The robots have moved!

Yes. You can now find all the roboty goodness at

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5 fun roboty things


I haven’t pondered much today about our inner robot natures, but I did see this article and the attendant video about new TRON toys coming soon.  I mean, ZOMG, the light cycles actually ride up and down t walls and when one crosses the other’s light trail, it will fall off the wall.  I am officially installing black lights throughout my apartment.

Say what you will about Microsoft’s future and present, but they do sometimes invent some really cool tech.  For example, they have figured out a way to have your 3DTV (what, you don’t have one? tsk, tsk.) know what your viewing angle is, so that it can calibrate the image to accommodate you.  Yes, your TV will finally accommodate YOU.  How can we apply this technology to the service industry?

File under “why NYC rocks, and Brooklyn matters”:  The NYC Media Lab will live at NYU-Poly’s downtown Brooklyn campus, and provide businesses with access to media-related research already being conducted.  As one who tires easily of repetitive, corporate-backed research, I say, “Huzzah!” (yes, I do say “Huzzah!”, also “Excelsior!”)

Motion control video games are set to explode beyond the Wii with the Kinect and the Playstation Move.  This development is also set to make the decision about which console system to get that much harder.  Thanks guys. Thanks a lot.

And finally, via Laughing Squid (via Wired Gadget Lab), proof that someday we will be able to send robots to aerobics classes on our behalf.

Posted by Farrah Bostic via email from reminds me of robots

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In which I decide to become a comic book nerd

The other day, I sent my friend AO this email:

i have an idea.

it’s for the robot blog.

i want you to tell me how to begin my comic book/graphic novel education and then i want to blog our email or chat exchanges about them.

i think it would be entertaining, at least for us.

Today, he replied thusly. 

I like your idea. It means I get to talk about comic books with someone. I should be frank with you at the beginning: I do not qualify for true geek status. I just enjoy the hell out of comics. So I’m sure there are plenty of Important Comic Book Things that I’m simply not aware of. This is only really a problem in hero comics, though, which are all ruled by the capricious god Continuity.

A few things:

1. I’m not much of a Golden Age guy. I grew up in the Modern Age, and that’s what I likes. I’ll know a bit about the Bronze and even the Silver Age more or less because you have to know the origins of quite a few characters. But the Golden Age and before is a mess, and a lot of the stuff doesn’t make much sense. Sure, you’ve got Superman and Captain America and a lot of great characters coming out of that time, but frankly more than half of it is crazy and contradictory.

The whole period is a hodge-podge: there were a lot of competing companies like Timely and Fawcett; artists and writers were changed by publishers on a whim or quit over perceived insults; the story-telling was single-issue, which to me gave everything an unsatisfactory sitcom-type plotting; novelty was prized, so new characters were tossed into the mix nearly every issue, most never to return; a hell of a lot of the books were western, horror or noir, none of which has ever been my bag.

It isn’t until the 60s when all those companies (or more properly, the properties of these companies) began to collapse into Marvel and DC that things started to get good in my opinion. The notions of a shared reality for the characters and of storytelling through multi-issue arcs that then became part of the canon history for the characters (which then demanded a respect for continuity — sort of) really were revolutionary back then. Before, artists did not have to respect what the creators or previous artists had done with a character, largely because of the single-issue storytelling, so you got things like multiple origin stories and the totally ridiculous Superman situation where he had different powers at a different levels from issue to issue.

2. I’m a superhero guy. When we’re talking true graphic novels, my tastes range a little wider, but for the most part I like somebody to get a power in some preposterous manner and then go kick some ass. For instance, I keep intending to read Persepolis, but then the next installment of The Boys shows up and I read that instead.

3. I’m a Marvel guy. You might wonder about this after you see the list below, but I am generally not a DC  or independent fan. As a kid I read a few DC books and found them to be strange and fantastical. In contrast Marvel was much more grounded and plausible (which actually is kind of true). I was a serious child, and I demanded some realism from my comic books that depicted mutants saving the world from aliens, damn it!

So from me you’re going to get a lot of Marvel superhero stuff from the very late 70s to the 80s and a little beyond. But I don’t really know shit about, say, Martian Manhunter because he’s DC and I don’t know shit  about the Punisher because he’s just a guy with guns and a personality disorder.

Anyway, to it:

This is all off the top of my head. Just stuff I’ve liked. Most of these are trade paperbacks rather than graphic novels.

