Wreck-It Ralph’s Message

wreck_it_ralph_gold_medal_a_lIt’s no question that to an old video game enthusiast as myself that Wreck-It Ralph was an appealing movie long before I ever went to see it.  So I went in to see it with exceedingly high expectations.  Perhaps higher than when I went to see The Avengers – the difference, I didn’t really know what to expect going in, whereas with Avengers I knew the story going in.  For Wreck-It Ralph, I had my own ideas about the movie based on some trailers and a few songs that they used for music.  And I was not disappointed.

What I got was a movie that speaks to me on astronomical levels.  It’s hard sometimes in your day to day existence to understand or follow your lot in life.  Who am I? Why am I here? Why do I do the things I do? etc.  It’s perfectly normal as we go through life to question these very things.  But to see a video game character brought to life questioning his own life and his place in the world of video games.  To realize that Ralph is really just a guy stuck in a job he doesn’t like and who strives to be the ideal of the “Hero”… it’s something everyone should relate to.

What he gets thrown back at him are the voices of experience telling him that he can’t change who he is and that he simply must accept himself as he is.  Instead Ralph heads off to challenge the notion, and his journey toward realization begins.  In the world of video games the rules are simple, the Hero is the guy who gets the prize… or in Ralph’s eyes the medal.  So when he hears about a medal in another game he sets off on what is really a shortcut attempt at the glory that he seeks.

In typical Disney fashion, found in movies like The Princess and the Frog, what Ralph thinks he needs isn’t at all what he really needs.  A medal that says your a Hero may get you stuff but as we learned with Hercules acting the part of the Hero doesn’t make you one – being a Hero is about the “measure of a man”.  Meaning its what’s inside your heart that counts not your outward appearance.  Early on in the movie this is summed up by the Street Fighter character Zangief, “If I am good guy, then who else would crush man’s skull like sparrow’s egg between their thighs?”

Over the course of his journey Ralph comes to learn that fame and glory isn’t everything there is in the world.  And he comes to understand that Zangief was right and the words of the Bad-Anon motto suddenly make sense to him, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”  And suddenly his world makes sense to him, and he’s able to shine.  In that moment he truly becomes the hero he so desperately wanted to be.

Overall, if you’ve been avoiding this movie because you expect it to be a simple kiddie marketing free-for-all… well okay it is a marketing free-for-all as it was designed to be completely ripe for it.  But that doesn’t matter because the message that the movie delivers is pure, honest, and true.  The more emotional movie goer might want to bring along a box of tissues.  They’ll likely need it.  I can’t say enough good things about this movie.  See it, look beyond the cartoon aspects of the movie, and win the medal that it’s presenting to you.

Avengers Assemble!

theavengers2012posterIt probably comes as no great shock to anyone taking the time to read this that I was raised on comic books.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are wrapped up in theses stories of good versus evil.  And I’ve been reading stories involving the Avengers for quite some time.  Consider that the Avengers were created in 1963, and the stories about them have continued in one capacity or another on a roughly monthly basis (sometimes less, some times a lot more) since then.  This means that roughly 50 years later all that rich story material has to somehow feed back into the movie Marvel’s The Avengers.

The Avengers were created as Marvel’s answer to the Justice League by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  And elements in this movie trace back to that very first issue of the comic book.  You have a group of heroes who aren’t quite ready to work together as a team, but learn that they can to bring about a greater good.  That’s really the entire point, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  If you look at each character in the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies you’d think there’s no way that they can work together, but when they are brought together in this movie…  magic happens.  If I was to decide why it works, it’s because of the ties that bind.

The movie doesn’t just spend time with superheroes up on the screen bashing each other and their enemies (though I promise there is plenty of that), but rather it takes the time to develop character interactions that seem genuine and real.  This is very important, because for a team to work there has to be a mutual respect among its participants, and when that isn’t there the team will fail.  Much of the movie is spent driving this point home, showing that personal agendas, pettiness, and secrets are getting in the way of making this team work.

