Thursday, December 30, 2010

Patton Oswalt on how the Internet is producing weak otaku

On December 27th, Wired posted an article by Patton Oswalt entitled: Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die. I thought it was quite insightful, more than a little provocative, and definitely entertaining. He wrote:

When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.

I know it sounds great, but there’s a danger:

Read the full article here

Oswalt discussed a lot of topics that I care about, so I decided to share his article on Twitter, Facebook, and now here.

On Facebook, I wrote:

Patton Oswalt's essay on how the internet is making otaku culture weak. It mirrors what me and others (such as Toshio Okada) have been saying - the formation of otaku requires scarcity more than abundance. In my talks and papers, I talk about the otaku's information fetish, where true information = things that are unknown and unavailable. The problem described by Oswalt is what I talk about when I discuss "Otaku issues and challenges". I refer to it as "The Otaku's Dilemma".

This resulted in a nice little comment thread (shared below, with permission):

Mollie Dezern wrote:

I feel like there is a major flaw in this reasoning, and that is that with obsessive interest comes abundance. When I engage in searching for more of that thing, I am diligently hoping to increase exposure. I think what he is expressing is a sense of bitterness that people don't have to work to access the Old thing, and his infatuation with it makes him incapable of seeing that there is a new type of underground that is both away from but facilitated by the internet (for example: doujin collecting). I also don't think he wants to acknowledge that need-love, that is comprised of re-consuming and reconsidering the material, happens even in a supersaturated media environment. Just because there is always something new/now doesn't mean that everyone has transitioned to the new/now. Nerds are archivists, and we function despite the turmoil outside our archive.

In reponse, I said:

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mollie!

I know there's a lot to disagree with in Oswalt's essay, but I'm not sure it's because his reasoning is flawed. It's not so much that obsessive interest results in abundance, it's just that abundance is simply what we have (now, compared to before; this is a real qualitative difference due to things like the low cost of data storage and transmission).

In terms of what he's longing for, it's a particular feeling. Yes, when we look for something, we hope to find a lot of whatever that thing is, but there's a different feeling associated with looking for and finding that which is uncommon versus that which can be attained with just two or three mouse clicks.

Perhaps he is a little bitter that 'people these days have it too easy', but I don't think it's just jealousy. There's also an understanding that scarcity (even if it's "artifical") has real value in terms of people's happiness and desire for creativity.

I agree with you that there are always going to be niches that are mostly unexplored or have not been co-opted by the internet. That's always been my approach to this problem--always look to the edges of mainstream experience (without falling off the cliff). However, the game has indeed changed. Even doujin collecting (and comic book collecting in general) means something different in this day and age of easily accessible scans (and legitimate digital distribution).

You're totally correct that re-consuming and re-consideration still happens, and I'm sure he knows it still happens, but I think there's truth to the idea that there's less of a need to do so (for many, but not all people). As someone who once watched Tron 8 times in 2 days, I find it hard to imagine doing something like that now (considering how much I own or have access to, including old school stuff, that I haven't had time to read/watch). It's not a purely either/or situation where people consume strictly for depth or strictly for breadth. The Otaku's Dilemma is about otaku optimizing their behavior to maximize their information intake.

Mark Yoshimi wrote:

I think that Oswalt's article reflects the thoughts of a "bitter" geek. Essentially, many of us who could be considered "OG-Geeks", are simply getting older and we've found that many of the things we used to find solace in has now become commercial and mainstream. Our niche in society is no longer a clique. Everywhere you go now you see is Apple logos. Atari, Mario and NES are stamped on t-shirts galore. Now comic book heroes are all over Hollywood (note that they are played by good-looking, non-nerdy actors!). It's now chic to be geek! "Who you gonna call? Geek Squad!" I know when I was little it all started with Star Wars and an Atari 2600. It was only natural for an imagination like mine to move onto the early home computers ala Atari 8-bit. At that time, I was one of the only kids at my elementary school typing my essays. Teachers and other kids thought I was "strange" because I was able to do this and had such interests as hacking and downloading files from BBS's. I was in band and hung out with computer nerds in high school! Who would ever have thought that one of my childhood 8-bit heroes, Steve Jobs, could become one of the prolific icons of the 21st century. One that I now despise as being the root of all corporate evil?

