Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Weighing the "Con"s of a Conundrum

While I was constructing the post below, I was working in a public space. And when I was about half way through the post, I realized I could hear the voice of someone I recognized. But that was all I could do. I couldn't make out the words. I couldn't even trace the voice to where it was coming from, and make a visual confirmation. All I could do was think, "yep, that's him/her all right. I'd recognize his/her tone anywhere, and that is most definitely the distinct warbling of him/her."

The thing was, having reached that conclusion, I was at a loss on the proper course of action. Normally, if I run into a friend or see a friend (and I do count him/her as a friend), I would greet them. But this wasn't quite a full running, and there was no seeing at all. And since I couldn't see him/her, I'd have to walk towards the voice to do said greeting. That had two selfish points against it: first, my laptop was set up, so I couldn't just walk over--to ensure the safety of my too-expensive machine, I'd have to pack it up and bring it with me, which meant the slight time commitment of putting everything away. Further, I was in the middle of a blog post. I didn't really want to lose my train of thought.

The other side of the issue played on my ever-present insecurities. Would this person *want* to be greeted by me in this place? It was a public space, but not one I tend to spend a lot of time with, so he/she wouldn't be expecting to see me there. If I was hearing his/her voice frequently, that implied that he/she was there with someone else. Would an interruption be welcome? What if I greeted them, and their first unguarded response was hostility? I could deliberately make my presence known first, and pretend not to acknowledge them, to offer a chance to realize I was there, but what if in that case they feigned to ignore me as I was ignoring them? What if our entire friendship was built on a precarious house of cards and my unexpected appearance was the gust of wind that causes the whole iffy assemblage to come tumbling down into a heap of lies and deceit? (The fact that I was writing a post on conspiracy theory was probably creeping into my thoughts here.)

Luckily, the problem was abrogated when he/she left (or stopped talking) before I finished the post. Once again, indecision inadvertently rescues the day. That was a close one.

(Extra game: Regular readers in the area! Try and figure out the identity of the mystery person! Could he/she be YOU?)

Later Days.

Church & State Unfair: A Reading of Comic Book Series Rex Mundi

I should probably be writing up my lesson plan for my class tomorrow. Or finishing my proposal for the CGSA conference in June that's due tomorrow. Or, you know, be working on that dissertation thing (This week: Genesis manuals! Golden Axe! Sonic! And... those other Genesis games!). But I feel like I haven't done a "pure" blogpost in a while (ie. not school related), so it's time for something different. Comic books!

Specifically, I just read the first volume of Arvid Nelson's Rex Mundi, as well as the introduction of the second, and I feel the need to wax rhapsodic. Here's a link to an article with some pictures for the book. (Why, yes, I am too lazy to post my own images.) The high concept of the series is that it is set in an alternate Europe, during the 19th century or so (it's a little hard to date exactly--the newspaper is prevalent, but the church and monarchy are still firmly in control). It differs from our history in two significant ways: there never was a French Revolution (hence the continuing control of the church and state) and magic is an accepted reality, though only practiced openly by a small and persecuted minority. More specifically, the first volume of Rex Mundi stars Julien Sauniere, a Parisian doctor plunged into a sea of intrigue and mystery after agreeing to help his priest friend track down a stolen forbidden manuscript. There are two chief things I found worth talking about here: the conspiracy theme, and the art.

We'll do art first. Volume 1 of the book (and volume 2, I understand; the foreword suggests the pair went their separate ways after those two or so) has the art duties performed by Eric J. Generally speaking, I'm not a very visual person. I tend to skip long descriptive passages in literature, and even in comics, a medium whose biggest selling point is its visual aspect, I often don't notice the pretty pictures unless it's a work that departs from the realist style very clearly. So when I do notice the art, that's a sign of something really notable going on. Eric J doesn't depart from a realist style, particularly. And while his art is distinct, the individual panels aren't really that noticeable. What's remarkable about his work is his use of silent, sequential patterns to illustrate motion. Most of my comic reading is superhero stuff, which means a lot of fighting. And yet, it's surprisingly rare that I read something that really conveys the motion and flow of action. Eric J does that. There's a scene of Sauniere running through the Paris sewers, and I could actually see, in my mind's eye, how the pursuit went. It's rare that I've seen anything that so thoroughly takes advantage of comic books not just as a visual medium but as a sequential visual medium.

So that's the art. The conspiracy angle is another issue entirely. I don't want to go into too much detail on the specifics, because in such a story, the plot is a large part of the point of reading, but the first volume's foreword compares it favorably to both Da Vinci's Code and Foucault's Pendulum. And the foreword of the second volume (which I still haven't read beyond the foreword, mind you) furthers the point. I'm tempted to retype the whole thing here, but I'll give you an abridged version (which is still very long):
"I say Foucault's Pendulum wasn't necessarily a great work of literature because it was more intellectualism than art, [a distinction, incidentally, that gets at the heart of what I was talking about re: my problems with constrained writing] more about characters sitting around and talking--and talking and talking and talking--in an impersonal way, tearing down the preconceptions of European Christian culture. it was an intellectual exercise of sorts--and people loved it.
Rex Mundi sprang from the same creative font and has gripped its readers in the same way. and why? Why are some of us so eager to see our histories rewritten before our eyes, our beliefs questioned and our faith disproved?
Rex Mundi asks those questions, and in its answers it makes the kind of leaps that reward readers. It offers possibilities that strike bold chords. It says something in the way that the best kind of fiction should, elevating a page-turner into something more by displaying ideas from which readers may discover whatever meanings ring truest to them.
Rex Mundi is a fantasy--Arvid declares that, more clearly than some of his peers in this literary vein, by setting his story in a past which is clearly not our own. But his colorful recreation of early twentieth-century Europe shouldn't distract you from his own honest examination of what it means to be a Westerner, the way some of us are driven to conquer and some to seek, and what sorts of secrets we might find in our own past."
Still here? Good. What Scott Allie is getting at, if I may grossly oversimplify prose that I wish I'd written myself, is the genre of the conspiracy theory, and, more significantly, works that both apply it and question its existence. It's a very prevalent genre-type, one that transcends media--it's in literature and film, obviously, but it's also a common videogame trope. Deus Ex and Assassin's Creed come to mind as two of the more successful examples. I've always liked conspiracy plots in videogames, because they always work on a meta level. Of course there's a conspiracy--every single person you meet in the game exists solely to affect you.

But what Allie and Nelson are doing is much more specific. This isn't a conspiracy theory where your government is lying to you, or your boss, or your some aliens. For a Westerner, when you start talking about massive conspiracies perpetuated by churches and monarchies, what you're saying is that your past is lying to you. The history of the world, of your world, as you know it, is a lie. That narrative of your country's place in the world and your place in it is wrong, because it's foundation is rotten. The flip side of the conspiracy theory genre is that (unless you're dealing with postmodern deconstructionist conspiracy theory--I'm looking at you, Pynchon) once the lie is exposed, it's almost inevitably about the resulting search for truth. Yes, someone has taken advantage of me, but now I have the knowledge, and I won't be deceived again. I don't want to get all Campbell/Hero's Journey here, but it's obviously a theme that resonates on a number of levels, personal and political. Rex Mundi is playing with the conspiracy theory, and what this search for truth means. I don't know what Nelson's agenda is for this play, but I'm going to find out.

