448. Neckties Are Evil

I’m currently gathering questions for a blog Q&A next week. If you’ve ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, blog, book project, or anything else, ask away!

Neckties are awful, and the person who invented them should have been hanged. It would have been poetic justice. A necktie is basically a decorative noose, after all. It’s rather morbid if you think about it.

Neckties

One of these things is exactly like the others.

Who decided that a limp strip of cloth, dangling sadly from the throat, should be a formal men’s accessory? Unlike most garments, the necktie doesn’t conform to the shapes and contours of the human body. It just… hangs there.

I can’t tie a necktie to save my life. (I suppose this means I lack any sort of class or social graces, which is fine with me.) A couple of years ago, I turned to YouTube, that inexhaustible fount of knowledge, in search of tutorials. I found many, but none of them helped. My fingers, so agile when tapping away at a computer or video game controller, are rubbish when it comes to tying knots.

Donkey Kong's necktie

A necktie is unnecessary even if its wearer is wearing nothing else.

Fortunately, none of the jobs I’ve worked have demanded I wear a necktie, so I’ve kept my head out of the noose. Only once that I recall was I ever required to wear a tie.

In the early aughts, I was part of the worship team at my church in Quito. (I banged a pair of bongos; what I lacked in skill, I made up in enthusiasm.) The pastor decided one day that everyone on the worship team should wear a necktie. On the following Sunday, with groans that words cannot express, we showed up wearing neckties.

One young man, whom I’ll call Socrates, rebelled against the pastor’s edict. He wore a necktie knotted neatly around his head like a headband. The pastor was so amused that he allowed Socrates to play with the worship team… but after that Sunday, the pastor was quick to clarify how neckties were supposed to be worn.

I’ll be the first to admit that neckties sometimes look nice—on other people, of course. They add a touch of sophistication when matched with a suit or vest. Alternatively, a mismatched tie gives an untucked shirt a bit of casual, carefree charm. Neckties may be a traditionally masculine accessory, but they can look really cute on ladies.

My favorite kind of necktie, i.e. the kind of necktie I hate the least, is the bow tie. In Doctor Who, the Eleventh Doctor repeatedly insists, “Bow ties are cool,” and I have to agree.

Bow ties are cool

Cool.

He really rocks the look. Bill Nye also looks good in a bow tie.

I admit that neckties can look all right. That said, I blame cultural conditioning for fooling me into thinking that way. Neckties are uncomfortable, useless, and empirically evil. If you’re going to wear a noose, at least keep your neck warm with a scarf!

Waiting for E3

E3 happens next week. This annual trade show for the video game industry is like Christmas to gamers like yours truly. New games are shown, game systems unveiled, trailers released online, and announcements made. These exciting videos and headlines are tossed rapid-fire at eager gamers like me, like a stream of crumbs sprinkled among so many hungry goldfish.

This year’s E3 promises news of the new Legend of Zelda game, which was supposed to come out this year but has been delayed to next. In honor of this year’s E3, and because I can’t think of anything else for this week’s Geeky Wednesday post, have eight minutes of beautifully orchestrated Zelda music. The Legend of Zelda games have some rockin’ melodies, and this medley showcases some of the most iconic. Enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll go back to staring at the calendar. Just six days to go.

Tadpole Treble

Tadpole Treble is the epic tale of a tadpole lost, alone, and far from home. This tiny amphibian must find her way back, dodging such dangers as piranhas, snapping turtles, and… musical notes.

Huh.

This quirky game is the work of Matthew Taranto, a man whose wise words I literally have framed and displayed on my desk. He created the Nintendo-themed webcomic Brawl in the Family, which ran for about six years. (I mourned its end on this very blog.) Upon concluding the webcomic, Taranto began working full-time on Tadpole Treble.

Each stage of the game is basically a long musical staff, along which players must dodge the notes of the stage’s musical score. It’s a neat intersection of music and gameplay: two elements of game design that are too often disconnected.

Tadpole Treble

The game will be released for Steam (a digital marketplace for video games) in just a couple of days. I’m holding out for the Wii U release later this spring. It was apparently a childhood dream of Taranto’s to make a game for a Nintendo system, and I’m glad he’s finally done it.

In other news, one of the game’s songs, “Thunder Creek,” has been stuck in my head for two weeks.

I don’t usually support indie projects, but when Tadpole Treble showed up on Kickstarter a year or two ago, I tossed a few dollars its way as a small thank-you to Matthew Taranto. Brawl in the Family helped me through one or two really dark days, and he seems like an incredibly nice dude.

If I were a rich man (yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum), I would consider donating toward more projects on Kickstarter, and also supporting creative people on Patreon. However, I’m definitely not a rich man, so I’ll have to settle for cheering them on.

Go, little tadpole!

441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Calcifer

This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)

Charizard

Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Zuko

In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:

Firebending

Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)

Hades

At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug

Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

Twitch Plays Pokémon; Anarchy Reigns

Cute little Helix

The Internet is a strange place. No, seriously—the Internet is weird, man. A couple of years ago, a social experiment took place that proved, beyond all shadow of possible doubt, that the Internet is really freaking weird.

This experiment, which enlisted hundreds of thousands of participants and amassed many millions of views, pitted anarchy against democracy, wove a surreal narrative of loss and victory, and gave rise to a god.

I speak of Twitch Plays Pokémon, that epic microcosm of Internet weirdness.

You can find the whole story on Wikipedia, so I’ll provide an abridged version. An anonymous programmer launched a “social experiment” on Twitch, a video streaming website. The experiment streamed a version of an old Nintendo Game Boy game, Pokémon Red, which the programmer modified to be controlled entirely by commands typed into the stream’s chat room.

