Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas To All

And to all a good night!

Friday, December 05, 2008


Tonight one of my coworkers asked me if, because of being married at such a young age, I regretted missing the ability to date people in my 20s. After a moment of reflection, I answered quite honestly that I didn't.

It's not that the romanticized notion of being a bachelor doesn't appeal to me, but the fact of the matter is that I see my friends and coworkers struggling with their own relationships, trying to make them work and trying to overcome all the crazy little dramas and baggage we all bring into our interactions with other people, and I can't help but think how glad I am to not have to deal with that anymore. At least in the same way they are.

It's funny; at the end of the day, we are all good and well-meaning people who do the best we can with what we're handed, whatever the context of that might be. And so many of us choose to dwell on what we don't have or the idealized version of what we think we need or want that we simply forget to stop and enjoy where we are.

So if you're reading this, stop and take a moment to enjoy where you are. Because it's a great place, in its own way. Really.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fallout 3

I've been following the release of Fallout 3 for more than a year now. The game is out, I've played it all the way through once, and I might as well throw my opinion into the Internet's sludge pool about the game, since everyone else already has.

If you haven't finished the game, or don't want (minor) spoilers, you might want to read something else.

I kept my expectations for Fallout 3 firmly in check, not because I didn't enjoy Oblivion (I did, repetitive as it could be sometimes) but because of my history with Fallout and Wasteland, and - yes - the heritage of the series. If my expectations were low, then I couldn't be disappointed. I had my doubts about a lot of things about the game, but at the end of it I walked away feeling satisfied, and like I had a lot of fun. What more can you ask for?

Fallout 3 is shorter than Oblivion but somehow more engaging; the world seemed a little smaller as well, which helped everything have a more immediate feel to it. You quite literally start the game as your character comes out of the womb and in a pretty innovative starting sequence, you choose your gender, race and stats as your character grows up. You finish off your character by making choices in a standardized test, or you can simply do the gamer thing and assign yourself some skills and start rocking.

The main quest involves you searching for your dad, and I suspect you can tear through it pretty quickly if you ignore all the other stuff going on around you. But why would you want to do that? While the world may be small it is very lush (as lush as a post-nuclear wasteland can be, anyway) and it seems like there is always something new and unique to do and discover. There's also a hell of a lot of latitude as you go through the world to approach things on your own terms, and I suspect I only scratched the surface of the depth of some of the puzzles and areas in the game.

The final mission is really awesome, until the end which seems almost anticlimactic. I was a little disappointed that the game forces you to stop playing at the end as well; there was a whole world out there for me to keep exploring and I wanted to see the rest of it, damn it!

The Good

  • VATS. Action-based RPGs aren't my thing. I prefer to stop, look around, assess, and make decisions in combat. Oblivion felt more like a shooter than an RPG when it came down to brass tacks. VATS was an excellent solution to this problem.
  • The depth. There was a lot to do in this game, and so much of it purely optional or fun that the world felt more fleshed out than Oblivion did. Add to that locations that had enough variety to feel fresh as well.
  • The setting. It's Fallout. And this was a Fallout game, no doubt about it.

The Bad
  • Herding. I felt herded at times, especially when I was supposed to be travelling through the city and I couldn't just walk through the streets or over piles of rubble, I had to run through some predetermined dungeon funhouses to get there. Ugh.
  • Slightly unpolished. There are some strange things - I noticed this the most during the final battle, when I had to load the game several times just to get the robot to walk the path correctly (once, he got stuck in the air and wouldn't come down. No, he doesn't fly.) Of course, comparing Fallout 3's polish to the absolutely unplayable state of Fallout 2 when it released if kind of a joke in and of itself.
  • The plot. The plot never changes. I'm going to go fanboy for a second, but my biggest pet peeve of this game was that it was a frankenplot of previous Fallout games. And evil overseer who turns you out of the vault? A quest for water? The need for a GECK? The Brotherhood as mysterious allies, the Enclave as antagonists? All straight from other Fallout games, which were set on the other coast. I wanted to see new organizations, new enemies, new problems to solve. Not the same stuff in a different setting with a different game engine.
  • Power. Last but not least, a tiny bugbear of mine. How the hell was there still juice running through the destroyed DC power grid to power vending machines and neon signs in the metro system? In my best comic shop guy voice: as if.

Fallout 3 was fun, and apart from my pretty minor complaints an excellent entry into the series. The previous games were not perfect either, and this one can join its slightly flawed brethren on my shelf any day.

War. War never changes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scotch Review: The Isle of Jura Single Malt

The bottle declares that this is 'The only [aged 10 years] single malt Scotch whisky from the Isle of Jura' and that the distillery was founded in 1810. Fair enough, but my observation is that this is the beginning and the end of what this whisky knows about itself.

I picked this up because it was only a couple of pounds cheaper more expensive than Famous Grouse at Waitrose and I needed a Scotch for a recipe, so I figured: the price was right and if it turned out to be terrible I'd just use it as a cooking Scotch. And as a cooking Scotch, it's excellent: strong and maintains its flavor in meatballs. But that isn't why I like Scotch and everything that makes it a fine ingredient makes it seem very bottom-shelf as far as a sipping Scotch.

The problem is that there's too much going on, and it's strong everywhere. I've found the Scotches I like the most often have one or two very strong qualities - peatyness, etc. - whereas Jura just seems to be strong all over and no one quality wins out over the other.

Still, it does make a fine ingredient for Scotch-infused meatballs.

UPDATE: I realized I reversed the cost above: it was actually a couple of pounds more expensive than Famous Grouse.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Survivors Episode Two

On its second episode Survivors started to come into its own, whatever that might be. I am far more positive and optimistic towards the show than Quiet Earth's Survivors review and I'm holding out to see where they'll take it next. The acting isn't all that great, but neither is it terrible. Compared to a show like Jericho where they have 20 episodes to get into a story arc and develop the post-apocalyptic world, Survivors has all of six episodes and they seem to be using them well.

Character development started in earnest in this episode, with Al, Tom and Greg all going their own ways. Tom's turning out to have more depth than I expected, and although the secondary characters are essentially two-dimensional tropes that I can identify from a mile away they're still interesting.

Any post-apocalyptic story that begins before things go to hell needs to do a good job of portraying the steady breakdown of society (which they're doing) and the potential rebuilding (which they're hinting at.) The only thing is, it feels like they're doing it in lurches and bursts rather than as something gradual; there are some significant plot holes and the subplots are like tertiary brush strokes that bleed through the canvas and stick out more than they should.

I actually thought this was a better episode than the first, and it looks like there's going to be some meta-story going on behind the scenes as well, with the scientists locked in their holes. The interesting thing will be to see how the series goes when there are no more shops and warehouses to loot, when people like the guy with the shotgun end up doing more than driving around in a Land Rover, and how our plucky little group of civilization-loving survivors deals with those developments.

Next Tuesday, more action!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Not the show where people compete to stay on the island, but the BBC TV series Survivors about a band of people who survive a super-flu that wipes out 90% of the world's population in a matter of a couple of weeks. It's like The Stand without the good versus evil - at least, not yet.

Survivors is based on a series that ran on the BBC back in the 1970s, and has been updated for modern audiences. The first episode opened right as the 'flu crisis' was starting to destroy Europe. After a period of two weeks, the flu has wiped out the aforementioned 90% of the population (although it actually seems much higher than that, with London largely devoid of all life at all in some shots.) Infrastructure breaks down, power and water and cell phone service shut off, and people have to start thinking about living for themselves.

Spoilers may follow...

What I liked:

They didn't spend a lot of time on the apocalypse itself. The show was called Survivors, not End of the World, so that was nice.

They trotted out some pretty tired tropes (the Group Mom, the Quest for the Missing Family Member, the Jaded Scientist, the May-Be-Bad, May-Not-Be criminal, the Girl Whose Mind is Broken by Death, the Loner Survivalist) but managed to update them pretty well. The scene where the kid gets up from praying in the mosque and realizes everyone around him is dead was a memorable 'stay with you' scene.

Lots of strong women.

They're kicking off the survival part pretty fast, and it looks like that will be the focus of the series, at least in the short-term. Reminds me of early (great) and middle (greater) Jericho episodes.

The scene at the petrol (gas, for you American Puppeteers) station was unexpected and awesome. More like that, please. Pleasantly surprise me and I will continue to support you.

