December 2013 Media Thread

by ArisKatsaris1 min read2nd Dec 201354 comments


Personal Blog

This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. Post what you're reading, listening to, watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing! To see previous recommendations, check out the older threads.


  • Please avoid downvoting recommendations just because you don't personally like the recommended material; remember that liking is a two-place word. If you can point out a specific flaw in a person's recommendation, consider posting a comment to that effect.
  • If you want to post something that (you know) has been recommended before, but have another recommendation to add, please link to the original, so that the reader has both recommendations.
  • Please use the comment trees for genres. There is a meta thread for comments about future threads.
  • If you think there should be a thread for a particular genre of media, please post it to the Other Media thread for now, and add a poll to the Meta thread asking if it should be a thread every month.
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Nonfiction Books Thread

I suppose they're being adapted into books. I'm archive-binging Phil Sandifer's Tardis Eruditorium, a psychogeographical history of Doctor Who. It's most interesting and entertaining, speaking as someone who watched the classic series when in the target demographic for it. The main message I'm getting is that fanboys are a curse.

Some books I liked this year:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg

Maximum Willpower: How to Master the New Science of Self-Control by Kelly McGonigal

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee

The New Few: A Very British Oligarchy by Ferdinand Mount

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better by Tyler Cowen

The God Species: How Humans Really Can Save the Planet . . . by Mark Lynas


Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown

I think the titles are self-explanatory . . . if I had to recommend just one book it would be The Power of Habit

Podcasts Thread

iTunes has lots of fantastic history podcasts offering collectively thousands of hours of free entertainment including: Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, History According to Bob, History of the Crusades, The History of WWII Podcast, The History of Rome, When Diplomacy Fails, Norman Centuries, Revolutions, The History of Byzantium, and the British History Podcast.

Other Media Thread

I wonder if this is a bit more publicity than gwern bargained for.

Is it the same gwern?

How many Gwern Branwens do you know of?

(Yes, it is.)

Well, "gwern" a name I'd only seen associated with our fellow poster, and from what I've read (related to his adventures with The Silk Road), it seems like he's tried to stay relatively detached from his real-life identity, so I didn't assume that this Gwern is also our gwern. Makes sense, though.

[-][anonymous]8y 7

Gwern Branwen is not called Gwern Branwen, so the real-life identity is protected.

gwern is very active online and has been for a long time, it shouldn't be hard to dox him if someone develops an interest in that.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

I vaugly recall he doxed himself on hackernews a while back.

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Oh, I see. Okay, this all makes a lot more sense now. Thanks for the clarification.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

(ctrl+f "gwern")

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[-][anonymous]8y 0

(ctrl+f "gwern" to skip to the relevant part)

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Manga Thread

I read Yotsuba&! (all volumes) for I think the fifth time this year. It's a gentle comedy about a five year-old girl and her single-parent father. It's currently Japan's bestselling Manga.

Liar Game. To quote GeeJoe on Reddit: "A detailed exploration of psychology and game theory. Throughout the tournament, the anonymous organisers introduce increasingly complex scenarios for the "contestants" to act out. The solutions are all discoverable if you want to think them through for yourself (though the optimal strategy is, after the first one or two, often incredibly non-obvious or counter-intuitive at first glance). Or you can just sit back and enjoy the protagonists solving it themselves." I rather enjoyed the character's personalities combined with the actual game-theory content; it seems to be in a way like a more serious version of what many people like about the series Death Note.

Short Online Texts Thread







Online Videos Thread

Fanfiction Thread

[-][anonymous]8y 2

Through the Well of Pirene. A pony fic. It doesn't have rationalist themes, nor a clever philosophical plot, but it has great characters, atmosphere, dialogue and everything else that makes up awesome writing.

Wow, this is an interesting place to get a recommendation from.

It's ironic you say that, because I am personally very dedicated to rationalism. My story, Pirene, is not directly focused on rationalism and a philosophical plot, indeed - it's really mostly intended to be a young adult adventure.

I would say that skepticism and inquiry do inform my writing and the actions of my characters, though. So take that for what it's worth~!

