Lazy Luddite Log


Conservation of Mass

Next week the new live-action Transformers is hitting cinemas and I am a bit like a kid in the week preceding Christmas Day. I have been taking furtive looks at images and information relating to the movie in recent weeks and getting all excited. But rather than look too closely and story or characterisation, I have been focusing on the look of the newly envisaged robots. The new design aesthetic is strikingly anatomical and suggests both human and alien characteristics while still being entirely mechanical in substance.

One of the limitations the designers deliberately set on themselves was that Transformers must abide by conservation of mass. In other words they cannot change in size from robot mode to disguise mode. This titbit of information dismayed me as it prevents some of the coolest Transformers from existing. But then I got to thinking of ways of preserving the original nature of particular characters within the mass conservation limitation (and of making some other changes too). What follows then is my own personal re-imaginings of particular Transformers rather than anything that may be in the movie itself. Think of this then as an alternate toy-line had I been creative consultant in some parallel universe.

Warning: Massive Transformers Geekery follows!

Soundwave: The original Soundwave is a larger-than-average Decepticon who transforms into a cassette recorder of normal size. The mass-conservation disguise I would propose for this character is a massive speaker stack complete with mixing desk that one would see at a nightclub or live music gig. Imagine the debut scene of such a character as all his components come together to terrorise a bunch of ravers!

Blaster: The original Blaster is a larger-than-average Autobot and the nemisis of Soundwave who transforms into a boom box. To make him different from my newly imagined Soundwave, and to have him conform to the standard of Autobots taking automotive form, I would have him transform into one of those TV news vans. This would allow him to still have signal transmission and music playing powers and also allow him to transport himself.

Reflector: The original Reflector was a gestalt of three (moreorless identical) robots that transformed into one handheld film camera. My re-imagining would be to have him as one Decepticon robot which transforms into three separate TV studio cameras. This would give him sufficient mass to be just smaller than the average Transformer.

Perceptor: The original Perceptor is a larger-than-average Autobot who transforms into a microscope. So to go from small to big I would have him transform into a telescope. Even better - is there any such thing as a mobile telescope - like a van adapted to having a mini-observatory on the back? Once more this would allow the character to conform to the Autobot standard of taking automotive form.

Megatron: The leader of the Decepticons is a larger-than-average robot who transforms into a handgun sized to fit a human hand (or sometimes a Transformer hand). The character has had a number of toy incarnations that have included a military tank. I would propose a compromise however of having him transform into one of those mobile cannons such as a Howitzer. In other words I am just making him a big gun. A similar thing could be done with the character Shockwave (who was originally a futuristic ray gun but in my imaginings could be an alien laser cannon)

Optimus Prime: The most well-known disguise for the leader of the Autobots is a truck cab (prime-mover). However he has had other toy incarnations such as a fire engine. The fire engine toy itself is way too blocky and plasticky for my liking but the concept works for me. Prime is a heroic and trustworthy character and a natural authority figure. Nothing fits this better than a fire engine. Compare this with the kind of characteristics associated with trucks! At best I think 'salt of the earth' but at worst I think 'trailer trash'. A truck would work better as some grizzled maverick sidekick (imagine someone with the body of Ultra Magnus but the personality of Ironhide) than as the wise hero of the story. 'Blasphemy' many will say. But consider how much kids love big red fire engines (the toy form of the character Inferno would work well for this toy). Also it would take care of the issue of Prime having superfluous parts (e.g. the trailer).

Constructicons: The Constructicons were the original 'combiner' group of Transformers that together become a 'super-robot' (Devastator). The thing was that as robots the toys were smaller than (say) the average Autobot yet the transformed into construction vehicles that are bigger than your average car. However since the time of the original toys, smaller construction vehicles have come into use - I have been seeing a lot of them lately as I pass Scroresby Freeway construction works and many of the newer bulldozers and trench diggers can fit on the back of a tray truck. So I would propose recasting the Constructicons as a group of five robots with one larger one and four smaller ones (rather than six smallish ones) - one leader robot as the super-robot body and four others as the super-robot limbs. This arrangement risks comparison with Voltron but makes for more functional toys (as was the case with subsequent combiner groups).

Dinobots: In the original cartoon the genesis of the Dinobots was a rather silly one. Basically the Autobots discovered some dinosaur fossils and then went "how cool would if be if we had some of these?". My proposal is that the Dinobots are like all other Transforms and have acquired modern world disguises. They could transform into the kind of attractions one finds at a monster-truck rally such as the 'Truckasaurus'. The Dinobots could be all angry then because of the embarrassing forms they had been given.

Insecticons: In the original cartoon the Insecticons had been stranded on Earth for millenia and had "evolved" into having larger-than-life insect disguises. My alternative is for them to have deliberately taken on the disguise of huge modern art sculptures resembling insects made from discarded bits of machinery that one sometimes finds in civic squares. How cool to then see these things come alive and cause panic!

