Saturday, July 31, 2010

NYC Meetup : BBQ

Friday was a pretty great day. Milled about, played some retro games (Sega Collection for the PS3 (yes, that's right, with the power of two deskstops, four laptops, two PS3s (enough technology to rival worldwide computing power in 1975) we played games which were ports of 80's arcade games made for 90's consoles then retrofitted for 00's consoles)), some PC games, and attempted to play some card games.

Then it was time for BBQ.

We headed over to Ralph's place which was situated in some patchily gentrified portion of Brooklyn. There were Hasidic Jews everywhere, and African Americans, and Hispanics (I'm sure this breaks down further, like how in Vancouver "Asian" covers a wide array, I'm sure there were Senegalese and Mexicans and Chileans and Puerto Ricans etc). Slightly less hipsters.

This dizzying array of multiculturalism, and there was something about the alternately well-worn and tumbled-down nature of the neighbourhood with newer bits, mom-and-pop shops and Banana Republics, every cranny filled with urban decay or the American Enterprising spirit (large and small), that it seemed to fill that bit in my mind when people say "America". America : You Know, Pretty Much Fricking Everything In One Place. Not pithy, sure, but fitting.

So, we get to Ralph's (well, 5 of us take a car, the rest walk. It's not a short walk. We who took the car will bear the Mark of Shame forever). And it's, well, it's like the front for the lair of the protagonist of an 80's action TV show. One suspects that there is a military grade prototype of a street-bike stored behind it, or a man who's secret identity is VR Man.

It's a solid metal plate. Curb appeal brought to you by the A-Team. All around the door it's not so much a neighbourhood as the blasted out remnants of an industrialization experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong. Suitable fellow tenants would be chops shops or Vietnamese tailors who make 100 dollar suits for you with suspect materials and excellent craftsmanship.

But, through the door. It was amazing. This pretty, nicely proportioned house with exposed brick and skylights and all sorts of rich history that is a regular occurrence in America. Again, the wild difference between NYC and Vancouver become apparent, since for us, 'rich history' means architecture that slightly predates Hypercolour Shirts. Ancient history being anything before colour television.

But back to the house. An open, uhm, courtyard, is that the right word? I mean, to describe abodes not from the French Restoration? An open air area past the blast metal plate, then the house, then behind, a backyard made for cookouts and memories and animated discussions about Derrida.

It was an amazing BBQ. The food was great, the people were fantastic, nerds of every shape and colour milling about, drinking and chatting and not having to steer the conversations away from the dreaded question, 'so, do you have any hobbies'?

About 50-90% of our communication is non-verbal, so that makes the meeting of people who spend all their time communicating over voice or typing, something of an event. Lots of silence at the start. Then, as all gatherings tend to go, the conversations started flowing and we're all having a hell of time.

There you are, in the middle of Brooklyn, in a secret lair of nerdiness, drinking expensive alcohol and talking about how goddamn cheap the Spy is and how so-and-so never uses sticky bombs but still dominates the server. It's a small moment of feeling part of a larger whole. The tribe, the nerd-herd, the grouping that's separated by geography but connected by geekery and the perenially societal maligned hobby, video games.

We setup the webcam to connect to the other gamers who couldn't make it. And it gets even better. There are our other friends, zipping through the internet, joining us from their homes from across North America and Europe and Asia. Ecstatic to see us all together, teeming with pasty complexion and awkward social graces.

Hell of a night.

We had to leave, eventually. Things got a little bumpy then. But that's for another post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brooklyn

It's amazing how tightly packed people can get. Sardined and crammed til they're breathing over and under each other, stepping on toes sandals shoes dreams personal spaces. It's like every sidewalk is a misinterpreted sneeze away from a rather bloody riot. Young and old and old neighbourhood and new immigrants.

I kinda like seeing more than the usual Vancouver minorities.That is, Pacific Rim. Korean Japanese Chinese (Hong Kong and Taiwanese and every single possible shade of acculturation that represents the Chinese in Vancouver), Indians (Sikhs, Muslims, Hindu, Canadian-born), Persian. That's the norm, anyways, in Vancouver. People gush about how multi-cultural Vancouver is, but that's really only for a very small subset of 'culture'.

Every other shade is out in Brooklyn. They're so many and the varied. And, since it's Brooklyn, apparently the home of the hipsters, you get that extra strange and weird and sadly predictably subculture. But it's still interesting. It's multitudinal and mosaic and strange and kinda neat and oddly scary.

Scary, sure. I mean, from a distance. But when you get up close you find it's not really anything. Everyone is moving around, trying the best they can to eke out a personality for themselves and a place in whatever number of culture stratas they care about. Sure there are small, and infrequent groups of young men with too little hope and too much experience that make me drop my eyes and give way, but that's the same in everywhere. I think.