Fiction Books Thread

Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. Rollicking adventure stories, without excess attention to cohesiveness or anything other than fun. Good to see from a solid SF author. Also, every book after the first was written for the money.

I really enjoyed those as a kid.

Some novels I really enjoyed this year:

A Song of Fire and Ice. This is the series of books that the TV show Game of Thrones is based on. I read if for the second time this year and enjoyed it more than I did the first time.

The OreImo light novel translations by NanoDesu (online). This is a Japanese light novel series - a comedy about a teenage brother and sister with a love-hate relationship. If you like anime and manga, you might like it.

Wool by Hugh Howey and its prequel Shift. Wool is a dystopian science fiction novel set in an underground community (I mean, literally under the ground). I'm looking forward to reading the third book in the trilogy, Dust.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and its sequel Little House on the Prairie. These are children's books about life on the frontier in North America in the late 19th Century (I think?). I found them very interesting in their portrait of what life was like for a mostly self-sufficient frontier family.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. This is a fluffy but entertaining British chick-lit comedy-romance about a high-powered financial lawyer who messes up big time at work, runs away, and becomes a maid to a middle-aged nouveau riche couple.

Television and Movies Thread

I started watching Breaking Bad. It's generally awesome in every way. One thing that really stands out to me is how lies are contagious and rapidly increase in complexity, needing more and more covering stories to cover the gaping contradictions and loose ends.

[-][anonymous]8y 5

Also the amazing power of rationalization, and the nature of revealed preferences.

Amazing series, probably my all-time favorite. Walter's character is brilliantly developed, and what I found amazing is the credible portayal of a smart man who has to deal with unexpected problems. He doesn't have a magic staff, but he is usually able to use his intelligence to find a solution to the problems he has to face. What's brilliant is that you can see or at least reconstruct his thought process (no "magical deductions" à la Sherlock Holmes) and very often things go wrong beacause of something he didn't know or couldn't predict, pretty much as it happens in the real world. Despite that, he never gives up and looks for a better fixing (with all the most catastrophic consequences).

I see Walter as a man with a high IQ who when making big decisions acts foolishly because of pride, and this is why things go wrong for him.

It also illuminates the sin of pride--an important exercise given the high value our culture places on self-esteem.

Disney's Frozen has an interesting demonstration of the importance of caution when creating sentient artificial intelligences in Olaf, the talking snow golem. He shares very many human values, likes warm hugs, and agrees that eternal winter is a bad thing because summer is so very fun. He just can't wait to go out on the beach and... do whatever it is snow does in hot weather.

Two of the protagonists debate whether they should tell him.

Frozen is a decent movie by today's standards. But turns out I'm a grumpy old man who hates the values of modern movies. Explaining why will take spoilers, so prepare ye for a wall of rot13 (which is long because I want to make this accessible to people who haven't seen the movie):

Sebmra unf sbhe cevznel punenpgref: Ryfn, gur ryqre fvfgre, Naan, gur lbhatre fvfgre (obgu cevaprffrf), Unaf, gur punezvat cevapr, naq Xevfgbss, gur vpr zrepunag. Ryfn unf gur zntvp cbjre gb perngr vpr; cynlvat jvgu Naan bar avtug, fur nppvqragnyyl fubbgf ure jvgu vpr, naq Naan vf frevbhfyl vawherq. N gebyy urnyf Naan naq nygref ure zrzbevrf, gryyvat gur xvat gung Ryfn arrqf gb yrnea gb pbageby ure cbjref be greevoyr guvatf jvyy unccra. Gur xvat gryyf Ryfn gb uvqr ure cbjref naq ercerff gurz naq bgure rzbgvbaf. Ryfn naq Naan fgbc orvat sevraqf orpnhfr Ryfn ybpxf urefrys va ure ebbz.

Yvxr nyzbfg nyy Qvfarl cneragf, gur xvat naq dhrra cebzcgyl qvr. Snfg sbejneq n srj lrnef, naq Ryfn'f pbebangvba qnl vf urer, nybat jvgu nyy bs gur sbervta qvtavgnevrf. Gur pnfgyr tngrf ner bcrarq, naq Naan vf rpfgngvp ng gur bccbeghavgl gb svanyyl zrrg crbcyr gung nera'g freinagf, naq rkpvgrqyl fvatf nobhg zrrgvat ure gehr ybir ng gur onyy nsgre gur pbebangvba.

