I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.
Star Trek Discovery wrapped its third season a few days ago, and thanks to properly licensing the thing, here in Australia I was able to watch it nearly on schedule, waiting only a day or two to legally watch it on the legal service I legally pay for, which
I guess up front there’s a sort of standard outlay of nerd stuff that I need to lay out here, because it’s never enough to just talk about a movie. On the one hand I find the task a little tiresome like there are some movies that get special disclaimers and clauses because heaven forfend I don’t show appropriate deference to a movie and be deemed as having, I don’t know, ‘wrong’ opinions? Because how can I say ‘I don’t want to watch Joker’ if I haven’t seen it?
Anyway, I suppose out of the box, some token criticism for this movie; there’s a line I think that didn’t quite land.
Ever noticed that there are a bunch of super speedster characters who are just total buttholes?
This isn’t a hard rule by any means – I don’t mean to say ‘characters who have super speed are all bastards.’ If nothing else, that’d be a pretty sweeping statement. It was something I noticed on City of Heroes that it was really common for people, when freed from existing canons, to make their own take on the super-speedster, seemed to pretty reliably make them, well, jerks.
At the time I thought this was just a byproduct of the somewhat insular reference pool of the community I was in. Like, the fact I couldn’t name in my entire RP circle, someone who had played a ‘Power Girl-type character’ but I could name multiple people who made anthropomorphic bats, and that the bats were all jerks, maybe painted to me that my environment was jerk-dense.
Thing is, when I went to revisit the topic, I found that it wasn’t that all speedsters are jerks… it’s that prominent speedsters were jerks. I did a quick sweep of a list of speed characters, and found that there was a pretty consistent trend that media that featured a speedster would often present that speedster as an asshole, and there was seemingly a stock episode in the 90s where a character would get super speed, be a total asshole with it, then abandon it, because they don’t want to be assholes. Because learning to not be an asshole with super speed is hard?
“But okay,” you may say, “Is this setting up a listicle,” and I thought about it.
If you know this character already, you know that there is one specific voice to use when writing about him. You might also know it is exceptionally annoying to write that way, and it’s even more annoying to read. It’s even the voice that the entire article about him is written about on the Transformers Wiki, which is so irritating to read that I have summarily given up on knowing anything true about the character and will not fact check anything I have to say here.
So here is the Generation 1 transformer, Blurrtimus ‘David’ The Jones.
David is a transformer created for the Transformers Movie, back in 198something. There was this push for the movie to serve as this dividing line between old Transformers, which played up the disguise, infiltration, secret angle of the Transformers characters, to the new generation of Transformers, who were going to be more of a ‘weird world space-faring’ story, where every new episode took the characters to a new oddball planet or meeting a new oddball alien. This was in part to open up different kind of transforming robot designs and maybe free up the previous generation’s reliance on wheeled vehicles, and it shows in the way characters like Kuppimus Kup and Miss ‘Sir Not Getting A Toy This Generation’ Arcee have vehicle modes that are kind of not like what you’d consider a vehicle, more ‘sci fi space ship’ than ‘could be parked at a Blockbuster.’
This movie also got a bit of a push where the characters presented for it were created with a bit more whole thought than the TV series? Characters were sort of approached all at once, and given clear affects and styles and character voices for the voice actors to establish. These aren’t complex characters – it’s pretty much just each character had a single gimmick that they could build out later (and never did). So, you have Rodimus Jr, whose gimmick was ‘is young’ and then you had Ultra Magnus whose gimmick was ‘is boring’ and then you had Arcee, whose gimmick was ‘is a girl’ and Springer whose gimmick was ‘probably meant to be Rodimus Jr.’
Now, David here, aka Blurr, is a Transformer whose bit is that he’s fast.
The way they handled Blurr in the movie was to have him talk very quickly, with a voice artist renowned for talking fast. That’s John Moschitta Jr. aka ‘Motormouth John,’ whose wikipedia page is easy to read, Telatraan-1, who has been responsible for a lot of voice acting in other roles. If you saw an ad for Micro Machines, or something like FedEx that had a super fast voiceover? That was this guy.
Blurr is meant to be fast, but if you look at him in the movie and subsequent series, they never do anything with that. Because, the most interesting thing about this is how we represent the affect of being fast, compared to the practical reality of being fast.
Like, the fastest way to answer the question ‘are you ready’ is ‘yes.’ And instead, Blurr would answer a question with dozens and dozens of words, and he would be shown moving at the same speed as other characters with a blurring outline. And that was good enough for me, as a kid, to look at Blurr and think ‘oh hey, I guess he’s really fast.’
But what does really fast mean?
Blurr showed up again, voiced again by Motormouth John, in Transformers Animated
Which is the best Transformers,
Where he once again was verbose, but also he had things to say. Original Blurr was a character who had nothing to say, but said it a lot; but then in a later iteration he had the same affect, doing very clear, very quick, descriptions of the entire plot up until now. It’s interesting, too, because the character was also treated as if he was very fast, and him being fast was treated this way to both update late viewers on the plot, and to convey extremely complicated scenarios and solutions.
If you have a fast character, consider why you need them to be fast, and ways to use that fastness.
Okay, there, now, how do you end an article like this?
Well now friends if you’ve been checking your clocks you’ll realise that it is Awesome Games Done Quick, a week-long speedrunning event, making this honorary Speed Week, a high holy week for Speedrunning community afficionados. How do you know this is Speed Week? Well, thanks to Game Pile and Story Pile, two of this week’s posts won’t be about speed at all, meaning we’re going to glitch through this 7 day period in only five days.
I used to try to follow cricket, because it was a subject to talk about with my dad and because we were, at the time, setting competitive records and I say ‘we’ like it was me who had the determination and skill and drive to play for Australia like the arsehole antagonist character in The Parable of Glen McGrath’s Haircut but the important thing is that there was a time when I tried to track cricket, and what about that I found interesting was watching a thing that had been seen as the best ever get steadily and steadily more and more impressive. I was watching a number go up and all I needed to follow for that was to occasionally check in on a sport which took five days to finish one game and where the majority of the time was taken up with literally nothing happening.
