Archive for April, 2015

Batman vs. Superman: why people pick one or the other

April 26, 2015

Batman vs. Superman: why people pick one or the other

When Titans Clash!

Geeks love to argue over who would win in a fight.

Although, I have to say, I’d rather fight over who would win in an argument. ūüėČ

I mean, after all, don’t we geeks prize our intellects more than our physicality?

Why are we so involved in who can out-bash whom? Shouldn’t we be¬†more interested in whether¬†Sherlock Holmes could out argue Doctor Who, or vice versa?

Well, next year, we’ll get a movie which pits Batman against Superman (they, for some reason, made it “v” instead of “vs”, but that’s clearly still what it means).

On the surface, as Jon Stewart pointed out, it seems ridiculous.

Superman is super.

The Man of Steel is invulnerable and super strong.

Batman is a human being…an extraordinary one, yes, but Superman has “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men”.

However…

Batman (like many heroes) often defeats enemies who are physically superior.

Batman is the “scientific detective”. We know it’s possible to defeat Superman with science…once you’ve got that synthetic kryptonite thing figured out, a short term victory becomes possible.

You would think, in this scenario, geeks might tend to side with the underdog…um, underbat?

On the other hand, Superman is a true outsider. Many geeks feel like they are aliens on this planet…Kal-El actually is one.

Regardless of who we would like to see win (and really, don’t we want it to be that they end up working together…as they clearly will, since this is the Dawn of Justice [League]?), who would win is interesting…but so is why you think that.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Jon Stewart had really bizarre logic to me in picking Batman. You can see the segment here:

https://nerdist.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-and-jon-stewart-debate-batman-vs-superman/

The astrophysicist basically said that it might come down to public opinion, and because Batman is part of the existing social structure (since he reports [sic] to the Mayor), and Superman does whatever he wants, people would be on the side of Batman.

Um…what?

I didn’t realize that DeGrasse Tyson is as old as he is, but I could tell right away that this is someone for whom Batman means the Adam West version (Batman ’66, as it is sometimes now called).

In that series, Batman was very much a law and order person…having Robin buckle up before chasing after a bat-villain in the Batmobile, for example).

The mayor to whom¬†he is “reporting”? Mayor Linseed (a parody of Mayor John Lindsay of New York City).

In that series, though, Batman certainly doesn’t work for the Mayor. Jon Stewart had first identified the¬†¬†Commissioner¬†¬†(Gordon) as the person to whom Batman reports…and DeGrasse Tyson corrected him.

Stewart had the relationship more correct, though. Batman responds to the Bat-signal…which Commissioner Gordon uses to ask for help. It’s not like an order to appear by a superior…it’s a way to let Batman know that Gotham City needs him.

If the Mayor was not re-elected, that wouldn’t change the relationship much at all…Batman is a friend of the Commissioner…and again, not an employee.

If you don’t know Batman primarily from 1966, then this is a guy who does not toe the societal line.

Batman is a vigilante…he works outside the law. He is judge and jury, even if not executioner. If Batman decides you are a bad guy, you are in trouble…nobody’s reading you your rights when the bat-cuffs go on.

Batman even quit the Justice League. Sure, he formed a new group…called, tellingly, The Outsiders!

Superman, while an alien by birth, is much more of a team player and rule follower.

I can’t imagine that your average law-abiding citizen would rather live in a city with Batman in it than a city with Superman in it.

Now, admittedly, and avoiding spoilers, the Superman in the movie is different. If you’ve seen The Man of Steel or don’t mind spoilers, you can see what I am talking about here:

The Spoiler Zone: the real problem with Man of Steel

Even so, Batman clearly always has his own agenda, while Superman seems to be about protecting not only his adopted planet, but the society on it. I say “society” and not “societies” because Superman grew up as an American, and that has traditionally been his priority “truth, justice and the American way”. He wouldn’t force American values on others, but that’s his paradigm.

