I should really try to post more regularly.

-Me, over a year ago

 

Well, I guess didn’t do that did I?

Aside  —  Posted: June 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

Leave of Presence

Posted: April 20, 2013 in General Musings

So it’s been quite a while since I posted something. And the account is just lying there, waiting for the warm embrace of my keystrokes.

I should really try to post more regularly. I guess part of me still feels self conscious about the whole thing. Why should I subject the Internet to my inane thoughts when there are so many more insightful, thought provoking and humorous blogs out there?

But for now I’ve decided to stick with it. I don’t it will be terribly consistent, since that would conflict with my natural tendency to be lazy, but I will update when I think I have something worth saying.

I love The Lord of the Rings. The movies, in particular, hold a place near to my heart. I remember when my friends and I were going for The Fellowship of the Ring – I was fairly skeptical about the whole thing. I hadn’t seen any trailers, never read the books, and really only knew that it was something to do with elves, dwarves, and something called a ‘hobbit.’ This was long before I started reading Fantasy novels, and I approached the cinema with some level of sullenness. I figured the movie would not be enjoyable, and I couldn’t figure out why my friends were so eager to see the damn thing. My expectations, in short, were minimal.

A little under three hours later, I walked out of the cinema completely blown away. I went out a couple of days later and bought all three books, reading them back-to-back. And now that Peter Jackson is returning to Middle Earth over a decade later, I couldn’t wait to revisit his recreation of the world. This time, though, my expectations were high. So how did it go?

All in all, pretty good. If I’m being honest, I don’t feel anywhere near as blown away as I was with FotR, but that was to be expected. My biggest concern was with the idea that Jackson was splitting this into 3 movies. I’ve read The Hobbit, and it certainly isn’t a book that warrants a trilogy. LotR was a trilogy, because it had enough content for it. Not to mention the fact that there are three books. The Hobbit is a single book and not a particularly large one, at that. It’s probably about two-thirds the size of Fellowship. Did it really need to split into three films? Probably not.

A Narrative Stretched Thin

The Hobbit is a good movie, and in a way I enjoyed the detailed exposition of the world, the tragedy that befell the dwarves, and a bit of a backstory to Thorin Oakenshield. But the biggest problem is that by the end of the film, we’ve really only reached a point where the party can see the Lonely Mountain… off in the distance, still pretty darn far away. We have yet to see any of Smaug (the source of the aforementioned tragedy) except some glimpses of his shadow and an eye. Obviously, Jackson is saving The Moment for the second film (considering it’s called The Desolation of Smaug this isn’t a difficult guess), but along with the general pace of the film, which is… leisurely, it’s a narrative problem that will likely be endemic with the trilogy – by stretching a modest book into three films, Jackson will end up with a series that many will complain has too much filler.

And they won’t be wrong. The entire scene in the caves, with the goblins, seemed far too drawn out. I guess Jackson wanted to show the dwarves and Gandalf doing something while Bilbo had his encounter with Gollum (which was awesome, by the way) but I wish there was some way Jackson could have done it without it being so… trivial. There was really nothing about the scene that seemed exhilarating, largely because the goblins seemed more comical rather than threatening. By comparison, the scenes in the mines of Moria from Fellowship was terrific. You could really feel the tension as the group was trying desperately to escape. Here, not only did their escape seem inevitable, but it never really felt like there was any urgency.

As I said, though, it does give us some time to witness Bilbo’s first (last?) ever encounter with Gollum, and it was done spectacularly well. WETA are really good with CGI characters, and the Gollum here looks even better than he did in the LotR trilogy. You could really almost believe he was a real person. The scene where he realises that Bilbo has pilfered his precious ring, and the expression on his face and the look in his eyes… Masterfully done.

A Word on HFR

Annoying.

More Words on HFR

One of the early controversies before the film even released was to do with Jackson’s revelation that he intends to release it in High-Frame Rate (or HFR). Basically, this means the film runs at 48 frames-per-second compared to the more conventional 24 fps. Jackson claims this was done to minimize blur and make the images ‘pop’ more. And indeed, the sharpness of the movie is amazing, with landscapes and CGI looking clearer than ever.

