30 December 2014

The new cold war.

I make no secret of my admiration of the Chinese government's approach to conquering the world. They took the best parts of capitalism and applied it to the control of communism to develop the most important economy in the world today. But make no mistake - they are not content to control the financial system. They want to control it all.

No country can every conquer the world. Even the United States, whom some would say have owned the path of humanity since the end of the second great war, cannot keep other groups from making choices that are contrary to our desires. But America has also made no secret of this asinine concept of "exceptionalism" that is code for "we are better than the rest of the world so we can do whatever the hell we want". No human is better than any other human but our current systems do not reward the advancement of all humanity.

The grand ol' USA decided a couple of decades ago that they wanted China, with their never-ending stockpile of communist labor, to build all of our toys. Those silly Chinese would be too stupid to know what they were manufacturing, so it would be no problem for them to build some of the most technologically advanced gadgetry being used. We get cheap goods and the lowly country of China would get a little money to help their poor little rice patty universe.

As it turns out, the People's Republic of China was every bit as smart as the Americans and may very well have outsmarted us at our own game. They educated their citizens and managed to collect enough money to start buying out or creating their own world leading technology firms. Lenovo, Motorola, Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu - the list goes on. Yes, the "free world" may still be leading but China is on pace to catch us within the next decade.

At the same time, China continues to control what their citizens can and cannot do. Much like the Great Wall before it, they have assembled the "Great Firewall" that can keep their billions focused on only the items they have approved for use. Google is on the other side of the political coin and China is doing everything they can to block their "free speech" ways along with numerous other American tech staples.

China has every right to govern how they see fit and make any choices they like. Yet they are playing a very different game then we have ever encountered previously.  While China and America are pretending to like each other, this isn't a problem, but this relationship seems certain to crumble. Sure, they might have nowhere near the level of control as our friends in North Korea, but they certainly are taking steps to get closer. By controlling what citizens consume they have an army of intellect that is slowly becoming wary of the West.

While China pushed the world to reject usage of the American dollar, cuts off American industry and continues building a military force, the United States is starting to experiment with moving manufacturing home. There is a recognition that the marriage is losing the once rosy hue and corporations are starting to reduce the dependence.

However, a dark day could be in our future if these two heavyweights ever have a serious disagreement, and China is well aware of that. The one area of tech that they have not received willingly is the free world's military capabilities. Is China content with slowly inventing (or stealing) those abilities on their own? Or would they consider a partnership with a large communist neighbor?

Russia has the military capability and China has the money. They both love controlling their citizens and are not huge fans of the West. On the surface it seems like a marriage made in heaven, but could Putin swallow a little pride to allow the guys next door to have equal (or better) billing? It seems we could be witnessing the beginnings of a new cold war.

29 December 2014

Sony and The Interview clean up.

While I would love to take credit in forcing Sony to release The Interview, I suspect the word from POTUS had a bigger impact. Despite the supposed threat from North Korean hackers of a "9/11-style attack" (whatever the hell that means) a handful of independent cinemas, Google and Microsoft all released the flick on Christmas. Last I heard, not a single American family got hit by an airplane for watching this movie on their Chromecast device.

A few meaningless thoughts to consider:
  • It is becoming increasingly clear North Korea had nothing to do with this which should be a surprise to no one. Sony has long been a honeypot for hackers and the probability that a few people in a technology barren landscape brought Sony to their knees is near zero. What is highly likely is that a disgruntled former Sony employee is behind the entire mess, especially since the whole thing started as extortion for cash.
  • The United States is likely behind North Korea being unable to connect to the internet or even wireless networks due to the hack. This sets a dangerous precedent where our nation is endorsing cyber attacks as retaliation, even in a case where the accused was never truly involved.
    • As an interesting side-note, China just recently cut off access to Google as they try to force their nation to use only Chinese-approved products. The distinction between the two acts is not as great as you might think.
  • While Sony used the excuse that no one would release their film, Google and Microsoft were more than happy to make it available to the masses. What is particularly interesting is that Sony did not release the movie on their own PlayStation streaming network.
  • The Interview took at impressive 15 million over the first four days, most of it coming from Google Play, which seems on the surface like a huge victory for streaming new films. Do not count on anyone at the Motion Picture Association to take note, however.
  • Pirates have long said that if new movies were available for streaming on day one then there would be far less piracy. Unfortunately, that statement appears false with this release and undercuts one of the arguments in favor of an earlier digital release of films.
At the end of the day, Sony is going to make their money back on a movie that probably deserved to go straight to streaming. They received a whole lot of free and sometimes even positive publicity for a hack that was likely a problem all of their own making. Not too shabby. Here's hoping that the fake North Korean hackers go after a higher quality movie next time.

19 December 2014

Sony is a whore.

To be fair, all for-profit organizations sell themselves. That's capitalism. The difference with Sony is that their crack whore methods will do so even if it means degrading themselves and the people they typically expose themselves to. All so they can earn that extra slimy buck.

