16 July 2014

Seven Quick Notes on Thor Being A Woman


For the record, I take no issue with Thor being a woman. I am, however, puzzled by the decision, and worried about its implications.

1. The last time Marvel did this was with Ghost Rider, when sales dropped and the book was in danger of being canceled. It did not help. In business, this is called the glass cliff. It's a kind of "last resort, pandering while thinking outside the box" sort of synergistic effort in which a business that's not doing well will promote someone they wouldn't normally give the job to, the hope being either 1) They turn the company around, and they get to look progressive in the process, or 2) The company fails, and they get the protection of being able to say, "We tried the woman, and the woman didn't work out. Oh, well... Que Sera Sera." Speaking of intentions...

2. This is where matters get really touchy, so let the record show this a very broad generalization with a lot of assumptions which are most likely wrong. When a fictional character typically portrayed as white and male gets a race or gender swap, there's an issue of "why/why not?" that inevitably comes up.If the decision to make Thor a woman is "Because we can, so there!" Then it's arbitrary and therefore token, a stunt (see point 1). If, however, there's meant to be a greater significance to Thor being a woman, a comment on gender roles or a criticism of women in western mythology, then the risk is that the message overshadows the medium, Thor the character being traded in for Thor the statement. Granted, there's nothing wrong with that, Wonder Woman is a similar kind of statement, but she's also an interesting and compelling character in spite of the socio-political connotations attached to her. Similarly, when it came to Loki...

3. When Loki became a woman, it was in Lady Sif's likeness (she'd been killed in a recent story arc) to taunt Thor and play on his feelings of guilt. In other words, there was an in-narrative reason for the change that was in line with the original character, not merely a swap for swap's sake. Speaking of Lady Sif...

4. The comic Thor actually has a surprisingly good batting average when it comes to gender representation. There's Lady Sif, Amora the enchantress, Hela of the underworld (Loki's daughter), Brunnhilde and her Valkyrior troops, to name a few. Really, it's not like Thor was hurting for female characters, apart from a touch more variety outside of a love interest for The God of Thunder.

5. The idea of someone else being able to wield Mjolnir (by essentially the law of averages) was already explored with Beta Ray Bill, which makes the passing of the hammer seem all the more token. Thor doesn't work nearly as well as a legacy hero compared to, say, Green Lantern or The Phantom or even Batman (Knightfall, Beyond, Incorporated...).

6. What exactly will this mean for the films? It wouldn't be surprising if Tom Hiddleston passed on the role to Jaimie Alexander since there's a precedent for it in the comic. However, while we don't know the context for this change in the comics as of the time of this writing, Chris Hemsworth's commitment to his role plus the task of finding someone to take up the role in his place (given what a hard time it's been to bring Wonder Woman to modern audiences), it would make more sense for Marvel/Disney to leave the comic to its own devices and maybe consider following suit if the movies were to show a drop in box office returns. Given how the films have fared thus far, that sort of change would be years away even in the worst case scenario.

7. Does all this have anyone else thinking of the Silicon Knights' game Too Human, or is that just me?

As I've said, it doesn't bother me in the least that Marvel wants to make Thor a woman. It's piqued my curiosity, and I think it could be pretty cool. I simply wonder piquing interest and looking cool is all that's gone into the mission statement behind this venture. If so, that will be sad, so here's hoping I'm wrong.

13 July 2014

Crowded Potato Salad Bowl


If crowdfunding was truly a socialist concept, people wouldn't get to choose which projects get funded. It would all be one, gigantic co-op with funds being evenly distributed to everyone involved regardless of a project's merits. 

