Agile Update – Week 3

This week was a bit slow, but I still managed to get a certain amount complete. I wrote three blog posts, including one movie review. I’d like to get the movie reviews up to two or three a week, but at least I’m back to getting some new reviews posted to my movie review blog and here on WordPress. I exercised once this week. Yes, that needs to go up too – but I hate exercising and I’m a busy person.  But considering how out of shape I am – exercising once a week is better than nothing, and I’m at least getting started. I found out that my church is having exercise classes once a week (yoga and Qigong – both things that sound interesting to me) starting in February. At this point, I’m planning on giving it a try. If I do that, and exercise once or twice a week on my own, I’ll be up to the recommended three times a week. Woo-hoo!

One major goal reached this week, is that I am now up to 200 followers on Twitter! That may not sound like much, but it’s a new personal best. Next goal: 225 or 250. A couple of hints I’m now following on Twitter – every day I check my new followers (in notifications) and send a “thank you” Direct message (DM) for the follow. Lately, I’ve also added that I hope they enjoy my tweets. I also check out the profile page for new followers. If they sound interesting (and it’s not a spam account of course) I follow back, and also add the account to my Twitter Lists for organization. This seems to get me more followers.

For professional development, I finished one book (see my review on GoodReads of The Non-Designer’s Design Book), plus read three professional on-line articles. I’m also up-to-date on my InDesign class.  I love the class and it is going very well. Oh, and that was another accomplishment -writing a review of The Non-Designers Design Book on GoodReads. Since joining that social network site, I’ve tried to review every book I read. Sometimes it’s not possible due to bad weather knocking out my Internet, but overall I’ve had good results.

Goals for next week

  • Three – five total blog posts, including two – three movie reviews
  • Exercise two – three times a week
  • Keep up with professional development.

I still like this system of time management, personal development, and professional development. It keeps me focused, and the positive nature (focusing on what you did do, rather than what you didn’t) is something that I really like. As an “over-achiever” (though I hate that term because it suggests there’s something wrong with achievement – especially personal and academic achievement) I have always had a tendency to take on too much, then focus on what I didn’t finish or get done, then become paralyzed in my strive for accomplishments. But with this system, because it’s so positive in it’s approach it makes it easier to pat myself on the back for what I did do, add to my goals, and not criticize myself for my short-comings. What more can one ask for organizing and improving one’s life?

Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future DVD Review

  • Title:  Max Headroom:  20 Minutes into the Future
  • Original Network:  ABC (US)
  • Original Airdate:  1987 – 1988
  • Cast:  Matt Frewer, Amanda Pays, Chris Young, Jeffrey Tambor, George Coe, W. Morgan Sheppard, Concetta Tomei
  • DVD Format:  3-4 episodes per disc, 5 discs total (final disc is special features only)
  • Number of Episodes:  14

Max Headroom is an  excellent SF program, that was way ahead of its time. This program originally aired when night time soaps like Dallas and Falcon Crest were popular, as were formula action series such as The A-Team, MacGyver, Miami Vice, and Magnum, PI. Max Headroom was completely different. Following the adventures of a crusading, caring tele-journalist and his “computerized” alter-ego in a dystopian future – each episode addressed futuristic issues that seem even more relevant now than then. The look of the show mixed the old and the new – antique typewriter keyboards hooked up to sophisticated computer screens. The effect of the mix was that nothing was shiny and new, everything was old, dirty, and re-used. In one episode, Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) tries to get some information from Sully in the “Fringes” (the bad section of the sprawling metropolis) who remarks, “Nobody makes nothin’ new anymore. We just recycle the old ones.” – He’s specifically talking about cars, but it seems to apply to everything.

Corporations rule this world, and television is everywhere – taking over every aspect of life. Not only is the Japanese Corporation, Zik-Zac the top advertiser and client of Network 23 (where Edison works) – but at one point they actually manipulate a crash in Network 23 stock – a comment on Sony’s acquisition of ABC at the time the series was made. In the world of Max Headroom, television is how people vote, educate their children, shop, attend church, are entertained, and how people are informed. Television is literally everywhere, even in fancy restraurants – and the sets cannot even be turned off. There is also no video tapes, no movie theaters, no books, and no other form of entertainment – just television.

