John Oliver’s main skill is that he’s usually pretty good at explaining complex and boring topics in short TV segments. And this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight is particularly relevant to the tech industry as Oliver tackled cryptocurrencies. In just 25 minutes, the Last Week Tonight team put together a decent introduction to bitcoin, blockchain, ICOs and cryptocurrencies.… Read More
I’ve always been fascinated by very, very old things. Fossils. Prehistoric artifacts. Cave paintings and petroglyphs. It’s like reaching out across the expanse of time and touching something that was alive long before what we call history—i.e., our written past.
One of my favorite Twitter feeds is The Ice Age, curated by Jamie Woodward. It’s a succession of images and links and bits of fact, always interesting, and sometimes weirdly apposite to my life in general and this series in particular.
Last September, Prof. Woodward posted an image that made me sit up sharply.
It’s made of mammoth ivory, and is around 35,000 years old. Someone in the feed referred to it as a “stallion,” but it’s not. The neck is too refined, and the shape of the belly is quite round. It is, perhaps, a mare, and perhaps a pregnant one.
And she looks just like this.
That’s a two-year-old filly, photographed in 2001. Many millennia after the ivory horse was carved. But the same arch of the neck. The same curve of the barrel. The same sense of power and presence. But living, and contemporary.
She’s still out there. Older now, of course. Gone as white as ivory, because she’s a grey, and grey horses turn white as they mature. But still all Mare.
More recently—just a couple of weeks ago—Prof. Woodward posted another striking image (credited to Heinrich Wendel). It’s much younger, between ten and twenty thousand years old, and it was drawn on a cave wall, by firelight, for reasons we don’t know and can only guess. It considerably predates the domestication of the horse—as far as we know—and yet the artist, whoever they were, had really looked at the horse. They had the proportions right. They showed the shaggy hairs around the jaw—maybe winter coat; maybe horses then were just that hairy, like some modern ponies. The ears are up, the nostrils a little flared, the eyes dark and deep. There’s a hint of human expression in the eyebrows and the smile—but horses can be very expressive, and their eyebrows do lift and their lips can turn up.
This artist paid attention. The horse looks out at us across the centuries, and it’s a real horse. It’s alive, as the artist remembered it; because it’s rather unlikely the horse could have been brought into the cave to be drawn from life. Horses do not like confined spaces at the best of times, and horses in that age had never been bred for submission to humans.
That happened much later. Maybe around 6500 BCE, maybe a millennium later. Herds for milk and meat came first; driving and riding, centuries after that, somewhere around 3500 BCE. With the wheel came the chariot, and horses and domesticated donkeys to pull it. And somewhere in there, some enterprising person managed to get a horse to accept being ridden, and then figured out steering and brakes and some form of padding and eventually a saddle and very eventually stirrups.
What also happened, with domestication, was breeding for specific traits. Now that we can learn so much from DNA, there are some genuine surprises popping out in the news. One that got a lot of traction last spring was a study of Scythian horses—a larger group of stallions from one grave dated around 300 BCE, two about 400 years older, and one mare from around 2100 BCE.
The study expected to find in the largest grave what they would find in a more modern excavation: that all the stallions were closely related. But in fact only two were. There was no inbreeding, and no sign of the kind of breeding that’s been done in recent centuries, focusing on a very few stallions and excluding the rest from the gene pool. “Keep the best, geld the rest.”
The Scythians went in another direction—from the evidence, allowing horses to breed as they would in the wild, with stallions driving off their sons and not breeding their mothers or sisters or daughters, but leaving those to secondary stallions. No inbreeding. No line-breeding. No emphasis on specific individuals.
And yet they appear to have bred for specific traits. Sturdy forelegs. Speed—the same gene that gives modern Thoroughbreds their advantage in a race. A gene for retaining water, which the study speculates has to do with breeding mares for milk production. And color: the horses were cream, spotted, black, bay, chestnut.
As a sometime breeder of horses, whose own breed is tiny (fewer than 5000 in the world), I salute these breeders. Our own genetics are surprisingly diverse for the small size of the gene pool, with eight available stallion lines and twenty-plus mare lines and the strong discouragement of inbreeding and line-breeding, but we’re still constrained by something that happened somewhere between ancient Scythia and the modern age, and that is the adage I quoted above, the belief in restricting male lines to a few quality individuals. Quality being determined by whatever the breeders wanted it to be, all too often as specific as color, head shape, foot size, or a particular type of musculature.
And that way lies trouble. Narrowing the gene pool increases the likelihood of genetic problems. If a single stallion is in vogue and everyone breeds to him because of what he offers—speed, color, muscles, whatever—then that cuts out numerous other genetic combinations. And if the stallion’s appeal stems from a particular set of genes, or even a specific mutation, the consequences can be devastating.
That happened to the American Quarter Horse a couple of decades ago. A stallion named Impressive was a huge show winner. The trait in which he excelled was extreme, body-builder musculature. It did not become apparent until significant numbers of mares had been bred to him and then those offspring had been bred to each other, that those huge bulging muscles were the result of a mutation that caused the horse’s muscles to twitch constantly—a disease called Equine Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis, or HYPP, also called Impressive Syndrome, because every case traced to that one horse. The only way to be sure a horse does not succumb to the disease is to determine by genetic testing that the horse does not have a copy of the gene, and to exclude all horses with the gene from the gene pool.
Huge mess. Huge, huge mess, with millions of dollars invested in show winners who won because of their big muscles, but who might become incapacitated or die at any time. The fight to mandate testing, and then to bar HYPP-positive horses from being bred, was still going on the last I looked. Because of one stallion, and a breeding ethos that focused narrowly on a single exceptional individual.
Somehow the Scythians knew to avoid this, or else simply did not conceive of breeding related horses to each other. It’s not what horses do in their natural state. How that changed, and when that changed, is still being studied. I’ll be very interested to see the results when they’re made public.
Przewalski’s horse; photo by Ludovic Hirlimann
There’s more going on with this ongoing study of ancient horse lines, and more coming out, with more surprises still. One of the widely accepted beliefs of equine science has been that while nearly all current “wild” horses are in fact feral, descended from domesticated animals, one wild subspecies still remains: the Przewalski’s horse. Domestic horses, the theory goes, are descended from the Botai horses of central Asia—in or around what is now Kazakhstan.
But genetic analysis has demonstrated that this is almost completely not true. Modern horses share no more than 3% of their genetic material with the Botai horses—but the Przewalski’s horse is a descendant of these horses. Which means that there are no horses left from any wild population. All living horses are the descendants of domesticated horses, though we don’t know (yet) where the majority of them come from.
What’s even more startling is that the Botai horses carried the gene for leopard spotting, now seen in the American Appaloosa and the European Knabstrupper. Their feral descendants lost it, probably (as the article says) because it comes along with a gene for night blindness. It appears the Botai people selected for it.
Now we’re left to wonder where all our modern horses came from, and how and when the wild populations died out. As for why, I’m afraid we can guess: either incorporated into domestic herds or hunted into extinction—as seems to have happened to the latter in North America. Large, nomadic animals are all too likely to get in the way of human expansion, and an animal as useful as the horse would have to either assimilate or vanish.
What all this means for us now is that we’re starting to appreciate the value of diversity and the need for broader gene pools in our domestic animals. We’ve concentrated them too much, to the detriment of our animals’ health and functionality. Where breeders were encouraged to inbreed and line-breed, many are now being advised to outcross as much as possible. That’s not very much, unfortunately. But every little bit helps.
