Monday, July 26, 2010

Song Pick of the Week

Good evening everyone,

Hope everyone enjoyed the video I posted over the weekend, and if you haven't checked it out, now's your chance! This song pick of the week is from the band Delta Spirit. The song is called "Bushwick Blues," off of their new album History from Below. I first heard this song on Graffiti Radio, a Delaware alternative station that I listen to online. They remind me of the Kings of Leon, but I want to hear what everyone out there thinks!!!

Also, here is the link to Graffiti Radio. If you like my song picks, then definitely check this station out!!!

Graffiti Radio

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reputation and the Internet

Today I saw this video about how the internet can ruin someone's reputation:

The video does make a valid point in that the internet does give people the power to publish whatever they want, the good and bad. However, I also feel that this video was meant for CNN to pat itself on the back for its efforts to reveal "the truth". The argument is set up to make it sound like the internet is out of control and that news media is the only source for people to get unbiased information on current events. We are warned that the internet gives people the power to ruin someone's life, sometimes to the point of suicide. While I do agree that the internet can be used in this way, it isn't like rumors and gossip at the national and global level are new. I would argue that tabloids do the exact same thing to celebrities. All forms of media come with their potential missuses, and all reported news (whether it be from your best friend or Fox) has some sort of bias. As always, I want to hear what you have to say, I know I skipped over some points made in the video.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Future of Books

Today, Amazon announced that it sold more Kindle titles than actual hard-cover books. They attribute part of this to the fact that the Kindle price was lowered from $259 to $189.

We discussed in my computer science class last semester how digital technology has changed what it means to "own" something. We have documents and spreadsheets saved to our desktops and laptops, but they're really just lines of code. Unless we print out our projects, we can easily save over them (which depending on the case could be a good or bad thing), or simply delete them.
In a similar way, we don't really own e-books. We might be able to carry around a kindle which holds the words of the book, but that doesn't mean we actually own the book. I personally like having a physical version to highlight and scribble notes in. When I finish a book and flip through to see all the marks I made, I feel satisfied in knowing that I was engaged in what I was reading.

I don't mean to say that physical books will disappear anytime soon, (I read in a similar article that this trend applies more to hard-cover than soft-cover books),
but as prices for e-book readers continue to drop down, I'll be interested to see how our society's definition of "book" will change. I would love to hear everyone's opinion on this topic, as the main point of this blog is to discuss these types of topics with each other. Until next time, good night!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Song Pick of Last Week

Hello everyone,

I know that I haven't posted anything in a while. Last week was very hectic with getting everything together for Mexico. I decided to catch things up with a post for last week's song pick of the week. This one's from the band Kings of Leon off of their album Only by the Night. I know they are most famous for their songs Sex on Fire
and Use Somebody (which are off of the same album), but hopefully everyone will enjoy Crawl, a lesser known but just as good song.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Song Pick of the Week

Good Saturday everyone,

Hope all is well this weekend. It is saturday, which means that tonight's the night for the song pick of the week. Tonight's song is Laredo, off of the album Infinite Arms by Band of Horses. For tomorrow, I hope to have another post on television, this time focusing on the potential dangers of our society becoming too involved in what we watch, and how this affects how we view politics, education, and even our concept of the truth. This will hopefully spark some comments from you all; as always I'm open to hear what you have to say. Until then, good night!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Science that is a Pokemon Battle

