Monday, November 30, 2009

Back To The Future

So I watched Back To The Future today, and realized with more than a little shock that BTTF is less than a month away from being twenty five years old.

…and you know what? That movie is as amazing today as it was the first time I watched it when I was about six years old.

There are a few moments when some of the special effects show their age a little, but if you'll pardon as slight pun, BTTF is absolutely timeless.

For me, the most surprising thing is that it deals with some fairly advanced concepts but manages to explain them incredibly easy without any long and boring exposition. Think about that. This is a movie that came out in 1985 that deals with the classic grandfather paradox, but no-one ever saw Back To The Future and walked away afterwards saying they didn't 'get it'.

Just to put that into perspective, I once spent almost two hours trying to explain the concept behind 'The Matrix' to a thirty year old co-worker who had seen the movie twice. Me and all my friends understood BTTF after seeing it once when we were six years old.

My favorite thing about BTTF is that it seems that every time I watch it I notice a new detail that I haven't noticed before. For example, at the start of the Movie, Marty meets Doc Brown in the parking lot of the 'Twin Pines' mall. Almost immediately after going back in time, Marty crashes the DeLorean into a fenced off pine tree at the then 'Twin Pines Ranch'… then, when he returns to the future, he runs up to the same parking lot, only this time the sign is missing one of the pines and we see it's now called the 'Lone Pine Mall'.

This is a movie that literally has everything. It has some awesome action sequences, some genuine drama a ton of humor and some pretty hefty morals as well.

For example, I love Tom Wilson's acting in this movie. There are times when he's deliberately over the top as the massive asshole Biff's meant to be, but there are some scenes with him that feature some surprisingly subtle and powerful acting. For example, watch the scene at the very start of the movie when he crashes George's car and makes out like the accident was somehow George's fault…then starts bullying him into doing his reports for him. It's a really 'over the top' scene, but look at the way Biff looks at Marty when he realizes he's staring at him. For a moment, he looks like a brat kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar…like Biff recognizes that Marty isn't the pushover his dad is, can't be intimidated and that realization makes Biff realize, just for a split second, what a complete asshole he is. One second he's a bully in complete control of the situation, and the next he looks uncomfortable and a little ashamed of himself.

Even the direction is top notch. Zemeckis manages to make scenes more powerful by juxtaposing opposing elements. For example, When Marty and Lorraine arrive at the dance we have a very funny scene where it turns out that Lorraine smokes, drinks and is a little more promiscuous in 1955 than the perfect angel she claimed to be as Marty's mom in 1985…and just as the audience is laughing at Marty's reaction to this, Biff opens the door, drags Marty out of the car and forces himself on Lorraine.

It's a genuinely uncomfortable scene to watch as Biff essentially attempts to rape Lorrain, and it's amazingly well acted by Lea Thompson as she cries for help… but it's a hundred times more powerful and jarring as it's sandwiched right between two very funny scenes.

Basically, Back to the Future is an amazing movie and quite frankly one of the best movies to come out in the past 30 years. It's a sci-fi movie that manages to appeal to and satisfy hardcore sci-fi fans and non-fans alike.

If you've never watched this movie, or have kids who haven't seen this movie yet…go pick up the DVD. It's as fresh and entertaining today as it was in 1985.


 

 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Women don’t get it.

I got out of bed yesterday morning to discover that my darling wife had rearranged some furniture, including moving the couch.

The women won't understand why this is a problem, but the guys will as soon as I say two words:

"Surround Sound".

You see, when we first got our surround sound system almost four years ago, I hooked up the speakers but as it was quite late, decided to put of positioning them until the next day. The next day I got out of bed to discover that Sunny had put them up and her placement technique appeared to be "Wherever there's a spare bit of wall on the correct side of the TV is where the speaker goes."

Our living room is long and thin and the TV is on one of the broad walls…and the way sunny had positioned the speakers meant that the front left speaker was about three feet to the left of the TV while the front right was nearly 15 feet away from the TV.

…they were also at different heights.

This is one of the ways I know that my missus has no idea how the male mind works, and has absolutely no clue how the male geek mind works.

You see, what my missus knows is that I immediately took all the speakers down and repositioned them so they were at the same height and each was an equal and symmetrical distance from the TV.

What she doesn't know is when she left for work that night, I spent a couple of hours with a tape measure positioning each speaker precisely, before slipping an audio test CD in the DVD player and sitting in my place on the couch with my eyes closed and the remote in my hand adjusting the speakers until they were perfectly calibrated.

The way I see it is that Sunny was happy with the speakers all over the place, so even with the speakers perfectly calibrated for where I sit, she was still getting a much better surround sound experience.

Then, she just gets up in the morning and moves the damn couch.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

To all my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving.

To my British readers, today is an American Holiday known as 'Thanksgiving'. It's to celebrate the day that the pilgrims finally defeated Godzilla thanks to the timely intervention of Optimus Prime which, in turn, led to them help the Autobots finally drive the Decepticons from America. In honor of the battle, many Indian themed casinos were built all over the country and everyone eats turkeys, because everyone knows that robots hate those feathery bastards.

Or something like that…I wasn't really paying attention.

Oooh, a squirrel!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh-Em-F**king-Gee

So Sunny and I went to buy our Christmas present to ourselves today so we could take advantage of the sales and not be in the ridiculous, face-trampling rugby scrum knows as 'Black Friday'.

In fact, as a quick aside, that's something I tweeted about yesterday. As an atheist, I may not totally 'get' what Christmas is about…but I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be about camping out all night, then literally stampeding into a store, trampling other people before literally getting involved in fist fights with strangers…just for the privilege of spending two hundred dollars on a ten dollar toy for a kid who'll be bored shitless with it within hours of unwrapping it.

Anyway, thanks to my awesomely generous parents and some hard saving, we went out and bought our new TV. If you've seen a Best Buy ad this week, you'll know the one we got. The non-name brand 'Dynex' 32" 720p HDTV.

Ok, as this was an off-brand TV and because it was 720p and not 1080p, I expected it to be better than what we had, but nothing spectacular.

I was wrong…the difference was totally spectacular.

First of all, I looked at a lot of TVs over the past few days and I can honestly say that the picture is just as good…and in many cases better… than the more expensive name-brand TVs of the same size and resolution. Put it this way, at Best Buy, they had the Dynex TV set up next to six other TV's of the same size and res…and the Dynex had a better picture than all but one of them... and the one that was better cost literally twice as much.

For me, though, the absolute best thing was hooking up the 360. In all seriousness, I expected there to be a noticeable difference, but the only way I can explain it is that there's almost as big of a difference in graphics quality as there is between a 360 and an original Xbox. It's amazing the amount of details you miss by playing on an SD set. While I was really impressed with the visuals of Assassin's Creed on the SD TV, the visuals on the HD TV literally took my breath away. It's like a whole new game on a whole new system.

Also, after doing a lot of comparison shopping, I can honestly say that for a 32" TV, 720p is more than enough. You really don't need 1080p unless your TV is 40" or bigger.

The only other piece of advice I'll give to anyone considering buying an HDTV for Christmas is to buy the absolute cheapest HDMI cables you can afford. From two weeks of research, I've learned that anyone who actually knows about this technology will tell you the same thing: There is absolutely no difference between a $20 HDMI cable and a $200 HDMI cable. The only time you'd even come close to needing a platinum-pinned, triple shielded, oxygen-purged HDMI cable is if you're planning on having your cable box a hundred feet or so from your TV.

