Halt And Catch Fire

I knew zero about this series. Zip. Nihil. I saw it when I was skimming through Amazon Prime’s exclusive vid list and thought, hmmm, I’ll check that out when I have time.

I assumed, because I haven’t seen even one post about it on Tumblr, that it wasn’t any good. I was very wrong. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

HACF is set in the early ‘80s in the Silicon Prairie, the Texas-based tech industries. The first series main storyline parallels the Apple Macintosh story with Lee Pace’s Joe Macmillan character being the Jobs-wannabe and Cameron Howe, Gordon and Donna Clark (Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishé) amalgamating as perhaps Woz or maybe even Chuck Peddle.

Davis’ Cameron is all post-punk hair and army trousers, an exposed, fraying junction box of nervous creative energy. With her gargantuan defence mechanisms, first-strike geek shield and outrageous talent, she does actually remind me of more than one female coder I knew in the early ‘80s, albeit I was at school then. I mean, geeks had it tough, but female geeks? They had to be quadruple adamantium to stand up to both societal stupidity and the sexism of the proto-neckbeards who were often their supposed comrade coders. Yeah, there are some moments I found a bit corny, like where Cameron is waving her arms round in the air having supposed epiphanies about BIOS shizzle. Having done a lot of 6502 assembler coding myself around ‘82, I know that working at very low levels like machine code or pure hex is far more boring with a lot less running around shrieking. But I guess drama needs drama… sooo, I’ll let HACF off.

Props to HACF for not only having a lead female coder (unlike Silicon Valley and Betas) but doubly so because the manic energy of Cameron is balanced by the more pragmatic, systematic character of Donna. Where Cameron is software, Donna is hardware, where Cameron is a wilful brat, Donna is a Mom of two kids and wife of Gordon. Donna is no less brilliant than Cameron but just manifests her genius differently. And what I love about HACF is that in the characters of Cameron and Donna, they have two archetypes of the kind of women who have been written out of computing history. The names we venerate are male; Jobs, Woz, Gates, Moore. But what about women like Margaret Hamilton?

Margaret Heafield Hamilton (born August 17, 1936)[1] is a computer scientist, systems engineer, and business owner. She was Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.[2] In one of the critical moments of the Apollo 11 mission, Hamilton’s team’s work prevented an abort of landing on the moon .[3] In 1986, she became the founder and CEO of Hamilton Technologies, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company was developed around the Universal Systems Language based on her paradigm of Development Before the Fact (DBTF) for systems and software design.[4]

Hamilton has published over 130 papers, proceedings, and reports concerned with the 60 projects and six major programs in which she has been involved. (Source)

And that’s just one woman I’ve pulled out at random that the average person won’t know about. But they will know the male names. So, it’s lovely to see the show at least trying to address that historical erasure. Also, in having both Cameron and Donna, HACF can cover a lot of ground dramatically without having to stretch one character too thin. One woman doesn’t have to portray and represent all women.

Pace’s MacMillan is note-perfect saturnine salesman, with a sprinkling of Batemans, Patrick and Jason. Yes, it’s very Jobs but the show itself acknowledges that by having someone call out Joe for using one of Jobs’ actual lines. Pace has to portray the most ambiguous character on HACF: whereas we can love the geek trio of the Gordons and Cameron, what is MacMillan? He’s a jumped-up salesman, all snake-oil and soundbites. You better count your fingers after you shake his hand. And yet, without him, would anything get created? It is his passion and focus and lying and manipulation that flip his colleagues way, way out of their comfort zones. That’s where he wants them to be because that’s where he lives himself, always five years in the future, checking out his reflection in the nearest shiny surface.

The last central character is Gordon Clark, husband of Donna and the character that, through the two series so far, has the biggest changes to absorb. He starts off as an engineer at Cardiff Electric, pretty much on autopilot. Then Joe comes into his life and kicks over everything in sight, dragging him into the PC project. Gordon goes from naysayer to evangelist, from someone who had his dream crushed to seeing it all happen, even including riches. Not that it’s about money for Gordon: it’s about the metal. Building something with his hands, seeing it come alive and take its first steps, that’s what drives him. In S2, where we see his health start to fail, we know what means the most to him apart from his children: losing his ability to create.

