Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Buff: Big Hair

After a brief sojourn for the holiday proper, Movie Buff is back, with the 2010 Disney Princess Flick, Tangled.

Thoughts, numbered, but in no particular order:
1) I thought the male lead was voiced by Owen Wilson, for a little bit, and thought he was smug and annoying.  Then I realized it was Zach Levi of Chuck, and thought he was charming and flamboyant.  I am fickle.
2) By taking a story that features a heroine raised by a magically knowledge woman posing as her mother, Disney has combined the evil stepmother with the evil witch.  Slow clap.
3) In case you're unfamiliar, the film is essentially the Rapunzel story, with added overtones of defying overprotective parents.  Disney takes a bold stance against satellite parenting.  Also a stance against literally sucking the youth out of your children.
4) It also added animal sidekicks, because... Disney.   If there aren't animals slavishly dedicating themselves to largely oblivious humans, then how we will be able to sell toys based on them?
5) On a related note, I kind of want to see a version of Les Miserables where the part of Javert is played by a horse now.
6) Early in the film, they show Rapunzel's growing dissatisfaction with her tower home via a montage of her doing all her daily activities: cleaning, swinging, ballet, reading, murals, etc.  While it's an effective scene, a part of me was actually thinking, "sounds pretty sweet to me."
7) A note to would-be tower prison wardens: if you don't want your captive daughters to yearn for the outdoors, you should probably not include open windows in your tower design.
8) It's surprising how aware I was of gender roles in the film.  I've watched a few animated kid flicks recently: How To Train Your Dragon, (obviously, since I did a review on it) Paranorman, and Brave.  But even Brave, which was explicitly about a girl's relationship with her mother, didn't quite scream "pay attention to gender roles" like this film did.  I think it's because the film isn't just a kid's film that happens to feature a princess as the lead; it's because it is a Disney Princess Film, and as such, it seems to funnel itself into such an interpretation above all else.  It's not bad on that score, really--the princess and thief pairing brings to mind Aladdin, but Rapunzel is much more the lead here than Jasmine ever was, and she isn't anyone's prize.  At the same time, I think I'd really like to see a Disney movie that featured a girl with other female friends.
9) On the note of gender awareness, it plays kind of weird in retrospect that the male lead, Eugene, voices the narration in the intro and outro.   Narratively, I can see the point, in that he won't show up for a while, and it's important that the audience realize he's coming.  And he explicitly says this is Rapunzel's story, not his, which is also important.  But at the same time, making him the narrator makes him, in a strange way, the author of her story, and that doesn't seem right.  And in another film, I may not have noticed it, but here... Disney Princess Film.  Gender spotlight.
10) There have been no good songs in a Disney film since they switched from 2-D animation.  This is probably not a coincidence.

Conclusion: I liked it better than Brave.  Not better than the dragon one.  Probably equal to Paranorman, but only because Paranorman had such a great climax.

EDIT: It's been pointed out to me that the movie is actually called "Tangled," not "Twisted." The mix-up is clearly Gregory McGuire's fault, not mine.
Later Days.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Triad: Superheroes, Cthulu, and some fiction

Guess what!  We're still doing the Book Triad segment! This time, we'll be looking at

Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy by Graham Harman
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
Superheroes!: Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films by Roz Kaveney

Reviews after the break.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Random Quotations: Don't Get Me Started on Nate Grey

"The Marvel Universe, by contrast, has always glorified in the proliferation of timelines to an extent that it sometimes becomes almost impossible to keep straight in one's mind, yet somehow it remains accessible to most examples: Rachel Grey is the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey but was born into a timeline, came to the present from a dystopian future that never happened.  Cable, her half-brother, Summers' son by Madeleine, the woman he married when Jean was supposedly dead, was sent into the future to have a disease cured and came back when he was significantly older than his father."--Roz Kaveney, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films. 

I'm still waiting for the story where it turns out that Cable is his own grandpa.  Granted, it would mean displacing Corsair, but I think we'd all be okay with that.  Anyway, Kaveney's book is very good; it balances accessibility with depth to make a real study of what makes superhero comics worth investigating.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bibliophile: Chocolate and Lemon Tossing at Quest U

Movies viewed so far today: Fletcher and The Goonies.  But I wasn't really paying a lot of attention to either, so no expanded reviews.  Instead, let's get down to business: book business, as Quest University, Squamish, BC. 

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

Sounds like Grad School.  This is Bibliophile.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Parenthood Trap, Or Go Play Somewhere Else, Cat

The movie marathon has been broken by a, well, TV marathon.  My, I certainly know how to live my vacations to their fullest, don't I?  Anyway, between readings and writings today, I've been plowing through the first season of Parenthood.  It's a 1 hr drama about the lives of an extended family: four adult siblings, two grandparents, and six grandchildren.  I'm jumping into the show mainly because its showrunner is the same guy behind Friday Night Lights, the show I burned through last summer.  The fact that its regular cast includes a lot of my faves doesn't hurt either.  There's Peter Krause, from Sports Night.  Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls.  (And apparently my crush on Lauren Graham has advanced to the point where I'm automatically against any plotline involving boyfriends for her character because it should be me, I guess?  Which isn't creepy at all, I'm sure.)  And the kids include Mae Whitman, better known as Ann from Arrested Development (her?).  At 24, she's probably getting a little sick of playing a teenager--though the guys from Gossip Girl had it a lot worse. 

Anyway, in the first dozen or so episodes, the show deals with a lot of family related issues, some general, some very specific: we see Krause and his spouse deal with Max, their son whose recently been diagnosed with Asberger's Syndrome.  And another sibling, a powerful female lawyer, deals with the fact that her daughter seems to prefer her friend's stay-at-home mom to her.  And another sibling is faced with a son he didn't know he fathered five years ago.  And so forth.  None of it is particularly out of place for a family (although the variation of the deadbeat father story is getting there), and the show lacks even the football season momentum that provided the backbone for the similar low-key Friday Night Lights.  But it works.  With good casting and simple stories, it works.

It's making me articulate my feelings towards another, similar show--or at least, one that's similar in broad strokes: Modern Family.  I might have mentioned a few times on this blog, but I think Modern Family is overrated.  It's got a good cast, and good writing, but it's lazy.  It doesn't push any boundaries.  It's the same sitcom we've seen a hundred times before, with the "reality TV camera" conceit added on.  So what's the difference between that and Parenthood?  Why do I think one is quality, and the other is less than it could and should be?  And why is my brother's cat still sitting behind the big screen TV, a position it has been in for the last hour?  Well the hell is so captivating back there?  ...Sorry, I got distracted.  I can't answer that last one, but I think the answer to the other is stereotype.  Modern Family relies on stereotypes to a pretty high degree; the father's old, his wife sounds funny, the gay couple is Gay, except look, one of them is also "comically" butch, there's a smart daughter and a stupid daughter... it just feels like they're characters playing roles for the sake of a joke.  And there's nothing wrong with that--as long as it's a good joke.  Otherwise, it's the same act, over and over.  Parenthood, on the other hand, feels like it earns its low-key stature, by trying to be true to its characters, by treating them as people.  Also, it uses Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" as a theme song.  That's clearly another one in the win column.

Later Days.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Quotations: Wider and Larger. That's what she said.

"There was your mistake.  There was your error.  The error all women commit.  Why can't you women love us, faults and all?  Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals?  We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason.  It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love.  It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us--else what use is love at all?  All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive.  All lives, save loveless lives, Love should pardon.  A man's love is like that.  It is wider, larger, more human than a woman's.  Women think that they are making ideals of men.  What they are making of us are false idols merely.  You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses.  I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now.  ... Let women make no more ideals of men!  Let them not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you--you whom I have wildly loved--have ruined mine!" --An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde.

My first pick for today was the exact same Invisible Cities quotation I used a year ago.  Points for consistency, I guess.  So instead, you get another passage from An Ideal Husband.  I didn't like a lot of things about this play; this passage encompasses a lot of its problems, combining some lovely sentiments with some rather questionable and largely ridiculous gender statements.  But at least it's less depressing than Young Adult.

Later Days.

Movie Buff: And No One Learned Anything, Forever

Watched another movie.  I watch a lot of movies.  Is this the start of a marathon?  ...Maaaybe.  Anyway, the current film is Young Adult.  Its plot is that lead character, after leaving her home town for mild success in a small city, returns home, with the singular hope to inject some meaning in her life by seducing her old boyfriend, now married with his first child.  Dear God, this is a horrible, horrible film to watch if you're nearly 30, still in school (the mild success of a PhD student), and home for the holidays.  My physique is a little more Patton Oswald than Charlize Theron, though, so I don't have to worry about breaking up any marriages any time soon.

Seriously, it's a good film, although not in a way that can even remotely be described as uplifting.  I classified it as a comedy, and that couldn't be more wrong, in either the sense that comedies make you laugh, or, like the classic Greek version, a comedy is a story where everything is resolved happily in the end.  More than anything else, it's a character study of Mavis Gray, Theron's character, and what it means to define yourself entirely in terms of an escape from where you grew up--and then continue to fall apart, because that's not enough.  The film deals heavy in that "uncomfortable" side of the comic spectrum.  It kind of reminds me of Carnage, with a much tighter focus.

...And it's kind of a downer.  I'm going to watch Adventure Time till I get smiley again.

Later Days.

