Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Tale of 2 Snakes

I am a huge Metal Gear fan. The first mature game I ever played was Metal Gear Solid. Up until that point my video game world had been engulfed in Sonic II, Earthworm Jim, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Tekken and a myriad of other E for Everyone or T for Teen games. So when I finally got my grubby little hands on MGS at the ripe old age of 12, I was blown away. The gameplay. The integration of a deep story. Breaking the fourth wall. All this was so new to me. And for the first time I was introduced to a creator of a game; a one Hideo Kojima. To this day no other game fills me with such joy when I replay it as Metal Gear Solid does. It’s not even my favorite in the series any more. I find Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots far superior, but there’s something about Solid that draws me in every time. It’s because of MGS that Solid Snake is my all time favorite videogame hero. He’s stoic, brave, runs into the face of danger without hesitation. Plus, his story is so interesting, well at times intricate bordering on convoluted, but I still dig it. However, while recently playing through the Metal Gear Solid HD remake, I started to wonder who has the more interesting story arc, Solid Snake or Big Boss. The only answer I could conclude was Big Boss!
A meeting of Old Snakes
I’ll start where it began for me, with Solid Snake. Snake has had some significant development throughout his carrier. He went from being a rookie who needed significant guidance for his first mission, to being a man of little questions. His growth was paramount to his success over his carrier. His experiences hardened him, even to those who would come to love him. In Metal Gear, even though Snake is green, he is constantly questions what he is told, making decisions for himself that would plant the seeds of independence and ingenuity. He takes in the information he receives, and analyzes it critically. When Big Boss reveals himself to be a traitor, Snake takes it in stride. On the changing battlefield, Snake is not caught unprepared. He adapts, taking Big Boss out, ruining all of Boss’s plans and destroying a nuclear equipped mobile tank. It is his forward thinking that allows him to deal with the betrayal without too much physical or emotional stress. 

On his second mission, when his former ally Grey Fox ended up fighting for the other side, Snake does what he has to. His respect of Grey Fox never wavered, but in order for him to complete his mission, he knew he would have to defeat his friend. Even when Big Boss reared his head once again, Snake dealt with him for the last time, showing the skills and growth that he has gained, and the tenacity to overcome the challenges like Metal Gear. It’s at this point the seeds of anger, hatred, and cynicism takes hold. Snake went into his next mission distrustful of his superiors and all intel. If left alone, he could have fallen from loved hero to hated villain, and it wouldn’t have taken much effort; just a couple more people stabbing him in the back. However, he found a saving grace; Otacon.
When Solid Snake's involved, just give up
Otacon is more than just comic relief, or the science guy. He is the most human of the main characters. While everyone else has big bulging muscles, fighting each other on top of giant bipedal nuclear tanks, doing back flips, deflecting bullets, or doing whatever sick thing Ocellot happens to be doing at a given time, Otacon remains the most human character. It’s very much for the players benefit; we need someone to relate to. Additionally, Otacon helps keep Snake human. Without Otacon, Snake would continue to drift towards the insanity that seems to drive units such as The Cobras, Fox Hound, and Dead Cell. Otacon keeps Snake grounded, and thus honest. After Metal Gear Solid, despite leaving with his love Meryl (depending on what ending your achieved), Snake winds up working with Otacon trying to stop the development of future Metal Gear’s. This partnership endures until the very end; Otacon becoming a witness to Snake’s trials and tribulations. Snake comes out of his final mission battered, tired, but not alone. The man of little words is helped along by his trusted ally, and that was all he needed.
Best Friends FOREVER!!!!
Big Boss's story is quite different. At the beginning of Snake Eater he is very green, much like Solid Snake. His skill is indisputable, but his strength of character is not. Because of his nativity, he was unable to read situations, being blind sighted by The Boss's betrayal. He does not know how to handle the betrayal of his beloved teacher, and for the rest of his carrier he chases her shadow. As he slithers his way through the rest of the mission, fine tuning his skills, he is tested both physically and mentally while being caught in a web of lies. At his final confrontation with The Boss, based on all the information he was privy to, his only choice is to kill her, despite how clear that something is amiss. After besting her in battle, Big Boss points The Boss's own gun at her and pulls the trigger (the player has the pull the trigger, and it’s still the single hardest thing I've ever had to do in a game). Back in the USA, when he finds out about the ruse, Big Boss feels used, like a chess pawn. The Boss was to go up against her greatest disciple so she could die, and she did it willingly for her country. This truth broke Big Boss. Coupled with this is a lack of grounding character, like Otacon, to help Big Boss through this. All the people around Big Boss are soldiers with varying degrees of cynicism. Big Boss decides that if this is how soldiers are treated by their country, he no longer wants to be a part of the machine. Walking away from everything he knows, Big Boss becomes a gun for hire.
Big Boss's first mistake
For the rest of his carrier, Big Boss actively fights the United States and its allies, covertly, then openly, many times preventing a nuclear holocaust, but consistently fanning the flames of war. His only foil is Solid Snake who continually prevents Big Boss’s success, eventually showing the grizzled warrior the error’s of his ways. Snake never fought for control, he brought about balance, never wavering in his beliefs. Every time Big Boss returned from a mission, he was warped, pulled about by various forces, influenced by others. Big Boss never truly learnt to think independently, at least not at Snake’s level. In the end, the old man even questions his own decisions when he says to Snake; “If you had been in my place back then, maybe you wouldn't have made the same mistakes I did. Ever since the day I killed The Boss with my own hands, I... was already dead.” Big Boss lost the fight before it even began. But because of this, I find Big Boss’s journey far more interesting. He mistakenly fought his way through life, picking the wrong side of history, and actively fanning the flames of war. By the time he realizes his mistakes, a new generation has to correct them for him. He lived his life in regret, but he worked his hardest to undo his foolish mistakes. Snake remains Snake (with a little help from his friends). There is nothing wrong with remaining true to oneself (a very admirable quality), but the room for change was minimal at best. Big Boss’s fall from grace was a sad one, but in the end, he tried desperately to mend all he had broken before he died, fighting till the very end.
A final meeting between Snakes 
Posted by Dogfish.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Magic: Can be a Little Sensitive

