What I'm Watching: Assimilate

Two interchangeable, incredibly dull, incredibly white teenage boys with hidden cameras try to Youtube star their way out of an incredibly dull, incredibly white small town, and then an Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) ripoff starts, but with rather stupid children instead of competent adults.

Slightly creepy stalker vibe, which could've been a good variation on the theme, then the pod people start being obvious. As usual, the cops are useless until it's too late. The girl who joins the party in the second act is more liability than help. Her little brother Joey needs rescuing, but mostly takes care of himself, like Newt in Aliens. A film about him would've been far more interesting.

The pod people are strong, fast, hard to kill, organize wordlessly, imitate people tolerably well up close, and yet so stupid they fall for obvious tricks and can't tell their kind apart from Humans who walk slow and show no emotions. There's no way they should be able to replace more than a couple people before being noticed and shot by angry townsfolk. They do the open-mouth scream from 1978 with an extra CGI mouth expansion. They don't get you when you're sleeping, they just have your naked clone chase you down and hold your head; probably the filmmakers were scared to promote amphetamines. The mass body burnings are grim but a little obvious, unlike the dump trucks collecting bodies in 1978.

There's very little originality to this, it's as blunt and linear a ripoff as it's possible to get, with a little Youtuber narcissism as the only spice. It's as toothless and non-scary of a "horror" movie as I've ever seen. But I'm not bored by it. Certainly it's better than the military base remake (how are pod people soldiers different from regular soldiers?!), or the incredibly awful Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig remake with the happy ending. Fuck Hollywood.

This movie's "not rated", but at most, it has moments of nude clones with their nipples and genitalia taped over/CGI airbrushed out/blocked by convenient furniture. The most the lead couple manage is a hug and kiss. There's no real blood, some ketchup stains for bug bites; hitting someone with a rock or pipe, or strangling them, is presented as cartoony, no physical injury shown. The few fights have no choreography, but they're just mobs grabbing or pushing. Even the one gunfight just has victims fall down, or a little ketchup on the head. It's basically G-rated. The 1978 film was PG (it's barely not R, and PG-13 wasn't added until 1984), and still had more nudity, sex, drugs, and violence.

The ending scene is silly, who is broadcasting that? How are they getting satellite feeds from around the world? Also most Internet services won't stay up long without Human maintenance. Organizing survivors in Youtube comments is not sustainable.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Ad Vitam

A French 6-episode series on the 'flix.

Very brief warning at the start of the episode, that there's suicide themes and discretion etc., which vastly understates it: This is a meditation on death.

On the 137th birthday of the oldest person alive, long after emortality/regeneration is developed, a number of suicides/murders wash up on a beach, and a cop and a girl, a former suicidal cultist, investigate.

The show is French, and as I've previously noted they seem to be more casual about casting normal, even ugly people in their shows. The girl especially has the ugliest skull and bad hair I've ever seen in a character not meant to be a freak. The cop has a broken (or just naturally ugly?) nose and is a little worn down and sad looking for an emortal, but he has reasons to get less regeneration than he needs.

The blue jellyfish, which presumably (later in the show confirmed) provided the drug or gene which gave them regeneration, is all over as mascots, pets, color theming.

Oh, color theming. Like every damned thing from Hollywood, half the show is cyan/orange duochrome. They have other gels or color filters and use them in a few scenes, but don't use them for anything else. If you're not in Hollywood, you're free to use actual colors! You don't have to imitate their worst feature! But it does, often making it very hard to see people and details because it's all a muddy blue blur.

There's minimal effort made on sets and props. They filmed in industrial, brutalist, or Scandinavian spartan architecture, but the cars, shitty cell phones, and iPhones, iPads, & MacBooks are unmodified other than black tape on the Apple logo. Other than some people in tracksuits, who may just be Slavic, fashion is modern. Magazines are in print, instead of just being on their shitty phones. Dance scenes at parties with bad modern house music are spazzy fishstick wobbling, exactly like the present. You'd forget it's set in the future, until a wall-sized screen advertises at you, or some other visual prop like the "source gas" (stolen directly from Transmetropolitan) which is a nanotech camera/sound wire, or a "true mirror" which shows an actual-age image of everyone in the mirror, useful when surrounded by centuries-old people.