In fact, just as the movie is bringing these characters together you start to see the problems inherent in the group.  Iron Man is too tied up in his “greatness”.  Bruce Banner (Hulk) is to introverted.  Thor is too lofty.  Captain America is too righteous.  Hawkeye… well okay his issues are part of the plot.  Black Widow has red in her ledger.  Nick Fury is too controlling.  It is these issues that Loki uses against them in the movie, and as a result he is able to bring them to their lowest moment in the movie.

From there everything changes.  We see each character transform in very interesting ways because from their lows they all get up, dust themselves off and start to shine.  In fact, it is said that Tony Stark’s heart grew three sizes that day.  Banner learns that he has people who do understand him and his “condition” and that he can call friends.  Thor learns (again?) that it is better to stand with others than to stand above them.  Captain America learns that things aren’t always as simple as black and white.  Hawkeye comes clean… literally.  Black Window sets a higher standard for herself.  Nick Fury stops trying to control all the “children” and lets them go.

What happens next is amazing.  You get what is without a doubt the greatest most cinematic battle scene that has appeared on screen ever.  But in this scene you realize that these characters have come together and truly overcome their differences and have bonded into a team.  As Hulk, Banner doesn’t smash his friends… save one.  Hawkeye shines in a way that he’s never done in comic books – his abilities and insight come through and really make the team successful.  Iron Man becomes a true hero.  Thor stops just acting on impulse and starts playing well with others.  Black Widow steps up… literally.  Captain America takes his rightful place as their leader.

At this point you realize why the Avengers work as a team, and why Marvel’s The Avengers works as a movie.  It’s easy to write a movie about a single hero and tell his origin as 2 to 3 hours is plenty of time for that.  However to take so many big budget movie stars, stick them in a movie together, and tell the origin story of a team of heroes?  And not have these actors walk all over each other?  And to be successful at it?  While it had been considered before, and even attempted with movies like the Fantastic Four or Watchmen – it had never worked so well or been so successful.

So go now, see Marvel’s The Avengers, and remember while doing so:

DO NOT BLINK!

Additional reading:
Avengers Reviews – SPOILER FREE – by Ryan Kilpatrick and Todd Perlmutter
Get Ready for Avengers – What Do You Need to Know? by Ryan Kilpatrick

And get ready for the upcoming May 14, 2012 release of the Disney Film Project Podcast’s Episode 71 where you can listen to Todd, Ryan, Briana, and Cheryl geek out majorly on The Avengers.

Todd Perlmutter is a co-host of the Disney Film Project Podcast, and a blogger for TouringPlans.com

So what are the “Flash Sideways” in Lost? (a theory)

Right now everyone is focused on only one part of what’s going on in Lost and it all revolves around the “Man in Black” (a.k.a. “Man in Locke”, “Milty”, “Black Smoke”, etc.).  They’re so caught up in what’s going on in this battle between Milty and Jacob, that they’ve forgotten about the other major mystery introduced in the final season of Lost.

Note up front, I’m not going to be spoiler free here about anything that has already shown on Television.  There will be no hidden text, and I will not hold back on things we know, now, today – based on the regular Lost United States programming schedule.  I will presume you have seen every episode to date at least once.  So read on at your own risk.

For the first few seasons of Lost we were provided back story for characters in the form of “Flashbacks”.  Little snippets of their past interspersed with the main story and often tied heavily to it so we could understand the motivations of the characters in their current predicament of being stranded on the Island.  These flashes presented a fantastic story telling mechanism, and one of the best selling points of the show overall at the time.

Then things changed and we learn that somewhere along the line the Flashes changed to “Flash Forwards”.  Suddenly the roles of the Flashes and the on Island parts of the show are reversed, and what we’re seeing on the Island is suddenly driving the goings on in the Flashes.  It was one of the most clever mechanical twists on a television show ever.  It kept the show fresh at a time when many were giving up on Lost.

And now the mechanic has changed again.  We’re now presented with a series of Flashes that look like the presentation of an alternate reality for our Losties.  Jack has a son and is divorced.  Miles and Sawyer are cops.  Charlotte works for Miles’s dad at a museum.  The island is under water. etc.  The big question is this,  “What’s going on here?

