Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stupid clouds...

have occluded the eclipse in Stamford this morning. It was a total eclipse too. Damn. And it was totally clear half an hour ago. I must remember to catch the next one on February 20 of next year.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Little hiatus...

Last week was interesting and took some time to digest. I decided to wait until tonight to update. High on my list is the concept of capacitance applied to daily life, and that will probably be the topic for tonight. But for now, I'm off for my morning run to work. I came up with my new system to exercise and at the same time not have to deal with the sweat while walking to work. I now run to work, taking a longer route each week. Not only does it more easily allow me to extend my run, but also since there is a UBS gym across the street from work, it becomes very convenient.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On cleaning clothes...

I was looking up what exact proportion of bleach I'm supposed to use on my whites, and I found this wonderful gem of a page detailing the ABC's of cleaning clothes. I'm sure there are more sites out there, but this one was pretty good. If only I had read this in college...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nonrestricted link to the article about audiobooks,,,

I just found a non-restricted copy of the audiobooks article Kristine pointed out to me on the NYT here: (Book clubs: Audio is copout). This is in reference to my blog post about this same topic here: (On audiobooks and book clubs). This way you can know what I'm talking about without paying the NYT extortion fee for the same words.

1211 stars...

...and only 100 more puzzles to go. My theoretical maximum of stars is 1811. For those of you who are not in the know, this is the game I'm speaking of. I've been playing it for over a year now, off and on. It's the best investment of $20 I've ever made. I was also curious as to what happens when you solve all of the puzzles. It takes so long to do so, and in the process you must get really really good at Sudoku. The maximum number of stars one can get is 2030. I sure hope to hell you don't need 2000 stars to unlock something, I probably won't get that far.

Thomas Pynchon in Semaphore

You have to see it to believe it: digital semaphore signals change every 8 seconds reading out the enigmatic text letter by letter. How could I make this up? Makes me want to go and read it, but not by semaphore of course. I'll leave that to Python and Wuthering Heights.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An early night is good for the heart...

I just had a wonderful evening. My book club threw a barbeque in a nearby park and we had a great time. I got to do some grillin', we played bocce and chatted it up until 9 when it was too dark to see out. Hopefully Beth got some good pictures and I can post to that as a visual record. Also, Carley pointed me to this wonderful website called www.goodreads.com, and I just spent 2 hours detailing all the different books I read in the first 30 years of my life.

What was slightly jarring about the experience wasn't how easy it was to rattle some book names off, but rather the many books I've read and cannot remember the name of the book or the author. This really bothers me for some reason; it's as if I didn't read the book carefully enough. I guess it says something interesting about reading. You see, goodreads makes an interesting assumption: once you've read something, you'll never forget it and you'll always have the same opinion of it. Example, I remember reading Greenwitch by Susan Cooper, but I scarcely recall many of the elements of the book, and only because of the context of the book in the series (which I highly recommend). I also recall it as being the weakest of the books in the series, and now I feel bad about it because I remember it with this negative mark but with none of the details of why I disliked it so much.

I think the other thing that bothered me was that on the list I could mark off 129 books at first sitting, but at first sitting at netflix I could mark off 500 movies. I may have read at least another 100 books, and I have seen over 1000 movies. I guess if you multiply out the time dedication it evens out, but it's still a little disturbing. I'll have to read more.

I'm also looking forward to writing a lot more reviews, now that I have a list of books to refer to in order to review. After my games night tomorrow, I'll be reviewing quite a few. I think there was another website I was doing this with a while back, and I'll have to refer to that as well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Work work work

I did nothing but work today. It was draining, and I plan to sleep shortly... Maybe I'll write more in the morning, when my brain starts working again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On audiobooks and book clubs...

So this goes back to a bookclub meeting I attended back in late July (during my hiatus I believe, that period of time as gone as Europe in Darwinia). The assigned book was A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (an excellent narrative btw, I may review it after Ender's Game). Since this was a first-person autobiographical narrative, I felt that the best way to take it in was by audiobook. This took some people in my group by surprise that I would do this, but after I explained my reasoning many agreed that I was in the right to do so. We had a great discussion about the book going on for many hours, and I was surprised at how many details I absorbed compared to the previous books I read for the group.

