Podcasts!

These are the best examples of my Podcast work

Daily Texan at the Moo-vies: Black Panther

We discuss the recent release of Marvel’s (terrific) Black Panther.

Daily Texan at the Moo-vies: Oscars 2018 Edition

We break down the recent wave of Oscar noms

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Oscar-nominated Chilean film ‘A Fantastic Woman’ puts a strong trans woman in the spotlight

Oscar-nominated Chilean film ‘A Fantastic Woman’ puts a strong trans woman in the spotlight

Originally published at The Daily Texan.

Watching “A Fantastic Woman,” I couldn’t help but think about the comments underneath a recent tweet by The Washington Times.

“Is Caitlyn Jenner a woman?,” the tweet reads. “A growing body of research says no.”

The replies contained a massive pool of insults, with some calling Jenner an “it,” others called her an “alien” and others called her a “monster.”

In this atmosphere, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” boldly follows transgender woman Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), who fights every day for the right to be herself. As the film progresses, it reveals itself as both a poignant story of loss and a window into the life of an unrepresented community. Lelio, simply by showing the struggles faced by a trans woman, is making a statement film, pulling double duty and succeeding on both levels.

The story opens with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a divorced, cisgender, heterosexual man in a relationship with Marina. The two have a seemingly normal, healthy partnership — he works a day job, she waits tables and sings at a club, they go out for drinks and then head home to have sex. Lelio does not objectify or make a big deal out of Orlando and Marina’s sexual relationship. It just feels like another part of living. Their life feels routine, but never unromantic.

Very early on in the story, Orlando dies of a sudden aneurysm, and Marina is left to pick up the pieces of his life. Though not the first movie of this kind, “A Fantastic Woman” is a new take on the grief film, made so much more impactful by the size of the hole Orlando leaves in Marina’s life.

Orlando is survived by a brother, son and ex-wife, each of whom has their own terrible way of relating to Marina. Every member of this family represents a different manner in which society treats trans individuals, starting with Orlando’s acceptance of Marina and slowly disintegrating from there. His brother sees Marina as who she is, but is afraid to stand up to anyone for her; Orlando’s ex-wife sees Marina as a perversion, hurling verbal and psychological abuse at her in every scene; and Orlando’s son is the worst offender, physically assaulting Marina for her own existence. It makes for a brutally difficult film to watch, but a challenging, brilliant work of art.

Vega gives one of the best performances in any film released in the past year, and it’s a shame the film is only nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Through a wide range of nuanced facial expressions and a towering screen presence, Vega dominates the movie. She largely plays Marina as a restrained, quiet individual, allowing glimpses of her grief through small facial tics and body posture. In the few moments where she’s allowed to let loose and show her emotion, Vega shows the tragic pain of a heartbroken, misunderstood human who just seeks acceptance. These moments where her pain surfaces act as punctuation marks on an already brilliant performance, proving Vega as a fully formed performer in only her second film.

It is groundbreaking that Vega is transgender herself, as Hollywood has a history of hiring cisgender men to play trans women, including Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto and Jeffrey Tambor. But these actors generally tell the same story about a trans woman undergoing her transition, and Lelio has no interest in Hollywood’s vision of trans women. The picture he paints is of a woman undergoing a personal loss, a woman who faces an inordinate amount of obstacles, a woman who may be called “it,” “alien” and “monster,” but emerges fantastic.

“A Fantastic Woman”
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes
Score: 4.5/5 stars

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Ava DuVernay’s empathy saves the groundbreaking ‘Wrinkle in Time’ from getting lost

Ava DuVernay’s empathy saves the groundbreaking ‘Wrinkle in Time’ from getting lost

Originally published at The Daily Texan.

There are 375 movies in history with a budget of over $100 million , but the first of these films directed by a woman of color arrives this Friday with “A Wrinkle in Time” from Ava DuVernay.

Much hype has followed “A Wrinkle In Time” since its announcement in 2016, and many have paired the film with last month’s “Black Panther” as milestones in Hollywood’s march toward progress. Although it doesn’t quite hit as hard as Ryan Coogler’s superhero masterpiece, DuVernay’s “Wrinkle” is a charming fantasy epic, a film that swings for the fences at every turn and hits more than it misses.

Young actress Storm Reid leads the film as Meg Murry, a brilliant 14-year-old student who has been emotionally distant ever since the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine) four years earlier. Meg’s parents are NASA scientists, but her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) drifts away from the field after her husband’s disappearance. Early flashbacks and prologues show Meg and her parents working on experiments together, and it’s refreshing to see black women scientists, as opposed to bespectacled white dudes huddled around a table.

Just before Mr. Murry’s disappearance, the couple adopted a young son, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who grows up with Meg. To get a sense of Meg and Charles Wallace’s life before the adventure begins, the film shows a normal day at school for the two of them, and it is incredibly painful to watch. Meg is bullied; Charles Wallace hears teachers gossip about their father; the principal gives Meg a lecture. It all feels ripped out of a lower-tier Disney Channel Original Movie. This series of events thankfully constitutes only the film’s first fifteen minutes, but it kicks off an epic fantasy adventure with a whimper.

