Shouting Into Darkness

Movin’ Out

Posted in Personal Crap by Chris W. on November 9, 2011

From Google+:

I spend my last night in my apartment the way I spent my first: sleeping on the floor, overheating, and surrounded by unorganized piles of junk. Poetic.

This place has been good to me. I’ve been through college graduation, unemployment, tragedy and triumph. And through it all, this place was “home.” It’s nice to know you have a place to go to, to belong no matter what happens outside it’s boundaries.

That time is over now. I’m a quarter-century old, responsible (?) adult (???) and I’m moving in with +Meaghan Hartie, the woman who now defines my world like this place did three years ago. Our next apartment will be a reflection of our life together, may it be long and prosperous. But to my first apartment, I say “thank you.” I hope you treat the next tenant as well as you did me.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green (Goblin)

Posted in Comic Books, Kooky Observations by Chris W. on July 19, 2011

Being a New Yorker (or at least someone who lives here and likes to call himself a “New Yorker” because it scores points with chicks out of town) and a comic book geek, there is a lot to get excited about. The Big Apple is home to several pillars of the comic book world, most of them coming from Marvel. Stark Tower is located in Manhattan (don’t believe that hack movie; Iron Man lives in NYC, damnit!) and is home to the Fantastic Four. Matt Murdock has his practice in Hell’s Kitchen, where he also patrols the alleys as Daredevil. And, of course, there is the hero that Marvel and the rest of the world associates most with New York City, a teenager from Queens. Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

Spider-Man is synonymous with New York City. He came from a suburb in the outer boroughs, swings around famous landmarks, and was the character Marvel chose to represent them when tackling the attacks on 9/11. In Spidey’s 40+ years in our culture, he’s touched every bit of media you could think imaginable, including the subject of the video above: Broadway.

I’m not going to give you a detailed history of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’s” troubles, as I’m sure you’re well familiar with them. Cast changes, skyrocketing budget, shitty reviews, and a few high-profile injuries to stuntmen. People who saw the show in this state say it was an unmitigated disaster, and if it ever saw Opening Night, it probably wouldn’t last long out of the gate.

Theater people, as far as I know, are a superstitious lot. Makes me wonder why the whole cast didn’t just walk and “Spider-Man” would become as feared a name amongst theater actors as “Macbeth.”

But the show went back to the drawing board, retooled, and relaunched. The result still wasn’t a critical darling, but people are going. This being the tourist season and all, they’re probably enjoying a bit of a bump due to all the people who want to see it just to say they were there. While I’m normally a cynical asshole and am quick to point the Finger of Doom at a project that doesn’t immediately take off and soar, I want “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” to be at least a financial success. Can’t really put my finger on “why,” though. I don’t have a personal stake in the production, nor do I know anyone in the show or working for it. Could be the fact that it’s Spider-Man and the comic book fan in me is rallying behind one of my demigods. Could be the fact that the show got beaten up in the press and I feel bad that it’s got such a deep hole to dig out of.

Or it could just be this song.

This is video from last night’s “Late Show with David Letterman.” The number features Patrick Page as the Green Goblin singing “A Freak Like Me Needs Company”, the opening song of the second act and far and away the best song on the soundtrack. Now, your musical and artistic tastes may vary from mine, but I gotta say, the song is awesome and seeing the Green Goblin costume/make-up move with the actor lessens some of the fanboy disgust I had with the design. I love the chorus melody, especially when a dozen people are singing and putting everything into it. “A Freak Like Me” is the big villain song in the show, Green Goblin stating his plan to turn everyone in New York into mutant freaks like him, and it helps when the villain’s manifesto sounds like it has a pair of Spaldings. To me, the whole show is worth it for the three minutes of that song.

Now, before you start commenting, yes I’m aware that there’s a lot about that number that can be criticized, especially from a comic book fan’s perspective. While I’m okay with how the Green Goblin looks (and Carnage for that matter, too), there is absolutely no excuse for what they did to the Lizard. They took the villain that fans will come to fear in the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man movie and turned him into Nega-Barney. The choreography can be a little weak at times, but my expertise does not include being able to critique dance. Besides, I’m listening to the dancers, but my eyes are on Green Goblin, strutting around the stage like an evil marriage of Gene Simmons and a pickle.

I hope to see the show sometime soon and have a full opinion. From what I see now, putting my fandom aside, there are the makings for an okay musical here. The soundtrack has some decent moments (other highlights are “Pull the Trigger”, “DIY World”, and “If the World Should End”), the visuals can be both goofy and really cool, and it carries the same tried-and-true Spider-Man themes that carried three top-grossing movies. Plus, the tickets for a really good seat are still less than the crappiest “Book of Mormon” seat.

For the full song, edited to footage from the Spider-Man films, click below:

I Am (Not) The Law

Posted in Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on July 11, 2011

The big story today deals with the verdict in the Caylee Anthony Murder Trial, in which the mother, Casey, was charged with her death. In case you haven’t been checking the Internet recently – *spoiler alert* – she was acquitted of the murder charge, but found guilty of lying to police, which could carry a four-year prison sentence.

But I’m not here to talk about the trial. I’ve only barely been keeping up with it, and that’s whenever I get the urge to open “The Daily” on my iPad (which is rarely). My focus today was the backlash that happened almost instantaneously online. As soon as news broke, people ran to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to vent their frustration at what they obviously felt was a travesty of justice. In fact, for most of the afternoon, “Dexter Morgan” was trending, with some commenting on how this case could inspire a storyline in Dexter and some (reprehensible) people making jokes that Casey Anthony deserved a visit from the fictional serial killer/vigilante because she escaped the justice she deserved.

