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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Art for the computer age...
I was originally planning on doing a movie review while our gentle web-master is away, but a topic has come up too many times in the past few weeks for me not to write about it. First it came up in the tag map of Kaedrin, when I noticed that some people were writing pages just to create appealing tag-maps. Then it came up in Illinois and Louisiana. They've passed laws regulating the sale and distribution of "violent games" to minors. This, of course, has led to lawsuits and claims that the law violates free speech. After that, it was the guys at Penny Arcade. They posted links to We Feel Fine and Listening Post.. Those projects search the internet for blogs (maybe this one?) and pull text from them about feelings, and present those feelings to an audience in different ways. Very interesting. Finally, it came up when I opened up the July issue of Game Informer, and read Hideo Kojima's quote:
I believe that games are not art, and will never be art. Let me explain � games will only match their era, meaning what the people of that age want reflects the outcome of the game at that time. So, if you bring a game from 20 years ago out today, no one will say �wow.� There will be some essence where it�s fun, but there won�t be any wows or touching moments. Like a car, for example. If you bring a car from 20 years ago to the modern day, it will be appealing in a classic sense, but how much gasoline it uses, or the lack of air conditioning will simply not be appreciated in that era. So games will always be a kind of mass entertainment form rather than art. Of course, there will be artistic ways of representing games in that era, but it will still be entertainment. However, I believe that games can be a culture that represent their time. If it�s a light era, or a dark era, I always try to implement that era in my works. In the end, when we look back on the projects, we can say �Oh, it was that era.� So overall, when you look back, it becomes a culture.�
Every time I reread that quote, I cringe. Here's a man who is one of the most significant forces in video games today, the creator of Metal Gear, and he's saying "No, they're not art, and never will be." I find his distinction between mass entertaintment and art troubling, and his comparison to a car flawed.

It's true that games will always be a reflection of their times- just like anything else is. The limitations of the time and the attitudes of the culture at the time are going to have an effect on everything coming out of that time. A car made in the 60s is going to show the style of the 60s, and is going to have the tech of the 60s. That makes sense. Of course, a painting made in the 1700s is going to show the limits and is going to reflect the feelings of that time, too. The paints, brushes, and canvas used then aren't necessarily going to be the same as the ones used now, especially with the popular use of computers in painting. The fact that something is a reflection of the times isn't going to stop people from appreciating the artistic worth of that thing. The fact that the Egyptians hadn't mastered perspective doesn't stop anyone from wanting to see their statues.

What does that really tell us, though? Nothing. A car from the 80s may not be appreciated as much as a new model car as a means of transport, but Kojima seems to be completely forgetting that there are many cars that are appreciated as special. Nobody buys a 60s era muscle car because they think it's a good car for driving around in- they buy it because they think it's special, because some people view older cars as collectable. Some people do see them as more than a mere means of transportation. People are very much "wowed" by old cars. Is there any reason why this can't be true of games?

I am 8 Bit seems to suggest that there are people who are still wowed by those games. Kojima may be partially correct, though. Maybe most of those early games won't hold up in the long run. That shouldn't be a surprise. They're the first generation of games. The 8-Bit era was the begining of the new wave of games, though. For the first time, creators could start to tell real stories, beyond simple high-score pursuit. Game makers were just getting their wings, and starting to see what games were really capable of. Maybe early games aren't art. Does that mean that games aren't art?

The problem mostly seems to be that we're asking the wrong questions. We shouldn't be asking "are video games art" any more than we'd ask "are movies art." It's a loaded question and you'll never come to any real answer, because the answer is going to depend completely on what movie you're looking at, and who you're asking. The same holds true with games. The question shouldn't be whether all games are art, but whether a particular game has some artistic merrit. How we decide what counts as art is constantly up for debate, but there are games that raise such significant moral or philosophical questions, or have such an amazing sense of style, or tell such an amazing story, that it seems hard to argue that they have no artistic merrit.

