A long time ago, I felt that perhaps I could expand into another medium. The idea was to create a web series called “All Too Convenient,” one where I reviewed TV shows and movies, me being the picky creature that I am. So I tried to make that happen, and despite some interesting lessons, it didn’t really work out. As a second attempt, I tried to simply create another blog out of it, but again, it just didn’t take. A few months after that, I tried to launch the blog again – but this time with a different approach. Rather than write in a serious fashion, I decided I’d let my humor run wild, and see how that worked. The main idea was to spend less time writing each post, and to have more fun while doing so. In that regard, I succeeded. The posts definitely had a different voice and energy to them, and it was quite liberating compared to the serious style of “Matt Refghi’s Blog.”
But yet, here we are, aren’t we? Despite that I succeeded in finding another style, the All Too Convenient blog was simply not getting updated often enough. It also prevented me from watching certain TV shows, as I felt that I should only continue with them once I’ve reviewed all episodes I’d seen. It’s not so much that I didn’t want to update it, but rather, I still felt that obsessive drive to perfect each post. Because of this, I needed to split my time between both blogs, which required twice the effort as before. Though I enjoyed writing, I didn’t want to spend multiple nights a week working on posts. Instead, I preferred getting life experiences that would easily translate into amusing posts – storytelling always came more naturally to me.
Thus, I must announce that the All Too Convenient project has been officially cancelled. It was, and still is a great idea (in my opinion) – but I haven’t found an approach that works for me quite yet. My attempts were useful in the overall learning process, though, and more importantly, it showed me that I enjoy writing with humor more than do in my serious tone. Each have their place, of course, but you can expect to see this new comedy influence more often. For example, my recent post titled “So Apparently I’m a Complete Slacker” makes use of this new voice to a certain degree – hopefully you’ll all enjoy it as much as I do.
You never know when the idea might re-surface… but for now, I feel I’m doing exactly what I need to do. If a project isn’t working, it’s important to put it down – rather than let it bring everything else to a crawl. The good news is that the two All Too Convenient posts have been migrated to this blog, and will hopefully entertain people despite the fact that their ship sunk:
Hope you enjoy.
This is one of two reviews from All Too Convenient, a project I recently cancelled. It was originally published on October 18th, 2012, and features a humor-based writing style. Hope you enjoy!
Spoiler Level: Mild
Yep, a zombie TV show – a slightly different take on a genre that’s been done to death, so to speak. When I heard about it, I liked the fact that it was a TV show, not a movie, and that it was based in Atlanta (a city I frequent yearly), so I bought the first season and got to watching. Here’s a brief description I got off Wikipedia in case you never heard of it:
The series stars Andrew Lincoln as sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, who awakens from a coma to find the world dominated by flesh-eating “walkers,” resembling the zombies of George A. Romero’s horror movies. He sets out to find his family and encounters other survivors along the way.
The episode starts off with the main character, Rick, looking for gas while walking through a field that’s full of broken cars. He sees plenty of overturned vehicles, a rotting corpse, an empty donut box (sorry, Rick), but not much else. It’s pretty clear that no one’s throwing a party in there, it’s silent, it’s creepy, and there doesn’t appear to be any gas around. Then he hears a sound, and eventually identifies the source: a little girl that’s slowly trudging along in a pair of bunny slippers and a bathrobe, both of which are dirty. In her left hand is a stuffed animal, but there’s one catch: Rick can’t see her face, only her back. He tries to tell her he’s friendly, and a cop, but she doesn’t react immediately. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to the sequence, and the silence plays a major role in building an ambiance. But then, the expected happens – the girl stops walking.
UH-OH, THIS SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL. Message received, writers, it’s all lining up to be a shocking zombie reveal. The signs are all there: the creepy silence, the fact that the girl had her head conveniently turned away from us the whole time (while being perfectly centered in the screen), and finally, they spend a lot of screen time focusing on her. If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s predictable storylines. I remember hoping that she would turn around and have a golden retriever’s face, that way I would actually be taken aback. But instead, she turns around to reveal that she’s… wait for it… a zombie! SURPRISE. Really, guys? Why not do something creative where she’s a human, or a human that’s right about to turn into a zombie, something like that? Why do exactly what everyone expects you to do?
Well, anyway, it wasn’t long until the little girl realized that she had a sudden craving for some pork, and started shuffling forward to get her first bite. Rick, clearly disturbed by someone so young having been transformed, reluctantly (but violently) puts a hole in her forehead using his magnum. The scene then cuts to a bad computer generated (CG) death sequence, one that shows the zombie girl falling to the ground, her stuffed animal rolling away. It’s at that moment that the dramatic theme music starts, and the intro sequence for The Walking Dead begins.
