Overthinking It

Another post from my secret time as part of the ratings system. Much shorter this time:

July 19, 2015

There’s a testing thing… I’m trying to remember what it was. Something about the simple fact that you’re observing changes the outcome of the experiment. I’ll track that down here sometime.

That is precisely what has been crossing my mind every time I look at the TV now. I think about what I’m watching more than I ever did before. Will they note the fact that I turn the volume to “mute” every time a commercial comes on? Will they realize that 5 minute commercial break is the reason I turned that show off?

I actually turned the TV on, then off again, then on again debating this sort of stuff in my head. I’m clearly thinking things over far more than they want me to. The idea is they want me to just do what I did before without thinking about it. How can I do that? They’ve inserted a step that makes me think about what I’m doing.

We’ll see if that changes as I go forward.

Let the Ratings Begin!

Last week I posted about the little secret I’ve been keeping for the past 2 years – being a ratings family for Nielsen. This is from installation day…

July 17, 2015

Installation day!

Mike (expected) and Courtney (new?) were very prompt. The appointment was set up for 10 am and that’s when they got here. No insignia on the car, no official uniform, just computers, equipment and lots of zip ties.

Both of the installation folks were very personable and couldn’t have been nicer. They worked diligently at getting everything connected and running properly. Sounds easy, but they’re monitoring everything connected to the TV. They were crazy detailed about it all. There’s an entire basket full of equipment tucked neatly behind my TV stand that’s connected to all the ins and outs of my smart TV. I’m still not convinced my TV is all that smart, but that’s what they call it. The level of detail they went to lends (at least to me) the genuine sense that this is a thorough and well thought out scientific basis for all their numbers. They sat with my remote and clicked one by one through every single channel I have listed to be certain the signal was connected. EVERY CHANNEL. All the way to channel 1648 or wherever we topped out at, testing the signals all the way.

There were smart and engaged representatives that weren’t allowed to tell me anything about their viewing habits at all. Seriously – nothing. I was trying to describe something to them druring the course of the conversation and said, “have you seen the new Avenger’s movie?” because I figured it would be an accessible place to start from. Mike’s response was, “Sorry, can’t talk to you about that. I can’t tell you if I’ve seen it or not.”

I was shocked. He went on to explain that they aren’t allowed to tell me anything at all about what teams they like or what they’ve watched for fear of influencing what I would watch. It’s a bit silly, I’ve already seen the movie and it’s not in the theater anymore. What difference could it possibly make at this point? But Ant Man is just coming out…

I was really into hearing about what they could talk about. Neilsen is a big company and they’re everywhere. They also monitor more than just TV channels. I believe they’ve scooped up arbitron for radio. They’ve got folks that monitor how you use your credit card. They’ve got folks that monitor what groceries you buy. They’ve even got a group (and I don’t know where or how big this group is) that monitors and verifies what you throw away vs. what you recycle.

I had a little trouble with that last bit. I wasn’t even certain I would be a good demographic – I don’t particularly care for or about TV and don’t watch the regular networks. Mike said, “all information is important to someone…” and proceeded to tell me he’d seen people that didn’t turn their TV on for a month at a time, but somebody wanted to know, when they *do* turn it on, why? What do they want to see?

The process of getting all the information hooked up and connected and tested and running right took significantly longer than I suspected it would. We were all in the living room for about 3 ½ hours. Right through lunch and on until they were certain I had a handle on it all – not that it’s hard. I’ve now got an extra remote that I have to hit my number and “OK” when I turn the TV on. As long as I don’t forget, I’m good.

So – what to watch first?

Shhhh! It’s a secret!

I’ve had a secret, but I can tell you now. I think they want me to wait a little longer, but I also think it very unlikely that anyone will actually check up on me. For the past 2 years our house has been a Nielsen ratings family. We’ve had a bunch of stuff hooked up to our TV and our computer to report in on what we’ve watched and how we’ve connected to sponsors. It’s been a long, secret journey but it’s over now. Since it was such a secret I wrote stuff down as we went. Now that we’re done I’m going back and giving up the details!

July 2, 2015

I’d heard of TV ratings for years. Everyone touts that they have the “number one show” or the “number one comedy” for shows that aren’t actually the most watched but come in higher in the ratings than other shows like it. I know about demographics and I understand that I’m really not anybody’s target demo anymore. I just never really knew exactly how it was all figured out.