Watching competitive sports is a thing that we can derive pleasure from, and if you’ve ever seen some of that as being captivating but can’t connect to the pace or the style of game, speedrunning is a lot like that kind of competitive communal game experience. The things being shown in the game matter just as much as if it’s a leather ball or a havok engine crate, and because speedruns events are about introducing an audience who aren’t necessarily informed, it’s a perfect time to get to see and learn the rules of a lot of different types of speedrun.
Just like with more conventional sports, there’s demonstrations of remarkable skill, including things like being able to map complex processes blindfolded, competitive forms where two people have to try and execute a run racing one another, performances where players are explicitly disrupted and deprived of foreknowledge, performances that are even automated to show an absolute limit on difficulty. Some runs are short, and fast, and messy, and about being as skilled as possible at executing every skill in the game in a potentially random list, and some are about perfect operational execution of a long-term plan. Some are about forcing the game to let you roll a dice so you can try and roll three sixes in a row – there’s a Diablo speedrun where the world record is an hour and the Tool Assisted Speedrun with perfect luck is twelve minutes. Some are personality driven, some are technical, and some are about waiting for something terrible to go wrong.
Speedruns have a lot of different types, they are fun and cool and they are a genre of content, not a particular form. This event is a perfect time for you to want to check the genre out. People will be talking about it, they will be tweeting and they will be sharing the experience on discords. You can totally find people to hang out with now to watch these events and learn about them now. Where am I going to be doing it? I’m going to be tweeting about it, so you can see my thoughts there.
What am I looking out for? Well, as of right now, here’s some stuff on the schedule I’m looking at because I think it’ll be interesting. As always, check your schedule here and everything that’s already been run in the past twenty hours is, uh… off the schedule.
Here, then are some games and runs I’m looking forward to:
Sonic Mania. As this goes up, Sonic Mania is in three and a half hours, being run by the Scottish runner Argick. Argick is an active runner in the European Speedrun Assembly, and even when I don’t watch his runs (Fox watches them all) I am always happy to hear them. Argick is funny and charming and runs his mouth at a million miles a minute playing Sonics ranging from the good (Mania) to the very bad (the phone version of 4).
I fuckin’ love Argick runs. Please don’t be a milkshake duck.
Dishonored 2. This is going to be on at lunchtime for me, which is great, I like to watch it then. It’s a half hour run and it’s of a game with a lot of fun movement, but also tends to be done in-bounds. At any%, I don’t know, it might have all gotten a bit weird. We’ll have to see!
Diablo 3 (Cooperative run). An hour and a half is a great duration for a speedrun in my opinion, it means you have enough time to get involved in the texture of the game, you can learn the rules for how it’s going to work and the runners have time to establish a presence. And cooperative runs tend to come with two people explaining things, and Diablo games are really wildly random. This is a run where ‘perfect’ is almost impossible, so you’re going to see players playing really well for a prolonged period.
Metroid Prime, 100%. This is a two hour run which is an FPS game where you have to correctly remember to scan every single thing in the world. Lots of proper execution of move-and-shoot mechanics and extremely thorough exploring the world!
Carrion. This game rules and the speedrun for it looks a lot like ‘just playing the game,’ with only a few moments of wiggling skips to avoid entire chunks of the game.
Golden Sun. I’m not going to catch this run while it’s live, it’s four hours long starting at midnight my time, but JRPGs are typically good for settle-in and enjoy the style kind of game. Odds are good you’ll learn some interesting ways to exploit the way a game’s combat mechanics and movement mechanics work, but not watch the game turn into a pile of spaghetti.
Yoshi’s Island 100%. This game rules, the 100% speedrun is full of all these really impressive high-velocity perfect executions on a really refined route through a complicated game. Really good game, the speedrun makes the game even more impressive.
Alwa’s Legacy. This is a retro style throwback game, it’s very short, and it looks charming and the run is only 15 minutes. This is the kind of game where if you go play it yourself you’ll have to take a few hours to get good enough to finish and route it fast – and that makes the 15 minutes even more impressive.
Majora’s Mask: Speedrunning science has done things to this run. This is a game that looks extremely like the kind of thing that you’d hear made up in a school playground. At this point this game is breakable with the most preposterously deep level of code malarkey, and that means that watching this game get broken is an insight into how games work on a level that looks legitimately like magic.
Super Mario Sunshine: Great game, great run. This run is largely made up of points where you have to just play the game really well, but then spends time skipping exploring and wandering.
Beat Saber: This isn’t going to be a ‘speed run’ per se, but it’s going to be a performance of a rhythm game. It’s going to be seeing a hard game, played the best possible way – a sort of ‘perfect mode’ of the natural play.
TASBot plays Freedom Planet. Freedom Planet is a sonic-like game, TASbot is a robot that can give perfect inputs, this run will let you see how completely robots with perfect luck can transform the ways games can be treated as behaving.
Pokemon Blue: Catch’Em’All. Now I don’t know how well this category will do, because I don’t know if it’s going to allow for arbitary code execution. If it does, it’s a little less cool than I thought, but if it doesn’t, it’s going to be about watching someone route a very efficient map all across the world, retrieving weird things in weird orders and using the best of speedrunning science to do it.
That’s the stuff that I know I’m looking forward to in this AGDQ! Hopefully, if you look at the schedule, you’ll see some runs that similarly excite you. This is such a fun event, I hope you check it out.
Oh and hey, this whole thing is a charity stream? And it raises like a million dollars for good causes multiple times a year?
The end of year is a time when media production gets busy, and that means it’s a time when media makers get busy making backlogs of media to try and spend some time relaxing. I mean unless you don’t do Christmas, but even if you don’t do Christmas, you’ll probably still have some reduced attention and time. What steps up to fill that void in easy content lands is the listicle, and that’s why you’ll often get year-ender list gluts. If you work in media, that’ll often be things like a top ten of the year, or the month-long top hundred, or, often, a top ten and bottom ten.
