Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"Most painful irony: By winning, nerd culture has lost. When I was a kid the fact that comics and games and fantasy and whatever were awesome was a secret, and people gave me a hard time about it. Now suddenly everyone's all, hey, no, this stuff is great, Iron Man, woo! Which means instead of being our little secret, now it's all about big corporations selling nerd culture to as many Joe Douchebags as it can pack into the multiplex. And where am I in that transaction? I don't want to be anywhere near it."
It's good that the author loves his tribe. But it's not like Fandom ever really lacked for rude people.
And it's pretty funny that a guy who makes his living writing about nerd culture in Time Magazine is ragging on Joe Douchebag. You got to get PAID! There is no Iron Man without Joe Douchebag. Joe Douchebag gave Hollywood a crack at filming Watchmen, the end result of which I appreciated. Most times I've sat down to play an RPG, Joe Douchebag is at the table. He's often a fun guy to game with. I'm pretty sure I saw Joe Douchebag at the Johnathan Coulton concert I went to in Ann Arbor a couple of months ago, along with reps from every other Geek Tribe. By winning, nerd culture has just, well, fucking WON.
In Zombies of the Gene Pool, Sharon McCrumb wrote this about fan culture's attitudes towards the rest of the world:
"She knew that she could think and feel, that she was more alive somehow than most of the bubblebrains in her dorm. So that was it. They weren't real. She didn't exactly believe that they were robots, or hallucinations, but on some deeper spiritual level she felt that she possessed something that they lacked. In medieval times, she might have termed it a soul."
The last time I was around a bunch of down and dirty geeks, they were Nice. They shared their fandoms with me, and suggested good stuff to look at and read. They didn't even mention that my last name is Douchebag. They were the greatest.
Pulp fiction, the family of genres that cover superheros and SF and fantasy and horror, is good because it is beautiful and creative. It is a cauldron of modern artistic hybrid vigor. It crosses cultures and introduces people to new ideas. Pulp Won, not Nerd Culture, because it is just great. Sharing grows the pool of "hopelessly sexy fangirls swanning around getting their cosplay on." Sharing birthed the steam punk aesthetic. Sharing nerd culture just makes for more lovely and wonderful, win-win for everybody.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The article left me with the pervasive feeling that he did not "get it". Most of his complaints were common enough to the wood pulp connoisseur. It doesn't smell like paper. It's a little dingy. You can't read $8,000 text books on it. He criticized all the most rarefied aspects of reading on a device designed to make reading easy for a consumer.
It was silly. Of course a Kindle can't improve on a book, but there are two things that it does better than a book, one better than a computer, and at least one better than bookstores. The only interesting point he made was about intellectual property: Kindle's format is proprietary. The Sony reader published in a non-proprietary format, but couldn't get publishers to sign on for cheap. Kindle got it right for the publishers, anyways.
I'm grateful for the information about the history of the technology. The last paragraph sounded apologetic, as if he were afraid of upsetting Amazon too much. After all, people would be reading this issue of the New Yorker on Kindle. And probably whatever new, fussy book he's writing.
I would love to dress Nicholson Baker and Harold Bloom in loin clothes, put them in a wrestling ring, and have people with mind control helmets make them battle with nerf broadswords. You could make a reality television show about it. Fussbudget wars.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
One of my two hard core political positions is that: DOMAs are barbaric.
When I state my politics in public, most people ask what the hell a DOMA is. A DOMA is a Defense of Marriage Act, and a civil rights abomination. A DOMA is an attempt by religious and cultural conservatives to dictate to individuals what kind of personal contracts and living arrangements they can legally have. They are "special rights" for straight people. Several states have passed DOMAs in the last several years. Michigan is one of them, and I find that deeply embarrassing.
Now when Michigan passed it's DOMA in, what? 2005? I heard conservatives say dumb things like: I'm all for domestic partnerships. I just don't think it should be called "marriage."