All of this really is leading somewhere. Computers have changed everything. I know that seems obvious, but I think it's taking some people- people like Kojima- a little longer to realize it. Computers have opened up a level of interactivity and access to information that we've never really had before. I can update Kaedrin from Michigan, and can send a message to a friend in Germany, all while buying videos from Japan and playing chess with a man in Alaska (not that I'm actually doing those things... but I could). These changes are going to be reflected in the art our culture produces. There's going to be backlash and criticism, and we're going to find that some people just don't "get it" or don't want to. We've gone through the same thing countless times before. Nobody thought movies would be seen as art when they came on the scene, and they were sure that the talkies wouldn't. When Andy Warhol came out, there were plenty of nay-sayers. Soup cans? As art? Computers have generally been accepted as a tool for making art, but I think we're still seeing the limits pushed. We've barely scratched the surface. The interaction between art, artist, and viewer is blurring, and I, for one, can't wait to see what happens.
Posted by Samael on June 25, 2006 at 01:42 PM .: Comments (4) | link :.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Guest Blogger
I'll be travelling this weekend and thus won't have much time to blog. However, long time Kaedrin compatriot Samael will be posting in my absence (at least once on Sunday, as per the schedule). Astute readers may recognize the name from his Super Mario Mega Marathon of Madness and his comments on Pre-NES games. I don't know what he'll be writing about, but he assures me it will be something geeky. Have a good weekend!
Posted by Mark on June 23, 2006 at 02:17 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In an effort to exhaust the novelty of my current favorite author, Neal Stephenson, I've been reading his first novel, The Big U (I think I've covered everything else but his pseudonymous work). Stephenson himself describes this as "a juvenile work," but I'm greatly enjoying myself. Filled with geeks pursuing... geeky pursuits, I'm reminded of the latter day portions of Cryptonomicon (though when you compare those two, I can see why The Big U would be called juvenile). It's quite entertaining so far, though there does seem to be a lack of traditional plot points and I'm not expecting a particularly revelatory ending. The book is probably best described by it's setting (American Megaversity) and characters (geeks). Some choice quotes are below:

Most of the facilities of the Big U are contained within a group of buildings refered to as the Plex:
The Plex's environmental control system was designed so that anyone could spend four years wearing only a jockstrap and a pair of welding goggles and yet never feel chilly or find the place too dimly lit.
Sounds like a fun place, and it seems that Stephenson's humor was fully in place when he started his writing career. I've also noticed that he seems to have a fascination with how smart people find one another in the throngs of normal people. For instance, two of the characters get lost in the Plex's labyrinthine stairway system and end up exiting at the back of the building:
Later I was to think it remarkable that Casimir and I should emerge from those fire doors at nearly the same moment, and meet. On reflection, I have changed my mind. The Big U was an unnatural environment, a work of the human mind, not of God or plate tectonics. If two strangers met in the rarely used stairways, it was not unreasonable that they should turn out to be similar, and become friends. I thought of it as an immense vending machine, cautiously crafted so that any denomination too ancient or foreign or irregular would rattle about randomly for a while, find its way into the stairway system, and inevitably be deposited in the reject tray on the barren back side. Meanwhile, brightly colored graduates with attractively packaged degrees were dispensed out front every June, swept up by traffic on the Parkway and carried away for leisurly consumption...
Much the same situation brought Daniel Waterhouse and Isaac Newton together in Quicksilver. Other similar scenarios populate his various other books as well.

The book is obviously a satire, but I still can't help but find a grain of truth in some of the absurdly bureaucratic obstacles that pop up for various students.
"I'm an English major. I know this stuff. Why are you putting me in Freshman English?"

The General Curriculum Advisor consulted little codes printed by the computer, and looked them up in a huge computer-printed book. "Ah," he said, "was one of your parents a foreign national?"

"My stepmother is from Wales."

"That explains it. You see." The official had swung around toward her and assumed a frank, open body-language posture. "Statistical analysis shows that children of one or more foreign nationals are often gifted with Special Challenges."

Sarah's spine arched back and she set her jaw. "You're saying I can't speak English because my stepmother was Welsh?"

"Special Challenges are likely in your case. You were mistakenly exempted from Freshmen English because of your high test scores. This exemption option has now been retroactively waived for your convenience."

"I don't want it waived. It's not convenient."

"To ensure maintenance of high academic standards, the waiver is avolitional."
Nothing that bad has ever happened to me, but there was that time the university lost my enrollment (in which I had very carefully picked what classes and professors I wanted) and, for my convienience, enrolled me in the remaining open courses that fulfilled my needs (at this point, though, everyone else had already registered, so the only classes that were open were the ones no one wanted to take). That was a fun semester.

