Rating Movies

My youngest son and I watched “Godzilla” last night. As a movie, it was a fun experience, I guess – giant monsters! Destruction! Catchy one-liners! Woo! – but I struggled to watch the movie.

I struggled because there were things that just didn’t make sense, even in the context of the movie itself. There’s an … apex vegetarian. How does that work?

I think what we need is another way to measure movies. We already have the “thumbs up/thumbs down” method – Star Wars gets a thumbs up, Jurassic Park II gets a thumbs down – and we add to that by adding another thumb (“Siskel likes it, Ebert doesn’t”) or by going to a number of stars. (“Raiders of the Lost Ark gets four stars, Transformers gets negative two stars.”)

But that’s really an indicator of how fun the movie is to watch. Godzilla was fun to watch. If I was giving it stars, where you had zero stars to four stars, I’d probably give it at least a three. I’d really want ten stars to work with, where I’d probably give it seven stars. It was probably 63-ish percent fun to watch!

But I want another scale: a “suspension of disbelief” scale. It should measure how many times I have to decide to suspend disbelief as I watch a movie. Lower is better.

The thing is: this score should represent internal coherency. Godzilla is a show about giant monsters; Transformers is a terrible movie (and is also about giant sentient robots). You can’t enjoy those movies without suspending disbelief.

I’m okay with saying “look, I’m going to accept the premise of this movie as a whole, because I’m dropping cash on it and I don’t want to waste my ten bucks.”

Godzilla is a movie about giant monsters – I’m going to assume, for the sake of my ticket price, that they’re able to move without their hearts exploding or their bodies combusting from the heat generated by their own muscles, and I’m going to assume they can move all of that body mass fast enough to see them moving.

At the very least, I’m going to try, because otherwise my brain will reject every scene in which the main attractions appear. Every scene would be a giant “… nope,” even though logically and realistically every scene should be a giant “nope.”

But … even given the suspension of disbelief required to accept giant monsters, things have to make sense. Godzilla’s a giant walking… lizard-thing. He can’t fly. There are no wings, and there is no supposition of magic in the movie.

So if Godzilla suddenly leaps in the air and all the dumb humans within visual range shriek, “Er! Ma! Gerd! He can FLY!” then… there’s a break with internal consistency.

(For the record: Godzilla does not fly in this movie.)

Movies that break with their own internal consistency get higher “suspension” scores. Higher numbers are bad.

I don’t know how to measure the numbers yet; if I was rating Godzilla, I’d give it seven stars and a nine on the suspension scale. Fun to watch, but broke its own logical sense many, many, many times.

For the record, a preview actually got a higher suspension scale: the Hobbs and Shaw trailer has a clip where … someone, either Hobbs or Shaw, I presume, is holding on to a utility vehicle, a truck of some kind, and also a chain connected to a helicopter, dragging the helicopter down. I’m sorry, but … no. Never. Maybe if he was a superhero in a Marvel movie, but… I don’t recall the Fast and Furious series doing that sort of thing.

That preview was an example of the suspension scale going off the charts. As a preview, it’s hard to gauge how fun to watch the movie might be, but the high suspension score works against it.

What do you think?

Doug Wyatt Guitars, from a few years ago

A while back, on a trip to Gatlinburg with my family, I came across a music shop called “Doug Wyatt Guitars.” As an avid guitarist who can’t, like, JUST PASS A GUITAR STORE BY LIKE MY WIFE WANTED ME TO, I stopped in – and was rewarded greatly.

For lo, not only was yon proprietor an actual luthier – yes, he makes guitars – but he had a collection of synthesizers just … not just on the wall, but EVERYWHERE. Stacked on top of each other. Synths I’d played and wanted back in the day, sure, but also synths I’d heard of… and here they were, in the flesh, either being restored or in working condition.

Doug and I talked for a while, and it turns out we shared musical tastes in a lot of ways. He was awesome – and apparently thought enough of me to let me play around with some of the gear, including some really expensive stuff that was way out of my league. Here’re some photos!

