Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bought but not owned

It seems like every device you purchase nowadays is not actually yours. It's simply an interface to purchase more things through a restrictive scope of functionality. It shouldn't be the case that you are penalised by the item you buy. This almost validates why someone would prefer piracy over an inferior legitimate experience.

I bought a DVD of Zatoichi that almost mirrored this experience. When I inserted this legitimate copy into my machine and pressed play, the first thing I was welcomed with an unskippable message detailing that piracy is a crime.

Give that a moment to sink in ...

I bought a legitimate copy and I am treated like a pirate? Every time I see a message to that effect (especially when paying $20 at the cinemas), I get a strong impulse to penalise the company that subjects paying customers to this - in case you didn't notice, we are not the criminals. The pirates, meanwhile, are not being subjected to unskippable piracy messages as they are able to rip and cut that kind of crud out.

When modern TV's have the capability of technically blocking any signal that is not properly authenticated, music devices block content that wasn't purchased through their store and your game console blocks any movies, games and regions of software they deem invalid, something has to be wrong with the picture. When you purchase a modern-day electronic device, you have to agree to the terms of use, which invariably includes something along the lines of 'you agree to use this device as we see see fit'. I do not like this. Whether I have nefarious intentions or not, it should be my choice. The device should not dictate what I am allowed to do. Should it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The end is nigh

Just an update on my novel - it's nearing its release.  The basic premise of my novel is about the adventures of a zombie called Zed - I even have a cover for it, thanks to the collaborative efforts with my brother. 

Behold the mastery:

You might think this is a bit strange, but I think it's perfect. I wanted to have clear references to a zombie horror film, but with the appeal and tone of a children's book cover (like The BFG). It also works in a bit of social commentary, which is always a good thing.

Sort of George Romero meets Roald Dahl (or possibly Charles Shulz) - don't ask me who they are; shame on you if you don't know them!

Feel free to leave feedback about the cover :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jenny not from the block

I currently don't own a car, but if I did own one, it would probably be a Fiat 500 (Abarth).  I'm all about efficiency, style, compactness and a bit of speed.  I like a compact ride ..and the interior is great.  That might sound superfluous, but if you're driving, you're not looking at the sleek external lines, now, are you? I'd probably drop the stupid decals and tasteless hubs, but the underlying car is cool.  Prior to that, I would have chosen the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA.  It seems I have a thing for Italian pocket rockets.

For those that aren't aware, there's an ad for the Fiat 500 where J Lo shows her 'street cred' by driving the vehicle through her old neighbourhood; namely, the Bronx.  The only issue is that she couldn't, apparently, take time out from her 'busy schedule' to actually be bothered driving through her 'hood.  Instead they used a double for those scenes while we simply get close-ups of her ugly mug set to a non-descript background.

It's a bit of a PR fubar.

To add insult to injury, the vehicle used by the body double in the Bronx broke down.

All in all, not exactly what Fiat wanted when they hired the 'inimitable' J Lo.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yield to hedonism

In conjunction with my previous post on tradition, today is Black Friday.   An unofficial holiday dedicated to the Hedony of retail shopping.  A lot of retailers open in the wee hours of the morning to ensure a bumper sales turnover through discounted products and also being close to Christmas.

Repurposed from Jezebel
I think once you have a big screen, you have a stereo, you have a computer, I find it hard to purchase a new one when the previous one still functions perfectly well.  Is my mindset so foreign that there would be stampedes and fights breaking out just to save a few hundred dollars on some piece of crap product that you don't really want or need?  This article tells of a harrowing ordeal - thankfully I just focussed on my beauty sleep instead of worshipping some false god.

The questions I always ask myself before I purchase a new item is:
Do I want it and do I need it?

If I'm not able to answer yes to both parts of the question, I'll usually hold off.  Sometimes I will still buy it, because, hey, I am human after all.  I might not like that sometimes, but I'm at odds to change it.

As a side note, does anyone remember what Christmas is about? Is it about buying presents?  Is it about eating turkey?  Is it about Santa Claus?  Did you know that Santa's red suit was created by Coca Cola, so the whole red theme is just one giant advert for soft drink.  Did you know that December 25 was originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature).

What we now celebrate is just a perversion towards commercialism, gluttony and narcissism  I'm waiting for the holiday that covers the seven deadly sins - it certainly will be a spectacle if it ever exists.

I object

I am not sure that any mass protest has ever resulted in a major reform of the situation they so adamantly object to. Maybe they think they're standing for reform, but it is only really those in power that have any chance of making a reform. If you are not one of those people, you truly have no power.

Despite the injustice of pepper-spraying some seated non-violent protesters, this is a perfect metaphor for the lack of power they wield in their futile attempt for change.

They can bang their drums, they can occupy the financial districts, they can shout into their mega-phones and the only thing you will see is a blinding lack of change or reform.

I honestly can't think of one situation where a protest has ever changed a situation. Maybe they've postponed it, but only for a short time. The only things that have ever changed are those that have happened to coincide with the general consensus of the population. Having a few thousand people being angry is never it. The only way you change a situation is by actually doing something about it. 

Protesting is not it.

