Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RULES : Shit is Ad Hoc

I have a series of unwritten and wildly disorganized rules that I've made up and/or observed from my paltry life on this earth. Every so once and awhile, something will happen, some big event or somesuch, and I'll be reminded of one of these rules, and be like "Oh, I am so very sage and insightful and whatnot.". I'll also probably say, "I really should get around to writing this stuff down, I could really entertain my seven readers. Possibly dangerously."

Yes folks, these rules are so entertaining, they contain a shred of danger in them, like a bullfight or discussing The Baconator with a vegan.

Ok, now that I've set myself up for nothing but failure, let's begin this series of The Rules! or RULES! or, yeah, something appopriate.

Shit is Ad Hoc.

These rules aren't numbered or follow some hierarchy, they are kinda, well, they are kinda like this rule, ad hoc. So, this is the first of the unnumbered unhierarchiacal list.

Here's the thing. When you look at an organization, or a process, or what have you, one tends to think the whole kit and kaboodle is really highly organized with backup plans and training regimens, possibly a slogan. That's just not true. Shit is ad hoc.

I spent one summer working for this 2 week fair that takes place every year. I think my title was Safety Monitor or something odd like that. It was basically, Security But Only For Inanimate Things That Might Cause Harm To Others Not That It Would Or That Said Company Would Take Responsibility But There You Are. We got red jackets and walkie talkies and a clip on tie.

We looked OFFICIAL.

Looking official, means, if anyone is curious, being asked where the bathroom is as many times as is humanly possibly in an 8 hour shift.

An odd aside. There were Welcoming People, or Hospitality Engineers. I dunno, people who the guests were supposed to ask for things like the bathroom and where they can get cotton candy. But they wore green and purple golf shirts and they just looked like really cheerful kids who made awkward eye contact with strangers. Red jackets and walkie-talkies trumps that any day of the week.

Anyhoo. I'm sure people thought we knew where everything was. That, if given an opportunity, we could regale them with tales of the fair, returning presenters, and interesting factoids about where past winners of the annual Talent Show were (Vocalist of the Year, 1982, sang backup vocals for Tiffany, god's honest truth). There's probably not a small percentage of fair goers who thought that we could do CPR or could CALL one on our radios, and that, if the need arose, would be able to fill in for any ONE of carnies.

The truth is shocking.

We were given a radio, this is true, and a jacket, this is also true. That's it.

I only knew where the bathrooms were because I asked the Hospitality Brigade. I wouldn't know what the hell that booth was and what it was selling, even if I was standing in front of it in a very official manner for 8 hours. If you had a heart attack, I could yell in a highly panicked state into the radio, something to the effect of "I DON'T GET PAID ENOUGH MINIMUM WAGE TO DO THIS!". I could, maybe offer my jacket in condolence when the fair-goer died and the spouse was sobbing uncontrollably. I really didn't know what the fair was for or what the main attractions were. I'm sure the carnies reviled us for our lack of training and respect for the institution that is the Fair.

So, that's something to keep in mind. No matter how together things seems, no matter how institutional the setting is, no matter how fluffy the cotton candy, just remember : Shit is Ad Hoc.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not Really Movie Stars

At risk of sounding like the sort of man who wears straight leg corduroys and has the box set for Streisand, there are certain big stars who lack the panache of old timey stars. Old timey stars like Steve McQueen, Carey Grant, Optimus Prime, and Gene Kelly.

I have a strong affinity for iconic stars. They embody many things that (in my case) men should act like. Maybe not should. Suggested. Highly advisable. They have panache, grace and the proper poise for every situation. There is a solidity to them. Like when you were a kid and first stepped into your dad's shoes, and thought, "Holy hell, men are large, imposing edifices". These men know what the hell a Windsor Knot is and can name every item in "Men's Health:50 Things Every Man Should Know". They probably smoke some sort of unfiltered cigarette and change their own damn oil. They have a regular barber who knows the names of their kids and they don't mind a hot shave with a real "Oh my god if he slips he could end me here and now" razor.

