Monday, December 31, 2012

Things of Interest: TGWTG

I have been pissing and moaning about a lot of stuff lately, and I suppose it's time to offset that with something positive. With that in mind, I love That Guy With The Glasses. The site, not the guy himself (although Doug Walker is a pretty cool guy). I don't know why, but there's just something about the format of a Video Review Show that I enjoy. Maybe it is the same part of my brain that enjoys wading through TV Tropes pages, the part that loves analysing fiction and finds great value in well crafted stories. Maybe it's the way these people can take a bad movie, a bad videogame, a bad comic, and create quality entertainment based on these things. In short, I am a sucker for internet reviews.

But you are surely educated people, dear readers, and I don't have to tell you about a site that has already been around for over four years. Instead, I would like to just gush about two of my favorite reviewers on the site. Most of the shows I watch regularly are the big ones, the ones that basically everyone watches. The recently concluded Nostalgia Critic, Atop The Fourth Wall, site affiliates Angry Video Game Nerd and The Spoony Experiment. But there are others, as well.

The first man I want to talk about is Kyle "Oancitizen" Kallgren, the host of Brows Held High. What I like about this show is that Oan focuses on arthouse movies, a subject very few people dare to tackle, and manages to do so without sounding too much like a snob. Well, except when it's intentional for the sake of a joke. The reviews are informative and funny, drawing heavily from the concept of a high-brow critic watching medium-brow movies. Kyle is also a great singer, probably the best on the entire site, and a magnificent actor - of particular note is his chilling performance in the special hour-long review of Melancholia. I highly reccomend his work. Kyle Kallgren doesn't have his personal website yet, but you can check his work out his section over at TGWTG.com.

Next up is probably my favorite person on the entire Internet, Nash Bozard, host of the Live365.com-based Radio Dead Air and creator of several TGWTG shows: What The Fuck Is Wrong With You?, a look at the stupidest and most insane stories taken from real newspapers; Musical Chair, favorable reviews of Nash's favorite lesser-known musicians; Classic Doctor Who Reviews, a recently concluded review series and its successor, Here There Be Dragons. I think the main reason why I like thiss guy is his frank, no-bullshit approach to comedy. His on-screen persona is that of a bold man, not afraid to tell anybody what he thinks (unless there is a threat of bodily harm involved). He pulls no punches and doesn't shy away from poking fun at anybody, including himself. I must admit that when I first saw his TGWTG introductory episode of WTFIWWY?, I just had to go back and watch all 17 previous episodes, too, (twice) and his Doctor Who reviews are at least partly to be blamed for me getting interested in the series proper. If you are interested in Nash's work, you can find his shows on his section at the TGWTG website and information about Radio Dead Air (including the Monday night live show that is home to the Live version of WTFIWWY?) on his personal website. Go check them out, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Nothing is my middle name

I come from a culture where middle names don't really exist. All you have here is a first name (which also cannot be anything, like in the more idiotic parts of the world - but that's a topic for another time) and a last name and you better like it, buddy boy. And here's the kicker: it works. Sure, our laws permit having more than one first name, but almost nobody does that, and I think the only person I've ever met in real life that had more than one was from Saudi Arabia. Great guy, by the way. So as you can imagine, I don't understand this whole culture built around middle names, why, I'd even go as far as to say that they're stupid and useless. I am, however, a progressive little kangaroo, so I set out to do a little research (read: a five second Google search) on the matter before dismissing it completely.

Middle names, as this page tells me, have first seen major use in the 18th century by aristocratic families before spreading out among the plebian crowds, until the end of the 19th century, when nearly every baby was given one. Well, at least in the USA. So, in other words, middle names are the product of the upper class's attempts to be different from the middle and lower class and their attempts to be equal to the upper class. Lovely.

When I asked Jacob about the "why" of middle names, he said pretty much what this Wikianswers page says: Middle names are means to "honor" your ancestors or other important people. I suppose I see the point of that, but really, if you want to give your son your dead grandfather's name, just give it to him as a first name.

