Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Pulse Club Shooting and Reopening

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on June 18, 2016

As we all know by now (and if you haven’t, you’re probably living under a rock), the Pulse Club was a primarily gay dance night spot located in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, as a deadly shooting unfolded, it has now become the unwitting site of the worst mass shooting in the US so far. Should it reopen? Let’s explore.

Shooting Aftermath

After that 3 hour massacre ended in the death of the shooter, this situation now leaves more questions than answers, especially for the victim’s families and those who were injured. In fact, my heart goes out to each and every one of the victim’s families. Those people who had gathered at that club that night arrived to have fun, drink and dance. Many had done so on many previous nights. Nothing wrong in that.

Unfortunately, the shooter had other plans. He entered this night club with the intent of taking lives. After 3 hours of standoff with law enforcement, the situation ended with the death of the shooter, but not before 49 people were dead and 53 others were injured and sent to hospitals. Let’s not forget about those who were not injured, but who were there witnessing this horrific event unfold. These victims may not have physical injuries, but they now have emotional injuries that may take decades and therapy to resolve. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. A horrible situation for any business owner to contemplate.

Club Reopening?

The manager of the club, Barbara Poma, is trying to salvage this situation with her business and has vowed to reopen this night club. Unfortunately, the Pulse Club has now become a victim in its own right with a massive stigma attached: the massacre and all of those brutal deaths. This situation never spells a good end to any business. Barbara, if you are in fact reading this, I’d strongly suggest not reopening this club at that location. However, before considering reopening, you should most definitely wait (see below). There are a number of reasons why it shouldn’t reopen in its current form:

  1. Macabre thrill seeker tourists. Your club has now (and will for a very long time) become an unwitting tourist destination for those seeking a brush with the macabre. Yes, your club will now have people seeking to stop by and talk about the massacre, the deaths, the victims with anyone who will talk about it including to your customers, your staff and you. This will eventually become distracting and annoying to your customers who are there just to party. It will drive your existing customer base away. This will not be forgotten quickly or easily.
  2. Ghost hunters. Because of the 49 deaths in your club, inevitably someone will claim they have seen or heard the ghost of one of those who died on your premise. I’m not here to argue the merit of that type of claim, but I will state that your club will become a destination for ghost hunters looking for ghosts. Again, this will be to the distraction of your paying visitors simply there to have a good time. It will also become a distraction for your bartenders and other staff. This will also drive your existing customer base away.
  3. Regulars will shy away. For those who were regulars to your club and who were there that night, they won’t be back. Your club is forever tainted as that club that had a mass shooting and now holds that stigma high and wide like a badge of honor, except there’s no honor in that. For anyone who was there that night, the memory is just too painful and few will be back to avoid reliving that memory, especially those who were trapped in there for hours.
  4. Tainted by death. The Pulse Club brand has now become the unwitting poster child for mass shootings. What I’m about to write may seem a little crass, but you might as well re-theme your club to have heart monitors, hospital beds, and nurses running around if you want to move forward with this name. This is what people will forever link to this club’s name. People will not remember it for the fun party spot. It will now be remembered for the deaths and those living victims still in the hospital. If you don’t have any intent on capitalizing on this notoriety, you should change the name and move the club to another location.
  5. Because of at least number 4, you may find that your original customer type no longer visits your club. You may find that types 1-4 make up the vast majority of those who visit your club. They are not there to have a good time, they are there to take pictures, vlog, gawk, talk to your staff and generally be a nuisance to your club. It might even lead to confrontations that you and your staff might not want to deal with. You can never know the intent of a single person requesting access into your club.

What this basically says is if you reopen the club, your clientele will drastically shift from that happy-go-lucky dance place that it once was to that-place-that-had-a-mass-shooting. The above are not necessarily the reasons you want people at your club. The Pulse Club can never live its now-infamous past down. Even if you change the name of the club, paint it, redecorate it and refurnish it from top to bottom, that location won’t ever forget what happened.

Rebuilding the Pulse Club

The only way the Pulse Club can ever live again is by moving it to an entirely new location somewhere else in the city and rebranding it. You must abandon that building and let it become someone else’s problem and stigma to solve. What happened there is something that stays with that building, not with your business. If you want to get your business back the way that it was, you cannot reopen in that location. You must move your business to a new building. This is the only way to free yourself from the thrill seekers, from the macabre, from the ghost hunters and from those just morbidly curious. These people are not the reason why you opened your club and these are not the reasons you should want to continue with your club.

These are distractions that only serve to taint your establishment, chase off would-be new customers and cause your staff daily grief throwing random lookie-loos out. You need to ask yourself the hard question, is this really the reason you opened the Pulse Club?

Before you contemplate reopening the club, you need to let the legal dust settle. And, settle it will, I can guarantee that. Before making plans of spending money to renovate your club, you should reserve those funds for the upcoming legal battles that are about to ensue… and sue they will.

Lawsuits and the Future of Pulse

We haven’t seen the last of what is in store for this club. Just you wait. Some of the victims will file wrongful death suits at someone, anyone, for negligence. Where to start? The club’s owner. It’s as good a place as any.

Was the Pulse Club negligent in what happened? Well clearly, if the club’s staff had been properly enforcing at least metal detection or a pat down at the door, the guns might not have gotten into the building. Unfortunately, it now appears that this club was not enforcing any safety best practices when allowing patrons into the establishment. This could very much appear as negligent actions by the club’s owner. And, there are 53 living injured who can file lawsuits against this club. There are an additional 49 families who can also file lawsuits against this club. There are additional people like employees and those who suffered severe mental anguish at the horrific events that night who can also file lawsuits.

Unless the Pulse Club owner has engaged in specialty insurance in high amounts to cover such occurrences (probably not), she may find the Pulse Club out of business and her personal finances spent covering each and every one of those yet-to-be-filed lawsuits. It’s way too early for this club’s owner to be thinking about reopening the night club when the legal battles have barely even begun.

Clearly Barbara, as the club’s owner, you should wait out the legal battles before making plans to reopen this club. You may find that you can’t actually afford to reopen the club after the legal dust settles.

Victims

If you are a victim of this shooting, you should contemplate all of your legal options and you should do so quickly with your lawyer. If you are intent on filing a lawsuit, you should do it as fast as possible. The first to the table are usually the first to walk away with settlements. If you are one of the last, you might get nothing.

Was this club negligent by allowing a shooter with a Sig Sauer MCX rifle (every bit as deadly as an AK-47, just quieter) into this club? Clearly, the Pulse had very little in the way of security due diligence at the door. Is that considered negligent? Only a court can decide.

Review: Man of Steel

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, film by commorancy on May 24, 2014

SupermanWhile the Man of Steel has been out of the theaters for a while and is now available on blu-ray, I’ve decided an analysis of this film is now in order. It also showcases what’s wrong with Hollywood blockbusters in general. Man of Steel is an excellent poster child of the problems associated with today’s storytellers populating Hollywood. It’s all about the money and never about the quality. Though, let me start by saying the Superman suit is the least of this film’s problems. In fact, even though the suit is not at all in keeping with Superman, the suit itself is probably one of this film’s best features. Go costume department! Let’s explore.

Lois Lane

The script pieces surrounding Lois are quite unexpected. There’s nothing specifically wrong with Amy Adams’s portrayal of Lois Lane in terms of acting. In fact, she did a respectable job of acting Lois within the context of the role. Still, Margot Kidder’s and even more so Noel Neill’s Lanes seem much more human and in-line with being an actual reporter.

Unfortunately, the story behind Lois Lane in Man of Steel has created far more questions than answers. For example, every time Superman has landed after a long drawn out battle, flying at enormous speeds all over the city and destroying parts of perhaps 10s of buildings and then ultimately landing who knows where, Lois can be found standing right there within moments of touchdown. There is no way that’s possible unless Lois is not from Earth.

Also, she (seemingly) reluctantly agrees to be captured by Zod after a taunting comment by Colonel Nathan Hardy. After being taken aboard Zod’s ship, her lack of awe and concern seems dubious if not down right suspicious. Worse, she is pinpoint accurate firing a particle weapon (not found on earth) and not at all phased by it let alone killing said individual she fired upon. Most people put into that situation would not only have crumbled, but many might have fainted or gotten sick. Not Lois. She is as stoic about the whole thing as Superman. In fact, in some ways she is more stoic. It’s almost as if she knows what was going to take place in advance and her part in it.

Hidden Identity

We all know that Superman has his ‘hidden identity’ in Clark Kent, but that’s not the hidden identity to which I refer. In fact, we know that Superman is not good at hiding his identity. He practically opened up to Lois about the whole deal almost immediately upon meeting her. He certainly displayed his powers to her to heal her. Though, he verbally confirmed everything after the second meeting.

The fact that Lois is there at the discovery of the crashed Kryptonian scout ship in the ice means something suspicious with Lois is already afoot. How did she get there, how did she even know about it and how did she come to learn of that ship being there in the first place? If it’s a classified military secret operation, which it seemed to have been, why would a reporter have been notified? Also, why was Clark there? I think he was explained off as ‘yet another job’. But, that’s a separate issue entirely. The whole ‘dig up the 18000 year old ship from the ice’ plot device was far too convenient. But, that’s part of the reason Hollywood fails at making movies great. Things are inserted strictly for plot convenience, not because it makes sense.

