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The World According to Biff

Twenty-five years ago today, the most groundbreaking research project of the Twentieth Century culminated with an unprecedented result.

It all began fifty-five years ago (this November) when one of the most brilliant scientists of our age had his Newton moment. He was in his bathroom hanging a clock on the wall when he slipped and hit his head. Immediately upon waking, he was inspired to draw a quick diagram for what would become the single greatest discovery in the history of science.

From there, he devoted his life to this project. His vast family fortune tapped while acquiring the necessary components to create his masterpiece, he was forced to sell his palatial mansion in southern California and took up residence in his garage, where he could continue his work uninhibited.

He continued to tinker with other things in the meantime in order to satisfy his need to create. He was especially fond of Rube Goldberg-style contraptions to help shorten his morning routine. This, however, seemed pointless as his habits usually had him up all night or out of bed before the start of the device would be triggered.

When his great work was finally completed, thirty years after his initial epiphany, the last piece of the puzzle still remained. This part is where his legacy becomes a bit tarnished.

In order to power his device, he required a nuclear reaction. As nuclear material isn’t exactly available at every corner drug store, he was forced to make a deal with a group of Libyan Nationals who provided him the material with the promise that he would build them a nuke. Instead of building their device, he gave them a dud which was simply a bomb casing filled with old pinball machine parts.

With the power source in place, at precisely 1:20 AM the morning of October 26, 1985, in the parking lot of a shopping mall, his dog became the world’s first time traveler by jumping instantly one minute into the future. This was later followed by numerous trips both to the past and to the future by the scientist and his friends.

Today, we salute you, Dr. Emmett L. Brown. Thank you for your work, whenever you are.

***

Now that the history lesson is over…

We are now 4 years and 360 days away from when Doc and Marty arrive in the future (October 21, 2015). Let’s take a minute to look over what we’ve seen in the future and how we’re progressing so far. Here are seven things from the future and where we are in accordance to Back to the Future.

[note: I know there are a ton of other sites more official than this one doing this exercise, but, come on, wouldn’t you rather hear this stuff from me? I’m a lot more fun than random news websites.]

1. Flying Cars. Some huge breakthrough not withstanding, this probably won’t happen within our lifetime if ever, let alone by 2015.
As awesome as it would be to essentially have a straight-line, high-altitude path to anywhere we wanted to go, I don’t think we’ll ever be ready for it. We have enough trouble negotiating road traffic let alone air traffic. Think about some d-bag cutting you off at a couple hundred miles an hour while you’re a couple thousand feet in the air. Think about the collateral damage from all the mid-air collisions. Bad drivers? Imagine bad flyers.

Likelihood of it happening: Yeah, right.

2. The TV/Phone/Entertainment System. As seen in the McFlys’ Hilldale home, a large flat screen capable of receiving video-phone calls as well as granting the ability to view multiple channels at once.
Yeah. We has it. As costs decrease, giant flat-panel TVs of all variety are becoming commonplace within today’s home. With services like Skype coming to the forefront, video calling is becoming easier by the day. When you consider the continuing integration of internet accessibility into cable/satellite systems, gaming systems, and even some newer TV models, the only big difference between what the McFlys had and what we have now was that theirs wasn’t hi-def. Even that’s debatable because theirs was reproduced using early 90s tech as the backbone. Things like the Sony Eyetoy and the Xbox Kinect are making the idea of video calls much simpler.

Likelihood of it happening: It’s happening now.

3. The obsolescence of arcade games/hands-free gaming. Remember that scene in the Café 80s where Marty gets whined at by a couple of snot-nosed brats (one of which was Elijah Wood) about the fact that Wild Gunman required the use of hands to play? Remember that one of them said: “My dad told me about these…”
Yeah. For reals.
Sure, our kids MIGHT know what old school arcades were like if only for the intervention of Dave and Busters and numerous amusement parks keeping the old cabinet industry going. Honestly, though, it sure is a panda of a thing (as in not quite extinct but extremely close and usually only found in captivity).
With console graphics matching or outclassing anything that could be in a cabinet and online multiplayer replacing the public grudge matches of the old school video game dens, there really is no point in leaving your house to show off your skills. Our children will have to be told tales of putting a token/quarter on the ledge to signify that we “got next”.
As far as using your hands, with Wii, PSMove, and Xbox Kinect, we’re already there. I’m pretty sure it’s more than a kitschy gimmick at this point considering its popularity, so we can only expect more advances in motion control/controller-free gaming as things go on. By 2015, games with controllers may indeed be a baby’s toy.

