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Monthly Archives: June 2012

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Google Glass and Augmented Reality Ads

You probably already saw this promo for Google Glass, the augmented reality mobile eyepiece that spams you with friend updates, lets stalkers know where you are and keeps shoving Google Plus circles at you. Google has announced that it’s selling the Explorer Edition to developers and will begun running off actual products in two years.

Now take a look at the Google Glass ad and see if you can spot what’s missing. That’s right, it’s ads.google-glasses

Google’s search and social offerings are just ways to shove ads at you. But you don’t see ads while the hipster heads to a hipster bookstore, gets hipster coffee and plays the Ukelele for his girlfriend. But the ads have to be there. There’s no point in a search experience without getting the ads in there.

So what will Google Glass ads look like? Who knows. Audio ads are obvious and obviously annoying, but remember Google Glass is augmented reality. It’s primitive augmented reality that functions like a basic mobile device, but if they stick around, they will get more sophisticated.

So what will augmented reality ads look like? Take a look at this augmented reality demo and remember that it was developed by an ad agency.

augmented reality

The future of advertising

Remember all those ads you run into while browsing? The weird guy wriggling his head? The half-naked girl? The bug flying around?

Now imagine those in augmented reality. And then start imagining the dinosaurs in there too. And people so real that you have to take off your glasses to realize they don’t exist. Or you can just wait for their product pitches.

Rendering those kinds of graphics will be beyond Google Glass, but not beyond many mobile devices on the market already. And the processors are getting more powerful, lower energy and capable of doing more with graphics, while graphics hardware companies and engine developers are aiming harder at the mobile market.

If Google Glass is a success, the third generation of devices will be able to shove high end graphics in augmented reality at you. And while XBox 720 may already have something like that (if not the next generation of consoles will have it for the home environment, imagine fighting battles in your living room instead of a warehouse full of crates, not too exciting, but you’re less likely to bump into walls, the living room can also be used to map out the warehouse, your sofa can be one of the crates, kick it to pop out health packs) things will start getting properly weird when you encounter this stuff on the way to work.

Remember ads play for all the tons of free internet crap you get. Mobile has made ads more challenging, but augmented reality takes away the challenge. It’s the brass ring of ad agencies and Google. Instead of a few obscure AdSense or Facebook ads that no one clicks on, you’ll meet a dinosaur on the way to work who will try to sell you something.

It’s going to be a strange world.

Should Science Fiction Writers Blog?

Science Fiction writers ( along with all writers and anyone doing anything creative that he needs to market) are told to blog (and get on Twitter) to promote themselves. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a writer’s blog that made me more likely to buy his stuff. Mostly it makes me less likely to buy it.

library books

At its most harmless the Science Fiction writer’s blog is just self-promotion, like George R.R. Martin’s Livejournal where he blogs about football and Game of Thrones merchandise and his latest appearances. If you really want to know where to buy a replica of Ice or where George R.R. Martin will be tomorrow, that’s the place to go.

The promotional power of that is limited by its blandness. No one is going to become more interested in Martin or his books by reading his LiveJournal blog and no one but the most die-hard fans are likely to keep coming back.

But bland self-promotion is preferable to the political rants that fill most Science Fiction writers blogs. Whether it’s Jerry Pournelle or Fred Pohl, John C. Wright or David Brin, visiting their blogs means wading into left-wing and right-wing talking points. And even a good writer turns into a bad writer when talking about politics and starts sounding like your Uncle Steve after a few drinks.

Everything is simplistic. The country is being ruined by the other side. If we just went with their straight-line approach, the country would be a wonderful place to live in no time at all. How intelligent people can seriously think that we would have space stations and 200 year lifespans if we just had a one party state baffles me. But most people think that way in a partisan period.

Even when I agree with them, I lose respect for them. What they contribute is rarely worthwhile or thought out. They rant and in a field where you are at least supposed to give the impression that you think about things, instead of just going with your prejudices and comparing anyone you disagree with to Hitler, they don’t leave you with a favorable impression of the cranium and character of the writer.

Some Science Fiction writers are insecure about the internet. They think that they need to compete with Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. But those are bloggers are bad writers. And you have to pick one or the other. You can either be an InternetAngryPerson who tries to wittily rant about things or you can be a writer. Being both is a difficult trick.

A good book doesn’t always promote itself, but it promotes itself better than a bad blog.

