Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 15... A Date Which Also Lives in Infamy.

As far as infamous dates go, December 7 and September 11 are at the top of the list. However I would like to offer up a lesser-known gem of a bad day, April 15. Why do I care about April 15? It's my birthday, that's why... So when you are strolling about town on the next April 15 that comes around you might want to put yourself on high alert.

To recap the dark history of April 15:

  • Beloved President Abraham Lincoln died after being shot at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.
  • The RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic taking over 1,500 souls with it to the bottom of the ocean in 1912. 
  • Tax Day in the United States.
  • Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. 
  • Palm Sunday Massacre in New York in 1984.
  • McDonald’s became a corporation in 1955. 
  • The MV Sewol sank in South Korea (aka “South Korean Ferry Disaster”) taking nearly 300 lives, most of them young students in 2014. 
  • The Hillsborough Disaster was a human crush that caused the deaths of 96 people and injured 766 others at a soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Activision's Call of Duty Casino: Gambling for Kids!

If over the past few months, you have seen an increasing number of mysterious charges on your credit card statement like $2.13, $5.34, and $10.69, I hate to break it to you, but your Little Johnny is gambling. Before you go ballistic, consider this: he isn’t gambling for money. He is trying to win virtual items such as an MVP Baseball Bat, Marshal 16 Shotgun-Pistol, and Fury’s Song in the latest installment of the Call of Duty series, Black Ops 3.

The “Call of Duty Casino” is officially called The Black Market. It is a section of the game where you exchange COD Points (the currency of the Black Market) for a spin of the wheel in which you can win a variety of virtual items such as camos, taunt gestures, and weapon attachment variants. If you’re extraordinarily lucky you’ll win the most coveted item of all, a weapon! (COD Points can slowly be earned by playing the game as well as by being purchased.) Camos and gestures can be cool but a weapon is what everybody wants. And unless there’s a source I don’t know about, Activision does not tell you what the odds of winning one are. I have asked them multiple times and have not received an answer.

Before we go any further, let's have all the parents chastise themselves for allowing their 11-year-olds to play an M-rated game with a built-in casino. Wait - Scratch that! Don't feel bad, because there are millions of us. And yes, we can disable this kind of in-game spending, but most of us won't. Why? Because we won't be able to figure it out, we're too lazy, or we just don't care as long as junior is safe at home playing his games. However, this is not just an issue for “the children” - it’s about transparency and fairness. Furthermore, many of the people losing big at the Call of Duty Casino are adults. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's continue.

As I write this I have no idea how much my child (and I) have spent on COD Points. I promise to go through my credit card statements and give you the embarrassing total at some point. Do a few Google searches, though, and you will find countless stories of people spending hundreds of dollars and not getting a single weapon. Every spin of the Black Market wheel evokes the magical lure of a Vegas slot machine. And every spin for my son and I has not produced a single weapon. This is ridiculous!

Am I saying that The Black Market should be banned? Absolutely not! It’s awesome!

What I do want (and what the point of this post is all about) is for The Black Market to be subject to external audits and standards just like Vegas slot machines are. More importantly, I want Activision to publish the odds of winning different item categories. Adults and children alike should know these odds before they spend hundreds of dollars on nothing. You can be sure The Black Market will be returning in the next Call of Duty. And even if the odds are magically improved as we near the end of the Black Ops 3 life cycle, you can be sure they will be tinkered with to favor the house when the next title is released in November. 

Kudos to Treyarch. Whoever came up with the Black Market and COD Points deserves one hell of a raise! I've never seen a better way to separate money from wallet in the gaming world in many years. But let's try keeping it honest, Activision! 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Binge with Dolf! Bingeworthy TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, and others.