Likelihood of it happening: It’s happening now.

4. Holographic movies. Sure, Jaws didn’t make it to as many sequels as depicted, but in 2015, you could see him jump right out and bite you, even though Marty thought the shark still looked fake.
With the triumphant (though, I still believe, unnecessary) return of 3D to the silver screen and the addition of IMAX 3D, we’re getting close, but this stuff is still pretty far off. 2015? Probably not. 2025? Maybe a bit more likely. I’m not predicting that we’re going to find the key to mass-marketable holographic recording and replaying within the next five years. I’m sure we’ll find some consumer friendly alternatives, possibly involving a VR-type setup, but I don’t think that has what it takes to survive a mass market right now. Too much expensive equipment involved.

Likelihood of it happening: Maybe.

5. Thumbprint identification. In 2015, there’s no need to carry a wallet. Your thumbprint pays for things like a debit card, can identify you by name, address, and age, and even works as a key to locked doors.
Biometrics is coming along just fine. Thumbprints are already used in some time clocks to punch employees in and out. It’s only a matter of time before all of the debit card swiping progresses. We’ve already got credit cards you can just wave in front of an RFID box to pay. Next, in my opinion, will either be the BttF solution of biometrics or the Demolition Man solution of chips under the skin.
Welcome home, Jennifer.

Likelihood of it happening: Plausable.

6. Hoverboards. Much like the flying car gambit, the hoverboard thing is reliant on some huge breakthrough happening within the next five years.
Great concept, but also not something I think we’re going to see in our lifetime. It stands to reason that, if flying cars go through, the trickle down will certainly involve the tech being put into toys. The hoverboard is an inevitability, especially if someone from our generation is still around when they’re able to be made. Anyone who’s seen BttF2 wants a hoverboard.
I don’t believe hoverboards will ever fully replace skateboards, especially not with the latter-day popularity explosion of pro-skating. Hoverboard may get it’s own slot in the X-Games, but it certainly won’t be to replace old-school wheels.
And, if there ever are hoverboards, I don’t think there will be a Pit Bull. Rocket engines strapped to vehicles that shouldn’t have rocket engines never end well.

Likelihood of it happening: As good as flying cars.

7. Robots. The future was full of them: the full-service gas station, the wait-staff of the Café 80s, even a dog-walker in Hilldale.
This, I believe, is the longest way off. Not based on technology, because we’ve reached the point where we can build robots akin to these. Note the medical bots that help doctors round when they’re not present.
The tech is certainly there. It’s the willingness of the people to accept it, especially in a ruined economy. I think people would take a South Park style stand against robot labor. They may help us live comfortably, but dammit, THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!!! (dicker-doo!)

Likelihood of it happening: 50/50, depending on the public reaction. Not by 2015.

With that, I’m gonna make like a tree and get out of here.

‘Til 2015, kids. Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word – The Social Network

It’s late, I know, but I figured I should finally put this one down on paper. Or screen. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

If you’re one of the relative handful of people who haven’t taken your Facebook-trolling ass to the movie theater to see The Social Network, I strongly advise that you put down the Farmville, tear your face away from the screen, and get to the theater. If it helps, most phones support the Facebook mobile app, so it’s not like you’ll be out of touch.

Like me, some of you only really jumped on the Facebook train once Myspace started to go tits-up to the impending juggernaut of social networking. Yeah, remember Myspace? Think real hard and it might come back to you.
Jumping on to Facebook at the point most of us did seemed like we were at the start of something new. Little did we know that we started that particular franchise in the middle of the story. Few, if any, of us were around for the origin. We didn’t know about the people involved in creating it, we didn’t know about the surrounding controversy, the in-fighting, or the lawsuits. All we knew was that something new and cool had risen from the depths of the internet to entertain us, and that was enough.

The Social Network is the origin story none of us really gave a second thought to because we were so busy tagging photos and playing Mafia Wars to care where any of this came from.

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay spins out of Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, the same origin story on which one of Facebook’s co-founders (Eduardo Saverin) was his main consultant.
Combined with David Fincher’s direction and the placement of Jesse Eisenberg in the role of creator Mark Zuckerberg, the movie winds up being a fantastically frenetic shotgun blast of dialogue, most if not all of which is insanely witty and incredibly relatable.

Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a modern mad genius; an alcohol-and-caffeine-powered-coding-machine who spends more time programming and hacking than would be physically recommended. He’s a nerd who isn’t hung up on appearances or much else aside from his work. In almost every scene he’s shown wearing cargo shorts with a pair of Adidas sandals and socks, no matter what the weather.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, the Igor to Zuckerberg’s Dr. Frankenstein, and draws much of the empathy away from Zuckerberg’s hardcore nerd-rage design and back to the struggle of a guy who seems to be trying to do things the more traditional way; finishing school and working an internship while Zuckerberg drops out and moves to Silicon Valley to pursue the future of Facebook with Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).
You will be severely sucked in before the movie is over, watching what essentially amounts to a bunch of kids fumbling over themselves and turning into multi-billionaires practically overnight. When the movie ends, you find yourself wondering where the story goes from there, but really, all you’d have to do is pick up a newspaper.

Eisenberg’s ability to show intelligent irreverence to just about everything around him really made this movie to me. It made me think that, if I were in his position, I would probably be doing the exact same things. He scoffs at the authorities, the social structure, and the nay-sayers in such amazing fashion that it almost makes you want to stand up, pump your fist in the air, and scream “damn the man!”
He also seems relatable because, no matter where he is with his money or the company in this movie, he’s always dressed down, cool, and casual. They don’t show him out doing what, let’s face it, all the rest of us would do if we suddenly owned a billion dollar business.

As decadent icing on the already delicious cake, there’s the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which sets the moods of each scene perfectly, very reminiscent of what the Dust Brothers did for Fight Club or what Beck did for Scott Pilgrim.
Rarely is there a score I’d say I’d buy to bring home. This is definitely one of them.

Everything in this movie combines to make it one of the most relevant pieces of pop-cinema to current culture. At the dawn of the decade of social networking, it’s good to know the root of it all and fun to get a little peek behind the curtain at what the original developers were thinking.

Overall, a definite must-see and a total laugh-a-minute. This is on my top 5 movies of the year, right near the top.

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

I Did It All For the Nookie

I’m currently on Chapter III of Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad”. I’m also about half way through a collection of Sherlock Holmes tales at the same time. I finished reading Treasure Island in a week (which is a good pace for someone very easily distracted) and in my possession on my to-read list is Moby-Dick, The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Prince by Machiavelli, as well as some classic re-reads of a few of my favorites (the Thebian Plays, the Odyssey, and Leaves of Grass) and I’m currently searching for more things I should have read by now to devour.

All of this I got for Christmas from my wife.

She certainly didn’t strain herself walking my gift in from the car. I do not have a gigantic stack of books on my desk or my end table in the living room. I am not drowning in a sea of paper. I am not feathering through giant leather-bound volumes. I don’t need to worry about bookmarks falling out or (by way of making me feel old) pulling my glasses down my nose a bit to read finer print at the distance I prefer.

As sketchy as I was about them at first, it turns out that e-Readers are a wonderful thing.
I had thought that having an e-Reader would just be having a narrow-functioned laptop. I had visions of a small flat-panel device which would be just a plain old screen belching out bright white light in the background of the print. I imagined that, while reading with one, my eyes would more than likely begin to water. I reckoned that spending an entire night reading would be much like spending an entire night playing video games; not much blinking, a lot of runny eyes, and probably a headache if sustained for over six hours at a go.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Enter e-Ink screens. e-Ink seems to be more of a repackaged old technology than a new one. That’s not to hold anything against it, mind you, because it’s awesome. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the original Game Boys minus the Baby-Turd Green (Crayola, here I come) background color; black-and-white display, no backlighting. Sure, it’s impossible to read in the dark, but then again, that’s how books are supposed to be.
e-Ink screens make the display look like an actual printed page. So much so that, on my first encounter with an e-Reader on display at Staples, I rubbed my hand across the screen to see if it was a printed paper stuck to the screen or whether the printing was part of the display itself. Deciding that the thing was just a mock-up, I pressed a button. When the screen changed, my jaw hit the floor. A piece of paper had just changed its writing while I was watching. At least, that was what it looked like. From there, I was interested.
I used to be huge into reading but, with many latter-day techno-distractions, I’d all but given it up. Though I constantly wanted to get back into reading, I had a problem with misplacing books. Every time I would buy a book, I would read the first few chapters and, if it didn’t truly hold my interest, it would be put down. Once down, it would usually (after a long period of eventuality) move to the bookshelf in the office room of our house, never to be picked up again.
It was also, most often, uncomfortable for me to have a book open. I found myself annoyed at hand cramps and pinching the spines of hardcover books between my thumb and forefinger. Dust jackets were wasted on me. More often than not, they would wind up hidden away somewhere to be creased and beaten up until found and, sometimes, discarded. I didn’t like that they made my hands slip off the book, so I couldn’t read with it on there.