Mass Effect 3’s Three Endings

Now was that so hard?

mass effect 3 endings

mass effect 3 endings

There’s nothing all that great in the extended Mass Effect 3 endings. Lots of sad solemn music, mildly tinkered graphics and material that suggests the Bioware people are coming as close as they dare to mocking their audience. But all that stuff aside the three endings are… endings.

When you tell a story, it’s supposed to come with an ending. If you want to sell a game based on players being able to control the outcome, then your endings should be different, rather than exactly the same.

The three/four Mass Effect 3 endings actually clarify what happened and what effect your choices had. Even if you don’t think the effect is important, the “what the hell happened” part is.

The Destroy ending is straightforward. You destroy stuff. The end. Also Shephard might actually be alive in this version.

The Control ending looks a lot like the Synthesis ending, except Shephard is immortal and everyone in the universe isn’t a Borg. Also the Reapers make great construction equipment.

The Synthesis ending is everyone becoming a Borg. But it’s sort of neat in its own way.

The fourth ending is kind of interesting in its own way and dramatically the strongest. It also explains everything that came before.

It might have been better and simpler if there had been only two endings all along. The synthesis or the refusal. Become one with the machine or the cycle continues.

After Dragon Age II’s non-endings, it was nice to see players hold Bioware accountable over Mass Effect 3. With developers pulling Spec Ops: The Line type crap that gives players false choices and a miserable experience just to act out whatever the writers came up with, this is a reminder that the story has to serve the needs of the player first.

The Cynical Bullshit of Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games

Spec Ops: The Line reminds me of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. Besides the German connection, Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Spec Ops: The LineGames both pretend that they’re making you complicit in the sociopathic behavior that their creators put up on the screen, whether it’s the movie screen for Funny Games or the TV or desktop screen for Spec Ops: The Line.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if Funny Games was an influence on the making of Spec Ops: The Line. Probably more of an influence than the shameless Joseph Conrad/Apocalypse Now cribbing. The Naomi Watts remake of Funny Games was a blip on the American radar, but the original Funny Games was a much bigger movie in Germany.

Yager Studios is German and they take the Funny Games premise further. Instead of just forcing you to sit through a movie, whose antics somehow make you complicit so that the viewer is the real villain, they force the player into engaging in sociopathic actions to indict him as a sociopath.

A Youtube comment summed it up perfectly

Game: Shoot those civilians!
Player: Do I have to?
Game: SHOOT THEM GO THERE’S NO OTHER OPTION
Player: Ugh fine, whatever keeps this trainwreck of a game going
Game: You’re an asshole, look what you did, killing civilians! You’re a horrible person.
Player: Wait what?

This is cynical bullshit, whether it’s coming from Michael Haneke or Yager GMBH. When Funny Games came out, I wrote that…

Funny Games is basically Last House on the Left with the exploitation wrapped up in a spurious condemnation of the audience. The torture and murder of the family in Funny Games serves no real purpose except for an overprivileged filmmaker to film snuff and then decry the audience’s desire for it.

Spec Ops: The Line is the same thing all over again. Do some sociopathic things. Get a sarcastic lecture from the developers who Spec Ops The Linecreated the mousetrap for doing it. Watch them pretend that the whole thing is really an exploration of the military mindset and following orders.

And there’s one more thing that Funny Games and Spec Ops:The Line have in common. They both suck. Funny Games was weak as a movie within its genre. Players have pointed out how poor the gameplay is in Spec Ops: The Line. Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games don’t work within their genre, only as manipulative critiques of it. They’re failures as everything but commentary.

Unlike a movie, a game can create true options. But Spec Ops: The Line, like Dragon Age II, only offers the illusion of choice. Whatever happens, you’re still a mentally ill monster. Your only options are to do the Fight Club “Shoot your alter ego in the head” thing or go completely insane. And then either go home or fight it out by becoming the new Konrad. Those aren’t options, they’re the developers showing off how clever they think they are.

For a game to have true moral choice, the player has to be able to make those choices. Spec Ops: The Line, like Funny Games, doesn’t allow any meaningful choices that would alter what happens in Dubai. And so it has no credibility when assigning responsibility to the player for choices that didn’t exist.

The only real way to win at Spec Ops: The Line or Funny Games is not to participate. And that means not buying the product.

