Categories
Ramblings

Headcanon for Lego Batman

For the unfamiliar, a “headcanon” is a fan’s interpretation of an aspect of a work that does not necessarily align with the work as generally accepted. In a sentence: “It’s canon in my head.” What follows is my personal interpretation of The Lego Batman Movie.

Not sure if Batman spoilers but definitely Lego Movie spoilers so have a break:

Categories
Analysis Best Of

Sonic Mania and the Triumph of Fan Culture

The livestream was cutting in and out. There was a constant buzzing that replaced most of the audio. And instead of a trailer, the in-house audience saw a brief Sonic Mania logo followed by a Mac desktop. But after many fits and starts, the trailer finally played.

There’s a level of excitement around Sonic Mania that Sega hasn’t seen in roughly five years, the time since Sonic Generations was released. Fans are excited about the chance to play a new game in the vein of the classic Sega Genesis games many grew up playing. Polygon described it as “finding a long-lost Sonic title from the mid–90’s.”

But what makes Sonic Mania any different from previous Sonic games, introduced with much hype and fanfare only to be revealed as spectacularly mediocre at best? After all, this is the same company that has had many attempts to “reboot” the franchise or “return it to its roots,” often with lackluster (if not horrible) results. Is the anticipation justified this time?

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. But this time, Sega’s investing in the right chefs. And before I try to string this metaphor out too far, let’s talk about The Avengers.

Categories
Ramblings

So I Picked a Fight With CarMax

It started with an email:

Email from CarMax saying "Evan, remember that Mini you sold us?"

Let’s see, do I remember that Mini?

Picture of sky-blue 2009 Mini Cooper hardtop with white roof, mirrors, and stripes

Yes. Yes I do. Story time: I bought that Mini February of 2009. Custom-built: no sunroof or automatic A/C, but I added in bonnet stripes, fog lamps, and sport seats. 6-speed manual transmission.

Categories
Ramblings

Satoru Iwata

My first great garage sale find was an original Nintendo Entertainment System with all the cords, 2 controllers, and 4 games including Super Mario Brothers 3 and Contra. All for seven dollars.

We sold Contra for seven dollars. I later heard about Contra and all it entails, but I don’t really regret that sale. We didn’t enjoy that game a whole lot (mostly because it was super hard), and it meant we basically got the NES for free.

Now, this was back in the days when GameStop still bought/sold classic games. We picked up original Zelda and sold it back. We found a copy of Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt and might have sold it back; I can’t really remember.

And then we found Kirby’s Adventure.

When the Virtual Console for Wii was announced, I explained why I was looking forward to playing Kirby’s Adventure again:

First, Kirby’s Adventure is fun. Plain and simple. Not many games from this time period let you fly to get around puzzles, let alone absorb abilities from your enemies. Second, the game is expansive. There are at least six different worlds, each with several levels and minigames to boot. Third, powerups. One minute you’re throwing razor-sharp boomerangs, the next you’re a fireball, and the next you’re a floating UFO shooting laser beams. Don’t like what you’ve got? Press select and find a new one. But my personal favorite is the surprise ending, where [spoiler deleted] and you find out that [spoiler deleted].

Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best games of the 8-bit era. It has an unusual game mechanic, plenty of secret areas to discover, save files, a surprise ending, and one part even has parallax-scrolling backgrounds that most games didn’t see until the Sega Genesis / Super Nintendo era.

Satoru Iwata was a producer on that game. He’s most known for working as a programmer at HAL labs, working on games like Kirby and Earthbound (and even doubling the size of Pokemon Gold/Silver!) before moving on to become the president of Nintendo. He was there for Nintendo’s release of the Nintendo DS and Wii which were responsible for the company’s massive successes last decade, and when the 3DS and WiiU didn’t sell as planned, he himself took a pay cut. And when news of his death was released yesterday, it took so many people–myself included–by surprise.

He was an authentic president, a skilled coder, and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Iwata.

Categories
Ramblings

Justice

I’ve largely been silent on the issue of Ferguson, MO. Most of what I’ve “said” on the topic have been retweets and reblogs of what other people have said. Since I’m not on the ground there, I’ve ceded my voice to those that are. Since this doesn’t feel like my story, I’ve ceded my voice to those who it is.

Though I’ve been developing opinions of my own on the subject, I was waiting for the evidence and the investigation to be made public before saying anything. I feel that I need to be serious with my words; firing off half-baked opinions about a controversial topic based on shaky evidence is not what I want to be known for. I trusted our justice system to conduct a complete investigation and give Officer Wilson a fair trial.

With Monday’s announcement that there would be no trial (at least at the state level), that trust has been shaken. And so I write.