Ragre Unaf, gur unaqfbzr naq fzbbgu cevapr, jub nccrnef gb or n terng zngpu sbe Naan, pngpuvat ure jurarire ure njxjneqarff pnhfrf ure gb snyy, naq fvatvat n qhrg jvgu ure. Gurl rkpvgrqyl qrpvqr gb trg ratntrq, naq tb gb Ryfn sbe ure oyrffvat. Ryfn ershfrf gb tvir ure oyrffvat, fur naq Naan svtug, jvgu Naan fangpuvat Ryfn'f tybir, naq gura Ryfn'f natel unaq zbirzrag gheaf vagb n jnir bs vpr zntvp.

Ryfn syrrf vagb gur avtug, jvgu fhzzre encvqyl gheavat vagb jvagre orpnhfr bs ure zntvp; Naan qrpvqrf gb frg bss nsgre ure, naq gryyf Unaf gb fgnl ng gur pnfgyr naq znantr gur gbja'f pevfvf. Ur qbrf fb pbzcrgragyl.

Naan zrrgf hc jvgu Xevfgbss, gur ybare vpr zrepunag, naq gbtrgure gurl znxr vg hc gur zbhagnva gb gur vpr cnynpr Ryfn ohvyqf sbe urefrys jvgu ure zntvp. Xevfgbss, jub zbpxrq Naan sbe trggvat ratntrq gur qnl fur zrg n thl, svaqf gur vpr cnynpr ernyyl vzcerffvir, qrpynevat "vpr vf zl yvsr!"

Ng nobhg guvf cbvag, gur raqvat V'z ubcvat sbe vf gung Unaf naq Naan trg zneevrq, Xevfgbss naq Ryfn trg zneevrq, Ryfn noqvpngrf gur guebar gb Naan orpnhfr fur'q zhpu engure unat bhg ba zbhagnvagbcf pensgvat vpr guna qrny jvgu crbcyr, naq Naan trgf gb ubyq nyy gur cnegvrf gung fur jnagf gb ubyq. Rkgebiregf naq vagebiregf obgu jva!

Naan zrrgf Ryfn, jub unf yrg ure unve qbja naq vf ybivat yvsr ba gur zbhagnva, jurer fur'f svanyyl serr gb hfr ure cbjref jvgubhg gur evfx bs uhegvat nalbar. Rkprcg, bbcf, fur'f sebmra gur swbeq gur gbja vf ba, naq hayrff fur fbzrubj gheaf vg bss vg'f onq arjf sbe rirelbar. Fur sernxf bhg gung ure serrqbz vf na vyyhfvba, naq guvf gvzr zbegnyyl jbhaqf Naan. Xevfgbss ehfurf ure gb gur gebyy, jub qrpynerf gung bayl na npg bs gehr ybir pna fnir ure sebz Ryfn'f vpr nebhaq ure urneg.

Xevfgbss gura ehfurf ure onpx gb gur gbja naq Unaf, jurer Unaf jvyy xvff ure naq fnir ure yvsr. Ng guvf cbvag zl ubcrq-sbe raqvat vf fgvyy cbffvoyr ohg gur ahzore bs bofgnpyrf va gur jnl ner tebjvat.

Unaf vf nobhg gb xvff Naan- naq gura erirnyf gung, fhecevfr! Ur npghnyyl qbrfa'g ybir ure, bayl jnagrq gur guebar, naq jnf cynaavat gb xvyy ure fvfgre riraghnyyl naljnl. Orpnhfr bs pbhefr jr pna'g unir n punezvat cevapr npghnyyl or n tbbq thl va n zbivr.

