Why did no one tell me this? Installment 1

I was checking out the 2012 TIME 100 poll, and found Marc Maron's name.  Do you know why he's nominated? HE HAS A PODCAST.

WHY WAS I NOT TOLD.

Apparently, it's a big enough deal that it's  the reason he got nominated TIME 100.

I have not yet listened to it, and it's been several years since I've seen anything by Marc Maron.  So, maybe I hate him. Things change.  But I am definitely looking forward to checking it out.

The Unbearable Uncertainty Of Ebooks | Learn Out Live!

I found a cool article this morning about ebooks, where they touch on one of my favorite advantages of information technology:

The flexibility part I already discussed above (changing fonts, size, paragraphs, etc.). But what about ubiquity?

Instead of lugging around cardboard boxes full of dictionaries and paperback novels the next time you move, you can put all of them on your ereader, slip it into your pocket and be done with it. And if they’re in the cloud, there’s no need to even carry a device. A username and password is enough.

Unfortunately, there are some barriers to this ubiquity. These barriers however are more of an economic and political than a technical kind.

The Unbearable Uncertainty Of Ebooks | Learn Out Live!.

Why is the entertainment industry so stupid?

This is a sincere question.  I don't understand. I get that the overwhelmingly consistent opinion within the music industry as corporate entities is that piracy is singlehandedly undermining the industry, that they're entitled to retain a world that supports their business model, that it's possible to threaten people away from piracy, and that it's proportional to massively fine poor students to do so.

And I get that the overwhelmingly consistent opinion of everyone else who's remotely qualified to address the subject (including most of the artists and production companies represented by the aforementioned corporations) disagrees with some or all of the above premises.

Here's what I don't understand:  Why isn't the recording industry changing its mind?  I get that it's an unpleasant truth, but is it really so unpleasant that none of the major corporations can handle entertaining it?

Is there some entity that actually benefits from refusal to adapt?  Is there some force with a genuine interest in preventing the entertainment industries from coping with changes to the world around them?

Or is it just that the structure of a corporation as an entity is fundamentally incapable of grappling with its own mortality?

Maybe it's like the global climate change thing, that corporations can't cope with file sharing because it's an existential threat, in the same way climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and a lot of humans just can't deal with that.

If I have any readers who understand this issue more intimately than I do, I'd love to hear from you in comments.

Prequels planned to "Watchmen"

[repost from my facebook] “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” -- Alan Moore

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/books/dc-comics-plans-prequels-to-watchmen-series.html?_r=1

In other news: major publishers are writing plays exploring the childhoods of Romeo and Juliet, and a playwright has been hired to write a 3rd act for Waiting for Godot, titled: "Godot shows up."

[/repost]

I don't know why DC is doing this.  Or, rather, I do, because I understand that they're a profit driven company, and the 2-major-publishers thing in mainstream comics damages the ability of innovative artists to build careers in non-mainstream ways, which furthermore hobbles comics as a medium toward the goal of achieving widespread acknowledgement and legitimacy.

I think the biggest thing that bothers me about this project is that DC is treating it like Watchmen is just like any of their other titles.  They're just expanding on the setting and storyline, like they do with Batman and Superman.  But where the other characters contain culturally iconic characters, even iconic narratives with highly regarded manifestations, "Watchmen" is, more than most other comics, a work unto itself.

It just doesn't make sense to do further exploration of the "Watchmen" narrative.  It's the sort of thing that really does belong to the specific artists who created it, and if anyone were to expand on it, it should be them, and they should have the call not to.  Alan Moore has made it very clear that he doesn't want this to happen, and I think that should be what goes down.

Granted, though, I understand DC's desire to profit on this property.  And I would understand if they wanted to do tribute work, in admiration of "Watchmen" but without a claim to the position of canon.

This isn't like George Lucas making the Star Wars prequels.  This is like if some major company acquired Star Wars, then, against George Lucas's very public wishes, made 3 new Star Wars movies set before the original trilogy, and tried to insist that they were canonical.

Oh no remake

I learned today via JT Eberhard at WWJTD that Hollywood is planning a remake of The Princess Bride.  (Here's his source.) JT, understandably, thinks this is a terrible idea.  And, to be fair, it'll probably be as disappointing as he imagines it will.

