A news story from Wired reports of documents leaked to WikiLeaks showing the German police contracting DigiTask to create a trojan to intercept Skype traffic before it gets encrypted. The documents can be viewed on WikiLeaks here (in the native German) and here (rough English translation).


Hasn’t this been done before? Last July, Wired reported on how the FBI used spyware to track a person making bomb threats (My blog of the report is here). That was only the latest use of spyware by US law enforcement to circumvent a suspect’s own security, including possible encryption of Internet traffic.
Looks like the Germans are catching on, and quite possibly the rest of the world’s governments with them. Then again, when Duh’bya issues a secret directive to expand net monitoring because of repeated hacker attacks, you have to wonder who really has the upper hand in the hacking game.


The specs on the spookware. The idea behind the warez is to facilitate a “man-in-the-middle” attack. That is, to capture Skype traffic before it is encrypted for transmission, or possibly to capture the public-key encryption code for future hacks of the target’s… maybe all of Skype’s… communications.

The offer DigiTask makes to Germany’s Bavaria state shows the reason behind the reason for the trojan attack:

Encryption of communication via Skype poses a problem for surveillance of telecommunications. All traffic generated by Skype can be captured when surveilling a Dialin- or DSL-link, but it cannot be decrypted. The encryption of Skype works via AES wih a 256-Bit key. The symmetric AES keys are negotiated via RSA keys (1536 to 2048 Bit). The public keys of the users are confirmed by the Skype-Login-Server when logging in. To surveil Skype-communication it thus becomes necessary to realize other approaches than standard telecommunications surveillance.

The concept of DigiTask intends to install a so called Skype-Capture-Unit on the PC of the surveilled person. This Capture-Unit allows recording of the Skype communication, such as Voice and Chat, as well as diverting the data to an anonymous Recoridng-Proxy. The Recording-Proxy (not part of this offer) forwards the data to the final Recording-Server. The data can then be accessed via mobile Evaluation Stations.

The mobile Evaluation Units can, making use of a streaming-capable multimedia player, playback the recorded Skype communication, such as Voice and Chat, also live. To minimize bandwidth usage special codecs for strong compressions are used. The transmission of data to the recording unit is encrypted using the AES algorithm.

The main problem, of course, is getting the warez on the target’s system. The police, assuming they have the proper warrants to do so, will need to enter the target’s place and install the trojan manually, or craft an e-mail to trick the target to install it himself. Depending on the target’s knowledge and/or experience with such malware and his system’s defenses, he may not take the e-mail bait or his anti-malware applications may detect the trojan and destroy it before it can be installed.


Who wants to be Big Brother? America and Germany may only be the tip of the iceberg. Other nations’ law enforcement agencies may already be concocting, or executing, similar hacks under everyone’s nose.

SETEC Astronomy?

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Chips, chips everywhere… anybody bring salsa? Wired posted this piece from the Associated Press about the possible (mis)uses of the burgeoning spychips.
Todd Lewan, AP National Writer:

-Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items - and, by extension, consumers - wherever they go, from a distance.

Some people may welcome the “conveniences” that these RFID tags may offer, but those “conveniences” come at a price… a loss of privacy.

With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases that can be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life may soon be safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, says Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S. Justice Department.

By placing sniffers in strategic areas, companies can invisibly “rifle through people’s pockets, purses, suitcases, briefcases, luggage - and possibly their kitchens and bedrooms - anytime of the day or night,” says Rasch, now managing director of technology at FTI Consulting Inc., a Baltimore-based company.


Tag! You’re screwed. Companies, primarily retailers and manufacturers, are looking to use the chips for inventory control. They don’t have the personal information like the buyer’s name, but can be connected after purchase and the the personal information can be accessed and used… or abused.

Several companies have been granted patents for various RFID tag systems, and while they claim they’re not being used to track people, details of the patents say otherwise:

In 2006, IBM received patent approval for an invention it called, “Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged items.” One stated purpose: To collect information about people that could be “used to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas.”

Once somebody enters a store, a sniffer “scans all identifiable RFID tags carried on the person,” and correlates the tag information with sales records to determine the individual’s “exact identity.” A device known as a “person tracking unit” then assigns a tracking number to the shopper “to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas.”

Another patent, obtained in 2003 by NCR Corp., details how camouflaged sensors and cameras would record customers’ wanderings through a store, film their facial expressions at displays, and time - to the second - how long shoppers hold and study items.

Why? Such monitoring “allows one to draw valuable inferences about the behavior of large numbers of shoppers,” the patent states.

