MST3K gets the press it deserves

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Definitive Oral History of a TV Masterpiece in Wired is a long treat. MST3k’s major players start at the beginning and cover everything about the show’s rise and fall, and possible resurrection:

Joel Hodgson Wants To Resurrect Mystery Science Theater 3000 In 2014

(Netflix, are you listening?)

MST3K came slightly in advance of the personal computer revolution, which was just underway in the mid-1990s. I remember the admonition at the end of every episode of this great show:

“Keep circulating the tapes.”

It is time to perform my own minor resurrection—of a superlatively odd  blog I wrote about MST3K. Although I posted it in 2013, I actually wrote it in the late 1990s.

Titled “I channel Pauline Kael,” it is a rave review of the show as the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael might have written it.

There is a link to a second blog: “The funniest show in the world.” Clicking on it will provide an unexpected reward: a card signed and sent to me by members of the MST3K cast, back in the day.

Here it is, slightly edited:

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Back in the mid or late 1990s, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 (aka, the funniest show in the world)  was on Comedy Central, I wrote a rave review of MST3K in the style of movie critic Pauline Kael. I do not remember why I did this—to see whether I could, probably.

Not long ago, I found the review in a box of MST3K memorabilia. When I re-read it,  I thought it was pretty good. The key elements are there—the flying semicolon half-halts, the parenthetical asides, the dashes that sent one thought banging into another, and above all, the over-the-top enthusiasm. When Kael liked a movie, she liked it A LOT.

Well, I thought, a review of MST3K in the style of Pauline Kael would not be the weirdest thing I’ve ever put up on Writer’s Rest.

So, for your entertainment, here it is.

MST3K

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000

Do You Want to Go Faster?

Most TV works like a belt of scotch; it anesthetizes you. The hot cable television hit Mystery Science Theater 3000 works like a shot of adrenalin; watching it, you can feel your brain cells waking up. It’s got a great, nutball premise: Joel Robinson, a too-smart-for-his-own-good janitor at something called the Gizmonic Institute, is shot into space by his evil boss and made to watch bad movies forever.

In self-defense, Joel and his robot companions heckle the movies without mercy. This isn’t a new concept (Mel Brooks’s short film The Critic comes to mind), but it is the funniest, most completely realized vision of the idea ever put on screen.

Joel Hodgson, the preternaturally gifted young comedian who created MST3K, plays Joel Robinson as a saintly smartass; he has a mild demeanor but a smile that says, “I see through you.” (That smile was probably what got him shot into space.) His bosses are a loony named Dr Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his dim assistant, TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff). They check in every week with taunts, bad inventions, and worse movies. They want Joel’s anger. They can’t have it.

Joel Robinson is that rarest of science fiction heroes—a human who is as likable and interesting as his robots. (In science fiction films, it is usually the robots you fall in love with because they have fresh ideas, and are funny.) He has nothing to fight his fate with except a kind heart and a smart mouth, but in MST3K’s inspired mythology, those are killer weapons. Light sabers and proton phase torpedoes don’t work when the enemy is The Castle of Fu Manchu; a sharp sense of humor might deliver a death blow.

Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy are the actor-writers who do the voices of the robots Crow and Tom Servo. They are wonders—jazz artists of language. Beaulieu seems to have a limitless number of voices at his command, and more incredibly, he seems to have no speciality; he does all of them well. He plays Crow in such as way that you hear what the robot says and you hear what he doesn’t say, too: Crow has depths (even if he is assembled out of old sporting equipment).

And in the days of radio, an entire empire could have been built around Murphy’s rich voice. Tom Servo has plenty of teriffic lines, but it almost doesn’t matter. You just want Murphy to keep talking forever (or better yet, to sing).

Watching whatever lousy movie, Joel, Crow, and Tom Servo fight back with parodies, quotations, puns, scathing observations, dirty jokes, disingenuous questions, memories, metaphors, moral instructions, sarcasm, safe driving tips—anything to put some distance between them and the godawfulness of what they are seeing. These guys use one-liners the way that science fiction heroes use souped-up starships: to blast their way out of a bad place.

The miracle is that they mostly succeed; like the beat-up freighter Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, MST3K may not look like much, but it can make the jump to lightspeed. The hapless movie of the week gets left far behind—possibly in another dimension.

The bad movie may really be stuck in another dimension. It is on television; the heckling happens in a place that strongly resembles radio. That is how it seems. You’re watching the film, but you’re listening to these three voices in the dark. Hodgson, Beaulieu, and Murphy are talking fast and brilliantly, and they are taking you away from the movie.

MST3K gives you more than you are used to getting from television. It is in-your-face alive, and it treats the viewers as if they are alive, too (no wonder its fans love it). The show gets you laughing helplessly not just because it is funny, but because it makes you so happy.

Digital Book Today blog: Imaginary places

Another week, another blog at  Digital Book Today:  I wrote this one after reading a remarkable book by Robert Geraci titled Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality.