Anyway, I was a little hesitant about buying a $300 TV when all comparable TVs were at least $400…but I can honestly say that if you're wanting a good 32" HDTV, you can't go far wrong with the Dynex from Best Buy. It's a good TV anyway, but for the price it's absolutely unbeatable.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Memories…

The last day of school was always a bit of a problem for everyone concerned.

All the actual work had been done, none of the students could be bothered to work and none of the teachers could be bothered to teach.

Seriously, who's going to sit there and do math that wasn't going to count towards any kind of final grade when school would be over for six weeks in just a few hours?

What made this problem worse is that you had to do something, otherwise what was the point? We needed some sort of task to perform, otherwise it was just a bunch of teenagers and adults sitting in a building from 8.30am to 4pm for no good reason.

One year our teachers had a brainwave. We had an 'activity day'. We had a set of borderline educational 'games' to play that were fun enough to where we'd actually want to do them, and just educational enough to make doing them at school make sense.

(In the real world these are called 'Management Retreats' or 'Team Building Days' and are just a big of a waste of time, only in the real world there's usually one completely out of touch boss who's taking it super seriously and thinks running an obstacle course will make everyone work harder for no more pay.)

These tasks and games were set to take place over the whole day. For example, for part of the morning we had 'problem solving' where a bunch of benches, pommel-horses and other assorted gym equipment was set up in the sports hall, and you had to get your team from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor.

The weirdest part of the day was the teams. You see, my high school was divided into houses (Yes, like Hogwarts, but not nearly that exciting) and for organizational ease, the whole year was split in two. It was rare to be put into a group with someone from another house, but you never ended up in a group with someone from the other half of the year.

That day, all that went out the window. I ended up on a team with people I'd never so much as spoken to before.

The worst news was that our team functioned in the same way any group of teenagers who don't know each other will function when forced into a group together:

One person (usually a girl) will spend the entire time with her arms folded, not speaking to anyone or doing anything. One guy will decide this is his big chance with the ladies and will try to come across as ultra masculine, but will actually come across as a future serial killer whos had too much caffeine…and everyone else in the group will want to be in charge, regardless of their actual level of skill or talent.

Luckily, by the age of fifteen I'd discovered the secret to actually being in charge and getting things done when working with strangers in groups. If the task is a purely mental one like a puzzle… simply work on it yourself quietly and it's almost guaranteed you'll have it solved long before the rest of the team have finished arguing over the best way to start. If it's a task that requires co-operation, people don't respond to good ideas, qualifications or anything that makes sense (If the task is to build a tower out of straws and you're an architect/structural engineer, the guy who works detailing cars will still argue with you over the best way to build it)…but these types of people are extremely easy to manipulate.

So the final task of the day was one I'm sure everyone who's ever been forced to go on a team building day will be familiar with. We were given a plastic cup filled with various odds and ends, and using the materials provided, we had to build something to allow an egg to survive a two story drop.

My team got to work…and by that I mean, two people started fighting over the materials, Miss Popular rolled her eyes and folded her arms slightly tighter, another girl kept saying the same really bad idea over and over…and Mr. Alpha suggested an arm wrestling tournament to decide who's idea we should use.

Anyway, I put 'Operation Do As I Say' into action. If you don't know how to do this, pay attention, as in any group context it'll get you your own way nine times out of ten… or at the very least hurry things along:

Firstly, you let everyone argue for five minutes or so, without joining in. Then you pick the person trying hardest to be the Alpha male or female and say: "Hey, I really like (loudest guy)'s idea that we should do (insert your own plan/idea here)'.

This works because, in a group situation, no-one is actually listening to a damn word anyone else is saying. Whenever anyone's talking, everyone else is simply using that time to think about what they're going to say next. Also, when someone hears you say that you like their idea, there's no way in hell they're going to contradict you. If you tell someone you love their idea, they'll take credit for it

Then you say: "I also really liked (second loudest guy)'s idea, I think that would really help with (first person)'s idea. What was that again?" Then listen with rapt attention to whatever drivel they come up with.

The first guy will actually listen because the second person is only 'helping' with their awesome idea, and person two is now on board because it's his genius idea that's the super-important lynch-pin that makes the first guy's obviously stupid idea work.

Then, you do whatever you damn well please as long as you remember to only refer to the project as the other two peoples' idea. If someone else pipes up with a stupid addition, you tell that person that they're absolutely correct, you can't believe how stupid you were not to see how vital their addition is…then you give them some 'important' busy work to distract them…and don't even think of implementing their idea.

It was really funny to watch, actually. Alpha was smug as hell that he was getting all the credit for an idea that wasn't his own, and the Alpha wannabe was smirking that 'we' were obviously just pretending to give Alpha his way when everyone was really following his lead.

I know it sounds a little evil, but imagine trying to explain to a knuckle-dragging idiot that if you tape a popsicle stick to the top of an egg it will not work like a helicopter rotor no matter how much spin you give it when you chuck it out of the window

So, we ended up going with my idea. We put crumpled up newspaper in the bottom of the plastic cup as a shock absorber, put the egg on top of that with more newspaper above it, we sealed the cup with tape and made a parachute out of string and a plastic bag. We were done in record time as well, we were putting the finishing touches to our parachute, everyone else was still arguing over how to start.

At the end of the day, the teacher's took all our creations, took them to the top of the English block and chucked them out of the window while we all gathered underneath. Ours was the only egg to survive completely intact…

Then everyone said we cheated because we used the cup the materials came in and came out with some bollocks that it wasn't an 'allowed material', even though it said nowhere on the task sheet we couldn't use it.

The teachers upheld the decision.

Personally, I thought that was total bullshit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Officially a Convert

I stumbled across a forum thread this morning where someone decided to try to stir up some shit by pointing out that online multiplayer on consoles was inferior to PC multiplayer because, as a general rule of thumb, you can have more people playing at once on the PC.

At one point in my gaming 'career', I was a die-hard PC gamer and didn't like consoles one bit. Games tended to be a lot prettier and generally 'deeper' on the PC, and as far as I was concerned, if you wanted awesome, interesting, bleeding edge games, you bought a PC…if you wanted to play a platformer, you bought a console.

That all changed with this console cycle where console hardware finally caught up to PC hardware…and gaming hardware in general is at a point where improvements are subtle and not the giant leaps they used to be. It used to be that a console could match a PC only to be left in the dust six months later…but not anymore.

PC gaming is certainly dying, and it's down to two things: Less support from developers…and simple ease of use.

Firstly, I don't understand the lack of developer support. The general idea is that it's not worth releasing a game for the PC because it can be copied and pirated too easily…but as I've mentioned before, I buy 90% of my games pre-owned…which means that the cash I paid for the twenty or so games I own never got near a publisher, it only went to my local gamestop.