It was a really big surprise when somebody that works for Nielsen (the TV ratings folks) actually knocked on my door and asked, “Do you want to be a Nielsen family?”. Uh, sure? I guess?

In my head I immediately thought, “OH! I can help out all those shows that don’t get the love they deserve.”

Then I started to think about it a little more. How much do I really watch TV? Truth be told I’ve written a number of times about the paucity of programming despite more channels than ever and the shallow level of thought involved in attempting to grasp for my dollars. I’d actually shut off our cable for about 3 years – and after an initial detox period I didn’t really miss it. Even now that I do have TV again I don’t watch any network shows. Everything I want to see is online, on demand or part of a smaller channel. TV is a time sink and I use it to help clear my head so I can get some sleep most nights. I can’t think of the last regular TV show I watched all the way through, start to finish. I wasn’t lying when I told the rep that I probably wasn’t the demographic he was looking for.

Undaunted, Dave (the rep) told me that was fine. They’re interested in measuring what we actually watch and if our eyeballs looking at a show lead us directly to a website. They’ve started this new tracking bit – they put a small tracking program on your computer that counts if a website that was mentioned in a program is accessed on your computer. We’re going to represent about 25,000 average households for their estimation purposes. Our “vote” counts quite a lot.

There were lots of survey questions to determine where we “fit” compared to other people that are on the program. There wasn’t any actual paperwork for me to sign – so that was a little surprising. Dave the rep did all the work. The cool bonus to him doing all the work? Nielsen likes to thank folks for being part of their ranking system so they give you gifts – like $50 the day they install the tracker thing on your TV. Then a couple weeks later they send you another $50. So we’ll start with $100 and hit a little button when we turn the TV on to start tracking. That’s not a bad deal in my mind.

So, all this cool stuff – all the neat things to talk about and all the thoughts rolling around in my head my next thought was, “This will be so cool. I can’t wait to get together with everyone at Watch The Skies and let them know what’s going on”.

Not so much. Dave the rep told me this is actually a secret. I’m not actually supposed to tell anyone because they’re afraid that other folks will attempt to sway what I watch and when I watch it. He told me to watch the mail carefully because they don’t even mark their envelopes – the mailman isn’t even supposed to know.

Well, crap. Now what? I’ve got all this cool stuff and I can’t tell anyone about it. For a writer and sometime blogger that hurt. It’s interesting, it’s important to some degree and it’s uncommon enough that people will be interested in knowing what’s going on… and I suppose that’s exactly their point. I know (directly or indirectly) independant film makers, script-writers, authors that are looking to sell the rights to their work, entertainment bloggers, book bloggers and any or all of them might be interested in swaying 25K votes on what shows go or what shows get better ratings.

This is just the initiation. It will be about 2 weeks until the installation representative comes to the house and connects up the little box to start counting what we watch.

So it’s a secret. I can’t tell you until it’s all done and over with (and that can be as much as two years if we keep up with it). What to do about it?

Keep a secret journal of course! I’ll keep making notes and tracking how the whole thing goes. Hopefully this will be as interesting when this is all done as it sounds like it could be now.

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

Saturday Night

You would think, given free time and a lack of other responsibilities that I’d dive in and get a lot of things done. You would be wrong.

Saturday my wife and daughter were out camping with the scout troop. I had no other things planned. I had every intention of getting a lot done…

Yeah, about that. You see, what happened was the movie theater. I like to go and see movies on the big screen from time to time. I make every effort to go at odd times so that I avoid crowds and (potentially) obnoxious people. So at 3 in the afternoon I went to see The Accountant.

the-accountant

I went into the movie with no real expectations. I didn’t really know what it was about, and completely enjoyed the film. I don’t want to spoil any part of it because it’s new, but I will tell you that it was intense and violent. I saw what I’m sure would be considered a plot twist coming from the very start of the film, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment. I have an unanswered question remaining at the end – and it’s not a bad thing. I don’t expect there to be another one, so I’ll have to wait for somebody else to see it so we can talk about what that nagging little thing is.

After that I headed to the house for something to eat. I thought, “Hey, I should watch something while I eat. No need to worry about what it is since the kiddo’s not sitting here with me. Maybe I’ll try out Luke Cage…”

luke-cage-cropped

I hadn’t watched or read any of the build up to this show. I didn’t watch any of the trailers. I realize it probably makes me a heretic to any number of folks out there – particularly the comic book crowd – but I only watched about 4 or 5 episodes of Daredevil and dropped Jessica Jones after the first one. Just not into them. So I figured I’d check out the first episode of Cage, be done and move on with things.