I dedicate my Decembers to Da Ween, Yo, and that means that I try to make sure my December has a really positive, sweet, easy tone. No big heavy analysese, no takedowns, no ‘wow, this sucks!’ and that also means if I vent some fun spite, nobody misses it because of I dunno, turkey comas or whatever we blame our suddenly not being Extremely Online.
I watched, or started watching, a lot of stuff in 2020 that could have been a Story Pile. In a lot of cases, I did not write about them, This is because for a number of them, they were boring or annoying and I did not enjoy them.
Let’s look then, at the worst things I spent my time watching in 2020.
I did not know, until this year, that ‘Cover Youtube’ was a thing. I was vaguely aware that ‘original gaming music’ youtube was a thing, thanks to Miracle of Sound, who I found from the Escapist, and boy, isn’t that a rollercoaster.
Anyway, this year I’ve been enjoying discovering the music of a couple of different Youtube creators. Particularly, this year I found The Stupendium:
The Stupendium apparently considers himself a animator primarily, and like, well, great to have this as a side gig.
I also learned about Annapantsu:
Who in turn got me to check out Cami-Cat;
Where I learned that she also worked with the Stupendium on one of my favourite songs of his:
And also had me checking out Caleb Hyles and Jonathan Young;
And then I learned that these all also intersect with the work of Christina Vee;
Who I also know as a Sailor Moon voice actress, and oh, yeah, also, this:
There is also the work of Calliope Mori, but I’ve only really liked one of her songs, but I have enjoyed seeing bits of her working on music as a vtuber.
So yeah! There’s some stuff I listened to and liked this year! Check them out, subscribe to them and if you can, buy their music or tip them on ko-fi/patreon or whatever if you like their stuff.
Hermitcraft is a thing I kind of discovered, properly, last year. I found some random videos, thought they were interesting, started watching to put it all in context, and I even recommended Mumbo Jumbo and Grian as wholesome sources of good content for people who wanted to connect to kids who are into minecraft and didn’t necessarily have any chance of, you know, throwing out slurs or encouraging genocides like other Big Name Youtube Minecrafters.
As with all such things, after I sampled the main stream, I got over them and moved on to the really cool underground stuff. Now, part of this is that Mumbo Jumbo and Grian have audiences of literally millions of fans and those fans, together, are kind of, uh, enthusiastic children at best, and sometimes, hooting donguses the rest of the time. The great news about Hermitcraft is that when you have twenty four active players reacting to one another, you can have samples of the world and the experiences of it, without necessarily needing to focus on the four or five most popular ones.
Here then are some of my favourite Hermits, who are all under half a million subscribers!
Tinfoil Chef has had a heck of a year. He lost a bunch of weight, but it was because he lost a foot and a piece of his leg as well. TFC started the year living somewhere rural and isolated.
Check him out if you want to watch step-by-step, trial-and-error chill versions of Minecraft videos. How to build things, the kind of person who leaves in his mistakes and explains his process.
Joe Hills. Joe Hills does a lot of long streams. He’s fond of puns and poetry, so you can tune in to him and listen to some of that kind of thing. Two things about Joe: First, he interacts with Zombie Cleo a lot (and she’s great). Second, this season of Hermitcraft, Joe has set himself the rule that he will not use Diamonds. That results in some interesting behaviour.
Zedaph is in my opinion, the Moon Knight of the Hermits. It’s not that he doesn’t get involved in other people’s stuff, per se, but it tends to be more discrete things, like a lava bucket challenge with Tango (who isn’t being covered here, but he’s probably my favourite millionaire league subscriber hermit, wait, no, Etho is a millionaire now never mind this diversion is unnecessary). Zedaph is working on one large project, making a single cave that’s full of weird, interesting contraptions and devices that do interesting stuff.
Watch Zedaph if you like goofy British comedy. Lots of Goodies-league style comedic attitudes.
Stressmonster is… a lot.
Look, I like Stressmonster, I really do. I don’t tend to watch her videos regularly; I am more likely to see something odd that happened in another video, then go back and watch four or five episodes of Stressmonster back to back. I do it that way because she’s very high energy, but she also has a schedule that gets interrupted by life a lot.
Stress is honestly a really cool Youtuber, in that she has done and tried a lot of things, which, unfortunately, have not succeeded as much as Hermitcraft. But it’s great to see the different things she’s tried and if you can, throw her a subscribe to see what she tries next.
XBCrafted. Extremely oldschool as far as Hermitcraft goes, he’s been around for a long time. He’s doing a big project too, much like Zedaph is, where he’s building a post-apocalyptic district. One thing I like that he does is perching a camera account, and just watching himself as he putters around building something, out of bits and pieces. If you like the sort of slow, meditative crafting of Minecraft and seeing how it looks when people make.
Oh holy heeeeck, it’s Zombie Cleeeeooo I love Cleeoooo she has a great sense of humour, she has an amazing affect, she works on all sorts of projects with armour stands. In Hermitcraft they run a data pack that adds all sorts of in-game-doable stuff with armour stands, by using special commands through a book. It’s really cool, and Cleo is doing these amazing things to work on them to make a zoo. She’s very funny, I love what she builds, and she’s got a very sensible, teacherly kind of timing.
Oh and she got all the Hermits to slaughter one another this season early on.
Hypno! Hypno is one of the earliest Hermits to return, and I really like how his videos don’t tend to intersect with The Big Names. Hypno is engaged in the hermitcraft space, he’s talking with friends like Beef and XB and Cleo, but you’re not going to see him roping in on the latest Great Big Event that’s going on between the Big Name Subscriber folks that are happening over there.
Hypno is also patient in a way that other bigger names aren’t. One of his projects in this season was to build a little island home – and when he found that island wasn’t properly lining up with the biome he filled it in and rebuilt the entire island. That’s really cool!
