All posts by scifi451

“The Magicians” Review

7125342I have been looking back at some books I have read and which I have given shorter reviews to in the last few years and I have decided to update and do a little expanding on those reviews.

First off is The Magicians by Lev Grossman, which is set in modern day New York and based around a young teen named Quentin Coldwater who ends up finding out that magic is real and is accepted into a school that teaches modern day magic.  Quentin Coldwater faces the standard problems teens face but also faces some uniquely magical problems that he must confront in this new world of magic he is in.

The Magicians  by Lev Grossman I would say is not an amazing book but is still an enjoyable read overall. I found it a bit interesting how Lev Grossman can sometimes pass a few months of time simply in a few pages. I sometimes wished he had slowed down a little in how much time he covered to give us more of the story that the characters where going through in the book. The jumps in time certainly contrast to the Harry Potter series where each book covers one school year.  I don’t think I would need to see the book confined to one school year per book just slow down a little more than Grossman ended up doing in the book.

Overall I found it was an enjoyable book, in that it gave me a different view of magic then say Harry Potter did over course of that series. I have the sequel The Magician King and plan to read it some time soon just not sure when. I just have so many books to pick from that I want to read that it is hard to decide what to read next.

The Costs of Over Working

working-overtimeI came across a good article at The New Yorker about over working which is a issue that certainly has become more prevalent with the advent of technology that allows people to stay connected to work much more easily.  While the article mainly takes a look at it through the financial sector, I think the problems of over working is applicable to many professions.  I certainly know the feeling of working more than your standard 40 hours because most of my paid jobs in the last few years have been on political campaigns. The norm is to work between 60-80 and even close to 100 hours of the week.  That being the 7 day work week since there rarely is a day off in the world of political campaigns. Going into campaigns you know that is the case and expect those types of hours, but that knowledge does not keep you from some times having those days where you are just dragging a bit.  One quote I wanted to pull out of the article that talks about the problems of overworking:

The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. As Solomon put it, past a certain point overworked people become “less efficient and less effective.” And the effects are cumulative. The bankers Michel studied started to break down in their fourth year on the job. They suffered from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgment declined.

via James Surowiecki: The Costs of Working Too Much : The New Yorker.

I can very much understand how that could happen to people who have worked such long hours for a sustained period of time over multiple years. Being able to find the right work-life balance is important I think for every one so that you can keep your mental and physical health at a good level.  What that balance is for each person I am sure is a bit different but important to find.  This second quote from the article I also found interesting:

When new regulations limited medical residents’ working hours to eighty a week, many doctors complained of declining standards and mollycoddling, and said that it would have a disastrous effect on training, even though residents in Europe work many fewer hours, without harming the quality of medical care. “I went through it, so you should” is a difficult impulse to resist. 

The comparison between European and American work hours is not totally new to me, but still interesting when I come across good examples that illustrate it. I also certainly understand the impulse of if “I went through it you should too.” I think it is a bit natural to have people go through what you had to go through, the feeling of that type of working conditions is a rite of passage or similar feelings.

The issue of overworking certainly is a subject that needs to be discussed and I thought I would share my experience of over working related to the jobs I have had. The whole article is well worth a read and is not real long, so check it out. 

Image courtesy of I Drew Something Blog

Great ‘The Americans’ Season 2 promo

originalThis is a great promo for the second season of the FX show The Americans. If you are not familiar with the show it is about two Soviet spies posing as a married American couple in the 1980’s. The first season of the The Americans provided enough good episodes to make me want to keep watching the show. It will be interesting to see how they do with season 2 of the The Americans.

The music they picked for the promo is very fitting, with it being Sting’s 1980’s song “Russians”. What I also like about the promo is that it is different because they have the two main actors from the show, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, contorting into positions that eventually form the symbol of the Soviet Union hammer and sickle. Overall, with the music and the actors, it is just a different style of promo for a new TV season that certainly made me more interested for season 2.

Here are the lyrics they use from his song “Russians”:

In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria

Mr. Reagan says we will protect you I don’t subscribe to this point of view

Believe me when I say to you I hope the Russians love their children too

If you are curious to hear the whole Sting song “Russians” here is a link to a YouTube video of the song.

Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ Books Hayley Atwell & Writers

PeggyCarter2I am quite glad to see that ABC & Marvel continue working on the possibility of an Agent Carter TV show. Beyond the movement on the series I am very glad that they have Hayley Atwell coming back for it. I quite enjoyed her in the first Captain America movie and the Marvel one-shot of Agent Carter that came out on the Iron Man 3 DVD/Blu-Ray. The potential TV series just would not be the same without her, since she played the part so well.

ABC’s “Captain America” spinoff “Agent Carter” is gaining momentum, landing commitments from Hayley Atwell, who played the World War II government agent in the movie, and showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas.

via ABC’s ‘Agent Carter’ Books Hayley Atwell, and ‘Resurrection’ Duo as Showrunners – TheWrap.

Below is a short clip for  Marvel one-shot of Agent Carter

Game Of Thrones Season 4 Trailer

It is always great to see the first trailers for the new Game Of Throne TV season. In this case season 4 of the show.  I will be glad/excited to have this show back.  It will be interesting to see how they handle the end of book 3 A Storm of Swords that they did not get to in season 3 and what parts of book 4 Feast For Crows they get to this season. What the trailer shows for season 4 looks promising. As I said above, excited for it to be back.

AMC’s ‘Turn’ Spy Drama TV trailer.

AMC’s new TV show Turn based during the American Revolutionary period interests me mainly because I have always enjoyed that period of history.  The American Revolution era period of roughly 1760-1800 has been an era of history that I love to study and learn more about.  The TV show is about the Culper Spy ring that came about during the war and was very helpful to George Washington as he fought the British.

