Saturday, May 31, 2014

Conference post-preceedings.

Blog's taken a turn towards the diary/confessional tone of late. Well, we'll see where it takes us. I'm sure I'll get the urge to get all scholarly sooner or later. And really, considering my current profession, the two overlap to a fairly high degree.

First: the conference. It was a lot of fun. Our local Game Institute meetings are a pale shadow of yesteryear, which mainly means I get much less chance to talk about videogames with my colleagues than I used to. (My roommate lends a sympathetic ear, bless her heart, but even the world's most sympathetic ear can't entirely hide the sight of eyes glazing over.) So this was a great opportunity to hear some philosophy and videogames. I think what I like most about the Canadian Game Studies Association is that it has a nice balance of age and gender--while it definitely skews towards dudes, the women and gaming panel--called "Sweetheart This Ain't Gender Studies," in a nod to Supernatural--showed how much interest there is. Anyway, I'll give you the detailed run-down on what I found interesting. It'll be detailed, because it's Saturday night and I don't have anything better to do, right? (Weeps inwardly.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times

It's been a weird two days, with another two weird ones to follow. The Congress of the Humanities is happening in St. Catherines, and has been since last Friday. For those not in the know, Congress is basically the Woodstock of Canadian Humanities academics; all the associations that aren't quite big enough to hold regular meetings of their own hold their annual conferences during the same week span, and this year, St. Catherines gets to be the lucky host. This year, I'm delivering a a 10 minute work-in-progress paper for the Canadian Game Studies Association, which runs from the 28th to the 29th. My presentation is 9 am Wednesday morning. The downside is that my ride to St Catherines is picking me up at 6:50 am to make the drive there in time; the upside is, with the presentation happening so early in the conference, I'll be able to relax for the rest of the two days. Last year, the only major conference I went to put my presentation at the very last panel of the day, and it was both nerve-wracking, as it was looming over me the entire conference, and depressing, as most people had gone home, and I think there was a grand total of four people in the audience. The stars willing, this presentation will be different. Further, I'm giving a 10 minute presentation, which is a very odd thing. Five minutes is enough time to read your abstract out loud and sit down; fifteen minutes is time for a rushed argument, but ten minutes is a bizarre limbo. Still, I'm third on a panel of five, so even if it's a horrible mess, I'll at least be able to fade into the woodwork.

All of which is to explain why my next two days will be weird. Yesterday was weird because it was so productive; I finished my lesson plan for today's course in record time, and finished the CGSA paper, also in record time. (Of course, the works cited and slideshow took hours, as they always do; videogame screenshots can be persnickety things.) And then I went for a nice run. And I mean a really nice run. Two weeks ago, against my better judgment, I downloaded a running app called RunKeeper for my phone. It monitors your distance, speed, and so forth. I set it to a weight-losing routine, and it's been giving me exercises every other day. I've always resisted following an exact program for exercise; it seems like it takes all the spontaneity and fun out of it. But... well, it's already paid off. Following the program, I've increased my speed slowly, and built up some endurance. Yesterday showed me how much; for the first time, the program made me do a half hour of speed intervals, and it went fine. Wound up with a 32-minute five k run. It's not a particularly good speed, and nowhere near what I was doing when I was in peak shape. But when you factor in that I was averaging a 37-minute five k when I started using Run Keeper, it's an impressive improvement. And I felt really good after finishing. Darn you for making me like you, Run Keeper!

Today, on the other hand, has suuuucked. First, I forgot to set my alarm, so instead of waking up at 8, I woke at noon. NOON. This does not bode well for a good night's sleep before my presentation tomorrow. Then I get to campus, and dig through my office for a game case I need to finish the slideshow side of the presentation. Of course, it's at the very bottom of a stack of game cases (I keep the cases in my office and the actual games at home; never mind why), which is behind two other stacks that need to be moved first. And while I'm under my desk--because the stacking is so tight it's easier to go under the desk than move it all--my pants tear a hole in the side. My new pants. It's a combination of the fact that I caught on something while I'm down there, the fact that, well, there's a reason I'm doing a weight loss running program, and the fact that, surprise, cheap pants ordered online from Sears are probably cheap for a reason. Now, normally, I'd just suck it up and go home late at night where people spotting my new ventilation system would be at a minimum, but I teach today, so that's not an option. So I hop on a bus back home, change into a spare pair of pants (the pants I was planning to wear to the conference tomorrow--but what are the odds something will happen to them between now and then, he said, daring the gods' wrath), and ride another bus back to school. Ick. Luckily, it's a night class, so I still have four hours to race through all the other things I wanted to do today. Just as long as, you know, nothing else goes bizarrely wrong.

