Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here Comes Halloween! Also Zombie Awards

It's one of the two holidays I celebrate every year - Halloween! This year we carved pumpkins (pictures coming, I promise) and I dressed up twice! Woohoo! Today I'm half-a-zombie (again, pictures coming) and I get to wear my Fangoria "Zombie Exterminating Service" t-shirt.

Let's kick the day off with the Golden Brain Awards, recognizing accomplishment in the field of zombiism. More fun shenanigans to come, no doubt.

Have I Become a Heartless Bastard?

Maybe. Or maybe I'm letting this get to me more than I should.

Context: there's a good number of homeless people who work the streets downtown where I work. They're kind of part of the background of working here; I never give them money, but there's one guy who I've given food to on several occasions, and he always appreciates it.

Specific context: Sunday, we drove into the UD for haircuts at Rudy's and lunch with Angela. After lunch, we decide some coffee is in order. Anglea suggests a coffee joint just down the street (University Way, often called "The Ave") from us. We start our journey at about the 4900 section of University and end at the 4600 section. By New York standards (which don't apply here), that's a journey of 3/10 of a mile. In actuality, it was probably closer to 400 feet, just a little longer than a football field. That's a guess based on what I remember of football fields from high school marching band.

We we walk out of the restaurant and turn right, heading towards our destination. There's a bus stop to our left. Under the awning are two homeless people. One of them says "I need fifty cents for my bus fare." Sure you do, pal. I keep walking and don't say anything - the old "ignore 'em" tack that typically works. This guy yells after me, "you probably have twenty bucks in your wallet" and says something incoherant. For the record, I had about four bucks in ones, largely because I don't have a need for cash here unless I'm getting coffee at Monorail. But that's a different story.

Next, maybe ten steps down the road, a guy comes down the stairs and gets in front of me and asks for money. I say "no" because I've made eye contact and keeps walking. He then starts following me, continuing to ask for money. Liz and Angela are walking behind me and Crabby, and I have to turn to make sure he doesn't go for purses or anything. He eventually stops following us, just as we come to...

Two homeless people positioned on either side of the sidewalk. As one unit, they ask for money. They're holding signs. I say, fairly loudly (as I'm still a little torqued from the guy following me and tired of being asked for my hard-earned money), "it's like a gauntlet down here today," which considering the circumstances is fairly appropriate. Well, one of the last two people overheard me and started yelling about how God would bless me and make me loving and blah blah blah.

Fuck this shit, I mean really. I worked at DHS, I know what my tax dollars already pay for. I know what charities do. There's no fucking excuse to ask me for money when you could get in a shelter, start looking for a goddamned job, get off the juice, unless you didn't want to. Maybe that's not entirely true, but there is a LOT out there and social workers will try to help. I know, I was one for two years.

But I also don't hand out money to people. Period. If I'm going to give someone money, they will give me something in return. Street musicians are the only people to whom I will give change for this very reason. I used to give money to bums in London all the time until I kept seeing the same bums in the same place, day after day, asking for handouts. What was my money going for exactly? Now food I'll give, but not money.

So I submit to you, dear readers: am I a heartless bastard? I've been going over and over this incident in my head. I don't think so, but I open it to the court of public opinion.

It's Dangerous!

Some smartie-folks released the list of most dangerous cities today - well, the list of the cities who responded, ranked least-to-most dangerous. I was a little worried when Seattle, WA weighed in at #262 on the list, pretty far down there - but then I saw Tulsa, OK at #335 (out of 371 total cities) and felt better.

Monday, October 30, 2006

22 Years Behind the Times

This weekend I embarked on a cinematic voyage into unexplored (for me) territory, by renting one of the finest films I've ever seen. By "renting," I mean "got from Netflix," and by "finest films I've ever seen," I mean "This is Spinal Tap." Yes, it's true, Spinal Tap is in that era of movies where stuff came out that was Rated R and I didn't see it at the time because I had parents who actually gave a shit what their kid was up to (a good thing, mind you), and haven't gotten back to since.

All I can say is, that movie goes up to eleven. It's pretty unusual that I finish watching a movie and think, "yeah, that's pretty much one of the best movies I've ever seen," but that's certainly what happened this weekend.

