Family Day

Family Day is statutory holiday in Ontario, introduced in 2008. Cleverly, the University of Waterloo also has reading week at the same time, avoiding having an extra day off for students. This hopefully means a more relaxed week for myself, as it will be a short work week, without classes or assignments to worry about.

It’s been a fairly relaxing day, despite the need to shovel some fresh snow. Light fluffy stuff, not really worthwhile snowblowing. It’s been a fairly productive day as well. More work done on clearing out my old office upstairs, sorting through several shelves, into “store” and “recycle” boxes. Some boxes were already being stored in the closet upstairs, but rather than sort through them now, I’ve just moved them as-is.

I really should be following some of the tips on unclutterer, but I’m working to a schedule. Since they’re being moved into an obviously temporary location on another floor, I’ll be strongly encouraged to go through them when time isn’t as tight.

Adding to the holiday fun, my daughter has a bit of a fever. Right now, she’s cuddled up on the couch, watching cartoons. Rather, watching a single episode of My Little Pony continuously. “Daddy, I want to watch Dragon My Little Pony“. How can I say no when she’s feeling sick? Poor munchkin.

Nostalgia and Classic Gaming

One of the things on my “to do” list this weekend was to go through some of the boxes in the closet. The television in the basement now has a Nintendo Gamecube, a SNES, and an old PSOne hooked up. Needless to say, this hasn’t really helped my productivity today. After ensuring that my FFIII saves still exist, I switched over to the Playstation to play Final Fantasy Origins, which includes a port of the original Final Fantasy.

These systems have been in boxes for at least three years, so it’s been quite awhile since I’ve played the game at all. Currently I’ve been levelling up outside Elfheim. My party consists of a Fighter, a Red Mage, a White Mage, and a Black Mage. I’ve considered restarting with Fighter, Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage for cheaper maintenance costs (magic users are expensive to upkeep) but I think I’ll just continue as is. Actually, apparently with the Playstation release, Fighters have been renamed to Warriors, and Black Belts have been renamed to Monks.

The game balance of the original Final Fantasy is different from the later sequels. A considerable amount of time needs to be spent in random encounters, both to get experience for levelling, as well as for money to buy new equipment. While this clearly adds to the game duration, it tends to become a bit of a grind, which is one of the main reasons this game is seen as more difficult than the later games.

The game mechanics are also far more simple. There is no Active Time Battle system, everyone gets one action per round. There’s no real way to influence stat growth by equipping particular items while you gain experience. It’s challenging, nostalgic, but the game mechanics are almost too simplistic.

I originally got Final Fantasy on the Nintendo shortly after it came out, in 1990. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years.

Adapting Screenplays: Blade Runner

As part of English 408A, Media Writing at the University of Waterloo, I have been doing some extra reading regarding screenwriting. While movies are clearly a visual art, where they excel is clearly in the narrative performance. Due to the compressed length, a screenplay is far shorter, and thus the narrative must be compressed. This is one of the reason why many movie adaptations are so very different from the original novel. Complex subplots which stray from the main plot are cut loose, perhaps replaced with shorter subplots which provide a quicker payback.

I’ve occasionally wondered exactly why it is that the short stories of Philip K. Dick are so frequently adapted by Hollywood. Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford is a prime example, and is also a film classic. There are a number of themes from the novel which were dropped from the film. The most obvious of which is Mercerism, and the empathy boxes. The shared artificial reality, designed to allow users to share pain in a spiritual manner, can be read as a critique of our modern media culture. There’s also an interesting parallel to the video screens in Fahrenheit 451. Dick was critical of modern media, in a way that wouldn’t necessarily carry over into a commercial film.

Sadly, this and several other themes are left out of the film. In the case of Blade Runner, I think these changes were justified. Film emphasizes the visual, and while I believe that Philip K. Dick was an exceptionally visual writer, many of the themes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep just wouldn’t translate well into film. Where in a novel, the author can show the thoughts of the protagonist, where in film, this can only be achieved artificially, such as through a narrative voice over.

By trimming down these themes, Ridley Scott was able to emphasize those that remained, and to emphasize the new form of visuals. The world of Blade Runner is very different from that of the original novel. Where Dick’s world was a post-nuclear wasteland, depopulated through emigration, the world shown in the film is a dark, densely populated melting pot of American and asian cultures. This visual style later came to embody the cyberpunk aesthetics.

It’s interesting to consider some of the other adaptations of Dick’s work, especially those from short stories. Where in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? themes were removed from the screenplay, when adapting his short stories, the stories are fleshed out. Not every adaptation remains true to even the core plot of Dick’s original story. Often, the main elements which remain include the name, those of the major characters, and the key plot point of the story. Others, like the Minority Report, follow the path of Blade Runner, weaving together many of the strands of the original narrative, keeping “mostly true” to the original tale, which in some ways, becomes a minority report of its own.

How do you cite a Kindle ebook using the MLA?

