Gonzo blogging from the Annie Leibovitz of the software development world.

Month: September 2004 (Page 1 of 2)

Long Live VHS!

Star Wars has changed many times over the years. It seems to get tweaked again and again like Michael Jackson’s nose. It wasn’t even subtitled “A New Hope” until 1981 when it was released with a scene trimmed that had Luke and Biggs discussing his father (something that did not jibe with the revelation in The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has been changing his work to fit the sequels. But where is the logic in making alterations to original films to match the latest installments? Each film represented quantum leaps in special effects when they came out. Those artists sweated and slaved to make the original trilogy state of the art for each year they were released, and that’s why the CGI additions make me miffed. They don’t add anything to the plot, and they belittle the achievements of the people who worked on the films decades ago. Would we be happy if The Wizard of Oz aired on television this year with CGI flying monkeys, and Charlize Theron digitally inserted in as Glenda? What if Orson Welles decided Citizen Kane was only a rough cut, and he wanted to add on an explanation for “rosebud”? Plenty of movies could have the effects updated, and I’m sure many directors would love to redo or recut their films. Spielberg took out the guns in E.T., and did that help anything? Thankfully he gave us both versions to look at in his DVD set of his biggest blockbuster.

Yeah, I bought the new release. I love the commentaries and the features, but don’t expect me to jump up and down and say the movies have been improved by “the changes.” These films don’t need new technology; they were pretty perfect when they were released. I understand wanting to go back and change your past efforts and improve them. But is this progress? The CGI does not match the styles of the films, and it sticks out worse on DVD than it did in theatres. The plot points changed are minor, and they never needed changing. Entire performances are lost, and new actors have done voice-overs or been digitally inserted into films. Wasn’t one of George Lucas’s first films (released only a couple of weeks before this) about technology taking over the world? It certainly seems to have overtaken his corner of reality.

I did something few people found themselves doing on Tuesday—I watched my VHS copy of Star Wars. It had Han Solo shooting Greedo under the table, far fewer drawbacks, and visual mistakes such as Kenny Baker’s face apparent in the Jawa’s stronghold for stolen robots (watch closely and you will see it). I loved the original trilogy as much as any self-respecting Generation “X”er did. I slept on sheets with Darth Vader’s face and collected plastic toys. The DVDs that came out aren’t the same to me as those dusty VHS copies. Despite the cruddy picture and Dolby 2.0 stereo, the VHS gave me a sense of nostalgia the DVDs didn’t. I am glad the latest incarnation is on the shelf. But when I want to feel like a kid again which copy do you think I’m going to reach for? This is one case where videotape is still my best friend. Lucas may have artistic control of the movies, but he doesn’t own the rights to tweak my memories. And in them, Han Solo is still a bad-ass, and Sebastian Shaw shows up right before the teddy bears start singing.

The Butterfly Effect

In 1960, MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz tried to model the weather. He wrote simplified equations and solved them on a primitive computer. Sure enough, his output did behave a lot like real weather. His colleagues watched over his shoulder. They were fascinated.

One day, Lorenz tried to continue a run he’d done the day before. He restarted it halfway through. He put in a number from the first run. The output started out just the way it had the day before. Then it began to diverge, crazily.

The equations were the same. The starting point was the same. But the results diverged. Lorenz checked his computer. He checked his arithmetic. Nothing had changed. Same equations, but on subsequent days the results diverged.

There was one difference, but how could it matter? Lorenz rounded off the fourth decimal place of the starting number on the second day.

He stopped to consider: All weather predictions do what his program just did. You can predict the weather for the day after tomorrow (to a certain amount of accuracy). Stretch that to a week, and your prediction always departs from reality.

The implication was staggering. We’ve always presumed that if you barely change a cause, you’ll barely change the effect. Suddenly, Lorenz saw that the weather would change utterly if you started things out just a little differently.

Meteorologists began talking about something they called the Butterfly Effect. The idea was that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different. Not long after that day in 1960, the scientific world began changing. Perhaps all kinds of nasty problems we can’t solve are nasty just because we can never state them accurately enough.

Lorenz had taken the first step on the road to showing that our world is far more chaotic than we dreamed. For generations engineers and scientists have been predicting things. But we’ve only predicted those things that are predictable — the breaking load on beams, the thrust of a rocket.