The following are #DolfApproved TV shows perfect for binge watching. Some are new, some are classics, and some are little-known cult favorites. Don't expect in-depth analysis here. I've become fully Twitterized. If you can't say it in a few words, don't say it. [Updated August 8, 2016]
  • The Sopranos (HBO GO) – the greatest show that is or was or ever will be. 
  • The Night Of (HBO GO) - Loved it. John Turturro and Riz Ahmed are excellent, as are the rest of the cast including some of my favorites from The Wire. Oh indeeeeed! Each episode is better than the one before it. A strong contender for the best of 2016.
  • Mr. Robot (iTunes / USA) – The best technology themed show of all time. Also, the best show of 2015. If you loved the movie Fight Club, you will love Mr. Robot as it is an unapologetic tribute and homage to David Fincher's classic. Keep an eye on the show's creator Sam Esmail. He's capable of creating some future classics. 
  • Black Mirror (Netflix) – Also the best technology themed show of all time. 
  • Marco Polo (Netflix) - Marco got some major hate from the critics but I don't care. I just finished season 2 which was quite a bit better than the first season. I'll never look at Chinese Swallows the same again. Also, 100 Eyes is one of the best characters to come along in awhile. 
  • Silicon Valley (HBO GO) – The best technology themed comedy show of all time.  
  • Battlestar Galactica (Hulu) – Number Six is the most beautiful female robot to ever grace a TV screen. And yes, I would marry her in a heartbeat despite the fact that she kills a ****** within 10 minutes of first appearing on screen. 
  • Hannibal (Hulu) – A misunderstood hero runs into legal issues over his dietary predilections. My #2 show of 2015. 
  • Narcos (Netflix) - Another misunderstood hero runs into legal issues over his entrepreneurial ventures. Narcos barely lost out to Hannibal and comes in at #3 on my 2015 list. 
  • South Park (Hulu / Comedy Central) - How can a show that is so vulgar, vile, and childish also deliver TV's most biting social and political commentary? That's the magic of South Park. Eric Cartman is one of the greatest TV characters (animated or real) of all time bringing to life a modern day Archie Bunker. 
  • Fringe (Netflix) - It's 2016 and I'm just now discovering this gem. I love everything about this show. From the science-heavy plotlines to the amazing cast of actors. I'm fairly certain there is no drama in existence that references Quantum Mechanics more than Fringe. I consider Fringe to be the rightful successor to The X-Files. Bonus: Several actors from The Wire make their way onto this show. Also, JJ Abrams is a co-creator. 
  • The Man in the High Castle (Amazon) - What if the Nazis and the Japanese had won World War II? Spoiler… It ain’t good. 
  • Mr. Show (iTunes) – The best comedy you’ve probably never seen. 
  • Get a Life (DVD) – The other best comedy you’ve probably never seen. 
  • Fargo (Hulu / FX) – If you like weird, violent, dark humor with a dose of amazing cinematography, this is the show for you. Despite a slightly slow start, Season 2 surpasses the excellent first season. One of 2015's best. 
  • True Detective (HBO GO - Season 1 only!) – Whatever you do, please stop once Season 1 is over! 
  • Vikings (Hulu / History Channel) - The real life adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok. If you're a Spartacus and Game of Thrones fan you will love this show. While not as sexually deviant as either of those shows, there's plenty of good old fashioned Viking violence. 
  • The Killing (Netflix) – If you want to be simultaneously entertained and massively depressed, The Killing is an excellent choice! If True Detective and The Sopranos had a baby, this would be it. The show's creator (Veena Sud) is from Cincinnati and I've probably met her at some point before she hit the big time. 
  • Arrested Development (Hulu) - After watching The Killing you are going to need some comedy in your life and Arrested Development is one of the greatest. If you can sit through a typical Hollywood comedy and not laugh a single time (like me) then this show is what you need. 
  • Daredevil (Netflix) – A big surprise. An excellent show with several great characters. Netflix Studios is for real, yo! “Shadows In The Glass” was one of the best singular episodes of any TV show in 2015. It seems that whenever Steven S. DeKnight is involved with a show, it makes my list of the best. Update: Season 2 is even better than Season 1! #ThePunisher
  • Jessica Jones (Netflix) – I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did. Great female lead. And I would kill to have the villain’s super power. 
  • Spartacus (Netflix) – Blood, blood, everywhere, nor any drop to drink. The first season stars the awesome Andy Whitfield who died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma before Season 2 started filming. Created by entertainment genius Steven S. DeKnight. 
  • Rome (HBO GO) – Titus Pullo is the most loveable murderer in TV history. 
  • Mad Men (Netflix) - Don Draper is one of the greatest characters of all time. Although I don't recall him killing anyone, for some reason Don Draper reminded me of another questionable hero, Tony Soprano. 
  • Master of None (Netflix) - This show has been the closest thing to Seinfeld since Seinfeld. The "Old People" episode is a modern day comedy masterpiece.
  • The Americans - (FX) - Set in the 80's against the backdrop of the Cold War. If you've ever dreamed of seeing Felicity (Keri Russell) brutally kill somebody you will REALLY love this show. Great acting and deft handling of familial, political, and religious issues. 
  • Family Guy (Hulu / Fox) - Only in the Family Guy universe can you get Gwyneth Paltrow doing Harriet Tubman. The best non-sequitur-heavy humor since Chris Elliott's Get a Life
  • American Dad (Hulu / Netflix / TBS) - It's in its 11th season, it moved from FOX to TBS and American Dad is... peaking? If you gave up on American Dad years ago check out the latest season and you might change your mind. The move to TBS seems to have reinvigorated the show. "Next of Pin" is the one of the finest pieces of comedy you will see in 2016. 
  • The X-Files (Hulu / Fox) - If you missed The X-Files the first time around, 213 episodes of alien abductions, conspiracy theories, monsters, and other assorted craziness awaits. Often overlooked within the weirdness is the thought provoking social commentary and clever use of metaphor that The X-Files masterfully delivered. 
  • Seinfeld (Hulu) – I’m amazed how many of today’s yutes have not seen this show. Leave the rave an hour early and watch a few episodes so you'll be able to understand all of the references that your 40+ year old co-workers make all of the time.  
  • Tenacious D (HBO GO) – The greatest band in history. Watch it YOU F#CKING ROBOTS! A young Jack Black at his comedic best. Not safe for work. Not safe for home.  
If you need more picks, let me know as I have plenty more. I don’t feel I need to tell you about The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, but if you live under a rock and aren’t aware of their greatness, be sure to work those shows in as well. Also if you like crime documentaries, I highly recommend Making a Murderer (Netflix), The Jinx (HBO GO), and the dark, twisted granddaddy of them all, the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (HBO GO) and its sequels. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

