Friday, February 27, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "Someone to Watch Over Me"

This was a damn good episode (at least for one with no Baltar)!

[This weeks music, by a guest from the Galactic Water-cooler]
[The "so say we all" Blog Carnival is up here]

With only three shows left, things finally seem like they are beginning to tie together and the show feels again like it is moving towards a well thought-out ending that ties up all the loose ends... but boy are there still a lot of loose ends. The show has had so many cryptic predictions of events to come, dreams of the Opera House, cryptic prophesies from hybrids in goo tubs, etc.. Then there were the mysterious "head" characters that Baltar and the Cylons see, they seems to be manipulative and in contact with some hidden source of information.

What frustrated me about the last episode, Deadlock, was that it didn't seem to move the final end game story forward, but instead added more loose ends. Though I might be proven wrong about that. Adding to that frustration was the knowledge that the writers had winged it through much of the series. People had been calling them out on apparent errors. The writers seemed to have retrofitted a missing 7th Cylon, Daniel, because the Boomer/Athena was model number 8. Caprica-6 used to have a Head-Baltar which apparently they've forgotten about. They apparently changed Tyrol's son into Hot Dog's bastard because they needed there to only be one half-Cylon. If they've made any more errors, they will not be able to retrofit anything now.

However, in this episode things do seem to be rapidly moving towards an ending that does pick up all the loose threads and ties them together, though few of those loose ends actually got tied this time... but at least they finally got picked up and used.

There were basically two stories in this episode, one involving Starbuck and the other involving Boomer. The Boomer story is the one that seems to be driving the end game plot while the Starbuck story remained cryptic and ultimately unresolved and leaving us with only a tiny bit more information than we had before. Yet it was the Starbuck story that was the real emotional and story worthy triumph of this episode. And a lot of the credit for that goes to Bear McCreary who has three detailed posts on his blog about working on this episode:


Bear's blog may eventually become required reading for the next generation of TV and film composers. The blog should probably be re-packaged as a book and and used as text in music schools for any classes that might be about film and TV composition (do such things exist?). Maybe Bear intends to teach one and is trying to use his blog to attract students?

The Starbuck storyline:

The episode begins with the Starbuck storyline. A close-up on a pair of hands as they remove a red velvet covering to reveal a set of warped and yellowed piano keys, and then the hands start to play and they cut to a montage of Starbuck’s repetitive and dreary daily routine while the piano music continues. After the intro we are shown Starbuck in the bar, drinking away her pain and confusion, and listening to the same guy play piano.

Starbuck has some huge loose ends hanging over her. Her viper blew up back in season three and, presumed dead, she somehow came back to life and to the Fleet piloting a factory-fresh Viper. Then the Cylons get spooky feelings about her viper and then Starbuck found a signal on one the vipers instruments that led them to Earth, which turned out to be a radioactive wasteland. And there on Earth, presumably light years from where her old viper blew up, she finds that old viper and her charred body with dog-tags still attached.

How any of that could possibly be is a mystery, a loose end that needs explaining. So far, little light has been shed on that mystery. Only a tiny bit was shown in this episode.

Starbuck got annoyed at the piano player for continuing to play "the same Lame-Ass Song." The guy looks up from the piano and tells her that he's trying to compose a sonata. Their conversation eventually leads them to talking about their life stories. It turns out that the piano player is a lot like Starbuck's father who was also a piano player and Starbuck has flashbacks of taking piano lessons from her dad. A happy memory of her father. They are of course dealing us some clues that this guy is her father.

But for some reason, in spite of all the speculation, it didn't really hit me that this was where they were going until Starbuck had a nightmare about walking through an empty hangar deck towards a young girl who seemed to be her childhood self from the flashbacks. I've been calling it the "Phantom of the Opera" scene because that old movie had this famous unmasking scene:

However, Starbuck's nightmare also uses a bit from Psycho, and Psycho also borrowed from "Phantom of the Opera":

When Starbuck spins the child's chair around we see the charred skull of Starbuck with her viper helmet on, something like the Psycho scene. At that point the piano player had a stronger emotional connection to Starbuck's childhood and to the mystery of what had happened to her after her viper blew up. I was even starting to suspect that I'd hear "All Along the Watchtower" by then. Nothing says you're a Cylon like finding one of your old dead bodies and they had just reminded us that this had indeed happened to Starbuck.

I think they should have had the young girl playing a version of "All along the Watchtower" or the "Final Four" theme and underlined that Cylon aspect for us. We've been strongly suspecting that Starbuck is Cylon ever since she found her body on Earth, and even before that. Bear said he had planned on scoring the scene with something like "Chopin-Meets-John-Zorn-Meets-Trent-Reznor." Oh, I wish he had. Alas, Bear felt that the cliche of a kid playing a creepy song had been done to death in horror films and that the child-like simplicity of the young actresses' real playing was more spooky and unnerving. Well, yea, kids playing spooky tunes is a cliche, but so was the whole Phantom of the Opera nightmare scene. The way to transcend cliche isn't always to run away from the cliche elements but rather to infuse them with a new layer of meaning they've never had before.

One of the elements of Starbuck's storyline that did catch me by surprise was Hera's "star drawing," just a line of dots. The drawing turned out to be a musical score, and it was supposedly "All along the Watchtower." That reveal would have still been a surprise and having heard it in a nightmare previously would have given it more emotional resonance, making the reveal even more chilling I suspect. It also would have linked childhood Starbuck to Hera more strongly. Perhaps Hera's drawing should have been in the lap of the girl in Starbuck's nightmare?

Toward the end of the episode, when Starbuck began to play Hera's score, Saul Tigh was in the bar and he recognized the music that switched him on. The music picked up percussion and other instruments as rocking version of the Final Four theme played (it wasn't Watchtower at that point). Next, Tory says, "That’s the song" and then Starbuck finally recognizes her father as her father. Tigh rushes up to the piano and asks where she heard that song, Starbuck looks to her dad as she begins to explain, but her dad isn't there, he was just a "head-dad." Starbuck had played the music all by herself.

