Brain Buffet

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John Wick 3 - a review - 09

Genres: Action; crime; thriller
My rating: 6/10

Minor spoilers ahead.

For me a 6 means the movie is entertainment, so I don't regret spending time or money on it, but that it isn't good enough for me to turn to a friend and say "you've got to go out and watch this!"

JW3 was "fine", essentially. Rather than spend my time on the things that I liked just enough to not ding the score, I'll focus on the things that I didn't like which kept the movie from ranking higher.

  • The action isn't as hot as it was in the first two movies. This is mostly a nit I'm picking at since Keanu is older than he used to be and when an actor ages you can't expect them to be as physically dynamic as they used to be. Jackie "I do all my own stunts" Chan is a perfect example of this and I still enjoy his movies.

  • The exposition is clunky. There are a lot of moments where the movie highlights something as significant but gives very little for the audience to internalize or relate to, so it feels like you've just walked into the middle of an important conversation with no context. Halle Berry's character is the best example of this, which isn't to say I don't appreciate the strategy behind riddling your media with star power.

  • The pacing is off. I don't mind lengthy fights (the hallway scene in the original Oldboy is one of my favorites), so my gripe isn't that some of the fights were long, it's that they were too long for the story. If you trimmed the fat on the fight scenes, as well as a few others most notably the desert wandering scene, I think this 2hr+ movie could have come in at around 1.5hrs and told a better story for it

AI vs IA - 08

Our current tech ecosystem is focused on artificial intelligence. Much in the same way that we've replaced physical human effort with machinery the intent is to do the same with mental human effort. CGPGrey has a fantastic video on the subject that I've seen multiple times and highly recommend: Humans Need Not Apply

But it has competition in what is called intelligence augmentation. The argument from this side of the rubicon is that focusing on augmenting human intelligence, whether through cybernetics or through biological or chemical augmentation, will yield results superior to focusing on developing AI to the point it can compete with or supersede human intelligence on its own.

A good example of this is a recently human tested brain implant which boosts memory. Although these are clinical trials and the people being tested have some kind of brain impairment, the mechanism is interesting and I'm curious to see what will come of later testing. What the chip does is familiarize itself with the specific pattern your brain fires off when its encoding a memory. When the chip detects weaker than average signals it fires off an imperceptible "booster" to the naturally existing pattern and reinforces the encoding process by over 30%.

The interesting thing to note here, among many interesting things mind you (pun intended), is the fact that human intelligence is being compared to computers as they are rather than as they might be. A lot of the human brain's power comes from the massively parallel infrastructure it has built in and our machines currently interpret commands and store data sequentially. This might change with the quantum computer, and I'm interested to see how the benchmark shifts.

Happy Father's Day.

update 2019-06-06: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention nootropics, which are any substance that may improve cognition, in particular memory, motivation or creativity. On the softer end of the spectrum are ginseng and gingo biloba, and on the harder end are drugs like caffeine, nicotine, eugeroics and amphetamine.

Lastman - a review - 07

Genres: Animation; action; adventure; fantasy
My rating: 9/10

Lastman is a French comic series that came out in 2013. Its premise pivots around a pretty familiar to those of us who spend time immersed in animated features: a tournament. An annual grand tournament to be specific, held in a world where magic is accepted as reality.

Lastman the series came out in 2016, and is a prequel which explains how Richard Aldana, an amateur boxer with little prospects and little interest in changing the direction of his life, ends up going from our world to the Valley of the Kings.

To my knowledge in the states this series is only available on Vrv, which comes with a low premium of 10/mo but a 30 day free trial. Although I don't have a subscription with them right now, I enjoyed their selection when I did and am considering going back. Just this series is worth the trial.

This review is about the series.


And what a series it is.

If you take a look at the IMDB page you see an unassuming 500 or so reviews. Nothing that's going to break the bank. But it has an 8.8. At a few hundred reviews, that's nothing to sneeze at. And although the animation may not be as immersive as one might be used to with a higher budget, it makes up for this with substance squared.

Each of the 27 episodes is only 10 minutes long. If you're familiar with other short run animated series like Regular Show or Adventure Time this is probably not that odd to you, but if you aren't you may think that this isn't long enough to tell a good story. For Lastman at least, you'd be wrong. Each episode has a minimum of fluff on it. Every minute of it is essential to the story and the story is beautifully crafted without being just a port of an already written story into animation.

