Robots? We don't need no stinkin' robots!

>> Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Joel Hodgson has pulled together almost the entire original cast and writers of Mystery Science 3000 for a new project heckling DVDs. Of course, they don't have the robots, who are now owned by the guy Hodgson fell out with when he left the show (producer Jim Mallon).

Oh no! They don't have the robots?

Fuck the robots.

And say hello to Cinematic Titanic.

Can I get a "Hell Yeah!" over here?

I thought so.


This is Halloween, everybody make a scene...

Tonight, I'm watching John Carpenter's Halloween (which, I'm embarrassed to admit, I've never seen in its entirety and uncut) and eating popcorn. What are you doing? (Or, depending on if and when you read this, what did you do?)


Happy birthday, sis!

I'm not yet clear on how personal I want this site to be, but (since she sometimes posts comments here):

Happy Birthday, Sis!


I think I've got it!

So, I think I have the plot for my NaNoWriMo project.

It came to me last night as I was getting ready for bed. I had the notion of a rock star selling his soul to the devil in exchange for his band becoming the biggest band in the world, only to get fired from the band. Which would suck in all sorts of ways. And then it dawned on me that it didn't need to be a supernatural story at all: it could be a black comedy about a musician who gets canned and has the worst year of his life.

So, I think that's it. More will show up here. Definitely a word count, maybe even excerpts or notes. Maybe some brainstorming or talking to myself about issues or whatever.

The plan is to keep on blogging here every day, but we'll see how that works out.


On the radio...

>> Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Apparently, someone has made a movie out of Philip K. Dick's Radio Free Albemuth. I'm not really surprised: PKD has been a hot property, and his kids have been aggressively licensing their dad's work. (And well they should--one suspects that the things that made him a brilliant writer made him a less-than-brilliant dad, and anyway there wasn't a lot of money to be made toiling in science fiction until right before he died. I may not like most of the adaptations of his work, but I like the idea of his kids finally getting something for their old man's hard work a lot.)

RFA is a fairly minor novel. In my opinion, it's mainly notable for being salvaged into the brilliant Valis, a brilliant novel novel and not just a brilliant genre novel. Valis is absolutely and utterly worth reading.

Whether RFA will make even a halfway decent movie is also hard to say. RFA, like Valis, is deeply rooted in something like a psychological break PKD was undergoing in the early 1970s. Being a little crazy, and having damaged himself with various drugs (including the speed he took to pound out low-paying pulp novels to try to feed his family), PKD apparently became convinced that God was talking to him via a pink laser beam projected directly into his eyeball. Being a brilliant man, PKD was apparently smart enough to realize that believing that God is shooting pink lasers at you is a sign of mental illness. And being a damn good writer, he turned it into a moving book--Valis, not RFA so much. RFA is kind of like Valis before it got filtered through PKD's personal and literary self-awareness: the paranoia, without as much of the parody; the religious exultation, without as much of the profound empathy for the human condition that makes PKD great.

Which, ironically, may be why RFA might work better than Valis as a movie. The native duplicity of the soul can be much harder to convey on screen, but on the page it can be comic and pathetic all at once. Valis is so brilliantly pretzel-shaped that PKD appears in the book as two characters: a mentally-ill man named Horselover Fat ("philip" is Greek for "lover of horses" and "dick" is German for "thick"--i.e. fat) and as the narrator, a science fiction writer named Phil Dick.

Here's a funny and sad page from Valis, in which Horselover Fat, Phil Dick, and their friend Kevin discuss God:

No need existed to bait Fat with idle questions, such as, "If God can do anything can he create a ditch so wide he can't jump over it?" We had plenty of real questions that Fat couldn't field. Our friend Kevin always began his attack one way. "What about my dead cat?" Kevin would ask. Several years ago, Kevin had been out walking his cat in the early evening. Kevin, the fool, had not put the cat on a leash, and the cat had dashed out into the street and right into the front wheel of a passing car. When he picked up the remains of the cat it was still alive, breathing in bloody foam and staring at him in horror. Kevin liked to say, "On judgment day when I'm brought up before the great judge I'm going to say, 'Hold on a second,' and then I'm going to whip out my dead cat from inside my coat. 'How do you explain this?' I'm going to ask."

By then, Kevin used to say, the cat would be as stiff as a frying pan; he would hold out the cat by its handle, its tail, and wait for a satisfactory answer.

Fat said, "No answer would satisfy you."

"No answer you could give," Kevin sneered. "Okay, so God saved your son's life; why didn't he have my cat run out into the street five seconds later? Three seconds later? Would that have been too much trouble? Of course, I suppose a cat doesn't matter."

"You know, Kevin," I pointed out one time, "you could have put the cat on a leash."

"No," Fat said. "He has a point. It's been bothering me. For him the cat is a symbol of everything about the universe he doesn't understand."

"I understand fine," Kevin said bitterly. "I just think it's fucked. God is either powerless, stupid or he doesn't give a shit. Or all three. He's evil, dumb and weak. I think I'll start my own exegesis."

"But God doesn't talk to you," I said.

"You know who talks to Horse?" Kevin said. "Who really talks to Horse in the middle of the night? People from the planet Stupid. Horse, what's the wisdom of God called again? Saint what?"

"Hagia Sophia," Horse said cautiously.

Kevin said, "How do you say Hagia Stupid? St. Stupid?"

"Hagia Moron," Horse said. He always defended himself by giving in. "Moron is a Greek word like Hagia. I came across it when I was looking up the spelling of oxymoron."

"Except that the -on suffix is the neuter ending," I said.

That gives you an idea of where our theological arguments tended to wind up. Three malinformed people disagreeing with one another.

-Valis, 26-27 (Vintage Books, 1991)

Rest in peace, Phil. Rest in peace.

More about the Radio Free Albemuth movie can be found here.


Harry hypothermia.

I've been reading a whole lot of comments this week to the effect that J.K. Rowling owns her work, and therefore she can say anything she wants to after the fact, and it must be true because it's her story; frankly, all those comments are scaring me.

They don't scare me because Dumbledore is gay. Okay, he's gay. Whatever. I'm not sure it's particularly relevant. And that's what's starting to scare me: a lot of people think that it is. A lot of people seem to be saying that the events of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows make more sense now that we have this vital puzzle piece that we didn't have before.

See, J.K. Rowling has detractors. And a number of them have leveled the charge that Rowling doesn't know how to plot her way out of a paper bag. This is something I've argued with. Have they read the books? An obscure incident in book 5 becomes a major plot twist in book 7! She has boxes full of notecards and things! She's a master at plotting, it's one of her strengths!

But I'm chilled to think maybe the naysayers were right.

