Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Gravity Falls Is One of the Best Cartoons I've Seen in a Long Time

I was a kid once (*sheds single tear*) and, as many kids do, I watched cartoons. Some cartoons were fleeting in my life (Rocket Power is an example; I named my dog after one of the characters) and some hold up to this day (Spongebob is a big one; Fairly OddParents is another). However, after about the age of 9 or 10, I stopped really watching cartoons. By that point, there were no really good cartoons on at the time. Spongebob and FairlyOddParents were still going on and like The Simpsons and others, it just became bad and stale. The writers started running out of story lines and people watched the shows out of habit instead of entertainment. This was really prevalent with Spongebob for me as I started noticing it becoming more "dumb" humor with weird plots and weird jokes (fans or previous fans of the series will know what I mean). Overall, it and Fairly OddParents just became watered down version of their former selves and I think that currently only small children would find them entertaining. And it seems they are as it and Fairly OddParents are still churning out episodes.

During and a little former to my realization that Spongebob was becoming less and less of a quality show, I was already expanding my television boundaries to more educational shows like Modern Marvels (God, I probably watched so many reruns of episodes from that series) and the like. Eventually, cartoons fell off of the list essentially for me and I started watching shows more with my family. I currently watch Modern Family and The Amazing Race with them; I used to watch Survivor with them as well (by the way, we're talking about cable-box, network television here. I've watched other shows online with my family like Arrested Development, which has been on and off cable, being a big one).

My eventual immersion into the Minecraft community also influenced my watching habits. Now, I rarely watch cable TV anymore except for the shows I mentioned above and Gravity Falls. Many YouTube videos and streamed videos (i.e. Netflix) take up my viewing time currently. Sometimes, cable shows go off of the air or take hiatuses because, you know, the actors need a break, so a lot of the time I'm left with video streamed from the Internet to watch.

However, as the title suggests, a new show has been added to my endless list of things I need to watch and that is, of course, Gravity Falls. I'm not writing this piece because "I discovered a new show" but because I wanted to take Gravity Falls and extract and compare the mechanics of it to some of the other cartoons I used to watch. I also want to add I'm late to this game: Gravity Falls aired its first episode last summer but I recently just came across it and so I believe others might be in the same boat as I am.

I came across it while eating dinner with friends. My friend put it on and I expected humor similar to that of series that I had seen one-off episodes of fairly recently such as Flapjack and Adventure Time!. To be honest, I found those series sort of like the late Spongebobs I had viewed earlier. I know some will argue harshly against that, especially with Adventure Time! which seems to be very prevalent on the Internet. And to be fair, I only watched maybe one or two episodes of those series so I can't judge them too critically. But what was different with Gravity Falls is that from the very first time I watched it I laughed.

And laughed.

It was hilarious. It could of course been a one-off funny episode but over some time I watched some more episodes and all of them were hilarious or at least very funny. All of the episodes I've seen thus far are of very high quality and it reminded me of the old Spongebob days. And I am here to dissect shows! For science!

Instead of me giving you a plot overview, I'll just quote it from Wikipedia!
"During summer vacation, 12 year old Dipper and his sister Mabel are dropped off to live with their Great Uncle (or "Grunkle") Stan. Things are not what they seem in Gravity Falls, Oregon, the town they live in, and with the help of a mysterious book Dipper finds in the forest, they find their everyday lifestyle changed. With appearances from Wendy, Dipper's crush and Manly Dan's daughter; Soos, friend of Dipper and Mabel and handyman to Grunkle Stan; plus an assortment of other characters, Dipper and Mabel always have a day to look forward to."
And here are the main characters:

Left to Right: Soos (pronounced "Zeus"), Dipper, Uncle ("Grunkle") Stan, Mabel, Wendy
Probably the biggest reason I find this show so funny and, I guess from that unique, is that I believe when the writers are writing this show they ask "What's funny?" instead of "What does our audience find funny?". This may seem an obvious question to answer at first. However, this show is broadcast on the Disney Channel (their show quality as gone down even though I didn't consider it to be terribly high to begin with) and they've got a kid audience to entertain and nothing more. You will be surprised what kids will watch (I have a 13 year old sister so I know) and it's usually something pretty predictable with some hackneyed jokes and decent acting. It's usually just less than or equal to just okay. But Gravity Falls has characteristics that are a breath of fresh air in the sea of kids network television shows.

First of all, one of the biggest ones is the whole puzzle element of the show. I myself haven't gotten into that just yet, but apparently the writers hide hidden clues and puzzles throughout the episodes that might spell out future plots for episodes and the like. It adds a whole new layer to the show instead of just liking the content or posting fanart and gifs online. The puzzles promote much discussion online and, through that, are free advertising.

Second is the underlying themes and motives in the show. It seems as though many cartoons (and kids shows for that matter) gloss over themes or make them overstated, that is cheesy and obvious. I, at least, don't get that vibe from this show. Sure, I can see some themes clearly but I don't think it’s the point of the show which is to be funny and have some sort of depth to it; the themes hit a perfect balance between nonexistent and cheesy. The creator of Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch, recently did an AMA on Reddit (which I missed, dang it) and here's what he said when asked:

"One of the best things about Gravity Falls is the sibling relationship between Dipper and Mabel, and how it's more than just "sibling rivalry" for the sake of plot. You mentioned in an AVClub interview, "when I started working with writers, when I started having to pitch the show, and everyone guessed the tone wrong and assumed they’d be hating on each other, I had to come up with a “10 commandments” of how Dipper and Mabel act around each other." Do you have that "10 commandments" list written up, and can we see it? Thanks!"
Haha yeah! I usually do a pass on Dipper/Mabels dialogue to try to make sure they feel like the characters I know for the most part. I never actually wrote out 10 actual commandments, but here's a few rules I find myself going back to with the writers:
1) The kids LIKE each other. No matter how much they get on each other's nerves, this never changes.
2) Mabel's not stupid. She's a ham! There's a big difference. Mabel's love of goofing off is a natural force of her personality, but she can still understand when people she cares about need help or are in danger. Don't just make her a catchphrase machine. She really cares about the people around her. (Secret: Mabel's secretly jealous that her brothers better academically than she is)
3) Dipper's smart but he's not a "WALKING CALCULATOR" There's a lot of kids shows featuring a character who is "the brains." You know the guy. Thick glasses, nasal voice, often starts every sentence with "According to my calculations!! SNORT!" Pretty much every kids show stereotype can be traced back to the BK Kids club. This one would be IQ:
The point is, Dipper is better academically than Mabel, but he's also able to laugh at himself. He's a real kid. He has insecurities. He has things that he loves. I try not to pigeonhole these characters into "ONE TYPE" They lose their humanity if you do that. (Secret: Dipper's secretly jealous that Mabel's better socially than he is)
4) They've known each other forever. They should occasionally finish each other sentences, they should recognize when one of them is about to do something they always do, they should reference past inside jokes, they should get instantly angry at each other and then instantly make up, the way people who've known each other forever do.
5) They get more close in unfamiliar situations (because they need each other) and less close in familiar situations (because they dont as much) The entire summer is an unfamiliar situation, and its helping them bond.
6) Dipper wants to grow up too fast. Mabel doesn't.
Compared to other kids shows, the characters and the interactions between them have depth and purpose and that is definitely seen while watching the show. I feel an attachment to the characters while watching them instead of looking at them through a viewing glass.

The third reason is its references to pop culture. So far in the episodes I've watched, I've seen references to Indiana Jones, Spirited Away, and the Legend of Zelda (in fact, while writing this I found a page where they list all of the allusions in all of the episodes so far). Also many times in the series, the characters watch TV shows (T V c e p t i o n) and they make references to real TV shows such as Sherlock (although I'm not sure if it's the TV series or the books) and Wheel of Fortune. These pop culture references air to more a Simpson's style of comedy, commenting about real world events and items instead of just making up jokes for just inside the series. I believe this makes the series more intellectual than what some cartoons are now.

And those are the big reasons. However, note it's not all of them. But it ultimately comes down to is it funny? Is it entertaining? And that is a wholehearted yes. But it is more than just funny or entertaining as I have discussed here. It is a much more satisfying show than its counterparts. Some shows have one or two of the things I listed above, but it is the perfect combination of the characteristics I listed above and the finer details in every episode that make Gravity Falls shine. I believe that as long stick to their current mindset of quality over quantity, Gravity Falls will remain a standard for other cartoons to follow and will be great until Dipper and Mabel's summer comes to a sad but necessary end.

 - Aidan

P.S. If you want to learn more about the show, there's a Wiki dedicated to it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Comic: Let's Player Problems

Maybe he should move his desk.
(click to enlarge)

Additionally, the Let's Player doesn't enjoy the paper thin walls for... other reasons.

 - Aidan

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thoughts on Fez II Cancellation

So, Fez II is cancelled.

This fueled the fires of many Phil Fish haters as is evident by scrolling through some of the comments of the post that announced his departure of the game and, seemingly, from the gaming world. He writes on that post:

"FEZ II is cancelled.
i am done.
i take the money and i run.
this is as much as i can stomach.
this is isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign.

you win."

Like I mentioned before, this prompted many people to say how weak he is, how much of a jerk he was, how they never liked his game, etc. 

All of this prompted me to think about something: Fez is one of the most beautiful, well-designed, and most fun games I have ever played. And, come to think of it, almost all of the games that I gave that distinction to are indie games (e.g. Minecraft, To the Moon, etc.) and they are made by small groups or individuals. This is one of the main reasons they usually are so much more impactful and more rich than titles that the bigger gaming companies churn out. When more people work on a project, less and less individuality makes its way into the final product which, may not always be a bad thing, but in the case of games, it is usually a very nice thing. With all of the almost monotonous, big-budget titles being released today, most indie games are a breath of fresh air. They are more unique and beautifully complex than their bigger counterparts.

Yes, I have heard that Phil Fish has not been the nicest to people and have heard he can seem at times pretentious. But, with indie games, people have to realize that, when playing an indie game, they are dealing directly with the thoughts and the personality of a person; people are not perfect and those who follow a game developer should deal with that fact of life. Phil is not just "the maker of Fez", he is a person and with the pages and pages of pure hatred about him, I think people are starting to forget that.

After scrolling through the comments on his farewell post and judging from Indie Game: The Movie, it seems though as Phil has gotten a ton of hate, more than any other game developer I have heard of. Although Phil Fish haters probably acquired more proof for their argument after this they're probably the reason Phil left in the first place. Although I'm sure many people praised his game (including myself), maybe he found the hate outweighed the praise (and maybe it actually did) and the internet was too big for him to handle; the great land of opportunity that we call the internet has many dark corners and Phil might have been caught in a couple.

I hope that Phil only takes a break and returns to make Fez II or another game of his creation. But no matter where he goes, judging by his work so far, he will do wonderful and beautiful things.

 - Aidan

Edit: There is some really good Reddit discussion going on about this topic.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fixing Problems with Super Meat Boy for the Mac: Ultimate Edition

Note: I've come to hear that (at least) the "running Super Meat Boy fixes" I've described below don't work for everyone. Even so, you might have success running the game but have trouble getting a controller to work or vice versa. Thus, skim this post before putting it off as it may help you in one way or another. Also, please read the closing notes.

