What I'm Not Watching: Mare of Easttown

Kate Winslet is no longer a Heavenly Creature, nor a Titanic starlet, but a disappointed middle-aged detective in the rust belt with a broken family and a cold case she can't really cope with. She starts dating a writer passing through, played by Guy Pearce (Shotgun Ed in L.A. Confidential). A local girl with another broken home is murdered, and a much, much younger, fetus-like even, detective played by Evan Peters (a bunch of American Horror Story series) joins her to investigate.

I bother mentioning the actors here because that's often the only entertainment. The plot is glacial, not helped by HoboMax releasing these one a week like some old-timey 20th C TV series. I don't care about "Mare" or her family, she's a sullen, bad-tempered, constantly-vaping wench who supposedly made a basketball shot 25 years ago. Kate's made no attempt to control her ever-expanding hips and ass, which, I'm not judging her much on that, but it makes her role less plausible. She's about in shape for a 60-year-old near retirement, not a 45-year-old active-duty cop.

The family stuff is really dire, ex-husband is remarrying, and Kate shows up to annoy him or accuse him of various crimes. Cousin is a priest, and so he's dirty in some way. Her mother-in-law is just the worst. The victim's ex-boyfriend, father, and friends are all awful, she's better off out of the script.

On ep 3, and I'm not making it thru this. I watch an ep and feel like someone living in the rust belt, like life is pointless and ugly. Is there any payoff possible that'd make it worth going on? This is what happens when someone decides they need an Oscar, so they make some misery porn for a few hours and hope the tired old men of the Academy remember when she wasn't old.

★☆☆☆☆ This just sucks.

Computer Lib/Dream Machines

Someone has finally uploaded a (possibly legal?) copy of to archive:

Read it from either end, there's two coherent books written back-on-back like an Ace Double, happily you don't have to turn your monitor upside down.

The first personal computer book (before the Altair came out!), though the PCC Newsletters predates it (and he mentions them). Fascinating time capsule, political tract about use of computers to control you (CYBERCRUD as he puts it).

Any nitwit can understand computers, and many do.
Unfortunately, due to ridiculous historical circumstances,
computers have been made a mystery to most of the world. And
this situation does not seem to be improving. You hear more
and more about computers, but to most people it's just one big
blur. The people who know about computers often seem unwilling
to explain things or answer your questions. Stereotyped
notions develop about computers operating in fixed ways--and
so confusion increases. The chasm between laymen and computer
people widens fast and dangerously.

This book is a measure of desperation, so serious and abysmal
is the public sense of confusion and ignorance. Anything with
buttons or lights can be palmed off on the layman as a
computer. There are so many different things, and their
differences are so important; yet to the lay public they are
lumped together as "computer stuff," indistinct and beyond
understanding or criticism. It's as if people couldn't tell
apart camera from exposure meter or tripod, or car from truck
or tollbooth. This book is therefore devoted to the premise
that

EVERYBODY SHOULD UNDERSTAND COMPUTERS.

Computers are simply a necessary and enjoyable part of life,
like food and books. Computers are not everything, they are
just an aspect of everything, and not to know this is computer
illiteracy, a silly and dangerous ignorance.

In many ways as relevant as ever. Just because you have a computer or "smart" phone, doesn't mean you know anything about its operation, purpose, and purposes you can put it to. Most people just use them as glorified TV sets and newspapers, mass media delivering people.

Unredacted 1st ed, includes some very… Ted Nelson is a white male born in the 1930s, his language about race and sex are, uh… not acceptable sometimes. Be aware.

Also, cover price $7 in 1974 is $37.61 in 2021, not $120, as Ted currently charges for a photocopy on his website. But at least he managed to publish this, unlike Xanadu which took 50 years to ship nothing.

I have a much longer draft of notes about it, that I'll probably finish up at some point. Now that I can just point you at the original, that gets easier.

What I'm Watching: Invincible

I'd read a couple years of Invincible when it came out, and some of Robert Kirkman's other comics (The Walking Dead, Tech Jacket, etc); he was throwing things at the wall until one stuck. And now Kirkman's adapted this into an animated series (it would be insane to do live-action), and like TWD taken it mostly down the comic's plot, but there are some differences already; I hope it doesn't become a walking dead series like TWD, 'zon's already renewed it for S2 & S3.

Invincible takes a very slightly variant Superman (no laser eyes or X-ray vision or blowing ice breath), gives him a happy family with a teenage son (voiced by Steven Yeun, Glenn from TWD) just getting his powers, a Justice League (including blatant Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Martian Manhunter ripoffs) he's not exactly part of, a secret agency that monitors superheroes. That all ends abruptly, and very bloodily.

The fight scenes in this are fantastic, very fast-moving, active camera for the most part, and incredibly violent. More violent than you think. You're going to see a lot of internal organs, and often just red everywhere. Superheroes and the things they fight are massive natural disasters that kill thousands or millions of people, up close, and failure is always an option. If that's a problem for you, don't watch this, it only gets more so later.

