Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

How Augmented Reality will hide advertising

December 21, 2016

How Augmented Reality will hide advertising

AR (Augmented Reality) is going to become much more a part of a few people’s world in 2017, and it’s likely to become much more commonly used by a larger part of society in their daily lives in the next five years.

There are those who are concerned that it will seem overly intrusive. They worry that the fictional objects overlayed on reality will be in our faces, shouting, dancing around, distracting us from what we really need to have in the forefront of our thoughts.

For obvious reasons, that wouldn’t always be effective. Turning your cart into the cereal aisle in the supermarket and having Tony the Tiger, large as cartoon life, telling you that Frosted Flakes are grrrrrrrreeeeeeeaaaaaaaatttttt is probably not going to make you buy Kellogg’s product. It might actually make you turn around and go the other way. 🙂

However, there may be something else AR can do which will affect your buying habits.

Have you ever been shopping and noticed something in somebody else’s cart…and then checked it out on the shelf? Have you heard two customers discussing a product positively, and thought you’d give it a try?

This “influence by osmosis” (to coin a term) could be manipulated so subtly by AR that you wouldn’t even realize you’d been sold a product.

Here’s how it could work.

First, consumers need to have the AR technology. That could be glasses, looking through a phone, be some sort of projection (from a watch, perhaps), and far in the future, an implant might be possible.

Second, they need to be using it. Some people will only engage AR in certain circumstances…others will have it on all the time, so it can give them alerts and information. Shopping is one of those information intense activities, though…you’ll want to know about product alternatives, safety and health information (products that fit your diet might show with a green border around them, for example), price comparisons, inventory checks on what you already own, and so on.

Once those two conditions are in place, subtle AR advertising could take place. For example, a product could appear to be in another shopper’s cart (with the label face up), even if it wasn’t. As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I can tell you that how books appear on the shelves affects sales…people do judge a book to some extent by the cover, so if the book is “faced” (with the cover out, as opposed to the spine), that’s influential. AR could make it that, even when customers place items on the shelves without the “cover” faced, it could appear that it was. You could see billboards, or bus ads, that didn’t actually exist…and that could be catered to you, just like banners on internet sites are now. Even more subtle, and probably extra effective: Snapchat type filters on other shoppers, making their pupils appear dilated (a sign of interest), or a subtle smile while they are looking at the advertiser’s product.

AR doesn’t need to be just visual. You could be standing outside a movie theatre, trying to decide which movie to watch. A crowd exits, since a movie just finished. You hear someone say, “Doc Savage was so cool!” In actuality, that’s just a voice overlayed on the crowd noise by your AR.

Since these things would appear to you to be real, you wouldn’t have the same critical thinking evaluation of them that you would with an obvious advertising episode. That’s why augmented reality, such as that provided by the Microsoft HoloLens, may be a much more effective advertising tool that virtual reality (which replaces what you see…AR puts things into the real world, VR puts you into another world).

This sort of thing has been done in low tech ways. People have reportedly been paid to ride around on public transit all day, talking to each other about how great a product (a movie, for example), is. Overhearing a conversation like that can be very powerful…when you don’t realize it was being said for your benefit.

What could you do about this?

Very little. 🙂

Even if you were aware of it, seeing other humans appearing to assess a product positively is going to tend to make you see it positively. As I like to say, seeing through is not seeing past. Oh, I suppose you could choose not to use AR at all…just as you can choose not to go on the internet or use a phone. 😉 That would put you at a massive disadvantage, though…everyone else in the store is getting healthier, safer, better things than you are. You may occasionally make an out of the box choice which is better than theirs…but it will have taken you a lot more effort to make that choice.

Augmented Reality influence by osmosis is in your future…and you won’t even know when it arrives. 😉

 What do you think? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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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.

What is a superhero?

November 20, 2014

What is a superhero?

I recently wrote about upcoming superhero movies and TV shows.

It was harder than I thought.

Not because it was difficult to find them…there are many!

It was more a case of deciding what to include.

What makes a character a superhero?

It seems like it would be a pretty simple question. It’s a compound word: “super” and “hero”.

