Dredd: Better than Batman?

Go in with no expectations, walk out without the ability to form coherent sentences. That was, at least, what I did. Driving home in the rainy night I tried to think about what I’d write here and it all came forth at once, this tidal wave of opinions. Instead I just turned up the music and watched the coloured lights reflect in the inky road, letting it all come forward.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Batman’s third installment Dark Knight Rises was exactly what it needed to be. It featured a cast of the world’s loveliest people and was directed by one of the best making films today. It was predictable and took very few risks, closing the series nicely. It worked, don’t get me wrong. It fit and was successful. Good. But not… but not brilliant.

…a word one might use to describe Dredd. It was crafted brilliantly. It’s not a clever movie, it too is predictable and if you saw the trailer, you know exactly what it will be. It’s an 80’s movie made in 2012. It has cheesy one liners and ridiculous amounts of violence. The part that I’d describe as brilliant is the balance between it’s tongue-in-cheek cheese and it’s maintained gravity. It’s stylized but not silly. Judge Dredd delivers the same kind of lines as Batman does, but the former’s come out with a self aware over-the-top badass snark whereas the latter’s gravel always made me giggle. Batman just takes itself too seriously and it comes across as laughable.

The violence is abundant. It’s rated R for a reason. It’s based on a gritty, dark comic and the movie adaptation matches; it’s the nature of the beast. With that said, there’s a surprising lack of actual sexual content given it’s testosterone fueled ride. Alluded to a few times, it just doesn’t take center stage in a movie about a soulless justice system. He’s not really a human, he doesn’t really have a face, he’s just the embodiment of justice itself. Justice can’t get the girl. He shoots bad guys.

The slo mo drug, obviously, is a plot device created specifically so they can show neat things in slow motion. What I appreciated is that they didn’t over use it. It’s there and it’s a plot device, it gets shown a few times in the beginning to establish how it works and then the rest is left to simply be understood. Actually, one might say the same about the violence: it’s introduced in the beginning with rather disturbing homicides that the Judges investigate but the final death is almost poetically calm. The 3D too, is usually abused by directors but here it’s just a subtle effect to create depth, never deciding how something is shot that wouldn’t be otherwise. It’s a movie of cinematic balances – the choices of when and where to pull punches show surprising grace for a movie of such genre.

Soundtrack: wow. I’ll be getting that whenever it’s available. So perfect. Subtle 80’s tones in there match the hokey-retro styled motorcycles in a fitting homage to the past. The slow motion parts have this lovely Brian Eno feel and the Judge’s no-nonsense walking around hallways have a fantastic driving pulse to them. Dirty and alive.

Honestly? I think it’ll be an underrated cult classic. It was good. If given the choice, I’d see that again instead of Batman. It’s self aware enough to avoid the trap of cheesiness and knows how to balance thematic elements with surprising deftness.

Autumn Playlist

The leaves are yellow and falling, my cider is brewing along nicely and I’ve been busy writing fiction for a change. It’s lovely.

To go along with that, here’s a bit of what I’ve been listening to lately:

This entire ODESZA album is fantastic, and FREE. You should download it and thank me later.

Described as “vocal chillstep” it falls perfectly into that venn diagram middle of unobtrusive and not so slow you’ll fall asleep at work.

The ever-classic Nujabes next, with his usual flavour of sampled hiphop and jazzy piano ditties that get lodged in your head so easily.

New Stars album: The North, for obvious reasons. Although In Our Bedroom After the War remains my favorite album of theirs, it can’t be denied that they’re a powerhouse of Canadian music making.

I can’t decide if I actually like the new Killers album, or if it’s just so nostalgic that it reminds me of how much I loved Sam’s Town.

Obviously. They made big waves and I’m almost hipster enough to not post them simply because they’re everywhere but in the end, they’re there for a reason: perfect, perfect album. They have that uncanny ability to dig into your soul and apply every song to your personal life, it seems. The melancholy drips so good. On top of that, the band’s branding is so versatile; brilliant.

