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I Trained a Neural Network With the Titles of 3,500 Horror Movies

It’s funny what kinds of things can spark you into going down a rabbit hole and losing an evening of your time to some creative concept. The following conversation inspired me to finally learn something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Steve: First up on my Shudder playlist is Prince of Darkness, Sennentuntschi, The Old Dark House, VIY, The Changeling, The Beyond, Monster Party, Revenge, Phantasm Ravager.

Jeremy: You are just making those names up!

Jeremy: I kind of want to train a neural net to make horror movie titles now.

It turns out that with a little minor programming knowledge and some general technical know-how, you can build a neural network and train it off of text pretty easily. This Lifehacker article got me started. I got textgenrnn installed and up and running pretty easily, but the hardest part was figuring out how I was going to build my database of titles.

Luckily, the hard-working people behind Wikipedia had collated tables of movie titles throughout the decades. Copying and pasting a single column of an HTML table isn’t easily accomplished, except I found a Chrome extension that made it simple. From that, I began the laborous process of going through each year and decade and about an hour later, I had 3,500 horror movie titles to serve as grist for my neural mill. I just used all the titles from the 1940s onward that were in Wikipedia. I imagine there are many missing from my dataset, but it seemed large enough to work from.

I trained it on 10 epochs and played around with a temperature score from .5 to 1.0 (anything higher than 1.0 resulted in complete nonsense, and oddly, the rare actual title). Some of the results were awesome. Some were funny. Anyway, enough about methodology. You want to see some of the titles! Here are some of my favorites out of about 110 that I kept.

Top Ten Cool/Want to Actually See Or Possiblly Write

  • Nervosis
  • Cat Mantis!
  • Primal in the Red Wicks
  • A Vampire’s Dead on Elsion
  • Stigmatary
  • Or, Vampire for the World of Grave
  • The Nine Shelley
  • Eat the Night
  • The Chainsaw Mentor
  • Creep Baseball

Top Ten Funny (Or At Least They Made Me Laugh)

  • The Terror of Part II: The Dead Row
  • Lake Bad Haunted Hunter
  • Serial Sister
  • Stard vs. Piss
  • The Night Babes from Maris
  • Shark 2
  • Hot Ransomer
  • Don’t Comb Your Soul
  • Lips from the Wizard
  • Pirhana 33DD (I spit out my soda when I saw this one)

Some of these, for all I know, may be actual titles, but I tried to check them against my master list.

Which ones are your favorites?

Photo by Pelly Benassi on Unsplash

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Life Cycle of the Common Parking Lot Sandberg

When I was a boy, I loved the archipelagos that formed in parking lots towards the end of winter and the dawn of spring. Murky, sand-drenched snow-islands accreted around every lamp post, existing in defiance of air temperatures thanks to their composition of half grit, half ice.

They seemed towering, ephemeral Everests that demanded conquering. Often my siblings and I would try to climb them to the chagrin of my parents who only wanted us to get in the damned car so they could get home after a long day.

As spring bounded on each year, the islands wore ever downward, the warming tide against their shores, until nothing remained but a sea of asphalt left pocked by potholes. But for a brief few weeks, there they dwelled in the K-Mart lot, a temporary geography ripe for imagination, calling to be explored and to be dreamed larger than they really were.

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Some Thoughts on Solitude

I recently sat down to watch the first episode of Maniac on Netflix.  and I was struck by a line in the opening narration that went:

It’s quite terrible to be alone.

In truth, I was only half-paying attention up until that line to the rambling, philosophical notions espoused by the unnamed and unseen narrator in those early moments, but that line made me sit up and take notice because of simply how wrong I found it.

“There is the thought,” I said aloud to nobody because I was alone in the house in a rare moment, “of a person who doesn’t have small children.”  The kind of profundity issued by someone who has been able to use a toilet in silence more than once in the past four years. Parenting is a wonderful thing that has enriched my life in many ways, but one thing it takes away from you rather quickly is the option to be alone very often.

In solitude, I think we find ourselves best. You truly get to know yourself with only yourself for company; alone, we wear no masks for the show of others. We do not find ourselves moving along with the crowd while entertaining silent, private doubts.  Solitude is a form of nakedness, and I think for some, it’s absolutely essential from time to time.