Sure, there can be some debate about the two words.

I’ve always taken “super” in this case to mean “superhuman”. The superhero has abilities that aren’t part of the human spectrum: you can’t just train yourself up to be a superhero.

“Hero” also has some debate, but everybody would agree that a hero helps other people (whether that’s individuals or society at large). Some would argue that being a hero requires risking or sacrificing something of yours, and others might argue that a hero has to fight evil (I would not be in the latter camp).

However…

There are some characters who are pretty universally thought of as superheroes who aren’t super, and there are others that aren’t called superheroes, but seem to fit the bill quite well.

Let’s start with one where we won’t get much argument.

Superman.

Superman has “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men”, especially as the character has evolved. No matter how hard you work out, you aren’t going to be able to fly or have heat vision.

Superman definitely helps people in need. He sacrifices a personal life, and despite invulnerability, does have risks (from kryptonite and magic, to name two things).

Spider-Man? Yep, you can’t train yourself to have spider powers. If you don’t get bitten by a radioactive spider, Spider-Man is superior to you, physically.

Spidey risks a lot (and gets injured), and again, helps people.

Those two are pretty clear: they are superheroes.

However…

If I asked people to name superheroes, I would guess Batman and Iron Man would both come up pretty quickly on the list.

In neither case, though, is the person inherently superhuman.

They both have superior technology, and they both have extraordinary (but not superhuman) personalities.

What’s the hard and fast difference between, say, Airwolf and Iron Man?

They both have great technology, and they both fight evil.

I don’t think Stringfellow Hawke would come up in the top 100 if most people started listing superheroes.

You could argue that one difference is that Tony Stark built the Iron Man suit…but does that make Richard Gatling (of the Gatling Gun) a superhero?

Let’s go in a little bit of a different direction.

Superman is an alien with advantageous differences from humans. He helps people.

You know who else fits that description?

Spock.

Again, I doubt that even most geeks would list Spock as a superhero, but why not? The Vulcan mind meld, the nerve pinch…even clearly physical differences make Spock superhuman. He sacrifices to help others. He fights evil.

Is it because being a “superhero” isn’t Spock’s job?

Remember, Clark Kent probably spends a lot more time being a reporter than being on patrol.

Despite the brilliant monologue in Kill Bill 2, I think Clark Kent wakes up thinking he is Clark Kent. That’s how he grew up: that was his identity. He didn’t just say, “Hey, I need something to hide who I am, so I’ll make up this glasses-wearing dude”. He may not actually need the glasses, but he is that guy. Clark Kent is not a costume…it’s who Kal-El is, even though Clark has the secret of being Superman.

Many superheroes have “day jobs”. I would even guess that Bruce Wayne spends more time on Wayne Foundation business (and his social life) than he does as the Dark Knight.

So, why isn’t Spock considered a superhero?

What about Doctor Who? He clearly seems to work like a superhero. Again, physical (and mental) superiority, helps people, sacrificed a lot.

He even has regular “supervillains”. Of course, if you want that for Spock, you have Khan and Harry Mudd to consider.

Is Doc Savage a superhero? If so, is Harry Bosch? What about Stephanie Plum?

Is a secret identity necessary?

If so, that lets out Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, who was part of the Justice League.

Does a superhero have to be human?

Clearly not…Superman isn’t.

Can a superhero be a machine, though? Is Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation a superhero? What about the Red Tornado? Brainiac 5 is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes…and a machine (well, at least 95%…depends a bit on your choice of continuity, but clearly not human).

What about Krypto, the superdog?

No, this is a lot more complicated than I thought at first.

I’d list Tarzan, Batman, and Zorro as superheroes, even though they aren’t super…but I’m not sure why that doesn’t extend to the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Lone Ranger, or does it?

Maybe it’s that they have to be defined as superheroes by the works in which they appear? That doesn’t seem like a very scientific classification system: “It’s a superhero when we tell you it is.” 😉

I don’t have an answer on this. If you’d like to share your opinion, feel free to comment on this post.

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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

 

Joining the mile high call club?

November 26, 2013

Joining the mile high call club?

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is considering allowing cellphone calls on planes in flight.

