Angry Robot

Life, Inc.


I wanted very much to like this book. I wanted to agree with everything in it. The general thesis is that the corporation’s influence has been so great that our entire society, our culture, our minds are now corporatized – we think like corporations without realizing there are other ways. The hook is almost irresistible, too: Rushkoff was robbed outside his apartment in Brooklyn, and when he posted about it on a neighbourhood mailing list, people wanted him to shut up about it lest he bring their property values down.

The book has many fascinating sections, especially the parts about the origins of corporations, the origin of branding (with Louis XIV’s minister Colbert, although some internetting has me questioning that passage), post-WWII home ownership and racism, and the bias inherent in central currency, to name a few. Unfortunately, all of these are awash in a sea of stream-of-consciousness ranting that makes it hard to discern the overall point at any given time. Certain ideas that need more room to kick their legs,like the bias of currency, simply drown.

Most disappointingly, Rushkoff reserves only a few pages at the end for suggestions of how to counteract corporatism. There’s only one real idea, about establishing local currencies, but as the problem with central currencies was so poorly argued earlier, it fails to impress. Likewise, it’s hard to tell whether his theory of corporatism is at all sound, since Rushkoff’s ranting distracts him from the legwork required to establish the theory’s subcomponents.

The PS3, a Month Later

Hard and Soft


The PS3’s hardware is unassailable, both in terms of included features (WiFi, Bluetooth, swappable HD, Blu-Ray), and in terms of build quality, at least compared to the unfortunate Xbox 360.

The OS software is where things get interesting. The overall interface (the Xross Media Bar or XMB – is X pronounced ‘k’ now?) is clean and minimalist, although it scales poorly. That’s evident in the interminable settings tab, and also if you have a lot of games or videos, as it always gives you a flat list – is it incapable of hierarchy?

The PS3 has many capabilities, many of which I fear I will never use. You can see that this thing is an actual computer (which was a promise about the PS2 that was never really true). It’s got a decent web browser and lots of features – heck, it connected to my printer and I’m sure it would print up photos if I let it. I understand the media centre capabilities of this thing are quite decent – format support is fairly broad (although not broad enough for my tastes). Unfortunately, I already have computers that do these things much better. Sorry, PS3.

The Playstation store feels like an actual store and less like a creeping huckster contagion that infects everything – the Xbox 360’s approach.

However, the download / install procedure is a baffling ordeal. On the 360 this just works. The PS3 seems to like to install, moreso than it likes to let you play games. Every time you download something, it needs to install afterwards, but it doesn’t do this itself. It waits until you want the thing, and then tells you it’s “Installing…” My worst experience of this was with Burnout Paradise, a 2 or 3 gig download, then an install, then – outrageously – a sequence of five(!) software updates that had to be downloaded and installed, which completely occupied the PS3 for a good hour. Why the fuck couldn’t those have been applied to the file on the server?

So far, I don’t know too many people with PS3s, so I haven’t tested many of the online services like friends lists and chat and all that – an area of weakness compared to the 360, as I understand. Well, at least you don’t have to pay for it.

The Games

I bought a few games, both through the online store and on Blu-Ray.

There is a refreshing amount of experimentation going on in the available downloadable games like FlOw, FlOwer, the PixelJunk games, Noby Noby Boy, Everyday Shooter. Home is also a noble idea. It’s not one that works in practise at present: what the hell am I supposed to do in there?

The PixelJunk games are fantastic, or at least Eden and Monsters are. I’m in love with Eden. It’s minimalist, beautiful, addicting, and can be played in 10 minute bursts. Monsters seems like it got too hard too fast, but still ranks with the best tower defence games I’ve played. I wished there was more to Noby Noby Boy. And yes, Burnout Paradise at $20 is a truckload of awesome.

On disc I’ve mostly played Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid IV. They are spectacular, really – great examples of current generation A-list games, with engrossing stories that imbue the gameplay with significance. MGS certainly has its quirks. But I’m willing to view them as a strength, as I was a huge fan of Kojima’s auteurism in the past MGS games (although I’ll admit to gradually tiring of the stealth gameplay). I also picked up Valkyria Chronicles and Ratchet and Clank Future, but haven’t spent much time with them. A man only needs so many games at once. If I became suddenly unemployed or they added an extra couple days to the weekend, I’d be trying Killzone and Little Big Planet for sure.

More recently I’ve become quite taken with Demon’s Souls (more on that in a separate post), but that may get punched in the face by Nathan Drake shortly.


A post like this seems like it needs a section about Blu-Ray, but I confess to not being the enthusiast I thought I was. Well, I guess I just spent a week watching three films a day in theatres, so give me a break. I did rent a flick and it looked amazing; it’s definitely the best quality home HD option, far better than either Rogers HD feeds (which generally suck, with visible macro blocking and poor lowlights) or HD rentals on Xbox / iTunes, or even downloaded .mkv files. Then again, I’m having a hard time making myself buy Blu-Ray discs. It just feels like it’s not worth the money. When DVDs were new and fresh, I bought a whole bunch of them. Now I have shelves full of the things, and I can count on one hand the ones I’ve watched multiple times, so the bulk of them weren’t worth the money. And it’s clear that my film collection of the future will all be on some 500 terabyte hard drive. So I’m hesitant to go through the whole thing again, at least until prices drop. I can see myself renting the things fairly frequently, though.

