Chris Angelini's LiveJournal
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

My Role-playing Ring
Fighting Fantasy
My Other Logs
My Ramblings
Whispers Under the Stairs
My Bookmarks

Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Chris Angelini's LiveJournal:

    [ << Previous 20 -- Next 20 >> ]
    Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
    7:58 pm
    No, that's not how Islam works...
    There have been some articles trying to justify keeping out the refugees based on a tortured train of logic that connects to the Maccabees and their conflict and essentially tries to claim that the situation we're facing in the Western world is more in line with that than with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Boiling this argument down, the articles all have the same core: the mistaken belief that every Muslim -- regardless of personal experience, motive, interpretation of religion, or temperament -- feels that they have an absolute duty to impose Shariah law (or rather, the article writer's limited understanding of such) anywhere they go. Because of this, conclude the article writers, we are facing a cultural assimilation that parallels Isreal and its fight against Helenization and conquest.

    The problem with advancing this argument is that it relies on a misunderstanding of... well... civics and religion, two topics highly relevant to this debate. On the civics side, Western countries... most especially the United States... have systems of checks and balances that would prevent any system of religious law from being imposed as a civil legal structure. Is it possible that over time, a polity could infiltrate the shockingly high number of sympathizers required into the branches of government to get them to weaken these rules and thus allow in a religious-based code of law? I suppose it's theoretically possible... but only theoretically. The time and effort and energy required to do this would tax the greatest nations' espionage and war machines to the utmost. Remember that even the best funded intelligence organizations have had very limited success in manipulating other country's politics via spycraft.

    On the religious side, the authors of these articles betray a poor understanding of what Shariah actually is. Shariah is a path to be followe which is divided up into three spheres: belief, character and actions. It is not just a legal work; instead it has a great deal to say about one's personal code of conduct. Very few actual verses drawn from the Quran concern themselves with law or legal injunctions. Some actions can be criminalized by the state but most of them are between God and the individual believer.

    Where the big misunderstanding comes in is that some countries have criminalized (some of) the violations of Shariah that are between a worshipper and his God. The assumption is drawn from there to the belief that Shariah calls for this criminalization in and of itself.

    Thus, Muslims entering or being in North America aren't some sort of 'trojan horse' for Shariah Law. Shariah Law as it is understood (sic) by neoconservatives simply doesn't exist as some global imperative that all Muslims must impose wherever they're standing. It would be very much like assuming all Christians had to forcibly convert their neighbours either by the Book or the Sword... these beliefs gravely misunderstand the religion that they're trying to impune and create boogeymen where they don't actually exist.

    Or to put it another way: no, there really isn't a moral way to justify ignoring our fellow humans in need.
    Thursday, November 19th, 2015
    11:52 am
    For Christ's Sake...
    Damn it to hell...

    If the neocons insist that the US is a Christian country, could we please at least GET THE PARTS OF CHRISTIANITY THAT CHRIST FUCKING TAUGHT?

    My *God*. This situation is already IN THE BIBLE. It's called The Good Samaritan. You can read it. It's *right* *there*. The issue is addressed and its pretty cut and dried.

    For God's sake, the US already does extensive background criminal and terror checks on refugees. The US is strong enough and powerful enough to accept that tiny burden which will keep both US lives and Syrian lives safe. We have an extra shirt... WE MUST GIVE IT TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NONE.
    Monday, November 16th, 2015
    5:24 pm
    Jobhunt Successful!
    My jobhunt has come to a successful end! Today I inked my employment contract with Dell. It's going to be exceptionally strange to be working outside of education; but I guess this is how we grow.

    It feels like I've been hunting for a new job for months; but in reality it's only been about a single month. I'm so tired of interviewing! Selling myself, over and over again... it's tiring. Also, finding places in San Francisco via public transit is also exhausting. But it's aaall done.

    So, the thing that I didn't mention before... a little ways into my job hunt, which I kept on the QT, I received a completely out of the blue layoff notice from my department. It was... really odd. My department was trying to hire more people to do the things that I was already really good at doing and they laid someone off who was doing those things. The mind boggles. Fortunately, it only took me a few seconds from receiving the news to put this together in my head:

    1) I'm already well into my hunt for a new job
    2) I'm hunting for a new job because I -hate- what my department has become
    3) I'm getting stressed out just coming in to work
    4) I'm burning all of my vacation time going to interviews
    5) Since it's a layoff, I'm about to get the generous severance package that Stanford University provides

    Summary: I just got handed a lot of money to stop coming to work and I've been given plenty of free time to do my interviewing.


    So I was smiling throughout my layoff meeting. It was weird; I think everyone else in the room was expecting me to become disgruntled and start yelling. I like to think I injected a little bit of weirdness into their otherwise dreary day.