M83 was in town the other week and I’m sad I couldn’t make it, but there’s this cover as small consolation. I still dream of the day Fantastic Plastic Machine does covers of M83 songs.

I’m listing to that ODESZA album again right now. Man. Did I mention it’s free and you should download it? Because you should.

Redesigning the School System PT 1: Math

There was an essay that came out last year (which I won’t mention directly) about how the modern school system is entirely wrong in it’s current form and should drop basically everything that it is now and start again. I was, when I read it, furious at it’s apparent blasphemy but since then internalizing and digesting it and have come full circle though perhaps not to quite the same extent as it’s brash denouncements. There are still these kinds of people who are, frankly, crazy but there are also studies like these that provide at least interesting alternatives.

The design of math

Today I went to the bank to deposit a paycheque and witnessed an event that stuck me as odd. Now, I’m somewhat unusual in how early I’ve achieved what I have but please take this anecdote as example of the public, not of me personally being a braggart. He was a well dressed kid and I noticed him initially because he actually seemed very similar to me, standing in line a few people up. Because of the way the queue snakes around I happened to be standing next to him facing the other direction but couldn’t help but overhear who I assumed was his mother standing beside him outside of the line: “You’re 18 now, you’re going to have to do this on your own” – he seemed nervous. He had his wallet, a cheque and his bank card at the ready, a sign of non-practice and underconfidence. As the line moved we shifted and I ended up farther away, effectively ending this story.

What hits me, here, is that I’ve been there. I’ve been that guy who nervously prepares all essential items before the kind lady motions ‘next, please’ and you prepare your speech as to what you want done. In fact (and I’ve done this out of experimentation) you can actually get through the entire process of depositing a cheque without talking at all. The nervousness is entirely internal. But I was that guy when I was ~13. I’m 19 now and have been living on my own for over two years in the big city to go to school. It strikes me as odd that he seemingly hadn’t done this before. “Where was he when they taught that in schools?” I thought “Oh. Wait. They don’t, do they? I learnt that from my parents too, just earlier”

So it occurs to me, as much as I disagree with anti-intellectualism, why are we teaching kids how to factor variables and not how to budget? This statement is a nervous one for me because it looks like a slippery slope. I really like math. Honestly, it’s a love language. It’s beautiful and flowing and works and can be used to do all sorts of things that English can’t. I wouldn’t be far to say “Well, we don’t factor variables anymore, maybe we should just drop variables altogether” which is alarming. Algebra, as much as people hate it, is actually one of the most useful things ever. A fictional subtraction statement: I make $20 a week and spend $15 on living expenses – how much do I have left? Third graders could figure that out. But let’s rewrite it: I make $20 a week and want to keep $5 for free money after living expenses – what’s the maximum I can spend on living? The interesting thing is it’s the exact same but uses a variable. For some reason we take until grade 8 to get the “you can move it across the equals sign and just solve normally” thing. We can make it more complicated. Maybe ‘living expenses’ is actually five different things adding up. Suddenly we’ve got brackets for organization. BEDMAS. We can learn to balance expenses and incomes. Real world things. We can see how banks work and instead of doing boom-bust cycle global economics, we can focus on the economics of how the root levels actually work. What’s interest? How do banks make money? It’s amazing how many people don’t know these things.

Conclusion: I’m not sure it’s about more or less math as much as reworking math and taking it from a beautiful abstraction (which, let’s face it, is only beautiful to a handful of us) and making it into a comfortable, practical thing.

The psychology of math

People brag about being bad at math. This blows my mind. There’s an XKCD for everything, and it doesn’t disappoint:

I’m terrible at playing guitar. It’s hard and doesn’t come naturally to me. Fortunately, I also don’t need it to live a functional life. It’s certainly not a bragging point to bring up.

There was, when I was in school, a sort of popularity complex in response to that fact. If you were good at math you must have been a nerd and therefore uncool, so it sort of was in your best interest to be bad at math. This is a shame.

