Saturday, January 31, 2009


About this time last weekend, I took a long hard look at my email account from the University of Someplace Else and decided that it was time I created an electronic archive of the various emails there, so I'd have my own record, just in case. I made it to about the 2007 emails before calling it quits, largely because of my own discomfort in learning that the archive was at this point 260 pages long and I had gone through less than a third of the total body of emails. I'll do the rest later, I told myself.

But I didn't know... just how little... time I had left.

This morning, I found out that some time between yesterday and now, the University had deleted my account. Which was fair enough--I mean, I haven't been a student there for five months now. But I wish they had the simple courtesy to have given me some sort of warning about it. I had to send out a half dozen "change your address book emails," which was annoying. (These were mostly people I had needed to contact between the transition from Someplace Else to Blank, which meant I didn't have my Blank email address yet when I contacted them. I really should have told them to go over to the new one, but there didn't seem to be any pressing need. Until now, when there was nothing but press.) And I'm sure I missed someone important, but I guess there's no way of knowing.

What really bugs me though is that the reason I started the archiving project to begin was because I wanted to preserve those emails, as a record of who I was. And all that information is gone into the internet ether. I saved a lot of it, I guess, but if I had just known what was coming, I could have kept it all. Sigh.

I guess there's two lessons here. First, a "carpe diem" sort of thing: don't put off archiving until tomorrow what you want to archive today. Second: in my digital media course last term, one of the motifs that kept coming in the scholarly papers was that people are unaware that the records they leave on the internet persist. Well, this case shows that the opposite is true as well--things you think are set in stone can disappear just as quickly. The whole incident has shown to me just how fragile my online records are. Facebook pictures, other email addresses, even this blog-- I don't "own" any of that, and it could disappear overnight and there'd be nothing I could do.
And given the ominous rumblings my computer's been making, even making stored copies may not be sufficient. Back it up, boys and girls, 'cause those eggs shoudn't be in one basket.

And for the record, yes, I do understand that I was naive to believe these emails would always be there in the first place. Still, nothing irretrievable was lost (so far as I know, knock on electrodes), and an Important Lesson was learned.

Later Days.

*UPDATE* As my brother pointed out, I should really mention that after I tried again an hour or so later, the email address was working again. But I maintain that *overall* point re: the tenuous nature of electronically stored information still stands.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the Lighter Side...

Now, I'm not sure what dinosaurs have to do with credit scores, but I think Mr. Tyrannosaurus is the victim of an ugly little thing known as "racial profiling."

Later Days.

I'm Being Punished for Something

My bike's rear axle is loose, which means that applying any weight causes the back tire to rub against the frame, thus preventing forward locomotion.
...we will see what will be done about this.

*UPDATE* I've determined the problem is the rear axle. Namely, it's in two pieces. I'd be exceptionally proud of my mechanical prowess in finding the problem at all, but I kept wanting to call it a crankshaft, so "prowess" may not be the right word.

Later Days.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Today, I Became a Man...

Three Items to Discuss:
* ...because, after twenty-five long years, I finally opened my own bank account. Yes, I had one before, but it was back in my home province. So for the past five months, I've been using nothing but debit for all transactions, paying my bills online, and direct-depositing my earnings. That's worked fine, and it's a handy excuse for why I don't pay the tip, but as Michael Caine once said, a man should have more than a dollar in his wallet. The turning point came when the university decided to pay my teaching scholarship for the term in the form of a check, rather than a deposit. Since my own bank was, again, thousands of kilometers away, I opened a bank account. A few hours ago, in fact. A very young girl walked me through the steps, and suddenly, I was now pecuniarily matured.

Gender studies specialists in the crowd: feel free to speculate on the reasons for which I associate masculinity with financial savings.

* For those of you eagerly waiting the next installment in the ongoing love/hate relationship between me and my bicycle, I walked it into the shop on Saturday. The total cost was $50--15 for the actual tube change, and 35 for the new tire. As the clerk amply demonstrated, the tire was practically in shreds at this point, so a replacement was necessary. And frankly, it was worth it--I can't believe the difference in speed. It's shaving 10 minutes off my commute per day. Now, suppose my time was worth $10/h. (It could happen.) That means that after I make 21 trips on my bike to the university and back, it'll have paid for itself. (Fuzzy math is the best kind of math.)

* I confuse Burn Notice with Death Note. Fans of either are invited to berate me.