John Barnes Reviews His Own Book

The humility certainly doesn’t hurt.

john barnes

And John Barnes even gave his own book a one star review.

I always thought that Barnes was always underrated myself, but his books are hit and miss. The meme series was disturbing, but at times felt dark and senseless. Kaleidoscope Century may be the bleakest Science Fiction novel ever written and it seems to ring more true today than it did back then. A lot of his time travel/dimension shifting stuff seemed interesting in concept, but not as much in execution. I haven’t gotten to the Daybreak novels, they seemed a little too much like thrillers, though I hear there may be a meme element, and only read through one of the Thousand Culture books and it was forgettable.

One day Barnes may write the big novel that has a huge impact on the field. Maybe he already has and I just never read it.

Random footnote. Seeing Amazon reviews from 1998 just feels weird. 1998 already feels too long ago. As if the internet shouldn’t have existed back then. I grew up with the internet being a new thing and seeing 1998 on there is a reminder that we’ve been living with it, not just WELL or BBS’s, but the full-on ecommerce shiny websites version for a while already.

Sympathy for the Sorkin Devil

Okay so The Newsroom is taking a beating from professional working reporters, not including Dan Rather, who used to be one and is

sorkin

Sorkin with his favorite person in the world

now just a sad old man who posts at Gawker. Maybe Sorkin’s formula has worn a bit thin. Maybe reporters feel berated and belittled by The Newsroom. It would be like Jake Tapper showing up at Sorkin’s job and telling him how to write scripts properly. But the biggest story to come out of The Newsroom’s newsroom is Sorkin’s clash with one Sarah Nicole Prickett.

I don’t really like articles where the reporter becomes the story. There’s no doubt that Sorkin is an ass, but Sarah Nicole Prickett’s interview with him is short on interview and long on out of context quotes.

Reading between the mostly left out lines, we can conclude that Sorkin’s ego felt pricked because Prickett brought up the internet displacing traditional news and Aaron Sorkin is really not a fan of the internet. That’s what probably leads him to call her “Internet Girl”.

But Prickett spends a lot of time implying that he’s a sexist pig and maybe even a racist for… not really very much.

Aaron Sorkin knows the weight of last words, and his last words to me, as we walk-and-talk out of the HBO press room, are: “Write something nice.” He says this in the “Smile, honey” tone of much less successful jerks.

Okay so we’re indicting him for his tone of voice? Maybe it was a really offensive tone of voice. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Like the whole piece, it’s out of context.

In between that there’s a whole bunch of stuff like this…

At the short end of a TV season dominated, if not by shows about girls and women, by talk about shows about girls and women, Sorkin’s new drama The Newsroom arrives with a “Hey, remember how great America was when it wasn’t just a man’s world, but a man’s man’s world?”

Is that really the message of The Newsroom?

I’ll concede that Sorkin is probably sexist, but is Hey America, We’re Going Back to the He-Male 50’s Where Women Are in the Kitchen really the message of the show?

Is The Newsroom not allowed to exist because Girls is on? What about Game of Thrones? Or True Blood?

In the bits of the interview that we get, Sorkin starts out being a jerk. Then Sarah Nicole Prickett hits him with, well aren’t you a tool of the patriarchy longing for the days when white men ran the world. That’s perhaps not the exact question she asks him, but it’s close enough.

Sorkin doesn’t see this. He denies being either an ideologue or a modernist, agreeing only that the show is written in his voice, and that said voice is “authorial” (both my word and his). I’d posit that creating an authorial drama in a time of mumbling, precarious, voice-of-a-generation comedy almost absolutely constitutes an ideology, one both modernist and masculinist. But conveniently, at that moment, the interview’s over.

This is college sophomore entrapment. This is, you’re guilty because you’re doing what you’ve always been doing, but it’s running against a social current that I just defined as the norm for you to defy.

This is Oleanna reasoning and I hate that play, but I also hate people who play this game.

Sorkin sees a challenge to his authority and lashes out in a childish way. The way he lashes out plays into Sarah Nicole Prickett’s agenda. And a meme is born.

“Listen here, Internet girl,” he says, getting up. “It wouldn’t kill you to watch a film or pick up a newspaper once in a while.”

I say also, factually, “I have aNew York Times subscription and an HBO subscription. Any other advice?”

