Wednesday, August 28, 2013

50 Years of Marching

Ramblings Post #235
Winners never quit, and quitters never win. I don't know why that strikes a cord now, that and I just now realize that listening to the copy of the MLK speech while trying to type is not the swiftest idea I've ever had. Nope, not swift at all.

via Redditor - Shiskebob

Fifty years ago, a man had a dream. He dreamt that one day, the nation of his birth would accept him as an equal. That he would judged by the content of character, by the result of his actions, and not by the mere color of the skin that random chance had bestowed upon him. That he wouldn't be consigned to second class citizenry from a country that expected him to defend it until death. And now, fifty years later, we've come farther than I think he might have ever dreamed. We have a president whose color he shared, and opportunity abounds. And yet in other ways we're still in that crowd, amidst the monuments built with the blood of forefathers, our ears ringing from his words, and still only hoping for a better tomorrow. For we are still held in the same regard as he was, as second class citizens undeserving of either justice or the benefit of the doubt by so many, as though the world spun and calender never moved.

But you keep marching until you get there. One guy marched for forty years until his people reached the promised land. Maybe we just have a little farther to go.

Keep the faith.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vanquish the Night

Ramblings Post #234
Giving advice is easy. Because from the area of detachment, because from the outside looking in, there exists a clarity that can't be seen from the angle of involvement. It's why companies hire consultants and why people go to therapists. Or ask friends. I get asked for advice a lot. I generally try to let people talk themselves into a circle, until they can see they're own answer they've been actively avoiding. But even with the best advice, there lies a problem. The person giving it isn't involved. 

I attended the first night of Spanky's birthday festival, held at the midtown super club, Vanquish. I had never been to Vanquish or it's sister club, Reign, before this event. I arrived around 10pm. This is my stream of consciousness BB message to Spanky, as stood in the line...something I used to never do.

Really? You've got me STANDING IN LINE? No RSVP Line? There are bars I can see from here with no line, no cover. Isn't this just the best? All this Atlanta going on, we the black people crush into one spot. As though we'd been trained. The term 'ridiculous' comes to mind. Funny, were dresses always this short? Any you need the email to acknowledge the RSVP? They have no list. And there goes $20. And you got to be [bleep] me. This is it? This is the whole thing? Oh, and I have no idea where you are. Upstairs bar? Nope. Main Floor? Too crowded to tell. 

I'm getting old.

There is something about going to the club. The cover charge, the nasty looks because I look interested but I'm not the male model she wanted to pay attention, the long wait at the bar, etc. Clubs in Atlanta have gone from glitzy to relaxed earthy and then back, so I've seen it all. And it's not that I hate clubs, I've had some great nights out and about. It's just that now I can only really take this kind of experience, this wanna be glam over the top party, in small doses. So keep that in mind when I reading this.

Vanquish. From the back corner by the DJ booth. My spot.
So, then. Vanquish. Super club. Midtown.

The club is basically one big room, with a bar in the back and front left wall. It contains what looks like furniture from your aunt's house in the middle, and sleek magazine style furniture in the glass enclosed "private" areas. And an upstairs bar with a glass window wall that overlooks the dance floor of the club next door. And a sound system that vibrates your soul. And a light system that might cause seizures. And a tiny little dance floor the size of a kitchen.

If you go back to my stream from earlier, this is what I meant by the 'this is it' comment. From the way I've heard people talk about it, I expected movie-style accoutrements, with women in cages hanging from the ceiling, or people breathing fire on little podiums. Mermaids in a glass tube, waitresses on stilts, tigers, shark tank under the floor and paintings happening on balconies as the party raged below. Um, maybe I expected too much. 

Spanky's party was in the back corner, and I'm going to be completely honest, once I got there I found a spot and sat down. The place was packed, I mean what is the occupancy rating packed, and I really wasn't up to having to fight my way through the crush again. From my perch on the couch in the back corner, I saw everybody I needed to see. As the people worked there way over to wish Spanky her happy birthday, I said hi, gave a hug and promptly sat back down. Spanky had purchased a bottle for the 'table' and it came with various juices - orange, cranberry and pineapple. If you mix just those three together, they're awesome. I was content. I gratefully watched the purses.

