The Future is Creepy: Reading Consumer’s Brainwaves

brainscansProduct marketing has always been a high stakes game, where companies rely on psychology, competitive strategies, and well-honed ad campaigns to appeal to consumer’s instincts. This has never been an exact science, but it may soon be possible for advertisers to simply read your brainwaves to determine what you’re thinking and how much you’re willing to pay.

This past October, the German news site Spiegel Online profiled the provocative work of a Swiss neuroscientist and former sales consultant who is working on a method of measuring brain waves to determine how much a person would be willing to pay for a good or service. Known as “feel-good pricing” to marketing critics, the idea is already inspiring horror and intrigue.

brainwavesThe neuroscientist in question is Kai-Markus Müller, the head of Neuromarketing Labs who has over 10 years of experience in neuroscience research. According to his test, Starbucks is not actually charging enough for its expensive coffee. In fact, it’s probably leaving profits on the table because people would probably still buy it if they charged more.

To conduct this test, Müller targeting an area in the brain that lights up when things don’t really make sense. When test subjects were presented with the idea of paying 10 cents for coffee, their brain reacted unconsciously because the price seemed too cheap. A coffee for $8, on other hand, produced a similar reaction since the price seemed too high.

brain-activityOne would think that this method would help to determine optimum pricing. However, Müller then set up a coffee vending machine where people were allowed to set their own price. The two methods then matched up and revealed that people were willing to pay a higher price than what Starbucks actually charges. Somehow, paying less made people think they were selecting an inferior grade of product.

Naturally, there are those who would be horrified by this idea, feeling that it represents the worst combination of Big Brother surveillance and invasive marketing. This is to be expecting when any talk of “reading brainwaves” is concerned, dredging up images of a rampant-consumer society where absolutely no privacy exists, even within the space of your own head.

neuromarketOn the other hand, Müller himself takes issue with the notion of the “transparent consumer”, claiming that “Everyone wins with this method”. As proof, he cited the numerous flops in the consumer economy in the Spiegel Online article. Apparently, roughly 80 percent of all new products disappear from shelves after a short time, mainly because the producers have misjudged the markets desire for them or what they are willing to pay.

It’s all part of a nascent concept known as Neuromarketing, and it is set to take to the market in the coming years. One can expect that consumers will have things to say about it, and no doubt those feelings will come through whenever and wherever producers try to sell you something. Personally, I am reminded of what Orwell wrote in 1984:

“Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed — no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

futurama_lightspeedbriefsAnd perhaps more appropriately, I’m also reminded of what Fry said about advertising in the Season 1 episode of Futurama entitled “A Fistfull of Dollars”:

“Leela: Didn’t you have ads in the 21st century?

Fry: Well sure, but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio, and in magazines, and movies, and at ball games… and on buses and milk cartons and t-shirts, and bananas and written on the sky. But not in dreams, no siree.”

Somehow, truth is always stranger than fiction!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, spiegel.de, neuromarketing-labs.com

More News in Quantum Computing!

quantum-computers-The-Next-GenerationRecently, a team of researchers at the University of Rochester conducted an experiment where they managed to suspend a nano-sized diamond in free space with a laser. The purpose of the experiment was to measure the amount of light emitted from the diamond, but had the added bonus of demonstrating applications that could be useful in the field of quantum computing.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, quantum computing differs from conventional computing since it does not rely on sending information via a series of particles (electrons) through one-way channels. Instead, quantum computing relies on the process of beaming the states of particles (i.e. a photons quantum properties) from one location to the next.

nanodiamondSince this process occurs faster than the speed of light (as no movement takes place) and qubits (quantum bits) have the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously, computations done using this model would be exponentially faster. But despite many advancements made in recent years, the field remains largely theoretical and elusive.

To conduct their experiment, the researchers focused a laser into a 25 cm (10 inch) chamber and then sprayed an aerosol containing dissolved nanodiamonds inside. These nanodiamonds were attracted to the laser in a technique known as “laser trapping”, until a single particle was isolated and made to levitate. Once the tiny gem was levitating in free space, the researchers used another laser to make defects within the diamond emit light at given frequencies.

nanodiamond1This process is known as photoluminescence – a form light emission that is caused by defects in the tiny diamond that allows for the absorptions of photons. When the system is excited, it changes the spin; and when the it relaxes after the change, other photons are emitted. This occurs because nitrogen atoms replace some of the carbon atoms in the diamond. Once the nitrogen is nested in the diamond’s atomic structure, it is possible to excite electrons with a laser.