Top image: Lascaux cave paintings; photo by Patrick Janicek.
Judith Tarr is a lifelong horse person. She supports her habit by writing works of fantasy and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published as ebooks by Book View Cafe. She’s even written a primer for writers who want to write about horses: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right. Her most recent short novel, Dragons in the Earth, features a herd of magical horses, and her space opera, Forgotten Suns, features both terrestrial horses and an alien horselike species (and space whales!). She lives near Tucson, Arizona with a herd of Lipizzans, a clowder of cats, and a blue-eyed dog.
Ridesharing companies often dream of changing the face of public transportation, but one of them is going a step further -- it's becoming the only option for public transportation in one community. Arlington, Texas is replacing its bus service with V...
In the original 1992 Castle Wolfenstein 3D, you fought off Nazis and their dogs.
Now there's a mod called Woof3D -- also known as "Return to Castle Woofenstein" -- which removes all the nazis and the guns, and all you do is ... pet the dogs.
There's a big ol' castle full of dogs wanting pats and you're the one to pet them. Sorry, they jump up on you, I hope you don't mind dog paw prints on your jeans. Just pat them and they'll fall asleep pretty quick.
Windows only! My son installed the game on his Windows PC and we played it, and I was surprised to find that it's actually kind of hard -- I'd expected that the dogs just, y'know, licked you or stuff, but it turns out they also jump on you and deplete your health, so you can be licked to death, I guess. They do seem to fall asleep pretty quickly with a pat or two, though.
There's some fun in-game art, too ...
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students' ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.) The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There's a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university. Researchers have gathered freshman data over a three-year time frame so far, and they found that their predictions for who is more likely to drop out are 73 percent accurate. They also have plans to give academic advisers an online dashboard to look at student data in real time. "By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them," Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: For about twelve hours earlier this month, encrypted email service Tutanota seemed to fall off the face of the internet for Comcast customers. Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren't sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a "connection timed out" message to Comcast users. It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn't exist. But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal. "To us, this came as a total surprise," said Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tutanota, in an email. "It was quite a shock as such an outage shows the immense power [internet providers] are having over our Internet when they can block sites...without having to justify their action in any way," he said. By March 2, the site was back, but the encrypted email provider was none the wiser to the apparent blockade. The company contacted Comcast for answers, but did not receive a reply. When contacted, a Comcast spokesperson couldn't say why the site was blocked -- or even if the internet and cable giant was behind it. According to a spokesperson, engineers investigated the apparent outage but found there was no evidence of a connection breakage between Comcast and Tutanota. The company keeps records of issues that trigger incidents -- but found nothing to suggest an issue. It's not the first time Comcast customers have been blocked from accessing popular sites. Last year, the company purposefully blocked access to internet behemoth Archive.org for more than 13 hours.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Slashdot reader David Rothman writes: The oldest public domain publisher in the world, Project Gutenberg, has blocked German users after an outrageous legal ruling saying this American nonprofit must obey German copyright law... Imagine the technical issues for fragile, cash-strapped public domain organizations -- worrying not only about updated databases covering all the world's countries, but also applying the results to distribution. TeleRead carries two views on the German case involving a Holtzbrinck subsidiary... Significantly, older books provide just a tiny fraction of the revenue of megaconglomerates like Holtzbrinck but are essential to students of literature and indeed to students in general. What's more, as illustrated by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in the U.S., copyright law in most countries tends to reflect the wishes and power of lobbyists more than it does the commonweal. Ideally the travails of Project Gutenberg will encourage tech companies, students, teachers, librarians and others to step up their efforts against oppressive copyright laws. While writers and publishers deserve fair compensation, let's focus more on the needs of living creators and less on the estates of authors dead for many decades. The three authors involved in the German case are Heinrich Mann (died in 1950), Thomas Mann (1955) and Alfred Döblin (1957). One solution in the U.S. and elsewhere for modern creators would be national library endowments... Meanwhile, it would be very fitting for Google and other deep-pocketed corporations with an interest in a global Internet and more balanced copyright to help Gutenberg finance its battle. Law schools, other academics, educators and librarians should also offer assistance.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Even though Batman and Superman have fought and won against one another multiple times in the past, it’s always worth paying attention when they do, because the heated, ongoing debates about how Bruce could ever body Clark are never going to end.
Ball lightning has been consistently reported for centuries, and yet we still know very little about it. Now, scientists at Amherst College and Aalto University have created quantum ball lightning by knotting together the magnetic spins of atoms, creating a quasiparticle that could help unlock the secrets of the strange phenomenon, or even make for more stable fusion reactors... Continue Reading Quantum ball lightning forged in the lab for the first time
EU has prepared list of products for retaliatory tariffs, calculated for maximum political impact. List includes Harley-Davidson to hurt Paul Ryan, bourbon whiskey to hurt Mitch McConnell, and Levi-Strauss to hurt Nancy Pelosi. [Published articles]
<Bananobot> It crashed AGAIN
<Bananobot> I thought the whole point of Java's freaking annoying over-verbosity was so it could detect errors before deployment or at least before crashing
<Bananobot> It's like, "Yay, everything's working fine, Cap'n! Smooth sailing! Lalala ABANDON SHIP!"
Researchers from the University of Tokyo have made an incredible advance in the field of real-time projection mapping, creating a new system that can simulate the way light reflects off a nonexistent three-dimensional structure. The result is stunningly realistic dynamic projection that heralds a new generation of trippy performance art... Continue Reading The light stuff: High speed projection mapping taken to the next mind-blowing level
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Scientists say diabetes is five separate diseases, and treatment could be tailored to each form. Diabetes, or uncontrolled blood sugar levels, is normally split into type 1 and type 2. But researchers in Sweden and Finland think the more complicated picture they have uncovered will usher in an era of personalized medicine for diabetes. The study, by Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, looked at 14,775 patients including a detailed analysis of their blood. The results, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed the patients could be separated into five distinct clusters: Cluster 1 - severe autoimmune diabetes is broadly the same as the classical type 1 -- it hit people when they were young, seemingly healthy and an immune disease left them unable to produce insulin Cluster 2 - severe insulin-deficient diabetes patients initially looked very similar to those in cluster 1 -- they were young, had a healthy weight and struggled to make insulin, but the immune system was not at fault Cluster 3 - severe insulin-resistant diabetes patients were generally overweight and making insulin but their body was no longer responding to it Cluster 4 - mild obesity-related diabetes was mainly seen in people who were very overweight but metabolically much closer to normal than those in cluster 3 Cluster 5 - mild age-related diabetes patients developed symptoms when they were significantly older than in other groups and their disease tended to be milder
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Alcohol increases inattentional blindness, the failure to perceive visual object in plain view when attention is otherwise engaged, finds new study in journal Psychopharmacology. Results are consistent with alcohol myopia theory. [Published articles]
Water is not only a key ingredient in supporting life, it's also a major clue as to how planets form, and NASA has found a lot of the stuff in the atmosphere of a giant exoplanet called Wasp-39b. The planet is as massive as Saturn but has three times as much water as the famous ringed planet. Although this "hot Saturn" is far from habitable, it does provide insights into the wide variety of planets in the universe... Continue Reading Giant, waterlogged "hot Saturn" hints at breadth of exoplanet diversity
With copyright being abused to shut down innovation and speech, and copyright terms lasting for generations, fair use is more important than ever. Without fair use, we’d see less creativity. We’d see less news reporting and commentary. And we’d see far less innovation.