Magic: Can be a Little Sensitive

Last year, I came across this wondrous blog post of a woman's date with a geek champion. Yes, I am late to the discussion. Perhaps you've heard of this little story as it created a particular stir; hell, it splashed unto Wired, CBS and Forbes. Simply put: Alyssa Bereznak, tech blogger, went for online date with guy, who turn out to be a Magic:the Gathering (MTG) champion, Jon Finkel . Upon hearing this, she lost interest and posted on Gizmodo, you know a tech blog, a rather tasteless commentary on the chap. This was last summer and really, the only remains of this spat are the occasional Alyssa Bereznak memes. Still, the underlying thought: Despite the rise of geek/nerd/dork culture, do geeks, and in particular Magic players, face the dating world like its populated with jocks and cheerleaders.
Are you really legendary if you can humiliate a nerd?

General undesirable dating qualities are quite reasonable such as animal cruelty, human cruelty, Snookism, etc. but MTG?. Come on, should Snookism and MTG be on the same list? If you think so, then you're probably a symptom in an American cultural blight. Perhaps MTG players are more likely than Snookistic players to have inadequate social skills. Although not as annoying and as strong fist/face magnetism. If anything, MTG and inadequate social skills fits into that often forgotten 'correlation is not causation.'
Do you think 'Toddlers &Tiaras' Moms would do a better job?

LAWeekly and Forbes pointed out, she was simply troll baiting. The basic strategy in troll baiting is make a statement to garner sensational, to the degree of venomous hate, attention. All engineered to garb that all important view count number. Forbes called Bereznak her out on this because let's face it: MTG fanatics and tech blogs go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Just less tasty. Oh, did it garner that number. First day of posting; the view count was over 500k. I promise, no more memes. She engineered a piece to strike the MTG fanatics back their high school memories. While her friends at LAWeekly, do admit she might have done some baiting; they do not condemn but play her as a victim. Troll bait style writing is as respectful as campaign smearing. Seriously LAWeekly, how do you fucking defend campaign smearing? Do you really what the internet to devolve further to the depths of yellow journalism?

