Author Archives: The Glenn
Clearly, the price of stuff has been going up. A Big Mac that used to cost roughly $1.60 now costs around $4.33. But there are other signs that our governments have gotten too crazy in printing money.
- Burger King onion rings don’t have real onion. Those cost cutting bastards.
- McDonald’s started charging you for the sauce that comes with McNuggets. Yeah they’re a bunch of fatherless children.
- No free smiles at McDonald’s. They took them off the menu. Inflation.
So now you know.
The new Iron Man movie is fun, cheeky, and has a lot of twists. The writers had a lot of fun with the characters as they all turn their character archetypes upside down. You have:
- A hero (Iron Man/Tony Stark)
- A damsel in distress / love interest (Pepper Potts)
- A supervillain (The Mandarin)
- A cute kid
I don’t want to spoil the movie so I’ll just say this: all these characters have some surprises in store for you. The trailers for Iron Man 3 are a little misleading since they portray the movie as being your typical summer blockbuster. The movie takes your blockbuster movie formula and puts a cheeky twist on all the elements you expect to be in an action flick. The movie is low on anything intellectual and is thankfully the opposite of Ang Lee’s take on Hulk.
This is the second best Iron Man movie
The reason why I would put this movie in the middle of the pack is because I didn’t really feel for the characters. This movie has a heart full of shrapnel that’s barely kept going with an arc reactor. It doesn’t quite have that movie magic which makes the audience connect with the characters.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it.
It’s time to waste time on the Internet. Check out this webpage on fansubbing that has gone horribly wrong: http://nbnl.globalwhelming.com/2008/11/27/pictures-when-anime-fansubs-translations-goes-wrong/ (somewhat NSFW)
Maybe I’m crazy, but I tend to prefer subtitling done by fans rather than the official professional subtitles (or dubs). With fansubs, there are often additional subtitles (translation notes) that explain any odd aspects of Japanese culture. For example, the Macross fansub I watched points out that Gepelnitch is a dude. Official subs/dubs on the other hand try to gloss over any cultural oddities and try to Americanize everything. I thought for a long time that Frieza from Dragonball Z was female. I prefer fansubs because Japanese culture is weird and they explain some of that to me. If some anime character is a trap, I want to know about it.
For a totally different viewpoint, watch the following series on everything that is wrong with fansubs:
For the most part, I agree that there are many things wrong about fansubs. But I do like learning about things through translation notes (though more than 2 per episode is too much). And I do find an endearing quality to poorly-done fansubs with English that doesn’t read right. Sometimes they’re bad and I can appreciate poor execution. That’s just me. If you have a different opinion, post a comment.
Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is basically the computerized “arcade” version of the collectible card game.
It’s a pretty good game if you’re into strategy/puzzle games, though not without its quirks and its flaws. Duels of the Planeswalkers (DOTP) is like a “best of” overview of paper-based Magic. You have the best mechanisms that have come up in Magic’s history without the worst stuff the game has come up with (e.g. games where you can’t do anything and slowly watch yourself die). The core of DOTP involves a campaign where you face a computer AI. The computer plays a wide range of decks with very different strategies. You have to figure out which deck to use against the AI and how best to play your cards. Should you be aggressive and try to end the game early, or will prolonging the game improve your chances of winning? Do you want less creatures on the battlefield or more creatures on the battlefield? These are all questions that you have to figure out.
The difficulty of the campaign was pretty well designed as I did not feel that I got stuck at any point in the campaign. I lost a lot on the hardest difficulty but didn’t feel frustrated. All of the AI’s decks have bad matchups so you don’t need to bash your head against a wall and get lucky to win.
Comparison with paper Magic
The benefit of the computer version is that you don’t wait for shuffling and the computer tracks numbers for you. The downside of DOTP is that sometimes the interface can be clunky. In the paper version, you skip over many steps and back up if your opponent wanted to do cast something during a skipped step. In the computer version, you can’t skip over these steps and have to spend a few seconds waiting on the opponent (or yourself). So, large swaths of the game are spent waiting for players to do nothing.
With the paper version of Magic, you get human interaction. This is both good and bad. Paper Magic is unfortunately a game that can lead to arguments over rules. Because paper Magic has over 10,000 cards… the rules have gotten quite complicated over the years. Here is an entire article devoted to the rules of one card (Humility). DOTP limits you to cards without complex rules and handles all the rules for you. For the most part this is a benefit, though there are instances where you can’t do something due to some odd rule or the ability of a card. It can be confusing when you can’t do something and you don’t know why.
