Archive for October, 2015

Happy Jack Pierce day!

October 31, 2015

Happy Jack Pierce day!

Oh, sure, it’s better known as Halloween…one of the most important geek holidays of the year: it’s the day that mainstreamers cosplay. 😉

However, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will see someone tonight honoring makeup artist Jack Pierce.

No, they probably won’t know it. 🙂

Pierce was the genius make-up artist in the Universal Horror cycle starting in the 1930s.

While Bela Lugosi reportedly did do his own make-up in 1931’s Dracula (he had been playing the part on stage), Pierce designed the widow’s peak hair…which you’ve probably seen drawn on with greasepaint. Pierce would go on to use the widow’s peak in other make-ups.

That Frankenstein’s monster with the flat head and electrodes in the neck? Pierce. The flat head, by the way, was an actual way the brain might have been removed.

The mummy with bandages all over? Again, Pierce.

The Bride of Frankenstein with the distinctive lightning-bolt style white stripes in the hair? Pierce.

The hairy-faced, black-nosed upright werewolf? Pierce (werewolves originally transformed into actual wolves).

Cool, huh? How would you like it if something you did creatively was still such a solid part of the popular culture more than three-quarters of a century later?

That’s likely not something Jack Pierce would have considered. Nostalgia, as we know it today, really didn’t happen until television got popular…and old movies appeared in our homes. That was especially true in 1957 when the Shock Theater package of Universal movies was released, leading to local horror TV hosts…and partially creating the “Monster Kids Generation” of Baby Boomers.

Thanks, Jack Pierce!

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

Supergirl is a hit! Thanks (again), Doc Savage

October 28, 2015

Supergirl is a hit! Thanks (again), Doc Savage

The new Supergirl series on CBS debuted to strong ratings. While a pilot does not a staple make, it appears that Greg Berlanti will again demonstrate expertise in bringing DC Comics to television (if not to the big screen…see Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern).

It certainly looks to be a bigger relative hit than the

1984 movie version (a AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

starring Helen Slater (who has a role in the new series).

There is a lot of discussion about how this is the first TV series in some time to have a female superhero as the lead, and that’s understandable.

Where did Supergirl, as a character, come from?

Perhaps the same place Superman, as a character, did…the fertile mind of Lester Dent, who wrote the pulp series Doc Savage.

Oh, that’s not official, of course, and I’m not blaming anybody for anything…just pointing out some…similarities. 😉

I’ve remarked before about how Superman appears to have some of the same data points as Doc Savage…and Doc (who was a very popular character) had them first.

Doc was introduced in 1933, Superman in 1938.

Doc’s first name was Clark; Superman’s first name was Clark.

Doc was the Man of Bronze; Superman was the Man of Steel.

Doc had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle (while hinted at from the beginning, it solidifies in 1938, even being the title of one of the adventures); Superman had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle (the name appears in 1949, but the one we really know starts in 1958).

The two characters certainly had vast differences, and as Superman incorporated additional elements over time (including flight, which wasn’t there from the beginning…see When Superman wasn’t so super), they became even more different.

Doc Savage is a human being, and his superiority over the average person is largely earned: Doc’s father wanted to turn him into a “superman” (a term reportedly used in Doc Savage advertisements: UPDATE: here’s a link to what appears to be a reproduction of that ad: The Pulp Net), and Doc continued striving for that goal throughout his life. That included a regular routine of exercises: not just physical, but mental.

Superman was super…due to environmental issues, being an alien benefiting from Terran conditions.

However, Doc also clearly had good genetics…and one of the clearest pieces of evidence for that is Doc’s blond** female cousin, Patricia (“Pat”) Savage.

Introduced less than a year after Doc himself, Pat is a worthy member of Doc’s team of do-gooders…or would be, if Doc would allow her to be.

Pat is physically superior, smart, and brave.

Eventually, even Doc comes to recognized that.

She appears in close to 40 of the original 181 adventures…even starring in one.