In fact, I believe the true hidden identity here is Lois Lane. I don’t know if she an occupant from the original scout ship that landed there 18000 years ago (somehow preserved for many years), if she’s a descendent from someone on that ship (in which case there are probably more than a few) or if she’s from another world entirely. But, she’s definitely not of Earth. There’s just no way she can be all things considered.

Lois Lane from Krypton?

In fact, she seems to have the power of teleportation (being exactly where Superman is within moments). The power of clairvoyance (knowing where Superman is at all times). The power of people manipulation (able to convince military personal that she should be part of their secret projects and on board military aircraft). The power of memory manipulation (making people believe she’s always a helpless victim). She may even be a form of succubus seducing Superman at the end of the film.

There’s just no other way to explain how the Man of Steel Lois can end up doing the things she does. She cannot be of Earth. Yet, she’s obviously very good at hiding her true identity. For the same reason that Clark explains the need to work for the Daily Planet, it makes perfect sense for Lois to be there for that same reason. She can easily keep her finger on the pulse of the world and know where she needs to be and what she needs to do.

Though it’s quite clear. Lois doesn’t save people or interfere with humanity directly. She just watches, reports (within the limits of a real reporter) and lets mankind do whatever it’s going to do. That is, with the exception of Superman to which she has some kind of fascination and is willing to do all kinds of interfering. Of course, Superman is not of Earth and Lois knows this. So, if she has an official non-interference policy with the locals, then she can interfere with Superman all she wants as he’s not indigenous to Earth.

Lois Lane’s agenda?

Here’s the kicker. We don’t know. It’s clear that Lois seems to be on Earth for some agenda involving Superman. Perhaps she wants something Superman has or perhaps she knows he has the Kryptonian genetics key and needs it. Whether she’s malevolent or benevolent, we don’t yet know. Clearly, her manipulation of Superman is key to whatever reason she’s on Earth. But, it’s likely she’s from a planet that knows of Krypton and its fate.

This is not the same Lois we have come to know from the original Superman comics or indeed the Lois portrayed in the 50s, 60s or 70s. No, this Lois is a Lois who has powers of her own, but exercises them sparingly and out of sight. When she does use them in front of someone, she quickly manipulates their mind to cover what they saw (including the ability to manipulate Superman’s mind at certain emotional times). Though, it seems Superman can unknowingly resist her abilities.

Man of Steel destruction

On a separate topic, there’s all of the destruction surrounding Superman and Zod’s actions. It’s quite clear that the amount of destruction and human casualties in Man of Steel was quite large. While Superman always prides himself on saving people, the sheer carelessness of Superman in Man of Steel was quite unnecessary and appalling. We are seriously to believe that Superman would willingly throw an indestructible person through several buildings knowing they can’t be harmed or injured? And then do it again and again and again?

It’s clear that at the point where Superman first gets a hint that there might need to be violence, he would have excused himself and flown to, for example, the moon or a barren desert to battle it out. There is no other way to stop the unnecessary destruction than taking it somewhere remote. Why carry out such destruction in the middle of a city like Manhattan? Superman is way smarter than that. Of course, Zod could have insisted on destroying a large city anyway with his ships, but he can’t battle Superman if he’s not there.

Instead, this whole film treated Superman as if he didn’t have a brain in his head. That he was just some conflicted teenager unable to make heads or tails of any of his situations. That he’s some bumbling idiot with no thought to that level of destruction. No, Superman is a whole lot smarter and more reasoned than that. In fact, he’s probably the smartest person on earth, he just didn’t have the proper Kryptonian teaching. He should be able to at least make the proper strategic decision involving moving fights to places that cause the least amount of casualties and destruction.

Military

The whole film jumped the shark when Colonel Nathan Hardy proudly announces at 1:39:28, “This man is not our enemy”. Wait.. what? You’re standing in a pile of smoking burning rubble. He just caused enormous destruction and death in the middle of a city and that’s not considered being an enemy? Really? Yes, Zod was involved and aided in that destruction, but Superman could have easily moved the battle simply by flying somewhere else less populated.

Again, this influence on the Colonel must be the Lois Lane powers at work. There is no other explanation except Lois Lane’s protection of Superman. Even Superman has an incredulous look on his face when he says this. Lois is clearly protecting Mr. S for some reason and purpose yet to be explained. We already know she has the power of human manipulation and knowing where he is at all times. That’s the only explanation for that Colonel’s statement at that moment in the plot.

Overall

The special effects are reasonably well done, but the story has some huge holes that really make no sense. This is yet another Hollywood non-sensical romp that really doesn’t enhance the superhero genre in any notable way.  In fact, it makes Lois out to be some kind of alien with some agenda involving Superman. I’m just waiting to find out what that agenda really is. Maybe there is no Lois at all and this is some other Superman enemy attempting to manipulate Superman for their own bidding?

ABC’s Lost: What really happened?

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on March 15, 2014

For 6 years, we tuned in to find out what the next episode would be. For 6 years, we wondered as the premise got stranger and stranger. In the end, we finally see all of the plane crash victims that we knew together one last time in death. So, what really happened?

Common Theories

A lot of people theorize that they were dead the whole time. Others believe everything from seasons 1-5 were real events. Other theories are somewhere between these two. None of these scenarios fit exactly with what I believe happened. Keep in mind that these theories below are mine. If the writers choose to revisit this story and alter their vision of what really happened and how it happened, then that’s up to them. Any new stories they put forth could also negate the below theories. As the show sits today, here is my theory.

Were they dead?

Yes. They were dead before the plane crashed on the island. In fact, they probably died from a crash at sea. If they were supposedly dead, then where were they and what where we watching? Though they were dead from our Earthly plane of existence, they did seem very much alive. You’ll need to understand the writers’ use of the jumbo jet plane archetype is a literal metaphor (and pun) for carrying these people to the next ‘plane’ of existence. Once you realize that the plane is merely a metaphor, then you’ll understand the entire show. Even the title ‘Lost’ is both a pun and a foreshadowing of the main characters’ ‘awakening’ when put into context of the story.

That flight literally moved each of the victims to the next existence plane which allowed them to continue their lives right where they left off from their former reality (in excruciating detail), just as though the plane had really crashed. Let’s start off understanding that plane of existence. The next plane is supposedly the plane of imagination and creation (and as a way point for the next step in our journey). If this territory seems unfamiliar, you should probably research more on the 7 or 12 or 31 planes of existence theories. In the next plane from ours, you can create a realistic universe of your own choosing. So, the island represents this plane of existence. The island had rules because the person who imagined the island created those rules. It looked, smelled, felt and tasted like a real island because that plane of existence was just as real to those involved.

In the case of people new to that plane, they are not yet aware that they are dead (from the Earthly reality) and continue onward ‘living’ their lives as though they were still alive in the Earthly plane. The reason the physicality of the island mirrors our physical human reality so closely is that all people who recently die end up there. Because each person’s essence is so heavily tied to the Earth plane for so long, it’s natural to bring that familiarity into the plane of imagination and creation and then recreate those things most familiar exactly as it were (people and all). Hence, the Island.

The Glitch

In that plane of existence, things will be a little off kilter here and there (like the cat glitch in the Matrix). For example, the smoke monster, the island barrier, Jacob, people randomly appearing and disappearing on the island, items they need randomly appearing and disappearing, being cured of illness, time travel, magical events, etc. These are all manifestations of someone’s imagination and/or of being in that non-physical plane of reality. Because none of the people realized they were effectively in a dream reality, they never ‘woke’ up to it… all except Desmond. He didn’t wake up, but he could manipulate parts of that island reality. In fact, he may have been the ‘constant’ who unknowingly created the island from his imagination after having died sometime earlier. Assuming Desmond was the creator of the island, he couldn’t wake up before the rest of the characters or the Island might drastically change.

Note, the characters discount or disregard the glitching because that plane of existence is less rational than the Earthly plane. So, events that would seem way out of place here on Earth are more readily accepted in that plane. Acceptance of the glitching is part of the awakening process.

Why strand them there?

That’s a good question. Let’s understand that they would have ended up in that plane of existence simply by their physical body dying. However, for no other reason than the writers needed a place to put the plane crash victims to create this story, placing them all into Desmond’s plane of existence was as good a place as any. If you have a bunch of dead people, to the writers it seemed to make sense and it produced a good enough show.

But, they left the island!

Well, yes and no. Because that plane of existence can manifest anyone’s imagination, it’s easy to have characters end up back at home. That doesn’t mean they were really there. What the characters saw was merely a shadow world created by that character in the imagination plane. That’s why the real world always seemed just a little bit odd, somewhat unnatural and unreal. So, anyone they interacted with was simply a dream character. Because not one of the characters ever woke up, they never knew they could learn to manipulate their own world in any way they saw fit. But, if they had awakened, they would also know that they’re dead. So, for the writers, it would have revealed the ending too soon to have any one character actually ‘wake up’.

Some of the people died on the show

Yes, they did. But, they were already dead? Yes, those characters who died on the island suddenly realized they were already dead and moved on from that plane to the next plane earlier than the rest of the characters. Because ‘moving on to another plane’ is a different event from physically dying, all of the characters who thought they were still ‘alive’ perceived that person’s exit as a death. If they were to perceive another character’s death in any way other than by our plane’s means, they would wake up to the fact that they’re dead. It also makes perfect sense that some characters might figure it all out sooner than others. There’s no need to stay on the island once you know the truth of it.

