Entertaining Exam Question

I came across this link to a rather entertaining exam question about Return of the Jedi.  Now, I have no idea if this is real or not, but I am entertained nonetheless.

Of course, if I had written this question, the correct answer would be F.  Return of the Jedi is my favourite Star Wars movie, despite Empire Strikes Back being the better film overall.  This may be partly attributable to seeing Jedi in the theatre when I was very little, or to most of the toys I had being tie-ins with that movie, or to something else entirely.  It is my favourite, despite not being the best.

Neat Idea: Gotham High

While perusing SF Signal as I am wont to do, I found a link to this post by Jeff Thomas and Celeste Green, showcasing some development work they did for DC called Gotham High—essentially Batman in high school.  The project didn’t go anywhere, but they have a number of drawings that are vastly amusing.

(I know this would violate Batman canon—inasmuch as one exists—but I would assume that it was intended to be a non-canonical offshoot.)

Check it out, just to look at the pictures!

Thoughts on Tron: Legacy

I saw the original Tron when I was a kid.  Since it came out when I was 3, I’m pretty sure I saw it when my sister rented it for me on VHS.  I remember enjoying it, but what stuck with me were the Recognizers revolving their legs to crush stuff, the disc battles, and (of course) the light cycles.  The plot and characters didn’t really sink in too much, though, since when I saw part of it again on TV a few years ago, I was delighted to recognize Bruce Boxleitner (who I am a fan of via Babylon 5, which is one of my favourite shows ever) and Jeff Bridges (who is known for many things).

Clearly, most of my recollections were of cool bits, rather than the original movie as a whole, and thus while I wasn’t entirely disinterested when Tron: Legacy was announced, neither was I salivating in anticipation.  Have no hopes for a movie sequel is perhaps the safest way to approach them, and for me it worked out very well in this instance.

Most of what I knew about this movie before seeing it came from the presentation I had attended at Fan Expo back in August.  (I went to this more because Boxleitner was going to be there, not out of any particular interest in the movie.)  At the presentation we saw how they updated the graphics, visuals, and character designs, and I began to fell more positive about seeing the movie.  I was also mildly amused when Boxleitner asked us all to go see it—a couple of times, and on opening weekend, if possible.

(I partially failed that charge—I did see Tron: Legacy twice, quite by accident, but neither viewing was on opening weekend.  The movie seemed to do okay without me.)

All of this is my rather roundabout way of saying that I came to this movie with little in the way of personal investment or expectation.  Unlike, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, where I hope the movies live up to the awesome potential of their respective franchises, Tron: Legacy just had to be a decent movie.  I’m happy to report that—in my opinion—it succeeded.

The movie starts a few years after the original movie, with a recap of said movie told in the form of a bedtime story by Kevin Flynn (the lead from the first Tron, though not Tron himself) to his young son Sam, which ends with him promising to show his son the world-inside-a-computer known as “The Grid”.  Kevin then heads to work, turning to wave goodbye to his son, and we see a computer de-aged Jeff Bridges clearly for the first time.

(This brings up the first quibble: the CG “Young Kevin Flynn” looked okay, except around the mouth when he spoke.  I’m not sure if it was just animated poorly, or seemed too disconnected from the rest of the face, but it threw me off for a moment.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley at work.)

Flynn heads to work, and is never seen again.  Sam inherits his company, and grows up thinking he has been abandoned.  He avoids any responsibility to do with the company until one night his father’s old friend Alan Bradley (played by Boxleitner, who was also Tron) tells him of a message from his father’s old arcade building and convinces him to check it out.  Sam stumbles across his father’s hidden office, and gets sucked into the Grid where the story really begins….

Structurally, Sam’s discovery of the Grid for the first time allows viewers unfamiliar with the original movie to “ride along” with him as he makes his discoveries and has things explained to him.  Fans of the original also get brought up-to-date by this mechanism.  It’s an old approach, and a bit predictable, but it does the job in introducing the world and the major conflicts within it.

The story, for all the setup we’re given, is really about a father and son reconnecting, and the father managing to overcome the mistakes he made that kept them apart.  This is punctuated with a lot of cool fight scenes—the disc battles and light cycles return, in upgraded form—a bit of character development, and a notional threat to the real world of programs escaping the Grid to run amok in reality.