So…Doc has a blond, female cousin (introduced in 1934’s The Brand of the Werewolf); Superman has a blond, female cousin, introduced in 1959. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s about the same time that the Fortress of Solitude is defined in Superman: maybe somebody was looking back at Doc Savage at that point, to find new ideas for Superman…or maybe it’s all a coincidence. 🙂

A new Doc Savage movie (with Shane Black involved) has been in development for several years. I’ve thought that a Pat Savage TV series could work well. It wouldn’t be like Supergirl: there really are “no flights, no tights” (a reported rule for the Smallville TV series) for Pat Savage, nor would there ever be. There would be some similarities with TV’s Agent Carter: a period piece with a strong female lead, dealing with the attitudes of society.

However, it wouldn’t be bound up with all the Marvel mythology. Stories could largely be stand-alone.

There is a precedent in the recent

Doc Savage Special: Woman of Bronze (at AmazonSmile*)

written by David Walker, although it certainly wouldn’t need to be an adaptation of that.

I can see this being a way for Amazon to get into the original “superhero” series game, even though Pat technically isn’t a superhero…in the same way that Batman isn’t. Pat Savage might attract people who aren’t comic book fans, while still having a name draw for geeks, with an occasional appearance by her famous cousin (and more appearances by Monk, Ham…and I would think Long Tom ((a prototype tech wizard/socially inept sidekick character)), at least).

So, welcome to small screen success, Supergirl…and thanks, Doc…er, Pat Savage!

** Reader Al reasonably points out that Pat’s hair is described as bronze…which, arguably, is not blond. See the comments section. Thanks, Al!

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

 

Bruce Hyde has reportedly died

October 22, 2015

Bruce Hyde has reportedly died

Bruce Hyde appeared in just two episodes of the original Star Trek, but made a considerable impression on fans as Lt. Kevin Riley. In licensed works following the series, Riley has appeared in many of the novels…which wouldn’t have happened without Bruce Hyde’s memorable performance.

Actually, “performances” is more appropriate. The two episodes are quite different.

In The Naked Time, Riley is comic relief…singing, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”, and declaring himself Captain of the Enterprise. While it’s  funny, the situation is serious…Hyde is not out of character with what we’ll see of Riley later, just as a swashbuckling Sulu is appropriate in that episode.

In The Conscience of the King, Riley is the orphan survivor of a massive execution program who may have encountered the perpetrator.

After a short screen career, Bruce Hyde became an academic, writing on ontology.

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

“Alexa, what did all those Back to the Future stories miss?” (and fact future v fict future)

October 22, 2015

“Alexa, what did all those Back to the Future stories miss?” (and fact future v fict future)

Yesterday was October 21st, 2015,

Back to the Future Day (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s the day in 1989’s Back to the Future II that Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive in the future.

There were many, many stories about it…enough to fill a Ford Super De Luxe convertible. 😉 Now, I’m not suggesting they were similar to the material that filled Biff Tannen’s car…far from it.

Most were thoughtful comparisons of what was shown in the movie (fict((ional)) future) versus how we actually live today (fact future…at least, the future to 1989). I particularly liked this one:

Back to the Future 2015 SuperScholar.org

However, as an owner of an

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

I’ve been really surprised that people have generally ignored Marty McFly’s future home’s automation and talktech.

In the movie (and there are mild spoilers here…more about bits than about the plot), the house welcomes a character. Another character says, “….you should reprogram: it’s dangerous to enter without lights on.” When the character repeats, “Lights on?”, the lights come on in the room, with a tone to let the user know that the command has been heard (or just to acknowledge the lights coming on).

That is how I turn the lights on in my house…and the voice that tells me “Okay” is much more natural than what we generally hear in the movie.

I say, “Alexa, turn on the Family Room”, or “Alexa, turn on the Library”.

My Echo hears me and Alexa turns on the appropriate bulb which was part of the

GE Link Starter Kit, PLINK-SKIT, Wireless, A19 LED Light Bulb, Pack of 2 (at AmazonSmile*)

Could I “reprogram” the house to simply turn on the lights when I got home?

Yes!

The Wink app (Wink, by the way, has been sold following a bankruptcy by Quirky, but my equipment still works) has “robots”. I could tell it:

  • If the robot detects my location changing to arriving at my home address
  • Anytime
  • Then turn lights on

I don’t do that, but it’s an option.

Later, another character tells the talktech to turn off the “art” on a big screen and to display several channels (simultaneously).

