Bleep bloop.
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Bleep bloop.

Wheel of Cheese!!
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Wheel of Cheese!!

10 Seconds of Extreme Trading in Blackberry

Or, why individuals have no choice but to hold long positions.

Violence in Video Games

Another fantastic video essay by Chris Franklin.

Theme Parks and Haunted Houses

Errant Signal:

Theme park rides are multimillion dollar investments that tend to stick around for at least a decade – and in effect they’re time capsules of the era of their production. The Carousel of Progress, for example, is a glimpse into an optimistic 1960′s view of the future presented by animatronic robots. Epcot’s Spaceship Earth was all about the rise of global communications networks in the 1980′s. Interestingly, the original version framed a return to the Moon and satellites as the expanding scope of man’s reach, but was reworked in a few years ago to end with the emergence of the internet and an instantly connected globe as the pinnacle of our communicative efforts. So yeah, rides largely reflect the values of the cultures and times that create them.

So during my visit I found the contrast between two rides – Terminator 2 3D and Transformers – particularly striking. They were only made 15 years apart, yet represent two radically different ideologies. In the world of Terminator, the military industrial complex is the enemy. New weapons don’t bring safety but escalate the probably of mass death. The merger of corporate marketing and financial insentivization with massive weapons systems and military strategies literally leads to a war that could end all of humanity. It is civilians who fight for the value of human life that stand between peace and a slickly marketed Armageddon.

The Transformers ride is much the opposite. The entire queue is framed as a military base and you (and your family and loved ones) are all signing up to be extra special agents! And Decepticons are attacking right now – and the only thing that can save you are designer sports cars that can also turn into death-dealing robots! The merger of slick corporate product placement and military super-weaponry are literally the salvation of man here. Transformers get their heads cut off in brutal fashion right in front of you, and at the end of the ride Optimus Prime tells you: “Your bravery saved the planet. Well done, freedom fighters.” And, well, you know what they say about one man’s freedom fighters…

The idea that a post-9/11 America is a more militarized America isn’t exactly a revelation. But these two rides operating in such close proximity to each other (and having been constructed only a decade and a half apart) underscores the differences between American culture 15 years ago and today. Terminator was a product of a barely-finished Cold War (remember that Judgement Day happens only because Skynet launches nuclear missiles at Russia so they’ll fire all of their missiles back). It was a time when direct engagement with our most likely enemies meant the end of life on Earth as we knew it, and a time when indirect engagement led to quagmires like Vietnam. Now attacking the enemy is framed as a moral imperative, technology is seen as a path to superiority over one’s opponents, and military combat defends rather than destroys. Transformers gets off on being military porn, basically. Again, not a new idea, but so starkly reflected in these monolithic icons of their time – theme park rides that double as cultural core samples from the years they were built.

Along those lines it’s probably worth noting that the entirety of the Marvel Super Hero Island (completed two years before 9/11) features a Saturday Morning version of the Marvel universe, with quips and camp intact. It’s a colorful vision of super powers as light-hearted escapist fantasy in a way that these days almost feels naive. Marvel Island crystallizes some of the last moments of American culture seeing super heroes as good Samaritans rather than agents of the state’s power or the triumph of military prowess. The more recent Avengers films, for example, heavily feature SHIELD as a secret military organization whose tech we’re supposed to envy and whose agents we’re supposed to sympathize with even as they plan to build ever-greater weapons in secret. Batman’s new Batmobile is derived from military plans for an all-terrain vehicle and is heavily fetishized in the films (not to mention that little cell phone tapping stunt in Dark Knight). Even Man of Steel manages to have Army men give a begrudging salute to Supes before he turns around and helps military officials plan a strike on Zod’s plan. Our heroes really are more militarized now than ever before. And even if things begin to change and our culture turns towards a distaste for war that Transformers ride will likely be encapsulating this era of military combat worship for the next decade or more.

Every once in a while, I stumble upon Chris Franklin’s video essays that explore different gaming topics, and I’m always very impressed with his insight.  He’s articulating a point that’s been buried in the back of my brain for years, but that I’ve never fully understood.

If you’re at all interested in theme parks, this blog post has some more excellent thoughts about theme parks and haunted houses.

I also love his critique of Half Life.  ”It’s the most beautiful tunnel I’ve ever walked down.”

What a blast from the past.  I, along with several of my high school friends from around Las Vegas, wrote for this monthly magazine that was distributed to all Vegas high school students.  Hell, my buddy Christine is on one of these covers and created (painted / drew / conjured… c’mon, Christine, help me out here…) the other.

Check out this issue from November, 2001.  Perfectly encapsulates how people my age felt after September 11.  And the story on our school’s production of Les Misérables, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  By far.

I’m sure if you dig around enough you can find examples of some of my writing.  There’s certainly evidence that I once wrote something halfway decent.

What in the world am I reading?

What in the world am I reading?

One for the long-term readers.
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One for the long-term readers.

Unstoppable!

This special lady is raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Pitch in and help push her over her fundraising goal for this awesome cause.

Only $265 left to reach the goal.  C’mon, you know you wanna’ help out.