I responded:

Hey Mark,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I still think it's possible to be an "OG-geek", as you call it, without feeling bitter or indulging in nostalgia for its own sake. I've decided a long time ago (with Carol's help) not to look down on mainstream/commercial things. I've met people who think I'm unable or unwilling to enjoy popular entertainment--and they're sometimes disappointed when they see how common my tastes actually are ;)

Of course, I still love niche subjects, and when they're co-opted (as so many good things are), the best recourse (IMO) is to move onto new things and/or use our knowledge (of previously-fringe subjects) that is now in high demand. So, maybe we can feel bittersweet instead of bitter, and hopeful (though possibly adrift) as we look for new challenges, unconventional diversions, and uncommon artifacts...until they invent replicators. ;)

PS: Hooray for BBSes!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My thoughts on Tron, Tron: Legacy, and what it all means to me

(Note: the following article is pretty much spoiler-free regarding the plot of both Tron and Tron: Legacy; it's also really long...)

Today is Tron: Legacy day. By now, a lot of people have seen the movie or are about to. Personally, I was very lucky to have seen it last weekend--at the Hollywood premiere--courtesy of a contest I won sponsored by ESET (makers of the antivirus software I use).

Tron Legacy Hollywood premiere

Even had I not gone to the premiere (and after-party), which was awesome (see my wife's blog post about the event and my photos here: Tron: Legacy Hollywood premiere), I surely would have gone to see Tron: Legacy as soon as humanly possible. It's a movie I waited for with eager anticipation ever since I heard about it at Comic-Con in 2008, and something I've been thinking about for decades, ever since I watched and fell in love with the original back in the 80s.

After watching Tron: Legacy, I was left with very mixed emotions, which I'll explain in more detail below. Even as I write this, I'm ambivalent, and I have a feeling that future viewings of the movie will continue to affect my opinions of it. Since Saturday, I haven't been able to stop thinking about Tron: Legacy and now I'd like to share my thoughts on it.

Tron's enduring role in my life

You see, Tron: Legacy isn't just this year's holiday blockbuster to me. That's because Tron (1982) isn't just a movie that briefly entertained me as a kid. Tron has been, and still is, one of my favorite movies of all time (easily in my top 10). I didn't see it in the theater, but I watched it on television around 1984 or so, an experience I remember vividly (I was 8 years old). My friends and I discussed light cycles at school, and we thought Tron: Deadly Discs on Intellivision (YouTube link) was the coolest game ever. My parents never let me buy a lot of toys, so I remember being very envious of my friends who had Tron action figures and light cycles. It wasn't just the effects that I liked; every aspect of the story appealed to me, and every scene sucked me in (even the ones a lot of people consider boring). As an idealistic kid, I was able to enjoy Tron as a fantasy/allegory, as opposed to a sci-fi film that requires a strong real-world premise (which you won't find in Tron if you mistakenly look for it).

When I discovered that my local public library had the VHS tape of Tron, I promptly checked it out. Over the two days I had the movie at home, I watched it a total of 8 times. To this day, I've never rewatched anything that many times in such a short time span.

During my first few weeks of college, I discovered and fully jumped into online fandom for the first time--interacting with fellow science fiction, fantasy, and anime fans. In one of my earliest Usenet posts ever (dated September 9th, 1994, on alt.cult-movies), I wrote about Tron:

I love this movie! I have the novelization and I like the
Peoplemover ride at Disneyland only because it has a TRON sequence in it.
Anyhow, I don't know anyone (other than myself) who liked the movie that
much. Any idea where I can find a soundtrack for it?

