Saturday, July 23, 2016

Digging Too Deep: Living in a Box "Living in a Box"

I have a theory: if you try hard enough, you can find deeper meaning for anything. For kicks and giggles, I have decided to look for a deeper meaning for the song "Living in a Box" by Living in a Box (yes, that is the band's name). My theory is that the song is a metaphor for non-conformity.
"Woke up this morning / Closed in on all sides, nothing doing / I feel resistance as I open my eyes / Someone's fooling" 
The protagonist feels trapped by the system he finds himself in ("Closed in on all sides"). He begins to realize that he has been manipulated ("I feel resistance", "Someone's fooling"). This has caused a major shift in how he views the world around him ("Woke up this morning").
"I've found a way to break through / This cellophane line / 'Cause I know what's going on / In your mind"
In this part, the protagonist has learned the intention of the system (hence "In your mind"). As such, he is thinking about breaking out of the system. This symbolized via the image of breaking through cellophane (a type of wrapping used for packaging).
"Am I living in a box? / Am I living in a cardboard box?"
This line is repeated multiple times throughout the entire song. According to the band, the line was inspired by a homeless man in Sheffield, who as a friend of theirs at the time, saying "I'm literally living in a box".
So, what does this actually mean? The protagonist is questioning his place in the system. For obvious reasons, living in a box is usually seen as a sign of poverty. In the context of the song, living in a box is meant to symbolized being screwed by the system. So, the protagonist is questioning whether has it good. After all, it is become complacent when you have no standard to measure how well you are doing.
"Life goes in circles / Around and around, circulating / I sometimes wonder / What's moving underground, I'm escaping"
The protagonist is finding his life in the system repetitive which is symbolized by going around in circles. Because of the repetitive nature of his life, he begins to wonder what exists beyond what is familiar to him. These two factors causes the protagonist to break from the system hence "I'm escaping".
"I've found a way to break through / This cellophane line / 'Cause I know what's going on / In my mind"
You may be asking why I am talking about this verse again? The second time this verse is used, the line "In your mind" is changed to "In my mind". This signifies the protagonist understanding his own motivations. Because he now understands what he wants, he going out on his own to find a way to get what he wants.

Friday, July 8, 2016

I Can't Stop Thinking About Micropayments

Disclaimer: I am not a professional businessman. However, I have taken several business, economics and accounting courses.
Recently, I came across an article by Scott McCloud, a comic creator who I respect for his analysis of the comic book medium. The article, "Misunderstanding Micropayments", was basically complaining how people were misunderstanding his ideas for micropayments. The articles didn't explain his ideas about the subject. After searching a while, I managed to find two comics explaining his ideas: I Can't Stop Thinking # 5 and 6 (although it is mostly in 6). I wanted to write a response to these strips.
To support his ideas, Scott proposes this scenario:
"Online cartoonist Scott Kurtz reported how his comic strip PVP Online with its 30,000 regular visitors was costing him $600 a month to maintain, due to his need for a dedicated server to handle all the traffic. If those same 30,000 readers had been paying him just 25 cents a month, those quarters would've added up to a monthly gross of $7,500. Subtract a ten percent processing fee, as well as that $600 charge, -- and our "dangerously popular" friend would be making $73,000 a year after expenses!"
There are several problems with this. Firstly, not all 30,000 of those people are willing to pay for the comic. That combined with the numerous free comics on the web would mean a shrink in the reader base. Secondly, this does not take into account how much revenue Kurtz is making. Making $73,000 in net income sound nice. However if he is already making more than that, making $73,000 seems like a terrible idea. Even if he is making less than $73,000, he would need to analyze the cost of the change would incur (such as redesigning his website, get a service to handle the transfer of money, loss of advertising revenue and so on) and see if the benefits of the change outweigh the costs. This is why cost benefit analysis is important.
There is a question that Scott never answers: what is the customer actually buying? Are the micropayments for a time based subscription, downloads of comic pages, the ability to view on the comic, all the above or something else? Scott never elaborates.
Now, let's look at the impact micropayments have had on video games. It's only fair since they are the only other medium that uses micropayments. Micropayments have become infamous among gamers for how abusive and horrible they are used. We have allegedly "free" game that go out of their way to punish players who don't play. For example, the Runescape wiki claims that only 20% of the entire game is accessible to non playing players. Then, there are instances were paying players have been screwed over. Infamously, Street Fighter X Tekken had 12 complete characters that were intentionally made unusable unless you paid extra money for them.
How does this relate to web comic? Well, I can imagine greedy creators using similar technique to unfairly make more profit. If the comic uses a time based subscription or per page based payment system, the creator could thin out the content per page to increase the total page count or time wasted to make them more money. Creators could leave out chunks of the story unless you pay extra.
Some of the positives Scott lists don't seem that positive to me. One example is him saying "maybe -- just maybe -- they could put a few hundred well-paid corporate lawyers out of a job". What? While I do realize that there are selfish and amoral lawyers, you are saying people losing their ability to financially support themselves and any dependents they have is good. Scott claims micropayments "would get rid of the Ad Banners!" I currently read several webcomics (Monsterkind, Alice and the Nightmare and Kidutus among others). All of them have ad banners, which never bugged because these banners are easy to ignore and not intrusive. Scott claims micropayments will make viable "professional surfers", who are people who "keep an eye out for cool new art and music". So, we can help support people who do exact same thing that many websites (YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr among others) already do for you for free.
To reiterate, I respect Scott McCloud. I personally own his books Understanding Comics and Making Comics. However, I disagree with his ideas on micropayments.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Science of Time Travel

