Posts by Scopique

Ghost in the Shell – First Pass

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Ghost in the Shell – First Pass

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A selfless act by Dr. Ouelete (who was responsible for getting Major Mira Killian‘s brain into her new body and repairing her repeatedly) brings Major Mira Killian to an apartment building — the apartment of her mother. This is where we learn that there is no such person as Major Mira Killian, but rather a young woman named Motoko Kusinagi who was a runaway and who vanished and was presumed dead. When Whoever She Is travels to the last remembered location as Motoki Kusinagi she meets up with Kuze, and remembers that they knew each other as different people among a group of runaways who were living in an abandoned part of the city. By this time, Section 9 has defeated the Hanaka strike teams (because of course), but not before Cutter sends a spider tank after Whatever Her Name Is and Kuze. Wasserface is ripped apart, Kuze transcends into the ‘net, and Aramaki shoots Cutter etc etc etc.

 

Let’s start off positive. Visually, the designers nailed pretty much everything, which I suppose wasn’t all that difficult considering that GitS has a very specific aesthetic that could be (and sometimes was) lifted directly from the anime. I think they kind of overdid it with all of the holograms, but at least it was set in Japan*, there were no flying cars, and there was that sense of overcrowding going on right next to examples of excess.

The writers and designers had a lot of material to go on — several movies, and several series-worth, actually — and trying to piece together where this scene originated or where that scene originated probably would require instant recall of all of those elements (which I certainly don’t have). I recognized a lot, though. The opening sequence, Kusinagi’s apartment, the Geisha scene, Kuze as a character, Batou’s boat, and even very, very specific scenes like the giant transport plane flying slowly overhead when Kusinagi is chasing the garbage collector through the alleys. Those were features of the movies or the series, although not all of them were from the same movies or series.

And that brings us to the close of the positive, I’m afraid…

First and foremost, I can’t figure out why the writers opted to introduce us to Kusinagi in the way that they did. Sadly, I suspect it’s because they felt that they needed an origin story, and there isn’t a satisfying one in the existing canon. As I have written before, this (for me) is one of the series’ greatest strengths: although canon leans towards Kusinagi as the main character, the rest of Section 9 is featured prominently enough that we understand that they aren’t “The Major and Her Team”, but an actual team where all members are strong and important. Here, the writers have elevated Kusinagi as the focal point, and because American audiences aren’t smart enough to follow anything that isn’t presented in “Marvel fashion”, the writers apparently believe that we need to know who she is and where she came from in order to know where she’s going. But still, finding out that the character is named “Mira Killian” was a head-scratcher — there was no point to that. Hanaka could have told her that her name was “Breadloaf Soupcan” and she would have believed them; had they hewn closer to the truth, then Kuze’s revelations wouldn’t have had the impact (narrative-wise) when she found out her name was actually Motoko Kusinagi.

One thing I did end up appreciating, though, was how the writers merged Kuze — who was at the center of the Individual Eleven storyline in GitS: Stand Alone Complex. The AI that is the antagonist in the Ghost in the Shell movie is the one that can wipe and reprogram people’s memories (i.e. the garbage collector who believes he has a wife and daughter when he actually is a bachelor who lives alone). The AI of the movie seeks to leave the cybernetic body it has been imprisoned in and ascend into the ‘net, which is also Kuze’s goal in the live action movie. When looked at from a distance, giving Kusinagi an adult history and a link to the antagonist meant that the antagonist had to be a real person as well, so they couldn’t have used the AI from the original movie. Since Kuze was the only other rogue hacker in the canon (the Laughing Man notwithstanding), I can see why the writers went there.

The whole identity bait-and-switch threw me enough that I couldn’t get into that place where I was watching objectively. I started asking why almost from the get-go, and then was disappointed by the only plausible answer (i.e. origin story). GitS is at its best when it’s featuring the complex intertwining of political intrigue, and also when it focuses on Section 9’s military exploits — and those are the two halves of the original canon. This movie was about Kusinagi, her history, and how she felt about it. To me, that’s not GitS. It’s not smart, it’s not as action-packed as it could have/should have been at the points where it could have/should have been, and it seemed to go out of its way to be different in order to cater to the lowest common denominator. The thing is, we see movies all the time where we don’t get origin stories. We don’t expect to start at the police academy for a story about a 40 year police force veteran only two weeks from retirement. We accept that this office has seen some shit, and we infer parts of their history from their actions in the present.