I’m not without blame when it comes to making bad jokes at the expense of others. Hell, it’s the only way I know of to be funny. But I want to address the almost universal condemnation for the verdict and the language used to express that disappointment. Before we begin, let me make my stance perfectly clear:

I was not there at the time of the crime, nor was I in the courtroom during the proceedings. Ergo, I have no valid opinion concerning Ms. Anthony’s guilt or innocence. I cannot, and will not, comment on whether she deserved to be found guilty or not, as I have no way of knowing for sure.

And as far as I know, most of the people out there are in the same boat as I am.

The amazing thing about this trial was not the trial itself; it was the hangin’ jury that sprung up after the verdict of “Not Guilty” was read. The reaction is simultaneously amazing and confounding. I can understand being moved by the death of a small child. I can understand the urge to want to see her death answered for. What I can’t understand are the extreme opinions that the verdict aroused, especially by people who only experienced the trial as a passive observer. If that was your child, or you knew her personally before her death, then I totally get it. I’d be out for blood too if I were in that position, but a lot of the response to the verdict is not centered around the still-unsolved death of a child. Instead the anger comes from the denial of a guilty party, someone to point the finger at, condemn, and take vengeance upon. I get the feeling that people were just pissed that they couldn’t anticipate the execution of someone sick enough to murder her own child, like a teenager waiting for an unsightly zit to pop.

This is a side-effect of allowing the court proceedings to be streamed on the Internet or broadcast on TV. Every armchair prosecutor and peak in and play Jack McCoy. It doesn’t help that the details of the crime were gruesome and involve the death of a very, very young girl that in no way deserved what she got. Take all of that, throw it into a blender and you get a great recipe for a pissed-off group of people who want to see someone pay for the crime, and feel wholly justified in their opinion of Ms. Anthony’s guilt or innocence. Our justice system allows for a jury of twelve at the most, but allowing the whole world into the courtroom means that the defendant is being tried in the Court of Public Opinion as well, a battle her attorney can’t hope to win, for good or ill. Not because she might be guilty – although I can understand if someone has a logical argument for her guilt. Again, I don’t know the facts that well – but because she’s convenient. The sooner we can attach a criminal to the crime and punish him or her, the faster we can put the tragedy behind us and move on.

I remember reading in a science book (can’t for the life of me remember which, so I could just be drawing on a false memory) that humans and primates evolved with a built-in idea of fairness, and a disdain for “cheaters.” The very basis of law and order is “if you break the rules, you are punished.” Whether this comes from the natural progression of evolution (primitive humans learning that they could achieve more by working together towards a common goal), religion (going to Hell is kinda the ultimate punishment), or a collection of both, I don’t know. Either way, it results in a reaction to cheaters that borders on being irrational at times. Remember how pissed your Dad would get after a referee would make an obviously bad call? There usually was no reason to get that upset. I look on the whole Casey Anthony thing in a similar vein. It doesn’t affect me, or most people, at all and I’d rather occupy myself with things that have an impact on my day-to-day life. The only explanation I can think of to explain the reaction to the not-guilty verdict is that people psychologically needed to find the culprit quickly, the mother was convenient, and everyone got pissed that she got away with it.

Again, let me emphasis that I’m NOT saying that she didn’t do it. I’m saying that I don’t know. Since I wasn’t there, looking at the evidence with the jury, that’s the intellectually honest position to have. I can’t even ask myself what was going through the jury’s mind during deliberation; I don’t know that, either. Our legal system is built upon “innocent until proven guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Despite our desire for justice, or ill feelings that someone “got away with it,” I trust that the jury did what they thought was right. If evidence to counteract that claim comes forward, then we’ll come back and talk some more. Until such time, I’d like to put the whole affair to rest.

Brief Impressions of “iTunes in the Cloud”

Posted in Technology by Chris W. on June 7, 2011

So today was WWDC. If you’ve followed me on Twitter, I apologize for flooding your feed. But we’re done now, the dust has cleared for the non-developer types, so what’s up with iCloud?

It turns out that our predictions of what iCloud would be were a bit… generous. We were expecting full streaming capabilities as well as a digital record of what we purchased. We got the digital record, but no streaming. Music you buy on any iTunes-enabled device (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iTunes desktop) will save itself in iCloud as well as download to the device you purchased from. But now, if you go to a different device and want that song, you can re-download it for no extra charge to that device. While iCloud itself is not ready until Fall, a small part of the service called “iTunes in the Cloud” is available now, already installed on your iOS device that runs 4.3.3.

I’ve been playing around with it. To experiment, I have the “Spider-Man” musical number “Rise Above” (Don’t judge; I was curious) as well as “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago (Judge all you want. That song rocks). “Rise Above” was purchased recently, with “You’re The Inspiration” purchased a few months ago. With one tap, the song I bought off my laptop downloads to my iPad 2 without syncing… after agreeing to 41 pages of Terms and Service.

This part of the service works as advertised. You have a song in the cloud that you want, and a few moments later, that song gets pushed to your device as if it were always there. But this is where we come into some issues, issues that I hope get ironed out by the real release of the product. First off, and I’m not alone in this boat, I bought most of my music on an old AppleID associated with a now defunct e-mail address. When I bought MobileMe, I got a new AppleID that I prefer using. iTunes in the Cloud will only associate itself with one (1) AppleID at a time, just like iTunes-not-in-the-Cloud does now. So, if you’ve got songs spread across multiple AppleIDs, you won’t have access to all those songs in iCloud; you’ll only be able to re-download the songs associated with the currently used AppleID. Unless you pay a LOT of money and re-purchase all those songs (or upgrade them to DRM-free models for a fee), a sizable part of your library could be left out of the Cloud.