Vote for someone who isn't in it for themselves, or the powers that support this representative, is one way. Although, in modern democracy, it is almost a pointless exercise. For me, personally, it's like choosing which flavour of sh** tastes the best. Either way, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

I think the only thing we have any control of is our own lives. Rather than sitting in the cold in a make-shift tent trying to be angry for weeks about something out of your control, you can do something to better your situation in life. Become financially independent, find something you really want to do, find your source of happiness, run for government - change the world around you from the inside.

This is the only way to make any real change for your future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An ode to gluttony

For those that aren't in America (or Canada), tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As with every other annual event, it has been perverted beyond the point of not being recognised for what it originally stood. Thirteen Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans attended a celebration created to thank God for guiding them safely through the New World and revolved around a feast that lasted three days, although I find that hard to believe. Maybe not the three days of gluttony, considering the state of obesity in America, but the 7-to-1 ratio of Native Americans to Pilgrims.

So, of course, anything which involves eating a truckload of food consumed to the point of throwing up is a tradition too hard to pass up for the average American. I think the only thing they're thankful for nowadays is that someone hasn't finished the last Twinkie. Now, before you think I'm bashing Americans, I'm not. This could be directed towards almost any annual event, because every event has become perverted from its original intention and generally redirected towards gluttony and a hedonistic application.

Easter, which originally was a pagan celebration for the equinox of Spring, was then perverted to be the resurrection of Christ (Spring), which then became something about collecting chocolate eggs extracted from, some would hypothesise, a giant rabbit's ass. So, what was once used to mark the beginning of planting the next lot of crops has now become an excuse to eat excessive amounts of sweetened chocolate.

Mother's day, which was an excuse to appreciate your mother by making her breakfast and treating her nicely, has now become something about buying some cheap ass gift that she'll appreciate for a few minutes while you make her a cup of instant coffee in the morning. The creator of this tradition personally abhors what this celebration has become.

Movember, which started as an excuse to grow a mo' in a month, which then became a competition for the best 'tache, has now become about earning money for a charity to support the study of what might be lurking in a guy's ass. Yes. That makes perfect sense.

I could go on, but I won't. Happy Ode to Gluttony!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grades of humour

This is a minor diversion into diagnosing why I like Doug Stanhope.  I'd probably rate him as an unexpected/rant comedian, which is graded pretty high on my categorisation of humour.

I'm not sure about you, but I find it hard to find something amusing.  There only seem to be a few categories of humour that I'm aware of:

Unexpected humour (highest)
I think that the best kind of humour is almost always related to a punchline you don't expect (obviously).  If you know what the joke is as soon as the story starts, there is nothing to amuse you once the punchline finally comes.  It's only funny if the unexpected punchline actually fits, otherwise it devolves into wacky.  Mr Doug - that's all I need to say.

Rant humour (high)
Rant humour is always interesting, as it usually relates to observational but has that angry tang that your brain so craves.  Everyone loves nothing better than a good rant.  Chris Rock is a classic example.  Very funny and mixes in a bit of unexpected, too.

Observational humour (average)
I think humour can also come from being able to relate to the joke - 'hey, I do that thing'.  If you can empathise with the pain or embarrassment of the person that is describing the situation, then you're half-way there to finding something to be amused about.  If they're able to twist a mundane situation on its head such that you see something that was once utilitarian in a completely different light, then mission accomplished.  The king of observational: Jerry Seinfeld.

One-liners (low)
Not a fan of this, unless it has a tinge of unexpected to it.  Steven Wright is probably the only one that I like, as his delivery is so good.  How can you not like a manic-depressive zoloft-popping poor excuse for a human being delivering lines with a degree of enthusiasm that would make an emo ask if he could lighten up a touch.

Wacky/novelty humour (lowest)
The lowest of the forms, although if it is somehow integrated with observational such that it is more of a social commentary, then it can elevate beyond the meagre baseline.  For example, Monty Python manages to improve to the likes of observational at their best.  Carrot Top is probably the worst, as his is pure novelty with one show that he's recycled for the last 20 years.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Art Of War

Corporate strategy has come a long way in the few short years, relatively speaking, that it has existed.

Sun Tzu's The Art Of War is filled with brilliant quotes or proverbs to live your life by. It was originally written to be a guide to the art of war. i.e. this was a war manual for the commanders of battalions to ensure victory.

In modern times, the quotes and proverbs have been re-purposed into a more modern context. Sure, we're not laying siege to fortresses or devising schemes to flank the enemy with fast-moving cavalry, but still, there is value in the words and concepts.

"All war is based on deception"
I'm sure no day goes by where you don't use deception to better your world. Whether it's avoiding the truth through delicate omissions or outright lying if the truth would be far worse to tell. Our lives are filled with deception and it's only those that choose to deceive that have the greatest chance to succeed.

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious"
Corporate life ensures that if you don't follow this, you will see the exit sooner rather than later. Even if you are right, it's best to avoid a Pyrrhic Victory: a victory at too greater cost.

"Know your enemy"
If you know and understand your enemy you can predict his/her movements and take a path that most benefits your actions. I'm pretty sure that your simplest battles in the day-to-day have come when you understand how to get the most out of someone that is not necessarily a willing helper.

