February Playlist

Foux de Fafa – Flight of the Conchords

If you don’t know about Flight of the Conchords…you really should. They’re a comedy duo from New Zealand comprised of Jemaine Clement and Bret Mckenzie. More than that though, they’re are kind of at the nexus of half of everything that’s good in the entertainment industry right now. It’s been more than a decade since they had their show on HBO, but many of the people involved in that and in other things they’ve done have gone on to do amazing things. Jemaine Clement in particular has been in a lot of good things from the “shiny” crab in Moana to the trippy astral traveller in the FX series Legion. He and Bret worked together on What We do in the Shadows a funny movie about vampires that got turned into a series of the same name on FX. They worked with Taika Waititi on that and that guy just made a movie (JoJo Rabbit) that got nominated for a Golden Globe. Waititi also directed the last episode of the first season of The Mandalorian. Not to mention Thor:Ragnorak. The credits are already getting tedious at this point, but suffice to say that many of the people involved in Conchords show up in other good things.

This particular song is great because it combines the normal awkwardness of trying to impress a girl with the somewhat more specific awkwardness of speaking a foreign language. I’ve taken a lot of classes in Spanish and Japanese. I can almost speak Spanish. And I can understand a bit of Japanese, but always, inevitably, without fail there is a moment where my knowledge of the language just runs out. That situation is captured beautifully in this song. I also like how the Spanish I know means I can kind of understand a lot of the French. All the terms are your basic first year French terms and so it makes you feel like you’ve maybe learned something after all.

The video I’ve linked to is the segment as it appeared on the HBO series with added subtitles (I didn’t post it, I’m just describing it) They did a great job with the video too. All the colorful Frenchisms and the music video tropes. The style they’re parodying, the internet informs me, is “scopitone,” and even while I recognize it as silly, I kind of enjoy the bright cheerfulness of the style on an un-ironic level too. 

Love Song 311

I first heard this cover of The Cure’s Lovesong in the movie 50 First Dates. This is a movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore where Barrymore’s character has a peculiar form of amnesia that causes her to forget whatever happened the previous day. It’s an Adam Sandler movie, which means that for any particular scene there’s an even chance someone is going to get hit in the balls… or someone is going to be going through some dramatic realization that makes them a better person. Depending on the particular movie, I sometimes wish for more of the other thing, but Sandler has a success rate for me of about 70%, which is better than a lot of actor comedians. 

50 First Dates is mostly silly, but it still addresses a little of the horror that the condition of Barrymore’s character has. There are actual people with anterograde amnesia, and although their situations are usually more like the character in Memento than like the 50 First Dates scenario, the problems do get some play in the movie. Another thing the movie has going for it is that it doesn’t rely completely on the amnesia part of the story. Sandler’s character has an interesting job and lifestyle and they could have just had a simple love story with his character and it would have been fun to watch. Having such an interesting premise just pushes it over the top. The final thing 50 First Dates has is the soundtrack, which is excellent. You really get a nice beach vibe from the whole thing, which helps set the scene, but more than that, the music is all high quality. 

311 does a great job with this cover. You do get the beach life feel that goes with the soundtrack, and that goes against the February feel a bit, but it is, of course, a love song and it’s done well. 311 manages to do their take without removing the Cure’s melancholy tone from their version. 

The subtle sadness conveyed in the music matches the movie’s theme as well. Sandler’s character has to lose his love every night, but he meets her again every morning. It’s terrible, but beautiful.

Koop Island Blues Koop

“The truth is

We were much too young

Now I’m looking for you

Or anyone like you”

I first heard this song in a brothel in Paris. It was the 1940s.  I was a race car driver and demolitions expert working with revolutionaries to fight the German occupation. Times were tough then, and listening to this song was a welcome respite from a day spent killing Nazis and blowing up military installations…

The videogame called “The Sabateur.” that I’m referencing  has its problems, but it’s still a fun game. It plays similarly to Assassin’s Creed with a lot of climbing and finding things and clearing out areas. It also borrows a bit from Grand Theft Auto, with a lot of driving and a minimap that lets you know where enemies are and how alert they are. And it takes place in Nazi occupied France so the buildings you have to climb are famous and the people you are killing are evil. The brothel singer’s songs aren’t the only ones. There are other playing on the radio and on record players throughout the game.  Really it’s strange that the game wasn’t more popular than it was. It has its fans, but when it came out in 09 it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. The critics gave it middling reviews and it seemed to be largely ignored afterward. And back when I was playing it, I would have probably agreed with the sentiment. But while I’ve mostly forgotten other, arguably better games, The Sabateur has stuck in my mind. I keep thinking of it at odd moments. 

One thing that comes up for me often when I think of WWII or the name Jules or even failing at something in a particularly bathetic way is how the main character Sean would say “Sorry, Jules” sometimes when he died, which was usually either by falling off a building or getting riddled with bullets. His brother is named Jules in the game and Sean spends most of the game trying to get revenge on the Nazi that tortured and killed him. But the back story for that happens early on in the game and I played it off and on for the span of a few years so I forgot about Jules. It seemed like Sean was saying “Sorry, Jews,” which seemed delightfully irreverent without quite .

Aside from that, though the game had some striking visuals that just worked really well even with the lower resolution of the time. Having everything under Nazi control be in black and white until you liberate it…it’s something that had been done before in movies, but it seemed particularly effective in a video game where you weren’t just seeing it once or twice, but actually seeming to move around in it. 