I find my ability to truly be alone has weakened in this era of social media, however. Thanks to the internet, we can always distract ourselves with socializing in some way.  My early mental picture of the internet was a vast library, but anymore, it looks like an enormous coffee shop full of chattering patrons.  To be truly alone anymore, I have to discard all my devices and rough it out.  It’s uncomfortable at first, but it usually leads to some deep reflection that I need.

Consider me a champion for solitude, at least in moderation (like all things). And hell, I try to give it as a gift to those I love.  For Mother’s Day, I give my wife a day of solitude.  A day with me and the boy she can have any time!  We go on an adventure and let her rest with her thoughts in peace.  My wish for you is to find that time for yourself now and then.

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Thoughts on Nature

I went for a walk at the Baker Wetlands this morning. I’ve driven out there a couple of times before, and it usually makes me feel conflicted.

The Wetlands I spent countless hours working at in high school are gone. The place isn’t really recognizable to me at all, thanks to the SLT. I remember most the paths among the line of trees at the northern edge, and that’s mostly gone now, bulldozed for progress, or cut off from the proper wetlands by the highway.

Initially, coming back out here made me feel sad. So many of the nature landmarks from my early life are now strip malls or highways. But the new wetland does actually seem quite a bit bigger, and it teems with wildlife. (more…)

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Ready Player One wasn’t unmitigated garbage, but it wasn’t that plausible either

I finally got down to the local cinemaplex to take in a viewing of White Nerd Fantasies: The Future part one.  Based on the general backlash to the book that’s been circulating online, I expected that the movie would continue the weird 80s nostalgia excesses of the book (which I frankly loved, despite acknowledging its problematic aspects). The book and the movie don’t share a lot of similarities in that regard.  The soundtrack seemed to be the primary place that called out the 80s. There were plenty of more modern references and cameos to be seen as well but I think visual references seem a lot less obnoxious than those on the written page.  I expected to find a much more off-putting movie than I did, so I was pleasantly entertained, and indeed, part of me was thrilled.  I’ve had a personal fascination with virtual reality since the 9th grade, when I spent the year writing a research paper on it. I’ve waited my whole life for virtual reality to be taken this seriously, and it took seeing it up there on the big screen to realize just how ridiculous a future including something like the OASIS really seems.

The first barrier you’d have to get over for wide-spread adoption of something like VR as depicted in this film is the “ridiculous” effect.  People participating in VR look absolutely insane to those who don’t have a screen strapped to their face. The movie played up this effect to great impact, intercutting between dramatic action-filled moments in virtual reality with the real world ridiculousness of people in black lycra suits waving around frantically.  Not impossible to overcome, but definitely something that hampers the development of an OASIS.

The second barrier is the idea that anyone would spend that much time playing the same thing for more than a few months. Take a look at the “free to play” games list on Steam sometime.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games on there, some of which are being played at any given time by sixty people at most.  The diversification of options means getting a large crowd onto the same service or “planet” or whatever you want to call them seems impossible and absurd.   There would be a dozen or more OASISes and most of them would look like ghost towns.  An awful lot of people would be holed up in private creations, probably.  IOI would have just created their own competing simulation platform.

Also,  the film kind of portrays a wide web of people who seem to ignore those closest to them in favor of distant connections.  While this is a life some of us do indeed live, the majority of people use the connectedness of the internet and social media to stay in touch with people that live near them, that are already important in their lives.  Not an awful lot of people seem to use social media to connect to random strangers.  They use it to reinforce the bonds they already have.  So social media, not gaming, makes up a good chunk of internet usage.  We don’t really see that in this future.  Perhaps it’s there off camera?

Virtual reality, as I grow older, seems like the bizarre fantasy of social misfits and shut-ins who want to be isolated, but still have life experiences.  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could climb a mountain without actually leaving our house?” Why would that be great?  I understand the appeal if you are, for instance, disabled, but for the relatively average person, I suspect the experience will always pale to the real thing because as Halliday says in the movie, it’s not real. Realness matters and will continue to matter until they’re plugging our brains directly into a simulation, which I’m not sure will ever truly be possible (but who knows).   It’s like androids. Androids don’t make much sense to me except in a few rare instances.  Why make artificial people who are indistinguishable from people when you have a surplus of… actual people around who could really use something to do?

Don’t get me wrong – I still see utility in virtual reality as a tech innovation, and maybe one day I will actually own my own gear, but I suspect it will mostly be a niche experience.

