Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
23 December, 2014
Thoughts on Madison Metro Transit
(Photo by J. Mc.)
No one wants to hear that Madison Metro is looking to increase fares again. But times are hard for public transit and a slight increase in fares for better service seems a reasonable trade-off. Even better is that the fare increase
is only $0.05 and only for unlimited passes which affects UW employees, students, city employees, etc. This doesn't seem like a big deal except the fare increase is to pay for making wi-fi service available on buses.
Madison Metro Transit riders using unlimited passes could see an increase in rates next year in exchange for the addition of wireless internet access.
The city’s operating budget for next year includes $96,300 for implementing Wi-Fi on Metro buses, contingent on an increase of $0.05 per ride for unlimited pass holders. The capital budget also includes $150,000 for wireless network upgrades.
Metro Transit will hold a public hearing on the rate increase on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at the Madison Municipal Building to discuss the possible changes.
Five or six years ago adding wi-fi to buses would have been a very nice amenity. Today, however, everyone's smartphone has a data plan as do many tablets. Who comprises the ridership that this wi-fi is targeting? This just seems like a fairly useless lagniappe.
Madison Metro does some things very well. For example, if you work downtown or on campus on weekdays from, say 6:00-18:00, Metro can probably get you to and from work rather well. Work second or third shift? Work on weekends? Metro will likely be less successful.
When I first read the article about the fare increase, I immediately thought of route 6. Route 6 goes from the west transfer point out to East Towne Mall via the Square and East Washington. East Washington is home to the new 14-story Constellation whose 200 or so residential units were all rented out/sold by the time the building opened. This past September the Constellation's sister building next door, the 15-story Galaxie
broke ground. It will have 205 residential units plus office space and a grocery store. The Creamery
, a mixed use development on the 1000 block of East Washington may go ahead without the planned concert venue. Across the street on the same block there's a proposal for a 10-12 story
tower featuring a music venue. Breese Stevens Field was recently renovated
and you can bet the city didn't do it for fun. It is looking at bringing back the state high school soccer championships to Madison as well as having the stadium host concerts and other entertainment events.
We also have the latest iteration of Archipelago Village
which would consume most of the south side of the 900 block of East Washington. Further east there's a proposal for a 70-80 unit apartment building
with a brewpub on the ground floor. Union Corners is finally coming to fruition
at East Wash and Milwaukee. East Wash and First Street is the preferred location
for our public market.
Whew! That's a lot of development.
Yet outside of morning and afternoon rush hours, route 6 provides service only about every half an hour. On weekends route 6 runs once an hour which borders on the useless. (Ditto for another major route, route 4 on weekends and others.)
A similar situation also exists on Cottage Grove Road. A lot of housing and commercial space is about to go up there in the form of Royster Corners
yet bus service on Cottage Grove Road is minimal during the week and barely there on weekends. Buses travel on Cottage Grove Road very far so riders are basically limited to buses that traverse Atwood Avenue and Acewood Boulevard.
I can't help but think of the motto of public transit consultant Jarrett Walker
: "Frequency is freedom." Walker was here in Madison back in 2011
.) Is a bus running once an hour very useful or appealing to people who can drive? Frequency is freedom. I highly recommend listening to an interview with Walker up at the Community Transit podcast
. In it he says:
If you really want ridership, the best indicator we have found for what drives high ridership is just a high quantity of service.
He goes on to note the experiment happening with our neighbors to the north. Canadian cities generally offer more service than their American counterparts and have ridership that is about double that here in the States.
It's frustrating to read that Metro wants to raise fares to install wi-fi when much bus service is almost useless and very unattractive to new and choice riders. It's frustrating to read about the city pouring money into a public market when Metro's maintenance facility is at capacity
with no plans for expansion. It's frustrating to read that Madison is moving forward with Bus Rapid Transit
while the normal bus service is sub-par. How about whipping the current system into shape before adding bling and BRT?
Madison Metro needs more buses that run more frequently. I think this is the #1 outstanding issue with Metro service. Frequency is freedom.