As for the song itself, (oh yeah, that’s what this is supposed to be about!) it’s kind of perfect. The singer lays out each note like a collection of postcards from somewhere sad and beautiful. Time goes by, people change, and they yearn for what they once were, and the feelings they once had. The ever widening gyre of life continues to confound the compass of desire. The video…is not what I picture at all when I listen to it, although it has some things going for it. The band that created the song is actually two dudes from Sweden. But whatever. The song is pretty. I like the song. Maybe they made other pretty songs? I haven’t found out yet.

Other good February songs:

A Girl Like You – Edwyn Collins

A Girl Named Go! – Cory Branan

Aquarius – The Fifth Dimension

Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love – Pink Martini

Uninvited – Alanis Morrisette

Michelle – Beatles

Got to Get You into My Life – Cliff Bennet & the Rebel Rauser

All I Have to do is Dream – The Everly Brothers

Carol Brown – Flight of the Concords

Melody Dean – Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra

Concept – Cranberries

Cupid – Sam Cooke

Never Far Away – Jack White

Like a Stone – Chris Cornell

Madonna No. 18 – Fantasys Core (couldn’t find a video for this song. They’re an obscure Japanese rock band that I saw in Memphis here’s another song of theirs though)

Head Over Feet – Alanis Morrisette

Ain’t Misbehaving – Tommy Bruce & The Bruisers

January Songs

December is the time for Christmas songs, but what do you listen to when Christmas is over? That thought led me to organize my music collection into twelve playlists, one for each month. I also try to rank the songs over the span of a year to find the best ones, the ones I’m not going to mind listening to several times on a sixty song or so playlist. The idea is that each month I listen to my favorites songs that follow a theme of that month, and then the next month I listen to another set of songs. I get the pleasure of knowing the words better and getting the nuances that come from repeated listenings, but I don’t get too sick of the songs before the month is out.

For this year (2020) I’ve decided to write a blog about my monthly playlists for anybody looking for songs to add to their own sets. There are probably fifteen apps that do that for you automatically. Still, Pandora, I Heart Radio, and some others I’ve tried don’t seem to be eclectic enough. They all operate under the idea that you’re going to like songs that are similar to other songs you like. This works to some degree, but just because I like Pearl Jam, doesn’t mean I only want to hear 90s grunge for the rest of my life. So I’m stuck actually creating my own playlists, which is a time-consuming, but entertaining endeavor. It also gives me an excuse to clean out some duplicate mp3 files, delete some songs that are just stinkers, and revisit ones I’ve forgotten about. And often, oddly, I find out new things about artists I like that actually lead me to new music.

I also kind of wanted to write more blogs and this gives me something to write about. So here’s my list for January 2020 I’ve written a bit about the first three, songs but the rest I’m just leaving as exercises for the reader.

January is a cold month. It’s a month about beginning, and time, and making resolutions. In a vaguer sense, it’s about figuring out what’s important, and having the courage to leave behind what’s not…

Nothing Else Matters- Metallica

  • “So close, no matter how far
  • Couldn’t be much more from the heart
  • Forever trust in who we are
  • And nothing else matters”

A classic Metallica song. One of the reasons why Metallica’s music exists outside the bounds of the heavy metal genre is songs like this one. This song is in some ways a call to arms, in some ways a love song. It’s all about being true to something and moving on, which is why I think it fits into January. This is a song about resolve and January is a month about resolutions.

Nocturne/ Bohemian Rhapsody-Lucia Micarelli

Back when Netflix sent out DVDs in the mail there was a little more drama in the process. You would select what DVDs you wanted to see, but usually you’d forget what you had selected by the time they arrived in the mail. Also Netflix’s recommendations seemed like a bigger deal (they still are a big deal, but they aren’t as obvious as they were back then), they’d suggest things to watch based on what you’d liked previously and they’d be right maybe half the time. So you’d get the red envelope in the mail, and you’d open it and read the description on the disc sleeve, remembering all the reasons why you thought the movie might be good and wondering if your bet would pay off, or if it would be a dud. A lot of times even the duds had something worthwhile in them though. Such was the case with this one disc I got, which was a live recording of a Josh Groban concert. 

Now Mr. Groban was something of a sensation back in the early Aughts. There were fan message boards (like reddit only less convenient) dedicated to Josh Groban, which, in their off time raised millions of dollars for a charity. Clay Shirkey ended up writing about it in his book Cognitive Surplus, which was about how people on the internet can get amazing things accomplished in the time they’re spending not doing traditional work.  But this Netflix disc arrived a couple years before I read Shirkey’s book. Netflix had been trying to push it on me for a while. “No, really,” Netflix was saying “This will be right up your alley!” 

For the most part, however, it wasn’t. Groban’s genre is basically good, pretty-sounding music. I liked a rendition he did on Vincent, a song praising Vincent Van Gogh, but nothing else really jumped out at me, and even that was a little too…nice.

Groban had a guest musician however, and that guest was Lucia Micarellii

You can see her performance in the YouTube video, but for the full effect, imagine you’ve listened to an hour or so of elevator music. Elevator music that’s expertly, and lovingly performed, mind you, but elevator music nonetheless. And now here’s this lady walking on stage barefoot, looking like some kind of forest spirit. She starts playing this mournful, heartrending piece of music. It’s quite pretty and you can see the passion she has for the music in her playing, and then…wait a minute…Holy shit! That’s Bohemian Rhapsody! Drums join in, along with other instruments. Everything rises in intensity until it hits a breaking point and finally returns the original mournful music. Just awesome.