Like science (which will be addressed in another part), the goal here is to foster genuine interest. The famous Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

It’s really not about rote memorization of multiplication tables. It’s really not about the discipline of not using calculators (this comes back to why that link in the first paragraph is insane) because we have computers now to do the heavy lifting. Wolfram Alpha is a gorgeous machine. Anyone can begrudgingly do 100 problems out of a textbook. The joy, the usefulness of math is seeing what you want to accomplish and then making up a method for getting there. It’s about problem solving by using a language that English can’t help you with, about distilling things down into known and unknown values and then massaging them until they spit out what you’d like. Teach them to long for the endless immensity of math itself.

Steam Greenlight

I’ve agreed with Campster before – his other videos and observations are spot on – but the above strikes me as a little black and white.

The problem with the completely open argument is, and using the mobile app stores as an example (both Apple and Android), they don’t really push good content in the happy “cream floats to the top” way described. There’s the top ten list, which is feedback loop of increased sales and… everyone else. I agree, sure, that Angry Birds was a phenomenon of games going viral, but that wasn’t really the app store’s doing, it was the fact that the game was addicting and charming and delightful and word spread “You’ve got to download this game!”

It would be a hard argument to suggest that Angry Birds wouldn’t exist if there were a $100 entry fee to get in the store. If this is even remotely accurate, they spent $140 000 on development. So $100 would be 0.07% of the total cost. A fraction of the drop in the bucket. Like any business, that’s part of development cost that (hopefully) gets regained when you start making the kind of money Angry Birds did. It’s a gamble.

Now, the immediate counterargument is correct: “It doesn’t cost $100 for Steam to provide this service, it’s an infinite shelf space.” But that actually isn’t the point. You’re not paying $100 to get shelf space, you’re paying $100 as a token of “I believe in this idea enough that I’m willing to invest in it” because anyone who’s put any sort of effort into something should be willing to say exactly that. I don’t want to sound callous but $100 is working a saturday at a cafe down the street; it’s not exactly an impossible sum to come up with. If you think your idea is good enough to pursue and develop it into a working game, you probably already believe in it enough to put some money down. If it is truly good, you’ll make it back in sales. On the other hand, if you’re some kid in his mom’s basement making games (and I was this kid, years ago) you probably shouldn’t be clogging up the shelves even if they are infinite. Back then we had the Gamemaker forums and you’d post your amateur games to that. It was awesome. The community made up of people using the same language and playing with the same ideas would give you feedback and there was no barrier between me making absolute rubbish (and I did!) and posting it. With that said, Steam should not pursue that as the goal. There’s a big difference between indie games and basement games. Call it a walled garden, but I see it more as a “wash your hands before you come inside from the sandbox” sort of measure.

The expansion of that is the ultimate open marketplace: distributing your product without Steam at all. A perfect example is Blendo Games who made the brilliant Gravity Bone and distributed it via their site for free. It was an .exe and picked up it’s own fantastic reviews for being awesome, passed on by word of mouth and eventually the bigger game news sites. There was no bar to fill up via likes but there was an entry fee: hosting his Blendo site. I’m just guessing based on my own hosting, but it’s probably around $100. Per year. Fast forward a bit and we see other crtically acclaimed success in the 3rd Humble Indie Bundle and eventually 30 Flights of Loving, the soul sequel to Gravity Bone (and, I should say, also fantastic) on Steam for $5. Outside the garden entirely was where Brendon Chung (the one-man studio) proved himself / his ability to make good games and demonstrate that they were worth paying money for.

Youtube is a wonderful thing, as is Vimeo and Society6 and Etsy and Ebay. These are places where you can do things for free because some way or other, they’re making money out of your dealings. That’s fine, we agree, because we get something out of that exchange as well. It’s symbiotic, but it’s not a direct comparison for the ecosystem of paid games. Even 99ยข apps create a sort of hesitation and weight that simply clicking on a Youtube link doesn’t have. Again we see the cream doesn’t float to the top; Errant Signal itself (who, despite this rebuttal, I do love and would describe as quality content) has just over half million combined views and yet the most inane, brain numbing crap on the frontpage gets millions per video. In a just ecosystem this wouldn’t be the case and I genuinely wish channels like Errant Signal got the respect deserved. But, that’s a side note as example of how Youtube shouldn’t be the gold standard model.