In general, I'm an auditory learner. I could hear mathematics from an early age, and although I could picture equations and graphs in later subjects, I often verbalized them before I visualized them. I didn't realize this until a much later age, and I wish I had realized this sooner. Actually, when I was first told this (I think while at the Academy) I denied it. Most mathematicians were visual learners, and being an auditory learner was considered a detriment to speed and accuracy. In fact IIRC out of the multitudes of mental calculators out there only two were auditory calculators (I believe both were Polish (my heritage), but cannot find a reference).

This prejudice carries over into the reading world, where in speed reading you are encouraged to avoid subvocalizing the word (i.e. reading aloud in your head), because the action of doing so causes nerve signals to be sent to the throat and back again, slowing the process down. In fact, they are right; when I skim articles for content because of this training I don't subvocalize at all, and it is very fast. But when I do this, I often read less carefully and can miss key points of what text I'm reading. When I read more slowly oftentimes I can imagine someone reading the text to me, or the book speaking to me as I read. This is just my habit, possibly spawned by my childhood experience.

My parents had a hard time getting me to read when growing up, mostly due to my stubbornness, but also my fascination with math. At 5 I could add two digit numbers on paper, but wouldn't read books without fighting. It was then that my parents did a cool thing; they got me audiobooks through Troll (Mom was a teacher so she got a discount through them). This is actually how I experienced the Hobbit for the first time; I remember spending hours upon hours listening to the story over and over. It is very endearing to me, more so than Lord of the Rings could ever be (which I read by book, slowly, methodically, and with much effort, even though I enjoyed it). Audiobooks are what finally got me into reading.

So I've never had an aversion to audiobooks or stories by audio. I often listen to Stephen Eley's Escape Pod for great stories every week, I subscribe to a ton of other podcasts, and I have several books on audio (one of which is still the Hobbit). I've even produced audiobooks for a school system before as part of my Eagle Project. So let's say I was more than a little shocked by the NYT (unfortunately now restricted) article Your Cheatin' Listenin' Ways. It amazes me in many ways how people could be so ignorant of the realities of audiobooks, and betrays some of the false reasons people attend book clubs. I'm glad that Kristine was equivalently shocked, and I'm about to provide my two cents worth. I won't be as caustic, but I also won't be as forgiving either.

First off, I'm not angry at the author of this piece, unlike Kristine who pointed this article to our group. He was simply pointing out the controversy, and it was good that he did. Personally, I wouldn't have picked up on it, and in a similar situation to Janice Raspin and Dane Frisby-Dart I would have defended the listener right there, probably to equivalent silence, or left the group if it was me who was being outed. It's a sign of a great book club that there is no derision in this regard. However, I don't think that the author of the piece has ever listened to audiobooks before. Some of the comparisons made by Mr. Newman were to the watching the movie attack, or to the privacy of being able to listen in the car, or anecdotes about the abridged version. These are comments that wouldn't come out of an audiobook listener.

Let's set in some of the real facts about audiobooks:

First off, no one who regularly listens to audiobooks wants the abridged version. This is similar to the sickening experience of picking up a book at a used bookstore and only finding out later that it was the Reader's Digest condensed version. If you've ever read both the abridged and unabridged version of anything, you understand completely what I mean. I cannot pick up an abridged version of anything and feel comfortable enjoying it; knowing that some other editor's sloppy hands has chopped the story from the version that the original author and editor had carefully assembled makes me feel cheated.

Second, it takes an equivalent or usually longer amount of time to listen to the unabridged version. This is because the average reading speed on an audiobook is usually much slower than the speed of your average reader. For a precise example, my unabridged audiobook of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is 17 hours for 480 pages, which takes 2 minutes 7 seconds on average to read a page. Usually when I read a book it take a minute per page. So by rough estimates, I'll read a book twice as fast as I can listen to it. Therefore, the arguments on saving time or effort to listen to the audiobook are misunderstood at best.