One key theme on the show has always been that of redemption.  Once a character finds it, they seem to get their release and reward through death.  Charlie, Eko, etc.  There are many examples of this.  Many seem to think these new Flashes are the Losties receiving their just rewards for their time served.  After all the entire purpose of many religions is to seek redemption – this is why they tend to focus in a large part on repentance.  You must be absolved of sin to receive redemption, at least according to scripture.

And I am not going to deny that theme of the show.  It’s there, it’s strong, and it’s obvious.  But I am going to say flat out that what we’re seeing in these new Flashes is not the redemption of the Losties.  It’s not alternate reality.

I’m going to tell you that the “Flash Sideways” are what happened to the Losties who were at the site of “The Incident” between the time the nuclear bomb went off and the time we saw them wake up on the Island near the destroyed hatch at the beginning of this season.

Why do I think this?  Well there is some very  information that has been presented to us in prior seasons.

For starters, lets look to Miles and Hurley.  Both characters have been written in a way where they seem to both relate more to the viewers then any other characters on the show.  They think what we think, and react how we react.  And most important, they very often ask the same questions we’re asking.

Last season they had a conversation about time travel.  And while there was a lot of humor in the conversation, one thing rang true.  They producers gave us, in a small, neat, little package their theory of time travel for the Losties, by presenting for us the basic rules.  Time is linear in terms of perception.  Most of the time you move forward through time, but sometimes you don’t.  And when you don’t, what you perceive is still your “present”.  Little Ben can’t die because Big Ben gives them all hell in the future.  They can all die because despite that they come from the future, 1977 was their present.

This is proven true by the deaths of Charlotte, Faraday, and Juliet.  And well the death and resurrection of Sayid.  Each of them was bouncing through time, and each of them died somewhere along the way.  It did not change all that they’d already experienced, even though it happened in the future.  Their lives all ended in their current time, their present.

Now lets look at Desmond’s own brand of time travel.  His very much resembles that of Billy Pligrim in Slaughterhouse-Five.  Like Billy, Desmond is, or rather was, unstuck in time.  During his travels we learn that his consciousness is bouncing through time at different points in his life.  He is able to experience things over again, but we also learn that despite the chance to “put right what once went wrong”, we learn from Ms. Hawking  that “the universe has a way of course correcting“.  So this is not Quantum Leap.  What Desmond has already done once, will happen again, despite his attempts to change things.

Here’s the thing.  What caused Desmond to travel through time was the implosion of the electromagnetic anomaly at the heart of the Swan hatch.  We had already learned from the show that this anomaly was caused by “The Incident”.  Of course, we learned that our very Losties who were stuck in 1977 were the once who caused “The Incident” by trying to follow a plan laid out by Daniel Faraday to use the nuclear warhead from a bomb named Jughead to destroy the electromagnetic anomaly that brought down flight 815 in the first place.

Yes that’s right folks…the failsafe key when turned by Desmond let loose the explosion of Jughead that caused the implosion of the Swan hatch.  And that propelled him through time.  At the heart of that same explosion, though separated by 27 years, were the Losties that were stuck in 1977.  And I propose that the same explosion also threw them forward through time as well, with a brief stop in 2004.

But the universe was course correcting 2004 as per Ms. Hawking.  So we find the Island was under water.  Flight 815 landed, etc.  Jack has a scar from his appendix which we know was removed on the Island, but his mom says was removed when he was a kid, but he doesn’t remember it.  Sawyer who in 1977 was “the sheriff” of Dhamaville along with his deputy Miles both became cops in the course corrected world.  A dying on the outside Sayid, died on the inside to save his brother’s life.  Jin who still hadn’t found Sun, is separated from Sun at the airport.  Kate gets to do what she went back to the island to do, reunite Claire and Aaron – in a fashion.

What we’re going to see in the “Flash Sideways” going forward is that the universe is still trying to course correct.  Because the Losties did go to the Island, and the Universe has to figure out how to get them back there.  And somehow it will, and they’ll all end up right where we saw them in beginning of the season – all lying somewhere around the Swan hatch.

Ode to Jay and Jack, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

Thoughts at 5 days into C25K

First let me say, “Whew!”