Then there’s a 2001 patent application by Procter & Gamble, “Systems and methods for tracking consumers in a store environment.” This one lays out an idea to use heat sensors to track and record “where a consumer is looking, i.e., which way she is facing, whether she is bending over or crouching down to look at a lower shelf.”

In the marketing world of today, she says, “data on individual consumers is gold, and the only thing preventing these companies from abusing technologies like RFID to get at that gold is public scrutiny.”

Perhaps the most telling statement was made by a person being surveyed about RFID use:

“Where money is to be made the privacy of the individual will be compromised.”


The next step down the slippery slope. Currently, it costs seven to fifteen cents to tag something, limiting their use to pallets and cases. But it may not be long before people wind up being tagged, mostly by their clothes:

So, how long will it be before you find an RFID tag in your underwear? The industry isn’t saying, but some analysts speculate that within a decade tag costs may dip below a penny, the threshold at which nearly everything could be chipped.

Everything… including people. Will we be forced to have our children tagged, in the womb? Will the chip-happiness of these companies cause a major surge in faraday clothing, clothing designed to block RFID radio waves?

Hopefully, we will never come to human tagging… except for those who need to be tracked. Even better would be that those companies that have leveraged their futures on RFID will crash and burn as anti-RFID backlash cost them. Until then, you might want to start investing in a faraday wardrobe… just in case.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

January 22, 2008

RIAA taking it up the ass lately.

Sorry, but I really couldn’t find a nicer way to put what has been happening with the RIAA. Actually, with the RIAA’s hollow, draconian “triumph” over a minority single mother, sodomy against the industry monster would be hysterical. And over the weekend, the RIAA got some much needed sodomisation. Jihen posted a link to a TorrentFreak story about hackers briefly taking out the RIAA’s website.


The Story of the Hack. The TorrentFreak post:

It started out on the social news website Reddit, where a link to a really slow SQL query was posted. While the Reddit users were trying to kill the RIAA server, someone allegedly decided to up the ante and wipe the site’s entire database.

The comments on Reddit are only speculation so far. Based on the username, which was apparently “webReadOnly”, it might not have been setup correctly, or someone could have found another way to delete the content form the site.

Another possibility is that the website has some sort of database flood protection that disables new connections, or perhaps the RIAA themselves removed the content temporarily. The latter seems unlikely, as a better solution would be to take it entirely offline to fix the bigger problem. While they could fix a small vulnerability like this in a matter of seconds, the chances are it’s not an isolated problem.

As pointed out by Haywire, playing around with the urls a bit can return some funny results. It is pretty easy to make the RIAA link to The Pirate Bay for example.

RIAA Error!


The Beginning of The End. The hack is just the latest of problems to beset the RIAA, starting with RIAA allies MediaDefender being hacked last summer and their internal memos being made available via torrent. (Transmitting ACK to kenryoku_one for that link). They scored a hollow victory over a minority single mother, then threatened to go after people who rip their CDs to their computers. Their tactics backfired, as music companies started offering downloadable music without DRM. Now, word that EMI will withdraw support of the RIAA unless the industry gestapo changes its ways.


RIP RIAA. 2008 could very well see the death of the RIAA, especially if EMI does pull its support out from under the organization’s feet. Then again, the RIAA could just be hacked to tiny, bite-sized pieces at the rate the attacks have been coming. Hopefully, the RIAA will wise up and see that they’re not winning any friends with their lawsuits. If not, there’s plenty more hacks where the SQL query came from.

And if someone did manage to wipe the database, do make certain that next time it’s a permanent wipe. K?

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

If you like a little FUD with your kool-aid, the CIA’s latest claim of hacker acitivity will have you salivating:

Associated Press:

Hackers literally turned out the lights in multiple cities after breaking into electrical utilities and demanding extortion payments before disrupting the power, a senior CIA analyst told utility engineers at a trade conference.

All the break-ins occurred outside the United States, said senior CIA analyst Tom Donahue. The U.S. government believes some of the hackers had inside knowledge to cause the outages. Donahue did not specify what countries were affected, when the outages occurred or how long the outages lasted. He said they happened in “several regions outside the United States.”

“In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities,” Donahue said in a statement. “We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet.”

A CIA spokesman Friday declined to provide additional details

Washington Post:

In a rare public warning to the power and utility industry, a CIA analyst this week said cyber attackers have hacked into the computer systems of utility companies outside the United States and made demands, in at least one case causing a power outage that affected multiple cities.

“We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet,” Tom Donahue, the CIA’s top cybersecurity analyst, said Wednesday at a trade conference in New Orleans.

