YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Wheels on Meals

Legend has it that when the head of Golden Harvest productions heard that they were about to release a movie entitled Meals on Wheels, he refused to let them use the title. It wasn’t that he was afraid of someone suing him- he was afraid of losing money! You see, the previous two big Golden Harvest releases had both had English titles that started with the letter “M”, so he was sure this one was going to fail too if they used that title. Talk about superstitious!

So instead, they flipped it around to the pretty much nonsensical title of Wheels on Meals, and released what would go on to become a martial arts classic. Which in itself is a bit of a surprise, because it’s actually not really a martial arts movie at all! It’s actually a comedy with a strong martial arts element, but the fighting in it (especially the end fight) is so well done that it became known as one of the must-see martial arts films of its time anyways.

The plot is simple- a couple of Chinese (a young Jackie Chan and his buddy Yuen Biao) who run a food truck in 1980’s Barcelona, Spain find themselves involved with a beautiful and charming Spanish street thief who is being hunted by a group of mysterious men. She’s also be tracked by a bumbling private detective (played by Sammo Hung, who is also the director), and this all comes together as they try to solve the mystery of why this girl is so popular with all the wrong people.

The movie is from 1984, and is a total 80’s flashback highlighted by the visuals of Barcelona and the fashions of the times. The movie flows a bit awkward at times (normal for 80’s Hong Kong films), and the comedy is hit or miss, but it’s so light and generally fun that you can forgive it for its flaws. I definitely recommend giving it a watch, and this particular copy has good sound (a decent dub too) and good picture quality as well, so sit back and enjoy!

 

YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Hapkido

Recently, I’ve been on a jag of watching old Kung Fu flicks on YouTube, which is a bit like eating candy in a candy store! Almost any Kung Fu movie you can name has been uploaded to YouTube, and they literally made hundreds of these movies back in the 70’s and 80’s.

I thought I’d post links to a few of the ones I’ve really enjoyed, and the first is Hapkido (aka Lady Kung Fu), which is a unique little movie on several levels.

First, it’s a Hong Kong movie about Chinese who go to Korea (during the Japanese Occupation period) to learn a Korean martial art (the title Hapkido) and then bring what they’ve learned back to China. So despite being a “Kung Fu” movie, it’s actually about showcasing the Korean counterpart to Kung Fu.

Second, Hapkido stars Angela Mao in a role that would normally be played by a Bruce Lee clone, which brings an interesting twist to it. She is incredibly badass, but does so in a different and more calculating way which is different than how male martial artists tend to fight. On top of that, there’s no attempts to feminize the movie in any way- it’s a straight martial arts movie where it’s just accepted that she’s the boss of the group and everyone just treats her as an equal. It’s an interesting case where the lead being female did nothing to affect the plot. but still has an effect on the way things play out.

Yes, the English dub is stilted, but since it’s also pretty straightforward you get used to it after a bit. Oh, and there’s a pair of nude female breasts in a single shot for a few seconds, in case you’re watching it at work.

Enjoy!

Rob

Good Advice from Author Scott Sigler about Writing Your First Novel

The School of Greatness Podcast

The other day I mentioned The Art of Charm podcast, which is about social networking and personal psych-social development. Another great podcast in a similar vein is The School of Greatness podcast, which has a focus more on financial (as well as social) success.

The School of Greatness podcast is one of those shows that rose out of necessity. As Lewis Howe (the host) puts it, he was “broken, broke, and clueless on how to make money or get a career” after a football injury shattered his lifelong dream to be professional athlete. So, he started seeking out successful people and recording his sessions with them, and when he started to share these sessions online The School of Greatness was born.

Now over 100 episodes in, Lewis’s interviews with business and personal development leaders are fascinating as he has a very humble and curious approach to conversation. Since he doesn’t come from an academic background or a media background, he approaches every conversation with these people as a true layman. This makes him ask the questions that might sometimes seem simple, but which can really help to find the advice that average people need and can relate to better.

So, give it a listen! I’m not going to recommend any special episodes since they’re all pretty interesting, but I can promise whatever episode you choose you’ll learn something that can help you in 2015!