Summing the Hell Up

The PS3 slim is a nice piece of work. It used to be that the PS3 was the $700 console with a crappy games lineup. Now, the console is $300. Sony’s game library is strong, and and we still haven’t seen the old Sony standbys like God of War, Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy. Blu-Ray is the only remaining HD disc format, and the PS3 the only console that offers it. Sony even outsold the Wii in September.

Times have changed.

The Panasonic GH1, a Few Months In


There is no question in my mind that cameras like this are the future for many of us.

By us I mean those interested in both still and motion picture photography. I’ve been into both fields for a while, both by hobby and trade, and it still blows my little mind to think I could afford a thing like this. It’s been a long, gradual and perhaps predictable time coming, but that doesn’t make it seem any less crazy. When I was in university we shot on VHS, and people were saying Hi-8 video was the future. Then it was the DV “revolution”. I split on a cheap DV handicam with some friends. But you still couldn’t get a nice image with these things – you could imitate video stuff, but never convincingly film. For that you needed to shoot film, which was a mulit-thousand-dollar proposition for camera rental & processing. Soon, we were lucky enough to be able to shoot on early pro HDCAMs like the Sony F900, but that was still a half-million dollar camera. A few short years later, the Red is here at $20,000, which is mind-blowing to anyone in the industry.


And now we have sub-$2,000 video SLRs like the GH1. Cameras with great optics, all-digital workflow, 1080p24, compact size, full manual control. Interchangeable lenses, decent low-light shooting. Total craziness.

Hard Rain

These are amazing cameras, but they have kinks. I’m sure in a year or two this category will have stabilized, the feature set will be clear, and choices will be easier. The next iteration of the GH1 (might I guess GH2?) will solve a lot of the problems with this thing. Because yes, there are problems.

Diner - Side

I don’t want to sound complainy here. The GH1 has a lot going for it. Mainly:

Like I say, I’m figuring in a year or so the dust will have settled, each manufacturer will have figured out the featureset they need, and eliminated the needless problems. Red’s cheaper camera Scarlett will theoretically be on the market, too. No matter how you slice it, it’s a great time to be shooting, and it will continue this way for the forseeable future. Perhaps one day we will simply exhale a fine mist of microscopic flying camera bugs and then let our algorithms cut it together, but until then…

Dude Buys the Singing Fish

Space Zombie Weekend Spots

I’m a little late posting this as I put it up on the SPACE site last week but anyway:

We did a couple Space promos about zombies. The post on spacecast contains some behind-the-scenes pics and commentary, plus the videos.

For the viewer’s convenience the spots are embedded here:

Vimeo link

Vimeo link

A brief note: this was a very low-budget shoot by our standards, so we shot it on my GH1. I’ll post more GH1 details later, as I’ve now had a fair bit of time with the camera and it’s worth reporting back in about that.

TIFF 09 – Wrap Up

I was going to do separate, detailed posts for everything I loved, but I’m going to have to freeball it here quickly or I’ll never get around to it. So here are all the rest of the films that I saw:


Along with Ondine, Enter the Void and Hadewijch, one of the best I saw. It’s a brilliantly inventive Greek film about three kids raised to believe some crazy bullshit. Works as a comedy, drama, and parable.


Neil Jordan sure can write. He makes what could be a jumbled mess of genres and topics come across as a modern fable. Quite impressive – also great music & Irish people, including Mr. Farrell.

The Loved Ones

Entertaining, unpredictable, and shallow Australian horror-comedy. Fun, better than most US horror releases, but ain’t no Citizen Kane.

Youth in Revolt

Felt like it had a half hour cut out of it. Meandering, charming Michael Cera flick that I’m sure will kill at the box office.

Cell 211

Superior Spanish jailhouse thriller in which a prison guard poses as an inmate during a prison riot / revolution. Will undoubtedly be remade stateside starring Sly Stallone and Ving Rhames or whomever.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Yes this movie is real, hilarious, and (hopefully) the start of the world’s most unlikely film franchise. It’s refreshing to like Nick Cage in a movie again, but he’s still performing and not acting. Come for the iguanas, stay for the lucky crack pipe.

The Ape

Fascinating film with little substance but some great technique and some psychological insights. For more, read Ram’s review-, with which I agree.


Riveting, powerful Mexican police thriller about murdered women in Juarez that winds up being about much more than that.

Perrier’s Bounty

Entertaining Irish Guy-Ritchie-alike. That’s Tarantino-alike twice removed.


Patience-testing but ultimately rewarding surrealist comedy about a Mexican wrestler and a guy who wakes up in a mysterious white room. Battling with Trash Humpers in my mind for weird-funny champion of the festival. Need to learn more about this dude

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Workmanlike but unremarkable low-budget British thriller.

