Review: Treasure Planet (2002)

Now that I’ve got access to Disney +, I have plenty of video to watch. A few months ago, someone on Deviant Art referred to Treasure Planet and suggested it would be worth watching. The commenter said that reviewers had panned the film. On the-numbers.com, I learned that it wasn’t a very successful movie financially. It’s worldwide gross did not quite compensate for the film’s budget.

Treasure Planet is a story about a youth, Jim Hawkins, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is drifting after his father had left the family. His mother, voiced by Laurie Metcalf, was desperate to keep him out of trouble. Despite his mother’s reservations, after getting a map to the legendary Treasure Planet, Jim starts on an adventure in search of riches. The film is inspired by the story Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but it’s set in outer space. The story uncomfortably conjoins the pirate and buccaneer genre with the science fiction adventure genre. It used Jim, in the role of a troubled youth, to tie them together.

The film was passable but I’m glad I watched it. The crew were little more than caricatures and had their personality revealed by their visual appearance rather than their actions. One of the bright spots of the movie was Morph, voiced by Dane A. Davis, a shape shifting pet who took the place of a pirate’s trusty parrot. Morph added some comic relief and often distracted from the main action—I was spending more time looking and paying attention to its antics instead of the rest of the action. The robot B.E.N. voiced by Martin Short is also a bright spot in the performance.

The pirate John Silver voiced by Brian Murray has a more complex personality than the other characters. Rather than Jim’s stereotyped journey in the story, Silver has his own journey that is more compelling. Jim has a standard fairy tale ending while Silver leaves transformed. The gender roles in the film are pretty stereotypical. The writers realized that the majority of the story didn’t have any female characters, so the captain, voiced by Emma Thompson, was recast as a woman almost as an afterthought.

The art of the movie was well done. I appreciated the ethereal visuals of the sky. The resources spent to make them effective were well spent. If the space environment had not been so colorful and varied, the film would have been very dull and flat. The different ships and other vehicles seemed incongruous with the space theme, but their styling kept the story’s connection to Treasure Island apparent.

Treasure Planet was an acceptable movie. It isn’t close to the top of the pantheon of Disney Films so it’s probably not worth renting but if you want a humorous take on Treasure Island, it might be worth putting on your list of to-watch-someday films. There’s plenty else on Disney+ that is appealing.

Diceware and User Names

Diceware is a system to make passwords that are easy to remember but very difficult to guess. The technique uses dice throws to choose a passphrase.

Diceware was invented and trademarked by A G Reinhold and is available at https://diceware.com. It requires five dice and a table such as the one Reinhold created. For each roll of 5 dice, there are 7776 different possible outcomes. Each combination selects a different short word from a 36 page table.

If I roll 61544, 21455 and 65243, the phrase that the tables return is “track cove yves” This doesn’t have enough entropy to be a good password and diceware.com explains why in more depth and authority than I can.

My idea is that you can use diceware to create usernames. I tend to use the same phrases for a username. If you see those phrases, there’s a good chance it’s me, which isn’t good for anonymity.

I can use two or three rolls and Diceware to construct a username that is unique and won’t be reused anywhere else. Diceware usernames won’t be biased by the difficulty that humans are poor when they try to pick randomly. Google is a nice place to use Diceware to create throwaway user names that google won’t mangle with numbers at the end. [Ignoring the paradox that if I create my usernames this way, it’s still not anonymous because very few people do it this way so it can be a little obvious.]

I just created my account at http://archiveofourown.org. AOOO is an archive for fanfiction of all sorts. I’m hoping to add fan fiction based on Vernor Vinge’s Hugo winning works A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. I didn’t find any other AOOO fanfiction for him, so I can do all the world building I want as Blitz72hero. (In addition, it’s a cooler name than I could have come up with on my own!)

“Blushes” by Graham Swift [The New Yorker]

Taking place in the middle of the pandemic, Graham Swift’s “Blushes,” is a story about growing up with diseases. The protagonist, Dr. Cole, travels the empty streets to start his day at the hospital. He remembers his childhood infections. As a youth, he could check off the childhood diseases that he had overcome. He felt pride at being able to finish the list of “desirable” diseases after turning ten.

In the story, the young Cole has a birthday party that reminds me of confusing times as a youth. We both were put in situations where the right answer wasn’t clear. The grownups didn’t help it make sense. Thinking on the parents holding the party, the older Cole remembered the dear women he had lost in the past few years. As an older man, Dr. Cole was able to reflect on his tenth birthday in ways that he couldn’t then.