That’s a bit tougher to do currently. I’m going to be testing in the near future using our

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

to communicate with a

Samsung SmartThings Hub (at AmazonSmile*)

to control a

Logitech Harmony Home Control (at AmazonSmile*)

to in turn control an

Amazon Fire TV (at AmazonSmile*)

I know, I know…that’s quite a daisy chain. Alexa is on my Fire TV (this is the 2nd generation), but it can’t actually control the channels or do voice search. The Fire TV does voice search, but that’s a different system. I do hope that the Fire TV will eventually be able to natively not only open, say, Hulu, but “Show me the next episode of [show name]”. I think we’ll get there within the next two years.

Regardless, talktech is a solid hit for BttF2…why wasn’t it being mentioned in stories and infographics along with self-lacing sneakers, hoverboards, and holograms?

Does it seem so natural that it wasn’t worth analysis? Alternatively, did the writers not realize that this arrived right on schedule? The Echo and the Alexa Voice Service have had a super soft launch…there weren’t lines of people outside a store waiting for the Echo. It’s been more like a rising tide than an asteroid strike. Amazon may be very clever in avoiding huge expectations and great demand and having it gradually just become part of our lives.

Now, let’s talk about fact future versus fict future.

How many predictions did Back to the Future 2 get right?

There were no predictions…so none. 😉

Back to the Future 2 is a work of fiction: it’s not the analysis of a futurist or the premonitions of a psychic.

Much of what we see is there for comic effect, and to tie into the first and third movies.

Let’s take Jaws 19 playing at a movie theatre.

  • Jaws was released in 1975
  • Jaws 2 was released in 1978
  • Jaws 3-D was released in 1983
  • Jaws: The Revenge (effectively Jaws 4) was released in 1987

From 1985 (when Bttf2 is set) to 2015, a new Jaws movie would have to have come out on average every 15 months or so. While it’s certainly possible that production schedules will become shorter as technology improves, I’m not sure that’s a specific prediction they intended (but I’d be happy to be contradicted by the moviemakers…comment, Bob Gale?). 😉

We can also see that Jaws 19 is directed by Max Spielberg. Max was born on June 13, 1985…and is the son of Steven Spielberg, the director of the original Jaws (and an Executive Producer) on BttF2. Is this a prediction of a fact based on trends and analysis…or an in joke? I’d lean towards the latter… 😉

While some geeky fiction is trying to project current trends, it’s also often a commentary on the present. It may not be intended at all to represent a likely future…in some cases, it’s actually intended to help stave off some developments portrayed within it.

That’s one issue with fict future versus fact future comparisons.

Another one is this: the future may be boring. 🙂

Drama is based on difficulty: stress, risk, friction, and difficult choices.

Technology, especially in the past decade or so, has been about removing all that.

Let’s say we set a new Back to the Future, set thirty years from now (2045).

Cars are impossible to crash. It’s impossible to fall off a building. All weaponry is nonlethal. Anyone on the street can be immediately identified and helped.

I’m not saying that’s going to happen by then…but it is a not unreasonable assessment of the trends.

Not only is the tendency towards less danger (and therefore less drama), there are two other factors.

Technology is becoming more invisible, and it’s becoming more internal.

BttF2 uses fingerprint technology for the house to allow someone to enter.

Currently, SmartHomes can use SmartPhones to recognize when someone comes to the home and unlocks the door (although there is a hypothetical risk that the phone could be stolen).

In the future, I fully expect that our technology will recognize us by our simple biology…no technology necessary to be carried. Facial recognition is one way, but there may be others, akin to the original Outer Limits’ O.B.I.T. (Outer Band Individuated Teletracer), which basically picks up on an individual’s unique electromagnetic emanations.

It wouldn’t be very dramatic in a movie, though, to simply have the door open, with no indication of how the individual was recognized.