What I Didn't Necessarily Like:

It was a Very British Apocalypse. Which is to say, the bodies didn't decompose, there weren't very many of them and things were orderly. People literally died in queues waiting for medical assistance (this is even funnier to an American, I think.) But I expected London to be in flames by the end of it. I realize that part of that was budgetary limitations, but if you want a lesson on what would happen in a sudden apocalypse, watch the first 10 minutes of the remake of Dawn of the Dead: that's the new standard.

The tropes were a little, well, tropish. My wife and I took turns calling out what would happen next, and like the X-Files, we were right the vast majority of the time. A little less predictability would be nice.

Apparently the ratings weren't all that great, so here's hoping the show doesn't turn into another Jericho for me.


The show is off to a very strong start, audience numbers notwithstanding, and the previews for the next episode look even stronger. I'll stick with the show and keep writing about it as it develops. Next episode airs 9pm on Tuesday (tomorrow) on the Beeb...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fight Knight Round 2

Recently I wrote a blog post comparing The Dark Knight and Fight Club, and Roger and GZ both gave me a run for my money (in a good way) in the comments. The essence of the original post was:

Both Fight Club and The Dark Knight are cultural artefacts, capturing something essential about the sociological contexts in which they were made. Fight Club features a vaguely anarchist anit-hero that attempts to overcome a similarly vague sense of ennui through various small acts of terrorism (and in the end, detonating a series of empty buildings of credit card companies.) Dark Knight's villain is a far more sinister psychopath, who thinks nothing of taking innocent lives in a quest of seemingly senseless rage.

After the discussion from the last post and having had the pleasure of watching The Dark Knight again since, I think my prior conclusions may have been wrong, specifically about the Joker's motives and what that means.

Understand: the Joker is an unreliable narrator at best, and his story does change based on who he's talking to. When speaking to the gangsters, he puts things in the context of money and power. When he's talking to Harvey Dent, he becomes the 'dog chasing cars.' His 'how I got my scars' story changes every time he tells it, and in the end how he got the scars isn't important, because his motivation doesn't necessarily stem from a logical (to us, if not him) reaction to something in his past. There's a habit of trying to assign meaning and motivation to characters based on past experiences, and there's a good deal of scientific evidence to back up why we do this; even over-the-top real-life sociopaths or serial killers like Ed Gein or John Wayne Gacy have troubled pasts, events that influence their later descents into madness. No doubt the Joker had similar experiences, but the film pointedly decides not to explore them, as the point is more than his plan is somewhat more motiveless. If anything, whatever he experienced separated him so greatly from reality that his view of humanity is of a species no better than animals, where the rules of civilization are just lies constructed over the massive id lurking beneath the surface.

This is most obvious in his conversation with Batman at the end of the film, but the pivotal moment comes before, when the Joker is talking to Batman in the interrogation room. Batman has but one rule: no killing. But, the Joker tells him, he'll have to take one life to save another - either Rachael or Harvey will have to die (and indeed, one of them does.) But this isn't Batman's choice per se, it's more of a Sophie's Choice moment. That one will die is inevitable, and Batman's finger isn't on the trigger - he just decides who will die (incorrectly, it turns out, but nevermind.)

Rewind even further to the beginning of the film, when Bruce and Alfred are talking about Rachael. Alfred asks if Bruce will have him (Alfred) followed on his day off. 'If you ever took one I might,' Bruce quips. 'Know your limits, Master Wayne,' Alfred responds seriously. 'Batman has no limits,' Bruce replies.

Except he clearly does have a limit, and that is what the Joker is trying to push. His murdering cops and innocents (and innocent cops) is nothing more than a function of trying to get Batman to break this last limit. Harvey Dent was relatively simple to turn into Two-Face, but Batman's single principle turns out to be far harder, and it's clear that this fascinates the Joker. If anything - 'we're going to be doing this forever,' as he says, is his motivation. His various plots may be nothing more than ways to get at Batman and make him break, because if he can do that then truly everyone is corruptible. Harvey was Gotham's 'White Knight' in public and it was important that he not fall, despite privately doing so, and conversely Batman could be the 'Dark Knight,' tarnished when he needed to be, because in the end the only people to whom it matters whether Batman is a killer are the Joker and Batman himself. This is, in a way, the 'point' of the film but it's worth clarifying here.

So while Tyler Durden is anarchy and action for the eventual sake of liberation and being constructive (in his view, anyway), the Joker has no such noble pretensions; in fact, his ultimate goal doesn't concern people at all, but merely Batman himself as a kind of plaything for the Joker's own amusement. So what does that say about us, that our villains have reached a point where the events in their lives that influence how the ended up no longer matter, where their motivations are personal and a body count in the hundreds is quite literally collateral damage? I could make some meaningless political connection, or try again to connect it to the military-industrial complex, but I don't necessarily think either would be correct or honest. I just don't know. Instead, I'm going to leave the question open; Fight Club didn't make sense to me in its sociological context until several years later, and I reckon that The Dark Knight will be similar.

So watch this space in five years' time for an additional post on the subject.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Only Thing I Want For Christmas

I've already told the most important person, but I should note this for the rest of you Puppeteers: one of the formative experiences in my life, Free to Be... You and Me is being re-released for its 35th anniversary. I wouldn't have known except for Cory Doctorow's post on BoingBoing about it.

Free to Be... You and Me taught me a lot about tolerance, understanding and being yourself. I am not kidding when I say that it had a profound impact on my life and who I am as a person.

Here's a bit from the movie adaptation, which is one of the few bits I can still recite large parts of even though the last time I saw it was more than twenty years ago.

Yeah, it's that good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

WizKids: RIP

If you're tuned into the gaming industry, you probably already know that WizKids closed its doors permanently on Monday. The word from inside is that employees showed up, the announcement was made at 10 am and they were told to be out of the building by 2.

I knew very few people still left at WizKids (and in fact, there were very few people left, thanks to Topps' repeated layoffs, cutbacks and - yes - horrid and ludicrous mismanagement.) The news hit me a bit like hearing an old friend had died. I joined the ranks of HeroClix fans who crashed HCRealms' servers by trying to get some news, and talking about what just happened.

Topps' announcement that they were trying to find a new home for HeroClix sounded pretty disingenuous, but as things have started to shape up over the last few days it actually looks like it might happen - there is an organized effort by former employees to try to buy the property and license, and oddly enough it might actually work. All the more power to the people trying to pull this off.

I had long ago prepared for WizKids being closed. The proverbial writing has been on the wall for some time, and the company as I knew it was already dead. And that's really too bad, because WizKids was as close as I've ever come to sharing an experience with a bunch of kindred spirits rather than just showing up to grind away at a job for clients I could sometimes care less about. It got me out of Oklahoma as well, so there's more than a few reasons to look back fondly on my time there.

Rest in peace, WizKids. Even at the end you were still much-loved.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the McCain Campaign

So where did the other side go wrong?

I'll be honest: I've been writing this post in my head on and off for the last month. Even today, I was thinking of new things I wanted to put in it just as Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber are beginning to fade into Trivial Pursuit-style obscurity.

But it's an extremely relevant question: where did the Right go Wrong?

It didn't start during the McCain campaign. Or even the Bush presidency. Or even during the so-called Neoconservative Revolution during the early Clinton days.

It started around 1931 or so, just as America was dipping its feet in the last major economic crisis. In addition to electing FDR, it was the first time there was a Democrat majority in the House in 11 years. In 1933, the Democrats took the Senate - and held control of both branches (with two exceptions) until 1981.

This meant that any Republic president until (and oftentimes during) Reagan had to fight and compromise to put their platforms into action.

It also meant an entrenched Washington ruling class of politician, the kind that almost personified the growth of government and the taking of kickbacks.

Apart from the Nixon administration and the Eisenhower years, Republicans were often forced to concede points to the entrenched Democrats; the Goldwater Republicans compromised and dealed when they could, but they could never quite secure the power they needed for any real change. Until Reagan, of course.

But Reagan represented the first stages of change in the Republican party, one that culminated in the Neoconservative revolution during the 1994 elections that put the Gingrich machine into power. For the first time, the Democrat machine was weak but the Republicans still needed a way to appeal to 'swing voters' who were simply used to punching Democrat and voting along party lines. That's when they looked towards so-called 'social conservative' causes; things that traditionally belonged to Democrats, especially in the South. Johnson was not kidding when he said that passing the Civil Rights Act would 'lose [Democrats] the South for a generation;' the surprising part was that it took Republicans so long to figure this out.

