Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

I saw The Force Awakens on December 24th when visiting family for the holiday. That was 19 days ago. Since then many people have asked me what thought about it. I liked the movie. It is fun to watch, and I’m glad that I saw it. It ‘feels’ more like a Star Wars movie than the prequels did. I particularly enjoyed the X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter battle during the second act. There was something about that which felt like I was a teenager again playing one of the X-Wing video games. It was awesome.

That being said The Force Awakens is not without its head-scratching moments. I’m not a fan of Star Trek, but I did enjoy the first J.J. Abrams Stark Trek movie. The second one though, is one of the worst possible abominations of all movie-dom. The plot holes were enormous, self-contradictory actions abounded, and universe defying tricks moved along the plot too conveniently. The big fear I had going into The Force Awakens was that J.J. Abrams would do the same to Star Wars, and he kind of did. But not too much to make the overall movie unenjoyable. When done it left me with a sense of lazy writing. The producers of the show wanted a bunch of cool scenes, but didn’t know how to tie them together.

The following list is a list of grievances I had myself while watching The Force Awakens, or my thoughts to ones which others have shared with me.

Han Solo Hyperspaces into the Atmosphere of the Star Killer Base

This to me is ultimate sin in the movie. It’s very well setup in the rest of the Star Wars movies that you can’t be in hyperspace too close to a large object; ie anything large enough to have a gravitational pull of at least a small moon. You can’t enter hyperspace if you’re too close, and you get ripped from hyperspace if too close. But what do they do when they can’t figure out a way to get Han onto the base, due to a shield around the base? He just takes a ship he hasn’t used in years, and manually pulls out of hyperspace meters away from a mountain top, beneath the shield. If it was possible to do that, there wouldn’t be a need for a Death Star or Star Killer Base. All weapons would become warhead armed hyperspace rockets. Say what you will about the prequels, none of them did anything as universe destroying as this.

Rey Becomes too Powerful too Fast

I know lots of people like Rey, and I don’t mind the character, but she became too powerful too fast. The rest of the movies go over how it takes years of training to use the Light side of the Force. Lots of meditation to not fall into the Dark side of the Force. Then with nothing but being told she might be able to access the Force Rey is mind controlling storm troopers, pulling objects to herself and away from Kylo Ren, and other feats. I didn’t mind so much at the very end that she could use the Force to come to a draw in the duel with Kylo Ren, I more was bothered by the fact that Kylo Ren seemed to be fine to let her do it. Seriously, there’s nearly a minute where she’s standing there with her eyes closed and Kylo doesn’t take a swipe at her. Some people will say that Rey learned Force lessons as a child, but then had her memories erased. Guess what, if you don’t have memories of doing something, and haven’t done it in years, you can’t do it. I don’t care if they explain that in a later movie, it’s a poor explanation. Plus, any needed explanation needs to occur in the same movie, or it’s bad movie! Either way, Rey’s rise to power was extremely inconsistent with all that we learn about the Force in the other movies. Say what you will about the prequels, none of them were this glaringly inconsistent with their use of the Force.

There’s a Map to Luke Skywalker

He’s a human, not a location. There shouldn’t be a map to him. Plus, when they look at the part of the map that BB-8 is holding they say “This doesn’t match with anything we have”. Then when R2-D2 wakes up with the rest of the map, you see that it’s containing about 1/12th of the known galaxy. How did that not match any known part of the galaxy? Every time they said “map to Luke Skywalker” it just felt so dumb.

Deus Ex-Machina

There are two really bad Dues Ex-Machina’s. One is when the planet creates a chasm between Rey and Kylo when it looks like Rey might beat Kylo, but they want the villain for another movie. The second is when R2-D2 conveniently wakes up, at just the time when the Resistance has a break (just defeated the Star Killer base), and they have the remaining section of the map. There’s no reason why Luke wouldn’t have had R2 with him.

Kylo Rens Fluctuating Power

One thing that was introduced was Kylo Ren talking about how he’s feeling a tug from the Light side of the Force. That’s never come up in either of the movies, or the Expanded Universe, and it doesn’t feel out of place. That being said, everything else about it was odd. He starts out super powerful; stops a blaster bolt he didn’t see coming, so arguably more powerful than Darth Vader; it’s established that he’s killed off the other Jedi trainees; and yet after killing his father (which is established in Return of the Jedi as a guaranteed way of becoming very powerful in the Dark Side of the Force), he gets hit with a blaster bolt he sees coming, while holding his light saber, and then doesn’t defeat someone in a lightsaber duel the first time they’ve picked up a light saber. They made him too powerful, and then didn’t know what to do with him at the end.

It’s Watching A New Hope Over Again

Yes. Annoying. Every other Star Wars movie is quite unique (including prequels). This was bothersome.

