Unusual Opportunity

Something unusual happened last week. On July 19, Show Case aired an episode of Defiance called "The Beauty Of Our Weapons". For the first 34 minutes, there was no dialog -- only music, some effects, and foley. The result was a fascinating way to watch an episode of television, one where you spent more time hearing the music, watching the camera work and appreciating things like the lighting and props. Obviously at some point someone figured out what was wrong, because the dialog came back abruptly 34 minutes in.

Jenn and I PVR'd a later run of the same episode which didn't have the same problem, and that was the episode we watched first. But today I went back and watched the non-dialog version up to the point that the dialog returned.

Maybe not something to do every month, but still an interesting experience, one that makes you appreciate the work that the rest of the production crew does to bring an episode to television.


Review: Ant Man

This is a simpler member of the MCU, and it shows that simple doesn't need to mean bad.  It has the vibe of the first Iron Man movie where everything was kept pretty light.  I do think that they totally failed to make the Ant Man power believable or even internally consistent, but that's more a problem with the source material than the movie.  Definitely worth the time spent on it.


Review: Minions

Picking on a kids movie always feels like kicking kittens. Clearly pitched as "Minions -- then hijinks ensue!" and not much development beyond that. Solidly OK, not as good as either Despicable Me movie. Personally I don't think I would be heartbroken to hear that I would never see it again, even though with the Apple TV I am likely to see it a great many times in the future.


Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Yeah it's a kids movie and one feels like criticizing it as such is like kicking kittens. But frankly even that can't keep me from saying that this wasn't a very good movie.


Review: Terminator Genesys

I think the one rule of time travel should be: "You can't change your own past, but you can change other people's futures."  In other words, anything that happens in the time loop has to be explainable back to a source event that maybe gets modified into a reinforcing loop, and maybe not.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that everything starts somewhere.

Let's take Terminator.  In the beginning, man created Skynet.  Skynet fought man, and man fought back.  Skynet sent a Terminator back in time to try to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance, who happens to be Sara Connor, and that leader sent Kyle Reese back to prevent that from happening.

Kyle Reese fathers John Connor after succeeding in defeating the Terminator and then dies.  John Connor grows up, taught by Sarah Connor to prepare for the coming apocalypse.  Man creates Skynet.  Skynet fights man, and man, led by John Connor, fights back.  Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, and John Connor sends Kyle Reese back to prevent it from happening.

Now you have a tight, self-reinforcing loop:  Kyle Reese -> John Connor -> sends Kyle Reese back in time -> repeat.  You also have a plausible entry into that loop, in that the John Connor we all know about is not necessary to start the loop, only some offspring of Sara Connor.  Maybe trained by a survivalist white supremacist or ex-army-ranger something stupid.

So.  That's all plausible in ways that Genesys isn't.

Let's hand-wave aside that some random person in the future (beyond Reese's departure, after Connor's subjugation by Skynet-II) sent a terminator back in time to prevent another terminator (sent by who?  when?) from killing nine-year-old Sara Connor.

Where does Skynet-II originate?  At what point, during what iteration of the loop, does Skynet-II get created?  It must be through John Connor at some point, because Skynet-II sees Connor as the key to its own birth.  But in the loop iteration where Skynet-II is born, John Connor isn't born when he was the second time through the loop (post-1984).

Similarly, there's no point in old-Reese going back to see his 2017 self because now that the time loop has been exited, there's no reason to propagate the event into the next loop.  All that matters is that it already happened -- which it clearly did.  It doesn't need to happen again.

Time travel affecting the past which affects the future is fine.  You just have to have a plausible entry into the loop for it, and Genesys just doesn't have that.

But if you ignore all that, the movie delivers on blowy-stuff-uppy.


Bigger Building

So just to be different, I've been building something a little bigger.  I wanted to use diorite, and ended up using redstone because frankly I had a ton of it and no practical use for it.

This is the result:

First Project Building
It is a bit more intricate inside, with a two-story lobby in the front.