Bear and the writers had worried that the audience would guess too early about Starbuck’s dad. I don't think this was as big a deal as they feared. Bear saw on his own blog that fans had speculated that he would be Starbuck's father. We didn't need to be completely surprised by the revelation. Guessing isn't certainty. The trick is to load our guessing and speculation with foreboding and make us fear and hope for that very reveal. It's not mere surprise that makes for a chill.

The Boomer storyline:

The episode’s other major plot line was the Boomer story which was weaved in and around Starbuck's story. It began when Tyrol learned that the Cylons wanted to execute Boomer for her role in the Cylon Civil War. Tyrol had just informed Adama that the Cylon silly putty they've been using to fill the cracks in Galactica's hull wasn't going to hold the ship together for much longer (no wonder he wanted to leave Galactica in Deadlock). Then one of the sixes dropped the news bomb, they wanted Boomer for a trial.

Tyrol eventually decides to break her out of the brig. There was a lot of good stuff here, Tyrol being taken into Boomer's projected fantasy of domestic life and freaking out, then his remembering her with lots of flashbacks, etc., but I'm not going to recap all that. You'll read about it elsewhere if you want. The point is that Tyrol got used by all that. Boomer was still on Cavil's side and before she left Galactica she frakked Helo while Athena, tied up in a closet, watched and then Boomer stole Hera from some daycare center. Tyrol even unknowingly helped Boomer carry the crate with Hera in it onto the raptor.

Some comments I've read show that some people are having a hard time buying that Boomer has become "evil" because Boomer fought for humanity in Downloaded, she argued for the Cylons to stop being butchers on New Caprica and she was unwittingly used as a sleeper agent in the first season and she tried to commit suicide to protect the fleet. So, how is she now a bad guy? Boomer turned into a villain seems out of character to some fans.

I suspect one clue to her motives was in Tyrol's flashbacks. There was a scene where Tyrol told her that, I paraphrase, "you're a machine. You don't have feelings, you have software." I think Boomer took that to heart. Remember what Cavil was teaching her -- how to be more of a machine. She repeated Cavil's rhetoric about humanity and Cylons to Ellen. Boomer would also realize that, even if she wanted to go back, she'd never be accepted by the other Cylons nor by many of the humans.

Now she can easily steal babies and sleep with Helo. She not only treats her own "illusory" humanity coldly, she treats other people's humanity coldly too. To her, it's not just her own Cylon feelings that are an illusion, but human feelings too. Thus she seems to have no more sympathy for human beings.

Oh, and what she just did to Tyrol. What a gut punch for him. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions then Tyrol just paved himself a four lane highway down into the freezing seventh circle of Hell.

By the end of the episode the two stories are put together when Ellen figures out that Boomer had been set up by Cavil all along. It was his intention from the beginning to use Boomer to steal Hera. And Hera is somehow connected to whatever force is manipulating them because of the music score she had drawn.

And then there was Sam Anders:

Another scene I should mention is that Starbuck checked on Sam Anders in sickbay. Sam's brainwaves have gotten weird. The Doc says he is in a comma, but the harmonic complexity of those brainwave patterns looked familiar to me. I think they might herald a chronic case of Deus Ex Machina accompanied by another acute bout of exposition-dumpitis.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I will pay Ray Comfort two dollars and sixty-three cents, or $2.63 if you prefer, if he will come to this blog post and debate me for about fifteen comments or more if he wishes. Each comment must be under 2,000 words. Once the comment number hits fifteen, I will pay Ray his money no matter what he has said.

No other comments will be allowed in this one post. It waits here for Ray alone. Others can comment here.

I believe that offering Ray $2.63 is equivalent to Ray first offering Dawkins $10,000 if one compares the projected incomes of Ray Comfort to Richard Dawkins based on book sales.

Ray may start the debate on any subject he wishes.

If Ray refuses this offer, at least he'll understand why Dawkins isn't going for Ray's offer.

All Ray has to do is make a comment on this blog post right here. No traveling or other expenses. That's it, and it's far less effort than he is asking of Dawkins.

Please, dear readers, inform Ray Comfort that this challenge has been made.

What's a matter Ray, are you chicken? Afraid I'll defeat you without your editing tricks and censorship?


It's now the second day after making my challenge to Ray Comfort and the lying chicken shit refuses to even acknowledge that he has been challenged.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

They hired a Science Consultant?! Why?

Yep, Dr James Kakalios, a teacher at the University of Minnesota, was the Science Consultant on the upcoming feature film, "Watchmen." The first question that popped into my mind was "why bother?" It's a comic book. The science is expected to be absurd. Spiderman, Superman, the X-Men ... They are highly improbable to say the least, and I do mean the least. Even the Watchman's Dr. Manhattan is pretty much a scientific impossibility.

This is not a bad thing until one starts making claims for scientific accuracy or "reality." I love movies with skewed realities, like Pirates of the Caribbean or X-Men or some crazy vampire flick, but I'd balk if someone claimed that the supernatural elements of Pirates was how the world really worked. And if they told me that Superman was grounded in real science, well, they'd get an argument from me.

So, what exactly could a scientist contribute? Just like Pirates of the Caribbean benefited from some research into British Naval vessels of the period, a film that shows a scientist at work in 1985 will benefit knowing what an actual physics lab of the period would look like. Just don't tell me that Dr. Manhattan's superpowers make sense or that they're physically possible.

Unless you're Dr Kakalios that is, because when he says that Dr. Manhattan's superpower makes physical sense it turns out that it's fascinating in a totally geeked out way and it does make sense if you pay attention to his quiet "ifs" and realize he is really talking on a metaphorical level:

He used people's interest in comic books and movies to teach a little basic science about waves. Good for him, but in a way he's making a fool of himself. How does Dr. Manhattan make himself disappear and reappear magically? Well, "he's a wave and out of phase waves cancel." He can appear in more than one place at a time? Diffraction patterns. There are things that can do those things for the reasons he states and they're called atoms. Atoms have been "seen" to be in two places at once. Atom lasers can make atoms disappear.

