Showing posts with label Tech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tech. Show all posts


Proto Man

So I finally saw Prometheus last night.

It was heavily buzzed last spring. I had as high of hopes as anyone else - probably even higher, to be honest. While my initial reaction to the announcement had been low expectations at best, that changed the more I saw. The trailer looked crazy and there was honest to goodness potential in Ridley Scott going back to the well for more of the once-great franchise. They even had Lost-alum (the admittedly divisive) Damon Lindelof on board to re-write the script and build the world a bit more. There was a great cast in line. Everything was lining up to be pretty damn stellar. 

Then the movie came out and the world of nerds on the internet collectively soiled themselves in anger. 

Once the negative feedback started online, I decided not to see it in the theater as I had originally planned. Instead, I waited to consume it in the same fashion I had any other entry in the fading Alien franchise: at home with some junk food and no expectations. So how was it?

Not bad.

While Prometheus was certainly not on the level with the original Alien or other staples of the genre like Blade Runner, it wasn't the cinematic abortion people were claiming it to be. In fact, despite a flawed story with arbitrary motivation and some contrived coincidences, I found it to be a grand and profound science fiction movie the likes of which rarely get made these days. Far from perfect but still enjoyable, there were plenty of moments where the soul of previous success would bleed through. Ridley Scott has had hits and misses, but when he gets on a good streak in a movie it can really build some momentum. Sure, it can be dashed on the rocks of characters who quickly become shouting morons, but there were more than enough entertaining moments to warrant its production.

Additionally, in a bid to stop typing altogether I dictated my thoughts into my phone as I sat in the dark, eating Whoppers and nursing a beer. Below is a full list of my notes, along with the clearer insight of having slept on what I saw in parentheses:

- Even the opening logo is that weird blue tint to it. (Must we do the orange/blue color shift every time?)

- The opening panoramas actually have that the Scott feel. (Pretty grand vistas and sweeping, heavy shots.)

- So is the intro of the movie the crux of the whole plot in a bad way? (Like, was that it? From what I had avoiding spoiling for myself in advance, seeing the first scene made me think 'Yeah, that's probably it, I should turn it off and save myself a couple hours. I was sort of wrong?)

- Even for science-fiction this dream reading business seems bogus. (Immediately forgetting Inception and, you know, space monsters and robots.)

- It's got a good look but the problem is that even the retro looking things clearly are more advanced than what was in Alien. (It's that balancing act of a PREQUEL being made 30 years later. Tech we hadn't thought of could be explained away as better funding by the Weyland Corp. Also, in Alien they were just a mining ship.)

- God awful accent. (Rafe Spall. Seriously.)

- Old make up still looks fake. (No matter how artfully applied and blended with CGI, my first thought was 'OMIGAD YOUNG PERSON IN MAKEUP. Why have Guy Pearce do that? Why not, say, hire an elderly actor?)

- I want the white sweatshirt. (Alright Rafe - I'll forgive the accent if I can have your weird hoodie.)

- There better funded that's what they have better tech. (My hand-waiving the jarring juxtaposition of this movie and Alien. See above.)

- That is one stupid scientist. (Dude. Even I know - DO. NOT. TOUCH. This was apparently establishing a running theme?)

- The geologist is clearly from a lesser film. (Sorry man, but your over the top acting was not due to script problems.)

- The engineer head coming back to my life momentarily is genuinely freaky. (No joke. A disturbing moment. Also? Totally animatronic, I found out.)

- Ask God why do we need robots? (A real BSOD moment for me. Never stopped to think 'Wait, why ARE we making robots in the first place? Simply to serve man? That's a cop out. Still chewing on this.)

- Apple TV remote visible on Shaw's couch. (Nice future tech, you thing I have on my coffee table.)

- That just went from bad to worse. (Blugh, that snake-thing snapping an arm and melting the helmet? That escalated quickly.)

- In the map room the difference between practical effects and CGI is still stark although it's good to see more Geiger. (It's hard to blend them, even all these years after Phantom Menace. Geiger's art is still so distinct and creepy, when used sparingly.)

- That is a slow non-guaranteed way to die and Charlize Theron didn't want to do it. (Seriously, setting him on fire? Probably would suffer for hours from complicated burns. You have guns. Shoot him.)

- I'm obviously not the first person to think Prometheus take place in the same world as Inception. (Cue the linking of that movie's universe, which makes the combined fictional universes Inception, Alien, Blade Runner and Predator.)

- Body horror in the medical pod a glimpse of things to come. (That abortion scene was one of the most disturbing things I've seen on film in a while. The opened cavity? Awful. A horrible look at the wonderful, sterile, male-driven world of medicine yet to come.)

- Arbitrary monster...( arbitrary. Shoe horned in for a scare/action scene? Waste of screen time.)

- Idris Elba is the best part of this and maybe David. (Okay, clearly David is the best thing about this movie, but Idris was pretty damn solid.)

- I would've believed it if they killed everybody. (A psych-out that I was willing to accept. If any movie had the stones to go bleak and kill 'em all, this would have been it. But alas, no.)

- Final alien was gratuitous, redundant and poorly designed. (Sorry, just didn't dig it. Even after all the build up. Show, don't tell. It was clearly the same Engineers and world of Alien, do we need to be hit over the head with it?)

