Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: SWTOR MMO Beta

I've examined the NDA for my beta test this weekend, so this post will avoid specifics and deal in only generalities.

The short version is: I liked it, but not sure I want to buy it.

The longer version is:

Jean and I played up to 13 or so over the weekend, in a real binge run that took most of Saturday and part of Sunday. I'm sure that if I wasn't binging, I probably would've liked it more. Jean stuck to the force-user healy class (shocking!) while I went with the blaster-wielding DPS. First caveat: the roles in SWTOR are NOT as explicit as the roles in WoW, so I'm being a little cagy about it.

There are some very clear Bioware influences, too, including the morality slider and lots and lots of social interactions that change the way the world sees and responds to you. It's quite nifty.

Also, as Jean pointed out, the morality is much more clear. Unlike in WoW, where both sides are roughly morally equivalent, it's VERY clear who the bad guys are in SWTOR. The bad guys in SWTOR make the Empire from the SW movies look positively cuddly and attractive in comparison. I can see the appeal of playing that side of the conflict, but I'm not sure I'm going to like those people much. I'm certainly not going to like the characters much.

Ask me again in a week, when I haven't just come off a 20-hour bender, and I might've changed my mind. Because there's a LOT of good stuff in the game.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Wil Wheaton vs. Paul and Storm at the Aladdin

A caveat: I am a gigantic fan of everyone who performed on Wednesday the 16th -- the Doubleclicks were the opener -- so this particular review will likely not be particularly even-handed. There is no hate in this post, only love.

The Doubleclicks started the show, with a six-song set and five of the songs were new since the last time I was at a show for them. Sadly, I haven't been able to support them nearly as much as I wished, but they're starting to get a real name in the Nerdrock sub-genre, and that's very cool to me, considering that as a Doubleclique (the fan club) I have a serial number that, as far as I can tell, is the lowest number available. And I have a t-shirt with that serial number on it. So you could probably call me a fan, if'n you wanted. Aubrey (cello) and Angela (uke and guitar) are, as far as I can tell, a young and attractive female version of Paul and Storm. In the vein of Garfunkel and Oates, though really much more cerebral (not a knock on G&O; they're funny and good in their own way, but they're lots less... refined than DK).

Then Wil Wheaton came on and read some stories. Now, Wil Wheaton isn't exactly the most musically talented fella out there. But that's OK, because he's also the world's Alpha Geek and probably one of the better actors (voice and screen) of my generation. The fact that he's incredibly niche doesn't really matter in my ascertainment; he's brilliant, funny, moving, and a truly gifted actor. He read several stories, and one or two of them I've heard before, and two of them with musical accompaniment. And he hit it out of the park, a perfect balance of funny and moving, and a good breather between the laughs generated by Angela and Aubrey and Paul and Storm. It's been a real pleasure to be able to see someone who has found success in their chosen field by being true to themselves. I think it gives the rest of us hope.

The closing act was, of course, Paul and Storm. And it was as funny as expected; they did some of their old stuff, and some of their new stuff, and there were tons and tons of jokes, and thanks to Mr. Wheaton, there were a ton of Penn State jokes (of which Paul is an alum). Horribly, horribly inappropriate jokes, which had a number of people in the audience wavering back and forth as to whether they were upset or not. The cover band jokes were out in force as well, which is always a nice bit of comedy that takes both wit and cleverness on the instant. I'd love to say I was good at the game, but I'm nowhere near as good as the originators. As expected.

I have one complaint, just one, and it's going to be a repeating theme: not enough time. I'd've liked to hear one or two more songs from, basically, everyone (including Wil). I also understand why they weren't able to make that happen -- with the doors opening at 7 and the show starting at 8, to get out before midnight basically everyone has to do a short set, especially if the goal is to finish "The Captain's Wife's Lament" before the heat-death of the universe.

In summary, it was a great show, and well worth the money. The Aladdin Theatre is a great venue, and the performers were terrific. And I'm glad that my girlfriend was able to come with me, and had a good time. It was great to share it with her.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Artificial Heart

Having now purchased and listened to the new Jonathan Coulton album, I am reassured that my first impression of the newly-electrified and studioized JoCo was correct: I very much like his music, and his work is as good or better than his previous stuff, but his live shows suffer from the inevitable "volume problem" -- the plugged-in stuff ends up being played at a level that washes out the melodic subtleties that make his work really touching, as opposed to just clever.

Artificial Heart is really good. Like, really really good. Space Doggity, Always the Moon good. You should buy it now (go here) -- it's $10, which is a fucking steal these days -- and I especially encourage you to listen to Nemeses, Nobody Loves You Like Me, and Glasses if you're on the bubble about it.

JoCo has moved impressively past his "nerd-core" beginnings without forgetting about it or leaving his audience behind, finding a tone and voice that makes him a legitimate breakout threat as a crossover into a broader pop appeal. He's probably not as talented a singer/performer as Lady GaGa (who, sadly, has some serious fucking chops to back up her silly image) or some of the other arguable pop stars of today, but he makes up for it with a much, much more impressive songwriting ability, both lyrically and melodically. And, with the help of his producer John Flansburgh (of They Might Be Giants fame, himself no slouch as a performer/songwriter) he's put together a very, very good platform for his presentation to the bigger audience of consumers.

If you like pop music (and really, who doesn't these days?), then you should get this album. And if you liked JoCo and, like me, were unconvinced that his Dylan Moment was a good choice, then you should buy this album, because he's silenced my criticism pretty impressively.