The Front Line

Italian historical thriller falls down as its confused structure doesn’t help us sympathize with some left-wing guerilla/terrorists.


Documentary about Berlusconi and his media empire. Floats around the edge of the ring with three topical, eccentric characters, but never lands the knockout punch.


That was everything. Phew. It was quite a week. I also wanted to jot down some impressions of the fest as a whole, but we’ll see what Lady Time gives me this week.

Stuff I wrote up already:
Enter the Void
Trash Humpers
Hadewijch, Daybreakers, Valhalla Rising
My angry day two post

TIFF 09: Enter the Void

I’m a couple days late with these write-ups. Clearly I would make a bad film critic.


Gaspar Noé‘s Irreversible was a hugely shocking and audacious film, and someone’s slipped a tab in his drink since then, as Enter the Void amps it up a few dB in scale, ambition, technique, discipline, and frustration. In a nutshell, it’s modeled on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and follows a small-time drug dealer as he gets high, gets killed, and navigates the afterlife. It takes the concept of the point of view shot to a whole new level, and applies a strict video game perspective to each of multiple states of being. Oscar’s real life is seen in the first person, with the camera literally where his eyes are, and includes blinking, his thoughts (muttered monologue), and even his DMT-induced hallucinations. His deathbed flashbacks to his past life are shown in the third person, with the back of Oscar’s head visible in the foreground. His bodyless ghost-floating is seen from spiralling overhead shots.

These techniques are applied unrelentingly. If Oscar’s spirit wishes to follow a different friend, the camera flies across the city and finds that friend. And if a scene is to play out from this point of view, it does so, all from above, with no cutting in to closeups.

It’s a grimy neon afterlife that Noé has us enter, as Oscar the ghost drug dealer navigates a nighttime Tokyo populated by drug-addled artists, predatory dealers, and most importantly his stripper sister, with whom he has a quote unquote special bond. Oscar’s past, while not without some cliched happy moments, is scarred by a violent, traumatic incident. Noé shows us everything in unnecessary detail, as if to rub our noses in the gore of human misery.

It’s a sleazy and somewhat dull world, to be truthful. Oscar and his sister never take on the dimensions of real characters and it’s hard to form any bonds with them. I get the impression that this film is a cautionary tale, and Noé does not respect his characters. The dialogue is consistently mundane. A particularly frustrating scene toward the end, which could have been powerfully emotional, is almost laughably blunt.

Noé is anything but subtle. When I tell you that the film’s based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I know this not because I’ve read it or because it’s visible in the corner of the frame on a character’s shelf, but rather because the characters talk repeatedly about it, describing its contents and laying out the course of the film for those up in the cheap seats.

Also, the purity of the technique starts to get in the way of the storytelling. The need to ghost-cam fly across the city to follow different characters basically adds a 30-second whip pan every time we switch from A- to B-plot. Likewise, the playing out of long take scenes in single overhead shots gets tiresome, and bloats an already challenging film past the two-and-a-half hour mark.

That’s the frustration, that Noé doesn’t climb down from the lofty heights of the concept and the technique and make a real story out of this thing. All the same, he’s achieved some amazing shit here, and fans of formalism and/or the seedy afterlife will want to check this film out.

TIFF 09 – Trash Humpers


So much of film reception is expectation. I went in to this Harmony Korine film having heard bad things, and was just saying to Jenn “we may well walk out of this,” when Korine concluded his introductory remarks by saying, basically, if you’re the sort of person who walks out on movies, might as well do it now. It was a challenge (a throwdown, hell no I can’t slow down) that I accepted almost unconsciously, and I realize now it reset my expectations to near zero.

If you are expecting an experimental work of artistic merit, Trash Humpers may well fall short. I don’t think Korine is playing in the big leagues with this one, which is not to say he couldn’t if he tried. However, if you treat this as a bizarre sketch comedy feature, one step weirder than Tim & Eric, say, you may well enjoy it, as I did.

The Trash Humpers are four southerners who wear creepy old-person masks and, well, hump trash. And trees, and walls, and whatever else. They also smash TVs, vandalize things, break into homes, and kill people, all the while muttering, grunting, singing atonally and/or laughing like sick hyenas. There is no plot to speak of, only a collection of scenes featuring the central characters, and other supporting characters drift in and out freely. The film is shot on VHS, meant to capture an archival quality, as if you might find the tape in a dead person’s things and wonder just what the fuck they were up to. As such, the director/cameraman Korine is also one of the Humpers, and shows up more and more toward the end of the film.

One one hand I’m tempted to criticize the film for lacking cohesion, and argue that it could have benefited from a more targeted sense of mystery. You can’t help but project some onto it (was there a falling out among the humpers? Whose baby did the lady humper steal?), but I do not imagine this is a Mulholland Drive-level puzzle waiting to be solved, if by Korine’s own explanation of it afterwards. I’d also propose it might fare better as a YouTube channel rather than a feature. On the other hand, it’s easier to just let the film be what it is, which is a fuckin’ weird 76 minutes of weird shit going down.

