Small Bites

A collection of small items that don’t seem to warrant entire posts of their own.

Engadget reported last week that, as their headline put it, “Researcher finds huge security flaws in Bluetooth locks”. Briefly, he found that twelve of sixteen locks he bought at random had either no security or absolutely horrible security. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that those remaining four locks are safe, just that the researcher, Anthony Rose, didn’t immediately find problems.

Does this come as any surprise? It shouldn’t. Given how often we’ve seen Internet of Things manufacturers give no thought whatsoever to security, the surprising thing is that four of the locks weren’t trivially hackable.

Police and alarm manufacturers will tell you that it’s impossible to actually secure your house against a break in. The goal is to make it a harder target than your neighbors’ houses. Clearly, your best bet today is to buy a bunch of Bluetooth locks–and give them to all your neighbors!

Moving on.

I said that the new Ghostbusters movie wasn’t doing as well at the box office as it deserved. Apparently Sony agrees. According to Gizmodo (among many sources), the direct loss–before figuring add-on income from licensing and merchandise–could be as much as $70 million.

As a result, plans for a sequel are on hold. Instead, Sony is focusing on an animated TV show for 2018 and an animated movie for 2019.

OK, yeah, animation is potentially cheaper than live action, especially if you don’t have to pay full price for the actors. But it does rather make Ghostbusters something of a second-tier property.

And if you’re the betting sort, the smart money says neither the TV show nor the movie will feature the women who starred in this year’s film–and then, if the animation does well, it’ll be held up as further “proof” that women can’t carry a movie without male help.

Complete change of subject.

Audi is going to launch a new feature in some of its 2017 cars. Correction: IMNSHO, it’s a misfeature. They’re going to add a countdown timer on the instrument panel and heads-up display to let drivers know when red lights will turn green.

Seriously. And if Audi does it, you know everyone else will follow suit.

I don’t know how people drive where you are–or near Audi headquarters–but around here, people stretch yellow lights well beyond any rational limit. Give drivers a timer, and they’re going to accelerate as soon as it hits zero, without even looking at the traffic light, much less checking for oncoming traffic that didn’t even enter the intersection until their light was red.

The only way this could even begin to be sensible or safe would be if automakers lock out the accelerator (and horn!) until the onboard sensors confirm that the light is green, the car in front (if any) is beginning to move, and there’s no vehicle in the intersection. I regard this as highly unlikely to happen.

So, given my grumpiness in regard to new technological “advances,” you may be surprised to hear that I’m strongly in favor of this next announcement.

According to Ford CEO Mark Fields, the company is actively developing fully autonomous cars intended for ride-hailing services. They expect to have them on the market by 2021.

I’ll be blunt here: I dislike taxis and their modern would-be successors in large part because there’s no way to know whether the driver will (just to pick a few examples at random) cross solid lines changing lanes, speed, use the mirrors before changing lanes, or come to full stops at red lights and stop signs.

There’s no guarantee that an autonomous car will drive any better than any random human–and, putting on my QA hat for a moment–you can be certain that every single automaker’s self-driving car will have buggy software.

But at least autonomous cars will be more consistent. Get in a car that drives itself, and you’ll know what to expect from the driver. I find that idea soothing.

Finally, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this last item.

It seems that the Hacienda Mexican Restaurant chain in South Bend, Indiana thought it would be a good idea to put up billboards advertising their food as “The Best Mexican Food This Side Of The Wall.”

The signs are coming down. According to Executive Vice President Jeff Leslie, the company “didn’t expect the backlash.”

Let that sink in for a moment. This is a chain of Mexican restaurants that’s so out of touch with Hispanics, that they thought associating themselves with Trump’s Wall was a good advertising strategy.

I know the connection between an ad and the product it’s hyping is tenuous at best, but this really takes the tortilla. If the company has that big a disconnect with its roots, what are the chances that it’s food is any good at all, much less the best north of Nueva León? Small bites, indeed.

Four for the Price of One

I’ve had an unusually busy couple of weeks, even without GT’s contributions* to the excitement.

* GT is, by the way, doing well. He had the drain removed from his cheek Sunday. He continues to remove the Cone o’ Shame, but is making no effort to evade the other medical necessities (mostly warm compresses twice a day).

Maybe it won’t seem all that busy to many of you, but keep in mind that I typically go to maybe two movies–and less than one concert–a year. Add a couple of ballgames, and that’s pretty much it for my outside entertainment. Somehow, however, I found myself going to two concerts and two movies in two weeks.

All that makes for a priceless opportunity–four ready-made blog posts!–that I’m going to shamelessly squander. One post, four mini-reviews. Ready? Let’s go.

Saturday, 7/9: The BFG

Let’s be honest. The BFG is not one of Roald Dahl’s best books. It’s certainly not in the same league as the Charlie books or James and the Giant Peach*. Not even Fantastic Mr. Fox (no, there really isn’t a “The” at the beginning of the title). The end isn’t really an end, it just sort of fades out. The climactic confrontation nearly slips by unnoticed. And later events happen without much reference to earlier happenings.

* My personal favorite.

So the movie didn’t have a high bar to clear. But Spielberg–or rather, he and screenwriter Melissa Mathison–didn’t settle for a simple transposition of book to film. A single example of the improvements they made: In the book, there’s a minor argument between Sophie and the BFG which neither wins, and the subject is immediately dropped. In the movie, the BFG wins the argument by doing an endrun around Sophie’s better judgement. As a result, we get bagpipes and jet-propelled corgis.