Doug Wyatt, showing his mad Rush cred
What madness is all THIS?
Note the WORKING Odyssey….
I don’t even know what some of these ARE!
Not enough room to actually mount all the history…

Flit, Trump’s Address on 19 Jan, Elite: Dangerous

Things that are crossing my path lately:

  • Flit, in context of “Python Packages and You.” Python packaging is not a strength of mine.
  • I hate to say it, but the Democrats’ rejection of Trump’s offer to open negotiations about the government now look kinda stupid, based on their oppositions. They’re saying that a three year suspension of some of the deportations and other such hot-button issues … basically, getting the things they wanted was not enough. They’re idiots. Sure, he is one, too… but the whole three year delay for the application of law gives Congress three years to fix the law, which is what Trump said they should do when he said he was going to resume deportations in the first place! In other words, from me to them: Congress, do your flippin’ jobs. If Congress wasn’t relying on executive power to do what Congress was meant to do, a lot of this mess would have gone away, but they keep digging in their heels and saying “no.”
  • The worst thing about Elite: Dangerous is how long it takes to get into a gaming session. The best thing about Elite:Dangerous is “pretty much everything else.”
  • I just realized I can select a region in WordPress’ editor, and then paste a URL – and the region is converted to an HTTP anchor automagically. Now that is useful.
  • Few things are both more and less amusing than watching someone stomp about, screaming “I am not a prima donna!”

Art, JDBC, coffee, JSoup, Gradle, Hallelujah, Resetting

Things I may have learned recently-ish:

  • Painting pottery is fun. I’m not very good at it. I apparently also have a thing for beer steins… out of which I drink coffee, because beer isn’t very good in my opinion. But steins are also a LOT of coffee, so it’s impractical to drink coffee from steins.
  • Speaking of coffee, I’m sticking to black coffee straight up because of my diet/exercise regimen. I’m normally a sweet coffee kind of guy… this drinking of only bitter coffee is “interesting,” but not in the “most interesting man in the world” kind of way. Still trying to stick to it.
  • Virtuoso‘s JDBC driver is not especially reliable. And I really wish I’d kept a “total time elapsed” for this entire process. I didn’t even keep a “real time elapsed” – but I’m predicting it takes days.
  • I may have found a bug in JSoup. There’s a method that gets the representative text of a parent HTML node, and it’s removing one space character where I don’t think it’s supposed to. Will investigate further.
  • Had a discussion yesterday – well, sort of a discussion – with a programmer who was arguing against Kotlin, saying that it didn’t really do anything Java didn’t do. That’s a particularly reductionist argument; after all, Java doesn’t do anything C doesn’t do (Java is written in C when you go deep enough) and C doesn’t do anything machine code doesn’t do. Why doesn’t he just use machine code? (Or he could use Kotlin, which is remarkably expressive and saves a ton of time.) Of course, he also was arguing that non-nullable types were a waste of time – and how great Python was, so maybe his priorities were skewed way differently than mine.
  • Two friends may have finally seen an end to their job hunts, which is a good thing if true.
  • Gradle is nice, but I still prefer Maven for most things. Yesterday I considered getting module interdependencies working as a “milestone.” That’s a crappy milestone to have. This stuff should just work.
  • Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – particularly the original release – is a great song. As a Christmas song, I’m not … sold (what the heck?) but as a song about perfect expressions from an imperfect source… the song’s recording even echoes its own form, in an awesome fractal. He’s pitchy, off the beat, all kinds of things… and yet I dare anyone listening to it to not be thinking “… Hallelujah!” in a sympathetic echo in their souls.
  • I first heard “Hallelujah,” as far as I know, on American Idol.
  • I altered a core setting (the audio in/output mix) on my A/D device (which I use to record audio) a week or so ago – and yesterday, when I went to use it, couldn’t get any sound out of it. Memo to self: when you change things, set them back! I’m usually a lot better about this, and don’t know why I got it wrong – maybe someone interrupted me so I didn’t fix the hardware before getting up? I don’t know.