The oddest parts are when they try to be futuristic, with the grief counsellor and his glowing ball ("they used to use puppies"), or the half-wit intern who rides around on a beeping wheeled hoverboard, or the dumbest "weapon" in the history of dumb BDSM-inspired weapons.

"It must be comfortable. Having that attitude. Thinking everything is absurd and pointless." —Cop Darius
"So what we're doing has a point?" —Young punk Christa

Of course, everything is absurd and pointless. Darius is wrong but is so ingrained in his rut of life, 99 years as le flic, he can only see things as crimes or victims, not as transformations which may be necessary.

The scientist who invented regeneration says children are no longer necessary, and there's a breeding control bill supporting him. Christa isn't quite aware enough to be a nihilist yet, but she rides along passively thru most events, only taking initiative when her hallucinations push her forward.

The suicides turn out to be something more interesting. I'd been hoping for a Charles Sheffield's Proteus inspired plot, something really changing the way mortality and form shaped Humanity, but they half-assed the plot in the end, turns into a very pedestrian conspiracy, rich old people getting their kicks. All the hints of a new world, or of protecting youth to get new blood, totally dumped in E6.

★★★★☆ for initial premise and being actual Science Fiction, ★★☆☆☆ for execution and ending.

Coal in Infogrames/Not-Atari's Stockings

  • Atari VCS Chief Operating Officer Michael Arzt: interviews himself with a sock-puppet:
    • Sock-Puppet: "You are very handsome and are shipping on time!"
    • COO: "These are both true, and you are entirely alive and questioning me, not just a filthy sock on my left hand."
    • Sock-Puppet: "Please don't put me on your cock again I don't want to get pregnant/sticky."
    • COO: "No promises."
  • Previously in Not-Atari News

Takeaway is that the new VCS box is delayed until Spring 2020, maybe later, with a number of excuses, and some more case photos but no working demos anywhere. The cases do have connectors inside now, which is very exciting if you're completely gullible, but there's zero evidence from Infogrames that anything can be powered on and do something.

There's a bunch more lies, such as that most Unity games will work on it; while it's true you can recompile many Unity games for Linux, it often requires specific hardware and software configs, like the SteamOS, and the odds that Infogrames' contractors who are building this have matched those configs is vanishingly small.

The "original software" they tout is a $100/year subscription to play classic Atari games, which you can get a bundle of for far less, existing consoles for $20-40, or "free" (pirated, but it's been 40 years; meh) with MAME.

The actual reason they used IndieGogo is that IndieGogo doesn't require shipping a product, you're throwing money into someone's pockets with no guarantees. I've been waiting since 2013-10-17 for the LotFP Hardcover Referee Book, Raggi says (posting a weekly update a month ago…) he's still working on it, and I believe him because he's an honest 6-years-late fuckup. I wouldn't believe the Infogrames people if they said "le ciel est bleu".

Yoast is Toast

Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that's supposed to make it easier to cross-promote your pages and analyze how people enter & use a site. It can verge on black-hat, but mostly it's been a positive.

Today they decided to turn on an ad banner inside the WordPress admin, on every page, with an impossibly tiny little (x) that you can't actually hit first time; so they must think they have the best click-thru rate since the spank-the-monkey banners of the '90s.

So I've uninstalled Yoast, gave them a 1-star review like many others. I'll find other, ethical ways to "build engagement" and "brand" and all that. I don't know what kind of data they managed to extract from you in the time I had it, and for that I'm sorry.

I would say I'm shocked a company misread their audience's tolerance for being preyed on, but waves generally at the Internet it's really not that unusual.