I simply can’t believe I’m running.  I’m 41 years old, and while I’ve done a lot of walking (30-60 mins almost every day since 2004) and hiking in that time, I’ve done very little running.  Even when I played sports, I was defense and there was still little running.  However, this is the first time I’m sitting down and doing running for the sake of running.  Had you asked me if I’d be running a year ago, I’d have said, “No way!”  But here I am doing it.

Simply put, I’ve been inspired to do this back in January when I [p2p type=”slug” value=”cheering-adventures-at-the-disney-half-marathon” text=”watched friends run the Disney Half Marathon”], but I really didn’t realize it until more recently.  On that very neat, and very emotional day, I caught a bug, only it took a few months to settle in and take hold.

And with discussion, some coaxing, and a recommendation by my good friend Katie, I downloaded the C25K app for my iPhone. And here I am, running.

My first observation is that running isn’t as easy as it looks.  I sort of figured that mind you.

My second observation is that running sucks.  Not in a bad way, mind you.  But there’s really no other word I have to apply to it yet.  It makes you feel really good, but not until after it’s over and you’ve come down from doing the actual running.  I figure this will shift and change as time goes on.  But right now, to me, running is an evil beastie.

My third observation is that the C25K app is brilliant.  It’s based on the Couch-to-5K running plan, and it’s designed completely with human psychology in mind.  And it trains you in a way similar to how you train a dog – release & reward.  The walks, at least right now, are rewards for completing the runs.  The bells are Pavlovian in nature.  It’s genius, there should be some sort of reward for that cunning a design, seriously.  I completely know that the program is playing me like a fiddle, but I buy into it and just push myself to complete it.

I’m in the middle of week 2 right now.  That’s a 5 minute walk, followed by 6 90 second runs separated by 5 2 minute walks, then a 5 minute cool down walk.

When you reach that cool down you feel so good.  The walks in between are a mixed bag.  Right now for me runs 1 & 2 are great.  3 blows completely.  4 is when the adrenaline starts to kick in.  I completely forget the 5th run.  And the final run my mind is simply going “Gedderdun!”

I will stick to this plan as some day I’d really like to be in a Disney race even if it’s only a 5K.  That is my plan.

And for you doubters out there, if this 41 year old, overweight, desk jockey can do it, you can too.

Goodbye, ExtraLife Radio, My Old Friend

This past Friday I feel like an era ended as Scott Johnson, creator of the ExtraLife webcomic, announced that the ExtraLife Radio podcast (ELR) would be shutting its doors.  Ordinarily, there’s not much cause to write about a podcast that was or has gone away (a.k.a. podfading), but that’s not what happened here.  The show was still, even in its more recent highly irregular schedule, as entertaining as it ever was.  However, I really felt the need to mention that this podcast was not just one of my all time favorites, it was one of the ones that carried me through so much change in my life.

In 2004, my wife and I moved from Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida.  A cross state move can be a harrowing, stressful, thing, and on top of that I’m a very obsessed individual who stresses constantly about everything especially change.  And with packing, moving, and all the things that came with it – including the 2004 hurricane season in Florida, I needed something to calm me down.  On top of that, I had decided that with my move that I wanted to start doing better by myself physically.  At this time I weighed close to 290 pounds.

During  a brief trip back up to Massachusetts at the end of the summer to visit our old Temple for High H0ly Days, we stopped at a store in New Hampshire and I got my first iPod – I was convinced that this was to be a key factor toward my starting to loose weight.  I’m an infonaut, so I was instantly drawn to podcasts, and ExtraLife Radio was one of the very first I’d come across – yes I was probably one of the first listeners.  And with that I started walking.

Now, I’m still walking (5K+ at least 5 times a week), I’m 50+ pounds lighter than I was then, and I was still listening to ELR whenever a new episode appeared in iTunes.  However, when I pushed play on ELR this past week, I had no idea that it was to be the final episode – I didn’t learn that until Scott tweeted a link to a blog post about it from his @extralife Twitter account.  Checking iTunes, I found a recorded reading of the blog post (it also included an extended dance remix version of the ELR theme song). Reading and listening, it surprised me, but I completely understand where Scott is coming from in his farewell – a full moon is always more exciting than a waning one.  Going out on top is the right choice.

