Wednesday, November 17 2021

pets, spiders, and ex machina plot holes



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Dear Journal,

Good morning, friends of the blog. Happy Wednesday. It's the middle of the week. The cold is still biting, but at least enough of the grey clouds have cleared to let some morning sunlight into the dining room. The scene fills me with peace and optimism. From the bottom of my heart, it's good to be here today. let's raise our coffee mugs to Wednesday, the hump of the week.

Sip. Thanks for being here this morning. Today I'm thankful for people like you who make time in your busy day to visit this very organized, yet very plain HTML website.

You wouldn't know it just looking around, but for how bare bones this site is, I put a disproportionate amount of time and effort into making it look exactly the way I want. I don't know a lot about art, but from my layperson armchair the term I'd throw out to describe my style of web design is brutalist. Am I using that term correctly? Does it just mean brutally functional, like a perfectly arranged eye sore?

I don't know if you've clicked around lately, but I'm working on a pets page. It's linked in the top navigation of this page if you want to check it out. It was Marissa's idea to make a pet registry, and then we had the funny idea to add human qualities to the page. Likes and dislikes. Nicknames. Hobbies.

Now that we have a pet registry, I think we all know what's going to happen. It's just going to encourage us to get more pets. I'm already seeing the signs. Marissa and I might be eyeing a scorpion, a chameleon, another gecko, and a Russian tortoise. Once you get into a daily rhythm of taking care of animals, adding a few more doesn't feel so scary, and that's what scares me.

While I'm rambling about animals, let me show you some spider pictures. I got some good face time with the specimens last night. Nobody got to eat anything - still sticking to the spider diet - but Spidey, Karta, and Leo were all feeling playful in their own way.

First, I lured Spidey out of his cave by tapping a paint brush on the dirt. It was funny how quickly he changed his disposition from sullen to inquisitive. I come back to this analogy a lot, but getting a spider's attention always feels like clicking the mouse to wake up a computer.

spidey

Spidey looks great. He's slimming down. He's totally comfortable in his new enclosure. He's shoved some dirt into each corner of the box, probably to give himself a little more privacy, turning his front yard into a cozy valley. It's probably been a full week since I've even opened his lid, and he seemed appreciative of the privacy. It was fun having a quick chat with him last night while I misted around his water bowl.

Next, I checked on Karta. She's been staying out throughout the day, but the second she felt the lid pop open, she darted into the back corner of her cave. To me, I think that means she's not particularly hungry, but she would eat if something stumbled into her path. I will wait until she stays out with the lid open before I feed her again. I lured Karta out with a paint brush. More cautious than her older brother Spidey, Karta remained at the mouth of her hide. She slapped the brush once, then decided it wasn't worth coming out of hiding.

karta

Next was Leo. He molted two days ago, and I decided to open his lid to collect his old skin. Leo, the confident wanderer, has always made me too nervous to fully remove his lid. If I had a spider that would jump at the first opportunity to run out of his box and explore our bedroom, it would be him. But his molt sort of changed the dynamic. He had to pick a spot to flip over on his back for hours, and I think that vulnerability has made him feel more established in his enclosure. For the first time since getting him, I completely removed the lid, and Leo was an absolute gentleman while I plucked his old withered exoskeleton off of his web.

leo

What a cool spider. This was the first time I got to get a really good look at his colors without fearing he'd make a run for it. I'm really looking forward to watching his colors, his behavior, and his personality grow into his adult form.

So there's the spiders. Speaking of animals, Ziggy has an annoying infection on her paw. We think she may have picked up a papercut while chewing up cardboard with Minnie. After catching Ziggy biting at it again, we used blue masking tape to secure one of Miles' socks to her foot, and since then her perfect world has been crashing down all around her. She's already gotten in a nasty argument with her sister Minnie about it. Plenty of girl dog drama to go around this morning, so I had better keep my head down and not make either of these girls more upset.

I'll close with some meandering thoughts about the movie Marissa and I are watching. We have 30 minutes left in Ex Machina. We're just at the part where the AI robot escapes her room, murders everyone, and ominously slips out into the world dressed like a human.

In a second viewing, we've been really pleased with the movie. An admiring, but distrusting Caleb tiptoes around the eccentric, reclusive genius inventor Nathan, and there are a lot of genuinely insightful observations slipped into their dialog. There is a scene where a frustrated Nathan brings Caleb over to a Jackson Pollock painting. "What would have happen if he said 'I'm not going put any paint down unless I know exactly why I'm doing it?" he cries, making the point that it's our impulses - the actions we don't think about - that really make us human.

Of course, working in computers I feel the need to poke holes in the movie. To be clear, the fictional AI tech was fine - just the right ratio of implementation details to hand-waving. But as a career programmer, I took issue with the scene in which Caleb gets Nathan drunk and sits down at his computer. He sifts through Nathan's files and watches video footage of his interactions with Ava's precursors. I think later the movie implies that Caleb uses that time to hack the building so that Ava can escape.

Believe it or not, this is the most unrealistic part of the movie. The truth is one programmer would never be able to figure out another programmer's computer. In reality, Caleb would sit down at Nathan's computer, spend twenty minutes trying to figure out where his silly custom keyboard mapping placed the control key, then give up and go play video games in his dorm. Custom widgets, plug-ins, config files, scripts, and aliases. We nerds relish in all the trivial ways you can customize a computer. It's a constant reminder of our own territory, kind of like how dogs will pee on a fire hydrant to mark it as theirs. And for that reason, we also avoid using each other's computers. That fact that Caleb was able to successfully do anything with Nathan's computer is a gaping plot hole if you ask me.

That's what I got today. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Hope you have a great Wednesday.