Sunday, April 12, 2015

Complex vs Complicated

Check this out.  Nature makes things that are complex.  People make things complicated.  It's one thing to have many different parts all relating to each other in many different ways.  Complex systems make up some of the most successful and adaptable organisms on earth.  Usually they can be broken down into patterns and pieces that repeat or at least clearly contribute toward the same goal.  Complication on the other hand is taking an existing system and adding variation that does not add value to the system's purpose.  A clear example of this is taking a solution to one problem and forcing it's use for other unrelated problems.  GUI's, insurance and home loans come to mind.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I'm done with Downton

I had been considering it after the penultimate show of this season.  That really seemed like the wrap up show.  ALL the subplots were packaged and tied.  The main theme of the past catching up with the present and moving toward the future was finalized when the Past, Present and Future of the abbey hugged on the cricket field.  We knew the all important heir issue was taken care of because the one medical obstacle (whatever it was) had been nipped and tucked and the ground was now assured to be fertile.  Every episode had aptly captured the moments and flavors as history unfolded and washed over the characters.  So what else was there to tell really?  What made the story special was done and if it continued it was in danger of becoming just another soap opera.  To me the "final" episode was a harbinger of exactly this.  It seemed like weak filler where the characters just did stuff without the benefit of any larger purpose.  And then of course the ham handed car crash.  wtw.

The death of Sybil, while horrifying in it's sudden finality, served the purpose of demonstrating that even the privileged of the time, with access to the best of everything, were helpless in the face of the most basic tragedies.  It was upsetting but it gave a 2nd tier character the chance to leave while expanding the main story.  The story did not lose with Sybil's leaving but her husband and baby became more significant parts in the larger tail.  If it was precipitated by the wishes of the actress than huzzahs to the writers for using the opportunity to expand the story and to do it boldly.

Matthew's death was just stupid.  It made no new points, added nothing to the story and did not play off any of themes that compared their current day to ours.  My first thought was that the writers felt the story was finished as well, but were being forced to continue in order to feed the money machine it had become.  This was their act of defiance.

As far as I am concerned Matthew was a central character to the plot that made Downton special.  Without his character it really does just become another soap opera.  Based on the method of his demise and the general feel of the last episode, I predict that new situations will become more obvious and sensational while less illuminating and powerful.  Before the end I predict increasing amounts of bare skin and possibly vampires.

So I think I will leave it at the "next to last" episode and remember the series fondly.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How the internet helped pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

So I go to zip up my fly and, arrggg, that annoying event where the zipper handle slips under the fold of denim and the metal is so thin and the fold is so thick and the tolerances are so close that an unthinkingly simple operation now takes several moments of futzing to accomplish.  So now I feel annoyance start to smirk it's little smirk when then the happy thought occurs "I wonder what the name is for that little zipper handle".  In olden times I would have been forced to call the library answer lady, or peruse a dictionary or call my friends to see who had a grandparent that worked in the garment or zipper industries, but instead I simply rush to the Mac and a couple of quick Googles later I can tell you that the handle is called a pull-tab, which is connected to the slider, which connects and un-connects the teeth which make and unmake the chain.

Any day you can learn something is a good day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Clybourne Park - a review

Clybourne Park was the last presentation for our 2011-12 Seattle Rep season.  First impressions were that it was beautifully staged and the premise of the 2nd act following 50 years after the 1st, using the same actors in different roles, was intriguing.  Ending impressions were that nothing of import happened, none of the characters were developed enough to care about and the one personal, relatable event was largely ignored in favor of familiar rhetoric.  Then I found out the play had won a Pulitzer prize, so I assumed there was some intellectual or emotional element that I hadn't grasped.  I did some research at it turns out there was not.

In act 1, a familiar 60's era couple living in a predominately white middle class neighborhood put their house up for sale due to a significant personal tragedy. They are motivated to sell so the price is much lower than the market will bear.  This allows a family that would normally not be able to afford the neighborhood the chance to move in.  The playwright makes the family buying the house black, though we never meet them.  We are introduced to the neighborhood representative and his deaf, pregnant comedy relief wife, a cookie cutter minister, a black house maid and her husband.  Much dialog with neighborhood representative on how allowing a black family to move in will eventually ruin the neighborhood but the sellers no longer care what happens to the neighborhood and carry through with the sale after a brief expose of the their tragedy.  This could have been developed and explored further.  True friendships could have been torn and destroyed by grief and tragedy.  Secret vanities and veneers could have been exposed and ripped off.  Backstory and surprise could have been discovered.  There could have been healing but mostly certainly there would be rage.  We could have cared about the characters and what happened to them.  Instead it was merely a device to bring down the sale price of the house.

50 years later the same house is up for sale again.  The neighbor's predictions have basically come true in that the original white residents have moved out and more black families have moved in.  The  neighborhood has seen some hard times, but is now becoming attractive to non-black buyers again.  A while couple want to tear down the house, which appears to have been gutted and vandalized, and build a larger more modern structure.  The current neighbors are against the style change and everyone is meeting to discuss things in person.  we have 2 lawyers, one of them gay, the white couple buying the house, and the black representatives of the neighborhood.  They have no purpose or value beyond delivering their stereotypic lines.  Supposedly this all smoke and mirrors to the "real issue" but the only undercurrents I found were not al that surprising.  The oppressed, if given the chance, become oppressors and true equality is when everyone has the opportunity to be an asshole.  References to the tragedy from act 1 is tacked into the scene for no apparent reason.

Since we don't connect enough to the characters to care about them, the humor must be carried by the lines only, but all the jokes are expected, repetitive and not all that funny.  You can see the tension moments coming a mile away so when they do arrive it is more with a relief that hopefully we can move on now.  This play spends a great deal of time talking about, or around, racial conflict and very little time depicting it.  It's message could have been delivered, possibly more effectively, as a high social sciences report.  