MST3K: Keep Circulating the Tapes

I've been watching since slightly before the Centralized Comedy run off VHS tapes of KTMA. My USENET headers listed my location as "The Satellite of Love". My ideal cast is Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo, Trace Beaulieu as Crow T. Robot and Dr. Forrester, Frank Conniff as TV's Frank. I'd have loved for Joel to stay and keep writing, but he's too nice to the films to be the host. I wish Jim Mallon had done more as Gypsy, I don't like the later Gypsy roles much at all. I'm OK with Bill Corbett playing Crow or being a RiffTraxxer, but I'm a bit of a stick in the mud about it. One night in the '90s while watching shitty movies, Carnosaur to be precise because it's seared into my memory, I snapped and cut out a Joel & the bots outline in cardboard, sharpied it black, and taped it to the bottom of my TV screen, where it remained for a decade until I stopped watching live TV.

All of which is to establish that I'm a Mistie before I say: Cancelling this new show is a mercy killing. Jonah's maybe the least funny, blandest mayonnaise-on-white-bread person who has ever appeared in a comedy show in even a bit part, and he's supposed to be the host. I like Felicia Day & Patton Oswalt as much as the next nerd, but they're in like 5-10 minutes of an ep. Very Old Joel Hodgson appearing as not-himself or doing ad bumpers for it, propped up in a chair because like Cameron Mitchell, he drinks on set, is kind of sad. Big expensive sets and special effects that aren't simple squibs or something held in front of a single camera are anti-MST3K; money does nothing for this show.

RiffTrax, MST3K, and ShoutFactoryTV all have Twitch channels with old and new shows. While RedLetterMedia doesn't do entire shows on Best of the Worst, they do enough you can follow along at home. It is a golden age of riffing, with actual funny hosts, but it's just not in the official "MST3K" show.

(It's somewhere between antagonizing and funny—but not too funny—that RiffTrax's outro says unauthorized duplication is illegal, when MST3K's entire existence was due to "make copies, circulate the tapes, we only exist because fans tell each other about us").

Cartoons

BoJack Horseman is a deep, well-written work about self-sabotage and depression. It might be the best show ever made for getting people into some kind of therapy or self-improvement; or at least to stop downing a fifth of Jack every day. But it's miserable, incredibly unpleasant to watch sometimes, and I'll almost certainly never rewatch it, with the exception of a few non-depressing episodes ("Fish Out of Water", for instance).

Rick & Morty is exactly what I want from a cartoon: A bunch of science and fart jokes with parodies of Doc Brown & Marty McFly, with an unhealthy dose of cosmic nihilism, and I can watch it anytime I need a laugh or cry at the futility of life. "Nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody's going to die. Come watch TV?"

The Simpsons hasn't been funny past season 2 other than some Treehouse eps and guest-artist couch gags, and the characters are the blandest stereotypes possible. It's extruded cartoon product. I have no subscription that would let me watch it, and I don't care, but I do see clips and even complete episodes sometimes on the Youtubes or such. It's Seinfeld without the observational "humor" or asshole New Yorkers, it's every awful sitcom with a whiny family, just flavorless pablum. It'll probably outlive us all. The Terminators will sit around after exterminating Humanity and watch their new Simpsons episodes, chuckle robotically, and complain that earlier seasons were better.

Groening's (well, to the extent he's involved; producer & they imitate his old style?) medieval fantasy cartoon Disenchantment is equally dire, which is ridiculous since they've taken a genre where there's unlimited possibilities, and made it into a Simpsons style sitcom. I'm dis-enchanted.

Archer, man, I miss Archer. Seasons 1-4 were fun but standard Adult Swim-type nonsense. Season 5 Archer Vice was the peak, with the coke smuggling, Smokey & the Bandit, Pam's habit. Season 6 was dull, trying to recapture 1-4 but you can't go backwards. Season 7 Hollywood was great, film noir done by lunatics; it reminds me excessively of every time I've run or played in a modern/espionage RPG. I've only seen the first eps of S8-10 in this "dreamland" saga where Sterling's in a coma fantasizing, and they sure didn't persuade me to find some way to watch it. S11's supposed to be back to "reality"? Dunno.

Is there anything good I'm missing?

