Technology

Apple’s ebook conspiracy

Apple has been found guilty of leading a conspiracy to raise ebook pricing.

When the DOJ first started charging Apple and the five major publishers with collusion to raise e-book prices, the initial evidence did not look good for Apple. As an avid purchaser of ebooks, I was already highly annoyed with the price increases imposed on Amazon by book publishers, but I was willing to withhold judgement about collusion until the case played out.

Many of the prominent Apple bloggers seem to believe that the DOJ is unjustly pursuing Apple in this case, and instead should have been investigating Amazon for anti-competitive behavior or monopoly abuse of power. This has genuinely confused me. It seems that many folks don’t understand that consumer protection laws are meant to protect consumers not simply to mindlessly preserve or create competition.

While Apple plans to appeal today’s ruling, they are almost certainly going to lose there as well. Why? Because their actions demonstrably hurt consumers. Apple defends itself by saying it was only acting to create consumer choice, which must certainly be a good thing. In reality, Apple was manipulating the whole ebook market, which it knew it could not compete profitably in, in its own favor at the expense of customers.

No matter what your intent, colluding to fix prices between competitors is illegal. It has exactly the opposite effect of Apple’s stated intent. It removes customer choice, or more to the point, makes every possible choice exactly the same. Apple knew this. Given the commodity nature of ebooks, pricing is really the only meaningful “choice” a consumer has.

But the publishers had a more malicious goal in this collusion, which Apple was happy to go along with. They wanted to discourage the adoption of e-books in favor of their printed books and existing brick and mortar distribution system. They planned to accomplish this through raising prices on e-books to prohibitively high amounts.

So not only was the purpose of Apple’s collusion with the publishers meant to effectively reduce consumer choice, it was to discourage participation in the ebook market as a whole. That would be of little consequence to Apple, but would have huge ramifications to Amazon – and more importantly huge ramifications to buyers of books. This was an incredibly consumer hostile move on the part of Apple and the big five, and the DOJ was right to bring the case.

Amazon for all intents and purposes created the ebook market. It did all the heavy lifting of getting publishers to convert their books, and helping customers get accustomed to reading books on digital devices. Make no mistake, there would be no mainstream ebook market today without Amazon. Amazon lost a boatload of money and sunk a lot of time and resources making the ebook market legitimate – of course they are the dominant player in the market. Everyone else has been late to the party, and nowhere near as dedicated to making it work. Apple, bringing no new value to the ebook market, decided it wanted to play, but couldn’t do it profitably without higher prices and it was going to get them, Amazon and consumers be damned.

Now, in many cases, Amazon sells e-books for less than its cost. It makes up those costs in a variety of ways, but by and large they simply don’t care about the profitability of ebooks as much as Apple does. How could Apple possibly compete with them?

Well how about this? How about adding value? Apple, instead of colluding to fix prices could have been negotiating with the publishers to provide a better product. While ebooks may be mainstream now, they still leave a LOT to be desired. Apple could have offered insanely better typography, better quality photos, better search and indexing, better interactivity, hell, even just better editing and proofreading. They could have easily commanded the $13 and $15 price points if they could have convinced the publishers to give a damn about the quality of ebooks. Instead, Apple played along in the publishers scheme of making ebooks less attractive.

This is precisely the reason I refuse to buy any books from Apple. But that’s not the only reason I choose to buy books from Amazon. There is another option: pirate the books. I buy from Amazon instead of pirating, because I want to support ebooks and see the market grow. I know that’s what Amazon wants as well. The publishers want to protect a legacy business model, and Apple wants to control the online book market the same way it does the online music market.

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Technology

Jaron Lanier’s Flight of Fancy

Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of virtual reality, and all around techno visionary was once someone I considered worth listening to. He recently published a new book called “Who Owns the Future?” and granted Salon an interview to discuss his views on how technology is destroying the middle class.

I have not read the book, and based on the article, have no intention to. Honestly I think Jaron is a straight up genius, and it very well could be that my simple brain can’t grok the points he’s trying to make, but his arguments and conclusions from the article are so far-fetched as to be moronic. I’m genuinely confused by how a guy as smart as Jaron can get things so obviously wrong.