    Unfortunately for my former group, my departure has put them into some dire straits.
    unsure emoticon
    There were far too few people for all the work being done when I was still there; now there's even fewer and people are being snowed under. There were services that I ran for which I didn't have time to do a knowledge transfer; that's not going so well for them either. I really hate that management put them in the position of having to deal with my rather sudden departure. I wish them the best and I hope they onboard people who can take the load off of them soonest.

    As it turns out, the project on which I've been working for the past year (moving my department into AWS) was the key to my success in interviewing. Even with just my minimal 'I've used EC2 and nothing else' experience, I got a metric tonne of interviews from people who wanted my skills. Combined with the fact that I do DevOps, which is hot and in demand in NorCal, and I wasn't hurting for interviews. I was even in the odd position of having to turn down a couple of offers (and sadly, having one pulled out from under me just before I could sign). All in all, it's a good position to be in and a good problem to have.

    So we'll see how things go. 2016 is going to see a lot of changes to my life. I need to settle into a new role at a new workplace; I'm going to need to find someplace else to live once my current lease is up. I'm going to need to develop new skills and face new challenges. It's daunting; but fortunately it's not terrifying.

    And that's really one of the biggest silver linings to all of this: the job hunting process has taken away a *lot* of my fears that I'm just a poseur in the IT field and shown me that I have a lot of impressive, marketable skills to offer employers. Technical interview questions helped me test myself in real time and let me score some pretty big self-wins. I'm a worrier by nature; having had my worry reduced like this is a huge deal for me.
    Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
    10:29 am
    Moving on...
    Time to un-vague a vaguebooking I did a little while ago. Things have changed in my life and I think it's safe to talk about one of the major things going on in it.

    A few months ago, I reached a breaking point in my department at work. I won't go into any real inside baseball (because that's rarely a wise career decision); but I'd become absolutely miserable about where I was working. I was always stressed, I was always feeling trapped by poor decisions being made above me and I was watching really good people get treated in ways that I thought they shouldn't be. So I started job hunting.

    I've been to three final interviews so far. I actually *got the job* for one... and then that group lost funding for the position. :-/

    At the other two, someone more experienced than me was selected. But honestly... if three companies are willing to spend a total of fifteen hours of their time interviewing me (and one is willing to hire me), I'm clearly marketable. I just need to find the place where I best fit.

    Very fortunately, I'm a DevOps engineer and in the Bay Area, the demand for DevOps far outstrips the supply. I could get a job in the field tomorrow if I wasn't being a little bit choosy about where I'm applying. I've already had several very stubborn recruiters try to get me to apply for positions in their companies (though they were contract-to-hire positions and I'm not at the point of accepting one of those yet) which means that for now, I have something to fall back on if the companies for which I really want to work keep falling through.

    Also, up until yesterday I'd only applied for four positions. This is one of the things that's been taking up a lot of my time and energy: interviewing, interviewing, interviewing. So getting three callbacks out of four is not too bad! Yesterday I sent out seven apps and today I'm hoping to get out at least another four.

    It's time to make a change and it's time to stop being so sad about going to work. Please don't let this make you think that Stanford itself is a bad place to work; it isn't. There are dozens of managers whom I respect whole-heartedly and departments that are hotbeds of creativity and productivity. Sadly... none of those are hiring DevOps engineers right now. ;-> (Well, I lie. One is and I applied to it yesterday).

    Wish me luck!
    10:29 am
    The Big Con
    This weekend was perhaps my favourite non-family weekend of the year: Big Bad Con. Three days of epic role playing with creative GMs and players who all want nothing but to commit to their characters and their stories. Interesting, fascinating indie games get run here and spark creativity to produce more fascinating indie games for the next year. It's a safe place to be yourself, to try experiments with gaming and to find people who care more about role than roll. Every year that I attend I wish that it could run more than once a year. While it taxes my introversion something fierce, the con more than makes up for that by inspiring me to new heights and filling me with a great joy that I can't get anywhere else.

    Yes, it *is* worth that much flowery prose.

    My first game of the con was one of those experimental games I mentioned: Thank you Kindly. The game was open to anyone who wanted to get into it and was a sort of snowball arrangement. You broke up into groups of two. One person would set the stage using a preset list of backdrops. The other would enter a character into the scene, describing them and your immediate impressions of them. And then you committed to about ten minutes of dialogue, after which you and your partner would pause and discuss which of you in the scene took on the attributes of Little Red Riding Hood and which of you took on those of the Big Bad Wolf. It was a fascinating exercise both for subverting expectations and also for getting to the core of a fairy tale that provides a narrative context for your own tale.