Similarly, the TV should have been able to largely anticipate what the character wanted to watch…or at least, most of it. That conversation should not be necessary at some point in the future (not necessarily in the next thirty years), but again, would be much less dramatic. Imagine this scene in a movie:

A detective wakes up at home. The lights simply come on. The self-cleaning clothes change from pyjamas to a uniform with no interaction. The detective sits down to a breakfast table, where the food is already ready and eats breakfast (again, no interaction). The detective steps outside, and a car is waiting. The detective gets in the car, and it drives away…already knowing where the detective wants to go, and monitoring the detective’s emotional reaction to its choices. En route to where a criminal is already unconscious (having been spotted and subdued by autonomous technology), other cars smoothly move out of the way on their own.

Not very dramatic, right?

In terms of technology becoming more internal…I feel like we are very connected to other people now, but not with the strangers immediately in our vicinity.

Classic old time movie scene: a newsboy shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” Somebody buys a paper, and we see the headline. The character exclaims, “Gosh all hemlock!”

Current version: character gets a subtle vibration notification, glances at a watch, and reads the news. In the same room, other characters are checking watches or phone…could be the same headline, might be something else, like a reminder to buy milk. Everything is done without speech.

Which one makes the better scene?

Even though geeky fiction isn’t usually trying to actually predict the future, sometimes it does…but intriguingly, it is sometimes a case of life imitating art.

Dr. Martin Cooper has suggested that seeing the communicator on Star Trek inspired his work on the mobile phone.

Does anyone doubt that Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon have been inspirations for work on ray guns?

Fiction may not intentionally predict the future…but it may help to inspire it.

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

Alexa/Echo Round up #3: sports update, Alexa enabled phone calls on first 3rd party Alexa-enabled device

October 18, 2015

Alexa/Echo Round up #3: sports update, Alexa enabled phone calls on first 3rd party Alexa-enabled device

The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, seeThe Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

“Alexa, call my Mom.”

Right from the beginning, people have wanted the

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

to make phone calls.

One reason is the sound quality…it seems to hear us very well, even from across the room (it should, with seven specially designed microphones), and it sounds good when speaking or playing back music.

Another reason, though, is just the convenience.

It would be nice to just ask the Echo to call somebody and to have it happen.

Well, we still don’t have that, yet, but Amazon PR (Public Relations) sent me an interesting heads-up.

There’s a difference between the Echo, which is the hardware (a Bluetooth speaker, among other things) and the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) , which is the software that provides the Echo with what I call its “parse-onality”.

We’ve known that Amazon planned to license AVS to other devices…as they’ve indicated, anything with a microphone and a speaker is a possibility (undoubtedly, this will include some cars…I would think by the 2017 model year).

The first 3rd-party (not Amazon made) device to “…integrate Alexa with far-field voice capabilities” will be Invoxia’s

Triby – Connected speaker for the kitchen (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

This $199 device (pre-ordering now for October 30th delivery in the USA) is a Bluetooth speaker, Spotify player, “phone” (but only Triby to Triby) with a connected “doodle screen” (I’m calling it that).

I’ll be surprised if it’s a big hit…I think the price is high for this, and while free internet calling is great, the fact that it’s limited to Tribys and SmartPhones with the Triby app within the same Triby group a creates a big hurdle to initial adoption. Also, needing to be charged after ten hours of use seems burdensome…that’s not that different from a SmartPhone, of course, but for something that looks like an appliance, I think people won’t anticipate that.

As soon as the Echo can make calls (and I expect that may be coming before the end of the year…and you can Bluetooth your phone to it now, that will make this feature of the Triby a lot less attractive. People are already paying for phone calls…they won’t mind paying for them through the Echo in addition to through their phones.

I really appreciate Amazon sending me the information and a link to the Alexa

blogpost by David Isbitski

I think there are three really significant elements to this development:

  • Invoxia is a new recipient of Amazon’s $100 million dollar Alexa Fund, which basically makes grants to get the Alexa Voice Service into more places…if you are a product manager who wants to apply, click the blogpost link above
  • This is the first (of what I think will be many) non Amazon devices to have AVS. It joins the Echo, but also the Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)) and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))…and it’s worth noting that you don’t need the voice remote, you can use the free Alexa app on your iOS (Apple) device (iPhone, for example) or Android device.
  • Amazon did not do a press release on this, and it does not appear on the Triby product page. They told me 🙂 and they blogged about it on a developer blog…but this shows you how much more is happening with AVS than the general public knows

I think we will both see capabilities for the Echo improving (including texting and voice calls), and places where we can access AVS.