In hindsight, it would seem obvious, but to have all these valuable 'war' mindsets in one book brings with it great value. There are plenty more quotes that I've chosen to omit, but it's definitely worth getting your mind focussed on the art of war.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Manufactured desires

So many of the celebrities that I see nowadays are formed by the result of a corporate spectre analysing the market and tailoring the look and tone according to analysis, psychology and a desire to make a lot of money. Case in point:

This is marketed to my tastes, my preferred tone and my preferred musical style. The music and video are cynical and heart-felt, with montages of the 'good old days', interspersed with excerpts from cartoons and a commentary on manufactured celebrity through the machinations of the paparazzi. It is a wonder of engineering.

From the trout lips this poor girl wears, to the styling's of a 60's harlot she attempts to convey. Her sound is sort of a mash-up of Kate Bush and Adele. Obviously the words of Adele, the voice of Kate - the opposite would be horrible, but I digress. In preparation for her re-imagined debut, they put her on a diet, changed her face, changed her name, changed her singing style, changed her music. The girl that was once called Lizzie Grant, now goes by Lana Del Rey. She used to look like this ... although I'm unsure whether this was manufactured too.

I am not sure I need to say anything more. I'm at odds to support this heartless desire to take my money, but I'm at a loss not to like it. Their psychology is far too strong.

Note: This article covers far more than I could express: Lana Del Rey.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Publishing like a champ

In preparation for the 'imminent release' of my first novel, I thought I'd investigate what I can do to get the most exposure when I publish my book into the ether. I think, outside of writing something which people actually want to read (very important), the rest relies on your target audience being aware your latest 'masterpiece'. There is no point writing a book like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, if the only people that read it are pot smokers who think it's something to do while high.

The main thing for getting the word out is, apparently, blogging (ahem), enabling the prospective customer a chance to read a portion of it, distributing to as many eBook publications as possible and getting influential book sites to review your novel.

The blog is a good medium - you can discuss your characters, you can paste excerpts to whet their appetite. You can do a lot to promote your book, but only as long as you have a large-ish reader base.

eBook Publications
I think, outside of the well-known ones, like kindle, nook, iTunes, there is another which seems to be pretty good.

The first thing, which is pretty compelling, is that 85% of the revenue goes straight to you - and that ain't shabby. The second is that it supports all the major eBook readers, as well as PDF's and even plain text. The third is that you can allow your reader to read a good portion of the novel before they even purchase it - that makes things a lot easier so you know what you're getting when you plonk down your hard-earned cash. Coincidently, the majority of the story was written over the course of November, which happens to be the month of NaNoWriMo.

Book review sites
Rather than listing each one, I'll give you a link to a list of book review sites:

For popular blogs by authors, I think this is pretty compelling:

References and further reading:
Amanda Hocking: How to do what I do
Bare bones guide: How to launch a new ebook for sale

The one major thing that I missed was to send out ARC's (Advanced Review Copies) and to drum up some excitement leading up to the release of my novel (shame on me). Well, lesson learned. So don't forget that no one will care if you've written the next Harry Potter if there is no lead up. Start early and drum up interest before the book is released.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To hell with Selena Gomez

Am I the only one who sees through the ruse that is Gomez and Bieber?

Am I the only one who sees the blood-sucking succubus that is Selena Gomez? She's only there to promote her insignificant paltry lack-of-talent piece-of-dreck career. Without Bieber she'd be another 'Disney girl', which seemed to have worked out well for Britney.
    C'mon, Selena; don't you want to emulate Britney? Britney did so well... well, outside of her multiple melt-downs but, c'mon, look at the stars! Aren't they shiny? You almost seem as 'talented' as the eye candy from that Victorious show on Nickelodeon.
This just in: Justin Bieber is gay ... maybe. If you're in denial, just wait about 10 years. If you don't beliebe me, you're in denial. I have an indomitable gaydar; it took one look at Ricky Martin and knew, it took one look at Ian Thorpe and knew. Irrespective of whether they finally decided to come out or not is irrelevant. Let's face the facts:
  • He is musical
  • He is (begrudgingly) talented
  • He is a sensitive flower in need of Mummy cuddles
  • He looks like a lesbian hobbit
  • He is less-than-masculine
  • He takes more time on his hair than Gomez (admittedly stylists etc.)
  • He takes more time on his clothes than Gomez (admittedly stylists etc.) 
There is only one conclusion that can be reached from this, now, isn't there? Maybe I'm completely off - maybe I'm just thrown off by the 'flagrant metrosexuality' on display. Could it be that the reason that he's successful is just to promote floral fruit bouquet conditioners, moisturisers for 'men' and five-hundred dollar mop hair-do's? I know that media and various cosmetic/personal hygiene companies have been trying to crack the male market. Considering at least 80-90% of their revenue is derived from women, if they were to attain even 10% more of the male population, it would make a huge difference to their bottom line. But, as long as women are able to stick their fingers in their ears and fantasise about a feminine hobbit, the male market will continue to believe that the only way to get a woman is by never going through puberty and modelling their style upon a floral-bouqueted merkin.