This was before the soundtrack was available on CD. Someone responded to my query and actually mailed me the actual soundtrack (on cassette) for free!

Tron novelization

(I read this so much, it fell apart)

Laserdisc collectors will fondly remember Ken Crane's LaserDisc SuperStore. It wasn't that far from where I lived, so one summer I went there and rented the Tron laserdisc (from Disney's Exclusive Archive Collection). Before the 20th anniversary edition of the Tron DVD came out, the laserdisc set (which I now own) was the only way one could watch the special features explaining how Tron was made. After watching those special features, my appreciation of Tron went through the roof.

Tron laserdisc - frontTron laserdisc - back

(Tron on laserdisc)

As a child of the 80s, I was primed to be influenced by Tron, and influence me it did. I'm not sure it's accurate to say that I got into computers and information technology because of Tron, but it certainly colored my technological worldview. Upon learning how Tron was made, I was inspired by the artists who created it and the scope of their accomplishment as storytellers and filmmakers. Sure, Tron didn't do well at the box office, but it also had to compete with E.T., which I did see in the theater and didn't like. (Ironically, Tron spawned successful video games, whereas the much-hated E.T. game is considered partly responsible for crippling the video game industry for years.)

Tron - an experimental art film disguised as a Disney children's movie

As far as I'm concerned, Tron was an incredible product of the 80s, not just far ahead of its time, but completely unique in its execution. That's why I was always skeptical and not very enthusiastic whenever someone spoke about a Tron sequel. What Tron accomplished could never be done again, I thought. After all, Tron was amazing, not in spite of the technological hurdles it had to overcome to tell its story, but because of those hurdles.

In creating Tron, a whole slew of tools and techniques had to be invented to tell the story the way they wanted it. Arguably, using today's technology, it ought to be fairly easy to recreate the look and feel of Tron, but to what end? To make the original Tron, Lisberger et al. used every last bit of technological know-how they could muster, and they strained their imagination to the breaking point to envision a completely artificial, but stunningly beautiful, world of programs that lived and breathed inside our computers.

In one of the laserdisc special features, one of the Tron staff said something to the effect of 'Art is defined by its limitations. The essence of a painting is its frame.' The greatest art is not what you can do with the largest canvas, the fanciest tools, or the biggest palette of colors; it's what you're able to accomplish with the what you have, accepting limitation as the mother of inspiration and true creativity. It's the reason why radio is not necessarily better than books, why television is not necessarily better than radio, why color is not necessarily better than black and white, and why photorealism is not necessarily better than illustration. The examples go on and on. Art needs to be judged in context; in context, what Tron achieved (artistically) was nothing short of amazing.

People routinely mention how Tron was so revolutionary in terms of its computer graphics (which it was), but they often forget that the overall look was achieved via a blend of CGI, traditional animation, live-action (70mm, black and white!), and one-of-a-kind lighting effects. Like its soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, combining synthesizer and live orchestra music, Tron is a triumph of both digital and analog technologies, meshed with the artistic and design sensibilities of Syd Mead and Jean Giraud (Moebius), visionaries of the highest order.

Moebius Tron designSyd Mead Tron designSyd Mead Tron design

(Tron designs by Syd Mead and Moebius)

So what does this all mean for Tron: Legacy? For me, at least, it meant that Tron: Legacy had a lot to live up to, and doing so was probably not going to be easy. Most of all, I was afraid that a sequel, if ill-conceived and/or poorly executed, would tarnish the legacy of the original. (That's based on my personal conception of the original, of course. I fully realize that most people don't view Tron the same way I do).