The second issue has to do with the iPod software in iOS. I wanted to test and see if iTunes in the Cloud would allow me to download a song, delete it, and download it again without being penalized. That’s a huge advantage to this system over Amazon’s Cloud Player, where your music is always connected. You can download a song, play it until you get bored with it, and delete it to free up some space, knowing that a version of it will remain in the Cloud. The problem? You cannot, as far as I can tell, delete songs directly off the iDevice without syncing to a computer. You can certainly remove a song from a playlist, but the song itself remains on the Hard Drive. This is a problem. I want the flexibility to get rid of songs I don’t want now and download them again when I get in the mood. Wasn’t Apple themselves trumpeting the fact that they are now “Post-PC” and a computer is no-longer needed to work an iPad/iPhone? If I still need a computer to tell my iPad what songs to delete, then we are still very much “PC”. If this is not ironed out, iCloud is seriously crippled, in my opinion.

This is just a brief overview of the service done while I was delirious with hunger and fatigue. I will say that the novelty of having access to ALL your music (providing you have a lot of purchased content and/or not a lot of indie songs that might not make it onto iTunes) and choosing what to download. This service is the seed of something great, but it’ll have to grow around a few rocks before it breaks ground and blossoms.

UPDATE: I still haven’t found a way to edit my songs on either my iPhone or iPad, but the iOS 5 update will fix this. In absence of musical editing abilities, I went to the next best thing: Apps. Mac users are aware that the App Store will keep all your purchases in the cloud now and restore them at the push of a button if you so choose to. The iOS App Store is now getting the same function, and I love it.

You see, I’m an impulse app purchaser. If it’s under two dollars, I’ll probably download it without thinking twice, a practice that has led to some rather nasty discoveries when my iTunes bill shows up. The other downside is that I suffer from app-clutter: a ton of apps downloaded with only a fraction that are daily use or even occasional use. Most of my apps sit on my phone “just in case.” I probably won’t ever need to make a martini or use the “It’s a Trap!” soundbyte in my daily life, but if I did find myself mixing cocktails for some reason, I’d be saved by my phone! As you can imagine, it meant a lot of wasted disc space and screen space on “rare use” apps. Now, with the iCloud beta, users can delete the apps they rarely use off their iDevice (or Mac), free up the disc space, and the app is available for download again instantly. If music and photos work the same way, iCloud will change the way people think about their media.

P.S. I still want to stream my movies in iCloud. Let’s get to work on that, Apple. Chop chop!

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Crystal Ball Time: Predictions for WWDC 2011

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on June 6, 2011

I’ll be honest with you, folks. I contemplated not writing this one up. In an unprecedented move, Apple let the iCat out of the iBag and pretty much told everyone what this year’s WWDC will be about. I, like many other Apple nerdniks who like to pretend like they’re part of the media, thought that the wonder and intrigue of this year’s Developer’s Conference was wasted. The surprise was spoiled. Little Johnny knew what was under the Christmas Tree, and that Santa hadn’t left it there. It was enough to make me want to slam the lid of my laptop in disgust and sulk down to the nearest liquor pit. Maybe if I got drunk enough, I could forget that Apple ruined the speculation for me, and maybe I could use that “head in the iCloud” joke I’d been saving up.

But then, a miracle happened. Instead of extinguishing the flames of speculation, Apple’s reveal fanned them even higher. Everyone knew the broad themes, but they needed details! Some were still clinging onto the hope of a new iPhone, too. There was still room in the online community for rampant, baseless speculation! It was enough to make me jump out of bed like Ebenezer Scrooge. So now, for your speculative pleasure, these are my predictions for 2011’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference.

The Sure Thing(s): OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud – I’m not really going out on a limb for this one, because this is what Apple told us they’d be talking about. Hell, even photos of the banners all over Moscone West are showing up online! Apple is sending a clear message: “This year’s WWDC will be all about the integration and interdependency of the Apple platforms. It’s time for Apple’s operating systems to form together like Voltron.” … Or maybe that’s what my nerdy mind is interpreting it as. The real source of the speculation is what exactly does this mean? That’s what we’ll be spending today looking at.

Probability: 100%

The Slam-Dunk: iCloud Music Streaming – I’ve got my own wish-list for iCloud’s full features, but one thing that we know for certain is that iCloud will be a digital mirror of your iTunes music library. Every song you’ve ever bought, and every song you buy from this point on, will be saved in the iCloud, just like Amazon’s Cloud Player does now. From there, you will be able to stream any song in your library from anywhere you can get Internet access. This feature will be available to iOS users on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, but it is yet uncertain if a browser-based solution is in the works. Since Apple purchased the iCloud.com domain, I would assume that some browser activity will be inbound, but that may be for the MobileMe replacement-services, which we’ll get into. For now, it’s enough to know that Apple will mirror all songs in your library that match up with songs iTunes sells, no matter if they were purchased legitimately or not. No word yet on if personal tracks will get the same treatment. This is supposed to help the user not burn up all his or her bandwidth uploading hundreds of gigabytes of music to iCloud, after all. Any low-bitrate song will be replaced in iCloud with a streamable high-bitrate copy of the same song. This will also cost you a monthly or yearly fee, which many people will not have a problem paying. I will be one of them.

Probability: 98%. It’s safe to go All-In on this one.

The Secret Weapon: iCloud Digital Locker – We know that iCloud will incorporate streaming, but what I’d like to see is the Digital Locker, a place where all my Apple purchases live and can be re-downloaded if I so choose. When I look back at the (literally) thousands of dollars I’ve spent on iTunes media since 2004 and the hundreds of gigabytes it is taking up on my poor external HD, I wonder what would happen if I lost any of it. Yes, there are online backups and I’m actively pursuing those options, but iTunes and Apple are moving towards a business model that allows re-downloading (in some instances) if the original file is lost. The Mac App Store is a prime example; when you buy an App there, it is licensed on all your personal Macs and can be downloaded to any computer you authorize with that iTunes account (which maxes out at five, I believe). Why not do that with your media? I’d like the peace of mind to download a full season of Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!, watch it, remove it from my hard drive, and then re-download or stream it when I get into the mood. This feature is desired by a lot of customers, but the chance of it making iCloud’s launch are nowhere near certain.