Later Days.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Biblophile: Canadiana

I feel like I've already used the "judging a book by its cover" tagline, but that's really what we're doing here in a nutshell. So sit back and get into the zone for another edition of Bibliophile.

The library's received an influx of 8000 books this week--I'm guessing someone's added a new digital archive. And yeah, we're going to be glossing over some of that.

We have never been postmodern : theory at the speed of light / Steve Redhead. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, c2011.
It's probably somewhat telling that my first reaction on seeing this book's title was to wax nostalgic: "Aw, a book on postmodernism! I haven't seen one of those in forever!". But that just supports Redhead's point: the moment we're in now is not postmodernism, and perhaps never was. Rather, it's MANC--Mobile Accelerated Nonpostmodern Culture. That probably won't catch on as a term, but I can see the advantage of being able to refer to the world as particularly "MANC-y." Seriously, it may be worth wondering why postmodernism has fallen out of favor. Is it a matter of academic fads passing elsewhere, has postmodernism failed to pass, or is it so obviously here it's not worth talking about anymore? (Incidentally, this is a book to see in a library setting; it's currently weighing in at $98.24 for 192 pages at Amazon.ca. Yikes.)

In your face : the new science of human attraction / David Perret. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Good title. The book is an in-depth study of the face, and what attracts us to one. On a tangential note, it reminds me of William Sleator's YA sci-fi book, The Boy Who Reversed Himself. One its plot points was that people could move between dimensions (and I'm talking dimensions in the 2-D, 3-D sense), but the process meant reversing yourself, turning yourself into your mirror image. And for us 3-D humans, that meant a change that people noticed, but couldn't quite place. Also, the reversed form of ketchup was an intoxicant.

Why people cooperate : the role of social motivations / Tom R. Tyler. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2011.
Payback : why we retaliate, redirect aggression, and take revenge / David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton. New York : Oxford University Press, c2011.
I love that these two books were side by side.

Gay, straight, and the reason why : the science of sexual orientation / Simon LeVay. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2011.
This, um, sounds like it might be contentious. (Understatement.) For what it's worth, LeVay is leaning to the "born that way" argument, with his claim that scientific evidence points in its favor. I could go into a long discussion of my own view here, but let's just say I'm of the opinion that two consenting adults can do whatever they want with their body parts, and I'll leave the philosophizing about why to others. Now, to further dodge the issue, have you ever thought about how "content" means satisfied with the current situation, but "contentious" means something more like unsatisfied? Where's the scientific study on that?

The "E" section contained about 100 items on First Nation issues; I think I just found one of the new databases.

Look of Catholics : portrayals in popular culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War / Anthony Burke Smith. Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, c2010.
This book may be vaguely interesting. I come from a small town where Catholics were the majority, and I was in one of the half dozen or so Protestant minorities. Thus, my default view of Catholics is this exclusive club that everyone talked about that I wasn't a member of. Confession, exclusively male priests, and Latin chanting all seem simultaneously mysterious and ridiculous to me. The book itself seems to cover the major points its subject matter would suggest; obviously, the Kennedys loom large.

Lake Titicaca : legend, myth and science / Charles Stanish. Los Angeles : Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, c2011.

Lords of the rinks : the emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875-1936 / John Chi-Kit Wong. Toronto ; Buffalo : University of Toronto Press, c2005.
Like lord of the dance, but with more slapshots. For those hockey fans among my academic acquaintances, I'll note that we've received an influx of ice-sports related books this week.

Disneyland and culture [electronic resource] : essays on the parks and their influence / edited by Kathy Merlock Jackson and Mark I. West. Jefferson, N.C. ; London : McFarland & Co., c2011.

Saving babies : the efficacy and cost of recent expansions of Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women / Janet Currie, Jonathan Gruber. Cambridge, MA : National Bureau of Economic Research, 1994.
And that is how you give an economic paper a politically loaded title. All right, being fair, medical aid for pregnant women *is* and should be a politically loaded issue, and the case could be made that ignoring that aspect would be as much a political move as foregrounding it.

Okay, we've reached the true source of the mysterious influx of items: a few thousand new electronic entries, all on the social and economic status of Canada. I hope you'll excuse the indiscretion, but I think I'll skip over the full analysis of such page-gripping titles as "Gateways and Clusters: the government of Canada’s experience with client-centred single-window electronic service delivery, report on year 1 of research conducted by the Public Policy Forum on behalf of the Research Consortium on Information in the Public Sector." (Although this particular entry is a bad example, because it misspelled "clusters" as "custers" which makes me think it's either a report on the delivery of pies, or the delivery of generals who had famous last stands.

Coming back 5000 some entries later, we have:
Popular music and television in Britain [electronic resource] / [edited by] Ian Inglis.
Off the top of my head, my familiarity on this topic begins and ends with music competitions and Dr Who. If pressed, I might add the Beatles and Monty Python. The actual subject matter is focused on the intersection of music and television, and so we have such topics as the musicology of Life on Mars (I wouldn't mind reading that one) and the ubiquity of the Beatles in their day. So I was almost right, then.

The cat : 3500 years of the cat in art. By Caroline Bugler.
If this doesn't culminate in Garfield and the LOLcats, something has gone terribly wrong.

Good servant, bad master? : electronic media and the family / Arlene Moscovitch. Ottawa, Ont. : The Vanier Institute of the Family, 2007.
The conclusion of the 23 page report is "There is so much we do not know." As a conclusion, it hits honesty, but kind of makes the preceding redundant.

Hyperbole in English : a corpus-based study of exaggeration / Claudia Claridge. Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2011.
This is the best idea for a book I've ever heard of. We might as well stop all English studies here and now, because it's achieved a pinnacle that may never be surmounted. Throughout history, this work will stand as a beacon, a monument, a tribute to all that humankind may aspire towards--but also a solemn mockery, as each person must in their own way come to terms with the fact that we will never reach such lofty heights again.

Hypertext and the female imaginary / Jaishree K. Odin. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c2010.
Despite being in the digital humanities, I've never read a scholarly work specifically on hypertext, per se. But I like the idea that there are still people doing it.

Television culture / John Fiske. 2nd ed. London ; New York : Routledge, 2011.
Subjects include realism, psychoanalysis, audience participation, oral culture, genre, intertexuality, and chapters on gender, the quiz show, and the news program. It's very clearly a book written for undergraduate courses, not that there's anything wrong with that. The overview is written by Henry Jenkins, one of those scholars who's managed to transcend their position and become "personalities," in part by virtue of showing up everywhere. Seriously, I've seen work by this guy on comic book studies, television studies, fan-based behavior, and video games. He's the go-to guy for pop culture studies.