Movie Buff: Everywhere There Be Dragons

I just got finished watching How To Train Your Dragon, a mere two years beyond the movie's original debut.  It's the touching story of a boy who convinces his fellow Vikings to stop murdering dragons, and to enslave them as beasts of burden instead.  Awwww.

Dragons are interesting in genre fantasy, because there's so many varying portrayals, usually in terms of their intelligence.  Sometimes, they're basically human smart, as in, say, Timothy Zahn's Dragonback adventures.  Sometimes they're more cockerspaniel level, as in this movie, or the Discworld series (at least, most are).  And sometimes, they're much smarter than humans, as in Ursala Le Guinn's Earthsea.  Eragon, The Hobbit, the Pern series, Game of Thrones, Dragon and the George, the Farseer Trilogy, Havemercy (Cyberpunk dragon), Chronicles of Narnia, Name of the Wind, Myth, Cretien de Troyes, and Beowulf--lotta dragons.  TV Tropes even has a trope for it, "Our Dragons are Different," looking at how every fantasy series needs its own dragon.  Even more than the unicorn, the dragon comes up.

Dwarves, Elves, even monster races like the goblins and orcs and such are basically there to provide human species proxies, allowing us to displace the human Other onto something that don't exit.  Dragons are (probably) the most common example of the next step, as they're part human, and part animal. 

Not sure where I'm going with this.  Dragons are cool, I guess?  Also, I loved the collection of British (and Scottish) voice actors from the film:Gerald Butler, Robin Atkin Downes, Craig Ferguson, Ashley Jensen, David Tennant.  It's probably culturally insensitive to have so many UK folk play Vikings, but what else can you expect for a show glamorizing dragon enslavement?

Later Days.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Take It Out or Leave It In: Questions of the Muppet Christmas Carol

Back way back (or maybe way back way back--when the blog shifted from a course assignment to whatever it is now) I did a post on my favorite X-Mas specials.  And at the top of the non-ranked list, is Muppet Christmas Carol.  I watched it again with friends last night, and it still stands up.  The comedy and adventure is a little less than Muppet Treasure Island, but the story is much stronger.  It's a hard one for a Muppet adaptation, because the plot really doesn't leave much for them to do; Kermit as Bob Cratchett is an obvious one, but the rest of the cast, from Fozzie to Miss Piggy, don't come so naturally.  But they did it, and it works.  Frankly, I think the sets for their dilapidated 19th century England hold up a lot better than that other Victorian musical movie, Sweeney Todd

One of the things I notice--and I notice this every time--is that they cut out the song "When Love is Gone."  And that led to a debate with my friends whether the song ever existed to begin with.  Some of us (including me) remember it being there, and some of us do not. A bit of Wikipedia research revealed the mystery: studio execs had cut it out of the first theatrical release of the film, over Brian Henson's protests.  It got reinserted into the 2002 video release, and taken out again in the 2005.  What clip could possibly inspire such controversy? 
See for yourself:

(Technically, this is the song, plus some extra bits before it; the extra bits provide some context.) Now, the really surprising thing, once I did some digging, was that I found that this wasn't the only song that failed to make the theatrical version. There were two more that were written, sang, but never filmed. We're going to look at both of theme quickly too. Beeker and Bunson, in "Room in Your Heart." Well, this one being cut is no mystery. It's... not very good. It's no "Feels Like Christmas," or "God Bless Us All," and it's sure as heck no "Marley and Marley." At under two minutes, it still manages to feel too long. Plus, the character mapping didn't work very well; Bunson's not really known for his love and caring. It's just a little too preachy, in a movie where the "good model" characters tend to show more by example than telling. Sam the Eagle, in "Chairman of the Board." This one's slightly better. It fails more in terms of plot, in that it muddies the waters a bit too much for a children's flick. Sam's gung ho capitalist, patriotic spirit was often used in the show to poke a bit of fun at a certain type of American overblown self-importance. In the film, then, he demonstrates overblown faith in capitalism and the education system. That's pretty heavy stuff, given the audience and goal of the film, which is more an individual story than a systematic critique. And that brings us to "When Love is Gone." Like "Room in Your Heart," it's edging more towards preaching than most of the film, as Scrooge basically gets sang at for a few minutes. Like "Chairman of the Board," it's getting into issues beyond the purview of little felt puppets--romantic love doesn't really fit with the themes of the film. And, more importantly, it falls into the big problem with the Christmas Carol story: there's nothing for Muppets to do here. I can see why execs looked at it, and decided that people would find it boring. But honestly, I think it's the big turn of the film--the narrative crux. It's the moment when Scrooge the Younger solidifies into the bitter man he'll become, and the moment when Scrooge the Older starts to remember what he gave up. Neither Cain nor the actress are great singers, but when present Scrooge starts singing a duet with his past love... that moment gets to me. It's the perfect counterpoint to the exchange at the beginning of the scene: "I love you, Belle." "...You did, once." You can convey so much through those words. I'll admit: I had a version of the Christmas Carol with "When Love is Gone" in it. And every time, I'd skip over that scene. But to know it's there, to know that the characters went through it... that's important, I think. One line to go out on: Ebenezer Scrooge: You're a little absent-minded, spirit. Ghost of Christmas Present: No, I'm a LARGE absent-minded spirit! BaDUM-bum. Later Days.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry shaved his chest? It's like that.

Apropos of nothing, my facial hair has finally reached the rate of growth where it requires daily shaving to keep it under control.  It's a sad state of affairs, and there's nothing for it but to declare a growth of the Winter Beard.  FOR ALL OF TIME.  Or at least until I see my mom and/or brother next week, and they tell me to shave it.

Later Days.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bibliophile: Idle Hands at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

We go over a university's new books, and pick out some highlights.  We are discerning and conscientious.  We are Bibliophile.

This week, we're looking at BC's Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  More after the break.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Quotations: People are Like Art

"MABEL CHILTERN is a perfect example of the English type of prettiness, the apple-blossom type.  She has all the fragrance and freedom of a flower.  There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in her hair, and the little mouth, with its parted lips, is expectant, like the  mouth of a child.  She has the fascinating tyranny of youth, and the astonishing courage of  innocence.  To sane people she is not reminiscent of any work of art.  But she is really like a Tanagra statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so."  --Oscar Wilde.  An Ideal Husband.

I recently made a breakthrough with my new iPhone.  See, you can't walk down the street reading a book.  It's socially unacceptable.  Ridiculous.  Crazy.  But it's fine to walk down the street staring at your iPhone.  A few ebook downloads later, and I've got a library on the go.  A library filled with things like Oscar Wilde plays. 

Later Days.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Little Things

It's funny how the smallest things are the ones that decide our day to day mood.  Case in point: there are some big forces at work in my life, at moment.  Dissertation-wise, there is regular writing, and a sense that I'm moving forward.  Workwise, there's that First Person Scholar launch, which I mentioned previously.  On a personal level, I tried out speed dating last Sunday, and the results of that have been... interesting.  And I'm heading back to Saskatchewan in a little over a week, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my family again.  So yes: some big things.

And yet, at this exact moment, it's the little things that are having the biggest impact on my mood in the here and now.  In the here and now, I'm at a coffee shop, after spending the morning in my office, working.  So the first big effect on my mood is the small thing called "drinking a cup of coffee."  I pretty much never drink coffee except when I'm at a coffee shop, and so the caffeine has a big influence on me; if I stop typing, I'm pretty sure I can hear myself vibrating.  So that's one.  The other is much more related to this particular coffee shop.  It has two washrooms.  In one washroom is a sink.  Are you with me so far?  Great.  Now, this sink has a single knob faucet.  It looks like this:

And, even though I've been coming to this coffee shop for about a year now, for the life of me, I could never figure out how it worked.  We had a similar looking faucet at my childhood home in the upstairs bathroom. Turning clockwise was warm, counterclockwise was cold.  But this faucet didn't turn clockwise or counterclockwise.  For the longest time, I assumed it was broken, and darted into the other washroom to finish my ablutions.  Then I noticed the sink was often wet, which meant that it was not broken--I just couldn't figure it out.  Didn't turn left, didn't turn right.  Can't push it forward, can't push it downward.  My lexicon of faucet manipulation was exhausted.  It was only today, in some perverse pique of perception, that I pushed it backward, water streamed forth, and I felt disproportionately proud of myself for figuring out how a sink works.  That's small thing two.

And three. Three is about a door.  to start, it's important to note that a university locks most of its doors on the weekend.  Special locations, such as libraries, often have some hours, but most of the buildings are locked when it's not a weekday between 9 to 5.  So if you're a student with offices in such a building, you're out of luck getting in.  Or, to phrase it personally, I'm out of luck.  Except for That Door.  There is one door to the building my office is housed in that is almost always unlocked.  (I will note that there are a lot of other doors between the would-be enterer and the rest of the building that you must have keys to in order to progress further; this isn't a "how to rob the grad student buidling post.)  And that unlocked door means a lot to me.  It means I have access to my office at any time.  It means that, whatever is happening in my personal life, there is a place for me, a professional place where I can dwell.  A place for me.  (And for my very nice office mate.)  This week, I lost that: they're doing excavation in front of the doorway, and they've roped off the door.  And every day, I go to leave campus, I go on my usual route, I see the door, roped off, and I am infuriated all over again.  Honestly, who starts an excavation in December, anyway?  Yes, it's been unseasonally warm, but still.  Still.  There hasn't actually been a weekend between the excavation starting and now, and I don't work most weekends anyway.  It's the lack of the option to do so that gets my goat.  You took my door, universe!  I want it back!  That's small thing three.

