Saturday, March 7, 2009

Odds and Ends

I suppose the time for discussion of the coffee progression has passed. I will say only that, as it ought to be, it is brown and aromatic. Also, a tasty beverage. This is an important distinction.

I wore my tennis-themed hooded-sweatshirt to rehearsal today in the hope that someone would say "Oh, you play tennis? We should go play some." This did not happen (some people cannot take a hint). Later that day, I discovered my cousin was in town, who upon my paying a visit said "Oh, you play tennis? We should go play some." Apparently things sometimes work out, but not as expected. There even was a conspicuous lack of the precipitation promised for the day. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, prepared with racket in hand to beat it back into the air if necessary.

I fear I may be playing Final Fantasy Tactics A2 for the rest of time. This would not in and of itself be a bad thing, necessarily, except the release of a third iteration seems inevitable. I've played thirty-two hours and have completed about a fifth of the game, if I'm lucky. There just isn't as much time to do this sort of thing anymore, which makes me sad and also mathematically-challenged as to how I'm going to pull off the laundry-list of worthies I have (once again) accumulated. I am beginning to worry that I cannot in fact be and do all good things there are to be and do, but haven't yet figured out how to deal with this (what can only be described as) unfortunate truth.

Perhaps a new slogan is appropriate here, as much for these current times as for my own more-metaphysical perplexity: Got Bilked?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hot Stuff

It has been only a week and already the Coffee has attained heights never hitherto attained (which is to say, heights), undergoing a vertical translation of states. Grounds unto (new) grounds, as it were, boo onto brew, blahfee into coffee, etc. Each successive rendition - an earthly attempt at the Form of the beverage - completes further the transition from undrinkable mess to elixer of life. It's getting better, in other words. These days, when I start that Maker a-workin' a savory smell comes a-lurkin, as do all the deer living round these parts, drawn from the lawn to the door by the scent of caffeine and the possibility of getting some dunkin' on. But they poop on the grass and are generally unneighborly, so I keep 'em out. In the meantime I must now concentrate on attaining the perfect mixture of sweetener and, er, whatever it is that the milk does. Still, the drink's true value is less in the flavor and more in its medicinal capacity.

I'm trying harder lately to practice grammatical tolerance. It's so hard, though. Even ignoring such obvious issues as people using double-negatives with abandon and gleefully misplacing objects of prepositions, it grinds my nerves something fierce when I hear a pronunciation of a word that is so far off the 'correct' way that it actually sounds like a different word and becomes confusing. Frustrating. I bite my tongue, though, because nobody asked me to correct his (ultimately-incosequential, admittedly) mistakes, and there are few ways more efficacious at souring a new relationship than putting the other person in the position of feeling corrected, chastised, and even the dreaded 'talked down to.'

I don't know, though - it's not even that I feel superior to others and want to flout that superiority. Rather I want everyone to do everything he can as well as he can, and there's no reason why errors such as are the type I notice most easily should go uncorrected. I believe everyone is capable of, say, using correct grammar and enunciating when he speaks. Noble sentiments, one might think. On the other hand, I suppose there are far worse people than I who have done some actually-Bad work under the banner of "improving other people, whether they feel like it or not." Ultimately I guess we each must decide what we want for ourselves and how best to seek that out. If that means some people decide they don't care so much about sounding (or even being) well-educated, and as an unintended consequence they irritate me occasionally, that is their decision to make and I must live with being irritated, at least until such time as they come to me and say "Oh Sage Mathias, we now know the error of our aimless ways and have come to seek of ye instruction in the grete werkes of Wysdome." This being about as likely as a Best Actor Oscar for me, I'll just do my best to grin and bear it, perhaps with the aid of a large cup of coffee.

...Good grief, I come off sounding like such an elitist jerk in this posting. How does this happen? Education is a wonderful and beautiful thing to have, and it should be no shame to want to bring it to others. Perhaps the problem is that I care more for the sake of freeing myself of irritants than for the sake of bringing benefit to others. Terrific. Ah well, I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm not sufficiently brilliant to make my correction stick in the mind, anyway...

