500 Words Per Day

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Digg at Web 2.0

Maybe a sorry is in order for not having anything new to post lately. Now that I've been stricken with my 5-months long overdue cold there probably won't be much to look foward to this week, blog-wise. Nope. Just me staying in, drinking soup, eating oranges and gleefully working my way through Season 1 of Lost on DVD.

And that's on top of the many cozy nights I've already spent with Guild Wars Factions, probably a mere sniff of nicotine compared to the digital crack that is World of Warcraft, but still very addictive on its own merits. Massively multiplayer Diablo anyone? That's what Guild Wars is. Yikes...

Anyway, I'm nodding off at work now after having done some preliminary reading about the release of Microsoft's "long-awaited" Internet Explorer 7. Advance reviews from IT (but non web dev-related) friends so far are kind of bleak. Raise your hand if you are surprised by that. Anyone?... Didn't think so.

After surfing around a bit, I checked back in on Jeffrey's Zeldman's site and found this humourous tidbit about the Web 2.0 trend. For web design curmurdgeon like myself, it provided a couple good chuckles.

Zeldman on Web 2.0

Monday, October 16, 2006

Shit Ass Writing

This has been bothering me for the past 30 minutes since publishing the post I drafted on Friday. My VIFF roundup was poorly written. In fact, it was unbelievably poor. I would hope to one day read the first few entries I ever posted for 500WPD, skip ahead to the current posts and sense an obvious evolution in style and articulation. Everyone wants to improve at thing they enjoy doing. Sometimes I feel like I am regressing. Even stagnation gets on my nerves very quickly.

I'm sure most of you could give a rat's asshole. But this is important to me. I care how well I write and boy, will I beat myself up over it!

Friday, October 13, 2006

VIFF Roundup

Roundup, he says. Hah! Four films watched hardly makes for a comprehensive roundup but they were four good ones.

Last Thursday was loudQUIETloud: a film about THE Pixies.
What really needs to be said about this movie? I love the Pixies, I loved their concert at Bumbershoot '04 and I was intent on loving this documentary. Director Steven Cantor followed the band around during their highly successful reunion tour in 2004, The Pixies Sell Out. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about how the film was put together. The enjoyment came from watching the band members' interactions (or lack thereof) in the dressing rooms and while on the road.

Some revelations:

- Charles Thompson (Black Francis) is not quite the arrogant, megalomaniac he's sometimes made out to be. Perhaps he has chilled out now that he is well into his tubby, balding whale-like 40's but he was rather grounded and well-behaved from what was shown in the movie.

- Kim Deal is adorable and acts like a giddy, teenager trapped in a 40-year old woman's body.

- the drummer, whose name I still did not managed to remember, is pretty funny. He's a real character and his experiences during the tour provided some dramatic texture to the film.

- there were no epic spats, nothing was thrown and everyone got along for the most part. We really get the sense that none of the Pixies are really good friends and at the end of the day, don't have much to say to each other.

Not revelations:

- Frank Black's ass is still massive

- the writer for Rolling Stone magazine was quite ready to stick his entire head into said ass (and almost did)

Saturday came around and I checked out my final feature, the French/UK animated sci-fi thriller, Renaissance. This was a well put together film although disappointing in its modest ambitions. The plot is centered around a police captain's search for missing person and is structured as in a police procedural/film noir fashion. Following clues, questioning suspects and they even throw in a throwaway femme fatale character, although she's neither very femme or fatale. Action sequences are few and far between, with very little in the way of gunplay or exciting chases. This leaves us with the story, which is wholly unoriginal (evil all-powerful corporation hunting the secret to eternal life), even with the little twist they throw in at the end.

Still, even if there's little substance to hang on to, the execution picks up a lot of the slack. The animation in Renaissance is superb and very French. There's an amazing amount of detail and stylistic flourishes combined with a very fluid realism. I rarely pay much attention to sound in movies, but I noticed how good the sound editing was in this film as well. And I did like how the entire movie was black and white although it can be argued if it really adds anything to the movie as opposed to being in colour. But everything just looks good.

The voice acting was generally excellent as well, with the males throwing in better performances than their female counterparts. The male cast includes the likes of the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce. The two sisters are voiced by Catherine McCormack and Romola Garai. Their characters are not very compelling partly because they do not get much screen time and also because they are simply not well-formed characters to begin with.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Root of All Evil = Video Games

I have a confession to make. I am now a regular listener of CFUN 1410 talk radio. It all started about 2 months ago when I bought a new alarm clock for my bedroom and was trying to set the alarm to play a station of my choice instead of the annoying generic siren. I accidentally set it on 1410 and since then I have been waking up to talk show host, Pia Shandel.

I don't know what her broadcast and journalism background is, but I sort of enjoy waking up to her morning program blaring into my ears. Sometimes you need a loud, prattling radio personality to give you that jolt at the start of your day. And boy, does this woman prattle on and on, on a variety of topics ranging from local news stories and pop culture to info-tainment segments bordering on straight up advertising.