This was the first time I heard about Lucia Micarelli. Later though she showed up as an actress in a series created by David Simon (who created the shows Homicide and The Wire) called Treme. I didn’t care for the Treme much. There were too many characters and not enough focus on any one storyline. Furthermore, the tone was dismal and it got a bit too political. Still, one of the bright spots was the music in general, and Lucia Micarelli in particular. Her character, Annie, had her faults, but she was always looking for ways to improve herself and the situation around her. While everyone else in the show was pursuing political gain, investigating murders, and committing suicide, she was playing music. Of course that was a fictional character, but still, it was a role Micarelli chose to play and she played it well. 

So I think of all that when I hear the song, but of course the original Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a classic. The new movie starring Rami Malek was pretty good, and it also reminds me of the scene in Wayne’s World where they are all head banging in the car. The lyrics in the original are also about resolve (“Time to leave you all behind and face the truth…”) . It fits January for that reason, but the Nocturne bit at the beginning and end make me think of a cold, January morning, when it’s still too early to see by the sun, and everything’s trying to remember a good reason to wake up. 

Fire Escape – Fastball

  • I’ll be the rain falling on your fire escape
  • And I may not be the man you want me to
  • I can be myself, how ’bout you?”

This song is 90% about saying “Screw you! I’ll do what I want!”… but then there’s that odd poetry of the chorus and some of the lines that mellows it somewhat and makes it more than it would be otherwise. Rain falling on a fire escape. I suppose that’s a dangerous thing, something that makes things less safe. The feeling I get from the song though is more that the rain is kind of nice, just providing atmosphere, existing outside and informing what goes on inside, but not really being a part of things. 

It reminds me of James Joyce’s book Ulysses, which follows a character Leopold Bloom as he makes his way home on a day’s journey. The places he goes mimic the places the character Ulysses goes to in the original epic by Homer. In the chapter that relates to Ulysses’ encounter with Circe. Leopold and his friend Stephen Daedalus find themselves in a brothel. Things start to get a bit strange later on, but there’s one part where there is a commotion outside the window and someone wonders what it is. Someone else replies that it is God. God is the commotion outside the window.

God, then, could also be the rain falling on the fire escape. So sure this is actually most likely a song about a guy setting boundaries in a relationship , but halfway in my head I also kind of see it as a god (or more secularly the Universe) explaining itself to its creations. I may not be what you want me to be, but I can be myself, what about you? Like, maybe, stop asking me for crap and do some work yourself, huh?

Other good January songs

Redneck or Hillbilly?

I was trying to figure out a story that’s told by one of the characters in Ozark about a hillbilly and a redneck This is the script for that part of the show:

A redneck and a hillbilly are strolling along a country lane, talking about the Garden of Eden. The redneck, drinking whiskey as he walks, believes that Adam and Eve had every right to take that apple for, if God were kind, why would he forbid them from partaking in that delicious fruit? The hillbilly listens and nods. Then the redneck finishes the bottle and throws it onto the path. When the hillbilly frowns, the redneck says, “Judge not,lest thee be judged.” When the hillbilly frowns again the redneck says, “You judge doubly, you sin twice.” Whereupon God smites the redneck dead. The Hillbilly, forever silent and diligent digs the redneck’s grave and fashions a humble tombstone from the empty bottle, and walks on. That eve he witnesses the most beautiful sunset ever ‘fore made.

Here’s a link to a youtube video of the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8B-bNrOLj0

The point of this parable seems to be that the Redneck has the wrong attitude about life and the Hillbilly has the better one, but I’m not clear on where exactly the two types differ. They both seem to agree on the apple comment (even though some would argue this should be “fruit” since in the original language Genesis was written in, the fruit of the the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t of any specific variety.). So both seem to think that the knowledge of good and evil is a good and wonderful thing and that God, being kind, actually wanted mankind to take the apple, which runs counter to about 97% of Christian doctrine.

Now it’s possible that by nodding the Hillbilly is merely being polite and placating the Redneck while disagreeing, but if so, this isn’t made clear by the narrative. Let’s take the assumption then that they both agree on this odd assertion. The first point of disagreement seems to be when the redneck finishes his bottle and throws it on the path. The Hillbilly frowns. Why? Is it because the Redneck didn’t share the whiskey? Is it because the redneck was littering? Is it because the Redneck didn’t appreciate the path?

As a secular taoist I like this last interpretation the best, but it still isn’t exactly clear. The Redneck says “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” quoting Matthew 7:1. The bible verse later says that you will be judged in the same manner that you judge others. As far as context goes the quotation is meant for those who worry about the specks in other people’s eyes when they have planks of wood in their own. So it is a tad incorrect to use the quote when someone is merely frowning at an act of disrespect.

Is the Hillbilly committing an act of greater disrespect? No, not as far as we know. Also, the Redneck is being rather judgmental himself by saying this.

The Hillbilly frowns again, I suppose at the hypocrisy of the Redneck.

The Redneck says “You judge doubly, you sin twice.”  Now, no one ever said judging was a sin, just that judging invited reciprocal judgment. Still, after the Redneck says this, he is struck down by God. So first, God definitely exists in the universe of the parable. Second, God is of the opinion that the Redneck is wrong. So I suppose we can take the interpretation that the Redneck is being ironically hypocritical each time he uses the phrase “judge not lest ye be judged.”And it is he who “sins twice” as it were.

Still, this seems like a complicated moral stance for a story about a redneck and a hillbilly. Another idea might be that God strikes down the Redneck because the Redneck is saying a bunch of stupid crap about things he doesn’t understand.