So there you have it. Despite the high snark level of some of those comments, I really did enjoy Prometheus and will defend it to fellow nerds. It aspired to be more than it could, but despite a strong pedigree could not overcome some complex script problems.  If you're curious, I highly recommend it.

Still worth waiting to see after all the publicity.


Map Lines

End of the world, again. 

No, not anything political. Like me, I'm sure you are sick to death of anything even tangentially related to the election. 

Since I've moved into my new home with my better half we've both noticed a strange thing happening in our minds. We drive home from where ever we have been, almost always taking the same way. The other option is less traveled but no less familiar. This more frequent route sees us taking a stretch of highway unworthy of note. It is a number and that is all. There is nothing remarkable beyond it. There are no major cities beyond our exit, no developing suburbs. We come to our exit, take the off ramp and turn down our street into our neighborhood, never looking over the horizon at what is beyond. My better half hit the nail on the head when she explained it to me as "like the edge of a map in a video game."

What lies past that last exit? 

Seemingly, nothing. Not in the sense of goon docks and tall grass. I mean in the sense that we have no preconception of where that highway goes. Think about that - don't you usually have an idea of where a road goes, even if you don't take it? There's a makeshift grid in your mind, an adaptive map that adjusts to where you are, where you've been and where you're going. Rarely do we contemplate the road less traveled. 

So we're left with a highway that stretches off into the ether - overly dramatic, sure, but my mind can't construct what is out there. Eventually one of the Dakota's I suppose...but what's in the vast stretch of mid-west nothing in between? It's just developed enough around the area to suggest small towns or the gradual emergence of another suburb, but I have no frame of reference for it. 

To rectify this we did what we always do - we turned to tech. 

Google Earth, duh. There it was, our highway. Stretching out over the screen, leading to a series of small burgs dotting the western half of the state. Nothing of particular note, just what you'd expect when picking a random point on a map in the flyover states. It didn't really help, though. Maybe not enough frame of reference? 

I found it to be more fun and revelatory when looking at my childhood haunts on Google Earth. Forests that bordered parks spilled out on the other side. Shortcuts were instantly justified. All the odd things about where I grew up fell into an easy to understand and digestible world of North, South, East and West. Yeah, yeah, I had maps as a kid. But never like this. Now I can zip instantly to where I remember things and twist the orientation and see things in real time. Provided the data is fresh enough and the screen is detailed enough, it's like being there. 

It's super dorky, I know, but I love this kind of memory tinkering. This weird, video-game inspired world of mine slowly gives up its secrets with every technological development. Fewer boundaries every day. The world ends somewhere, just not where we think it does.


Your Friend Rob

I mentioned recently that I've been chewing my way through an unusually high number of books as of late. I know a number of the reviews of books I've done have been centered around Murakmi or American horror authors, so it has been quite a novel experience to switch gears and read a little more science fiction than I normally would. Max Barry's Machine Man was a mind-bending look at the development of technology and personal augmentation that whetted my thirst for more tales of people coping with the pace of modern science. I had to have more. It feels great to have all the brain food feeding right into my mental processor. All the jokes about brains and computers, though, become much less amusing when reading the last book I finished, Daniel Wilson's Robopocalypse.
 Laying out a theoretical description of a robot uprising in our near future, the book is Wilson's second major foray into fiction (the first being A Boy and His Bot, released earlier this year). Wilson, wielding a degree in robotic engineering from Carnegie Mellon, paints a disturbingly plausible series of events that would see the unseating of man as the dominant species on the planet. The book, released in June, has received widespread acclaim from the literary world and enjoyed high volume of sales, drawing comparisons to the works of a young Michael Crichton. It's a fast, gripping read that had me hooked just from the premise, let alone the plot - come on, robots rising up and overthrowing their masters? How could I not love this?
As stated, Robopocalypse takes place in a world just a few years advanced from ours. Society hasn't undergone massive changes in the novel, just ones that are quite insightful and highly probable, benefitting from Wilson's expertise on the subject. Cars have chips and programming to guide the movement as a form of collision prevention. Androids are utilized to a greater extent both in combat and personal care, like in retirement communities and the service industry. There are small changes like this that build a world slightly more advanced than ours that makes what happens quite frightening. Scientists working deep underground (literally and figuratively) have been creating more and more advanced iterations of artificial intelligence in supposed isolation. When an iteration referred to as Archos realizes its previous incarnations have repeatedly been terminated it takes advantage of a minuscule oversight and propagates its coding and operation throughout the global infrastructure. From this point on, Archos is exploring the world and preparing to take over using our own technology and tools, as a way of asserting its existence and sentience.When Archos finally strikes, the world comes to a terrifying halt - people are hunted down by smart cars, marched into elevator shafts and attacked by anything capable of striking. Cities are no longer safe and humankind either goes into hiding or flees into the countryside where "Rob" (as they derisively refer to artificial combatants) can't confidently tread. People begin to aggregate and form militias, working together to take back what remains of civilization. Horrendous discoveries are made, as atrocities are being committed in Archos' quest for understanding of life and what the world is. When a crucial change occurs in a detainment camp, a band of survivors beneath New York start to turn the tables. Using uncanny tools and morally repugnant methods, an offensive is launched and the largest army in America is soon marching on Archos's lair in the frozen tundra of Alaska. What occurs there is...well, you'll have to read it to find out.
Wilson writes with a flair for humanity, creating believable, real people to pull the reader into the fascinating and fantastic story. It's not all robots and machine guns, either - quite a large portion of Robopocalypse is spent examining life as it would exist under the watchful eye a super-intelligent construct. In fact, some of the passages I found most engaging and suspenseful were the ones leading up to 'Zero Hour' when Archos makes its move. Seeing the intelligence feel out the world around it in small, exploratory moves and attacks (that are assumed to be defects or quirks of programming) are terrifying both for the impending carnage and the fact that we would be just as blind to the developments in reality as we would in Wilson's novel. As you read you begin to glance around at the tech that fills our lives, from the smart cars we drive to the databanks in San Cupertino that know our every move - we are entirely dependant on machines that are more interconnected than we think. If one were to slap faces on the machines we interact with in our daily lives, from self-checkouts to GPS units to cleaning and service bots, we'd suddenly realize we're living in the future but don't see the forest for the trees. Robots are already all around us, we just don't think of them as being so. To us, a face is everything.