Watchmen. You really can’t go wrong. There is no order to this list, so you needn’t read this before others. I might suggest, though, that as far as Alan Moore goes, you jump ahead to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 and read Watchmen later. League is much more satisfying from a storytelling standpoint for my money. Also, after you read League, go find one of the fan sites that provides annotations. Read it again and boggle at the density not just of the whole work, but of each panel. When you get to Watchmen, you might want to read it with some Frank Miller Batman (I believe by law no list of comics can be compiled without including Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns).

The Sandman. I’ve only gotten through the first two collections, but it really is good. Not so big on the art, and occasionally the writing is bit thin and/or on-the-nose but it’s very well conceived by Gaiman. This comic and Constantine are the books that started to turn me around on supernaturally-themed stuff.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Or anything by Chris Ware, really. But this is great. In Jimmy Corrigan, I firmly believe that Chris Ware is trying to destroy you, but in the gentlest way possible.

Planetary. It used to be England and Scotland gave us mathematicians and physicists. Now they give us some really good comic book writers. Planetary is a Watchmen-style takedown of superhero tropes, but it’s quite a bit more fun, I think, because it’s a little playful, it takes aim at specific characters from other comics and it exists within it’s own larger reality shared across a few titles.

Y: The Last Man. Irish McWhiskey got me into this and I’m glad he did. Really well told story. The art is good, and stays out of the way of the action. A good post-apocalypse story (or quasi-apocalypse rather) crossed with a twist on the sole survivor story. I shouldn’t say it, but I found the dénouement slightly unsatisfactory. Absolutely worth your time though.

The Essential Incredible Hulk. I just love the Incredible Hulk. So that’s why that’s here. It will give you an idea of the storytelling of the era. You can watch Stan Lee start to shake off the last vestiges of Golden Age conventions. As it progresses, it’ll give you an idea of the writer’s dilemma in keeping open-ended characters fresh while respecting continuity, which really means negotiating fan expectations. It’s too bad the letters pages of these old comics aren’t reproduced. They were much more polite and restrained than today’s web forums, but the emotion amongst the True Believers is the same. Those geeks could get furious. Anyway, just an era before the concept of the reboot. (If you want to see a modern comic reboot, read the first 12 issues of The Avengers, which features the return of Captain America, and then read The Ultimates, which I had low expectations of, and which turned out to be quite good.)

Anyway, the Hulk: In a sign o’ the times, you’ll get to see the Hulk fight Commies; you’ll get to see Stan Lee struggle with the immutable laws of physics (as you know, the Hulk can travel by leaping great distances. Inexplicably, in some early stories, the Hulk is capable of directional flight after leaping. That will not be the only thing you notice that is, well, stupid); the Hulk gets stronger over the years for no real reason; the Hulk faces wacky situations! Like the time when the Hulk transformed… but kept Bruce Banner’s regular head! And then he had to wear a Hulk helmet for protection! Oh, Stan Lee, is there anything your pen can’t do?

Basically a look at some classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, and the evolution that happens during the transition to new writers & artists.

To be honest, pretty much any Marvel Essentials you find will give you the same experience, excepting Dr. Strange, because it’s bad, and Captain America, because Captain America is unlike any other Marvel character. (I will contradict something I said earlier a bit: Reading a little Post-WWII Captain America and/or Avengers with Watchmen might be good, since it’s not just the dark and gritty Frank Miller thing that Moore is breaking down, it’s the naivety of the idealism of the hero comics that preceded the 70s turn toward darker storytelling.)

So feel free to substitute Spider-ManThe Fantastic Four, or your current favorite, Iron Man. If you go with Iron Man, let me know when you get to some Fin Fang Foom appearances. If I were allowed to write the screenplay for IM3, I would do it for free as long as the studio was contractually obligated to let me have at least two Fin Fang Foom scenes, one of which would be a fight scene of no less than 10 minutes. I would not be ashamed to weep openly at this during the premier.

Secret Wars. The apotheosis of the imprint-wide crossover event (literally — the main antagonist is an omnipotent cosmic being!). Guest shots, team-ups, etc had been done before, but when Marvel decided to throw all the best heroes, all their damnedest villains, along with (significantly) some bit-players and scrubs into one story they really did change things. This series was a fucking revelation to me as a kid.

The story was told in the individual titles and in Secret Wars stand-alone limited series. It unfolded over an entire year I think. It had every big-time badass in the Marvel Universe. It took the time to showcase quite a few also-rans, who actually turned out to be interesting. It was the origin point for new characters (you will now know where the great Spider-Man bad guy Venom comes from). And it rehabbed an old FF villain, first into a credible threat, and then into a sympathetic character and finally into a hero. As a bonus, this is also an introduction to retconning and an example of a retcon done right.