The argument on saving time is due to the perception that you can do other things while you listen to an audiobook, such as cleaning, grocery shopping, or walking. In fact I do listen to audiobooks or podcasts while doing each of these activities. But, the true number of actions that can be performed while listening to a podcast or audiobook are limited; only truly mindless activities are subject to being piggybacked by listening to the spoken word. The human mind is limited to the number of things it can concentrate on at any one time, and listening to something you've never heard before takes up a lot of that concentration. I would even question listening to audiobooks while driving anything but the most monotonous of trips. Your mind knows it too; have you ever turned down the radio when trying to find someplace you've never been before? That is because you know subconsciously that concentration is necessary for locating a new destination. Arguing that audiobooks require significantly less concentration than reading is as ridiculous as arguing that talking on a cellphone while driving is not dangerous.

Factor in the higher cost of an audiobook (usually 50% more than a hardback of the same book, even through iTunes), the longer amount of time spent listening to it, the amount of concentration needed, and the difficulty of finding unabridged versions, and you see that getting an audiobook for the same book is anything but "cheating".

I have a lot more to say on this subject, but it's late and I need some sleep. I'll return to it at some other time. I guess my point is that listening to an audiobook is just another way of experiencing the same book that requires similar effort than reading the book and results in similar, and sometimes increased comprehension, and shouldn't be treated so pejoratively. I have my theories why other book clubs are so against audio, but I'll save those for another post.

Sign of the times...

As stated previously, I love the weekend.

On some weekends, I go on romps through New York or exploring Stamford. On others, I'll be recovering from whatever gathering or party I was at on Friday or Saturday night. One constant remains though: I always have a cleansing day. Sometimes it's Saturday before I go exploring. Sometimes it's Friday, so I can get ready for an energetic rest-of-the-weekend. Most of the time though, it is Sunday, like it was today. I did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned counters, changed linens, scoured the bathroom, and cleaned the kitchen. Later on tonight I figure out what I'll be eating throughout the week.

It's good to have this quiet time: reflective, meditative, restorative, and energizing. It took my ascendancy into adulthood to learn to appreciate this recuperative phase. In college, it was simply the time without class, and usually included either Wednesdays (on a MTRF schedule) or Tuesdays and Thursdays (on a MWF schedule) so being plentiful, it wasn't appreciated. And earlier than college, I didn't need to recuperate so it didn't matter. It takes the management of a life to really drill into you the importance of learning to survive the long haul. My sister is just starting to learn that now, and when she's my age, she'll finally understand where I'm coming from.

The weekend is a great time to play catchup, or sometimes to get ahead. Finishing The Left Hand of Darkness was a great illustration of catchup in action. I tend to read little bits at a time, and while this allows me to devour at least three to four books a month, some books move slowly because of their deep content. I had lingered on Leguin's book for exactly that reason, and was forced to sit on it for an evening to absorb it in depth. This evening will be an example of getting ahead, when I plan (and for some, make) the meals I'll be eating this week. Anything that can make the week a little less stressful works to my advantage.

Revisiting emails was also part of this catchup phase. Our book club is having a fun little barbecue at the Cove, and helping set that up was something that I couldn't get done with hell week last week. One email commented on an article in the New York Times about audiobooks and book clubs, which I will be commenting upon in my following post. Of course this email was two weeks ago. Reorganizing my Netflix and Gamefly queues was another task; both had grown weeds and some of my choices were painfully outdated. Getting my iTunes library cleaned up was another priority (I'm the kind of video/podcast/audiophile that had all 80GB taken up on the iPod and needs to manage the mix carefully for my moods). Thank fate that I don't have cable, else I'd get nothing done. :)

Things to look forward to in future posts: I have Crime and Punishment, The Corrections, and Darwinia as well as my book club book on the reading list, so expect reviews about these books in following posts. I'll be watching Metropolis and Alphaville tonight (part of the dystopia series :D) before I send them back to Netflix. I may be reviewing other books that I read during my 2 month hiatus (Ender's Game is high on that list). I am gearing up my Haskell skills to create my first game in the language, more details to come on that. I am finally gearing up my swimming, and preparing for longer distances again (2 miles at a shot is not hard for me now, and is a common practice), so I may post more about that. All of my social circles are preparing end of the summer parties so that ought to make for some interesting posts (my Thursday post might be especially entertaining). In all, there's a lot to look forward to.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A long rest, a muted recovery...