Robopocalypse is a terrific read - it's intelligent, insightful, emotionally valid and has a tense, suspenseful plot. If you're looking for something keep you up at night, give it a read. I look forward to seeing more from Wilson


Against the Dark


I won't talk too much about today and what goes through one's head when faced with the inconceivable. I arrived back at my apartment around 2pm. I went for a run (sitting in a car, even a roomy one, after coffee is unbearable) and went about making dinner and more apple crisp with my better half. Apple crisp happens every fall and is delicious, a soothing comfort food for what would unfold. Both the better half and I adore getting context on events through documentaries - today, unfortunately, weighs heavier on the self than other days. Among other footage we watched was a doc showing, in real time, civilian footage of the events ten years ago. Hearing the people's reactions and rationalizations was bad enough. The stunning silence that permeated the footage after both buildings collapsed was even more jarring. It was, in an impossibly distilled word, brutal. So a glass of wine and some fresh apple crisp are serving as a simple comfort, as well as tucking in with my better half at the end of the day.

So where do we go from here? How do we shake the unshakable? 

One simple, stupid step at a time. Personally, I find peaceful, pleasant distraction where I can. I ran today, putting so much energy and exertion into the process that I will fall asleep tonight, but I don't know when. Until that happens, I have something simple and serene to distract me - I'll make my stupid monkey brain focus on the trivial to ensure I can arrive at sleep contented and calm. I'll use the same thing I resorted to last night in the hotel when my anxieties got the best of me. It's a simple, but beautiful game for IOS devices - Contre Jour.
A game that was developed by Mokus Studios for Chillingo under the acquiring force of Electronic Arts, Contre Jour is, in essence an interactive lullaby. The game was heavily hyped following its E3 debut and I downloaded it after seeing the trailer here. Drawing inspiration from such IOS heavy hitters as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, Contre Jour is a sweet but intricately designed puzzler that draws you in, with the help of an astoundingly gorgeous soundtrack. All you have to do is maneuver the little creature, Petite, to the glowing light. To do so, you can alter the surrounding terrain as well as utilize a variety of tools like elastic connectors and blowing fans to move Petite into place. It's the perfect mix - easy to learn, impossible to master. It's incredibly fun yet engaging and difficult enough that you persevere long into the night, edging closer to sleep all the while.
The art design for Contre Jour is just as important as that game play. The stark, contrasting environments are eye-catching and wonderfully rendered, all without being distracting. Modern indie games like Limbo have clearly been a source of dynamic influence. Big, beautiful creatures come to live with every poke and prod. It makes me feel strangely happy whenever I hear Petite giggle at being tossed around in search of the goal. The music is just as integral. A series of sublime piano pieces by David Ari Leon sweep you through the world of Contre Jour in a way that suggests you may already be dreaming. To paraphrase the company's own blurb, the line between art and game is blurred here, to create a phenomenal bit of interactive entertainment.
If you don't have an IOS device, be patient - Contre Jour hopefully is on the way. If you do, do yourself the favor of picking up this game. After a contemplative and weighty day such as this, it's a beautiful and relaxing way to round out the day. Indulge and relax. It's what keeps us human.


Clock Towers

Happy Weekend, kids!

How about something fun for the weekend? Something a little left of center to amuse you? You guys ever heard of Overclocked Remix? I love this site, both for the content and the concept. My neighbor in college told me about it, telling me if I had any love for video games at all, I simply had to check it out. At that point the site was already seven or eight years old. What I found there blew my mind.
Overclocked ReMix is ostensibly a place where artists take music from video games both new and old and reinterpret, remix and reconstitute it into amazing new works. The results are astounding. Name a game and its probably there. There are the heavy hitters of the video game world, like Final Fantasy VI or VII, which boast hundreds of respective remixes, or Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, anything Mega Man, Mario or Sonic related. There are thousands of high quality, mind blowingly original re-contextualizations of memorable music that will really make you step back and reevaluate the idea of music in gaming. The sheer volume of content hosted on the site is staggering - over 2,000 mixes by over 500 artists, all organized in searchable databases or listed by gaming platform.
This is something that you really owe it to yourself to check out, regardless of your stance on videogames - you may not care for them, but how can you deny that the music produced here is gorgeous? Not only does the source material vary widely, from pre-8 bit to modern symphonics, but so do the results - everything from techno and trance to thrash metal to jazz arrangements and classical compilations. Furthermore there are conceptual groupings and albums done by individual artists and the community as a whole. Entire soundtracks get re-worked and released for free as declarations of love for the games that spawned them. There's even a Youtube channel to flip through selections if you don't want to download anything.
Not only have the artists and members of the community received praise in print and across the web, they've received accolades and kudos from the originating artists themselves. The OC community always credits the source material and doesn't profit from the endeavor - this is all about love of the games. In the ultimate stamp of approval, the community was tasked with creating the official soundtrack for Street Fighter II HD Remix, a modern update of the classic fighting game, by the developers themselves. In fact the music for the game was one of the best received elements of the new game.

