Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rock bands and startups: A Field Guide

Rock and roll, as it was once known, mutates and reinvents itself and reboots itself and fights day after day to keep up with a changing world. Just like small businesses, or as they're known these days, startups.
What kind of people go into a winning combo? Let's take a look:

Lead Singer/CEO


Talks louder than anyone in the room. Reads and plays your emotions better than anyone in the room. Doesn't always make sense, but everyone loves her/him anyway.

Guitarist/Developer


Builds the sound and vision by hand with almost supernatural skill and smarts. Is usually a douchebag.
(A lead singer is an asshole, which is different. A douchebag will snipe, spill sarcasm and undercut your dignity and confidence; an asshole will beat you up if you cross her/him, but have a beer with you later. Who would you rather hang out with?)

Bassist/DevOps


Nobody really pays attention to her/him, but you know what? Nothing gets done without her.

Drummer/Manager


Her or his big racket holds the whole ridiculous enterprise together. Ignore her or him at your own peril.

Keyboardist, DJ/Designer


What the fuck is s/he even doing? Search me, but s/he really ties the operation together.

Everyone has a job to do here. Sometimes you get a one man band,

or a guy who can do a whole lot of things well,

but those stars are rare. A great team is always a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What do "Dr. Strangelove" and "Reservoir Dogs" have in common? A lot!

(caution: Spoilers for both movies ahead! Watch the two movies for a double feature or separately, then you can read the below. NO spoilers for "The Great Dictator")
This fateful Election Day Eve, I watched Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb)" back to back. I had never seen the first, but I had seen the latter many times. You always hear about Charlie Chaplin being the greatest performer of comic cinema history - he's one of those performers you hear that about until you're sick of hearing it. Yet watching him literally float across the screen, you get what all the hype was about. Much like Stanley Kubrick's directing.
Now that the axe has fallen (on democracy's neck), I was thinking what would be a great pairing with "Dr. Strangelove" and for some reason I came up with "Reservoir Dogs". What do they have in common?
(Did I mention there are spoilers here? There are spoilers.)
Both feature an apocalyptic calamity brought on by a few reckless, violent and insane alpha men. One calamity is global, the other personal, but the scenarios follow a similar path. And there are parallels here with the characters, too:

The Architect Of War


General Turgidson / Joe

The boss. It's his war. He plots the strategy and directs his troops to battle, strangely gathering bravery from the notion that he's not going to be on the front lines. This being the movies, that doesn't save him...either of them.

...and his Enforcer


President Muffley / Nice Guy Eddie

President Muffley (Peter Sellars) makes a big noise about Turgidson's shocking disregard for human life, if only because he doesn't want to be seen as "the greatest mass murderer in history". But he acts reactively to Turgidson's demands and the situation of the rogue nuclear attack - Turgidson's wishes become his orders. At least Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), for his bluster and awful wardrobe, doesn't forget to admit "Daddy" is the boss. President Muffley doesn't go there, but it's clear - it's Muffley's War Room, but it's Turgidson's war.

...and his Ruthless But Loyal Executioner


Major Kong / Mr. White

They ARE the front line. Skilled, efficient, stone hearted killers. Still, they got nothin' but love their team: King Kong (Slim Pickens) loves his crew on the doomed bomber, and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) loves his posse, especially Mr. Orange. Yes, he fights with everyone, but he makes up, at least long enough to torture the unfortunate Officer Nash. Or at least until with Joe (Lawrence Harvey), he can't.

So with this posse, what could possibly go wrong?! Enter...

The Agent Of Chaos


General Ripper / Mr. Blonde

Pissed off, crazy outlaws with nothing to live for or lose. Balls over brains. And they're in exactly the wrong place at the right time. General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) defies the US government, sealing off his base from the outside world and launching a nuclear attack on Russia on his own, all over fear of "commies" and a vague threat to his "precious bodily fluids". Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) upends the diamond wholesalers' heist by shooting unarmed employees, and kidnaps a cop so he can torture him to death, basically because "they set off the alarm". But they both really did it because they can. And everything goes right to hell.

The Two Faced Liar


Ambassador de Sadesky / Mr. Orange

When is being a two faced rat a good thing? It isn't, so you try to find truth in your loyalty inside. Ambassador de Sadesky (Pete Bull) is just a proud Russian patriot, and Officer Noondyke (Tim Roth) is just a cop handling a real bad situation.