I had lots of objections to his points but one in particular stood out to me – The comparison of Kodak to Instagram. In the prelude to his book he writes:

“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

This comparison is wrong headed in so many ways it’s difficult to know where to start. Kodak made cameras, and film, and printers, and chemicals, etc. etc. They were, and are still, a manufacturer. Instagram is a social network for sharing photos. Kodak was never the “face” of digital photography, merely a producer of digital cameras. Instagram in no way replaced or displaced Kodak.

The obvious answer to the question of where those jobs and wealth went is contained in a trivial examination of Instagram. Why does Instagram even exist? Camera phones. Camera phones, along with a bunch of other factors killed Kodak. Not Instagram. And lots and lots of people work to make those phones.

He continues in the interview:

Right. Well, I think what’s been happening is a shift from the formal to the informal economy for most people. So that’s to say if you use Instagram to show pictures to your friends and relatives, or whatever service it is, there are a couple of things that are still the same as they were in the times of Kodak. One is that the number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn’t work if there weren’t many millions of people using it. And furthermore, many people kind of have to use social networks for them to be functional besides being valuable. People have to, there’s a constant tending that’s done on a volunteer basis so that people can find each other and whatnot.

So there’s still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It’s reputation, it’s barter, it’s that kind of stuff.

Again… what? Comparing the contributions that workers make in manufacturing cameras, to the contributions of people sharing photos on Instagram defies any sense of reason.

If you’re going to compare the past to today in terms of technology and photography, at least attempt to compare similar things. If you want a counterpoint to the contributions of people posting on instagram, the closest possible comparison in pre-digital times is showing slides of your vacation to your friends when they come over for drinks. Or having pictures of your kids in your wallet that you show your buddies at work…. you know, sharing. How much money did people make off of that before technology ruined everything? Oh, right.

If you want to argue about the destruction of the middle class, there’s certainly an argument to be made, but it’s about the movement of manufacturing away from the US to cheaper labor markets, the steady erosion of labor laws, and tax law that repressively transfers wealth to the already rich. The care and feeding of a healthy middle class is not an enigma politically speaking. The real danger to the middle class is the constant pressure of corruption on a political system that’s ill equipped to fight it.

Okay, all that being said, I just have one more dig on Jaron:

You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.

I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.

I’m sort of at a loss for words here. What does Jaron want? Had he been listening to the music on his own device, it would have displayed the artist right on his screen. Had the cafe staff cared enough, they easily could have just checked the computer or device playing the music, it does keep a record of tracks played. They just obviously didn’t care about it as much as Jaron. So because Jaron can’t make Shazam work properly, somehow Spotify is serving as a closed information system? As opposed to what? Live performances?

I’ll leave it there, but the whole article is just full of weird tortured reasoning. What happened to Jaron Lanier?

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Random

Great meat, super cheap: sous-vide in a cooler

As a man in his mid-30’s I have long heard the siren call of scorched cow flesh. Along with the Big Swede, I am compelled by my Y chromosome to always be looking for new and better ways to apply fire to protein.

So when I saw a recent article that got all “sciency” with some of my preferred methods. My jimmies got mightily rustled.

Personally I was only guilty of myths 1 and 4. But given how important it is to “gently and evenly” heat your steak, I immediately thought of sous-vide. For those of you who are not obsessed with finding the one true way of cooking meat may not have heard of this interesting culinary development. It involves sealing meat in an air-tight bag – preferably vacuum sealed, and immersing it in water that has been heated to the desired end temperature of the meat – in the case of a medium rare steak – around 130° F (this is a little warm, but I like to play it safe).

This has many desirable effects which I’d recommend you check out in the wikipedia link above. For my purposes, I’m super pleased by 2 main things.

  1. It prevents the escape of water and fat from the meat in the heating process, which preserves flavor.
  2. It prevents overcooking of the meat – this is especially important when cooking multiple steaks of different sizes at the same time. You can leave the meat in the cooker for hours and it won’t overcook. This is good.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? It’s a very low pressure, easy way of cooking. We should all be on this bandwagon! Well, the big reason is that home versions of the machines typically used for sous-vide cooking cost anywhere from $300 to $500. That’s a lot of money for a fancy crockpot.