Yellow journalism eventually get us here...supposedly

The more important issue at hand is what the backlash towards Alyssa Bereznak tells us about MTG fanatics. Guys, seriously. Who cares how a tech blogger said about her love life? And, are you not a bit suspicious that she posted this love opinion in a goddamn tech blog? Where us MTG fan/fanatics are more likely to view this particular post. Granted, the post is on online dating but not about the issues that are important, such as online stalking/harassment. Instead, it is bit condescending towards geeks but it is a tech blog on the Gawker network. Gawker, in case you do not know, is a media site priding itself in gossip and such. Hmmm, a pattern perhaps? There is no reason to loss our shit over something as fleeting as gossip. But like gossip, this love opinion is consequential because of the emotions attached to it. It reveals a self-esteem issue. With the gift of anonymity, we can lash out our anger without the backlash. But why should we? Just let it be and go on to something better.

Also, Wired and CBS condemnation of the post purely for the shallowness of Bereznak is somewhat self defeating. Most readers can pick up on the shallowness of her post. So, why do we need to point it out? The more important question is: why condemn? There was enough of a tidal wave of outrage. There is no need for their voices. If anything, they took the bait and made it much worse by extending the spectrum of audience that would not normally visit the Gizmodo. All this do is made Bereznak and her bosses a bit more happy. Sometimes, ignoring a problem is the solution.

Not how troll baiting works

Posted by Richabob

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Legend of Korra – The Aftermath

After the aftermath of last week’s attack on the pro-bending arena, things moved quickly. With Mako and Bolin moving in with Asami, we see Korra’s frustration at Mako’s and Asami’s continuing relationship meaning she has not buried her feelings for Mako. On the flip side, Bolin still tries to impress Korra (possibly unintentionally), obviously still harboring feelings for the Avatar despite being so hurt two episodes ago. When you find yourself attracted to someone, it’s hard to let that feeling go, so it’s only natural that the love triangle persists.

Korra reluctantly goes along to Asami’s mansion quickly finding herself impressed. Asami has come across as a ditzy rich girl who runs to daddy when she needs something, but today we find out there is more than just beauty; she’s been trained to fight since she was a kid, and has no problem going toe to toe with the “big boys” in a F1 race. It was fun watching her trying to impress Korra; you get the feeling Asami knew she was not liked,  to get the Avatar on her side. Korra has a big personality, and with the level of confidence Asami showed, it was only a matter of time until Korra was won over. Back in the mansion, Korra overhears Hiroshi discussing some sinister sounding plans. With a quick exit, Korra is off to meet with Lin and Tenzin. We find out the police are doing their jobs, following up leads, clamping down on the Equalists, even finding evidence against Cabbage Corp and freezing assists. This is in line with how policing is conducted (or at least should be) in the real world. It’s about time we see some level of competence from the police, especially after last week’s debacle.
Cabbage man, triumphant at last
However, Mako is distrustful of Korra’s motives due to her feelings for him. It was a bit of a leap for him to make that assumption. After all, even though Korra admitted her feelings for him, she has never done anything to raise suspicion on her integrity and honesty. She deserved a little more patience from Mako. Asami’s reaction betrayed some anti-bending sentiment, while her father was more careful with his words. Even if Asami was unaware of her tone, it’s clear that at home, she has heard some anti-bending speeches from her dad, and that translated into her anger at the metal-bending police.