As you can see, the writers were trying to show how dramatic the zombie illness was, and used a little girl as a way to shock the audience. Unfortunately, in my case, the scene was too predictable, and it took away from the realism of the show, something that I value greatly. Now, there’s something else I’d like to mention: normally, a bad CG scene can bring a potentially good show to its knees, realism-wise, but in this case, I really didn’t mind. You see, it’s not often that kids are killed on-screen, as it’s understandably a bit disturbing for people to see – even video games typically shy away from such violence (not that I, uh, tried). Therefore, I don’t mind that it was clearly a faked death sequence. As an animator, wouldn’t that be a really creepy thing to have on your resume, too? “Little girl getting shot in the face.” Dude, it’s a child.
Aside from the first scene’s predictability, I do have positive things to say about the show. First of all, it has one of the best title sequences I’ve seen, and a great soundtrack by Bear McCreary (best known for Battlestar Galactica). But also, there was a point in the episode where I genuinely thought that the main character would die, and that, ladies and gents, is not something that happens often. It also seemed that The Walking Dead had a fairly high budget, despite the bad CG scene I mentioned earlier. I won’t get into details, but I can say that both the zombies and the violence generally looked awesome.
In the end, it’s best to approach this type of show expecting a typical zombie story, because that’s pretty much what it is. It’s sometimes flawed, sometimes predictable, and sometimes impressive – a fine mix for this type of blog.
This is one of two reviews from All Too Convenient, a project I recently cancelled. It was originally published on October 13th, 2012, and features a humor-based writing style. Hope you enjoy!
Spoiler Level: Mild
I finally got around to watching Continuum in the last few days, and felt like sharing a little bit of the ridiculousness with you all. Ever since the creation of Corner Gas, I’ve been desperately awaiting the arrival of a TV-show that would allow us Canadians to regain some of our dignity. Yes, I realize that it’s a comedy, and Continuum isn’t, and I also realize some of you actually like Brent Butt‘s monstrosity of a TV-series, but can’t quite understand why that is. But, you know, to each his own. Anyway, I felt like Canada had a chance after the drunken arrival of the so-called Trailer Park Boys, and although Continuum isn’t a comedy, it’s one of the most recent examples of a Canadian show that I felt had some hope of being respected and watched beyond the border. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s what they’re saying on Wikipedia:
When a group of rebels convicted as terrorists escape execution by fleeing from the year 2077 to 2012, Kiera Cameron, a future Vancouver law enforcement officer (called Protector), is involuntarily transported with them. In order to track them down and keep them from changing the past (and presumably future), Kiera joins the Vancouver Police Department and uses the skills of a young tech expert [to help locate and apprehend the criminals].
A high-tech “Protector” finds herself in our time, and has to cope with all of our old-school silliness while fighting a highly skilled team of evildoers. It didn’t take long for me to like the concept, but there’s this one scene at the start of the pilot that really made me roll my eyes. You see, the ass-kicking Kiera soon finds out she’ll need to go into work for one big event, the aforementioned execution. It’s at that time that we find out she has a little boy, Sam. We meet him when he walks up in his PJs, and asks his mother if she’s expecting to fight a galactic war anytime soon, or something like that. His mother crouches before him and assures him that no, everything will be fine, and soon the bad guys won’t be able to hurt anybody.
The camera then finds itself over Kiera’s shoulder, and we see the oh-so-cute little Sammy looking down at his Mom with an innocent and fragile gaze. “Do you have to go?” he asks, perhaps realizing that the galactic war would occur nonetheless, by way of TV destiny. Kiera explains that she’s simply doing her job, and little Sammy looks down at a little toy soldier he has in his hands, lifts it up, and figures he’ll do something totally adorable and predictable. He says the toy soldier is for her, and it’s in case she needs backup, which of course results in widespread AWWWs across the country. His mom smiles warmly, there’s this warm but slightly-dramatic music playing at the same time, and I can’t help but know with certainty that Sammy isn’t gonna see his mom for quite a while. Something’s gonna go down.
To me, it was very clear that they were trying to show the audience something: LOOK, KID ADORABLE, MOTHER WUV. Yes, writers and directors of Continuum, I get it. I see what you’re trying to show, but did you have to be so obvious about it? Do you think people typically have the chance to say proper goodbyes, when real tragic accidents or events occur? That’s not how real life works, in my experience, and there’s value in supporting a certain realism. The loss of Sammy could have been illustrated without spelling it out in such a way that everybody’s pets could understand it too. And that little toy soldier bit, give me a break. Ain’t it a little convenient that he whips out that little number right before his mother gets transported 65 years into the past?
