Alien Covenant: A Review

While this blog is mostly intended to lay out my ideas associated with various technologies, every once in a while I'm happy to depart from that theme. 

Last week, Geeks of Doom was gracious enough to allow my opinion to be represented as their review of Alien Covenant. 

My overall assessment? Better than Prometheus, but still flawed. Here's an excerpt of what I had to say:

Alien: Covenant lacks the same emotional heights sci-fi fans associate with Ridley Scott’s film of 1979 or James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, though it’s not without merit. Chief among the complaints is that the new film seems to sit on the franchise’s laurels rather than push it forward in the way Casino Royale did for James Bond or Logan did for X-Men. It’s been 38 years since the original Alien thriller, but this movie lacks some of the lauded learnings and innovations of modern science fiction cinema.
— Dwayne D.

Find tne entire review here at Geeks of Doom.

Lytro's "Cinema" Technology Brings New Cameras to Hollywood

Lucas Maney, reporting for TechCrunch:

"The company’s light field solution is a truly beautiful technology that may eventually be in every camera we snap a shot or video with. The tech essentially uses data on all of the available light in a photo to separate objects by depth and store them in a three-dimensional grid. In the future this technology will allow the simple creation of VR-ready navigable 3D spaces, but right now it’s enabling filmmakers the ability to achieve a level of detail and flexibility in gathering shots and making post-production edits that wasn’t previously possible.

Today, the company introduced Lytro Cinema, which is the company’s effort to woo those in the television and film industries with cool camera technology that makes their jobs easier."

Lytro's been around for a few years with some incredible imaging technologies. Novel though they may be, they've never quite "changed the game" in the consumer digital photography space.

So they're taking their wares to professional film. Their video talks a lot about the nitty gritty tech specs but at the end of the day, film makers should take away one thing and one thing only: 

"When you have the ability to never miss focus, and the ability to change your relative position; and you can do that with a push of a button; you always get the shot that you want."

This means the Cinema imaging device is going to be something of a "halo" product for Lytro - something that allows moviegoers a new cinematic experience. Hopefully when they see the Lytro name or marketing they'll be drawn to purchase the sort of camera that makes use of the Cinema's techniques. 

I'm excited to see this used in some sort of speculative fiction epic. Christopher Nolan, I'm talking to you.

Is there any way to make Superman interesting again?

"When it comes to superhero stories, there’s something so much more compelling about the tortured soul of Bruce Wayne, who must rely on his intelligence and guile to save the day. Superman, on the other hand, is just way, way too powerful and his “mild-mannered” alter ego of Clark Kent has just never really done anything for me."

This really connects with me. Superman always seemed a little too... Super. He's super strong, super fast, super smart-- where's the conflict? In an age of Iron Man's zany personality, and beings with more relate'able problems like the X-Men, Superman is pretty boring. In fact, I often look to Marvel's holier-than-thou Thor as a great parallel to the Man of Steel. 

The article, of course, makes some good points. I love a good comic book but it's unclear to me whether or not I'll see this new Superman/Batman film.


The (Unofficial) Tesla Commercial

"Tesla 'Not a Dream'" is an independently created commercial, using the words of inventor Nikola Tesla to extol the virtues of Tesla Motors's vehicles and their presumed ability to lead the US to a future that's free of the pollution and destruction of fossil fuels. It's visuals are a little extreme, but I'm sure that those passionate about the problem and/or the car will find the video moving.

It's worth noting that Tesla Motors doesn't advertise very much. The fact that fans are willing to create content like this for them is impressive to say the least.

And for any geeks out there it's like 1984, all over again

So what does Tesla Motors CEO think of the video? He digs it.


Stern takes on the Universal Remote

Joanna Stern recently published a piece in her personal technology column over at the Wall Street Journal that details her frustration with television remote controls in the age of increasingly complex set-top-box and audio set-ups. 

In typical awesome sauce Stern fashion, she surveys the best available products on the market and gives the user a recommendation- if one's warranted. 

Her conclusions however, throw me off. While the Ray Super Remote is impressive, it lacks something essential to a great experience-- tactile buttons for all of the major functions. The problem with the thing is that except for strange volume buttons the device is all screen, meaning that one has to look at IT rather than the content, when one wants to change an aspect of the viewing experience. God forbid that experience is taking part in a dark room, and suddenly you've got white LEDs shooting light at your face, violently throwing you out of your cinematic experience, along with anyone who may be sitting beside you. That's a problem. With any such device, one's fingers should be able to do the talking without their eyes having to get involved.