Prepping Tron for a new generation

As we got closer to the release of Tron: Legacy, more and more details regarding the film were revealed, preview clips were screened online and in theaters, and a ton of merchandise hit store shelves. The Disney marketing machine has been going all out, and I happily bought into the hype and anticipation. After all, if the images and video clips were any indication, the movie was clearly going to look and sound great. The basic story, as revealed in staff interviews and various story books, seemed like it would be entertaining, and the movie's stars and creators said all the right things when interviewed. It promised to draw in and impress new viewers while giving something back to the old-school fans like myself.

Now, I know that different people look for and appreciate different things in the movies they watch, and people with different personalities and expectations will react very differently to the same film. I find very little value in worrying about how other people judge the art I like, and I similarly don't claim any privileged perspective regarding such art. It's just how I feel, based on my own particular background and personality. I'm not a movie critic, and I don't want to be. What follows is strictly my opinion, and I encourage you to watch the movie for yourself because a) you might like it, b) you might find it interesting, and c) you'll likely be impressed by the spectacle of it on a big screen with theater-grade audio.

My general impression of the movie

All of that said, I was mildly satisfied with Tron: Legacy, which of course means that I wasn't satisfied nearly enough. I guessed that it wouldn't break into my top 10 movies, but I at least hoped it would become one of my favorite movies (which it sadly isn't). I'll still watch it again (in IMAX, since the El Capitan Theatre showed it in Real D), and I will definitely buy it on Blu-Ray, but it's not destined to affect me the same way the original one did, and I doubt it will affect my 5-year-old son in the long run either (though he might prove me wrong, and he definitely had fun watching it!). It was entertaining enough (despite its flaws), just not as groundbreaking or well-told as I wanted it to be.

I also find myself unable to predict how the general movie-going public is going to react to the film. It seems that professional reviewers (about half of them, so far) have been pretty harsh in their assessment. Normally, for certain kinds of movies (like Tron), I don't care about the opinions of mainstream reviewers. This time, however, I found myself agreeing with many of their main criticisms--that the movie looked and sounded great, but had a poor screenplay and suffered from lackluster directing in scenes that should have had dramatic weight, resulting in a treat for the eyes and ears but was not particularly soul-stirring.

To be honest, I've been surprised at how much goodwill the unreleased movie has been getting from a crowd that probably never even watched the original. Daft Punk-hysteria aside, my only explanation is that Tron: Legacy's futuristic aesthetic is appealing to a new generation that's really into technology. Perhaps the look and feel of Tron: Legacy is an affirmation of our gadget lust, serving as proof that we're demonstrating good taste (and good sense) when we buy products because they look nice and have sexy user interfaces. Anticipating Tron: Legacy, like browsing the Web at work, allowed us to escape into a virtual world where everything is cool, entertaining, and the problems we encounter can be solved by the application of more technology. (The actual movie tried to be a bit more complex than that, and some reviewers are already complaining about its pessimistic tone.)

Undeveloped potential

In any case, I was looking for more than aesthetic escapism, and I actually thought the film's concept was generally sound. They tried to tell a compelling story, and everything was in place for them to make a challenging, unconventional film that would inspire cult fandom as well as entertaining the masses. The themes they tackled sounded great on paper--father-son relationships, the perils of playing God, technology out of control, the roots of fascism, the importance of embracing uncertainty, etc. Unfortunately, the overall execution was lacking.

In terms of the storytelling, I feel as if the writers unintentionally made the film worse by including too many things that harkened back to the original Tron. In spending so much time making sure the continuity fit between the old and the new, less time was spent on characterization and meaningful drama. Also, making sure that the new movie had lines of dialogue (and whole scenes) that referenced the original meant fewer scenes that were truly innovative. I'm usually a fan of postmodern pastiche and homage, but all the little "easter eggs" referring to the original movie got boring after awhile. They felt like a cheap way to score some points with the core fans, but I felt pandered to instead of challenged. It's possible that the writers threw in a WarGames reference. If that's true, it's the one bit of homage that I really enjoyed because it was a true inside joke, instead of just being a recycled line from within the same franchise (I'm reminded, sadly, of the Star Wars prequels). I'm no expert on writing movies, but there must be better ways of pleasing old-school fans than simply repeating old material in a slightly different context.

