Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A time for projects

With my wife out of town this weekend, I already knew that I was going to spend most of my time indoors.

Yep, when I've got a block of time in the house alone, I'm one of those men who lets the place get within an inch of a health hazard before washing his first dish. I eat terribly and I watch a lot of movies. Not that I couldn't watch a lot of movies with my wife around -- she's been known to like a movie or two in her day -- but she doesn't have the stamina for a good movie marathon or three. I watched three movies Saturday, two Sunday, and am expecting to end up watching two tonight. It's getting late and I haven't started the second one yet, so we'll see.

But I also spent a lot of time watching baseball, and a smaller amount of time watching football. Neither of these things requires 100% of your attention 100% of the time, so having them on in the background is perfect for ...

... projects.

Yep, projects. And I just love projects. But I'm not talking about your typical husband projects, like drywalling or cleaning out the gutter. No, these are movie projects, pure and simple. New lists. Expansions of current lists. That kind of thing.

I first wrote about Flickchart almost two weeks ago, and I'm going to let you follow the link to read what I wrote then, rather than recapping what Flickchart is here. Although I haven't mentioned it again since then, that's not because it hasn't been dominating my brain. It has. I've been building up my list of movies to rank, and ranking like crazy. I crossed 20,000 rankings at the end of last week, and 2,500 movies earlier tonight.

But I didn't rank much this weekend, because I had a different project in mind: To start tracking my rankings over time.

See, I want to know when I've got a list that actually looks like the right rankings. A list where Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't as high as #985, and Eight Men Out isn't as low as #1,597. With Flickchart, the movies you duel are random -- though there are some funny thematic similarities in certain duels that can't be coincidental -- so it's hard to know how long it will take before Eight Men Out will come up against some worthy opponents, or enough movies will leapfrog Crystal Skull and force it downward to where it belongs. It'll happen over the course of time, but only by recording the changes in the rankings will I actually know when I'm getting close.

So here was the idea: Take a snapshot at 20,000, then another at 30,000. Then compare. And then again at 40,000. And so on.

Problem was, I didn't actually think of this idea until I was already past 20,000. So I stopped myself at 21,400, and will hit the others every 10,000 on the dot.

So how to do this? Flickchart unfortunately does not provide an easy-to-export listing of your movies, one per line, as many as you want per screen. Rather, you have to plod through, page by page, with each page holding 50 titles and some of their relevant stats, taking up a good 1-2 inches in height on the screen. That meant to record all these rankings, I'd have to go through 50 such pages.

(Another reason I wanted to do this: In case Flickchart craps out and loses all my data, I don't want all of this ranking to have been for naught. The site has a lot to handle and it frequently times out, so I need to make backups).

So I made up an Excel spreadsheet with four columns: ranking, title, year, director. This forethought would allow me to explore later on which years are the best quality, which directors make my favorite movies, etc. etc. Not strictly necessary, but I'll thank myself for it later on.

And went through, page by page, painstakingly recording all 2,484 titles. All the while getting more feverish, because I would soon find out which film actually ranks last of all the movies I've seen.

I first started by going slowly, moving the cursor down just enough to see the title, then seeing if I could guess the director and the year. At about 200 titles this got tedious, and I sped up. I'd do 50 at a time, then break -- and then when the Yankees-Angels game went into the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th innings, I just went as quickly as I could without stopping. I got through about 1,300 on the first day, and managed to get to #2,484 a little after midnight last night. With breaks in between to watch movies and stuff.

What I hope to do with this data, when I get to 30,000, is see which movies have moved up, which moved down, and which held. (Very few of them will probably hold the exact ranking). Then I will compare to the previous ranking, and include a new column, which shows the total positions jumped or the total positions dropped. Though I'm curious about whether it's up or down, I'm more curious about accuracy. So it's an absolute value of that number, the number off from the previous 10,000. The theory is, when I add all those up, I'll have a base number of total position changes. Then at 40,000, I'll have another number, which will hopefully be smaller. As I go onward, the number will get smaller and smaller until the films are more or less where they should be.

Did you get exhausted just reading about it? Well, I won't have to do as much work next time. Next time, I'll at least already have all the titles in, so I won't have to write those again. (I'm also keeping track separately of the new titles I've added, so I can just group those in). I will have to do a lot of clicking to find the new ranking, but hopefully that will take less time. And if it doesn't ... well, this process is a work in progress.

And tonight the project continued. Not only have I been allowed to start ranking again after my pause to take the snapshot, but I've also gone through my big daddy of all lists, the Excel spreadsheet that contains all the movies I've ever seen. I checked off all the movies I was already ranking, and looked to see how many others I was still missing. Finished that, too, so now all the movies I've seen, that are available to rank on Flickchart, are in there.

And one great thing about Flickchart: you can add movies yourself for the site's editors to consider. You fill in the details -- director, stars, year, etc. -- and they check your work before going to find poster art for each movie. The four I added today are now listed as in pending status, which means hopefully I'll be able to rank them soon. If I want another project -- which I most certainly do -- I can go through and add all 300-some titles that I've seen that they don't have. And then we'll really be in business.

Sound crazy? Ah, but isn't that the essence of all hobbies?

Oh, so you want to know what #2,484 was? You've probably figured it out already: David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Which, in a way, shows how far this project still has to go. No, I don't like A History of Violence, though I will stop short of saying I hate it. And because I stop short of saying that, there's no way it could truly be last in my rankings. But I can see why Flickchart would see it that way -- reviewing my personal stats for the film, I saw that I had ranked it 53 times, and it had only won a single solitary duel. Just bad luck, I guess -- it had yet to come up against any of the 300-400 films it would certainly beat. (I felt a little better about things when it did come up against such a film today, and jumped up to #2,044).

You've got your projects. I've got mine. Don't judge.

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