According to the researchers, this photoluminescence process has the potential to excite the system and cause what is known as Bohr spin quantum jumps, which are changes in spin configuration of the internal defect. This occurs because nitrogen atoms replace some of the carbon atoms in the diamond. Once the nitrogen is nested in the diamond’s atomic structure, it is possible to excite electrons with a laser.

????????????????????In addition, the potential also exists to turn the nanodiamond into an optomechanical resonator. According to Nick Vamivakas, an assistant professor of optics at the University of Rochester, these are structures in which the vibrations of the system can be controlled by light. Optomechanical resonators have the potential to be used as incredibly precise sensors, which could lead to uses in microchips.

In addition, these resonator systems have the potential to create Schrödinger Cat states, which are typically not found in microscopic objects. As anyone who’ familiar with Futurama or Big Bang Theory may recall, this refers to the thought experiment where a cat is inside a box with poison, and until someone opens the box and determines its whereabouts, the cat could be considered simultaneously both alive and dead.

^Being able to stimulate matter so that it can exist in more than one state at any given time is not only revolutionary, it is a clear step towards the creation of machines that exploit this principle to perform computations. According to Nick Vamivakas, an assistant professor of optics at the University of Rochester, explained:

Cat or cat-like states contradict our everyday experiences since we do not see common things in quantum states. The question is: where is this boundary between microscopic and macroscopic? By generating quantum states of larger and larger objects, we can hone in on a boundary … if there is one.

Naturally, the Rochester team is still a long way from achieving their big breakthrough, and Vamivakas himself admits that he does not know how far away a quantum computing truly is. In terms of this latest experiment, the team still needs to cool the crystal better, which they are hoping can be achieved with a few technical improvements. And then they hope to find a better way of running the experiment than spraying nanodiamond dust into a tube.

In the meantime, check out this video of the experiment. It promises to be “illuminating” (sorry!):


Source:
gizmag.com

Goodbye Futurama… Again!

futuramaI’m sure many of us recall what it was like saying goodbye to Futurama for the first time back in 2003. The final episode opened with its usual title shot and upbeat music, and the caption down at the bottom read “See you on some other channel”. And after six years of reruns on Adult Swim and four direct-to-video movies, that prediction came true.

In 2009, Comedy Central picked up the show and began running new episodes, and all the fans started thumbing their noses at Fox. Once again, the big bad network lost as a show it had canned for unclear reasons (some believed it had to do with Groening being “too liberal” for Fox’s taste) was brought back from exile. And for the next four years, we the fans got treated to new episodes of a favorite series.

Futurama_BillionBacksAnd now, for the second time, we say goodbye to Futurama, which aired its last episode less than a week ago on Tuesday, Sept 4th, 2013. Naturally, I’ve been wanting to say something about it, but thought I would hold off until I finished watching the last episode. And now that that’s done, and my feelings are raw, I am free to spit some hot fire!

According to the industry buzz, the decision to discontinue the show was made exclusively by Comedy Central, which announced that it was finished with the series and would not be renewing for an eight season. Meanwhile, Matt Groening has said that he intends to continue with the series and get it picked up by another network, so fans can rest easy in the knowledge that the talent isn’t quitting, it’s was just some dumbass execs that decided to pull the plug!

bender_killallhumansAnd I for one have to wonder what the hell they are thinking. Who do they think they are, the Fox Network? Do they not recall the lashing those guys got from Groening after they axed his show? In any case, the cast and crew once again chose to go out with a cheeky bang. This time around, the caption words “Avenge Us” appeared at the bottom of the screen as the opening scene began to roll!

Oh, we will, Mr. Groening! We will! In addition, this final episode chose to once again focus on the love story between Fry and Leila. You might recall how last time, the show ended with “The Devils Hands are Idle Playthings”, where Fry composes for Leila a holophoner song and the episode ends with an image of them kissing, holding hands and walking into the distance. Well to up the ante, this episode ended with Fry and Leila spending a lifetime together, and then going around for another pass! (sniff, sniff)

Futurama_FryandLeela'sweddingAnd in the meantime, I want to do a tribute piece for this awesome series and I’d like people’s help to make it happen. Since we collectively make up the fan community , I’d like to know from all of you what you thought was great about this show. What were the best episodes? What were the funniest moments? What were the saddest moments? Who were the greatest characters? And who do you think will pick it up for its third run?