It’s a great relief when Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) finally enter the film, providing it with exactly the burst of energy and light it needs. They tell Meg that they need her to help them save her father, and then they whisk her, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) away on a galaxy-hopping adventure.

Though the first act of “A Wrinkle in Time” is conventional and exposition-heavy, it all acts as a setup for DuVernay to absolutely let loose, and the film quickly goes from cringeworthy to crowd pleasing. It does not spend too much time bogged down in the hows and whys of the characters’ supernatural abilities or otherworldly looks — these things just are. Winfrey, Witherspoon and Kaling breathe humorous guiding light into the movie, but Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace have to figure out their own way through the universe to Meg’s father.

The extraterrestrial locales visited by the trio borrow heavily from other sources, including Dr. Seuss, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Avatar” and sometimes even Japanese video games, such as “Xenoblade Chronicles.” Some are whimsical, some are intimidating, but they are all engaging. Instead of focusing on the science of space travel and other planets, the film focuses on its characters, their relationships with one another and their relationships with themselves.

As the film goes on, DuVernay grows more confident, concluding the story with a trippy, mind-bending metaphor of a finale that one would expect from high-concept science fiction, not a Disney fantasy-adventure. Throughout the film, Meg grapples with herself and the person she feels pressured to be, rather than who she is. As she barrels toward this conclusion, it becomes clear that her journey is just as much about her own growth as it is about her father.

In spite of its flaws, “A Wrinkle in Time” is an earnest plea for how much better the world could be if we loved ourselves and loved one another. As corny as that sounds, the plea, like the movie, rings true.

“A Wrinkle in Time”

Rating: PG

Runtime: 109 minutes

Score: 3.5/5 stars

 

Comedy thriller ‘Game Night’ plays into genre tropes, fails to play up the laughs

Comedy thriller ‘Game Night’ plays into genre tropes, fails to play up the laughs

Originally published at The Daily Texan.

“Game Night” feels like a film conceived by two extraordinarily high filmmakers between tokes: What if David Fincher’s “The Game” met the Steve Carell/Tina Fey vehicle “Date Night,” and it was about people who liked having a game night?

The resulting story is a sloppy, half-baked franken-script of two infinitely better films, a movie which should’ve been left on the cutting-room floor. Surprisingly effective direction from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the helmers of 2015’s “Vacation” remake, and a brilliant cast led by Jason Bateman try their hardest to save the film, but nothing can salvage the bad script packed with cheap jokes.

Bateman and Rachel McAdams lead as Max and Annie, a hyper-competitive married couple who host game night with their friends every week. When Max’s equally competitive brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, he throws a wrench into their regular plans, asking to host a “very special” game night at his house.

Brooks’ idea of a game night involves hiring actors to come in and “kidnap” one of the party’s members, leading the rest in a race to find the missing individual. It’s an escape room meets The Game from “The Game,” a large-scale competition where no one knows what is real and what isn’t. From there, the plot borrows the structure and elements of “Date Night” as the group gets tied up in what seems to be real trouble, involving gangsters, drugs, a car chase and potentially real kidnapping.

While there’s nothing wrong with well-executed genre parody, films that specifically parody one other film never work, and “Game Night” is certainly the newest addition to that club. Though the film could easily have used its plot to make a broader parody of the action/thriller genre, all of its jokes fall into three categories: easy, implicit references to “The Game” (which is 20 years old), mindless references to any number of pop culture icons, and the seldom clever, well-earned joke. It leads to an exhausting time, one that moves at an extraordinarily brisk pace but is still somehow boring.

It’s a shame that writer Mark Perez drops the ball so hard, because everyone else attached to the movie puts in some of their best work. However, no one matches Jesse Plemons as creepy neighbor Gary. Plemons steals the show in only three or four scenes, each of which are the film’s only laugh-out-loud moments.

Daley and Goldstein miraculously show themselves as fully formed comedy directors, trying their hardest to work with the script they’re given. All of the establishing shots in “Game Night” are not the typical footage of exteriors, but of highly detailed dioramas, making the whole movie feel like it takes place on a game board. These little touches give the film its only semblance of personality.

However, none of these touches are as impactful as the comedic action centerpiece, a multi-minute single take that is some of the best physical comedy in any recent movie not featuring the small bear Paddington. The camera dances around a massive house, following the many characters and giving each a chance to stand out, not unlike the casino fight in last week’s “Black Panther.”

Brilliant direction and hilarious performances abound in the film, but it’s hard to love. Last year, “The Big Sick” and “Darkest Hour” proved strong scripts can overcome sloppy direction. If there’s anything “Game Night” proves, it’s that no amount of excellence can save a bad script.

“Game Night”

Rating: R

Runtime: 100 minutes

Score: 2.5/5 stars

Is the cutting-edge Hyperloop just a 300 mile-long pipe dream?