But they did and adopted many social conservative causes; anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-flag burning, pro-institutionalized prayer in schools, pro-censorship, pro-guns, anti-science (or pro-intelligent design, but anti-science is more accurate.) Apart from abortion, which depending on your belief system involves the taking of innocent life, these are not life and death issues for many; they are simply the kind of thing people focus on when economics, complex international relations or other major crises are either irrelevant to them, unimportant or too hard to understand. I'm generalizing but the point is that none of them are important causes in and of themselves and very rarely affect the daily lives of people.

But putting measures on ballots to bring out the people who do care about such things will also enfranchise segments of the voting population who might not have been motivated to vote otherwise, and through clever media manipulation (and say what you will about the so-called Liberal Mainstream Media, the Republicans are masters of media control, even now) their candidates are associated with these causes - so the social conservatives vote for the Republican candidates. Wham. Instant Republican voting block.

So the party of business owners and middle-class office workers concerned about keeping their taxes small adopted groups of people who wanted to see American law replaced by the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (among others.) It was an extremely beneficial relationship at first and I don't think anyone can argue that the first few years of the Neocon revolution, in which Clinton and Gingrich balanced the budget and our economy was chugging along nicely, were some of the best in the last thirty years. Compromise will do that. Take note.

Sometime during the late 1990s - and I had a front-row seat for this in the middle of the Bible belt - there was a subtle shift of power. Suddenly the business owners and middle class were nudged out in favor of the other side of the party, the hardcore religious side. It was a gradual process, but somehow the adopted messages became the real messages and fiscal responsibility and smaller government became the adopted messages to keep the so-called 'base' part of the party. The election of candidates like Rick Santorum, who equated homosexuality to child molestation and bestiality (in an interview published April 23, 2003 in the USA Today if you want to look it up) and their subsequent elevation to high levels of leadership in the Republican party was the most obvious indication of this shift.

There's something else important at work here; these voters are often motivated by fear. Fear of the blacks or Hispanics moving into their neighborhoods. Fear of immigrants taking their jobs. Fear of homosexuals who will prey on their children. Fear that God may forsake them if they don't fight for prayer in schools or the teaching of anti-science doctrines. When I said that the Republican machine was brilliant at media manipulation, part of what I meant is that they learned how to read, use and more importantly manipulate this fear.

So when the Bush administration started rearranging the Federal Government after 9/11, when fear was at an all-time high, people barely noticed that the Goldwater ideals had been flushed so far down the toilet Saddam might have waited for them to pop out the other side. Security meant that government could - and did - grow if it meant we'd be safe. It meant that basic rights we've enjoyed from the very beginning of our nation have been taken away by the Patriot Act in the name of keeping us secure.

Except chinks started to appear in this fear-armor. Hurricane Katrina and the debacle of the federal response to it or when the economy tanking at the same time a $700 'economic stimulus check' looks like a poke in the eye. And something else happened. The same middle-class workers and small business owners who were the Republican party's main voting base started to look around and go 'what the fuck is going on here?' As did more than a few swing voters who came along for the ride.

I've always said McCain should have been the Republican party's nominee in 2000, and not only because he was set to win until Karl Rove and his vileness quite literally destroyed his campaign by insinuation (among other things) that McCain's adopted daughter was conceived out of wedlock. McCain is not like the others; he's much more of the old school Republican, and at one time most certainly a maverick. He was in part responsible for one of the best pieces of legislation passed in the last ten years, the McCain-Feingold bill. And his nomination among Republicans this year was indicative of the fact that many of them were starting to reject the center-stage politics of fear the Neocons have so fully embraced.

Sadly his defeat seems to be directly related to that very thing. The selection of Sarah Palin as vice-president was a cynical move on two levels; they thought they would pick up some of Hillary Clinton's supporters just because Palin was a woman, and they thought they'd appeal to the far-right base because of Palin's politics. They did. They succeeded. But in so doing, they alienated the other half of the party, the dog that has been wagged by the Neocon social conservative Santorum-like tail for so long.

And here's why McCain failed, plain and simple. People are tired of the social conservative nonsense. Gay rights has come along quite nicely in the last 20 years, despite the efforts of people like Santorum. There's still no flag burning amendment, and abortion is still legal - this despite years of Neocon control of the Presidency and Congress. And the economic situation looks more like the Democrats of the early 1980s rather than the party of Goldwater and fiscal responsibility. I think the lights are on, and the roaches scattered.

The ultimate example of this to me was during a McCain rally - I tried to save the video, but don't have it, but it's on YouTube - when someone at the crowd yells 'kill him!' about Obama. McCain steps out of character for a moment and says 'no, you know what, he's a great guy and an honorable Senator' and is booed by his own crowd. He didn't want to deal with the pets of the fiscal conservatives, the people Republicans brought along for the ride who are one generation away from the cross-burners who fought Martin Luther King. I think, quite frankly, it really pissed him off that he had to try to appeal to those people and in the end he alienated those who wanted a maverick by going after the people to whom what two consenting adults do in their own bedrooms is the most important reason to go to the ballot box.

The post-election meltdowns on conservative blogs, on Fox News (Hannity has a countdown to 2012 ticket on his show), on message boards and no doubt in FW>FW>FW>FW> emails across America has been truly representative of how divided the Republicans are. They're literally attacking and destroying each other; the well-honed far-right smear machine is now poised to launch Operation Leper against McCain campaign staff that dared speak out against Palin's lack of ability to be president should something happen to the 72-year-old bypass patient candidate. And is not some far-right screed blog like Free Republic; it's as mainstream as you can get in right-wing circles.

The anti-Obama rhetoric is coming out in droves, and frankly this may be the best thing for Republicans as they try to regroup. They have something else to fear: two out of three branches of government controlled by the other party. The party is going to realign itself, and it's not clear if the two sides will come back together and if they do who will start wagging whom. Will they elect another Bush in the name of social conservativism who will make another mockery of everything Goldwater stood for? Or will they put someone like McCain out there instead?

Consider this: Obama is more conservative than Richard Nixon. Let that sink in. On a political scale, Obama's policies are more conservative than Nixon's. Seriously. Obama is more conservative than Nixon. And this is the guy the fearmongers think is going to turn America into Stalinist Russia.

Will the Goldwaters come and work with Obama? Or will the militia movements from the 1990s resurface and the Republican tail head for the hills?

It'll be an interesting next couple of years.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Did

I'm still in shock a little. Is this real? It seems to be. I've been so used to not winning, I kind of forgot what winning feels like.

To say this is surreal is an understatement, but I feel vindicated. Not because I feel that 'haha, we showed you guys, we beat you!' But because, for once, people turned out and chose hope and dignity over cynicism and playing on people's fears. If there's one thing that sticks with me throughout this election – and indeed American politics for the last decade – is that there has been a push-and-pull between those who tell us we have to be afraid, that we need them to protect us, that we need to walk with God otherwise Satan's forces (in whatever form) will defeat us; and those who take our hands and say 'let's do this together, let's work to build a better future.'

I've always been an optimist. Angela reminded me that I wrote way back in 2004 that I thought Obama would one day be president. I'm glad it has come to pass because it represents the first triumph of the desire for change and hope over the rule of fear and exploitation that has been the hallmark of the neoconservative movement.

I don't think McCain necessarily represented this, but some of his supporters certainly did. There are some especially choice quotes floating around right-wing websites and forums this morning, many of which are simply not worth repeating, linking to or even acknowledging apart from being the reactionary rants of people who just lost an election (and hey, I've been guilty of that myself in the past.) I'll compose a post later about where I think McCain went wrong, because I have something to say about that.

But right now, I'm still stuck in surreal mode. I wanted to run down the Tube car this morning high-fiving everyone there (good way to stick out as the American!) I bought all the newspapers so I have headlines to remember this day when I'm old, because this is history. I want to remember. I want to remember what it feels like to be part of a movement against cynicism, a movement for hope, united if not in geography then in spirit with my fellow Americans and indeed the rest of the world who looks to America as a symbol of the best of all possibilities.