My dysfunctional hero

Mr Doug Stanhope: In my most coherent, eloquent, salient, antagonist-minded moment, I'd hope to be a tenth as capable as you.

He's a stand-up comedian, chronic drinker, drug user and a staunch believer in excess.  Or, as he calls it, excess in moderation.  He's also hilarious.

I find his mind amazing to follow.  He takes Zoloft and sleeping pills so he can sleep without his thoughts keeping him awake.  Sure, he's sensational (if you watch some of his stuff), but he is somehow able to twist this sensationalism in such a way that you can't help understanding his point.  He's like a current-day bene gesserit, able to use 'the voice' to sway your mind.

Even though the two of us don't appear very similar on the outside, I think we're almost the same.  His views are mine, his perspective is mine, his brain is mine.  The way we choose to handle the infliction caused by our thoughts is different, but the symptoms are the same.

Off topic ever so slightly:
    Speaking of symptoms, watching TV in America is a depressing activity. I've seen this ad for a drug for depression called 'abilify' which, apart from hurting my brain at the double-speak-esque name, hurts my head in other ways.  This is an anti-depressant supplement. So if you are still depressed with your current anti-depressants, here's something that'll take you 'to eleven'.  But it's a small price to pay, as long as the symptoms are treated. Does anyone else see a problem with that previous sentence?

    "Yeah you're fine - you got no symptoms!  You're great!  Now just repeat this treatment till you got no symptoms of life."

    I'd like to think we're beyond the point of treating symptoms and actually looking at the cause, or is that being far too presumptuous? It then goes onto say that in some cases it can increase the chances of suicide, stroke, coma or death... I'm sorry.  Is this meant to help or just get you further along the path to your final demise?
Anyway, rant over - back to Doug.

I have a feeling that, despite his apparent excesses, he'll be another Keith Richards.  Where he, despite all probability, remains alive far beyond what should be clinically possible.  I think, ironically, he lives to spite himself.  It's a wonderful contradiction.

Here's a list of his 'cleaner' material:

Anyway, Doug's an amazing comedian and he deserves at least a few minutes of your time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Taking a slug to the slogan

American company slogans.

You either love them or hate them. I generally hate them, but 300 million Americans can't all be wrong.There was a time when slogans were intelligent; made by intelligent companies with a view to promote intelligent thoughts or positive views towards their product or service.


Fly the friendly skies.

Brilliant, but United Airlines went bust so maybe not the best example of a success story.

Gripping Stuff.

For Dunlop tyres. Not much more you need to say.


Put a tiger in your tank.

By Shell. Pretty stupid, as Tigers are almost extinct. Maybe they're inferring to us that the millions of tigers that have been killed were then distilled into petroleum and that gives your engine some extra pep? Well, alrighty, then. Sign me up for some tiger juice.

This category is dedicated to the late Steve Jobs: Steve, I salute you for opening the door wide open to asinine slogans.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The curse of an easy life

I personally feel that I would have succeeded far more if there were more hurdles in place to my success. I sometimes think my life is too easy. I know a good number of examples where people have succeeded from a less-than-ideal starting point.

Take Kyle Sandilands: an absolute tool but a successful one. He started as a street kid and is now a multi-millionaire, despite the general public's abhorrence towards him. Lil Wayne, Richard Pryor, Katt Williams - all revered in their field of choice but all with terrible lives growing up. I think those troubles in early life motivated them to push themselves. To ensure that they would never have to feel that pain or maybe to gloss over the loss in their early lives.

It seems that even with success it sometimes isn't enough, with self-destructive tendencies rearing its ugly head at the least opportune moment. A lot of theses successful people realise too late that success doesn't necessarily equal happiness; but I would rather be successful and unhappy than unsuccessful and unhappy.

As the great Charlie Sheen once said about success:
"People say it's lonely at the top, but I sure like the view"
..not that anyone should try to emulate the life or lifestyle of Charlie Sheen.

Since my life has been pretty charmed, it does nothing to motivate me to get out of such a 'bad' situation. I think the only way that I keep pushing forwards is by tricking my mind into believing my current situation is not enough. I strive because I want more. I want success, I want financial freedom. All quite admirable but I think even if I weren't able to reach this, my life would still be pretty darn good. Hopefully I'm the only one that has such a distorted view of happiness and success. But darned if I don't want a less-easy life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back-patters unite

It seems Steve Buscemi has expanded his range into shilling for mundane-looking Nokia devices.

I can't believe they were able to pad eight minutes basically saying, we created a plastic case for a phone. I guess, if I thought hard enough, I could spruik the virtues and collaborative energies that went into designing a tic-tac.

Such as:
    "We really moved towards a collaborative design where the virtues of our product were paramount to the satisfaction and intuitive application. Take the white colour. It promotes a simple and clean notion that appeals to the eye and motivates them to pick it up. A lot of consideration went into the texturing. It should feel smooth and sublime when held in your hand, but still retain some tactile friction so that it has a degree of resistance as you caress it in your hand.
    The overall shape of the tic-tac is a work of genius.
    It is cylindrical in shape, but feels solid to the touch. It has a smooth, straight body which entices the handler to reach out and touch it. This is complemented by round ends which promote further touch.  See how your finger rolls naturally over the surface; it feels exciting to hold between your forefinger and thumb. The rounded ends allow smooth application into your mouth, emulating the smooth rounded surface of your teeth. The white shade and shape are implicitly designed with the intention of promoting its application into your mouth. It's a wonder of subliminal imagery.
    The tactile layering of the content is a work of genius.."

