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Thursday, October 8th, 2015
10:27 pm - Election: the Gathering
I would say "you may have seen that Something Awful recently posted a Comedy Goldmine of political-themed Magic cards," but realistically there's basically no chance that you, the person reading this entry, might have seen that.

So: Something Awful recently posted a Comedy Goldmine of political-themed Magic cards, based on a forum thread on that topic. While the Goldmine article contains a number of great cards, there are even more superb examples in the full thread that didn't make the cut somehow (although one of mine did, on page 8!)

Anyway, one of the unfortunate effects of goldmining the thread is that the thread is now closed, and I strongly feel that this is not an idea that has fully run its course. Moreover, I strongly feel that my friends could make some pretty amazing cards. So, below, I present the cards I made myself, and put the call out for further suggestions.

(To make cards, you can either use the online service MTGCardsmith or download the much more robust Magic Set Editor)


More cards below cutCollapse )

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Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
5:45 pm - The Pie Room
I wasn't going to do one of these, because I didn't think I had any particular "style." But then I realized, to my chagrin, that I kind of do...

The Pie Room

A game for one GM/NPC and an infinitely expansible ball of PCs

*****
Game TextCollapse )

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Friday, January 3rd, 2014
11:06 pm - Clues
Over the past couple days, I have compiled a list:

bunny
coyote
dinosaur
dragon
fish
hippo
llama
owl
panda
puppy
sheep
snake

If you haven't yet seen this list, it may be a briefly entertaining puzzle to identify what the unifying theme is. Once you've got that, join me after the cut.

This thingy right hereCollapse )

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Sunday, April 28th, 2013
11:11 am - An exchange of letters
Dear Mr. Occultatio,

Thank you for your recent passport application. In order to continue processing your request, please provide the following information:

  • A signed statement explaining the damaged or mutilated condition of your passport book and/or passport card. The damaged/mutilated passport book/card will be retained and destroyed.

We appreciate your assistance in this matter so that we may continue processing your passport application.

Sincerely,

Customer Service Department



To Whom It May Concern:

The evening before mailing my passport in for renewal, I left it out on a counter where my dog discovered it and apparently decided it looked like a tasty snack. The damage you can see is entirely a result of him chewing it, fortunately not beyond the point of recognizability. During the 10 years I had and used that passport book, it suffered no other damage of any kind. Personally, I find this somewhat ironic.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

[signature]

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Thursday, December 27th, 2012
9:30 am - Les Miserables: a reaction and sort of review
We went to see the movie of Les Miserables last night, and boy do I have mixed feelings on it. Ultimately, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who's not already a fan of the show (or at least of musical theater in general), but on the other hand many of my problems with the movie are actually problems with the show itself that the movie simply failed to correct.

See, here's the thing. About 50% of the movie's runtime I spent being bored (and aware that I was bored and watching a movie). About another 40% I spent enjoying myself. The last 10% was so staggeringly beautiful that I wept openly. In other words, the film dragged like hell but when it hit it hit hard.

Both of those facts come directly from the movie's obsession with close-ups. Man, does it love people's faces. The sets were bare-bones, flat and unremarkable (there were two, maybe three scenes in the entire movie with a real sense of place[1]), and during the many, many scenes where characters are just delivering exposition there was nothing of interest to look at beyond (say) Hugh Jackman's follicles. While the close-ups did occasionally pay off during the songs -- "I Dreamed a Dream," for instance, was an absolute tour de force -- they really bogged down the recitatives and less intensely emotional songs.

Oh, and speaking of emotional songs, you could really see the actors struggling to balance the demands of musical theater, with its expectations of clear vocal projection and acting that plays to the back row, and screen acting, with its emphasis on facial nuance and restraint. Some of them, like Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman (Fantine and Jean Valjean), handled it quite well, while others like Samantha Barks (Eponine) and Russell Crowe (Javert) dramatically favored one side over the other.

While I'm on that topic, Crowe turned in a fairly poor performance as Javert -- though he mostly held his own in "The Confrontation," "Stars" was astonishingly anemic, its lack of grandeur underscored by its particularly grand setting. On the plus side, Sacha Baron Cohen was excellent as Thenardier (reinforcing my idea that he's much better as an actor than as a "comic actor"), and Helena Bonham Carter was perfectly fine as Helena Bonham Carter, though I think she accidentally reused her costume and/or entire character from Sweeney Todd[2].