But I think it's jumping to conclusions to say it'll definitely suck.  Of course, there is definitely going to be a faction of people who hate it because how-dare-you-touch-our-childhoods.  And I'm sure there will be some number of people who care little enough about the original to judge the new movie on its own merits, and because the material they're working with is very good, they'll probably feel it deserves at least an "eh."

But I think the middle ground is genuinely up for grabs.

If the new movie sucks, anyone who liked the old one is going to hate it that much more, and if the new movie is good, but is just a shadow of the old movie, anyone who liked the old one is going to hate it because, well, you could just have watched the old one.

But the Princess Bride was based on a book, and I think that's the key piece of information here.

Because the original movie was already a remake, and there's no such thing as the one-true-remake.  Remaking a book is already hard; remaking the same book, well, twice, would be incredibly difficult.

But if they do try to remake the book, and not just remake the movie, I think there's a shot that it could be decent.

That said, JT is right; it'll probably suck.

Louis CK: Awesomeness and money

(via Boing Boing) Louis CK, a very funny American comedian of whom I've been a fan for some time, recently released a comedy show online, in a DRM-free format, for 5 dollars a download.  His intent was to experiment with attempting to give the online community a format that met all their requests for non-bloatedness and absence of theftproofing, to see if they really would buy a product rather than steal it if it were just as easy to do either.

It was a kind, honest and decent gesture, for which Louis CK deserves quite a lot of credit, and would deserve however the experiment went.

That said, it went very well.

He's made over one million dollars, and his decency as a human being doesn't stop at his sales model.  He's dividing the money up 4 ways -- a quarter is going to pay the production costs and hosting, he's giving a quarter of it in bonuses to his staff, over a quarter is going to charity, and a little less than a quarter is going to him.

My favorite quote from the news update:

I never viewed money as being "my money" I always saw it as "The money" It's a resource. if it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.

This is such a beautiful mentality to have towards money.  You try to secure access to enough of it to provide for your needs and, if you have it, your wants, but more than that is just needless, and it should flow back out.  I'm glad to see Louis CK not hoarding his money like he has a mental illness or something.

The realm of media conspires mildly against me

Welp, the QC story arc ended after yesterday.  I mean, I'm glad it happened, those were really cool ideas he was exploring, and I do understand that most of the fans probably weren't geeking out quite as much as I was.  Still, I was hoping it was going to go on at least a few more strips. On an unrelated note, having been uninterested in finding the remote, I watched about ten minutes of American Idol earlier.   I surprised myself with the degree to which I actually found it distasteful.  I mean, I'm aware of the fashionable hate of reality TV, but I didn't think I actually disliked American Idol, rather than just having no particular interest in watching it.

Still, though, I think that's an area that falls pretty firmly into the realm of opinion, and I retain respect for people who do like the show and/or choose to participate.

On QC discussing the personal experience of technology

My favorite webcomic, Questionable Content, is in the middle of a story arc that I am absolutely loving.

***

Here's a quick summary of the dramatic situation, which you may feel free to skip if you read the comic.

Questionable Content takes place in an alternate reality (or alternate technology) present day.  It generally fades into the background -- so much so that it's hard to notice, when reading the comic, how weirdly different the world they live in actually is.  (I think it fits into a genre common to webcomics of sci fi realism that I'd love to talk about later, but don't want to get into now.)  But in this arc, they're pretty directly talking about the weird tech in their world.

The arc starts here: Hello, Clinton

 

It features 4 characters: 3 humans and an AnthroPC, which is an AI computer-friend.  From left to right on the first panel of the arc, the characters are:

Clinton, an over-eager student;

Hannelore, who grew up on a space station with her super-revolutionary father;

Momo, an AnthroPC who recently upgraded to a person-sized body from a very small one (probably about a foot high);

and Marigold, a socially awkward gamer and anime nerd who's only recently started hanging out with people outside World of Warcraft.

***

Now:

The arc is exploring the relationship between people in a society and the advancing technology around that society.  My favorite thing to come out of it so far is the phrase "Innovation Fatigue," which Hannelore attributes to her father.  As she puts it,

Technology is advancing so fast these days, and changing so much, that the average person has to treat it as perfectly normal or they'll be overwhelmed.

