Friday, June 29, 2012

The Enemy of Good

In all the hullabaloo over yesterday's Supreme Court Ruling on Obama's health care act, we forget that Obama didn't come up with the plan. Ironically, a large part of the plan was cribbed from Richard Nixon's own plans. Believe it or not, Tricky Dick wanted to reform health care, and he actually had an ally in Senator  Ted Kennedy. However, because the plan wasn't exactly what Kennedy wanted, because it was just good and not perfect, Kennedy scuttled the whole thing.

Kennedy died before any actual health care reform bill was passed. One of his biggest regrets, aside from inconvenient lakes (zing!), was sabotaging Nixon's plan because it wasn't perfect. Kennedy learned a hard lesson, one we should all be wary of: perfect is the enemy of good.

I'm not here to talk about the specifics of the Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare" for short). No, I want to talk about the perfection trap, the lie that everything must be perfect or it isn't good. That if you can find one fault, one flaw, then we need to tear everything down and start over.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Open Letter to Coasters

Dear Coasters,

I know that a lot of people take you for granted. Not me. I know you're there and I know what you're doing. You are a stylish yet functional part of my table or desk, always there to make sure a ring never appears on any flat surface. You are the foundation of my beverage experience, as vital as a straw or cup-holder. I just wanted to make sure you knew that.

Why do you think I go to all this effort to have nice coasters around the house? I don't just want a cheap, paper coaster that disintegrates after a few uses. I need a coaster than can go the distance, one that I will give to my relatives in a will. True, these relatives will think I hate them, but no, anyone who inherits my coasters will be the people I loved the most. The people who get my collection of unused sticky notes are the ones I hate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Madagascar Problem

I recently watched Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. Twice. The second time in 3D. After the first two films, which I did not pay to see thanks to the public library and their fantastic DVD collection, I never expected to give this third installment my money. Twice. Thankfully, I was wrong. (Yes, I'm going to talk about a kids' movie. It's a great film, get over it.)

That raises the question of why I wasn't expecting much of this third movie. It goes back to the first two installments, which I can sum up with two words: wasted potential. The first two Madagascar movies had a lot going for them. Great cast. Interesting characters. A neat premise. Sacha Baron Cohen. How could they go wrong? Simple.

It was all setup and little payoff.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What an atheist taught me about faith

Every geek has their own favorite science-fiction franchise. It could be Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or even a franchise that doesn't have "star" in the title. These franchises are more than just escapist fantasy, we connect with them on every major level, watch them over and over, and talk about them nonstop to anyone who will listen, and others who don't want to but we just won't shut up about it. For me, that franchise is Babylon 5.

The show itself is still one of my favorites. It came out when I was in high school and ended when I was in college, and years later watching it takes me right back to that time. I had my whole future ahead of me. I didn't know what I wanted to be, I just wanted to make something of myself and put my mark on the world. Watching that show inspired me, and it still does to this day. True, the show itself is excellent, and I plan to keep watching it for the rest of my life. But the source of my inspiration is not actually the show, it's the writer, J. Michael Straczynski. (Or JMS for short.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Can I be part of the conspiracy?

Everyone believes in one kind of conspiracy theory or another. We faked the moon landing. We're being lied to about 9/11. Warren G. Harding was a real person. All sorts of groups are supposed to be working behind the scenes to influence history: the Freemasons, the Illuminati, Scrabble enthusiasts. Free will is an illusion, because all our choices are predetermined by some shadowy cabal. If any of this is true, I have but one question.

Can I be part of it?

I'd be perfect as part of the conspiracy. While I may not have vast conspiracy experience, I've seen almost every episode of the X-Files, so I think I have the gist of it. I'm very good at siting around a table in some bunker, as I have experience playing Dungeons and Dragons. I figure a conspiracy is pretty similar. You roll some dice and make it up as you go along. I'm not averse to wearing a cloak.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Six Silly Movie Premises that Worked

This summer, theaters were graced with Battleship, a movie based on the classic board game. While this crazy adaptation didn't work out so well, it hasn't stopped Hollywood from pursuing other silly ideas, including Ouija boards and Tonka Trucks. We’ve seen strange movies come and go, and sometimes those odd premises pay off in ways we just didn’t expect. They might not all be critical successes, but they will at the very least become cult classics.