Three small things.  And yet, at this moment in time, they matter to me as much as any large thing.  People are funny that way.  Or at least I am.

Later Days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Person Scholar Launches

I haven't been posting here much recently; that'll change soon, I promise.  In the meantime, while I can't imagine there's very many who read this regularly and don't follow me through other venues, just in case, I wanted to point out that the grad student periodical First Person Scholar has launched.  As the about page suggests, we see the site as a way to fit some of the gaps left by game scholarship, with more direct engagement with videogames, and a faster rate of publication.  We also a place to work out ideas before developing them into larger pieces for journal publication.  And I say we, because I'm on the editorial board.  (Surprise!)  I won't say which member of the editorial board I am, to preserve some shred of my anonymity, but I'm there, rest assured.  It's kind of amazing to see the thing in existence, after talking about it for so long; this has been in the pipeline for at least half a year now, if not longer.  At the moment, I have to say that best thing about it is probably our smooth design interface, courtesy of our editor-in-chief Steve Wilcox.  And while we've populated the site with our own work for now, we will need the submissions of others to keep things going in the long term.  We don't have a general submission call up yet, because we want to get off the ground first, but if you've got a game studies idea burning a hole in your pocket, stay tuned.

Later Days.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Quotations: Object Oriented Ontology in a Nutshell, which is also a type of Object

"We cannot support formalism, which holds that the specific content of any experience is relatively unimportant.  But neither can we support materialism, which grants privilege to the original soil from which anything grows, and thereby denies the autonomy or relative independence of that reality itself.  Instead, we can only support objects.  The reason objects are not formalizable is because they cannot be reduced to their conditions of unknowability, whether mathematical or otherwise.  But objects are also not 'materializable,' because the neighborhood conditions of their genesis are relevant only within strict limits.  Nor are objects a hylemorphic combination of both forma and matter, since objects are precisely what lies between those two extremes, engaging with them only occasionally and indirectly.  Instead, objects are what the classical tradition called substantial forms, inhabiting a mezzanine level of the cosmos, and can be paraphrased neither as a meaning for some observer nor as the dangling product of some genetic-environmental backstory."--Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sister is My New Mother Now

...Well, if Sister was an acceptable appellation for the Internet, anyway.  Otherwise, this is just me trying to shoehorn in an Arrested Development reference.  Anyway, for whatever reason, I managed to get through life without picking up some basic skills at the point when they're commonly learned.  It was university when I learned how to do my laundry (which isn't that uncommon), and three years later--my first year out of student rez--when I learned how to do my own grocery shopping.  I don't even want to tell you when I learned to tie my shoes.  Some skills I've just never picked up at all--I have no idea, for example, how to cook any meat more complicated than a hotdog; I switched to vegetarianism long before my "pay attention to people cooking" moment kicked in.

Recently, I've started using online how-to guides.  It's all the information of a book guide, but without having to use those judgmental librarians as the go-between.  I've learned how to iron things (which I actually had been taught explicitly before, but ironing appears to be a skill I need to relearn every six months or it just atrophies from lack of use).  I've learned how to tie a scarf (slipknot style.  Very simple, never would have stumbled on it in a hundred years let to my own devices).  And, just this morning, I learned how to properly scramble an egg (the step I was missing was mixing the yolks before dropping them in the skillet.  Previously, I just sort of cracked the eggs straight into it, and let the cards fall where they may).  I fried up some hashbrowns as well, and it feels nice to be eating a proper breakfast for once (not quite as nice as sleeping through breakfast, but we all carry our burdens).

Every year when when I go back to Saskatchewan for X-Mas, I tell myself I'm going to pay more attention to the daily routines of my parents.  And every year, it doesn't quite happen.  Last year, the siren call of Skyrim beckoned.  The year before that, Dragon Quest IX.  And so on and so forth until you have 2008, and my decision to regain every one of the achievements I once had in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  This is the first X-Mas since I got really creative on Steam, so who knows what it'll be: Batman: Arkham City?  The Witcher?  STALKER? Civilization V?  I don't know, but I think we'll all be pleasantly surprised.  ....Or I suppose I could just talk to my family.  But really, what are the odds of that happening?

(Honestly, it's enough to make you think Sherry Turkle was right.  I'm so glad I downloaded her e-book.)

Later Days. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Random Quotations: Road Trip

"For one whole year he did nothing but drive, traveling back and forth across America as he waited for the money to run out.  He hadn't expected it to go on that long, but one thing kept leading to another, and by the time Nashe understood what was happening to him, he was past the point of wanting it to end."-- Paul Auster, The Music of Chance.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Triad IX: Digital Unfathomables. And more Leafs.

We've got an eclectic set this time around.  A Leafs book, a digital media book, and a sci fi.  Let's get to it.
 We're looking at:

Leafs AbomiNation: The dismayed fan's handbook to why the Leafs stink and how they can rise again by Dave Feeschuk and Michael Grange
Blindsight by Peter Watts
Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation by Beth Coleman

Reviews after the break.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bibliophile: Restoration Comedy and the Scottish Sci-Fi at Capilano U

I spit my truth as I say my rhyme,
Sit back, fool, it's book talking time.

I call people fools a lot.

This is Bibliophile.

This week, we're moving from Alberta to British Columbia, with Capilano University.  Talk on their library's new books, after the break.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Game retrospective: Avadon: The Black Fortress

I've talked about Spiderweb Games before, in the context of Geneforge.  I'd like to speak briefly about one of the more recent games from the developer, Avadon.  More specifically, I'd like to speak about the game's final boss. That means there will be spoilers during the discussion below, but they'll be prefaced by pictures first.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Detergent Run

So I got up this Sunday morning, and, in a break from norm, I actually woke up before noon.  I went to do my laundry, and realized that I was out of detergent.  Now, I don't want to overstate things, but it was the end of an era.  When I first moved Out East, four years ago, my parents bought me two jumbo economy sized things of laundry detergents.  And they lasted all this time.  It's a testament to wise purchases, value products, and my stinginess combined with my tolerance for funky-smelling clothes. I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the wisdom of my parents, and their generosity in buying me such a gift.

But just a moment, though.  Because as momentous as running out of detergent is, it's the acquisition of the new detergent that's the focus of today.  I had a few options, in terms of places to go: there's a Sobeys about 3 k away, a Zehr's at the end of a bus route, and a Shoppers about a 10 min walk.  The Sobeys I deemed too far for travel without a car, the Zehrs too time-consuming, and the Shoppers too marked up.  So I went with option D: the Wholesale Club nearby, for those who, for whatever reason, do not have access to a proper Costco.  I went to the store, and I bought a few extra things while I was there: a loaf of bread, a giant tub of peanut butter, and some lovely discount pizza pops.  Mmmm.  I debated buying a pack of Nibs, but eventually decided to err on the side of not buying candy.

Things took on a Kafka-esque level when I went to the check-out.  There were three tills, none of which had more than one person at them.  Easy, right?  Wrong.  I went to the first till, just  in time to hear that the gentleman in front of me, purchasing $1000 of goods (!) had just gotten his credit card declined.  "Well, jeez," he said, "the missus must have charged a few things without telling me.  You see, we've got a bit of a windfall coming, but it doesn't clear till the end of the week, so we're a little short at the moment.  And it's over, but I don't know how much over.  What if we take off this item?  No?  well, what about this one?  Well, I'll pay for some of it in cash, but I don't want to use all the cash on me, so I'll just use... hmmm...."  I looked at his $1000 worth of items.  I looked at my five items.  I went  to the next till.  Unfortunately, during the conversation, or perhaps monologue, someone else had gone to the till, wheeling up in a full trolley of stuff.  Till 3 it is, then.  There, there was an elderly couple, debating on whether to buy two packs of plastic cups, or perhaps purchase a third, to get the price reduction.  And then whether the bananas were on sale.  And then they counted out their change, the last seventeen cents or so in pennies.  One.  By.  One.  Gah.

Honestly, it was like someone had decided they were going to put on a live performance of everything I hate about shopping checkouts.  All it was missing was a screaming baby. 
At least I got the detergent.  Clothes, you shall be clean once more.

Later Days.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

No, Guys, This is a Really Cool Idea

Project: document and preserve every instance in fiction wherein the phrase "enough to get him killed" was uttered.

Later Days.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Quotations: This is Good Stuff, Folks

"You are here near me, like a bright flame.  That is more important than why or how you are here.  And your friend also--for all I know you may be lovers.  Or else you have a lover back in your own country or in Crieste.  The things we crave are either near us or far.  Whereas time is about process.  I have lived many years and i have learned not to trust process.  Creation, destruction, these are not the real story.  When we dwell on such things, we inevitably  lapse into cliche.  The true drama is in these relationships of space." --Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks

Later Days.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Triad: Kings, Leafs, and Eldritch Horrors + Bonus Film Review

My, these book triad things go a lot faster when you're not reading Cloud Atlas.  Speaking of which, under the book reviews is a review of the film Cloud Atlas!  Timely!
Today's trio of books is:
In the Dust of This Planet: The Horror of Philosophy vol 1 by Eugene Thacker
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey
Inside Maple Leaf Gardens: The Rise And Fall Of The Toronto Maple Leafs by William Houston

Reviews after the break.