What was the island?

Was the island a type of Purgatory? Not exactly. Purgatory assumes you believe in Christianity. Purgatory is defined as an intermediate state between death and Heaven. A place to purify before reaching Heaven. If the Island were Purgatory, that would assume all of the characters were destined for Heaven. In fact, there were plenty of characters there that didn’t seem to deserve entry to Heaven for the things they had done in life. But, who am I to judge that for them?

Instead, it’s better to adopt the wider view of planes of existence outside any single organized religion’s ideas. These views define planes as, yes, intermediate planes after death, but more than that. There are anywhere between 7 and 31 planes. I won’t get into further details about this topic as it’s well beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of books describing these planes, what they are and why they exist.

Anyway, the Island is one of these planes and a type of ‘waiting room’ (if you subscribe to the Catholic view, it might be considered Purgatory) for people to make peace with their old life allowing them to ‘wake up’ to their new existence slowly before moving on. It’s a place to let you replay events from your physical life and unshackle yourself from the confines of a physical body to transition to the next plane. Think of the Matrix and waking someone up there. It’s kind of the same thing, but you get to wake up on your own rather than by taking a pill and finding yourself in a new reality immediately. The island is simply that stopover point that leads each of those people to the next step of their existence.

Note that during season 6, their existence was defined to be ‘Purgatory’, but by season 6 the characters were beginning to wake up. During seasons 1-5, the characters thought they were still physical. In their reality, that was all an illusion. The only thing real during seasons 1-5 was they were in that waiting room that appeared to be an island. In fact, they were in an alternate plane of existence where imagination and creation makes things appear real.

Why 6 years?

Understand that time in that plane of existence is meaningless. 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days or 600 years could all pass in the blink of an eye to us. Time doesn’t work the same in the next plane of existence. To us, we watched 6 years of episodes, but to the characters it may have seemed to happened in less then 30 days. Time is relative to where you are.

Why not all 250+ passengers?

Those specific few people were likely chosen by Desmond to live out their reality on his island or simply found their way to that island because Desmond wanted it to happen. The rest of the 250 passengers ended up in their own different realities, perhaps living out their own lives as if the plane had crashed, but others could end up making a world back at home with their families. The unseen victims of the crash made their own realities outside of the island reality and we didn’t get to see their lives unfold. Some of those people might also have moved on faster than those we saw on the island.

They weren’t dead until the very end?

Yes and no. They were dead in our reality. But, they weren’t dead in their plane of existence. A plane that is outside of our existence (or at least a plane that we cannot get to in our current tangible form). Because their bodies had died, their essence moved on in what appeared to be a body that looked, acted and dressed just like the living counterpart. The theory is that when you die, you continue to see yourself as your last physical body even in the next plane of existence. That is, until you slowly wake up to your new non-physical existence.

At the very end, the characters were finally awakened to their own Earthly death. A death that happened before the island. Once they awakened, they could realize the truth of it and return to the Earthly plane as ghosts. For whatever reason, they all awakened in unison, that or it was simply just time. Though, to them, the island was still just as real as any event on the Earthly plane. But, to the Earthly plane inhabitants where their physical bodies had died, they had died at sea in the plane and that’s all their Earth families ever knew.

In essence, Lost was a show about ghosts living in an alternate plane of reality.

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The Grammy Awards: What were they thinking?

Posted in awards, botch, entertainment by commorancy on February 2, 2014

GrammySo, I’m all for mutual-admiration-societies. You know, where you’re recognized by your peers with a gaudy gold award for producing something that’s entirely your job. Though, I suppose the point is to recognize that some creative works are better than others, but no one goes around pinning awards in most professions. No, this is a phenomena pretty much strictly involving the entertainment industry, and almost exclusively limited to Hollywood. I say ‘almost’ because the Tony awards recognize outstanding theater performers (which is pretty much exclusive to New York). And yes, there are the Saturn awards for novels, but again this is still considered entertainment.

Good Work or A** Kissing? You decide.

So, I’m all for recognizing good musical work. After all, that’s what the radio is for. Listeners vote by asking for music to be played and by purchasing it. Of course, we all know that’s not exactly true. Radio stations put music into heavy rotation mostly because of things other than popular requests. Sure, sometimes it is, but most times it’s because the producer wants it played and pays for that. And you might think that consumer music purchases are what drives the ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’ certifications. Nope. These certifications are assigned based solely on how many copies SHIPPED to retailers. Not how many were ultimately purchased. So, if 1 million copies are shipped to retailers, that’s considered ‘Platinum’. If 500,000 copies ship to retailers, that’s considered ‘Gold’. I’m not even sure how or if digital purchases factor into these certification programs.

The assumption is that the certification implies that there is a correlation between sales and shipments, but that doesn’t explain cut-outs. Let’s just say that this certification program is a bit of a scam. It doesn’t really say anything about the quality of the music or whether the music actually sold. The sales are merely implied. If someone has deep enough pockets to print 1 million copies of an album and get them shipped to retailers (whether or not a single copy sells), that would still be certified as a platinum album.

Music is subjective

Yes, it is. But, music is also derivative of other works. Sometimes it’s outright copying. Sometimes it’s rehashing tired themes and genres that have already been tread. Let’s take the 2014 Grammy Album of the Year: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories as an example. What’s wrong with this album? Well, it’s good, but it’s not the best album I’ve ever heard. The music on RAM is mostly derivative, tired and somewhat cliche not to mention retro. It’s not that it’s not well performed, but it’s well under the level of skills I’ve heard from Daft Punk. The 2010 Tron Legacy Daft Punk soundtrack is a much stronger work musically than Random Access Memories by far. So what does that say?

It says that of all of the albums released in 2013, Daft Punk’s was the best. In fact, I found a large number of tracks on Random Access Memories unlistenable. Not because the tracks weren’t produced or performed well, but because they are just musically weak. They just don’t hold up to repeated listens. Yet, here we have the Grammy judges selecting it as the best album of 2013.

Personally, the best album of 2013 in my eyes would have to be OneRepublic’s Native. But, this album wasn’t really even recognized, for the most part. Only a single OneRepublic track was even nominated, ‘I Lose Myself’ and it didn’t win. The album wasn’t even nominated for best album. Yet Daft Punk’s mediocre album was nominated and won… so…

What’s up with that?

So what’s up with that is that it isn’t about the best music. It’s about the notoriety of the artist. Daft Punk has been recently riding the wave of publicity. The Grammy judges are only riding that same wave along with the artists. Winning has little to do with the music and has everything to do with trying to pull in as many viewers as possible. That’s crystal clear.

Daft Punk will drag in tons of viewers. OneRepublic won’t. But, OneRepublic’s Native is a completely outstanding and consistent album of mostly fresh tracks. I will state that they do sound a little like U2, but with a much needed sound update. However, the songs are mostly original, fresh and stand up to repeated listens especially when placed into a pop playlist of other tracks.

On the other hand, the Daft Punk RAM tracks are too long, sound too dated, are chock full of interruptions & weird intros and just drone on far too long in a pop playlist. Basically, they’re not something that I want to listen to often in a playlist. On the other hand, when I get into the mood for OneRepublic, I want listen to the whole album over and over. The songs are melodic, have catchy hooks, are mixed solidly, have solid musical themes and just overall work well as pop tracks. But, it’s just not individual tracks. It’s a whole album of them. They’re all consistent, catchy and fresh from start to finish of the album. There’s really not a bad track or performance on OneRepublic’s Native and this is, if no other reason, why this album is actually better than Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Of course, if you don’t like bands like U2 or The Script, you may not find the music to your taste, but that doesn’t make this album any less strong production-wise or musically.

The Grammy Snub

So, not seeing a musical artist like OneRepublic recognized for their outstanding work on an album like Native is a fairly major snub. The Grammy awards simply snubbed this artist for no real reason. It also says the Grammy awards are in it for the viewers and the money, not for actually recognizing the best music released during a year. This is the reason I generally avoid watching award shows. I just don’t trust the judges to pick the best works for that year. I’d rather find the best entertainment myself. As for Bruno Mars’s win, I’m on the fence. Unorthodox Jukebox had some strengths, but his vocals were really not that strong.  He’s a reasonably good vocalist, but not the best I’ve heard. Unfortunately, I found the songs on Unorthodox Jukebox themselves to be less than impressive than OneRepublic’s Native. I’m not even sure why Unorthodox Jukebox was even considered for the 2014 Grammy awards as the album was released in December of 2012. Mutual admiration societies are really not good at actually picking the most outstanding of their bunch.

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Xbox One is already dead before its launch?

Posted in entertainment, gaming, microsoft, redmond by commorancy on November 6, 2013

Xbox One family-580-90Wow… just wow. Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty, has recently stated in this IGN article and this IGN article that Call of Duty Ghosts can only run in 720p resolution and 60hz refresh rate on the Xbox One. Let’s explore why this is yet another devastating blow to Microsoft.