The other benefit of DOTP is that it is cheap. You get at least 20 hours of gameplay for $10. One major problem with paper Magic is that it leads to a money vortex. Any tournament-level deck will cost at least a few hundred to several hundred dollars. Once you hit several hundred dollars (to several thousand) the playing field is fair. Unfortunately Wizards of the Coast figured out that enough people get sucked into the money vortex that they can charge what they charge. The vortex is really compelling and there is a huge temptation to spend money to get an advantage in a meaningless game. It brings out the competitiveness in people and pushes them to spend far too much money on cardboard crack. (Don’t do it!!!) For the most part, DOTP lets you enjoy the game without any of the potentially toxic elements of the paper version.
But of course there is a reason why Wizards of the Coast has been making DOTP. They want it to be a gateway drug to get more people into the expensive versions of Magic (digital and paper). DOTP is a very accessible way to get into Magic and to learn the rules.
I have very mixed feelings about DOTP. All of it has to do with it being a gateway drug into the other forms of Magic the Gathering.
If the other forms of Magic didn’t exist, this would be a pretty decent standalone game (with some annoyances).
FTL: Faster Than Light is a space RPG/strategy game where you have to fight through enemies and obstacles to reach your destination. It is RPG-esque because you upgrade your ship from the scrap of your enemies. And it is Rogue-like since you will likely fail multiple times until you figure out the strategies to winning this game. (Ok, so I’ve never actually played Rogue.) It’s mostly a strategy game because you need a very, very good strategy to win. The easy mode is not that easy. And if you’re an idiot like me, this seems like an action/strategy game like Starcraft (y’know, APM) until you realize that you can pause the game and issue commands.
I really enjoyed this game.
The basics of the game are simple yet the overall strategies are complex. (I believe that simple yet complex is the hallmark of a great game.) There are many different ways to lose and you have to master your resources and upgrades to avoid defeat. The game is open-ended and there are multiple paths to victory.
The game is pretty balanced and there isn’t one strategy that is horribly broken. Some strategies might seem really powerful in the beginning but will fail horribly in the later stages. You are forced to evolve your strategy.
I highly recommend this game if you’re into cute strategy games. It costs $10 on Steam… less if it’s on sale.
So I was at the library today and came across a children’s book called A Slave Family. It is an educational book designed to teach children about a very awkward portion of American history. The book is actually written by a Canadian of Hungarian descent. Presumably it has an American slant to it since the American educational market is bigger than Canada’s. Canada doesn’t really exist in this book.
The book is the life story of a fictional child named Quasheba. I’m guessing that children as supposed to identify with the hero of the story as she is in their same age range. Children’s literature is usually written with the key characters slightly older than the reader. Children tend to imitate and idolize others who are slightly older than them (remember when you were a kid?).
The problem with this structure is that you have to point out that slavery sucks. So you are supposed to empathize with a character who is enduring the degrading practice of slavery. On the other hand, you’re not supposed to traumatize children. Everybody looks happy in the illustrations. The ending of the story is up to the reader. The book instructs the reader to give Quasheba an ending. Maybe she will run away (and not get caught and be horribly punished for it). So the reader is encouraged to give the book an unrealistic fairy tale ending.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the reasoning behind this book was to provide “historical accuracy”. If you simply omit slavery as a part of history, then you would arguably be rewriting history. On the other hand, a children’s book about slavery is pretty problematic. The book unfortunately sends a mixed message. Hey kids… slavery is BAD!… but slavery is not that bad because we don’t want to traumatize you. So ultimately it still falls into the trap of rewriting history.
The real problem
(I’m going to be serious here.)
The real problem is that Americans and Canadians tend to be overprotective of kids and tend to whitewash the world as an amazing place. We lie to kids about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. You can’t lie to kids about how amazing the world is while trying to explain slavery to them. We shouldn’t lie to kids. On the other hand, I think that slavery is too dark of a subject for children’s literature. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have children’s books about internment camps during World War 2, how the Allies firebombed civilians, how the Allies used nuclear weapons, genocide, how the US tried to hide the genocide in Rwanda, living conditions on First Nations reservations, present-day racism, etc. These topics are a little much and I think that these topics may be too difficult for really young children to understand.
Of course, I think that it’s important to have discussions about these topics. Human beings are not perfect. Overall, I think that our world is actually pretty awesome when human beings work together. Most of the time, human beings do work together. It’s just that some of the time human beings will do terrible things to one another. It’s good if we can talk about it and try to improve the world so that we won’t do terrible things to one another. But children are too young to understand that type of discussion. Children’s books could deal with negative emotions or behaviours that they are familiar with- jealousy, envy, etc. And there are a lot of children’s media out there that do deal with negative aspects of human behaviour. We could use those structures to teach kids how to deal with these issues in a positive, healthy, and socially acceptable manner. For example, the movie Toy Story (ok, it’s not a book) has a hero character who deals with his jealousy and envy.