    Second up was a game run by a dear friend of mine, which is a genius reskinning of Monsterhearts into teenage superheroes at a school for 'gifted youths'. I'm trying to convince him to push it out to the web so other people can share in it.

    Saturday, I got to play The Burning Wheel, which is a game that's always fascinated me but which I've never actually read nor played. It's an extremely crunchy game, but the difference between it and boring, rule-heavy games is that Burning Wheel's rules all lock together in interesting and fun ways. For instance, I think we didn't even get into one real combat, but the thrilling denouement of the game involved using the rules for oration combat wherein our priest stood against the leader of a poisonous death cult and swayed the village to turn back to the true god. I really like how thoughtful and interlocked this game is. I need to read it now!

    That evening it was my turn on the chopping block. I ran a game of Hillfolk called 'That Spring, Before the War'. Hillfolk is a game that's played almost entirely via scenes called by the players and most scenes are 'dramatic scenes', which means that your character has something that they want (generally emotionally) from another character and that other character is probably not disposed to provide it. It turns into an emotional game wherein everything revolves around each characters' emotional desires... or to put it into better context, it's the game you could play Breaking Bad in. Or Shameless. Or the Sopranos. And so on and so forth.

    The premise of this game was that each player was a senior in high school, just months from a time of great freedom, anxiety and discovery: graduation. But a cold shadow hangs over the characters: a war in which their nation (or in the case of the direction the players took it, their world) was soon to become embroiled. With the possibility of military service, death and loss haunting their future, what choices would they make? What would they choose to keep and what would they give up on?

    Despite me making a mistake at the beginning of the game, it was a rousing success. I got several of the greatest compliments a GM can receive: the players lingered after the game, wanting to talk about it; the next day one of the players couldn't stop talking about it to friends; and someone told me that he was still decompressing from the game on Monday. I was just over the moon to hear about those things.

    The mistake that I made... well, at the beginning of the game while creating characters, one of the last steps in the process is to use a big sheet of paper to draw connections from your character to two others and explain your relationship to them and what you want from them emotionally. I, being a dim bulb, instead had the players draw a connection to each other character at the table. As those of you who can do math in your heads will quickly realise, this means that the number of connections that you have to draw goes up exponentially with each new player... and I had six.

    Fortunately, though it took an hour just to do the character connections, something good came out of it! The characters started off so well defined to one another that a lot of really interesting play and character interaction came out of it. While I don't think I'd do an exponential connection graph at another con game, where time is a factor, I might do it if I ever run a campaign of Hillfolk.

    Sunday was a most excellent game of Changeling: The Lost... which was made even better by a GM who was prepared for *everything*. She had dossiers written up about each of our characters, a soundtrack queued up, and knew exactly what was happening behind the scenes every step of the way. The game was a series of twists and turns that led to a twist that nobody saw coming but which was obvious in hindsight.

    And lastly, I played in a game of Kaleidoscope, which is a mod of the wonderful world-building game Microscope. Rather than building an epic sweep of time as you would in Microscope, in Kaleidoscope the players are all people who have just watched a weird and possibly terrible foreign movie. You build up the timeline of the movie through the rules of Microscope (ie, lots of index cards) as you talk about each protagonist and each segment of running time. You're encouraged to be as pseudo-intellectual as you can be, speaking in the style of an over-educated and under-appreciated movie critic while discussing this film. I've played this game twice now and each time it's been an absolute blast. It was the greatest way to wind down from the con that I can think of.

    Sadly, it's a year till the next Big Bad Con. But barring emergencies (and needing to take cookies to grandmother's house), I'll be there again in 2016.
    Sunday, October 4th, 2015
    4:18 pm
    The Visit
    I just got back from seeing M Night Shyamalan's The Visit. Full disclosure, I'm not an M Night hater. I felt that The Last Airbender was execrable and After Earth had some serious flaws; but for the most part I'm generally happy with the man's output. Since Shyamalan used his fee from AE to make this movie himself, I went in with high expectations... and happily, they weren't let down.

    The Visit is a weird sort of film, as you might expect given the writer/director's proclivities. It tries to straddle the line between being a comedy and a horror and -- with a few exceptions -- mostly manages to be both at the same time. It's a found-footage film with all of the quirks and foibles that go along with that particular horror sub-genre... if you hate found footage, there won't be anything in this film to change your mind. If like me you're a big fan of the sub-genre, there's a lot to enjoy here.

    The movie is about two children with a sad backstory: they were abandoned by their father, leaving them in the care of their mother, who'd given up a lot to be with the man whom she'd thought was her soulmate. The children want to meet their grandparents, whom they've never before met, and jump at the chance to do so when said grandparents reach out to their mother and ask for the chance to connect with the pair. The children also have an ulterior motive for the trip: to give their mother and her new beau a chance to spend some time together; and also to see if they can help reconcile their mom with her parents all these years after she'd left them to be with her tarnished knight.