You've probably come to this post because you’re having issues playing Super Meat Boy on the Mac. Before I implemented the fix that I will discuss below, I had crashing issues entering worlds and many, many others had that and similar problems. You might have already been to the post I just linked to by Team Meat which acknowledges that there are problems with the Mac port. They seemingly fail to ever address them, however, because as of this writing, the post is over two years old with nary an update from them aside from a statement basically saying that controller functionality will break other game functions and thus will not be implemented (which is not true with my experience). I figured a solution out myself, and after figuring it out, I discovered that someone else in the comments of that post had done the same as me. So, currently it works for at least another person and myself although note that it is not 100% guaranteed to work in all cases. Some of these below steps may be scattered around the internet, but I wanted to make a clear, understandable central hub for all of the issues for not only running Super Meat Boy but playing it as well.

Here are my system specs if you for whatever reason want to reference them:
  • Mac Mini, Mid 2011
  • 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5
  • 16 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 Memory
  • AMD Radeon HD 6630M, 256 MB VRAM
  • OSX 10.8.4
Here's what I did:

For people with Steam

1. You guys have got it easy! Open the Steam application and find Super Meat Boy in your list of games. Right click (or hold control while clicking) on the Super Meat Boy game and click "Properties" in the menu that drops down.

2. Click on the button in the box that appears that says "Set Launch Options"; another box with a text entry field should appear.

3. Type or copy and paste the following into the text box*: "-highdetail -windowed -1280x720" without quotes.

4. Close the box. If you want to use a controller, look down further in this post for advice. Otherwise, just launch the game normally from the Steam window and everything should run basically perfect. Enjoy! Make sure to read the final notes at the bottom of this post before you enjoy the game, though.

For people without Steam

This will be slightly trickier than for the people with Steam; it will take more computer skillz:

1. Open the TextEdit application on your computer and make a blank document by going to File > New. Change it to plain text format by going to Format > Make Plain Text.

2. Type or copy and paste this into the document*: "/Applications/ -highdetail -windowed -1280x720" without the quotes.
(This is assuming your Super Meat Boy game is in the Applications folder; adjust file paths if necessary)

3. Save this document by going to File > Save and name it something along the lines of "Super Meat Boy Launcher" (it can be whatever you want) and save it somewhere (I would suggest the Applications folder as this file is how you'll be launching Super Meat Boy).

4. Next, open the Terminal application (found in Applications > Utilities) and type in "chmod +x " (without quotes and with the space!). Find the text file you save earlier and drag that onto the terminal window. After doing that, press enter.

5. Close Terminal and find the .txt file you made earlier. Double click the file like you would usually do to rename it, but instead of changing the filename, change the extension from ".txt" to ".command".

6. Before opening the game, read below if you want to use a controller with the application. Double clicking that .command file should open Terminal and then, quickly after that, the game with the parameters entered in the text file. The game should run basically perfect; enjoy! Make sure to read the final notes at the bottom of this post before you play, though. If you ever want to change the runtime parameters (such as changing it from running in windowed mode to it running in fullscreen mode), just right click (or control click) on the .command file, go to Open With, and set the file to open with TextEdit. This will open the file in TextEdit and you can make changes to the runtime parameters. After you're finished, just save the file and double-click it to open it as usual.

Thanks to Jenna's comment on the Super Meat Boy Mac blog post for influencing most of the steps in this sans-Steam guide!

*Note: You can change the "-windowed" above to "-fullscreen". The reason I choose to use windowed is that on my computer, that being the Mid 2011 Mac Mini with AMD Radeon graphics and 16 GB of RAM, I sometimes get small lag spikes in fullscreen mode which I otherwise don't get in windowed. If you're computer's specs are less than or equal to the specs of my system, than I would suggest launching the game in windowed mode. However, if you're computer has better specs than mine, then try using "-fullscreen" and see how it runs; you can always change it back later if you encounter any sort of lag. Lag in these types of games is not good!

Using a Controller

Before starting the game, plug in a compatible controller if you want. This controller should have a Direct Mode capability in order to properly run with Super Meat Boy on the Mac. If you don't know whether your controller has Direct Input, just plug it in before starting the game and see if Super Meat Boy recognizes it as a controller. Xbox controllers will not run with Super Meat Boy just "plug-n-play" on Mac systems as those use a Microsoft proprietary format called Xinput. I have a wireless PS3 controller and my Logitech F310 Gamepad (which has a DirectInput/Xinput switch on the back) and have figured out a workaround in order to get both PS3 and Xbox controllers to function almost to what Team Meat had in mind. I'm not sure how a wired PS2 controller would work. I'm assuming it would use the same key bindings except it wouldn't require the Bluetooth setup that the PS3 controller does. If anybody finds out, let me know in the comments!