09 October, 2014
The Kimmie, The Yink, and the Holy Gose: Anderson Valley's Take on the Gose
Now is the time for all good Wisconsin beer drinkers to consume brews leftover from the warmer months in preparation for what the Farmer's Almanac is predicting to be a really goddamn cold winter. And so to make room for stouter fair in my refrigerator, I have begun to drink the lighter fare therein.
First up is Anderson Valley's The Kimmie, The Yink, and the Holy Gose Ale
. I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean. I suppose that it's an in-joke for the brewmaster or some goofy northern California punage. Regardless of the name, I was keen on trying a domestic take on the German brew.
The gose (go-suh) dates back to the 16th century and gets its name from its hometown – Goslar. The brew spread and folks in Leipzig really took a shine to it and breweries there began to brew it. Eventually the beer became associated with Leipzig. Gose went on the decline around World War I presumably because, well, there was a war on plus the Reinheitsgebot had escaped Bavaria only to spread northward and lagers were the hip and cool (pun intended) beer trend. World War II seems to have killed it but the style was resurrected every now and again during the bad old days of the Cold War. Today I believe there are two or three breweries in Germany that brew Gose with the most common one to my eyes on this side of the Atlantic being Leipziger Gose
Provenance aside, the style is that of a sour wheat beer. 50%+ of the grain bill is wheat with the rest being barley. It is spiced with coriander, salt, and hops while lactic bacteria provide the sourness. Until this brew, I had never had a brew by Anderson Valley and was really looking forward to it.
The Kimmie, The Yink, and the Holy Gose Ale pours a nice foamy head despite what my photograph shows. By the time I took a picture that was lit well enough and in focus, the head had dissipated. The bier itself is clear and of a very light straw color. There were a few stray bubbles making their way up. A lemony tartness dominated the aroma.
On the tongue The Kimmie... has a light body and you get the effervescence. You may not see the bubbles in your glass but you can taste them. As with the aroma, the lactic tartness stands out along with its attendant lemony/citrus flavor. Further along the tongue you catch a bit of grain along with a stone fruit flavor. There was just the barest hint of salinity. The hops only seem discernible in the finish which is tart, slightly bitter, and dry. It was disappointing to me that the salt was barely noticeable but even worse was that I could not taste any coriander. None. Zip. Keiner. Anderson Valley's webpage says it's in there but you could have fooled me. Perhaps their brewmaster is into homeopathy and really diluted it while counting on the wort to have a memory of the coriander.
As I drank I found that the bier yielded no Schaumhaftvermoegen
. The sides of my glass were clean. But I did feel refreshed. Despite the near absence of hops, salt, and coriander, this beer goes down easily with its rather light body, lemony flavor, and dry finish. Anderson Valley reports that it is 4.2% A.B.V. which is sessionable and quite appropriate for hotter weather.
Junk Food Pairing: I would definitely pair this beer with Chinese shrimp chips – the ones that look like Shrinky Dinks before you fry them up.
Folks here in Madison should try Egon's Revenge from Next Door Brewing
, although you'll probably have to wait until next summer to do so. It is a wonderful beer and probably more in line with the gose style as it has traditionally been made with a fuller body than The Kimmie... Best of all, the salt and coriander are not hidden, though not overwhelming either. It's a bit stronger at 4.6% but within the range for the style. Personally, I think it's one of the best beers you can find in Madison.
Passenger Rail Returns to Madison (Temporarily)
Prior to a few days ago, the last time Madison had passenger rail service was back in 1976
when trains ran between Madison and Milwaukee for Badger football games. The last time Madison enjoyed regular passenger rail service was on 30 April 1971 when the Sioux
lines ran their last trips before Amtrak took over and abandoned Madison completely.
Last month Pullman Rail Journeys announced passenger rail service between Madison and Chicago
on a couple weekends in October that would coincide with Badger football games against Northwestern and Illinois. The trips would be in old cars that had been refurbished with $99 buying you a Standard Class seat and for $100 more you could go Diamond Class which got you a seat in a domed car and a meal. The newly revitalized Varsity
made its first trip
last Saturday bringing people to Madison from Chicago and the Wisconsin State Journal was aboard.