JNDI

Things I have learned recently:

  • People still don’t really get JNDI, and the Java frameworks around today make it easy to ignore, even though it’s still a core technology. It’s not difficult to see how it can be confusing: context in JNDI is everything, and context makes it a challenge to create examples that make sense in the general case.
  • At some point I’d like to learn Go.
  • Not something I’ve learned, but something I’ve been reflecting on this morning because … uh… I have no idea why: I wonder if Adidas shoes are any good, or what they’re good for. I tend to wear Vans Ultrarange shoes these days because they’re light, comfortable, and last forever – I have two working pairs, one for working in the yard and one for wearing – but… Adidas.
  • I really wish officials and announcers wouldn’t show bias during football games. As an FSU guy, I’m really, really, really tired of this – but I’ve been watching other teams’ bowl games (because FSU didn’t go bowling this year, first time in 40+ years) and it happens for them, too, often egregiously. The announcers I don’t care as much about, but the referees… those guys need to be fair, for real. The fact that there’s no urgency in making sure they’re fair is incredibly frustrating and erodes the game. n one game, a team had two defenders ejected for targeting… and the other team had an obvious false start missed, and a few targeting possibilities ignored by the guys in stripes. Let’s just say nope to all that. There needs to be a way for the league to tell these refs what they’re missing, and to either call it fairly or get out. It’s gotten really bad over the last few years, with FSU losing multiple games due to bad or missed calls.

Consistency, Aquaman

Things I think I’ve learned today:

  • Aquaman was a fun movie to watch with my youngest. This surprised me. DC is trying to be more fun and failing but at least they’re trying… and it’s a better movie than we’ve had overall. The Chris Nolan Batman movies were great, Wonder Woman was good, the other DCEU movies have been kinda downers.
  • Consistency is hard. I keep forgetting to write these up. I start them in the morning and then get surprisd the NEXT morning when I haven’t published them yet. I’m not sure what the ideal pattern is, but I’m fairly certain this isn’t it yet.
  • It’s good to have my oldest son back home with us for a few days. He’s in and out – he actually has to travel back to the coast for work for two days – but he’ll be back again soon.
  • Kittens have tons of energy. Who knew?
  • I don’t care for Rotosound bass strings much. When you first put them on, they’re bright and quite good… but they wear out too fast. For me to keep them sounding good I’d have to replace them every few days, assuming I was trying to be gentle with them; even playing with “proper technique” (i.e., not driving the strings hard) they dull down fairly quickly with tension. Also: the strings are harsh on my fingers! I prefer Ernie Balls or D’Addario bass strings, I think. (I tried the Rotosounds because they’re what Geddy Lee used; I think his string budget is a little larger than mine. They sound great, but they’re too much work to keep on the bass, and the harshness on my fingers is irritating.)
  • Merry Christmas, everybody!

Managing Social Capital

There are a lot of authors who talk about managing social capital, especially in terms of relationships… but from what I can see, most people fail to apply the rules of social capital beyond personal relationships, even if they’re wise enough to manage how they interact with their significant others.

It also turns out that I and a friend of mine actually worked out a form of social capital back when we were ne’er-do-wells in an office together, and it occurred to me that our description of social capital was actually a pretty apt way of seeing it, even though it was really more of a joke at the time.

First off, what is social capital? From a paper on social capital from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

Lyda Hanifan referred to social capital as “those tangible assets [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit”.

In other words, when you give something to someone else, you build up your social capital with that person. Likewise, when you take something from someone else, you lose capital with that person.

The more that you contribute, or give, to them, the more likely they are to contribute or give to you. Likewise, the more that you exhaust your social capital, the less likely they are to respond positively to you.

Willard Harley describes it in terms of a “love bank,” mostly because he was describing relationships: when you do something your significant other likes or wants, you “deposit” into your balance, and when you do something your partner does not like, you debit your balance… and when it reaches zero, you might lose your partner.

That’s all well and good, I suppose, and I find the metaphor pretty accurate. But I’d like to present mine, nonetheless, because mine includes the idea of severity.

The way I see it, you have different grades of contribution. You can do something that builds your social capital a lot, or you can do something that detracts from it a little.

And because I came up with this idea when I was generally going without something to eat, I thought of it in terms of food.

First off, let’s think of the positive aspect. There are three denominations of points: brownie points, pie points, and cake points.

A brownie point is a small thing. Hold the door open for someone to walk through? Well, that’s a nice thing, but it’s small… you can probably consider yourself to have earned a brownie point with that person, unless they’re crazy-stupid with some oddball political philosophy that sees you holding the door as some kind of power play over women or men or … whatever.

