What I'm Watching: Carmen Sandiego

Remember "Batman: The Animated Series" from '92, the super art deco film noir one? And Erin Esurance? This is that, but in red.

The art and action animation are nicely done. It never has high detail, and sometimes smooth art deco looks too much like paper cutouts, but if you like this kind of thing, it works.

Opens with an annoying detective Chase with an outrasheous fronsh aaacksent by way of Monty Python, Julia a little lesbian cop with an iPad, "Red" running on rooftops, and "Player" (now her sidekick instead of the antagonist like in the games), a hikikomori otaku nerd who plays Control over a radio like Theora in Max Headroom.

Carmen's a running, jumping, grappling-hook-shooting superhero (antihero, but not really that anti-), which I'd chalk up to cartoon physics except Chase is merely human, risks a broken neck trying a rooftop chase. The other pro thieves also have amazing powers and advanced tech, which always makes me wonder why they don't start businesses to sell this tech instead of committing crimes.

However, then they start having dialogue and flashbacks, and the show grinds to a halt. The writing is stiff and formal, everyone clearly enunciates in silly accents, then LOOOOONG pauses between lines. Howard Hawks, where are you when we need you for some talking-over witty banter?! Well, long-dead, just like my patience with this fucking monologue they're STILL doing since I started writing this paragraph.

Of course everyone is obsessed with their tiny glass rectangles now, and can't imagine a world where anyone isn't. Would it be too much to ask for non-phone-based tech? I miss the videogames' insistence that everywhere is in reach of a home computer or phone booth.

Eventually her Thief School (oh no) cohort become Graham Crackle, Le Chevre (goat cheese), El Topo (the Jodorowsky film?), Tigress (clearly a fursuited camwhore), and Mime Bomb (horrific).

So, uh, there's a gem, the Eye of Vishnu. And we first see this dug up in Morocco. Which is, what, 6000 miles west of anyone who has ever worshipped Vishnu?! WHAT THE FUCK, SHOW. You have one job, which is to teach geography & history, and this is a failing grade.

The final caper in the school is not bad, though, and sets up her nom de guerre, costume, and a long-term goal for the series.

Started to watch a third ep, but the whinging ginger driver annoyed me so I stopped for now.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: TempleOS Down the Rabbit Hole

A long, in-depth documentary on the late Terry A. Davis, author of LoseThos (pun of Win-Dows), later called TempleOS.

I'd seen Davis online for a couple decades, but never got far into following him. Davis was an aggressive, bizarrely incoherent "speaking in tongues" Christian racist who hated atheists, the CIA, and "N----rs", so you'd see his posts online and then he'd get downvoted or banned.

His OS, however, is fascinating. 64-bit, limited to VGA graphics, mostly but not solely single-tasking, no Internet or other networking, has a reasonably efficient Norton-style UI with hypertext everywhere, but constant scrolling, blinking, pop-up Bible quotes and hymns which would be maddening. All of which makes it weird but not that interesting, except it was written in assembly by one guy.

In college CompSci classes, you may "write an OS" which mostly means copying Andrew S. Tanenbaum's Minix piece-by-piece until you have a working Minix; which is great, Minix is fun, but this is a far more impressive feat.

LoseThos is for programming as entertainment.
It empowers programmers with kernel privilege because it's fun.
It allows full access to everything because it's fun.
It has no bureaucracy because it's fun.
It's the way it is by choice because it's fun.
LoseThos is in no way a Windows or Linux wannabe -- that would be pointless.
—Terry A. Davis

That's one of the most coherent explanations of the appeal of retrocomputing and low-level programming anyone's ever stated.

There's some interesting features, which are hard to get in modern OSs:

His long downward spiral of trying to be noticed online, then going off his anti-psychotic meds, his conspiracy theories, his embarrassing video streams, and then his final homeless wandering and death, are very troubling. For a long time he appeared to be getting by on donations from 8chan members simultaneously trolling him and supporting him. We do nothing to help these people, and let online gangs take advantage of them.

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Trigger Warning with Killer Mike

Rapper Killer Mike does stunts with a social purpose. But unlike, say, Jackass or Dear White People, he's not stupid or preachy, and he's funnier than the supposed professional comedians in those.

