Podcasts

One of the podcasts I have enjoyed this year encouraged all their listeners to review the podcast on iTunes before the New Year promising prizes for a few of us if they reach more than 1000 reviews. As this is a comedy podcast with a lot of inside jokes this is the review I wrote.

Adam and Ben are so short sighted, some of us viewers have some manner of intelligence and respect (though not much as we still listen to this swill) and are not in the pocket of big Apple. I fell into Adam and Ben’s fatal trap and installed iTunes onto my PC just to write this review, but I am savvy, I will pull all the isolinear chips from this computer so Apple can’t Jake all my Data.

However the podcast (when downloaded from respectable sources) is great. Every week I look forward to finding out what’s next in store for the star ship Entrepreneur; will Diana find that there is more to life than chocolate, will Geordi crack under pressure and be relieved by Argyle, will Data take over the enterprise again and appoint Spot his number one, will Riker confess his true love to the leaning wall, and will Picard admit that his favorite crusher is the boy Wesley?

All this and more may (probably won’t) be answered on the Greatest Generation.

As a listener of podcasts I am often asked what podcasts I listen to and which I would recommend. After finishing up the silly iTunes review its probably more helpful to do a full overview of all the podcast to which I subscribe.

The Greatest Generation

The podcast for which the above review applies is The Greatest Generation, a Star Trek podcast by two guys who are somewhat ashamed to have a Star Trek podcast. The host Adam and Ben seem to have started the podcast almost on a dare, unsure if they would even release the first set of recordings, and even more unsure if anyone would listen if the did. I am very glad they released their bashful first recordings and continue to release podcasts twice a week as it is often the highlight of my Mondays and Wednesdays.

The podcast follows Star Trek the Next Generation, the hosts watch episodes of the iconic television show before the podcast then talk the listeners through the story points and highlights of the episode. What makes the podcast amusing is their bizarre sense of humor.

The show has lots of jokes that build on previous episodes so I would very much recommend going back and listening from the beginning. While I often skip the first season of the Next Generation when re-watching it, some of those terrible episodes make the best podcasts.

Hello Internet

Another favorite podcast is Hello Internet, the podcast by YouTubers CGPGrey and Brady Haron. This podcast is the pinnacle of the ‘two dudes talking’ genre and has no specific topics or subjects. Popular conversation points usually focus around Grey’s peculiarities, plane crashes, Audrey the chihuahua, follow-up from previous episodes, paper-cuts, vexillology, emoji, and occasionally YouTube. The subject of conversation really has little effect on the quality of the podcast as most of my enjoyment comes from the excellent chemistry shared between the hosts. Grey and Brady often see the world in completely opposite ways, vet they are still extremely good friends.

For a little taste of the podcast, some of the best bits have been put together and animated by listener Dovsky.

Hello Internet is not uploaded on a regular schedule, which makes it a pleasant surprise when there is a new episode sitting in my queue.

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project

Still Untitled is the podcast of Adam Savage the former Mythbuster, though when the podcast was started he was still busting myths. The show was started as part of a collaboration between the Discovery channel stars and Tested.com a technology review site. The podcast is usually half hour period for hosts Adam, Will, and Norm to catch up and talk about Adam’s adventures, current events or to go in depth on a movie or book.

The podcast is released every Tuesday and is conveniently the length of my morning commute. There is a large backlog of episodes, but the discussions are very topical and there is no need to go back and listen to the back episodes to follow the current conversations.

Cortex

Cortex is another podcast with YouTuber CGPGrey, this time with Mike Hurley as his co-host. Similar to Hello Internet this falls neatly into the two dudes talking genre, though this podcast is focused a little more on matters of work, productivity and how to run a podcasting empire. Grey goes much more in depth about workflows he uses to force his lazy side to be productive, and Mike shares his learnings on what its like to run Relay.fm podcast network.

Also like Hello Internet this show does not have a regular schedule, but it is released with more consistency with Mike trying to get podcasts out a normal intervals.

This is Only a Test

This is Only a Test is Tested.com’s weekly technology podcast. Norm from this Still Untitled is often present along with other rotating hosts (usually Jeremy and Kishore). This podcast is very topical as the popular culture, technology and virtual reality news from the past week are the main topics of discussion.

The podcast publishes every thursday and I find it entertaining as well as a good way to stay informed about what is going on in the tech world.

Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics is the show produced by Stephen Dubner for public radio in podcast form. Its a well produced show that  looks at different topics each episode in depth and usually from the perspective of economics, even if its a topic not normally associated with economics. The shows are always interesting and often insightful.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is another show produced for public radio released as a podcast. Wait Wait is a game show hosted by Peter Sagal focusing on the more ridiculous pieces of the last week’s news. Wait Wait is an entertaining way to take in the highlights of a week’s news.

 

I have many other podcasts that are sitting in my queue that I have not yet had the chance to  listen to, as keeping up with 7 podcast is a lot of audio to listen to every week. Next I get the time RadioLab, Lore, Planet Money, and Welcome to Night Vale are waiting for me.

Getting Back to an Old Hobby

Long ago I used to play Games Workshop miniature games. While I haven’t battled any armies in years, I have stilled kept my collection on miniatures. They recently have been getting some use as markers while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Going through my collection on a regular basis I’ve noticed that there are still quite a lot of unpainted figurines.

Replacing paints and brushes I’ve given my old hobby another shot and am pleased to find that I have not lost all of my skill at fine detail painting.

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Freshly painted Elf with a Beaver-back Nickel for scale

Honey I Shrunk the Dice

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For this week’s Dungeons and Dragons session I, probably under a confusion charm, forgot to bring my materials. My character sheet and information are all backed up digitally, but using electronic dice rollers is no fun. Luckily I had with me a backup mini dice set on my key-chain and I could continue rolling unimpeded. Though next time I may also want a magnifying glass too.

End of an Era

I am a little late to the party, as most people have already seen Marvel’s latest movie Captain America: Civil WarJust a few years ago I would have been in line to see the first IMAX showing of any of the Marvel movies, but now I feel no excitement when a new one comes. It is an event that happens now three times a year. I have waited a few weeks since opening weekend (which starts Thursday afternoons now? that’s cheating) and I did not splurge for an IMAX ticket, just a screening at Seattle’s Cinerama. I was sadly disappointed with the film, not because it was considerable worse then all the other Marvel movies, but because now that the excitement has worn off, Marvel movies are husks of their potential, milked like the cash cow they are, riding on what good will there is left between Marvel Studios and the fans.

Being a Marvel movie the action and the special effects were top notch. Just like Captain America: Winter Solder the fight choreography is some of the best I’ve seen. Unfortunately in this movie all of it has been masked by shaky cam. The opening fights in Lagos looked amazing: the choreographer, actors/actresses and stunt people should all be very proud; except that all their hard work is wasted when someone decides its a good idea to shake the camera and cut every three frames. Action that is this good needs a long wide shot. Let the audience see whats going on, give us some spacial awareness of where Capt. is throwing his shield, or how the Black Widow flipped over a car to crush a man’s head between her thighs. The shaky cam is a cinematic crutch, it lets the viewer know that there is action happening, but that it is not important enough to follow.

My biggest problem with the movie is the script. I watch this movie and at the end determined that there was only one hero in it and it was Zemo the man who was supposed to be the villain. Zemo lost his love ones in the aftermath of the last Avengers movie and deeming the Avengers too dangerous to exist he has a elaborate plan to get them to destroy themselves. Unfortunately he is right, the Avengers have had no regard towards the consequences of their actions. This is the main driving point in the beginning of the movie and it is an important commentary on all blockbuster films, especially the super hero movies. These films always have to one up the stakes when disaster strikes, but they rarely address that there are people in those buildings that fell over, or that some one had just finished payments on that car used as an impromptu projectile. The film starts strong with the Scarlet Witch (who is played by the third Olsen sister) saving Capt. Rodgers at the cost of killing bystanders. This leads to the reveal that the UN has been in talks over a document which would put the Avengers on the leash of a UN committee.

So far there is a worth while message, one countering that in Winter Solder. Winter Solder taught Captain America that sometimes the organization or government you love and work for can do the wrong thing, and one needs to have the independent agency to act out when the government has gone to far. Now Civil War is prepping to teach the Capt. that there are limits to this, a super being cannot go around the world beating up bad guys and blowing up bystanders and expect there to not be any consequences. This plays well with the themes in Winter Soldier about power and corruption, as the Avengers like Shield before them are now the ones with power, to be corrupted.

To my disappointment they took this nice script and threw the entire thing out the window and instead thought up whatever they could to have Capt. America and Iron Man beat the living shit out of each other. The plot breaks down when people who are self described weapons of mass destruction have the emotional maturity of children. I’m disappointed that King T’Chaka died as he seemed to be the only adult in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the explosion at the UN the entire story could have been resolved if Steve Rodgers and Tony Stark sat down at a table for 10 minutes and talked about their feelings. Instead Capt. storms off like a preteen girl who didn’t get the right color pony and goes to find Bucky. Bucky has been chillin’ in this apartment in Germany since the last movie, but Rodgers only goes to find him now, why? Because the special ops forces have instructions to shoot to kill. Firstly Bucky is a strong independent super weapon and can take care of himself, secondly wouldn’t Rodger’s time been better spent just asking “Hey, why don’t you bring him in alive?” Did he burn all of his contacts and good will just by not showing up at the UN meeting?