In fact, the Gamestop pre-owned business model works almost exactly like piracy. One person buys a full price game, a portion of the price of which goes to the developers…then a few weeks later he returns it to the store, where someone buys it pre-owned…where none cash goes to the developer. Repeat. Basically, from a purely financial point of view, there's no difference to the developer if I buy a copy of their game from the pre-owned shelf, or mod my Xbox and pirate a copy.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the last proper game I bought for the PC was Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I got back from the store, put it in, waited 20 minutes for it to install…and it froze at the start up screen. What followed was two and a half hours of uninstalling, installing, reinstalling, searching forums, downloading patches, updating drivers and generally dicking about until I got it to work…at which point I had to turn off every graphics option because it ran like cold molasses.

Then, of course, we have the problems like I had with Knights of the Old Republic, where even though my PC had WAY higher specs than the recommended system requirements…it just wouldn't work because there was a problem with my exact model of graphics card that there was just no fix for…and I can't return the game because there's technically nothing wrong with it.

Basically, you can talk about 'free' and 'bigger' online multiplayer, but the simple difference that makes consoles blow the PC out of the water is that I can go to a store, buy a game, put the disc in the tray and that game will work. If it doesn't, I can go back to the store and swap it out for one that will. There's just no dicking about.

Also, a lot of console games may have a maximum of 16 players…but I can turn on my console, instantly see which of my friends are available and what games they are playing and we can go straight into a game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

He’s a clever guy…

"You should be more careful with what you write. You never know when a future employer might read it."

"When did we forget our dreams?"

"What?"

"The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking and I'm sitting here refreshing my inbox. We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over and we envision only a handful of paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, we respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, each day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.

And no, I don't have all the answers. I don't know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become, but I do know one thing: The solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up.

This is very important, so I want to say it as clearly as I can:

FUCK. THAT. SHIT."

-Randall Munroe, XKCD Webcomic

Thanks for saying it a lot better than I ever could, you talented bastard.

My Missus…

Earlier this year, Sunny and I decided to save up all our cash in the hope of being able to afford a new TV for Christmas. Not only do we have HD service through our cable company that we aren't using, playing the Xbox 360 on a 28" Standard Definition TV isn't great.

Unfortunately, as I've blogged about, a lot of unforeseen expenses cropped up, and it turned out we couldn't afford one.

Then, a few weeks ago, Sunny and I were at the local Wal-Mart and discovered that there'd been another price drop, and while we couldn't afford the 40" 1080p TV we originally had our eye on, thanks to some generosity from my awesome parents, we could afford a nice 32" 720p set…which to be completely honest is just about the perfect size for our living room.

The thing is, Sunny hasn't really been showing a lot of enthusiasm for the new TV. She's had a definite 'take it or leave it' attitude since we realized we could just about afford it actually decided to buy one.

I talked about how much better the 360 games look on a HD set, and Sunny (hardly surprisingly) didn't care. When I pointed out we had a ton of HD channels and a crap load of on-demand HD movies available on our current cable plan, she showed a tiny bit of interest, but wasn't even close to what you'd call 'excited'.

The closest she came to showing any enthusiasm was when I pointed out that, next year, she could watch the thanksgiving day parade on it. Then today…

"OH MY GOD!!!!" Said Sunny, completely out of nowhere, giggling like a schoolgirl.

"What?" I asked.

"When we get the new TV…we can watch the Yule Log at Christmas and it will be like we have a fireplace!!!"

"Uhhh, we can watch the Yule Log on this TV." I pointed out.

"Yeah, but the new one's widescreen." She said, like she was pointing out something painfully obvious to a complete idiot.

"What difference does it make?" I asked.

"It's widescreen! It's oblong! It'll look more like a real fireplace!"

"Tell you what." I said. "We'll put the old TV in the bedroom, and I'll make a surround for it that cuts off the top and bottom of the screen. I'll even make it look like a mantle…"

"Yeeeaaaaahhh?" Said Sunny.

"Then you can sit in the bedroom and watch a bit of wood burn on that TV, while I use the new HD flat panel for something a little more worthwhile…like playing some COD 4."

"OKAY!" She said, like this was the best idea ever.

Women…I've been married to one for over five years now…and I still don't even have her one millionth of a percent figured out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commenting on yesterdays post, fellow blogger Evan08 said:

"Since you threw guilt into the mix, you could also take this post to a sociological level. Self-esteem and guilt serve more than a psychological role. They also help people fall in line with social expectations, like preventing theft, murder incest and so forth.

And then we could go on for days about how predatory-types gain perverse joy from manipulating people's guilt and self esteem.

But you're absolutely right. People need to learn how to lose. They need to learn that feeling bad can motivate positive actions. We, as a society, are a bunch of marshmallow-soft, victim-mentality, pussies. We need to grow a pair and get over ourselves."

Well, that's something I've talked about before, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to expand on Evan's point a little:

I think the most misunderstood thing is that we're not born with a sense of right and wrong or 'good' or 'bad'. People tend to think of good and bad as concrete concepts when they're entirely invented by society. It's the way we are raised and our societal norms that calibrate our ideas of what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable.

(This is why countries in the middle east consider things like stoning to be acceptable and consider us 'decadent and evil' for reasons like women wearing makeup or short skirts. We have completely different societal norms and ideas of right and wrong.)

If we're raised right, we're praised for being good and punished for being bad. As adults we tend to do the right thing because of a lifetime of conditioning through positive reinforcement (You helped your brother with his homework? Have a cookie) and fear of punishment if we do wrong. Add to this a healthy dose of empathy (I know how I'd feel if my wallet was stolen, so I won't take that guy's) and you have a well adjusted member of society.

This is where we hit on the whole guilt/self esteem issue:

If a kid fails a spelling test and comes in lowest in the class, he gets upset and feels bad about himself. It affects his self esteem. This is very unpleasant for the kid, so the next time a spelling test is comes up, he works and studies harder to avoid coming last again and feeling bad about himself. When he works harder and does better than the last test, he gets a feeling of achievement and is rewarded for his efforts…which he wants more of, so he works even harder.

If that same kid steals some cash from his mother's purse, even if he doesn't get caught, he feels guilty about it. Again, if he was raised properly, the feelings of guilt will override any joy he gets from what he's stolen…and he feels bad about himself and he doesn't want to do it again.

Now let's talk about today.

As I mentioned in previous posts, people saw that the kids who did well in school had high self esteem …so they decided that 'high self-esteem' = 'success' rather than the other way around. So, they reasoned, the way to raise a generation of achievers is to make sure they all have really high self esteem no matter what.

So a kid doesn't study very hard and fails his spelling test, but he's told this doesn't matter because he's very special and gets a smiley face sticker on his test and told he gets an A for effort. Not only does this remove any motivation to improve, the kid who came first in the class has no reason to keep working hard because he's not rewarded any more than the kid who came last.

What this leads to is a whole generation of kids growing up with an over-blow sense of entitlement, that they deserve the best of everything without having to earn it or work for it.

Basically we're making sure people are feeling great about themselves when they've done absolutely nothing to deserve it, while also making sure people can act like selfish assholes and not feel even the slightest twinge of guilt. In short, people's mental processes tend to default to 'I'm awesome, so I deserve it."…and that's a very powerful and dangerous thing. It's circular logic that can justify just about anything.

Steal someone's car? It's wrong, but I deserve it, so that's okay. Waitress messed up your order? Scream at her, demand your meal be comped or get her fired, because you're awesome and deserve the very best. Eat too much and end up with heart disease? Well, you're basically infallible, so it's someone else's fault…sue McDonalds.

