Day 3: The Lazy Day

Now, in my defense, overnight we’d passed that logitudinal barrier such that we’re officially an hour ahead of you. Also, the majority of the vacation part of this cruise is being able to do whatever I want, so waking up at almost-11AM is something for which nobody gets to judge me.

At the same time, Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” was basically my anthem this morning. I didn’t go to breakfast, I didn’t meet up with Wendy, Jen, or the Randys. I did basically-nothing for the first hour, but for the second hour, I did something I’ve been planning to do for weeks…

I wrote a blog entry earlier this year about how strangely protective I am of the contacts in my phone. I left feeling a bit internally conflicted about being so protective of a contact list that was so out of date. I knew that during this trip, I wanted to spend some time overhauling it. “Marvin”, a number that got added to my phone back from my Staples days, but never called, needed to go. Mosaic, a Greek restaurant owned by a friend but which I’ve never visited, need not be a contact. Amanda, Stephanie, and Valerie, two women I met on eHarmony nearly a decade ago but with whom I haven’t interacted in several years, no longer needed to be on my list. Alexandra, Jeff, Darrell, and a few others who have died over the past decade: their memory need be honored in how I interact with those who are living, rather than as a number that will never be dialed.

Nearly half of my contacts were people I hadn’t talked to in over five years. Some (like Valerie) are Facebook friends, others have decided to part ways with me. Lots of changed names; some people got married, others have been in my phone since “first name” was all that was needed, still others had legally change their names. I needed to make those changes.

It’s not all sad though; my friend Annie has been my friend for nearly four years; I never made her a contact. A few others share her story. Some people have gotten new numbers that I was happy to add. Back in 2009, my Windows Mobile phone used to automatically add Facebook posts to the contact information of linked friends. Some people still had information from that time in there; it was amusing to wax nostalgically at that time. I cleared most of them out, but some people I kept with the intent to share it with them when I get back home.

Once I finished with that, I straightened up my room; I am grateful for my housekeeping staff but there’s a difference between ‘having your bed made for you’ and ‘putting them in an awkward situation regarding your dirty laundry’. I then went to the main buffet dining area for some lunch; yes I’m on vacation but I’ve been consuming way too many calories to not get a salad or two. While here, I was shocked and excited to see my friend Stephanie and her boyfriend; it’s a very big ship and the law of large numbers says that running into at least one person I knew was probable, but I haven’t seen either of them in a while and it was a very pleasant surprise to do so.

 

 

 


Wow…okay…so, what started as a lazy day definitely took a turn.

Stephanie and Greg left the buffet area earlier than I did, as I was finishing up my morning blog entry. They went to a trivia game, along with two other friends they were cruising with. I joined them a few minutes after. As it turned out, the host was Kareem, the same guy who coordinates the Solo Travelers program. Stephanie and I agreed that Kareem was doing his best, but that he lacks the skill of our friend Michelle, who has the sort of personality, wit, and stage presence that makes a trivia host truly entertaining. We ended up getting 14/24, which put us in second place.

After that, I had about an hour or so to kill, so I napped for a bit, and was out in time for the 5:00 meet-up. Wendy and Jen were there; both expressed that they were a bit concerned since neither of them had seen or heard from me all day. I briefly filled them in, and the meet-up began. “Tennessee” lady brought her entourage, who may not have been wearing “Rosé all day” shirts, but were most likely doing so. I felt a bit bad for Kareem as he tried to hold the attention of the room, but they certainly weren’t making it easy for him. Kareem did another round of trivia questions in the Solo Lounge with us…and about half of the questions were reused from the time before. AT&Team ended up with 12/17, in no small part because I remembered most of the answers from a few hours prior. Once he awarded us the win, I yelled out, “are you going to reuse questions tomorrow, too?”. He blushed, awarded me with a Norwegian Cruise Lines water bottle, and then told me that he promised not to recycle his question sheet tomorrow. We had a good laugh about it.

Wendy, Jen, and I had discussed going to one of the premium restaurants tonight. I’d tried to make reservations, but it was tough to find somewhere that had one available, on short notice, that wasn’t one of the two steakhouses (Jen is a pescetarian). We discussed it, and as it turned out, the French place seemed to have an opening at 6:30 that showed up on the screens, but not on the app. However, the screens are supposed to let me make a reservation, but didn’t. Strange. I ended up just calling the reservation line; I was amused that it took nearly four people to ask me to hold before I got someone to talk to. Even more amusing, that person said, “Just go to the restaurant and see if they have an opening”. Seems to defeat the purpose of a reservation, but whatever works.

The three of us went there and asked, and apparently they had an opening, but for an hour and a half later. We said ‘okay’, and then went to kill some time. Jen and Wendy got drinks at the bar. It was at that moment that I remembered there was a rum tasting on one of the other decks. Wendy was cool to people watch; Jen and I did some rum tasting.

The tasting was done by a Trinidadian woman who had just the most fantastic accent while also being very easy to understand. The tasting was basically sponsored by a single company; seven of their nine rum variants and mixed rums were available for tasting. One of those two was a 12-year aged rum they wouldn’t let us taste because the bottles are relatively rare, the other is 151-proof and isn’t allowed on the ship because it’s a fire hazard. The did let us taste all the others, and I was particularly a fan of their coconut one and their ‘gold’ variety, which tasted similar to amaretto. I wasn’t up for trying their 140-proof variety; 80 is basically my limit and I know it.

Jen and I enjoyed the demonstration and met up with Wendy when we were done. We sat and people-watched for a bit, then headed back to the restaurant, who did end up seating us.

The salad had good presentation, but could have been dressed a bit better. Jen had a mushroom soup she thoroughly enjoyed, while Wendy had a bowl of mussels she seemed to like as well. I ended up going vegetarian this go-round; I forget the exact thing it was but it involved a portabella mushroom, goat cheese, a bell pepper, and…maybe some eggplant? I forget, but it was absolutely delicious and just the correct portion.

The highlight of the meal, though, was the fondue dessert. I don’t know what it is about dipping fruit into chocolate that makes it about twenty times more enjoyable than if the fruit came pre-dipped, but we definitely had the most fun with it. As is common with fondue, the fruit-to-chocolate ratio wasn’t right, so there was leftover chocolate to be had. The fruit was served in a cut pineapple, which meant we had more pineapple to use for dipping. Now, the wait staff, skilled as they are, took away all of the cutlery that was on our table, except for the fondue forks. So, the ladies were laughing in amazement as I hacked away at this pineapple with a fondue fork, slowly but surely cutting off one edge section at a time. “We can ask for a knife”, Wendy offered…but I’m sure that exactly none of you reading this believe that I took the practical or expeditious route on this. I did end up getting the pineapple cut, and enjoyed it the most.