There's not really anything else in it.  There are some pictures showing the construction deeper in the Minecraft album I have on Google Photos.

Next time I'll probably try to use granite, diorite and stone throughout rather than cobblestone.  I'm already preparing the next site for the next building.

One thing that is (slightly) interesting is that digging for physical resources shows you how scattered they can be.  I dug a fairly deep 9x9 shaft to get cobblestone for this building, and the shaft didn't yield especially much in the way of extra resources (iron, granite, diorite, or even coal).  Meanwhile another shaft dug about 300 blocks over yielded a lot more -- even after accounting for the fact that it was a 11x11 with +4 feathering so it covered a lot more blocks.

Coal really becomes a scarce resource when you are using it to turn cobblestone into stone.  I managed to reduce my torch usage by just using the torch to light the active trail I was on, and then blocking up "finished" tunnel areas with cobblestone.  It does mean I won't have any indication that I've explored a tunnel run if I encounter it with another shaft later until I hit the cobblestone wall.  But one coal unit only gets you 8 units of stone, which means that building with it requires a lot of coal.

Or a willingness to use diorite/granite for stone.  However I like the starker colors that those materials provide so I am reluctant to turn them into stone.

I've also changed to using stone pick axes to conserve iron.  Using iron pick axes was sustainable, in that I would usually find more iron than the cost of the pick axe, but the net collection of iron didn't really get further ahead.

Of course dying with a load of materials either in the bottom of some shaft that I'd wandered to start digging and/or the bottom of a lava pool probably has more to do with my lack of materials.

Well that turned out a lot longer than I intended when I started writing it.


Migration Contemplation Part 4: Riding The Crazy Train

Previously we discussed possibilities for migrating my work laptop to other platforms, concluding with an idea fresh off the crazy train. Well circumstances arose that let us take a ride on a train that wasn't exactly like the proposed crazy train, but still pretty crazy.

One of our clients has an in with HP, and as a result HP has loaned them a bunch of hardware in order to encourage them to buy more HP gear. And a co-worker saw a piece of hardware that he thought we should be seriously considering instead of the Surface. We called up one of our vendors and asked if we could get a demo unit of our own, and they said yes, so as a result I got to spend a few days with this hardware to see if I liked it and could be productive with it.

The hardware in question is the HP Elite X2 1101 G1, admittedly a mouthful of a name. This is a laptop that sports modern mobile processor technology along with a tablet format. The killer feature, when compared to a Surface, is the optional real keyboard which is about a million times better than the Surface's TypeCover thing. And just to confirm the benefit, the keyboard also sports battery of its own, yielding a combined estimated 11 hours of battery life for this unit.

I had the computer for three days or so. One of those days was a loss because I was at home all day and had left the power adapter at the office, which made it difficult to charge. But the third day I used it exclusively as my mobile computer at two customer sites, so I think I got a good feel for how it would work for me in the real world.

The nature of my job is a systems/network administrator. I use ssh, a RDP multiplexor, VNC, web browsers (I am a heavy browser user -- I have 15 tabs open right now), various VPNs, Office tools like Word/Excel and Outlook, as well as local unix type tools including perl in my day-to-day work.

The form of the computer is, as you'd expect, a bit odd. When docked, the "ultrabook" size format is nice compared to the tank I use now. The device feels heavier than you think it should when you look at it. When it is docked with the keyboard it is decidedly top-heavy, something you'd expect since all the brains are in the tablet/display portion. One button press is all you need to undock the keyboard and go into tablet mode, and re-docking is just as easy. In tablet mode t is big enough that I would prefer to use it in portrait mode; it is too heavy to be comfortably held one-handed in landscape mode. Unfortunately I didn't figure out how to change the computer to portrait mode, as the iPad method of "tilting the tablet sideways" didn't work.

The display is gorgeous, a 1920x1080 display. Naturally the touch-screen attracts fingerprints.