And really, my opinion is the important one for his career, obviously.
Obligatory Politics Post:

GET INVOLVED. President Obama's "American Jobs Act" is probably the very least we can do to prevent a double-dip Recession and get us back on a possible path to recovery.

Contact your Congresspeople, contact the leadership, contact everyone you can think of and get them to pass the damn bill.

This link will tell you who your reps are.

This link is a list of the current leadership in both houses, and how to contact them.

Call, write, fax (don't email, email isn't impactful enough).


Friday, August 26, 2011

I seriously have to get better about this site.

I think the problem here is that I'm an active user of Google+, which damages my need/ability to spend much time posting on my blog. Especially since the feedback on G+ is nearly-instant, while the feedback here is nearly-nonexistent.

Things that have changed since my last post:

I'm seeing someone pretty seriously now, and I'm happy about it. I'm thinking about my job prospects. Work is starting to heat up as we approach the holidays. I saw Jasper again, and he's huge and willful and a beautiful boy whom I love more than ever. I've decided that waiting for the right time to start AP back up will mean that it will never happen, so I'm committing to just making it happen. I've got a Lvl-50 Tauren Protection Paladin on Proudmoore, and have joined a guild, and I already have a lvl-10 undead ranged hunter alt that I'm working with. I've got a couple of 360 games at home, but I'm not really playing them, because most of my time is being spent with Jean, doing things other than playing videogames.

My money crunch really hasn't cleared up, but I think I'm managing it moderately well so far.

I really want to make this a more viable location for my thoughts, but that'll require some integration work, which i just don't have the time and energy for right now.

Here's hoping I'm somehow magically better about this in the future.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Thoughts on video games

So, I did two things in the last week: finished L.A. Noire, and started playing World of Warcraft.

I'm going to talk about L.A. Noire first, because I've talked about my WoW experiences elsewhere.

So, first off: I liked it. It wasn't brilliant, and there were a number of things I didn't like (which I'll enumerate in a second) but I'd argue that it's probably the best noir feature since Brick. I liked that the main character was a deeply flawed, imperfect man who nonetheless tried to do the right thing, even when it wasn't easy. I liked that "the right thing" wasn't always clear, or the thing that gets you the best result in the game. It stuck to the noir concept that there are no good guys, just some that are worse than others. Also, it was incredibly gorgeous, with a very cool feature where it was in either an incredible, technicolor/panavision version, or a really amazing, crisp black-and-white version. It did not suffer from the usual 'too dark to make out' problem of many modern games, and I appreciate that.

Things I didn't like: the mocap facial functionality was a cool idea, but the mapping on the bodies/heads/necks of the characters wasn't always as smooth as it could've been, which often led to some problems with immersion. The cover-based-shooter portions of the game were, at best, crappy. And the driving portions of the game sucked outright. Thankfully, almost all of these portions of the game can be skipped without damaging the story, which is a feature I wish would get implemented in other games.

All in all, I would recommend this game to others. I'm not sure how hot the replayability of it is going to be, though.

Next, WoW. As is normal for me, I resisted entirely the idea of starting to play WoW until all of my friends had stopped playing, so I'm mostly experiencing the game solo at this point, with the possibility of playing with others in the future. Thus far, I'm enjoying some of the experience, while being entirely tired of some other parts. We'll see if I keep at it, but for now it's a laugh and I'm not overdoing it.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Can't Sleep. Home Improvement Dreams Will Eat Me.

I think I may have a bit of anxiety going on right now.

I say this because I am having the most realistic, vivid dreams I've had since high school (when I discovered lucid dreaming mostly in self-defense), and the dreams are all, I kid you not, nightmares about home improvement. And they're the worst kind of nightmares, that are absolutely terrifying while you're having them and then you wake up and realize that there was *nothing* terrifying or horrific about them. At all. The subject of the dream itself was entirely and completely mundane, and yet your heart is racing and there's sweat everywhere and your body apparently thinks that something just tried to kill you.

Case in point, the dream I had last night (which is all of a piece; my dreams are often serialized and this week has been no different) where I was remodeling my bathroom, woke up and forgot about the fact that the bathroom was under construction, took a shower, and then realized that there were giant holes in the floor and I had just flooded my basement and done huge damage to the floors and support beams of the house. I had that sick feeling you get when you realize you've just done something irretrievably stupid, irreversibly permanent, ludicrously expensive, and there is absolutely no one but yourself that you can blame for it. In the dream, I never actually went down to the basement, but I could hear the dripping water from the dark hole, and the creaking of the wet wood as it started to give (because, apparently in my dream, wood is water-soluble). And I was standing there trying to figure out how I was going to pay for the damage without robbing a bank or killing someone for the insurance money.

So, I suppose, the question is from where is this anxiety coming, and why suddenly now? I suppose it's a good thing I have therapy on Tuesday...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rerun: Great Old Movies (The Black and White Edition)

Because it's a bit scattered about, I'm reposting my "Great Old Movies" essay for a broader* audience, and because I don't talk enough about movies.

Inspired by a comment from a friend, my brain has been rifling through the databases in my consciousness and I keep thinking about those really excellent old black-and-white movies that made me fall in love with movies when I was a kid. Roger Ebert famously quotes his longtime-collaborator/frenimy Gene Siskel about the rule of thumb for judging whether a movie is good: "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" And since I love documentaries, it's hard for a movie to live up to my standards, but there are some amazing works out there. So here's some of my favourite old movies, in no particular order, so you can take a whack at them and see if you like them.