Waitresses in little black dresses. DJ was alright, good mix of new and old school. Comfortable couch. I was set.

And that would have been the end of it, snuggled up in a corner trying to avoid brain damage. But as the night wore on, the crowd thinned and the DJ kept going back in time, one of Spanky's girlfriends (who I'd never seen before) popped up with the birthday girl's ex-paramour in tow. I don't think he ever really went away, but that's another story. He sprawled out on the couch next to her as I watched from across the table. (I found out later she'd asked the girl to go find him.) The music was too loud for me to hear, not that it was my business, but I was expecting the worst. There was some conversation, some pointed looks, then he just got up and left. No yelling, no hint of animosity, just got up and walked away, didn't even look back. And Spanky dissolved into tears.

It was nice to see her girls rally around her as she got emotional. A few minutes later her crew took charge and walked her out, the whole scene happening as though I was the season finale on one of the many reality shows that now infest the city. After they'd loaded her into the car in and disappeared, and I walked one of the other girls to her car, I called to leave her a message of encouragement. I was surprised when she answered her phone, but by then she'd fallen into subdued defeat.

It was a bad end to a tolerable evening.

Should you go? Sure, it is an experience you need to have. If only to know why you wouldn't want to go back. There was a time in my life I would have enjoyed this... in small doses. You might be in the time period of yours.

Barkeep, hey barkeep....hey! Man, forget this, I'm just going down the street. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wait, they named who as the next Batman?

Ramblings Post #233
Sure we all thought that Daniel Craig would be a horrible Bond, because we had an image of Bond looked like and Craig wasn't it. And yes, we were wrong and pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be very, very good. And yes, it's true that after looking at the dailies of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, the studio head complained that Depp was ruining the movie. And yes, he was wrong because Jack Sparrow is a great cinematic character. And yes, we all were sure that the Micheal Keaton was going to horrible in the role, but were proved wrong. But then, this is Ben Affleck we're talking about. Ben Affleck!

The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne - the catalyst.
If Ben Affleck is the Batman we deserve, then we as a people to pause on reflect for a minute, because we have a lot to atone for. A whole lot.

We can all agree, after Argo, that Affleck is a damn fine director. We can also agree after Good Will Hunting, that the man can write a script. And I'm not sure, but I thought we all agreed after Daredevil and it's follow-up Elektra that it's best if he not play costumed superhero anymore. Sure he fills out the suit, but there is more to acting than looking like the hero. Didn't we have a big meeting about this? Remember, we got mad because the coffee wasn't Colombian? Remember? Mary got all confused and thought were asking Matt Damon to play Daredevil in the sequel? Why does no one remember this?

Now, if you want Affleck to direct the Batman/Superman movie, there is no problem. If you're suggesting he tweak the script a bit, sure. But as Batman? Whose idea was this? Do you know why Batman movies fail? Because you pick a guy to play Batman, and that means you're doing it wrong. To make a successful Batman movie, you pick a guy to play Bruce Wayne. The brooding, slightly demented, heroic man who dresses up like a giant bat because his parents were killed by criminals. That's why they picked Keaton, remember? And if you think Ben has the chops to play Bruce Wayne, then we might just need a brand new producer as well.

Next thing you know, they'll want DMX to play the Joker. 

Barkeep. Seriously, I got this idea for a James Bond movie, but where James Bond is old so we can try to talk Sean Connery into playing him again. Less shoot-outs, more where Bond is a thinking man's secret agent. What? You just serve drinks...I see.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

And it's street name is....DLC.

Ramblings Post #232
While I prepare for the future, I'm playing a few computer games. My mother would deride me for playing, but games keep the mind sharp, like the puzzles we used to do as kids, because that's all most games are: big 3D puzzles. I prefer strategy games, where they give you the tools and let you succeed or fail based upon your planning as opposed to how fast your thumb twitches. Because if your mind can keep straight a medieval empire or command a star-ship, surely a TPS report shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

I've never really been in favor of Downloadable Content, or DLC as it is more commonly called. It's where a maker of software games provides you the user with "additional" features that can enhance the game you've purchased, meaning you'll want to play it again. This is especially annoying when these "additional" items are available on day one, the first day the game is available. It's like going to to buy a car then finding out things like the radio, the seats, or even glass in the door windows are extra.