Basically, this push towards making sure everyone always feels great about themselves is a massive mistake. All it's doing is removing the rewards for doing good and the consequences for doing bad.


 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

But…that’s what it’s for.

Sunny's watching a TV show on FitTV about a couple of overweight teenage twin girls trying to lose weight.

The word's 'self esteem' keep popping up. The twins are talking about how they have low self esteem because they're overweight, as are the twins' personal trainer, nutritionist, etc, etc. They are saying this as though it's a bad thing

Why have we got this into our collective heads that low self esteem is always a bad thing and high self esteem is always a good thing?

This idea is the reason why we have so many selfish douchebags in our society…because we're so focused on making sure everyone has high self esteem that we have a whole generation of people with an overblown sense of entitlement who feel just great about themselves no matter what they do or how they act.

If you're a hundred pounds overweight because you eat way too much and never exercise, you're not supposed to feel good about yourself. You're supposed to feel like shit. If you're a hundred pounds overweight and feel just great about yourself…where's the motivation to get off your ass, take responsibility for your problems and get into shape?

Here's the thing. If you pick up something that's too hot, it burns your hand and the pain makes you drop it. As unpleasant as pain is, we need it because it stops us from seriously injuring ourselves.

That's what things like low self esteem and guilt are for. When you look in the mirror and see you're a hundred pounds overweight, you're supposed to feel bad about yourself. There's nothing admirable or praise worthy in letting yourself get seriously out of shape. It's when you get off your ass and get in shape and look in the mirror a few months later and see how all your hard work has paid off that you get to feel good about yourself.

Am I completely wrong in feeling like you should actually achieve something or do something worthwhile before you feel good about yourself?

Now, before anyone starts with angry comments, I'm writing this post as an overweight guy who's lifestyle and eating habits gave him diabetes, high blood pressure and clothes in the XXL range. I look in the mirror and *I* feel bad about myself…but that's the whole damn point. If I felt great about myself I wouldn't have radically changed the way I eat and made a conscious effort to get in shape.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You ain’t fooling anyone, fellas.

I don't think it's a secret that I'm an art lover.

In my eternal journey to become an artist that doesn't completely suck, I find myself on all kinds of websites. Unfortunately, most artwork tutorials on the net tend to be of the 'parrot fashion' kind. In other words, you can follow a tutorial to draw an amazing looking car, but all you've learned to draw is that car, seen from that exact angle.

Long story short, the really good tips and tricks tend to be buried away on the obscure lesser known sites…and the only way to find these sites is to type very generic keywords like 'art' into Google and wade through a lot of crap.

Well, yesterday I found myself on an 'Anthro Art' site.

What is Anthro art? Well, basically it's a euphemism for 'drawings of animals that look like people doing things you normally see in porn'.

The page I landed on was actually a forum page, and rather fortunately (from an 'entertaining blog post' point of view,) the thread was a bunch of fans of 'anthro art' discussing how they were not furries, that 'anthro' wasn't 'furry'…and how sad it was that people looked down on certain artforms 'without looking deeper into them'.

If I'm honest, they made a few good points. Technically Mickey Mouse is an example of Anthro art, and while there are some unnatural deviants out there, some people are just interested in the art style.

"We're not deviants." The forum denizens said. "We don't get off on this. We're totally misunderstood. There's nothing weird or strange about drawing anthros. A lot of kids cartoons are examples of anthro art and no-one thinks they're perverted."

They almost made their point with me. I was almost sympathetic. As someone who's a big fan of 1930's and 40's pin-up artwork, I know that some people automatically judge you without understanding the artform.

The thing is, guys, don't protest your innocence and claim you're not furries or pervs and then have 99.9% of your user-created 'artwork' gallery made up of drawings of anthropomorphized animals in little or no clothes doing things that you definitely wouldn't have seen on Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.

Here's the thing: You can talk about your 'misunderstood art form' all you want, you can swear that you don't get off on it…but when the first image in your user-generated gallery is a squirrel-girl with 44FF boobs in nothing but a thong, and the next is two catgirls literally elbow deep in each other…your whole 'this is not furry porn' argument goes out the window.

Now, I'm not objecting to it. Whatever floats your boat is alright with me, but do me a huge favor?

When you have a site filled with your…ahem…'anthro art', could you please put it behind a warning page? Seriously guys…I had to take a shower after landing on your site and some things simply cannot be unseen…and most of the stuff on your site isn't what I'd call 'thought provoking' so much as 'fucking traumatic'.

No-one, and I mean no one, should be able to just click an innocent looking link… and the first thing they see on the new page is Huey, Dewey and Louie from Duck Tales involved a gay threesome while scrooge McDuck watches them.

How about a page that says "Click here to see unspeakable horror" instead of having a page featuring a lot of beloved eighties cartoon characters involved in sex acts that are illegal in 48 states that can be landed on directly from Google with a search as innocent as 'pen and ink rendering techniques'.

Enough Gimmicks Part Deux.

Yesterday I wrote a little about how the comics industry seems to be far more concerned with gimmicks that with telling good stories. Today I want to talk about a different genre of gimmicks: Gimmicks in video games.

Up until very recently, the console wars were decided by one thing: Whichever system had the best graphics sold the most units.

However, processing power is subject to the law of diminishing returns. As gaming systems get more and more powerful, the smaller the noticeable improvements are.

Basically, the difference between the NES and the SNES was an absolute quantum leap in graphics quality. The difference between the 2D based SNES and the 3D based Playstation was just as obvious. However, compare and Playstation 1 to a Playstation 2, and you can definitely see that the PS2 is the superior console, but it's just an improvement… there isn't that massive gulf between the new and the old that there used to be.

Plus, visuals have reached a point where it's impossible to make that big leap any more. For a lot of today's games, the jump from current gen graphics quality to photorealism isn't all that massive. There's a reason to make the jump from the Xbox to the Xbox 360…but even with massive graphical improvements, to the average gamer, the differences in visuals between current gen consoles and next gen consoles are going to be far more subtle than ever before.

Basically, would you spend seven hundred dollars on a new console if the only difference is that the light kicks off the surface of the water look slightly more realistic? That if you get up really close to a wall you can see that the texture of the bricks is actual geometry instead of a painted on texture?

Now, for me personally, I thought that this was an opportunity for gaming to come into its own and take its place as a legitimate artform. You see, if we compare video games to movies, up until relatively recently, gaming technology was on a par with a hand-cranked cine-camera. No matter how much imagination creators had, they didn't have the tools to bring those ideas to life. It would be like trying to shoot the Lord of the Rings trilogy on a hand cranked camera with only four cast members and a budget of a buck-fifty.

However, it feels to me as though gaming skipped most of its creative phase and went straight into boring 'effects movie' territory. Games went from silent black and white shorts projected on an old bedsheet to 'The Day After Tomorrow': Little or no actual story, but some awesome special effects. Basically, the gimmicks should be there to embellish the movie…the movie shouldn't just be a vehicle for the gimmicks

Unfortunately, this is exactly the path that the vast majority of the gaming industry took. The gimmick came first and they shoe-horned a game in around it…rather than creating a game and organically creating a gimmick to service the game.

