Random thoughts on Netlfix’s The Queen’s Gambit

I finished watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix recently. Here are some random thoughts:

Competent protrayal of chess

While the show’s story centers around competition chess, it’s not really about chess at all, it’s about characters, and in that regard it does a good job of capturing the drama of the game by focusing on characters’ emtional reactions to chess moves instead of the games themselves. This is the same sort of thing they did in Searching for Bobby Fischer. At the same time, it doesn’t try to dummy down chess concepts so the audience can understand them, like the stupid gravity assist scene in The Martian, where a character over-explains a relatively simple science concept to colleagues who should not be that stupid for the sake of the audience. Or this ridiculously stupid scene from Hidden Figures in which a NASA scientist is skeptical of Euler’s method because “it’s ancient”; trying to show the brilliance of a character by having others be over-the-top stupid.

I also appreciated that no one hit the clock with the wrong hand, a pet peeve of mine when chess master characters show up on TV.

Obsession as comfort

The “tortured genius” character is certainly cliché (Good Will Hunting, bleh!), and there is a bit of that, but chess does not really come easily or naturally to Beth Harmon. She is shown constantly studying the game. What is rare is not her innate “genius” but rather her ability to become entirely obsessed with it, to be able to focus on it for long periods of time, even without a physical board. This is likely a coping mechanism for dealing with personal trauma. As she says, “It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So if I get hurt, I have only myself to blame.” Quite self-aware! Some have wondered if Bobby Fischer’s obsession with chess during childhood provided a similar escape or sense of comfort; he was raised by a single mother who was an outspoken political activist. Perhaps, but in the real world such an overpowering obsession at a young age is still rare, so whatever is going on in an obsessor’s brain is probably more complicated than that.


The green pills Beth takes throughout the show appear to be fictional (unfotunately, because I want some) but they remind me of ADHD meds. They’ve been used to calm children down, they help people focus, people can abuse them, and they might improve your chess game. From this article:

According  in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, two prescription drugs can help chess players compete: modafinil and methylphenidate. The former is sold as Alertec, Modavigil, and Provigil, and the other is best known as Ritalin. Participants in the study were dosed with these drugs, and then their chess playing abilities were observed. While the drugs resulted in test subjects playing more slowly, they also increased their performance. Using modafinil improved player’s results by 15 percent, while methylphenidate improved results by 13 percent.

… International chess tournaments began incorporating drug testing in 2001

So Harmon is lucky that she got obsessed with chess at just the right time in American history when she could earn money and fame from the game and at a time when they didn’t do any drug testing! (She could even get a benzodiazepine over the counter in Germany!)


Overall, I have mixed feelings about the show. It was well-made and well-scripted, but the emotional journey wasn’t all that engaging to me, a lot of supporting characters were a bit cliché and two-dimensional, and of course chess tournaments are portrayed as very fancy and dramatic, very “Hollywood”. But then, like any movie or show about “geniuses”, the audience is never really asked to relate to all the boring studying that makes the rest possible; we are only asked to empathize with the fun parts: the attention, the applause, the success, the failures, the opportunities, the traveling, etc. It can give a very false day-dreamy impression of “genius”, which is really 99 percent perspiration. But that’s almost always the case in any fictional portrayal of someone successful. The grunt work is boring.

The real trick to being a genius is, as Harmon shows us: childhood trauma! No, not that, but rather love / obsession, not for the sake of fame and money that would make a biographical show interesting, but the willingness to work hard at something you’re interested in when there’s no guarantee of any reward beyond your self-satisfaction.

(On a side note, the word “genius” is really just an opinion of someone’s work. In fiction, you can create empathy for a character by having other characters admire their “genius”. But in fiction you have the advantage of being able to empathize with a character while also being able to consider them from the outside, to see them as other characters might see them. It’s a sort of strange dichotomy you can’t really experience in the real world.)

Patreon update and some random stuff

Haven’t blogged in a while, have I? I need to try blogging more frequently, as it’s at least a bit of writing practice while I’m busy plotting.