(Social capital, like most other things, still involves the eye of the beholder.)

But … what if it’s raining, and the person is holding grocery bags, and you go out of your way to open the door, possibly even — gasp! — inconveniencing yourself to do so? Surely that transcends mere brownie points!

And it probably does. I’d think this was worth ten brownie points, but that’s a lot of brownies to carry around — let’s call it the next denomination up, the “pie point.”

So ten brownie points is one pie point, so far. But imagine there’s another level up from the pie points; if you earn a lot of brownie points, well, that adds up to a lot of pie points; that’s still unwieldy, so let’s say that ten pie points adds up to something even more magical, something used only in representation form, like the $1000 bill — the “cake point.”

Earning a cake point sounds pretty tough, and it probably is. Most people who have cake points have done so by earning one brownie point at a time, like filling a bucket using dewdrops.

One might earn a cake point with your kids, for example, by surprising them with a new iPhone, perhaps, or with tickets to that show they didn’t think were available any more, but these are very rare events and, truthfully, probably aren’t actually cake points; they’re more likely to be two or three pie points. (After all, gratitude is fleeting; “Sure, you got me an iPhone, but then you took me to McDonald’s, and that counters that stupid toy!”)

Now… the negatives. What’s the opposite of a brownie point? You can’t just say “I’m taking away a brownie point,” because that implies that there are brownie points to take away, and one assumes neutrality before anything else. So negatives work the same way as positives, just with different things… and in my case, they’re actually not very representative, but they’re the best I could come up with in my misspent youth.

They are, in order: okra points! Onion points! And worst of all… Brussels Sprouts points!

Now, please recognize: I’m a child of the South. Truth is, I love okra done properly, and since I’m in the Southern United States, it’s easy to find okra done well. Likewise, if I’m grilling a hot dog, you can bet your pie points that I’m slappin’ some onions on that puppy, so to speak. And while finding Brussels sprouts done well is a bit harder than finding good okra, well, that can be done, too.

But the analogies still hold up pretty well: an okra point is generally perceived as a mild offense. Forget to hold the door for the lady who was seven steps behind you? Well, okay, in today’s feminist world, that’s a very minor offense indeed, but chances are you did just earn yourself an okra point — which counters one of your brownie points, if you have any.

Watch as the door closes on the poor lady holding a wet grocery bag in the rain? You cad! You probably just earned a slather of okra points for yourself… maybe even an onion point.

And… ghosting that girl who you decided you really didn’t care for all that much after all? (Why did she have to be a Patriots fan?) … I’m sorry, but it really doesn’t matter what your reasons might be: you probably did just earn yourself a Brussels sprout.

(Sad truth: it’s a lot easier to earn onion points than pie points, and it’s also far easier to earn a Brussels sprout than it is to earn a cake. BTW, Suze, I am sorry.)

So how does this apply? It’s really a fairly comical way to think about how you interact with people. When you ask a question that serves yourself, well, you’re really asking something from someone else: they get a brownie point for answering, you get an okra point for infringing. You want few negative points and as many positive points as you can manage to earn.

(It’s safe to assume you actually don’t start off with a neutral balance: you probably start off with five brownie points that you either increase or negate immediately.)

But if you want to be consistently liked, answered, interacted with… it’s worth thinking about how your social capital is actually being managed (and what horks off the people with whom you talk) — keep track of your okra, your pies, your onions — if only to keep yourself on track so that the people around you keep wanting to give you what you want and need.

(Reposted from Medium because I don’t have the ability to keep track of every freaking social platform out there.)

What are your bellwethers?

What things about someone would serve as simple signals as to whether you could empathize with them? What would your bellwethers be?

A “bellwether” is a leading or primary indicator of something.

It came up in conversation about the Lord of the Rings; I have friends for whom LoTR isn’t a pinnacle of fantasy.

What of it? To me, LoTR isn’t a bellwether – it’s just a series that I highly enjoyed (and continue to enjoy); the fact that I have friends who don’t like the series clearly says that liking LoTR is not a bellwether for me.

The only book that I can think of that would serve as a bellwether is To Kill a Mockingbird. I think if someone actively disliked TKaM, I’d question what it was about them that made me claim them as friends (I don’t think I’d say they weren’t friends, but I’d wonder what was wrong with them.)

