Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Quick Restaurant Review - The Punchline

There was a time when I hung in Atlanta like they were carting it up and driving it to Canada the next morning. I was in and out of hot spots, grandiose clubs, dive bars, watering holes, not to mention upscale digs, penthouses and mansion parties. And a number of those nights, back when I lived on that side of town, ended up at Cafe 290, a live jazz spot that used to close at...wait, you know, before they put that curfew in place, I'm not sure if they ever really "closed". But, as many times as I'd been to Cafe 290, I'd never ventured into the spot across the parking lot, the Punchline.

When I say parking lot, I mean like there is one row of parking between them. It's tight.

But then I haven't been to a comedy show in a while, and since Sporty had made the tickets a gift, I called up my brother, who has his first "regular people job" in a while and thus who I don't see as often as I used to, to come hang out for a hot second. Because the website was vague about the start times of anything, I arrived very early (BTW, the shows start at 8pm). The walk to Starbucks wasn't bad. By coincidence, this is the same day that March Madness started (it wasn't like an upset might happen or nothing, yesh).

I know my brother had a great time... even before the show started. We spotted his dream car - a Tesla - in the parking lot. I'll be honest it looked like a Jaguar at first, but up close it looked so much better. The owner was happy to talk about it for a few minutes, his wife used to it by now. Afterwards we stood there admiring it, performing a little ritual my brother likes to call, "getting motivation to succeed." Visual success and all that. It is a really nice car, and now yes, even I would like to have one.

But I digress, onto the evening.

Things I learned at the Punchline

#1. Apparently there is something especially funny about sitting on top of the person next to you. I say this because the tables were tightly packed. Sporty and I ate in a Thai restaurant one night that had tables that were in my opinion, a little too close together. The Punchline made that joint look like a airplane hanger. Tight wasn't the word for it. I would have hated to see it packed on a Friday or Saturday. The people who would have been sitting directly behind us, at the next table, actually chose to sit at the bar rather than pack in that tight.

#2 You don't really need to know anybody. I say this because not only were the tables close together, we were sharing them with other people there to see the show. So not only were we scootched up, we were scootched with strangers...a nice mother and daughter who we only talked to for the ten minutes before the house lights when down and the comedians started. Well, they seemed like nice people, who I guess I almost met.

#3 The "two drinks" in a two drink minimum can be expensive. I am currently not a rich man. I'm working on it, getting there, but not quite yet. Still, for what I paid...for two people to have a light dinner and with no appetizer and no dessert? Let's just say you didn't come for the food. Maybe I need to move up to the Tesla crowd, but it may be a moment before I do that again.

The food? Were there any culinary treats, any dining discoveries? Was the atmosphere quaint, cozy and warm? The service a joy?, not really.

To be fair, the comedian was funny. The warm up act was, well the warm up act, but the main guy, Nema Williams, was funny. It was a small crowd, but he was very engaging - talking directly to folks, handing out nicknames, just riffing. No gags per se, but really more of a stream of consciousness that earned his keep, veering from jokes about his life to discussions on how many wall outlets were around the stage (he stopped counting at 13). He wasn't falling out of your chair screaming "stop" funny, but he was good. My brother is already talking about going back. We'd probably need different seats next time.

All in all, it's a old building, and the eats are bar food and they pack you like sardines. But then you don't go for anything but the find a good comedian to go see. You'll still have a good time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Who decided these seedings anyway?

Ramblings Post #220
Every year there is the ritual. We seek guidance and direction, hoping that the path we choose will lead us to a place of comfort...and victory in the office pool. Yes, I'm talking about College Basketball, March Madness, and all the joy and heartbreak that it contains.

To pick three #12 seeds beating #5 seeds as upsets would have been the height of insanity...before this years tourney. Oregon beat Oklahoma St, Ole Miss beat Wisconsin, and California beat UNLV. Throw in the #14 ranked Harvard knocking out a #3 seed and I doubt anyone without 42 different brackets is doing anywhere near decent. The Boom! La Salle takes out Kansas State and that bracket is hanging on by a thread.

Wait, how much time is on the clock in Georgetown game? Who is Florida Gulf Coast? Oh, the guys who just beat the #2 seed and now that bracket is wobbly as well. If Southern's near cataclysmic take down of #1 seeded Gonzaga had actually happened, I would have turned off my TV and called it a wrap. My only consolation is that nobody saw all of THAT coming. At least nobody I know. That Gonzaga actually lost in the second round, well, one of my boys actually called that one...but nobody believed him at the time.