    As you'd expect from an M Night movie, the characters are all more complicated than a single screenplay can do justice. It's not entirely clear how cohesively these complications would connect to create a full character in some other medium like a novel; but in the world of cinema (which Shyamalan, echoing The Lady In The Water, deconstructs as an important narrative arc of this movie) these complications serve to make the children, their mother and her parents into very interesting and at times unpredictable individuals. Everyone is flawed in this movie and those flaws really help to drive the plot towards its climax. Utilizing his skill at twists, Shyamalan sets you up for one sort of horror movie during the first three quarters of the film and then reveals that all this time he's been setting up quite another one. It would be easy to feel cheated by this kind of subversion; but in my opinion, Shyamalan manages to pull this off with the same grace as he did in his earlier movies.

    Unfortunately a director as subversive as Shyamalan has a tendency to introduce some flaws into his movies; flaws that could be avoided by, paradoxically, making the characters more cliched and less interesting. One of the children's fatal character flaws (freezing under duress) is introduced only a few minutes before its invoked by the screenplay; as a result, the audience doesn't get a chance to integrate this tendency towards paralysis into their concept of his character and thus it feels like it comes out of the blue, rather than being part of a fully realized character. The other child has a tendency to Shyamalan-Speech (ie, using words that no other person on Earth would use in a given situation); when used sparingly, this provides a lot of colour for the character. When used with less restraint than was needed here, this just makes the character's words feel a little artificial at times.

    But flaws aside, I enjoyed the heck out of The Visit. It was a really disturbing film that relied mostly on the banality of horror to provide most of its creeps. It kept me guessing and really when I go to a horror movie, that's what I want most: suspense and uncertainty.
    Sunday, September 13th, 2015
    11:32 am
    Embarassed for the west
    I am really disappointed at just how little the current Canadian government is doing for the Syrian refugees. The country's always had a strong history of taking in innocents in their hour of need. Standing by and doing nothing should not be an option for a first world nation.

    The security screening issue is a really sad smokescreen for Haper to drag his heels while popular pressure mounts against him and hope that the EU manages to take care of this all so he doesn't have to bring Canada into the solution set.

    What makes me really angry is that there seems to be an effort to reduce the refugees to either harmless numbers or else build them up into a 'credible' threat. The former is just inhumane and the latter is an extraordinary claim. So say it with me everyone: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

    The world is a crappy place. We can help make it better by extending a hand rather than a bomb or a bullet. We're spending too much time ducking and covering and not enough trying to figure out how to make things a little bit less awful.
    Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
    3:25 pm
    After much futzing around and standing about at the DMV, I finally have a car that's legally drivable in California!
    Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
    5:50 pm
    Masters of War
    After Doctor Who was cancelled, we Whovians had many strategies for dealing with our sudden loss. Some of us tried bargaining ('Maybe... maybe Pip and Jane Baker weren't so bad... if we like them, can we have the Doctor back?'). Some of us threw ourselves from very high places... onto almost but not quite as high places ... no one really knows why. Some became trappist monks in the hope that they would achieve enlightenment and discover what the Cartmel Master plan was all about (* assertion not verified). Some attempted to self-medicate with Blake's 7 reruns (not a recommended course of action. Blake's 7 has been linked to self-harm and violence related to its final episode).

    And some of us... got involved in the dark and dangerous world of spinoff material.

    There were many lines that tried to fill the gap left by the cancellation of the good Doctor. The first notable success were Virgin's New Adventures series: an extremely controversial but generally well-written continuation of the Seventh Doctor's adventures. If you're a fan of New Who, you've seen at least one New Adventures story adapted for the screen ('The Family of Blood'). Alongside the New Adventures were the Missing Adventures series, which related stories about past Doctors. With the sudden introduction (and just as sudden departure) of the 8th Doctor, the Virgin lines ended and the BBC started up its own series of 8th Doctor Adventures (and a companion line, called the Past Doctor Adventures which, spoiler alert, told stories of the past Doctors' adventures).

    And then there was Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas. The good folks at Big Finish had a brilliant idea: hey, why don't we get actors who used to play the Doctor to play the Doctor *again*... but in a purely audio medium so we don't have to worry about how they might have aged, or sets or props or anything like that? And from those humble beginnings emerged an absolutely stunning series of Doctor Who dramas that were so good that the eighth Doctor's dramas were recently canonized by the New Who series in the minisode 'Night of the Doctor'.