So what did you do with your extra Daylight Savings Time hour?

Digging Underwater, Pirates Edition

Ahoy mateys! What's more cool than underwater archaeology? How about underwater archaeology excavating Blackbead's ship?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Vote Ye Washingtonians!

My absentee ballot arrived in the mail last week, and I used my extra hour this morning wisely and filled it out. As usual, Jeff is doing a bang-up job blogging local politics, especially the various state initiatives. So here's a brief breakdown of what's going down in Washington Legislative District 45:

I 920. Should we repeal an estate tax that effects 250 of the richest dead people in Washington each year? Let's see. No.

I 933. Should taxpayers have to pay people who want to turn their land into subdivisions but can't because of environmental or other regulation? An easy no.

I 937. Encourages environmental solutions for power companies with 25,000 or more customers. As Jeff explained, this is a wind power initiative. Sure, why not.

King County Prop 5. Should we raise sales and use of land tax by one tenth of one percent to fund King County Transit? I love taking the bus. My stress level has gone way down since I stopped driving here so much (big surprise). I'll pay a little more in property taxes to extend that benefit to others.

US Senate. Maria Cantwell (Democrat) or Mike McGavick (Republican)? I'm not a Cantwell fan, but McGavick is the former CEO of Safeco and his entire campaign reeks of personal greed, power tripping and the same kind of NeoCon nonsense that has landed the country in this spot in the first place. Perhaps if he was closer to Barry Goldwater than Rush Limbaugh, I'd consider it. So congrats Maria, you got my vote.

WA Legislative District 45. Senator: Eric Oemig (D) or Toby Nixon (R). Getting over the "Nixon" part, Eric Oemig's groundpounders came by the house last weekend for a Get out the Vote campaign. The best I've neard from Nixon was some vague attack ads I got in the mail. Bam.

Representatives: I'm not going to go through every candidate, but I do want to point out that Tim Lee, the Republican candidate who wants to represent District 45 on the Eastside, appeared at a convention with his company's staff in "Redmond Sux" t-shirts. I don't know much about local politics, but I know that someone who wants to represent the Eastside shouldn't be parading around in a shirt that tells the world "Redmond Sux."

Of course, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm taking that information from an attack ad that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Larry Springer, sent me in the mail. So who says dirty politics aren't effective sometimes?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Signs of Getting Old

Here's a converstion with myself that indicates I'm getting older.

Me1: Man, those pants I wore yesterday kind of smell bad. Oh well, I've only got two pairs of jeans, I guess I have to wear them anyway.

Me2: Why do you only own two pairs of jeans? You know, you're not in college anymore.

Me1: Pants are expensive! They're like 25 bucks a pop at Old Navy.

Me2: Are you honestly sitting there and telling me that you can't afford to buy yourself more pants that fit so you don't have to run around in something funky that makes your legs itch because it's got your own dried sweat in it?

Me1: ...

Me2: Yeah, I didn't think so.

So now I have one pair of pants - that fit me, without any holes in them - for each day of the week!

Six-Word Stories

I can't really give credit here because I've seen this all over the Internet, but the editors of Wired put out a call to SF writers to create stories in six words. The results vary from "meh" to "awesomely awesome," but it's worth reading.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tales from a Sport Cthutility Vehicle

Last night, I was driving from my office to our weekly D&D game. I'm stopped at a light, waiting to turn left, and I notice the person in the car behind me is having a very animated discussion with her passenger. It looks like a mother and a young daughter. Never one to pass up a chance to people-watch, I keep an eye on them in my rearview mirror. The mom looks like she's trying to explain something, as she keeps using her hands.

Then, she points at the back-left corner of my truck. Talks some more, and makes a gesture like she's showing her daughter something really big. It clicks immediately what they're talking about: the back-left corner of my truck is adorned with my Cthulhu for President bumper sticker.

Now I'm watching them outright, and the mother notices me looking in the rearview. She gives me two big thumbs up. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, I turn around and give them a thumbs-up too. They laugh. I laugh.

Later, she passes me and I wave.

Nothing like the Great Old Ones to liven up your day and remind you how cool people can be.

