Friday, December 25, 2009

Dr. Miserable's Sing-Alone Blog

I'm not a fan of musicals, and I wouldn't call myself an ardent Whedon fan. I can respect his oeuvre and accomplishments (though I'm one of two people in Minnesota who hated Firefly, and I think Dollhouse speaks for itself), but I'm struck by Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Neil Patrick Harris, of course, shone in his performance, but the whole story is intriguing.

It's about a virtuous bad guy, the only person with any depth (and the graphic novel prequel only enhances this), in contrast with flawed good guys. Penny, the non-profit canvasser with whom Dr. Horrible is enamored, is sweet, kind-hearted, and profoundly blind to every level of her environment. In fact, despite an inundation of information and evidence, she remains willfully naive right up to her untimely demise, which itself is the direct result of her inability to perceive and interpret any scrap of truth in the world around her.

Captain Hammer is a comic exaggeration of superheroes who operate on strict black-and-white morality, with half a cup of hypocrisy and emotional retardation thrown in for flavor. He's misogynistic and shallow, and his unvarying response to every problem is a swing of his fist. There's little to admire in him and as the story unfolds, the depths of his depravity are only enhanced and expanded upon. Yet he's the paragon of virtue the entire city lauds and admires, and despite his best efforts he gets the girl.

It's Dr. Horrible who is so intriguing. In the backstory, you learn how, as a child ("Billy"), he also joined in the city's admiration of another "punching crime away" superhero. He was picked on in elementary school for his intelligence--a direct emotional trigger for me--and when he sees his idol emulating the speech and mannerisms of his own personal bully while defending the city from an evil genius, little Billy begins to turn from the straight-and-narrow and root for the bad guy. And in the Sing-Along Blog, we see him wrestle with his adoration for Penny versus the fulfillment of his personal ambitions. How tragic, that the two must stand in a tacit ultimatum.

My wife reflexively loves anything Joss Whedon produces, and the Sing-Along Blog found an instant and enthusiastic fan in her. She asked if I would sing one of the songs from this musical with her (and I wish to iterate that I generally detest musicals), and I found Dr. Horrible's "On The Rise" to be the least of all evils. But as a matter of fact, let it be known this song in particular speaks to me, and we started learning the words at a difficult point in my life. I run another blog in which I chronicle the various traffic offenses perpetrated by the average Minneapolitan pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist. I started the blog simply to vent, to get my frustrations off my chest. I certainly never intended to gain any fame or note by it. I would take pictures of an asshole doing something assholish and then write my (frequently inebriated) reaction to this demonstration. It was not a rant against an indolent and lazy police force, it was always a righteous fury against the moral depravity--nay, vacuum--of the citizens of this city. I believe it's up to the individual to choose to do right or wrong, and by my empirical research one could conclude most people choose to do wrong.

I have photos of people casually drifting through red lights, cyclists riding the wrong way through streets, pedestrians wandering in front of cars, &c. I found bike clubs that gleefully promote clotting traffic, bike races that vaunted running through red lights and stop signs. My blog was targeted by other local blogs and periodicals and ridiculed in private communities. My outrage at a population pursuing lawlessness out of convenience was replaced by astonishment at specific groups of people who promoted illegal activity in the name of coolness and esteem, and who turned on me to libel and insult me.

Me, who had the facts, the logic, the ethos on his side--not to mention the law! Somehow, in a society of idiots in love with criminals, I was the bad guy (and not in the "cool" way)!
Anyone with half a brain
Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don't know
If I'll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the watermain
Dr. Horrible and I saw the world through the same filtered goggles. We ran the same numbers and came to the same conclusions, and our hearts pained at the same unacceptable contradiction between what we knew what was right and how people insisted on conducting themselves. The hero the city looked up to was brutish asshole. The woman he loved in turn loved this slope-browed lunk. There was no justice, whether human or cosmic. Morality and reason were mined for mean-spirited comedy rather than treasured as humanity's salvation.

There, the similarity ends. Dr. Horrible fulfilled his vision (even if he lost the girl), was promoted into an elite cadre of serious supervillains, and came to be valued as a cult figure of admiration. As for me, I'm surrounded by people who blow off my concerns and tell me to accept the world as it is, who do not agree that right is worth fighting for and wrong is undesirable, who write me off as mildly amusing when not annoying. They recommend that I seek counseling (because, of course, there's something wrong with me and not society). And the criminals proliferate and gain status, the police publicly state their helplessness and indifference, and I have no support or recourse whatsoever.
I cannot believe my eyes
How the world's full of filth and lies
And it's plain to see
Evil inside of me
Is on the rise
When I sing Dr. Horrible's song, I get choked up and it's difficult to hit the high notes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Officer 93 Wasn't Out to Make Friends

This was a source of chagrin for me, during my time in St. Cloud. On three days between November 28 and December 2, I amassed all these parking tickets. I must've left my car at a meter and gone out of town... no, that doesn't make sense. How would I leave town? Though I used the Greyhound more than a few times while I lived up there.

Perhaps I left it parked at a meter while plunged into depression and simply never left my (soon-to-be) condemned apartment for several days. That happened quite a lot, actually. But given that each fine was three dollars, it certainly was the cheapest parking in town. Sure, the tickets went on my record, but those expunged after several years, and leaving your car at a parking meter doesn't exactly raise a lot of warning flags.

Still, when you're broke and suffering severe depression, something like this is pretty irritating.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Evolution of Memory

I found an old floppy disc in a box of crap I'd been storing in the basement. I was digging around in search of some other item--isn't that how it always goes--and unearthed a small cardboard treasure chest of old forgotten lore. In it were former military crests, a Tarot deck entrusted to me, a collection of old letters from a friend, one special letter from someone I miss very much, a lot of random crap and this 3.5" disc.

When we had actual floppy discs, the 4.25" variety, these little jobbers were called hard discs because they were hard. They were renamed seemingly overnight with the invention of replaceable, upgradeable hard drives that were mounted inside your computer. Which strikes me odd, since those are now called hard drives and not hard discs, so what the hell is a hard disc anymore? Hard disc doesn't have a home anymore, and these hard discs are called floppies. This is pro-gress?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Status Update

First day of joblessness. One can say that my contract ended, with the potential to be contacted in the indeterminate future. That's fine, it was a good run. I loved that job and I knew it was too good to last. I'm grateful to have experienced it at all.

So what now? Now I have no excuse not to hold up my end of the household chores, where before at least I was the money-earner. When Rebecca's contract with Target ended, I was pleased to give her a little vacation to relax, explore her creativity, play video games, &c., and the change it had on her personality was profound. We laughed more, we made love more, we made a bold start on those homemade holiday cards we'll be sending out this year. It was a good time, good because it was effortless: any good now will be the result of a lot of work.

I did a load of dishes, listening to Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, a cute little treatise upon the priorities people impose upon their lives and from whence true happiness derives. Probably a lot of bullshit but you have to meet these things halfway, make a good faith effort, all that rot. I'm also listening to NPR's Planet Money more frequently, and it helps make sense of the dire financial straits our corporate-driven government has imbued our nation with. I finished UC Berkeley's Rhetoric 10 and miss the intellectual challenge it presented. I really felt like some atrophied limb was revitalized with blood flow and exercise, and now that's done and gone like the position that paid me to correct commas and stocked beer in the fridge.

I've measured all the windows in the apartment and will walk down to the local hardware store to purchase quantities of plastic and double-sided tape, an annual MN tradition in which I'm proud to partake. Few things impart a truly palpable sense of accomplishment like weather-proofing your home. I'll also finish up the holiday cards, previously mentioned: one more stencil to generate for the Print Gocco and the backs will be done. After a tremendous amount of assembly, including creating some envelopes, they will be ready for distribution and that'll feel good.