Videogame Mascots

This is an idle little thing; I'm not really thinking it through totally, so feel free to poke it full of teeny tiny holes in the comments. Videogame Mascots and the totem, after the break.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Quotations: Weapons of Biblical Destruction

"As varied as the Medieval accounts of plague and pestilence are, one of the common motifs, along with the angry God, is that of plague and pestilence as divine weapon.  The divine sovereign doesn't simply pass judgment; the sovereign weaponizes life--the pathological life of 'plagues'--and turns it against the earthly life of the creature, itself a product of divine will." --Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet

Apparently, Object Oriented Ontology delves into horror all the time.  I have never had more enthusiasm for OOO.

Later Days.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Triad: Games and Atlases

It's been a while since the last book triad; it's not that I haven't been reading things, it's that I haven't been finishing them.  But, well, we're here now.  Today's books are:

The Leafs in Autumn by Jack Batten.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form by Anna Anthropy.

Reviews after the break.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Admittedly, the Second One is Still Not Very Good

I'm reading a book (Thacker's In the Dust of This Planet) with a section on witchcraft and its prosecution by the Church, and it strikes me that the version of this that we get in the Dragon Age series might deserve more credit than it generally receives.  Like most things about the story of Dragon Age, the story of the Chantry is usually dismissed as stock fantasy fare, and it is, to an extent: mages and knights and templars and God and so forth.  But it's also an approach to witchcraft that said, not just let's prosecute it, but let's also take over the policing of those inflicted with it, and let's use them as weapons as well.  It's an idea with some legs to it, I think--taking the real-life idea and forcing it one step further.  The great advantage of fantasy, in my opinion, is less the use of magic and more the chance to look through human culture and nature through slightly different lenses.

Later Days.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Game Studies: A Pointed Digression from the Lord of the Rings

I'm writing up a review for a games studies anthology on Lord of the Rings Online called Ringbearers. Like most of my game studies-related book reviews these days, I'm keeping the main text to myself, in the vain hope that I'll one day be able to publish it in a venue that's a little more likely to be noticed than my modest blogging efforts.   However, there's a short part of the review that I've decided isn't worth keeping for that purpose, simply because it could never be published anywhere else--not because it's bad writing, but because it's a bit too vitriolic and rambling to be allowed in a place with a certain objective standard. 

So clearly, it's perfect for posting to this blog. 

And while, yes, it's rambling and somewhat accusatory, I think it's still worth posting somewhere, because I think it speaks to an important part of game studies, the part that leads to dozens of studies of Grand Theft Auto while ignoring every other sandbox game, the part that defines MMOs by what you can do in War of Warcraft.  So here it is.

Friday Random Quotations: And when the Zambonis ran during the intermission, we drew the curtains, so the children wouldn't be exposed to the rougher elements

"Class didn't mean anything to Leaf fans outside the Gardens, but inside, in the red seats, upper-middle-class Anglo-Saxon protestantism counted for almost everything.  The reds were a bastion of old Toronto; Eatons sat there, and Laidlaws and Parsons, Amells and Airds and Ryners and E. P. Taylor.  When the Gardens opened in 1931, the city's first families rushed to subscribe to the reds, and they kept a lock on them forever after, all the better to preserve an orderly succession.  There were exceptions.  I remember a man named Tarshis, big in manufacturing something or other, who had reds.  He was conspicuously not a WASP.  There were Catholics, too.  The McNamaras had seats somewhere close to my uncle's, the father of the immortalized Judy, and the O'Connor family, beginning with Senator Frank O'Connor, sat in the first row behind the visiting-team bench.  Not everybody was WASP, but everybody seemed WASP.  The reds were a very polite place to be."
--The Leafs in Autumn, Jack Batten

I think being somewhat nostalgic for a time when everyone seemed WASP is perhaps the most WASP-ish sentiment I've ever heard.

Later Days.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I find your lack of faith...frustrating as hell.

Sometimes, when I'm particularly upset, I visualize what I'm upset at, and me standing in front of it shooting lighting bolts, ala Emperor Palpatine.

That's the stuff.

Later Days.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Note to self: Remember this, dummy.

I know this is a topic I come back to on a vaguely regular basis, but that's because it's something I do on a vaguely regular basis.  I just came back from 10 k run, and I feel utterly relaxed.  And that's something worth remembering about running, for me: it's good for me, mentally and physically.  Granted, I've become a very picky runner.  Not in terms of clothes or footware, but conditions.  Raining?  Gonna be a bad run.  In the morning before my ablutions?  Gonna be a bad run.  (Also, my feet will start cramping, because that's what my body does in the morning.)  Too hot?  Bad run.  Too much going on?  Bad run.  But when the stars align... it's great.  Simply great.

Later Days.

Friday Random Quotation: Don't Take the Train.

"On a summer day in Brooklyn, the sun doesn’t go down ‘til 9 PM. You’d be forgiven for letting entire lazy, hazy days pass without eating much besides two single-serving tubs of Marino’s Italian Ice -- which is basically what you did today. It’s now 9:30 PM, and the sudden fist of hunger angrily plunges itself into your gut, so you and Jarvis decide on getting some cheap sandwiches nearby the subway station." --"SAVE MERLIN THE PIG!", Leigh Alexander.

Following the link above will take you to Leigh Alexander's inklewriter project.  It's a short little CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure, for those not savvy in Interactive Fiction-speak) in which the reader plays the role of, essentially, a hipster in New York who has a crisis of conscience about their next meal.  It's well-written, and lightly satirical, pointing to a moral message without overselling it.  And even if you're not interested in any of that, you should still read it, because Leigh Alexander is a really good game journalist.  (And yes, I am saying that you should consume any product created by good game journalists.  I call the Keiron Gillen principle.  Who writes some amazing comics, BTW.)

Later Days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Any day now, I'll be leaving the radio on in every room of the house. (Well, I'll be leaving podcasts on, at least.)

There comes a time in every child's life when they realize that their parents were Right.  It can come at any time, but it most often follows a disaster.  A laundry mishap reveals that yes, it is a good idea to sort out the reds and whites.  And picking at it does mean it won't heal.  The big one, for most, comes when they raise their own children (and really, child-rearing is essentially a disaster that unfolds on a local, slow scale).  The newly minted parent stares exasperated at their begotten brat and thinks, "Man, I'm glad I never behaved like that.  ...Oh wait."  And then you get your mom more flowers next Mother's Day.

For me, the moment came a little earlier.  Three years ago, on the second year of my PhD studies, I went home to Saskatchewan for Christmas.  That meant going from -5 celsius in southern Ontario to the -25 of the Prairies.  It was a shock to the system, to say the least.  The thing was--it never stopped being a shock.  I spent the whole break shivering, wrapped in blankets, and complaining whenever anyone left the door open for more than a few seconds.  And when I went back to Ontario, the chill persisted.  And still persists, anytime the temperature starts to dip.  I lost my innocence that Winter.  Never again would I be someone who took their inner temperature for granted.  Never again would "winter" be equated with coziness and warmth.  No, from this day on... I would be Cold.

If anything, it's gotten worse over the years.  And it manifests in strange ways.   If I'm tired, I'm more prone to get Cold.  If I get too Cold, I start coughing.  The only solution, at that point, is to put on a toque--even if indoors--and, gradually, the coughing will subside.   And there's more.  From mid-October on, it's a rare day when I'm not wearing at least two pairs of socks. But recently, the socks haven't been enough.  My feet are still Cold.  And when they're Cold, I don't sleep.  A few nights of this syllogism have convinced me that it's not something that can be borne on an ongoing basis. 

My mother had a number of solutions for her own ongoing Coldness.  She'd turn up the thermostat.  She'd huddle under blankets.  But the main solution was a heating pad.  Every night, she'd toss her heating pad down the stairs for someone to microwave.  We would do so, and toss it back up.  (Some readers may inquire why we were tossing things up and down stairs instead of just walking up and down them.  These people have probably never had the benefit of stairs in their domiciles.  If you have multiple stories and you're not tossing things up and down stairs, you don't know what you're missing.)    And for a few fleeting moments, the Cold would go.

We teased her about it, a little.  About being so sensitive to the temperature, and whether she needed a blanket, and  so forth.  And, like all realizations concerning the wisdom and lives of parents, it's only in retrospect that you realize you were wrong, and feel bad about past actions.  My mother was right.  I suspect she might always be right.  It's a cold world out there.  Often, even a Cold one. 

As for my own Cold problems, I think there's only one possible solution.  I'm going to toss down the heating pad, and you put it in the microwave, okay?  And don't make fun of my toque.

Later Days.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More than three status updates a day? You're a feed flooder.

Normally, this is the sort of notice that would go on my Facebook feed, but I've posted there too much today.  Yet I don't want to lose the thought entirely:

I finally deciphered the note on our fridge as "Internet bill: 14.00 each."  Until now, I was wondering why my roommate was looking for "intolerant basil" and why he wanted to catch 1400 of them.

Later Days.

Bibliophile: Kickin' it alphabetical style at University of Athabasca

Who wins a fight, Emperor Norton or Prince Roy?  More importantly, in a war, who wins the battle for hearts and minds?

This is Bibliophile.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Quotations: Fast Food Restaurants are Basically Gerunds

"Ingeborg Bachmann once compared language to a city, with its ancient center, its more recent and peripheral boroughs, and finally the encircling beltway and its gas stations, which are also an itnegral part of the city.  The same utopia and the same ruin are contained in our city and in our language, and we have dreamt and lost ourselves in both; indeed, they are merely the form this dream and this loss take." --Giorgio Agamben, "On the Uses and Disadvantages of Living among Specters."