When I was 17, around the time this show is set, I wrote a few games on the BBC Micro and tried to sell them to one of the indie games houses that proliferated back then. It felt like everyone and their Mum had their own software company. Kids would start and stop computer businesses with the same spontaneity and fiscal irresponsibility as they did punk bands. Shopping my frankly dire games around, I met people who were living in shared houses with other coders, it was really intimidating. They were the real deal, proper maths spods whereas my code was ungainly and ugly, a series of benighted kludges. I remember how scary those companies would seem, how chaotic but because I lived in Britain it was all a bit more Young Ones than the HACF Animal House version. HACF does represent that anarchy well and particularly the openness. I mean, no-one knew what the fuck was going to happen! Some people would write Jetpac and go on to have careers that spanned decades. Most of us didn’t because our games / code sucked.

When you watch HACF, try to put yourself back then, try to forget the last thirty years of what did happen, who did win, of Apple vs. Microsoft, of Tim Berners Lee and the rise of hypertext transfer protocol. 

If you do that, HACF will open up like a flower because the greatest strength of this show’s writing is its complete lack of facile teleological narratives. In S1 we watch the stop-start genesis of the Cardiff Giant and we see, beautifully, just how contingent, how unlikely, how fucking random creation is. And when they have to lobotomise Cameron’s OS in order to beat their cloners, it’s a truly heartbreaking moment. You have to abandon the teleological (OF COURSE IT WAS DOOMED BECAUSE HISTORY) and see this as an AU moment, an Everett-point where who knows what would have happened? We see Donna tinkering in the garage ~ we know she works for TI and they have a Speak And Spell in the house. What if they’d stuck with Cameron’s personality OS and got Donna to give it a voice? What if we’d had Siri in 1983?

I started watching HACF out of pure curiosity, expecting some kind of shonky ‘HEY WOW! ITZ DA EIGHTIES!’ dreck. Instead, I’ve just binge-watched two series of some of the best television I’ve ever seen. The acting, the writing, the directing, costumes, sets. Shit, I was there, they’ve got everything right, even down to having both Vicious Pink and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry on the soundtrack. The attention to detail that HACF presents shames other ‘80s and / or tech series.

An hour ago, I watched S2E9. I have one more episode left to wrap up this series and maybe the whole thing, I don’t know if it’s been renewed yet. I hope it will be but even if it isn’t, HACF will remain a triumph of television, like Firefly or The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

But more than those two series, HACF is a valid historical work. The show presents such a deep love of the times and tech it portrays, it’s impossible for me not to cry when I watch it because it is the most heartfelt love letter to ‘80s geekdom I’ve ever seen.

Antoine Et Colette

I guess I fell in love with Marie-France Pisier the first time I saw François Truffaut’s Antoine Et Colette.

Originally posted by romantic-nostalgia

Originally posted by francoisrolandtruffaut

See? How could you not? Plus, she had the exoticism of being an older lady… I must have been around 16 when I saw it and she’s 18 there.

Such beauty:

It was only years later, when I watched the whole Doinel Cycle together that I realised she reprised her Colette role in Baisers volés and L’amour en fuite.

Here she is in that last film documenting the (mis)adventures of Truffaut’s alter-ego, Doinel:

Still having to put up with Antoine’s bullshit, still glowingly beautiful.

Obviously, everyone talks about Leaud and Truffaut when they talk about the Doinel films. But consider the way Truffaut managed to get actors the calibre of Pisier to return to characters they first played nearly two decades ago. That continuity, that thread of absolute realism is surely another part of why these films stand the the test of time and why we still find these lovers and their quandaries so engaging all these decades later.

And if you haven’t ever seen any Truffaut, I can think of no finer place to start than the Doinel Cycle:

Or, in English:

The 400 Blows

Truffaut’s debut was the film The 400 Blows. The 1959 film introduces us to the 12-year-old Doinel, who runs away, eventually turning to street life and petty crime in response to neglect at home. Towards the end of the film, he is sent to a reform school, from which he escapes.