David Foster Wallace for Dummies

[Updated July 28, 2016] 
David Foster Wallace is my favorite author. The fact that I even have a favorite author is amazing considering I didn't start reading full-length books 
(that weren't school or work assignments) until 2010, which not coincidentally, is the year I bought my first iPad.

I've discovered that not too many people know about my favorite author. Even with the 2015 release of the major motion picture "The End of the Tour" (starring A-list actors, no less) most people are still not familiar with David Foster Wallace.

A few years ago, I asked a group of college-educated friends if they knew who "David Foster Wallace" was and I received the following responses:
  • Serial Killer 
  • Singer 
  • Inventor of the Frisbee 
Nobody got the right answer and I was shocked but happy. It's similar to the irony cycle of liking a band that no one knows about. You want to tell everybody about this new band because they are the next coming of Nirvana. But the more people who know about the band, the more successful they will become. And before you know it, the band becomes rich, famous, no-longer-cool sellouts. 

Despite risking his coolness, I became a DFW evangelist after that memorable serial killer incident. I promote Wallace's work whenever I have a chance, particularly among the tennis and technology types that dominate my social/professional circles.

As part of my evangelism, I am compiling a list of links to my favorite DFW essays along with some favorite quotes. This will be an ongoing process so keep checking back. If you end up loving DFW's unique style of writing, then literary nirvana awaits you in the form of his 1,079 page Infinite Jest as well as the books listed below:

The Broom of the System (1987)
Infinite Jest (1996) 
The Pale King (2011) 

Short Story Collections
Girl with Curious Hair (1989)
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999)
Oblivion: Stories (2004) 

Non-Fiction Collections
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997)
Consider the Lobster (2005)
Both Flesh and Not (2012) 