Xbox One

Clearly, Microsoft is banking on Xbox One to last for another 8 years like the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, not gonna happen. The Xbox One is clearly under powered for full next gen console needs. And, you would think the Microsoft hardware engineers would have thought of this issue long before even breaking ground on new hardware. You know, like actual planning.

With all of the new TVs supporting 120 Hz refresh rates and higher and TVs running 1080p resolutions (and 4k TVs not far off), it would be natural to assume that a next gen console should be capable of producing output in a full 1080p 60hz frame rate (as its base resolution). In other words, Xbox One should start at 1080p 60hz but be able to go up to much faster speeds from here. According to Infinity Ward, this is not possible on the Xbox One. I’ll say that one more time. Infinity Ward has just said that 1080p 60hz is not even possible on the Xbox One.

Next Gen Consoles

Because of this significant and avoidable Xbox One hardware deficiency, Infinity Ward has taken the step to produce Call of Duty: Ghosts in 720p at 60hz refresh rate (upscaled to 1080p) on the Xbox One to keep the ‘experience’ similar on all platforms. Let’s compare. Every big game title produced on the Xbox 360 is already 720p 60hz upscaled to 1080p.  What this ultimately says is that the Xbox One hardware is no better than the Xbox 360.  This hardware is basically dead before it’s even hit the store shelves. A next gen console should not see limitations in hardware until at least 2 years following its release. A new console should never see any limitations being hit by any launch titles.

If one of the very first launch titles is already taxing this console’s hardware, this platform is dead on arrival. This means the Xbox One has no where to go but down. It also means that you might as well stick with the Xbox 360 because that’s what you’re buying in the Xbox One. It also means that the games will never provide a high quality next generation game experience no matter which game it is. Seriously, getting high resolution at full speed is why you buy a next generation console.

Granted, I can’t vouch for Infinity Ward’s programming capabilities as I don’t know any of their developers. But, I know they have been producing this franchise for years. I would also expect their software engineers to have both the knowledge and expertise to properly produce any game for any platform they set their sights on.

In other words, I cannot see that this is some agenda on the part of Infinity Ward to try to discredit the Xbox One hardware.

Xbox One vs Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 hardware is well capable of producing games in 720p at 60hz already. It’s been doing this resolution and frame rate for years. Why buy another console that also has this same exact limitation of the current hardware? You buy into a next generation console to get something new. Namely, higher resolution gaming experiences. If the Xbox One cannot provide this, there is no point to this platform and this platform is dead.  DEAD.

Xbox One: Dead on Arrival?

Based on the above, the Xbox One’s lifespan has been substantially reduced to, at best, 1-2 years on the market before Microsoft must redesign it with a new processor and graphics card. This also means that early adopters will get the shaft with ultimately dead hardware and have to buy new hardware again very quickly to get the newest Xbox One experience.

If you’re considering the purchase of an Xbox One, you should seriously reconsider. I’d suggest cancelling your pre-order and wait for the newest next gen console from Microsoft. Or, alternatively, buy a PS4 if you can’t wait that long. Why spend $499 for a console that gives you the same capabilities as the Xbox 360? It makes no sense, especially considering that there are no compelling launch titles on the Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the Xbox 360. It’s worth giving the extra time to make sure your $499 investment into this console is a sound choice.

Coding to the Weakest Hardware?

For the longest time, the Xbox 360 was the weakest hardware of all of the consoles. Clearly, it is still the weakest of hardware.  For the longest time, developers catered to developing their games to the weakest hardware choice. That means, lesser graphics quality, lesser texture quality, lesser everything quality. I’m hoping this is now a thing of the past.

It now appears that game developers are tired of developing to the weakest hardware. Call of Duty Ghosts hopefully proves that. And, rightly so they should. Instead of producing low-res low quality gaming experiences on all platforms, they should provide the highest quality gaming on the best platforms. Then, take that and scale it back to fit on the weaker hardware platforms.

So, this scenario has now flipped the development practices. I’m glad to see developers embracing the best hardware and delivering the highest quality gaming experience on the best hardware. Then, reducing the quality to fit the weaker hardware. It makes perfect sense. It also explains why Infinity Ward reduced the resolution on the Xbox One. But, being forced to reduce the quality of the game to a lower resolution doesn’t bode for longevity of the Xbox One hardware.

What about the PS4 and 4k gaming?

According to those same articles above, the PS4 apparently doesn’t have this 1080p limitation. Call of Duty: Ghosts will run on the PS4 in full 1080p with 60hz refresh. Whether the PS4 is capable of higher resolutions is as yet unknown. Consider this. One of the very first 4k TVs introduced was produced by Sony. I would expect the PS4 to have been built to possibly support 4k gaming experiences. That doesn’t mean it will right now, but it may in the future. The Xbox One? Not likely to provide 4k anytime soon. If Microsoft’s engineers weren’t even thinking of 1080p resolutions, then they most certainly weren’t thinking about 4k resolutions.

If you’re into future proofing your technology purchases, then the PS4 definitely seems the better choice.

Gaming Innovation: The Dark Age of Gaming?

Posted in botch, drought, entertainment, video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on January 27, 2013

I’m a relatively hard core gamer.  I’ve played video games for ages and have owned nearly every console ever made.  I say nearly every console, but there are some I’ve chosen not to own.  Specifically, the Vectrex, the Neo Geo and the Atari Jaguar, just to name a few.  Basically, lesser consoles that really didn’t go anywhere.  I digress.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Entertainment is a huge business.  With music, movies, books and theater, it was inevitable that when electronic technology was invented, someone would find a way to use it for entertainment value.  Enter Nolan Bushnell who created the first commercially sold arcade video game.  Albeit, not the first coin operated video game.  Needless to say, after that the race was on.  Magnavox was the first to the home market with their Magnavox Odyssey console without sound and which included a game similar to the later Atari Pong.

These early video games sparked a revolution in home electronic entertainment that leads us up to video games we play today.  From the widescreen hardcore franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Zelda and Need for Speed to the massively online multiplayer systems of World of Warcraft to the small screen games like Farmville and Angry Birds.  We have tons of options for entertaining ourselves with video games.  All of these games are massive leaps ahead of Pong, Space Invaders, Defender and Battle Zone of years long past.

Waxing Nostalgic

I look fondly on these past video games for a lot of reasons.  They were inventive and different.  The developers were always trying to find a new way to bring their idea to that small 4:3 arcade screen.  And ‘wow’ us they did with such inventive titles as Gauntlet, Paperboy, Battle Zone, Marble Madness, Joust, Sinistar, Dig Dug and even Donkey Kong.  Simplistic games, yes, but challenging, unique and different.  These were games that really defied categorization other than being ‘level based’, but just about every game today has levels. These spurred our imagination and let us meld into that video game world for a short time and then move to another one with a completely different concept.  To take our minds off of whatever it was we were doing.  Yes, these were all arcade games, but they were inventive, unique and different.  In fact, during the arcade heyday, it was rare to find games copying each other.

Lack of Inventiveness

Gone are those unique inventive days where you could walk into an arcade and find something new, original and unique to play. Today, it’s all about the almighty buck.  Well, 60 of them actually.  It’s less about producing something inventive and more about producing something developers think kids will buy.  Developers have lost their inventive edge.

Today, games are categorized into genres:

  • First Person Shooter (FPS)
  • Third Person Shooter (TPS)
  • Rail Shooter
  • Sports: Hockey, Football, Basketball, Snowboarding, Skateboarding, Surfing, Hunting/Fishing
  • Online Multiplayer (MMO)
  • Campaign based
  • Button Masher (aka Fighting)
  • Real Time Simulation (RTS)
  • Music
  • 2D side scroller
  • Role Playing
  • Open World (the most rare type of games)
  • Simulation

There are rarely any games today that break or even attempt to break these molds.  Occasionally, something comes along that tries to think different like Naughty Bear, Traxxpad or Rez.  Or, games that try to combine genres like Grand Theft Auto (mission based with free roaming) in a unique way.  But, these games are so few that you might not even see one per year.

Talent Drought?

I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on with developers.  Are they really so adamant that the above genres is all there is?  Have we lost our ability to invent new things?  Are we moving into a new self-inflicted Dark Age?  I’m not talking about not having entertainment, no.  I’m talking about that we as a society have become so jaded, that we won’t accept any new ideas in games? Personally, I want to see more Pongs, Defenders and Marble Madnesses.  Not specifically these games, but the idea that these games represent.  That is, something new, unique and different.

Take Portal and Portal 2, for instance.  These are a completely unique and different take on the first person shooter. This game has also become a commercial success in its own right.  It’s a mostly non-violent game built on a relatively unique story, puzzles and lots of humor.  The game itself involves challenging puzzles.  These games are from Gabe Newell’s Valve.  I’ve always found that Valve’s games tend to involve more unique ideas and less trying to fit molds.  Valve, unfortunately, is mostly the odd-man-out.  The development cycles are extremely long for games from Valve.  It might take 5 years to release the next installment.  But, I’m willing to wait 5 years to get a unique game experience that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played.

Unfortunately, most game developers today just want to make the next quick buck instead of putting out award winning high quality unique gaming experiences.  This leaves the gaming market fairly high, dry and devoid of unique games.