Recently, a comedian I follow on YouTube named Adam Buckley made a video criticizing the recent "Potato Salad" Kickstarter campaign and its tens of thousands of dollars. For those of you who don't know, a man started a crowdfunding page asking for ten dollars to fund his first attempt at making potato salad. A cynic would say this was a joke, a sort of litmus test to see how low standards can get on the site. An optimist would say it's a social experiment in empathy. Either way, I don't think anyone would dispute that at least 90% of that money could be put to better use elsewhere, like helping a little girl get plastic surgery for her facials scars resulting from a pitbull attack. Of course, that brings us to the seedy underbelly of crowdfunding: scams. 
Like any other great tool, it can be misused. As a hammer can bash in a skull as easily it can drive a nail into wood, so can a crowdfunding campaign provide a smokescreen for a cut-and-run operation as easily as it can help an indie film get distributed to theaters. In between these lay the gray area of e-begging, projects that aren't scams by any real definition of the word, but aren't exactly a commercial venture or a pre-order system. For example, the potato salad guy isn't making this salad to hold some huge block party to feed the homeless (Kickstarter wouldn't allow that, anyway) or teach some at-risk youths to cook so they can become productive members of society. Sure, a party is listed as one of his stretch goals, but there's still nowhere for this project to go. Indeed, it makes me sad people would rather give their money to this than something else, but I completely disagree with Buckley that it's an example of socialism. 
Frankly, his writing off of crowdfunding as a socialist concept because the system can be abused is not merely throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It's drowning the baby in the bathwater and then suing the water company for damages, claiming they made a hazardous product... and it's not even his baby. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I identify as an Objectivist. If you don't know what that means, it is, in broadest terms, a liberal capitalist. We believe in certain conservative values such as the free market and smaller/limited government, but we also believe in more liberal causes such as civil liberties and secularism. It has nothing to do with socialism; practically a polar opposite. To wax philosophical on the distinction, I'm all for equality, but find it works better as a starting point than an end goal (Equal opportunity is not equal achievement). Furthermore, I have supported the Kickstarter campaign for Wayforward's upcoming Shantae game, and the brush/stylus I use for my digital paintings is the result of a Kickstarter campaign. 
Yes, a business should be left to succeed or fail based on its own merits, but in terms of covering startup costs, donations from supporters (with or without incentives) is no more or less valid a means of fundraising than an investment bank, a loan, or self-financing. People having as many options as possible to decide for themselves where their money goes, how much they can give, all the while having a full and informed understanding of what, if anything, they will receive in return for their contribution (in my case, a copy of the aforementioned game upon its release), is not an example of socialism. 
I have played Wayforward titles before and have been very impressed by their work. If they want to bypass normal funding means and appeal directly to their fans rather than unreliable marketing that's been proven to be ill-suited to the games market, then why is it wrong for me to support their effort in return for a copy of the game? How is it e-begging to offer a product or service for a fee simply because there's a little more trust required and less red tape to cut through? It's not putting the cart before the horse to let your paying, consuming audience decide via dollar votes whether or not a product or service is viable. It's practically the very definition of laissez-faire capitalism. Calling it socialism because it doesn't always work out or gets abused by greed isn't simply a conflation, it's shortsighted, reactionary, alarmist bullshit, and shaming people for supporting it in spite of its flaws isn't simply petty, it's hypocritical. I've lost a lot of respect for Buckley on this one. Normally, even when I disagree, I still respect his opinion because it's rational and informed. This time, though, he's done himself and his fans a great disservice, which is ironic because he recently shamed a contemporary for more or less doing the same, only with an accolade instead of the offer of willing financial support. 

28 June 2014

Wanted 2: ScarJo Boogaloo

A few days ago, I got a text message from someone that contained only three words:

One word: Lucy

Naturally, I asked what he was talking about. I got one word:

Movie. 

I found a trailer for an upcoming action film directed by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson (who has way too many extra letters in her name which I propose be converted to middle initials: Scarlet T. S. Johanson) about a woman who gets used as a coke mule, only to find said coke is a blue liquid that increases your mental capacity, granting her superhuman powers which seem to include everything but the wall-repair-vision from Superman IV