They have a steady hand. One that would hold the tiller during a squall or a small boy's hand as he walks over to Mrs. Gravinson's house to explain who's baseball it was that just broke her French doors.

But now we got these great acting talents who will forever seem like smarmy douches or
that incredibly annoying high school drama club president who had to emote everything. I mean, just look at stars like Giovanni Ribisi, or Ben Affleck or, the King Of All Smarmy Ass Looking Actors, Leonardo DiCaprio.

I'm not saying these guys don't have talent (well, except maybe Affleck), just go watch "What's Wrong With Gilbert Grape" if you doubt Leo's acting chops. But there is a certain... something.

With old time actors, they have that face and poise that you'd follow into battle. They'd tell you to charge that machine gun nest with nothing but a rusty bayonet and a trick knee and you'd do it, by god. Later, while your best friend who joined only because you did is dying on the field with a pound and a half of shrapnel in him, and, say, Steve McQueen told you to put your hand right here, nono, right here, right beside the pulsing aorta, you'd do it with a grin and a can-do attitude.

The newer wave of actors. I dunno. I'd feel kinda iffy giving them my latte order.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Needy, needy blogger

It's like hungry hungry hippo, except far less entertaining, with 100% less hippos, and leaves you pitying me.

It's something I've been thinking alot about; that is, how many of my hits are actual real live readers, and how many are charming Russian bots harvesting the web for their own nefarious means. 

I wonder this often because I get about 1 comment for every 5 to 20 posts I make. This is a terrible, terrible ratio. But I grudge you not! After all, you're busy, you have things to do, people to meet, and for some of you quite a bit of Vi@gr@ to peddle over mass emailings.

So, here's your chance to satisfy my curiousty and possibly get me to post more!  See the little link to the right that says,  FOLLOW THIS BLOG'? 


Of course you do, you're bright and by all accounts an upstanding citizen. 

Please click it. 

You might have to make some bogus kinda profile. That's ok. I don't want to know any personal information about you. I just want to know if you are a real live reader.

It's not that I have anything particularly against intelligent web-crawling software looking to index the web for some underhanded and greasy haired web marketer. It's just they don't quite get me like you guys do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Re : Open Air Elevators

Thank you for your note concerning your buildings' open air elevators. I'm glad you contacted us, because, frankly, several of my repairmen have raised some serious issues. It's not just the open air elevators -- which I'd like to note, even with your considerate email -- is in breech of several state and federal safety laws; there are other, even more grievious infractions.

First off, you might want to hire a better security company. The one you employ seems to consist of shady looking gentlemen carrying poorly concealed weapons. They have no radio for communication, and wander aimlessly around the halls. Their favourite manuever is popping out of a door unannounced, as if hoping catch my men in the act of... I don't know what. They are both dangerous and ineffectual, which brings me to my second point.

Every building I have sent a technician to, there is a -- by all accounts very dapper -- young man. He sports a leather jacket and a pompadour but despite his charms (of which my technicians inform me are many), he brandishes a weapon. The presence of this thrill-seeking young man is evidence that your security needs re-evaluation. He has been seen riding on top of elevators. This is incredibly dangerous. As you know Winksen and Sons Elevator Repair are not responsible for injury sustained during inproper use of our elevators.

Speaking of liability, many of your hanging lamps (which are, again, against code) have fallen. Some of my workers have suggested the lamps have been shot down. I can't begin to express my anxiety thinking of my men walking around your buildings which is apparently used as a shooting gallery.

And a minor point -- although it might be related to my first two -- having arbitrary doors painted red can be confusing for many of my men. Some assume they are the fuse and electrical rooms.

They could not have been more wrong.

Every single one of these rooms, even in different buildings, seem to house documents of high importance. We only note that since both your highly suspect security guards and the dapper young individual have been found, often, in these rooms. Sometimes dead.

I'm glad you opened up lines of communication, I think we'll need to revisit our terms when our contract expires this October. I'm certain my insurance cannot cover the buildings you have in your holdings: quirky at best, grossly negligent at worst.