I left pretty much right after that, because Stephanie invited me to join her group in one of the bars where a particular entertainer was playing, known for his style and humor. He played a number of ‘bar classics’; “American Pie”, “Sweet Caroline”, “We Are The Champions”, “Wonderwall”, and of course “Piano Man” had the whole bar singing along with him. However, I was impressed with how he did everything else. At the behest of one woman who requested Taylor Swift (but it was ‘for her husband’, who was apparently a Marine for 22 years), he played Shake It Off, and did pretty good. F.U.N.’s “We Are Young” was also played, as were a few other pop tracks. However, the draw were his satires and original songs. “Old MacDonald’s Deformed Farm” was a stand-out; this farm had a “stuttering cow” with a mm-m-mmmm-mmoooo mmmmm-oo here…”, a dyslexic sheep (with an aaab aaab here…), a drug-dealing duck (with a crack-crack here…), and several other not-PG-rated animals, he had the bar in stitches. I was super torn about him playing “My Neck, My Back” because it’s literally the dirtiest song I have ever heard played at a party, but his rendition was incredibly skilled, and while *he* sang the radio edit, the crowd had no problem filling in the blanks for him. He played Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, which floored me because he actually knew the lyrics to the Shaggy part that’s very difficult to understand. However, the absolute standout of awesome to me was his beatbox. He did a beatbox of about five different songs, in a dubstep format, complete with the vocal distortions, basslines, tempo changes, and even vinyl record scratching sound effects. Did I mention this was all a beatbox? Being a good bar pianist takes practice, being able to an incredibly difficult vocal performance that effectively? That’s legendary.

We dock in Bermuda tomorrow morning. Do you think I’ll manage to be awake at 7:45AM to watch it and take pictures for you? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon (or something) to find out….

Day 2: Sea, as far as the eye can see

Me: “I am on vacation and have literally no reason to be up for anything! I am going to bed at 1:30AM, and look forward to sleeping until 10AM or later. Because. I. Can.”

My Brain: “so…8:10, then?”

Me: “I literally just can’t even with you.”

Now, the problem is that while I was technically up at 8:10AM, it took me about 90 minutes to figure out where my get-up-and-go had gotten-up-and-went. I spent a good amount of time in that quantum state of being awake but also not wanting to do anything…but that’s kinda a part of the vacation.

When I did finally get up and go, I got a cup of coffee in the solo lounge. Wendy and Jen were there; we spent some time talking at length about basically-everything, from NY vs. NJ vs. CA life, to the consensus that it’s far more awesome to be an aunt/uncle than a parent.

Wendy’s day involved going to a quite area (ironically, the nightclub on the top deck is a ‘quiet area’ until 6), so Jen and I paired off and wandered around a bit. We passed by some of the artwork; there were a number of interesting pieces, including one with a three-dimensional build that had a fascinating optical illusion. Others were interesting acrylic pieces, some had that metallic look and strong contrast. Some pieces had a more traditional look, while others were abstract. There were plenty of strong colors and sharp contrast; I’m not an art person, but I did appreciate the selection of pieces on display. I wonder if one day I’ll see something akin to my all time favorite work of art, “Mourning a Geth”, on display somewhere other than my living room wall.

We walked a bit further, and the Q&A session with a number of the managers (hotel, bar, kitchen, etc.) were answering questions; we stayed for a bit and listened to some of the answers. Not a whole lot of new ground (how do you deal with time off, etc.), but still great to see everyone be in good spirits. I sometimes wonder if these people really feel this way, or if they’re just used to being ‘guest facing’ for an hour and acting accordingly.

With that, we hit up one of the main dining rooms.

Bacon-wrapped meat loaf…how have I never thought of this before? It was fantastic, as was the presentation. Jen and I continued talking about life and work and even politics for a bit; while we have areas of disagreement we did find plenty of common ground and both agreed that the ability to have a productive discussion with both parties walking away smiling was all too rare and we were both glad we were able to do so. Key lime parfait was great, though served on a plate, which we both found a bit abnormal.

I went up to the pool deck to start writing, and did a bit of people watching. It’s interesting how many people are traversing the deck, rather than sticking around on it. The DJ was doing a bit better job this go-round; I’d forgotten about the classic club track “Dive in the Pool”, but it’s bleeding obvious in retrospect. The sun came up a bit, but it’s still rather overcast. I also realized that I’d left my N7 hoodie at the restaurant; it was a bit chilly this morning, but it warmed up and I’d forgotten about it.

That brought me to my first encounter with the guest services desk, who did in fact have my hoodie. I was glad to get it back. I spend a few minutes checking in at work…so far, everything is going smoothly, which makes me happy.


Blog. Nap. Mass Effect.

Now you’re caught up on everything between my last entry and 5PM. The solo travelers get together at 5 daily, so I went to the meeting. A few new faces who weren’t there yesterday showed up and introduced themselves. We played a game of trivia, but got only half the answers right. Jen, Wendy, and I comprise a trivia team; we’ve named ourselves “AT&Team”, since Jen works for a subsidiary of Ma Bell. The trivia games accumulate throughout the week; we’ll see what happens.

It’s formal night, so I was glad I brought my suit. It’s a bit amusing to me that tonight is formal night, primarily because of how relatively few people actually wore formal wear. Some people really got into it, and I agree that it’s ultimately a good thing that formal wear is optional, but I still wanted to look pretty.

So, I went back to my stateroom to change, and it was a comedy of errors. First, I used the restroom, but the toilet paper dispenser fell off the wall. The screw holding it in place was loose, so I went through my spare set of screwdrivers in an attempt to reconnect it. As it turned out, it used  a Torx bit, and though I had half a dozen precision screwdrivers on me (doesn’t everyone?), I couldn’t do more than a little bit of tightening on it, but I managed to deal with the important parts of that exercise. Then, I went to gel my hair. It’s been so long since I’ve done that, my hair gel container had gotten far more solid than I needed it to be – it had a consistency closer to wax than hair gel. So, I tried adding water, and while it’ll probably be fine tomorrow, it isn’t right now…so I mixed it and used enough of the watery stuff to get my hair to look about-right. My hair was, at that point, actually-wet, requiring a hair dryer to get my hair to actually do the spike/fohawk look I tend to do. Well, the hair dryer had one of the EU standard plugs, and while I do have EU outlets, none of them are near any of my mirrors. So, I ended up having to use my turned-off TV to blow dry my hair…but ultimately, I did get it.

