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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Photo A Week #5: A Rose Among Thorns

I was at the beach the other day with my friend, with her dog. Not wanting to repeat another animal photo, I’m posting this one I took along the way, of a flower specifically grown by my friend. I was attempting to get the exposure right, and what resulted was this lovely effect of a light object breaking up the darkness.

 

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Photo A Week #4: Weenie in Repose

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My friend Sam’s Dachshund, Jasmine. Usually she’s twitchy, high-strung, paranoid, strange, and random. Here we have the one time ever she decided to look dignified. Oddly, she just sat in the middle of this gorgeous grassy field unprompted for a long time.

Toronto’s Bermuda Triangle

Ages ago, I briefly wrote articles for an online satire publication. However, the site quickly folded, and most of the joke articles I’d written went unpublished. While I’ve got no problem with most of them vanishing, I was pretty fond of this one. And if you’re a Toronto resident, or just someone that drives through the city from time to time, maybe you’ll enjoy it, too. Note that this was written before concrete falling from the Gardiner became an issue.

GTA Resident Lost for two Months in Lakeshore

A Greater Toronto Area resident reappeared yesterday morning, after having gone missing two months ago, a victim of Toronto’s Lakeshore area, considered by some to be the Bermuda Triangle of the North.
Douglas Deep was last seen October 1st, kissing his girlfriend goodbye as he left his Scarborough apartment in his old Saturn station wagon. He was to attend a concert at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Unfortunately, he had to drive through Toronto’s Lakeshore area to get there. According to his friends, he never made it to the show.

“We just assumed he got lost along the way. I mean, Lakeshore’s a confusing area,” said Albert Mused, Doug’s associate. “We tried calling him, but he wasn’t picking up. He’s pretty hardcore about not answering his phone when he’s driving.”

His girlfriend, Carrie D’Way, picks up from there. “When I didn’t hear from him for a few days, I called his parents. Turns out he never came home. We were freaking out, we thought he’d been killed, or his car had broken down.”

Sergeant Audie Yose was placed in charge of the investigation, but was upfront about there not being much hope. “As soon as I heard he’d wandered into Lakeshore, I was prepared for the worst. I’ve seen that place eat drivers alive. I’ve seen a car roll out two years after entering it, a skeleton as its driver.”

Miraculously though, Doug was located on the streets of Toronto just outside Lakeshore yesterday morning. Sergeant Yose filled us in on the details: “We received a call about a disturbance at a coffee shop. When we arrived, we found Doug there. He’d lost about 50 pounds, his hair was white, and he’d been going around grabbing people by the collar and shouting, ‘Do you know how to get to the Don Valley Parkway from here?’ It was a sad sight. We think he ditched his car after the gas ran out, and started on foot.”
The Lake Shore area extends from the end of the Don Valley Parkway, all the way to the Exhibition Place, and is considered by some to be one of the most confusing roadways in existence. Despite being clearly mappable and viewable by satellite, the area defies traditional navigation. Left and right have no meaning, streets appear and disappear seemingly at will, and gargantuan, indistinct intersections serve as traps for those who have the audacity to make a left turn.

The Lakeshore, as seen from space

The Lakeshore, as seen from space

Scientists have theorized that the non-euclidean architecture of the area has given rise to a malicious intelligence, bent on devouring any drivers who enter its domain. Others insist the place was built on a Aboriginal burial ground, and this is the revenge of those angry spirits. Others say the city just did a terrible job planning that area.

In the meantime, Doug has been hospitalized for extreme psychosis. Doctors aren’t sure if his mind will ever fully recover. There has been talk of locating Doug’s car, but Sergeant Yose says it’s doubtful it’ll ever be seen again. “Before you know it,” he admits, “We’ll be sending out a search party to find our own people.

So far, police have been unable to determine whether or not Doug stopped and asked for directions at any point during his voyage.

Photo A Week #3: Because I am a Giant Geek

As an aside, I forgot to properly tag and flag last week’s photo, so I’ll link it here.

Anyway, here’s the photo…..

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….and here’s the reference I was following.

The figure is the Autobot Springer, from the Transformers Generations 2013 line, and the image is the cover of Last Stand of the Wreckers #1, a popular (and well-written) miniseries from IDW Comics, by James Roberts and Nick Roche. As you can see, the figure was designed after his appearance in that book.

As an aside, I definitely spent way too much time bending him into something as close to that pose as I could.

Illusions of Innovation

With E3 having begun, it’s time to bring up something I’ve become increasingly aware of in the technology industry: The marketing and fetishising of false innovation, and how it’s potentially harmed actual technological advancement. Basically, sleek, new, revolutionary things are the trend, and so other things are pushed as being that, even when that isn’t actually the case. You know what I haven’t seen in awhile? Something new. Something actually new, that wasn’t the old thing with a couple of new features, and minor improvements. Of course, if you believe the marketing, those new things are the big innovation.

I’ll use video games as the obvious example of this, though it’s certainly not the only field to suffer from it. Last hardware generation, Nintendo slapped touch screens and motion controls on their hardware, and aggressively marketed the innovative nature of it. In reality, things only became good when software released on their platforms wasn’t forced to highlight its use of these features, but rather treated it as another potential set of tools to add to a title. And then, Microsoft added Kinect, camera-based motion detection controls to its consoles, and aggressively pushed that as innovation, when the reality remains that the thing simply does not work very well, according to both the professional reviews I’ve seen and read, and my own experiences with the device. This generation, Kinect is mandatory, and the new consoles are pushing social media connectivity as the next sort of innovation.