At that point in the comic, Hannelore is beginning to get overwhelmed being caught between Clinton's animated optimism and sense of urgency, and Marigold's sense of apathy towards it all.

While they're focusing on the fairly extreme technology in the QC universe, the observations they're making about human experience is notably totally applicable to the real world.  It might not be the same phenomenon, and the events of the changes might not be quite so obviously visible as little, troublemaking robots, but technology in the QC universe is advancing at pretty much the same rate and in pretty much the same way as technology in the real world.

I don't know where Jeph is going with this, but so far he's setting the stage for a really interesting discussion of the difficulty in finding a balance between modernistic utopian excitement and absolute apathy -- a balance which may once have been easy but is now very difficult to find.

It's one of the many examples of ways that, as a species, in the developed world, we're in culturally uncharted territory, and I'm excited to see where this discussion goes.

It's the little things

The new Dresden Codak comes out tomorrow! I know this, despite normally having no clue when it's going to update, because Aarron Diaz has added to the front page of the website an alert, with the date of the next upcoming comic.

I know it's a little thing, but knowing when my favorite webcomic is going to update (especially since it updates remarkably infrequently for such a successful comic) is not a completely negligible plus.

Sorry for the crap post.  Talk to you tomorrow.

Sherlock

I've started watching Steven Moffat's other current series, Sherlock.  It's a modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.  That was probably obvious. The other thing that is probably obvious is that it's brilliant.  I've said before, though I'm not sure I've said it here, that Steven Moffat is the best living screenwriter on TV.  (That is, within my relatively limited range of experience.)

One of the most fun things about watching interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, if you're a fan of the original stories, is watching for all the little, clever nods to the original.  Robert Downey Jr's recent Holmes movie did a great job of fitting in those quirks, with lines here and there.  Moffat's interpretation has a much more direct take, with the first episode, A Study in Pink, which shared a number of direct parallels to Doyle's A Study in Scarlet.

I'm catching up as much as possible on the series tonight, and I'm sure I'll have more gushing about it to do in the near future.  With links and illustrations.  But for now, back to the TV!

More About the Bechdel Test

I said earlier that I'd say a bit about whether going out of my way to pass the Bechdel Test in writing counts as a quota. There are a few places I can take this, but I don't want to get mired into a conversation about affirmative action that I'm not entirely qualified to speculate upon, especially when it would take me very far afield of my point.

My point being: yes, it is, if you define a quota as a specific, proactive effort to include a certain proportion of different sorts of people in fiction.

The reasons for doing it seem obvious to me, but the aforementioned artistic dishonesty whingers tend to have a problem with that kind of thing.  So, because I think it's sort of embarrassingly paternalistic to explain why one should try to write inclusive fiction, instead I'm going to point out the assumptions one makes in not trying.

  1. You are perfectly egalitarian and utterly without bias, bigotry or unjustified beliefs.  Not going out of your way to compensate for the things you're intuitively wrong about betrays a certain amount of belief that you're not actually intuitively wrong about anything.  Or, in the very least, that you don't care if you're wrong.
  2. Your culture, and its conventions towards storytelling, is intrinsically well-adjusted with relation to all minority or marginalized groups.  Or, alternately,
  3. You are completely unaffected by your culture's storytelling trends:  where your story reflects tropes that dominate contemporary fiction, it is only because, in your story, those were he best possible place to go.
  4. You are utterly capable of proactively resisting implicit subtext in your works, and never risk implying something you didn't intend to, or would be actively bothered to have implied.

In short, not making any effort to be inclusive in one's writing means you think you're a storytelling god.

Or, you just don't care how your writing affects people -- and if that's the case, please quit.  Now.

My personal journey approaching and through the Doctor Who season 6 finale

SPOILERS. At the start of season 6, the Doctor died.  And, at the very end, he --sorry, hang on.

Seriously, SPOILERS.

...

Alright. He survived.  I don't think very many people really believed he wouldn't.  (I know at least one person who did, but it seems unreasonable to think that the BBC would let them end the show.)

I blogged recently about Doctor Who and humanism, and I think it would be fair to say that I had faith in Steven Moffat's ability to pull this plot out.

