This is a UNIX System! I Know This!

It's a UNIX System

It's a UNIX System

Movies are infamously terrible at depicting computers with even a modicum of accuracy. Even UNIX gurus raised an eyebrow in confusion when Lex announced in Jurassic Park, “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” (In fairness, she was at least looking at a real application, but not one readily recognizable as “UNIX”.)

In delightful contrast to the stereotypical Hollywood computer experience, Joshua Nimoy describes creating the special effects for Tron Legacy. I particularly enjoy the use of emacs.

(via kottke)

In the Shadow of the Moon

I can never pass up a good Apollo documentary.  I should probably credit the 1995 Apollo 13 blockbuster for sparking my interest in the Apollo program, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Ron Howard’s 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon was so appealing.

The standard route through an Apollo documentary begins with Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things” speech, mourns the Apollo 1 tragedy, shows pictures of Earth from Apollo 8 and video of the moon from Apollo 11, and if there’s time applauds mission control in the context of Apollo 13.

The hour and 39 minute documentary In the Shadow of the Moon takes the same basic trip, but refreshingly from the personal perspectives of the astronauts themselves.  With extensive interviews with the astronauts (and none with mission controllers that I noticed), we get an entirely first-hand telling of the events as they happened up on the moon and en route.

Alan Bean of Apollo 12 describes, for example, the strange feeling of stepping out of the Lunar Module onto a deserted world:

When you land on the Moon, and you stop, and you get out, nobody’s out there. This little LM, and then two of you, you’re it. On this whole big place.

What sold me entirely, though, was the Apollo 11 landing sequence.  Everyone’s heard the radio exchanges and watched video of barren lunar surface streaming past a Lunar Module window — and I’ve listened to those tapes a dozen times now.  People worldwide can recognize the exchange first spoken when the lander touched down: “The Eagle has Landed.”  “Roger, Tranquility.  We copy you on the ground.  You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue; we’re breathing again.”  Charlie Duke, acting as CAPCOM, can barely get the words out.

In the Shadow of the Moon plays the same tape, but shows the video feed from inside mission control — video I never knew existed before.  There, when Charlie Duke replies, “Roger Tranquility,” are the very real bunch of guys about to turn blue, some clearly about to burst with excitement.

It took a lot to surprise me with what looked like a routine Apollo history flick, but this absolutely did the trick.

Every Little Step

In the opening scene of A Chorus Line — one of the greatest opening numbers in Broadway history — we see a group of dancers auditioning for a part in an upcoming musical — the unnamed “show within a show.”

In the opening scene of Every Little Step (available from Netflix), we see a group of dancers auditioning for a part in A Chorus Line where, as you may remember from the previous sentence, they’ll portray dancers auditioning for parts in an unnamed “show within a show.”

Everybody got that?

The film shows us the real-life audition for the recent A Chorus Line revival, which so closely parallels the audition scene from the musical that the film cuts between them seamlessly.  We see whole songs put together from a dozen individual people going for the same part, some with wildly different styles.  Different actresses read the same dialog, one after the next, leaving us, the audience, rooting for the people we want cast.

The film also plays some of the original taped interviews with dancers in 1974 that first inspired A Chorus Line, showing us how some simple if emotional anecdotes told among friends became some of Broadway’s best known music.

Really, the film is itself what A Chorus Line was in 1975: a look at what it’s like to be a dancer competing for a role, and how thrilling success can be.

The DVD includes a director’s commentary — i.e., an interview about the auditions for the show about the auditions for the other show based on interviews about various auditions for other shows.  I’d love to listen to it, but I have a very real fear that exploring that many levels of “meta” could unravel the very fabric of the universe.

King Corn

Acting on some old recommendations, I watched King Corn today.

I thought it would be good “background documentary” — something to have on in the background while I played on my laptop.  From the moment it started, I barely touched the laptop.

The film follows two friends who move to Iowa to farm an acre of corn and see what happens to it.  A huge amount, it turns out, ends up feeding the cattle that become our hamburgers, and another huge amount becomes the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens virtually everything we eat.  The moral: you’re eating corn with every meal whether you think you are or not.

The film also dissects how it’s government subsidies that create such a surplus of corn, making it cheap to use in so many different foods.  My favorite line in the piece:

We subsidize the Happy Meals, but we don’t subsidize the healthy ones.

I’d already replaced all my frozen corn with frozen peas after friends recommended this movie.  Now I’ll also be hunting down the excess high-fructose corn syrup in my kitchen.

I Could Kill You With My Brain

I listened attentively every time someone recommended that I watch Firefly, and then practiced the fine art of procrastination in never watching it. The series ended over six years ago, but I’ve finally caught up now.