There has been a tremendous backlash, with most of the complaints having to do with how disruptive it would be (and some from flight crew who are concerned about distractions).

The distraction thing I can sort of understand, but I’m pretty surprised at the people who think it would be “rude”.

We already allow plenty of things on a plane which could be a lot more intrusive. People are allowed to talk to each other (that’s what you do on a cellphone call…you talk). 😉

People are allowed to watch movies, which could be full of obscenities, and horrifying screams, as well as other sounds.

People are allowed to listen to all kinds of music.

Here’s the thing: all of that could be really bad, but it usually isn’t.

Human beings are social animals, and they do tend to respond to the culture in which they find themselves.

If the culture on a plane was that a quick call of a sentence or two (“We’ve been diverted to Portland, Maine…should be there at about 2:00.”) was okay, and a two hour conversation wasn’t, the short call is what most people would do.

If someone used the technology unreasonably, the flight crew could intervene, just as they can now with conversations.

There are so many cases where a phone call would be a terrific thing, and not easily replaced with a text (which it seems like everyone would accept). A parent saying goodnight to a child, for example. Someone talking to someone in the hospital…that could be crucial on a delayed flight. Even, as  I suggested above, some logistical things (more people can safely hear a phone call in a car hands-free through Bluetooth than can have a text read out).

This seems like a simple issue to me. Of course you allow cell calls in flight…or you ban everything else that is equally “annoying”.

Just my thoughts on it, though…

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

Gravity is not science fiction

October 9, 2013

Gravity is not science fiction

Make no mistake about it: as a geek, I’m happy to see the success of Gravity, both in terms of box office and reception.

However, I’m not as pleased to see it being labeled as science fiction (or using Forry Ackerman’s shorthand, sci-fi).

It’s not.

It’s pointedly not.

Even reviews that laud the attempt to get the science right have used that label.

I mean, for those who haven’t noticed, space travel is reality now. Perhaps some folks aren’t aware that the International Space Station actually exists…that there are astronauts right now over somebody’s head. In the right circumstances, you can actually look up and see it.

Just being set in space doesn’t make something science fiction…not any more.

Sure, that used to be true, before 1961 and the first human spaceflight.

Now, setting a movie in space is no more a guarantee that it is science fiction than setting a movie on a train. Oh, it could be, certainly, and so far, the vast majority of space movies have been.

Not this one, though.

It is absolutely presented as something that could be happening now, within consensus reality.

Yes, it’s fiction…we aren’t flying shuttle missions like that now, but it isn’t science fiction.

Maybe it’s all the special effects that confuse some writers? Well, if it’s the number of FX shots that make a movie science fiction, Backdraft would quality.

If Gravity gets Oscar love, science geeks can claim it as one of theirs. Science fiction fans? Not so much.

Note: science fiction has clearly inspired some of the advances in science over the decades. Arguably, the space program wouldn’t have been the same if its shapers hadn’t been exposed H.G. Wells and Captain Video. However, both of those (and many others) looked beyond the reality horizon: Gravity makes every effort not to do that

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

What good are geeks? Geek Pride Day 2013

May 25, 2013

What good are geeks? Geek Pride Day 2013

Since 2006, May 25th has been Geek Pride Day. The date coincides with the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977, Towel Day (celebrated in honor of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy),and  the Glorious Revolution of the 25th of May (Discworld).

It was begun in Spain, but thanks in part to the internet, is now international (or perhaps non-national is a better term).

This the

Official Website

It hasn’t quite crossed over into the mainstream consciousness, but you will find some sales in honor of it (or that should be in honor of it, even if they don’t say so). For example,

ThinkGeek

is giving 20% on orders that are $42 or more (another reference to Adams) with the code GEEKPRIDE. That’s just today, and since I know I have readers around the world, check to see if it works for you.

Amazon doesn’t seem to be trumpeting it, but high on the paid app bestseller list today are some of the

Gameloft games in the Amazon Appstore

That includes The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man, usually each normally $6.99, right now $0.99 each.

I often refer to things as “geek-friendly” in this blog, and (yes, proudly) proclaim myself a geek.

