Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Redemption of Darth Vader

Star Wars! You either love it or hate it, don't you?

Personally, I love the effects and gung ho action. I'm less enthusiastic about the pop philosophy that has come to surround it.

Less than enthusiastic is an understatement when it comes to David Brin's opinion. He has incorporated the Star Wars myth into his ongoing rant against the creeping tide of anti-modernist views. In this piece, he tried to salvage the major problems with the SW saga for the modernist cause, by taking up a pub challenge and tinkering with the plot of 'Revenge Of The Sith'. Driven by agenda, a deadline and, no doubt, an insufficient beer supply, he eventually threw up his hands in disgust.

Now, while I don't claim to have Brin's writing experience, or grasp of prose (nor Lucas' directing skills), I've had a germ of an idea about this, ever since SW II.

So, I have been inspired by Brin's attempt, and have developed what I thought was an original and interesting plot twist that could be applied to 'Revenge of The Sith' to produce:

The Redemption of Darth Vader

The first half of the movie is pretty much unchanged, apart for some minor setups. These would depict Anakin as alternating between enlightened jedi (albeit a troubled one) and brooding brat. In particular, I would add a scene wherein Anakin and Palapatine are indulging in some ambiguous exercise. Palpatine expresses mild pleasure in progress, yet seems vaguely disappointed.

The first major change in the action is that pivotal scene where Mace Windu, after his tipoff from Anakin, confronts Palpatine in his chambers:
  • The fight ensues
  • Cuts between the action, and Anakin's agonising in his chambers.
  • Finally, Anakin, with his head in hands, intoning 'What have I done?' *
  • Palpatine hesitates: 'he's not coming!'
  • Windu presses the advantage and has P pinned, and stripped of his disguise.
  • Suddenly, a dark figure enters. Anakin! Looking very dark. He surveys the scene crying 'Master!?'
  • P says W is going to kill him
  • W says darn right! P is too dangerous
  • P screams no!
  • A attacks W, and W is slain by P.
  • P, clearly shaken, recovers sufficiently to tell Anakin he has done well, but that they must move quickly. Bidding A go dispatch clones to deal with the academy, P invokes command #66. (NB: P has *not* yet invested A as a Sith Lord)
  • Scenes of clone troops entering the Jedi academy.
  • Confused fight scenes.
  • In Padme's apartment, a desparate call for help is received. Anakin, apparently interrupted from a reverie, reacts quickly. Briefly reassuring Padme, he leaps on his speedster.
  • Anakin arrives on academy terrace and quickly enters the building.
  • In the chambers, frightened younglings cower. A enters. They come out of hiding. A unsheathes his *red* light saber. And grins.
  • Youngling screams
  • Anakin runs through corridor.
  • More cries.
  • Anakin enters the chamber to confront carnage... and himself!
  • Anakin: (stunned) 'What have you DONE!!?'
  • From the shadows, a voice: 'My bidding!'. There is a blast that disorients Anakin.
  • Thereafter, Anakin is backed into a corner: even he is outclassed by a Sith Lord and his apprentice.
  • Meanwhile, P intones: 'Oh, Anakin! You would not come when I needed you!. *zap* I had such hopes for you. Yet, you would not come!' *zap*
  • Anakin: 'Palpatine! But...why!? I admired you. You had such wisdom! Why this?'
  • Palpatine:'Wisdom? Perhaps. Yet you clearly found greater wisdom at the feet of Master Yoda!' *zap*
  • Anakin: (weakening fast) No...! I admired you... both! You each had..ways that...together made things...much clearer!'
  • A finally manages to disarm Anakin: severing his artificial hand.
  • Palpatine: (gloating) Oh, Anakin! Surely you do not believe that the dark side of the force can coexist with the light? I am truly disappointed! (moves off camera) Yet, this outcome was not wholly unanticipated, and I was prepared for it! (A moves into view) See? My apprentice: your cloned offspring. (A raises sabre), in whom I find the potential of the father has been more than fulfilled!
  • Palpatine(to A): kill him!
  • A flash of red light. And darkness.....

