Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was lovingly written by an obvious space nerd. Weir explains large amounts of science and engineering in a very accessible format. As only a true space nerd would do, there are lots of jokes and puns. Not everyone will like them, but they enhanced the story for me.

The story works as a framework to describe the technical challenges to life on Mars. The Apollo missions were visits of a few short days and Whatney, our hero, was planned to have a few short weeks on Mars. Only it goes all wrong.

What I enjoyed most was
FEELING
the isolation. So many authors try but fall flat.

Given the fiction part of science-fiction, the problems arrive one after another to give Whatney something to solve without too much of a break to recover. A normal mortal would have broken under the stress. But, then, NASA would not send a normal mortal to Mars. 🙂

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Slackers and IT

Go read “Science Fiction Is for Slackers.”

As a rule, science fiction may be the laziest of all genres, not because the stories themselves are too facile—they can be just as sophisticated and challenging as those of any other genre—but because they often revel in easy solutions: Why walk when you can warp? Why talk when you’re a telepath? Technology in such stories typically has more to do with workarounds than it does with work.

I do love science fiction. From robots/AI to star travel to virtual reality. I love it all. I may even love it BECAUSE of the laziness. I’d love to have all these things to make my life better. And much of science fiction influences technologists into making decisions to make the fiction a reality.

The How Shatner Changed the World (mock) documentary talks about the technologies of Star Trek and how scientists work towards making these things reality. Faster than light travel and cybernetics are still aspirant. But cell phones and personal computers were influenced by technologists familiar with the show and movies.

At times I worry about automation putting me out of a job, but then I remember my career goal is always to replace myself with a tiny shell script. Why click when I can script? Why script when I can tell an AI to handle it? Sure it takes away some of my responsibilities, but what I am supposed to do has always changed. And I get better challenging work when I free myself from mundane tasks.

Guess this is why I told Puppet Labs my job is an Automation Evangelist. It’s not universal. I have allies, but convincing people of the good in automation is much like changing their religion.

Back in college I was encouraged to become a librarian. More specifically, people thought I should become an automation librarian. I guess the automation part stuck?

Updated GoT Timeline

A friend posted about Winds of Winter not coming in 2015.

Back in 2011, I posted about George R. R. Martin and the question “whether GRRM has the time to finish the books before the HBO TV series catches up to him.” He had estimated the TV series will take multiple seasons for some books. Let’s compare his prediction with the reality so far.

Book Between Publishing TV ETA TV Real
One (Game of Thrones) N/A 2011 2011
Two (Clash of Kings) 2 years 2012 2012
Three (Storm of Swords) 2 years 2013 / 2014 2013 / 2014
Four (Feast for Crows) and
Five (Dance With Dragons)
11 years 2015 / 2016
(/ maybe 2017)
2015
(rest not yet announced)

That looks pretty spot on through 2015. Season four starts April 12rh. Based on the leaked GoT trailer, they do recombine books 4 and 5. Combined they are a monstrous almost 2k pages. GRRM also claimed 2-3 seasons for the recombined Feast and Dance books. Three seems more likely given the 1200 page Storm took two, 1800 page Feast/Dance should be about three.

Ideally Winds would come out well prior to the HBO season covering it, giving us a chance to read it first. So ideally 2016 but it could be 2018 or later. 🙁

Netflix Content Expiring Jan 1st

Yesterday a friend pointed out Netflix is dropping some content on January 1st. This was in relation to the movie of a book we read for a book club earlier this month. So last night, while watching the movie, I noted through the web site all the movies in my list set to expire by the note “Available until <date>” under the thumbnail. They were:

  • Alice in Wonderland (Jan 4th)
  • Battle for Britain
  • Biloxi Blues
  • Stargate Continuum
  • Stargate: The Ark of Truth
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Netflix dropped Stargate SG-1 a while ago, and I am not far enough into the series to warrant watching either of those movies, so that meant just three more movies to watch by the 1st. That seemed doable, so I planned to this weekend watch the other 3.

Only…

The indicator upon which I depended is inaccurate. I use an app on my Bluray player to watch on my television and going through my list to find these, I found more movies are expiring. “Clue” for instance according to the Bluray app expires on the first but lacks such an indication on the web at all. There are another 13 who I was able to identify this way.

