December 9, 2017 by
With a teaser for the movie released yesterday, we now have the full trailer for Alita: Battle Angel and it looks like it could be actually decent. Now, it is worth understanding the history behind James Cameron’s involvement with this project. In that, this is something that he has been working on in the background since the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film came out. This is definitely a passion project for him and much of what held the film back was the limitations of special effects during the 90s. Cameron has also clearly read the original manga, known as Gunnm in Japan and penned by Yukito Kishiro, and has used that as his source material here. To understand what this means, you only have to look at this trailer and see that Alita is already using Panzer Kunst moves from the manga. This is a special cyborg martial art in the story that originates on Mars and was initially used in zero gravity situations. It is used specifically to allow smaller and supposedly “weaker” cyborgs to subdue much larger and stronger enemies. By the time of the story, Alita is one of the last Panzer Kunst practitioners alive and that makes her an inherent target for the new power structure on Earth, or what is left of it. Gunnm was and still is a brilliant and thoroughly dystopian cyberpunk manga with a wonderful and nuanced woman lead character. Considering Cameron’s back catalog of films, the premise is beyond perfect for him. My only gripe is that Alita is depicted as per her manga and later anime likeness, which means her eyes are enormous. This makes her look very odd next to what is clearly an amazing cast of very talented actors. I don't get why this was necessary, as it is visually quite jarring. Alita’s face is proportioned like a manga and anime character in real life, yet everyone else looks like a regular human being (even the other cyborgs). Bar that though, this is something I have been hoping Cameron would get around to for decades and thus far, from what I am seeing this could be genuinely good. Ollie Barder

December 3, 2017 by
Even an unlimited plan won't save you. With the Federal Communications Commission likely set to abolish net neutrality at its next meeting on December 14, a big, obvious question is just what the internet will look like after the change. A feature AT&T rolled out late last year to reduce users’ bandwidth when streaming videos to their phone may provide a suitably grim preview of an internet without net neutrality — the principle that internet service providers can’t play favorites with content or charge users for faster speeds. The Stream Saver feature doesn’t necessarily sound like such a bad idea at first glance. In order to conserve users’ data, it automatically reduces the quality of streaming video to 480p. That’s not exactly high definition, but also decent enough when watching a show on your smartphone screen. If one were feeling generous toward AT&T — and no, we’re not sure why someone would, but let’s roll with this — one could say it’s a helpful way to keep people from going over their data limits. Which, yes, are set more or less arbitrarily by AT&T in the first place. But again, we’re being generous. As a highly upvoted comment thread on r/technology pointed out Wednesday, the problems are all in the details. Stream Saver is an opt-out, not opt-in feature. Users have reported since its inception in late 2016 of not being informed as to why their streaming video was suddenly lower quality, meaning they have to go hunting for a way to switch it off. That’s a little sneaky, but it doesn’t totally destroy the whole rationale behind the feature or anything. But then there’s the fact even people with unlimited data plans have had Stream Saver automatically activated, despite the fact there’s literally no reason on the user’s end to have a data-limiting feature. The only side that benefits from decreasing the data usage of someone with an unlimited plan is AT&T, which saves a bit of money on bandwidth. It doesn’t take much extrapolation to see how a feature like this could crop up in a world without net neutrality, except with a couple additional spikes. In the current incarnation of Stream Saver, AT&T merely makes the opt-out feature a little difficult — or very difficult, depending on which user you ask — to find. A post-net neutrality version of this might still offer an opt-out, but only for a fee. This is a potential blueprint for how tiered service could creep in, especially if the anti-net neutrality FCC isn’t totally wrong when it argues the free market will punish ISPs that roll out unabashed tiered internet plans straight away. The tiering may instead come with these little-publicized, frequently confusing features, in which people only learn there’s a price to pay when they realize they are no longer getting the service they originally stood up for. Stream Saver foreshadows a death of net neutrality by a thousand business-minded cuts, rather than the one killing blow of the FCC’s vote. It may not be the perfect analogy for what awaits the internet on the other side of the December 14 vote — we still can only guess what the ISPs will do once they get the green light to roll back net neutrality protections — but this is AT&T’s past track record, and it’s not exactly encouraging. by Alasdair Wilkins