    Which brings me to the actual subject of today's ramblings: The Doctor Who Unbound line of audio dramas. Doctor Who Unbound was meant to be a creative playground for the writers: what-if stories which asked various questions like 'What if the Doctor never left Gallifrey?', 'What if the Doctor never became UNIT's advisor' or even my favourite, 'What if the Valyard Won?'. I listened to most of the DWU line six or seven years ago and then ran out of time in which to listen to Who, much to my regret. But realising that I was really missing my old Big Finish adventures, I decided to pick up where I left off and since it required the least amount of work to figure out where I'd stopped, I listened to the last in the DWU line: Masters of War. Spoilers follow.

    Masters of War is an interesting tale that follows up on a previous drama, Sympathy for the Devil (and hints that it might possibly also exist in the same space as Auld Morality and A Storm of Angels). The story takes an idea from Terry Naton's original draft of The Daleks about there being a third party who started the war between the Thalls and the Kaleds and then returned some time later, named the Quatch in this story (I suppose because 'Quarks' and 'Zarbees' were already taken). The Daleks have returned to Skaro in order to protect the Thalls from the returning Quatch threat...

    Yes. The Daleks are back to protect the Thalls. The weirdness of this cannot be overstated and the drama plays on subverting your expectations of everything Dalek throughout the story. They're still arrogant, war-mongering racists... but they're *good* arrogant, war-mongering racists.

    You see, it turns out that when Davros was building his Dalek army, he found he could only make them loyal to him by allowing them to feel pity. Over time, that sense of pity has grown so that the Daleks believe that their destiny is to become the dominant race of the galaxy in order to protect all of the other, weaker, inferior races of the galaxy.

    It's amazing how much life this premise injects into 'yet another war between the Daleks and someone else'. We're so used to the Daleks being completely bad that it leaves the listener a little bit disoriented to start feeling sympathy for them. I found that I loved this story so much more for having this little twist in it.

    The acting is top notch. David Warner voices the 'first' Doctor (though a first Doctor who spent too much time on Gallifrey and thus is trying to make up for lost time) and Nicholas Courtney reprises his role as the Brigadier (retired) and both deliver a great performance that has the right amount of chemistry to it to sell the fast friendship between a hyperactive Doctor and an unflappable military chappie who serves as companion and makeshift battle commander. Everyone else turns in a great performance too... with the unfortunate exception of the Quatch.

    One of the problems with audio dramas is that you have to be able to differentiate every different species by voice. With the Dalek's, that's easy: just use a voice distorter and bang, you have a Dalek. But new alien species need new techniques for making them sound alien... and unfortunately, the director of this drama chose to give the Quatch a long, drawn, sibilant voice that grated on me after a while. I really wish that they'd found a better way to sell the Quatch's alienness... but ah well. We can't have everything we want.

    There are quite a few great and unexpected moments in this drama. I'll list off a few!

    * A Dalek rationalizing why surrender might be acceptable
    * A touching goodbye scene between the Black Dalek and Davros
    * A Dalek who thinks he's Davros
    * Philosophical arguments between the Doctor and the Daleks... in which the Daleks aren't completely wrong

    I really enjoyed this. I'm looking forward to what's next in my queue. It's so nice to return to something like this after so long away.
    Monday, May 11th, 2015
    9:26 am
    Hey, you won't believe this but... it turns out double standards are bad
    I normally don't pay attention to media news; but while looking at some information about the upcoming King's Quest game I stumbled across this article here:

    This is an opinion piece; but I share the writer's opinion so I thought I'd link to it. Boiled down to its essence, its another case of a female character being judged harshly for the mere suggestion of attraction to male characters while the overall universe celebrates the overtly promiscuous tendencies of its male characters.

    Come on. This is the 21st century. We can do better than this. We can start to break down the whole Madonna/Whore complex that Western civilization carries around its neck like a millstone.
    Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
    4:51 pm
    Movie Roundup
    Last week was a long week (and this one is already longer, despite only being two days long thus far), so I decided that the weekend was going to be all about relaxing and media consumption. My mood's been elevated due to the warmer weather and the extra exercise I've been putting in, so this made for a wonderful end to a week of toil.

    Getting my theatrical experiences out of the way first, I went to see Avengers 2 at an early morning timeslot so rambunctious teenagers would hopefully still be asleep. There's not a whole lot to say about the movie. If you're in its target demographic, you're going to really like it. It provides you with lots and lots of fan-love and has some of the best choreographed fight sequences I've seen. James Spader -- a national treasure, to be sure -- is superb in it and plays the titular Ultron with his usual flare for the disturbingly amusing. The only moment of dissonance that I had was at one point expecting the metal man to open and 'Red' Reddington to step out.