Moving abroad has taught me that the American dream is not dead, whether it means working to try to better your family, a black man becoming president thanks in part to the votes of the children of people who were slaves, or the symbol of freedom that America still represents to the rest of the world even after all these years and mistakes. People are ultimately good and want the best for themselves, their children and the human race as a whole: I firmly and wholeheartedly believe this.

That is why I feel vindicated. Because yes, we did.

Just Woke Up

4:52 AM, November 5, London time.

Read the headlines.

Thank God.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jericho: And So It Ends

This weekend I bid an old friend goodbye. It was already departed; long departed, really. I was holding onto its memory as a little piece of hope and a way to preserve the effort that went into giving it a second lease on life.

I've blogged a whole lot about Jericho before here, including how much I enjoyed its excellent narrative, the fan effort to save the show for a second season after the first season's cliffhanger, and CBS' decision to actually renew the show for seven more episodes. I think it was pretty obvious at the time that those seven episodes were a bit of a 'Hail Mary' - a way to shut fans up, to stop the boxes of nuts arriving at CBS headquarters, and (thankfully) to give the narrative its much-needed closure.

In the meantime I've done a lot of things: moved to London, convinced other people to watch the show, even sat down at the same table as the executive at CBS who made the decision to renew the show (her name is Nancy T., and she's exceptionally cool) and discussed the nuts campaign with her. But what I never did until this weekend was watch the rest of the second season. I saw the first three episodes, then I stopped.

Why? The episodes move really fast, and almost all of them are cliffhangers themselves. I loved the show. Why wouldn't I watch?

Because I didn't want it to be over.

I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the destination, and with Jericho it was easier to leave it sitting on my table than to watch the last three hours of the show and complete it. I vaguely knew what would happen by reading summaries on the Internet, but it was still an unreal abstraction.

This weekend though I thought I'd go ahead and bid Jericho goodbye.

I'm glad I did. The last seven episodes form a hell of a good story arc. The show takes a decidedly different turn, heading into 24 territory for a little while. I wanted more of the small-town stuff that made the first season so great, and that drew me into the show in the first place, but I really liked where they took the show as far as the connections they drew between the plot and historical contexts. (I won't spoil it for you, it was a pretty nifty reveal.) It was a satisfying ending, and although I wanted the show to continue I was content with the story as it was.

I actually felt very similar to how I felt when another cultish favorite show of mine ended, Carnivale. The story could be further developed - but it didn't need to be. The characters can live on in imagination, or you can simply take their story as a start-to-finish plot, like a nice book you come back to read from time to time.

Reckon I'll be doing just that in a little while.

Thanks for all the awesomeness, Jericho. You will be missed, gone but not forgotten.

Go Vote!

What are you waiting for? Why are you reading this stupid blog? Go vote already!

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm Only Doing This Once

Dear Conservatives,

I'm writing you to tell you something very important.

In the past, I have been called many things by you. A homosexual, or a 'queer lover' for supporting gay rights. I LIEberal, insinuating I am a liar because I'm a liberal. A DEMONcRAT, insinuating I'm a demon and a rat because I vote democrat. Among other things. My beliefs are based on a lifetime of experiences - my own life - and firmly held moral convictions about right and wrong and the value and sanctity of human life and dignity. You have slandered me because of my lack of firm belief in a specific Christian God, been called a coward and a pussy because I have argued for finding peaceful alternative solutions to problems other than fighting, and been made fun of for supporting the ACLU, an organization which ironically exists only to defend our First Amendment rights to call each other names (and have rational discourse.)

You know what? That's all OK. I've been discussing video games and politics on the Internet since I was dialing into Prodigy in 1990. That's a long time: longer than some of you calling me these things have been alive. I have a thick skin and frankly I believe that a plurality of opinions makes for good discourse and ultimately good compromise, which is the basis of American democracy in the first place. If we can't troll each other at least a little bit, what's the point?

But I will say this: you guys way overstepped the line with questioning our patriotism for opposing the Iraq war. You called us traitors to America for daring to oppose Bush and question whether the war was justified and whether we were being mislead by the administration into the way. That's right, you called us traitors. I realize that not all of you did this, and I realize that there was a certain fervency sweeping the nation at the time. But the whole 'if you're not with us, you're against us' thing hurt. Because the reason we questioned the war and questioned Bush was our patriotism and love of our country, and our support for our troops. We don't want America associated (any more than it already is) with unnecessarily meddling in foreign affairs, and we certainly don't want to see our friends who enlisted in good faith sent to fight wars for the wrong reasons.

We'll never see eye to eye on this, and believe me there's part of me that looks at the polls right now and thinks, well, it's pretty much going to be Obama. I'm not celebrating early, but I'm what you might call cautiously optimistic. And there's a part of me that is enjoying watching conservatives self-destruct and bicker and fight amongst themselves, and wildly accuse Obama of this and that (the latest bit about his not actually being born in the United States is pure Rove). The hand-wringing over how he's going to turn the US into something resembling Soviet Russia is pretty funny, the accusations of him being a radical Islamic sleeper agent are hilarious, and the racism that's being exposed among Republicans (not all of you, but the fringe is certainly coming out of the woodwork) is frankly a little freaky.

But there's another part of me that thinks this: turnabout is going to be fair play. But you know what? It isn't. And here's why. It's not going to be wrong to criticize Obama's tax plans. They should be questioned and inspected and not simply rubber-stamped. It won't be wrong to speak out against the President, against the Democratic majority in Congress, against the government in general. Because as Americans this is our right. This is (one of the reasons) why my ancestors left oppressive environments in Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, this is why your ancestors came over, and when you talk about American soldiers protecting our freedoms, that is the freedom they are fighting to protect.

I'm not going to call you a traitor for questioning the President. I'm not going to question your patriotism for challenging him, for making him own up and be honest, and if you don't like his answers I won't call you names for voicing your discontent. That, my friends, is your right and it is a right I would fight and die for you to keep.

So call me names if you'd like, LIEberal or DEMONcRAT or coward or traitor. Knock yourselves out. And I'd fully expect, if we win on the 4th, for there to be a bit of celebrating on our side - we've had eight years of your guy, and frankly he's kind of run things into the ground. But you will not hear from me any name-calling or insinuations that you are anti-American because you are exercising your American rights should you question us, should we actually manage to win.

As I said, I'm only doing this once, and that's the closest I'll come to gloating.

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Post Is Unique

This post also breaks completely new ground for me.

It is the first post to this blog I'm writing on an open-source operating system on a computer I own.

After several weeks of research inspired in no small part by my read through The Pirate's Dilemma earlier this year, I took the plunge, partitioned my laptop's hard drive and installed the new release of Ubuntu, a version of Linux.

Linux is a completely free piece of software, and what 'open source' means is that the code is freely available to distribute and alter, as long as you agree to distribute your altered code. So anyone can work to improve it and make it better. Think of it a little bit like Wikipedia: a whole lot of minds working on various parts of a project to try to improve it, and while not everything will be an improvement, it eventually gets there.

There are several reasons one would consider switching to Linux. Security: not really a problem, since my home wireless network is locked down tight and viruses are only a problem online like they are in real life - avoid the scuzzy back-alleys of the Internet and you're fine. Stability: also not really a problem for me. Computers crash, hardware goes out, it happens. Microsoft sucks: well, they're my client so I can't really claim that and I know it's really more of a bureaucratic institution than anything intentionally evil. I'd considered a Mac, but the only thing worse than closed source computer software (which OSX is), is closed hardware. You require me to buy my RAM only from your overpriced store? Go to hell.

But here's the crux of why I switched. Because open source, like Wikipedia, is an entirely different business model and one that I firmly believe is on the rise as more and more of us migrate to the cloud. Old business models are based on consumption, from the end user and from the corporation itself. A company must grow. Right? Maybe. What happens when it doesn't, or when it grows in a different manner? Can a company not only give away its product for free, but give away the secrets to how its product is made for free and let people make changes as they see fit?

Apparently it can be done.

To be perfectly honest, from a practical point of view, this is an experiment. I don't expect to use Linux all of the time, and I know I won't be able to play a lot of my games in Linux so I'll be back in Windows when necessary. But for most of my computing tasks - writing, surfing the Internet, listening to music - there's no reason not to at least try it out.