Fair use allows people to use copyrighted materials for certain purposes without payment or permission. If something is fair use, it is not infringing on a copyright.
A video remix or a story that critiques culture by incorporating famous characters and giving them new meaning or context is an example of fair use in action. Culture grows because creators are constantly reworking what’s in it. If Superman is portrayed as someone other than a white man, that is clearly a commentary on the symbol of “truth, justice, and the American way.”
Commentary also relies on fair use. Criticism is made stronger when the material being interrogated can be included in the critique. It is difficult to show why someone was wrong or add context to someone else’s report without including at least part of it. We recently wrote about the Second Circuit’s decision that part of the service offered by TVEyes, a subscription company that provides searchable transcripts and video archives of television and radio, was not fair use. In particular, the court seemed to say that what makes TVEyes so objectionable was that it made material available without Fox News’ permission. One of the reasons fair use is so important to the First Amendment is because it doesn’t require permission. Who would let researchers, academics, and journalists get access to their material for the purpose of saying if and how they’re wrong?
The ways fair use improves our creative culture and our commentary are apparent every time we see fan art on the Internet or watch news commentary. The ways fair use protects innovation can be more subtle.
Copyright also covers software, which is working its way into every part of our life. We’re entering a world where your lights, toothbrush, coffeemaker, and television are all connected to the Internet. And transmitting all sorts of information all the time. But if you want to ask an expert how to change that, you’re probably going to need fair use.
Much of the problem lies with Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which bans breaking restrictions on copyrighted works. That means, for example, that if someone wants to develop an app that better secures your phone but doing so means breaking the digital lock the manufacturer put there, then that inventor faces trouble. Or, say you want to pay a mechanic to fix your car, but that requires them to break the encryption on the computer in it, then Section 1201 would prevent you from getting that help.
Section 1201 can prevent access to things that fair use allows people to use. For example, you may want to make fair use of a clip from a DVD but be banned from breaking a lock to rip the clip. And because of the impact that could have on fair use, there is a process for securing an exemption to it. The exemption process occurs every three years, and we’ll get a new set of exemption in 2018.
Because fair use is important for creativity, commentary, and innovation, and because the ban on circumvention makes that so much harder, convincing the Copyright Office to issue common-sense exemptions is necessary. In 2018, EFF is asking for exemptions for:
It would be even better if hoops like this didn’t exist for fair use to jump through, but while they do, it’s important to keep showing how important it is.
This week is Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use and fair dealing. It is designed to highlight and promote the opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, celebrate successful stories, and explain these doctrines.
The early development of our universe is still quite a mystery, but in a new study published today in Nature, researchers describe what may be evidence of when the first stars began to form. After the Big Bang, which took place some 13.7 billion year...
As fun as it can be, Star Wars is a pretty fraught universe. We don’t always talk about that because unpacking the vast amount of carnage and destitution is a pretty tall order for a franchise that is largely thought of as popcorn entertainment by the masses. But we also don’t really talk about it because most Star Wars stories are Big Picture ones. They are about the Most Important People doing the Most Important Things in the universe. And that typically comes with a lot of sadness and scale and scope.
Which is why it’s totally understandable that you might have missed Star Wars: Rebels bringing that galaxy far, far away down to earth.
To be fair, the characters in Rebels are not playing for small beans. These are some of the initial operatives that form what later becomes the lauded Rebel Alliance. What they do matters and will affect future generations. But in a universe where every major reveal revolves around secret family members or legends stepping out into the light of day or the fate of the galaxy, it’s hard to find simpler relationships, or see characters taking the time to simply relate to one another.
This is particularly hilarious because family crew stories are pretty much the bread and butter of science fiction. One captain, a team of misfits, a nasty bad guy to occasionally lock horns with? That’s the cream filling of the space donut. Or the jelly if you don’t like cream. Or frosting. The point is, it’s what makes the donut delicious. But Star Wars never really leaned on those narratives until the Ghost showed up.
The Ghost is the ship of Hera Syndulla, probably the greatest pilot in the Star Wars universe. (Yes, over Han Solo. Yes, even over Force-powered cyclone Anakin Skywalker; Hera outmaneuvers Vader in her tenure on the show, and that’s without any fancy Force powers helping her out.) Its crew is her family, and that family is made up of a former Jedi Padawan who fled Order 66, his teenaged amateur con artist apprentice, a Mandalorian munitions expert slash guerrilla artist, a former member of the lasat Honor Guard who watched genocide get carried out against his people, and a war hero R4 unit who served in the Clone Wars. Together, they form one of the best space families television has ever had to offer.
If you haven’t been watching Rebels, you should be. And you’re in luck—since it’s coming to an end next week, you can binge-watch the whole thing from start to finish. Here are just a few things that you have to look forward to, or have probably enjoyed if you’ve been watching the whole time.
Star Wars stories are most often about the Jedi and the Force. Even when they focus on other people, the question of where Force-users are and what they’re doing is always going to linger on people’s minds. But so far, the stories we have seen are primarily concerned with the Skywalker family and people adjacent to them. Most of these people are the most powerful Force-users in the galaxy, and every choice they make will cause major repercussions for the Force and how it is used/perceived down the road.
And then there’s Kanan Jarrus and his apprentice Ezra Bridger.
Kanan was Padawan to Depa Billaba in the final days of the Clone Wars, and he finds fourteen-year-old Ezra living alone on the streets of Lothal at the start of the show. Hera pushes him to take Ezra on as an apprentice, and series spends a great deal of time examining Ezra’s journey as Kanan’s student. Thing is… Kanan’s not a Jedi. Or at least, he isn’t when he starts training the plucky kid. In fact, Kanan has been hiding in plain sight for about a decade, lightsaber modified so that he can store it in two separate pieces to avoid detection. He never completed his training, so he’s just doing the best he can with Ezra.
Sure, Luke Skywalker got the Cliffsnotes version of Jedi training, but there was a lot riding on him. Obi-Wan and Yoda expected him to do as he was told, to follow their directions and take every lesson to heart. Kanan and Ezra are pretty much the definition of “winging it” alongside that. Half the time, when Kanan spouts a Jedi parable and Ezra questions it, Kanan has to admit that he’s not really sure what it meant in the first place.
As a result, the Jedi training that Ezra and Kanan engage in is surprisingly less stressful than most of what we’ve seen. Even Ahsoka Tano’s training under Anakin Skywalker contained a fundamental urgency, completely wrapped up in a dire war with enemies acting in every corner. But when Ezra briefly flirts with the Dark Side after meeting Darth Maul? It’s… mostly fine. Kanan tells him he should be more careful and remember not to act out of anger, and Ezra lets it go. We realize that there’s some wiggle room in the Force, that every deed or mistake is not a harbinger of doom.
Because Kanan cannot functionally be a Jedi of the old Order, he’s far more flexible than his felled brethren. Creator Dave Filoni has called him a “cowboy Jedi,” but that shorthand isn’t really what makes Kanan Jarrus special. What does is that fact that he’s kind of a goofy dad. He instructs Ezra, and he teaches the Ghost’s Mandalorian protégée Sabine. He keeps people calm and bolsters them when they need a shoulder to cry on or someone to vent at. He is kind, supportive, and compassionate. In fact, when Kanan admits to Ezra that he’s pretty sure he’s run out of things to teach the kid about the Force, Ezra points out that the real reason he wants to stay with Kanan is because his Jedi Master is more responsible for emotional and moral development: “I need you to teach me how to be a good person.”