I guess I should respect the good intentions behind opinions, but in execution they become weasel words. The people who campaign for and get DOMAs passed don't make that distinction between "marriage" and "domestic partnership". It's all sin to them.
So Michigan residents passed a DOMA anyway. Guess what? Social conservatives used it to interfere with people's private rights.
The case was brought to the Michigan Courts by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious organization. So, of course, when conservatives state that they are not "against domestic partnerships", they are either uninformed or lying, because their privately funded organizations are using the laws to do exactly that.
From the article:
"Michigan law expressly prohibits marriage substitutes." He said public institutions may give health and other benefits to employees on an equal basis, as long as they are not "marriage-like."
The last phrase is of course, garble. What else is marriage like if not health or "other" benefits? It would be interesting to see an example. Maybe a same sex couple that is not cohabiting? Is that un-marriage like enough to provide health benefits for?
Equal rights groups in Kalamazoo are trying to pass a law banning discrimination. It even contains exemptions, "special rights", for religious individuals and organizations.
But conservatives often "forget" their devotion to liberty when it comes to their messy personal issues. When you let your messy personal issues interfere with public policy, that is bigotry. And groups like the Alliance Defense fund are not in it for the liberty, no matter how they sloganeer. They are using their religion to impose values on people who do not participate in those religions.
Michigan Court Voids "Domestic Partner Benefits"
February 07, 2007 by Mike White
The Ruling Applies to Unmarried Heterosexual and Homosexual Couples
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that public institutions are prohibited by the state constitution from extending marriage benefits or "domestic partner benefits" to unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The court ruled that the
Michigan Court Voids "Domestic Partner Benefits"
state constitutional amendment, which defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, prohibits the "domestic partner benefits."
Dale Schowengerdt, who had authored a friend-of-the-court brief on the case, along with attorney James Wierenga, said in an Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) press release that "all government programs should comply with state law, and the appeals court has correctly interpreted the state laws on marriage. Michigan law expressly prohibits marriage substitutes." He said public institutions may give health and other benefits to employees on an equal basis, as long as they are not "marriage-like." Schowengerdt and Wierenga are both ADF attorneys and were working for the Christian legal agency on the case.
The brief had been filed in January 2006. It pointed out that the state constitution protected marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. The brief also pointed out that the constitution protected marriage benefits as well, as benefits between one man and one woman. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Michigan, demanding benefits for "domestic partnerships," including same sex couples.
Michigan's "marriage protection amendment" was approved by state voters in 2004. It reads in part, "To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage should be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."
Schowengerdt said Michigan voters "made their intentions clear" by passing an amendment that marriage "from all counterfeits." He said that "contrary to the ACLU," the amendment declares what marriage is and is not.
Friday, March 27, 2009
If that wasn't an overextended metaphor...
Anyways! Small things make me happy. Like, at Google, they have posted gaming themed backgrounds for you iGoogle page. The Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons ones especially warm my heart. The themes they have range from Galaga and Mario Bros. to The Sims and Guitar Hero.
As I have mentioned before, I feed alot of my internet life through my iGoogle page: I make notes to myself through it, check my email and RSS feed, have a lot of links that I use commonly. My iGoogle page is practically the first piece of media I see each day, and stays with me. It's great to have something fun to decorate it with.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
Last night, I went to see Johnathan Coulton at the Ark in Ann Arbor. I have a huge affection for his funny little songs.
I like to see my favorite artists, mostly authors (who are most accessible). It is always interesting to me to see them up close. Understanding something of the physicality of creative people does alot to help me appreciate their art. Possibly because it allows me to make snap judgments that dovetail with my personal prejudices about why I like their stories.
Also, I just like people as objects. I like how their personalities play in their features.
The show was nice, because he played alot of my favorite songs. He also played some new ones. I thought he started out kind of stiff, but he really warmed up as he went along. His songs are not just funny, they are also poignant in a funny way. His personal performance style imbues them with a charming kind of whimsy. Especially his use of a drum machine with Mr. Fancy Pants. He has a kind of funny sneer that he sings with. It's rather endearing.