Now, to be clear, I don't really have a problem with real extras, or things you might call "cheats." Games will occasionally sell you things you're supposed to achieve through good game play, and that's okay. Everyone isn't as diligent or patient as I am. And sometimes, they sell you things that enhance how long a game will last - for instance, I'm still playing my Tiger Woods 12 from three years ago because with the DLC at the time, I have around 35 courses, some of which I still haven't played. 

This spring the usual suspects got all in a tizzy when SimCity rebooted, and the masses realized that the model was not only hopelessly broken, but we could also see the alligator in the swamp. SimCity's DLC would go on for could feel it. A fast $5 for alternate town halls. Another $10 for a resort tower. The sponsored content for $5 more. And so on and so forth.  I for one refused to buy this game. But then while we weren't looking, they (the industry) got us anyway. 

I speak of Civilization V.

I like the "Civ" series. I remember borrowing an apple computer for a weekend to play in college and waking up to hear my roommate, who had looked at me skeptically when I tried to explain it to him, cheer about his first settlement on a new continent. It is remarkably addictive. I still  have a copy of Civ III and Civ IV around here someplace. My current copy is from Steam because they had it on sale. Like a 75% off sale. But I'm not particularly happy with this new iteration, which eliminated battle stacks and in turn stretches out war which already could last 50 turns into 150 turn slog-fests. But I still played. A little bit.

NOTE: This is not my Civ counter. Mine barely has 100. But people play it like this. It's serious.
Then the "expansion packs" started coming. 

The first expansion packs were for new rulers, which meant instead of facing the same enemies every time you'd get a little variety. This was cool.  But I was barely playing the game and still hadn't met all the original opponents, so maybe in a future purchase, a few bucks here, a few bucks there, get them all. Then an expansion pack which introduced more map options, which mean changes in game strategy - islands vs continents, or archipelagos. Again, maybe in the future.  Then one that introduced religion and few more new rulers, then another with international trade and some more new rulers..hey, wait a second....

But they're supposed to make the game so great. Only, wasn't the game supposed to BE great to start with?

The last two big expansion packs, the ones that introduce religion and international trade. Weren't religion and international trade a big part of the BASIC game, way way back in Civ IV? So now we're supposed to pay extra for stuff that used to be just part of the game? Wait just a second there bucko! You've just stripped down the 2011 model, slapped on some new graphics and called it the 2013 model. Then you're selling me back all the stuff you took out...for half the cost of the original game! Do I look stupid?  But even as I gripe, even as the words hit the paper I know that I'm just waiting out next Steam Sale so that hopefully I can get the last expansion packs for cheap. Freaking pushers man, freaking pushers!  

So I guess the future is DLC.

But then the games themselves are now DLC, and not the familiar CD that used to come in a box with glorious art and contain other helpful things like instructions and maps. I must be old, because at one point I remember games that came with the strategy guide IN THE BOX. The effect of the nickel and dime business model on the consumer is frightening when you lean back and look at it. 

Barkeep, a nice rum and coke. For an extra two bucks its a premium rum? And for another dollar, an extra shot? And for one more dollar I get ice? Didn't ice used to come with it?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Welcome to Seattle, Georgia

Ramblings Post #231
And now, having re-taken the bar we start again on the last leg of this life transition: The starting point of a new career. It does not promise to be easy. Along with the usual methods of work search, I'm stepping outside the box on this one, trying to some stuff outside my comfort zone, mixing things up. It is said however, that if you like what you do, you'll never have to work a day in your life. But if you enjoy work? 

There exists a scientific theory that occasionally the outer surface of the globe shifts, suddenly, so that things that were at the equator would end up near one of the poles and vice-versa. I think it's based on the findings of the last meal of a frozen mammoth in Siberia, but I'm not sure. That's one explanation...that or magic. Magic might explain how it happened. Magic makes a lot of sense when I think about it. Or just an outside chance that meteorology could shed some light. Like we're at the edge of the largest low pressure system in history. Or a monsoon trough shifted.

Because it is raining in Atlanta like we all believe it does in Seattle.

