I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Player

How the book Ready Player Two could be a teachable moment for the internet.

At least Demi Adejuyigbe managed to channel his disappointment into a song.

The sequel to the book Ready Player One has apparently been released, which is news I’ve been told repeatedly for some reason. It’s a book that I’ve now read several passages from, despite having no interest in reading any of it.

Not long after the first book was released, I got a copy of it (and the audiobook!) based on the hype around it. But I realized it was not for me — or more accurately, it was 100,000% “for” me, but I didn’t want it — as soon as I’d read an excerpt from the first chapter. In a correctly-functioning universe, that should’ve been the beginning and end of my awareness of this series and the works of Ernest Cline in general.

But I haven’t been able to escape the new book. Not because of a marketing blitz, but because I can’t turn around on the internet without running into someone eager to dunk on it. And the same people who spend most of their time saying “just let people enjoy things” are now double plus eager to show how funny their snarky comments are.1For all I know, maybe that is part of the marketing blitz? Are publishers cynical enough these days to be investing in hate-reading campaigns?

Don’t we have better things to do? I mean, I recognize the irony in writing a blog post to say how much I don’t care about something, but I’m not convinced that everyone is self-aware enough to really understand the irony. And while it’d be a lot simpler just to say “That’s stupid, stop doing it,” followed immediately by deleting my Twitter account for good, this seems like a perfect opportunity to ask people to just try and be better.

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Tuesday Tune Two-fer: Jeremy Blake (Red Means Recording)

Two tunes from an artist who showed what you can do with synthesizers and gave me calm when I needed it

Jeremy Blake is the musician behind (or maybe just slightly underneath) the brilliant YouTube channel Red Means Recording. He does really clever tutorials for various synthesizers and other musical instruments, predominantly the Teenage Engineering OP-1, along with their Pocket Operators. I imagine he’s tricked a ton of people into buying an OP-1, because he always makes it look like it’s easy to just sit down and get a fantastic track of out of the device every time.

He’s got a new album out called Hindsight, along with a great music video for the title track that combines footage from the Black Lives Matter protests with stock footage he didn’t pay for. It’s an ingenious trick to use humor to make the horror stand out; the super-heightened vapidity of stock footage contrasted against the surreal footage of police brutality that we’ve been seeing.

In March of last year he made a video called Opulent Polished Zircon, one of two videos demonstrating the capabilities of the Teenage Engineering OP-Z. It’s pretty great. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole 50-minute set, my favorite part is at the 27:50 mark. (It’s also available on Apple Music, where my favorite is the track titled “Oh, Luck”).

It’s unlikely to have the same impact on you as it did on me, but that’s for the best. I listened to it back in early February, at the lowest point of the worst year, when I was having to fly back to California on my own. Listening to this with headphones let me just get completely lost in the music. A wave of calm washed over me. It was a reminder that I could still enjoy something, and I was going to go on discovering new things to enjoy. I could see a glimmer of optimism again.

And then the pandemic started a few weeks later. But for a while there, I was hopeful, and I’ll always appreciate this track for it.

Walt Disney Imagin

Congratulations to Joe Rohde on his retirement, plus my thanks, and some speculation about the future of Disney parks

I wanted to congratulate Joe Rohde on his retirement after 40 years with Imagineering, and to say a public thanks for his involvement in projects that have meant a lot to me.

Over the years, Animal Kingdom has become my favorite park at Walt Disney World. Of course, that’s not due to any one person, but I think the main reason Animal Kingdom has gotten better over time is because of a commitment to world-building in every single detail, whether it’s inside an attraction or not. Being able to communicate, explain, express, and defend that vision is most often credited to Rohde, and it makes sense. He just seems to get, on a fundamental level, what that park is about and why it works. On top of everything else, I love that Animal Kingdom exists as tangible proof that an insistence on thoughtful, exhaustively-researched, ethically conscious design can actually make a tangible difference.

Today I’ve seen a lot of people online worrying about what Rohde’s retirement will mean for the future of Disney parks and Imagineering, and I’ve got some opinions on that, too. I should probably emphasize that I list the WDI projects I worked on in my “About” section because I’m extremely proud of them, not because I’m in any way an “insider” or have any kind of informed opinion about how Imagineering actually works. I contracted for everything, and I was never a “real” employee. Disney has such a culture of “magic” and showmanship that even their behind-the-scenes specials are as carefully controlled and presented as anything actually happening on-stage, and there have been plenty of times that I haven’t been able to tell the difference. So all of this is just one fan’s opinion, based on nothing other than interviews, documentaries, and being in the parks quite a bit.