The absolute standout, though, was Anne Hathaway, who absolutely stole every scene she was in. She was helped by some outstanding costume and makeup work, which for the first time I can think of took a very pretty woman and actually made her look for-real awful (not just "movie ugly") -- the whole transformation/descent sequence was genuinely disturbing. Her "I Dreamed A Dream," despite coming probably half an hour into the movie, was the first point where I thought it came together after a very bloated prologue (again, more a fault with the show than the adaptation), and her return at the very end was exquisite.

Really, every scene with Valjean and Fantine was wonderful, and if the adaptation made any real artistic choices one was to make the story fundamentally about their relationship. This stands in sharp contrast to the Marius/Cosette romance, which the movie treated with as much respect as Sweeney Todd does the story of Anthony and Johanna. This ranged from filming the entire thing from Eponine's perspective to actually digitally adding fucking butterflies to "A Heart Full of Love." This actually caused me some problems later, when Marius turned out to be a real character with an actual arc, but even then, with the one exception of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," the movie paid as little attention to him as possible.

Here's how I would summarize my experience with this film, and such recommendation as I would give it: by the very end, I had been sitting, bored, for over an hour (the second act just drags like crazy), unable to not focus on my ankles which were kind of aching from having walked all over San Francisco earlier in the day. We had been in the theater for nearly three hours, and I was ready to go. And then the finale caught me like a sucker punch to the gut and made me fall in love all over again.

Why couldn't the whole thing have been that good?



[1] And here I'm not counting "Stars," where Javert paced a rooftop against a sweeping backdrop of Paris, because except for Notre Dame nothing looked real.

[2] Actually, Alexa points out that she may have been using Mrs. Lovett as practice for Madame Thernadier, since the performance made a lot more sense here.

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Tuesday, August 28th, 2012
8:21 pm - Ask Mr. LJ: Short story recommendations needed
(because "Mr. LJ" sounded less dumb than "Teacher LJ")

I need advice! My cooperating teacher would like me to take point on a short story unit for her Pre-AP 9th grade English class, and I'd love to find more interesting stories than the ones in the textbook.

Specifically, I would love to find a matched set of 5 short stories which all revolve around a common theme, like "coming of age" or "the end of the world" or "tradition vs. progress" or something like that. The idea would be to have the kids work through each story independently, but at the end of the unit come back and reflect on the many different perspectives on one central idea they encountered, and how their own perspective has been influenced.

So, friends: what are your favorite short stories? Give me lots of recommendations, ideally with short synopses attached (or at least a rough idea of the stories' major themes). If you know the perfect quintet, awesome, but even stray suggestions would be very very welcome.

A few notes:

* I am not allowed to use more than two "genre" pieces (i.e. sci fi or fantasy). This does not necessarily include folktales.

* These need to be at a maximum of a ninth-grade reading level, and probably a bit lower would not be inappropriate -- despite the course title, there is still an unfortunate range of actual reading skill at work.

* Stories with non-white protagonists are very much a good thing -- the student population is over 70% non-white.

* I can probably get away with at least one comic, assuming it stands on its own -- I'm seriously considering using Gaiman's "Ramadan," for instance, but I'm not sure how legible it will be in b&w photocopy form.

Fire away!

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Sunday, July 15th, 2012
9:37 pm - Go see Moonrise Kingdom
Here's what we knew about it before we decided we had to go see it ourselves: Moonrise Kingdom is a new Wes Anderson film about a boy and girl who run away from home together, pursued by her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), the scoutmaster (Edward Norton) and the police chief (Bruce Willis).

Um, yes.

I'm not going to say too much more about the movie's content, since I'm still not entirely sure whether it was really About anything meaningful. However, it was one of the most intense and amazing sensory experiences I've had inside a theater. Anderson' direction is superb, the use of color and shot and sound and music all perfectly coordinated to do... whatever the hell it is he's trying to do.

The best analogy I can think of, and the reason I want you to go see this for yourself, is that when the credits ended I felt exactly the way I do after I've just taken a bite of some extraordinary food. I don't know if you've ever been with me to, for instance, a really good sushi place, but sometimes a piece will be so totally perfect that I literally and instinctively shut my eyes, to focus my entire attention on the sensory wonder happening in my mouth.