As a physicist Dr Kakalios knows better, and he says so, but a little too quietly, "if intrinsic fields existed, which they don't," then this could be. Right, and if wishes were fishes then beggars would be kings. People are not atoms, they're a highly structured pattern of atoms and these quantum tricks destroy those patterns.

Another little problem I have with that video, I don't think analyzing the science in comics is the most useful thing you could do with a knowledge of physics if you don't go on to get a job in science. If you're a musician it could be quite useful to know about those waves, sound is waves. The usefulness of that knowledge is more true today than in the past because of the technology being used; computers. Computers can draw the wave forms and they're described by mathematics, the language of science, and that could be damn useful. For example, there is a feature in my Audacity Audio Editor that will let me program my own sounds. I think I could make my own software version of a Theremin. Right now I can't quite figure out the language, the Nyquist programming language, but I think I'll be able to make some use of it in the future.

Also, according to some published research, listening to some beat frequencies can cause brainwaves to "align" with that frequency through a phenomenon called entrainment. The result is a different state of awareness, like increased relaxation or alertness, lucid dreaming or many other states.

The four most familiar brainwave frequencies are:

* Beta (14-21 Hz and higher)
* Alpha (7-14 Hz)
* Theta (4-7 Hz)
* Delta (0-4 Hz).

There are variations on these bands as well as other brainwave frequencies, and that different states may be associated each.

That, and you don't want to wind up so ignorant of basic science that you're willing to believe Ray Comfort when he claims to "disprove" evolution. That kind of ignorance is just pathetic today.

Saying how science can help a non-scientist analyze comic books is really selling knowledge of science short.

The other thing I want to note about this video is that it's just a tiny sampling of the internet buzz that's circulating around the up coming film, and that I've now become part of. I predict a box office landslide the buzz is so heavy. Every sci-fi site I visit has something on the film. This is odd for a film based on such a dated comic book, it's full of Cold War paranoia.

Maybe Ron Moore and the new crew of "The Thing" should consult PZ Myers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. PZ could probably help generate a lot of buzz.

And one more thing before I close this, here's Alan Moore, the writer of the original comic:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ray Comfort's devious ignorance amazes me yet again

This is kind of funny, Ray Comfort is challenging Richard Dawkins to a debate – and he is sweetening the deal by offering Dawkins $10,000:

Dawkins' last book, The God Delusion, sold over 1.5 million copies, and has been translated to 31 other languages. His books have been selling well since 1976 when he published The Selfish Gene, the book that put Dawkins on the map as an intellectual heavyweight. He has TV specials on British TV.

$10,000 is just chump change to Dawkins. It's probably asking for a bargain in light of Dawkins' speaking fees. And Dawkins has already said that he will not debate creationists because appearing with them gives them too much credit.

Ray Comfort is just an annoying nobody, a street corner preacher who would get too much undeserved credit from even appearing on stage with Dawkins. If you don't know who Ray Comfort is, check out this post and this one.

I, however, would debate Ray for half of what he is offering Dawkins.

I challenge you Ray to save $5,000 and debate me instead. Are you chicken, or does $5,000 mean nothing to you, Ray?


PZ Myers, at Pharyngula, reports that Dawkins has heard about the challenge and made a counter offer. Dawkins will do it for $100,000, to be donated to the RDF. Comfort upped the ante to $20,000. It's not enough for Dawkins.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

All My Cylons ... these are the days of our fives ... As The Galaxy Turns

DEADLOCK comments:
Spoilers ahead:

[The Galactica Blog Carnival is here.]

[FIRST A LITTLE MUSIC, click here to get this week's tune]

The show does not feel like it is coming to an end. We're down to the Final Five episodes and things are still getting complicated in ways that make me feel the show is turning into an old fashioned Soap Opera. With the show closing they continue to weave intricate and convoluted stories, now involving Soap Operaish elements like sex, pregnancy, falling in love and adultery. Ellen Tigh very much seemed to belong in a Soap Opera. You could literally plop the actress into a soap and she'd do great there playing the same character.

This episode featured one clearly standard old fashioned Soap Opera element; Saul Tigh's extramarital affair with Caprica-6 and that bit of cheesy sexual drama that followed. On learning about Tigh’s relationship with the 6, Ellen confronted Caprica about it, even telling Caprica how she and Tigh fracked the minute she got back to Galactica. Ellen then changes her tune and tells Caprica that Tigh loves her, Caprica, more than almost anything else, but then goes on to play a head game on Tigh and Caprica that proves this isn't quite true.


Ellen pretends to vote to for leaving Galactica and Saul insists on staying, even if both Ellen and Caprica-6 go. Thus it is, according to Ellen, revealed that it’s Bill Adama and Galactica that Saul loves more than either Ellen or Caprica-6 or his own baby. Over at they celebrated Tigh's bromance with his boss using this fan video from youtube:

I say old fashioned soaps because I haven't watched a soap in decades and I understand they've evolved. I'll have to check. But some other old fashioned soapy cliches I can find in Galactica: Amnesia (the Final Five had their memories blocked) previously-unknown children (Ellen only recently learned that the Cylons are in a way her children), siblings and twins (of the evil variety) are there in more abundance on Galactica than you'd ever see on a soap. Established characters come back from the dead to upset and reinvigorate the relationships (a character's death is not necessarily permanent even when you see an on-camera corpse in both soaps and on Galactica). Unexpected calamities disrupt weddings, childbirths, and other major life events with unusual frequency in both soaps and on Galactica.

On the flip side, my sister has told me that science fiction elements started creeping into the soaps back in the 90s. Someone who knows both mediums will have to confirm my speculation about the soap influence on Galactica. And unless there is a soap about an ex-scientist turned cult leader I don't think you'll find anyone like Baltar on the soaps.