Quick Patreon update

I’m busy with some other projects, so my music composing (and YouTube video making) has fallen behind. I failed to deliver anything for March to my Patreon supporters. Those pieces are still coming. Anyway, I’ve gone ahead and frozen donations for this month to give myself some time to catch up. I’m hoping I’ll be back at it next month, but I’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, those March pieces are still coming.

A decade of blogging!

I started this blog in April 2007, when I was a junior in college. It’s now been a decade! Yay! Woohoo! And what do I have to show for it? What have I accomplished in that time? Let’s not ask that question, and just consider being around for a decade an accomplishment in and of itself, OK? Yay!


An app called “FaceApp” was recently released for Android, and I’ve had some great fun playing with it, I find it hilarious. I think it’s available for iPhone too. I posted some results to my twitter:

Hours of great fun!


A new company called Lyrebird is developing some voice synthesis tools, and it sounds pretty awesome! Check out their demos here on their demo page. The voices of Trump, Obama, and Hillary Clinton are still a bit fuzzy to be used for anything other than playing around, but I’m still excited by the potentials. I think it would be awesome to create an audio drama, for example, without having to hire a bunch of different voice actors. There’s also a lot of potential for this sort of technology to be used for music instrument sampling, yes? Especially synthesized choirs. I look forward to seeing this product develop!

How “Bates Motel” should’ve ended

Spoilers ahead. The A&E drama series “Bates Motel”, a modern-day retelling of Hitchcock’s classic film Psycho, ended its five-season run this Monday. The ending left me rather disappointed; it felt too quick and easy. Just unsatisfying. So here’s how I would’ve ended it:

Norman does not kill Romero in the woods. Instead, he tries to kill him, but only injures him, and he runs off with Norman shooting at him. He takes Norma’s body home imagining they are restarting, invites Dylan to dinner, as they did in the episode. Dylan calls Emma, but rather than just hang up, Emma calls that town’s police, afraid for Dylan’s life. Dylan enters the home, sees Norma’s body, vomits in his mouth but swallows it (because I hate seeing characters vomit), but rather than working up Norman into a crazy angry frenzy, actually manages to calm him and perhaps at least half-convinces him that he needs to be in a mental hospital, that Norma will always be with him there or something, or at least he keeps him calm. Romero enters, finding the gun, and points it at Norman, ready to kill. Arriving and hearing a commotion, the police break in, ordering Romero to drop the weapon. Romero refuses and shoots Norman before getting shot himself by the police. Norman dies in his brother’s arms and they have their sad little brotherly moment (without the stupid suicidal “thank you” – there’s nothing beautiful or bittersweet about suicide; I think that’s what annoyed me the most). Slow zoom out with Dylan, dead Norman and Norma, only this time with the police and dead Romero in the background.

That would’ve felt a lot more satisfying to me. The whole mercy-killing thing just felt wrong to me, too sudden and not very climactic.

One more thing…

There was something else I wanted to mention, but now I’ve forgotten it… I’ll blog about it next time, I guess, if I remember…

All the movies I watched in 2016

Happy New Year! Best wishes for 2017!

Like I did last year, here are all the movies and TV seasons I watched in 2016! A list of all 234 titles can be found here. 234 is now my new record. Wow, what an accomplishment. I will put it on my resume!

Movies 2016

Favorite films…

Of the movies that came out this year, my favorites included some that were a bit thematically shallow, but had serviceable stories and work as fun popcorn flicks. These included Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Edit: Ha ha… I just now realize these are all films in series, titled with colons, the new fashion. Coincidence?)

Movies with stronger stories included the live-action remake of The Jungle Book, which, unlike the cartoon, actually had a cohesive narrative and an interesting theme about man’s relation to nature. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Risen managed to be less cheesy than most overtly Christian movies, and served as an interesting reminder of just how human the followers of Jesus were; being raised Christian, there’s much about Christianity that’s easy to take for granted. It’s difficult to imagine how radical (and maybe even insane) Christ’s teachings must have seemed to those who met him face to face without the comfort of a two-thousand year old institution to support them. I also thought Hacksaw Ridge was a great film; an army medic refuses to hold a gun, yet manages to save many lives on the battlefield.