So, what does it mean if you pick Batman or if you pick Superman?

If you pick Batman…

  • You are going for brains over brawn. In some cases, Superman is supposed to be superintelligent, but this is clearly a case of physical superiority on Superman’s side…and presumably, mental superiority on Batman’s side
  • You may be picking the human over the alien…being literally xenophobic, in this case
  • In this movie, you may be picking experience as an important factor

If you pick Superman…

  • You believe physical superiority will triumph
  • You may believe the “light” will win over the “dark (knight)”
  • You think Superman is smart in addition to having his other abilities

In terms of support from society or other heroes (and there are others in the movie), I think that’s undecided. The trailer certainly suggests that there are people arguing that Superman can’t be trusted…but we don’t know what they think about Batman yet.

Now, if the two were to debate…I’ve got to go with Batman. ūüėČ

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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Putting my money where the movies are: May 2015

April 25, 2015

Putting my money where the movies are: May 2015

The first widely released movies (for the USA) for May 2015 are about to hit the theatres, so I wanted to share with you my allocations in our

The $100 Million Box Office Challenge

That’s a new game we are playing, and you can participate! There is no charge, and there we play for that most valuable of human possessions: braggin’ rights. ūüėČ

The April game is closed, but the May game is now open:

The Measured Circle’s $100 million Box Office Challenge May 2015

The basic idea is that you have $100 million (each month) in imaginary money. You “invest” up to that amount in the movies, and you “win” imaginary money based on how well the movies do.

This how I’ve allocated my $100 million for May¬†(this will be updated with production budgets and dogroes, but I won’t know either when I make my “investments”):

Running total: N/A

It’s important to note that I can’t get back more than the movie makes, which helps explain some of these “investments”.

I wish this one was more complicated, but I’m going for a safe bet.

Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012 had a prodbud (production budget) reported at $220.0m. It’s domestic gross (dogro) was $623,357,910. It had a return of 353%.

I expect it will do as well or better, but let’s say the prodbud is $275m and it does 75% as well. We’ll even round down and say it has a return of 250%. I’d still clean up. ūüėČ

That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t find a better bet spreading things around among the¬†other movies…but that’s a higher risk. For one thing, I’m comfortable that the production budget will be reported for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but not as sure for some of the others.

Looking at the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, we wouldn’t expect this sequel to fall off dramatically.

Captain America? $177m for the first one, $260m for the second.

Thor? $181m for the first one, $206m for the second.

Iron Man did have a small drop from the first to the second (from $318m to $312m), but then jumped up to $409m on the third.

Even though someone could argue that Marvel being on TV might dissipate some fan support, I’m comfortable that this movie will do super well.

As to the other movies…

The Mad Max trailers have been super buzzy, and original George Miller is back to direct. It is R-rated, though, but Warner Brothers has shown it can make money with reboots, remakes, and franchises. I think this is a likely hit, but not at the level of The Avengers.

Hot Pursuit, a comedy starring Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon, wants to be a highly profitable comedy like we’ve seen in recent years. I’m not positive on that. The director, Anne Fletcher, had a hit with The Proposal, and Step Up spawned a franchise…but 2012’s The Guilt Trip only did $37m. I’m guessing it’s relatively inexpensive, but a $150m dogro would impress me very much with this.

Pitch Perfect 2: the first one had a prodbud of $17m, and a dogro of $65m…that makes it Golden in our awards system (dogro triple the prodbud), but comedy striking twice can be tricky. Rebel Wilson was such a revelation in the first one, but has now had a TV show and isn’t going to have that same effect (even if she is equally funny). Can this make the jump from fresh concept to franchise? I’m not convinced.

Poltergeist should have a very solid cult following (Sam Rockwell helps with that), but ther ehasn’t been a hit in the series since the first one. I’m hoping they really kept the budget down, but I’d be surprised if this profits $50m (dogro v prodbud…might do pretty well internationally).