Work was especially taxing these last few days. When I got home at 11 yesterday I had a couple of beers and crashed suddenly. Woke up at 3pm this afternoon. The rest of the day shot, I made the best of it and finished The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin. This is an amazing book, but my review will be most critical, and it follows.

The story is about an Envoy sent from a collection of planets attempting to make first contact with an unimaginably foreign civilization. The story is sometimes told from Genly's perspective and sometimes from his friend Estraven's perspective. The amazing part of this narrative is how Leguin is able to capture the culture shock between Genly and Estraven, and what it says about patriotism, jingoism, and xenophobia, similar concepts that by the end of the book are given sharp relief.

The story is told in 4 acts, but this is not evident at first glance, for the segments flow well from one to the next. This is both a benefit to the narrative and at the same time removes a clarity that is needed in as complex a story as this. I had a hard time reading this book; many times I had to stop reading and scan back to remember ideas of the culture, to catch details important to the story, or even to remember the first person speaker. This is in fact one of the worst features of the book; Leguin's quick change of first person without warning makes it extremely hard to follow unfolding events, and frustration at this tendency almost made me quit the book at several opportunities. I am very fortunate that I did not.

In several points Leguin breaks into Gethenian folk takes. This is not uncommon for science fiction about foreign or alien civilizations. What makes Darkness unique in this regard is the importance and timing; almost every single story is a foreshadowing or directly involves the plot. It is not as if they are thrown in for the sake of color; Leguin really wants you to understand what the motives of the characters are, and how influential the myths really are to Genly and Estraven. Not only does it add to the epic nature of the plot but also makes it understandable. It saves the book from incomprehension.

Another interesting plot point is the usage of foretelling. Early on in the book Genly meets up with a foreteller named Faxe. There are two different directions one can go in a precognitive narrative. One can allow the future to mutate (like a Back to the Future situation) or one could not permit the future to change (like in a Twelve Monkeys sense). Writers usually pick one side or the other, but will usually agree on the utility of being able to see the future. Leguin accepts the Twelve Monkey's perception of precognition, but doubts the usefulness of it. Faxe lets Genly know early on that his mission would be successful, but as Faxe says: "You don't see yet, Genry [sic], why we perfected and practice Foretelling? To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question."

Leguin hits upon many difficult philosophical questions in the narrative, which seems to small and complex to tackle them all. Admirably, she writes around what I would consider a crutch of storytelling in the late 1960s/early 1970s when this book was written, and that is the preoccupation with sex. Gethenians are neither male nor female, but rather permute their sex during a biorhythic breeding time called kemmer. If procreation is successful, the one who is female carries a child to term and stays in kemmer, but otherwise Gethenians return to a "neuter" gender. Many times in Darkness, Genly is pejoratively referred to as "the Pervert" because it appears that he is in permanent kemmer. I call this initially a crutch, because it was during the "Summer of Love" that too much attention was paid in science fiction to sex by the most prominent of authors. This obsession with countering the "obscenity" of sex would IMHO negatively influence stories such as Silverburg's The World Inside and Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, or even movie adaptations of earlier works such as Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, which had broader themes that were unnecessarily shortened by the preoccupation with sex.