Geraci writes about what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls “functional immortality” and about gamers who think they live their real lives online. Transcending reality (meaning the natural world) is big. Are we going to make the jump?

I write about Murphy’s Law, the fact that my computer connection went out for 20 minutes in the middle of composing the blog, and the fact that mind-to-mind connections are not new.

Imaginary Places is the name of the blog.

Functional immortality and other innovations

In the Silicon Valley Business Journal is an article about Google engineering director and accomplished futurist Ray Kurzweil.

He believes that by 2040 we will have functional immortality. I assume  this means that the body dies, but the mind lives on in the cloud or on a chip, or both.

(It is useful to remember that people who create anything—a book, a song, a painting, a recipe, a letter, a craft—have been having a version of functional immortality since the dawn of time.)

This new way, however, means that everything gets saved—at least if I am understanding it correctly. All the memories, all the accomplishments, all the cat videos you’ve liked on Facebook. That would take a big cloud

Ever lost for words? There will be an app for that

When you can jack your mind directly into machines is when things will get interesting. Here is an example:

You’re at a party and someone says something to you and you try to come up with a witty comeback. Now, you’re not likely to be able to do it unless you’re particularly quick-witted — maybe only thinking of something to say hours later, to your great regret.

In the future, Kurzweil said, you’ll be able to query your connected artificial intelligence with a thought, and it will distill the perfect retort for you from the totality of linguistic info online in seconds. Thus he envisions an AI that isn’t so much a robot, but more a much, much smarter version of yourself.

I like to imagine this party in full swing, everyone accessing artificial intelligence from their glasses or earrings or watches, or from a chip directly implanted in the brains. They wait a split second, then come up with the perfect comeback, the perfect pickup line, the perfect insight.

Does anybody else see this party as something Monty Python might have thought up on one of their really inspired days?

My New Year’s Resolution – To Get A Divorce

Lindsay Edmunds:

My phone is incredibly stupid — the kind that provokes sarcastic comments from total strangers. But I recently bought Antisocial, an application that prevents me from going onto social media sites, etc, when I have higher priorities such as work. What is the allure? I’m sure not immune to it.

Originally posted on Bucket List Publications:

Samsung Texting

I’ve been cheating on Darren for almost two years and it’s time I admit it to myself and the world. It’s with someone who’s a reliable, funny, genius and never leaves me feeling lost. But if you’re thinking, “What a ‘….'”, give me a minute to explain because I think you’ve been cheating too and it’s time we get a divorce.

View original 403 more words

An e-Bestiary, part 5

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. The e-beasts live In Networld.

In parts 1, 2,  3, and 4  of the e-Bestiary,  I introduce  Cel the hero, his children, Stowe and Snow,  the Sparks, and Beltzhoover the Vast.

Today the spotlight is on the bad guys, a tribe called The Dreadful Night. They are small, well organized, and numerous, and have long, poisonous tongues. They enjoy pranking humans and believe themselves invulnerable. Shadow, a rebel Dreadful who fled their ranks, describes them this way:

They spend their nights and days playing elaborate pranks. That is why humans interest them, as a source of deep laughter. The Dreadfuls prank everything they can think of, from commerce to marriage vows. They call people wetware.

There is a saying: Wetware is stupid as moss. There would be nothing funny about fooling moss, but fooling moss that believes itself to be master of the universe is hilarious, or so some Dreadfuls believe.

During any hour of any day, wetware has many opportunities to slip on banana peels. The Dreadful Night are aware of all of them and can make most of them happen, though a pratfall involving actual banana peels has so far eluded them. It was a game among some of the elder Dreadfuls to try to figure out how to pull off that prank.

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

An e-Bestiary, part 4

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. The e-beasts live In Networld.

In parts 1, 2,  and 3 of the e-Bestiary,  I introduce  Cel the hero, his children, Stowe and Snow, and the Sparks.

The e-beast of the day is Beltzhoover the Vast—Ruler of the Fields of the Lord. He is an e-beast so bloated that he has “fallen to earth,” a term to describe an e-beast that has taken up permanent residence in a machine.

He rules a tribe called the Godric, who do not like him but serve him well enough. Behind his back, they call him Beltzhoover the Fat, Beltzhoover the Querulous, Beltzhoover the Ineradicable, Beltzhoover the Cement Headed, Beltzhoover the Unlikely, Sir Dataspew, Brain Dump, and Mon Big Kludgy

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

AI startup hacks CAPTCHA

The startup is named Vicarious. It says it has developed an algorithm that can identify CAPTCHA images 90% of time. If so,  that algorithm is better at it than I am.

Vicarious is not releasing the algorithm, because the CAPTCHA  hack is just an exercise. Their purpose in breaking it is not to enable spam bots to fill in forms. Their purpose is to develop AI that can perceive and respond to data as a human would.

They are getting there.

CAPTCHA hacked by AI company

An e-Bestiary, part 3

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. Where do the e-beasts live? In the Internet, of course, which  in WARNING is called Networld.