Birthday from Hell (Kinda)

My birthday this year was probably my second-worst birthday ever. It's going to take a lot to top my teacher slapping me with detention for not writing my spelling words ten times as homework (as happened in the fifth grade on my birthday), but this one came pretty close.

Long story short is I spent about 12 hours at my office working, and then spent another hour at home working. Luckily, the day after my birthday - when all that hard work paid off - turned out to be pretty decent.

The birthday wasn't a total wash - I got to talk to my parents, my brother (whom I almost never talk to), and my grandparents, so that was cool. Plus I am the proud owner of a new 80 GB video iPretentiousPod, and a pretty bitching iHome iPod iDock with an iClock built in, that replaced the old (non-i)CD player on my nightstand.

Also: I got pizzaid for my wizzork on the d20 Modern Fallout game, an amount that turned out to be about ten times what I got paid for my previous contract. Oddly enough, I already have a future work prospect buzzing around as well. Too bad I can't do this freelance thing full-time - yet.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Home Improvement Hilarity

Via SA, via Boing Boing, comes home improvement nightmares. I don't feel so bad about our house now.

It's Borat!

He's all over the place right now running a brilliant PR campaign for his upcoming movie. The BBC looks at how Sacha Baron Cohen hoaxed America as Borat.

Book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Amazon.com offered me 5% more off my order if I ordered Cormac McCarthy's The Road with World War Z, so I said "why the hell not" and added it to the cart. It's a good book. It's a very fast read. And it's one of those simple-but-difficult books, just because of the subject matter.

The book follows an unnamed protagonist and his son as they trek south towards some unknown and esoteric goal. The goal, whatever it is, acts as a MacGuffin to provide the two with a need to move. They push an old shopping cart that contains their worldly possessions, and avoid human contact whenever possible - in no small part because many of the the other humans in the ash-covered, burned-out wasteland have resorted to cannibalism to survive.

The book is heavy. It's barely 200 pages, but it's heavy all the same, because while it has the normal survivialist masturbatory fantasies post-apocalyptic books they play second fiddle to the relationship between the father and son. The father's goal is to basically survive long enough to teach his kid how to survive, and as the story progresses he becomes more and more desperate in his drive to do this. It is clear at some points that the father isn't willing to take the kinds of risks that might actually provide a better life for his son, and his descent into paranoia is equally heartbreaking for its utter lack of hope as it is for it inevitable conclusion.

I recommend The Road, but don't expect something lighthearted. Sleep will not be an easy time coming after you finish this book.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dodging Bullets

Jon isn't the only one who can dodge bullets. My roommate noticed a "dripping" sound coming from the ceiling of the computer room this morning. After some scouting around the attic (and finding a cache of old junk - a story for another time), we found the source: a leak in the roof. We quickly consulted our "big book o' crap you get when you buy a house;" our warranty expired last year. Doh.

And yet.

We called the roofing company - they said the roof was still under warranty. And they would send someone out "right away." "Right away" turned out to be about an hour from when we called (and keep in mind, this is a Sunday.) The guy showed up, took a look, said the roof was probably installed incorrectly, and took some pictures and said he'd get back to us.

A couple hours later, he rolls up with some building materials and goes to town. The roof is temporarily fixed, and tomorrow it will be all of the way fixed. No more leak.

Again - this is a Sunday. When this is all said and done, I will pass along the roofing company's name and recommend them wholeheartedly. In the meantime, I'm having an extra glass of wine tonight and considering this a bullet dodged.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Charity Poker

Lots of games industry types will likely be at the Comic Stop's charity poker tournament on October 21. I'll probably be there. The creators of Penny Arcade and PVP will be there. Will you?

Songs in the Key of Springfield

Here's a great way to waste time at work: every episode of The Simpsons online.

Edit: Brandon's right and this is probably illegal. Link removed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Everyone judged her except for God. Only He knew the whole story."

- Found in a comic book at Zanadu today

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Book: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War is Max Brooks' successor to his pseudo-comedy book The Zombie Survivial Guide, although Z is very much a serious piece of literature that not only curb-stomps the brains out of anything else in the genre I've read, it blows it into a pulp with a shotgun blast. Yeah, it's good.