Donahue’s comments were “designed to highlight to the audience the challenges posed by potential cyber intrusions,” CIA spokesman George Little said. The audience was made up of 300 U.S. and international security officials from the government and from electric, water, oil and gas companies, including BP, Chevron and the Southern Co.

“We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of the attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge,” Donahue said. He did not specify where or when the attacks took place, their duration or the amount of money demanded. Little said the agency would not comment further.



Hacker History 101. If you’ve never read Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, YOU NEED TO READ IT! Here’s a link to The Cyberpunk Project’s online version. You can also search for an e-text for offline reading. At least, listen to Cory Doctorow’s podcasts of him reading the book (linkage). The Hacker Crackdown shows how the timing of the “Operation Sundevil” raids, several AT&T system crashes, and the growing hysteria of “the hacker underground” in the popular media came together.

Now, timing seems to be working in favor of the US spy community as the CIA’s claim of hacker activity against utlities comes, suspiciously, only two days after the top US spy Mike McConnell claims that “the government must have the ability to read all the information crossing the Internet in the United States in order to protect it from abuse,” even though former spy Michael Tanji says “this is no way to win an intelligence war.”


Calling all conspiracy theorists… The timing of McConnell’s want of total information awareness and the CIA’s claim of hackers causing blackouts seems to be more than a coincidence. If the claim is true, it gives McConnell the credibility he needs for such absolute net traffic policing.

But if these outages did occur, how come no other media outlet has reported them?

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy


David Levy’s book, Love + Sex with Robots gives us yet another affirmation of Gibson’s belief that cyberpunked living is already here. In Love + Sex with Robots, Levy combines research in artificial intelligence and robotics with a cultural analysis indicating that more and more people have stopped interacting in person - that they are more alone than ever before and can no longer manage the complexity that are human relationships. The answer? Buy your own sexy fembot! In the next 5 to 10 years, Levy posits we’ll have full-featured sexbots that will allow us to “love the one you’re with,” while 40 years later, we’ll have fembots that we can fall in love and have a relationship with!



“Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans, while the number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach more than is in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined.”


Love and Sex with Robots


I’ve Fallen In Love With My Ipod! - If Only it Had a Dildo Attachment… Levy rightly points out that we have a long and varied history of love affairs with our toys. From our children’s insane connections to Furbies and Tamagotchies, to adults’ less-than-healthy attachment to cars, guns, fancy laptops, cell phones and yes, even Ipods (I TRULY love my Ipod), its hardly a stretch to carry these feelings to our favorite pleasure toys. So, if our pleasure toys improved to the degree that say, our music listening devices have, what types of conversations would we be having about them? We are already seeing some incredible advances in love dolls - the picture above comes from orient-doll.com, which clearly has spent a lot of time researching the subject. its only a natural to combine these with robot-enabled capabilities. So do I see only another 5 years for Cherry 1000s to hit the marketplace? Yeah, I see that.


Do Robots Dream - Freedy Wenzel

Is Love a Singular Fantasy? In looking at our relationships with our toys, what does this imply about love as a concept? Does this just turn into a singular fantasy, where all of our motivations turn into a external machine-assisted masturbation sessions? Can we really love something inanimate and non-living? Levy posits that romantic love is a continuation of the process of attachment, a well-known and well-studied phenomenon in children but less studied in adults. That attachment is a feeling of affection, usually for a person but sometimes for an object or even for an institution such as a school or corporation. In this sense, Levy seems to be lessening the importance of two mutual-causal systems (people) interacting to form a new set of interactions - that its all just internal fantasies of both participants. While I don’t doubt that the attachment of toys is somehow linked, I think its a vast stretch to say that this explains the love between two adults. Something else occurs here - something systemic. The attachment phenomena implies control over an object, whereas love is based on mutual compromise in the pursuit of something greater - something that grows and morphs in unpredictable ways as time proceeds. If a robot develops sentience, this seems like a very different question, but as long as we’re looking at robots imitating sentience, it seems to me we really don’t have love - we have something else entirely.


If Robots Develop Sentience, Will They Still Love Us? In thinking about a long term problem with this future trend, what happens if/when we start developing robots with sentience and self-awareness? It seems to me that unless this occurs, you really can’t have marriage between humans and robots, as the whole notion of “I Do” implies free will. If they “do” develop freewill, doesn’t think imply they can change their programming? And if so, lets say I go to my “build your own Toyota Fembot” site and make one to fit my exact bizarre sexual absurdities - why would this robot want to keep this programming? If they do have freewill, perhaps they won’t really be interested in fulfilling a 90 year-old’s BDSM fantasies, anymore than say, a human would. So at best, this seems like a situation where fembots (or their male counterparts) would have to be programmed as a really advanced dildo, without sentience. This to me implies that sentient robot mail-order-brides for will probably work about as well as they do now (does this mean Russia will corner the market here as well?).