    We turned the movie-going outing into a double-feature and stayed to watch a screening of Big Trouble in Little China, which is one of my all-time favourite films of the 80s. The film is still a massive festival of John Carpenter letting his inner comedian-slash-fanboy explode all over the screen in vivid splotches of bigger than life martial arts parody. Seeing it with an audience that was also reacting to the movie was great. It felt like we had gathered with one purpose: to watch Kurt Russel basically act like a hero while actually being the sidekick to people much more competent than he.
    As it turns out, I've never actually seen Big Trouble uncut. So this was my first time ever seeing the opening scene, which seems always to be cut out in television broadcasts of the film. This was also my first time seeing the film in widescreen! It's quite a bit different from the full-screen creature that I'd watched during my wild and tempestuous (ya, right) youth.

    The rest of the movies I watched this weekend were all either on Netflix or Hulu. I got very lucky: everything I hit turned out to not suck.

    Starry Eyes: I've been meaning to watch this indie horror thriller ever since it came out and I've only just gotten around to it. The premise has been done before: young actress is looking to make her big break and has to decide how much of herself to compromise to get it. Starry Eyes takes that premise and turns it into a supernatural horror story that manages to be as thoughtful about its subject as it is disturbing. The actors in this piece play their parts to perfection and it's impossible to look away from the gradual slide into the depths that our main character takes. One word of warning: this movie is not for the faint of heart. There are moments of it that are really, *really* disturbing; though these moments really do help underscore the film's central theme and the destruction of the main character.
    Seriously. Not for the faint of heart.
    I'm not kidding.

    The Mirror: This movie appeared to be a rip-off of the absolutely astonishing Oculus; but it was also a found-footage film, which meant that I had to at least try to watch it. Fortunately, while the movies share a premise (there's a damned evil mirror and no one's smart enough to leave it alone), they diverge wildly in their execution. I enjoyed this film, though it definitely didn't satisfy me. The actors were competent but often failed to really make me care about them, which is a signifigant strike against any horror film. The middle of the film dragged -- which is a common problem with found-footage films that don't pace themselves properly -- but the ending was a real treat. It's worth a look if you're in the mood for some found footage fun and you forgot where you left your fifth-generation VHS copy of The McPherson Tapes.

    A Lonely Place to Die: Breathtaking visuals and mostly compelling characters make up for the fact that this is yet another entry in the 'oh no, we're running away from people who want to kill us one by one' film oeuvre. The movie goes deeper into the motivations behind the premise than most of these sorts of films delve and that alone helps save it from being yet another fish in the barrel. I do wish that it had been about fifteen minutes shorter, though.
    Also, the mountains of Scotland look awesome. They should have been credited in the cast.

    Preservation: The weekend's second entry in the 'oh no, we're running away from people who want to kill us one by one' film. The movie didn't do a lot to differentiate itself from the pack but it did go some very interesting places with its character depth. The last half hour is also very hard to look away from.

    Daylight Fades: A vampire film, but a fairly different one than you'd expect. This movie is all about relationships and trust and not so much about the blood-drinking. It's a bit slow in places and the actors sometimes seem to be struggling with their characters but for the most part I really enjoyed it.

    Trippin': I'll admit, I almost didn't watch this movie. Drug humour and a movie shot on mini-DV turned me off hard. But a thoughtful review on IMDB made me reconsider and I'm glad that it did. This is an entry into the 'douchebag kids go to a cabin in the woods' sub-genre; but its one that has its tongue planted firmly in cheek and that really made for a fun watch. Sadly, the actors are a little bit unpolished and the characters seem to inhabit different personalities depending on the needs of the script; and some of the humour was too raunchy for me to appreciate. But all in all the good outweighed the bad in this movie.

    Ground Zero: The last entry! Technically I watched this Monday night, but it counts as part of my weekend roundup because shut up. This is a zombie movie where the protagonists are cleaners for hire (the sort that disappear bodies; not the ones that make the floor tiles shine) and are suddenly thrust outside of their normal yet extra-legal world into a nightmare. The characters are all incredibly quirky -- in a good way, thankfully -- and it's hard to not get attached to all of them. The film is almost a one-room movie, taking place in a relatively claustrophobic environment. This works for the film as it lets the audience focus on the characters and their shifting dynamics without the distraction of too many scene changes. I loved it.

    And that's the list! More to come, I'm sure.
    Friday, February 27th, 2015
    4:15 pm
    Not one sparrow is forgotten
    I just finished reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel. It was a little bit slow going at first; but once the book picked up momentum, it was hard not to want to keep visiting the characters involved until the story was done. It's about a Jesuit priest who's on-hand when a radio-telescope operator discovers proof of alien life from our nearby neighbouring system, Alpha Centauri. Feeling that he has been put in this place at this time for this reason, he starts out on an epic undertaking to reach the people who have spoken to him from across such a long gulf and try to understand them. Along the way, he and the readers are forced to wrestle with many questions, including that of the nature of God and faith.