So it is more like 16 to watch. Ugh. Guess I will have to prioritize.

UPDATE: I made a spreadsheet with expiration date, title, Netflix’s presumed rating. Then I ordered it by rating descending. I am watching them in that order. Most are under 2, so maybe this will not be so bad?

Town & Gown Hamlet

Of any play, this is the one I know the best. In 7th grade, we were supposed to do this play. Not an abridged version, but the whole thing. I was only Barnardo, and even memorizing that stressed me to the breaking point. Thankfully, I was able to transfers schools and get out of it. At the new school, in 8th grade we just read it because 9th grade did Romeo and Juliet and I got Polonius. Then we read it again in 10th grade for British Lit where I got Laertes and watched the local college production. How did I get out of having to study it in college? Oh. Those English courses were about writing and none were British Lit. And I’ve somehow seen Oliver, Branaugh, Gibson, Tennant, and Hawke all play Hamlet in movies.

Which made me wonder if I really wanted to see it at the local community theatre. How much is enough?

I try to see something from the Town & Gown Players at least once a season and thought I had not. So I gave it a shot. In retrospect, I reviewed their calendar and saw “See How They Run” at the start of the season. So the at least once reasoning only applied because I relied on very faulty memory.

This Hamlet was pretty good. No surprises like everyone lives. Lines were delivered pretty well. The costumes looked appropriate. Either I never noticed or forgot Hamlet comparing his father to several Roman / Greek gods. Or maybe it was in how the lines were delivered. Here is the speech and in bold the gods.

Look here upon this picture and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow?
Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars to threaten and command,
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill—
A combination and a form indeed
Where every god did seem to set his seal

I also enjoyed the little things like Ophelia and Laertes, sister and brother, elbowing each other while Polonius, their father, delivered his big monologue. The set design was very simple and versatile. Unlike other plays I’ve T&G do, the actors did not have to change the set every scene. Because of this, scenes changed by actors leaving the stage and not needing to go dark.

It will be around one more weekend.

The Heavy Denzel

One of the early commercials for the movie Flight starring Denzel Washington featured the song What Makes a Good Man? by the Heavy. Fast forward a few months to today, I heard the same song during a commercial and looked up to see Denzel in another movie called 2 Guns.

I am familiar with the concept of type casting actors in certain role types: hero, villain, blue collar, lawyer, etc. Until now, I was not familiar with song casting actors.

Am I late to noticing this phenomenon?

Movie Before Book? Or Book Before Movie?

She asked what I was reading. So I told her Dust of Dreams and showed her the book. She said I am smart. This launches into a weird conversation culminating in the question. She asked, “Is it weird I watch the movie before reading the book?” A little over a year ago a friend asked me the same question.

My response was I have done the same thing. I pointed out I watched the first three Harry Potter movies without reading the books. But, then I really was confused about the story of the third one enough, I ended up getting the books and reading them before catching up on the movies. But that is not really a good example.

So what do you do? Movie first? Book first? Both ways depending on mood?

My thoughts…

    • Some movies made no sense to me, so I went back to read the book, and watched the movie again. The 2nd time around, the movie made much more sense. So often I try to read the book first, so I can enjoy the movie without feeling lost.
    • Some stories seem not that interesting. Why invest 10-20 hours reading a book when I can just watch a 2-3 hour movie?
    • Books allow me to give my own visual identity to characters, places, and things.
    • Watching the movie gives a director’s visual identity to characters, places, and things.
    • For me, movie first or middle relies on the director’s visual identity instead of my own. I guess it depends on whether I like the director’s take over my own?

Anyway, I also showed her Goodreads as she was interested in what I thought about a book. (I have not read it. But maybe it can hook her up with friends who have?)

Oh, and it is rather intelligent to call others smart. It feels nice.

AMC Best Picture Showcase

Last Saturday and yesterday a couple friends and I attended AMC movie theater’s Best Picture Showcase. This is an event where the movie theater shows all the nominees for Academy Award for Best Picture. I first attended back when there were only 5 movies. Over the past few years there have been as many as 10. This year there were nine: Amour, Les Miserable, Argo, Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Lining’s Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty.

