Life

Continuing Education

Since I graduated, I’ve had this really restless feeling. It turns out, after some honest self-analysis, I really like learning stuff. (Go figure, took me long enough.)

I have a lot of time on my hands, so I’m really trying to keep up on that continuing education. Part of that is studying my craft and analyzing films and screenplays. Another part is stretching my story telling muscles by branching out into different mediums.

I was never very good at making games in Twine, so I dedicated a little bit of my free time to getting good at it. Every game I think I finished tells me a little bit more, and I’m finally polishing up Twine games that I’d be willing to share.

But I really wanted to learn how to code. Like, big boy, actual functioning code, not just scripting in Twine.

Well. About that.

So, Twine 1 was written in Python, so a lot of what I’m learning about how to set up code in Python seems vaguely familiar. Knowing how to script in Twine was just the baby steps I needed to get in the door with Python, and for that I am grateful.

Humble Bundle recently had a Python programming bundle from No Starch Press, and I have to say God bless No Starch Press. They have books designed to teach coding to children, and it really is a great introduction to whatever you want to learn. Their Twine for Kids book really helped me with making my Twine games more than just text, and their Python for Kids really laid everything out in an easy to understand way without talking to the reader like a child.

I may try and adapting a few of my Twine games into Python (I’m thinking a Zork-style Common Folk text adventure game could be very fun.) so I’ll update if that actually happens.

Favorite Things, Life, Life Hacks

So, I’m trying speed reading…

It turns out I hoard ebooks just as much as I hoard physical books. I love me a Humble Bundle stacked with interesting and unusual knowledge. Project Gutenberg is my jam. Give me that sweet, sweet free Tor download, baby, and heck yeah I’ll sign up for your newsletter.

Worth it.

But! This means that I have a not inconsiderable backlog of really cool stuff that I’m struggling to find time to put into my eyeballs. My digital “To-Read” pile is growing, not quite exponentially… But close.

It all started (cue Star Wars crawl) months and months ago when I read an article that I swear exists but cannot find now (thanks, technology) about speed reading. I thought it was interesting, but there weren’t a lot of apps for it, so I ended up downloading a Chrome extension and trying it out.

It’s super weird, you guys.

Instead of having your eyes flow across text, you focus on a single point and the words are flashed in front of your eyes. Because you don’t have to keep your place on a page, you’re able to take in more words per minute.

This takes a little bit of getting used to, since your eyes are pretty much trained to be moving along a line of text when you’re reading. In most apps I’ve seen, this is fixed by designating a place on the screen to focus your gaze, by highlighting a word or even a letter towards the center of the word.

Screenshot from the Reedy Android app showing the featured image of an astronaut on the lunar surface, the headline, "Making a documentary that extends past one lunar landing," and the opening paragraph of the article on a black background with the speed reading controls along the bottom of the screen.
Screenshot from the Reedly App. You can see the speed reading controls along the bottom, and please ignore my stuffed notification bar.

And it works! Once I got the hang of it, I was really able to crank up the words-per-minute on my laptop from 300 wpm to around 500 wpm. But because I don’t do a lot of hardcore reading on my laptop, I didn’t use it as much as I should.

Smash cut to a couple months later, when I was scrolling through the Play Store and Reedly came up in my recommendation

I downloaded the app to my phone last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun absolutely blazing through a collection of MIT Essential Knowledge books I got in a Humble Bundle a couple months ago.

Screenshot of the Reedly app in speed reading mode
Speed reading in action! You focus on the highlighted word.

I’ve been looking into this and the research is fascinating. For some people, this is an effective way to speed up your reading. But while some people claim that they can read at a speed of 1000 words per minute, the research suggests that anything over 400-500 words overloads your brain’s short term memory and you cannot retain the information you’re reading.

My personal experience would seem to bear this out. I’ve settled on about 450 words per minute, which is fast enough to get through things quickly, but I don’t lose comprehension. It’s the same for both fiction and non-fiction.

I’d suggest everyone give it a try. While I haven’t found a speed-reader app I like on iOS, Reedy is a solid choice on Android. In addition to the speed reading mode, Reedy also has a regular reading mode, and a text to voice mode so you can listen to your books while you’re doing other things.

Favorite Things, Uncategorized

I had no idea that the new Vampire: The Masquerade video game was announced with an ARG

I don’t play video games like I used to, which is unfortunate. But it’s E3 season, which means I’m drooling over new trailers like Charlie Bucket smashing his face up in the window of the candy store. I want it all, but there’s no way I can afford it.

But in a weird crossover, one of my favorite YouTube channels, Night Mind, recently posted a very in depth breakdown of the ARG “Tender,” a promotional campaign for the new Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2.

It’s long, but worth a watch. They really breakdown the different elements of the game and how they fit together. It’s a good analysis of an ARG and a good case study to look at if you ever think of creating one of your own.