We’re human! Show little Sammy in a natural, organic everyday moment with his mother, and then reveal the look on his mother’s face when she realizes that she won’t be able to see him again. To me, that’s one of the most fascinating things about acting – facial expressions, the show-but-don’t-tell method of conveying an emotion. Hell, if you want to drive the point home, just set up a scene with that little toy soldier, and have her look at it ever-so-briefly, and show her facial expression during the process. Subtle, you know? Not over-the-top by staging a scene where we all get to bathe in just how precious and fragile little Sammy is.
Oh, and in saying this, I’m talking to TV writers everywhere, not only the folks from Continuum. As a whole, Continuum remains an interesting show, and a Canadian one at that – so I’m certainly planning to continue watching. I just hope they try to stay away from moments of extreme convenience like the one I highlighted today. I want to be surprised and challenged, not placed on rails while waiting for cliché after cliché to hit me in the face.
I attended college at a very turbulent time in my life, and though it resulted in many negative experiences, it also provided me with great stories to laugh about and share with others. Today, I’d like to tell you about this one class that I had… I don’t remember the name, exactly, but it can be best described as a physical education class that focused on nutrition. In case you haven’t read my previous posts, I’ll set the stage by explaining that it took me somewhere between 1.5 to 2.5 hours to get to the campus in the morning, and the same at night. Because of this, most of my efforts were focused on my core Computer Science classes – the others weren’t my priority, but I certainly wanted to get decent marks.
So this gym class was actually simple, but varied. We did some weight training, cardio, figured out how to plan completely balanced meals, and were even taught to calculate our levels of fat in probably the most uncomfortable way ever: we measured our fat flaps. Yep, fat flap measurement is a thing, folks – there’s a better name for it, of course, but it evades me at this moment. I’m also fairly certain that nothing can meet the eloquence of “fat flap measurement,” so I won’t bother to find the right term. You’re welcome. But, altogether, it was a standard physical education class – I liked certain things, and wasn’t totally enthusiastic with others. However, I carried the torch like a good college kid, and always felt I did a pretty decent job in that class.
Fate had another plan, it seems. In general, I get along with most people I meet – but this teacher, we’ll call him Franz, was a bit different. It’s not that I had anything against the man, but I just felt that I didn’t really connect with him like I did other teachers. In college, I always tried to know my professors to at least a basic degree. My logic was the following: if the teacher knew me, they would be less likely to give me bad marks. Now, keep in mind, I wasn’t out to deceive or give myself an unfair advantage. I simply wanted my teachers to know how my brain worked so that they would understand that deep down, I meant well, and actually cared about my results. I mean, sure, I didn’t give my 100% in non-Computer Science classes, but I was still aiming to get decent marks, so there was effort invested. And the way I saw it, it was easier to flunk a guy that they never met and seemed to keep to himself, rather than “Matt Refghi,” the guy who’s in Computer Science and who appreciated weight training, and actually cared about the class – despite keeping to himself. But, alas, Franz was a weird one to get along with… so I mostly kept to myself and did everything that was asked of me. I wasn’t getting top marks, but I was doing decently in most assignments.
Then there was this one weight training class where we had to do bench pressing, among other things. When it was my turn, I found an area that wasn’t being used, and did my reps. The teacher had said that we could take 1-2 minute breaks in between sets, and since I was particularly tired that day, I was very adamant about using that time. So I would do a set, then sit, and monitor the clock. Though I never sat idle for more than 2 minutes at a time, it seemed that Franz had a tendency look my way only when I was resting, not when I was doing my reps. At one point, he even stopped by and asked me if I was doing anything, and I assured him that I was. But he just kept looking at the wrong moments. I laughed at the luck I was having, but I knew deep down that I had done absolutely everything that I was asked, and that I had followed his rules. My timing wasn’t even slightly off, by the way – I was taking 2 minute breaks, then immediately returning to my reps – no slacking. Unfortunately, Franz always seemed to look at the wrong time.
That was the first hint of trouble, in my eyes. Then came one of the field trips – we were to hike a local mountain, and do these treasure hunt type challenges while there. Given that I lived far away from the city, I had to get up really early to leave for such an event. Still living with my parents, I went to look in their fridge to see what was available to eat. In a hurry, and having found no appealing options, I prepared something really basic: two peanut butter sandwiches. I then ventured to Montreal, and proceeded to fulfill my hiking obligations. Since I didn’t spend much time in Montreal those days, I just did a combination of metro plus taxi to get me to where I needed to go that day. (When stressed, I often prefer simplicity at a cost, rather than complicating my life with bus schedules and stuff like that.) It was a rough hike for a guy who spent most of his time staring into a computer (especially back then), but I did it… even if it involved plenty of back and forth to wear us out. At lunch, the whole class got together to eat at a particular location on the mountain. Satisfied with my progress, I chewed like the triumphant computer nerd that I was, but then caught sight of Franz’s face.