TL;DR Should there be an arbitrary like bar? No. If you pay the entrance fee, you’re in. Should there be an entrance fee? Yes, I think it’s a good way to keep the market honest with ideas truly believed in. If you want to make dumb little games there are more than enough channels already available for distribution.

The Creative Economy

They don’t allow permalinks to comments, but allow me to quote “disqusplaya” via The Atlantic:

…who cares if you can “only” bring in a couple hundred K a year. It keeps you and your 4 friends out of a “real job”, thrills 10s of millions of customers… not a bad gig.

The scale doesn’t really matter – it doesn’t have to be 10s of millions of people. I’m thrilled just to write to you readers, my mere 10s of thousands. It’s a non-money payment: delight. I get paid in the cool comments I get to read of yours and the conversations we have.

I’ve had the thought myself: why not start companies with the express goal of simply breaking even and just doing it because your idea is awesome or because you want to make cool stuff for others? Of course, there’s time and effort involved but if you truly love your product you’d probably already be working on it anyway and entirely willing and happy to share it. I would, anyway. I do, in a sense. It’s a bizarre thing I never would have guessed or planned to happen, but somehow there are people directly and indirectly giving me money for things I made one evening just for fun. You could look at it as loss if you assign a numeric value for my time spent as dollars per hour but if I did it for myself anyway, it’s sort of literally free money.

So we stand way back and think larger: what’s the point of existence? How do we live? Is this whole bitter 9-5 job economy actually the only way?

And we see people who argue for the collection of things. Massive tangible riches via long hours and hard work. That’s “success” – the American Dream.

Maybe I’m just more of the altruist artist than I’d like to admit, but I look at that and wonder why? As long as I have enough to live, why wouldn’t I start collecting in the currency of delight?

But it works in both directions (and this is more of a change in me personally) – paying for delight. I’m famously frugal because I measure things in purely time terms. $50 concert? That’s way too much. I could see a $14 movie for those same two hours. Or, I could get a $5 game and play it for 50 hours. I’ve written about this before. Something that needs to be learned is that $50 for a 30 second bungee jump can be worth it based on the experience itself, not the time taken to experience it. The delight currency, coming full circle.

Let’s face it, hard work =/= money. If that were true there’s a lot of single mothers working two jobs who want their cheques, please. But even without money we can make their lives better. It’s not about the rich or poor, though, if I started a t-shirt line I don’t really care who buys or wears them; I just want to know that whoever does enjoys what I’ve created. It’s a selfish act with a selfless result, I suppose, but I’m still not sure how I feel about Ayn Rand.

Love the Beast

It showed up on Canadian Netflix a little while back which means, I can only assume, it’s available everywhere. Definitely this post put much more eloquently than I ever could have. It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more lately in not only my interactions with cars but also my observations of people’s interactions with their objects and even the introspective reasoning of who I am and why I design.

One of my favorite bits:

Just briefly:

It’s interesting to me, now that I’m writing for LTKMN and working in fiction more, how much of my writing tends towards objects and spacial relationships. Coinciding with my love for architecture, even when given unlimited range to create things I create spaces, not people. I’d never really thought about it in such a direct way before, but I truly am bored with mere people. It’s a terrible thing to admit aloud but it’s true – I simply don’t find any interest in the people themselves outside of their relationships both with other humans and with other things. I look back to all of my favorite movies and books and stories and music and they’re all about a shift in paradigm that breaks and reforms those relationships. Those are interesting, those are the ones worth watching for me. Because the characters themselves are just tropes, just patterns based on the equally boring and predictable humans in real life. It’s how they collide and spin that’s fascinating.

And so, I write about spaces. I write about alternate histories and futures yet to come. It occurs to me that the few storylines I’ve written about people (or anthropomorphic robots) are all about the splitting and rebinding of relationships towards external things. Internal events, sure, that some might call character change, but that are inherently externally forced.