What I'm Watching: The Devil Next Door

The '80s-'90s trial of John Demjanjuk, immigrant Cleveland auto worker, claimed by accusers to be Ivan the Terrible, a sadistic guard from Treblinka. There's a lot of footage of the death camps, and the survivors after the war, and mostly very bad flickering VHS transfers of the trial. The period testimonies are the strongest part.

Modern interviews with his defense lawyer Sheftel are charming, if that's a word for this situation. Most of the other modern interviews are so cut up to avoid spoilers of the next episode that they're uninformative, or openly… deceptive? Pushing a point of view, anyway.

I'm horrified by the delusional belief in eyewitness testimony 40 years after the events, especially in a less technical legal system like Israel's (of the '80s; maybe they've modernized since). And the crowds of Jewish people chanting for death for someone, turning completely into their former persecutors. You'd have a more just trial by flipping a coin or studying bird entrails.

Up to episode 3 or so is at least informative and has an interesting narrative. After that the series falls apart badly.

I followed the first part of the case back in the '80s, but got distracted after his first conviction, waiting for the appeal, so was never really aware of the outcome.

The appeal and "happily ever after" are given short shrift, just a recounting of the events and brief glimpses of the exculpatory evidence. Then even shorter shrift, with only the barest video of the start, of the post-Millennial second extradition and German bullshit trial where all evidence was ignored, a 91-year-old man was convicted of maybe—probably, but without hard evidence—being a soldier at a different camp. Before dying of old age in prison, and rendering the whole thing moot.

Then there's some moralizing about war as a criminal act.

The attitude by Representative Holtzman seems to be—never clearly stated but strongly implied—that all soldiers on a losing side should just be charged with murder and executed. If that was wartime law, nobody would ever surrender and wars would rage until half the population was exterminated. There'd be peace on Earth, eventually, when the last two people killed each other.

When WWII ended, the US brought home Wernher Von Braun, one of the worst war criminals in history, who killed maybe a million people with his weapons, used Jewish slave labor hand-picked from the camps. He was made an American citizen, never tried for war crimes because he was useful, got our space program and ICBM global thermonuclear war systems running, constantly lied about his former devotion to the SS, slowly went crazy religious, died at peace. Is that justice? Certainly not. But it was practical and merciful.

We accepted many immigrants after WWII from Germany, Italy, Ukraine, France, and elsewhere who had been enemy soldiers, because war is not subject to peacetime law, and they could put their past behind them and work. If they worked and kept their heads down, they were of value to us. And we'll want the same mercy extended to us if we lose a war again. Demjanjuk's former line supervisor gets this, and the son-in-law gets it.

Holtzman especially doesn't seem to understand the difference between being drafted and fighting for your country, doing the job assigned to you, when they just happen to be Germany or Ukraine or Italy; or modern-day Illinois Nazis who do it because they're assholes and do not have the excuse of wartime service.

The whole series needed a hard editing cut of about half the footage, put the interviews back together to be coherent, rather than the chopped-up mess it is, and show more hard evidence. Maybe get a military lawyer to talk about wartime law, and immigration lawyer and the Open Borders comic author to talk about accepting immigrants of dubious backgrounds. No such effort was made.

★★★★☆ up to E3, declining to ★☆☆☆☆ by the end.

Adult Engineer Over-Optimization as the Motie Problem

Looking at my Scheme code and the way I customize it, I'm starting to see the real reason evil megacorps (and wannabe evil startups) won't hire even middle-aged programmers or use your favorite weirdo language, they just want young idiots who code Java or Go.

If you think about a standard software career, there's maybe 10 years of a submissive fool badly coding crap languages ^1 like Java, Go ^3, PHP, JavaScript ^4. They just got out of college or self-trained, and can barely copy existing algorithms, let alone think of one for themselves. This is why FizzBuzzTest ^5 is such a good novice coder test: It requires following directions exactly, and slightly competent logic skills, but not much more.

Then maybe 10 years of them being project managers and "architects", running waterfall and GANTT charts; they'll say they're "agile" but then have a giant JIRA repo of "backlog" features which have to be implemented before shipping, weekly 4-hour planning "backlog grooming" meetings, and unrealistic estimates. This is sufficient to build all kinds of horrible vertical prisons of the mind like Azkaban Facebook.

