blarg?

While I’m saddened to report that despite the best efforts of our troops and allies in this long, difficult War On Christmas, we have been unsuccessful in having Christmas abolished this year. I am heartened to announce, however, that we have successfully secured an important beachhead at the Republican National Committee.

Happy holidays, stauch members of the alliance! Let us redouble our efforts in the new year!

Most of my video-game time goes into my DS these days; most of that time happens during my subway commute, and even a modest home-entertainment system can be cumbersome to carry on the TTC. Also, the extension cord is awkward.

Periodically you hear someone that, one presumes, is on the cutting edge of one kind of academic wankery or another in elaborating some narrow sociology pertaining to video games; I however am a rare and precious intellectual jewel, and their soi-disant “cutting edge” is to me a barren and destitute land littered with the spent, rusted hulks of yesterday’s novelty. I am also here to talk about video games, you understand, but not through these trivial convolutions of the pedestrian terminology to which you’ve grown sadly accustomed. No, I am here to take it to the limit.

I’m really not here to take anything towards any sort of limit, but once that paragraph got going you can sort of see how it would take on a life of its own. It’s not a thing to be reconciled with logic, common sense or basic human decency but, nevertheless, this is how I roll.

So anyway, I’m playing Final Fantasy 3 these days and it is, sadmakingly, another game I’m just not going to finish. It’s pretty, starts out fun and it reminds me of the turn-based combat and mazes of some of the first quest games I played as a very young nerd, but it’s just not very well tuned.

You’re no doubt familiar with the tropes if you’ve every played a game that involves a hero and a dungeon, but if you’re wandering around outside or in one of the FF3 dungeons you’re going to have a random encounter; whoops, you’ve stumbled into a gaggle of monsters. Again.

In FF3, this is very true; you’re going to find monsters (that, if you’re making forward progress, and because the monsters are very well tuned will stand a passable chance of killing one of ur doods) every twenty seconds or so. They take a minute or so to fight off at best, and while that’s pretty neat for the first five minutes or so, it starts to get pretty tiresome at about minute six.

Among a small set of forgivable sins is the fact that, like many games of its era, it’s got a plot on rails; you can’t accomplish much without sticking to the script, even though it’s still possible to wander into places you shouldn’t go where you’ll get immediately ganked. It’s a product of its time, though, and I’m willing to overlook that. The magic system is a bit of a mess (spells aren’t really knowledge, they’re just items) and the fact that you can’t switch jobs and remember how you did any part of your old job is super-annoying, but I can also understand why you’d want to do that from a game design/play perspective.

Really, the thing that’s going to keep me from making much more progress is the frequency of the combat. Random encounters are really random, so you can’t clear a room or anything, something that’s a little disconcerting; even areas that had been, according to the story line, sealed by the magic whatevers to protect the other magic whatever until moments before you arrived are somehow still full of malicious critters. And the mazes, so far, are tiny little things – they just take half an hour or more to get through because you have to butcher your way through them. This stopped being fun and started being grindwork after a while, where “a while” is measured in not-that-longs.

The monster-gang matchups are a little odd sometimes too, like you’re being attacked by a fox, a chicken and a bag of grain – you sit there thinking, “I know I shouldn’t be worrying about this kind of thing but, honestly, I don’t think you three should be collaborating here.”

I’ve got to say, though, that the more grindy and tedious it’s gotten, the more I wonder about the entire non-player video game world I’m walking around in. How does this economy sustain itself? Where does the food come from? If it’s way too dangerous to step outside of this oddly-undefended town, why is there still an inn here?

Now, I’m totally willing to suspend my disbelief for this. Magic, sure. Monsters, dragons castles, dungeons, that’s the name of this game; bring ‘em on. Seafaring tall ships that can fold up the sails and roll out helicopter blades and fly around instead, why not? Mongrel animals that always seem to have a few hundred in gold on them? Well, that last one is one of the more idiotic conventions of the genre, but what the hell, I’m in. At least I don’t have to break all the pottery in the world to scrounge a few bucks in this one.

But with these ostensibly random encounters happening all the damn time, I keep thinking to myself: listen, monsters; don’t you guys talk to each other? Is there no off-camera communication here?

Every time one of you guys steps up my crew you get struck by lighting, set on fire, frozen and carved into dog food. Some of the time you even get your pocket picked or smacked with a book on your way through the meat grinder. Don’t you guys ever get together and say “you know, I don’t know about you but I thought Grog, Zerk and Warg were a couple of tough kobolds, strong, mean, good fighters and so on, and these guys we’re about to jump just chewed them up, spit them out and pissed on the leftovers. Maybe we should think about, you know, waiting for easier pickings to wander past? Maybe a deer or one of the townspeople or something? I’m just sayin'”.

A few days ago I asked you, world, to provide me with novel musical stimulus; I regret not providing you with more feedback at the time, so let me take this moment to tell you about some music. One album in particular, by the now-defunct Big Wreck. The album is called “In Loving Memory Of…”.

Let me say this as clearly as I can: this is the best rock album you’ve never heard of, and the fact that it didn’t sell a billion copies is evidence of a crime.

If you like (or, even, know about) the Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen” or “1965”, this album is a must-have, a set of great, great songs looking back over the detritus of a failed relationship. In a just world, “Blown Wide Open”, “Overemphasizing” or one of a half-dozen other tracks on this album would be enough to carry a career all on their own, and there’s no filler here at all.

Now you know!

How’s this for shifting gears:

200 ml soya oil
100 ml malt vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce

Mix, serve.

It turns out that this makes a very pleasant salad dressing, aromatic and flavorful. It’s got a smooth, unobtrusive taste, though, not smothering the actual taste of the vegetables, which has been my experience with salad dressings up to this point.