Among my favorite quotes from the entire fourteen-episode run:

If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell — a level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

A close second, from the same episode:

My days of not taking you seriously are sure coming to a middle.

I found Serenity (the followup movie) somewhat underwhelming.  It seemed to seek a plot great enough to commit to the big screen, when the episodic plots of the television show were a far better fit for the characters.

But even if Serenity were entirely lifeless (which it’s not), Firefly would still have been fantastic enough to compensate.  I will now immediately buy my own set of DVDs, and if only someone made a Firefly tee shirt I’d buy that too.


I wanted to write a simple post, inspired by the article about Craigslist I just mentioned, with a simple link to a film trailer.  It’s called The Girlfriend Experience, and tells the story of a high-priced call girl.  The trailer is vague, but intriguing.

However, I accidentally searched “Girlfriend Experience” on Google instead of Hulu.  Oops.  Some results were… let’s just say “not about the movie.”  Others were, though, and I opened a blurb Lane Brown wrote for New York magazine about the same trailer.  It quips:

Be aware… her apartment appears to be located near a popular hangout for street drummers.

Funny.  Then I read the first comment (by a first-time commenter):

Holy Mackerel! The drummer is Shakerleg! He drums entirely with his hands. He’s incredible. Google him.

Let’s follow that advice (after admiring the complete sentences and punctuation) and Google the man.

You can start by watching him on YouTube.  It’s quite good.  You can even buy his CD from iTunes or CD Baby.  You evidently cannot read about him on Wikipedia.  Even the Internet has its limits.


You must watch Juno.  This independent movie stars Ellen Page and features Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Allison Janney (for starters), and tells the story of a girl who gets pregnant.

I expected to see either “an emotional roller coaster” or “a heartwarming tale of a young girl’s battle to overcome family adversity and raise a child alone.”  This movie is neither.  It’s a charming story, in fact.  A girl in a loving family finds herself pregnant, and works through the situation.  She’s funny, her family at no point threatens to kick her out if she doesn’t get her act together, and the film never takes itself too seriously.  It’s the best of what independent cinema can do.

Bleeker: So what do you think we should do?

Juno: I thought I might, you know, nip it in the bud before it gets worse. Because I heard in health class that pregnancy often results in an infant.

Bleeker: Yeah, typically. That’s what happens when our moms and teachers get pregnant.

Plus, I discovered just after watching it that it’s mentioned in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, where Rajesh Koothrappali is featured in the same magazine article as “Ellen Page, star of the charming independent film Juno.”

Now If Only It Had a “Coffee” Button…

I love analyzing how computers in movies work.  In S1m0ne, director Viktor Taransky replaces a high-maintenance actress who’s walked off the set of his movie with a computer-generated actress.  The public thinks she’s a real person and demands to see more of her.  Taransky eventually responds by scheduling a huge stadium concert, where Simone appears in hologram form amid a stage full of smoke.

He creates this elaborate effect with a simple button on the computer console:


It’s lucky the computer comes with that button on it.  Otherwise he never would have pulled it off.

(It’s honestly a good movie with an interesting premise.  It just gets rather carried away with the technology.)

God Help Us; We’re in the Hands of Engineers

Overheard on the D line yesterday evening:

It would be like Jurassic Park. I’d be suspended in Jell-o forever.

Don’t judge too quickly. With all the plot holes in that movie, we might well have overlooked eternal Jell-o suspension in there somewhere.

(I like best a scene when the power is all out so Hammond is eating all the ice cream so it won’t melt… while electric fans turn overhead.)

It’s a UNIX System; I Know This

I love analyzing how computers work in movies.  Someone on the production staff must know something about computers to get the fake systems to appear operational, but at some point during the process the desire for flashy technology overrides that real-world knowledge.

National Treasure using Wikipedia's Queen Victoria article

National Treasure using Wikipedia

I started watching National Treasure: Book of Secrets this afternoon.  If the first film is any indication, this promises a wealth of unlikely technological behavior.

Already I had to pause the movie only 30 minutes in when Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) started looking up historical names in an online database branded “Find On-Line.”

In the first split second of screen exposure you should recognize the fonts and proportions of Wikipedia.  An image is floated right, and the familiar Monobook navigation menu is on the right.  In the remaining second or two you see the image, you might also notice the unusually high concentration of links in the text, and maybe even the way the first line is indented (à la “Queen Victoria redirects here.  For other uses…”).

Finally, let’s take a moment to reflect that although Riley is using a MacBook, he appears to be running applications that borrow heavily from both Windows and Linux.