What’s left are the Batman Arkhams of the world which always inevitably come down to being a button masher after everything is said and done.  Yes, they wrap the Batman games around a seemingly open world, but when it comes down to the final boss, it’s just another glorified fighting game.  I don’t want yet another reason to get carpal tunnel.  I want to have a unique gaming experience.  I want to be challenged not by how fast I mash my thumb against a button, but how I can think strategically.  How I can take down the final enemy on my own terms, not on the video game designer’s terms.

Inventiveness Reignited

Basically, give me open worlds to roam.  Give me tools to use in that world.  Let me level up as I gain experience in the world.  Give me stores where I can buy things.  Let me even buy the stores themselves.  Let me earn money to spend.  But don’t force me into a final boss sequence that requires me to follow a script.  If you’re going to give me an open world, give it to me all the way.  Let me make my own final boss choices.  Let me decide how to deal with the final boss on my own terms.  Give me the tools to deal with him or her as I see fit.  If you provide cages and I choose to lock the boss in a cage and send that cage off to a prison, that’s my ending choice.  If I choose to have a final button masher battle, my choice. If I choose a strategic battle systematically wiping out all of the boss’s advantages, my choice. If I choose to befriend them and go off with them into the sunset, my choice.  Open world means open world and all that goes with that.

Choice is what we have in life.  Taking that away in video games and forcing a contrived outcome during the final moments is just not inventive.  It’s trite.  It’s cliche.  It’s frustrating.  We’ve spent hours getting to that point only to find out that the final battle is basically a complete waste of time.  That the ending is ‘stupid’.

No, simply provide the gaming tools.  That’s all the game needs to do.  Let the gamer choose the final outcome entirely.  Sure, you can tie in some befitting movie ending dialog sequence, that’s fine.  But, how I choose to end my game should be my choice, not some game developer’s choice who was sitting in a room miles away and months ago making that decision.  Let me make my own decisions, my own choices which result in my own outcomes.  I realize that games need to have some form of rules, so there are limits to what can be provided.  But, within those limits, let me choose how to use them all.  Don’t rope me into a small area, don’t take away all of my advantages that I earned, don’t throw 40 men at me and expect me to button mash them all out of existence in a few minutes.  Again, I don’t need aching joints and to inflame the median nerve running down my hand.  Give me strategic options.  Let me utilize the tools I’ve spent hours obtaining through the game to my own full strategic advantage.  Giving me all of those tools and then taking them all away only to force a 40 man fight is worthless, frustrating and not at all inventive.

Even Better Ideas?

Better, give me games that break FPS/TPS molds.  Give me games where the idea is completely unique.  There are many ways to devise video games in 3D worlds that don’t involve the tired FPS mold.  I want new unique games.  Games that involve strategic thinking, unique environments, unique character traits (super powers of my choice).  As an example, how about a superhero role playing game?  Let me choose my character’s traits, history, powers, good vs evil, etc.  Let me choose the outcomes that unfolds.  Let me write my own story and outcomes?

How about a game within a game?  The gamer becomes a gamer within the game and who gets lost in that video game world only to work his/her way back out?  There are lots of cool story ideas.  It’s the stories here that matter, the gaming aspect is just the tool to get it there.

Basically, we need inventive new unique gaming experiences that do not presently exist.  I want to see games that are today as inventive as Pong was back in its day.  Games that inspire gamers to think, rather than blindly mash buttons.  I like thinking and strategy games within an action framework.  Not so much puzzles as in pulling ropes to open doors, but even more unique then that.  Let’s get some new ideas flowing into the gaming world.  It’s definitely time.

Where are all the games?

Unfortunately, there is a major game drought today.  We have many many consoles today: PS3, Xbox, PS Vita, Wii U and even the iPad, yet we’re firmly stuck playing the ‘AA’ titles which are neither inventive nor unique.  In fact, most of them are rehashes of rehashes.  Things that we’ve both played before and will likely play again.  I don’t want to play games I’ve already played.  I want to play new unique games.  Games that I look at and think, “Wow, this is cool.  I’ve never played something like that”.  I don’t want to get to the end only to find out that I’m trapped in the ever-so-familiar button masher.  I want strategic choices to the outcomes.  Games should actually reward players for the most unique ways to end the game.

Even though we have only just ended out 2012 and there were many titles released at the end of 2012, not many of them were truly imaginative titles.  Yes, there were highlights in some games, but most of them are far too often been-there-done-that experiences.

Even though EA, Atari, Capcom and the other big gaming companies are out there working to produce new games, they’re just not providing quality original games.  They’re providing, at best, copies of previously released and rehashed game ideas.  Nearly every one of those big game company games is boring within the first day of play.  It’s too easy to get stuck into a firm set of rules that force the player into silly and frustrating game play.  If the bosses end up being simple button mashers only to provide the same enemies wave after wave, what makes development companies think that this is what gamers really want?  After a while it just becomes mindless, monontonous and boring.  The point to entertainment is to entertain.  There is nothing entertaining about tedium, frustration and boredom.  It’s no wonder I see a lot of gamers posting ‘I’m bored’ on forums even when they own games like Call of Duty.  Yes, they are boring.

I suggest that by bringing back inventiveness, uniqueness and originality in games, a whole lot more people will become interested in games and we will become, once again, entertained.

3D TV: Flat cutouts no more!

Posted in computers, entertainment, movies, video gaming by commorancy on February 18, 2012

So, I’ve recently gotten interested in 3D technology. Well, not recently exactly, 3D technologies have always fascinated me even back in the blue-red glasses days. However, since there are new technologies that better take advantage of 3D imagery, I’ve recently taken an interest again. My interest was additionally sparked by the purchase of a Nintendo 3DS. With the 3DS, you don’t need glasses as the technology uses small louvers to block out the image to each eye.  This is similar to lenticular technologies, but it doesn’t use prisms for this.  Instead, small louvers block light to each eye.  Not to get into too many technical details, the technology works reasonably well, but requires viewing the screen at a very specific angle or the effect breaks down.  For portable gaming, it works ok, but because of the very specific viewing angle, it breaks down further when the action in the game gets heated and you start moving the unit around.  So, I find that I’m constantly shifting the unit to get it back into the proper position which is, of course, very distracting when you’re trying to concentrate on the game itself.

3D Gaming

On the other hand, I’ve found that with the Nintendo 3DS, the games appear truly 3D.  That is, the objects in the 3D space appear geometrically correct.  Boxes appear square.  Spheres appear round.  Characters appear to have the proper volumes and shapes and move around in the space properly (depth perception wise).  All appears to work well with 3D games.  In fact, the marriage of 3D technology works very well with 3D games. Although, because of the specific viewing angle, the jury is still out whether it actually enhances the game play enough to justify it.  However, since you can turn it off or adjust 3D effect to be stronger or weaker, you can do some things to reduce the specific viewing angle problem.

3D Live Action and Films

On the other hand, I’ve tried viewing 3D shorts filmed with actual cameras.  For whatever reason, the whole filmed 3D technology part doesn’t work at all.  I’ve come to realize that while the 3D gaming calculates the vectors exactly in space, with a camera you’re capturing two 2D images only slightly apart.  So, you’re not really sampling enough points in space, but just marrying two flat images taken a specified distance.  As a result, this 3D doesn’t truly appear to be 3D.  In fact, what I find is that this type of filmed 3D ends up looking like flat parallax planes moving in space.  That is, people and objects end up looking like flat cardboard cutouts.  These cutouts appear to be placed in space at a specified distance from the camera.  It kind of reminds me of a moving shadowbox.  I don’t know why this is, but it makes filmed 3D quite less than impressive and appears fake and unnatural.

At first, I thought this to be a problem with the size of the 3DS screen.  In fact, I visited Best Buy and viewed a 3D film on both a large Samsung and Sony monitor.  To my surprise, the filmed action still appeared as flat cutouts in space.  I believe this is the reason why 3D film is failing (and will continue to fail) with the general public.  Flat cutouts that move in parallax through perceived space just doesn’t cut it. We don’t perceive 3D in this way.  We perceive 3D in full 3D, not as flat cutouts.  For this reason, this triggers an Uncanny Valley response from many people.  Basically, it appears just fake enough that we dismiss it as being slightly off and are, in many cases, repulsed or, in some cases, physically sickened (headaches, nausea, etc).

Filmed 3D translated to 3D vector

To resolve this flat cutout problem, film producers will need to add an extra step in their film process to make 3D films actually appear 3D when using 3D glasses.  Instead of just filming two flat images and combining them, the entire filming and post processing step needs to be reworked.  The 2D images will need to be mapped onto a 3D surface in a computer.  Then, these 3D environments are then ‘re-filmed’ into left and right information from the computer’s vector information.  Basically, the film will be turned into 3D models and filmed as a 3D animation within the computer. This will effectively turn the film into a 3D vector video game cinematic. Once mapped into a computer 3D space, this should immediately resolve the flat cutout problem as now the scene is described by points in space and can then be captured properly, much the way the video game works.  So, the characters and objects now appear to have volume along with depth in space.  There will need to be some care taken for the conversion from 2D to 3D as it could look bad if done wrong.  But, done correctly, this will completely enhance the film’s 3D experience and reduce the Uncanny Valley problem.  It might even resolve some of the issues causing people to get sick.