P now praises A, admitting that his doubts were misplaced. He invests A, and Darth Vader *now* arises. Looking down at the body of Anakin, P comments that a final memory scan will be useful if Vader is to take on Anakin's role. He bids Vader to go to Mustafar to dispatch the Trade feds. Vader does his bidding. (He does not revisit Padme)

Meantime, Kenobi and Yoda evade the clone betrayal, and return to Coruscant and the Jedi academy. Carnage, and the security cameras displaying A as the cause (naturally, they assume it is Anakin). Yoda confronts Palpatine, while Kenobi goes to see Padme and find A. Padme cannot believe Anakin has betrayed the Jedi and, tracing him via R2-D2, goes after him (with Obi Wan stowed away).

Vader has slain the Trade Fed dupes. Palpatine tells him to stand down clone armies, and take time out to assimilate the memory downloads from Anakin. It is partway through this process that Padme arrives. The sight of her reinforces Anakin's downloaded memories of Padme, and Vader is confused: torn by how his actions conflict with his/Anakin's feelings and hopes for Padme and the unborn child. Vader regains control when he sees Obi Wan emerging. Angrily casting aside Padme for her 'betrayal', he confronts Kenobi. The fight ensues as per the film and ends with Obi Wan leaving Vader for dead.

As does the aftermath: Padme dying, after claiming she still senses good (in Vader). Obi Wan and Yoda find homes for the twins and go into exile.

And Vader is rescued and reconstructed by Palpatine. Due to the shock of seeing Padme, and the trauma of his injuries, he can no longer distinguish Anakin's memories from his own and spends his rehabilitation in flashbacks. The grief and rage he feels at being told that he has killed Padme is genuine, and he feels the first stirrings of resentment of his master.

The final scene fades with Vader's signature voice:
What have I done?*
*lights up*

So what does all this achieve?

It sidesteps the trivialising issue of having a young upholder of good who so easily casts those cherished values aside. Anakin may be tempted and intrigued by what the dark side may offer, but ultimately rejects what it stands for. In light of this, and in considering who everyone believes Darth Vader to be, his death is truly tragic.

Vader can now be portrayed, not as a fallen angel with no hope of redemption, but as a product of Palpatine's machinations who, having never been on the moral high ground, might yet be able to stumble onto it. The good that Padme sense in him is a seed, not a remnant. And, if that seed can be nurtured, there will, indeed, be 'A New Hope'.

Best of all, the twist needs only minimal tinkering with the original script!

Of course, this is all hypothetical. The world knows it ended differently.

Still, in writing this, I feel able to quote the last words of a hero from another franchise:!...

*This line is the only bit of real pathos Anakin gets to utter. I think it has a nice twist in emphasis here. The original ruins it by having it after he's helped dispatch Windu, and then submits to the dark side with the same dopey logic as a catholic school girl waking up in her first double bed, and promptly replacing 'nun' with 'hooker' in her CV

A Social Experiment...

One of my social activities is bushwalking. I am a member of the Boroondara Bushwalkers (although, since the advent of Little Missy, not a particularly *active* member!).

Anyway, A while ago, I was on the committee serving as the newletter editor, and found that one of the perennial issues of the time was getting a club website (another one that flared up big time was indemnity insurance, but the use of insurance policies as a tool of social control is another topic).

To cut a long story short, I ended up volunteering to get it set up (you can see the result by following the above link ;-).

As it happened, I subsequently got involved in web stuff at work, and armed with a more in-depth knowledge of HTML , and PHP and CSS, I looked at the website with fresh eyes... and got to work.

Now, the result is not intended to be 'flash' (media or otherwise). The main page is intended to present a concise description of what the club does in as small a bandwidth as possible (Use of 56K modems still being assumed). I think it works but, then, I would, wouldn't I?

Things evolve, as they do. One of the earlier comments had been that it could be a useful resource for walks leaders etc. I thought, yeah...when I get the time. I was also thinking that the site shouldn't be too complicated!