Rob

The Art of Charm Podcast

Since it’s the second day of the new year, I thought I’d start with something about self improvement for 2015. A few months ago, while I was looking around for some podcasts about social networking, I came across what is probably one of the most amazing podcasts I have ever listened to- The Art of Charm.

Originally starting out as the Pickup Podcast in 2006, which as you might suspect was about giving guys tips about how to talk to women, the show eventually morphed into something very different. Host Jordan Harbinger started to bring on experts in various social fields from networking, to body language, to even esoteric things like sleep modification. The show turned from being about just meeting people, to being about becoming the best person you could be as a way to find the right partner, job or friends for you.

As a result, the show’s episode count is now in the 300’s, and it’s one of the top lifestyle podcasts on iTunes, with every episode having more and more amazing guests to talk about different ways we can improve our lives. I, myself, have probably listened to nearly 40 episodes of the show in the last two months, because it’s also incredibly addictive. You literally never know what gems you’re going to find in each episode that you can apply to your life, and if one episode doesn’t work for you, the next one might be mind blowing. This is the kind of stuff shows like Dr. Oz and TED Talks purport to tell you about, but never have enough time or focus to really do because that doesn’t make sexy TV. This is practical, tested and proven advice based on experience and research in many different areas.

Since there’s a lot of episodes, I’m going to recommend a few to give a look to. Now, they have already put together a toolbox of episodes that they recommend people start out with, and those episodes are good, but you should know the early episodes don’t really reflect the show as it is today. The majority of the early toolbox episodes were done back in 2006 when it was the rough form of the Pickup Podcast, and are just a few guys hanging out chatting about techniques for meeting women in social environments. They’re worth listening to (especially if you’re a single guy), and the ones on Banter are especially useful, but they’re very different from what the show will become.

One other minor note- they sell this show as a men’s lifestyle show, and it is, but especially once they get into the interviews the show is really about being the best human you can be without a specific gender focus. Most of this advice can apply to anyone of any gender, since we all need to become better in some ways.

Anyways, so here’s a few episodes I’ve enjoyed recently (their own best of list can be found here):

Susan Roane- How to Work a Room

Shawn Stevenson- Hack your Sleep

Hal Elrod- Miracle Morning

Steve Sisler- How to Read People

Yu-Kai Chou- Gamify your Life

And I’m finding new great ones all the time! It really is a treasure-box of human knowledge, and I’ve already started to apply things I’ve learned from it to my life with some success. Give it a try, you never know what you learn and how it might change your life in 2015.

Rob

Choose Your Own Adventure 2.0

Back in the days when I was young (many moons ago), and when video games looked like this…

…The closest thing we had to single-player role playing games came in the form of game/books with titles like Fighting Fantasy, TSR’s Endless Quest books, and of course the most famous line of them all- Choose Your Own Adventure. These text-based Gamebooks (with varying amount of accompanying illustrations) had winding story paths that allowed readers to explore stories as they wished and experience what it was like to go on adventures of all kinds. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Post Apocalypse, Superhero- any genre that involved adventure was one they covered in these very popular book series.

Of course, eventually, Computer RPGs and Console RPGs came along, and this type of adventure Gamebook faded from view. That is, until now. Now, some companies have chosen to revive this style of game as Apps for mobile gaming, and Choice of Games is at the forefront of this new take on an old idea.

From their About Us page:

Choice of Games LLC is a California limited-liability company dedicated to producing high-quality, text-based, multiple-choice games. We produce games in house, beginning with Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides. We have also developed a simple scripting language for writing text-based games, ChoiceScript, which we make available to others for use in their projects, and we host games produced by other designers using ChoiceScript on our website. Some of our games are available for free on the web. We also produce mobile versions of our games that can be played on iPhones, Android phones, and other mobile devices.

We believe that text-based games are an underutilized format within modern computer games. Just as motion pictures, radio dramas, and television supplement books without rendering them obsolete, similarly modern graphic-based games cover only part of the computer gaming landscape. By using text, we can interact with the imagination in different ways from a graphics-based game. We can also allow game designers to quickly and inexpensively produce games in comparison with graphics-based games.

Of course, now these text-adventures can include things like music and other interactive aspects, not just the occasional picture. Bring the experience even more to life, and letting players get immersed in a unique reading experience. They too have quite a variety of genres, and since the games are free to play online (they charge for the mobile app versions) do you…

1) Head over and check Choice of Games out. (click here)

2) Read a little about the history of Gamebooks. (click here)

3) Rediscover the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook line (click here)

 

The Genius- Smartest Reality TV Show Ever!

