So you are about to run a half-marathon this weekend…

So, you are like me and your family is filled with runners. Your father runs marathons, your mother runs marathons and your sister runs marathons. Lots of pressure to get you into the family business and running a marathon is not something you can learn to do overnight.

Now, I am not stupid and I have been training for this for the past six months and this is not some panic blog post about how I have been slacking off, as the title might suggest. I have been averaging 10 to 12 miles of walking and running around the neighborhood every weekend, and went through a pair of shoes. I feel ready!

To round off my training, I decided to sign up for a 10k called The corporate cup. It’s a charity event run by the American Lung association, and it happened right next to where I work. I made the mistake of not looking at either at the map of the run or at the elevation map. In my mind, the landscape looked pretty flat. Big mistake…

Turns out the UNO neighborhood is way hillier than by my neighborhood is. I was not prepared for some of those hills, but the good news was that somehow, despite walking most of mile 3 and 4, I managed to finish the race in one hour and twenty four minutes, which is the same time it took me to do my first 10K on flat land… Yay! that pretty cool! I should try to get a good timed run on flat land, could probably go bellow 1:20!

For me, the most satisfying part of running, other than collecting cool medals to hang in my office cubicle as bragging rights, is the very obvious way you progress. Your first run will leave more tired than you thought was possible and you will discover muscles that you did not existed, but the more you run, the less frequent you feel that way. After my first half marathon last year, I felt the same way that I felt after my first 10K. Now, I can run a 10K and not feel sore the next day, that is extremely satisfying. It’s what “no Pain No Gain” is all about.

Anyways, if you are going to be running next Sunday during the Omaha Marathon, I guess I’ll see you there!

Advertisements

My perspective on the Star Trek reboots after watching the original series…

In a quest to become a bigger nerd than I already am, I recently started watching all of Star Trek. I have finished the original series and half way through the lesser known animated series, and while watching an episode where there is a giant clone of Spock, a brain wave hit me. I finally understand what people where complaining about when the reboot movie came out.

Like many people that lived in the mainstream, the Star Trek reboot movie was the first Star Trek thing that I had seen and I really liked it. The music was great, the visuals were impressive (though, in hindsight, I feel that camera shakes and lens flair have seen become a bit overused), all the classic characters that I heard of were present and a spaceship called the Enterprise. This was more than enough to satisfy my uninitiated mind.

The sequel of reboot, “Into Darkness”, was more divisive, but I did not why at the time. The plot made some sense, all the characters were still there, Klingons made an appearance, special effects where still top notch. In some ways it was not as good as the first of the reboot film series, *cough* Carol Marcus *cough*. The dark and gritty approach did not match the optimistic and generally colorful aesthetics of the classic show. I did not mind the use of Khan as the main antagonist, but more on that later.

Star Trek Beyond was probably the best of the three movie of the so called Kelvin timeline. It ditched the dark and gritty stuff, went for an original story line and features a cameo by everyone’s favorite billionaire: Jeff Bezos.

However, now that I have seen more Star Trek than most people, I have a better perspective how the new movies compare to the established Star Trek canon. It is apparent that they made an effort in trying to make sure that the main cast is similar to the one of the show: Sulu is an amateur fencer, Bones complains a lot, Kirk is sarcastic and nonchalant in his approach to diplomacy. There are several scenes in the movies that are clearly directly inspired from the show. For example, the scene where a young Spock is being bullied to show emotion by other young Vulcans is straight of an episode of the animated series. In Beyond, Bones mention a giant green hand in space, which is actually the plot of “who mourns for Adonis”, an episode where the crew meets the Greek God Apollo. The distress signal coming from a planet surrounded by a strange anomaly is another trope that recurred several times in the show as well.

At the same time, however, they deviate in noticeable ways: Chekov does not make jokes about how everything was invented in Russia, Spock is far more emotional and does not say the word “fascinating” enough, and one of the main secondary character of the original series, Nurse Chapel, is nowhere to be seen. Also Spock and Uhura don’t have a romantic relationship in the show, but Nurse Chapel and Spock are implied to have feelings for each other.

