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Month: August 2008

Don’t know much about marketing

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I had a weird dream the other night in which I was in a used bookstore and was looking for some good books but I couldn’t find any. My siblings, on the other hand, were finding tons of books, some of them even finding books that I myself wanted, but they wouldn’t tell me where they found them. Finally I came upon the musical score for Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, only to open it up and find it was an arrangement for two tubas. What a horrible nightmare.

In other news, my parents came back from my uncle’s with a wonderful surprise: a foosball table! Yay! It’s what I’ve always wanted! So if you ever want to play foosball… get your own foosball table.

I am almost finished reading a boring book called The Marketing Gurus. It’s basically a summary of a bunch of other marketing books. Unfortunately most of the books it summarizes must be horrible. They’re repetitive and spend a lot of time making blatantly obvious points, “be honest in your advertising” and “know about your customers” … if you can’t figure that stuff out on your own, you’re a fool. I guess books on marketing are like books on writing fiction; there are some good ones out there, but most of them are just a waste of bundled paper. Some of the books it summarizes are a bit out-of-date as well, with little or no mention of the Internet.

Anyway, there’s one chapter that states that you should first find a niche, then create a product for that niche.

You don’t need passion … you don’t need a lot of creativity

I blogged about something similar in my Stuff I Found blog. This concept of finding a niche first and not needing passion seems backwards to me. I guess if you can pull it off, good for you, but I can easily imagine most people being unsuccessful at it; passion can be hard to fake. Although, now I kind of want to try it. But I don’t think I will, as it also seems much harder. Seems like you need even more creativity to find a worthy niche. It’d be easier to just think about what product I myself would want and then make that product, if I can afford it. For example, a blog in which I blather would be great. Oh look, here it is!

For a good and up-to-date resource on marketing, I highly suggest the podcast Marketing Over Coffee. Even if you know very little about marketing (like me), these hosts are quite thought provoking, and they don’t just state the blatantly obvious. The podcast also makes me want to eat donuts.

Generative systems, games, and music

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This is the new blog! Hope you like this new WordPress version! As you may be able to see, I was able to import all my old posts so I’m not starting over completely from scratch.

Perhaps the most significant change to this new blog is that I’m now trying to make a little podcast out of it. Hearing a voice may be somewhat more interesting, or at least more fun for me to produce. That said, I’m sure I won’t be able to record something for every single post, just as I know I can’t post every single day, but I’ll see how it goes.

I got my 2nd rejection slip of ’08 earlier this week for my short story Oberon’s Paradise. I have three or four more magazines I want to try selling it to, then I don’t think I’ll be able to resist the urge to just podcast it with some incidental music, as I think that would be fun to create. I have a few other short stories I’m working on, but nothing near completion yet. And I should really get back to writing my other two novels as well sometime.

SporeAlso earlier this week, I found a very interesting video on YouTube with game designer Will Wright and some musician that I’ve never heard of. They were talking about generative systems, which Wikipedia calls “systems that use a few basic rules to yield extremely varied and unpredictable patterns.” So, they are basically systems which are good at producing emergent properties. The video from YouTube is just a clip from a much longer talk they gave (available to see here) which I could not resist sitting through. In the longer video, you get to see Will Wright talk about the role of generative systems in games and, more specifically, in the upcoming game Spore. He also touched briefly on the subject of applying generative systems to narrative stories, which I also thought was pretty fascinating.

Anyway, this is the YouTube clip.

One other thing that caught my attention in the longer video. Take a look at what they say about music:

Will Wright: Can you imagine any sort of even this past computational filter that would pre-listen to the music, analyze the structure, look for a pattern, whatever, that would at least prune out the 90% that you obviously don’t want to listen to and let you focus your efforts on the 10% that has some promise?

Brian Eno: Would you like to work on that for me?

Will Wright: Sure, I would love to. You just have to give me the algorithms, I’ll cut it right up for you.

Brian Eno: No, it’s, funnily enough there’s been a lot of research into that, because you know there are always people trying to figure out how you write a hit.

Will Wright: Oh, I see. Formalizing the–

Brian Eno: Something I wouldn’t mind knowing about.

Will Wright: The hit generator.

Brian Eno: So there’s been all sorts of attempts to do that, but they’ve been astoundingly unsuccessful so far.

