Archive for February, 2011

So They’re Making Human-Hunting Robot Cheetah Terminators Now

February 27, 2011 2 comments

And I for one welcome our murderous cheetah overlords.

This isn’t a joke. This is a thing that is actually happening.

Geekologie is one of my favorite sites, since they post interesting gadget related news with a humorous editorial voice. The Geekologie writer has a horrible fear of robots that comes through in every robotics related post and, after seeing that article, I sort of sympathize.

The Cheetah bot will be able not only to run faster than the fastest human on earth, but can also zigzag and evade. I find it amusing that the company behind it, Boston Dynamics, lists one of the applications of the robot is “advanced agriculture”. Because, you know, I imagine retractable flesh shredding claws come in handy when harvesting eggplant.

The article says the Cheetah will be able to “chase and evade” and will be able to “stop on a dime.” So really the only way you could make this robot sound scarier is if it turned out its fuel cells ran on gore and FEAR.

If that didn’t sound ominous enough, if you read the original article the Geekologie post references, it turns out these same guys are also working on building a HEADLESS TERMINATOR.

"Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service... us"

I am honestly glad that Boston Dynamics is on our side and everything, but holy crap, they build scary stuff. I really hope they don’t have a mad scientist working for them who will ultimately usurp control of their robots and lead an invasion force. Because the last thing I want to wake up to is a robotic cheetah shredding my torso apart with its rotating saw blade teeth, while its headless terminator handler rips my head from my spinal column for its human head collection. I like holding on to both my head and torso.

Again, I’m sure Boston Dynamics is full of responsible individuals who know what they’re doing (and certainly wouldn’t send robotic death cheetah squads on innocent blog writers who were totally only kidding before).  Still… it might be a good idea to lay low for a few decades, in case these guys decide to build AM from I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream next.


Good Stuff: Familiar Faces

February 23, 2011 3 comments

I’m on the internet a lot. More often than I should be, to be quite honest. And out of all the sites I frequent, the one I probably visit the most often, aside from Deviantart and Facebook and the like, is That Guy with the Glasses.

It’s hard to go wrong with the site, considering it has some of the most talented reviewers on the web. Of course I like the Nostalgia Critic and Spoony, and I have to say that Linkara‘s reviews are brilliant for having the perfect balance of being funny as well as insightful (after all, he was so cool I did an interview with him a while back). However, after Linkara and Spoony, I have a favorite reviewer that really doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves. That reviewer is Chad Rocco, better known as CR, the host of Familiar Faces.

Familiar Faces is a show where CR takes a look at minor characters from different television shows, animation, and other mediums (animation being the most prominent) and analyzes what made them unique. This might seem weird at first, and I will admit he might not be quite as hilarious as some of the other TGWTG reviewers, but his character analysis is well-reasoned, intelligent, and very entertaining to listen to. Every time I watch his show I’m reminded of another show, or just a character from a show, that I’ve forgotten entirely.

My favorite episodes thus far are his 12 Forgotten Christmas Specials episode, where he talks about 12 christmas specials that people either haven’t seen or don’t think about much (I remember seeing several of the specials on the list, but had almost forgotten them much until he mentioned them and brought back some nostalgic memories), and the episode where he looks at Baby Doll from the Batman Animated Series. Not only is the character fascinating to look at, but the episode was a crossover with the Nostalgia Critic. It was very well done and very funny. And I just have to say, as someone who prides himself on remembering obscure cartoons and tv shows, I have to give the man props, he knows his stuff. I mean, I swear I thought I was the only person who remembered Duckman, but he had a whole episode about two characters from that show too. And really, when your show is about minor characters from obscure mediums, when you remember something sadly underrated like Duckman, you’re in pretty good shape. (Now if only he would do an episode about somebody from Hey Arnold…)

Honestly, I’m not sure why his show isn’t as popular as some of the others on TGWTG. It has a very interesting premise and it delves into some cool, obscure material. Not only that, but the man is also a very good artist, so almost all of his title cards look really cool. You can see all his title cards, as well as his other art, on his deviantart page.

