Happy International Podcast Day!

I just found out two nights ago that today, September 30th, is International Podcast Day (an event that even has its own website!  https://internationalpodcastday.com/).  It’s an event that even has sponsors making it all possible.

If you want to read the full history of the day, check out their “About” page:
https://internationalpodcastday.com/about/

For my part of celebrating, I don’t really have any new content; so instead I’ll send you to my various posts about podcasts: http://noformatblog.ca/category/podcasts/ 

I also wrote on /r/podcasts about a recent Lifehacker article.  Read that little write-up here: https://www.reddit.com/r/podcasts/comments/72lp05/lifehacker_staffs_podcast_picks/

Beyond that – have a great day and listen to tons of podcasts!!

Usefulness of Medium

I really like Medium.com.  There’s a wide range of articles available on virtually ANY topic – from the trivial to the very important.  And if I were feeling lazy, I’d end my post right there – those are reasons enough for me to publicly state my fondness for Medium.  But I’m not (too) lazy.

View story at Medium.com

I recently read the above article, which is what prompted me to start writing about a website.  If for some reason you can’t see the link, it’s an article called “This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit: The story of how one metric has changed the way you see the world“.  To give you a brief summary, it talks about how journalism has changed for the worse because of online metrics.

What struck me about this article, and others like it that I’ve read, is the simple fact that articles and reading such as this exists in the first place on Medium.  I think that it’s important that different viewpoints exist and are easily read, especially when more and more news feeds are curated to show you what YOU want to read, and often give you a skewed world view.

But on Medium, there doesn’t seem to be any particular algorithm (that I’m aware of, at least) that aims specific content your way.  Their main page starts with a series of article suggestions, which as far as I can tell, is based on a combination of what you’ve read previously + content categories you’ve identified as what you’re interested in reading.

 

View post on imgur.com

It then goes on to suggest articles that are specifically found in your categories of choice.  OK, so it is curated, a little bit; but the fact that the “you might like” choices are based on what you’ve already read is still leagues better than news articles who change their headlines and content based on what people are more likely to read.

With Medium, I have a choice of what I want to read.  The articles that are submitted here aren’t done so in order to increase precious advertising revenue or clicks; they’re on the website because somebody wanted to write that particular article and wanted someone to read it.

I was about to call it ‘one big letter to the editor’ – but that’s the thing; while there ARE opinion pieces on the website, there are also some well-researched journalism pieces that are more about facts than opinion.  And then there are some nice stories to read as well.

Given the state of current journalism, we need a website like Medium to continue to thrive.  I myself need to make a more conscious effort to read it on a regular basis.  You should, too.

Star Trek: Discovery Review

I finally finished watching the final bits of “The Battle at the Binary Stars”, the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery.  Here’s my quick review of the show!

Overall impressions

I thought the premiere episodes were great.  In Canada, Discovery is being released on Space, the Canadian version of the SyFy channel.  I’m incredibly thankful that I don’t need to subscribe to CraveTV, which is where you can stream the show in Canada.

If I were to give it an arbitrary rating, I’d say 3.5/5.  The show was visually impressive, and had a story that was somewhat straightforward to follow.  There were some bits I didn’t like (I’ll get to that), but overall I found enough that will keep me coming back weekly.

What I didn’t like 

The Klingons – but not for the reason you’d think.  I’m not hung up on the design choices for the show; in fact I think I’d find it distracting if the technology looked dated compared to what we have available to us today.  Similarly for the Kilngons, the updated look didn’t phase me a bit.

What bothered me was the way they spoke, and the slow subtitles.  I found it very hard to follow along, because they spoke so slowly and the subtitles used such short sentence fragments.  Let me correct my phrasing a bit; it wasn’t that they spoke slowly at all, it was actually just the subtitles.  I think their speech patterns were the most “realistic” of all Klingon depictions.  Their scenes just felt extremely slow and took me out of the episode because of it.