    The book makes use of a storytelling technique whereby we jump from the present to the past and back again, affording the reader glimpses into what happened and setting them up for major revelations about situations past. Russel uses this technique frustratingly well as she doles out the absolute bare minimum information that the reader needs to parse events in the present; while at the same time leaving tantalizing hints about things to come dangling.

    The characters were for the most part, a joy. At times they got a little bit too Spider Robinson-esque, perpetually dwelling in a place of joking and teasing that I personally find really abhorrent. ;-> But once I put aside my prejudice against people who laughed and joked and loved one another (I know, I know, I'm a monster) I found that the relationships really worked for me and made me curious about each character's final fate.

    I won't spoil the ending; but I will say that I was expecting a much darker outcome than what we got. The ending to The Sparrow felt absolutely right for a book about someone trying to reconcile faith and God with a seemingly uncaring universe. At no point did I feel preached too; I was merely invited to walk alongside an extraordinary person and reach my own conclusions as he reached his.
    Monday, February 23rd, 2015
    10:20 pm
    Life is Strange...
    I just finished episode 1 of Life is Strange.

    It made me feel happy, sad, nostalgic, afraid and wistful.

    It made me think of times gone by that can't be reclaimed and futures that still lie ahead, waiting to be seized.

    It made me fall in love with the main character.

    It made my choices feel important.

    It did everything that an adventure game should do. Thank you, Squeenix.
    Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
    9:32 am
    What is right?
    To me, righteousness is not a bespoke suit that when donned, will protect the wearer from evil and sin and vice.

    Righteousness is not a weapon to use against others.

    Righteousness is not a prod; nor is it a whip; nor is it a trap for others to stumble into.

    Most of all, righteousness is not a set of rubrics that one can follow blindly in the hopes of always choosing the right.

    To me, righteousness is a daily struggle to remain mindful of what one believes and feels to be correct while maintaining the openness to challenge one's own beliefs whenever they appear in error. It is about strengthening those beliefs when they align with what is right and good and just and it is about ablating those beliefs when they do not.

    Righteousness is not an external struggle but an inner one. We are not called on to judge; we are called on to accept even when we don't want to. Acceptance is the harder path which is why fewer people choose it. But we live in a world filled with other creeds and other thoughts and other ways of being. We may decline to believe in the rightness of those but we must struggle to love those who hold to codes other than our own without falling into the trap of condeming them for what we perceive to be their sins.

    Contemptuous attempts to correct others under the guise of hating a sin while patronizing the sinner is not acceptance.

    Righteousness does not give one authority of any kind, stripe or flavour. It does not empower one to imagine one's self as a warrior, fighting against an enemy. It does not make one better than anyone else. But it does make one better.

    Wars have been fought in the name of righteousness. Very few of these wars of righteousness were righteous.

    Righteousness begins and ends with humility.

    At least some part of me wrote this as a chide to others. In this, it is not righteous. Some part of me wrote this as an attempt to truly express what I feel and what I want to feel. In this, it is.
    Thursday, January 8th, 2015
    9:53 am
    Frosty Shrugs
    The beloved children's Christmas staple Frosty the Snowman is truly a nightmare to anyone who follows Ayn Rand's philosophy.

    We have a group of school children as our 'protagonists'. These looter youths are attending a state-sponsored school, contributing nothing back to the society that is currently sheltering and educating them for free. The only thing that they're interested in is playing in the snow; throughout the episode they show no appreciation for nor interest in the education that they're receiving. For free.

    To compound this, the school has wasted resources better used elsewhere to hire a magician to entertain the class. No explaination of this is given, which is just further proof that this so-called school has no actual interest in producing productive members of the workforce. This magician will be our real protagonist: he's self-employed and his every move is motivated by making money, as all good Randian protagonists are.

    In a fit of pique, the magician throws away his hat, which the looters find and put on their snowman. The snowman promptly comes to life; and to add insult to injury, he shows no signs of acting under the aegis of enlightened self interest... in fact, many of his actions are altruistic, which is as you know a sin to a rational objectivist. This new member of the looter class immediately shows an interest in playing and cavorting around, at one point even proving a scofflaw who needs correction by a traffic officer.