This interpretation is buoyed by the  bit afterwards about the Hillbilly being silent and diligent. However, there is the larger context to take into account. The story is told by a Drug Dealer to the Owner of a strip club. The Drug Dealer was using the strip club to launder money, but the Owner sold the deed to the strip club (or more precisely took money for the deed after it was taken from him and he was arrested). The Drug Dealer told the story to the strip club owner as they were drinking lemonade. Then the Drug Dealer’s wife sticks the owner in the neck with a syringe full of heroin. As the Owner is dying, the Drug Dealer calls him a redneck. So the Owner of the strip club is supposed to be like the Redneck in the story, and the Drug Dealer like the Hillbilly.

So perhaps the whole problem is that the Redneck didn’t consult the Hillbilly before finishing the whiskey? And then got indignant when the Hillbilly was upset about that? But then how does that relate to the part about the apple and the garden of eden? And what about the judge doubly, sin twice part?

So here’s my own interpretation, developed from trying to get some sort of consistent meaning out of what is likely an unimportant string of dialogue whipped up on the fly to work as something cool to say before killing someone.  The knowledge of good and evil (the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden) is a wonderful thing. But knowledge of good and evil is only worth something if you use that knowledge. That is, if you use judgment. If you use judgment, you have to be prepared to be judged in turn, but not using it isn’t a moral option either.

In terms of Christian mythology, Adam and Eve were naked and shameless before they ate the apple, but afterward, they had to cover themselves up because they had shame. God, being a omnipotent and omniscient, but having granted humans free will, would have known that they would eventually eat the fruit, so it’s possible to believe that it was a gift to humankind, but one that came with consequences. For the Redneck to say that knowledge of good and evil was a wonderful thing and then subsequently perform a wasteful act (finishing the whisky and throwing the bottle in the path carelessly) is hypocritical. Then for him to disparage the  judgment of others, is doubly hypocritical. Using the quote from Matthew is ironic, because it would be the Redneck with the plank in his eye. The Redneck shows no shame when he should know better and so God strikes him down. So the moral of the story is “Don’t pretend you don’t know better, when you do.”

Or at least that’s the best I can come up with.

I did a brief search for other interpretations. My favorite comes from Popmatters.com in an article titled “An Ozarker Considers Netfix’s ‘Ozark'”. The author doesn’t really analyze the parable in any real detail, however he does reveal that, much as one might expect, the terms hillbilly and redneck are not really all that distinct, even in the Ozarks. Both are pretty much insults, but ones that may be embraced by certain groups as cultural identifiers. Furthermore, the Ozarks portrayed in the show are really a fantasy version of the real place made up of previous stories and memories of the area from the seventies. In short, the parable here is a tale made up by a made up character in a made up story in made up version of a place that doesn’t really exist anymore. Its possible relevance to the world at large is remote at best. And yet I still find it oddly fascinating. Way to hack my brain, dude or dudette in the writers’ room who came up with this thing.

Interesting fact: I learned a new word from the wikipedia entry on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: merism. A merism is a combination of items of a set of things to indicate the entirety of that set. For instance “the long and short of it” or “sword and sorcery”. Yay vocabulary!

Germ Cultivation

I recently came upon an article in the New York Times about how people with skin disorders such as acne or eczema could be helped by a sort of topical probiotic treatment. In other words if we take bacteria from the skin of healthy people and spread them on the skin of diseased people, evidence suggests that the good bacteria will fight off the bad bacteria and the skin condition may go away.

This idea of probiotics, (using good bacteria to fight off bad bacteria) has been around for a while now, but it’s been steadily gaining popularity.

I find the whole thing fascinating for a number of reasons. I like the counter-intuitive aspect of it. I like how it looks at the problem of infection from more of a systems perspective, rather than seeing it as a single cause requiring a single remedy. And finally I like how it flies in the face of all the do-gooders who were telling us all how to live our lives in the 80’s and 90’s when I was growing up.

BactRanch

Bacteria husbandry?

It turns out (to a certain extent) it’s better to have children go out and be dirty for a bit. Visiting a farm and interacting with animals, for instance, reduces the risk of asthma. It turns out we shouldn’t take antibiotics every time we get a stomachache since it kills off our gut microbiota and could cause even nastier diseases to run rampant. And now it turns out that if you’re worried about getting a disgusting skin condition, perhaps what you should do is shake hands with as many (healthy) people as possible.

Of course it’s important not to get too carried away. A little dirt outside is okay, but living in filth is not. Just because antibiotics aren’t always the best choice doesn’t mean you should stop using them when you need them. And obviously you should wash your hands often and thoroughly to prevent the spread of diseases like MRSA and the flu.

What the researchers did in this study was put healthy bacteria into a lotion and put this on the forearms of people with eczema. There seemed to be a reduction in the disease, but there are still questions of whether the treatment will continue to work over time, or what might happen if there’s an open wound.

My personal prediction would be that a small open wound like a scratch or abrasion wouldn’t be much of a problem in this case. The bacteria used in the study (Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus epidermidis) are so common that most people’s immune systems will quickly recognize the bacteria in the blood stream and destroy them before they can cause any harm. That “most people” would not include immunocompromised people like the elderly, people preparing for transplant surgery, or AIDS sufferers, however. And if someone has a skin condition, there’s a good chance that something might be off about their immune system.

Ultimately, like many science stories out there, this is cause for some cautious optimism. IF someone has a bacteria-related skin problem, and IF they don’t have some other complicating condition, then they MAY be helped by this therapy IN THE FUTURE (probably 5 years or so I would guess), ASSUMING there aren’t some unforeseen side effects.

