Connections and coincidences

I watched 12 Angry Men tonight on the tube. Great flick. That’s one of the great things we have as a society, history on film. 12 Angry Men (with Henry Fonda) is about a murder trial where everyone (but Fonda) is convinced a kid murdered his father. After casting reasonable doubt, the jurors eventually turn and convict. Okay, so I gave away the plot here but the thing is the performances. Watching stuff like this just makes you wonder where are they today? With our flashy multi-million dollar movies, we neglect the simple things in life. Other ones to check out if you’re interested in being entertained rather than amused would be films like Rope, Lifeboat, and Fail Safe. Simple entertainment without gunshots, car crashes and explosions to keep you glued to the set.

As I always find it intriguing about film trivia and tidbits, I hit imdb.com to see what trivia they had for 12 Angry Men. Each film listed (and they have everyone!) has a consistent set of links like trivia, goofs, DVD details, etc. Nothing major on the trivia side for this film but as I was looking through it some neuron fired and I eventually made it to the Manhunter listing (the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter). Checking out the trivia for Manhunter led me to Silence of the Lambs and there was the coincidence.

During the filming of Manhunter, Anthony Hopkins who played Lecter in Lambs was performing King Lear at the National Theatre. Coincidently, during the filming of Silence of the Lambs Brian Cox, who played Lecter in Manhunter was doing what? Performing King Lear at the National Theatre. The Brian Cox connection led me to check out the trivia for X-Men 2 (where Cox played William Stryker). In that trivia was the connection.

Wolverines dog tag numbers from the movie are my Social Insurance Number (SIN), just rearranged. Connection? I’m a big fan of Wolverine and used to draw him in comics back in the mid 80s.

How did I get down this path?

12 Angry Men in imdb.com led to

12 Angry Men (TV version) led to

William Peterson led to

Manhunter led to

Brian Cox led to

X2

Xbox + Keyboard + Mouse = Heaven

This *is* too cool. A nice add-on for your Xbox or PS2 to allow you to plug in a mouse and keyboard.

I’ve always played FPS games on my PC (is there any other way?). Last year I hooked up with the ThoughtWorks guys and would play Halo late into the night. Let me tell you, playing Halo with a game controller is crap.

I kept asking them “why is it so slow” while they were commenting how fast it was? I’m used to doing a 180, fire off a few rounds, and jump back to carry on without breaking a breath in UT or Quake. Halo was painful as I watched the scenery as I lollygagged around.

Now having a keyboard and my XBox (won one at some silly Microsoft architecture touchy-feely thing) together? That just plain rocks. Of course the bitching I hear now from the console purists is that it throws a wrench in the level playing field they claim they had before. People with the mouse/keyboard combo will outplay a controller. Well, duh.

I’m all over MapPoint…

…like a fat kid on a… never mind.

No, this isn’t a SharePoint thing. I don’t know who it is that got me switched but I was reading a blog and lingered over to MapPoint to check out the rumblings. I’m sure thousands of people out there (and the 3 that read this blog) have used MapQuest. Plug an address in, get a map back and directions on how to get there from wherever you want. Very cool stuff.

MapPoint is the Microsoft version of this and it’s pretty slick. Maybe it’s just infrastructure, but I found it much snappier than MapQuest. Also IMHO the maps are better looking and you can reduce all the clutter that’s usually on a map and print out just want you want.

Like I said. Cool stuff. Yeah, a geek that gets hyped about a website and it’s not porn. Probably something wrong there that I’ll talk to a therapist about someday.

While it’s relatively straightforward to produce126 inch by 200 inch + maps in strips with MapInfo (a desktop GIS mapping tool) using a large format plotter, you can do it with MapPoint

http://www.mp2kmag.com/news70–MapPoint_LargeFormat_Printing.html

Check out “Huge Detailed Maps With MapPoint 2004″ in a recent newsletter

http://www.mp2kmag.com/update/mappoint.newsletter/2004-04-16/

And finally Eric Frost, besides being a cool name for an X-Man villian, is the Editor and Publisher of MP2K Magazine and has an RSS feed for MapPoint articles:

http://www.mp2kmag.com/rss/articles.php

Will Wright on The Screen Savers

Somewhat old news but I missed the original airing on September 16, just before The Sims 2 was released. Will Wright showed up last night on a repeat broadcast of The Screen Savers with a few things to say about the game.

Creator Will Wright sat down for an interview with Alex Albrecht, who asked him whether the concept of a game about interior décor and toilet-flushing was a tough sell.

“When I was trying to sell the idea for the game, it didn’t do very well,” Wright admitted. “But people make a deep connection with the game and it becomes about them. The players can drive the experience wherever they want to go – it’s very open-ended.”

Does he ever get weirded out by some of the customizations that fans create?

“Actually, the coolest thing about the game is what the fans have created for it, taking it to peculiar directions like armadillos and nude Japanese politicians,” Wright said. “To me, that’s really cool – in a creepy way.”

The Sims 2 will include lifespans for its characters as they will grow older, and it will have different sets of behavior for different ages. Children may run away from home, while grandparents might help kids with their homework. But morbid players take note: babies can’t be killed in the game through mistreatment. Social Services will come and take them away.

Fun stuff.

Red vs Blue Meets The Sims

The folks over at Rooster Teeth Productions, best known for their Red vs Blue comedy movies based on the Halo rendering engine, are branching out with a second series, with more of a sitcom flair, called The Strangerhood. This time, they’re using the Sims 2 game as their rendering engine.

As I “play” with The Sims 2, I’ve noticed the power of the movie making utilities they have. It really is a great little tool for would-be directors. I’m just waiting to see a shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars or Psycho using Sims 2 now ;)

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.