Then I got to thinking about wikis.

Collaborative authoring! Entries provided without some overloaded central clearing agency (aka the editor/website administrator)

So, I looked around for a suitable engine, of which there are a few, before settling for PmWiki. I did so because its requirements are a pretty good match for what our ISP allows: (PHP but no database support). The only beef I have is that the access policies it provides didn't match what I wanted (a bit of recoding, and cursing the lack of PHP debugging eventually got that sorted)

The result is now unleashed on the unsuspecting public as the Boroondara Bush Wiki. I hope they enjoy it.

The social experiment? When I mentioned what I was doing at work, someone commented that it would be interesting to see how computer non-literates would cope.

So it will...

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

To Stanislav

A toast, to Stanislav Petrov, who saved the world twenty two years ago today.


Follow the link to WorldChanging to find out more. I guarantee it will help put all the current jibber jibber about the War on Terror into perspective.

After all, how can the destruction of a few city buildings compare to the destruction of a few cities?
'...we have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools'
- First article of the Agile Manifesto

To Stanislav!

Monday, September 26, 2005

A Cry From the Wilderness (of Tables)

I look at the schema associated with a database I'm supposed to be analysing.

I look at the hordes of tables and links that come with third normalised form, and a cry of despair wells up from inside:

Why Oh, Why haven't Object Oriented Databases taken off!?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Out if You're a Duck!

Ole popeye is about to issue an edict banning gay priests (even if celibate... after all, what other kind of catholic priest is there;?).

Tut tut! They're disordered, it seems. Clearly, Benedict needs to get a life.

I'd be more impressed if it was pedophiles under discussion (although I suspect that someone like Benedict makes no distinction between the two behaviours)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Megacorp strikes again

Grumble session commencing...
I've been using a version control system (VCS) called 'Subversion' for about a year now.

It's intended to be a replacement for cvs, and offers such useful things as file renaming, and three way merging (last sighted on rcs).

It's pretty good, especially when used in conjunction with Tortoise Svn (a windows explorer plugin). After several years spent at the mercy of 'industrial strength' offerings like Rational Clearcase (the only VCS I've encountered that has apparently 'lost' the contents of a newly submitted file on me, but that's another tale) it is very refreshing to have a product like this that 'just works'!


A special version is required when operating in VS One that is not compatible with other svn repositories.


It seems that has a problem interpreting folders with . in them (local subversion repository data is normally stored in a subfolder named .svn, and must instead resort to '_svn').

Ah, Microsoft! The company that claims the dot.

The pale blue dot, that is!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Def Man Talkin'

The Al Qaedda anchor shoots,
an' we're quaking in our boots,
They're not gonna show compassion or restraint!
(Oh, no!)

You in Melbourne, or LA?
It is time to run away.
'cos the sad man's put a sign
up saying 'Hate me!'
The 2006 Commonwealth games is a potential terrorist target!?.
As if no one's worked that one out already!

Running away is, of course, just what the sad men want you to do. So, rather than nervously doing the bidding of every masked man who waggles his beard at you, don't you think it's time to reduce the fear, and to make their life a bit more difficult? More on that later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

NO: When the Going Gets tough...

... it seems the tough just lose it.

I'm referring to this account of some NO residents struggling to get out. It doesn't paint the authorities in a rosey light.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Tyranny of Types

Having been a programmer for more decades than I care to recall, I've seen a fair few languages come and go.

Starting with fortran (although I don't *quite* go back as far as punch cards), then moving on briefly via Pascal to C. A brief affair with Forth followed before I settled down with C++, and object oriented programming.

Looking back, I can classify ease of programming by categorinsing the tasks that I had to keep doing, and doing.