So when I saw a link on seriouseats.com explaining how to do sous-vide on the cheap using a beer cooler, I had to give it a shot.

On attempt #1, I used a zip-lock bag as described on the link above, and decided to finish the ribeye with a sear on my grill. Ultimately I didn’t get the grill hot enough beforehand because I didn’t want to overcook, and ended up with a poor finish on a very tasty piece of meat.

So I rededicated myself for attempt #2. Kelli has a foodsaver, so I seasoned and vacuum sealed Ribeye #2.

Sous-vide part deux - the revenge

Into the cooler for 45 minutes at 130°. Monitored by the awesome if sometimes infuriating Oregon Scientific AW131

Here we go

Once it came out of the cooler, I wasn’t going to screw around this time. Cast iron pan, hot as a mofo.

Cast iron pan!

I have to say, it was pretty superb. This is now definitely my preferred way of cooking steaks. The cooler worked much better than expected, and didn’t lose any heat one I had it closed up.

Now that I’ve tried this a couple of times, I decided to drop the cash and buy a Sous Video Supreme Demi. I plan to cook this way a lot and the cooler setup would get old very quickly.

Give it a shot kids, it’s pretty awesome.

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Personal, Technology, Web

Welcome Back

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve now found my bloggy blog at its new home on a VPS from Linode.

Why I’ve decided to move my blog is a tale of pain and woe. And one that I’m sure you would love to hear. So here goes!


The Past

Way back in Feb of 2006, I signed up for lifetime hosting at a little company called textdrive. They had a plan called the “Mixed Grill” for $499 which promised free web hosting for “as long as they exist”.

The idea was that you were paying up front as a way for the company to raise cash immediately to build out their infrastructure in exchange for a lifetime of limited hosting. I liked the idea and plunked down the cash. I got a slice of a FreeBSD box and was happy.

Not long after I joined, Textdrive became Joyent, and slowly started to add cloud capabilities on top of their shared hosting.

In 2007, I plunked down another $500 to take advantage of more storage and bandwidth offered by the 3 Martini Lunch plan.

Quickly following, Joyent decided to swap their architecture over to Solaris, and started the Shared Accelerators. They encouraged everyone on the older FreeBSD servers to migrate over. Because I was hosting about 6-7 domains and multiple wordpress and movable type installs, the migration process was going to be a bear, and because Joyent offered no help in the migration, I put it off for a long as I could. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

As time went on, Joyent left these FreeBSD servers running, but essentially allowed them to rot. I was more or less okay with this as the occasional downtime wasn’t a big deal with the stuff I was hosting. All was well.

In 2012, Joyent dropped the bomb on it’s lifetime customers. At first they basically told us to get fucked. It was only after a tremendous outcry that they reconsidered and offered to either refund our money or give 5 years of credit for a new shared hosting account. Jason Hoffman was tired of our shit, but he also didn’t want to deal with our whining any more.

That’s when Dean Allen rode back into the picture on his white horse. Dean was one of the co-founders of Textdrive who left after the Joyent acquisition. He offered to restart Textdrive as a new company and take all of us lifetime support customers under his wing. Woooo. I opted to move over to Textdrive with the promise of an automatic transition process to the new servers.

The Present

Unfortunately the new Textdrive has been a bungled affair from the start. They’ve constantly missed deadlines, screwed up migrations and ignored support tickets and calls. Remember when I said staying on the older FreeBSD machines was a mistake? Yeah. Textdrive transitioned me over, without any notice, to the new machines months after the original deadline. These machines were running newer versions of PHP and Apache which nuked the majority of my sites. I didn’t know until about a week later. I submitted a ticket, and hit them up on twitter only to get crickets in response.

I waited a few days for support, but it never came. I decided to see what I could do on my own. After a few hours of digging around their abysmal wiki, I figured out what happened, and what the new file paths and install versions were. I was able to get my sites back up and running, but I had no access to any admin tools like phpMyAdmin, or webmin. So I had no way to do a clean database dump from my numerous sites. But at least the sites were up. I had time to let Textdrive work out the remaining kinks.

