Unauthoritative Pronouncements

Subscribe About

Canon Wars: The Trek for Understanding

A recent episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show with John Siracusa, and Guy English as guests. The topic was Star Wars — basically all of the films, with a few mentions of expectations for the upcoming films, the Expanded Universe, and how it fits together. The really interesting part of the conversation is hearing the three of them describe what is, and is not, Star Wars, in Star Wars. Fans refer to this as canon. Canon surrounds fictional works, it permeates them, it binds a fictional universe together — It usually results in a lot of heated arguments.

Recently, there have been rumblings about Star Wars’ Expanded Universe characters, and stories, being removed. Some Star Wars fans are quite distressed by this, while others are relived the new films won’t be tied to the stories that have been told, and a third group had no idea any of that stuff existed.

Canons with Benefits

There is a tendency with nerds to analyze the minutiae of stories. To catalog what we find, assign it a spot, and weave together relationships with other elements. A number of reasons exist for this behavior:

Suspension of Disbelief

If everything is logically consistent in a story, then it makes it easier to believe the events of the story, and the events of other stories. This is a blessing, and a curse. People can know about a race, characters, or ship combat mechanics, from a previous story and it the current story doesn’t have to earn that. Unfortunately, that also means that if the current story behaves in a way that contradicts prior stories, without explanation, then you’ve thrown a bunch of fans out.

Mastery of the Subject

There’s a confidence that stems from knowing, and understanding, all the rules, and facts, of a universe. It wasn’t a waste of time! It was all worth it! The knowledge is comforting, even if it doesn’t yield any practical reward.

There is an unfortunate offshoot of this with the know-it-all-nerd stereotype that we’ve all seen in The Comic Book Shop Guy from The Simpsons — or probably witnessed in an actual comic book shop. A desire to lord their knowledge over others, and keep out all but the true believers. To use “facts” and “logic” against other nerds’ “facts” and “logic” and provide comfort, in a negative way.

Law & Order: Canon Intent

People might believe canon should exist — in the abstract — but lack any mastery of it. They want to know that things function on a surface level without having to get into the details and wade through wiki articles. They want to know police are protecting them, but they don’t want to be the police.

Head Canon

The first time I ever heard the term “head canon” was from Erika Ensign on an episode of The Incomparable. I don’t think she invented it, but I can’t find any sources for it. Conceptually, it refers rationalizing things, filling in the gaps, and generating a personalized truth. Head canon is not official in any capacity, but the person’s belief in it is unshakeable. Some might think of this as a form of denial, or pointless speculation, but that’s just, like, their opinion, man.

Comparing Canons

The idea of canonicity stems from religion. Not to touch that third rail, but it’s pretty easy to see how there’s a lot of material that organized religions sift through, and approve, as the actual beliefs of the religion. Let’s move away from the discussion of religion, and talk about something a lot less controversial: Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

Oh yeah, we’re boldly going there.

While I love both Star Wars and Star Trek, it’s pretty obvious that I love Trek more. I can easily say this is because I grew up with Star Warsbeing a trilogy on VHS tape (which I would watch over and over) and grew up with Star Trek while TNG was on the air, and the original cast was still making movies. Even by that point, there was a lot of Star Trek and there was good, and bad to be found in much of it. Star Wars was just the three VHS tapes. Kids my age were so starved for Star Wars that they bought in to much of what The Expanded Universe had to offer, particularly the N64 game, Shadows of the Empire, and anything concerning Mara Jade.

Star Wars had, until very recently, the dubious luxury of George Lucas deciding almost everything. Even though George Lucas didn’t direct two of the Star Wars movies, he was certainly involved with them. He owned the company responsible for licensing books, comic books, games, and cartoons. Even though he didn’t approve each of those Expanded Universe titles, he was the top dog.

Star Trek, in contrast, has a long, chaotic history with many different views, and opinions being expressed by showrunners, producers, and writers. Even during the original series, Gene L. Coon, not Gene Roddenberry, ran many of the shows. Indeed, he created the Klingons, Khan, the Prime Directive, the United Federation of Planets, and Starfleet Command. Even a non-Star-Trek fan knows all of those iconic things. Roddenberry, the show’s creator, did not always like the things that the fans liked, much in the same way that George Lucas didn’t really approach Star Wars the same way fans had.

While Star Trek has books, comic books, games, and a cartoon, it’s always been additional stuff that the shows, and movies, have never been bound to. Star Wars dismantling some of the officialness of the Expanded Universe just knocks it down to Star Trek tie-in properties. The market for that is still there, people still buy it, and actors still lend themselves to the tie-in projects. It’s not the end of the universe, and not the end of the expansion.

Star Trek fans have been dealing with continuity, and canon, issues for decades. The sheer amount of Star Trek material is immense, and allows for sprawling, multi-series, multi-movie analysis. That doesn’t mean fans won’t bump against those issues, but there’s so much bumping that it’s not a new experience. Phasers fired out of the torpedo tubes? Ferengi and human first contact in Star Trek: Enterprise? Klingon makeup? The warp factor scale? Almost everything else?