Later Days.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This one's a little flat

It seems like just yesterday I was complaining about bike troubles. Oh wait, it was eight days ago, right here. This time around, I was about a third of the way home when my back tire went flat, so there was a long, tedious walk from there, which wasn't really good for the bike or myself.
This is the second time I got a flat since moving to Blank, and it's interesting to compare the two incidents. The first time I got a flat, it was a week or two into my first term. I was feeling kind of floundering, and the flat came at just the right time to symbolize all that emotional angst in one single event.
It was so early in my tenure here that my internet wasn't even hooked up yet, so I had to drag out the yellow pages to find the local bike shop, then find it on my map, which managed to combine my frustration in:
a) my poor map-reading abilities,
b) my inability to find my way around Blank, and
c) the delay in getting my internet hooked up (which wasn't my own fault, but still very annoying)
Then there was walking the bike to the bike shop, and feeling guilty that I didn't know anyone around here well enough to ask them for a ride. (Yes, I felt guilty about that. Take it from an expert: with proper cultivation, you feel guilty about ANYTHING.) A fairly miserable experience, all around.
Now... it doesn't seem like a big deal. I know where two different bike repair shops are now, and I can go over tomorrow--unless the forecasted flurries finally hit, in which case I'll be equally willing to wait a day or two. Unlike last time, thanks to the last bicycle emergency, I know I can get by without one for a few days, so there's no hurry. I think I'll still walk it over though--I don't feel really comfortable imposing on most of my current friends to that degree, and the one I might feel comfortable with is out of town (so she dodged a bullet there).
So there you go. Even out of a fairly bad event, there's some good to be found, even if it's just realizing that you could have reacted much worse. A lesson for us all.
Now, if I was really on the ball, I would have either walked it to the bike shop that was actually nearby when the flat occurred, or I'd be walking it to the bike shop right now while the weather's great, but I didn't think of the first, and as for the second... eh. It's a Friday afternoon at the end of a long week. I feel entitled to slack it a bit, you know?
I suppose that's the other side with not being overly worried: the problem of being overly complacent. But hey, I found a problem, so that's a good start.
Anyway, I can afford to wait; it's not like the bike's going anywhere on me. Not on that flat, it ain't.

Later Days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: X-Men, X-Men, and more Mutants

Uncanny X-Men Annual 2. By Matt Fraction & Mitch Breitweiser and Daniel Acuna. Emma Frost takes center stage, as she tries to convince fellow Dark Illuminati member Namor that they should make a private deal. The word "retcon" (rewriting past continuity) generally gets a bad wrap, but in the best case scenario, it makes a contriubtion to the story at hand without detracting from the past in any manner. This is a retcon of Frost's past, to include a romantic liason with another big Marvel character during her Hellfire Club days. The story slides back and forth between that story, and the present day. Each artist illustrates a different era, although to be honest, they're similar enough that I occasionally got confused as to which period I was looking at. Overall, Fraction and the artists deliver a compelling story and a telling character piece that adds some depth to the dynamics of Dark Reign.

Astonishing X-Men 28. Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi. I think the "previously" for this issue told me more on what's going on than actually reading the previous issues. The X-Men travel to a China base to investigate a possible war between artificial mutants and parallel world mutants. Once there, they split up and are attacked by both sides--and both sides are looking for an old friend of theirs... First the art: Bianchi's X-Men look good, but the action scenes seem disjointed--there's little flow between scenes. Storywise, Ellis seems to be going strong: the X-Men's voices are all distinctly their own, and he's quite impressively weaving the recent X-Men mythos into his own alternate world story. For example, Beast theorizes that M-Day wiped out most mutants in multiple realities, but with the birth of the mutant baby in Messiah Complex, realities full of mutants are coming back into being. (This doesn't match at all with what's been happening in the reality-hopping Exiles series, but it sounds so good, I want to believe it.)
Unfortunately, the exposition is a little clumsy. The identity of the "old friend" is choreographed fairly early, when two split parties of X-Men both start discussing him, for reasons that arise naturally, but just come off as blatant when taken together. It's not as bad as, say, the Human Torch announcing that they are safe from everything but an attack by Doctor Doom, and then the Doctor shows up on the next page, but if it's close enough that the comparison can even be made, it's too close. Ellis may have a good explanation for this in a later issue, but at the moment, it just seemed a little clumsier than I'd expect from him. But I'm overstating this--it was really a good issue, and it shows that Ellis can do good things with the X-Men and keep his own flair.
X-Men Legacy 220. By Mike Carey and Scot Eaton. Xavier convinces Gambit to follow him to Rogue, as Xavier wants to make up to her that whole "lying about being to help her in order to trick her into joining the X-Men" thing. Only thing is, someone else with a grudge against Xavier got to her first... Add a rogue Shi'ar salvage crew, and you got yourself a party---next issue. This issue is more about setting things up. And speaking of tying things in to the larger mythos, Carey continues doing his thing, this time taking elements from the recent Skrull Invasion and the events of Astonishing to tell his latest story--and for longtime fans, he even uses the old X-Men base in Australia as Rogue's hideaway.
It's extremely well-written, as per usual for this title-the only thing that really bothered me was the characters. In theory, I don't have anything wrong with Rogue, and I'd like to see her power issue get resolved, which this storyline is teasing us with. And I don't mind Gambit, in small doses. But it's been a long time since I've read either of them, and I've forgotten how annoying their respective verbal tics are. And I know her Southern drawl and his cajun meanderings are established character traits, but... mon cher dieux, they gets on the nerves.