Talkin' 'bout my generation (of storytellers)

I wonder if the age of the director (Joseph Kosinski, b. 1974) and the writers (Edward Kitsis, b. 1971 and Adam Horowitz, b. 1971) had anything to do with it. Those guys are part of my generation, kind of in the vague middle ground between Gen X and Gen Y, born sometime between 1970 and 1982 (for the sake of argument). I'm not really convinced that my generation has produced any great long-form storytellers. We seem to be good at producing commercials, trailers, music videos, YouTube clips, or maybe even TV episodes, but not necessarily feature films or novels. In learning how to please people with short attention spans and a need for instant gratification, are we losing our ability to tell longer and more complex stories that require patience to tell (and enjoy)?

It's not as if my generation is too young. Steven Lisberger, the creator of Tron (1982), was only 31 when it came out, George Lucas was 33 when Star Wars (1977) came out, James Cameron was 30 when Terminator (1984) came out, J.K Rowling published Harry Potter (1997) when she was 32, and John Lasseter was 38 when Toy Story (1995) came out. Of my generation, Christopher Nolan (b. 1970) and Stephenie Meyer (1973) are the only two really successful creators of long-form fiction I can think of, and I list them because of their popularity, not because I particularly like their works. But other than those two, who else is in the running to be the greatest storyteller born between 1970 and 1982?

Reasons to like Tron: Legacy

Story aside, there's no denying the visual splendor of the new film, and I really dig the updated designs, especially the vehicles. I don't at all regret buying the $40 Tron: Legacy art book and numerous toys for my son. As a veteran Armagetron addict, I love Kevin Flynn's retro light cycle they designed for the new movie. Unlike the original film, I don't know if any of the special effects in Tron: Legacy will be considered groundbreaking (there's been mixed reaction regarding the 'young Jeff Bridges' effect), but at least it's all nice to look at.

Kevin Flynn's retro light cycle

(Flynn's light cycle, source: /Film)

In the Tron DVD special features, John Lasseter remarked that Pixar would not exist if not for Tron. Will we be able to say something similar about Tron: Legacy? It's hard to imagine, but who knows. In my opinion, the original Tron was greater than the sum of its parts, whereas Tron: Legacy isn't, but those individual parts (such as the epic soundtrack by Daft Punk) are praiseworthy nonetheless.

"Like the man says, there's no problems, only solutions."

Tron: Legacy may be flawed, but it's still something I'm glad that I experienced, and I'm not averse to new (and better) stories being told in the universe it portrayed. Indeed, it seems like Disney is getting ready to tell those stories (via a Tron cartoon, for example) if there's a receptive audience. I hope they take their time and plan carefully if they decide to make Tron 3, however.

I was worried that Tron: Legacy would diminish how I feel about Tron, but that proved not to be the case. Some reviewers who are disappointed with the new film have been eager to point out their dislike of the original, as if that explains the new film's failings. For me, the new Tron (which was disappointing but far from awful) actually makes me appreciate the old one even more, which is a happy ending in my book.

Update (12/31/10):

So, I finally had a chance to rewatch Tron: Legacy, and I have to say that I enjoyed it more the second time around (as expected). Instead of being constantly dismayed at what the movie could have been, I was able to spend more time appreciating it for what it was--looking for its strengths instead of its weaknesses.

There were still moments where I found myself shaking my head in disappointment or disbelief, but overall I was happier. In fact, I want to give Joseph Kosinski a little more credit that I did before, as I noticed a few neat storytelling tricks that I missed the first time.

And sure, I wanted Tron: Legacy to be more inspiring artistically, but I can forgive it for not surpassing the original film in that department. Perhaps the techie side of Tron: Legacy was oversold (the marketing certainly didn't focus on the storytelling), or maybe it's just going to be much harder to inspire the next generation of creative folk.