However, most of the reasons to give your baby a middle name that I found come from this article over at FamilyEducation.com. The article itself lists five reasons, though it's more like two reasons, one of which is really stupid, for the reasons I shall outline below.

1. It's commonly accepted. Right off the bat, we have the stupid argument of "you should do it because everybody else does it" that permeates the whole list. Isn't this something the stereotypical TV mother warns against? "If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?" And don't give me shit about how "everybody else is wearing clothes, does that mean that I should go outside naked?" If people do it because they have a good reason, you should do it because of the "good reason" part, not the "people do it" part.

2. It fits on most legal forms. Now bear with me, because I'm going to lay some pretty heavy logic on you. It fits on most legal forms because everybody has one because everybody does it. See? This is just like reason 1, except rephrased and more stupid. "omg theres a spac 4 it on dis form, i must hav 1"

3. It prevents your child from receiving the middle name Nmi. The article explains how computer programs in the past were coded to recognize exactly three names, and if you didn't have a middle name, it would file you with NMI (short for "no middle initial") instead. So, not only is this pandering to bad programming practices, which by the way are practically nonexistent nowadays, but it's also just a rephrased reason 2, which itself is a rephrased reason 1. Jeez, it's like Stupidception in here. "We have to go dumber."

4. It gives your child more flexibility when it comes to deciding the name he or she wants to be called by. This is the only reason on the list that isn't just "you should do it because you should do it", and while it does have some logic to it, it still feels pretty lackluster. For one, it can be applied circularly, as in "why should your child choose from two names when it can choose from three" and so on, and for another, it feels like something that arose from the common-having-of-middle-names thin in the first place. As I said before, I come from a culture where people don't usually have that choice and I have never encountered anybody having a problem with it. You just get used to it, I guess. Plus there is such a thing as a "nickname".

5. Not giving your child a middle name can set him or her apart from the rest of the kids, just like an unusual or an uncommon name can. Little kids are shits and will make fun of each other for absolutely anything, so if you don't have a middle name, you will be ridiculed for it. Does that mean that if you do have one, you will be spared? Hell no! They will tear into you no matter what it is, and if they can't find anything wrong with it, they'll latch onto something else. You can't escape it. Also, the smarter of you have probably already noticed that this is another one of those "everybody else does it" reasons. If you can't see why, I'm not going to explain it to you. Use your head.

So yeah. My first hypothesis of "middle names are dumb" has not been disproved so far, and I doubt it ever will be. But don't let that stop you from permeating their use, I guess. After all, we have to be tolerant of the stupid people, too.

Don't know why, though...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I am a sentimental sissy

We have recently started a new Tekkit map. For those of you who don't know it, Tekkit is a popular mod, or rather a compilation of mods, for Minecraft that includes advanced machines useful for automation and very powerful alchemy stuff. We have always mainly used the alchemy part in the past, so this time Jacob decided we'd try working with the machines instead.

The beginning was pretty standard. We punched a few trees, wandered away from spawn and found a place to start mining. We set up a camp in a cave on a small island near a larger continent, which we later upgraded into a house on the island's surface. We mined some materials, created a portal to the Nether, crafted a Philosopher's Stone and a few basic alchemy machines, just to make getting materials for the IndustrialCraft machines less of a hassle.

This is when Jacob started branching out to the Industrial District, as I have named it, first placing a few Coal Coke Ovens there, but later adding a Blast Furnace and an automated Quarry. I have meanwhile started experimenting with the Automatic Crafting Tables, ultimately designing an assembly line for Low Voltage Solar Arrays (a nasty piece of work, that requires about eleventy zillion other crafted items just so you can get the components for one array).

It was at this point when we split the work between us. After installing a protective forcefield in the house, Jacob has taken over the Industrial District, eventually renaming it to Industrial Wasteland, as he slowly constructed giant concrete buildings to house our machines, and I have stayed at the headquarters to supervise the production of building materials. The two outposts were connected by a long railroad track, so at first we drove a minecart whenever any of us needed something from the other place, but then I figured out it would be much easier to just send a chest cart back and forth. Using Skype to communicate also helped. As Jacob noted, it was almost like doing actual work, but I thought it was fun.