Drop me a line and let me know what you think. And I think I speak for us all when I “say goodbye for now” to Futurama for the second time! Perhaps it’s denial, or just confidence in the show itself, but I got a feeling we’ll be seeing it again soon! 🙂

futurama_finale

The Future of Transit: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

hyperloopThe high-speed transit tube. It’s been a staple of science fiction for many years. Remember the tubes cars in Logan’s Run, the elevators in the Jetsons, or the tubes that shoot people around New New York in Futurama? Much like flying cars, they are a feature of a futuristic society that people have been waiting on. And thanks to Elon Musk, it might finally be coming true.

Yes, the same man that brought us the Tesla electric car, PayPal, and SpaceX is now working on a design for a high-speed transit system that works the same way as the pneumatic tube. In a series of statements and documents released yesterday, the billionaire entrepreneur unveiled his concept for a tube that could whisk passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes – half the time it takes an airplane.

hyperloop1In the newly released documents, Musk outlined the basic design, which would consist of a low-pressure steel tube that houses capsules which move back and forth. The aluminum capsules (or pods) would have skis on the bottom containing holes that pump out air, creating an air cushion. They would be propelled forward with magnets found on the skis as well as an electromagnetic pulse generated by a series of electric motors.

Linear electric motors placed at each destination would slow the pods down by absorbing their kinetic energy. That energy would then be put back into battery packs and used to accelerate the next pods, or stored for future use. Solar panels on top of the tubes would also provide energy. The pods, which have room for 28 people each, could leave every 30 seconds – transporting up to 7.4 million people on each route (SF to LA or vice versa).

hyperloop2At 1290 kilometers per hour (800 mph) the above ground Hyperloop system would be dramatically faster than a bullet train or even an airplane. Alongside boats, planes, trains and automobiles, Musk claims that the train would constitute a “fifth form” of transportation. And of course, safety would be paramount, with each pod being spaced apart by 8 km (5 miles), and the system would have an emergency brake.

The system would also be designed to deal with seismic shifts, which are common in California. In order to mitigate earthquake risk, the system would be built on pylons (the tube wouldn’t be rigidly fixed at any point). Adjustable lateral and vertical dampers would be placed inside the pylons to “absorb the small length changes between pylons due to thermal changes, as well as long form subtle height changes.”

hyperloop3What’s more, Musk was sure to play up the comfort value of the ride:

Once you’re traveling the speed you wouldn’t notice the speed at all. It would be really smooth, like you’re riding on a cushion of air. Maximum G-force of about half a G, comparable to what you might feel in an airplane but far less than what you would feel in a rollercoaster. Really quiet.

Musk estimates that price tag per ride would be $20 per person, making the Hyperloop more reasonably priced than train, plane, or automobile. The whole project would cost an estimated $6 billion if it contained “people-only pods,” but would be priced at $10 billion if it had pods for both people and cars.

As it stands, its not entirely clear when the Hyperloop would be up and running. What’s more, its unclear what tole Musk would play in its creation. Since he is currently occupied with developing things like a nationwide Supercharger network for Tesla and launching satellites with SpaceX, he thinks it could be three to four years before a demo could be finished. As for a full system that would run from LA to San Francisco, that could take between seven to ten.

hyperloop4In any event, the concept is open-source, and Musk is calling on inventors, engineers and investors to get involved. Given that it is a rather elegant solution to the problem of transit, such an idea is not likely to remain idle for too long. Originally inspired by the sad state of $70 billion California’s high-speed rail initiative, the Hyperloop could easily prove to be another transportation initiative that is never completed. At the same time, it might prove to be a “leapfrog maneuver”, bypassing lightrail completely and ushering in something better.

It might sound like a fantasy, but Musk has a reputation for making the impossible a reality. What’s more, engineers from both Tesla and SpaceX have been working on the concept for close to a year and some are now dedicated to it full-time. And given that nations like China, India, Russia and the EU are in need of expanded transit systems, don’t be surprised if we see something similar emerging overseas.

And be sure to enjoy this video of the concept, courtesy of Elon Musk and CBC news:


Sources: cbc.ca, fastcoexist.com

Futurama does 3D Printing!

benderIt’s a good day when a show like Futurama begins turning out new episodes. This past week’s featured a story where Bender began taking advantage of 3D printing to create a famous folk singer’s one-of-a-kind guitar. Naturally, things got out of control, and the story was chock full of social commentary and the concept that the printing revolution might actually be ushering an age where artificial replicas could infringe on the real thing.

For the life of me, I can’t find clips of this episode anywhere. Guess it’s too soon to expect anyone to upload it to Youtube, lazy piraters! But I found the next best thing: a time-lapse video of a Bender figurine being printed out on a Maker Bot. It’s set to the extended cut of Futurama’s theme, and the result is a pretty cool replica of the jive-talking, amoral alcoholic robot himself!