Tomorrowland…I quite underestimated Cinderella, despite having been a Disney fan for decades. Brad Bird is a big plus for me on its chances, but George Clooney does not a blockbuster make (see The Men Who Stare at Goats and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind…both books which I had read before they were made into movies, convincing me that George Clooney and both like some of the same books). I’m guessing this is quite an expensive movie…I’m afraid this could be more like The Lone Ranger than a Pixar movie for The Mouse House. I sincerely hope that’s wrong, but I’m not willing to take the chance on it over The Avengers.

San Andreas: yes, Dwayne Johnson is good for box office, and Paul Giamatti broadens the appeal. Brad Peyton doesn’t have much of a track record as a director, although Journey 2 broke $100m dogro (also with Dwayne Johnson). I’m guessing it does better overseas than at home.

Don’t agree with my assessments? It’s too late to play for this month, but don’t forget that you can play for May!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Free for all Friday: Orphan Black S1 from Amazon

April 17, 2015

Free for all Friday: Orphan Black S1 from Amazon

This Friday, April 17th, Amazon is making the first season/series (what people in the USA call a “season”, people in the UK call as “series”) of Orphan Black free to stream.

press release

Just to be clear, you aren’t going to own it, and you aren’t going to download it to watch later.

You can binge watch the whole thing, but just on Friday. You can get to it here:

Orphan Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Why are they doing this?

The third season/series debuts in the USA on Saturday…that, and it’s good. ūüėČ Of course, after you see the first one, you may want to rent or buy season two…or even better, as far as Amazon is concerned, you might want to become an Amazon Prime member,

so you can watch the first two seasons/series for no additional cost. I think a lot of people won’t get through ten episode in a day…and they may want to watch them again.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say much about it.

Two things I will say:

  1. Tatiana Maslany deserved an Emmy nomination
  2. It’s NSFW (Not Safe For Work). I’d heard it was good and was watching it with someone…and there was a sex scene that was, well, not what we were expecting. I did go back and watch the first season/series, but the other person didn’t

Do check the price before you start streaming: I would guess tis only applies in the USA.

Enjoy!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

April 6, 2015

Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

“I’m just an it.”
–AF709 (aka Rhoda Miller)
I’ll Leave It All to You
episode of My Living Doll
written by Alan Dales

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina¬†opens this Friday, April 10th, in the USA.

If someone has described the movie to you, perhaps based on seeing the trailer, what are the odds they’ve started out with saying it’s “that movie about artificial intelligence”? I would guess it’s far more likely that they’ve featured¬†that it has a “female robot”, or perhaps even “girl robot”.

I write a lot about

Robots

in The Measured Circle, both the fictional kind and the ones that are inhabiting the world with us.

One of the most fascinating things to me is how we relate to them. As The Measured Circle defines robots*, they are already part of our lives. Our perceptions of them, especially what prejudices we bring to the relationships, may profoundly affect the future lives of Homo sapiens.

There has been a lot of talk recently about gender stereotypes, especially in the geek community.

There is no question that Ex Machina would be perceived as a very different movie if its “robotagonist” was constructed to appear to be male.

“Female” appearing robots have been the exception in science fiction…but have not been absent:

