I always thought Kismet would be a good name for a super villain. Or a menacing alien–the kind that makes you fight Abraham Lincoln to prove the human concept of good versus evil. THAT kind of alien.

But.. too late. The name’s been given to a robot that Slate describes as “a body-less, language-less machine with wide eyes and kissy lips that can display emotions while interacting with humans.” Kismet is part of an effort by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal to explore how humans interact with robots.

To me, Kismet looks like a robot that somebody never got around to finishing. Could you put some skin on that metal skull, Dr. B? But the way this relates to my play (because it’s all about my play, you see) is, as  Slate says, “Much of Breazeal’s focus today is on building robots that can improve the quality of life for the chronically ill, the elderly, and the very young.”

One of the characters in Rockwell’s Universal seXbots builds what he calls “Carebots,” which are companions for the sick, the elderly, and the lonely. Basically, Kismet is the great-great-grandfather of the Carebots in my play.

That same character also turns his son over to be raised by robots. This idea seems to have occurred to Dr. Breazeal as well–she’s also building something called the Alphabot that’s supposed to help with early-childhood education.

She’s got three young boys, so maybe you can’t blame her. Psst! Doc! You might want to see what happens in my play before you go too far down that road…

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Sex Bot 2000

Danielle Corsetto publishes a fun little comic called “Girls with Slingshots.” It’s not normally about sexbots, but she recently went there.

Don’t believe her bio. I saw her once at SPX, and she is not a filthy, filthy hippie.

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Sex or love? The National University of Singapore is staking out the higher ground by teaching robots to “love” their humans. The name for this new science: lovotics, of course.

The robots can also feel happiness, contentedness, jealousy, and disgust. Gee fellas, why not program in overweening ambition and a thirst for revenge while you’re at it. As they say in Westworld, nothing could possibly go wrong.

The love robot looks like either an army helmet or a knitted cap (depending on which video you watch) and sounds suspiciously like R2-D2. The video shows Singaporean girls petting and stroking the little guy. In one, a girl starts by playing with the robot. Then, when she starts chatting up some bearded dude, and the robot throws a jealous tantrum.

Guys, please stop.

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You Go, UGO!

Did you know John Malkovich played a sexbot in the movie “Making Mr. Right?” Well, the folks at UGO know a lot about robots who like to get their freak on. Some are fictional characters (like robo-Malkovich) and some are real products (like Roxxxy) that you can order right now and have shipped to your parents’ basement.

Sometimes, as I work on my play Rockwell’s Universal seXbots, I start to feel kinda creepy. Because, you know… sexbots. But thanks to this UGO article, I can imagine the guys who created Roxxxy, and the Honey Dolls, and Project Aiko, and feel slightly less creepy by comparison.

Thanks, UGO! Here’s a link:

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Log Rolling Time!

Robbie Parrish is at it again, kicking off season two of his hit internet video series Next To Heaven. You may remember that season one was loosely based on the comic strip Funky Winkerbean AND served as the basis for the hit movie Tron: Legacy. Quite the semiotic sandwich!

Rob’s work is video alchemy–he takes modern art videos and, through the process of “inverse editing,” somehow transforms them into old public domain films. Damn if I know how he does it. I asked him once, and he gave me a long answer, but when he talks he gestures a lot with his hands and I find that distracting. The gist (I think) is that he takes a small snippet of the video–sometimes an individual frame–and tries to imagine an old movie from which the snippet might have been cut. Then he actually creates the movie around the snippet, giving it an imaginary “original context.”

Given that most of what he does looks like it was produced 50-80 years ago, you’d think Rob’s subtext would be “history is a lie” or some other pointy-headed blather. But no–almost all of his work is a thinly veiled plea for pastry reform. Also, he wants the government to subsidize banjo research. Now that I think about it, Rob’s really got some issues. And he needs to keep his hands still! Dammit, that’s annoying.

Here’s a link to the first episode of season two. It don’t cost nothing, hear me? Yeah, you do.

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Public Access Under Attack

(This article originally appeared on the Web site of Arlington Independent Media.)

In the last few years, Indiana has lost many of its public access television stations and with them the locally produced programs that once served its communities. No more high school sports coverage in Merrillville. The sheriff in Porter no longer offers crime-stopping tips on the access station there. East Chicago used to have a public access program devoted to city politics, but no more. Producers of shows that once covered local programming, culture, and events have found the doors locked and the lights down at their public access studios.

It would be nice to say that the forces that killed public access in these towns were local to Indiana. But the fact is that in the U.S., public access is threatened as never before in its 30+ year history. The threat comes from changes in new franchising laws enacted by state and local governments. In some cases, cable TV providers have pressured lawmakers to leave out the franchise provisions necessary for public access to survive.
The future is uncertain. For public access to survive, state and local governments must commit to providing this resource in a time of change.

Why Franchising Matters

Franchising has always played an important role in public access TV. Cable companies need to use local infrastructure (called “right-of-way”) to deliver a television signal. They need to hang cables from telephone poles and tear up streets to bury fiber optic lines. To compensate local governments, they pay what’s called a franchising fee. Until recently, most local governments had complete authority in negotiating these fees. They could determine how much to charge the cable companies based on the needs and goals of the community.

Here in Arlington, Virginia, the local government made a decision in 1982 to provide citizens with the access to media. In its franchising agreement, it negotiated funds for a public access television station, which now goes by the name Arlington Independent Media (AIM). As each franchising agreement expires and the time comes for re-negotiation, the government has demanded funding for the station, as well as a home on the dial for the station’s programming.

