Sober360

This is a test, a hello world post. I a
m planning on launching a recovery blog in the next week, a soft launch followed by a full scale multimedia effort.

Reboot

A new day. A new life. A new blog. I am a walking blank slate. Long Island is awash in the colors of autumn. Leaves colored yellow and red rustle in the trees and scuttle across asphalt. A fitting backdrop to a life transformed. I have moved beyond sadness, beyond anger, beyond regret, and am only left with longing.

I finished watching Breaking Bad, the entire four seasons, all in the course of one month. This is one fantastic show! I love the Rube Goldberg like plot developments in which events unfold like ping-pong balls down a funnel, where a simple walk in the park turns into a federal case. It aptly reflects life gone awry. Something I know a bit about. Fighting off a spell of dark thoughts, I sat on the couch, chewed prodigious amounts of nicotine gum, and watched back-to-back episodes of Breaking Bad. I look forward to season five.

I finally finished Half Life 2. This was a great game. The only complaint I have is the janky character movement. To survive an ambush, neutralize two dozen combine soldiers, and then solve some mind-bending puzzle only to die trying to climb a ladder is frustrating and infuriating. It also takes way too long to respawn after dying, but this just may be due to the age of the game. Aside from these minor complaints, Half Life 2 lives up to the 10 star hype of the Internet.

I am still reading A Clash of Kings, watching Walking Dead and American Horror Story, and looking forward to buying a new computer. I am still using a single-core Windows XP box, the kind you find in thrift stores or holding open doors in offices. It is amazing how far this machine has taken me, but soon…soon I will upgrade. Stay tuned.

PR Disasters Galore

This has been a week of public relation disasters. Netflix split itself into two brands, the Star Wars Blu-Ray set was released with some radical tweaks, and Facebook introduced sweeping changes to its user interface. A tidal wave of negative responses, fan outrage, and user disgust followed all of these announced changes and the floods of complaints show no signs of receding. Did none of these companies ever hear of New Coke?

The Netflix news started with an email to all customers from Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, apologizing for not being clear about the recent changes in Netflix’s pricing and service plans, splitting DVD mail service from online streaming and in effect raising prices. Reed explained that the true purpose of the split was to create two entirely different companies, or at least two brands, in which Netflix will continue to provide steaming video on demand and the mail order DVD service will be spun off into an entirely different entity called Qwikster. The customer response has been overwhelmingly negative. The Netflix blog that featured Reed’s email message has been inundated with about 26,867 vitriolic comments.

I still support Netflix because I support the model they offer, the a la carte style of media delivery, rather than the 100 channel packages (stuffed with commercials and other unwanted programming) offered by my local cable service. I don’t even mind paying more. But the company should really decide what it wants to do and more importantly what it wants to be. All these sudden changes are creating bad press that could potentially hurt the business model. I want more streaming video on demand, but if enough people are alienated and pushed away, it may lose favor with the public. Already people are posting messages complaining about Netflix only offering old movies and rerun television seasons, as if broadcast television offered more.

A cool new feature of the Qwikster service that got lost in the shuffle is the adoption of video game rentals. This is pretty good news. I have been looking for a service that is a combination of  Netflix and GameFly, offering mail-order delivery of both DVDs/Blu-Rays and video games. Ironically, after dropping home delivery in my Netflix account, I may actually sign up for Qwikster to take advantage of the expanded catalog. It all depends on the pricing.

Star Wars was released on Blu-ray, but not without the obligatory George Lucas tweaks and fan outrage.  The Blu-ray versions will feature a revamped CGI Yoda in The Phantom Menace, a larger door to Jabba’s Palace, and blinking Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. But these changes are nothing compared with an audio tweak that fans have found the most odious revision since Lucas enabled Greedo to shoot first. The climatic ending of Return of the Jedi, in which Darth Vader makes the stoic and silent decision to save his son Luke and then promptly throws the emperor over that railing, has been changed to include audio that sounds exactly like that used at the end of Revenge of the Sith, the much hated and much ridiculed “Nooooooooooooo!”