I almost enjoyed watching the crowd as much as the show. All the phylums and orders of Geeks were represented: The big guys with ostentatious beard clan was out in full force. The short skinny, pug faced girls were there. The funny T-shirt wearing people. My own clan, the nebbishy, crabby pseudo professional. I felt at home amongst my people.
I also saw Watchmen, a movie taken from arguably the best comic ever written. I think it was fucking great. It is the only working superhero art flick ever created. It was beautifully filmed. I had feared that it would be cheesy looking. It's hard to make a blue guy look cool. But the look was textured enough that I thought it was very nice. The sex was almost hot, which is pretty good for Hollywood.The dialog was pretty and structured. The scenes were poised and elegant, even the action scenes.
It was not an action flick. It felt very much like the comic book. I remember reading Watchmen in college, and being blown away not by the pulp of it, but by the fact that such big ideas were embodied in four color characters given such rich human back stories. I think the film captured that very well.
That said, I think anybody going in looking for a superhero flick will be disapointed, critics will be distracted by the penis, and you shouldn't take you kids, especially if you have a problem with them looking at penises. Why people took their kids at all, I can't fathom.
Pretty much the defining factor for both of the people I went with was the graphic violence. It is a very expensive fanboy flick. Non-comics readers who like flicks like The City of Lost Children may also like Watchmen for it's visually stimulating and surreal qualities.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
In my profession, we answer questions for people. So we value information and communication highly. Librarians are often talking about new technologies. Web 2.0, the phenomenon where consumers help put content on the web, is a big thing for us.
Even so, I rarely checked my Myspace page, and didn't even look at my Facebook page that much. Until I found the Facebook aps.
It's not the aps that make Facebook. They are cheesy and simple, which is their virtue. But they are part of the package that made me pay attention to Facebook. Facebook combines some of the most popular but lightweight parts of the web: games, twitter like statuses, photo-sharing, pseudo-blogging, into a sort of centralized time waster slash social space. It also saves you time by prioritizing your time wasting for you: it brings your friends updates to you, eliminating of the need to hop from site to site checking a bunch of webpages, blogs, twitter feeds, yetcetera.
The games are all bite sized, easy to do on breaks and as small timewasters. Many of the other aps, like Flair, are interactive, allowing you to pick your own motifs and even create your own throw away content.
So, fiddling with the games held me over until more people my age started playing on Facebook, and have kept me checking in regularly so that now it's a habit. As a result, I'm having lots of little conversations with people I knew from high school, college, and old work places. It's hella fun, and I predict that this kind of service will be a sort of gold standard for future web surfing. People are very sentimental about their personal history, and having a website keep track of it for you is very handy.
The aps also act as conversation starters: small notes, pictures, short status comments and digital gifts leading to little but common conversations. This is a great resource for connectivity. How many times have you been disuaded from talking to an old friend by the arduous task of picking up the phone? Daunted by the seeming impossibility of looking them up? Even overwhelmed by the thought of writing a coherant email. You certainly won't visit very often across the state, or cross coast. Pre-Facebook, running into old friends was often by mistake. Anything that makes contact easy is a social good.
To be fair, I'm not entirely pleased. Recently, there was a kerfuffle over facebooks terms of service. It looked like Facebook was making an IP landgrab of epic proportions. They were all over the news saying it wasn't so, but if a Web 2.0 company doesn't know the difference, I would suggest you find a different place to host pictures and creative writing. Why? Web 2.0 is about consumers creating content for commercial interest. If the commercial interst can't tell the difference between what's yours and theirs, the you is S.O.L. because the commercial interest has the lawyers.
However, compared to sites such as Friendster, which is spam riddles and dull, and Myspace, which is cheesy looking and devoid of content other than pre-fab decoration, Facebook is clean looking and offers lots of pleasant little distractions while you're checking up on your friends.