Eventually the police, along with Korra and Tenzin, are led to a secret underground factory under the mansion. From here, the episode had a very Metal Gear Solid vibe. From a giant service elevator to the team facing off against mass produced metal gear like mechs (made out of unbendable platinum), the episode takes a very dark tone. There are some great action pieces at this point; Lin bending the metal into spikes and going into berserker mode like Wolverine on one of the mechs, Tenzing created a ring of air to fast travel on the floor while finally seeing some quality air-bending was long overdue and the overwhelming abilities of the mechs taking out all their opponents with electricity and force. 
The only person missing here is Solid Snake.
Unfortunately, the good guys get caught and tied up, so Mako and Bolin make their way down to try and save the day, which goes about as smoothly as you would expect. Just when they are about to be caught, Asami shows up to confront her dad. Its here we get the reason behind Hiroshi’s “madness”; his wife was killed by a fire-bender. Loving your parents or children are easy (hopefully). You don’t get to choose who your parents or children are, so it’s somewhat unconditional. But meeting someone, falling in love with them, planning on spending the rest of your life together with them, staring a life together, only to have that person taken away from you would drive anyone mad (just ask Ra’s al Ghul). I really sympathized with Hiroshi over his motives; he lost the love of his life! Further, there really seems to be a theme with fire-benders killing people on this show; Mako/Bolin's and Amon's parents, and now Asami's mom too. It's amazing that fire-benders didn't learn anything since the 100 years war, or maybe they are just predisposed to violence. I’m finding it hard to define the Equalists as traditional villains.
Asami being tempted to the dark side.
With Asami taking her father and the Lieutenant out (with some swift martial arts), team Avatar make their retreat. Back in the airship licking their wounds, Lin decides that it’s time to quit the police force and become a vigilante. Mako, Bolin, Asami and Pabu are to move into Air Temple Island, and the core team finally receives their fourth member. I'm really looking forward to future episodes with Lin living like a vigilante. It's clear that the show makers are Batman fans, and this could be awesome, especially if Toph comes back to play Robin (one can only hope)! There was some great fan service with Cabbage Corp (not my Cabbage Corp) and a statue of good old cabbage man triumphantly holding up a cabbage, and the brief action was some of the best in the series thus far. The music was once again top notch (subtle yet powerful), and the animation was very smooth. This was another great episode.
Metal... Gear!

Posted by Dogfish. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Legend of Korra – And the Winner is…

This week’s episode of Korra was a lot of fun. Amon and the Equalists staged an anti-bending demonstration amid the finals of the tournament. There were plenty of great action pieces spread throughout the episode, and plenty of characters had moments to shine. And though Korra had the most amount of screen time, she was upstaged by two characters that had far less; Pabu the fire ferret with his cute acrobats and people saving skills, and the tournament’s announcer giving a play-by-play of the Equalist member who attacked him.