Baltar's arc is starting to get scary again. He returned to his harem/cult to find some angry balcubines who were feeling that Baltar and God abandoned them. They are now armed and hoarding food. Gaius is lucky they let him back into his own cult. While on a lower deck to do some trading, Gaius sees how badly some of the people are suffering and decides to become charitable and give away some of the balcubine's food. Those thugs, the Sons of Aries, show up and take what’s left of the food they brought.

Now in danger of losing control of his cult, Head-6 reappears to give Baltar the right words to influence the women and regain control of his cult. Paula seemed to be in charge and Head-6 whispered in Baltar’s ear that, "the sheep have a new shepherd." The plan that Head-6 gives Baltar involves getting more guns and so Gaius talks the Adamas into giving him such guns... Wait! How did he do that again? Crates of guns were delivered to cult quarters and this makes the women happy, especially Paula.

I've been wondering for awhile if Baltar's religion is some form of Cylon Creedocide:

A hungry religious cult with some big guns... What was Adama thinking? When the food runs out they can start killing each other and solve their food shortage problems by decreasing the demand? Has Adama finally decided that the human race doesn't deserve to survive?


Ms. SP, Also known as Marie, has a comment below with a link to Maureen Ryan's interview with Jane Espenson. In addition to the comments on Adama giving guns to Baltar's group, Ms Espenson also remarked on the soapy quality of Ellen's scenes:

I never thought of it as soapy, but as emotional. Fights over love probably feel soapy because these are the sorts of stories that were traditionally told about women, while men got workplace stories. Now these two types are just some of the stories we tell, but they're still worth telling. And they don't have to be soapy. I hope the Six/Ellen scene isn't too close to Dolly Parton's song "Jolene," because I suppose that is the danger. I just tried to write an exchange I believed, about emotions as complex as I could muster.

The term "soapy" is subjective. What makes a scene soapy to me isn't quite the same as what makes a scene soapy to someone else. As for Ellen's character, I can now name who she reminded me of: Erica Kane from "All My Children." Erica used to play exactly the same kind of tempestuous head games on people as Ellen did on Saul Tigh and Caprica-6. I only watched a few episodes of that old soap and perhaps what I saw was atypical. Does the comparison ring a bell for anyone else?

Friday, February 13, 2009

A few Pieces of a Puzzle

Battlestar Galactica: No Exit

The Galactica Blog Carnival for this week is posted here.

[CLICK HERE FOR MOOD MUSIC: "Ode to a tub of Cylon Goo"]

The episode, "No Exit," was an exposition dump, but through that method they finally did give us a few good pieces of the puzzle that will be the real history of the Cylons. The constant talking came mostly from Ellen and Anders, who are now recovering their memories, and then Cavil, who explained his "evil" motives in a way not too dissimilar to a comic book villain, or a James Bond villain. All this talk broke one of the rules of good drama called "show, don't tell." It is probably the effect of trying to compress too much back story into too few episodes. Even Bear McCreary noted "... the unusual amount of fast-paced and essential dialog in these two shows left little room for big musical statements."

On the other hand, they had me so hungry for this information with the previous buildup that I didn't mind. However, I think the people who liked the mutiny story might find this episode slow going and curse the fact that there are fans like me who want this stuff. There's a reason that exposition dumps are the bane of science fiction.

We've crossed over into new territory and one of the ways they signaled this was with a new series introduction. The episode began with a new retelling of the history that featured some new Cylon robots that look a lot more like the old ones from the original series. They even put up some new texts, one saying that "this has all happened before."

The episode began with Ellen drinking the poison booze Tigh gave her on New Caprica, she has a psychedelic memory trip and then finds herself waking up in a bathtub full of that Cylon "amniotic" goo. At first she is horrified to find out she is a Cylon, but then a strange calm begins to come over her and she starts acting familiar with her surroundings, even asking one of the chrome toaster models to help her out of the tub.

Ellen was apparently resurrected immediately after her death on New Caprica. Cavil had locked her up and let no one but himself and his pet 8 talk to her. So they have to encapsulate months of time with Ellen and Cavil in mere minutes, starting from her death, through the Cylon civil war, to finding Earth and up to the present.

When Ellen started talking to Cavil she called him "John" and told him that "I named you after my father." She even calls the Cylons "her children." This gives that sex scene between Cavil and Ellen back on New Caprica a whole new twist. Father and Daughter and Mother and Son at the same time, Oedipus and Electra in one frack.

Next we are shown Anders in sick bay with his bald head screwed painfully into a bulky device, called a "head frame" I think, while the doctor starts preparing to drill into his skull. Anders has a bullet in his brain and it has effected his memory blocks. His hidden past is coming back to him. Starbuck is with him when Anders starts rambling, he tells Starbuck to gather the other Cylons because he has begun to remember. We get a lot of additional Cylon info from him and I'm going to have to watch the episode again on Hulu and do an update just to keep all this exposition straight.

What did you get out of Ander's exposition?

There was too much stuff, lots of disconnected bits and pieces. There was something about traveling around at sub-light speed before they invented jump drive to explain how they came from Earth 2,000 years ago without having 2,000 years worth of memories. They had a ship in orbit around Earth to upload their memories and then they traveled at relativistic speed... somewhere? Time slowed down for them as thousands of years passed for the rest of the universe. Ah, yes Einstein's time dilation effect. I wonder if they'll give us a starbow in any flash-back scenes?

There was information about all of the Final Five Cylons being involved in some project to recreate the resurrection technology. They all worked in the same research facility. They didn't invent resurrection technology, they re-invented it. Ellen made an intuitive leap that brought the resurrection system back online. Tyrol and Tory were lovers, they lived together and were madly in love, planning to get married. Ellen liked the beach and the water. Tigh and Ellen were married.

