Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name — but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.
Though originally intended to provide an insight into human psychological reaction to robotic design, the concept expressed by this phrase is equally applicable to interactions with nearly any nonhuman entity. Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.
This chasm — the uncanny valley of Doctor Mori’s thesis — represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. The first peak, moreover, is where that same individual would see something that is human enough to arouse some empathy, yet at the same time is clearly enough not human to avoid the sense of wrongness. The slope leading up to this first peak is a province of relative emotional detachment — affection, perhaps, but rarely more than that.
In today's AnchorDesk column, David Coursey sets out to predict the future of online gaming. He admits to not being a gamer himself, but while I'm far from L337 myself (I don't even have a PS2 yet), even I could tell that the following statement was just ridiculous:
I am ready to predict that it won't be very long before online gaming becomes a spectator sport. Someday in the not-too-distant future, I believe we'll sit around watching online gamers do battle with one another, first on the Internet, and then on something like ESPN.
That will turn gamers into professional "athletes." ...The point being that I think online gaming is going mainstream, joining TV, music, movies, and the Net in the center of our country's entertainment industry.
This may sound outlandish, but no more so than ten exceedingly tall people running around in their underwear bouncing an orange ball. Believe me, stranger successes have been made.
In two words: no way. Two reasons: First off, watching someone else play a video game is boring (right, honey?). If you're going to be online, you're going to want to play. People who do play online and get fragged can hardly wait to jump back into the fray. Secondly, (and this highlights the ridiculousness of Coursey's basketball analogy), although many online games do have a learning curve, the ability to play an online game--and play it well--is accessible to lots of people, and is mostly a matter of having time to practice. That just makes sense--games fail if they're so hard to learn, no one plays them, or if it takes a special talent (like being double jointed) to work the controls. And the games are designed to be appealing to players, not to spectators.
People like to watch professional sports because the players have talent beyond those of your casual player, and they've devoted lots of practice time to honing that talent. Spectators become angered if a player doesn't appear to be any better than they are. And competition among so many talented players is exciting to watch. By contrast, it's difficult to imagine many gamers that are so much better than the legions of others that people would prefer watching to playing. No way.
So you're a Bush Administration official looking for a reason -- any reason -- to invade Iraq (say, Donald Rumsfeld). You ask your intelligence agencies (CIA, DIA, NSA, etc.) for confirmation that Iraq has ties to Al Qaeda. The agencies mine their assets, review their data, train satellites and listening devices and whatever other exotic technologies they may have on the Iraqis and scattered Al Qaeda members.
And after analyzing everything, they conclude there are no ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
So what do you do?
Well, given that this admininstration is the most intensely political in the history of our fair nation, you simply follow from the Rove game plan -- you create a new "intelligence agency" and fill it with political appointees who will confirm whatever lies the administration spews.
...So to clarify, the CIA (and other intelligence agencies) gather the information. They then interpret it. But if the administration doesn't like that interpretation (e.g. Hussein and OBL hate each other and would never work together), the new agency can take a look at the info and arrive at a more "acceptable" conclusion (or in Rumsfeld's words, "assist policymakers in assessing the intelligence they receive").
Blogger has apparently been hacked, so posting is no longer possible. I have not been able to log on to see what damage, if any, has been done to my account, but in the meantime I'm putting up this manual post.
I am not really happy with the fact that I thought of this immediately, but if Wellstone was indeed killed, it Wellstone's death casts the upcoming election battle for the closely divided Senate (Wellstone's seat is among those in play) in an entirely new light: The state's governor is the notoriously maverick independent Jesse Ventura. His appointment of a replacement could indeed affect the balance of power in the Senate.
I just emailed Dodd (who's taken note of these events as well) that I really didn't feel good about having the political dimension of this tragedy occur to me so quickly. As told him, it made me feel as if I'd heard a relative had died and immediately wondered if I was in the will. No reflection on anyone else, but that's the way I felt.
Here's MSN Entertainment's picks of the top 10 Halloween movies. It focuses exclusively on post-Psycho era; none of the classic Universal or Hammer horror flicks are represented. The list's compiler, Dave McCoy, explains why: "The mark of a great horror film is whether it sustains its vision of terror through several generations of increasingly desensitized viewers. Does the movie still make you jump or squirm or sweat or scream?"
