Optional Continuity

So, I’m pretty psyched about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. It’s a space opera following the crew of the starship Prometheus. And unless Scott has lost it, it’ll be a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure.

I have a thing with sequels: I like continuity. Re-casting an actor takes me out of it. Sometimes a “movie reboot” is the solution to whatever ailed the old series; other times it’s a death-knell to a flawed diamond. Turns out there’s a third option: the pseudo-reboot.

JJ. Abrams Star Trek (2009) was created in such a way that if you were new to Star Trek, you could disregard 40 years of baggage. On the other hand, if you were a trekkie (( Or trekker, I don’t care about the difference. )), the movie gave you a straw to grasp at which would acknowledge those 40 years of continuity. Star Trek did the impossible — provide an entry for new movie-goers yet satisfy (the majority) of the trekkies, all the while actually being a good movie! I don’t even need to explain to you what exactly Star Trek did to respect the old continuity, that’s the point. If you didn’t pick up on it, it’s because you don’t need to worry about it.

Now watch this:

That’s continuity. If you want it to be. Did you get it? You might prefer not to read on.

Still here?

Turns out Prometheus is a pseudo-reboot of Alien. Peter Weyland is the co-founder of the Weyland-Yutani corporation, the evil conglomerate and eternal nemesis of Ripley. Which means, if you’re an Alien fan, you can consider Prometheus a successor to Alien. If you like, also Aliens. Perhaps even Alien 3, but I would expect most of you to disregard Alien Resurrection (whose only good part was the whiskey cubes). On the flipside, if you don’t care about Alien, you’re unlikely to watch the above viral video. You’re probably unlikely to even care. But there’s a chance you might go watch Prometheus anyway because every effort has been made to convince you it’s its own thing. The continuity is optional, and I like that.

Nitpicky Star Wars Nerds

The Star Wars Blurays are out. I’m not getting them. And not because Darth yells “Nooooooo” or because Greedo shoots first (or whatever). Simply, I’ve seen them enough times now. I’m done. No, not done in that smug, grown-up “Star Wars is for kids” kind of way, trust me I’m as juvenile as ever. I still love lightsabers, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever someone says “titmouse”, and I listen to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack on repeat. I’m right down with you nerds. I’m just at a point where I’m thinking it’s perhaps time to throw my love on something else.

The amount of energy spent by the Star Wars fan community discussing the Bluray edits is astounding. One fan (or several, I wasn’t paying attention) is taking it upon himself to restore the “non special edition” of Star Wars in HD:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDMDfUB4Mco

Note how R2s hologram is actually white in the original version, vs. slightly bluish in the “enhanced” version. I totally cancelled my Bluray preorder when I saw this. George Lucas, you ruined my childhood!

That would be me if not for the fact that I discovered other sci-fi television. Turns out, if you have 400 hours to spare, instead of restoring the original version of Star Wars to HD, you could watch every episode of Star Trek ever made! Think about that for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was good. Especially Empire. That whole Cloud City thing was way better than what they did in Star Trek. Here’s Cloud City:

Cloud_City

And this is Stratos from “The Cloud Minders”:

Kirk_and_Spock_view_Stratos_from_surface

Still, once you’ve seen Cloud City, you’ve seen Cloud City (that is to say, once you’ve seen Cloud City in all three four versions, you’ve seen Cloud City — but don’t worry if you haven’t, they’re pretty much the same save for a tibanna gas refinery). And say what you will about Star Trek, but that Kirk got down with the ladies, even green ones. And not one of them were his sister!

You could also get into Buck Rogers (just pretend season 2 never happened). Listen to them crunchy grooves:

But wait, there’s more. Here’s Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Deering:

erin_gray

… and let’s not forget Pamela Hensley as the evil Princess Ardala. Always trying to score with Buck. Silly girl, didn’t she know Buck preferred good girls? And damsels in distress? And Amazon Women? Occasionally bad girls. But not Ardala! Except of course when he was brainwashed, but that’s another story:

ardala

That may not be a metal bikini, but it sure deserves being restored in HD more than the original Star Wars does.