Thank you for your understanding during this culinary digression, the demented savagery you’ve come to expect will return forthwith.

One word, if you would, that describes a certain feeling. Directed inward, the feeling of fighting off an icepick lobotomy that’s already half an inch in and scratching the bone, one sharp motion away from excising your ability to care about what you’ve just lost; outwards, the feeling that comes from watching an old girlfriend stagger out of a crack house and proposition a stranger, sad and helpless and seeing something you loved polluted and too far gone to help.

I don’t think it has a name, but bear with me here.

We’re well into December, so the radio stations of the world are taking their annual break from the nonstop rotation of crappy music about how great love is to spend a month playing even crappier music about how great Christmas is.

I hate Christmas.

I’m late to the game here, of course; the spirit of rabid, unfettered consumerism was let off the chain a month ago, to wander the psychological detritus of a week-long sugar binge and prey on the weak, unsuspecting or merely kind. Today, Halloween is frightening only for the mental onslaught that dawns the very next morning, remorseless economics declaring it cheaper to take the plastic bats out of the rafters and install the plastic elves all at once. The storefronts change colors before the last leaves and the spirit of Christmas is once again slapped around and sent out to the walk the street corners and make some money.

You grow up, and your parents stop putting change under your pillow for your old teeth or hiding Easter eggs, but for some reason Christmas never seems to go away. I don’t really wonder why that is, but I wish I did.

I can remember a time when Christmas made me happy, giddy even, but I can also remember why it made me happy, and it’s not something I’m proud of. Not because of family or friends, because (of extraordinary fortune, I know) I already had all that. Just because I was getting a bunch of stuff. Nowadays I have the luxury of not really needing stuff, and I’ll be the first to admit that this is no small luxury, but having the sense to know what I don’t need is something I’m even happier with.

The friends and family, though, that used to be background noise; excusable, I suppose, in a too-smart middle-class white kid who’d never gone without either, but what do you fit into the the gap between excusable and forgivable? Contrition, possibly? These days, all I want for Christmas is to sit around a table or three with friends and family, eat some good food and drink some good drink. Maybe get something small for the smaller members of the various clans, just ’cause. But what I’d really love is to be left the hell alone for the two-month run-up, to make my decisions in peace without the annual commerce-orgy harbinger-bells piped out of every speaker, flashing on every screen and plastered on every flat surface available, because all that does is bring back my feeling without a name.

What I want, I guess, is what Christmas is supposed to be; I just hate what it actually is.

Scoring Alex’s spare ticket last night, I got to see the Blue Man Group for the first time. I’m a long-time fan of their music, but that’s all – ’til now, I’ve never seen any part of their live show.

And, boy, you’ve really got to see their live show, because it will latch onto your neck with a mechanical claw and bob your head up and down to the beat. They’re only going to be playing in Toronto until the 7th of January, and I’m definitely going to see them again. They generate far more awesome than my tiny sloping cranium can process all at once.

If you happen to like the head-nodding techno music, and please be advised, Ben, Mehmet, Geofford, Kotlarewsky et al, that I am looking directly at you when I say this, you absolutely have to see this show.

Thank you, Alex!

I’ve been working with Windows Media Center a bit this week. My opinion is straightforward: people of earth, avoid. Media Center is Windows XP, Millenium Edition.

Thank you for your attention in this matter, please go about your day.

While shopping for a new cellphone, it has come to my attention once again that I am living far outside the bounds of modern civilization.

Do you know what it cost to get data out of the interweb and into a cellphone here in Canada? Four cents per kilobyte. Which is to say, forty dollars a megabyte, or approximately two hundred dollars for a moderately-sized MP3.

Two hundred fucking dollars.

That’s your base rate, if you don’t have a data plan. Data plans start at $25 for half a megabyte, with additional megabytes costing thirty dollars each. And all of that is only available in addition to your normal voice plan.

Which is to say, if you download about one mp3 every month, it’s actually cheaper to get an American data plan and pay the roaming fees. Not just a little cheaper, either; vastly cheaper. Rogers claims that 1 megabyte is “approximately 500 to 1,000 e-mails per month”, which I think we sane people can all agree is both a lie on its face and disingenuously overlooks the fact that it is also “one largish picture”, “half a moderately-sized PDF”, “a fifth of a song”, “a thirtieth of a small movie trailer” and “one half of one percent of a large movie trailer.

And, if you want to upload that memory stick full of photos you just finished shooting? Backing up your 256mb CF card over this system will cost you about eight thousand dollars.

Did I mention that there’s no such thing as an unlimited data plan, here?

What I want, what I’ve wanted for a long time, is laptop to cell via bluetooth, cellphone to world via whatever juju puts bits through cellphones, and to be able to check my mail and browse the web a bit without fearing for my wallet if a friend sends me an mp3 as an attachment or I suddenly get the urge to watch a movie trailer; I’m not talking about leaving my bittorrent client running overnight, I’m talking about a terminal and a web browser. And, if I was virtually anywhere else in the world I could do that trivially, for something in the ballpark of forty dollars a month.

But not here. Because here, it’s a “business” thing, which I’m pretty sure means some asshole in a suit has decided that the only people who’d be interested in that sort of thing are other assholes in suits.

If you, dearest audience, happen to be living in one of these digital utopias, perhaps one of my friends withing spitting distance of Akihabara, rest assured that I both don’t want to hear it, and also want you to send me a new cellphone. So, you know, don’t think I love you any less, but seriously, just shut up. And also send me new toys. Also seriously.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the people who actually makes decisions about which services actually get sold in this country, I’m going to need you to take a good hard look at the uptake of these services, which I’d confidently wager is as close to zero as makes no difference, and change your minds. You are clearly in the wrong.

Take a look at this video, and tell me if you’re going to sleep well tonight.