I would agree that for the most part, most people exploring that area have been unsuccessful (though I honestly believe it’s only a matter of time) but I wonder if Mr. Eno is at all familiar with David Cope’s awesome work? His computer program doesn’t write music in exactly the way Will Wright describes, but I’d still say Cope’s program is, in a way, a form of a generative system.

So, as I have started writing a book on the art of melody (or started planning it, really), I think I will definitely explore the subject of a generative system for melody. I’m not sure I’ll do anything really new, but it must be a fascinating area of study.

Oooh, I just visited Mr. Cope’s site, and it looks like he’s got two free rough-draft books up temporarily, one on musical suggestions for beginning music students and one on … of all things, board games! Games, music, generative systems, it’s all related! I love it!

😀

High School Memories

One of my friends from high school uploaded a high school video project we made to YouTube. It really brought back a lot of hilarious memories… a lot of inside jokes though.

He also uploaded a lot of the PowerPoints we did in high school. Instead of doing boring text-based presentations, we often created primitive animations and recorded our voices so that we wouldn’t have to do much talking during our presentations. My friend wrote some great descriptions of the projects; I had forgotten a lot about them, so reading the descriptions almost had me in tears laughing.

Though I still don’t believe I gained much from going through high school and still believe high schools should be abolished, it was great remembering the more hilarious times.

Genius thoughts

My first proposition is that “genius” is like “greatness” … it is an abstract concept the comes from our human brains, it is a word that describes what we think of something.

That said, it’s subjective. It is not objective. Some people don’t seem to like the notion of subjective greatness or subjective genius. They ask “who was the greatest composer?” or “how can we know the greatest music when we hear it?” They don’t seem to understand the notion that “greatness” is a thought, a psychological factor. It is not like size or mass, properties that manifest themselves in the physical touchable world.

So … what or who is “genius” is completely subjective. However, I think we’re raised in a world that doesn’t like to admit that.

Secondly, everyone is pretty intelligent. I think we often think of math skills as being the biggest “genius” factor … how well someone can do calculations in their head or how well they can do in a math competition or on a math test become measurements of “genius.”

But if you learn anything from studying artificial intelligence, from trying to make a computer do some simple human tasks, you realize how hard some human feats are. Being able to see a picture and instantly recognize all kinds of objects and structures in milliseconds … pretty amazing. Being able to balance on one foot, being able to fall forward just enough to put enough weight on the other foot as when walking … pretty amazing. Being able to hear sounds and interpret meanings out of them quickly, being able to structure new sentences with new meanings in seconds, being able to think in images and to have ideas and to decide what to do one morning … all pretty amazing things.

But they don’t really seem that amazing in the real world. Why? Because everyone can do them. Even the dumbest idiot can walk and talk. But the smartest robot who can calculate faster than the human calculator, who can beat a grandmaster in chess, can’t walk or talk, not with the ease of a human.

So perhaps we like to think of a “genius” not necessarily as someone who’s “really smart” but as someone who’s just plain special, someone who can do things that most people can’t. (Especially if it involves math.)

Which brings me to my next proposition: anyone can do just about anything. Not everything, but anything, with dedication. That is, sometimes it’s dedication that we replace with “genius” … after all, dedication can be extremely hard. Have you tried writing a book lately? Yikes.

Or take piano playing. Often those who can play very well are deemed intelligent, smart, smarter than average at least. I wouldn’t disagree of course (least of all because I can’t play myself), but I do believe it’s something anyone can learn, anyone who’s willing to give it dedication.

That’s probably not much of a proposition … you probably knew that already, huh? I don’t know. Sometimes I meet people and they feel like it’s “too late” for them … or they feel like if they weren’t “born with the talent” then there’s no way to gain it, even though it seems to me that all talent is gained through dedication.

All that said, yes, I do agree that some people can learn certain things faster than others. Some people have certain subjects come to them more quickly. Is that perhaps the measure of genius?

It’s kind of sad how we all might have some instinctive need to feel special, yet at the same time we can recognize that we can’t really be, not how we’d like to be.

I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, I’m just blathering. That’s what this blog is for. Reading back over this post, I already sort of disagree with myself in some parts. Oh well. What do you think? Truth is an emergent property, eh?

People like to suffer!