I called this post “First Pass” both as a play on “Second Gig”, but also because I want to watch the movie again at home. I suspect that I might have been too expectant, and realize that once I got thrown off kilter, I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile what I was seeing with what I had wanted to be seeing. What did I want to see? A retelling of the original GitS? That would not have been bad at all, really. The series are too dense over too many episodes to condense into a 90-minute movie and be coherent. I’m kind of sad that they pilfered all kinds of elements from across the GitS spectrum, though, because Kuze’s actual story is a whole season’s worth of stories, and so is The Laughing Man, and whatever the heck was going on in Solid State Society (because I can’t remember right now).

Unfortunately, I don’t think this movie is going to do well enough to warrant a sequel, which is both sad and a good thing. Sad, because there’ll be no shot at redemption. Good, because they crammed a lot of canon into one movie and have little else left to go on, almost as if they knew this was going to be their one and only opportunity.

I’m not going to go on record and say that this movie “ruined” GitS. It has not. It’s another entry, or an off-shoot, but it’s hardly a speedbump because we still have all of the content we’ve come to love that we can watch any time we want to remind ourselves why this franchise is so great. If anything, I think we can be disappointed that the one time an opportunity presented itself to bring this series to people who wouldn’t watch “a cartoon”, what we got was a lackluster interpretation that doesn’t “bang” so much as “wheeze”. But then again, I am a fan of franchise, and I’m not objective. Maybe someone who knows nothing about anything GitS would see it differently, but I am not holding my breath.

 

* There was a lot of hay made about the “whitewashing” of this movie by casting Scarlett Johansson as Kusinagi, but personally I didn’t ever care. After watching the movie, we had white men and women, a black man, a Middle Eastern woman, and a crapload of Japanese actors, one of whom spoke only in Japanese. It’s later revealed that Kusinagi the runaway was Japanese, but was put into a caucasian body. Why? Because in the future, Japan is a multi-cultural melting-pot, apparently. In fact, some of the more caucasian-looking characters in the GitS canon (specifically Togusa) were now being played by Asian actors. I guess any controversy is a good controvery.

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Project Fi Is In Motion

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Editorial

As of the writing of this post, my last cell phone bill was $300.

As of the writing of this post, I have five phones on this account: Mine, my wife’s, my daughter’s, and my two in-laws. Two phones are Android, two are iPhones, and one is a flip-phone. All but two are “paid off”. We have “700 minutes” of talk and unlimited domestic texting. My wife and I, longtime carrier users, are grandfathered into a truly unlimited data plan. My daughter and in-laws have 3GB of data per month each.

$300 per month.

So we’re switching to Google Fi. That’s about $20 for the plan, and a total of $50 for our data selections (3GB for me, 2GB for my wife). I purchased a 32GB Pixel phone, broken out into payments of about $28/month over two years. Our total bill will be around $112 a month.

My in-laws will be moving to another carrier because they get better reception at home with that other service.

My daughter will be set adrift on her own account at our current carrier because she refuses to give up her iPhone, and she still has to finish paying the extortion fee that the carrier demands in place of the traditional phone subsidy. We can break that down to about $85/month until she’s done paying off her phone in 2018, at which point she’ll only cost $60.

This process has been a massive headache. There are four groups of users involved: My wife, who is free of contractual involvement, her parents who are also free but who want to move to another carrier, me, who has a few months left on my current contract, and my daughter, who has a whole year left on hers. There’s early termination fees and massive dollar payouts in order to get out from under the conditions, and my wife needs a new phone because her’s is broken — should she get a cheap phone and ride out the rest of the contracts, or get a whole new phone and lock ourselves into this carrier for another two years?