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The Mandalorian Was Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

Episode 12 of The Mandalorian, “The Siege,” was episodic TV Star Wars, and proved the rest of the series isn’t really that

I keep saying that The Mandalorian is what I always wanted to see as a kid in the early 1980s: an episodic Star Wars television series. This week’s episode 12, “The Siege,” was as close to what I would’ve imagined in 1983 as the series has come so far… and proves that I’ve been wrong about the series this whole time.

This was my least favorite episode of the series so far.1Not that anyone asked, but my previous least favorite was “The Gunslinger” from Season 1. It says a lot about how much I love this show that being “least favorite” isn’t really a knock against the episode; I liked it a lot. But it shows that there’s been a lot more going on with this series than has been apparent on the surface. It’s seemed like such simple, straightforward, storytelling that it’s easy to neglect just how sophisticated it is in style, character, visuals, and music.

“The Siege” is like Carl Weathers interviewed me as a 12-year-old in 1983 and made a checklist of everything I’d want to see in a Star Wars TV series:

  • Jetpacks
  • Speeder bikes
  • Those acrylic star map things
  • Insane jump tricks in an Imperial transport
  • Assault on an Imperial base
  • Lava
  • TIE Fighters where the wings fold up and then they fly off and shoot at the good guys who are racing away
  • Hallways full of sinister experiments
  • Macarons

But there’s something almost indefinable missing, the heart and soul of this series, the thing that makes it feel more like “classic” storytelling than “scoped down a bit” storytelling. To jump to a different franchise: it’s what separates Mad Max: Fury Road from what I’d imagined Max Max: Fury Road was going to be like before I saw it. This was an action-heavy and plot-heavy episode that was still extremely entertaining, even if it didn’t resonate with me the way the others have.

In this review on Screen Crush2Which is also where I stole the title image from, Ryan Arey makes an interesting point that hadn’t occurred to me: if the characters hadn’t been so suspicious of authority and the New Republic at the end of this episode, Baby Yoda would’ve been safely united with Luke Skywalker, and the series would be over. Depending on how deep Moff Gideon’s conspiracy goes, it might’ve even prevented the sequel trilogy before it could start. So maybe the show needs an 80s TV-style catch phrase: Thanks for nothin’, Greef Karga!

Semi-New Song Sunday: First Aid Kit

Hearing First Aid Kit for the first time makes me wish I’d grown up in their version of the 1970s, instead of the real one

In a rare victory for the YouTube algorithm, it recommended out of the blue the beautiful “Come Give Me Love” by First Aid Kit. The song is a cover of a Swedish pop song from 1973 by Ted Gärdestad. I’d never heard of the song or the artist, or First Aid Kit, for that matter, but they’re quoted describing why the song is significant to them in a post from Clash magazine1(Which I also have never heard of):

Ted Gärdestad is a Swedish national treasure. Just like us he started his music career when he was only a teenager and wrote songs with his older brother Kenneth. […] The original track was produced by none other than Björn and Benny from ABBA, with ABBA on backing vocals. We are huge fans of the original production and wanted to stay close to that 70s folky sound. This is an homage to that time period and recording style.

When I first saw their other videos, I got a heavy Heart vibe, but as I watch more, I realize it’s more like “What if Ann and Nancy Wilson had grown up in Sweden instead of Seattle, and instead of Led Zeppelin they’d really gotten into Simon & Garfunkel and Emmylou Harris?” At which point I’m probably stretching the comparison too far, but I still like it.

I often feel like my generation and the one immediately after are responsible for so much pointless disdain and negativity, getting all worked up about “authenticity” and “appropriation,” which is really nothing but self-righteous ignorance about how culture actually works. It makes me extremely happy to see examples of artists who don’t waste any time worrying about that nonsense, and just celebrate the stuff they love.

