kent_allard_jr: (Default)
Kim is away this week, on a cruise with her mother, so I'm on my own. At first I didn't think it'd be so bad, since I had a temp stat job, but that job ended surprisingly early (on Tuesday, more than a week before I planned). So I've had nothing to do 24/7.

I was planning to catch up on Minecraft, because the Adventure Update (1.8) just came out, along with pre-release versions of 1.9. On paper, the changes are amazing. Huge biomes make the experience more immersive; there are abandoned mines, fortresses and NPC villages; lots of new options, including animal breeding which is a lot of fun. (True, getting mobbed by thousands of chickens with little hearts over their heads may not sound fun to most people...) I couldn't wait to try it out.

Sadly, the new game is very, very, very crash prone. Like every 5 minutes. Not always manageable kinds of crashes, either: Sometimes the Black Screen of Death, where the whole computer shuts down without warning. Plus, after each crash there's a chance the file becomes corrupted, meaning you can't access it anymore and have to return to a backup, losing all the work you did for the last two hours.... grrr!

Obviously, the Mojang folks promised too much, too quickly (the full game is supposed to come out in November). If I was smart I would just wait for more stable versions to come out, but see "more free time than one knows what to do with," above.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
Prompted by this Matthew Yglesias post, I mentioned the all persons fictitious disclaimer to my girlfriend Kimberly. It's now so standard, I mused, that "I bet even Star Wars posted it somewhere."

"I doubt it," she said. "What do you want to bet?"

We wagered that if she was right, I'd buy her flowers, and if I was right, she'd create her own World of Warcraft character and get her to level 5.

Alas, we watched the end credits to A New Hope ... and there was no all-persons-fictitious disclaimer. I have to visit a florist, and Knights of Morningside has lost a potential recruit.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
According to, Tales of the Blue Dolphin "is probably written by a male somewhere between 66-100 years old. The writing style is personal and upset most of the time." Two-thirds right isn't bad, I guess.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
I've never seen Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but caught a few minutes of the restored print on TCM last week. The film quality was amazing, and the scene I saw -- a delirious vision of a Jazz Age Whore of Babylon -- was captivating. I hoped to watch the full movie later, but alas, our DVR screwed up the recording (damn you Time Warner Cable!) so I'll have to wait until after the holidays.

Metropolis has already occupied a corner of my subconscious, though. On Sunday I dreamed of being trapped in a Metropolis MMO. (I don't know why I have so many MMO dreams. Once I was in a distant WoW expansion, set on the Moon, where I wandered out of town and was killed by a 200th-level squirrel...) I don't think it would have much commercial appeal, since you had to toil in the factories at low levels, although you got to reset your genetic structure every time you died. (In my dream gene splicing was done with fuzzy virtual Legos.) I did get to drive through the high-level city: It was under a dome, where the city's elite lived in open-air compounds around a suburban street. Big Sister's televised messages, strident to the proles, were whining and pathetic when delivered to the elite, who jeered and laughed at them anyway. A lot like our own world, when you think of it.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
The weather is cool, the sun is shining, and this would be a terrible time to ruin it with an angry political screed. Instead I'll say something positive and shout out to my new favorite blog, The Phil Nugent Experience. Nugent's blog is about 1/3rd liberal rant, 2/3rds cultural commentary, the latter encompassing everything from movie and TV reviews to his reminisces about Colonel Sanders. I particularly loved this bit, from one of his "October 2010 Horror Movie Diaries," insightful and funny (to me, at least) at the same time:
For a true student of the evolution of the movie monster, Plague of the Zombies may be of even greater historical interest, as one of the last full-blown depictions of the old school zombie before George Romero rolled in with Night of the Living Dead and single-handedly reinvented a whole species of ghoul, a feat comparable to rewriting the rules of the Western so that whole generations of moviegoers could scarcely imagine a time when cowboys didn't wear pink tutus and fire laser cannons. The classic zombie, as seen in this film and earlier pictures such as the Jacques Tourneur-Val Lewton production I Walked with a Zombie and memorably strange, low budget White Zombie with Bela Lugosi, were the products of voodoo...

