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.