Instead of focusing on the sexual act, Leguin handles this topic brilliantly; while the gender issue and prejudice against Genly for this is a main factor of the plot, she never features any sexual acts and instead of dealing with the attitudes about perverseness, she focuses on two deeper points about gender commonly overlooked: an alien concept of duality that emerges from a lack of permanent gender, and the differences in a society that is rid of gender roles. Without a permanent gender, any Gethenian can be deemed ahma, or the "parent in the flesh". This encourages a number of concessions made by the community for procreation, not to mention a manipulation of many concepts that become alien (or at least muted) in Gethenian eyes, such as rape (sex can only happen while in kemmer, and when both participants are willing), incest (which is permitted as long as it's intergenerational), and seduction (which is impossible to engineer if cycles aren't in sync, although this becomes a plot point in the middle of the story). One of the chapters of the book is written from the perspecive of a scouting mission to the planet that discusses this subject in detail.

In that chapter about sex, two really interesting subjects are elucidated. Because of the lack of gender, the race of planets that Genly comes from (the Ekumen) are almost convinced that the planet is an experiment, and Leguin slips in almost slyly
"But not that there is evidence that the Terran Colony was an experiment, the planting of one Hainish Normal group with its own proto-hominid autochthones, the possibility cannot be ignored."
Although she doesn't comment further on how Earth was an experiment, she does tie in "creation myths" to the story that try to connect in some diagonal way the Terran experience to the Gethenian one, as if the existence of creation myths indicate a pre-engineered society. Secondly, the purpose of this experiment was theorized to be about prevention of conflict. As is illustrated throughout Darkness, this is ultimately a failure; where there isn't full-scale conflict, the jingoism and xenophobia are highly prevalent, and cause many deaths and atrocities, while not paralleled to full scale war, are indicative of the times.

I would go so far as to say that Darkness was more influenced by the Cold War than it was by the Summer of Love. This would put me in conflict with many other reviewers, who consider Leguin's novel to be mainly about the Genderless Experiment. In fact there are numerous comments made in the third act of the book (Genly and Estraven's trek across the northern Arctic region) that speak to the dangers of jingoism. My favorite quote in this novel comes from Estraven (a Karhidian):
"Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country or love one? ...I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks , I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name seases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing."
Leguin's main point is in this jingoism. The main purpose of Karhide's reluctance to submit to the Ekumen is the simple motive of it's national pride; by accepting their place among the collection of worlds they lose their dominance and importance on the world they inhabit. There are many discussions between the two main characters that separate jingoism (a warlike stance to assert one nation's superiority) from patriotism (a love of one's homeland). Genly comments about this near the end of the book:
As I ate, I remembered Estraven's comment of that, then I had asked him if he hated Orgoreyn; I remembered his voice last night, saying with all mildness, "I'd rather be in Karhide..." And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises: and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?
Politics plays center stage in the plot of this novel and Leguin shines in illustrating the subtle maneuvers performed by the (overly) numerous politicians in the book. The concept of shifgrethor plays a prominent role in Gethenian politics and is not completely explained. In one sense it is a level of honor between two people. In another, it is a mind-game of secrecy played in political dealings. In a third, it is a general sense of political power. This game that Leguin plays with the word shifgrethor is similar to Heinlein's trick of obscuring the meaning of the word grok. Unlike Stranger in a Strange Land, which places the concept of grok in the middle of a satire on American culture, Leguin's world makes use of shifgrethor in a more constructive fashion that adds more to the character development than the cultural and political argument the book makes.

In the same vein though, this also belies one major influence in the book that bothered me. It seems that Gethenian culture is borrowed (more than created) piecemeal from a mixture of Inuit and Japanese cultures. Many anecdotes are lifted from Japanese culture (or the American impression thereof) , from the mispronunciation of Ls (Genly is referred to many times in the book as Genry) to the concept of shifgrethor (which is very similar to the concept of giri, and similarly untranslatable). Leguin also refers to other Oriental concepts in the book, introducing the main Gethenian character to Go and the concept of the yin/yang. From the Inuit side, since Gethenian is a planet in the severe stages of an Ice Age, Leguin refers to the extreme survival tactics that are similar to Inuit experiences, creation myths that are very similar, facial and other physical features are disturbingly similar, and influences in language are plentiful (for example, there are multiple words for snow, snowstorms, and icy conditions). These cultural similarities could unfairly reflect on the cultures they're borrowed from if the overall perception of Gethenians were at all negative. Luckily it is not, but it seems a rather risky position to take. It could also be that these borrowed influences were unintentional, more from the research into different cultures than it was from stereotypical beliefs. This is my belief, but the overall impression cannot be ignored, and it did influence my perception of the novel just a little bit.