As for most of us living outside of laboratories and going about our day to day existences, what I would say this means is that we shouldn’t worry so much about germs. Or more precisely, don’t worry so much about getting rid of them. It’s not good to douse our bodies with antibacterial soaps at every opportunity. It’s also still not a good idea to live in squalor either. Chances are, if you wash your hands regularly and don’t stink, you are clean enough.

Beyond that common sense assessment, if you want to improve your health, you might try finding someone who has healthier skin than you, and shake their hand. Or ask them to rub some lotion on you. Or maybe do none of these things. That way they won’t think you’re a creep and you may benefit from their simple proximity. Yes, it may be that if you want to be prettier, you need to hang around pretty people, which will be easier if you are already pretty. Perhaps yet another astounding example of the Matthew Effect.

‘Member Star Wars?

Writing this in December 2016 a couple days before Rogue One comes out in theaters. I’m excited about the movie because it’s Star Wars, it looks like it’s going in a new, mostly good direction, and Alan Tudyk is involved and many of the things he’s involved in are awesome (Firefly, Wreck-it Ralph, Baseketball). On the other hand, Tudyk has been involved in some stinkers (In my opinion: I, Robot; Death at a Funeral; and his webseries Conman). The robot he is giving his voice to also looks a bit like a hillbilly with his overalls hiked up too far. (Edit from 7/2/17 I’ve seen the movie now and, interestingly enough I liked that it was going in a new, mostly good direction, but was not as pleased with it as I hoped)

Also disturbing is that Forrest Whitaker is in the movie. I have yet to see Forrest Whitaker be in a movie that’s actually good. The closest is the Crying Game, which was memorable mostly because it was disturbing, not because it was particularly good. Somehow he has a reputation of being a good actor, and while I can’t say he’s a bad actor, I can’t really think of a time where I was struck by any of his performances. I think he’s one of these arthouse actors that get thrown into a movie to give it gravitas, only it often seems to backfire. (Edit: Did NOT like Forrest Whitaker in this movie either.)

It’s kind of a shame, because I get the impression that Whitaker has a good sense of humor and likes a lot of the same things I like. It’s just he always gets these overly serious roles. In most of his scenes he seems to be expressing dismay at having learned some unfortunate truth. At any rate, his being in the movie makes me think that we’re going to have a scene at some point where there is a field of dead soldiers and several lines bemoaning the horrors of war. I suppose that could be a good thing for the movie, I just hope it’s not what the movie is about.(Edit: I was a bit off. Instead of a field of dead soldiers there was a tremendous apocalyptic wave of earth and death)

On a somewhat related note, I just finished playing a Star Wars game from about 8 years ago called Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This was a game released from LucasArts, before the rights to Star Wars were sold to Disney, but after the last of the three prequels came out. There is a funny moment in  the game where you’re fighting in a room of collectibles and on the wall is a gungan frozen in carbonite that looks an awful lot like Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a frustrating game to play, mainly because the targeting system is so buggy. You can move things with the force, shoot them with electricity, or throw a lightsaber at them, but only if they have a blue square around them, AND you have a clear line of sight, AND they aren’t something that’s immune to the attack you’re trying. Not to mention that if you move a little bit the blue square winks off, and sometimes you can attack somebody even though they don’t have a blue square.

This frustration aside though, it’s fun fighting with and against wookies, jawas, and Rancors; throwing spaceships around with the force; and seeing all the iconic robots and ships from the movies. Also you get to be Darth Vader for a bit, which is neat. The story line of the game isn’t too bad either. It at least has one or two interesting characters. Not the main character, Starkiller, who, while voiced excellently by Sam Witwer, has a strange arc that makes it hard to figure out his motivations. Rather it’s two side characters that I wanted to know more about.

Proxy is a droid that can use holographic projectors on its body to appear as any one he’s studied sufficiently. He repeatedly says that it is his mission to kill the main character, but he obviously cares about him too. Also he has strange insights into the people he pretends to be. There’s a line about midway through the game after Proxy becomes Darth Vader to deliver a message. Proxy says “I hate having to be him” and Starkiller says, “I think he does too.”  I would love to play a game where I could play as Proxy, or see a movie where he was around more. But I’m not even sure if he made it to the sequel of the game, and since the story is no longer canon, we might never see his like again.

The other character I wanted to know more about is Maris Brood, the apprentice of one of the Jedi Knights Shaak Ti. Shaak Ti herself is a canon character now, I think, but at least in the game Maris Brood was way more interesting. She was trained by someone who followed the light side, and yet she herself was dark side. She had an affinity for animals, notably a Megarancor that you have to fight when you battle her. She also could teleport and used lightsabers like tonfas. Shaak Ti’s fight by comparison was something of a letdown and I didn’t get anything of where she was coming from. Maris Brood seem to have a genuine beef that I would have liked to know more about.

Doing research for this post led me to a novelization of the game, which I might check out later, because overall the game was like a glimpse into a much larger story. I play games for three reasons, to pretend to be someone else, to challenge my brain with interesting puzzles, and to be entertained by an engaging, if often not particularly sophisticated, plot. The game had definite good points in all three categories, although it stopped frustratingly short of complete success in any one of them. The ending was a bit contrived and the one choice you could make to influence the plot was way too little, way too late. By the time it comes, you’re almost not even aware that it is a choice, since the rest of the game is so linear.