That is, I was confident the Doctor would be fine until a few weeks before the episode, a couple of days after The God Complex.

If you watch the show, and have an obsessively philosophical bent, you may have noticed that the new series has an underlying theme of the dangers of extremist religion.  Doctor Who has always been themed around opposition to the fears of the British public, hence the Nazi-like Daleks and communistic Cybermen of the old series.

The God Complex was about the dangers of faith -- a Minotaur-like alien that feeds on faith was manipulating captured individuals into re-framing their individual faiths into faith in the Minotaur.

The context of the episode equivocated faith in Islam, conspiracies, oppression,

and the Doctor.

It occurred to me, just in time to start to worry, that Moffat's plan might have really been to kill the Doctor.  To end the series on the lesson that, sometimes, heroes die.  Sometimes, they don't come back.  And that any idol can be dangerous to put your faith in.

In the end, the way the Doctor got out of it -- the endless repetitions of "The Doctor Lies" and "Time can be rewritten" set up his clever manipulation sufficiently to justify his weaseling out of it.  As part of the story of the series, I thought it was pretty good, though it wasn't quite as brilliant as I expected it to be.  It worked, but it was more 'acceptable' than 'genius.'  And the episodes leading up to it did manage to persuade me that it was possible everything could end.  That was impressive.

The Humanism of Doctor Who

Gladstone over at Cracked posted an article today called "How Doctor Who Became My Religion," which, I feel, hit on a lot of very important points.  In my labels box, one of the self-affected titles I've put down is "Whovian." If you're not familiar with the term, it's an arguably-insulting term for fans of Doctor Who.  (Like Trekkie.) For all the weirdly religious vibe of Gladstone's article, he's right.  Doctor Who, as a story, has all the necessary equipment to be the spine of a religious faith.

The religion/fandom comparison is far from a new thing.  CollegeHumor recently did a video on it:

and Greta Christina wrote an article for Alternet about it, a while ago: "What if People Actually Treated Religion as Just a Metaphor (Like Trekkies and Secular Jews)?".

Both the video and the article make the point that there are real differences between religion and fandom -- but they have a hell of a lot in common, too.

[It's important to me to point out, right now, without any ambiguity: I think there are important differences between fandom and religious faith, and I think that fandom, even when it reaches religion-like fervor, is safe, sane and legitimate in ways that religion is not.  Just so we're absolutely, unambiguously clear.]

The thing is, there are a few different kinds of stories.  There are stories like the ones Stephen King writes, or Hemmingway, the sorts of stories that are just about a group of people.  The kinds of stories that don't really spark much fanfic.  Then, there are myths.  These kinds of stories -- Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Firefly, Twilight, the Bible, have a sort of universal quality.  The characters are just slightly so distant from real humanity that they become symbols.  There's something aspirational about them. I don't think the true-to-life, Stephen King/Hemmingway style stories  are inherently less valid than the fanfic-inspiring types.  It think they're both valuable artforms.

Bringing it back to Doctor Who, though, there are good reasons for the Whovian fandom to be as religiously devoted as they are.  And, as a sort of religion, I think there's a lot to be said for Doctor Who.  Because the Doctor is one of the very few heroic, even deific, figures in fiction who champion humanism.

If you find yourself thinking "What would the Doctor do?" when faced with a moral difficulty, you're the sort of person I want in my life.  Because if you're being honest, you know that what the Doctor would do is work as hard as he possibly can, at the cost of his own safety and wellbeing, to find a solution that makes as many people happy as possible.  You know that the Doctor will abandon blame as soon as he sees an opportunity to get everyone somewhere peaceful and safe.  You know the Doctor would only ever harm another living being if there's no choice between that and saving innocents.  You know that the Doctor would say the two most beautiful words in any language are "Everybody lives."

Add to that a love of adventure, a healthy disrespect for authority, and a sincere and passionate dedication to living this life like it's the only one you're going to get, and it amounts to a pretty good life compass.  It doesn't hurt, either, that they're up-front about it not being true, in the strictest sense.  Gotta respect the absence of unjustified metaphysical claims in any quasireligion.

And, yeah, Doctor Who usually makes me cry, too.