Once again, about that… Luke Cage is a really good series so far. It’s Sunday morning and I’m more than half way through the entire series. I admit I am hooked. I am working on what the difference is between this and Daredevil. I can’t yet quantify what it is. Luke Cage is really good. Not that Daredevil isn’t, and that’s what’s confusing me. Acting, production value, special effects are all on a similar level. Much like The Accountant, Cage is violent. So is Daredevil. There are shootings, broken bones and wrecked buildings. It also has interesting characters who seem to grow as you learn about them. I am still wondering why one works for me and the other doesn’t. IF you’ve got access to Netflix you should get on there and check it out. Just try the first one.

So my Saturday was, in a word, violent. Punching, shooting, breaking and all manner of mayhem. How was yours?

The Dwarvenaut

Things lately have been super busy and more than a little crazy. One of the things I’ve found that brings me back to myself again and again is gaming. I have loved playing Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. I’ve also loved to see what people do with their miniatures. I’ve personally got a bunch of the old Grenadier miniatures box sets along with a big stack of others. Carrying lead is always fun when you move… it’s even heavier than the books!

I’ve painted my minis, used them for games, created maps and maps and adventures… but I’ve always had these massive, grand visions of what the game could be with a little extra visualization. How wide is the corridor really when you compare it to the mini?

Dwarven Forge has been that answer for somewhere around 20 years now. I just watched a film about Stefan Pokorny, the founder of that company, called The Dwarvenaut. I’m glad I watched the film. IF you’re a fan of miniatures and the passion that goes along with this wonderful game you should hop onto Netflix and check it out. It’s a good look behind the scenes of the company and their third Kickstarter campaign. I’m glad I got to see the passion behind this company. It certainly gives me a lot more perspective on what they offer and what’s behind the cost of the sets. I plan to dig into these and see if I can add them to my game.

Check out the trailer here:

Suicide Squad

As sometimes happens, I had today off. In an excellent coincidence this was also opening weekend for Suicide Squad. Once I was done in the real world (taking the kiddo to the dentist) I scooted on over to the theater. The hype caught me with this one – I was at the 10 am show – and there were far more folks there on a weekday morning at 10 than I thought there would be. I was excited. This was going to be good. (Minor spoilers ahead)

About twenty minutes of trailers dulled my excitement. Some I’d seen, some I hadn’t and a few I totally didn’t care about. There was a weird mix of films on that list too. There was one that was about a 17 year old girl that doesn’t fit in, then Doctor Strange (obvious choice for comic fans), then a Chinese film staring Matt Damon of all people. It was weird. When the logo came up at the start of the film I was afraid it was another trailer.

The folks in Hollywood make amazing two minute films. The problem is, and likely has been for some time, that the movie couldn’t match the hype. People love the characters. People love the music that was used in the trailer. OH, the trailer. Splashy, neon amazing looking trailer. As usual, the folks cutting that two minute movie were spot on. How cool. Look at it in all its glory. Awesome. It’s the longer version that needed the work.

IF you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen a fair chunk of the good stuff already. I hate to say it, but the rest of the film was mildly interesting, but if you’ve seen all the trailers you’ve seen the good stuff. You’ve even seen some stuff that didn’t make the cut for the final film I think. It’s difficult to remember. The whole thing was a bit disjointed.

The flow of the story wasn’t there. This was a link movie or a set up movie or something that wasn’t as good on its own as it would have been with other films surrounding it. Like Avengers going first, then having Thor and Captain America and Iron man get individual films later (or not at all). The first half hour of the movie at least was all back story and set up. Literally flash backs as you go over character profiles from a top secret folder. Each bit was good, but they were just lined up and trotted out one at a time. Then all those people are dumped into a war picture that turns into a comic book hero film… sort of. There’s a primary mission but a second primary mission that allows the first one to happen – or something. I’m not sure. There was cool music that matched each scene but seemed like a patchwork when hung together.

I think that’s it. This movie is a quilt. There are little square patches that are really cool. Somebody took all those square patches and sewed them together to make a big quilt. Once they did that they took Batman and trimmed the whole thing around the edges.