Last week I started a series of posts related to how we can learn useful skills from video games, using Pokemon Red & Blue as my example. Tonight, I continue with a discussion of the preparation, the strategy, and the overall knowledge needed to win a Pokemon battle. While talking about the benefits of video games last week, I also used the book Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson to support my claims that the otherwise tedious leveling up of Pokemon is made bearable through new moves that are learned through the leveling-up process. In addition to the reward system, Johnson explains that video games have become increasingly more complex, and how they offer almost limitless possibilities for the player.
In the Red and Blue versions, there were 150 Pokemon available to use in your team (side note: last time I looked there were 493 Pokemon available). A team can consist of up to 6 Pokemon, and while this offers a great deal of creativity to the player, the overall goal of the game is to win as many battles as possible to become a Pokemon master.
If asked what are the keys to a good team, the common answer heard is type balance. In Red and Blue, a Pokemon can be one or two of 15 types, such as fire, water, grass, or electric. Additionally, each move a Pokemon learns has a type. Each type has an advantage over some attacks and disadvantages over others. For a basic example, fire attacks have an advantage when used on grass type Pokemon. On the flip side, a fire Pokemon is weak against water type attacks. While some of these type advantages/disadvantages seem logical, others are not (such as dragon type Pokemon being weak against ice), requiring the player to memorize these odd type balances. Most players agree that a strong team will have six Pokemon of different types to balance their individual strengths and weaknesses.
In addition to Pokemon and move types, every Pokemon has different stats, which are another factor to consider when putting together a team. Again, in Red and Blue there were five stats - hit points, speed, attack, defense, and special (this stat has since split into special attack and special defense). Each individual Pokemon has different stats, and they almost always come with some sort of trade off, such as high speed but low defense. These stats affect the strength and accuracy of the Pokemon's moves. It's true that a Dugtrio will almost always attack first due to its high speed stat, but its low defense means that any damage taken will do more damage than a Pokemon with a higher defense stat, even if they are of the same type.
With types and stats, creating a strong team can seem overwhelming, as there are many factors to consider with seemingly endless possibilities. However, that's not all; once a player thinks they have a strong team to take into battle, he/she must think of the right strategy to ensure victory. Should the player open with a fast Pokemon to ensure the first strike, or use a slower Pokemon that knows a status changing move to poison the opponent (I forgot to mention that some moves can affect the status of the opponent, such as poisoning them or putting them to sleep). Similar to other strategy games, the player must consider the moves of the opponent as well as his/her own. Sometimes, this requires considering several scenarios several turns ahead.
For those of you who never played Pokemon, you're probably thinking one of two things: he's making it seem more complicated than it really is in order to prove his point, or why would he waste his time (and blog post) writing about a game? If you have played the game before, you're probably thinking yeah, it does get this complicated. Yes, I probably did spend too much of my childhood playing Pokemon. Hoewever, I am not so quick to claim that it was a complete waste of time. Mining through seemingly endless data to arrive at useful conclusions is one of the greatest challenges of my generation. The ability to think strategically plan ahead and weigh different scenarios at once are skills valued in the workplace, and just plain useful when trying to make sense of one's own life. Or once again, I'm just trying to justify how I spent my time from third through fifth grade.

Like I've said before, you're welcome to comment on this post. Agree with me, or refute everything I've just said, it's up to you.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Were Cartoons Ever Really Moral?

For those of you who responded back to me with ideas on how to improve our discussions on Pop Culture, I greatly appreciate your input. I decided to address one respondent's suggestion on the morality of television. While this is another topic that will have to be spread over several posts (I know, I have a lot of those), I decided to start this topic off with discussing violence in cartoons. Underneath I have posted two clips from the cartoons Tom & Jerry and Family Guy. I want you to watch them and keep your immediate reactions in mind as you continue.

Although the Tom & Jerry clip does have some humor, it is pretty clear that the clip from Family Guy just isn't funny (I wouldn't be surprised if some of you couldn't finish it). Yet if we look closer, we can see that both clips are equally violent. From what I see, the difference comes from what follows these violent acts. In Tom & Jerry, we hear sound effects and light-hearted music. In Family Guy, we see blood and hear Brian screaming in pain. According to Wikipedia, there was only one instance in Tom & Jerry where blood was shown, and while most people (such as parents, educators) would view this as a positive, I must disagree with their point of view. On the contrary, I believe that a lack of blood or acknowledgment of real pain only re-enforces our society's misunderstanding related to the consequences of violence.
When looking at Family Guy, we see that Brian is actually in pain, reminding us that when someone gets hit with glass, he/she is going to bleed and that it's going to hurt. In Tom & Jerry, we see Tom get hurled into a clock, slam into the floor, and have the clock's coo-coo bird pop out of his mouth. While humorous, this scenario is highly unrealistic, separating the violent acts from the consequences that realistically would result.
This brings me to the title question of this post: were cartoons ever really moral? In my opinion, I would say that Family Guy is more moral because it's graphic displays of violence remind us of the reality of our actions. People who watch Family Guy on a regular basis know that displays of blood are not uncommon. By constantly reminding us of the reality of violence, I would argue that Family Guy shows us the differences between right and wrong. We would never want to end up like Brian, therefore discouraging us from acting like Stewie. Tom & Jerry, in lacking a display of realistic consequences, blurs these boundaries, therefore hurting our society's definition of right and wrong.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should let our ten year olds watch Family Guy or other adult cartoons. What I am saying is that I feel we are too quick to dismiss displays of violence as unnecessary (I know that there comes a time when there might be too much violence, which could serve as another post topic). If anything, in a time where we immerse ourselves more and more in electronic entertainment, these reminders could be more beneficial than ever.