Cloverfield review

I saw Cloverfield the other night. At first I thought the hand held camera perspective would make me dizzy. I thought I’d hate it, as I am generally not a fan of the “shaky camera” effect at all… but it worked in this film. It reminded me a bit of the awesome long shots in Children of Men. Although Cloverfield is supposed to be all from the perspective of a handheld camera, I must say, the camera gives excellent quality shots, and the people holding it are very good at constantly showing enough of the action to be satisfying. Sometimes when I’m watching home movies from yesteryears, I can’t stand how whoever was holding the camera let it tilt toward the floor too much or zoomed in too much or whatever. In other words, the character holding the hand held camera had a pretty good sense of cinematography. Even when he drops the camera, he amazingly drops it in just the right way that we’ll still get to see something interesting.

Anyway, I thought the special effects of the movie were fantastic, and they reminded me of the great effects in War of the Worlds. There is always something nightmarish about large things in the sky… that vastness of something incredible that you can only see from a distance. Ya know what I mean? I’ve had nightmares in which there are giant planets filling up the sky, or there are gigantic space ships flying over head, so distant that they look two dimensional, but so large that they take up your field of vision. If you don’t know what I mean… I don’t know… what’s wrong with you?

I liked that none of the actors in the film were familiar to me, that made the story a bit more believable. If someone famous had been cast it would have been awkward. However, I thought the actors they did cast weren’t very good at acting. Maybe it was the story and the script, but their performances didn’t come across as believable to me. They came across as high school drama students reciting lines.

I think it was the story and the script. While the special effects were fantastic and the cinematography was great, the story was just… bleh… I didn’t get it. Then again, I’m not sure I could’ve come up with anything better.

I really loved the end credit music, composed by good old Michael Giacchino. He needs to score some more films.

So, overall I’d rate Cloverfield a 6 out of 10. What it lacks in story and acting it makes up for in amazing visuals. And I’ve seen much worse stories anyway.

I think it would have made a rather nice musical. They should’ve hired Sondheim. That would have been awesome.

An Impulse Buy

The other day the phone rang and I picked it up and it was my father at Best Buy telling me about computers on clearance, as my mother was thinking of buying one. I thought the deal was pretty good, so I drove over and bought the computer meself! It’s fast, has got about a 600 GB hard drive, and 3 GB of RAM, an okay graphics card, all for a low price. Definitely nicer (and of course more up to date) than my other four year old computer that I bought before college (which is, by the way, in pretty good shape for four years of use). I needed a new graphics card and more memory, so for probably a little more than the same, I bought a new computer.

I hadn’t planned on buying a new computer quite yet, so this was definitely an impulse buy. But thus far I’m pleased with it, even though I already used up 100 GB installing software and putting on the music I had on my other computer. But I still have 500 GB, so I’ve got plenty of space… plus my external which still has 400 GB left if I need it. So memory won’t be an issue for a while, I do suppose.

Anyway, in other news, I worked a bit more on my book on melody. Actually, I didn’t do much writing, I mostly did some planning. Ah … planning.

In other news, I finished the book How Computer Games Help Children Learn. I first expected it to talk about popular video games and their effects on children, but it was actually more about epistemology and how children come to learn anything in the first place. It then applies epistemological factors to games in general, showing how someone might learn something from any sort of game at all. It goes over case studies of quite elaborate games, and hints at how the properties of such games could be applied to the popular video games of today.

It would be very good for teachers to read as it makes some very important points. For example, students have to care about their work. Morphing a subject into a quiz game is practically useless. “History Jeopardy time!” is a lame stupid useless way to incorporate a game into a classroom; it’s not going to automatically make students care about history, nor will the content of the game last long afterwards.

My only qualm with the book is that to prove children have learned, it quotes the children themselves, and I know from experience that children are certainly willing to lie. I went to a summer program in middle school, and at the end we had to fill out evaluations. Being young and not very critical, I gave the program a good review on the evaluation. After all, this would please everyone, right? If I was honest about my opinion of thinking the program was a waste of time, who’d listen? Wouldn’t that make me seem like a whiny little dork? Wouldn’t the grown ups take it as an insult?

Not that I believe all the students quoted in the book are lying, just that I took them with a grain of salt. But what more can you ask for as proof? (Or ‘evidence’ I guess I should say.) When someone asks you “does this dress make me look fat?” the question begs a lie or jerkfulness, doesn’t it?