Overall, I do believe this novel to be a science fiction classic, and one that should be in the canon of anyone wanting to start reading this genre; however it does come with its problems. It is a very dense read, requiring concentration and slow reading, and may turn off potential readers in the first few chapters. Its very slow and suspense-less plot make it hard to become engrossed and involved in the story until at least the third act. Its Gibsonesque pseudovocabulary (like reading Neuromancer for the first time) makes comprehension frustrating. However, for the very same reasons this book shines. Its slow reading makes you think about the multitude of different topics presented, from dualism and patriotism to gender roles and cosmology. The characters are human, even for being alien, deeper that most science fiction novels permit. The diverse language of the Gethenians give life and inspiration to their culture. Finally, the book ends in Shakespearean fashion (the last chapter's name even quotes from the Bard), and forces you enigmatically to think about what just happened. The book is indescribably deep, which is both its worst failing and its strongest asset for this genre.

Wow... didn't intend to write a 2000 word essay... it just happened. I love the weekend.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wow, 50th post...

...but not enough energy to celebrate it. I just got back from work. I had an opportunity to see Don McLean but I was at work. I had an opportunity to croon some karaoke but I was at work. I could have spent today recovering and celebrating quietly, but I was at work.

Didn't realize how much of a dedication this job was until I had opportunities to weigh them against. Weird thing is, I still love it. It's finally nice to have an intellectually stimulating job once in my life.

Well gotta go to bed; I have to be in at 0630h tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Random questions on a random day...

The Mars Volta makes a great background for writing posts. That and some trivia with a little beer to loosen the thoughts. Work totally sucked so I'm releasing here. Did you know that Barney the dinosaur had yellow toenails???? I just learned that tonight. Our troop with the random name scored 70 against the leader's 76. Oh well; can't win them all with Kirk at the helm. I still can't believe I mixed up Jafar with Iago (think Disney).
Two women I met at the soirée last Friday (the one I crawled from) were at trivia tonight. One of them is really cute, the other one is kinda threatening. LOL and I'm 8 years older then both of them. Eriatarka is a GREAT song off of this album. There were only two Father/Son pairs for president, and only one pair was tolerable. What else did I learn? Harry Connick Jr. did the music for When Harry Met Sally. Foreman took the title in a fight called Bungle in the Jungle (at least it's not just a Jethro Tull song). Hitler killed himself on 4/20. Harry Karry announced for 57 years?!? Amazing. Also, John Carpenter (of Millionaire fame) lived in Connecticut.
That trivia night is too tough for one person, let alone a team. Take that last sentence as a full sentence or a fragment, whatever mood you are in. Tonight is made for stream of consciousness, and if fragments are good enough for Joyce, they're good enough for me!
Somewhere deep in my mind I am regretting that I will forget 5/6ths of the information that I tried to remember today. Hopefully the last 1/6th of knowledge will assist me in remaining happy. :D
Also, nights at the bar at the Sheraton (where they held the crossword tournament no less) just north of where I live are supposedly happening events. Who'da guessed???