Mathison and Spielberg added a few other callbacks to events earlier in the film, and as a result, the ending became more satisfying, dramatically and emotionally.

It was never going to be a major smash, but it deserves better than the reception than it’s currently getting at the box office.

Thursday, 7/14: BABYMETAL

You know I’m not going to diss BABYMETAL.

But I do have a couple of complaints, so let me get those out of my system first. Standing in line outside the venue was cold. Twainian levels of cold. Nobody’s fault, but the group’s management missed an opportunity: if they had moved the merchandise sales outside before the doors opened, they would unquestionably have sold a huge number of hoodies.

Once they opened the doors, it still took a long time to get inside–they were funneling the entire audience through a pair of metal detectors. From what we overheard, it was the first time they had used them, and their inexperience showed. Given the ongoing controversy over whether BABYMETAL is really metal, I wondered if they were going to turn away anyone who didn’t set off the detectors: “Sorry, kid, you’re not metal enough to attend this show.” I didn’t see that happen, but I also didn’t see it not happen.

The Regency Ballroom was kind enough to open the balcony so those who wished to avoid the mosh pit that consumed the entire main floor could do so. The balcony even had seats! Not that the seats mattered, because as soon as the first notes sounded, everyone stood up. Including the six-footer in front of me. I’ve got some lovely photos of the back of his head and arms.
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No, that shot really isn’t as perverted as his arm makes it look, but the rest of the shots he was in are so much more completely blocked that they don’t amount to much more than unintelligible blurs.

My apologies, by the way, to whoever was behind me. I hope you were taller than I am.

Still, I did get some good shots, especially when the lighting wasn’t so red it threw off the camera’s focus.
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OK, “good” by my standards. Stop laughing, Beth.

And no number of bodies could block the music.

I was able to let go of my brain and get into the experience–my first metal concert!–and wound up exhausted and sore-throated in a good way. All in all, I had a fantastic time, and yes, next time I find myself in proximity to a BABYMETAL show, I’ll attend. I’ll just make sure I have a better line of sight to the stage.

Tuesday, 7/19: Ghostbusters

Unlike many of the people my age who have, shall we say, firm opinions about the wisdom of a Ghostbusters remake, I came into the theater with an open mind. I saw the original when it came out, but I doubt that I’ve seen it more than twice since. Certainly not at all in the last decade. So I remember a couple of key scenes clearly, and I remember the movie as a whole as being funny. But I don’t consider it a cherished part of my youth, and I’m definitely not in a position to do a point-by-point comparison between the films.

Taken on its own, then, I found the new movie more than worth the time and ticket price. I don’t expect it to match the original’s multiple Oscar, Hugo, and Grammy award nominations, but it’s far from embarrassing itself, its actors, or its creators.

Seeing it so soon after BABYMETAL, I probably found the scenes at the metal show funnier than I might have otherwise, but they worked well enough even without that help.

Kudos to the crew for moving the big dance scene to the end credits instead of interrupting the flow of the story; the little snippet they used during the film was much funnier for being so abbreviated.

And the dialog flowed well. Writing humor is hard, and making it look easy is even harder*. That there were so few places where the humor missed is a major tribute to the creative team.

* Yes, I know I’m far from the first person to point that out. But it bears repeating.

Count me as one white male of a certain age who doesn’t think Ghostbusters‘ 2016 incarnation destroyed his youth, but does think it enhanced his certain-age-itude.

However, having said that, I will admit that if I had to guess which of the past couple of weeks’ entertainments is the one I’ll be least likely to remember fondly a few decades from now, it would be Ghostbusters.

Friday, 7/22: They Might Be Giants

No, you’ve never heard me blathering about my enduring love of They Might Be Giants. There’s a reason for that: I don’t have a deep passion for them. But Maggie is something of a fan, and I appreciate their sense of humor, so we grabbed the chance to catch their show in Berkeley.

A slight diversion: the show was originally supposed to be in March, but there were technical problems with the venue. The show was at the newly remodeled UC Theatre, and was supposed to be the theater’s grand reopening after a fifteen-year hiatus. Didn’t quite work out. But now that they’re fully operational, I love what they’ve done with the place. The UC used to be a movie theater–Maggie and I used to go there in its repertory days–and the remodeling handles the steeply angled floor brilliantly: it’s been divided into three flat sections, each with a low wall at the front. The first section is actually lower than the stage, which puts the performers’ feet at the audience’s chin level. Odd, but very workable for dancing. The middle section is about ten feet higher, giving it a perfect view of the stage, and the back section is another couple feet up.

But I digress. So what else is new?

The audience for TMBG was somewhat more sedate than BABYMETAL’s crowd, and we were lucky enough to be near the front of the line. That meant we were able to snag a couple of the small complement of chairs at the front of the middle section. It wasn’t until we were seated that I realized I had forgotten my camera. Fortunately, my phone did an acceptable job.
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An optical zoom would have been nice, but this is fine as a memory cue.

And, beyond the music, the show was memorable for one thing I’ve never seen before:
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I thought at first the sign-language interpreters were with the group, but apparently not–John and John had to ask the interpreters’ names before thanking them. Regardless, a nice touch, though I’d love to get an appraisal of how well they did: it can’t be easy keeping up with TMBG’s rapid-fire lyrics.

Good view, good music. And if I wasn’t as tired and hoarse as the week before, I did come out of the theater with hands sore from clapping. An evening well spent.

So that’s been my mid-to-late July. I could probably get used to those levels of excitement but I’m hoping for a slightly quieter August–at the very least, one without medical emergencies.