FalseSymmetry! You probably see her in other Hermit videos a fair bit because she has the strange reputation of being a PVP Battle godddess, which also, based on this season… seems to be true? She’s just very good at competitive Minecraft, and I don’t know how to explain that, or what that means? But she’s also doing a lot of big builds and the kind of farm design that isn’t elaborate redstone contraptions and is much more about making big objects that do their job properly. She does great stuff, you should check it out.
For this year’s Story Pile articles, there’s a lot of rich reading to do. Turns out that this was the year of I Had A Lot of Free Time To Watch Long Things And A Reason To Keep Myself Distracted, so instead of wasting a month on Hannibal or Longmire or American Horror Story I watched things that were interesting and then wrote about it.
Here then is a reader’s guide to some of 2020’s best Story Pile article, whether they be because the work is good and interesting and I want you to check it out, or because the work is absolutely buttcloaks and I want you to join in with me in feeling pain about these things existing.
First of all I did an in depth watch of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (parts one, two, three and bonus memes), which seems to be heralded as one of the best Trek series ever. The more time that passes, the more I look back on what held in my memory, the more convinced I am that it isn’t very good at all; it was novel, it was doing a kind of storytelling Trek couldn’t do much of at the time, and there were great ideas in it, but the show’s ambitions were failed by its executions. I do think it has probably one of my favourite episodes of any Star Trek ever – In the Pale Moonlight is great, and then immediately I think of four or five other really great episodes, which makes me doubt.
It was really enjoyable and it had some great ideas and great episodes. It’s just hard to get over the ways it was bad, because they were pervasive and permeating.
I also finally tackled the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, something I’d been on-and-off promising myself I’d do for a few years now. The series is big and it’s sprawling and it’s made up of four ‘equal’ components (though that’s not counting the games): the manga, the first anime, the second anime and the live action movie. This one was a little harder to really nail down – fact is, the worst of them is the movie and it’s still going to fill two hours… fine.
I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, and my article on it is as much about that excellent sequence of Mahjong playing in the last act. I thought Douglas was an unexpected and excellent gem of a comedy show by a wonderful comedian, Hannah Gadsby. I also went over the ‘horror’ series Black Spot, which was about the intense and beautiful horror that came from an environment that feels to me completely alien.
There were some Story Piles that were just things I loved and wanted to talk about. Sort of raw enthusiasm, boiling away in me for sharing these stories or movies or series or characters or just good stuff so you could enjoy it during this time of Things Not Being Great. In that space, there’s John Wick 3: Para Bellum, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Lower Decks, Logan Lucky, andOcean’s 8. Just stuff I liked, with simple, no-nonsense articles explaining what I liked about them or why they were interesting. Sadly, my Durarara!! article has lost its fight with copyright robots that mean the music no longer shows up between the paragraphs. Tragic.
I also finally wrote a long form piece on Bleach, a series I still love and kind of feel I want to return to to explain interesting ideas in it, perhaps in the same way I did with the Fullmetal franchise. I also wrote about the Hatsune Miku phenomenon with Odds And Ends.
I watched The Thing for the first time this year and would you believe it, that movie? It’s really good. So was The Big Short, which mostly was me wondering: How many of the same actors are about to go unpunished?
Then there are the articles that are focused on things that I thought were real bad but where the articles were satisfying or fun to write. I didn’t do a lot of that this year, though! It may surprise you to realise it, but I’ve tried to keep pretty positive, even if there are a few Story Piles about throwing something bad into the sea.
Of this, there’s of course my article on Tall Girl, which was terrible. There was my article about Tomb Raider, a movie sneering at the idea of it ever being good. But the absolute crowning jewel of my ‘holy shit, oh no’ kind of articles this year had to be my piece on The Sonic The Hedgehog Movie (But Not Really), which is of course, about the 1990s kung-fu anti-drugs ad, Sidekicks, and the awful millionaires involved in its production.
The best sign of media is when a line, or a phrase, or an expression of an idea transforms the way you think about things. These two youtube channels both, this year, gave me a nice, tight, clear way to grapple with some big ideas that I already knew, but which had not yet been crystallised, been turned into memes for me to easily and readily share.
First up: Atun’Shei Films. Dude is a history nerd and former tour guide who makes videos about the Civil War, about American war history that isn’t just the civil war, about the history of places that are often obscured because of the simplified language of the civil war, about Nazi ideology informing our views of history and also makes fun fictionalised public performance things like going to Mardis Gras roleplaying a witchfinder general. He’s a real nerd’s nerd. Oh, and a fun video about cannibalism.
In this video, after the break from the kayfabe, he lays out a simple, excellent phrase that I feel does an great job of breaking the mind from a need it had to justify a connection to our figures from history:
These old dead racists are not your friends.
There is a need, a yearning, to put ourselves in a connected thread to our histories. There is a want to see people whose lives led to our lives, who were related to us, to be humanised to be people, but people as we can handle them. And when you remember that no, old dead people are old and dead and not your friends, you can more easily handle the fact that yeah, they were pretty abhorrent.
The other person who did something in this vein is Quentin, of Quentin Reviews:
Now, as a non-American, the hagiography of American foundationalism is just… odious as hell to me. It’s basically one country jerking itself off about how its founding was a unique and interesting story when it was, largely, just a rearrangement of the fancy chairs at the big tables. Still, Americans, largely, love Hamilton and they love the mythology of Hamilton and they love the idea of there being, again, a connection to that meaningful legacy of people borne by high ideals and not just the latest upper class ponces.
The crystalliser in this one was: I wonder what Alexander Hamilton would say, if he could see this, and all I can think is that he’d say something extremely racist.
It’s a bit, it’s a gag, it’s a punchline for a paragraph, but it is also extremely interesting when you’re thinking about the narrative we tell ourselves about these characters. It helps you shake the brain a little, and remember that these people lived and breathed and ate and they were okay with the racists in their midst. If you met an actual slave owner and you had the right to shoot them if you felt offended by their presence, wouldn’t you? Or would you just be okay with them and just hope they never brought it up at your mutual fancy dinners?