Cards on the table: I like Luc Besson's work. I loved The Fifth Element as well as The Professional, and while The Messenger has its problems, it's not without its moments, either. That said, I don't think this is going to be any good. Sure, it's not fair to write off a film based entirely on a simple trailer, but when someone punches me in the face, I'm not likely to stick around and see if they'll say they're sorry and offer me a Pepsi, bag of Doritos, and a friendly game of Altered Beast to make up for it. The punch, in this case, is metaphorical, and instead of my face, it's my intellect. Sure, action movies by definition aren't meant to be works of cerebral transcendence, but when they try to be so, and they don't bring their A-game, it's a train wreck. I call these types of films Imperial Failures, meaning they're one type of movie that tries to be another, but has absolutely nothing to bring to the table, a la The Emperor's New Clothes
Lucy seems to want to be an action film with a brain by trying to rationalize ScarJo's control over time and space as the direct result of using more than 10% of her brain. Wanted, similarly, tried to be The Matrix by explaining bullet-time and balletic action choreography and gun-kata as the result of an accelerated heart rate. For example, someone who has never held a gun before in his life is suddenly able to shoot the wings off a pair of houseflies entirely by virtue of time slowing for a few seconds. Lucy attempts the same leap of faith by having ScarJo become able to render an entire room of hired goons unconscious with a wave of her hand by virtue of a few more synapses in her brain firing at once. 
That earlier example of Wanted's housefly dismemberment is only scratching the surface of that abomination's downright condescending levels of stupidity-in-denial, most of which I tackled in an earlier post. In short, it's not at all beneath me to shut my brain off and enjoy a good thrill ride, but movies like Wanted refuse to let me by not only trying to answer a question I barely cared to ask, but giving me an answer so astonishingly stupid as to not only un-suspend my disbelief, but insult my intelligence as well. 
Here's a thought experiment. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, ordinary people seem able to defy gravity, skip along bodies of water like smooth stones, traverse widely-spaced rooftops as easily as a stroll in the park, and pull off long-winded acrobatic routines without breaking a sweat. All this is on display for us with absolutely no explanation given beyond an implied notion of, "They're just that good." Now, imagine that partway through the film, Chow Yun-Fat stops in front of the camera, looks into it, and breaks the fourth wall to ask, "Would you like to know how we're able to do all this?" and before the audience can finish their collective shrug, he lifts up his robes and shows off a small jewel which he explains allows them to defy gravity and dilate time. 

Why do people dig The Force but hate midichlorians? 

Lesson over, Daniel-san. 

22 June 2014

Oh, Twitter...

I love Twitter, flaws and all. I don't think it's the greatest site ever made, but it's easily in my Top 5. Lately, though, I've been having a bit of a rough time with it. 
My Xperia Z Ultra has been great, even if I'm only using it as a tablet as my contract with Verizon won't run out for at least another month. To ease the transition, I culled a number of apps from my old phone, the HTC Rhyme. It had been getting a bit bloated, and many of those apps work far better on the Ultra. One of the apps I removed early on was Twitter. Technically, I still have it on the Rhyme, it's simply not the full version, but HTC's dashboard version, Peep. Peep works fine and dandy, but I didn't realize how stripped down it was compared to its big brother. 
I access Twitter primarily through Tweetdeck. It has its own separate login and account settings apart from my Twitter account proper. As for logging in to Twitter, I'd recently upped the security on it in light of some recent bouts with identity theft and set up mobile notifications. If I log in to Twitter from any new place, I have to enter a code that gets sent to my phone as a text message. 
What I didn't know until now was that when I removed Twitter from my Rhyme, I kept it from receiving those login codes. I figured that since they were only text messages, whether or not the app was present was totally irrelevant. Now, if I try to log in to Twitter through my browser (or especially the Z Ultra) I can't because I don't receive codes anymore. The solution seemed simple: put Twitter back on the Rhyme and get the codes. 

Guess what I have to put in when I open Twitter on the Rhyme. 

It's actually an easy fix, simply a matter of finding another way to log in, but it's so absurd that it's set up in this manner. I'm entering a phone number, not a MAC address, so why does the app need to be present in order to get a text message? What if I didn't have a smartphone, but an old flip phone (or "feature phones" as T-Mobile calls them, or "dumbphones" as everyone else calls them), like if I had to move my SIM card to another phone because of damage? What if the app got corrupted and needed to be reinstalled? For all intents and purposes, that's exactly what's happening now. 
There's nothing more frustrating than a security measure that works too well. It's like when your kid beats up the school bully: You want to give them a high five for kicking ass and not taking any crap, but you want to scold them as much for fighting fire with fire. 