He looks surprised, then high-fives me. Being not a person who high-fives or generally makes physical contact with interview subjects, I look more surprised.

“I’m sick of girls who don’t know how to high-five,” he says. He makes me try to do it “properly,” six times. He also makes me laugh; I’m nervous, and it’s so absurd. He loves it. He says, “Let me manhandle you.”

Sorkin winds up proving her point, that he’s threatened by women and reacts by confronting them physically. Prickett is wrong in her reasoning, but the confrontation makes it seem like she’s right. That’s also an old trick of sensationalistic reporters.  Sorkin loses because he doesn’t really understand the game, even though he’s done countless interviews and is making a show about the media.

Prickett understands news in the Gawker era and she taught Sorkin a lesson that he probably didn’t learn, but she also showed that there’s no reason to read her or to listen to Sorkin.

Can We Stop With the Fairy Tale Warrior Princess Movies?

Long ago, in a land far far away, a lady by the name of Linda Woolverton turned out a script which re-imagined Alice in Wonderland

Snow White and the Huntsman  poster

Behold the magic of… Photoshop

as Alice in Wonderland Warrior Princess. Tim Burton directed it, and as usual, turned Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter into the star freakshow attractions. The movie was terrible, but it was also 3D and made a ton of money.

Linda Woolverton then went on to Maleficent, a new take on the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Slightly less long ago, three guys named Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini worked on a script for Snow White Warrior Princess, and called it Snow White and the Huntsman to hook male viewers.

While Linda Woolverton had a pedigree of doing Disney fantasy critter movies, including working on the script for The Lion King, Snow White and the Huntsman’s writers were an odd bunch. Evan Daugherty was a beginning writer who, according to his interview, wrote the script for Snow White back in 2004 and had been shopping it around ever since. He sent the script to an Alice in Wonderland producer who saw easy money doing the same thing that just worked. At some point John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed a bunch of crap, including The Blind Side and The Alamo, and Hossein Amini, who adapted the even more awful Drive that just bombed, and a bunch of other bad movies that you never heard of, got involved and made it worse.

Despite a strong opening, Snow White and the Huntsman is not likely to hit within 30 million of its budget. That’s really bad news. Its worldwide take isn’t too stunning either. The movie performed just well enough to support a 90 million dollar budget, not its ridiculous 170 million dollar budget.

Before Hollywood begins tossing more money into the same pile, it might want to look at the track record for the tweaked fairy tale movie. Brothers Grim failed, Christine Hardwick went from Twilight to Red Riding Hood and that failed. Season of the Witch failed.

Alice in Wonderland ‘s success gave some producers the idea that they need to start making big budget fairy tale action movies. That is a bad idea. Snow White and the Huntsman shows why.

Prometheus Bombed

It’s not a good summer for bad SciFi. First Men in Black III went down, making this one of the few times that Will Smith wearing Prometheus film posterdark glasses and quipping couldn’t salvage an expensive blockbuster. Then Prometheus bombed.

Prometheus didn’t bomb as hard as it could have. It hit 110 million, which is pretty good, if your movie’s budget plus promotionals weren’t a lot higher than that. Foreign box office, as with most bad movies, is better than domestic, but less money from the foreign box office comes home. No one will invest this kind of money just for it to make 120 million or so at home and another 160-170 million abroad. It doesn’t pay.

FOX has to be pretty relieved that they didn’t give Ridley Scott the 260 million dollar budget he wanted. That would have racked up nearly as big a disaster as Warner Bros took with Scott’s Body of Lies. If Prometheus had bombed as completely as Body of Lies, Scott’s career would be in real trouble.

Most of the blame for Prometheus should go to Damon Lindelof, who has scripted two big budget movies and seen them both bomb. And there’s no question that Prometheus’ problem was script. No wonder Lindelof has been talking about going back to TV. He probably saw this coming with preview audiences.

Still there are other factors to blame for Prometheus’ failure. It wasn’t really a big budget summer movie and wasn’t positioned to compete in that element. No matter what the studio thought, Prometheus was better placed for a fall release where it could have hung around for a while.

Taken 2 Trailer and the Return of the Action Movie

Taken was a movie that came out of nowhere. The standard response to it was, “You’ve got to be kidding me”. Liam Neeson, the guy from a bunch of Oscar nominated movies, as an action hero? A plot this old?

But it worked. Now here comes Taken 2 with a trailer.