As I have mentioned before, I am fan of the Japanese manga Liar Game, which is a psychological thriller comic about a group of people playing through a series of seemingly simple social strategy games with their futures hanging in the balance. The basic concept is cleverly played out, and the actual games themselves are fascinating to watch unfold. So much so that the Japanese turned it into two drama series and two movies, and now the Koreans have also made a drama version which puts some nice twists on the original Japanese story.

However, at the same time, the Koreans have also taken things a step further- they’ve produced a reality tv/gameshow version of the concept with real contestants called The Genius. Of course, unlike the manga/drama, the reality tv version isn’t quite so life-and-death, but it makes up for it in cleverness and variety. You see, the Liar Game story has a small flaw, which is the ending is almost always the same for each event, with a few small twists. Once you’ve seen two or three games play out, you can pretty much guess how each round is going to end because there is a clear theme and story happening. Not so for The Genius, where there is no hero, only really smart people trying to outwit each other in a series of elimination rounds, with one person leaving every episode.

the genius poster

And that’s where The Genius shines. It is perhaps the smartest TV contest that I have ever seen. It’s the polar opposite of most reality tv- where the contestants are idiots fumbling and scheming their way through the challenges. In The Genius, the contestants have to be smart in areas like mathematics and psychology, and each has their own specialties they bring to the game. This isn’t a show where your knowledge of useless trivia is going to win you millions, or where you just need to be smarter than a 5th grader, you need to beat people like a career politician at networking or a math wiz at playing the odds.

Now, considering that most reality tv game shows are based on the idea of even the dumbest person in the room being able to play along, you’d think this concept would be dead in the water and never go anywhere. However, The Genius has already finished it’s third season and is currently one of the top rated things on Korean TV. It’s a huge success, and you only need to watch it to see why- it challenges its audience instead of pacifies them, but it’s based on basic social skills and situations that most people can understand with a bit of thought.

If you have the chance, give it a look (with English subtitles, click “watch online” to bring up the video player). The episodes run around 90 minutes each, and once you get into it, it’s addictive as hell! (And I’m someone who generally watches neither game shows or reality TV because they bore me too much.)

Rob

Legend of Korra Finishes (spoiler lite)

And with tonight’s episode, Avatar: The Legend of Korra reaches it’s final conclusion with the end of Season Four.

It’s been a rocky road for what has turned out to be one of the best animated series Americans have ever produced. The show itself was only meant to last a single season, and then suddenly given three more when it turned into a mega-hit, which left the writers scrambling to continue a story they’d rushed to finish at the end of Season One. Then, once Season Two didn’t get the ratings of Season One, the executives at Nickelodeon lost faith it in to the point they pulled it from the air halfway through Season Three due to “low ratings”. (Low ratings on a show that they didn’t advertise, and which they threw onto the air during the notoriously low-rated Summer season. Surprise!) In the end, it only got a fourth season because it was already in the can when Season Three was stuck online-only, and because it still got great ratings in overseas markets.

Despite all this, the writers and producers of Avatar: The Legend of Korra managed to produce a fine show. A series with unique characters that grew and had a life of their own, a setting that actually changed with the story, and some amazing heroic action sequences that could be mind-blowingly good. Korra started as a unique lead, a hotheaded “female jock” who didn’t fall into the stereotypical “strong female lead” traps, and changed as the series went on into a balanced and considerate person. She suffered, and grew from her suffering, and since the theme of the show was “change and transformation”, she exemplified those ideas in the best possible ways.

Each of the villains represented a different philosophy- equality, harmony, anarchy, and order taken to a radical extreme (mostly in the pursuit of power) and that gave the show a thoughtful edge that challenged the preconceptions held by the main character and the audience. It forced Korra to expand her way of thinking about the world, and in doing so also made the audience question as well. Even if it was all in the service of some great action/adventure stories, it gave the show a subversive depth you rarely see on TV anywhere, much less on a Nick cartoon.