Oddly enough my tipping point came from a piece of software that can't even run on Linux yet: Google's Chrome browser. I'm a hardcore Firefox user and have been for ages, but I've been doing about 95% of my browsing in Chrome lately because I like the interface and its speed better, despite not being able to do some of the things I want it to do. And I realized that if I was willing to learn a new browser (which is where I spend most of my time on any given computer anyway), then there was no reason not to try something new on the operating system front.

I'm still learning my way around but I like it a lot so far. It's very fast and slick, and so far has done everything I need it to do with ease. I can easily dual-boot back to Windows if I need it. If I end up getting a new laptop this winter, one of the first things I'm going to do with it is put Ubuntu on it as well.

Bob and Angela - you guys ought to be proud.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Game That Matters

Normally I wouldn't spend an entire blog post talking about one Xbox Live Arcade game, but in this instance I'm going to make a massive exception. I pulled out Braid the other night and finally finished it. And I'm happy to say I did it about 99% on my own, without looking at a walkthrough (that last 1%, well…)

Much has been made of Braid's great puzzles, ambiguous plot, amazing look and feel and innovative gameplay so rather than parrot what I've read other places, I wanted to talk a little bit about why I liked it so much. Which was all of those things, but more.

The guys at Penny Arcade referred to Braid non-ironically as 'a game that matters,' and I agree although not because the plot itself is anything that groundbreaking. Don't get me wrong, the plot is great, a puzzle unto itself and is a Nautilus shell spiraling inward with layers of meaning and interpretation (just look at the various attempts to explain the plot online for proof of that.) But the narrative structure itself is what's so groundbreaking and ultimately satisfying about Braid.

At its heart, the game is a traditional platformer. The time mechanic is cool, but isn't exactly 100% original (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time did something like this as well, as a way to fix mistakes, much like in Braid.) But Braid does something no other game has managed yet: it takes the platformer mechanics – including the time-rewind bits and other parts – and actually makes them part of the narrative itself. POP: SoT anticipated this but never fully followed through, and Braid takes it and cements it as a central part of the game.

I'd compare it to a television narrative or play that broke the fourth wall. Doing it once or twice can be funny or make a dramatic point, but when it becomes part of the narrative itself it's something totally different. The best literary analogue I can think of is a live performance of Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, where the audience becomes part of the play's narrative itself.

The thing that's surprising about Braid isn't that the platformer has been changed so elegantly into a piece of the narrative itself, but that it hasn't been done sooner. You could argue that this is what video games – if you take the 'games as art' route, which I don't see any reason not to – have always done. The narrative relies 100% on user input, on decision-making or at the very least pushing a stick left and right to make a character move around. And yet somehow it was always a secondary element to the plot of a game, apart from RPGs that relied heavily on user decisions (Fallout, Torment) or simply 'progressing the story' by moving a character closer to his goal.

Braid even plays with this concept, because as Tim (the main character) progresses through the game his 'goal' gets farther and farther away. I'm not going to spoil it in case you want to play, but suffice to say that even the 'push your joystick to move the character closer to his goal' mechanic becomes subverted and even an important part of Braid's narrative structure – in both traditional and altered forms.

So check Braid out on Xbox Live Arcade or on the web. It's the highest-rated game on XBLA and for good reason. It's a game that matters, because it sets a damn high standard for what can be done with video games, even platformers that may not seem like the most obvious venue for storytelling. I can't wait to see what Braid inspires.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Knight Club

I was discussing art with the Beautiful Competition over a lovely dinner of Italian food, pink Champagne and lemon gelato last evening (it's a difficult life, isn't it?) and we got on the subject of film. I've been thinking a lot about The Dark Knight lately, which I've reviewed before, as a cultural touchstone or artefact: that is, something that captures a certain kind of zeitgeist. I realized that I like Dark Knight for many of the same reasons I like another artefact film: Fight Club. They're excellent films to examine side-by-side.

Fight Club came out in 1999, and managed to capture the late Clinton-era zeitgeist in a way that no other film can claim. The notion of office workers, bored by their jobs and betrayed by promises that they would be ‘rock gods or movie stars' turning to small-scale domestic terrorism to show their dissatisfaction reflected a growing ennui among the young professional class. It was a film born from economic safety, a remote threat of real terrorism (can you imagine Fight Club being released after 9/11?) and a view that the villain is not only likable, he's something to which we might aspire as he's just an aspect of us.

Other images I associate with this time are almost straight out of the film: the pictures of the impotently-smashed windows of Starbucks' and McDonalds during the so-called Battle of Seattle WTO protests. Rather than striking at the true culprits, it's as though the anarchists decided upon direct action for direct action's sake, vandalizing franchises that represented something tangentally associated with the targets of their rage. They struck against the same coffee shops where they purchased their own tall skinny soy lattes, as if what they hated the most was something inside themselves.

Then consider Dark Knight, where a much more separated hero battles a villain who is more like a force of Nature. Bruce Wayne is the military-industrial complex, a do-gooding rich person who feels that the best way to alleviate crime is not to redistribute wealth or fund educational programs, but to physically beat criminals and purchase hotels by writing personal checks. His superpowers consist of nothing more than access to the latest military weapons technology that in turn fuels his vast personal fortune when he's not using it to hit escaped mental patients.

On the other side is the Joker, a literal wildcard who makes quite clear that he wishes only to cause destruction and chaos. He has no logical plan or reasoning – he is, by his own admission, a ‘dog chasing cars, and wouldn't know what to do if [he] caught one' – acting entirely on instinct. His villainy comes not from any rhyme or reason; in fact, it's difficult to even call it evil as it doesn't appear to be motivated by a need to cause harm other than the opposite of the established order. In a way, it's a perfect and safe Western dream: good people in the military-corporate network keeping us safe from forces of darkness that cannot (or we simply refuse to take the time to) be understood.

Don't get me wrong; I loved the Dark Knight but its overtones are difficult to ignore. It's interesting to compare the two films as far as what they indicate of the national mindset, what makes a ‘hero' and what's acceptable both for heroes and villains. In fact, are the villains actually us? How much are we like them? These questions are nothing new to comics or stories, but the ways in which the answers change are very indicative of how our mindset shifts, however subtly. In this case, I think it reflects a growing cynicism, that the ennui of the late 1990s was replaced first with a renewed optimism and faith in leadership, government and military which was the squandered and eventually taken advantage of, creating a reaction possibly more cynical than the previous one.

Oddly enough, it's not the heroes in these films that are the most accurate reflections of the times but the villains themselves. Tyler Durden's rage against the corporate machine manifesting as minor acts of terrorism and simple human empowerment with material denial is a perfect model of the aimless feeling of basic dissent we exhibited at the end of the 1990s. Clinton lied, but he lied about getting blowjobs. The economy looked pretty good. We weren't involved in any foreign wars, and had the full backing of NATO and the UN in Kosovo.

The Joker is us now, rage without focus, the anti-structure. Whatever's in place is bad, because it's inherently corrupt and probably going to screw us anyway. Piles of money in shipping containers? Just stuff to be burned, because hey, the guys at the top have been bleeding it out of the good citizen of Gotham anyway. And we should probably be punished in some way because we're complacent in putting these power structures in place to begin with. The commoners are as much to blame as anyone else, and it's better just to burn it all and start again.

It's hard to imagine a Joker smashing a Starbucks', but it's also hard to imagine Tyler Durden forcing commoners and criminals to face a prisoner's dilemma. And it's hard to imagine us accepting either doing those things, exactly because it would be so out of context of the times.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Read-Roll, Updated

About a year ago I posted my read-roll, the list of blogs I regularly read through RSS. I do approximately 99% of my reading through RSS now and I'm taking today to do a little housecleaning, both around the house and around the blog. I realized some elements of the old Puppet Show are woefully out of date, including the Control Panel that still had WizKids page on it (nuked that just now) and the blog roll, which is really just a list of friends.

So here's my updated read-roll, with the associated reasons why I regularly read these blogs and why you should check them out. Pardon my simplistic classification system. If your blog isn't here, why don't you drop me a line in the comments with a link and I'll check you out?

    Apocalypse Blogs
  • Post-Apocalypse UK News. Post-apocalyptic things - movies, books, etc. - with a focus on the UK.
  • Quiet Earth. Simply put, Quiet Earth is the blog I'd write if I had time to write a blog full-time. Comprehensive in the way only the best news blogs are, it covers every scrap of news about post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic fiction in all of its many forms. Should they ever need a new or additional London correspondent, they should get in touch.