Now is a good time to pick it up if you’re looking for something to play that’s not too expensive, since it’s got a lot of good Star Wars references, but if you want a game from around the same time period that’s easier and more fun to play, Infamous is probably a better bet. You have many of the same powers, but without the clunky UI. Also Infamous has choices all the way through it that affect gameplay as well as the character’s appearance. Granted the affect on gameplay isn’t very drastic, there are mostly a few lines of dialogue that are different and a few missions that turn out differently. Still, it’s much more satisfying from a roleplaying perspective and it meshes with the storyline better too. I think a good takeaway might be that Force Unleashed tells a better story, but Infamous tells its story better.

Along the lines of remembering things from the past, I’ve run into a lot of stuff on Alzheimer’s research lately. First there was an episode of 60 minutes that aired recently about a group of people living in Colombia that have a rare genetic mutation, making it almost inevitable that they will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s a recessive mutation, so not all of the people get it, but by testing for it, researchers can know ahead of time who’s going to get the disease, and therefore they can know how well whatever therapy they come up with will work. Most of the therapies they currently have show little or no effect on the disease, but that might be because the patients who receive the therapies aren’t getting them early enough.

Far more exciting in my opinion, though, is the research coming from Li-Huei Tsai about using the light from flickering LEDs to lessen the beta-amyloid plaque in the neurons of rats with Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid plaque build up is though to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of the disease. It was theorized that causing neurons to fire at a certain rate, known as the gamma frequency, would encourage janitor cells in the brain (microglia) to clear up the plaque. Initially Tsai, used a rather invasive procedure (optogenetics) to cause the neurons to fire at the right frequency. She found that there was, in fact, up to a 50 percent reduction in plaque using this procedure. However, when she simply tried using LEDs with no further surgery she found it had almost the same effect!

Now here’s the clincher, and the thing that ties this whole blog post up. A human gamma wave is a neural oscillation of between 25 to 100 Hz, 40 Hz being the most typical. The unit Hz stands for “Hertz” and means “per second.” Most monitors and TV sets show images at around 60 frames per second. This equates to a light oscillation of around 60 Hz which is well within the gamma range. Furthermore, Gamma oscillations occur when the mind is in a state of extreme concentration, which can occur during meditation, during a difficult calculation, or…playing a particularly engaging video game.

Playing video games could possibly keep you from getting Alzheimer’s.

Dad&BradPod Episode 2

Part two of a conversation between me and my father in March of 2014 about Midsouthcon and other things.

This episode makes reference to the following things:

Police procedurals:
(although I should note that I was initially thinking of police reports, the things actual police write, but said “procedural” which caused some confusion.)

Dragnet

True crime

Tropic Thunder

The character Hannibal Lector from the movie “Silence of the Lambs” from the series of novels by Thomas Harris and the new (at the time) TV series Hannibal

A joke about monks and cannibalism.

Midsouthcon

Consuites

Science Fiction art  and its similarities to surrealism

Kelly Armstrong and the TV series Bitten based off of her first book of the same name. Also the new (at the time) book she had at the con Omens

Nanowrimo

Frank Sinatra

What is the best way to focus, learn and understand any concept?

Here’s another answer to a Quora question, which you can find here as well as in this post.


string-theory-2First, you have to pick a concept. I’m not just being flip here. Picking a concept can be difficult, and it is the essence of focus. If you want to learn string theory, you can’t learn to program, study the economy of Tahiti, and grok the subtle nuances of a TV show about super heroes at the same time.

You have to budget your time. I like half hour segments, but you may find something else works better. For me I tell myself that for this particular half hour, all I’m going to do is study this concept I want to study. I have a plan for the day where each free half hour segment that I have is set up ahead of time. Of course making the plan is one thing; actually following it is another. That would be another Quora answer, and my solutions for that may not work for you.

The point is that you must devote yourself to the thing you want to learn for at least some span of time. The more time you devote the better, although you may find some diminishing returns if you get too obsessive. You may have heard how many of the best musicians played until their fingers bled; the best programmers spend all night on code surviving on cheesy poofs and energy drinks. These stories may be true, but sometimes passion doesn’t come as naturally. Sometimes you have to cultivate it. So for half an hour, or whatever you can manage, attack the concept with all the will you can muster. After the time is up, you have permission to stop.

Devoting yourself to learning the concept means, no internet beyond what you need, no texting, no talking to friends, no video or TV watching, and no distracting music. You may have a playlist of songs that help you concentrate. I like instrumental music with a dance or techno rhythm sometimes for that, but most of the time I find I’m so worried about whether or not I can work with a particular song, that I just learn to deal with silence. This can be difficult, even dangerous for some people. Your job may depend on you being available. But if you want to focus on something, you are going to have to let something go for a little while. If you can’t find some time to devote to this thing you want to learn, I’m afraid you aren’t going to be able to learn it.

Now, after you’ve picked a concept, and devoted yourself to it, the next thing you need to do is step away from it. Ask any writer who has managed to overcome writer’s block. Sometimes obsessing over something, especially something complicated and difficult to understand, just does not work. Sometimes you have to give the logical part of your mind a rest. Do something else for a while. You may need to schedule this you-time just as stringently as your concept-time, but it helps. Although it’s true that learning the concept will be it’s own reward, the human brain wants instant gratification. After the third time you read about some one arguing over whether there’s six dimensions or eleven, you are very likely going to want to say “screw string theory” and eat a hot dog.
(There’s nothing difficult to understand about a hot dog. You can ponder it’s origins and chemical make up if you want, but it will only last a second before you tell yourself “Dude, it’s a freaking hot dog!” Much like religion, hot dogs require faith, but with faith comes solace, and you can make yourself one with everything.)
Wait until your devotion time is up, but then go for it. Take it easy for a while. After you’ve worked on it for the duration you set for yourself it will feel like a reward, and you’ll be more likely to want to study again. Don’t forget you’re human. Don’t burn yourself out.