(Photo by Brian Allen.)
The article interviews various passengers. An 82-year old gentleman seems to have taken advantage of the opportunity to revel in nostalgia while younger people enjoyed not being behind the wheel and the space and comfort that trains provide. Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific, Pullman's parent company, is quoted as saying, "Being able to get on the train in Madison and just not worry about (traffic) and have something to eat and drink and look out the window is a pretty pleasant alternative. People obviously picked up on that because we sold more tickets than we thought we were going to."
I have to wonder if these weekend rail excursions came about because of talks at the meeting which may not have been a meeting back on 21 June. Recall that All Aboard Wisconsin, a rail advocacy group, was trying to get stakeholders aboard a Pullman train headed from Chicago to Prairie du Chien to discuss rail service
between Madison and Chicago. When word of this meeting got out, it turned out that this was apparently more of an attempt at a very informal get-together. Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, which owns track between Madison and Chicago, had "no immediate interest"
in letting anyone use its track for passenger service. Indeed, they were unaware of any such meeting. Similarly, Ed Ellis of Iowa Pacific was surprised to hear of anything akin to a formal meeting.
The message suggested representatives from a number of rail companies, including Metra, Iowa Pacific and Wisconsin & Southern would be participating, but the president of Iowa Pacific, Ed Ellis, claimed that wasn't true.
Iowa Pacific, he said, is doing little more than providing the passenger cars that High Iron Travel will be using to transport passengers on a $2800-per-person weekend trip from Chicago to Prairie du Chien.
"My understanding is that they wanted to put some people on in Madison who are interested in passenger train," he said.
The companies, however, are not participating in any type of talks about future rail service, he insisted.
Perhaps Pullman had been planning these Madison trips for months prior to the June soiree but nothing seems to have been mentioned about them until last month. And so it seems a bit more than coincidental that three months after an effort to get stakeholders together to talk about Madison-Chicago rail service, we get a couple weekends of passenger trains running between the two cities. I don't mean to imply that these are test runs and that any formal plans emerged from the June "meeting" - heck, Ellis may just be following through on promises he made after a few cocktails. But that the runs did better business than expected can only help those looking to establish passenger rail service here in Madison.
For a bit on the history of passenger rail in Madison, see my Madrail
Tangentially, 10 miles of disused track between Fitchburg and Oregon recently returned to service
. Trains will be hauling what I presume is rock from McCoy Road to the Lycon concrete factory in Oregon.
07 October, 2014
Judy Is Positive About This
I have to admit to being quite surprised to hear a few days ago that David Lynch and Mark Frost were posting mysterious tweets with references to Twin Peaks
And so I wasn't quite as surprised when I found out that Twin Peaks
is being resurrected
as a nine episode mini-series for Showtime with shooting to begin next year.
The new Twin Peaks will be set in the present day, more than two decades after the events in the first two seasons. It will continue the lore and story of the original series, with Lynch and Frost committed to providing long-awaited answers and, hopefully, a satisfying conclusion to the series. It is unclear which actors from the original series will be featured in the followup. I hear that star Kyle MacLachlan will be back, reprising his role as FBI Agent Dale Cooper who was at the center of the show.
While this is indeed exciting news, I remain ambivalent. It should be a fun watch but Lynch and Frost had better not go all George Lucas and do something like explain the Lodges right down to the midi-chlorian level. Just be sure to get me some info on Judy and that monkey that said her name and I'll be happy.
The Terror To Be Adapted for Television
Dan Simmons fictional account of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, The Terror
, is being adapted for television
as a series by AMC. I don't know how I missed the news for the past year and a half. I absolutely love the book - my review is here
- and am looking forward to seeing how it makes the leap to the small screen.
