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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Git and Meld

October 24, 2013 at 08:15 PM | categories: software | View Comments

I use meld as my git merge tool, and the latest version of Ubuntu (13.10) changed its interface, breaking my merge workflow.

Previously, I had a .gitconfig containing:

    tool = meld-autoresolve
    defaultToUpstream = true
[mergetool "meld-autoresolve"]
    cmd = meld --diff $LOCAL $BASE $REMOTE $MERGED

Which shows a 3-way diff, automatically picks all nonconflicting changes, and writes the resolved file to the correct location.

Meld 1.7 changed its CLI UI (thanks, GNOME), so to get a 3-way diff which writes to the correct file and also auto-picks nonconflicting changes, the proper invocation is now:

[mergetool "meld-autoresolve"]
    cmd = meld --output $MERGED $LOCAL $BASE $REMOTE --auto-merge
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I Just Played Rhythm Thief and The Emperor's Treasure

September 22, 2013 at 10:26 PM | categories: games | View Comments


Rhythm Thief was pretty much a disappointment. As a fan of Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, and Elite Beat Agents, it seemed like a perfect mix of the three. Unfortunately, it has none of the humor and wit of Phoenix Wright, none of the charm of Professor Layton, and the game mechanics themselves were not as fun as Elite Beat.

In particular, Where Elite Beat, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band make it feel like you are "playing" the music, Rhythm Heaven just layers calls and responses on top of the music. While technically it's timed to the rhythm of the music (mostly), the gameplay and the music don't feel very connected. The one exception is the violin minigame--which also happen to be the easiest.

One redeeming factor is the graphics and 3D cutscenes. While the story itself is full of "anime bullshit", from a technical and visual aesthetic level, it's very nice to look at.

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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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