TIFF Day Three

Mmm, my third day of TIFF was much better. Perhaps it’s equal parts personal adjustment to queuing and crowds (something I go way out of my way to avoid in regular life), better choices of film, and all around better luck. I mean, no one likes rushing around to line up for films you find okay or kinda hate, but if the films are good, you take it with a grain of salt, yeah?

Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch was my starter in the morning, and I was quite into it. I confess it’s the first Dumont film I’ve seen, but won’t be the last: it’s a fascinating meditation on religion perfectly married to a compelling plot.

Daybreakers was next. I tried to only get tickets to films that weren’t about to get a release, but in certain cases I couldn’t help myself. If you say “sci-fi vampire film,” I mean I’ve actually watched Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, know what I mean? This had its flaws – wooden dialogue, a little too earnest – but made up for them in sheer inventiveness and entertainment value. Despite the daylight scheduling, the screening was classic midnight madness, with a whooping crowd and a great warm-up from Colin Geddes.

I finished the day with the brooding Viking film Valhalla Rising, another film from a filmmaker I’m slightly ashamed to be unfamiliar with, Nicolas Winding Refn. It was like Bergman doing Conan the Barbarian, with perhaps a little too much emphasis on mood and enigma at the expense of depth. But it gets bonus points for a disembowelment and a mute, one-eyed protagonist like someone from a Leone flick.

My scheduling was still poor today, with a scant 15 minutes to get from film to film, but my trusty bike got me there on time. Directors were present for all three films, but because of my rushed scheduling I only got to hear the Q&A for the last one, which I regret. It’s probably better to allow a lot more time between flicks, especially as they tend to start late.

First Post from TIFF: Suckitude

Man my festival experience is not shaping up well so far. The weeks preceding it are full of articles with words like “buzz,” “star” and “carpet” which make me rage-tingle a little. My first film – my fault for choosing it, I’m sure – is a 900-hour-long art travesty that features 5-minute takes of people sleeping. The film this morning is Rwanda: The Day God Walked Away which is actually fairly decent, but still smacks of art-colonialism as the funding and writer-director are French. I skip Jennifer’s Body because a sandwich now sounds like a more exciting proposition, and then at the AMC for All Fall Down, which hardly sounds like a line-up attractor, I’m forced into Satan’s Own Line which contains people who are lining up for two other, surely more “buzz-worthy” films, and we are all screamed at by ferocious, sex-starved volunteers to pack closer together, then told my film will in fact leave the line, then when I do I’m told I should get back in the line – to the back of the line I just left. What the fuck? I impulsively walk out, whether because of personal sense of outrage, my introvert’s severe dislike of lines, or a purely rational calculation that I would rather pay the $10 value of the ticket than remain in that art scum fattening pen.

It’s too bad, I would have liked to have seen that film.

The whole festival so far has a villainous feel to it, Mos Eisley for corporate sponsors, Indiewood marketers and the aspirational middle class, where people line up to exchange cash for artistic cachet. Because of the money I paid, I can now have a delightfully scathing opinion of Face, or a somber, scolding recommendation for the genocide flick, or crow that I’ve seen the shitty Diablo Cody film two weeks before it sits empty in regular schmuck theatres.

Maybe I should stick to my fucking downloads.

Nah, I’m sure this will get better, it’s the weekend and the daytime screenings will thin out during the week, and I think my picks will be more agreeable even as of tomorrow. But I’m starting to think Jesus invented Blu-Ray so I could avoid bullshit like this.

Some Thoughts on Mad Men 302

There’s an impressive roman-a-clef aspect to Mad Men. Female identity is a strong theme in episode 302, as indeed it always is on the show. (Mild spoilers follow) The episode opens with the opening to Bye Bye Birdie, as Ann-Margret’s “25-year-old pretending to be fourteen” annoys Peggy. She asks, why does Pepsi want us to copy this in order to lure women, when it’s only men who are interested in her? Don passes on the conventional wisdom that men want her, thus women want to be her, leaving Peggy to mull that over. She performs an hilariously bad Ann-Margret imitation when alone in her apartment, and then later experiments with her own ability to make men want her (and thus make her want herself), by initiating a one-night-stand with a young student. She appears to be modestly happy with the results.

Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated plot sees Don and the others woo and then reject the business of some developers who plan to tear down Penn Station in order to build Madison Square Gardens. I know little of New York history, but I read in the Globe today an article about Jane Jacobs that mentioned she was a key player in the public outcry against this development. Jane Jacobs, of course, as an involved and thoughtful activist and citizen, would be a much healthier model of female identity than Ann-Margret, but circumstances conspire to deny Peggy awareness of her. Fittingly, this detail is also denied the viewer. It fits in perfectly with some dialogue elsewhere in the episode, about cities, living downtown vs. commuting, Betty’s dad’s need to ‘get out of the city’.

The episode is titled “Love Among the Ruins.” Which seems apt.


This is my first year attending the Toronto Film Fest in a serious way. By serious I mean I have a 25 daytime ticket package, I have the week off work, and I will be seeing 3+ films a day.

