Sunday, September 28, 2008
6WH: Week 2 - The Lycanthropic Edition
The Six Weeks of Halloween continues this week with a trio of movies featuring Werewolves, along with the usual spat of movie trailers and comedic shorts. Enjoy:
In an effort to further steal from kernunrex, I picked up a pack of Halloween Jones Soda this week... I chose the not-so-adventurous Blood Orange flavor, which I really liked a lot (though it's a pretty standard orange soda style flavor, it's still tasty). Up next will be the Candy Corn flavor.
Posted by Mark on September 28, 2008 at 12:15 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A few years ago, The Onion put out a book called Our Dumb Century. It was comprised of a series of newspaper front pages, one from each year. It was an interesting book, in part because of the events they chose to represent each year and also because The Onion writers are hilarious. The most brilliant entry in the book was from the 1969 edition of the paper:
Utterly brilliant. You can't read it on that small copy, but there's a whole profanity-laden exchange between Houston and Tranquility Base that's also hysterically funny. As it turns out, The Onion folks went ahead and made a video, complete with archival footage and authentic sounding voices, beeps, static, etc... Incredibly funny. [video via Need Coffee]
Update: Weird, I tried to embed the video in this post, but when you click play it says it's no longer available... but if you go directly to youtube, you can get the video. I'm taking out the embedded video and putting in the link for now.
Posted by Mark on September 24, 2008 at 10:04 PM .: link :.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 1 - The Friday the 13th Edition
I stumbled upon Kernunrex's annual six weeks of Halloween posts a bit late last year, so I only did four weeks myself. This year, I'm prepared. This is my favorite time of the year, and like Kernunrex, I think it's a great excuse to explore one of my favorite genres.
When else can you impersonate another person all day and not be arrested? On what other day would it be socially acceptable to decorate your yard with imitation corpses? Only during Halloween do hollow, burning fruit look good on your porch. Most of all, Halloween somehow makes most everyone in the country a fan of my favorite genre. One day just isn't enough for this type of fun; I make it six weeks.Excellent. To start things off, I watched some Friday the 13th movies. I've seen most of them before, but mostly only in pieces. Last year, I revisted the original, this year, I've revisted the next three installments.
Also, since we're pretty early in the season, feel free to leave some recommendations in the comments. I have a bunch of movies in my queue, but nothing I consider very essential, so recommendations are welcome.
Posted by Mark on September 21, 2008 at 07:22 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Probing Video Games
Clive Thompson's latest video game article is about how players of online video games collaborate, analyze and develop strategies for beating difficult bosses. One example he gives is a game called Lineage, where groups of 150 players stage assaults on fiendishly difficult enemies. Constance Steinkuehler, a game academic at the University of Wisconsin, was fascinated with the game and how the players were able to quickly identify and exploit weanesses in the bosses. She eventually figured out how her teenage compatriots were accomplishing the feat:
A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they’d dump all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they’d develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked — and to predict how to beat it.Sound familiar? I've often mentioned Steven Berlin Johnson's book, Everything Bad is Good For You on this blog, with particular focus on the concepts of probing, telescoping and decision-making. The process of probing a game (or in this case, an enemy), developing a hypothesis, reprobing, and then rethinking the hypothesis is essentially the same thing as the scientific method or the hermenutic circle.
Steinkuehler also studied a popular World of Warcraft message board to see what the folks there were talking about. It turns out that people there are mostly doing science!
Only a minority of the postings were “banter” or idle chat. In contrast, a majority — 86 percent — were aimed specifically at analyzing the hidden ruleset of games.I've never actually played WoW, but I find this behavior fascinating. Towards the end of the article, Thompson talks about education:
And here’s the thing: The (mostly) young people engaging in these sciencelike conversations are precisely the same ones who are, more and more, tuning out of science in the classroom. Every study shows science literacy in school is plummeting, with barely one-fifth of students graduating with any sort of sense of how the scientific method works. The situation is far worse for boys than girls.That would certainly make for an interesting class. As I've noted before, it should be interesting to see if video games ever really catch on as learning tools. There have been a lot of attempts at this sort of thing, but they're often stifled by the reputation of video games being a "colossal waste of time" (in recent years, the benefits of gaming are being acknowledged more and more, though not usually as dramatically as Johnson does in his book).