PS3 Controller

Note: You will need a Mac with Bluetooth capability. There's almost no chance you don't have Bluetooth if you have the ability to run this game, but just putting it out there.
  1. First, download the free program Enjoy, which is a key-binding software. Install it as usual by moving it to your applications folder.
  2. Next, connect your PS3 controller to your Mac. There's a great video on how to do that here.
  3. Once that's done, open Enjoy and you'll find your PS3 controller on the left hand side. Open the drop down menu from your controller and bind the following buttons to the following keys:
  • 4: Escape
  • 5: Up Arrow Key
  • 6: Right Arrow Key
  • 7: Down Arrow Key
  • 8: Left Arrow Key
  • 11: W
  • 12: Left Shift
  • 14: Escape
  • 15: Space
  • 16: Left Shift
  • Optional: You can bind the up and down motions of the joysticks. By moving each joystick up or down while in the window, it will take you to the axis it corresponds to as is what happens with each button. You can bind these up and down movements to the up and down arrow keys if you wish. However, it's only really useful for navigating the main menu so it's not really worth it.
      4. Once all of these are bounded, then you can click
      "Start" at the top of the window in order to start emulating keyboard buttons from your gamepad.
      5. Finally, start up Super Meat Boy with whatever method you're using and everything should be         
      good to go! Here are what the buttons do in game:
  • D-Pad: Moves character and Menu Navigation
  • X Button: Generally equals the Xbox's "A" button; you can also think of it as "Enter". In game, it is jump.
  • Square: Run button. Hold this while using the D-Pad to make your character run.
  • Start/Circle: Escape. Use this to get to the pause menu in game or to go back in the hierarchy of menus.
  • Left Bumper: Replay current level (you will see this prompt at the end of every level you complete).
  • There is a problem I could not overcome: I could not successively bind the "Save Replay" button It is technically Left Shift but no matter how many times I tried pressing it (I bound it to the right bumper) I could not save a replay after completing a level. So, unless somebody can help me on this front, it seems as if the only way to save replays on levels would be to play Super Meat Boy in keyboard mode or with a "plug-n-play" controller. Not a necessary functionality (I covered all of those), but kind of a bummer nonetheless.
Xbox Controller
  1. Download this free Xbox 360 Controller mapper here and install it as usual. It will require a restart.
  2. Download the free program Enjoy, which is a key-binding software. Install it as usual by moving it to your applications folder.
  3. Plug in your controller (note: I only have a wired Xbox controller. Wireless ones are supposed to work, though) and open Enjoy. Your Xbox controller should be listed on the left. Open the drop down menu and bind each of these buttons to these keys:
  • 6: Up Arrow Key
  • 7: Down Arrow Key
  • 8: Left Arrow Key
  • 9: Right Arrow Key
  • 10: Escape
  • 14: Left Shift
  • 17: Space
  • 18: Escape
  • 19: Left Shift
4. Once these are mapped, click the "Start" button at the top of the window and open the game
via whatever method I described above. All of the buttons should work as described in-game except 
there is some weird button behavior on the menus and somewhat in the game. While on the main
menu screens, down D-Pad is equivalent to the "A" button or Enter; this means in-game, pressing       
down D-Pad makes you jump. Left D-Pad seems to be equivalent to escape, however left D-Pad
in-game seems to only make Meat Boy go left, so that's good. Finally, similar to a problem the PS3
controller was experiencing, the "Replay Level" function doesn't seem to work on the controller.
However, you can press "w" on the keyboard at the end of a level to replay the level regularly.

Closing Notes

Getting past that Team Meat had to make us Mac users do this, I am glad I could make a centralized hub for all of the problems plaguing Mac users with this game. Make sure to post your system specs and a guess of your average FPS if any of these solutions work for you in the comments below. Furthermore, make a comment of your specs if the fixes don't work for you so we can make lists of computers that may or may not run the game for good reference. Also, make sure to post controller specs if you have a controller not mentioned in this post that works "plug-n-play" of that doesn't work "plug-n-play "with Super Meat Boy. I can start making lists in this post of computers and controllers that operate successfully and non-successfully with this game. Also, if you have any improvements to these steps or things that could helpful to add to this guide, then by all means drop in in the comments of this blog, email me, tweet me on Twitter, send a carrier pigeon, I don't care!

I hope this helped and if it did, consider checking out the some of my other blog posts and other content and share it if you'd like. Finally, thanks to some of the people from the Super Meat Boy blog Mac post; some of you gave some random hints that I used in the post and it gave me the inspiration in the first place to make this.

Have a meat-tastic day,

 - Aidan

P.S. - I know there are some weird formatting issues. I just wanted this to be formatted in a specific way and for that to happen, I had to do some unorthodox formatting. So just ignore it please!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Seperating Sound from the Music

I'm currently reading No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" and in the process I have come across some interesting thoughts and ideas in the book and in my mind.

One of the first thoughts that struck me in the book was the idea of separating sounds that come from music from the music itself. That can be interpreted multiple ways, I think, but the way I think of it is disregarding and not knowingly thinking about pitches, rhythms, instruments, musicians, etc. when listening to music but rather just letting the sound waves coming from the music do the talking. In other words, reacting to the just the product rather than the producers and the product.

Many times we view music through a lens, some more than others (people who are musically inclined in some way especially) Example: I know some people that while listening to a song on the radio will exclaim, "Oooh, was that key change a half step up or a whole step?" and "Were those triplets there?" and similar. Other than being slightly annoying sometimes, it kind of puts the music behind observation glass, looking at it for its properties than going in and experiencing it for what it is. What I said above was sort of an extreme example, but people will do it subconsciously too. One thing I think everybody does subconsciously is when a favorite artist of ours pops up, we will give more credit to the sound of the music even if it is bad or not as good as the artist's other works because it feels as if we are cutting slack for an old friend. That is listening to music through a filter.

One thing should also be noted. This thought process applies more to music without lyrics as with vocal music, there is mostly two parts that determine its worth: the sound emanating from the vocalist(s) and instruments and the meaning of the words spoken. Thus, while the music can be "bad", the message can be good and vice versa.

Anyway, separating the sound from the music also applies to the properties of what we would call music. So far in the book, I have learned the John Cage was interested in making music out of what one would not usually call appropriate sounds for music (such as the piece that he is most famous for, 4'33") . He would use non-traditional music instruments in his works one of them being his famous prepared piano. Many people fix music to certain expectations such as melody, harmony, rhythm, etc. and don't believe that sound itself is music. Thus, if you detach music from sound then anything can be music. And you believe that sound can be music, than more attention will be brought to sounds in everyday life that most people ignore or don't recognize.

Do I believe that in order to achieve true musical "nirvana" one must relinquish the sound from the music? I don't think so, at least currently. I personally still have fascination in music theory and the lives and personalities of artists. I still like imagining how certain songs I hear were played or recorded and I don't listen to John Cage's work (though I think I'll make an effort to now). But, right now at least for me, I see separating sound from music as, if nothing else, an interesting thought experiment. I just wanted to get this brief thought out of my head and into text so that others may possibly think about it as well and judge whether they want to apply in one way or another into their own lives.  If nothing else, take away the power of observation of nature; beauty, and art, can take the shape of anything and that extends not just of course to music, but to all and anything that humans create.