Trickster in contemporary film / Helena Bassil-Morozow. Hove, East Sussex ; New York : Routledge, 2012.
I'm focusing on this one because I wanted to do a search to see what films Bassil-Morozow was talking about. Incidentally, this book shows up on Amazon in the categories Social science, humor & entertainment (which make sense) and Health, Fitness & Dieting (which does not). All the basic report of the book will tell me is that it features trickster comedians (Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Andy Kaufman) and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and The Great Dictator.

Twilight mystique : critical essays on the novels and films / edited by Amy M. Clarke and Marijane Osborn. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2010.
I can't think of a subject in pop culture studies I would be less interested in. Give me a book on knitting. I'd read that first. A book on the NHL. Sure, pile it on. But Twilight? No thank you, sir.

In other worlds : SF and the human imagination / Margaret Atwood. 1st U.S. ed. New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, c2011
Wait, Margaret Atwood wrote a book on SF theory last year? I feel as if I should have known this already. This feels like big news. Is it big news? According to the info I can find, it seems to be a written compilation of some of her 2010 lectures on the subject, and other essays, so I'm not so sure if it quite counts as anything she's done recently, but it may be required reading for anyone looking at sci-fi literature in a Canadian context.

Past the literature section, we're back in the new Canadian database, with ebook after ebook on the Canadian environment. "Effects of hypoxia on scope-for-activity of lake trout: defining a new dissolved oxygen criterion for protection of lake trout habitat" by David O. Evans and other exciting topics. And I still have just under 2000 titles to go.

World wide mind : the coming integration of humanity, machines and the internet / Michael Chorost. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York : Free Press, 2011.
It's 2012. Do you know where your Singularity is?

And then we're into healthcare for the next 1000 or so entries. That means titles like "Dare to dream [electronic resource] : reflections on a national workshop on women and primary health care, February 5-7, 2004, Clarion Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba," "Legislating for health and human rights [electronic resource] : model law on drug use and HIV/AIDS prisons. Toronto, Ont. : Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2006," and "Healthy balance: a summary report on a national roundtable on caregiving policy in Canada / Judi Varga-Toth. Ottawa, Ont. : Canadian Policy Research Networks, 2005." Important topics, but not really anything that I have either the ability or interest to understand.

And then we're back to Canadian environment again, with such gems as "A consultation-based review of the Harvester Support Programs of the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc : final report." And "The Great Lakes Sewage Report Card." And who could forget "Radon: The Unfamiliar Killer."

Able seamen : the lower deck of the Royal Navy 1850-1939 / Brian Lavery. London : Conway, 2011.

Murder Game! / by Dan Ross ; directed by Brian Rintoul, 1983 - production photos. 1983
It's the exclamation point that really sells it. They thought they were playing just another tabletop... little did they know that they had just picked tokens for... The Murder Game!

Tough cookies [electronic resource] : leadership lessons from 100 years of the Girl Scouts / Kathy Cloninger ; with Fiona Soltes. Hoboken : Wiley, 2011.
Good title.

And that brings us to another end of Bibliophile. The thing about all the Canadian stuff is that, my mockery aside, I know that almost any given title summarizes research that is as important, and often more important, than the research I'm doing. But being important is not really the same as being interesting. Sad, but true.

Later days.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Quotations: Equally Dumb?

"You must not go towards equality, but must start from equality. Starting from equality does not presuppose that everyone in the world has equal opportunities to learn, to express their capacities. That's not the point. The point is that you have to start from the minimum equality that is given. The normal pedagogic logic says that people are ignorant, they don't know how to get out of ignorance to learn, so we have to make some kind of an itinerary to move from ignorance to knowledge, starting from the difference between the one who knows and the one who does not know."
Rancière, Jacques and Lawrence Liang. "Interview with Jacques Rancière." in: Lodi Gardens, Delhi. February 2009. (English).

Sorry for the relative silence this week--it hasn't been particularly newsworthy. I'll start livening things up with a movie or book review over the weekend.

Later Days.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Watch Me Work: Travel Games

It occurs to me that the "copy and paste" reading notes method that I've used previously is a nice way to do a blog post with minimal effort. Depending on how interesting the things I read turn out, I might make it a regular thing. For now, here's my summary and thoughts of Chapter 6: Transit in Ian Bogost's "How to Do Things with Games":

Bogost argues that videogames potentially address the lost experience of travel elided by modern transportation technology. He starts by establishing the pattern: with the widespread adoption of the train, spatial travel lost its “aura,” and emphasized the separation from the outside world, and the experience of being between two points. The solution then was to replace the experience with surrogate experience, in the form of travel books and panoramas. Now, we have the same travel loss thanks to planes and automobiles, and Bogost argues that the new surrogate is videogames. Games require continuous movment and experience, demanding the player acts (GTA). As they play, they get a sense of how the space between points functions (Animal Crossing). More than just random local wandering, they allow an experience of the unknown, an aspect of exploring that players come to understand by traveling through. (Final example: Train Simulator.)

I really liked this one. It addresses the spatial aspect and value of videogames quite nicely. He could have gone further into the exploration aspect—it certainly gets some attention when people talk about the imperial side of gameplay, and there is an aspect not just of inhabitation but domination in how players are conditioned to respond to game space. And the notion of the autotravel changes things as well; you travel there once, and then you never go that route again. It means never quite experiencing the same organic connection as the Animal Crossing example—you don’t know that character x wanders down this path every day, because you don’t cross it yourself ever. But it does preserve that initial discovery sense. Likewise, the automap really captures that exploration process, as you get a visual rendition of your exploratory efforts. It feels much more participatory than games that come with a map that you just travel around. And again, there’s some form of visual dominance at play. I like the medial connections he’s drawing, as we don’t often think of transportation as a medium, but it should be considered one. Further, I think there’s an irony that he doesn’t address; thanks to mobile games, they don’t just offer surrogate experiences of spatial exploration, they detract from it, somewhat. Admittedly, he doesn’t address it because he’s talking about positive sides of gaming, but it’s still an issue. You can’t discuss travel and exploration without discussing escapism. This is a nice easy topic to put to a wide application—essentially any game that involves extensive travel can be thought of in these terms.

You know it's a productive essay to think with when the commentary is longer than the summary. It's a good book; please don't recall it on me.

Later Days.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bibliophile: pop culture and nine year old taste tests

The shelves burst with books. Each shuffles to the front, yearning with every inch of its papery heart to be named, examined, discussed. Which will be chosen this week? Find out, on a very special episode of Bibliophile.