Peanut butter sandwiches, two of them. Remember how I said Franz taught us NUTRITION? What’s nutritious about a lunch that comprises solely of two peanut butter sandwiches? Just from his expression, I understood: in that small moment, he had proof that I had not applied the stuff he taught in his class (building a nutritionally balanced meal). Once again, I proceeded to have a laugh internally, and tried to just shrug it off. I completed the day’s tasks, and arrived home where I plugged myself straight back into that glowing box. But you know what? I completed the hike, that day – Franz or not.
Then… the marks came in. Know what I got? 60%. SIXTY. PERCENT. You know, the lowest possible passing grade. I knew for a fact that I deserved to have more than that – after all, I remembered most of my grades from my assignments. In an effort to understand, I thought to back to where it could have gone wrong, and I always came back to the weight lifting incident, and the double peanut butter lunch. In those moments, he probably felt that he understood the essence of my being – a guy who didn’t really care, and just did whatever he needed to do to pass. He misunderstood, of course, but I began to see the 60% as what it probably was: Franz giving me the bird. He probably knew that he couldn’t fail me because I had the good grades, but he didn’t want me to do well either. There’s such significance in that specific grade; he made me pass, but only that… not a trickle more.
I was absolutely certain that I didn’t deserve such a shitty grade… but I was tired of fighting. I had way too much stress in my life back then, and my papers at home weren’t all that organized. The college allowed students to dispute their grades, but it was a gamble of sorts – three teachers would re-evaluate the grades, and a new grade would be elected. If the three teachers agreed that the grade should be lower, that would be the law. I had previously filed a dispute for another class, and it took my grade from a high 60 to a mid 80 – so I was confident in my instincts. But unfortunately, I wasn’t organized enough to gather all of my old assignments from that class, and I was stressed enough as it was, so I never disputed it. I also knew that my effort wasn’t as significant as it would have been for a core Computer Science class, so the potential gain was only about 10-15%. Still, to this day, whenever I see the list of my grades, I picture a tiny Franz next to the 60%, flipping me off. As always, it’s always better to laugh about such things – can you imagine the chances of him always seeing the worst possible moments of my performance? This world’s hilarious, at times.
Like many creatures of the web, I’ve been known to watch YouTube videos every now and then. For the last year or so, I’ve noticed something strange going on with Google’s advertising approach within YouTube. Initially, I just thought I was witnessing a mistake that their developers made, and I waited to see when they’d fix the issue. To my surprise, that day never came – so today, I’m going to describe the problem, as I perceive it. Let’s start with a screenshot:
Notice the message to the bottom right? It says “you can skip to video in,” and then has a countdown, in seconds. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach – in fact, it allows me to move my mouse to where I’ll have to click. When the countdown ends, here’s how the message box changes:
Do you notice anything different? The “Skip Ad” button is smaller, vertically. Why does this matter, you ask? Well, here’s the thing: sometimes, when I go to click the “Skip Ad” button, I find that I accidentally click the ad – not the button. How? Well, when the message changes to “you can skip to video,” I, as a user, usually move my mouse over the box, and eagerly await the moment it becomes clickable. The first few times I did this, I hovered my mouse pointer over it, and proceeded to click the box repeatedly, in anticipation. When it actually became clickable, it turned out that my mouse was hovering over the part that disappeared, and before I knew it, I had accidentally clicked the ad. If you’re doubting the significance of the box’s transformation, consider this comparison:
We’re not talking a minor difference here. A good ~40% of the “you can skip to video” box is lost, and instead the ad gains that territory. At first, I saw it as an attempt by Google to get more clicks – even though those clicks were most probably low in value. After all, if I click something accidentally, it’s extremely unlikely that I will be interested in the result of that click. And if it wasn’t about getting more clicks, then why did the box change size? As a company who (understandably) seems to put so much value into its advertisers, why would they do this? It was definitely an interesting question, to me, as it even had an impact on YouTube’s usability.
So I looked into it, and discovered that YouTube ads of that variety (Standard InStream Ads) were not being charged per click (CPC), and thus, the problem I noted above wasn’t as severe as it could have been. Still, I wondered why Google would make a design choice that would open the door to accidental clicks? After all, isn’t the amount of a clicks an important metric in the performance of an ad? Their documentation certainly brings attention to it (emphasis added):
- Video Impressions
- Video Click Through
- 50% Midpoint Plays
- 100% Complete Plays
But, in the end, I’m certainly not an expert in Google’s advertising practices – so I could be wrong about this being a negative thing. Still, I’ll continue to wonder … so if anyone out there knows the truth, do let me know – I’m really curious. Oh, and you know what’s particularly interesting about this? YouTube’s new iOS app doesn’t have this problem – see the screenshots below. Could it have something to do with a mouse being more precise than touch? Fascinating question, in my opinion.