There’s that Debussy quote “Music is in the space between the notes” and it’s apparent: humans, like notes, simply smushed together is just a cacophony. Architecture, and that of a car’s space, is the physical separation required to generate story. My writing, then, is more a reflection on silence than anything, following the metaphor. Obsessed in the other direction.

My DIY Desk

The desk I’ve been promising to post since mid summer when I built it.

Basically two 10″ deep by 4′ wide by 2″ thick cedar slabs make up the surface, stained dark brown and glazed with epoxy resin in such a way that it follows the wood’s natural texture, creating a reflection surface like that of a deck outside in the rain. Since it’s not a writing desk (really, it just holds two monitors, a Wacom pen and the occasional glass of cider) it didn’t have to be very deep nor smooth and since everything I found on the market was quite massive, I opted for the DIY method.

Shown above are the flanges and the 1″ galvanized steel piping I used. Of course this is overkill hardware but the store I was at didn’t have the grey iron I originally wanted, so I paid slightly more and simply sprayed it all matte black with my ever present rattle can (I spray almost everything I can matte black).

It’s a cantilever design so the left side is completely open and free for my legs when getting up (my chair is on carpet and while it rotates, it doesn’t move) and the right side is where my computer sits (acting as armrest and mousepad) and where the wall is (the desk itself situated in the middle of the room front-back and against the wall on my right). So it’s a nice solution, just sort of floating there to stand screens upon since I don’t need much else.

Seems stable enough, even with the cantilever design. The two supports from the back forward actually go past the half way point, so the moment arm isn’t as bad as you might think from looking at it. Of course, the steel itself is fairly weighty on that side and I have no problems placing things on the floating edge. My heavy monitor sits pretty much directly over the middle leg sweeping back, so the forces are reasonably dealt with there.

The full parts list, if you want to make your own (although honestly one could definitely design it better): 2x 2′ threaded 1″ pipe (assume all pipe is this from now on), 3x 1′ pipe, 1x 4′ pipe, 2x T connectors, 3x 45 angle connectors, 3x flanges (and maybe an extra brace for the cantilevered side for extra support. Ideally, bowtie dovetail the wood together – I just used a fourth flange empty) and 3x threaded connector pieces to go between the 45 and flanges. Screws to fit (4x per flange, maybe 2 more for that brace).

Since there is the sharp edge of threaded steel pipe as legs you might want to look at those sticky foam feet for use on hardwood or whatever. I’m on carpet so it’s not too big a deal.

Causas Externas Watches

So. Gorgeous.

Link. No apparent word on price, but I’ll be first in line for that red in black one.

LTKMN Launched

It’s here! My venture into fiction writing. I’m still trying to figure out a good way of breaking up my longer scripts and stories (would anyone be interested in an ebook format compilation sort of thing?) but I’ll be writing shorts fairly regularly to LTKMN which is running on the Tumblr backend.

So far, it’s mostly about fictional versions of Calgary that all exist simultaneously and independently. It’s slightly biased, but my Calgary-based Twitter followers seem to love it.

But, Acrylo, I haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll resume regular design posting right away here. It probably won’t be one+ posts per day like last year, but the schedule will settle in.

Cool. Cool cool cool.

Trapped

Two thoughts flash before my mind. The first: a childish sense of wonderment and the grandiose delusion of “someday, that’ll be my garage”. The second: a colder, almost bitterness towards whoever owns them and keeps them behind velvet rope.

Cars, by design and intention are made to move people around. Some cars are designed and lovingly made to move a single person around really fast and with remarkable grace – these latter are like majestic cheetahs or sharks. And, like cheetahs and sharks, tend to pace aimlessly when encaged. It’s sad to see them behind bars, trapped so we can parade by and admire them for mere and petty external appearances. It’s almost Damien Hirst of them. The point of a cheetah to run and a shark to swim; the point of a car is to drive.

Should we preserve legacy? Yes. But we have models and photos for that. If the vehicle functions, it should live out it’s days doing what it loves to do. Otherwise the design was for naught. Otherwise the people who hand riveted hundreds if not thousands of pops across the hand bent bodywork were in vain. These works of math and engineering and passion and vision and love. Trapped.


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