The King and I

We got season passes to SHN in order to get Hamilton tickets, and as a result, we ended up at The King & I last night. It was interesting.

The performances were good, and it was an interestingly put together thing, but the story was never engaging, and while I understood what was going on, I really didn’t get why it was supposed to matter to me. I think one thing might be that with this revival of the show, they changed certain things to make it less… old. But I think that maybe an inadvertent change of making it less “exotic” and “Oriental” meant that now the characters should be less “inscrutable”, but while their motivations work on the surface, they never seem to have any consistent driving force.

One of the turning points of the show, the King cries “DISHONOR” as he’s about to do this thing, and you’re supposed to (I think?) feel this tension between his desires to move Siam into more Western-friendly “modernity”, but he’s pulled to feeling this sense of honor when someone wrongs him, and that honor is so valuable that he’s willing to potentially destroy all the progress he’s made to this point.

But it’s meaningless.

In the context of the show, there’s no explanation of why honor matters. Or what it is about that that should pull him in multiple directions. Instead, it looks like he’s just … lost it, and is the barbarian that the West is supposedly accusing him of being. I can kind of piece together what I should be understanding out of the scene, but it doesn’t actually click, and it doesn’t actually feel meaningful.

And I feel like a lot of the show suffers from the same problem.

That moment of tension (the one that didn’t work) is basically about Westernizing in order to potentially save Siam from colonization. They put on an elaborate dinner for British envoy to convince the West that the King isn’t a “barbarian”, but the whole time there’s this other plot that one of his (many) wives is going to run away with her lover, and they set up this conflict where either he’s going to need to deal with her in a “modern” way or a “traditional” one.

But the dinner goes off (mostly) without a hitch, and *after*, there’s the revelation of the wife’s infidelity, at which point the King goes berserk. But the problem is that the dinner went fine. The stakes that matter (the future of Siam) are off the table. Maybe the idea is that the relationship between Anna and the King is as important, but that doesn’t work at all. So you have this tension (will the dinner work?), you resolve it (yes), and then introduce the conflict? It’s really, really weird.

But again – the whole show felt that way. Things played for comedic value (etc., etc.) that happen not just too often, but in ways that undercut emotionally charged scenes. The King is essentially trying to fight for the future of his country, but he’s often played for laughs (the laughs work, but it makes the character a joke).

I dunno. It’s odd – Ei-Nyung & I were talking on the way home about how season tickets were like getting a prix fixe meal at a restaurant – you don’t get necessarily what you want, but you’re forced to try some new stuff. And in that way, this was super enjoyable. I didn’t necessarily like the show, but I liked experience of it all, and it’s not something I’d necessarily have chosen independently.

 

House Projects

On top of looking for a place for my parents, we’re also doing some tidying up around our place. We’ve been planning on a deck in the back for ages, but we’ve gotta get the rear of the house re-stuccoed before getting the deck built, or we’re putting the cart before the horse in some sense. Our old neighbor Ron’s a painter, and he’s going to be patching & repainting a couple things – the kitchen ceiling, which developed a big crack, and had never been refinished when we got the rest of the kitchen remodeled, a wall in the kids’ room, whose paint started peeling, and the exterior trim, which has faded really badly over the last five years. Gotta also get the fence between our house & our neighbors’ rebuilt, because it just completely collapsed a month or so ago. 😛

We’ve got a bunch of other stuff – exterior hardscaping, etc. that needs to get done, but because we’re looking for a place for the ‘rents, it makes sense to hold off on stuff that isn’t necessarily a big impact in at the moment.

VR: Stick a Fork In It.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that for games, VR is toast.

I had pretty low expectations for my experience with PSVR, but one bout of serious VR-induced nausea, and I’m 100% convinced that there’s no place for this as a mainstream technology any time in the near future. Even as a “display” for non-game-related things, it’s so isolating that for most applications it simply feels wrong.

I think in terms of usage, for something like airplanes, or for “attractions” – dedicated spaces designed around VR experiences – they might have a future. But for couch or desk-based interactions for amusement? Not a chance. It’ll be a niche market for a few years as all the VC-backed VR hype finally hits the wall of no-customers, but once all those companies die off, it’ll basically be relegated to hobbyist usage, and the only content available will be hobbyist content.

The setup is too clunky. VR Nausea is *fatal* to the experience. There’s no killer app, despite billions of dollars of investment. The problems of “virtual movement without real movement” aren’t even close to being solved, and until they are, the limits on usage of VR are so bananas that there’s no practical reason for anyone to make the investment to jump in.

AR? That’s a different story entirely, and, I believe, the inevitable future.

So Your Kid’s Into Pokemon… Now What?

A while back, a friend of mine asked me about Pokemon. Her kids were obsessed with it, but what could she turn that into a good thing? I gave her some (valid) advice at the time, but now that my kids are into it, there’s a bit more to add.

Super-basic, mostly obvious:

  • Reading – if your kids aren’t reading yet, there’s a bunch of stuff on the cards, from the rules to the flavortext that they can read. Ask them questions about the various creatures, and see if they can figure things out by reading the text.
  • Numbers – maybe they’re not reading yet. There’s a ton of numbers. Can they figure out which has more health or does more damage? These are in consistent places on all the cards, so just get them to compare.