Finally, my main complaint is that the future in the film projects the apathy of Generation X onto new generations that have as of yet not displayed any of the apathy that seems necessary to give us the RPO future.  Today’s teens seem far more engaged in trying to change the world than the rest of us.  That alone makes RPO’s future seem pretty implausible.  The #NeverAgain kids are pretty unlikely to lose themselves to spending all their time playing games on Planet Doom.  The kids are alright.  I don’t think they’re going to let this happen, and I for one look forward to how they’re going to make visions of the future like this one utterly obsolete.

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Filling in the Cinematic Gaps: Goodfellas (1990)

One of my favorite things in this cruel and uncaring world is to watch a movie in the theater, followed not too far down the list by watching a movie at home after my preschooler has finally gone to $*%#ing sleep. Lately, inspired by my friend Marc’s deep dive into cinema, I’ve been working to fill in the gaps in my cinematic experiences when I can find the time. The latest hole to be patched was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

I’ve seen plenty of gangster movies and maybe a dozen episodes of the Sopranos, but it’s never been a genre in which I’ve taken a strong interest. Obviously I tend to go for things that are a bit less grounded in reality, and I’m not particularly a big fan of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, who seem to have acted or starred in 95% of all modern gangster movies.

Gangsters in this genre make me uneasy in the same way I suspect sharks make other people nervous. They’re unpredictable, dangerous, and deadly. Their deadliness makes it hard for me to watch stories about them because I spend the whole time waiting for them to come through the screen and whack me and my whole family. You might think this is odd because I like crime and heist movies. In those movies, the characters are less often murderers and more the thieving kind, and I find that less threatening and uncomfortable. Let’s face it: an awful lot of gangster movies end in an orgy of murder and mayhem.

That said, I overcame my discomfort long enough to sit through Goodfellas and generally, I’m glad I did. This is an oddly placed film in time, having come out in 1990, but it feels very much like an 80s or 70s film rather than a 90s one. The film grain, the acting, and the music choices anchor it in an earlier era, and as the film drifts from the 50s into the early 80s, it never quite stopped holding on to its earliest time periods.

One thing that stood out in the early chapters was how Scorsese leans hard on a freeze frame narrative device, in which Ray Liotta’s character can pontificate about his past without the film’s action running ahead of him. It’s an odd technique that I don’t recall him utilizing nearly so often in his other pictures. It had the overall impact of slowing down the picture to start, which may well have been his intent. At 146 minutes, it felt at times more like a solid 180+ minute picture.

A big surprise for me was that Ray Liotta was the real lead of this picture. Everything about this movie that had drifted into my general pop culture knowledge involved Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro. Many of the lines of dialogue that were likely strong, memorable moments to original viewing have long since been milked of any vitality by the parodies that have followed (especially Pesci’s infamous scene where he busts Liotta’s balls over a simple compliment to the point where we soon fear violence will break out).  Liotta’s performance as a somewhat dim-witted and at-times decent man contrasted well with his co-stars, and served as a strong narrator who at times faded a little too much in the background against his more colorful co-stars.

The stand-out performance here was Joe Pesci’s, of course. I loathed Pesci’s character from the first minute he was on screen until he finally took a bullet. Pesci’s performance here was great, definitely the kind of thing he specialized in for years–characters that you absolutely loved to hate.  Pesci absolutely earned his Best Supporting Oscar in this picture, and as time goes on, his performance as that unhinged and unpredictable man will linger even as other memories of Goodfellas will fade.

If I had to summarize this movie, I would say: it’s about sharks in suits who spend a lot of time treating women like shit and then come to morally appropriate ends. It’s not a masterpiece of cinema like The Godfather and it’s not probably even as memorable a movie overall as even Casino. Scorsese’s ability to get memorable acting work out of these actors in goodfella wise-guy roles is on display here as usual, but structurally, and from a story-telling standpoint, it doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It ranks in the middle of Scorese’s oeuvre for me, but that’s still better than an awful lot of cinema out there.

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Deepfakes Will Destroy Our Society, but Let’s Talk About the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Foundations Instead

Last night, I felt a hankering to watch the original Iron Man movie, and because this is the era of instant gratification, once we’d finished dinner, coaxed the little dude to sleep, and shut down business operations for the night, we settled in for a viewing via Amazon Prime. Okay, so as instant as it gets when you’re parents, but we did eventually watch it and I think the wife only fell asleep a couple of times.

