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 Watched Close-Up

October 26, 2013 at 09:59 AM | categories: movies | View Comments


A while back, I watched Certified Copy, and I just didn't get it. After watching Close-Up, I think I now get Abbas Kiarostami's schtick, and I like it.

Close-Up tells the story of Hossain Sabzian, a con-man (or just troubled individual) who leads a family to believe he is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, famous Iranian director. The film uses a mix of documentary footage with reenactments, where all characters are played by their real-life counterparts.

Like Certified Copy, the film has you guessing which footage is "real" and which is fabricated, which is a fun guessing game, but each time you play it you realize you're missing the point: it's all a movie and "truth" isn't as important as "Truth". Still, watching a reenactment of a bus ride where Sabzian first dupes a middle-age woman into believing he is a director is mesmerizing. First, it's hard to believe both the perpetrator and the victim would agree to appear together to reenact the crime in which they were involved. Second, despite the fact that everyone in the film are non-actors, they all play themselves believably, with no self-aware winks, even when their parts do not always paint them in the best light.

On a side note, the movie shows what I presume to be real court proceedings of Iran, which is fascinating in its own right. It plays out more like a group therapy session, where all in attendance can speak up, and there's no real "prosecutor" or "defense". Hearsay seems to be allowed, and the victim gets a say in the sentencing ("forgiving" the defendant can lessen the sentence). While it seemed to be therapeutic for all parties involved here, I find it hard to take without a grain of salt. Iran has a pretty tight lock on what media gets out of Iran (or even what media gets made in the first place), so you have to imagine this is a best-case scenario. And maybe there are different rules for more serious crimes, but asking the victim point-blank several times if they forgive the defendant--in the defendant's presence--for violent crimes could be pretty traumatic, if not outright dangerous.

Anyway, highly recommended. Don't let the subtitles scare you away.

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I Just Watched Compliance

July 04, 2013 at 04:16 PM | categories: movies | View Comments


If you want to lose faith in humanity, I highly recommend watching Compliance. Even with knowledge of the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison expiriment exploring how easily normal people can be coerced into compromising their morals, it is quite shocking to see how far people will go in this film based on a true story.

About 10 minutes in to the movie, I thought to myself, "Ok, this is where I'd bail out", and yet the movie goes for another 80 minutes of increasingly unbelievable behavior inflicted on a girl by her coworkers at the request of an authority figure on the other end of a phone line. At the end, I was pretty incredulous and did some brief research on the real events, believing they must've been embellished. To the contrary, every hard-to-believe event really did happen basically as presented. You can read up on it yourself if you want, but I recommend going in to the movie as cold as possible.

One of the common criticisms of the movie I see is that "all the characters are unbelievably dumb." I think the cast does as good a job as possible with the material, and the feeling of disbelief is exactly what they're going for. Recognizing how low we can sink is the first step to prevention.

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