That's it for now. Man, I can't believe I made it through reviewing three X-Men comics without mentioning Wolver--aw, shucks.

Later Days.

Friendface gets its groove back

I'll post the regular comic stuff soon, but for now, I want to talk about a moment in history. A moment that gave us all something to believe in.

No, not THAT moment.
Once upon a time, Facebook had a lovely little application called Scrabbulous, which was an electronic version of the popular Scrabble. And it had all the benefits of an electronic version: you could play a round with friends separated by great distances, wait days between rounds, and check the online word creating sites to look for words (Ok, there was an honour system involved.). But it wasn't just an electronic version of Scrabble--it was an unauthorized electronic version of Scrabble. And so, one litigious event later, it disappeared.
Until today, when I received an email telling me that the troubles were over, and the new, improved, renamed and probably not as illegal Lexulous was available on Facebook again.
I wouldn't be bringing this up except for the number of sightings I've seen of the game since then. I got the email today, and I've already observed 4 people on the university's computers playing the new Lexulous. Assuming that I didn't see everyone, and that U of W's student population isn't for some reason composed of Scrabble fanatics, that means there's a huge level of support for this kind of thing--especially since it's free.
We could unpack this and come up with some interesting areas of discussion--the omnipresence of Facebook, the move to online gaming, the difficulties in capitalizing on internet products. And it's important to discuss these issues, rather than just charging blindly ahead. And I'd really love to talk about them, but... I have to go... and... play.... um, something. Something totally unrelated.

Later Days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Anarchist or Communist?

This is tangentially related to my last post, but separate enough that I decided to put it... separately. (Logical, right?)
When discussing the availability of books for the 18th century course, the professor remarked that it is possible to arrange it so that the name of the person who borrowed it comes up under a public search, presumably to avoid the rounds of "I recalled it, no I recalled it."
"However," he concluded, "I have to say, I'm not really comfortable with everyone being aware of my reading habits."
Which was fair enough. The interesting part was my first, off-the-cuff response: Oh, so it's so much better that your reading habits are in the hands of the ruling elite?
First of all, it's probably telling that I consider the people who work at the library as the ruling elite. Second, it raised what I'll leave as an open question: does this thought imply anarchist leanings, or communist leanings?

Oh, and since it's Inauguration Day and I'm all about leeching off the popularity of real people of consequence, let's start asking unfair, loaded questions:
Is Barak Obama more a communist, or a socialist?

Later Days.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grad Student: Not all fun and games. Just, you know, mostly.

Okay, I've been complaining about this off and on to a lot of different people, but I still feel the need to vent my spleen, and this is the ideal forum for that.
Today, we're going to talk about holds on library books.
Being a grad student can be expensive, and one of those expenses includes buying textbooks. Professors assign texts to courses with the best intentions in the world, I'm sure, but in reality, it doesn't work out so well. I don't care how much it helps with the development of my still-forming academic mind--I really don't want to pay $80 for a book we're looking at for single week.
The main alternative is to take said book out from the library. And this is where it stops being a problem between you and the professor, and becomes a problem between you and the fellow student.
At U of Blank, graduate students and professors have extended lending privileges, and can borrow books for an entire term at a time. So, if the book you're trying to put a hold on has a due date at the end of term, you're taking it out of the hands of a grad student or professor. And if it's a fairly obscure book, the odds are that you're taking it out of the hands of a fellow student who's in the same class as you.
This is Not Cool.
I get the argument that "all's fair in love and graduate studies"--that any book should be poachable at any time, and no one has the right to hold onto it indefinitely. But if the only reason you want the book is that you're too cheap to buy it properly, then I should think it becomes a matter of etiquette-- you wouldn't want a book you took out for a class recalled, so you wouldn't do it to someone else without good reason. Why should that student be punished because they had the gumption to search the library before you?
Not to mention there are ways around this. In previous years, since I've been in large classes with few books to go around, I've suggested creating a masterlist, so students know whether a colleague has a book out or not, and can just ask them to borrow it, rather than go through the recall process, which means that it'll be about a week before they have access to the book anyway.
This proposal is met, as always, with deafening indifference.
As you can probably tell, I've had more than few books recalled this term on me, one of which had a hold on it before I even signed it out. I suppose if I wanted, I could recall the items back on them, but that seems like just the sort of pettiness I should be trying to avoid. And mainly, I understand the motivation--in a class of 15 or so, it can be a lot of work to track down the one individual that has the book you're looking for, and it's easier to just put a hold on it. The real irritation comes from a single case in my Scandal Memoirs of 18th century course, in which the professor actually asked who had various books from the library out, to facilitate the sharing process. I put my hand up. It was perfectly clear who had the book. And I made it clear I would lend it to anyone who asked, so we wouldn't have to go through the library red tape. And yet one of my fellow classmates (I suppose it could have been someone else desperate to read this edition of the life of Charlotte Charke, but the odds are against it) STILL put a hold on the book, so I still had to hurry and return it ASAP.
Ok, I imagine this is coming off as a whiney, old-man get-off-the-lawn kind of rant. And this isn't the sort of "everyman" issue that's going to be made into an episode of Seinfeld or something. But we're all grad students here, and we all need to get along with a minimum amount of fuss, so I think it would benefit everyone if we got together and acted in a manner that means I don't have to run to school on a Sunday in order to do absolutely nothing but return a book that's been recalled for tomorrow morning.
I mean, acted in a manner that benefits everyone.

