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Munged.Org Where Wookie waxes loquatious, because he can.

Fixing The Problem By Paying Less

Google Fiber is coming to the Triangle. The pattern here, once Google has made its announcement, has followed the pattern elsewhere. The first thing that happens right after the announcement is that AT&T announces they’re going to roll out U-Verse Gigapower fiber service, or cut it’s price significantly. The second is that the cable companies bump the speeds up as much as possible. AT&T did it in Kansas City and Austin, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have done it too.

It is amazing what a little competition will do. And now it has happened here.

In response to Google fiber coming to The Triangle, TWC changed all their internet plans such that the “ultimate” plan, that used to be 50Mbps, is now 300Mbps. I had the Ultimate plan, and had 50Mbps internet. Now I have 300Mbps.

When they changed my speed, I started having internet issues. The facebook web page wouldn’t always completely load, getting stuck with empty elements or fail to load more posts as I scrolled down. Twitter had similar problems. I’d get SSL errors, and websites not found. Streaming video wouldn’t load on the first try or would take forever to start. Despite having 300Mbps service, speed tests showed only 120 or so.

Talking to TWC tech support this morning, they did all the standard things, none of which worked. But when I complained about the 120Mbps max speed, they said “Oh, the Surfboard SB6141 is only rated for 100Mbps, so that’s pretty good, really…” When I protested that Motorola said otherwise, the TWC person said that TWC network engineers actually test them, and the SB6141 is good for only 100Mbps. There are other Surfboards that are capable of the 300Mbps I’m signed up for. They pointed me to the supported modems list.

I thanked her for her help, and hung up.

And then called TWC customer support, and downgraded my service to the 100Mbps tier, which is also $40 cheaper. Downgrading all the way back to 50Mbps was $45 cheaper, and I decided that the extra $5 was worth twice the speed.

And now FB loads reliably in Firefox, which was the web site and browser that were the most affected before. I scrolled down for 10 minutes and it kept adding pages at the bottom, which hasn’t worked reliably for a month.

My problems may not be totally fixed. I’m still seeing lots of TCP resets and retransmissions from Akamai sites. But I’m kind of suspicious that this is a Firefox browser problem. But that’s another post…

Apple News Disappoints

I upgraded the iPhone and iPad to iOS 9 a couple of days after it was available. I upgraded to 9.0.1 a week later, and 9.0.2 a week after that. I was looking forward to Apple News as a news aggregator, a place to find news all in one place and have it learn what I liked and expand my horizons.

I should have known this was not going to happen, but I’m sometimes blinded by unreasonable optimism.

Favorites come in 3 flavors:

  1. News Topics, which I presume are curated topic lists
  2. Publications, like the NYTimes, WaPo, Ars, Quartz, etc
  3. Favorited articles

When first used Apple News asks you to pick some favorites from the first two categories. Then it never shows you anything else.

When I remove all the favorites no new news shows up. I thought some would, because I’ve marked a bunch of articles as favorites, and you can’t see those or remove the favorite status if you didn’t also bookmark them. But nothing showed up. I went 6 days wondering why News was always picking the same articles, until I noticed they were all from 6 days ago. When I added the NYTimes back as a favorite, suddenly there were 80 new NYT articles for me to read.

This is not what I want to happen. I want it to start showing me some of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, and then slowly remove stuff from my “For You” that I never read ever. This is not how it works tho.

I originally picked the NYTimes, WaPo, Quartz, Vox, Slate, and “Space”, and “Techology”. Within 2 days, half the “For You” feed was articles about Pluto and Mars, with the occasional review of The Martian. The other half were full of GOP presidential candidates, which is strange because I never read any of them at any time.

So I started over, and picked all the major newspapers. Then I stopped finding any articles I wanted to read at all. I removed them all, and this is when I noticed that you have to have some favorites or you don’t get any news at all.

I continue to experiment with it. Maybe the number of the articles I’ve favorited isn’t big enough. One of the topics you can favorite is called simply “News”, and that’s the only favorite I’ve selected right now. I’ll see how this goes.

Or maybe my interests just aren’t wide enough and I should go back to reading Slashdot.

The Martian Review (Spoilers!!!)

Just got back from seeing The Martian, the movie mentioned two posts back. I’m going to show a serious nerd streak here, but I am what I am.

Short review:

I liked it.

Longer review:

I liked it. I didn’t love it.

I went into it knowing that it would not be the book, but I was made a little optimistic by the fact that almost everything in the trailers I saw I remembered as being in the book. It mostly delivered, tho parts were confusing.