Let's look at 'Dead Space', one of the best games to come out this year.

Now, on the one hand, Dead Space fills the vast majority of my personal criteria for what a game should be. While it has a pretty clich├ęd sci-fi story, it's handled extremely well. The game is atmospheric, the art direction is gorgeous and it manages to be genuinely suspenseful and creepy…as well as being 'jump out of your skin' scary at times.

(I just want to point out here that there's a huge difference between art direction and 'good graphics'. Good graphics is just making things look realistic and shiny. Good art direction is just like designing, building, dressing and lighting a movie set.)

Now, if it had been left to me to market this game, that's what I would have focused on. The mystery at the game's core, the art direction and how the game manages to makes you feel vulnerable and exposed throughout the entire game. I would have marketed the experience that this game offers.

However, if you look up any of the marketing hype leading up to the release of Dead Space, all you'll read about is the 'dismemberment combat system'. Basically, you can't kill the monsters in Dead Space by just shooting at them. Using the various weapons at your disposal you have to dismember them in order to kill them. Instead of shooting them in the head or body, you shoot their arms and legs off…that's the whole gimmick.

I have to ask, why? In a game that is so good, a game that has so much to offer, why are you focusing on this totally irrelevant gimmick that you barely even think about after playing for more than fifteen minutes?

For me, this is the equivalent of marketing the original 'Aliens' movie on the fact that they used a technique that allowed for the most realistic looking starfields to date.

In a nutshell, games designers are constantly searching for the next gimmick, the next toy that's going to set their game apart from everyone else's…and they make that gimmick, no matter how insignificant, the focus of the game.

Why is this a bad thing?

Well, firstly, they're doing themselves a disservice. For example, I didn't buy Dead Space when it first came out because I played the demo which was simply the main character locked in a room with lots of monsters so you could see how the 'dismemberment combat system' worked. I played it for a few minutes and was completely unimpressed. I figured it was just another bog-standard sci-fi survival horror game. However, after buying it from the pre-owned rack months later (meaning my cash went to the owners of my local gamestop instead of the game's creators) I played it through…and if the demo had just consisted of the opening cinematic then the first five minutes of gameplay…I'd have been completely and instantly sold on the game and would have bought it on release day.

Ok, I admit that the demo and focus on gimmicks didn't hurt Dead Space's sales very much, and maybe this is me just being a curmudgeon, but personally I feel it's time for games to evolve. When I turn on my Xbox I want one of two things: Simple, fun gameplay, or a good story or experience to enjoy.

To go back to my movie analogy, I'm sure there was a film technology arms race just as much as there is a gaming technology arms race right now, but the movie industry matured (mostly) and actually used what they had to tell stories and give viewers an experience rather that just show off that they can do films in color or with sound now…I think it's time for gaming to make that same leap.

Games no longer have to be about the latest and greatest gimmicks, or about getting the highest score. While the CD-ROM era completely ruined the term 'interactive movie', I feel that we're at the point now where we can make true interactive movies. Not the crappy full-motion video interspersed with quick-time events that they used to be…but games like Dead Space with its amazing art direction, production values and interesting, well acted characters that actually makes you feel like you're playing the main character in a movie.

Basically, games are no longer just toys or 'kids stuff'. They can cast the player in the main role in an interesting and sophisticated narrative.

Why, when we have this amazing 'holodeck through a window' technology are we focusing on stupid gameplay gimmicks that really make no difference anyway?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Enough with the gimmicks.

About a year ago, I wrote how disappointed I was when Marvel Comics rebooted Amazing Spider-Man.

Basically, since the 60's, comic books have been telling the same stories over and over and over, each time with a new twist or something to keep it 'fresh'. However, at the end of the Marvel Civil War series, Peter Parker had been 'outed' as Spider-man, Aunt may had been shot and was dying and Peter had visited the Kingpin in prison and delivered him a royal smack down…as openly as Peter, not as Spider-Man.

It was a whole new Spider-man story. The world knew Peter was Spider-Man, every villain in the world was gunning for him, the US government was after him (along with a lot of supers) for openly criticizing the Registration Act and Aunt May was on borrowed time, hit by a bullet meant for him? What would this mean for Spider-Man?

Well, we never found out, because instead of following this new and amazing story arc, Peter decided he couldn't handle losing Aunt May, so made a deal with Mephisto, trading his marriage with Mary Jane for Aunt May's life. In other words, it was a total reboot. In the next comic, Peter and MJ hadn't met yet, Peter had never outed himself as Spider-Man and it was an almost total return to the status quo.

At that point, after nearly twenty years of reading Amazing Spider-Man, I put it down and decided I'd never buy another Amazing Spider-Man again.

At this time, I picked up Ultimate Spider-Man. It featured Peter as a 15 year old kid and the comic was more centered on the more 'realistic' (yeah, yeah, I know I use that world loosely) story of how a teenage kid would handle having Superpowers and the problems he'd have keeping it a secret. In the Ultimate universe, Peter had to worry about sneaking out of the house at night, and he spent a few issues with no costume, because it got ripped and he couldn't sew.

I liked it, the writing was fresh, there was a healthy dose of humor and I loved Mark Bagley's artwork.

Then, they decided they'd gone a whole year without a massive gimmick, so they went ahead and had magneto from the X-men series basically destroy the world.

I know print comics in general are in trouble, but it feels like Marvel comics feel the way to keep the readership up is to piss off readers by not just upsetting the status quo…which is usually welcome…they tip the whole board over.

In the Ultimatum storyline, more than twenty-five major characters are killed off…and when I say major I don't mean important second-string characters, I'm talking about characters like Wolverine, Magneto, Cyclops, Daredevil, Doctor Doom and Professor Xavier.

You know how when a major character dies in one of your favorite TV shows, it's a huge deal? Imagine an episode of your favorite show where literally half the cast are killed in a plane crash, and suddenly the glorified extras are taking center stage.

Now, this wouldn't bother me so much if they had decided that after fifty years of comics, they were going to sweep the decks and bring in some new characters…but we all know this is a gimmick. We all know that these beloved characters aren't going to stay dead.

The problem is that all they're really doing is making every new series totally irrelevant. Basically, imagine a series of Dexter on TV that ends up with Dexter getting caught and being executed, Deb goes to jail for aiding and abetting, and all the cops Dexter worked with get fired for not working out that Dexter was a serial killer.

Now imagine the next series starting with Dexter alive and everything is back to normal and either the change is never mentioned or it's hand waved with some very vague and unlikely story. Firstly, the previous series becomes totally irrelevant because nothing that happened in it mattered. In order to watch and enjoy the new series, you have to think like the last series never even happened. Then, In this new series, if Dexter's about the get caught, there's no real drama or suspense, because there's no jeopardy any more. Even if Dexter gets caught and ends up in the electric chair, we know he'll be back in the next series.

Basically, Marvel needs to stop with the Gimmicks. Marvel Civil War was amazing, and was slightly spoiled by the number of reboots that followed in it's wake. Ultimatum was simply the end of the whole 'Ultimate' series, where they killed off a ton of characters for no good reason.

If you kill off major characters, as unpopular as doing that might be, it really adds to the story… as long as the characters stay dead.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What do you do?