Um, Amazon…you don’t have to say “Alexa” with the Fire TV

As the Alexa Voice Service moves to more devices, Amazon will need to be careful about its messaging about how to use it.

This popped up on my Fire TV Gen 2:

 

Alexa on Fire TV

Notice how it says to preface your request with the “wake word”, “Alexa”?

That’s not necessary…when you use a voice remote (with the Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick, or the Echo, or use the Alexa app), you can just ask the question.

Oh, it’s okay to say the name first, and that’s a good thing for branding for Amazon. The issue, though, is that if you have an Echo in the same room (we do), it also wants to respond to the request. 🙂

I just don’t use the name with the remote, and I think that’s simpler.

A new feature: sport update

I divide what Alexa can do into two things: features and Skills. The Skills are generally made by people besides Amazon, and I keep a page of them here:

Alexa Skills

You can think of the as being like apps for your SmartPhone.

Features, on the other hand, are made by Amazon, and you can think of them as part of Alexa.

I will make a separate page for those, but they do keep growing. 🙂

The latest one is a Sports Update.

It works on the Echo, but not currently, on the Fire TV family.

You can set your teams in

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Settings – Account – Sports Update

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area (you can set your ZIP** code in Settings – Alexa Devices…different devices can have different ZIP codes), and it defaulted to these:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Oakland Athletics
  • San Diego Padres
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Sacramento Kings
  • Oakland Raiders
  • San Diego Chargers
  • San Francisco 49ers

I mostly pay attention to the Giants, although I used to follow the 49ers back in the Joe Montana/Steve Young days.

I get why they show you teams which are likely to be your team’s rivals…know your enemies. 🙂 For me, though, I’m going to set it to just the Giants and the 49ers by tapping the “X”s for the others. You can search for other teams, of course.

I tried it: be aware of spoilers. 🙂 It gave me the real time score in a game, and how much time was left.

Seems like a nice feature.

New Skills

  • Bitcoin Rate
  • Edgar Facts gives you a random fact about Edgar the dog. Edgar belongs to PewDiePie, who is basically the most subscribed to person on YouTube
  • Event Guide
  • FreeBusy Scheduling Buddy

ILMK post featuring Alexa Voice Services

You might enjoy this post from my blog, I Love My Kindle, which is one of the most popular blogs of any kind in the USA Kindle store:

NASA: Mars mission astronauts to have Prime Music, Alexa

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

 

 

A tragic argument for self-driving cars

October 12, 2015

A tragic argument for self-driving cars

A recent event in our neighborhood has been weighing pretty heavily on me.

Several years ago, we got a new dog.

One of our cats wasn’t happy with the dog. We’ve generally had dogs and cats together, but this dog was particularly bouncy. Not aggressive, but just overly excitable and without much self-control.

The cat ran away…

When cats run away, they are almost always on the same block, or at least, right nearby. When dogs get scared, they can run for miles, and then have no idea where they are. Cats go to ground within territory they know…at least, that’s what an animal expert I know told me.

I found the cat across the street at a neighbor’s…we didn’t know that neighbor well.

Our neighbor already knew “Leo”…he would go over and see her, prior to the dog becoming part of the family. She was so nice in taking care of him while he was there, and even more nice in giving us Leo back.

Leo and the dog eventually came to terms.

Later, when our neighbor became more infirm, she couldn’t keep a pet of her own…and gave us cat items she had.

Still later, I believe she had a stroke.

She started using a walker.

It would take her a few minutes to get out of the car.

One or two relatives apparently moved in with her as caregivers.

Recently, there was a tragic incident.

Our neighbor hit a person in a wheelchair while driving.

The person in the wheelchair died a couple of days later, apparently from injuries sustained.

We first heard about it when it was reported as a hit and run.

We feel terrible for the victim, and for the victim’s family.

We are also very worried about what is going to happen with our neighbor.

She is cooperating with the police investigation. They found her a few blocks away from the accident…near (possibly at) her house.

Of course, we don’t know what actually happened. We don’t know if she even knew she hit the wheelchair.