When and where will Lucas stop?  Why doesn’t he make a new movie or something? He has turned this wonderful franchise into a joke. I supported and enjoyed the Special Editions of Star Wars released in 1997 and even quietly endured the Han Solo/Greedo controversy. But Lucas has gone too far this time. That scene in Return of the Jedi was a shocking scene precisely because of Vader’s reticence. He makes his fateful decision to turn away from the dark side quietly, privately, and then takes action. There is no need to telegraph it to the audience with a melodramatic Noooooo! There is no need to hammer us over the head with Vader’s feelings of desperation; his actions convey that just fine.

In other struggles with the dark side, Facebook unveiled a redesign of its user interface. This included a number of key changes to its traditional UI. The news feed is now organized by algorithms rather than by the typical chronological time stamp. The algorithmic news feed is intended to curate stories and display content that is most important to the user, but this is putting way too much faith in algorithms. A disturbing new feature is the subscribe option. This allows members to follow other members without friending, giving Facebook a Twitter function. However, the feature has been derided as the “Stalker” button.

These changes have drawn sweeping criticism from across the web. This is not surprising. Facebook has always presented itself as a private network, a place where you can share with a group of friends of your choosing and only of your choosing. The subscribe option changes all of that. It introduces interlopers and eavesdroppers into the heretofore private social experience. With this feature and many others on the way, Facebook is moving from a private to a public social network.

But eventually everyone will forget about the old, private Facebook and continue using the new, public Facebook. Just like everyone will get over the Netflix split and the Star Wars Blu-Ray changes. Complaints on the Internet sit right alongside death and taxes.

The New 52

DC Comics has begun rolling out its New 52 lineup. Ever since DC announced plans earlier this summer to renumber its titles and reboot its universe, I have been burning with anticipation to get a look at the relaunch, while my mind has seethed with a slew of questions. How far would the reboot go? What major changes will this bring to the DCU? Would all the characters get revamped? Will they get new origin stories? Are events from the past completely wiped out? And how quickly will this new DCU be established?

Thus far, I have read Justice League, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Batgirl. These titles give a pretty good indication of where DC is going and what this relaunch is all about. It is more a retooling than an all-out reboot. All the familiar DC iconography remains, only it has been cast in a new light, given a fresh context, modernized in some ways, and/or simplified where needed, all aimed at drawing in new fans and–at the same time–satisfying the existing loyal fanbase.

Justice League #1, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Jim Lee, kicks things off with a decompressed origin story of the JLA. It looks like this relaunch will move slowly, bringing the members of this iconic team together little by little, perhaps one at a time over the course of five or six issues. In this first issue, Batman and Green Lantern meet for the first time, fight and chase down an extraterrestrial cybernetic creature, find an alien artifact that has something to do with Darkseid, and then–for the final end reveal–seek out and confront a hostile Superman. Also included is a brief introduction to Vic Stone aka Cyborg. The reboot has confined itself to the timeline, the clock has been turned back, back before Batman, Green Lantern, and Superman knew each other and anybody ever heard of Darkseid. This was a good first issue. The art was outstanding, slick and action packed, a neon colored realism that is given plenty of room to breathe. Justice League #1 is a must read and probably one of the best comics of the year.

Action Comics #1 attempts to relaunch Superman. How exactly do you relaunch the most iconic superhero of all time? If you are writer Grant Morrison, you bring the Man of Steel back to his roots. The new Superman is a throwback to the 1930s original, a champion of the oppressed and fighter for social justice. Action Comics #1 presents an extremely young Superman, dressed in jeans, a red cape, and blue t-shirt emblazoned with the classic S shield, a stripped down look very similar to Superboy in Infinite Crisis. This 20-something Superman can still run faster than a locomotive and leap tall building in a single bound…but he can’t fly…at least not yet. Far from being recognized as a hero in Metropolis, Superman is hunted down as an alien parasite by General Lane and Lex Luthor. The book ends with Superman impaled and trapped by a train and Luthor commenting on something approaching Earth from space just beyond the planet Neptune.I am really excited about this title and look forward to seeing where they take this story. The art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant is strikingly similar to Jim Lee’s art in Justice League, lending the book a uniform continuity with the rest of the DC relaunch.