If you’ve never seen his videos, I urge you to check them out, especially if you’re a fan of animation since a good percentage of his episodes are about animated characters. His videos are great and I think it’s kind of sad they haven’t yet got as much attention as some other shows on the site. Check them out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Thoughts on Censorship and “Taboo” Subject Matter in Fiction

February 7, 2011 2 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about censorship and fiction that has subject matter that might be considered taboo or potentially offensive recently.

This has kind of been brewing for a short while now for a variety of reasons, mostly with a few news stories I’ve been following, namely the decision to release an edited version of Huck Finn with instances of the n-word removed, this story about a book list of  “100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader” releasing a list then revising it after some readers thought some of the books contained controversial subject matter, specifically it’s handling of rape as a plot element, and finally the recent controversy over a Penny Arcade comic that used the word rape, which many people felt using it in a humor comic was perpetuating a “rape culture” (this last story I won’t be going as in depth on as the other stories since, frankly, it’s been discussed so much that I don’t really think I have a unique perspective on it. However, I’m including it in the post since it, and the other two stories, sparked the general thoughts I have in this post). I urge everyone to check out the discussions around all three of those stories, as the stories and controversy surrounding them leads to some interesting debate.

Just to warn ahead of time, I will admit that this post might seem kind of rambling. Mostly because this is just me thinking out loud about these topics based on the stories I’ve pointed to.

As a writer, I found all three of these stories very interesting, since it got me thinking about how strongly people can feel about subjects matter in fiction they feel is taboo or that they feel is making light of what they feel is a serious issue. Many people feel that subjects like rape and incest and the like don’t really have a place in fiction if not handled properly, that they can do harm to the culture as a whole or that they will simply trivialize the issue. The latter two stories I linked to included quite a lot of discussion about this (although the last story involving Penny Arcade is a lot more complicated since that controversy had a lot of different factors that caused it to roll out of control a bit).

I certainly believe in intelligent discussion about whether a work of literature or media is appropriate. Elements in all the stories I linked provoke debate about these subject, what’s okay to write about and to promote. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and if they believe a work is offensive or trivializing an issue they have intense personal experience in, they have every right to let people know that.

However, it works both ways. Above everything else, I believe in freedom of speech in regards to art and expression. Unless that form of expression involves physically harming someone, I personally don’t believe there is any subject that’s off-limits to explore in art and literature. There are plenty of works of art and literature I believe handle controversial subjects in bad taste or that I feel have just plain disturbing subject matter with little artistic value, but I don’t feel there is any one topic that’s taboo. It is one thing to say you don’t like a piece of literature because you feel its offensive, it’s an entirely different one to say that literature should be banned, censored, or that the people who read it without being offended are immoral people contributing to social degradation.

People who make statements claiming people should be barred from being exposed to a work of literature or art, usually very well meaning people, can lead to censorship, which I don’t believe in. It can lead to some people not being exposed to very respectible pieces of literature or weaken the point the work is trying to make. As we see in the first story I linked, not even Mark Twain is big enough to avoid censorship. That case is remarkable since anyone who has ever read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn knows that the entire point of the story was that slavery and racial discrimination is immoral. This book was written at a time where racial discrimination was depressingly common and where the n-word and ethnic slurs were heard quite frequently. Twain’s point is while that kind of behavior was the social norm at the time, it did not make it morally right, that just because words like those were used by nearly everyone and that treating people a different race as inferior was something commonly practiced, did not make it right. By censoring the book with this new edition, it weakens the overall point he was trying to make. Obviously the point is still there, but it won’t be quite as potent. It won’t be what the original author intended.

So when I see stories like the second link, where in a booklist was quickly revised after a few people complained about the inclusion of books like the critically acclaimed Tender Morsels and the chilling Living Dead Girl (which I happen to be currently reading through), it’s kind of unsettling. Again, people have every right to say how they feel about the list. Every top 10 or top 100 list anywhere, ever, has discussions over what should or shouldn’t be on it. The people who thought some of the choices were offensive are entitled to their opinion and most cite reasonable reasons why they don’t feel it should be on the list. However, the creators of the list actually changing the list because of those comments is the unsettling part. I felt it did a disservice to the authors and works that were removed from the list and it seemed to seem to be self-censorship more than anything. It’s disturbing knowing a book can be recommended then very quickly disregarded because of a vocal minority.