I have actually won a pool in the past, my picks apparently just a little bit more fortuitous than everyone else's, but this year has proved to be especially vexing. Not because I'm a great college basketball fan (I'm not), but because conventional wisdom has not only gone out the window, it's gone down the street, caught a bus to the airport and is currently drinking rum on the beach in St. Croix. And apparently no one in ESPN over eight million strong player base had anything even close to this outcome.

Kinda makes me thinks sports really are America's last place where the underdog can triumph. Oh, wait, Har-vhud. Yeah, right.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Odd Quotes

 “We rarely think that people have good sense unless they agree with us. ”

~ La Rochefoucauld

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why We're Really Mad about SimCity (2013)

Ramblings Post #219
Currently I am in the midst of a 14-game win streak in my fourth NBA season, managing an Argentinian Soccer Team and just realized I'm going to have gut my Transfer budget to resign my key players, two tourneys away from the Masters, picking out which faction I want to be in control of in feudal Japan, slowly taking control of Stillwater, trying to run a train based empire in central Africa, and hoping that the Baron of Black Gorge ends his mandate soon so that my dwarves don't starve. Those are the games I can remember that I'm playing. I think I might be a gamer.

The nostalgia aside for a building cities on islands linked by a symphony of bridges in the shape of my initals or that resembles what you imagine Gotham City must look like, we're really mad at EA for SimCity for actual reasons. Let me be clear: I and most other detractors of this incarnation realize that since the company owns the property that they can do what they want with it, and are not obligated to meet our demands in anyway that do no serve their own ends. That said, making your customers mad usually isn't the best business model. I think a number of software companies, if not the whole entertainment community,  have looked at the Apple model, which is more akin to a cult, and are trying to trap it's customers into arrangements that keep them tied up forever.

Note, unless you're Apple, or other cultists, this is not a good business model.

First, had they just named the thing SimCity Online it would have cut out a bunch of confusion. That little phrasing changes the whole connotation and expectations of potential purchasers. The problem is you can't really sell a strategy game for online play, especially since the heart of the game is solo city building. What happens if you cut a deal with five cities...and four of them quit playing? In a questing game, you find new people. In a strategy game with locked regions...then what?

Was that so hard?
Via Reddit. I forget the redditors name.
Plus, having a game that is locked into a server and players need to communicate with other players in the game indicates that this game is a "temporary" situation. By that I am pointing out that as there are currently no monthly fees - ala World of Warcraft or EVE - which would be the incentive to keep the servers humming five years from now for a game whose sales will peak this year. It doesn't matter how much DLC they try to append, it's a downward curve. And each quarter as that profit margin drops, it becomes more and more likely a cost cutting executive will suddenly decide to pull the plug. Meaning you didn't "buy" the game so much as lease it....which is not how this type of game genre works. Simulation games are for strategy players, people who aren't really interested in swinging the sword a thousand times but instead tend to play games over and over, for years, inventing new things with the tools given.

Then there are the lies. When asked, EA stipulated that computations are run server side, so a single player game is supposed to be impossible. But some of the game developers are quietly confessing the cloud connection isn't strictly necessary. And then someone modified (modded) the game so that it can be played without a connection, less than 30 days after release.  It's like a restaurant saying there hamburger is 100% American beef, then finding out its 50% Mexican horse and 20% unclassified filler. In some areas, abusive treatment of customers works, they even enjoy it. This is not one of those places. 

Forget that people have already figured out how "to game" the mechanics, creating cities with practically no industry or commercial sections, with sims getting "rich" going to the park. Making the game pretty to look at, but essentially broken. The mod might have to fix that too.

We all know the real reason for the always on internet connection was an ill-conceived attempt to prevent piracy, so why lie? And now because of this all out effort to combat thieves and make the game all pretty, it seems that a pirated version, which is coming as sure as the sun will rise, will give players what they actually want - an off-line version that actually works correctly. And this isn't an industry where you want a third party producing what is technically is a better product than the original.

The video game industry isn't quite like other industries, in that you're going to buy toothpaste (I hope) and toilet paper (I pray), so particular consumer demands only weigh in so heavily. The industry is a luxury item, and even the production of good, popular games isn't a guarantee of success - ala THQ. When a staple veers too far off course, the fans, the very vocal fans...speak up. And in this day and age there are two many avenues to do that. And in a market already crowded, the cumulative effect might amount to little more than commercial suicide for a major game industry franchise.