Star Trek is Silly

So is Star Wars. What’s your point? Is your point that Star Wars is so perfect, and rarified that it should never be subjected to the kind of inconsistent treatment Star Trek has been? It has silly stuff right in the sacred films, ignore it at your own peril.

Silliness doesn’t matter, introducing silliness, to a degree, doesn’t kill anything. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is a weird stasis with Star Wars being protected to the grave. It needs new fans, new audiences, new stories to tell. I don’t like the JJ Abrams’ Trek films as much as most Trek stories, but I’m glad that something exists because it might push people to look back on historical Star Trek.

A person doesn’t need to like all of Star Wars, or integrate all aspects of Star Wars into a cohesive whole. It is possible to accept that Star Trek: Nemesis is a movie that happened, even though I thoroughly, and unequivocally, hate the movie.

Luke is Spider-Man

Retroactive continuity was first used to describe changes made in comic books. Rewriting “history” in the fictional universe to better suit current stories, or current attitudes of the authors. It’s not the same as plot inconsistencies, but it can be used as a way to fix inconsistencies. Errors are not retcons, and George Lucas’ Special Edition doesn’t count as a retcon.

It is entirely possible that Lucasfilm will keep elements from the Expanded Universe as part of the canon of Star Wars going forward. Possibly characters, but not the stories involving those characters. Rewriting them to fit in to the new stories, and the continuity going forward.

Whether or not you consider that a retcon, a reboot, a revision, or a reimagining, is all open to interpretation since it depends on what you feel is canon.

People might cry foul over this, that Admiral Thrawn demands respect, but the situation is no different from the competing, conflicting, coexisting timelines Disney’s other acquired company, Marvel, goes through. The movies are separate from the comics, but use them as inspiration, they tell whatever story they want to tell. People still buy the comics, and enjoy them, and buy movie tickets, and enjoy them. It is possible to cope with these changes, other fans do it all the time.

Other fanbases have to deal with this too. John Siracusa points to James Bond, and Doctor Who for examples of franchises that see sweeping changes.

I Only Eat Real, Pasture-Raised, All-Natural, Original-Recipe Star Wars

There have been so few official sources of Star Wars that people have developed very intimate attachments to what existed. This stands in stark contrast to nearly every other popular franchise of the last 30-40 years. It is possible that this is a key factor in many fans taking hardline stances about what’s “real” Star Wars.

It is also possible that fans feel so burned by the official prequels that they have hardened to any changes to Star Wars. It’s the original trilogy only (mostly they just like Empire Strikes Back).

This isn’t the same thing as “head canon” because there’s no self-awareness. Their personal preferences are truth, not just to them, but must be respected by others.

The easiest way to see if you’re talking to someone afflicted by this:

  1. “Do you like The Phantom Menace?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. It’s not Star Wars.
  2. “Do you like the other prequels?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. They’re not Star Wars.
  3. “Do you like Return of the Jedi?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. (unprompted) They should have been Wookies instead of Ewoks.

If anyone answers with the third options then give them this map.

When what literally counts as Star Wars is The Empire Strikes Back and parts of two other movies, then that person can’t interpret anything that might upset a very specific, narrow view they have. It is unlikely that person will see the JJ Abrams movie and think it’s official either.

People are smothering Star Wars with their love of a select set of things. The franchise needs to grow, shift, and change.

You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.

2015-01-14 08:30:00

Category: text


Analog(ue) #21: Get Your Work Done Doing

Last Thursday, I had the day off for the holiday, and I happened to have Skype open from a recording I had just done with Dan for Defocused’s 29th episode, when all of a sudden Myke Hurley called me. I missed the first call, because I had disconnected the mic and walked in to the next room to get some water, but then I raced back over to set it up. Casey and Myke were talking about movie trilogies, and I wasn’t going to let it go by without saying something. Then they asked me to stick around for the rest of their recording. It really threw me off to be on a live recording, so I certainly wasn’t as articulate as I should have been. Sure enough, the title is a dumb thing that flopped out of my mouth.

I have achieved a meta-white-whale moment by being on the podcast, and having a “guest” page on Relay now.

I don’t think I was particularly insightful on the episode, but I wasn’t that bad. The subject was on criticism, and I skipped over one very important aspect of criticism that I hope Myke and Casey will address later: Unsolicited, ‘just kidding around’, snarky feedback.

There’s an asymmetrical relationship from following people on Twitter, and listening to their podcasts. The follower/listener can pickup on running jokes, including jokes aimed at the podcaster. They can recite that inside joke back to the podcaster, in a way that seems like appreciation. Like, “Oh hey, Fast Text is so old, blah blah blah” might seem like it’s just kidding around because all the other people on the podcast are saying it to that podcaster. The listener is joining in, and being a part of it. They want to be in on the joke with them.

However, because this relationship is one-sided, the “joke” might not land. It can come across as weird, unfunny, or even as an actual insult instead of the winky-wink-smiley-face comment the person intended.

