Friday, November 1, 2013

Introduction to our external brains

I've heard people say that technology makes us forget things. Or, more accurately, that it keeps us from really learning and remembering things. With technology, we don't need to memorize information, so we keep it all there outside of our head and have to look everything up.

I fail to see why this is a bad thing.

This is on the mind because I'm currently realigning my life around Evernote, which they sell as being able to allow you to remember everything and some people have gone as far as to call their external brain. I have a weirdly selective memory at times, and that turns out to be not so good of a thing. I feel like being able to remember everything is something that could help me greatly.

Or maybe not remember. I don't keep all of this in my head - it would fall out before too long. Instead, I think that being able to access everything is what can help me. If I don't need to remember it and can just access it, what's the practical difference? What if, instead of spending a little bit trying to remember, I spend that little bit querying my phone? Either way, I get the information that I need.

This is a huge topic - I remember reading an article just barely touching on these effects, and it had something like eight pages to play around with the idea. I've only even started to talk about it, and I can just about guarantee you that I'm going to talk about this quite a bit more.

As a baiting teaser for what I have to say? We're already becoming cyborgs, why not see what we can do with it instead of trying to push back against it?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Technology, or something that works?

I don't know who said it (and Google has given me no help), but a particular quote has been on my mind as of recently: "People don't want technology, they want something that works." as you might be able to guess from that little statement, this isn't being written in my normal computer, but is being written on a different device while I scramble to make sure that I get something up. I decided that I would make at least one post a day, and I intend to do that, through whatever methods I need to. Even though pretty much no one reads this, I will do what I can to make sure those zero people get what I promised.

But all this difficulty with getting technology to work is making me think of technology and the ways that it does and doesn't work. We're all sitting here waiting for some sort of future where everything just automatically works together. I'm someone who wants that world just about as much as every other consumer (not the producers, obviously), but I'm not insane enough to think that this is going to happen any time soon... Or at all.

Thing is, part of my mind is telling me that I just need to sit back and consider what we actually have. I'm writing this article on a piece of technology straight out of Star Trek, it can reach pretty much anyone on Earth with an Internet connection, and I don't even need to take my mind off the football game I'm watching to get all of this done. It's really an amazing thing, and even though I know that I'll be right back to making unreasonable demands about it tomorrow, maybe I should use right now to think about how well it works already.

Until it stops working properly again, that is. At that point, I'll fall right back into my rage and confusion.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I've Changed My Mind: JJ Abrams is Perfect for Star Wars Episode VII

Despite not being a huge fan, Star Wars is such a huge deal that it's impossible for me not to talk a lot about it on this blog, especially considering that Disney intends to make it into a huge franchise. When JJ Abrams was announced as the director, I just rolled my eyes along with a lot of other people. It's not that I dislike him (I've liked every movie of his that I've seen), but just that he has a style that has caused some particular problems. There's also the Mystery Box phenomenon that he's a little too in love with, all of this adding up to people generally rolling their eyes at him when he's involved in something. However, giving it a little more thought, I think he's actually the best choice for directing this movie.

I'd say that Abrams has a style best suited to TV, and that's where his most successful projects have been. Even though he was only involved in the pilot, LOST truly put him on the map because of a great pilot, and it's what really kickstarted his career (from my perspective, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) to the point that he's on top of the world. The issue I've found is, despite liking his movies, they all feel incomplete, like the story truly hasn't been resolved. This makes me feel like he's so good at creating pilots (and TV episodes in general) that he's constantly making them, even in his movies. If viewed as the pilot episode to a longer series (or a season premiere), his Star Trek movies suddenly make a lot more sense (this doesn't explain the problem with Super 8, and I haven't seen MI3, so no comment there).

So, why is he perfect for Star Wars? The ending of Return of the Jedi really wrapped the main Skywalker story up nicely, but there are a number of possible directions it could go from there. The movie didn't give much indication that things were headed in any particular direction from there, and that's where Abrams comes in. He needs to set up something new, even though it's in a world we're already familiar with, and since it's going to be a huge franchise, there need to be a lot of unanswered questions and open ends. It needs to tell a complete story (it can't be the LOST pilot, which doesn't hold its own as a standalone story), but it's not like it's beyond his capability to do so.