AI Artificial Intelligence Screen Capture


So Is Cyberpunked Living Here? When we’ve moved from conversations about what post-humanity is toward conversations about people looking forward to the latest in love doll technology as a cure for mass loneliness, I think its safe to say that cyberpunked living will soon be arriving in a large package near you. In looking at some of the conversations that Levy’s book as spurned, we some interesting discussions. For instance, Clay Breshears ends his post with this but hopeful message to the lonely:

I wonder, though, with video games, virtual worlds, and online social networking taking up so much of people’s time, haven’t we already started down that slippery slope? Still, at least with a love-bot by our side, we’ll have one compatible friend/mate with us at the fall of civilization.


Not Surprisingly, most Christian blogs don’t think too much of this idea. They seemed quite concerned that a cyberpunked society may not be in our collective best interest. This sentiment from Walter Dimmock’s blog sort of captures the point:

This does not get any weirder, humans having sex and marrying robots. What kind of family will result of this? But in our post-modern liberal society anything goes as far as the imagination allows, without reference to the negative repercussions to these insane ideas.


Eric, on Classicalvalues.com asks an interesting question about virtual control of the sexbots (which would probalby come far earlier than 2050):

I know this is all theory, but I’m wondering whether it might be possible for us to actually become the sex robots and have sex remotely with their partners. Like, I control your robot, and you control mine. More interactive than a mere machine, and there’d still be the human element. Nah, that’s no good, because someone at the controls might be charged with rape. Or he or she might be raped by someone else’s robot.

Probably not a good idea to give someone remote control over “your” robot. Why, think about what else might happen.



Fritz Lahnam from the Houston Chronicle has a great overview of the book, as well as a decent assessment of the response its generated, not to mention a question about how Levy’s wife would feel about this:

Levy has been amazed at the publicity the Love and Sex With Robots has generated since its release last month. He’s done a dozen radio interviews and a TV interview. Howard Stern raved about the book. So far, no hate mail.

Would Levy himself have sex with a robot? He doesn’t have to ponder the question.

“If there was a robot of the sort I describe in the book, I would certainly want to experience using it for sex, and I wouldn’t regard it as anything untoward,” he said. “I would do it out of curiosity. Not that I have a need for a new sex partner. I’m happily married.”

And the wife would be OK with this?

“Yes, yes, and if she wanted to try one I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I would regard it as genuine scientific curiosity.”


So yeah, this whole topic has certainly created some interesting memes going forward. One wonders how the nature of conversation will morph in the next 5-10 years, as the first stages of “fembotness” become a reality. Whether or not anyone likes it, our society is continuing on a rather bizarre vector - one which is affected by increased interconnectedness, an ever-increasing technology revolution positive feedback cycle, and an ever-increasing sense of alienation on the part of many. And to think, previously the conservative values folks were worried about “strange human” relationships. I wouldn’t be surprised if their collective heads explode as this latest trend gets dollars and advertising behind it. gets power and money behind it.


Ghost in the Shell: Innocence Screen Capture


EDIT: iammany, in a comment below points to a wonderful analysis of Levy’s book by Steven Shaviro. In addition to hitting on the love/freewill conundrum in a more sophisticated way than I did (asking “How can robots be both rational subjects, and infinitely manipulable objects?”), Shaviro also questions the basis of Levy’s prediction:

If I find Levy’s claims extremely dubious, it is not because I think that human intelligence (or mentality) somehow inherently defies replication. But such replication is an extremely difficult problem, one that we are nowhere near to resolving. It certainly isn’t just a trivial engineering issue, or a mere quantitative matter of building larger memory stores, and more powerful and more capacious computer chips, the way that Levy (and other enthusiasts, such as Ray Kurzweil) almost always tend to assume. AI research, and the research in related fields like “emotional computing,” cannot progress without some fundamental new insights or paradigm shifts. Such work isn’t anywhere near the level of sophistication that Levy and other boosters seem to think it is. Levy wildly overestimates the successes of recent research, because he underestimates what “human nature” actually entails. His models of human cognition, emotion, and behavior are unbelievably simplistic, as they rely upon the the inanely reductive “scientific” studies that I mentioned earlier.


Agreed. The transformation from an imitation of sentience to the creation of an actual synthetic sentient life form is a hugely significant and complex change. At that point, the perspective of creating cool sex toys to service socially inept geeks ends up being about as morally dubious as the creation and use of the dolls found in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM.