One of the things that is really good about the book is the technical accuracy, while managing to be a gripping story with drama and suspense. The movie couldn’t have all that in it, but it went into some of the technical stuff and then did it so badly that it removed me from the moment.

The other thing I hated was that characters seems to be doing things they weren’t technically supposed to do. Some of this was just because I knew who said which lines in the book, and in the move someone else said it. This is minor.

More major is when character roles get mixed up because the big name actor has to have specific lines, and be the one to save the day. This is standard movie crap and is a standard gripe of mine. Lewis has to save Mark at the end, because Jessica Chastain is the biggest name in that scene. Teddy has to be the one doing all the new conferences, and gets most of Annie’s good lines, because Jeff Bridges is the biggest name in the earth part of the movie. Never mind Beck is the EVA specialist, and Annie is the media relations person. I suspect that the only reason Teddy didn’t fly up and save Watney himself was because they’d already made a big deal about the distances and times it took to travel to Mars.

The book doesn’t suffer from “the biggest actor is always better at something than the person that’s supposed to do it”, because it is a book. The movie does, and I don’t think it needed to, or should have. I have this same complaint about movies that don’t come from books, or come from books I haven’t read.

The Good:

The acting. Matt Damon did a good job of being the optimistic smart-ass from the book, without being unreasonably happy at all the things that happen to him that aren’t all that happy. Everyone else delivered, for the most part too.

I am often of the opinion that Matt Damon is right only for certain roles. When I found out he was cast as Mark Watney for this movie, I didn’t think he was the right actor. But having now seen the movie, I gotta say: he was perfect.

Ridley Scott made an absolutely beautiful movie. The whole thing was visually awesome. I also feel like this was the first good movie Scott has made in a while.

Despite the nit picking I do below, I think they did a really good job of removing aspects of the story in the book to get this to fit into a movie and still be faithful to the book. We didn’t need the hydrogen scare, or all the time Watney spends in the detached airlock. The pop tents and all the ways they are used wasn’t needed. It would have taken a mini-series to do the whole trip to the Schiaparelli Crater, with the dust storm and the roll-over, and I didn’t miss any of it at all in the movie.

I also liked that Watney just would sit and look at the scenery in his suit, or sleep under the Rover, even tho in the book it is stated that hey only has 1500 hours of EVA time. This departure from technical accuracy made me smile, and identify with Watney all the more, because I would totally blow my EVA time looking at the scenery.

Let the Nit-Picking Begin:

For the most part, it had the things in it that had to be in it. But some of the choices of what to keep and what to drop for time confused me. There were things that worked really well in the book, that didn’t work at all in the movie.

The “Fonz” joke didn’t work at all in the movie. There was no sign saying “Aaaayyy”, and you can clearly see his face, making Annie requesting a picture of his face a blunder.

I didn’t really buy Jessica Chastain as a misson commander, but otherwise I think she did a good job.

The explosion from his attempt at reducing hydrazine was actually two things in the book combined in a way that made no sense in the movie. He said the explosion was from the oxygen coming from his mask, but I don’t remember him wearing one. Even if he had been, making water by reducing the hydrazine and burning the hydrogen requires oxygen in the atmosphere, so a little more coming from his breath wouldn’t cause an explosion he wasn’t going to have otherwise.

Having said that, I agree the “Great Hydrogen Scare of Sol 37” was too technical to be in the film. As much as I liked that explosion and his log entry about it, I would have skipped the whole thing for the movie, and just let him make water without any drama.

Why did he have to cut a hole in the rover and make a balloon? In the book it is because the life support equipment is too tall to fit in the trailer rover. In the movie, all that stuff is outside on the back. They could have left that out completely. The only possible reason to have it would have been for him to kill Pathfinder with the drill, but they didn’t do that either.

For that matter, why is “hab canvas” really obviously just plastic sheeting? They couldn’t come up with something more “canvas-y” looking?

Why does Hermes, a nuclear-powered spacecraft, have enormous solar panels? It doesn’t need any, it has a reactor for power. They even mention sealing off the reactor room when they blow the VAL. Who wasn’t paying attention here.

There was enough drama in the recovery at the end without Commander Lewis having to horn in on the operation because “I’m not losing another crewman!” I wish the movie makers could have just trusted that part and let Beck to the job he was the best trained for.

I also thought actually doing the “Iron Man” thing was bullshit. There was no need for it. Again, they should have trusted the story.

Sadly, despite Ridley Scott’s incredible scenery, he doesn’t know how to use 3D any better than your average movie director. Nothing is added to this film by it being 3D.

