2011 03 23

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Feature Cast for 2011-03-23

(00:00:17.336) Intro

(00:03:49.238) Listener Feedback

  • Jed on exercise
  • Eric on post peak computing and piracy as future of TV

(00:15:22.570) Hacker Word of the Week: flaky

(00:16:09.452) A Hackish Look at Tron

  • Tron and Tron Legacy may seem like obvious choices for discussing hacker themes
    • Everything is pretty obvious
    • The actions takes place inside a computer
      • And all of the characters, settings and devices we encounter
        • Are distinctly references to popular views of computing
    • I would argue that the main narrative themes are more obvious
      • Than the hackish considerations
    • The first film is a pretty forward tale of a rogue
      • Mostly interested in his selfish ends
        • Who ends up saving a world and putting a company back on a more virtuous path
    • The second film is a little more complex but not too much so
    • Layered on top of the coming of age and hero's journey tropes
      • Sam has to deal with issues of loss and broken promises with regards to his dad
    • I know some think that Kevin Flynn's role is limited
    • One friend even recently laughed at how hokey some of his actions late in the film are
      • Reminding him more of Jeff Bridges character in The Big Lebowski
    • I think that is missing some subtler hints along the way
      • Mistaking perhaps some clumsy acting for a lack of nuance to Kevin Flynn's story
    • At least as interesting to me are how the interpretations of computers
      • Reflect our views of these tools over time
    • Arguably the films are far more about our perception than the reality
      • Even embracing a subtle distinction that may have put some off
        • Who perhaps felt that the computer worlds were unrealistic or unbelieveable
        • Despite the amazing effects used, then and now, to bring them to life
  • Both films are interwoven into the fabric of the computing models of their time
    • The original Tron was definitely a product of the mainframe era
    • Encom clearly had a massive, monolithic system using some form of time sharing
    • That is made clear through the access rights granted and revoked in the first act of the film
    • The fact that Alan's watchdog can interact with other programs
      • Even the master control program also clearly indicates a shared resource system
    • Once we follow Flynn into the computer, keeping this in mind helps makes sense of what we see
    • I doubt that the MCP is as interested in the programs it captures
      • And re-deploys to the game grid as it is in the processes freed for its use in doing so
    • The programs themselves undoubtedly also serve a purpose when captured*
      • But I'll return to that in a bit
    • The centralized input and output also imply that these functions are shared system-wide
      • Though having such a singular goal makes for a good focus of the narrative
    • As much as Tron clearly borrows from an understanding of big iron
      • Tron Legacy is equally informed by the post-network world
        • Where distributed servers cooperate to support a space, The Grid
        • That seems far less tied to any one system or place
    • The Grid feels much more like a parallel universe than a world in a bottle
    • Fuzzy labels like "The Cloud" undoubtedly helped prime the audience
      • To simply accept there is some nebulous other where in which The Grid is computed
    • Conspicuously absent in both films are any explanations of where the computer realms reside
      • In the real world
    • One assumes we have a sense of massive, centralized computing
      • And the other equally grand but much more dispersed and ubiquitous computing
    • Oddly enough I don't think that Tron Legacy could have been made in the intervening years
    • Pushing a world as richly detailed and complex as The Grid
      • Solely into desktop computers would ask too much of the audience
    • Doing so would have risked making the film seem smaller, more trite
      • Than being able to embed the world of binary flows and heroic and villainous programs
        • Into a computing manifold, roughly analogous to the large scale internet services
          • To which we've all become accustomed
    • I suspect this made it easier to believe that something wholly new and unexpected
      • In the form of the Iso's could arise than if we were asked
        • To accept that concept in a much more constrained, isolated system
  • BREAK
  • It would be easy to write off either film as a Frankensteinian admonition about creation
    • The MCP seems to fit this bill nicely, even pushing the envelope
      • By quickly taking over the creative act
    • For the more useful programs it captures, clearly the implication is
      • That it is harvesting functions it finds useful to augment itself
    • When we realize along with Dillinger that the MCP cannot be shut down
      • We feel a frisson of that fear of our own creations run amok
    • Don't forget though that the program that ultimately reins in the MCP
      • Is as much a construct as the main computerized villain
    • The MCP and Tron himself reflect more about the will and intent of their creators
    • Dillinger is interested in profit and gain without paying attention to how he achieves it
    • His lack of a deeper hackish streak leaves him open to being superseded by his creation
    • Alan is inspired by a much more hackish vision, of freedom and fairness for all
      • Who use Encoms mainframe, not any gain on his part
    • Tron isn't a control program, it is more like the lone gunslinger
      • Who rides into town when there is need for him
      • And departs into the sunset rather than installing himself as a petty tyrant
    • Tron Legacy hits on the theme of how and why we create much more directly
    • Did Flynn create the grid or did it already exist?
    • The isomorphisms were already there or arose from the grid
      • Implying that perhaps at most Kevin Flynn found the resources and set the initial conditions
    • Clu, Tron and Flynn had to structure, order the space, or so they thought
    • I'll touch on the theme of control next but staying with the creative power
      • Clu is obviously incomplete, unable to create any new programming on his own
    • Given how the MCP outgrew, out evolved its original coding
      • This limitation of Kevin Flynn's alter or, better yet, mirror ego is telling
    • The elder Flynn seems to have internalized a fear of chaotic or emergent creation
    • The existence of the Isos prove that this rejection of the gnarly evolution of structure