Posted by Mark on September 17, 2008 at 08:47 PM .: link :.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Clone Wars & Context
Not too long ago, I mentioned that George Lucas' involvement in a project usually does not bode well for that project. I admit to a certain amount of bandwagon-jumping there, but at the same time, I think it's justified. Jeff Jenson at EW thinks otherwise:
But the haters got it wrong — about The Clone Wars, about Lucas (''Sellout''? What does that even mean these days?), and about the current state of Star Wars in general. Missing from much of the overheated bashing of The Clone Wars was the crucial point that it was made for kids, not the grown-ups for whom the original trilogy remains (ridiculously) sacred. Several reviews simply revisited and rehashed the bitter disdain many adult Star Wars fans have for the prequel trilogy. I get that bitterness. But my young Star Wars-loving children don't, nor do the kids who were raised on the prequels and (heresy!) actually liked them.Now, I was one of the few who plunked down their $10 to see the latest Clone Wars movie, and I do think that hyperbolic response of movie critics was unjustified. The movie is nothing special, but it does not deserve to be among the worst movies of the year. For all its failings, it's still well made and it contains a coherent story (albeit, not much of one). So why the disproportionate response? I think the answer is context.
First, everyone heard the story behind the release of this film. Namely that Lucasfilm was putting together a TV series for Cartoon Network, and that after producing the Pilot episode, they decided to put it in the theaters to see if they could rake in some more cash from mopes like myself. Jenson wonders in his article what "sellout" even means these days, and it's a fair point I guess, but it's pretty obvious that this is a pure money grab on Lucasfilms' part. I'm reminded once again of David Foster Wallace's1 brilliant essay, F/X Porn, where he discusses some of the business decisions that drove the plot of T2:
The studio backing for "T2'''s wildly sophisticated and digital F/X therefore depends on Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreeing to reprise his Terminator role. Now the ironies start to stack, though, because it turns out that Schwarzenegger -- or perhaps more accurately "Schwarzenegger, Inc.," or "Ahnodyne" -- has decided that playing any more malevolent cyborgs would compromise the Leading Man image his elite and bankable record of ROI entails. He will do the film only if "T2"'s script is somehow engineered to make the Terminator the Good Guy. Not only is this vain and stupid and shockingly ungrateful , it is also common popular knowledge, duly reported in both the trade and the popular entertainment media before "T2" even goes into production. There's consequently a weird postmodern tension to the way we watch the film; we're aware of what the bankable star's demands were, and we're also aware of how much the movie cost and how important bankable stars are to a big-budget movie; and so one of the few things that keeps us on the edge of our seats during the movie is our suspense about whether James Cameron can possibly weave a plausible, non-cheesy narrative that meets Schwarzenegger's career needs without betraying "T1"'s precedent.(emphasis mine) Like T2, the production and financial situation of The Clone Wars was duly reported and common knowledge among the public before the film's release. We know what we're watching is simply an episode in a TV series, which automatically knocks it down a peg due to the negative connotations of TV. Add on the perceived greed of releasing it in theaters and marketing it to the traditional Star Wars fanbase (while it may certainly be more suitable for children, as Jenson notes, I don't remember it being marketed that way), and it goes down another peg or two.
Second, the stakes of the film are rather low. This is most likely the result of its TV heritage, as it would have been fine as a pilot episode for a series that will most likely continue to develop the various strands that were introduced in the movie. But when you put it in the theaters, you're begging to compare it to the other 6 films. While the prequels tend to be a bit muddled in terms of plot, the stakes are clearly high. And the original trilogy has even higher stakes. Furthermore, the movie can't even approach the stakes of the first Clone Wars series (more on this later).
Third, the tension is non-existent because the film takes place between Episode II and Episode III. In addition, the grand majority of the characters in the movie are also in Episode III, so, for instance, we know that the duel between Anakin and Count Dooku will result in a draw. Ah, but how can I say that when I also like the original Clone Wars series? It's easy. That series came out before Episode III. Furthermore, while that series featured many of the same characters as the movies, it also featured a whole slew of Jedi who were not main characters in the movies. So when these normally peripheral Jedi are placed in the spotlight and cornered by General Grievous, there is a genuine feeling of suspense (incidentally, Grievous was a great, menacing character in the series - making him a total letdown in Episode III, where he turned out to be an incompetent, cowardly weenie).
