Friday, October 30, 2009

Joining the faculty of frag

The obviously cool people over at the gaming blog Couch Campus have kindly invited me to write a few articles for them.  Feel free to study my first post, Cinema's 5 Most Incompetent Computers.

Have a look around and be sure to bookmark; some more of my work will be forthcoming.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Predator: A conspiracy theory

Well, I have no idea where that last post came from.  Sometimes I like to think out loud... with my hands... on the Internet.

Anyway, a very strange thing happened to me today.  I was watching Predator for the umpteenth time, fascinated with how it seems to get better with each viewing.  Afterwards I went to check out the trivia and goofs on the IMDB page and came across this little nugget:

After Hawkins is killed, Anna is found, terrified. Poncho asks her repeatedly, "Que paso, mujer?" which does in fact mean, "What happened, lady?" Her answer is "No se, no estoy seguro, no se!" Poncho states, "She says the jungle, it came alive and took him." "No se" is Spanish for "I don't know," and "No estoy seguro" means "I'm not sure."

Now, this is the unit's first encounter with the Predator.  Up until that point - aside from Billy being spooked by something - they had no idea that there was anything out there other than rebels or enemy soldiers.  If Anna gave no indication of what she saw, how could Poncho have known that, in a sense, the jungle really did come alive and take Hawkins?  What the IMDB trivia doesn't mention is that, after Poncho tells the rest of the unit what Anna supposedly said, Dillon interjects with "Bullshit! That's not what she said."  It's safe to assume that Dillon was not just freaked out, but understood enough Spanish to know that "No estoy seguro" sure as shit doesn't mean "the jungle came to life."

Sure, it could just be a goof.  This seems unlikely, however, as it would be baffling how the writers - who understood enough Spanish to write Anna and Poncho's dialogue - would simply leave a glaring mistranslation in there.  Furthermore, Dillon's reaction to what Poncho said seems like there was a genuine intent in the way the scene played out.

I imagine two possible scenarios:
  • Poncho was a government agent planted in Dutch's (Schwarzenegger's) team in order to draw out and investigate the Predator, and the entire rescue mission was just a snow job; an excuse to put Poncho and the rest of the unit on the creature's path.  Exactly which government he really worked for and how much they knew about the Predator(s) at that stage remains a mystery.
  • Poncho was working with the Predators.  Either he was some kind of clone or automaton, or a bona fide human ally of the Predators.  In either case, his job was to lead the unit towards the creature's predetermined hunting area within the jungle in order to set up the hunt.  Take note of the fact that Poncho is the only member of the unit who, arguably, was not directly hunted by the Predator; he was injured by one of the team's traps, and finally killed by a plasma blast from the creature's shoulder cannon clearly meant for Dutch, who was carrying Poncho at the time.

One last thought that only just hit me: At the end of the film as the credits appear, we see shots of the principal cast along with their names.  Richard Chaves, who plays Poncho, is officially the first name we see.  The names are obviously not in alphabetical order, nor in order of appearance, so why would Poncho be at the top of the credits, even before Schwarzenegger?  Could it perhaps be a hint that there's more to the character than meets the eye, or that he could even be the film's true protagonist?  We may never know.

Enterprising Redditor guinunez tracked down the subtitles, and according to them, before Anna says the above line, she says "Ya te he dicho todo lo que se, la selva se lo llevó. qué más quieres que te diga?" which translates to "I've told you everything I know, the jungle took him. What else do you want me to say to you?"  So perhaps Poncho's honour remains intact!

Overcoming fear: A pointless rumination

You get two kinds of fear:  I guess you could call them "trivial fear" and "existential fear".  Trivial fear is the kind of anxiety you suffer from a direct external source; only occasionally, but to a great intensity when you do.  A fear of spiders or snakes, for instance.  A man with acrophobia who finds himself atop the Sears Tower suffers intensely while he's there, but as soon as he reaches the ground floor, that fear leaves him entirely.  This is the kind of fear that is a remnant of our primal instinct.  The urge to escape from perceived immediate danger.

