Whispersync, Neal Stephenson, and multi-sensory reading

When I was in high school I read a book. It was Mushashi by Eiji Yoshikawa . Based on the life of famous swordsman Mushshi Miyamoto, It’s one of Japan’s prized jewels of 20th century literature and is often compared to “Gone with the Wind”.

I was drawn into the book’s sweeping scenes, huge cast of characters and deep plot. But at over 800 pages long, it took me half a year to finish it. I used to carry the phone book sized novel and read during my lunch breaks and at home when there wasn’t anything interesting on TV.

Fast forward 20 years later and I’m trying to get through another Neal Stephenson novel.

I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson, having loved reading his earlier books, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, but I’ve had trouble finishing his later works like The Baroque Cycle and Anathem. These books became alot more complex narrative wise and jumped in size, with Anathem clocking in at over a thousand pages.

With a lifestyle overflowing with content that I’m interested in, it’s hard to fit a large, meaty novel into a media diet already filled with TV Shows, Video Games, podcasts, blogs, etc., it’s hard to conjure up enough concentration to properly digest a Stephenson epic.

One option available to me was audiobooks. I have an audible subscription where for around $17 a month I receive one audio book credit. For years I’ve been listening to audio book versions of non fiction and Journalism pieces, since it reads like an radio documentary. Sure I dabbled in a piece of fiction or two, usually those made exclusively for as audio books (e.g, the METAtropolis series.  But I kept feeling that if I just switched entirely to audio book for most of my fiction reading, that I will miss the intricacies and visualness of the word structure.

Take James Ellroy, noted crime novelist. His books like White Jazz are written in a gritty, beat style. Short sentences. The structure is almost poetic. It’s something that you seen almost immediately  when you read it but may not seem apparent if your just hearing someone narrating it. Also, I invested quite the coin into my Kindle Voyage and wanted to get my money’s worth.

Recently I bought the audio book to the Neal Stephenson’s latest book, Seveneves , about human space colonization. I thought this is the only why I can get this book in, but I still felt like I would be missing out on the pleasure of reading his prose

So an option relieved itself from all the Amazon technologies I was using, “Whispersync”. Whispersync allows the syncing of position and bookmarks between a book and it’s audio book counterpart. For example, I can read for a while on my kindle at a cafe and pick up at the same place when I listening  to the audio book at work.

Another feature of Whispersync that I like is what’s called “immersive reading”, in which read the book and listen to the audiobook simultaneously. This can be down with a kindle and audible on you phone, but the best why to do it us on a android tablet or iPad using the Kindle App. When using the app, the audio runs in the background and the text being read is highlighted in real time.

Now I don’t know if immersive reading is a real thing, or is just something cooked up by Amazon’s PR in order to get people to buy both the kindle and audible version of a book (an expensive endeavor to say the least), but I have to admit, when I did it I felt a bit more focused  on the story.

So my plan is to exploit the fact that I have all these devices, kindle, tablets, smart phone, and try to get through Seveneves in this multi-device, multi-sensory way, either by visual reading it, listing to it with my ears, or doing both using immersive . When (or rather if) I finish the book I’ll come back and report on my experiences.

“Empire” Season Finale

First off, wow, I got that buzzing feeling. As a geek the feeling is familiar. It’s the feeling I get after watching the season finale of “The Walking Dead”, or “Game of Thrones”. I never thought I would get this feeling after watching a show like Empire, but its there, that’s “Oh Shit I can’t wait until next season feeling”.

Lets go step back and and the unlikeliness of it all. Here was this show, a WINTER SEASON show. A show that Fox put in the running to fill in the vacuum of shortening “American Idol” an hour on Wednesdays due to lackluster ratings. Sure it had Lee Daniels behind it, but this would be Daniel’s first foray into television, the show was an experiment at best. Pretty much a black version of “Dynasty”, and HOOD, like really hood. It was definitely not written for a white audience in mind. But now what just ended its first of more likely many seasons was the number one show on television, Fox probably wished they green lighted twice as many episodes, had it start in September and taken the scenic route into May. You can tell that Fox was trying to wring every last ounce of revenue out of it by how many commercial breaks they  put it in (I swear content wise the finale was probably like 35 minutes in length).