But eventually, the headquarters became obsolete. Most of the hard work was being done at the Wasteland, and the parts that weren't were easily movable, so after Jake finished the housing for the machines, he came back to the headquarters and we started to gather the materials to at least upgrade our machines while we were moving them. That part was very hectic, particularly obtaining 10 diamonds, even with the help of our alchemical equipment. But eventually, that was done and we started packing up everything from the headquarters to move it to the Wasteland.

I think it was me who first noted that it felt like leaving home to go live in a different city. And even though it didn't have any right to, it did feel like that. We took the pipes and cables from the basement, we took the beds from the master bedroom, we took the torches and the chests and everything that was in them. In other words, we took everything we would need so that we wouldn't have to come back for it later. We turned the forcefield off for the last time, not just the projector, but also the core. We were ready to leave for good. We exited the house, got into our minecarts, said one last good-bye and embarked towards the Wasteland. And then a skeleton ruined the moment when it shot me on the way there.

Jacob later commented, or rather complained, that it was a genuinely sad moment, and I can't help but agree, although I'd say it was the good kind of sad. And I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it has something to do with what a TV Tropes page that I can't currently find says, which is that "the worst thing a piece of fiction can do is to make the viewer feel nothing", and it was the feeling of feeling that made this "work" for me. Maybe it was the fact that the sadness signified a major step forward. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental sissy. All I know is that I'm glad I've gone through this. It just goes to show that even games like this are capable of producing beautiful moments.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Disgrace to Sherlock

I liked the CSI series when it first came out. It was innovative in its incorporation of the latest technologies in crime-fighting and in the way it told the story of the Crime of the Week (TM). I distinctly remember a scene from an early episode where two characters... well, investigate the crime scene, and as they piece together what happened, ghosts of those events happen around them. For instance, they mention a car going out of control and a ghost car drives through the scene.

In other words, it was a gimmicky mess of a show.

Long before I stopped watching TV, I started getting bored with all these "police procedural" shows, not jusst CSI, but Law & Order, NCIS and I don't know what else. They just all looked the same to me, not just shows, but different episodes of the same show started blending together. They were all going by the same plot: they find a body, uncover some forensic clues, talk to some people, there's a twist, more clues, more people, until they arrest the guilty guy. I kow that I'm not being exactly fair here, after all that's how all detective stories work. I'm just trying to illustrate here how boring these shows were to me. Somewhat paradoxically, too, since I'm a casual fan of detective stories.

I only discovered what exactly my problem was much later, when I was doing a little research on Agatha Christie's stories (for totally unrelated reasons, I swear) and noticed the main difference between old-school whodunnit novels and modern crime shows. The novels place much greater importance onto the story, the relationships and fates of all the people influenced by the crime. For the most of the story, the detective's investigation only serves as a framing device to tie these stories together, uncover past plot details and occasionally push the story forward himself. It is only in the final summation that his work becomes important, when he uses everything he has learned to reveal the final twist and resolve the conflict that has started the story in the first place - the culprit's identity.

My problem with the "police procedural" shows lies within this term - that is, they focus less on the story and more on the procedures the protagonists use in order to find the truth. They do usually have some small semblance of a story with at least one twist per episode - maybe the victim was sleeping with his friend's wife or borrowed somebody a large sum of money - but those are all minor tired clich├ęs pushed into background to make space for all those shots of pretty people in labcoats looking into microscopes. The main question becomes "How exactly are they going to catch the criminal?", but unfortunately the answer is "The same way they always do." If you have seen, and let's be generous here, one season of any such series, you've seen them all.

But you know what they say, Tropes Are Not Bad, and I would be remiss if I didn't point out that even this sort of show can be good. Take Columbo, for example. The whole series is about the detective's journey to the crime's solution, to the point that the first scene actually shows you whodunnit. After that, the story is less about what exactly drove the killer to his awful deed and more about Columbo's bumbling around, driving the culprit into a false sense of security and letting them construct a pile of lies so large he can take it apart with his one final move. My point here is, if you write a story about how a detective catches his man, make it entertaining, not repetitive.