Media I've consumed in 2015

January 03, 2016 at 10:46 PM | categories: movies, books, games | View Comments

Someday I'll create my own art. Until then, I continue to consume.



My 2015 reading list is incredibly skimpy, due to taking on reading the entire Song of Ice and Fire series. I've been reading a chapter a night, and I'm still not all the way caught up. Still, of the few books I've read this year, I'd give the od to the original A Game of Thrones, both because it was very fresh (I had been successful in avoiding HBO series spoilers before reading the books), and because at that point I hadn't burnt out on the series. At this point, I'm kind of sick of it, but I'm on the home stretch. I'm kind of glad Martin is taking his time writing the next book.



Whiplash does a lot of things, and it does them all well. It explores the sacrifices made to attain greatness. It makes a memorable, over-the-top scene-chewing J. K. Simmons villain who still never comes off as evil or cartoonish. It takes an incredibly dense music genre that I frankly don't have the time nor inclination to care about but made me not just appreciate it on an intellectual level, but actually enjoy it throughout the movie. Although the first bars of the titular Whiplash will probably haunt me for a long time.



The game I kept coming back to in 2015 was Cook, Serve, Delicious!. Something about that game just puts me into a Zen-like trance that I probably haven't felt since playing through the higher levels of Super Hexagon or beating "Freebird" on hard in Guitar Hero (I never could crack expert, though). The light sim and progression elements provide a nice wrapper, but really the mechanics of hammering on your keyboard to make hamburgers, sushi, and spaghetti are incredibly satisfying, especially after serving the last customer on a perfect day. If there's a reason to get the loudest possible mechanical keyboard, it's this game.

Also, a shout-out to Gathering Sky for best art and soundtrack, although full discosure, the artist on that game is a coworker, so take the recommendation with a grain of salt. Still, cool game.

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Media I've consumed in 2014

January 01, 2015 at 04:30 PM | categories: movies, books, games | View Comments

When the opportunity for self-improvement in 2014 knocked, I consumed all this media instead.



Michael Lewis did it again in Flash Boys and made an entertaining page-turner about boring economics, all while exposing various injustices in the American economic system. I knew about the arms race among traders for getting faster connections to marketplaces to facilitate high speed trading, but I had no idea about the shenanigans the various marketplace owners themselves were taking part in. If you read that, you'll probably also want to read The Big Short.



Again, I want to say my favorite is The Stanley Parable or Jazzpunk, but if I'm honest the latest Diablo III expansion Reaper of Souls is just a perfect Skinner Box, fixing pretty much all the issues from the initial Diablo III release. Even if it's all just a carefully concocted science experiment providing intermittent positive reinforcement, it tickled just the right parts of my lizard brain to give me the sensation of fun.

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Media I've consumed in 2013

January 01, 2014 at 02:30 PM | categories: movies, books, games | View Comments

Here's my now-annual list of how I wasted my time this year.


My favorite book this year has been The Signal and the Noise. You can read my initial impressions, which haven't changed. I really enjoyed the added context it provided to Michael Lewis' Moneyball, showing that patterns found in data can be inaccurate or misleading without a human insight into why the patterns in the data exist in the first place.

Honorable mentions go to the Mary Roach books I started reading, which are very light, funny reads which still manage to teach some of the more embarrassing and taboo aspects of science.

I didn't read too much fiction this year, but I started reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories, mainly to tide me over until the next BBC series makes it over to this side of the pond. I'm pretty impressed with how much of the original survived in the transplant into the 21st century.


Being a huge Tarantino fan, it was no surprise to me that Django Unchained was my favorite movie I saw this year (initial impressions).

More surprising was how much I enjoyed following Filmspotting's Contemporary Iranian Cinema marathon. The subject matter seemed daunting, but all of the movies I saw were very accessible, while also providing insight into the "feeling on the street" in a country that otherwise might as well be on another planet to me. Close-Up and The Mirror play with the movie format, leading you to frequently ask yourself if the movie is scripted fiction or a documentary. Children of Heaven, aside from the subtitles, is a perfect kid-friendly, feel-good movie. And Offside is a surprisingly tense movie about a group of women who sneak into a World Cup qualifying match: on one level you fear for the characters on screen, but on a meta-level you fear for the filmmakers themselves. The movie was shot on-location during the qualifying match portrayed, and the director is currently under house arrest for his role in this film, among others.