I can see Toki's anxious to play. He's been hauling his feather-on-a-stick toy around from room to room and yowling. He has several meows/yowls, scientists have proven this, and he's choosing the one that means expectations are not being met. It's quite a different sound from demanding to be fed, which is closer to a baby's cry and evokes a surprisingly urgent caretaking response in us. It's much harder to ignore than "play with me."

Really, any time you want me to ramble on for far too long about the minutiae of living with cats, just say the word. I'm more than prepared to extrapolate at length upon the subject.

MMO Review: Dragon's Call

Nothing good to say about Dragon's Call, either. Nothing much to say about it in the first place: I can't get it to work.

From what I can discern from its official Web site, it's a browser-based game like RuneScape: nothing to download, just fire up your favorite browser and start play-... oh, not your favorite browser. The game suggests that it's best run on IE7. That's a serious demerit right there.

I got an e-mail advisory that the closed beta was up and running, inviting me to participate. I thought, awesome, I'd love to be in another closed beta. I clicked the link and got the below screen, which informed me my e-mail/password combination was erroneous. It came to mind that maybe I never registered in the first place, so I went to the main site and set that up. The above-left screen illustrates the less-than-clockwork-precision of getting that established: each of those orange warning messages are actually links, indeed, tacit invites to follow through on those stages of the process. The astute reader will muse over the typos and unwieldy verbal patterns.

So! With that out of the way, I was prepared for high adventure. I reluctantly fired up IE8 (not 7 as they recommended--maybe that's the problem) and started the game. That is, I logged in and sat and waited for something to happen. Nothing ever did: the below image is all I got. Nothing loaded, nothing was even processing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MMO Review: RuneScape

Did I ever talk about RuneScape here? I don't think I have. That should've been one of the first MMOs I reviewed, seeing as how it made the Guinness Book of World Records for largest population for a free online game with more than 10 million members.

Well, I hated RuneScape. It's big selling point is that it doesn't install anything on your computer: it is entirely Web-based. Other games install a program, usually two to four GB in size, on your machine and you use that to access game servers. RuneScape serves people who are perhaps justifiably paranoid about hackers, phishing, and viruses gaining access to their computers.

What do you get in return? The RuneScape experience is summed up in one word: inadequate. Terrible graphics, terrible writing, and godawful annoying music throughout. The technical prowess displayed in this game is only marginally better than that of the SNES, back in the day, and comparatively falls short on many other levels.

Nowhere else do you get what you pay for more directly, more truly than with RuneScape.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Problematic ATM

Here's a weird little thing: there's an ATM in my building on the skyway level. It's right outside where the skyway leads from the State Theater, next to the student entrance for the Art Institute. Usually you find a transient or other hard-luck individual messing with the machine, inserting card after card, guessing at passwords and PIN codes, trying to draw cash from any of their associated accounts. Yeah, that's not fishy at all.

Weirder, this little black wand has been taped to the top of the machine. It's not part of the machine--that cord in back only winds down to a power converter in an electrical outlet. It doesn't plug into the ATM at all. Yet it's taped in place by official-looking labels from building management. It's just a black plastic stick, a few inches long, no cameras or holes for sound reception.

Is it a motion sensor? What function would that serve? If it's an alarm device to detect when the ATM is being carted away, why display it prominently atop the machine? Why not hide it in back or, better, inside the chassis? What else could it be, who put it there, and why's it affixed into place so cheaply? I've been wondering this for quite a while and, in the meantime, I never use this ATM.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Tis the Season, At Last

I took this shot a couple days ago, attempting a little close-up focus on a simple snowflake. Not a large snowflake, as snowflakes go, but the air was cold enough that it could sit unmarred on my jacket long enough for me to dig my camera out and line up a shot.

We've had snow before (see also: October) but Tuesday night was the first real snowfall. My standard for that is how well it obstructs traffic. Sirens have been going off left and right as Minnesotans suddenly recall they're living in Minnesota and sometimes it snows here and they have to adjust their driving patterns accordingly. They forget this every year, you see, that it snows in Minnesota, despite all the postcards and puffy-ink sweatshirts and, indeed, snowglobes. There is always a harrowing refractory period as Minnesotans learn anew--not relearn--driving skills for a snowy climate. It's no longer appropriate to race down the highway 30 mph over the limit. It was never safe to ride eight feet behind someone's bumper, and certainly it's less so now. It will just take about a month for these drivers to catch on.

I think it's a form of denial, in some cases, just like walking down the street in a T-shirt or light jacket when it's clearly -10F with windchill. Trying to rage against the dying of the light, insisting despite all evidence that nothing is changing, clinging to the old way of doing things. ...I wonder how many of these motorists getting into accidents are Republicans?

The picture below is from yesterday morning. It's been cold in the morning but yesterday it was bitter. The bus driver had not adjusted to the road conditions and was considerably late, which was fine with me because I was too. I'm still thinking about what will be required for me to bike to work in this weather. I've got to do it once, just to see what it's like, and I have no illusions about how safe it will be. I'm sure no one plows that bike bridge over Franklin Ave, for one thing, and I can see myself skidding inexorably into the 90-deg. turn at the end. But I've got to try it once, and if by some chance it turns out to be viable...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Oldest of Oldskool

See that, suckas? Screenshot from the online forums at Suba Games, makers of PristonTale and other MMOs.

Lest anyone question my online/gaming cred, let this bear witness: I was gaming four months before I was born.

"The smack doth verily be lain."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

MMO Review: Twelve Sky

This isn't going to be a comprehensive review by any means--indeed, it will mainly be visual. Recently I received an e-mail update explaining that all Twelve Sky accounts would be transferred over to Twelve Sky 2, per player option.

Up to this point, I thought they were two separate games. I mean, if you've got one perfectly fine MMO up and running, why take it down just to run a similar but evolved game? Then I realized I didn't know any of the differences between the two systems and thought I'd play them both.

Good lord, are they different. Essentially they look alike: you start out in a large stone stronghold wherein reside all your trainers and support. You're surrounded by terrain inhabited by monsters of increasing grades of threat. There are three clans of humans pitted against each other (I play Fujin) and your clan determines what kinds of weapons and abilities you'll master (my weapon is the lute). You gain quests and increase your capacity for power, similar to many adventure/fantasy games.

But in 12Sky you can run through the NPCs in the city. In 12Sky2 you collide with them like they were made of brick, and that's irritating. But in 12Sky, my sprinting ability costs me energy for as long as I leave it up; in 12Sky2, it expends only when I click on a new destination, which is so much handier. One thing they never thought of in designing 12Sky is one of my favorite elements in 12Sky2; when you talk to an NPC, they actually speak a line of dialogue. I don't speak Chinese, but I love listening to their voices because they illustrate who that character is quite well. They cough, sigh, giggle, grumble, and the effect is charming.

The NPCs have changed, too. They've been renamed and they look better, I think. Where 12Sky had fun making subtly attractive or wry, wizened characters, the NPCs in 12Sky2 are more heroic, more over-the-top. It feels more like the realm of heroes, something closer to a supernatural experience. I'm not sure what the aesthetic consideration was in that revision, but I can't say I mind.

Here's the Fujin blacksmith, formerly Blacksmith Chenin, now Blacksmith Kew.

Bath Time in Minneapolis

Here's something I haven't done in a long time: drawn a bath.

Suffering with my cold this weekend, I stayed home from work on Monday and slept for the first half of the day. In the afternoon I figured I'd done as much as I could with rest and needed to work on sweating this malady out, so I started filling the tub with water.

It's green water because I'm using what I guess people call a "bath bomb," though it doesn't produce soap or anything and the scent is quite mild. It's from Japan, a friend in Nagasaki sent me a package of little products as a gift--maybe because I was sick at the time, too--and I've been meaning to use this bath item. I wasn't sure what it was and had two good guesses, and I ruled out "candy" the hard way. As seen here, the second guess was correct.

