Monday, March 30, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Really Sucked

I don't think I've ever missed the mark on a show as much as I have on Battlestar Galactica (BG). I'm not trying to be the guy who doesn't like the popular show, I just really thought it sucked.

I've liked shows that have bombed (Brisco County Jr.) and hated hits (Seinfeld), but I could always figure out why. Sometimes it's me, sometimes it's them. This time it was different.

With Battlestar, a lot of people, from all walks of life, really liked this show. People who's opinions I value, truly liked this show.

Most went out of there way to point out that it wasn't Science Fiction, it was drama. And they really like drama.

One, Science Fiction can be drama. Quit making excuses.

Two, I love Science Fiction. Hell, I love SciFi. I think the coolest station in the world would be the "Naked SciFi Channel". You take popular SciFi shows, rename them enough to avoid lawsuits, and then add plenty of nudity. This week on "Space Trek" frisky space moths attack the "USS Stimulus Package." MOTHSSSSS!

Three, given that, I REALLY though BG sucked. I mean A LOT! The fact that 99% of you vehemently disagree with me leaves me baffled.

I remember when it premiered. I was going to watch it with an open mind. I needed something to fill the hole left by Babylon 5 and was looking forward to chatting about it on Slashdot.

I watched the show and was amazed at how stupid it was. I went on Slashdot and was amazed again at how positive the reviews were. I couldn't, and still can't believe that we all watched the same premier.

This is my memory of the show:

People are hanging around being middle class. A hot babe in red shows up wearing a "look I'm a hot babe in red" blinking neon sign. Thank god for that because I can never notice attractive women myself. This was PG porn for the mentally challenged.

She chats with Rachel Ray or someone for a couple of seconds, and then she strangles a baby. She strangles a baby. A baby leaps on her hands and crushes it's larynx on her thumb. Eshay anglestrays an abybay. Nope can say that without sounding stupid.

Anyway, she then has PG9 warm monkey sex with Steve Jobs and her ass lights up. Yup, you heard me. Her ass lights up. Make notes, if you noticed that then you can be a doctor on the Galactica.

We then hop aboard the Galactica where we find out that Uber-president Douglas Adams has placed all the middle managers, hairdressers and telephone sanitizers on one ship in an effort to get them the hell off the planet.

There is only one rule to be part of the Galactica crew. You must be a complete dick. No semi-nads apply.

Suddenly the Cylon robots attack and invade our suburbia lifestyle. They're robots, but they look just like us, but have a different religion. Then they knock things over. Um guys... They weren't robots, they were Muslims. Muslims in space.

Back to the story. The heroic space crackers try to defend our turf, only to find out that all the space fighters, from 12 different planets mind you, all run on IPod Nanos. Oh, and Steve Jobs has gone commie. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Come back here Mister Brain!

Why would all the ships use the same computers and what the hell would weapons systems have to do in space anyway? Ships turn at, oh, max 40Gs (much more would liquefy the pilot). Space bullets move at, oh, a zillion miles per second. And in space they go in perfectly straight lines! Put your gun on a gimbal and blast away with your l33t Atari 2600 skills. You can't miss! For this they need a computer?

Now we go to the Galactica. The Galactica is run by a big Zune. Actually they don't have networked computers at all on the Galactica, so they can fight Cylons. That's because having the ship's email on one network and the ships weapons of death on a second is too much like SciFi. Yeesh!

No one aboard knows who are Cylons and who are Christians (oop! humans). The fact that one of the two has an ass full of Christmas lights never tips anyone off. The fact that you really can't have 2 wildly distinct creatures that match down to the chromosomal level kind of slips by here too. Do they have Cylon midichlorians? That can't be good.

Oh, and, spoiler alert, it turns out that the second in command, the unlikable Saul Tigh is in fact a gruff but unlovable alcoholic Cylon. Picture Bender from Futurama, but, you know, not likable. If he's a Cylon, couldn't he have just whizzed on a disk drive or something and had the Cylons win on the first day? Bender would have whizzed. He would have whizzed like a hero.

Oh well, I'm done picking on the plot, and I'm only an hour or so into the show. I don't mean to imply that your dumb for liking the show. I love SciFi. I'm just saying you're dumb for thinking it ain't SciFi. It was Emo-SciFi.

I watched BG for most of the first season. For those who say that I bailed too early, let's review the plot of the whole series:

Space Muslims knocked down the 12 space trade towers. The only survivors are space Republicans, half of which are really space Muslims and everyone, down to the dust bunnies are dicks. Everyone. Space Bush goes decider and tortures the space Muslims and everyone is a dick and almost has emotions about it. Then Obama gets elected and they all decide to land and become hippies and angles and ignore technology so they can get small pox and invent racism and ignore plot holes.