Later Days.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Triad VII: Digital Humanities and Genetically Modified Rickshaw Girls

There's been a decline in posting recently.  I blame the economy.
Today, we'll be looking at:

The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information by Alan Liu.
Light by John M. Harrison.
How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis  by N. Katherine Hayles
Reviews after the break.

Friday Quotations: It'll probably be even better with Tom Hanks

" 'I thank you, sir, I thank you, but these ivories'—he shook his ‘kerchief—'are my angels of redemption. Permit me to elucidate. The Marchioness wears dental fixtures fashioned by the aforementioned doctor. Next yuletide, just as that scented She-Donkey is addressing her Ambassadors’ Ball, I, Henry Goose, yes, I shall arise & declare to one & all that our hostess masticates with cannibals’ gnashers! Sir Hubert will challenge me, predictably, "Furnish your evidence," that boor shall roar, "or grant me satisfaction!" I shall declare, "Evidence, Sir Hubert? Why, I gathered your mother’s teeth myself from the spittoon of the South Pacific! Here, sir, here are some of their fellows!" & fling these very teeth into her tortoiseshell soup tureen & that, sir, that will grant me my satisfaction! The twittering wits will scald the icy Marchioness in their news sheets & by next season she shall be fortunate to receive an invitation to a Poorhouse Ball!'
In haste, I bade Henry Goose a good day. I fancy he is a Bedlamite."

You guys.   Cloud Atlas is pretty good, you guys.

Later Days.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bibliophile: Byte to Eat

"Why did you make it all about spoons?"

The man shrugged. "You said 'write what you know.'"

Spoons are funny.

This is Bibliophile.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Quotations: It Must Be Hard

We are having *all kinds* of technical difficulties today, I'll tell you what. The process of saving a real embedded video with spaced text below it seems to be entirely beyond me today. Let's try again.
 So anyway, this has been my go-to song all week, which is saying something, since my usual go-to songs are taken directly from videogames. I was pointed towards it by a post at, and I would like to direct everyone's attention to the user who claims it's a good song, but that female vocalist has to go. I disagree strongly. What do *you* think?

 Later Days.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Of course, now the phrase "human centipede" has a different meaning.

Every now and then, I think everyone should take a moment to remember that Lana Lang, Superman's crush from Smallville, deliberately turned herself on a regular basis into a human/bug hybrid monstrosity.


And that's why Lois always won.

Later Days.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bibliophile: End with a Bang

It's 9 degrees out, and feels like 6. There's also supposed to be scattered showers. Do I have any excuses for not going out in weather like this? Oh, right. This is Bibliophile.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gastronomy Issues

Hypothetical question: if someone were to start a blog about culinary combinations that tasted terrible, which is a better blog name:


In Poor Taste.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Later Days.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Quotations: Blinkin' Amazing

From Books of Magic, #12.  Almost forgot this one.  I just reread the entire Books of Magic series; it was one of the first series I've read in graphic novel form, so it was a very nostalgic rereading.  I'm glad they're bringing Tim Hunter, and maybe some of his supporting cast, into the DC proper with the Justice League Dark series.
The catch when I was originally reading them was that the library I was borrowing them from had the first volumes of the original series, and the first volumes of the reboot, but missed rather large swathes in between.  So I was rather confused.  Having now read the whole series, I'll admit it all hangs together--even the reboot can be worked into actual continuity, if you squint a bit.  The real problem is that the series' tone and purpose shifts wildly with new writers.  Neil Gaiman created the series, and it was a fairly simple premise: an ordinary British boy is put on a whirlwind tour of the magic side of reality, led by the high profile "good" magic characters of the DC universe.  He has the potential to be more powerful, magic-wise, than any of them, and they ask if he wanted this power.    I won't go so far to say that Timothy Hunter was a MacGuffin for Gaiman to do a DC magical tour, but he is, I think, supposed to be deliberately vague personality-wise, aside from general "wise-ass Brit kid" in order to present him as an Everyman type figure.  (Like Harry Potter, but about a decade earlier.)

You can't really hang an ongoing on that premise, though, so the first writer of the main series, John Ney Reiber, developed a supporting cast.  Tim had a pretty miserable life at that point; sure, he had magical powers, but people were always trying to kill him for them, and his father was a one-armed drunk, still feeling guilty about the car crash that took his arm and his wife's life.  Tim's gloom is counterbalanced by Molly, his next door neighbor, a spunky little Irish girl.  Much of Reiber's run can be classified as a teenage love story, and Molly is portrayed as such a vital character that I was okay with that.  My big problem with the following writers is that they went a little overboard in the overwrought, emo-side of Tim, and they never got Molly quite right; she went from being her own unique character to being Tim's Supporting Cast, role: Girlfriend.

Okay, I felt I needed to rant about that.  Still, the scene above?  Good scene.

Later Days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And the band played on. Actually, no, they stopped once the talk started.

I went to a public talk today on Marconi, the Titanic, and early 20th century media, given by Professor Paul Heyer.  My thoughts on that, emergency communications, and media history, after the break.

It happens most frequently with high heels. I don't want to think too much about what that means.

If I'm walking behind someone, I almost always start to unconsciously echo (literally, in this case) the pace of their walking with my own, and if I do manage to notice it, it's always requires a bit of effort to break away.

Later Days.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Triad VI: Alien Approaches

So it turns out that I read the prerequisite number of books for this one a while ago; I just forgot to post anything.  Whoopsie. 

This time, we'll be look at:
Porn and Pong by
Steal Across the Sky by  Nancy Kress

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Quotations: Higher Prophet

"This means that what will save the world is not spiritual, angelic power (a power that is, in the final analysis, demonic), with which humans produce their works (whether they be technical  or artistic works, works of war or peace), but a more humble and corporeal power, which humans have insofar as they are created beings.  But this also means that the two powers somehow coincide in the prophet, that the custodian of the work of salvation belongs, as far as his being is concerned, to creation." "Creation and Salvation," Nudities, Giorgio Agamben

Later Days.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Game Play: Onward, Captain Man-Pig.

It's been an odd week.  My focus is, as usual, all over the place, as I've been doing some dissertation writing, some editing, but also reading other things (Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool, Christoper A. Paul's Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games), playing other things (The Binding of Isaac, mostly.  I've really got write something about that one of these days), and doing other things (started my RA-ship, which mostly so far is discussions of organization that edge ever closer to actual organization).  But that doesn't mean I'm neglecting my blog entirely, and so, a post.  It's the second installment of my Game Play series (the first is here), my first hour on Beyond Good and Evil.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Quotation: Phoning the Iron Elves In

"Mountains shouldn't scream, but this one did."
--Chris Evans, A Darkness Forged in Fire
Okay, I'll come clean--I've had four meetings today.  There has not been a lot of time for quotation hunting.  So... you get the opening sentence of the first book I pull off the shelves.  I'll do better next week, promise.

Later Days.

Idiot. Just.... idiot.

I've never been very good at remembering things out of context.  I forget directions, names, faces.  I can watch a TV show for years, and be utterly unable to tell anyone the names of any of its characters if it's not going on right in front of me.  I can do the same with people that I've been around for longer.  I'm forgetful with objects, too.  If I'm okay with keeping track of my keys if I always, always transfer them immediately to my pocket after using them, but if I set them down somewhere--well, they're just gone.  After the third time I did that with a house key, I took to wearing it around my neck on a chain, the way some people do the cross.  And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, I think a part of me hoped that the key around my neck would work as a sort of talisman, warding off future evil bouts of absent-minded forgetfulness.

Yeah, that didn't work very well.

Because another category of things I'm forgetful of is dates.  More specifically, birthdays.  Even more specifically, one birthday in particular.  It's not my brothers'.  Got those locked down.  It's not my father's--I can remember that one by virtue of knowing it lands on the same day as two other people whose birthdays Facebook notifies me of.  And it's not the birthday of the dog of my new roommate whom I've known for less than two weeks, which I know because it's written on our fridge.  Nope.  It's my mom's, it was yesterday, and damn my eyes for being an inconsiderate son, because I forgot again just like I do EVERY.  SINGLE.  YEAR.  Even worse is that my poor memory was double-stacked against me.  My father (you can bet HE always remembers) sent me a text to remind me to call, but because I forgot my phone, unplugged and unpowered all day, I didn't get the message until it was too late.  (Well, almost too late; I was saved by virtue of the time difference between here and Saskatchewan--and my other got a literally eleventh hour phone call wishing her a happy birthday from the worst son ever.)

My mother is a wonderful, caring person (Actually, let's expand on that a little--it's no exaggeration to say that anything I have resembling a moral code comes from the example set by my parents; my mother has taught me  how important it is to stand up for what you believe is right, even if it means standing up against those in power, or speaking for those who have none, just by doing it herself time and again.  I could go on about that at great length, but the main subject here is how stupid I am, not the virtues of my family--otherwise, we'd be here all night), and gracefully forgave me my repeated offense, like she does every year.  Frankly, I don't think I should be let off the hook so easily.  I am a grown-ass man (you can generally tell how grown up someone is by the use of the word "ass").  At my age, people usually have a lot of responsibilities--spouses, children, proper jobs, mortgages, car payments--and they manage.  Me, I can't get a damned "save the date" right.  Not next year, though.  This ain't happening again.  I've set myself up a series of notifications: one from my work email, one from my personal email, one on the blog itself, one on Facebook, and one on my phone. Every one is set to trigger on September 6th of 2013, or the day before. Then we'll see who can and cannot remember a significant annual event.  (Okay, technically I still won't remember it, but I'll have remembered that I won't remember it, and compensated accordingly.)

