Nerdcore challenge

I got on a nerdcore kick a few months back, and have been unable to exorcise several songs from looping in my head (particularly Rock Out With Your Hawk Out, Nursehellamentary and Mountain Kind). This genre has fallen off the radar a bit, it seems to me, but several films are about to be released about it, so maybe it’s on the upswing.

Like anything else, nerdcore obeys Sturgeon’s Law, so much of it sucks. It’s been around long enough that the creme has risen to the top by now. One of its flaws is the same geekier-than-thou theme over and over, mostly to really bad beats. Tracks that are actually about something are usually more interesting.

For a very brief moment, I caught the bug that makes someone want to try to do this, but I don’t really have the talent or the time. Maybe someday. Meanwhile, a bunch of random ideas for songs floated through my head, so I thought I might as well mention them and challenge any passing nerdcore artists to see what they can do with them:

  • Some sort of ranting, hardcore blasting of Uwe Boll. He really needs to be stopped before he does more damage to our collective psyche.
  • At various points in history, some scientist comes along with a theory that completely overturns the conventional wisdom. Songs are needed in the first person where such a scientist disses and degrades the conventional wisdom and its inventor. Bonus points if all the references are contemporary to when the scientist lived (e.g. muskets instead of 9mm).
  • Retro video games make constant appearances in nerdcore, but I have yet to hear a track dedicated to the massive time sink that is Civilization. It would probably be called “Just One More Turn”.
  • “Confession of a Tentacle”, from the point of view of an anime tentacle.
  • “Golden”, about φ.
  • You could do a whole album on Beastmaster.
  • “Identify 9”, a tribute to Wizardry cheat codes.
  • “E-mail Tourette’s”

By the way, you can add Optimus Rhyme to the list of perfect names.

The end of the format war

Another hideously stupid format war that did absolutely nothing to help consumers is over: Blu-ray wins. Oh, it will be a while before HD-DVD figures this out, but it’s done. You’ll find a number of people saying this lately, largely because of the recent defection of Warner Brothers to the Blu-ray format. This, and things like Apple most likely including Blu-ray drives in the next generation of its machines, are important of course, but I’m calling the war for Blu-ray for a different reason: porn.

Early on, I guessed that HD-DVD would win the format war for the same reason that VHS beat the superior Betamax: it better met the needs of porn producers (cheaper to make, longer running lengths, etc.). And, indeed, HD-DVD appears to dominate pornography in the United States. After some exaustive research (link not work safe) on my part, I can confirm that finding porn titles in HD-DVD is much easier than finding them in Blu-ray. For some time, Sony was actively preventing porn from being available on Blu-ray, but not any more, starting with Debbie Does Dallas Again. So, it appears that porn is at least producing in both formats at the moment, even though HD-DVD is still (by far) more common in porn.

This, however, does not matter. Whatever role porn did or didn’t play in the VHS vs. Betamax war, it will turn out not to have much impact on the HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray war, which is the main reason I think this war is now over. There are two things that are different this time around that make this so.

First, porn now has many more outlets than it did in the VHS days. Back then, if you wanted porn, your only choices were theaters or videotape. These days, with rule 34 in full effect on the internet, porn is now almost impossible to avoid. Those looking for high-definition porn are much more likely to find it in some downloadable format than either of the DVD formats.

This pales next to the other reason, though. After even more painstaking research, I have now realized the truth: high resolution porn breaks the illusion. The quality is too good, turning porn into a festival of pimples, surgical scars and razor burn. Some companies are adapting to this, but these are likely to be companies that actually care about production quality, which most porn makers do not.

Taking porn out of the equation knocks a big…leg out from under HD-DVD. While it will still take far to long for HD-DVD to die, it’s now safe stick a fork in it for your purchasing choices.

Update: The death spiral is happening faster than I thought it would. Glad to see that companies that care about this war seem to think it is as stupid and useless as I do.

Comics

I lucked into my love of comics. The first bit of luck came from glancing at a comic rack in a supermarket and seeing the cover of something called “the Uncanny X-Men”. I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but I remembered the X-Men from reading my cousin’s copy of Son of Origins, years earlier (that was the second bit of luck), so, I decided to check it out. The third bit of luck was that the storyline in that issue happened to be smack dab in the middle of the “Dark Phoenix Saga”. After that, I was hooked. Perhaps it is nostalgia talking, but this particular story arc is probably the most significant storyline in the most significant comic book of its day, more or less the defining moment in that particular era of comics. The Dark Phoenix Saga, along with a shorter story arc that followed a couple months after called “Days of Future Past”, still resonate now.