Classic 20th century science fiction writers imagined today as a hyper-futuristic world of flying cars, androids and off-planet colonies. Futurist Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, creator of the Tesla and the real-life Tony Stark, has his own ideas on how to make this sort of reality possible. One of these is a groundbreaking technology that can send a person from Austin to Dallas in under 20 minutes.

This complex technology, known as Hyperloop, propels a levitating train car through an underground, low-pressure tunnel. Announced in a 2013 white paper, Musk hopes it can solve many modern transportation problems, including speed, safety and sustainability.

The long tube that the Hyperloop pod would travel down is what’s known as a vacuum, meaning it lacks any air, so air friction would not exist—but if the pod springs a leak, it’s very likely each passenger would die in seconds.

A NASA feasibility analysis of the Hyperloop concept last year analyzed Musk’s invention from a critical level, and they saw these potentially catastrophic possibilities early.

“The biggest issues with hyperloop technology are speed and scale,” the analysis said. “It is still unclear how to create a prototype that verifies the safety of the technology and allows testing of all necessary components.”

Working with SpaceX, a proposed solution is to use Hyperloop for cargo transportation only in its early years and expand upon that once safety is ensured. But for this process to even begin, it will need large-scale funding that Musk alone cannot provide.

Ex-Amazon Fresh coordinator Brittain Ladd said he hopes cooperation between SpaceX, Amazon and a state could lead to the acceleration of the project, provided a state is willing. For Ladd, the development of Hyperloop and Amazon’s current search for a second headquarters location could be knocked out with one stone, leading to a positive impact above ground as well.

“If Texas were to try and lure Amazon’s HQ2 to the state, what if the first thing they announce together is a high-speed rail station within HQ2?,” Ladd said. “If Amazon and the State were to work together and say ‘What if we actually built a Hyperloop from Laredo, El Paso, the border crossing, and instead of shipping on trucks, we’ll take them to Dallas.’ Imagine the great impact on the road and the environment.”

To further progress Hyperloop’s technology, Musk enlists the help of American students. In 2015, he started an annual Hyperloop Pod Competition, in which students from across the US compete to make the fastest, safest model of a Hyperloop pod to run on SpaceX’s test track in California. University of Texas electrical engineering professor Alex Claudel advises UT’s largest team, who have taken to calling themselves Guadaloop.

“So far all we could demonstrate was that it was working in a vacuum,” Claudel said. “We want to explore air bearing technology, we haven’t tested at high speeds.”

At last year’s competition, Guadaloop won the innovation award for their innovative use of air bearings. Texas’ other team, named 512 Hyperloop, made it to the final round but did not win an award. This year, the teams are shaking things up by working together as one group, and though growing pains are inevitable, they believe they can work best together.

 

3 Reasons You Need Our Academic Site License

Originally published on the official National Instruments Blog.

Between the rising expenses of classes, textbooks, and mandatory tech, students and university programs need all the help they can get. Our Academic Site License (ASL) lets your academic institution partner with us to provide students, professors, and researchers with access to software, learning materials, and online courses.

Real World Experience

An ASL gives students access to tactile experiences that build their intrinsic engineering knowledge. Just ask Naval Academy professor John Roth.

His partnership with us provided his students with knowledge and hands-on experience that wouldn’t be possible without an ASL.

One project in particular involved launching a weather balloon, collaboratively built by the students. His project used the strongest benefits of an ASL, providing students with hands-on application that left them a real sense of accomplishment.

See for yourself: 

Better use of lab time

More experimentation; less set up. Installing our software on lab computers andstudent’s laptops allows pre-lab assignments or code up experiments to be completed when it works best for students.

For Roth, this meant assigning work outside class and allowing students to focus on the application in the lab. Building up familiarity and proficiency with the platform ahead of time let students focus on more demanding challenges in the lab, producing higher quality projects by the end of the semester.

Time efficiency through central IT management
Managing multiple single seat licenses, with individual start and end dates, varying access toolkits and modules, and separate costs puts a large burden on your IT department.

Bringing your licensing maintenance and management together under a single roof saves significant IT manpower. Our licensing software lets you integrate with industry standard license managers to provide one central place to maintain, manage and distribute licenses to your end users.

ASL owners also get access to the majority of LabVIEW toolkits and modules, as well as all previous versions. This lowers compatibility conflicts with older systems and streamlines collaboration with other NI software users inside and outside your university.

Success at a fraction of the full cost

Suited to teaching, research or student design, the software included in the ASL would cost more than ten time as much if purchased as individual licenses. Unhindered access to the significant majority of our software lets you build any application for a single, low price.

ASL Software.png

With his ASL, Professor Roth guaranteed access to specialized tools like LabVIEW Communications, specifically for prototyping wireless systems.

When the balloon launched required students out on the road to troubleshoot and provide on-the-go analysis from a chase vehicle using HAM Radio and USRP. None of this would have been possible without taking LabVIEW outside the laboratory.

Every student. Every lab. Every researcher.

An Academic Site License is a student, instructor, and researcher’s best path to using our software.

Pursue a site license at your academic institution >>

Already have an ASL? Visit the Courseware Portal to ensure you have the latest version of all the software and take advantage of the latest courseware available.