The episode opens with team Fire Ferrets training for the finals. They have pictures of the White Falls Wolfbats captain Tahno as target practices (he’s the jerk from the last episode), and really psyching themselves up for the match. However, the joyous mood gets broken up by an announcement from Amon via the radio. As his voice crackles through the airways, you can still see the look of dread on Korra’s face as she hears him. It’s good to see that even though she has clearly gotten better at fighting, there is still a lot of hesitation in her abilities when it comes to Amon. She went through a traumatic event, and it will take time for her to feel up to par with the Equalist leader. On the radio, Amon states that the finals of the tournament should be canceled by the city council or he will cause trouble. Korra, sensing trouble from Tenzin and the council, goes charging in and demands they take no action. After some persuasion from the Fire Ferrets and Lin(!), Tarrlok votes in favor of keeping the tournament open with a majority vote. Once again, you can see Tarrlok’s slimy hands trying to grab more power and he’s more than willing to use whatever he sees fit to his advantage. After some preparations at the stadium, and some great character moments between Lin, Tenzin, and Korra, the tournament begins, and inevitably all hell breaks loose.
An unnecessarily grand entrance by the Wolfbats
At the tournament, the metal bending police position themselves along the entrances of the stadium, covering the crowd so that they are evenly spread out. They are a well trained unit, and seem to know what they are doing, but it becomes obvious that they have never faced a treat as serious as the Equalists. Lin and Tenzin are positioned centrally overlooking the arena. However, despite the seriousness of the situation they both get caught up in the tournament. The White Falls Wolfbats are constantly cheating during the match (the refs have been paid off), and Tenzin keeps yelling whenever a foul goes unnoticed, and Lin is more than happy to keep watching him. Despite how well they have trained in their bending arts, they have much to learn about being focused on the task at hand. During the match, the Wolfbats are using all kinds of dirty tricks to beat the Fire Ferrets, and the refs just ignore them. The commentator is great during these moments, clearly stating his opinions of the Wolfbats and the refs, but there isn’t much he can do. The Ferret’s loose a round, win a second (a great one v one with Korra and Tahno where she kicks his ass KO), but then get knocked out of the arena to lose the match. It’s once they are in the water, and the crowd is going wild with the Wolfbats victory, that the Equalists go on the offensive.
Amon and the Lieutenant
It turns out that the Equalists have dispersed themselves throughout the crowd. Quickly pulling masks over their faces, and metallic gloves that can stun benders, they pounce taking out all the police including Lin and Tenzin. This is a huge embarrassment. Just what was the point of having all those police officers there if they couldn’t accomplish anything? Korra and the Ferret’s get taken out while still in the water by the Lieutenant and his stun rods. While he ties them up to a post under the stadium, Korra has visions of Aang’s life again. There are quick shots of Aang in the avatar state, as well as shots of a man I can only assume is Yakone (he threatened Republic City 42 years before Korra’s arrival). When they wake up, Bolin mimes to Pabu to cut through the ropes binding them to which Pabu obliges. Up on the stage, Amon and some of his chi blockers enter the arena, facing down the Wolfbats. Tahno and his crew foolishly challenge Amon only to get taken out. Despite Tahno’s pleading, Amon robs him of water bending and dumps all three Wolfbats into the pool. Amon then gives a speech to the crowd where he tells all that he has dealt with the police, as well as the cheating Wolfbats, and says that they used anti-bending gloves to take care of all potential problems. He also talks about bending as unclean. That statement gave the Equalists a very ethnic cleansing vibe. There is also a scene earlier in the episode where Amon is overlooking his minions loading crates into satomobiles, and I assume they were full of the electrified gloves. From this scene coupled with his speech, I get the feeling that Amon might try to sell the gloves via a black market to non-benders. He could make a pretty penny, and I wonder if this is one of his goals! It would certainly help to knock his “noble mission” down a peg or two. However, he clearly has some skilled people working for him in order to make stun rods and gloves, and he would need a factory in order to create it all. There could be a possibility that he has some sort of connection to Hiroshi Sato. It would be an interesting twist, and I see no reason why it couldn’t be true. Hiroshi and Asami were in the crowd during the match, but were conspicuously absent during the Equalists’ chaos.
Anti-bender gloves
Tahno get's what's coming to him

After the speech, while making their escape to a waiting airship, Korra and Lin face off against the Equalists, and both ladies kick some unholy ass. Korra tries to take the fight directly to Amon, but he’s just out of her reach. However, the joy I got from seeing Lin and Korra working together was great. We haven’t seen Lin bend at all yet, but it was worth the wait. Despite being caught off guard more than once, when she finally kicks into high gear, Lin did not hold back. The metallic ropes she used to take out the chi blockers and save a falling Korra (twice!) were controlled with precision and deadly force. Korra was also more than a match for the chi blockers, even taking on the Lieutenant and beating him down. The two women played nicely off each other, and when they land back in the stadium, Lin clearly has warmed up to Korra. This can definitely be attributed to how the young Avatar handled herself during the tournament and the fight, but also to a conversation Tenzin had with her earlier in the episode. Last week, we found out that Tenzin was with someone else before he met and fell in love with his wife. That someone turned out to be Lin. The reason she was being so harsh to Korra was less to do about Korra, and more to do about Korra’s closeness with Tenzin. Tenzin and Lin do bury the hatchet in this episode, and the moments after the fight in the stadium between Korra and Lin was welcome and heartfelt. But, at the end of the day, Amon got away, embarrassing the police, and he managed to show the citizen’s of the city that they have a means via technology to take out benders. Only time will tell how impactful his live “commercial” will be, but I feel there is more at play here than just Amon. I smell a rat (in the shape of a one Hiroshi Sato), and this rat looks set to make a lot of money. Another great episode. 
Lin and Korra to the rescue.