Next time you get an irresistable urge to spend 400 hours on restoring Star Wars to the way it was meant to be, consider if maybe that time was better spent watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (season 1). You could also watch Space 1999. Or UFO. Or even the original Battlestar Galactica — heck, any Glen A. Larson show. You could even watch Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis! Patrick Duffy! (It’s all in this pamphlet).

You must do what you feel is right, of course. But sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us. It all starts with a choice. A choice to spend your credits not on more Star Wars. Instead, roll up your blinds and let in the light! Then roll them down again and put on Buck Rogers. Season 1.

Prior Art

Do the tablets in Kubricks 2001 movie constitute “prior art” to the iPad?

This question recently incited much heated discussion on Twitter (( I feel I should apologize to those of you who happen to follow both me and Heilemann on Twitter for having polluted your streams. )). What made this spike my interest in such a fashion is my love for science fiction, and in particular the works of Arthur C. Clarke. Many of his ideas specifically, came to fruition decades later. For example, in 1945 Arthur C. Clarke inadvertently invented satellites. He didn’t patent them; as he put it:

I’m often asked why I didn’t try to patent the idea of communications satellites. My answer is always, “A patent is really a license to be sued”.

Now Clarke merely described what would later become satellites. He didn’t build one, nor did he design how such a thing looks. And indeed satellites today come in all manner of configurations and designs, yet they are still, clearly, satellites.

These days Apple is busy suing Samsung for infringing on Apples look and feel patents with their Galaxy line of phones and tablets. Put simply, Galaxy S phones are too like the iPhone, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is too like the iPad. While the comparison photos in the suit filing appear to have been doctored (( For example, scaling down the Tab and opening the App drawer for the photo op instead of comparing the homescreen to the homescreen. )), I’m not going to argue that Samsung TouchWiz is inspired by Apples iOS (which it clearly is) (( In fact I loathe Android skins in general and would like nothing more than Apple forcing Samsung to improve, or better yet rid the world of TouchWiz )).

Focusing on what sparked this discussion — could the tablet devices seen in the 2001 movie constitute prior art for the iPad — I do think that’s fair to say and I’ll get to why I think that is. Whether or not they’re merely portable televisions, they are electronic devices and their form factor is certainly strikingly similar to that of the iPad. But is it prior art?

Prior art:

Prior art […], in most systems of patent law, constitutes all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent’s claims of originality. If an invention has been described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.

To be specific, Apple is suing Samsung over 4 patents. Two of those are related to the iPhone form factor. One is related to how iOS works. The fourth patent is over the tablet form factor; here’s the illustration from the patent application:

ipad_patent

If you explore the patent application itself (beware, TIFF file), you’ll note that no specific size is noted in the patent application. The tablet illustrated doesn’t necessarily have a 10 inch screen.

Samsung is in a tight spot. While I find it surprising (and disappointing) that these four patents were granted in the first place, they clearly appear to have been infringed upon. Were I in Samsungs shoes, (and if I were I’d never have released TouchWiz in the first place) I’d be doing everything I could to defend against this suit. Certainly if I was able to find prior art that invalidated any of the four patents in question, I’d look wherever I could, even in my old sci-fi DVD collection. In the case of that one patent Apple has on the tablet form factor, I do see why Samsung would try and invoke prior art on that (though I’m surprised they didn’t pick Picards tablet instead). You see, if Samsung can convince the judge that patent #4 is invalid — that the slabs shown in 2001 are reminiscent of the pencil sketch shown above — it would cut their woes by a fourth.

Samsung is not my favorite Android vendor. They’re not even my favorite hardware vendor. Perhaps it would be good for them to suffer a defeat at the hands of Apple.