Twitch Plays Pokémon [GIF]

Anyone could join the crowd playing the game by typing in commands, which the game carried out one at a time. As days passed and Twitch Plays Pokémon went viral, thousands of people participated, all typing in commands at the same time to play the game. Chaos and anarchy reigned. It was nuts.

The difficulties of thousands of people all controlling a game at once soon became obvious. Insignificant obstacles such as ledges became insurmountable setbacks. New Pokémon were caught and released more or less at random. (For those who don’t know, the game revolves around catching, training, and battling friendly monsters called Pokémon.)

As the days wore on, the stubbornness of sincere players was matched against the sabotage of online trolls. Tweaks were made to Twitch Plays Pokémon to inject elements of democracy into the chaos, to the relief of some and the ire of others. Factions of players rose to support either side. Anarchy and democracy were each assigned specific Pokémon as emblems, and both factions fought for control of the game.

Anarchy Vs. Democracy

The actions of the game’s protagonist, Red, were understandably random and erratic. For example, due to the conflicting commands that poured into the game, Red frequently checked a useless item called the Helix Fossil during battles instead of fighting. This gave rise to the in-joke among players that he was consulting it for guidance. In turn, this led to the concept of the Helix Fossil as an idol or deity.

When the Fossil was finally revived into a living Pokémon later in the game, players declared the rebirth of a god.

Praise the Helix!As a narrative emerged from Twitch Plays Pokémon, players and viewers alike watched each new development with the obsessive interest of sports fans on the day of a big game. A number of valuable Pokémon were accidentally released in a debacle that became known as Bloody Sunday. New Pokémon were given names, backstories, and allegiances to the factions of Democracy or Anarchy. Memes, fan art, and in-jokes spread like goofy viruses.

All the while, dedicated players kept typing commands into the experiment’s chat box. Red inched ever closer to victory, persevering through all mishaps. Even the loss of the Helix Fossil, his guiding deity, didn’t faze him.

At last, Twitch Plays Pokémon ended in spectacular fashion—Twitch finished Pokémon.

I was vaguely aware of Twitch Plays Pokémon as it unfolded, but never wasted time watching Red’s halting progress through the game. A few days ago, however, I took time to read a brief history of the event, and was struck by its glorious weirdness.

In a way, Twitch Plays Pokémon is a perfect microcosm of many aspects of Internet culture. It was random, unpredictable, and packed with memes and wacky humor. Like YouTube or Wikipedia, it was driven by the involvement of ordinary people. It spawned endless conflicts. Finally, it inspired many intelligent people to treat something totally inane with resolute dedication and seriousness.

After playing Pokémon Red, that Twitch channel went on to play (and replay) many other Pokémon games. I’m pretty sure the Twitch Plays Pokémon project is still going, albeit with a diminished audience. Now that the novelty has worn off, most of the viewers and players have moved on to new things. There are always new things.

After all, this is the Internet.

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

[Update: I wrote this post long before the #MeToo movement exposed Mr. Lasseter’s history of sexually harassing coworkers and others. While I admire his creative genius, I hasten to add that success and talent are never acceptable excuses for being a sleazebag.]

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

Technology Is Confusing

I like to think I know a thing or two about technology. As a millennial, I consider myself competently tech-savvy, able to function in today’s high-tech world.

…Nah, whom am I kidding? I can’t even hook up my brother’s Wii U without his guidance. Why doesn’t it use the same AV cable setup as other devices? How do I make it connect to the Internet? Why are there so many downloads?! Back in my day, I just blew the dust out of the game cartridge, slammed it into the Super Nintendo, and turned it on.

I’ve become a relic of a bygone age, and I’m only in my twenties. I hate to think of how technologically illiterate I’ll be in fifty years. Maybe, at that point, I’ll have robots to hook up my electronics for me. We’ll see.

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.


This post was originally published on September 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Pokémon Is Really Dark

I’m not really a Pokémon guy, but this song will echo forever in the farthest corners of my memory. I suspect most millennials have this song embedded in their collective subconscious, in the same way most people in Generation X know all the words to the theme from Gilligan’s Island. It ain’t easy to escape pop culture.

Pokémon is a media franchise with a weird acute accent that no one actually pronounces. It’s all about kids setting out on adventures, befriending cute critters known as Pokémon, and overcoming obstacles in their journeys to become the best they can be.

I’m far from the first person to point this out, but Pokémon is actually rather grim.

Of course, Pokémon wants to be a fun adventure. However, when you begin to think about it, the series can be easily deconstructed into something far more sinister.

The original story of Pokémon starts with a single mother turning her ten-year-old boy out of her home. This child is given a dangerous monster, a Pokémon, as a slave pet. He immediately confines his new friend in a tiny ball, releasing it only to pit it against other Pokémon in violent battles. In some of these, the child forces his Pokémon to attack unsuspecting local wildlife; in others, he picks fights with other kids, beats their Pokémon senseless, and takes their money.

Our savage bully young hero wanders the world alone, despite being a vulnerable child whom any adult could easily harm. This foolhardy ten-year-old braves illness, injury, stormy weather, extreme cold, dark caves, biker gangs, and hordes of Pokémon, which he either beats into submission or captures, converts to data, and stores on a dusty computer somewhere. He also tries to bring down an entire syndicate of dangerous criminals.

This all sounds pretty bad, right? It gets worse. The hero of Pokémon isn’t a lone psychopath, endangering himself in his relentless quest to assault and capture innocent creatures. He is doing exactly what his society expects him to do. The world of Pokémon revolves around the endangerment of children and exploitation of animals.

Yes, I’m taking Pokémon way too seriously, and deconstructing it in ways its creators (probably) never intended. I actually kinda like Pokémon, though it’s far from my favorite thing in the world. (That would be coffee.) Nah, I just find it interesting how quickly such a cheerful story turns grim when viewed from a certain point of view.