This hard powdery puck sank to the bottom of the tub and fizzed abundantly, spreading color throughout the water and scent throughout the bathroom (the latter was lost on me, what with my stuffy nose, but my wife assured me it was so). And our water heater didn't actually fill the tub with hot water: as it neared the drain switch below the spigot, the hot water ran out and turned cold, but this actually moderated the overall temperature of the tub to a very pleasant level. I climbed in, soaked, and sweat profusely.

Toki came in, as he's endlessly curious about the concept behind the shower, and studied the large mass of water with a combination of intrigue and alarm. He liked to sniff at it, but the common trick of squirting water out of a fist nearly sent him scrambling for the exit. I didn't hit him or anything: the simple act of water leaping and falling was the source of his terror. Certainly, at no point did he venture a curious paw near the water's surface, though he sniffed at it quite a lot.

It felt good to relax and sweat like that, and I really feel it made a difference. The novelty of the fizzing bath puck was a rich lode of comedy for me, and my wife fulfilled her role as unwilling audience. Ultimately I'm glad I found a reasonable excuse to draw a bath and use this fizzy stuff in the water. I've got several inscrutably Japanese packets of similar product and, while I'd love to try them all out just to see what they do as well as enjoy another bath, something about the process seems awfully posh to me and I think it would not be a point of esteem with my acquaintances. I suppose that shouldn't stop me if I really, really want to take a bath rather than a shower, but...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Movember 2009

Movember 2009
Originally uploaded by modernclimate
This was my team at work, all growing out our moustaches as furiously as possible over the course of November.

The point was to raise awareness for men's cancer, using a symbol of masculinity--the moustache--to spark conversation and provide an icon of unity.

Personally, I harbored slight misgivings with the juxtaposition of hair around my mouth and testicular cancer, but it was for a good cause. I actually raised a respectable amount of money. I'm grateful for my thoughtful and generous friends.

At 11:00 PM, Dec. 1, however, I shaved that freakin' thing off. I was pleased with hearing from friends, coworkers, and loved ones how badass it made me look, but anyone who really knows me knows I'm not really badass at all. Was I more concerned with misleading others or misrepresenting myself? Neither: I'm not a moustache kind of guy.

Why So Many Crows?

A few days ago I came home from work and Rebecca came in the door scant minutes after I got settled down.

"Are you afraid of crows?" she asked me. When I told her I wasn't, she further asked whether I wanted to see something cool. As a general rule, I always want to see something cool.

I got bundled up again and we went out, walking down 36th St and up King's Highway, and along the way she indicated the cemetery.

Sections of lawn were covered in crows. Whenever I pulled out my camera, they either took to the trees or fled for undocumented areas of the property. If they were in trees, similarly, they took off and ruined my shots.

If I knew more about botany and the lifestyle of crows, I could've guessed what was attracting them. As it was, knowing nothing of these, I only noted that they were congregating under the coniferous trees in the area, pecking at the ground. I didn't know exactly what kind of trees they were but guessed they were dropping something that crows liked to eat, maybe some kind of seed or even a breed of insect that favor those trees but were disabled by the low temperature and fell to the lawn. That's kind of a stretch, but I was just brainstorming.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Tilt Shifting, Fakey-style

Actually, this isn't tilt-shifting: using the same principles, I tried to replicate the Holga effect here. Clear in the center, blurry and darkened on the outside, and one more blur-over for luck. With a little more work it could look almost the same.

End-of-year holiday decorating really lends itself to tilt shifting, in that everything kinda looks like toys already. A little saturation and it becomes super-real.

Just an outdoors shot of Nicollet Mall. I'll try it out with Holidazzle some time.

I think it's important to get a picture at least four floors above ground level for these shots. People and objects really need to appear tiny, and the perspective needs to look down from above upon the landscape. Too acute of an angle and the effect is lost, so I think.

Tilt-Shift Photography: Minneapolis

Missing a good screen saver in my life, my mind went back to UNIQLO and I asked myself, Whatever happened to UNIQLOCK? A quick Google search took me right to the site in question and I discovered three new "seasons" of screen savers. If you don't feel like clicking these spurious links, I'll let you know you're missing out on six different programs of dancing Japanese girls.

UNIQLO is a clothing manufacturer and they produced an infectious series of screen savers featuring a little dancing vignette every five seconds as a clock counts down time in your time zone. The music is a very bright and energetic retro-lounge electronica style, kinda like Pizzicotto Five or Towa Tei, at times. The girls dance around like concept art students, modeling selected outfits of the company. It's really attractive and I don't know anyone who reacts adversely to it.

They've also created a calendar screen saver. It shows the local time and weather in your area (though Chicago is as close as they come to anything like Minneapolis, which is not listed) next to a fascinating sequence of clips from independent photographers throughout Japan. These clips are bird's-eye views of the cities and rural areas of Japan, but brightened in saturation and tilt-shifted in focus, then sped up with frames removed. The effect is that it looks like stop-motion animation of incredible detail, with tiny model people marching in parades or jogging in a marathon, tiny trains scooting through the countryside, or the sun and moon racing across the sky over a landscape. It's beautiful and arresting imagery.

Tilt-shift photography is profoundly interesting to me and it just struck me to learn how to replicate this effect myself. I'm not likely to make a video, but I did attempt a shot of downtown Minneapolis, doctoring it to look like a replica model of the city. I'm not entirely satisfied with the effect, but not entirely disappointed either.

I think this would be a fun effect to apply to Holidazzle, as a matter of fact. That would necessitate me attending Holidazzle, of course, and my dislike of this nonsensical event has been amply advertised by a certain local-cheerleading hipster, but heed this. Sometimes it's important to purposely do things we find distasteful for the purpose of keeping our minds open. As an editor, it's important for me to read a magazine entirely outside the realm of my interest (e.g., fishing, snowmobiling) to experience it in its own context, read the terminology, &c. In this vein I've agreed to watch the first Twilight movie with my wife, trying to keep my mind open and generous, which will be as much of a challenge as attending Holidazzle, but for the latter I can bring a camera and keep a creative project in mind. Kind of like crushing a distasteful pill and mixing it with strawberry preserves, to mitigate its passage and intake.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Recent Past Update

At some point this weekend I contracted a cold. Usually this comes from me walking around with wet hair in winter or something dumb like that, but in recent years I've been more careful and prefer to be unfashionably bundled-up against the weather. I probably caught the sick from my nephew, Moss.

My sinuses were inflamed and now my nose is runny, my hearing is compromised, and my brain feels packed with cotton. I tried to warn my wife about it but she insisted on smooches and now I think she's coming down with the same. Dames!

I ran out to Caribou and bought a pound of coffee beans. Coupon expired yesterday but, like they said, they didn't care. I tried to cash it in last week but they were in the throes of their "two pounds for $20" sale, which the coupon couldn't be applied to. Consequently, we have a lot of coffee in the house, and that is a good situation in which to find oneself.

I haven't biked yet since the weather got cold. So much for winter biking, eh? Maybe I'll do it when my bus pass runs out. I fully intend to try it out, especially since I bought that face mask and goggles setup, and just for the experience I'm going to bike through ice and snow. I imagine that'll take an hour, and maybe it would just be easier to walk to work at that point. Half an hour of busing with unpleasant people versus an hour of walking in the snow... convenience is a potent mitigating factor, I see.

We're still plowing through leftovers from Thanksgiving, but we did a load of grocery shopping last night because our Blue Sky Guide coupons were about to expire. In shopping at the co-op where I have a membership, between the coupons and my member discount, we saved $20 on the total bill, which is nothing to sneeze at. I got a pack of fake cheese, Rice Cheeze, which claims to smell like mozzarella ("NEW: Blumpp's Cheddar-Scented Cheese! 'It smells so good!'") and melts like cheese. I figured I can't justifiably deride this product without having tried it, so in the name of science I got some. It doesn't taste that bad, actually, except for a vegetative aftertaste. And it does melt, just as they claimed, though they might not be thrilled to know I melted it over a sandwich steak.