That's what it was like coming out of the theater. I felt so totally filled up and deeply satisfied on an aesthetic level with the film that my arms were basically waving themselves around in the air of their own volition. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the movie's peculiar vision that I couldn't even formulate words, just kind of move my hands around and make happy mumbling noises.

God this movie is good. You need to go see it.

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Thursday, June 21st, 2012
4:04 pm - 7 Things: My Favorite Video Games
This is a ridiculously broad topic, so I'm going to give out arbitrary titles, a la the Penny Arcade We're Right Awards. I'm also going to just straight-up avoid the games that you probably already know about and know you should play (Shadow of the Colossus, Diablo n, Psychonauts, Okami, Red Dead Redemption, etc.)

Best Value for Money: The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac is a top-down shooter that's a mad synthesis of elements from Legend of Zelda, Geometry Wars and Nethack, with a heavy varnish of Biblical apocalyptica, body horror and internet memes. (It's also made by the same guy who did Super Meat Boy, if that means anything to you.) It's far from the best game of all time, but it is ridiculously compelling and absurdly cheap at $5.

I have poured more than 100 hours into this game.

If you're even remotely curious about my enthusiasm, check out this pretty good LP -- if it looks like something you'd enjoy, give it a shot. Only, don't buy the Wrath of the Lamb DLC until you're completely done or bored with the main game, because it dramatically changes the game balance.

Seriously, Isaac is tons of fun. Give it a shot.


Best Co-Op Experience You Probably Haven't Had: Crackdown

Okay, so technically Crackdown is a game about putting down a series of gangs which rule the city by taking out their leaders, one by one, in elaborate set-piece battles. What it's REALLY about is being a superpowered futurecop who is an absolute joy to control. See, by the end of the game, you can outrun cars and leap fifty feet in the air from a standing start (not to mention knock baddies fifty feet backwards with a single punch), and it is so much fucking fun to just run and jump around the huge, elaborate, detailed city. Before you even get to the combat, just the movement in this game is astonishingly visceral and gratifying.

And doing it single-player is fun, but this is a game that really shines as a co-op experience. Things like racing to the top of the massive spire at the center of the map and trying to punch the other guy off so they fall seventy stories to their death. Busting into the old racing arena a gang leader is using as hideout and just spitting out bullets like a buddy cop movie on speed. Driving two ramp trucks backwards into each other to exploit the glitch that sends them both flying a mile into the air.

Basically, this is a game whose writing claims to be taking itself seriously, but whose programming knows exactly what you're there for and delivers in spades. My friend Matt (the guy I'm doing the L.A. Noire LP with) played a bunch of this together and had a great time, and we're actually thinking of doing a blind co-op run of its sequel as our next LP project.


Best Game That I Want You To Play With Me, Please: You Don't Know Jack

Specifically, the most recent one for the 360. My Xbox Live username is also occultatio. If you don't know YDKJ, it's an amazingly fun trivia game with absolutely superb voice-acting from the host. The questions can sometimes be a bit easy, but generally they're quite well written, and the humor succeeds far more often than it fails.

Seriously, I don't have enough people to play this with. I still have I think more than half the original content left unplayed, and that's not even counting all the DLC packs. I'll probably bring this with me to the house party so people can see.

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Sunday, April 29th, 2012
11:07 pm - 7 Things: My High School Life
I touched on this briefly before, but in general my high school life was pretty awesome. Not as deep or as rich as my college life, to be sure, because I wasn't as sophisticated or generally as mature a person, but I really don't have any complaints about how it went. I'm not going to try and construct an overall narrative here, then, but just focus on some highlights.

The first thing you need to know is that I basically "transferred" into high school. 97% of my middle school went to one high school in our district, but I hated everybody else in my class by that point so I (and, luckily, almost all of the people I did like) went to a different one. The upshot of this was that almost nobody in high school knew who I was or anything about me, although they had all been in school together since at least 6th grade (there were only enough students for one middle and high school per town where I grew up).

So, first thing freshman year, I ran for treasurer. I ran on the two-fold platform of "Matt will make you money" and giving away candy, and won. I picked treasurer, you see, because it was the only student government position whose holder was not required to take Government as their fourth period class.

They changed that rule the next year.