Yeah, did I mention that this show was really about a space family? Because that’s what the Force gets wrapped up in too, where Rebels is concerned. Papa Kanan trying to teach his kids to not murder (Sabine) and not let their emotions rule them (Ezra) and generally messing up along the way. It makes the Force personal and in some ways far more interesting. Because most of the beings who can feel the Force were never members of the Jedi Council, or people with the last name Skywalker. Most of them are just people.
If you missed Ahsoka Tano, Rex, or Hondo Onaka, Star Wars: Rebels is here for you. They know that many of the fans from the last series carried over, and you get to spend ample time with friendly faces. Not only does this help carry a sense of continuity without over-relying on film characters (though you get to see Leia, Vader, Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, and more as well), but it makes the timeline connect a bit more fluidly. Rebels begins about 14 years after Episode III, so seeing where some of the survivors of the Clone Wars end up is helpful in the transition between the multitude of narratives that Star Wars always contains.
When Rebels begins, the show briefly tries to convince you that this is about Kanan’s crew, that it’s Kanan’s story over everyone else’s. This was even true of the marketing for the show in season one, or that the fact that his codename on crew ops is “Spectre One” even though he isn’t the captain. But that’s a sleight of hand and quickly fades away. Because the Ghost belongs to Hera Syndulla, and this story belongs to her, too.
Hera isn’t just an incredible pilot. She is a rallying point of the narrative. The only reason why any of the people on her crew are helping the Rebel Alliance is because that is Hera’s mission. She ropes them into the Alliance. She insists on getting more involved. She steps up to lead operations and set up bases and locate resources. Hera makes everyone around her better and she demands the utmost of people that she loves and trusts. The crew of the Ghost follows Hera because they believe in her. Kanan loves Hera because he believes in her.
The relationship between Kanan and Hera is also one of the most enjoyable romances in the Star Wars schema because their whole bond is built on respect and trust. They clearly adore one another—they also frequently refer to Ezra and Sabine “the kids” as all good parents do—but rather than make the question of their romance fodder for endless plots of the will-they-won’t-they variety, we simply watch them support each other. Push each other to do more. Have faith in each other’s skills. Take care of their cobbled-together crew. It’s even more refreshing for the fact that love stories powered by these ideals are often completely absent or invisible in fiction.
Hera Syndulla is a survivor of the Clone Wars, an incredible rebel agent and a true leader. The fact that she is also a Twi’lek woman—a species who are often subjugated and enslaved in the Star Wars universe for a myriad of horrific purposes—makes seeing her in a position of power even more revelatory. The fact that no one questions it, even more so. Here’s to seeing much more of her in the future, be it through television, movies, comics, books, games, or anything else Disney will give us.
Did I mention that her BFF is a droid she rescued from a crashed Y-Wing during the Clone Wars? Who is basically an incredibly grumpy, extra dangerous version of R2-D2 who suffers from occasional PTSD flashbacks and makes friends with a Marvin-the-Paranoid-Android version of C-3PO? Yeah, Hera and Chopper are the real deal.
In the original trilogy we know that the Empire is bad; they are willing to commit genocide to prove said badness. But we don’t know the smaller ins and outs of their system, or really anything about the people who elect to be a part of it. Rebels not only lets us see more of the inner workings of the Empire—from how they occupy planets to how they develop their new ships and weapons—but also lets us key into the effect the Empire has on individual lives. It does this through two central characters: Garrazeb Orrelios and Alexsandr Kallus.
Zeb, as he’s known to the Ghost crew, is a former member of the Lasat Honor Guard. He’s the muscle of the crew, much like Chewie is for Han. But unlike the Wookiees, who were enslaved by the Empire, Zeb’s people were completely wiped out by them. He is a survivor of genocide, with no planet or people to call his own. Though he seems rough on the outside, the more we learn about Zeb, the more we see how the loss of his planet has effected him. (He’s also not so tough. He’s pretty snuggly at the end of the day.)
Agent Kallus is a member of ISB—the Imperial Security Bureau—and one of the first major players tasked with rooting out our rebel crew. But rather than make him a blind antagonist, the show reveals Kallus to be a more complicated person, with a different morality than the one might expect of an Imperial officer. Together, both of these characters develop (and often intersect) in surprising ways that make the series a better exploration of the usual good guy/bad guy dynamic that Star Wars can pair down to.
Fans of the erstwhile Legends canon were pretty upset when the Clone Wars series turned around and made their favorite armor-wearing walking arsenals into pacifists who had put their rough days behind them. (Count me among their number, as a big fan of what Karen Traviss did with the culture in her Star Wars novels.) But Rebels shows a Mandalore beset by the Empire and returning to its roots in the more ways than one. The main way the show engages with this is through Sabine Wren, a former Imperial cadet from House Viszla, who turns her back on the Empire and uses armaments and art to bring down facism.
Sabine is… everything. With her color-changing hair and her gorgeous graffiti habit, she is exactly what Mandalorian-obssessed teenage me wanted from Star Wars and never got. But what’s better is how the narrative allows Sabine to develop at her own pace. We’re a few seasons into the show before we get proper backstory on her family and why she left the Imperial Academy. Because she’s a teenager and she behaves like one; not really interested in letting anyone in unless she knows them well and feels like sharing in the moment. And yes, she’s hyper-competent, but she’s also still allowed to be young and to learn (and also allowed to not get paired off with someone just because she’s another young female character).
The Mandalorians we encounter in this series are a proud people who are making some mistakes in their dealings with the Empire. But most importantly, they are far more like the gruff, honorable warrior culture that Star Wars fans used to treasure. Plus, you know, jetpacks.
If you read Star Wars books in the ’90s and early ’00s, you couldn’t forget Grand Admiral Thrawn. Created by author Timothy Zahn, Thrawn was one of the few Star Wars villains who seemed genuinely dangerous. The fact that he was a genius certainly helped, but so did the fact that he behaved like a clever predator, patiently stalking his prey.
Star Wars: Rebels made the choice to reintroduce Thrawn to canon.
The best thing about this choice is watching how Thrawn interacts with Imperial High Command in his heyday. Fans of the character only knew him as a commander who survived the end of the Empire and went on to make more trouble for the New Republic. But now we get to see the man in his element. We get to watch how he handled the emerging Rebel Alliance, and how he commanded when he was still answering to the Emperor.
This is more important because the Original Trilogy is keen on showing us an Empire full of blustering middlemen who either bicker constantly, or have difficulty looking their superiors in the eye. Thrawn is an antidote to this; he shows the audience how terrifying the Empire can be when controlled by someone who knows what they’re doing.
These are just a few reasons you should watch Star Wars: Rebels, if you aren’t already. There are a lot more, to be honest. And now that the show is ending, you can get right to it!
Emily Asher-Perrin really needed this show over the past few months, and is trying to figure out how to cope now that it’s all coming to an end. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.
In the 1940s, Ronald Clark's father was a custodian at the New York Public Library's Washington Heights Branch. That meant he and his family lived in an apartment in the library. Here's an animated StoryCorps video about Clark's childhood in "The Temple of Knowledge" and "creeping down to the stacks in the middle of the night when curiosity gripped him."