Tickle Your Catastrophe! : imagining catastrophe in art, architecture and philosophy / edited by Frederick Le Roy, ... [et al.]. Gent : Academia Press, 2011.
I was unaware that "tickle your catastrophe" was a Shakespeare reference, King Henry the Fourth part II, by Falstaff, to be precise. Clearly, I need to turn in my English diplomas. Sections include the ruin motif in art and urban planning, catatrophism in general, catastrophe in media form in visual arts and film, and scenario thinking in public policy and artistic intervention.

Zen women : beyond tea ladies, iron maidens, and macho masters / Grace Jill Schireson ; foreword by Miriam Levering. Boston : Wisdom Publications, c2009.
I hear "zen master," I think "ninja." It's not my fault. It's television. And comic books. And so forth. The book attempts to provide exemplary Buddhist conduct by examining the historical roles of Buddhist women.

Why god won't go away : is the new atheism running on empty? / Alister McGrath. Nashville, Tenn. : Thomas Nelson, c2010.
I picture the Atheist-mobile, running on pure fumes and Hitchens juice. McGrath states that modern aetheism debates center around religion defending itself against charges; McGrath would like to flip that around, and attack the tenets of atheism. Reviewers praise the book particularly for its outlining of the modern atheist arguments, particularly those of Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

Better off dead : the evolution of the zombie as post-human / edited by Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. 1st ed. New York : Fordham University Press, 2011.
An anthology of everyone's favorite undead. After Vampires. And werewolves, generally. And personally, I prefer ghouls. And ghosts. But then it's zombies. Essay topics include Haitian rituals, zombies in radio dramas, zombies and cannibalism, postmodern cinema, the dawn of the dead series, performance art. I actually think the zombie fervor is dying down a bit, temporarily at least. Sure, shows like Walking Dead are still doing brisk business, but a few years ago, there was everything from Marvel Zombies to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I suppose vampires took some of the limelight, but even that's dying down (sorry). But in light of the upcoming Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, perhaps that's premature. If I had to explain it, I'd say that the key thing about the zombie is that it represents humanity reduced to its basic needs. In comparison, the human survivors in such a story always explore what it means to be human, because, in contrast, they demonstrate what it is to be a human beyond this immediate needs. Or something. It's not something I've really thought about, yet.

How to do things with videogames / Ian Bogost. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c2011.
I've already signed this one out. I'm a little torn on Bogost, to be honest. I think his books are generally well-written, and he clearly is a man who knows his area and a lot more besides. But I also find his public persona (especially his online persona) a little grating. It's over the top confrontational. From his tweets to his personal blog, it seems geared at confrontation, not because the confrontation will force important discussion, but because it'll generate him more hits. (This would be hypocritical if I was using Bogost's name here to get more hits myself, but let's be honest--if I was blogging for the hits, I would have retired long ago, for meager performance.) This book looks at videogames as they enter a maturing phase, and get applied in a variety of different ways. I have a feeling I need to read this immediately, and not just because it'll probably be at the top of the recall list.

Digital condition : class and culture in the information network / Rob Wilkie. 1st ed. New York : Fordham University Press, 2011.
Wilkie argues that the digital realm is increasing class difference and widening the gap between rich and poor. As might be expected from that description, he's taking a particularly Marxist view of the situation. It struck me as I was reading his introduction (available at amazon) that while the premise itself (digital worsens rich/poor gap) isn't new, Marxism in general isn't widely applied to digital economy--at least, not as anything more than the starting point. And that's part of his point; Wilkie argues that digital economy scholarship, with its emphasis on the nuances of subject positioning and turmoil, has emptied the word "class" so that it doesn't refer to the large disparities Marx saw, but to multifaceted aspects of society. Wilkie wants to return the word to its Marxist roots. If this sort of thing is your sort of thing, it might be worth looking at.

Strategies for achieving equity and prosperity in Saskatchewan / by Rick August. Ottawa, Ont. : Caledon Institute of Social Policy, c2006.
Noted for the mention of my home province. Although frankly, given traditional political sentiment, if you want Saskatchewanians to take your policies seriously, getting published in Ontario is probably not a good first step. On the other hand, the policy promotes reducing welfare and expanding employment, which is probably not going to get a lot of objections. I don't really have the background to argue economic policy (surprise) but I have to say, I'm suspicious of an economic policy that believes that financial social responsibility should be in the hands of citizens rather than government--first, because it rhetorically forgets that government is composed of citizens, and second, the free market isn't really known for its social responsibility. To his credit, August is addressing that issue somewhat, but I still have my doubts.

Performing sex : the making and unmaking of women's erotic lives / Breanne Fahs. Albany : State University of New York, Albany, c2011.
Fahs looks into whether women are really liberated, not from common perspectives of economic status or political prominence, but from sex itself: "half of all women report having faked orgasms; 45 percent of women find rape fantasies erotic; a growing number of women perform same-sex eroticism for the viewing benefit of men; and recent clinical studies label 40 percent of women as "sexually dysfunctional." I would like to note that the Amazon suggestion engine pairs this book with "Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva" by Debby Herbenick. Now THAT's a title.

Teen TV : genre, consumption, identity / edited by Glyn Davis and Kay Dickinson. London : BFI Pub., 2004.
Another day, another anthology. Considering the book was published 8 years ago, it's a little odd to see it added now; if nothing else, anyone who was a teen when these essays were written certainly isn't now. I can't seem to find any information about it other than the fact that it covers "Dawson's Creek", "Roswell", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Australia's "Heartbreak High"--all of which have been off the air a long time now. Given that I'm in the digital media field, I try to resist the constant pressure for something new, but I'm still somewhat dubious as to the point of adding this book to the university shelves now.

Performing American masculinities : the 21st-century man in popular culture / edited by Elwood Watson & Marc E. Shaw. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2011.
Here, on the other hand, is a pop culture anthology hot off the presses. Subjects include Seinfeld, OJ, Obama, "A Boy Named Sue," the metrosexual and advertising, and masculinity in dating. Hmmm. Okay, given this book's focus on past and current events,I take back my comments above; a book's relevance is not measured by its publication date.

Bytes and backbeats : repurposing music in the digital age / Steve Savage. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University of Michigan Press, c2011.
I think I've mentioned before how incredibly little I know about music. And adding digital theory to the mix does not make it any better. Still, this book's opening chapter is on Rock Band, and if that doesn't help, nothing will.

Archabet : an architectural alphabet : photographs / by Balthazar Korab.
Highlighted because I like the cut of that portmanteau jib. "Archabet." It's just a cool word. "A is for Arris, B is for Baluster..."

Alphabet and the algorithm / Mario Carpo. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2011.
Continuing the Alphabet focus, here's Carpo's book. He argues that we're shifting from a period of mass production of identical goods to one of mass customization, via the digital. And we're also continuing the architectural focus, as his argument is particularly about how our architectural design changes under this shift.