In parts 1 and 2 of the e-Bestiary,  I introduce the Cel the hero and his children, Stowe and Snow.

The e-beasts du jour are Sparks, tiny creatures without intelligence or purpose that drift here and there in Networld by the billions. They are by far the most numerous creatures in Networld and move about in great shining herds. Other e-beasts use them as food.

They cause problems for Networld traffic because they clog the pipelines. People do not know of their existence. Actually, there are several new elements in Networld that people are unaware of.

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

An e-Bestiary, part 2

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. Where do the e-beasts live? In the Internet, of course, which  in WARNING is called Networld.

In the first post in this series, I told about Cel, the hero.  In this one, I tell about his two children, the lone survivors among many offspring. The roam Networld with him, doing good. After awhile, they get tired of doing good and want to do other things.

Stowe

Stowe is Cel’s son, a cerebral type with an inquiring mind. He delights in solving problems and delights in finding problems he cannot not solve. He develops a taste for the easy life.

Snow

Snow is Cel’s daughter. She has no interest in problems, solvable or not. She is reckless and headstrong, and not as smart as she believes herself to be.

One of them will not survive the adventures they have in WARNING.

Sex in Networld

What do “mother” and “father” mean in Networld? For that matter, what do “male” and “female” mean, since e-beasts cannot have gender in the ordinary sense of the term.

The answer: I don’t know. My imagination ran straight off a cliff when I contemplated that mystery. Cel describes what happened between him and Stowe and Snow’s mother as “doing the numbers.” Now you are on your own.

As to gender, the answer is practical. Try to write a novel where major characters are “it” rather than “he” or “she.” Just try it. Can’t be done.

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

Here come the robots . . . can we keep up with them?

This little blog from 2012 was what won me Word Press’s Freshly Pressed honor. I read it over and still like it. The parts about Auburn, New York, are true.

In my new novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING, some artificial intelligence entities have abandoned their physical bodies and live on the Internet, so the time is right. Hope you enjoy.

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This blog springboards off an editorial in The Citizen, the newspaper of Auburn, New York. The choice is not arbitrary; I know Auburn. I’ve shopped in its WalMart, bought half-moon cookies at a little hole-in-the-wall bakery.

I attended the baptism of one of my cousin’s babies at an old Presbyterian church with authentic Tiffany windows. The day was stifling hot and humid, and the minister quoted the Lee Ann Womack song, “I Hope You Dance.”

The weather in Auburn on Sunday July 22, 2012, was a sunny and pleasant 74 degrees. In the online edition of The Citizen, Brad Molloy published a piece titled “I’ve got my own chaos theory.”

It opens with a quotation:

Before we work on artificial intelligence why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?”

- Steve Polyak

Molloy’s specificity is admirable. He objects to a middle-aged man in a pickup truck who sideswiped a concrete barrier protecting some construction workers while he was texting someone on his phone. “But even after the sparks were done flying from his sideswipe, he, get this, continued to keep texting!”

Also, there are people getting high on bath salts. That one was news to me. “If you are actually considering using bath salts to ‘get high’ then it’s time you started using your free time looking for a better paying job,” Molloy says.

Stupid vs Smart

The question that occurred to me as I read Malloy’s small-town good sense was this: as artificial intelligence gets smarter and smarter, what will happen to the haphazard, lazy, short-sighted,  stupid choices?  AI won’t make them. AI generally represents the work of people who keep their best in mind (whatever “best” means for the specific application at hand).

What about the kinds of intelligence uncaptured by AI, at least so far? Intuition, for example. Intuition is real. I ignore it at my peril.

Our best in mind

Here in what a friend calls the “first world” (that place with a million TV channels and fast internet connections) we know that robots are going to be part of our everyday lives someday soon. Ever talked to Siri? Siri is nothing compared with what is coming.

To me, the best image for the human-robot relationship remains that scene in STAR WARS where C-3PO pompously and fussily describes himself and his purpose to Luke Skywalker. Luke is intent on fixing some sort of machine and does not even bother to turn around when he says, casually, “Hello.”

We say hello. We adapt. We have been adapting to changing times as long as we have been on earth.

People can love their pets and vice versa. People can bond powerfully and sometimes dangerously with others through the written word, art, and music. Why should robots be any different?

There was a study—I forget its name—that showed that when people took a computer survey and then were asked to evaluate their experience, their ratings were consistently higher when they did the evaluation on the same computer versus a different one. It was as if they didn’t want to hurt the computer’s feelings.

So. We know what we are going to do. Try to get along. Continue to love. Do stupid things such as text while driving.

The question not yet answerable:  what are the robots going to do? In that scene with Luke Skywalker, suppose C-3PO had a bad robot agenda?

We  know what machines programmed for intelligence would think of texting while driving. They would find a way to prevent it. Unless, of course, they don’t like us at all. Unless they want to get us out of the way.

Then they would cuddle up to us with words of encouragement: “Don’t worry,” they would say, “Do whatever you want.”