Though the Solo Travelers were having dinner ‘together’, one of the two tables were filled. This left Wendy all by herself, as she was waiting for Jen, Randy Sr. and Randy Jr., and myself. I walked in, she and I chatted for a bit, and the two Randys came in about ten minutes after me…at which point, we’d put in orders. The ravioli appetizer was great, and the roast beef entrée was also very good (albeit a tad too salty), but the real MVP were the pesto tomatoes. I was super happy to have those; I’d been waiting for them all trip…and they delivered.

It’s impressive how many tech people are on this cruise; Randy Jr. *also* works for a software company, so we all had a good chat about that. Randy Sr. is retired; in his heyday he did commercial printing back when doing embossed business cards was a manual process, and he was proud of his work in the field. It dovetailed us into a good old fashioned “kids these days” discussion, complete with the go-to examples of rotary phones, vinyl records and 8-tracks, and cursive writing.

Jen still hadn’t arrived, so while we were joking earlier that she was weaving her dress, Wendy and I were getting a bit nervous about whether she was okay. So, we decided to go to guest services to ask them to call her room as soon as I finished writing my comment card. As I did so, Wendy said, “we won’t have to go to Guest Services”. Jen had arrived in a ‘disco ball’ dress, as she put it. Though Wendy and I were literally about to leave, we opted to have dessert instead while Jen had her dinner. Our waiter was accommodating and at no point did we feel any pressure of any kind, but it was clear that having two people having dessert while one person was placing their drink order wasn’t his usual flow. He took the curve ball like a boss, but it was clearly a curve ball for him.

Dessert was an apple strudel; it had a few too many raisins for me to describe it with a superlative adjective, but it was still a treat.

The three of us went to the mojito bar, which is just what it sounds like – a bar which specialized in making different kinds of mojitos. Wendy bid us farewell shortly thereafter; as described, she’s one of those weird morning people who’s done with the day at 9:30. I had a raspberry mojito, Jen got a cucumber jalapeño one. We each let the other try our respective drinks. This was a bad move. I was not expecting a spicy drink, and I certainly wasn’t expecting one *that* spicy. The bartender was entertained, which was a good thing – he had a very deadpan sense of humor that was difficult to determine whether he was just giving a stoic delivery, or if he had ‘just had it’.


Is tonight the night Joey finally managed to avoid being a grown-up, and stay out late to enjoy some of the night life instead of retiring to his stateroom and go to bed before midnight for no discernible reason?

Yes. Yes it is.

It started to rain just as I arrived. It wasn’t a torrential downpour, but it was enough that there was a mass exodus as soon as I was walking in. It stopped shortly after, but the crowed seemed to ebb and flow as the drizzles started and stopped throughout the night.

The DJ was doing a ‘dancing through the decades’ bit, where he was playing 15-minute sets of 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s before going into more traditional club fare. The 80s set was good, and though the 90s was also solid, I was a bit surprised that he stuck to more of the 90s hip-hop stuff, which the crowd seems to go for, but the absence of 90s pop anthems “Ice, Ice Baby”, “Wannabe”, or “Everybody” was…not how I would have done it. I was also surprised that they didn’t do a 2000s category. While his club set seemed to span basically everything from 2000-2019, I find it a bit notable in general that it’s not as much of a ‘defined music decade’ as the rest of the 20th century.

Terry showed up for a bit as well. He strikes me as a dude who is very out of his element, and though we didn’t talk for more than a minute or two, I was glad he came. Shocking as this may be, I stuck to the edges and did the white guy shuffle for a bit, largely doing some people watching. There was a small group of women who gave off that “elementary school teacher” vibe, blowing off steam and clearly glad to get away from the drama that is ‘the parents’ and ‘the administration’ (though, I have no confirmation of this). I’ve noticed that there are a number of Korean groups traveling; though they tend to stick to themselves, one of the groups was on the dance floor for a good portion of the night, and they knew every lyric to every song. There was the ‘clearly wasted white girl’, who needed her ‘mom friend’, and a number of other younger couples enjoying the club atmosphere.

The event wrapped up around 12:30, just as well as it started actually-raining on my way back to my room.

Change clothes. Mass Effect. Bed.

Day 1: The Kickoff

It’s weird that I can navigate an airport terminal like a boss, but put me in a cruise terminal and I’m lost like a derp.

A better place to start would be the ride here. My boss was awesome enough to spring for a limo, which was super appreciated. However, the fact that it wasn’t a round trip limo meant I couldn’t bring anyone with me, leaving me to enjoy a party bus by myself. I spent a little of the time working out the fact that I was, in fact, deep, and didn’t print out my boarding pass. I did find, however, that their mobile app does present them, which is a life saver. Beyond that, however, I will tell you that an empty party bus most definitely feels different than a party bus with, well, a party.

So, I’m here in the cruise terminal, blogging to kill some time as I wait to be checked in and allowed to board…

I’m onboard and unpacked. It’s amazing how well they utilize 99 square feet. It’s small, but it does the job…except for my laptop, which is a problem I look forward to solving…somehow. The room has those nifty RGB LEDs, though apparently I can’t give my room a green hue? Oh well.

Also notably, everything is interior this go-round. No sunsets or sunrises from my room or from the solo traveler lounge, but there is plenty of communal deck space.

I already made an acquaintance, which is a good sign.

 

So, we’re off, which means I’ve got like five minutes before I have to start using my onboard internet time. On the  pool deck, they’re doing a ‘kickoff’ party. I feel a bit bad for the crew; it’s chilly and a bit overcast, so it definitely doesn’t feel like a party just yet. I will, however, judge the guy on the upper deck, taking a video of everyone doing the Cupid Shuffle. Bro, literally nobody is ever watching that video. I’m also judging the DJ; going from Cupid Shuffle to Cha Cha Slide is amateur hour…and while I can understand the MC wanting to be interactive, shouting out the directions to the Cha Cha Slide is redundant; the song is 19 years old; there are exactly zero people on this cruise who have never heard it before.

On my to-do list is to talk to some of the crew who are doing the whole motivational dance thing. I know I will forever feel awkward on a dance floor, but there is most definitely a certain personality required to be ‘into it’, with intent and a smile when there are like three people dancing with you. I sometimes wonder if I’d be willing to trade my IT acumen for that level of skill at dancing and crowd motivation.

Alright, so…first night largely in the bag at this point.

After I left the deck party, I headed to the Studio Lounge, where I met up with Wendy, a woman who works for a teleconferencing company which has a solid niche in the medical field. She’s pretty technical, and we talked for quite a bit about things of that nature. It was nice to make a fast friend.

After talking to Wendy and getting a cup of coffee from the espresso machine, I went back to my room and unpacked. The room definitely has this strange Tardis Effect, in that it simultaneously feels very small, but uses space so efficiently that I don’t feel cramped. We’ll see how that changes the first time I use the shower in the morning, but for now, it’s fine.