One of the people who came from middle school with me was my friend Matt (with whom I'm currently doing an LP!), and we stayed best friends pretty much the whole time. Somewhere around sophomore year, I think, we decided that Tuesdays would be Beret Days, so we started wearing berets to school. Mine was, in fact, raspberry; he had four or five (he collected hats in general). Later, after discovering that they could be bought super-cheap at a local thrift store, we instituted Jumpsuit Wednesdays. That failed to catch on quite as well, but I remember being completely un-self-conscious about the whole thing. I'm pretty sure my parents were desperately confused.

We did have other friends, a core group of probably six or seven of us, and while some of us did eventually pair off, pretty much all the relationships which formed were incredibly monogamous and long-term by high school standards. I dated my girlfriend through all of junior and senior year (except for an unpleasant few weeks somewhere in the middle), and Matt's actually still going out with his.

If our group had an identity, it's probably that we thought we were incredibly refined and sophisticated. We went to see foreign films and art-house flicks -- I still remember being forced to sit through Julie Taymor's Titus. When we had parties, we ate fruit and drank Orangina (which was, to be fair, a bit less common back then). I'm relatively sure that we were kind of insufferable in a way.

We were also only one degree removed from the true theater geeks, since several of us did Drama instead of sports for our last two years. My senior year, the school finished building its brand new theater, and I basically became The Lighting Guy. The California Shakespeare Company sent someone out to train us in theater lighting, and by "us" I mainly mean "me." By the end of the year, I was actually being paid to run lights for pretty much everything that took place in there, and over the summer I actually got to run the board for the Shakespeare Company itself.

(Oh, and senior spring I put together and starred in an independent production of The Compleat Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). I was the one who wore the dresses. This was actually how we advertised the show.)

I also ran our Academic Decathlon club for three years, and got us to State every time. One year we made these awesome, floor-length, flowing black capes and wore them as we made our big entrance to the State-level Super Quiz. This made the local paper.

I accumulated a few nicknames. Like, there was this really friendly guy in my Latin classes, who played varsity basketball, and sophomore year we had PE together. I... did not play varsity basketball, but he was determined that I was secretly an amazing player and just hiding it, and so started calling me "G-Money." Or there were the guys from Drama who discovered that "Gandalf the Grey" could be humorously spoonerized.

In retrospect, both of those sound pretty mean. I swear they weren't, though.

So... high school. A pretty fun time, all things considered. I strongly suspect that whenever we have our reunion, I'm going to be remembered and recognized by a lot more people than I can return the favor to.

...I also suspect that absolutely nobody will be surprised by what I've ended up doing. Though they may be surprised with where I've ended up doing it.

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Monday, April 23rd, 2012
9:54 am - 7 Things: What sort of webcomic I'd make

As Alexa reminded me, I almost did make a webcomic, back in college, but we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it never came to anything. In the spirit of The Last Days of Foxhound, a few of us were tossing around gags for the hypothetical "Last Days of Ohtori," which of course would focus on everything that happened before Utena showed up. I got as far as a few awful character designs hacked together in Flash and a vague joke about Akio going car-shopping and saying, "I want one that just screams 'enormous penis'" before wisely giving up.

Anyway, that's not the comic I would make today.

I do have an idea -- originally, it came into my head as a video game, but the basic story could work either way, and it's not like either is likely to ever see fruition. Still, if I were or had access to a real artist, this is what you'd get.

It would be about Coyote, of course.

The best Coyote in fiction I've seen to date is the one from Gunnerkrigg Court, which most of you are probably familiar with already. What Tom Siddell gets really right about the character is that, against all odds and unlike most comic tricksters, he's really powerful. Like, his stories aren't just about stealing food or whatever (though he has his share of those), but also about screwing up actually important cosmic shit. Like scattering the stars instead of making real pictures, or accidentally making death a permanent state, or just generally pissing off gods more important than him.

What Gunnerkrigg doesn't quite get right is that, despite all this, Coyote is a fundamentally human character. He gets in trouble in a really big way, of course, but he's not some weird otherworldly figure surpassing human understanding. He's just this guy, you know? All the mistakes he makes are just the sort of basic, low-level mistakes that humans make when we get a bit too greedy or lazy; Coyote just makes them at really, really inopportune times. There's a reason that his stories serve partly as cautionary tales.

Despite all that, though, he's also always curious, always happy (unless he has something like wanting food to complain loudly about, of course), and keeps bouncing back. I don't know that there are any mythological figures who get into trouble quite as often as he does.

This is all a roundabout way of explaining that my webcomic would be the adventures of Coyote: World's Worst Private Detective.