What does it really mean to be a geek? Why should we be proud?

Well, the term “geek”, while it has older roots, once referred to circus sideshow performers who did strange things…like eating light bulbs or biting the heads off live chickens. They weren’t inherently different from other people (as was the case with some others in the sideshow): they had different skills. Sure, they were skills that most people wouldn’t want to have, but they had them.

That eventually extended into people who worked with computers. Again, back in the day, most people didn’t want to know how to do a spreadsheet…but they wanted somebody who could do it. That started to make geeks valuable: now, their unwanted skills actually contributed to a company’s success.

For me, a geek and a nerd are two different things, although you’ll hear a lot of debate about that. Geeks have unusual skills: nerds have unusual interests. You can be a “band nerd” and be totally into the marching band in high school…even if you don’t play an instrument, or don’t play it well. Not all of you will agree with that, I know.

Geek culture, though, has certainly gone beyond those with special skills, and I don’t think people really use it that way any more.

There are some things that I would say define geeks, and are reasons to be proud:

We are inclusive

It doesn’t matter if nobody else likes you. In fact, being looked down upon by the mainstream is more likely to get you into the geek inner circle. You can tell people who aren’t geeks, even though they may be into science fiction. If anybody uses the term “skiffy” (a derogative put down of “low grade” science fiction, being a deliberate mispronunciation of Forry Ackerman’s “sci fi” shortening), they aren’t being geeky. It doesn’t matter if other people think what you like is bad, or childish. We celebrate the underdog (and Underdog) and the dog who is so much of an outsider that they don’t even get invited to the fight in the first place.

Yes, we may catch ourselves sometimes condemning mainstream people…jocks and cheerleaders, and referring to people like that as “muggles”. When we do, though, we feel bad about it.

We may certainly have been picked on and excluded, and we don’t want to do that to other people.

We value ideas

We want to hear what you think…even if you think it’s ridiculous and silly. Yes, we’ll challenge it every way possible, and come up with new ways if we can. We love taking an idea and taking it apart. We’ll push it to the next level and the next, until it falls off. Just before it takes that ontological swan dive, though, it may have created something useful.

Not that we necessarily care about usefulness all the time. We may have these sorts of discussions about the most unimpactful things in the universe. We like ideas because they use the brain, not necessarily for the results they’ll produce. We aren’t exploiters of neurons…we just love to hear them fire, for whatever reason.

No question: thinking outside the box (and in it and around it and what really makes it a box in the first place and how do you define “outside”?) describes geeks. That combines inclusiveness and our love of ideas.

We can be obsessive

Look, a geek isn’t judging activity by what other people think. Let’s say that a geek decides to balance a quarter on a string. It might be three years later, but that geek has quarters balanced on strings, stacked on top of each in a numismatic pyramid, and the strings are tied to a solar-powered mech bot and a live dog called “Tissy” (short for TSSD or The Stainless Steel Dog).

Since we often weren’t allowed into the reindeer games, we made up our own. We “win” when we think we win…not when you think we win. That’s one reason we make up much more complicated rules for existing games: we like make things harder and harder. Geeks don’t like to win something easily: we want to be challenged.

As some things that geeks like have become mainstream (The Avengers, Star Trek), we haven’t abandoned them. We don’t say that just because everybody likes them, we don’t like them any more. We like everything, to some extent. Undeniably, we tend to want to look after and preserve and protect “unpop culture” that the mainstream just as soon would prefer to see disappear, but that doesn’t mean we reject football (although we do wonder what would happen if they played with their helmets on backwards or on Segways…you know, just curious). 😉

That is one of my favorite things about being a geek: a low threshold of entertainment.

So, yes, I am proud. I’m proud of being inclusive, about caring about the excluded, about loving ideas, and about going deeper into things that nobody else cares about.

I’m a proud geek.

Happy Geek Pride Day!

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

The fundamental difference between Star Trek and Star Wars

May 16, 2013

The fundamental difference between Star Trek and Star Wars

Star Trek Into Darkness is opening tomorrow in the USA, which will mean midnight shows tonight.