The Outright Bad

The character of Annie Montrose was butchered. I understand that you can’t have a strong female lead dropping f-bombs all over the place and still get a PG-13 rating. But she could have still been a strong character.

Venkat Kapoor from the book, a hindu, was renamed “Vincent Kapoor” for the movie and made the son of a hindu and a presbyterian (or was it protestant) in the movie. In this day and age, when we are trying to foster acceptance of multiculturalism, this change smacked of giving in to assholes and bigots. I was not amused, and don’t care that the movie makers don’t want to be controversial.1

Technical Stuff Even The Book Got Wrong

The two things I know about are:

The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that no sandstorm is ever going to be strong enough to tip over a MAV, or cause a communication dish to get ripped out and fly thru the air. Yes, things will get dark and solar panels get covered in dust. No, they don’t don’t show up as a massive wall of evil coming over a distant mountain.

“Hab canvas” would not rip and launch the airlock like a cannon. The stuff would be designed to give slowly, as a small hole that just gets bigger over time if not taken care of. The air pressure in the hab would not be enough to move anything as heavy as the airlock assembly. A rip would just vent all the air around it.

Two Things The Movie Got Right, The Book Got Wrong

Rovers were flatbed “trucks” in the movie. This makes sense. The rovers had no cargo capacity in the book. Watney had to improvise shelves and stack stuff on the roof in the book. The pre-supply modules were landed softly, but would have been scattered around a ways. The crew would need some way to carry everything back to the site. A flatbed, a trailer, and a crane would be super-helpful.

At JPL, they would have totally used the mock-up of the Pathfinder to figure out how to use the camera to communicate. It was never mentioned in the book. Tho maybe, it was cut for word count.

  1. 2022 Update: Turns out, Irrfan Khan, a legendary Indian actor was supposed to be Venkat. He had to drop out at the very last moment due to a prior commitment, leaving the producers in the lurch. They were looking for anyone, male, female, white, black…. anyone to fill the part. Thus we got Vincent Kapor. 

To Scale - The Solar System

I’ll just leave these right here:

and…

The Martian

The Martian”, a book by Andy Weir about an astronaut, Mark Watney, stranded on the planet Mars when his crewmates leave him for dead in an abort due to a savage sandstorm.

I enjoyed this novel a lot. Weir makes Watney an entertaining character. He’s a potty-mouthed, smart-assed, good-natured, optimist who refuses to give up. The science is as hard as it gets, and is actually exciting at times, when things blow up, roll over, or pop.

And now it is being turned into a movie.

I am very skeptical this movie would, or could, be faithful to the book. Which is a shame. But the first non-teaser trailer came out this weekend, and I recognize almost everything in it as being in the book. So maybe, just maybe, this movie will be good. Maybe great.

The teaser trailer:

The official trailer:

And another “First Look” thing:

A couple of random thoughts about this:

  • They can’t put everything in the book in the movie, there just isn’t time for that. Hopefully, when the science explanations are stripped out, the book gets short enough that enough of it stays in the movie to make it a faithful re-telling.

  • I’ve re-read the book a few times now, and I find myself way more interested in the Earth side of the book. Maybe because I only need the science and solutions Watney comes up with explained to me once. Also maybe because Watney is so involved in what he’s doing, the sense of wonder and amazement is better communicated by Mindy, Venkat, and the rest.

  • Real Chicagoans do not to to Geno’s for pizza. It’s a tourist trap.

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, a Brit of Nigerian decent, was cast as Venkat Kapoor, an Indian. In my mind, while reading, Venkat sounded to me like a US native of Indian descent. We never really get this verified, tho at one point Venkat does say he’s Hindu. Still, this casting choice seems odd to me.

Anyway. Here’s hoping. Movies have been scarce and have mostly sucked, the last two years.

Updated: Changed videos to new “official” trailers.

What I Want...

Right now, what I want is not world peace. I don’t want everyone to love and understand each other. I don’t need an end to war. Right now, what I want is a dozen Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. Then all would be right in the world.

Munged.Org Now On GitHub Pages

The Squarespace account expired yesterday. So I’ve updated DNS and re-pointed www.munged.org to this version of the site. The change should only be noticeable if you happened to be reading it when it changed. Or remember what the site looked like on SS.

The other change is that it was trivial to import all the old blog posts from previous blogging systems into this. At least the ones I still have. Most posts are dreck, but even the new ones are dreck, so I’m still running about average.