That was, until about 10 days ago when MySQL on a number of their FreeBSD machines died due to a catastrophic disk error, bringing my sites down again. This is still not fixed. And ever in good form, Textdrive sent no notice. They say they are trying to recover from backup, but who knows when or if that will happen. I’ve put in another ticket and tried to contact them twice on twitter to just have me moved to a new host and they have completely ignored me. The status page on these migrations hasn’t been updated in over a month.

Time to move on.

So I am now faced with a choice. Find a new host, or host it myself. I looked at a lot of options, but I’ve resolved myself to never use shared hosting again, so it was down to dedicated hardware, or virtual hosting like Linode.

Dedicated hardware is stupidly expensive, and I don’t make money on my blogs, so that’s out. Linode is very tempting, but when I looked at what they had to offer, it became clear that I should just spin up my own VM. I have a machine at home that already hosts 3 virtual servers, adding another would be trivial.

So I went this route and set everything up. Unfortunately it turns out that Cox blocks incoming port 80 to the world. Ugh. Lots of wasted time.

So back to Linode! Linode makes setting up a new VPS surprisingly painless, but it’s never fun setting up a LAMP stack from scratch. But after a few hours of re-teaching myself server admin stuff I haven’t done in years, I’m back up and running.

In case you can’t tell from the rest of the post, I’d really advise against hosting anything with Textdrive or Joyent.

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Politics

The Romney Campaign: Victims of their own bias

Leaves

Now that this incredibly wasteful election cycle is finally finished, the postmortems are rolling in. There are many very good ones which I don’t want to duplicate here, but can be summarized thusly: Republicans can’t alienate everyone except for old white men and still be able to win presidential elections.

Personally I think Mitt was extremely poorly advised. His campaign team did him a great disservice on 2 major points:

  • party primary campaigns need to be run very differently than the national presidential campaign
  • campaigns survive or die by real data and facing hard realities

It’s been a truism for a while now that each candidate must swing toward the extremes of their party in the primaries in order to secure a nomination. You need to appeal to the broadest range of voters in your party. Which means you get to lie about your beliefs and convictions in order to appear acceptable to all but the most insane members of your party.

But, once you have the nomination you need to swing back hard to the center to appeal to that most annoying of citizens, the swing voter. A huge portion of all voters will only ever vote for their own party because no matter how bad the candidate, they’re probably going to overlap your own beliefs more than the other guy. They are no longer your target, and it frankly doesn’t matter if you piss them off. What are they going to do?

So now you calm down the rhetoric, make yourself seem like a reasonable centrist guy who honestly wants what’s best for all Americans.

Mitt never tacked back toward the center. On just about every “wedge” issue that’s important to swing voters, Mitt made it clear that he sits with the far right fringes of his party. Outlaw abortion, no gay marriage, taxes are for takers, etc. He was completely tone deaf to the voters he should have been aggressively targeting.

Why?

That leads us to the other critical failure. He was living in an echo chamber.

Unseating an incumbent president is a very difficult thing to do in modern times. Very difficult. Seriously. Each of the 3 times it’s happened since world war 2 have been pretty special circumstances, none of which apply here. This is an artifact of modern party politics. The narrative of the Republicans should have been “This is going to take a miracle” from the very beginning and stayed that way until the end of the campaign.

Instead, he was surrounded by, and projecting a message of “This is going to be a really close race, it’s 50/50″. No it’s not. And it never was. You may argue that this was a message they needed to be sending to republican voters in order to motivate them. But it wasn’t even that cynical. They actually believed it.

And that was what doomed them. It’s nothing but insanity in a presidential campaign to accuse major, reputable polling groups of sampling errors or liberal bias. Or to believe that so much that you carry out your own heavily biased polls in order to produce the results you want to hear. The fact that Romney hadn’t written a concession speech wasn’t an act of hubris. He literally thought he was going to win. Not because he thought he deserved it, but because he was being bullshitted by his own team.