Probably pre-Romero zombies never really caught on as movie monsters not just because they lacked personality, but because they had a workplace... Zombies were drones, dragged out of a restful grave to do the bidding of some Montgomery Burns figure. (In Plague, the villain turns out to be the local mine owner, who is callously working the non-union living dead to within an inch of their non-lives. My favorite image is that of a zombie failing to notice the hero sneaking past him because he's too busy irritably brushing dirt off his tunic, as if to say, I know I'm dead, but this still sucks.) Time and again, the real villain of these stories is the zombie master, the conscious player who is pimping out the undead. By taking the middle man out of the equation and giving his zombies insatiable appetites, Romero gave zombies greater metaphorical power and relevance, but he also made them free agents. This made them more fun to watch, and after the shock of seeing them biting into people's faces and inhaling human intestines as if they were licorice began to level out, it even made it possible to project onto them, which is why the clearest steady development throughout most of Romero's zombie movies is that, the longer he keeps making movies about them, the more opportunities he seems to find to allow you to sort of root for them.
It makes me feel bad for putting Romero-style zombies in Two-Fisted Tales (they clearly don't belong in stories from the 1930s), but those guilty discoveries are part of the fun of learning.
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
I highly recommend Kevin Drum's take on the "Tea Party". Nickel version: These movements pop up every time a Democrat is in the White House. The main difference between the Tea Parties and older movements such as the John Birch Society and the Liberty League is that the Teabaggers have taken over the Republican Party, while the older movements were held at arm's length. Folks who called JFK a Communist were laughed off the stage; today they say the same nonsense about Obama and everyone takes them seriously.

Personally, I thought I'd become more moderate as I got older. They say it's the common pattern, be a radical in your youth and a cranky conservative in your twilight years. Sadly the reverse has happened. I was surrounded by hippies in college and sneered at P.C. excess. I gave serious thought to voting for George Bush I, and I shrugged at the prospect of his son's Presidency. Today, though, I see the conservative movement as a paranoid hate cult, a real threat to the survival of the Republic, and the Republican Party seems unable or unwilling to stop its descent into madness. The conservative media bubble has cut its followers off from almost all inconvenient facts, giving it a political edge while making the GOP utterly incapable of governing. Its a deadly combination that could well doom the safety and prosperity of the United States.

Update: Also see Matt Taibbi's latest, and the most recent piece of demagoguery for Newt Gingrich: "I don’t remember any time in American history where we had such a threat to our basic way of life: A genuinely radical, secular socialist machine ramming things through with no regard for American values or the beliefs of the American people." JFK as a Communist all over again...
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
I'm always happy when xkcd does stat jokes:

'Dude, wait -- I'm not American! So my risk is basically zero!'

I may talk about Bayes' Theorem in class this semester (the first time I'll be doing so). For those who enjoy these little games... Assume only 1 in 2 million Americans knows 'that statistic.' If you walk down the road and find an American killed by lightening, what's the chance that he knew it?
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
One memory of my childhood: I was reading about Pompeii in the Foxboro Public Library, gazing in horror at photos of ancient Romans, shielding themselves from the falling ash. A strangely dirge-like song was playing in the background.

Thirty five years later and I still remembered the tune, and could hum it, but for the life of me I had no idea who sang the song. Every once and a while I would go to Amazon and preview "Hits of the 70s." I always get the warm fuzzies from 70s music, which I associate with my hazy childhood (while I remember the 80s far too well, and still think of it as the Decade of Douche), but I never found that song.