If she did, my best guess is that she was going to her home to get help from her caregivers. The house is literally under five minutes away from the intersection. It would have taken her that long to get out of the car where he was, and she couldn’t be much help.

She is older, and I had someone ask me if I thought she was sharp enough to know she should have waited at the scene.

I said yes, and I also thought she was compassionate enough to risk going to jail in order to get help for the victim.

We will follow what happens.

It’s been especially hard to read heartless comments on line about what happened…speculation and assertions about our neighbor’s intentions.

I’ve also seen more caring comments talking about what to do about senior drivers. Yes, senior drivers are involved in more fatal accidents than the average…although not as many as young drivers.

We don’t know if age was a contributing factor. We don’t know that our neighbor’s own disability was a contributing factor.

We do know one thing…a human being was driving that car.

A self-driving car would not have hit the wheelchair, sparing both of them (and everyone who knows them).

This will be part of our future.

When I was speaking about self-driving cars to a group, I had someone say, “What if a three-year old ran out into the street?”

I’d much rather have a self-driving car in that situation. It’s going to avoid the collision…it likely won’t know it’s a child, and no, it won’t have compassion, the empathy a human being would have. It will avoid the child with the same efficiency with which it would avoid a rolling garbage can.

Humans, in that situation, may panic. It happens many times a year that a person steps on the gas instead of the brake when something goes wrong.

Right now, the biggest barrier to saving lives with self-driving cars is emotional and political.

No, they aren’t as good as the best human drivers are in all situations.

Yes, they are good enough right now to do some things better than the average human driver…and by doing so, reduce tragedies like this one.

Nothing is going to make what has already happened better. I know that for me, this is partially just an emotional desire to have some sort of impact on happens in the future…just like the people who want more driver testing for seniors, or who wanted to blame the driver for being on a cellphone (which almost certainly wasn’t the case).

Even if I can’t make it real, though, I think I’ll see a future within in the next ten years where horrible happenings like this are reduced…thanks to self-driving cars.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog.

Fire TV Generation 2 (with Alexa)…first impressions

October 6, 2015

Fire TV Generation 2 (with Alexa)…first impressions

I have been using the brand new

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

this evening.

First things first: playback has been flawless! I can really see the difference between this one and the gen 1 Fire TV (as well as the Fire TV Stick…we’ve been using both).

On the gen 1, Hulu Plus would have some “hiccups” on some shows.

With this one, none of that…it looked great.

It also allowed me to fit the playback to the screen: I don’t remember the first gen letting me do that, but I think that also helped.

Additionally, it seems sharper and brighter: that’s on the same TV, with the same HDMI cable.

Generally, switching between things has been faster: for example, going back to the homescreen from within an app takes less time.

The voice search also works well. Once I had logged into the Hulu Plus app, it was able to find shows within that app. The only negative was that it didn’t know which episodes I had already watched, but that’s not surprising.

For example, I was able to hold down the voice button on the remote, and say, “My Favorite Martian”. I recently watched episode one of the 1960s sitcom on Hulu Plus. It easily found it, and showed me all of the available episodes. I could

  • Watch Now with Hulu Plus
  • Buy the episode
  • Buy the season
  • Add to Watchlist

Using the Alexa Voice Service on it was also an enhanced experience, compared to using it on my

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

What was better about it?

What appeared on the screen.

You see, things which normally appear in the Alexa app when I talk to my Echo, appeared immediately on the screen.

It worked well for questions and Wikipedia.

It showed me my Shopping List.

It easily (and quickly) played an audio book from Audible. That’s going to work well with my (again, easily) paired Bluetooth headphones. I use an inexpensive brand, which I do like:

ARCTIC P324 BT (Black) – Bluetooth (V4.0) Headset with Neckband – Headphones with integrated Microphone – Perfect for Sport (at AmazonSmile*)

It is worth noting that, while it did show me a title card while it was playing, the Audible book did not show up in my “Recents”.

Title cards also showed when a Prime Music playlist was playing. It didn’t show lyrics, which I thought it might.

Update: it could tell me my calendar events, although it did not textually display them on the screen (I thought it might). I tried stopping something running on the TV (“Play CNN on Tunein”, which gets me the live audio of CNN) by talking to the Echo…that did not work.

