Saturday, December 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Big Short

If all you want to know is whether or not a movie is worth watching, here it is: The Big Short is an astounding example of everything done right as all of the writing, dialog, acting, music, and directing fall together to make a well paced film that will bring out every emotion in your body and leave you tired and worn out, and you must watch this film.

For readers who want more, I can tell you that this is probably one of the best performances seen from Christian Bale, who actually became another character for me and not just another version of what we've seen in every other movie he's been in. Steve Carell's character probably doesn't fall that far from what we've seen from him before, but is emotionally captivating none the less. You get everything you expect from Ryan Gosling, a solid performance that doesn't knock it out of the park but definitely adds more to the film than many other actors would in that role. Finally, Brad Pitt delivers a solid performance that is as understated as possible. What's really impressive about the acting, is that all of these very aggressive actors are blended together perfectly to serve the great picture and pull out the meat of the story for you, and that makes every single one of them superb, even if they don't show off everything the actor is capable of, because sometimes the hardest thing for an actor to do is let the movie be bigger than they are.

That said, it's easy for actors to do great things with great material. Everything here is fantastic. Each and every character has powerful and memorable dialog to deliver as they give you a tour of the events that make up one of the most difficult times that the majority of Americans alive today have had to live through, and the mess leading up to it. The absolutely phenomenal writing oozes out of every single scene. This goes beyond good quips and great sound-bytes and emotional dialog, too. The Big Short delivers accessible and informative views about the tragic oversights and criminal negligence that culminated in the biggest financial crises in decades. More on that later, though, but it's important to say that what makes the writing in this movie shine so bright is how well it communicates the ideas it feels are important in the middle of a hurricane of ideas and information.

And absolutely all of this is pulled together just right by the directing. Adam McKay delivers a thoughtful piece that is well paces, placing your eyes and ears where they need to be to see and here want you need. He blends a tremendous cast from the top billed actors to literally everyone who spends a moment on screen to breathe life into every single concept, regardless of how challenging the ideas are.

All of the pieces of this film come together to elicit powerful emotions, pushing the viewer through fear, terror, joy, trepidation, sadness and ultimately one of the emotions that I have never truly felt from a film before: Rage. This movie should make you angry. It should inspire you to ask what the hell happened and why wasn't anyone held responsible for the events portrayed? This was less than a decade ago and there's evidence that it's all happening all over again, and no one is talking about it anymore as people are victimized from the bottom up and completely betrayed by every single system that should exist for the express purpose of serving our interest, from the evaluation of securities, the oversight of legal investments, and the outrageous conflicts of interest and finally ending on a government that did nothing but pay our money to protect the very people responsible for all of it.

This is probably the only film this year that you have to see, a year filled with nostalgia and quality film making. I highly recommend it to all, and I hope it makes a difference, even if it doesn't seem to think it will.

Life is Too Short to Make Butter

Consider this entire post a metaphor for just about everything in life. It has ideas that I feel are really important. Life is full of so much to do, it truly is impossible to do everything. However, it shouldn't be impossible to decide what to do. One of the really big traps I have personally fallen into from time to time is trying to decide what is worth doing, and this is pretty well symbolized by making butter.

You have so much to do every single day. Generally, as you get older, life is a series of increasingly open doors of things that you can do and places you can go. Your finances get freer if you've lived well, and you have access to a greater pool of resources. Your experience makes finding out how to do things you want to do more accessible. Doing things things that let you better understand the basic building blocks of all the tools you have to explore everything you want to do becomes really important. Exploring your world like that makes you better able to do what you want to do when you want to do it and more effectively, and this is where making butter comes in.

Cooking may be the most important thing for every human being to learn how to love to do. It is essential to how you live and how you enjoy your life. If you never learn how to cook, you become limited to eating what other people have made when and how it's convenient for them to make it and it is by far one of the best ways to live how you want to within any means you have available. Chefs from around the world will inform you that one of the most basic and important building blocks to cooking good food is butter.

The thing about butter is that not only is it such a fundamental ingredient to making good food, it is also incredibly easy and accessible to make. I'll just go ahead and leave a good link for how to make quality butter right here:

As I believe everyone should learn how to cook, it then can be followed that I believe everyone should make butter... once. Learning how it's made, what it can do as it's being made are both very important, and you get to enjoy a real treat that is the product of your own two hands.

After you have done all of that, though, it's time to ask the important question: Did the time I invest in this produce something that is better than anything I could have bought?

Maybe for you it might, but I chose butter for this example for a very particular reason. I greatly doubt that you will reasonably produce butter better than what you can get, readily available, for a cost in time and money that justifies what you're going to use that butter for. Your time is limited, and your money is limited, no matter how much you have of each, they're all still limited. Given that, you can better invest your time and money into other aspects of what you're cooking. 