Kindest Regards,

Stanley Winksen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bocce News Update #4: New Win

VANCOUVER (Reuters) -- The scientific world was at a stand-still today as results from the latest bocce match --TEAM 1(Mary Jones and Joe Smith) vs NO MISTAKS! (Tom Smith and Harry Jones playing)-- were announced.

Dr. J. Crawford from TRIUMF, and part of the Collinear Fast Beam Spectroscopy group was called in to co-chair a sub-committee who would enact a steering group that would pro-actively retro-scope the project so that it would create the 'down to the metal', business vertical solutions needed to measure the bocce ends.

The bocce balls were so close that new fields of physics -- heretofore thought to open the gates of hell, or at the very least result in an embarassing explosion -- had to be prodded and in some cases even CAJOLED to reveal a new method of distance measurement.

There are the subatomic particles, and then the more exotic particles (mesons, bosons), then about 3 more layers of particles that most physicists won't even talk to you about. Below THAT, was another layer that was used. It is as yet unnamed until major university physics chairs can get together and think of more impossibly silly names that will completely crush any respect the average public may have had for theoretical physics (the job not quite done by the names 'quarks' and 'gluons').

EMTs were also on hand to give an odd jolt here and there as the audience succumbed to various heart ailments, the excitement of a game that never pulled past a 3 point difference being too much. Said one spectator "Haven't been this excited since the Bombay International in '63". A tournament that was noted for its raucous crowds and a rather infamous tryst involving a lower member of the Royal Family, a Bengal tiger, and the cheering squad for Mauritius.

Near the end NO MISTAKS! finally pulled away, added Dr. Crawford, "This is an entirely inappropriate use of my expertise.".

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ungardening

The previous owner of our townhouse was some kind of gardening addict. I wouldn't be surprised if she had sold her soul to posses a dark, alien power over the plant kingdom. An eternity simmering in the searing lakes of fires a fair bargain for godlike dominion over anything that grows, flowers, or responds quite well to Miracle Gro.

There were layers of plants on top of plants in our tiny, thumb stamp sized garden. Grasses fought with bushes tussled with vines to create a horror of chlorophyllic power. Rain could be seen to bend it's earthward path to drench our tiny little patch, infusing our unholy writhing mass of vegetable matter with some kind of maddening, unnatural sea of plant riotousness.

A year ago Mrs. Owl took some serious looking shearing clipppers to the lot of it. Cutting and slashing like it was a Brazillian rainforest in the way of a grazing herd fattening up to be an integral part of our drive-through menus. When she was done it didn't look much different than if she had just taken napalm and a pinch of agent orange to the plot. Bare is a word. 'Hacked to within an inch of its life then curbstomped for all of Youtube to enjoy' perhaps even more accurate.

Come spring, the entire thing -- whole alien mess of vegetative might -- sprang back, heathier than ever. If you listened carefully, the mating call of a rare but very small primate could be heard from the underbrush. Ruggedly handsome men in tilly hats  and tan vests  festooned with thousands of dollars of photography equipment were knocking politely on our door and asking if they could take a few shots for National Geographic. That plot pulsed with life. Does the word 'Jumanji' bring to mind a certain degree of sentient, perhaps malevolent lushness? It's not entirely un-apt.

So, this weekend, we took to hacking it down again. We used more serious tools. Handled implements that might find a more natural home at a ditch digging contracter or a small mining concern.

How dare you grasses and undergrowth grow in a temperate rainforest with optimal lighting and precipitation conditions! Aieee! Back! Have at ye! And so forth. 

There were root systems and bulb networks that would shatter your understanding of reality. There was digging and rooting and leaning on shovels. I felt like I should desire a cold beer or something after. At the very least a rowdy and fight-filled night at the neighbourhood pub. I felt manly, this is what it must feel like to drive a pickup and have a gun rack or something. This is what it must feel like to pop open the hood and not just fiddle with the lid for the windshield wiper fluid. Sure, I've put together furniture... well... 'furniture', but this was man's work. True, I worked alongside  my wife. True, it took less than an hour. It's the principle of the thing.

