Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Now, if only someone would invite me on other blogs to do a guest post. HINT HINT.

I gave a guest lecture for an introductory class on popular culture today.  The subject, as longtime readers may have guessed, was video games.  More specifically, it was game studies; I went through the general history of the field and the important approaches As I See Them.  That meant starting with narratology and ludology, then moving into platform studies, paratextual studies, procedural rhetoric, ethnography, and gender studies. And since I basically know nothing about gender studies, that mostly consisted of me explaining how misogynist a lot of gamers are, and a lot of people in the industry. I started things off with a video of an EVE Online super battle that happened a few days ago, to demonstrate both how involved games can be (the fight cost over thousand players approximately $20 000 worth of damage, and destroyed months of work for many of them) but also to demonstrate how difficult it is to study games in an authoritative way; to get the point where you'd be able to say you're an expert scholar studying EVE Online, you'd have to spend literally hundreds of hours embedding yourself in the community and mastering the system. Other highlights included a compare and contrast between early NES commercials and Wii commercials; a very long, rambling story about It Came From the Desert and the struggles of small town geologists; and more examples than I cared to think about concerning how a lot of videogame players are pretty miserable human beings. 

I've interacted with the introductory pop culture class a few times, with different sets of students, and it's always a bit of a crapshoot.  Sometimes, you get students who are really thrilled to have a chance to talk about the things they watch and play everyday; sometimes, you get students from every discipline except the humanities, and they're there because they assumed it'd be an easy course, and they're not going to talk without a figurative gun to their head.  There's nothing wrong with their critical skills, I hasten to add; some of the best students I've ever had the pleasure of teaching come from other critical disciplines.  I think the problem is that the discussion format that the humanities try to encourage is a very different mindset than the more lecture-based class, and sometimes the adjustment from one to the other doesn't go smoothly. This group didn't talk a lot, but I got a few responses, when I waited long enough.

The other problem as far communication goes, much as I'm loathe to admit it, is the subject area. I'm so immersed in game studies and video game culture that I sometimes forget there are people were really don't care about videogames at all.  For some students, they're not engaging because it's a subject matter that, right off the bat, just doesn't interest them.  Games--or at least certain kinds of games--are niche.  But that's the good thing about doing these lectures; it reminds me that there are more points of view than the ones I'm situated in.  That's one of the big advantages of teaching undergraduate classes that have such a wide range of students--there's a chance, even if it's just a sliver, that you'll learn something too.  ....That's a pretty sappy note to go out on.  Still true, though.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bibliophile: Gagaing on History, Vampires, and Porn at the University of Northern British Columbia

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
― Oscar Wilde
This is Bibliophile.

Welcome to my weekly segment where I take a Canadian university, and search its library catalogue for interesting new books to comment on. As always, a bold H following an entry denotes that the book is held in my local university library.
I've had a bit of an odd hurdle today; I'm having trouble finding an appropriate university library to plumb. Normally, I just take whatever comes next from Wikipedia's list of Canadian Universities. But with under 500 students, University Canada West doesn't so much have a library as it has a few shelves that happen to contain books on them.  And the next up, University of Fraser Valley, might have a very fine collection, but its library website has currently disappeared, so it's off the list too. So that brings us to door number 3, the University of Northern British Columbia.  It doesn't have a new book page, and you can search by year, but only if you specify a subject,title, author, or keyword.  Ah, so it's going to be one of THOSE.  The first twelve books that have been published in 2013, fit the keywords I randomly choose, and strike my eye as interesting, after the break.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Quotations: Swallow You Whole

To get the full experience of this one, or at least, to experience it like I did, scroll through the lyrics while the video's playing. I won't post them here, but, well, you know how to use the Internet. Go to, brave wanderer.

So this is Jonathan Coulton's "Creepy Doll." I've been on a Coulton kick lately--I can't get his (not Glee's) arrangement of "Baby Got Back" out of my head, as politically incorrect as the song is--and I've been going through his discography. And then I stumbled on this. Like I said, I was scrolling through the lyrics while I was listening, and it freaked me out.  Italics necessary. I had to actually stop the song right there, and I still haven't listened to it all the way through.  And this got me thinking: exactly what is it about this song that bothers me so much?  It walks a fine line between horror and almost comedy; not many ghost stories contain the lines "you want to go antiquing," nor do they have a horror from beyond that tells you you should lay off the sugar.  And yet... freaked out I was.  I considered, then, the stories throughout my life that have bothered me the most, my own private nightmare fuel, to borrow TVTropes' phrase The list, in case you were wondering, includes that video with the giant babies I stumbled on a year or two back, Christopher Pike's "Whisper of Death," and "The Drum," from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (And check out the illustrations from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I asked my parents for multiple books in this bunch; I must have been insane.) So what do all of these things have in common? I've narrowed it down to two criteria:

 1) A sense of inevitability. In all four of these artifacts, there's almost immediately a feeling that things are going to go wrong.  "The Drum" uses the rule of three to escalate the little girls' acts, and you just know that something terrible is going to happen the third time.  In "Whisper of Death," a short story describes the death of each character in allegorical fashion, just before it happens. Drakengard's ending works through foreboding music, and a sense of apocalypse. And Creepy Doll--there, it was the lyrics, and the chorus.  Each one of these works to establish dread for what's going to happen; it's less about surprise, and more about the the feeling that you can't stop what's happening.