Published by Dogfish

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Legend of Korra - The Spirit of Competition

In this week’s episode, the main plot involving Amon took a break as we delved into the inner workings of the Fire Ferrets and the pro-bending tournament. Things stated off fairly well, with the team showing great cohesion. During their training session their movement flowed well, and it translated nicely to the first few rounds of the tournament. However, when Bolin decides it’s time to ask Korra out, things quickly go downhill for the team. During their downtime, while Mako and Bolin are at home, Mako cooking and Bolin trying to wash Pabu, Bolin brings up the topic of dating Korra. Mako instinctively thinks about a relationship with Korra, and tries to compare it with his current relationship with Asami. It’s funny that he immediately jumped to thinking about dating Korra. It’s obvious the topic has been something he has been thinking about before, weighing the options between dating the avatar, or continuing his relationship with his nice new rich girl. Both girls are pretty, however, breaking either of their hearts could prove costly. If Mako were to dump Asami, he risks not only losing her father as a sponsor for the Fire Ferrets team, but he risks possibly gaining a very influential and powerful enemy. This could prove costly in the future. However, turning Korra’s advances away could mean untimely loosing a teammate, and also a close friend and ally in the future. Mako has a very difficult balancing act to do if he is to come out of his personal love triangle unscathed.
Love triangles after a good training session helps a team fall apart.
On the other side of this love triangle, Bolin decides it’s time to up his game with Korra. Mako first tries to discourage him, telling Bolin that it’s not a good idea dating a teammate, however, Bolin decides to go on a date with Korra. Their date goes well, but you get the feeling that Korra was only with him to be with someone, and to possibly hurt Mako. It’s obvious that she’s not into Bolin (though she blushes when he tells her how great he thinks she is), and her mind was clearly on Mako. Earlier, when she decided to ask Mako out, he turns her down, telling her that he’s not into her like that, and that he feels that teammates should not be dating. Later, a hurt Korra is eventually confronted by Mako when she is alone where Mako tells Korra that he likes her, leading inevitably to Korra kissing him. Unfortunately, Bolin sees everything, and runs away crying. There is a lot of innocence about Bolin, and I was glad that he did not get mad and shout at them; it would have felt out of character. The funny visual of his tears streaming down his face as he runs away was great. Mako eventually finds him drunk in a food coma at a restaurant and takes him home. There is so much tension now between the three of them that it inevitably spills over into the tournament.
Poor Bolin, at least he knows he's gorgeous.
During their first round of the tournament, when no one was trying to date each other yet, the Fire Ferrets dominated their opponents with precision. The training had paid off, as each member had a job to do in the arena, and they executed moves with ease. But when Korra asked Mako out only to get turned down, then goes out with Bolin which annoys Mako, these two members of the team get distracted by awkwardness and a little animosity. It falls on Bolin to keep the team afloat, and he does a good job. Bolin has never come across as a great fighter. I've always gotten the impression that Mako held the team in place with his combat skill. However, Bolin really shined in his opportunity. He was bobbing and weaving his way through attacks to take out his opponents, leading to a one on one spar match to decide the winner of the round. Bolin knocked his man out of the ring, and really made it look easy. It was good to see him take charge away from Mako (who he noted was distracted throughout the match), and shows some potential of becoming a confident leader in the future if the need arises. Things get worse though when Bolin is witness to the kiss, and the last match of the episode goes horribly wrong. Very quickly the Fire Ferrets distractions are exposed in the arena, with the opponents clearly taking advantage of the weakened team. Mako and Bolin get eliminated, but they really don’t care. Their hearts aren't in it anymore, and only Korra seems willing to go on. That turns out to be a good thing, because she is the only one left in the area. She immediately goes into ass kicking mode, using her water bending skills to line up the opposing team so she could eliminate them with a strong gush of water, winning the semi-final for the team. Her tenacity in the ring put the fire in the teams belly once more, and they get excited for the finals. In the dressing room, words are spoken, apologies are made, wounds are healed, and all is forgiven. There is a quick shot of the other finalists being jerks to them, and very quickly winning their semi-final with ease, but all the bad blood between the Ferrets has been washed away. They are friends again, and that bothered me.
The Kiss seen around the world!
This was a fun episode not doubt, but they were dealing with some very serious issues. Like Avatar Roku once said to Aang, “Love is hard when you’re young”. That is very true. Kids are dumb. Little things blow up into big messes, and get taken out of context. However, kissing the brother of the man who you know has a crush on you is a very big deal; especially when he has taken the time to take you out for dinner and show you a good time. Bolin was not only betrayed by Korra, but by Mako. Mako was clearly agitated by Korra going out with Bolin, and this betrayed his feelings for her. If he had not confronted Korra, then Bolin’s heart would not have gotten broken the way it did. But that may prove to be better rather than dragging out a relationship that clearly is not going to work. However, it still does not explain how Bolin was able to forgive everyone so quickly. I understand why he forgave Mako; ever since they were kids and Mako became Batman, Mako’s looked after Bolin, raising him into the man he’s becoming. Forgiving Mako was a given. But forgiving Korra was too easy. She did not earn his forgiveness. She betrayed him. She knew he likes her, yet she went on ahead with Mako. Sure she single handedly won the semi-final, but so what, Bolin single handedly won the quarter-final, and not once this episode (or series so far) has Bolin done something to earn anyone’s distrust. He a good honest kid and he deserves better. In the end, it just felt too easy; it was not earned. Maybe they will use this plot in future episodes to bring up the tension again, but as it stands now, its resolution was too clean and held the episode back. Other than that, the animation and music was once again top notch, and seeing the elimination rounds of the tournament was great. I can’t wait for the final! A good episode.