  • The Fate of the Artist. Eddie Campbell, who illustrated From Hell and was kind enough to link to my From Hell Walking/Riding Tour post, blogs here. I cannot say enough good things about him or his art, so I'll let the link speak for itself.
  • Fast becoming an online standard, xkcd is probably the only online comic I read every strip, and enjoy about 90% of the time.

    Cool Stuff - AKA my catchall category.
  • Anacrusis. You may remember this blog from last time I did this exercise, and I'm happy to say that it is as good as it was then if not better. Still an enjoyable daily read.
  • Boing Boing. I get most of the good links if my friends' shared items anyway, but old standard Boing Boing is on my list.
  • Flying Pizza Kitty. I don't remember how I found this blog, but it consists of animated GIFs of a cat on a flying carpet in a variety of situations. Has a very distinctive 8-bit feel.
  • Francesco Explains It All. Francesco Marciuliano, a writer and cartoonist, posts here. His posts are generally that kind of dry, biting humor that makes for an excellent read after a long day at work.
  • Gibson Blog. Author William Gibson writer this blog. It is exactly what you'd expect from that equation.
  • I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER. I'm almost ashamed to admit I read this every day, and occasionally even laugh out loud at those crazy cats with their Impact font expressions.
  • io9. Gawker Media's Sci-Fi blog. Comprehensive, thought-provoking and often chock-full of interesting content.
  • Jericho Blog. I keep this in my feeds in the hope that someday it will be updated with news of Jericho Season 3.
  • John Cleese's Cleeseblog. Yes, former Python John Cleese has a blog. Still in its relative infancy, it is rapidly becoming a must-read.
  • Laughing Squid. As noted in the prior read-roll post, I found Laughing Squid during the Vista launch days. I still read it every day, and Scott is an excellent source for various artistic strangeness.
  • Lifehacker. I admit I largely skim Lifehacker as it is far more comprehensive than I have time to read, but there's always some really cool content there.
  • Mashable! Mashable is kind of the 'it-girl' place for the social media industry. If you're on Mashable, you're 'it.' I've never been on Mashable.
  • Mr & Mrs Smith Boutique & Luxury Hotel Collections. Doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, does it? A blog run by a travel company catering to couples and run out of London, they offer occasional deals and more importantly inspiration for travelling.
  • O Chateau Blog | Stuff Parisians Like. A blog by Olivier Magny. My French coworker linked me to this blog, which is routinely hilarious even if you aren't Parisian, French or in either place. It reads exactly how I'd imagine a Parisian's blog to read.
  • Offbeat Earth. I cannot remember how I found this gem, but it's a (mostly) picture blog about some of the generally crazy stuff you can find in this strange world of ours.
  • Paleo-Future. They haven't updated in over a month so I hope everything's alright. Paleo-Future collects old news stories that predict what the future will be like, and compares them to how things have actually turned out.
  • Proton Charging. I'm a Ghostbusters fan, and this site is your number one source of news for Ghostbusters-related things. And yes, there is news for Ghostbusters-related things. More than you'd imagine, probably.
  • Something Awful Frontpage. There's a frontpage?
  • Strange Maps. Another blog that I cannot recall how I found, but I read consistently when it updates. The blogger celebrates strange maps, either fictional, real, or just plain unusual.
  • The Big Picture. I just added this within the last week, through one of my friends' shared items feed. It offers big pictures.
  • YesButNoButYes Stories. I literally just added this feed yesterday. This is another collection of strange and interesting things.
  • Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted). Have science, will travel. A scientist's blog about science things and her travels, although it seems to be more of the later than the former. She also has a cool 'mystery bird' that she posts each day during the week so readers can try to guess/research what the bird is.

    Cricket Blogs
  • One of the two cricket blogs I read in my quest to try to make sense of the sport.
  • King Cricket. And here's the other one.

    Friends and Family
  • Accidentally Jewish. My friend and co-worker Leah's blog, about a variety of things, but often about experiences related to her conversion to Judaism.
  • Become What You Behold. My friend Roger's blog.
  • Being(s) Abroad. My buddy Brandon recently moved to Israel with his new wife, and this is their ex-pat blog.
  • Bhagwan Redux. My friend Scott's blog.
  • Confessions of a Palindrome. My friend and former co-worker Hannah writes this blog.
  • A Doodle A Day. Buddy and fellow Alliterate Stan! posts, as you might guess, a doodle a day here.
  • Dthon. Scott, former coworker and fellow Alliterate, blogs here from time to time.
  • Grubb Street. Friend and fellow Alliterate Jeff Grubb's personal blog.
  • High School Poetry. Angela hasn't updated in almost a year, but I know she will someday!
  • Knit Jenious. I've linked to my friend Jen's blog recently and it's still worth checking out.
  • Nothing good can come of this.... My friend and former coworker Jon's blog.
  • Ober Dicta. My friend Seth doesn't blog much anymore, but I keep his feed warm just in case.
  • Stephen D. Sullivan. Although I've never met him face to face, I owe a lot of my current fiction writing career to Stephen Sullivan and his Blue Kingdoms anthologies.
  • The Monkey King. Friend and fellow Alliterate Wolfgang's blog.
  • Vault. My friend Bob from college blogs here from time to time. I wish I could register to post comments there.
  • Who's Your Baba? A little experiment from my family to see if they could blog. So far, I think everyone's updated once or twice and kind of let it sit.
  • Tipping the Scales. My friend and coworker Amy started this blog, which I'm sure will start to get rolling when she's more into blogging.

  • Adventure Classic Gaming. These guys are trying to keep the spirit of the old-school adventure game alive.
  • Adventure Gamers' Blog. From the site, a community of - yes - adventure gamers, including guys who love the classics.
  • Avant Game. A blog by Jane, an ARG designer who it turns out helped work on Superstruct, where I've been spending some of my time lately.
  • My Xbox 360's Blog. Smart little machine, isn't it?
  • Classic Let's Play. Videos of old adventure games, run by yours truly.
  • Darths & Droids. Hilarious webcomic about gamers and RPGs, set over a campaign spanning the Star Wars films.
  • Dennis Detwiller's Blog. One of my favorite RPG writers/designers blogs here.
  • Fallout 3: A Post-Nuclear Blog. This blog has been tracking Fallout 3 news since the last time I did this post, and will likely shut down once the game releases officially later this month.
  • Gamerscore Blog. Microsoft's gaming blog. More advertorial now than anything else.
  • Grand Text Auto. Calling GTA a 'gaming blog' is a bit like calling the Louvre an 'art gallery.' These guys are into the theory behind interactive fiction, and a whole host of other things too.
  • Grumpy Gamer. Ron Gilbert, designer of Monkey Island, occasionally blogs here.
  • How They Got Game. This blog, although updated infrequently, is always a great read about the history of video games.
  • Kotaku. Hey, I have to get my current gaming news from somewhere.
  • Online Fandom. It's really tenuous to classify this with gaming blogs, but it's the only category I could see as being close. Online Fandom is a great read about events and theory behind interaction online - focusing on entertainment. Which can mean gaming, and ARGs specifically.
  • Play This Thing! Daily (kind of) reviews of games, from video to tabletop and more. A great discovery mechanism for finding new games.
  • Robin D. Laws. Robin Laws is a big name in the RPG industry, and his blog about gaming and writing is consistently thought-provoking. He also does some pretty funny webcomics.
  • Roleplaying Tips 2.0. Not so much a blog as it is a journal, RPGTips2.0 still has really good - you guessed it - RPG tips. I have used a lot of their suggestions as DM in the past, and will do so again when I'm back in America and DMing regularly.
  • The Escapist. I subscribe to this mostly for Yahtzee's reviews, which you can't get in their own RSS feed.
  • Total War Center Forums. Some forums actually have RSS feeds for their news! TWC is my source for news from the Total War series, of which I am a hopeless addict. There's a new one coming out next year...
  • Twenty Sided. Despite being named for a dice, Twenty Sided does gaming news from across the spectrum with insightful commentary as well.
  • Wonderland. Wonderland is run by Alice Taylor, who works on 'social software' - IE, multiplayer games. I'm not sure how I found this blog originally but I find her posts original, insightful and thought-provoking.