But what little was there PAID off (WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD). First off, I have to admit I was going to post a video prediction proudly prophesying that Lucious would be killed off during the finale. At the time I was halfway through watching “Sin of the Father” on hulu, and at the time my logic was that they had to kill the King to move the plot forward. I mean, you can’t really blame for thinking that, although Lucious was a royal dick, I thought most of the drama would be within the dynamics between the brothers, with there never being a true villain in the show, just “mini” villains that had to be dealt with in story arch. But after finishing the “Sins” episode and by the end of the first half of the finale I realized how completely wrong I was, Lucious IS the villain of the show, he went from a dying asshole trying (more like stumbling) to make right by his family and his legacy to a living villian, willing to kill even family to get what he wants.

Speaking of killing family, lets all pour one out for Malik Yoba’s character Vernon Turner (although technically he wasn’t a Lyon). I suppose you can’t get any disposable a character as Vernon. He wasn’t a Lynon, dude couldn’t even sing. They needed to some way to get Rhonda back in the show and nothing brings a couple together than 1. having a baby and 2. co-conspiring a murder cover up. I personally like Rhonda, she’s repping all the Becky’s out there and defying the doe eyed innocent “fish out of water” stereotype you usually see with white significant others in black dramas. Although I am curious to see what they do with Jennifer Hudson’s character, a church girl lured into the Lyons den (although for a church girl she when from “music therapy” to “make out therapy” real quick).

Andre is still an ex-factor in my eyes. Beyond his bi-polar disorder, there is not much substance to the character and the finale I think didn’t do much to solve that issue, although I’ll acknowledge the scene with him in the studio with the gun was one of the best scenes in the series. I’m hoping there more for him to do in Season 2 than be the big guy crying all the time.

Hakeem grew on me a lot towards the end of the season, and he did win my “oh shit!” moment when Lucious caught him and Anika together at the Baretti estate (speaking of which, Judd Nelson, you should be kissing Lee Daniels feet for reviving your career, bruh). He went from being a spoiled brat to well, a spoiled brat that loves to bite the hand that feeds him, but its soo great when he does, right? Hopefully the Hakeem / Anika relationship becomes more than the “lets get back at daddy” moment that they are making it to be  because we know Hakeem loves older women and honestly, I not a big fan of Naomi Campbell (I feel for any production assistants that caught her wrath during the filming of her scenes). Also bit ups for the fight between Anika and Cookie, I think only Maywether/Pacquiao was more anticipated.

Jamal, man… so much to say about my man Jamal. First off, he got to be in the running for “hardest gay character on TV”, although I still think Omar Little from “The Wire” won that title hands down. If you had to sum up season one, it would probably be called “The rise of Jamal Lyons”. With Lee Daniels being gay, I wonder how much of himself he written into the Jamal character, the disapproving father, the overwhelming talent, the rise of being “the boss”. A lot will be said about Jamal, but I wonder if what will be written will relate to how simple the character is.

Jamal is simply, “a good guy”, the character that always does the right thing. When he finally get’s is father’s approval and because heir to the throne he ask for his brothers’ approvals. “I won’t accept if you guys have a problem with it”, and I believe him. The problem with being the nice guy though in a show like this is that after a while, it gets a bit boring. I hope Daniels, due to some obligation “to the cause” isn’t afraid to get the characters hands dirty. I don’t mean like when he almost  threw Baretti off the balcony, because that still felt honorable, I mean let the guy fuck up a bit (like when he screwed over his latin boyfriend midseason, more of that stuff).

Lastly with Jamal, I like to say the actor, Jussie Smollett, DUDE WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU COME FROM??? Such talent!! Kid can act, can sing. And the fact that’s he’s gay in real life too?? What genius of a casting director did Lee Daniels go to find this guy. I read Jussie’s filmology, the biggest thing he’s been in so far was “The Mighty Duck”. Sure, Yazz (Hakeem) is a rapper, but it seems a lot easier these days to turn an MC into an actor than to find an actor with a recording artist caliber singing voice. As a straight male perhaps I probably don’t have of vote in this but GLADD, if you have some equivalent to the NAACP Image award, If Jussie doesn’t get an award for best supporting actor, I don’t know what’s what. And NAACP, if Jussie doesn’t get an Image award for best supporting actor… you know the rest ;)