Time passed. Somewhere along the line (high school, I think) I stopped reading comics. It wasn’t that I outgrew them. Far from it. It’s that the comics started to suck. With the Claremont/Byrne team gone, lots of mergers and weird (doomed) media deals, and most of the titles trying create yet another version of the X-Men, Marvel sort of lost its way (and I didn’t consider other comics companies worth reading even before that). My loss.

It wasn’t until meeting my high school friend JM in San Fransisco most of the way through college that I started reading comics again. She raved (justifiably, I discovered) about a comic called Sandman. While I haven’t become a comics guru or anything, I have read, and continue to seek, some of the better comics made. They’ve really grown up since I was 10. Maybe even more than I have.

A month or so ago, I was going on and on about comics to a friend of mine, and told him that I’d post some of my favorites. As I don’t have my nose buried deep in the comics scene, many of these will be old news to purists, but they’re worth reading anyway. These days, I don’t have the patience for single issues, so tend to buy trade paperbacks collecting a storyline instead. (Like I said, purists may cringe. I don’t care.)

Classics

Most of the graphic novels still on my shelf are the result of three authors: Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Frank Miller. The art of Alex Ross also makes quite a few appearances. Pretty much anything these guys do is a cut above other comics. This is one reason a lot of their work gets translated into (usually bad) movies. Here are some of my favorites:

Season of Mists Watchmen Kingdom Come V Uncle Sam

Season of Mists – 1992

This isn’t the first volume of Sandman, but it is as good of an introduction as any. If the X-Men were the adolescence of comic books, Sandman is almost certainly its maturity. Neil Gaiman’s writing in Sandman is seriously called literature in a number of places, and is one of the few comics worthy of serious annotation. Honestly, if you haven’t read any of the comics in this post, track down all of the volumes of Sandman first. Probably the best comic series ever.

Watchmen – 1986

You will hear more about Watchmen in the coming years, because it is being made into a movie. I suspect the film will be pretty bad, since there is no way to cram the coolness of this graphic novel into two hours. Watchmen is almost certainly Alan Moore’s best writing, which is saying quite a lot. It has also been annotated. A real strength of the book is (with one notable exception) a lack of superpowers, focusing a lot on how crazy you would need to be to dress in a costume and fight crime and, then, what happens when a real superhero shows up.

Kingdom Come – 1996

With possibly the best art in any comic book ever, Kingdom Come was one of the first comics to approach the idea of super heroes from the point of view of the mere mortals around them saying “do we really want these superpowerful beings around” and where the collateral damage from the fights of powered heroes is more palpable. Mix in Armageddon, heroes fighting, and a good story, and you have a winner.

V for Vendetta – 1982, 1988

I have mentioned this book before, and you may have seen the better-than-expected movie version (and, I thought, particularly well cast, for the most part). This book is fairly different from the film, and better in most ways. Like the film, it is fairly wordy, but contains many more literary, historical and artistic references. And, yes, I was surprised that the film didn’t raise more furor than it did. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Uncle Sam – 2000

Being politically loaded, this book changes each time you read it. It features a Uncle Sam as a homeless derelict, lost in many flashbacks of the nation’s past. It’s the type of thing where two different people read it entirely differently. Plus, it looks great. Packed with historical references, it’s annotations are more useful than most. This book also marked the only time I’ve ever been tempted to purchase the original art of a comic image, but it looks like someone else beat me to it.

Dark Night Returns Sin City God Loves, Man Kills Killing Joke Marvels

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – 1986

It has taken a long time for the film version of Batman to catch up with what was being done with the character in the comics over 20 years ago. The upcoming film with the similar name is not related to this book, which, along with Watchmen, turned the comics industry on its head. This was the book that turned Batman into a darker, more brooding character, in a tale filled with moral ambiguity from all sides.

Sin City: Booze Broads and Bullets – 1991-1997

Frank Miller’s Sin City covers a number of volumes, but I think I like this one best. It’s more like a collection of short stories, all told in the stark noir style the series made famous. The first film did an interesting job of replicating exact panels from these books, which are sort of fun to look for.

God Loves, Man Kills – 1981

This may not be as well known as some of the others, but is worth picking up if you can find it (particularly in its original format). It’s one of the first comics I read that really dealt with religion and prejudice. It’s also fairly gorgeous. I often wonder if it would have been released at all had it come along a bit later into the Reagan years.