It is difficult for someone following a Twitter account, or listening to a podcast, to insure their comments are taken in the spirit they’re offered. From the perspective of the listener, they’ve done all they should do, and they feel like they’re downright friendly. We’re all friends here, we’re all cracking the same jokes, we’re all just having a laugh. Except the listener is basically a person walking up to you on the street and saying that joke, without any context, in the real world. It can be a little weird.

Some advice, from an expert jerk:

Before you make those trolling in-jokes, get them to know you by having conversations with them. Jokes are fine, but steer clear of jokes about people that don’t know you. Comedy is still possible without it being an insult. Self-deprecating jokes are fine, but go easy on them, because it can sound like the person is full of self-loathing, and seeking pity.

For example: I know Casey well enough that I can tease him about movies. Casey also knows me well enough that he can tease me about how I “hate everything”. We both know the other is making a joke. If those had been some of the first things Casey and I had said to one another then I don’t think Casey and I would be talking. I certainly would not have been invited on their show at all.

Lastly, I say all of these things because I have done all of these things. Be internet buddies with everyone, but don’t get swept-up in the single-sided familiarity the internet offers.

2015-01-06 08:58:03

Category: text


I’ve Got Five Bridges to Sell You

I started listening to Hello Internet after the endorsement of Myke Hurley, and now I’m a subscriber. Myke just recently selected this as his favorite podcast of the year to give you some kind of an idea of how much he likes it.

I quite like the show, though honestly I’ve been unable to formulate a way to pitch someone else on it. It’s two guys that make YouTube videos about stuff, but the podcast is mostly about the peripheral issues in the lives of these two people. They discuss state flags, or they discuss fiddly little protocols and forms they follow concerning Twitter and email. On the most recent episode, Brady Haran starts up a conversation about bridges. He loves bridges, and he wanted to talk about them with CGP Grey.

The bridge conversation rules were:

  • They would take turns naming bridges they liked.
  • They must have been on (or under) the bridge in person.

Brady was so excited by this topic, and Grey so baffled by it, that I found myself wondering what bridges I would select if I were to make this hypothetical list.

I won’t keep you in suspension any longer.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Sunshine Skyway on the Tampa Bay.jpg
Sunshine Skyway on the Tampa Bay” by Zword97. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I spent much of my life in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. Your condolences are appreciated, but unnecessary because I had this beautiful bridge to enjoy!

Ahem.

This iconic bridge was constructed after the first, SUPER-UGLY, cantilever, steel bridge was hit by freighter in 1980. Parts of the concrete sections from the old bridge remain up today and used mostly for recreational fishing.

Because Florida is so very, very flat, the bridge can be seen from miles and miles in all directions. Like many bridges trying to emulate the colorful success of the Golden Gate bridge, the Sunshine Skyway’s cables are painted an eye-catching, yellow hue. It really stands out against the blue sky. I’m glad they went that route and didn’t paint it with green zinc paint like Los Angeles’ Vincent Thomas Bridge. Barf.

Brooklyn Bridge

DSC_0351

Naturally, Brady and Grey took the Golden Gate Bridge off the table, as well they should have. However, second on the list of famous, and not to be overlooked, bridges is the Brooklyn Bridge. It was completed in 1883, which is 1,000 years ago in American History Years. I walked across the bridge once, on the pedestrian path, and you get an impressive view as you walk towards the spans, with the cables drawing your eye skyward. Literally everyone takes exactly this shot.

“If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you” — and variations of that phrase, have become part of our culture because a con man repeatedly “sold” the bridge. Most bridges can’t really compete with that kind of trivia.

Sixth Street Viaduct

Sixth Street Viaduct
“Sixth Street Viaduct” - Laurie Avocado
Sixth Street Bridge over Los Angeles River.jpg
Sixth Street Bridge over Los Angeles River” by Downtowngal. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Downtown Los Angeles is a bit of a festering sore. Early in the life of the city, people lived there. Then people were attracted to the suburbs (Beverly Hills and Santa Monica held “weekend homes” for people downtown that wanted to get away from it all). After World War II, LA put all of its effort into a “hygenic” car movement. Roads, bridges, freeways (highways), tunnels, all exploded over the town. The structures designed in that time are incredibly interesting, even if they are poorly maintained, and covered in graffiti. The Sixth Street Viaduct is a perfect example of that.

Even if you don’t know the name of it, you’ve seen this viaduct bridge in many films, TV shows, music videos, car commercials, and games.

The bridge is in three sections. Two reinforced concrete structures, and then the set of steel arches in the middle. Below the bridge is the scenic Los Angeles River — That’s sarcasm, it’s a concrete ditch with a trickle of industrial and residential runoff. After many devastating floods LA got the Army Corps of Engineers to pave the whole river.

The view from the bridge is actually quite interesting — in a very industrial kind of a way.

Original from Sixth Street Viaduct over the Los Angeles River.

If you have any interest in seeing it, I’d recommend you do, because people estimate there’s a 70% chance it will collapse in an earthquake due to the quality of the concrete used in its construction.

Ponte Vecchio

_DSC0472

This bridge is so strange. It’s barnacled with shops and buildings that break all the lines. It’s haphazard — grown instead of designed — but the assemblage is so interesting that you want to explore it. Most famous bridges are obvious from afar, but not this one. When I saw it for the first time, from the street along the Arno, I thought it was pretty ugly. Over the next couple days in Florence, passing by it, and over it, I had to acknowledge that I found it too fascinating to ignore.

