Wednesday, May 26, 2010

22. the hollywood whitewash

left: prince dastan from the two thrones, right: jakegyllenhaal
now that it's out, i find myself going back in my mind to seeing the previews for the new prince of persia movie last year.  i recall watching it a couple of times, trying to pinpoint what exactly my problem with it was.  was it because it was just another video game/comic to movie conversion that ran the high risk of being horrible?  well, probably.  hollywood is, after all, completely out of material, and we all remember how fantaaaaastic jean clade van damme was in street fighter.  but that wasn't it.  not totally.  after a while what irked me was clear - the prince of persia (that's persia - a region of land across the sea betwixt africa and asia, just south of europe) was to be played by jake gyllenhaal.  now i don't dislike they guy - he's been in some solid flicks.  donnie darko was really good, and an apocalyptic rabbit will live forever in my mind.  but the casting still just seemed off - in addition to the prince, the main chick, tamina,  is played by british bombshell gemma arterton.  while her bond girl appeal has been augmented some by some artificial brown decently applied to her for the role, it's still not enough to make me forget that she's still "strawberry fields" from quantum of solace, and that "tamina" never existed in the original sands of time game.

ben kingsley sir ben kingsley gets a pass.  for life.  he's naturally half brown, played gandhi, i.e. the mahatma, and is just awesome in general.

the whole thing made me think about the tremendous surge of movies in the last few years based on video games, comic books and anime, which bothers me, and has for some time, for a multitude of reasons.  for starters, it's the repackaging of the nerd culture from our youth (well, my youth anyway) that has been mainstreamed enough to be saleable to the very same type of people who antagonized us for being a part of that nerd culture to begin with.

ugh, i could really get too far into that, so we'll leave that for another post for another day.

but in relation to that recent surge of movies, we've seen a healthy dose of "racebending" throughout, as the kids call it these days, from a splendidly caucasian son goku in dragonaball evolution to the recent whitewash of aang and company in the big screen adaptation of the last airbender, where again, the main characters are recast as suburban-friendly children, without a trace of foreign flair to them.  to those not familiar with the last airbender anime series - aang, the main character, is a young asian boy, in a world that is explicitly based on and rooted in asian and inuit culture.

sometimes i don't mind this, if it doesn't take away from the story too much, but in the case of prince of persia's prince dastan, a detailed description of the hero, including background, is in the damn title.  and it's set in the persian kingdom.  you really can't get around that without people scratching their heads for at least a little bit.  now yes, persians are a little light skinned as far as denizens of brown town go, and a few hundred years ago you would see them as almost white.  but this movie isn't based on middle eastern history - it's based on a video game.  it's not about persians in general, it's about one specific fictional one - prince dastan.

left: ra's al ghul from the comics, left: liam neeson
and as a bonus example, i still haven't forgotten about liam neeson's ra's al ghul in the batman reboot, batman begins.  even for those that don't follow the batman mythos, does "r'as al ghul" sound like anything other than brown town to you?  ra's the immortal and his lazarus pits was the last bastion of brown power in comicdom.  oh yessss, detective.

now before you lay into me if you think i'm being one sided, yes, i will mention that this does happen the other way - kingpin was played by michael clarke duncan in daredevil, and sam jackson plays nick fury but for the majority of the time, there's not too much ground to pose a strong argument to what i'm saying here.  that doesn't bring balance to the force.

in actuality, the last airbender is far worse.  the airbender camp maintains that it has a culturally diverse cast.  while airbender and these other films do technically have a diverse cast, to me, and plenty others, the problem is where that diversity is seen.  minority players are mostly extras or villains, nailing huge roles like "henchman," "musician," and "assassin."  impressive, i know.  but not often are they the heroes or principal characters based on a minority source.  airbender's casting call actually listed that they were specifically looking for "caucasians and other races."  you broke my heart, m. night shyamalan.  not you too!

i know some of you may be thinking that i'm going a little over the top here, and that this isn't a trend but more of an isolated coincidence.  "tushar, you're crazy" says you.