Then Came Fiber

The past few years have brought changes to the telecommunication industry. Fiber optic technology has allowed companies that provide telephone service to also deliver cable television.  These new players entering the cable TV market don’t always want to pay the franchising fees that support public access, and have put their lobbyists to work convincing governments to do away with them.

Two years ago, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives threatened to take away local governments’ ability to negotiate franchising fees. If it had passed, Congress would have determined how much cable providers had to pay for right-of-way across the country. Fortunately, the bill didn’t pass.

Undeterred, cable providers worked on state governments, pressuring them to create state-wide franchising agreements. This is what happened in Indiana, and the result was communities losing their public access stations. These communities no longer have a place for citizens to learn the tools of media nor a place on the dial for local voices.

Community Commitment

The news isn’t all grim. Here in Arlington, we have a franchising agreement that will keep us going until at least 2013. But it didn’t just fall into our laps. To get our franchising agreement, AIM had to organize and let lawmakers know what we wanted. Our experience may give you ideas on how doing the same in your area.

Several years ago, the Virginia state legislature considered a bill which would have enacted a statewide franchising agreement unfavorable to public access Rather than let this happen, AIM took action. We hired a lobbyist. We organized trips to the state capital in Richmond, where AIM staff members and members of our Board of Directors spoke on behalf of public access.

The bill was changed. We did get a state-wide franchising agreement, but not one fatal to public access. Still, it added a new wrinkle to our situation. Whereas the old funding agreement contained a provision that sent funds directly from the cable provider to AIM, franchising funds now went through the county government. There’s no law saying the county has to fund public access; it’s a decision made every funding cycle.

AIM responded by sending a group of more than 50 producers and citizens to a county Board meeting, where AIM executive director Paul LeValley spoke on behalf of the station. At one point he asked all AIM supporters to stand up. The sight of dozens of voters willing to show up at a county meeting on behalf of public access was very impressive. Our franchise agreement turned out well.

Depending on the situation in your state, you’ll need to determine which public officials need to hear your message and the best way to get that message across.

No Entitlement

AIM’s situation is secure, at least through 2013. But in the new world of cable TV, nothing is a given. Franchising fees that funded public access stations were once a given; now, they’re something we have to fight for.

Those who believe in the public access mission of giving citizens the knowledge, tools, and opportunity to create their own programming need to get involved. Step one is to understand the situation in your state. Step two is to make your voice heard to the right people. And when possible, share your experiences with public access producers in other areas, so that they can benefit from your experience.

Update, January 2009: The Los Angeles Times reports that 11 of that city’s 12 public access stations have now been shut down. Read the article here:

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How to make a Rorschach mask

Me as RorschachOf all the things I’ve posted to this site, nothing has generated more traffic than the discussion about making halloween masks based on the character “Rorschach” from the graphic novel “The Watchmen.” Last year I posted a picture of myself in the mask I made waaay back when (click on the pic to enlarge it), and people started writing to ask how they could make one of their own. I asked people to send pictures of their own Rorschach masks and the whole thing snowballed.

As my original instructions were in a comment on one of the postings, I’ve decided to repost it here to make it easier to find. If you’ve got tips for improving the mask-making process, leave a comment.

Happy St. Rorschach Day!

Instructions: You will need… Continue reading

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Star Trek: Retcon: The Motion Picture

A prequel to the original Star Trek TV series involving time travelers from the future trying to change the course of history … Haven’t we seen this already? Wasn’t it called Enterprise, then later Star Trek: Enterprise? Wasn’t it canceled because people didn’t find this a compelling scenario?

That’s the great thing about the Star Trek franchise: the folks in charge never learn from their mistakes, ever. Case in point: the new Star Trek movie, slated for release in 2009, contains the elements listed above.

Sure, J.J. Abrams is in the driver’s seat this time. Props to Mr. Lost, but a bad premise will drag down a good director.

Allow me to address the franchise masters: Folks, Star Trek started as a show about exploration, and that’s still how it works best. Remember strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations, and all that? Each week the crew found some new, bizarre space crap and had to deal with it. That was the show.

Nowadays, Star Trek explores itself, discovering new and uninteresting trivia about its own characters and its invented future history. There was an Enterprise episode where we got to see the real first contact between Earth men and Ferengi. You remember them, right? There was a Ferengi barkeeper on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Finally, we got to learn the historical context that enabled him to have that bar. Yeah!

In the new movie, we’ll get to see Kirk and Spock as children. Who was the bedwetter, and who had the most baseball cards? Can you feel the anticipation?

I say less backstory, more exploration. Sure, some of the things the old crew discovered were just goofy. (Remember the giant space amoeba?) But at least the writers tried to make you think.

Or, if they had no thought-provoking ideas that week, they tried to freak you out… which is almost as good.

Star Trek: Retcon

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Rorschach Snoopy

Move over McGruff! The real canine crimestopper is this spotted beagle (you may need to scroll down to see him). Thanks, Boingboing.

I’m not obsessed with the Watchmen. Really. I can quit any time.

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Rorschach Jesse & the rather fetching Mrs. Rorschach Jesse

Rorschach Jesse writes

Don’t know if you ever got my pics. Hunter needs to send a better pic, he looks pretty good. Here’s a couple.

Rorschach Jesse and Mrs. Rorschach Jesse Mrs. Rorschach Jesse

It wouldn’t matter if Dr. Manhattan blinked in and blew up Hunter’s head… you win, you lucky bastard.

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