Probability: 75%. Might want to Phone-A-Friend.

The Cosmetic Differences: “MobileMe” Rebranded as “iCloud.com” – MobileMe, as a name, sucks. I’m sorry, but when Jobs announced a few years ago that the “.Mac” accounts were becoming “.Me” accounts, I was ready to Elvis my computer screen. “Mac.com” was such a great domain name; it was seven characters total and told whoever was on the receiving end of the e-mail that they were dealing with someone who owned a Mac and was proud enough (or dumb enough) to pay the $100 a year for .Mac. “MobileMe” sounded like a Kindergarten activity. It lost all identifiability with the Mac platform, and certainly didn’t win over any favors with its botched launch. With iCloud, Steve Jobs and Apple see a way to retcon MobileMe out of existence and give users the type of experience MobileMe should’ve always been. All of MobileMe’s features – with some improvements – will be ported over to iCloud. Let’s hope they’re right this time.

Probability: 85%. Good enough to set your clock by.

The No-Show: iCloud Video Streaming – Rumors are starting to brew on the Internet (I know! Unheard of!) that Apple is trying to strike a similar deal with movie and TV distributors as they did with the music business. While Steve Jobs may have wrapped up all the music companies before WWDC, I think that the clock has run out with him on the video half. Plus, the iTunes business model has always been to tread into a new technological venture with music first and then follow with video once the coast is clear. That’s how the iPod happened, and how the iTunes Store happened, too. The technology is definitely there to allow users to buy a movie or TV show and stream it to either their AppleTV or iPad, but the rights aren’t and the implications of streaming all that video over 3G will make anyone on AT&T’s data plans weep. Now, if it does come to pass that video is included in the streaming/digital locker of iCloud, then you can bet that the first partners will be the Walt Disney company. Disney has always been with Apple as the first provider of movies and TV shows on iTunes, and the rest of the industry followed their lead. It will be the same here. Plus, I’ll be willing to bet that video streaming from iCloud will be limited to WiFi in the beginning. Let’s face it; the quality is better with WiFi, anyway.

Probability: 5%. Don’t stay up waiting for it.

The Coin-Flip: OS X Lion Available Right Away – I really hope this prediction will be true, and since Apple has released the Gold Master of OS X Lion, it has the potential of being true, but I’m not quite so sure. Apple has yet to announce that a new OS is available while an executive is on stage. Plus, a big part of WWDC this year will be Lion, and they want to give devs a chance to play around with the software, get some facetime (no pun intended) with Apple to iron out those last few kinks before submitting their application. They are the ones who need that software now. People like me are just impatient.

My best guess is that Lion will be available this month as a Mac App Store download priced between $15 – $30. This is what sells the App Store to the people who haven’t already joined the hivemind yet. Apple will be delivering an entire operating system update to the end-user via one click. No retail stores going out of stock, no waiting until you get home to install that shiny new OS. Just one click and it’s upgrading you to the latest and greatest. Plus, it means that any updates to the OS are done via the App Store, as well, also with one-click. This is the model Apple wants their users to become attached to, so how better to do it than by updating their entire system through their new digital distribution system. It’ll help keep the cost down, be more immediate for the customer to use, and hopefully, the servers won’t explode from the high demand.

Probability: 50%. Call it, friendo.

The Ringer: Completely Revamped iOS 5: Another year, another iOS update. You wonder what more Apple’s code monkeys can do with that operating system. It started out supporting just 15 apps on the Edge network and now it runs 500,000 apps on three different devices and defines mobile computing for some users. Still, do a casual search and you can see that there is still room for Apple to improve. Most people are expecting widgets and a new notification system on the OS, which would be welcome. I don’t have too much of a problem with the notifications now, as long as I’m not using my phone and only one thing happens. But if I’m watching a video, I’d like the phone to let me decide if a spam tweet is worth pausing my episode of “Doctor Who” for, thank you! The notifications should bend to the will of the user and allow him or her to walk away from the phone for an indeterminate amount of time and quickly get through whatever is requesting him or her. I think we’ll see those as well as enhancements to the Mail app (like a “mark all as read” button and better spam filters). Honestly, all I’m looking for is custom text message tones. How hard can that be, Apple?!

Probability: 63%. Might not get ’em all, but you’ll get most.

The Question Mark: Time Capsules as the Heart of iCloud – I’ve read this on several websites, and I still can’t wrap my head around how it’s supposed to work. According to inside sources, the data-portion of iCloud will be handled by a retooled Time Capsule, Apple’s proprietary wireless backup hard drive/WiFi router. It’d work by constantly being connected to the Internet, and the user could access any data held on it from anywhere, merging the idea of cloud computing with local storage. On paper, it looks fine, but maybe I’m missing something. It sounds like an improved version of “Back to My Mac” which basically was the same thing. You log on to a computer remotely and control it as if you were standing right there. The idea of cloud storage is that local backup is merely insurance, your real data lives in a server hundreds of miles away and yet still accessible. I guess that users would like the idea of the future of cloud computing, of Dropbox and Google Docs, local storage seems antiquated. I honestly have no idea to call this one because I don’t quite understand the idea behind it. We’re about twelve hours away from the conference, so we’re about to find out…

Probability: ?