Existential fear, on the other hand, is the kind of fear that rarely reaches great intensity, but it's always there in the back of your mind, affecting everything you say, everything you do, and every decision you make.  The fear of confrontation, the fear of disappointing your kids, the fear of not living up to your parents' expectations, the fear of being a bad wife, etc.  This is the form of fear that is truly limiting and imprisoning.  If the decisions that you make in life are in some way affected by the presence of that fear, then they are not truly your decisions. It's not truly your life.

When the self-help gurus talk about overcoming your fear, it is existential fear on which must be focused.  It pisses me off no end when someone describes themselves using words like "overcome," "reinvent," and "conquer," but then proceed to jump out of an airplane or play with a fucking tarantula.  This amounts to nothing more than masturbatory attempts at self-congratulations and it defeats the entire point.

Overcoming trivial fear is, well, trivial.  This is because the fear you may or may not be conquering has no effect on the quality of your life.  If some corporate executive could live his life over without his crushing fear of snakes, it's unlikely that he would've been an artist.  A single man without his fear of heights would probably not have been married with kids.  A grad student without his fear of dogs wouldn't have been a high-school drop-out.

However, a depressed middle manager without his fear of confrontation may well have been a wealthy entrepreneur.  A lawyer without the fear of taking risks might have been a travelling writer.  In any case, someone without the baggage of existential fear would be happier, even if only potentially.  At the very least, they'll be making decisions - even bad ones - for the right reasons.

Letting go of fear in general is pointless, because some fears are good, and some fears have so little impact on our lives that eradicating them is wasted effort.  The trick is first figuring out which fears are ruining your life.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feel your boobies

As you may or may not know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Even though it's good to be aware of the disease during the other eleven months too, it's easier to get attention for the cause - and assistance from selfish bloggers - when campaigning during only one.

This brings me to one of my favourite charities, Feel Your Boobies.  A non-profit organization that runs a campaign to remind women to, well, feel their boobies.  They claim that simply feeling yourself up is just as effective at identifying changes or lumps as a formal self-examination would be.

The informal tone of the campaign is meant to get the attention of younger women, who are also very much at risk (Feel Your Boobies founder Leigh Hurst was diagnosed at the age of 33.  Her cancer was initially identified through this form of informal auto-grope).

Check out the campaign's website, feel your boobies and remind your girlfriends to do the same (feel theirs, not yours... unless I'm invited and there's dip).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The end of homeopathy

I don't normally like to link to older content (read that in a sarcastic or sincere tone as you deem appropriate), but I'll make an exception here.

Dr. Ben Goldacre, columnist for The Guardian, has written a pretty devastating article on the scam called Homeopathy.  As I - and most rational people - have always believed, homeopathy is to medicine what sacrificing goats on an altar to Baal is to veterinary science.  Unfortunately most people still buy into the whole thing, not so much because they're gullible (though they usually are), but because they are not really aware of the flawed methodology and flat-out dishonesty that pervades the homeopathic "field".

Dr. Goldacre's paper is short, lucid and an engaging read that effectively decimates any argument in favour of homeopathy like an intellectual hammer to a pseudo-scientific ballsack.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5 laughably unscary movie monsters

There haven't been any new posts recently, I know.  I've been a little busy (and more than a little lazy), but today's your lucky day... assuming you're an intellectual masochist.

With the month of October celebrating Halloween, the birth of Kirk Cameron, SIDS awareness, and horror in general, it seems apt to have at least one post dedicated to things which scare the shit out of us, or at least attempt to.

Movie monsters are a true staple of modern pop culture; from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, to Ridley Scott's Alien, they have fuelled some of our worst nightmares and some of our most fun memories.  These monsters all have something in common: they tap into our subconscious, find out what scares us most, and force us to confront these fears to the sounds of our own gasps and the odour of stale popcorn, all while giving us a good time.

Some monsters, though, are truly scraped off the bottom of the barrel.  So utterly banal and uninspiring that they would have done us all a big favour by just staying on the cutting-room floor.  It is from this morbid gallery that I offer you my personal selection of five laughably unscary movie monsters!