And, looking at that newly cleaned plot of land, a thought hit me. This 'dirt' is really an ecosystem of itself, writhing with detritivores and annelids, bacteria and beetles. It's a living, breathing organism, rife with the struggling genetic codes of MILLIONS of years of invertebrates maximising energy transfer and genomic survival. I marvelled for a moment, saw the dirt beneath my fingernails and thought, 'Shit, I better wash this off before I get back to TF2'.

Hardcover

FYI, you look like an enormous nerd reading a hardcover book in transit. 

Its mass reminiscent of a tome that might be pulled from an archaelogical dig of an ancient culture that committed entire generations of slaves to the production of a single tome. It obscuring everything from view, your one hand trying its best to be nonchalant about supporting this gravity-well producing bulwark of dead tree fibre; your face a rictus of pleasure and throbbing, knuckle crushing pain as gravity and the miracle of torque wrests all nerve function and fine motor control from you forever.

On the plus side, you can use it as a crude bludgeon on that asshole who has to play Nine Inch Nails on his iPod at volume 11.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stuff that freaks me out, as a Canadian, in the US

  • ridiculously cheap alcohol. Getting absolutely plastered should cost something. It shouldn't be comparable to getting a very large McDonald's meal.
  • anyone who talks about owning firearms in a non-chalant manner.
  • 12-egg omlettes.
  • commercials for hospitals
  • USA! USA! USA!
  • a political system with less than four parties.
  • patriotism
  • the phrase "The greatest country in the world" when not applied to Sweden.
  • the above phrase spoken with dyed in the skin certainty.
  • food portions that could feed a large village in Uganda. For a month.
  • the term 'my country', especially when coupled with 'get out of'.
  • flag colours displayed anywhere other than a goddamn flag. These include, but are not limited to, bandanas, shoes, entire body suits. Superheroes excluded.
  • the pledge of allegiance. Sounds like something that members of a rather well-armed militia might have. I think it's the 'allegiance' bit. Makes one think of sides and armed conflict.
  • Homeland Security. The entire border thing. I'm worried I'll say something completely wrong, give not quite the right answer, and be sucked into GitMo or somesuch. Of all the fears, this is the most real to me.
  • how much coverage y'all give to lost blonde women from the mid-west.
  • Wal-Mart
  • the near gladiatoral fervour with which Monday Night Football is televised.
  • 24-hour news which refuses to put quotes around 'news'.

Friday, September 05, 2008

China Mieville

In an effort to keep some sort of blasted focus on this site, I thought I'd give you a rundown on China Mieville. Which, in some circles, is like saying "Have you heard of this Stephen King guy? Apparently he writes novels".

China (as I'll call him since I'm too lazy to spell his last name and it's not like he cares) is one of the major figures responsible for bringing steampunk to the fore as a literary genre. It's also a wicked design aesthetic when crafting stuff, and an unfortunate fashion sense. Short short version: steampunk is what all those rad gadgets were in the veritable cinematic masterpiece, "Wild, Wild West". Lots of rivets, brass, and stuff with high falutin' names (that's not a blimp, it's a goddamn DIRIGIBLE!).

China did his masters degree in Cultural Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and it shows. The worlds he build are beautiful, intricate, dirty, and cruel. They're real. He has a beautiful prose style, making one think they are reading an early 20th century novel aimed at the Literary crowd.

So far, I've only read "The Scar" and "Perdido Street Station". They are fantastical, literary, and jaw dropping. His prose is rich and detailed, it's written by an extremely intelligent writer who refuses to dumb down anything for his audience.

He's one of those writers who made me think, "My god, you're not allowed to write like this!", and I adore writers who make me think that. Well, adore in the non-effeminate way, of course (other writers who've made me do this : Tom Robbins, Douglas Coupland, Salman Rushdie and Terry Pratchett).