The Due-Not-To-Appear: New iPhone, MacBook Air – Like I said earlier, there is a subset of people who still think Apple is following a rigid schedule of hardware release. It’s usually true that Apple’s hardware refreshes happen around the same time every year, but this year looks like it’s the exception. All the evidence is pointing away from a new iPhone being unveiled this year. It’d make a great “One More Thing,” (like the 3GS did a few years ago) but with Apple’s focus on software and the future of their operating systems, a new iPhone would steal the thunder from everything it had planned for today. Unless this is the mother of all setups, be prepared to hang on to your iPhone for a few more months.

As for the MacBook Air with a Sandy Bridge processor, if they come out this year (and I hope they don’t. This computer I’m typing on is only a few months old), you’ll read about it on Apple.com’s front page. The hardware upgrades wouldn’t be significant enough to give it precious real-estate at a Jobs keynote. The Fall is the best timeframe for both of these products, not at WWDC.

Probability: .99%. You feelin’ lucky, punk?

The “One-More-Thing” Roulette: This is the part of the article I was most looking forward to: picking Jobs’s customary “One-More-Thing” to end the keynote on. It all comes down to the structure of the event. What will he choose to open the event with? Will he lead strong with iCloud and then let that momentum carry through to the other topics, or delay the audience what they all want to see? My guess is that, after the usual numbers updates (how many apps downloaded, how many new stores popped up like dandelions, etc.) Jobs will start with iCloud, the topic everyone wants to know about, and close with iOS 5, the topic with the least amount of hype until this day (nobody knows what iOS 5 looks like, so that carries a lot of potential surprise). iOS 5 also has to go through a beta period with the developers, so it has the longest time between WWDC and release.

But is that enough to put “One-More-Thing” status on it?

If there is a “One-More-Thing” at this year’s WWDC, it’s a big feature. Last year was FaceTime, so they have to be thinking along the same lines. My official prediction: Jobs will withhold the announcement about streaming music and exactly how it will work until the end of the show. That’s the only thing I can think of that will be a bombshell announcement, yet an announcement that everyone expects.

Probability: 15%. You’re probably better off listening to someone who isn’t this tired.

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Fuck the Apocalypse

Posted in Religion by Chris W. on May 14, 2011

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If you live in New York City, there’s a non-zero chance that you’ve come across some billboards that advertise May 21, 2011 as “Judgment Day.” Not the fun Judgment Day with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwartzenegger. This is Biblical Second Coming of Jesus, as according to Family Radio (a Christian broadcast station out of California) and their founder, Harold Camping.

I confess to never having listened to their station, as Christian Radio sounds as appealing to listen to as a garden rake on a chalkboard, so I don’t know if Mr. Camping encourages his followers to spread his gospel, but someone sure feels like getting the word out. These ads are everywhere, and a street team is descending upon New York City this weekend like a horde of locusts to scare the general populace into believing that their lives are about a week away from ending. All in the name of “loving thy neighbor.”

Before people get defensive, this isn’t going to be my usual whine-fest against religion. The issue doesn’t touch honest Christians who believe in doing good for others in the name of Christ. You Christians who look at the Book of Revelations as if it were “Pink Elephants on Parade,” not a literal depiction of the End of Days, you are off the hook this time. What I can’t stand are the small group of “fire-and-brimstone” Christians who want to make you afraid. They want you to feel bad about being human or want you to fear for your life and/or soul because some invisible clock that only they are somehow privy to is about to expire. I thought religion was supposed to inspire people, make them feel good about being alive, not ready to jump whenever someone shouts “Boo”.

To Family Radio’s credit, they aren’t bilking money out of people, just standing on street corners trying to pass out flyers to people walking out of a Starbucks. I’ve seen a lot worse out of people who are down with G-O-D. But make no mistake, this is self-aggrandizing at its core. It’s a common marketing trick to invent a problem if you can’t solve a pre-existing one. I can think of no better problem to have than total annihilation. That’s a problem that can’t be fixed by RonCo.

The company line is that the people trying to spread the message are “warning” the rest of us of the impending danger. How effective they are in this task is another tale, entirely. In an interview with today’s AMNY, Ija McDaniels, a Philadelphia resident that migrated to New York to help Family Radio’s cause, bragged,”I passed out 3,000 [pamphlets] today.” That’s good for her, but how many of those pamphlets found their way into a trash bin soon after leaving her line of sight? In the same story, Robert Fitzpatrick told the NY Daily News, “people who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.” His “understanding” of the End Times? May 21, 2011 is the date of Christ’s return because it occurs 7,000 years after the Great Flood that God sent to “reboot” humanity during the Old Testament. No other explanation, just “7,000 years seemed like a long enough time to wait for God to pull this stunt again.” If all these guys are doing are betting on big round numbers being winners, I’d like to introduce them to Nostradamus and his prediction that the world will end in the year 2000.

What I don’t get is this: if Jesus/God is returning, and the world is on the brink of ending, what can you do about it?! It’s not like preparing for a hurricane. Total Biblical Armageddon is a Royal Flush in the hands of the Almighty. Nothing beats it. If God wants to smite you, there are very few defensive strategies against that plan. And if this really is true, and Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the righteous and the wicked, wouldn’t it be blasphemy to try and “prepare” for it like you would a natural disaster? The only plausible way out is to do what these Christian wackos want you to do anyway and jump onto their ship, but wouldn’t God see through such a thinly-veiled plan to save your own ass? That only works for Roman Catholics, where all you have to do after a life of sin and depravity is say that you’re sorry at the last second and you get a seat in Heaven next to the virtuous old lady who never hurt a soul in her life. I guess Family Radio hope you’ll join the club on the “end of the world” special and then figure canceling the membership is not worth the hassle. Christian sects and gyms have a lot in common.