Resurrection technology is also "organic memory transfer" and it's ancient and came from Kobol. It fell out of use after they started to procreate. Wait! Stop there. Why would people give up on immortality in order to have babies? I wouldn't do that. That does not make sense as a stand alone statement. Were there laws and over population problems leading to the repression of the technology? Was it done for religious reasons, like George Bush restricting embryonic stem cell research?

More weirdly, it was the robots, the centurions that evolved the concept of a single loving God.

The information coming from the Ellen and Cavil dialog was more coherent and one thing I did get was the motivation for Cavil. Cavil was the villain from the start, he turned on the final five, blocked access to their memories and then introduced them into colonial civilization. His motivation is worthy of one of the great comic book villains. "I am a machine," said Cavil. He hates his humanity and he has vision of a better kind of existence as a machine. He found sleep to be unproductive and he got rid of his need for it.

He gave a great super-villain speech about watching a supernova, calling it "the moment of creation," and how he wished he could see it with something better than the pathetic and ridiculous eyes Ellen had given him. Cavil wants to feel the solar wind, to smell dark matter and to be more than human.

Human eyes are indeed limited in the spectrum of light they see. They are mere gelatinous orbs to Cavil. But in a way we can "see" in the full spectrum of light when we use scientific instruments. And that's what Cavil wants for eyes in order to see supernovas:

That raises a question... why can't Cavil do that himself? Why can't he upload into a machine of his choice and become the kind of machine he wants to be? He could, in theory, upload into anything from a basestar to a robocop/terminator type machine to a Cylon heavy raider with some tweaking of the technology. (Maybe some versions of Cavil already have?) It's not unrealistic that he is currently limited somehow, he needs Ellen's help just for recreating the resurrection technology that the rebels have destroyed. But if becoming a machine is his goal, why not strive for it? Considering the fact that Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore is now working on a "backdoor pilot" for Fox called Virtuality it's within his bag of tricks to do something with that.

Cylons already download their minds into other humaniod bodies, and that should imply what a lot of SF already does, uploading into computers and machines. We're already working in that direction... check out project Blue Brain.

I think this means a prediction is in order, and that Cavil will eventually figure out how to upload into a big machine, like a basestar, and become a real monster. If knowing he could be so much more is what drives him, expect him to try it.

Ellen told Cavil that being human had its advantages, she gave him "free will," thus tossing around that term like it had some concrete meaning. It doesn't. What does she mean by free-will? Are we talking metaphysical free-will, free-will as a legal concept, free-will as a psychological concept, free-will as some aspect of consciousness, or what?

It's also here at this confused metaphysical level where we are in danger of falling into a bad old sci-fi/horror movie cliche. All this talk of "free will" was the horror/sci-fi cliche I feared and wrote about in "Six of One" : The disappointing part.

[CLICK FOR "Horror Movie Cliche" music.]

In a way, Ellen Tigh is our Doctor Frankenstein and Cavil is her monster. The others making up the final five are apparently just a collection of Igors. Will Ellen also be punished by her creation for "going against the laws of nature" and creating a monster. That's what Cavil was suggesting... except our concept about "going against the laws of nature" has undergone a dramatic shift since Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft wrote Frankenstein. In Cavil's mind that nature now includes some kind of "machine nature" that is ill defined. Cavil talks about "Justice" and the Cylons being the "slaves of humanity," but can I really enslave something that has no "free-will"? Can I enslave my computer? My toaster? What would happen if I set my toaster free?

Again, we get back to the bane of science fiction, expository lumps that are needed to clarify concepts like "free-will." What does that term mean to the Galactica writers? I'm not sure. Right now it's just an ambiguous bit of Galactica technobabble.

I'm going to wrap this up without talking too much about another major plot point introduced in this episode; there was apparently a Model Seven, Daniel, that Cavil killed. Cavil corrupted his DNA or something. Also, towards the end Cavil's pet 8 has a falling out with Cavil (finally saw a newer shiny thing?) and when Cavil threatened to extract the information he needed from Ellen through brain surgery, the 8 took Ellen away on a Raptor and flew her to the fleet.

It seems Ellen will be joining up with the fleet judging by the previews. And Tyrol is back to being Chief, and using Cylon technology help fix the cracks in Galactica's hull. I'll pick up those threads if I need to when the next episode, "Deadlock," airs.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How I make music, part 1

If you take a look at my files, here:

You'll see I have some .wav music files there. A couple of those .wavs are getting more hits than my blog, something over sixty downloads already on one file, "Zarek's Dead." I think that's because I posted a link to it over on Bear McCreary's blog and Bear said, "Awesome performance of the Zarek theme! Very spooky." But he also noted that I goofed one note, in the fourth bar, the whole note D# was played as a C#.

Take a listen to a few pieces, and if you like, read on and I'll show you how it's done so you can make your own music.

My music is all done with free software. I haven't played a musical instrument in over a decade (in high school I was in a rock and roll band). The most important bit of free software is the Audacity Audio Editor. Several pieces were done with nothing but the Audacity Audio Editor (scifi001.wav, scifi0e0.wav, SCIfiFX00.wav and aliendeep.wav) and some plug-ins to that editor.

Some of those plug-ins are going to create the instruments needed to play Squid Metal.

The others, the Zarek .wavs and computer_heaven.wav required two other pieces of software; a trial version of "Notation Composer" and the trial version of "AudioConverter Studio 5.9." I have limited time with the trial version of "Notation Composer," but there are more such programs out there.

The "violin(s)" in the Zarek files were originally just MIDI instruments, actually they're a stack of MIDI instruments, a few violins, a distortion guitar, an overdriven guitar, etc.. The weird sounds in the computer_heaven file are several different stacks, an xylophone in one ensemble, a flute in another. They all got so distorted by the processing I put them through that they sound alien and weird.