Just wait until I start writing about existentialism and Firefly.

The awkward social norms of music

So, I was never all that into music in high school.  I wanted to be.  I mean, I knew I was supposed to be.  I didn't like sports, and didn't really get along with the theater kids.  I was awkward and fringe-y.  So I knew I was supposed to be really into whatever bands made up the fringe music genre at the time.  I found out later that I probably should have been emo. But I didn't develop any real appreciation for music until after I graduated.  I mean, I liked music, but it didn't give me much of a visceral emotional response, and there was never really music I liked more than other music.

More than anything else, I had no idea how people found bands.  The idea of discovering a musician was alien to me.  There seemed to be this whole set of secret cultural rules:  You had to like certain bands if you were into a particular genre, and you had to know about, but not like, certain other bands.  You had to have a favorite song, but it couldn't be the one everyone knew.  You had to know the member's names.  You had to have opinions about at least one of the specific members' playing ability.

I didn't know how people did it.  I used to listen to the same album for weeks on end, absorbing every detail of the songs, and it seemed like these people must never do anything but listen to music.

The cultural norms surrounding music left me feeling locked out of my social groups, unable to relate.

The truth is, I never learned the answers to any of these questions.  I still don't really know how people discovered bands. I know I learn about them through Pandora, or bumping into a song I like and listening to it forty times, then looking for the album it's on.  I still feel sort of locked out of the conversation sometimes, but other times I find myself having real, sincere conversations about the bands, voicing my honest opinion about -- well, usually the songwriter.

The emotional response I get from music came more into focus later, when I started my philosophy major.  I started to understand what it was I wanted out of art, and since it wasn't the generic "I want it to make me feel good," I started to get more comfortable feeling the way I wanted to feel when I had a name to put to it.  I like, more than anything else, absurd music.  I like music that challenges the comfortable avenues of thought.  And by that I don't just mean sad music or complicated music.  I mean music that sets you up to expect one thing, then delivers another, or never delivers anything at all.  Music that messes with your idea of what music does.

Then, sometimes, I just want some simple, comfortable pop rock.  Something to move the metronome inside my head.

I still don't really understand music.  There's a lot about it that everyone else seems to get, that I don't.  Though I wonder, sometimes, whether they're just as in the dark as I am, and the only difference is that I care.

Eh, whatever.  I'm going to go listen to some Deerhoof.

The Hour

It occurs to me that I probably should have written this post sooner, but I only just thought of it now.  So shove it. The BBC's drama The Hour just wrapped up, I think last night or the night before.  I don't know.  I DVR'd it.  It was six solid episodes of brilliant.  It followed the production team of the eponymous news program, The Hour, particularly the investigations of reporter Freddie Lyons and the unpleasant attention his inquiries were drawing from MI6.

[[There was an image here, but it broke.  Go look for a picture of Freddie Lyons.]]

I don't want to get too much into it, because I'd rather keep this spoiler-free for any of my hypothetical readers to check it out for themselves.

What I will say is that The Hour does something I see less and less in TV, which might be a trend, but could just as easily be quirks of the shows I'm watching and the time I have for TV.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of my TV watching is sitcoms, Doctor Who, and whatever drama I've become enamored with, to the exclusion of everything else.

That quality is strength of message.

I mean, not every show needs a deep, resounding message pressed into every episode, but I find I like the shows that do a lot more. (Again, that might say more about me than about TV.)  I think it's a sort of high-conceptness, not quite "Snakes on a Plane" high concept, but where you can sum up the moral lesson in a sentence.

"Intellect and romance triumph over brute force and cynicism." -- Doctor Who

"Moral ambiguity does not annihilate the distinction of right from wrong." -- House

"Reporters' tenacity in uncovering the story is heroic." -- The Hour

Sometimes, it can feel like you're getting beat over the head with the message of a work.  But good TV, where they tell a story that has a strong message without making straw men out of the villains or getting overly saccharine about the point (Or hiding behind a false premise of comedy or satire to avoid responsibility*)... As I was saying, Good TV can tell an engaging story and keep the integrity of a solid moral.  TV like that inspires people, and I sincerely believe it makes the world a better place.

Go watch The Hour.

*I love all those shows.