When you were a kid, did you ever try to tell a story? Maybe something you made up, or maybe something you'd heard, it doesn't matter. And when you were done, did you ever look up into the faces of all those grown ups and see baffled looks of incomprehension there? And after a moment of awkward silence or strained praise, did you then say something like, "The ghost was really his feet under the sheets... get it?" Because you messed up the story: you knew all along that the ghost at the end of the bed was the man's foot, and that's why he shot his big toe off when he got scared. But you messed it up, because you were seven and didn't know how to tell a story, and when it didn't make sense you had to try to explain it to everyone after the fact. Your ineptitude resulted in everyone misunderstanding the whole story.

But you were seven. Or maybe you were nine. Whatever.

So here's J.K. Rowling, months after publication, explaining, "He was in love with Grindelwald the whole time... get it?" As if there wasn't enough there for the reader, however young, to try to figure out how someone so seemingly wise as an old man could be so foolish when he was young.

What if I've been wrong? What if Rowling's need to clarify this now reflects a fundamental failure to communicate, meaning that she's not nearly as good as I thought she was and made her out to be?

It's not just Dumbledore, either. Over on Scalzi's blog, someone asked if the people who had a problem with Dumbledore being gay had a problem with Snape being good--and I thought, "Wait, Snape's good‽ I thought Snape was just this guy in the middle who loved Lily Potter and did lots of bad things and a few good things, always looking out for #1 first and foremost. Shit! This might explain why I thought Harry naming his son Severus was so fucking weak."

All of a sudden, Deathly Hallows looks less and less like a mildly-disappointing finale to a great series and more and more like a Revenge Of The Sith-magnitude fumble.

A lot of people won't believe this isn't about Dumbledore's sexual orientation. I have no idea how one proves his liberated bona fides in this kind of situation. All I can say is it's about writing, it's about what's in the text, and what's not in the text, and how a piece of writing becomes a reader's.

And I'll make this presumptuous promise right now: in the unlikely event I ever write a novel that makes it into print and is read by anyone, I won't come out after the fact and tell you something something something that isn't in the text and say it must be true, because I wrote it and I therefore own it, screw you.


There are some good comments here, and I agree with at least part of this, although I'm not sure the "Grindelwald subtext" was that clear. It wasn't Interview With The Vampire, say. But maybe I'm just denser than I like to think. And certainly the comment about Rowling's "disturbing messages" does strike a bit of a chord.

You know, there's another way of looking at this: Rowling's announcement may be the best thing to happen to Philip Pullman in years. (Click on that link. If you do not already own it, click on "Add To Shopping Cart." Purchase. Thank me after you compose yourself and quit crying at the end of book three. You're welcome.)


Two days to go... oh hell....

>> Monday, October 29, 2007

It's just hitting me that National Novel Writing Month starts in two days. I'm planning on doing it again, but what the hell am I going to write?

At one point, I thought maybe I could work on expanding this ficlet series. It's actually something I thought about doing some time ago--I think the main character could be vaguely interesting, and magic noir can be fun, rent Cast A Deadly Spell to see for yourself sometime if you don't believe me. But then I moved on to other things.

Or maybe it would be fun to write a western. Or a ghost story. At one point I also had an idea for a story about a house haunted by its future, but that also went nowhere.

I don't want to make the vampire thing I'm occasionally working on to be my NaNoWriMo story. The vampire thing has promise. That's why I'm not even going into details here. It's my precioussss. I'll pick it back up in December.

But what should I write about?

It's hard to tell how many people come by: I know my sister does (hi!) and I know I sometimes get visitors from ficlets. I was pleasantly surprised to get useful advice about Linux and The Bolshoi (thanks!). I'm not sure if any of my friends read this, or any other family members. I seem to have had some hits from a few other places (hi, everyone! thanks for dropping by!). But anyway-- If you (whomever you might be, wherever you might hail from) have an idea about what I should write my NaNoWriMo novel about, leave me a comment. Genre, theme, anything. I'd love to hear from you.

The clock is ticking....


Oh, I'm "RANDOLPHCARTER" over at NaNoWriMo, if you want to be my buddy or check in on me in November.


Not nearly as important as everyone thinks...

A week ago, roughly, I commented on J.K. Rowling's decision to out Albus Dumbledore. What was it I wrote? Oh yes:

J.K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore. Of all the questions I might have had reading the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore's sexual orientation never crossed my mind. But good for him, I guess, or for Rowling. (Although I also can't help thinking that, if she wanted to make a statement, outing Dumbledore is about as innocuous a statement as you can make.)

It was slightly less newsworthy, I think, then the other part of the blog entry: a report that a Japanese fashion designer had invented urban camouflage in the form of a cloth vending-machine hood that you could pull over your entire body to make yourself look like a soda machine to prospective muggers.

A week later, and everyone is still wild about Harry, but there's no love for the faux vending machines amongst us. Or among Japanese urbanites.

Not that there's anything wrong with loving the Potterverse. I had the last four books delivered to my front door by Amazon on the day of release. They're great, fun reads, even the last two when Rowling realized she'd boxed herself in a corner and had two only two books to cover at least a half-century of exposition.

But talking about a dead fictional person's sex life fifty years ago is about as relevant and interesting as talking about a dead real person's sex life fifty years ago. Okay. Bad comparison. People still buy books about who Marilyn was screwing. But I hope you get the point.

See, if you haven't read the books, here's the thing: Dumbledore is the grandfather figure in the Potterverse. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your grandfather having sex? Go ahead, do it now. Take your time. With your grandmother, with some sailor from the harbor, with Marilyn. Whatever floats your boat. Picture that hot grandfather action.

See, you didn't want to do that, did you? Not because you can't accept that your grandfather had sex--he had sex with your grandmother at least once, right? It's that you really just didn't actually care all that much about that part of your grandfather's life. It's not like you had conversations like this with your friends:

Your Friend: My grandfather was a marine and served in WWII and Korea.
You: My grandfather banged my grandma.
Now, someone might be saying that accepting your parents and grandparents as sexual beings is part of growing up. Could be, but it's not really part of Harry's growing up in Deathly Hallows. Or in any of the other books. It's trivia. Okay, Dumbledore's gay. What I really want to know is if Lily Potter really had Farrah hair. That's a far more essential matter when it comes to how I pictured the characters, seriously. Dumbledore gay? 'Kay. Whatever. Lily Potter had big hair and grooved to disco? As Darth Vader famously said, "Noooooooooooooooooooo!" What's next? Moony, Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail sitting around a table in Red's basement, marijuana perfectly innocuous smoke swirling around their heads as they have a completely inane conversation about Fez's Wormtail's sex life?

There is, however, an interesting question buried in this. One that I've been beating to death in the comments thread on John Scalzi's Whatever blog, and that I might take up here at some point. Is Dumbledore _____ (fill in whatever you'd like) just because Rowling says so outside of the text? When does an author relinquish control of her creation over to the reader, and should the reader care what an author says independently of the text?