It's set in a version of the City of the Gods (also of course), though without any of the baggage from the game. Our opening chapter is a typical "case," in this instance spurred by Coyote running into Buddha on the street and wildly misinterpreting a new koan (along the lines of "what is the sound of one hand clapping?") to be a mystery. As he runs around attempting to "solve" it we are introduced to the setting and a number of the other characters. At the end, after he's "solved" it to his own satisfaction (and Buddha's infuriatingly noncommittal smile), he goes off on a wild bender with Balder to celebrate and they black out somewhere around Arizona.

When he wakes up, Balder has vanished, the City is gone and nobody else even remembers that it ever existed.

The rest of the comic is about that mystery: who vanished the City? How? Why does nobody remember? Did it truly exist in the first place?

The comic doesn't focus 100% on Coyote, though -- as more gods get drawn into the web of mystery, they get chapters and sections of their own (in their own distinct art styles). For instance, when Coyote visits Valhalla to ask where Balder went, Odin of course gets very upset that he has pretended to forget about Loki's murder and subsequent imprisonment (Coyote: but we went out drinking last week?). Tyr, however, gets intrigued and picks up his own investigation, the humorless but actually effective Joe Friday to Coyote's Clouseau. His chapters reek of noir.

Oh, and Anansi doesn't believe a word of it, but decides to tag along as Coyote's Official Chronicler and Bard, both for the entertainment value and because it really annoys Coyote.

I have lots of other nebulous ideas, which I haven't bothered to plot out specifically because, well, I'm not pursuing this project seriously. It would basically be a chance to play around with mythology and being funny.

(The subtitle, of course, would be "A Mythtery.")

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Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
7:22 pm - 7 Things: How I Get To Know People
The immediate answer that springs to mind: "AAAH I DON'T KNOW HOW I DO THIS IT MUST BE MAGIC AND IF I THINK TOO HARD IT WILL BREAK AND I WILL NEVER MAKE NEW FRIENDS AGAIN."

I suspect this is not strictly true.

What is true is that my social skills (Dad: "Oh, is that what you call them?") are almost entirely learned and artificial. Until probably I think my sophomore year of high school I had literally no idea how to interact with normal people. I was your crazily stereotypical nerd kid, all full of bright comments and helpful advice and interesting trivia which I was only too pleased to share with the world, and my classmates by and large (with, thank god, one or two exceptions) thought I was a huge weirdo and made fun of me.

Here's the thing, though: I was so wrapped up in my happy nerd place that I didn't understand I was being made fun of, no matter how obvious it should have been. I gather that this caused my parents no shortage of grief on my behalf, like the picture of me in my middle school yearbook, wearing neon orange shorts that barely covered my hips, lying sideways on the cement like some sort of bottle-eyed harem girl, smiling broadly at the camera above the caption, "Who likes short shorts?"

No, I will not scan this image.

My point is that, although I was utterly clueless for a very long time, I nevertheless managed to be very happy with myself, and so by the time I realized that I needed to be doing things differently, I didn't have any residual bitterness towards my peers and threw myself eagerly into raising my social skills to the level of, say, the average goldfish.

For many years, The Rules would literally run through my head: Be Interested. Ask Them Questions. Don't Dominate The Conversation. Make Eye Contact. Smile. Laugh Even If It's Not Funny. Fortunately, my quest was aided by a number of environmental factors: my high school was in a community where intelligence was genuinely valued, I had developed a reputation for good humor and helpfulness that seemed to cancel out my reputation for weirdness, and I was really active in doing things for the school and my classmates (running clubs, putting on plays, etc.).

By the time I got to Harvard, then, I had built up a level of confidence in my own abilities to pass as socially competent that bordered on the hubristic. Freshman year put paid to that arrogance, as I was rejected from social group after social group, starting with my roommates and ending with literally every a cappella group on campus (I made it to no fewer than five final night auditions based on singing ability, but was always rejected because I "wouldn't fit in with the group"). A particularly disastrous attempt at romance in the spring left me so unhappy with Harvard that I was seriously considering -- and my parents understood -- taking some time off instead of coming back in the fall.