I’ve gone back and forth with carrier reps over the past few days to try and suss out the specifics in order to forge a way ahead. I have a letter telling me that I can cancel my contract without the ETF because they’re raising the price of my grandfathered data plan, so I hope to use that. The reps confirmed that my daughter can stay where she is with a lesser plan and we won’t have to pay the $400+ to buy out the rest of her phone. My wife and in-laws can move at any time, so thank goodness for small favors.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Google is handling the transfer of my line and my wife’s line. I am expecting our current carrier to throw me grief about ETF because Google is canceling my contract on my behalf; I’m going to have to wield that “get out of jail free” letter at someone at some time, I know it. And although I’ve gotten reassurances from carrier reps that we can do everything we want and need to do to minimize the pain of this process, I fully expect there to be some kind of massive hiccup that I’m going to have to accept, or get angry with someone about on the phone or in person.

Add to that something that friend mentioned: although Google Fi is a relatively inexpensive service, Google has a track record of supporting projects until they suddenly don’t. What’s stopping them from pulling the plug on Fi in a year? Or two? I hope the fact that it’s a paid service with serious real-world repercussions will force them to push the service forward, but who knows.

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The Calming Influence of 600 Years of Cryosleep

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Games, Mass Effect: Andromeda

The Calming Influence of 600 Years of Cryosleep

I’m starting to believe that Mass Effect: Andromeda is a litmus test of sorts, separating those who want their games to aspire to “be more” from those who just want to really enjoy themselves. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground here; people either can’t find a groove with the game or opt to steer clear of it, or they are really having a good time with it.

I admit to not having had any intentions of going anywhere near MEA only because my history with recent Bioware games has been spotty at best, and not because of the rampant shitposting about animations. I know several people who are gung-ho with both feet about the ME universe and I know I couldn’t even summon a fraction of that kind of loyalty. I even ducked out of Dragon Age: Inquisition, so my goal was to learn from past events and not even get near MEA.

Of course, I did. I don’t even regret it now. I always try to plant my flag firmly in the camp of “play to have fun”, and I am enjoying myself with MEA. I am looking past the eyeballs that have lives of their own, the tepid story, and the set pieces picked up at a HALO rummage sale. Those examples are not included here as sarcasm, but to illustrate that despite the kinds of things naysayers are holding against the game, I’m having fun with it.

I am not a completionist, but I don’t want to walk away from an obvious mission. I think I have done as much as I can do on Havarl for now, and while the next step is to move to Voeld, I went back to Nexus to clean up some lingering work there. Then I went back to Eos to clean up some ongoing work thereMEA is hell-bent to not let you forget where you’ve been by sending you back to those places over time. Technically, this should irritate me — I hate “repeating” content — but I think because the game provides reasons it makes sense. Not everything happens as soon as you expect it to with nothing but a bunch of narrative hand-waving to explain it: for example, Eos is heavily irradiated but should get better over time. Real time, not “oh, you’ve activated the Vault? Instant 100% better go out and have fun” that other game might opt for in order to maintain a rigid, linear narrative.

I’ve even gotten used to the combat after I upgraded my initial weapons. The starter stuff is utter crap and wouldn’t dent the side of an empty tin can, so I went straight to crafting the most bad-ass weapons I could at the time, and life has been much better since. I’ve been playing on Normal difficulty — a first for me in a long time — and things have been going well (except for the one time I set it to Narrative in the Havarl Vault because I hate timed events).

I’m even usually enjoying the conversations with NPCs, although there’s a lot of exposition that I tend to skip over. I occasionally chat with the crew when I get back onto the Tempest, especially if I’m informed that someone was looking for me. Naturally that sometimes leads to other missions, which puts me in an awkward spot: do I keep talking to people in case they do have a mission for me, or do I save myself the time and only talk to those who I’m told have a reason to speak to me and get on with the rest of the story? I’d hate to go somewhere for an existing mission only to find out later that one of the crew needs me to go back there for a personal reason.