I've written in the past about the talent monkey. The invisible monkey that rides around on your back and sprinkles everything you attempt with talent dust...unless he's in a bad mood, of course, then he flings his poop at you.

Today and yesterday the talent monkey has been in a poop flinging mood. I keep opening my sketchbook and finding things I've been able to draw without thinking for years have suddenly become insanely difficult. For example, I appear to have completely forgotten how to draw shoulders and arms.

Now I know a lot of creative types read this blog...so what do you do when you find the talent monkey is flinging his poop?

Do you take a break for a day or two and come back fresh? Or do you keep at it and try to push through it?

Pearls of Wisdom.

It's rare that I ever feel that I have an actual pearl of wisdom to share, but I think I actually have one today.

I remember about ten years ago when I was really into playing guitar and one of my uncles told me that he'd 'love to be able to play'. I was about to offer to teach him, when his next question stopped me short:

"How long did it take you to get as good as you are?" He asked.

From that question alone, I knew that he'd never learn to play the guitar. At best he'd buy or borrow a guitar, try to learn from a book for a few hours… then give up.

Which brings me to my pearl of wisdom:

Love the process, not the result.

Here's the thing: I love to play guitar, I love to write and I love to draw. However, having people listen to me perform or enjoy something I've drawn or written is just a tiny part of what makes me enjoy those things.

Basically, I love learning to play guitar. I love learning to draw. I love being able to see what I can do this week compared to what I could do last week and seeing a difference. While I definitely get a huge kick out of someone seeing something I've drawn and telling me how good it is, most of the pleasure I get from drawing is the days when I have the house to myself and can sit at my drawing table for a few hours with a cup of really good coffee and just draw.

I think way too many people take up things with an imaginary finish line in sight. It's why the vast majority of guitars sold end up at the back of cupboards gathering dust. They were bought by people who pictured themselves performing in front of hundreds of adoring fans who saw that actual learning to play part as the unenjoyable part they had to do before they got their reward. Once they realized the ratio of learning to performing, they quickly gave up.

Love the process, not the result.

If you don't enjoy practicing the guitar, you're never going to learn how to play it. If you just want a really nice picture to hang on your wall but don't actually enjoy learning to paint…you'll never be a great artist.

It's like when people say things like they wish they could travel back in time to the early 80's and buy a ton of Microsoft stock when it was selling for a few cents a share. What they really mean is they wish they were rich. That's what most people mean when they say they want to be musicians, artists or writers…they just want to be famous and have people lavish praise on them.

Basically, people don't want to be artists, they just want to sell paintings for millions. People don't want to be guitarists, they just want to be famous or be the center of attention. People don't want to be writers, they just want to sign books for adoring fans while cashing royalty checks.

Long story short, if you want to be a great guitarist, you have to enjoy spending hours and hours a day practicing. If you want to be a great artist, you have to enjoy drawing the millions of sketches that won't come out right…and if you want to be an author, you have to enjoy the long hours sitting in front of a computer.

Love the process, not the result.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Correcting Certain Errors.

I realised that for yesterday's sketch a day, Kato suggested Optimus Prime in a Mariachi Band, not just Optimus Prime AS a mariachi singer.

As I was low on ideas for today's sketch a day as well, I decided to fill out the band. After a few moments thought, I realized only another 'Prime' could possible be in a band with Optimus, and while I think Rhodimus Prime is a gigantic douchebag, there was only one prime left:

Fruit Fucker Prime from 'On the Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness':

Hi-Tech Hog Hunting

Sunny and I have been having a little trouble recently with a groundhog that's taken up residence under our house. Not only is the sound of it moving around driving the cat bonkers, we can hear it gnawing on the floor joists under the living room.

Well, early this afternoon, I saw the cat do a classic double-take out of the living room window and I went over to see what had him so interested. I was expecting to see a few birds pecking at the ground, but instead, tha fat bastard annoying groundhog was jus standing directly in front of the window.

Of course, by the time I got my shoes on, grabbed my shotgun, got the ammo out of the safe and opened the door, it had dissapeared under the house again.

So I had the idea to put some apples out in front of the house as bait, but realised that unless I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon staring out the window, I'd never spot it again.

Then, I had a brainwave.

I fired up Sunny's laptop, plugged in it's webcam and set it up pointing out of the kitchen window at where I placed the apples. Then I called my desktop computer over skype...and now I have an ad-hoc 'security camera' keeping an eye out for the little bastard while I watch a couple episodes of Torchwood on the computer.

Just call me MacGuyver.

Oh, and when I finally do get the little bastard, I'm making some goddamn slippers out of him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ok, that's a little weird

I was totally out of inspiration for today's Sketch a Day over at my other blog, so I decided to ask the people following me on Twitter for some suggestions.

Fellow blogger Kato suggested 'Optimus Prime in a Mariachi Band'. After a suggestion like that I had no choice but to do it.


It was a really quick 15 minute sketch, and it was really difficult because I've never drawn Optimus Prime before and it's hard to get two reference pictures that match because there are so many versions...but I liked it and I'm seriously considering spending a few hours and putting together a good version of this.

However, I'm still low on ideas for sketch-a-day, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ambivalent would be an understatement

I just stumbled across an article in Wired Magazine about a guy who was arrested and convicted for owning Japanese comic books that had 'depictions of child sex and bestiality' in them.

I really don't know how to feel about this, for a number of reasons.

My first thought is that it's very hard to have any sympathy for a guy who gets off on child porn and bestiality. It's also pretty fair to point out that a guy who gets off on cartoon drawings of child porn would get off in the 'real thing' as well.

The thing I don't like is that his arrest sets a very dangerous precedent.

Firstly, the law this guy was prosecuted under (The 2003 Protect Act) outlaws cartoons, drawings, sculptures or paintings depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and which lack "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

My question is simple. What constitutes serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value?

Obviously, is this case, it's clear cut… but this act forces judges and juries to make calls based on their own specific morals and values rather than on clear cut facts. Basically, whether you go to jail or not depends on the Judge and jury's personalities more than anything else.

For example, not many people realize that in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', the titular characters are only about eleven years old, and while it's not explicitly shown, they do consummate their marriage…so by today's laws and standards, Romeo and Juliet is a play about an underage couple eloping, having sex and then killing themselves.

My point is simple. If I wrote a play today that featured two pre-teens having sex then killing themselves, I'm fairly certain I'd fall foul of these anti-obscenity laws.

The problem is that there really is no clear cut way to decide what has 'value' and what doesn't.

Ok, if we're completely honest with ourselves, it's pretty difficult to imagine any situation when drawings of children in sexual situations could be considered art…but that brings me to my second problem.

They're basically arresting the guy for 'thought crime'.

Here's the thing. No matter how sick or depraved I think this guy is, you shouldn't be able to arrest someone based on the things they like or the way they think if they never act on those thoughts.

Laws are in place to protect people, and we arrest people for breaking laws, not for thinking about breaking them. I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't steal or shoplift through fear of getting caught rather than because they morally know it's wrong.

Basically, if I wrote a post about how I saw they'd left the loading dock open at Best Buy, and how I could have easily stolen a TV, but didn't because I was too afraid I'd get caught…does that mean I should be arrested for shoplifting? A fantasy, no matter how sick, depraved or socially unacceptable, isn't illegal unless it's actually acted upon.