Futurama Season 7B, Coming Soon!

futuramaThanks to IO9 and Raven Lunatick for turning me onto this! For fans of Futurama, the long wait for the second half of season 7 will finally be coming out this summer. And the buzz is pretty interesting, and promises to broach one of the saddest moments in the series. Yes, it seems that they hope to once again revisit the issue of Fry and Seymour – who’s relationship was cut tragically short when he was frozen. Good thing too, I don’t like how they ended that. You talk about a baller moment, and I aint talking basketball!

Other promises include a nod to the Planet of the Apes franchise, a Thing parody, Leela as a tentacle-monster (possibly a further mutation), a war with a Cobra-esque evil organization, and some more appearances from Robot Satan. And of course, we can all count on the return of our favorite characters and their trademark antics, which would include some smack-talk from Bender, some mild senility from the Professor, some incompetence and impoverished references from Zoidberg, and some limboing and thinly-veiled ganja jokes from Hermes.

Enjoy the preview and join me in counting the days!

Batman – Under the Red Hood

Hey all. My apologies for not cluttering you’re inbox’s lately with my usual slew of posts. But I’ve been away for the weekend and beyond the reach of a keyboard and/or PDA with internet access. But I’m back now, and back to my usual, manic output! And in honor of that, here’s a clip from an animated movie I saw awhile back and think is deserving of a review.

Entitled Batman: Under the Red Hood, this animated movie adapts some key material from the Batman comics, specifically the death and resurrection of Jason Todd, the second Robin to ever serve as sidekick to the Dark Knight. After being murdered by the Joker, he returns a few years later in the form of a vigilante who seems intent of killing criminals and getting under the skin of Gotham’s “Caped Crusader”. His disguised is especially significant because it used to be the very thing that the Joker wore before the accident that left him a scarred and brutalized freak.

The clip here is of the reunion between Todd, the Joker and Batman once the Red Hood’s true identity has been revealed. I picked it because it’s just so damn well scripted and chock full of classic Batmanesque themes. And check it out, the Joker is voiced by John Di Maggio, the voice actor who does Bender on Futurama. I look forward to reviewing it in full, as it was pretty badass!

A Tribute To Sidekicks

Hey all! Today, I thought I’d cover a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time. Over the few years that I’ve been writing now, something has been missing from this site. I’d payed tributes to franchises, novels, series, movies, heroes, and even robots. But not once have I acknowledged the critical supporting characters who have provided comic relief and made the lives of the heroes that much easier over the years.

And so I present the following list of the top 13 sidekicks from the field of sci-fi, at least the ones that I know of and/or care to acknowledge. Not  a lucky number I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to exclude any of the people here. They are hardly alone in being faithful companions, comedic foils or much needed helpers, but they are the people that I feel capture the full range of side-kick abilities and personalities. Hope you enjoy, and as always, suggestions are welcome, just in case I decide to make further installments.

Abraham Whistler:
This first sidekick comes to us from the Blade franchise where he serves the vampire hunter as mentor, weapons maker, and surrogate father figure. This last aspect is especially important, since it forms the basis of his relationship with Blade. Whereas Blade never had a family, Whistler was robbed of his. Both blame vampires for this travesty, and therefore make the perfect team. Whereas Blade provides the muscle and the daring, Whistler makes the weapons and is the voice of reason.

According to his bio, as provided by the both the Marvel Universe and the movie adaptation, Abraham became a hunter after his family was murdered by a vampire. It was in the course of hunting one evening that he came upon  a teen-aged Blade who was in the midst of preying on a homeless person. After realizing that Blade was a half-vampire (aka. a dhampir), he chose to spare his life and began training him to become a hunter himself.

Like the bad-ass vampire hunter he helped create, Whistler is a man of few words who seems pretty rough around the edges. But, also like Blade, underneath that gruff exterior beats the heart of a man who still seems to care. While he’ll often advise Blade against sticking his neck out or taking unnecessary risks, in the end he’s still willing to go the extra mile to help those in need.

Bender:
From a distance, Bender might seem like a wise-cracking, alcoholic, kleptomaniac robot, but once you get to know him… well, you pretty much realize that’s who is! On top of that, he seems to have a moribund fascination with killing all humans, a theory he has occasionally attempted to put into practice!