Z is a series of vignettes, each an "interview" with someone associated with a worldwide outbreak known as the "zombie war," or "World War Z." It has taken the world twelve years to push the zombie threat back to managable levels, and not without great loss; it's an apocalyptic scenario, but not a total one, as there are still millions of people as well as some infrastructure left.

What's fascinating about Brooks' Z is the same spirit that encapsulates all post-apocalyptic literature - the posed question "how would people react in this, the most extreme of circumstances?" Brooks' answer is certainly more hopeful than most, and reminds me in no small part of David Brin's take on civilization - that despite its shortcomings, it's something worth fighting for. Brooks also manages to work in some good social commentary as well without resorting to cliches or jaded and tired criticism; his details of Israel's response and the reactions in the Middle East are especially telling.

I cannot recommend World War Z enough, as the top of the zombie novel genre, a great piece of post-apoc. fiction, and just a great read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Video of the Day

I've been listening to videos for the Guitar Hero 2 songs all day through the YouTube links in my other post, and I decided to search for some of my favorite music videos from when MTV actually played music. Here's possibly the best video made during the 1980s, "Take on Me" for A-Ha.

My Next Custom Playlist

Ladies and Gentlement, now that the entire Guitar Hero 2 tracklist has been released, I can start assembling the next custom playlist for my iPod.

Almost forgot: my old iPod has finally withered and died. It gave me a three-year run. Not too shabby for something I probably used 30 hours a week.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Majority Report

There's a poll running on CNN.com right now related to the recent shenanigans occuring on the Korean peninsula: "Is a preemptive strike to destroy a nation's nuclear weapons capability ever justified?" (can't link because it's a javascript poll.) As of 2:45 PT on October 9 2006, 58% (40161 votes) say "yes."

There are a lot of reasons why I would say "no," but instead I offer the Minority Report question: Is arresting a person for a crime they have not yet committed ever justified?

Weekend Watch: BSG

This weekend was Battlestar Galactica-a-riffic. Which is to say I finally got caught up on the series (thank you TV shows on DVD!) and watched the DVRed Season 3 premiere from last Friday night.

I admit that I avoided BSG due in no small part to the number of people who recommended it to me. Typically I will listen to a small number of friends who know me really well and share my tastes, who tell me "hey, you should check this out." When people I don't necessarily like or I know have poor taste tell me "hey, you should check this out," it's kind of like a Jason Repellant - it's a great way to keep me away from something.

But BSG turned out to be pretty damn good. Liz thought so too, which surprised me. And like I said, we are all caught up and ready for the new season.

The show's ambiguity is its best feature (it's pacing, however, it its worst: just a little too slow.) Are the humans supposed to represent America, or the Arab world, or Europe during World War II? What are the Cylons supposed to represent? Or are they supposed to represent anything at all, and instead just provide a scenario to explore what makes us human - or our relationships with the other members of our race?

It's one part Frankenstein (in that the Cylons are struggling to overcome the context in which they were created), one part Starship Troopers (how do you wage a war against an overwhelming enemy, and what do you sacrifice to win that war?), and one part Mad Max. And many other influences all coming together to create something worthwhile.

I'm optimistic about the direction the show will take this season, in a way I haven't been about a TV show for quite some time - especially a show that's not on HBO.

Maybe He's Just Ronery

In recent news, a power-hungry and militaristically agressive cowboy leader who disregards the health concerns of his own citizens and stays in power through fear has rattled his sabre something terrible. I speak of course about Kim "So Verwy Ronery" Jong Il, whose country joined the nuclear ranks this evening (or tomorrow, depending on what time zone you're in.)

Footage of the event has already been posted on YouTube:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Iraq < Foley < North Korea

As any comedian can tell you, timing is everything. Only I'm just not sure where - or what - the punchline to this joke is.

Nearly two weeks ago, ABC News broke the story that Republican Mark Foley of Florida had lewd conversations with a young congressional page. Foley resigned, the exchange was printed, and hilarity ensued. Startlingly, no one seems much to care that Foley is gay - the issue here is that Foley was sending lewd IMs to underaged pages. It's interesting to note that the age of consent in Washington D.C. is 16, but since Foley was using the Internet he was subject to prosecution under a law that he in fact helped pass.