I think the most glaring thing about Into Darkness that clashes with the classic Star Trek is the amount of arguing between the main Characters. In the original series, the main cast never have big disagreements. The only occasions were the crew argue with one another, they are either under the influence of something or someone is not who they say they are. The scene where Scotty resigns is not something that would fit within the canon of the original show. Uhura having relationship issues in the middle of a covert mission also feels out of place.

The dark, gritty and pessimistic tones of the movie is also in stark contrast with the optimistic tones of the original show. As dark as some of the episodes of the show got, like “The doomsday machine” or “Balance of Terror”, Things never got as bad as a giant ship crash in San Francisco bad.

That being said, I think that making a “true” Star Trek film based on the original series is going to be hard, manly because in order to be financially viable, you need to sell to the lowest common denominator. Action scenes and stuff blowing up is much easier to sell than a brainy sci-fi movie. I would love a Star Trek movie which deals with a tricky ethical dilemma and submarine style space battle (because that how it would realistically work!), but because Hollywood only understand money amounts greater than $250,000,000 in profits and perpetual hatred for fan made movie, I doubt we will see that movie any time soon.

Total eclipse of 2017 and the Ultimate Showdown of not-destiny…

So it sure was an exciting week! We started with a mostly total eclipse on Monday, followed by the most mundane and boring Tuesday to Friday week one could ever dread to suffer, to round it all out with a mostly predictable boxing fight! Actually, now that I put it that way, it was not all that exciting…

We actually got fairly lucky with the eclipse on Monday, because despite the weather prediction of storms and rain, the cloud cover was very light and we managed to get so good views of the transit of the moon across the sun. Many people at the office took the day off to travel south and catch the total eclipse, but not everyone got lucky. My coworker from the cube next to me drove an hour south and barely saw anything through the thick cloud cover. Clearly a lot of people had the same idea and traffic was so bad that the west bound highway was closed.

I did however managed to find a way to disappoint myself. I tried to take a picture of the sun through a pair of eclipse glasses and it was predictably bad, so I had the great idea of taking a time lapse video of the encroaching darkness. I simply set my photo against one of the offices’ windows and let it roll. However, My smartphone was too smart for its own good and decided to adjust the exposure. So, despite the fact it got pretty dark outside (street lamps turn on!), the video barely showed minor changes in coloration here and there… Damn smartphones…

The rest of the work week is the usual routine, go to the office, work on whatever minor issue that needs fixing and listen to podcasts. I have been working on this massive project for the past year and a half and it is finally coming set to be installed this fall. I was expecting we would get a number of error to work through issues as we start integrating the different new systems but as it turns out all the things that I coded are working as intended and everyone else is having issues. So while a number of the other teams are running circles to fix their bugs, I get to sit back and wait… and waiting is starting to become quite boring…

*****

To finish the week with a bang, I watched the big Mayweather vs McGregor fight. I do not care about boxing and I could not be bothered with MMA, but I figured that the absurdity of the event would be entertainment enough. I do not have cable and I had a hunch that paying the hundred dollars to watch it online would be a bad idea, so I elected to go a local sport bar to watch it. There was a cover charge of $40 dollars to get in, a better deal than the $100, though you still had to pay for drinks and food (limited event menu be damned!). According to the bartenders, the bar had to pay $11,000 just to have the public showing of the pay per view.

The fights themselves were intriguing but hardly as entertaining as watching the staff’s exasperation whenever the phone rang. Throughout the evening, almost every twenty seconds or so, someone would call and ask if they were showing the fight for free. Sometimes, when they got really annoyed they would leave the receiver off and prevent people from calling in.

One thing that I found somewhat surprising was how utterly empty the arena in Las Vegas was for the fight before the main event. I would have assumed that people would watch the whole events when they bought ticket to be there, but I guess no one really cared about the rest of the promoted fights, though neither did I.

As the night went on, the bar got more and more crowded, and when the main event was about to start there was a sudden influx of college students from the near by UNO. It seemed the crowd was mainly divided into to groups: the adults that were cheering for Mayweather and the students that cheered for Mcgregor. It seems that there was also a group of Connor fan girls, who squealed every time Mcgregor swung at Floyd, even if he missed.