On the hardware side, my 3DS is the XL model, released over a year after the vanilla version made its debut. I was savvy enough to wait for it before even knowing of its existence, simply because I figured they’d release some sort of improved revision down the road, like every gadget-making company ever, and lo and behold, I was right.

That’s a relevant example, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Apple won’t be making another iPad or iPod for the sake of improving it. They’re making it for the sake of getting us to buy another one, under the impression it’s improved. They’re making a new interface and design scheme for their systems, calling it better, and convincing us all to switch over to it so we can get with the times. I can’t help but wonder if in another time period, they’d have just quietly released the minor improvements I mentioned in the intro as a running change to the original product, instead of making it seem like something new. And I’m sure these aren’t the only fields. Car enthusiasts, is this a problem in your fandom, too?

Of course, the important aspect to this is the marketing. E3, the various Apple unveilings, it’s all about lavish conferences where pitchmen spend all their time explaining why this new thing innovates, and why it’s revolutionary. If it was true innovation, we would need pitchmen all up in our faces explaining clearly why it was better. True innovation is self-evident, and the fact that it needs to be so aggressively marketed says a lot about how real the “innovation” is.

Companies need sales, and it’s become a bit of an unstoppable arms race. How did it get out of control? In the midst of all this hype, I wonder, where are the true innovators? Do they work in silence, or have we co-opted them with our expectations that they innovate on some sort of schedule, to the point where true innovation doesn’t take place anymore? Perhaps this all has to do with the fact that true inventiveness, the true creation of new things is not something you can create on a schedule. A new generation of product has to come out at a certain time, and if there’s nothing truly new to add to it, then there’s a need to create something new to tack on. Or, maybe, the true innovators are working on things that actually matter, rather than devices for our amusement.

The marketing and commercialization of innovation has reduced it to meaninglessness, and perhaps caused technology to reverse its development, becoming more obtuse and backward as we advance. “The New Thing” is the thing now, and rather than just make the new thing, we slap some new features onto the old thing, and try to convince everyone it’s the new thing, regardless of whether or not these feature actually improve the old thing, or even make it worse. Progress is never bad, and you don’t want to be the one clinging to the past for no reason. It’s false progress marketed as something else that I’m wary of.

Photo A Week #2: Italian Tradition

Mountains upon mountains of ground beef and carrots in tomato sauce. There’s nothing in the world more delicious.

Awwwwwwww yeah

Awwwwwwww yeah

Genre, Medium, Fandom, and Anime North

So, I recently attended Anime North, a Canadian anime convention, with my friends. I was mostly there to hang with them, but partially also attended as a fan. While there, I was struck by some thoughts about fandom, and how we define certain works of media. I could go on a broader tangent about what defines a fan of something, but I’ll keep it specific to anime in this case.

Specifically, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t aware of, or hadn’t seen something like 90 percent of the anime heavily represented there. When I thought about it, that meant I wasn’t sure whether to define myself as a fan or not. But that also got me thinking.

Let’s back up and talk about anime for a second, or rather, how to classify it. When discussing it, people tend to think of it as a genre unto itself, like science fiction, fantasy, or platform games. I find that rather odd, and somewhat disagree with that sentiment. I always felt like anime was a medium. You don’t, for example, say you’re simply a fan of live action television, and you rarely see anyone being a fan of movies in general, but always a specific kind.

I think the genre confusion comes from the fact that having come from a very specific region and culture, you tend to see specific cultural tropes a lot in the medium. Certainly, there’s art and design quirks that consistently pop up, and plot tropes that tend to be particularly present, but no more than say, CGI animated films that come out of Pixar. It’s when people assume anime’s a genre, and then because of that claim all stories coming out of it are are the same that I find them in error. I mean, mentioning Pixar, look at the variety of stories that come out of just one studio.

The thing is, it doesn’t really feel like a genre telling one story, but a medium telling many different kinds of stories. One of the more recent shows I watched all the way to the end was Gundam Seed and its sequel series, Destiny. The whole thing’s a grand, sprawling, space opera about a war between normal humans, and a genetically engineered supposed master race called Coordinators. The specific cultural aspect of it comes from the fact that most of the characters pilot the titular Gundams, giant humanoid robots, where most other sci-fi works would place them in some sort of starfighter. In this storyline, the arms race to develop new, stronger models of these giant robots drives a large chunk of the story.

The important thing about it was that it wasn’t just a good anime, but a good story, and would still have been a good story regardless of the medium. It’s complex, morally ambiguous, and more importantly, easily on par with North American live action sci-fi serials of the same type, the only difference being its rendering in 2D animation, its 22 minute episode runtimes, and its persistent Jpop opening, closing, and insert songs.

Another example out of the few things I’ve consumed would be Death Note, a sort of murder mystery told in reverse, where a teenage wunderkind finds a mystical notebook with the power to kill, and goes on a mad quest of supposedly righteous cleansing, evading authorities as he goes. It’s a bit on the melodramatic side, but makes up for it with its complexity and complicated morality. In the field of live action television, there are two popular adaptations of Sherlock Holmes kicking around, many more popular shows involving similar supernatural elements (Fringe, and fittingly, Supernatural come to mind), and more still with morally ambiguous, or outright villain protagonists (Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men) so something combining those trends feels like a natural fit in the current popular climate. But keep in mind Death Note was ahead of the curve, as it first came out back when I was in high school.

The point I’m making about these shows is that regardless of what their point of origin or medium is, they’re just good stories. If they were live action, or western animated, or told as novels, or told as western comics, they’d still be good stories. I don’t know that I’m a fan of anime. Rather, I’m a fan of good fiction, regardless of what its point of origin is. I almost feel like grouping it as a genre is unfairly walling off some of these good stories, causing them to be ignored in favor of the more popular, visible stereotypes.