There’s also a really good interview with the writer at around the forty minute mark where they go into detail about the process of creating the ARG and what it was like working on it.

Favorite Things, Life, Uncategorized

Minecraft Earth is Everything I Ever Wanted and More From an AR Mobile Game

Y’ALL. I! AM! EXCITED! ABOUT! THIS!

I like Minecraft. I don’t play the campaign mode, but the sandbox is my favorite thing ever. It’s one of the reasons why I got an enormous SD card for my phone. I have a lot of little world I open up and tinker with. Sometimes when you have a day, it’s satisfying to dump a lot of lava on things.

I always thought it would be cool to have an AR component to the Minecraft mobile app. It would really lean in to the whole Lego element of the sandbox part of the game.

There is an app called Assemblr, which is a little counter intuitive and hard to control, even on my Galaxy Note and using the S-Pen to place and manipulate elements. It is still updating, and for once in my life I was an early adopter with one of these things. But Assemblr, as slick and fun as it is, doesn’t have the same pick up and play as Minecraft, and I still struggle with it. It showed itself off as a Minecraft style creative tool, and just… was disappointing.

Why isn’t there just a really cool, block based mobile game that let’s be just play Lego with my phone?

Well.

About that…

I didn’t see that coming!

Let’s go through why I love this…

One! This isn’t a Niantic reskin of Ingress

When you’re good at what you do just keep doing it over… And over… And over….

When Pokemon GO first dropped, it didn’t play nice with my phone for a while. So I did a little digging in the Play Store and downloaded the other thing that Niantic put out.

Ingress is a cool little game where you are supposed to claim outposts for your team, connecting them in real time in order to control areas for your team. It’s still live, and you should download it and play. And when you do, you might notice something…

It uses the same location data as Pokemon GO. And Wizards Unite. It is possible, right now, to have three people go to the same location, performing pretty much the same actions, and each one of them is playing a different Niantic game.

I’m sure it’s a very good way to quickly produce and release these licensed mobile AR games, but unless you’re only ever going to play the one game, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Honestly, once I saw behind the curtain, it took the shine off all the Niantic games. I didn’t really play much after that.

Two! The Creative Mode!

It’s a AR-based Minecraft experience!

This opens up play in a way that Niantic games can’t by their nature. By having a purely creative element as well as challenges, it appeals to the different ways people already play Minecraft.

I appreciate this thoughtful approach to the gaming experience. They could’ve taken the Niantic approach to this, but they seem to have really looked at how people play the game on PC and tried to translate to mobile.

Three! Collaboration!

In my opinion, I think the biggest deal for this is going to be collaboration. Being able to share a build, work on it together, and then be able to play in that build in the real world is going to be an absolute game changer. Not only will this allow players to create bigger and more complex builds within the game, it will foster a sense of community among players that a mobile game like this needs.

Four! Free. To. Play.

While you need an Xbox account to save your progress, Xbox is very clear that this is going to be free to play on both iOS and Android. They’ve also stated that Minecraft Earth is going to be lootcrate free, which is a big breath of fresh air.

While I hesitate to see how they’re going to monetize this (ads? An in-game store?), seeing that they’re taking the younger demographic into account and abandoning the more predatory aspects of gaming.

This is what needs to happen in the mobile game world

This is a huge leap forward in utilizing mobile AR for games, and I am very excited. Taking these kinds of chances with such a recognizable franchise as Minecraft is going to change the game. It’s going to show developers that you don’t have to make a clone of a Niantic game to make it, and that we needs to start taking chances with this technology.

Hats off to the Minecraft team. I’m not going to think for a second that this is going to go off without a hitch. There are going to be bugs, I’m sure. But the point is that they’re taking a risk when established, successful companies in the field have very aggressively avoided risk when they’re making games like this.

While Pokemon GO and Wizards United might be on my phone collecting virtual dust, I can’t wait for this release.

Minecraft Earth goes into beta this summer, if you have an iOS device that’s AR compatible. Learn more here.

Favorite Things, Life

Instagram Faves

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Acrylic on panel. 💐

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🐕

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Movies, Reviews, Uncategorized

POV in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

I am currently making my way through the Criterion collection on Kanopy, and I came across an interesting film from 1978, called The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

On paper, it’s a pretty standard mob crime story: the owner of a strip club gets in too deep with gambling debts owed to the mob, and is tasked with killing a rival bookie to pay off some of what he owes.

What makes it notable is director Cassavetes and cinematographers Mitchell Briet and Al Ruban’s choices in how they shot the film. At first glance, it seems amateurish. It looked like the sort of movie that a film student who watched too much French New Wave would shoot. The picture is often out of focus, pointed at nothing in particular.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of the film, when the camera is rock solid and the picture is almost impossibly crisp did I realize what was going on.