well allow me to retort.

the book 21 was based on was about a group of MIT students that was mostly asian.  enter jim sturgess and kate bosworth, and the asian characters are now supporting instead of main.  wanted's fox was black in the comic, portrayed by angelina jolie in the movie.  akira's live action version will be starring leonardo dicaprio and joseph gordon levitt as kaneda and tetsuo.  and sean farris will be playing kyo kusanagi in king of fighters.  i could go on.

now i get it, on some level.  american movie studios, as all businesses must, cater to their majority markets (usually by betraying the fan base of the source material).  it's been going on since the 50's so no one should really see it as something new.  but what does this say about how hollywood views the masses?  do they think that american moviegoers still won't pay to see a movie unless the hero is flying high the banner of white america?  it's 2010, people. give it a rest.

and to all of the hollywood studios out there - i am of course available and you can contact me if you decide to make an action adventure blockbuster that calls for a suave brown hero that shoots and asks questions simultaneously.

Friday, May 21, 2010

21. IBM spreading malware, google celebrates pac-man in style

i know it's been a while, and yes, i'm still alive.  now that that's out of the way:

i'm sure some of you have had to attend some sort of conference for work or school before.  generally these are pretty dry and full of boring booths and seminars.  but your consolation is usually a bag full of free (mostly useless) stuff and booth giveaways - that's right, the delicious conference swag.  granted, the swag you get isn't nearly as cool as it would be at, say, E3, but there's generally some fun knick knacks in there nonetheless.  living in the digital age, a lot of companies give out USB flash drives as their trick-or-treat offerings.  makes sense right?  small, useful, and most of all, imprintable with your company's logo so they'll never forget who gave it to them.

turns out that last part is a double edged sword.

enter the ausCERT conference, held in australia's gold coast last week.  IBM's giveaways were, as anyone who read the first paragraph can guess, USB flash drives.  these weren't ordinary flash drives though - with these there was a slight twist - they came pre-infected with malware.  here's the real kicker - the whole ausCERT production?  it's a damn computer security expo.  collected in the RACV royal pines resort for this conference was a veritable who's who from the realm of network security - representatives from many antivirus/antimalware companies, the guy who co-invented public key cryptography, up to and including the the chief security officer for cisco.  IBM's message to ausCERT delegates:

"at the ausCERT conference this week, you may have collected a complimentary USB key from the IBM booth. unfortunately we have discovered that some of these USB keys contained malware and we suspect that all USB keys may be affected."

ouch.  the rest of the note went on to explain that any current antivirus/antimalware software would catch and quarantine it, but still, ouch.  i wouldn't exactly consider W32/LibHack-A a value-add software to bundle with a piece of hardware.  when i first saw this i thought it was a marketing ploy, maybe something like an IBM security solution demo on the drive.  until i saw the rest of the note IBM sent out.  after letting the delegates know that they may have infected them, they asked for anyone that had one to (1) not use them and (2) send them back to ibm.

now this isn't new - there have been other companies that have passed out infected memory sticks before, including IBM themselves in 2002.  but still it has to be embarrassing to be a bigshot like them, at a conference that IT professionals go to to hear lectures on the latest and greatest security techniques.  i just don't see how they didn't have some tighter QC, given the situation and their audience.

now from ridiculous to awesome - time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of pac-man, and out of all the tributes that exist on the web, google topped everyone.  by a mile.  google always has a lot of "doodles" to replace their stock logo on their search homepage to commemorate special days.  but today's takes the cake.  their doodle is a pac-man level shaped with the google logo, and it's playable, complete with sound.  if you're reading this and it's still friday the 21st, head over to google and click the "insert coin" button and have some fun.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

20. the difference between "pirate" and "jerk"

yes, i know i've been slacking for about a week - but if i'm going to be writing about anything related to consumer technology and/or tech news, the last couple of weeks of available material has been all apple all the time - and i just can't care about it anymore.  enough's enough.