I ended up going back to the Studio Lounge, only to find that there was a gathering of many of the solo travelers…and I was late for it. Not too late, apparently – Kareem, our solo traveler specialist, talked a bit about things before he shifted gears and went around the room with everyone introducing themselves. Tom is a “cruise ambassador”; apparently he’s been on 20 cruises this year? It’s on my to-do list to talk to him about that, because it seems like the sort of thing that would ultimately get boring after a while, so I’m interested in his take. Also, there was ‘the blonde lady whose name escapes me’…and she was a bit too helpful. Expressing a willingness to provide assistance and insight is one thing, and having lived in Bermuda for several years, I am sure she has both. She established her self as being ‘that guy’ when we couldn’t even get through sharing our names and home towns without her interjecting a paragraph or four.

After Kareem was done, we went through the itinerary of stuff-to-do, which tonight is a bit light. I ended up speaking with Terry, a dude for whom it is his first time cruising, his first time to New York, and his first time traveling internationally. Apparently he’s relatively technical as well – his desktop well outspecs my laptop, so we got talking for a bit. After we decided to end our discussion, I started talking to Wendy a bit more at length. I ended up making a bit of a correlation: In general, the sort of people who file away all their e-mails into an intricate set of subfolders tend to be morning people. People like me, who have 20,000 things in their inbox and just use ‘search’, tend to be night people.

Not too long after, Jen joined us. Jen works for AT&T, apparently has an IT background as well (and played a few MMOs before the term was a thing), and has two kids. We spoke for quite a while about things, both technical and nontechnical. Jen comes from California, so she’s well versed in things wine-related. The Studio Lounge has a wine dispenser, which I found amusing because one of our clients at work has the same exact models.

We took our discussion to the bar, where Wendy and I had food, and Jen and I had some drinks. Overall, solidly enjoyable discussion. I had a Chicago Style hot dog, which was very good. I was kinda-sorta hungry thereafter, and apparently they were serving prime rib at one of the main dining areas. I got some, and was unimpressed. Now yes, I have been spoiled rotten by living so close to The Spare Rib, but I mean, this stuff was ‘meh’ at best.

I could barely make it up the 18 flights of stairs between deck 7 and deck 16. I’m hoping my legs are in a bit better shape by the end of this trip.

Also, there are two access points in the studio lounge. Why? They’re Cisco APs, that room fits maybe 40 people. That sort of question is the sort of thing everyone is curious about, right? …right?

 

Did you think I went back to my room and played Mass Effect? Seriously? You did? I’m ashamed that you would think I was that predictable.

I went back to my room and played Titanfall 2.

I debated going to the party, because I was getting tired and I’m not 22 anymore, but I did attempt to do so. I wandered around the ship looking for where I thought it was, and when I got there, there were like three blokes on the side drinking a beer. I was a bit surprised, because it was about 12:30 when I did this, and I couldn’t see a first-night party being completely over with everyone gone and the floors swept just two hours later. When I got back to my room, I realized I was in the wrong place, and decided that it was late enough that I wouldn’t have much fun when I went anyway, so it was bedtime for Joey.

Overall, a solid first day.

A Catch-Up, Before Boarding

Good morning everyone!

Wow, I looked at the date of my last post, and it was five months ago?! I know I’m generally pretty terrible at writing on any sort of a schedule, but five months is pretty excessive for me, so…I’m sorry about that. 

A lot has happened in the last five months, but strangely, not a whole lot I deemed worth writing about. I guess I need to readjust my standard of quality to reflect a standard of quantity. I started a few posts here and there; I’ve got a draft about Joshua Harris’s announcement that “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was something he no longer agreed with, but that left the news cycle quicker than I could write about it. A few technical things here and there, but to be honest, I’ve been writing those technical articles in my company’s knowledgebase, rather than on my blog.

Work has been very busy; I’ve gotten a number of relatively large projects done for some of our bigger clients; though the schedule is demanding it is at least partially self-inflicted. I’ve gotten to visit some friends I haven’t seen in a while, I’ve been working on being a bit more conscious about what I eat (and I’ve lost nearly six pounds in the past two months as a result), my friend Jon helped me get some Docker containers running at home which have helped streamline my home LAN, and on the DJ side, I invested in a new DJ mixer that came with a copy of Pioneer’s Rekordbox; I still have some ties to Serato but I am definitely in the process of being able to switch-hit.

But, if you’re reading this, the real reason you’re here is probably because of my trip to Bermuda. I’m looking forward to visiting the island again and writing about it daily while I’m gone…largely so my mom won’t worry. Feel free to leave comments while I’m gone; I’ll try to address them as best as I can.

See you tomorrow!

Unpopular opinion: EA needs to keep Anthem, not cancel it

For the unitiated, Anthem is Bioware’s most recent video game release, a “live service” model that’s a new franchise and…went over like a Hawaiian pig roast at a bar mitzvah. They indicated that there was a “10 year roadmap”, and this week it came to light that many of the game’s senior managers had been reshuffled or reassigned.

But, I submit that EA needs to stick to the roadmap.

They probably won’t – the only number lower than the earnings from the game is the metacritic score. At the rate things are going, it is unlikely to ever break even. It doesn’t make business sense to continue developing content for Anthem from the looks of things. Just to get it out of the way, I’m not saying this as someone who bought Anthem and is now upset at the lack of content. Anthem is an anathema to the sort of video games I like – single player with solid mechanics and a progression method which encourages discovery and exploration. Crysis, Sol Survivor, Star Trek Elite Force, Osmos, Kirby’s Adventure, Bioshock, Trine, and of course Mass Effect are all amongst my list of favorites.

The reason I say this is not for my benefit, but for EA’s.

EA wants the “Live Service” model to succeed. Loathe it as I do, I am able to at least understand the business need to have something beyond one-off $60 game sales as a business model. However, as has been exhaustively covered by dozens of Youtube commentators, Anthem embodies most of the worst aspects of the live service model.

Notable in this list is the “roadmap” concept itself – the promise of new content over the life cycle of the game. In the days of yore, content had to be on a cartridge or CD, otherwise it didn’t get shipped. Then, we got expansion packs and downloadable content (DLC) which provided additional content to a complete game. DLC kept creeping in; Mass Effect 3 had approximately $55 of DLC released over the course of its lifetime, it’s hardly the worst offender. The Roadmap concept is essentially a game publisher requesting that players invest in a game for which content will be released over time. This might be acceptable for games intended for some sort of episodic format, but Telltale and Valve both had issues trying to do video games in an episodic format, and I don’t think Anthem or its premise lends itself to it any better.