All of that is really only secondary to the story of Kevin and Sam, though, which I think is a source of a lot of the complaints about the movie.  It throws a lot of ideas and plot points out there, and with most of them it fails to explore them in depth.  If, as a viewer, you can fill in the gaps on your own and be satisfied that the depth is there, just not on screen, then I think you might find the movie enjoyable.  Otherwise, you’ll be full of “but why…” and “what about…” questions.  The external plot points are resolved, but the story between Kevin and Sam is what concludes.

As such, I quite enjoyed this movie.  It is not without its flaws, and I’m not sure I can recommend it to a fully general audience, but it is good without being great.  I enjoyed both of my viewings of it, was satisfied with the ending, and yet was still left wanting to know more.

Before I wrap up, I feel I should offer my complaints as well.

  • The de-aged Jeff Bridges that bothered me in the opening scene of the movie reappears later on, as well, and has drawn heavy criticism.  The later appearances don’t bother me so much, since in the context of the movie it is not the same character and everyone is in the Grid then, so creepy CG people make a sort of sense.  I  don’t think it was on purpose, though—I just think that technology is not quite there just yet.
  • Recognizers didn’t crush anybody!
  • The 3D seemed unnecessary.  While it didn’t give me too much of a headache (a rarity for 3D movies), it didn’t really add much to the movie, and was barely noticeable.  If any movie was going to wow me with 3D, it should have been this one, and yet, meh.  I’d rather have watched in 2D with the brighter picture, like I did for the “real world” parts at the beginning.  I just want 3D to die die die.
  • I wanted to see more of Tron!  He is the namesake character, after all.
  • I think the movie offered up too many ideas, and failed to fully explore all of them.  As such, this is a source of discontent in the viewer.  The ideas on display are good, but they just couldn’t handle them all in this movie, and so there has to be a bit of a let-down feeling after that setup.

Ultimately, however, these criticism are pretty minor compared to what I could say about some movies out there.  While I don’t think this movie is for everyone, Tron: Legacy is a solid movie that I quite enjoyed, and I hope there is another one.  Preferably with lots of Tron, Recognizers crushing things, and answers to the questions and ideas introduced in this film.

This Hurts My Soul

So, I came across this New York Times article, Selling a Book by Its Cover, via SF Signal.  Feel free to go and read it for context, but I’ll summarize the key things that impacted me as I go along.

My first thought as I began reading was, “Cool!”  I was delighted to know that it’s easy to find a vellum-bound set of the works of Goethe in the original German.  I mean, I can’t read German—but I could learn.  And I know people who could read it.  I would totally love to have such works in my library.  (I’d probably want English translations, too, but I’m a sort of completist that way.)

Now, I should perhaps explain that I’m a big fan of books as artifacts.  I own over a thousand books, and one day I hope to read them all, and more besides.  My favourites—as physical artifacts—are the pretty ones, the durable ones, the impressive-looking ones.  I like the notion of books that last, the idea that a hundred years from now, or five hundred, the books on my shelves might still exist, sending their content forward through time for others to discover and read.  Hence my preference for the hardcovers and acid free paper over the yellowing paperbacks that may not survive my own lifetime, much less any thereafter.

This is not meant to imply that I am a Luddite when it comes to the e-book revolution.  I  haven’t quite jumped on that bandwagon yet, mostly because the readers aren’t quite good enough to do what I think they should.  I actually hope that e-books become the new and cheaper mass market, and that printed books become higher quality—that way, I can read the e-book, and if the book impresses me a lot, I’ll by the artifact to grace my shelves.  (I would hope this would lead to more reading and less shelving in my life, but I have my doubts because I do like the pretties.)

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I have a lot of respect for well-made printed books, and I think they are something that should be preserved.  And so it was that when I got to the part in the article when they started talking about books as set dressings, it hurt my soul.  It was especially cringe-inducing to read about books being mutilated so they could fit on shallow shelves as spines-only, or being completely rebuilt into artwork (“Making trees from books”).

Rationally, I know this is silly—there are lots of books out there that are no good to anyone, and if they aren’t used for these sorts of things, they’d probably end up trashed.  It still hurts to hear about used bookstores selling stock into destruction however.

Egad.  Maybe I should have been a librarian or archivist.

I Am Now on Twitter

In case anyone has failed to notice the Twitter feed added to this blog, or the mention of it in my Plans for 2011 post, I am now on Twitter as housephd.