However, it would be wrong to say Bender’s a superficial kind of guy. In addition to being terrified of can openers and secretly wanting to be a country-western singer, he’s also shown himself to be pretty sensitive at times. When Fry moved out of their apartment, he went on a Bender of non-drinking, which for him is a very bad thing!

On top of all that, he’s also come through on numerous occasions to save Fry and the crew of Planet Express. Never without complaint, of course, but still. I guess you could say Bender is an exercise in contradiction. An automaton designed to bend girders who excels at not making human lives any easier!

Chewbacca:
Here’s the hairy side-kick who taught us the immutable lesson about living in the Star Wars universe. When you’re in a jam, it’s always good to have a Wookie in your corner! And of the universe’s many Wookies, Chewbacca is probably the best. In addition to being delightfully shaggy, he’s very strong, fiercely loyal, and mechanically inclined. Not a bad guy to have around!

Intrinsic to Chewie’s relationship with Han is the concept of the Wookie life-debt. At some point in the unspecified past, Han came to Chewies aid by freeing him from an Imperial slave-labor camp. As a result, Chewie is bound to Han for life. This is something Chewbacca takes very seriously, as any attempt to put Han is danger is usually met with a severe beatdown! When Han’s family expanded, after marrying Leia later in the franchise, Chewie’s life debt extended to them as well.

Chewie’s past also shows through when it comes to his attitude about restraints. When Luke tried to put some on him, even though it was part of ruse, he didn’t react too well! Beyond that, not much is known, like whether or not he has family back on Kashyyk or elsewhere in the Galaxy. But then again, Chewie doesn’t talk about this stuff. Like most Wookies, he doesn’t talk about himself much, preferring to express himself in a series of warbled utterances or loud growls.

Gabrielle:
The next entry on this list is the faithful, staff-twirling sidekick from the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise. Gabrielle, a former farm girl turned warrior companion, became the model of friendship and loyalty for countless girls and young women all over the world. In addition, numerous Lesbian rights advocates saw her and Xena as examples of the kind of love and dedication that can exist between two women. Whether or not they had this kind of relationship is a matter of speculation; the point is, they did love each other, regardless of whether it was platonic or romantic.

Gabrielle’s story as Xena’s sidekick began in small Greek village after she and her sister were taken as slaves. After being rescued by Xena, Gabrielle wanted to become just like her, in part because she was impressed by her fighting skills but also because she didn’t want to end up in an arranged marriage. The two women became friends and enjoyed countless adventures over the course of their many years together.

As time went on, Gabrielle evolved from being a young, naive girl who stood in Xena’s shadow to being a fully-fledged warrior. Her choice weapon was the staff, but in time, she also incorporated kicking and acrobatic abilities. Eventually, she became a heroine in her own right and was even replaced by the klutzy Joxer as the dependent sidekick.

Harley Quinn:
Here we have an interesting side-kick, one who exemplifies dedication and diabolical intent. A one-time psychiatrist who was brought in to assess Gotham’s criminal mastermind, Dr. Harleen Quinzel soon found herself sympathizing and even becoming enamored with the Joker and helped him escape from custody. Once her involvement was made clear, she fled herself, changing her name to Harley Quinn and becoming the Joker’s full-time assistant.

Making her debut in the Batman animated series, she was quickly incorporated into the DC Comics series. Ever since, she has made numerous appearances in the graphic novels, spin-off shows, and video games. Unlike the Joker’s usual henchmen, she has staying power and the ability to live to fight another day much “Mr. J” himself, as she affectionately calls him.

Though her affection and attachment to the Joker is the picture of obsessive and unhealthy behavior, it is precisely because of this that her loyalty and commitment shines through. No matter what nefarious schemes the Joker gets up to or who he hurts, she sticks by him and always has his back covered!

Kaylee:
Next up, there’s the spunky, charming, cheerful and mechanically inclined engineer of the Serenity! Yes, in the Firefly universe – a universe permeated by thugs, freelancers, mercenaries and privateers – Kaylee is a breath of fresh air and a spot of sunshine. Not what you’d expect in a ship’s mechanic, but that’s an undeniable part of her charm! When it comes right down to it, she is as much at home in coveralls and machine grease as she is in a pretty dress and a parasol.

According to the series, Captain Mal first met Kaylee during a chance encounter when his previous mechanic brought her to the engine room for a little sumthin’ sumthin’! After realizing that she had more talent in her pinky finger than the other dude had in his entire frame, her promptly hired her! Since then, neither Mal nor Kaylee has ever looked back.