1) Bad Day at Black Rock. Spencer Tracy as a one-armed man in a small Nevada town. Probably the best modern western film ever made. Directed by John Sturges, who later on went on to make The Old Man and the Sea, The Magnificent Seven, and Ice Station Zebra (among others), here his spare, careful use of the camera as a framing device shows a brilliant eye for images. Black Rock is what Zack Snyder was trying to do with Watchmen.

2) Rear Window. I promise I will limit my number of Hitchcock movies to two, and this is one of them. Anyone who hasn't seen this movie hasn't actually seen a movie. Seriously. And if you can, see it in b&w; the Technicolor print is awful.

3) The Philadelphia Story. Oh, COME ON. When Jimmy Stewart is the THIRD BEST actor in a film, you might as well just buy a damn copy now.

4) Yojimbo. Remade in the US almost immediately as High Plains Drifter starring Clint Eastwood, the original story is well worth watching even with the subtitles. Akira Kurosawa may in fact be the greatest writer/director in history, but he's definitely in the top five, and this is the movie where you see him at his greatest. He also gets two entries in the list of 9 movies, but we'll get to the other one later.

5) It Happened One Night. There's a LOT of Frank Capra movies you should watch, but if you choose to only watch one, watch this one. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert is right up there with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Speaking of which...

6) His Girl Friday. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as the prototypical bickering couple. Some of the best dialogue ever written for the screen, a brilliant and funny comedy, and I would just point out that the murder being investigated by the characters involved is the C-plot in the script. This movie was instrumental for my voice as a writer. It doesn't matter what's happening, what matters is how the characters interact and how the words flow. Plot is just stuff going on in the background.

7) Rashomon. The first time I watched this movie, I couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 years old, and at the time it was as much of a kick in the teeth as reading Catcher in the Rye (which I finished probably a week before). It is a beautiful meditation on the power of human frailty and memory, and I can't BELIEVE they remade it into a bad thriller starring Dennis Quaid. This is the second of the two Kirosawa movies in my top nine.

8) North By Northwest. This is the other Hitch movie. Vertigo may be scarier, and Birds may be more disturbing, but NXNW is the most FUN of his thrillers. Plus, Cary Grant. I wanted to be him when I grew up. Then again, who didn't?

9) Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. I thought a lot about this last movie, but when it comes down to it this is the one that keeps coming back to me. Three of the four leads in this movie are giants: Spencer Tracy in his last, probably best romantic lead role. Katherine Hepburn in a defining comedic turn. And Sidney Poitier doing what he always did: bringing grace, poise, and intelligence to the incredibly sticky questions about race in America. This movie is ostensibly a comedy (there's some pretty funny moments with the ice cream), but it is also brutally honest about race and class and relations between the two. So much so that I'm shocked it ever got made, especially in 1967. But movies would not have been so great if not for these.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SEO baby!

The experience of having someone google me, and then googling myself, has amused me all out of proportion to the experience. For instance, my first google hit is my twitter feed, but my personal domain (where I assume someone might actually be reading this) doesn't appear in the first FIVE pages of searches. So anyone looking for information about me gets data that is either at least five years old, or my twitter feed (which isn't exactly an in-depth view of my life right now).

So what am I doing with my life right now?

1) Eating right and working out. A moderate change in my diet, coupled with a workout goal (a half-marathon at the end of June) has meant that I'm losing a moderate amount of weight and feeling better about my body. I'm not at my goal yet, but I'm moving in the right direction, and I feel good about working out instead of feeling it was a chore.

2) Working on my house. Yardwork right now, but I'm making a list of all of the improvements I want to make and prioritizing them. Not that anything *needs* to be done, but there's a lot of things I *want* to be done to make my house more into somewhere I'm ready to live for the next 29 years. I've owned this house for just short of a year now, and every week I find I'm more comfortable with that idea, and more ready to do something interesting to make it better.

3) Getting comfortable with my job. I've been in this new position since August, and it's pretty clear that I'm getting better at it every day. I'm also getting a lot of positive feedback both from my peers and my manager, as well as co-workers in other departments, that I am good at working with others, have an excellent grasp of the way things move and work, and have an acute vision that meshes well with the departmental goals. So I'm successful at my job, and everyone knows it. It's nice.

4) Getting out more. This is a relatively new one, but while I have an excellent circle of friends, they're a little... one-note. Gay Gaming Geeks make up 90% of my social interaction these days, and while that's fun and familiar, I need some diversity in my friendslist. So making time to meet and hang out with new people is a priority for me now. So far, so good.

5) Staying on budget. The plan right now is to be debt-free (excepting the mortgage) by the end of June. So far so good, but it's been tough. This is actually something I need to be better about. But here's hoping I can stay on track.

So that's my state-of-the-union.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Night Out

Portland turns out to be a really great town for going out and having a good time. Bar-hopping is not something I usually do, so I found a native guide, bribed him with trinkets and glass beads, and off we went to find pleasant vistas and tasty inbibants. Both, in fact, were had.

Places I'm interested in going back to: Lotus, the Turtle, and whatever that dive bar we finished up at was. Places I'll skip: Low Brow, Life of Riley, and the skeezy strip club on 3rd and Burnside. I stuck mostly to gin and tonics, since that is rather my go-to drink, and also because in my suit and hat I looked like an Ad Agency Man from 1960, it was genre-appropriate. I could've gone for a Tom Collins, but I'm not really a fan, so g&t for me.

Next time, though, I am going for the Doctor Who look. My new shoes are really pretty, but they're brand new, and that meant they gave me some pretty serious blisters. Four of them, the size of dimes, on my heels. Instead, I'll wear my canvas converse all stars and a no tie. But the suit was a huge hit; I got a number of compliments from complete strangers on it, as well as several flirty compliments on the hat.