I also found it confusing that we started with a crew that had already been together 7 years, and we’re most likely never seeing them again.  Why couldn’t we start with the Discovery, if that’s where we’re going?  That’s a minor beef though, and I’m willing to see what they’ve got for the rest of the season.

What I did like

Yep, the list of what I didn’t like was pretty short.  While introducing the Shenzhou was a negative, it was also somewhat of a positive for me.  It really did feel like we were seeing a crew that had spent 7 years together – there was no awkward “nice to meet you” moments we might usually get in a Star Trek pilot.  Especially the relationship between Saru and Burnham was really well done.

I mentioned the impressive visuals earlier; like I said, I wasn’t caught up with the fact that these sets look even more advanced than the Enterprise sets did at the time.  They do look like a natural progression from the Enterprise sets, which I thought made sense for 100 years’ difference.  From the technical standpoint, I thought it was great that this didn’t “look” like a TV show (whereas you can tell the original Trek series are filmed on sets, no matter how alive they tried to make them).

I thought Commander Burnham was portrayed excellently – you could tell she was a different character from when she first joined the Shenzhou to her moment of defiance 7 years later.  You can feel that there is a lot of character development that happened in between, and you can trust that it happened without having to see it.

Final Words

When I first saw the trailer for this, I wasn’t initially interested in the show.  I would watch the first episode, and try to catch it if I could.  But as the premiere date came, I realized I was legitimately excited for a new Trek show.

And now, after seeing the first two episodes, I can’t wait to have a weekly Sunday night TV date.  Everybody is talking about it – it’s great.

If you haven’t seen the episodes yet, go and watch them.  Judge for yourself whether it has a “Star Trek” message or not (I think the jury is still out on that).

Still Night in the City

Still Night in the City - Some Rights Reserved
Still Night in the City – I took this photo using “Pro” mode on my S7 edge while out on a walk a few nights ago. I was struck by the stillness in the air and the colours bleeding onto the leaves of the trees. It is purposefully dark – I liked the eerie glow I got while fiddling with the settings. Some Rights Reserved.

Podcast Goals

If you’ve been reading any of my posts for the last little while, you probably know I’m really into Podcasts.  I host my own show, Alternative Airwaves, which is a quasi-monthly music podcast where I play Creative Commons songs exclusively.

Along with my friend Mike, I also co-host Futurama Pedia, which is a “release when we can” model; it’s tough to find time to record together, but when we do, we have a good time.

Beyond that, I’m always thinking in the back of my mind that I’d like to put a podcast together that requires less production time – I can just hit “record” and stitch it together.

Tonight (Monday, the 25th) I completely planned on recording a new episode of Alternative Airwaves; but to do that, I’d need to listen to several tracks (in my process, I usually listen to 15-20 songs per show, and only 12-15 make it), do some research about the artists, and then finally record.  After that, I need to put the show together, track-after-track.

I thought about it some more, and realized that I didn’t want to put in the effort to do it.  With that realization came the notion that I want to go back into turning it into a blog primarily, where it used to be both a blog and a podcast.

I have some thinking to do, about whether I even want to do that much (make it a blog).  It’ll essentially cost me nothing to keep it going minus the cost of renewing the domain name, I just need to put time into it.

New on Netflix in October (Canada)

I was a holdout of Netflix for a long time, but with the demise of Shomi last November, I finally bit the bullet.  Most months I don’t even pay for it out of pocket money, using cash earned through SwagBucks.  So I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

Here’s the full list I’m reading from, courtesy of MobileSyrup.  Go ahead and click, I’ll wait for you to come back for my highlights.   Note that this list is for Canada only – I have no idea what’s coming in other regions.

My List

First and foremost, Stranger Things 2 is at the top of my list, coming October 27th – just in time for Halloween!  The trailer for it looks pretty sweet, too; you can find that on YouTube.

Goosebumps – I don’t think this movie got very good reviews, but in keeping with the Halloween theme for October I think it’s worth a watch and worthy of going onto My List.

Wheelman’s description makes it seem very much like it’s a B movie dressed up with some moderately high production value.  I don’t know, it sounds like it could be worth watching on a Saturday afternoon.