All I know is that it's going to be very difficult to pull off right, and they seem to have chosen the right person to open up an old world to something new.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Secret to Creativity?

Don't have it. Searched for it quite a bit, looked through just about everything I can find on the internet until everyone starts repeating themselves, and the only conclusion I can come to is that there's really no secret other than putting a lot of effort into it.

This is a bit of a cheat, really, since I'm trying to come up with something to write every day (one of the "secrets" I've read about quite a bit can be summed up as "quantity, then quality"), and happen to be going through a bit of a creative slump. The problem isn't really that I have nothing to write about, it's the fact that I don't know what to say about the things that I've come up with to write about. Ideas are really, really cheap, I come up with them all the time, but good ideas are difficult. Even more difficult is doing something with that idea, so I have a bunch of half-written articles that I may never finish sitting there, just waiting for me to finish writing them. Once you combine the ones sitting here on the blog with the ones in my Dropbox with the ones in Google Drive, I end up with months worth of material if only I could finish them and know what to do with them.

Maybe the secret is that we're not even looking at how to be creative - maybe we need to learn how to execute instead of come up with creative ideas. We're actually really creative by nature, we're just not used to doing something with all of that creativity. Or I don't even know and don't have the authority to say anything and have anyone pay attention to what I say. All I can do is see the world from my perspective and say what I see.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Quick Note About How I Met Your Mother

I'm not going to be reviewing How I Met Your Mother, even though it's one of only two currently running shows that a) I'm caught up on and b) I care enough about to watch. I hadn't even considered reviewing it before now, but looking at the last few episodes, I don't think it'd be a good candidate for a show to review.

I doubt this is the case, but it feels like the producers really liked Season 4 of Arrested Development. More than likely, they're being forced into it because of circumstance, but I'm just getting such a strong vibe from this that it's impossible to ignore. Everything is over such a short period of time, jumping forward and back in time, we're dealing with small groups of characters rather than all of them in a room at the same time, and it feels like they designed the season for being watched all at once instead of over the course of several months like they're aired. That's the reason I won't review it as episodes air, since it seems to be more of a package deal. However, I want to talk about the last episode, just a little thing.

My biggest problem with Season 4 of Arrested Development is that it didn't look good. It looked very cheap, and they either didn't have time to finish the effects, or didn't have the capability, or something. I don't really know what it was, but the end result was something that ended up looking really cheap. The last episode of How I Met Your Mother had a scene with all those problems. In a scene with Ted and Barney on the beach, there's some rather terrible green screen for the beach behind them, but that's not the worst of it. The audio in that scene is also noticeably terrible, especially when it starts raining. It almost feels like they tried to record the audio while using a rain machine rather than using ADR. Did they run out of time, or what? Did they think it would work? Did they not care? I don't really know, but it baffles me that it was just so cheap and technically lacking.

In the end, I have no real conclusion to this, but just an observation. I got the feeling that there was no way this show's final season could really lead to a satisfying conclusion, but I didn't expect to be disappointed on the technical side of the show. I'll just have to wait and see, but it's not in the most reassuring place right now.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Positive Unintended Consequences

Something I'll encourage everyone out there to do is to create things. If you have an idea and even a small piece of the capability to create what you've thought of, then you should. Sometimes, even the small and stupid things turn out to have uses. Sure, they'll probably also be small and stupid uses, but the fact that they have any use at all is what makes them worth creating.

This is one of those examples that is small and stupid, but the fact that it had any use beyond what I thought of it at first really made me think. As a recent post indicated, I do a lot of writing for The Red Shirt Crew, and a large part of the writing for that blog is reviewing comics. I realize that I'm largely serving as an extension of the Dark Horse marketing machine, but I'm okay with that, as the artists and writers also need that promotion. A time-consuming part of the process is linking to the personal webpages of all the artists and authors, so I created a spreadsheet with a list of all of them to make that easier. It served its purpose well, making that part of the process very simple, which is especially good when you're reviewing long series with lots of repeating creatives behind it. 