The main character, Richard, reminds me of John McClane. He's rough around the edges, he's pretty much rough all the way around. At first you may not think of him as a traditionally good guy but his actions define him very early on, and you can tell even if unconventional (to the mainstream; my comparison to Die Hard makes it clear he isn't totally unique either) Richard is a strong hero protagonist. He doesn't have any powers in the context of the truly supernatural characters, here called Wrens, but he does have the Power of Luck, which is common among action heroes.

None of the characters introduced are wasted. Every person you see means something to the story, sometimes to your surprise, sometimes with much more meaningful influence than you might think.

The environment / milieu is what I would consider "urban fantasy" or "low fantasy". Think Angel, Supernatural, and even Harry Potter. Instead of roaming hills and underground caverns and castles in the sky, you get skyscrapers and city streets and sewers. But there are magic and monsters, and how each gets dealt with by our protagonist is very "classic action hero meets grim fantasy world".

The exposition, the pacing, the plot, the rules of the fantasy, and character progression, are all laudable.

Highly recommend.

A framework for high productivity - 06

This isn't my creation. I read an article on this (I think), then stripped it down to the essentials for an easy reference which I'm including below to share with the world. If you know the source, let me know and I'll update with a link. My comments are in parenthesis.


First, plan your work based on your top priorities, and then act with a definite objective.

  1. Revise your daily schedule the night before to emphasize your priorities. Next to each appointment on your calendar, jot down your objectives for it.

  2. Send out a detailed agenda to all participants in advance of any meeting.

  3. When embarking on large projects, sketch out preliminary conclusions as soon as possible.

  4. Before reading any length material, identify your specific purpose for it.

  5. Before writing anything of length, compose an outline with a logical order to help you stay on track.

Second, develop effective techniques for managing the overload of information and tasks.

  1. Make daily processes, like getting dressed or eating breakfast, into routines so you don’t spend time thinking about them.

  2. Leave time in your daily schedule to deal with emergencies and unplanned events.

  3. Check the screens on your devices once per hour, instead of every few minutes.

  4. Skip over the majority of your messages by looking at the subject and sender (caveat emptor).

  5. Break large projects into pieces and reward yourself for completing each piece.

  6. Delegate to others, if feasible, tasks that do not further your top priorities.

Third, understand the needs of your colleagues for short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.

  1. Limit the time for any meeting to 90 minutes at most, but preferably less (I recommend starting at 30 minutes and scheduling more frequent or longer follow ups as needed). End every meeting by delineating the next steps and responsibility for those steps.

  2. Respond right away to messages from people who are important to you.

  3. To capture an audience’s attention, speak from a few notes, rather than reading a prepared text.

  4. Establish clear objectives and success metrics for any team efforts.

  5. To improve your team’s performance, institute procedures to prevent future mistakes, instead of playing the blame game.

A timeline of magical academies - 05

I started putting together this list while watching the third season of My Hero Academia, wondering at how often I've seen "Academy" styled fictional media, and then wondering how far back this trend went and what it looked like. The below list is the result of some light investigation.

In this case "magic" means anything which is not perfectly mundane, and so is inclusive of things like superheroes and sci-fi stories where the focus is on special young people doing special things.

Did I miss any?

1963 | The X-men | comic book series
1968 | A wizard of Earthsea | novel 
1974 | The Worst Witch | novel 
1985 | Ender’s Game | novel
1988 | Groosham Grange | novel 
1990 | Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls | game 
1991 | Wizard’s Hall | novel 
1994 | The Secret of Platform 13 | novel 
1997 June | Harry Potter | novel
2007 September | Umbrella Academy | comic book series
2013 March | Little Witch Academia | anime 
2013 July | RWBY | anime-style web series 
2013 October | Kill La Kill | manga 
2014 July | My Hero Academia | manga

Love, Death + Robots - favorite picks - 04

Minor spoiler warning

LDR is an animated anthology series on Netflix. The episodes are all short format with variable run time but always less than 20 minutes, and it deals primarily with robotics and science fiction although on at least one occasion deals with myth and more down-to-earth monster horror.