Batman: The Killing Joke – 1988

This book makes the list because it is the first time I read a comic about an insane evil villain where I really believed the villain was insane and evil. It also was the first I remember that mentioned Batman himself also needing to be insane to do what he does.

Marvels – 1994

Marvels retells a number of classic Marvel stories from a much different perspective, and killer art by Alex Ross. The “mortals suffering on the sidelines” motif in Kingdom Come originated here, where it is more pronounced, but also more hopeful. It is sort of a stroll through the day of a normal human in a superhuman world.

New(ish) Stuff

Lately, I’ve been reading sort of on and off, mostly off. I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen, though. Such as:

Zombies 1602 Y Red Son Justice

Marvel Zombies – 2007

Have you ever wondered what would happen if heroes like the Hulk, Iron Man and Wolverine became flesh-eating zombies? I haven’t either, but Ralph Macchio has. No, not that Ralph Macchio, in spite of what the writer might have you think. This five-issue miniseries takes place in an alternate universe, and manages to be be jaw-dropping, funny and disgusting all at the same time. Not that intellectual, but fun. There’s also a sequel which pulls in the Evil Dead franchise. Unrelated to this series is another, which I haven’t read yet, but want to: Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons.

1602 – 2007

Another alternate universe story, this one exploring what the world would have been like if the “silver age” heroes of the Marvel universe came into being in 1602 AD. Dr. Strange, for example, is court sorcerer to Elizabeth I. Mythology making as only Gaiman can deliver.

Y: The Last Man – 2003

Y, a reference to the lead character as well as the male chromosome, is a long running series about a world where all the male mammals, humans included, suddenly drop dead. All except Yorick, an unexceptional guy, and his monkey. It’s a good concept, well executed, with great writing.

Superman: Red Son – 2004

In the 1930’s, suppose Superman landed in Stalinist Russia instead of a field in Kansas. Red Son explores this idea, and the result is not what you might expect. For one thing, Superman is much less of a dick than usual. This is not the first alternate location for Superman either. The first one I remember is a short story that has him landing in Germany, called “Übermensch!” by Kim Newman (excerpt). There was also Superman: True Brit, co-written by John Cleese (yes, that John Cleese) and drawn by John Byrne, which I have not read.

Justice – 2007

Justice gives Alex Ross a huge canvas and cast of heroes and villains to work with. The story is also pretty good, though it starts better than it finishes. It’s also a little pricey and oddly packaged (three different volumes).

Inhumans Eternals Secret War Danger Girl Earth X

Inhumans – 2000

One of the many bizarre products of the illustrious mind of Jack Kirby (and probably a number of chemicals), the Inhumans have always seemed to occupy a strange area in the Marvel universe. I frankly, never really cared about them before reading this. The story is decent and the art is great, making particularly good use of black pages.

Eternals – 2007

Another concept from the mind of Kirby, the Eternals came much later than his Inhumans did, and were gods among men. His series featuring them didn’t live long, and languished (though had a fairly long reach in the mythology of Marvel). The Eternals were sort of a C-list title, frankly. But that may have changed with this book, the story picked up by Neil Gaiman, manipulating and inventing mythology as only he can.

Secret War – 2006

Not to be confused with Secret Wars, a miniseries from decades ago, this is a shades-of-gray, post-special-ops type story, with both emotional and political fallout. It’s also a painted comic, a style I like. The concept is better than the execution, but it is still enjoyable. Along with 1602, it made me like Nick Fury

Danger Girl – 2001

This is not new, but I only read it recently. Danger Girl is designed to work like an episodic pulp action melodrama, where all the characters are unapologetically gorgeous or hunky. It’s sort of mash up of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Baywatch, where the characters are drawn suspiciously like particular actors. It is definitely not literature, but lots of fun. Plus, with an into by Bruce Campbell (yes, that Bruce Campbell), how can you go wrong.

Earth X – 2005

Like Danger Girl I only read this recently. Earth X attempts to tie all the weird mythologies of the Marvel universe into a single unit. It almost even succeeds, though it takes a few, much more contrived sequels (stay away from those). One of the things I like about it is that, like Red Son, it is not afraid to explore the political consequences of superheroes. Beings with super powers probably really would take over countries and so on.

I may add to this post periodically, but that should do for now.