On top of all that, Kaylee is quite the romantic. All series long, she held an obvious torch for Dr. Simon Tam, River Tam’s protective brother and the ship’s doctor. Although her early attempts to facilitate a hook-up failed, she later learned that he held the same feelings, but denied them because he was too focused on protective his sister. In the end, they got together, a fitting and happy ending for this pretty ray of sunshine!

R2D2 and C3P0:
Yes, they are technically not a single side-kick, but they come as a pair so I shall not deal with them separately. And when it comes right down it, they really don’t work well on their own since they’re essentially comedic foils for each other. Together, they are the comic relief and workhorse of the Star Wars universe.

Making their debut at the very beginning of the original trilogy, R2 and 3P0 captured people’s hearts as the unlikely duo on whose shoulder’s the fate of the universe rested. Whereas R2 was an astrometric droid, a rolling Swiss Army knife with a stubborn attitude and endless gumption, 3P0 was a prissy, effeminate translator who specialized in protocol and etiquette. Together, they were the robotic odd of the universe!

As time went on, the two bonded and became totally inseparable. In addition, no matter where the main characters took them, they both seemed to always be indispensable. R2 opened doors, interfaced with machines and disabled traps, while 3P0 talked to the natives and advised the group on the safest course of action. While they frequently fought and lobbed insults at each other, their affection for each other was clear. When R2 was damaged during the Battle of Yavin, 3P0 selflessly offered his own components to help fix him. As the franchise expanded after the original trilogy, they even got their own animated show, aptly named Droids.

Robin:
Where would Batman be without his trusty side-kick, Robin, “the Boy Wonder”? Probably dead, to be frank. Yes, this sprightly acrobat has been their for Bruce Wayne on many occasions, pulling his chestnuts out of the fire and taking down the villains who were about to get the best of him. And yet, Batman has gone through several Robins over the years. Only one died, and was even resurrected. But still, that’s a high turnover rate!

The first Robin was known as Dick Grayson, an 8 year old who’s parents were murdered by mobsters, prompting  Bruce Wayne to take him under his wing and teaching him the ways of vengeance and justice. After taking down the man responsible, Batman and Robin went on to have many adventures together until Dick eventually went independent and became Nightwing.

He was replaced by Jason Todd, a young man with a similar backstory. Like Grayson, he was an acrobat who’s family was murdered. But in Todd’s case, he reacted to this trauma by becoming a hard-nosed street kid who stole to survive. After catching him in the act of trying to steal his tires, Batman began to train Todd as his new Robin. Unfortunately, this side-kicks life ended tragically when the Joker killed him and his birth mother with a bomb.  He was resurrected as the Red Hood shortly thereafter, but never reprized the role of Robin.

Thereafter, a string of Robins came and went, but in each case, their basic role and characteristics remained the same. Whereas Batman was always the tall, strapping and bulky hero, Robin was always smaller, faster and slighter of build. And whereas Batman was always the quite, ultra-serious brooding type, Robin could be counted on to tell a joke and crack a joke.

Roger:
Some people might disagree with my choice to include Roger on this list, as he is as much an independent character as a side-kick. However, I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about Roger on this site and this seems like the perfect one! Also known by various personas he’s assumed over the years, Roger is the alien from American Dad that lives in the Smith’s attic, coming down every so often to take part in family affairs and hijinks.

From a passing glance, Roger might seem like a drug-addled, alcoholic sociopath. But there’s a reason for that! In addition to being an avid wine guzzler, coke head, pill-popper, and pansexual weirdo, he’s also reputedly the one who invented disco, the drug ecstasy, Jar Jar Binks, and the man go got the Captain of the Exxon Valdez drunk! Aside from all that, he’s spent the majority of his life avoiding government agents and impersonating colorful men and women.

In fact, Roger is so in love with impersonating other people that fashion montages have become a recurring part of his existence. And while he can certainly impersonate men well enough, his preferred aliases tend to be women. This is in keeping with Roger’s pansexual identity, which seems to involve gender confusion, bi-curiosity, and a total lack of boundaries. In fact, when in women’s constume, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he’s a bit of a tramp!

Many years back, Roger came into the Smith household after saving Stan’s life in Area 51. Since that time, they have had a dynamic not unlike Han and Chewie, where obligation gave way to lasting friendship. Years later, Roger is considered a fully-fledged member of the Smith family, despite his ruinous activities and the high cost of keeping him entertained and under wraps!

Saul Tigh:
Okay, this guy might not be the perfect side-kick, but he’s definitely a rich and interesting character. On the one hand, he’s lived a rather rough and gruff life as a man, participating in the First Cylon War, going through a divorce, then developing a recurring drinking problem. On the other, he was a freaking Cylon and didn’t even know it! So yeah, maybe not the best guy to have in your corner, but he does have his upsides!