I haven't done any writing lately. Not inspired. Plenty of time to write, just no impetus.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is Truly Comical


FROM: Charterd Finance & Securities


REF/PAYMENTS CODE: CF&sc/02354 $500,000 USD.

This is to bring to your notice that we are delegated
from the UNITED NATIONS in Central Bank in conjuction with the WORLD BANK GROUP OF THE UNITED STATE OF AMERICA to pay you victims of
scam $500,000 USD (Five Hundred Thousand Dollars). You are listed and approved for this payment as one of the scammed victims to be paid this amount, get back to this office as soon as possible for the immediate payments of your $500,000 USD compensations funds.

Send a copy of your response to official email:

PHONE: 009 234 705-535-0111

CF&sc/02354 $500,000 USD.

You are advise to foward your contact details to me
immediately to enable us proceed and pay your compensation fund to you,such as your name,address,phone numbers,and country of origin.

Note: YOU ARE GOING TO PAY A FEE OF $155 Usd for the delivery of your parcel, if you are not interested please do not contact Mr. sanusi kayode.

Yours Faithfully,

I don't need to belabor the comedy of an e-mail scam centered around assisting victims of e-mail scams. Or how Mr. Max Brooks (author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) recommends sending your official request to the official address of Sanusi Kayode. Now they're just scraping for the absolute stupidest people online.

The Seasonal Tug-o-War

In the building that houses the State Theater, the Palomino, and Rock Bottom Brewery, this is going on.

My camera wasn't operable when it was just a row of empty planters resting on a tiered platform of painted black wood. The tiers tend to slope slightly forward, I noted, so I hope no disaster happens involving an avalanche of poinsettias.

And though my camera's resolution is super-crappy right now, on account of my tiny SD card (I can store 50 crappy photos or eight decent shots), I think this picture turned out okay. It's kind of expressive, inadvertently.

Spellcheck informs me I started to spell "inadvertantly" wrong, which means I've been misspelling it for several years. I'm grateful to learn of my errors, but I hate to think I've been embarrassing myself for several years.

This kind of seasonal thing, I think is awesome. I like flowers and plants and tiny white lights. Those are very nice-looking and frequently tasteful--I'm not going to go so far as to suggest it's hard to screw up plants and lights, because empirical study shows me this is in no way an accurate claim. But plants and lights are also a good foundation for attractive, heart-warming decorations, and they shouldn't be shunned just because of a few bad apples.

On the other hand, observe the picture below. It would be one thing if this were a regular group of carolers. And there is, in fact, an organization in the Twin Cities dedicated to Victorian recreation of carolers, down to the stitching in their costumes, and I also think this is an awesome thing. Surprising? Yeah, I surprise myself sometimes, but I do think this group is admirable.

The kids below are not associated with this group. Study their expressions: most of them don't even want to be associated with each other. This ragtag grab-bag of resentment, sullenness, and awkwardness was compelled to sing carols in front of Macy's at the Mall of America for no reason nobler than promoting Jim Carrey's animated A Christmas Carol movie. That's it, just shoddy marketing. Had these kids even practiced with each other before? I'm guessing not, based on how off-balance their sound was. Things like this detract from, not contribute to, the spirit of the season for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Country Apples and Self-Worth

Just to have something to write about, I'm going to talk about a recipe I like to make. I won't actually post the recipe here because I don't have the recipe book from which I got it, but it's fairly simple.

Every fortnight, a group of coworkers hosts "Yum Club," in which a pair of people make lunch for the rest of the group. The responsibility rotates and the pair decides who will produce what. Sometimes there's salad and pasta, one guy made an amazing curry chicken dish, another one tried his hand at pie, &c.

When my turn came around, I made a very simple and reliable crockpot dish, "Country Apples." Oatmeal, raisins, apples, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon (I used a sweet Vietnamese variety from Penzey's--is it reasonable to love a spice store as much as a book store? Oh my gods, I need to open a stationery shop that also sells spices), stuff like that. It's served over ice cream: I recommend vanilla bean. Not vanilla, not French vanilla, not New York vanilla. Those are all delicious but vanilla bean is civilization. Put it in your coffee, scoop it onto your pie--it will not steer you wrong.

Country Apples also goes in crepes, if you know how to make crepes, which I don't, and the cookbook recommends that it goes over oatmeal. What an insult. Say you're a batch of oatmeal, you've been simmering and softening up, absorbing moisture, you're all ready to disseminate fiber throughout the consumer's body to attach yourself to various toxins you'll carry on your way out. You're feeling pretty good about yourself: you have a job to do and you do it well. Suddenly, someone adds to a bowl of you a dollop of something like you but much dressier. You're a bowl of oatmeal, and someone spoons a lump of Oatmeal Plus Flavor right into the middle of you.

Would you feel redundant? Would you suddenly become self-conscious, abruptly made aware of the fact that your consumer doesn't think you're very tasty? You have an important function to fulfill, yet you fall short in an aesthetic arena so reserves have been enlisted to compensate for your inadequacy. You're brusquely introduced to oatmeal, slow-cooked for six hours with cinnamon, brown sugar and fruit and, like federal officers do to hard-working New York City cops all the time in TV and movies, you've been informed they'll be taking over the operation.

Actually, I can relate to that. After years of working on my humor and conversational ability, a woman stated in blunt terms that she wasn't interested in dating me because of the color of my hair. Unless she was trying to be kind, preferring to appear shallow rather than out-and-out saying I'm an unlovable sack of failure, very ugly on the deep-down inside.

Huh. I hadn't considered that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

MMO Review: Grand Fantasia

For no better reason than my having asked for it at some point, I'm included in the closed beta version of Grand Fantasia. I got a little e-mail notification with extra incentives for beta-only swag, so I thought I'd check it out.

It has a youngish feel with young characters and a pervasive messaging around children saving the world and children training to do whatever, on and on. I get it, kids, children, young adults, it's pounded into my head.  There's no age check-in at the point of registration, though, so it's not like the players themselves are supposed to be a certain age. It's just cartoonish like Asda Story with old kids and preteens like Mabinogi in a fantasy setting like... well, many fantasy MMOs. Why pick one out over another?

Each feature of character design has several choices, like some very manga-style eyes or some pretty creative hairstyles. You can start out as a character class in the beginning, or you can run around as a Novice and decide what you want to be when you hit level 5.  That's a new twist I haven't seen around specifically as such.  Games like Shin Megami Tenshin: Imagine let you allocate your skill points where you like, giving you the control to tailor your character's abilities, but Grand Fantasia adds your skill points for you and you work within a career path.  Personally, I find this a less complex system and it's kind of nice: rather than think about skill trees and remembering which stats will boost which abilities, all I have to think about is what weapon I'm saving up for next.

And there's a new feature: the Sprite. You get a little companion who bounces along behind you as you sprint across the landscape. You can customize your Sprite's look within narrow parameters and it does several things for you. You can have it follow you around and grab the loot as it drops from monsters you defeat, while receiving whatever stat bonuses you've appended to it, or you can dispatch it for a couple minutes and have it do your mining and skinning for you! You don't actually see it run off and attack or dig around, it just leaves the little cottage where it lives and returns after a period of time. It even knows some abilities to help you damage or disable your foes in combat. It's slightly temperamental, however, and sometimes requires special treats to kick up its vitality or motivation. Further customization comes in the form of little knick-knacks with which you can decorate its personal cottage. These tchotchkes not only set an atmosphere but also boost your Sprite's ability to forage/hunt/mine, either by increasing the rate of success or potentially boosting its haul.