Then they either retire, or are "downsized", and now what? So they work on their own code, do maintenance on old systems, or leave the industry entirely.

If they work on their own, freed of evil megacorp constraints, they're going to end up in something idiosyncratic and expressive, like Scheme, LISP, Forth, or a custom language. Make their own weirdo environment that's perfectly fit to themself, and unusable/unreadable by anyone else.

Case in point, I needed an object model. There's one I like in Gerbil, and Gerbil's blazing fast, but I can't make a full SDL2 library for it yet (Gambit's FFI is hard, I've hit some bugs, and there's a LOT of library to interface to), and I'm using a bunch of other Chickenisms anyway, so I can't really move to it yet. Instead I just made my own simple object libary, with a couple macros to hide the ugly reality behind it:

(test-group "Object"
    (test "Object" 'Object (class-name Object))
    (let [ (obj (@new Object))  (bug )  (cow )  (duck ) ]
        (test "Object-to-string" "[Object]" (@call obj 'to-string))

        (define-class Animal Object)
        (define-field Animal 'legs 0)
        (define-field Animal 'color )
        (define-method Animal 'init (self legs color)
            (set! (@field self 'legs) legs)
            (set! (@field self 'color) color) )
        (define-method Animal 'speak (self)
            (sprintf "The ~A ~A with ~A legs says " (@field self 'color) (class-name (@class self)) (@field self 'legs)) )

        (set! bug (@new Animal 6 "green"))
        (test "bug-legs" 6 (@field bug 'legs))
        (test "bug-color" "green" (@field bug 'color))
        (test "Bug speak" "The green Animal with 6 legs says " (@call bug 'speak))

        (define-class Cow Animal)
        (define-method Cow 'init (self color)
            (@super self 'init 4 color) )
        (define-method Cow 'speak (self)
            (string-append (@super self 'speak) "MOO!") )
        (set! cow (@new Cow "brown"))

        ;; second class to make sure classes don't corrupt shared superclass
        (define-class Duck Animal)
        (define-method Duck 'init (self color)
            (@super self 'init 2 color) )
        (define-method Duck 'speak (self)
            (string-append (@super self 'speak) "QUACK!") )
        (set! duck (@new Duck "black"))

        (test "Cow speak" "The brown Cow with 4 legs says MOO!" (@call cow 'speak))
        (test "Cow to string" "[Cow color:brown;legs:4]" (@call cow 'to-string))
        (test "Duck speak" "The black Duck with 2 legs says QUACK!" (@call duck 'speak))
        (test "Duck to string" "[Duck color:black;legs:2]" (@call duck 'to-string))

        (test "instance-of?"  (instance-of? cow Cow))
        (test "instance-of? parent"  (instance-of? cow Animal))
        (test "instance-of? grandparent"  (instance-of? cow Object))
        (test "instance-of? cousin-false"  (instance-of? cow Duck))
        (test "instance-of? not an obj-false"  (instance-of? "wtf" Cow))
    )
)

The implementation code's not much longer than the tests, but it's not quite done for me to show off; I need to switch my macros into non-hygeinic forms so I can get rid of the (self) in define-method, and introduce an Objective-C-like _cmd field for self-reflection, and message-not-understood handling. There's always more tinkering to do.

Which is great for me, but makes my code an undocumented (mostly) new language, unusable by anyone normal. A giant pile of crap Java program, no matter how old, can be "worked on" (more crap piled on top) by any teenage Bro Coder.

All of which brought to mind The Mote in God's Eye, where the Motie Engineers over-optimize everything into a tangled mess, and the Watchmaker vermin are even worse, wiring up everything to everything to make new devices. The threat posed by and solution to Scheme programmers, in your usual authoritarian megacorp scenario, is similar to Watchmakers.


^1 Swift is intended to fit this niche much more than weirdo expressive Smalltalk+C Objective-C was, BDSM ^2 to prevent one from writing "bad" code, but it's not there yet; the reality of low-level software dev can't be simplified as much as Apple wants, and their C++ developers weren't up to the task anyway.