Bow Bridge

DSC_0126

Central Park’s Bow Bridge is the second-oldest cast iron bridge in the US. It is quite small, but that also gives it a feeling of intimacy in its setting. The circular bows that span the bridge create give it a soft look. In fact, the view of the bridge is more picturesque than the view on the bridge.

2015-01-01 13:45:00

Category: text


Yet Another, Another End of the Year

I closed out 2013 with a post about my feelings on the year. It was the style at the time. Seems only fair to go through it and continue forward, like time was linear, or something.

2012, and 2013, were not especially good years for me. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but there were two events that shaped each of those years. I was laid off (that’s both of them). It is a very dramatic way to put it though because I was hired back both times. The revelation is that my work has become almost seasonal. It was always project based, but It was nearly seven years before I experienced the first layoff, and a year later I experienced the second. I am currently working, so don’t get too sad. It does appear it will happen in 2014 as well, and the cycle will repeat.

Point for me, I was right on that one! Not long after this, I was laid off, along with many others, when Amazing Spider-Man 2 wrapped. Unlike 2012 and 2013, SPI did not hire me back because they shifted their business almost entirely to Vancouver.

I did however find another job in the fall for a television show with some rather intricate visual effects that have resulted in some pretty exhausting demands of my time, but the good news is that I feel like I might be kept on and move forward with it. Strangely, it seems more stable than film work which you would not really think would be the case.

In 2013, I did a much better job handling the “time off” than I did in 2012. In 2014, I’d like to think I will improve further in this area. Nothing bad happened to me in 2012, or 2013, as a result of it. Lack of a current job doesn’t mean I am not a person that’s doing well, in the grand scheme of things.

Another point for me, I dealt with the long period of unemployment pretty well. I took the time to work on this blog, literally the stuff that generates the blog as well as the writing. I also did something rather bold for someone with my personality, and that was start a podcast with my internet-friend Dan Sturm. Neither of these things have actually generated any money at all, but they were an important first step to validate that I wasn’t just a nobody.

Indeed, it’s pretty evident in my post last year that I deeply enjoyed the silly recognition I got for my Terrible Podcast Screenplays. I haven’t written one since May 22, 2014. There are so many I want to write now, when I’m working and have no time, but lacked the inspiration for this summer.

2014 had some unanticipated ups and downs.

  • I cracked a premolar and chipped three teeth (boo!)
  • My sister got married (yay!)
  • My boyfriend of 5 years visited Tampa for the first time and met all of my family (yay!)
  • Sony Pictures experienced a massive data breach and all of my personal information has been compromised (boo!)

I hope that I can continue to work on my ability to cope with sudden changes, and strive to gain a healthier balance between work and my free time. I might not ever be an independent rogue, like Jason Snell, but it’d be nice if I had more time for fun podcasts.

Thanks for all those that read along here, endure me on Twitter, and listen on Defocused. You made my 2014 better.

2015-01-01 13:38:30

Category: text


Unauthoritative Gift Guide 2014

What better way to start my birthday than with a useless gift guide for other people? Birthdays near Christmas are the worst. Buy me a birthday cake decorated with poinsettias at your own peril.

For Tea and Coffee Drinkers

Bauer Pottery Coffee Mug

$29

A beautiful, handmade ceramic mug from sunny (it’s raining right now) Southern California. The aqua-glazed beehive is my favorite container for warm beverages. If you want to really wake yourself up in the morning, the orange is eye-searing.

For Fussy Hipsters

The Moscow Mug

$19

This copper chalice makes your moscow mule look like a million bucks.

The main reason it’s on this list is because Matt Alexander doesn’t stock enough of them so you can’t have any. Excuse me while I go back to hoarding copper mugs.

For Aspiring Podcasters

Audio-Technica ATR2100 USB/XLR

$60

I recently switched over from the Blue Yeti to the ATR2100 because of issues I’ve had in my recording space regarding ambient noise. I’m very pleased with it, and it’s a bargain over many competing mics. I need to get better at speaking in to the microphone, because it’s not as forgiving as the Yeti, but it’s worth it to not have it pick up every little noise in the world.

For All Humans

iPhone 6

$199-$849

I love my phone. I still have problems with the rough spots in iOS 8, but the overall experience makes the device something you just can’t put down. Even when you really, really should. Like when someone says, “You love your phone more than you love me.” Probably a hint that the phone is great. (Also might be a hint about something else… whoops.)

For Internet Tinkerers

Digital Ocean

$5/mo

This is for the person that constantly talks about running scripts for things, or how great it will be when he finishes his static blogging engine. You know, the real nerds. Not like you and me. (Cough.)

For Aspiring Writers

Byword

$2.99 + $9.99

I almost exclusively write in Byword. I’ll even write notes in Byword because it’ll sync between my Mac and my iPhone. The publishing features are very nice if you happen to blog with one of the supported platforms.

