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?

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

The Second Was the First

It has taken me a day or two to regain my footing and put together a few thoughts on the convention that was Regeneration Who 2. Now that the glitter has settled (and has failed to go away) I will attempt to put into writing the things that have been running around in my head looking for a way out.

I titled this piece the way I did because while the was the second Regeneration Who con it was the first to have a dedicated children’s program. It was also the first time I’d been in charge of a chunk of con program. Yes, I’ve been part of the Intervention team for years but this was different. It was my direction – and I’m the kind of person that criticizes myself easily twice as much as anyone around me, probably more than that really. I had a grand vision in my head.

No plan survives contact with the enemy… Wait. Perhaps that isn’t the right way to phrase that. My full vision failed to account for certain realities. My free time for planning crashed directly into aspects of my day job. Another volunteer organization I work with put unexpected demands on my time. I didn’t have enough knowledge of materials and cosplay materials specifically to pull off one of the things I thought would be a centerpiece of our program. I failed at a couple of points that I wanted to be epic wins and that’s exactly the sort of thing that frustrates me. The plan generally survived, but I’ve been going over it and over it in my head since then figuring a way to make it better.

I take the time to read Oni’s “real talks” and I suppose this falls into the same category despite my inability to master her specific… eloquence. I know there has been a lot of praise for what we did, and I am truly thankful for that. It makes the struggle worth it. I know there weren’t as many problems to the eyes of convention attendees as there were to my eyes, but I saw the things I could do better. I saw the opportunities to really let my small portion of the team excel and really push it all over the top. Eta and Channon deserve a huge chunk of the credit for all that we did. I wouldn’t have survived the weekend without them. My unofficial helper (my lovely wife) was indispensable as well. They were the glue that held my macaroni to the page. I will always strive to hit that grand vision and really nail it – always. I know my team will be there with me.

In the end it was not the grand vision, nor was it a centerpiece activity. It was a small, simple gesture that made it all come together. Share a hug with a teddy bear and make the whole world better.

Monty

It’s vital to have these moments and keep all of our kids interested in the joy that is sharing our passions. I can only hope to equal that in the years to come. I will be there – and maybe I’ll bring my teddy bear too.

Check out some of the other things we had going on and make plans to be there next year:

Children’s Program!

Put your finger on the problem

I’ve written about conviction and commitment before. It’s one of those things I’m learning about myself (slowly). It comes up a lot with wanting to do something, anything really, related to creative work. Art, writing, convention running – all those things take commitment. Consistency. Back when I wrote about my new secret writing project I was full of hope and really felt like this was the one that would succeed.

It didn’t. Well, at least not yet.

The thing I’m struggling to teach my daughter about is what it takes – that commitment to getting what you want. I’ve fallen back to what I know – sports. I actually wish I’d had somebody sit me down and break it out into simple terms then stick with it as much as I needed to get it through my head. I hope I’m teaching that. Being dedicated to what you’re trying to achieve is important.

I’ve heard a lot of folks talk about sports in a negative manner in the past. Many times deservedly so. Sports, and particularly American football, have become so ingrained in our culture that it’s very difficult to avoid. I am not part of the ‘cult’ of sports, but there are many, many good things that come from sports as well. They can certainly show you the good and the bad of commitment. Football players are frequently mocked – but any that reach the professional level have such commitment as to amaze a person. This is where both the good and the bad show up. Totally dedicated to success (awesome) to the point where it physically destroys you (whatever the opposite of awesome is). I’m putting this here as partially as a reminder about dedication and partially as a teaching tool.

How far will you go to succeed? What will it take to stop you? It’s a fine line between commitment and needing to be committed.

This is not for the squeamish but consider what level of commitment it took to go there…

Finger

The Last Witch Hunter + other movie news

I had the chance to go and see The Last Witch Hunter on opening day, so I took it. Headed to the theater early, got a great seat and started munching pop corn. IF you want to munch pop corn and have some cool visual stuff up on screen, this movie is good for that. Very visual – and I’m a visual person so it really worked for me. This movie is not deep, nor does it pretend to be anything other than what you’d expect. Vin Diesel really seems to be enjoying this role and all of the other things attached to the movie by extension. I liked it and I will likely grab the DVD when it comes out just to be able to go back over the scenes at the witch’s bar. Very, very cool stuff in there. I won’t spoil anything here – but there is a small twist. It didn’t have much set up and wasn’t particularly meaningful because it lacked set up, but it still gave a gratifying result. I’m forced to agree with Charlie Jane Anders – this will be a guilty pleasure film. Check out her review here.

One thing this movie did negatively impact for me was how I felt about a heavily produced role playing session that Vin filmed (along with others) – vaguely related to the film. Shocker, he plays a witch hunter character. I initially passed it along to friends, but the longer I go the less I like it. The “production value” is what really puts me off to it. It’s way too produced to make me think it’s anything other than a half hour movie commercial and I hate that because I know Vin is a role player and has noted many times in many places that he has a soft spot for Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a commercial. There, I said it. Why did they cut the scenes where there was out of character conversation? That’s where the real joy of playing can be found.

Now – IF Vin were to take his love for role playing and the seriousness and visual style of Last Witch Hunter and combine that into a Dungeons and Dragons movie I’d go see it. There are rumblings of another D&D movie out there, but those rumors do nothing but worry me. I want it to be done as seriously as Witch Hunter and not put comedians in key roles.

Continuing with the “other movie” stuff, I saw a report that said Johnny Depp is in talks to produce and star in a movie version of “Fortunately The Milk”. All I can say to that is PLEASE DON’T. Don’t get me wrong – I like Mr. Gaiman’s work. I love that story and have read it to my daughter a bunch of times. She loves it and reads it on her own these days. The problem I have here is that it’s a very short story. IF they had said they were making a half hour animated special then I would be thrilled. It’s just the right length for something like that. Put it on every year in September or something (the same way we get the Great Pumpkin around this time of year) and it would undoubtedly live forever. It’s just not enough for a feature length film. Doing that ventures into “Grinch” land and that mess with Jim Carrey still makes me mad.

Get some pop corn. Go see Last Witch Hunter!

last-witch-hunter-trailer-poster-vin-diesel

Storytelling

I really like this little film. It’s only about 6 minutes long but somehow I’m drawn in and interested. There are no words and it’s all in black and white. It’s not as deep or I’m not as connected as I was with Wall-e, but it’s the same idea. Story telling that is at the core something that will draw you in. What do you think?

The Last Goodbye

I will also check out more of the music from Pilotpriest.