And therein lies the problem. CGI being ultra-clear merely emphasizes the fact that it is CGI. As spectacular as Gollum looked, there were other CGI creatures in the movie — like the Eagles, the wargs and certain rodents — that looked like something out of a video game. A really good looking video game, but a game nonetheless. And even certain effects like the Smaug’s fire from early scenes don’t quite have the same impact.

An even bigger problem, though, is with scenes involving fast movement. Any time characters were running around or twitching, the motion looked sped up and a bit unreal, like they were floating on air rather than actually touching the ground. If you’ve seen any of LCDs TVs with 200Hz refresh rates, and noticed it looked weird, then you will know what I mean.

I’ve seen the film in the ‘normal’ way, as well, and personally much prefer it. Everything feels more real, and because you’re not weirded out by the strangeness, I found it easier to be engrossed by it. I would say, though, that everyone should try it out for themselves and decide. In my group of friends, we were fairly evenly split between people who thought they would rather not see HFR again and those who would.

Wrap-up

The Hobbit is a fine film. It will not be the best movie you have ever seen, but I would gladly recommend it to anyone. I enjoyed myself, and the Dwarves’ rendition of the solemn “Misty Mountains” song will forever be stuck in my head. The recurring cast members do as good a job as you would expect, and new ones carry themselves well. Martin Freeman as Bilbo, in particular, did an excellent job.

Will I see the sequels to The Hobbit when they come out? Most definitely. But 24 fps in 2D is fine for me, thanks. (4/5)

“You were a hero round these parts. That’s what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short.”

Considering the title of the book, it is not surprising that Abercrombie’s first stand-alone is a story about revenge. Monzcarro Murcatto, along with her brother Benna, is the notorious leader of the mercenary band, The Thousand Swords (whose actual numbers long ago surpassed a thousand). She has brought victory after victory to Orso, Grand Duke of Talins, and become fairly wealthy and popular as a result. Perhaps too popular. At least that is what Orso fears. Unfortunately for Monza, he has her thrown down a mountain. Unfortunately for Orso, she survives. And now the Snake of Talins wants vengeance.

But she can’t do it alone, so she enlists the help of some morally ambiguous characters to aid her in her quest. This includes a self-important blowhard of a poisoner and his apprentice, a number-obsessed (and, I suspect, autistic) convict, a Northman looking to make a fresh start, a former torturer’s assistant, and last, but by no stretch the least, an infamous soldier of fortune.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold is, technically, a stand-alone that is set in the same world as the trilogy. But I would definitely say that having read the trilogy, while not a prerequisite, certainly brings increased enjoyment to the proceedings. There are some characters that play a major role in the book who readers of The First Law will recognize, and others from the trilogy who appear only briefly, but will have fans smiling at the cameos and mentions. The book is not as easily accessible as the trilogy, but represents a more mature take on the world from Abercrombie. His characters seem a bit more fleshed out, and the writing is superb.

The book is even more violent than the trilogy, but Abercrombie has a knack for writing fight scenes and it never seems out of character for the tone of the series. The action always feels fluid, fast, logical and sensible. You practically see the fights, rather than read them.

There are some flaws, of course. Caul Shivers — one of our primary protagonists, and the man who spent his time in the trilogy contemplating killing our favorite nine-fingered barbarian — seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Logen. A tested warrior who leaves his home looking to make a better (and hopefully less violent) life. As he soon founds out, Styria is not nearly the land of opportunity that he was told. Or rather, it’s home to a wholly different sort of opportunity.

Another flaw — if it is one — is that I never quite felt connected to Monza. Her quest for vengeance seems to consume her entirely, and we rarely get to see anything more than glimpses of he personality. Maybe it was deliberate; maybe Abercrombie wrote a character that is so deeply flawed that she is meant to be unlikable. But of all the Abercrombie novels I’ve read (and I’ve read all of them) Monza is the one protagonist who I felt the least empathy for. I can’t really say I ever found myself caring whether she succeeded or not.

On the plus side, the other protagonists are excellent. Morveer, the egotistical poisoner; Cosca, the definition of a lovable scoundrel; and Friendly, the strong and silent (and psychopathic) type. All make for very interesting POVs, and do a great deal to give the book an overall feel very different from the trilogy.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the book. It’s really quite good. Not Abercrombie’s best, perhaps, but I’m in the camp that believes that Abercrombie at less than his best is still better than almost anyone. And, as usual with Abercrombie books, the cover (at least the British cover pictured here) is awesome, specially in person. All in all, a solid 4/5.