2) A swerve from reality.  Each of these also contains something entirely inexplicable. It's something that not only couldn't happen in the real world, but, from the protagonists' point of view, it shouldn't be possible within their world either.   It's a dismantling of reality as we know it, the revelation at the end that it was not only inevitable, but entirely beyond your understanding; somebody was playing with a different rule set, and you didn't know until the game was over, and you'd lost.

(As a corollary, you'd think, by these qualifications, that I'd rank Lovecraft's stories pretty highly, but to be honest, they've never really bothered me.  Yes, there's a sense of inevitability, but the swerve isn't the same, especially after your first Lovecraft story; you know the punchline's going to be "and it couldn't be comprehended by mortal minds" and as long as that's the assumed premise, it's not a swerve anymore. )

So now that I've identified what I fear, I take away its power, right?  I should be able to face that song no problem, now.  *tries to watch*  Nope, still terrifying.  And worse now, because I know why. 

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Next, I learn what the buttons on my iPhone do

I just figured out that you could use Google to search specific sites for key terms. Considering the nature of game journalism, where many quality articles are buried in the push to produce, and tagging is less then well-planned, this is useful for my research. So I got to feel like an idiot AND learned something useful. It's win-win! Later Days.

Book Triad: Vampire Heroes, Speculative Philosophy, and a Literal Stairway to Heaven

It's reading week, which admittedly doesn't mean a lot for a grad student who is doing a research assistanceship for a term. Mostly, I just appreciate having fewer students around campus, as I am essentially an agoraphobic misanthrope.  I'm also between chapters at the moment, so I'm trying to capitalize on the week to capitalize on doing all the research I need to do to focus really hard on the next one. 

But that focus is clearly shot, because here I am doing a blog post book triad.  Reviews of

Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural by Victoria Nelson
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Circus Philosophicus by Graham Harman

after the break.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bibliophile: Breaking the Code at University of Victoria

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”
― Oscar Wilde

This is Bibliophile.

After the break, we'll be going to the University of Victoria.  They've got a lovely new titles page, and 488 new books last week.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Random Quotations: Oh That's Right, I Used to Do These

"On this trip two distinct sides of my personality struggled for dominance. In one respect I had never been in a more scientific and skeptical frame of mind. Under the influence of acquaintances, I had become a zealous (though temporary) devotee of the living German thinker Thmas Metzinger, who reduces all problems of philosophy to questions of the brain. His Being No One, that remorseless opus magnum, now emboldened me to scoff at the assorted ghosts, fairies, and unicorns that filled the philosophies of the unlearned, with the their fear of scientific rigor. At times this new standpoint even awoke a spirit of physical assertion: though it was highly out of character, I remember once feeling the wish to shove several priests as they passed by me on a sidewalk in Chennai." --Graham Harman, Circus Philosophicus

I'm reading through this book; there should be a proper review up shortly, as it's a brief read at 80 pages or so.  For now: man, Harman's weird.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Quick Rant

Okay, this is probably a point that deserves proper fleshing out, but frankly, I don't have the time or inclination.  So here you go:

I do a lot of research and interaction with pop culture stuff.  And a lot of it is sexist, degrading, violent, racist, homophobic, and otherwise pandering to various lowest common denominators.  And people complain.  And people defend the products against the complaints, usually with some variant like this: Hey, smut sells.  It's just biology.  They're giving the people what they want. They're running a business. You can't blame them for going where the money is.  They have a responsibility to their shareholders to do what's profitable. 

And I call bullshit.  Yes, companies have a responsibility to their shareholders.  They also have a responsibility to the society they're a part of.  A responsibility to not make things worse.  A responsibility to be better. Everyone does.  (See related principle: don't be a jerk.)

Money isn't the only relevant metric for measuring success.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bibliophile: He Shoots, He Glowers! : The classic NHL gothic romance that never was, and some books that actually exist from University of BC

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid

This is Bibliophile.

We're returning to University of British Columbia this week, the largest university in BC (apparently, population-wise; I would have assumed the biggest was Simon Fraser, so there you go). 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Melancholy Meanderings on a Most Monstrous Moment

Person of Consequence, you might ask, what did you do today?  Did anything interesting happen?

Oh, no, I answer.  Only THE MOST ANNOYING THING EVER.  Whatever was it?  Sit back, folks, and I will regale you with the Tale of the Board-Bound Key.