In all honesty, if we could be arrested for the things we think about, I think the vast majority of us would have done some serious jail time. We've all gotten angry and fantasized about giving someone a smack and there are plenty of artists and writers who 'kill off' characters that are based on people they don't like very much.

As sick and perverted as I think this guy is, I think that all this law is doing is removing the 'safe' outlet for this guy's urges. Even worse, they're making the punishment for his 'safe' outlet the same as for the actual crime. If the punishment for throwing a dart at a picture of someone you don't like is the same as the punishment for punching the person you don't like in the face…who's going to throw darts at pictures any more?

To close, I'd just like to make it clear that I'm not defending or condoning child pornography in any form. I personally think that this guy is sick and that jail is the perfect place for him. The only thing I'm contending is the idea that this law could lead to others where we could one day be arrested based on our moral values instead of the crimes we commit.

One of the main reasons art exists is because it's a victim-free outlet for the things that the majority of society considers to be unacceptable. Basically, I don't want to go to jail because someone thinks the murder victim in the book I'm writing is too similar to a real life person.


 

Sunday, November 08, 2009

How to be the best blogger EVAR!!1!1!!

  1. Use an eyecatching template.

You know what's boring? Black text on a white background. You know what's super awesome? Lime green on a bright yellow background! In fact, if you can, have an animated background with lots of flashing colors. People will have a hard time missing you then!

  1. Legibility is over-rated.

I mean, why write in something approaching standard English when you can nut bthr uzn vowls or NE punchyooashun n mak up ur own spelin? EvEN iF YoU DoN't mAKe Up YouR oWn SpELlinG TyPEinG LIkE ThIS Is ReaLlY FuN aS wEll!

  1. You are the most interesting person in the world.

Don't bother expressing opinions on things people may have heard of, talk entirely about pointless shit that happened to you and your friends that no one else will be able to understand, relate to or care about. Better still, refer to everyone by their first initial only. Trust me, everyone will want to hear about the time J got mad at P because F said R didn't like S. If you can't think of anything else to write, talk about what a totally unreasonable bitch your math teacher was for picking on you, just because you haven't handed in any homework for six months and spend every lesson texting on your phone.

  1. Content is nothing. Hits are everything.

So you've started your blog and written on hundred-word post about how G said something REALLY FUNNY which made E spray coke out of his nose and it went all over R who got mad because F laughed at B even though the coke totally ruined M's jeans. That's more than enough. Now, instead of developing your blog into something people might actually want to read, go and spam everything you can find. It doesn't matter if it's someone else's blog or a youtube video about something totally unrelated…just write "HeY I ToTaLLy LuV UR wEB! ViSIt My BlOg!"

  1. Know how to deal with trolls.

Some people may visit your site and leave rude comments about you spamming their site. Ignore them. They're obviously just jealous of your awesome blog because theirs doesn't have an awesome flashing background and a dancing singing anime ferret jumping up and down behind their text.

  1. Patience is for idiots.

It's been at least three days and you're not getting any hits. Blogging is stupid. Abandon your blog, never write anything on it again. You're doing everyone a favor by making sure they can't use the URL your blog is under, which is obviously the whole reason no-one visited your blog in the first place

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Because I can...

I've been really into WW2 'nose art' recently (the artwork pilots would decorate the nose of their planes with) and yesterday through together a quick sketch that I decided to render in pencil rather than ink.

I've put this up on my sketch-a-day blog, but I liked this one enough that I thought I'd post it here where someone might actually see it.

There's obviously a lot of problems with it (it started out as a quickly scribbled sketch after all), but it's been so long since I actually tried to shade anything that I was surprised at how well it came out.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Hi, have we met?

It took five years of marriage, but I finally worked out today that my missus doesn't understand me at all.

I was failing to render a pencil drawing, when I took a few minutes to express my frustration. I was halfway through explaining to my darling wife how I just couldn't wrap my head around how 'successful' artists can create these photorealistic textures when I can't create any recognizable textures at all, when my missus told me that I annoyed her.

Apparently, I get 'way too obsessive' over things. I'll pick something to be interested in, get completely obsessed with it for a couple of months, then move onto something else and just go round and round in circles.

I looked at her, and it took every bit of self control I have to not hold my hand out and say "Hello, have we met?"

I'm a massive, massive geek… and geekery and obsession go hand in hand.

Yes, I'm obsessive…and like a lot of creative people out there, I know that creativity is a lot like a mental illness. I don't just like to create things…I'm compelled to create things. It's an addiction. That's why over the past five years I've written a ton of short stories, written literally millions of words on three blogs, have tried my hand at painting, drawing, model making, I play guitar, attempted to learn piano, created and ran two podcasts for nearly a year each, got into video effects and advanced photoshop…and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It's why I want to write a song, learn to play the drums, learn to paint with acrylics, I'd love to try my hand at making some movie quality prop replicas from scratch and I want to write and direct a feature length movie, even if it's only a zero-budget fan film. I want to voice a cartoon character and have my own radio show.

It's why I feel like there's never enough time in the day, even though I have nothing but free time.

To be honest, I don't really think it's my geekiness and obsessiveness she has a problem with. I think it's more to do with me trying to talk to her about whatever my obsession that particular week is. However, this just points out something else she doesn't understand.

When you create something, it isn't really real until you share it. It doesn't matter how good your story is, how amazing your drawing is or how great that song you wrote is if you don't have anyone to show it to.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Potato Soup

Well, fellow blogger Evan’s recent post put me in the mood for potato soup, and while his recipe looked awesome, I didn’t have half the ingredients I needed to make it. So, still wanting potato soup, I made my own version.

If I’m completely honest, it doesn’t sound half as good as Evan’s, but I think it’s a little quicker/easier to make…and it turned out well, so I thought I’d share it.

You will need:

1 Can condensed mushroom soup
1 Can condensed Cream of Celery soup
Chicken stock/ chicken bouillon cubes
5 or 6 good sized potatoes
1 large onion
4-5 strips of bacon
Milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese.
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Salt, pepper, Mrs Dash (all optional)

Start by peeling and cubing the potatoes. As Evan suggested, you don't need to peel your potatoes... but all I had were red potatoes which have very waxy skins and will turn your soup purple...so I peeled.

Start your cubed potatoes boiling in lightly salted water while you combine the Mushroom soup, the Celery Soup and two cans of milk into a large stock pot or saucepan. Add a can of chicken stock or, if you're like me and don't have any chicken stock, dissolve 2 chicken boullion cubes in a can of boiling water and add that. Stir together and put over a medium heat until it starts to simmer.

While waiting for your potatoes to boil, chop up your onion and cut your bacon strips into small pieces. Drop the bacon into a hot skillet and, once browned, add the chopped onion and saute, stirring constantly until your onions have softened and are just starting to brown. Then, pour off the excess bacon grease and add to your main pot with the mushroom and celery soup.

Once the potatoes are fully cooked, drain and add those to the main pot as well. Add about a level teaspoon of garlic powder, a few shakes of italian seasoning, both cheeses...then cover, lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for at least an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.

It's important to not add any salt, pepper or other seasonings until the soup has simmered. Even though the soup tastes pretty bland immediately after adding the last ingredient, allowing it to simmer brings out and develops all the flavors.