Gameplay is fairly intuitive: rushing through the instructions, I figured out how to run around with WASD controls, navigating with the mouse, with a point-and-click option as well. Equipping armor and weapons from the backpack is quite simple, as is activating skill abilities and potions. Note: lots more right-clicking here on items and characters than in other games. That takes a little getting used to. Your character can pretty much run around objects, rather than getting stuck behind them: not quite as smooth as in Asda Story but still better than Megaten and significantly better than World of Kung Fu's comically random trajectory. And at least you can run across the countryside faster than in Ys Online, that really stands out.

Quest pick-ups and drop-offs show up on your little mini-map. The color of monster names does not determine their level but rather whether they're aggro or not. That was also a rude surprise, but I adjusted quickly. An interesting feature is the quest for a level boss, when you've more or less wrapped up a quest story line. The two that I encountered required party cooperation, which in the beta audience isn't necessarily forthcoming. Not the game's fault at all: I just happen to be gaming at a time when people are busy doing their own thing and resisting cooperating very much.

The graphics are excellent and the animation is very smooth. The environment is generally very attractive, with lush vegetation and rolling hills--no sparse plains with token scrub grass intermittently distributed. It looks really nice, and the outfits your character moves through are quite picturesque as well, an anime interpretation of Victorian action gear. The jumping action is feeble: you only gain a little height and no distance, so I'm guessing it's just a dressing rather than an ability you'd actually need in an adventure. The music isn't very interesting: in each realm it's just a sample song that repeats once in a while, and the rest of the time is silence. I didn't notice any insurmountable translation errors so English-speaking players will have no problem getting into the game and following the action. That is to say, translation isn't perfect, but it's close enough to have practical value.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keep Your Head Down

Mid-September, I was biking home from work and saw a grey card-shaped object with a photo on it lying in the gutter. I was curious and picked it up: it was plastic and thick, like it contained a magnet or a simple computer card inside. It had a young woman's name and photo on it, but no business name or address to return the thing.

I brought it home and looked up the name online. Rather than leaving it to the vagaries of Google or searching for this common surname in WhitePages, I took a chance on Facebook. The woman looked young enough to be on either Facebook or MySpace, I reasoned. As it happened, I found a match in name and location. I e-mailed the woman to let her know that I found this thing and to ask how to return it to her.

After a month of silence, I chucked the badge in the trash. It was just sitting on my dresser, being in the way, and its owner either never logged onto Facebook or was not interested in talking with me. But a few weeks after that she did speak up, asking whether I'd found her state ID.

There wasn't anything else in the area where I found the grey badge, but it sounded like she'd been robbed and the thieves had dispersed her property down the street. That happened to me when I first moved to Minneapolis, the contents of my wallet strewn down an alley until discovered and gathered by a kind soul who left them at a nearby bank for me to retrieve. That was awesome, and I never found out who did the good deed.

I explained it was not a state ID and again described it as I did in the first e-mail, and apologized for throwing it away, but reiterated that I'd held onto it for a month after not hearing from her. She wrote back today, explaining that it was her work badge and that she'd already gotten a replacement, but sarcastically thanked me for throwing her badge away.

A few years ago I wouldn't have thought twice about mixing it up with her and attacking her fucked-up logic. Now, however, there's a large portion of me insisting that I'm an adult, she's just a rude little idiot "raised" by inadequate parents, and nothing useful will come of laying the smack down. She was not grateful that someone tried to help her, and she was not understanding that perhaps a month and a half was a long time to wait for someone to speak up, and even though she had a replacement badge (probably gotten a month and a half ago), she was still resentful that I threw away the one she herself lost. It really sounds like it would have been best for me if I hadn't tried to help at all, hadn't been curious about my environment and hadn't tried to answer a need.

I'm having a hard time letting this go. I'm not going to respond to this idiot, but the incident is making me angrier and angrier. There's so much wrong with it, it is so unreasonable. She's emblematic of a generation of old children bred with an insane sense of entitlement, a product of parents who don't have any clue how to raise children. It's really hard to focus on anything else right now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Xenic Culture

It's a big world, right, everyone has different experiences and everyone's entitled to their point of view. I get it.

Regardless, there are some attitudes I wish didn't exist and it depresses me to see them flare up and manifest. I'm not saying that some government should enforce thought-policing, I'm saying that in my blue heaven this degree of assholishness would never find ground.

Places like BeautifulPeople and ASMALLWORLD are sources of negative energy and evidence that humanity truly never wants to leave high school. They do nothing--nothing--to improve quality of life on this planet and only engender resentment and alienation. They are, to the mind and soul, the equivalent of the $25,000 sundae: wasteful, decadent, and myopic to the extreme.

Why would someone create an organization whose stated aim is to purposely exclude as many people as possible?  Why would someone establish a business model upon insult and antagonism?  Why would someone go out of their way to engender hurt feelings on the basis of the most trivial, irrelevant, and perishable value system possible?  Why does it feel naive to wonder why someone would endeavor to profit off of making this world an awful place in which to live?  I'm intelligent and I can usually see issues from multiple perspectives, but I absolutely cannot relate to the kind of mindset that wakes up and brainstorms for ideas to be as contemptuous and hostile to as much of the world as possible.

It's not even world domination.  I can relate to world domination, the quest for power.  But the producers of these networks want nothing more than to be the most popular girl in high school, and that's it.  That's the end result, the loftiest goal, the noblest aim.  That's the best they can do, to strive for envy.

Culturally relevant?  I am so sick of this phrase.  What is culture: a spiritual fable handed down through generations, or a garish ensemble of unlikely fabrics and cut that few people can afford, will never be seen in public, and fades out of "fashion" within three months?  What is culture: a colloquialism unique to an indigenous population, or charging $20,000 to make an appearance in a club?  "Culturally relevant" has as much to do with culture as "intelligent design" has to do with intelligence.

When the system is structured to promote people not on the basis of character, intelligence, or talent, but rather on arbitrary genetic fluke and money, we need a new system.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guilt and Pleasure

I don't know what you call this thing. I'm sure its manufacture is no trade secret, no proprietary confection. We can call it a "chocolate star," though as soon as I wrote that, I realized how dirty that sounded. Oh well, we can't let the language be held hostage by a group of giggling high school sophomores.

There was a bowl of these in the break room at work, a couple days ago. A nice square, white ceramic bowl with a dozen of these left after the initial pick-through. H1N1 concerns aside, I can't bring myself to eat these simple, unadorned sweets. It's not even an aesthetic matter: I've had excellent chocolate, like Ice Cubes and Toblerone, and I've had Hershey's, and I've had much, much worse chocolate than that. I'm not a chocolate snob by any measure.

Guilt is what precludes me from eating this, a guilt that has blistered up intermittently throughout my life.

When I was six or seven years old, and my brother was four or five, our parents took us on a routine grocery shopping errand. We tagged along as they went through produce, boxes of processed food, commented on prices of meat, all the usual things consumers around the world and throughout time have always done while shopping for groceries.

In the produce section, however, was something quite out of place. If I had to reconstruct the incident, I would guess that someone had a plastic bag of these chocolate stars from the nearby bulk candy section. Whether by accident or due to malicious, obscure intent, they spilled this pile of candy into the produce shelving by the tomatoes and avocados. That's where I found them, a pile of chocolate stars on green plastic mesh, between two paper cartons of vegetables.

My brother and I looked at them, stunned as little kids are by the sight of candy. But this was different: the candy didn't belong here. We probably passed it in the bulk section, our perceptual filters up because we knew we couldn't have any if we asked, so there was no point in agonizing over it there. But now it was here, in the vegetables.

I took one. My brother took one. "Are we allowed to eat this?" he asked me.

I made a judgment call and spoke to him as authoritatively as only an older-by-two-years brother can. "Because these candies aren't in the right section," I announced, "we are allowed to eat them." This sounded just fine to my brother, in his role as Lousy Devil's Advocate.