<atom_bomb> my girlfriend has been pressuring me to write a book about about my engineering methodology
<atom_bomb> (after i told her how much money the agile software alliance makes)
<atom_bomb> my methodology is essentially a longwinded justification of procrastination
<atom_bomb> it just happens to be scrum-compatible and highly effective
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TIL Coyotes use their howls and yipping to create a kind of census of coyote populations. If their howls are not answered by other packs, it triggers an autogenic response that produces large litters. [Published articles]
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge in California has rejected Disney's effort to stop Redbox from reselling download codes of popular Disney titles like Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, and the latest Star Wars movies. Judge Dean Pregerson's Tuesday ruling invoked the little-used doctrine of copyright misuse, which holds that a copyright holder loses the right to enforce a copyright if the copyright is being abused. Pregerson faulted Disney for tying digital download codes to physical ownership of discs, a practice that he argued ran afoul of copyright's first sale doctrine, which guarantees customers the right to resell used DVDs. If the ruling were upheld on appeal, it would have sweeping implications. It could potentially force Hollywood studios to stop bundling digital download codes with physical DVDs and force video game companies to rethink their own practices. But James Grimmelmann, a copyright scholar at Cornell Law School, is skeptical that the ruling will survive an inevitable appeal from Disney. "I don't see this one sticking," Grimmelmann told Ars. Copyright misuse has such sweeping legal implications that an appeals court will be reluctant to apply it to a common movie industry practice.
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There are two types of people in this world: those who know how to convert PDFs into Word documents and those who are indicted for money laundering. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the second kind of person , Slate reports. From the report: Back in October, a grand jury indictment charged Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates with a variety of crimes, including conspiring "to defraud the United States." On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment against the pair, substantially expanding the charges. As one former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post, Manafort and Gates' methods appear to have been "extensive and bold and greedy with a capital 'G,' but ... not all that sophisticated." One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits: Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D. So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF.
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DuckTales. Darkwing Duck. Rescue Rangers. Gargoyles. TaleSpin. These are just some of the shows that so many of us watched growing up. And now, those shows and more are coming together for one massive art show.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: U.S. border officials have failed to cryptographically verify the passports of visitors to the U.S. for more than a decade -- because the government didn't have the proper software. The revelation comes from a letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who wrote to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) acting commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan to demand answers. E-passports have an electronic chip containing cryptographic information and machine-readable text, making it easy to verify a passport's authenticity and integrity. That cryptographic information makes it almost impossible to forge a passport, and it helps to protect against identity theft. Introduced in 2007, all newly issued passports are now e-passports. Citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list must have an e-passport in order to be admitted to the U.S. But according to the senators' letter, sent Thursday, border staff "lacks the technical capabilities to verify e-passport chips." Although border staff have deployed e-passport readers at most ports of entry, "CBP does not have the software necessary to authenticate the information stored on the e-passport chips." "Specifically, CBP cannot verify the digital signatures stored on the e-passport, which means that CBP is unable to determine if the data stored on the smart chips has been tampered with or forged," the letter stated. Wyden and McCaskill said in the letter that Customs and Border Protection has "been aware of this security lapse since at least 2010."
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Some states plan to uphold net neutrality principles. How will they know if telecom companies are obeying their own promises?
In the coming decades, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies are going to transform many aspects of our world. Much of this change will be positive; the potential for benefits in areas as diverse as health, transportation and urban planning, art, science, and cross-cultural understanding are enormous. We've already seen things go horribly wrong with simple machine learning systems; but increasingly sophisticated AI will usher in a world that is strange and different from the one we're used to, and there are serious risks if this technology is used for the wrong ends.
Today EFF is co-releasing a report with a number of academic and civil society organizations1 on the risks from malicious uses of AI and the steps that should be taken to mitigate them in advance.
At EFF, one area of particular concern has been the potential interactions between computer insecurity and AI. At present, computers are inherently insecure, and this makes them a poor platform for deploying important, high-stakes machine learning systems. It's also the case that AI might have implications for computer [in]security that we need to think about carefully in advance. The report looks closely at these questions, as well as the implications of AI for physical and political security. You can read the full document here.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Cambridge researchers have built an online game, simply titled Bad News, in which players compete to become "a disinformation and fake news tycoon." By shedding light on the shady practices, they hope the game will "vaccinate" the public, and make people immune to the spread of untruths. Players of the fake news game must amass virtual Twitter followers by distorting the truth, planting falsehoods, dividing the united, and deflecting attention when rumbled. All the while, they must maintain credibility in the eyes of their audience. The game distills the art of undermining the truth into six key strategies. Once a player has demonstrated a knack for each, they are rewarded with a badge. In one round, players can opt to impersonate the president of the United States and fire off a tweet from a fake account. It declares war on North Korea complete with a #KimJongDone hashtag. At every step, players are asked if they are happy with their actions or feel, perhaps, the twinge of shame, an emotion that leads to the swift reminder that "if you want to become a master of disinformation, you've got to lose the goody two-shoes attitude." The work is due to be published in the Journal of Risk Research.
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Inspired by the $6,000 Alexa-controlled toilet at CES, Jonathan Gleich hacked together his own one-tenth the cost. The base of this smart throne is the Brondell Swash 1400 Luxury Bidet Toilet Seat, available for $650 from Amazon. The other components are a $46 auto flusher, $23 infrared link, and $17 Adafruit Feather HUZZAH microcontroller.
Gleich posted directions to make your own over at Instructables: "Alexa Controlled Toilet"
Most land-speed record holders are adrenaline junkies, who spend years sweating through engineering challenges for the chance to get out on the salt and go fast. Eva Håkansson hates that part. We caught up with her at the Melbourne EV expo for a very entertaining chat... Continue Reading Interview: The fastest woman on a motorcycle tells us why she hates going fast
This weekend, NASA's Opportunity rover spent its 5,000th day on Mars. While that is a feat in and of itself, it's even more impressive when you consider that it was only planned to last 90 Martian days, or sols. Both Opportunity and its companion rov...
How students are fighting lies, half-truths, and hypocrisy in the wake of the Florida school shooting
It looks like Telegram’s billion-dollar ICO has reached its first milestone after the chat app company raised an initial $850 million, according to a filing. A document submitted to the SEC earlier this week states that the money was raised “for the development of the TON Blockchain, the development and maintenance of Telegram Messenger and the other purposes.” The security… Read More
The most chilling aspect of that blockbuster Mueller indictment? The bureaucracy behind Russia's onslaught.
The Opportunity rover has been exploring Mars for 14 years. But that doesn't mean it can't put Curiosity's social media skills to shame.
One of the most popular comic books during the horror boom of the 1970s was The Tomb of Dracula, which from issue #7 on was written by Marv Wolfman, with art throughout its run by Gene Colan, both grandmasters of the field. Focusing on Marvel’s version of Bram Stoker’s creation (itself inspired by the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler), Tomb of Dracula had as its heroes a collection of vampire hunters, some of whom were members of the Harker and van Helsing family from Stoker’s novel, as well as (among others) a reluctant vampire named Hannibal King and an African-American vampire hunter who simply went by the name Blade.
In 1998, a feature film starring Blade was released, only loosely based on the comic. It was only Marvel’s second actual theatrical release (after Howard the Duck in 1986, also a product of the 1970s comics market), and first success, as the film was a huge international hit, spawning two sequels in 2002 and 2004.