I am hoping that the TV adaptation retains the pacing of the book which is a slow burn. My paperback copy is 760+ pages with Simmons in no hurry at all. Instead he is happy to let the reader wallow as the crew's slow, gruesome fate unfolds one death at a time. There's the thing out on the ice that is picking off crewmembers one by one which provides a terror that is constantly lurking in the background. But the real terror is the struggle of crew to simply survive. In addition to the something out there in the dark, they have to contend with extreme cold, food stocks that are running out, and scurvy taking hold. Expedition members were out on the Arctic ice for two years or so and Simmons documents their struggles in excruciating detail.
Simmons' book is one of the best and most rewarding literary slogs there is so hopefully the TV adaptation won't push the story along too quickly. I can imagine the TV version throwing in more attempts to capture the thing to make the story more action-oriented. Plus Crozier's clairvoyance and Lady Silence can be used less sparingly to add variety for viewers. Should be interesting.
06 October, 2014
Those Poor Navarrese
Bill Maher recently stirred up a shitstorm by suggesting there was something wrong with the Muslim world when books, movies, and cartoons incite riots and provoke Muslims to threaten the authors' lives (and in the case of Theo van Gogh, threats became murder.) and that Muslim countries generally treat women poorly. Maher was called all manner of things including Islamophobic, racist, and a bigot.
Well, Maher's got nothing on the medieval author of The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela
. I've been reading about medieval Iberia and the book includes some excerpts from this work which was written around 1140. As the title indicates, it's a guide for people making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. According to the text, it was nearly as popular a destination for pilgrims as Rome or The Holy Land which makes one wonder why there's this myth that medieval folks didn't travel far from their homes.
The author is an anonymous Frenchman who informs travelers of which rivers are safe to drink, what towns are to be found on the route, and about the natives as well. Whoever the author is, he really didn't like the Navarrese. (Navarre is or was a region in north-central Spain.) I mean he really, really didn't like the Navarrese. He begins by noting that "These people, in truth, are repulsively dressed and they eat and drink repulsively." It gets worse.
...when the Navarrese are warming themselves, a man will show a woman and woman a man their private parts. The Navarrese even practice unchaste fornication with animals...He even offers libidinous kisses to the vulva of woman and mule.
A Frenchman decrying oral sex?! Forsooth! Up to this point in the book, at least, not even the Jews are described so harshly. Sure, they are said to be greedy and untrustworthy but at least they didn't practice cunnilingus.
Oh, but here's the best bit:
This is a barbarous race unlike all other races in customs and in character, full of malice, swarthy in color, evil of face, depraved, perverse, perfidious, empty of faith and corrupt, libidinous, drunken, experienced in all violence, ferocious and wild, dishonest and reprobate, impious and harsh, cruel and contentious, unversed in anything good, well-trained in all vices and iniquities, like the Geats and Saracens in malice, in everything inimical to our French people.
The author does concede that the Navarrese are good warriors on the battlefield so they're not all bad.
On Cooking Mutton
I recently listened to an episode of the BBC's fine radio show Food Programme
concerning mutton. At one point an Indian gentleman is heard explaining that the neck is best for stewing and braising. He goes on:
"As an Indian, naturally your tendency is to cook it in a, sort of a nice sauce. And even for us, the easiest thing I always tell people is do not mar it. Whole spices - cinammon, cardamom, clove, peppercorn. Onion, garlic, ginger, and some red chili. That's it! Do not overkill it because spices can easily destroy it."
Presumably the addition of an eighth of a teaspoon of fennel would destroy a fine piece of mutton.
23 April, 2014
Lagers in the Craft Beer Ghetto and Other Brew News
Madison Craft Beer Week
begins in nine days but The Dulcinea and I began celebrating the annual event last month with a trip to the Wisconsin Brewing Company
to watch the state's brewing intelligentsia watch as Kirby Nelson's fancy new brewhouse did all the work in whipping up this year's Common Thread. For 2014 we're getting a Bohemian Pilsner made with Sterling hops instead of the traditional Saaz. It was my first visit to the new brewery and it was mighty impressive.