You know the background: Sony was hacked, supposedly by someone in North Korea, because their organization likes to store all corporate passwords in a text file labeled "don't open me because I contain all of our passwords". As a result, said hacker managed to obtain just about every piece of confidential information that Sony has, including all personnel records, emails saying how much the CEO loves screwing over their customers and Kazuo Hirai's Snapchat's. (The hackers, of course, returned the latter.)

These brilliant computer geniuses, with expertise to read a document containing passwords, decided blackmail was the best option and emailed that if Sony releases the movie "The Interview" they would release even more confidential information and kill anyone attending the movie. Apparently this Seth Rogen comedy is insulting to those living in North Korea and this hacker was born without as sense of humor. You would think Sony would respond with a quick "Well then move, bitches. Oh wait - you can't because you live in totalitarian septic wasteland called North Korea." and include a nude selfie of Hirai's backside. But ... No.

Word has it that "The Interview" is not very funny and the American cinemas have been facing less traffic this holiday season. The Suits determined that no one would watch a movie when North Korea is threatening to hurt you (I know, I cannot believe I typed that, either), so the big movie chains said they would not show it. And since Sony was wearing their tightest fitting whore panties that day, they cancelled the release indefinitely. The small mom and pop cinemas (yes, they do still exist), smelling the American Exceptional-ism pot of gold, opted to show an old North Korea complementary flick called "Team America" but the parent company, Paramount, told them they would not allow it.

You might be mistaken into believing that the Motion Picture Association, Sony and all of the big organizations showing regurgitated Peter Jackson special effect bloopers might have done this because they were afraid of North Korea and the hackers. Perhaps we could even forgive them if they did. But no. They did it for the insurance money.

Since they already had an indication that the movie was not going to be a hit and given that ticket sales were already slumping, they decided to ride the easy train to a claim check for the cost of creating the film or the estimation by the movie house on how many tickets would be sold. Yes - all of these companies are actually making money from their decision to coat America in a French military greeting: The white flag. (Don't worry, France. That may become our new flag, soon.) It is a perfect win-win. The whore gets a paycheck and we are left to clean up her sticky mess.

"The Interview" could have been the highest grossing movie of the season purely due to American hubris. We might have loaded up the cinemas and the biggest laugh would have been the thought that North Korea had any power over us. Instead, North Korea is laughing at us. And rightly so.

Can we move Sony headquarters to North Korea, please?

11 December 2014

Interstellar holes. Yes. There are a lot more than one.

Interstellar is a visually gripping and gorgeous film. Every geek should visit the theatre to watch it. Maybe twice. However, I recommend being an hour late. See .. It is also so self-absorbed that the truly interesting stuff does not happen until nearly a standard movie length has passed by. I also might recommend bringing some noise cancelling headphones so you can miss plot holes so big that they are the largest hole in the film. Yes - there are some spoilers below, but none as big of a spoiler as the film itself.

McConaughey's character, Cooper, is leaving the corpse of Earth on an old rocket ship that appears to have been left over from a scrapped 1969 Apollo launch. When it reaches our lower atmosphere they exit the rocket on a small ship that docks with a deep space tanker orbiting our planet in anticipation of this moment. So far so good.

The first major issue (beyond the fact that this is 90 minutes of plot shrunk into a 7 day movie) is that Cooper and his crew need to manually connect their ship to the tanker because the computer is not capable of it. Okay, so technology has not advanced much, right? Except they have fully artificially aware robots that are joining them on this journey who are human enough to have a sense of humor and, weirdly, also have better acting skills than anyone else in the movie. So why do they need to manually dock with this thing? Oh, because they need it as a plot point later.

When they reach the glass sphere of worms loitering around Saturn they send their little ship with all the power they need into the light and end up in another solar system. Cool. Sure, they had to play fast and loose with a ridiculously gargantuan black holes surrounded by the perfect supernova so they would actually be able to stop and explain the time dilation, but they want this sucker to be scientifically accurate and they got there. Except they didn't.

See ... They land on a planet that has 1.4 times the gravity of Earth. On their little ship. The ship that did not have enough power to make it to Saturn all by itself. A ship that could not escape Earth velocity without a massive Apollo rocket ship behind it. And yet this little bucket of bolts somehow has the power to escape not just two planets, but one that has more gravity than Earth, and do a little loopity-loop around a black hole? Apparently Earth power is hundreds of times more powerful in this new solar system.

Speaking of this lovely new paradise: Why are we spending so much of Earth resources trying to move us to a new solar system around a volatile part of the universe (black holes have a nasty habit of dragging in new solar tenants on a daily basis) when the planets they are considering are all far less hospitable than the ones near Earth? Or, an even better question might be why did future Earthlings spend so much time developing black worm hole defying geekness that can talk back in time when they could have just told us to go live on Mars?

(And did anyone ever ponder the causation loop issue that Earth could never have found this other solar system to send ourselves to because we would have died off since there was no future Earthling to send us to this new solar system? Yes, this stuff does get confusing but that is why astrophysicists stay away from the future directly impacting the past because, well, it can't.)