And weather, of course, is just one face of the larger thing we all want to know, but which we never shall predict. Somewhere in the world, a butterfly will always flap its wings and thwart our age-old craving to predict our own future.

Tonight, as I just woke up, I had a dream that matched this premise (which was the basis for a movie called The Butterfly Effect). As with all dreams, it’s a little fuzzy even now as I come out of it.

It started innocently enough (and I don’t think I started it) with a single person. Slowly, with each “reset” we ended up adding more people to the fold, making it more difficult to track all the changes down. As something we did before each reset, we would perform sutble things in our lives. In one instance, I had let a purse snatcher run by while the previous instance of this situation I tripped him. That small effect was huge. The capture of the purse snatcher led to the fact that his gang was now after me, that I was rewarded for my efforts, and was now a target for a stalker. This led me to buying a gun (although by the “rules” that people claim in dreams is that you won’t do anything you normally wouldn’t, I can’t see myself doing this). The gun led me to using it which resulted in the death of another person. Butterfly effect indeed.

By the middle of it, when all hell was breaking loose, I had upwards of a dozen of my friends involved. In order to right the balance, we had to make changes to over twenty peoples lives

The last “scene” of my dream I remember is the final element of the puzzle. A girl (who I don’t know and can’t recall now) I’m supposed to contact and get her back into the group so we can perform a reset. We finally decided that we could go back and fix everything, getting the universe back to where it was originally. All the players were together and we knew what to do and where the root cause was. Unfortunately we couldn’t get ahold of this final person. Then she shows up, with a gun. I distinctly remember yelling out my ATM PIN number to the group and tossing my wallet in the fear I would get shot (I guess the reset involves me having to do something with it, and without the PIN number the group would be at a standstill). During the conversation with her, she finally was convinced to toss the gun away.

Like a good Hitchcock film, this is where the twist comes up. You think everything is great and rosy and will work itself out. Then she reveals (ahh, the reveal) that she’s rigged with dynamite. She detonates it and the fireball starts to spread out. I ran towards her but rather than being consumed by the fire and sent back to when the last reset was, the flames dwindle down it and it’s revealed that I’m now an EMS professional and am saving her life. We are the two survivors that have to right things now but now with the addition of her, the group is one body larger.

The moral of course (like dreams have a moral) is that we shouldn’t worry about what we can’t change and that even given the power to change, that change may have a much farther reaching effect than you could ever imagine and never get you closer to your goal.

Man, sometimes I wonder about our sub-concious and the powerful things it can do.

A little free time…

Then I have to head off to work this weekend to fix some things, make some plans for work that’s coming up, draft a few dozen blueprints for new (and old) projects, and generally catch up. However I finally got to sit down tonight and work out some personal-vanity web stuff.

This site has been a bit of a pain for me. It’s all PHP-based which is nice as I can make the pages pretty modular. I think I’ve been successful with that. I’ve abandoned a data-driven website like some of my co-horts but might incorporate it someday for a particular purpose (I still have a TODO for Regan to get a user-editable “Cool Site” link thingy setup) and I’ve wanted to create an online recipie swapper. Found some good PHP based ones that I can hook up to mySQL backend that runs on this server. Just need some time to get things rigged and published.

I have updated the “Freaks and Geeks” links on the sidebar (including Jared’s Magical Robot Blog) and added a few people that I should have got around to awhile ago (although these days not too many people are updating their sites, probably just as few people that read this dribble). In the meantime, I’m doing some recoding on the pages and styles (so some of this may look crappy at times, or crappier than it normally looks) and getting some new photo sections up like our teams participation in the IntensIT competition this year.

So… uh, yeah. Come back later when things look prettier.

Sims 2 Modding

My Sims 2 install has stabilized and now I get to check out all the cool stuff in it. Still never have time to play it (but then nobody really “plays” The Sims, I consider it more of a toy than a game). Interesting stuff going in in the modding community as people pick apart file formats and talk about mods. As for any Sims 2 software coming out of this shop, I still need to wrap up on my previous updates that I can return to now.

I’ve added 2 new forums, one on general discussions and one on file formats for The Sims 2 to the forums here. Check it out if you’re interested in these things. Also be sure to check out ModTheSims2.com for lots of great Sims 2 techy info.

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