  • (pre)texts. I just subscribed to this blog on Friday through a link from one of the other history blogs I read, so I can't much vouch for its content yet. Yes, it's half in Greek, and no, I don't speak Greek.
  • Roman Archaeology. Guess what this blog covers? News about archaeological finds of Roman ruins. Archaeology, specifically the Iron Age, is a hobby of mine so I read every word of every update on this blog.
  • Roman Times. What Roman Archaeology doesn't cover, Roman Times does. Roman Times is more like an online scholarly journal, but updates regularly and frequently.
  • The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. A grad student authors this blog, which covers his adventures as an archaeologist focused on the Greeks, Romans and other inhabitants of the Mediterranean.

    London Blogs
  • An American in London. She's not in London anymore and doesn't update much, but I still keep her on my read-roll because she was so helpful before I moved.
  • diamond geezer. 'Geezer' doesn't mean 'old guy' in the UK like it does in the US, and as far as I can tell diamond geezer isn't old. In fact, his tours of London neighborhoods are absolutely fascinating, extremely well-researched and a pleasure to read. I learned of this blog because some people at Edelman talked to him once, I checked it out and was hooked.
  • Going Underground's Blog. A blog devoted entirely to the Tube. Yes, and it's probably one of the absolute best London blogs. Annie Mole does an amazing job of collecting news, making interesting posts and taking pictures of people's shoes on the Tube. She's also a very nice person in real life.
  • London Bloggers. The blog for the London Bloggers meet-up group. Transparency notice: I worked with them on behalf of one my clients once to sponsor an event, but was a 'member' of the group before then. Not that there's actual membership, mind.
  • Londonelicious: A London Restaurant Blog. Nothing but reviews of restaurants in and around London. Helpful, since the Beautiful Competition and I enjoy eating out.
  • Londonist. I know a couple of the people who write for it, and it's a member of the Gothamist network. It's also the single-best source for London news online as far as I'm concerned.
  • Prince Charles Cinema. They publish their showtimes as an RSS feed. Isn't that helpful?
  • Rachel from North London. Rachel's from north London, I'm from north London. I can't recall how I found her blog, but I read it faithfully.
  • That Canadian Girl. Blog written by a Canadian ex-pat in London; I found this through Twitter, believe it or not.
  • The Daily Mash. The Daily Mash is The Onion for the UK, except it posts three or four new stories each day.
  • The London Review of Breakfasts. One of my favorite blogs, because the Beautiful Competition and I love eating breakfast together on the weekends.

    Music Blogs
  • Ceci N'est Pas un Blog. Cover songs, but hasn't updated in a while.
  • Cover Freak. An awesome cover song blog. Consistently posts great songs.
  • Cover Lay Down. Another awesome cover song blog that focuses on folk covers. That would be folk artists covering other songs, mind you.
  • Cover Me. Cover Me has an amazing variety of cover songs, and regularly posts stuff I've never heard before.
  • Fong Songs. Cover and more covers. If you're into covers, Fong is a must-read.
  • Hectic City - The Kleptones. Blog for The Kleptones, my favorite mash-up artist(s). This is how I find out about new Kleptones music.
  • My Old Kentucky Blog. This is basically the be-all, end-all of music blogs online. Pitchfork wish they were this cool.
  • Sideshow Cinema. Music from the movies. Of interest because of a project I might undertake...

    PR and Marketing
  • HorsePigCow. When I first joined the digital practice, I asked one of my coworkers about good digital marketing blogs and they suggested HPC among others. I haven't looked back.
  • Bokardo: Social Design. I think this one harkens back to that same request for blogs. Also a great read.
  • CC Chapman. This is his personal blog, but Managing the Gray was a must-listen podcast before I even joined Edelman. I read what's up in CC Chapman's life here. Hopefully that's not creepy, because it's not intended to be.
  • Carsonified. I started following Ryan Carson on Twitter, discovered this blog, and continue to read it. Good stuff.
  • Church of the Customer. A lot of people in PR are coming around to the notion that online PR is a lot like customer service. These guys were on top of it years ago.
  • Edelman Digital. I thought this blog was supposed to be called 'Authenticities' but hey, there you go. This is my company's blog. I contribute there from time to time. So do many other thought leaders at Edelman.
  • Fallon Planning. Another of my must-reads, from the same 'what are some good digital blogs?' question.
  • It's Not A Lecture. I found this through Twitter, and it's a great look at online conversations, with a special focus on American politics and how politicians use the Internet to foster conversation (or don't, as the case might be.)
  • Jaffe Juice. Joseph Jaffe is one of the big hitters in digital PR, and this is his must-read blog.
  • Jazamatazz. I met Jaz at the London Twestival, and have been reading her blog ever since. She's a fellow digital PR person, and she gives me serious neighborhood envoy (she lives in Shoreditch, I live in, um, Holloway.)
  • Magazine Death Pool. I probably shouldn't celebrate the death of the old media, but I probably shouldn't have spent an hour this morning playing Duke Nukem on my Xbox 360 either.
  • Make Marketing History. More marketing than PR, but a great read nonetheless.
  • Managing the Gray. CC's podcast. The very first content related to digital PR I consumed online.
  • MediaShift Idea Lab. A blog about shifting attitudes in media, specifically social media, from none other than PBS.
  • Musing and Marketeerings. Danacea works for a London-based comic shop and is responsible for their online PR and marketing. She blogs here.
  • Neville Hobson. If there's an inner circle of great digital PR people, Neville would be on it's leadership council. If you're in this industry and not reading Neville's blog, something is wrong with you.
  • PR Squared. This is one of those blogs that I cannot remember adding to my read-roll, but somehow couldn't live without. Although I have to say I wouldn't help them with Seth. He's mean.
  • Richard Edelman - 6 AM. Richard is our CEO, and actually runs a hell of a great blog.
  • Simonsays. Simon was a colleague at Edelman in London before he joined the Beautiful Competition at Weber. He's also responsible for getting me thinking about anarchism as it relates to online communities, is a fantastic friend and a major rising star in our field.
  • sizemore. @sizemore isn't really in digital PR in the same way I am, but I don't know where else to classify his extremely insightful and well-written blog. It's a good read on a variety of subjects.
  • Social Media Explorer. I'm saying this right now: Jason Falls will be one of the major thought leaders in our industry in the next few years. He's already making a hell of a name for himself both on his blog and on Twitter, and I expect only great things from him moving forward.
  • Social Media Snippits. I just added this blog a couple of days ago and can't really offer a good opinion of it yet, but it looks promising.
  • Techno//Marketer. Matt Dickman is another big name in our industry, and his great blog is here.
  • The Bad Pitch Blog. I use this blog all the time, mostly to show my co-workers how not to engage with the media. The Bad Pitch Blog is an amazing collection of screw-ups from digital PR people, and regular PR people who think the Internet works like traditional media.
  • The Jeff Pulver Blog. Jeff Pulver isn't a digital PR guy per se, but he is an extremely well-respected thought leader in digital sociology (for lack of a better term.) And for good reason: he's ahead of the curve. He's also one of the most positive people I've encountered online, which is a refreshing change from the typical cynical negativity I see so much online.
  • The Long Tail. Long tail distribution is only tangentially related to my every day job, but I can't think of any other way to classify Chris Anderson's blog - yet.
  • The Marketing Blagger. This blog is run by Andy Bargery, who also runs the London Blogger's meetup. He also writes a highly recommended blog about digital marketing.
  • The Pirates Dilemma. Matt Mason's book completely changed my perspective on what we can achieve online, and has helped shaped how I approach PR - and business in general. And this blog is an excellent complement to the book.
  • The Way of the Web. I can't recall where I found this blog either. It stands out though as a great source for insight.
  • Web Strategy by Jeremiah. Jeremiah Owyang is one of the brightest stars in our industry right now, and is a living, breathing example of doing everything right online. He's one of those people I look at and think 'hey, I want to be him someday.'