Later Days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Like To Ride My Bicycle

There are certain precautions a person learns to make if he or she becomes an adherent of cold-weather biking. You need to get a sense of how to function on both ice and snow. You need to figure out a way to dress so that you're warm enough, but not so insulated that you boil like a roasted hen. To save time mopping and discussing water damage with your landlord, you need to brush off the snow before taking the bike indoors.
And--here's a new one I had the joy of discovering recently-- you need to go to extremes to avoid any amount of snow in your bike lock. Because it will get into the lock. And it will melt. And then it will freeze again. And then your bike lock will be frozen.

For the past three days, my bike was stuck in place on the U of Blank campus. I would walk by it every day, futilely try the lock a few times, then sigh mightily. To be honest, I kind of put off doing anything about it for a while because I was hoping it would thaw on its own, which, given the usual average temperature for Blank (-2), didn't seem so farfetched. Unfortunately, we've been in an unaverage cold snap of late, with the unaverage temperature of -20, or lower. So after consulting the Internet and my parents (the two parties that played the most significant roles in raising me), I came up with a plan of action. For the edification of my readers, I will go into some detail.

The basic goal is to melt the ice inside the lock. There are few different ways of doing so: a hair dryer would work, but finding an appropriate extension cord on campus would difficult, to say the least. A deicer does the trick, but you need one that won't jam up the lock further. The most obvious method is to pour hot water on it, which works but with one caveat: you need to get the lock thoroughly dry before you use it again, or the water you added will freeze too, and you'll be worse off than when you started.
I was going to risk the water method--the bike would be inside over the weekend anyway, providing ample drying time--but my ma convinced me to try a heating pack instead. So I got one of those (9.99--cheapest the drug stor had) and heated it up. (Finding a microwave proved to be only slightly less difficult than finding that extension cord would have been.) A few tense filled minutes later, the lock was good and mellow.
And the townspeople rejoiced.
How do we keep this from happening again? Two things: some plastic held in place by rubber bands should protect the lock from precipitation, and WD-40 should make it overall less likely to freeze in inconvenient situations. Of course, a third option is to NOT bike in water-freezing temperature, but where's the fun in that?

Later Days.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Better Late!

No Hero 3. By Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. As has been observed, this comic came out last week. But I just got around to it now, and I have to admit, it was worth the wait. In this issue, Joshua goes through the with the "heroing" procedure, and Carrick Masterson's chickens come home to roost. Joshua's trippy drug experience ('cause it just ain't Ellis if there's not a trippy drug experience at some point) consists of a series of splash pages. They're all wonderfully drawn, of course, and chock full of disturbing, even sublime imagery, but I think one would have conveyed the idea--four was overkill, especially since that makes up nearly a third of the entire story. The story itself is excellent--for me, Masterson's musings on just who's out to get them mark the point, for me at least, when the story shifts from an interesting concept to a world I want to see more of. I want to know what happened at to the Frontline at Tianamen Square. I want to hear more about their Russian operations. And I want to see just how far Joshua's going to fall. It took me a while to get fully on board, but however many splash-pages, I'm on for the ride.