We arrived around 10:30 that morning only to find that the work was done. The brewers gathered from around the state were instead milling about and taking turns peering into the mash tun like expectant fathers while tour groups wandered amongst the stainless steel forest. We settled into our seats and had some beer. After an Amber, I tried the Porter Joe, their porter infused with coffee, and it was fantastic. I believe it was originally brewed as a one-off for some event but it went over well enough for another go round. It has a very nice balance between the roasted malt and coffee flavors. It's balanced and drinkable.
Here's Scott Manning from Vintage being chatted up:
And here's the brewers all lined up for their photo op:
This is Kirby test brew setup.
For a fee, you can brew a beer with Kirby on it and then invite all your friends to the tap room and enjoy it. It sounds like fun but I'd probably brew something with rye, end up with a congealed mess, and have Kirby yelling at me for hours as I cleaned it.
The tap room was expansive.
With its vaulted ceiling and all of the windows looking into the large brewhouse, it had a very industrial feel as opposed to the nice, comfy atmosphere you find at your local tavern. But it's a tasting room and not a contender for third place for locals, I suppose.
We got back into Madison a little after noon so it was off to Next Door Brewing
for a nooncap.
I cannot recall what The D ordered but I went with the gose and it was delicious. A bit heavier on the salt than the previous takes on the style I've had but it was still quite enjoyable and very refreshing. I intended to return a few days later to get a growler of it but the brewpub's website didn't list it. Hopefully it'll return in the summer.
Getting back to Craft Beer Week, I feel rather underwhelmed looking at the schedule. I also feel saddened that lagers are apparently the Craft Beer Week orphans . Witness the "Lagers: An Overview"
It's easy to think of lagers as the bland and flavorless over-produced light beer domestically produced, but they can range anywhere from new and exciting styles like the hoppy India Pale Lager to the traditional deep, rich maltiness of a doppelbock. We'll have some of our favorite examples on hand for you to try.
It seems that every other event that week will be about barrel-aged imperial stouts, IPAs, and sours brewed with bacteria recently extracted from the deepest, darkest depths of the Congo and so lagers are thrown into the ghetto and get a token event. I am reminded of a recent blog post by Lew Bryson
(a man on a crusade to promote session beers) in which he was critical of craft brewing groupthink:
I'm actually getting more concerned about the lame groupthink and sheep mentality represented by "session IPA," especially since it's Sierra Nevada. I really expected something better from a brewer that has produced an iconic, leading Pale Ale, Barleywine, American Stout. I expected a brilliant Bitter, a fearless Mild. But we got a following beer from a brewer that's a leader. I expect better.
I expect better from the whole industry. I should be happy on Session Beer Day, and to some extent, I am! It's great, we're seeing a LOT more session strength beers from notable brewers, and more and more of them at brewpubs. But...an unending parade of "session IPA"?
GOD DAMN IT, AMERICAN BREWERS! You're BETTER than this! And I'm not just talking about session. American craft brewing has become a pathetic nation of followers. Look, a sour sold, let's make one! Look, session IPA sold, let's make one! Look, limited edition beers sold, let's make one! I weep for you. Truly. Show some balls, at least come up with your own name, like "fractional IPA."
Moving back to Kirby and Wisconsin Brewing, they now have a Maibock out called Big Sweet Life.
I've not had it yet but have been told it's a bit hoppier than the version Kirby brewed at Capital and perhaps slightly less sweet as well. Rumor has it that Porter Joe will be draught-only for a bit before being bottled later this year. Kirby apparently has a helles ready for release and is planning an Oktoberfest "with a twist". Lastly I'll note that Wisconsin Brewing Company has inked a distribution deal
for the Chicago market. The distributor, Chicago Cluster, "blankets" the northern half of Illinois which means the brewery has a new market that is roughly double the size of its Wisconsin market. They seem to be on track of meeting their 250,000 barrel goal. Add in the Twin Cities and Wisconsin Brewing can become quite a regional brewer.
Tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest go on sale 4 May at noon. There are some changes this year as detailed in this blog post
. Ticket prices are up to $60, for starters. The Malt House and west side Vintage are new ticket outlets while the Tyranena tasting room is out.