I think--and I'm not quite ready to elaborate here and now--that a writer has to accept that once a story is out in the wild, readers are going to draw from and project onto the work whatever they want. What the writer has to say might be interesting, and might help establish a common ground for people to discuss the work with each other, but the writer doesn't own what's in the reader's head.

Although, now that I think about it, all those comments I made at Scalzi's, and I should have been wondering about Lily's big hair and Snape's corduroy pants. Damn. I missed the point until it was too late. Again.



>> Sunday, October 28, 2007

I seem incapable of getting much done. I think I did have one small breakthrough, but it didn't lead to any text. Maybe it's the coffee, but I'm starting to feel a bit cranky.

On the plus side, I'm listening to a boot of a Bolshoi concert from 1987. Portsmouth Polytechnic, October 17, 1987, to be more precise about it.

The Bolshoi were a band I first heard about in college, during the year I spent at UNCC. This would have been... 1991, I believe, which is about three years after they broke up. A guy whose name I can't even remember now had a copy of Friends which he played all the time. Maybe a year later, I saw a used copy of Lindy's Party in a bin at a record store. (Thinking about it, it might even have been a couple of years--it may have been a record store in Chapel Hill, which could have been '94 or so.)

It wasn't too hard to find a used copy of Friends, but other albums were harder to come by. Several years back, I was able to get a batch of albums including the Giants mini-album on vinyl, only to discover that Beggars' Banquet was doing a reissue of just about everything they'd done, along with a "Best Of" compilation that had some b-sides and odd tracks.

The Bolshoi were a bit pop and a bit glam. They were sometimes compared unfavorably and perhaps unfairly with Bauhaus, a comparison that ends almost as soon as the needle (or laser) hits the track. The lead singer/guitarist, Trevor Tanner, was pretty solid on the strings and knew how to write a catchy tune.

Anyway, I didn't really want to write a review of the band, which I'm perilously close to having to do by accident, and I don't think I have the brainpower. If you're interested, a slew of live bootlegs can be found here. The sound quality on some is a bit spotty, but the 10/17 show sounded fairly good. And if anyone knows who the hell "Doharty" is, and why we're talking about him at Lindy's party, feel free to comment.


Yay! I'm probably very likely neurotypical...

...whatever the Hell that means. Anyway, I guess I don't have Asperger's Syndrome.


Your Aspie score: 85 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 126 of 200
You are very likely neurotypical


You can test yourself here, if you'd like. And stop making those noises. They're too loud.


Vey minor bummer.

Decided to go out after all. Discovered that Boudreaux's wasn't seating anyone on the patio. The main point, really, wasn't that I was all that hungry for brunch, but I liked the idea of sitting outside with my coffee and The Coldest Winter. So I figured, "screw brunch," and went across the street to Smelly Cat and plugged in. Inside, not outside, but I can pretend I'm working, eat a muffin, get caffed up, etc.

I forgot that They Might Be Giants are in town tonight, playing across the street at The Neighborhood Theater. Hopefully, they'll be back. Hopefully, I'm not making a mistake: a few years ago, before I moved into the neighborhood, Múm came to town and played at the NT; I didn't go and they haven't been back and the original lineup splintered and doesn't appear likely to get back together.

Anyway, I'm just not sure I'm in the mood for a show tonight--which means I'm not in the mood to see a show tonight. Not even the Giants.


They're not trying hard enough to amuse me!

I usually check out the Weekly World News once a week. WWN is the best tabloid ever, kind of like The Onion meets The X-Files. Unfortunately, ever since they canceled their print version, the online version seems mostly to hardly ever update, and recycles stories when it does. The promised that the online version would stay in existence, but I'm afraid that may have been wishful thinking on someone's part. It's kind of like when Modern Humorist's writers/editors realized they could make more money appearing on VH1 shows or writing for McSweeney's or whatever they're doing now, leaving the MH site haunting the web.

One of the refreshed stories up on WWN today is this account of a strange computer virus afflicting the terminal of one "Dave Bauman." Unfortunately, his friend "Hal Poole" subsequently discovered that the virus was in fact a computer allergy, resulting from Bauman's collection of rare and old books.

The story isn't that funny in and of itself, but the author gets small props for the movie reference. He might have gotten more props, though, if he'd written that Poole had said, "I can't do that Dave," when asked to fix the faulty machine. Or maybe that would have been too much.

Coincidentally, I watched 2001 again last night. I think it's still probably the best science-fiction film of all time, although I won't argue with anyone who says Blade Runner instead.


Today is a day to...

Normally on a Sunday, I'll go up the street for brunch at Boudreaux's and then spend the rest of the day at Smelly Cat drinking coffee. Problem is, I'm not totally sure I want to do that today. I kind of want to spend the day playing video games and trying to get Neverwinter Nights reinstalled on the Dell (it's still acting cranky, but I think I finally got the nVidia card working).

On the other hand, it is a beautiful day. I could have brunch on the patio and spend the rest of the day trying to reboot my vampire story. The vampire story has been sort of stalled: I wrote a whole bunch, realized it could actually be something substantive, and now I'd like to re-start it. But the juices aren't flowing the way they could be. I've barely been able to come up with any ficlets this week, even.

What to do, what to do?


I've lost pivo-kun!

>> Saturday, October 27, 2007

Today's Slashdot included a link to this story about a concept car Nissan was showing off at this year's Tokyo Motor Show. The Pivo 2 concept car comes with a robot that helps navigate, tries to keep the driver calm and happy, and addresses other safety features. Not covered in the report is how many astrogation jumps it can store in memory or whether it can make spot repairs when Darth Vader tries to kill you. A chief designer from Nissan thinks you might be able to buy one in 2015. We'll see.


Moments of zen...

>> Friday, October 26, 2007

Boing Boing features a review of the ultimate Swiss Army Knife. No, really, it's the ultimate: $1000 gets you every single blade or gadget they've ever put onto a Swiss Army Knife.

Good luck getting it in your pocket, though.

And, from Engrish Of The Day, a heartfelt warning that we should all... take to heart, from the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo:

Here's to the hope that all of you will not be injured all the time. Especially this weekend. Be safe.


Should this be described as a "catfight"?

>> Thursday, October 25, 2007

Or what else do you call it when two Violent Femmes get into a fight with each other?

Apparently Brian Ritchie is angry at Gordan Gano for licensing "Blister In The Sun" to Wendy's for an ad campaign, and has now filed a lawsuit. Ritchie apparently says he didn't receive some royalties, Gano's camp denies it, they'll bicker and probably settle after pissing away a fair bit of goodwill for the band, etc.