There has been quite a bit of talk about Star Trek versus Star Wars recently, especially now that J.J. Abrams is guiding both franchises.

Certainly, there are some similarities; however, there is one key difference that we hope the director keeps in mind.

The world is good (Star Trek).

The world is bad (Star Wars).

That’s what sets them apart philosophically. A fan can certainly like both…we might feel like we are struggling against evil on one day (or imagining it could happen) and fighting for good on another. The original series of Star Trek and the original trilogy of Star Wars make this a stark difference.

Who are the good guys in Star Trek?

The Federation. They are the establishment, the superpower…they have the dominant technology and the lion’s share of the resources.

Who are the bad guys in Star Wars?

The Empire. They are the establishment, the superpower…they have the dominant technology and the lion’s share of the resources.

Certainly, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk doesn’t always agree with the methodology of the Federation. Kirk doesn’t like the  bureaucracy which can slow things down. However, Captain Kirk does agree with the goals of the Federation…just not always on how to best achieve them.

On the other hand, Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker absolutely disagrees with the Empire, and wants to see them defeated and out of power.

As a fan, when you empathize with the two, that’s the dichotomy. In Star Trek, society is good and has lofty goals. The Enterprise crew fights for good. In Star Wars, society at the top is evil and has reprehensible schemes…the rebels fight against evil.

For good.

Against evil.

It’s pretty simple.

We can see this in a lot of ways. One of the obvious ones is the iconic weaponry. Star Trek has a phaser which can (and often is, especially in unknown situations) set on stun. It is designed to be used for non-lethal tactics.

The closest you can get to being non-lethal with a light saber from Star Wars is to just dismember someone.

If you think humans (and other intelligent beings) are likely to be good, you want your default setting to be stun. If you think they are likely to be bad, a light saber is more geared towards removing the threat.

What does Star Wars’ Empire do it when it discovers people who think differently and might oppose it? Build a Death Star and blow up the planet.

What does Star Trek’s Federation do when it discovers people who think differently and might oppose it? They leave them alone. The Prime Directive requires that societies be able to develop on their own (if they don’t know about a certain technology, Federation personnel can’t give it to them or tell them about it, even if it makes their lives better…that would change them and eliminate what might have happened). By definition, the Federation does not say that it is better than every other society…and it sees that more good is likely to happen than evil if people are able to choose their own paths.

There is the guiding principle, Mr. Abrams: fight against versus fight for.

Keep that in mind and we can love both of your visions for the two beloved universes.

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

Is 2012 the best movie year since 1939?

November 10, 2012

Is 2012 the best movie year since 1939?

Many movie buffs consider 1939 the best movie year ever, and there are a lot of good arguments for that. We still quote The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, and that barely scratches the surface.

There are so many memorable and distinctive movies from that year that I even once threw a 1939 films party…and the guests all had no trouble coming dressed as a character from that year (I gave them a list, but they were still able to find something that suited them).

I’ve written before about 1984 as a contender, but I honestly think that you could do a 2012 films party thirty years from now, and really make it work.

The year is far from over, but just think about the costume possibilities with these:

  • The Three Stooges gives you a group costume, and an easy one…it would also appeal to people who like several other eras
  • Resident Evil: Retribution gives you zombies
  • Savages is that obscurity, but one that had distinctive looks…the fact that it is directed by Oliver Stone makes it easy to explain to people
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could make for a really cool costume, especially with effects that might be available then…and the comic might mean that people knew the character, even if they didn’t know that movie
  • Wreck-It Ralph is rife with possibilities!
  • Madea’s Witness Protection: I think people will know the Madea character for some time
  • Looper might be obscure by then, but it could be that Rian Johnson has a significant career
  • Dark Shadows lets the Johnny Depp fans have a go (and yes, I think Johnny Depp will be a well-know star for decades)
  • Magic Mike: paaaaarty!
  • Prometheus (although I’m not sure people would know what it was, there are those sexy spacesuits to attract folks)
  • Snow White and the Huntsmen was distinctively visual
  • Men in Black III makes for simple costumes…glasses, anyone?
  • Dr. Suess’ the Lorax
  • Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (rainbow wigs, natch)
  • Ted (for the wild partygoer)
  • Hotel Transylvania (another one that lets you re-use costumes)
  • Brave (it will have been re-released several times by then…if people are still going to movie theatres on the theatre’s schedule)
  • The Hunger Games: the starter for a series, and a huge hit
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (perfect if you bring a kid…)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises

Starting today and through the rest of the year, we’ll have several more good costume ideas, including: Skyfall; The Hobbit; The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2; Life of Pi; Rise of the Guardians (re-purpose that Santa suit); Hyde Park on the Hudson; Les Miserables; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; and Django Unchained.