  • In R.U.R., the play which coined the term in 1920, there are main robot characters who are female. These robots are human appearing, and in fact, are organic…nowadays, we might be more inclined to think of them as clones, but they are created¬†to be workers (which is essentially what the term means)
  • In Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis, a robot of Maria is able to impersonate a human being (passing the so called “Turing test”). We also see the robot without its human skinlike covering
  • Starting in 1962, The Jetsons had Rosie, a robot maid. In some ways, she has established the standard of what we want from our home robots, both in terms of task¬†¬†capability¬†¬†and social interaction. Rosie could not only carry on a conversation, she could disagree and give advice. She is shown to be an older model, but the family has an understandable emotional attachment to her
  • 1962 also brought us Platinum (AKA Tina), one of The Metal Men. These were artificially intelligent robots, and a superhero team. Platinum had a faulty “responsometer”, which made her believe she actually was human…and she was in love with Dr. Magnus, the human creator of The Metal Men. While that situation was sometimes played for laughs, Platinum was a full member of the team
  • 1966’s Italian spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the¬†Bikini Machine, and its sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, have robotic female weapons
  • If you had as much money as Richie Rich, wouldn’t you want a robot in your house? 1970 introduced Irona, a robot maid…who had considerably more capabilities than that. The 2015 Netflix series had an android appearing Irona, although the original was obviously metal
  • In 1976, The Bionic Woman popularized the term “fembot” for female appearing robots. That is not, of course, The Bionic Woman herself (who is a cyborg…a human with machine amplification), but actual robots (constructed from scratch). Similarly Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager is not a robot
  • Daryl Hannah garnered a lot of attention as Pris in BladeRunner in 1982
  • 1985 brought us Small Wonder on TV, with “V.I.C.I.” (Voice Input Child Identicant), a robotic ten-year old
  • If you visited Delos, the adult amusement park that is the setting of Westworld, female robots abounded…and human/robot sex was the norm
  • 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery¬†¬†recycled¬†¬†the term “fembots”, although the robots were arguably more like Dr. Goldfoot’s creations than the ones which appeared on The Bionic Woman
  • Summer Glau portrayed Cameron, an intellectually (and emotionally?)¬†complex Terminator who is a main character in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, starting in 2008

That’s only a partial list: for more, see

Wikipedia’s List of fictional female robots and cyborgs

although as it states, not everyone on this list is a robot.

However, a series which very directly addresses the idea of how humans will relate to robots, and the role of artificial intelligence, is

My Living Doll (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping**)

and available on Hulu.

Well, at least part of it is…at this point, only eleven episodes are available (and those may be all that survive, although fans hold out hope for the discovery of the others).

I’ve recently watched all of the episodes, and while it might seem easy to dismiss it as “Julie Newmar as a man’s fantasy”, it’s much more interesting than that.

AF709 certainly starts out as simply an object. Robert Cummings’ ¬†psychiatrist is a womanizer and misogynist (his perfect woman would “keep her mouth shut”), and accidentally ends up caring for this robot, which has been built without authorization. It’s inventor coincidentally gets sent to Pakistan after the robot escapes from the lab.

Over time, though, AF709 (who is introduced by Cummings’ Dr. McDonald as “Rhoda” to other people, from whom he is hiding her nature), begins to appear to exhibit genuine human emotion and innovative behavior.

Does she, though?

In early episodes especially, there can be confusion when her “echo confirmation” (as we might call it today) causes her to repeat what people say back to them…often leaving off the first word or two. That can lead to them thinking she is confirming what they are saying. An exchange might go something like, “You fed the dog, right?” “Fed the dog.”

In later episodes, she appears to be having fun, and even acting independently.

Newmar’s performance is extraordinary, and much above the material. She has a dancer’s discipline, and the ability to reproduce actions the same way from episode to episode. She explains her databank depth in the same way, even ending with, “This…is a recording” with the same pause. She talks about her “associated components”, and does the same move to demonstrate them.

Famously, when she doesn’t understand something, she may say, “That does not compute”. That’s been cited as the origin of that phrase, although I would guess more people know it from The (male-sounding) Robot’s use of it on Lost in Space (years later).

It isn’t clear in the series as to whether Rhoda has genuinely become self aware, as appears to be the case, or if she is still mimicking human behavior (as she is clearly created to do, presumably as an easy way to program her for her intended use…space missions). Dr. McDonald intentionally sets out to make her more human (but not in a liberated way) as an experiment…did he succeed, or is she just better at acting the way she has computed humans should act?

I’m sure that question (and its implications for how we treat robots, including what “rights” we give them) will be part of Friday’s Ex Machina…and will increasingly be part of our own lives in the future.

* A robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

** When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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