The keyboard is ok to use. It feels a little cramped to me, like it is a 9/10ths scale keyboard. Even so it is totally usable. I missed the proper pgup/pgdn keys almost immediately, and think that I would occasionally miss the numberpad.

I hated the trackpad almost immediately. After a couple of days with it I hated it less, but still hated it. I think I would much rather have real buttons over this "forcepad" thing. Double-click, click-drag, and right-click were all hit-and-miss and made the machine frustrating to use, even after I watched all the introductary videos. For the most part I got around the problem by attaching a wireless USB mouse to the keyboard and using that instead.

The device came with a stylus. I played with it for all of five minutes. My scrawls were pretty incomprehensible, although I'm sure with practice they would get better. I didn't manage to do anything "real" with it, but I see the potential.

Despite having the computer in a real-world situation, I didn't get a genuine opportunity to "go tablet", I ended up using it in Ultrabook format for the entire time I had it. In playing with tablet mode, I reinforced my impression that "tablet mode is for information consumption, not creation." The tablet's on-screen keyboard is predictably terrible.

Speaking of the keyboard, the tablet mode also taught me something about Domain Security. If your tablet is a member of a Windows Domain, when you log in you get to "type" your password on the on-screen keyboard. This is predictably terrible. You might be able to bully your IT department into letting you use a PIN instead of a password, but that does terrible things to your domain's security profile.

Now that said, the keyboard component also has a fingerprint scanner. While fingerprint scanners are not the greatest idea on their own, it would make more sense for the scanner to be on the tablet portion instead of the keyboard portion. That way when you didn't have the keyboard you would at least have the option of a less-insecure method of getting into your tablet.

In general, having a touch screen and a tablet format made the whole Windows 8 Metro interface more reasonable, I probably used it more over the three days than I have in the years I've had a Windows 8/8.1 laptop in front of me.

As far as my experience with the battery life goes, I can only describe it as mixed. The first day I had the device I was not the first one to play with it, and I suspect that another user was still "logged in" and had processes running. So battery life was not what I expected, and since I left the power adapter at the office I knackered my chances for playing with the device further.

Also irritating was the default power plan that the device used, putting the device to sleep after only four minutes of being idle. Since my usage model involves making connections to lots of computers, having them all dumped every time the computer went to sleep was not useful.

The last day with the device, though, I did a long charge (which was slow -- four hours didn't fully charge either the keyboard or the tablet) and then used it all day,and the next morning the combined charge was still over 50%. Changing the power plan to be a more laptop like sleep-after-30-mins-and-never-on-charger made the usage more convenient too.

As far as evaluating this device as suitable to me, I have to say I have new doubts. While doing research on the Surface I took a hard look at the CPU and RAM options available. The options on this device are similar to what is available on the Surface, so the same reluctance applies: will this CPU be suitable three or more years in the future? Will 8GB of RAM be enough, especially since it is non-upgradable in these devices? I do end up doing some virtualization, as some customer environments need to be kept separate from my main one. Now that XP has been end-of-lifed I have to use Win7 and that really isn't usable without 4GB of RAM in a VM.

There is also the issue of connectivity. This device would require a USB-to-GB ethernet dongle, and it is limited in the number of USB connections it has. I'd end up needing a USB-to-dock type thing to connect my monitors and keyboard, and would probably need a bluetooth mouse so that I wasn't using up a valuable USB port.

The fact that I didn't find an opportunity to "go tablet" tells me that I might be better off not going with a device that suffers the tablet trade-offs and get a more traditional ultrabook instead, one with a more powerful CPU and options for RAM up to at least 16GB.

This was a worth-while experience, and I think it may have saved me a whole lot of future trouble. I am definitely off the Surface Pro train for right now.


Review: Jurassic World

You know, you go to these movies expressly to see dinosaurs eating people, and anything beyond that is merely a bonus or impediment to this end.  And since you know dinosaurs ate people, there is no way that you can't say that the movie absolutely delivered.

The continuing fascination people seem to have with bringing their children to movies like this is beyond me, though.  I wouldn't take Nathan to a movie like this.