How did I do?

One last jab, then I'll shut up.

I'm getting really tired of show writers coming up with scenes and characters that are deep and mysterious and then slapping on some BS ending that leaves the viewers hanging.

Apologists will mew about writing like this as being like "real life". They claim it's depth. It ain't. It's just sloppy writing.

I usually work late Thursday nights, but tonight I came home early. As I pulled to the curb in my Teal 78 Ford Fairmont I noticed that something was amiss. There were no children on the streets, just their toys. A small 3 legged dog trotted past me. Across the street another 3 legged dog trotted past on 3 other legs. Both glanced at each other knowingly. Somewhere a midget laughed. I picked up my mail. All the letters were from Ed McMahon. Each letter had a different spelling of my name. Each had a different picture of Ed. I entered the house. My mother was gone! My dear sweet mother! Where could she be? Then I remembered, Thursday is her bowling night.

Pretty good huh? Really deep with lots of loose ends? It must show that I'm profound or something.

That or it's easy to add neat stuff to a story and hard to make it all work.

A friend and I used to write comic books together. In one story he wrote so much stuff that he couldn't tie it all together. It ended with "The Ender Of Comics" walking in holding a sign that said "The End". No matter what happened, when he showed up the comic ended. Deep huh? We were 16.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Death By Wiki

One the biggest software concepts of the past decade is the wiki. It's a really great concept that should have been invented 15 years ago. We had the technology, but it took Ward Cunningham to figure it out. Yay Ward!

A wiki allows almost anyone to contribute to a project, and you get instant gratification when you do. If you're reading a page, and see a typo, you can edit the page yourself, without waiting for a blessing from above. Once you edit the page, then your edited page becomes the page everyone else sees. Lookie what I did!

Unfortunately one of the biggest strengths of the wiki is also it's Achilles' heel. The great unwashed masses can maintain it, so, too often, the great unwashed masses are left to maintain it. That doesn't work.

Projects need leadership. The leadership needs to hop out of the ivory towers now and then and spend some time hanging out with the peasants and documentation.

I know it's boring. I'd rather be spend time writing code than documentation. Almost everyone would, but the docs got to be done.

I'm seeing more and more projects that aren't really projects. They're just inbred code excretions. A new version of the code comes out, and you have no idea what it does, or how to use it. Those in the know know how to use it, but the rest of us are stranded.

In the inbreeder's mind once the project becomes popular someone will swan in and write the documentation. Sometimes it's even worse and they try to make a virtue out of bad documentation by claiming that anyone that uses their code is a l33t h@x0rs and should read the source code.

Adding to the problem, a project opens up a wiki. This is supposed to magically fix all the documentation problems. Users are supposed to gather like worker bees and create documentation. The problem is that one user can't tell if another user's solution is good or a bad. They have no high level view of the project.

For a wiki to work, the project heads need to invest time in checking what the wiki writers are writing. If someone puts something up that's a bad idea, it needs to be edited out and the writers need to know why. If it's a good idea, it needs to get official praise so other users know it's a valid solution.

There also needs to be an editor who chops out entries that are no longer relevant. If version 2 has a bug, and version 3 fixes it, then a 2 page discussion on the version 2 bug is no longer needed. Especially when the current code is version 10 and version 2 hasn't existed for 5 years.

Wikis are a great tool for empowering non-technical users, but they're not babysitters. If you write code for others, you have to listen to them. If you don't you'll find your babysitter goes psycho and your project will die from "shaken code" syndrome.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Watchmen are ... Old.

I went and saw "The Watchmen" movie last night. It was an interesting experience.

First, to get my propers in.

I'm a middle age guy who's been reading comic books most of his life. I love the medium, I love adventure stories and I think people who can't deal with pictures in their story books are idiots. I'm a nerd, but I'm a literate nerd.

When "The Watchmen" came out, it was a series of 12 comic books that told one well written story. It had a beginning, built really well and had an OK ending. A serialized novel in the best tradition. Not bad.

But what made it ground breaking was the time it was printed. This was the mid 80s. Comic books had become banal. Before "The Watchmen" Batman fought "Cavity Creeps". After, "My Pretty Pony" had abortions. Actually, everyone had abortions and scabies and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Watchmen was first, but everyone followed.

That was 20 years ago. A lot has passed since then. The new cynicism of the 80s was replaced by the cartoon cynicism of Dennis Leary was replace by the parody of Steven Colbert. We're not really buying it anymore.