In the comics, Blade was one of a team, who hunted vampires because one killed his mother. He favored knives made of teak (hence the name “Blade”) and also was immune to vampire bites. Preferring to work alone, he did find himself allying with other vampire hunters on a regular basis, even befriending King, despite his being a vampire. (King only drank from blood banks and never took a human life.)
New Line picked up the rights to do a Blade movie in the early 1990s, originally conceived as a vehicle for LL Cool J. David S. Goyer was hired to write the movie, and he moved away from the studio’s notion of a spoof film, preferring to play it straight. Goyer’s wishlist for casting included Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, and Wesley Snipes, with the latter actually being cast. Snipes, a big comics fan—and also a martial artist, so he could do most of the combat scenes himself—took to the role quickly and enthusiastically.
The film version of Blade differed in several respects from the comics version. He was a “daywalker,” a person whose mother was turned while pregnant with him, so he’s an odd halfbreed vampire. He subsists on blood and heals quickly, but he ages normally and can walk in daylight safely. The obsession with hunting vampires remains from the comics, but only select other elements from the comics show up: Deacon Frost in the first movie (as in the comics, it’s Frost who killed Blade’s mother); King and Dracula in the third. However, the huge success of the movies led to the comics character being altered somewhat to more closely hew to Snipes’s version.
Snipes also was a producer of Blade and its two sequels, with Goyer writing all three, and sitting in the director’s chair for the third. Behind-the-scenes difficulties plagued Blade Trinity—Snipes clashed with director Goyer throughout filming, Snipes was under criminal investigation for his security firm the Royal Guard of Amen-Ra, and then in 2006 he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for failure to pay his income taxes—which kept there from being a fourth film. However, there was a short-lived TV series in 2006 that aired on Spike in the U.S., based on the films, with Kirk “Sticky Fingas” Jones in the title role. As of 2011, the rights have reverted to Marvel Studios, but nothing has been announced with regard to working Blade into the MCU.
Written by David S. Goyer
Directed by Stephen Norrington
Produced by Robert Engelman, Wesley Snipes, & Peter Frankfurt
Original release date: August 21, 1998
A young woman brings her date to a rave in an underground club in Los Angeles. It turns out to be a vampire club, and the sprinklers spray out blood (there’s a big sign behind the DJ that reads “BLOODBATH”). Blade, a vampire hunter, shows up and, despite there being only one of him and at least a hundred of them, he kills tons of vampires, though most just run away, no doubt frightened by his reputation.
The club is owned by Deacon Frost, and the rave is being supervised by his right hand, Quinn. Blade uses his garlic-filled silver stakes to pin Quinn’s shoulders to the wall and also cuts off one of his hands, then sets him on fire.
The cops arrive, and Blade beats a hasty retreat. He later goes to the hospital to finish off Quinn—who, despite being crispy fried, reawakens in the morgue. He kills a coroner and bites a hematologist. Blade rescues the latter, Dr. Karen Jenson, and brings her to the warehouse headquarters from which Blade and his weaponsmith Whistler are waging their war on the vampires.
Frost is called to a meeting of the vampire elders, where they chastise him for his activities. Things like the rave draw attention to vampires and spoils the harmony they’ve established with humans over the centuries. Frost, though, has little patience for that—to his mind, they’re predators and humans are just prey, not to be catered to and hidden from, but enslaved and eaten.
To that end, Frost has dug up an ancient text that Dragonetti, the head of the elders, says is untranslateable. Frost soon translates it, determining that he can summon the power of the Blood God to himself, but he needs the blood of a daywalker.
Blade and Whistler inform Jenson of the world behind the world, as it were, where vampires exist and exert huge influence over politicians and law-enforcement. Blade himself was born as his pregnant mother was being bitten by a vampire, so he’s an odd hybrid. Whistler treats Jenson in the hopes that she won’t be turned into a vampire, but Jenson takes matters into her own hands, using her mad hematologist skillz to try to find a cure.
Blade takes her home, and then a cop shows up, seemingly to question her about what happened in the hospital, but actually to kill her. Blade then shows up and beats up the cop, though the cop gets away. Jenson is pissed that Blade used her as bait to draw one of Frost’s familiars (a servant who isn’t actually a vampire—Jenson doesn’t realize he isn’t a vampire until the garlic-tinged mace she squirts him with has no effect).
The serum Blade uses to tame his bloodlust is starting to lose effectiveness. Jenson continues to work on a cure, but she also discovers that an anticoagulant, EDTA, has an explosive effect on vampire blood. You inject a vampire with EDTA, the vamp will explode. Blade likes this notion, and adds it to his arsenal.
Reluctantly allowing Jenson to tag along, Blade tracks the familiar to one of Frost’s holdings, a night club, where he finds out about Frost’s big plan. Quinn and Frost’s vampires try to stop him, and Blade cuts off Quinn’s other hand. Whistler shows up with a big van through the wall to rescue them.
Frost kidnaps Dragonetti and exposes him to the sunrise, burning him to a crisp. He also kidnaps the rest of the elders and proposes to Blade that he join him. Blade refuses, viewing Frost not as the messiah Frost believes himself to be, but just another dead vampire. Frost then goes to the warehouse, biting Whistler and leaving him for dead, and kidnapping Jenson, though not until after Jenson has found a serum that cures people who’ve been bitten and turned, reverting them back to human.
Frost’s terms are simple: Blade comes to his penthouse or Jenson dies. Whistler urges Blade to walk away—without Blade, Frost can’t do the ritual—but Blade can’t let Jenson die. He leaves Whistler a weapon with which to blow his own brains out lest he turn into a vampire and then heads to the penthouse.
However, Blade is captured—Quinn shoves stakes into each of his shoulders out of vengeance—and the ritual commences. To Blade’s disgust, one of Frost’s vampires is his mother—he turned her and brought her into his gang, and she’s been a happy vampire for the last thirty years.
Frost starts the ritual, draining Blade of his daywalker blood and killing all the elders, thus giving him the power of the Blood God. Among other things, this means he can’t be killed in the usual manner. (At one point, he’s literally sliced in half, and he puts himself back together without effort.) Jenson manages to free Blade and offers to let him suck her blood to restore his strength. He then takes on Frost, injecting him with several vials of EDTA, which makes him explode. (He also beheads Quinn.)
Jenson offers to cure him, but he needs the gifts his daywalker status gives him to continue his fight, so instead she creates a better serum for him. The next time we see him, he’s taking on vampires in Russia…
Written by David S. Goyer
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Patrick Palmer, Wesley Snipes, & Peter Frankfurt
Original release date: March 22, 2002
It turns out that Whistler didn’t kill himself when Blade left him with a weapon. Instead, he was kidnapped by the vampire leadership, on the orders of Damaskinos. They tortured him for information, but he never gave anything up. They also kept moving him around, but Blade finally finds him in Eastern Europe and brings him home, curing him of his bloodthirst with Jenson’s cure.
In the two years since Whistler was taken, Blade got a new weaponsmith named Josh, nicknamed “Scud.”
Shortly after Whistler comes home, two vampires, Nyssa and Asad, break into the compound. They’re emissaries, not there for a fight—thought they fight anyhow, as this movie never passes up an opportunity for a gratuitous fight scene. Damaskinos wants a temporary truce and alliance to deal with a greater threat: Reapers. Damaskinos tells Blade that they’re the next step in vampire evolution. They have a greater thirst for blood (human or vampire), and they turn their victims almost instantly, not in 72 hours.