January 15, 2008

Akira Club

Art Book Review By: Ak!mbo

Author: Otomo Katsuhiro

Year: 2007

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very high.

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very high.

Category: Cyberpunk Art Books

Akira Club screen capture


Overview: Akira Club is an art book featuring cover art, sketches and outtakes from the paperback Akira collections. It’s a little pricey at thirty bucks when most the artwork is in black and white, and another set back is the format, which doesn’t match the Akira books. Though mostly presented in black and white, Otomo Katsuhiro’s artwork will blow your socks off. The artwork in Akira Club is incredibly detailed and the author’s commentaries and sketches really show you how much work has been put into the product. While penned many years ago, it doesn’t look a bit outdated. Akira is an epic piece of work at over 2000 pages and has won awards and prestige around the world. The animated movie based on the manga re-introduced the west to Japanese animation in the nineties. The quality of animation mirrors that of the manga and although large parts of the manga were cut from the movie, it still gets the story through to the viewer pretty well.


Akira Club screen capture


Background: The world of Akira is set after world war three and the destruction and rebuilding of Tokyo. Themes include transhumanism, corruption, low life and high tech and Akira comes across as incredibly cyberpunk, mostly focusing on the life of those on the ground in a super industrialized and militaristic Neo Tokyo. The artwork in Akira Club pretty much represents these themes in great detail. There’s a contrast between the giant, symmetrical skyscrapers which dominate the Neo Tokyo skyline and the life on the ground where there are a lot of organic and seemingly random shapes. There’s also a recurring theme of order put in chaos, like the front cover image; smooth motorcycle parts are jumbled together in a giant mess creating disarray where there once was a finely tuned machine, everything put together neatly.


Akira Club screen capture


A lot of the magazine covers show a destroyed Neo Tokyo behind mostly young people. The city being destroyed by a secret weapon created by the government, this gives a pretty strong image of the world being handed over to future generations ruined by our predecessors’ lust for more power through technological advances.


Akira Club screen capture


The Sections: The book is divided into four sections:

  • Section One: The first section collects several full colour paintings of magazine and book covers, T shirt designs and promotional posters, supplemented with preliminary sketches and short comments from the author; Otomo Katsuhiro.
  • Section Two: The second section is the biggest and focuses on the covers used for each chapter when Akira was serialized in Young Magazine. These weren’t included in the paperback collections because they’d break up the natural flow of the story, so having them collected here is kinda nice as the artwork is generally stunning. These do not include comments on the artwork but little musings on life by the author, which I personally found incredibly uninteresting.
  • Section Three: The third section collects all sorts of odd artwork used in advertising and merchandise, there’s a lot of great art, but all in all it’s not as interesting as the last section of the book. Also included here are notes on the translation of Akira.
  • Section Four: The fourth section is probably the coolest out of the whole book, although I wish it were longer. Titled, “Unpublished Works,” it shows panels and scenes that were never included in the finalized Akira comic books, some pages include parts that were included in the serialized version of the comic, but were cut from the paperback collections.


Akira Club screen capture


The Bottom Line: Having “read” through the book, I feel a little let down; it’s like there’s something missing. The artwork, though awe-inspiring, is as noted mostly in black and white, and I feel there could have been more colour illustrations put in to compensate for the large number of cover illustrations from Young Magazine. The last part of the book could also have been a little longer. At two thousand pages, I’m sure there is more unpublished material than on display here. I’d like to see the parts excluded from the paperback collections in better detail, preferably in entirety, as I’m sure others are as well. I’ve only had access to the translated collections and would like to know what I’ve been missing out on.


Akira Club screen capture


Should You Buy It? All in all, Akira Club is really for those with specialized interests, such as rabid Akira fans, anime historians and artists looking for inspiration in cyberpunk drawings of landscapes and dystopic scenarios. And even for these select few, the book isn’t perfect. However, I think of it as a nice addition to my bookshelf and I browse through it regularly, still “Ooh’ing” and “Aah’ing” at the incredible art. I wouldn’t say this is a must for cyberpunk or indeed Akira fans, but if you think you can afford it, it’s a good purchase and a great gift for those already familiar with the universe and story, be that through the manga or the anime version of Akira.


This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books, Graphic Novels by Mr. Roboto.