Today the Pia Shandel show got on my bad side for the first time. I was still in bed, eyes still tiny slits, slowly opening up to the morning light coming through the blinds, when I heard Pia start off on her new topic: video games. I perked up a little but was still feeling like I could sleep in another hour and forget about going to work. Pia introduced the news of an upcoming console game, based on the Brian de Palma/Al Pacino film classic, Scarface. Then Pia went completely off the deep end.

Somewhat predictably, she start to rant and rave on the corrupting influence of video games and was so disgusted that companies were allowed to sell violent games. I was fully awake at this point. You know what was really disgusting? The appalling lack of research and intelligence given to this very important topic. In my hazy morning state, I was considering calling into the show, as caller after caller was let on to side with Pia and also rant unintelligibly about the many societal ills wrought by gaming. A single caller, a parent to his credit, finally chimed as the voice of reason and was very, very articulate. Of course, none of his points were given any credence and it was back to the one-sided phone calls.

I was so incensed by this debacle that I wasted more time at work slapping out a rebuttal on CFUN's feedback page. I could write pages on this topic, of the mainstream media's awful coverage of the video games industry and violence in our society, but I had to settle with the following diatribe:

Heard the segment today on the Scarface video game from Radical. I don't believe Pia went there! Actually, I do. Negative, biased news stories against video games are all the rage now. The gaming industry is an easy target and is undergoing the same public scrutiny as other forms of entertainment in years past (TV, radio, comic books, music, movies... you name it)

I believe there was one sane caller admist the madness who put up a very valid, very sensible defense for electronic entertainment and his points were all but ignored.

Incidences of violent crime among youth are at an all time low (at least in the US), so how does that even wash with Pia's massive logical leap that violent video games cause kids to shoot up their own schools? At best, there is a correlation, which is miles away from causation.

I would love to see this topic revisited on Pia's or another host's program and this time invite someone from the "other side" as a guest. Maybe a producer or designer from a prominent local game studio, of which there are many.

And this time, I would suggest discussing a game like Bully, a game that has not even been released yet and has generated much negative press, from various parents groups and crusading anti-games lawyer, Jack Thompson. The sad thing is, this game is being touted as some kind of "Columbine simulator" when it is actually anything but. Judging from the previews from legitimate gaming publications and blogs, Bully is more a simulation of life in boarding school. There are no deaths, no depictions of blood or gore. Players are in fact encouraged to fight against bully characters in the game.

Of course, this simple distinction is all but lost on the mainstream media, which continues to take the easy route and portray video games as the root of all evil. It's sensational, irresponsible news reporting. These recent stories about gun violence are very tragic, but there is soooo much more to the picture than just a piece of entertainment.

Although I enjoy Pia's show and her overall style, I just had to let you know how far off she was on this topic today. Hopefully it will be revisited in a more balanced manner in the near future!
I've corrected it here, but I actually spelled "public scrutiny" as "pubic scrutiny" in that first paragraph. Oops.

Please, people. We need to stop looking at the reasons behind tragedies and the failings of our own society at face value. For every apparent reason for something happening, there are 100 reasons behind that reason. Instead of blaming video games for a miniscule percentage of kids going postal at their high school, let's look at how money is continually being drained out of the public school systems. Let's ask why parents are forced to spend more time at work, leaving distractions like TV and video games to raise and babysit their children. Hell, let's examine why we aren't putting some accountability on the parent's shoulders. Let's go out on a limb and think super-whacky-crazy thoughts and consider that maybe, just maybe... there are always going to be mentally unstable individuals out there who will latch on to anything as way of validating their sociopathic behaviours. There's always going to be loners out there, the guy or girl who wasn't loved enough as a child, the ones that are shunned by their peers for being different. Where's the media attention about funneling more money into support programs for kids, counselling services, critical thinking and media education and a myriad of other things that would make for a healther, safe and smarter society?

Please, for fuck's sake, people. Let's drop the cirucs act and demand some credible journalism from our news and media outlets.

Well, that's the end of MY rant.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Weakness of Waking

I've found that foggy divide between sleep and wakefulness is where I am most mentally vulnerable. If my hopes, goals, anxieties and fears are manifested in dreams through symbolism and metaphor, then it is when I am waking thay they come to speak directly to me. My brain is still booting up from standby and my mental defenses are down. So thoughts and emotions, good or bad, come to me unbidden and unobstructed. It's not often pleasant.

I woke up this Wednesday morning feeling as if I have really pissed away my life between the ages of 21 and 29. A rapidly cycling reel of memories hit me in the face. It was a blurry mess, so I couldn't really pick out any particular moments to mull over. It was just a generalized mass of regrets. There were trips that I never took, jobs I wasted time at, education I never pursued, relationships I failed to foster, lessons I thought I had learned but didn't, lessons that had yet to be learned and visions of a dark future. Okay, so it wasn't all about regrets. I just felt tired and unwilling to get out of bed.