Animated movies I enjoyed included: Kung Fu Panda 3, which was hilarious and featured another great musical score. The Boy and the Beast came out last year, but only came out in the US this year. A boy enters a parallel world of beasts (monstrous anthropomorphic animals, mainly), and trains to become a fighter. His rebellious personality provides the appropriate challenge, both physically and emotionally, for a skilled but jaded fighter who needs to get his act together himself. But growing up in the world of beasts has its price, and when the boy grows into a teen and tries to form and/or mend relationships in the human world, he runs into new difficulties. Very fun fantastical feature that you’d never find in the US. Also featured a great orchestral soundtrack. Finally, I really enjoyed Kubo and the Two Strings. A wonderfully bizarre fantasy with beautiful visuals. Since stop-motion puppets tend to have something naturally creepy about them, it’s easy to make dark (The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline) or “stylistically cartoonishly ugly” looking characters and worlds (James and the Giant Peach or ParaNorman). Kubo manages to actually make the characters and the world look good without being overtly creepy. I loved the ancient Japanese setting, and the bizarre fantasy elements were a lot of fun. My only complaint was the ending; it didn’t make much sense to me, and seemed too simple. Still, great animated film, definitely Laika’s best.

Of movies that came out last year, but I only saw this year, I loved The Revenant; beautiful cinematography. Simple but enjoyable plot. Although I know some found the slower pace to be a bit too much, I really enjoyed that aspect; the film wasn’t in a rush, but didn’t slow things down with pointless filler either, and you really got to get the sense of DiCaprio’s character slowly healing after the devastating bear attack. I also really enjoyed In the Heart of the Sea for similar reasons.

Of older movies that I just saw for the first time this year: I loved The Fall from 2006. A suicidal man in a hospital forms a friendship with a young girl by telling her a long fantasy story. He’s just making it up as he goes along, but the story ends up becoming very meaningful to the girl. But remember, the man is suicidal! So drama ensues! The film featured a great blend of fantasy and real-life, and how the two can inform each other, a bit like in Finding Neverland. I love stories like this, and The Fall became one of my all-time favorites. (I’m eagerly awaiting to see A Monster Calls, which also blends fantasy stories with real-life death-drama.) Noir-wise, I enjoyed the classic Laura from 1944, a fun mystery film with a great twist about two-thirds of the way through it that left me slapping my head thinking, “ah, of course!” which was great. I couldn’t guess who the killer was until it was revealed. They don’t make ’em like this anymore! Also great was Wait Until Dark from 1967, starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman and Alan Arkin as an evil killer. The killer wants a doll stuffed with drugs, which is somewhere in the blind woman’s apartment. Great Hitchcock-like thrills ensue!

I greatly enjoyed The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a slice-of-life documentary about Studio Ghibli. Although I disagree with a good deal of Miyazaki’s personal (or cultural?) philosophies, his perspectives can still be interesting and thought-provoking. And it’s fascinating to see how this Japanese studio approaches film making as opposed to how, for instance, Pixar does things.

Finally, there was only one TV series that I really enjoyed, and that was Netflix’s Stranger Things. Had a great 80’s feel to it and a fun plot, at least for sci-fi / fantasy lovers (parallel worlds and mind powers and all that). Honestly some of the young actors’ acting was a bit forced at times, but overall it was easy to binge-watch. And the story actually came to a conclusion! Although it left a couple loose threads, it didn’t end on some stupid gimmicky cliff-hanger! This was very refreshing. I’m sick of the J.J. Abrams-style cliffhanger nonsense, where stories never end but just warp into different questions. It’s just crappy writing. So it was awesome to see a TV season that was actually (mostly) self-contained. I look forward to the next season.

So that’s 2016 in movies and TV…

What would save Terra Nova…

I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this year’s new sci-fi show, Terra Nova, and they were awful. There are more episodes waiting on the DVR; I was going to give it a chance, but I think I’ll just delete them. I’ve heard it doesn’t improve, and I have better things to do with my time.

Anyway, I came across this review of the show that suggested how the show could be improved, and I agree!