More problematic is the Ray Super Remote's $250 price. And old iPhone 5 or 5S does nearly everything the Ray Super Remote does and you've already paid it off and can easily power it since you've likely got chords lying around. If Ray made a Lightning-based IR dongle that would make more sense; which is why the Peel route seems the most proper for the touch-screen approach.

Still, you're forced to deal with a screen, which is less than ideal.

I'll extend that criticism to one of my fav devices, Google's Chromecast. As Stern rightly points out, the idea that I've got to unlock my device to get it to the remote function is a pain.

It may be that right now, Apple has the right of it with the Apple TV 4's remote. The touch -based navigation surface, tied to buttons is impressive. Voice is likewise impressive but frankly, talking is the last thing I want to do when I'm enjoying something in front of me. I also have to admit that I suffer from feeling a little silly talking to a computer in front of anyone but my cats.

Unlike most consumer technologies, there may not be a "winner take all" product in this category yet. Preference is everything here, so screens have their proponents. Some of those proponents aren't even watchers-- rather they're marketers hoping that the second screen, be it phone, tablet or remote, can be a place to grab eyeballs for advertisements in an age of increasingly ad-free digital streaming.

At the end of the day, this space is suffering from the frustration that many consumers are feeling in the connected home. These devices need a shared protocol not unlike ZigBee or zWave with which to communicate with one another. Are the speakers on or off? Set to the right input? Output? One thing is clear. The next generation of home theatre peripherals should incorporate that sort of communication functionality in order to make life much easier for the consumer. It would also represent a paradigm shift that would engender sales.

The New Yorker on the The Oscar Whiteness Machine

Richard Brody writing for the New Yorker:

"The underlying issue of the Academy’s failure to recognize black artists is the presumption that baseline experience is white experience and that black life is a niche phenomenon, life with an asterisk. Many of the great classic jazz and blues recordings were marketed as “race records.” To this day, the Academy proceeds as if movies about black experience were race movies. The result is that only narrow and fragmentary views of the lives of African-Americans ever make it to the screen—and I think that this is not an accident. If the stories were told—if the daily lives and inner lives, the fears and fantasies, the historical echoes and the anticipations of black Americans were as copiously unfolded in movies as are those of whites—then lots of white folks would be forced to confront their historical and contemporary shame. They’d no longer be able to claim ignorance of what they’d like not to know—which includes their own complicity in a rigged system."

Remember Cool Runnings? Certainly not Oscar worthy, but certainly proof 20+ years ago, that diversity can be sold universally. Fast forward to the commercial success of the Fast and Furious franchise and the recent record-breaking Star Wars film, and it's clear that films do fine-- lo they do better than fine-- with multi-racial casts... Which is why there should be more of them, allowing for more $$$ and more representation across all genres of features.

Such action will inevitably lead to more roles for actors (of all types) in more prestigious films. The idea that accident of birth is the hallmark of talent is absurd. Access to opportunity is all that's needed to for the talented to rise. A walled garden in this respect keeps the entire art of cinema from achieving it's most impressive and vibrant expression.

Steve Jobs, the movie.

The 2013 Steve Jobs film, Jobs was abysmal at the box office. The 2015 effort, Steve Jobs seems to have failed as well. 

The reason is becoming clear. The man is a hero to a lot of people-- but not enough people-- not to regular people. The vast majority of individuals are muggles when it comes to business and technology don't really identify or deify Mr. Jobs. And that's OK. In Mr. Jobs' case, where there is serious confusion about the way he went about creating that legacy, and the style with which he treated people, creating a compelling narrative is exceedingly difficult. 

When it comes to the box office there is one more thing to think about. While The Social Network was a film focused on a tech and business leader, we must remember that Facebook had more than a billion active users at the time. Apple has sold 700 million iPhones, many of which are obsolete. The pool of people tied to the company's products is much, much smaller. The Social Network also came out at a time when the movie space had some comic book films but was not absolutely dominated by comic book films and other attempts at blockbuster. People are more likely to take a look on video because the story is as easy to take in on the small screen as on the large one. 

Fans should take heart. If the performances were tight, the film may have some success during the award season.