MEA is relaxing, unlike the stress-terrors I experience with Horizon: Zero Dawn, which I do still love, don’t get me wrong. I think that right now I’m kind of in a place where I’m amenable to games with downtime. I’m still playing The Elder Scrolls Online, although not as frequently since MEA arrived, but both games provide me with lengthy periods where I can just sit back and explore or even fight with moderate confidence. Whether it’s crafting in TESO or random roaming in MEA, I can play these games right before bed and not wake up with shoulder and neck pain in the morning. I think that’s the kind of gameplay I need right now.

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No Country For Old Streamers

Posted by on Mar 29, 2017 in Editorial, General

No Country For Old Streamers

I am an intermittent streamer. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hold firm to the belief that the secret to streaming success is to maintain a schedule. It’s the same kind of advice that established bloggers have been giving to neophytes for years, and it stands to reason that in the absence of pantomiming or cleavage, being where people expect to find you when they expect to find you is a way to get your foot in the door. I can’t commit to the same time one the same days, being that I work and then have family duties and expectations to adhere to. By the time I do get online, it’s about 8 PM EDT, and I might end up playing with folks I need to communicate with but who are, shall we say, “publicity-averse”?

I suspect that even if I were to have the same levels of free time now that I had in my youth (ah, how I long for those days!), I’d still get stopped at the streaming-border because every sense I get is that the streaming lifestyle isn’t so much about making community connections as it is about growing a brand.

There was a whole Polygon article that talks about the steamroller momentum of streaming, where the underlying argument in that article is that streaming is lucrative. Here I am, just some dude who wants to be a part of a movement that he enjoys and wants to do it up like the big boys and girls do with fancy overlays and graphics and stuff, but every single service I’ve investigated puts an enormous emphasis on monetization of the stream. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground for people who just want to put their gameplay out there with a little support for being fancy and let it fly on its own.

I find this rather disheartening, and now I’m going to link to Belghast’s post where he rants about the term “content creator” being shorthand for “streamers”. I agree with his irritation, the same way I am annoyed that “video games” is shorthand for just “console gaming” and says nothing about PC games, handheld, or mobile/tablet games. All things being equal, I believe that people would stream their games just for the hell of it, but once someone smells dollar signs, out comes the marketeering to create an industry. People like this sling terms that sound impressive — content creators — to give these unsavvy business-gamers a sense that they could be more than they are, and that they’re special like that racist kid on YouTube but without the racism and they could keep playing video games for a few close friends…or they could secure mucho eyeballs in exchange for signing up with StreamPhansNetwork.com and actually make a living doing it. Even these self-service options go to show that success in the streaming space is to be measured in donations.

I know, I know…I follow a lot of people who stream religiously, and they are Excellent People who stream because they like it and because they can. They and others in their position would probably admit to not forcefully turning away the odd $5 that someone wanted to send as a way to show their appreciation, but at the end of the day they are streaming because they want to get that community fuzzy out of it. I’m not saying that streaming for streaming’s sake can’t be done. I’m saying that we’re seeing a lot of scaffolding being erected around streaming that’s pushing the practice towards monetization as the reason why anyone would stream in the first place. It reminds me a lot of the Internet of Yore: when it was something that people had really high-minded hopes for, but once business got involved it turned into the proverbial market-in-the-temple. I’d like to see streaming for streaming’s sake gain more of a foothold before it turns into a way to shut people out who just want to touch base with their community.

comprar hyaluronic acid Addendum: As a perennial streaming noob, I always feel like I’m approaching the act as someone who knows nothing of the activity. Seeing so many options to “monetize” my stream makes it seem that if I’m not trying to “build a brand” then I must be doing it wrong. To me, this sends the wrong signal to would-be streamers that doing it for the sake of doing it is just wasting time.

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Downside of DIY

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 in Hardware

In the long war between the PC Master Race and the Console Peasants (their words, not mine), PC aficionados point to their platforms modularity as being one of its overarching strongpoints. Each console generation, they say, limits users to whatever is in the box. When technology changes the only recourse is to buy a whole new console at full price — often while the current console generation is a long way from being obsolete. PC users, on the other hand, can upgrade piecemeal over time; while the initial outlay far outstrips the cost of a single console, it’s easier to upgrade over time where it counts: a new video card here, more storage capacity there.