I am praying that when I watch the next episode the entire cast gets eaten by dinosaurs (in fact, that hope is the only reason I’ll be able to sit through another one). The entire cast’s gruesome deaths at the hands of a frenzied T-Rex or a velociraptor having a bad day can’t come soon enough. Should a prehistoric volcano erupt at the same time and spew molten lava over the human compound and all its occupants while they’re being eaten alive by the dinosaurs, all the better.

Stuff I’m doing…

Been a busy week here. Animation Mentor semester 5 started this week. My mentor this semester is animator Jay Jackson, who has a very impressive 2D background. I’m very excited! Our assignment for the next few weeks will be to add facial animation to our last assignment from last semester, which I am both excited and nervous about… I’m afraid my work is going to stink. But I’m new to this, so I forgive myself in advance. Just as long as I don’t fail out! Anyway, our assignment for this week, which I haven’t done yet, is to shoot video reference and draw sketches planning out our work.

Novel-writing-wise, my novel is at around 29,000 words. The three main characters are currently traveling through the sky in an airship headed towards the kingdom’s castle. I am a few chapters away from the mid-point of the story, so my current guess is that the novel will end up being around 70,000 to 90,000 words total. We’ll see.

I also started writing some more music earlier this week. Not sure what I’ll call the piece, but it’s almost finished. Watch for it on YouTube this week or next week or the week after that… not sure when I’ll finish. It’s pretty standard Hannifin work, but I’m quite pleased with it. In fact, I’m tempted to offer myself much praise, but, being me, I’m quite biased towards myself, so I consider myself at an unfair advantage to receive such praise.

TV-wise, if you care, I started watching Person of Interest (mostly because it was created by Jonathan Nolan). I’m not exactly impressed, but it’s not horrible, so I’ll give it a chance; but if I get pressed for time as the Animation Mentor semester continues, it’ll probably be the first to go. I also started watching Terra Nova as I enjoyed the sci-fi-ish previews for it, but the pilot for that show I also found to be rather unimpressive, and, at times, downright awful. But it’s interesting enough that I’d like to see what the story will turn into. Fringe returned on Friday, which was OK, but not nearly as good as last season’s start. But the “Where is Peter Bishop?” story line should provide me with enough interest to continue watching. The first half of last season was excellent, but I thought the last few shows that ended the season were quite weak, and the cartoony-CGI episode was one of the worst TV-watching experiences I’ve ever had. I’d rather watch HR Pufnstuf several hundred times than suffer through that episode again. (OK, maybe I wouldn’t go that far…) I’m looking forward to House starting on Monday. So… four shows for me this season, plus I’m still slowly working through Burn Notice season 2 on DVD, which is a great show. And Shark Tank will return for a season 3, but I’m not sure when. And we might get a DVR sometime next week, so that will be nice, but I can’t complain too much if I miss something, since Animation Mentor must be the priority… not TV.

Reading-wise, I’ve been enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Reamde: A Novel. Definitely more mainstream (so far) than Anathem (the only other novel of his I’ve read so far), but still quite captivating.

Oh, and in other news, I can now touch my nose with my tongue. I couldn’t do that before. Two decades of practice have finally paid off.

Some Christmas gifts…

As they say: “Christmas is when you get stuff! You need more stuff!”

Well, Christmas is over… it came and went as fast as a day goes by.

I got some great stuff – here’s a picture! Here are my favorite gifts…

Dollhouse: Season Two [Blu-ray]. I only saw two episodes from the second season, and then the show got cancelled and I decided to just wait until it came out on DVD… or blu-ray in this case. So I’m really looking forward to watching this.

Drawn to Life: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures Volume 1 and Volume 2. These books are about drawing for animation. But even if you’re like me and stink at drawing, these books are still very interesting, and many of the principles still apply to 3D animation. I checked the first volume out from the library and read the first 30 pages a few months ago and knew that I definitely wanted to own them. I can’t wait to read more.

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios. The story of how Pixar began. Unfortunately it ends at Cars, I think, so it feels like there should be a sequel in another decade or so. (I suppose it’s always better to wait for a couple decades when people are more willing to talk about past projects more openly.)