In fact, it might even be better to store the film into a format that can be replayed by the computer using live 3D vector information rather than baking the computer’s 3D information down to 2D flat frames to be reassembled later. Using film today is a bit obsolete anyway.  Since we now have powerful computers, we can do much of this in real-time today. So, replaying 3D vector information overlaid with live motion filmed information should be possible.  Again, it has the possibility of looking really bad if done incorrectly.  So, care must be taken to do this properly.

Rethinking Film

Clearly, to create a 3D film properly, as a filmmaker you’ll need to film the entire scene with not just 2 cameras, but at least 6-8 either in a full 360 degree rotation or at least 180 degrees.  You’ll need this much information to have the computer translate to a believable model on the computer.  A model that can be rotated around using cameras placed in this 3D space so it can be ‘re-filmed’ properly.  Once the original filmed information is placed onto the extruded 3D surface and the film is then animated onto these surfaces, the 3D will come alive and will really appear to occupy space.  So, when translated to a 3D version of the film, it no longer appears like flat cutouts and now appears to have true 3D volumes.

In fact, it would be best to have a computer translate the scene you’re filming into 3D information as you are filming.  This way, you have the vector information from the actual live scene rather than trying to extrapolate this 3D information from 6-8 cameras of information later.  Extrapolation introduces errors that can be substantially reduced by getting the vector information from the scene directly.

Of course, this isn’t without cost because now you need more cameras and a filming computer to get the images to translate the filmed scene into a 3D scene in the computer.  Additionally, this adds the processing work to convert the film into a 3D surface in the computer and then basically recreate the film a second time with the extruded 3D surfaces and cameras within the 3D environment.  But, a properly created end result will speak for itself and end the flat cutout problem.

When thinking about 3D, we really must think truly in 3D, not just as flat images combined to create stereo.  Clearly, the eyes aren’t tricked that easily and more information is necessary to avoid the flat cutout problem.

A call to boycott ABC’s V series

Posted in computers, entertainment, itunes, science fiction, streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on January 20, 2011

[Update: V has been cancelled as of May 13th.  Bye ‘V’.].

I have personally decided to boycott watching the new V series. No, not because the series isn’t good. It’s a reasonably good series, so far. No, it’s also not for any creative or story reasons you might think. The reason I have decided to boycott the V series is that whomever owns the rights or produces this series has decided to no longer allow streaming of new episodes in any form or on any Internet site, like Hulu or iTunes.

No more V on Hulu?

It’s not just Hulu that’s cut out of streaming for this show. It’s all streaming sites including ABC’s very own ABC.com site. You would think that since ABC owns the broadcast rights to the series and, in fact, are the ones who make the very decision whether V lives or dies as a series, that ABC would have the rights to stream this program online. No, apparently they do not. Very odd. It’s also not available on iTunes or Amazon either.

It almost seems like the producers are biting the hand that feeds them (in more ways than just one). Seriously, not even allowing ABC.com to stream episodes of V on their own site? This seems like the kiss of death for this series.

Rationale behind this decision

I have no inside scoop here, so I really have no idea what the producers were thinking. But, I can only guess that the reasoning is to force viewers to watch the show live on ABC (the TV channel) and only on the TV channel for its first run. So, on the one hand, this seems like a ratings bonanza. On the other hand, let’s explore the downside of this decision.

Viewer Demographics

Because V is very much a long continuous story arc format, if you miss even two episodes, you’re hopelessly lost. V isn’t a one-off monster-of-the-week series where you can watch an episode now and then. No, it is a long deep story arc that needs to be watched one episode at a time in order.

On top of the long story arc format, it is a science fiction program involving heavy uses of technology and intrigue. This genre choice automatically limits the types of viewers. So, the types of viewers that V tends to draw in are those who tend to be younger, tech savvy, internet knowledgeable types. Basically, the kind of viewers who tend to watch things on Hulu and download content from iTunes.

Producer miscalculation

So, on the one hand, the appearance is that this decision should allow the program to get higher ratings by forcing people to watch it live. On the other hand, Hulu and iTunes (and others) no longer have the rights to carry the back catalog of episodes to allow people to catch up.  If viewers can’t catch up, they’ll not watch it live either. If you get lost, there is no reason to watch as you can’t understand what’s going on anyway.  So, turn the channel and watch something else.

By alienating the exact demographic who tends to watch programs on Hulu combined with the lack of back catalog of episodes on Hulu for people to catch up with missed episodes, my guess is that this decision will seriously backfire on the producers. The ratings will, instead, drop and drop precipitously as the season progresses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that this decision may, in fact, be the sole reason for the death of this series. It’s clear that ABC won’t keep V on the air without viewers.  We know that.  But, you can’t keep viewers watching V by trying to appeal to the wrong demographic or by pissing on the fan base.

The streaming and Internet genie is out of the bottle.  You can’t go back to a time before the Internet and Hulu existed.  The producers seriously need to understand this. It’s unfortunate that the producers chose V for this experiment.  So far, V appears to be a good series and is probably worth watching. But, the producers also need to realize that removing choices of where and how this program can be viewed is not the answer. You need more viewers, not less.

Underground distribution

Of course, that just means that people will create xvids or mp4s of the show and distribute them via torrents.   So, instead of seeing legitimate views on legitimate sites with legitimate ad revenue, the whole thing now gets pushed underground where there is no ad revenue and views don’t help the show or the producers at all.  Not smart.  Not smart at all.

What is the answer?

The answer lies with Neilsen Ratings. In a time where streaming and instant (day after) releases are nearly common place, Neilsen still has no strategy to cover this media with ratings. TV ratings are still and only counted by live views. This company is seriously antiquated. It still solely relies on active Neilsen households watching programs live. Hulu views, DVR views and iTunes downloads do not count towards viewership or ratings. Yet, these ‘day after’ views can be just as relevant (or even more) today than live views. Today, counting only live views is fundamentally wrong.

Change needs to come with the ratings companies, not by producers trying to force the 70s viewing style in 2011. Neilsen needs to count all views of a program no matter where they are or when they are. The ratings game needs to change and must change to accommodate the future of TV. As TVs become Internet connected, this change will become even more important. Eventually, TV programming will be seamlessly delivered over the Internet. In fact, there will come a time when you ‘tune in’ and you won’t even know if it’s streamed or over the air.  In fact, why should you care?  A view is a view whether live or a month later.

Understanding Neilsen’s antiquated system

Of course, once you understand Neilsen’s outdated model, you can also understand why Neilsen is not counting any ratings other than live TV.  Why is that?  Because counting any other medium than live TV threatens the very existence of Neilsen’s service. Once broadcasters realize they can gather these numbers through Hulu, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other DVR and on-demand technologies directly, there is no need for Neilsen.  That is, once we’ve moved to streaming TV 100% it’s easy to get accurate counts.  Neilsen’s service was born out of the need to track viewers in a time when the Internet did not exist.  With the Internet, it’s much easier to track viewer activity and data in real time.  It’s also easy to get this information right from the places that have rights to stream.  So, with these real-time reporting methodologies, Neilsen really is no longer necessary.

Neilsen has always used an extrapolation methodology for its ratings statistics, anyway.  That is, only a tiny subset of homes throughout the country are Neilsen households.  So, when these Neilsen households watch, these small numbers are extrapolated to the larger population, even though there is really no way to know what non-Neilsen households are watching.  So, Neilsen’s ratings systems are actually very inaccurate.  Counting the numbers of views from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other streaming sites and technologies are exact and spot-on accurate.  In fact, these numbers are so exact, they can even be traced back to specific hardware devices and specific households, something Neilsen’s rating systems have never been capable of doing.  This is why Neilsen is scared to count online views.  This is why Neilsen is no longer needed.

Goodbye V

It was nice knowing ya. My instincts all say that the fan backlash from this decision will be swift and final. If this series manages to make it to the end of the 2011 spring season without cancellation, I’ll be amazed. However, if ABC cancels this show before June, that won’t surprise me. So, unless the producers make an about-face really fast with regards to this no-streaming experiment, this series is likely already cancelled… it just doesn’t yet know it. I’d also urge anyone reading (and especially Neilsen households) to boycott the new V series and send a message to the producers that not offering streaming options is not acceptable and that your program is dead without them. I can tell you that I won’t watch this series again until streaming options become available. This is not really a problem for me as there are plenty of other TV shows available. The problem here is for the cast and crew. These people are dedicating their time, effort and livelihoods to putting this series together only to be screwed over by the producers. Such is life in Hollywood, I guess.

Movie Dissection: Tron Legacy

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, reviews by commorancy on December 18, 2010

Updated: 1/7/2012 – Disney greenlights Tron Legacy sequel

To start off, I am a reasonably big fan of the original Tron film. Yes, the first Tron story was a bit of a letdown, but it worked for what it was. After all, it was the first film to use computer graphics to that level within a film.  Definitely a ground breaker.

Achievements

Tron Legacy is also a ground breaker once again, but much less so.  Its technological advancements in film are much more subtle.  A lot of people may not have thought about this, but Tron Legacy is the first film to use an actual actor’s likeness in a film to play the actor at a younger age using a CG head and real body. I had predicted that this would happen eventually, and here we are.  Tron Legacy now opens doors up to creation of new films by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.  Granted, the animation on the face is a bit stilted and unnatural, but it works for the CLU character.  It doesn’t work so much for Kevin Flynn’s younger self. Nevertheless, the character works in most instances.  If they had spent just a bit more time on the face, they could have made it look and act even better.  Avatar is proof of that.