If you use any of the music composition software I've so far seen then you'll have already seen that you can create any kind of ensemble of instruments you like from a standard MIDI collection. You should also be able to output a MIDI file (.mid) from your software. The problem is that MIDI instruments don't sound that good. So, I then take the MIDI file and convert it to a .wav file using AudioConverter Studio and then I use the Audacity Audio Editor to manipulate the .wav file. After that it no longer sounds like MIDI because I can add some human expressive qualities to it with Audacity.

I can, and will, describe some of this process in future posts if readers comment here and ask for more. It involves adding "echo fifths" and "gong model distortions" and I doubt that those terms mean anything to many readers out there. I'll need to know where my readers are as far as their knowledge goes before I can describe more.

The background_sinister.wav is the only one I haven't mentioned yet. It was made by distorting the noises of a construction site.

Now, before I ramble on and on about how I made the music I'll just let any interested readers out there ask questions and my next music posts will answer them. I suggest getting the software and just playing with it -- that's all I really did. Maybe someone out there can teach me some even better tricks. I've only been toying with this software for less than two weeks. I can't know that much.

Does anyone want to know more?

Anyone out there know where I can get more music software or any neat tricks?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

News flash! Ray Comfort likes Sadistic Movies!

I went over to Ray Comfort's blog to get a few laughs and I found this post, "If you are an atheist, please watch this..."

Here's the little short film he linked:

Under it was just one sentence: "This is the logal result of atheistic evolution."

I thought it was a well done little film, but Ray's point in posting it completely escapes me. What is the result of atheistic evolution, Ray? Interesting little sadistic short films? Cruel sociopathic and/or psychopathic human monsters who like to torture and kill people? What exactly is Ray trying to say?

I suppose a case, the most generous one, could be made that religious belief holds back a few socio-psychopathic monsters who might be inclined to torture and kill if they weren't afraid of hell. Perhaps Ray Comfort is such a monster himself? After all, he has made a god of an imaginary entity he believes will torture me for eternity.

On the other hand what about the costly crimes religion has inspired:

And what if one day Ray heard God's voice telling him to kill children?

A less generous case could be made that Ray is trying to say that if we believed the world was different, like he does, it actually would be different. That if we stopped believing in the idea that to a large degree that behavior and temperament are hereditary, then hereditary monsters would not exist either. There is no reason to suppose that such psychopaths don't exist just because it would be so unpleasant if they did. It is simply the way the world is whether we accept that reality or not. It is not dependent on evolution or on atheism. If you can't argue successfully against a psychopath, well, that's the way it goes. You also can't argue successfully against cancer or hungry lions either, that would be like trying to argue successfully against God.

Does Ray think that because he believes in God he would have a better argument to stop the psychopath? Considering the arguments on Ray's blog they might have just the opposite effect.

What exactly is Ray's point? Can anyone explain?

Friday, February 6, 2009

What scales? Blood, yes, lots of blood, but no scales.

Spoilers ahead:

I assume that the "scales" of the title refer to the balancing scales seen in those statues of blind justice. Those scales weren't here. Everyone who died in this episode merely died for pragmatic reasons, even Gaeta and Zarek.

Also, if you want even more opinion and insight into Battlestar Galactica, check out the blog carnival, "So Say We All."

Before you read the rest of my analysis of this week's Battlestar Galactica episode, 'Blood on the Scales,' I would ask you to get in the mood by downloading some science fictiony synth music I've created and put up on

3. You should see a blue box with the name "computer_heaven.wav" on it.
4. Click the download button.
5. Play the music while you read:

The mutiny is over, and I am so happy about that. I was afraid it would take a few more weeks. There are now only 7 episodes left to go and I was frustrated with the mutiny storyline because it didn't get us any nearer to answering what should be the biggest questions on everyone's mind. Also, this kind of action story is just too common in TV scifi (if not done so darkly before). The writers, actors, directors and the rest of the crew did a great job, but this isn't the real test of good science fiction. It's just what Hollywood has turned science fiction into.

Science fiction is supposed to be the literature of ideas, not action and adventure and war stories. Yet Hollywood keeps putting out heroic action stories with silly upgrades on modern technology without really understanding the kind of ideas DARPA is even now working on. There may yet be a new and great science fiction idea buried at the heart of this re-imagined TV series, but presently it's shrouded in too much mystery. What we do know is that the Cylons have approached godhood with their technologies. That has implications that real science fiction writers have been dancing with for decades, as well as futurists like Ray Kurzweil.

Hopefully by next week the colonial fleet will realize they've got some important questions they need to ask about,, more than that, they need to actively investigate, the true origins of both Cylons and humanity. Alas, by the looks of next week's previews it seems they may not have to investigate, much less ask questions. They just might have the answer handed to them on silver platter... by Helen, the fifth Cylon, whom I saw rise from a tub of goo in those previews. There's now another resurrection "hub" somewhere.

But that would be too easy. I get the feeling that people in the fleet don't really want to know the answers.


In the meantime a lot of people are dead; the whole Quorum and, of course, Zarek and Gaeta too. By next week they may tell us Anders is gone (well, as gone as a Cylon can be), for he was shot and nobody would help him but Starbuck and a reluctant Lawyer going by the name of Romo Lampkin. The last time we saw Anders, Starbuck and Romo were going to help him get to Doctor Cottle. If that weren't enough, there are big cracks showing up in the hull/walls of Galactica. I think soon the ship will start breaking up and spitting people into space.


They had me feeling sorry for Gaeta by the end of the show. I thought Gaeta and Zarek would get shot or blown-up in battle when, and if, they went down, but it was surprisingly bloodless the way Adama took back his ship. This was in part because Gaeta realized he was wrong half-way through the show and he lacked conviction. As the show went on it became clearer and clearer how stupid and irrational Gaeta was in deciding to go through with the mutiny. He was conflicted about it from the start of the show and he became more so as the show went on. There was no clue to this that I noticed in the last show. But there was a clue in "Face of the Enemy," the online webisodes. In those webisodes an 8 scolds Gaeta for his willful blindness and his inability to see how she was killing the prisoners Gaeta gave her lists of.