Both Atun’Shei and Quinton are working on building subscriber counts. So hey, go check them out. I like their work.
Look, I’m going to tell you up front a harsh truth: Your Australian accent sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a chance you’re an Australian and you’re reading this, okay, you know I don’t mean you. I mean, my Australian accent sucks, but that’s a weird cult artifact. Point is, for the majority of my audience, that think they do an ‘Australian accent,’ no, you don’t, and your attempts to do so don’t sound like an Australian accent. I can be very confident about this, statistically.
It means when you do hear an Australian accent in other sources, it often stands out. Now, you might know already that Brady Haran, who I will always know by his Google Name that I use to find that surname, “Brady Numberphile” is Australian, but most of his work in his establishing days was being done up in Nottingham University and surrounds. That meant chemistry work and physics works with an array of United Kingdom accents, and of course, people who came to Nottingham to study.
And then, I saw that he did videos with Simon Pampena.
Now look, I don’t know Simon. Not personally. It’s a big island, we haven’t bumped into each other. He’s an Australian Mathematics Ambassador. It is literally his job to make media that gets people interested in mathematics, to see how numbers and systems relate to one another, and… I just really like his work? There’s a range of stuff he does, podcasts and presentations and TV shows and whatnot, and like…
This is just something I find really fun. Interesting stories about events in mathematics (like the Legend of Question Six, presented here) and ways that straight lines can slowly be transformed into circles and ways that primes and sets can be manipulated around one another. He does stuff with Brady Google The Surname Again over on Numberphile, he does long form explainers, and he’s really interesting.
Plus, you probably won’t hear an accent like his very often.
In a year that’s been full of not a lot happening, I have been spending time making sure I contact people, share my time with them, and just generally reassure them that they’re doing okay, even if they’re not doing a lot. This means a lot more small conversations.
Freyja did help inspire one of my shirts this year, but a lot of this year has mostly been small conversations before I go to bed and just before she does, two people effectively on opposite sides of the world sharing a few minutes of a shift. Freyja’s working on her projects, I on mine, and we both do a lot of our work in public. That can be interesting and sometimes it means we both look at the other’s work, shrug, and go ‘eh, not for me, but whatever.’ Freyja’s always just been good to talk to all year.
Also, her audience are really engaged? If she shares a link, it gets clicked.
This is Cae! Cae is my friend. Cae has been my friend for, like, actual literal years now. And this year, Cae has had a pretty wild successful shift in her life, in that she’s… now… a modestly successful Vtuber attached to a notable and successful indie game?
Which is wild.
This is (a shot of) Gra. Gra has a longer name, that I cannot remember and do not trust me to romanise properly into English. Gra is a snapjaw, a type of trash mob from the game Caves of Qud. Now, Gra exists in part because turns out that if you’re a queer woman on the internet, showing yourself is going to attract you terrible people, and that means Gra serves a degree of defensive protectiveness. That is a noble and worthwhile thing Gra does.
But you know what else Gra is?
Gra is an amazing performative tool.
Gra is a fluid, immensely flexible and spontaneously creative form of puppet that Cae can make interact with the game, with the screen she’s in front of and also with … just… whatever random bits of emoji, graphics, anything that can be slapped on a screen or a layer in front or behind of Gra.
And Cae plays Gra. Gra is a character and refers to her ‘voice actor.’ In fact, I’m actually kind of unsure if Gra uses she/her pronouns just because Gra is so distinctly a separate character to Cae, her actor, and that’s really interesting. Because she’s live performance, a character played to play another game. And that’s really fucking interesting.
I cannot, in any sincerity, imagine even in the most preposterous of dystopian cyberpunk-ass future, envision this scenario that came into my life. I know my dad watches long, meaningless streams of seemingly interchangeable interactions between overpaid white blobs, and occasionally talks to the television about what a good or bad job they’re doing. That’s cultural. That’s a game. That’s sport, I know that shit.
In Demolition Man there’s a gag about the idea of characters listening to old retro jingles for the fast food chains that are all that remain of 20th century culture, the only pop songs on the radio being the ads. That feels like it has some stunning boomer energy, really, when you consider it’s basically ‘oh, the ads are becoming so much more of the radio these days!’ which, sure, whatever, I don’t even listen to the radio itself.
But right now, on Youtube, there is a channel that is literally just ads, and I am subscribed to it, and I put it on when I need something restful that isn’t headphone-required. Because it’s a channel about stationery supplies.
JetPens is a store. It is a business, in California, that sells pens and pencils and pencil cases and sharpeners and card dies and obscure book stuff and backpacks and so many things and the store doesn’t serve Australia.
I mean I can order from it if I want but I don’t need to. There are local stores in Australia that can probably handle the products, if I want them, but what’s more, I don’t really want to buy them. I have my needs met, here. But instead, I watch this channel of gentle, interesting, upbeat and completely friction free ads, and sometimes, thanks to them, think about the kinds of problems I see in the material objects I work with, and the ways I might work on them going forward.
Earlier this year I got some thoughts out there about how communal writing on an internet platform is a type of Videogame (nyah Miri), and used as my example the horror wiki, The SCP Wiki. This involved doing a bunch of research into the platform, which I didn’t do by just mashing the random or top ranked buttons – I went to TVTropes (which can be a bit dire) and checked out Youtube. Some of those Youtube sources I find extremely unpleasant, and won’t link for various reasons, but I did find this pleasantly straightforward, relatively clear explainer series, the SCP Universe Explored.
It isn’t by any means a perfect listen; the topics the channel focuses on are sometimes those I find the most boring, like pataphysics or the Oroborous Cycle and X-men-a-like canons. But it still does cover a breadth of topics, and does a reasonably decent job bringing together posts that reference the same ideas without requiring you to do a spiderweb hunt through the whole wiki.
It’s pretty weird that youtube has people on it whose whole contribution to the format is essentially podcasts made up of simplified reading of a free wiki service, but here we are.