Obama didn’t win the election because he is more representative of the majority of American’s views. He didn’t win because he ran attack ads on Romney or almost any of the other BS reasons you’re hearing. He won because he’s a freaking ninja when it comes to campaign strategy and execution.

Obama is a great example of a master politician. Spout platitudes to pull in the rubes, and execute policy behind the scenes that is pragmatic and effective even if it’s completely opposed to your stated beliefs. It’s more important to get shit done.

Unfortunately the modern Republican party is populated by true believers who are not only driven by their principles (right or wrong), but unwilling or unable to bend on those principles when reality makes it necessary. They will sacrifice effectiveness in exchange for the right to say they remained ideologically pure.

As weird as it is to say, the Republican party needs an injection of cynicism.

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Random

Prometheus: A beautiful incoherent mess

WARNING: This review is full of spoilers. You have been warned.

Kelli and I used part of our Sunday to see Ridley Scott’s “sorta but not really” prequel to the Aliens trilogy. I was excited going in because the trailers looked fantastic. While it’s beautifully done, it’s so full of jarring nonsense that I kept finding myself pulled out of the movie trying to figure out what just happened.

Normally, I’m very critical of books and very uncritical of movies. I’ll overlook a lot if I still feel a movie is enjoyable. But if you are creating a universe with no internal consistency, it breaks my brain. For instance, if in your movie humans have eliminated all the bacteria that create cavities, but halfway through the film you show someone brushing their teeth with toothpaste, you’d better have a very good reason why. Prometheus is full of internal inconsistencies and ridiculous character behavior none of which had to be there.

The opening scene of the film shows a big white proto-human drinking some black goop and subsequently being torn down at a molecular level, and falling into a water source. You can actually see the double helixes of his DNA being stripped down and rebuilt into something else. This sets the stage for the entire film. DNA is important to this film. Now we’re going to spend the next 2 hours getting every important fact we know about DNA completely wrong.

Our adventure actually begins with 2 archeologists finding a cave painting in Scotland, but this is no ordinary painting. It depicts a giant human pointing at six circles. Apparently this is the 9th such find across the world and across multiple cultures. Our two plucky heroes apparently found all other 8 as well. How did they know to look for the 9th in Scotland as opposed to say Iceland? Bah, who cares. All that matters is they found a 9th one and apparently 9 was the magic number to convince people that this is evidence of Alien visitation. Apparently we can also conclude from these pictographs that these giants may be our creators. What in the pictographs tells us this? Nothing. Why was 9 pictographs so much more compelling than say 8 or 7? This is the movies!

Fast forward a handful of years and we’re launching a 35 light year space voyage!

What’s that? Oh humans have spaceships capable of faster than light travel? They sure do! We’re not going to tell you when or how, but let’s just roll with the punches huh? What’s that? You say humans have been exploring space since 2032? You want to know if in all that time we’ve seen any other evidence of alien life? Anything more substantial than 9 cave paintings to justify a trillion dollar investment? Why would we even look into that?

Oh and you’d like to know how, out of billions and billions and billions of stars, we were able to locate the right one based on a 2 dimensional representation that would be wrong if viewed at any other angle than the one used to create it? And it’s not visible to the naked eye? No problem, we’ll just gloss right past that.

This may all feel like picking nits, so lets get to the mission.

We wake up our crew to hear a mission briefing because apparently most of them signed up without knowing what they would be doing for at least the next 4 years of their lives. Our hero Elizabeth Shaw explains the 9 pictograms and we’re on a mission to look for our creators. The one trained biologist on the mission points out that this would be going against everything we know about evolution, and have known for hundreds of years. She says she chooses to believe differently. Which he shrugs off.

Hold the fuck up. We’re on an incredibly expensive and dangerous mission to potentially make contact with an alien species and our leader doesn’t believe in a fundamental tenant of biology? And the only evidence we have to justify this mission is 9 pictures? We’re going to toss out the fact that we know humans have co-evolved over the course of billions of years and share huge chunks of our genetic code with almost every other form of life on the planet?