Having an e-Reader, I started to think, would make me read more often. If I could have something which could potentially be held in one hand, would always be the same size, and would contain an entire library (in case of boredom), I would be more inclined to use it. Also, the fact that it was a gadget by nature would probably keep me more interested in it.

It turns out I was right.

My e-Reader, the Barnes and Noble nook (another victim of the casual discarding or misplacing of capital letters in a proper noun), is freakin’ sweet.
With a price tag around US$260 (not including warrantee), it has already saved me quite a bit of money in books. I’ve been searching for classics I’ve never read and finding that Google Books has an extensive library of public domain available for free which allowed me to download the entirety of my collection thus far without dropping an additional dime.
If you’d like to purchase more recent (or recently classic) titles, they will run you anywhere from a meager $.99 to a more boisterous $9.99. This all depends on the popularity of the book and the writer. New York Times Bestsellers typically run toward the top of the price range while you could purchase, say, the Complete Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald for somewhere near the bottom (shame, that, but still…)
For instance, Stephen King’s latest monster (weighing in at 1000+ pages) would run you around $39.95 for the hardcover. With the nook, you pay $9.99. If this thing isn’t worth its weight in gold to the avid reader, I don’t know what is. The store also contains a few e-Book based newspapers and magazines available as subscriptions.
Such a weight in gold might not even be a difference maker. This thing is light. All electronics included, it’s probably less than the weight of the average paperback book. It’s thin and comfortable to handle. The back of the device is covered with a rubbery grip and bowed ever so slightly to make for a more ergonomic experience – it literally feels like you’re holding a thin paperback.
The nook, though probably the least known (and possibly respected) of the Big Three in e-Readers this past holiday season, is probably the most convenient of the three. Consider the 3G Wireless function (at no charge) which connects directly to the B&N e-Book Store whenever you get a notion to browse, feel the need for new literature, or, in my case, remember twenty minutes after your initial thought that you wanted to look for something on the store but now you’re away from home. It can also be used through any wireless network, including B&N’s in-store wi-fi, to conserve battery power.
Speaking of battery power, nook is also the only e-Reader on the market with a replaceable battery. Not sure how to do it yet, but I know it doesn’t require voiding any warrantees.
The nook also lets you interface with friends who have a nook. You can lend a nook friend a purchased book for two weeks, after which it deletes itself. Pretty nice when you’ve got friends with extensive tastes and large libraries.
As far as the large libraries are concerned, the nook has an onboard 2GB hard drive. While that may not sound big by any iPod or hard drive comparisons, realize that I’ve got over a dozen classics measuring no fewer than 200 pages each (some quite a bit longer) including illustrations and my nook still has 98% free space. Text files aren’t large, even when they are long.
The real reason for the hard drive (and the MicroSD expansion slot) is the built-in MP3 player allowing you to read with music or catch an audio book via headphones or the unit’s built in speakers. It’s the only e-Reader with that function, I’m fairly certain.

While it’s not the most popular e-Reader on the market, the nook is still an awesome piece of equipment. Really, any e-Reader is an awesome piece of equipment.

The biggest thing about the e-Reader boom is that it’s good news for people like yours truly – that being purveyors of the written word. Just when it seemed like print was dead, something comes along to save the day. Or, at least, to try to save the day.
e-Readers, if they really catch on, have the potential to be the new MP3 players. Books may be made available exclusively in e-Book format (there are some e-Serials which are already being produced, much to the thrill of your humble and as-yet-unpublished narrator) making the e-Reader both the most green way to read and a convenient way to carry around an entire library in a relatively tiny package.

Everyone I know love their e-Reader. If you like reading, go get one. The large upfront cost may look intimidating, but consider how much you’ll save paying $10 at max for a book.
I’ll still probably get more important volumes in print, but probably just for collectors reasons.
I can’t wait until you can get comic books on these things.

The future is now!