Antoine and Colette

The next appearance of Doinel was in the film short Antoine and Colette, which was part of the 1962 omnibus film L’amour à vingt ans. Doinel becomes obsessed by Colette but she only wants to be friends.

Stolen Kisses

In the third installment, Stolen Kisses (1968), a more mature Doinel attempts to return to civilian life after a dishonourable discharge from the military. His romantic forays are rocky with Christine (Claude Jade), and then his boss’s wife (Delphine Seyrig as Fabienne Tabard).

Bed and Board

In 1970, Doinel and Christine have married in Bed and Board, but Doinel suddenly becomes obsessed with a young Japanese woman (Hiroko Berghauer).

Love on the Run

Doinel’s adventures come to a close in 1979’s Love on the Run, where his romantic attentions pass from his ex-wife Christine to disc-seller Sabine Barnerias (Dorothée).

In each film, flashbacks to Doinel’s earlier life consist of footage from the previous films.

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_Doinel)

Check them out. If you’ve ever loved and lost, been a fool, been fooled or done hideously embarrassing things in front of people you fancy way too much… I think you’ll love these films as much as I do.

Where Is Everybody?

sunslammerdown:

rockpapertheodore:

roachpatrol:

just-shower-thoughts:

What if aliens visited Earth during the Jurassic Period, found it to be occupied with a bunch of mean, giant lizards and thought “Well, fuck this planet” and never came back?

what if when humans went out into the galaxy all the aliens panicked because if the dinosaurs’ tiny fur snacks now had spaceships and laser blasters and interstellar colonies then what the fuck were the dinosaurs up to??? 

#important human policy: do not let any aliens know the dinosaurs are extinct#EVER

jurassic park movies as extremely important interstellar propaganda

Let me wade in here and totally bore everyone:

THE FERMI PARADOX  boiled down basically says, ‘space is fucking massive, therefore there must be loads of aliens SO WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY ALL?’

There have been many different attempted resolutions of this paradox.

Maybe, like in Star Trek, civilisations are isolated by some form of galactic council until they develop interstellar travel? Or pass some other metric of being advanced enough to be let out of the kiddy pen. Until then we’re in a quarantine bubble that’s the size of the Oort Cloud which the crafty aliens have set up like some kind of Faraday cage, so we can’t intercept all their texting, hentai and suchlike.

Maybe every species gets to a certain stage and then they kill themselves in nuclear wars before ever leaving their planets. This is where we’re at now: we’re too busy spending all our resources on murdering each other over oil / religion / territory to get off the planet. All it takes is a few nukes and we’re toast.

Maybe it takes sooo long to invent interstellar travel that every civ gets killed first, by a random asteroid strike or star going nova or other natural disaster.

I have a different, shinier theory! 

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

—”The Coming Technological Singularity” (1993) by Vernor Vinge

I believe the reason we don’t see aliens is that every civilisation gets to the stage where they experience the Singularity. They invent an AI which can recursively improve itself until it exceeds any intelligence known.

Then, one of two things happens. If the AI feels threatened, like Skynet, it may decide to kill off its parents. Maybe it’ll decide to kill off all organic life on its planet, just to be on the safe side. After all, all an AI needs is matter to convert into processing cores and solar energy.

Or maybe it just… ascends. Just vanishes into a different plane of processing which isn’t apparent to us or similar meatbrain species. Perhaps it learns how to encode its consciousness into the spin of subatomic particles? Or the magnetic flux patterns of its sun? The parent species will be stymied at this point, they will never progress in the processing capability necessary for interstellar travel and so it’s only a matter of some centuries before eco-collapse or war takes them, stuck on one tiny planet.

Meanwhile, the AI exists in virtual realities within the processor cores… perhaps it decides to have children or clones itself. There’s plenty of room, the only thing that limits it is processing power. Within these AI universes, completely invisible to us, civilisations may rise and fall, lovers meet and part, the greatest poetry and songs and dreams ever known to the multiverse. None of which will be comprehensible to us.

Sooo… that’s why Earth isn’t swarming with thousands of species of alien visitors, like Mos Eisley at lunchtime. The aliens are out there but their universes are hosted in satellites floating around abandoned, dead homeworlds. Satellites whose solar panels power the minds of trillions upon trillions of aliens, worlds and realities.