The TV show premieres Sunday, April 6th.

Kevin Spacey On The Future Of TV

Kevin Spacey delivers the 2013 MacTaggart lecture in EdinburghKevin Spacey gave a speech at Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival recently and he made some great points on the future of not just TV but filmed entertainment in general be it TV, Film or web/computer based of some form.

“Clearly the success of the Netflix model, releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once, proved one thing: The audience wants the control. They want the freedom. If they want to binge as they’ve been doing on House of Cards and lots of other shows, we should let them binge. I can’t tell you how many people have stopped me on the street and said, ‘Thank you, you sucked three days out of my life.”

This shift of the audience having now at least some control over their viewerships of TV has certainly been growing since the advent of the VCR.  It has really taken off in the last decade with the invention of the DVR/Tivo and the prevalence of websites and digital stores like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon Instant. Count me among the people that is grateful to have this control over our media and when we watch it. Another quote from Spacey that follows along from the quote above.

“And through this new form of distribution, we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it. Well, some will still steal it, but I think we can take a bite out of piracy.”

While I would say TV has certainly made some good strides in this area, they still have areas to improve on making content reasonable priced and easy to access all the time and if they can make it better it I think it could be even more successful. If you remove more of the restrictions on media on where people can play it or when they can see by enforcing viewing videos say of not posting a new episode on Hulu until 8 days have passed, those are the type of things I think can improve viewership and likely at least to a degree decrease piracy.

Here is a trimmed down video of Spacey’s speech that has some of the highlights.  Below the cut is the full longer speech.

 

Continue reading Kevin Spacey On The Future Of TV

Pacific Rim, Summer Movie champion?

pacific-rim-poster-image

Part of the success of the movie I also think comes from director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro. I have seen and enjoyed his movies before and had confidence that he could pull this movie off.  Del Toro managed to create a movie that it made it believable we could have a world where giant monsters could be fighting giant robots.  He created characters that were believable enough. But while they could use possibly a little more character development he gives you enough for the action movie that it is. With that said, he gave us characters that are different and diverse enough from each other to help the movie. The other part I wish we had more of in the movie is possibly a little bit more mythology or backstory of the monsters, but not having that did not heavily take away enjoyment of the movie.

Overall for me, Pacific Rim, was different enough and great fun seeing giant monsters fighting against giant robots. The monsters and the robots were the real stars of the movie since there was not any real A-list stars in it and that worked just fine, since it allowed the movie to showcase them even more. Finally as some who often enjoys the film scores I quite enjoyed the score by Ramin Djawadi.

New SimCity game a disappointment?

SimCity_(2013)_limited_editionWhen I was growing up SimCity 2000 was one of my favorite games that I played and I had a great amount of fun with it.  When I started to hear good things about the new SimCity game before it launched and watching some of the preview videos I got a bit excited about the game and it brought back memories from the earlier version of the game.  Once the game was released that image started to change.  First off EA had a massive problem with the servers for the game and people had a very hard time connecting to them to just play the game, since you had to be connected online all the time to even play at all.  Other problems related to how the game works and the AI they use in the game presents another problem that made me sad to read about. Problems such as the path finding that they use for sims when they are driving or walking to a certain place. I did read a piece that they are working on a fix for some of the car traffic problems, but seems like a bad bug to release with.

The last point I will add is that I was disspointed to read about the point below about the options you are allowed for traffic management.

Past SimCity games have included highways and subways, and I expected the new game to build on this solid transport infrastructure foundation. But it didn’t. It didn’t even keep pace with its predecessors, and I just can’t defend that by saying, “Oh it’s a reboot.” Yeah, OK, it’s a reboot. That doesn’t mean it can simply discard core elements of city-building gameplay.

via SimCity review: One week later, time doesn’t heal all wounds | Ars Technica.

Creating subways and highways was great fun to figure out how you wanted to lay it out and where to put them.  Subways especially were always very fun to lay out and create stops since you got to go underground in SimCity 2000 and have a bit more freedom in laying them out compared to roads that where more straight lines.

EA & Maxis said that the Mac version of the game will be out later this spring, so I will have to see what types of reviews the Mac version gets and what patches they have made to the game by then to really decide on whether it is worth getting.  A game that I was at first quite excited about getting I am now much more cautious on whether it is worth the money.

Data Dive: The Lost Art of the Baseball Complete Game

Cy Young, Career Complete Game Leader.

First off a little definition. The complete game is where the starting pitcher pitches the entire game and faces every batter without help from a relief pitcher. A pitcher can pitch the whole game and still lose.

I have started to research some parts of baseball history and found a few interesting things concerning complete games in baseball and how they have steadily decreased over the years. What got me interested initially to think about this subject is all the great pitching performances we have had in the playoffs leading up to this year’s world series.

This post is more about looking at the numbers and how they have changed over time. Likely in a future post, I will delve into why there has been a decline in complete games.

As I started to look for the historical data on complete games for each season I noticed that for the most part, complete games were going down over time. In general, it was a fairly gradual decline to the number of complete games in a season with a few areas that are a more dramatic decline, and some areas where they briefly spiked back up. To dig into this more, first here are two charts to help show what I am talking about.

The charts are interactive and you can zoom in on a specific time if you want by dragging over the specific years wanted.

What you can see from both graphs but more easily from Graph two is the steady decline in the number of complete games. From 1904 to 1913 there is a decline of 33%, the most dramatic period of decline in the entire graph.  After that dramatic drop from those nine years, things start to level off and even come back a little bit for a few years. Starting in 1921 we reach a period where for the next 25 years to 1946 where things move at a much more gradual downward slope losing 10%, going from 52% in 1921 to 42% in 1946.

Another chart behind the link.

Continue reading Data Dive: The Lost Art of the Baseball Complete Game