And Finally their is Cookie.. It’s funny, if your black there is at least one Cookie in your life, maybe it’s your mom’s flamboyant friend, or maybe it IS your Mom. In my case it was my mom’s best friend, although I see a lot of my dear departed mother in Cookie Lyons, which is kind of messed up because I’ve had a solid crush on Taraji P Henson since “Baby Boy”. Cookie is why I watch the show, bar none. It’s funny how every stereotype you hear about  black women being loud and abrasive Cookie Lyons just wear on her shoulders like the gaudy jewelry she wears on the show. Big. Sparkling. Beautiful.

Because there is nothing dishonest about Cookie, she’s definitely the most honest character on the show. Surrounded by flawed people, by people hiding their true selves, what does Cookie say? “Be you”. Don’t be someone else. Even with Lucious she goes “I like you better when you was a thug”, because she knows that Lucious lost an important part of himself when he rose to the top. The preeminent problem solver, the “fixer”. I never watched “Scandal” (hey, I’ll get to it eventually) but I’m sure that in that capacity Cookie has a bit in common with Kerry Washington’s character Oliva Pope, but perhaps in a more abstract way all black women share that trait, because when your black and a woman in America, problems drop from the sky like rain. They are forced to deal with them or get swept away in the down pore.

Unfortunately not much of Cookie is seen in the finale, she’s pretty much a bystander to her sons’ plotting, but that’s ok. Because the series is about Cookie, about a person with big dreams who got snatched away and put on stasis for 17 years, only to be brought back into a world where those dreams came true, but twisted without her design. What she does now, especially with big bad Lucious currently in the slammer will be the central focus of the upcoming seasons, and that what I’ll be looking forward to.

Some final thoughts. Like I said earlier, a lot will be written about this show, by TV critics and scholars, and by people like me, jotting their opinions on their blogs because it is a popular show and more specifically, it is a popular black show. Unfortunately because it is a popular black show it will be be analyzed unfairly on how it helped fix some problem or shed some light about some problem in the black community. That’s a lot to put on a show whose in realty, only job is to entertain enough people to get ratings in order to sell ad space to advertisers. We should keep this in mind, for “Empire” is an extremely entertaining show and that’s what is only meant to be. Sure it shines a light on homophobia in the black community, specifically in the hip hop community and that definitely an added bonus, but if you didn’t like gays before the show, saw the show and decided, “you know what, gays are ok because I like  Jamal”, maybe your initial feelings and opinions weren’t that strong in foundation in the first place for it to be shattered so effortlessly by an one hour weekly drama.

I am so glad that there is a popular show out there with black faces on it, but I am afraid that if we weigh it down with social significance that it will put it on a pedestal and make it even harder for other black shows to appear, to succeed and yes to fail. For in order to have several good shows with minority casts and writers we have to have dozens to go through the crucible of the television making process with most probably not making the cut, and of those only a select few being something people will watch and obsess over. It is only when the powers that be, and for now those powers are old white men, see the financial rewards on taking risks on shows like this is worth it than anything will improve. I guess what I’m saying is I’m preempting  the “what does this show do for the struggle” debate before it starts because it’s not suppose to do anything for the struggle, it’s suppose to entertain. It does that, and while it does it it sneaks in a social truth every now and then, but the entertainment is the important part.

Kim Kardashian should be insulted by the Internet’s acceptance of her “Paper” photo shoot and here’s why.

So I’ve been mulling over the reason why Kim Kardashian’s explicit “Break the Internet” photo shoot is plastered on all corners of the internet, including social networks like Instagram and Facebook while other photos of women simply being topless or breastfeeding gets taken off by the same services.

At the surface it would seem rational for the opposite to be true. The Kardashian photos were dramatically sexual, with her oiled up body posing and arching with the text “Break the Internet” in big lettering in almost a commanding fashion, while photos of women breastfeeding or just simply bare breasted are just “there”, it can be sexual I suppose, but they are not overtly produced to be so.