 - Aidan

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ET3: Predictions and Thoughts

This video is suspiciously under-produced, but informative.

I'll try to stay calm–


Okay, that failed. But anyway, on to the topic at hand.

If you have not heard about ET3, it's purpose is to do what the Transcontinental Railroad did for 19th century America but on a much faster and bigger scale. ET3 uses vacuum and maglev technologies to propel canisters of people or cargo along a tube at a maximum speed of thousands of miles per hour (!!!) that could possibly be on a global scale.

Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. Not being restricted by location is an amazing and mind-boggling concept to think about, not to mention possibly a scary one.

I went to their website and scanned ET3's FAQ. The technology and economics seem to be in place for a system like this which reassures me, but there's always doubt. One of my first doubts is in security and, along with that, safety. The thing about security breaches in airports, buses, trains, etc. is that they're self contained. That is, by destroying a plane, bus or airport, you don't damage the entire system, but rather just the bus, plane, or airport itself (The ability to destroy other objects or hurt other outside people using a method of transportation should be noted as well, but terrorism usually only hurts the ones directly involved with the terrorist act). This is nice because while minimizing human causalities it is also possible to study the events that led to this damage and take steps to minimize these attacks or failures in the future.

The risk of mechanical failure is reportedly at a very low minimum. The fact that it's computer-controlled and that it runs on magnets and a vacuum supports this as well as emergency procedures (both on the computer and user end) that could prevent any major disasters. However, if a major disaster were to occur, it could affect the entire system since it it is one global tube. But what I personally am most worried about is the increased risk of terrorism. While traveling quickly to anywhere in the world is a luxury to non-malicious people, it is also a huge luxury to the ones intending to cause damage. If the ET3 were to act like a subway with minimum security restrictions (which is most likely not going to happen), this would cause quite a bit of nervousness for the average passenger. So with the ET3 system, I hope (as much as the utopian view of the future discourages it) that ET3 terminal will act like airports, doing the standard TSA procedure for global travel. Terrorists could not only cause harm to people inside the canister, but people inside the ET3 terminals as well.

Speaking of terminals, it might be a good idea to add ET3 terminals to airports. Of course, this is where the airline companies will become furious (if they weren't mad enough already) and lobby to terminate the ET3 program. It's interesting to think that one day the rate of ET3 adoption will be so large that many large airports could be converted into ET3 terminals. The space required for an ET3 terminal, however, is much smaller than an airport. Perhaps the ET3 and airplane world could live together, but only time will tell.

My other doubt is the "too good to be true" doubt.

Being able to travel the world in the two hour range sounds like science fiction to me. The ability to avoid costly forms of transportation (quick side note: it is believed the costs of the ET3 system might be so low that advertising could pay for your trip!) that are taxing on the environment and that are much more dangerous than what the ET3 system advertises sounds like fantasy in my mind; a part of a distant future utopia. So my concern is that this will stay a mockup for far longer than promised. Honestly, if I hadn't heard about ET3 and was asked to predict when we'd have these modes of transportation available to the general public I would've said a minimum of forty years.

All of this being said, even though this project seems a little questionable and far-fetched for my brain to comprehend, I truly hope it gets implemented, especially in the time frame it sets (a global network in 20 years). This system would have an unfathomable effect on our global economy and the way ordinary people interact with others around the globe.

To close this, it's interesting to ask the question of what will happen to other forms of mass transportation if the ET3 system comes to be globally accepted. I personally believe that planes will mostly only be used by cargo companies (who absolutely need the space that the ET3 can't provide), the rich, for which planes provide obvious confort and privacy over the constricted capsules of the ET3, and by individuals. I would guess that most airline revenue comes from passenger travel so it's safe to say most airlines would go out of business. The only passenger airline travel that would be useful in a ET3 world would be for travel to places where an ET3 cannot reach (e.g. Islands). However, there is a possibility that countries could make smaller continental lines that could connect to the global system much like subway lines do today. I also believe that trains (like Amtrak, not subway systems) would get the axe as well as they are meant for traveling the distances that, with a car, are just not viable. They would probably be used as "luxury" or novelty ways to get to somewhere. Though looking at the rail industry now, it already seems to be becoming just that. Cars wouldn't go anywhere because of the need for local travel although their use would, hopefully, be greatly diminished. For transporting large/medium loads over semi-far distances, however, trucks will mostly likely have to remain in operation.  Because of this, it is still necessary to perfect clean car/truck technologies. Cargo shipping via boat would probably be diminished as well but cruises will not be going away for obvious reasons.

The future is looking good. Oh, and I also hope those ET3 canisters have hi-speed Wi-Fi.

 - Aidan

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Magic in the Magic Trackpad

For a long while, I've heard things about trackpads on OSX and how they can improve your workflow. I used to think that it might be cool to have one, but I'd eventually end up not using it a lot and it'd just go into the tech drawer. But recently after my sudden influx in video and music editing and with all the gesture support in the recent versions of OSX, I thought it might be worth it to try a trackpad out on my main computer. So, I got one as a gift.

A Magic Trackpad

After the initial unboxing and stroking of the aluminum (what, people don't do that?), I paired it with my Mac which, surprisingly and unsurprisingly, took only about a minute. Then, I started moving a clicking away. And after using it for about two weeks, I found my original thoughts to be quite contrary to reality: I now use my Magic Trackpad more than my Razer Mamba mouse. It's even more surprising when you consider how good and expensive of a mouse the Razer Mamba is.

But why? On my mouse I have six buttons which is very good for a mouse as most only have three. On my trackpad I only have two buttons. But what I do have that I don't have on my mouse is the arrangement of my fingers.