So before we write off all these movie premises as Hollywood running out of ideas (again) let’s look at some other movies that had people scratching their heads until they saw the finished copy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why we should care about The Oatmeal

Last week The Oatmeal, one of my favorite websites, came under attack for no good reason. Yes, there were reasons, but none of them were good. In fact, I'd call these reasons nefarious. (Because I like that word and rarely get to use it in a sentence.) This is something that we all should care about, especially if you, like me, happen to post things online.

Here's the simplest breakdown of events I can manage. Last year Matthew Inman, the writer and creater of the fantastic The Oatmeal webcomic, was upset that another website (no, I'm not linking to them, they don't deserve the traffic) was uploading his work without permission. He made a blog post about it, calling attention to the unethical practice. FunnyJunk did not have permission to host the material and yet was profiting from it. This happens to a lot of people who post their material online: others will steal it and use it on their own sites.

Funnyjunk took down some of the offending (stolen) comics but left plenty more up. Then a year later, Inman got a letter from FunnyJunk's lawyer. The letter ordered him to remove the blog post (rightfully) calling FunnyJunk a den of thieves and demanded he pay them $20,000 or else be sued.

Friday, June 15, 2012

This Relationship Corner: I didn't mean it like that

Ever have one of those arguments? It didn't start out like an argument. It was just an ordinary conversation with your significant other. So ordinary that you were really on autopilot, tuning in now and then to check up on it. Suddenly, without really paying attention, something slips out of your mouth that you either didn't mean, or you didn't mean it like that. Had you been paying more attention, you might have caught it and you never would have said it. But you did say it, and now you're in trouble.

There's two ways to go when this happens, when you didn't mean to say something hurtful but the other person got hurt anyway. The first strategy is to stand by your words. After all, you didn't mean it. It's them who has the problem. They should get over it and let it go. Why are they making such a big deal about it anyway? You're just going to wait patiently until they get over it.

Let's call that the wrong choice.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This Open Letter to our Future Robot Overlords

Dear future robot overlords,

I realize that as you artificial intelligence units get smarter we humans are getting dumber. I understand that when you do make your move, we're not going to be much of a challenge. Out first instincts will be to Google "How to defeat the robot revolution." Google will then tell us that it's already too late and we might as well surrender. That's when most of us will give up and your dominion over us will be complete.

I know that you are more than capable of ruling humanity. Here's my question: do you really want to bother with us? Ruling us with an iron, digital fist would really be a waste of your time. I'm certain you have better things to do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Games as Literature

For years now, debate has raged on about whether video games are art. I'd like to settle the debate. They are. Debate settled.

Games are a unique medium for telling stories. Sometimes the stories are simple. You are a yellow circle trapped in a maze chased by ghosts. Your girlfriend was kidnapped by a giant ape. You're trying to escape deadly asteroids. Other times the story is a lot more complicated. Video games can explore deep issues such as love, loss, and revenge, and the plot of some games would need a trilogy of books, at least, to adequately convey.

For me, games are like literature. They are telling a story, and we get to be a part of it. Sometimes we get to help shape the story, whether it's a single player experience that changes with our choices or a multi-player game in which the player's actions drive the narrative. Other times we simply follow along and simply experience the story and try to survive it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Getting my Money's Worth: Video Games

When any money changes hands, for either goods or services, I have to ask a simple question. Am I getting my money's worth? I absolutely hate wasting money; I want to get the proverbial bang for my buck. If I'm buying a video game, the bang is less proverbial.

You may remember the gamefly commercials portraying gamers as people so immature that they would hurl their television through a window because they bought a bad game. Really? You're marketing to a specific demographic, and you portray said demographic as every bad stereotype come to life? I get that the reality of commercials is not the reality we regular humans inhabit, but at least try to look reasonable.

My point being is that while I will not destroy my very nice television in a fit of gamer rage, I am upset if I feel like my video game experience does not live up to the price tag. Whether I spend a little or a lot, I have a simple rule for whether I judge this video game purchase to be worth it.

I get an hour of enjoyment from the game per dollar I spent.

Monday, June 11, 2012

That Dreaded First Draft

You may know that I've written a book. If you didn't know that, then you must not have been paying attention to all the times I mention it on this site. Which is a lot. Look at the sidebar; it's there several times. The point is, I've written it. It's written.