That’s about it for my list of new things to watch; but apparently after October 9th, Mad Max: Fury Road is going by the wayside.  I’ll have to find some time to watch that one, since I still haven’t gotten around to it.  Interestingly, Fellowship of the Ring is leaving Netflix, but NOT The Two Towers or Return of the King.

How To Read 3650 Pages In A Year

I’ve been doing a little bit of research lately to try and get more eyeballs onto my blog, and one of the things I’ve been trying to do is read what other people are writing.  That’s something I’ve been neglecting for some time.

One of the articles that I found was from the blog Flight Headed (www.flightheaded.com).  It was called, “How and Why You Should Read 3650 Pages  Worth of Books A Year“.  It is as the title suggests – an article suggesting that you should read 3650 pages of books in a year.

That honestly sounds like a lot.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hovers around 500 pages.  A Game of Thrones is 873 pages, and A Dance With Dragons clocks in at 1200+.  If you’re adding with me, that’s 2573, leaving 1077 pages to go and that’s only 3 books.

Author Chris Flores breaks it down a bit more reasonably.  Flores suggests reading just 10 pages a day, which is where the number 3650 comes from (365 days x 10 pages = 3650).  If even that seems daunting, the suggestion is to read 5 pages a day – which is still 1825 pages!

But the point isn’t really the amount of pages you should read.  The number, like I said, simply comes from being something that is manageable on a per-day level.  10 pages?  That takes 15-20 minutes, depending on your reading speed.  Sure, you can find time out of your day to do that.  You probably read that much in online articles and blogs.  It’s a much easier ask than throwing a book at someone and telling them to read it in two weeks.

I won’t re-hash the benefits of reading that Flores outlines (check out his blog post, he really does a good job describing the benefits).  Instead, what sparked me to write this was what clicked in my head after reading the article.  I often lament that I don’t have time (or don’t make time) to read, and as a result have many books just sitting on the shelf.

To look at things in a “10 page a day” pace, it makes things much more manageable.  I’m currently reading Catalyst by James Luceno; its length is 288 pages and I’m on page 177.  111 pages?  If I read just 10 pages a day I’ll be done in 10 days.

Update: Actually, I wrote this last week – since then I just finished reading Catalyst last night – see my Goodreads entry on it if you’re interested!

Currently I have a goal to read 25 books this year (including comic books / graphic novels); I’ve read 11 so far.  I plan on getting as close to 25 as I can using this new-found reading spark.  I’ve got a lot of good books waiting to be read, and I keep finding more!

Historical Inaccuracies in Hidden Figures

I missed the boat when Hidden Figures was first in theatres, and finally caught up with it when I picked up the Blu-Ray in July.  I really liked the movie!  The cast was really good, and even though I recognized a lot of the bigger names, they took a back seat to the persona of the characters they were playing.

One of the bigger nitpicks in this movie – and 2012’s Argo – is that it’s historically inaccurate.  Critics of the film complain that in Hidden Figures, it’s silly to show Katherine Johnson racing the clock to complete some calculations so that John Glenn’s historic flight can take place.  Other complaints were that the issue of segregated bathrooms was partially invented by the movie to create a challenge.

I’m okay with all of that.  I am aware that I am watching a movie, which has to contain certain elements in order to function as a movie.  I feel that the purpose of movies such as this are to show people an overview of what happened – as long as they are sticking mostly to the facts of the life they’re telling, it’s understandable they take some liberties.  One of the functions – at least that’s my belief – is that they jump start curiosity and get people to look up the full story.

That’s exactly what I do, almost every time I watch a movie based on actual events.  I look up what really happened.  I don’t mind learning about several inaccuracies along the way.  It’s only really a problem if the movie creates falsehoods that obscure the real story.  In writing that, I realize that technically Hidden Figures and Argo create some falsehoods – but the difference is that they do so to raise tension for a story, but are still telling the underlying truth.