But the timing was almost immediately an issue. Despite the fact that it was a Republican aide that broke the story, Republicans called foul and claimed the Democrats timed the story to hit before the election - despite another fact that news sources - including Fox News - have had details of the story for months, and that Congressional pages were warned as early as 1995 to stay away from Foley, and that many House Republicans have known about Foley's indescretions.

Following Foley's resignation, the spin machine started - with Foley himself. He claimed he was an alcoholic and checked into rehab, following the Conservative pattern behavior of not taking personal responsibility and accountability for your actions, but blaming them on something else: parents, alcohol, Lib'ruls, Saddam, Islamofascists, the Lib'rul Media, the Feminists, Satanists, violent video games, rock and roll music, whoever. Hardly surprising. Fox News contrbuted to the effort with graphics reporting that Foley was a Democrat and stories whose language tried to disassociate him from the Republican party. Bill O'Reilly, himself known (at least among those who care) for his lewd advances to underlings, joined the party (YouTube link) too.

The word that comes to mind here is clusterfuck. And it's just getting warmed up.

But the timing is interesting here. I noted yesterday to Seth that North Korea's announcement of a nuke test seemed oddly timed to return some Good 'Ol Fear to the American consciousness right before an election (again.) Fear means vote for safety, and we all know that safety is keeping Republicans in office, right?

Seth brought up a much more compelling point, especially considering that the Foley sex scandal seems just as useless and stupid as any other sex scandal from Lewinski to Caligula - the Foley story broke a couple of days after a the intelligence report that indicated the war in Iraq has actually strengthened terrorism - a report that has now completely dropped from the headlines. In fact, ask yourself honestly whether you've thought about that report in the last three or four days, and then ask yourself how much you thought about a Florida Scientologist sending lewd emails to underaged boys.

I now wonder if the timing of everything isn't even a more elaborate machine designed not only to have us remain scared before an election, but to intentionally make us ignore a factual report that may very well have a deep and meaningful impact on who we choose when we vote in a month.

But at this point, the web is so twisted, I'm just not sure anymore.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Joke of the... Whenever

A Democrat, Conservative and a Republican were on the Titanic. When it hit the iceberg the Democrat screamed, "My God, we must save the children!"

The Conservative screamed, "Fuck the children!"

The Republican inquired, "Do we have time?"

Via the SA forums.

Book: Autumn by David Moody

Autumn came in a batch of Amazon.com recommendations while I was checking out World War Z from The Zombie Survival Guide scribe Max Brooks. Autumn is another example of zombie fiction, which seems to have taken off in the last five years seemingly on its own, and like Monster Island, Autumn was published online first and then self-published into the physical world. Its rawness shows; I counted a few editing mistakes and Moody's writing just flowed like something you'd read online, when the author is more concerned about getting thoughts down than in the structure of what he writes, and hasn't gone back to look it over.

Autumn is really a setup to the rest of Moody's novels, which are not avialable for free online; it's character introduction and development leading to a climax that is anti-climactic in the greater scheme of the world. It's Night of the Living Dead when you know there several more movies coming - which isn't to say it isn't a satisfying read. Moody could have stood to edit out his characters' bickering a little bit, not because it was unrealistic but simply because it got repetitive. But Autumn certainly accomplishes its goal of making you want to know what's happening next in the series. Next order I make from Amazon, I'll have to drop another of Moody's books in there.

Monday, October 02, 2006

AI vs. Graphics

Ars Technica has an interesting post speculating that certain versions of upcoming games may make sacrifices in graphical quality in favor of improved enemy AI and game interaction. While this is all speculative at this point, it certainly raises an interesting question: with all that supercomputer processing power in modern gaming consoles, is it better to use it for "more immersive" (read: high definition) graphics, or for a more interesting game experience? I'd certainly favor the later, although not to the point where you sacrificed quality and playability for it. In other words, I don't want a game so fuzzy I can't see or tell what I'm doing - GTA: Libery City Stories, I'm looking in your direction!

Gentlemen, Start the Cloning Machines!

I was considering getting a dog for home security purposes, but now I think I might hold off. In a few years, following the recent discovery of soft tissue in a T-rex skeleton, I may have other options for home security animals.

Via SA forums.