The cinematography was being used as an extension of the main character’s state of mind. The camera wanders with his focus.

When Cosmo is distracted, the camera itself is distracted, focusing on seemingly random parts of the scene, out of focus, and wandering through the set. But when Cosmo is focused, the scenes are shot crisply and simply, focusing on what Cosmo is currently working on.

When the movie ended I immediately started it over, and this new insight really made me more invested in watching the film. It also reminded me that any time I watch a movie, I need to be more cognizant of these tools in the filmmaker’s toolbox, especially if I’m resisting the film for some reason.

If you can find this movie (I watched it on Kanopy) I cannot recommend it enough. And I hope my little observation helps you appreciate it a little more.

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Movies, Student Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Resources, YouTube Film School

Video: Lessons From the Screenplay Talks about Annihilation

I am always astounded by the insights that Michael Tucker has in his Lessons from the Screenplay videos. It constantly challenges me to engage with movies and scripts in deeper and deeper ways.

This is a particularly good one that came out recently. If you like it, I encourage you to go to YouTube and watch more of his videos.


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Life

Criterion Covers From 2018

I love the Criterion Instagram account. It’s constantly updating with beautiful images from Criterion films.

These posts are the covers from the films added to the Criterion Collection in 2018.

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2018 in Criterion covers, Part I ⚡️

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2018 in Criterion covers, Part II ⚡️

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2018 in Criterion covers Part III ⚡️

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Essays, Life

Trinitite: Beauty and the Bomb

I like to think I’m not someone who is easily frightened, but I do have one mostly irrational fear: atomic bombs. 

I have been told that this is silly, and I agree. It’s called an irrational fear for a reason. But I spend too much time getting elbow deep in Cold War-era spy thrillers to avoid the atomic fear echoing up out of the past. 

People my age, born during the fall of the Soviet Union, tend to laugh at the idea of “duck and cover.” Fallout isn’t death on the wind, it’s the newly anticipated video game from Bethesda. 

Trinitite, a.k.a atomsite, a.k.a Alamogordo glass, a.k.a atomic glass (via Wikipedia)

We’ve almost forgotten that atomic weaponry is a terrible thing. If you’re a Millennial or younger, I’ll just leave you with these links to read about Tsar Bomba, the Demon Core,* the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the ongoing effect Soviet nuclear testing in Kazakhstan is having on the people who live there.

It’s strange to think, but even the beautiful things that arose from nuclear bomb detonations are tainted by their origins. 

J. Robert Oppenheimer and others studying the remains of an observation tower at the Trinity test site, via Wikimedia and this very interesting Project Gutenberg publication


Trinitite is a mineral found in the blast craters of the 1945 Trinity nuclear bomb tests in Alamogordo, New Mexico. It has a couple different names: atomic glass, Alamogordo glass, and atomsite. It’s a green glass created by the immense heat and pressure caused by the atomic blasts that fused the sand with radioactive materials and pieces of the bomb itself and surrounding structures.

When scientists went out to the test sites, they described the blast crater and surrounding area as covered in a sea of jade green glass. Even though the area was supposed to be heavily guarded and secret, samples of trinitite because appearing in mineral collections. It was thought at the time that there was no risk of harm from radiation since they thought trinitite was merely a heat reaction and not caused by any kind of nuclear reaction at all.

This was… not wise. While not really radioactive enough to cause immediate danger, trinitite was still radioactive. Trinitite was crafted into necklaces and earrings, and advertised to women.

This makes me nervous. While I can’t find any accounts of even the mildest case of radiation poisoning (and a display in New Mexico uses a Geiger counter to compare the levels of radiation between a sample of trinitite and some old school Fiesta cookware.) I can’t help but wonder if some doctor is puzzled about odd cases of thyroid or skin cancer popping up in fans of retro jewelry. 

Trinitite jewelry was also used for a more sinister purpose: as a misinformation campaign against the Japanese victims of the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You see, if American women are parading around, sparkling with green jewelry created from a by product of nuclear explosions, how bad off could the Japanese be?**

Back in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the theft of trinitite was becoming a problem. The government banned people from taking trinitite from Alamogordo, and eventually the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission bulldozed over the site completely in 1953 to deter thieves and collectors. 

While samples of pre-prohibition trinitite can be found for sale online, the popularity of the mineral has caused faux-trinitite to be created and sold. While the process of making trinitite can be replicated, only true trinitite contains the radioactive traces that were produced in the Trinity blasts.

Though, if I’m going to choose… I might choose the less radioactive option.

*This is a future blog post unto itself. I have thoughts about the Demon Core. Philosophical and spiritual thoughtsThoughts I tend to think on a regular basis which keep me from sleeping. For another time, though…

**Seriously, this is an actual thing that happened. 

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