So put IP elsewhere and use Facebook for what it's good for. Play, relax, talk to your friends.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
When my parents drove us all out to the California coast one year, my mom bought one of his novels for me to read in the car. Dark is the Sun is set in the far future, when human beings are savages and the sun is about to blow up. Just the magnitude of the idea was astounding to me: that human beings would be alive at the end of the world, that humans would be reduced to savagery, that whole other races would evolve in that time and live side by side with us. It had giant plant-centaurs! HOW COOL IS THAT!
I like to think the warmth I feel when remembering his books is also because there's a fecundity about them. Not in a directly reproductive way. I didn't read any of his sexual themed stuff until high school, but of all the fantastic qualities it shares with his other titles, sexiness is the least visceral.
Farmer's fecundity was the power of pure Geek awe, total explosive four color fun. He wrote Gonzo science fiction, seeming to embody the maxim "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." He made shit up like crazy. The World of Tiers series is all about demigods who use super science to create whole universes and populate them like fever dream doll houses. When I started running Dungeons and Dragons games, I kept returning to themes of mortals transcending to the level of world building gods, but the pallet was never quite big enough. Farmer's raw, visual inventiveness had crazed my young brain.
He also wrote a lot of pastiche, or fiction using other people's characters, what would be called fan fiction today. He wrote about characters like Tarzan and Phileas Fogg, some of the pulp fiction characters that birthed the souls of every genre character ever created. The one that really spun my head around was A Barnstormer in Oz, in which he attempts to explain the Oz universe in loosely rationalist terms. I read all of the original Baum books, and loved every one of them for their dizzy inventiveness. A Barnstormer in Oz, in which a mortal ends up in an Oz on the verge of civil war, was probably the first time I saw characters of raw whimsy given more granular, day to day motives. It was maybe the first inkling I ever had that whimsy could be an adult emotion, that wonder had a place in adult life.
In high school, when I found a copy of The Image of the Beast, it reminded me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show steeped in hard core pornography. But the pornography, as disturbing as it was, paled in comparison to the basic premise, that all the monsters and myths that mankind had ever imagined were immortal aliens stuck on earth in an ancient crash, each trapped in their monstrous form by the human being who first encountered them and imagined them that way. The fact that they were trying to blast off to their home planet or dimension or whatever by generating energy with a huge orgy was just, well, window dressing.
I based a character in a high school writing assignment on the were-boar from Image of the Beast. Minus the naughty stuff, of course.
Everything I loved about Phillip Farmer, I love about science fiction and fantasy fiction: Baum, The Justice League, Imagica, New Croubazon, Underdog, The Uplift Series, Norse mythology, homebrew Dungeons and Dragons, The Golden Compass, Wildcards. A whole mythos of spastic and witty xeonophilliac waking dreams. It might not all be good... but it's fun.
I think Phillip Farmer was a huge influence on my imagination, on the scope and particularity of it. His totally unbounded imagination made entire worlds out of whimsy and passion and seized other people's characters and historical figures to turn them into explosive adventure stories. Science Fiction has always been a beautiful kind of Gonzo literature because of him, joyful even when it is grim because imagination is the seed of possibility. He died yesterday, but man, that cat left a trail of brilliant images behind him.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Crass commercialism is Opportunity Maximization. You don't need to be told what or how to celebrate. But homo sapiens sapiens, especially puritan descended Americans, can be a dour lot. Sometimes we need to be given permission. So Hallmark made an excuse for me to buy people expensive chocolate? Horrors. Even cheap chocolate. Mmm.
At the very least, it's hard to find cards for Lupercalia.
You can celebrate Lupercalia instead of Valentine's Day, if you'd like. I encourage it, anyway. And my word is as good as gold with any supernatural law issuing authority you can imagine. Any excuse to celebrate is a good excuse. And the nice thing about the information revolution is that we can make our own cards, now.