For Aspiring Screenwriters

Highland

$29.99

This is John August’s special little app. It can convert Final Draft documents, PDFs, and plain text. It even has a very simple text editor inside of it. It wins out over Slugline because I find the “helpful” margin shifting stuff really distracting when I’m trying to write a fake screenplay. There is a free demo of Slugline though.

For Visual Effects Artists

Winner: Rowan’s Creek

$42-$50

This is quite possibly the most hideous bourbon bottle you will ever see. That’s great for you though because it means it’s camouflaged from all the people that would think this isn’t worthwhile. And remember, pretty containers aren’t always good choices.

The bourbon is aged for 12 years, and has a traditional mash mix that is very pleasant. However, it is quite strong at 100 proof. You may have trouble locating it.

Runner-Up: Four Roses Single Barrel

$38-$50

Depending on where you the gift recipient lives, you might not be able to buy, or ship, the bourbon. A decent fallback bourbon, that’s more widely available, is the Four Roses Single Barrel. I’m specifically saying the “Single Barrel” one here because I don’t find any of their other products to be very impressive, and I certainly wouldn’t gift regular Four Roses to anyone.

2014-12-17 08:10:00

Category: text


Ahoy Microphone!

In episode 12 of Relay FM’s Upgrade, Jason Snell discusses podcasts, and his feelings about how people should just get out there and start making things. It really grinds his gears when people snobbishly push other people away. He defends the Blue Yeti microphone as a perfectly acceptable microphone. He does all of his podcast recording on it, so if it’s good enough for Jason Snell’s Podcast Empire, it’s good enough for you, me — anybody.

He also briefly mentions a few other entry-level microphones, some of which he has not had the chance to use, but have been recommended to him. One of those is the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone. Right after I had posted my podcasting setup, Listener Jeff asked me if I had used the ATR. (Sigh.)

Even Tim Smith, podcast proprietor of Good Stuff FM, was surprised by the quality of the microphone.

I found a nice video review on YouTube by Andy Slye if you want a quick lowdown.

One of the only drawbacks I’ve found with the ATR2100 is that I think it’s a little too quiet when I monitor myself with the built-in headphone jack. That was the first thing I noticed when I recorded with it instead of my Yeti, where I can hear myself more clearly. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it something to be conscious of while you record since you might not hear yourself getting quieter if you drift away from the microphone.

Which brings up the most important part: mic technique. When you use a dynamic microphone that minimizes sound outside a certain area from the mic, it means you need to talk inside that area. Who knew? This is one of those things where it’s easy to know that fact, but not aware that you’ve suddenly leaned back in your chair. Some adjustment can correct for these moments, but it would be in your best interest to pay attention to where the mic is, relative to your kisser.

One of the interesting features of the ATR2100 is that it handles both USB and XLR. The USB makes it easy for anyone to use, just like with the Yeti, and the XLR makes it easy to incrementally upgrade your recording environment to include a mixer. That dual functionality is pretty unique, and to be honest, piqued my interest. I’m probably not going to spring for a mixer anytime soon, but it’s nice to know I can. (I want a soundboard so badly, like you don’t even know. You don’t even know.)

What About the Yeti?

The Blue Yeti still has the Snell-of-Approval™, and I still recorded a lot of decent stuff with it. It is also a more versatile microphone because you can switch between different recording patterns, push the mute button, and dial the gain to suit many situations. It is definitely more expensive than the ATR2100 though, and if I was buying My First Microphone over again, I’d go with the ATR2100. I bought my Yeti at Best Buy last year, in a (gasp) brick-and-mortar store because they had a sale going on and it ended up only costing me $80. Buying it at normal retail price, around $120, is kind of a bummer.

The thing that I felt like I was fighting with the Yeti was ambient noise. The space I have for recording is surrounded by paper thin walls that don’t block street noise, other tenants, or TVs blaring in the other units. A unique feature is the echo chamber on either side of the apartment building between my building and the neighboring buildings. It’s swell. Even little noises, like touching a piece of paper get picked up by the Yeti. I had to train myself to sit far away from the microphone so I wouldn’t fidget with anything and regret it later.

If you mostly plan to record just yourself, in your imperfect apartment, I strongly recommend you consider purchasing the less expensive ATR2100, it’s a real bargain at $60. Throw in the foam windscreen they recommend, like I did, because it’s what Amazon calls an “add-on” item. I believe that works best when it is added on to things.

Hashtag pro podcasters.

2014-12-16 21:31:00

Category: text


It's About Ethics in Link-Bait Journalism

Sunday night, an Aaron Sorkin op-ed was published by the New York Times. The piece was on why no one should be reporting — at all — on the data hackers stole from Sony. He cherry-picks some examples of salacious things that have been printed that aren’t all that worthy of being printed, and then calls anyone reporting on the contents of the stolen data “morally treasonous” and makes a NATO metaphor.

Media organizations had a very strong reaction in exactly the opposite direction — as one might imagine.

Editors, and writers for the online technology site, The Verge, were not happy with Sorkin at all. They cited their reporting on Project Goliath as reason enough to continue reporting. They also wrote a long, hand-wringing piece about the ethics of what they are doing. Monday, they ran a piece that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Today, The Verge saw fit to publish a headline that spelled out the ending of The Interview, along with video of it stolen from Sony.