    As any rational Randian hero would, the magician realises that his hat was a previously undiscovered commodity and seeks to assert his ownership of it. The looters, out of misplaced altruistic concern for their new member, maintain that since they 'found' the hat, it belongs to them. Worse, rather than monitize the hat as the magician would have, they intend to use it to maintain a useless life for no return whatsoever. As is only correct, the magician employs violence to seize the hat, knowing that these looter youths will soon attempt to turn the kleptocratic government against him to maintain their claim. Sadly, the looters evade his righteous attempts at violence and escape. One of them attempts to take their new member on a train (because any story involving Randian philosophy has to involve a train at some point). In a display of their contempt for the productive class, the two looters attempt to aquire a train ticket without use of money. Having this attempt to take for themselves blocked by a rightful guardian of capitalism, they determine to seize resources without recompense anyway and stow aboard the train. This shocking act is never punished.

    From here, things quickly go downhill. The snowman sacrifices his bid to reach a place where he can survive simply to preserve the useless life of his fellow looter, who failed to plan for her journey and brought this fate upon herself by not being a rational actor. Even more shockingly, the snowman knowingly enters an environs (a greenhouse) deadly to him simply to continue this 'altruistic' bid to keep this parasite alive. For a moment, it looks as though rationality and the Randian ideal will prevail, as the magician turns the snowman's foolishness against him and locks him in the greenhouse, serving up to him an ironic fate befitting his folly and irrationality.

    Sadly, at this point the government (embodied by the grinning face of one 'Santa Claus', who like all looter governments, hands out gifts willy nilly to the people who only clamber for more). As a government is wont to do, he uses his unfair economic leverage against the magician to force him to surrender the resource that is rightfully his in the name of the astonishingly titled 'greater good' (for what greater good can there be than increasing one's fortunes? Sadly, the cartoon provides no answer). Santa Claus then expends more resources to preserve the snowman's life, despite the fact that said snowman has no money to pay for his treatment; and worse, that the snowman's life depends on the hat which is now no longer available to be monitized. Scoffing in the face of rational self-interest, those left on stage at this point see this as a 'happy' ending and move back on to their parasitic lifestyles, unaware that they have driven one more person closer to seeking John Gault.
    Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014
    1:05 pm
    Castle of Megablox
    We built a surprise for my niece when she came to visit. She seems to like it!

    Monday, December 15th, 2014
    1:05 pm
    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
    4:51 pm
    Failure most Feline
    Today I feel like a complete failure as a cat owner.

    When I brought my cats home from the shelter, I knew that they were going to take some time getting used to me. It took Legend a few days to stop hiding and actually come to me; and it took a couple of weeks for her to feel comfortable coming to me for affection. Labyrinth took a week or maybe two to stop hiding and she still doesn't like it when I approach her... unless she's lying on her favourite chair (in which case she'll let me pet her) or unless I'm lying on my bed (in which case she'll cuddle up with me and let me pet her). I've been working for months to help her build up a tolerance to me; but she never really got past the point of running away from me when I approached her.

    So today I was going to take them both to the vet, just to get them checked on. I knew this was going to be hard. I had no idea that it was going to be impossible. Labyrinth wouldn't let me get near her and hissed at me any time I came close enough to grab at her. She got really stressed out and hid and after a little while I realised that the trip just wasn't happening today. Now she's hiding in my room and sulking. She's glaring at me any time she sees me and refuses to be in the same room. I feel like I ruined everything that I was building with her.

    I've had these cats for a few months now. And I still can't get them both to trust me. I'm clearly doing something wrong and I don't know what. Watching her skulk around like I'm going to bite is really doing a number on me.

    But I do need to be able to approach her. She's going to need to go to the vet soon. She's going to need to stay at another house while I'm away from home. :-/ I don't know what to do.
    Thursday, November 13th, 2014
    4:51 pm
    Alpha House
    I've been catching up on Amazon's Alpha House and it is absolutely hilarious. My favourite exchange so far has been between a senator and his gay staffer.

    "So, if man A only likes other men, he's gay. lf woman A only likes other women, she's gay. Therefore, both man A and woman A are gay. Which gives them an important thing in common."
    "Sounds like an SAT question, sir."
    "No, hear me out. So, if they share the same sexual orientation, why couldn't they get married? Hmm? They'd be mixed gender, so it wouldn't violate any laws. They'd honor the norms of society, and their children, who would be biological always a good thing would have a matched set of parents, instead of, you know, two right mittens or two left mittens."
    "l know! lt makes a kind of crazy sense, doesn't it? Look, this could be the grand bargain we've been looking for. Gay marriage, but nothing that turns people off."
    "Except for the people in it. They wouldn't have any sex life."
    "They could have extramarital affairs, just like straight people. You can work out the details. They're your tribe."
    "And, and why would l work out the details?"
    "For my bill: The Acceptable Gay Marriage Act. l really think we could sell this, Julie. True common ground between your people and mine."
    "Oh, God".
    Saturday, November 8th, 2014
    7:17 pm
[ << Previous 20 -- Next 20 >> ]
Frob's Homepage O'Thrills   About