But the nice thing about Opportunity Maximization is that other people are also celebrating. Or at least expecting to celebrate. This is "game theory." They're game to have fun at the same time you are. None of my co-workers get excited about Winter Solstice, but many get excited about Christmas. They don't know, or I imagine care, that I venerate Santa Clause far more than J.C. But we can celebrate Christmas together. And celebration is of limited functionality alone.
Crass commercialism also provides the implements to celebrate. Candy Hearts! Nothing makes chocolate taste better than being molded in the shape of a heart or a rabbit.
This is function of the limbic system of our brain. I can't explain the complicated neuroscience behind it. But to borrow a trick from Neil Gaiman and Capitalize Every Word in a Phrase: Everything Tastes Better With Meaning Attached. The crass commercialization allows us to celebrate more effectively. It is the institutionalization of joy*.
The thing that can make holidays really unpleasant is our expectations of them. Also, our families, but some people enjoy that part of it. Nothing hurts more than seeing a celebration of something you don't really have, whether it be romance or family or togetherness.
The solution for this is largely ambition and game theory (as outlined above). Be willing to celebrate. Find someone to celebrate with. Just asking usually helps. It's hard for people to do that, though. So if you have company to celebrate with, then offer. It's kind. In kindergarten, we gave Valentines to everybody. Try it again, except with golden apples this time.
At the heart of the matter, celebration is the elevation of the trivial. Triviality is the essence of joy. If you complain about crass commercialism, it seems you are complaining about joy. Allowing triviality expands your horizons, and allows you to take pleasure beyond the boundaries that a celebration has been given.
*Which is certainly better than the institutionalization of other things, like marriage. Institutionalization is generally Bad. Institutionalization of joy is Good.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Talking about salesmen, he talks about a sort of conversational syncronocity, which is a tendency of people to mimic each other's movement's during conversation. He offers pretty anecdotal evidence that this kind of non-verbal communication influences people's feelings about communicators and what they're saying, and therefore the decisions the make about them.
I'm not convinced, but this reminds me something that gets talked about sometimes in management seminars, Neuro-linguistic programming, where you influence people by subtly mirroring their behavior.
It's a creepy but compelling idea that I think offers explanations for memes, charisma, and empathy, in that we respond to people largely based on emotional, not rational cues. It also makes me feel a bit robotic, that I can be programmed on a subconscious level.
The Tipping Point seems a little new agey to me. I think maybe what's missing is some discussion of how ideas are resisted. Because it's casually obvious that idea transmission is not a hundred percent even for good ones.
How do you teach that in order to arm people against harmful ideation? And would the end result of teaching people to resist this kind of empathic communication be harmful, cutting people off from community?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
You can "culture" or grow a station by thumbs upping songs that you like, and adding bands and song titles. I've grown three or four stations this way: my Hippy Bastard Station (rocky folk), my New Weird station (80's/New Wave/Emo), and my Happy Fun Time (Hair/Heavy Metal) station. I'm in the process of growing a station based around a seed of Joan Jett tunes, but don't have a name for it yet.
For some reason, Pandora stopped working for me at work, often stopping in the middle of song. At home, I have my huge collection of music, and no real need of Pandora, though it works fine. Despite this annoying technical difficulty, it's a better product for listening to music than YouTube, if for no other reason than you don't have to search for and create playlists like you do in YouTube, and selections don't mysteriously disappear from Pandora.
Because of the suggestions from Pandora, I rekindled my interest in funky rock acts like Bif Naked, The Cars, Garbage, and Joan Jett.
More importantly, the Internet, including Pandora, brought me to: AC/DC, John Coulton, Get Set Go, Anya Marina, the Donnas, the Dollyrots, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue.
Monday, February 09, 2009
So I was walking in the graveyard today, and yes, I am hard core. I was goth before goth was goth. Anyway, digression.