So I just wanted to write this post to thank Scott Johnson, Brian Dunaway, and Obsidian for all the time I’ve spent with them these past years.  Every minute was worth it.  Dean Cain forever.

Goodbye Drupal; Hello WordPress

I’ve owned domains for a long time now.  My first domain net-marks.com comes from a time when there was only one domain registrar, and the yearly cost for a domain was more than three times what it is now.  For almost as long as I’ve had a site where software that I’ve written was readily available. In the pre-CMS days, I used to do all pages by hand, because that’s all we had – and we liked it.  Later, on a suggestion from Cheryl, I started using FrontPage – also known as “the land of an insane amount of garbage tags in your code“.

And then a friend introduced me to Drupal – he suggested we use it as the backbone for our City of Heroes supergroup website.  For those that don’t know, Drupal is a CMS that is both amazingly powerful and amazingly complex – sometimes too much for its own good.  So I set about learning Drupal, and getting our site up and running under it.  It went pretty well, and for the few years that we were active it served us well.

At the same time I also converted the content for my old FrontPage software site to Drupal.  Thus embracing it as much as possible.  The idea was that the more I used it the more I learned.  And what I learned is that as great as Drupal is, it is also not without it’s fair share of problems.  Most of these extend from it’s tendency towards complexity.

For one, it’s extremely difficult to update the core software.  Or more to the point to update all your content tied up in Drupal to the latest version of Drupal.  I always found this to be a chore.  It was definitely a one step forward, two steps back ordeal.  Sometimes you had to completely abandon an update, restore what you had, and walk away.  It always took several days to do.  But I toughed through it all.  Over time, I discovered and figured out how to do multi-site Drupal, thus moving to a single codebase install.

Drupal: 2; WordPress: 0

Over the years, the supergroup faded and I got a bit frustrated with MMO gaming (long story, though many know it – you need only look for the gamer tag Circeus).  As such I’ve not coded for games in a bit now.  I want the areas of my expertise to be elsewhere now (note: I do still game).

More recently, Cheryl decided she wanted a blog.  We discussed it, and concluded that WordPress would best suit her needs. So we made a folder for her at our site, and I installed WordPress into it, and she was off and running in her space.

Drupal: 2; WordPress: 1

Not long after, some friends and relatives decided they wanted websites.  I’ve already got hosting, and can host unlimited domains,  I offered that if they purchased domains I’d host the domains for them.  They registered their sites, and I installed WordPress for them.  And they too are off running in their own spaces.

Drupal: 2; WordPress: 3

At this point I discovered WordPress-Mu (a.k.a. Multi-Site WordPress). This allows for a single code-base for multiple blogs across multiple domains.  This makes everything incredibly easy; one source for themes and plugins, and one codebase.  This is exactly what I needed to move forward.

And that brings me to the present.  I’ve finally started my own WordPress blog here at perlmutter.me, and while it’s still in its infancy, to me it feels right.  It’s much easier to get through, find what I need to manage, upgrade, etc.  It’s in PHP I know PHP.  It relies heavily on CSS I’m learning CSS.  It’s hooked based, so I can easily extend and write my own themes.  Upgrading is not a chore.  I’ve been through a few versions now, and each has been on the order of minutes, not days.  In general, I’m happier using WordPress, and my Drupal sites have stagnated.

Drupal: 2; WordPress: 4

So here I am.  I have two basically dead Drupal sites, and 4 WordPress blogs, where do I go from there?  I’ve come to a decision.  Over time, I plan to phase out my use of Drupal.  It’s served me well enough, but I’m not in sync with it anymore.  As with gaming, I’m elsewhere now.  The goal will be:

Drupal: 0; WordPress: 6

But for now, for transition, it’s:

Drupal: 2; WordPress: 6

The transition, etc. and my plans surrounding it will be discussed in my next post.  In there I’ll talk about what it takes to host Drupal and WordPress side-by-side and how to do it.  I’ll talk about moving hosting providers.  Backing up and restoring both Drupal and WordPress.  And relocating Drupal sites to new homes.  And some simple things you can do to make two WordPress Blogs seem like one.  I hope you’ll come back to read about it.