Blade is put in charge of the Bloodpack, a strike team of vampires ironically created to deal with Blade. None of them particularly like Blade—though Nyssa and Asad, at least treat him with respect, unlike Reinhardt, who starts right in with racial slurs—and Blade’s response is to go alpha-dog, and also put an explosive device on the back of Reinhardt’s head, to which Blade has the trigger.
Their first stop is a vampire night club in Prague. Sure enough, the “patient zero” of the mutation, Nomak, and a bunch of Reapers show up to chow down. However, it turns out that they’re immune to garlic and silver. The only trick that works on them is sunlight, they’re still vulnerable to that. Blade and the Bloodpack manage to defeat and kill many of the Reapers, though one of the Bloodpack is infected, and they kill him before he can turn completely; another, Lighthammer, is injured. They also capture one Reaper that got stuck and started feeding on itself, showing that the Reapers’s metabolism is so supercharged that they have to feed constantly, which doesn’t say much for the future of the human or vampire races. They bring the Reaper back to Blade’s compound.
Nyssa examines the Reaper, and it turns out its heart is encased in bone, so they’re impossible to stake—except from the side, where there’s a small opening. That will probably be important later. Nyssa is also able to extract pheromones from the Reaper, and the plan is to go into the sewers the next day and lure them in with the pheromones. Scud and Whistler also create a cache of UV flashbangs that will destroy the Reapers—but also the vampires, so they have to be careful.
The vampires dress in full body gear, but leave their heads unprotected because they are played by actors whose faces we need to see, so screw story logic. In the sewers, Lighthammer turns out to be infected, and turns into a Reaper, killing Snowman—Verlaine throws a sewer cover open, sacrificing herself to take them both out. Eventually, all the Reapers are killed, but so are most of the vampires—Asad and Chupa are overwhelmed by Reapers (the latter while beating up Whistler just for the hell of it). Nyssa only survives because Blade lets her feed on him, and Whistler only survives because Nomak deliberately leaves him alive to pass on some intelligence.
It turns out that Nomak isn’t a mutation, he’s an experiment—and also Damaskinos’s son. Nyssa is appalled to realize that her own father sent her and her team on a mission that got most of them killed based on a lie. Whistler is appalled to realize that Scud—whom he was just starting to like—was a mole from Damaskinos all along, as was Reinhardt.
Blade and Whistler are taken back to Damaskinos’s headquarters. Damaskinos still needs to breed vulnerability to sunlight out of his Reapers, and he sees Blade as the key. However, Nomak tracked the team and attacks, taking out his father’s troops all by his lonesome. Whistler uses the distraction to escape and free Blade. This time, Blade regains his strength by diving into the pool of blood that Damaskinos uses, and then beats up a ton of vampires all by his lonesome, ending with cutting Reinhardt from stern to stem.
Damaskinos tries to convince Nomak to rule by his side, but Nomak isn’t having any of that, and kills his old man, then Nyssa—wracked by guilt and anger—lets him infect her. Blade shows up, and he and Nomak fight to the death, with Blade finally winning by stabbing him in the side. Nyssa’s final wish is to die as a vampire rather than a Reaper, so Blade takes her outside to watch the sun rise.
Written and directed by David S. Goyer
Produced by Wesley Snipes, David S. Goyer, Lynn Harris, & Peter Frankfurt
Original release date: December 8, 2004
A group of vampires led by Danica Talos travel to Iraq and unearth the tomb of Dracula (ahem), who was the original vampire. The vampires who did that also frame Blade for murder by filming him and Whistler going after a nest of vampires—but one is a human disguised as a vampire, so when Blade kills him, he doesn’t disintegrate into ash.
As it is, Blade is starting to gain a rep from all the familiars he’s killed, as they leave actual corpses behind with evidence on them. Two federal agents have been chasing Blade for quite a while, and they lead a raid on Blade and Whistler’s compound, during which Whistler is killed and Blade is arrested.
A pop psychologist is brought in by the local chief of police to evaluate Blade (both the shrink and the chief were on a chat show earlier in the movie, pooh-poohing the whole notion of vampires while condemning Blade’s vigilantism). Said shrink has Blade committed, with the chief’s support, to the FBI’s annoyance. However, both shrink and chief are familiars to Talos, and she and her gang come in posing as staff from a mental institution.
Blade is rescued by two people, one of whom is Whistler’s daughter. Abby was conceived during a one-night stand after Whistler’s family was killed. Abby tracked her father down and started hunting vampires on her own. She’s gathered a team called the Nightstalkers, which also includes Hannibal King—a former vampire who was cured—and it’s the two of them who rescue Blade.
They bring Blade to their HQ to meet the rest of the team: Hedges, who makes the gadgets, Sommerfield, a blind woman who is their science expert, and Dex, their mechanic. Also present is Sommerfield’s daughter Zoe. Blade is less than impressed with these amateur vampire hunters in general and with King’s smartass attitude in particular, but as they point out, he’s got nowhere else to go.
There’s a bigger issue, too. King and Abby reveal that the original vampire—whom Bram Stoker called Dracula, and who now is going by Drake—has been revived. Talos is hoping that Drake will aid them in eliminating their weaknesses. Sommerfield is also working on a virus that will kill only vampires, and Drake’s blood would make it one hundred percent effective.
Blade, King, and Abby question every familiar they can find until they track down Drake. However, he kicks their asses six ways from Sunday—turns out he can survive in sunlight, and neither silver nor garlic nor EDTA affect him.
King is wounded, and while he recovers, Abby and Blade check out a blood farm that Talos uses—milking homeless people, basically—and take it down, killing the police chief familiar in the bargain.
While they’re gone, Drake attacks the Nightstalkers’ compound, killing Sommerfield, Hedges, and Dex, and kidnapping King and Zoe. Talos wants to convert King back into a vampire, starve him, and then give him Zoe to feed on when the thirst is so desperate he can’t stand it anymore.
However, King reveals that all the Nightstalkers have tracking devices on them, and sure enough, Blade and a very pissed-off Abby (okay, Blade’s pissed, too, but he’s always like that) show up to rescue King—but also to stop Drake. Sommerfield left them a present before she died: a formula for the virus that, when it interacts with Drake’s blood, will turn into an airborne pathogen that will kill any vampire it comes into contact with. They’re only able to make enough to put into one arrowhead, which Abby carries in her quiver.
King is rescued, and has to face off against the dogs that Talos’s people have vampirized as well as Grimwood, while Abby takes out the various redshirt vampires, leaving Drake to Blade. The pair of them start out swordfighting, then move on to hand to hand. Blade holds his own—barely—but nothing he does has any effect on Drake. Abby tries to shoot him with the virus arrow, but Drake catches it and tosses it aside. Blade, however, manages to grab the arrow off the floor and stab Drake with it, killing him and also making the virus airborne and killing everyone else.
Blade seems to also succumb to the virus—Sommerfield had no way of knowing if a halfbreed like Blade would be affected—but while in the morgue, he wakes up and lives to kick ass another day.
First of all, we’ve been hearing a lot the last couple years about how Deadpool was supposedly Marvel’s first R-rated feature and how this weekend’s Black Panther is the first black Marvel superhero to get a movie, when in fact, Blade accomplished both those things already twenty years ago. And we’re not talking an obscure, forgotten film, we’re talking a big international success that spawned two very successful sequels! Good job, entertainment journalists!