The same blindness now keeps Gaeta from seeing who Zarek is. However, once Gaeta realized that Zarek had the Quorum cold-bloodedly killed he started having doubts about Zarek and he said that they had now lost "having the truth on our side." Zarek said some version of "truth/history is written by the winners" thus demonstrating he didn't care about what was true. Gaeta also seemed to have doubts about Adama and wanted Adama to have a trial. It felt like a stall, like he didn't really want to kill Adama (that may not have been intended). He also wanted to see Adama admit that he was wrong (he clearly insisted on it).

Having Gaeta lack resolve undercut the action part of the show and it also half masked Adama's own irrational stupidity. Gaeta may or may not have been trying to stall by asking for a trial, but why wasn't Adama trying to stall? He shouldn't have been such a prick who almost dared Gaeta to shoot him. Adama should have been in there arguing for why he wasn't wrong, why it was smarter to befriend the Cylons. He should have taken the trial as his right and insisted on more rights. He could have insisted on a real trial with a jury and not just to stall, but to finally express clearly why they needed to join with the rebel Cylons and undercut the motives of other mutineers. The fact that Adama and the president went right for the rebel Cylon basestar when they ran also made it look like they defected, or at least Zarek could have made it look that way.

If there was ever a good argument about siding or not with the rebel Cylons, they left it on the cutting room floor. There was not a hint that such arguments ever happened outside the Quorum which we saw little of. And even with that gone they still went low key on the action; a few fight scenes in hallways and a Churchill-like speech from Madame President. Instead of fighting to the bitter end, Gaeta and Zarek were quietly arrested near the end of the show, they went without a final fight once they realized the game was up. Both Gaeta and Zarek smiled at each other before they died by a firing squad. I respect that.

What made the show was the smaller scenes that they hung around the mutiny storyline. For example, Baltar talking with a new 6, a non-blond who is ready and willing to give Baltar all the sex he wants. But Baltar says no. He is feeling bad about leaving his flock behind. I'm glad they kept that scene, but why keep it if there were more important ones missing?

My favorite nice little scene was Baltar and Gaeta sitting at a table smoking, drinking coffee and talking. It was the only scene that brought me close to tears, as Baltar seemed to be. Gaeta said that he just "wanted someone to know who I am," and Batlar listened to Gaeta tell a bit of his life story (I think that trivia bit about wanting to be an architect meant that Baltar listened to much more of Gaeta's life story, or maybe it was just writerly indirection). Again, they showed us nothing with Gaeta talking to Baltar about why he wanted to mutiny, no argument about the Cylons not having real human psychology, no. No sense of "I was wrong and I was stupid," no he bragged about his silly ideas. Instead we heard Gaeta talk about some fairly trivial things from his childhood; he wanted to be an architect and he thought he would design buildings that looked like food.

And then they shot him.

Instead of giving condemned prisoners last rites, on Galactica the atheistic crew talk to Baltar not about their sins, but about their lives overall. It gives the concept of confession a whole new meaning.


If you like the music I linked, there is more here:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Testing... 1... 2... 3..., testing

Do you see any SciFi .wav files when you click here?

You should be able to click and play them.

Let me know if it works.

Monday, February 2, 2009

"The Face of the Enemy," the Galactica webisodes

I finally got around to watching "Face of the Enemy," an "online only" bit of Battlestar Galactica. Each webisode is about two-minutes plus a few seconds. Other people (like Annalee Newitz who wrote "Why Is Gaeta So Bad?") have been telling us these webisodes were critical to understanding Gaeta's motives. I don't think that they're critical, and they could be misleading. However, there are some revelations here that are not on the TV-only version of the show. And if you're a hard core Galactica fan you'll want to check them out, they do give one of the main themes of Galactica a bit more depth.

While I found a lot of the episodes on YouTube, it lacks a couple of them, so you might want to use Hulu (click here to view first Hulu webisode, the other webisodes are on a menu near the bottom of the page).

Watch the Galactica webisodes before reading the rest of this analysis for spoilers will follow.

This video series will figure into my analysis later:

One interesting bit of Galactica trivia we learn early on, Gaeta is either gay or bisexual and he has a boyfriend, Lieutenant Louis Hoshi. They even kiss after Hoshi gives Gaeta some "morpha" before Gaeta takes off in a raptor for another ship with some "red shirts" and two 8s. The fleet has to jump and the raptor gets stranded in space with only a limited supply of air because they jumped to the wrong coordinates. Then people mysteriously start to die, probably murdered to save more air for the survivors.

Spoiler: It turns out it's one of the 8s who is killing them and the first victim is the other 8. It wasn't obviously a murder, the other 8 was killed trying to fix a CO2 scrubber with pliers that had the insulation stripped off. Until near the end all the murders could be accidents or suicides, but still the paranoia sets in as one by one they die under suspicious circumstances. Those remaining automatically suspect the Cylon.

Weirdly, she seems to be doing it to save Gaeta, not herself. It turns out that the 8 and Gaeta knew each other on New Caprica, we get flashbacks to this history. And this is one of the reasons people think that these webisodes are critical. It's because we learn that Gaeta, thanks to the 8, was unknowingly complicit in the death of some people in the resistance back on New Caprica that the 8 pretended to help him save.

On New Caprica the 8 seemed to have betrayed her own kind and was helping Gaeta to get the resistance people out of jail. However, it turns out she was killing most of the people on Gaeta's list of people to rescue. She had tricked him. After she has killed everyone on the raptor but Gaeta and herself, and after Gaeta discovers this, she tells him what really happened on New Caprica.

At first Gaeta doesn't believe it, saying, "I saw them... I saw Jenkins... I saw Heather Redman and her baby, they were playing together..." He's having trouble accepting the reality of his blind complicity in the murder of his friends.