E01: Mike tries to live black for 3 days, only buying or using black products from black stores. Cue cruel and sadistic laughter, because that is really damned hard, even in Georgia. The "Figgers" phone is kind of a cheat, because it's obviously an Android made in China, but it's a real small network run by a black kid, Freddie Figgers. The look on Mike's face in the BBQ shop is heartbreaking.

I look a little sideways at his refusal to smoke Mexican weed; I've only ever smoked Washington or Canadian, but surely Mexican can't be that bad, they built a criminal empire on that stuff before legalization.

Still, he makes a good point about how the black community's been economically destroyed. His idea of a good "Black Friday" where everyone tries to buy black is interesting… but impossible where I am.

E02: Mike proposes replacing STEM/liberal arts schools with trade schools, starting with 1st grade. This one Annoying Red-Headed Kid is, like, the worst example of honkie ambition driving everyone else down you can get. Did Mike ship this kid in by asking every school district in the area for their most awful nerd? I predict 100% that ARHK will make a startup that defrauds people, and he'll never go to prison.

"I don't think school teaches you to think. I think school, like prison, teaches you to obey!"

So then he moves on to unemployed adults, and they're unmotivated, so he comes up with a great idea, which I won't spoil. Unfortunately, I find most of the people in his idea too unattractive to be effective.

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Netflix FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

A documentary by Chris Smith, of "American Movie" fame. This is a lot glossier, better-produced, like a classic VH-1 Behind the Music special, just as much humor and schadenfreude as AM, but a lot less hope. Everyone who sits for an interview is great, especially the Bahamians; Chris did not interview Billy McFarland, who wanted to be paid for this, even though he's a convicted criminal and it's illegal to let him profit from a crime.

So, get a con man with a shitload of VC money, and a bunch of amateurs who've never organized more than a house party, to build a giant concert and housing on a Bahama island.

The, uh, "sacrifice" the elder team leader Andy is prepared to make is the turning point of this from badly-organized fiasco to Coen Brothers-level tragic-comedy.

"That's not fraud, I would call that… uh… false advertising" —Ja Rule

This goes from some of Billy's previous black-card scam Magnises, the setup and construction on the island, and a bit on the development of the app. Then the horrible launch day we all saw online, the aftermath, and one of the worst team endings I've seen in many years of shitty startups. And then after Fyre, there's Billy's next scam…

★★★★½

There's also a Hulu "Fyre Fraud" documentary, but they did pay Billy McFarland to be in it. I haven't watched it, and anyway don't have Hulu anymore.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

They're getting the band back together!

I'm surprised, Bill Murray's been a stick in the mud about this for so long Harold Ramis died first. But maybe Bill needs money for drug or whiskey habits? His vanity overcame his trolling? He saw the terrible Feig film and thought he had to do something? Are you, Bill, currently menstruating?

Ernie Hudson will do any job, he pretty much is Winston Zeddemore; and Dan Aykroyd is still a great performer (and maker of the best vodka I've ever had). Get them and some newbie interns still doing the job, don't be preachy, don't make science look stupid; GB 1984 was all about science and a tech industry startup saving the world from the supernatural; II had real science with Egon's puppy/child experiment, and absolutely stupid shit like the dancing toaster, but the guys followed the evidence and used the goo to fight Vigo, so it paid off; the Feig thing might as well have been incanting spells over wands.

Jason Reitman's done mostly very straight, deadpan romance-drama things, but Thank You For Smoking shows some comedic talent.

Cautiously optimistic.

What I'm Watching: Solo

Sigh. I wasn't going to watch any more of these Disney "Star Wars", but I'm a completionist and a glutton for punishment and terrible movies.

The special effects are fine, the sets are great, the 5-act plot of train job-failure-heist-Kessel Run-treachery is predictable and badly written, but it's no worse than usual for Disney.

The soundtrack is a lame ripoff of John Williams' score. Long stretches are too quiet, a few spots are very heavy-handed covers of the Force Theme or other parts of larger songs. I guess I don't expect John to still compose at his age, but this was ham-fisted.