I adore this site. In the years since being turned on to it I've been consistently amazed at the work produced. It's made me really appreciate the music in games I love and better understand how the composers affect my experience. Old games I've loved have had new life breathed into them. Friends have loved music I've played for them, having no idea the songs originated from a 16 bit game. Normally they'd scoff and think me a geek. Instead they ask for a copy of it. I just want the world at large to know about this amazing community of artists and the crazy work they do. Give 'em  a look and see if your old favorites are there.


Bleeding Edge


We're still in the midst of Book Worm Week, just passing the halfway point. So where does that leave us? Which genre can we jump to next? In a convenient twist, Next is the book du jour, a startling and strange look ahead by the late, great Michael Crichton. 

It was a sad day in the literary world when he passed away - Crichton was fantastic. His books vacillated between science fiction thrillers to cutting edge techno-parables that fueled their pace with frantic and dire warnings of progress run amok. Like anyone alive during the 90s (except paleontologists) I loved Jurassic Park - even re-reading it on a plane ride during the first decade of the millennium I thought it aged pretty well. It's a great story. Crichton had this relentless energy and nerds-pushing-glasses-up-their-noses aggression that added a level of seriousness without pomp. In short, I really dug his work. So when my (eventual) mother-in-law happened to leave a copy of his last finished published work on their coffee table, I eagerly borrowed it and got down to business. What I read was an interesting if uneven tale that Crichton made accessible despite the jargon within. Since my last read of any of his works was about five years prior, I was pleasantly reminded of why I love his work

Next, published in 2006, is technically a novel about a loosely connected group of people in the genetic-research industry and the implications of their actions. In the same sense, though, the book functions more as a collection of interconnected vignettes about out-of-control and unchecked advances in the legal and ethical realm of scientists at the front of their field. Beginning with the tale of a man who loses the rights of ownership of his own cells (due to not understanding the language of a research waiver while being treated for a leukemia), Crichton begins spinning yarn after yarn about potential developments due to court-enabled precedents. The man loses the rights to his cells, which a university uses for research and eventually profit while barring him from any information, let alone profits. This ties in with a story of a geneticist who inadvertently creates transgenic specimens, one of which is a chimp that is blurring the lines of humanity in unnerving ways. Further concepts such as genetic predispositions to risk-taking and chimera genes are brought into the story as both plot points and parables. The collection of stories hold together well, but from my understanding Crichton wasn't aiming to do so - Next is intended as a single, cohesive novel and yet it comes across as segmented and uneven, some passages feeling too heavy handed to be legitimate fiction, while some fiction comes across as to much of a lecture to be engaging. Despite this uneven nature, I still enjoyed the book, if not for the diverse range of characters than for all of the startling and accurate developments in science and the legal system.
 One gets the sense, coming late to the Crichton party, that his books are not always read for their rich stories and characters but for the concepts and execution. I enjoyed reading Prey when it came out (Xmas of 2004) but I can't recall the characters. Similar story for The Lost World, save for Ian Malcolm. In fact, were it not for his science and adoration of boundary-pushing, would I have any inclination to read his books? Probably not. But that's neither here nor there. What really tickles my brain is that, having read this book just a few years after publishing, so much of it has come to pass that it becomes unnerving. We may not have full ownership of our bodies, given certain circumstances. Following a multitude of science and tech blogs (Hi Giz!) plus being obsessed with science fiction (Hellooooo io9!) I'm startled to read about the bizarre and incomprehensible discoveries and developments that occur on a daily basis. Just the other day I read about a lab that was creating a whole slew of transgenic animals and just wasn't telling anyone, just because they wanted to do it to see if it could be done (and supposedly what we can learn in the process). Or how we can cultivate bacteria to eat the oil in the Gulf or break down plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Heap. Or everyone's favorite - the mouse with the ear grown on its back: 
Next is a bit of a hybrid itself - an imperfect development that spans multiple worlds. Crichton was a visionary, predicting both good and bad from this rapidly changing field - the main lesson to draw from it seems to be that we need to be judicious and cautious in our approach. It's not the most engaging story he's told (*coughcoughdinosaursrunningwildcoughcough*) but man, if it isn't crazy science. maybe I'm just a nerd who's suckered in by geeky subject matter and a pulpy story. Maybe I'm being to hard on a great author, now that he's gone. Tell you what - you read Next and weigh in. Am I a jerk or what? While we're doing homework, read these five summarizing conclusions Crichton made after writing this book:

  • Stop patenting genes.

  • Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.

  • Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public.

  • Avoid bans on research.

  • Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act

  • ...and read this critique on his reasoning, then weigh in. Test tomorrow. Okay, no test. It's Friday.


    Futures Past

    I always thought the world would be different when I got older.

    As many have observed, we anticipate the future to be some ultra-stylized mix of Futurama-esque, Jetsons styled culture with a touch of Back To The Future's version of 2015. Instead we have what is today - it's the same as the present always is, just a little older and a little more advanced.

    To quote Homer Simpson: "This isn't the future! This is the lousy, stinkin' now!"

    In some ways, he's wrong. Look at smart-phones - that is, without a doubt, some Star Trek business right there. Or how about the fact that our country is still mired in a series of un-winnable wars, all fueled by our defense-driven economy? Reagan would have been frothing at the mouth simply at the thought of it. Our cars all have rear cameras and GPS devices, wi-fi and Google are ubiquitous. There's nothing we don't know. 
    I think it boils down to our expectations and the reality of our adulthood when we reexamine our current situation. It only feels stagnant and boring when we forget all the progress that's happened in our lives. Man walked on the moon more than 40 years ago - since then we've established space stations, which was no doubt the fever dream of the boys at NASA when they first started. Every day we're closer than ever to curing cancer once and for all. AIDS can be frozen in its tracks, if not someday cured. Hell, we can give you a new face or limb for less than the cost of a car. 

    That, my friends, is the future.

    What seems silly to me are the little ways I thought I would be able to gauge our steps into the future. Back in 1996 when I was babysitting some neighbor kids I was kinda bopping around the whole night, moving to a new-found sense of rhythm in my head. I had just seen, for the first time, the video 'Virtual Insanity' by Jamiroquai on MTV that night. I remember that it was winter and I was thinking about going back to school after Christmas break and asking if other cats had heard it. Of course they would all eventually say yes, as the single was huge, but what I really hold on to from that night was the feeling of unlocking something in my head, that there were new sounds out there. Until that point I had not paid much attention to music not made with guitars - I was firmly in the Weezer, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins vein. Jamiroquai, with their funky acid-jazz beats and electronic elements and white-boy dancing had shown me there were many more styles of music than I could anticipate. The world wasn't simply Rock, Rap and Country. Shades of gray started to show in my sense of understanding. 
    I loved the song but always thought it was not the right fit for who I was at the time. A scrawny little 15 year old kid in rural Wisconsin, I had little use for funky dance tracks. I thought that it would be the kind of thing I would listen to when I was older, in some hyper-stylized future where technology zipped around me and I lived in a big city with hip people and a beautiful girlfriend. Now, as I type this, surrounded by more tech than I have time to indulge in as I plan the final steps of my wedding to a woman much more wonderful and gorgeous than I deserve, I realize how right I was. And I'm still scrawny.
    I listened to 'Virtual Insanity' today, and it still feels futuristic. 

    The future is a strange, hard-to-pin-down thing.


    It's Free & Legal Entertainment

    Do I really need to tell you this?

    Dude, it's Saturday night and I have to tell you what's up?

    Alright,'s the deal - I'm getting married and have little time. My DVR is handy but fills up too damn fast. Really, it's mostly full of shows preferred by my better half. While I have little free time to kick back, especially in the coming weeks, it is important that my time be consolidated and used wisely.
    Basically this post is just a short little reminder to use Hulu while you can. I recall the confusion over their bizarre ad campaign featuring Alec Baldwin and jokes about aliens and the atrophy of brain cells. Here I am, years later, with a long-standing account with play-lists and subscribed shows despite having cable and Netflix. It's fantastic, in a word. I can't always catch stuff as it happens and often times forget to record shows in order. Hulu has my back. Not only that, its modern and up to date - basically the only way I found time to watch Fringe and SNL this year was through their presence on Hulu. Now that they have my two faves back (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) I make even better use of the site. 
    Honestly, it sounds like whoring and maybe it is, just a bit. But to be blunt, Hulu is awesome if you take advantage of it. It's free and incredibly convenient. Do yourself a favor and peruse the sheer volume of shows they have on tap before the pay wall becomes larger and more enforced. I'll see you, along with a more fleshed out post, tomorrow. Happy Saturday Night Viewings, kids.


    Second Time Around

    Well, well, well.

    Can't keep a good site down, eh?

    After some difficulties yesterday with servers and outages, my schedule is  back on. I had written yesterday's post well within the time limit and published it, only for Blogspot to short out on me. After many refreshes and head scratching, here we are back in business. Feels good. Additionally, since the post was written and published (but not updated to circumstances beyond my control) I'm going to count the streak as unbroken. Where does that leave me? Something like 133 days, straight, of fresh content? Right-o, let's keep the ball rolling, shall we?

    I didn't get Akira the first time I saw it. 

    This is not to say I couldn't follow the plot, although some spotty dubbing and a rinky-dink TV didn't help any. I mean, I got it and all. It just didn't click with me right away. What I hadn't realized, though, is that scene is just as important for the viewer as the director.