For a recent essay, I was referring to two Kindle edition ebooks. While I found text highlighting in the ebook to be extremely natural, and extremely easy to cross reference, there is very little guidance as to how to make essay citations to these works.

The problem is that Kindle ebooks do not maintain the pagination of a print book. The theory here is that different zoom levels would change the page number being show. Instead, Amazon decided to use a location number, which actually provides a more precise indication as to the actual reference.

The nice thing about these location numbers is that when The kindle app shows the list of your highlights, it also gives you these location numbers. Less fortunately, the Kindle application doesn’t make it easy to get your highlighted material out of the app. Copying and pasting is denied, and there are also limits as to the number of highlights that Amazon will export to the web. For some books, such as one of the two I was reading, no highlights were exported.

As to my citations? I decided to use Amazon’s location numbers, like so: (McKee, loc. 42). I think I heard that Amazon is planning on adding print pagination into their books, possibly to address this current project, but I saw no evidence of this yet on the desktop application.

Years Passing By

In one of my first classes upon returning to university, one of my professors urged the class to “think ahead to the future. What do you see yourself doing at the age of 23?” I laughed at the time, as I didn’t remember what I had done just a few years previous. It was a reminder however, that returning to undergraduate studies as a part time student would bring an increasing age difference.

It hasn’t stopped me from making friends with my classmates, although they have this nasty habit of graduating and moving off for grad school. I hear conversations about parties, and bars, or just going out to see a movie last minute, and I just shake my head. I have to remember if I need to pick up another pack of Pull-Ups on my way home. Life has a tendency to catch up, when you’re not expecting it.

One of the coop students in the office once revealed that they are younger than the Simpsons TV show. While they didn’t watch it as a child, they have not lived in a world without Bart Simpson. That’s kind of a cultural touchstone for me, and its disconcerting to learn that it predates people I work with.

Fear of the Blank Page

One thing I’ve found while doing my daily blog posts, is that I’ve lost most of my fear of the blank page. While I may occasionally have difficulty in deciding what to write about, either as a book review, or current events, it’s usually a narrowing of possible topics, rather than coming up with something new.

Writing on a daily basis has become a habit. I set down, and my fingers type. Perhaps this is what they advocate during Nanowrimo. November tends to be the busiest time of year for me, so I’ve never blocked off time to participate. Maybe I’ll be able to do so this year.

I was afraid when starting my daily posts that I would quickly run out of things to say, or that I’d sit in front of the blank screen for hours. Some posts tend to take time to write, those are the ones that require a little research. When I’m talking about current events, for example, I like to ensure that I check a few semi-reliable sources first. Being connected to the internet doesn’t always help my productivity either.

My blog posts have been coming faster, as well. On average, it’s taking much less time to make my minimum word counts. I’m still not making much progress in writing them several days in advance, like I had originally hoped. I have a few drafts in progress, but they’re more for exploring ideas which may not really go anywhere. We’ll see what happens.

For now, I remain pleased with my blogging experience. I’m certainly making better progress than I at first feared.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick’s works have been quite popular for film adaptations, starting with Blade Runner, an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? starring Harrison Ford in 1982. Sadly, Dick died from a stroke four months before the film was released. Total Recall followed in 1990, based of Dick’s story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Screamers, based on the short story “Second Variety” was released in 1995, starring Peter Weller. Minority Report, based on the short story of the same name, was released in 2002, starring Tom Cruise. A smaller film, Imposter was released in 2002, starring Gary Sinise and Vincent D’Onofrio, based on a short story of the same name. The Ben Affleck movie Paycheck was released in 2003, continuing the more recent trends to leave the name the same. In 2007, Nicolas Cage starred in Next, a loose adapation of Dick’s short story “The Golden Man”.

Before Next was A Scanner Darkly. While I have a particular fondness for Blade Runner, it’s more clearly an adaptation than Scanner, which stays much closer to the novel. The movie is rotoscoped, each frame was originally shot on film with the cast, including Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochane.

This is not the first of Richard Linklater’s films to do so, he previously directed A Waking Life, which was done in a similar – albeit simplified – style. The visual style of the film is in a very large part what makes this such a compelling adaptation.

The story follows Bob Arctor/Fred, a junkie/undercover narc undergoing a steady drug-induced dissociate identity disorder. A combination of the drug, Substance D, and his dual roles as dealer and undercover agent cause him to lose his grip on reality. Particularly important is the so called “scramble suit” in which Arctor “cannot be identified by voice, or by even technological voiceprint, or by appearance” as it renders him “like a vague blur and nothing more”.

The breakdown of reality in the story is perfectly suited to the visual style. The rotoscoping of the film acts in many ways like the scramble suit, carefully masking the reality beneath. Both of these effects are of course substituting for the “mors ontologica”, the death of the subject experienced by those addicted to the drug Substance D.

Both the novel and the movie treat an important issue, as relevant in today’s society as it was in 1977. It’s in many ways one of the most humanizing of Dick’s stories, and is clearly based on very personal events in his life. The story is one of my favourites, and I think the film is a very worthy adaptation.