After all, it takes a lot more to dazzle us now, and the filmmakers were saddled with having to emphasize the past instead of pushing more toward the future. Or maybe I have it all wrong; maybe the special features on the Tron: Legacy Blu-Ray disc will blow me away (like I was blown away by the special features on the Tron laserdisc).

Unfortunately, I'm still less forgiving of Tron: Legacy's storytelling (e.g. its screenplay). I don't mean the story (plot, concepts, etc.), but the way it was told (pacing, structure, perspective, dialogue, and editing). All judgments of artistic achievement aside, I just wanted a well-told story. I actually look forward to seeing if the novelization and/or comic book adaptation does a better job.

As a final note, I do recommend seeing Tron: Legacy in an IMAX theater. Maybe it's just my imagination, but the IMAX picture and sound at my local theater seemed to be better than the picture and sound at the Hollywood premiere (which featured Disney Digital 3D).

Tron: Legacy poster

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Live and direct from the Tron: Legacy Hollywood premiere

Hi everyone, I'll share the full story and more detailed thoughts later, but long story short...I'm attending the Tron: Legacy Hollywood premiere!

I have to thank the awesome folks at ESET for this amazing opportunity. A week ago, I entered an online drawing (sponsored by ESET) for a chance to see Tron: Legacy's big premiere in Hollywood, at the El Capitan Theatre. The premiere is today, nearly a full week before the general release of the movie, and it looks like Disney pulled out all the stops to make this event amazing.

I'll definitely post a full report after the event, but if you want to see live updates, follow me on Twitter (where I'll likely be using Twitpic) and/or check out my Flickr gallery for photos.

@Lawmune on Twitter

Tron: Legacy Hollywood premiere
(pictures from the event on Flickr)

Tron: Legacy Hollywood premiere

My wife Carol might also be tweeting about the event. Follow her here:

@raphaela235 on Twitter

Here is Carol's blog post containing her impressions and photos from the premiere and after-party: What I Wore (Tron: Legacy Hollywood Premiere)

Here's her first post about the event: Blue Carpet Outfit

A little while back, she blogged about our visit to the Tron Pop-Up Shop in Culver City.

Enjoy, and stay tuned!

Monday, October 04, 2010

HobbyLink Japan (HLJ) to release an Opera-tan figure

Those of you with long memories might recall the article I wrote in 2005 which more-or-less got me my job at Opera Software. In that article, among other things, I suggested the idea for Opera-tan, and artist temp_h (aka ma31) ran with the idea and illustrated the character (along with other artists who followed his lead).

In late July, temp_h announced on his blog that HobbyLink Japan (HLJ) is planning to release an Opera-tan figure.

Here's the flyer (in Japanese, with English translation below):

Opera-tan figure announcement

Translation (by Lillian Olsen, published with permission from HLJ):

HobbyLink Japan Original Figure

Who is Opera-tan? She's an anthropomorphized character for the web browser "Opera". Her international appeal lies in the high degree of detail and design perfection that rivals any anime or video game character. This is why HLJ has zeroed in on Opera-tan!! She's currently being realized in three dimensions as an original figure kit! Scheduled to go on sale next winter!!

Original design: temp_h
Model prototype design: Modeler-T
Resin-based assembly kit
Release date: Winter 2011
Price: TBA

Additional info from tanoue (an HLJ employee heavily involved in the project):

  • The figure is a resin kit.
  • HLJ does not currently have plans to release it as a completed PVC figure.
  • The Opera-tan resin kit will be released at the next Wonder Festival (February 6th, 2011) and will be sold on the HLJ web site.
  • The sculptor is "Modeler-T".
    His Website is (contents possibly NSFW).
    The prototype will be completed by the end of this year.

