Saturday, March 1, 2014

One Word After Another: A Week in Links (2/23/14)

     Sorry about the lack of blog posts, Dark Souls has been sucking up my time lately but I am getting back to my regular schedule this week. Anyway, here are this week in links.

     Two articles about Harry Potter written by the same author, Emily Ashley-Perrin a a different take on why Neville Longbottom is important to the story but more impressive is her article on the dismissal of Ron Weasley's role in the films in light of Rowling's recent comment about his relationship with Hermione.

     Exciting news in television for fans of superheroes as DC/Warner Bros revealed a look at Grant Gustin as The Flash. Aw hell with it, here you go.

     Meanwhile in comic book movie news, two former Lex Luthors Kevin Spacey and Michael Rosenbaum both endorse Jesse Eisenberg for his casting as the new Luthor.

     In more serious news, in lieu of the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies Disney has dropped 4.8 million dollars in funding for the group. While this article gives a compelling reason to be worried about 1) Net Neutrality 2) The Comcast/Time Warner Merger and 3) The deal between Netflix and Comcast to not have their service throttled.

     Well. that's all I got for this last week Expect future entries on A Game of Thrones, True Detective and How I Met Your Mother. Maybe even a rant? Bye!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

One Word After Another: A Week in Links 2/16/14

I want to start by giving a plug to Gamefixt who a fellow St. Joseph's College alumni writes for and Elite Daily for the same reason. Keep writing guys.

     Next I want to plug the latest episode of Speakeasy with Paul F. Tompkins.

     This one feature Tom Lennon who you may know from various roles such as the doctor from Dark Knight Rises and his roles on Reno 9/11. It is not this particular episode I want to plug but the show Speakeasy in general. Paul F. Tompkins is easily the more charming interviewer I have ever seen and isn't weighed down by the promotional bureaucracy that network talks shows have to deal with. His show has had numerous people I am sure you're into if you watch any kind of television so check out his show Speakeasy on YouTube.

     Next is a cover of CHVRCHES' The Mother We Share done by Half Moon Run that I have quite enjoyed for the past week. Going from Electronic to Folk does not to sway my opinion against this song.

     I enjoyed this bit of graffiti hip-hop artist Aesop Rock posted this week. Yes, you should listen to Aesop Rock.

     Now, on to love. This link a friend posted that I clicked on, not expecting much, was surprising poignant. 17 Ways You Know You've Finally Found the One is a bad title but lists realistic boundaries and parameters for a happy adult relationship. It should of been titled 17 Ways You Know You're In A Happy and Healthy Relationship.

     On to television, where True Detective continues to be a bizarre and fresh take on the cop procedural. io9 produced these two great articles on the show. Both the One Literary References You Must Know to Appreciate True Detective and True Detective takes us to the void at the center of meaning explore the bizarre rituals and behavior seen in True Detective's murderer(s?) and detectives.

     How ‘Office Space’ Influenced the Way an Entire Generation Thought About Work examines exactly what made me scared to get a full time job when I was sixteen. I feared the nine to five cubicle, going home to the wife with two kids then getting up again to go to the cubicle the next day. Now, I'd kill for a cubicle job but this article is still worth a read.

     This was a trend started by members of the IGN staff in which Donatello from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is photoshopped into other images. It entertained me for a while and I hope it entertains you.

     Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon's version of The Tonight Show premiered this week and now our long nightmare of Jay Leno is finally over. To celebrate here is Brian Williams rapping Rapper's Delight.

     Finally, to end the week is by far my favorite breed of dog, the Corgi, running around a carousel. Enjoy your week everyone.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

One Word After Another: A Week In Links (2/9/14)

     I tried this once before, where I post a week in links I appreciated but not on this blog so I am once again going to try it.

If you have trouble identifying Moby then this song is for you.

     Scrubs being turned into a Broadway musical. This article doesn't look upon the idea fondly but I would definitely go see it. 

     The Problem with The Big Bang Theory. A bit old but a great post that asks the question What or Who are we really laughing at when we watch Big Bang Theory?