Rodgers goes to to find Bucky and just makes things worst. He and Bucky say they don’t want to kill anybody, but they are both trowing punches that can stop a speeding car, some of those German special forces guys are never going to walk again, and at least one will die off camera. In the chase some new dude with a cat fetish shows up trying to get Bucky and they run through city causing several million dollars worth of damage to public infrastructure before they decide that there are enough disposable officers around that thry can’t punch them all into a coma. This is the first point where the movie goes counter to its theme of actions having consequences. Even if no one died there are a lot of hospital bills to pay and roads and bridges to repair and the only one to see any cell time is the Winter Soldier because they think he blew up the UN. Instead of facing the consequences Capt. America is given a free pass by Tony pulling strings saying he “can make this all go away if he just signs the Sokovia Accords”. This is the part of the movie where Capt. America is supposed to start seeing the consequences of his ‘kill the few to save many’ mentality, but instead when Bucky is broken out by out hero, Zemo, and Capt. America decides this is his chance to skip detention and play hookie with his buddies, again putting off the movie ending conversation about feelings between him and Stark.

The CIA lady steals their equipment from the UN and as a thank you we get the most awkward kiss in cinema. Capt. America is just putting out because he lost wallet and was unable to pay his shields cab fair. Now that we have thrown away the movies themes and started punching hulk sized holes in the plot the fan service can really start. Each side of this ‘Civil War’ gathers their troops, collecting their own arsenal of these humanoid super weapons. They don’t really go into why each side needs to have all these supers. Rodgers pulls in a few buddies because he is off to potentially face an entire squad of Cree infused winter soldiers, but Tony doesn’t know this. Tony decides to cache in all his chips just to stop Rodgers and Bucky, he doesn’t know that the others are with them.

So we have bent and twisted out plot to get to this point. Five or six ‘heroes’ on each side ready to pummel each other. This fight is here for the express purpose of satiating all of the ‘who would win’ conversations. And really I only have two notes: next time wear team colors so I have some idea who’s fighting who, as about 30 seconds were allocated in setting the teams and alliances its still very unclear which team everyone’s on; secondly, where was the Vision this entire fight? He uses he forehead laser three times, to warn the Capt. and crew at the beginning, to destroy the traffic control tower, and to murder the flying black characters. Otherwise he wasn’t there, with his godlike infinity stone powers.

Regardless of the details of the fight this is the next point for theme derailment. There is a quick one liner about how Stark has the foresight to evacuate the airport so we know that nobody died in this fight, but the airport was still pretty much destroyed. Some of the most serious damage was done by the side that believes that oversight is the way to reduce collateral damage. If I were on this UN council controlling the Avengers I wouldn’t send them anywhere I wasn’t ready to send a humanitarian aid group to deal with the aftermath. So its even those who claim to feel remorse about the wanton destruction still trash the airport and it reinforces my previous claim that Zemo is the hero and these super beings are not emotionally mature enough to exist.

After this fight the UN finds the evidence showing that the guy they let talk to Barns was just some Joe off the street and maybe Capt. America was right about everything. This is the ‘this changes everything’ moment for Stark as he realizes that his friend might not just be acting out for attention, but might actually be chasing down a lead (something again would have happened if they sat down and talked for ten minutes). Except this changes nothing. This Civil War is about methodology, not intent. It doesn’t matter that Capt. America had a good reason for hospitalizing all those German police, it was wrong because he determined that he needed to break a few spines without authorization or oversight from a higher power. Instead of doing the thing which Tony has been advocating all movie, bringing the evidence to the UN council and letting them decide the appropriate action to take, Tony sneaks out of his bedroom window climbing down the tree to go play with his friends. So now the Civil War is over? Tony has decided that being beholden to the UN is a good thing until there is an actual ‘bad guy’ to stop then he can do what ever he wants? At this point the story has muddled the character motivation so much that I’m only still watching for the action.