Yes, many of these complaints have very little to do with the craft or skill that went into the movie, but context matters. Whether it's expectations, innovation or the crowd you saw a film with, it's clear that context makes a big difference. For a movie that takes place in a beloved SF universe with a grand tradition, context matters even more, which is why I think you can see a lot of exaggerated complaints in reviews. To be sure, it's not a great film, but it's not one of the year's worst either.
1 - Surprisingly, it seems that David Foster Wallace was found dead recently. I guess I should dust off my unread copy of Infinite Jest and give it a read sometime. Perhaps after I finish Anathem.
Posted by Mark on September 14, 2008 at 08:40 PM .: link :.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
So while I am able to write a post now, the problem of the mysterious core dumps is still apparently not solved. I logged into my account last night to find that I had a nice 2 gb of core dumps in my movable type directory. These files must have accumulated during the past few weeks, and it's obvious that my original posting problem wasn't the only malfunction that was creating core dumps. In any case, I checked the system again tonight and found about 600 mb of files in my account. Great. At least that narrows it down a little, as I haven't logged in to MT since last night. So if it's not something I'm doing in MT, it's got to be something that is accessible to everyone, like comments or trackbacks. After some halfassed troubleshooting, I was able to cause a core dump by sending a legitimate trackback to my site. Somehow I doubt that's the only thing causing a problem, but clearly, it needs to go.
Trackbacks were a nice idea, but in reality, they've gone down as something of a debacle. The general concept is to provide a way for one blogger to notify another blogger when they've linked to their blog. So I write a post that links to another blog, and I can "ping" that blog to let the author of that blog know that I've linked to them. In addition, a link back to my post appears on their post. Sounds nice, right? And it is... when it works. The problem is that the system is completely open, so the spammers had a field day. And the trackback management functionality (including anti-spam measures) has always lagged behind comment functionality, so there always seemed to be problems. In other words, trackbacks basically became useless, and a maintenance nightmare. Also, the implementations of the trackback protocol on different blogging engines tended to be a bit strange (Wordpress blogs can never seem to ping my blog successfully.)
The general concept still exists in other forms. Aggregators like Technorati are partially driven by Pings. They deal with spam too (among other issues), but again, the concept remains valid. Six Apart and others are attempting to rework the concept, at which point it might prove useful again.
Alas, it will not exist on this blog anymore. Of course it's not a big loss. During the 8 year tenure of this blog, I've received exactly 11 legitimate trackbacks. I have no idea how many spam trackbacks I've received, but it's somewhere around way too fucking many.
All of which is to say that I'm mucking around with my blog's templates, so things might appear wonky for a bit. If you're having problems, feel free to email me (or post a comment, as that seems to work fine).
Update: Author comments. It's funny, I really should have removed trackbacks a long time ago. I guess I'm just lazy. Let's just call it blog template inertia. Oh, and there was also at least 2 occasions where I thought to myself, I should remove trackbacks! They're useless!, at which point I would receive a few trackbacks in the next couple days. But the last one was well over a year, and the core dumps provided a convenient excuse. Incidentally, only 160 mb of core dumps in the past day since I removed trackbacks. Hurm.
Posted by Mark on September 11, 2008 at 09:10 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Link to Someone New
Just another set of blogs I have never linked to before. Enjoy.
Posted by Mark on September 10, 2008 at 07:49 PM .: link :.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
At the risk of greatly simplifying my reading process, it's possible to categorize books into two categories: page turners and slow burners. Page turners are incredibly easy and entertaining reads, while slow burners require a little more effort to digest (and usually take longer to read). Both types have their plusses and minuses, and naturally, most books fall somewhere between the two types, with certain rare and extreme exceptions. For instance, Gravity's Rainbow is a typical slow burner - packed densely with fascinating ideas and esoteric concepts and beautifully written, it is also a very slow read that requires full attention (i.e. not something you'd want to read at the beach or on a plane). On the other hand, the books of John Scalzi would be best characterized as page turners.