5: Flying Monkeys

Movie: The Wizard of Oz

The perfect way to make an otherwise ostensibly harmless critter like a monkey seem terrifying and monstrous is to strap a pair of wings to its back.  At least that's what was floating around in Frank L. Baum’s head as he smoked some more Peyote before carrying on writing.

The only time I have ever been truly frightened and disturbed while watching a monkey was when one was playing the straight-man role opposite Clint Eastwood.  Unless that faeces they're throwing happens to be highly acidic, monkeys with wings strapped to their backs are about as scary as Treat Williams in Everwood.

4: Killer hermaphrodite hobbits

Movie: Bleeders (aka, Hemoglobin)

I watched this movie on VHS back in high school with some friends and a case of Carling, and the morning after we avoided eye-contact and pretended like nothing had happened.  I can assure you we would've felt less awkward and ashamed if we merely remembered flashes of mutual fellatio.  Who ever thought that a movie about incestuous hermaphrodites could be so boring as to induce a coma?

As for the monsters, they are hobbits.  Who kill people.  And are hermaphrodites.  All in all, about as scary as the "back room" of your local porno shop.

Surely a low-point in Rutger Hauer's career; considering Blind Fury, that’s saying a lot.

3: Mothra

Movie: A shitload of Godzilla movies

Generally accepted as being female, Mothra is occasionally portrayed as a type of benevolent protector and loyal opposition to Godzilla, despite destroying Tokyo.  In her larval form she embarked on a lucrative career as body-double for Barbara Streisand before trying her hand at being a movie monster; only one problem, though:


Moths are the third most unthreatening insect in the animal kingdom, right behind butterflies and Joan Rivers.  Who was the genius at Toho who approved a monster so scary that it spirals into the nearest light-source?  The only possible way you can have a nightmare about something as dull as a moth is if you take NyQuil and Prozac together at bedtime.

2: Cranky woman

Movie: Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman

A woman finds out that her husband is cheating on her and is only after her inheritance.  She then encounters an alien who is on Earth looking for diamonds, which are his spaceship's only source of power.  How the fuck he got to Earth in the first place is one of those metaphysical questions which is left up to the viewer - how Kubrick.  Continuity aside, after mugging the woman for her diamond necklace, the alien then causes her to grow fifty feet tall, whereupon she decides to seek vengeance on her philandering husband…

I know what you're thinking, "What the hell are you talking about, man?  There's nothing scarier than a girl who's on the rag!"  Call me old fashioned, but while I find an angry woman unpleasant, she's still a hell of a lot less terrifying than some demon from Hell who'll eat your face off.  You may not be able to reason with a woman scorned, but at least you can defuse her fury by slapping Fried Green Tomatoes into the DVD player and watching it with her; that shit is like morphine to a cranky woman.

1: Leprechaun

Movie: Leprechaun 1 through 6

Unlike, say, Islamic militants, the Irish - even the three sober ones - are laughably unscary.  So are midgets. Combine the two, and you get the veritable antichrist of movie monsters; a poster-boy for the whole laughably unscary movie monster demographic.  I speak, of course, of The Leprechaun.

You've got to hand it to Warwick Davis for having carved a career out of playing offensive stereotypes.  Oh what, dwarf actors only get offered roles that are offensive and stereotyped?  Tell that to my friend Danny DeVito, who, despite being only three feet tall, has never played a leprechaun, Ewok or George Shapiro.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Dear Hollywood, you're dumber than you think I think you are

I've refrained from commenting about the Roman Polanski controversy for a few reasons.  Firstly, every other asshole with an opinion has already done so, so there isn't much left to say.  Secondly, I didn't care all that much; so some director (a talented one, I admit) finally got arrested for a thirty-year-old indiscretion.  Big deal.

Unfortunately, the shocking response of the so-called Hollywood elite has forced my hand.  As Paulo Freire (allegedly) said, "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."

I won't rehash any of the details, but to recap: in 1977 Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl champagne and quaalude (known as Mandrax in South Africa), then proceeded to anally rape her despite her begging him to stop.  Fearing arrest, Polanski fled authorities and has been on the run ever since, but was finally arrested recently in Switzerland.  Let me explain something to you, Polanski.  This business requires a certain amount of finesse.

This seems in order, right?  A child rapist is arrested and it appears justice is finally served.  Sadly, most of Hollywood doesn't see it that way.  Following Polanski's arrest, many of the big hitters have come out in support of Polanski.  What the fuck?  People like Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Ethan Coen, Harvey Weinstein and Jonathan Demme have signed a petition demanding his release, and other big names have vocally supported him.  Whoopi Goldberg has sparked a shitstorm by publicly claiming that it wasn't "rape-rape".  I see you like publicity, Ms. Goldberg.  Well, you're going to get it.

So how is it that otherwise intelligent and talented people (and Whoopi Goldberg) suddenly become psychotic?  Granted, Polanski is a respectable filmmaker.  'Course he's respectable.  He's old.  Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.

First of all there's the very valid point that the victim, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer, left) wants to avoid reliving those events to the point where she even stated that she doesn't want Polanski to be arrested.  I can understand her sentiment, and the controversy will doubtlessly stir up old wounds, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way.  If rapists were spared punishment to protect the dignity of the victim, the prisons would be empty and rape would be the world's number one pastime.  The Hollywood crusaders, however, don't seem to give two shits about the victim.

Some sympathetic folks say that, being a Holocaust survivor and having suffered his pregnant wife Sharon Tate being slaughtered by Charles Manson's followers, he's endured enough hardship in his life.  What can I tell you, kid? You're right. When you're right, you're right, and you're right.  I agree that his life has been filled with tragedy, which is something he should've thought about carefully before he raped a child.

The best arguments in defence of Polanski centre around alleged judicial abuse of the case.  Polanski claims that he had no idea she was thirteen at the time, and to have pleaded guilty as part of a deal that was then reneged upon, which was why he fled in the first place.  You may think you know what you're dealing with, but, believe me, you don't.  You see, these arguments are bullshit.  As the actual plea bargain transcript points out, he swore before a judge, under oath, that he knew she was only thirteen, and it was made clear to him that he may be sentenced to anything up to twenty years and that the plea bargain guarantees nothing.

The truth is that the Hollywood folks are rallying around Roman Polanski for no other reason than that he is "one of them."  He's rich! Do you understand? He thinks he can get away with anything.  Do you think that if a nobody like me raped a child, Harvey Weinstein would put my poster up on his wall?  Or that Whoopi Goldberg would march the streets in my defence, claiming the kid was asking for it?

Forget it, Jake.  It's Hollywood.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

My dream guitar

As you may know, I am an avid electric guitar player.  My current axe is an older model from the Ibanez GIO series.  Though it gets the job done, it is by no means perfect.  The perfect guitar, however, is exactly what this post is all about.

I set about designing my dream guitar with one simple, guiding philosophy in mind: as much control over the produced sound as possible without sacrificing quality of tone.  A working title for the design is the Transmitter (a really bad pun on Broadcaster).  Unlike many mutton-as-lamb "signature" models, The Transmitter has quite a few customizations.


There have been a couple of times in my life where I had the privilege of playing a Fender Telecaster.  Though I'm not as big a fan as some of the twangy tone produced by the Tele's slanted bridge pickup, I do believe that it is the most comfortable instrument I have ever played.  Its comfortable and attractive body, enduring design and rich history have made the Fender Telecaster my favourite guitar.

It is a touch on the heavy side, though, so I'd go with a lighter wood such as Ash, or maybe even an f-hole as found in the Telecaster Thinline as seen below:


In keeping with the philosophy of maximum control over sound, I should prefer a 24-fret neck.  Modern Telecasters have 22 frets, an increment to the 21-fret neck of classic Teles, but 24-fret variants do exist, such as the Bajo Sexto Baritone Tele.  However, taking into account the preference for a lighter body, this could result in an instrument which is unbalanced and neck-heavy, especially considering the longer 25.5" scale length Fender tends to use - and which I prefer for its tonal qualities and comfort for my larger hands.  With this in mind, I'm happy to compromise with 22 frets, seeing as that's what I'm playing right now anyway.  Fret size should be jumbo.

The neck radius should be 12" (stock Les Paul).  For additional control, all frets from the 17th upwards should be scalloped, similar to the Ibanez shown below (I believe it's a JEM series [As kindly pointed out by Matt08642 on Reddit, this is probably an RG1570]), which features scalloping from the 21st to the 24th fret:

As far as fretboard wood is concerned, you generally get two types of people: those who believe the choice of wood affects tone, and those who believe this to be an urban legend.  I fall in the former category, and would prefer a neck and fingerboard of maple for its (perceived) clarity, definition and control.


And thus we get to the real meat-and-potatoes of the design.  It should come as no surprise that the Transmitter will be electronics heavy, seeing as I am a techie, and recalling my mission with the guitar: total sonic control.

A major part of the setup will be the transplanted electronics from a Line 6 Variax guitar: a saddle-mounted piezoelectric pickup feeding a per-string signal to active electronics.  These electronics model the tone of 25 classic guitars, from a 1928 "Tricone" resonator, to a selection of classic and modern Stratocasters, Les Pauls, Dreadnoughts, and more.  Yes, that's right, it also models acoustic guitars.

Before you ask; yes, I do know of the Fender VG Stratocaster, but I'm a fan of Line 6 products and trust their impressive modelling capabilities.

The tone and volume pots from a Variax respond - I believe - appropriately to the guitar model being used, and so their presence in the Transmitter is crucial.  This means that the Transmitter will have two sets of pots: tone and volume for the Variax electronics, and tone and volume for the "proper" pickups.

The Transmitter will have a variation on the Fat Tele (or Tele HS) pickup configuration featuring a bridge humbucker and neck single-coil.  These will be used by the humbucker and "driver" pickups of a Fernandes Sustainer FSK401 kit.  The pickup configuration I have in mind is shown on the right (this Tele also features a Bigsby tremolo unit - classy!).

Originally I considered a Floyd Rose tremolo system - which wouldn't be impossible to use with the Variax electronics, as Ibanez have at least two models using a Floyd Rose with a piezo - but the amount of wood that will have to be removed from the body to fit the unit is just blasphemous.  Keep in mind that some space will already have to be made to fit all of the active electronics, and removing so much wood from the body will have a disastrous effect on tone.  In any event, even though a locking tremolo unit will give me more control over the sound, I'm not a whammy bar user in the least and will be more comfortable getting similar effects from a Digitech Whammy pedal.  A better option in almost every regard.

In total, the Transmitter will have six pots: the Variax tone and volume, the "normal" tone and volume (from the Fernandes kit), the Variax guitar model selector, and the Fernandes sustainer intensity pot.  In addition, two toggle switches:  one for the Fernandes pickups and a "modelling" one for the Variax piezo.  Throw in a killswitch, and I'm in woodshed heaven!  Sure, this is a very complicated interface, and it sure as hell ain't gonna be pretty, but I'm willing to live with that for the level of control it'll give me.


Finally, what some may consider to be the most important element of a guitar: its appearance.

I'm not a huge fan of the more outlandish guitar designs; the shape of your average BC Rich axe or the chrome finish on Satch's signature Ibanez are just too much for me.  Forgive the elitism, but I want my instrument to look like an actual musical instrument.  My first instinct was to go with a classy tobacco sunburst finish, but such a finish - evocative of a Stradivarius - suffers a jarring incongruity with the cutting edge technology on board the Transmitter.

Instead, being an admirer of Dave Gilmour's famous "Black Strat", I've opted for a modern but not obnoxious black finish featuring a black pickguard with white detail.  Identical to the Telecaster Custom below:

Well, that pretty much covers it, my dream guitar.  If any luthiers are reading this and want to build me a prototype, you'll get no complaints from me!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Miscarriage of Taste

This is easily the most fucked up thing I've read today:

I worked in a five star hotel once and a lady in the middle of the night had a miscarriage. She kept extending her stay saying she liked the room and didn't wish to swap. When she did check out the housekeepers found the fetus in the bed which was covered in blood. It appeared the poor lady was so distressed at losing the baby she was cuddling it for days on end.

And in the end, the hotel sold the mattress at an employee sale.

Found on this thread on Reddit.