The show commented on television network politics, instant ratings, violent extreme sports, genetic engineering, pervasive private security, televangelists, censorship, and consumerism. And always, always, always – the series mocked the very medium that created it, which is why it didn’t last. Max Headroom predicted many things we now find commonplace, more if you substitute the word “computer” for “television”. For example, Edison and Theora both carry “credit tubes” – these are used to make all payments, as ID to enter Network 23 or any place that requires it, even as the way to unlock their (respective) apartment doors. These days it’s becoming very common for people to not carry cash or checkbooks but to pay for everything with debit or even credit cards. Both Google and Apple have launched payment apps so that in the US, people can start to pay for things using their cell phones (something that’s been common in Europe for years). Personal security companies are creating “smart home apps” that allow you to do everything from program the optimal temperature to lock and unlock the front door. Is it hard to imagine a time when your smartphone is all you need to carry and it becomes the device for personal ID, unlocking doors, and making all payments?

In the episode, “Lessons” (or Project:  Fringes Literacy) it’s revealed that free public education no longer exists – and well-to-do parents pay for subscription paid educational TV. In the episode, Edison meets a Blank (non-registered) person whom the cops think is pirating educational TV tapes. In reality, she’s printing illegal books to teach children in the Fringes how to read. That is also the episode that takes place during the annual “Sky Clearance” festival – where old satellites are shot down to make room for new ones. Today, Earth’s orbit is getting so full of various pieces of space junk, the idea of cleaning it up by destroying bigger chunks isn’t that far-fetched.

Whereas, in the episode, “Dieties” (Vu Age Televangelists) it’s revealed traditional religions more-or-less no longer exist, and have been replaced by Televangelists hosting their own TV religious hours.  Even movie theaters are gone, as shown in the episode, “Dream Thieves”, when Edison does a brief nostalgia piece at a worn out, empty theater – the blanks and fringers he interviews, man-on-the-street style don’t even know what a movie or movie theater is.

Max Headroom was an intelligent, smart, show. The dialogue was frequently snappy and ironic. The characters were great, and had excellent relationships with each other. It was a show that called attention to being television – much of it took place in the newsroom control center, where Murray (Jeffrey Tambor) would decide what stories air and what don’t (though he could be over-ruled by the Network 23 board of directors, or even by the Censor computer.) The room was filled with multiple TV screens, smoke, and streaky blue lighting. Many episodes would start or end with Edison’s “What I Want to Know” program – but at times, rather than filling the screen and being the focus for the audience, it would play in the background, and other characters would talk over what Edison was saying – just as today, TVs play in the background all the time and no one pays attention to what is being aired.

The DVDs in this set look fantastic – the copy quality is very good, and the episodes have been cleaned-up and restored beautifully.

I highly recommend this show. If you haven’t seen it, rent or buy the series on DVD.  If you like Cyberpunk, or dystopian SF – this show is for you.

Inception

  • Title:  Inception
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF, Action, Suspense
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“What is the most resilient parasite?  A bacteria, a virus, an intestinal worm? … An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain – it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.”  – Cobb

“Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man – filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” – Saito

“It’s the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed, things that couldn’t exist in the real world.” – Cobb

Inception is a film about dreams, but it is not the typical film about dreams – such as the person who dreams of being a famous musician then becomes one, or the young man who dreams of becoming a professional sports player – then makes his dream come true.  This film is literally about dreams, and as such, the entire film is a commentary on films themselves.  But for all the meta implications, it’s not a nod-nod-wink-wink type of film that pokes fun at anything.  Rather it suggests a type of caper film, though the caper doesn’t take place in the physical world at all.

Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are professional extractors – men who, for a price, will enter a person’s dreams to steal information, often as a form of corporate espionage. However, in this case, when their plans don’t quite work out, the man they are trying to steal from instead hires the two for Inception – the concept of planting an idea in someone’s head, so that they themselves believe that they came up with the idea – themselves.  Like many other caper films, after some debate among themselves, Cobb and Arthur agree to perform the crime – Arthur, because he knows the corporation that hired them in the first place will kill them for being unsuccessful, and Cobb because he’s a wanted man – and Saito has promised to make his charges go away so he can return home and to his own children, if he’s successful.

Cobb and Arthur to find their crew for this special job:  a chemist – to create a special sedative to put the victim under during the crime, Eames – a spy and con-man – to gather information on the victim, an architect – to build the triple-layered dream world, Arthur, and Cobb.  Their architect is Ariadne, a young student of Miles – Cobb’s old teacher, and the grandfather of his children – Phillipa and James.  Arthur and Cobb train Ariadne in shared dreaming.  Cobb finds the chemist and an old friend who becomes their spy and investigator.