Story

While I really wanted this story to work well, it doesn’t come together as I had hoped.  Basically, the CG is so strong that the story has to be twice as strong to overcome the incredible visuals.  The trouble is, it doesn’t.  But then, the same can be said of the first Tron film.

However, the two main problems with this film are 1) lack of formidable villain and, by association, lack of a real payoff at the end and 2) Tron is not the main character and is visibly absent most of the film.  After all, this film is named ‘Tron’.  Tron is the character we expect to see.  We do see him in flashbacks and, without spoiling the film, in other places as well.  However, for 95% of the film, Tron is absent.  In the small parts he’s in, Tron really contributes little to the overall story.

I realize that this one is about the ‘Legacy’ aspect of Kevin Flynn (i.e., Sam Flynn).  So, Sam takes the front stage in this production. That’s okay were Sam Flynn a super likable character.  Unfortunately, he’s not.  I liked him well enough, but not nearly as much as I liked Kevin Flynn in Tron.  In the first Tron film, we the viewers felt just like Kevin who was plopped into this fantasy world unexpectedly.  So, we’re experiencing it all for the first time just like he is.  With Tron Legacy, the audience already understands much about the world having seen the first film. So, wasting time on the introductions of the world isn’t really necessary.  To their credit, the producers/writers did try to skip much of it.  But, the whole clothes cutting and redressing scene was a bit overkill and kind of showed us just how cheesy the costumes were.  Like the first film, it would have worked better and saved lots of time if Sam had awoken in the world fully costumed. That whole costuming scene could have been skipped (which was awkward anyway).  I understand the setup between him and one of the female dressers, but that meet-and-greet could have happened in a different way.

Tron original film rules ignored

I also keep thinking more and more about Tron Legacy vs Tron and I keep coming up with more and more holes. Holes that are big enough to drive a truck through.  It’s really very obvious that the writers (former writers from Lost, I might add) just didn’t consult the original film before writing this story.  Without consulting the original film, they just arrived at an idea that didn’t really take into account all of the previous rules that had been established in Tron. Worse, it seems like the writers and producers thumbed their noses at the fans by not following these rules.  Following the rules, however, would have made Tron Legacy much more complete and true to the original film.  It would have also made Tron Legacy far better than it is now.  And, it would have shown that the writers were committed to providing a full experience to not only the casual viewer, but also to the die-hard fans of Tron.  Instead, this film only appeals to the casual viewer and completely ignores and, worse, insults the die-hard fan.

First example, the whole reason the game grid exists in Tron is as a result of the arcade video games in real life. The game grid is a virtualized, but identical active game as what the gamer sees on the arcade CRT.  Just as the gamer plays the game in real life in an arcade, so the game progresses identically in the virtual world with 3D people.  As a result, the game grid exists because of real life gamers.  As the gamers play games, so too do the game grid games.  In 2010, with games like World of Warcraft, Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed, the writers could have had a field day with such an updated game grid.  Yes, it might have ruined the aesthetic of the game world to see people dressed as Master Chief or Ezio, but it would have made Tron Legacy far more true to what’s going on today in gaming and, at the same time, make Tron Legacy a lot more fun to watch.

In Tron Legacy, this entire arcade to game grid aspect was either forgotten or intentionally dropped.  The trouble is, this rule has already been established.  So, the movie should have at least popped out to the real world to see gamers playing on mobile phones, computers and Xbox 360s to show that the virtual game grid is still tied to a real world game.

Second issue… although, I have to admit I didn’t initially think of this one and don’t necessarily agree with the thinking behind it. Some people have surmised that the Encom mainframe had been shut off the whole time between Tron and Tron Legacy and thus the virtual world wouldn’t have existed. The reality is, there was a computer in Flynn’s Arcade that appeared to contain the virtual world.  So, while Encom’s computers may have been shut off, it appears Flynn had moved the entire world into his own personal server.  So, while some people seem to find this part of the film a problem, I don’t. Flynn was the CEO of Encom and easily had enough money and power to build a hugely powerful computer system in the basement of Flynn’s arcade to manage this world.  Sure, it might have been shut down for a time, but it certainly appears that Flynn had successfully transferred both the world and the computer into the arcade’s basement.  He certainly had enough money to do this. It also appears that this computer is fully functional when Sam arrives at the arcade.  So, I don’t see an issue with this part of the movie.

Third issue (see Encom below for more of this).  When Flynn took control over Encom after Tron defeated the MCP and released the files incriminating Ed Dillinger, I full well expected Flynn to drive Encom to become a game development company.  In fact, had this premise been realized, this would strengthen the idea behind the game grid and the existence of the virtual world.  Instead, for whatever reasons, the writers decided to turn Encom into an operating system company like Microsoft.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Encom doesn’t make video games, but it does mean that it is not Encom’s core business.  If that whole board room meeting had been related to a new video game title, the whole Tron Legacy story would have been dramatically strengthened.  Also, in Tron, Encom was an R&D group think tank.  That is, they designed extremely cutting edge prototyping products, like the digitizing laser.  The very same laser technology that digitizes and transports both Sam and Kevin into the virtual world.  Again, the writers ignored this part of Encom’s business completely to the detriment of Tron Legacy.  Considering that that digitizing laser was designed in 1982, I would have expected to see that digitizing system being sold on the market and people entering into their own virtual worlds (separate from Flynn’s world) by 2010.  Yet another lost opportunity for the writers to create an interesting spin on what happened with Encom.

Fourth issue,  after Sam ends up back in the real world at the end of Tron Legacy, he’s fully dressed in street clothes. As far as I know, he didn’t pack an extra set of clothes.  So, the whole costuming process inside the virtual world (where his clothes were cut off and discarded) doesn’t make sense.  Worse, Quorra, who isn’t even human, also pops out into the real world fully clothed in street clothes.  Again, where did these clothes come from?  I’m quite sure that Sam didn’t expect to be leaving Flynn’s with a female companion.  So, I’m quite sure that an old dusty arcade wouldn’t have such clothes stashed away.  So, again, this is a problem.  Although, some people surmise that Quorra didn’t actually make it out.  Instead, Sam is somehow having a delusion or an hallucination of Quorra and she’s not actually there. I don’t know that I agree with this.  I have my suspicions as to what’s going on, but I’ll leave that for Tron 3 to fully explain.

[Updated 1/16/2011]

Fifth issue is that the original digitizing laser consumed the space of at least 2-3 building stories and at least one football field.  This is a huge laser equipment laboratory.  In Tron Legacy, this digitizing laser is now located in the basement of Flynn’s Arcade?  Unfortunately, I just don’t think that this sized laser equipment fit within Flynn’s arcade basement space.  So, the question is, where is the rest of the huge laser infrastructure?  Just not thought out well enough.  However, if one of Encom’s newest products had been a self-contained USB digitizing laser (for home use) and that had been what was being discussed in the board room, then having this laser in Flynn’s basement would have made a lot more sense.  And, it would have made sense from a time perspective (all technology gets smaller).  But no, this issue was not addressed at all.

Sixth issue.. this is not so much an issue, but an observation about how the laser works.  According to the first film, the molecules are digitized and then suspended in the laser beam.  When the molecule model is played back, the object reintegrates.  With Quorra, it actually does make sense that she could end up in the real world.  How?  Well, there were two users in that world: Kevin and Sam.  Two real world users with real world molecules.  Kevin’s molecules would still have been suspended in the laser beam.  When Kevin explodes after reintegrating with CLU, those molecules are still trapped in the laser beam.  There’s nothing that says that those molecules have to play back out as Kevin.  In fact, Quorra could use Kevin’s suspended molecules to play back into her form and become human.  Of course, that would leave no more suspended molecules for anyone else to exit the grid.  That also means that for someone to leave the grid with a real form, that a real person would have to enter the virtual world.  I’m assuming that as long as that person lives, those molecules are tied to that individual.  If the user dies in the grid, then an ISO or another program could exit into the real world using that dead user’s molecules.  Another issue is that Kevin’s molecules would be suspended in Kevin’s form when he went in.  It would take at least Yori to reconfigure the laser beam protocol to play out Kevin’s molecules into Quorra’s form.  Yori was the program designed by Lora to manage parts of the digitizing system.  Unfortunately, Yori isn’t in Tron Legacy.  So, Quorra should have exited the virtual world in Kevin’s form and clothing.

Encom 2010

Other than the bored room meetings (pun intended), we really get very little of what Encom does in the present.  With technologies like the digitizing system that are displayed in Tron, I would have expected Encom to be a lot farther along in technological breakthroughs than selling ‘the latest greatest operating system’ (ala Microsoft). Clearly, this part of the film is an afterthought.  It wastes screen time without really telling us much about Encom.  It is really used as a vehicle to set up Sam Flynn’s character.  However, even that vehicle falls flat.  Honestly, the film would have been served better by not knowing or seeing that specific Sam Flynn escapade.