I haven't seen the ad--I don't have cable and really only watch DVDs--but I have to wonder whether using a song about masturbation and teen angst to sell food products is really clever or, um, "clever" as in: "brilliant, Einstein." I think it might even transcend Mitsubishi using a song about death to try to sell cars. Yes, just as I associate luxury vehicles with the notion that I should gracefully accept the inevitability of death, I associate hamburgers with semen-stained sheets. Yum!


As far as the Femmes' latest disintegration, it's hard to know how to feel. I adore the band, and have seen them live several times, and love the albums. But there's no getting around the fact that they kinda peaked the second (and last) time in the late 80's with Why Do Birds Sing? Their shows sadly tend towards being a kind of punk nostalgia act--a whole lot of songs from the eponymous debut, a scattering of odd classics, and then... not much else. No sign that they've done anything else during the past two decades. No "Fuck you, we're playing the new album and we'll do 'Gone Daddy Gone' for the encore and not a minute sooner, you ungrateful shits." I mean, even if their last album sucked, you'd have to give them points for shoving it down the crowd's collected throats. (What was their last album, anyway?) This was a band that used to play "Country Death Song" over laughs and jeers until audiences started taking it semi-seriously, and yet these days their setlist looks like the back of an album they recorded in 1982. When I was ten. Before I had a mortgage and a law degree and half my friends had kids getting ready to start kindergarten.

And anyway, they need each other. Brian Ritchie may be on my personal short-list for "my fantasy band" (drums: Larry Mullen, Jr.; guitar: me, of course; keys: Rick Wright, maybe?), but I don't see him successfully rebooting his career. At some point, he'll want to buy something in Australia and Gordan Gano will need new boots or something, and the next tour will crank into motion. So, I'm not feeling too sad about all this, I guess.


That's not sanitary at all!

Oh, and Boing Boing also featured a link to this, arguably the worst book cover/concept ever.

That's not sanitary, that's not something that should be encouraged, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't taste good. I will give them this, however: I now have a much better idea of what a "shit-eating grin" looks like.


Not a lost dog...

Today, Boing Boing features a link to a poster about a dog, who isn't lost but apparently is awesome. Just in case you were wondering. (Not sure if the dog's really that great, but the poster is pretty funny....)


Love and anger?

>> Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The next expansion of Arkham Horror, Kingsport Horror, is on its way. Monsters with aquatic movement. Oooh! At this point, my gaming group has dissolved, but maybe some folks will be in town at Christmastime and we can all die screaming for old times' sake. At any rate, this puppy can't come out soon enough--I want, I want, I want....

In other gaming news, Paizo appears to be seriously not "upgrading" to 4th edition D&D next year considering . And raising the question of whether they ought to convert ever. Paizo is one of the major 3rd-party vendors for D&D--while their decision might not directly affect Hasbro's bottom line, I'd be inclined to think that Paizo's defection might encourage other RPG companies working the d20 OGL to follow suit.

The poetic justice of Paizo leading the charge away from 4.0 is the fact that Wizards Of The Coast sort of screwed Paizo earlier this year in the buildup to 4.0: Paizo had the publishing licenses for Dungeon and the venerable Dragon magazines. Those magazines no longer exist--it doesn't appear they were part of the Wizards plan to shift D&D to the internet.

Speaking of which, I think Mr. Mona's assessment of Hasbro/Wizards' motivations and goals are the most sober and accurate assessment I've seen. I think it's fairly obvious that Hasbro and Wizards are trying to appeal to MMORPGers and create a revenue flow by selling continuous low-level "upgrades" to gamers. He does a very good job of summing up what they're doing, why it makes sense for them, and why it's maybe not in the interests of other companies (and of old-school gamers, for that matter).


Begin again, again.

Well, I've reinstalled Kubuntu. I'm now running 7.10, the Gutsy Gibbon. Now to see if I can get things set up again: DVD playback, making sure my Firefox preferences stay preferred, getting the right number of virtual desktops and the launch panel configured. And getting the one Linux game I have, Neverwinter Nights reloaded and my save games restored.

Good grief, it's all a pain in the ass.

But it's not all bad: the thing about doing a clean reinstall is that you've learned from all the things you screwed up last time. This time, I'll get DVDs running without using Automatix. Automatix is a program that runs installation scripts for you, but it's a bit controversial among Linux geeks because of debates over its necessity and because it does seem to frag some installations by re-writing some initialization files in a sloppy-ish way. (Automatix is a likely suspect in my previous installation's inability to mount portable hard drives.)

And this time, I installed my root (the actual OS files necessary for installation) in one partition and my home folder (my data files) in a separate partition. This is a purely optional thing to do, but it means that future disasters will be segregated. If I manage to blowout the kernel (the core of the operating system--the files that tell your computer how to be a computer) like I did trying to fix Linux this week, my data should be in a separate place. And if the data gets corrupted, the operating system should be independent of the disaster, and in a better position to fix things.

(One of the perverse things about Linux and the Ubuntu family is that the data is more valuable than the operating system: if the operating system gets screwed, you can run it from a CD. But your data is only as good as your last backup.)

Partitioning the hard drive was a fairly simple point-and-click affair. In fact, the longest and most difficult part of the process was actually trying to decide how big to make my swap partition. Of the OS installations I've done over the years, Ubuntu/Kubuntu is so easy and painless, it's almost seems criminal, like deciding to eat another Krispy Kreme doughnut. I mean, you could (if you were a big enough nerd) almost spend a whole afternoon installing and reinstalling this thing.

The big pain isn't the basic installation, it's fixing the system to be the way you want it to be. Where are your fonts? Your icons? Your wallpapers? Why is the titlebar the wrong color, damnit? Getting a computer working at this stage bears some resemblance to a dog going to bed: turning around the right number of times, kneading the pillows into the right shape with the forepaws, chewing the rear leg until it feels right. A lot of steps that don't really seem to be necessary, but we're not bedding down until we have it right.

Anyway, that's the current situation. I may actually sleep alright tonight. And when I get all my virtual desktops tweaked, maybe I'll post some screenshots like a geek-father.


What did I overlook?

I've backed up everything I think I had to. Neverwinter Nights save games, my favorite fonts. The novel I'm "working" on, I already e-mailed to myself, but I also salvaged some noodling I may never look at again. Also managed to save my FEBE file, so I won't have much to do to recover Firefox. Tomorrow... er, later today... I'll be doing a completely clean install of Kubuntu 7.10 and hoping that I've washed my hands of this fiasco.


I'll need to re-install video drivers and deCSS, I imagine (er... scratch that last bit; of course I'd never download software to watch DVDs I owned and paid for, why would I do that?). Plus, reinstalling Neverwinter. Sigh. I hate and love it.

Off to bed. G'night.


When security is a bad, bad thing

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ubuntu Linux, like a good, modern operating system, tries to be idiot proof. One was in which that's implemented is to deny the user administrator rights as a matter-of-course. Another is that Ubuntu tends to default to denying permissions with new directories and drives.