      • Is as much a mistake as Dillinger paying too little attention to the growing aspirations
        • Of his creation
    • The startlingly serendipitous and the runaway disaster are two facets of the same thing
    • Clu's inability to conjure up anything new on his own
      • Engenders just as much danger, out of sheer frustration
      • As the MCP's overwhelming ego and ambition
  • Kevin Flynn constructs his own prison through misunderstanding the role of control versus evolution
    • As much as some lessons may have been learned from the threat of the MCP
      • In terms of allowing any program too much power to affect the world in which it abides
      • The point about control seems to have been missed
    • Control is right there in the name of the first film's villain
    • Designed to coordinate the operations of a software giant
      • Running on a monumental chunk of old style centralized computer banks
      • The MCP fell into the trap of many who attain modest power
        • That they are unsatisfied and constantly grab for more control
    • Clu embodies the tight grip that Kevin Flynn tried to keep on The Grid
      • Possibly informed by a fear of The Grid itself going the way of the MCP
    • His mirror self monomaniacally adheres to that view
      • Trying to enforce an order at the expense of the real heart of the Grid
        • The Isos who emerge from its inherent complexity, offering something wholly new
    • In doing so, he evinces just as much of the problem inherent in the MCP
      • As that original adversary did, even if their abilities and initial goals
        • Were so very much different
    • Fear of too much control, of allowing Clu's reign to spread
      • Immobilizes the elder Flynn, leading him to enter into a self imposed exile
    • Towards the end glimpses of what The Grid's creator can do from within that world
      • Give some further narrative excuses for keeping him locked away
        • Until an outside agent, in the form of his son enters to move the story forward
    • In many ways he takes on very Zen trappings, leading a minimal life
    • Ironically, Zen teachings are as much about balance and sensing
      • As they are in anyway about overtly trying to control ourselves or situations
    • What Kevin Flynn crafts in the form of his retreat is much more a from of penance
      • Than I think any search for enlightenment
    • Oddly, this sort of paralysis reminds me of a genuine dilemma that most programmers
      • Will face at one time or another in their career
    • Before coding, many decisions must be made about the shape a program will take
    • Occasionally alternatives will seem so equally weighted as to prevent
      • A hacker from settling on a clear course
      • Causing a sort of minor catatonic state of indecision
      • Either oscillating between the arguments for each path trying to find some key determinant
      • Or retreating, as Kevin Flynn did, abdicating making any sort of decision at all
  • BREAK
  • I have to wonder whether the computer worlds we see are any sort of literal reality
    • The simplest explanation is a lack of technical expertise by the writers
    • Superficially elements in the setting and aspects of the characters
      • Get assigned arbitrary trappings borrowing from a superficial understanding of computers
    • Audiences for the original film may have driven this much more intentionally
      • As computers were not an everyday experience, as they are now
    • The writers no doubt felt they had to strike a balance
      • Leaning more towards traditional plots and characterizations
        • With minimal exploration of deeper concepts borrowing from computing
    • There has been an entire generation raised with computers
      • Woven much more directly into the fabric of their lives since the first film
    • An opportunity existed to build on unconscious understanding of technology
      • To arrive at a more sophisticated interpretation of The Grid
    • The merest hints show throw, mostly in the form of Kevin Flynn's
      • Sort of Eastern inspired techno-mysticism
    • The counter-causal free will demonstrated by the programs in the first film really bugs me
    • Computers are inherently deterministic, especially the further back you go
      • As their designs are simpler, easier for people to understand
    • Recall that in the earliest days, hackers wrote binary to program computers
    • Even low level languages like assembly that introduced the slightest abstractions
      • That were much easier to grasp came along after the fact
    • Arguably the rise of more and more abstract programming languages
      • Is a function of having to deal with the exponential increase in complexity
        • Inherent in how modern computers work
    • In the sequel, it is easier to imagine that programs that seem to act of their own accord
      • Are actually merely executing programming that is deterministic
        • But such gnarly and intricate as to be effectively unpredictable
    • The Isos, as represented by Quora, stand as paragons of this seeming paradox
      • Of emerging through layers of complexity on top of a fundamentally rigid substrate
    • Even so, I suspect that a more suitable explanation is how the minds
      • Of first Kevin then Sam Flynn have to make sense of an environment and inputs
        • So utterly foreign to normal reality
    • Kevin Flynn's monologue, about how envisions The Grid through metaphors
      • To more mundane human constructions hints at this possibility very strongly
  • As much as I enjoy contemplating these deeper aspects
    • It doesn't escape my notice that these films
      • Really are enjoyed best with a bucket of popcorn
    • Both are groundbreaking not only in their use of effects
      • But the production and visual design realized through these stunning techniques
    • As I said at the outset, the many drivers of the narrative
      • Are recognizable from so many other movies meant to be enjoyed
        • As more fun than any kind of intellectual fodder
    • I do think they deserve a bit more credit than comparable fare
    • At the very least it is worth recognizing how they speak to our gestalt understanding
      • Of how computing intersects with our every day life
    • The fact that the two movies are roughly a generation apart
      • Also affords us a rare opportunity to see computers much more clearly
        • Through the eyes of our kids
        • While relating it back to our memories of the world as it was
          • When we saw the first Tron, enjoying the sense of wonder so thoroughly capture throughout

(00:33:23.638) Outro

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