WHAT.

THE.

FUCK.

How, the fucking hell is the end of a movie that isn’t in theaters something that should be published? Even if this was edited, it’s still basically the ending. “Oh well the film is the target.” So? Verge, you don’t get to publish the ending to score some sweet ad dollars, bros.


UPDATE

Shortly after this went up this morning, Polygon (a video game centric website under the same parent company as The Verge) posted exactly the same link-bait garbage that The Verge did. What does this have to do with games? Something-something Sony game console so reasons.

My headline suggestion for them: “You Won’t Believe The Piracy We’re Endorsing”

2014-12-16 08:25:31

Category: text


Sony Emails Reveal Failed Efforts to Recruit ‘Lego’ Directors to Run Animation Unit ►

This is huge, and immensely depressing. These emails occurred this summer, and it appears nothing has changed. So very troubling for my friends that still work for Imageworks. Pretending this doesn’t exist is impossible. The only hope is that this might bring about some change for the better.

2014-12-13 12:45:00

Category: text


The Hack

Reminder: This is a personal blog, and not a news outlet. My views do not reflect those of any past, present, or future employer.

At the start of last week, an image of a skeleton on a screen made the rounds on every news site. Ominous reports started to leak that Sony Pictures Entertainment had been hacked.

This seemed bad, but at the time I wasn’t very concerned. How much damage could someone do to one of The Big Six? There are six major, movie studios in the whole world. There are many other movie studios, but in terms of scale, there are six big ones, and they’re all located headquartered in the Los Angeles area. Even the large studios own their own smaller studios. Sometimes those include animation studios, visual effects studios, games, interactive media, etc.

I worked for Sony Pictures Imageworks for many years. SPI is a division of Sony Pictures Digital (Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc.). SPDP is part of Sony Pictures, which is a subsidiary of Sony.

Fun stuff.

The hack affected Sony Pictures Entertainment, and I expected it to only affect the computer systems tied specifically to the parent company. However, all of the paperwork for the other companies under it appears to be held on the same servers.

I heard, through a few people, that they had obtained the list of file names that the hackers claimed they would release. Just file names, nothing else. When I saw my name, I knew I was in there for real. That it wasn’t just some gimmick. Especially when they had a t-shirt order form with my name on it in addition to all those performance reviews and contracts. No one would purposefully go to that level of detail for me, the hackers obviously grabbed everything that wasn’t nailed down. (It appears things might not have been thoroughly nailed down.)

It’s hard to describe the violation someone can feel about data relating to their identity, and their work. On the one hand, I know no company would seriously use any performance data obtained from this hack, but on the other hand I know that it’s just out there. My reviews aren’t even bad, but what about everyone else? I’m sure not everyone has paperwork as vanilla as my own.

Social Security Numbers, however, are timeless. All it takes is one person to save a file for use later on. A timebomb on your identity, and credit.

Not to mention the revelation that there are spreadsheets with the medical history of employees. If anyone has a private medical matter, it is now publicly available to unscrupulous people.

I unequivocally condemn the hack. SPI is not my current employer (after they relocated to Vancouver they are unlikely to be my employer again) but this kind of attack exploits and punishes all the employees, and former employees. The company was already in the midst of a restructuring, and this will make that even worse. People will lose their jobs, either directly as a result of the hack, or indirectly due to financial losses the company will incur because of the hack.

Answers

Sony Pictures was mostly silent since the news of this hack first leaked. All they would initially confirm was a “disruption”. Some employees leaked memos to the press. No effort has been made to proactively contact former employees, and no statements have been released to the press for how former employees should contact the company. No effort has been made to announce anything through the media to former employees at all.

This is a media company that, the very same week, launched an all-out blitz for the next James Bond film, and hosted the annual company holiday party. I believe it was, and is, possible for them to do something for former employees seeking answers.

After learning of the hack, I attempted to contact the SPE main lot. I was helpfully directed to the appropriate department. The phone rang for a bit and then someone picked up the phone and hung up on me. I sent an email to an HR address, and three days later, on Sunday the 7th, I received a response. I do appreciate that they were working the Sunday to respond to emails. They said my name was added to the list of the provider they selected for identity protection, and that I should wait to be contacted by that company. They had no idea what information was compromised by the hack.

Perpetrators

No one knows who is behind this. The best guess is North Korea, because a lot of the communication has centered on the film, The Interview. Other speculation has mentioned an insider, though it may be some combination of the two. The FBI investigation is still ongoing.

Media

The data dumps have been going on at a steady pace. They appear to be lumps of similar data in each batch. Either how they were originally organized, or how they were reorganized by the hackers to package for distribution. They have been irregularly dumping hundreds of gigabytes of files.

Some people are reacting to these dumps with glee, because they can pick apart all of the damaging secrets. I am not one of those people. I do have complicated feelings about the reporting. Even though they are a former employer, I have no desire to see the company destroyed. I still have friends that work there, and I want the best for them.