I’ve noticed that we’re not taking physics quite as lightly since you’re not believing us to the alien planet. But okay yeah, we’ll just let genetics slide. Oh yeah, also, why is this biologist wearing glasses 70 years into the future? He couldn’t afford Lasik before his big space adventure? We can cure cancer but we haven’t figured out myopia? Maybe he just likes his glasses right? No big deal. I’m sure there’s an optometrist and a lab on board the ship in case you accidentally break them at some point in your SPACE ADVENTURE.

We also get to meet our angry future punk geologist/map maker who’s only in it for the money and doesn’t want to make friends. This is the same fellow who will later declare he’s on the mission because he loves rocks and proceeds to get lost in the tunnels despite the fact that he JUST MAPPED THEM.

Let’s fast forward a bit. Turns out that the “engineers” are actually a complete genetic match to humans despite the fact that they are hairless giants almost double our size. Okay, well what does a “perfect match” mean? We share 96% of our DNA with chimps. Did the engineers seed the genetic material for all life on earth? And if so, why kick off a completely new biosphere to ultimately recreate the thing you already have – your exact genetic match. Just send a colony of clones and be done with it.

In a surprise twist we discover that Peter Weyland, who was supposed to be dead was in fact on board and napping in a hyper sleep chamber and communicating with the ships android through a neural interface. Turns out he really is close to dead, and is hoping the engineers will make him immortal. Why would he think they could? Doesn’t matter – he has faith.

Well apparently this super genius is a complete idiot. A man who’s obsessed with living forever, or at least for a while longer, puts himself on a SPACESHIP? Yeah that’s not dangerous. Probably the safest place you could be. No risk of dying there. This is the same super genius who insists on being there in person when they wake up the GIANT ALIEN. This is clearly a man terrified of death. This is a guy who could have installed a hyper sleep chamber in an impenetrable fortress on earth and been in no danger of dying from his age. He could have sent the team with specific instructions to see if our god aliens could in fact fix him and waited for their reply. He doesn’t even have to be out of it the whole time as he’s clearly having lucid conversations with David through the neural connection. He could continue to run his entire empire from the chamber while he awaits their return. Nope.

And apparently his daughter is equally stupid. She eagerly wants daddy to die so she can sweep in and claim her birthright, making her the richest person in the galaxy. Perhaps she had been ordered to take this mission and make sure it’s a success? Perhaps she accepts it grudgingly deciding that it’s only a matter of years before he’s kicked the bucket. Nope. She volunteers for the mission. Why? Is she planning on killing daddy if he does achieve newfound youth? Dad has a security detail and she has no contingency plan in place. She has nothing to gain by going on the mission and everything to lose.

As a further demonstration of the Weyland incompetence – this is a family with functionally unlimited power and income. They churn out thousands of crazy smart androids with none of the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of humans. They don’t get bored, don’t need sleep and will always follow orders no matter how stupid or irrational. If I was an eccentric trillionaire or a greedy dilettante galavanting across the galaxy, I might think of staffing my spaceship with a slave army of super smart androids, none of whom need food or space suits or oxygen or hypersleep beds. Said army of androids could do fun things like explore potentially dangerous alien ruins and if you lose 5 or 10 or 20 of them to a hostile alien bioweapon it’s no biggie, there’s 20 more where that came from.

And our nemesis? The terrible black goop? It’s apparently magical nightmare juice. If warmed up even fractionally, it apparently can ooze through 2 different containers designed specifically to control it. But only when it wants to because there’s no oozing on the cargo bay of the alien ship despite the exact same conditions. It apparently changes worms from insects into insanely powerful, 6 foot long space snakes. It makes geologists into super flexible super strong space zombies with an unexplainable urge to kill former team members. Apparently when ingested it turns one archeologist into a horny grey guy with some pretty crazy sperm. You get the picture, it basically does whatever the fuck Ridley Scott says it does. Is it a biological agent? A nanobot swarm? Who knows, who cares, why would we explain it?

Oh the engineers want to murder our whole planet with this stuff? Care to explain why? Fuck you, that’s why. Some vague bullshit supposition about being disappointed with us? May I remind sir that the engineers have EXACTLY the same DNA as us? Someone needs to take a long hard look at the man in the mirror.