If anyone tries it, let me know what you think.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mookie and Pookie

Sunny and I were up late the other night and found ourselves watching an episode of 'Tales From the Dark Side' from the 80's.

I've written lots in the past about how lazy TV writing is. It's nice to know that people in the early 80's were just as lazy.

This episode was called 'Mookie and Pookie'.

The show starts with two parents, a daughter and an intercom sitting around a table playing Scrabble, when the daughter puts down the word 'Glitch'. The mother, apparently being educationally sub-normal asks what it means. The daughter responds by telling her it's 'when something goes wrong with a computer program'.

The father refuses to accept the word as 'real' because he's sick of 'all these damn computer words'.

That's right dad, punish your daughter for being more intelligent than you. After all, if you've never heard of the word, or it's related to something you know nothing about, it shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.

Suddenly, the intercom crackles into life, announces itself as 'Mookie' and asks 'Pookie' to come upstairs.

Oh yeah. The son and daughter, both of whom appear to be in their very late teens are called 'Mookie' and 'Pookie' and it's never explained why. Well, it turns out that mom and dad are hardly parents of the year, so maybe they're to blame.

So we go to Mookie's bedroom to find him lying on a bed with a computer keyboard on his lap…and he mentions to his sister (who's his twin, by the way) that he thought he had time to complete his program, but thinks that's doubtful now, so wants her to finish it.

Pookie explains that she knows nothing about computers, and Mookie tells her he's written down everything she needs to know.

Pookie tells him to stop being silly and gets back to the scrabble game just in time to hear a klaxon going off over the intercom. No, an Imperial Star Destroyer hasn't just dropped out of hyperspace, it's apparently the plot complaining that Mookie has just died of 'Dramatically Convenient Death' disease.

Fade to Black.

It's been a few weeks since poor Mookie's death, and Pookie is spending all her time at his computer attempting to finish Mookie's program. We have no idea what it does, or why Mookie wanted it finished…

…Which leads to the first gaping plot hole. Pookie has explained she literally knows nothing about computers, but somehow, with the help of Mookie's notes, she's able to code like a pro, without actually knowing what she's coding or what it's supposed to do. Imagine sitting someone who's never touched a computer before in front of a few hundred thousand lines of code and saying 'finish that'.

Well, apparently Pookie has no such problems, and in less than two weeks she's hammering away at the keyboard like a machine gun and spouting random computer-ish words for no reason. Her mother asks her how she's doing and she exclaims that, yesterday, she 'Got into a huge databank!'…because that's how you write a computer program, you look through random print-outs and tap away on the keyboard until you get into databanks.

The funniest part is that it puts a whole new spin on the story. In 1984, the audience wasn't supposed to know anything about computers. Today, it sounds like Pookie has no clue what's going on and is just lying to her equally clueless mother. "Oh yeah, Mom, I'm just…uhhh…accessing databanks and routing the nets, yeah."

Then 'Father of the Year' makes an appearance.

Apparently, Dad thinks that two weeks is more than enough time to get over the death of your beloved twin brother and, turning the foreshadowing machine up to 11, claims that Pookie is spending far too much time on the computer, and tells his wife that someone he works with might want to buy it.

Yeah, nice one dad. When you lose your Son, you should make sure to not even appear even the slightest bit upset about it and sell your son's prized possessions, which also appear to be your daughter's only coping mechanism.

So, a few days pass and Dad's still being an asshole, but Pookie has made an amazing discovery. Thanks to a random message that popped up on her computer screen…it turns out that Mookie is 'out there on the networks!'


… ummm.

… What?

Yeah, this is never explained. It's never so much as hinted at or alluded to that Mookie did anything other than just die…but it turns out that his consciousness is somehow 'out there' living on the 'networks' and the program Pookie's been working on is a way to contact him.

This is where Mom shows her parent of the year skills as well.

You see, Dad thinks Pookie should just get over it and wants to sell her only coping mechanism. Mom attacks from the other end of the spectrum by instantly buying into Pookie's story, doesn't ask any questions or use any common sense, just instantly believes her dead son is living on computer networks and Pookie can find him after just two weeks studying how to code in BASIC.

Actually, I tell a lie. A 'voice synthesizer' for the computer turns up unexpectedly at the house, which the daughter claims must have been ordered by Mookie, and Mom buys the story completely when the synthesizer says "Hello Mom" in voice of a fifties robot.

Yeah, it's a machine specifically designed to mimic the human voice. Your daughter tells you she's in contact with Mookie, and proves it by making the voice synthsiser say 'hello mom'.

Damn, I wish my parents were that stupid and gullible. "Hey mom, the internet aliens want you to make me a sandwich! Listen." Clickety, clickety "Make…Paul-eee-uz a SAND-widge"

Anyway, Dad comes into the room and has decided that shit be going down. So, like any good father, he doesn't attempt to talk to his daughter or get her some therapy or help. He does what any sane father does to a daughter who's obviously traumatized by the death of her twin sibling. Tell her he's sold her computer, her only link to her dead brother, and the guy's coming to take it this afternoon…and storms out of the room.

Oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. In that scene, Pookie asks her father if she can keep the computer if she proves Mookie is there and using it to talk to her. The dad agrees, but Mookie stays completely silent. When Pookie asks him why when their dad's left, he says "Because he isn't ready."

Nice work, genius. What's the point in waiting for him to be ready if the computer's going to be wiped, sold and sitting in a random dudes house when he IS ready? You can write a program that lets you speak from beyond the grave, but you can't work out that selling the computer would be a bad thing.

But things finally come to a head when Dad threatens to unplug the computer…because apparently, the computer holding this huge master program that allows Mookie to talk from beyond the grave doesn't have any form of storage and Pookie has never heard of floppy disks. Nothing like a huge, complex plan that can be instantly ruined by a power cut.

Well, just as Dad's about to pull the plug, Mookie does the math and realizes he's fucked unless he does something, so he says "Dad, stop! It's me!" through the voice synthesizer.

Now, despite the fact that Dad explained to Mom that making voices is just what voice synthesizers do, and exclaiming at one point that 'Any kid on the street can do that trick'…the sound of that weird robot thing from Buck Rogers saying "Dad stop!" is all it takes to convince him.

Then the screen fades to black and we're back at the dining table playing scrabble again, only this time, instead of an intercom, the fucking computer's sitting on the table playing scrabble with them. I have too questions about this:

One, how did they get the computer downstairs when they couldn't unplug it, and two, which sick screen writer thought having a delightful family scene with the son replaced by a computer would be cute and charming and not just creepy as fuck?

And…that's it.

Nothing's explained, we never hear how Mookie managed to survive 'on the networks' (despite his computer not being networked at all). It's full of plot holes (including how Mookie managed to leave enough notes to teach his sister how to use a computer and finish his program in less time that it would take to finish it himself.)…and the characters are just horrible.

The weirdest part is that shows like this usually have some sort of moral or message. The Twilight Zone was famous for it, but after watching Mookie and Pookie, the only message I can get is that if someone dies, refusing to let go and obsessing over them is the way to go. Oh, and if you ever get a chance to speak to a dead guy, don't ask them what it's like after you die, don't unlock any unknowable mysteries…just use this one of a kind link to the afterlife to play scrabble…

…but no damn 'computer words.'