Here's more information (in Japanese): Opera-tan HLJ Original Figure

Here's is HLJ's English-language page about the figure: Opera-Tan: HobbyLink Japan - Original Resin Kit

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad UI makes my kid cry

I was on a phone call last week when my 5-year-old son, Rowan (who is learning how to read), rushed into my home office. He was panicked and crying over a video game he had been playing--Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!, a downloadable game for the Nintendo DS.

As soon as I figured out he was crying over the game, I knew what happened--bad UI made my kid cry. When I first encountered the problem (detailed below), I thought it might be an issue, but I cautiously hoped for the best. Unfortunately, my optimism was defeated by poor user interface design (and a little bad luck).

The problem is evident on the screen below:

Do you see the problem?

Why did anyone think it was a good idea to put the "ERASE DATA" button on the same screen as the button used to start the game ("Main Game")? Even worse, "ERASE DATA" is right under the start button, in the same color, making it really easy for someone to press it by accident if they aren't paying close attention.

It probably would have been smarter to bury the "ERASE DATA" button in the options somewhere, one or two levels down. Keep in mind, this is a game that's suitable for little kids, even if they can't read yet. That said, I warned my son about the button, but he pushed it anyway by mistake. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

After he pushed the button, he knew he did something wrong, and was faced with this screen:

(You can't see it in the still image, but the red 'no/cancel' button flashes here.)

In a panic, Rowan wasn't sure which button to press. A red button got him in trouble to begin with, so he thought it was the wrong choice, and it probably didn't help that it was flashing at him ominously. He pushed the less threatening (and non-flashing) green button, and all was lost. Hours of gameplay, wasted. Total crying meltdown...

It might have been better if the 'no/cancel' button was bigger and pre-highlighted, and certainly not flashing red.

On that note, the oft-pressed "Main Game" button should not have been red. Having the most frequently pressed button be red might make players less likely to see red as a warning.

In my experience, Nintendo usually does a great job with usability and user experience. This time however, they dropped the ball. In any case, I helped my son complete all the levels we finished previously, so everything turned out okay, and he got a real life lesson on the consequences of bad design.

With all of that said, Minis March Again! is a great game. I think it's actually quite educational, with lots of problem solving (remember "Lemmings"?) and custom level building to stretch one's creativity. Just watch out for that "ERASE DATA" button, and you'll have lots of fun.

*Special thanks to my Opera-colleague Thomas Ford for suggesting today's blog title.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

serial experiments lain - new merchandise

Although the television series is more than 10 years old, serial experiments lain remains a cult classic anime (and the inspiration behind this blog, hence "lainspotting"). It has been awhile since we've seen new lain merchandise (see the Lain figure announced in 2006), but I was alerted to a new batch of cool lain goods that I'd love to get my hands on.

Aaron Schnuth, anime podcast pioneer and fellow lain fan, sent me an email with the relevant links to the goods sold on

Lain shirt

Lain shirt

1. Lain shirt - Close the world, Open the nExt. (shown above)

2. Lain shirt - Knights of the Eastern Calculus

3. Lain cup - DJ

4. Lain strap

In my opinion, these are a big deal for any serious collector of lain merchandise. Maybe you've seen lain shirts here and there at various conventions, but official/licensed shirts are rare.

I'm not sure why these are being sold all-of-a-sudden, but it might be related to the recent imminent release of serial experiments lain on Blu-ray in Japan.

Monday, September 06, 2010

lainspotting reborn : status and plans for the future

Is this blog dead, after so many months of not being updated? I wouldn't say so, but an explanation is certainly warranted.

This post notwithstanding, I haven't updated lainspotting since February. What have I been up to?

First off, some of you have found me on Twitter: (@Lawmune). While Twitter isn't so good for long musings, I've found it quite enjoyable as a way to:

1) share my immediate thoughts
2) promote useful content/ideas that deserve attention
3) be part of a larger conversation amongst my peers (in multiple areas of my life)

So, if it looks like I gave up blogging, it's only because I took up microblogging (as some people call it these days).