So the goal was to go out to new places and meet new people, and in that it was a smashing success.

Also, my new nickname is Teddy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Nerds and Music at the Aladdin

The Nerds and Music show at the Aladdin was the show I was waiting for since I missed the last W00Tstock. The Jonathan Coulton show wasn't exactly bad, but it didn't scratch the itch I was feeling. I was hoping that this show would be as fun as past shows, and I was not left forlorn. Some interesting notes about the audience before I talk about the show itself. First, this audience skewed much older than the JoCo concert, like seriously so; there were a number of blue-haired old ladies at this show, and I have no idea why. There were also almost no children present, which was good, because the show got blue in the first fifteen seconds and stayed that way. Second, there were no talkers in the balcony this time, thank the gods. There was a bar, though, which I took advantage on a couple of occasions. And the balcony seats are much closer to the bathrooms, which I had to visit a depressing number of times.

I really like the Aladdin, and have almost no complaints about it, but the one quibble I have is the Merch Booth location. I understand why it's right next to the door, but it also makes getting out (or getting Merch) incredibly difficult at the end of the show. I have no idea where else to put it, though.

The opening act (all of three songs!) was The Doubleclicks, which is a local folk-nerd duo that I recently discovered. I'm unabashedly a fan, and while I wish they had been given more time, they knew their audience and picked three excellent songs. They were, of course, a big hit and everyone loved them which is to be expected, because they are enormously lovable. I was also hoping for more banter, but given they were short on time and justifiably visibly terrified, they did a great job and I hope to see them more often.

Next was Mike Phirman, standup comedian and musician whom I've seen before, and who is also half of Hard and Phirm, the West-Coast version of Paul and Storm. I've said a number of positive things about his set, and I still feel that it's quite strong, so I'll simply say that I wish he would've gotten more time, as well. He's a polished and professional standup comedian, and it shows in his set (though, personally, I'd like to see a little more variety in the jokes, but that's a personal bias rather than a comment to his competence). His music is also excellent.

After Mike was Hank Green, who is apparently internet-famous. My grandfather told me that if I couldn't say something nice, shut up and move on.

Moving on, the headliners of the night were, of course, Paul and Storm. They set the tone for the show all the way through, and did the usual excellent job of being brilliant, funny, touching, and riotous by turns, with the standard sprinkling of "x is my y cover band" jokes and some new music which I adored. They opened, as usual, with Opening Band, and finished, as is normal, with the Captain's Wife's Lament. I should point out: Longest. Lament. Evarrrrrr. The experience of listening to Paul and Storm on CD doesn't compare to a live P&S show (which is, amusingly, exactly the opposite feeling I have for most bands including JoCo).

In the end, it was a really excellent evening overall, and I'd see most of these acts again, and be happy to pay for the experience.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: The Doubleclicks at Guardian Games

Guardian Games got a liquor license at some point in the past, so they've started to host a "grown-up gaming" night: $10 gets you tickets for pizza and beer. This Thursday, they decided to have live music at the event, and the live music was The Doubleclicks, who are a musical twosome featuring acoustic guitar, cello, and two-part harmony. The pizza and beer stuff I could give less of a crap about, because I went to see the music. Suffice to say that the space is great for casual boardgames, and the beer and pizza selection is nice, but it's about the crappiest place you could set up for a band, especially an acoustic duet.

How to categorize the Doubleclicks? I'm not actually sure it's even necessary, since it's entirely possible to simply say they fall under the umbrella of "nerd music" and leave it at that. But for anyone who hasn't actually heard or doesn't actually follow the Nerd Music movement, I'll give it a shot. Bear in mind, this is me at my fucking-hipsterish worst, so I'm about to mention a bunch of bands that you probably haven't heard of, either, in an attempt to explain things. This will be fun for me, probably less so for you.

At the most basic, the Doubleclicks could be called a younger, female version of Paul and Storm. Or maybe Hard and Phirm. Or possibly a duet-version of Molly Lewis, minus the ukulele. Or a younger, less jokesy version of Garfunkel and Oates, maybe. Essentially, the sister-duo is a team of singer-songwriters who invoke serious musicianship (I mean, cello -- there's nothing more serious than a cello) to evoke good solid melodies underneath some impressively nerdy wordplay lyrics. I mean, there's really only a certain person who can really appreciate the pain expressed in "Apostrophe". And a perfect summation of nerd thinking in "This Fantasy World". Or the Undergrad Angst expressed by "Modern Poetry". Or the brilliant and entirely correct position of "I Hate Beatboxing". Or, for that matter, the soothing balm that is "The Internet Will Always Be Here".

Aside from the slight problem that the microphone wasn't turned up high enough, so it was moderately hard to hear the actual vocals, and the fact that maybe six people were paying attention to the show rather than talking and playing boardgames and whatnot, I really enjoyed the show. These kids are gifted! You want to go see them live. This is made easier, if you're in Portland, because they're local. And now that I know they exist, I'm likely to be going to more of their shows.

Check them out at their website, listen to some of their music on youtube, and give them money. And I hope I'll see you at the shows.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

iPad: The First Week

There are advantages to having an iPad handy, not the least of which is that I can now see the keyboard I'm trying to use to type. It's also a bigger screen, which makes it look clearer (though my understanding is that the screen is exactly the same as the iPhone 3G). I'm also getting relatively good at typing one-handed (though part of that is due to autocorrect). Having something handy to joy down my ideas may in fact be handy and a boon to my creativity. I will need a keyboard to do serious long-form work, since my hand gets pretty tired pretty quickly, but that's a relatively minor complaint.