I generally attend a few screenings a year, either free passes through work (most often for Midnight Madness, which I adore), or going with a friend to something. But nothing comprehensive, and I confess to having a slightly negative view of the festival. I’m not a huge fan of celebrity culture, so the people who are drawn to that often bother me. Some of the film selections are questionable (every year there seem to be a lot of mainstream Hollywood flicks that are about to be released in theatres). And the process for getting advance tickets is so byzantine that it has turned me off doing it until now, despite my overpowering love of watching movies all day.

But thanks to the expert guidance of some TIFF vet friends, here I am, about ready to drop my order book off, having waded through an overcomplicated but doable selection process.

The site Tiffr (found via funkaoshi) was a huge help. The official TIFF site looks decent at first glance but the illusion quickly crumbles when you do something foolish like try to search for a film. Then you notice how it sometimes remembers your film list, sometimes not. Instead, Tiffr is like a benevolent parasite – you click a bookmarklet to shortlist films as you browse the TIFF official site. After that, your shortlist can populate a planner screen where you see the films you want to see in all their chronological, overlapping glory. Once you’ve made a series of frustrating compromises and finalized your schedule, you can print it, export to iCal, etc. (here’s mine, for whatever it’s worth to you.)

I’m cautiously optimistic about the upcoming festival experience. I think I’ve picked some decent flicks, and I’m frickin’ thrilled to have a week off work to do nothing but watch theoretically awesome movies. However, I understand there are at least a couple more Soviet bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through before I have my tickets, and possibly some lining up, so I’ll just wait and hope for the best.

PS3 Slim? Who Cares. $300? Sign Me Up


Yeah, there’s this slim thing (pictured), and that’s great, but the important part: only now is the PS3 hitting the launch day price point of the PS2. Consoles traditionally launch at $300, but this time Sony and Microsoft went much higher ($399 for the Xbox 360 and $599 for the PS3), whereas Nintento went all the way down to $250. And just look what happened. Nintendo has sold more consoles than the other two put together.

The word is that Microsoft will now eliminate the Pro model and drop the price on the Elite to $299 to compete with the PS3. That puts it at the same list price, sure, but Microsoft still charges you an extra $50/year to play online, and the 360 can’t play Blu-Ray discs. For the first time, Sony offers the most value for the money. Take a look at the below chart, taken from PC World


I think those stats are a little hard on the 360 (not sure how many people care about the number of USB ports, or Sixaxis), but they speak some sort of truth, and that truth is not kind to the console with the 50% failure rate.

Do I sound eager? I do indeed plan to buy one. I’ve been holding off for this price cut. I’ve owned every console Sony has put out except the PS3, and I bought a PS2 at launch. If there are more people like me – and in this regard at least there may well be – I think these things will sell extremely well.

A word on downloads vs. Blu-Ray. I am perhaps snobbier about my HD signals than most. It comes with making TV for a living; you get very fussy about your picture quality. I think Rogers compresses the hell out of their HD feeds, and they suck. iTunes HD doesn’t look great either. If I can see compression artifacts, can we really call it “High Definition”, regardless of how many pixels there are? So suffice it to say that while many people are excited about HD downloads and think optical disc formats are already dead, I’m singularly excited about having Blu-Ray and its relatively guaranteed quality. Besides, with Canada’s so-called high speed internet being what it is (and what it is is oligarchitastic!), it took me longer than an hour to download an hour of crappyish iTunes HD Dollhouse. This new PS3 can’t come soon enough.

Strategies for Beating Civilization Revolution on Emperor Difficulty


I’ve been playing a lot of Civilization Revolution lately, partly because there are few new games of interest right now, partly because Civilization has long been a favourite game franchise, and partly because of the new iPhone port. I now have this game on three platforms (360, DS, iPhone), which is sort of silly. So I just stepped up my difficulty level from King (medium) to Emperor (second hardest) and the difference is staggering. I’m not getting destroyed per se, but certainly not getting close to winning. This is a good thing, as it indicates there’s a lot more strategy to this game than you might guess from its general air of casualization as compared to past Civ games, which were insanely complicated. I’m also happy about Civ Rev’s shortened play time (three or four hours per game) – it’s a godsend for those whose minds Civ tends to conquer like pikemen under Roman tank armies.

So I’ve been researching strategies, and recently tested some out. Thought I’d share, y’know.

The Emperor AI civs will attack you constantly, so research bronze working first and then build archers. Aim to have an archer army in each city – it’ll hold you until the invention of gunpowder, or thereabouts. You’re not going to do a lot of attacking in this mode, not until the late game, so avoid wasting resources on too many military units that will just obsolete themselves, and concentrate on good defense. Meanwhile, concentrate your building on improving your cities.

My general civ strategy is to expand early in the game by spamming out settlers. This is much harder to do in Emperor, partly because you’ll need defensive units accompanying every settler and partly because you become acutely aware of the damage settlers do to their originating city. You lose two population every time you build a settler (unless you have a Republic), so in many cases you may do better to let your older cities grow and be choosier about new cities. I lost a game to a Chinese civ that only had four or five cities. But boy were they doozies.