Finally, for all the times when you aren’t intensely concentrating on some concept, you should remember to be open to serendipity. You may suddenly understand why there has to be six (or eleven) dimensions while you’re sitting in traffic on your way to work. It all has to do with rollerskates, you realize. Suddenly your boss calls. You pick up your phone. You could answer it right away, or you could text “rollerskates” to yourself while traffic is stopped. Text those rollerskates. As long as it’s not going to get you fired to let the phone ring a little longer, let your brain work in it’s weird and wonderful way. Remember that you care about string theory. It’s important to you. Later on, when you’re diving into it again and you’re lost you’ll remember you texted yourself something and then you’ll go “Oh yeah, it’s like rollerskates!” and you’ll be back on track.
So in review:

  • Pick your concept (don’t do everything at once)
  • Devote yourself to it (schedule it)
  • Step away from it (when you need to)
  • Be open to serendipity (when you can)

That’s my advice. Hope it helps


 

Image from http://www.egymbb.sk/vesmir/teoriastrunE.html

How to Achieve Your Dreams

sky-clouds-above-clouds-wallpaperThe following is a response to a question on Quora. I didn’t quite read the question correctly, but I like what I came up with as an answer. I have no definite expertise on any of this, but I have learned a few things that may be useful for somebody.


dmaicIf you’re serious about accomplishing your dreams, there are some tools that have been developed in the business world that can help. I’ve been involved with some Six Sigma projects, and I like the model of DMAIC for the most part. That is Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. These sound boring, but they’re really not. Let’s go through them.

Define
The first step of accomplishing your dreams is to have realistic dreams. This isn’t giving up, this is building up. If you want to fly, great. I’m not going to say you can’t fly. But what exactly do you mean by flying? Is flying an airplane going to work for you? No? How about skydiving, that’s kind of like flying, or hang gliding? Do you actually want to be like a bird, or do you want to be superman?

Already, while we started off with something that seems unattainable, we now have several options that are much more attainable. One of the things that keeps you back in this step is fear. Your dream of flight is nice, but what if you don’t like it? What if it’s dangerous? What if it seems less beautiful? These what-ifs can hold you back, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. Make a list of these fears along with any other risks, because its entirely possible that you actually don’t want to accomplish this particular dream. Next to these risks, you want to list the benefits of accomplishing your dream. What will you gain from it. Why do you want to accomplish it? It could be that while your dream involves flight, what you really want is a feeling of freedom, and there might be better ways of doing this. If you think of some, great, make another list of risks and benefits for this new dream. Does it look better than what you had before? You keep at this until you have something that matches your desires and yet still fits with what can occur in reality.

If, at this point, you still don’t see how you can accomplish your dream, then look for ways to get closer to accomplishing it. If you want to be Superman, maybe look into jet packs, physical fitness, rescue work, or space travel. Depending on what it is about Superman that you most want to be, learning about these subjects might not get you there, but it will get you closer. The idea here is to bring your dream closer to reality by bringing reality closer to your dream.

Measure
weight-scale-400x400-300x300How close are you to your dream today? The easiest example of this is weight loss. If you want to lose 30 pounds before next Thanksgiving, you need to monitor how you’re doing to know if the diet you are on is working or not. Even if it’s something you dread, you have to get on the scale and check, otherwise there is no point in dieting. You can get more sophisticated in this step for more benefit. You can make a graph of your progress for example and a list of all the foods you ate each day and any exercise you did. This way if there is a large dip or a peak, you can see what might have caused it. Weight loss is nicely quantitative, so measuring is easy to do.

The picture to the left links to a blog about not letting scales control your life. This is a common sentiment, and I can understand where it comes from. I think it’s a completely wrong way of thinking about things, but I understand it. If you aren’t having too much success accomplishing your dreams it can be disheartening to measure how far you’ve fallen. This is because humans aren’t robots. If you aren’t doing well in your progress, you need to either move on to the next steps (analyze and improve) or reconsider the previous step. Is loosing weight really what’s important to you? Could it be that you’re really worried about your fitness? Weight may not be the best way to measure that. If you stress eat, you might measure progress by recording times of stress and how you coped. Or maybe whatever is causing you stress is the problem. Putting serious effort into fixing that might be the best bet. You are never going to be able to levitate yourself. That’s depressing. But being able to do a pull up is close. Even Superman started with tall buildings. But whatever you’re goal you HAVE to measure your progress toward it somehow if you’re serious about accomplishing it.

For your more qualitative goals, like flying or perhaps owning your own business, you might need to make a journal dedicated to the goal. You can probably come up with many little goals and you can note your successes and your set backs in a journal as you experience them. The point is to have a record of what works and what doesn’t so you have some guidance in the next step.

Analyze and Improve
If your diet isn’t working out, change it. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, move. You do NOT want to be consistent if you are unhappy. A foolish consistency, as Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of little minds. Although you want to make changes that are likely to work and that aren’t too dangerous, remember it’s okay to make mistakes. You are, in fact, required to make mistakes in order to know what does not work for you. There are different kinds of writers, different kinds of digestive systems, you may, in fact, be from the planet Krypton. You can’t just follow someone else’s plan.