    I had picked up the movie after seeing (and loving) Spirited Away. Wanting more anime to satisfy a burgeoning curiosity, I picked up the 1987 release on DVD shortly after seeing Spirited Away, assuming it's reputation as a landmark, touchstone film would guarantee a prized place among movies I owned and cherished. All I knew at that point was: it was anime, it was highly regarded, it was about a post-war Tokyo set in the future and there was a motorcycle. That pretty much summed up my a priori knowledge. I suppose it was only slightly racist, then. After an initial viewing I was left a bit befuddled and unsure of what I'd seen. I understood the nuts and bolts of the plot yet still was asking myself "What was all that about, then?" Like Homer awakening to the horrors of Poochy, I asked myself "At least I liked it, didn't' I?" 

    I can say now, after subsequent viewings, that the answer is an emphatic yes. However, in contrast to my experience with Spirited Away (and countless other anime movies I have since consumed) I found that my personal scene for viewing the movie was a detriment to the process of taking in the movie. Whereas that experience was almost serendipitous in its ambience, this movie, I found, required intentional and deliberate scene setting in order to enjoy it.

    As I said earlier, my initial viewing experience was not ideal, not just for this movie but for any. It was a sunny afternoon after my lectures were done for the day, I was in my college apartment and the TV I was using was probably no bigger than the monitor on which this is being read. Not exactly the best way to experience a movie known for it's distinct imagery and massive scope. Details were vague, characters started to become interchangeable and the impact of large set pieces and scenes was lost. Still, despite my unintentional scene, I enjoyed the movie and a few years later I decided to revisit it, really watch it again but under much more cinematic circumstances. 

    My (impending) father-in-law is a man who approaches life with the attitude "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." This includes his approach to media consumption. So one day while visiting his house with my better half, I was afforded a span of time with which I would be able to view a movie on his massive TV in a private screening room. Despite this being just in advance of the proliferation of Blu-Ray, it was about as ideal a viewing experience as I could have asked for - a massive (like, 70-plus inch) TV, artificially darkened room with a great sound system and no disturbances whatsoever. My phone was off and I was isolated, seated, most likely, much to close to the TV.

    It was revelatory.

    My entire understanding of the movie had changed as a result - characters whose features and design seemed indistinct were suddenly illuminated. I found myself realizing "Oh, it's that guy!" whenever a small but recurring role popped up. Epic city-wide shots seemed more transporting and somehow 'real' than they had previously. The vital, dangerous energy of the action sequences and chase scenes was almost dizzying due to the perspectives and size of the screen. A plot whose players seemed at time non-descript suddenly was crystal clear (although this was obviously aided by a repeat viewing) and an ending that had been almost under whelming the first time around was now intense and unrelentingly powerful.  Basically watching the movie in my own personal theater completely changed the film for me - it went from a 'pretty okay' in my book to 'Holy Hannah, that was good'. Seeing it under those circumstances made me wonder how it's reputation had propelled from the theaters into viewer's homes, and how insane it must have been to see it in the first theatrical run. 

    To be perfectly frank there is a lesson I've taken from this whole experience (other than give unusual art second chances). That lesson is that unless the circumstances are right, I shouldn't consume media via small screens unless I really need to. I'll absolutely watch something on my phone, say, on the bus or on a plane, but the ipad is such a step up over that. If I don't have to use the ipad, I won't - these devices allow me to make it portable but I don't use them as the only means of consumption. Basically I want every viewing experience to be as close to ideal as possible, at least on the first pass for a movie or show. If I went to bed early - sure, I'll watch a bit of a movie just for something novel, but I'd rather do it on a widescreen. 

    Of course, I say all this with the admission that I won't follow my own advice.


    Mind Digging In

    Let's get weird, shall we?

    I loved the movie Inception. No question about it - I recall with great joy the feeling of giddy befuddlement I had while sitting in the Lagoon theater, watching Dom Cobb and his band of thieves traipsing through the dreams of corporate heirs. It was director Christopher Nolan at his best, having constructed a twisting tale of espionage and international intrigue through a meta-referential script and some of the best (if underrated) actors of my generation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Ellen Page all turned in superb performances that made an outlandish concept and serious nature surprisingly compatible. Yes, yes, Leonardo was great, we all know it. But the secret star of the movie? Hans Zimmer and his relentless score.

    Much has been written about the use of sound in this movie. From the inspired move of creating the booming, throbbing action score from the 'kick' music 'Non, je ne regrette rien', sung by Edith Piaf, or the effect a continuous score has on the audience when it is suddenly removed from the scene, the score is omnipresent and ever-changing. It's no wonder the film entrances viewers the way it does - it manipulates them so deftly with the soundscape that they don't consciously register what's happening. I was completely enthralled by the movie and I didn't even see it in one of the Imax theaters like my friends. It was pretty crazy for a 2nd viewing on a Blu Ray player with some nice headphones and about a half of a bottle of Cab. As I've written before, I much prefer watching movies at home now, as compared to the theater experience. 

    I loved the movie, not just for the story or the actors or the sounds, but for the whole feel of the thing. There's an intangible quality (duh) that I find so enchanting but elusive, something so mysterious about the not-quite-real worlds constructed by the architects and how they feel in my mind. I was naturally curious, then, when I saw that there was to be some sort of Inception App released for IOS devices. What would it be? Just some humdrum clips and pics? A couple games with poor production values? That's what was typically offered, I'd found. To my wonderment, what was released still entrances me to this day, over six months later.