Not only do I have the approximately fifteen gestures that Apple includes with OSX, but there's this amazing program called BetterTouchTool that allows you to attach gestures with your Magic Trackpad/Mouse to keystrokes and other types of input per application or system wide.

These are just some of the gestures included with the program

This has changed my whole way of navigating my computer, especially in Final Cut Pro X. I do a good amount of video editing and this guy's BetterTouchTool preset for Final Cut Pro X has really sped up my workflow. Instead of having to use two devices, a mouse and a keyboard, I can mostly use only one not only for controlling basic functions in Final Cut Pro X, but systemwide functions such as opening applications and switching between them. And not only am I using it in some of my more complicated applications, but I'm also using it in Chrome now too, binding taps and swipes to opening and closing new tabs and commands such as those. The trackpad emanates convenience.

Of course a trackpad will never replace my mouse. My mouse will be a go to for gaming and purposes where moving my finger back and forth repeatedly is just more work the moving and clicking my mouse back and forth. My trackpad also occasionally goes wonky on me which I hope Apple will fix. But my personal anecdote goes to show that the trackpad does have its home not only on the laptop, but on the desktop as well as showing how a trackpad and a mouse can live together in harmony with their own strengths and weaknesses.

 - Aidan

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thoughts on "Why Are Guitarists So Bad at Guitar Hero/Rock Band?"

I wish I could write more...

But anyways, my dad plays guitar. Not professionally or anything, but I'd say he's decent (that kind of sounds mean, doesn't it?). However, despite his guitar skills, he cannot play Guitar Hero or my recent purchase of The Beatles Rockband (which is a great game by the way). He just cannot get through a song on any difficulty without failing it.

The answer, it seems, is obvious at first; it could be said that he's playing a totally different instrument.

Exhibit A: "Fender" Rockband Controller.

Exhibit B: Fender Stratocaster (sexy, isn't it?)

Yes, they look similar. But everything about them is different; the weight, the method of strumming, the way notes are played (on one of the guitars, there's only five options), and most importantly the sound, or lack thereof. So, sure, they're different things, but is it still a terrible difference? Shouldn't it be relatively simple for a guitar player to adjust? With all great questions we turn to Google for the answer. In this case, I found an article dubbed "Why Are Guitarists So Bad at Guitar Hero/Rock Band?". I'd suggest you read it before continuing (it's short). But, it you’re too lazy to read the whole thing, this is the ultimate answer to the question:
All of this is true because experienced guitarists have wired their brains to subconsciously feel out their musical surroundings “in real-time” and adjust tempo, pitch and even musical progressions accordingly. With a touch-and-go type of routine, musicians find it hard to re-train their brains to perceive music in a strictly methodical manner (and thus tell their hands to act accordingly). We feel the urge to pop out a solo, or break the chain of commands with a subtle tempo change.
I'm not a guitarist but I've been playing piano for nine years, cello for about four, and am level 8 (hopefully soon to be level nine!) in the Certificate of Merit program so I know music. And I can play these types of games great. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I can play these games on Expert and mostly score in the 90% total notes hit rate. So, why don't I have trouble playing such a "methodical" game?

It's not like I just picked up the guitar and played it near perfect on my first try. There was learning involved. I got my first Guitar Hero game probably about three or four years ago and gradually over time I got to the point where I can do pretty much any song on expert and pass it.

What does this say about guitarists playing these games? They have trouble because they're playing a new instrument. As mentioned earlier, the Rockband guitar is just different enough where regular guitarists find it hard to play but just similar enough that they get embarrassed and angry when they can't play it. Because these guitarists get angry and get up, they don't actually want to practice the instrument (which is how you get good) and, thus, they never get better.

It's also interesting to note that the author says the "touch-and-go-type" feel of these games are what's hampering guitarists. Sure, the ability to interpret music is huge and I do it everyday, but when you're reading sheet music, do you usually do a lot of improvisation and changes from the music (unless you're really good)? The discs flying down the fingerboard of the guitar on the screen are exactly like notes on a staff and they are actually better than notes on a staff as there are only five notes possible on a Rockband guitar. What most people are doing while playing Guitar Hero are sight reading. Of course, knowing the song beforehand helps immensely (which is why these games focus mostly on popular songs/groups).

Here's a personal example: on the piano, I've been remarked as an excellent sight reader by evaluators and peers. However, when I sit down to play a piece I've never seen on the cello, I can't do it as well as I would on the piano because I don't know the instrument as well. I've been playing that piano since childhood so it's almost a part of my being. But the cello came into my life rather late in the game and I don't practice it nearly as much.

It is not the programmatic nature or lack of interpretive, natural playing that makes these games so hard for guitarists (and I guess you could say musicians), but the fact that you are playing an instrument you have never played before. These games are not bad things for musicians at all, but rather as the article stated "If nothing else, they can help with finger dexterity and rhythm!" along with sight reading, I might add.

So, in essence don't blame the game and simply, practice.

 - Aidan

P.S: Rockband does have a keyboard accessory though I'm pretty sure it would require another compatible game and, of course, the accessory. It would interesting to play that on Rockband one day and revisit this question. Also, it would be cool to play this song on Rockband

Monday, January 28, 2013

Thoughts on Journaling

I've tried to keep a journal numerous times; They've all failed.

I've tried paper journaling, journaling using applications, and even journaling with a cloud service that syncs your journals to all your devices (it's a very beautiful application for Mac and iOS devices called Day One). And a question popped into my head today: Why do a lot of journaling attempts fail? Especially, it seems, in today's generation.

Nowadays, copious amounts of people in the world have some sort of an account on a social networking site whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. What do all of these have in common? They're archives. For example, although I don't use Facebook anymore, I can still log into my account and look at my posts from years back, detailing how I was on a specific day or showing how I saw the world that day via a picture I posted at a specific time.