(As always, I hope that you post your opinions and comments. Remember, the overall goal of Smart-Pop is to have discussions on these topics)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Help Improve SmartPop

Good evening everyone,

Tonight I celebrate my one week anniversary of SmartPop, my pop culture blog. I want to thank everyone who has visited over the past week, and I hope I have sparked your interest in taking American pop culture and taking it to a deeper level. While I could continue to blog and expand on my previous ideas (which I do plan to continue), I really want to hear from you on how I can improve SmartPop. Are there any topics you want me to discuss? Anything about the layout of the blog, anything I should add or take off? My goal is to turn my posts into short pop culture essays that everyone wants to discuss. Your feedback will only help me provide a better, more engaging and interactive experience for all of us. Thanks for you help, and have a happy Independence Day weekend!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Song Pick of the Week

Good Friday everyone,

Before starting off this three day weekend, I wanted to post my pick of the week. This is from a band called the Black Keys, and the song is 10 AM Automatic. For those of you who didn't care for Andrew Bird, hopefully you will feel this is a reasonable alternative. Happy 4th of July!!!!!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

An American Community

Before I get into today's post (don't worry, it's not about Pokemon), I wanted to provide a few descriptions of people whom you may or may not have come across in your lives. Look over them, and keep them in mind as you continue through this post:
  • A high school star athlete who lost a scholarship due to alcohol abuse
  • Someone who can only express their feelings and relate to others through television and movies
  • A divorced mother who must now raise her family on her own
  • A wealthy man who has been married multiple times
I want to discuss a new show on NBC that just finished it's first season: Community. For those of you who have not seen it, I highly recommend you check it out (I have provided links to its Wikipedia page, streaming episodes on Hulu, and to its trailer on YouTube). In the current NBC comedy style, the show has no laugh tracks, and features and ensemble cast with numerous minor characters. To provide a very brief summary, the show centers around Jeff, a former lawyer who, after being suspended over the illegitimacy of his degree, is forced to attend Greendale Community College. There, he enrolls in a Spanish class and joins a study group in hopes to get closer to his classmate Brita. The study group includes Abed, an aspiring film director who is socially awkward, Shirley Bennett, a divorced single mother, and Pierce, a baby boomer who's not afraid to speak his mind.

Do these descriptions sound familiar? Of course, these are not the only members of the study group (I just provided a few for the sake of time), and they each have their own unique background. While watching this diverse group of characters interact with each other is undoubtedly funny, I feel that Community can be taken to another level by proposing that is provides us a unique perspective into the future of American society.
If one looks closely enough at the Spanish study group, they could understand my reasoning for viewing them as a model of America. Yet as I looked closer at each characters, I noticed that each of them could be viewed as either having qualities or backgrounds that are looked down upon in this country. I would find it hard to believe that you didn't think badly of any of the descriptions I provided at the beginning of this post. I admit that if I looked at them without any prior knowledge, I would have felt the same way, which brings me to the question: why do we look down upon these people?
To put it simply, I feel that the lives and experiences of the characters on Community pose a threat to traditional American values. When one thinks of the ideal American family, an image of a mother, father, two or three children living in the suburbs is not uncommon. Similar to the spread out posts of Pokemon, I will over several posts discuss the characters of Community, and how they undermine traditional American values. I emphasize the word traditional because I feel that at the same time Community offers us a perspective into the future of our nation. Despite their backgrounds, each of these characters, from the selfish Jeff to the outrageous Pierce, have their good qualities, and it is these qualities we must learn from if we are to move forward as a nation. This is where I will end for today, and in case you're wondering, the first character I will discuss will be Pierce, played by Chevy Chase (and please check out these links, I guarantee you won't regret it!).

Community page on Wikipedia

Community trailer:

Hulu link: