Sun Feb 07 2016 16:38 January Film Roundup:
How you doin'? I'm bringing the beginning of February into this post just so there's more than two things in this list. I was pretty busy all month and we spent a lot of evenings watching this month's Television Spotlight. Missed the whole Coen brothers retrospective at Film Forum, oh well.
- Office (2015): a.k.a. "Hua li shang ban zu". A gorgeous musical with a lot of great songs and a really dull, standard issue plot. So, effectively an American musical from the 1950s. I was hoping it would turn into the Chinese version of The Apartment, but it didn't get much past The Pajama Game. However, unlike other movies with dull plots, this movie is always fun to look at, and most of the songs are really fun. So, semi-recommended.
- McFarland, USA (2015): You know my feelings about sports movies, and this was sports movie all the way, but I was really interested in this one. I'd been wanting to watch it for a while, and finally saw it with my sister Rachel when she was in town. Why? Because this movie actually happened to us.
In 1989, our dad abruptly moved us to the San Joaquin Valley where he became a cross-country coach at the local high school. (For all I know he got the idea watching the 1988 Griffith Park race that's recreated at the climax of McFarland USA.) Dad saw talent in kids that didn't have a lot of options, and helped them develop that talent. I remember him talking about the McFarland team and I probably got dragged to McFarland for meets. So this wasn't just a movie for us. As soon as the immortal line "We can't afford to live in Bakersfield!" dropped, Rachel and I knew that what we were seeing was raw and real.
How can a by-the-numbers sports movie also be raw and real? It's simple: selection bias. My dad's story was very similar to Jim White's, but there's no movie about Dad, because his abrupt move to Arvin wasn't an exile in which he would forge a sporting dynasty. It was the rash decision of a dying man. For me, hanging over every scene of McFarland USA is the awareness that a feel-good sports movie can abruptly turn into a depressing indie film about a shattered family.
Some nitpicks: In the early meets, the McFarland team is running against schools like Palo Alto (240 miles away from McFarland), not schools like Wasco (12 miles away). I guess kids from Bakersfield and Fresno don't make good sports-movie snobs. We were also certain there would be a plot point about running in tennis shoes without breaking them in, and got kind of annoyed when it didn't happen.
- Sabrina (1954): Billy Wilder is nearly able to make a romance between 55-year-old Humphrey Bogart and 25-year-old Audrey Hepburn not seem creepy. It's a really fun movie, with great performances, assured female sexuality, Wilder's trademark respect for office work, and humor that ranges from sophisticated observation to jokes about butts. Good stuff.
And now, the Television Spotlight, focusing on a show that we started in January and finished in February:
- Twin Peaks (1990-1991): Seen many years after Beth gave us the Season 1 DVDs, but not quite late enough that we can immediately switch over to the new season premièring in 2017. This was really solid, really fresh compared to other shows of the time. Over the years I'd picked up the impression that the characters in Twin Peaks were completely illegible, like aliens, and I wanted to see how they pulled that off, but the truth is they didn't try. The inhabitants of Twin Peaks are... quirky. Slightly weirder than most sitcom characters. Disappointing in theory, but I didn't mind because for the most part the characters are very well-realized and likeable. And there are a couple characters who are more on the "alien" side, though I don't think it advances past the level of a Star Trek episode.
The second season was still fun but not as strong. I got the sense that the showrunners were winging it and maybe fighting a bit. Characters came close to explicitly saying "Terrible David Lynch things keep happening to me, so I'm going to go find another TV show to be in." or "Remember me? I'm the interesting villain! This other villain is a dime-store piker compared to me!"
We also rewatched the Psych parody/homage episode "Dual Spires", which was baffling when we first watched it in 2010 but is now revealed as a solid mass of references. Well, I guess that was pretty clear the first time we watched it, but now we get all the references. Not a great Psych episode, but worth it just as a game of "spot the in-jokes".
(1) Mon Feb 08 2016 09:04 The Lonely Dungeon:
Dear diary, once again I have created the greatest bot ever. It's The Lonely Dungeon (Tumblr, Twitter), another in my tradition of "out-of-context selections from a very large corpus". In this case the corpus is all those RPG sourcebooks that came out in the late 20th century.
