Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Suites v. Dungarees

I didn't like the sports jacket...so I threw it out.
Real Genius

One of the central themes of Real Genius is the tension between suits and dugarees. A suit, as you might be able to imagine, is a person who wears a suit to work, and possibly wears suits socially as well. This is typically, but not always, a work related trope.

It wasn't new when Real Genius did it, and it's still a viable trope. This is despite the fact that it's been at least 50 years since it's been popular to use it in movies, television, theater, and literature.

For those of you who have no clue what dungarees are, it's another name for blue jeans. Back when I was in the navy, they called the blue jeans you wore as your work uniform dungarees. No one told me why, and in typical Navy fashion, they just started using the word without any explanation as to what they were talking about. If you asked, you were mocked. Now that they've done away with dungarees and everyone wears camouflage, I suspect the Navy has come up a new way to confuse recruits to make up for the loss.

Anyway, the only other place I've heard dungaree used was in the '70s tv show WKRP in Cincinnati. One of the central themes of that show was the tension between the suits: Mr. Carlson, Herb, and Les Nesman, and the new kids who wore jeans: Travis, Venus Flytrap, and Dr. Johnny Fever. The woman: Baily and Jennifer, usually weren't labeled either, but Baily did wear jeans. Jennifer wore dresses.

What's the point of all this? I wonder if other fashion changes have caused as much ruckus? Once apon a time, lawyers wore wigs. Was a big ruckus made when they stopped? Long hair used to be the norm, now long hair is associated with hippies. Did the change to no wigs and short hair cause a ruckus? Did people call the non wig wearers disrespectful? Were their holdouts who tried to make wigs awesome a la Barney Stinson?

The Encyclopedia Britannica (I'm not connected to the internet as I write this, but I keep an electronic copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica on my hard drive at all times) tells me that wig was a symbol of class in the 17th century and that's when it became part of "the official costume" of the English legal system. It remained this way until those liberals in the colonies did away with wigs "and other symbols of social status" after the American revolution. Same for the French.

Of course, we Americans didn't do away with social status. It was simply replaced by suits.

Last night I met a lawyer who wears jeans and a t-shirt all time, except in court when he's infront of an actual judge. This makes a certain amount of sense, why wear a suit until you have to? Of course, it drives opposing counsel nuts when he shows-up to a deposition in jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes opposing counsel will mention his dress in motions to show that he doesn't take the proceedings seriously. He's not a young lawyer either. He's been practicing for 15-16 years and is likely in his late 30s early 40s. (I didn't catch his age, but when you figure that he's been practicing for 15-16 years and before law school he taught english in Japan, my estimation is probably right.)

When I was child in cub scouts, our scout leader asked the group what we would think if a guy in clown outfit told us he was a pilot. We responded with indifference. Maybe he's on vacation, we reasoned. So the leader changed the question, what if he was piloting our plane, how would we feel then? We continued to be indifferent. This went on for a little bit, with different professions in different costumes. Indifference continued to be the result. He then told us that the point was to show us that uniforms were important. Clearly, it fell on deaf ears.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Enforcement Droid 209

You have 20 seconds to comply

The Enforcement Droid 209 (ED-209) is a stellar example of modern design. Not because it works, and not just because it fails so spetaculary badly, but because it fundamentaly fails as a replacement for human police.

The movie Robocop is a lot of things, but it excels as satire. And it does that job well in the scene where ED-209 malfunctions and kills an OCP executive.

For those who need a refresher, at the begining of the film (or close to it) ED-209 is demonstrated for "The Old Man", the head honcho at OCP. Jones brings out ED-209. It has chicken legs like the walkers from Return of the Jedi, a large dome head, and two machine guns in place of hands. It has no eyes and speaks with a deep typically robotic voice. Jones gives a random exec a gun and tells the exec to "use it in a threatening manner." At first the exec points it at Jones, but Jones sardonically tells the exec to point it at ED-209. The exec does, and ED-209 immediately springs into action, telling exec to drop the weapon or it'll shoot. ED-209 then starts a countdown. The guy drops the weapon immediately, but the countdown continues and ED-209 shoots the poor junior executive dead in an excessively brutal fashion. This leads to the scraping of the ED-209 and going ahead with the Robocop program.

In real life, the above would be a tragedy. It would also be a fiasco of design. The point of ED-209 is to replace human police officers. Even with the malfunction where ED-209 murders a junior executive, it fails as a cop replacement. Here's why:

First, ED-209 only springs into action when a gun is pointed at it, not another human. Human police officers, if they're doing their job right, generally care when someone points a gun at anyone. What kind of message is that? Point guns at anyone you want, just don't point it at robot with the giant guns. Also, what's the point caring about having a gun pointed at the heavily armed robot? Unless the armor's crap too.

Second, ED-209 gives the guy time put the gun down. O.k. Good. But what happens when ED-209 isn't malfunctioning? It has no hands! It can't handcuff a crook. I suppose it could keep threaten ing the crook with violence, but that's just wrong. (Though keeping with the theme of the movie.) Also, ED-209 could have a human handcuff the crook and take him or her in, but then ED-209 isn't replacing the cops, it's supplementing them. Not exactly what they want.

Third, as demonstrated later in the movie, it can't climb stairs. That's just a bad idea.

Frankly, I doubt it's very fast. A car could probably out run it. I suspect it's turning radius is pretty bad as well. But that's just speculation.

It's not often that good production design = poor real world design. Usually the artistic licence is invoked to justify such disparities. Here, the poor real world design is the whole point.