Media, popular culture, and the American century / edited by Kingsley Bolton and Jan Olsson. Stockholm : National Library of Sweden, c2010
There's a lot of pop culture anthologies this time round. And still, nothing on Gossip Girl. Shameful. As may be perhaps guessed from the juxtaposition of the title and the publishing location, this book is on the effect that American pop culture has had globally in the 20th century. The book seems to focus mainly on film influence, though there's some mention of television and digital stuff as well. It seems more media and genre based than specific pop culture artifacts, which is probably a good idea, all things considered.

Reading Derrida's of grammatology / edited by Sean Gaston and Ian Maclachlan.
I was in a graduate course where we read "Of Grammatology" to explain the political philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rosseau. To put that into perspective for the non-deconstructionists out there, that's like using a book on Freudian interpretations of child psychology to understand the plot of a Dr Seuss book.

Is that a fish in your ear? : translation and the meaning of everything / David Bellos. 1st American ed. New York : Faber and Faber, 2011.
I really hope this is a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference.

TARDISbound : navigating the universes of Doctor Who / Piers D. Britton. London ; New York : I.B. Tauris, 2011.
Mentioned to satisfy my inner sci-fi geek, which is a very large part of me. The book addresses the basic Dr Whovian issues: transmedia, sexuality, role of the companion, Doctor and the notion of evil. I would add an examination of the show's Britishness to the list of essential Who topics, but, well, it's not my book.

Politics of insects : David Cronenberg's cinema of confrontation / Scott Wilson. New York : Continuum, c2011.
I should watch more Cronenberg. So far, all I've seen is his Fly remake (deeply disturbing) and his eXistenZ (also very disturbing, but slightly less so).

Middle age spread : a For better or for worse collection / by Lynn Johnston. Kansas City [Mo.] : Andrews and McMeel, c1998.
Three For Better or For Worse collections are the sole contribution to the library's graphic novel section this week. With no ill will towards Johnston, I have to say, I think we can do better.

Particular sadness of lemon cake : a novel / Aimee Bender.
A 9 year old girl discovers that when she eats food, she can taste the emotional state of the people who cooked it--starting with her birthday cake, made by her mother. No one should ever be fully aware of the emotional state of their mothers, 9 year old girls included. I may check this one out; it strikes me as a more serious take on the same area examined in the comic book series Chew.

Conversations with Michael Crichton / edited by Robert Golla. Jackson : Univerhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifsity Press of Mississippi, c2011.
This reminds me of the gag on a later Simpsons episode where the family meets "the world's foremost John Grisham scholar," who plays selections of soundtrack from the Client when hosting dinner parties. I realize there's a bit of a discrepancy here, in that I'm the one who got excited about a book of interviews concerning Joss Whedon. Chrichton probably has a much better claim for relevance in general, given the influence he's had on pop culture, from Jurassic Park to ER.

These children who come at you with knives, and other fairy tales / Jim Knipfel. 1st Simon & Schuster pbk. ed. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2010.
I actually took this book out, based mostly on the title and my interest in fairy tales. The basic idea is that it's modern fairy tale stories. And I don't think I'll be finishing it. I've discussed this issue in great length in my of the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. There's this desire to revisit fantasy subjects and deliver a treatment that's more realistic and less "magic kingdom of wonder." And that's fine. But too often, the result is not so much realism as a kind of melodramatic fatalism that's not just as unbelievable as the fantasy tendencies it's reacting to, but also really depressing to boot. And that's what we're getting here. Knipfel's style leads me to believe he's a good writer, but the stories are so unpleasant, I don't know if I'll ever come back to him.

All flesh is grass [electronic resource] : plant-animal interrelationships / edited by Joseph Seckbach and Zvy Dubinsky.
This title strikes me as deeply disturbing, for reasons I can't fully articulate. (which at this point in the Bibliophile, translates to "for reasons I can't be bothered with, because I really want to wrap things up.")

And on that lazy note, let's call an end to this session of Bibliophile.

Later days.

Cleanliness is next to Fanaticism

Here's an image from the Atari 2600 manual for the game Plaque Attack. And yes, that is a terrified bon-bon, its only life line attached to the corpse of an ice cream cone with a toothbrush embedded in its chest. Activision is serious about fighting tooth decay.

Also, I clearly still don't understand how to make pictures.

Later Days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hallways and Computers: A Classy Segue It Ain't

I learned something about myself today. When entering a place where I'm going to take off my shoes and/or coat, I don't come in and do that immediately. Instead, I traipse in, take a few steps forward, and just sort of idle for a moment. I've become aware of this behavior for a while, but it's just today that I figured out why. When I was growing up, whenever I came home, it would be in someone's company. And in the childhood home, our hallway was pretty narrow. Since I was often one of the first in, I'd move forward as quickly as possible, to make room for the next person. And then I'd fidget a bit, so I wouldn't have to compete with them for reaching into the closet to hang things up. And this habit, apparently, has stuck with me, even after more than one year where I've lived alone. I'm not saying this particularly fascinating, or revealing, or even mildly interesting. I wonder, however, how many other habits I've perpetuated that I don't even notice.

And speaking of habit-forming activities, my laptop's back! Hurray! To the shop and back, in less than a week! Hurray! Wiped clean of all the data and information that I've put on it! Hurr---aw, nuts. I'm reasonably tranquil about this, because I've taken to backing up all my school stuff on Dropbox, a"a Web-based file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. that uses cloud storage to enable users to store and share files and folders with others." (Thank you, Wikipedia.) And anything before September of 2011 is backed up on external hard drives and my tabletop computer. The only thing that may be inevitably lost, then, is the data from the course I taught in the fall term on digital media. I sent the students and myself a list of their marks on every assignment before the course ended, so I still have those notes. And my own lectures were all written on looseleaf, and the course blog still exists. But a lot of my copies of the students' presentations may be gone for good. Still, that's a lot better than it could be. At least I didn't lose any research.

I also lost about 150 hours of play on Skyrim and Shining Force II. Not going to be getting those back in a hurry. I guess the cheesy accented Norses'll have to save themselves from the dragons.

Later Days.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My writing isn't constrained, it's tortuous.

This might wind up being a long 'un. To give you a taste of what you're in for, and let you judge whether you should bail now, here's some of the bullet points: blogging ethics, constrained writing, Christian Bök, installation art, the TV show Community, cliched sayings, consumer good vs. creative work, academia, and student projects. (Good God, am I writing a blog post or a dissertation chapter?)

Still here? Good. I had a conversation with two friends today about constrained writing, writing wherein the author deliberately puts some sort of restriction on the writing. And by "had a conversation" I mean, I walked in on them discussing the issue, and quickly picked a side. Our discussion went on for a bit, but it wasn't until I went for a run a little while later that what I should have said came to mind.