But my parents just as quickly formed an opposing view point. Mom glanced back to see what her suddenly quiet two young boys were up to and saw us putting food--she didn't know what kind--into our mouths. "They're eating something," she hissed to our father, and all I remember after that was a blur. I knew something was wrong and repercussion was forthcoming so I shoved a few more into my mouth; wrist was grabbed; butt was spanked. In one minute my brother and I were locked in the car while our parents finished their shopping. We probably got another spanking after that, later, when we got home. I don't recall.

So now these chocolate stars are inextricably linked to a strong sense of guilt and punishment in me. I can't look at them without feeling an emotional tension and aversion. Even when they're sitting in a bowl on a table in the break room, even when they're free and I'm an adult and it's perfectly okay. Can't do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009


This is good attention (yay).  This is bad attention (booh).

Guess which I'd like, and guess which my plate is heaped with a steaming pile of.

If anyone knows how to rectify this ratio, oh my gosh, would I love to hear from you.

Special thanks to Alleen Brown, and kudos to my fellow Mpls-based bloggers.


I'm participating in a health awareness campaign called "Movember."  What this means is: in order to direct awareness to the matter of men's cancer, I'm growing a moustache for the month of November.  Here's my profile page on the site.

Why am I doing this?  There are a few reasons.

Obviously, any life-threatening medical concern deserves to have attention paid to it.  Donations are what we're after, and I hope that by subjugating my vanity for a month people will understand my level of commitment to this cause.

It's also a useful opportunity to get over myself, an important lesson in self-improvement.  I would never grow a moustache to look good or portray an image, with my negative connotation with moustaches.  They look good on some people but not me.  It's worthwhile to do something that makes me look and feel awkward, so I can focus on my inner strength and detach myself from my physical constraints.

Lastly, a few of my coworkers are joined together on a team for this cause and I thought I would show support.  Building unity and cohesiveness can't be bad.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lookin' Out My Back Door

Huh. Looks like someone started a little fire in a trash container behind CVS/pharmacy (which always struck me as an unusual name for a store, though I guess it depends on what "CVS" stands for).

I was wandering around the office and glanced out a window. Two blocks south of me there was a large plume of dull white smoke spreading across Hennepin, coming from around the pharmacy and originating in the parking lot. Maxing out my camera's physical and digital zoom capacities, I got a couple shots of firefighters calmly extinguishing an extremely localized fire, a very low arc of water lazily falling out of their hose to put it out.

Several people gathered nearby to watch the procedure. What with the bright lights and loud noises, who could blame them? Five minutes later I saw the truck and crowd had cleared out and the receptacle was back in place, hardly the worse for wear, apparently.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Nothing is New

I very nearly saw an accident this morning.  This car raced up to an intersection whose light had turned yellow while she was a considerable distance away.  Consequently, it turned red before she entered the intersection and she intended to blow through it.

Problem: in oncoming traffic, another car was already lazily wheeling through a left turn, so it was nearly T-boned by the lady in this car as she roared up.

By the way this car rocked to a stop, it seemed she only reluctantly applied her brakes while wrestling through second thoughts (and third thoughts) about maybe darting around the turning car, estimating how she could sneak around the front or whether there was time--which there absolutely was not and never had been--to skate around the back.

Frustrated, she simply came to a rest in the middle of the pedestrian section, almost completely past the thick white line in front of which cars are supposed to stop.

What made me laugh was her bumper sticker advocating motorcycle awareness.  It's my guess she only spots them in order to run them down or shove them off the road.

And no, I'm not going to regularly update this blog with egregious traffic offenses.  My general mindset suffers when I'm constantly on the lookout for the shit people will try to pull (and Minneapolitans are a self-important, lawless, and inept population of motorists and cyclists, so there is always something going on), so I have to block it all out.  I haven't ridden my bike to work in weeks--as the swelling ring of fat around my gut may testify--opting to take the bus and zone out with Podcasts.  It just happened that this very nearly was a violent accident and I happened to look up at the right (or wrong) time.

...Yes, I can see this person isn't from Minnesota, but this little incident indicates she feels right at home here, weather excepting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

MMO Review: Dream of Mirror Online

Dream of Mirror Online (DOMO) looks simple. The characters are cartoonish with clean lines and bright expressions, and they make cute noises when you move them about. The movements are not sophisticated: they don't sway naturally like characters in World of Warcraft. They move like animated action figures as you run around the continent from village to village.

And yet, and yet...

There is something addictive to this game that has me anxious to come back.

The theme of the game is that of legendary China: the architecture and default costumes are very properly Chinese--the zombies themselves are an artifact of Chinese tradition, momentarily baffling to uninformed Western eyes. DOMO is a heavily social game, as well, with missions and dungeons requiring the player to form a group (short- or long-term).

An interesting feature of the game is the "Thread of Fate."  When you start up a character you have to create a birth date (day and month) and a year, but the latter is according to the Chinese zodiac. The combination of these factors determine certain players in the game who will be linked by fate to you.  The link is quite literal: I was minding my own business when suddenly a long red line like a laser sight shot out of my neck and stretched off-screen somewhere.  My headphones filled with the heavy beating of a heart (ostensibly mine), whose pulse quickened as I ran in the direction of the line.  I found myself connected to a complete stranger, standing with a group of friends in a plaza.

A Penny Arcade forum figured out that you may get certain bonuses by connecting with these people.  The DOMO Wiki actually breaks these relationships down further, and they could be with lovers or even rivals from a past life.  And being that DOMO is such a social game, there are in-game wedding ceremonies; indeed, there's a wedding facility (currently only supporting heterosexual relationships, unfortunately) and a money-making industry behind it.

That said, these "Fate Fated" relationships are not exactly compelling to other players, from what I've seen.  I tried to approach a player with which the game suggested I was mystically bound and she was supremely disinterested, greatly preferring her clutch of illiterate social retards to a rugged, handsome stranger who could offer her stat bonuses.  So it goes.

The controls are fairly intuitive: WASD, where A and D are only strafe directions--you point yourself with your mouse and run with the keyboard.  Or you can click on the mini-map or its full-sized version, click on your destination and your character will run there automatically.  Unfortunately, this function isn't as polished as it is in the game Asda Story: your character is guided around objects, but the trajectory function is erratic and your character will appear to run blindly in several directions at once.  Their path, however, averages out to your destination.  Generally.

Big disappointment: no music to this game!  What the hell?  So much opportunity for traditional Chinese orchestration!  You get a few little musical stings with leveling up or certain other achievements, but there's no soothing or inspiring background music to get you through the long stretches.  The overwhelming silence announces itself as  you run through town or slog through the mountains.

Customization is limited to five or six choices, though you can adjust the physical dimensions of your character somewhat.  The story writing is clear and amusing, and the translation to English is usually spot-on.  There are a couple lapses but they do not negatively impact gameplay to any extent.  The Penny Arcade forum  noted that there is a lot of grinding, staying in an area and killing scores of monsters over a long period of time, and that's true.  I made the mistake of upgrading my sword beyond my own level, so now I have to fight with my fists until I'm powerful enough to use my own sword.  That's annoying: punching and kicking my way through 40 flying pigs is taking four times as long as it needs to.

And yet, and yet...

Translation Wars: Bing in the Ring

Once in a while it becomes necessary for me to translate a block of text from another language into English. I'm not fluent in any language besides English, but I am something of an amateur linguist and can usually parse out the meaning of an oblique copy. A translator need not be perfect, is what I'm saying, for me to understand what's being said.