I’d call this year of the memorable slap. Almost all of these have a scene where a character looking the other in the eye slaps the other. It is like it is a theme for the year.

One of the reasons I like attending this event is the entire slate of movies are overall quality movies. Though, I did enjoy some far more than others.

Amour: Hard to watch as the story of an elderly woman having strokes and falling apart is way too familiar to me. I do have to say the portrayal was pretty accurate.

Les Miserable: I have never seen the play. I think if I had, then I would find it more entertaining. Instead, the constant singing was more annoying.

Argo: One of the two I saw prior. Just as entertaining the second time through. It mixes danger and humor well. Probably should hate it because it took too many liberties with the history, but I don’t? My #1 pick for best picture.

Django Unchained: As to be expected, this was Inglorious Bastards with a different bad part of history and to out do the over the top violence.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: The Life-Sucks-But-We-Will-Overcome nominee, it felt preachy. Most damning were the aurochs. They felt completely off putting.

Life of Pi: The tiger at times looked like Puss In Boots from Shrek. So adorable. Visually amazing through over a dozen scenes. The story was pretty weak and dumbed down.

Lincoln: The second of the two I saw prior. The makeup and casting were amazing. Some strangely supernatural lighting as in one case Robert Lincoln’s face is well lit under his hat so we can see his expression while the Sun is in the background. I happen to enjoy political speeches, but this was even boring to me.

Silver Lining’s Playbook: Love is the best mental health medicine? True love. Not “I want to be in love with her” stalker infatuation.

Zero Dark Thirty: Any movie that upsets Congressmen enough to want hearings is a keeper. Okay, it is not a sequel to the Hurt Locker, but both movies use an emotionless tone. I think it is Biegelow’s point that war’s greatest atrocity is sapping those involved of their emotional humanity. Gun fire and explosions sound more real in this movie than most movies. My #2 pick, I think.

Inconsistent Experiences

Lately I have been thinking about getting a new TV. An important vacuum I would like to fill is accessing content on the Internet through it. The want is mostly filled by my Wii, but the device is in a physical location that makes playing games inconvenient because of the limited space. So my idea is to move it to another room on the TV there and get another device just for watching content.

One option is a Roku or equivalent. A friend has a Roku I have used, but I found it cludgy to use compared to my Wii. It required frequent pauses and a reset to correctly behave. Overall, I was underwhelmed by the Roku. Another friend insisted these devices were the way to go, so I bought Netgear’s neoTV. It was cheap and reflects that price. More on it later.

The friend with a Roku Bought a TV with Internet apps. My experience with it has been very positive, so until I was talked ought of it, the way I thought I should go. I may be back to thinking that way.

At Mom’s house for Christmas, I played with her Bluray player which also has Internet apps.

The common app between all five devices (Wii, Roku, neoTV, smart TV, Bluray) and even my tablet Is Netflix. Somewhat surprising is the lack of consistency between these. The user interfaces look like using different services.

For the uninitiated, Netflix has a Watch Instantly feature that allows for the playing of movies and television shows over the Internet. The basic functionality is consistent. A queue of the shows I want to watch are presented to me. Suggestion categories are peer to the queue. Hit play to see the show. Pause, fast forward, rewind.

Each has quirks to their navigation. Like the Bluray goes to the queue and getting to suggestions requires up button to a tab and side arrow to find the category. Others are vertical scroll.

Some group all actions for a show in a list. Others have items off to the side or way above where not intuitive.

The neoTV has a neat feature when a show ends, it automatically plays the next after a 20 second delay. That was exciting and something I hope shows up on other devices. The others at least queue up the next episode. Though, when can be variable. On the Wii, neoTV, smart TV, and tablet I can stop around the credits and the next episode shows up ready to play. With the Bluray, that only happens if the show ends.

It surprises me there is not better user experience design so all of these approach behave the same way. Having two and soon three devices that navigate differently will get quickly very annoying.

Don’t Change

As a kid, this Tootsie Pop commercial was my favorite. They aired during Saturday morning cartoons. My parents slept in late those mornings, so I had the television to myself. For the decade or so that I watched, it aired at least once an hour. Some times several times an hour.

As an adult, this commercial from the, what, 70s or 80s still amuses me. What also amuses me is that this relic still airs today. They have not modernized it. I hope they never do.