My usage is obviously going to be less games than gaming; the various possible game apps hold no appeal, but there are some seriously nifty gaming and productivity tools that I'm chomping at the bit to snag and try out. It does mean that I'm now even more interested in finding a game to play rather than running my own, so I really want Brian to get his Ptolus game back up and running again.

I do think that a superhero game would be awesome. I just don't know what.

Things I do like about the iPad: ease of use. Ease of accessorizing.

I've been surprised at how much I've been using it for notes and work. Especially with the ability to sync in evernote, I've been surprisingly productive.

Note that the keyboard in landscape mode is a nearly perfect size for either one- or two-handed typing, but in portrait mode it's just too small.

I desperately needed a screen cover or something, so I bought one, but I'm hoping that the manual is correct and the bubbles will work out over the next couple days, because it looks terrible right now. I did manage to pick up a clever little carrying case / stand, which I've been testing out and seems ok. I'll probably see more once I've spent some time gaming with it.

I've tried writing on it, but there's an impulse, for whatever reason, to stop writing and do something else that's moderately more fun. Having an actual keyboard might help, but I noticed that having the bluetooth keyboard at gaming made it much more likely for me to write down notes and whatever rather than ignore or assume I'll remember it later (and then not remember it).

So far, it's a net win.

Monday, March 07, 2011

And people think this is fun?

Went to CrossFit for the first time tonight.

Good: the people were pretty awesome.
Bad: I was not ready for the workout.

Par exemplar: warmup was interesting with lots of squatting and stretching and balance-type work, and already had me jelly-limbed at the end, and then we did fundamentals learning, which was the overhead squat, which nearly killed me, and then the Renegade Row, which turned my arms to noodles. And then, after I was already tired and woogly and dying, we did the workout.

The workout was a 200 metre sprint, then 15 pushups, then a 200 metre sprint, then 10 renegade rows (on each side). And then do it all again. What I managed to do: 200M sprint #1, 15 pushups (at the knees), second 200M sprint (including a stop to puke in the bushes), and 5 renegade rows. And then my right calf cramped up so bad I couldn't straighten my foot, and one of the instructors spent the next 5 minutes massaging me out of my writhing in pain. I was trying not to cry in front of everyone, but it was both very painful and extremely humiliating. Now, everyone else was cool about it, but I felt completely wrecked. I suppose it's one way to DNF out of the workout, but it was pretty embarrassing. I made a comment that I need to go to the gym to go to this gym, and I'm not sure I'm far off.

I don't know. On the one hand, I actually did better than I thought I would, but wow did I fail spectacularly. I was DYING at the end, completely destroyed.

So that happened.

I couldn't resist, and didn't really want to. So I bought an iPad. First Gen, but they're on significant sale right now, so I can use this one until July or august, when I'll buy an iPad2 and give this one to someone else.

I named it "conspicuous consumption" because it seemed like truth in advertising.

FYI, this blog post is coming from inside the tablet!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Well, that's a start, anyway

So, yesterday between work and therapy, I talked to the CrossFit people, committed to the 3-class startup, scheduled my first visit to the gym on Monday, and started watching what I'm eating. A grand total of two meals so far, but it's working at this point. The hard part for me is going to be adding the vegetables and getting rid of the Coke; pasta I suppose I can live without, but avoiding the gluten / grain-based foods is going to be pretty hard, and giving up Coca-Cola I imagine will be nearly impossible, at least to start.

One step at a time, though. Get some momentum, build from the base. Don't worry about step 93 when I'm getting ready for step 1.

I'm not sure where this motivation and commitment is coming from, but I'm not quite stupid enough to look a gift horse in the mouth. Carpe Omnia.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Commit! Commit, damn you!

I used to joke, as recently as last month, that I knew I needed to be healthier but the choice of getting that way involved a lifestyle change to which I was not prepared to commit. I think, though, that the last trip to the ER where I was *content redacted* from my *content redacted* sealed the deal. I can't continue to live my life as if I were 25 and assume that my body will always recover from anything I put it through. I have real, chronic health problems that continue to affect my day-to-day situation, that have real, deleterious effects on my ability to function as a person. Note that it's not like I have anything serious like Crohn's Disease or Lupus or anything that many, many others that I know suffer through every day. In my case these are low-level, annoying-but-not-ultimately-fatal things like Kidneystones and Intermittent Benign Positional Vertigo and a bad back and weak knees. These are all things that with a proper diet, a good workout structure, and careful management of my time, attention, and focus. Part of it is recognizing that the foods that I eat (not even that I *like* to eat, just that I eat because I'm lazy or bored or anxious about something) are bad for me, and especially bad for my 'stone production. Part of it is recognizing that my back and knees are messed up because while I'm about right for a target weight, not enough of it is muscle and too much of it is fat in the wrong places. And part of it is recognizing that when I'm stressed I revert to behaviours that are not good for me, and finding other ways to deal with that stress.

So now I'm looking at my options. I need to find something that won't trigger my default response instantly dropping something that I'm not good at or don't like doing, and I need something that gets me out of the house and dealing with people that are not my current circle of friends (who are wonderful and supportive and awesome, but also not exactly the most health-conscious geeks out there), because I need more friends in my life and I think finding people to work out with will be a good way to in theory make more friends.

I hate my body. And it's pretty clear that my body isn't particularly fond of me at this point. So we both need to get together and do something to improve our relationship. And maybe this is the time to get it done.

Alternately, I may just buy an iPad and accept I'm going to be icky forever.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Well, that's incredibly annoying.

Someone decided to hijack my domain. Which is a pain in the ass.