So I was walking in the graveyard today, and I read a psalm carved into the bottom of one of the stones: "Salvation of the righteous lies in the Lord." I normally don't consider the bible too much, but for some reason I wanted to turn that psalm over in my head like I would work a smooth pebble in my hand.
It interested me as a logical proposition. Something like (if = to or greater than Righteous) than (The Lord is = to salvation). Be Forgiving. Been awhile since I took logic.
It often seems like the standard proposition of evangelical Christians is something like this (if = to or greater than believe in God) than (Jesus is = to salvation). I've always been a little uncomfortable with that. I can see how it would be comforting, but it seems, on the surface, to excuse evil in the name of faith.
As I understand it, this question amongst the Christians is a argument of works vs. faith. Some of them believe you have to be good, others only that you have to think good thoughts (about Jesus). I don't like the latter school much because it means they are essentially given dispensation to fuck with me and mine.
This is the excuse that many of the religious right wse to fuck around with other people's rights via DOMAs and suchlike.
So the psalm I saw on the tombstone seems like a better proposition to me.
It solves the problem of evil. It looks like it says, on the surface, if you are a Righteous dude, then the Lord will save you. However, it makes God seem impotent. If you are unrighteous, then he cannot, whether or not your are down with Jesus. I can see why authoritarian religious types don't like it. It kind of requires that you be humble around your fellow human beings, not just your all powerful God.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
A much better choice would be the Vernal Equinox, actually. Also, I'm big on scientifically recognizable holidays.
Frankly, this year's doldrums has been worse than most for doing things, between hosting the holidays, playing too much Warcraft, and a computer malfunction. So this is my New Year's post.
In 2008, I did none of the things I set as goals. Zip. I don't even feel a little shitty about that. Largely, they are things I will wait to do until I retire anyways.
In 2008, I had an immense amount of fun, though. I went on vacation, made some new friends, finished my last novel, realized it was crap, and set about rewriting it. Started a second novel.
I found great new things, too, although this time the specific led to the general more than the other way around. I will blog about these over the next couple of days, because I loves to share!
In 2009, I'd like to take my blog in a different direction, or at least my blogging. I'm not sure what this would be. I think I would love to comment on pop culture, but have also thought that a blog with fiction bits might be interesting. I practice my flights of fancy, and the bits might be interesting.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Dude gets my Hero tag any day.
And: Fledgling Ansible Technology (?)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I try not to engage in the culture wars online very much any more. There are more reasonable people doing it. But every once in a while, something draws me out.
This cartoon, by Jessica Hagy, on Index, gets to the point of my discomfort with religion, and for some reason, I thought I could be polite about it. I might have been wrong. I often am. But this is what I wrote in response to two comments on the board. Misspellings included.
I figured I'd post it on my personal blog. Anyone who knows me can tell me why I'm wrong.
"1) I sadly will be removing Indexed from my blogroll. I cannot support a blog which moves from advocating atheism to attacking other people’s faiths."
If your faith is that prayer is more efficacious than action (and science isn't a belief, it's a set of activities), then maybe it's worth lampooning. God helps those who help themselves, right?
Or as the punchline to the joke goes, "God: I'm trying to help you out, here, but you have to buy a lottery ticket first."
"Both science and prayer can serve a purpose. Science, when rigorously (and responcibly) applied, has answered many physical problems. An honest application of prayer (if you were to seriously try it and not dismiss it.) has ammazing effects on the personal level."
The problem being that many people believe that they're prayers move things in the world, not just in themselves. It answers their physical problems. Kind of like Uri Geller. But in this case, it sometimes kills them or their children.
Friday, January 02, 2009
This joke is so in it's in-grown. Last panel from this cartoon.
It's especially funny for me given the amount of Warcraft I am playing and the amount of tabletop RPG's I'm not. More on that later.
As an addendum, this twitter post:
# Sitting in Caribou coffee, working on rewrites to second part of novel. Sweeeet. 182 days ago
Makes me vaguely nauseous.