Stupidly, I didn't share it with the other writers for a long time. Eventually, I realized that I was just being an idiot and shared it with everyone else on the blog. They all loved the idea, but the thing that stuck out to me was from the writer who reviews Dark Horse Presents, their anthology series. Sometimes, it's difficult to track down exactly what other things an artist has worked on, but this allowed exactly that. I only added the series they worked on because it made it easier to find the names, but it turned out to have another good use that I never thought of that saved someone else a lot of time and effort.

Yes, it sounds like a small and stupid use, but everything has those uses. Everything you create might have those little things that you never thought about before, and that's one of the best reasons why you should create those things.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Red Shirt Crew writing

Before I got this blog going, I did a lot of writing for another blog: The Red Shirt Crew. Most of what I've done is comic reviews, but that's not all. Here are all the articles I've written for that site, separated by category, each of those in chronological order (last updated October 4, 2013):

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2: 0-8-4

The first thing you might notice is that I'm starting here with episode 2. I didn't review the pilot, and while it started as simply a matter of running out of time, I'm starting to think that it might be a good direction to go in. Pilot episodes are always a little scattered and trying to do so many different things at once, and any attempt to write about that episode would end up being scattered due to that. Long story short, I really liked it, no it's not perfect, but it made me want to watch more and that's what really matters. Enough of that, let's move on forward and talk about the second episode, "0-8-4".

When they first announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I thought that it was going to be more along the lines of Dollhouse: small group working within and occasionally against a larger, omnipotent organization, that seemed like a likely direction to take it in. What ended up happening, instead, is that we can finally stop complaining about Firefly being cancelled over a decade ago, since this is the closest we'll ever get, and I'm okay with that (I'll have more to say about that in another article, I can promise that). It resembles Firefly to an uncanny degree at times - small, occasionally dysfunctional group that lives on a plane, and the characters match up a little closely at times: the Captain who trusts his crew beyond any logic (Coulson, resembling Mal), the gun-happy "Why am I protecting these idiots" guy (Ward, resembling Jayne), the guy/girl medical/mechanical genius team (FitzSimmons, resembling Simon and Kaylee), and the mysterious badass ninja girl (May, resembling a weird combination of River and Zoe). The only one I'm not sure who to make the parallel to is Skye, probably because she reminds me most of Faith from Buffy instead of any Firefly character. But to everyone who thinks that they absolutely need to bring Firefly back (they don't, and I don't want them to)? They did, as much as they can.

One of the reasons that I didn't review the pilot is that it introduces every character, while now that everyone has been introduced, we can actually focus more on the story and character interaction. As if the character parallels weren't enough to set off the alarm that this show is basically "Firefly in the Marvel Universe", a lot of elements of the plot seem to be taken straight out of episodes of Firefly: old friend of the captain who turns against the team (Tracey in "The Message"), taking over the ship (Saffron hijacking Serenity), and while I could go on, I think you get the point.

Now, I don't want people to think that I mean all of this as a slam against the series. I loved Firefly, even though I was seven years late to the party (in my defense, I was 10 when it came out), and these are more observations than any sort of value judgment.

The episode starts off with a very common TV trick - show part of the climax (or something even after that) out of context, then jump back in time to show how things got there. This starts with the side of the plane exploding and someone falling out, then cuts to "19 hours later". Aside from the exploding plane, this episode gets off to a slow start. While they're going after the 0-8-4 on the ground in Peru, I feel like things haven't picked up yet. There are no stakes, no real knowledge of what's going on or why, and that leads to the action scenes having a lot of the life sucked out of them. Once they get the artifact onto the plane, along with the members of the Peruvian military, things start to get interesting.

Every Joss Whedon show has been about the characters. Their interactions are what carry the shows, and we're starting to get the chance to see that. The best scenes in the episode are ones where the team is just interacting with each other, first in the argument in the lab, then when they're coming up with a plan to get out of the cargo hold. This is the secret behind Joss's shows - for everything else happening, including the weirdly big action sequences (seriously, how high is their budget that they keep doing these scenes), we're really there for the characters, and this is delivering on that premise so far.