But some translators are better than others, so I'm going to compare Babelfish (my first and favorite, then bought from Altavista by Yahoo) versus Google Translate. Oh, and isn't that cute: Bing thinks it has a translator too! Let's take it for a drive.
Yahoo! Babelfish
The ukulele the created where [jieiku] [shimabukuro] and the corporation high peak musical instrument factory give dream to the children in the joint production world The [chiyaritei] organization 'MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE which ukulele player [jieiku] [shimabukuro] and the management TOASTMAN and INC. manage (alias: MIGM) Announcing the new ukulele where', the corporation high peak musical instrument factory and the cooperation production which worldwide are the famous guitar manufacturer were done it reached the point of. This ukulele was produced upper quality and the fact that the convenient ukulele is delivered to purpose in the children in the world as a main project of active program “Four of the same organization which [jieiku] has managed long time Strings For Kids”.

Google Translate
Takashi Mine Musical Instruments Mfg. Co., a joint production with Jake Shimabukuro Ukulele give birth to children around the world dream

Management and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro TOASTMAN, INC. Operated Charity organization 『MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE (aka: MIGM)』 is a world renowned Co announced a new ukulele and Takashi Mine Mfg. Co., a manufacturer of musical instruments guitar Led to. This ukulele is a program run by principals of the organization for many years that Jake's "Four Strings For Kids" as the main project has been produced with the goal of delivering quality and affordable ukulele to children around the world.

Bing Translator
Jake Shimabukuro and ukulele birth ukulele player Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine musical instrument is made of joint work all over the world for children that dream Jake Shimabukuro TOASTMAN the management, INC., were to announce new ukulele guitar manufacturer world famous Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine musical instruments and joint production 'MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE (alias :MIGM)' charity organization managing,.This ukulele, that high-quality and affordable ukulele to deliver children all over the world as the main project of the same organization that operated for many years by Jake subject program "four strings for kids", was produced purpose.
What's noteworthy about this?  For one, Google was the only translator program that acknowledged and retained carriage returns, for one: Bing and Yahoo each spat out a constant stream of text without the line break that was entered.  It makes a difference.  Google: +1

It's interesting to me that Google and Bing were able to incorporate the "untranslatable" name of the ukulele player as well as the word charity within smooth, flowing text.  Yahoo isolated these words and represented them in their Anglicized forms... except "chiyaritei" is a Japanization of the sound of charity.  Yahoo's program doesn't have a database of English words the Japanese have adapted for their own purposes.  Google, Bing: +1

Jake Shimabukuro: Facebook, MySpace, official page.

While none of these translations were flawless, some were more readable than others, clearly.  Yahoo's translation reads like a hilariously inept copyediting job, where someone sat down with a dictionary and rewrote the text word for word without any concept of grammatical structure.  This is usually comedy gold for English speakers abroad, taking photos of restaurant signs and T-shirts with ridiculous linguistic concepts.  Bing was only slightly less inept than that and the average reader would still have a hard task of gleaning sense from that block of translation.  Google's translation is not perfect, but it is the most readable of the three samples.  Google: +1

Two of these translation tools struggled over the company name.  Yahoo called it "the corporation high peak musical instrument factory," which is completely inscrutable.  Google came closer with "Takashi Mine Mfg. Co." but that's still not quite accurate, as the mountains near the factory are called Takamine.  Bing wins this round with "Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine"--the words are out of order, but the company is called, as per their Web site, Takamine Guitars.  It's important to get a company name (or geographical landmark) correct.  Bing: +1

If you're curious, this is how the text is supposed to look (from Jake's Facebook site):
Jake Shimabukuro, Takamine Guitars Strike a Chord to Benefit ‘Four Strings for Kids’

Music Is Good Medicine (MIGM), the nonprofit organization supported by Jake Shimabukuro and his management company, TOASTMAN INC., is pleased to announce the creation of a brand new ukulele developed by the renowned musical artist and the world-famous Takamine guitar company. The newly minted instrument will play a key role in supporting “Four Strings for Kids,” a program dedicated to making the ukulele available to children all over the world.
So, to sum up: Yahoo - 0 pts.  Google - 3 pts.  Bing - 2 pts.

Bing actually did better than I expected it to--being number two, the saying goes, I guess they try harder. I was pleased with Google's performance but surprised they lost a point on the company name.  For that point I estimated getting the name of the company right was more important than the word order of the company name.  I could have dinged Bing a point for that but didn't feel it was a significant hindrance to comprehending the text.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting Your Online Identity

Online Identity.

What's your reaction to those words? Some people cringe and want to surf online in perfect anonymity, experiencing without commitment. They want to see what a site has to offer them, without that site knowing who they are or how to get in touch with them. That's a valid, if naive, concern.

Other people just want to scream and make noise. They don't know what they want. They want a Web site up and they hope purpose/function will determine themselves later. I was like that.

Still others, and these are with whom I am concerned, want to use online representation to promote themselves for whatever purpose. Branding, transmission, howling into the void, &c. Among this group is a subset that does not currently possess Web savvy and may make a series of mistakes while trying to establish themselves online. Without insulting specific other companies, I'll instead focus on my love-affair with Google products and a few other services.

Branding Yourself.

There's nothing wrong with availing yourself of online resources to promote yourself, your ideas, or your services. This message isn't to people already doing this: this is for people shying away from the concept. My personal belief is that if you represent yourself positively, you won't go wrong.

Think about Facebook and Twitter, seriously. Twitter's a handy way to keep in touch with not just friends but professional interests. Text messaging was the first great leap in word-of-mouth advertising (the bane of bad movies, as production companies discovered), and Twitter was the second--global text-msg networking, essentially, with no roaming charges. If you keep your eyes open, you'll become startlingly aware of how many of your favorite media focii are already on Twitter: I'm following the editor of Merriam-Webster, NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Rachel Maddow, and Queen Rania of Jordan, in addition to many of my friends and co-workers. Really, the hardest thing for me about Twitter is being mindful of my visibility and trying to sound upbeat most of the time. (It is very important to sound positive when promoting yourself. Not insipid, but not dreary and self-destructive, either.)

As for Facebook, you should already know what to do: connect with your friends, learn how to set your privacy levels, and don't post any photos you wouldn't want your grandmother or boss to see. Within that context you should still enjoy a great amount of creative liberty. (I'd recommend avoiding all those millions of tedious little games, however: they're nothing but a time-sink. Your friends will try to lure you but be strong.)

And I understand the stigma attached to Facebook: it has a reputation of being MySpace II, a big, drunken, subliterate party zone. Yes, there are idiots on Facebook and they are great in number, but your presence there doesn't have to endorse, interact with, or acknowledge them at all. You can exist pristinely, peacefully on your own, set up your own boundaries, and hand-pick the trappings and accoutrement you desire. If Facebook is a party college, you can sequester yourself in the campus library quite happily.


There are other free online resources you can use to begin to promote yourself. Get a Gmail account, to start with--trust me, you'll love it (really biting my tongue to keep from slamming the other e-mail services). With it you will be connected to Blogger, Google Sites, and Picasa, but I'll go into those later. I wanted to talk about those in this post but I'm already getting too wordy.

What you should do, however, is focus on Google Profiles, which will act as a terse biography for yourself and as a hub for all your other social networks and online activities. It's very handy: fill it out and set it as part of your Signature for all outgoing e-mail. Here's my profile, for an example. You can set restrictions on who's allowed to see your profile and information, don't worry, but try to think of it as a multidimensional business card for your friends. You can link to any blogs you write, any Web site where you have a profile, or just keep track of places you like to go. You can do the same thing with Extendr, which a lot of people prefer, but you have to pay to make it look nice and include a bio. Unless you do, it's just a useful catalog for your bookmarks.

Eh... more later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prepare for the Horror

I know a lot of people like Holidazzle. It's popular with Minnesotans because it's a big-ass parade that happens around the end of the year. It's popular with parents because their kids love it and it's free to watch. Traffic might not love it so much since it closes down Nicollet Ave for a few hours, redirects Metro Transit buses every Thursday through Sunday, and clogs the perpendicular streets. Many of my friends work related to it, either with costumes or organizing it, so for their sake I'm reluctant to express my opinion of it... but I do anyway.

Oh my gods, I think Holidazzle is just a bunch of insipid nonsense. I think PC has its place, but the parade strikes me as so afraid of offending anyone that its iconography is muted and arbitrary. It wants to play up the "holiday" part of its name but avoids dwelling too heavily on Christmas imagery--someone will have to inform me whether Hanukkah or Kwanzaa are represented--and brings in a bunch of stuff that doesn't make any sense, like the storybook characters. What holiday does Pinocchio belong to? What end-of-year holiday does a big blue fish belong to, in any culture?

Earlier this week I was walking through the Skyway, probably about to drop off some mail at my favorite post office, the Central Loop Station, and I was approaching the IDS Tower when a cacophony assaulted my sensibilities. Closing in, I identified a to-do in the Crystal Court: Holidazzle figures swaying blindly back and forth in place while someone with a megaphone screamed bloody murder at them and everyone watching. Between the echo chamber of the Crystal Court and the heavy distort of the megaphone turned all the way up to amplify this merry-maker shrieking at the top of his/her lungs, any words or communication were completely unintelligible.

Oh, and yoga mats, which suggested to me that the parade figures were "warming up" for their month-long festivities. We hadn't yet surpassed Hallowe'en, and Thanksgiving was still a few weeks away, but here begins the preponderant Christmas-ish indoctrination.  That's not "merry" to me.  It's tedious, nonsensical, and arbitrary.  "Oh good, it's the traditional Christmas White Cat!  I hope he'll be strong enough to keep the Christmas Witch and her pet Christmas Alligator at bay this year!"

I'm capable of happiness.  I'm capable of appreciating simple pleasures.  But not like this.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Word: Gambreler

Ugh. Just learned a new word, or technically a job description.
Gambreler (a.k.a. Hanger-Off)
Hangs animal carcasses on overhead rail preparatory to dressing: Slits skin to expose tendons in hind ankles, using knife, and inserts "gamb stick" (hooked metal or wooden rod) between tendon and ankle bone to spread legs. Hooks gamb stick to trolley on overhead rail and pushes carcasses to next work station. Cuts flesh between toes of carcass and removes toenails.
Wasn't expecting that. Spotted this in The Onion (Oct. 22-28, 2009) in the American Voices section. You know, they pose a question pertinent to recent news and conjure vox populi responses. One woman was listed as a gambreler and I'd never heard of this. I'm not terribly surprised it slipped beneath my radar, given how little I have to do with animal slaughter and rendering.

What's even more charming is the list of pre-existing conditions that are known to negatively impact or compromise the productivity of an efficient gambreler:
  • Pregnancy (normal)
  • Sprains and strains (back)
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Depression (major)
So if you have any of these conditions, please don't bother applying. They will get in the way of your performance. In no sense do they imply that having the job might cause any of these conditions (well, at least not the first one).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MMO Review: Shaiya

I want to start reviewing online video games, specifically MMOs. For those outside the gaming set, that's short for MMORPG, which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. These are games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Ultima Online, &c.: the setting is a fantasy world with humanoid races, magic, and medieval technology (more or less). Your perspective is either first-person or hovering directly over your on-screen character. You run around, kill monsters, fulfill quests, amass treasure, and improve your skills in combat, magic, and other disciplines. Get it?

Well, those games cost a lot. You buy the initial game, you buy all the expansions after it, and you pay a monthly subscription fee. At the same time, there are a number of video game companies that are producing free MMOs. They seriously don't cost any money to own and play, and they usually take less than 2 GB of space. Some of them make money by giving players the option to purchase powerful weapons or flashy armor/clothing that can be shown off in the game. That really matters to some people and it's a lucrative source of income.

Gamers and geeks already know about these, but I still think a bunch of people don't, so I'm going to review those games that I've downloaded and tried out. My criteria aren't demanding: I don't have a broad gaming database and history to compare them against, but I can speak as a beginner who'd like to get into gaming. I know what I like and what rubs me the wrong way, and I'm going to share some of that here.

Tonight I'm talking about Shaiya, a product of Aeria Games.  The game starts out with you choosing to ally yourself with, essentially, Good or Evil.  If you're Good, you can play a Human or an Elf; the Evil side gets the Vail (dark blue-skinned humans) and the Deatheaters (enormous orc-like creatures).  Each race comes with a choice of three classes, variations upon themes of melee or magic.  There is very little customization in the character creation process: four or five options in the categories of hair, face, and height.  Some players like endless customization options and other games will offer those, but this one sets you up to look nice and places more focus on the gaming itself.

The controls are pretty intuitive: W-A-S-D, and you can steer with the mouse while you're running, or you can point-and-click to your destination.  One drawback: the program does not enable you to run around objects, so you either scramble over them or find yourself trapped, running in place.  Other games plot a trajectory for you and let you jog around trees and fences when they come up.

Outside of that, it's a very pleasant gaming experience.  The music is great and the graphics are smooth.  They pay attention to little details like weather patterns, the sound of footsteps on various kinds of terrain, and stuff like that makes for a pleasant experience.  It's important to note that the translation to English is very well done here, which goes a long way towards making you care about the society within the game.  Attaining quests and figuring out where to go next is pretty clear, as well.  All in all, it's pretty easy to leap in and start playing if you have some gaming experience; if not, you're led around well enough and can attain some proficiency in short order.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thums Up!

I went up to Kabob's Indian Buffet for lunch again today. They heap a plate with as much food as it will hold, for only five dollars. It's a delicious blend of northern and southern Indian cuisines that I find very tasty--I end up wolfing it all down and regretting not taking my time with it, savoring each bite instead of licking my chops at the memories. Today I forced myself to eat slower, though, so that was better.

They had this soda, Thums [sic] Up, a product of Coca-Cola. Whoa, that was unexpected. Did they buy a present brand name, or did they seriously start up a company with a purposeful typo in the name? Or is "Thums" actually a person's name, and the brand is just a tribute to him/her? That last option would be the most desirable and the most excusable. Buying a misspelled company and failing to correct it is not permissible in my book, though I know no one's in the market for anything I write.

Anyway, my main Web site, Heavy Boots, is coming up for renewal again. For several years I've run this goofy-assed homepage with a random assortment of content. I gave up all delusions of structuring it and updating it regularly long ago. So why am I doing it? We are a full decade past the time when personalized goth Web sites were cool--all the goths were doing it, coming up with goofy names for themselves, buying domain names, making friends with people who knew Flash--and Heavy Boots doesn't represent anything in my life anymore. The boots the site was named after, in fact, have long since been retired/discarded. All my dreams for the Web site occurred long before I had access to the technology that could realize them, and now those dreams are stupid and embarrassing, like a tattoo gotten in one's second year of college.

What should I do with the domain name? Is anyone really going to be disappointed if I let it go? Is there any kind of market segment I stand to alienate? I find it incredibly hard to think so: if they exist, then they deserve to be disappointed because I have attracted the quietest, most unresponsive readership in the world.

I think I'll just let the reminders die off, let my URL degrade back to its original Google Sites format, and only give a rat's ass about my personal branding. Oh man, I bought a domain name for this place, didn't I? Sweven Volant, the irresistibly sticky name that draws people intuitively inward. And yet I'm pouring no energy into my "professional" site at How insane is that? The one responsible place that...

Well, that's why I'm not interested in it. Heavy Boots was a junk drawer for all sorts of crazy online stuff I collected, and my professional site is where I have to sit up straight and use an indoor voice for potential employers. I have to affect a very constrained, acceptable form of creativeness, whereas a lot of my candid online material could get me fired anywhere.

So I own Heavy Boots, Sweven Volant, and CWFredrickson. Who needs so many domain names? The third one is arguably necessary, but the first two? What purpose do they serve? They don't clear anything up. They don't even see a lot of traffic. I'm throwing money out the window with these vanity boondoggles. I think that'll stop.