And so on. God, I can't believe I just did that. I feel so dirty. The hilarity of this eight-minute video is that they simply created a case. They already had the hardware. Just a matter of creating a case to hold in the stuff they already had and then plonking an operating system by microsoft and they're done.

Or am I missing something?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Musings for life

I'm always fascinated by the the things that motivate people. I'm even more surprised by the things that motivate me at times. Writing, for me, is an organic process. Sometimes I go into a post or story without any vision of what I am about to write. It could, quite possibly, turn into a rambling incoherent mess but I'm still fascinated by it nonetheless. The thought that I'm somehow tapping into my sub-conscious rather than writing with a preconceived plan amazes me. I can't help but think that I'm a vessel for my sub-conscious thoughts. My brain is my muse, apparently.

When I was about six years old I wrote a story that was submitted for a competition. I don't think I ever thought of winning but I was going to write the best I could as I've always been competitive. The basic story revolved around a gorilla that befriends and follows me to school and then joins me in a swimming pool. I'm not sure what motivated me to write about that but my sub-conscious somehow did. I ended up writing one of the best stories for my year and was forced to read the story to the whole school.

I think, if I'd known about that, I wouldn't have written it as well. Addressing my school and telling that story was not my idea of a reward. I read it self-consciously but the students seemed to enjoy it, laughing at the point where the gorilla jumps in the pool with me. I'm not sure what my muse was for that story but it resulted in my achievements being recognised.

Which brings me to current day. I'm writing a book and it has been almost a completely organic experience.  It has almost all been written as if I am purely an eye witness to the events, rather than following a structured set piece of preconceived ideas, story arcs and notions. I travel with the characters in my book, chronicling their journey, rather than creating it. That thought is amazing to me. Some of the best parts of the story have come to me unaided. I would like to think that there is still structure to the story, as I do massage the words and pacing, but the underlying thoughts and ideas are extracted from the ether.

Do you find yourself questioning where your motivations come from? What motivates you to do something in your life over all others? What are your muses for life?

Truly visionary

This is the vision of future productivity from a company devoid of any:

Microsoft's 'vision' is of a future that is ruled by iPads and iPods and iDontCares.  Their only innovation in 30 years has been an ability to react to the vision of others. This certainly isn't my vision; it looks to me like an exercise in annoyance.  Unlike a lot of you, I see little attraction to a world of finger painting.  I'd much rather have a world where you're jacked in, similar to the Matrix.  That way we're not limited to a world where you're forced to interact with Kinect-like awkwardness.  Using the bluntness of a sausage as the sole source of interaction is my vision of hell.

I work in IT but I hate smart phones.  I'm a luddite when it comes to things that pinch or swipe.  My idea of an interface worth building is something that gives you instant access to what you want, without silly transitions, fade-ins and fade-outs.  All that crud just gets in the way of me getting where I need to go.  I think as a minor diversion they're fine but, for anything that demands a degree of productivity, I'd rather go back to a lump of coal and a rock wall than sit there drawing pictures for mummy and daddy.

My preferred method of interaction for productivity-based work is a keyboard.  I'm a 'keyboard guy,' which means that the majority of my interaction is preferably done with something that gives me near-instant response.  Having to drag an animated cursor across a screen with a mouse is just irritating when a single key press can do the same thing with an infinite degree more accuracy, speed and tactile response.

I think the future is something that works directly with your cortex.  Something that understands your thoughts and line of sight automatically so it works at the speed of a synapse.  Nanoseconds vs seconds.  It definitely should not be finger painting, although I doubt that my vision will be the future, given the short-sighted nature of this 'visionary look into the future.'

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wooing the gamer

John Woo, for those that don't know, is a famous action movie director. He's done Mission Impossible 2, Hard Target, Face/Off and many more. I think in every film, at one point or other, the protagonist is jumping to the side or backwards while firing a gun. This inspired games such as Max Payne and pretty much any game with 'bullet time' in it. But, to my mind, the first game to have jumping backwards in slow-ish motion while firing a gun was Elevator Action. And this, I think, is John Woo's dirty secret; it's the source of his inspiration. The fact that there have been elevators, enemies, guns and doors in his films must be pure coincidence, right? I don't think so.

Elevator Action (arcade version) is a brilliant game. I've probably played it at least two-hundred times. The premise of the game is so simple. Go in the red doors to collect 'the documents' and then leave via the ground floor, while peeling away in a red sports car. The trick is that there are enemies that are intent on shooting you and there are elevators, which doesn't sound so hard until you try and play through a level.

The way to play the game is to use the elevators to go down, toggling movement up and down to avoid the shots from the enemy on each floor. You can't crouch while on a lift, but you can jump if need be. The tension comes from having to wait for lifts while the baddies leave their rooms and are very quick to shoot at you. They can only fire once every three seconds, so if you're able to avoid the shot, then it should be easy to either shoot them or do some kind of jump/kick to the head to finish them off. And that's it.