That’s not to say that it would bother me if they didn’t think it was the greatest American book; it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t even bother me if they didn’t like the book – the bellwether would be a sort of dull rage against the book. Someone who actively disliked it… that would be someone with whom I’d question my ability to empathize. There’d be some resonance in their souls that I’d struggle to understand.

But… that’s it. Not the Bible, not Night, not Neuromancer, not Ender’s Game, not Alas, Babylon, not Lucifer’s Hammer; all good books, all books I have on my bookshelf in high regard… but if someone doesn’t like them, I shrug my shoulders and move on.

Each one of them has distinct value, in my opinion, but if they don’t resonate with a particular person, so what? It’s their preferences, compared to mine. No big deal.

I wonder, though: what would you say would be your bellwethers? What about someone would turn you off, for real? (If you can come up with a large list – discounting obvious things like “advocating rape” or whatever – well, maybe that’s a bellwether for me. A large list of reasons to be unable to empathize with someone says something fundamental about the holder of such a list.)

“I wish that I could live it all again…” – Rush concert!

Last week, my two oldest sons and I went to catch Rush in Greensboro, NC. It was a great show, and I wish that I could see more of them – both in terms of their careers and in terms of, well, this exact tour. If you’re a fan of Rush, get to this tour – they’re not likely to have any more tours after this one, if they do much at all.

There’s no album for this tour – it’s just a cruise for them, because the band’s 40th anniversary has passed and they’re celebrating it with their fans. Neil Peart’s shoulders are apparently showing some wear, so they’re saying this might be their swan song.

But if you had to have a swan song for a band, this would be the way to go out! The last few tours have been a struggle, because of set selection (to please fans who feel that certain parts of the catalog have been underplayed) and because of wear and tear on the band members themselves (Peart’s shoulders, and Geddy Lee’s voice, which has been audibly worn during the tours.)

This concert, though, saw the band in rare form. I felt fortunate that my sons were there with me.

The set was awesome. They opened with a minimized version of the Clockwork Angels stage (steampunk theme and equipment, although no string section) and played a set of killer Clockwork Angels songs. Then they started working backwards, including “Far Cry” from Snakes and Arrows, “How It Is,” off of Vapor Trails, which I’ve never heard live.

It was beautiful.

As the set progressed, the stage was deformed – amps were removed, or dressed differently (Geddy Lee’s Clockwork Angels amps were slowly reconfigured to be clothes dryers as stage placeholder, as he used for a few years.)

The first set was really, really well done, with my personal highlight being Grace Under Pressure’s “Between the Wheels.” “Subdivisions” was also very very well done, and watching Peart kill his drum kit was… memorable, as always.

The second set, though… that’s when everything got REAL. They opened with “Tom Sawyer,” cranking everything past eleven and up to twelve-and-a-half, and never really turned down from there.

Neil Peart used a new drum kit for the second half, a throwback kit based on the drums he played before 1981 or so. Instead of a wall of eight hundred drums, he was down to a wall of forty drums… plus bells… plus crotales.

Alex Lifeson struggled finding the key for some of “The Camera Eye,” which was a little surprising and not-surprising, but did that take away from the awe and glory of seeing it played live and in person? Not at all, because these guys are so professional that they covered for each other and picked everything up as they went.

Then they hit “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Look, I love the song – the original studio performance is beautiful, the version on Exit: Stage Left is one of my favorite songs to hear ever.

But to see it live? After 35 years of knowing it’s not been played at all?

That was just beyond everything. Incredible. Light show, performance, pacing… everything was awesome. I mentioned earlier that I was glad that I could be there with my kids… and this was the moment when that was solidified for me.

Then they played Cygnus X-1. And Xanadu. With the doublenecks… plural. Geddy Lee hasn’t played his doubleneck on stage in decades, but it is on tour now.

The show ended on a similar high note, with the band playing with amps mounted on chairs (and a backdrop of a school gym, just like when they started). Incredible stuff, well-played. Enjoyed. Fantastic.

The show was great… and I really wish that I could attend the same show multiple times, because the awe and glory of the show were so cool that it’s all fading for me, honestly – I remember bits, but what I really want to do is re-experience those moments, over and over again.