Authonomous Vehicles and Society

This article on RoboHub starts making an interesting point, and then completely misses the bigger picture. Yes, there is more to Autonomous cars than just the technology involved. But the impact to society isn’t just how the vehicles are used. There are 1.7 million OTR truck drivers in the US. What happens when they are all out of work? And taxi drivers? There are 233 thousand taxi and chauffeurs too.

I’ve read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. I hated them, mostly. But his theme of “what to do with useless people” is going to become a very import problem for our society in the next 20 or 30 years. Probably sooner.

This isn’t just truck and taxi drivers. As online stores like Amazon start to deliver purchases to you faster than you could get to the store to pick them up yourself, people will be out of retail jobs as well. Factories are already getting more and more automated. When Apple announce they were bringing some manufacturing back into the US, what they didn’t say was that almost all of it was going to be automated.

A massive percentage of the world’s population is comprised of people who’s sole talent is that they can follow directions. Automation will take those jobs slowly, but surely. The US has a long history of self-reliance, and limited socialized benefits. The transition to a population largely unemployed will be rough.

All Systems Upgraded: OS X 10.10.3, and iOS 8.3

Big upgrade today for the Apple devices around Wook Central. Yosemite 10.10.3 on the Macs. iOS 8.3 for iPad and iPhone.

This isn’t the “Apple Watch” update, that already happened with iOS 8.2. This was about security and bug fixes. On the Mac it was also about the “new” photo management app that in a fit of imagination Apple has renamed from “iPhoto”, to “Photos”. It now matches, in name and icon, the photo app on iOS.

“Photos” has been working on upgrading my “iPhoto” library to the new “Photos” library for about a half hour now, and there’s only about 500 photos in it. If every Lightroom upgrade took that long, they’d each be a two-day process.

No real changes I can see other than that. Which is okay with me.

HBO Now

I “cut the cord” on cable TV about 5 years ago, and have not regretted it. I cut it because Time Warner compresses almost all channels way more than they need to. Most channels look horrible with video compression artifacts and jitter. Cable TV wasn’t worth the extreme money charged for it. It was an extra $120 bux I could do something else with every month too.

But I did miss out on some shows I did watch. Most of them on HBO. Bill Maher I usually enjoyed. I watched the Sopranos when it was running. A couple of others.

HBO announced “HBO Now” last month with Apple, and it went live today or yesterday. I signed up for the free trial, and I can’t imagine I won’t keep it when I have to pay for it.

Signing up via the Apple TV didn’t work. But I downloaded the iOS app, and signing up that way did work.

I'm sooooooooooo addicted to Cities: Skylines

I’d planned on a semi-serious attempt to put all the DemiCon and related photo galleries back up at WookPhoto, since that’s really what it is there for. I was also going to re-process all the photos before putting them up, because some of them really got no love originally. I know more now too, about how to make them look better.

But then Cities: Skylines came out. It was covered by Slashdot, as having sold 500,000 units in the first week. Having once been a fan of Sim City, and hating the most recent version, I decided to check Skylines out.

I am so addicted, it isn’t funny. Sorry, everyone, who wanted to see the photo galleries.

In just a few short works, there’s even a modding community sprung up, and asset creators have gone nuts for this game too. Gula, who says they were a level creator and artist on SimCity, has created Gula’s In-and-Out Burger that can be placed in game. You know I’ve got those all over all my cities.

(Sorta) First Post!

I keep doing this…

Yeah, so not so much a literal “first post”, first post. More of a first post that didn’t get copied from some prior version of some prior blog. The kind of “first post” you get when you’ve set up a new account at a new web host, and have to type something into it as a test.

This site is hosted via GitHub’s Pages. The docs that make it up are stored in a github repository, and from there show up on a web site via Jekyll and related technologies. It has the main advantage that it is free, and the secondary advantage of being easy.

Supposedly easy, anyway. It would seem I’ve traded the complexities of Squarespace for the complexities of having to follow filename and markdown formatting guidelines by hand.

Squarespace is really nice, and generated a very pretty web site with minimal work. But the behind-the-scenes stuff is way more focussed on how things look, than generating actual written words. It gets in the way.

To use github pages, I need to create a text file for each post. Formatting of the pages can be done via Markdown. I do this on my computer, commit the changes to the local git repo, and then sync the repo with github. Github magically notices the changes (if I do it right) does the Jekyll thing and re-creates the site.

This might not actually be any easier in the end. Or this might be just what I need to make it so I can do this again. Or or, I might not be able to actively blog ever again, because Facebook ruined me. I have until my Squarespace subscription expires towards the end of April to figure this all out.