It was not able to control my home automation, and told me so. I also couldn’t set an alarm. Reordering? Not supported on Fire TV.

The one funny thing was when I said, “Alexa, what’s the weather?”

The Echo is next to me. First, the Echo answered the question…and then the TV answered the same question. 🙂 At least they took turns…

I quickly figured out not to say “Alexa” before I asked the TV a question…that solved the problem.

I also tested the Alexa Skills (basically, third party apps).

Those did work!

I tested April Hamilton’s Bingo game, Cat Facts, and Famous Quotes…those all behaved as they would on the Echo.

When I played Word Master, I was able to play.

Now, I did have to hold down the microphone button on the voice remote each time, so that’s not anywhere near as convenient as the Echo’s near magical ability to hear a normal-toned voice from across the room.

That means there are certainly still reasons to own an Echo…but you can enjoy the Alexa Voice Service on a Fire TV.

Update: one thing I really meant to mention! I ended up calling Amazon Support for one thing, and it was really frustrating. I could not get the back off the remote to put in the batteries!

Now, I’m pretty techie…and it’s particularly tough on me when it’s a hardware issue…which this technically is.

I have at least average strength in my fingers…and there was no way I could get it off. My Significant Other also tried…and we even both tried together!

The poor rep had to listen to me for several minutes, while we made sure I was trying to do it the right way (I was).

Eventually, after asking the rep, I used a precision screwdriver (one with a tiny flathead blade…you might use one like it to fix a pair of glasses.

That worked.

The rep tried to tell me it was so that the batteries wouldn’t fall out if you dropped…seems a somewhat unlikely reason to me…

Overall?

It was worth the $99 for the upgrade to me. The improved performance was important, but so was the apparently improved voice search and Alexa.

Do you have other questions about the Fire TV gen 2? Do you have your own experiences to share? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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.

The Martian…and ten other Martians

October 5, 2015

The Martian…and ten other Martians

We saw The Martian on Saturday…and both my Significant Other and I thought it was the best movie we’ve seen this year. That doesn’t always happen. 🙂

I’m a geek through and through.

My SO is only a geek by association. 😉

I like to say that one of the hallmarks of a geek is a low threshold of entertainment. I always enjoy seeing a movie (even if it’s “bad”), and I’ve never regretted reading a book. My SO? Not so much, which I think is more normal.

In the case of Ridley Scott’s The Martian (screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the book by Andy Weir), that wasn’t an issue.

If you want space stuff and special effects, you’ve got it.

If you want human drama and humor, you have that, too.

This is a good example of where you can see what a director does for a movie. I get that question sometimes…how can you tell when a movie is well directed?

Consistency.

If none of the actors’ performances stand out, that’s good directing.

You might think it’s great if one person is the star, and undoubtedly, Matt Damon is the star of this movie.

However, you don’t want it to be great because the other performances aren’t.

In The Martian, the performances are all good…from Matt Damon to Benedict Wong to Kate Mara to Donald Glover, they are solid.

The technical elements will likely get some Oscar nominations…in particular, the cinematography by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Dariusz Wolski.

As to the script by Drew Goddard…I read the book

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

Naturally, many readers are trepidatious about seeing a movie based on a book they enjoyed.

This is a case where they both understand their media.

There are long sections in the book of math and detail…it works there, but it wouldn’t work well in a movie.

The movie, on the other hand, has moments of visual scope and action which wouldn’t work as well in a book.

I think some people will reasonably argue that the movie is better than the book for most people…more people will like the movie than the book.

Well, more people almost always like a movie better than like the book. 😉 The worst performing (but still liked) top ten movie in the USA will have many more attendees than copies of the book will be sold, typically.

The Martian passed two tests for me: I would have seen it again right away, and it spontaneously came into my consciousness again over the next couple of days (the “flashback test”).

It’s not a perfect movie, of course. One thing missing for me was any kind of conversational software on Mars. I speak to my

 Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your by shopping*)

and will soon be doing that with the Alexa Voice Service on my Fire TV devices (settings just appeared in my Alexa app for my current generation Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, as well as for my soon to arrive Amazon Fire TV ((at AmazonSmile*)) gen 2).