The single most important point is that cities cannot produce both gold and science – that toggle in the interface between them is in fact toggling the city’s output (not simply the display of them as I had thought). So following from that, build cities to specialize in one or the other. In a gold-producing city, build a marketplace and then a bank; don’t waste time on libraries and universities. And vice versa, obviously. You will probably have mostly science-based cities, and one or two for gold. You’re going to want one or two production-geared cities that can spam out military units, too. But you probably already know that.

Don’t be afraid to micromanage as much as is possible in this game. For example, in a city that is working on a Wonder, switch the workers to concentrate on production. Or, if late in the game one of the AIs is close to winning and you’re closer to an economic victory than a technological, switch your cities from producing science to gold.

Early game exploration is as important as in easier game modes, with some good money available from villages, natural features, and barbarians. Getting navigation early on will help you find atlantis and the other ancient artifacts that will spew forth a bounty of bonuses.

Keeping your cultural production up is extremely important. Not only is it a possible route to winning, but you need some culture to prevent your neighbours from converting your cities. With a lot, you can be grabbing their cities, but also some fat bonuses in the form of Great People. Use them to reinforce your cities’ specialized roles. Great artists should be sent to cultural and/or border cities, great scientists to science-producing cities. Great builders are especially valuable, as they can be used to complete any production, including wonders. So you can park one, find a good Wonder to build, and then use the builder to complete it immediately.

Just as you are doing with your cities, you are going to want to specialize with your civilization as well. Figure out whether a domination, cultural, technological or economic victory makes most sense. Let your environment dictate this. If you are in arid, trade-producing land, go for economic or tech; if you have many neighbours, go domination or cultural. Each path yields its own bonuses.

This page has some interesting strategies for Deity mode that would hold true for Emperor as well. I do agree that an economic victory is probably the easiest.

Fever and the Feeding Thereof

Man. I had a post ready about how I deal with feed overload.That all changed on the weekend as on Ram’s recommendation I switched to the new self-hosted feed reader, Fever.
I’ve been rocking NetNewsWire since way back in the day. I paid money for it when it first came out of beta. It’s great, it’s now free, and totally packed with features. Problem is, it hasn’t seen any new development in quite some time. I think the free Google reader took the wind out of the feed reader market. At the height of it all NNW seemed about to sprout a bunch of feed management features. Ranchero was bought by Newsgator and they had a ton of ‘other people are reading x’ capabilities and everything seemed promising and then… nothing.

To step back: the problem with feedreaders is you wind up adding too many damn feeds. You realize a feed reader allows you to check more news than you could by manually hitting all those websites. So you add more feeds. Gradually, those unread counts pile up. We’re conditioned from email to imagine missing an item as THE END OF THE WORLD, and so those unread items translate into stress.

So, inevitably, the net was awash in articles a couple years back about how to cull your feeds, sort them into priority lists, etc. etc. And at the same time, feed reader development ground to a halt.

It seemed the best way to use a feed reader was to not use it at all.

It could have gone a different way. I mean we’re sitting here using computers; perhaps the computers could step in and lend a hand and do something a little more taxing than displaying lists. The computer could determine what news is being talked about across all your feeds. Like Google News, except without the Kansas City Star and Voice of America and all the sources you don’t give a shit about.

Fever represents a step in this direction. You dump in your existing feeds, which are in typically gimmicky fashion referred to as ‘kindling.’ You are encouraged to add ‘sparks’, which is to say, link-heavy, high noise-to-signal feeds you might otherwise ignore. Fever then scans the feed data to determine which links are being referenced the most. It presents this to you in the ‘hot’ list, which is sorted by most inbound links:


The idea – and it is a noble one – is that you can at a glance get a sense of the biggest news items being talked about, sorted by priority. The other associated ideas are a) this diminishes the need for unread counts (although they can be toggled on globally or individually), and b) this works better the more feeds you throw at it. Get it? you “feed a fever”. This calculus of optimal sources to perfectly tailored hot list is actually really fun to set up. Presented with a list that was too tech video game heavy, I went looking for film and news sites. Fever isn’t a feed reader, it’s a feed management game.

Ready for the downsides? Fever, an idiosyncratic app if ever there was one, has many. It costs $30. It’s a web app that must be installed on your own server. The only portable option is a less-than stellar iPhone web view. And for best results, and for the iPhone version to be at all useful, you have to set up a cron job. I had never had reason to do that before.

I can live with all of those issues. (I’m confident the iPhone view will see improvements – hopefully its own app.) The biggest drawback though, as mentioned here, is that Fever only sorts according to links. Sure, this is the web and links are the currency. I duly note the idealism. However, actual real life feeds often fall short of our ideals. For one, find me a newspaper feed with a goddamn hyperlink in it. For two, many feeds (like the link-rich Greencine Daily) only give excerpts, and Fever sees only that and not the full post. Fever works well on tech news and the like, and falls short with real life news where there may be no definitive hyperlink.

This could be fixed. Can small developer Shaun Inman add headline-parsing algorithms that rival the goliath Google News? It would be awesome, and I hope so, but I have no idea. Frankly, I feel we need legitimate personal data sorting tools that don’t involve huge friend lists and massive privacy violations. News is not the only area of our lives in which we grapple with data overload, and Fever is an excellent new weapon that just needs a few tweaks.