In truth, the character Wesley Snipes plays in these three movies bears very little resemblance to the character from the comics. The Blade that Wolfman and Colan created in the 1970s was an engaging smartass, a bit of a loner who nonetheless was devoted to his friends (particularly Hannibal King). Snipes instead has chosen to play him as a stoic hardass who barely changes his facial expression.
It’s maddening because Snipes is one of the most versatile actors out there. He built his reputation on an impressive variety of roles, from comedy in places like Major League and White Men Can’t Jump to powerful drama in New Jack City and Mo’ Better Blues to solid action roles in Demolition Man and Passenger 57. He slid effortlessly from a vicious drug lord in Sugar Hill to a drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. And then he winds up with a part that could—and, honestly, has proven to—be his defining role, and his approach is to give him no personality whatsoever.
What the role does do is give Snipes a chance to show off his martial arts skills. He started training at the age of twelve, and even his action roles haven’t given him the opportunity to show off his skills on film the way playing Blade has. Snipes does his own fight choreography—he’s credited for it in each film, along with Jeff Ward in Blade; Ward, Clayton J. Barber, and co-star Donnie Yen in Blade II; and Chuck Jefferys in Trinity—and it pays off. All three movies are a joy to watch in terms of fight scenes, as the hand-to-hand action is superlative.
In Blade II in particular, that’s all there is to it. All three movies have pretty thin plots, but it stands out in the second one more than the other two, as the first has the world-building and exposition to flesh it out (every vampire story has to establish exactly how vampirism works in this iteration of it), and the third gives us a veritable truckload of Ryan Reynolds snark to keep things moving.
The second movie is often considered the strongest because it has the most famous director, but that’s simplistic to my mind. For starters, The Matrix came out between the first two movies, and the misbegotten influence of that overrated piece of nonsense is all over Blade II. (Yes, I really really dislike The Matrix, why do you ask?) The action and cinematography is tiresomely stylized, far more so than the other two.
And there really isn’t an entire movie’s worth of story here, as evidenced by how little time is spent on the story and how much of it is spent on action scenes. The actions scenes are generally pretty good, mind you, but it covers up the thin story, which isn’t even particularly well told. For starters, it takes the wind out of the sails of the story to have Blade work with vampires when Blade himself shows no actual emotion regarding it, by virtue of never showing emotion ever. At least we get Kris Kristofferson’s bitching as Whistler, though that’s annoying, too, because Whistler had a strong and powerful death scene in Blade and they just reversed it totally unconvincingly in Blade II. Lip service is paid to Blade not entirely trusting Whistler and concern that it’ll take him a while to get over the thirst, but absolutely nothing is done with it. Whistler’s just, y’know, back and stuff. And when Scud reveals himself to be a mole, Blade tells us he knew all along and reveals that he fixed the detonator on the bomb he’d attached to Reinhardt—but that makes no sense, as Scud has access to way too much info for that to be safe or smart. Yes yes yes, “keep your enemies close and your enemies closer,” but Jesus. Also the grudging respect between Blade and Nyssa has no room to breathe because, again, Snipes plays Blade as a statue.
At least Leonor Varela makes Nyssa’s struggles interesting, which is more than can be said for N’Bushe Wright’s lifeless performance as Jenson in the first movie. She’s set up for a return in subsequent films—and you gotta think a hematologist would be a handy ally—but her bland performance means she’s not missed at all in the other two films, and really damages the effectiveness of the first.
So does the choice in villain, which is a problem throughout all three. Neither Stephen Dorff’s flaccid Frost nor Thomas Krestchmann’s Nosferatu-lite Damaskinos nor Dominic Purcell’s utter inability to show depth and nuance as Drake serve the films well. At least they have secondary villains to pick up the slack, from Donal Logue’s batshit crazy Quinn in the first film to the always-brilliant Ron Perlman as Reinhardt in the second movie to Parker Posey vamping it up (sorry…) as Talos in Trinity.
It’s fun to watch these movies two decades later and remember who all was in them. Besides Logue (currently Bullock in Gotham), Perlman (later starring as Hellboy), and Posey (soon to be in Superman Returns), you’ve got Udo Kier (who starred in several vampire films of the 1960s and 1970s) and Judson Scott (Joachim from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) in Blade; Danny John-Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf), Norman Reedus (Daryl from The Walking Dead), and Tony Curran (the Invisible Man in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) in Blade II; and Patton Oswalt (the Koenigs on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), James Remar (Gambi in Black Lightning), eternal character actors Christopher Heyerdahl and Callum Keith Rennie, and the aforementioned Reynolds in Trinity.
Seriously, you gotta figure Reynolds just showed a reel of his bits as King in Trinity when he auditioned for Deadpool. “Fuck me sideways!” “You cock-juggling thunder-cunt!” “How about you take a sugar-frosted fuck off my dick?” And so on. Reynolds makes the movie, his barrage of obnoxiousness—not to mention his spectacular ability to take a punch and get beat up well—serving as a nice palliative to Blade’s hyper-competenece and glacier-like mien. This was Reynolds’s first role that wasn’t in a kids program or a goofy comedy, and he really did make the most of it.
For all that these three movies have issues, though, they’re tremendous fun. The visual effects still hold up twenty years later (which can’t be said for all the movies from this era), and the fight choreography is superb. The vampire lore isn’t going to make anyone gasp with how complex and original it is, or anything, but at least it avoids overcomplicating everything with nonsense (I’m looking at you, Underworld franchise), and it all holds together, more or less. There’s a certain amount of repetition that’s tiresome, though. Two of the three movies have stealing Blade’s blood as a plot point, two of them have major battles in raves, two of them have Whistler dying, two of them have the bad guy throwing a small child at Blade to distract him (really!), and so on.
Most of all, though, this was finally a series of theatrically released movies that Marvel could point to and call a hit. After a string of feature films that either never got released (Fantastic Four), only got released sporadically (The Punisher, Captain America), or never should’ve been released (Howard the Duck), Marvel finally got one of its heroes onto the big screen in a manner that people actually liked and wanted to see more of.
It was a harbinger of things to come, obviously, as the dominoes all started to fall after this. Next week, we’ll look at the next domino, 2000’s X-Men.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a guest at Planet Comic-Con in Kansas City this weekend. He’ll be at the Bard’s Tower table all weekend. Other guests include Justice League’s Jason Momoa, definitive Batman voice Kevin Conroy, fellow authors Melinda M. Snodgrass, Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Kevin J. Anderson, Quincy J. Allen, and Michelle Corsillo, plus a crapton of other actors, writers, comics creators, and more. More details on Keith’s blog, including the two panels he’s doing.
Last year, a vigilante hacker broke into the servers of a company that sells spyware to everyday consumers and wiped their servers, deleting photos captured from monitored devices. A year later, the hacker has done it again. Motherboard: Thursday, the hacker said he started wiping some cloud servers that belong to Retina-X Studios, a Florida-based company that sells spyware products targeted at parents and employers, but that are also used by people to spy on their partners without their consent. Retina-X was one of two companies that were breached last year in a series of hacks that exposed the fact that many otherwise ordinary people surreptitiously install spyware on their partners' and children's phones in order to spy on them. This software has been called "stalkerware" by some.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.