Daniel Radcliffe, the 13-year-old actor who plays young wizard Harry Potter in the eponymous films, recently told a London press conference that he's a devotee of punk rock, including old-school bands Sex Pistols and The Stranglers. "I like the attitude and stuff, the way the music sounds," Radcliffe said. c00L!
I wish I had time to write more about these two tidbits from the WaPo, but in a way they speak for themselves:
Ari Flescher, responding to a recent item suggesting that Bush might be, um, embellishing a few facts: "President Bush's statements are facts supported by the record." He also says that "Each point in The Post's story is refuted by the facts," but only attempts to refute two of them, and L4m3ly, at that. Example: Those unmanned Iraqi aircraft Bush implied could strike the US, but can't? The Prez is worried that they could be "launched from a ship or a truck or by their being smuggled into the United States." As if simply using those methods to smuggle in a nuclear weapon wouldn't be a whole lot simpler, and as always assuming that Saddam is willing to be incinerated in the inevitable retaliation, as assertion for which there's simply no supporting evidence.
Sisyphus Shrugged has an awesome post about parenting. Sometimes indulging your kid (in this case, by accepting that she has a tummy ache and needs to stay home from school) isn't spoiling them, isn't setting a precedent, and isn't being a bad parent, but just the opposite: giving your child a break that he or she badly needs.
Let her read comics and eat ice cream and take a long nap and maybe play Snood and get sparkles and colored sand all over the living room. Whatever she needs out of being the only one who matters for a day, let her have it.
I should add that my two girls have been wonderful the past couple of days.
Sorry for the delay in posting this morning's wallpaper. I spent the morning at the Central Indiana Regional Blood Center donating platelets. I used to do apheresis (platelet) donations all the time in Louisville; I was very pleased when the CIRBC called requesting that I do so here (apparently they liked whatever they found when they analyzed my blood from the last time).
Donating platelets is different from giving blood because the blood is drawn from one arm, spun through a centrifuge to extract the platelets (which help the blood clot) and the remainder--plasma, red cells, white cells, etc.--returned in the other arm. The process takes about two hours. The donation center is set up so that individual donors can view movies they select (I watched Jet Li's Black Mask (also starring the lovely and talented Francoise Yip), as there were no good horror flicks on the list), so it isn't an unpleasant experience at all.
In other news, I was shopping for a birthday present for my nephew last night and saw the PlayStation game Parasite Eve 2 on sale, so I picked it up. I haven't had much time to look it over, but on first impression it seems very cool. It retains the survival horror elements of the original--in the opening story, player character Aya Brea must battle mutants amidst the bloody remains of a SWAT team the creatures have taken out--while exchanging the Final Fantasy-like turn-based combat style with a real-time system. I'm sure I'll enjoy it, and it was a bargain to boot.
Today's wallpaper is a creepy desktop image from Wes Craven's landmark 1984 scarefest A Nightmare on Elm Street. This film adhered to the tradition of having a succession of increasingly L4m3 sequels (and unfortunately marked the debut of the wisecracking killer), it does buck the trend on two notable occasions: the exceptional third installment, Dream Warriors, which marked the return of Nightmare lead actress Heather Langenkamp and Craven as screenwriter, and the 1994 New Nightmare, which took the bold step of casting veteran Nightmare cast Langenkamp, action stalwart John Saxon and Robert Englund--and Craven himself--as themselves (and as Freddy Krueger, in Englund's case) battling a Freddy who threatens to emerge from the mythical reality of the films. New Nightmare is a much more satisfyignly self-referential film than 1996's Scream, and I rented it the other day for a repeat viewing.
According to this MSNBC article, Nigerian scam emails are the second most common form of spam and the income they generate from the 1% of suckers who respond is enough to rank the schemes in Nigeria's top five industries...
The dichotomy could not be more clear. The Bush administration has been calling for war against Iraq based upon the rumor of the existence of deadly weapons there. But when North Korea comes right out and flaps the same weapons right in Bush's face, the response is flaccid vacillation and hedging.
Do not for one second think that this is a coincidence. North Korea has demonstrated to the world that Bush's martial bombast, his with-us-or-against-us us rhetoric for war in Iraq, has no basis in any moral absolute. North Korea has the bad weapons for sure, and is not threatened, while Iraq has no confirmed possession of those weapons, and faces threats of war. Bush's black-and-white has been washed gray, and two despots from Pyongyang and Baghdad have tied him in knots.