It turns out that Freshmen English is being taught by a lunatic The student from the above excerpt gets a bad grade and decides to speak with the professor because other barely literate students got a better grade than her:
He took a long draw on his pipe. "What is a grade? That is the question." He chuckled, but apparently she didn't get it. "Some teachers grade on curves. You have to be a math major to understand the grade! But forget those fake excuses. A grade is actually a form of poetry. It is a subjective reaction to a learner's work, distilled and reduced down to its purest essence-not a sonnet, not a haiku, but a single letter. That's remarkable, isn't it?"
Oh, but he's not done yet. He actually goes on to describe how the barely readible grammar of a competing paper is better than Sarah's:
"You aren't necessarily a better writer. You called some of them functional illiterates. Well those illiterates, as you called them, happen to have very expressive prose voices. Remember that in each person's own dialect he or she is perfectly literate. So in the sense of having escaped orthodoxy to be truly creative, they are highly advanced wordsmiths, while you are still struggling to break free of grammatical rules systems. They express themselves to me and I react with little one-letter poems of my own - the essence of grading! Poetry! And being a poet I'm particularly well suited for it. Your idea of tearing down these little proto-artists because they aren't just like you smacks of a kind of absolutism which is very disturbing in a temple of academic freedom."

They sat there silent for a while.

"You really said that, didn't you?" she finally asked.

"I did."
I think he perfectly captured the futility of Sarah's quest in this scene. It's masterful, really. The book was published in 1984, so it seems that this sort of PC lit-crit babbled newspeak was just as common and annoying then as it is now. It's kind of reassuring, in a dejected way. When I hear about crazy professors going on about this or that these days, it's always tempting to assume that the sky is falling and that we're all doomed. But it appears that this has been going on for quite some time now, and while I don't like it and it may be harmful, it probably doesn't mean the end of the world either. Anyway, I'm only halfway through the book, but I thought I'd share my impressions, because I was expecting a lot worse...
Posted by Mark on June 21, 2006 at 11:02 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

David Wong's article on the coming video game crash seems to have inspired Steven Den Beste, who agrees with Wong that there will be a gaming crash and also thinks that the same problems affect other forms of entertainment. The crux of the problem appears to be novelty. Part of the problem appears to be evolutionary as well. As humans, we are conditioned for certain things, and it seems that two of our insticts are conflicting.

The first instinct is the human tendency to rely on induction. Correlation does not imply causation, but most of the time, we act like it does. We develop a complex set of heuristics and guidelines that we have extrapolated from past experiences. We do so because circumstances require us to make all sorts of decisions without posessing the knowledge or understanding necessary to provide a correct answer. Induction allows us to to operate in situations which we do not uderstand. Psychologist B. F. Skinner famously explored and exploited this trait in his experiments. Den Beste notes this in his post:
What you do is to reward the animal (usually by giving it a small amount of food) for progressively behaving in ways which is closer to what you want. The reason Skinner studied it was because he (correctly) thought he was empirically studying the way that higher thought in animals worked. Basically, they're wired to believe that "correlation often implies causation". Which is true, by the way. So when an animal does something and gets a reward it likes (e.g. food) it will try it again, and maybe try it a little bit differently just to see if that might increase the chance or quantity of the reward.
So we're hard wired to create these heuristics. This has many implications, from Cargo Cults to Superstition and Security Beliefs.

The second instinct is the human drive to seek novelty, also noted by Den Beste:
The problem is that humans are wired to seek novelty. I think it's a result of our dietary needs. Lions can eat zebra meat exclusively their entire lives without trouble; zebras can eat grass exclusively their entire lives. They don't need novelty, but we do. Primates require a quite varied diet in order to stay healthy, and if we eat the same thing meal after meal we'll get sick. Individuals who became restless and bored with such a diet, and who sought out other things to eat, were more likely to survive. And when you found something new, you were probably deficient in something that it provided nutritionally, so it made sense to like it for a while -- until boredom set in, and you again sought out something new.
The drive for diversity affects more than just our diet. Genetic diversity has been shown to impart broader immunity to disease. Children from diverse parentage tend to develop a blend of each parent's defenses (this has other implications, particularly for the tendency for human beings to work together in groups). The biological benefits of diversity are not limited to humans either. Hybrid strains of many crops have been developed over the years because by selectively mixing the best crops to replant the next year, farmers were promoting the best qualities in the species. The simple act of crossing different strains resulted in higher yields and stronger plants.