I can think of similar movies that probably have many historical inaccuracies, but still work.  Apollo 13, for one.  42.  The Blind Side.  Moneyball.  Coach Carter.  The Martian.  (I kid).  If you look up the events they’re based on, you often find paragraphs that go something like, “In the movie, this event happened, but in reality…”

Why is this a problem?  A lot of these movies are made for a dual purpose – entertainment as well as education.  But in order to get made, they need to bring in money, so they need to bend the truth a little bit in order to be successful.

There will always be little embellishments of the truth in movies based on true events – life is never as perfect as a 3-act movie will have you believe.  Just sit back, enjoy it, and then relish in the fun of reading about the true events afterward.

I’ve Had Enough of You, Yoast SEO

When I started this new blog in January, my number one goal – and today it’s still the number one goal – was to engage readers.  That hasn’t exactly happened.  But that’s okay, and I’m still working on it.

But one of the reasons I pushed forward and bought a domain name with a WordPress installation was because I kept getting told I needed to be able to use plugins!  And that I’d never get anywhere without a domain name!

Sadly, I think I was oversold on the domain name.  Nonetheless, one of the plugins that kept getting pushed over on Reddit’s blogging subreddit was “Yoast SEO”.  The long and short of it is that Yoast SEO is designed to help you craft your posts to optimize them for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

I’ve had enough of Yoast SEO intruding in my writing.

I’ve definitely noticed since activating the plugin that I’m changing the way I might traditionally write a post, and that my own personal voice is marginalized.  I don’t like it anymore, and tailoring my posts to perform well with search engines isn’t doing me any favours, anyway.

So I’m ditching it, officially.  Consider this a negative review, and not just a pat on my own back.

If you’ve never used it before, Yoast SEO prompts you for a keyword (apparently several keywords if you have premium) and scans your post for SEO efficiency, giving you a red, yellow, or green light based on what you’ve written.

You get more points for adding images, headings, etc.  Some of it makes sense to me.  But some of it absolutely doesn’t – and maybe that’s a fault of my not understanding SEO, but I can tell you with certainty that I don’t feel like searching for or creating a random image to insert just because it increases my Yoast rating.

I think this is just my personal use-case showing through here; I believe that for people with focused, niche-oriented blogs, Yoast SEO might in fact be extremely beneficial for them.  It’s just not for me.

If you’ve had better experience with Yoast, let me know in the comments!  I’d love to be proven wrong, and given a lesson or two on how to use it and avoid losing my writing voice.

Adding to the Family

Well, August was certainly a busy month.  I didn’t get to all of the comic books that I meant to write about.  I’m still going to read them, and put reviews up, but I really dropped the ball.  In fact, over the entire summer, I feel like I’ve dropped the ball with the consistent posting.  So timing things with everyone going back to school, I’m getting back to consistency.

New Addition

This past Labour Day weekend, we made a last minute decision to adopt a new puppy.  You’ll remember back in April we lost our dog Hank; it was hard going through these last few months without little feet following behind us, and we grew used to a quieter house (sort of).

Bailey with her new toy on her way to her new home.
Bailey with her new toy on her way to her new home.

Enter Bailey: a 1-year-old puppy who has loads of energy.  All we knew about her was that she was a beagle mix, and her vet records were kept up to date.  We’re not sure what she’s mixed with, but based on observation we think she’s part boxer.

We’re both learning – for Vanessa and I, we’ve learned that she still needs a lot of training and learning about her personality.  Bailey is learning the same about our particular life rhythms.

One thing is for certain – she’s not going anywhere.  She’s super cute, and despite needing some additional training, we know that we’re going to get along fine.  I know that I certainly can’t complain, especially when I’m going to hit my FitBit step goal with no problems two days in a row.

Bailey hard at work in the home office
Bailey hard at work in the home office

I can proudly say that she’s only destroyed objects of minimal importance so far – and we take responsibility for leaving her on her own for too long.  Other than that, she isn’t doing too bad.

I look forward to writing more about her, but for now, enjoy another picture of her sleeping.

Bailey Sleeping
Bailey Sleeping