Here's what that means: the administrator on a computer is the person who has universal access to everything on the system. Every directory, every file, everything. Being administrator is like being king: it's good to be king. But, if you're one of those child-kings who inherits the throne at age 4, you can end up being the patsy while a regent comes in using your name to impose all sorts of painful edicts.

No, it really is a good metaphor: the fact that older versions of Windows default the user to administrator privileges is part of the reason there are so many security exploits for Windows: pretty much every home user of Windows is an administrator, and if they download a piece of software without scanning it for viruses or malicious scripts (programs), the user runs that program as an administrator and that program takes on the same administrative privileges that the person who ran it had. The administrator has direct access to everything, remember? So the administrator who accidentally gives a virus administrative privileges gives that virus access to everything....

This is why Mac OSX, many Linux flavors, and Windows Vista don't let the user default to administrator. The user has to take extra steps to run a program that could access the meaty parts of his or her system, like the partition table or private data. In the case of Vista, you (apparently) have to click on a box every time you want to run something--word on the street is it's a lousy implementation of a necessary idea. In the case of Linux, the more typical decision is to require the user to temporarily login in as a superuser.

In a GUI (graphical user interface) like KDE, an administrative-level program will throw up a login screen before proceeding. It doesn't absolutely keep a user from doing something stupid, but it certainly red-flags the operation and creates a tripwire. From the command line, the user must preface an instruction with the prefix sudo. For instance, changing the permission on a file to make it accessible for all users might look something like:

sudo chmod a=+rw /directory name/file name

This is normally a good thing. Normally. But when you're a low-level user (like myself) trying to fix a broken system, it makes the ears bleed. It's also the kind of thing that confuses and terrifies an entry-level user, and it's part of the reason Linux isn't quite ready for primetime.

Anyway, that's me venting while waiting for files to copy. If you know more than I do--quite likely--feel free to tell me what I'm doing wrong. I've got to learn somehow.


Repeated kicks in the crotch...

Every time I solve a problem some new obstacle comes in my way. I am feeling a great deal of animosity to non-living objects in my life right now. Figure out how to load KDM, discover you can't access a portable hard drive. Figure out how to access the portable hard drive, can't actually write files to it. Figure out the format needed to write to the hard drive, can no longer read the files that need to be copied.

In my mind's eye, I imagine myself wild-haired and bloodshot-eyed. In reality, I'm just an angry-looking fat man in a Goats t-shirt.

Rage. Rage is what it is I'm feeling.

Alright. Back to the machineries of crotch-kicking. Joy? As if.


No happy man.

>> Monday, October 22, 2007

So now I've basically decided I'm going to need to re-build the system, but I'd like to back my home folder up first and I can't get my computer to recognize a portable hard drive. This doesn't change my overall positive experiences with linux: at a similar point with a Windows system, I really would have a bricked computer by now.

Still, this is driving me nuts. Absolutely bonkers.



I may have spoken too soon. Now the Dell is acting all sorts of cranky.



Let's never fight again...

After multiple reboots, restarting from two different versions of two different Kubuntu CDs, and seriously considering a completely clean install of the OS (and my still-alive, still-present data precious data be damned), I finally got a reboot with one line in a forum:

$sudo apt-get -f install

Huzzah! Hooray!

Everything is back, sort of. Except now my root folder is appearing on my desktop. Which is bad, aside from also being unattractive. Nonetheless! Still... alive... old... friend....


You know what else is fun? Scabies!

>> Sunday, October 21, 2007

Right, I'm posting this entry to keep from chewing my own tongue off while I wait for a disc image to download on my secondary (Windows) computer.

That sentence, right there, will be enough for some of you to figure out why I might be inclined to chew my own tongue off.

Speaking of wanting to chew my own tongue off! Did you know that the newest version of Kubuntu is out? Version 7.10, "Gutsy Gibbon" in the alliterative parlance of those fine folks at Canonical. It looks pretty cool: new implementation of KDE, I hear it's got improved drivers, lots of groovy stuff. Pretty sharp looking, yeah. So, I thought maybe I'd upgrade. Yeah. Especially since most computers will be able to upgrade without trouble via the Adept package manager.

Yep. See, I tend to be a bit anal-retentive when it comes to updates. I start feeling insecure whenever my version number isn't the top version number. It nags at me if I don't have the latest whatsit on my devices. Even when I have to do a rollback, as I did with my Dell PDA when Windows Mobile 5.0 came out (5.0 was a no-go for all sorts of reasons), it vexes me.


So, you know, even though I had a perfectly fine, working version of Kubuntu running on my Dell laptop (my primary machine), with the graphics driver tweaked and everything, I thought it would be a good idea to upgrade to 7.10. Yep. A really, really good idea. Yep. Good. Ideas are good.

You keep thinking, Butch, that's what you're good at.

I'll let you know how it goes.


I believe!

This is sorta old, but I only saw it on Boing Boing today:

Your Mom's Basement has uncovered the long-suppressed collaboration between Jack Chick and Stan Lee, Galactus Is Coming!

This brave religious tract boldly points out that Galactus is real, but that true believers have nothing to fear: the Mole Man will probably kill you first, before Galactus destroys the world.

I believe. Do you? Have you been saved?*

*By the Fantastic Four, the amazing Spider-Man, the Avengers, or any of the Defenders operating singularly or as a group. Being saved by one of the uncanny X-Men doesn't count: there are, like, 3,524 of them. I mean, statistically speaking, you probably live next door to one of the X-Men, or work with one, or are dating one, or there's one ordering a double-espresso in the coffee shop you're sitting in. They're freakin' everywhere.


Two news items enter, one news item leaves...

>> Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Boing Boing today:

1) A Japanese fashion designer has designed vending-machine camouflage for women who are afraid of walking alone. You're alone, scared--no problem! Disguise yourself as a vending machine! ("Where did she go? She was here a moment ago!")

2) J.K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore. Of all the questions I might have had reading the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore's sexual orientation never crossed my mind. But good for him, I guess, or for Rowling. (Although I also can't help thinking that, if she wanted to make a statement, outing Dumbledore is about as innocuous a statement as you can make.)

And now, in tribute to our stealthy Japanese sisters in their soda-machine outfits, something completely similar:


>> Friday, October 19, 2007

Another 40th year anniversary this year, it turns out. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the "taking" of the Patterson film of a bigfoot on "her" daily walk.

This momentous occasion is made even more special by something I just learned while researching this entry: turns out bigfoot is from my hometown. Awesome! Happy 40th birthday, bigfoot film!


It's only rock'n'roll but I like it...

Yesterday's Slate featured an article responding to a recent piece in The New Yorker by Sasha Frere-Jones in which Frere-Jones complains that contemporary rock--specifically indie rock--isn't black enough.

