Monthly Archives: May 2005

Sleater-Kinney and anger management

After talking up the Sleater-Kinney album earlier, you may be wondering where my review is: I’m saving it for Sunday so I can review the concert simultaneously (but it’s good). Meanwhile, The Onion AV Club has an interview with band member Carrie Brownstein. I enjoyed this comment:

CB: I think that’s how we approached a lot of the songwriting on this record, whether it was with Corin’s voice, really getting her to the point where she was just mad at us. “Why do you want me to sing this differently?” To the point where she would be so mad that then, when we went back into the part, she would be screaming, and it would be incredible. And we’d be like, “That’s exactly what we wanted!” And she would just be like, “Arrrggh!

Sounds about right—in fact, I’m just surprised they didn’t use this technique on previous records.

I am Jack’s music directory.

I applaud this move:

Microsoft Longhorn Loses ‘My’ Prefix
Ending a longstanding tradition, Microsoft Corp. plans to stop using the word “my” as the default prefix for such folders as “My Documents,” “My Music,” “My Pictures” and others along those lines. Starting in the next Windows version, due out next year, folders will be known simply as “Documents,” “Music,” and so on.

This is long overdue. I personally cannot stand the cutesy and childish “My” prefix and usually make an active attempt to eliminate it from my Windows installation. Unfortunately, after I rename the music folder to “Audio”, various programs will decide they need to put something in “My Music” and create that folder again.
So thank you Microsoft for getting rid of that Fisher-Price shit. If I wanted my operating system to condescend to me, I’d have bought a Mac.
[Joking! Don’t hurt me, Mac users!]

Calm, for the moment [Open Thread]

Check out the on-time open thread! Everything is so calm and orderly right now, but next week I start traveling…
The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday: Basically, this is Craig Finn ranting into a microphone while his band plays badass rock music in the background. It’s actually pretty awesome. Based on the number of recurring characters throughout the album, there’s an overall story being told here, but I haven’t listened carefully enough to get a clear picture of it yet. “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”
UPDATE: It helps if I link the music file properly. In my defense, the link on the sidebar worked.

Brin Blogging

Sci-fi writer David Brin has a blog. It’s focused on his political philosophy, which has always been interesting reading for me (as I’ve come across various essays of his over the years). He seems to make long (by blog standards) posts about once a week, with an obligatory remark about how he’s been too swamped to blog.

Star Wars Morality

In reading various Star Wars commentary I’ve come across a lot of the backstory to the movies, particularly about the Sith. Apparently it’s standard practice for the Sith to betray each other: either the apprentice kills his master to become the new master, or the master offs the apprentice and finds a replacement. Given Sith ethics, this makes perfect sense.
But wait: at the end of Return of the Jedi Vader betrays and kills his master, and this is presented as a majorly redemptive act! This is only redemptive if we think that Vader has some loyalty to the emperor, but it turns out the Sith don’t value loyalty at all, and the master/apprentice relationship only exists as long as it’s mutually beneficial to both parties. In other words, by killing the Emperor at the end of Episode VI, Vader is only doing precisely what would be expected of a Sith.
In fact, we know that he was planning to kill Darth Sidious in favor of Luke the whole time—remember his proposal in Episode V, “together we will rule the galaxy as father and son”. So basically this was his plan all along, except that he accidentally got killed in the process.
Now, one could argue that in the end he didn’t kill Sidious to advance his own personal power, but instead did it just to save Luke (and without regard for his own safety). This is true, but again it’s perfectly in line with Sith ethics. We are told over and over that the Dark Side is about giving in to one’s passions, while the Jedi way is to remain detached and unemotional. Hence, when Vader betrays the Emperor out of his paternal attachment to Luke, he’s still following the basic tenets of the Dark Side. (And still ignoring Yoda’s advice from Episode III, to give up his personal attachments.)
So, why give Vader any credit for returning to the light at the end of the series?
[One interesting interpretation of the whole saga I’ve seen various commentators hinting at is that Luke represents a “third way” between the Jedi philosophy of extreme detachment and the Sith philosophy of being ruled by one’s passion. Furthermore, this is the kind of balance in the Force that Qui-Gon Jinn (who had serious disagreements with the Jedi Council) was trying to engineer back in Episode I. It doesn’t really seem to be what George Lucas had in mind (since he’s not terribly subtle with the lessons he does intend) but it’s an interesting way to look at the series.]