Plus the Hulk holds up an entire fucking mountain range to save all the good guys (ok, ok, The Thing and a few others help, but it was mostly Hulk.)

This is a geek argument waiting to happen, but Secret Wars is the reason crossover events occur. It was well done and sold like penicillin outside Tommy Lee’s bedroom door. While it sometimes will seem hokey from the vantage point of 25 years later, it is way better than almost all other crossovers. We can contrast the whole thing to Crisis on Infinite Earths which was DC’s attempt at a full-scale crossover around the same time. In my opinion, not well done and also a huge example of the downside of retcon and the unfortunate legacy DC had from the Golden Age.

I’ve gotta stop here. I haven’t done any work for, like, two hours, sitting here thinking about comics. I hope you find out you love comics, because they’re fucking great. And I don’t really have anyone to talk to about them. I should have taken time to organize these thoughts a bit; I hope this long, meandering message hasn’t turned you off your original idea!

I can’t wait until you’ve read some of this stuff.


So this is the beginning of an occasional series, in which I read one of AO’s suggestions, and then we chat about it, and I blog the chats. I’m also making AO a contributor to this blog, so be prepared for even more occasional awesomeness.

I can not even begin to communicate the level of my excitement.

Posted by Farrah Bostic via email from reminds me of robots

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i lose my mind: human-machine interface, and the singularity

Today brought the pleasure of sitting in a location with cable television.  On the cable television was a selection of cable news channels.  I’m sure there were other things on the cable television, but I was mesmerized by the crawls these channels have, especially when I got to CNBC’s cable television channel.  Their crawl goes so fast! And I don’t understand most of it! Therefore, I became entranced by the crawl, and left it on for … I lost track.

One of the topics that managed to pull me away from my hypnotic state was a piece about whether Apple is getting ‘too big to be cool.’ Apart from the absolutely horrible observation that the mainstream press loves to tear down the winner and so does the American public there was a debate between a CNET editor and one of the presenters about which mattered more to consumers, the software or the hardware.  The presenter said he loves his iPad because it’s a great toy.  The CNET editor said software matters to software developers, and if the software developers don’t like Apple, then they won’t make fun stuff for consumers to play with, so neener-neener-neener.  The exchange reminded me why I do not have cable.

I’m, sigh yes, actually going to respond to several of these things.

Size Matters? Yup.

Okay fanboys who like to pretend it’s still 2000, let’s face it:

In 2009, Apple recorded about $43 billion in revenue, and $8.24 billion in profit.  It employed 34,300 people.  They made up 7.2% of the US market for PCs28% of the smartphone market (though smartphones are only 18% of the total mobile subscriber marketplace, and Apple doesn’t rank in the top mobile OEMs), and 74% of the MP3 mobile player market.  It ain’t small.  In fact when you look at these numbers, you understand why Apple decided to drop ‘Computer’ from its name. To be seen as significant, it had to stop looking like it was a computer company, competing against the likes of Dell, HP, or yeah, Microsoft.

But by revenue, that places Apple as being bigger than Google but smaller than either Nokia or Microsoft (key competitors in a few different sectors), and a third the size of the partner it supposedly wields an iron fist over, AT&T.

So which size are we talking about? Ah yes, market cap.  Now, if you were a cyborg with remote access to the basestar, then you know what a market cap is.  But if you are like me, you have to look things up. Market cap is a simple enough equation: number of shares outstanding x share price = market cap. “It represents the public consensus on the value of a company’s equity.” It’s what the bettors say it’s worth, in other words.  And indeed, in terms of market cap, last month Apple surpassed Microsoft. I used to work for a company where people wandered the halls, ghostlike, muttering, “EBITDA” all day long. I have a vague understanding of the term, and won’t define it here, but that, too, is significantly larger for Apple than for Microsoft.

Okay, so that settles it, little Apple Computer, now Apple, Inc., has gone and figured out how to make itself profitable, wealthy, and valuable.  Guess we better start shootin’.  It’s a rule, right, that when a company in tech gets big, we all have to call it a monopoly and start pondering its imminent death? Those are the Rules. We just follow them.

Everybody Hates a Winner

So then there’s the part where the press and the public like to tear down a winner.  I’ll agree to the first part of the statement, but not to the second.  Do none of you remember the post-impeachment approval ratings of Bill Clinton?  Have none of you ever watched a NASCAR race?  Rooting for the underdog, forgiving the sinner, cheering on Horatio Alger – that is the American way.  Once you’re at the top, well, we only hate you if you suck.  Americans love winners.  Even when we tie we think we won. There are some exceptions, but I’d wager these are tribal in nature – for example, people hate the Yankees, the Lakers and Duke for winning all the time, but that’s also why some people love the Yankees, the Lakers and Duke.  So let’s acknowledge that some people like to be haters, and some people can live, peacefully, with success.