The incompetent schmaltzy Ron Howard direction and the terrible acting are the main problems. Everyone involved in this should've been fired and started over.

Alden Ehrenreich is not a pretty boy, and he's a blank, emotionless drone, a terrible Harrison Ford replacement. His Han Solo is brash but never fun.

Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra is sort of Leia-like in looks, but she does nothing really, has little spine, mostly there to threaten to motivate Han. She has a position and combat skills, but they're used only when nobody else is available.

Woody fucking Harrelson as Beckett. What the hell. Just a terribly out of place character, Woody's never really been an actor, the script asks nothing of him and he delivers it.

Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca since Last Jedi is… OK. Chewie has a couple scenes where body language matters and plays the part well. Certainly the best dialogue in the film.

Donald Glover as Lando is as relentlessly mediocre at this as he is at everything else he does. He plays a vapid, cape-obsessed, loathesome, un-lovable un-rogue version of Lando.

The rest, Val, Rio, the crime lord, Enfys Nest, and so on, have no depth or plot arc to even make their characters matter.

You already know all the beats this has to hit to put every Han Solo backstory element in a single movie, a few days of his life. Then he sits around in a Tatooine bar for 20 years waiting for Luke and the old man to show up.

★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Occupation

An attempt to do a big science fiction war movie. For Australia, it's very ambitious.

What works: Special effects and explosive squibs are competent. The actors are mostly good, though the hero's a doofus. I didn't hate anyone or anything, though it falls far short of respect.

What doesn't: Almost everything else. It's like the writer saw Independence Day, but didn't have the skill to produce all the intertwined plots, and really didn't have the budget, so it's just the grubby resistance in a single forest. Despite a high female cast, I'm not sure it ever passes the Bechdel test; a male character calls the female Army leader a ball-buster, and Strine misogyny isn't subtle throughout. There are several Asian characters who are treated well, but rather blatantly no Aborigines, who you'd expect would survive well in this environment; but they may be on the side of the invaders since the white fuckers are finally getting what's coming to them.

15 minutes of Australian hooligans doing road work, dating, and playing sportsball, before spaceships with searchlights fly over and shoot up everything. Yee-haw. Then alien infantry who look just like Humans in armor march around with plastic toy rifles shooting buildings. They're completely inaccurate, which is weird for beings that can cross interstellar distances. A dozen local idiots, the protagonists, escape in a camper van, which should be an obvious target for the aliens, but they never seem to be able to hit it. Finally the Strine Air Force manage to shoot an alien down, which again seems implausible for advanced aliens.

There's some ludicrously dramatic "pose as a team" scenes, and a lot of whining and sniping at each other, I think intended to make them feel like a team coming together.

The alien infantry don't have thermal sensors, and are all but blind, they just walk past people hiding in tin shacks and under blankets like children. The armor isn't totally useless, for once, but their guns aren't security-locked, so any monkey can grab one and shoot it. They walk into hostile-occupied buildings and just wander around alone so a group of monkeys can overwhelm them. These idiots are incompetent. The US military is better equipped and trained.

What follows is a training and war montage based on Ewoks vs Stormtroopers, except the Stormtroopers here are even worse idiots. And the Ewoks are so dumb they throw phones containing explosive batteries into a fire (but the filmmakers don't understand the consequences).

The Strine military finally shows up again, which ends the insurgency. I don't believe any of these people could have survived, the military doesn't know how to hide, and does stupid standup fights. While the aliens have shown no cunning or skill, they have apparently endless forces and better weapons.

Of course there's an explanation at last, and it's stupid: The aliens devastated their planet, and we're polluters, so they'll take Earth. But if they already have interstellar ships, they don't need planets, and anyway could've just bought Australia for a few spaceships.

The happy ending is so out of place and not how things work, I dunno what the writer was on.

I'm not unamused by the film, but it's a trainwreck.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

A Netflix documentary on a largely-forgotten sculptor and artist from the early 20th C. I've seen a few of his pieces in underground comics and books, and had heard his Yeti conspiracy in SubGenius tracts but hadn't connected them previously. This film takes as primary source his bragging which exaggerates his influence, which in reality largely ended in WWII.