The problem here is that evolution has made the biological need for diversity and novelty dependent on our inductive reasoning instincts. As such, what we find is that those we rely upon for new entertainment, like Hollywood or the video game industry, are constantly trying to find a simple formula for a big hit.
It's hard to come up with something completely new. It's scary to even make the attempt. If you get it wrong you can flush amazingly large amounts of money down the drain. It's a long-shot gamble. Every once in a while something new comes along, when someone takes that risk, and the audience gets interested...
Indeed, the majority of big films made today appear to be remakes, sequels or adaptations. One interesting thing I've noticed is that something new and exciting often fails at the box office. Such films usually gain a following on video or television though. Sometimes this is difficult to believe. For instance, The Shawshank Redemption is a very popular film. In fact, it occupies the #2 spot (just behind The Godfather) on IMDB's top rated films. And yet, the film only made $28 million dollars (ranked 52 in 1994) in theaters. To be sure, that's not a modest chunk of change, but given the universal love for this film, you'd expect that number to be much higher. I think part of the reason this movie failed at the box office was that marketers are just as susceptible to these novelty problems as everyone else. I mean, how do you market a period prison drama that has an awkward title an no big stars? It doesn't sound like a movie that would be popular, even though everyone seems to love it.

Which brings up another point. Not only is it difficult to create novelty, it can also be difficult to find novelty. This is the crux of the problem: we require novelty, but we're programmed to seek out new things via correllation. There is no place to go for perfect recommendations and novelty for the sake of novelty isn't necessarily enjoyable. I can seek out some bizarre musical style and listen to it, but the simple fact that it is novel does not guarantee that it will be enjoyable. I can't rely upon how a film is marketed because that is often misleading or, at least, not really representative of the movie (or whatever). Once we do find something we like, our instinct is often to exhaust that author or director or artist's catalog. Usually, by the end of that process, the artist's work begins to seem a little stale, for obvious reasons.

Seeking out something that is both novel and enjoyable is more difficult than it sounds. It can even be a little scary. Many times, things we think will be new actually turn out to be retreads. Other times, something may actually be novel, but unenjoyable. This leads to another phenomenon that Den Beste mentions: the "Unwatched pile." Den Beste is talking about Anime, and at this point, he's begun to accumulate a bunch of anime DVDs which he's bought but never watched. I've had similar things happen with books and movies. In fact, I have several books on my shelf, just waiting to be read, but for some of them, I'm not sure I'm willing to put in the time and effort to read them. Why? Because, for whatever reason, I've begun to experience some set of diminishing returns when it comes to certain types of books. These are similar to other books I've read, and thus I probably won't enjoy these as much (even if they are good books).

The problem is that we know something novel is out there, it's just a matter of finding it. At this point, I've gotten sick of most of the mass consumption entertainment, and have moved on to more niche forms of entertainment. This is really a signal versus noise, traversal of the long tail problem. An analysis problem. What's more, with globalization and the internet, the world is getting smaller... access to new forms of entertainment are popping up (for example, here in the US, anime was around 20 years ago, but it was nowhere near as common as it is today). This is essentially a subset of a larger information aggregation and analysis problem that we're facing. We're adrift in a sea of information, and must find better ways to navigate.
Posted by Mark on June 18, 2006 at 03:55 PM .: Comments (6) | link :.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