The Students were really excited for the first few rounds as Conor was controlling the fight and even calling that Mcgregor would win by KO within the next two rounds, then things got a lot quieter by round 5 when Conor show clear signs of fatigue and Mayweather started running laps around him. By round 8, the older crowd was getting excited as the students looked on disappointingly as their hero barely managed to swing convincingly at his opponent. The crowd exploded with joy as the ref went to stop the fight and declare Floyd winner by TKO. The McGregor crowd looked like they just learned that Santa was not real, quite funny to watch.

The one thing that still perplexes me is the general reaction that, despite clearly getting his ass handed to him, somehow “McGregor is still the winner” for trying. All the MMA/boxing/combat sports fans that I knew in college, and online communities in general, always bragged about how you either win or you lose in fights and that there are participation trophies, and yet everyone seem to bend over backward, making excuses for McGregor! What a load of nonsense…

While I doubt I will be subscribing to the boxing newsletter any time soon but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watch the fight in the bar. Maybe the next there is a “fight of the century”, I might give it a watch.

5:00 am calls, eclipse and part time coding…

As of time of writing this, it is 6:30 am central here in the state of Nebraska. If you are thinking to yourself: “Wow Alex! Up and early to write on your blog! What dedication!“, well get ready to be disappointed. You see, I did not want to be up this early but sometime life decides to pull a fast one on you, and by that I mean that I am currently “on-call” and that I got called at 4:50 this morning…

You see, because our system run pretty much 24/7 and many process are critical in keeping millions of dollars flowing, there needs to a point of contact that can jump into action and fix anything to keep the spice cash flowing. This week, this person happens to be me, and while I understand it is part of my job, it is always a frustrating week.

Since you can be called almost at anytime, you need to be able to able to log in the system fairly quickly and do what ever, and that means that you cannot plan to do anything during the week end. Enjoying a walk outside? You are getting a call and will have to run back to your car. Hoping to catch a ball game? You are getting a call! Enjoying a fine meal? Screw that, you get a call! Half way through a wrestling PPV? YOU JUST MADE THE LIST! I mean YOU A GET CALL!

Now, how often do you get called really early in the morning like today? The answer should be never. We actually have an offshore team in India that covers calls during the night. Apparently, the guy that was our on call could not be bothered this morning (or his afternoon) and did not pick the call. Who is next on the list? ME! How exciting… At least it was not anything important…

*****

While we are on the subject of disappointing things, there’s an Eclipse tomorrow! Holy astronomical alignment Batman! That sounds exciting! But Alex, why is that disappointing? Good question theoretical reader! Well, the most important part of being able to watch an eclipse is being able to see the sun, and we might not be able to see the sun. Weather forecast for tomorrow is Thunderstorm! Yay!

I did see a full eclipse when I was a kid in august of 1999, but I don’t remember much of it. As far as I remember, it was bit disappointing. Things got dark for a few minutes and back to normal. It felt like a severe storm level of darkness rather than middle of the night darkness. I was really hopping this time would a proper full eclipse experience but unless we get a break in the clouds, there won’t be a lot to see.

Besides, I don’t have eclipse glasses. I was going to order a pack of 25 on amazon and just distribute at the office, but the time I wanted to put the order prices had jumped from $15 for a pack 20 to over $40 for a pack of 5. Much disappointment, such price gouging.

*****

On a more positive note, I more or less finished the Asteroids game that I mentioned a couple weeks ago! It could use some more work but I am quite satisfied with its current state.

There is a start screen, you get a to click a button to start the game, you shoot asteroids, lose lives, and start again! Wow! Sure all the asteroids are circular and could use processing’s Shape to create more angular rocks, or make images to use as sprites. There is also little difficulty curve to speak of, and I could probably implement a basic high score table, but hey, at least it works!

Considering it took me like two and a half week to code it makes me wonder how people manages to do those code jams where they can get something up and running within 24 hours.

I uploaded the code to OpenProcessing so you can try it here.