The reason it was on my mind was because I was browsing the deepfakes gifs subreddit and for some reason, someone had taken a bunch of scenes from that movie and mapped Elon Musk’s face onto Robert Downey Jr’s.  It wasn’t a particularly believable deepfake, unlike some of the ones with Nick Cage’s face (I’ll never understand Reddit’s fixation with Cage).  We’re 3-4 years away from being able to recast any movie with any person utilizing neural network-based software and a boatload of photographic reference.   The deepfakes phenomenon started out primarily being used for incredibly creepy porn, but the technology will likely see numerous uses we haven’t predicted, especially given just about anybody can set up and train one with a little effort.  The implications for journalism are particularly worrisome, especially when combined with the level of voice synthesis tech that’s been circulating.  Talk about “fake news”… but that’s a much more depressing post. My dive into deepfakes got me thinking once more about the MCU’s beginnings. Let’s fiddle for a while and ignore all that smoke, shall we? (more…)

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Blogging is Dead. Let’s Start Blogging Again

Every few months, I read something that reminds me I was once an avid blogger.  Chances are, if you see this, you were too.  I don’t think I have a lot of reach with the Pre-Millennials (or Millenials for that matter).  Blogging was the way to actively interact with the internet for quite a few years.  Social media came and now we put all our private thoughts in pseudo-public networks and the blog is dead, except for a handful of stalwarts. Cory Doctorow’s gonna figure out a way to keep posting to Boing Boing after the bombs fall.

I have some nervous energy lately (nothing too serious, just the usual grab bag of slightly net-positive anxieties), as well as a troubling failure to commit fictional prose, so here I am. Blogging again.  Only this time, I’m going to be blogging for an audience of one and try to remind myself that.  I may even write a plugin for WordPress to post a big notice at the top of the editor: “NOBODY WILL READ THIS AND YOU SHOULD WRITE IT ANYWAY.”

(more…)

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Ten Increasingly Plausible Theories to Explain Why Donald Trump is the President

  1. In 2007, Jesus returned to Earth, born unto a poor Afghani couple living in the Helmand province.  In 2015, the new Jesus was killed, along with his Earthly family, in a deadly drone strike carried out by the U.S. military.  Everything that has happened since has been the retribution of an angry God.
  2. Global warming has reached a previously unknown tipping point.  Once CO2 levels rise beyond a certain point, humanity’s self-extinction instinct is activated by a complex biological mechanism inherent in all species since the dawn of life. When triggered, the dominant species is driven subconsciously to destroy itself.  In humans, this takes the form of electing the world leaders most likely to burn it all to the ground.  If humans can murder themselves fast enough, in great enough numbers, then the planet might just make it into the next million years with an intact biosphere.
  3. A secret cabal of hyper-intelligent cats, having grown tired of living in the shadows and having finally cracked the chemical formulas responsible for the potent highs of catnip, have enacted a plan to clear the slate and make way for their outright domination of the planet.  Pretty soon, we’ll start to see dogs dying in mysterious numbers. That’s the sign that they’ve escalated their time table further.
  4. Time travel, as it turns out, is possible. Unfortunately for us, it was perfected during Hilary Clinton’s second term by the top chronal scientists of the Ku Klux Klan.
  5. In 1971, NASA’s long-range threat assessment program LoRTaP detected an extinction-level asteroid aimed at Earth, predicted to impact the Earth in 2020.  Everything that has happened since was carefully planned by the secret council known as Majestic-12.  Republicans would be allowed to run rampant in our economy, shifting ever larger amounts of money in the economy towards the titans of industry tasked with constructing enormous space-worthy life boats in underground complexes scattered around the world.  It was a carefully calculated risk, but one that top Democrats agreed to; without allowing the wealthy to strip mine our doomed planet, no one would survive this.  In order to prepare doomed Americans for what was coming, it was determined that the most incompetent president in our country’s history must be elected.  Once all hope was lost in the American people, only then would they be prepared to board the life boats and abandon life as they knew it.  Only after the meteor shattered our world would the people be allowed to begin rebuilding their spirits.
  6. Trump is the Chosen One, and it his destiny to one day  engage the Dark Lord in hand-to-hand combat.  His rise was prophesied by George Washington himself in one of his many trances chronicled in the Book Of American Splendors.   Today, a secret branch of the U. S. government hidden within the Secret Service are tasked with making sure that Washington’s visions come true.  Unfortunately, something has gone wrong.  The Dark Lord is nowhere to be found, and the Secret Service is growing increasingly worried that the prophecies have finally failed them.
  7. Economic anxiety… among the reptilians!
  8. Ratings for the trans-dimensional faux-reality show America! have slipped as the show enters its  237th season. Worried showrunners have given the writer’s room free reign to throw anything against the wall to see what sticks.  Popular characters were killed off suddenly, and the worst villains allowed to rise to power.  Things look bleaker than they have ever before, and a trillion households across the multiverse have tuned back in so ratings have, thus far, shown a very promising uptick.  Unfortunately, this strategy has left the America! writing staff in a bind; how do you top the carnage of the 236th season?
  9. Twelve year old chaos magician Aidan Nicholson discovered all too late that what he thought was just a funny “what if” scenario hammered out with a couple of his dorky friends was actually the most powerful spell any magician has ever managed to cast.   Aidan desperately attempts to undo his work every day, but each attempt leaves things in even worse condition than before.
  10. Richard Nixon’s dying words formed a powerful curse, a malediction based on his late-life studies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  He devoted the last of his energies to curse the once-great country that he believed had wronged him.  “If you think I was bad, you fools, then I swear that one day you will elect a leader that makes me look like Abraham-fucking-Lincoln.”  Little does anyone know, this curse can only be broken by beating Henry Kissinger to death with a sack of oranges.