Batman: Broken City. By Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. This is going to take some explanation, so bear with. In the second half of 2008, Brian Azzarello wrote Joker, which was an original graphic novel exploring the character of the Joker through the eyes of an ordinary thug who attaches himself to the Crown Prince of Crime because... well, he's not entirely sure himself, and therein lies the story. The story was also a bit of a gamble on Azzarello's part: he portrayed the Joker not as a wise-cracking super-villain, but as a canny gangster. The gamble paid off, for a few different reasons:
1) The movie Dark Knight had basically paved the way for a darker, more realistic portrayal of the Joker.
2) The artist for Joker,
Lee Bermejo, was excellent, especially when coupled with amazing work on inks and colours performed by others.
3) Even as a gangster, the Joker was unmistakably insane. Azzarello walked a fine line between enforcing that insansity, and convincing the reader that someone would actually follow this looney into a fight--and he pulls it off well.
Azzarello's portrayal of Batman in the novel is noteworthy as well. Batman doesn't even appear until the very end of the novel, but his presence looms everywhere. He's less a man than an unstoppable force, which is exactly how I think he'd appear to the criminals of Gotham City--especially the Joker. It may not be quite as good as Moore's Killing Joke, but it's the closest anyone's ever been.
Aaaaaand then there's Broken City. It was written in 2004, some years ago, and the plot is that Batman is trying to track down a murderer, and when a young boy loses his parents in Gotham, he tends to take it personally. And like Joker, Azzarello goes for the noir approach. It's Batman, but recharacterized as a 40s pulp detective.
And it does not work. Not for me. Joker worked, I think, because it was an outsider's perspective on the Joker, and Broken City fails because it tries to give an inner perspective on Batman that is just inconsistent with any notion of Batman I'm familiar with. To his defence, Azzarello tries to justify his approach, by establishing that this Batman is nearly insane after the death of his parents--the same basic approach that Frank Miller is taking right now in the All-Star Batman and Robin series. But I think he misses his mark. This isn't Batman, with a PI flavour. This is a PI flavour and the Batman part has been jammed onto it. Aside from the thematic connections of dead parents, this case could have been done by any generic detective character.
And the dialogue is really what drives home how out of place it all feels. For example, here's the text boxes given when Bruce Wayne cooks a steak:

I liked mine pink on the inside, not red or grey. I was after the perfect sizzle.
But I'd misjudged.
It was red. Raw. My tastes didn't run that way...
...But I wasn't the only man in town with an appetite.

Can you imagine what every day life must be like for poor old Wayne?
The glass was empty. Empty like the barrels of the revolver that shot my parents.
I'm out of milk. But like the crime that festers throughout my city, it's only a store away.
I looked her up and down, and then down again, for the extra practice. She looks at me like we've known each other our whole lives, but just now realized she never knew my name. She says, "sorry, this toll only accepts exact change."

And for those who think I'm making a mountain out of a noir molehill, here's his conversation with a moll whose in a state of deshabille:
Batman: "I'm looking for Angel."
"Guess I'm not doing my job."
"You are, trust me."
"It's hard to tell."
"Sure is, but you didn't hear it from me."
"Oooh, I love secrets."
"Really? I've got one."
"I bet it's big."
Really? A Batman that flirts with mob girls? It would work for the Operative, or Mike Hammer, but the Caped Crusader? Not so much. You just know if he takes her home, Alfred's going to get sooooo uppity.
All right, time to stop before I get (more) ranty.
To sum up: Joker as gangster. Clever reinvention. Batman as pulp detective. Waste of a perfectly good iconic superhero.

Later Days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fallout 3: Time Sink 2009

I feel compelled to spend some time in contemplation of the subject that's consuming the highest portion of my time. What's that, you ask? Is it research? Classes?
Ha-ha. Of course not. It's video games. Yes, video games. Because I don't alienate enough of my regular readers with the comic book entries. (Which reminds me: I will be getting to the latest issue of No Hero. Eventually.)

Specifically, I'd like to talk about Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is the third game set in an alternate universe, in which the world was devastated by a series of nuclear attacks. Despite what you might think, the post-apocalyptic dystopia doesn't show up often in video games, especially in role-playing games--after all, there's something unsatisfying about saving the world if there's no world worth saving. But the Fallout series makes the most out of its setting, to create a reflection on society, a discourse on the pursuit of power, and an imagining of the new societies that arise out the ashes of civilization.

Also, you get to shoot mutants with lasers. (Now, I know what you're thinking: do you shoot lasers at the mutants or do the mutants have lasers? Both, of course.)