Later Days.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Day in the Life

To pick up where the last post left off, I took the computer in, the technician fiddled with it for about a minute, he snapped the key back into place, and said "there you go," no charge. Would all of my problems be solved in so easy a manner. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Keyboard of Woe

It's been a slow blogging year, 2014 has. Part of that is because I've felt less need to blog; as I've commented before, when I have actual people in my day-to-day life to share my oh-so valuable reflections on comics and videogames with, my need to blog about such things incessantly diminishes accordingly. And last term was busy; I was teaching a new course on digital media for the first time, and actually working pretty constantly on school projects, which diminished time for most other things. But this term, I'm teaching a course I've already taught, and I'm... well, still working on school stuff, but the first thing has changed, so more blogging time, I imagine.

And for today's post/complaint, we have a return to an old faithful, the busted keyboard. Back way back, I had a fun couple of days when my keyboard's spacebar gave up the ghost. Now, years later, different keyboard, different problem: my letter 'l' has decided to self-destruct, leaving me with a little white nub to press in place of a key. In practice, it doesn't do a lot to change how I operate except it makes my laptop look rather trashy (I can live with that) and it interrupts my typing flow (I can't live with that at all). So I've already sent out emails to two laptop repair folk in the area. Were a keyboard for a home computer, the answer's simple enough. Even if you don't want to replace the keyboard--the obvious, easy solution--it's still relatively simple to swap in a new key. I've done it myself a few times. For a lap top... forget about it. The Alienware model in particular uses these keys with three detachable plastic bits, one of which is the actual key top. The other two fit into each other and connect it to the mainboard, and they are IMPOSSIBLE to work with. There's a Youtube video of a guy replacing the keys in seconds; it takes me hours. I have small hands. Really, really small hands. So small that my piano teacher told me that there's a ceiling to how far I could go because my hands just weren't up for those larger chords. But these stupid plastic bits make me feel as if I'm massaging my keyboard with giant hams stapled to each appendage. And these are very flimsy plastic bits. They'll snap off if you look at them sideways, and then they're pretty much ruined. It's the worst.

The big concern here isn't how much it'll cost me to replace them--it probably shouldn't be that much, given that they're just little plastic bits--but how long I'll be without the laptop. I could be without it for a few days, but it's much easier to work with it. Hopefully, I'll get back those estimates soon, and we can all put this sad chapter in our lives behind us. 

Later Days. 

I tramp a perpetual journey

Note: this post has been literally been taking me months to complete. In addition to the usual blog lethargy, there's also been the problem that I keep getting so caught up in the actual work that I'm doing when I'm listening to music that I forget the part where I listen to new music. Not the worst problem to have, but it's mine.

Let's try something a little kind of not really different with this Musical Journey: an alternate history story. Traditionally, alt history stories are when you take an event in earth's history, and write about how history changes if it goes another way. In theory, that's an entire multiverse of fictional possibility. In actuality, what we get is a lot of stories about what if Hitler won World War II, with the occasional story regarding the American Civil War or War of Independence thrown in. That's not really the genre's fault; if you take an event people aren't historically familiar with, then you have to do a lot of explaining to justify the changes. And the average North American is a totally self-centered person (myself included); you can hinge an alt history story around the Boer War or something, but you'll have to work extra hard to make us appreciate it.

Which is all somewhat beside the point. What I'm proposing we do today is that we start with a song that I featured previously, with the stipulation that I can't choose any of the paths that I chose before. Will we create a resonate alt history that's the same, but different? Will it be a wildly divergent branch? Will it be more or less the exact same choices?

Let's find out. We'll start, once again, with Los Campesinos! -- Avocado, Baby. That song led to what's probably my favorite set so far, so let's see if we can recapture some of that magic.

Frightened Rabbit - Holy.  So: woman's on a business trip, finds God (?), or at least seems to take advice from some book, deserts the meeting, drives to the country, looks at the mountains, goes into the woods. Walks into the ocean and has the holy awakening, or, alternatively, drowns. It's a song whose video matches its lyrics, which is nice. The song never grabbed me, but it was nice enough; it was something I'd be happy to play in the background while doing other things. 

Metric -- Synethica. Oh God. It's doing this split/diverging mirror thing. It's like the horizontal equivalent of that White Stripes video for "Seven Nation Army."  It's kind of giving me a headache. The skeptic in me questions its function, as it seems to be there only to disguise the fact that they're shooting from a limited set. But then, at the 2:30 mark, it switches over to a sunset, and I'll admit, there's a nice sense of visual relief that accompanies the lyrics well. But then it's back to the split/ting screens. No thanks.