You may have noticed that I don't summarize conversations I had with friends very often here--or if I do, it's a deliberately one-sided account that minimizes everyone else's participation. That one-sidedness is only mostly because of my tremendous ego. The other part is that I feel that I don't have any right to speak for others, even in summary--at least, not in a public, semi-permanent forum like this blog. That puts me in a bit of a conundrum when I get into a discussion I want to blog about. If I was being really fair, I'd probably take these ideas back to the friends in question, we'd hash out some concept over a long discussion, agree to write the blog post together, and slowly let it collapse due to the difficulty in coordinating for such a length of time for such a minor result. Instead, I opted for expediency. I'm stretching my non-involvement of others rule to its limits here, and I acknowledge that, and apologize in advance for misrepresenting anyone. (It's also ironic, for reasons that will become apparent later, that I'm testing limits with this post. But more on that later.)

Constrained writing--and here's my first paraphrasing, since it was the term one of the friends came up with--is simply when an author places some sort of constraint on themselves in their writing. It could be that short story Carol Shields does where she doesn't use the letter "e." It could be something as simple as a poem where every other line rhymes. The best example, I think, is another one purloined from the original conversation: Christian Bök's Eunoia, a book of poetry wherein each of the five chapters is composed of poems whose words contain only one of the five vowels. So the "e" chapter has a lot of words like "eke" and "seen" and so forth. And Bök places other rules on himself("borrowed," this time, from Wikipedia):
Each of the chapters must refer to the art of writing.
Each of the chapters have "to describe a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage."
All the sentences have to have an "accent internal rhyme through the use of syntactical parallelism."
The text has to include as many possible words in it as it can.
The text must avoid repeating words as much as possible.
The letter "Y" is to be avoided.

Bok's book is perfect, because it encapsulates both sides of the argument: the obvious challenge of the endeavor, and seeming pointlessness of it. And that, paraphrasing villainously, was my other friend's argument against constrained writing, one that I agreed with: at the end of the day, it seems to fail the question of "why bother?". You place all these rules and restrictions--albeit very interesting rules and restrictions--on the writing process, and the result is a subpar poem that doesn't make a lot of sense.

When I got thinking more and more about it, I realized that my issue with the constrained poetry was similar to my issue with nonrepresentational art, mostly in terms of installation art, but also abstract as well (and if the reference to abstract makes you think I'm basing this on the chapter from the W. J. T. Mitchell book I read a little while ago, you wouldn't be far off.). Namely, that even if the end result is interesting, and I'll fully acknowledge that installation art can come up with some pretty damn interesting end results, the original idea is more interesting to me than than those results. With Eunoia, for example, the poems are mildly amusing, but ultimately rather banal. It's the original idea and constraints that are worth talking about. Why bother, then, with the final product, if it's just a mediocre, pale instantiation? Why not leave an interesting thought experiment as an interesting thought experiment?

Well, you can't put a thought experiment in a gallery, for one thing--or show it on TV. I think that's one of the albatrosses that were weighing on the neck of the show formerly known as Community. It had clever ideas. It had more clever ideas than it knew what to do with (or, more importantly, than the audience knew what to do with). Create a flashback episode filled with flashbacks that never happened? Clever idea. Do an episode where there's a conspiracy theory about the class on conspiracy theory? Clever idea. Construct an episode around an elaborate mash-up of Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre that uses Cougar Town as the basis of a discussion of what it means to be a genuine human? That's so clever you're going to need an extra bucket to mop up the cleverness that's slopping over the side. And that's the problem. The show is so busy with its high concepts sometimes that it forgets to put similar effort into the execution. (Compare it to Modern Family, which has the opposite problem--the high quality writing and cast performances have to do everything they can to distract the audience from the fact that the actual plots are derivative, utterly cliche, and tired.) And as much as I love this show--and I do love it, every Cougar Town bit of it--I have to admit that, sometimes, its big idea is the main attraction, and the episode itself should have stayed at home.

So the direction I appear to be flailing toward, then, is keep the idea and lose the product. But that equation is missing an important step, maybe the most step. To return to the original discussion, the pro-constraint friend argued that by placing such constraints on language, you push it to its limits, and it's at the limits that things get interesting. I agree with this wholeheartedly. When I've written under constraints, whether it's creative writing (thanks NaNoWriMo) or poetry or whatever, the process is infinitely rewarding. And I imagine it's the same for the constrained writers, the poets, the installation artists, all the way down to Community's noble cast and crew. The process is the most important part of a constrained work, or perhaps any work. Creation under such restrictive conditions becomes a process of personal revelation and amazement--at least, for the artist.

For the audience, the response can range from a similar fascination (especially if you're familiar with the artist, the idea, and the method), to a sort of confused boredom, to, at worst, a feeling that you're being excluded. There's nothing quite so unfunny as a joke you think might be on you. And that's a problem, one that goes all the way from modernist art to the Neilsen demographics: sometimes, the work of art seems like nothing but a joke that you're not in on. How good is a poem from Eunoia if you don't have the list of constraints he's operating from? To me, the most interesting part of these constrained, experimental practices isn't the final product, but the process and emotional responses that lead to it. I'd much rather watch a documentary on Jackson Pollock than go to one of his galleries.

For what it's worth, I think one of the best solutions, in the classroom, at least, to the process/product problem is the one routinely exercised by a professor I took a course from in the first year of my doctorate. He has his students do their final project, and encourages them to be creative and innovative--that is, baffling, as the end result often winds up being. But he also has them write an essay explaining both the project and the process of creating the project, and how both sprang from and contributed to an overarching idea. If po-mo artists had to stand next to their work and cite sources, I'd be a lot happier. (This method particularly fails when it comes to Community, I'll admit, unless you happen to be a viewer with Joel McHale on speed dial.)

But there's one more side of this process-product-constrained writing thing I want to consider. I'm sure everyone here's familiar with the saying "It's not the destination, it's the journey." The thing is, for most people, after a day's work, they don't give a brass monkey about the journey(ie. process); they want the destination (product), thanks. There's a whole heap of problems with this view, as you can sweep a lot of inhuman practices under the rug by ignoring how a product gets to the hands of the consumer. But in a mass production society, it's the product that matters. Two and Half Men is a terrible, terrible show, but it is what is says on the tin: it's a comedy. Make 22 episodes a year, run it until it becomes completely unprofitable, then milk it in syndication for another five years. Put it to pasture for a few more, and you can bring it back out--as retro nostalgia. A well marketed mass-produced television product never dies, it just temporarily depreciates.

And here, if anywhere, is the place to champion constrained writing and all its ilk and brethren. Because if there's anything constrained writing needs to be, it's unique. Once it's reached the point of convention, it ceases to be constraint at all and becomes another genre. Constrained writing's uniqueness, however, is not in the final product, as a perusal of my personal scapegoat Bok will tell you. It comes from the big idea, and it comes from the process of making that idea from something abstract to something tangible. The process is the best part, and it's where installation art meets folk art, where Community meets stand-up.