There are a few reasons I think having a roadmap for Anthem is worth the losses EA will incur. First, Bioware’s issues with the Frostbite engine are well documented. It is clear that getting RPG elements into a game using Frostbite is incredibly challenging for the team there. Using Anthem as a development and de facto UAT platform for those elements may help streamline things for other RPG games required to use the engine. Second, several other live service games with bumpy starts ended up maturing over time and earning themselves a stable fan base. Certainly, it is unlikely that Anthem will unseat Fortnite in the next year or two, but it’s possible that the game will find its footing over time. The capability of a game to adapt to what players are looking for is one of the selling points of live service games. Shifting the focus a bit to single player for the moment might not be what EA and Bioware want long term, but the low number of players aren’t endearing anyone to missions requiring other people to play.

The biggest reason, however, that I think Anthem should stay true to the roadmap is because it is a canary in the coal mine for live service games. If EA abandons the roadmap, EA makes the statement that roadmaps are ‘suggestions’ or ‘nice-to-haves’, rather than commitments. If players stop trusting roadmaps, they’ll hold off their purchases until the first or second phase of the roadmap is in place…which, depending on the roadmap, can be months or years after initial release. This is dangerous because it dilutes the ability for companies to make financial reports based on first-week sales. There may well be pent up demand for an already-released game, but whose prospective players are keeping a wait-and-see approach for the first steps of the roadmap. This makes it a gamble for the publishers as to whether it’s worth spending the money to develop the additional content. Moreover, making those decisions can easily become even more difficult when dealing with competing studios. If Blizzard withheld content for Destiny 2 due to the Anthem roadmap, it would look like an almost laughable decision in retrospect. Conversely, if a game’s roadmap listed a particular release date, and right around that time another super popular game caused a measurable dip in player engagement, it might make sense to delay it until the fervor dies down, but it would then cast doubt on the validity of the roadmap.

Finally, Anthem’s roadmap promised ten years of content. Given how little it’s actually being played, and how little revenue it’s making (relatively), there’s a whole lot of speculation that the game won’t make it until the end of the year. If a roadmap is something that’s actually promised, EA may have to either refund players (i.e. lose every dime they spent developing the game), or roll the dice that none of the players have the time or disdain for EA to file a lawsuit for false advertising. If such a lawsuit happens, it may cause roadmaps to be legally binding. If that happens, it puts EA in a terrible position for future live service games, since those roadmaps will have to go through their legal department to ensure they are only making promises the company can fulfill.

If EA keeps to their Anthem roadmap, it will be a signal to everyone that EA’s roadmaps can be trusted. That trust is critical for any live service game they plan to release. Providing content for Anthem is expensive. Not providing content for Anthem is even more expensive.

What you have to hide

I bought a new phone this weekend: an LG Stylo 4. I need to return it because I can’t root it. I thought about just finally calling it quits with my insistence on being able to root and just using the phone as it ships. After all, millions of people have various amounts of data uploaded to the Googlesphere every day, and no massive problem has happened. Besides, the reason they collect that data is just to deliver more targeted ads, so maybe I really just need to turn a new leaf and deem that beneficial?

Except, I do have something to hide. And so do you.

See, there is actually a career called “advertising psychology”. That entire field consists of people whose job it is to create ads which exploit things in your psyche to make an ad more effective to you. I’m not kidding. Your Facebook and Instagram likes (and other emotive reacts), how long you stay on a page, what things you comment on, what apps are on your phone, what pages outside of Facebook and Google you visit, and plenty of other information all feeds into this profile about which emotions appeal best to get you to act in a particular way. Then, advertisers use that profile.

The profile being built is basically a means by which to determine how to best manipulate you to purchase a particular product. Once that profile is built, how will you combat it? Shadow profiles will continue to be built even if you cancel your Google and Facebook accounts. You’re ultimately powerless, and studies have shown that facts are unlikely to change your mind.

Look, I’m not opposed to advertising in the abstract. There is a need to be able to find out what things are available so I can make an informed choice. However, these profiles are basically the most reliable means by which to manipulate you into making a decision – be it a purchase or a vote – that you wouldn’t have done otherwise, and without recourse or conclusive evidence that it was ever done.

The list of particular strings you are most responsive to is something that *everyone* should want to hide.

Play the Flute – a Christian film that didn’t learn from Fireproof

A friend of mine invited me to a screening of Play the Flute. I was a bit surprised in that, for some reason, I thought I was going to see Unplanned, so I’m certain that my confusion in that the main characters and plot points of that movie weren’t present, which meant that I kept waiting for that part of the movie to start, which obviously didn’t happen. I think that movie could have solved that problem with a title card at the beginning, which it did not have.

So, spoilers ahead. Also, go ahead and read my Fireproof review if you haven’t already. Also, I’m really annoyed because I had plenty of this written out, and then the WordPress app on my phone decided to have a fit and not actually save what I’d written.

I’ll start by giving credit where it’s due – the tech people involved in producing this film were on point. Camera angles were fantastic, lighting was on point, hair and makeup were done well, sound mixing was flawless, and location shoots were done with consistency and efficacy. The actors and actresses shouldn’t hold their breath for an Oscar, but while the script they had to deal with had massive issues, the cast was pretty well chosen and effective in their delivery. Props to all the people who put in so much hard work into this film.

The movie opens with Matthew 11:16-17, in the King James version of the Bible. That set the tone for a few themes, just none of the ones it was going for. I’m hoping you can agree with me that the language used in the King James version of the Bible isn’t exactly what I’d call ‘readily accessible’ to a modern viewer. I’m not trying to start a “which-version-is-best” debate, but the language used simply isn’t the sort of vernacular which is self-evident to a contemporary audience. The King James version of the Bible is used in exclusivity throughout the movie. I don’t intrinsically mind that, but in doing so, the audience for the film is likely to be an audience of Christians, primarily. Even that, I don’t have a problem with, except that they do the whole direct gospel message in the film, which assumes an unsaved audience. Targeting to a demographic is one thing, but these two things together seem to show a conflict of intent…one which was likely lost on the writers.

80% of Play the Flute takes place in a church setting. A new(ish) pastor comes in to be a youth director at an existing church with an existing youth group, and is shocked – SHOCKED – that a group of 14-18-year-olds aren’t inherently, independently motivated to read the Bible and live their lives according to the principles of the Word of God. He’s shocked – SHOCKED – that those individuals are more concerned with social acceptance and sports, making it difficult for me to believe that he’s ever met an adolescent in a church setting. Now, I’m not an unforgiving person so I do understand that the kids are direct and open about it for the sake of storytelling, but if they were going for realism those kids would have been able to tell the story of Joseph basically-verbatim, and would have been able to give a moving testimony about how much they love God while still ‘doing the bad things’ the other six days of the week. Oh, also, at no point in this movie are any of the kids romantically attracted to anyone else? None of those entanglements are involved? The story would have been much better with one of those, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but the fact that the whole movies goes by with a group of hormonal teenagers never once expressing a desire to even ask another one out on a date is patently unrealistic. While I’m at it, husband-and-wife duo don’t even kiss each other hello or goodbye, let alone express any sexual desire for each other. They are married, movie! If you’re going to take screen time to warn against sex outside of marriage, at least imply there’s sex in marriage!