Barkeep, I'm firing up the wayback machine. I think I have SimCity 2000 around her somewhere.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

And then....the Pope

Ramblings Post #218
There was a time when many years passed and you never questioned who he was or what he stood for. He stood there, his signature hat, as a force of nature. And then, as though the world changed he was gone. And since things haven't been the same. You hope and pray, that the next man to fill his shoes will be the answer, and sooth your troubled brow. Um, I'm talking about Cowboys football coaches, and the man in the hat is Tom Landry. What did you think I was talking about?

The Old Pope was eighty five and had to call it quits. So the idea would have been to bring in fresh blood, somebody with staying know, the way they put fifty-year olds on the Supreme Court and before you know it thirty years have passed! But then we've ended up with current justices "who've been on the bench too long" using arguments and logic the justices of  the racially charged 1960's rejected for stupidity to rationalize how the court should rule today. So maybe that's not the best system either, but I digress.

Now I'm not Catholic, I don't think. I might be Mormon, what with the substitute baptisms and all but I'll have to check. But even as a non-Catholic I understand the importance and respect the Holy See.

Maybe its because I grew up with John Paul, who seemed a cool kinda Pope.

Still, I didn't wait with baited breath for the election. There was no particular cardinal I was rooting for, although a black Pope would have been funny. Come on, you know it would have been funny. I did however expect the conclave to reach a decision a little closer to the end of the period than the beginning. And while I wasn't looking for them to elect a twenty five year old Pope (technically any Catholic Male is eligible), I was thinking early sixties for longevity's sake.

The new Pope is seventy six. Which is nine years younger than the guy who just stepped down due to age.

One almost had to ask, since apparently he was runner up the last time a Pope was chosen, if it was "it was his turn" situation. Or was last time "his turn", and things happened? Papal politics are beyond me, not my business so to speak, but with a casual glance it seems as if something else is going on here. I did a quick read on him last night, checked a few other things and don't get me wrong he's a good guy, but his election just has the appearance of something amiss. It's not him, it's the process. And considering that he is also has the health concerns (one lung), in ten years will we have two living former Popes?

In any case, long live the Pope.

Barkeep, a fish sandwich and some Merlot. What? Fishes and loves, red's symbolic!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not Feeling the Zombie Apocalypse

Ramblings Post #217
Chase your dreams. Or at least try to look at them from time to time. Dreams are your brain running checks in the system, exposing you to things you were even afraid to think while awake. But don't over do it, sometimes you brain just spits out stuff. Let it go.

Walking Dead Shot - So wrong. The highway on the left leads to Freedom Park, the bridge in the distance is 85/75 and leads out of town. The traffic should be on other side of the road trying to get out, not heading to brunch.

Last night I had dreams about zombies. Not once, but three or four times. It was like a triple feature where I went from scenario to scenario, at one point hiding out in a tower - with trash bags in the corridor and brewing beer in hanging bottles(?) - to being back at my parents house praising the loss of power because it meant we could spend more time doing things that were actually important. Oddly, I saw no zombies, but the people in my dreams talked about them a lot. It was one of those things you want to try to interpret, but don't know where to start. Or just not.

I don't particularly like zombies. First, I'm not a big fan of horror. When I was younger I found horror films funny (I cheered for the monster) but the latest breed of horror creations I find too gory. It's how creative can I get without any heart. Sporty and I used to go see them, but only because she wanted to. Watching movies waiting to be scared isn't something I enjoy.

The other reason I don't like zombies is that I think that it's intellectually lazy to use them. As a writer, I think one of the keys of good storytelling is that both the protagonist and the antagonist have viable and believable stories. The villain has to want something - revenge, money, power, etc. to give the hero something to do. And the hero has to have a reason to stop them. Bad villain? Lackluster motivation? Hero involved for no reason? The whole story suffers. The use of zombies sadly eliminates the need for that whole construct. Zombies just want to feed. No ego, no motivation, no plan that has to be worked out or scenario to create to make them believable. Just say they exist and boom, you're done. Even better, all the hero needs to do is kill them, with no real other plan. Sometimes the author gives the hero destination to reach "safety" but the use of zombies is as lazy as sticking vampires into the tale. 

So I don't watch the Walking Dead, nor am I particularly excited about the upcoming movie World War Z and I look past the cover of video games that offer hordes of zombies to blow away. Lazy. The last zombies I liked were on South Park, where it turned out you weren't supposed to kill them! Oops.

Barkeep. Do you have anything with universal themes, strong characters, inventive writing? Oh, you serve drinks, not books? Oh, well pity me then, and not a lot of ice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Odd Quotes

From the Internet. I wish I knew where for the credit.