Somewhat less obvious:

  • Pokemon are often based off of real-world creatures or things. Can you figure out what they are?
  • Most of the names are puns. What’s a pun? What’s *this* name referring to?
  • Many Pokemon “evolve” or have multiple “evolutions”. Spot the differences. The different evolutions’ names are often related, and are often plays on words. Why are they funny or weird?

More effort:

The game itself is actually pretty solid & requires some interesting thinking. While building a deck is both complex and expensive, there are “theme decks” and “starter decks” that are complete, and can be played straight out of the box (just make sure you’re getting the right thing. If you want a theme deck, get two. If you’re getting a starter, you can usually play two players with one deck).

From there, you’re now using the rules & the information on the cards to try to make strategic decisions. Why do you set an “Active” Pokemon vs. a benched one? When do you decide to retreat? If you’re winning or losing, why?

Other things to do:

  • Create your own Pokemon
  • Create your own evolutions of existing or original Pokemon, trying to capture the sense of humor in the naming & design
  • Create your own “moves” for the game
  • Draw Pokemon doing random things

I guess the thing is, while we tried to delay the onslaught of Pokemon in our house, once J was in school, it was largely inevitable. We could fight it, and have him miss out on this big social “hub” of activity at school, or we could get the most out of it we could. While the cards can be $$$, they’re also great as incentives – at $0.40/card, roughly, as an incentive they have a value that far exceeds their cost. 😀

Anyway. I know this isn’t likely to get read by anyone ever, but if it does, and you got here because your kid is obsessed with Pokemon, I hope this helps.

Games!

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Why yes, of course these are totally real pictures of the kids playing games.

Okay, they’re actually *kind of* real. J is legitimately constantly wanting to actually play the real Pokemon game, and K did actually ask me to set up the chess board, even though he lost interest five seconds after it was set up. His friend E was interested in playing, but I don’t think either of them understood the finer points of opening moves.

It’s weird, though, how everything basically ends up in one room. J’s playing Pokemon in the space between the couches and the front door, because no one ever does anything in separate rooms, even though we have oodles of space. *shrugs*

Oh! Go see Moana. It’s great.

Recent Rando Stuff

Started watching Star Trek Beyond, and they managed to create spectacle, which is something I honestly didn’t expect. Great stuff. Also picked up a handful of games on Black Friday sales – Gears of War 4, Far Cry: Primal, Battlefield 1, Hitman: The First Season, and Mad Max. So far only spent any reasonable time with Gears and Battlefield, but both are interesting – Gears because it’s reliably Gears-y, and Battlefield 1 because it’s kind of shockingly well done re: how it handles war & death & the horror & senselessness of it.

Also started watching a PBS series called Soundbreaking, and it’s FANTASTIC. Really amazing show about recorded music, what producers do, the history of hiphop, etc. It’s kind of bonkers how good the show is.

SD

Spent the last few days in San Diego with some friends & their families. We ended up going to the San Diego Zoo, which was fantastic – I think I was there many years ago with my grandparents, but I haven’t been in ages. It’s like the Oakland Zoo ate three more zoos and had five times the budget. Ended up getting rained on, but it was fun nonetheless.

We also got to hang out with Seth, which was great, and see his work, which was … more or less exactly as expected. Went back to Kula Sushi, which the kids really love (and yeah, okay, I like it too – it’s not great sushi, but it is a great experience).

We then spent two days at Legoland, which was really fun. It’s not necessarily mindblowing if you’re coming from a Disneyland or what have you, but it’s a really fun place – Miniland (where they recreate a bunch of real-world places out of Lego) was pretty fantastic, and seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces was a real treat. We went on a handful of rides (J’s not into coasters, and K’s still too small), but they had a neat 3-D interactive Ninjago ride which was pretty amazing. You’d throw energy balls with your hands at targets as you moved around a place with a bunch of 3-D screens, and  both of the kids got a huge kick out of it. One of the more interesting uses of tech + ride I’d seen recently. VR headsets on a ride like that would have been pretty amazing.

The drive up & back wasn’t too bad – bits of traffic in LA, but more or less smooth sailing the entire rest of the way. La Brea Tar Pits, SD Zoo, Legoland all in one trip, combined with a nice pool & a hot tub? Yeah, life’s pretty great.

Balboa

Slow morning this morning, but after hanging out with U/C & the gang at the pool, we ended up going to Balboa Park, to the Science Museum & the Natural History museum. Great trip – the science museum was fun, and the Natural History Museum’s “premium exhibit” was Sue, the fossil that was the subject of a documentary we’d watched called Dinosaur 13. It was a neat exhibit, even without the fossil – one fun thing was sitting in a rotating chair & flapping a couple differently-shaped wings to get a feel for how different they were.

Tomorrow, it sounds like we’re hitting up the Zoo then visiting with Seth. Should be a good time.

Tar Pits

So here’s something I didn’t know until today, despite being obsessed with dinosaurs & prehistory, and then going through two waves of kid-driven dinosaur/prehistory obsession…

Animals don’t sink in tar pits. They get stuck, like on flypaper, and die of starvation or exposure, then eventually more tar bubbles up through the surface & covers them. All the images of mammoths half-submerged in tar pits while getting mauled by (also doomed) sabertooth cats? Not how it worked.

We drove down to Lebec last night, spent the night there, then crossed the grapevine & visited the La Brea Tar Pits today. Great trip. We then headed down to Carlsbad with some friends for a few days here at Legoland with the kids (and possibly seeing uncle Seth).

So far, awesome.