The Failed Voice Of Reason


Captain Mandrake / Mr. Pink
They tried to warn them. Captain Mandrake spends his screen time trying to reason with General Ripper, and then with Sergeant Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn); Mr. Pink fights (literally) to keep Mr. White on the game plan, plaintively bellowing "We're supposed to be professionals!!!" But if you think herding cats is hard, try herding unhinged killers having a bad day.

He Who Stands To Gain From This


Dr. Strangelove / Whoever would buy stolen diamonds from these guys

Seriously, who the fuck would do that? Even the Agents Of Chaos aren't that nuts.

You get two career choices

There has been a lot of hysteria - some of which I feel is founded just fine - about AI. I consider it an unholy** trinity of robotics, AI and the Internet Of Things which combined, will take away your job. Yes, yours too. And when half to as much as 80% of the WORLD is out of work, that can cause problems. Like, you know, HOMES for everyone.

SO what job should you, young reader, pursue?

Basically, there will be two -
  • STEMM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math AND Medicine) and
  • Creative (Ranges from the entertainment industry to art to fine cuisine to graphic design to multimedia production).
Why do we still need that last one? Why should you pursue that last one, which I guarantee will not be as lucrative as the first?!
STEMM is about the power of your mind. Creative is about the power of your heart and soul**.
STEMM takes the value and meaning out of your life. Creative puts it back.
STEMM will enforce the rules and status quo. Creative breaks them.

Do you like drawing, playing music, writing fiction or doing stuff in front of an audience more than hacking, algorithms and gadgets? Then sorry, the STEMM money may be tempting but you should really be doing Creative.

There's good news: when clients don't pay, you can get money in crowdsourcing. You can get it for a project or even a monthly salary.
And there is a gray area, to be fair. Both have one similarity: ABI - Always. Be. Inventing. The ability to think inventively will be the one skill to be reckoned with (and paid handsomely) from now on.
Product Designers. Creative technologists. People who engineer and hack creative software. Theatrical, film and video technicians. These are just some people who dance in the demilitarized zone between STEMM and Creative. You may be brilliant enough to find a gray area yourself. Make your own career!

** As an atheist, I have to use words like these for their psychological value. We can define "unholy" as "Against the common good and human standards of decency", and "soul" as "A sentient creature's need to feel emotions and achieve self-actualization".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Webcomics! A definitive source of whatever interests me

For anyone confused about the world of webcomics, they're basically graphic novels served in the short periodic slices we associate with the "Sunday funnies" of yore.
Are they funny? Sometimes. Are they weird like graphic novels? Sometimes. It all depends on the artist/writers, who are usually the same person - calling these a labor of love is an understatement, although a lucky few have found the fanhood and marketing skills to make a living doing this.
For me, this is the best storytelling out there. Like TV, these young artists and writers have taken complete command of their artistic vision, and saying the results are wonderful is an understatement. For those of you who already knew that, on to the links!

Again, this is not a definitive list. A beautiful thing about the webcomics community is all the pages below have links to many, many more titles. And guest artist cameos are the norm, where artists will fill in during the regular authors' vacation and riff on the story.

Dresden Codak:
"Hob" and "Dark Science" are the two novels, basically, that constitute this absolutely stunning sci-fi brain teaser involving a girl's personal inner journey and transformation into a cyborg. What she is looking for and finds along the way is oblique, painfully cerebral to read and frightening and stunning to watch, especially given artist Aaron Diaz' recent Art Deco fetish. Read on a big monitor if you can for maximum impact.
And don't forget to check out his artist's Tumblr!

Templar, AZ:
A fascinatingly dystopian look into the heart of a shy but brilliant young man trying to integrate into the brutally primitive culture of a desert city (hence the title). The art is stark yet full of thick detail and the writing is purple noir with lots of surprises.

Given webcomics are almost exclusively a young audience, many of the stories center around the young hip culture: young people fucking, talking at length about fucking, relationship drama, fucking, trying to survive after college and get work, fucking, epic partying and heartbreak, fucking, fart jokes and journeys of self discovery. And fucking. A sampling of some that aren't awful:

Questionable Content:
Yes, this is the one Wil Wheaton gave props to by using Jeph Jacques' caricature of him as his Twitter avatar. And it's set in Five Colleges area of Massachusetts, still the favorite of all the places I've ever lived in.

Girls With Slingshots

Go Get a Roomie!

Menage a 3


Girl Genius
(No archive, just click on the arrow buttons to start on page one or the dropdown list of chapters - there's a LOT!)
Heard of steampunk? Like brilliant, brave and HOT female leads and heroes? Enough said. Dig in, there's plenty from the authors of "XXXenophile" (shut up, you know you loved that comic too). And don't miss the plentiful extras on the site!

Flaky Pastry
This may seem to be your more standard "Sunday funnies" with a cast of goblins, elves and other mystical creatures making their way in a hip downtown Canadian city, except the sexual appetites of the leads on display here would have given any newspaper editor a heart attack. Cute, whimsical and immensely Canadian in it's droll humor and unabashed nerdiness.

Scenes From A Multiverse
From the author of the brilliant "Goats" comes a freeform series of blackout sketches involving mayhem, incredible creatures and awful people from all over not just this universe, but a whole bunch of others.

Bad Machinery
(or click Cases)
This one started as "Scary Go Round", a British parlor mystery on really good acid, and has evolved into a supernatural themed variation with a school aged cast. Constantly inventive, witty and fun!

Gunnerkrigg Court
Don't write this off as a "Harry Potter" rip - this goes into mystical, sci-fi and even horror zones that are uniquely it's own. Anyway, moving past school age stuff...

More ladies who are upfront about their political, sexual and personal passions. And draw comics:
Slowpoke
Kate or Die!

Overcompensating
I don't understand it either. But I love it.

And last (for now) and never least...

The Non-Adventures of Wonderella
Aw, bitches!!

If I forgot some, did I mention to follow lots of links?!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Movies of 2013: a roundup

OK, here's where I always do the Best/Worst of 2013, but as it turns out, I didn't see the best or worst. In fact, I only went to the movies a bakers' dozen times, which is unheard of for me. Frankly, it's been that kind of year...even the Oscar rush quality blitz of recent days has been kind of lackluster. And I haven't seen one nominee. Yes, old and out of touch.
So before I go back to watching TV (or worse, playing video games) here's the roundup:

THE AWESOME ONES
The Canyons
Inside Llewlyn Davis
The Counselor
Holy Motors
38 Witnesses
World's End
Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing
Adieu Berthe
THE LESS AWESOME ONES
World War Z
Stoker
Prisoners
Tango Libre
Dario Argento's Dracula
THE NOT AWESOME ONES
The Raven
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Haute Cuisine

So if you missed any of these, well, don't worry. They'll be up on Netflix or your favorite stream service soon, or maybe on some channel you can TiVo and never watch.

Monday, October 21, 2013

We are Generation X, and we still suck.

Hi, I'm from Generation X. Remember us? Basically if you're mid 30s to around 50 (in 2013), you're one of us. That's right, Generation X just turned 50. Think about that for a second.
It's no surprise there was no celebration.
We were quite the rage for a while, after which we learned the hardest fact of life in a new millennium: no one gives a shit for very long about anything. And the irony is, that is entirely our fault. In fact, most of the horrors we are facing right now in the world are pretty much the result of our incompetency, indifference, lack of drive and lack of common sense. If we didn't do it, we were helpless to preventing it from happening.
America as a super power, for example. Europe is a little sister to us, loving but kind of embarrassed at their big dumb brother who doesn't even get why he can't hold a job (or a girlfriend). They are host to a number of former failed super powers - Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany and Russia - so it makes sense they'd be kind, as we are about to join that club. South Asia has crushed us with their work ethic and devotion to education, while we continue to play mall cop to the planet. Anyone feel they'll be as benevolent in victory? Me neither.
The internet is another example (ahem) and something we claim credit for. Bullshit.
The internet can be traced back almost to the "Greatest Generation" (Generation G?!), specifically 1968, when the military created Arpanet as a post-apocalyptic means to communicate. And it was released for public use by order of ultimate Generation G icon George Herbert Walker Bush! And then it was developed from a secret network to Net 0.1 by the nerdiest Baby Boom minds, led by Generation B geniuses such as Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. (Al Gore was strangely absent. Good thing he decided to concentrate on environmental science instead!)
What did we contribute? Essentially we loaded it with porn, penny stock traders, stolen goods on eBay and Bit Torrent, ads for insurance, video game shoot 'em ups, and videos of pets doing tricks. And bugs like Stuxnet, which will do more to bring a real apocalypse than any zombie plague ever will. And more porn.
It was inevitable we'd screw things up. We were the first generation to come of age with a pass to slack off. So that was our name, the "slackers" - living in spare family rooms, watching TV and getting loaded. Because we came of age at a time when we had, as a nation, a wealth that will probably never be equalled in the world again. And like any good rich boy or girl, we mismanaged it. Our subsequent Gen-X leaders in government and finance and business, our best and brightest, crashed that ship and burned it and it's now a ruin on the bottom of the ocean, and we don't know how to build another one. But damn if we can't build a thousand apps to help you score with chicks.
So clearly, we are not coping with middle age and going gray well, because we wasted our prime utterly and completely. I am particularly sensitive to this as a single man, because once upon a time, men in their 40s were prized for our awareness of ourselves and what women need from their man. That's exactly not the case anymore, as any woman who seeks love online will tell you right off. Goodbye "Mad Men", hello cock selfies.
We like to say "60 is the new 40" and "You're as young as you feel", as if to reassure ourselves that we can still put together a 10th inning upset and accomplish something our millennial successors won't hate us for. The 1968 Mets would be amazed at a upset like that. (And if you get that reference, you're probably Gen-B.)
There are some who are bringing the world back to normal, and making an effort to make it better as if such a thing was possible. And once again, as it should be, it's the young people. Y and Millenial have brought us Occupy, Ted.com, a Mobile internet, 3D printing in your home, Maker Faires in every town, HD video production tools in every home, and the Criterion movie library streaming on demand. They're saying no to cars and fast food, having sex without marriage and kids (like, a lot) and demanding substantial changes to the way we think about our jobs and homes and bodies.
OK, we created the Criterion library in the first place. (Oh, how we love TV.) So maybe we don't completely suck. Besides, they brought us hipsters, twerking and Justin Bieber, so maybe they will screw up too.
Or maybe we'll have to settle for being #1 at that.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What I've learned about our addiction to oil.

My latest class at edx.org which I've discussed here* is on Energy, and I'm happy to say it's going swimmingly. And may I say there is nothing like studying the facts, statistics and science of energy to make one go green as a tree. Here's something I learned today:

The USA and Saudi Arabia produce almost the same amount of oil.

Go ahead, let that sink in.
The USA produces 11,133,000+ barrels a day. Saudi Arabia leads us by 11,545,x?x barrels. A difference of 412,000+ barrels, or 94,000 more that Russia uses.
So gee, we should be doing awesome with our oil, right? But we're not. Why not?
We consume 18,554,0?0 barrels a day. That's more than ALL of Africa, South America and Australia. That's more than #2, #3 and #4 (Turkmenistan, Turkey and Syria) COMBINED. (15,700,000+)
Need more perspective? China consumes 7,000 barrels.
Seven. Thousand. Well, ever notice instead of traffic jams, they have roads packed with bicyclists? They need that oil to make your cheap plastic junk.
And how much did Saudi Arabia consume yesterday?
136,890 barrels.
Coming in clearer now? Good. And where, I bet you're wondering, is that difference in oil going? If you guessed gasoline, you get a cookie.
8,740,000+ barrels are refined into gas; 3,850,000 into diesel; a meager 1,430,000 into jet fuel. Significantly more than half of ALL the oil we consume - specifically, the is just for getting around. 2,700,000+ barrels are used to make plastics. A paltry 670,000+ barrels are used for heating our homes.
So what do we do? Walk to the mall? Buy electric cars? Demand the gas cars we can afford get much higher mileage than they do now?
How about all of the above? We don't need to do what the above countries have done to reduce driving - like, say, forbidding women to drive - when we have these tools at our disposal. Sure, we can also fly less, demand products that aren't throwaway plastic items, and solar panel our roofs. These are included in the "all of the above" policy.
As for me, I'm sure glad I took that other class, in bicycle maintenance.


*The SaaS class didn't do so hot. That's OK, I did better learning Ruby On Rails and Agile Management through lynda.com, StackOverflow and Youtube. Maybe I had a poor attitude? :D


Read all the facts here:
http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=50&pid=53&aid=1