So this is the part of the movie where we see the twist. Zemo is not a super villain trying to get at some soviet super weapons locked in an unguarded facility in Siberia and take over the world. He is a disturbed hero who is only here to disarm the bombs. He makes the same argument as the UN claiming that super beings are too dangerous to exist because they kill and destroy without consequences and so far everything in this movie has demonstrated that he is right, every time the Avengers try and do good they level the city, always resorting to violence as the first course of action. This is demonstrated in this scene with a threat from Tony stating that he could beat the power of the rocket engines the blast shield Zemo is behind was designed to protect against, before even asking Zemo to surrender.

Now its time for the last fight scene. To set up this fight Zemo some how has a tape showing that Bucky killed Stark’s parents. What is even odder is that somehow Rodgers already knew this information. Where and when did Steve find this out? We have already established the Bucky doesn’t remember his missions when he is not activated as he asked the Capt. “What did I do, did I hurt anyone?” when he comes down from one of his episodes. This plot hole aside, this is the information that hits Stark’s vengeance nerve and we get an awesome but needless fight between Capt. America and Iron man. A conflict again which would have been solved if they sat down and talked about their feelings.

At the end of the fight we see the only character growth in the entire movie: the Black Panther, realizing that individuals are prone to make rash actions and individuals with extreme powers should guard against those rash actions, takes Zimo in to the UN security forces instead of watching him die or killing him. This makes me a little hopeful for the Black Panther movie, maybe this warrior king character will be the moral compass that the Marvel Universe needs. Chadwick Boseman did an amazing job with the limited role, and hopefully the writers for his stand alone movie will have more than one draft of the script.

The movie ends with Tony and Steve breaking up, even though they made such a cute couple, they were unable to talk through their issues and instead were always getting into fights. Steve leaves Tony his numbers so he can make a booty call when Ultron shows up, and everyone goes there separate ways learning nothing.

Though I could continue to nitpick about minor problems in continuity, things that were added just to look cool, people jumping from high buildings and landing unharmed, and bad camera work, but I think I have covered my major grievances with the movie. This feels like the end of an era. Super hero movies have been over done, they stick to simple formulas for story and fill with lots of action. The market has been over saturated, and to continue super hero movies will have to be good movies, which can stand on their own regardless of genre. I think its a task that Disney doesn’t want to do as long as they can stick to their formulas and pump money out of the franchise. I think the golden age of super hero movies is over and I plead to Disney don’t do the same with Star Wars.

A Little Short

I have finally received most of the parts for a future project of mine. Last year as part of a Special promotion for May the 4th I purchased a kit for a nearly screen accurate Storm Trooper costume. I have now received the first box containing the helmet and all the hard plastic pieces and I have started to realize that this is a project of significant scale. In order to lay out all the armor pieces I have to add two leaves to our dinning room table. All the pieces are straight from the vacuum forming press and need to be cut out before assembly of the armor can even begin. My current hope is that I can get it all finished before the fall where between conventions and Halloween I’ll have some good opportunities to wear it.

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The contents of a Storm Troopers closet

We have to back!

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Updated my pebble to reflect that today is the day 30 years into the future where when Marty McFly is brought by Doc Brown to save his kids in Back to the Future II. Though we don’t have hover boards or self lacing shoes after today we can finally put to rest the Facebook posts every October falsely claiming that this is the year. This is the year!

A Little Piece of Pax

This past weekend, while I was busy finishing moving out of my old apartment; Seattle’s well know gaming convention, the Penny Arcade eXpo, was in full swing. As busy as I was I was still able to make it to PAX for a few days it was here. While a full write up of what I played and what I though while pressed into the sardine can that was the Seattle Convention Center, I’ll show off the only merchandise that I though was worthy of a purchase all weekend.

Miniature Dice, from the Chessex booth.
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Always ready for the next adventure.

Combining hobbies

When one has more than one hobby its always interesting to see how they can cross. Two of my passions happen to naturally fit well together; 3D Printing and Games.