Now does anyone know any good news blogs with lots of links?


Saw Bruno on the weekend. It’s got some hilarious parts, but it seems almost like a collection of skits that would be better enjoyed on YouTube.

It’s almost all embarassement humour in the same mold as Borat. Part of the time Bruno is successfully provoking and lampooning hetero gay panic. But often he is doing this by playing into straight stereotypes of gays. I think my favourite scenes were at the beginning, when the victim of the meatspace trolling was the fashion industry, and not so much later in the movie, when the victims are southern US men. In general Bruno felt a lot staler a character than Borat – we’ve all seen hilarious gay stereotypes in our entertainments before, and we don’t need Bruno to point out that yes, wrestling is pretty gay.

The Most Interesting Nerd in the World

Video, from Hardcore Nerdity.

He can speak Elvish – in Klingon.
(via the King of Canadian sci-fi Mark Askwith)

Dear World,




Al Jazeera's Detroit Doc

Take a look at this rather good half-hour doc about Detroit from Al-Jazeera’s English station. This one is hosted/narrated by Avi Lewis. It’s a little too newsy and focused on the auto crisis for my tastes, but it’s pretty excellent. Isn’t Grace Lee Boggs a total champ?

Not that I’m a massive Nader fan, but he apparently has a point about GM using bankruptcy to move its operations to China, which is actually fairly scandalous. Anyway, take a look.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Vote for Yrs. Truly in the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge Thing, Please

Dear Robot Readers,

I could use your help with something. I have a film in this year’s Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge. (I admit it, I’m a huge nerd.) It’s called “Bad Day For Vader”, and I’d love it if you voted for it. It’s only a minute long so that part ain’t hard, but you may have to register on atom first – not sure. You should be done in a couple minutes regardless.

Those of you with weblogs, newspapers, megaphones and/or skywriting businesses, I’d also appreciate your help spreading the word.

Voting stops at noon on friday, so if you could, make haste!

Here’s the link

Thanks and I owe you one.

Lonely Robots Art Show


Ooo, my robot heart just throbbed a little at this: “Showcasing the talents of some of our favourite artists from Toronto (and one from Sweden), over 20 illustrators, painters, sculptors, graphic designers, photographers and a blacksmith have produced a stunning array of work with LONELY ROBOTS as the theme.”

Lonely Robots – group art show

It opens at Magic Pony sat. the 16th of july.

Cop Notice

Saw this for the first time on YouTube today:


My copywriting mind went immediately to how police state/patronizing this sounds, and how it could be rewritten to sound less so. “This audio track violates copyright laws, so it has been disabled” seems slightly better, but there’s no way around it seeming like a dick move by YouTube. Because it is. A better mechanism might be to disable copyright-breaking works* only once they breach a certain viewership, say 100,000 views. This video has only 450 views – why bother messing with that?

*At that point, it seems like everyone is better served if an ad-revenue sharing deal is worked out, and the work kept intact.

GH1 Update 2

Dude Buys the Singing Fish

I love the feel of this camera in the hands. I love old school film cameras with all their manual doohickeys and I don’t like bad digital compacts with all the navigating poorly-laid-out on-screen menus. This thing has got old school buttons and levers, and where you need to go into menus, they are very well designed. The flip-out LCD is from heaven. Only thing I don’t like is the absence of focus marks on the lens. Still getting used to manual focusing with this bastard – the autofocus is good, so I’m not complaining too much.

It takes a bit to get used to the video. I got into the stills part right away. As I mentioned I have plenty of experience with shooting stills, and so I saw the improvements a camera like this makes possible right away.

On the video capture side I have few skills, other than general knowledge of photography (well, plus a wealth of skills in post, but that’s anoher matter). Also, this camera’s advantages in cinematography are tricky to unlock.

The post workflow is one thing. For me, it actually takes longer to get my tapeless footage off this camera than it did with tape. That’s because you have to convert at least once from AVCHD -> ProRes if you want Final Cut to be able to digest it (here’s one video task that may actually be better on windows systems). You need to convert again if you want to remove the 30i wrapper from your 24p footage. You can shoot slomo since the camera has a 60p mode, but that involves some trickery again.

Capture has its own challenges. I certainly saw the AVCHD ‘mud’ (compression junk as a result of the codec breaking down) that happens with fast pans. This is disappointing to say the least, and hopefully panasonic can address it in a firmware update, perhaps by upping the bit rate.

I personally needed to get a ND filter for daylight shooting; if you’re looking for ‘film look’ bokeh, you want some filters going. Once I had that I got better-looking footage.

Finally, camera shake is an issue in something this small. It’s okay if you’re shooting slomo. But if not, you either want to stay wide or get some means to stabilize this badboy. I had okay luck with the camera on my lap or otherwise propped against something, but i’m also looking into either a shoulder brace or steadicam-y type thing, and there are many options that I’m still shopping around for.