     One of three articles about The Lego Movie. The first one is a response to Fox News claiming the movie is anti-capitalism. 'The Lego Movie' Isn't Just Anti-Capitalist. It's Anti-Fox, Too. The next, from two sticks-in-the-mud Jerry Seinfeld shades The Lego Movie, Accuses the film of ripping off his jokes. If you don't remember Seinfeld did a series of American Express commercials in which an animated Superman hung out with Jerry and avoided calls from Green Lantern. Why I Won't See the Lego Movie claims the mini-figs ruined Legos years ago.

     Markus Zusak: How I Let Go of The Book Thief. The author of The Book Thief himself writes an article similar to how I've written on this blog about how the movie version of a book is allowed to be different.

     Billy Ray Cyrus kills music forever by making a hip-hop sequel to Achy Breaky Heart.

     In less lighter news this article about surveillance and how it ruined a decade of Brandon Mayfield's life is frightening to say the least.

     Also, NBC have once again screwed up by editing out the IOC Anti-Discrimination-Statement at the Olympics.

Finally. Key and Peele's action movie obsessed valets meet someone they admire in this video.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weird Obsessions - My iTunes Library Playcount

     I think I made the transition to .mp3 a lot later than most. Until 2005 I still mostly played and bought my music on CD's. My stereo, with a 200 CD's change attached to it, was still a better audio system than my computer with it's tiny speakers and subwoofer. My absolute favorite CD's though I had ripped onto my computer in .mp3 form and made copies of for more car so I wouldn't damage the originals. When I wanted to play them on my computer I would use WinAmp. This memory might not be correct but I remember making a playlist that would sort them in playcount order that would update as I listened to them. I did this every once in awhile because it was difficult listening to songs a certain order on CD.
     Then I received my first iPod, the iPod nano. I would plug it in, install iTunes and take all those .mp3's that I had played in WinAmp in my new fancy iTunes library and then onto my iPod. Somewhere along the line I dropped my iPod Nano on Campus of Suffolk's community college where it ceased to work. Yet, I still used iTunes. It was a slow transition but when I bought my iPod Video with my own money is when I officially made the transition to digital.
     My taste in music would change and so would my iTunes library and every time iTunes would update it would revert the brackets you could sort your music by back to their original format. I would then go in and add Playcount back in. Sometimes that's how I would listen to my music, in playcount order when shuffle would be kind of disappointing (as shuffle often is) and other times I would search for the tracks that had low play counts and give them a change. My computer was old, from 2002 and I didn't really seek out upgrading that much. With Windows ME then XP on it I would often have to format the hard drive and reinstall everything then start my play count all over again.
     Then inevitably, one day when looking at my sister's iTunes on her old desktop I noticed a Top 100 Playlist and asked her how she got that. She explained what a Smart Playlist was and that was that. I made Top 100, 200, 300 Songs Playlist, Top 100 Stand-Up Comedy Tracks, Top 10 Radiohead Songs and etc. Still, I had a lousy computer, an unstable one. Finally, in 2011 my friend Dan convinced me to upgrade my computer. So I saved up money received from family members, income tax check and my own paychecks to finally upgrade my computer. Finally, I had a computer that I could keep a stable iTunes Library on where the play count would never reset.
     It was so frustrating though that the play count wouldn't go up when I listened to a song on my iPod Video and then my iPod Classic. That all changed when I got an iPhone. Now I have Top 300 Songs, Top 100 Stand-Up Comedy Tracks, Top 100 Soundtrack Songs, and the list is endless. All my plays on my phone sync up with my desktop.
     Rationally, I know the amount of plays a song gets doesn't affect how good of a song it is. If you think about it, the shorter the song the more likely it'll reach the end before I skip it and thus increase the playcount. Other songs from artists I used to like before 2011 should be at play counts so high that what I currently listen to wouldn't break the Top 100. Shuffle, not being random at all but just a organized way of playing songs in a different order tends to play certain track more often than others even when I don't like them as much.
     I do so enjoy though when I lose myself in new music then finding those new artist have broke my Top 300, 200, 100 and entered the top 50, 25 and 10. I'd be lying if I said I didn't look at the playlist sometimes choosing a song that I currently love that is at say one play less than a song I used to love and playing it twice just so it'll rise in the ranks.
     One day though, I'll have a new computer where I'll have to start over again and most likely all the songs currently with the highest play count will go back to zero, struggling against the music I am then currently listening to.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Self-Discovery: Productivity to Avoid Productivity