(The name is somewhat presumptive, as I do not have my PhD yet.  But I will.  Oh yes, I will.  And it sounds better than “housephdcandidate” anyway.)

(Alternately, should I fail to complete the PhD, I could turn it into the Twitter stream of the lead character of a “House, PhD” web video series I had thought about making, where I play a brilliant but bitter professor who—with a team of three brilliant graduate students—solves problems that no one else can while battling a crippling addiction to Altoids.)

New Theme for a New Year

I have updated the WordPress theme for my blog, as I was getting tired of the old one.  I’m not entirely convinced this new one is exactly what I want, but I don’t have the time to figure out how to tweak it.  I’d be interested in thoughts or preferences from any readers out there—just leave a comment.

Plans for 2011

A new year has begun, and while I have seen may people forswear making any resolutions this time around, that didn’t work out so well for me last year (when I forgot), so here I am again.  However, rather than call these resolutions, perhaps “plans” might be a better appellation, as some of them are specific goals to meet, while others are behaviours that need modification.

The first plan is, perhaps, unsurprising.

Plan 1: Finish the !^@% PhD

I’m in year 7, now, which is frankly ridiculous.  I turned down a lucrative job last year in order to finish up, I have a bit of debt that needs paying off, and on my next birthday I’m going to need an extra bit to represent my age in binary.  It is time for me to move on with my life.  If I want to spend more years in school in the future, it needs to be for another degree, not this one.

Pursuant to Plan 1, we come to…

Plan 2: Stop Wasting Time on the Internet

Yes, I’m aware of the irony of complaining that I waste time on the Internet in a blog post, but I don’t consider blogging a waste of time—I’m still producing something, you see.  The time wasting comes from all the online consumption: playing awful Facebook “games”, reading blogs that I’m not interested in, obsessively checking to see if sites I am interested in have updated, and so on.

I’m going to start by enhancing my LeechBlock filters to block all of my time-wasting sites during my working hours, and if I find a new time-wasting site, I’ll add it to the block list ASAP.  I will allow myself to blog or tweet (now that I’m on Twitter) during blocked hours, as that is productive (after a fashion), but that’s it.

This plan may lead to a flurry of blog posts and tweets in lieu of me doing my actual research, but I’ll feel better about that than just wasting time on Facebook every day.

This plan ties closely in with…

Plan 3: Stop Wasting Time In General

Most of my general time-wasting comes from watching reruns of shows I’ve already seen or broadcasts of movies I own on DVD.  I also snack when doing this.  This is a complete waste of time, and not really good for my health.  I’m good with watching new episodes of shows that I enjoy, but other than that, I need to keep the TV off so that I don’t spend to much time sitting around like a lump.

This brings us to…

Plan 4: Get Healthy

My life is generally sedentary.  I work at the computer all the time.  And then I use it to waste time recreationally.  Then I take a break from relaxing to watch TV and have a snack.  This does not a healthy lifestyle make.

The first thing I need to do on this front is break my obsessive-compulsive snacking habit.  Once I fall into a pattern of behaviour, I repeat it automatically, and that is what has happened over the last few years: I snack as a distraction from my work, far more than I ever did during undergrad or high school.  I need to break that habit.

Then, I need to get some more exercise, and eat healthier in general.  I’m getting older and sooner than I’d like my body won’t be able to rebound from everything I put it through.  So I need to go to a gym, or take up Taekwon-Do again, perhaps.  I’ll have to sort that out soon—the extra energy will allow me to work better on my research.

Plan 5: Read More

I will grant that recreational reading is a distraction from my research, but I would very much prefer to train myself so that when I want to take a break, my first instinct is to reach for a book and not to turn on the TV.  Besides, if I read more, I’ll have something to blog about, and that counts as productivity.

Which brings us to…

Plan 6: Write More

This is a fairly broad plan, but is meant to cover blog posts, tweets, research papers, my doctoral thesis, and works of fiction.  I feel my life has been too passive for the last few years, and I want to start producing something again.  A large chunk of that productivity will be toward the software I’m developing for my research, but the written word is the other thing I have the wherewithal to produce, so I’ll do my damnedest to produce more of it.

Expect updates on these plans throughout the years, and please hassle me if I seem to be letting them slide.

Happy New Year to all who read this, and best of luck in the coming year!