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 2008

Directed by: David Nutter

Written by: Josh Friedman

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Sarah Connor: Lena Headey
  • Cameron: Summer Glau
  • John Connor: Thomas Dekker
Rating: 6 out of 10

Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture

Overview: OK, so the Terminator franchise was pretty much killed off with the storyline train wreck that was T3, right? Think again. The luminaries at Fox have decided to wipe the thought of T3 from our collective memories to try again. While I would have preferred something taking place in the fucked-up future, this was not the direction taken (clearly the budget for a futuristic TV series would be cost prohibitive). This one takes place in modern times, with a potential bevy of bad terminators once again attempting to waste John Conner while he, mommy and their cute little teenage Terminatrix sidekick try to force crib death on Skynet before it becomes self-aware. While the initial pilot was less than inspiring, the second episode was significantly better – so much so that its worth giving this thing a viewing or two.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


The Story: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2, and ends up pretty much obliterating the Terminator 3 storyline from existence. Starting in 1999, in this “version” of the future past, Sarah (played by Lena Headey) and John Conner (Thomas Dekker) have settled down to a life of sorts, where John goes to school and Sarah waitresses and falls in love with a regular guy. While they have kept out of sight of the police, Sarah never feels safe, an decides to leave when her fiancé gives her a ring. Soon after settling in their new digs, John befriends a nice girl at school named Cameron (Summer Glau), and then almost gets blown away by his substitute teacher who turns out to be a Terminator. Luckily for him, that cute girl he befriended ends up being his protector teenage Terminator chick.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


Cameron informs them that the new world expiration date (when Skynet becomes self-aware) is April 19, 2011. After a bit of terminator action, Sarah, John and Cameron agree to find out how Skynet gets revived. Strangely, this involves raiding a bank built in 1963 to find weapon parts that can kill the current “red shirt” terminator (there appear to be lots of them), and then use the time machine left there to transport them to 2007. Cameron “supposedly” did this to ensure they would be safe – NOT.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


As the second episode ensues, Sarah, John and Cameron are working to get legit-looking IDs, meet up with a bunch of Connor’s staff from the future, who also came back to 2007, and then to eventually stop Skynet. Unfortunately, it turns out that another Terminator has already wasted three of the four warriors from the future. Even worse, the red-shirt Terminator wasted with the cool ray gun in episode one somehow had its parts scattered into the future when the time travel occurred – now he’s rebuilding himself.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


Evaluation of The Cast:

  • Cameron: Most of the early buzz around the Sarah Connor Chronicles concerns Summer Glau’s staring role as the mysterious but good terminatrix chick. In the pilot episode, she has a very mixed – mostly off – performance. Her deliverance of the signature “Come with me if you want to live” line had a quavering voice – hardly the stuff of terminators. Further, the awesome fighting we associate from her Serenity performance wasn’t on display. That said, Summer was significantly better in the second episode. Her face was more terminator-like, and she seemed to grow into the role more in a number of ways. Still, Summer is clearly not your Aaaahhnold’s Terminator - the bad guy terminators don’t even recognize her model number, for instance. She doesn’t even seem to have the same basic instruction set in that she seems to process information differently. There are already allusions to her having a very close relationship to John in the future, including a slight amount of sexual tension between Cameron and John. She could evolve into an interesting Data-like version of a “what dose it mean to be human?” terminator, or she could end up being John’s hawt android sexbot who just happens to pack a nice punch - who knows at this point?
  • Sarah Conner: Lena Headey plays a fairly interesting character, but is one which bares very little resemblance to the character played by Linda Hamilton. This Sarah Connor is a waif who struggles to be tough enough to do what is necessary. Emotions are always just under the surface for this character. In truth, Headey plays a Sarah Conner FAR closer to the first Terminator instead of after the second one. I don’t know if I like the change, but besides the occasional English accent switch, Headey does a decent job playing whoever this character is supposed to be.
  • John Conner: Thomas Dekker’s John Conner is FAR preferable to the monstrosity played by Nick Stahl. So far, Dekker is by far the most believable character. He seems pissed off, tough, smart and screwed over – exactly like we’d expect from the kid from Terminator 2. I’m interested to see how he “grows” into his leadership role.
  • James Ellison: Ellison is an FBI agent played by Richard Jones, who seems to be discovering that the future that psycho-Sarah seems to have told everyone might actually be coming true. So far, he hasn’t had enough face time to be relevant, but there appears to be some interesting possibilities.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


Problems With The Dress Code: OK, call me crazy but Sarah Conner in skirts and the Terminatrix in miniskirts just doesn’t work for me. Here’s a thought – I know its cliché but how ‘bout we try making Summer look tough. How? Hmmm, I dunno, how’s about using the traditional black leathers motif? That seemed to work for Kristanna Loken, not to mention virtually every other female action star since Catwoman in Batman Returns. Considering the number of clichés they’ve used already, this one seems like a “slam dunk.” And just another thought – have they considered possibly combat fatigues (or something similar) for Sarah Conner? Whatever they choose – PLEASE – stop the skirts.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