And that's not to say that my divisions are absolute either--there's usually at least a glimmer of interesting nuggets even in the most soulless of corporate products, and constrained writing fits into mass economy just like everything else. Sometimes I want a box of Kraft Dinner, and sometimes I want a meal I made from scratch (okay, with me personally, the weight's on the former's side, but the metaphor stands.) To grossly paraphrase my friend's early point, the interesting stuff is found when you push something to its limits, but the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

And as for constraints--I bet you didn't realize this, but I wrote a WHOLE POST WITHOUT USING FRENCH! It's true! Sacre bleu!

....Awwwwww nuts.

Later Days.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bibliophile: The Truth is Out There. Or Not. Whatever.

Take a page from my book by looking at the books on my page. Webpage, that is. It's time for Bibliophile.

Deleuze and Guattari's immanent ethics : theory, subjectivity, and duration / Tamsin Lorraine. Albany : State University of New York Press, c2011.
And here's this week's Deleuze and Guattari number. From what I can tell from the press description, Lorraine is arguing that Deleuze and Guattari's work can be applied to everyday life, ethical living, and, in particular, feminist approaches. Sounds fine, if that's your cup of tea.

Curious visions of modernity : enchantment, magic, and the sacred / David L. Martin. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2011.
Martin looks at the various artifacts collected in and by figures of modernity, and argues that these artifacts show a slippage from the rationalist, Enlightenment view towards a fascination with magic and wonder. I don't really think that this is an unexpected finding; a lot of science is about pushing its edges to see what comes out. And something like rationalist thinking requires an opposite number to oppose it to. But the artifacts themselves would probably make for a pretty interesting discussion.

On London / Dickens. London : Hesperus Press, c2010.
Apparently, it's a collection of all the various things Dickens wrote about London. A number of years ago now, I was in a graduate course on Kent (the place) and spatial theory; I was assigned Dickens' "Great Expectations" and given the assignment to write on how Dickens uses space in general and London in particular. This book may have been helpful. If only there was some way to get it to 2006 Person of Con. I'll admit, call number wise, it's a little odd that it's in the history section rather than the literary section.

Sparta at war : strategy, tactics, and campaigns, 550-362 BC / Scott M. Rusch. Barnsley : Frontline Books, 2011.
Is this book about madness? No... THIS.... BOOK... IS.... ABOUT... SPARTA!

Conspiracy rising : conspiracy thinking and American public life / Martha F. Lee. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, c2011.
I like the concept here. Going from the table of contents, topics will include the Free Masons and 9-11. But what about the Kennedy assassination? Elvis sightings? Area 51? The Birthers? When you think about it, the history of the USA is really one big long list of conspiracy theories. It doesn't look like the book is big on theory, but if "you want to believe" or really, really don't, it might be worth reading.

Decade of dark humor : how comedy, irony, and satire shaped post-9/11 America / edited by Ted Gournelos and Viveca Greene. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, c2011.
Continuing on depressing American topics, we have this book. Topics include The Daily Show, The Onion, The Colbert Report, Boondocks, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, The Boondocks, Rescue Me, Farenheit 9/11, and South Park. You know, all the sources I use instead of actual news. (And while I'm not opposed to the message, let's admit it: the phrase "the temperature where freedom burns" is pretty much nonsense.)

Why should anyone buy from you? : earn customer trust to drive business success / Justin Basini. Harlow, England ; New York : Financial Times/Prentice Hall Pearson, 2011.
I originally read this title as "Why Should Anyone Buy You?" and imagined a how-to guide for indentured servitude.

Face-to-face communication over the internet : emotions in a web of culture, language and technology / [edited by] Arvid Kappas, Nicole C. Krämer. Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2011.
I always feel obligated to add at least one digital media-related study. The book includes chapters on visual, face-to-face based internet technology (think Skype), avatar communication, and emotional and visual cues in HCI (Human Computer Interaction). I suspect it's more social sciences oriented than I'm interested in, but it's one of those "I'm glad someone's doing it" sort of books for me.

Among the truthers : a journey through America's growing conspiracist underground / Jonathan Kay. 1st ed. New York : Harper, c2011.
Two American conspiracy books in one week. Perhaps it's part of some sinister retail plan. Kay's study is both more focused (looking at a single conspiracy theory, albeit a very broad one) and more personal than Lee's, as it's Kay's personal accounts after attending numerous Truther conferences, and conducting many interviews. The Globe and Mail review argues that the focus on how the Internet aided the spread of these messages is missing the point, and if we want to assess how the Truthers have changed discourse, "Look to yourself, not the Web, for the answer." Well, as any good McLuhanite could tell you, the form a message takes is important, and while it's easy to imagine the 9/11 conspiracy perpetuating without the Net to spread it (again, see the Kennedy assassination theories), it certainly wouldn't have unfolded in the same way. And the opposition between "real people" and "the Internet" is one of those mildly technophobic binaries that's bread and butter for the digital scholar.

Lazier murder : Prince Edward County, 1884. Sharpe, Robert J.
That's the 1884 murder of Peter Lazier, not a book on the lazy murdering techniques of the late 19th century. "Oh, I wanted to kill him, but his house is a half hour's ride by carriage, so I just strangled one of the servants instead."

Analyzing Mad men : critical essays on the television series / edited by Scott F. Stoddart. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2011.
Just in time for season 5! Essays cover such topics as the show's subversion of classical American mythology and loyalty and conflict in the organization; melodrama and utopia; Every Woman is a Jackie or a Marilyn, and the Problematics of Nostalgia; Surface Realism and Deliberate Anachronism. If theoretical analysis of modern day interpretations of the 60s is your bag, then this book... fits in that bag? I never really got that metaphor.

Media mediocrity : waging war against science : how the television makes us stoopid! / Richard Zurawski. Black Point, N.S. : Fernwood Pub., c2011.
One of my pet peeves is how, from Big Bang Theory to Sherlock, Western pop culture continually seems to have this anti-intellectual bent. Unfortunately, it's a thin line between pet peeve and snobbish intellectual elitism. I try, dammit. And apparently, I've gotten up on my soapbox for nothing, because what the book is actually about is how television presents misleading or outright wrong scientific information.

Conspiracy films : a tour of dark places in the American conscious / Barna William Donovan. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2011.
Seriously, there's a lot of conspiracy-based books out this week. Donovan adopts a decade-by-decade approach, covering The Manchurian Candidate, JFK, the Matrix, and the Da Vinci Code, to look at how entertainment capitalizes on our fascination with paranoia.

Galaxy is rated G : essays on children's science fiction film and television / edited by R.C. Neighbors and Sandy Rankin. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2011.
Here's one that I'd find personally interesting. Topics include deviant bodies in Lilo & Stitch and Monsters Inc; Feminist Consciousness Raising in Monsters vs. Aliens (?); performing gender and romance in WALL-E; Buzz Lightyear and the refusal to believe; failure of utopia in Star Wars; Pluralistic discourse in Transformers; false nostalgia in Iron Giant; Dr. Who as British; Jetsons and patriarchy; Lost in Space and the Space Race. So yeah, a wide variety of topics and issues. Personally, I would have preferred to see a few more shows I'm familiar with, say Ben 10 (identity and transformation), or Gargoyles (portrayals of magic and science), but it's a good list.