I firmly believe that there is enough doubt around the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death that a trial is deserved. The solution to conflicting reports is to bring them out at trial. The solution to conflicting evidence is to investigate it. There is a lot of noise around this event; we need a real investigation and a real trial to cut through the noise and find the truth.

Many people have bemoaned how the court of public opinion has already found Officer Wilson guilty of murder. The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney could have taken the judgement to an actual court, but chose not to. Perhaps I am being unfair–after all, it was a Grand Jury that chose not to indict Officer Wilson. Yet Attorney McCulloch had a simple job and failed to do it.

These events have shaken my faith in the justice system in my country. I’ve always believed that the system was fair; I see now that it isn’t. I have thought that the disproportionate targeting of African-Americans by police was a factor of wealth or some other circumstance, but now I’m wondering if racism in the police force is a bigger problem than I first believed.

Even if Michael Brown was a thug that deserved to die, Officer Wilson did not have the right to make that decision. The death penalty, even where it exists, can only be given out by a jury, not a single officer. If Michael Brown did not deserve to die, then this is a crime. This needs to be investigated. We need the truth.

Categories
Analysis

The Lines Worth Reading Between

Apple’s latest earnings have an interesting note: their research spending is the highest it’s been since 2006.

Research and development is a fancy business way of saying “doing new things.” When my previous employer entered the great recession of 2008, the plan to weather the storm was to double-down on R&D. By investing in new products when the market was slow, the company would have those products ready when the market was ready to buy. Our part of the company–tasked with entering a new market for the company–was one of the few areas allowed to hire new employees.

The economy’s recovery in general is up for debate, but the advice is sound: research and development is a key investment for any company, particularly product-based companies (which any software company is, SaaS not withstanding). It’s almost too obvious: as annoying as constant calls for Apple to release a new product are, they do have a point. New products and innovations are the lifeblood of these companies. Which is why every company invests in research and development.

To provide some context, simple research is a constant cost. A company sets aside a certain amount every year to pay a certain number of people to spend a certain amount of time exploring new ideas. Google is (or at least was) famous for its “20% time” that allows any engineer in the company to spend time exploring. Microsoft has an entire division devoted to exploration. Apple obviously has its own research and development; they would be unable to update their products annually without it.

When a project is close to completion, things change. Completing a project means investing in quality assurrance and testing. It means finalizing all of the little details that make the difference between a “good” product and a “great” one. What was once a fixed cost suddenly becomes more variable.

Which brings me back to the inital observation: the last time Apple’s R&D spending was this high was in 2006. Apple’s most important product of the last 10 years–the iPhone–was introduced in 2007.

By now there’s too much smoke for there not to be some kind of watch-like device from Apple, most likely to be introduced this Tuesday. And given Apple’s increase in research spending, it’s going to be a big deal.

Personally, I can’t wait. You?

Categories
Reviews

Sad Lyrics Over Uplifting Chords

I like Owl City. This is independent of my appreciation for Owl City. At their best, Owl City has a tendency to take me back to the late nights in my humid converted-attic bedroom the summer before my sophomore year of high school. To sum up a thousand-word essay in a sentence, it was the summer I really started letting my imagination free. Needless to say, it was a very formative ten weeks.

By that measure, Owl City’s new EP Ultraviolet does not disappoint.

The first track, “Beautiful Times,” features Lindsey Stirling on the violin. The music is full, lush, and steady, matching the song’s patiently optimistic lyrics. Lindsey’s violin helps drive home the song’s theme of seeing even a “fight of my life” being “beautiful times.” It’s followed by “Up All Night,” an infectious dance song that seems to be about a missed connection, though anyone that’s had a person (or other thing) on their mind for an extended length of time can relate.

The third track, “This Isn’t the End,” deals with heavy issues including suicide, panic attacks, and abandonment. It was hard for me, personally, to see past those issues enough to judge the song musically, though it does seem to be the weakest song in the set.

The selling point of the EP for me is the last track, “Wolf Bite.” Like Owl City’s first mega-hit “Fireflies,” the song has a bit of a musical dichotomy: while the words seem to belong to a quiet, understated song, the music apparently thinks otherwise. This is something Adam himself lampshaded on his blog:

Spoiler: Owl City is 95% sad lyrics over uplifting chords.

Unlike “Fireflies,” however, I think the dichotomy is warranted on this song. While “Fireflies” is a song about being unable to sleep (and things getting weirder as a result!), “Wolf Bite” is a call for help. Instead of the focus of the song being inward, the focus is outward toward another, calling out to “show me the way.” In other words, if you get one song off this EP, get this one.

Album Rating: B+

You can stream it on Spotify or buy it on iTunes.