Villainy

Unfortunately, CLU isn’t the appropriate ‘Program’ to be a villain.  First, CLU is supposed to be Kevin Flynn’s helper program.  So, it seems odd that he has gone rogue anyway.  Secondarily, he isn’t really designed to be a villain.  So, turning him into one just seems somehow wrong.  Worse, he really isn’t a worthy adversary in the games.  If he is as good as he is supposed to be (along with his black guard henchman), they both should be able to best Sam Flynn easily.  So, this whole part of the film just doesn’t really work.  But then, Quorra interrupts the games early.  Kind of convenient, but at the same time gives us no payoff.

Adversary

Unlike Tron, which has the MCP, we have no such villain in Tron Legacy.  CLU is it, but CLU just doesn’t come across as a proper villain.  He seems more like a henchman for something bigger.  Yet, that something bigger just never materializes.  I actually expected to see Kevin Flynn emerge as the villain in this film. That would have been something.  It would have really justified the ending of this film, showed us a completely different side to Kevin and, at the same time, have given us a huge payoff at the end.  Alas, that doesn’t happen.

Action

The movie definitely starts the pacing off on the right foot and continues at a pretty solid pace until just after Sam Flynn exits the game grid.  After that, the story comes to a crawl, as does the action.  So, unfortunately too, this leads to a lack of payoff.  It also doesn’t give Sam Flynn any screen time to kick butt and take names which this film so desperately needs.  The wins we see with Sam are more out of luck and accidents than out of skill.  Sam never does get enough screen time to show that he has any skills that are translated from the real world.  Even his lightcycle skills don’t show through no matter how much Ducati footage is included in the opening. We need to see Sam win at something where the stakes are substantial.  Something that at the end of it, we cheer for him and his win.

Visuals and Audio

What’s to say about the visuals other than, “stunning”.  The music by Daft Punk and the audio effects are superb at doing what movies do best: set the mood and tone.

Payoff

In the end, there really is no payoff.  In the first film, Tron’s first goal is to get a message to his user.  So, Tron fights his way through to a communication tower.  In Tron Legacy, Sam’s and Kevin’s only objective is to get to the exit portal (not unlike the communication tower in Tron).  So, when they finally get to the portal, it seems trivially easy.  There is really no opposition along the way.  Just a quick trip with a Solar Sailer and they’re basically there.  No grid bugs, no hidden Mickey Mouse heads, no Recognizer chases, etc.  Just a trip without any incidents.  In Tron, getting to the communication tower is only half the way through the story.  Tron still must battle the MCP.  At the end of Tron Legacy, there was no battle.  In fact, there was nothing to battle at all, other than Kevin’s own guilt.

Unfortunately, the ending was really explained by Quorra about 20 minutes before the end.  So, I won’t give it away, even though Quorra does.  But at the portal, there is no real payoff with CLU or Tron.  In fact, there is no real positive payoff at all.  The ending leaves more questions than answers.  So, unless Disney plans on Tron 3, we may never know what happens.  This really feels like half of a film.  It feels like we’re missing the other half of this film.

Overall

The story could have been far better.  However, the producers rely on the visuals and the music (which, granted, both were very impressive) to carry this film.  Again I say, the plot could have been far far better. We need at least one payoff and we don’t get it.  I was even hoping for a little payoff with Sam on the game grid, but even that doesn’t happen.  Sam, like Kevin in Tron, also needed to befriend someone in the virtual world besides Quorra.  He needed another companion to travel around the virtal world and show him the ropes.  And, for a split second, I thought it might actually happen when one of his lightcycle mates almost gets his bike wand back.  That is until CLU runs him over and Quorra steps in.

Also, there are lots of subtle things that just don’t work or are missing.  For example, as a user in Tron (first film), Kevin is able to absorb energy and use it in unusual ways.  Clearly, he is still able to do that to create CLU in Tron Legacy.  He also uses this power to steal a non-working Recognizer in Tron. However, the writers don’t explore this aspect with Sam at all.  It could have helped out in several instances and would have made for a more cohesive film. There was also no comic relief element like the ‘bit’ in the Recognizer in Tron.  Not that we need ‘bit’ in this film, but I think that humor could have helped in places.

Even though the story is a bit weak in the film, the story for Tron Evolution (video game) is much stronger than this film.  In fact, it has many of the elements and payoffs that the movie lacks, including a proper villain with Abraxas.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best game of 2010. Far from it. However, the story is definitely better than the Tron Legacy story. If you’re really into Tron lore, you should check out Tron Evolution to fill in the story gaps that the movie doesn’t fully explain (i.e., the ISOs).  I am disappointed that the film glosses over the ISO storyline and, instead, leaves it to the video game to fully explain these concepts.

I like the film, but the story really needed to be far stronger to match the visuals.  Overall, I rate this film 7.5 out of 10 stars.

3D Television: Eye candy or eye strain?

Posted in entertainment, technologies by commorancy on March 12, 2010

For whatever reason, movie producers have decided that 3D is where it’s at.  The entertainment industry has tried 3D technologies in film throughout the last 40 years and, to date, none have been all that successful.  The simple reason, side effects that include eye strain and headaches.  These are fairly hefty side effects to overcome.  Yet, here we are again with a barrage of new 3D films hitting the big screen.

In answer to all of those new films actually filmed in 3D, television makers have decided to try their hand at producing home 3D technologies.  The problem with any current 3D technology is that it’s based on a simplistic view of how 3D works.  That being, each eye sees a different image.  Yes, that’s true.  However, it’s hard to provide a quality 3D experience using a flat screen with each eye getting a different image.  There’s more to 3D then that.  So, while the each-eye-sees-a-different-image 3D technology does work, it does not seem realistic and, in a lot of other ways, it doesn’t really work.

IMAX

Over the years, IMAX has had its fair share of 3D features.  Part of the appeal of IMAX is its very large screen.  You would think that watching 3D on that very large screen would be an astounding experience.  The reality is far different.  Once you don the special polarized 3D glasses, that huge screen is seemingly cut down to the size of a small TV.  The 3D imagery takes care of that effect.  I’m not sure why that effect happens, but 3D definitely makes very large screen seem quite small.  So, even though the screen is huge, were you watching the imagery as flat the 3D kills the scale of the screen.  Effectively, the screen seems about half or a quarter the size that it is when watching the same feature as flat.

Worse, transitions that work when the film is flat no longer work in 3D.  For example, fades from one scene to another are actually very difficult to watch when in 3D.  The reason is that while this transition is very natural in a flat film, this is a very unnatural type of transition in 3D.  Part of the reason for this transition problem is that the 3D depth changes confuse the senses and worsen the strain.  Basically, you’re wanting to watch 3D to make the entire film seem more real, but some creative elements don’t function properly when watching in 3D. So, that fade I mentioned makes the film appear strange and hard to watch.  While that fade would work perfectly when flat, it just doesn’t work at all in 3D.  Film makers need to take into account these subtle, but important differences.

Just like filmmakers have had to make some concessions to the HD format (every blemish and crease on clothing is seen), the same must be said of 3D features.

Velvet Elvis

Unfortunately, 3D features haven’t really come much farther along than the early adopters, like Jaws 3D.  So, the film maker employs such unnecessary tactics as poking spears at the camera or having flying objects come towards the camera or hovering things close near the camera.  It’s all playing to the 3D and not to the story.  These such tactics are trite and cliched… much like a velvet Elvis painting.  Film producers need to understand not to employ these silly and trite tactics to ‘take advantage’ of 3D film making.  There is no need for any extra planning. Let the chips fall where they may and let the film’s 3D do the talking.  You don’t need to add flying spears or having things thrown towards the camera.  If you didn’t need to do this in 2D, you don’t need to do it in 3D.

Emerging technologies

Television manufacturers are now trying their hand at producing 3D TVs.  So far, the technologies are limited to polarized screens or wearing glasses.  While this does work to produce a 3D effect, it has the same drawbacks as the big screen: eye strain and headaches.  So, I can’t see these technologies becoming common place in the home until a new technology emerges that requires no glasses and produces no eye strain.  So, for now, these television makers are likely to end up sitting on many of these novelty devices.  Worse, for the same reason the IMAX screen seems half the size, this effect is also present on Televisions.  So, while you may have that 60″ TV in your living room, donning a pair of 3D glasses and watching a 3D feature will effectively turn that huge screen into about half (or less) of its current size.  So, you may feel like you’re watching that 3D feature on a 20″ screen.

Going forward, we need a brand new paradigm shifting 3D technology.  A new technology that does not rely on glasses or polarization.  A new technology that can actually create 3D images in space rather than forcing the eyes to see something that isn’t really there.  It would be preferable to actually create 3D imagery in space.  Something that appears real and tangible, but isn’t.  Holograms come to mind, but we haven’t been able to perfect that technology yet… especially not projected holograms.  Once we have a technology on par with Star Trek’s Holodeck, then we might begin to have emersive 3D experiences that feel and seem real.

Overall

For me, the present state of 3D is novelty and produces too many negative effects.  However, because it is new, it is something that will win some support, but overall I think that people will still prefer to watch flat TV and movies because it causes far less eyestrain. So, I fully expect that this resurgence of 3D will dwindle to nothing within the next 2 years.  In fact, in 5 years time, I’d be surprised to see if any TV makers are still producing the current 3D TVs and film makers will have dropped back to flat features keying off of lack of support. Effectively, I see this 3D resurgence as similar to the failed quadrophonic technologies of 70s.

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