Blushes,” published in the January 18, 2021 issue of The New Yorker is one of the satisfying stories I’ve seen there. Each week, the magazine publishes a fiction piece, a short story, to counterpoint the excellent journalism in the rest of the magazine. I look forward to the story each week and make sure that I have time to read it. Often it is the frosting on the cake for a “birthday” that comes every week.

Low sodium

The past couple of months I’ve been practicing a low sodium diet. I have some worksheets from nutritionists but they haven’t been very helpful. There are several medical conditions that can benefit from a low sodium diet. Some medications affect the sodium balance in the body and need an informed medical professional to analyze ones personal situation.

Here are a few notes to share:

You can make a lot of progress by stopping the use of table salt and other forms of sodium chloride such as sea salt. The reason is that table salt is about 40% sodium by weight. After a while, I adjusted to not expecting a salt shaker next to the pepper. I have seen recommendations for spice blends to replace the salt.

One advantage to avoiding table salt is that it lets you be more consistent. When I used table salt, I couldn’t measure it consistently. (for example, I couldn’t know whether I used 1/8 tsp or just 1/10th or less). Taking sodium chloride out of my reach when I’m cooking and eating gives me room to fit in some medium sodium content foods.

When I am baking, I reduce the amount of sodium to add. I cut back on the salt, baking soda and baking powder ingredients. If I don’t, the sodium adds up. The totals could eliminate the advantage of baking my own food. I haven’t had any recipe failures because of a reduced use (but not elimination) of these big three sodium sources.

Another topic relevant to a low-sodium diet is dining out. It’s difficult to find low sodium options in a restaurant. The chefs’ include sodium in the recipes because it is a way to making their food more savory. In regular restaurants, the sodium content may not be documented. Fast food restaurants have substantial amounts of sodium in their recipes. Fortunately, fast food restaurants make their nutrition facts available online.

I must admit that some of the companies haven’t put a lot of thought into making the information useful. I think McDonald’s site is exemplary. Their website will summarize the nutrition facts of the combination of the foods you select. It enables you to track fat or sodium or carbs or any combination of nutrients because the site does the calculations. Other websites might need a pad of paper and a pen to get the total. There are websites that have tables with the nutrition contents of different foods, but I haven’t found them helpful.

One low sodium puzzle I haven’t solved is tomato sauces. Canned tomato sauce is high sodium. If you look at the total mg sodium per can rather than per serving, you can see that the sodium adds up quickly. I’d like to make spaghetti but must only make it very rarely to keep my average intake down.

In the grocery store, checking the sodium content can be an exercise. When you have an item on your grocery list such as breakfast cereal or salad dressing, there isn’t a fast rule for what to pick. I thought that the Chex brand cereals were good but when I checked they were actually pretty high sodium. Salad dressing takes effort to find the few that you can use. Even the same brand will have a wide range of sodium content for different dressings.

For a while I would write down how much sodium each item I eat has. Then, at the end of the day, I total the numbers. My goal isn’t to get a precise-to-the-milligram count of how much sodium I take. Rather the goal is to get a comparison from day to day. I’m ok estimating, say, how much peanut butter I used rather than knowing exactly.

Fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit are usually very low sodium. Canned vegetables are usually high sodium.

The doctor who encouraged me to start a low sodium diet thought that taking out the table salt would be enough. It takes more diligence than that. It’s worthwhile because it can help treat some diseases like hypertension.

iPhone privacy setting fail

Months ago, I made some adjustments to lock down my phone’s privacy settings. Today I found that I got bit by one of my changes. When I was locking things down, I disabled the microphone and camera for Safari.

Other useful apps, such as the MyChart medical records service, use the browser to do video calling.

My first attempt to repair the problem was to look for a bad settings for MyChart, but it didn’t show up there. Until I did a wider search did I find that I had hobbled Safari to my own detriment.

The reason I was unable to solve it in the past is that the problematic setting wasn’t in the obvious places. Camera settings, Microphone settings, Privacy settings and MyChart settings all looked irrelevant. Instead, it was in Safari settings. I hadn’t realized was so integral to other apps.

When they say that any sufficiently advanced technology is like magic, I thought that I would know the right incantation. I couldn’t find the eye of newt. It was hiding in the back of the produce department near the sign “Beware of the leopard.”