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The barrier has been crossed; the old laws have fallen away. The shift has occurred. Quanta have leaped. I have learned to make coffee. When I bought the instant coffee mix and had at it the first few cups, I couldn't figure out why I kept on crafting such an odious concoction and, more importantly, why so much of the mix remained on the bottom of the cop, unblended, despite my best efforts. First I thought I needed to add the boiling water to the mix rather than the other way around; then I thought it needed more time to dissolve and a considerably-greater amount of stirring. Finally I realized what I'd bought was coffee grounds. This could explain a few things.

Fortunately I had a coffee maker, and I even figured out how to work it, despite the lack of both a manual and an inherent logic to the process. Now I realize there is an inherent logic to the process, but in the midst of it I wasn't sure things weren't going to burst into flame until I'd actually poured the cup. What I finally lifted to my lips and tasted on my tongue was the sweet flavor of victory. Victory, and perhaps a touch too much milk. These things take practice to get right.

It's only been three months since my last posting, hardly a time period of significance. All order in this online universe of mine has descended into chaos in the interim, but it's a descent in direct proportionality to the restoration of order in the rest of my life, a trade-off I'm quite pleased to make. The purpose this "blog" served at first is no longer a pressing one and my priorities and ambitions have changed somewhat, but two things remain true. It is satisfying to produce, and I need to write. All sorts of interesting writing ideas are arising in my head on a regular basis, but here's what usually happens to them, conveyed via my thought process: "Huh. That seems like a really great idea for a short story/novel/play/opera/epic poem/theo-philosophical treatise. However, as it is late and I am on my way to bed, I will just tuck it away in the back corner for writing later." Later: "Huh. That great idea seems rather pretentious, boring and downright ridiculous now. It is a Bad Idea and I regret thinking of it. I'd rather spend my writing time on the persistently-great idea I will come up with shortly." End result: nothing gets written. (Incidentally, I'm still not sure why I thought an animated, to-scale bunny-rabbit going paw-to-toe with John Malkovich in the sumo ring while torches on trapezes overhead juggle flaming humans and Matt Damon sings ballads could possibly be a bad idea, but I've forgotten how the dialogue for the love scene went, so it's a bit of a moot point.)

Words are pretty great; that at least is my attitude. I like putting them together; I like playing with them; I like criticizing the inadequate usage of them by others; as such, here I am once again. This is the one venue where I'm at all likely to keep up writing on a regular basis, at least until true inspiration strikes me. Right now - and I realize this may change - I do not care whether anyone reads this. I have no mission, no catchy hook with which to snare the reading populace and make me famous. I just want to write, because when I actually sit down and do it, I love it.

I also enjoy elevating scenarios from the mundane and "merely" imaginary to the ridiculous. Maybe there will be some of that in the next post.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I got an email recently mentioning that my latest utilities bill is available online, desperate for attention like a small dog for petting or a pretzel for butter (the analogy is not perfect). "We are happy to inform you..." it begins. I'm sure you are.

I find this kind of thing very amusing (its quality as sarcasm fodder is unsurpassed). I mentioned previously my fondness for the incongruous and this is an excellent example. The rest of the missive is every bit as genially vague, dancing around its true purpose like a landmine. Not once does it use the word 'bill' in the body of the email, preferring instead to speak of 'account information' and 'view the balance'; 'payment' hides at the bottom.

Still, it's that opening line that really gets me. What, exactly, is the rationale here? that I will open the email and the thought-process will be something like this: "Oh...a bill...but wait, they're happy to tell me about it. That takes the sting out. I guess I'm happy too, and will pay this in good cheer and with great haste"? No. No one would think this. No one would think that any one would think this. Bills are not a happy experience. I am not happy. They who tell me about the bill are not, in fact, happy. The computer that actually generated this email and sent it to me is not happy. The threat of legal action would be much more effective at motivating me to pay up on anything in danger of coming due. To act as though this anonymous auto-generated reminder of an ugly duty is something deserving of an attempt at a sunny smile is, frankly, absurd, if not outright insulting.

It is also tragically predictable - we Americans love our euphemisms, as I think I mentioned previously, and this is just a more bizarre example of our unending quest to make displeasing things more palatable. I find euphemisms fascinating (this is true of many things), even when they're insulting my intelligence, in large part because I have never quite understood their function, or at least their efficacy. A euphemism is nothing more than a lousy disguise - if the disguise is too good, meaning is obscured and communication fails, which is problematic. Sure, there are cases where this can be manipulated to a legitimate end (talking over someone's head springs to mind). But there are many examples where everyone sees through the disguise, and yet desires its retention; why?