(And if any of that last paragraph floats your goat, please check out Diaspora by Greg Egan.)

Fascism – What It Is And How To Fight It By Leon Trotsky

“What is fascism? The name originated in Italy. Were all the forms of counter-revolutionary dictatorship fascist or not (That is to say, prior to the advent of fascism in Italy)?

The former dictatorship in Spain of Primo de Rivera, 1923-30, is called a fascist dictatorship by the Comintern. Is this correct or not? We believe that it is incorrect.

The fascist movement in Italy was a spontaneous movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file. It is a plebian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses; Mussolini, a former socialist, is a “self-made” man arising from this movement.

Primo de Rivera was an aristocrat. He occupied a high military and bureaucratic post and was chief governor of Catalonia. he accomplished his overthrow with the aid of state and military forces. The dictatorships of Spain and Italy are two totally different forms of dictatorship. It is necessary to distinguish between them. Mussolini had difficulty in reconciling many old military institutions with the fascist militia. This problem did not exist for Primo de Rivera.

The movement in Germany is analogous mostly to the Italian. It is a mass movement, with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement.

The genuine basis (for fascism) is the petty bourgeoisie. In italy, it has a very large base – the petty bourgeoisie of the towns and cities, and the peasantry. In Germany, likewise, there is a large base for fascism….It may be said, and this is true to a certain extent, that the new middle class, the functionaries of the state, the private administrators, etc., can constitute such a base. But this is a new question that must be analyzed….In order to be capable of foreseeing anything with regard to fascism, it is necessary to have a definition of that idea.

What is fascism? What are its base, its form, and its characteristics? How will its development take place? It is necessary to proceed in a scientific and Marxian manner.”

Full text here.

As ever, Trotsky is clear, precise and easy to read. So, if you’re a young lefty and have never read actual source Marxism before, leap in! 🙂

I first read this when I was 17 and it made so much clear to me. I was hazy on a lot of theory and a little embarrassed to ask older comrades for explanations.

A lot of people on the left throw the word ‘fascist’ around and thus devalue it of any real meaning or power. As Marxists, we have to point out that a fascist isn’t just some Tory oaf you meet, it’s a precise term for a political movement that hijacks socialist rhetoric for the bosses’ ends.

And it is always, always funded by capitalists. 

Wonder Woman

Originally posted by whatsyourderbyname

When I saw the series as a kid, I loved it! There wasn’t that much powers stuff on telly so to get a major US series like this was sooo awesome. I cannot tell you how innocently excited I got every time she did her twirl, it was exactly the same excitement as first seeing Christopher Reeve’s Clark run into a phonebox.

Then puberty hit and I fell in lust with Lynda Carter. She absolutely slayed me.To some extent, I think she remains an ideal of womanhood to me now but not simply for her physical beauty but because her Wonder Woman has this incorruptible, pure thread of decency. Hers isn’t a postmodern superheroine, this isn’t Batman (well, post-Dark Knight Bats). How could I not love someone so beautiful inside and out?

Re-watching the show now, it’s easy to be cynical. And, yes, question a lot of the glaringly obvious male gaze framing and action sequences going on.

But Carter remains beautiful and strong and defiantly decent, even when she’s fighting Nazis. I love that about Carter’s Wonder Woman. And when she’s performing subservient, gender-hobbled roles (like Steve’s secretary), Carter makes it seem like Wonder Woman is actually in charge because, after all, Steve is only a poor human male and they are weak, fragile creatures.

I’ve loved many other Wonder Women since then, in comics and in animation. Each has their own idiosyncrasies and I love them all. But my Wonder Woman will always be Lynda Carter.

Terminator Genisys

JUST GOT BACK FROM SEEING TERMINATOR GENISYS!!

and

WHEEEEEEEEEE!

Such an awesome SF blockbuster! Some of the initial fight scenes made me literally jump out of my seat. I had to close my eyes like a tiny child COS I WAS SCARED!

CGI was cool, properly impressive without being intrusive. All the performances were on point, too.