But despite the name, Fallout 3 is actually a child of two distinct series. It is the next game in the Fallout line, but it was developed by the guys who make the Elderscrolls series, Bethesada. What that meant in terms of gameplay is a huge graphical facelift, and an emphasis on do-anything, go anywhere gameplay, which makes it of interest to my scholarly research. Unfortunately, it runs into the same problems the last Elderscrolls game did, at least for me. For example, there's still a main storyline, and still a fairly linear path to get there. In Fallout, you can skip steps, by say, going to Rivet City first off after leaving the Vault, but since I stumbled on this route by accident, I just felt that I had deprived myself of the actual adventure part in between that I had been supposed to follow.

Another problem with the system is that if you can go anywhere and do anything, the question "why bother?" becomes bigger and bigger. Freedom is nice, but since most of the changes I can make are fairly superficial (if you make "good" moral choices, you are pursued randomly on occasion by a mercenary company sent to kill you; if you make "bad" choices, you are pursued by vigilantes called Regulators; same thing, but with different costumes.), I think the freedom actually pulls a person out of the immersive experience, since you can control yourself, but it doesn't feel like your choices matter. In the RPG experience (Role-Playing Game), Bethesda's failing has always been towards an inability to create a compelling story--the overarching universe the story takes place in is well-realised, but the story itself falls short, in dialogue and event. I realise that the player is supposed to then compose his or her own story, but... that only goes so far.

But let's talk about the awesome parts. Fighting is a great mix of action and turn-base,lthough it favours the latter a little more closely. And some side-quests are compelling and amusing, like the man-tree in Oasis. I also give full props to Bethesda for using the game's set location to its full extent, perhaps more fully than I've ever seen in a video game. Previous Fallout games took place on the west coast, but this one is set in DC. As such, players can go on missions to clear the Lincoln Memorial as a gathering place for escaped slaves, set up the Washington Monument as the transmitter for the last free radio station in the Wasteland, or head to the Pentagon to team up with the last bastion of humanity, the Brotherhood of Steel.

Being Canadian, I expect a lot of the geography was lost on me. But the juxtaposition between the symbols of American grandeur and their subsequent ruin is striking. And because I won't be a literary scholar if I didn't look into this, I was always fascinated by the rhetoric behind the fallout series. The second fallout, for example, is often accused of being too camp with its subject--although I'd like someone to explain to me exactly what is so camp about King Arthur showing up in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland along with his servant banging coconuts, asking for directions to Camelot. But personally, I think that was part of the point--making fun of how seriously we take the hero's quest in a typical video game.

Looking more at the series at large, Fallout usually accompanies its nuclear wasteland with a musical score that relies heavily on nostalgic tunes from the 2os to the 50s. Bioshock did a similar combination of nostaglia and dystopia, and I think the movie Wall-E uses them in the same manner. Fear for the future--which is always what a dystopia represents--usually goes hand in hand with clutching to the past. More specific to Fallout 3, it's interesting to note how the "enemy" has shifted. Originally, the fallout came from a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, it seems the driving force that created the war was a conflict between the United States and China--in fact, the first expansion for the game will be Operation: Anchorage, an attempt to take back Alaska from invading Chinese forces. (That's not to say the Chinese are in any way the big bad in the game--that honour actually goes to the Conclave, a remnant of the American government bent on wiping out the humans still living in the Wasteland areas, because of their genetic corruption via radiation.)

So lots to think about. Lots to do in terms of research. Very compelling area.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go finish the game's final mission. I believe it involves teaming up with a giant robot to storm the Jefferson Memorial.

Later Days.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Would King of Consequence be a redundancy?

I biked to school today. It's the first time I've biked this year immediately after a large snow fall. It requires significantly more energy to bike through snow than ice, although the latter requires greater concentration. I felt you all needed to know that.

On to the comics!