If you want a way to check out the SCP universe in a fairly broad way, this channel does a good job at being a podcast covering the topics.
I talked about this podcast a long time ago – back in 2015 when it was reasonably new. At the time I’m writing this, the podcast has been shut down since July 2019, meaning that there’s about four years of content, spread across 35 episodes that cover a range of the history of the WCW (World Championship Wrestling).
The WCW is a wrestling company, which means it’s obviously actually fanciful nonsense, and it fell apart and failed, Unlike most other ridiculous Wrestling folly, where analysis is a sort of moving target, doing a crime scene investigation on a hit-and-run in progress, the story of WCW is instead an autopsy, where the subject lays sprawled out. What’s more, the hosts are people who didn’t just read up what happened when the event was over, nor are they industry insiders who lived their way through the whole fiasco and have their stories to tell about how they were treated.
Instead, this is an exercise in dismantling their own past, the media that was presented to them, as they reach inside the black box of history, and see what makes it scream.
I was listening to it, more or less, as it was being released, and then, late in 2019, I pulled it out and listened to it again, knowing I missed a bunch of episodes, and vaguely aware that I hadn’t heard about it launching new episodes in a while. I wasn’t going to really say anything about it, at first, because I know many projects are set aside for a number of reasons, and that the people who made it may not be happy with how it ended or that it ended or whatever.
I don’t know.
I don’t feel comfortable asking.
But this project, the story you get out of these episodes is fun; it’s funny; it’s heartfelt in both how it loves this media form and the period of history it examines. It’s fascinating in that it’s very rare to see an expensive business collapse and fail as a function of its own honest-to-god hubris. And it’s an interesting examination of a cultural space that seems to be deliberately retrograde continually setting itself on fire.
This is her twitter avatar as of… like… when I wrote this. If she’s changed it, well, now you can date this blog post like a fuckin’ coin in a coal mine.
Anyway, hey, Nixie. Nixie is my friend. Nixie is also one of those many folk who I think of as ‘unqualified experts,’ on two major fields, with a lot of related knowledge in other, connected fields. Like a girl who knows firearms and watch repair probably knows a thing or two about lockpicking, or at least, knows who to ask. The areas of expertise I talk to Nixie about are planes and guns, with an occasional consult about elegant gothic lolita fashion, because if you haven’t been around my friends, this is an extremely normal overlapping set of interests.
Nixie is hard to promote.
It’s hard to promote her because she has all these fascinating interests and these great ideas and these cool projects, but, due to Life and Brains and How They Interact, they’re not like, stored up in a great big blog spot where you can just jam there, or a youtube channel. Instead, I have a huge fragmented pile of conversations and a patreon (that I do currently pay into), but I can’t exactly do much more beyond point you at her twitter.
Nixie, this year, has been bounced around through a lot of rough stuff – both happening to her directly, and happening to her friends and partners around her. It’s not ‘private,’ in that she’s spoken about it in public, but I don’t mean to go over this in a big public way.
Nixie is a wonderful, thoughtful, interesting person, someone who I can talk to about a lot of topics that I don’t normally have a handle on, and she recommended to me the excellent Ai: The Somnium Files. Plus, she understands the way anxiety affects the brain, and how important it is that we hang together, you know?
I think Nixie is great, and while she hasn’t made a ton of content this year that you can easily grasp, the stuff she’s making, physical props and extensive threads on ideas like the importance of empire or the way guns actually work, are valuable reading in atypical forms. Sometimes the only way you can tell someone you love them and you’re proud of them these days is to make it really obvious in a third person kinda way.
She’s also a very good writer. Just to explicate that.
This year, I watched it, which, you know, I kind of imagine this year I’d have watched more stuff? Seen more series? But I’ve been working non-stop at home, focusing and being exhausted and that means that I have a surprisingly small amount of time and energy to dedicate to watching movies.
Still, Nixie told me she liked it, so I thought: Hey. Let’s have a look.
I watched it, and then I had to decide what I was going to say about it.
Ettin has had a weird year, from what I can say observing him at a distance, through a telescope and several layers of masking and that’s before we got the pandemic going.
Ettin is a creator who hovers in this really weird space for me in that we can both recognise that we are immense dorks, but somehow I’m always left wondering if I’m his boring uncool friend. Like he’s successful on a level I’ve never dreamt of, yet he comes to talk to me sometimes.
Ettin spent most of this year doing what he could, under lockdown, obviously. There’s been a lot of weird stuff going on, and that means that some projects, like Hard Wired Island kickstarted last year, have been getting done and worked on, as best they can when there’s a literal actual global pandemic.
There was also some legal stuff this year? But it was the kind of legal stuff where you go: Oh, what a fucksmith. So some fucksmith sued Ettin and that led to Ettin doing something weird. Don’t know what to say about that. Moving on.
Ettin is someone I’m still very proud to know and proud to help when I can. The entire project, the idea of the project, has had this sort of delightful ridiculousness where he can use his ongoing project as a reason to make fun of people who are getting paid much more than him to deliver a project with a weaker soul.
I talked about him last year, but I felt like it deserved mentioning this year that Ettin’s pretty cool. Not because he’s doing something amazing or revolutionary or even something I want. I just appreciate the kind of person Ettin wants to be and the things he wants to stop doing as he works on making his projects as excellent as he can.
Okay, look, not everything I’m going to bring up is going to be something deeply enrichening or uplifting. It’s not all about necessarily learning an extra language or promoting artists of colour in a marginalised field. Sometimes, what you want is some brain-off youtube content that you can tune in and tune out of, and that does something to remind you of stuff you like, without necessarily demanding you put that thing straight in the forefront of your attention.
And to that, I offer the work of one Certifiably Ingame, who, unfortunate name aside, seems to be one of those wonderful nerds who wants to talk about science fiction a lot but is doing it with a pause and mute button on hand.