It must be very hard to be a Professional Music Critic™. There you are, facing deadlines and wanting to purchase things like, oh, I don't know, food, maybe, and you have to write something that will be read and talked about and will justify an editor's asking you to come back and write another piece the next time you need more food. What are you going to say? How much mileage are you going to get out of "Well, they wrote this 20-minute song because they liked that note"?

No, no, no. That will never do. You've got to make a cultural statement. What does this song say about race, gender, class, politics, the amount of wood processed by rodents (if they processed wood)?

Every song, every album must be part of some zeitgeist, even if the creator of the piece in question was mostly trying to get laid at the time, or was told by the label that they really needed another 10 minutes or that they didn't hear a hit.

Frere-Jones wants to know where the soul in rock'n'roll went. Why don't these records sound black enough anymore? Carl Wilson, in Slate, replies that Jones is missing the point when he focuses on race, that the reason indie acts don't sound black is that (black or white), they're all upper-middle-class college types in their 20s.

Where both critics fall apart, I think, is that they beg the question of why a Wilco record ought to sound differently (other, perhaps, than the obvious reason that Frere-Jones hates Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). It may be that the reason Wilco doesn't sound especially "black" (Frere-Jones' code for R&B influenced, I suppose) is that Jeff Tweedy has always been more beholden to Woody Guthrie than Robert Johnson. If this is less obvious on Wilco's more recent albums (oh, come on, it's just as obvious as ever), it's only because Tweedy is now filtering his Americana through electronic music and not just the post-punk of yore.

The reason The Clash sounded the way they did was because they always wanted to integrate the diversity of music the members had grown up with (Joe Strummer was born in Turkey and spent much of his childhood in various countries; Mick Jones spent much of his youth following rock bands around, etc.). The reason the Rolling Stones incorporated so much R&B was that, at heart, they were an R&B band, much as Zeppelin was a blues band with really big amps. None of these acts were necessarily out to make a huge statement about integrating music, covertly or otherwise. (Not even The Clash. They played what they loved, and that is the key to their authenticity, not that they went back to some supposed original well to draw their water.)

Why, exactly, is it incumbent on The Flaming Lips to play booty-stomping music? What, exactly, is there to lament in "Brian Wilson..., a tremendously gifted musician who had at best a tenuous link to American black music, [becoming] indie rock’s muse"? One can just imagine the conversations in the studio: "Jesus, Wayne, this new record doesn't have enough of that Negro sound--our rock'n'roll license will be revoked if we don't include more syncopation!"

Which, incidentally, brings me to the very, very worst part of Frere-Jones' trolling: the casual, closeted racism. Oh, it's not that virulent, cross-burning racism; rather, it's the white, guilty, vaguely condescending kind of racism we white, middle-class liberals sometimes get ourselves into. A fine example of the road to Hell being paved with all sorts of good intentions, I suppose. It's still demeaning, insulting, small-minded and vapid, even if it's done with a relatively good heart, however.

Take Frere-Jones (and Wilson's) prize catchphrase: "musical miscegenation." What a wonderfully horrid (and trolling) phrase. Technically, it's not a bad word at all--"miscegenation," dictionaries will tell us, simply derives from the roots "miscé(re)" (to mix) and "gen(us)" (stock, race or species). Fairly innocuous, one supposes.

Except, of course, it doesn't begin there. It's not a nice word at all, not really. The first appearance of the word "miscegenation" appears to be an 1864 pamphlet published in an attempt by Democrats to discredit Republicans during the Civil War. An old example of political dirty tricks, the pamphlet promoted racial intermarriage at a time when the practice was inconceivable even to progressives of the era, in an attempt to discredit the Republicans--the idea being that whites would become very angry at the very hint of blacks hooking up with "their" white women, and stop supporting President Lincoln. (More on the pamphlet can be found here, at the Museum Of Hoaxes.)

The horror that certain whites felt at the concept of miscegenation was such that horror writer H.P. Lovecraft--best known for epic monstrosities like the shambling, octopus-headed god Cthulhu and the sanity-shattering book of occult lore called the Necronomicon--felt miscegenation was just as horrible as any noisome, slimy, extradimensional fiend and made it the centerpiece of a ghost-written (with Zealia Bishop) horror story, "Medusa's Coil." (This might be compared to a version of Dracula in which the real final straw wasn't that Dracula was trying to make Mina Harker an "Un-Dead," but the fact that he observed Hanukkah and was going to buy a house in Van Helsing's neighborhood.)

Why use the word "miscegenation," when "admixture" or "borrowing" or even simply "marriage" might be as descriptive or more accurate? One might say that Frere-Jones is trying to take the word back, but from whom? It's a word coined by racists to shock other racists into acting like racists; you're not going to "reclaim" it any more than anyone's going to reclaim the phrase "Final Solution." ("New, Tide Final Solution laundry detergent from Proctor And Gamble--it gets whites whiter!") Or, more likely, because you're trying to be an edgy and smart music critic who gets talked about, even if it means you have to use an expression that pokes the soft skin beneath your readers' fingernails.

There's a further mistake in trying to ascribe race to music in the first place. Frere-Jones may be the only musician I've ever seen saying he was worried about whether he sounded black enough or too black or insufficiently black--whatever the hell any of that even means. Most musicians just try to play what feels right--what comes from their soul, not what comes from the genre of Soul Music. And look, Frere-Jones even writes:

When we played our version of funk or dub reggae, or tried to make a synthesizer sound like a dolphin fixing a tractor... it felt natural. Most of our music didn’t require singing, but a few pieces needed the sound of a human voice to round them out. Yet singing stumped me. Except for a single, miraculous week when I was sixteen, I’ve never rapped successfully, and melodic singing was inappropriate for the jumpy, polyrhythmic music we played. So I fudged, splitting the difference between singing, chanting, and rapping, each time with diminishing returns.... And the problem was clearly related to race. It seemed silly to try to sound “black,” but that is what happened, no matter how hard I tried not to. In some ways, this was the result of a categorical confusion, the assumption that if I could use my hands to play a derivation of black music with any authority I could use my voice to do the same thing. Playing black music never felt odd, but singing it—a more intimate gesture—seemed insulting.
One wonders: was the problem some mysterious cultural thing, or was it that Frere-Jones felt embarrassed singing in front of other people? Why ascribe it to race? Indeed, the problem doesn't seem "clearly related to race" at all--it seems clearly related to Frere-Jones feeling awkward singing in front of a crowd. I mean, I've heard David Byrne split the difference between singing, chanting and rapping, and I don't think he has any kind of feeling of diminishing returns. Rather, I get the sense that he opens his mouth and things come out of it. Should it be about something more? How could it be--what else is there?

And maybe that's what it's all about when an indie band sits down to play, too. Yeah, you're not going to squeeze four pages out of it. But at least you won't be an intellectually dishonest asstard trolling for controversy by abusing the historical contexts of music and language.