But I do consider Arthur C. Clarkes description of a satellite to be prior art. I consider Larry Nivens description of a ring-world to be prior art to the ring shown in the Halo video game. And so, hearing Samsung cite Kubricks tablets as prior art to the iPad is not the dumbest thing I ever heard. Apples tablet is a wonderful combination of a well-designed user-experience and durable, delicious hardware. Even so, the form factor described in their tablet patent is not a unique snowflake, as countless sci-fi authors would have you know.

Absolution Gap (2003) Mini-Review

As humanity struggles to fight the Inhibitors, a moving cathedral circumnavigates the remote world of Hela in an effort to always keep the gas giant Haldora at its zenith at all times. The celestial body and it’s mysterious behavior has caused entire religions to emerge on the planet below.

As a ragtag band of survivors on board the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity travels to Hela in a desperate search for a weapon against the Inhibitors, a special girl from the badlands of Hela, Rashmika, seeks out to find her long lost brother — a journey that takes her to the largest of the moving cathedrals — as it prepares to cross the Absolution Gap.

Absolution Gap oozes cool. It’s brilliant, hard sci-fi on every level that matters and Alastair Reynolds grasp of the subject is masterful. Absolution Gap is, perhaps, even more cool than my previous favourite in the Revelation Space series — Chasm City (Absolution Gap is the chronological last book in the series).

Alright, it was a bit slow in places — these books are long — but this level of cool deserves no less than five hearts.

Chronicle Of Awesome: Speculation The Grand Theory Of Lost

LOST

It seems like just a few weeks ago; I watched the season 5 finale of Lost. It was only after the final LOST logo came on to the screen that the reality of a 9 month wait started to sink in. So, impatient as I was, I decided to speculate my way to a series conclusion. Because Lost is the best thing to happen to television since color. Lost is why cave-men painted shows on walls.

Now I’ve had 9 months to speculate on these mysteries, and for the very same reason, this post will be massively spoilerful (unless I’m completely off the mark and even then). Do not read this post unless you have seen every available episode of Lost first. Otherwise, you’ll be ruining a great experience for yourself.

Warning!  Don’t ruin this for yourself.

Still here? Okay, I trust you have, in fact, seen Lost. So read on.

Continue reading

Redemption Ark (2002) Mini-Review

Nevil Clavain has lived for four hundred years and he has seen his share of war. As the depth of a new threat awakened decades ago — The Inhibitors — becomes clear, Clavain is forced to reconsider his allegiances. Meanwhile, the mysterious Ilya Volyova has plans for her cache of self-aware doomsday weapons.

Redemption Ark is a superb sequel book. It’s littered with cameos and direct storyline continuations set up in both Revelation Space and Chasm City (and even some of Reynolds’ short stories such as Galactic North). Yet it is also a great story in its own right and you could, if you wanted to, read it without having read any of the other books.

It’s hard sci-fi and clearly the work of a working scientist; the result is super-modern space opera sci-fi, the kind which probably isn’t disproved until centuries from now. It features mindboggling ideas and bunches of BDOs i.e. all you could ever want from the genre. Redemption Ark is a bit on the long side, but it’s still a pleasure to read.

The chronology of these books is a bit confusing. While Revelation Space (2000) was the first “in-universe” book Reynolds wrote, it’s storyline was set after both The Prefect (2007) and Chasm City (2001) (both standalone novels). As such, Redemption Ark is the first direct sequel to Revelation Space. It is followed (story-chronology-wise) by Absolution Gap (2003).

Dyson Tree

A Dyson tree is a hypothetical genetically-engineered plant, (perhaps resembling a tree) capable of growing in a comet, suggested by the physicist Freeman Dyson. He suggested that such plants could produce a breathable atmosphere within hollow spaces in the comet (or even within the plants themselves) utilising solar energy and cometary materials, thus providing self-sustaining habitats for humanity in the outer solar system.

A Dyson tree might consist of a few main trunk structures growing out from a comet nucleus, flowering into branches and leaves that intertwine, forming a spherical structure possibly dozens of kilometers across.

Wikipedia: Dyson tree

There’s nothing quite like these little scifi treats now and then. Also: megastructures.