The worst part is that this is the second time I've forgotten my phone in the last two months, and the second time I nearly missed an important family event, or at least wasn't as much a part of it as I should have been because of that forgetfulness.  I'm sick of doing that.  My roommates, old and new, have their family over frequently, and I often feel a pang of loss when I think of the connection I gave up when I moved here.  It's a connection that is important to me, and I feel that's grown a little more tenuous of late, and that's entirely my fault.  I don't talk to my family enough, and I don't go home enough.  The latter I can't do a lot about--finances and work keeps me away a lot.  But I can do more about the talking.  Admittedly, I really don't like talking on the phone, to anyone.  Part of that's the context thing from earlier--I have a lot of trouble following what people are saying if there isn't a clear sense of place and embodiment to them.  And there's a part of me that dreads nothing more than that static silence when no one can think of anything to say.  (One of the perils of being in game studies is that your life is rather boring to those not interested in games.)  So I let things slide, a bit.  And a bit more.  And so forth.  Okay, fine; it's hard.  It'll get easier, and it's time to make more of an effort. Mom, if you're reading this, I think the best thing that could come out of me forgetting AGAIN is that I use that mistake as a drive to reconnect with with my family.  It's not much of a gift, but I hope you'll accept it anyway.

(Unless everyone else in the family is entirely happy with the current level of communication, and will actually be bothered by my attempts to increase it, in which case, um, I mean well. Sorry.) 

Later Days.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bibliophile: Priest's Whores, Killer Poems, and Electronic Mind Machines

If you think about it, this blog feature is pretty much the Kim Kardashian of library book searching.

This is Bibliophile.

Where have the Bibliophiles gone?

So here's the answer to a question no one's asked: what happened to the Bibliophile feature?  Well, what happened is that it's fallen victim to repeated bad timing.  I missed one week because it happened the day after our "last party at the old house" party, and I was simply not in a great state for bibliographic functioning.  And I missed the subsequent week because I was working trying to get my stuff together for the move on Tuesday.  Will a post happen today?  ...Maybe.  I do think the posts are valuable, to me if no one else, but they take A LOT of time and effort.  Sundays are rarely entirely days of rest for me, and those extra few hours are valuable.  That said, I've actually made the picks for the next post, so it's just a matter of writing my thoughts.  That's doable.  Maybe.

Later Days.

Deeply Bohring

Niels Bohr once said that the opposite of a profound truth is also a profound truth.  He was talking about quantum mechanics or some similarly impenetrable topic, but I, like many laymen, have decided to appropriate his comment to talk about something decidedly less scholarly.  Here's a set of four profound-ish truths and their opposites; I'm going to use them to anchor the following discussion.

1.  I needed to write this post.
Opposite: I've been dreading writing this post.  

2.  I've moved recently.
Opposite: I've stayed in the same place.

3.  Location doesn't matter to me.
Opposite: Location is central to me.

4.  I'm a solitary person.
Opposite: I'm a social person.

All right; the first two are fairly easy, or at least comparatively easy.  Whenever something big happens me, I feel a need to blog about it, but at the same time, I often avoid blogging about it, because so much has happened that sorting through everything I've felt and experienced leaves me kind of drained.  That's what usually happens in the "trip" related posts--I see so much during the trip that sorting through it all and processing it becomes a task in itself, almost apart from actually living through it the first time.  Actually, the trip comparison is pretty apt; remember that when we get to discussing point 3.  The other factor is that I've grown a lot more self-conscious about doing personal stuff on the blog since I realized just how many people I know and interact with regularly read it.  At the same time, I've always felt that it's an important part of what this blog means to me.  I don't want to wade into what's authentic in autobiography and what's not, but this has never been just an academic blog to me; I've chosen not to compartmentalize my life, and I try to reflect that here.  (Okay, yes, there are some boundaries, but they're flexible, okay?)

So that brings us to point 2: I've moved recently.  I may have mentioned here that my former roommates, the ones I have lived with for two years, and I have gone our separate ways.  In fact, we did so last Tuesday, and I've been living in a new place ever since, with two entirely new, yet unknown roommates.  In a way, I feel like I haven't moved--I'm still in the same city, in the same program (I'll finish someday, Mr. Supervisor, honest I will), still with the same group of friends.  I hung out with them tonight, in fact, and it felt like a very familiar thing; there were the people that I get along with great and admire; the people who I hang out with who, um, aren't very fond of me, but we can still hang out in a crowd, and I still admire them (really--there are very few people I actively dislike; most of them I haven't seen in a decade.  Have I been out of high school for a decade?  My, what a shocking coincidence.  Also, I should probably add that when I was out with said friends, I was drinking.  But you've probably figured that out by now.); and there are people I have hung out with for years, but still don't really know that well.  (And that's unfortunate.  Something should be done to change that.) Anyway, digressions aside, I'm in a new situation, while simultaneously being immersed in my old situation.  There's a comfort in that, but it's the kind of comfort that can hold you in place, if you let it.

Speaking of place, that's a segue of sorts into point 3.  When I say location doesn't matter to me, I mean that.  I'll willing spend hours in my narrow, tiny office.  Two or three years ago, when I went to visit Toronto, I spent most of my time deliberately cooped in a variety of libraries, and enjoying myself immensely.  And the aesthetics of a space don't really matter to me; I could live very happily out of my boxes for the next year, or I could put everything away.  I have whole reams of posters my parents have got me that are still in the original bag they came in.  I take them out every now and then and look at them, because they're pretty, but I've never bothered to put them on my walls.  I mean, what's the point?  I'd just have to take them down again eventually.  The aesthetics of my location aren't really a big issue to me.  And of course, that's true, while also being an utter lie.  If on no other level, changing location means changing routine, it means changing mental space.  It's situations such as this in which I resort to Stiegler and his technics.  Change a person's tool set, and you change the person, and tool set includes the space and place you're familiar with.  It's pretty common for people on a trip to allow themselves indulgences they wouldn't do otherwise, and act in a manner contrary to their common behavior--it's why we say "When in Rome" and "It stays in Vegas."  And when you go on a trip, it's all temporary, so you have the comfort (however false it may be) that whatever you do, you can return to the tool set you left behind when it's over.  Moving means a whole new set of tools.  Maybe you're trading in a hammer for a wrench.  Maybe you're adding a spanner to the belt.  Maybe this metaphor has been stretched to its limit.  The point is, I've noticed a big difference in my mental space.  It's in the little things--I have to remind myself which corridors to turn down to get to my room.  I need to recalculate my jogging routes so that the 5k and 10k reach just the right sweet spots.  I need to mentally think exactly where I live, since I spent three years knowing that exact location, but forgetting it every time since someone always drove me there.  (Long story.)  Space is important.  You have to center yourself literally before you can do it figuratively.

Point 4.  I've lived on my own, and I've lived with other people.  When I'm alone, it's always something of a relief.  To be able to do what you want without worrying overmuch about the context of others--it's freeing.  But it's also restrictive.  Here's a TMI case in point: when I came to the bar tonight, there was one person I recognized, and three or four friends of hers just joining the program that I didn't.  And I could have joined them.  But... it was a very loud, very noisy bar, and the thought of trying to do the whole "getting to know you" smalltalk while bellowing at full volume was exceptionally unappealing to me.  So I waited for some other people to show up.  Am I proud of this?  No.  But I'm not ashamed either, and that's an important point that took me a long time to get to.  Under other circumstances, I would have been happy to do smalltalk with any one of them, or even in a group, but my solitary inclinations made the bar scene intro uncomfortable.  But at the same time, I felt some urge to socialize, so I stuck around.  The ideal conclusion to this story would be that I did get around to talking to the "strangers" and we're all well acquainted.  That didn't happen.  But at least I got some time with the friends I have known for years, and still open to making new friends somewhere along the road.  Anyway, the point of that probably ill-advised anecdote  is that as much as I think I shun company, I also want it, and need it.  And for a long time, my two former roommates have contributed significantly to that.  I could resort to technics to explain it, that the people you are surrounded with are a part of the mental tools as well, but why do that when I can make an emotionally uncomfortable statement instead: I'll miss them.  I miss them.  It's nice to have people around who accept you for who you are.  Not to say that my current roommates don't, or won't; I'm just trying to introduce them to the "who I am" part slowly.  It's like the early stages of dating; on the first date, you mention that you have a goldfish, and then after a few months, you reveal that when you say "you'll be sleeping with fishes," what you actually mean is--it's a Troy McClure reference.  Don't worry about it.  Yesterday, I left my first season of Battlestar Galactica out on the bookshelf; tomorrow, I'll add a few comic books.  And then, when it seems like they've grasped what they're in for, I'll leave a few videogame theory books lying around.

The gamebooks will stay in my room, I think.  Some things are just better left private.