It is very important, however, to continue to measure your progress. You might think it’s a good idea to eat nothing but soy products in your diet, but you might find out that you actually gain weight (because, surprise, soy can be fattening!) Give it some time so you can be sure of how things changed, but if things are going worse, change your system back to how it was before if possible, or make another adjustment if its not.

houseflyI’m going to digress here for a moment to talk about house flies. If you watch a fly fly, you might notice how randomly it moves. It buzzes around your sandwich quite a bit yes, but then it takes a trip to the window and the to the lamp shade and back to your sandwich again. The actual motivations and causes for the complicated behavior of a fly is complicated, but one possible way of explaining it is as a modified random walk. A random (or drunkard’s) walk is one in which a moving object moves in a random direction for a random amount of time. The fly does just about the same thing, except it has memory, sight and smell, signals that make it prefer certain directions over others. As long as the good signals are getting stronger, the fly will keep going in the same direction, pretty much, but if there’s a bad signal that’s getting stronger or the good signals are getting weaker, it sort of tumbles in the air and flies in a new, but still mostly random direction. This is rather inefficient, but it works. If you are near a sandwich, and you get further away from it, the signal goes down. You then go in a different direction and maybe this is also leading away from the sandwich so you change directions again, and now you are going toward the sandwich again so you keep going. I should say that the fly is a bit (a LOT) more sophisticated than I’ve described here, and, while a fly does act this way somewhat, this behavior is more like how bacteria move (Howard C. Berg has written a lot of interesting work in “random walks”). The point is, that it doesn’t matter so much what you adjust, or in what way you adjust it; what does matter is how often you adjust it and how closely you monitor your situation.

If things are progressing well, don’t mess with them! But if things aren’t going anywhere, some kind of change is in order. If things are getting worse, than a change is not only a good idea, but an urgent one. Don’t let fear keep you from a better life. You might be in a situation where you don’t have a lot of options, but even if you only have two paths you can go on as Led Zeppelin says, “in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Control
ControlThis step has two phases. While you’re still attaining your dream and making adjustments, you will probably find it helpful to establish some rules and guidelines. For example, jumping off a building is not an acceptable means of learning to fly. In weight loss, you might find that day to day, your weight varies by about a pound or so there’s no reason to stress about an increase unless its more than that (stress->despair->ice cream so limiting stress is also important). You may also have some go-to adjustments for when things go wrong, such as doing more exercise or taking a quiet moment to watch the birds when you’re feeling down. These guidelines that you develop on your way to your goal are the first phase of control.

The second phase of control occurs after you’ve attained your dream. So you’re successful. Now what? Well, the answer to that question is usually that you want to make sure you stay successful. A lot of the guidelines you came up with in the first phase will work in this second phase, but there may be a few things you need to do differently. If you get a job as a pilot, for example, you need to review all the safety procedures even though day-to-day you may not need to know them. You also need to keep an eye out for new technologies and if necessary train yourself on them so you don’t become obsolete. Once you lose the weight, you have to stay vigilant to keep it off, and you may have to employ different strategies as you age or go through other life changes.

As you may have noticed, all these “steps” overlap, and turn back on themselves like eddies in a river. You could in fact just as easily start with Control, and then notice somethings out of whack and move to Analyze and Improve and then Measure, and then find out what exactly the problem was at the end of the whole process (Define). That’s more or less what happens when police make an arrest. Perhaps it would be better to call these phases or even aspects of goal setting, but I think if you’re looking for a way to start accomplishing your dream, defining your dream is a good place to start. If you’ve got your dream well-defined, measuring your progress is the next thing to try. Then adjusting things as needed, and finally controlling them once you have things pretty well established. They build on each other nicely that way, and besides, that’s how the business world groups them.


Note: This post used pictures from the following websites. Please visit them and consider purchasing any products they’re selling.

http://www.jeesukkim.net/velocity/

http://www.sixsigmadaily.com/what-is-dmaic/

http://blogcritics.org/how-heavy-does-your-scale-weigh-on-you/

http://www.qpm.ca/Pests/House-Fly-How-to-Kill-Exterminate-Get-Rid-Eliminate-Pest-Control.html

http://www.mwultd.co.uk/services/part-exchange/control/

Brad&DadPod001: Midsouthcon, Steampunk, and Lycanthropy

20131108_193711

This is the first part of an interview with my father where he asks me about what I did at Midsouthcon, a science fiction convention held in Memphis, Tennessee. This is from March 2014 so the information isn’t entirely current, but the talk could just as easily be about any science fiction convention. We also talk about the phenomenon of steampunk in literature. Finally we discuss werewolves and related lycanthropic characters in fiction, partly due to the short story I recently had published. Dad has a way of asking questions that start out seeming basic, but end up being rather deep. It makes for some interesting conversations, and I think this one qualifies. Hope you enjoy.

 

New Story published in Luna’s Children!

doubleThe anthology Luna’s Children is now out in kindle and a print version is coming out soon. This is an anthology of werewolf stories edited by D. Alan Lewis. There are actually two volumes: Stranger Worlds and Full Moon Mayhem. My short story, “Always Hungry” is in Stranger Worlds.

So what’s in my short story? The story bends several of the rules of the anthology. For one thing it’s not really about a werewolf per se. The main character is a coyote who is altered by the tears of a young woman into…something else. Something not quite human, but not of nature either. It’s an intense horror story, though there are some lighter moments in it. Like many horror stories it deals with humanity coming into conflict with darker natures and the supernatural.

Read it and tell me what you think!

1 2 3 7