Once you figure out some of these things, you can get some excellent results. Here’s two vids of test footage. (You can’t watch them in HD through these embeds, so perhaps click through to the vimeo pages.) Here’s an early, not great one:

GH1 test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

I’m happy with the footage on our back patio (the girls chatting), but little else. That footage looks great because the camera’s stabilized, I’m able to get some bokeh, in part because it’s not too bright. The footage on queen street in direct sunlight is pre-ND filter and so the aperture is closed down, meaning there’s too much DOF. A lot of it was too shaky to use, too.

Here’s a later vid, with footage from Pride last sunday:

Pride 2009 Camera Test from dsankey; on Vimeo.

As you can see, the slomo works great. It smooths out the camera jitter awesomely. Also, I had the ND filter by then, and it was cloudy, so backgrounds are all pretty n’ soft. I look at some of these shots, and think I shouldn’t be able to get them, the camera being so cheap, and me being nearly unskilled.

The other nice thing is how people deal with the camera. It’s small and has the body of an SLR. I think at the AlternaQueer tent people thought I was a news photographer. And out on the street there were so many cameras I was more or less invisible. Because of the massive proliferation of cameras these days, the incredible 280mm zoom this thing can do, and the appearance of the camera’s body, I found myself able to go pretty much anywhere and take pics of anything with no problems. That was a nice surprise.

Anyway, I hope to shoot a few more tests this week as there are still things to figure out and questions to answer. Dealing with sound is one of them.

MacBook Pro Hard Drive Odyssey

I took my computer apart this weekend.


Having filled my 160gig internal, and with a new camera on the way, and realizing that 500gig 2.5” drives were now here and quite affordable, I had ordered a replacement hard drive, with the intention of paying a technician to install it. I had read the guide and it involved many steps, specialist screwdrivers, and a great number of differently-shaped screws. However, as Computer Systems Centre never called me back, and routinely put me on hold for 5 minute intervals, I decided to go it alone.

A trip to Canadian Tire later, I had all the nerd screwdrivers I needed, and was ready to start. This Macworld article had invaluable advice: print the instructions and then tape the screws to the pictures that indicate their provenance. Without this, I would have a frankenstinian monster on my lap right now, but with it, the procedure was long and repetitive, but not hellish at all. Although it gets scary when you crack open the top case (it actually goes ‘crack’), and see your computer’s guts just lying there.

So it worked, and my free space is now a cavernous 300+ gigs, plus I feel like I really upgraded my nerd cred a whole lot. Fucking A.



Prototype is hells fun. That’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s got what we might charitably call a ‘traditional’ video game plot, with a genetic experiment gone awry, and a super-powered, amnesiac protagonist, and a viral infection turning Manhattan into a playground of zombies and soldiers. However, the plot provides all the motivation we need for some super-insane power-fantasy abilities, like growing massive claws out of your hands, running up buildings and leaping over them, and shape shifting. It feels a lot like Crackdown, with even crazier powers, but with less sense of humour.

The ‘consume’ mechanic is particularly interesting. In order to assume someone’s appearance, you basically eat them, but you also get a brief, impressionistic montage of their mind, revealing plot details. Sometimes this is part of the main plot, but you can also leap around looking for other plot items to consume. That’s pretty much all I do in there now – narrativized leaping. I find it pretty irresistible.

GH1 in Effect

Just got the Panasonic GH1 in. I had pre-ordered at adorama in the US, and at Vistek here in Toronto, and due to a lucky turn, Vistek came through much earlier than I had feared. I know from scouring the forums that many are being told they won’t get their cameras until July.

I’ve only barely used it, but I’m already thrilled. Perhaps much of the thrill would be common to any camera in this price range / category; many entry level DSLRs, as I understand it, would have equivalent picture quality and features. But it’s all new to me – my recent cameras are an ancient film SLR, a crappy five-year-old point & shoot, and the iPhone. I’ve taken good pictures with all of them, but never with the ease I experienced since this new baby came.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing is how frickin’ smart the camera is. The autofocus is fast, and shows you what it’s focusing on. The metering seemed always on point. And more than once we noticed it doing crazy-ass face detection. Apparently it predicts motion too? How long until it becomes self-aware, if it isn’t already?

I’m just scratching the surface of video recording, which of course is the reason I bought this camera. It’s harder to get sorted than it needs to be. If you’re going for a film look thing the right settings are crucial, which would be 1080p (“full HD”) and a shutter rate of 1/50. That means you’re recording in the rather nasty codec AVCHD, which causes workflow problems because Final Cut can’t edit that natively. Getting real 24p also requires deinterlacing the shots after that. To make matters worse, the AVCHD footage can break up and create compression mud on fast pans and tilts.

That said the 720 60p works well, and also presents the opportunity to shoot slow motion. And all in all, for the crazy small amount of money this thing costs, you have an HD, 24p camera with a sensor only a hair smaller than a RED camera.

There’s Pride on the weekend, and then I’m off the next week, with the intention of shooting me some (film? AVCHD? MTS files?), so I’ll have at least some test footage to show before too long.

(follow the stills along on flickr)