There's no room between the buildings. That's the first thing I noticed. No space, no alleys, really, no bit of scraggly pathetic greenery between this property and that. Just concrete on concrete and brick on brick.

And damn, is it hot, and humid, and did I mention how it's concrete from end to end and front and back? Cement, concrete, asphalt, tarmac. Heat is radiated from the walls and seems to hunt you indoors. Stairwells and laundro-mats and bodegas are thick and oppressive and just plain hot.

Little vestiges of shops as evidence of the grusty and grangy past of Brooklyn That Was. And then the even littler vestiges of kicky and upscale shops of Brooklyn That's To Be. Gentrified and pricey and pseudo-grunge authentic.

The whole basket of it all is pretty great though. Everything lives and breathes and there's a dizzying array of life everywhere you look.

Brooklyn.

Airport, JFK

Have arrived at JFK. It's your standard sprawling, patchily modernized airport. Charming 70's peppered rock themed linoleum, fancy Air Train system which complexifies it's already dizzying multi-ring setup by having only one train working. Meaning you can go from terminal 5 to 6, but to get from 6 to 5, well, yeah, you have to go the entire way around. I'll try and take a picture of their helpful brochure. Even in the most simplified colours and large text, I'm pretty sure it could double as the MRI of a contortionist's circulatory system.

I expected this, I think. A third of Canada, for crying out loud. That's even counting the bits of Canada we cherish especially for its multi-cultural otherwordlyness but never visit, like Yellowknife, or West Vancouver.

The people are, oddly, just people. No one has yelled at me a phrase along the lines of , "HEY I'M WALKING HERE". But then, these are also Airport People. The bright shining happy people who can afford to take a jet powered tube of metal to other parts of the world. Everyone is a bit more docile and well-behaved at an airport. I suppose spending hundreds of dollars to take an 8 hour flight to visit your Aunt Rita you don't particularly care for in Tallahasee has to dampen spirits a bit.

And man alive, is it humid. It reminds me too much of visiting my relatives in the tropics. If it weren't for the stringent air quality controls and lack of crushing poverty evidenced in every direction I turn, I think I'd be hard put to find a difference.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

NYC

It's hard to sum up my feelings about going to NYC. I mean, that's a real world-class city.

I'm from Vancouver. A city that constantly, if embarassingly self-consciously, proclaims itself to be just that. Last time I checked, though, I don't see people walking around NYC with "I HEART VANCOUVER" shirts on absentmindedly. Yesterday, in Vancouver, I saw two NY shirts (they were kinda well-worn and had all the tourist feel of a Nike jumpsuit). No director is shooting in NYC trying to recreate the picture-perfect Kitsilano scene. I suspect there's a dance club in upper Manhattan that has a higher GDP than all of the Lower Mainland.

There's a enormousness about NYC. Movies and books and the collective memory of much of Western Civilization are put in the backdrop of, are created in, are stamped out in the streets of that city. Midnight Cowboy, An Affair to Remember, The Godfather, Wall Street, The French Connection, Guys and Dolls, Independence Day. It's this fountain of zeitgeist, if I may resurrect a buzz word from '02 that has all the freshness of a Pompeii compost heap.

The bustle rustle, the bumble tub grinding tumble of it all. I never thought one could be intimidated by a city. It's just people isn't it? People, sewer system, a city bureaucracy, the police, the justice system, transit, by-laws, parks, sky scrapers, tenement buildings, concrete, cement, glass. But I am.

I've never really believed in the idea of city loyalty. It's part and parcel of the idea that you can take credit for shit you have had no hand in doing anything about. Like being proud you're tall, or your parents are from a certain part of the world. It's silly.

But I can see how one can feel proud about NYC. Like how one, I suppose, can feel proud about Canada. I'm not entirely sure how this is different from city loyalty. Where people from this city hate people from that city or blahblahblah 'TASTES GREAT!! LESS FILLING!!" merry-go-round of idiocy.

I suppose you can admire it. You can admire what a city stands for, what it's given birth to. What culture and personality it fosters. I suppose there's nothing silly about that.

NYC, to me, a West Coast bumpkin, is so many things and everything. Mostly things that aren't West Coast. When I think of the Hippie Annex (California, Oregon, Washington, BC), I think, laid-back, slow, relaxed, live-and-let live, work just enough to enjoy life, organic, coffee multinationals. Fast-talking, fast-moving, striving, dog-eat-dog, no-time-fore-chit-chat-let-alone-to-breathe, Dangerous Streets, grifting, authentic. Also, you know, Crime. With a capital C. The sort you make grungy, lo-fi tragic documentaries about. It's a burden of a city, I suppose, that is filmed so often and, I'm sure, so often inaccurately.

And here I am plunging headlong into it. A city, which the internet tells me, has almost a third the population of my entire beloved Canada.