10,000 Days
It's been a while since I've gotten really into an album, but Tool's new 10,000 Days seems to have broken that trend. I've been listening to it almost nonstop for about a month now, and I'm still picking it apart. As I mentioned the other day, I have some odd musical tastes:
...I usually only listen to the music (as opposed to paying attention to the lyrics). When the music is interesting enough to me, I'll eventually get around to the lyrics. Sometimes, I'm pleased, other times I find out I'm listening to German anarchists. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
As such, I think I generally approach music in a different way than most people. One other thing to note is that when it comes to music, I have next to no technical knowledge. Tune, chords, notes, I have a general idea of what these things are, but I'm no musician. I treat music much more subjectively than I treat movies or books; I just know what I like to hear, and that's about it. So here are my thoughts for each song on this album:
  1. Vicarious: An excellent song, perhaps my favorite on the album. It provides an interesting transition from Lateralus (Tool's last album) to this album. It seems to share some of the musical themes of Lateralus, though only in a subtle way. I generally find myself attracted to songs that have an interesting structure. Longer songs tend to fit this bill - there's more time to fill and most good songs don't just keep repeating the same thing over and over again for too long, so there needs to be some interesting transitions, etc... Vicarious does a pretty good job at this for being a medium length (7:08) song. Maynard's singing approaches a whisper at some points in this song, but while that initially struck me as odd, I find that working pretty well at this point. One thing I like is when music actually builds towards the ending, and this song certainly does so, especially in the last chorus.
  2. Jambi: This song continues the transition from Vicarious to the rest of the album. A little more repetitive than the other songs, especially with respect to the guitar work, but it has its moments. It's another medium length song, though its structure isn't as interesting as Vicarious'. Still, it's a decent enough song.
  3. Wings for Marie (pt 1): The best of the slower, moodier songs on the album. At this point in the album, the sound has shifted enough that it no longer feels like I'm listening to a continuation of Lateralus. One of the things Tool does a lot is insert these little interludes between songs. They're nice the first time you listen to the album, but after a while, they're just tracks that you skip. At a little over six minutes long, this song hardly qualifies as an interlude, and it's got enough substance to hold my attention, but I have a feeling it will be overshadowed by the next song (sort of how Parabol is overshadowed by Parabola on Lateralus).
  4. 10,000 Days (Wings pt 2): One of the longest songs on the album (11:15), I haven't yet gotten to the point where I fully appreciate this song's structure. However, I enjoy the way it starts and gradually gets more and more involved (the thunderstorm that underlies the song is well done and evocative). On any album that I love, I find that I'll start out loving and listening to a bunch of songs, usually skipping past various others on the album in favor of the ones I like most. But then I sorta rediscover the songs I used to skip over. I think this will be one of my rediscoveries in a few months...
  5. The Pot: Perhaps the most commercially viable song on this album, it's also pretty darn good. It's the shortest of the non-moody songs on the album (6:34), with a pretty interesting structure and a few good moments. As Kaedrin reader DyRE notes, this song has a certain playfulness about it which kinda breaks the mood of the preceding songs rather abruptly, but I still think it works just fine. Maynard's voice isn't as distorted or washed out here as it is in several of the other songs, and it really gives the song a different feel.
  6. Lipan Conjuring: One of the aforementioned intermission type songs, there's not much to say about this one.
  7. Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman): - Another slow, moody piece. It features a dialogue between a nurse and a doctor talking about a patient. I'm not sure if this is sampled from a movie or anything, but it appears that my refusal to acknowledge lyrics includes stuff l ike this. Perhaps a future rediscovery, but I think this one will eventually fall off the playlist in favor of the faster songs...
  8. Rosetta Stoned: Only a few seconds shorter than 10,000 Days, this is one of the longest songs on the album (11:13). I either haven't had enough time to digest the structure of this song, or its pacing is a bit off. A really good long song is difficult, so I guess some misfires are to be expected. Don't get me wrong, I've gotten to like this song more as I've listened to it more, so I think it just means I'm still working through the structure. There are a certainly a few shining minutes in this song that are really, truly awesome. One is about two thirds of the way in, when things slow down a bit and the percussion switches gears. The song sort of jams on that for a little while, then starts building to a crescendo where the music kicks in a little and Maynard starts singing his lines. It's an awesome moment, and it goes on for about a minute which is great (usually songs that reach such a point peter out really quickly). Yeah, so even if it seems a bit off in the beginning, that part around 8 minutes in really makes up for it (and then some).