From social butterfly to engaged citizen : urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement / edited by Marcus Foth ... [et al.] ; epilogue by Judith Donath.
That's a mouthful of a title. Humanities scholarship in general seems to have an abiding interest in how digital technology can support "citizen engagement" so this collection definitely has an audience. Topics include social networking, locative-based interaction narratives, mobile phone use, and open-source possibilities. Interesting, if decidedly a touch utopian. It's particularly interesting that this book is placed with the technology section, rather than the digital, social section earlier.

Gröbner bases in commutative algebra / Viviana Ene, Jürgen Herzog. Providence, R.I. : American Mathematical Society, c2012.
My 2004 undergraduate research project was on Grobner bases. (Invariant Grobner bases, to be specific.) I couldn't tell you a single thing about them now. Such is the price of 7 years in the humanities. So it goes.

Cake couture : modern sugar-craft for the stylish baker. Buffalo, N.Y.. : Firefly Books, 2011. Dam, Annie.
This is listed between a book on vacuum deposition on films and a book on the nuclear arms race. I really don't understand how the Library of Congress classification works in the "T" section.

Casual game design [electronic resource] : designing play for the gamer in all of us / Gregory Trefry.
Game stuff always gets mentioned. Even if it's casual game design, a topic which prompts me to emit a preemptive derisive sigh. Actually, browsing through the table of contents, it looks like Trefry knows his stuff. We've got design principles, a history of casual gaming, and a stamp from IGDA, the International Game Developers' Assocation. I like that he seperates casual gaming genres into game mechanic principles. There's matching (Bejewelled, Snood), Sorting (Klondike and Spider Solitaire), Sorting (Mystery Case Files, Azada), Managing (Dinner Dash, Cake Mania), Hitting (Whack-A-Mole, Wii Tennis), Constructing (Tetris, Crayon Physics), Stacking (World of Goo, Jenga) and socializing (Rock Band, Guitar Hero). Even if the subject's not my favorite, I do appreciate the nuances he's bringing to the table and the recognition that not all casual games are created equal.

Leve[up arrow] up! [electronic resource] : the guide to great video game design / Scott Rogers.
All right, this doesn't leave me with a lot of enthusiasm for another video game design book, even a "great" one. An extremely cursory perusal suggests that the book is a handbook, designed to supplement readings in an undergraduate course on game design. It's extremely user-friendly (perhaps to the point of being dumbed down) and it certainly gets its point across.

What philosophy can tell you about your cat [electronic resource] / edited by Steven D. Hales.
If we weren't at the end of the list and I wasn't facing blogger's fatigue, I'd be all over this. As it is, best essay title goes to "Many Ways to Skin a Cat." I'm reasonably sure no cats were actually skinned in researching the essay.

And on that note, we've reached the end.
Later Days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The $1300 lesson in self-esteem

Exactly where things began to go wrong... well, there are a few theories on that. There was a warning sign of sorts a few days ago, where my audio started to get periodically choppy--was this the sign of larger problems, or just a momentary blip? Or it may have happened yesterday, when I slipped on some ice and went ass over heels flat on my back, landing largely on the artifact in question. Whatever the cause, my very expensive, very still new laptop's hard drive decided it had enough of this vale of tears, and shuffled off the electronic coil last night.

My computer froze last night, and upon turning it back on, I received the message that it detected no bootable drive. I then spent a few hours in my office running diagnostics routines (the only programs that still functihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifoned), a few more hours downstairs in the computer lab verifying that the results meant what I thought they meant, and finally a few more hours in my office on the phone with Dell tech support. Not the best way to spend a Friday night. (Not my worst, though, which is depressing in a different way.) The first guy on tech support was less than helpful; since I said the final freeze had happened while I was playing a game, he insisted that my problem was with the game manufacturers. I was not particularly displeased when ohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifur call was cut off (or, possibly, he got sick of me and hung up). The second response was much more helpful, identifying the problem and coming up with the same answer I did, the faulty hard drive. So they're sending out a self-addressed box for me to ship the thing back out to them for repairs. I figure it'll be about a month or so before we're back up to full business.

The interesting thing in the whole affair (besides the lesson in dealing with overworked, underpaid tech people) and probably the only positive note is my own reaction. Years ago, I did , discussing how I'd feel personally guilty when something went wrong with my computer. This time--well, I'm annoyed, and not thrilled about the work setbacks and readjustments. But I'm not really blaming myself. Could I have been more careful with the laptop? Well, maybe, and I'll certainly take more care when I get it back. But it's not like I was overly negligent, either. I bought it for my computer needs and used it accordingly. I like to think my lack of guilt is part of the new outlook I'm trying to move toward. Essentially, bad things happen; just because they happen to you doesn't make you a bad person. And good thing happen too; the key is to face both the good and bad with grace. It's nice to know that wherever my self-esteem is these days, it isn't tied up in things I can't control, or in second-guessing myself. It would have been even nicer to know that without the cost in efficiency, time, and dollar signs, but, well, live and learn, I guess.

Later Days.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Quotations: Apparently, He Didn't Believe in Worshiping Celebratory Figures Either

"The fact that Kennedy was a howling little shit doesn't prove that there wasn't a plot to do him in. Indeed, like many a godfather before him, he may have been slain by precisely the same forces that he himself set in motion." --Christopher Hitchens, 1992.

I love the personality that comes through in this quotation. Here's a guy who refused to acknowledge any idol, in multiple senses of the word.

Later Days.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Videogame Cosplay: Easy Post Topic, or Lazy Post Topic?

Can't it be both? Let's continue where we left off with yesterday's list.

I tried to look up cosplay instances for the videogame Centipede, but all I got was Human Centipede cosplay. ...I would recommend not looking up centipede cosplay. Ever.

Missile Command doesn't have cosplay, but it does have this nifty skirt--which is, frankly, better graphics than the actual game:

I'm pretty sure that the guy in this costume didn't have "Oscar's Trash Race" in mind when he donned it, but I am not picky. It counts.

(The manual for "Oscar's Trash Race," incidentally, is streets ahead of any other for the Atari that I've looked at. Its user-friendly, kid-friendly approach makes it much different from virtually all other contenders. Plus, the second half is a straight up coloring book.)

There's actually a fair bit of cosplay out there for Pac-Man, but I went with this image, just because the ghosts seemed like they were having fun.

Here's something worth seeing. Or at least something you'll never forget. In honor of the 1982 Atari game Raiders of the Lost Ark, here's someone cosplaying the face-melting scene. Oh, and, um, spoiler alert.

Next: Wile E. Coyote cosplay, in tribute to the Road Runner game. No Road Runner cosplay, though. The absence of Road Runner probably increases Coyote's quality of life.

...That's enough for now.
Later days.