Monday, August 6, 2007

Lead like the metal

Today my mind drifts towards pseudonyms. I think of Fake Steve Jobs and have to laugh; this guy has mad a cottage industry pretending to be someone who is venting his "real feelings" after pretending to be nice all day. Soon he'll be selling a book off of this "realistic" pseudonym.
Most everyone picks some fake name to jump onto the net with. This is firstly due to the nature of usernames(no spaces, restricted length, and small space of available, intelligible, and suitable alternatives). As soon as people picked names that weren't anywhere near their birth name, etymology forced the username to handle. It isn't the first time; CB and Ham operators altered names for similar reasons (namely the restriction of their media of communication). But it was this world that really breathed life back into the false identity and gave it a life of its own.
I chose my internet name to be an anagram of my real one; I felt that my internet presence would mean nothing if not at least tenuously attached to my persona. It couldn't be too closely attached; on the net one needs a firewall around their soul just as much as they do around their network. This correlates to the real hypocrisy surrounding blogs. No one signs on with their real name and yet they pretend to bare their soul. One cannot bare their soul unless their soul is attached. Even my own persona is a conceit behind the firewall of my username.
One thing that was funny about my pseudonym is that when I came up with it it was unattached to the net, but rather part of a scavenger hunt I put together during my more creative years. So I always spoke it. Leadhyena Inrandomtan, Lead as in paint and gasoline. It wasn't until I got online that people expected it to be Lead, like the head of a group.
The funny part about this is that anyone who's seen any nature show about Hyenas know that they are matriarchal, so the lead hyena would be female. After realizing this, this would make most heterosexual males choose a new pseudonym. Oddly enough, even after this possible misperception was pointed out, I still stuck with the name. I had too much persona invested in it to just change it. It's too much a part of me now.
That being said, I've been referred to on the phone as Leadhyena before. Even with the right pronunciation, it still sounds weird to me. I can only imagine the feelings that FSJ must be feeling now. Will people start calling him Steve? Will it get to him a little? Or will he be rolling in the dough too quickly to notice? Something must hurt if one of your personas, no matter how fake, is exposed and summarily sold. In a perverse way it reminds me of the horcruxes of Voldemort.
That being said, I have signed on some sites with my real name. I have an alumni address and my work email has my real name. I also have a different persona for Second Life (Inrandomtan wasn't an acceptable last name, so I shuffled together Thornn-Adenine Maladay, but I rarely use it). Some pseudonyms are obviously jokes, like WTFOMGBBQ or therapistfinder (read it twice if you don't get it), and are used for sites like Digg, Slashdot, Reddit, and Fark. I'd feel really uncomfortable under one of these pseudonyms because this seems too sharp a quartering of the personality to represent sanely (then again you don't post on Digg most of the time for sanity's sake). The really strange one is where someone will pick an entirely different yet human name, like John Sanders getting online and becoming Bruce Smith. It really happens, and you have to wonder if these people aren't criminally motivated what their angle must be. In fact I find that I have much less trust in a real name on the net (unless it's in the news or famous in the coding community somehow) than I do in at least a mutated one like billy13579 or Chr1st0ph3r.
It's an odd business, this projection of our false selves. I wonder if the effects have been good on society overall. Too late to change it now anyway. Or is it? Many places are asking for email addresses as logins now (they need email verification anyway), and some places I'll use my alumni address and others I'll use my gmail one. Will that become our next "real" internet name, once biometrics are attached to the login as well? Who knows. It's a deep subject and sleep is making me more and more shallow.

---No fake personas (except FSJ) were exploited in the writing of this blog post---

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunshine rocked! (or: why reviewers failed at logic)

Another week another post... eventually I'll get around to posting daily. At this point I'm sufficiently happy with posting weekly. This past week was busy busy busy! I had a book club meeting on Tuesday (A long way gone by Ishmael Beah) which was really good and I was glad that there were other people who had doubts about the narrative as I did (I'll reserve that review for another post). Wednesday I had karaoke, Thursday was Alive at Five in Stamford, and Friday I went to an incredible house party in Fairfield with some friends I met in a trivia team (that incidentally I skipped on that Tuesday to go to the book club :D ). On Saturday I rested.

Today, I cleaned, mentally and physically. This past week had so much stress it was incredible, and my events in the evenings brought me through it but only to sustain not to refresh. So today I scrubbed laundry, sporadically picked up, sparkled dishes, swept floors. I slowly meditated. I swam for sixty minutes solid. Then I went to some movies: The Simpsons and Sunshine. It turned out to be an S themed Sunday after all.