Clearly, this was the kind of cheery morning not even a steaming hot grandé dark roast could help.

I had this coming, this bout of morning weakness. I've been experiencing an occupational crisis. The simple fact is work in the office has been dreadfully slow but it's made me feel like an adjunct to the whole operation. I've pondered the situation and figured it might be the lack of stimulating projects. That theory may wash, if it wasn't for a side project I have going on that does require creativity and control and I have no motivation to work on it.... even for pay! I'm stuck and there's no dancing around that truth.

There's also the age thing. I'm looking 30 in the face and feeling I have nothing to show for it material-wise, relationship-wise, career-wise or maturity-wise. I've always been against the fixation to look at life as a series of predetermined "stages" but it doesn't mean I'm immune to it. Where do I go from here? I think that's a pretty useful question, as broad as it is.

Where do I go from here? At least the question leaves the past where it belongs. Few things are worse than wallowing in bad memory lane.

Well having that coffee and putting some lunch into my stomach has fortified my mind again. I'm feeling the resolve flow through my limbs. In lieu of doing something work-related today I've been browsing through the BC Work Futures website. It's been very informative and I plan on combing through all the different industries of work, even those areas that I know I have absolutely no interest in.

In the meantime, I'll try to cheer up and get back to blogging about bullshit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

VIFF: The Root of All Evil?

dawkins The Vancouver International Film Festival is rolling along now until October 13th. I am watching a small batch of features this year, perhaps a third of my usual movie binge from years past. There just don't seem to be a lot of films that are grabbing me this year and I have compulsively flipped through the program guide for the past 10 days looking for those hidden gems.

I am watching mostly documentaries since there seems to be no shortage of interesting topics, ranging from insomniacs and life-long hermaprodites, to the obligatory investigations into the current affairs in the Middle East and America's role in foreign affairs, war in Iraq, yadda yadda yadda.

The Root of All Evil? screened last night and stars famed evolutionary scientist, Richard Dawkins. The root of all evil, according to Dawkins, is organized religion... or religion period. It is a relic of primitive times, bereft of rational ideas, based on the transmission of faith-based truths and outmoded traditions. Dawkins argues that religion discourages curiosity and critical thinking and in the process reinforces base prejudices and irrational discrimation. In short, religion is bad for humanity and it is taking us backwards not forwards.

My review: well, duh.

First of all, the documentary is excellent and I will just come right out and say I am biased. Ever since I survived my (failed) indoctrination into Christianity by my elder cousins, I've always been flummoxed at the power and prevalence of religion in people's lives. Religion: what is it good for? In the past, I've had fairly intelligent, articulate religious devotees attempt to browbeat me with non-arguments on the validity of religion, and their religion specifically. Well, it usually amounts to something like, "Oh, if you only studied Religion X, then you'd know there is so much more to it than you think". And I'm sure there is. But what about Religion Y and Religion Z? They are quite different from Religion X and they all contradict each other in various ways. Which one is the truth?

I bought my ticket for The Root... feeling so glad an academic like Dawkins had the ballsacks to take the boots to religions of all stripes. The film's agenda is clear as day: religion is hurting the world and it is stronger than ever in the 21st century. Not surprisingly, Dawkins takes aim at the fundamentalists and that's where we get some of the heated, awkward and quite frankly terrifying interviews between Dawkins and various religious leaders.

Let it be said that Dawkins is an esteemed scientist and British, so he is predictably arrogant and condescending through out the movie, from his narration to his clinical probing of his interview subjects. Dawkins takes a few lumps of his own during these theological/rational debates but not a one of these rabbis, pastors, evangelists or cleric can mount a convincing argument in the face of logical reasoning. Dawkins even takes aim at moderate believers, like those progressive priests that support gay marriage, for cherry picking the Bible and being fence sitters on essential issues between faith and reason.

Again, I really enjoyed this movie. It was almost pointless for me to even be at the theater, as it was another case of the movie preaching to the converted. Far better for someone who is actually experiencing confusion in their own faith or someone who is considering taking on a religion, to view this movie. I feel that the message is very important. Yet through it all, I also felt quite compassionate and sad for religion and its followers. The documentary conveniently ignores all the good that comes from organized religion. The many forms of charity and community support offered by religion are not often things you see coming out of laboratories, universities or corporate think tanks. And for the people featured in the movie, religion IS THEIR LIFE. Their entire lives have been constructed around their faith and many of them hold authority positions, which means they also depend on it to feed and clothe themselves. Who is this crusty, arrogant Brit to trivialize their life's work, their passion?

And that's the sad part. Religion is reason proof, which means you cannot convince someone out of it. You can do as Dawkins did and argue until you're blue in the face, but people will hold onto their beliefs. The belief in science, la dee da, is a form of religion if you really look at how knowledge has been udpated over the centuries. But at least science refreshes and updates and changes with the times. Religion? Just a teeny bit more resistant to changes, I'd say. Just a bit...