close this bookVolume 5: No. 36
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Edith Wharton's "The Buccaneers" will be showing [here] on PBS again this Sunday, for 5.5 hours on Masterpiece Theater. It's a colorful study of the difference between fairly-tale marriage (to a duke, among others) and true romance or happiness. Just what do we want out of life, anyway? Financial support and social position are no substitutes for emotional support, or just sharing life with one another. The Buccaneers shows clearly what has changed in society to permit/necessitate books like "What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You & Your Father Didn't Know" and "Mars and Venus in the Bedroom." Rather than traditional roles, or "Iron John" manliness, John Gray advocates sensitivity and sharing grounded in innate courting behavior. Sensitivity more to each other than to one's self, as in the parable of people feeding each other with long spoons rather than trying awkwardly to feed themselves.

Have you seen the new Friday sitcom "Dweebs"? Sort of [Laverne and] Shirley and Lenny and Squiggy in the computer room. It's fun, and often hits home. Like when the office dweebs won't go to a party because they know just how boring they are. The series has a lot of "relationship" humor, with most of the cast on stage most of the time. (To really make it great, they'd have to keep introducing new dweeb types as often as ST:DSN has had new aliens.)

Incidentally, you can see another incarnation of Lenny and Squiggy as brownies in the fantasy movie Willow. The evil sorceress/queen is played by Jean Marsh, best known as the head parlor maid Rose in Upstairs Downstairs.

Artist Naoko Tosa and ATR's Media Integration Communications Research Labs have programmed a "Neurobaby" cartoon face to respond to voice stress and eye contact (which it tries to maintain). Neurobaby wants attention, and knows how to get it. However, it began to act emotionally unstable when exposed to Americans' "emotional" voice patterns. The team had to develop separate Japanese and American models, or "expectations." [Robert Rossney, New Scientist, 9/16/95, p. 38. Bill Park.] (Finally, AI is developing some demos worth showing on TV. Bruce Blumberg of the MIT Media Lab has a "sentient, intentional" dog named Silas; Michael Mauldin at CMU's Center for Machine Translation has a "vivid personality" conversational simulator named Julia, and Makoto Tezuka of Fujitsu has a flying, 3-D dolphin-like creature named Phink.)

This week's "SPACE: Above and Beyond" introduced the "AIs", very human androids except for cross-hair eyeballs and a few battle wounds that show underlying mechanical structure. The AIs are survivors of a war against humans, and are ruthless terrorists because they've found that to be effective -- not because they feel any emotions. They also have Borg-like wireless communication, which is OK, and an absurd _on-board_ communal memory whereby each android can recall the sensory experiences of any other android that has ever existed. Sheesh. But what's really neat -- and sets them apart from Data or Mr. Spock -- is that they love to gamble. To choose among options, they flip a coin or deal a hand of Blackjack. Or they take low-probability actions if the downside risk isn't too great. "Take a chance." Non-human psychology to which humans can relate. This urge to gamble was supposedly implanted as a virus, and caused the "AI Wars" for which the "in-vitros" or "tanks" were bred as soldiers. If ST:DSN or Voyager is too cerebral for you, SPACE offers a good balance of individual, group, and space battle action. And the only spatial anomalies so far are a few worm holes needed to reduce travel time.

If you like spatial anomalies, though, don't miss the Hitchhiker books by Doug Adams. Well, maybe you can skip the fourth book, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish." Nothing much happens, except for a nice anti-gravity love scene and an intriguing but ultimately dull character named Wonko the Sane. Oh, I did rather enjoy the death of the robot Marvin as he viewed God's final message to His creation. But the fifth book of the trilogy, "Mostly Harmless," is full of thought-provoking action. It ends with the deaths of Agrajag (again), Tricia McMillen (twice, simultaneously), Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent, and Arthur's daughter Random. Also the final destruction of all possible Earths, caused by a man-made Hitchhiker's Guide "bird" that views spatial, temporal, and possibility dimensions "with no filters," as all equal and manipulable. (There's all sorts of stuff going on in dimensions 13 to 22 that you really wouldn't want to know about." The matrix of all possible universes is called The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash. "For any hyperplane through it, some entity is likely to call it home.") The bird's specialty is reverse- engineering the past in order to create any desired present. Anomalies become so common that "when the Infinite Improbability Drive arrived and whole planets started unexpectedly turning into banana fruitcake, the great history faculty of the University of MaxiMegalon finally gave up, closed itself down and surrendered its buildings to the rapidly growing joint faculty of Divinity and Water Polo." Adams is planning another story -- multimedia, I think -- elaborating on the possibility dimension. (He claims that cats see possibilities rather than cause and effect.) Maybe he'll explain where the dolphins went and what happened to Fenchurch. And, BTW, he's said that he killed off all of the main characters so that he won't have to spend half of the next book "collecting them from all over the universe" before he can really get into the story.

(And now you know what I did last week when my kids and I were sick. :-)

-- Ken