What brought me back (and here I'm going to tie this in directly to another recent discussion on LJ) was HRSFA. It's not that I had interacted with them all that much, but the open acceptance I found there -- where it was genuinely enough for a freshman to be interesting and friendly even if they were awkward as fuck -- persuaded me over the summer that Harvard might not be such an awful place after all. Over the next few years, I finally grew up (well, at least upwards), getting to know people through the HRSFA standards of long, interesting conversations, lots of gaming and crazy events that seem designed to break down social barriers and inhibitions.

To be honest, though, I'm still not sure I actually know how to make real friends with people in the "real world." I got to know a lot of people in my education classes through the dual magics of asking them questions about themselves and being funny and entertaining, and we did stuff like go to bars and have dinner parties and such, but I never quite felt like I was making the same sort of solid friendships I had in college. There was also one of Alexa's old friends from high school who moved back to the area, who between intelligence and geekiness felt exactly like a HRSFAn, but although I tried to approach him in the same way, being funny and interested and doing geek stuff together, I realized months later that he just wasn't interested. He would smile and be friendly when we saw him, but he was also planning RPGs without us and forgetting to invite us to events and such.

So, I return to my original point in the opening paragraph: I have no idea. The only things I consciously do are to follow the Social Rules and to work very hard on being funny, but the alchemy that takes place between those actions and people wanting to be friends with me I still find utterly opaque.

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10:03 am - Quick question

So, as an unexpected and awesome extra birthday gift, my parents gave me my mom's old iPad. It doesn't have a data plan, but I'm getting a lot of use already just as a super-portable computer and e-book reader.

To that end, though: are there any good sources for ebooks that don't charge full price? I very rarely buy books new, because of the expense and because I like supporting the many excellent used book stores in the area, but I haven't been able to find any good ways to do that yet. The St. Paul library has a pathetic selection, for instance. There are certainly a few authors I wouldn't mind supporting, but I can't afford to buy new as many books as I tend to go through. Any suggestions?

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Sunday, April 15th, 2012
9:52 pm - 7 Things: Politics
When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend (well, one of the more popular kids who tolerated my company, at least, and I'm not sure I knew the difference back then) who decided that the cool new thing to do was to be cynical about everything. I'm pretty sure it was an election year (1996, I think?), and I distinctly remember coming home to my parents with my new, hip cynicism, and them looking at me incredulously. It must have been my dad who told me, in so many words, to cut it out. "You're way too young to be world-weary," were his words.

That early flirtation with cynicism has long since been replaced by what my dad calls "an optimism and confidence completely ungrounded in reality," but if it's still around anywhere it's in my relationship with politics. I vote, and I try to stay informed, but I also try not to get too emotionally involved or invested with any individual issue.

The problem is that everything is so stupid right now. The phrase "satire is dead" has been thrown around many, many times throughout history, but it just keeps getting worse. Like, in the last two years, we've had a major party take a firm, categorical stance against the concept of empathy. The state next door just reverted their standing law which allowed women to sue in cases of wage discrimination, barely a year after a lengthy and concerted campaign to demonize public school teachers as greedy and pampered.

Where the fuck do you go from here?

The problem is that a rational, moral person would be obligated to be outraged 24/7. The shit that becomes part of the "national discourse," these days, should have outrage as the initial response, followed by unanimous public condemnation of and deep shame on the part of the astonishing assholes propounding and promoting it. Instead, because money rules everything including the news media, it gets discussed "reasonably," legitimizing the next, even more horrible thing to follow. This isn't a slippery-slope argument: this is literally what has been happening.

And, because I just don't have the energy to stay as upset and angry as the situation truly deserves, I have chosen not to try. For what it's worth, I do view this as a moral failing on my part. We're not so far gone that massive populist movements cannot have any impact, as we saw last year, and the one thing that such movements need is warm bodies, but I'm actively choosing to be lazy. If the country continues down this path, if the Supreme Court shows itself to be just as corrupted by outside interests as the other two branches, if corporate money takes more and more open a hand in politics, I believe we will reach a point where active revolt is the correct option, and the populist anger to fuel it will be there.

The system is not, yet, too broken to fix itself from within, but I am not a good enough person to be one of those working to fix it.



(As a somewhat happier end-note, I also believe that, long-term, the education of the next generation is one of the most important tasks I can devote myself to. I've just become increasingly pessimistic about our country's current trajectory giving us enough time to heal it in that way.)

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Saturday, April 14th, 2012
11:09 pm - 7 Things: Married Life
...

WHY DOES EVERYONE ASK THIS QUESTION?