An example of this is the Chelsea Handler topless photos, which were more of a political statement than a means to entice. A couple months ago she posted a photo of herself topless riding a horse, mocking the famous photograph of Vladimir Putin riding a horse. Her point? That there is a double standard when it comes to physical depictions of men as apposed to women, in particular, what is consider acceptable and what’s not. Handler’s photos were later banned by Intagram.  Another case also involves a celebrity, Alyssa Milano , whose photos of her breasfeed her child was also deemed too much for Instagram. But it’s not just celebrities, women have been complaining for years that pictures of themselves simply topless or breastfeeding (or getting a mastectomy), have been banned from Instagram and Facebook.

So why do social media services act this way? Why does the official Internet in general? My theory is that sexuality on the Internet has become so hyper-realistic that the simulation is become a safe surrogate to the real thing.

There is a hyper-realistic quality to the “Beak the Internet” photos, in which Kardashian takes on an almost plastic quality, a 3D anime character wrapped in the decadence of high art. This type of imagery is more than acceptable to the official Internet (social networks, major online communities), while images of women bodies as part of a biological process (breastfeeding) or more dangerous yet to make a political point is deemed too “real”, too complex to be easily digested by the Official Internet.

Perhaps the depiction of women in the nude or partially nude has been the currency of pornography on the network for so long and in such a massive amount that we (managers and users of the Internet, in particular, male managers and users of the Internet ) do not know what to do when a depiction of women nude  in an starkly nonsexual manner comes our way. This behavior is dangerous, for many times these images are presented to inform (like the breast cancer imagery that gets banned from facebook), or as arguments of discourse (the Handler photos), even without any cause, simply banning these photo restricts women and content producers who choose to share this content because they may deem it interesting or important or beautiful, but not sexual, while their banishment is done in the hypocritical cause of protecting the content producers or subjects in the photos from the negative outcome of sexual exposure (e.g, harassment, accusations of indecency).

So that is why I think Ms. Kim should be a bit irritated if not all out pissed that her photos got the Internet “thumbs up” while others are shunned. The Internet pretty much decided the Kim Kardashian is not a real person, but rather a hyper-realistic simulacra, a doll whose flesh and blood origin is wholeheartedly ignored, more art than artist. She didn’t break the Internet, but rather nourished it with quick visual eye-candy. If realistic depictions of women and their bodies were allowed too be distributed on the network, it would not “Break the Internet” either, but perhaps it will slow it down just a little bit for us to have a thought a two about how women are depicted on the network, and perhaps it will start to add real flesh and blood to the objects that has flooded the network for years.

Posting the process : on writing a novel, and writing better code.

For years I’ve been trying to get a mode for writing a novel. Of course I suffer from the same problems most beginning writers do, lack of self-confidence, lack of motivation.

As a software developer, most of my time is dedicated to writing code for whomever I’m employed to. Although I think I’m a decent programmer, working in my field for over ten years now, I believe programming is a craft, and I have a ways to go to be a master at it.

I been thinking that I probably could benefit from using this blog as a means to write my process on both, you know put it out in the ether, with the hope that every now and then the ether will speak back with suggestions or encouragement.

I have tons of ideas for books. Entire plot lines and dialogs are buzzing in my head, I believe that fear of it just being “a stupid idea” prevents the transfer from thoughts to written text.  Hopefully, by sort of “pre-sharing” my work on here, people will see it and help in the process enough for me to get over the fear of it “not being good”, to it actually being a fun collaborative project I can do over the past months. Also the first novel I would really like write would be a thriller based in Modern day South Korea, and would cover topics like competition gaming, racism, homophobia, South Korean corporate structures, hacking and the intelligence community (like I said, I been thinking about this book for a long time). These are all complex topics that I have varying knowledge of, and I’ve never been to South Korea. With that said, I’m going to need to do a lot of research, and would appreciate any help in writing about these things and getting it right.

Same with a software development. I have an idea for a mobile app that I’ve been working on and off for years. Mostly it’s been going slowly because I’ve been working at a day job writing code. Some cats can write cool all day and go home and write code for some side project until they go to bed. I don’t do that. I like to focus on the day job will all my energy and use home to relax.

However, I have some free months between gigs have allowed me to write a lot of working code for the mobile app, mostly the model layer. Now I’m working more on the front end and wrestling with the ideas of making a kick ass UI for it. If I throw the code up and write about the process of building a front end for this app, I’m hoping to get help on it from the Internet.