Categories
Introspection

I Like To Appreciate

I appreciate a lot of things, and I like a lot of things. They are not necessarily the same things.

In my personal dictionary, when I appreciate something it is usually on its more concrete qualities. I appreciate the workmanship of a well-built desk. I appreciate the fuel efficiency of a moped. I appreciate the cuss out of my laptop’s battery life. These are all quantifiable qualities: I can back up my appreciation with numbers and comparisons.

I also appreciate less-quantifiable things. I appreciate the way an illustrator uses facial expressions to convey emotion. I appreciate an author’s use of language to set a mood. I appreciate a composer’s ability to weave chords and melody together and a drummer’s ability to play the cuss out of some drums. These things are less quantifiable but still concrete to some extant.

All of these things add up to a healthy appreciation for something, and that is usually the biggest factor into whether I will recommend something for general consumption.

But it doesn’t mean I like it.

To me, liking something means I can connect with it on an emotional level. This connection is usually dependent on very personal factors: my temperament, my experiences, my ideals. Something I like will often remind me of or awaken in me a strong, unfulfilled desire for something, and it almost always ends up inspiring my imagination to go to new places.

It’s hard for me to recommend things on this basis alone. Usually if I like something, I’ll say things like “It’s not for everyone” or “Your mileage may vary.” I’m well aware of the personal nature of my feelings, and it’s hard to justify a recommendation simply based on that.

Maybe it’s a confidence problem: I’m not sure enough in my own taste to confidently recommend something. Maybe it’s a language issue, and I need to figure out the right words to use to differentiate my feelings. Or maybe it’s a false dichotomy, and I simply need to accept the fact that as a complex human being my opinions can be equally complex.

Maybe I just need to appreciate that I don’t always know why I like something.

Categories
Analysis Best Of

The New Television

It was a little over a year ago that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings laid out their strategy:

“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”

I would argue that this has happened. They’ve surpassed HBO in number of (paying) subscribers, essentially proving the market for streaming internet television separate from a traditional pay TV (cable, satellite, IPTV) subscription.

So let’s have some fun. If we take the assumption that television will move online at face value,1 what options could a television viewer have 5-10 years from now?

Categories
Best Of Reviews

To Learn and Understand

I am a big picture thinker and a perpetual dreamer. I love taking an idea and fleshing out the concept, and I’m continually inspired by the potential that today’s technology affords. If I’m in a room with a like-minded person, things can really take off.

So what would happen if you put me in a room with over one hundred?

My wife and I attended Greenville Grok, a conference designed around conversations and bringing people together. It’s put on by The Iron Yard, a local startup accelerator / code academy / coworking space, and it was started by Matthew Smith who realized he enjoyed the conversations and hangout times at conferences more than the keynotes and formal talks.

While there are a couple of keynote speakers at Grok, the emphasis is on what it calls “10-20s”: ten- or twenty-minute discussions on one topic in groups of eight to ten. My groups included software developers like me, graphic designers, artists, managers, and others; and our employers ranged from hot startups to established players to freelancers. While we all possessed an interest and affinity for technology, the similarities stopped there.

The opening keynote by Kristian Andersen set the tone for the discussions to follow. He started by dispelling the notion that people need to “find what they’re passionate about,” reminding us that the actual root of the word means “to suffer.” Finding what we are built for and willing to suffer for should be the real goal, not simply picking a topic we are excited about. The topic wove its way into the discussions to follow, introducing ourselves to our groups with “What’s your name, what do you do, and what do you suffer for?”

There were a number of good questions addressed in the breakout groups, including

  • How does one deal with the transient nature of digital work?
  • What can a developer do to keep his skills polished?
  • If the internet disappeared tomorrow, what would you do?
  • What’s the place for liberal arts education in learning to code?

I was also able to talk through some some of my thoughts on Netflix and television, but my biggest personal insights came from bouncing off an idea I’ve had for an educational video series. Being able to get quick feedback to help round out my abstract idea has helped give me direction for this venture. (The actual execution, of course, is still up to me.)

The fringe aspects of the conference were good too. We elected not to participate in the BMW test track activity, but the Squarespace-sponsored “hangover lounge” had Mario Kart set up, so that helped. The Vagabond Barista had a pop-up shop set up, and it was nice to have his (very caffeinated) coffee in the mornings. Even the conference t-shirt was different: local print shop Dapper Ink brought a silkscreen rig to the conference and let attendees print their own copies of the t-shirt.

This is the second Grok I’ve attended, and I will continue to attend any chance I get. I learn best by participating (or maybe I just love running my mouth), so the format of this conference means I get much more than my money’s worth. The fact that it’s put on by cool people, has cool stuff, and was held in a cool building just makes it all the more enjoyable.

See you next year, everyone!