Finally watching Blade Runner for the first time…

So with an upcoming and very anticipated sequel coming later this fall, I finally got around to watch Blade Runner (the Final cut), and WOW does 2019 look exciting! Flying cars, the return of CRT TVs, terminal based computer systems, bio-engineered animals and off-world colonies! I am sure that we will get used to the perpetual rain and night if we get flying cars and Inca pyramid inspired brutalist apartment building! All jokes aside, what do I think of this classic of a movie?

There is an endless list of things that I could praise about the film. The music is fantastic, the atmosphere is on point, the visual effect are breath taking especially when you realize it is all practical effects with miniature! Even when compared with modern movie effects, the movie still looks better than most dribble that come out these day. The cast is great and deliver excellent performance as well. The plot is probably one of the few weak points of the movie.

The premise and some of the theme that it deals with are interesting, don’t get me wrong. How do you find and stop ‘android’ that are effectively indistinct from regular humans? If something looks human, feels human and believes themselves to be human, are they human? West World definitely plundered a lot of its inspiration from Blade Runner.

However, there is still a massive plot hole right in the middle of the story: if the nexus 6 replicants are designed to die after 4 years, why not just wait for them to die rather than chasing after them? As we can see with the Roy, the blonde antagonist, they were pretty much days away from simply passing away from “old age”. A couple minor complains could include: Why didn’t the Tyrell corporation make easier to distinguish a replicant from a human, like a sub-dermal implant of sorts? If they can implant memories into replicants, couldn’t they transfer them as well? They simply have made a new body for Roy and transfer his mind, or heck you transplant the whole brain!

Of course there is the age old question of “is Deckard a replicant?”. As far I can tell, probably not. I knew going in that there was this raging debate and I really tried to watch intently to catch all the possible clues but by the end, I did not catch anything truly conclusive (in my opinion anyways). There were one thing that caught my attention is the photo of Rachael’s supposed childhood. Deckard has a photo of family standing on a porch that looked suspiciously like the porch in Rachael’s photo. It could be because Tyrell uses the same stock photo for all the fake memories they give to their replicants. Other than that, nothing stood out to me. The photo could be easily explained away by lazy production taking two photo in the same location that were meant to be separate. Also every replicant in the movie has a scene where their eyes noticeably glow in the dark, Deckard’s eyes never do. I feel there a lot context to the story that did not transfer from the original story to the film.

So what are my final thoughts on this movie? Well, it is clearly a technical master piece and very avant-garde but I am not sure that I actually enjoyed it… I understand why it became such a cult classic but there were moments where I felt genuinely bored. Also, I doubt that the sequel will manage to keep the same level technical of expertise that the original achieved. It will probably be more in line with modern action with more explosion and less thinking. They will probably give an answer as to whether or not Deckard was a replicant.

Some programming ramble…

Ahh the month of August, named after Julius Augustus Caesar, who was probably jealous his adoptive father had a month named after himself and decided that, he too, had to have his own month. But enough about ancient history, let’s talk about more contemporary matters, such as my trouble with programming APIs…

So my sister has recently entered into a training program to become a web developer and has begun learning how to code. This has inspired me to do a bit of coding in my spare time, something that I had not done in quite a while. I decided to pick up the ol’ processing environment and coded away!

I decided that my first project should be a staple of computer science: Conway’s game of life. Simple enough on the surface but getting the actual logic can be quite tricky. I decided to go for a single array approach and to make it wrap around the edges like a torus (or a like doughnut). After a few trials and error I even managed to get some extra functionality, like to pause, randomized the cells and the ability to kill or animate individual cells. I was most satisfied with my code, but then I tried to upload it to OpenProcessing.