Detective Comics #1 is your typical Batman vs. Joker story. I didn’t see anything radically different here, at least not different in a relaunch different kind of way. Of course Bruce Wayne is the Batman, a vigilante of Gotham City, resented and hated by criminals and cops alike, except for Jim Gordon. This was another great book with stunning artwork, but aside from Bruce Wayne being younger than usual, nothing is really different. Batman will remain the Batman.

Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Batgirl do indeed bring change to the DCU. Swamp Thing and Animal Man are now both firmly fixed within the continuity of the DC Universe and no longer exist in some kind of Vertigo ghetto. And most controversial of all, Batgirl is back on her feet and in fighting shape again. This is a major reboot. In the infamous Killing Joke, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, in the back leaving her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. She become the Oracle thereafter, one of the coolest characters in the DCU and a favorite ally of Batman. Now she is healed. And how is this explained? She just got better…DC has chosen to just gloss over it, to retcon it in the worst possible way. But these are comic books and such things happen…I’m happy to have Batgirl back, but I will miss the oracle.

Asimov and the Orange Box


I am re-reading the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. This will be the second time; the first was back in the 90s. I have listened to some portions of the audio books, but only in sporadic and incomplete bursts, like most of my audio book experiences. Nevertheless, I am committed to reading the trilogy once again. I recently bought a hardcover edition that includes all three books: Foundation , Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. There are a lot more Foundation books, which include various prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, but I am really only interested in the classic story arc dealing with Terminus.

Inspired by Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Foundation Trilogy is about the fall of a sprawling Galactic Empire and a small, secluded planet at the edge of the galaxy engineered to function as a haven for human knowledge. This haven is actually one of two such planets at opposite ends of the galaxy known collectively as the Foundation. Harry Seldon, mathematical prophet and founder of the Foundation, develops a branch of mathematics called psychohistory, a mathematical sociology that enables him to predict the future on a  large scale. He calculates the fall of the Galactic Empire, warns of a subsequent thirty thousand year dark age, and advocates a plan to minimize this dark age down to a single millennium. This plan becomes known as the Seldon Plan and involves the creation and development of the Foundation planets. Initially, the Seldon Plan calls for the creation of a great compendium, the Encyclopedia Galactica, to preserve human knowledge through the coming dark age. However, it is later revealed that the Encyclopedia was a ruse, an act of misdirection. Its real purpose was to concentrate a group of skilled scientists on a remote planet with the long term goal of revitalizing the fallen empire. Much of the Seldon Plan operates in this way. A crises emerges and like a deus ex machina the Seldon Plan manifests itself with a solution. Everything is prearranged and ordered according to the logic of psychohistory.

I always found the character of Harry Seldon and his psychohistory fascinating. The idea that sociopolitical events could be predicted using mathematics captured my imagination and drew me in like a magnet.  The intersection of history and mathematics, a rare Venn diagram of interests, but one with personal appeal, found surprising expression in the opening pages of Foundation. What’s more, years later I would discover that some mathematicians and scientists actually believe in a kind of psychohistory that may enable us to predict large, sociopolitical events in the future. Whether it is psychohistory or some quantum computer aided statistics of the future, most mathematicians agree that any future equations of society will only work on a large scale dealing with large aggregate populations.

On the video game front, I completed Batman:Arkham Asylum for the second time. I have played through the single player story mode on normal and now hard difficulty settings. This is the way I usually play games. The first time through is almost like a dry run in which I fumble my way through struggling with the mechanics of the game and becoming acquainted with whatever inventory system/experience point grid the game might have. The second time around I fly through the game and actually enjoy the action a lot more. Batman:Arkham Asylum was a really great game the second time around. With a stronger grasp of the fundamentals, I better employed the stealth combat style to defeat enemies gracefully and the detective work required to solve the Riddler’s Challenges. Of course this second time through strategy won’t fare very well with extremely long games like Oblivion or Baldur’s Gate.