And doing again.
  • With Fortran (and SinclairBasic), it was keeping track of all those pesky gotos.
  • With more structured languages Pascal and C, it was keeping track of all those pesky subroutines, building and maintaining lists of data, and plugging memory leaks.
  • With C++, and OO programming, it was building and maintaining lists of data. And plugging memory leaks.
  • With the advent of the STL and collections, my problems dwindled to: plugging memory leaks.
  • With a better understanding of templates, I realised the joy of shared pointers (*not* those auto_ptr things!), and suddenly, even the memory leaks receded into the background.
Of course, as major concerns decreased, minor ones became more prominent. Chief of these was trying to keep all the objects and types talking to each other. Templates helped here, of course, since they can be described as glorified macros, with typing as part of the input. (However, 'function' templates were a while in coming.)

Meanwhile, as these revelations were occurring to me, I missed the Java wave, figuring I'd catch it when I needed to (I didn't reckon on the GlassWall and AnAthena antipatterns that pervade employment agencies these days). Ditto C#.

However, I did manage to get on the Python ripple, and have been doing a bit of PHP of late. These are scripting languages, and share one naive characteristic.

They are typeless. (More correctly, they are 'dynamically typed', which means that the type specification is defined at the time of assignment. If it's important, you can ask the variable what type it is.)

Now, anyone coming from the strongly typed world of Pascal or, to a lesser extent, C/C++ will throw their hands up in horror! It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Bear with it.

When several languages jostle for attention, it is inevitable that the respective practitioners compare and contrast, usually with great vigour (after all, what I'm using must be the best: I'm using it!!). I have indulged in this pastime occasionally. While others jeer at the complex, clunky nature of C++ constructs, with umpteen ways of data reference, and umpteen ways to leak, I look smugly at the single class inheritance and multiple interface definitions of Java and C#, and then look at C++ 'templates'.

And smile.

Templates are an *extremely* powerful language feature, if you know how to use them properly. They are what make the STL library possible, with all its attendant benefits.

And it occurred to me, as I got into the coils of Python, that templates are *precisely* what a typeless language gives you.

And the result is pure simplicity. Gone are the bureaucratic overheads of cramming square parameters into round methods, of performing dynamic_casts at each closed interface border. Gone to, are the naked pointers so beloved of the vendors of 'BoundsChecker' and 'Purify'!

In short, Python rocks!

Meantime, I'm getting back onto another project, using C#: strongly typed, with a resulting myriad of functions and calls for every occasion.

The language of the future? But I think I've been here before!

Meantime, where's that variable I haven't initialised?

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Political Tipping Point?

What I've seen of history suggests that, when those who would govern are seen to have lost the common touch, their days are numbered. The wisdom of crowds sees the arrogance of kings and emperors in any display of aloofness.

Nowhere is that arrogance revealed more starkly than when aloofness appears in the context of catastrophe, for it is then that it becomes most apparent whether or not the ruler shares the pain of the commoner.

On December 25, 1974, cyclone Tracey flattened Darwin, damaging up to one third of residences. The Aust. federal government took over a day to even respond. 11 months later, Whitlam was tossed out of office with a 63 seat defeat. I'm not going to touch on rights and wrongs of the Dismissal affair. The point I want to make is that Whitlam lost office because he was seen, by the electorate, as increasingly arrogant.

In January, 2005, in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, the then leader of the opposition was nowhere to be seen. It turned out that he was suffering from a recurring bout of pancreatitis and was bedridden. Nevertheless, the perception was 'couldn't he at least have issued a press statement?'

Now, flash forward to the wake of hurricane Katriana, a calamity one hundred times worse than Tracey. The 'human storm', as Worldchanging puts it, is gathering pace and fury. Reports of the Bush administration's total unpreparedness are running rampant. (One unlikely source being a collation (dated Sep 04, 2005) from Miguel De Icaza, more generally known for the 'Mono' project).

With thousands dead, a million homeless, and an area the size of the UK taken out, the logistics of the relief effort would have taxed any organisation. Mistakes under such conditions are to be expected, and it might be argued that there wasn't a lot they could practically do.

Nevertheless, for Bush to take a day to come back from leave, and for Condi to take in broadway shows and go shoe shopping demonstrates, at the very least, no appreciation of public perception whatsoever.

Pride cometh before a fall.

I have a feeling that Bush and co. are about to be railroaded.