Inevbhf ghezbvy naq rkpvgrzrag unccraf. Naan guvaxf gung npghnyyl Xevfgbss vf ure gehr ybir, orpnhfr ur qrpvqrq gb tb ba gur nqiragher jvgu ure vafgrnq bs yrggvat ure serrmr nybar, naq gura nggrzcgf gb fnpevsvpr urefrys gb fnir Ryfn sebz Unaf- juvpu gheaf bhg gb or gur npg bs gehr ybir juvpu zrygf gur vpr nebhaq ure urneg. Ryfn ernyvmrf "bu, bs pbhefr, V'z va n Qvfarl zbivr- ybir vf gur grnpure'f cnffjbeq! Onz, rgreany jvagre bire." Gur pnfgyr tngrf ner bcrarq hc creznaragyl. Unaf vf frag onpx gb uvf ubzr pbhagel va punvaf, naq n qhxr V unira'g zragvbarq jub'f n greevoyr qnapre jvgu unve ybff gung gevrq gb xvyy Ryfn (nsgre gur jubyr "V'z na vpr jvgpu jub'f tbvat gb zheqre rirelbar jvgu jvagre" vapvqrag, juvpu frrzf fbeg bs whfgvsvrq gb zr) unf genqr fnapgvbaf vzcbfrq ntnvafg uvf pbhagel, qrfcvgr gurz orvat n znwbe genqvat cnegare. Naan ercynprf Xevfgbss'f byq fyrq gung jnf jerpxrq va gur ehfu gb ernpu Ryfn jvgu n arj, snapvre fyrq. Gur zbafgebhf fabj tbyrz Ryfn znqr svaqf gur pebja Ryfn qvgpurq va ure vpr cnynpr, naq qryvtugf va orvat n cerggl cevaprff (jryy, dhrra). Naq... gung'f gur erfbyhgvba.

Abj, sbe pbagenfg, yrg'f ybbx ng nabgure zbivr. Creuncf vg jnf ba zl zvaq orpnhfr gur gurngre V fnj Sebmra ng cynlf ybgf bs byq zbivrf, naq jr'er nccebnpuvat Puevfgznf, ohg Juvgr Puevfgznf vf fb byq gung vg jnf yvgrenyyl zl tenaqcneragf' svefg qngr zbivr. Vg nyfb unf sbhe znva punenpgref- n cnve bs thlf naq cnve bs tveyf (nyfb fvfgref). Gur pybfrfg guvat gur zbivr unf gb n ivyynva vf vtabenapr (jryy, naq na rnirfqebccre), naq (fcbvyref!) raqf jryy sbe onfvpnyyl rirel punenpgre. Gur thlf naq tveyf cnve hc va tbbq zngpurf, naq vg'f yvxryl Qnivf jvyy trg uvf 45 zvahgrf n qnl. Gur ergverq trareny vf erzvaqrq gung ur'f abg sbetbggra ol nyy uvf byq fbyqvref jub yrnir gurve snzvyvrf bhg bs yblnygl gb fbzrguvat ynetre guna gurzfryirf, naq gur hafrnfbanoyr jrngure oernxf naq vg fabjf va gvzr sbe Puevfgznf.

Pbzcner gb Xevfgbss trggvat n arj fyrq, Unaf orvat vzcevfbarq, naq gur crbcyr bs Jrfrygba naq Ryfn'f xvatqbz obgu fhssrevat sebz genqr orvat phg bss orpnhfr bs crefbany navzbfvgl orgjrra haryrpgrq yrnqref. Orfvqrf Ryfn qrpvqvat gb bcra urefrys hc rzbgvbanyyl gb crbcyr, vg'f abg pyrne nalbar vf fvtavsvpnagyl orggre bss. Xevfgbss abj unf na bssvpvny gvgyr, juvpu vf cebonoyl jbegu fbzrguvat, ohg erznvaf n ybare envfrq ol gebyyf. (Bu lrnu, vg'f urnivyl vzcyvrq gurl xvqanccrq uvz sebz uvf npghny snzvyl, ohg fbzrubj gung vfa'g na vffhr?) Znlor ur naq Naan ner oblsevraq-tveysevraq? Ohg gura gur pbhagel vf jbefr bss orpnhfr vafgrnq bs na nqinagntrbhf zneevntr gb, fnl, fbzrbar jub'f fghqvrq fgngrpensg, gur frpbaq va yvar gb gur guebar pna zneel fbzrbar jubfr cevznel fxvyy vf phggvat hc vpr naq jub cvpxf uvf abfr naq rngf vg. Ohg nccneragyl gung fbeg bs qlanfgvp guvaxvat- be, ernyyl, pbaprea sbe nalbar abg va n aneebj pvepyr bs sevraqf naq snzvyl- vf whfg gbb sbervta gb zbqrea fpevcgjevgref.