Taken 2 looks like it works too. It’s silly and ridiculous on one level. But on another level it’s Liam Taken 2 PosterNeeson as the new Harrison Ford and it’s the revival of an action movie that doesn’t rely on a bunch of conspicuous special effects.

The action movie never really died. Steven Spielberg buried Last Action Hero, the coda to the 80’s Action Movie, with Jurassic Park, the new CG fueled Jaws, that made the disaster/monster movie driven by CG into the new blockbuster again. Arnold was out, CG critters were in. (These days Spielberg oversees the attack on movies by producing Transformers.)

But the action movie kept coming back. Jackie Chan brought it back to America from Hong Kong. And English, French and Russian filmmakers have brought it back with Transporters, Wanted and Taken.

Taken 2 doesn’t rely on anything too elaborate. The family goes on vacation. The gang responsible for the last kidnapping looks to get revenge and the rest follows. It’s Frantic with a cold ruthless trained killer instead of a nervous tourist. And again it looks like it works. It’s a script from the guy who did the Transporter movies and the original Taken (not to mention the Karate Kid movies). And it’s directed by the weird French director of Transporter 3. There will be lots of running on roofs and lots of cold-blooded no-hesitation trigger pulls.

Sure it could be awful. 20 minutes of it could just be Liam Neeson hugging his family or Maggie Grace auditioning for American Idol, but it probably won’t be. Because it’s efficient. The Transporter movies were about a guy with no time to spare. Taken had that same sparse no-time-to-spare formula, counting down every second. Taken 2 promises the same thing.

The action movie isn’t quite back. For every Taken, there will be a dozen board games adapted into movies (Liam Neeson was in Battlefield) and comic book movie reboots. But like its hard-charging never-say-die protagonists, it also refuses to go away.

Longmire Pilot review

Longmire is the kind of TV show that television used to be full of. The eponymous protagonist with a tough past and a ready quip, talking to people, unraveling a mystery and then riding off into the sunset. It’s a type of television that is almost as endangered as the Western and Longmire is both.

Longmire will be compared to Justified, but it doesn’t have much in common with Justified’s hipster frontier. It’s not knowing or self-aware. It isn’t aimed at viewers who want a postmodern soap opera, a True Blood, Game of Thrones, Sopranos or Justified, that is far enough away from Days of Our Lives to make them feel clever for watching it. It’s just a good old-fashioned sheriff  cop show. And it’s a good 40 minutes of television that reminds you that the old stuff works.

The cast isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough to it. The West fills out the landscape against which every great detective show takes place, whether it’s New York City or Hawaii or Singapore. And the stories take, what is obviously a series of mystery novels, and condense them into something that plays on TV for 40 minutes or less.

There’s Sheriff Longmire, the beleaguered lawman mourning his wife and fighting off a younger rival. Solving crimes by noticing things, instead of by calling in lab techs. There’s Katee Sackhoff’s tolerable Vic, as a homicide detective not working in a small country, who fills out the usual sidekick role. But mostly there’s a wide frontier full of cowboy chic from Indian pollongmire posterice to mounted elk heads, old wood and antique guns.

The pilot isn’t anything you haven’t seen hundreds of variations on. The mysterious murder victim whose life unrolls the secrets that led to his death. A young girl forced into prostitution. A setup and a gunfight. It’s everything you’ve seen in Hawaii 5-0, Vega$, The Fall Guy, McCloud and a hundred other TV shows. But it’s rendered clean and fresh. It’s not original and it doesn’t quite feel new, but it feels open in a way that most television doesn’t anymore.

Longmire isn’t great television, but it’s good television. I don’t give good odds for its survival, because like Terriers, the authentic detective show doesn’t play on cable television anymore. A detective can be neurotic and weird, because cable is supposed to showcase screwed up people, but the story has to be there just as a soapy arc to showcase more weird allies and villains. It can’t be something as clean and succinct as Longmire.

And yet Longmire is the perfect antidote to the CSI’s, Law and Orders and NCIS’s that took over free television and the hipster soaps that are one shade away from fifty shades of grey. It’s television as it used to be and it still has appeal. That’s why Tom Selleck’s bland take on Jesse Stone has been a surprising success for CBS. USA has managed to make the occasional detective show work. FX blew it with Terriers. Maybe A&E can hit a home run with Longmire.

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