The youth pastor, along with his senior pastor, throws shade at the churches that talk about numbers and events and programs. I agree with the fact that a church that uses fun events as a replacement to Bible study has issues, for the very reasons they specify. However, that’s like saying that since knives can be used to harm that they shouldn’t be used at all, and the movie itself contradicts this. The youth group goes on their one-day retreat (an event), they have fun, and that event creates an opportunity for the pastor and his wife to impart Godly wisdom into the students with whom they are entrusted. Our protagonist pastor has less success building relationships with the young people and imparting Godly principles to them in a classroom setting than he has at an event or program? I’m shocked – SHOCKED! That’s just not how effective youth ministry works. Yes, a classroom setting is common and it absolutely has its place, but as a rule relationships in youth ministry simply aren’t built that way.

One other thing they did was to go to a cemetery, and the pastor talks about how life is short and fleeting, and gives the whole “where will you be for eternity” thing…y’know, because the perfect way to encourage kids who don’t meaningfully know God to follow Him is to say that the options are to spend eternity with Him…or not. This is a theological rabbit hole of its own, but I’ll say this: the behavioral shifts in the characters are a result of that relationship developing in the natural. How does that work? The pitch is basically a “fire insurance Christianity” sort of thing, but the results are temporal in nature? One of the kids call him out on it, and I was thinking to myself, “that kid would be excellent at CinemaSins”. Even if I didn’t go down that theological rabbit hole, what was his plan? Drive for 20 minutes each way with all the kids in the van, during the day (so, Sunday?) to spend five minutes in a cemetery hearing a story about a turbulent flight and then turn around and go home? That’s a poorly planned Sunday School field trip.

Not a single character has a home life that’s at all expounded upon; every parent seems to just assume the church will handle the spiritual upbringing of their children. We either don’t see parents, or we see very one-note parents who make me wonder about the back stories we spend so much time not-seeing. Natalie’s aunt has four scenes – twice where she laments her getting made fun of (but never encourages her to go to another youth group?), once where she gives the “Moses had a stutter too” speech, and once where she’s around for the apology. Shannon’s mom lets her run the show and the absentee dad is also only discussed in throwaway dialog; basically she’s there to show Shannon’s wealthy background. Marcie’s mom is there thrice – once to say she’s not a fan of Shannon (never explaining why or trying to encourage her daughter to be discerning, just ‘because I said so’), once to exposit the flag metaphor (and assume her daughter was going to make that sort of a choice because her mom guilted her into doing it), and once to show that she’s happy with Marcie’s change. I’m not saying this movie needed more runtime, but I am saying that there’s plenty of lost opportunity here and it’s in conflict with the pastor’s taking responsibility for the choices the students make.

As the pastor continues trying to use Bible-as-a-textbook methods to reach the kids (all of whom have perfect weekly attendance?), eventually, each of them have a shift in their heart to stop doing the bad thing they did before, and apologize for it. Now, to be fair, I do at least give credit to the fact that these changes are primarily done at an individual basis and are the result of an overarching shift for the duration of the movie, and it’s not necessarily any of them reciting a particular prayer publicly, so I was at least pleasantly surprised about that (though the white flag thing was a bit heavy handed). Even so, the “Play the Flute” title refers back to the verse in Matthew, which essentially stated that “you’re either playing the flute, or the flute is playing for you”. The variant I grew up with was, “you’re either a missionary or a mission field”. That’s fine, but it still leaves a whole lot of questions as to why the kids had their change of heart. The verse, restructured for the context of the movie, amounts to guilting the kids into doing the right thing. One by one, each of them stops doing a thing, and we the audience are supposed to be proud of them. I mean, to take that to its logical conclusion, do we then look at the external actions and say “the end justifies the means”? Yes, film limits the ability to show a change of heart rather than a change of action, but literally no adult has a one-on-one conversation with any kid about where their heart really is, leaving plenty of room for the ending to be a group of moral atheists. Really, each of the characters were problematic in one way or another.

Natalie’s parents died tragically…but it’s addressed one time a throwaway line of dialog. Talk about a missed opportunity – how is that not the perfect setup for a crisis of faith? Let Natalie scream at the pastor, “G-gg-God couldn’t ss-sss-stop my parents from-mm-m dying, He could at l-ll-llleast get rid of this s-ss-stupid ss-ssTUTTER!!”. She would be someone who was doing all the things she was supposed to be doing, but when it really came down to it, she would have had a real internal struggle that would have been incredibly to see unfold. But no, she just has to be the one-note, perfect church girl from start to finish with no growth or development. Her moment of bravery isn’t a matter of bravery at all; telling Marcie what she thought didn’t cost her anything, or have the threat of doing so.
Squirrel admits his fraudulent timeclock punching, but coerces his coworker friend into doing the same. This is another missed opportunity. Let Squirrel do it alone and get fired, while his friend keeps his job. Let his friend ask why he admitted it and took the heat. The ensuing discussion could involve Squirrel saying he did the right thing even though it cost something, and that he was trusting in God to provide for him. The friend could see this, and then go to the boss and admit he was doing it as well, and go to bat to get Squirrel rehired. This would show how Squirrel’s influenced caused his friend to make his own choice, and even allow an opportunity for Squirrel to share the Lord…but instead the scene uses force and Squirrel gives an ultimatum to someone who doesn’t share his commitment, and we’re okay with that? 
Teddy…stops making fun of Natalie. Great, but he’s gotten less positive reinforcement from everyone over time so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice. It didn’t take much for Natalie to end up being more receptive to Teddy at the same time Shannon pushed him away, so Teddy just switched allies. What would have been far better would have been for Teddy to have had a crush on Shannon and having started the movie with Teddy doing Shannon’s bidding to try and win her affection, with Teddy’s big moment being him telling Shannon off, realizing he had no shot with her as a result, and then having to reconcile with a Natalie who is still incredibly guarded and ends the movie willing to be civil with him at best.
Marcie is Shannon’s patsy, but for no defined reason. Throughout the movie there is no indication that Shannon has any leverage on Marcie, they don’t really seem to do anything fun together, and Marcie seems to lack any other friends while also shown as being able to just start being friends with Teddy and Squirrel on the spot. Marcie’s shift away from Shannon was supposed to be her big deal, but Shannon’s popularity was waning and she already had new friends as a result, so it wasn’t a sacrifice by the time Marcie decided to take her stand. 
Then there’s Shannon, the movie’s attempt to have a Regina George character, except she lacked her nuanced moments, charisma, sex appeal, or social authority. A clawless cat if there ever was one. What did she spend her massive allowance on? We never see. Why did Marcie have loyalty to her, but nobody else does? We aren’t told. Why do her parents tolerate her disrespect but also incentivize her going to church? It’s unclear. Shannon put Vaseline on a chair. Regina called the parents of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s parents and pretended to be Planned Parenthood, breaking up their relationship and making the girl a social pariah. Shannon is what happens when writers of Christian movies try to involve conflict while also trying to avoid showing a sinful thing in a movie – we end up with a character whose salt has lost its saltiness.