… Apparently Not

Posted: December 23, 2012 in Miscellania
Tags: , , , ,

Well, it is now officially midday of December 23, more than enough time after the 21st for us to have seen some sign of the pending apocalypse.

It appears the doomsday predictions were off the mark. Surprising, really, considering how terribly accurate various other similar predictions have been in the past. (The best one in that link is the one by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have constantly revised their dates and at least some people, undoubtedly, keep believing them. I suppose persistence is a good thing.)

So tomorrow is supposed to be the end of the world as we know it, at least if you believe in crackpot conspiracy theories from people with far too much time on their hands and not enough legitimate activities to fill their days.

But hey, I don’t know everything. So who knows? Maybe this will be my last post ever.

I guess we’ll see. Meanwhile, The Verge has an interesting five-part series going on the subject. Nifty layout, too.

On October 23, 2012, Joshua Topolsky – Editor-in-Chief at The Verge and suspected Windows-hater - wrote a review of the soon-to-be-launched Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Over the course of a four-and-a-half thousand word review (4,698 according to my Word’s built-in counter), Josh goes into a fair amount of depth about his thoughts and feelings on the product, including some inevitable comparisons to the incumbent king, the iPad, as well as the Nexus 7. He then drew his thoughts together in the “Wrap-up” section of the review, succinctly laying out the primary highlights and lowlights of the device. In other words, he did exactly what a good reviewed is supposed to do. And boy is he going to get torn apart for it.

Back in April, Josh (may I call you Josh? Thanks.) reviewed Nokia’s much ballyhooed Lumia 900 running Windows Phone. His final score was a 7.0, and this unholy smite sparked a storm of criticism form commenters and Nokia/Windows fans, all accusing Josh of not giving the device a fair shake, and using this as proof positive that he was an ardent Nokia and/or Microsoft hater. This despite Josh’s repeated pleas that he “wanted to love this phone.” A similar wave of hate is now making his way to him for his review of the Surface, a product that he also gave a 7.0. This, of course, means to fanboys that Josh is beyond help when it comes to objectivity. An unfair and biased reviewer who loves to discourage people from buying Microsoft products. At last count, the review had garnered just shy of two-and-a-half thousand comments, a good number of which were critical of the validity of the review.

Of course, a 7 is not really a bad score. The “How We Score” page illustrates that this rating equates to “Very good. A solid product with some flaws.” But it certainly isn’t as good as an 8 or a 9, is it?

I suspect Josh will defend his review in an upcoming Vergecast. Not the very next one, since it appears he will be absent from that podcast (which has itself started a mini-conspiracy theory about Josh going into ‘hiding’ to escape the aftermath of his review), but likely the following one. What is going on?

JOSH: THE HATER

Source: The Verge

There have been calls for months now for Josh to not be the one who reviews the device. Since he has now been vilified in the eyes of certain consumers, his voice is no longer seen as objective enough to give a Windows product a balanced and honest review. Give it over to Tom Warren, they say, for he is a Microsoft aficionado and will be fairer in his assessment. Putting aside the obvious dichotomy between the stated desire of fairness and wanting a Microsoft ‘fan’ to review their products, this nonetheless raises an interesting premise. Should Mr. Topolsky have stepped away from this opportunity? Should he have asked Tom to review the Surface, and avoid any claims of bias?

On the one hand, the argument seems to have some merit. After all, merely removing himself from the position of such potential controversy would effectively serve as a preemptive measure against the inevitable backlash. It’s not like his lack of a review would have raised been questioned. Josh doesn’t actually review that many products, seemingly saving himself for certain high profile ones, like the iPhone 5 or the Surface (and, I’m guessing, the iPad Mini), or perhaps ones that he has a personal interest in, like the Kindle Paperwhite. Dating back to the Lumia 900, he has written 5 reviews in the last nearly 7 months. So he could have passed on the opportunity to someone else, and no one would have said boo.

On the other hand, caving in to such pressure hardly seems like the way to go. Regular readers and The Verge fans are much appreciated, no doubt, but allowing them to dictate who reviews what product (and possibly how) would set an uncomfortable precedent. And even then, there certainly is no guarantee that the strategy would work, anyway. If, say, Tom ended up writing a review along the line of Josh’s, and offered criticism, the same fanboys clamoring for his input would almost certainly have started a new conspiracy claiming that his boss influenced his writing.