The episodes do not appear to be in any way related to one another, other than theme, and one episode is live-action rather than animated.

It's produced by one of my personal favorite creatives, David Fincher (Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac, Benjamin Button, Social Network, Gone Girl; House of Cards, Mindhunter), as well as a few other notable names. An interesting note here is that LDR is a re-imagining of Fincher and Miller's incomplete reboot of Heavy Metal, the adult animated sci-fi-fantasy film from 1981. You've probably seen the posters.

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With the background out of the way, below are my favorite shorts from the anthology series.


Beyond the Aquila Rift: An error in the routing plot of a spaceship causes it to travel for centuries and end up hundreds of thousands of light years from Earth.

  • The reason I like this - the protagonist meets an old flame who, apparently, had the same thing happen to hear. It turns out that this old flame is not what she appears to be, but is the projected image of a different kind of creature, one which is well-meaning but will that be enough? We only catch a clear glimpse of this creature, of the reality behind the curtain, at the end.

Good Hunting: A family tradition of hunting shape-shifters in 20th century China gets upended by a sympathetic son and rapid advancements in technology.

  • The reason I like this - sympathetic "monsters", sympathetic hero, the mix of ancient myth / mysticism and its clash against modern technology. It's a pretty common trope that iron interferes with magical creatures in some way, repelling them or even shorting out their magic, so mystical creatures having to deal with the modern age of man isn't new ground being broken, but I particularly like the way that it's handled here. And I like how the hunter's son and the monster's daughter coexist and adapt to the changing times.

Zima Blue: A journalist interviews a reclusive artist about to unveil his final work, work that has grown from simple portraits to paintings done on building walls, then asteroids, and so on. Zima reveals that though he is now a cybernetic human, he started life as a simple machine meant to clean the ceramic Zima Blue tiles of his owner's pool; upgrades over decades made the artist that has fascinated human society for years. And his masterpiece is the end-all be-all of his work.

  • The reason I like this - The sense of timing that comes from the incremental upgrades, with Zima growing in stages like a person would rather than being a final product all at once; the idea that the robot mind is interested in, on its own impetus rather than being programmed for it, creating art, and that the human society ends up being fascinated by it; the final return to fundamentals

The Secret War: A squad of Red Army soldiers hunt demons in the Siberian forests. It is something they have been doing for a while, after experiments with demonic forces for war purposes ended up not being a good idea.

  • The reason I like this - we live in a world where supernatural forces have not been proven to exist, but if they had, I have no doubt in my mind that it would be quickly co-opted by the State (or whatever form of government is around at the time) and that one if its first applications will be in war. It tracks against similar programs throughout documented human history, not least of which would be the Nazi regime's fascinating with the occult during Hitler's reign. It's an interesting look at what could have been if our reality variables were slightly different.

CRISPR - adventures with the human genome - 03

Have you heard of CRISPR?

It stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats". It's a tool, specifically a "family of DNA sequences", used to modify gene function and alter DNA sequences more easily than previous technologies. Cas9 is the most common enzyme referenced when CRISPR is brought up in popular usage, and is used to "cut foreign DNA" from a desired sequence. CRISPR became widely popular in late 2017 / early 2018 after a paper published by researchers from the University of Tokyo showed CRISPR in action for the first time.

It's so easy to do that a "biohacker" CEO of a biotech company injected himself with a CRISPR-Cas9 on a live feed. You can get an at-home CRISPR kit to edit the genes of a bacteria for less than 200 USD.

I'm deliberately writing in a mild tone but otherwise can't overstate how astounding this is. And this is before things really went wild.

In late 2018, just around a year since CRISPR came out in that paper, a Chinese scientists implanted edited embryos to make a pair of twins resistant to HIV. There are ethical considerations here around both consent and the inability to project far enough in advance the kind of risks they're introducing both to the twins and to the greater ecosystem, but perhaps the most important detail is that the edits happened at the embryo level.

A CRISPR edited gene in a human body will alter the genome function but that body will not pass down those edits. An edited gene in the embryo makes the edit persistent. This means that those twins will pass down their HIV-resistance to their children, if they have any.

