Galaxy Quest: Great Movie or Greatest Movie?

Have you ever realized how many great actors are in Galaxy Quest? That movie is hilarious. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go watch it right now.

OK, you’re back. Did you recognize everyone? Here’s a partial list of everyone you might recognize:

  • Tim Allen (Home Improvement, Toy Story)
  • Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Aliens)
  • Tony Shaloub (Monk, Wings)
  • Alan Rickman (Harry Potter, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)
  • Sam Rockwell (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Iron Man 2, The Green Mile)
  • Justin Long (Dodgeball, Mac Commercials)
  • Enrico Colantoni (Just Shoot Me, Veronica Mars)

Pretty crazy, right? Here’s another piece of trivia: Galaxy Quest is better than all those movies.

Annoying

It’s normal for people to get annoyed about things. One of my recent annoyances is when people capitalize things incorrectly when they should definitely know better. Here are a few examples:

  • DvD (instead of DVD)
  • FireFox (instead of Firefox)
  • FaceBook (instead of Facebook)
  • The name of our product (an acronym ending in s, which should be fully capitalized, but instead it looks like we have lots of that SYSTEMs)

There is no excuse for this. Please, people of the internet, stop it. The proper name and spelling is right in front of you.

RBI Baseball 4ever

Pretty much the best baseball article of the year, about the best baseball game ever. This game was the reason I wanted a Nintendo when I was a kid. I especially enjoyed his comments on playing with a younger brother and throwing the ball away after making out #3. Sometimes I’d throw the ball away when someone was on base, too. There are videos in the article to show you what I mean.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

I ask the question because everything on Jeopardy! is in the form of a question, and because I’m excited to hear that IBM’s Watson will be invited to challenge Jeopardy! winners in a special event. In a nutshell, Watson is a system IBM has been working on to answer human-language questions. To develop its algorithms, they’ve fed Watson lots of information and then test his recall of information by playing Jeopardy!

The NY Times Magazine article gives a great introduction to answering these types of artificial intelligence questions, explaining that it uses a series of algorithms to rank possible answers with a level of confidence. If it doesn’t have a high enough confidence he won’t answer a question. If he takes too long assessing possible answers, a human opponent may beat him to the buzzer.

Jeopardy! is the perfect game for this. Aside from being a fun test of knowledge and trivia, it requires Watson to think quickly. The previously-linked NY Times article does a good job comparing it to other systems, such as the fictional computer from Star Trek which can answer questions quickly and precisely, or Wolfram Alpha, which is dubbed an “answer engine” but answers different types of problems.

My own interest in artificial intelligence began when I checked out a book from the library as an elementary student about programming games in BASIC. The book gave examples of the code and showed what it did, so I typed everything in to create my own basketball game. Of course I thought the game wasn’t good enough, so I added a few extra features, but I began to see the way that computers think. In more recent years I’ve taken formal courses in AI in grad school, where I wrote a program to run the bullpen of the Kansas City Royals.

Watson is certainly miles ahead of my simple bullpen manager, but it’s a good example of the progress that’s been made in the field of artificial intelligence. There are plenty of examples of good AI programs out there, from video game simulations to systems that assist doctors when they want to prescribe medicine, but just like the chess-playing computer Deep Blue, Watson’s Jeopardy! games represent progress toward a great goal: building a machine that can think like a human.

Love it or Hate it

Here’s a great quote from Joe Posnanski about why some people hate certain sports:

I’ve always said that I have no interest in converting non-baseball fans into baseball fans. For one thing, I don’t think I could do it. But for another, I fully understand why some people think it’s oppressively boring. I understand because … baseball IS oppressively boring if you don’t like it. …

So, sure, if you don’t like baseball you don’t like baseball. But, you know, football is nine minutes of action and 51 minutes of meetings. Basketball is repetitive, and hockey is a game of line-shifts deflections, and soccer is a whole lot of kicking the ball back to the goalkeeper. Golf is about walking and geometry. Tennis is a math teacher explaining angles. If you want to pick out the worst things in a sport, you can make them all sound insanely boring — except MMA, perhaps, which is like watching assault and battery. The beauty in all these sports is those moments of brilliant action and the way the imagination fills the empty spaces. People have been burying baseball for a long time, and there are certainly reasons to believe that someday soon America will move on to something else.

I don’t think so, though. Yes, it’s local. No, it doesn’t do great TV ratings. Yes, there’s cynicism in the game and yes kids need more stimulation in their lives. But there’s something about baseball that has endured and, I believe, will endure through steroids and short attention spans and free agency and big contracts and everything else. Maybe I could explain it like this: If you go up to a baseball fan anywhere in America — in Montana, in Florida, in Texas or in Connecticut — and ask “Who scored the millionth run?” there’s a chance they will say they have no idea. But there’s a pretty good chance they’ll say “Bob Watson.” Why do they know that? Why do they care about something that meaningless? I think they care because of something I have said about baseball before: ”I never argue with people who say baseball is boring because baseball IS boring. But then, suddenly, it isn’t. And that’s why it’s great.“

Sometimes people say things you’re thinking much better than you can. I’ll just leave it at that, and use it as another explanation of why I love baseball.