I heard a few months ago that River City Distributing
over in Watertown had bought the rights to various Polish beers and liquors from a Milwaukee area distributor and that the Madison area would see new brands on shelves. Neither store shelves nor the company's website reflect this. Has anyone else heard about deal? Hell, maybe there's an Okacim IPA to be had.
The winners of this year's World Beer Cup
were announced earlier this month. Talk about groupthink – check out the categories with the most entries:
3rd) Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
2nd) American-Style Pale Ale
And 1st place goes to...American Style India Pale Ale!
I am shocked. Shocked!
Wisconsin breweries brought home some medals:
Sprecher Shakparo – Bronze in Gluten-Free Beer
Sprecher Black Bavarian – Gold in German-Style Schwarzbier
Central Waters' Sixteen – Gold in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Vintage McLovin – Silver in Irish-Style Red Ale
Oh, and Miller won a couple of awards too.
Some new and newish brews:
While it appears to be a flavored-enhanced beer instead of a true radler, it does come in at a sessionable 4.1% ABV, quite a bit lower than most American drinks labeled "radler" and "shandy".
Don't tell Lew Bryson but Lakefront is coming out with a session IPA called Extended Play. And the latest entry in their My Turn series is Johnson, a DIPA.
Milwaukee Brewing Company has introduced Litta Bitta, a so-called white IPA, brewed with lemongrass. White IPAs, as far as I can tell, are very hoppy Belgian wit beers but the monikers "IPA" and "India" sell so everything has to be an IPA variation these days. Presumably we can look forward to an IPK – India Pale Kölsch – because, well, it has more hops and will sell like gangbusters.
I mean, just ask Capital. Their fourth IPA is Ghost Ship, a white IPA. It has coriander, orange peel, and lots of hops. I tried one of these last weekend. It tasted like an imperial witbier at first with prominent coriander and orange bitterness and then the hops kicked in and ruined it. Craft brewers should stop adding more hops to everything and then calling it an India Pale XXXXX.
Also in Capital news, a Twitter tweet
shows brewer Ashley Kinart whipping up a test batch of her new beer. ETA is June. Anyone know what kind of beer she has in mind?
The Hop Garden is a hop farm just south of Madison that has also gotten into the brewing game and this is the result. It's brewed by Page out at House of Brews and is available in stores now. Robin Shepard of Isthmus profiled
The Hop Garden and its owner Rich Joseph a couple months ago. This pale ale is his first brew and next comes an imperial IPA. Quelle surprise!
The latest from Schell's Noble Star line is North Country Brünette which the brewery describes as a "Märzen style Berliner Weisse". I've never heard of such a thing although the brewery claims it's a defunct style. (Where's Ron Pattinson when you need him?) My understanding is that it's a Berliner Weisse in style but with more of a Märzen grain bill. Sehr interessant!
This beer is out and may very well be gone already. I had it on tap somewhere and it was excellent. Unchained is Summit's limited edition brew series and this was, sadly enough, the first lager in the series. The brewer describes it as being "modeled after a cross between an Oktoberfest bier and a Wiesn bier". Wiesn is, from what I can tell, a lighter take on the Oktoberfest. If you see this in stores, get it. Or just let me know about it and I'll buy it.
The latest hoppy brew from Schell. I believe this will be released next month. It's described as "Combining the hop profile of west-coast American IPA’s with traditional German brewing techniques..." German, American, and French hops used in a double dry hopping. Sounds like a very hoppy pilsner. Schell gets credit from me for not calling it an India Pale Lager.
This is an entry in Stone's Spotlight Series which features brews resulting from a brewing competition held within the company. It's a rye Kölsch with black malt and extra hops. Intriguing. But was it lagered? Probably not. Too bad it's not being distributed in Wisconsin. However, there will be some in Illinois.
Speaking of Illinois, Chicago's Baderbräu has a new brew called Lawnmower Lager which is an IPL (quelle surprise!)
New Belgium's Lips of Faith series now has a gruit. I am looking forward to trying this stuff but haven't seen it around Madison.