In theory, you can simply copy your sketch code into the website’s interface and submit. The problem is that the website is far from stable. For what ever reason, I was unable to get the mouse to work properly, and it appears that depending on what computer or browser you are using the sketch responds differently. You can find it here, but I would recommend just getting the source code from my Github and running it for yourself. (maybe one day I’ll go and actually write something in the read me or add comments…)

Having gotten my stride back, it was time for something a bit more ambitious. A simple space shooter ought to do, a clone of asteroids seemed like a good goal. Processing has built in functions that determines if a key was pressed and which one was pressed, which means simple if statements to control the spaceship! Sounds simple enough…

The only problem is that, as any novice programmer can tell you, a variable can only ever hold one value. When you press two keys at once, only one of those gets stored. For example, if you were to press the up arrow then the left arrow, then depress the left key, the value of the key being pressed will still read as left arrow. This means no diagonal movement and quick strafing almost impossible.

Moral of the story: Processing, as flexible as it maybe, is not a proper API for game development and sharing things on OpenProcessing is not always a good idea…

Some ramblings about Ready Player One/Star Trek…

So last weekend was the San diego Comic con and there has been some cool announcements and some new trailers released! Very exciting stuff. I need to get my stuff together and actually go there one day, or least go to one of the panels at the New York Comic con the next time I go. Most interesting, in my opinion anyways, were the trailers for Ready Player One and the new Star Trek show.

*****

I read the Ready Player One book I liked it quite a bit, and I thought that making a movie adaptation would be quite hard. The number of intellectual properties owned by rival company would have made really hard for the movie to have them appear. The trailer did however do decent job showing a good number of cool Easter eggs, though a number of them are IPs that Warner bros had rights to ( DC characters, the Iron Giant, Mad Max). I wonder how expensive the rights to use the Back to the Future Delorean are but I suspect that it was not cheap.

The thing that is somewhat concerning but not too surprising is the very evident rewrite of the story. A big chunk of the trailer is this cool looking racing sequence that 100% did not happen in the book. I suspect that they had to remove certain some what boring sequence of the book (say like when the main character play a perfect game of Pacman) and replace them with more impressive but generic action sequences. They might have not been able to secure right to certain things like D&D’s tomb of horror, which would explain why the Joust character appear in a random fight scene, fighting a giant robotic scorpion (which again did not happen in the book, as far as I remember). Are there event copyrights for Zork? Who knows…

I am sure that the movie will be decent but I have some reservation. Let us be honest for a moment and admit that the book was not necessarily that well written in the first place. I am not saying it was not entertaining but a big aspect that made book so successful was its reliance on nerdy references, the actual meat of the story isn’t all that great. Ernest Cline’s second book was not as enjoyable as Ready player One, despite trying to use a similar trick with sci-fi references, I am sure that the movie will be successful but don’t expect the final battle to actually have mecha-godzilla fight the Japanese Spiderman’s giant robot.

*****

I have already expressed my concerns with Star Trek Discovery and the latest trailer has not really alleviate my concerns. the thing is that they clearly put a lot of effort into this show. The sets look impressive, there are a lot good special effects and the make up for the alien character is top notch. However, it just feels so bland and feels like a trailer for a movie rather than for a TV show.

I understand that the original was made in the late 60’s and that they were limited in how advanced things could look. Things where mostly operated with switches and buttons and there were not actual computer screens, so I can understand updating the sets to include things like touchscreens, but they should at least try to keep the aesthetics ┬ásimilar which they did not. They did a good job with the phasers but just about everything else looks wrong. They even included comm badges, which as far as I know was not introduced until TNG, which is far later in the timeline of Star Trek.

Interestingly, The most interesting thing about Star Trek that came this week was a great video from the Youtube Channel Midnight’s Edge (watch it here), where they go through some of the latest rumors surrounding the show and, most importantly, who has the rights to Star Trek. Back when Viacom Split between CBS and Paramount, the distribution rights for all the movies and TV show went to Paramount but the actual IP rights stayed with CBS. When JJ abrams did his reboot, they were granted an alternate Star Trek license which forced which forced them to make their Star Trek distinct from the original show. It is also this alternate Star Trek license that is been used to make Discovery, which would explain why it looks nothing like the original shows. As to why CBS claimed it would be in the original continuity of star trek, it’s\probably because they are bunch of corporate liars…

I will probably see the first episode as it premiers in September but it is very unlikely that I will bother to subscribe to CBS’s on demand service to watch the rest…