Han Solo Finding the Millennium Falcon

I know that Han says something along the lines that a sensor went off and so he hopped on over. I’m glad they at least through that line in. Lots of people are bothered by how convenient he shows up. I am a little, but I don’t mind it for the sake of the movie. What bothers me is how the First Order then never shows up. The First Order is chasing the Millennium Falcon off of Jakku, the Falcon can’t go to hyperspace, so the First Order should have been right on their tails. I’m fine with Han grabbing it first in his other ship, but then the First Order should have been right there! Especially since Han declared it the most detectable ship in the galaxy or something like that.

The Music

The music is good. But none of it feels like it’s Star Wars good. John Williams did the score again, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack over and over, and none of it feels like it has the staying power of any of the music from the other movies. Thankfully none of it was distracting, but watch The Phantom Menace; the worst of the Star Wars movies, and it’s easy to enjoy the music.

So, I liked the Force Awakens. But it has plot holes an inconsistency issues that no other Star Wars movie has had. I don’t care if some issues get explained in sequels. That’s never been needed before, and shouldn’t ever be needed. So it’s the first Star Wars which missed their usual success of knowing what needs explaining and what doesn’t.

Categories: Entertainment

Windows 10 Improves Themes

June 2, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the great things about Windows 8 was how you can sign in with a Microsoft account, and many of your settings will roam with you. One feature where it was attempted, but executed poorly, was the desktop theme. For example, if you set the desktop wallpaper to be a certain folder of pictures, only 20 pictures of those would roam/sync to a new computer. I also found many times that when signing into a new computer for the first time, the default wallpaper of the new computer would override my syncing theme. In Windows 10 the situation is better.

In Windows 10, you can set a folder of pictures to be your desktop background (not sure if there’s a limit), and then name the theme. You don’t have to worry about exporting it, or anything like that, just give it a name. Then, when you sign into a new computer, your named theme will be there in your list of themes. This way, even if there still is a bug, and your current desktop wallpaper is wrong, it’s really easy to correct the problem. Just reselect the well named theme. No more of the ‘synced theme’ crap.

It’s great to see it finally work.

The Major build number for Windows 10 is 10!

March 18, 2015 Leave a comment

I was disappointed with Windows 7, when the build number was 6.1. What happened was that originally the build number was 7.0 (like it should have been), but too many programs refused to install (there were hard coded build number dependencies on Vista as the max OS version). So Microsoft changed the build number to 6.1 (which should have been Vista SP1). Then for Windows 8 the build number became 6.2, and for 8.1 6.3. But what they did differently for Windows 8.1 was to shim out the version number. So unless a processes manifest file informed Windows that it knew about Windows 8.1, the build number that would be returned was the build number for Windows 8. This certainly was one way to force programmers to use the proper API IsWindowsVersionOrGreater.
By doing the shim and lying about the Windows build number, it freed up Microsoft to have proper version numbers for Windows again. This is what I just saw in PowerShell.
[Environment]::OSVersion.Version
Major Minor Build Revision
—– —– —– ——–
10    0       9932         0

I find it exciting.

Batman Aminated Series Title Cards

May 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I found out that I can pick an image that Windows Explorer will show as the thumbnail for a video by using MP3Tag and setting the “Cover” of the file to whatever image I want. That is way better than the default that Explorer picks, because it makes a folder of show episodes all look the same because they’re all playing the title sequence at the point that Explorer picks. So I used the Snipping Tool to grab the Title Card to each episode of Batman The Animated Series that I own. Here they are:

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Categories: Entertainment

Call PowerShell Script Function from a Job

March 13, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the blockers which I’ve had previously in writing concurrent PowerShell scripts is the fact that any new PowerShell job runs in a new PowerShell.exe instance and has no idea about your script. Since it doesn’t know about your script, any references to any script functions can’t be ran in the job. But I have figured out a way.

The following script is one where a new PowerShell job is started, and that job calls on a function from the script. The trick is to dot load the script before calling the function, and have a line in the script which returns if it is being ran because it was dot sourced.

function MyFunc
 {
 param($message)
$tid = [Threading.Thread]::CurrentThread.ManagedThreadId
 Write-Host "$message on $PID $tid"
 "Return value from process $PID thread $tid"
 }
if($MyInvocation.InvocationName -eq '.') { return; }
$def = $MyInvocation.MyCommand.Definition
Write-Host $def
$Jobs = @();
 $data = @();
 $names = @( "John", "George", "Mary" )
 foreach($name in $names){
 $Jobs += Start-Job -ScriptBlock { param($scriptToDotSource, $toPassAlong) . $scriptToDotSource; MyFunc $toPassAlong } -ArgumentList $def, $name
 }
foreach($job in $jobs){
 $returned = Receive-Job $job -Wait
 $data += $returned
 }
Write-Host "Break"
$data

Creating Styles in Outlook

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

When composing an email an Outlook there might be a font
Style that you like to apply regularly. I have yet to find a way to create a
style for Outlook messages in Outlook itself. Leaving me with only the styles which come with Outlook. I have discovered a way to create custom styles for Outlook messages.