Let’s discuss Shannon’s false accusation. We, the audience, know nothing happened…but nobody else does. The #metoo and #believeher movements have their problems on both sides, but on what basis does the whole youth group take the pastor’s side? We the audience know nothing happened, but they don’t. Are they defending him simply because “he would never do such a thing?” That’s the root of the issue at hand, but how come literally nobody even attempts to consider if Shannon was right? They went after Shannon for information but nobody tried to put the pastor through the ringer? When they tricked Shannon into confessing, how come none of them used their smartphones to get an audio or video recording of her saying it so they could prove it to the people in charge? Why not have a text message exchange so they could use screenshots as evidence of the lie to show to the senior pastor and Shannon’s mom? Also, the church across town was perfectly fine having him despite knowing the circumstances and controversy around his departure? 
It would have been far more interesting if they showed Shannon walking out the door behind everyone else, then walking back in the room and having the screen fade to black with the audience never seeing what exactly happened. If I wanted to double down, it would have been particularly interesting to do a sort of flashback scene regarding both accounts of the story, one from the pastor where the apology happens, and another from Shannon’s point of view where she successfully seduces him, leaving the reader to figure to spend a little time debating who to believe…but of course, it would have been much more controversial, and if there’s one thing this movie can’t handle, it’s giving the audience something to think about….and also, it wouldn’t have driven the plot because then there would be a genuine cause for a schism.

I’ll close by talking about the actual dialog itself. The script had so many smaller issues with how the characters talked to each other. People walk into the room to have a discussion, they begin with some thoroughly mundane thing that nobody cares about, and then they change topics to the real thing worth discussing. Does Marcie’s mother always announce when she’s got laundry for her? Did the script really need three lines of dialog between the pastor and his wife about the logistics of returning the shirt? Did Squirrel and his coworker always have to reiterate the plan in an expository manner immediately before they carried it out? So much cringey dialog was present throughout the movie. Virtually every character did it…except, ironically, the one with the stutter. The Moses parallel was obvious it was coming the moment the stutter was introduced, the Joseph foreshadowing was heavy handed, and the theme verse only meaningfully made sense at the end which made it clear they were chosen for plot purposes. I almost have an objection to the Bible being used purely to add literary conventions to such a poorly written script. It was obvious the car wash at the end was coming the moment there was a discussion about the bet being one-sided. Beth trying to get the girls to interact more nicely together “because she said so” demonstrated how out of touch the writers were with how kids actually interact. Even as adults, did nobody think about how they would feel if someone was suddenly nice to them because an authority figure coerced them? There were just so many examples of poorly constructed dialog and annoyingly worded exposition that it made me wish they just started quoting the King James Bible again.

 

In conclusion, I simply couldn’t conjure up any grace for this movie. If it was 1999, maybe…but for all its other flaws, 1999’s Left Behind Movie benefited from Jerry B. Jenkins’ excellent source material, making it a layup to have a script written without cringe-inducing dialog. I had issues with God’s Not Dead, but even those script writers seemed to have been involved in a conversation at some point. Play the Flute was about an oblivious pastor, a paint-by-numbers youth group that failed miserably at character development, and a goal that only makes sense to a church audience while also being called an “evangelical tool” by a group of people who had no concept of how people interact in real life.

Sorry, 3/10 would not recommend to anyone…and those three points all go to the production crew.

 

Edits 4/17/2019 – some rewording for readability and clarity.

Matthew 18 in a Post-Facebook Society

I run a small RocketChat server. Nothing major, just a handful of friends in a private chat, my own personal contribution to the XKCD Chat Platform problem.

I’d love to have more of my friends in it, but RocketChat has a strength that is also its fundamental weakness – the “general” room. Everyone is in it. I can change that behavior if I want, but that’s not the point. 

I’ve got 850 Facebook friends…and only five of them are in RocketChat. Now sure, the nature of the term “Facebook Friend” comes into play here; I’m sure my one FB Friend I met on AIM nearly 20 years ago may not be much of a candidate, nor would the sister of a relatively new friend I met in an online community but sent me a request anyway, but even if I put 90% of my Facebook friends into that category, I still would have trouble getting 85 of my Facebook friends in the same chatroom together.

It would eventually devolve into an argument. That argument would then have chilling effects on discussion thereafter – some people would leave. Others would ignore the general chat and stick to the PMs. Discussion after that would become surface level, as nobody wants to ignite another powder keg. Then, one inadvertently starts, and the cycle begins anew until there’s nobody left except whoever agrees with the last person to win the argument.

I feel like the advice in Matthew 18 is timeless and incredibly relevant, even if you’re more of an Atheist than Richard Dawkins…but I feel like there are concepts between the lines that are worth exploring. For those who aren’t familiar with the passage, it goes like this:

15 If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

The underlying assumption here is that there is, at some level, a mutual desire to rectify a relationship. Also assumed here is that there is a shared agreement on an authority. Both of those are less of a given in modern society. John Oliver said it well when he described a segment of discourse between an Infowars reporter and a very left-wing protester: “What we do have there is a nice distillation of the current level of political discourse in America: two people, who don’t really know what they’re talking about, being condescending to each other nonsensically until one of them lands a sick burn.” While in Oliver’s clip it’s unlikely that either party had a desire to achieve consensus, I submit that the notion of salvaging a relationship at the expense of winning a particular argument seems sufficiently lost on modern society. Getting one’s perspective shifted is a fundamental requirement in order to make any headway, but the willingness to do so seems to be in short supply.

Once there is agreement that the intent is to salvage a relationship, the private discussion between two people disagreeing is useful because it prevents the spread of rumors and helps to address small grievances on a small scale. To bring two or three witnesses into the disagreement is to provide an outside perspective; ideally one that would impact how both people would approach the disagreement, and hopefully the input would be received well enough to achieve a resolution without things escalating further.