    Also, there's a part in this song that really sounds a lot like Third Eye. And I think there's another part in the song that sounds a bit like the Grudge (I think it's on this song, but it also sort of sounds like this elsewhere on 10,000 days). I'll obviously have to listen more, but I can here various pieces of their previous work here. I don't want to give the impression that this song is basically a carbon copy of their previous work though. It's very distinct, but it's interesting to hear familiar notes from time to time.
  9. Intension: Another moody segue piece. Haven't listened to this much, so it might make an interesting rediscovery. Somewhat reminiscent of the song Disposition, from Lateralus.
  10. Right in Two: Another great song that starts a little slow and builds until they're really going at it. Great stuff here. Once again, I think I noticed some themes from previous Tool albums peeing out in this song, though again, this isn't a bad thing. One thing I need to mention, but haven't yet is that the drummer for Tool, Danny Carey, is absolutely incredible (in this song, but also in all of the others). He has a very intricate style, often incorporating other percussive techniques (like tabla) and seamlessly lapsing into a sort of controlled chaos that's almost uncanny. It's also nice to hear a drummer that doesn't appear to be influenced at all by hip-hop (i.e. no Amen Breaks to be found here).
  11. Viginti Tres: - Yet another moody piece that I probably won't listen to very much.
From a structural standpoint, it's a very dense album, and I can tell that I'm still going to be picking it apart a few months from now. It's also quite a strange album. Almost all of the songs are extremely long, with some having a very convoluted arrangement. This might make the album less accessible to some. DyRE tells me that the lyrics are more personal and that the album has a generally non-uplifting tone, which is something that will probably turn me off once I get around to looking at the lyrics (I'm in no hurry to do so at this point, especially knowing that). Overall, I'm quite happy with the album, though I don't know if I'd place it above their best album, �nima. I think it says something that I wasn't disappointed even though it's been 5 years since their last album though.
Posted by Mark on June 15, 2006 at 08:10 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Playlist Meme
Julenka posts the first 50 songs in her current playlist. When it comes to music, I seem to be on a completely different wavelength than most people. Part of this has to do with the fact that I usually only listen to the music (as opposed to paying attention to the lyrics). When the music is interesting enough to me, I'll eventually get around to the lyrics. Sometimes, I'm pleased, other times I find out I'm listening to German anarchists. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Anyway, that might be worth keeping in mind as you read this list of 30 songs which I got by putting my iPod on shuffle. Also, it seems that the practice of simply ripping a lot of CDs and putting them on the iPod have given me a quite a few songs that I would probably skip if they came up, so I'll make some notes for each song too...
  1. The Great Below - Nine Inch Nails: Good stuff, a little different from what most might associate with NIN.
  2. What Planet Is this - Yokko Kanno and the Seatbelts: Great Cowboy Bebop soundtrack jazzy stuff.
  3. Pristina (remix) - Faith No More: This is a rarity, I think. A low-key remix of a low-key song on a low-key album of a low-key band (well, I'm not sure they were low-key, but that just makes for a better description). I doubt anyone reading this has even heard it (if you have, you better leave a comment!)
  4. Powder - Yokko Kanno and the Seatbelts: Short and more soundtracky (and thus less interesting to listen to by itself), this is from one of my favorite moments in the Cowboy Bebop movie.
  5. Er, this is a chapter from an audio book (Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point). A good book, but I'm pretty sure the audio version I have is abridged.
  6. Nice Dream - Radiohead: Decent stuff.
  7. Four Sticks - Led Zepplin: Eh, not my favorite, but not bad either.
  8. Welcome to the Machine - Pink Floyd: Same as above.
  9. In My Tree - Pearl Jam: From what may be my favorite Pearl Jam album, No Code.
  10. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Santa Esmeralda: This is a really great (and long!) song from the Kill Bill Soundtrack.
  11. Love is a Fist - Mr. Bungle - Eh, I'd probably skip it (I have to be in a certain mood to listen to early Mr. Bungle)
  12. Closer - Nine Inch Nails: Infamous, but I like the music.
  13. Ultra - KMFDM: So-so. It's a toss-up as to whether or not I'd listen if this came up.
  14. Backyard - Guster: A good song, but it ends sort of abrubptly. Which is odd, because it fades out.
  15. Gotta knock a little harder - Yokko Kanno and the Seatbelts: Hmm, this list isn't so random, is it?