Until today. The Pompeii Song was "Miracles" by Jefferson Starship. I never would have suspected that the band behind "White Rabbit" and (barf!) "We Built This City" was responsible for the "dirge" of my memories, but there you go. I must have been 7 years old.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
[ profile] mylescorcoran linked to bookshelf porn on Facebook today, and it's a fine site, but reminded me of a long-term peeve of mine: The inadequacy of the common bookcase, and how much I'd love to see it improved upon.

Years ago I visited [ profile] womzilla's house in Yonkers, accompanying [ profile] agrumer, [ profile] drcpunk and [ profile] mnemex to playtest Shadowfist I believe. The great thing about womzilla's home is that just about every vertical surface is covered with books. I remember, for example, going to the bathroom late at night (we stayed over) to find a full bookcase in there. I ended up sitting on the can until dawn, reading the history of comics. (I hope no one else had to go...) I resolved to do build a similar space someday, whenever I had the money and real estate to do so.

I've made some progress, but in the process, come to a love-hate relationship with bookshelves. On the left is a photo of my RPG collection. The first two cases are cheap particle board, of which I used to have several. However, I found that most particle board bookcases will collapse if you fill them with ... well, books. They work fine if the shelves are halfway hull, or just have photos of Grandma and plastic whales and shit, but not more than that. I found they can only handle my RPGs, since many of the old boxed sets are partially empty.

Eventually I visited local cabinetmakers and bought high-quality wooden shelving. Much sturdier, but they often added fancy touches that made them harder to use. On the second photo you can see the arch on my TSR/Wotc/White Wolf bookcase. It looks nice, but you can't pull out Marvel Superheroes without removing half of the other games first. I'm glad the cabinetmakers take pride in their work and all, but I wish they'd remember what they're making.

One problem I don't have is a surplus of paperbacks, although many of my friends do. I've never seen a bookshelf that's well-suited to them: Most are too deep, and have too few shelves, to put all books on display at the same time. Most folks I know pile them two layers deep and two layers high per shelf, making them hard to catalog and causing periodic avalanches of books. Myself, I put my paperbacks in a corner unit designed to display knickknacks, as shown on the left. Works well enough if you don't have too many.

I've long been interested in alternatives to the common bookshelf: Units with sliding doors, multiple units, or what have you, and I'd love to hear ideas folks might have to improve things. Of course, I could just stop whining, follow Mom's advice and just throw all my shit out. After my last move it's a tempting alternative...
kent_allard_jr: (the ancients)
Kimberly played me The Human Family Tree the other night, and I loved it for two (largely unrelated) reasons. First, a lot of the "action" took place in my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, due to its amazing ethnic diversity, and it reinforced my love for the area. While most New Yorkers think of Astoria as a "Greek neighborhood" the stereotype is a bit out-of-date; while the Greeks own much of it (and the Italians, who long abandoned the place, still run its politics), it's as much Middle Eastern, Latin American and Eastern European as Greek these days. Sadly, no good neighborhood in New York survives for long, and as more white-bred over-educated folks like myself discover Astoria's wonders, it will turn into yet-another Yuppie Disneyland of Costco's and Trader Joe's. (Yes, I know I'm contributing to the trends I decry...) Nevertheless I'm glad to see the spotlight on my beloved multi-ethnic home while it still lives.

The other reason I loved the special was its subject matter. It traced mankind's exodus from Africa, and the paths different populations took across the world, providing a history of man's migratory patterns. You can see many of their findings illustrated on this wonderful interactive map. I encourage everyone to click on a path or two, and get a sense of some of the weird stories that suggest themselves.

Much of my reading over the past several years has been in historical linguistics, and part of its appeal, for me, was its use as a tool to uncover pre-history. When you find that the languages of Madagascar are related to those of South-East Asia, for example, it implies all sorts of scenarios, from heroic expeditions straight across the Indian Ocean, to vast Austronesian trading empires along the East African coast. Yet historical linguistics can only take us so far back, in Eurasia to the end of the Neolithic, at best. The "Genographic Project" highlighted in this special opens a whole new set of tools to unlock these amazing untold stories.


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