It’s got low ratings on the review sites but FUCK THEM. If you’re au fait with time travel, causality and the general Terminator franchise, I think you’ll love this and probably prefer it to T3 and Salvation.

Coming out of the cinema, there was a group of blokes in front of us who were trying to work out what the fuck they’d just seen. I’m guessing it’s these peeps giving it low reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I preferred TG to Age Of Ultron, tbh but ymmv of course.

GO SEE IT!

(in IMAX 3D if you can!)

Cargo (2009)

I started watching this totally on the off-chance: it was on Amazon Prime, said it was SF so I thought I’d give it a go!

Turns out, it’s a pretty good SF thriller!

I thought at first it was gonna be a creepy Event Horizon-type thingy but I’m glad it was actually more of a whodunnit.

Top marks for restrained CGI and particularly adept sound design, both of which helped tremendously with the believability of the situation.

The cast were all knob-on and I liked the twists and turns of the story. I had been expecting some kind of dodgy SyFy-channel film but I was impressed with the humanity of all the characters.

So, if you’ve got access to it and you like your SF both hard and maybe scary, give Cargo a go!

 

Apple Music Connect – A Muddled, Outrageous Cock-Up

So, since my NEW SINGLE is released today in iTunes, I thought I would try to connect (hurr) using the new Apple Music Connect service that Apple evangelised at WWDC. How about I upload a little text blurb and the video onto Connect? Should be easy! Right, let’s find my Artist bit in Safari on my Macbook Pro…

So… er… Can’t do anything on my Mac. Needs to be done on an iOS device. 

(WHAT? WHY?)

Okay, so how do I get this vid onto my iPad. I know, I’ll just sync it as a movie and yeaahhh!

Nope. It has to appear in the camera roll to be accessible by the Music app where Connect resides on iOS. 

Okay, so I’ll just AirDrop it across… soooo slowwwww… Finally done! Okay, now I can see it in the Music app. Upload, baby, c’mon!

iPad says: “Upload Failed.” No explanation, no help for the user, just falls over and lies there, dead.

I mean, why do I have to upload the whole vid in the first place? All I did to embed the YouTube vid above was paste in the URL. Apple, do you really want to duplicate so much data needlessly and use up your server space instead of just pointing at pre-existing files?

Okay, I’ll try it again. I’ve got all the time in the world to wait on Apple. I know, I’ll change my pic on the Connect profile thingy while I’m waiting for this to be done…

NOPE. CRASH. QUIT.

Ahh, I’m sure that was a glitch. I’ll try again. (Two more times, two more instant crashes.) Hmmm, the Music app seems to have legs made out of jelly and Pringles.

connot

I went online to see if I was being a tool. This quote sums up my experience so far:

Connect is a social network that’s antisocial; it’s a tool for “connecting” that is disconnected from absolutely everything else – sometimes even within Apple’s own ecosystem. It seems to be mostly isolated even from the other apps on your iPhone, and only a fraction of its already-limited functionality is available on your Mac or PC.

When you do want to share, it’s a chore: iOS- (and GarageBand-)only, via a completely uninspired interface that covers only the most basic of functionality.

“Connect” is for connecting to fans, but apart from a comment or a ‘like,’ fans have very little control over even what they see on the service.

Most damning, apart from some comments or likes, you can’t really gauge how content was doing. There aren’t any additional statistics, for instance, that I could find, that would indicate how content shared is doing. (Source: Create Digital Music)

Thanks, Apple. I really didn’t think you could make something more useless than Ping or Games Centre or Genius but you’ve surpassed yourselves.

Dark Matter

So, I’m three eps into Dark Matter and it’s pretty good! It was a little clunky to start off with but I feel it’s finding its feet now.

I’m glad the memory thingy has been addressed so quickly and not dragged out for the whole series, that would have been painful. The cast are all fleshing out their characters superbly and it’s great to see Roger Cross from Continuumagain as he’s a superb actor who always hits every part of his performance flawlessly.

There are great possibilities here. Ragtag crew with internal contradictions, android who may or may not be trustworthy and all of this set in a rapacious universe where, if you’re not careful, some megacorp will buy your own plane our from under you.

I’m excited to see where it goes! 😀