If you have resources like time and money left over that you could have made the butter you used, you could have better invested those resources into other aspects of what you made. You could have picked a harder recipe, worked with other higher quality ingredients, pioneered new ground. You can always pioneer new ground, even if it's just new for you. That's why you should make butter once, because at that time, it's new ground for you.

But after you've made butter once? After that, it's time to pioneer new things, because if you don't, who would have the time to get to the things that no one has ever done before? Who will have the time to do the things that change the whole world, and not just your world? I'm not saying don't do it, but I want to encourage you to use it as a stepping stone to bigger things, and that means you don't have time to make butter.

But who knows? Maybe you'll find a way to make butter than anyone has ever made before, and if you do... please tell me how.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Spectre Review

Casino Royale was a well paced and superior addition to the James Bond franchise, shifting dramatically from the exotic almost science fiction entries from previous years to gripping spy narrative focusing more on espionage and intrigue than gadgets and explosions. It was followed up by the more traditional and forgettable Quantum of Solace before the final turn in Skyfall with a deconstruction of Bond as a character and a Mission Impossible style exploration of the destruction of Bond's support structure. 
The trilogy genuinely felt complete, which tragically undermines Spectre's attempts to insert itself into the previous narrative with heavy handed gimmicks and exposition based on an increasingly implausible back story forced directly onto Bond's character. Absolutely everything that is wrong with this movie revolves around attempting to tie it into the narrative of the complete and well resolved trilogy leading up to it. If you're able to overlook these issues, you're in for a treat to one of the best action movies of the summer.
The movie opens with one of the best set piece locations of any Bond movie to date, and explores it fantastically, jumping right into one of the better action sequences in recent memory. It's an aggressive and entertaining start that feels like it's ready to move the story into interesting places with exciting speed. While the movie fails to capture and maintain this forward momentum, this can hardly be considered a failing as that would have made it one of the rarest of action movies.
The acting is spot on, the directing is well paced  moving the story forward and keeping viewers engaged. The cinematography is a treat with some of the best framed locations and images since Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year. The music absolutely shines from beginning to end, and the cast of villains is superb, though you may end up asking why Bond is so bad at killing people despite frequently being labeled as an assassin quite heavy handedly. The movie would be about half as long if Bond bothered to check a pulse every once in a while when he gets a breather instead of just running off without a second thought.
Spectre is a perfectly respectable final outing for Daniel Craig as James Bond, but it definitely isn't a high note for the series or for Craig's portrayal of the character. This would have been better if it had been written to stand on its own rather than trying to force its way into an already complete narrative. Spectre will go down in history as relatively forgettable because of that, but here and now it stands as some of the most fun you'll have this year.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Losing All Confidence in Steam

Note: This issue is ongoing as of this writing and still has not been addressed by Valve.
A month ago I was one of the most avid and evangelical supporters of the Steam platform. I've spent thousands of dollars on the platform, and have accumulated almost 600 games and over 300 DLC on their platform. As soon as it was possible I immediately began putting effort into building a Steam machine for my living room, and spent countless hours calculating how to put together a low budget gaming machine that would provide a fun and versatile experience for everyone in the house.

I've had an account with Steam since the beginning, I have a badge on my profile for 11 years of service. I pre-ordered the Steam link and Steam controller as soon as they were available, and was beyond excited to be receiving them soon. There are very few companies that I have supported as loyally as Steam. I'm saying all of this because I want to really emphasize the quality of customer Steam has lost. And now I want to tell you why.

Account security is a serious issue, and for websites that are used in multiple locations account recovery can a game changer. You can have the most secure password in the world, but if you log in from a compromised computer that security gets flushed down the toilet. It's important to keep this in mind, any account that you use a lot and access from a large number of locations is increasingly likely to get compromised. Thankfully Steam guard is a powerful tool, and my email was not compromised. So when a malicious user logged into my account without authorization 2 weeks ago, they were unable to gain complete access because Steam Guard was enabled.

Thanks to Steam Guard the malicious user was unable to fully access my account before I was able to get home to change the password from a Steam client. This is all of the good news, and all of the places where Steam succeeded in keeping me safe. Now for the horror story. The horror story starts when I first get the email in the middle of my shift at work. I do not have a client installed at my workplace, and so I am completely unable to change my password. Steam's restriction of password changes to an email client prevented the fastest and most attentive response I could provide.