Secondly, even though it's not obvious, I've actually been paying attention to this blog. Blogs are nice as a way to constantly share new content, but I've always considered archiving old content to be a really important endeavor. That's why most of my old website (first built in 1998) is still around in its original, old-school condition. Why take it down? I come from the old-fashioned school of thought that says: if it was worthwhile to put up in the first place, don't take it down just because it's old (which would also break people's links). Thus, that old article I wrote on submission grappling (though I haven't done it in ages) is still alive and kicking (and generating feedback in the form of reader emails).

My blog, containing several articles that are still visited by people searching for obscure stuff (like the Seiko Frequency Watch) was facing technical obsolescence, so I needed to move it from the domain to a domain of its own (, where you are now). With the new domain, and new tools at my disposal, I do plan to blog more (for example, I plan to write more about the links I share on Twitter).

Finally, I've been working on several projects that haven't involved publishing on the Web, whether it's been for work (to pay the bills), print-related projects (trying to get my otaku studies work into a book or two), or simply tasks related to being a husband and the father of two kids. On that note, I've had the pleasure of helping my wife, Carol, with her own blog, In Pursuit of Pretty Things.

Launching in February 2010, In Pursuit of Pretty Things (IPoPT) is all about fashion, shopping, and all kinds of stuff I'm no expert on and would never write about. The blog is the product of two authors--my wife Carol and her friend Kathryn. I'm kind of a third, silent team member. I've been managing a lot of the backend details--doing some SEO, link building, analytics work, etc.--and contributing feedback, ideas, strategies, and concepts. Meanwhile, Carol and Kathryn do all of the content-related legwork and actual writing. So far, it's been a huge success and a lot of fun. It's the first real online project I've done with my wife, and I hope we can collaborate on more such projects in the future.

In the meantime, lainspotting clearly needs more of my attention. Online promises are cheap, so I won't offer them, but I do have some articles in the pipeline relating to topics as diverse as:

  • lessons learned from studying browser users/usability
  • the real meaning of otaku rooms
  • the current state of anime clubs
  • what it's like to read American comics versus manga
  • uncommon anime goods I've collected in the last few months
  • the difficulties of writing about otaku
  • a Wikipedia case study
  • the challenge of mobilizing fandom against censorship
  • rethinking conceptions of the Internet as a "frontier" when it comes to the future of intellectual property

Of course, the more feedback I get regarding the planned articles above, the more likely I am to actually publish them, so feel free to let me know (via blog comments or email) what you're interested in. I look forward to having some great discussions.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The diminishing value of friend recommendations online

I came across the following article (by Michael Bush) on Advertising Age:
In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less

Edelman Study Shows That Only 25% of People Find Peers Credible, Flying in Face of Social-Media Wisdom
Here's my response, mostly in agreement:

With an overabundance of people who believe (and are being led to believe by social media marketers) that their personal opinions matter greatly to everyone around them, it's no surprise that the signal-to-noise ratio surrounding personal recommendations has gotten lower. Not only do we have more friends than ever (because of social networking sites), a disproportionate number of them seem to think they are (or deserve to be) prominent influencers and tastemakers.

In response, some people appear to be relying more on aggregrate recommendations, leveraging the so-called "wisdom of the crowd" to determine what they're likely to enjoy, whether it's movies (via, restaurants (via, or books (via Such an approach, widely-adopted, has its own problematic consequences (to be discussed some other time).

An alternative approach is to rely on select individuals for one's recommendations, people whose opinions you really value, even if you don't necessarily agree with all of them. For me, I rely on the person who knows me best--my wife Carol, and even she gets me wrong from time to time, or isn't necessarily interested in evaluating all the things that pique my curiosity. For what it's worth, I still trust recommendations offered by my friends--like around 10 of them, a much smaller subset of the 400 or so friends I have on Facebook (nothing personal, folks).