Later Days.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Quotations: Latour Lethargy

"Are you not fed up at finding yourself forever locked into language alone, or imprisoned in social representations alone, as so many social scientists would like you to be? ... Do you not have more than enough of being continually dominated by a Nature that is transcendent, unknowable, inaccessible, exact, and simply true, peopled with entities that lie dormant like the Sleeping Beauty until the day when scientific Prince Charmings finally discover them? ... Are you not a little tired of those sociologies constructed around  the Social only, which is supposed to hold up solely through the repetition of the words 'power' and 'legitimacy' because sociologists cannot cope wiether with the contents of objects or with the world of languages that nevertheless construct society? ... Are you not fed up with language games, and with the eternal scepticism of the deconstruction of meaning? ... Are you not tired of being accused of having forgotten Being, of living in a base world emptied of all its substances, all its sacredness and its art?" --Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern.

I like this quotation because it sounds like Latour is starting an existential infomercial.  "Friends, is your world philosophy looking a bit ragged around the edges?  Has your personal ideology personally let you down?  Are your ready for a new worldview for the new modernity?  Well, you're in luck, because relativism is for you!"

Later Days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Game Play: Problem Solving

Back way back, I asked people to vote for what game they'd like to see me play, with the implication that I'd do a write-up here.  Well, I didn't actually like the result (2 votes for Dark Crystal, the pony-raising sim game, and one vote for scattered others), so I decided to spend one hour on every game on the list, and any others I got in the mean time, and when I'd played through each and every one of them, I'd decide what warranted a longer playthrough.  If you think the one-hour format is a little like that of the departed but not forgotten Games for Lunch blog, then you are mistaken.  It is exactly like that.  I'm even stealing the "Do I want to keep playing?" question and disguising it with the much less useful "Play more?".  Remember: when you do it fondly, it's not a rip-off, it's a tribute. And if Mr. Kyle Orland feels differently, then I'll... back away, and put the blame on you, for peer pressure.  Yeah, I'm like that.  Shall we begin?  My playthrough of Bastion, after the break.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Format

I was rereading a post, and I realized that it was rather cramped, and that I was foolishly squandering a whole left margin that I wasn't doing anything with.  So I switched the blog template to something that allowed a little more room, and played with the colors a bit.  What do you think?  Let me know by comments, twitter comments, or tying a note to a brick and throwing it through the window.  Any window.   It'll get to me eventually.

Later Days.

Book Triad V: Ian Bogost, Magic Carpets, Serial Killers, and other Latour Litanies

Actually, that's the only Latour Litany here, really.  But it's a nice segue into our first book, and our list of books. This time in Book Triad, we'll be looking at:

Alien Phenomenology by Ian Bogost
The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Reviews and other ramblings after the break.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Coming Out in the Wash

So I landed in some hot water yesterday with my department.  It was a ridiculous misunderstanding on my part, and I won't go into the details here.  (It's a somewhat amusing story, even if, as always, I'm the butt of the joke, so if you know me IRL, feel free to ask.)  Suffice to say, I was in a fairly bad mood earlier today, when the full scope of my faux pas came into light.  I think what really annoyed me was that the whole thing was entirely inadvertent on my part.  I don't mind if people are upset with me for things I deliberately do; I did the deed, I made a choice, and I face consequences.  But when it's something that happens through a confusion of communication, it's so much more frustrating, because it seems so avoidable.  And thus, I was in a bad mood.

 Which seemed unfortunate, because I was attending a wedding in the late afternoon/early evening.  But it actually turned out to be just the thing I needed.  A lovely lady and good friend of mine was marrying another lovely lady, and I was very happy to be there.  It was an outdoor wedding in a park, and it was fairly short (mercifully so, given the heat today and my insistence that I come fully suited).  But it packed a lot of emotional bang for its buck.  A friend of theirs officiated, and said some very nice things about marriage, and another friend recited a poem about love.  And not just any poem about love--the best poem about love, e e cummings' "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)." You may remember it, because I printed it in full here.  Now, as I've said before I love weddings (Actually, a search of my blog suggests that I've never .  I'm not fond of hearing people discuss them, plan them, or debate them, but the weddings themselves?  Awesome.  Combine that with a beautiful ceremony, my favorite love-themed poem without a metric, and a brief delay for a pigeon rescue (long story), and it was the mood equalizer I needed.

So... I guess the take-away here is that I had a good day, on average.
 ...Good night, folks.

Later Days.

Friday Random Quotations: Play Time

Imagine the sense of shared experience that we might derive from having watched the same movie; now compare that to what we might feel if we had each performed the lead role in the same hundred-hour play.”--Kiri Miller in Playing Along, on the power of videogames to create a shared experience.

Later Days. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cat Attack

I was cycling home today, going down the patch of sidewalk just before my house. (Incidentally, I was on the sidewalk because this city's bike lanes are good, but not perfect, and I ain't bravin' rush hour traffic on the cycle just yet.)  Anyway, I suddenly noticed that there was a cat on said sidewalk, right in front of me.  "KITTY!" I exclaimed loudly, as any 29 year-old male is wont to do when outdoors and faced with an unexpected cute furry creature.  (I have also been known to exclaim "bunny!", "squirrel!", "groundhog!", and on one memorable occasion "deer?".)  I was fully expecting the cat to obey its feline instincts and bolt at a sudden, loud noise coming from nearby.  Instead, it jumps up, startled, turns to face me--and then rolls onto its back and starts pawing the air.
It looked a lot like this:
"What, is this an inappropriate reaction to the vehicle hurtling toward my head?"
So I swerve to avoid running over the thing, and nearly steer directly into incoming traffic before I right myself.

Now, I know that I carry some blame here.  I declared my presence in a tone and manner that suggested that I wouldn't be adverse to applying a tummy rubbing to a kitty cat.  And under other circumstances, said tummy rubbing would indeed be dutifully applied.  But there is a time and a place, kitty cat.  There.  Is. A. Time. AND. A. PLACE.

Please spay and neuter your pets, folks.

Later Days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Work in Progress: Montfort's All Alike

Continuing one of our irregular features, here's another edition of Work in Progress, in which I copy and paste notes I've made on a book (in this case, Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages), so you get the argument without any organization, mechanical improvement, or context.

 You're welcome.

Incidentally, I've written on interactive fiction before, and in a more personal context.  Take a look if you missed it the first time around, because I think it may be one of my better posts.

...And You Can Take that to the Bank. Soon, please.

Once upon a time, my brothers and I all lived together in a house.  I'm not referring, in this case, to the house I grew up in, but the house nearby in the big city, which my parents purchased for us to live in while we went to university and learned stuff.  It was very nice of them.  Very, very nice.  Alas, two of the three brothers--myself included--moved out rather quickly, but the house and its remaining sibling occupant lived on.  And, as is more relevant to the current discussion, so did the mortgage for said house.  Now, given that my brothers and I were all to live in this house, it was deemed that the mortgage would be in all three of our names, as well as my parents.  We thought we should change this recently, to reflect, well, reality, and get my brother and my names off that mortgage.

This is a process much, much easier said than done.

Now, the basic way to do such a financial transaction is to come down to the bank and sign some papers.  That works great, in theory, but if you're a few thousand kilometers and multiple provinces away from said bank, that isn't going to work.  The original plan, then, as okayed by the bank, was that my parents would obtain my permission by phone, and attest to the fact that it was me speaking.  This was at the end of June.  A few weeks later, the bank decided that this was not, in fact, good enough.  While they trusted my parents enough to give them thousands of dollars, they were clearly not trustworthy enough to verify that they had their childrens' go-ahead.  So instead, I was to receive a scanned version of the contract, and sign it myself, then either scan it back or fax it back.  But again, the bank couldn't actually trust that something as ephemeral as a digital copy was real, so I had to mail a physical copy of the signed scan back to Saskatchewan. 

Now at this point, I really haven't done much besides roll my eyes as the bank bureaucracy from afar.  But now that I was entrusted with the signing of the scanned contract, I had a job to do.  And I kind of dropped the ball.  It took me weeks to get all this stuff together.  In my defense, it was more stuff than it may appear.  First, I had to print off the document.  Then I had to sign it.  Then I had to rescan it.  Then put it an envelope, affix a stamp, and send it back west.  The problem was that my home computer could scan, but not print.  The campus library computers could print but not scan.  And neither location had a ready supply of either stamps or envelops.  (Or, as I found out, pens for writing addresses).  So what followed were several days in which I'd remember to buy an envelop, but forget the stamp.  Or I'd be at home, and remember I needed to print something off.  Or I'd make the scan, then remember I'd forgotten to sign the paper. 

My favorite intermission was when I emailed my father a copy of my rescanned, signed version, and told him that I'd mail the copy when he confirmed that it looked okay.  Only it took him a week to do that (he was away on vacation, which is fair enough), and by then, I had, of course, misplaced the paper copy.  So I spent about an hour ransacking my room for that, then decided it wasn't going to be found.  But that meant I had to make a new copy altogether, since the other was dated (I suppose I could have reprinted the scan of the scan, but  I was worried the bank folk were looking for a pen-signature, and wouldn't accept something that was clearly printed off).  So I went to campus, printed off another copy, signed it then and there, bought a stamp and envelope, went home, and prepared to scan it before mailing it west--then found the original scanned signed copy still lying where I left it, face-down on my scanner.

Honestly, it amazes me that people my age have children.  I can barely keep track of a piece of paper for an hour at a time.

Later Days.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bibliophile: Fiction and Games

The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.  But the umbrella owners will inherit the earth.