The end of the world, at least coming from Biblical causes, is perhaps the most overblown global threat that hasn’t yet made it into an Al Gore movie. A literal end-of-the-world is not something we have to worry about because, if it happens, there’s nothing that could be done about it. And we have enough problems to concern ourselves with to start thinking about the ones that are forever unsolvable. For example, the NYC spearhead of this movement is a retired MTA worker who spent $140k on ads. That’s $140,000 USD. Fuck the apocalypse; how does an MTA worker earn that much money and yet the service is still that shitty? This guy has more than a hundred grand to piss away on his own flawed superstition and I can only make the Staten Island Ferry at about a 50% success rate?!?

If there was ever a reason to want these nutjobs to be correct, that would be it.

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iPhone Test

Posted in Uncategorized by Chris W. on May 7, 2011

This is a test for posting from my iPhone. Good things are coming here soon, so stay tuned!

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The Birther Phenomenon

Posted in Kooky Observations, Political by Chris W. on April 29, 2011

I try not to get too political on people these days, because I’m of the mindset that my opinions on politics, religion and other lofty topics are interesting only to me. Doesn’t help that I also clash with the usual “left vs. right” dichotomy, but really, I think that people who come here want to be entertained. I do that to the best of my abilities, but every now and then, I have a few thoughts on a subject beyond video games and defunct comic books that I think needs to be recorded. This is one of those times.

A few days ago, President Barack Obama released a PDF file of his birth certificate to the media, along with a much-needed plea that the nation simply drop the subject and get on with more important matters. This was in response to a nagging question that never went answered (primarily because most of the world thought it was a dumb question to begin with) regarding the President’s status as a US citizen. Believe it or not, there is a segment of the American population that thinks the entire country has been bamboozled, that the current president was ineligible to be a candidate due to the fact that he was not born in the US. I know a lot of wacked-out conspiracy nutjobs in my personal life, and even they thought that these people needed to get in touch with reality.

The “Birther” movement, as it became known as, reached critical mass when real-estate mogul and reality show personality Donald Trump publicly stated his distrust of the President’s citizenship. You’d never think Donald Trump to be the one to lend credibility to an argument, but there it was. If one of the richest and well-known men in America joins your movement, you’ve just gotten called up to the Major Leagues.

So, the President – begrudgingly, might I add – showed his birth certificate and tried to put the matter to bed. Trump suffered a backlash of mocking in the media and online. (Honestly, if I have to see one more person post “Trump demands to know what country Latifah is the Queen of” and slap their knee, I may have to quit the Internet.) But of course, it still festers on. Some people still aren’t buying Obama’s birth certificate, and it just makes your head hurt. Why, after all this time, is this still a fucking issue?

To most people, it’s not, and that’s the good news. The majority of the country considers Obama just like they would any other president: a man with policies you either agree or disagree with. Even Obama’s staunchest political rivals have to distance themselves from the “Birthers”. Hey, maybe we’ve finally found some common ground to work from! Perhaps the healing can begin…

But to the people who still buy into this conspiracy theory, there are several explanations why. Most of the people I follow on Twitter (read: entertainers and other creative people) try to tie the Birther movement to deep-seated ignorance, gullibility, or even racism. I’m sure there are some who’s distrust in this President’s eligibility is based around one or more of those three things, but for the rest of the Birther movement, I think it goes beyond simple, quantifiable motives.

To me, the Birther movement is no different from the “NASA Faked the Moon Landing” or the “9/11 Truther” conspiracies. They are all conspiracy theories, born out of paranoia and reinforced by how “juicy” the story is. Think of the Obama story as it is now: Man born in Hawaii to poor parents rises up through the ranks of politics, gaining the trust of his fellow man before being bestowed the office of President. Not a bad story, but it’s even better if re-written to read: Man backed by either personal motivation or possibly foreign political influence infiltrates the office of President to pull a giant hoax on the Nation and the World. One of those stories is a feel-good; the other is a summer blockbuster.

I also place some of the blame for this whole Birther phenomenon at the feet of the Watergate scandal. I wasn’t around during Watergate, but I recently got through reading “All the President’s Men,” which is a fascinating account of how the President of the United States could be aware of wrongdoing in his name and try to use campaign funds to cover it all up. Prior to Watergate, it would be inconceivable that someone who possessed the moral core to become President would also be capable of something so underhanded. After Watergate, all bets were off. It was shown that the President could not only be a crook, but he could lie to the entire nation about it and stand a very good chance of getting away with it just because “He’s the President.” The Clinton scandal reinforced this for my generation. The President of the United States could – and did – screw around on his wife while in office and commit perjury to try and cover it up.

If you follow that line of thinking, it’s easy to see how someone with ambitions of being President could be not always forthcoming with the truth.

But what the Watergate and Lewinsky scandals had that the Birther movement doesn’t have is solid evidence to back up the claim. If the Nixon tapes never came to light, Watergate may have ended with H.R. Haldemann and never touched Nixon himself. Without Clinton’s DNA that he lovingly deposited all over the place, his extramarital affair would’ve been a private matter between him and his wife. The Birther Movement have their birth certificate. Unless there’s real evidence to discredit this document, the case is closed in the minds of the greater public. But, as with any conspiracy, you can bet that there will be a steady supply of people ready to buy into it.

So why, in light of near damning evidence to the contrary, do people still believe this hokum? Because they’re delusional, that’s why. The textbook definition of a “delusion” is a belief held in the absence of or in spite of evidence to the contrary. To the delusional person, and this fits for almost all conspiracy theorists, the pre-conceived idea is more important than the truth. Perhaps a big chunk of the individual’s identity rides upon that notion (as is the case with the ultra-religious), perhaps the individual wants to feel a part of the collective, or perhaps he or she just wants to think “alternatively.” There is no penalty for thinking outside the box in this world, but there is a penalty for thinking outside the plane of reality the box exists on.