"I didn't seduce you," said the 8. "Hope seduced you. And the more you ate of it the less you saw. You ate yourself blind... You chose not to make the connection, to blind yourself... There is a fine line between ignorance and hope..."

It's close to something I wrote over a decade ago, in a very different context:

For some people, once the Biblical seed of unreal hope and uncertain fear has been sown, a process of desire, expectation, and imagination begins in the hidden workings of the unconscious mind, in a secret world of mystical ideas, a world of ignorance and enormous possibility.

The above quote is from "Hope is the Bait," a little essay I wrote in 1992 and put on the web when it was just a collection of linked bulletin boards and before the network of loosely linked boards became the organized web. It's now been reproduced on several different sites.

It speaks to the same kind of psychology that the 8 was talking about when she said things like "There is a fine line between ignorance and hope."

Sometimes, in this often ugly world, as in the Galactica's universe, it can seem that the more you know the less room for hope you can find. Knowledge has a way of limiting what we can consider possible. This is not what I was saying though, knowledge can also open up doors to new and more realistic hopes. However, the 8's philosophy seems a bit more twisted and fatalistic. The 8 was basically saying that Gaeta had always suspected what she was doing and had done nothing to stop her because he was so blinded by hope. The hope was his "Sine Qua Non."

"I trusted you," Gaeta complained as if that excused him. Then Balter shows up in a flashback. Baltar knew about how the 8 had used Gaeta to get resistance people killed and whispered in Gaeta's ear, "I know about what your 8 did." Gaeta freaks and attacks Baltar. That's from way back in Season 3, "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," when Gaeta interrogated Baltar and it tells us that Gaeta had been repressing his knowledge of what happened on New Caprica all along, so it wasn't just trust that blinded him. Deep down he suspected his own complicity in the deaths of the people he tried to save.

Saying what she said, while Gaeta had a scalpal in hand, cost the 8 her life. Gaeta killed her.

Later, of course, Gaeta is rescued to appear in the next TV episodes and they start setting up Gaeta's first moves toward becoming a mutineer. If you saw these webisodes before you saw the TV shows you might think you had some critical information that the TV-only viewers didn't, but you don't. The reason these webisodes are probably not critical (I didn't need to see it to get the last TV-versions) is because being betrayed by a Cylon isn't news any more. A 6 betrayed Baltar, Boomer shot Bill Adama... Everyone on Galactica has known that Cylons were like that. So Gaeta's once hopeful dealings with a Cylon are revealed to actually be a betrayal? All these webisodes did was take what everyone knew abstractly and make it personal for Gaeta. But even as a personal experience it doesn't justify Gaeta's fear and hatred of Cylons now. It happened in the past, during a war, and while the 8 was cold blooded enough to kill the other people on the raptor to survive, such acts are not beyond a desperate human's and that doesn't condemn all of us.

If there's an important revelation here it's not what the 8 did, it is Gaeta's state of mind, his capacity for blocking out things he doesn't want to know about. And this brings us to the Nova video clip I embedded at the top of this post. The very fact that Gaeta is going into this mutiny with that bit of guilt on his mind is not a clue that he is right about the Cylons. It's a clue that he is wrong. In the battle between faith and knowledge, faith has won Gaeta's mind. It's just not faith in Cylons. And that makes Gaeta dangerous. Gaeta, quite irrationally, put his faith in Zarek. You don't have to be a Cylon to exploit Gaeta's blindness.

Gaeta's experiences with the 8, as Tigh pointed out, may not even be real. They may be the result of lack of oxygen combined with guilt. In the Nova science clip we see V.S. Ramachandran explaining some very odd irrational beliefs emerging from neurological problems, a person thinking that their mother and father are impostors, another person thinking that they are god. The series also delves into blindsight and phantom limb sensations. While those are the result of odd neurological problems it would seem that the normal human brain isn't free of neurological illusions either. Religion seems to be one example of a natural illusion, playing the lottery and all kinds of social neurosis too are normal but irrational side effects of our neurobiology.

It's not irrational to distrust the Cylons to some degree, they may indeed be, as I said before, genetically engineered flesh puppets with only an illusion of free will. Deep down their very psyches may have been designed as weapons of war in ways the Cylons themselves cannot understand or anticipate. What is irrational is what Gaeta is doing with that distrust. All the motivators they've given Gaeta are emotional and not thought out. He lost his leg in a failed mutiny, he's insulted by Starbuck, he was betrayed by a Cylon. Sure, I understand Gaeta's and the colonials desire for revenge, the Cylons committed genocide (or specicide?) on a massive scale. The humans have been fighting the Cylons for years and now, without enough explanation, the people in charge want to be nice to the Cylons?

As viewers of the TV show rather than participants in the drama we've seen the Cylons fight among themselves, we've seen their desire to understand themselves and their 'humanity' and it seems real. We've seen that the distinction between Cylon and human was blurred. That may not matter if their unconscious minds were designed to do what is needed to destroy humanity and their feeling of free will is only an illusion. However, the only rational and pragmatic choice is still an alliance. Without that humanity is doomed. The trust gamble could be a loser, but the paranoia gamble is a sure loser. Even if they do find a planet to settle down on they'll still be sitting ducks for Cavill's ships. Only a lasting and meaningful alliance with the rebel Cylons can give them the technology they need to fight and then to end the war peacefully.

That's how things work here in the real world. Sure the Cylons committed many atrocities but America committed atrocities in Vietnam too, in Japan during WWII, etc.. Now we're at peace and we trade. We get over our pasts, our hatreds, there is no other way to peace.

Unless Gaeta's mutiny continues to make bold moves, like, for example, going after Cavil before he can finish building another resurrection hub, then what has it accomplished? Just getting rid of the local Cylons but not dealing with what must come in the near future is bad planning. The questions about what do they do next are ones I haven't seen Gaeta ask and no mutiny should have happened before they were answered.

If they were asked and answered, it happened off screen.