Amazingly simple, yet very hard to master. I think my best score is well into the top ten on Twin Galaxies but, really, I play because the game is addictive, challenging and fun.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Survival of the fittest

When did that expression lose its meaning?

It no longer means anything in the world we have today. In the physical sense, there is basically nothing left to threaten the weakest, meekest or disease-ridden. Take the lion. The male lion can only maintain his pride as long as he's the strongest. The one most capable of protecting his lionesses and cubs. As soon as there is any sign of weakness, his throne is relinquished to the new strongest male and so on.

'The circle of life', to use a line from that corny Disney film.

Now if you're the weakest in society, you might not have a pride of lionesses, but you're still able to survive.  There are prescriptions, treatments and cures for pretty much any of the things that can inflict a person. When did it become 'survival of the person with the best medical care'? To top it all off, they can then pass on their tainted DNA to their children. It's perverting natural selection for their selfish need to 'protect' their bloodline.

A mans' worth is now based either through fame, money or being physically attractive. Sure, it's good to have those attributes, but that doesn't measure any of the attributes you should truly be gauged on. Strength of character, the ability to think, the ability to empathise or strive forwards are a true measure of self-worth.  I think it's the society we live in which has perverted the meaning of 'the fittest'.

Maybe we need to have a gladiatorial test of a man's strength, intelligence and drive to prove their worth as a prized catch. A similar thing would have to be devised for women, too. Then there would be a ranking system that would rate a person. Just as you have a credit rating, you'd have an eligibility or 'fittest' rating. It could be that if the rating was too low, you were no longer able to pass on your DNA.

Take Gattaca, one of my favourite films. The basic story revolves around a fixation of a man's worth by their DNA. Their future was determined by their strength of DNA which would determine what kind of role they were eligible for and who they could socialise with. The film concludes with a man, that despite having weak DNA, becomes a 'DNA elite' through subterfuge and strength of character. He is able to exceed all expectations despite being ranked weak within this society.

There's a quote that I think is brilliant:
'I never saved anything for the swim back'

His strength of character was such that he was so determined to reach his goal that he'd put everything on the line to succeed. Now that is a persons' worth that needs to exceed his lifetime.

So in conclusion, it's not that we save people who are weak, it's that the weak of character are able to continue their bloodline, destroying future generations in the process. The ability to procreate should be a privilege rather than a right. I think anyone who is willing to push their limits beyond what they should be capable of is worthy. Anyone who strives for a better future is something we should preserve. You can always do far more if you don't save anything for the swim back.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Apologies for the drunken ramblings in the near future:

This is a shorter post relative to the previous, although no less poignant.

Why is it that you have a greater compunction to help if you're inebriated?  Why is it that you require alcohol to feel compassionately towards your human man?  Why is it that you only feel compassionate once you've had a few?

I really don't know.  Could it be that your ability to rationalise overrides your ability to rationlise.  Could it be that your rational self thinks too much.  Is it only if you're inebriated that everything becomes clear?

I think it's relative to your ability to empathise.  Your abilities to relate to your human man override your need to understand why they need money.  You give because it's the right thing to do.

Is that so wrong?  I personally don't think so,

At least in this state of mind...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Material worth

One of the mantra's that I live by is a quote from the film Fight Club:

At first it doesn't seem to make sense, until you start thinking about it. The more you do, the more it becomes 'relevant', the meaning becomes clear.

My interpretation is that, alongside the accumulation of possessions, your freedoms are compromised. Take the scenario where you buy a nice white sofa which fits in perfectly with the rest of your decor. With this 'great sofa', the following concerns come to mind:
  • 'Scotch guarding' your couch to protect against marking
  • Avoiding *anyone* putting their feet up on it
  • Maybe getting a plastic cover / throw rug to protect it from wear
  • Avoiding drinking red wine / eating anything that could stain it.
  • Being reticent to move, as the sofa now fits in 'so nicely' in your current home
  • Getting insurance to ensure that if it's stolen / damaged in some way, you can get a new one
  • Paying the sofa off before the interest-free period expires (possibly)
It seems like a lot of things to consider just for a 'new sofa'. Now, take that new car. You now have to worry about parking, fuel, scratches, other drivers, your driving, servicing your car, keeping your miles down for high resale value, choosing the right colour also for high resale, choosing the right model for high resale etc. So much is geared towards not losing money, or maintaining the items that you purchased so they remain 'new' for as long as possible. Outside of the basic function of sitting on the lounge, or driving the car to get to point B, how much of the other things consume your mind? Maybe I just think too much, but I'm sure at least a few of the things on the list have crossed your mind at one time or the other.

The other Fight Club quote that seems fitting is:
"It's only once you have lost everything that you are free to do anything"

There seems to be some value in that quote, too. Even though those mantra's are high on my thoughts each day, I don't follow them to the letter. I am human, after all. I have things, I have things that consume my mind. At times I feel as if there would be merits in removing these items from my life, but as long as I live in a society that can't work without these things, I will always be shackled by a need to have things. I wouldn't be able to blog unless I had computer of some kind. I wouldn't have a job unless I could dress appropriately, I wouldn't be able to make a coffee without a kettle. All things that you 'need'.