This is Bibliophile.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Quotations: (Noun) of (Bad Adjective)

"The House of Hell is a little different from other Fighting Fantasy adventures.  You start your adventure unarmed, with no provisions or potions; and you have to avoid being frightened to death!"
"As well as surviving your adventure by ensuring that your STAMINA never drops to zero, in The House of Hell you must also avoid being frightened to death."
"If your FEAR score reaches the maximum (as rolled initially--see above), then you are frightened to death and must end your adventure."

--House of Hell, Fighting Fantasy # 10, Steve Jackson.

Every time the phrase "frightened to death" appears in the instruction portion, it is always italicized, and it always, always makes me smile.  I'm pretty sure that's what Jackson was going for.    It's currently the30th anniversary of the series, and you can bet that to celebrate, I have the special new entry in the series, Blood of the Zombies, pre-ordered, and I daily check out You Chose Wrong, a tumblr dedicated to posting just the bad endings of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Speaking of always, I've always meant to do a post on what Choose Your Own Adventure books, and Fighting Fantasy books in particular, have meant to me, growing up.  For now, let's just let the fact that I have 50 of the original series' 59 books sitting on my bookshelf speak for itself.

Later Days.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Not cool, man. Not cool."

Holy bananas.  I thought, four hours or so ago, I would be in for a weird day.  I had no idea.  It isn't even seven yet, and I already feel like I've crossed into some weird Twilight Zone equivalent of actual reality.

But first, a brief preface.  Over the years, I have complained a lot about my body on this blog.  But this is a two way street, and I have to admit, as much as my body has failed me, I have not treated it that well either.  Lungwise, having never smoked, I think things are pretty good; the worst thing I've done to my body in that regard is move to southern Ontario, to which it responding by becoming asthmatic at the tender age of 26.  Liver-wise, I would like to think we're on reasonably good terms as well, as I never picked up the drinking habit till about 25 or so, and even then, I rarely drink to excess (twice a month, tops).  Eating--eating is not so good.  I am pretty bad with the eating part.  But the real kicker, more often than not, is bio-rhythm.  I cannot, for the life of me, keep a good sleep schedule.  I'll go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7 a few days, then I'll stay up till 4 am and wake up at noon.

 Long weekends are particularly bad, as I always fall into a habit that just isn't sustainable for normal weekday conditions.  So when I tried to lurch myself straight from a few days of the late night-noon to 11 pm to six am, my body responded with a "not cook, man.  Not cool," and kept me tossing and turning the rest of the night.  Then, when six am rolled around, it went to another tactic.  "You want to be awake?" my body asked.  "Fine.  You will be the most awake ever."  I shot up instantly, packed up my bag, and headed off for school, every synapse snapping, every muscle twinging.  My brain is going a mile a minute now, and even while writing this blog post, I had to stop every few sentences, and stare wildly into space while my hands catch up to wherever my head is. 

And while I don't feel tired, I can feel tired stalking me.  It's as if Exhaustion is some giant prehistoric beast, and I'm in the woods armed with a rather unpointy stick.  I'm gazing into the future right now, and all I see is that today holds a lot of coffee, a collapsing at my desk, or both.  The worst thing about being in academics--for me, at least--is that I can never entirely turn it off.  At one point last evening, for example, I reasoned that if I couldn't sleep, I might as well be doing something useful.  So I spent an hour reading a blog on game design.  Then, surprise, I had a series of very bizarre dreams on game design.  I can't escape it.  But the best thing about being in academics, from a grad student's point of view, is that while you're never not working, the work is flexible.  I've got nothing scheduled today but a meeting at 2:30, so a collapse is possible, if necessary.

I'm kind of hoping it isn't necessary.  If I fell asleep in the office today, there's no telling what dreams my body will set upon me.  Because if there's one thing the last few hours has taught me, it's that it's a vengeful creature.

Later days.

Sometimes, blog posts are like tweets

Of course, the insomnia kicks in the day I test out the 6:00 am wake-up initiative. Tomorrow should be fun.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bibliophile: on the road at UBC

The phrase "you make a better door than a window" has always sounded to me like an oblique threat.

This is Bibliophile.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Random Quotations: Context? Who Needs Context?

"Are women or girls or sexiness to have no ontological place alongside chipmunks, lighthouses, and galoshes?" --Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology.

It's an interesting book.  Expect it to turn up in a Book Triad a few posts from now.

Later Days.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review: Johanna Drucker's The Alphabetic Labyrinth

Yes, it's another book review. Someone recently mentioned to me that all I seem to do here these days is review books.  I don't know what to tell you; I spend most of my time writing and reading, so that's what comes out.  At any rate, it's my birthday on Saturday, so you can count on a personal statement around then, at least.
Drucker recounts the history of the alphabet, with a focus on the symbolic meaning people have afforded it over the century.  The book is divided into 10 chapters, which can roughly be thought of as two background chapters, and eight that correspond to various historical periods in Western culture, and how the alphabet was regarded in them.  Chapter 3 starts with the Greek and Roman period, with a focus on how the Greeks considered the alphabet as composed of the fundamental building blocks with which you could build up to a description of the universe. Chapter 4 covers the early Christian eras, in which the power of the written language--and the alphabet--was usually given divine attribution: "I am the alpha and the omega", for example, uses the beginning and end of alphabet as a metaphor for the entirety of existence. Other chapters cover the medieval period and the Church's appropriation of the written word, the Renaissance and the turn to rationalization, and the 18th century and their belief that writing was a necessary condition for the existence of civilization.  (There's a chapter on Kabbalah too.)  Chapter 9 covers the 19th century and the alphabet's role in the debate of creationism vs evolution (was written language divinely inspired, or did it come about naturally?)and the last chapter considers the alphabet in the digital age.

That's a very brief condensation (I've been working on shorter summaries), but it paints the basic picture. Drucker uses a lot of illustrations in the book, which is essential, I think, given the subject matter and the visual nature of the alphabet.  I kind of wish she did a bit more of an introduction, to give a more complete summation of her own stance on the use of the alphabet.  I can understand why she didn't; I think Drucker is really going for historical objectivity than pursuing her own argument, per se.  That said, if the book could be said to have an argument, I think it would be that accounts of the alphabet are always situated in a wider cultural and historical context.  There are plenty of cases, for example, where changes in alphabet are caused by changes in technology.  When we change to the printing press, handwriting becomes something specialized and unique, and writing manuals focus on aesthetic flourish.  But when mass production hits paper production, and industrialization scales up in general, there's a demand for a lot of people who can write notes by hand very quickly, and writing manuals become about getting a job.  There's power struggle embedded in font choice too--two overt examples would be Constantine created a font that was specifically not like previous Roman types, to distance his empire from the previous persecution of Christians, and when Louis XIV ordered the creation of a font that represented the dominating, transcendent nature of his reign.  Likewise, the scholarship about the alphabet had power discourses.  There was the obviously loaded question of what culture invented the first alphabet (the Nazis, for example, weren't very keen on the Semitic claim to that title) and more subtler ones that I mentioned above, such as the evolution vs. creationism issue, or the promotion of Europe's domination by claiming that civilizations needed an evolved written form.  We use and imbue the alphabet with power.

For me personally, the book was a trip down memory lane, as it reminded me in particular of other stuff I've read.  (That's right, we're not just talking about books, we're talking about books that the book reminds me of; maybe I do need a new topic.)  The mystic attributions of the alphabet remind me of Francis Yates' Art of Memory, in that she also covers a lot of the same mystic groups, who imbue similar magical attributes to the concept of the memory palace.  I wonder if there's a connection between alphabet and spatializing memory.  I suppose my off the cuff response would be that they're both about the reverence of knowledge, and preserving knowledge.  Anyway, the script history portion of the book could have been taken directly out of my old textual studies course.  I've complained about the course before, and I'll complain about it now (it was soooo boring), and with God as my witness, someday I'll complain again, but I also have to admit it comes in handy.  Because I was already familiar with uncials and Merovingian book script and so forth, I could follow along with what otherwise would be a very dry reading.  Finally, the book also had a lot of cross-over with Siegfried Zielinski's Deep Time.  First, there was a methodological similarity, as Drucker was interested in people who had the more radical interpretations of the alphabet (my favorite is Alfred Kallir, who argued that letters outlined the human sexual reproduction processes, and that as we spoke, we thus unconsciously reinforced our psyches).  But she's also talking about a lot of the same people--Athanasius Kircher, Giuseppe Balsamo, Raymond Llull.  It's an overlap that makes sense: Drucker discusses most of them in terms of mysticism, universal languages, and cryptography, all of which Zielinski is particularly interested in.  But I was struck by how much of this stuff I'd already come across in other ways.  Like the alphabet moved through power discussions, it moved in and out of European historical traditions.

Finally, though, there's the selfish question: what's in this for me?  As usual, what brought me to this text is the videogame studies, which means the image/text issue is what I'm interested in here.  Image text comparisons aren't really a direct concern with Drucker, but there's enough overlap here for me to find a lot of things useful.  The comparison does come out in full, for example, in the discussion of illuminated letters, which at one point got so complex that people started putting pictures of the book's content in the letters that started the story.  And naturally, some commentators complained, because the seductive images were taking away from the purity of the words' ideas.  That's something I can use; the notion that the alphabet, and by extension, words themselves, speak to some sort of purity of thought.  I can use the discussion on digital font more directly, obviously.  And in general, it'll serve me well to keep in mind that it's never just about the words.  Discussions about the alphabet were discussions situated in much broader discourses, and with text in games, it'll behoove me to keep that in mind.

Later Days.