The character designs are nice and distinctive, the writing and voice acting for everyone… varies from ones they obviously cared about, to wannabes. With some weirdly over-cast, over-written NPCs like the simple tailor (not Garak, but Mark Hamill).

Superman's an equally terrible problem in DC, and the Zak Snyder movies address it, but there's always been at least one villain/hero/President (Lex Luthor) who recognized that and had the tools to fight the alien. There were constraints on his powers. There's no such constraints on Omni-Man, as you soon learn. And there won't be any limits on Invincible, either, when they face him or alternate versions of him.

I know it's a trope, but the inability of anyone to recognize superheroes is incredibly dumb; Invincible, Rexplode, and Eve at least wear trivial little masks, but Omni-Man's face is fully exposed, there's no reason anyone wouldn't instantly recognize him in person or, say, on the dust cover photos in his books. So when characters figure out who Invincible is, it's less "wow they're smart/genre aware/know him really well", and more "how did you not see that 4 episodes ago?!"

There's also a lot of monologue speechifyin', often from trivial NPCs you'll never see again, and I could not care less. The teen romance drama is tedious, but that's sort of plot-related so I can ignore it. Often a good 25% of each episode is fat that could be cut.

The Mars storyline is nonsense, even for superhero space adventures; in the show it's less than 2 weeks there and back. In reality, it takes 9 months to reach Mars, 9 months back, because that's how Hohmann Transfer Orbits work. If Earth was shown having a fancy fusion drive torch, sure, weeks there and back. But they have a long-haul orbit cycler, which you may remember from The Martian (book, not the silly movie).

The college sidequest (that turns out to be more relevant later) has a Justin Roiland cameo. You know, when you see missing posters in a horror or superhero world (same thing), you should pay attention because something bad is happening.

The comic relief is generally good. The Beta Ray Bill stand-in (Seth Rogen) who checks up on Earth, and the Hellboy detective rip-off (Clancy "The Kurgan" Brown!) are amusing. They got Kevin Michael Richardson to play the Mauler clones and Monster Girl's monster voice, and he's funny, but they really should've got Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevii in The Social Network.

It's not the most creative show ever, just Kirkman shitposting on 50 years of DC plot holes, but it's fun enough, if you're into kinda grimdark fun at the expense of people who wear spandex to fly around and punch each other. Vastly, vastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, vastly better than the live-action misadaptation of The Boys (the comic is still my favorite superhero thing ever, read it all!).

★★★★☆

BASIC at 57

We had a lingua franca, including the first 15 years of personal computing, that could be taught in a few hours and immediately used practically, and then it vanished almost utterly in the late '90s. Two generations are completely illiterate in the language of their ancestors.

Now, there's a couple of heirs to BASIC.

Python mostly took that role. For a while it looked like every computer would have a good version, but then between the Python 2/3 fiasco and hardening systems, you mostly get an old Python shipped on platform, and have to manually install from Python.org. IDLE (with my IdleStart shortcut ) is still a pretty great REPL, editor, and runner. import turtle as T; T.reset() and you can start doing turtle graphics in 10 seconds. The Raspberry Pi Beginner's Guide has a lot of Python as starting language (and Scratch, which is more a cruel joke than a language), which isn't great at graphics on a low-power computer but it is possible. The problem is it's considerably slower than a good BASIC, can't make use of multi-core, and relies on Tkinter for most graphics, which is even slower. Python's an evolutionary dead-end.

JavaScript is everywhere, and trivial to get started with… except you immediately run into a security wall, so you have to run a web server (easiest is, ironically, python3 -m http.server -b 0.0.0.0 8000 which serves all files in current directory). Edit file, reload browser page. And then doing anything in JS is a big hike up the mountain of JS, HTML, CSS. But it does run. Teaching everything you need to do interactive programs in it is hard bordering on a semester's coursework.

Scheme and LISP can be used this way, as seen in the Land of Lisp book, and Racket, but SBCL is a complex and terrible runtime for an ugly dialect of LISP (IMO, don't throw bombs at me), Racket has a broken REPL and their focus is on language experiments, not so much being useful. The other Schemes vary from hard engineering to even launch, to easy enough but poorly supported like my favorite Chez Scheme. I've been working on a "Beginner's Scheme" book for a while, and it's hard to compress what you need to know to get anything done, into small, fun parts.

It's actually easier to do Programming on Your Phone.

But there's still nice enough BASICs, in particular Chipmunk BASIC, and the old BASIC books & magazines work fine in it:

Just make a BASIC folder, download all those PDFs into it, and read them to see how quickly they go from "here's the BASIC commands" to "write a real program". And how you can make computing fun, not a chore.