Google Slides

I’ve been using Google Slides recently. My impression of it is positive.

I imported a PowerPoint presentation and found that it imported some shapes that it appears unable to create. It can even manipulate them as if they a native shape.

Another feature I found is being able to select more than one shape at time with shift-click. Although the display doesn’t show the extended selection, when I copied them with the Slides menu copy, I could paste them on another slide with Ctrl-V. That allowed me to copy some complex decorations from one slide to the next. The paste put the shapes in the same position on the new slide.

I’m still learning some of the advanced features like themes and master slides.

There’s plenty to explore!

Covid caution

I’ve seen reports that in England there’s a variant of the Covid virus that is more easily transmitted.

That reminds me a couple things. First, there’s no guarantee that a mutation won’t make Covid more deadly. I’ve seen claims that that’s how viruses work–that they gradually become less lethal. However, that’s an wishful thought and not proven. There’s not a biological mechanism to guarantee that.

More ominously, the vaccine may select for variants that are able to infect vaccinated people. Just as antibiotics select for bacteria that become super-bugs, a vaccine could select for changes that make the vaccine quit working.

The reason for caution is that each new case of Covid can create mutations of the virus. Some can’t spread or don’t matter, but some could become clinically relevant. When there are hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, it increases the chances for a bad outcome.

It’s a reason to block transmission as diligently as possible. One never knows if a case, even those that are asymptomatic or mild, will become one that reignites the pandemic.

Having a vaccine is definitely not a reason to become complacent. Or think one can quit the hard work of the past 12 months. There seems to be a path out of the woods, but it’s not behind us.

Every case is another roll of the dice. One never knows if the virus will roll Yahtzee.

Surveillance Fatigue

On my way home from Wal-Mart this week, I realized that I don’t see the security cameras anymore. They are still there but now they’re background noise. There are more oppressive cameras at the self-checkout lanes but I even fail to notice the giant monitors.

Camera surveillance is just one way that my privacy can be invaded. Earlier, my awareness of privacy was much more acute. I would use the Tor browser when visiting websites. I would monitor where I go on the open internet. I reflected on how my search queries might be analyzed and would self-censor before blogging anything too controversial. I used the privacy aware search engine DuckDuckGo. I would talk to friends about privacy. I even spent a semester studying privacy in an independent study with a privacy researcher at IUPUI.

In my trajectory on privacy, my alert level has gradually lessened. I’ve reached the point that I don’t notice obvious surveillance. However, I have some habits that stuck. I still use DuckDuckGo. I read privacy statements and TOS. I avoid my Gmail account. (However, now I’m bending on the convenience of using the Gmail address for login credentials. Three steps forward; two steps back.)

So that’s the point: I took my high level of awareness and have dropped off. I still have a few habits that have survived. But I reached a level of surveillance fatigue and I’ve lost my zeal for privacy. My behavior has changed but not by much.

The problem with surveillance fatigue is that when future technology changes require me to upgrade my vigilance, I won’t. I will recall the amount of effort it took previously and feel the new effort is too much work. I’ll reject small changes that objectively aren’t very burdensome. In effect, I overshot the balance point. I know there are things I can do to improve my privacy but I don’t do them. I’m complacent about the issue. My experience at a high alert has inoculated me from becoming more careful again.

Facebook and other surveillance services bank on this effect. They creep into newer and newer privacy assaults yet people ignore the danger. Users’ initial alarm has drifted into impotence. The surveillance continues to spread without adequate push-back.

COVID enabled strong actions at first, but now the memory of their consequences inoculates people from taking any action. If mask wearing is a habit, it could persist. Because avoiding bars and sit-down restaurants its easy, I won’t think about them when deciding what to have for dinner.

People’s threshold of willingness has drooped and they’ve fallen into the fatigue trap. They won’t take small but effective changes because they get conflated with the big changes that were hard.

Surveillance fatigue is an example of a common pattern in human behavior. A flurry of activity can respond to an emergent situation. However, the responses will gradually fall off. Unless the effective steps become a habit, privacy will continue to erode. Unless the balance point is reached with COVID precautions, it will continue to spread.

Review: Playtime (1967)

The 1967 film, Playtime, directed by the French director Jacques Tati, was a project that was burdened by Tati’s grandiose vision for the film. He went over-budget with a tardy production schedule. This comic movie uses ludicrous situations that put the characters off-balance to create goofy humor. Without an overarching plot, Playtime is a sequence of scenes that don’t flow logically. They’re each silly and have unexpected turns.