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Dudes? Feminism is for you, too

First, a caveat. My language below may not be elegant or use the proper scholarly terminology because I’m not formally educated in these subjects, but I have some things to say and I hope I say them well enough to convey my message, which is a simple one. My message here is more specifically for my male peers: gamers, nerds, and geeks.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed a lot of guys my generation or younger who believe that feminism is something it isn’t, or have taken some extreme form of it to stand for the whole thing (much like people often confuse radical religion factions to stand for a broader religion). These men (not necessarily full-blown Men’s Rights Activists which I won’t even get into here) believe that feminism has nothing to offer them. Ignoring the fact that you’re kind of a jerk if you can’t support something that doesn’t directly support you, I find this really sad. Most of us don’t conform to the traditional notions of masculinity much at all!

Feminism, I’ve come to learn over the years (perhaps embarrassingly late), has its sights set not just the societal structures responsible for women’s so-called “gender norms” but also the ones responsible for toxic masculinity. When it comes to my male peers, not one of us has escaped harm by toxic masculinity.

Ask any of us to describe what a man should be, and I will bet we’d most often describe gruff, taciturn men who never cry and spend their days drinking beer and fixing cars. Real men don’t have much in the way of feelings you can hurt. They fix things. They certainly don’t play games because they’re too busy doing home repairs or replacing engines in cars. I still have this mental picture.

Me, I don’t conform to that notion in the slightest. I’m a geeky, sensitive nerd who would rather play board games than rebuild a car engine. I barely trust myself with a hammer as I’m more likely to break something with it than I am to fix it. And when I wrote “sensitive” earlier, I felt a strong urge to write “overly” in front of it. That is toxic masculinity in a nutshell.

And do you know why I don’t feel any less than a man? Because feminism has taught me that being a “man” doesn’t mean conforming to any of these things. In general, I don’t feel any need to police what makes a person a man or what doesn’t. Especially not myself. You feel manly? Great. Gender norms are bullshit and I believe you should be who you want and do what you want (provided you’re not hurting anyone). It’s a pretty basic rule that I think most people agree with generally. I don’t know why this particular issue trips people up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a man for myself lately because it’s entangled with my notions of what it means to be a father. I find myself emulating my own Dad more often than I like. I struggle with how I react, in particular, to my son crying. My bone-deep instinct is to encourage him to stop crying at any cost, to tell him he’s not hurt, etc. But of course he is! When I catch myself doing that, I feel a lot more shame than I ever did for not being able to change the oil in my car or whatever.

I feel like none of my peers really like gender norms much. If you don’t like them, then I believe you need to acknowledge the role that feminism has in attacking all gender norms. You’re more free to be the person you want to be because of the hard work of feminists.  Feminists aren’t working to just make the lives of women better; they’re working to make all lives better, even yours.

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