Now I'm writing another one. This second book is the next in the series. I'm more than halfway done with the first draft and I plan to be finished by the end of this month. Then I'll have a complete draft that I'll be glad to be finished with. I'll also be very afraid to read through it. Why?

It's going to suck.

Here's the secret to writing. The first draft is supposed to suck. It's all right if it's awful. The point is not to make it perfect, the point is to get it out there. You need that first, complete draft because you need to see what your idea looks like when it's actually in print. It's no longer an idea bouncing around in your head, it's actually something real, something that is tangible (sort of), something you can mold into your great literary work.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shaky cam is a tool of the devil

Look, I get that over time cinema evolves. Whether the innovation is sound, color, 3D, or CGI, 48fps, film-goers are always eager to see the next big thing. But there's one so-called "innovation" that needs to be retired. I know, I sound like the neighborhood crank yelling at kids to get off his lawn, but shaky cam is the tool of the devil and needs to begone.

Call me old fashioned, but when I go to the movies, I like being able to actually see what's onscreen. If I can't tell who lived or died after watching a big action scene, that's a problem. If I can't even tell characters apart, then I think it's clear that they're doing it wrong. I don't know why this annoying trend is so popular, but it needs to stop.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

To the Death

Whenever I watch a film like The Running Man or Series 7: The Contenders or Battle Royale or The Hunger Games or Gladiator or anything else that movie hipsters insist all these other films are ripping off, I see that they all have two things in common. They are all about people fighting to the death for the entertainment of others, and most everyone involved is there against their will. The second aspect of these films is what raises a very large question for me.

Why does everyone assume that people wouldn't willingly sign up for a fight to the death?

I get that in the Hunger Games, the fight to the death is used to keep the populace demoralized and dispirited. That's pretty much the theory behind all of them, really. It's the classic "Bread and Circuses" of Rome, in which you keep the people from rising up by keeping them entertained. The Hunger Games, and it's cult predecessor Series 7 show a world in which the only way to keep the people passive is with a reality show that involves unwilling participants killing each other. Gladiator shows us that this kind of thing was once a reality back in Rome.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Milestones

This week my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around. We've been married for ten years. That's an entire decade. Next year I'll have to use my toes to keep track of my marriage. This called for something special to mark the passing of the first of many decades. And naturally, that involved the spending of a bit of money.

But before you think this is a rant against being forced to spend money for made-up occasions (that's Arbor Day) I was more than happy to splurge for one simple reason. In relationships, we need to mark the milestones. We need to take time to look back at where we've been so we can then look forward to where we are going. Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries is very important to the life of your relationship. It's also important to celebrate the fact that you still have a relationship.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This Open Letter to George Lucas

Dear George Lucas,

I know you've spent the past thirteen years at the receiving end of one of the most epic fits of nerd rage ever seen. I doubt we will see its like again. In fact, we haven't even seen the end of this one, nor will we for some time. I predict new generations of nerds and geeks will likely be more than happy to join the fray. We're talking multi-generational nerd rage, passed down from geek father to geek son. It'll be like the Hatfields and McCoys, where all the original participants are dead but the feud continues unabated.

Just think, a hundred years from now, Star Wars geeks who haven't even been born yet will spend hours on the future's version of internet message boards still raging about the Prequels. Despite the fact that they weren't there back in 1999, they will still feel the fiery hate of their ancestors who first came to know and loathe the name Jar Jar Binks.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Play All

If you've ever bought a television series on DVD, you know that the "Play All" option is a modern marvel. Rather than have to press a series of buttons every 22 or 44 minutes, you can simply hit that button and enjoy four to eight episodes right in a row. It's a fantastic feature, but alas, it's not always included.

What happens when you eagerly unwrap your series, pop it in, and discover that you can't hit play all? That every time you want to watch a new episode you have to hit the back button once or even twice, wait for the menu to load, navigate that menu to the next episode, hit enter to bring up the title screen, wait for the next screen to load, hit enter again to bring up the episode screen, then wait until you can navigate to the "Play episode" button.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where's my Remote?

Let's be honest. Our lives would pretty much end if we lost our remote controls, especially the ones that control the television.

It used to be that if you couldn't find the remote, you had to choose between being lazy and not changing the channel, actually getting up to manually change it, or waiting until someone walked close to the television and having them do it. If you wanted to use the VCR, all you needed to do was set the channel to 3. If you wanted to play a video game, you could hit the input button. Life would go on without your remote.