The dump part

Over two years ago, I suggested a way to destroy a modern record company, using their “pump and dump” strategy against them. The prime example of the strategy at the time was the handling of Britney Spears. Unfortunately, no one has implemented my advice, but evidently with a recent performance, Ms. Spears seems to have entered the “dump” part of the pump and dump strategy, with one reviewer claiming “it’s clear no one is telling singer how to fix career”. I didn’t see the performance, so have no idea if that is actually true or just the media being the media, but if it is true, it extends the case study of the pump and dump strategy. In my previous post, I quoted a prediction from Chris Johnson’s analysis suggesting there is “considerable evidence to suggest that when Britney stops being pushed on the market by her record company, sales will fall off a cliff.” Chances are this will happen fairly soon.

On the other hand, if the performance really was that bad, it actually kind of contaminates the experiment, because it might mean that fans are leaving because of taste (i.e. the bad performance turned them off to the star) rather than because the hype train stopped. Then again, you might see a double whammy effect, where both taste and the lack of hype contribute to a sales disaster of epic proportions.

Update: No mercy, though it sounds like they weren’t really “representing” her before the performance either.

The Asteroid Ultimatum

I just got back from seeing the Bourne Ultimatum. This might be a good movie, from the sound of it. I wouldn’t know though, because cinematographer Oliver Wood seems to have screwed the movie up entirely by only hiring cameramen with advanced Parkinson’s disease or some other severe palsy, so you couldn’t actually see much of anything. When the DVD of this movie comes out, someone should go through it and count the frames that consist of nothing but motion blur. I’d wager the count will be more than 15%. Some highlights:

  • A scene where Matt Damon and Julia Stiles are sitting down, looking at each other, doing nothing but quietly talking. They seem to be unaware that the cameramen are, evidently, caught in a massive earthquake or about to be eaten by the worms in Tremors.
  • Several different points where the camera spends several seconds frenetically panning around at absolutely nothing.
  • One of the best car crashes ever is rendered completely moot by the fact that you can’t see a damn thing. Repeatedly. From several different angles.
  • Most of the scenes, where editor Christopher Rouse takes footage from several cameras providing different angles on a single shot, and toggles the lever that switches between them like it was a Robotron controller.
  • The credits, when you realize you are looking at the first stable shot you’ve seen in the past two hours.

Similar stupidity marred what might have been a good movie trailer for Cthulhu in the Field of Clover or whatever it’s called.

I don’t pretend to be a filmmaker. I am, however, a film watcher and, seriously Hollywood, how many more films are you going to let the Handheld ShakyCam™ technique ruin before you knock it the hell off? I know you think it makes the film look “edgy” or “gritty” or “realistic” or something, but it doesn’t. It just makes the audience nauseous. Normally the rest of your recent products do that without the benefit of cinematography induced motion sickness. Please, at least, stop ruining movies that don’t suck from conception by shooting them handheld. Tripods aren’t that expensive.

Advice for JetBlue

JetBlue is in the crossfire of two groups of flying monkeys over “sponsoring” a convention hosted by a politically left blog. The specifics of this meaningless and mostly manufactured furor don’t really make much difference. What is interesting is JetBlue’s response, which looks to be a lose-lose situation: it irritates the left for caving, and won’t placate the right much, because it isn’t really JetBlue they are railing against.

Since this blog is about half-baked solutions, I offer the following, alternative advice for JetBlue. Issue a statement with substance more like this:

JetBlue is politically agnostic. We don’t care why you are traveling, only that we provide the best travel experience we can. Whether you go to this convention to participate or to protest, we hope you’ll fly JetBlue.

In essence, incite right wingers to protest the convention, taking their money to bring them there. Everyone wins.

The real threat

With the realization that the shooter at Virginia Tech was South Korean, I’m just going to go ahead and blame the whole thing on gold farming. There are already idiots blaming videogames as a whole for no reason, might as well try to sic them on gamers that actually do suck.

If a bunch of bloggers started suggesting a connection between gold farming and the shooting, I wonder how long it would take for the media to pick it up as a “story”. It’s not like the media will spend much time blaming the actual shooter or prevalent anti-US propaganda in South Korea, after all. Better to lead them to a “juicier” target. I bet it wouldn’t take much, even in spite of the fact that it South Korea isn’t really much of a source of gold farming. But the media doesn’t care about facts, really, so this should not be a problem. It makes the story compelling though, because it deals with money and cheating. Maybe there’s even a way to add sex into it.

You might even be able to convince some hysterical pundit or other to report it as truth to the media.

Update: Sadly, gold farming doesn’t seem to have made the list of blame.