What's it gonna be like? How am I gonna even experience through this filter of movies books shows? Will I be able to keep myself from craning my head back, shading my eyes, and muttering, 'That's one tall building'?

I hope I'm ready for world-class.

Adventure

So, it's begun. Sometime while partaking in my hobby I'm mildly ashamed about, I formed a bit of a bond with the people I was playing with. Folks from Metafilter, which seeems, in retrospect, to be the last sort of people I'd cleave to. Not that they are dull, at Metafilter, but they are so full of snark and invective and trenchant analysis as to why that thing you like sucks, it makes it a unlikely source of friendship.

But I have.

Sure, there have been hiccups, and the invaraible flare up of forum drama, but all internet hang outs get those. It's a question of whether the place is left standing afterwards. And it's stuck. Fortunately, miraculously.

Bright, funny, interesting people playing video games and getting angry over strange things like K:D ratios and Team Stacking and things that, granted, likely have analogues in say, a bowling league.

So, it's been three years or so. Playing, chatting, forum drama, jokes, in-jokes, in-in-jokes, baked goods exchanges, Secret Santas, meetups.

And now we are having the Mother of All Meetups. Forty or so of us, descending upon NYC. To play games, drink, eat food that'll cut our lifespan by not insignificant amount.

Yeah, I'm going to Meet People From The Internet.

I've done this before, but locally. After all, the thinking I go through is, "Hey, I'm a people from the internet!". I haven't been disappointed or scared or stuffed into a medium sized cooler smelling suspiciously of chloroform. Which, I"m sure, shocks those less nerdy.

But it all makes sense, you see. It's not that I just met them over the internet. I played with them, suffered trials and tribulations, which, while not say, the scale of the Dresden Fire Bombing or even the hardships make your local SWAT gel, aren't nothing.

We already know so much about each other. Not just personal details, which can be lied about, admittedly. We know some more interesting things. How each other responds to pressure, to failure, to success, to unfairness, to goddman totally overpowered/underpowered updates to our game du jour.

It's damned exciting. Connecting the voice and still pictures to the real, live, breathing mass of fellow nerdery. To meet one's tribe, one's people. Adventure.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pacino On Flotilla

Another post I made for the Full Glass, Empty Clip gaming blog. This has to do with the indie game Flotilla, which is a turn-based strategy space combat sand box exploration game. With no goddamn save feature.

It’s a rough galaxy out there.

You go out there, every day.

You flank and open fire and strategize because the galaxy isn’t doing you any favours. You tear at your hair, at the bulkheads, you claw your way past the militant penguins and the looming space hulks because that’s what you do.

And the Galaxy tries to shove back?

It tries to take from you what is your right?

You shove back. Maybe you get another ship, maybe your flotilla gets bigger.

You keep growing.

And you know you’ll kill for that flotilla, for every upgrade you’ve fought for, for every new ship that you’ve won.

Because that’s what you do. The Galaxy isn’t going to be explored by itself. It’s up to you, and your crew.

That’s it. That’s what the Galaxy expects from you, and, damnit, that’s what you expect from you.

Now, maybe I’m too jaded, too old, too damn tired to think differently. I’ve spent too long out in that galaxy fighting the good fight, the right fight. But you shouldn’t have to do all this in one go.

What are we? Robots? Animals? I say we are not. I say we are not that thing which can continue on for hours upon hours. We are flesh and blood. We have laundry to do, and kids to mind, and all the little things that make up a life. The little things that go on between conquests. That’s life, gentlemen, that’s living.

You remember that don’t you?

At the end of the day the Galaxy doesn’t care for your life your place in it. It’s only hungry for your ships, and for everything you’ve worked so hard at for the past 40 minutes. But you can’t give it to them. Not after all the sweat and blood it’s extracted from you, step by step, fight by fight, tooth and nail and fist and bone.

And we shouldn’t have to give it all up. Should we? Because our time is fractured. It’s cut up and divided and pulled, stretched out across the day. We shouldn’t, we can’t.

We need a save feature.

Andy Rooney On Teams and Fortresses

I'm blogging over at this gaming blog some of my MeFi friends setup. Specifically, some of my MeFi friends who formed Mefightclub, which is kinda the gaming arm of Metafilter, I suppose. This article has to do with Team Fortress 2, so, if you're not a PC gamer, and not hip with all the incarnations of Team Fortress, you can skip this post.

I don’t know what’s happening to gaming these days. In my day you had a fortress, you had a team, and you just went at it. It was like tag or flag football, the bedrock of any small town community. I know community isn’t in vogue these days. It’s one for one and all for none, it seems. I watch the television and it’s not more about team sports, its about the individual stars. A trophy for this, a medal for that.