Lots of people speak to their phones…and their phones speak back. Having gotten used to the Echo, I was happy to be able to say, “Hey, Siri” on my work iPhone (I use a Fire Phone for personal use) when it is plugged in (and after upgrading to the latest OS ((Operating System)) version) enabling the option) to do hands free things, like setting alarms.

Of course Mark Watney would know it wasn’t a “real person”, but it’s a bit hard for me to imagine that a space mission far enough in the future to get humans to Mars wouldn’t have some voice recognition and response.

That’s nitpicking, though. 🙂

I like to have movies I can recommend to just about anyone, and The Martian is one of those. My two warnings are that there is quite a bit of language in it some would find objectionable, and there is brief non-sexual nudity.

Other Martians

In 1877, astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported “canali” on Mars. In Italian, that meant “channels”, but it was essentially mistranslated in English as “canals”…implying that they were artificial structures.

While Mars had been in fiction before that, Schiaparelli’s statement, as well as Asaph Hall’s discovery of the moons of Mars that same year, led to science fictional (and fantasy) visits to and from Mars.

In Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg, just three years later, an Earthling actually flies to Mars in a spacecraft and meets Martians.

From there, we are off to the races. 🙂

Especially notable  is 1898’s The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, which is clearly science fiction.

1905’s Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Arnold may have inspired other popular science fiction…but, well, the main character gets to Mars on a flying carpet (not a flying saucer…literally, a carpet), so…

1912’s A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is often cited as science fiction, and certainly anticipated other science fictions works (and technology,  including GPS…see Based on Barsoom?)…but there are very clearly fantasy elements, including how John Carter gets to Mars.

The fiction changed considerably after the 1964 Mariner missions which did a flyby of Mars, and again with the Viking landings in 1976.

Thousands of pages can be (and have been) written about Mars in fiction. I thought I’d just list a few notable Martians…

  1. “Uncle Martin” on My Favorite Martian, played by Ray Walston, in a popular 1960s “mermaid out of water” (as I like to call them) sitcom. Smart-alecky, able to pass as a human (since Martin’s head antennae were retractable), and capable of becoming invisible at will (although it was an effort)
  2. Allan Sherman’s “Martian gal”…in a parody called Eight Foot Two, All Over Blue, a Martian describes an alien love interest with transistors and stereo ears
  3. Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz) is a DC comics superhero first introduced in 1955
  4. Marvin the Martian is a Looney Tunes evil alien, dating from 1948.  With a quiet voice and a dog sidekick, Marvin (the name came later) was still a serious threat to Earth’s existence
  5. Michael Dunn (Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West) played a Martian on Norman Corwin Presents, a now largely lost TV series from a major player in radio
  6. Tars Tarkas from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series is one of a few leading character Martians in science fiction novels. Truly an alien, the Thark is green-skinned, with more than four limbs and tusks…and is more empathetic than most of the species
  7. Dejah Thoris, also from Barsoom, is very different…attractive to an Earth human and appearing humanoid, the princess is, however, born from an external egg (as Mork from Ork would be in the 1970s). How exactly she is able to have hybrid children with Earthling John Carter isn’t clear
  8. Flat cats are a non-speaking form of Martian life in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones. They are kept as pets and are sort of featureless. Heinlein reportedly waived any complaints when David Gerrold created the similar tribbles for the original Star Trek
  9. The Butt-Ugly Martians were featured in an animated TV series on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s. While short-lived, it was adapted into videogames
  10. Christopher “Kit” Draper is an astronaut marooned on Mars alone (except for a monkey) in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a 1964 low budget movie with a screenplay by Ib Melchior and John Higgins. The first part of the movie is surprisingly similar to Weir’s The Martian, and a fan familiar with the first movie who saw the new adaptation with no other knowledge could be forgiven for thinking that the 2015 movie is a considerably reimagined reboot of the 1964 movie. Of course, that only holds for the 1964 version until the aliens show up… 😉 There is also liquid water on Mars, which only the recent discoveries allow to be in the 2015 vers—oh, wait. There’s liquid water in the 1964 movie and not in the 2015 one? Interesting… 😉 See Robinson Crusoe on Mars here:RCoM on YouTube

Who are your favorite Martians? Feel free to share with me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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! :) 

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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