The formula is this: you have a hero character who is relatable and has some very human character flaws. He undergoes various conflicts and at the end of the day learns the errors of his ways. In the case of Toy Story, Woody learns to set aside his jealousy so that he can work together with Buzz Lightyear to save the day. It doesn’t present the hero character as this perfect being. And because it is fun and engaging, this format is commercially viable. The good thing about Toy Story is that it doesn’t try to be safe. The problem with political correctness is that being too safe comes off as patronizing and turns people off from the message. When you tell somebody not to do something, sometimes it makes them want to do it. Toy Story on the other hand is more aspirational. If you stop being a jealous dick like Woody, good things will happen to you. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if we’re going to feed moralizing propaganda to kids, then we should give them uplifting aspirational crack like Toy Story.
McDonald’s is very, very good at giving people what they want. At most malls, I always see the longest lines at McDonald’s… and it’s not because they serve customers slowly. Yet I very rarely see people buy a salad (especially the entrée salad). The salads there are actually pretty damn good in my opinion. Of fast food restaurants, McDonald’s has the best salad in my opinion. Other chains just slap some vegetables together and give you a packet of dressing. McDonald’s seems to put in a lot of effort by giving you a medley of flavours (e.g. grilled vegetables, bacon, cheese) and textures (those crunchy bits).
Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of my friends have actually even tried the salad at McDonald’s. Everybody I know will say that McDonald’s is bad for you. But they still eat there. I guess people are just addicted to the trashier items on McDonald’s menu.
What it comes down to it, most people are just talk. McDonald’s has often been blamed for the rise in obesity in first world countries. In my opinion, more people should be blaming themselves. They talk about eating healthy but don’t bother to actually go out and try to eat better. I’m sure that McDonald’s would offer a lot of healthy fare if its customers cared. But when its customers don’t even give healthier items a chance, it is hard for McDonald’s to do the right thing.
Sorry McDonald’s salad, nobody loves you. Not even those douchey vegetarians.
The film industry is always trying to give you a reason to see films in the theatre instead of your own home. The TV industry always tries to give you a theatre quality experience in your home. I’m going to break down the differences in technology for you.
(Did you know? I won an award from the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers for my paper on chroma subsampling.)
Traditionally, films have always been various flavours of widescreen while TV is generally 4:3. If you want to watch a film on a TV, you either had to crop out part of the picture or you had to have black bars on the top and the bottom. Some people dislike cropped “pan and scan” movies as they feel that the modified framing is not true to the original.
Now that the TV industry has moved to high definition, it has switched to a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. While this solves problems with films being shown on TVs, there will be some annoyances in the TV world. The TV world has to deal with and accommodate old technology. It has to make its content translate to 4:3 well. Old (or standard definition) content on a 16:9 widescreen TV will have columns on the side. Some people dislike the columns so much that they prefer the image to be stretched out to fill the entire frame, resulting in wide faces and fat circles.
Resolution: digital cinema has an extra 128 pixels
The digital cinema standards allow for an image that is 2048 pixels by 1080 pixels.
TV standards allow for an image that is 1920 by 1080 pixels. The ~7% difference between 2048 and 1920 doesn’t really matter to the viewer. No one is really going to care about the extra pixels on the side.
From a technology point of view however, the extra pixels do make a difference. A lot of professional equipment used for production is based on consumer technology. Building off of consumer technology saves a lot of money. Similarly, a lot of equipment used for film production is the same as TV (some of the cameras, professional video monitors, etc.). Dealing with those extra pixels means that you have to use equipment specifically designed for 2048×1080. Your camera (or film scanner) needs to record those extra pixels and your projector needs to show those extra pixels. Because film is a smaller market than TV+film, this equipment will always be more expensive. Costs go up for no real benefit.
So why did the people who came up with the digital cinema standards choose 2048 instead of 1920? Because they wanted cinema to be different than TV. At the end of the day, it’s still just a dumb decision motivated by politics.
Resolution: 4K versus 2K
First, a discussion of terminology.
“1080″ refers to 1920x1080. A “1080p” TV has a resolution of 1920×1080.
“2K” refers to 2048x1080. You might think that this is roughly twice of 1080 (e.g. two thousand is roughly double what 1080 is). But you would be wrong. 2K and 1080 are practically the same to the viewer. The digital cinema industry may have wanted to go with 2K because it seems like double what high definition TV is. It is not.