18 June 2014

Receiving Through Rejection

So, this happened at work today... 
We had our annual company picnic, which involves a raffle for various prizes donated by sponsors, namely other companies we work with. They're often fairly substantial, with things like televisions, grills, tablets, small refrigerators, and all the way up to deck furniture. 
I happened to win tickets to a Cardinals game. I really didn't want them. I don't like baseball, I hate driving around St. Louis, and it doesn't help that my last outing to that area was less than pleasant. Of course, I didn't want to seem rude or ungrateful, so in a pinch a little white lie slipped out. I said I couldn't go on that day. They asked me to come up and draw another number to give the tickets away. Good, I thought, problem solved. A few minutes later, they had another set of tickets, and just outright asked me if I could make it to a different game. Okay, they caught me. I said I don't watch baseball. 
The president of the company asked me to come up. As I walked to where all the prizes were gathered, he said, "We've been doing this for years, we've never had someone refuse prizes like this." This isn't 100% true. Since everyone in attendance gets a raffle ticket, the higher-ups and visitors (from other companies) often give their prizes away. It occasionally happens with those lower down the ladder, but apparently I'm the first to do it twice. Anyway, as a consolation prize for putting me on the spot about the baseball tickets, he told me I had a choice of a prize. The choices were a tent, a gazebo, and a gas grill. 
I live in a fairly small apartment (gazebo), I don't go camping (tent), and not only does the apartment complex have a barbecue pit, but I also have a griddle I use for making burgers (gas grill). I felt very guilty, and apparently looked the part as well. I quietly said I didn't have space for any of that stuff. He was stunned. I think I even offended him. After sharing his disbelief with the audience, he reached into his pocket, pulled out some cash, handed it to me, and said, "Here's a hundred bucks, get outta here." 
Okay, he was smiling as he said it, and in addition to raffle prizes, he would give out a few hundred dollars for various reasons (if someone brought a certain household item, or had a birth date closest to one of our guest's, or had a baby recently, anything like that), so this wasn't any sort of upset in the grand scheme of things, simply awkward. In fact, when I got back to my seat, my supervisor leaned over to me and said, "Good holdout strategy." 
I gave the money to my roommate. She's going to Florida in July to visit her boyfriend, so now she's got a little extra spending cash. 

11 June 2014

Twice Out of the Blue Now

As some of you may know, I have two blue fingernails, left middle and ring. I've had them since last August. As for why, it's a bit of a long story, the short version of which is: I stopped biting my nails, saw how long they were getting, and thought, "Why the Hell not?" 

It's a fun little dexterity/patience exercise, it doesn't get in the way of anything, I frankly like the way it looks, and they've gotten me a fair number of compliments. 

Of course, it also leaves a few people puzzled. Some are so puzzled, in fact, yet so strangely afraid to ask, that they'd rather go digging for an explanation elsewhere, finally sharing their findings with my roommate. I was eating pizza with her a few weeks ago and she told me her cousin found out it's code for being gay. I asked, "What isn't code for being gay?" Apparently, it's local, which likely means they heard it from one person who more than likely made it up for himself and considers it to apply to everyone else because of reasons. 

Similarly, I have a blue porch light. My roommate's sister and brother saw fit to tell me that a blue light means a gay resident. When I told them I'd never heard such a thing, they explained it was "a West Coast thing" that no one here really knew (I live in the St. Louis area). Naturally, I looked it up. It turns out, a blue light means, among other things: Pot smokers, non-smokers, fallen police officers, raccoon repellents, transvestites (Amsterdam), lunch special, and my personal favorite, "Husband's out of town." Ever hear of trademark dilution? 

Anyway, back to the pizza... my roommate told her cousin that I wasn't gay. Admittedly, I've never been the manliest man, but I'm at best the "Q" in the LGBTQIAWXYZ123+=/# stream of social consciousness. The cousin in question, insisting they weren't homophobic (they're not, they're just kinda gullible, like borderline anti-vax gullible), wanted all the same to tell my roommate to try and explain to me that, even if it's not an actual indicator, there may be some people who think it is and, well... take violent action. In other words, it may not be a code gays use, but it can be a code homophobes use. 

Now, today, my roommate told me that her other cousin had talked to her and, "felt the need to tell me you were gay." I asked her to expand, give a little context, and she went on to quote, "I looked it up. It doesn't matter, I'm just letting you know." 