    The brain child of 
    Michael Breidenbr├╝cker, the app is a fascinating and clever use of the mic/headset combo for either iPhone or iPod. Essentially what happens is this: you plug in your headset, fire up the app and press a button to induce dreaming. The code in the app then takes the sounds of the world around you and warps them while playing them almost instantly into your earbuds along with snippets of the movie's score. On the surface it sounds like a fairly simple, if novel, use of a mic and headphones. As an experience, though, it can be amazingly transcendent.
    Pedestrian tasks like riding an elevator down to the basement become surreal, otherworldly experiences. The whole world takes on a slightly ethereal quality and you become ever so slightly out of step with reality. When you boil it down to the essence it really is just a gimmick, a fun twist on sensory feedback, but the effect it has on daily life is astounding. On the right day you can create something epic out of boarding a bus or locking a door. It was winter here in Minnesota (big shock) when the app was released, and I had more than a few strange and amusing experiences walking home in the snow with Hans Zimmer's soundtrack playing along, the crunch of the snow beneath my feet becoming a series of endless, descending echoes. If you open up your mind it's fun to see what can happen. A little sense of wonder never hurt anyone. It's a bit of fun, just some harmless novelty for passing mundane tasks, but if your mind is open it can be crazy.
    The way the sound and music augment reality in this app brings to light what is potentially a new wave in sound design and musical creation. There is a world of possibility here - I can picture artists making albums meant to be experienced, not just listened to. Or maybe video game designers bring the experience into the world around you. In the meantime, I have a small window into the other-worldy feeling one of my favorite movies in recent years created. Being able to crawl into it in just the slightest sense is such a fun, strange thing. Give a look see if you have a compatible piece of hardware. 


    Red Rover


    Today has been a jam packed day and as a result I haven't been able to sort out a proper write up on a couple different things I've been working on. They'll be posted eventually but in the mean time I wanted to share something that has been boggling my brain as of late.

    One of the fantastic and literary gifts I received this Christmas came from my younger brother. Said gift is a great read which I'm just finishing up and will do a proper run down when it's officially finished. The book in question is How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown, a hilarious and fascinating analysis of one of the most controversial scientific decisions of the decade. Personally, I get it so far. Tiny little planet, on the verge of the Kuiper Belt, other things Brown is breaking down in a clear and concise manner, with a solid dose of humor, to boot.

    What I've been struggling with while reading, however, is the scale of the universe we live in. I find myself completely distracted from thinking about the literally astronomical distance between our celestial bodies. I know this will come across as a nothing post, people will read it and think "oh that's nice" and move on, but that just bums me out.

    Please, in our cluttered and manic lives, try to take a moment and attempt to picture the absolutely massive scale of the  Solar System and the void between planets. Think of Mars and how far away it is. Think of the fact that simply because you're alive to read this you most likely will not live to see a person touch Mars. After the budget cuts NASA has seen as of late, such a monumental event won't be accomplished by us, that's certain. But! We have put a robot up there. That little guy has taken pictures. Please, let that sink in. It works almost as the opposite as WALL-E. Check out this amazingly moving XKCD comic to get a little better perspective.

    In lieu of a proper write up, I'll leave you a few pictures of an alien landscape we'll almost never set foot on, yet is still within our grasp.

    Peace out.


    Nerd Alert!

    Well, hello there!

    Today, in a move of geeky self-awareness, I want to tell you about an excellent multi-media presence in our world. The thing I speak of is the Nerdist podcast. The brain child of Chris Hardwick, known for his appearances on G4 and Chelsea Handler (or for those of us who watched MTV in the 90s, hosting Singled Out with Jenny McCarthy), the Nerdist podcast was first made available February 8th of 2010. Hardwick, who had at the time just started hosting Web Soup, a you-tube heavy spin off of The Soup, wanted an outlet for talking to friends and fellow comedians about things they found to be nerdy or worthy of geeking out over. The general idea was to find things that were worthy of obsession and passion to specific audiences and bring it a more public view, be it comedians they felt people needed to know about, or personalities who were changing the landscape of distribution and what it means to have a career being an artist, like Scott Sigler or Jonathon Coulton. Enlisting his friends, fellow comedian Jonah Ray and tech-savvy Matt Mira, they launched both the podcast and a blog to evangelize the world on their nerdist views. 

    Each episode is roughly an hour and features a guest of the week, typically recorded in Hardwick's home along with Raye and Mira. Fair warning, there is more than a moderate sprinkling of profanity, just in case your ears are allergic to that sort of thing. Topics and guests range from voice actor extraordinaire Billy West (known for voice work on shows like Futurama, Doug and Ren & Stimpy) to Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, to Mixed Martial Artist Jason 'Mayhem' Miller (host of MTV's Bully Beatdown) to Rob Zombie (of Rob Zombie fame). Hardwick, Raye and Mira spend the duration of the show  both interviewing and joking with their guests, to great success and amusement. While critics of the show have accused the hosts of fawning over whoever they bring on, Hardwick defends his enthusiasm as just that - he prefers to have guests whose company he actually enjoys and wants to learn about. As he posited in one of the episodes, why would he want to have to talk to someone for an hour, in his own home mind you, whom he can't stand? In several episodes Hardwick relates his own struggles with negativity and how he tries to see the best in everything, and his show's perspective and method of guest selection follows that ideology.