The work presented by the channel has a bunch of different types of feature. If you want something to mull over after watching some new Trek but don’t want to like, go to reddit or anything like that, Rick’s channel produces a bunch of stuff about the shows, but it’s all done through a fairly affable ‘I liked this’ or ‘I didn’t like this’ lens. Despite being a channel about overwhelming attention to detail on Trek Lore – and there are playlists of this stuff – the channel is very firmly in the ‘it is a story told by people for money, and things change’ camp.
I find that sometimes there’s something very comforting about these lists that remind me of things, and it’s a really good way to approach an enormous continuity that’s mostly available on streaming services. The episodic nature of Trek means that if I want to go look for ‘the good episodes’ of a thing, there’s just an enormous list of readings that people want me to do. But if instead, I, say, put on a listicle of ‘ten big creatures in Star Trek’ and I get two episodes from Voyager, one from TNG, one from TOS and so on, that’s an interesting linked list to kick off a bit of a watch.
I dunno, it mixes stuff I know and remember with stuff I don’t yet, and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s certainly more approachable an a holistic, top-down approach when it comes to Trek lore.
Two years in a row now I’ve been offering roundups of ASMRtists I listen to. It’s Summer now, and does that mean I need more careful help fighting off the way the weather makes me feel so I can calm down and sleep? Well, sure does.
In September this year, this article about the overwhelming whiteness of ASMR culture was published on Huffington Post. At the time, I didn’t have much to say about it, because the problem looks different to me than to the people involved. Particularly, in my experience, ASMRtists are things where my moods and needs shift around a lot. There are some artists who are a sometimes food; some artists where I’ll watch one video over and over again; some artists whose work I like but I still only partake on it irregularly, and some artists where I only follow particular plotlines.
Yes, there are plotlines.
The article is right, though, there’s definitely a bias in ASMR videos that get randomly promoted by Youtube towards whiteness. It also is biased heavily towards promoting women, particularly photogenic women, and it’s biased towards women with active update schedules and online presences that can be interconnected. Lots of successful ASMRtists are doing three hour-long uploads a week, many have existing instagram or off-site video services. There’s lots of Replicating Privilege structures.
Here, for example, is a screenshot of what happened on Youtube when I searched for ‘ASMR Xhosa’. When it ran out of suggestions from AFRICAN XHOSA ASMR, the first suggestions were well-established, verified, extremely white-looking, conventionally photogenic ladies. The Youtube Algorithm isn’t doing anyone any favours on this front.
There were two bummers for me about this, though. One, it sucks that this space hasn’t done anything to push back against the existing problem. Two, it sucks a little bit more for me that I can’t help much about it, because I’d seen a lot of the black artists the article puts forwards and I don’t like what they do. That sucks, because I’d love to be able to add to that momentum – hey, friends who read this article, here are some good suggestions all rounded up, etcetera.
So, I went to my subscriptions and here’s a roundup of ASMRtists I have subscribed to, who Aren’t More White Folks.
ASMR Power Of Sound: I know I mentioned this guy last year. He’s still more or less the same, and he does do some ‘negative energy’ stuff and chiropractic stuff, whatever. I do like his work, and I’ve been listening to him consistently in the remaining year. There are some weird things, to me – he’s done ‘homeless man ASMR’ and a few of his plotlines veer into dark places suddenly and surprisingly, so it can be a bit much if you’re fragile.
ASMR PPOMO: I always feel nervous recommending ASMR channels in languages I don’t speak. Like, I don’t know, this person might be a total shitbird. But this channel has lots of those long-form, sound-variety stuff.
ANNURA’S ASMR: Annura arranged a big collaboration amongst other black ASMRtists to do a big compilation, a ‘try all our stuff’ video. It wasn’t to my tastes, and neither was Annura’s stuff in general (I’m just not one for your fast-flickers, really). But, she also made this video, which on its own, I find very useful for concentrating, but also: It’s really funny. Like, the video itself is just really witty.
NEFERTITI ASMR: I am nervous about this one, because the videos from this channel I’ve seen have been in French, which I don’t speak. I’ve watched a few of these videos and found them very nice in that kind of ‘sound with texture’ that I like. Props are very elaborate, whole process is very calming.
WILDHEART ASMR: Jamaican-centred ASMR, with videos themed around Jamaican culture. I like language lists, so those videos are great for my needs.
SE-YA ASMR: Language barrier problem again: for all I know this guy is recommending you stop watching anime and have babies. But I liked his fan videos and his doctor stuff has been a nice background for studying time.
2020 was the year of the archive binge for me. It meant looking into spaces where I’d considered checking something out, and not really delved and see what worked out for me.
Youtube archives are always awkward because now the site is so old and channels are similarly vintage, you can run into channels where, at start six or seven years ago, the people who made content for them may have been shitlordy.
Fortunately, in this case, Overly Sarcastic Productions aren’t shitlordy; five years ago, they were just less-elegant in their generally good attitudes about, like, people. Mythology is a fraught space full of conservative takes and tangled up visions of how we record history, and uh, so is history, so a channel full of those things where they’re happy to mention how rapey and creepy things were in the past without dwelling on it is appreciated.
They’ve been at it for a long time and I love the animatic style of simple, personality-driven, wonderful art, and also Blue is there.
Go check it out. Particularly I like their Dionysus explainer:
Which feels like a blueprint for the kind of ‘innocuous-seeming, deeply terrifying’ characters I love to play and read about.
Enola Holmes is a one-off, self-contained movie about Sherlock Holmes’ perfectly rad little sister, when she discovers her mother disappeared, decides to try and find her. This starts by recruiting her two supposedly impressive brothers, and when they aren’t useful, she instead decides to go to London, follow her mother’s trail, maybe thwart an anti-democratic plot of the nobles, possibly discover her own connections to domestic terror groups, and kill a man with kung fu.
It’s a fun little movie, where Enola delivers direct narration explaining her position in the story, which I understand may be seen as a bit twee or a bit untidy for a movie aimed at adults, but you know what, this is Da Ween and this movie absolutely feels like it’s trying to hold the attention of an audience who sees Enola as a peer.