The “heist” involves getting Fischer – the victim – on a ten hour flight, slipping him a mickey, then entering his dreams.  The dream will be three layers or levels deep, and at each stage, the crew – specifically Cobb and Arthur (with some assistance from Eames) work different angles into their con to convince Fischer Jr that he should break-up and sell his father’s near monopoly energy company so he can become his own man by building something new.  In the end, Cobb and Ariadne end-up going to a fourth level – Limbo, or the subconscious – for two reasons, for Saito – who was shot in the first level of the dream, then died in the third level (normally dying in a dream would wake up the dreamer – but not when under sedation) and so Cobb can confront his dead wife, Mal – who’s been haunting him throughout the film.  In fact, as the film goes on – it becomes less about the plot to convince Fischer Jr to break-up his father’s company, and more about the question of Mal and Cobb and just what happened between them.

Inception is also circular in nature. The film opens with Cobb washed up on a beach, captured by Asian gunmen, and taken to a wealthy, older Asian man. We will learn this is Saito, who has lived for years in his subconscious world, because time moves differently in the dream world as to the real world. The film, at the end circles back to Cobb on the beach, and Cobb confronting the Asian man. But then the film adds a couple of scenes at the end that leave the film mysterious and open-ended.

The second major point about the film, Inception, and the reason I can watch it over and over again, is it is visually stunning.  Where else would you see roads folding in on themselves? An endless staircase? A freight train moving through a crowded downtown city street? Or the vanishing point of a set being revealed as a mirror, then being moved by a character to form an infinity box?  Yet these impossible scenes, rather than breaking the fourth wall in the traditional sense, are used to clearly show that a particular moment which seemed “real” is actually part of a dream – so they fit into the larger world of the film.  It is truly a visual masterpiece of film.

Recommendation:  Must see!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Memento

Agile Update – Week 2

This week was all about professional development and starting to learn InDesign. I finished reading the Oct 2014 issue of Intercom, my professional organization’s magazine (the STC), that was ten articles. I also read another professional development article. I also started reading a general quick and short book on Graphic Design (The Design book for Non-Designers by Robin Williams) and got about halfway through it. I’m also learning InDesign.

I wrote four blog posts this week, including a movie review post! And I wrote a book review on Goodreads. My older project to read all of the Doctor Who Missing Adventures (originally published in the 1990s is going well. I have some of them in paperback and the rest (bar one) as e-books. I only have fifteen left, including one BBC Past Doctor Adventure e-book (I’ve read the rest in paper).   This doesn’t include:  The PDAs Wolfsbane and Fear Itself which are 8th Doctor stories (which I’ll get to when I get to the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures – some of which I’ve read already); nor does it include:  Scream of the Shalka and The Infinity Doctors, both of which are also part of the PDA/EDA series.  Scream of the Shalka is the Ninth-ish Doctor story from BBCi, which I’ve now seen on DVD (I might just go ahead and read that after finishing the Doctor Who Missing Adventures books and before going on to The New Adventures (featuring the Seventh Doctor, published by Virgin also in the 90s).  I have no idea when The Infinity Doctors is supposed to be set, or which Doctor(s) it features, so I might read it after finishing The New Adventures and before reading the EDAs, since it was published by BBC Books.  And, of course, I’m reading other books too.  But it feels good to be close to finishing out the series.

What I’m proud of, besides getting a movie review up and posted for a very good but difficult movie (The Prestige), is that for the first time in a very long time I did Pilates at home – and for 20 minutes (two sets).  I’d feel better if I’d gotten to it more often last week – but at least it was a start.  And I actually when to a Meet-Up group and met some new people, which was awesome!

I’ve got one project I haven’t really been discussing on-line, and with all the new things I’ve been working on in professional development, that really took a back seat.  But for this week, that, blog writing, and professional development need to be my focus.  And Pilates three times this week!

Wish me luck and encouragement!

Inventive Fan Re-Interpretations of the Sherlock Theme

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2015/01/5-inventive-versions-sherlock-theme/

I found this blog post yesterday – and I was astounded at the creativity and musical artistry of these videos – compiled into a BBCA Anglophenia blog post.  Click the link above to listen.  The Merlin crossover is probably my favorite, but I also really like the Indian version and the version played on bells.  Take a listen!