I was in a nightmare. Someone was accessing my account from Ukraine, someone who I clearly did not know and did not want in my account, and there was no support or option. I checked the website, the phone app, everything. I was completely out of options and there was nothing I could do. I read the email notification from Steam Guard carefully:
If you haven’t recently tried to login to the Steam client… from the computer located at (UA), someone else may be trying to access your account. You can view more info about this login attempt online.
If you suspect someone else may be attempting to access your account, please either:
Thanks for helping us maintain the security of your account.
The Steam Support Team
Two clear courses of action were provided to me, and I want to emphasize, actively recommended to me by Steam support, one of which was completely impossible without access to a computer that I was authorized to install a client on. I was out of options and getting multiple notifications. Clearly they were trying to brute force the much easier to force 5 letter passphrase from Steam after already having found access to my password through unknown methods. Only one course of action remained to me as I was hours away from being able to perform the more secure option of a full password change: I had to lock my own account.

The idea is simple. You lock your own account, then via a support ticket login not related to your Steam account you provide your Username, and verify your ownership of the account with payment information. This was a piece of cake for a long time user like me. I had wallet codes and credit cards that I could provide the name and last four numbers of all day long. I locked my account to feel safe and eventually got home and changed my password. Then I immediately submitted the required support ticket for assistance with unlocking my account after this terrifying run in with near loss of my account.

It has been two full weeks and I have not had a single reply from Steam support, no reassurance, no request for additional information, my ticket has yet to be touched. It lays open and ignored. I can't talk to my friends. I can't invite them to play games. I can't buy new games, I can't redeem the games I buy for steam from the current Humble Bundle End of Summer Sale. I can't trade. My account is completely neutered and Steam wont even respond to me.

This ticket could literally be automated. A TOOL could cross check my information with the information on my account via a method that would not require ever being touched by human hands in less than a second, and I have been unable to get my account unlocked for two whole weeks, unlocked or even a response. Why am I still waiting for help two weeks after this nightmare that never seems to end?

I cannot express how livid I am at being completely ignored after such a severe issue and after complying with every action that was recommended to me. I only needed moments of assistance and reassurance after the 11 years of support I have provided to you.

I probably can't ever forgive this.

I sure as hell know I can't ever forget it.

Hardware fails all the time, is the type of completely non existent support I'll get when my controller and Steam Link arrive? Or if I had bought a Steam machine? I've searched and searched for alternative options for help and I've seen something. I've seen a lot of users that have had this experience. A vast sea of us who know this pain.

You may be the coolest client, with all the best games, and all of the newest features, but... that can change. You have competition now.

There's Origin, and UPlay, and even GOG  has a client now, a client with fast installs and full friends lists that I can play my games online with , and I can even download every single game I buy from them DRM free if I happen to want to.

I want you to know, Steam, Valve, Gabe, or whoever cares, or if anyone in that whole wretched place even cares, that I've changed. I've gone from a die-hard supporter who wont buy games at all if I can't get them through your client, to a customer who will literally use any other service regardless how inconvenient it is to avoid shopping with you.

Maybe you can look at me and say, "He's 600 games deep, he wont really leave us." I want you to know... as soon as I was able to buy most of the games I play on your platform, and realized I wasn't playing the CDs or DVDs I'd collected over my ten years as a gamer before Steam, and that I'd likely never pull them out and play them again, I threw away two 500-disk wallets filled with CDs, DVDs, and even floppy disks.

You're just a wallet, Steam. I can throw you away if someone else does what you do better, and right around now that bar is pretty low.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


You know those days or weeks or months when you can feel the entropy of the universe in every fiber of your being? When it feels like everyone is sick or dying all around you and everything is falling apart because everything is meant to fall apart and everyone is supposed to die. You suddenly feel like everything you do is just patching the latest hole in the ship and bailing out what water you can while it rises anyway, and you're starting to see the holes and cracks that aren't there yet, and...

Nothing is enough, because the ship wasn't built for you... Was never intended to do what you wanted or needed... And you just can't ever be good enough to fix that. You know with certainty, you understand in that moment that even trying too hard... bailing water too passionately... patching too many holes too wildly and too quickly... all of that is part of the trap.

Part of staying afloat a little longer is accepting this inevitability and accepting your limits and pacing yourself while you watch the water creep up. Only... only you can't see the water. You don't know where it is or how high it's gotten out how much time is left. You just feel it getting higher and higher.

It's the nameless shapeless monster in the dark, that creeping inevitability. That entropy.

And you want to cry, but you're afraid that your tears will help it, that amorphous nothingness. You're afraid that talking about it will make it stronger.

It feeds off everything. Your weakness and your strength. Your friends and family and all your support.

But you say it out loud anyway. You find a way to whisper it, and know it for what it is.

The truth.
/* Amazon Associates Script