The Star Wars Review

It’s been my experience that when bloggers (myself included) promise to post something later, there’s about a 90% chance that they don’t actually do it. Despite this trend, I present my comments on Star Wars Episode III—the spoiler-free part first, and the spoilers below the fold.
As I said in the earlier post, it’s only incrementally better than episodes I and II. The improvements mainly arise from the darker subject matter (which give Lucas fewer opportunities to indulge in Jar Jar style silliness) and the more battle-heavy plot (which gives the characters fewer opportunities to speak at any length). The writing is still terrible; Tom Stoppard was supposedly consulted on the script but his influence is nowhere in evidence. The acting is still wooden—Natalie Portman is the worst offender, and the fact that she is reportedly a good actress in other contexts (e.g. Garden State, which I still haven’t seen) leads me to believe that Lucas has replaced her with a robot in the style of noted Star Wars geek Warren.
All these flaws were really pretty fatal; since I didn’t find the characters believable, I didn’t care much what happened to them, and so the numerous fight scenes didn’t create much suspense. Sure, they looked good, but I might as well have been watching a well-crafted screensaver. Oh well. At least I’ve got my DVDs of the original trilogy. How long until Serenity comes out?
SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Continue reading

Summer is good [Open Thread]

The semester’s over, and not coincidentally I am updating almost all of the media categories in the sidebar.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: Executive summary: better than episodes I and II, but not by much. This deserves its own post (with its own spoiler warning), which I’ll write when I get home tonight and can look at the notes I made while I was watching.
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose: Just started this. The new visual style is very nice (especially Shion’s new look). Unfortunately Yasunori Mitsuda is no longer composing the music— not only is he very good, but he was able to connect back to Xenogears with appropriate musical motifs, since he composed the music for that game as well. The combat system seems to have mutated a bit but feels similar. Question: Why introduce a character as bad-ass as Canaan and not make him playable? Even if he’s evil, or dies, he can still be playable at the beginning (as Virgil was in the first episode). But I’m not very far in, maybe he’ll join the party later anyway.
Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore: I’m only a chapter into this right now. Instead I will review the book I just read:
Peter Høeg: Smilla’s Sense of Snow: It took me forever to finish this, but mainly because I was doing other things all semester; I really enjoyed it despite not reading it very fast. The plot is on the mystery/thriller model, following a Dane/Greenlander woman’s investigation of a murder, but the narrative switches between this storyline and backstory developing some of the characters, especially Smilla, in the context of Greenland’s experience as a colony of Denmark. I found Smilla to be an especially compelling character; she is someone who at an intellectual level wants to maintain an icy detachment and not get emotionally involved with anything, but in practice she isn’t always able to do this.
Architecture in Helsinki: In Case We Die: This album has a very unusual sound—crazy indie pop from an octet with a ridiculous number of instruments (the liner notes include a matrix with the list of instruments on one axis and the tracklist on the other), it sounds something like the over-the-top anime version of the Fiery Furnaces. “Wishbone” is one of the best tracks, a song about the exhilaration of falling in love. (At least I think that’s what it’s about, the lyrics are somewhat opaque.) This CD was somewhat tough to find; I looked in vain at the Telegraph music stores, eventually finding it at the Amoeba Records on Haight when I went to see M.I.A.
In other music news, the new Sleater-Kinney album is out, and apparently it’s awesome. I was going to buy it on Friday, so I could listen to it on the way to D&D, but after reading that review I may not be able to wait that long. (Did I mention I’m seeing them live next week?)

End-of-semester Musings

My students took the final exam today, so (since I don’t have to grade) I’m basically done teaching for the semester. I feel like I should celebrate this somehow…
This is not to imply that I regret taking the GSI position: it reminded me that I like teaching, and was good preparation for my qualifying exam. It’s clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement as far as my teaching skills, so in that regard the practice was valuable. On the other hand, I won’t be doing this again as a graduate student (unless for some reason it becomes absolutely necessary): the added workload created too much stress at times, and I need to be able to concentrate on research in order to graduate with any efficiency.
The reduction in workload is coming at an opportune time, given my travels in June. I have a Call of Cthulhu game to prepare, and Italian adventures to plan…

E3 First Impressions [Guest Blogger: Lemming]

Lemming is at E3! He sends along this report:

Here’s the quick version, in a word: OMFG!
I spent most of the day doing volunteer work, whoring myself out in order to earn my pass for the exhibition hall, followed by about an hour and a half in South Hall (one of the two main halls), and about 20 minutes in Kentia Hall (the stuff targeted at vendors and developers, not for mass consumption). I ramble on a bit about the volunteer work first, so skip down a bit if you just want to hear about the show.
The first thing I learned is that Gary Coleman is irritable. And very, very short. Though he didn’t deign to speak with me, I had to give his little entourage directions to the right line to get their passes.
The real celeberties I swooned over was when a couple of Square-Enix employees who came to me to figure out what line they needed to be in. No, I have no idea who exactly they were or what they do, but they were employees and they *weren’t* just the hired help to run the show. I kept my composure… barely. “It’s just that, no *human* has powers like you do,” Square-Enix.
I also learned today that when you have two lines, both of which are long enough to loop around the entire South Hall lobby (easily several hundred people in each line), and when sometimes the thing that determines which line you need to be in is whether your confirmation code starts with a number or a letter, people get confused. People get *really* confused. My job, for the first half of the day, was maintaining order in one of these said lines. I have my voice back now, mostly.
After that, I got to play a Johnny Mnemonic mini-game. They use Palm Pilots (actually, Visors) with an attachment to swipe attendee badges at various checkpoints–very convenient. The problem is that they have very little RAM, and after around 500 swipes they need to be taken to the central office, the card data needs to be offloaded, and then the memory cleared. They had enough visors to exactly cover the checkpoints, plus one extra. My job was to constantly run around the checkpoints, and when one of them got to around 3 or 400 swipes, swap in the spare, and take the full one back to the office to offload and wipe. Lather, rinse repeat.
Of course, since I got this “special” assignment, the volunteer manager couldn’t find me when she came around to let all the volunteers off of their shifts so they could go see the show (I was on patrol, yay!). I ended up being on the job for a couple extra hours, and didn’t make it to the show floor until just after 4pm.
Even at that, the day was totally worth it. Once inside the main hall, I just stumbled around in a daze. I’ve only ever seen extravagance that tops this in Las Vegas, and even at that, by less than you might think.
The Rockstar booth? More like small city block, and even still they didn’t have any place for regular attendees–just a large area filled with parked busses and RVs (yes, on the showroom floor), all enclosed in a cyclone fence as if to say, “Fuck off, we know we’re hot.” Occasionally they’d throw t-shirts over the fence. I did see a rather tough looking man try to scale the fence around back. An even tougher looking bouncer yanked him down, roughed him up a bit, and sent him on his way.
As much of a sleazebag male as I am, when I go to a videogame convention, I’m there for the videogames, so booth babes (while nice to look at) aren’t really my thing. But sometimes, well, it really is something special. All I have to say is this: “I win.”
lemming and babes
I played a bit of Dragon Quest N, but couldn’t find my way out of the damn town. What I did find was an impressive display of stuffed Jellies.
slimes
I want to take these home almost as badly as I want to take that last foursome home…
I didn’t manage to pull down any swag today, except for a deck of cards. The company giving those out was called “IQ” and while I hardly remember the game they were showing off (not at all impressive), they used up most of their space to put up a large stage where they had a squad of girls singing and dancing every half hour or so… Classy.
Square-Enix didn’t have any playable FFXII stuff going, but they did have an interesting FF XI setup–every hour, they pick two parties of either 4 or 5 people randomly from the audience. They get to choose between a couple of pre-fab level 50 or so characters, and then choose what boss they want to fight from a big poster. Depending on how hard the boss is, they get a prize if they win–a t-shirt for the super dink boss, and the last two on the list were top-of-the-line motherboards and graphics cards. I *just* missed a party winning the video card today, apparently the organizers were really surprised they pulled it off.
I’m getting super-tired, so now for the super fast summaries.
Kingdom Hearts II looks like the first, only a little better. And the statue of Mickey with a key sword was fairly cool.
The next Castlevania game for the DS looks sweet.
Soul Caliber III features a chick with a hula-hoop of death. Possibly from space.
The Konami booth has *the* best carpet for sitting and resting (the entire show floor was carpeted).
They had a vintage video game system collection on display–very cool.
Those of us who had a chance to make it to the floor today got together just a bit ago to share the skinny on where to get the coolest shows and the best swag–between that, and the fact that I’ll be there the whole day, I expect tomorrow to be killer. In fact, when I stop to take a rest (I’m sure I’ll need to at some point), I will try to take advantage of some of the free wireless access points and post in the comments from the show. Yarr!

Urban Iditarod

Continuing on the subject of San Francisco athletic events, a correspondent alerts me to the Urban Iditarod. This is like the normal Iditarod, except replacing the sleds with shopping carts, the dogs with human runners, and using bars as rest stops. Brilliant. I should participate one of these days, possibly by recruiting/press-ganging people into a team.
This seems like the sort of thing bored Techers would come up with…