On the New Glarus front, Yokel and Hometown Blonde are returning. Berliner Weisse is the next Thumbprint brew and we can look forward to bourbon barrel kriek, the IIPA, and Cranbic later in the year.
Homebrewer Jim Goronson is looking to open The Parched Eagle Brewpub
in Middleton. I talked to Goronson about a month ago and he said he's looking at opening in November. I believe Goronson is looking at the Clownin' Around party supply store at 6301 University Avenue for his location.
Get ready for the Sunny Rest Beer Festival!
"Nudity required at the beer festival area". I love how they Photoshopped those beer glasses into the hands of those women. No doubt there will be dozens of young gals at the festival just like those on the poster.
22 April, 2014
Deus in Machina: Transcendence
Like many people, I spent Sunday reflecting on a man who dies and then is resurrected. Unlike Christians who celebrated the death and rebirth of one incarnation of their tripartite deity, I was at my local IMAX cinema watching Johnny Depp's death and resurrection in Transcendence
is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, a cinematographer best known for his work with Christopher Nolan. Pfister surely knows how to lens a movie but I recalled the last time a DP whose work I respected tried his hand at directing - Lost Souls
. Janusz Kaminski took a break from shooting Steven Spielberg's film to make this mediocre horror flick. Would Pfister fare any better?
The movie begins with a brief prelude featuring a man who we will come to know as Max wandering the streets of a city that has no electricity. Streetlights are dark, broken cell phones litter the ground, and a laptop is used to prop open a door. He makes his way into a backyard where he kneels before two sunflowers and begins to eulogize two of his friends.
Flashing back a couple years, we are introduced to Will (Johnny Depp) and Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall). Will is an artificial intelligence researcher and his wife is trying to get him motivated to get to a conference where potential funders for his project can be found. Will is the dreamer type while Evelyn is more pragmatic. He focuses on getting a computer to be self-aware, much to the detriment of bathing and sartorial choices, while she plays the mom and gets him to change into something presentable.
After his speech, in which he admits to essentially "playing God", Will is shot by a member of a group called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) which launches attacks other AI research labs at the same time. Will survives only to discover that the bullet that he was shot with was laced with polonium and he is fated to die a slow, painful death from radiation poisoning. Evelyn recalls that Will had uploaded the "consciousness" of a monkey into his super-mega quantum computer and decides to upload Will's into it so that he may live on. Max questions this decision and whether the transferring the electrical activity of Will's brain into a computer will create something that can fairly be called Will.
At this point the movie has introduced a fair amount of interesting thematic ideas. What is consciousness? Is our humanity merely an admittedly highly complex series of electrical impulses? Unfortunately, we get a rather generic action/thriller. After Will asks to be connected to the Internet, Evelyn and Max have a falling out which leaves Evelyn to care for the electronic simulacrum of her husband alone. RIFT kidnap Max and learn of Will's transubstantiation. Meanwhile Will asks that he be connected to the Internet so that he can expand his capabilities.
With RIFT closing in, Evelyn moves to upload Will to the cloud via a satellite connection. Luckily there were no birds looking for a spot to perch and the consciousness of a human being is only a megabyte or so in size because she only had a couple of minutes to complete the upload. I wonder what file type the human consciousness comes in - .will?
With Will living on somehow on the Internet, he plays the stock market and makes tens of millions, if not more, for a company owned by Evelyn and then directs her to a small desert town called Brightwood where she is to build an underground data center where Will can live on and carry out his nebulous plan. The place ends up being massive with an even more enormous farm of solar panels powering the whole thing. Of course no one in the federal government at-large seems to notice that a very large computer laboratory is being built in the desert nor a vast amount of data traffic to and from some podunk town in the southwest. Maybe Will used IP6 and IANA never noticed.