Of course, there's no way I can talk about this without mentioning the stinger after the credits. Being a Marvel movie fan, I'm now pretty used to the concept, but I hope they don't do this for every episode and just use it for occasions where it particularly fits. In this case, it works kind of perfectly, as we see Nick Fury getting mad at Coulson for, well, destroying the plane after they've had it for less than a week. I certainly didn't expect this cameo this early in the show, though I hope they don't keep escalating it and we've already seen Robert Downey Jr. by the next episode - the show seems to be leaning a bit too much on the movie continuity. Taking it as a Marvel fan and not as some sort of bigger trend in the show, however, I loved this cameo, not just because it's fun to watch Samuel L. Jackson yell at people, but it also makes perfect sense that it'd be happening. A small thing that stuck out was that even he referred to "FitzSimmons" - apparently these two are so inseparable that even the (presumptively) head of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about them as a single unit, not two separate people.

Going into what we know about the future episodes, they're going to be expanding a bit on their own continuity and mythology soon, introducing a new major villain next episode who wasn't in any of the movies, so it looks like they're building up their confidence a bit more.

The final thing that I have to say is related to a previous post that I made: the show is still finding its feet. Though I didn't go into them in too much detail, there are a few things that I don't think quite works (the beginning time on the ground in Peru, any time they're talking about politics), but that always happens in the early episodes of a TV show. I'm having that same trouble with these articles, knowing what to talk about with regards to the show.

Zac Kandell (known mostly on the internet as Mischlings) is the creator of Ravenous Badger Media and is amazed that he didn't spend this whole review gushing about Skye. Follow him on Twitter at @Mischlings for when he decides that he has short thoughts to share with the world.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Don't be so down on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet

Recently, my life has been pretty dominated by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (expect to see a lot about that on here), which I guess I should have expected. My current obsessions are the Marvel movies and Joss Whedon TV shows, and there's no way I'd miss one or the other, no less something that combines both of them. Unfortunately, like with every other time I've been a large fan of something, I can't be part of the fandom. There are many reasons, but really, this is about expectations.

No, the show's not perfect. Far from it, in fact. Each of the two (only two!) episodes that have aired so far have their points where they don't work. I'm not trying to say that they're perfect, but there's something to keep in mind: they're still finding their feet. Look at the other Joss Whedon shows - Buffy was nearly halfway through its second season when it found its groove, Angel was almost at the end of the first season, Firefly found it right at the point where it was cancelled, and Dollhouse found it about halfway through the first season. The purpose of the beginning of the show, the pilot especially, is to get people interested in seeing more. The writers and directors are often trying to figure out the show in the early parts as well. Find your favorite show and watch the first episode again - is that anything like what it ends up being?

Look, I'm not saying to blindly watch everything. If the pilot episode doesn't make you want to watch more, then don't. But TV shows, especially now, are made to play out over the long term. The characters will have storylines that play out over the course of multiple seasons, not just a few episodes, and since JJ Abrams isn't executive producer, I have faith that the questions that are asked and the mysteries that are set up will pay off. Just don't expect everything right away.

Zac Kandell (known mostly on the internet as Mischlings) is the creator of Ravenous Badger Media and finds it really odd that he's telling other people to tone down the negativity. Follow him on Twitter at @Mischlings for when he decides that he has short thoughts to share with the world.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hello, World.

You can sit back and meticulously plan everything. You can try and make sure that everything is in place and perfect before you do something. 

Or you can learn from experience and figure things out as you go. This isn't my first time writing for a blog, or even my first time creating my own blog, but I have a good feeling about this one. Even though I don't have a plan, I have a strong desire to write and a lot more experience than I ever have before. 

What is this blog? Well, it's just a blog... for now. Eventually, it will be everything that I make, no matter what its format, expanding as I need it to. I'm also looking to expand it beyond just myself, if there are other people who actually want to write or otherwise create something. At the moment, however, it's only a blog, but I hope not for long.

Zac Kandell (known mostly on the internet as Mischlings) is the creator of Ravenous Badger Media and really wishes he had a lot more to say. Follow him on Twitter at @Mischlings for when he decides that he has short thoughts to share with the world.