Speaking of animation history, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a must for all animation lovers. It’s not really about animation itself, but the business and the people behind it; more specifically about the Disney animation studios from about 1984 to about 1994. It is very interesting… one of the highlights are animator Randy Cartwright’s home movie studio tours, in which he strolls the halls and nonchalantly introduces future-big-names, like a young Tim Burton, Glen Keane, Joe Ranft, John Lasseter, Eric Larson, and some guy who asks if he’s allowed to be recording with that camera. It’s an awesome gem. I wish it was longer! Oh, there’s also part of a lecture by Howard Ashman on why he thought musicals went so well with animation, which was very interesting. I wish I could’ve heard the whole thing!

The How To Train Your Dragon score. It’s just awesome.

Inception: The Shooting Script. Because it is also awesome. Has some great handwritten notes by Nolan, an interview with him, and some concept art. A true Inception fan should get it.

Great stuff! Woohoo!

Google TV and the future of television

Google TV is coming out soon. I’ve been watching it for a while and I think it’s pretty exciting. The technology for the Internet and TV to merge has been with us for a while, but I think most content providers (TV channels, DirecTV and Dish, ISPs, etc.) are not willing themselves to fully initiate this merger. After all, it will force them to make huge changes to their business models. I’m sure they know they’re going to have to eventually (many TV channels do now put shows online for a limited time), so it’s only a matter of resisting it as best they can for as long as they can.

Two things about Google TV: First, it’s only a first step. Or maybe a fourth or fifth step, since things like Apple TV are already available. But Google TV is a significant step because it allows users almost complete access to the Internet, and it offers apps that are designed to be used on the TV. (And, just as popular sites have “mobile” versions, many will eventually have “TV” versions as well.)

But it’s not a final step. That will probably not come for another decade or two (or three). The separation between computer and TV is still a strong one, as is the separation between TV content providers and ISPs. Unfortunately I’ve read that Hulu.com is blocking access from Google TV. This may seem like a bummer for us excited about Google TV, but it’s actually rather revealing just how important that control over your TV screen is to the networks. Very revealing indeed. And, to me, makes Google TV seem more exciting. Because Hulu’s weary of it.

The other thing: yes, I know, we can all already hook up our computers to the TV (and watch Hulu on our TV). Geeks have been able to do it for a while. But I still think hooking a computer up to a TV is too inconvenient even for most geeks; they only do it when they need to, and it’s still hard to get comfortable using your computer from a couch without a desk in front of you.

TV is extremely easy to watch; users just have to know how to turn it on and change the channels. Computers and the Internet and Internet connections can be more of a hassle. Maybe not for us geeks, but for the rest of the population. It’s easy to underestimate how many people out there either don’t have the Internet, or don’t really understand how to use it effectively. Google TV won’t give people an Internet connection, but it will make TV Internet browsing significantly easier for non-geeks. I think that’s what a lot of geeks might not realize. And that’s why it has the potential to be pretty powerful. (Especially since Google TV’s OS, Google’s open-source Android, allows anyone to develop apps for it, which is more freedom than Apple likes giving to developers.)

Nobody knows what anybody wants.

Consumers do not know what they want until it’s actually available to them or until they try using it. (Like how Facebook is now mostly pretty much a private fancy Twitter with comments, likes, and apps. Users didn’t want it or ask for it, but now many users use it almost every day. If it were up to the users, Facebook would probably still be plain old profiles with wall-writing. And it would probably be as unpopular as MySpace.)

Similarly, producers and content creators don’t know what people want. They don’t know if their products will be successful until they’re actually out there, until people actually have a chance to see and play around with the products.

This is why it always annoys me when companies say they will evolve based on customer feedback. That’s great, but you can’t rely on that. You have to be constantly thinking of ways to improve and change and experiment on your own as well. Just listening to customers won’t make you successful.