We don't need journals today because we journal without even recognizing we're doing it. We post things we like, things we're thinking, relationship problems, thoughts about our life, school, work, etc; basically, most of us post a lot of information about our personality and lives. And as long as these websites are functional (or there will be someway to access or download an archive of our data), we'll be able to log onto Instagram in 30 years and show our kids what the sunset looked on a specific date.

Isn't that awesome?!

But there are of course problems with this. The first is the information you would put online versus in a private journal (whether via paper or an application). Sure, we post a lot of information about ourselves online, but there are still some things that we wouldn't want people to know about. Maybe an embarrassing health issue or a certain grade we got on a test. The majority of us probably filter mostly the good or the interesting of our lives to display online.

And really, that could be related to a lack of seriousness in (mostly) youth today. My English teacher showed us this really interesting article that left an impression on me called "How to Live Without Irony" and I highly suggest you read it. If you find you are too lazy to read it, it basically describes some of the movements of today, such as the hipster movement, as trying to not being true to yourself and liking things that are "cool" instead of liking things that you actually think our cool... I hope that made sense.

The point is, although people shouldn't post every gory detail about your life online, it shouldn't be normal or considered okay to make an online persona totally different to your own. I'm not talking about posing as your mom on Facebook or something, I'm talking about revealing only your good side or, even worse, making things up to make yourself seem really "cool" and "awesome". Be who you are. Tell people of your accomplishments, your failures, and just be human.

Am I guilty of not being truly who I am online? Probably. And probably many others as well. I'm not trying to get down on anyone, but it's just so easy to be different from who you really are online and I know many people do it. So my advice to you is to just be yourself online as I try to do, although I'm not perfect.

My mom keeps a journal and she's been keeping journals since she was little. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, to turn to. Just her and her thoughts.

And maybe one of the reasons we don't keep private journals anymore is because we find it boring to talk to a book. I mean let's face it, would you rather post on Facebook that you won a 1st place gymnastics trophy today and get some likes and comments from others telling you how awesome that is, or would you rather write in a book which gives you a pale, white stare? When you posting something online, there's a chance someone will see it; there's a chance that someone will think of you for a moment or even take action to like it or tell you how much you like it. With a journal, especially because there's much more private information in it than a social networking site, you're most likely going to be the only person to ever see what you wrote. And twenty years from now, when feeling a bit nostalgic, are you really going to go on to look at your old Facebook posts in a nice, organized, chronologically-ordered list or are you going to try to leaf through your paper journal to try to find an interesting time in your life (hopefully, you bookmarked those parts)? Although this problem of trying to find something manually can be solved by a journal application, since it's a journal there's going to be a lot of superfluous and uninteresting information that only applied to that day. Isn't it still going to be burdensome trying to find something to read versus seeing what cool, outdated links you Tweeted that one day?

Really, it seems the only point of keeping a journal now is if you like to record your day in great detail (maybe to relieve stress or because you know you'd find that interesting in the future), to put down sensitive information, or because you don't trust social networking sites with their longevity as a service or their privacy policies. It seems like a lot of people don't really care about these because there are a stunning lack of journal takers it seems, at least in my generation.

But regardless, keep journaling journalers, like my mom, and keep posting social butterflies. If you've never tried journaling, I suggest you try it, just for a little while; you might just find it's your cup of tea.

 - Aidan

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Back to Square One

It feels like eight months ago.

Eight months ago, I was barely a speck of dust to the Internet. Sure on Youtube I had slight success with some videos, but on all of the other social networks I had nothing. Fifteen followers on Twitter, four views on each video I posted, nothing on Google+, etc. People cared somewhat about my videos and not me. I was kind of depressed about that, although really I shouldn't be. However, shortly after acquiring my (now ex) girlfriend, she quickly surpassed me in terms of internet popularity somehow (something to do with furry voodoo magic); she promoted me to her hundreds of followers and I got more views on my content which made me happy.

However, she's gone now. Well, I guess not technically gone, but she's not promoting me anymore. Through my experiences with her I've learned many things. One of which is that I can't rely on others to promote my content. I need to be liked and known not because of sympathy because someones boyfriend is not popular or because I'm some cool chicks boyfriend; I need to be known for me, for what I make. That's not to say that promoting your friend/significant other is bad in any way, and really that couldn't be farther from the truth. But if that's the only reason this person is getting recognized after a while then that's a problem.

So, either I'm not doing a good enough job advertising or maybe the content itself is not good enough. Or maybe I just need more time, though I doubt this because I've been putting content on the web for about two and a half years. And I don't really know how to solve the problem of advertising as I can't really do much with my current financial and social position. But one thing I know I can improve and work more on is the content. I have been starting to make more music lately. In fact, I'm working on two (most likely) full length tracks right now. I am being very heavily inspired by the works of C418 and Owl City as my pieces are starting to have an electronic almost ambient tone to them. For example, while working on one yesterday I thought to myself, "Wow, this would sound really good in a documentary". I am still trying to figure out my unique musical style. Through making the music I'm making I'll hopefully be able to figure it out and use it to my advantage. It would be really cool to eventually make an album and I even have ideas for an album/artist name although those are really just fantasies at this point. Sometime in the future, I might show sneak peaks of these things and make smaller, shorter pieces to expand my musical portfolio.

In short, one thing I have learned is to depend on yourself and not others for what you produce. It's your work, not theirs.

 - Aidan

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Piano Teacher Went Crazy

I had to write this two days after the incident because I didn't have time.

So I went to my piano lesson a few days ago as usual, expecting to have another lesson as usual. My mom had driven by her house thirty minutes earlier (our houses are in the same neighborhood) and she noticed a police car at the house. It was when we actually went to the house that we figured out why the police were there.

We went in, sat down, and listened to the police officer talk to my teacher's husband about "missing persons" and things along those lines. It was after he left that he told us what actually happened.