So if you are into very real worlds, literature with a capital L, and writing that'll blow the brass rivets off your ansible, then pick up some China Mieville post-haste.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Possible Dialogue in Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead (a zombie co-operative shooter game) apparently has eight THOUSAND bloody lines of dialogue, and no cut-scenes. It's like an abomination unto the jRPG scene, overpaid CG artists, and washed out actors who once made out with their sisters.

So, with that in mind, I present to you:

POSSIBLE DIALOGUE IN LEFT 4 DEAD

  • I say, is that wound infected or is your skin moisturizer pus-based?
  • Jesus, another zombie?
  • THIS IS THE GAME THAT NEVER ENDS! IT GOES FOR ON AND ON MY FRIEND!
  • My current ammo count is 11, I'll keep updating you as that changes!
  • No safe safe zone and no shotgun shells makes Homer something something.
  • I'm going to try and negotiate with them!
  • I now have 10 bullets.
  • Godsdamnit, the NRA was right.
  • We've been wandering for close to 30 gameplay hours, and we are still only four surivors. What are the odds?
  • You would like me to continue reading random lines from my Dickens Digest? Oh, alright, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
  • Ok, you're in a dark dungeon, the smell of kobold is in the air. Sam, you need to wait a turn to use magic missile. Jenny, please roll a saving throw, you've stepped on a troll trap-- AAAHH MORE ZOMBIES!!
  • It's 8 now.
  • We got a see-saw like device, a ledge that's just too far to pull ourselves over, and some cinder blocks. How odd.
  • As I was saying, it's our constant oppression of the differently living that has caused this power imbalance that presses upon the average undead. It's in this wasteland of public discourse and accountability that the inevitable grassroots insurgents sprouts, making us the invading conquerers. The oppressors.
  • So I might like him, go ahead and ask him if he might like me, but dont' tell him I might like him, dont' tell him we even had this conversation. Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, I'm so nervous. WHAT THE HELL ZOMBIES!!!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

PAX 08 : Power Overwhelming.

There really is a dizzying array of crap, vying for attention like a gaggle of refugee children reaching out imploringly to a UN peacekeepker because, they, you know, need their insulin or something. All sorts of hyper niche games and gaming.

There's table top gaming, which is kinda like board games on steroids layered on top of a complexity of rules that have width, depth, and actual Newtonian mass. A vast complexity of rules. I think orc and tanks play key roles. In the more popular table-top games, an orc-tank hybrid is almost the entirety of the game mechanic. From what I can understand, it's fun.

And then there are the console games, many of which really hardcore gamers turn their noses up at, games like Madden 09 or That One Shooter In the Sci Fi Or World War Two setting that's really eXtremE! You can lump in here the movie tie-ins, the Ideas Ripped Off Of Smaller Developers by a Megalithic Behemoth. Also known as Frat Boy Fair. It's the “2 Fast, 2 Furious” to a hardcore gamer's “Glengarry Glen Ross”.

There are casual games that are so quirky that a pink octopus who sells cupcakes to send their children, represented by some sort of semi-sentient mushroom, on a field trip to the center of the OceanVerse to explore their colour dimensions is seen as derivative and a 'safe bet'.

And, last but not least, there are the HARD CORE GAMES. Shooters, RPGs, RTSes. Games with tech trees and advanced HUD overlays and intra-dimensinal load-out screens. Games that push the meta-narrative and make frantic stabs at Foucault. Games that have screens that make you think “Dear god, that looks like WORK, except... harder.”

There are some games that I do have an interest in, but the vast, vast majority of it are just pretty colours and neato graphics that I will never see outside of the convention. A man only has so much time during the day, only so much of the family budget that they can divert towards next-gen cutting edge consoles.

But the highlight of PAX wasn't the expo, it wasn't the multi-million dollar corporations selling the Next Big Thing in Electromagorical Edutainment. It was the fellow nerds. Nerds and geeks and social cast aways who totally 'got it' when you would say in the most sardonic voice, "Moo moo, moo moo mooo moo moo moo... MOOO!". Fellow gamers who wore ironic shirts that were weighed down by the amount of inside jokes they contained. 

It was nice to be part of the nerd herd. If only once a year.