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.