Getting to the ‘take it to the church’ situation here, that part gets a bit interesting because of the concept of ‘church’ at that time – Jesus wasn’t describing a group of several hundred people with an elder board…though thinking about it a bit more, Jesus was talking to a crowd more familiar with the temple system, which very much did have a hierarchal structure and political power so I need to do a bit more research on that topic…but, I think it’s safe to say that there is a case to be made about taking the dispute to a mutually recognized source of authority, to whom both parties consider themselves subject to their ruling.

If, one party decides that the ruling isn’t valid for whatever reason, then “treat them like a tax collector” is notable in that, while they were considered so undesirable in their society that the gospels commonly reference “sinners and tax collectors”, indicating an “even worse than sinner” connotation…but, at the same time, the audience of this teaching still dealt with tax collectors. Perhaps it was begrudgingly, perhaps it was a “get in, collect your taxes, get a receipt, and get out” sort of a deal, but Jews still had to work with them, and every so often, there was a Zaccheus – a tax collector who turned from his ways. 

I think this sort of clear and direct escalation is incredibly relevant today. The fact that society has generally turned to “sick burns” as a way to decide how an argument is won, and winning more desirable than reconciliation, is the sort of fundamental shift Jesus spent time encouraging His followers to avoid. The results of this shift have clearly caused a level of enmity that divides people who could probably “agree to disagree” successfully under Jesus’ system, but are sworn enemies on Facebook.

This leaves me with a sparsely populated RocketChat server, and social gatherings which are fewer and further between than even five years ago. Whether you identify as a follower of Christ or not, I can guarantee there’s someone you disagree with on something. You probably agree with them on ten others. Try focusing on that, and try salvaging a relationship. It won’t be fun, but it will probably be worth it.

AI, Art, and Dictionaries

So, a philosopher from Harvard wrote an article about whether or not artificial intelligence is capable of producing art.

This left me with two major questions: First, how do we define artificial intelligence? Second, how do we define art? I believe the answer to the question hinges on these two things.

Strictly speaking, a computer is capable of creating aesthetically pleasing pieces of media, and have been doing so for decades. Whether an audio visualization counts as art due to them being a result of a computer following a strict set of programming guidelines is the nature of the question – how few inputs does it take before the definition crosses over from ‘program’ to ‘AI’?

The term ‘AI’ seems to be a common enough buzzword, but I don’t think that Data or HAL9000 were deemed AI’s because they could tell bees from 3s with good accuracy (spare a thought for ‘Robot’ from Lost in Space who never even got a name). The Google Duplex system is a bit closer, but even it is incredibly easy to trip up even while staying on topic. Watson is good at jeopardy, but its success in its core purpose – cancer treatment – is a bit less rosy. I submit that current generation of what is called ‘AI’ consists of many very good incremental improvements, and is to be lauded. However, I don’t think it is correct to assign the description of “artificial intelligence” to a computer that can win Jeopardy but not understand the humor behind saying “let’s finish, chicks dig me”.

On the flip side, let’s discuss ‘art’. Though this video has its flaws (most notably comparing the best of the past with the worst of the present), the takeaway here is that what does and doesn’t constitute ‘art’ is so subjective that even defining it is subjective. If I, as a DJ, play a good set for a live event, is it art? If I do the same thing and post the recording on Mixcloud, does it then become art? If I produce a song using the sounds and plugins of Ableton or FL Studio and nobody else hears it, is it art? Does it become art if I do this a dozen times and release an album? Is is more or less ‘art’ than Handel’s The Messiah? Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder, or is there really a need for some sort of a governing body who defines what ‘art’ is, especially for exhibitions? If the latter, then how do those people ultimately decide? As one example, to what end does context play a role – does a piece of graffiti become art because it was painted on the Berlin Wall rather than an abandoned subway tunnel or a chalkboard frozen in time?

The fact that it is so difficult to define what ‘art’ really is makes the question of AI producing art fundamentally unsolvable. If art is is defined by self-expression, then the definition of AI would need to include a ‘self’, and that AI would need to have something to express. If art can only come from emotion, then the entire wing dedicated to furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is on shaky ground since a nontrivial number of those pieces were simply ‘ornate contract work’ whose artistic merit is commonly tied to their owners or context. If art is defined solely as something aesthetically pleasing, then “$5 Million, 1 Terabyte” doesn’t fit that bill (unless the case counts as art), but assisted CGI does.

Once we can settle on how to consistently define ‘art’, then we can talk about whether AI can do it. If art can’t be defined, then the source and inspiration become irrelevant, ironically meaning that one can equally argue that AI is capable of creating art and that humans cannot.

My Favorite Christmas Songs

So, given that my last several posts have involved things that don’t really excite approximately 90% of my readers, I was thinking about Christmas music today…largely because I hate it. I mean really, Christmas stops being fun after the second year of working retail, and only starts being fun again when you have kids and get to watch them enjoy Christmas…or so I’m told. My lack-of-enthusiasm for the holiday has deeper reasons that are beyond the scope of a blog post, but for a little bit, I’ll at least attempt to hand out a few awards for my preferred Christmas songs…

 

Favorite Pre-1960, non-religious Christmas song
“Here Comes Santa Claus”

I chose this one because it’s a rare breed. I’m not the biggest fan of hearing it, but it’s notable to me because it’s a Santa-focused Christmas song that declares “We’re all God’s children” and encourages listeners to “give thanks to the Lord above”. As an added bonus, these statements presumably help prevent it from being the victim of infinite remakes.

Favorite Post-1960, non-religious Christmas song
“Christmas Wrapping”

This track is the only Christmas song I know to utilize the word “damn” in its lyrics, and its mention of the now-defunct A&P supermarket ages the song more than its sax riff. It’s also one of only two Christmas-centered story songs I can think of (the other being “The Little Drummer Boy”). While the song was clearly reflective of music trends in the early 1980s, the story itself is all but timeless. Admittedly it is a Christmas song in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but from a purely cultural standpoint it’s fun and evokes a mental picture in every one who listens to it.

Favorite Faith-Based Christmas Carol
O Come Let Us Adore Him

Though sung and re-sung by no shortage of artists, I consider Nat King Cole’s rendition to be the definitive one. Moreover, I like the fact that this song references the birth of Christ in a context where singing the song in the middle of August still makes perfect sense.

Favorite Modern Faith-Based Christmas Song
Breath of Heaven

This song, though not directly based off a Biblical account, seems like a reasonable look into how Mary and Joseph were feeling and thinking at the time of Jesus’ birth, with a direct expression of their reliance on God to get them through a very difficult situation for them.

 

If you’ve got any categories you’d like me to add, feel free to write it in the comments.