Posted by Dogfish

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bionic Hike through the Uncanny Valley

Bionic Hike through the Uncanny Valley

In March, BBC news featured an article on Nicola and her decision for a prosthetic hand. It would involve an elective amputation of the intact hand. Why even consider? Twelve years ago, she was involved in an car accident and lost function of her hand. She underwent different therapies, even nerve transplant; nothing worked. Until she met Dr. Aszmann. The good doctor performed two previous operations where he amputated and install bionic hands for the patients.

Until very recently, prosthetic limbs operated either through a system of cables or motor-powered switches that controlled by another part of the body. If that sounds confusing, imagine the training. Not for Nicola, she can control the hand directly with her mind. Essentially, it is the mind/machine interface.

Go Go, Mind-Blowing Hand!

This article is actually part of a BBC series Can you build a bionic body? Wait, are we actually having this discussion? Yes, science and technology makes leaps, and occasionally kicks sci-fi in those failed hurdles, but this approaches the uncanny valley from a new direction.
Probably from behind and maybe strangling it

In case, you're unfamiliar with the concept of the uncanny valley: robot is more empathic as it becomes more human. If it becomes too human, we become revolted. However, if we see another human, then our reaction returns to empathy. Hence, the dip in our reaction is the uncanny valley:

Ironic mustaches...they think they are people

The uncanny valley does apply to other things, such as 3D animations and zombies. The phenomenon explains why critics felt unease with many 3D animations, such as PolarExpress. We knew these animations are so close but yet so far. Masahiro Mori, the coiner of the term, mused that this 'valley' is a reflection of our morality. Hence why he placed zombies in the abyss of the valley. Mori is not alone. Some theorize this revulsion behind uncanny valley has some evolutionary basis. Theories range from sickness, again your zombies and infected, to violation of social norms, your creeps and serial killers.

First draft of Flo, the Progressive mascot. And they still did not get out of the valley.

Uncanny valley tipped off some sort of sickness but this is where Nicola's surgery changes the rules. The valley warned us something is amiss, malfunctioning. As if a subtle infiltration has taken hold; like robots displacing humans. Now, humans are sacrificing their biological part and merging with the robots. We are descending that valley from the other end. So prosthetics right now are not quite the same as natural body parts. And these elective operations bring somewhat normal function, not superhuman. But be damned, we're close.

And we hate quitters

Once science reaches that tipping point and make prosthetics more advantageous than our natural parts, then designer babies and uncanny valley be damned. The kicker is the tipping point arrived in our psyche. The photo above is athlete Oscar Pistorius. Back in 2008, he appealed, and won, a court decision that banned him the Olympics. Well, of course! He is disabled but that was not the reason. A committee originally thought his prosthetics legs, carbon-fiber blades nonethless, would give him an unfair advantage. The leg blades left them with the impression allowed him to run faster than the other competitors. He is allowed to compete both in the Paralympics and the Olympics. Hmmm, turning an abundant material like carbon into gold? We have ourselves an alchemist we can aspire to; sorry Paulo Coelho.