^2 Bondage-Domination-Sado-Masochism; aka strict type systems and code flow analysis, that prevent one from writing "bad" code at the cost of annotating everything with types instead of doing useful work. I'm not kink-shaming people who do that for sex, only those who do it to their own software.

^3 Rob Pike has openly said they can't give a powerful language to newbie Googlers, they mostly just know Java, C, C++, which is why Go is so limited and generic.

^4 Oddly, JS is basically a LISP with really shitty syntax. It's easy to make trivial, broken junk in it, but it's also powerful and expressive if you're an old maniac who understands the Self-based object system.

^5 Oh, fine, but only so I can demonstrate something:

(define (fizzbuzz-test i n s)  (if (zero? (modulo i n))  (begin (display s) )  ) )
(define (fizzbuzz i)
    (unless (any identity (list (fizzbuzz-test i 3 'Fizz) (fizzbuzz-test i 5 'Buzz)))  (display i))
    (newline) )
(for (i 1 100) (fizzbuzz i))

Totally different structure from the usual loop-if-else repetition and hardcoding of everything, because Scheme encourages coding in small pieces. Of course I wrote my own for macro which expands to a named let loop; there's many like it but this one is mine. More Motie engineering.

What I'm Playing: One month of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

I said I was done, and I had quit entirely, but for the 2-year anniversary ACPC has old time-limited items available again in the crafting system, so came back for one last month, and was thinking maybe I'd stick around for the Xmas/New Year's event. Not try-hard, not grinding, just play a couple times a day in the can or before bed. Competition makes these events unpleasant.

My old friends list is about half gone from just being out for 2 or 3 months, some people really purge their friends list quick. Because Nintendo hates social and shut down Miitomo, their only attempt at it in recent history, there's no real connection there and you can't say goodbye or anything. This is the worst part of every Nintendo game, just the endless sadness they dump on you because they're such awkward NEETs themselves, they can't conceive that people might want to make friends and talk to them.

For the most part, this last run has been fine. I like just casually catching fish & bugs, I've got some new items and put them in the camp, got some nice screenshots of it. The flower festival was OK, I only got halfway thru the second stage because I wasn't logging in every 3 hours on a no-sleep schedule like the try-hards, but it is pleasant, the festival NPC was Isabelle, and I got an Isabelle-doing-Powerpoint item for the camp, which is hilarious to me. The fishing tourney started a couple days ago, and I'm again in the bottom 5 of my friends list, but it's OK. I won't be buying any real-money "Leaf Tickets" but the anniversary login has given me quite a lot.

The new mechanics for the trash bird ship are both better and hilariously worse than before; now you need specific items, many of which cost the almost-real-money "Sparkle Stones", and you get to pick from 3-5 unlabelled boxes to see if you get a good item, or just animal snacks. I've sent off a lot of ships with cheap egg clocks and 4 mismatched socks, and got 1 animal friend and a couple sparkle stones for my trouble. Not worthwhile. Nintendo apparently knows this sucks, and are promising to fix it in the update next week.

The "Happy Home" minigame really sucked before; if you had all the items crafted, you just tapped the first item in each dialog and you "won" (no prize, really); if you didn't have them all, don't bother, you lose. Either way there's an excruciatingly long cutscene and progress bar and several dialogs. They've slightly improved it now with some guess-the-item "lessons", where there's a little bit of thought and gameplay to it. Many of the lessons are exactly as bad as before. They keep trying to extract Leaf Tickets from me to pass one of these impossible ones, which is just rotten, shitty mercenary behavior; I loathe Lottie as much as I ever did Resetti, and the developers of both.

But then this bullshit paid subscription thing pops up today, and I'm all "hell, no!" and /r/ACPocketCamp is similarly unenthused/angry rioting mob. I guess I won't be making it to New Year's, and the next time I'll see Animal Crossing is New Horizons on the Switch next Spring. Hopefully they don't let micropayments ruin that one, too.