so my process was as follows - start writing a post on the ipad, then stop.  fallout from the iphone 4 fiasco - 1 paragraph, stop.  more about the apple-adobe war, 2 sentences, stop.  apple-cingular exclusivity?  couldn't even come up with a title.  i can't be the only one who's tired of reading about apple in every damn publication and site i get my news from. so i stopped reading the news for a while.  digging through pages of seeing steve job's mug plastered across abso-damn-lutely everything got boring, and i don't want to just be one additional hit that helps apple control the news cycle.  due to the lack of anything else interesting, i took a few days off , and ended up doing some leveling my druid in warcraft instead.  got rake and tiger's fury, so yep, far more productive.

until yesterday.

i read about (and ultimately got) something called the humble indie bundle.  i generally like occasionally seeing what indie game studios offer, and since i loved world of goo, it was worth a look.  it's a limited time offering of a set of five independent games (including world of goo), by wolfire, that are completely DRM-free, work with pc, mac, and linux, and best of all...

... wait for it...

cost only as much as you want to pay.  you read that correctly.  if you want to pay $10, that's how much it costs.  only able to swing a dollar?  well sir or madam, to you, the pack costs precisely $1.  only want to pay a penny?  then that'll be one shiny red cent please.  the pricing scheme did seem a little shifty at first, until i saw what was behind it.  user contributions support the electronic frontier foundation, and the wonderful child's play charity, started by gabe and tycho over at penny arcade.  sounds like a good idea right?  you wouldn't mind shelling out at bare minimum a couple of cents for a set of games that would cost you about $80 combined, would you?

of course you wouldn't mind - you're good people.  but others would, and did, take a different stance on the matter, while taking full advantage of the "no DRM" thing.  instead of paying all of the $0.01 it would have taken to have a legitimate copy, let alone any altruistic motivation, it turns out that key links for the humble bundle are being distributed in forums, from 4chan (though we really should have seen it coming from them) to steam, and many in between.  wolfire estimates about 25% of the downloads have been pirated, not counting anything pulled down by torrents.  just to clarify - these people pirated jacked software for charity that was pretty much given away.  and yes, there is a difference.

i've done a couple of posts on piracy before - mainly because i can understand instances that can be considered sticking it to the proverbial man.  because "the man" sticks it to us.  daily.  companies that publish audio/video media and games are getting a little ridiculous spending their time calculating how many fictitious dollars piracy costs them (while pulling in record profits hand over fist) instead of legitimately focusing their energy on creating a richer experience for the end user.  so sometimes putting them in check is called for.  this instance is completely different.  skimming this game pack off of a forum isn't piracy.  you're not sticking it to the man.  trust me, the man is cushy and comfortable on this one.  you're just flat out being a jerk.  in addition to independent developers, who you're affecting is:

the EFF: a non-profit foundation whose goals are to protect free speech, privacy, and digital consumer rights, and
child's play: an organization with gamer roots that donates toys, games, books, and money to sick kids, their families, and the children's hospitals that are trying to help them.

i personally give to the latter (and should really get more involved with the first), because i believe in what they're doing, making this matter far more loathsome to me.  in my opinion this is digitally tantamount to punching a bell-ringing santa, squarely in the neck, and taking his or her salvation army bucket.  this kind of stuff is depressing, if as nothing else but a confirmation that this particular brand of asshat still exists, and that their numbers show no signs of slowing down.

but i can't be completely mentally bogged down by this kind of selfishness today - there's still some positive news to report.  despite the copies that were ill-got at best, in the three days that this bundle was available, contributors raised $319,000 for charity, which isn't exactly chicken feed.  and before this is posted, the bundle has now been extended for another 3 day period.  hopefully they can collect another $300,000 or more.

for those that need a refresher, robin hood never sucker punched little john for a bag of coin or drugged friar tuck to steal a swig of his ale.

he robbed from the rich.

for more information on the work being done by the EFF or child's play charity, click the following links for their official sites:
electronic frontier foundation
child's play charity