Bombay Bicycle Club -- Carry Me.  It's interesting. The video's essentially using stop motion and scribbles to convey a sense of artistic chaos; the music does the same, and it's really cool how they create a sense of stuttering in what's obviously a very composed song. Beyond that, the music's a little too... digital for my tastes. And while it's a nice combination of visual style matching music, the video part froze for a second, and I couldn't tell if that was part of the song or part of the medium, which seems like there's been a mix-up. The coda's nice.

I'm in Vevo territory now, which improves the variety of the links, but means that they're going to be much more "official" video releases. No, I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it sounded ominous, didn't it?

Two Door Cinema Club -- Changing of the Seasons.   I would never catch anything that was tossed upwards. That one scene would require about a dozen takes under my watch. The song is about a guy describing how he doesn't love his beloved anymore--after all, nothing says "I feel nothing for you" like writing a song about the sentiment. The music's a little too digital for my tastes, but I do appreciate being able to actually hear the lyrics on a first go. The video is a little nonsensical; a black and white press conference, which goes disastrously wrong. Our heroes flee, only to have their car mobbed by fans. It's okay; didn't blow my mind, but didn't actively offend me. I can see how it's a clear path hear from Bombay Bicycle Club.

Passion Pit -- Take a Walk. I usually don't like a percussion that's this heavy, but the opening works for me. The camera pans across various suburbia scenes, eventually heading into the woods, a farm, back to the city. I think the conceit here limits its emotional scope; there's only so much you can do with boldly declaring "I took a walk," at the end of the day. Of course, that's the whole point: the contrast between the dark economic despair of the regular verses, contrasted with the banality of the chorus. But the video doesn't help convey any of that at all.

Grouplove -- Tongue Tied.  Okay, we've definitely been stuck in the same genre for a while now. At least this video eventually has a lady singing. And I know this isn't the most gender-positive thing I've ever said, but whenever I see excessive eyeshadow on a guy, I immediately think of Johnny Depp. Anyway, it's definitely a gimmick video, where the idea is that the whole thing is being presented in reverse. We see a guy running naked from a bunch of masked men; eventually, we follow him back to a house party where he suddenly runs away; he kisses a girl, and eats a brownie. Only, it actually happens in reverse. Lyrically, not a lot happens; it's one of those "repeat the same line over and over" songs. Again, it's fine, but not particularly noteworthy.

Cage the Elephant. Shake Me Down.  I appreciate a video where something happens; an older man on a jog stumbles onto a portal that leads to his own memory palace--if a memory palace was essentially a giant pillow fort containing the memories of his childhood. I also like that it's a fairly young band using an older actor in the video; it might be more common than I realize, but it struck me as something different.  It's smaltzy, especially the ending, where he comes to terms with his now, but it's sweet too. I like it. The song, on the other hand, is fairly forgettable, especially in comparison.

Flobots. Handlebars. Flobots is a rock and hip hop musical band from Denver Colarado formed in 2000 by Jamie Laurie. I don't know what it means to add "musical" in there, but I guess we'll find out. Their single Handlebars was apparently very popular in 2008. The video is an animated, computer graphic thing. And the music is... rap and rock, all right. I kind of like it. It's got an escalation in lyrics that belies the sort of laziiness of the simple tone. And then everything accelerates. Okay, that was fun. And the comments are... interesting.

Weird Al Yankovic. Trapped in the Drive-through. I have a lot of fondness for Weird Al; it's not easy to get comedy cred among youths (well, my generation of youths anyway) without going extremely crude, and he doesn't, for the most part. On the other hand, an 11 minute video automatically makes me apprehensive.  It's a very, very detailed account of what starts as a boring day, set to vaguely epic music, which is the joke. At this length, it's really more an animated sketch that happens to be set to music. At 4:08, I don't know how this stretches out to full length. Never insult the server--just asking for extra spit with that burger. Okay, I can guess how it stretches out, at 8:00. It's a little tedious, to be honest, though it sticks the ending; while the mundane description is the point of the joke, that doesn't make it any more entertaining.

Okay, let's take this baby home with... okay, because I went to a Weird Al song, we've exited the realm of music and we're now closer to just straight up comedy. Fine. Here's the last song of the list, then, The Duck Song.    And dammit, in the first 15 seconds, I recognized the joke, only the version I heard had crackers and a bar. Adding music doesn't make it any more endearing, particularly. Okay, a little endearing. But still, not my first choice for how to spend three minutes. It's fine in a Youtube for Kids way.

And so, we've reached the end of our question. If we had gone through a different set of songs, everything would have been worse. Handlebars was good.

Later Days.