In conclusion, the Birthers that stick with it after being shown Obama’s birth certificate will probably never let up until Obama is no longer in office and the point becomes moot. But if there are some out there that still are interested in the truth and evidence, the smoking gun (to pull another term from Watergate) is the President’s birth certificate, and you now have it. If you have any better information, we’d all like to hear it, but if not, let’s please drop this silly conspiracy and get down to the real issues at hand. And just so this doesn’t sound like a left-wing attack of the right-wing, I will point out that I’m not a Democrat by any stretch of the imagination, but I won’t do my credibility any good by joining up with the lunatic fringe. There is enough to criticize the President about other than the circumstances of his birth.

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Review: Sucker Punch

Posted in Film, Reviews by Chris W. on March 26, 2011

It’ll come to no surprise to anyone reading this website that I’m a huge nerd. My glasses were replaced with LASIK and my pocket protector for a leather jacket, but my attraction to sci-fi, comic books, and logic theorems hasn’t diminished since I was a teenager. The wrapping may have changed, but the creamy, geeky center is still present. So, when Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch was announced and I saw the trailer full of hot chicks with samurai swords and guns riding mechs made out of fire, I thought it’d be like Do the Right Thing, but for nerds. It was kinda like that, except that when Zach Snyder made this two-hour self indulgence film, he forgot to make it any good.

Sucker Punch is the story of Baby Doll, a troubled young girl committed to a mental hospital at the behest of her psycho stepdad… or so I thought until the scene suddenly switched to Baby Doll being lead by a priest into a brothel. The film admittedly exists on multiple plains of reality, so if you’ve been drinking, you might wanna see Rango instead. Baby Doll is either scheduled for a mind-erasing lobotomy or waiting to be sold off as a sex slave to a “high roller.” Either way, she’s got what mind she has left set on escape.

The draw to this movie are the high-budget action scenes that take place against a variety of different backdrops and feature a bunch of very attractive girls kicking butt and being unfathomably awesome. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was cool when I saw Baby Doll dodging bullets and doing acrobatic flips that blow up her skirt a little bit. That’s all well and good, but the problem is that these “fantasy” set pieces have little to nothing to do with the “reality” that preceded them. Watching the girls battle Jerries in a WWI setting was boss, but where the hell did WWI come from? It feels like it was decided by a random spin of the wheel, and every single one is like that. They’re all cool, but they all come way out of left field in terms of setting and use in the plot. And we only flash to these fantasy pieces while Baby Doll is supposedly doing a dance that would make the film’s PG-13 rating cry. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have seen the dance.

I also want to touch briefly on the subject of gender in this movie. Sucker Punch earns points for having a roster of protagonists that are all female, and the film takes full advantage of the femininity of its cast. There’s nothing gratuitous (except the action), but I still got the feeling that I was watching an updated version of a 70s sexploitation film. In that film, the girls would just be wearing jail outfits and taking communal showers, while this film has them fantasizing about giant gundams. I love the future…

But on the flip side, all the male characters are painted with a stroke broader than a city bus. I’m never one to cry insensitivity or political incorrectness, but all of the guys in Sucker Punch are the worst human beings you’ve ever seen. They’re power grubbing, abusive, and completely mesmerized by sex. Wave a piece of tail in front of any guy in this movie and you can rearrange him like a store mannequin; he will not notice. It’s like all the guys are this awful hybrid of Adolf Hitler and a thirteen-year-old shut-in who just discovered his dad’s “stash.” This could all be a coincidence, since the film is about the male caretakers abusing the female patients, but I felt it deserved to be pointed out.

What ultimately did the film in for me was its confusing story. Half an hour into the movie, I was left behind and not getting caught up. All the different layers of reality, all the worthless voice-overs, and characters I couldn’t give a tin shit about added up to the perfect storm of apathy. I got the feeling that after the success of 300 and Watchmen, Snyder was given free range to make whatever he wanted. Like a kid wandering through Toys R. Us with a huge gift certificate, he grabbed whatever he wanted off of the shelf, got home, threw it on the table, and then had to make a movie out of whatever was there. To its credit, Sucker Punch does have a logic to it, but it’s certainly not telling you.

Sucker Punch is not a terrible movie; there are a few good things about it. The action, as mentioned above, was decent and there were a few genuinely tense moments in my screening. Sadly, they were buried beneath the weight of an audience-unfriendly story and characters that I cared about as much as my laundry. It’s sad because I could see all the influences working on the movie, from films like Brazil and Kill Bill to stories like “An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge.” On their own, all the elements of the film should work. But in the world of Sucker Punch, the combination of two awesome ideas does not make an idea that’s doubly-awesome.

I can’t remember mentally clocking out of a movie as fast as I did on Sucker Punch. I don’t know if this was Snyder indulging himself before he tackled Superman, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a film that was made for an audience. Everything that is unique about the movie only serves to weigh it down and keep it from working. If Snyder had released all the action scenes as stand-alone web videos and charged $10 to look at them, I would’ve plopped down a hundred dollar bill and said, “Keep the change!” But as it stands, I can only recommend seeing Sucker Punch if you have a free pass to the theater and can’t find ANYTHING else you can agree to.

Final Verdict: 1.5 lobotomies out of 5.

P.S. I don’t know why Zack Snyder called his film Sucker Punch. It’s like he’s just daring us to make a hacky joke like “I felt like I got sucker punched when I watched Sucker Punch. Hurr Hurr Hurr”

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Spring Cleaning at Shouting Into Darkness

Posted in Personal Crap by Chris W. on March 24, 2011

If you’ve shown up at Shouting Into Darkness recently, and you wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t been, you’ll notice that this site looks a lot different from they way it did a month ago. It’s more rustic now, more “lived in”, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.