I think at some point, there will need to be a change; either from choice or necessity. What will happen if, and when, that time comes? What things can you truly not 'live' without? What is your material worth?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hope for the future

The inspiration for the post today:

Who would think that one speech from a comedian, of all people, would be deemed within the world of youTube, as the 'greatest speech ever made'? It definitely propels you to do 'something', what you interpret it to be is probably more of a subjective thing, as it's not 100% clear.

The speech is rousing, but I feel like the overall message somehow gets lost, although it's hard not to well up in the carousing words of Mr Charlie Chaplin playing, what looks like, some kind of fuhrer.
    He starts out saying he doesn't want to be an emperor or rule but then goes onto to tell you what you should do.

    He talks about the things we should work against; greed, bigotry, the alienating advancements in technology and displacement of the human connection.

    He then states that we need to reconnect with fellow man as those that oppress are pushed to the side. You as an individual will need to make personal choices, choices to fight for those that attempt to oppress, those that attempt to treat us as cattle, those that destroy blindly, those that put up barriers.

    He then states that we have the power to create happiness, the power to reconnect and create a future through advancements in technology.

At the most basic interpretation of the video, it seems to be both an argument for and against technology, which seems kind of funny. By my assessment of the current day world, we're still at the introduction to the speech - no change has occurred outside of the back-patting antics of those that tell you they care. And who are we to question?

Spending my time in a big city, I come across a good number of homeless people begging to get through the day, let-alone the week. A lot of them are grizzled, a lot of them are in need of a fix, but some are different. There is one in particular that appears to be the happiest person I know. He doesn't have an iPod, he doesn't have a stock portfolio, but he always seems to be smiling. He smiles with his eyes, which is rare these days. I'm a firm believer that you can tell a lot from the mouth and the eyes, and his seems to encompass pure happiness.

He doesn't beg, exactly, but he does make those around him aware that he is in need. The only thing he does say is 'have a good day', while smiling at you. He might be the world's best con artist, but it's hard to pass him without a strong desire to give him everything in my wallet. Other homeless people that beg almost get incensed if you pass them by without giving something; like it's 'their right' that you provide for them. Not him. He doesn't appear to be in need of anything other than a hot meal and to provide for his partner in life: a dog. That dog probably takes the compunction to help further, as it's the most devoted animal I've seen. Always looking towards her master with undying focus. I can tell it's a she because she's got pink toe nails and is wearing a tailored coat that looks like it cost a lot more than the man's entire wardrobe.

The thing that motivates and inspires me that there is still hope is not technology, it's a homeless man.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Orchestrating aid

Self-help sites and articles - they seem to be everywhere you look for every possible issue you could have. Whether the help they provide is of any use is really down to whether you feel motivated to use it. I think if you're motivated to fix what is broken, then they've achieved their goal. If you follow their advice and it fails and you fall in a heap because of it, it's your own damn fault.

I'm not saying you 'failed' at the instructions, but 'anyone' can go to a website and write a few paragraphs that sound credible (just like me). It doesn't mean they should be qualified to be doling out advise, though (just like me).

This article seems to be an example in misdirection.

From the title, it would seem that this is to help you write a great synopsis or perfect the spruiking of your book to potential readers. It turns out that the article is actually trying to teach you how to 'sell' the scenarios in your book so your reader is willing to travel with you through the implausible scenario you've concocted. Maybe there's a title in there somewhere that you can make into a soundbite. Possibly:

'Tips on how to suspend disbelief through implausible scenarios
...oh, and make readers enjoy your book nonetheless'

This seems more representative of the article, unless I'm missing something. I'll summarise this 'lengthy' article into what those four points actually are:
  1. Identify the things you need to sell and don't sell the thing that your reader is already sold on
    Which translates to 'identify the unrealistic aspects in your book and sell those'
  2. Identify the things in your novel that are not coming across when read by someone else
    Which translates to 'you need to write more, or, elaborate on the cues the reader is missing'
  3. Do you really need to sell the reader on those things that no one seems to understand?
    This one basically says get rid of that aspect of your story that is incapable of being saved
  4. Go and actually 'sell' the concept now. Go on, my job is done. Nothing left to see here
    This is where the article should have started, in my opinion.
The previous three steps are classifying aspects of your novel and are not about 'selling'.
I would write it as this:
If it's terrible, get rid of it. If it's unclear, rewrite it and/or elaborate on it.

This seems like 'Writing 101', even for me. By the time you're at point four, it's a wonder that you still know what this was actually about. Was it about trying to sell the poorly-conceived aspects of your badly-written novel whereas, in fact, you should really just delete that crud and start again? No? That wasn't it? I actually liked some of the things written after point four. It was nice to have my ideas twisted towards the concept of writing as if you are the composer of a symphony.