So, I went in, blew away all of the content, dropped a new redirect to here, changed the password to something significantly harder to crack, and hopefully that will prevent this from happening again in the future, at least for a little while.

In the meantime, I expect my traffic to this blog won't, in fact, increase significantly...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: The New Jonathan Coulton

So, last night I went to see Jonathan Coulton fronting a new band, playing new music, and with a new opening act. It was... disappointing.

First, the good:

-- Mark Phirman, the opening act and 1/2 of Hard and Phirm, a.k.a "The West-Coast Paul and Storm", was excellent. His standup was funny, if rather scattershot (it's clear that he's an "alternative" comedian, that is that his idea of comedy is to stand and tell a bunch of jokes, as opposed to Louie CK or Janeane Garofalo who have jokes throughout a themed set with a throughline tying everything together), and his music is quite good if a little gimmicky. It's clear that he has much talent in both comedy and music, and I'd love to see him in longer form. In fact, I'm probably going to get tickets to "Nerds and Music" so I can see him again, this time with Paul and Storm.

-- The New Music was pretty good. There are some issues with it, which I'll cover in a later point, but on the whole it has the quirkiness and intelligence and subversive tone of earlier work, without feeling derivative or repetitive. The new backup band is integrated well in the new music, and it's clear that the skill in the musicians is present and will drive success to a wider, perhaps less nerdy audience.

-- The Old Stuff was also nice to hear. It's clear that while I might make "nerd hipster" jokes about it, JoCo hasn't forgotten his roots, and it was nice to see some of the "big" numbers played and celebrated, while also throwing in some more of his historically obscure work.

-- The Venue was excellent, as always. The Aladdin is a great space for performers and for the audience, as it's really hard to find a bad seat. This time I sat in the balcony and had possibly a better view of the stage than I did when sitting on the floor. They'd also moved out some seats to make room for a dance floor, leading to the experience of watching a Nerd Mosh Pit, which resembles a line for a unisex bathroom: a bunch of people standing alone, some jumping up and down, and frequent apologies for bumping into one another.

Now the bad stuff:

-- The Audience, at least on the balcony, was AWFUL. There were at least half a dozen people who *would not shut up*. Now, talking during the gaps between songs, I have no problem with. But who the hell talks *through* the songs? Especially when the volume levels make it a requirement that they shout in order to be heard by the person next to them (and therefore heard by pretty much everyone surrounding them)? The folk in the dance area / mosh pit looked like they were at least quieter, but they were also significantly younger... as in, there were plenty of kids whom I sure had *grade school* the next day. I have no complaints about them being there, but it made for an audience that I wasn't particularly enthused to be a part of. Not because they shouldn't like JoCo, but because I'm fundamentally uncomfortable around children.

-- The Plug-In was, in my opinion, not a great idea. Yes, I'm having a Dylan Moment here. The switch from acoustic to electric guitar has, in my humble opinion, done a great deal to lessen the cleverness of the musical portion of the work JoCo does. The lyrics for both new and old music are just as clever and insightful and impressive as ever, but the switch to electric has necessarily taken some of the smoothness and, well, intelligence I guess out of the melodies. In addition, the drive to electric has increased both the pace and the volume of the music to the point where a significant portion of the craft seems lost to me in the decibels. The guitar solo for ShopVac, for instance, is fun to listen to on an audio track or play on Rock Band, but in concert it just gets completely washed out. This, btw, is the point I said I'd make earlier. I'll not hesitate to buy his new record when it drops (and wow is that an archaic piece of language there), but I sincerely hope that the quality of the musicianship is greater on the album than it is in a live show.

-- The Humour was also something that rather hit me from the outfield. It turns out, in my perception of the experience, that JoCo comes off as not liking his fans much. Now, I know that's not the case; he's consistently said great things about his followers on a number of occasions. But for whatever reason, without the self-deprecating influence of Paul and Storm, JoCo, at least to me, came off as a bit of an asshole during the show. I know that there are lots of people who find that sort of vaguely insulting comedy funny, but my personal tastes prefer that if there's a joke being made it's about the speaker, not another target. I'm happy to make myself the butt of my own jokes, but I get uncomfortable if someone else makes jokes about me, or for that matter if someone I'm with makes a joke at a third-party's expense. It's entirely possible that that particular note has always been there, and I've just never seen it, or that this was a new development, or that it's entirely in my own head. But for whatever reason, I just didn't enjoy it.

I rush to say that JoCo and his band are probably very nice people and this one bad experience won't keep me from buying and listening to the new music (of which I hope there is much, much more in the years to come), and I certainly wouldn't want to take away from any of the success or growth of JoCo as a musician, celebrity, or entertainer. And it won't keep me from trying to see JoCo and The Band again in concert, especially if he again appears with Paul and Storm or Molly or for that matter Phirman and Hardwick (singly or in a pair). But it was significantly less enjoyable than my previous experiences, and all in all I'd have to say that I didn't, in fact, have a good time. Which is rather disappointing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Distance (a story from my childhood)

"There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times."-Annie Dillard

The single greatest distance I have ever been from someone was the length of a loveseat.

In theory, the farthest you can be from another human being is about thirteen thousand miles, give or take; if one accepts that the circumference of the Earth is roughly twenty-six thousand miles, then you can only ever be opposite them. In truth, in the sixties, it was possible to be upwards of three hundred thousand miles from another person, for a very brief period of time; the moonshots were a pinnacle of just how far you had to go to get distance and perspective. But nowadays, I’m closer to the folks in the International Space Station, orbiting at two hundred forty miles up and circling the Earth every hour or so, than I am to most of my friends (if you take the average of the distance from me, over time). But all of this is physical space. I’m talking about the distance between two minds. And the farthest I’ve ever been from someone was the length of a loveseat.