I found these books fascinating when I was a kid. They were full of secret information, obscure contigencies, bit characters with weird motivations, worldbuilding for made-up societies. Each paragraph was a little story about why this part of the game couldn't be handled by the normal rules.
Now the books have been replaced by newer editions, or just forgotten since nobody plays the games anymore. As forbidding as they seemed, all those crypts and forests and space stations were incomplete unless someone was going through them and uncovering their secrets.
One of my current interests is worlds that end not through some calamity, but because the inhabitants get bored and move out. Like Minecraft Signs, The Lonely Dungeon is a spotlight picking out features of abandoned worlds.
I've been working on this bot for over a year in spare moments. For the first time in Leonard bot history, The Lonely Dungeon's primary medium is Tumblr, so that I can give you the full OCRed text of the text box. It's better for accessibility, especially as those scans can be difficult to read. I had to learn a lot about PDFs and image processing, and I've scaled back this bot from my original plans, but those plans are still on the table in some form. More on this when it happens! In the meantime... keep adventuring.
Tue Feb 16 2016 09:29 #botUPDATE:
Last week I fell ill and my cognitive capacity was limited to simple bot work. I created That's Life!, a bot which posts distinctive lines of code from Conway's Life implementations.
For reasons that will shortly become clear, I have cloned about 4000 Git repos that contain implementations of Conway's Life. (Well, I trust my reasons are already clear, but my overall strategy will shortly become clear.) That's a lot of code, but how to pick out the Life-specific code from generic loop processing, framework setup, etc?
Well, I have also cloned about 14,000 Git repos that contain Tic-Tac-Toe implementations. I used Pygments to tokenize all the code in both corpora. Any line of a Conway's Life implementation that contains a token not found in the Tic-Tac-Toe corpus is considered distinctive enough to go in the bot.
Alas, my condition deteriorated, until I was no longer able to write code at all. So I turned towards fulfilling my final vision for The Lonely Dungeon: augmenting the text clips with spot art. This meant a lot of miserable grunt work: scrolling through about 30,000 candidate images, marking the ones that looked cool or weird. But I was already miserable, so I was able to get it all done.
The Lonely Dungeon is now complete! We've got line drawings executed with varying levels of skill, glorious oil paintings, tons of maps with mysterious labels, and old RPG advertisements from magazines. And now I feel better and I can go back to work. Great timing!
Fri Feb 19 2016 13:33 The Ephemeral Software Collection:
A lot of stuff has been happening around the Minecraft Archive Project, and NYCB is no longer the best place to put all this information, so I've created a separate website for it: The Minecraft Archive Project. It incorporates most of the stuff I've told you over the past year-and-a-half, about why I'm doing this, what's in the captures and who has copies of the data, but there's also plenty of new stuff, which I'll summarize.
The big thing is that I've started a whole other collection, the Ephemeral Software Collection, which is now bigger than the MAP. My goal with the ESC is to archive software that's likely to be overlooked, forgotten, or destroyed by a takedown notice. Also stuff that I just think would be interesting to have around. The ESC contains the non-Minecraft stuff I got from CurseForge in the December capture, but it also contains a ton of Git repos that I cloned from GitHub.
I asked around about games that had active level creation/modding communities, searched the GitHub API for the names of those games, and cloned all the repos that showed up in the search results. Then I started branching out, running searches for classic games like checkers and Snake, as well as more general terms like 'surreal' and 'gender' and 'senior project'. This is how I got the data for That's Life!. IMO the most significant part of the ESC capture is 750 gigabytes of games created for game jams.
I stopped when I ran out of old hard drives to fill up. You can see the full list of ESC collections; there are about 100 of them.
Before creating this web page, when I heard about another source of Minecraft maps or other ephemeral software, I had two choices: 1) do a lot of work to incorporate it into the MAP, 2) do nothing, feel guilty, eventually forget about it, and suffer a nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something important. Now when I find out this sort of thing, I stick it in the "What I Didn't Capture" section and then forget about it guilt-free. It's a nice system.
I guess the only other piece of news is, I did another MAP capture in early February to see if it was too much hassle to do a capture every month. Total haul: about 75 GB of images and binaries. It was a pretty big hassle, but that number implies that I save about twice as much stuff if I act within one month than if I wait a year, so I'm torn.
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