1. Close Outlook.

2. In File Explorer go to %appdata%\Microsoft\Temples. In that directory there will be a file called
NormalEmail.dotm. Right click to open the context menu and select Open. This should open NormalEmail.dotm in Word.

3. In the Styles part of the Ribbon, bring down the
extra options and select “Create a Style”.

4. Create the style you want.

5. Save the file and close Word.

The next time you compose a message in Outlook, you will see
that your new style is there.

Programming should be taught in middle school

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment
In every public school system reading is taught and writing is too. I don’t know of any example where writing isn’t taught. The first few years might focus on only reading, but once the hand eye coordination gets good enough that the kids can start writing, they are taught how to write. Some students show great aptitude for reading, but then don’t write so well, and some students don’t care much for reading, but are excellent writers. Generally strength in one, correlates with strength in the other, but not necessarily. Yet at the moment public education only teaches students how to read math, it doesn’t teach students how to ‘write math’. This results in an imbalance that generates feelings about how learning math is a complete waste of time. Forgot Algebra is an excellent XKCD comics which illustrates this point; the text in the comic says “It’s weird how proud people are of not learning math when the same arguments apply to learning to play music, cook, or speak a foreign language.” I don’t think it is weird because the math education most people get is akin to learning only how to read, with never being taught how to write. Their brain is imbalanced.
So how should students be taught how to ‘write math’? by programming. I don’t think that some computer programming should be taught at the very end of high school, for the more advanced students, it should be taught earlier than that, and to everyone. If I remember my education correctly, I had Pre-Algebra in 7th grade, and Algebra 2 in 9th grade. Toss them out, and replace them with Introduction to Programming and Data Structures. Everything which is taught in Pre-Algebra will accidentally get picked up writing some simple programs, the concepts of Algebra will get picked up faster because the students will have had some hands on experiencing using those concepts (but not being aware of it), and there are bound to be Data Structure problems that can be used to teach the concepts in Algebra 2.
I feel strongly that by teaching students how to inadvertently use math, they’ll be much more likely to pick up the concepts of math which are currently being taught in High School today.
When teaching children how to read, we don’t drill them on every shape and sound that letters make, before teaching them concepts like words and sentences. We start by reading to them, and then go back and teach some basics. We show them examples of what reading can do for them. Each progressing year in school will have more and more teaching on how to read, practice reading, how to write and practice writing. It doesn’t work to teach every concept of reading before moving onto writing, teaching and practicing the principles of both re-enforce the other. The same is true for math and applied math, i.e. programming.
I remember seeing an episode of Full House where one of the daughters storms into the house complaining about how hard math is now. In the previous grade (6th?) math was all numbers, and now the teachers were making it confusing by introducing letters; i.e. variables. This fictional character isn’t the only one who had difficulty crossing this mental math barrier. But if instead of being taught ‘letter math’ she was taught programming instead, the transition to ‘letter math’ would be much more natural. Programming would feel like a completely new subject, not like math at all. And the idea of sticking a number into a variable wouldn’t feel weird at all, it’s just what you do in programming. Then after a year of writing functions and function declarations (a name given to the concept of naming an algorithm, declaring what it takes as an input, and what it will return) in her programming class, when it came time to take algebra it would all feel very second nature to the student.
Personally, I never understood the f(x) notation while I was in high school and middle school. I was very good at math; I loved math, and even got a 5 on the AP Calculus test. But I still struggled with what the f(x) notation was supposed to convey. I understood y = x + c, notation just fine. Plugging in numbers for known variables was simple. But that whole f(x) (pronounced f of x) thing was beyond me. Then one day in my first semester at University in my Introduction to Programming class my professor shorthanded a function declaration on the whiteboard as f(x), and all of a sudden so much of my middle and high school education made a whole lot more sense. If I would have had to opportunity to ‘program’ a couple of functions myself – with proper declarations and understanding why they were needed – the notation and purpose used in math class would have been significantly more relevant.
Programming is a useful skill in and of itself, but it is also the yin to math’s yang. It is time to make our students more well rounded by teaching them the possibilities of what a computing device can do, and show them how to apply math. Just like how kids will spend the first few years of their lives being taught how to read, without really being taught how to write, the elementary school years of math should be kept as is. But once it’s time to introduce variables into the math education, the students should be taught programming, so that they may begin to ‘write math’. Their understanding of math will grow significantly and they’ll pick up a useful skillset at the same time.
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