I  did see a depiction of how the way whites view blacks has changed over time that I had not seen before.  Whites in America start out owning blacks in the same way they own horses, wagons, etc.  The predominate emotion was probably one of propriety, not fear.  Slavery was briefly menitoned but most of the above is personal opinion.  By act 1, Whites are afraid of Blacks as a social group for the danger they represent to the status quo.  In act 2, white people are personally afraid of black people.  I did not find a reference to this in any other review so maybe it is just me.  There are a couple of clever tricks; the time change between the acts with the same actors playing "different" roles.  Also it supposed to be a "what if" extension to "A Raisin In The Sun".

The only other sub point of note is that everyone in this play, including the playwright, completely disregard the one personal, human and emotional event in favor of focusing on vague social and monetary concerns.  Maybe this was a statement on people and society in general, but again I was not able to find ind any reference to it in a review.

Overall this was not a satisfying experiencing.  Research indicates that it was probably due to the nature of the play itself rather than the actors or production of this particular performance.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why The Hunger Games suck

The Hunger Games is about parents throwing children into a pit every year so they can beat each other to death.  Televised.  For generations.  And no one ever tries to stop it  This could be a powerful, if depressing, horror story about the weak side of human nature, but in no universe I want to live is it a teen adventure romance, but that's what we all rushed to buy and then see.

My first issue is that the love story is a marketing campaign lie.  The books have no romance whatsoever.  There are no tender moments of vulnerability or passion.  There are no exchanges of longing or future dreams.  No vows, no painful whatifs.  No stolen moments that are reflected on later.  No conflict.  Both boy props express interests in her that are never acknowledged by our heroine.  She never once tells another part of this supposed triangle that they are anything more to her than comrades or props.  If anything, Katniss spend all three books assuming she will be with action boyfriend at some point but then he goes too far and she sort of ends of with thoughtful boyfriend.  Which leads to the second issue.

The second issue is Katniss herself, a hero who spends most of the story as a dress up puppet managed by ally and foe alike.  Katniss takes control of her world exactly twice in 3 books.  First when she volunteers to take Prew's place as tribute and second when she chooses to kill the rebel badguy instead of the city badguy.  For the rest of three books she is simply carried along by whatever events are swirling around her.  Other people dress her up and point or place her in situations where she sometimes reacts to the moment.  But those moments never connect into a journey or path and at the end of the story Katniss is the same damaged, disconnected individual she was at the beginning.  Sadder maybe.  No journey, no change, no payoff for her or the reader.  Which is really too bad as there could have been a character here where someone whose life is unbelievable limited experiences events impossible for her to imagine and is changed by the what happens.  Which leads to my last issue.

The final (and ultimate) issue is the writing.  Pretty much all the back story we receive is that some kind of horrible war happened ages ago, someone won (or survived) and rebuilt society around something that feels like part Orwell's 1984 and part 1970's tv sci fi series.  The character development is just as thin with flat characters who are unsatisfying and mostly around just to satisfy some plot point or other, especially the villains.  Even the evil emperor in Star Wars had more depth than these people.  Their methods are obviously and deliberately brutal and immediate, but when faced with the "problem" of having no winner for their yearly games they cave to a 16 year old with some poison berries.  These are people who apparently had complete control of both the arena and the outgoing transmission and who see killing as a viable, maybe preferable, way of achieving their ends.  They could have shot Peeta in the head, held Katniss's sister hostage and told the world anything they wanted to.  The villains they were painted as would have, so why didn't they?  And why, when their arena technology appeared to be on similar level to Star Trek's holodeck, were the controllers so reliant on the rock and club level districts?  There could be a valid reason but no one told us.  And what with the the double secret, special, extra, every four years, hunger games they exposed in the 2nd book after the first book went into such great detail describing how the yearly Hunger Games were THE event that married the past, present and future of this society.  And it took two book fulls of mindlessly violent gauntlets just to put Katniss on the same stage with the city leader and the rebel leader when, as a Champion, it seems reasonable to expect she would have ended up there anyway.  Maybe it took two books to explain the bow.

So a poorly written story about vague bad guys gathering up children every year to kill themselves on television for some vague reason while everyone watches until some vague rebels, who you don't hear about until the 2nd book, can capture the head vague bad guy and the disconnected heroine can kill the equally crummy vague rebel leader so that she can go back to scratch in the dirt with the better-than-nothing-I-guess guy prop, all marketed as a teen adventure romance.  Poor and disappointing books are published all the time, so I think it turns out that I am really more disappointed with the book buying public that is so vulnerable to marketing forces that we would hold this up as anything worthwhile, let alone something to encourage children to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

the election year economy argument - what up?

Job Creation Index, Unemployment, GDP, GNP, GNI -

I have researched all the above on the internet from multiple sources and as far as I can tell the data shows that everthing tanked in late 2008 early 2009 and that everything has been trending to the positive since (Unemployment going down, Job Creation going up, etc.)

If this is true then the country is improving from a near record low point in 2008-2009.  So what is the argument for removing a sitting president based on the economy?  That it hasn't improved enough?  That if different steps had been taken things would be significantly better now than they are?  These are childish, fantasy notions about predicting the future and rewriting history with fiction.

To the 6% percent of people in this country that are supposedly independent, thoughtful folk - The country appears to be on a path of recovery from a place so low that it is unprecedented in the life time of most of us.  What about this signifies the need for repealing what is in place and starting over with something else that, while different, cannot be proven to be "better"?  Especially if many of the new policies are similar to those that were in place prior to to the collapse?

How is this even an argument?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Other people’s code

Other people’s code is crap, and anything you wrote more than 6 months ago counts as someone else’s code.