Unlike building something like furniture, buying PC parts to build a custom platform has its own dangers that consoles will never (should never) see. To do this, individual parts need to be ordered and arrive in sealed packages. In all honesty, the act of building the PC — putting the parts together — is simple and is well documented both in writing and on the Internet (you do have another PC or tablet that you can use to watch YouTube videos in the event of an emergency, right?). What usually throws things off kilter is the quality of the parts.

Buying an “off the shelf” PC from IBuyPower or Falcon or Alienware is generally looked upon as a cardinal sin by the PC Master Race that views the act of putting parts together in the same way Jedi view building a custom lightsaber: it’s a rite of passage and a display of both mastery and an expression of individuality. What they don’t care to take into account, though, is that pre-built systems usually go through an intense “burn in” period where the assembler lets the system run intensive operations for an extended period of time to ensure that everything is working as intended. When building a custom PC in one’s own home from parts that arrive individually shrinkwrapped, it’s up to the end-user to perform that burn in and should anything arise from the process, it’s up to the end-user to deal with the issues.

This past week I had run into the dreaded (and increasingly rare) BSOD — Blue Screen of Death. It always seemed to happen after playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is probably the most taxing application I currently have. Often the BSOD would pop up after about an hour of gameplay, sometimes when just the game was running but sometimes when I was trying to work with the streaming platform Lightstream (which was something that occupied a lot of time this weekend).

BSODs are cryptic and despite the notion that it might be helpful, aren’t very user-parsable. I downloaded some memory dump readers from Microsoft that could help decipher these errors, and I think I had narrowed it down to an issue with the RAM — one of the parts that is always one of the most obvious culprits when things go belly-up. I downloaded and ran an app called memtest+ which boots into a Linux partition and puts the RAM through several tests and reports on error conditions, and when I returned, I found this:

The particulars aren’t important; know that “red is bad…very, very bad” and there’s a lot of red there. Having suspected that the RAM was at fault, I overnighted the same RAM from Amazon and had it sitting on the desk for its inevitable deployment. After the memtest results I took the system down and swapped the RAM, booting straight back into memtest and running it on the new memory which passed without any issues. I have yet to actually try putting the system through the wringer again (i.e. Mass Effect) but the fact that the original RAM showed errors and the new stuff did not gives me a high probability of success.

The problem is that while the RAM was obviously bad…what if the BSODs were a result of something else, and RAM just became the scapegoat? I’ve been monitoring CPU temperatures when playing The Elder Scrolls Online last night and they’ve all been around 40-60 degrees Celsius (for an i7-7700K that’s supposedly a good range). Voltage for the CPU and the RAM is also within normal operating limits as I’ve not gone anywhere near the overclocking abilities of the motherboard. I would hate to have the problem be my video card, although when I was in the case working with the RAM I realized that I had never secured the card to the rear plate with screws, so I fixed that oversight immediately to ensure that the card didn’t rock itself out of it’s PCI slot.

Last time I upgraded my PC I bought an off-the-shelf system because this kind of situation is exactly the kind of thing I didn’t want to have to deal with. Of course, that was almost 10 years ago, and we now live in the age of Amazon Prime and no-hassle returns. After posting this screenshot on Twitter, Belghast mentioned that he was sad that the age of local PC parts stores has faded into memory (no pun intended). It would have been a lot easier if I could jump in the car and drive down to a shop to swap parts, or at least to have had them test the RAM before I bought it. Amazon may be convenient, but it’s still a step back from where we used to be when CompUSA and Computer City were a thing in my area.

My PC will now destroy any console currently on the market (it remains to be seen with Scorpio) but at what cost? I do prefer the PC for gaming for many other reasons, but the potential for hardware issues straight out of the box is a major strike against it at least until the parts have gone through their proper burn in phase.

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