(note to sandmantv: this is in no way directed at you in particular.)

Seriously, I think probably more than half of all the people I know, ever, have asked me a close variant of the question, "So what's married life like?" Several of these people are married themselves, which is particularly mystifying to me because my answer is always the same: pretty much exactly the same as life before marriage.

To be fair, Alexa and I had been living together for several years before we even got engaged, so there was absolutely no dramatic change in our quotidian routines following the wedding. Even emotionally, honestly, I don't think we felt significantly "different" after the ceremony. The two of us work well together. We can spend literally twenty four hours a day in each others' company for literally weeks on end without ever really getting on each others' nerves. Suddenly being married doesn't change that, and honestly doesn't even test it more than we had previously (like the week-long road trip we took moving from Boston to Minnesota, which only proved to us that we really enjoy spending twelve hours a day stuck in a car together for whatever reason).

There are, I guess, a few differences. Every so often, we'll call each other "husband" and "wife," and those words still have power. I couldn't tell you why, but it still feels odd to think of each other in those, specific terms, and I still every once in a while slip up and refer to her as my girlfriend.

Our mutual support system has strengthened, too. Even before we were married, I tended to be an emotional support for her much more than the other way around, because I've found a pretty solid core of contentment to build my worldview around (please note that the relative merits of acceptance and ambition is a different and much more philosophical topic all to itself). In the past few years, though, she's become much more of a crucial organizational support for me. I've had ADD since childhood, and while I don't tend to exhibit the stereotypical hyperactivity too much (not counting when I'm sleep-drunk), I've discovered recently that I'm incredibly susceptible to aversion: if I don't want to do something, it's really hard for me to even make myself think about it. It may sound childish on some level, but I'm genuinely incredibly thankful to have Alexa now be the one in charge of, say, managing and watching our money. In short, there are ways in which each of us is more mature and adult than the other, and we've definitely bonded our strengths together a lot since we married.

Honestly, though, all that would have happened anyway by this point, with or without the wedding. This is one of the areas where my thinking is deeply influenced by Orson Scott Card (his early novels, that is, not the shit that flows out of his mouth these days): a wedding isn't a contract between two people, but between two people on one side and their community on the other. Getting married is to promise your friends and your society, "we are committed to each other and will not be separating." The contract between the two of us -- when we realized and agreed that we would be making a life together -- took place long, long before the wedding; long before we even got engaged. That was the watershed moment; everything since then has really just been a joyful formality.

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12:10 am - 7 Things: Let's Play
First, for those of you who have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, a "Let's Play" in this context is when someone records themselves playing through a videogame, with commentary or mockery or some other sort of value-add on top. There are a ton of them at the LP Archive.

I love LPs. I don't get to play a lot of games myself, and there are a ton of games which are lots of fun to watch but I would never want to be in control of (I'm looking at you here, Dark Souls). I mainly hang out in the Something Awful LP subforum, which is an awesome place because they hound out of town the shitty, zero-effort, youtube-quality LPs which infest the rest of the internet.

So, what makes a good LP? There is no one single answer, but I'm going to talk about a few of my favorites and attempt to extrapolate in an extremely pretentious manner from them. In short, there are a few primary "styles" that have proven successful.

First, there are "informative" LPs, whose aim is to show off the game as thoroughly as possible. People make this sort of LP when they really love the game and want others to appreciate it as much as they do, and in a good informative LP that passion really shines through. Probably my single favorite in this category is Deadly Premonition, which is basically Twin Peaks: The Game That Should Have Been. It was apparently a very difficult game to get into, because of the long and somewhat awkward combat sections (which were largely shoehorned in at the end of development), and a plot which felt very thin unless you realized the importance of pursuing all the apparently optional side missions in every chapter, which instead of being simple fetch quests really fleshed out the characters and setting. The LP is a 100% run, and if you like Twin Peaks and wish there were more of it (or, more accurately, wish there were more of the first season of it), you really need to see this (or just play the game!). It's beautifully written, quirky as all hell, and has one of the most amazing and completely unexpected fifth-act reveals in video game history.

