation got stuck in my head right away. Some players will enjoy this, because they will feel that they have been inducted into a secret society with its own statutes and codes. It should especially appeal to D&D addicts, Trekkies, doctoral candidates, and other collectors of worthless arcana. However, other players may resent being forced to learn a bunch of made up stuff that, ultimately, has no application in daily life. I guess your appreciation for the game will depend on your tolerance for useless trivia.

If you've played previous versions of the game you will notice that the graphics still suck. In fact, the game isn't even animated in the strict sense of the word, although you can sometimes fool your eyes if you move the scroll bar up and down fast enough. Don't let the graphics discourage you, though. I promise you that once you start, you will feel compelled to play through the entire game, probably in one sitting.

Those new to the game are often surprised by the price. Although it only costs $20-25 to play online, there are various "hidden" costs, such as the $20 and up "court fee" (is this the same as in racquetball?), and, of course, the application fee, which can be quite expensive (mine was $161.00). Although that sounds like a lot of money, at least the application process is fun. It is an interactive portion of the game--almost a game in itself--that you play using your car (this should appeal to fans of Grand Theft Auto). Once you have demonstrated your willingness to participate, a gaming representative in a specially marked vehicle will pull you over and give you further instructions.

I really can't say enough good things about this game. I played it for the first time a couple of years ago, and I just got done playing through it again. You may find it similarly addictive. If you're really hard-core, I hear that there is an all-day live action version. Evidently some group gets together every Saturday and plays up at the courthouse. Check it out if you're interested.

Ask Dr. Vector: He Knows More Than You!

Dear Dr. Vector -

My parents, my teachers, and my counselor have all repeatedly assured me that “everything is going to be okay.” Is this true?

- Anxious in Alameda


Dear Anxious -

Your skepticism is well founded. In a word, no. It’s time to face some tough facts that we all have to grapple with sooner or later, viz. you don’t know what viz. means. Most of your genome is noncoding. Your body is programmed for senescence, so no matter how smart the doctors get, they won’t save you from 4 billion years of built-in obsoletion. You will never really ‘get’ the Krebs cycle. Your shoulder girdles are configured in such a way that it is impossible for you to shave your own back, so you’re going to have to find some help or spend the rest of your life toiling under a pelt that would shame a musk-ox. Your ‘friends’ have never alerted you to the fact that your underwear is almost always visible, regardless of your attire or the social occasion. There will always be at least one person in your life that you can’t stand, but can’t avoid. It is highly unlikely that you will ever get through even the first chapter of the Kama Sutra, especially if you try it with someone else. You often brag about things your acquaintances have done to try to make yourself sound cooler. Most of the time you’ve spent thinking about ‘Plus ca change’ has been focused on pronunciation, and all of it has been wasted. Every pillow you ever have or ever will sleep on was or will be covered in an invisible layer of microscopic dust mite feces.

Your country is ruled by the rich and their elected puppets and has been for ages; your life, liberty, and potential happiness are inconsequential byproducts of their self-interest; and almost everyone you will ever interact with will be either too idealistic or too stupid to grasp this. Your planet’s flora and fauna are being burned and eaten by people who are hungry, often to make room for more cows. You will constantly be distracted from the foregoing by advertisements for soda pop, feminine hygiene products, and automobiles that you can’t afford. The word ‘extreme’ will continue to be misapplied until it becomes an article like ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and ‘the.’ Despite the skyrocketing availability of ‘data,’ you understand less about yourself and your place in the world than the average hunter-gatherer, and although you may live longer, you will worry more and laugh less. If you have kids, it is a statistical certainty that you will come into physical contact with vomit, urine, and excrement on countless occasions before they ever say a single word. As you try to keep them physically safe and mentally uncontaminated in an increasingly septic world, you will realize that you are morphing into your parents.

You will spend more time checking your e-mail than having meaningful conversations with your significant other. Your chances of getting a job in your chosen field suck. Even if you are successful, you will sacrifice your time, money, health, and sanity at the altar of employment. You will constantly be advised to ‘think outside the box’ by people who clearly can’t. No matter how much you accomplish, you will either be forgotten, recalled only as an object of ridicule or source of shame, or hated and feared for generations: the fondness of your memory will scale inversely with its durability. Every species is destined to go extinct, yours included. Really amazing things will evolve in the future, and you won’t be around to see them–in fact, no one will. Your only real shot at immortality is to become fossilized, and your chances there are slim. Whether you succeed or not, any last traces of your existence will be vaporized when the sun goes nova.

And when you drink to try to forget all this, you’ll be killing the very brain cells that represent your one slim shot at happiness.

Hope this helps.

Dr. Vector