As a thanks to the Internet for helping me with both projects, I’ll open source the code for the mobile app and launch it free to use for all. As for the book (for now let’s call it SKP or “South Korea Project”), I’ll publish the finished work for free online under the Creative Commons license.

Posts about the novel will have “On SKP” in the title and posts about the mobile app will have “On Tipsy” in the title.

I know that in the end, I have to start writing and start designing this front end, and honestly I can’t promise I will finish either. But I think by having an ongoing conversation with people in both will keep me motivated.

Shower mates

In college, I lived on a floor that had more women than men. It was proposed because of this that we make all the bathrooms and showers co-ed. The men (including myself) voted “No”. We had gay men and gay women on our floor, and all the men shared the same shower rooms no matter what sexual orientation we were. 

What we were concerned about was the gender differences when it came to biology. In our minds, (either wrong or right), we thought women would be gross shower mates, you know with all that hair and periods and such. The reason why I bring this up is that there is a conversation going on about whether gay men should share the same shower rooms as straight men, and if so, why isn’t that the same as straight men showering with straight women? 

I have and I will share the same shower room as gay men, because taking a shower rarely has to do with sexuality. It is a nasty, dirty task, and I rather do it with people that share the same parts as me. I love women intensely, but I doubt I would get a rise out of seeing tons of them awkwardly scrubbing their parts just as I awkwardly scrub my parts, and I’m sure that is the same with gay men.

(Cross Posted on Facebook)

After Ebert – The need for multimedia/interactive/networked entertainment crictism

I’ll miss the shit out Roger Ebert. I remember growing up in upstate New York, waking up early Saturday morning to see “Siskel and Ebert”. Although I rarely went to see the movies they reviewed (mostly because of age), I still immensely enjoyed their banter and analysis of films of that time. Later on, when I was old enough and had my after-school job to fuel my fledgling movie going hobby, the film reviews of Roger Ebert became less of an adolescent curiosity and more of a serious research task. Ebert was my “go to guy” when knowing whether or not I should go see a flick. Not to say I followed his advice religiously. I went to see “Street Fighter” (not the good Anime, but the horrible live action film with Raul Julia and Jean-Claude Van Damme) despite his warnings, a decision I regret still. Of course there were films he hated that I liked, but still he was always there as this litmus test that I could rely on.

To say that Roger Ebert was the 20th century’s greatest film critic would not be a crazy premise. The man eared a Pulitzer prize in criticism for Pete’s sake.   But now that he is not with us, and without being disrespectful of the man’s legacy, I wonder if now is the time to start a conversation about the nature of criticism in the 21st century media landscape.

Ebert was always a geek. He embraced laser discs and VHS before everyone. And when DVD started to come to popularity, he was a big proponent of the format, citing the extra features and commentary that were included into various movie DVD releases. Even in the age of social networking, he was a prolific twitter user even before his health deteriorated, and after he loss the ability to speak he used twitter and became a  regular figure in our feeds.

But despite this, I still believe they Ebert was a member of the old guard, albeit a very innovative member. Although with some exceptions (“Avatar” and “Coraline“), Ebert generally hated contemporary 3D in films. He called it’s at best an unnecessary distraction and at it’s worse a money grabbing scheme by Hollywood. Now his arguments against 3D are vary valid (especially when your forking over $15 for a 3D movie when you can see the 2D version of the same title for four dollars less), but if 3D is just another tool for filmmakers to use, and can be argue that this is still (“the bronze age”) of modern 3D filmmaking, I wonder if Ebert was too quick to rub off a visual technique that is still maturing.

One piece of entertainment that Ebert completely didn’t get was video games. Although he seem to be “evolving” his opinion later on in his life, he vehemently placed film, as an art and literary form, far above even modern interactive games. Any gamer will scoff at this assertion, considering the depth and richness and many of the most popular games that have come out in the past several years.  The fact that Ebert ignored an form of entertainment that has dwarfed Hollywood in both money made and engagement is perhaps the strongest reason to say that Ebert was a bit old fashion. Ebert never played “Grand Theft Auto 3” or “Mass Effect”.