Forget the T3 Fate - Now the Future Timeline is Fucked Up: Similar to T2, the message again is that the future is unclear. That said, if the future is sooo unclear, how is it that John Conner in the future is able to keep sending back his cronies to different times (1963, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2007 so far)? You’d think there would have been “some” change on the future, especially since apparently the 1963 machine is the way people can go back to the future. Again, one has to ask, if Skynet has the ability to send a significant number of people back (they always seem to be able to create that “one” more time machine…), why not send someone back to Sarah’s mother’s time and wax John’s grandmother? But far more troubling is the idea that all these things in the past simply haven’t affected John’s actions in the future. The world expiration date has now been pushed back to 2011 - how did that affect the people alive when John originally sent his father Reece back to 1984? Such questions are clearly beyond our understanding, but it just goes to show, that we can modify the signature line of the series (“We’re never safe”) to “We’re never safe from sequels in a previously successful franchise. Given this reincarnation, its only natural that the timeline issues so wonderfully explored in the first Terminator are now totally rendered nonsensical and silly.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


They Actually Ripped Off Hardware!!! Yes, that long, lost, forgotten low-budget cyberpunk flick from Richard Stanley has been ripped off here. In Hardware, set in a dystopic future, a guy finds a cool looking robot head which he brings back home to give to his girlfriend. The head ends up being a low-budget Terminator-like robot (yes, it ripped off the original Terminator, so go figure), who ends up being able to slowly rebuild itself. Once it does, it wreaks havoc on the the wierdos living in this truly bizarre apartment building (I highly recommend this movie). The red-shirt terminator who gets wasted in the first episode apparently didn’t really get wasted (so much for the red-shirt analogy). Instead, he slowly rebuilds himself in a very cool zombie-like way…


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


The FX: Similar to T3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles are rescued by high quality FX – far better than we should expect from a TV series in fact. The time travel Terminator bubble looked excellent, as did the initial world destruction dream sequence. For the most part, the damaged terminators look decently realistic, and the battle sequences believable. Nice touches like the open arm and leg shots really do serve to finish this off. However, some stunts like the stupid terminator not noticing the 200 mph car hitting them have already been way overdone (twice so far). Truly terminators have learned how to look both ways before crossing at this point, ey? It looks cool and all, but give it a rest already.


Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles screen capture


The Bottom Line: For the pilot episode, I’d give it 4 stars at best. The second episode rates at least 6 stars – probably 7. While the pilot was really problematic, the possibilities exist for this to become a pretty good series. Some of the minor characters and plot points might end up working well. The whole mysterious terminator thing that Summer Glau engages in could end up being very interesting, or, if they pursue the whole love interest with John thing, it could turn into a truly sour dud. And even though the show has problems both in minor plot issues and believable characters, the well-known Terminator score really helps build suspense. We “know” what the music should sound like when a bad guy terminator approaches – we aren’t disappointed here. Bottom line, the series is worth giving a watch at this point. I’ll re-evaluate as the 12 episode season gets to its mid-point.

This post has been filed under TV Episodes, Made for TV, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.

January 14, 2008

Sarah Connor Chronicles: Post Your Thoughts

Sarah Connor Chronicles Screen Capture


So its finally here. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, staring Summer Glau, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker has been widely anticipated, and appears to have a decent budget. I’ll wait to give my review until tomorrow night, but I just wanted to know what you thought about the first night.

Summer Glau of Firefly/Serenity fame is one of my recent favorites, so I’m eagerly anticipating this. Feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments. Thoughts?

This post has been filed under TV Episodes by SFAM.
I wanted to blog this last month, but as we know the Bad Behavior software decided to fubar. Better late than never, as they say…


Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward. (X-Men opening narration)

It seems like yesterday when humans were living in caves, wearing animal skins, hunting with tree branches and rocks shaped like wedges, rubbing sticks together to make fire, and burning our fingers and food on said fires. To an anthropologist, “yesterday” means some tens-to-hundreds-of-thousands of years. But according to an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), human evolution has accelerated in the past 40,000 years. Here’s the link to download the PDF of the report.