It wasn’t a perfect show, of course. There was the horribly rushed ending during the last 15 minutes of the first season, and then the second season didn’t come anywhere near the quality of the first in terms of writing. (It was very much a generic “evil villain wants to take over the world because he’s evil” plot.) And, while the third and fourth seasons were amazing (and even managed to make the second season look better in retrospect of what we learn later), there was a lot of character randomness as the writers struggled to make characters designed for one season work over four seasons. (This was especially true of Asami, but more on her shortly.) There was also the decision to “break” the link between the Avatar and her past selves during Season Two that I maintain was a big mistake that even the writers felt later on. But, what’s done is done.

And, in the end, it all came together in a spectacular fourth season that echoed real Chinese history, with Kuvira standing in for Shang Kai-Shek and his Nationalist Army. The finale played to the show’s strengths, and the whole thing showed how Korra had really changed the world and herself through her actions and choices. If Korra hadn’t come along, the ending never could have happened, and that’s the mark of a good story- where everything fits together.

Everything except one small piece…

SPOILERS from here on in! Don’t read if you haven’t watched the ending yet and care.

So, first, let me say that I don’t care who Korra ended up with. I’m not a (relation)shipper, and don’t often invest in character romance stories or pairings. In fact, Korra could have ended up with Kuvira, or Tenzin, or even the Ghost of Uncle Iroh for all I care. That said, I didn’t like the pairing of Korra and Asami at the end, and in fact it pissed me off.

When I first saw it, I actually smiled. Both because it was nice to see Korra start a new relationship, and because I was impressed a Nick show would end with such a LGBTI friendly ending. It took guts to end the show that way, and they must have worked hard to slip that past the Suits. (I wouldn’t even be surprised if it’s edited for later airings after a flurry of “concerned parents” write like crazy to Nickelodeon.)

However, something bugged me, and after a bit of thought I realized what it was.

You see, one way to see a story is as an argument. The whole story is an argument for why it ends the way it does. It sets up evidence and puts into motion events that produce the ending we get. A perfect example of that is Varrick and Ju-Li. Varrick starts as a heartless capitalist rogue with Ju-li as his assistant, and then after he loses everything she still sticks with him. When he loses her too and goes on a journey of self-discovery he comes to realize that she is the most important thing in his life, and eventually appreciates her and asks her to marry him. (Something the Varrick we first meet would never have done.) She also grows in her will to be a person, and in doing so, earns his love by not just being his assistant, but by being his partner. You can think back and examine the trail of evidence, and reach the conclusion that this was the proper ending for their story.

Not so for Korra and Asami.

When Asami was introduced, it was as a romantic rival/femme fatale/non-bender character who represented the new technological age and stood between Korra and her love-interest Mako. She was intricately tied into the story for Season One, since her father was one of the main villains, and so when Season Two came around the writers struggled with what to do with her and ultimately stuck with the romantic-rival role. Finally, partway through Season Three, she took on the “best friend/confidante” role, and that’s where she sat until literally the last second of the story when it’s implied she and Korra are starting a romantic relationship.

Now, over-viewed like that it doesn’t look so bad, but in actual presentation there was zero clues or hints of anything romantic between the two of them until the very very end. Like nothing. After more than two seasons of chasing a man and being passionately in love with men, and being heartbroken about losing men, they suddenly decide to run off together. How does that work? This would be like if at the end of Harry Potter, Harry and Ron suddenly decided to run off together after spending the whole story chasing girls. It’s a valid ending, but is it the valid conclusion to the argument the story makes?

Now, you could make an argument that Korra wasn’t emotionally in a position or ready to take on a relationship like this until the end of the story. She’s a changed person, and as a result she’s ready to try something new and go in a new and more balanced direction. That would be fair, however, it takes two to tango, and Asami was never shown to have any romantic interest in Korra either. If she had, I could have bought the ending, but we’ve never had even the slightest hint that Asami also likes women, and every piece of evidence in the show tells us the opposite.

So there’s the problem, we have not one, but two characters making total left-turns at the end of the story out of the blue. I can only guess that the writers/producers wanted to do something controversial, or perhaps please the Korra/Asami Shippers by giving them the ending nobody expected to get. Then again, it was the ending that nobody expected because it didn’t make any sense, not because it was socially radical.

For the record, I was rooting for Korra and Bum-ju. (It had just as much evidence to support it.)