How about that profanity? The excellent science-fiction show Battlestar Galactica is a good example - pretty much every curse word in the book makes the occasional appearance and is not censored, with the glaring exception of the F-bomb, which is replaced by 'Frak.' Boy, that makes it all better. 'Frak' gets used a lot, and in every context that its real-world counterpart might be found, and I have to point out: it's obvious what word is intended. They're using all these other profanities that we know and, er, know, and then they drop in this slightly-altered version of the King of Kurse, the Sultan of Swear, and somehow this is supposed to make it more acceptable for broadcast. But why? If we're all thinking the real word when they speak its substitute, how is anyone 'helped' or societal standards preserved? What is so dangerously powerful about the sound of the word such that it's okay to plant it in everyone's mind but not okay to apply it to everyone's ears? I don't question that there is a difference, yet I do not understand it. Meanwhile the coherence and believability of the BSG world is actually weakened because the lingo is otherwise the same, and when the exception makes its appearance, it jars.

Making up words is always a hazardous business, especially if you go only halfway and especially if you just make up profanity. It's really hard to do this without the result sounding silly and contrived (several otherwise-decent Star Wars novels have fallen prey to this phenomenon). If you're going to go this route it might as well be with tweaked versions of the usual suspects, these being the safest bet...but do they really accomplish the intended purpose? Frankly this desire to hide something in plain sight, hardly limited to the realms of offensive language and monetary transactions, strikes me as a mild but universal hypocrisy. But what are we even kidding ourselves about?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The weight of St. John's alone...

Among the books I read on assignment in high school was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I hated it. I read the book again just recently out of a sense of both decency and morbid curiosity, and while I did not love it - it is not a tale that admits of being loved - I did, and do, respect it. Hatred of any book, especially a work of fiction, is for me a very rare thing, and as I look back now through the haze of too much time passed I am pretty sure I must chalk it up to 'not getting' the book. I think I better understand it now. Introductions that explain what the book is about are very helpful in this regard; sort of like putting who Pip's benefactor is on the dust jacket of Great Expectations. Honestly, does not the very idea of an 'Introduction' suggest supplying the preliminaries, with the intention of allowing intimacy to take its natural course? But I digress. I would've appreciated the book better even had I not reminded myself of all pertinent plot points, and the way to understand them, before turning to page one. I always knew that other people might have to reread books later in their life in order to derive more meaning from their contents, but I never quite believed it must apply to me as well until this moment. It seems unlikely that there is one age after which one may with justice say "Oho, all the mysteries of the universe are now open to me and my understanding is complete." The logical consequence is that, with any work that pretends to be more than a popular taste of the times, one must pay it due attention in each stage of life, if the true value is to be grasped.

Well, that's a relief. And here I was worried because I'd already read all books the first time. Especially after I finished all the videogames.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The tide grows ever more relentless

I have a bone to pick with the release of new videogames of quality, and that is that I'm always too busy playing the old stuff to tackle the new. The classic game of catch-up; of course I play this with all other forms of entertainment too, but those cases don't really bother me. I got into the videogame scene back in the days when the Super Nintendo was already well established; not very long afterward I became attuned to the gaming scene - and to a lesser extent history - and it all went downhill from there.

The reasons have always been two, the first economical - until recently I got videogame systems only several years into their life cycle, when the prices had dropped enough that I (or, more typically, someone else) could buy them without breaking the bank. To be an early adopter is to spend lavishly, often enough with little reward other than the pride of early adoption, on which I place little worth. On the software side of the issue, new games are also costly - fifty bucks is a lot to spend on one piece of entertainment when one is on a budget, especially when that experience may only last six or eight hours. As with my first foray into videogames (albiet less of a timing issue), the hardware starts the job and the software finishes it.

When I made the first exception to my standard behavior and picked up a Nintendo Wii on launch day, there still remained the other downside inherent to keeping abreast of the videogame curve, namely that there wasn't much worth playing. Another benefit of waiting until there is an established shelf life is that when one takes the plunge, there is a lot of quality material to choose from and enjoy, rarely if ever the case on Day One. Of course, on Day One of the Wii's launch there was something well worth playing (and promising to last a while), namely the latest Legend of Zelda title, of which I did buy a copy. There I was with a brand spankin' new Nintendo system, one of the first in the country, and a hot new iteration of one of my favorite franchises, and because I have poor planning and cannot in good conscience play more than one game at a time, I proceeded to leave Zelda in its shrink-wrap for the next couple months while I finished up Okami. Admittedly, it was Okami. This brings me to reason two.