Once fully armed and operational, Will miraculously becomes an expert in nanotechnology and begins experimenting on some of the local contractors making them into superheroes with incredible strength the and power to regenerate. In fact, Will is so goddamn good, he can grow a copy of his old body in the lab. Will has become a god and his ability to monitor Evelyn's limbic system in real time so perturbs that she loses trust in him and escapes his clutches. She is captured by the FBI who joins forces with RIFT and Will's buddy Joseph, who also ran an AI lab, to make their last stand for humanity. They get themselves some machine guns, a mortar, and a couple howitzers. Oh, and a computer virus which take out Will's systems as well as every other computer system on the planet. The plan calls for Evelyn to be infected with the virus so that, when Will uploads her consciousness into his system, it becomes infected. Bullets and explosives don't cut it against nanobots and the augmented contractors. It all comes to the bad ass RIFT lady threatening Max's life to get Will to upload the virus himself and end it all.
Perhaps it's because I work in IT but I just can't look beyond the techno-asshattery in this movie. Here the Internet is essentially magic instead of being a bunch of computers connected together. You just take a technology, add the Internet and – voila! – you have a god-like power. During the sequence when Will is being uploaded to his quantum computer, we see that it is a process that takes weeks. His face is scanned and Will is recorded reading the OED so that his likeness and voice can later be used in the interface. This takes weeks yet, after this, everything is done is done lickety split. Where did Evelyn upload Will's consciousness to? You don't upload something to the Internet, you upload it to a computer on the Internet. The electronic Will can advance nanotechnology beyond our wildest dreams, can build his old wetware body from scratch but he can't advance solar panel technology beyond the point of needing a few square miles of panels?
Beyond the IT realm, Transcendence
disappoints in other ways. For instance, the world is faced with the gravest threat it's ever known short of nuclear war and all that humanity can muster in its defense is a handful of anti-technology radicals, a few G-men, a mortar, and a couple howitzers?
Moving onto the acting, I have to say that this move was a colossal waste. Johnny Depp spends a short while at the beginning playing a bland genius before spending the rest of his time doing a mediocre HAL 9000 imitation. Morgan Freeman as Joseph just called in his umpteenth performance as the wizened mentor. There was nothing unique or animated about anyone's performance here. For the most part, people stood around watching Will's next move in a mixture of awe and fear. The story didn't help much. The scene where the simulacrum of Will comes alive in the computer was positively anti-climactic. There was no time to dwell on such a momentous occasion because we had to race to Will's apotheosis. Indeed, there was no time to dwell on much at all. Why bother to consider questions about the nature of consciousness or our relationship with technology when Max has to be kidnapped and solar panels have to be erected? I think more time was devoted to showing nanobots rebulding those solar panels destroyed by mortar fire than to considering the "big questions" posed in the opening minutes of the film.
Another example of this comes at the end of the movie. The fully-resurrected Will and Evelyn are lying on a bed dying. Will reveals that the electronic simulacrum was really the old Will and that he did everything in order to bring her dream of a better world to fruition. Awwww. While a nice, tidy way to end a love story, the whole revelation was a dud because A) the movie avoided discussing whether or not the thing that the characters considered to be Will could really be loaded onto a computer and B) Will and Evelyn's relationship wasn't developed enough. The script sets Will up as an Apollonian figure – and individual who uses the human capacity of reason to its full extent while Evelyn is the Dionysian figure – she's all about advancing or healing the whole of humanity and is emotional. Will's cold expressions and voice dominate his UI while Evelyn cries and gets angry. But these antipodean dispositions don't conflict or intermingle very much and so, when Will gives his confession, it didn't feel like it resolved much. Rather than a relationship tempered by opposing outlooks ending with a bang, it limped to a conclusion with a whimper.
reminded me of many cinematic adaptions of Philip K. Dick novels. Take the interesting concepts and then ignore them as ideas and instead use them as springboards for excitement, action, violence, and fresh fruit!
03 April, 2014
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Piper!
Our Kätzchen is now a Katze. Here she is a day or two old.
And here she is today on her first birthday.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a decent snap this morning. It'll just have to do. I suspect she'll be spending her birthday sleeping, fighting with Marilyn (our other Katze), and causing general mayhem with toilet paper, facial tissue, and the like.