I will not stop. I will not slow down. I will not pull over to ask for directions. I will build the road that takes me where I want to be and I will drive, drive, drive. I will drive until the vehicle around me breaks down, falls apart and tumbles into useless debris… and then I will walk.

~ Shane Koyczan

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SimCity (not a review or an endorsement)

Ramblings Post #216
Why do we play? We play to escape the humdrum reality of lives, just as when we read or go to the cinema. We play video games because they let us become someone else, allow us to triumph as participants instead of passive observers. We realize that these worlds are but fantasy, but if the choice is to remember that you're an accountant lost in a cubicle farm or to pretend for a while to be what you always dreamed....why not pretend? 

Image via Redditor TotalBiscuit

I have played SimCity since it's first inception. It is the essence of management games, where you have to balance the needs of the citizens versus the tools you had to work with.

I remember building my airport downtown to see if I could get one of the planes to crash (this was in the mid 90's). I remember trying to build a city with only subways. Or when I finally got my first highway system only to screw it up completely. Or when I figured out how to make farms before you could designate a zone agricultural.  I remember the joy when my dense zoning finally yielded skyscrapers, when I realized that the all the houses near the mayor's house were ritzy, when I got my own little silicon valley going, arcologies, and all the llama references. There was the city I tried to build like a doughnut with space to put all the big stuff downtown that fell apart. It was maddeningly addictive.

I will not be buying the latest iteration.

Why? That damned always online concept they have appended to the system. Plain and simple.

Even worse the damned thing can't be modded, has removed terraforming, shrunk the size of the city you can build and removed the idea of single play entirely. Who exactly is this game made for?

Not everyone and not everything can be made social. That the old versions game still has an active modding community to creates maps and new parts of the game speaks volumes. People who play SimCity's previous versions do share, but in essence like to create their own space.

I've never played Farmville, or Mafia or any of those other social things on Facebook, where I need a friend to drop by to help me play better. Maybe I'm missing something. But the idea that I would need a slot on a server to play a game at home - where I intend to interact with nobody is ludicrous. That the game encourages dealing with other folks is silly. We aren't questing here, this is city management.

That if the server is full and I might not be able to play at all is even more insane. That five years from now EA might decide to shut down the servers making play impossible borders on detachment from reality! I have games I still play that are ancient. I still boot up the original Tropico, Railroad Tycoon II and Ancient Empires II when I get bored. I have a copy of Front Page Sports Football 97 that still gives me a better challenge than the latest Madden. I still play SimCity 4.  

That this new version (released today) of the game actually tracks individual Sims better than all the previous versions is just twisting the knife. It's so much fun they say. Not if I can't put my city on an island shaped like Mickey' Mouse's head. And what if I want to start over?

Oh, well. The version I'm still playing has whole regions. And terraforming. 

Barkeep, as Mayor of Shuckyduckieville, I hereby declare this bar open!  Drinks for everyone! The city isn't paying for any of this.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Good Read

Ramblings Post #215
To be a good writer, you need to read good writing. But you can't copy it, or even borrow from it. Not literally. What you can take from it is the feeling, the sensation. If you've done it right you can read your own prose and get the same sensation as reading a new novel. It's exhilarating. It's why I've been writing since I was twelve. Now, if I could just get re-writing and editing down....oh, the glory. 

My purchases
One of the things I gave up in my preparations for the bar was casual reading. To give my brain a break I would occasionally do a something quick like a crossword puzzle or play a PC strategy game that only involved the occasional pushing of a button, during which the interval between presses could  sometimes extend into days. I must have a half dozen games of Dwarf Fortress started that I quit because when I got back to them there was no way to apply the Rule of Perpetuities (crazy hard legal concept). So, yesterday, after a late breakfast I made my first trip to the book store in months and bought a book. No, two books.

There is nothing quite like a cold day, a couch, a warm throw and a good book. It's almost magical somehow. And I don't mean a Kindle or Nook, but an actual paper and binding book. The weight in your hand makes it better somehow.

Side note - I don't trust Kindle, a device on which I understand Amazon can TAKE THE BOOKS BACK at their discretion. The idea of waking up and finding my books gone?  Talk about nightmare. 

A good book moves you. It makes you cheer for the hero, lets you peer into the mind of the villain, and does it all while forcing your mind to fill in all the "fiddly bits" of background and color. It's a medium that makes you use your imagination, which is why I get so depressed when a good book is turned into a movie and the director gets it wrong. Or tries to fix the story. Or cut parts out that are too complicated or difficult to explain.

But enough of this. I got reading to do.

Barkeep. I need a bowl of Rice Krispies. No, a box of Rice Krispies. Don't judge me.