I am Star Wars today...

>> Thursday, October 18, 2007

Andrey Summers has an interesting observation: that Star Wars fans hate everything about Star Wars, but we love the idea of Star Wars.

Okay, he sort of has a point. He succinctly summarizes practically every complaint ever made about Star Wars (though I have not yet met a Star Wars fan who didn't love the first Knights Of The Old Republic.) We fans do spend a lot of time complaining, and pinning the blame on Lucas, and moaning that this or that author failed to get whatever right or that he managed to contradict some comic book or videogame cutscene. And his final comment is dead-on: the reason we continue to shower adoration on the series no matter how our hearts get broken is the fact that the essential coolness of the Star Wars universe is a helluva lot bigger than George Lucas' oft-constipated imaginings.

But maybe he overstates his case, too. There are a moments of brilliance in the movies, even in The Phantom Menace and Return Of The Jedi. (And yes, I am putting those movies together in one sentence: I actually re-watched Jedi about two nights ago. You know what? A lot of the love we showered on that movie was the result of us being 11 when it came out, and the fact that it closed out a momentous event in our lives; it's really a pretty bad movie on a whole bunch of levels--the gaping plot holes, the phoned-in acting, the stilted dialogue, the bizarre moral compass....)

(And now I sound like a Star Wars fan who hates Star Wars. Quod erat demonstrandum. Damnit!)

Where was I? Oh, yes: but there are moments of brilliance, even in Menace and Jedi. Moments where everything comes together and is beautiful, epic, heroic, stirring. I will always love the scene in the first Star Wars (it will always be called that in my head, but I'm talking about "Episode IV") where Luke walks out and sees two suns setting on the horizon: a ridiculously simple effect, but one that poignantly says "we're not in Kansas anymore." And the effect is only enhanced by John Williams' score.

Also, and no real disrespect meant to Mr. Summers, whose column really is fairly good and contains some trenchant comments, but: screw him, Jaxxon is the awesomest Expanded Universe character ever.


(Insert Clever Post Here)

An ambition I have is to write a blog entry a day. The real reason for this has nothing to do with you, Dear Potential Reader: one of the points of doing this thing is to make myself write every day, even when I might not have the energy to write something... I don't know, productive. For instance, I have a clever (I think) idea for a novel I haven't worked on this week--I haven't had the brainpower or energy, even with a light week at work, to do anything with it, and I'm actually a little brain-tired after attempting to wrap up a ficlet series I was working on with some folks--but I still managed to write about the 40th anniversary edition of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

The problem with this ambition is evenings like this one: I really don't know what to say. One idea was that I could just cheat, and throw in a post from the Live Spaces page that was the direct predecessor of "Shoulders Of Giant Midgets." I mean, I think one or two of my observations on the new Radiohead record or the man who is obsessed with wrapping Roy Orbison in cling-film might be worth reprinting here. (Hell, the man who wants to wrap Roy Orbison in cling-film practically observes itself, I mean, you can just link to the page or include an excerpt from his space opera, and the comedy writes itself.)

The other idea I had this evening, is that I would like at some point to write down why I think Pink Floyd's The Wall is an utterly hideous record even though I will always nurture a deep love for it. That subject, however, might be complicated enough to split a post over; it certainly could be a long post, and one could really begin to write about it by writing about how The Dark Side Of The Moon was an unfortunate success that wrecked the band.

(As if in response, Winamp's shuffle play just invoked "See Saw"; this would strike some as spooky, but it shouldn't: the Floyd now represents 1833/14509 of my digital music tracks.)

But I don't quite have that in me at the moment. Instead, I can only point you to the saga of Kim Leblanc, who apparently failed to find his co-conspirator's lucky charms.


Screaming through the starlit skies...

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another recent musical acquisition was the 3-CD 40th Anniversary Edition Of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

I've been a Pink Floyd fan since I was about eight. Which I mention, not to establish my bona fides, but to explain why I needed to buy this and you almost certainly don't. I don't mean that you don't need to buy Piper itself: it's a classic psychedelic album by what was arguably the premier psychedelic band of the era, and it remains the chief artifact of Syd Barrett's contribution to rock'n'roll--the physical manifestation of Barrett's influence on David Bowie, Robyn Hitchcock, Camper Van Beethoven, Oasis, etc., etc., not to mention the later incarnations of the Floyd. But do you need to spend $30 on a special deluxe edition with booklets and bonus tracks and the works? Well. Probably not.

You might even wonder if you need this one if you're a Floyd obsessive. I'm not sure there's all that much that counts as new if you've been collecting ROIOs ("Recordings Of Indeterminate Origin") and bootlegs for any length of time.

Let's break it down a little. There are three CDs. The first CD contains the original mono album. The second CD contains the original stereo album. The third CD includes nine bonus tracks: b-sides and outtakes, three of which are "previously unissued." (Of the remaining six cuts, three previously appeared on Relics and two, if I'm not mistaken, showed up in the Shine On boxed set; the odd track out is a "French edit" of "Interstellar Overdrive," which I assume was not easy to get through official channels unless you were French--feel free to chime in if you know something.) All three discs have been remastered by James Guthrie, who has been working boards for the Floyd since at least as far back as The Wall. Along with this, you get a lyrics booklet bound into the box (which has an attractive cloth cover) and a pull-out booklet that reproduces a collage booklet Syd Barrett made for a friend back in 1965, when he was 19.

One thing to keep in mind about the CDs: back in the relatively early days of stereo, the mono mix of an album wasn't merely the stereo mixed down to one channel. The masters would be mixed in mono (the most common consumer format) as the primary project, and then those masters would also be mixed in stereo (for those cutting edge consumers); hence, the mono and stereo versions of an album are often completely different versions of the same album.

If you bought Piper on cassette, like I did in the '80s, you've heard the stereo mix. If you bought it on CD in the '90s or '00s (e.g. the EMI reissue released as part of the Pink Floyd Remasters series), you've heard the stereo mix. Indeed, unless you got it as a ROIO somewhere, you probably haven't heard the mono version unless you bought it on vinyl in the '60s or paid a lot for the import-only reissue in '99. The difference won't necessarily hit you on the top of the head and call you "Mary," but it's definitely noticeable if you've listened to the album more than a few times: a different phasing effect applied to the vocals on "Flaming," for instance.

But to the occasional listener and casual Floyd fan, there's not much there there: do you care that the mono version of "Astronomy Domine" is three seconds longer than the stereo mix?

The disc of bonus tracks is good but not great. The most interesting thing on it, actually, is an alternate version of "Matilda Mother" with completely different lyrics. Of the remaining tracks, there are good odds that if you care about them you already have them: early singles "Candy And A Currant Bun" and "Apples And Oranges" have been floating around on various bootlegs and ROIOs for a generation and made an official CD appearance in the Shine On box (assuming you went out and spent $200 for a bunch of albums you already owned, and a book; I didn't, so I'm not sure why you did).