First Aid Kit’s songs and videos — hell, even their typography — are homages to the 1970s, and 1970s America in particular, that aren’t tainted by the self-awareness of nostalgia. So they’re allowed to be purely enthusiastic celebrations of the aesthetic itself. Too often when people try to make an homage to the 70s or 80s (or now, I guess, 90s and 2000s), they include all the artifacts like scan lines, film grain, and record hiss: implicit acknowledgements that they’re calling back to something that’s now quaint and dated. But when you present it in high resolution and high fidelity, it’s an admission that “No, I just genuinely love this stuff. And I want to present it the same way they would have, if they’d had easy access to the technology we’ve got.”

Another really nice video is “It’s a Shame”, which has a similar feel to Cibo Matto’s “Sugar Water,” but its gimmick is the much simpler “one of these sisters is having a much better night than the other.” It’s also just a really great song.

More to See Than Can Ever Be Seen

Breaking away from toxic social media by actively choosing to make better use of your time

Stay home this holiday season, or you could find yourself on a flight like this.

Yesterday I woke up with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King going through my head. In particular, the part of the first verse, that goes: “There’s more to see that can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

What stood out to me was the irony of it: it’s ostensibly a celebration of the infinite potential of adventure and discovery, but I’ve never heard it as such, because I’ve heard it so many hundreds of times that it’s become background music. Usually, background music during a trip to a Disney park I’ve already seen dozens if not hundreds of times.

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My Possession

The latest Dirty Projectors song seems as close as 2020 is going to let us get to a collective exhale.

Still no plans to switch over full-time to a Dirty Projectors fanpage, but I was happy to see that their final EP of 2020, Ring Road, came out today, along with a video for “My Possession.”

I’m not savvy enough to recognize whether the beginning is a Google promotion, or just a gag about how some of us have been listening to “Overlord” non-stop since we first heard it. Either way, it’s a nice acknowledgement of late November 2020, setting aside a lovely song about fascism in favor of gentle harmonies about letting go of self-destructive obsession, complete with references to The Exorcist.

P.S. My favorite song from the last EP is still “Searching Spirit.”

Weekend in Big Sur

Our long weekend in Big Sur for our anniversary, plus an accidental iPhone 12 review

Even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t take enough advantage of the fact that we live in the most beautiful state in the country. I’ve been living in California for over 20 years, and I’ve still never been to Yosemite; cabins, hotels, and campsites are booked up so far in advance that it’s always easier just to go to Disneyland. A couple of months ago, we drove out to Muir Woods in Marin County for a few hours, and I’d forgotten what it was like to be outside and surrounded by trees that weren’t placed there by a level designer.

So for the tenth anniversary of our first date, my fiance and I decided to escape the house with the safest vacation we could think of: driving south to Big Sur for a couple of nights in a secluded hotel, then down to Paso Robles to see a big outdoor art installation.

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M1 MacBook Pro: Cool Runnings

That photo isn’t one of me Totally Sidetalkin’, but it’s almost as amazing. I’m holding a running MacBook Pro up to my face. Without fear of scorching my delicate skin or torching all my white hair to blackened cinders.

Today I got a 13″ MacBook Pro with the new M1 chip, and I’ve spent the last 3 hours or so using it to transfer and update files, have Safari with several tabs (including YouTube) open, play Music, edit photos with the Photos app, run Photoshop 2021 (via Rosetta), have Xcode running and updating, working on a project in Nova and a Terminal window and emulator, read RSS feeds with Reeder, and I’ve even got Steam up and running Pendragon.1I don’t have any graphically-intensive games installed on this Mac because I hardly ever play games on the Mac. And the machine just barely feels warmer than when I took it out of the package.

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The October Country

Ray Bradbury’s The October Country is something I should’ve read a long, long time ago.

I finished reading Ray Bradbury’s short story collection The October Country in November 2020, which feels like I was too late by one month and about 30 years.

Some of the stories have a sense of familiarity that suggests I’ve read them in a long-forgotten English course, or maybe reprinted in a magazine. But overall, this book felt like a startling shift in perception. It’s made me reconsider the vague assumptions I’ve always made not just about Ray Bradbury’s work, but pretty much the entire state of popular culture before Stephen King.

Incidentally: for a clear indication of just how long this story collection has been in print (and by inference, how influential it’s been), check out a Google Image Search to see the history of book covers. It’s remarkable for two reasons: first, to see in a grid how many immediately-recognizable eras the book has persisted through. Second, to see how the varying selection of cover images suggests that the stories within transcend (or at least straddle) multiple decades and multiple genres.

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