Reason Two: I am one of those unfortunates who wants to play as many great games as he can. As I like many genres and there have been a surprising number of excellent titles over twenty-plus years, this presents a significant challenge. I don't like to move on from one system to its successor until I have exhausted the worthwhile experiences on the outdated model, and the truth is that even if the current were to stop flowing and I had all the time in the rest of my life to play the goods from the past, it still might not be enough. Meanwhile the hits do keep coming. This is why I'm still playing the Playstation 2 and have no plans to upgrade any time soon. A couple of years ago, as the launch of the PS3 solidified, I made the mistake of going out to Best Buy and Wal-Mart with the intention of purchasing all of the Greatest Hits / Player's Choice (budget-priced classic) titles in which I had an interest. The rationale was that the Playstation 2 and Gamecube had seen virtually all their best games, and I'd better snap up the ones I hadn't played yet before they vanished from stores. Whoops. I amassed quite a hefty stack, and the results were predictable - as I worked through the stack its sheer girth paralyzed me psychologically from getting or playing anything else (more recent titles, for instance), and meanwhile additional great game after game continued to be released, such that now, having conquered the stack (or The Stack, as I like to call it) and supposedly thrown off such foolish impulses, I could easily go out and build another of equal or even greater dimensions. It's probably best that I don't have the money for this.

Admittedly it is better to suffer from a deluge of entertainment than a dearth, and yet it does make me slightly sad at times - it is nice to feel current and up-to-date once in a while, having the same experiences everyone else is, and with the very rare exception of games I absolutely cannot wait to play, the only times I've experienced anything New lately has been because that particular title has a cooperative mode that I can share with friends who don't share my constraints and have indulged. When something comes out that I'd really like to experience, something I've looked forward to for a long time, but can't justify splurging on while it's fresh, it's a bit discouraging. Those who are not in the know might argue that I should just give up my hopeless venture, forgo the retro, and wholeheartedly embrace what's current; it is true that this is probably the only way I could ever stay above the tide instead of being swamped by it (this season just makes things worse), and yet to argue this is to miss the point. It is not that I play all these for the sake of satisfying some kind of poorly-thought-out completest urge, although I have those in abundance. Rather I believe that each and every great game has something unique and invigorating to offer, something heartfelt and sincere which is worthy of being experienced, in exactly the same way that a good book or movie or TV show or piece of music does. Life is experience, and in my opinion it is worthwhile to try and have as many of the good ones as possible. This is as legitimate in the virtual realm (a medium as powerful and full of potential as any other) as it is in the 'real world.' I take stories where I can get 'em.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I mean, I got so caught up talking about F-Zero that I forgot to mention the one single aspect of it that most prompted me to get angry in writing! I'll fix that. This is the diabolical track of the 'Lightning' subset known as 'Half Pipe.' In a game full of spectacular-looking levels this is one of the most striking (the environment is called 'Lightning' for a reason) and for those who are truly prepared it can actually be adrenaline-soaked fun. For those who are not, it's like sadism in a box. It's called 'Half Pipe' for a reason, too. Imagine a tunnel with abundant (and tight) twists and turns, then shear off the top. Physics are in play, ladies and gentlemen. The vehicles make use of hovering units so it's possible to drive along the walls of the half-pipe and this can help navigate those nasty turns, but it also makes it that much easier to slide just a bit too far and pop right off the edge. If you really know your course you can take shortcuts this way, blasting off the lip and over the abyss to land in a section of the pipe later on, and this happened to me once by accident. I would not risk it on purpose. This track is the destroyer of the weak. There's another course in the next cup that looks more dangerous, being nothing but mostly-parallel lines of very thin platform the entire time with no rails except for about two seconds, but that one is at least mostly flat and straight. 'Half Pipe' devours souls. Definitely the track to break out for those who've never played the game before.

I also forgot to mention in the posting to which this is an addendum that I'm going to try restricting the time I allow myself to write these posts. This will force me either to be concise or to end in mid