Yet again, I've already written about my favorite game this year, Bioshock Infinite. Frankly, it wins on its soundtrack alone. From the first notes of God Only Knows, to the calliope rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have fun, to the jazz cover of Tainted Love, to the acoustic traditional Will the Circle be Unbroken, the soundtrack is fantastic. It puts you in the world, it adds an air of mystery that I haven't seen since the best episodes of Lost, and taken on its own, it's just a great collection of music. Seriously, if you have three and a half hours to spare, listening to the whole soundtrack is a good way to make an afternoon doing chores fly past.

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I Just Read The Signal and the Noise

March 06, 2013 at 08:17 PM | categories: books | View Comments


It seems appropriate that I finished reading The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail - but some don't as I look out over the failed prediction of the Snowquester. Still, one of the big takeaways from the book was how much weather prediction has improved over the past couple decades, despite noticeable embarrassments from time to time.

This is a great complement to Moneyball. Interesting stuff.

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I Just Read Pirate Cinema

February 09, 2013 at 08:53 PM | categories: books | View Comments


Some brief thoughts on Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema: It's not great. In a nutshell, it's about a 16-year-old who runs afoul of the law for downloading and remixing too many movies. He runs away from home and falls in with a gang of kind-hearted squatters, whom he recruits in his fight against "the man" to change copyright laws.

The book is a very transparent attempt to make the author's views on copyright entertaining in a young-adult-friendly package. Unfortunately, it fails as both a political screed and an adventure story.

As a story, it's filled with characters who are shallow by necessity to make the political statements as forcefully as possible. All of the runaways are well-adjusted, good natured kids who for some reason all have very strong views on copyright law, and all of them sympathetic to the author's views. Despite being a 16-year-old runaway, the protagonist never faces any obstacles at all aside from those directly related to his various counts of copyright infringement. Hunger is never an issue, because his new friends teach him ways to get free food. Exposure is never an issue, because his friends teach him the ways of the squatter. Loneliness is never an issue, because he meets lifelong friends his first night in London. There is one sequence where drugs look like they may become an issue, but Doctorow never pulls the trigger on showing any real danger associated with being a child runaway. There's not really even any antagonist at all, aside from a law the protagonist is trying to prevent from getting passed (possibly because Doctorow was afraid to put any face at all on the enemy, lest the reader find any sympathy at all for Big Copyright).

As a political screed, it fails as well, and this is coming from someone very sympathetic to Doctorow's views. Through the whole book, I found myself thinking that--contrasted with the suspiciously absent problems of homelessness--bad copyright laws are really a first-world problem. The book is obviously intended for a younger audience, so pulling some punches might be expected, although making running away the best thing that ever happened to the protagonist might not be a good message to send to young readers. Even discounting that, the political discussion is just a bunch of straw men Doctorow knocks down. All infringement done by the protagonist is in the name of art, and the only time copyright infringement to get free stuff is discussed, it is hand-waved as being ok because the movies Hollywood makes are rubbish anyway. Without a character surrogate for Big Copyright voicing any legitimate objections to Doctorow's views in the book, he never really challenged himself and I found myself siding with the copyright law if only because the book actually makes it seem like the underdog.

Finally, the book takes some weird digressions on current, real-world technology. This may be an artifact of the techno-thriller genre that I just have to endure, though. There are several pages discussing how easy it is to install Linux, and later on there are several pages discussing various features of TrueCrypt. There's a discussion of recent advances in lasers used to kill mosquitos (oddly enough missing an opportunity to take a potshot at patent law, as the invention is tied closely to Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures). If you are really cynical, there is even a discussion that could be construed as an argument that if only homeless people took to heart the lessons in Eric Ries The Lean Startup they could have the easy life. Neal Stephenson, another cyberpunk author, makes similar rambling discussions. While I don't particularly enjoy those either, I respect that they all seem very well researched and cover a wide range of subjects. The digressions in this book seem like Doctorow looked at his computer desktop and the most recent items in his RSS feed and decided to put those in the book.

Not recommended.

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