  16. Vanity Fair - Mr. Bungle: From California, my favorite Mr. Bungle album.
  17. Ommadawn Part Two - Mike Oldfield: Great, epic stuff (though I prefer to listen to the whole album at once, as opposed to jumping in at part two).
  18. Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie: Good stuff.
  19. Alberto Balsalm - Aphex Twin: More good stuff.
  20. Lion Thief - The Beta Band: This band always reminds me of that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack proclaims that he'll now sell 5 copies of a Beta Band album.
  21. Heartbreaker - Led Zeppelin: Good stuff.
  22. March of the Pigs - Nine Inch Nails: One of the first NIN songs to catch my eye.
  23. Rose - A Perfect Circle: A so-so song. I'd probably skip it.
  24. Echoes - Pink Floyd: One of those 26 minute long Epics. Sometimes I love that sort of song.
  25. Pushit - Tool: Great song, one of my favorite Tool songs.
  26. Wings For Marie (Pt 1) - Tool: One of the better slow, moody songs off their new album, but still slow and probably something I'd skip...
  27. Trust - KMFDM: One of the things I love about KMFDM is when they have female vocalists provide the chorus (or sing more of the song). It puts them on a different level.
  28. Silence is the Question - The Bad Plus: Piano based jazz. Decent stuff, but this song is a little slow. I'd probably skip.
  29. Darts of Pleasure - Franz Ferdinand: That's the band, not the archduke.
  30. Alma-Ville - Vince Guaraldi: How can you not like Vince Guaraldi? I mean, come one, he did the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas!
That's all. Perhaps a little more about music later in the week. Feel free to post your own list in the comments...
Posted by Mark on June 13, 2006 at 09:20 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Link Dump
Time is short this week, so just a few links I found interesting...
  • Make Me Watch TV: Collaborative torture. This guy lets people choose what he watches on TV. Naturally, voters tend to make him watch the worst of the worst (though it seems that sometimes people are nice and let him watch an episode of Lost or Doctor Who). After each viewing, he blogs about what he's seen. One interesting thing here is that, if you want, you can "sponsor" a time slot: If you pay him $5 (per half hour), he'll let you override the popular vote and force him to watch the program of your choice. Democracy in action.
  • Life After the Video Game Crash: In light of recent bloggery, this article in which David Wong recaps the history of video games (including the beloved Atari 2600) also predicts the coming of another Video Game Crash. Basically, it argues that the next generation gaming consoles offer very little in the way of true innovation and Wong is betting that people will stay away in droves. Regardless of what you may think, it's worth reading because Wong is funny:
    And yet, even with the enormous number of games (Metroid delayed my discovering girls for a for a good 18 months), the gaming experience itself still couldn't keep our interest for more than a few years. Attention waned again, but this time new, fancier systems arrived just in time, offering a new and novel experience thanks to prettier graphics and character animation. And yet those systems (the Sega Genesis and later the SNES), as great as they were, eventually were retired to closets and attics and the sandy carpets of the Pakistani black market. It was a bitter, dark cloud of Japanese expletives that wafted from the meeting rooms at Nintendo and Sega when they realized their industry effectively lived under a curse.
  • The World's Most Important 6 Second Drum Beat: Nate Harrison's fascinating 2004 video explores the history of the "Amen Break," a six second drum beat from a b-side of a 1969 single that's been used extensively in early hiphop and sample-based music. From there, it spawned subcultures like drum-and-bass and jungle music. Aside from the strange fact that this is a video (there doesn't appear to actually be a reason for this - most of the video is simply a video of a record playing or a guy sitting in a room, for instance), this is compelling stuff. It covers the history of the break, but also some issues about ownership, copyright, and what constitutes art and creativity...
Apologies for the lameness of this entry. I've been travelling this weekend, and I'm exhausted. I've got several of these weekends coming up, so I'm going to try and set up some guest bloggers to post in my stead. I think the next one will be in two weeks or so. Anyway, I'll try to post again later this week...
Posted by Mark on June 11, 2006 at 09:05 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Offbeat Movie Corner 2
I like to check out movies that are off the beaten path, and I'm usually pretty happy with the experience. Here are some recent viewings:
  • Brick (***1/2):Sam Spade goes to high school. Either the concept of a high school noir film intrigues you, or it doesn't (or you're not familiar with noir...)