War of Kings Saga. By Michael Hoskin. A text summary of various past miniseries, accompanied by images taken from the original stories. It's also free, which was a very good idea on Marvel's part. More specifically, the book summarizes the Inhuman storylines of the past few years, and the X-related storylines featuring the character Vulcan. As an introduction to the upcoming War of Kings series, it's a very good summary, and making it free, Marvel is sensibly trying to get as many people as possible interested. It also suggests the focus and audience for the series; Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy are mentioned as being involved in the upcoming war, but paid a single page of attention, combined. That makes it seem like Marvel is expecting the main readers of the War of Kings to be the fans of the current space Marvel line up, rather than X-Men or Inhumans fans, who really won't learn anything new here--which is probably a fair enough assumption, comparing the various series' selling rate. If Marvel is trying to build War of Kings to compete with DC's Darkest Night story, it's probably not going to work: the Green Lantern story has been building good press for far too long, and has the extra benefit of being much more confined to two titles. But as a sprawling space epic, it's off to a good start, as the saga at least proves that Marvel is aware of the coordination needed to join all these disparate elements together.
Invincible Iron Man 9. By Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. Tony wipes his mind to keep Norman Osborne from getting at it. His two chosen allies--Maria Hill and Pepper Potts--decide whether they want to help him. It’s a fairly grim issue, which can’t be helped, given the subject manner, and it sets up what appears to be the new status quo for the series: Tony as a fugitive, fleeing from Norman Osborne’s troops. Larroca’s art is of the fairly realistic type, which fits the subject matter here. Fraction’s also got a good grasp on Tony’s character—even on the run, he’s still exhibiting a cockiness that borders on arrogance, while at the same time recognizing his own flaws. The issue didn’t wow me particularly, but it’s a perfectly good set-up for what’s to come.
Amazing Spider-Man 582. By Dan Slott and Mike McKone. Part 2 of 2. Norman's family comes under attack from the Molten Man, but a certain webslinger shows up to save the day. One of the larger purposes of this story is to pave over more of the "Brand New Day" changes: in this case, the explanation for why Harry isn't dead. As always, these pave-overs are somewhat wince-inducing and not quite logical, but they do need to be dealt with. The issue itself is an entertaining fight scene, although it rather carefully avoids any advancement in the relationships between Liz, Harry, and Peter. Slott's trademark wit takes a little longer to get going here than usual, but it raises its usual guffaw by the story's end.

And that's it for this week. Anyone who feels capable of explaining Kant's definition of the sublime is invited (or begged) to post below.

Later Days.

Monday, January 5, 2009

State of the Person Address 2009

Let's take stock, shall we?

I thought that now would be about a good a time as any to reflect on the past year. (All right, the best time would have been about a week ago, but we work with what we got.) 2008 saw two fairly monumental developments: the completion of my MA Thesis, and moving to Blank to start my PhD. Let's address each in turn.

January through April was basically the second half of my year of work on the thesis. In case I haven't mentioned it before, my thesis was an 82 page investigation of social issues that present themselves in the works of Tamora Pierce, a young adult fantasy writer. As a subject for academic research, it was a bit of a stretch, and I was very lucky to find a professor willing to stand behind the paper. A colleague told me that the second year thesis should be enjoyed more than anything else in my academic career, and she was probably right. I've always believed in a "pressure makes diamonds" sort of approach to essay writing; each month, I'd waste away the first three weeks, then write a chapter over a weekend. In my defence, I'd spend the three weeks planning, if not writing, and then edited the heck out of the paper, but I was hardly a poster boy for hard work and diligence.

Perhaps the most productive thing I did that year was sit in on other grad courses. I sat in on a year long course on 18th century and modern reproduction texts, which was probably the most interesting class I'll ever sit in on. Between the discussions on porn fetishes, the trip to the morgue, and a pig anecdote that is too filthy to bear repeating here, it's generated more dinner party stories than anything else I'll ever do. And really, isn't that what grad school is for? I also decided that it was embaressing that I had reached this level of study and never taken a course on Canadian Literature or Modernism, so I sat in on a course on Ross' As For Me and My House (one of the most depressing prairies book I've ever read in a genre that wallows in 30s depression era. Great course though.) and a course on Virginia Woolf. Note to self: Take an excuse to study Orlando at some point.

Speaking of Orlando, (smooth segue) in March, I went to the International Conference for the Fantastic in Arts to present a paper on ecocriticism in Robin Hobbes and Tamora Pierce. It was poorly attended, but hey, it's looks good on a CV and I got to go to Orlando. So, win.

The thesis defence itself was traumatic, troubling, and other bad things that start with t. (Oooh! Tumultuous!) I'm glad some friends showed up to support me. Each professor took a turn in reeming me out, and then (very grudgingly, I thought) allowed it to pass, with revisions. So that's that chapter finished with.

The other big change was the move to Ontario. Without much exaggeration, I think I can identify this as the biggest move in my life, excepting maybe the move from the small town to the city eight years earlier. I'm not going to go into too much detail describing what happened next (hint: I started a blog.), but the general some general reflection is in order. My SSHRC application never made it beyond the University round of inspections, (clearly, the selection committee can't appreciate GENIUS) but everything else turned out ok, even the 18th century course I was so worried about. (In fact, it turned out GREAT. I think my mark on the final paper may be the best I've ever received in an English course.) I guess what I really see when I look back on the year is how much unnecessary stress I caused myself not just from overthinking, but overworrying. Most of the problems didn't take care of themselves, but got fixed because I was willing to work hard on fixing them. For the next year, I don't want to stop that hard work, but I do want to stop worrying so much so I enjoy more.
And with that, we'll start on a list of "Things to Accomplish for 2009." It's like a resolution list, but I call it something different so I don't feel guilty when I fail.