Here’s some background of what’s been going on behind the scenes. When I redesigned the site a few years ago, I settled on a jet black background with white text. After all, the site’s name is “Shouting into Darkness,” so it made sense at the time to make the background of the site a big empty void. That was all the thought that went into the look of the site. Black background, white text, images by Google. You can probably tell that I didn’t go to college for web design.

You could probably tell that from reading the site. On certain monitors, everything was fine, but on most LCD monitors, the white text started to give me a frontal lobe headache after reading it for too long. The words eventually blurred together and I squinted at them like a fatigued driver trying to make out the road for the road signs. You don’t have to have a degree in C++ to know that your site design shouldn’t physically distress your visitors. My writing ought to make your head hurt, not the site itself.

After flirting with the idea of a complete site redesign, I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago. Gone was the black background. Gone was the white text. The mantra going forward was stark and readability. I wanted the content to be king (this is a benefit of having a blog that you don’t expect to monetize. You don’t have to clutter it up with ads) but have the site still evoke that feeling of one lone nut throwing all his thoughts into the ether, hoping that they somehow connect with someone else.

The key to this was in my retro fetish. I have an old-timey typewriter sitting in my apartment, and I’ve even typed up some blog posts on it. They coincidentally never got made into real posts because I detest having to type something twice, but that’s beside the point. I love the look of type-written pages, especially long, manuscript-sized reams of paper. That’s how all the great writers of the past delivered their work. Once I started unraveling that thread, it was a no-brainer. “Shouting Into Darkness” would have a typewriter theme. It wouldn’t be as sexy-cool as other websites produced with modern Macintosh hardware, but it was certainly better than black background/white text.

The redesign has also had an effect on how I feel about this website and the work I put into it. This is the very definition of a labor of love. I get no monetary satisfaction out of it, and until I install some code-heavy Google Analytics bullshit, I have no idea how many people are visiting or reading. Judging by the comments, I’d say my readership numbers are just about as good as a website made up of random numbers and letters thrown on the screen. That site might even have more readers than I do, because there’s the chance than an accidental dirty word would pop up and stand out among the gibberish.

But despite the lack of feedback, or lack of any long-term prospects this site has, I don’t care. I’ll keep doing it, and I’ll hit that “Publish” button every time with a smile on my face.

One of the realities that every creative person has to face is their own motivations for doing what he or she does. Why does the underground band get up and perform their sets at lackluster gigs to crowds that barely care? Why does the screenwriter spend hours and hours of personal time crafting worlds that are highly unlikely to be open to anyone else but him or her? Why does the filmmaker invest thousands of dollars of their personal funds into a short film that might get play at a local festival and then languish in the lower doldrums of YouTube while The Annoying Orange gets a development deal?

The easy answer is “because they enjoy doing it.” That’s what we were all taught as kids. “Do what you love, and don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you love.” A fine message, and one I’ll try to pass along to my kids if I have any, but a love of what you do can’t sustain creative drive forever. Especially as we all get older, as time becomes more devoted to the families we’ll raise or efforts to bring in more money, creative endeavors that are financially taxing or eat up a lot of time become less and less important. Time and Life have eroded the wills of a great many creative persons, leaving creative dreams littering the empty highways of the past like abandoned cars in a zombie movie. Sometimes, doing something just because you love it isn’t good enough for some people. If it isn’t paying off, it’s just not worth the time.

But then you come back — weeks, months, or even years after the fact — to something that you’ve created. Everyone remembers coming across an old report or school project they did in the past. Creative people experience that feeling all the time when revisiting old works. You get swept back to the moment of creation, what was going through your head when putting the ideas together. If it’s been long enough, you may not even recognize the work as your own and just experience it like a stranger would. That leads to the best feeling: setting the pages down and thinking, “You know what, that was pretty good.”

I wanted to reflect that nostalgic feeling of coming across something you created in the past, a snapshot of your mind and personality frozen in ink or digital encryption, flattening out the pages on the coffee table and re-experiencing the work you did long ago. Even though it may not get wide exposure or be remembered by many, there is a small kernel of truth you tried to communicate in that art and that small bit of your reality is now eternal. Like a photograph freezing a moment in time, these blog posts are like snapshots of my mind and I want to preserve them. Like most creative people, competitiveness is a driving force. It’s much easier to keep producing if you know that people out there like what you do. But if I can look back on something I wrote, feeling proud of what I created even though it never went anywhere, that’s all the positive reinforcement I need.

The drive to succeed in these creative endeavors doesn’t come solely from a need for monetary gain or for acknowledgement of the work, although those things certainly help. Beyond the immediate need for money and the psychological need for kudos, I think most artists want to leave a little piece of themselves behind in the work they produce. I don’t buy the argument presented to me in college that the “best art” is one that is independent of the artist. Art is a product of the artist, of his or her personality being affected by a myriad of influences, and a small part of that personality imprints itself on the finished product. That art will live on forever, even if nobody sees it, and because the art will live on forever, a part of the artist does as well. I never knew Hunter S. Thompson, but by reading his books, and can get a sense for his mind, the burning hope that things will be okay, coupled with massive drug use and personal anarchy to shield himself from the horror of what he saw as reality. That sense of life will always be in the pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, generations after his death and my own.

That’s why I redesigned the site, to make it easier on the people who do come to read, and to capture that feeling of an idea scratched out on an old piece of printer paper, filed away and forgotten, only to resurface later and give a small window back into the person who originally had that idea. In the creative world, a tree can fall in the woods and nobody can be around to hear it, but someone will later discover the downed tree and experience its truth in his or her own time.