A staple of science fiction is time travel. Despite how overly complex the concept can get, many stories have written about. So, is time travel actually possible?  Just a disclaimer, I am not a physicist. As such, I am using other sources for this information (see below).
Theoretically, you can actually time travel by going fast enough. As you get closer to the speed of light, time slows down for you (and just you). However, you do not notice this effect until you stop. From your perspective, you could travel a month and find yourself years into the future (NASA).
However, there are several problems with time travel. A time machine would need fuel comparable to the power of the star. (Kaku) Going at such speed would kill any human that attempts it. (The Week) Also if by some miracle you manage to build a machine that somehow bypassed these problems, there is no way back leaving thus trapping you in the future (NASA). So even though in theory it is possible, it is unlikely you'll be visiting ancient Rome anytime soon.
Some people have proposed a work around. Based on Einstein's theories of relativity, it has been theorized wormholes could be the solution. Wormholes, for those not in the know, have the ability to connect two different points of space and time. (Kaku)
However, this has problems too. No wormhole has ever been discovered. As of the time writing, they only exist in the realm of theory. (The Week) According to current theories, wormholes would be 10–33 centimeters large. (Redd) As such, wormholes don't seem particularly practical either.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hercules and Ariel Theory Debunked

I recently saw the Nostalgia Critic's video "Top 11 Disney Princess Conspiracies". While I am a fan of the Critic with much respect for his work, I thought this was idiotic. The video lists off theories that most of the time are people stringing together random information and turning that into a theory. However, there was one in particular that I wanted to debunk.
What is the theory? Hercules and Ariel are related. Hercules is the son of Zeus. Ariel is the daughter of King Triton. In Greek mythology, Poseidon has a son named Triton. So, King Triton is the son of Poseidon thus making Ariel Hercules' niece (although most people erroneously say they would cousins). There are several problems with this theory.
Firstly, this entire theory is based on something from Greek mythology. However, Disney's Hercules movie isn't accurate to Greek mythology. In fact, the title itself is wrong because Hercules was the Roman version of the character while the Greek version was Heracles. If that isn't convincing enough, here are some other errors: Heracles / Hercules is the son of Hera and not a mortal woman, Hades being a devil figure, the titans are elementals, five muses as opposed to nine and Narcissist being a god among other mistakes. As such, we shouldn't assume something is canon to Disney's Hercules just because it was in Greek myths.
Secondly, what has been revealed about Ariel's family tree seems to opposed this idea. Although The Little Mermaid movie doesn't explore Ariel's family tree that much, other media created by Disney does. The Little Mermaid cartoon mentions Ariel's father was indeed named Poseidon. However, it also mentioned her grandfather is named Neptune, who is shown to a normal merman and not a divine being. Also, The Little Mermaid III reveals Ariel's mother was Queen Athena, who is clearly not the Athena from Hercules. As such, it seems that Ariel's family consists of merman and mermaids some of who happen to be named after Greek deities.
Thirdly, Triton doesn't seem of divine origin. It established in The Little Mermaid that his powers come his trident and are not innate to him. If he was a god or demigod, why wouldn't he just have these power? Also, Triton resembles the other merfolk than he does the Hercules version of Poseidon, who is a fish person rather than a merman.
So overall, I don't believe in this theory. The entire thing is based on a coincidence that was clearly not the author's intend. Even if you apply death of the author, this theory still falls flat.

Friday, June 10, 2016

"The Last Unicorn" review

Get used to the vapid staring
What is the plot? An unicorn (Mia Forrow), dubbed "Amalthea" in the third act, overhears talk of how the other unicorns have disappeared. As such, she goes on a quest to see if she is truly the last unicorn. Her only clue is that the mysterious Red Bull drove the other unicorns to the ends of the world for unknown reasons. On her journey, she is joined by the wizard Schmendrick (Alan Arkin) and the elderly Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes).