For starters, where exactly did she look this up? I have never seen anything written anywhere about nail polish as code for sexual orientation (let's face facts, it's not a very good one, anyway). Hell, there's more articles out there on baseball players using it for signaling than anything else. Second, don't you simply love when people insist on something not being important, yet nonetheless telling you about it with the utmost urgency? If it doesn't matter, why do you need to let someone know? 

My roommate's response to her aunt: "Matt's not gay. He has a girlfriend." (We've only been texting, and very infrequently, but I loved that retort so much it hardly matters). The part I find hilarious about these two encounters is how these people who only see me briefly at family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas insist they know something about me that my roommate is completely blind to. 

SHE FRIGGING LIVES WITH ME!

WE USED TO BLOODY DATE! 

SHE'S SODDING MET SOME OF MY OTHER GIRLFRIENDS! 

SHE'S SEEN SOME OF MY DAMN PORN! 

"Well, the point is, other people might misinterp--" I don't care what people misinterpret about me. I don't care what gets said behind my back. I don't care what some little quirk or mannerism means to somebody else according to their esoteric interpretation of the world. The phrase, "People are talking" means about as much to me as "grass grows" or "there's someone in Africa whose name you don't know." I know there's people out there who are gay or bi or trans or what-have-you who have to put up with a lot of first-rate crap, some of which may even be life-threatening, so I'm not pretending that, "I understand now." because I don't and that was never the point. I think it's completely stupid and ridiculous how certain people are so eager to "figure you out" yet not do the obvious thing and talk to you, instead doing the most absurd mental gymnastics to reconcile their own lack of perspective. 

I'm honestly waiting for the day one of these people actually grows a fricking spine and asks me if I'm gay, then insists my denial is a lie because of said nails so that I may ask them to explain, in complete and full detail (visual aids allowed), how two blue fingernails on my left hand is meant to indicate to anybody that I wish to stick my dick in another man's ass. 

Maybe they'll be willing to say it on camera. 

25 May 2014

Chicken and Waffles

I've been waffling on repeating/paraphrasing a statement here that I've made elsewhere, but in light of a few previous entries regarding my state of mind, I feel like at least a little housekeeping is in order. So, here's a lovely little bulleted list in which I break my cardinal rule about my weblogs and speak of things I intend to do. Fair warning, I'm mixing the heavy stuff with the light-hearted stuff, so apologies in advance for any dissonance. 

  • My mental state of late has not been well. It hasn't been well for some time. I had a wake-up call, and I'm now getting the help I need. I am being treated for depression. I'm not suicidal, I'm not violent, and I'm not so emotionally drained that I don't even want to get out of bed in the morning. I'm just sad and tired. That's not trying to diminish the problem, mine or anyone else's, only to alleviate anyone's fears. I am fine. 
  • Art has been my coping mechanism for a number of years, and my motivation and output has diminished. This was part of my wake-up call. I still fully intend to make as much art as I possibly can, hence my most recent pieces. It's simply difficult as I get my priorities in order. Expect a drop in quality is all I'm saying (not that it was ever terribly high). 
  • I'm going to start making my own iced coffee. I've got a grinder and some nice roast of a rather geeky variety on the way, so I'll be posting some tutorials and experiments in the near future. The only coffee I've made myself has been of the crystalline variety, and that's simply been terrible, absolutely terrible. 
  • I've been absolutely hooked on Strikers 1945, a classic SHMUP from Psykio. I absolutely adore games of this genre, and this one is practically perfect. 
  • Also, Soldier Blade is a classic. The weapons and power-ups system is pure genius. 
  • May has been a very busy month for going to the movies. 
  • Pinterest is awesome. 
  • I was hoping to take advantage of an upgrade offer to get a new phone that would get me out of my contract early, but unfortunately it requires trading in my old phone, which would only credit me four dollars (to go towards my ETF for my other carrier). Looks like I'll be waiting a bit longer on that one. 
Good night, and good luck. 

13 May 2014

Abyss Tract


This is the other scrap of paper I was trying to use up. 

The Last Nerve


Part of a quick-n-dirty project to get rid of these two scraps of watercolor paper I'd made backgrounds on but never found any projects for. 

11 May 2014

Mass of the Dark Lords

Full description on my DevART page. This took a very long time to put together, and not simply for the sake of letting the green tea dry. I've been having a lot of motivational issues lately, and this was my way of trying to push through them and get back into more of a habit.