Integrating Twitter and WordPress

I’ve known about WordPress for a long time, and this is the first time I’m really playing with it in order to integrate a blog into my online presence. Like many these days, I have a Twitter account, so I made this my first target for integration.  There were four primary goals here:

  1. Make it so that when I post a blog entry have it automatically posted to Twitter.
  2. Show my recent tweets.
  3. Show my favorite tweets.
  4. Show the photos I’ve tied to my Twitter account using Twitpic.

Continue reading “Integrating Twitter and WordPress”

Blogs A’Movin’

So part of what’s going on here is that my “grand plan”TM included moving from a few single site installs of WordPress to instead using WordPress MU.  This step is now officially complete.  It’s not that I’m hosting a lot of blogs here, but rather that I’m more the sort who prefers “one stop shopping” – especially for maintenance.  If there’s too many steps to a thing I’ll avoid doing it.

Moving a WordPress blog isn’t rocket science, but there are some considerations to be made.  And I recommend 3 precursor steps to any WP blog move:

  1. Use FTP to back up your WP Install.  This way you’ll pick up themes, plugins, and media that have been uploaded.
  2. Use something like phpMyAdmin to do an export of your Blog’s database.
  3. Use the WordPress “Export” function to export your blog data to an XML file.

Then assuming the old site is still active, and once you have the new site set up, you can just use the WordPress “Import” function to read everything back in.  When the old site is active all media will be copied into the new install.   I highly recommend that you install any themes and plugins that were in use before you do the “Import” – it’ll make life easier.

Now, what if you’re moving a domain along with the blog?

Well that is a sticky situation because the old site will not be available for the import – which means media will not be available for the import process.  This leaves you with two choices:

  1. Suck it up.  The old media is in your FTP backup.  So do the import, ignore all the errors because the media was not found, and then manually add the media back.  If you have no media – this is always the right choice.
  2. Stage the blog at an intermediary first.  Before shutting down the old site, import it into a temporary blog.  Shut down the old domain site, and then move the temporary blog (Export & Import) to it’s final resting place.

Last night, I was moving two blogs (one belonging to a friend, and the other belonging to a relative) along with their domains.  Because they were small and under-utilized, I went the suck it up route – there were only 3 media files to be found between the two blogs.

Minor Changes

Didn’t have time to do much here today, so I kept it small and focused.

  • Changed tweet image name from twitter_16.png to tweet.png
  • Realized I was missing the RSS feed link for the blog, so I created a new icon pair (for the social icons), and added it in.  This is a bit involved for a lot of reasons based on how web pages function and render in conjunction with CSS.  I’ll write up a how to on this soonish.
  • Shrunk the logo image slightly to make some room.  The logo image comes courtesy of Twitlogo.
  • Moved boiler plate (aka header) items to use absolute positioning – makes some things cleaner.
  • Removed some extra markup and CSS that really wasn’t needed as a result of the absolute positioning.

Recent Tweets CSS Makeover

Played a bit with styles for the Recent Tweets widget from Twitter Tools.  I just wanted to give it some pizazz.  To do this I made the Tweets it shows look/behave somewhat like they do on on the Twitter home page.  First you’ll notice that I replaced the bullets with a smaller version of the social media icon I used (see the top right of the blog).  Then I placed a very grey one pixel line above list item in the widget.  And finally I set each Tweet so that when the mouse hovers over it it gets a darker grey background.

The CSS code looks like this:

/* Twitter Tools */
.aktt_tweets ul li { font-size: 85%; list-style-image: url(tweet.png); border-width: 0; border-top: 1px solid #EEEEEE; }
.aktt_tweets ul li:hover { background-color: #F7F7F7; }
.aktt_tweets .aktt_more_updates { list-style-image: none; list-style-type: none; font-size: 75%; font-weight: bold; font-variant: small-caps; }
.aktt_tweets .aktt_more_updates:hover { background-color: transparent; }

Edit: Forgot to mention how the syntax highlighting block above works.  This is done using the WP-Syntax plugin which uses GeSHi style syntax highlighting.  Basically it involves specifying a language in your <pre> block. For example the block above is using <pre lang=”css”>.