The "Dark Hero" is pretty much the norm in movies now a days. Even though they drew it from "The Watchmen" the clones made it to the silver screen first. As a move, "The Watchmen" is a copy of itself.


Some books can be translated almost directly into a move. "The Maltese Falcon" is an example. Take the book, have the actors read from it and you pretty much have a movie. Other books, like say, "The Bible" are going to require a bit of editing if you're going to pull in the popcorn crowd. Unfortunately for the director, "The Watchmen" falls into the second category.

While not particularly long by book standards, the novel spends a lot of time getting into the heads of half a dozen characters and taking the reader for a ride. That was one of the things the made the novel so good. People who enjoyed it don't talk about the plot, they talk about who they liked and disliked.

To invoke the same feeling, a director would need to film the graphic novel, giving plenty of time for each characters and make a 14 hour movie. Not many people will sit there eating Ju-Ju-Bes for 14 hours.

The second option is to forget the depth of the novel and concentrate on making a movie. Either make it more plot driven and trim back the character's emo, or trim back the number of characters. It's counter-intuitive, but to get closer to the feel of the novel they needed to deviate farther from it.

Unfortunately the director tried to have it both ways and it only sorta worked. They spent a lot of money for "sorta".

Details, From Good to Bad.

Patrick Wilson was perfect as Nite Owl. I was really impressed by his acting and how solid his whole performance was. Unfortunately, solid performances like that are often overlooked when they share a stage with a big blue CGI penis.

The rest of the cast was good. I though Jackie Earle Haley was very good as Walter Kovacs, and OK as Rorschach.

As for layout, a lot of the shots came right out of the comic book. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it don't. Either way it makes the fanbois (myself included) happy.

The special effects were lots of CGI. Wowie Zowie and all that rot.

Ozymandias was inane. I don't blame Matthew Goode, he had nothing to work with. Ozymandias was an embarrassingly bad character in the novel and the movie made him worse.

The most clueless decision made by the director was to give the caped vigilantes real super powers. They could do things like punch holes in bricks and jump so high that It looked like they could fly. Huh? The whole point of this was that people didn't have powers. They were just regular people. Regular people can't walk the streets dealing out justice. That's called assault.

There were a lot of little tweaks to the dialog that didn't seem to add anything. If you haven't read the novel you won't notice it, but that kind of stuff drives me crazy.


The Watchman movie isn't a bad movie. It's not a great movie either. It is out of it' time. What made the Watchmen special is long over, which is probably a good thing.

As an experiment, I've decided that I'm going to the comic shop and pick up a bound reprint of the comic books that I read 20 years ago. I want to see how much of what I remember was never in the novel, how much has been beaten to death by 2 decades of imitation, and how much doesn't work when read by a 48 year old man.

It's going to be interesting.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Just an Artist without a Canvas.

About 3 weeks ago I posted a question on a user form at The question was whether or not a particular widget (the Canvas) was being actively supported and, if not, how to replace it's functionality.

After 3 weeks I've had 125 looks, but no answers.

The problem is that it's not really a technical question, it's more of a "which direction is Gnome going" type question. A regular user can't answer it. It requires an opinion of someone higher up in the Gnome hierarchy. Apparently they're not reading the forums. is the official support forum for Gnome. We need for people higher up to scan these boards once in a while or Gnome is going to suffer from "user rot". If we don't know Gnome's direction, we waste time going in the wrong direction. If it's wasted time, then why spend it on Gnome when I can be productive somewhere else?

We seem to be falling into the "self maintaining user-base" fallacy. It's been growing pervasive in many projects in the past few years.

It goes something like this: Because users can share information, developers need only provide a platform for sharing and the users will take care of themselves.

Um, that don't work. Some questions can only be answered by the developer or someone who has a big picture view of a project. A user can't tell another user the "correct" way to do some things unless they've received the word from someone higher up.

I'm not saying that the people running Gnome should spend all day monitoring the user forums, that's petulant and wastes developer's time. However, someone with access to the top, should check the forums for questions that have been in the queue for more than a few days and don't have answers. The questions that aren't being addressed by other users should be looked over and, if relevant, kicked up to the next level.

There should also be someplace where people can have limited access to high level Gnomes (Uber-Gnomes?) to ask "big questions". Things like "I'm thinking making Fortran bindings for Gnome, does anyone else think that's awesome?" or "I don't like sound server X, let's write a replacement." or "Hey Uber-Gnomes, what do you think is most needed in Gnome?"

The place would need to have the participation of the higher ups for it to be useful. Spending a year writing a replacement for sound server X, when there is already an official project in place to replace it with Y would be a colossal waste of time and programmers. People need to know that before they waste time.