But I can’t blame the man for this, I’m sure when (or rather if), I’m in my late 50’s and some newfangled form of entertainment came out that is all the rage with the kids, I doubt I’ll get it too. But with that said, perhaps now is the time  to take inspiration in Ebert’s intelligence and passion for good cinema, and apply it to the new forms of entertainment, which I’ll called multimedia/networked/interactive (or M/I/N entertainment).

What is M/I/N entertainment? It’s just a generic term for our current entertainment media landscape  It includes films both 2D and 3D, but it also includes video games. It includes viral videos and twitter commentary for reality TV shows, this whole vibrant stew of  both experience AND participatory engagement primarily via the Internet.

We are faced with an unprecedented amount of entertainment choices in a variety of intersecting and merging forms. But for this bounty, there are few people and places where a consumer can go to and get a rational analysis of not just whether something is “good” or not, but delving deeper into it’s social-literary context. To be sure there are some pioneers that are starting to tackle this (Tom Bissell, Ian Bogost, and Jane McGonigal come to mind), but still there is a deficit of such thought in both academia and in mainstream media. The bright spot in all this is the large amount of commentary and discussions that are going on with consumers themselves via social networks, which should not be ignored as a valid source of criticism, although peppered with an ample amount of flaming and trolling that one may need to be conscious of.

So, Mr. Ebert, sir, you will be missed. But with your passing, I urge all of use to turn a page on a chapter, and begin a new chapter of media thought and conversation that is forged in Ebert’s image, but modified and hacked to take on the torrent of  M/I/N entertainment that will be a part of our media lives for years to come.


Why I never use a handle when on online communities.

I’ve been asked recently why I never use a handle when I’m posting on an online community. Beyond the communities that pretty much force you to use you real name (Facebook, G+), my username for other networks are equally as bland. On twitter, I use “jwoody”, on reddit I use the more identifying “jeromewoody”, and most blog and systems out there, I’ll just either identify myself as jwoody.

In the wilds of the web beyond the curated control of the major social networks, the idea of using your real name in online communities may seemed odd to people, or even a bit frightening. It’s been drilled into us by the media and popular culture that the Internet is filled with people who shouldn’t be allowed to know who you really are in real life. Perhaps another user or troll will take something you said online personal and tell you what he thinks face to face, or some cyber syndicate will use your name as a means to steal your entire identity. Many may just want to have the cloak of anonymity to say what they whatever they want.

My first online community that I was truly engaged in was back when I was a teen. I got an account on “The Well” back in 1996 after reading an article about the board system in Wired. It was at that time that I gained access to other systems and became more active in computing in general. On the well there was a general rule call “YOYOW”, or You Own Your Own Words. Coined by Well founder Steward Brand, the term has had many interpretations over the years but from what I took of it, it meant you were responsible for what you say in any forum. When I’m online posting a comment on either wired.com or slog (The Stranger’s Weblog), I want people to know that those comments were written by me, Jerome Woody, for I’m not going to communities to just drive by with some comment without a way to trace it back to me, I’m there because I committing myself to that community and want to participate in discussions, both deep and trivial.

I admit that without the cloak of a handle I do feel more exposed, and I tend to manage the way I am to other users online, and for the most part I believe that’s a good thing. I’ve always been one to freely give my opinion and haven’t turned away from a controversial subject, but I believe that using my name makes me a bit more considerate of other users comments. The urge to go all 4chan on a thread is gone completely since I don’t want to be known as “that asshole Jerome Woody” on reddit.

Although there are limits to this philosophy. As the web has deeply become a part of my public life, it has become a part of my private life as well. Like many people there are things that I do online that I would be embarrassing about if gotten out in the open, and in those occasions I will use some handle or attempt to mask my activity completely. But I believe that associating with most comment based communities is a public act, like going out to a public gathering or a bar. In real life, we don’t walk about among the masses with fake glasses and a mustache, we are who we are, and even without giving our names, our physical presence alone codify our identities.

On a web filled with flame wars, trolling and online bullying, I think if more of us decided to own our own words, to take responsibility to what we say and how we interact with others, we could have a web infused with more social respect and engagement.

But if you like your vanity name I respect that, it’s hard to be out there naked. You can just like to be known that online and I respect that too. But when you see my name on some anime forum or android mailing list, I’m not trying to be arrogant or naive. I’m just being me.