4K generally refers to 4096x2160, though sometimes it is used to refer to 3840x2160. Some consumer TV manufacturers use “4K” to refer to their 3840×2160 TVs for marketing purposes (because higher numbers are better right…?).
Here’s the thing about 4K versus 2K: most theatre goers don’t notice it or care. Sony Pictures has been releasing 4K movies for a long time. They have a list of 4K movies on their website. Sony’s digital cinema projector can show 4K while competing 2K Christie projectors cannot. So, Sony used to be a huge fan of 4K movies since 4K differentiates its projector from Christie’s. Unfortunately for Sony, nobody cared.
Imax’s digital projector system uses 2 Christie projectors. For 2-D movies, the effective resolution is better than 2K but not quite as good as 4K. Fortunately for Imax, nobody cares that their resolution isn’t as good as Sony’s. (Eventually I think that Imax will use 4-K projectors. I don’t think that their marketing department will make a big deal out of it though.)
Color gamut / wide gamut
TVs and digital cinema projectors can’t show all the colors that exist naturally. The rainbow reflections that you see on a CD can’t be reproduced by a TV or projector. These colors are too saturated / vibrate for TVs and projectors to reproduce.
Digital cinema has an advantage over TV in this regard. Digital cinema projectors are capable of a wider “color gamut” than your standard TV.
The digital cinema standards actually put in work to future-proof the system. If we someday developed cameras and projectors to handle an extremely wide color gamut, a digital cinema system could conceivably display any color including those rainbow reflections that you see on a CD. In practice, nobody really notices differences in color gamuts.
HFR and higher frame rates
More is better right…? Digital cinema could potentially move towards showing films at 48 (or more) frames per second instead of 24. This would make it a lot closer to TV, which shows around 59.97 images per second in most North American countries and 50 images per second in most European countries.
But in case you’ve never heard about The Hobbit, some people don’t like the higher frame rates. It makes films look like soap operas, news, or reality television. It’s very jarring to some people (myself included). I’m not sure if this innovation will stick. It was tried in the past with Showscan film projection system, which projected film at 60 frames per second.
3-D versus 2-D
Here are the main reasons why the movie industry is trying to push 3-D:
- To fight TV and home theatre.
- To fight piracy.
- To make more money.
In cinemas, there are actually different 3-D technologies in use. As a result, the post production teams have to make a different version of the film for each 3-D technology out there. RealD’s technology is the most popular. Its main drawback is “ghosting”, where you can faintly see the right eye’s image in the left eye (and vice versa). The image is altered (“ghostbusting”) to reduce the effect of ghosting. In the past, ghostbusting was applied directly to the digital file. RealD is moving towards applying ghostbusting in real-time so that RealD systems don’t need a version of the film to be specifically made for RealD 3-D.
Dolby’s 3-D system uses the wavelength of light rather than polarization to separate the left/right eye images. Special processing is needed to get the colours looking correct because the left and right eyes see different wavelengths of light.
Other 3-D systems separate the left/right eye images using shutters.
In the home, all these technologies can be used. Some manufacturers are also playing around with 3-D TVs that don’t require glasses (similar in concept to the Nintendo 3DS). However, the 3-D effect only works if your head is in a very specific place and doesn’t move much.
I think that we will see 3-D improve though I’m not sure that we will solve all of 3-D’s problems. Eventually I see filmmakers learning to use 3-D tastefully and stop jabbing people in the eyes. Here’s my analogy. When people started building their webpages on Geocities, there used to be all sorts of animated GIFs and MIDI music playing in the background. Or beautiful-looking Flash sites that were frustrating to navigate because they used symbols instead of words for links. We will learn the errors of our ways. Probably the biggest advances will come from stereographers, editors, and directors of photography learning how to do 3-D better. We will probably get better at avoiding the things that make 3-D painful such as fast cuts, fast motion, stuff too close to your face, etc. 3-D requires some changes to how movies are made. However, I don’t know if this will solve the problems that some people have with 3-D being uncomfortable. And I can’t say if this is good for movie making in general. Films right now are limited by the 24fps frame rate. If the camera pans too fast, there will be “motion judder” as the motion will look jerky. 3-D means that films have to work around both the limitations of the low 24fps frame rate and the limitations of 3-D.
On the 2-D theatrical front, probably the biggest technology on the horizon is brighter projectors (e.g. replacing the xenon bulb with laser light). This will allow for bigger screens.
In the home, it is extremely likely that TVs will get better and cheaper.
The wonderful thing is that people are always innovating and coming up with new ideas and technologies. Many of them are bad or don’t pan out as hoped (e.g. 4K, wide gamut). But eventually the cream will rise to the top. Film and TV technology keeps getting better and better over the years and I think that the trend will continue.