Since discovering Scalzi a few years ago, I've quickly devoured most of his books. The first and most notable is Old Man's War, an entertaining military SF book with a twist: the soldiers in this novel begin their service at 75 years old. Scalzi hits all the military SF tropes while retaining an entertaining and page turning feel. Not terribly original, but it featured likeable characters and a fun overall arc. He followed that up with a sequel, The Ghost Brigades, which follows a different branch of the military (the special forces). Once again, it was an entertaining page turner, though in my opinion, it did not reach the heights of Old Man's War mostly because of the galactic-sized plot hole that the story hinges on. His next novel, The Android's Dream (which, contrary to its title, doesn't feature much in the way of androids or dreams), is independent of what has now become the Old Man's War Universe, and is probably my second favorite of Scalzi's novels. Scalzi then returned to the OMW Universe and wrote The Last Colony. Where the first two novels in the series focused on the military aspects of the universe, this novel focuses on the colonies. The heroes from the first two books, John Perry and Jane Sagan, head up an expedition to colonize a new planet, much to the chagrin of a collective of alien races. Once again, I breezed through the book in no time and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite a few seemingly loose ends or abrupt plot maneuvers.
Which brings us to Scalzi's latest novel, Zoe's Tale. The story is set in parallel with The Last Colony and depicts mostly the same events, but from the perspective of Zoe Boutin Perry, the 16 year old adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan (the heroes of the first two novels). This is actually a tricky proposition, for a number of reasons. First, while retelling the same story from a different perspective has been done before (Scalzi himself mentions the two most obvious examples in his acknowledgements: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow (Which retells Ender's Game from the perspective of Bean) and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which takes minor characters from Hamlet and makes them the focus)), it is by no means a simple matter to portray the same events in a new and exciting light. Second, the character of Zoe, a teenage girl with rough childhood, presents something of a challenge because the book is written in first person and I'm pretty sure John Scalzi is not a teenage girl (he is, in fact, a 38 year old man). If he couldn't manage to find Zoe's voice, the book simply couldn't have worked.
Overall, I think he managed to clear both hurdles, but not by a ton. Like his other novels, I blew through this book in just a few days, and it was indeed quite entertaining. However, there were a few things that didn't quite work for me. As I mentioned before, the story takes place in parallel with the events of The Last Colony, and for a good portion of this book, the concept doesn't really play that well. As a teenage girl, Zoe doesn't really have much to do during a good portion of the story. Events are happening around her, but she's not really driving or even responding much to them. Much time is spent building relationships with a small group of friends, while her parents are dealing with bigger and more exciting problems. Luckily, the loose ends in Colony that I mentioned above give Scalzi what he needs to empower Zoe, and the last third or so of the novel really kicks into gear. In particular, we get a little more on the indiginous life form on the colony's planet (which are described as similar to werewolves). In Colony, the situation with the werewolves escalates to nowhere. Some things happen, and then that subplot is basically dropped in favor of another, more dangerous threat. To be honest, I still don't think Scalzi has weaved the werewolves subplot into the story that well, but Zoe's encounter with them does add some more perspective, and actually plays more of a part in this novel than it does in Colony. The other major event that is only briefly mentioned in Colony is Zoe's diplomatic mission to the Conclave (which was essentially a deus ex machina maneuver on Scalzi's part). This represents the climax of Zoe's story and is handled well.
As for Zoe's voice, I think Scalzi certainly does well enough. Speaking as someone who has never been a teenage girl myself, I can't say this with authority, but I didn't have many problems with the character. I think Scalzi did go a bit overboard with the themes of friendship and love, which are repeated over and over as the story progresses, but it works reasonably well within the story. After several books, it's also worth noting that Scalzi's main characters all seem to engage in witty, rapid-fire dialogue, but I'm not really complaining about that yet. It's part of what turns the pages, after all.
In the end, I don't think this is Scalzi's best work, though maybe teenage girls will get more of a kick out of it than I did (and I think it could work as a standalone novel as well, which would might make it even better). On the other hand, I devoured this novel just as quickly as the others, and enjoyed it almost as much. While I very much enjoy these characters and the OMW Universe in general, I do hope the Scalzi moves on to something else, at least for a novel or two. He has a done a good job in mining his universe for interesting stories, and each novel has a very distinct feel (the first two give different flavors of military service, while the next two give different perspectives on the colonization process), but I'd hate for new novels to become tired retreads of the existing material. In any case, I do recommend Zoe's Tale to anyone who enjoyed the first three, and I also highly recommend Old Man's War for any SF fans out there (and The Android's Dream is also quite good!)
Posted by Mark on September 07, 2008 at 07:48 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Link Dump and Quick Hits
Just a few links that have caught my interest lately.
Posted by Mark on September 03, 2008 at 08:11 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in September 2008.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
2012 Movie Awards
2013 Movie Awards
2014 Movie Awards
2015 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.