Let's go through the aspects that go into composing a 'good symphony' :
(played out to an 'action-comedy theme')
  • Catchy melody
    The tune needs to get stuck in your head. i.e. the concept needs to be something the reader wants to read. Something that will resonate after the book has been put down.
    e.g. 'Saving the city from destruction ... but is the evil genius really just attempting to save the world from us?' - cheesy, I know, but you get the point.
  • Set the tone of the piece
    The tone needs to be established in the first chapter.
    e.g. 'The hero is walking along singing puppy love to his one-week old puppy who has a tag with 'rusty' on it and then gets into a shootout because someone doesn't think his puppy is the cutest' - Ludicrous, but it does set the tone.
  • Evoke an emotional response
    It doesn't matter whether it's affection, anger, sadness or laughter. Whatever your focus is, ensure that your theme stays true to the intended emotional connection. Those that aren't emotionally invested in your 'music' won't listen to it again, or simply skip to the next track.
  • e.g. 'The evil genius just killed a puppy => He needs to be punished for this act of depravity'.
  • Repeat the underlying theme in various ways throughout piece
    e.g. 'Hero needs to seek revenge for the poor puppy and drinks because of it' - the cliche's keep coming!
  • Continue the tone throughout the duration of the piece, although vary it
    It's perfectly fine to focus more on action in some, comedy in other, but if it turns into a grisly novel, you've lost your reader. On that point, it's probably not wise to destroy the puppy in a grisly way. It would ruin the tone of action-comedy. It needs to be both comical, action'y and villainous. So maybe the villain gives the dog an exploding chew toy or something. Action and comedy - brilliant.
  • Get the pacing right
    It's important that there are lulls between action/comedy set pieces. Too much funny or action and it no longer has any impact. You sometimes need to hold off on giving what the reader wants.
  • Make sure the instruments in your orchestra work together
    In other words, all the plots and characters and scenarios should combine together towards the intended tone you wish to convey.
    e.g. If you have a plucky sidekick, then don't make him work against the tone. If he's suicidal, make him a pathetic suicidal character that always fails within the action-comedy theme. You could even play off references to other action flicks like 'Loaded Weapon'.
  • Solo parts
    This should fall to the hero / villain, although more than likely the hero. You want your reader to relate to him and understand the pain / comedy of his thoughts towards the evil genius.
And that's about it. To me, this guide seems to be far more useful than pretty much everything in the article I linked above ... and I'm not even published.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Better paint, same vehicle

I have pretty much been a life-long gamer from my early childhood. The games that I grew up with couldn't rely on fancy graphics to translate their fun to the end gamer - they had to rely on solid game mechanics and a desire to entertain. I defy anyone to say that the concept of space invaders isn't solid. The fact that only one bullet can be fired while on the screen is a master stroke.

Rather, than spew out a slurry of multi-coloured projectiles at your adversaries, you need to line up and predict the flight of your enemy to allow your shot to hit at the point where your enemy will be, rather than where it is at this moment. You also have four barriers which deteriorate with your shots or your enemies, giving a diminishing strategic advantage for the short while that barrier exists. Some of the game mechanics were 'environmental' though. One quirk was that as you reduced their armada the game would run quicker. This in turn ramped up the tension as the remaining alien ships hurtled dangerously towards you. With those few game mechanics, the game became a must-play. Also, it was pretty much the only game of that style at the time.

Turning to modern day games, maybe I'm a grizzled old gamer, but I'm not inspired by a large number of blockbuster games. If you were to strip out all the fancy graphics and set pieces, what would you be left with? What indeed. I think if you squint hard enough, you'll see that Gears of War is, at its most basic, really just space invaders. Sure, you're moving from cover-to-cover while chainsawing the horde, but if you really look, you'll see that you're just a green block shooting at an invader while sneaking out from behind a non-deteriorating barrier, oh and you're spraying bullets as well, hoping that one of them goes in the direction of your adversary. At its most basic, the gameplay mechanics are flawed. So let's do a break-down of the basic features for both games:

FeatureGears of WarSpace Invaders
Cutting edge graphics (for the time)YesYes
Strategic single fireNo*Yes
Increasing difficulty based on number of enemies leftMaybeYes
Deteriorating coverSometimesYes
Enemies moveSometimesYes
Game of skillSometimesYes
One shot death / killSometimesYes
Ability to complete level without being shotIf you're luckyYes
Melee combatYesNo
Awkward dialogYesNo
Awkward 'bromance'YesNo

*except sniper rifle, but then, you don't need to lead the target, so no.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh about Gears, it is fun, but its core gameplay isn't. It's fun despite the basic concept of a skill-based game being broken. Space Invaders either lucked out or had a different agenda when it was created. It reinforces the need to destroy the invaders within an immediately visible time frame (avoiding them flying into you). It's harrowing to know you have to 'lead' the shot to shoot that final ship as it steadily moves towards you. It's that tension that Gears misses out on. If there was more emphasis on accurate shots and having cover that would always only handle a certain amount of shots before destroying, the game would basically be fixed. Without it, you can go for a coffee and basically be safe. Well, that is until they decide to come up and say hello to your chainsaw. - YAWN - 

Gears is for those that like pizza (who doesn't?) and don't care if they put on a few pounds while eating it. Space Invaders is like a good sandwich. It still fills you up but, you don't pay for it later in the gym. It has everything you need and nothing more. You play gears for the spectacle, for the action, but not for the game. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing.

Note: Gears isn't the only guilty party, but simply an example of modern gaming.