Blog posts tagged #media

Wait, That's Gary Oldman?


I think the first movie I saw Gary Oldman in was Batman Begins. Not long after, I was a teenager and dodged my parents’ prohibition on the Harry Potter franchise (they were right, eventually, but for very different reasons of course) I saw him as Sirius Black and had no idea that it was the same guy. And when someone got me to watch this weird nineties sci-fi movie about elements and love or something, I again didn’t recognize him as the antagonist until way later. I’m currently into the second season of Slow Horses, and it’s more of the same – wait, that’s Gary Oldman? He’s amazing!

There are actors who are good, but you can never forget who you’re watching. I’m not talking about the folks who sort of always play the same types of characters due to typecasting or whatever, or actors in comedies or action movies where there’s less breadth in characterization. It’s more that for most actors, their star power overshadows their role.

Like, say, Jeff Goldbloom. I love me some Jeff Goldbloom, and he is a suave eccentric gentleman, but it’s always Jeff Goldbloom up there. Tom Hanks is always Tom Hanks, and a lot of his movies would have done very poorly without his genuine likability. Al Pacino’s great but he’s always Al Pacino. Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, and Angelina Jolie prove it’s not just an issue with guys. John Lithgow. David Tennant and Matt Smith, as heretical as it is for a nerd to criticize a Doctor. They’re fine, or great, or astounding actors. But you never forget who you’re watching. They don’t disappear.

There’s the method actor type, the canonical example of which is Daniel Day-Lewis. A guy who supposedly goes for it so hard it’s annoying to those on set, and does two movies a decade but they’re Very Important Movies that film students will study and I will not find very fun to watch. Marlon Brando method acted too, and was obviously amazing. But he shared the same problem as Day-Lewis: even though they lived as their characters, and produced amazing performances, I can’t avoid seeing the actors first and the characters second. They lived their roles, but didn’t disappear into them.

I think Gary Oldman is the greatest actor working today. He inhabits his roles to the point where you look past the actor and just see the character. As if you’re not watching TV or a movie, and you’re reading a book instead. There are others – Karl Urban has made me do similar double-takes. But nobody does it like Gary Oldman.

Twitter, Mastodon, and This Blog

#media, #meta

It's been a weird few months on the internet.

Elon bought Twitter, and started doing the sorts of things that a person like him would do. I initially stopped posting, and eventually stopped going there altogether. I don't miss it.

Part of why I don't miss it, though, is Mastodon. I wasn't on Twitter in the early days, but I am told that Mastodon currently feels like that. I really like it. Not having quote-tweets is a big part of that, as well as the algorithmic timeline that rewards outrage, makes it a much more pleasant place.

But jumping onto Mastodon has a cost – I basically don't write here anymore. I built this website so I'd have a place to put long-form content on the internet, and so I'd have a sort of home base. But my publishing workflow is pretty clunky. I write a text file with some metadata at the top, commit it to a git repository, then pull the changes on my server. Then I visit a special url, type in a code, and some php chews on all the text files and spits out a directory structure and html.

That works fine if I write stuff that my text parser can understand. But if it spits out garbage, or I need to fix typos, the whole thing falls over. It's not robust. I have resorted to writing drafts when ideas occur, then firing up a local copy on a LAMP stack on my home Mac to make sure there aren't any errors, and finally doing a dulpicate "real" publishing workflow. It's not exactly friction-free.

So instead, I just fire up one of several Mastodon apps on my phone and post something there. Easy edits, no worries about text parsing, and a small audience sees it. A 500-character limit and pre-posting threading makes long-ish form stuff easy, too.

So what do I do here? I tried hosting my own Mastodon instance so I'd own and control my own stuff, and gradually call that my micro-blog. But it's heavy enough software that I don't care to increase my server hosting costs by a factor of 2-3x just for a micro blog. Write Freely is another piece of software that can be self-hosted and implements ActivityPub, but I couldn't get it to work well on my server.

So maybe I install WordPress again. It's fine, I guess. But in earlier iterations of this site, it gave me nothing but headaches. There are other, more lightweight cms's out there. Might give one of them a shot.

In any case, this may be the last post using the current system. Building it was a fun project. But my day job isn't in software, and I don't have the skills or time to dedicate to making it actually good. It's probably time to rely on the professionals doing what they're good at.