Rob

F.Lux

A little while ago I heard about a program called F.Lux on a podcast I was listening to and decided to check it out, here’s the wikipedia entry about it:

f.lux is a computer program developed by Michael and Lorna Herf. It adjusts a computer display’s color temperature according to its location and time of day, based on a user specified set of longitude and latitude geographical coordinates, a ZIP Code, or a city name.

The program was designed to reduce eye strain during nighttime use and to prevent disruption of normal sleep patterns.

So I downloaded it and after a little adjustment, I have to say I like it. Since I work on my screen a lot after dark, I wanted something that will reduce my eyestrain and f.lux seems to do the trick. I haven’t noticed any particular benefits with my sleep patterns, but that may also be because I found the recommended settings a bit too orange and so I increased the blue factor of my screen a little bit above the default.

Still, I’m pretty happy with it. One warning- if you are doing colour-sensitive work you’ll want to disable f.lux while you’re doing that work because the colours won’t look right. Luckily, that just requires a single click to do, so it’s no big deal.

Rob

 

Parkinson’s Law for Writers- Introduction

Although he was not entirely serious at the time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson once declared one of life’s truisms- “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.”

What does this mean?

Well, let me give two examples:

1) If you only have $10 for food that week, you will find a way to make do with $10 worth of food, but if you have $100 you will spend $100 on food that week even if you could have made do with $10.
2) If you say you have one day to get a project done, it will get done in one day. If you say the same project will take a week, it will take you a week to get it done.

Because of many factors, be it laziness, practicality, or procrastination, it’s just human nature to make maximum use of resources like money or time for our own convenience, even if using them more wisely might bring us long-term benefits. Maybe it’s a side-effect of short-term thinking, or our selfish natures, but this is a problem that keeps popping up again and again, and often we let this side of ourselves keep us from doing what we want to do. This is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law.

I’ll give you an example (the one which got me thinking about this topic)- National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a month where would-be writers are encouraged to pump out a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in an effort to force themselves to write. It creates a time limit, sets a clear goal, and forces writers (who are horrible procrastinators) to actually commit to using that month to produce the book they’ve always wanted to write. The idea is that 1,667 words a day (50,000 roughly divided by 31) is an easily achievable goal for almost any writer, even one with a day job, and if they just reach that goal consistently for 31 days they’ve got their book finished!

It’s a great idea, and for many people it works. It gets butts in seats and words on the screen, and overcomes many of the hurdles that writers tend to find themselves facing in an effort to make their dreams into reality. But, what really made me think was what writer Matt Ahlschlager did- he finished NaNoWriMo in 1 day! In fact, he did it in less than a day, while bogging about it as he went, and this November he did it 3 times!

So why does it take other writers 31 days? Yes, Matt is a fast typer, but couldn’t most people carve out a weekend (2 whole days) and produce a book, especially if they wrote “Chinese Style”?

Isn’t this just an example of Parkinson’s Law in effect? Writers give themselves 31 days, so it takes 31 days, but it doesn’t HAVE to. Writer Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called “How to Write a Book in 3 Days“, and it outlines exactly how to write a book in one weekend. Even most professional writers (the prolific ones) often talk about writing a novel in 2-3 weeks at most, and author Rachel Aaron discusses how to do it in one week by writing 10,000 words a day. It can be done.

Think about it- if you had 2 days to write a 50,000 word novel or pay a $100,000 penalty, could you do it? I bet you could. I bet most people with at least some writing talent could, especially if given a bit of preparation.

So why don’t you?

Every book you write is a potential “lottery ticket” which could actually make you $100,000 (in the long run, if it sells well) and the more stories you write, the better your chances are of writing that winning book. So why are you capable of that kind of productivity only if it’s penalty? Why can’t you do it as a reward? (Yes, I know, one is certain, and one is a gamble, but if you don’t write anything you’re guaranteed to make nothing from it.)

It’s this thinking that got me wondering about how writers could find ways to use Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. If this is a part of human nature, how can we “hack” it to benefit ourselves as writers and make ourselves more productive and profitable in the process?

So let’s explore this “law” and see what it can do for our creativity. When I have time, I’m going to write a series of posts on this topic, and my thoughts on how we can benefit from it.

First up- TIME!

Rob