Anyway ... So Cooper and company has nothing better to do but fly around the accretion disc of the dark circle thingy so that they have energy to try to get to the third planet, all while he gives up his life by dropping through the event horizon into the black hole. While we do not know much about these invisible points of nothingness, what we do know is that it is so unmeasurably hot that it turns matter into a glowing mass of plasma that is shot at near light speed into the cosmos. But, sure - his space ship from Earth can handle that, even though another similar space ship turned into confetti over a minor airlock incident. The other one must have been made in China or something.

I am going to ignore the other dozen black hole issues since we have yet to visit one and we can give them the benefit of the doubt that Einstein was wrong. So after the Cooper Family holiday in the hole, he returns to his daughter and family all those decades later (time dilation - he is still a young dude) he finds his daughter is on a comfy death bed and everyone else just pretends he does not exist. Apparently caring in any way about your own family, let alone the man who saved humanity, is a lost art in the future. Totally get it. If George Washington were to suddenly show up today we would make him move to another country, too.

Which is what Cooper decides to do. Why not? He has a hot babe waiting for him around that black hole. Writers of this script decide to ignore the time dilation issues and create a way for him to get his woman. Unfortunately, they forgot that he has been gone from Earth's solar system for over seventy years and in that time they have developed this amazing technology to allow them to create mini Earth environments in space - and yet human security systems and space ships are still easy enough that a 120 year old guy can steal one and fly it away without a single person noticing. This is the same way a Japanese Zero pilot could totally steal and fly away with a B2 Stealth Bomber. Totally.

10 December 2014

Looking forward to the "Super Sexy Bowl".

Crowning a college football national champion brings elation, sorrow and controversy. Fortunately, this is the year that all of that has been rectified. Introducing the college football playoff system where we will finally know which team is the true champion - in whining. We already have a couple teams in Texas crying foul that their tickets were torn up at the door and I am particularly excited about the third or fourth place BCS team winning so we can invite all previous Natty winners for what will surely be an anal award worthiness strip-down.

Long ago (prior to 1998) there was no formal game or clear-cut way to designate the champion and, as a result, the winner of the Associated Press and Coaches polls were regularly used by schools to claim superiority. This often meant split national championships, or from another perspective, no definitive national champion could be defined since the polls were in conflict. Even when they agreed, other schools would occasionally claim they were the best if they had a school record that matched the poll’s best. There were extremely rare years that we had the #1 and #2 team play each other which gave more validity. Yes, 1986 Nittany Lions, you were one of the few teams prior to 1998 that can claim a definitive national title, but that year was a rare exception.

The Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, was created to solve this problem, though many would argue that it created as many as it solved. The BCS would use the two popularity contest polls to determine which two teams should play for the college football crown. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the holes in this system to start to show. Seemingly every other year there would be a team invited to the championship game that, statistically, did not belong and would prove it with their performance on the field. Only three years after implementation the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who failed to even capture their own division, were invited to the big game and were blown away (shock!) by the weather patterns of Miami.

Having coaches and other human beings select the champion brings a heavy bias in the outcome. Realizing this after the Nebraska meltdown, the BCS decided to introduce a bias of their own by leaning heavily on Sagarin and other computer calculations. Over the next few years they continued to introduce different variations to try to get the formula “just right” in the futile hope that they could magically select the best two teams in the nation.

One issue that the BCS could never fully address was the ranking of teams before the school year even started. Since polls are rarely willing to admit their own stupidity, the teams that start at the top can only exit by losing countless games in a row. A team that was missed from the top 25 can only climb into the top field by never losing, and often never reach the top spot. The undefeated 2008 Utah Utes are a great example where they clearly appeared to be a national championship caliber team but never had a chance to prove it in the big game. In my book, they are as much a national champion as any other split championship year.

The sure-fire way to fix the whole mess was this playoff system. And here we are. Four teams is a nice balance between including other potential champions with the need to limit injuries and stretching out the season too far. Certainly an eight team system will be considered in the future, but there is a point of diminishing returns beyond four since whatever team was “next” in the polls will always feel slighted. So, for the first time we actually have a damn good way of handing out the crown.

Now, if you share my obnoxiousness, you might be asking about all of the previous claimed national champions. Nothing, of course. Every team can claim whatever they like from the past just as they always have. However, from the anal-retentive sports fan universe, there is a major difference between a team claiming a championship in the eighties versus a team who won in the playoff system. Of course, if one of the two teams that would not have been invited to the BCS N.C. were to win the big game then it will serve to underscore just how questionable all the previous champion assertions have been. No one wants to take their crown away, but there does seem to be a need to solidify the importance of this new system.

There is a relatively easy fix that the NFL employed with the Super Bowl. Prior to 1967, all professional football games champions were determined by the League Championship. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, happened to win three of them. The problem was that it did not include teams outside their league. When they decided to include all the teams they created a “Super Bowl” and from that point forward the only thing that mattered was the “Super Bowl” champion - an honor my favorite team has never won. (Damn it, Chip - make that happen!)

College football now has their “Super Bowl” but this beautiful baby is currently nameless. Time to change that. Might I suggest the “Glorious Game”? “Terrific Toss Up”? “Peerless Pastime”? “Super Sexy Bowl”? Whatever the name, all of America cannot wait for the exciting show. And the even more exciting controversy when it is all over.