David Foster Wallace Facts - Tennis, Technology, TV, and Tobacco 

  • Born in 1962 and grew up in Urbana, IL. DFW's Midwest upbringing was a major theme in his writing. 
  • Was a ranked junior tennis player. Tennis is a huge theme throughout Wallace’s work. Tennis factored prominently in Infinite Jest. The famous NYT's piece "Federer as Religious Experience" was written by Wallace in 2006. All 5 of his tennis essays have been compiled into a collection called On Tennis which is available at Amazon. 
  • Chewed tobacco and smoked. There are many references to this in his writing. It was but one of the many of the addictions that he had. 
  • Watched a ton of TV. Again, like tobacco and tennis, the things DFW was addicted to and obsessed over were the things he wrote about the most.  
  • Although he considered himself a technophobe, he did use a computer. He also possessed a crystal-ball like understanding of where technology was headed despite the disadvantage of his early 90's vantage point. There are passages in Infinite Jest (written before PC's and the Internet were pervasive) that predict things like Selfie Beautifiers and Netflix.
  • His 1996 Harper's essay “Shipping Out” was a pre-Internet viral sensation. People photocopied and faxed it all over the country. 
  • Graduated from Amherst College in 1985. Received an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona in 1986. He also attended Harvard for a short time. 
  • Published Infinite Jest in 1996 which brought him big-time fame and recognition. Dealing with that fame and recognition became another DFW theme. 
  • Wore a bandana because he sweated profusely. He was very self-conscious about sweating. And in true DFW fashion, he was also self-conscious about the bandana being seen as a trademark or part of a cultivated image. 
  • Was a good singer and a talented impersonator. 
  • Taught at the college level throughout most of his career - Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College. Check out DFW's syllabus for his 2008 Creative Nonfiction class at Pomona College.
  • In addition to be being a professor, he also held some low level jobs including security guard at Lotus Software and "glorified towel boy" at the Mount Auburn Club.
  • Committed suicide on September 12, 2008 after suffering from severe depression for most of his adult life. He tried to change medications and it didn't work. (See Nardil.)
  • After his death, DFW went viral again with "This is Water" which is widely regarded as one of the best commencement speeches ever given. (Full 23 minute version)    
  • The music video for "Calamity Song" by the Decemberists is an ode to Infinite Jest's Eschaton, a game that brings together thermonuclear war and tennis. The line "In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab" is a reference to Subsidized Time in which the naming rights for each year are bought by corporations. As we currently watch the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl played at University of Phoenix Stadium, I think DFW might have another amazing prediction turn true some day.  
  • The 2015 film The End of the Tour starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg is based on the 5 day road trip/interview that occurred between David Foster Wallace and author David Lipsky. (Buy on Amazon)    
  • Once you've become a hardcore DFW fan, be sure to bookmark The Howling Fantods. Nick Maniatis has created the Infinite Jest of online DFW resources. It is encyclopedic in its depth and is updated regularly.   
  • The Great Concavity is a new podcast by Matt Bucher and Dave Laird dedicated to all things DFW. Subscribe to it or visit http://greatconcavity.podbean.com/ to listen. 
  • The David Foster Wallace Archive opened in 2010 at The Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. It's the ultimate pilgrimage for the obsessed DFW fan. Hopefully I'll get to visit some day.
  • The David Foster Wallace Conference is held annually at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois and features some of the best DFW scholars in the world. Like the DFW Archive, I also plan on attending this event one day. Check out the 2016 conference schedule

Favorite DFW Essays Available Online 

Please note that the DFW pieces that you find online are usually the trimmed down versions that originally appeared in a variety of magazines. The titles of the pieces may also be different. If you want the 100% definitive DFW version, you'll need to purchase one of his many compilations - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster, and Both Flesh and Not.

"Federer as Religious Experience" (aka "Both Flesh and Not") 
A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to; the service motion is lithe and uneccentric, distinctive (on TV) only in a certain eel-like all-body snap at the moment of impact. His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, and his footwork is the best in the game — as a child, he was also a soccer prodigy. All this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game. You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or — as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject — to try to define it in terms of what it is not.
"Shipping Out" (aka "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again") 
The promise is not that you can experience great pleasure but that you will. They'll make certain of it. They'll micromanage every iota of every pleasure-option so that not even the dreadful corrosive action of your adult consciousness and agency and dread can fuck up your fun. Your troublesome capacities for choice, error, regret, dissatisfaction, and despair will be removed from the equation. You will be able-finally, for once-to relax, the ads promise, because you will have no choice. Your pleasure will, for 7 nights and 6.5 days, be wisely and efficiently managed.