It seems to me that nowadays, our fortress team games are obsessed with personal milestones. What sort of whacky combination of numbers have to be achieved today, I wonder. When I was younger, you just worried about how many times you fragged, and how many times you got fragged, and that was that. Now there are silly hats and punny little titles given to any number of strange number crunching.

Lately I’ve been wondering if it doesn’t have to do a little bit with things. What I mean is, too many people are in a rush to get things, get into the city, say, pick up a newer version of a pair of pants that have been perfectly fine these past five years. It’s not that I wouldn’t do it myself, if was a little bit younger, a little less wise, but it’s a shame all the same.

And seemingly, the company that, to be honest, makes me think more often of plumbing supplies than video gaming, has attached their weird and wonderful number crunching to getting more things. What’s wrong with a rocket launcher, I ask? Now you want a rocket launcher that does more splash damage, or less splash damage, maybe heats up your car on a cold morning.

It might be a bit much, I wonder.

But things move on, sure as taxes, or your toast getting inedibly dry after an endless conversation with a coworker you don’t like too much. I’m not one to complain about things. But it seems to me that the Team Fortress of today is a little too friendly, maybe, a little less fortressy. I don’t think we ever needed hats to really enjoy the game. We sure don’t need more things.

At least, I’d like to think so.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Look Vs Is

Idea courtesy of a Mysteriouuus Straaanger with a surprising amount of Ben Gay in his medicine cabinet and a voracious appetite for Reader's Digest "Humor In Uniform".


What He Looks Like : A former Airborne Ranger for the 501st who operates a heavy machinery leasing company while doing heli-rescue work on his spare time.
What He Is : A man who's spent more time in his barcalounger than he has commuting, sleeping and eating. Combined

What He Looks Like : The in-house emotions counsellor at HP.
What He Is : Chronically distant technophobe who has a powerful fear of barber shops and small talk.

What She Looks Like : An army field nurse who has seen more action than a platoon of Foreign Legionnaires.
What She Is : A fundamentalist Mennonite who insists on affecting a Dutch accent.

What She Looks Like : State fair runner-up for "Best Baked Dish Using Rutabaga", 1982.
What She Is : Vice-President for a private para-military outfit that operates mostly in Tangiers.

What She Looks Like : Thirty four year Bogata timeshare tele-rep.
What She Is : Thirty three year Bogata timeshare tele-rep.

What He Looks Like : Primary field researcher for the E. Bola vaccine.
What He Is : Rabid collector of 'WKRP In Cincinnati' memorabilia, Dunkin Donuts Branch manager.

What She Looks Like :President, four years running, of the "Whalebone Supported 18th Century Women's Wear Appreciation Society", New Hampshire Chapter. Office manager of a Fortune 5000 company nearing retirement.
What She Is : Ethnogeographer specializing in cannibalistic cultures, South East Asia.

What He Looks Like : Intelligence agent, operating out of a rather ignored nation-state that sprouted from the former Soviet Bloc. For hire services include assassination, seduction of baronesses, counter-insurgency guerilla warfare, demolitions, light massage.
What He Is : Ostrich farmer.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Art & Crap

There's a fantastic book out there that I've been meaning to get, Art & Fear. It has great anecdotes and advice about making art, or Art. I have a few nonfiction books to work through, so I'm not overly concerned about getting it just yet, but the book certainly comes to mind now and again. Mainly when I'm writing stories.

It came right to the fore when I was slogging through the 30 Days Project. Hell, or hell-like. Certainly reminiscent of brimstone and repurposed Pan imagery, anyways. Because, as you'll notice, through my thirty posts (15,000+ words(!!!)), and to be fair, through almost every other participants thirty posts, there are nearly no comments. Which, I assumed, was one of the draws of the 30 Day Project. Get feedback, support, community of artists, etc.

Poor naive me of thirty plus days ago.

The whole process helped me with come up with a revelation I call "Art & Crap". Which is tangentially related to the bits of Art & Fear I've read that really rung true to me.

Art & Crap goes like this:
1) No one cares about your crap.*
2) Those who care about your crap will only care enough to tell you how crap you crap is.
3) People will genuinely care about your crap when it's too late.
4) Only you can give a crap about your crap.

Which is kinda related to this. A most excellent comment about the whole creative endeavour by one of my mostest favouritest web comics, Subnormality (the comic is easier to read when you think of it more as a blog with pictures, as opposed to a webcomic).

This rule of mine, that I made up and I'm sure is just a poor rendition of a better observation by a more learned mind is immensely helpful to me now. Waiting or hoping for feedback from people in order to keep you doing your work is the quickest way to drink or an alarming bill at the nearest transgendered clown and pony brothel.

And yet, don't you know, it's something I tend to fall in sometimes. But thankfully I have a little series of pat rules to get me out of it. They may not be entirely true, but true enough for my purposes, anyways.


*friends and family don't count, they pretty much have to either feign interest or develop a rare and temporary vision impairment.