If you’re excited because Sony might sell Spider-Man back to Marvel you’re disgusting.

Phil Lord, famous for several films he’s made with Sony, is staunchly against any data being reported on.

The Sony hack is terrorism. Publishing the information aids terrorists. Sony execs are victims, and filmmakers. We should stand with them. — Phil Lord

Similarly, Rian Johnson:

This Sony hack is some vile shit. My policy: don’t click & note who’s posting stolen emails it so I can continue to not click in the future. — Rian Johnson

Here’s the thing though: Not talking about it doesn’t make the data go away. It’s still being dumped, and people are going to go through it. Sure it’s easy to be upset at Gawker, but what if there is stuff in there on employees being screwed? Where does that ethical line get drawn?

I have a harder time saying that nothing should be reported on. I disagree with the esteemed directors that reporters, and readers, should sit on their hands and let people without a moral compass be the only ones that see the data. Feel free to follow their interpretation though, they are cool dudes.

Sadly, you can’t unexplode this by ignoring the explosion.

2014-12-10 23:45:00

Category: text


How We Make Podcasts

Casey Liss posted last week about his podcasting setup. This went on to inspire some spirited discussion about microphones, and how people should be encouraging, and not exclusionary, with their podcasting recommendations. What is a pro? What is art? What is the nature of the universe? Is this real life?

Ahem.

I seldom get asked about my podcasting setup, but there are a few things that are different about what we do that might be interesting to someone.

(Crickets chirping.)

Mein Mikrofon

I use the much-reviled Blue Yeti microphone. If you are an audiophile, you have feelings about this. It is an imperfect device, but it fills the role I need it to, for the money I’m comfortable spending. If you seek advice on creating a podcasting empire with the dulcet tones of your voice, look elsewhere for advice. I do not excuse the Yeti, or say that it is good enough for anyone, it is simply appropriate for my specific situation. Should I ever fall face-first on a pile of money I will wash my face, because money is dirty, but then I will spend the money on some gear.

Pros:

  1. Relatively inexpensive, and frequently on sale through various retailers.
  2. USB interface makes it a breeze to use.
  3. Headphone jack input on the device allows me to hear what the microphone is picking up while I record, and to hear Skype calls.
  4. Physical mute switch that I forget to disable every time I plug in the Yeti.

Cons:

  1. Everyone freaks out that you use a Blue Yeti.
  2. It comes with a weird stand that is not effective because it’ll be on a table, or desk, in front of you and pick up every vibration from you contacting the table or desk.
    1. Most people replace this silly stand with something more professional, perhaps on a boom arm, or tripod.
    2. I have a hand towel that’s folded over on itself that acts as a shock absorber. Cry your little tears, audiophiles!
  3. The Yeti is very sensitive to any noise around you. Street noise, a refrigerator in another room, loud neighbors, etc. I do record in less-than-ideal circumstances for this kind of device, and we have had interruptions in our recording because of it. Your mileage will vary.

On the Line

Like many podcasts, Dan and I use Skype to call one another, and then each of us records our ends of the conversations. Referred to as a double-ender (snicker). When we started, Dan and I used QuickTime to record the audio input that was being used for the Skype call. QuickTime does this for free, but you have to remember to launch and start, and stop, the recording.

One time, I opened QuickTime before I plugged in my USB microphone, so QuickTime didn’t see it as an input and recorded the system microphone on my MacBook Pro. That is not so good. After this incident, Jason Snell recommended Skype Call Recorder to me. I hemmed and hawed about spending money on it, since I didn’t technically need it, but it’s worth the piece of mind to buy Call Recorder. Having used it for months now, I can safely say that I recommend it, even if you’re just starting. You’ll just feel safer about your recordings, with is worth the cost of the software.

Cutting Room Floor

Dan and I both come from backgrounds in video, and film. We both believe in editing podcasts. The degree to which a podcast is edited can vary, but our edits generally consist of:

  1. Removing garbage from someone hitting a table, or a water bottle (unless it’s not possible to safely extract, so it’s another reason to be mindful while recording.) In a screenshot below you’ll see how much stuff gets scrapped out when we’re not speaking.
  2. Trimming start and ends. Most of the time, Dan and I launch right in to the show at the start of the call, unless it’s a call with a guest. We stay on the line a little at the end, and remove part of that. “Not editing for content” doesn’t mean you literally leave in every second of recording.
  3. Recordings get out sync as time goes on. It usually just requires a quick cut with the razor and slipping the track a bit.
  4. We do edit for content. If you listen, you’ll hear us flub a lot of stuff, so it’s not really editing to make us sound better, but we might remove a small aside about something for the episode, or excise a bit that didn’t come out like we meant it to. It’s really not anything crazy. We aren’t manufacturing a pristine illusion of two intelligent, funny guys, that would be a lie.
  5. Flare. This is my favorite part. Early in our podcast’s life, Dan started inserting little bits of audio for pop culture references (I am not a lawyer, but totes fair use). On the two occasions I’ve taken on editing duties, I’ve tried to emulate this. Usually with music that stops at just-not-quite-the-right time. Last night, Dan didn’t get “very cold in space”, so I spliced in some audio and left a huge spike of music before it cuts back to him talking about how unimportant it is that he get the reference. That’s something you can do in editing, for comedy. Shows like Bionic/BONANZA! have a system where Myke can play live audio in the call because of his mixer. This is some on-the-fly editing.
  6. Bleeps. We try to edit bad words so we don’t have to have an explicit tag. The bleeps kind of come out funny, in their own way. Especially if you’re playing a game of not actually saying a bad word.