The Prestige

  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1

“But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back.  That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call… The Prestige.” – Mr. Cutter, narrating

“I love you.” – Alfred Borden
“Not today.  Well, some days it’s not true, and today you don’t mean it.  Maybe today you’re more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.” – Sarah Borden

“I don’t want to kill doves.” – Robert Angier
“Then stay off stage.  You’re a magician not a wizard.  You gotta’ get your hands dirty if you’re going to achieve the impossible.” – Mr. Cutter

“I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.” – Nikola Tesla

“The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you’ll find more luck in your field – where people are happy to be mystified.” – Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else’s relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it’s unusual structure, and it’s a fascinating film, that’s intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands – Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn’t become your cut-and-dried “you killed my wife – I’m going to get revenge” film. Even by the end of the film, we don’t really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry – and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other – physically harming each other, undercutting each other’s stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well. The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician’s trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder. The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan’s trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), and convinces them to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds – and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan’s, the audience learns more and more about these characters – the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film – but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one’s head. Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, “OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc.”  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren’t presented in chronological order – with The Prestige, that the film’s story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story – at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I’m determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It’s excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it’s very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I’ve seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing – I do not in any way mean “gross” or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn’t even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror – that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Cheese and Fire Roasted Pepper Egg Pancake

What is egg pancake? It’s a recipe I came up with myself, that’s somewhat of a cross between an omelet and a frittata.  Like a frittata, the ingredients are mixed into the eggs, but like an omelet, it’s cooked entirely on the stove-top, no second step baking in a special pan required.  It’s an infinitely variably recipe, more about that at the end of the post.  It’s one of my go-to weekend recipes, since it’s easy and fast to make.

Ingredients

  • Egg Substitute, such as Egg Beaters  (or two real eggs.  If using real eggs, break into bowl and whisk thoroughly before adding other ingredients)
  • Shredded Cheese (I use Co-Jack, which melts easily and evenly)
  • Bottled Fire Roasted peppers
  • Butter (for pan)
  • Dried Dill

1.  Pour a little more than 1/4 cup Egg Substitute into a bowl.

Egg_Pancake_Step1_trimmed

2.  Add a little less than 1/4 cup cheese into the bowl and whisk.

3. Cut a large fire-roasted pepper into 1/4 inch pieces, place in small colander and rinse to remove oil and any seeds, let water drain, add to cheese-egg mixture, whisk. You want about 1/8th a cup diced peppers – depending on the size of the jarred peppers this might be anything from half a pepper to one full pepper, to even two peppers if they are really small.

Egg_Pancake_Step2_trimmed

 

4. Prepare a medium-sized nonstick frying by melting about 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan.  As soon as butter is melted pour the egg/cheese/pepper mixture into the pan. It should form a flat disk in the pan as you pour it in.  Sprinkle a little dill over the egg mixture in the pan.  Dill enhances eggs.

Egg_Pancake_Step3_trimmed

5.  Let the egg pancake cook for about 3-5 minutes on low heat.  Do not stir!  Do not shake the pan, either.  This isn’t scrambled eggs.  When the egg starts to set and the bottom is cooked, use a thin spatula to carefully turn the entire egg pancake over.  It will still be a disk.  The top will now be crispy brown and the bottom will have a chance to cook.

Egg_Pancake_Step4_trimmed

6. Keep a close eye on the egg pancake.  It will get fluffy around the edges and the bottom will also get crispy and brown.  As soon as the bottom is also browned and the eggs are completely cooked, slide onto a plate.  Excellent!

As I said at the beginning of this post – this is a variable recipe.  You can use cheese and bacon, ham, or sausage.  If using meat, pre-cook it and crumble, or cut the meat into small pieces. Do not use raw bacon – the grease will make a mess and it won’t completely cook – cook the bacon first, let it cool (or use leftover cooked bacon), then crumble into the egg mixture.   You can swap out the cheese – any easy-melting finely shredded cheese works well. You can add veggies like mushrooms, sautéd onions, green pepper, yellow pepper, red pepper, etc.  The trick is that all your add-ins are chopped into small pieces then added to the egg mixture to warm up.  Depending on how savory you like your breakfast, egg pancake, like frittata or quiche can be an excellent way to use-up leftovers.