I was seventeen years old, and I had just graduated high school. Picture it, if you will: I was short, gawky, rail-thin, with a gigantic (and oft-broken) nose, the beginnings of a mustache, bad teeth, coke-bottle glasses, and a collection of astoundingly mis- matched shirt/tie combinations. A sheaf of brown, unruly hair on my head, which was actually my hair but looked like every bad toupee ever worn by a short bald guy with an ugly tie. I had, since my entrance to the dating scene at fourteen, proceeded on a series of painfully intense but otherwise mostly forgettable relationships with an assortment of men and women of various shapes, sizes, colours, and interests; I had not yet figured out that being myself was preferable to becoming someone else for the sake of love. And I had found, I thought, someone for whom I could become anything.

We will call her Sarah, because at that point in my life, I knew so many Sarahs I had started referring to them by number rather than name; for the sake of accuracy, she was Sarah 24. She was already two years into college, studying to be a doctor on an accelerated program that would kill most people, and out of which most doctors themselves dropped, in order to have some semblance of a life. She would have none of that. Committed; she was committed to a path, like other people are committed to asylums. Brilliant. Funny. Beautiful, with a bushel of curly, red hair, and flashing green eyes behind the most charming little gold wire-rimmed glasses, with gorgeous, white, perfect teeth and thin but agile lips. She taller than me, and slim, but not thin; almost boyish, really, which in retrospect was probably part of why I liked her.

Like doesn’t really cover it. I think Sarah was the first person with whom I ever actually experienced "love at first sight." I saw her, and I stopped breathing. Stopped walking, stopped talking; the entire universe just...stopped, for a moment. I still remember the image of her framed in the doorway. She didn’t even make eye-contact with me, either; I don’t think she noticed me. To be fair, there were a couple of hundred people at the party at that moment, and probably something like fifty people between her and I. But to know that you’ve been struck by someone, slapped to consciousness, and know that they didn’t even register you on their’s a little disheartening. But only a little bit.

It was my party. The last hurrah before the End Of Childhood. My friends and I had all graduated, were all headed off to different places, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much distance was between us, we would remain the best of friends until the end of time. Except me; I was Tom Beringer’s character in "The Big Chill", you know? "[A] long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough." That guy. That was me, secure in the idea that my friends in high school were my friends long as forever was measured in four-year-increments. It was, in fact, the last in a series of parties I had thrown, each growing progressively louder, longer, and bigger. And, since this one was the end, it was the biggest. Live Band in the basement, people EVERYWHERE in the tiny house my parents owned, people I didn’t know and had never met rummaging through the cabinets in search of a corkscrew. That kind of party. And it was mine. I threw parties because it meant that I wasn’t alone, unloved, unpopular; I hosted them because it meant I never had to talk with anyone for more than fifteen minutes, and I frequently left them because I hated crowds.

Sarah was a friend of a friend of a friend, apparently, and I had never met her before that night, when I wandered over and introduced myself to the person she walked in with, just to convince that person (Sarah’s roommate, who was utterly and completely forgettable aside from being religiously intolerant) to introduce me to Sarah. We shook hands, and she smiled in that rather distracted way that people do when they don’t really know you and aren’t sure what to be doing just at that moment. She was scanning the crowd for a familiar face, I think. We hadn’t even met yet, and already I was in love with her, and already she had dismissed me. Frequently, this is how my life works, or at least, how it worked then.

I still don’t know, to this day, who it was that invited her, or why she came. I do know that I endeavoured not to spend too much time around her, because I didn’t want to creep her out or drive her away or all of the dozen other things that I had done to sabotage relationships in their infancies. The fact that I was thinking about her in terms of "relationship" at that point should have been a huge clue as to just how deep in it I was.

The party wound down, as all good parties do, as the night approached morning. By 3 AM, it was my and about a dozen people, sitting around my living room, talking. And Sarah and I, on either end of the loveseat.

A friend, who was there, mentioned to me later that I had been surprisingly quiet; not that I hadn’t talked, but that I hadn’t done the "Jerome, the conversation-kudzu" version of my personality that I usually stuck to. I said things, none of which I remember, but I remember talking, and watching Sarah out of the corner of my eye, judging her reactions to what I said. And realizing, slowly but surely, that she had no opinion of me because she didn’t really know I existed.

Oh, sure, there was a person-shaped thing on the other end of the couch, and there were words and even whole sentences being inserted into discussions, but she didn’t really see me as a person; just a placeholder. Everyone, I think, does that; in any group of more than, say, six people, there’s at least one person who doesn’t really contribute; they just sort of make noise so that the people you’re talking with can think for a minute. I do it; I’m pretty sure some of the people I know do it. And now, someone I desperately wanted was doing it to me. The irony did not escape me.

So there we were. About a foot, maybe eighteen inches from one another on the loveseat. And in entirely different universes. I think I realized, at that moment, that loving was less important than being loved. I knew, given two minutes, that I would be madly in love with her; I had fallen head over heels for her in two seconds of looking; two minutes would be a lifetime. And she couldn’t be bothered to learn my name.

For me, that was love.

Did I get the girl, eventually? How did the relationship go? What happened after that moment? None of that is important. At least, not to this story, which is about love, and learning, and the infinite spaces between the person who longs for something, and the person who is longed for.