Editing Software

Dan uses Soundtrack Pro to edit almost every episode. I do not know much of the process, because I’ve never seen him edit anything, and I’ve never used Soundtrack Pro.

The two times I’ve edited the podcast, for Galaxy Quest and Interstellar, I went with Adobe Audition CC 2014 (just rolls of the tongue). I had an existing relationship with Adobe that made this tool appealing to use. Almost every podcaster uses Logic Pro to do their work, so please don’t place a purchasing decision on me editing two episodes in something that was convenient for me.

The application is similar to Premiere, which I’ve had experience with in the past at school, and for cutting my demo reels. The tools it has for adjusting audio are great, but it’s not as easy to manage a 2 hour clip of audio as I would like it to be. Also? I spent an hour trying to figure out why variable-bit-rate encoding was producing files of different sizes and lengths before I went with constant-bit-rate and sent the file to Dan to compress further.

Here’s our episode on Interstellar:

Review

We review the episodes we record. Sometimes, we listen to the raw Call Recorder version, and sometimes we listen to rough cuts. In some situations we spot-check episodes instead of listening to the whole thing over again 1:1. We rely on a shared Dropbox folder for this. Recordings go in to it, and a “Review” folder displays the latest episode being worked on. The Dropbox app on iOS allows us to listen to the episodes while we go about our lives.

Slacking

From before we start an episode, until after an episode ships, we use Slack to discuss things, and keep things organized. Currently, we use the free account to do this. We have different rooms for different kinds of conversation, and we use them to handle things like shownotes, and title suggestions. Crucially, this is where we decide when to record, and agree to a topic to discuss. It would not be possible to manage the podcast without a real-time chat app with dedicated areas for different discussions.

The All-In-One Platform You Need

Dan uses a Squarespace account to manage the show’s site. This includes managing the RSS feed for the podcast, and the published shownotes. It doesn’t serve our audio files. This is far easier than some moron trying to write RSS stuff themselves.

To Serve Man

Perhaps the most unique aspect of our show is hosting the audio files on my specific server configuration. Most podcasts use LibSyn, or Soundcloud, or some fancy content caching system. In an effort to not spend any money, we decided to use my existing VPS to handle our podcast. I was concerned it would be overwhelmed, but it’s been over twenty episodes and we’ve never had an incident of it going down.

DigitalOcean’s $5/month VPS serves everything. A single droplet, running Ubuntu, with the Twisted framework serving static files. VFX software integrates Python 2.7.x stuff for scripting things so Twisted is just easier for me to deal with than Apache. When I first started blogging on this VPS, I used Python’s SimpleHTTPServer to handle things and a strong breeze would knock it over. Twisted is solid. My datacenter is in San Francisco, and there was one time Casey Liss experienced latency that I could not reproduce, so it may not work for every possible person ever, but it’s certainly affordable, and very flexible. Also, who cares about Casey?

To upload files, I use Panic’s Transmit on the Mac, and iOS. Yes, the iOS app is robust enough that I can download the file from the review folder in the Dropbox iOS app and upload it through the Transmit iOS app.

We have no sponsors, so we aren’t investing in an analytics platform. I have written a python script that allows me to open the access logs from Twisted and count the number of times that a file is download from a unique IP address, each day. I use Panic’s Prompt on iOS to run this on the logs on the server.

When I’ve uploaded the file, I send Dan the path and he puts it in with the shownotes and pushes out an update to the feed.

JIFs

Infrequently, I make silly images to promote the show. Sometimes, they are animated GIFs of someone’s face very loosely tracked on to a short clip from a movie. I have a license of Apple’s old compositing software, Shake, from a short project. I use it to generate a short video, and then I take that in to GIFBrewery where I adjust some knobs to generate a GIF. It’s not a technically impressive task, but a few people have asked how we do it. I would not recommend anyone reproduce this workflow, because Shake stops working on any version of OS X higher than Mavericks.

Content is King

Content is such a buzzword, but it’s appropriate shorthand to cover the variety of things that can be in a podcast. Sound, music, vocal ticks, words, even silence is part of the content. No one will ever tell you how to be interesting, and there will never be a guide on it. Dan and I certainly don’t appeal to everyone, but we’ve carved out what we like to do, and the small audience we like to do it for. We might have a casual tone on the podcast, but we do care about what we make.

Dan and I threw away hours of audio recordings from before we even knew what we wanted the show to be. Even then, it changed over time. No one has a guide for that.

An Explanation, Not a Guide

To be very clear about something: I am not telling you to do what Dan and I do. This explains what we do. Do what you will with the information. (You should probably do nothing with it!)

2014-12-01 08:27:27

Category: text