Jetfire: Jetfire (Skyfire in the cartoon) was a huge Autobot who transformed into a jet plane (he was a rip-off of the Robotech Veritech Fighter). I personally like the way that Autobots were made underdogs by the fact that most of them were just cars while a lot of Decepticons were jet fighters. I can see the need for a token skyfaring Autobot but maybe this character would work better as a helicoptor (thereby getting more variety of form into the collection). Some helicopters are massive (e.g. the Sikorsky S-61) so I would happily recast the character thus.

Other Decepticons and Autobots: If the standard Autobots and Decepticons transform into cars and jetplanes respectively then Autobots will be smaller than Decepticons. Is this a problem? I think it may contribute once more to the postive 'underdog' status of Autobots. However I think one would want to limit the size difference between the two. I suppose one could both find larger forms of car and smaller forms of plane to assign to the characters. The other thing I like about this distinction is that it emphasises that the heroes take civilian form while the villains take military form. Call me a pacifist but this seems cool to me.

Well I have rambled on plenty on this topic so it may be time to go and play with my Transformers now...

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Australian Impressionists

I went to see the Australian Impressionists Exhibition at the NGV Ian Potter Centre on the weekend. It has been a while since I have done any gallery visits so this was a bit of impromptu fun with a handful of friends.

I enjoyed the display and its mix of subject matter from urban to rural and from landscapes to life figure work. Melbourne during the 1890s was a vibrant and bustling city (much as it is now) and a sense of this was conveyed by the works displayed by artists such as McCubbin, Roberts, Streeton, Condon and Sutherland. But are they truly impressionists? My understanding of that art movement is that its purpose is to show things as they look rather than as they are. This statement got me into a difficult position with a friend who responded by wondering whether that made impressionist artwork 'realist' (arguing that a photograph shows things as they look). I was hard-pressed to describe the difference and had to resort to saying things like "impressionist artwork is all fuzzy rather than crisp" and "it shows things as they look if one looks at things - um - passingly rather than closely".

At any rate the emphasis on light of Continental impressionists seems a small part of what those Australian artists did and (with the exception of Condon and Sutherland) they seem much more realist than anything. Many of the paintings stand as a full-colour record of places and persons from over a century ago. I was charmed by overhearing a conversation between a father and his very young (fourish) daughter on the topic of one painting from the 1880s depicting a paddock and farmhouse in (now) inner urban Hawthorn...

Daughter: So that is Hawthorn?

Father: Yep.

Daughter: Hawthorn where we live?

Father: Yep.

Daughter: That was Hawthorn a hundred and twenty years ago.

...How exciting this kind of realisation must be in a young life.

At the end of the wander I had decided that McCubbin is still my favourite. Many of his works seemed to have a sense of warmth and depth greater than the others. I suppose that may come in part from an 'impressionist' appreciation of light. My favourite McCubbin was never part of the exhibition however: The Pioneers (the storytelling triptych) is part of the general collection there and can be seen for free at anytime.

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Fare Zone

Several months ago I indicated my relish hidden in this long post at the prospect of having only two rather than three public transport zones in Melbourne. At the time however others (in face-to-face conversation) expressed a skepticism as to how much this would benefit commuters once annual fare rises came in. The merging of Zones 2 and 3 occured back in March but the ticket prices were frozen till June (supposedly as some form of compensation for all the commuters who have suffered all sorts of service delays and cancellations). Now the changes have come in and we can debate whether the prices cancel any savings made by the zones merger.

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) says that prices have risen by more than 25% over the last five years. Let us call that an average of over 5% per annum. This time round the price of a Zones 1+2 Daily Full Fare ticket has risen from $9.50 to $9.90 which may well be too much. But consider that the old Zones 1+2+3 Daily Full Fare ticket cost $12.40. That ticket has ceased to exist. For anyone who uses PT from the outer suburbs this represents a definite improvement. One objection to this is that relatively few outer-suburban residents use PT because the service levels are dismal. However there still are those who depend on it and for them this must be a marked improvement.

Other price comparisons I have suggest that anyone who once had to buy a ticket covering the now abolished Zone 3 has benefited. Those only travelling within old Zones 1 or 2 will have experienced price rises. The Zone 2 Daily Full Fare ticket for instance has risen from $4.10 to $4.40. I suspect that this kind of price rise (over 5%) was likely to happen anyway and it is what commuters have come to expect. That was always gonna happen. So I think while the price rises are a problem I also think that the zone changes are of a benefit for those who most needed it.

Personally I have discovered benefits of the change other than monetary ones. It is a lot simpler now to decide what kind of ticket to purchase and what kind of service to use. In the past I sometimes felt forced to make a decision that was logistically stupid but financially wise. Now decisions are much more likely to make both logistical and financial sense. Those of us lacking technical minds are better off. For me there is just that bit more attraction in using a flawed service than there once was. For now I am content.