...Once upon a time that is not long past, the American President was the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those days are gone, and American foreign policy is being puppeteered by petty tyrants with disconcerting ease. We were told that this administration would be chock full of adults who could handle pretty much anything. They have been proven time and again that they are susceptible to diplomatic manhandling by some of the more vicious actors on the world stage. This, bluntly, does not bode well for anyone or anything.
...and in other news, the sky is blue (thank you, FARK).
Here's a juicy rant about the deplorable state of screenwriting, and the author points the finger squarely at the writers themselves.
I think screenwriting has lost its edge. ...We’re making millionaires out of less than talented people. But that’s not even what’s at the core the problem. It’s just sloppy, unimaginative, and vile screenwriting. Recently I interviewed one professional screenwriter and asked him what were some literary influences in his life? He could not name one. ...How many professional screenwriters today do you think could pound out a decent novel? They’re not writers today, but merely facilitators. Often the best parts of a modern movie are the ones created by a technician sitting at a computer (CGI creation).
George W. Bush lies repeatedly to achieve his political aims.
Personally, I was amased at the positively gentle tone the story took, and I couldn't help but wonder at the way Bush received the benefit of the doubt in this story. But what it all boils down to is, however much I might agree that it's be a Good Thing if Saddam were deposed, I simply find it impossible to trust this administration, and developing events (*cough*Korea*cough*) certainly don't increase my confidence.
Update: Via Body and Soul, P.L.A. points out that the WaPo's articles list of “distortions and exaggerations” is far from complete. Leading the list is the L4m3 "trifecta" lie Bush kept bandying about when his promised have cake and eat it too tax cut and budget surplus plan didn't quite work out. He also points out the obvious:
What are we to make of such a pattern? What standard should we apply in assessing the Bush administration’s reluctance to tell the simple truth? You may recall that in 2000, the Bush campaign, its allies and the press felt that Al Gore had a problem with the truth. Perhaps, then, it would be fair to apply to the current administration the same standards that the press and the Republicans applied to Al Gore during the campaign.
Yes, he has examples aplenty. I might also mention that I, for one, remember Bush pledging on the 2000 campaign trail to be some shining example of Presidential responsibility. I'd have thought it fair to assume that Bush meant his office would be scrupulously honest, but I can't say I'm disappointed, having never believed it for a moment.
Today's wallpaper is a rendered version of the teaser poster from George A. Romero's horror classic, Dawn of the Dead. Like Bride of Frankenstein, this sequel (to Night of the Living Dead) surpassed the original by including thinly veiled social commentary and not a little comedy (zombies slipping and falling as they try to cross an ice skating rink, for example). Check out the reviews at Badmovies.org, HorrorDVDs and Cold Fusion Video Reviews.
LEGODEATH is a spiffy yet demented Flash-enabled gallery of various morbid scenes created with LEGO blocks. Categories include a torture chamber, methods of execution throughout the ages, and sceens of horror from the home and workplace.
Today's wallpaper is from The Bride of Frankenstein, the excellent 1935 follow-up to James Whale's unforgettable adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. Indeed, in the prologue Elsa Lanchester plays the story's author (and the Bride, uncredited, later on) as she tells her husband, poet Percy Shelley, and the flamboyant Lord Byron that the story didn't end with the burning of the mill at the close of the first movie.
The Bride of Frankenstein is one of the rare cases where a sequel actually surpasses the original. (Dawn of the Dead is another.) For starters, the monster learns to speak, so Boris Karloff gets to expand on the already impressive acting chops he brings to his portrayal of the Creature. In addition, the sequel picks up plot elements of Shelley's novel that were discarded for the first movie--the Creature's desire for a mate, and the old blind hermit befriending the hapless Creature. Viewed today, it's amazing the amount of subtext Whale was able to get away with in 1935.
By the way, if you haven't seen the 1998 movie Gods and Monsters, which portrays Frankenstein director James Whale at the end of his life, you should check it out. For one thing, you might be amazed to discover that Brendan Fraser really can act.
I downloaded this wallpaper last year and no longer remember where I found it, unfortunately.