I've been spending a little "non-productive" time hacking on my BASIC CRPG that'll run on the SpecNext when it arrives later this year… I do my work for now in Chipmunk; because NextBASIC has some strict limitations, I keep those limitations in my program, like single-letter array names. Graphics will have to be totally rewritten (but most of the UI is text-mode and portable), some data storage, too. Happily NextBASIC does have named functions (PROC, or SUB in Chipmunk), local variables, and loops (REPEAT:WHILE x:...:REPEAT UNTIL x, verbose but usable), so there's less GOTO and no GOSUB in my code.

I thought the line numbers and other limitations would kill me when I started doing it again, but in practice it hasn't bothered me much. I start each logical section at multiples of 10 or 100, add 1 per line, indent function and loop bodies, rarely have to renumber them. Since I don't GOTO/GOSUB much, finding them is less of a problem, only time I need specific line numbers is RESTORE xxx for DATA.

I'm starting to see BASIC as an interesting language again: Low-level enough to do something on simple machines, and reveal exactly how your algorithms work, high-level enough that you can get something done (much easier than ASM). You wouldn't want to build a large system in it, but focused problems, "tunnels through rock" as Chris Crawford wrote in De Re Atari, are well suited to it.

The original home computers having "turn on, maybe hit one key, you're in BASIC" interaction was amazing, unparalleled in any other system since, and we need to get back to as close to that as possible.

What I'm Watching: Tenet

A bit of Robert Heinlein's All You Zombies, a bit of Doctor Who, a lot of every buddy caper flick. Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Or I've just read too many competent time travel stories to tolerate most of what ends up on film.

The first half does its best to never tell you what's going on, and at the point where you'd get an infodump, the scene just switches away. Obnoxious writing trick to avoid having to think some of it out.

I don't much like the brown-on-brown film coloring for much of the footage, but it's not constantly cyan-and-orange, so I guess I'll let it pass.

Denzel's kid John David Washington is OK, he's slightly snarky or unserious when he should be serious, but competent enough. Robert Pattinson is a mess, his fake accent is weird, and he has zero affect, either a robot or a sociopath, as has previously been noted: He was perfect as the vapid lead in Cosmopolis but anything else is asking too much of him. My Cocaine Michael Caine has a somewhat pointless but fun little cameo. Kenneth Brannagh's beard looks super weird and artificial, I'm distracted from his generally superb scenery chewing by that weird growth on his face. Elizabeth Debicki is leggy and sleek, but totally extraneous.

SPOILER

















So, the trick is you can reverse time flow on an object or person, by just walking through a big iron turnstile; zero special effects budget, literally all they ever use is running some film backwards.

If you reverse bullets, a forward-time observer sees them pulled out of the target. All the Protagonist can think to do with that is a few parlor tricks, go "whoa" like Keanu, and does occasionally avoid standing in front of bullet holes. There's a lot of interesting things you could do with this, the film never does. Shoot a bullet now, pull it out "later" (by one perspective or another), it's the best sniper kill. Nobody else pays attention to bullet holes, damaged cars, etc. until it's too late, which is probably supposed to be suspenseful but it leaves me in contempt of these idiots.

There's a point where they clearly just brain-farted: A reversed driver car chases the Protagonist… driving backwards, in front of them. No. The car isn't reversed, the driver just sees the world going the wrong way around. The entire bomb caper is weird, often confused, but that was the weirdest.

And while it's not a major plot point, suppressed pistols are not silent. It's not "thwip", dead, it's more like a gunshot down the block instead of in your ears. The locked doors all over are weirdly inadequate, they have both keypad and tumbler lock; most such are very low-grade security, where you want fast access but a key in case you lose power. The good keypad locks are keyless, or a high-security tumbler that can't be bumped like Protagonist is shown doing. This is kind of a major plot point, and I don't believe the villain would use such shitty locks to protect his doomsday machine.

Very quickly they jump to spending long periods of time reversed, mostly hiding in cargo containers or ships with sealed air, so they can go back and fix their previous screwups. Their "temporal pincer attacks" don't make any sense, the people in reverse just end up fighting people in reverse because they're moving back before go-time. Protagonist does eventually figure out how to do things right: See the aftermath of something, wait for the event, follow it back to the cause. But he does it very badly, continuously gets beaten up and rescued.

The entire plot of the arms dealer's wife is extraneous to the 2.5 hour film, and adds about half an hour to it; it should've been the first thing cut. The only thing I liked in that entire bit was the diving woman.

And turning the entire thing into "oh, there's nine Horcruxes and we have to stop Voldemort from assembling them" is just silly.

The finale is just a big messy gunfight in a California gravel quarry, no better than classic Doctor Who but wasting millions of times more money. I'd rather watch Jon Pertwee spinning out his jalopy than this.

And of course the All You Zombies twist: There's never been any other mastermind. But where do all you zombies come from?

This movie makes me greatly miss the Netflix series Travelers[sic], which made intelligent use of knowledge from the future.

★★★½☆ — there's a better movie buried somewhere under the flab and stupid characters, but this ain't it.