No sorry, being successful isn’t enough – the reason people don’t hate Warren Buffet is that he is GOOD AT WHAT HE DOES.  And, as the point was made on whatever CNBC show I listened to long enough to inspire this rant, Apple won’t likely be hated by consumers as long as the products they make continue to rock.  I was told by an AT&T employee that while customer satisfaction ratings for AT&T pretty much suck, they suck a lot less if you’re an iPhone owner.  Isn’t that something?

Hardware or Software

Somehow, this conversation always makes me think of this old ad:

It’s not the shoes, it’s the awesomeness.

[We’re getting closer to the part where I mention robots, so hang on a minute.]

The guy who says he loves his iPad because it’s a great toy?  Take away software and it’s not a toy.  It’s a pretty object made of aluminum and glass and silicon.  It would make a rather large, but very attractive paper weight.  What makes it a toy, my dear, is the stuff that lets you play with it.  Without the stuff that the touchscreen interface is designed to aid you in interacting with, you have two buttons that have limited functionality.  I love buttons.  The button is everything, but the button is not enough.

It’s the Interface, Stupid

Talking the other night with a friend who plays music, we mused over how the quality of recording has improved considerably over just the past 10 years, but how the quality of the listening experience has declined.  We listen to music through crappy earbuds, on compressed sound files played through a phone.  We watch television that way too.

A few years ago I did some work for a television client and they wanted to know about the potential for mobile video.  At the time, there wasn’t much heart for it – mobile phone screens were tiny and low resolution, not all phones had audio outs, and the bit rates over a mobile network in the US were atrociously slow.  I said, “When someone makes a phone with a high quality screen and we get 3G, then you might find yourself with a mobile outlet for your shows.  For now, only sports will work on the platform, because dudes will still listen to those little transistor radios with one earphone to get the play-by-play.”

People thought I meant, “It’ll never take off.” Why don’t you listen?

And then the iPhone happened. 3G networks came to the US. The world changed.  We evolve and adapt to the technology we create. Our expectations of quality have to do with a great many factors, including convenience, and while one minute you will not settle for less than 5.1 sound and a 40″ screen, the next you will happily catch up on reruns of The Office on a 9″ screen in something that is, arguably, ‘stereo’ sound.

My friend said, when it comes to TV, you don’t need a big TV and surround sound, because it doesn’t make the show better – what makes the show better are storytelling, dialogue/action, direction and acting.  Your screen size and sound quality can’t enhance those elements.  The proof?  Check out people watching TV on their Droids and iPhones, happily watching VH1 on the in-seat screens on JetBlue, and people showing each other videos on their iPads.

Which brings me to Minority Report dude.  Please watch this video, it’s amazing for several reasons, and two are: he talks about the importance of the interface and navigation in dealing with data, and he demonstrates some awesome technology.

Now then, the Singularity

Lots of people have been posting on twitter links to this article in last Sunday’s New York Times. I’m about halfway through, but here’s the part where I went from just mildly persnickety about daytime cable news, and lost my mind slightly.

In many ways, this is all related, because when a friend who works for CNBC told me that he loves Cylons, and that he thinks it could all happen like Battlestar Galactica said, I did not say to him in my worst impersonation of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s worst impersonation of Dorothy Parker, “You’re drunk!”  Instead I thought, hang on a second!  Everybody’s fretting that the singularity means the end of humanity.  But if BSG has anything to teach us, it’s that what comes after the Singularity, is … MORE HUMANITY.

[Hang on one more second, I’m almost there.]

That’s right folks.  Technological improvement will continue to accelerate at a pace where we simply don’t know what humanity will look like after some magical inflection point.  Some think that inflection point will occur when we all become cyborgs, merging our intelligence with that of ‘computers’ (more likely a cloud of data with very powerful server farms).  Some people think this looks like the Matrix, but a slightly more, let’s say optimistic view is that it’s more like Cylons.  We invent machines that eventually become just as intelligent as we are, and these machines build machines, and so on ad infinitum until Something Amazing Happens. I realize all this may sound menacing until you realize that [SPOILER] the machines and the people fall in love and they all live happily ever after.

And this serves as yet another reminder, that if you want to know what the future looks like, you only have to go to Japan.

The end.

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