Meanwhile, I traded Batman:Arkham Asylum and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 in at GameStop and finally got The Orange Box. It was marked at $29.99, but with the trade-ins it only cost me $5. Whenever people complain about GameStop, I am always amazed. I always have a good experience. The Orange Box is a game compilation, a box-set of sorts from Valve, featuring Half-Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress. Back in the 1990s, when I first got a computer, I played Half Life for hours and hours. The game was so ahead of its time with dynamic story telling and interactive non-playing characters. One of my fondest gamer memories was finally emerging from the Black Mesa Research facility only to discover that military black ops were out to kill Gordon Freeman. I never played Half Life 2. It took too long to come out and by the time it did I lacked sufficient computer hardware, money for a console, time to play…life simply got in the way. Now I can finally play Half Life 2. What’s more, I can also finally play Portal and see what everybody is raving about. I have thus far completed the first three parts of the 11 parts of Half Life 2 and have completed about 10 Test Chambers in Portal. I think I will be playing the Orange Box for a while.

Bad Movies, Good Docs, and Robopocalypse

I just relaxed for most of the Labor Day weekend. I avoided taking on any large, ambitious projects. This always leaves me feeling guilty. There is this vague checklist in my head, a list of things I should be doing and should have done, and nothing I do ever gives me a sense of completion. Perhaps I just miss school.

I watched a lot of bad movies and a few good documentaries over the weekend. I think I have exhausted all the good movies available and am only left with the crud at the bottom. I was unable to even sit through these films in their entirety, turning them off less than 50% of the way through. These included The Expendable (25%), Battle: Los Angeles (45%), and Attack The Block (15%). The last film has garnered a lot of good reviews and features a tenuous connection with Hot Fuzz with actor Nick Frost and director/writer Joe Cornish, but the whole British hip-hop scene of Jamaican accented teens dressing and behaving like American  gangster rappers really turned me off. And right from the beginning the story asks way too much of the viewer: Are we really supposed to sympathize with a character who mugs an innocent women of her jewelry?

At least I had a good backlog of documentaries in my Netflix cue. This is my great fallback position; when in doubt and out of ideas watch a documentary. I watched Botany of Desire and Helvetica. Botany of Desire deals with the history of four plants (Apples, Tulips, Potatoes, and Marijuana) and their relationship with humans. The film argues that the way these plants appeal to humans, Apples for sweetness, Tulips for beauty, Potatoes for sustenance, and Marijuana for pleasure, is an adaptation that has created a symbiotic relationship with humans and has enabled these plants to evolve and flourish for centuries throughout the planet. Helvetica is a documentary about the eponymous sans-serif font, an independent film dealing with typography, graphic design, and global visual culture. An 80 minute film about typeface fonts…what more could you possibly want?

I finished reading Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. My initial reaction was pretty negative. The whole thing seemed like a ripoff of World War Z, the brilliant zombie apocalypse book by Max Brooks. However, about 100 pages into the story, the novel starts to assert itself. The initial seemingly random cast of characters are fleshed out and solidified with recurring appearances, each having their own continuity that often intersects with other characters. What started out as a verbal history of an event conveyed through security cameras and interviews turns into a well rounded plot. My favorite parts were near the end when the writer gets inside the head of the freeborn robot Nine Oh Two. These freeborn robots break free from the enslaved control of the AI Archos, the villain of the story also known as “the Big Rob” who is directing the war against humanity. It is really interesting the way these robot allies regard their human comrades. From what I understand, Robopocalypse is slated to be made into a movie direct by none other than Steven Spielberg. It will probably make a really good movie, especially with DreamWorks behind it. As a book it was a lot of fun, a mediocre read at worst, nothing that will keep Charles Stross awake at night, but still a good read and with only a 350 page length it didn’t absorb too much of my time.


Hello world!

Hello World.

This blog is merely a mental exercise and a creative outlet for someone with a mindless job. It is not meant for public consumption, but anyone stumbling upon it is welcome.