The story is awful. Our protagonist, Amalthea, spends the majority of film doing nothing but vapidly staring off into the distance. Meanwhile, Molly and the "incompetent" wizard have to save the day most of the time. Similarly, Prince Lír (Jeff Bridges) manages to be completely pointless and could have been easily written out. Schmendrick's powers are wildly inconsistent. Sometimes he can use his magic to do things like resurrect the dead and shrink objects. Other times (like the climax), he is completely powerless. The film manages to render the climax an anticlimax due to its use of deus ex machina that spits the face of logic. The majority of third act is the protagonist milling around the villain's castle, which proves to be ungodly boring. The Red Bull, the driving force of the plot, is never explained at all. Where it came from, what it is and how it met Haggard (Christopher Lee) are among the many questions the viewer is left with. How Haggard acts and how he is described by himself and the other characters don't sync up. I know this next part is a story problem, but it warrants an entire paragraph due to how much of a problem it is.

The rules of this world's universe are solely based on the what the plot demands at that moment. The movie pulls out rules that are only mentioned when they are relevant. For reference's sake, prime examples include immortals not being able to see things walking calmly when being attacked by an immortal harpy, cats not being able to get a straight answer when one is being questioned about plot critical information and anything involving unicorns. To worsen this, the movie breaks many of its rules. One egregious example is a butterfly being able to remember seeing the Red Bull when the movie established less than a minute earlier that butterflies can only remember songs and poems.

The characters are a mixed bag. At first, I enjoyed Molly. However upon writing this review, I realized I could not think of any notable character traits she has aside from being an old woman. Schmendrick was enjoyable. Being a lovable underdog helped. I liked Lír largely because he is a traditional hero among a horde of characters who barely count as a characters. However, I felt he should have been more important to the film. Amalthea felt incredibly flat and uninteresting even more so than Molly because Amalthea, as mentioned before, is a passive player in her own story. Haggard was an absolute waste of Christopher Lee. Despite his importance to the plot, he is given never any real character moments aside telling us his character. Even then, it gets contradicted by what we actually see.

The animation is mostly passable. However, there are some major problems. The action scenes never show impacts. For example, Lír being knocked down is represented by him being charged at then cutting to him face down on the ground. This severely lessen the impact of the violence. Also, there is a scene where the animators forgot the draw the wine the characters were supposed to be drinking.

Overall, I did not like this movie. While it is okay for you to enjoy the film, I personally found the flat characters and poor story to ruin the movie for me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Cosmic Horror of "The Book of Life"

I have seen several people talk about Jorge Guiterrez's film The Book of Life. However, I found few people are talking about what I found to be the most interesting part of the film: the horrifying implications of the cosmology presented.
Let me give a disclaimer before I start. When I first saw the movie, I thought the cosmology was based on some Mexican religion or mythology I wasn't familiar with. Doing some research debunked this. For reference's sake, the death gods, Xibalba and La Muerte, are named after a Mayan afterlife (but not a Mayan god) and an unofficial saint popular in Mexico.
The cosmology presented in the film is focused on death and afterlife. After a person dies, they are either sent to the Land of the Remembered or the Land of the Forgotten. The Land of the Remembered is a 24/7 party for those who are remembered in the mortal realm and is ruled by La Muerte (a woman made of sugar who has insanely huge hat and hair). By contrast, the Land of the Forgotten is a dark and deary cavern for those forgotten in the mortal realm (known as "the Land of the Living"). The inhabitants can be turned into dust by the winds (although it is unclear if this permanently destroys them or not). This cheery place is ruled by Xibalba (who looks like the offspring of Disney's Hades and Discord from Friendship is Magic wearing a menorah). If you go to the Land of the Remembered but everyone who remembers you dies, then you go to the Land of the Forgotten. Let's deconstruct this a little.
Apparently, your popularity is the determining factor on whether or not you are doomed to the Land of the Forgotten. Morality has nothing to do with this. Don't believe me? In the movie, the dead member of the Sanchez clan mention if their hometown is destroyed no one will remember them thus they will be doomed to be exiled to the Land of the Forgotten. This is despite the fact all the Sanchez members we see are morally upright and incredibly heroic (often to the point of getting themselves killed). So, you can a freaking saint yet never get rewarded in the afterlife for all the good you have done. 
Also, it seems that people eventually end up in the Land of the Forgotten. As mentioned before, people are sent to the Land of Forgotten if no one in the mortal realm remembers you even if you are in the Land of Remembered. Considering everyone has to die at some point, everyone who remembers you will eventually die. When that happens, you are trapped in the Land of the Forgotten. If turning to dust destroys you in the afterlife like theorized before, every mortal is doomed to oblivion. As such in the grand scheme of things, the Land of the Remember is a nothing more than brief break you get before suffering for either eternity or until you die a second time by the winds.
Even then, the Land of the Remembered doesn't sound that great. I imagine that constantly partying would wear thin pretty quickly. It would probably be hell for shy and introverted people who don't do well in parties. 
Now, I know what people are probably going to say: Jorge Guiterrez made some comment about the film's universe that deal with these problems. Firstly, this post is based on what is in the actual movie. Secondly, if I have to read supplementary material to understand your story taking place in your own original universe, then the story is flawed.