It’s the same thing with banning books. Many books have been banned from libraries and schools, including classics such as Catcher in the Rye, because of a vocal minority believing its not appropriate for one reason or another. Again, most of the campaigns to ban books are well intentioned, but it can lead to people not being exposed to great works of art. It can lead to someone else’s freedom of speech being silenced or diluted. And unfortunately, censorship and banning one work can set precedent for other works to be censored or banned.

My point in this post, if there is one to be made aside from me thinking out loud, is that I believe that everyone has the right to write about any subject, even if it might seem controversial, just as everyone has the right to make express how they feel about it be it positively or negatively. Freedom of speech isn’t limited to the freedom of speech you feel is appropriate. Whether you think a piece of literature is offensive or if you think someone’s post complaining about a piece of artwork is making an argument you don’t agree with. As long as nobody hurts one another, everyone has a right to express themselves. Controversies such as this provoke some great discussion and thought (after all, it got me thinking about all this), but I don’t feel like anyone has a right to be censored or silent when it comes to art.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts on all this. Sorry if it seemed to ramble a little bit. Just got to thinking about all that. I promise the next post won’t come off nearly as rambling or preachy or anything.

Morally Offensive Commercials

So I was watching television on my break at work the other night where I had a first: I found myself morally offended by a commercial. I’m not usually the type of person to get mad about stupid commercials or anything, but this one made me pretty disturbed for a few reasons.

The commercial was for an online service I had never heard of called The actual commercial I watched luckily happened to be on Youtube.

So yeah. Already some of you can probably see why this sort of thing is just a little disturbing.

First of all, the fact that anyone can do a background check of anyone (regardless of whether the service ends up being accurate or not, because I can’t speak to that) is rather unsettling. It seems to me like it’d be a big invasion of privacy if you just decided to run a background check on, say, your neighbor or your electrician as the commercial suggests. The fact that anyone would use the service to get indiviual background checks denotes a lack of trust or respect for the person you’re doing the background check on. Not to say that there might not be a place for that service, in theory. I can understand if someone wanted to do a background check on someone they wanted to babysit their child if they didn’t know them very well (although anyone who would leave their child with someone they don’t really know is questionable already, I would think), but aside from that, I see very little application for this service, other than to sell overly nosy people information that is probably not any of their business to begin with.

So yeah, I have problems that the fact this service exists. But that’s not really the reason why I found it morally offensive. The thing I found disturbing about the commercial was the overall tone of it. The cheery music and friendly testimonials that tried to give the impression that running background checks on everyone you know was not only normal, but is indeed optimal, that running these checks and invading your friends and acquaintances privacy was a morally correct thing to do.

Not only that, but I do resent the implication this commercial gives that anyone who would not have a criminal record means you should trust that person, which of course isn’t true in every case. There are plenty of sick people out there who have never been arrested. Also, it implies that if someone DOES have a less-than-steller record, that they aren’t someone you can trust. I’m not saying that sort of thing wouldn’t call that person’s morals into question, but there are several people I know who have encountered the law because of a misunderstanding or simply because of bad decisions they made in the past. A background check does not tell you if a person is good or bad, it just tells you if they have a police record. The commercial gives the impression that you can make a decision on a person’s character with one background check from their service, which I think is kind of hasty when you think about it.

The fact that such a service exists is already bad, but the scary part is that there are people who pay for this, who use it, and probably believe thanks to this companies marketing that there isn’t anything wrong or morally questionable about it. That is kind of a scary thought.

The only solice I have is that the commercial is pretty cheesy fare, so I doubt very many people will be taken in by it. Most of the people I’ve mentioned this commercial to agree that company is pretty messed up. I just found it odd that a commercial, designed to market their service, could have such a powerful opposite effect, to make me angry that the service exists at all. I just thought I’d share it.