George DiCaprio, Leonardo's father, knew him, and both do narration and interviews and are making this film public on Netflix. So, take a vanity project for what it is.

His temper tantrums at museums and galleries are part of why he is "lost", but his really noxious antisemitism and Polish nationalism are the "we don't want you here" part. Like many European and English writers and artists of the time, even those who were in different countries and didn't like Hitler, he still loved fascism and inciting murder of Jews. He wasn't just obscure because he lost his Polish studio, but because he made himself untouchable. The film keeps touching on that and then startling away, and making apologies for him.

His later derangement and conspiracy theories of a deluge and Yeti-people are… well, charming by comparison, but claiming that many people right among us are subhuman corrupters isn't any better, and leads to the same atrocities if you get enough crazy people, and we're full up on crazy people these days. While the film spends some time on it, reading about his views online shows they really soft-pedalled it in the film.

At first I felt this was a bit of an American Movie clone, Stas' focused but low-class craziness and the long downward slide. But no, it turns out he's a very different kind of monster turned failure.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Poseidon (2006)

This Kurt Russell sinking boat show was more awful than you can really imagine. Fake-dark orange/cyan lighting constantly, everyone overacts and has the most cliché lines, which set up character that's never explored after the start. Captain's completely passive and useless; Captain Stubing would've saved more lives. Hispanics all die, and the Captain's the only black person on the boat AFAICT, but the richer and whiter you are (for fuck's sake, Richard Dreyfuss?) the more likely you are to live. Women do nothing but scream until a man can save them.

The disaster scenes are pretty nice, though. The casino flipping, and big rooms flooding, are violent and electricity and shrapnel go everywhere. That's what we pay for.

Oh, screenwriter's Mark Protosevich, the same piece of shit who wrote the Wil Smith "I Am Legend" that utterly missed the point of the book even more than the last 3 adaptations, and the ripoff "Oldboy" that discarded everything good about Chan-wook Park's amazing Oldboy (2003). I actually liked The Cell (2000), but I attribute that more to Jennifer Lopez, who looks good in a bodysuit.

I'm rooting for the ocean and the ship to eat them all, but sadly some have obvious plot immunity, especially the dumb kid and screaming useless single mom. Kurt Russell as a firefighter who became Mayor of New York is a slightly funny callback to Escape From New York and Backdraft, but the bosses would never let someone like him be elected, and he's phoned this one in.

A good terrible end to a terrible year.

★★☆☆☆

End of 2018

Let's watch Poseidon — Only available on Netflix until tomorrow! Normally I watch Strange Days, but I feel an upside-down sinking ship is a more accurate metaphor for the year than failed love and revolution and pretty Angela Bassett. Maybe for Chinese New Year (Feb 5), Gabriel Dropout's New Year/armageddon episodes.

I don't go super intimate online, but it's been a rough year. I've lost a friend and two of my last few relatives to cancer, my dad's had some close calls, and his dog died. Doing any kind of work under the stress load is… not great. And I'm not a good friend or coworker in this state. My new puppy is a terror, both looks and behavior like a jackal puppy, but the one really good thing.

State of software I touched on yesterday. This is the year a new Perilar rises from the ashes, and Learn2JS is moving along nicely, I think that's going to be a big deal, it's a sweet environment.

I goofed off yesterday and started writing tbasic, a Tiny BASIC interpreter in C, because that's a useful thing to do! I've done this before, but made a messy parser. The new one is a tiny single file and much cleaner. Might be published tomorrow morning sometime. While nobody needs BASIC, it's good C programming exercise, and I can link in SDL2 and give it cross-platform graphics and sound, which is actually kinda neat.

"It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."
—Edsger W. Dijkstra, EWD 498: How do we tell truths that might hurt?
[mdh: In case you can't read the paper and get the joke, he's joking. Sort of.]

I got a little writing in on Delvers in Darkness, I'm thinking about more adventures for it, solo gamebooks and Refereed.

Poseidon is really terrible already. Everyone's a ridiculous caricature. Oh, this is gonna be a good shipwreck.