First: I have a laptop.  I have an M-14X Alienware gaming laptop.  I love it.  I need it.  I strongly suspect I can't live without it. That is the problem.
Second: I have a Book Hug. I got it for Christmas. It is one of these:
It's the metal thing holding up the book, in case that isn't clear.  For someone who spends a lot of time typing passages from books into computers, it is also essential.  Between this, the rain cover for my backpack, and the wool socks, my mother has been bang on this year in giving me things I desperately needed without knowing it.

Today, however, my beloved laptop and my beloved book hug ran afoul of my stupid hands (Futurama reference), which proceeded to drop the book hug on the laptop's keyboard from an unfortunately high height.  The result was that it dislodged the "m" key.  Not knocked off, mind you--just dislodged.  I could, conceivably, kept on typing, with only a minor annoyance.

But now.  Like a scab on the knee, I couldn't resist pulling at it.  Poking at it.  Whirling it around and around like a ten year old twisting a loose tooth in its socket.  And just like those teeth, it suddenly came loose. I was suddenly holding three pieces in my hand: the key itself, a small plastic tab, and a large plastic tab.  I then spent about fifteen minutes trying desperately to get the piece back in place. It prompted this facebook post (heretoafter posted in bold; responses will be posted in italics): 

Is there anyone here who has ever successfully put back a key that has fallen out of laptop? Is there any useful advice? Bonus: try to guess which key is absent. It's not one that I've had to hit on this post...

which prompted the quick response  I'm going with "m," assuming that you couldn't write "my" laptop. Sound detective work, sir.

I also got one piece of good advice:
I found tweezers helpful when one of *redacted*'s popped off awhile back. 
I requisitioned my roommate's tweezers, and continued. I began to peruse the internet for help. Laptop Repair 101 had some very nice pictures, but they also advise removing another key to see how everything fits together, and that was clearly madness. Replace Laptop Keys had a free video of someone actually putting the pieces back together, and had a different video for dozens of models. (And no, I'm not being paid for advertising.  I just think people should know, dammit.) So that gave me the idea of what to do, but not how to do it.  I struggled for about an hour to come up with something, anything, to do...
 In case anyone's wondering how the repair's going: Aaaaaaagh. Why do I have such tiny hands if the fingers attached to said hands are too thick for anything useful?
And yes, there's a dirty response to this question, but I'll  thank you to keep your mind out of the gutter. But shortly after this, I had my first major breakthrough:
Yeah, I've been working a pair of tweezers into the routine. They're co-ing in handy. Pun INTENDED. Oooh, I got the two plastic tabs to fit together. That's pro--- that's pro--- that's a good step.

The lack of an m, despite the relatively small number of common words that use it, really hindered the comedy there; co-e instead of come really detracts from the "handy" bit, and the Porky the Pig stammering doesn't really work unless you can deliver more of the word "promising."  The art suffers, you know?  But once I figured out which side of each tab was up, how the two fit together, and which had to be connected to the keyboard first, it all fell into place. 

Then it was a simple matter of mashing the keyboard button into place until it clicked.  That was actually a pretty weird part; it was like following a precision surgery with a blunt hammer.


This is going to be a fun day to explain to my supervisor tomorrow.

Indeed, Facebook me.  Indeed.
All in all, I was very lucky.  None of the pieces were broken, either in the original error or my ham-fisted attempts to fix it. And I managed to do something actually requiring manual dexterity, which doesn't pay off outside of a videogame very often.  But it all worked out in the end, and I learned a valuable lesson:

Don't drop your book hug on a keyboard.

Sage advice.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Too Long for a Tweet, Too Niche for a Facebook Post

I just started reading Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch.  The premise is, so far, that the various supernatural creatures of good and evil are managed by the Night Watch, which tries to push things towards Good, and the Day Watch, who push toward Evil.  Rather than open warfare, though, there's just the general acknowledgment that they're too different agencies working toward preserving a general balance.  There's something fundamentally Russian about taking the battle between good and evil and turning it into an ill-running bureaucracy.

Later Days.

Bibliophile: Doing Something About the Weather at Trinity Western

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Groucho Marx

After a brief hiatus, Bibliophile is back.  After the break, we have discussion of some new books available at Trinity Western University.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Friday Quotations: Jealous of the Sparkle

"As Claire Kahane has shown, the underlying hint of father-daughter romantic love predicated on an absent mother is a central subtext of the Gothick women's romance, and (for the first three books anyway) Bella the emotional orphan clearly craves this kind of masterful paternal attention."  --Victoria Nelson, Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural

1) Sorry it's a day late.
2) Sorry for the quotation. Insulting Twilight is admittedly grasping the low hanging fruit.  In this case, it should probably be noted that Nelson did add that proviso that the relationship between them changes dramatically in book 4, and that it is essential that Bella chooses to become a vampire, insisting that their relationship be one of equals.  ...The books themselves still annoy me, though.  I have nothing against the fans, but the books...I'll stick to my Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher for my urban fantasy, thanks.

Later Days.