The thing is that even though we've mapped the human genome, we're still uncovering how everything relates to everything else. When the scientists made those changes, they brought it up as something to fight disease and that making edits for vanity, from athleticism to intelligence, should be forbidden. But that's exactly what happened; these HIV resistant babies might have a genetic edge in intelligence.

That was announced just a few months after the implantation. And a few months after that? The discover that, for reasons we don't yet know, although very likely related to the fact that the edit deals with immune function, humans with HIV-resistance as a mutation have a 21% higher aggregated death rate span.

For all of their proclaimed good intentions the scientists made a mistake in springing this edit on the scientific community - we don't know what we don't know, but we're sure going to find out.


Side note, Life in Plastic has had an update.

Life in plastic . . . - 02

it's fantastic

Or so Aqua's 1997 hit single Barbie Girl might lead you to believe. I can't say for sure that's the case, but there have been some new, and some old, news items around plastic that I've been thinking about and wanted to touch on here.

To start, there's the Great Pacific garbage patch. This island of plastic garbage located between California and Hawaii (at the time of reporting - given currents, it is on the move) is 3 times the size of France as of March 23 2018, and its 617,800 square miles are made up of 79,000 tons of refuse. At least for me the numbers are pretty staggering to wrap my head around but the fact that it is multiple times the size of a country should say plenty.

Another chilling tidbit I've come across is the fact that a plastic bag was found during the deepest recorded manned dive in history. May 1 2019, Victor Vescovo visited the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, known as Challenger Deep, setting a new depth record of 35,843 feet (6.8 miles). There Victor and his team discovered four new species, a plastic bag, and candy wrappers.

Did you know that China is no longer recycling U.S. plastic waste? China has historically processed approximately 70% of the world's plastic, including millions of tons bought from the U.S., to recycle into new products. But last year China cut back on nearly all of its plastic imports, so the plastic is being routed to countries without as much capacity for recycling or safe disposal of the waste. Malaysia, for example, decreed it would be sending its plastic waste back to the foreign countries it came from.

Let's look at the other end of the spectrum.

Usually less than 10% of plastic waste can be appropriately recycled into new products. Researchers have come up with a new form of plastic called PDK plastic which is capable of being 100% recycled. There would be no waste with products made of PDK plastic - the challenge now is time and funding.

There's also the bacteria that eats plastic. This is very exciting news because it takes only the shortest leap of logic to bridge the idea of a bacteria that eats plastic and the millions of tons of plastic waste choking landfills and filling the ocean. Although it's never that simple, at the very least there is a path forward and a conversation happening around it.

So yeah, probably not all that fantastic. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Update 2019-06-11: "Corona lets beer drinkers pay with plastic waste for World Oceans Day " - "With the help of 25,000 volunteers, Corona and Parley have already cleaned more than 3 million square meters of beach. This summer, the goal is to pick up another 2 million square meters."

update 2019-06-18: Scientists found an edible mushroom that eats plastic

Introduction - 01

To start

I'm using this blogging platform and the 100 day challenge as a personal trial, to see if the idea of transcribing and publishing some of my thoughts is fun in routine practice and doesn't just sound fun in the abstract. If I end up doing this for a while and generating X number of posts over Y time frame, I'll look take a look at myself and decide if I want to stop or upgrade to a premium plan.

About me

Although I'll endeavor to always be honest, transparent and straightforward in my thoughts and opinions, I intend to be at least somewhat vague about personal details. I won't tell you specific names, but I'll tell you I have a wife, a child, a living mother and father, and a fairly large number of sisters.

I'm about the age of the internet and spent my formative years in the United States - as you probably know yourself, it's been a wild ride. I've spent something like a decade working in IT as a profession, with a lifelong personal interest in security that has dovetailed into a career interest in cybersecurity, so you'll probably see me talking about those things from time to time.

Topics

I intend to use this to talk about whatever happens to interest me at whatever time it comes into my life but there are some subjects that I seek out over others, so for the sake of establishing a loose theme, I'll detail those below.

Movies, TV and streaming content, graphic novels, and books. Basically the media that I consume and have opinions on.

Psychology, medicine, biotech, tech, cybersecurity, marketing, history, anthropology and current events. Basically articles that I tend to read day to day.

Writing, UX, mental models, games, communication, management, storytelling. Basically things that I like to do, create or participate in, which probably comes as no surprise from the above