Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The Superstorm Strikes!

If you haven’t heard, Disney bought Lucasfilm on Tuesday for about $4B.  At the same time, they announced plans for a new trilogy of Star Wars movies set to begin with Episode VII in 2015.  Nothing is really known about the new projects at this point save that they are expected to follow the original Star Wars trilogy in the tale’s current chronology but are supposed to be completely new stories.  George Lucas himself said that he’s always planned for Star Wars to live on past his personal involvement, but that he’s been looking for the right people to champion his signature creation in its next life. 

For what it’s worth, I tend to agree that Disney is probably about the best steward of the Star Wars Universe going forward, but I’ll caveat that by saying that personally, I could have easily let the movies simply end in their current form.  I mean, there’s something to be said for a good story that’s well told.  But that kind of thing implies a beginning, a middle, and--most importantly--an ending, and with as much money on the table as a new set of Star Wars movies is likely to bring, I suppose that just letting it drop wasn't realistic. 

Still and all, the original trilogy was a work of art in its original form, and nothing that’s come since has been of nearly the same caliber.  People may like the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but they do so in much the same way that they like the Forgotten Realms, and in fact, I’d argue that the fans of the Expanded Universe are probably much the same folks as fans of the Realms.  That level of fandom is enough to sell comic books, video games, and tabletop RPGs; it is not enough to justify the sale of the property for $4B.

With that in mind, Dark Horse Comics currently has the license for Star Wars comic books, which is interesting because Marvel is also now a subsidiary of Disney and would seem to be the logical home for new Star Wars comics going forward and indeed for future loss-leader explorations of the Expanded Universe as Disney looks to see what they’ll do with the next set of movies.  That, after all, has become the de facto role of comics in today’s popular culture.  That said, they certainly won’t be able to take over until Dark Horse’s current license runs out, and that probably won’t be for a few years yet. 

And then, too, there’s an argument to be made about Marvel’s core product, i.e. are they a comic book company or are they a superhero-based entertainment company with multiple media outlets, one of which is comic books?  Because if they’re the later, then I’d argue in favor of leaving the Star Wars license with Dark Horse in order to allow Marvel to focus on its core business, which in this case would have to be the production and marketing of stories about its signature style of heroes.

The last thing I’ll say on this is that while I’m a total geek, I’m personally not too big on much of the Expanded Universe.  I liked the first two of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, but the third book ended badly, and most of the rest of the Star Wars novels aren’t even on a par with the lower rungs of the Forgotten Realms ladder.  I liked Dark Horse’s Legacy series quite a lot, but then they discontinued it just as it was really getting into its stride, and now, well, it’s not that I’m not excited that they’re making new movies, but I think the world is already littered with plenty enough of crappy Star Wars crap. 
Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan
Bottom line, if the new movies are good, then that’s great.  But if they suck, and this turns into nothing but a great big corporate money-job, that won’t help at all.  That’ll be 10x of what we already have.

Last week’s discussion of the Tablet Wars brought a surprisingly strong response, mostly via email and/or Facebook private message.  So this week, we’ll continue our look at mini-tablet market with a comparison of the iPad MiniNexus 7, and Kindle Fire HD.  You’ll note, however, that this article was written before Google announced its 32GB Nexus 7 and the $199 16GB Nexus 7.

Based strictly on the hardware, I think I have to give a slight edge, surprisingly, to Amazon.  That said, their device is mostly about consuming media.  If you want to do anything other than watching, reading, or playing, you’re probably shit-out-of-luck.  Also, if you’re going to make use of the Kindle Fire HD, you pretty much have to have an Amazon Prime account, and full disclosure, I have absolutely no interest in getting one of those.

Apple, I think, is basically living on brand prestige right now.  They’re not superior to the competition in any noticeable way, save that they were the first movers in the market.  But they have the highest cost.  Interesting, that, particularly if you've ever studied luxury brand marketing.  They also have the most well-established storefront/interface, and indeed, considering that I already have one of their phones and an established Apple account that I know works well, it’s almost worth paying the premium just for the ease of adapting the new hardware into my life.  I consider myself to be reasonably computer savvy, so I can well imagine that the ease-of-use argument is a crucial one for most folks.

Still and all, I myself am mostly leaning towards getting a new Google device.  First off, you can now get a 16GB Nexus 7 and a new Samsung Chromebook for the cost of either a full-sized iPad or a Microsoft Surface.  And what’s amazing about that is that the Google device actually has the best processor of the bunch!  Now,I grant you that processing power isn't the kind of killer app that it used to be since by and large everything nowadays has enough processing power to do most of what folks are doing on their mobile devices.  I mean, I’m definitely not looking to run a load-flow analysis on my tablet computer.  But still...  Maybe I’m dating myself, but it’s hard to justify buying less chip for the money.  Also: the Nexus and the Kindle are both cheaper, and cheaper is better.  At least to me.

Last note on this: I finally got a chance to play with one of the Chromebooks, and I gotta say that I liked it.  But it’s definitely a cheap computer.  I mean, at $249 it is cheap, no question, but my point here is that if you’re used to your smartphone or high-end tablet, then the screen on the Chromebook is definitely going to underwhelm.  Still, it is a phenomenally easy-to-use device, and in looking at it, I've been getting more and more into all of the different Google Chrome interfaces, and they are amazing.  Like, truly spectacular.  But little understood.  And you have to keep that in mind when you look at the Chromebook because the Chromebook is fundamentally built to interface with all that Chrome stuff.  So if you like the Chrome stuff, you’ll probably like the Chromebook.  But if what you really want is a high-end computer that runs windows or OS X or God-knows what else, then the Chromebook is probably not for you.  But the Chromebook running Chrome--and all that it entails if you take the time to set it up properly--is an amazing piece of gear.  But that’s mostly because the software is amazing, which is kind of the point when the machine itself only costs $249.

Yo!  I don’t know if you heard, but there was a hurricane.

I’m not gonna spend too much time on this because it’s basically been all over the national news, but bottom line, Sally and the girls and I are fine.  I’m now busy helping with storm recovery, and that’s about as much as I’m willing to say about that.

If you haven’t seen them, my favorite pictures of the event came from CBS News.  Some of those shots are unbelievable.  They’re well worth your time.

Meanwhile, if what you really want to know is how much of the City was affected by flooding, the New York Times will tell you.  The top of this article is the NYC flood zone map.  Sandy’s flooding reached all the way up to Flood Zone C and beyond, so basically, if it’s shaded in the map, it was underwater after the storm.


Finally, with the Presidential election only a week away, it’s hard to distinguish the actual storm response from the political response.  Bottom line, if you were affected by the storm, President Obama wants you to know that he’s here to help.  Governor Romney, meanwhile, is out there campaigning in an Obama-free zone, but he’s got the very real problem that a president in middle of a crisis is demonstrably a president doing his job. 

Watching all of this unfold has been pretty interesting.  That said, perhaps the biggest surprise of all has been New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) giving the President high marks for his storm response.

Then again, I think Christie knows that he’s the most likely Republican nominee in 2016 if Romney loses, so all things considered, maybe it’s not that surprising that he’s praising Obama when given the chance.

Finally, here’s the trailer for the new Hansel and Gretel action movie, starring Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the incredibly hot Gemma Arterton.  Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this thing, so I’ll just give you the trailer and let you make your own decisions.

And that’s all I’ve got.  Have a great weekend, and try to stay safe.

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