New Dungeons and Dragons Rules


So Wizards of the Coast released their first play test material for the next version of Dungeons and Dragons. The first batch of stuff is on character backgrounds and races. I think the new rules are overall good. Not perfect, but pretty good. Based on vitriol on the internet, I might be in the minority, but the angry folks are always loudest. A bunch of things, on first glance:

Making ability scores a) tied to background and b) completely flexible negates the mechanical requirement for a bunch of old-fashioned race-stat combinations. Not all elves are slender braniacs, and not all orcs are big brutish tanks. This change felt pretty obvious after Tasha's came out last year, but it's cool to see it codified.

Half-races just being mechanically one or the other is kind of a bummer. But creating a system to pick and choose aspects from two races to combine (like how the half-elf and half-orc already worked, more-or-less) would be really awkward.

Nowhere in any race description does the document even suggest a predetermined alignment. The lone exception may be with Tieflings, with "for better or worse" having ancestry in nasty things, but they explicitly say it has no effect on moral outlook.

The concept of completely customizable backgrounds (with some pre-generated ones if you don't want to) is very good. I basically did that already and reflavored the official ones to get close to what I wanted for a character.

I'm not sure about the Ardlings. They feel like de-buffed Aasimar, which puts them more in line with a celestial-flavored Tiefling. I guess that's the point. I don't care for the animal head thing.

A flat 50 gp budget for equipment feels fair, but for a brand-new player, a "this or that" choice was way easier. That said, your rogue can now buy studded leather, two daggers, and a bag of ball bearings on day one and be pretty much set for the campaign.

Combining Magic Initiate into three lists (Arcane, Divine, Primal) is very good. Especially for the Primal list – it feels like Rangers got some caster representation. But I imagine an Ancients Paladin or a Scout Rogue with appropriate skills, Thorn Whip, and Hunter's Mark would be a better Ranger than most Rangers.

Getting free Inspiration on a 20/d20 is fine, but the DM's I play with aren't stingy with it. One suggestion I saw was to give Inspiration on a 1/d20 instead to even out the bumps, which feels nice.

I have mixed feelings on the "only player characters crit, and then only on weapon dice" thing. Seeing a full-HP low-level character get massive-damage killed in one hit from a crit feels bad, but also makes for good stories. And you never feel more powerful than when you crit-Smite an undead creature as a Paladin. Bursty damage is hard to design a game around, but it's usually pretty fun in practice.

I do not like "all nat 1's are fails" thing at all. If you finagle a +12 or whatever in a skill, you should basically never fail at that skill check.


I did not intend on writing that much about Dungeons and Dragons. I guess I have a lot of ideas. But I would never want to actually be in charge of this stuff. There are a lot of angry people on the internet this week who are pretty upset about their play-pretend-with-math game. Some people stuck with 3.5e or 4e, I'm sure some will do the same with 5e.

Re-Listening to Podcasts from the Dark Times


A good chunk of my job involves standing at a fume hood, mostly by myself, and doing stuff with my hands. Early on in grad school I started listening to podcasts, and they're great for when you're doing extended solo work.

I kind of only listen to two types of podcasts. There's the "two or three friends just talk about stuff" type and the "one person tells you about historical stuff" type. Sometimes the first type has a vague outline but it's better as it becomes more freeform, because the show is really more about the people than the topics. The second type is effectively a history audiobook that is released a chapter at at time. I know I'm weird, because the more popular interview shows and the murder documentaries and public radio essays don't really do it for me.

There aren't really even that many examples of either type that I actually enjoy, so I end up listening back through favorites. Usually this entails downloading episode 1 and just going through it in chronological order. I'm currently going through a Roderick on the Line re-listen, which is a perfect example of the "just some friends talking about stuff" type.

Podcasts are especially nice when the world is terrible and you just want to hear cool people talking about cool stuff. The problem with the more free-form types, though, is when you get to certain points in time. Say, November of 2016, when a little over 50% of Americans just sort of had to sit and blink, or panic, or plan a move to Canada. If I'm doing a podcast re-listen, I sort of have to skip a few months.

The other, obviously, is around mid-March 2020. We all had to start taking the wrong kind of vacation. It's pretty wild to think how (most of us) reacted to a few cases here or there. Compare that to the current, "who cares lol" wave of mid-2022, where there are something like an order and a half magnitude more cases than early 2020 despite a decent vaccination campaign (at least in California) but many people seem to think that everything's fine. But I digress.

It's been more than two years, so the panic at the start of the current unpleasantness is kind of history now. But it's hard to listen to people say "well, we'll get through this eventually" because we really haven't yet.

So, maybe two periods of podcast re-listening time to skip now.