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

An Unlucky Seven Update

For those of you who may be wondering (probably about a dozen or so, maybe less) whatever happened to Unlucky Seven, my comic-book style serial, I wanted to give you an update, as well as a bit of a blog entry.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at some of the earlier chapters of Unlucky Seven. Actually, I read the whole thing. Most of you never got to see the thing in its entirety, but it’s massive. We’re talking 364 pages, 10 pt. Arial, single spaced, standard margins. That gives us 230,650 words, 1,048,581 characters (not counting spaces), and 64 chapters of total story. I have a printed copy somewhere. It’s an absolute beast.
A good chunk of those chapters were never posted to the Unlucky Seven LiveJournal page. Those latter chapters were written for and read by only one person (who I consider the first and only person in Unlucky Seven fandom). They jive with the story as it went but, towards the end, I started reaching.

I realized that I had lost my way somewhere along the line. There were many pitfalls and perils along the path which threw my attention in a million different directions. Chapters 1-18 were written in fair succession (about one chapter a week), but even they were spaced out. Then, there was a year or so of downtime while I concentrated on other things because I thought Unlucky Seven was too hard to write. That was the first of about 6 incidents over the six or so years I’d been writing the damned thing.
The fact that I’d drifted in and out of the story made it tough to follow. I would come up with new ideas and forget about old ideas. I would set entire plans in motion, forget what the objective was, and leave them hanging like a chad on a Florida ballot and with the same indeterminable significance.
I injected new characters into the story whose roles were built to be significant from so much earlier in the story. I would try to backtrack and retcon and make it so that it looked like they were significant and that their significance was happening completely “off-camera”, away from the sight of the reader and without any previous reference. A terrible crime of the writing world, in my opinion, and a horrifying faux-pas to assume that knowledge on the part of the reader.
Not only did I assume knowledge of these relationships, but of those of the core characters. I took for granted that everyone could visualize the story the same way that I could. I looked at these characters, most of who are based on real people, and ignored the fact that no one knew them outside of my real life circle, thereby giving the reader no chance to develop as personal a relationship as I had with those characters.

I realized I made some unforgivable mistakes, including spending entire chapters with the main characters just plodding around and wondering what to do. I spent too much time explaining certain parts of the story by falling victim to the classic movie/comic-book practice of monologueing. People became uncharacteristically long-winded in spots when I needed a bit of plot exposition. Sometimes they gave things away before I wanted them to, sometimes they would force a bit of hard-to-get information into the ether. I know this is supposed to happen from time to time, but this was too much and it was too forced.

Also, the story went in a different direction than what I had originally intended. Things started to evolve in a way that I liked, but the lapses in writing left me needing to constantly re-read previous chapters to see if everything would match up in the end. The puzzle pieces fit, but they were custom cut on the spot when I couldn’t figure out which one went where. I was forcing them to fit together.
I was constantly hinting at something bigger and nastier in the works and, while I had an idea of what that could be, I never figured a way to get my characters to be strong enough or prepared enough to unleash it upon them with a chance that they would defeat it.
In the end, I guess things kinda fell apart.

It’s not really the end, though. It’s more of a rebirth.

When you’re lost, the best thing to do is to retrace your steps or, sometimes, go all the way back to the beginning. I did the latter.
I started a wholesale re-write of Unlucky Seven, starting with chapter I.

Taking that long of a journey with the characters, watching them develop, seeing what they would become just due to the natural progression of the original story, allowed me to step back and see what exactly I should do when I started over.
Now, I have the chance to integrate things earlier. I can foreshadow more efficiently. I can adjust attitudes and views and change entire situations to better fit things. I’m building a better story from the ground up rather than trying to chisel at the existing work to improve it.

So far, the first five chapters of the re-write are complete and they are based on (but not verbatim) the original first 5 chapters. If any of you old U7 heads out there are interested in checking it out, I’ll e-mail you a copy, just drop me a line.

I think the fresh start was all I needed. I’m charged up and ready to take on U7 on a more full-time basis now. Things will change soon. I can’t see much being based off of the originals past chapter 8. There will be some brand new twists and turns and, most importantly, character development.
It seems kind of a shame to have to go so far only to realize that I should start over, but it’ll be better in the long run. It took far too long to reach where I was when I put down the original. This one, I’m hoping, will be more concurrent and congruent.

Thinking of setting up a U7 WordPress account. Anyone interested? Any thoughts? Suggestions on what you’d like to see in the new U7 universe? Let me know.

The reconstruction has begun.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—