MICROSOFT: THE TARGET

Source: The Guardian

The criticisms of Josh’s reviews take various forms. He is an Apple fanboy, perhaps even paid for by Apple to write positive reviews, while we conveniently ignore the fact that his daily driver is a Galaxy Nexus (or at least it was the last I recall his mentioning this on the podcast) and he generally seems to love what Android offers; he is unknowledgeable about Windows Phone/Windows 8, and perhaps technology in general, which prevents him from fully appreciating the brilliance of Microsoft’s mobile products (strange then, how he managed to become the Editor-in-chief of Engadget and then The Verge, inspite of being an ignoramus); he simply hasn’t spent enough time with Windows in the mobile world, hasn’t made the effort to get to know it, so he doen’t “get it” (which ignores the fact that he has managed to appreciate what the iPhone 5, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD offer in a short enough time to give them strongly positive reviews). There is one constant, though: that Josh is, beyond question, anti-Microsoft.

He just doesn’t like them. All 94,000 of them. He sits at home wishing for bad things to happen to them. When he walks into a Microsoft Store and sees an employee trip, he laughs. And then wishes the kid had fallen face-first on an exposed live wire and had his eye burned out. He shows people this video. Once, he even slept with Bill Gates’ daughter and never called her back.

Of course, the one thing that Microsoft fanboys have never managed to elucidate is why, exactly, would Josh have a vendetta against the corporation. Why would he hate on them so? Josh seems like an intelligent man, and most intelligent people don’t spend their time wasting energy on piling hate on a non-living entity that cares not for them either way. Nor does Josh seem deluded enough to fool himself into believing that his hating would have a noticeable effect on the performance of this multi-billion dollar giant. So why would he do it?

Is a Microsoft competitor paying him off? If so, they don’t seem to have done a good job buying his loyalty. He reviewed and loved the iPhone 5. So is he paid off by Apple, then? But he also reviewed and loved the Nexus 7. And the Kindle Paperwhite. And though he didn’t quite love the Kindle Fire HD, he was bullish on its prospects. He has also said positive things in the past about smartphones like the One X and the Galaxy S3. To one extent or the other, they are all Apple competitors. Who is paying him off, then? Or is he some sort of master manipulator and quadruple-agent con artist who is playing all sides off each other, and hoping they don’t catch on (even though his reviews and opinions are stated in a public forum)?

FANBOYS: THE WRONGED MASSES

Source: The Express Tribune

Microsoft fanboys, of course, were predictably upset at Josh’s reviews. How dare he give an opinion that happened to differ from theirs? After all, Nokia had all these promotions and ad campaigns telling them the Lumia 900 was going to knock their socks off. Microsoft has been telling us for months that the Surface will show us all what a tablet can truly do. What was Josh saying? That these promotions were wrong? What an utterly ludicrous notion! Strange how Microsoft continues to extend invitations to Josh and allow him access to their products and even their R&D labs. Apparently, they haven’t realised his inherent bias.

Firstly, a large number of the complaints – the majority, in fact – come from people who have never in their life used, touched or likely even seen the Surface in person. I suspect this was true for the Lumia as well. But that didn’t dampen their righteous indignation. Clearly, they know more than the man who runs the website they so regularly visit for their technology related news. Sure, Josh might have used the product extensively in his bid to right an in-depth review. But they read about it! On the Internet! And they have seen ads and stuff! Like the one with the people jumping around in tune with dub step, connecting colorful Touch Covers to their Surfaces with satisfying clickity-clicks? Come on, Josh! Clickity-click, man!

Secondly, why would these fanboys care what Josh says, anyway? It’s quite evident that they have already made up their minds about how good the device supposedly is. So what does it matter what Josh says? If you think he is compromised or biased, don’t read his reviews. If you are a fanboy and will end up buying the device anyway, then it doesn’t matter what Josh thought. His opinion isn’t affecting your purchase decision. So what you’re looking for isn’t a fair review, or an unbiased opinion, and certainly not honest feedback. All you want is affirmation of what you believe.