According to the relaunch series, Saul Tigh met William Adama in a bar a few years after the First Cylon War. After bailing him out of a close shave with several angry men, the two became fast friends and bonded over their shared experiences. Many years later, when Adama became commander of the Galactica, Saul was appointed as his XO. When the Second War began, he and everyone else were forced back into action.

In time, he became reunited with his estranged wife, a manipulative woman who also turned out to be one of the “Final Five” Cylons. Over the next few years, he maintained his position as XO, continued to have a rocky relationship with her, and never quite shook his drinking problem. In fact, it seemed that whenever times were tough, Saul would turn to the bottle.

Nevertheless, through it all, Saul remained a committed and loyal officer, one could be counted on to whatever what was necessary when the pressure was on. During Cylon offensive, when the Galactica was hit by a tactical nuke, he stepped up and made some tough calls which may have prevented the destruction of the ship. When Adama was shot by Boomer, herself a Cylon sleeper, he stepped into the Captain’s shoes and did his best to keep the fleet together. And when New Caprica became occupied by Cylon forces, Saul led a human resistance that kept up the fight against the occupation until Adama and Apollo could liberate the planet.

All in all, Saul was complicated. He was gruff, short, and had absolutely no patience for people he didn’t approve of. He could also be violent sometimes and was definitely a problem drinker! But he had a good heart and somehow managed to stay sane through it all, even after he learned that he was a Cylon. In truth, a lot of people would probably be dead were it not for this man, which is probably one of the reasons that Adama kept him around. That and the fact that, like Saul, Adama too was a fiercely loyal man.

Samwise Gamgee:
When it comes to dedication, selflessness, and versatility, Samwise Gamgee definitely takes the cake! The noble, stalwart and immensely loyal friend to Frodo Baggins, Sam was the very reason the quest to destroy the One Ring succeeded. Though a bit of a simpleton, his levelheadedness and stout heart were a constant source of strength and support for the Ringbearer. Hell, had it not been for his tireless help, cooking, and ability to come through in a pinch, Frodo would have been dead for sure!

Ostensibly employed as Frodo’s gardener, Samwise became involved in the quest to destroy the One Ring after Gandalf caught him eavesdropping on their little conversation. Before parting company with them, Gandalf instructed him never to let Frodo out of his sight. Sam took these instructions very literally, and thereafter did not leave Frodo alone for one minute! After setting off together, it was Sam who made sure they always had food and their spirits were high.

When Gollum entered their party, Sam never once stopped warning Frodo about him. Though Frodo seemed to think that Gollum had a role to pay or could be redeemed somehow, Sam remained committed to the belief that he was evil and untrustworthy. In the end, he was proven right, but then again, Frodo was in a way too… whatever, it’s complicated!

Towards the end of their quest, when things became truly difficult, Sam came through like never before. When Frodo was paralyzed by Shelob and taken captive by Orcs, Sam risked everything to rescue him, charging headlong into Minas Morgul and kicking the crap out of every Orc that stood in his way. And when Frodo finally faltered under the weight of the One Ring, Sam carried him up the Mountain to the Cracks of Doom.

Through it all, Sam never once complained or considered leaving Frodo’s side. Naturally, some speculate this was because the two were more than just friends. Lousy gossip mongers! But in truth, Sam was just that committed to those he considered friends and what he considered to be right. These are qualities he passed along to his thirteen children after he and Rose Cotton got married. Wow, loyal, friendly, and fertile too! Samwise has got it all!

Wedge Antilles:
When it comes to side-kicks, Wedge has some of the best characteristics of all. He’s loyal. He’s reliable. And best of all, he never dies! In addition, Wedge (who’s name alone makes him cool) is also one of the best pilots in the Rebel Fleet and the co-founder of Rogue Squadron (along with Luke Skywalker). Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy and the expanded universe, Wedge has always been there in his trusty X-wing and other attack craft, providing much needed support and kicking Imperial ass!

His impressive resume includes an assault on the First Death Star, where as a junior officer in Rogue Squad, he provided cover for Luke as he launched the torpedoes that would destroy the terrifying space station. When Imperial Forces attacked Echo Base on planet Hoth, he was there in a speeder and scored a major victory by being the first to take down an AT-AT walker with a tow cable. And finally, he played a major role by helping to lead Rebel Forces to a decisive victory in the battle of Endor.