The future, eventually

Eventually, the TV networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, will simply have to give up their control of showing shows when and only when they want. VCRs first started giving viewers more control when to watch TV content, then DVRs, then cable companies offering certain on-demand options, then sites like Hulu. Eventually, when our connection to TV and the Internet are combined, sold as a package, and come into the home via one connection, most content will be on-demand. It’s probably still decades away, but I think it will be a good future. (And us geeks may get there sooner, yes.)

Also, there are a few things that will really change how TV content is watched, but they are unpredictable… I predict some unpredictable things will happen.

Hey, I thought Google Wave was really exciting, and I don’t think Google ever really let it do what it was supposed to do, and it became an epic flop. I also thought the iPhone was a dumb idea, and now tons of people love it. So who really knows what the heck is going to happen…

Watch the movie first, don’t read the book

I woke up with a really bad headache today.  Fortunately by the time I had to go to work it had subsided enough that I could act normally, but it didn’t fully go away until about 10 hours after I woke up.  So I didn’t do anything but rest and pace around in the morning.  After work, though, I did draw about a week’s worth of new comics for Hannifin World.  It gets addicting when you start doing a bunch of them.

I’ll probably start watching Dollhouse on Hulu again because, from what I can tell, the creators are indeed going to try to wrap up the story as best they can in the final episodes, so hopefully there will be some closure.

And now I shall dedicate the rest of this post to talking about why you should watch a film before reading the book, or at least why I prefer to:


I know a few people who, when a movie based on a book comes out, they refuse to watch it until they read the book version. When such a situation comes up, I prefer to watch the movie first for a couple reasons:

1) Time Investment – The movie will take less time to watch; reading the book could take ten times as long, or longer. If the story ends up to be stupid, it’s better to spend less time experiencing it, in my opinion.

2) Books always seem better – Books and films are two different art forms. You tend to get less *story content* with a film, because films only have a couple hours to tell the story. Reading the book first gives you a high risk of comparing the stories of the two different art forms, and of course the film’s story will then seem like a “watered-down” version of the story, as they almost always have to take things out for a film, because of time and pacing considerations. In other words, reading the book first tends to taint your expectations for the film, which sets you up for disappointment. If you don’t read the book first, and you find the film to be good, there’s a greater chance you’ll also enjoy the book, as it will then seem like the story has been expanded. If you don’t enjoy the film, you may or may not enjoy the book, but at least you won’t have wasted more than two or three hours with the story.

That said, my favorite films based on books tend to not only just take out story content, but also change the story content, so that what’s left flows and fits together nicely. The Prestige is one of the best examples I can think of at the moment. The Harry Potter films, on the other hand, I find terrible, and not just because of the acting. (Actually, even though it would’ve made far less money, I think Harry Potter would’ve worked much much better as a TV miniseries.) (John Williams’ Harry Potter themes are brilliant, however. I cannot imagine more perfect melodies to fit the Harry Potter world.)

So, when a film comes out based on a book, I just watch it!

Some people might argue that watching the movie first makes them think of the actors playing the character in the movie when they read the book.  To which I say: well, then, you must have a weak imagination!  But I suppose it’s a valid argument…

I hate Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

19 days left until Christmas…

Didn’t really do anything today, except go to work, which was exhausting.  And now I’ll probably go to bed early since I’m… well… exhausted.  But brownies are in the oven, so I suppose I have to wait around until those are done so I can have one.

I changed Hannifin World so that you can only view one comic at a time.  For some reason viewing more than one on a page seemed cluttered to me, while only being able to view one at a time kind of makes each particular comic the center of attention, kind of “frames” it.  Which I guess is what a lot of webcomics do.  Some kind of weird psychology-of-humor property behind it perhaps?  If you “frame” a joke as a single entity, it will seem funnier than if it is seen as only a part of a collection of jokes.  If it’s in a collection, there’s more of a chance one will compare the jokes, and not give some jokes much attention.

Also, on a completely different note, I really hate the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, where they build new houses for people who they think deserve them and then film them as they cry when given a new house.  To me, it seems to put too much importance on material items, while at the same time trying to spread the message that they’re not important.  It’s like Oprah sharing a sob story with a poor person and then flying her personal jet somewhere.  Hypocritical.  Annoying.  But I guess when a network is offering a free house, who cares?