Vg jnf n pyrire pbaprvg gung gur cevaprff jnf gur qbre bs gur npg bs gehr ybir, engure guna gur erpvcvrag. Ohg V pna'g or gur bayl bar gung jvfurf zber zbivrf unq ab punenpgref gung jrag orlbaq abezny uhzna frysvfuarff naq sbyyl, juvpu ner zvfrel rabhtu, naq raqrq jryy sbe rirelbar vaibyirq. Vg jbhyq nyfb or avpr vs, lbh xabj, jr npghnyyl tbg fbzr cevaprf jbegu rzhyngvat naq/be yhfgvat nsgre, engure guna na raqyrff fgernz bs onq rknzcyrf? (Juvpu erzvaqf zr: Fyrrcvat Ornhgl, gung Qvfarl pynffvp nobhg gur thl naq ryqreyl srznyr urycref jub fnir n tvey sebz na rivy ovgpu jub qrpvqrq gung gur evtug jnl gb erfcbaq gb abg trggvat n cnegl vaivgngvba jnf gb zheqre n puvyq, vf orvat ervagrecergrq nf gur gnyr bs ubj onq puvyqubbq rkcrevraprf whfgvsl orvat rivy. NUUUUU)

V, gbb, sbhaq gur "unaqfbzr cevapr" ersrerapr pbashfvat - nygubhtu V jbhyq abg or uhtryl fhecevfrq vs lbh unq vqragvsvrq n cnggrea V unir abg.

Gur rguvpny vffhr vf zhpu zber rivqrag, nygubhtu V fhccbfr lbh pbhyq nethr vg'f cerfrag va znal byqre jbexf nf jryy - vg'f bsgra hapyrne jurgure jr'er fhccbfrq gb purre sbe gur cebgntbavfg orpnhfr gurl'er evtug be orpnhfr gurl'er flzcngurgvp, rfcrpvnyyl fvapr rira gur zbfg bcrayl jebat bs pubvprf jvyy cebonoyl jbex bhg naljnl va beqre gb unir n unccl raqvat.

V'z vapyvarq gb guvax gung zbfg jbexf (zbfg zbqrea jbexf? Guvf ernyyl arrqf shegure fghql) ner rffragvnyyl nzbeny, fvapr jung'f yvxnoyr vf abg gur fnzr nf jung'f rguvpny. Guvf znl unir ynetre vzcyvpngvbaf, npghnyyl, rfcrpvnyyl vs lbh oryvrir gung cbchyne gnyrf (hfrq gb?) pbzzhavpngr fbzr fbeg bs rguvpny zberf sbe n fbpvrgl.

I saw the path Frozen's plot took as well done.

I liked the fact that Anna's relationship with Hans didn't work out. Disney went out of its way to poke holes in the traditional 'love at first sight' meme, something I think is a huge improvement on how Disney portrays most relationships. Furthermore, they showed Anna and Kristoff's relationship to grow on a solid foundation over time, and to be mutually pursued, as opposed to being a one-sided chase. Whereas Anna wanted her relationship with Hans to miraculously change her life, her relationship with Kristoff is an important part of her life without being her reason d'etre. All of this, to me, seems much better than the stereotypical fairytale romance.

Yes, Elsa doesn't end up with a relationship. Which isn't really a problem to me. She has personal problems she needs to work out, and she doesn't show any interest in a relationship. So a relationship is unnecessary.