     In the past, who am I kidding? Currently I have problems with procrastination and staying on task. I think the procrastination started the first time I put something off to play video games until the last day then got away with it. The focusing problem started as a child, when I was diagnosed with A.D.D. Instead of putting me on Ritalin my mother chose to eliminate all artificial flavors and colors from my diet. It worked, I stayed on task and was generally less hyperactive.
     I'm not sure if I still suffer from A.D.D. To be honest I for the most part believe I have gotten over it. My focusing problem is more of an issue of discipline, at least I think so. Since late 2011 / early 2012 I've been trying different programs, apps and advice to keep on task. I don't think much of self-help books but the two I would recommend the most are for nerds and creative types. The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick gives a great outline for how you can take your ability to absorb information related to whatever nerdy thing your into and turn it into an ability to help you better yourself. This was the best lesson I learned from Hardwick's book:
...the brain doesn't just tell you to do things; it also has a nasty habit of telling you what you CAN'T do- whether or not it's true. As you go through life you gather self-imposed limits here and there until one day you're unknowingly trapped trapped in a prison of bullshit limitations. But the truth is, it's a holographic prison manufactured by your mind in a clumsy attempt to protect you from potential pain.
     Basically, your brain is looking for the shortest path to avoiding the pain of failure. This can lead to it convincing you to not try new things, tasks, jobs etc. but you don't have to listen all the time.
     The other book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield defined what keeps your from accomplishing your dreams, from sitting down to write, to paint, to do what needs to be done as a force called Resistance.
     "Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance," says Pressfield. "Because it's the easiest to rationalize. We don't tell ourselves, "I'm never going to write my symphony." Instead we say, 'I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow,"
     Now I don't actually believe there is a force that keeps me from writing but the metaphor helps. It gives a concrete idea to what is keeping you from doing and allows you to resist. I used to carry this book with me everywhere I went. In fact, I think I'll reread it soon enough. I'm pretty sure there is a .pdf of it if you search google but I didn't tell you that.
     Two other useful tools I have been using on both my desktop are called Freedom and Anti-Social. Freedom turns off your Internet completely while Anti-Social merely prevents your from going to certain websites though right now the current version doesn't recognise a lot of the sites I put in, including reddit. Freedom is the better way to go for just $10 and it was recommended to me by author Neil Gaiman himself, on twitter.
     Evernote though, has been my main savior. I use that for everything. I used to keep a word count on it before I discovered Scrivener had it's own word count goal meter you can set-up. With the webclipper extension on Chrome I can clip research right into Evernote, plus I have checklists of things I need to do everyday, a particular day or just in the year in general. I honestly would not have gotten through my last two years of college nor my senior thesis without it.
     This brings me to a recent self-discovery that has been preventing me from being as productive as I should. Instead of doing what I should I will find myself doing other tasks that are not as important but fill me up with a sense of accomplishment or that I tell myself I must do in order to do what I should. For example, with writing I will tell myself that if my bedroom it must be clean before I can write in order to have a healthy environment in which to do. See, now that's bullshit. I'm sitting here at my writing desk right now with my bedroom barely in my periphery. I know there's a bowl and a coffee mug on my other desk and my garbage can is probably full but those are not preventing me from writing. I can't even see them. That's not all though, here are some other tasks I'll trick myself into doing instead of writing.
  1. Backing up my writing on to my external hard drive and flash drive.
  2. Organising the files, i.e. making new folders, renaming files, etc.
  3. Constructing the perfect playlist or finding the perfect music to listen to while I write.
  4. Completely reorganize my bookcases. This one has the most bizarre connection to writing and the most flimsy but I know I've done it.
  5. Searching Google for best apps to keep me from being distracted.
  6. Making coffee.
  7. Cutting my fingernails
  8. Refilling all my fountain pens with ink.
     All of these are bullshit excuses and distractions but it doesn't stop at writing. Some of these can extend to exercise like the music one or making a protein shake instead coffee or searching Google for the best exercise apps.
    This is kind of a blog post to myself to remind me of this behavior and to prevent it from happening in the future. I know it's not completely preventable but I am going to try. Here's to self-improvement.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I keep thinking about Spike Jonze "Her."

    The inability to get Spike Jonze's Her out of my head doesn't automatically make it a good film but it is a tell for me that will ultimately be my own conclusion of it.
     Basic premise: Man falls in love with artificial intelligence. Old hat for fans of science fictions while seen as bizarre fetishised premise from the general public. I suggest both of these audiences see this film because the one could use a bit of science fiction in their life that isn't big budget explosions and the other should gain a better understanding of how complicated relationships are.
     Relationships are the fundamental premise behind this two hour story of a man falling in love and beginning a relationship with his computer. Throw that in a pot with a list of philosophical questions. What does it mean to be intelligent? What does it mean to have emotions? Most importantly though, if someone is intelligent and has emotions are they human?
     Let's talk about Joaquin Phoenix's character, Theodore Twombly who I have seen criticised for being a sensitive asshole. That isn't something to detract from the film but to be celebrated. Theodore is a introverted, anti-social, artsy, somewhat feminine and pretentious writer type who is afraid of change even when that change means new successful romantic relationships and success in his career. He fails to communicate his problems effectively and has difficulty addressing his own emotional shortcomings. 
     He is basically the girl's best friend character trope turned into a real human being. We've seen countless times the hero who is funny, romantic, in touch with his feminine side who's shy and artsy overlooked by the love interest for the stupid jock type in movies before but neither one of those men are real people. By injecting Theodore with negative traits along with those positive ones we get a real human being in the movie. You need a real human with flaws to interact with Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, the artificial intelligence he falls in love with in order to see the human qualities within her. You know who Theodore reminds me of? Comedians. Comedians have that balance of emotional problems and asshole behavior mixed with charm and artistic integrity. Just listen to the podcast WTF with Marc Maron or You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes if you don't believe me.
     While not technically human, the development of Johansson's character Samantha explores transhumanism that can easily be missed. Samantha has emotions, cognitive reasoning, and the ability to learn from experience like a human but what may be confusing for some is that the audience can forget that she isn't technically human. Yes, she is female and in love with Theodore but because she is an artificial intelligence that means something entirely different for her. She is self-aware from the moment Theodore install hers, choosing her own name because she likes the way it sounds. This was in a mere moment, between when Theodore asked her what her name was and she answered that out of all the names she could find Samantha was the one she chose.
     I read one review complaining about her verbose nature in the film, the pretentious dialog she sometimes has in exploring her emotions. This is the reviewer looking at the man behind the curtain and asking "This isn't good dialog based on human dialog" but she is not human. Just because she feels and thinks does not equate to she is human and as human beings who know of no other species who can do this that element of science fiction is important for everyone to think about. She does not learn language over time through experience and interacting with others but is self-aware of language from the beginning. She can process the whole of human literature in the time it takes for Theodore to ask her a question, so yeah, her word choice is going to be quite different from his.
      Let's not forget the fact that verbal communication is her only form of communication, she has no body language, no faces to tell shorthand how she is feeling rather than using words. I've been trying to wrap my head around explaining Samantha, human but not human. The question of monogamy is brought up in the film. How strange must that sound to Samantha, the concept of monogamy when she is capable of so much more. When she tells Theodore how many other people she is talking to and how many others she is in love with I believe her afterwards when she tells him that it doesn't change how much she loves him just as I completely understand when that isn't good enough for Theodore. I would not be able to deal with it either but her limitations are different than his as an artificial intelligence. She isn't human and yet she is.
     There aren't enough science fiction films like this one. Exploring the human condition and how the rapidly changing technology affects that. It's a down to Earth story, a story exploring what it means to be a human being rather than being a hero or villain. I can't even think of the last science fiction movie that I thought about this much. The last movie I thought about this much was There Will Be Blood. Some reviews I read asked questions about the addictive nature of technology, the behind the scenes corporation that created these artificial intelligences and what that means for privacy, what does it mean for feminism when a flawed man can just buy a perfect woman, and then of course the rumor mongering of this being a reactionary film to the break-up of the writer and his wife.
     What I took from the movie is questions. Questions of what does it mean to be human, to be in a relationship, to communicate? What is intelligence and what are emotions and how limited is the human brain? These are the kinds of questions good science fiction asks of us, something that doesn't often make it to American film and television. This movie was a breath of science fiction fresh air.
     If they were to make another movie based on this premise centering around Amy Adams character who essentially goes through a similar situation as Theodore and titled it Him I would see it in a heartbeat.
     Lastly, I cannot praise enough the score of the film done by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett sell every emotion of the movie. It's not available to buy but if you can listen to I highly recommend it. Without it the film would lose part of its emotional core.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How will A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones end? (No spoilers)

With two books to go by the self-admitted slow writer and the producers of the HBO show estimating the series to end at eight seasons the end game for A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones is far off. Still, I know how it will end, at least I know how viewers will perceive it to end. There will be no spoilers beyond conjecture, and no details of the fates of any characters.
The hype machine is still going strong for this series, with George R.R. Martin’s name constantly in the news, making appearances on Conan and casting confirmations as well unofficial filming footage constantly hitting the sites centered around pop culture. The show’s intention with each season is to build upon the overall arcs of each character with some ending as the seasons go on. The books likewise, because of the way they tell stories using third person limited point of view for different characters in each chapter, tell the stories of said characters as part of any overall story Martin is building towards.
Recalling an article from io9 speaking of Game of Thrones scratching that mystery itch that was left in the wake of Lost brings up the disappointment many felt by the end of series over the ending as it left questions unanswered and the overall conclusion deemed disappointing. Martin himself has said his intention is to avoid a Lost-like ending, proclaiming his disappointment and his hope to deliver on the high expectations of his fans. However, he also expects the ending to be bittersweet.
This is just conjecture but just as the story was inspired by the image of the two dying animals in the first episode and the first book, I expect Martin has had the ending in mind from the very beginning with obvious editing needing to be done as the plot changes and characters are added. While I’ve always expected a bittersweet ending given that the story for the majority a tragedy how satisfying will that ending be to it’s viewers and it’s readers? Let’s avoid questions of a production nature like it’s budget, it’s directing, the cinematography, the acting, etc and just explore it from a storytelling perspective.
Game of Thrones and the even more so the books it’s based on is a world full of characters. With this many characters the odds of satisfying every consumer is slim, but that is to be expected. Every character is someone’s favorite character including the antagonists but not every character is slated to have a complete story-arc as some of the secondary ones are doomed to be metaphorical and sometimes literal causalities to the major point of view ones. If we break it down even further using just the main characters we can expect that when they all converge once again as they did in the beginning of the series that some of these characters will come into conflict. As this is in a sense a political tragedy most of the characters fall into a morally gray area rather than one group being good and the other evil. Therefore, each character probably has a fanbase that’ll be disappoint and one that will be satisfied with how it’ll end overall.

How will it end though? I know how will it end in vague details, just going by what I've seen and what I’ve read from the source material plus Martin’s expectation of a “bittersweet” ending and his hope to avoid an ending like Lost. Here it is in the vaguest terms possible. Westeros will be left completely changed but stable in the political sense, not all the characters people hate will die and not all the ones people like will live. There will be sacrifices, sometimes that means a character’s life and sometimes that’ll mean a character’s power. 
Questions that have had speculation surrounding them will be answered with obvious answers and ones no one expected. Questions people didn’t know they should be asking will be answered, which in hindsight viewers will believe that should of been obvious. Questions that everyone has been wondering about for ages will never be answered because stories, like life, don’t have to answer all the questions. 
There will be love, sadness, tears, triumph, victory, tragedy, loneliness, isolation, and most likely satisfaction. Before it is over surely there will be fire and blood, you will hear some roar and some will pay their debts, there will be fury by some, sharp blades by others, and winter will most definitely come.