One message of the film is that people are absurd. Early, the movie shows the main character trying to set up a meeting with a businessman. Eventually, he gets sidetracked by an industrial exhibition. After that phase of the action finished, much of the movie takes place at the grand opening of a nightclub with many silly mishaps. The humor in the movie is often visual. The dialog is primarily French with sub-titles but some speakers use German or English.

A theme of the movie is that glass can be a barrier and transparent at the same time. Seeing through glass walls leaves one isolated as an observer unable to participate in events that are so close. A door can be invisible until someone passes through it. At the nightclub, eventually a glass door was just a golden handle held by a doorman. Although a guest shattered the door, the greeter was acting as if the glass was still present. The glass shards were swept away but “the show must go on” so the door was simulated for the guests.

One segment in the film showed some apartments that were designed like department store windows. The rooms were on ground level with a fishbowl wall of glass giving full view into the residents’ lives. In one apartment, I was reminded of family Super8 movies showing travels and family reunions. The host tried to set up a screen to share travels but was rebuffed when the guest left suddenly.

The extra features of the disc emphasized the impracticality of Tati’s production of the film. Tati built a huge city-like sound stage of buildings and asphalt roadways for a modernist town. Tati had hoped other directors could use the same set. However, not long after the shooting was finished, the whole structure was destroyed. The commenters reported that on some days Tati would waste the day waiting for the sunlight and clouds to be just so. The cast might end up waiting and idle for much of a day.

The hapless architect was blamed for the mishaps at the not-quite-ready nightclub. The restaurant manager reports to him many flaws: The pickup window for the waiters was too small for serving plates; a bar that had ornamentation at the level of the bartender’s head; a tile in the newly finished dance floor stuck to a maître d’s shoe. One running gag was a waiter who tore his pants. As the evening progressed, that waiter waited outside and replaced defective shoes, a belt and tie that other waiters needed. Another ongoing joke showed that the chairs left deep crown-shaped creases on men’s suits. A sorry-looking baked fish was repeatedly seasoned with a flourish when staff passed by, but the fish was never eaten by anyone.

The action begins and ends with tourists traveling to an airport. The Eiffel Tower is shown in the distance to locate the action in Paris. The sets are constructed out of grays and blacks, straight lines and flat surfaces. It shows humans in a dehumanized setting. People don’t seem out of place, but nothing feels welcoming. The film is not showing a place where people would want to stay.

One strength of the show is how memorable it is. Even though is has primarily physical gags and silly situations, I can look back and see much of the movie in my memory. Rather than being based on a wide environment and varying settings, the film’s world was rigid and demanding. The world of Tati’s Playtime is strange and alien.

Review: The Man From Earth (2007)

The science fiction film by Jerome Bixby, The Man From Earth starts simply with some friend gathering at the cabin of John Oldman. (played by David Lee Smith) He’s preparing to move on, somewhat abruptly, and he has gathered them to say goodbye. After opening the night with some Johnny Walker, they have an extraordinary conversation as the evening develops. His cabin is on the edge of a wilderness. While not an unusual locale, the thoughtful discussion brings to mind John’s past years when he was divorced from human influences. The college professors and some students are relishing the friendship that they share.

As the story progresses into deeper history, John offers his friends a lot of trust. He tells them that in the past he would leave and not explain where he is going nor why. This time, John trusts his friends enough that he can candidly describe his past. These friends prove to the viewer that it’s worthwhile to share an engaging discussion.

John reviews his life forward from the simple culture of prehistoric man. As he saw the world expand, he reflects how he first saw mountains and then the ocean. He has met some extraordinary people through his life.

Jerome Bixby, the author of the screenplay was a successful science fiction writer. Among other credits, he wrote for the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone. This movie was brought to life by his son because Bixby died shortly after the screenplay was finished. According to the commentary, it was made on a limited budget, but I think it is still well made. One effect of that is that due to limited lighting, for some of the footage taken after sunset, the video is grainy.

The Man From Earth is the anti-thesis of an action movie. There aren’t special effects, stuntmen or violent conflicts. Instead, the film ends on a surprising note after John’s ideas are presented at a comfortable pace.

I enjoyed the film and have watched its several times. The situation seems organic and not hobbled with stereotypical characters that are simplistic and stilted.