There are also plenty of catchphrases…here are a few:

  • “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
  • “Avengers assemble!” (even if it wasn’t said in the movie, it will still count)
  • “You have my permission to die.”

The box office total for the top ten movies of 2012 has already smashed that of 2011, and it’s going to grow.

What do you think? Is this one of the best movie years ever? Feel free to let me know by commenting on this post.

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

Indieployment, or, are programmers the new Morlocks?

August 18, 2012

Indieployment, or, are programmers the new Morlocks?

There is a long tradition in science fiction of stratified societies in which (sometimes a literal) underclass labors in darkness to enable an upper class to live a life of leisure and creativity.

Whether they are the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the Troglytes of Star Trek’s The Cloud Minders, the District dwellers in The Hunger Games  trilogy, or the workers in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, they are a socially despised (or even ignored) substratum that works long hours in relative isolation, using skills that the upper class doesn’t have or want, and eating non-nutritious foods just to keep going.

You know, like programmers. 😉

On the other hand, those in the sunshine in these stories are free to pursue intellectual pursuits: to write music; to discuss ideas; and sometimes to engage in snarky commentary on the works of others.

The top tier is often unaware of the disparity…they enjoy the freedom without a real awareness of what is making it possible.

Have we reached that point?

In another variation on this, it is computers, or robots, or some other magic 😉 that relieves people from day to day responsibilities and enables the creativity.

I’ve been thinking about this recently when I hear about the stubborn unemployment numbers.

Amazon loves to tell us about people who are making a living as authors through independent publishing who weren’t doing it before.

Hasn’t technology and the work of those programorlocks enabled them to live by being creative?

It’s not just authors: it’s musicians and app developers and videographers. It’s people who make little craft items and sell them on eBay.

It’s people who get advertising fees from Amazon and others for writing about ideas (and yes, items) and linking to the websites.

Is it possible that there are enough people making money as independents that it is inflating the unemployment rate? That might be especially true if those people were not reporting the income.

Could the “indieployment” rate be a hidden factor? If so, it’s not going to change easily…and in fact, it might grow. The internet has made it possible for people to make a living by being creative in a way that we never had before. Some companies, like eBay and Amazon, have recognized this, and made a lot of money on it.

Are we living in the clouds (or the Cloud) without knowing we’ve gotten to that “life of the mind” that used to be science fiction?

Feel free to let me know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Are aliens funnier on TV?

July 29, 2012

Are aliens funnier on TV?

While all of the American box office is challenged this week by the Olympics, but The Watch is probably going to be seen as under performing, especially with the star power.

That got me thinking about other comedies with aliens…and I was struck by how a few big-screen disappointments came to mind. However, I next started thinking about successful TV comedies with aliens.

I’m not talking about the content, specifically, but about the box office/ratings…and yes, the pop cultural impact.

Under-performing alien comedy movies included:

  • Martians Go Home (with Randy Quaid)
  • Visit to a Small Planet (with Jerry Lewis)
  • Spaced Invaders (Disney pic with incompetent aliens landing on Halloween)
  • Coneheads (we’re talking about the movie, which grossed about $20m in the USA)

Successful alien comedy TV series? You could probably pick at least one for every decade:

  • My Favorite Martian
  • Mork and Mindy
  • ALF
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun

Certainly, these aren’t absolute laws…if you classify Men in Black as a comedy, that’s clearly an exceptional success, and Far Out Space Nuts (which, like every geek series ever has its fans), only lasted a season (and is probably out of mind for the vast majority of people).