--I want to find an agent for my novel. I've been sitting on it for nearly two years now; enough's enough. It's time to get that masterpiece out there.

--I'm going to try to stick to my exercise routine a little more stringently. I had been planning on starting this one in December, but considering that most of December in my home province averaged at about -27 degrees, there was a minimum amount of running accomplished.

--More romantic conquests! Hey, gotta start at some point, right?

--I want to watch more TV. Because there needs to be something on this list I'm actually going to do.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Everyone Should Celebrate the New Year with Inadvised Rambling

I think a week is the longest I've ever gone without posting. I'm blaming my new video game, Fallout 3. According to its clock, I've spent 40 hours on it so far. And yet the post-apocalyptic civilization is still unsaved. Tragic.

For the aforementioned blogging class, I've read a numerous amount of blogs, and one thing that seems to be in common throughout is that most bloggers make posts while dru---no, let's rephrase that. Most bloggers make posts under the influence of certain fluids that they later regret. (I admit nothing--I drink nothing but glacier-fresh water and ingest nothing but whole wheat bread.) So, in my post-celebratory state, clearly the only way I can properly acknowledge the events of the New Year while in a fluid-influenced state is to make today's post THE MOST AWESOME POST EVER.

I think I first need to establish that past New Years celebrations, to me, have not gone well. I spent 2000 in my parents' basement. 2001, I spent snowed in with my 16t year old brother and his friends after giving him a ride to a farm party. 2007 I spent at home with a migraine. And as the crowning achievement, 2006, I spent at home. With my mother. Watching Love Actually.

So the bar for 2008 was not set particularly high, I must admit. But that aside, I enjoyed myself immensely. I went for a New Years' celeb at a grad student friend's house (well, her brothers' house, but let's not quibble.) and the party was everything I wanted. There was enough fluids to ensure I overcame my own sense of ill-ease, enough friends to make sure I had people to talk to in a familiar way, and enough new people that I felt we weren't just going in circles, but that I was accomplishing something.

(And isn't it strange that I label meeting new people as an accomplishment? Or is it? Striking outside one's circle of friends is always a strange experience--it's an opportunity for redefining the self. What aspect do I want people to know about me? Or to not know? In my personal case, as defined by tonight, it appears that I really want everyone to know I watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. Another friend I've talked to over this vacation stay said that a turning point in her life was when she realized that she didn't have to have a huge circle of friends anymore--a few close friends that she could talk to a few times a month was enough. I think that's an interesting point in a person's life--when he or she realizes she doesn't need more friends to be happy. Have I reached that point? I dunno.)

Anyway, the party itself was a fun experience. Someone brought a yule log cake in the shape of an actual log, complete with marshmellow mushrooms. While the cake was not to everyone's palate, I approve of the general concept of marshmellow mushrooms, purely for the alliterative aspect. I hope that this results in similar products, such as fudge fungus and chocolate chalk deposits (ok, that last one is clearly reaching.). The talk seemed a little morbid for New Years--within the fifteen minute mark, the main topics of discussion were self-mutilation and suicide--but then again, since my previous New Years' Experiences consisted on such conversation as "But Mom, you're forgetting Hugh Grant's mystique," I feel I have no adequate mark to judge.

I was starting to feel antsy around 1:00 am or so, and made my excuses to leave. And on the way out, I had a chance to chat with a friend, which was also something of a strange experience. I wasn't entirely sure where I stood with her, and the chance to clarify (in an entirely good way) was welcome. (And as a general comment on the evening, The University of Blank is a wonderful university with a wide variety of lectures and guest speakers appearing on a regular basis, and as such, there are any number of reasons to come for a visit. So there.) Whenever you leave a party and you're no longer sure if you're wearing the correct shoes or coat, I think it's a good sign that you shouldn't have stayed any longer, so at least I have that.

I think I've mentioned before that while drinking and driving is entirely wrong and horrible and bad for the children, drinking and jogging is jolly good fun. I ran home in blizzardy conditions, and it was really good, to be honest. It seems like a nice way to start a New Year. ( I even invented a term for it--jrunken. See, you that the j from jogging and stick it at the beginning of "drunken." I briefly considered the phrase "drogging," but really, I think it's the liquid consumption, not the running, that deserves the emphasis here.)

So to recap: good friends, good new people, good logs. SECOND BEST NEW YEARS EVER. (Sorry for not giving it number one, but that one story about the porn couple who fell in love? Priceless.)

EDIT: Almost forgot:

Later Days.