All of history is made up, in the end, of moments in time, where a person turns toward the thing they want, or away from it. It is the want, and the turning, that is the fulcrum for the lever of our lives. Everything else, that’s just the fallout.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The things I think about when the power is out

It's been a rough couple of days. The toilet broke, requiring a plumber and a gigantic hole in my bank account (and the bathroom floor). Then I had a medical problem that sent me to the Emergency Department at 9:30 on a Friday, and I was there until 3AM on Saturday. Then today the game I was going to play in was cancelled, and then the power went out for my block, and then the Internet was out until 10PM. So I spent most of the day either hunched over in pain, reading, or staring at the flickering of candles in the dark. And because I wasn't feeling well, I wasn't really at liberty to get out of the house and drown my sorrows in profligate behaviours.

It's strange what runs through my head sometimes when I'm not paying attention. I thought, for the first time in a long time, about Sarah. I'm not really sure I've ever gotten over my first real honest to goodness love. She was brilliant and beautiful and funny and honest and I could never figure out why on earth she was with me. Eventually, she asked herself the same question, and then things blew up, and then we never saw one another again. But I still tell stories about her, and I still remember little things in the odd moments, and I still think of her once in a while. I hope wherever she is, she's happy. My life is a series of abandoned empty chairs, when I saw something on the horizon that I thought would make me happy, and so I sacrificed myself and everyone I knew to make the move. Looking back on it, that tendency to run away from (or towards) life has caused me some amazing levels of difficulty, pain, heartbreak, and distress. But it's also given me a lifetime's worth of stories to tell, and I suppose that's not nothing. It's also given me some amazing experiences to remember, and that's not all bad. It does tend to be hard on my relationships, though. And I wonder now and again how on earth the younger me ever managed to meet anyone at all, let alone have a surprisingly large amount of sex.

Part of it is that, now that I'm older and have a regular job and a real home and two ex-wives, I'm not nearly as adventurous as I once was. I'd much rather stay home and play videogames or watch Netflix than go out to a trivia night or see a band or ask some random stranger to dinner. Fear of rejection, maybe? Watching every relationship I've ever been in be destroyed one way or another I suppose puts a damper on my willingness to make myself available for others. And my intellectual engagement in my new work has been significant enough to consume most of my energy, which I don't have much of because I'm out of shape, and getting into shape takes more commitment than I seem to be able to muster nowadays.

I'm not one of those people that thinks that High School was the pinnacle of my life (in fact, I'd be willing to bet that my life is going to continue to improve over the next ten years or so, barring any sort of horrible, horrible incident that derails things entirely); I'm also not one of those people for whom High School was a living hell. I had a good time, tempered by the fact that I was pretty sure that the relationships I found and formed then were almost entirely ephemeral, the result of being locked up with one another for 40 hours a week. Which is not to say that I didn't love them and weep for them and wail with them at the time, just that I knew that our time together was finite. But I do sometimes wonder about whether that particular gossamer effect was at least in part a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I often wonder if at least part of my isolation is a result of each successive relationship I've been in being less and less an emotional investment for me. I loved Sarah with all of my heart. So how much was left over for Whatsername? Or for Michael? Or for Cheryl? And now, what's left for me? It can't be a coincidence that my emotional maturity has suffered, that I'm concerned enough about myself to start therapy in the hopes of working on some of my issues. I used to joke that I liked my life but I didn't like myself much. I'm not sure that's a joke any longer.

I'm feeling melancholy enough that I may even write a Story of M. Sadness and isolation seem to be my muse where that work is concerned.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Online Communities. Or, rather, "communities".

There are a number of places that I just can't seem to stay away from. Most of them are online, and one of them in particular is where I actually met a ton of people whom I later became friends with in real life.

The thing is, places, especially online-places, are volatile. They change with time, and the makeup of the community itself changes, sometimes in ways that aren't always agreeable to, well, me. But the power of nostalgia, the impulse to believe with a little bit of effort the places that I remember will become those places again, is like gravity for emotions. It can be enormously powerful, despite the very real truth that the place that you remember will never, in fact, exist again. And so, if you're me, you get incredibly frustrated by the fact that, as an old and cranky bastard, the new population of these places I used to remember are now different, and I don't really want them to be different, but they are.

So it's time to try and take another break. I won't ever say "I'll never be back", because that always turns out to be a lie -- that nostalgia, it's like crack -- but it's time to go spend time somewhere else.

And I miss my friends. Which reminds me, I need to call the Milwaukee people back, since I said I would last week and failed miserably, because I'm a terrible, terrible friend.

So anyway. Maybe I can channel some of my energy into actually, y'know, posting in this damn blog.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The default state of technology is broken.

Score one for DRM making me a pirate.

I had bought a blu-ray player for my new computer so I could watch hi-def movies on my entertainment-center projector.

Apparently, despite paying extra for the hardware, I needed software to play the blurays.

OK, fine, I said, and the person who helped me build the machine downloaded some software that would play the blurays.

Then, tonight, I went to watch my copy of Inception, and it played for 4 minutes, at which point the software stopped working and insisted that the bluray disc wasn't valid, unless I ponied up $60 (59.95, 25% off for the new year!) to "upgrade" to the latest, licensed version of the software.

So, not only did I have to pay extra for the hardware, and extra for the media, I now have to pay extra for the software.

Pardon my language, but FUCK THAT SHIT.

So, now I'm working on finding a less-expensive way to watch the movie (well, actually, the extra content) that I ALREADY BOUGHT.

I've also uninstalled the software, badmouthed the company in every fora I can think of, and sent a less-than-complementary email to the company (not that I expect it'll change anything).

I never, ever should have given into the impulse to move to blu-ray. My mistake for thinking that I wouldn't get entirely screwed...