Still, it seems to me that the odds of succeeding with a big screen alien comedy are much smaller than the odds of succeeding with a small screen one.

If that’s the case, would there be a reason?

I think an alien comedy is typically going to work by contrasting the alien with the “real world”. A television series, even a goofy sitcom, becomes so familiar, it seem more real to us than a movie. TV series let the writers do a lot of small bits over time…movies have to have a few “high value events”.

Does that bode well for the Dan Fogelman series, The Neighbors, debuting this fall?

Well, trends aren’t guarantees…but having aliens may help The Neighbors make it to that second season.

What do you think? Are aliens funnier on TV?

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

UCSD: “Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled by ‘Spoilers'”

August 14, 2011

UCSD: “Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled by ‘Spoilers'”

If you want to skip to the end of this article to see how it turns out, you’ll like it better, according to Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of  UC San Diego’s psychology department.

They’ve done a study that suggests that when people know the surprises in a story before experiencing the story, they have a higher level of enjoyment.

UCSD News article

I’m a big fan of science, but I just can’t buy this one, at least for me.

My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised. It’s hard to do: my mind keeps running through all the possibilities, even though I don’t want to do that. There is a very good chance I’ve “seen” the end of the movie I’m watching before it gets there. That doesn’t mean I’ve figured it out intellectually and concluded that there is only one possible conclusion. That does happen sometimes: I knew the ending of The Sixth Sense right away, for example. Generally, though, I’ve imagined lots of possibilities, and one of them is the right one.

I do what I reasonably can to avoid spoilers. My emotional belief is that I won’t enjoy a movie/book/TV show as much if I know what is going to happen before the appropriate moment of discovery.

I haven’t tracked that scientifically…I’m quite sure it’s true in terms of reality TV shows. If I know who is “voted off”, I don’t enjoy the episode anywhere near as much.

This study indicates the opposite should be true.

They had people read stories (not ones designed for the study…famous stories) and for some people they spoiled things ahead of time, for others they didn’t. They also inserted the spoiler into the story for another test.

The group that had the story spoiled first liked it better than the group that didn’t.

I may want to read that study (the full version isn’t available yet). I want to see if, as I suspect, there might have been a minority of participants for whom having the story spoiled was bad….but that the statistics said the group liked spoiling better.

That makes some sense to me. I know some people find it comfortable to be able to predict what will happen next.

The article makes that reasonable point about being able to see favorite movies over and over. However, when I see a movie again that surprised me, i enjoy that scene…but in a very different way.

I know I’m probably irrationally upset about people and sources who spoil. I stopped buying the San Francisco Examiner forever when they spoiled something above the fold (where you couldn’t avoid it when it was in a news rack…these were the old days, when we had newspapers). 😉

I’ve only “ignored” one person ever in an online forum (which blocks me from seeing that person’s posts) after a deliberate spoiling. I liked the writer’s posts before that…but I didn’t want to take the chance. One of my favorite magazines just had an article where someone cavalierly spoiled a show which I haven’t seen yet. I won’t read articles by that writer again. Talk of the Nation on NPR just spoiled a movie…I knew that spoiler, but I won’t listen to that show again.

I’m honestly a bit afraid to write this, that someone will spoil things on purpose for me, just because I’ve pointed this out.  That’s probably paranoid, though…at least, that’s my hope.

For me, deliberately spoiling something feels like you are acting superior. You have the experience already: you were smarter, faster, richer (in the case of, say, a premium TV channel), and that gives you the right to take away the experience of discovery from someone who wasn’t as good as you…wasn’t up to your level.

I know that’s not intentional, but that’s how it feels to me.

Now, I love literary (or cinematic) analysis. However, that should be clearly identified as what it is, so someone can avoid it if they want.

There is no statute of limitations on spoilering, for me. A ten-year old reading The Wizard of Oz for the first time in 2011 deserves the same experience as a ten-year reading it in 1900 had.

Again, that’s probably just me, though. It bucks the science…although the study will need to be replicated, of course.

So, enjoy reading the end of the mystery first…I’m just going to ask you not to tell me whodunnit. 🙂

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


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