She owned every scene she was in-

She owned every scene she was in-

I’m not saying this movie was bad because it wasn’t. I actually really loved Harley (Margot Robbie) in this film. Every scene she was in was totally hers. I thought Diablo had real potential too, but there wasn’t much screen time for him. The rest of them were there and were good. Will Smith is himself at this point. He’s a good actor but all I ever see is him in whatever role he’s in. He gets the most screen time. He’s good. I disliked the people I was supposed to dislike. I liked and rooted for the people I was supposed to root for. It worked out in the end – I guess?

Yes, stay for one more scene in the end credits but you only get one. Yes, this is DC attempting to match what Mavel has done with building a series of connected films. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, but it was still fun. IF you don’t want to jumble in with the crowds this weekend, the next week or two should be just fine.

Killjoys

Somehow it is July already. I’m not certain exactly how that happened. I think June went into some kind of witness protection program or something. That’s not a big deal except for one thing – a TV show I really enjoy is starting a new season tonight.

I really don’t like a lot of things about SYFY’s recent past – or the not so recent past. The science fiction channel spent a lot of time antagonizing the people it purportedly catered to. I actually tend to refer to them as the syphilis network.

However, the network does genuinely seem to be making an effort to create and show good (or at least fun) science fiction again. I rather enjoy their show “Killjoys” and the new season starts tonight. IF you haven’t checked it out before and you’re into space faring bounty hunters, you might enjoy it!

http://www.syfy.com/killjoys/videos/killjoys-season-2-trailer

Star Wars TFA

There’s an awful lot out there talking about Star Wars. I’m adding to it and you can’t stop me! There will be HUGE spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll give you a warning before I start on that bit.

I am one of the many that watched the original films in the theater. I was 7 when the first film came out and I was totally into the space ships and laser sword fights. I’m still into them.

There’s nothing I can say about the “fixes” made to the original series or about the other three films that hasn’t been said many other places, many other times so I’m skipping past that.

My first reaction as I walked out of the theater was “That was magnificent”. It’s true. I was in there for more than two hours and I was superbly entertained. Maybe it was that I had relatively low expectations and they were surpassed across the board. Maybe it was nostalgia and this movie hit at just the right time for me to really enjoy it. Maybe I missed a bunch of things that when I think about them later will make me less happy with the movie.

It’s probably something of all those things combined. In the end I was happy with my experience seeing this on the big screen. Happy enough that I’m likely to go back and see it again before it leaves theaters. Yes (secretly of course) I am hoping this film knocks Titanic off the top of the all time movie money list – that’s a fluke. I’m certain a number of people were duped by the fact that it was a James Cameron film…

Anyway – Happy. Happy with Star Wars in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. Author John Scalzi has a very well phrased (non-spoilery) review posted over at Whatever where he says a lot of what I’m thinking.

MAJOR SPOILERS LIVE BELOW THIS POINT

ShootFirst

I’m not going to get too deep into why bringing Jar Jar back as the Dark Side’s Yoda equivalent was a terrible idea…

Seriously, that’s just for those folks that don’t really want to be spoiled but can’t help but look.

There’s one thing that I’m mulling over that just doesn’t feel completely right. I know it’s going to be endlessly debated by fans for a long time to come, but it doesn’t seem right that Han Solo ends the way he does. The thing that bothers me most is that it’s a classic film maneuver – the obscure character death. There’s no Darth funeral pyre, there’s no Jedi robe stomping, just a fall into foggy darkness. I suspect the actor wanted out, so the writers gave it to him but it was ignominious. It’s not at all what you expect despite being the one part of the story that was clearly telegraphed to the audience. It’s kind of like General Patton surviving all the crazy war stuff he did in his life and then dying in a freaking fender bender car accident. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s that one bit that is just stuck in my head and I can’t put the right words to it. I’m looking forward to discussing this with other folks that have seen the movie already – am I the only one?

I’m clearly not the only one who loves the original movies (and all the nostalgia that goes with them). I have hope for this franchise again. That’s the biggest thing the new movie could have given us and it certainly did give me that.

Too Subtle

A few folks have seen one of my newest t-shirts and in a very unscientific way I’d have to say about 75% of them don’t get it. I think it’s too subtle. Now, the people that DO get it think it’s hilarious. For everyone else, here’s the break down:

This is the character the t-shirt refers to: Porkins

And this is my shirt:

PorkinsShirt

I got it from the folks at Off World Designs – you should check them out.

But really – is it too subtle?