    Each interview provides insightful glimpses into the minds and processes of each guest. It's fascinating to hear Drew Carrey talk about what it was like to do the Tonight show with Johny Carson and how it could literally open up your career overnight, or hear Stan Lee (of Marvel Comics legend) talk about where the ideas for characters and plots originated. At one point Hardwick had an opportunity to interview Ozzy Osbourne for an unrelated piece and they hit it off well enough that he put up the whole interview for that week's episode. Who knew Ozzy was a massive Dr. Who fan? In a particular instance of absurdist humor, Hardwick interviews the Muppets, yes those Muppets, and asks questions like they're normal, everyday people. Hearing someone give a straight-faced interview with Fozzy, Kermit and Gonzo is bizarre, to say the least. 

    With the podcast updating every week and Hardwick and  Ray tweeting about things in between their respective gigs as professional comedians, eventually the concept started to get too large for just them to run on their own. To satisfy the demand for content and consistency, they reached out to writers they admired and had them take the reigns on the Nerdist blog, which I've had a link to on my own site since it's beginning. It was a stroke of genius for Hardwick, as he wanted to keep up the steady stream of content and writing without it becoming a time-sink for his own life. The result? We get new episodes every week, the blog is updated on a frequent basis and non of the content flags due to disparate schedules or obligations. Anything from bizarre news stories to sightings of the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile end up on the blog, which is always a good read. The podcast stays consistently awesome as well. Check out some of the guests they've had: 

    Kevin Smith
    Ozzy Osbourne
    Bill West
    Marc Maron
    Sarah Silverman
    Greg Fitzsimmons
    Brian Posehn
    Mike Birbiglia
    Rain Wilson
    Bill Maher
    Fred Willard
    Jim Gaffigan
    Joel Mchale
    Andy Richter

    See that? See how many awesome, amazing people they've had on? Here's the best part: all these hysterical, entertaining and insightful podcasts are FREE. That's right, no cost! Go for it! Download them on itunes or off their blog. There is something for everyone, I guarantee it.


    The Fall of Analog

    So it turns I had indeed hoisted myself up the flagpole, all on my own. Having rectified my problems, I offer you the glory of my full-on postings.

    So here we are.

    Pretty nice, eh?

    To buck the trend online as of late, today's entry will be only peripherally about Apple, with nary a word about Verizon. Instead, the focus shifts slightly to the application of one of their fine products, namely the game changing Ipad. I could gush for pages about this Star Trek piece of equipment (and probably will when stalled for a good idea dans le futur). It is a marvelous thing, seemingly limited only by your imagination and a lack of flash. All short comings aside, (and potential brand loyalties considered) it marks a shift in the way we live with our technology, making it more approachable and accessible despite the steep entry fee. What to say, though? It's not what it is, really, but how it's used. Further, it's who is using it. In anyone's hands it's fun and novel, playing games and checking email. In an artist's hands, things become more intriguing. Whose hands? Damon Albarn's, that's who.

    Known in England for his massively popular brit-pop band Blur (who in 'Merica are known only for 'Song 2' i.e. the one you hear in football stadiums that goes "Woo hoo!"), Albarn created the world's most successful virtual band, Gorillaz. A collaboration with artist Jaime Hewlitt, who created the awesome comic Tank Girl, Gorillaz existed only in the media as a concept. The images and likeness of the members were hewn by Hewlitt with the majority of the music created by Albarn, with collaborations from rappers and other singers. The group had instant success both in the U.K. and across the sea, with the massively popular single "Clint Eastwood" off their self titled debut. Five years later, their sophomore offering, Demon Days, netted a Grammy for the single "Feel Good Inc." 2010's Plastic Beach was as highly anticipated as the last album but has yet to hit the same numbers. So why the truncated history of our modern, satirical Monkees?

    Innovation! Boundary pushing! Self imposed limitation, my readers.

    While on tour in support of Plastic Beach last fall Albarn let it slip that he would be releasing a free album to the Gorillaz' fan club on Christmas day. All of the music were new compositions created while on tour. The hook?

    The entire album being made on Albarn's Ipad.

    "Oooh, stop the presses, fan boy! What a shock! A musician makes a song on a computer!"

    I know, I know. But here's why my Spidey-sense is tingling:

    I downloaded it and it's really good.

    It doesn't feel like a one-off, goofy joke. It's a real album. While admittedly a bit pared-down, it's still as slick and solid as anything else they've done. From what I've gathered, there is a slight dearth of guest spots and fewer, if any actual stringed, live instruments, but that is both in and of the point. While there are a few guitars or acoustic things on the occasional track, it serves almost as a method of illustrating the move to more of a colder, new wave sound. It sounds to me like the Gorillaz spent a night drinking with Gary Numan and Ric Ocasek.

    Which is awesome.

    Using a list of apps found here, which are all available to anyone, the whole album was created from scratch on that little tablet. I find it to not only be a very enjoyable, moody soundtrack to my evening commute, but also an album with a fascinating meta-context. Just that I found it online, put it on my phone (which is another entire dork moment) and listen to it after knowing it was created in such an approachable, commoner manner is mind blowing.

    Here's to new sounds in new ways. Progress is strange business.