March 25, 2009

BSG Predictions Wrap-Up

Filed under: Battlestar Galactica — Chris @ 8:27 pm

Now that things have ended, and ended well (set your expectations, people), let’s revisit our predictions and see how we did.

  • H and Zohar are 0-2 on the true nature of Starbuck. In fairness, I must note:
    1. They were totally spot-on about the nature and origin of the Final Five, an aspect of their elaborate theory that I chose not to discuss in my previous post.
    2. They weren’t actually wrong about Starbuck, per se, it’s just that the show did not actually provide any explanation of the true nature of Starbuck (although the strong implication is that she was an angel/ghost/other paranormal entity).
  • I was 2-2 on the existence of Daniel and his further insignificance to the plot. (Whether he will come up in Caprica remains to be seen. RDM is fronting like he won’t, but I find that hard to believe. (I’m actually really interested in how the hell the last season of BSG is going to square with Caprica, which seems to be about the invention (or re-invention) of Cylon and resurrection technologies.))
  • Over on Twitter, I predicted that Galactica would be resurrected ala Starbuck’s Viper. Completely wrong.

What all of our wrong predictions share in common is the assumption the writer’s would feel obligated to explain some significant number of lingering mysteries (e.g., the head characters, Starbuck’s resurrection, the opera house vision, “All Along the Watchtower”) in the finale. As it turned out, they referenced all of these things, but they didn’t explain any of them. Instead we got: God did it. Any prediction rooted in physical phenomena and empirical explanations was bound to fail.

I think the finale would have been better and more satisfying—even absent any additional explanation—if my resurrection prediction had come true. I was pretty convinced it would through the first hour of the finale, right up to “there’s got to be some kind of way out of here”—especially with Tori and Cavil’s deaths immediately preceding that last fateful jump. When they made the jump, they could have arrived at Earth-Veldt with Galactica and all of the major characters resurrected. Voila. That’s what happened to Starbuck: she jumped to the magical coordinates and she and her ship were resurrected. Maybe they’re all dead and Earth-Veldt is heaven. Maybe their cindered corpses are right next to Starbuck’s on Earth-Prime. Who knows? No need to explain. The rest of the episode can proceed unchanged (with the exception of the fact that you have to deal with Cavil, Boomer, and the rest of the Evil Cylons being Not Dead. Easy: they’ve been converted to goodness and light by this dramatic turn of events (if you can trust the Centaurians, you can trust them, can’t you?). This can be dispensed with in about three lines of dialogue).

Overall, I feel like I didn’t get X-Files’d, parly because the BSG crew did a pretty good job of tamping down expectations (at times with a sledgehammer) and partly because I honestly didn’t care all that much about the mythology. I only wish the last season had had more episodes like “The Oath” and “Blood on the Scales” and fewer like “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” and “No Exit”. Still, a bad episode of BSG was better than… going out on Friday night.

My life now lacks a one-hour drama (except for Mad Men). What’s good on TV?


March 18, 2009

The Golden Shield of Law

Filed under: Politics, Tech — Chris @ 12:05 am

It sound like the legal system might be the next RIAA, doomed to stand athwart history, yelling stop:

Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.

A juror on a lunch or bathroom break can find out many details about a case. Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from Point A to Point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses.

“It’s really impossible to control it,” said Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches. But with the Internet now as close as a juror’s pocket, the risk has grown more immediate — and instinctual. Attorneys have begun to check the blogs and Web sites of prospective jurors.

Mr. Keene said jurors might think they were helping, not hurting, by digging deeper. “There are people who feel they can’t serve justice if they don’t find the answers to certain questions,” he said.

But the rules of evidence, developed over hundreds of years of jurisprudence, are there to ensure that the facts that go before a jury have been subjected to scrutiny and challenge from both sides, said Olin Guy Wellborn III, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“That’s the beauty of the adversary system,” said Professor Wellborn, co-author of a handbook on evidence law. “You lose all that when the jurors go out on their own.”

All of the lawyers or judges quoted in this article seem to think the question is: how can we make these people STOP?

The real question is: how are we going to adapt?

Instead of reinforcing the levees, let’s tear them down and let the wetlands do the work. Instead of “nobody looks at the Internet,” how about “everybody looks at Internet”? The jurors are encouraged to independently research the case. If a juror finds something she thinks is interesting or relevant, she has to present it to the judge so the lawyers can respond. Nothing gets cited in the jury room that hasn’t first been aired in open court. If that means the jurors have to work harder to look past prejudicial evidence, so be it. (It probably means the end of the exclusionary rule, but that was all over but they crying anyway.)

You think this idea is stupid? Give me an alternative, short of sequestering all juries five miles from the nearest cell tower.

March 16, 2009

Planet Courant

Filed under: Tech — Chris @ 6:02 pm

Am I the only one who would prefer not to see unfiltered posts and SVN commit logs on Planet Courant?

I’m not saying my posts have been all-time greats, but we need more signal and less noise… Could we convince at least one member of each research group to blog regularly about what’s going on with their colleagues? Tutorials on cool open-source software developed at Courant? Abstracts of Courant people’s publications? Reports on conferences that Courant people have attended?

March 13, 2009

Ricky Gervais meets Elmo

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 8:21 am

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: my only real ambition in life is to meet a Muppet.

(via Andrew Sullivan)

March 11, 2009

LD_LIBRARY_PATH and the dangers of .bash_env

Filed under: Linux — Chris @ 3:48 pm

So, I have two versions of a shared library: the stable version, which is installed under ~/builds/libfoo and a development version, which lives in the source tree ~/src/libfoo. I have just compiled a new version of the source and I want to test it, so I run make test.

Crash. Uh oh.

Let’s try the static version of the library.

OK. That works.

Maybe it’s picking up the wrong version of the shared library. I set LD_LIBRARY_PATH=~/src/libfoo and run make test.

Crash. Damn.

make test is, after a fashion, running ./bin/test. Let’s try that ourselves.

That works. Huh?!

$ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/home/chris/src/libfoo/lib
$ ldd ./bin/test
... => /home/chris/builds/libfoo/lib/

Do you trust export?

$ LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/home/chris/src/libfoo/lib ldd ./bin/test
... => /home/chris/builds/libfoo/lib/

Do you trust ldd?

$ /lib/ --list ./bin/test
... => /home/chris/src/libfoo/lib/

Damn you ldd. I knew it was you all along.

So, what happened? Some time ago, in the pursuit of a PATH-related bug, I moved all my shell path-munging preferences—including adding ~/builds/libfoo/lib to LD_LIBRARY_PATH—to .bash_env. .bash_env gets read every time that a new shell is created, including—wait for it—when running shell scripts or make. (ldd is a shell script. isn’t.) In other words, the line

export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=~/builds/libfoo/lib:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH

in my .bash_env was clobbering all of my attempts to set LD_LIBRARY_PATH at the command line.

The moral of the story? Munge LD_LIBRARY_PATH in your .bash_profile. And never trust ldd.

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