Category Archives: Movies

The Turing Test

Fall has kicked into overdrive and the serious movies are all heading for the theaters in time for the Oscar nominations. Most geeks already know The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 is landing in theaters on November 21st . But there’s a smaller, much more low-budget British film scheduled to open on November 28th that gets even more serious nerd cred. It’s called The Imitation Game.


The movie tells the story of how Alan Turing — the Cambridge mathematician, creator of the Turing Test and pioneer of modern-day computing — used his genius to help crack encrypted Nazi messages with a huge team of cryptographers at Britain’s top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking facility. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower has even estimated that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two years. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, it stars English actor and modern Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (above).

bookIf you’re interested Turing’s life and want to do a little background research before seeing the film, one definitive place to start is with the extensive biography, Alan Turing: The Engima, written by Andrew Hodges. The book was originally published in 1983, but has been updated a few times since then, including in 2012 for the centenary of Turing’s birth. It’s not one of those short biographies — 600 to 770 pages depending on the edition. Upon its arrival, the book was well-reviewed and Jim Holt of The New Yorker even called it “One of the finest scientific biographies ever written.” Here in the States, Alan Turing: The Enigma is currently out now from Princeton University Press, which has posted a PDF of the first chapter if you want to try before you buy; it’s also available as an ebook from the usual suspects.

jacobiThe Imitation Game film was actually based on the Hodges biography, as was an earlier adaptation from 1996 called Breaking the Code, which starred Derek Jacobi (left) as Turing. The 90-minute BBC film is available to watch for free online on YouTube. For a more academic approach, the Turing Digital Archive, hosted by King’s College at Cambridge, has about 3,000 images of letters, photos, papers and other material related to Alan Turing.

Once you’ve tackled Turing, you can also find plenty of online resources on the science of cryptography, including a fact sheet on World War II cryptology from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the Google Cultural Institute site devoted to Bletchley Park and the BBC’s guide to code-breaking. For a more modern-day look, there’s also a free online Coursera course in cryptography from Stanford University.

So geeks, get ready. This could be the film for you this season — and something to tide us all over until next year’s The Avengers:  Age of Ultron and of course, Star Wars VII.

P.S. Want to smarten up your wardrobe with the same Turing t-shirt the Pop Tech Bunny is modeling at the top of this post? Order it here. (Rabbit not included.)

Appointment Viewing

The Comic-Con International: San Diego event wrapped up this past weekend after about five days of nonstop hype and news blasts. The event — which throws Hollywood marketing people in with comics fans, animation lovers, cosplay kids, science-fiction and fantasy enthusiasts and all genre aficionados in between — saw a number of announcements.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Gillian Anderson turned up for an X-Files panel and joked that there’s a lost Mulder-Scully sex scene out there from the old show, which sent some fans into a frenzy — although she actually said later she’d been kidding. But she wouldn’t mind doing another X-Files movie some day.
  • And Batman and Superman are going to team up for movie in 2015. Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill are set to return as director and hero, Batman needs to be cast since Christian Bale hung up the cowl. The film is expected to pave the way for a Justice League movie that teams up even more DC superheroes for 2017. No sign of casting calls for Zatanna, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter or the Hawkcouple, but please, someone needs to get crackin’ on a Wonder Woman flick. Like, now.

If you need more Comic-Con 2013 news, click here or here or here for roundups — and start clearing your schedule for 2015.


sharkIf you were anywhere near the bird-themed microblogging service last Thursday, you may have seen people tweeting about something called Sharknado. This campy mashup of marine-predator-meets-weather-disaster horror film was even announced as “trending on Twitter” Thursday evening.

This trend blip led a number of news organizations to take a closer look at the tweeting about the movie. The SocialGuide site, part of the Nielsen company, reported that Sharknado was the most discussed program on the air that night and generated more than 400,000 tweets, (even though the TV ratings urned out to be eh, not so much). But Sharknado made its mark on the trend lists and Twitter itself even blogged about the event.

So if you’re just a casual Twitter user, all of this trend business may seem a little confusing. How does a trend start? How do they count them? Is this just an advertising stunt?

Rest assured, trends are an official part of the Twitter service. In fact, when you’re logged into your account in the Web, you can see a little box of trends on the left side of the page and when you’re on the official mobile app, tap Discover then on Trends. There. You’ll see a list of keywords and hashtagged phrases. You’ll also see Promoted Trends, which are labeled as such and yes, those are advertising someone paid for. So, how did theses trends get there?

According to Twitter:

Trends are determined by an algorithm and are tailored for you based on who you follow and your location. This algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter that matter most to you. You can choose to see Trends that are not tailored for you by selecting a specific Trends location on

So if you follow a lot of sports feeds, you’ll most likely see trending topics on that subject, like recent NBA trades if you have a team in your city. Hashtags are used in phrases, like #royalbaby to make the topics findable for people looking to search out all the tweets on the topic using that same hashtag. Trends also show world and local events.

If you want to see trends for other cities or parts of the world, click the Change link in the Twitter trends box to pick a different country or city and see what’s trending there. You can also type in “Worldwide” to get the global pulse.

When you click on a trend listed in the box, Twitter takes you to a page of search results for tweets using those keywords, phrase or hashtag. If you’re feeling like group activity, you can join in the trend by tweeting a new post of your own using the same keyboards or hashtag.

To avoid people gaming the system or trying to artificially inflate the importance of a topic, Twitter does have rules about trends, along with general rules for using the service.

As you can imagine, people love to see that topics are trending nationally or globally, and plenty of third-party sites that round up this info and present it in some sort of graphically pleasing form are out there. These include:

  • The site has page called Trending on Twitter that looks at the hot hashtags of the moment.
  • Trendsmap, a geographical real-time representation of what the popular topics around certain parts of the world. You can sign in to Trendsmap with your Twitter account as long as you’re doing it for personal, non-profit and research use only. Otherwise, you can sign up for Trendsmap Plus at $19 a month to get ad-free data you can filter by hashtag, keywords or users, faster updates and Vine videos.

If you’re a marketing or advertising person, you can also find paid services for analyzing Twitter traffic for your business.

And if you missed the original airing of Sharknado, Syfy is rerunning it this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. You can find clips from the film around the Web (spoilers, darling!) if you don’t want to sit through two hours of giant toothy wind-propelled fish chomping their way through L.A. But then again, maybe you do.

We Never Want to Spoil the Fun

This week I go on a bit of a rant about the new entry in the Star Trek reboot, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. Okay, maybe I go on a long, foaming at the mouth diatribe that contains spoilers about every major plot point of the movie. If you want to skip the spoilers jump ahead to the 9 minute and 10 second mark.

Apologies to those Jammers who have yet to peep the flick (which I actually quite enjoyed despite my concerns). My bad! Here are some bloopers from Star Trek: Classic…

“Yub Nub?!?! I Think J.D. and El Kaiser Have Finally Jumped the Sarlac…”

If you were completely thrown by our reference to the “Yub Nub Song” in the opening minutes of this week’s episode, that’s understandable. You’ve obviously had the misfortune of only ever having seen the post-1997 versions of the classic finale to the epic Star Wars saga, “Return of the Jedi”. A victim of the “Special Edition” massacre, all Yub Nubbing was replaced by the generic world music blandness of “Ewok Celebration” in the subsequent soundtracks.

Now, don’t blame yourselves! The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of a certain bearded and pompadoured filmmaker from the Bay area of California who just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As a public service for all Gen Y and Millenials deprived of the vocal stylings of those fluffy little cash cows, I present, for your viewing and listening pleasure, the “Yub Nub Song”…