My teacher had woken up at 7:30 that morning which, according to her husband, was normal. She would sometimes get up, read email, go shopping, things along those lines. He said when he had gotten up at 9:30 and noticed she was gone, he didn't give much thought to it. However, when she didn't come home a few hours later, he started worrying and called a house that she was supposed to go to to give a piano lesson. He told the family to inform him if she never came to the house. She never did.

After that, he got even more worried and started calling her. When that didn't work, he called local hospitals in an attempt to find her. He eventually had to call in to the police and report her as a missing person which was about the time we came. He told us this and would inform us of any updates to the situation.

That night, my friend's parents (my friend happens to go to the same piano teacher as me) took the husband to the airport because he had read on their bank account online that a plane ticket to Washington D.C. had been purchased with their credit card. When they got to the airport, they found their car which she had taken off with; the keys were still in the ignition and the doors were unlocked.

This part of the story I'm a little fuzzy on but I believe what happened next is they called the airport that the plane ticket had gone to and asked the security if they would look in their airport for my teacher after being unsuccessful in the airport they were at. Security agreed and sure enough my teacher had been sitting there for about 7 hours. Thankfully, American Airlines sent her back home on a flight and she's now at home and at a hospital.

Why did this happen? A few years ago, my teacher had a battle with a brain tumor and had to stop teaching for three months. Apparently, the tumor has been growing all this time and affected a part of her brain that made her act the way she did.

I hope she gets better and is able to teach again soon. I don't know how much and how permanent the damage to her brain is, but it might mean I have to switch teachers. Certificate of Merit, an annual piano test I take), is in about two months and I still need practice. I might have to go to another teacher. Not to mention I have a recital next week.

So yeah, this was a weird, disturbing experience for me. Any prayers and thoughts about her would be appreciated.

 - Aidan

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Satisfied Customers

So, as you may or may not know, I've started doing commissions for thirty second pieces of music for only $3. I've already made five pieces and you can listen to and download them here. And by the way, if you want information for how to order one, go here.

But anyways, the real point of this blog post was to show some of the emails I've gotten from people who have ordered a piece from me. Along with each quote, I will include a link to a picture of the email, just so you know that I'm not making this stuff up X3 The first one's from the first piece I ever made called "Rue's Getting Angry" for Gir Zim:
"...It most certainly satisfied my requests! I really REALLY like it! And sorry it took so long to reply...

This is excellent! And really cool, so thanks again!

-Zimgir (ᗡog)"
 Photo of email

This next one is from Hybrid when I composed the piece "Approaching the House" for him:

"...i don't mind the wait, it was worth it
i have to say though, i was a little disappointed that the piano was a little overpowered most of the time
but i love that you added the rain and thunder sounds <3
that really helped paint the picture of walking up to an old house
overall it was a great piece, thank you very much"
Photo of email

This next one is for when I did the piece "Into the Cosmos" for @TehDeminz on Twitter and he Tweeted me: 

"@throughthemines That is amazing. @.@ It's a lot more than I was expecting x3 I definitely love spacey music. :3"
Link to Tweet

And by the way, whenever I get one of these my heart pretty much melts inside so thank-you so much to whoever sends me feedback :3

So, I guess if you were still unsure to commission me even after listening to the music, this is more incentive to, I guess X3

Thanks for reading,

 - Aidan

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Apple: It's Not About Features, It's About the Experience

Hey, we're going along with a technology theme, huh?

So, Apple recently released a commercial that I found... interesting.

So, let me tell you what I, an Apple guy, think about this commercial.

Eh, not feeling it.

Don't get me wrong, the Do Not Disturb feature is great and acts just like the commercial says. But I kind of had the reaction that @TehDeminz had when he Tweeted me and said "... So their selling point for that commercial is a glorified snooze button, and they used ping pong to do it? #wat". Like I said, it's a good feature but it's not one of the best prominent features of the iPhone. It seems like Advertising couldn't think of anything more significant to advocate. At least if you're going to advocate this feature, do it with other more significant and impactful features.

(and as a side note, the whole premise of the commercial was just weird. I've never dreamt of two chicks playing ping pong with me, but hey, maybe that's just me)

For example, Apple in the past has done commercials where they focus on a specific type of person. Like this one that focuses on shopping:

Sending pictures or going online with your phone was nothing revolutionary. But being able to figure out a great gift for your wife, cheaply and quickly is what Apple's trying to sell. They're trying to sell an experience instead of above which is a feature. This "feature selling" is apparent in some of their other recent ads as well, such as this one touting noise cancellation:

Noise cancellation is great, but when is the Average Joe going to be drowned out by an orchestra? How about instead, he asks Siri where the nearest Starbucks is and then he goes to get a coffee and pays for it with Passbook. Then while on a bustling city street outside, he gets a call from his wife telling him to meet her at a café (while talking to his wife, the city sounds grow fainter, suggesting noise cancellation). Then using Siri again, he gets directions and using the turn-by-turn navigation in Maps, is able to get to her. I included four features in that commercial, but it wasn't a commercial, it was an experience; a real life scenario. Apple isn't about features, they're about experiences. That's one of the things that makes them so great and different from other technology companies (or at least, usually different). One awesome example is from their competitor, Google.

First of all, you have an adorable child and a mother (+50 points). But, while you see distinct capabilities of the Nexus (e-book reading, 3D gaming, apps, Siri-esque capabilities), that's not the focus or the point of the commercial. The point is that this Nexus is helping a child fuel her curiosity (which, oddly enough is the name of the commercial and the name of the rover that just went to Mars) for space and for reading which is not only cute and adorable to regular people, but is further impactful for moms who now see this device as something that can be beneficial to their child. That's what Google gave to me and to probably many others. Isn't that better than noise-cancellation or a Do Not Disturb Feature?

So basically, I'd like to see more commercials from Apple based around experiences rather than features. And I bet many others would too.

 - Aidan