Wired: now an awesome fashion magazine

Eyes down here. Her name is Aimee Mullins. Like Oscar above, she is too an accomplished athlete but also a runway model, actress, and most importantly a speaker. Go ahead, click that. I'll wait. It is a very empowering video and a sober look at prosthetics. She has different legs for different events and as you can see: she is not hampered but somewhat privileged. She stands as testament to a rather growing population.

The United States has the highest rate of amputation in the first world but hold off the protests. While traumatic amputation steeply inclined in the past decade; the majority comes from disease, mainly diabetes. Diabetes will only grow while troop withdraw will cut down on the traumatic amputations. Even worse, the rate of diabetes in teenager is growing.

Let the ridiculousness distract you. Like in real life...yup.

Imperfections/disabilities turned into bitchin'/horrifying body modifications fill the annals of the past centuries. First, the above picture illustrates one of the greatest hints of a period piece: the bitchin' powdered wig. This wig style kicked off with King Louis XIII of France wearing one to hide his fading hair. So yeah, its a toupée. From the 1660s, it spread amongst the elites of Europe. Eventually, it died with the tax on powder from England and the French Revolution. Tunneling down the center, we come to China and footbinding. Take a baby girl's feet, break them, wrap them tightly so that they cannot grow and that is footbinding. So, how the hell did we get this? Concubines. In particular, one concubine who bound, deformed, her feet to form a particular shape and a local ruler adored this. And the practice spread through the dynasties, as elite men preferred wives with that particularly shaped feet. Oh, it has been banned several times throughout the centuries but the connection between footbinding and socioeconomic mobility through marriage was very hard to break. The practice did not end in popularity until Communist rule. So, one point to human rights?

Amie Mullins as...Cheetara?

So we are at the crossroads; prosthetics are getting better and more people with deeper pockets are in need of them. At the heart of body modification, and fashion, is to attain the elitist status by reflect our higher socioeconomic standing, rather it be true or not. Will we cut off our limbs to reach that ever-glorious status? How people use cancer-causing UV lights and toxic spray-on for that bitchin' tan? How people take diet pills, some with heart damaging effects, go on fad diets or rearrange our intestines for that skinny jean body? And how many of those people do you know? So modern, Western people can look like the poor from the per-industrial revolution. Before modern industries, most people worked those fields til they were bronzed skeletons and the elites looked like our rednecks and comic book guys with powdered wigs. The information age is upon us. And the revolution in our appearance is indeed at the crossroads, somewhere in that uncanny valley.

We have the make LSD ads

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trinkets, Odds & Ends...That Sorta Thing: I

There are a good many subjects that will be discussed here in the 'Trinkets, Odds & Ends...That Sorta Thing' section of this blog. Reader beware. Somethings will appeal to some readers and some to others. With that said...tonight I will be discussing several songs that I like that I feel are under appreciated. Where a video is available I will include one.

Top 5 (at present):

5) Poison by Alice Cooper
Okay, so who hasn't loved Alice Cooper since Wayne's World??
These guys are awesome! You gotta give it up for guys who have more product in their hair and way more make-up than the hot chicks in their videos!! Word!

4) The Color Spectrum :0)

3) Rain by Patty Griffith
Absolutely love this song. Love the animation of the video too. The lyrics are lovely and with today's weather it suits the mood.

2) Sunrise by Norah Jones
The lyrics are so simple, but lovely. Definitely an adorable feel-good song.

AND THE #1 UNDER APPRECIATED SONG (in my humble opinion):

1) Hell on Heels by Pistol Annies
The one on the far right is Miranda Lambert, one of my most, excuse me, MOST favorite Country singers. Hella famous by herself, goes and finds the middle one who is a Presely, Angaleena Presley to be exact, and as they were already friends with the other one Ashley Monroe (not related to Marilyn) they decided to form a band. Love them, though I must disclose that I do not think being a gold digger is an acceptable occupation for a Lady ;0)

Well this concludes my Top 5 Under Appreciated Song list.

Thank you for reading.