You made a rather big deal out of the trade deal being broken and the ramifications thereof. But honestly, I think it was the right decision. The mayor of Wesseltown shows a clear desire to exploit the resources of Elsa's kingdom (in classic Disney fashion, he says so out loud). He bears them no good will. When Elsa's power broke loose, a potentially salvageable situation was ruined by his hostile reaction. And when they attempted to capture Elsa, his orders to kill her almost got people killed and came dangerously close to permanently ruining any hope of resolving the eternal winter. He showed a clear disregard for their kingdom's well-being, demonstrated an inability to see past his own prejudices, and tried to KILL THEIR QUEEN. Any one of these would be good reason to break off trade. In particular, the political ramifications of a show of weakness on the order of ignoring an attempted assassination are probably much worse than loss of trade.

Fairytale stories have a habit of setting up female protagonists as damsels (who am I kidding, stories in general have this habit). Time after time after time we see female characters put in situations where their only hope is for the strong male to save them. This trope could see some time without use, which is what we saw in Frozen. Disney played on our expectations of Anna being saved by her newly minted boyfriend's love so they could violate that expectation. Instead they showed a selfless act, reconciliation, and a long-term bond as the ingredients for an act of true love. I think that's a good thing.

Yes, in the end things were not perfect. Elsa still needs to learn how to deal with people. Anna is a bit more idealistic and naive than is healthy. Kristoff still needs to learn how to deal with people. The trade repercussions with Wesseltown are going to suck. Which I find a nice change of pace from the neat and tidy "happily ever after" endings. Life goes on, still imperfect but better than before.

(Can't say anything about Sleeping Beauty. I haven't really been paying attention to it.)

Spoilers? You may want to rot13 that.

Orpnhfr bs pbhefr jr pna'g unir n punezvat cevapr npghnyyl or n tbbq thl va n zbivr.

??? This is the case in literally every other disney movie. Or if you're just complaining about this specific movie, you might as well ask "why do Romeo and Juliet have to die at the end of the play, it would be a much better story if they lived happily ever after."

This is the case in literally every other disney movie.

Most Disney movies are not modern, and most of the modernish Disney movies have princes lacking in charm. The last one that has a competent 'prince' is probably Mulan, which came out 15 years ago.

you might as well ask "why do Romeo and Juliet have to die at the end of the play, it would be a much better story if they lived happily ever after."

Yeah, I'm not sure I'm that happy with a story where ignorance is the primary driver of suicide.

Flynn Ryder (from Tangled) is actually pretty competent at his actual job (stealing things).

Agreed, but I wouldn't put him in the 'prince' category.

The two things I really enjoyed watching this year were The Queen's Classroom, a Japanese Drama serial from 2005 about the elementary school teacher from Hell, and WataMote, an anime serial which is a black comedy about a high-school student with social anxiety disorder. I loved both of them, and would happily watch them again.

  • Ne Obliviscaris - Portal of I is one of my favorite albums to come out this year, and perhaps of all time. It's heavy metal, but it's way more intelligent, progressive, and downright beautiful than most music that can be called metal. The violinist/singer really set this band apart.

  • Anaal Nathrakh - Forging Towards The Sunset is a brutally heavy song off of their 2012 CD. Violent, passionate, and triumphant -- an excellent motivator to get up and conquer the day.

  • Devin Townsend - Ghost For someone that's ordinarily responsible for ridiculously heavy music like this or this, Ghost is an exceptionally cool, calm, and peaceful album. Great to relax with after the day's conquering.

I was really excited by the violinist part but then it also has the machinegun drumming constantly in the background that for me always drowns out the more beautiful parts unless I play it too loud :(

The album has a lot of variety in the drumming. While there is faster and heavier drumming when it's called for, the drummer also does a great job of reigning it in and playing softer where appropriate. It's worth listening to the whole album -- there are some really beautiful moments in there! Starting here (Damn, link doesn't work -- 28 minute mark) is some really amazing violin/guitar playing.

Ólafur Arnalds--contemporary classical, mostly strings+piano+electronics. Try the Living Room Songs for something spare and minimally-produced (I like "Film Credits"), and "3055" which starts slowly and builds eventually to a more powerful climax.

Max Richter--contemporary classical, strings-heavy, melancholy. Try "On The Nature Of Daylight" first.

Loquat--lyrics-heavy melodic San Francisco pop. Lots of rationalist-friendly lyrics, including "Comedown's Worse" and "Harder Hit"; "Time Bending" is genuinely geeky.