Next, there are "conversational" LPs, where there's generally a bunch of friends sitting around and just chatting while one of them plays the game. When you have a group with a good rapport, this can be amazing and incredibly funny. I think the single best example of this is an LP of New Super Mario Brothers Wii, known colloquially as The Friend Destroyer (if you haven't seen it: it's a platformer with four players working cooperatively, except they can jump on each others' heads and send them into pits). I've also really been enjoying the ongoing LP of 20 Years of Sonic, where a pair of friends (who also do a podcast together) are playing through every single Sonic the Hedgehog game. Ever. The games are part of the attraction, but mainly the joy is just listening to two funny people being funny together.

Finally, there are some LPs that just kind of defy classification, like this one of Assassin's Creed where the gameplay is intercut with, basically, a documentary about the real history and architecture of the setting.

I'm going to close with a couple miscellaneous points.

  • It's completely ridiculous to obsess over LPs as some kind of great artistic medium, of course, but I have, a few times, seen something amazing that only works because of this particular format. For instance, check out this video, which is from an LP of Demon's Souls where the player had to grind "pure black world tendency" by killing himself, over and over and over and over again (I won't spoil the surprise, just go watch). Or, this video from an LP of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, in which the player murders hundreds of bad guys from a helicopter with an infinite-ammo minigun while his co-commentator reads aloud from a sociology text about "thug culture."


  • I've actually just started my own LP! It's of L.A. Noire, a recent detective/adventure game, and I'm doing it with my friend Matt from high school (one of my groomsmen, for those of you who were there). If you're interested, you can find it here!

Oh, and if you're interested and haven't gotten a list yet, you can comment and I'll toss you seven things to write about. Or you can comment and I won't, if you'd rather.

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Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
7:13 pm - Name that tune: answers
If you still want to play blind, go here, quick!

Before you read another line!Collapse )

Slowly learning what sorts of music I can and cannot expect my friends list to recognize... I did much better than last time, certainly. Congratulations to all!

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Saturday, January 28th, 2012
10:53 pm - God dammit, guys
Every so often, everyone starts doing these lyrics quizzes, and every few times that comes around I do one of these "name that tune" style music ID things. And, every time, I encourage people to make their own, since it's way more fun to play this game than just reading words (at least for me, there's much more of the "oh god I know this what is it" moments with audio). And, every time, nobody does.

So here's a quick tutorial on how to make your own! It's really super-easy:

1. Download and install Audacity and the mp3 encoder. You probably want these on your system anyway.

2. Open iTunes or other music player, start shuffling.

3. When a good song comes up, open up an Audacity window and drag the song in.

4. Highlight everything after the first 5-10 seconds (whatever you want to keep) and hit delete.

5. File > Export... > Save as type = mp3

6. Type "01" or whatever for the filename. Hit Save. When presented with the tag data, hit Clear.

7. Do a bunch, and upload!

See? Really easy! Now make some cool music quizzes! Here's mine:

behind the cutCollapse )

Like last time, I will screen comments (so answer everything you know, not just what hasn't been guessed already!) and award one point each for title and artist. Answers and scores to go up in a later post. Have at, and have fun!

(and someone make a quiz so I can play!)

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Wednesday, December 14th, 2011
6:42 pm - grass
Okay, so I posted about the "farewell" I got from my Survey of American Literature course on Monday, right? And I thought I was done. I mean, there was the final exam, but that was just going to have some simple matching questions (e.g. "match each author to their major philosophy") and then some short essays.

NOPE!



I...

I really don't know what to say to that.

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Monday, December 12th, 2011
9:52 pm - A fond farewell from Survey of American Literature
So I'm taking the Dickinson quiz, and I come across this question:

What is Dickinson's implied metaphor in the middle section of poem 249 (lines 5-9)?

Okay, I think. I go read Dickinson's poem:

Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile—the winds—
To a heart in port—
Done with the compass—
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden—
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor—Tonight—
In thee!


This takes me about, you know, 30 seconds or so to read and make sure I'm not wildly misinterpreting anything.

Then I look at the answer choices:

a) She's referring to a liquor cabinet
b) She's referring to a military scout
c) She's referring to a sales presentation
d) She's referring to a ship

...

Farewell, American Lit. You will not be missed.

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Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
9:51 pm - HAPPY SECOND FREYNIVERSARY!
And to think, I nearly missed it because I thought today was the 29th. We've had our puppy (who is the best puppy) for TWO WHOLE YEARS now. That is totally worth celebrating!

Thus: a new video of some of Frey's greatest moments. I call it: "Frey vs. the bathroom door."



Hooray for Frey! He is the smartest dog.

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