The lyrics booklet contains a lot of photos, some of which you maybe haven't seen, and some typically nice graphic design from Storm Thorgerson (practically the Floyd's artist-in-residence).

Then there's the pull-out booklet, a 60% scale reproduction of a Barrett collage booklet. Well, most of a reproduction: the last page is missing because it's naughty, but you can see it here, unless sight of a single nipple and rude words starting with "f" bother you, in which case you might desist. The booklet is called "Fart Enjoy," and one looks at it with mixed feelings. Is it the mischievous work of an artistically-inclined teenager, or the sign of a mind that was teetering over into dissolution and alienation? It's almost definitely the former, but considering that Barrett would be fired from what had essentially become his band three years later, and completely washed out of the music industry five years after that, every scribble has a depressing and sinister cast it probably doesn't deserve.

Casting a slight pall over the entire purchase is also the recent announcement or rumor that the Floyd's entire studio catalog will be released as a boxed set next month. In what seems to be the current fashion for the band, that will make (I believe) the fourth separate re-issue of Piper in a 10-year span. While I love the guys and don't begrudge them the money, one can't help thinking that part of the reason Floyd (the current and real Floyd, not the defunct dream version that regrouped for Live 8) doesn't go back onto Gilmour's houseboat to record a follow-up to 1994s The Division Bell is that there's not much point in taking the risk of releasing a new album that might disappoint when new versions of the old ones still sell so well.

In any case: should you have a copy of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn? Well, it's a damn fine album, and a classic, and enormously influential. Do you need this copy? Meh--not so much.

Here's the Floyd hamming it up in a promotional film for "Arnold Layne," the band's first single:

(An interesting aside: this is one of two films I've seen for "Arnold Layne," the other being the one shot at the beach. In the unlikely event someone reads this and knows something about their being at least two "Arnold Layne" videos, I'm curious.)


In the jungle heat...

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

For reasons that really don't matter, I ended up browsing a bunch of King Crimson videos on YouTube while I was eating dinner. But that, like I said, don't matter. I only mention it as an excuse for this:

See Adrian. See Adrian kick ass. Kick ass, Adrian, kick ass.


Tomorrow's internet, today--tell 'em you saw it here, first...

If you were wondering what next year's internet meme would be, look no further than today's Wondermark.

(If you haven't already seen this, it means you're not bookmarked to Wondermark. Which means you're a loser. You're not a loser are you?)


Well, I don't feel like a Luddite...

Boing Boing has an rosy-cheeked article on D&D 4.0 up today, along with a dinky video (see below) of a preview Wizards Of The Coast did for the new product.

Basically, for those who haven't been following the announcement, Wizards recently announced the new edition of Dungeons And Dragons, 4.0. Or maybe it's just "4." Wizards created a great deal of bad blood the last time they published a fourth edition, which they called "3.5," shortly on the heels of the third edition of the game. It's a long story.

The thing that Boing Boing is focused on is something that's causing some of the greatest displeasure among D&D gamers: the new edition is being closely tied to an online service variously known as "D&D Insider," or (more hideously) "Gleemax" (a name obviously chosen by picking random Scrabble tiles out of a bag).

What this service does, is it gives you the chance to make your character online, create an online character sheet, create an online image and corresponding "virtual mini," create online dungeons, and play over the internet. It looks (at this stage) like poor knockoff of Falcon's Eye.

Well, here, see for yourself:

The service, from a certain point of view, doesn't cost anything. Of course, those of you who recognize the Star Wars reference probably realize the phrase "a certain point of view" is a euphemism for what people who aren't dead Jedi Knights call a lie. At this point--while the service is getting off the ground--is that there won't be a monthly subscription. (We'll see if that model lasts, once Hasbro needs your money and Wizards has your character as a "virtual hostage.") But to get online and use the service, you'll need to use codes that you get out of your D&D books. So you will be paying the $30 to access everything, and you'll only be able to access information from books whose secret codes are associated with your account.

So what? That doesn't sound so bad, someone said.

The problem--and where I think Joel Johnson at Boing Boing is possibly wrong when he implies this will help the hobby's numbers--is that this is how most players probably get into the hobby: one guy (let's face it, it's almost always a guy) gets these books and recruits a bunch of people to play this weird, board-less game with him. The people he invites all look pretty skeptical--there's no board, no pieces, just all these dice and books and stacks of paper. But they play for a couple of hours, and some of them start to get it. This is pretty cool. So the group has a few sessions, and eventually someone else in the group decides he's tired of looking things up in the DM's books, or that he wants to look under the hood at what the DM is doing; so, he goes and buys his own copy of the Player's Handbook or whatever they're playing. Eventually, it spreads like a bug--other people buy books, too. Except, maybe, some of them don't buy the same game, they buy other games for the group to try. Maybe one guy never actually gets his own Player's Handbook, mooching off someone else, but he does pick a copy of Call Of Cthulhu and starts Keeping that on off Saturdays.

In short, I tend to see Wizards' emphasis on the online side as being a barrier to play. It's not really going to be interesting enough to draw in the video gamers they're trying to draw in, the books are still going to be too expensive for interested newbies to want to join in, and older gamers like myself are going to be alienated.

And we are--yes, I see the point that groups scattered all over the country can now play. The problem is, if I want to go online to play D&D with friends scattered all over the country, we're more likely to play Neverwinter Nights. Pen and paper gaming is, for many of us, still what it sounds like: we consider minis optional, Doritos mandatory, and we like it that way.

But what do I know? I imagine the bottom line is that Wizards will squeeze a few more drops of blood out of Gygax and Arneson's grandchild before discarding the corpse, while my old college pals play 3.5 once a year.


And let's try this again...

>> Monday, October 15, 2007

Alright, so here we are. Is this on? Testing, testing? One, two; one, two. Hello?

Live Spaces was just a damn problem. Nobody can comment except Live Spaces people. Which is understandable--after all, Microsoft's just trying to get everyone in the universe to join their party.

And that's sound business. From a certain point of view. From other points of view? Not so much. It doesn't really help Microsoft get a following if foolish people like myself who have this gotta blog thing going on end up abandoning Live Spaces in droves. Or trickles. Or tinkles. Whatever. You get the idea. After about a week on the site, here I am trying to join the blogger community on Blogger.

We'll see how that goes....

Anyway, this post is kind of a "hello" and kind of a trial balloon. I'll probably cut and paste one or two of the horrible entries from the Live Spaces page at some point. In the meantime, "hi."



Okay, then.

I'm just going to, you know, scurry off the edge of the stage, here. Thanks. Okay. You can turn this off, now. Is it off? No? What about now? Well I'm not going to stand up here all ni


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