    This is a remarkable film. It's high concept, and it could have easily fell on it's face if it didn't get the tone exactly right (which it does). The Cinecast podcast described it thusly:
    ...[it] sounds dumb. I think that's because, even though we haven't, it feels like we've seen it before, maybe on a very special episode of Saved by the Bell, filmed in black and white; Zack and Screech in trenchcoats, smoking cigarettes and awkwardly delivering bad Dashiell Hammett parody.
    Well, none of that here. Writer/director Rian Johnson has done an excellent job creating a stylized modern high school world where the students talk like characters out of The Maltese Falcon. There is a lot of humor in the movie, but it plays the story straight, as if teenagers really talk like hard boiled detectives. All of the noir archetypes are there too, including the troubled detective, the femme fatale, the Kingpin and my favorite, the Brain.

    The story is decent as well, though you will need to pay attention. The plot is very dense (though perhaps a bit too derivitive of classic noir), and I look forward to picking through it again (and again) when it gets released on DVD. Direction and cinematography are done well. Acting is great. All in all, an excellent film. Highly recommended for those familiar with noir (and only a little less for those who are not).
  • Hard Candy (***): This was surprisingly good. Not brilliant or earth-shattering, but a quality filmgoing experience. It's about a pedophile and a 14 year old girl. It's difficult to describe without giving away too much (potential spoilers ahead), but let's just say that those are really the only two characters in the movie (there are 3 others whose combined screen time probably doesn't top 2 minutes) and that 90% of the movie takes place in a house. And yet this manages to be pretty riveting stuff. With the subject of the movie being pedophilia, you really can't expect to have a pleasant experience. But I will note that there is no actual sex in the movie and that expectations are consistently thwarted. The only thing that struck me as odd was that there are times when you could root for either character, because neither one of them is likeable (though I suspect most people would not choose to root for the pedophile). Also, the ending puts a little strain on credibility, though it's about as well done as it could be... Still, the screenplay is excellent (it's a very dialogue heavy movie), the direction is good, and the acting is great, especially Ellen Page (playing the 14 year old Hayley). If you don't mind the subject matter and are prepared to be more than a little grossed out, this is definitely worth a watch.
  • The Squid and the Whale (**): Honestly, I don't even know if this really deserves **, but I'll give it that because what is there is pretty well done. It just doesn't amount to anything, which is a big problem for me. It's about a family that goes through a divorce. It's another movie where I didn't particularly like any of the characters. For instance, father is an extremely unlikeable pompous ass and a portrait of how not to be a good father (though I have to admit that Jeff Daniels gives an exceptional performance). I suppose I should draw a distinction here though. The characters were all well written and portrayed (with the possible exception of the mother), I just didn't like them as people. I didn't really care about them much, so there wasn't much of an emotional connection for me. There are a lot of good moments in this film though. The writer/director nails some of the subtleties (I think it was partly autobiographical, which probably explains some things), but none of these subtle moments ever really amounts to anything. Thus I can't really recommend this. The one lesson I took out of this film: Don't get a divorce or your kids will become sexual deviants.
That's it for now. If you're interested, check out the previous installment of Offbeat Movie Corner.
Posted by Mark on June 04, 2006 at 10:25 PM .: Comments (4) | link :.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tag Map of Kaedrin
Via lots of people, here is a graph of the underlying HTML structure of the Kaedrin Weblog:
Kaedrin Weblog Site Graph, click for a slightly larger version
Each dot represents some aspect of this page. The application that generated this graph uses the following color codes:
What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags
So what are we looking at in my graph? (One note, I generated this graph last night before I posted, so this graph reflects a page that has changed.) Well, the big clump of orange and blue on the left side of the graph is obviously my side navigation, filled with links and line breaks (i.e. the blogroll and archive links). The other big clump of orange and blue (bottom right) is the main area of posts on the page. Because I've recently gone on a spree of posts with lots of images, there is also a bunch of violent in that area. The image filled posts are also the cause of the offshoots from this area, as I've foolishly used some tag-soup to get the layout right. I believe the remaining offshoot, in the middle of the graph, is the masthead (the top of the page with the Kaedrin logo and main navigation links).

It's not as pretty as those nifty XHTML/CSS pages, but it gets the job done (and it validates!) One of these days I'll get around to actually converting this layout to XHTML and CSS, but don't hold your breath. I tried to exactly replicate this layout once and just got frustrated, so when it happens, it will probably be accompanied by a minor design overhaul.
Posted by Mark on June 01, 2006 at 07:01 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

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