Board and tabletop gaming mesh perfectly with 3D printing. How many times has a little piece of plastic gone missing from a box, only to be noticed weeks later half way through the next playing of the game? A small unicolored plastic token, that is what FDM printers are best at! Better yet, should you have to model the new piece yourself all the pieces from the box are usually the same shape so you have an object from which to take measurements. I had a missing Catan road piece that was easily replaced by some ABS plastic. One could easily see printing missing Monopoly houses or a militia man from Risk, pieces that get lost so easily and so often. Why stop at small pieces, I am in the process of rebuilding my Catan set with entirely 3D printed tiles. But this is only the first step, 3D printing and games can benefit from a closer association.
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So a 3D printer can replace a missing piece from a game, but what about a game that had no pieces to start with. Dungeons and Dragons and many other ‘Table Top’ role playing games do not require anything but paper, pencils, and imagination. Though imagination is all that is needed many players have found that adding drawn maps and physical tokens to the game are beneficial organizational tools and help encourage more role playing. Many campaigns will use what they have on hand; bottle caps, guitar picks, and thimbles. Some of the more committed will get Games Worksop miniatures or buy sets of models from Wizards of the Coasts. But with a personal fabrication device, why would anyone want to do that, just print them. There are a few artists who have started making and providing models of creatures, monsters, and dungeons elements often found in the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons to be printed and used. A committed and industrious Dungeon Master could try and print all the party’s encounters before the group meets. This is not always easy as the party will not always take the path the DM planned and encounters are sometimes unexpected by all involved. We have started using the 3D printer to print custom marker tiles, labeled “MONSTER” to denote where on the grid the big beasties are. This with some adhesive vinyl and wet erase markers lets us enact any encounter. My group uses hero characters out of my set of old Games Workshop miniatures but for players who are attached to their characters there is now a service, Hero Forge, that lets DnD players customize a character design and then have it printed on high resolution SLA printers. While its hard to get the same detail out of the popular FDM printers now, in the future creating one’s character might involve some 3D design and extruded plastic.
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So the 3D printing community can take a game and repair or enhance with this new technology. But what about the future of table top and board games, how might that be affected by the rise of 3D printing?

Since it may take years to decades for 3D printers to be common place in households (if this ever happens at all), the first place games will see innovation from 3D printing will probably be inside the packaged box. Game makers with access to 3D printing will be more easily able to prototype mechanically and visually complex game pieces. The parts that the home player would get would still be injection molded plastic, but used as a rapid prototyping device a 3D printers will make these pieces easier to design and play test with before the manufacturing run starts.

If 3D printing ever does become common place, then there may exist a market for digital distribution of physical board games. Table top and board games that come with printable STL files instead of playing pieces. Catan might be reduced to a deck or cards and a download code, tiles and play pieces all to be printed. This can make games cheaper, more flexile and shake up typical board game distribution channels. If a 3D printing enthusiast were to look online now there are already a couple of independent games designers making games to be printed and played. Some are calling the spread of 3D printing the start of a new home industrial revolution and I think that may be a big step away from where the technology is headed, but if there is ever is a time with a Form1 or Makerbot printer next to the family InkJet then games seems like an industry that should easily adapt to this new revolution.

John Wick

Last week was the release of Keanu Reeves’ latest film, John Wick, which unlike 47 Ronin I actually felt it was worth seeing. The movie is about a normal guy so generic that they couldn’t give him a more interesting name than John. John is having a bad day which is made worse when Alfie Allen’s character comes into the picture, being just as much of a dick as his is on Game of Thrones, and kills his dog. To get even John goes on a rampage against Allen (who apparently cannot catch a break) who is hiding behind his father’s criminal organization.

This movie is not heavy with the plot, there is enough there to get the movie started and little bits trickle in fast enough that you are not questioning the characters actions. The real reason anyone would go see this movie, as with most Keanu movies, is for the elaborate action sequences. John Wick delivers. The is an abundance of extremely well choreographed action sequences as Keanu fights his way through the Russian Mob. The style of this movie was reminiscent of The Raid, where one martial arts master slowly works his way up the levels of a gun toting criminal organization.

I was pleased that a movie with a tone that is partly mocking Keanu’s kung-fu action movies went with a level of realism they did not need to. This move would have been as much of a blockbuster if their were explosions in every scene, crazy amounts of ammo and a busty sidekick but that’s not what they went with. The movie was exceptional at showing the need to reload weapons, the frailty of bullet proof vests, and that even the protagonist will miss a few shots. There were a few car chases all of which are reasonable. They even pushed a vehicle off a cliff without it exploding at the bottom. The show bets everything on the choreography of the fight scenes and its well places as they are extremely well done.

If you enjoy watching Keanu Reeve’s kick ass for an hour and a half then go see John Wick you will get exactly what you are looking for as well as a few scenes of puppies.

A Trip to Mars

I’ve just finished reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir and its a great read which I recommend to anyone who likes science fiction.

The book is a narrative of Mark Watney, one of the crew members of Ares III; Earth’s third manned mission to Mars. Disaster strikes and the rest of the crew members are forced to evacuate, leaving Watney alone on the red planet, with the whole world thinking he’s dead.

This is an amazing tale of survival and ingenuity, and Weir did an excellent amount of research making everything in the book as realistic as possible.