I went to The Simpsons first, because according to the reviewers was a good movie (I was highly entertained; the Simpsons writing staff has not lost any of their wit). However, I only went because I was preparing myself.

You must understand that I really love sci-fi (I had gone through a phase of being bored with it, and am glad to be back into it again (thanks Stephen Eley), and wanted this movie to be epic, but I had read that Sunshine was only good for the first two thirds, and that the ending ruined the movie. Surprisingly enough this was repeated en masse by Wired (sorry: could only find a small snippet of a snub right now), New Scientist, SmartCine, and even Slate jumped in with two stories, one intelligent inquiry and one panned review. Almost everyone commented that the "Freddy Kreuger" ending was enough to kill the film. Even so, I undauntedly saw the film, thinking that being double featured with something funny would at least balance things out.

I was therefore shocked to see such an incredible film, and equally as shocked to see all these reviewers not get it at all! I was as mad for believing them as I was for them trying to ruin this film.

At this point I will spoil part of the movie. If you want to be surprised, then stop reading now and take my word for it. If you don't understand the ending, come back here. For those who need reassurance, read on:

The story is about a second attempt to save the sun by flying up to it and dropping a calculated nuclear explosion at the core to restart a chain reaction. I say second attempt because the first attempt never made it to its destination. They pick up the reading from the first ship and decide to board (because if they can grab the payload then they'd have two chances to succeed instead of one). Now at this point you must be thinking what happened to the first ship. It turns out that the first ship's captain was a Fundamentalist who believed that the sun was dying because of God and sabotaged the first mission. Then being smart, he waited for seven years with the replenishing oxygen garden. Why? Because he knew that mankind would make a second attempt and that if he put out a distress beacon with the ship mostly intact, he could lure them in and sabotage the second attempt as well and bring mankind down "as God intended". So he goes a little crazy near the end while waiting and overexposes his skin to the sun in the Observation Deck (where he murdered three other of the crew), and this makes him look like "Freddy Kreuger". Even though this was foreshadowed in the movie (the psychologist in the second mission has a sun-fetish spending lots of time in the observation deck which they did a great job portraying in his pocked makeup), overusing this effect led to the misunderstanding. I would have understand if none of this was spelled out.

But, here's the thing that really angers me. They DO spell all this out: the physicist and the second lieutenant figure out at the same time that it's the captain from the first mission and say this out loud. This "monster" is no ghost, is no "Freddy Kreuger", he's just a religious zealot thinking he's doing God's will to undermine both missions. I repeat, they SPELL this out in the film, and the reviewers still say it's an unexplained monster. This is almost egregious in its misrepresentation.

Besides, there are other unexplained things in the film that are more misunderstood than this monster thing should have been, such as:
  • the event horizon [the physics not the movie!] general relativity effects that wouldn't happen unless the sun were three times as massive
  • disregarding the "monster", the last three minutes of the film (you'll know when you see it)
  • why a sun would be dying in the first place without going through red giant stage [dying by fire first then by ice]
  • why they couldn't automate many of the mission tasks, such as the calculations to recalibrate the shield, repair the panels, calculate the new trajectory, and command the final shot of fissive material into the sun
  • why airtight isolation of oxygen from the damaged oxygen garden didn't automatically kill the fire, but rather that it would burn for 6 hours (how they solved it was a bit too convenient for too many plot points)
Personally I thought the religious sabotage was extremely clever in comparison to all of that (even though it's been done before too, like Contact). It just goes to show that even a thought provoking movie can be attacked by people who just didn't get it. It just goes to show that you can't trust reviewers all the time, and that your personal experience of a movie could be loads different than the well paid reviewers who may not watch the movie as faithfully. With all that said, I don't think that the ending was well executed, but it wasn't ruined or horrible. It's not a perfect movie, but it's damn near close. Please go see this movie before it leaves the big screen.

PS -- the next reviewer who compares a sci-fi movie to 2001 I will never read again. 2001 wasn't even that good compared to the book.

There, I'm done ranting now. :D