The movie features Henry Cavill, aka Zack Snyder’s Superman, aka the worst Superman in two of the worst Superman movies ever made, and in this movie, he is charming and he laughs and he smiles and it’s like, oh yeah, this dude is made out of Iconically Handsome Movie Man Pieces, why is he so bad at Supermanning? This one casts him as a less-asshole counterpart to Mycroft, but then underscores that both of them are privileged assholes. That’s neat.
This is largely fine.
There’s this weird standard that Sherlock Holmes media gets held to, where they get compared to one another, or to the books, or to whatever most recent best version of it that exists is going around. Given just how much permutation there is of Holmes Media, or Sherlockians or Bakerstreetskin or whatever they want to call themselves, it seems to me to be pretty difficult to even make a quality statement about that.
What I can tell you is that Enola Holmes is a fun adventure story that seems to be complicated enough that any given kid watching is not going to be able to guess the way the story ends, but also not so complex that a kid is going to struggle with following what happens. There’s not a lot of adult humour, and it holds out the idea that hey, maybe young people doing their best and trying hard to make things better is good.
If you have Netflix, and you’re looking for something to add to the queue, and you have kids to entertain because school is over for the month, check this one out. It’s certainly better overall than a Potter movie, and it’s apparently a good introduction to an interesting series of kids’ books.
We live our lives surrounded by stuff. It’s something of a rule that you don’t understand how the stuff that surrounds you works. That’s okay, you don’t have to be into it, you don’t have to want to, but there are interesting side effects of this.
There’s this idea that capitalism engenders innovation. That a lot of different people competing for attention will try different ways to earn our attention, and that effort results in a greater variety of quality products at the lowest, competitive price. Good ideas become expected parts of standards and over times, the markets form an idealised optimal vision of the best products possible. Always forward, always advancing ideas better and better.
This is, of course, fantastically stupid, because it clearly doesn’t. Advertising mostly hammers on the same four or five ideas and is done by companies that are rolling the dice endlessly, and when they roll double sixes, proudly proclaim that that was what they meant to do.
Capitalism doesn’t give us better products. We know that because all the best versions of products seem to have been made, then their great ideas were ignored and discarded, because greater profit could be extracted from them being worse. One great way to learn about this story, about the ways that toasters, microwaves, rice cookers and headlights work, and were made better than we can buy now, and those improvements were discarded.
Technology we live with is made by people and those people make choices. Understand them and understand what they think of you. This channel, Technology Connections is a lot of gentle, very positive, mildly-funny in that exhale-through-the-nose huh-never-thought-of-it funny way, but never gutbusters, presents an educational vision of things that get made.
What I’m saying is that you should let your microwave radicalise you.
Bob Ross was an American thing. I don’t ever remember seeing him on TV here, in Australia. He was also a sort of proto-ASMR media format where the man’s gentle voice and soothing style was prone to giving people a sort of relaxation space even if they never joined in and painted. Then you throw in that there were VHS artefacts and analogue TV distortion creating more of the stuff we associate with lo-fi ASMR, and you get a dude who you find out about if you get into ASMR, no matter what.
The thing is, this guy’s work isn’t just about being relaxing, it’s also depicting a hobby, an artistic practice, and it’s a practice that was, formerly, in the day of Bob Ross’ lifetime, involved a bit of work ahead of time; he popularised a form known as wet on wet, where you start with a canvas that’s already slick with a base colour, meaning that colour you introduce has a medium to melt through.
You know what medium can handle that kind of deformationreally easily? Almost all drawing tools on your phone and tablet, and a number on your computer. Put down a blob of colour, then use the smudge tools to get that same wet-on-wet effect.
It’s December. You might like me have free time around friends and family. You might want something you can try out while the family are interested in using tech like tablets and videogames, and still want to work on something together.
So…? Check out Bob Ross’ channel on Youtube. Give it a shot. Make some happy little accidents.
There’s a way to frame this post, a sort of meanspirited ‘hey, my friend wrote a whole book under lockdown, what did you do with your time,’ but that’s not really helpful, nor is it interesting, nor is it reasonable. We have all worked at our own rate, with our own complex relationships to pressure and isolation.
One of my friends finished a book.
Now, Nothing But The Blood is basically a story about ‘what if the people who think they’re Jesus’ biggest fans and the defense against the devil met the actual devil?’ If you’re looking for something to read, you can totally do that, and should go check it out over on the author’s tumblr.
Hey, I know I normally do the T-Shirt designs at the end of the month. This time, there’s a reason that maybe you want some product of mine for the end of the month? I don’t know why, but maybe you do, and because of that, I’m doing this month’s t-shirt designs up front, early.
This is a year that’s been, all told, pretty bad. At first I was working on a design that showed a range of the many ridiculous things that happened this year, informed by resources like is2020over.com. The problem is when you look at the things of 2020, most of those things are total bummers.
With that in mind, and figuring I don’t want to give you depression on a shirt, I thought, let’s cover some of the weird stories this year that didn’t have a chance to be even one of the worst things.
Alright, so the Blacklist. I’ve talked about it before. It’s a bad show. It’s a clueless show, a show that establishes itself with an interesting hook, then spends subsequent episodes constantly and effortlessly making sure it is less and less interesting. The first episode introduced us to the tension between a woman finding that the most wanted criminal in America was turning himself over to the authorities in order to personally explain to her some immense truth that started with the discovery that her husband of a number of years was hiding a secret from her that included hidden cash, weapons, and passports, in her house.
There’s no great secret or brilliant plot at the heart of The Blacklist, it’s just a fantastically dumb series that follows inthe pattern of CSI of each researcher finding one random thing they can build a whole episode around, and that’s what you’ll find if you bother to watch it. Any given episode has about one idea, and the rest is shaky-cam and mediocre stable characters orbiting around James Spader and making it look like they know what they’re doing as they build towards this season’s mysteries and revelations, to see the cool twist they’re building.