  • Authonomy. The blog behind HarperCollins' Authonomy project, which still needs a bit of a push to get off the ground.
  • Jane In Progress. Jane writes for Battlestar Galactica and has written for Firefly in the past. She offers brilliant commentary on the TV industry, but more importantly she offers brilliant tips for writers.
  • Permuted Press. Permuted publishes apocalyptic and zombie-related fiction. 'Nuff said.
  • WEIRD TALES. The horror/sci-fi magazine. I keep hoping they'll publish something other than art, but hey, the art is cool too.
  • James publishes a serial called The Zombie Chronicles. Check it out, if that's your thing.
And that's my read-roll. It's a lot longer than it used to be, eh? Again, if your blog isn't listed here, hit me up and I'll list it. There area few private blogs I read that aren't on here, so if you run a private blog you think I might read, don't worry.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thinking About Supporting Great Indie Music? Here's a Great Opportunity

I occasionally check the website for my favorite band, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, for information about upcoming shows and CDs and such. They put some cool new t-shirts in their store, but I also noticed that they're offing a hell of a deal on their music: The Whole Enchilada, or all eight of their CDs for only $50.

Eight CDs for $50 is damn good, but eight damn good CDs for $50 is the kind of deal you can't pass up. It's got six out of the seven RCPM full-length CDs (there are two digital downloads you can't get there, but you can score them on the site easily enough if you're a completest; the newest album isn't in the deal yet.) The package includes the full versions of their two live CDs and four of their five studio albums, as well as the two studio Refreshments CDs.

I have followed RCPM/The Refreshments (as they were once known) since I was a junior in high school, and will go to their live shows whenever I get a chance. It's honest, good-hearted southwestern Rock and Roll with more than a little 'salsa' feel to it. This deal will also score you 107 songs - that's only $0.46 a song! - or about 7 hours and 5 minutes worth of music - that's only $0.11 a minute!

Seriously, if you're into the Peacemakers casually and held off buying their CDs, this is your chance. If you're a dirty pirate that would steal from small independent bands, this is your chance to do right. If you've never heard of the Peacemakers before reading this post, I suggest you maybe listen to some of their stuff on YouTube - keeping in mind a lot of it is recorded by fans at shows - or listen to some samples on iTunes.

This is a great deal. Don't pass it up!

Five Years Young

A lot can happen in five years. Your friends can have kids and those kids can be in Kindergarten. People get married, divorced, fall in and out of love. Two presidential elections (almost), stories published, an entire career built on a job I didn't know I'd be doing.

Five years ago - five years and a handful of days, since I miscounted - I started this blog.

I still haven't found a consistent 'voice' or topic. I have started two other blogs, both of which are far more consistent in their voices and topics. I started ranting about politics, and after a long break from doing so the two posts prior to this one are rants about politics.

I'm OK with all of that. I started this blog as a way to keep up my writing, at the suggestion of two people I'm glad to count as my friends, Jeff and Jon. It has succeeded at that, and I never intended it to be anything more, although it's certainly become more. A way to communicate with my friends and family and keep them informed about my life, a place to jot down thoughts, and a place to discuss interesting things about my job, writing and gaming. Sometimes all at once!

I toyed with the notion of using it as a professional platform to develop my own 'brand' as a 'PR thought leader,' but then I realized I didn't really care so much about that - and more importantly, I just didn't have anything all that interesting or original to say that wasn't already being said somewhere else. Which took me right back to the beginning of the blog, and here I am again.

It's been a strange, long trip and here's to five more years of running my mouth on the Internet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Invisible Hand is a Actually a Destrucive Three-Year-Old's Fist

Watching the 'economic crisis' in London has been a bit of a trip. On one hand, I feel strangely distant from what's happening in the US, but on the other hand we're feeling its effects along with the rest of the world. Yesterday, the entire nation of Iceland - considered one of the strongest economies in the world not six months ago - declared bankruptcy, taking £20 billion in UK assets with it. Today, the UK is using anti-terror laws to seize as many assets as it can so it's not a total economic loss.

It would be an error to state that this is 'all America's fault,' but seeing how all the world markets affect each other has been an eye-opening experience. News is reported differently here, and seeing the Asian markets affecting the EU's markets, and in turn the effect that the American market has on all of it is sobering to say the least. I'm no economist so I'll save my opinions about what this all means, whether a 'bail out' will work, and whether it will get better or worse for my own personal musings. I will however copy and paste this paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the Great Depression, which I feel is extremely relevant, especially considering the recent announcement that consumer goods purchasing is at its lowest levels since the early 1990s:

    The Great Depression was not a sudden total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below the peak of September 1929.[6] Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the northern summer of 1930.
    In early 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing.[citation needed] By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas, where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas, where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts to shore up the economies of individual nations through protectionist policies, such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries, exacerbated the collapse in global trade. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933.
My point with all of this isn't necessarily a post about the economy, but the effect that American policies, be they economic, social or otherwise, has on the rest of the world. Many conservative Americans take a 'who the hell cares what Europe, Asia, or anyone else thinks' approach to politics (and I'm not really sure many American liberals are any better, to be fair.)

This attitude is not just inherently ignorant, it's downright dangerous in a world economy where so many things are linked, as I see played out day after day in the media and online. Simply put: we can no longer afford an ill-informed, ignorant and provincial view of the world. The last eight years under Bush have been, as Green Day rather un-poetically put it, a 'redneck agenda' signified by pandering to this exact kind of ignorance. It's the same agenda that leads to cowboy international relations ('you're either with us or against us!') and it's disastrous consequences in Iraq. It is the same agenda that gave the Bush administration and the Republican Congress of its first six years a blank check to get rich from a false economic 'bubble.' And it is the agenda that lead McCain to cynically choose a running mate thinking she'd syphon votes from former Clinton supporters simply because she was a woman despite the fact that most any woman who would vote for Hillary wouldn't vote for someone who is on record as saying dinosaurs and cavemen existed at the same time.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that Americans should vote based on what the world will think, or how the rest of the world will respond. I believe firmly in Jeff's view that all politics is local. But the image of America as a flailing toddler woefully ignorant of the destruction it can cause as it flails its arms without regard to its surroundings is an apt one. It's not that they necessarily mean harm to their surroundings, but when you look at their motivations, they are as infantile as possible. Not mature. Underdeveloped. Child-like. Example:

The only way to reconcile these two things is that Americans (and the rest of the world) need to rethink policies at the local level with an awareness of how they might affect things at the national and global level. The simple fact of the matter is that nothing exists in a vacuum anymore - no town, no state, no county, no country, no matter how much people might like to pretend otherwise. I'm not even saying that Obama is the answer to this, or that McCain wouldn't be. I'm saying that something fundamental needs to change at the most basic of levels in order to avoid a potentially scary scenario should the world plunge into a major economic depression, which seems like more and more of a possibility with each passing day. As I typed this, the Beeb announced that Vienna's stock exchange has suspended trading. Things are literally happening by the minute now.

It is only if economy and policy are re-examined and more importantly redefined at the local and community levels - with full awareness of how policies affect those around us - that we can avoid the abyss now open before us. To cop a line from Clinton's campaign in 1992, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The era of trickle-down Reaganomics, neoconservatism, ignorance of fact, unawareness, whatever you want to call it is over. It was tried, and it failed so spectacularly that it has dragged the world to the precipice and is continuing to do so as I punch the keys on my keyboard.

Something's gotta give, one way or another. Let's hope it's the good way.

Update: Another excellent proof point:

Update 2: I want to clarify that I do not necessarily believe that the majority of the American right are a bunch of ignorant, mouthbreathers. Nor do I believe that people who are religious should be in any way barred from holding office. (I do however have an issue with someone who ignores fundamental scientific principles controlling science budgets, and someone who cannot pronounce 'nuclear' with the ability to fire nuclear weapons - that should be a basic prerequisite.) I have the utmost respect for people of all faiths, and liberalism has a proud history of being associated with religion, be it the liberation theology of South America; The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's own pseudosocialist - yes - vision for a united America; or the Founding Fathers' own preservation of religious freedoms.

I do feel that the American right, specifically the majority of the religious right, has been summarily manipulated and cynically controlled by elements within the Republican party who have used religious principles to ensure their candidates are elected and can pass legislation that benefits no one but the elite that drafted it. In fact, I find it doubly abhorrent that Republicans have repeatedly abused the goodwill of the American religious right to gain votes and win elections.

Update 3: I just can't help myself, these videos are gold. I'm not sure what's more telling, that Obama is a terrorist himself and a Muslim according to these people, or the guy just yelling 'Commie faggots' at the Obama supporters.