Friday, November 25, 2011


Now that cellphones, and most especially smartphones, have become so common that they seem like a clumsy, halfhearted Borg assimilation plot, the full force of their resulting cultural shift is beginning to crash on the shores of the general public.

The marker that everyone points to is the generation of children, now old enough to understand the mechanisms that drive their world, who cannot grasp how a society might function without each person having constant access to worldwide communication. In time, however, I think you'll find that the more difficult concept to explain is this: there was a time, kids, when purchasing a new phone wasn't a gigantic ordeal.

Three major operating systems, several carriers, and hundreds of phones that range in price from zero dollars on-contract to "we priced it this much so that you'd never think of buying a phone not-on-contract" dollars. And the whole ecosystem is underlined by the (when you stop to think about it) super weird contract phenomenon itself: something like getting to purchase a car for 1/3 the price if you agree to only buy gas from one company for two years.*

So not only is the decision itself difficult, but there's a real sense that you'd better not screw it up-because otherwise you'll spend those two years kicking yourself and watching the great upgrade clock count down once again. Someday we'll mark time by our phone contracts, noting our distance from a big life event by what device we remember checking facebook on while it was happening.

*Don't tell anyone I said that, it might become real.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I should really (read: I probably will never) create a list of the most important things I've read. Not the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, or anything "important" in a grand way, but the things that have stuck with me personally, popping up in my thoughts again and again, perhaps having a lasting impression on the way I think.

A surprising number of these writings will probably be about video games. Like this one!

In case you don't feel like investigating the whole thing, here's the short version. Among gamers, there's a subset that are enthusiasts for flight sims: highly accurate simulations of actual aircraft. And within that community, there's another subset that simulate air traffic controllers, using headsets to keep virtual pilots from crashing into one another. I should also mention that the air traffic software isn't a commercial product, but a fan-developed free add-on.

If the idea of people simulating another person's in-no-way-glamorous job in their leisure time sounds crazy*, then allow me to correct you: it actually isn't. It only sounds crazy because it's probably not you, or anyone you know. It is a sliver of a sliver of a chunk of society, but it's there. And that's why the post has stuck with me, it's a great example of how very broad the range of human experience is.

*I could never do this without insisting on using the crazy phonetic alphabet from the Hot Shots movies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I don't know what you just said

For some reason, I've been thinking about Batman a lot lately.

Despite Christopher Nolan's best efforts to bring that universe into something resembling reality, there's no doubt that the villains are pretty ridiculous. However, as with Tolkien's Mt. Doom, those characters are now so well known that no one seems to notice how fairly stupid they are. I'll let you mentally run through the roster on your own, but here's a preview: one of them is a PENGUIN MAN.*

That being said, Batman's little circus of evil weirdos has taught me a lot about what makes a good villain. In terms of storytelling, the purpose of an enemy is to reveal the hero-to challenge the champion in interesting ways, force him to make interesting choices. The way you equip a good enemy to do that is by making him a foil for some virtue of the hero.

Riddler - Intellectual foil
Catwoman - Physical/Stealthy foil
Mr. Freeze - Technological foil
Scarecrow - Foil for Batman's use of fear
Joker - Foil for Batman's will, his capacity for taking actions that other people don't.

These enemies all do something that Batman does, but usually better, and that keeps Batman's abilities from seeming unstoppable, while also forcing him to use the rest of his arsenal in new ways.

*And another one is a ventriloquist. Yeah.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pop Rally

Does it seem weird to anyone else that marching bands commonly play "Paint It Black" at sporting events? Isn't that song, which seems to be about consuming depression following the death of a lover, at an odd juxtaposition with "The Hey Song"*?

"I look inside myself and see my heart is black"

Ummmm, Go Team?!

"No colors anymore I want them to turn black"

Woo, Touchdown!

I guess you could argue the same about "The Imperial March" (aka, Darth Vader's theme), but that at least has an ominous, threatening vibe you might want to instill in your opponent. "Paint It Black" isn't threatening, though,  so unless your goal is to really bum the other side out I don't get it. Seems like when you're trying to rally a crowd, a song commonly used as the backdrop to Vietnam War movies shouldn't be your first choice.

*Fun fact: Some part of your mind is always listening to "The Hey Song," over and over.