In a way, I envy fanboys. Such unshakeable, unalterable belief in the goodness of something that any and all dissenting opinions are immediately thrust aside as nothing more than the ignorant and uninformed rantings of a simpleton. What must it be like to have such absolute confidence in the truth of your claims? To feel that you are definitelycorrect, and the others are definitely wrong?

I have never had that level of certainty. I like to think that I am self-aware, and that because I am self-aware I am always open to the possibility that I might be wrong. But what I call self-awareness could just as easily be called lack of confidence by someone else. Perhaps I just lack convictions? Perhaps I would be better off throwing myself completely to one side than try to maintain a neutral point-of-view?

But I don’t think so. I cannot bring myself to indulge in such a hopelessly one-sided debate. My favorite sports writer is Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, over at ESPN. Simmons has a friend and frequent podcast collaborator, author Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman follows sports regularly, has been for years, enjoys them and is quite knowledgeable about them. He does not, however, support any particular team. This level of neutrality has led Simmons to name Klosterman a “sports atheist.” I think I might be a technology atheist. I will want success for any product that I feel is good, and the company that makes them. And if said company makes a product that I don’t like, I won’t care if it goes down in flames.

And why should I? What am I getting out of it? I see commenters vehemently attack ‘opponents’ and vigorously defend their chosen multi-billion corporation as if it was a sibling, or perhaps even their child. What is the point? Do you think these faceless entities give a damn about your support? As if Tim Cook walks around with his chest puffed out thinking, “Man, I am so glad iJohn82 over at The Verge forums supports us so passionately. This is what helps me wake up every morning with a smile.” I have news for you, Apple fans. Tim Cook doesn’t give two shits about you. He doesn’t even know that you exist. If you were to be crushed by a semi tomorrow, Tim Cook wouldn’t notice. Even if someone went out of their way to inform him that ‘iJohn’ was crushed by a semi, he wouldn’t blink. Neither would Larry Page, nor Steve Ballmer, nor Jeff Bezos. And no, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have, either. You are less than nothing to them.

And yet, fanboys consistently get in heated arguments, indulge in name-calling and ad hominem attacks, force their blood-pressure up, get their adrenaline pumping and froth spewing from their mouth as they violently bang on the defenseless keyboard, riling against some letters and numbers on a screen. This person whose words are appearing on my screen is saying something that disagrees with my personal opinions. I have to take him down! It goes without saying that the vast majority of these armchair debaters would never have the balls to say in person half the things they say hiding behind the shield of the Internet and the anonymity of their usernames.

What I don’t get is how they haven’t arrived at the same conclusion I did? That it isn’t worth the time and effort to ‘defend’ a person that would never do the same for you. Why do you love these corporations so? Doesn’t it make sense to care for those that care for you? Is it the people behind these companies that you love, or the logo on the product? If Jonathan Ive were to leave Apple tomorrow and go work for Samsung, would your allegiance go with him? Or would you now argue that the man who you for so long proclaimed a genius of industrial design has suddenly turned into a talentless hack? And that his successor, Whoever Smithwhat, was always the true genius, anyway? I don’t know about Josh, but I truly don’t “get it.”

Wrap-up

Who is right? Who is wrong? Is anyone? I certainly don’t know. As I said above, I probably lack the conviction to give an absolute answer to the question. Maybe if I had some fanboy blood, I would know.

What I do know is that I don’t believe Joshua Topolsky is biased. Or rather, he is no more biased than is inevitable as a result of the mere fact that he is, after all, a human and has opinions. I believe that he approaches his reviews with an open mind, but can’t help but compare with equivalent products from Apple or Google, and finds Microsoft’s offering to be lacking. But what do I know? It’s entirely possible that this is wishful thinking. Maybe I am a fanboy, after all; a fanboy of The Verge, and as such am biased. In fact, I know I am (a fan, that is). The Verge is the first website I visit everyday – though this is subject to change with the approaching start of the NBA season – and I revisit it several times a day. I believe their reviews are never less than savoury.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Josh really does have an anti-Microsoft agenda, and he has carefully and cunningly worked his ass off for several years, slowly but steadily climbing the ranks in the world of technology news and reporting, so that he would one day be in a position of influence, allowing him to spread his long sequestered message of hate.

Unfortunately, the fanboys are on to him, and they will not stop until they have exposed the long con.

Note: This write-up was cross-posted on The Verge forums.