Excerpt from the PNAS site on the report:

Genomic surveys in humans identify a large amount of recent positive selection. Using the 3.9-million HapMap SNP dataset, we found that selection has accelerated greatly during the last 40,000 years. We tested the null hypothesis that the observed age distribution of recent positively selected linkage blocks is consistent with a constant rate of adaptive substitution during human evolution. We show that a constant rate high enough to explain the number of recently selected variants would predict (i) site heterozygosity at least 10-fold lower than is observed in humans, (ii) a strong relationship of heterozygosity and local recombination rate, which is not observed in humans, (iii) an implausibly high number of adaptive substitutions between humans and chimpanzees, and (iv) nearly 100 times the observed number of high-frequency linkage disequilibrium blocks. Larger populations generate more new selected mutations, and we show the consistency of the observed data with the historical pattern of human population growth. We consider human demographic growth to be linked with past changes in human cultures and ecologies. Both processes have contributed to the extraordinarily rapid recent genetic evolution of our species.


Evolution… or Revolution? While many see Darwin’s theories on evolution as being written in stone… and many religious zealots wanting to erase those theories permanently… there have been calls to update those theories, and not just from the “intelligent design” herds. An essay from the New York Times shows that some are making such calls for changes in the theory of evolution, saying that mutation is the main driving force instead of selection.

I remember seeing a story online about this mutation-selection: Every so often, several mutations develop in a population. Those mutations that survive best are allowed to continue. If you’ve read Rudy Rucker’s Software, you might remember in chapter twelve where Cobb and Sta-Hi went past a pair of museum displays, one showing natural selection, the other mutation, and Cobb explains how he came up with the idea of evolution for robots:

Selection and mutation. That was my big idea, Sta-Hi. To make the robots evolve. They were designed to build copies of themselves, but they had to fight over parts. Natural selection. And I found a way of jiggering their programs with cosmic rays. Mutation.


Where will post-humanity go from here? SFAM posted this short piece about a podcast debate on post-humanity. It’s mostly about bio-engineering, but should give you a good place to start.

According to this MSNBC article from 2005, human evolution is at a crossroad. Either bio-engineering will cause new forms of humans to emerge, or cybernetics will fuse us with machines. It’s also possible for both scenarios to occur simultaneously. But there is a group who may have the final word on how post-humans develop, if they allow them to develop: The health insurance companies.

ZDNet’s Mitch Ratcliffe posted a recent blog about his degenerating spinal discs and his need to replace them. He wants replacement discs, but his health insurance provider won’t pay for them, preferring Mitch to get the disc fusion done instead even though fusion causes more problems than the replacement and ultimately requires more surgeries. Unfortunately, logic never has a place where profits rule, and anything that threatens the bottom line (like lawsuits or healthy customers) are to be vilified:

The fact that disc replacement promises improved mobility in the joint isn’t a “benefit” insurers recognize. The operation was only FDA approved for a single disc until a few weeks ago, and I am in the midst of gaining approval for a “multi-level disc replacement” from my insurance provider. Unfortunately, my doctor tells me another of his patients, who works for and is insured by the same insurer I have, was just turned down for the single-disc surgery.

The other barrier to access is the Food and Drug Administration, which is consistently under-funded for product reviews. In medical technology, “beta” isn’t good enough, so we need a well-funded review process that doesn’t rely entirely on company research or company-defined FDA protocols. We also need to recognize that these are risky procedures that can lead to death, paralysis and lifelong pain if things go wrong — we can’t go lightly into cyborg markets like we play with gadgets.

Right now, we may become semi-cyborgs until genetic therapies become mainstream, or the insurance companies are willing to pay for them. It’s sad to think that the health insurance corporations would ultimately decide post-humanity’s fate, but evolution will still continue (deal with it Pat Robertson!), and we still have time to make a choice…

Mutant or machine?

This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Avatar Blade Runner Final Cut


Yeah, I’m more than a little fashionably late to the party here, but the Final Cut of Blade Runner is truly worth getting. In addition to providing us an absolutely terrific transfer (in HD or in DVD format), the movie itself has gotten all those neddlesome minor scrapes and bruises removed, while leaving intact the glory that is Blade Runner. So if you’re already familiar with the movie, the Final Cut won’t be giving you a new story - it will be the same story, just incredibly polished. CG is only used to remove things like camera man shadows or extra thumbs.

For a terrific overview of the 5 disc set, DVD Outsider has a wonderful review of the package and of the documentary (which is truly terrific) and various features. My favorite moment from the documentary was Ridley Scott relaying his showing of 10 minutes of Blade Runner footage to Philip K. Dick. Dick was apparently blown away by the picture, and kept repeating, “How is this possible? You took what was in my mind and reproduced it perfectly on the screen. How is this possible?” They apparently became fast friends from that moment.

This post has been filed under Movie News by SFAM.

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