"Consider the Lobster"
So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the US: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is the whole thing just a matter of personal choice?
"The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands In Relation to The Bad Thing"

I'm not incredibly glib, but I'll tell what I think the Bad Thing is like. To me it's like being completely, totally, utterly sick. I will try to explain what I mean. Imagine feeling really sick to your stomach. Almost everyone has felt really sick to his or her stomach, so everyone knows what it's like: it's less than fun. OK. OK. But that feeling is localized: it's more or less just your stomach. Imagine your whole body being sick like that: your feet. the big muscles in your legs, your collar·bone, your head, your hair, everything, all just as sick as a fluey stomach. Then, If you can imagine that, please imagine it even more spread out and total. Imagine that every cell in your body, every single cell in your body is as sick as that nauseated stomach. Not just your own cells, even, but the e. coli and lactobacilli in you, too, the mitochondria, basal bodies, all sick and boiling and hot like maggots in your neck, your brain, all over, everywhere. in everything. All just sick as hell. Now imagine that every single atom in every single cell in your body is sick like that. sick, intolerably sick. And every proton and neutron in every atom...swollen and throbbing, off·color, sick, with just no chance of throwing up to relieve the feeling. Every electron is sick, here, twirling off balance and all erratic in these funhouse orbitals that are just thick and swirling with mottled yellow and purple poison gases. everything off balance and woozy. Quarks and neutrinos out of their minds and bouncing sick all over the place bouncing like crazy. Just imagine that, a sickness spread utterly through every bit of you, even the bits of the bits. So that your very...very essence is characterized by nothing other than the feature of sickness; you and the sickness are, as they say, "one." 

"The String Theory" (aka "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness")
the players moving with compact nonchalance I've since come to recognize in pros when they're working out: The suggestion is of a very powerful engine in low gear. Jakob Hlasek is six foot two and built like a halfback, his blond hair in a short square Eastern European cut, with icy eyes and cheekbones out to here: He looks like either a Nazi male model or a lifeguard in hell and seems in general just way too scary ever to try to talk to. 
It is currently right near the end of the program's second segment on the evening of May 11, 2004, shortly after Nicholas Berg's taped beheading by an al-Qaeda splinter in Iraq. Dressed, as is his custom, for golf, and wearing a white-billed cap w/ corporate logo, Mr. Ziegler is seated by himself in the on-air studio, surrounded by monitors and sheaves of Internet downloads. He is trim, clean-shaven, and handsome in the somewhat bland way that top golfers and local TV newsmen tend to be. His eyes, which off-air are usually flat and unhappy, are alight now with passionate conviction. 
"9/11: The View From the Midwest" (aka "The View from Mrs. Thompson's")
... And they watch massive, staggering amounts of TV. I'm not just talking about the kids. Something that's obvious but still crucial to keep in mind re: Bloomington and the Horror is that reality – any really felt sense of a larger world – is televisual. New York's skyline, for instance, is as recognizable here as anyplace else, but what it's recognizable from is TV. TV's also more social here than on the East Coast, where in my experience people are almost constantly leaving home to go meet other people face-to-face in public places. There don't tend to be parties or mixers per se here; what you do in Bloomington is all get together at somebody's house and watch something.
"Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes" (aka "Derivative Sport inTornado Alley")
Unless you're just a mutant, a virtuoso of raw force, you'll find that competitive tennis, like money-pool, requires geometric thinking, the ability to calculate not merely your own angles but the angles of response to your angles. Tennis is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition. Because the expansion of response possibilities is quadratic, you are required to think n shots ahead, where n is a hyperbolic function limited by (roughly) your opponent's talent and the number of shots in the rally so far. I was good at this.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Agent Smith's "Virus" Speech

My favorite scene from The Matrix... I'm posting it here so I can quickly access it whenever I feel the urge to hear Agent Smith's brilliant speech.

And as my Twitter feed is filled every day with the horrible things humans do to each other, animals, and the planet, I'm beginning to think Agent Smith just might be right. Don't forget children, "Human beings are a disease." #RobotRevolution

Homo Horribiis – the Killer Ape

Like the house rat, this highly successful but destructive pest occurs in every country of the world. Bipedal, sparsely haired, omnivorous. Tends to gather in large, unsustainable numbers, mostly in an urban environment. Physically weak, but has well developed tool-using abilities. Our most aggressive mammal, it will attack without provocation, and is dangerous to all other species. Well known for its destruction of the environment and its tendency to kill large numbers of its own kind using highly sophisticated tools. Impossible to eradicate. Classified as Vermin. -- Bookey Peek