There’s an awesome point in the film where the screen writers must have just acknowledged that none of this shit makes any sense, and that maybe they should throw us a bone. So they just flat out have a character say “this isn’t their home world, it’s a weapons factory and they’re going to kill us”. You know why they had to have him do that? Because there’s no logical way to reach that same conclusion by watching the film.

Apparently Ridley Scott did this on purpose because he likes leaving the audience with a sense of mystery. The intertubes are awash with sweaty fanboys weaving intricate fantasies trying to explain away how badly constructed this film is. I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Blade Runner and how weird it was. But the holes of the two films are incredibly different. There is one core unanswered question from blade runner, “is Deckard a replicant”. That question, and the littered clues throughout the movie drive a lot of speculation. But that question, and its clues aren’t THE CORE OF THE STORY. Bladerunner becomes no more or less comprehensible for not knowing the answer. You’re also never left wondering why Roy wants to extend his life or why he feels like he needs to kill people to find an answer. You’re not left wondering why Deckard was chasing down the replicants in the first place.

Prometheus on the other hand seems to revel in not answering any of the questions it sets up. You may contend that this is the central thesis of the film, that some questions will never have satisfying answers. That may be reasonable. But that doesn’t excuse characters doing incredibly stupid things for no reason. Further more, almost all of the issues can be fixed simply.

List of other stupid crap that I don’t want to take the time to write about:

  1. a 3% atmospheric concentration of CO2 isn’t toxic (the reason they had to wear helmets)
  2. a man who’s father in law died from an infectious disease is pretty quick to pull off his helmet on a foreign planet.
  3. the alien installation is at -11c but everyone’s fine with having their helmets off.
  4. still can’t invent helmets that don’t fog up huh?
  5. Medpods are only calibrated to one gender? Really?
  6. having all your abdominal muscles cut and then stapled shut pretty much means you can’t walk let alone run
  7. Engineers still write in cuneiform and their language hasn’t changed in thousands of years?
  8. How did they not notice the gigantic storm as they flew in from space?
  9. Why does it have to be daylight to explore the big dark structure with no windows?
  10. Hey where are geologist guy and biologist guy? I don’t know maybe we should look on the giant map with the arrows that point to our team members.
  11. Lets examine this giant alien head out in the open, no need to use a shroud or anything
  12. I’m a single minded engineer headed to earth to wipe out your species. You used your one ship to stop my first attempt. Good thing I’ve got a bunch more ships. I’ll just be going. On second thought, I’m going to try and kill you first even though you pose no remaining threat to me.
  13. You know how I unlock the navigation system of my spaceship? I play 4 secret notes on my space flute here which for some reason I’ve filmed on my holoVCR. Oh and for some reason all the ships are unlocked the same way. They were made by Ford.
  14. I’m a biologist who for some reason wants to touch a completely new alien species that’s hissing at me.
  15. Literally no one is surprised by Weyland popping up, not even Shaw who’s just been through emergency surgery. Can someone muster up some surprise? Maybe the doctor who’s helping Weyland get cleaned up who not 10 minutes ago got smacked in the head by Shaw?
  16. Shaw is apparently ready to let bygones be bygones with David once Weyland shows up despite the doping and using her as an alien breeding cow.
  17. The medpod is smart enough to detect and remove a foreign body, but not smart enough to detect say, ovaries or a uterus and then error out?
  18. What did David do with the leftover nightmare juice after poisoning Charlie? It was in a glass ampule he had to break to access. Did he just throw some Saran Wrap on it and pop it back in the fridge?
  19. How the hell did squid baby / protofacehugger grow so large while trapped in a room with no food source?

There’s unfortunately a lot more than this.

UPDATE: While I love Ebert, I firmly believe his review is the product of illicit drug use. Either that or Ridley Scott sent him the good version of the movie.

UPDATE 2: After reading some interviews with Damon Lindelof and looking at images from the Art book they just published, I’m convinced that Scott had no idea what he actually wanted to accomplish with this movie. He just cobbled together a lousy understanding of christian mythology and a flawed idea of genetics and tried to paste it on top of the Alien franchise. I live in dread of the Blade Runner sequel. Also, Lindelof wrote a bad movie and he should feel bad.

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