Because of all this, Wedge gained the reputation of being the greatest pilot in the Galaxy. As the sole survivor of both Death Star runs, he was given command of Rogue Squadron before being promoted to General and given command of an entire fleet. Throughout it all, Wedge never once lost his soft-spoken and humble attitude. It just goes to show you, nice guys really can kick ass!

Zoe Washburne:
And last, but definitely, DEFINITELY not least, there Zoe, the heroine of the Firefly universe. As a veteran soldier, freelance butt-kicker, executive officer, and loving wife, she’s got the whole package, at least when it comes to science fiction heroines. A good woman to settle down with and to have aboard your ship, guarding your precious cargo and your ass. No wonder Mal trusts her with his life, and Wash loves her so!

Having served in the War of Unification as a Browncoat, Zoe served under Mal when he was a Sergeant in the Independents Army. In the end, they were the only two to survive the battle, which bonded them for life. Afterward, she took a job as his XO aboard the Serenity and never looked back. Of all the other crewmembers, she was the only one who routinely referred to Mal as “sir” and obeyed his orders. However, that didn’t stop her from expressing concern over his decisions and letting him know when she thought they were totally stupid!

In the course of her service as XO, she met Wash, the ship’s pilot, and the two fell in love. They got married shortly thereafter, and even talked about settling down and having children (something their lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive too). Due to her close relationship with Mal, Wash was often jealous of then, which at times caused friction. However, Wash soon realized that his concerns were for naught, as it became clear to him that the loyalty she had towards her commander did not conflict with her love of him.

In short, she’s the kind of woman a man would want as a friend, a sidekick, and a lover. Though tough as nails and the kind of no-nonsense lay who’d kick your ass if you messed with her or her crew, she could still be tender and make her man feel like a man. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Just don’t tell her I said that, she’d kick my ass!

Summary:
So, having looked into all these personalities, I think it’s fair to say that I have some inkling of what makes a decent sidekick tick. In short, I think the following characteristics, alone or in combination, are what add up to a good supporting character, one which the hero is likely to want to keep around.

  1. Loyalty: This, above all, seems to be what makes a sidekick both desirable and endearing to audiences. As heroes undergo their trials and tribulations, they need someone who will stick with them, keeping them on the straight and narrow and making sure they don’t succumb to temptation or their enemies machinations.
  2. Levelheadedness: As the saying goes, “It’s always a true friend who will tell you what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it”. And when it comes to sidekicks, this is not only desirable, its a job requirement. When the heroes life is on the line, the last thing they need is an ego stroke or to be let down easy. And frankly, the view really is better from the cheap seats!
  3. Sense of Humor: And remember, it’s important to keep things light. Whenever the pressure is on, danger is all around, and the tension is palatable, a good wisecrack or a little slapstick is usually in good order. Just refrain from poop jokes or overtly juvenile humor (look at you, Jar Jar!) And if were talking comedy instead of action and drama, the sidekick should be especially comedic! Their antics should inspire hysterical laughter from time to time, even if it’s a little in bad taste 😉
  4. Mad Skills: Remember, just because the hero is the focal point of the story doesn’t mean that you can’t steal the show every once in awhile. In fact, said skillz can pay the billz! And by that I mean a skilled sidekick can come in extremely handy to a hero from time to time. After all, if you’re constantly requiring rescuing, the hero will very quickly grow tired of you and find someone to replace to you! It also doesn’t hurt to have a gimmick, a weapon or characteristic that sets you apart. For example, if the hero is a big, He-Man/Amazon kind of hero, go small and wiry. If they are a smaller, wisecracking personality who relies on their wits more than their physique, be the muscly, enforcer type. It’s also good to carry your own unique brand of weapons. They set you apart and diversify your killing power!

That’s all I got for now. Like I said before, I’m open to suggestions for other candidates. If I can assemble enough, I’ll be sure to do a second installment. Otherwise, expect more of the usual posts dedicated to franchises, concepts, technology, and the latest in science fiction!

Futurama and Schrodinger’s Cat

If you’re like me, you had no idea who the hell Schrodinger or his alleged cat was before The Big Theory came along. Lucky for us, that show makes learning about science fun! But an even bigger plus is being able to understand jokes like this one. Not only did they parody Tron, they also managed to work in the scientific concept of Lorentz Invariance, Fresnel’s Refraction of Light, and the quantum theory of Schrodinger’s Cat. And for those who haven’t seen it, this show was also a parody of the concept of precrime from the novel (and movie) by PKD, Minority Report. Man, this show just keep’s getting smarter!