I've never been to Seattle so I don't actually know if the stories are true that it exists in a constant state of dampness, but this summer it has rained almost every day in Atlanta like one imagines it does in the great Northwest. Every single day. Drizzle, thunderstorm, downpour, something. It's a wonder my house hasn't slid off the hill into the street (note: I live on a hillside). The minimal topsoil which sustained the overgrowth I cut back when I moved in is long gone...probably somewhere down the street hooking up with a cheap crabgrass. The lot across the street the owner dutifully has cut once a month looks like a savannah in the midst of the two jungles sprouting from the adjacent untended lots, the broad leaves of whatever that is growing wild towering over it on either side.  At some point I'm going to have to rent that Extendable chainsaw from Home Depot and have them cut back tree growth, something I didn't think would have to happen for another two or three years.

And just so you know, rain messes up the vibe of a city like Atlanta. This a patio town - i.e., the party is on the patio! Or the deck - wood or rooftop. Or a festival. Or the park - bring your own chair and no glass please. This summer's weather, combined with age and these things called "children" my friends keep having have conspired to end all the cookouts, BBQs, hangouts and other shenanigans that keep you from re-grouting your tile or cleaning out your closets. Because if its raining... your options are limited and you end up at places where they have irritating things like "cover charges" and they ask you to pay for drinks. Sometimes you even have to put on long pants! Oh the horror!

Bad enough I've been out of the loop and am having to slide back in slowly, the loop is on pause until the city dries out. Bad enough the few times I've ventured out my graying hair and desire to hold a conversation (as opposed to live facebook the happening) have me taking the role of "old man in the club." Keep in mind that I'm not currently rich enough to play that role. And even if I was, the whole thing feels unclean. And the clubs for people my age are too many jurisdictions away. And it rains every day. Which is why I'm thinking of doing more video game reviews.

Oh, wait, is it raining again? Well it rained this morning around 2am and it has been a little over 12 hours. Feels like we're about due.

Barkeep. I need the driest drink you have. It's a symbolism thing.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Quick Book Review - 1Q84

Ramblings Post #230
I like to read. When I was a kid I would sit at the kitchen counter with a mixing bowl of cereal (I saw it on the Beverly Hillbillies, I'm a shameless mimic) and crack open the latest book. And I would slowly work my way through it, munching all the while, tackling 200-pages or more in one sitting. There is something about a good book. It transports you, educates you, makes you dream and wonder. It awakens the mind. And yet so few people pick up a book and read unless required. So sad.

My Brother's copy, which I must return.

I'm guessing my first warning should have been my brother recommended the book.

Don't get me wrong, my brother is a writer and some of the books he's suggested I read have been excellent. But his milieu is the "human experience," where the author delves into an exploration of the pathos of man's psyche and peers into the nuances of the mundane in an attempt to paint a silhouette of the eternal soul. Or something like that. And I did give the book an okay at first glance, first admiring it's weight and page count, and then liking the print size. Not the best measures I know, but sometimes you take a leap. And it was supposed to be science fiction.  

I get the impression now my brother doesn't read a lot of "science fiction."

Now I've read cerebral science fiction before. The kind that explores new social constructs, new ways of living, new ways of thinking, and have delved into man's inhumanity to both man and alien. This particular story was a more personal introspection. Way more introspection than I'm used to. Probably too much introspection. It was translated from it's original Japanese, where it was a bestseller. Maybe they go big for introspection.

Okay, the facts. The story is one of a man and woman, who crossed paths as children, haven't seen each other in twenty years and now both long for one another. And a novella he ghost writes.  And her struggle against societal constructs. And mystical little people. And cults. There might even be a ghost in there somewhere, I'm not sure. And a parallel world. Well, parallel world kinda of abuses the phrase, but because although it seems key to the story it's not really explored. The point of view is that of the two main characters so the worldview is fairly narrow by design. That is until the last third of the book, where they add a  third person's viewpoint. Seriously, they add a third person viewpoint. Then momentarily a fourth. But I digress.

Perhaps linear writing is more of an American trait. A character appeared, then was gone. Another seemed important, then disappeared. I've read works with disparate timelines for the various viewpoints before, ala Game of Thrones, so that wasn't really an issue. But then the story would stop to describe in detail the guy's dinner or linger on a supporting character's back-story for five pages, just meandering about. These things would pop up, get you interested, then cease to exist within the narrative. There were one or two other things - plot points, lines of logic and such that appeared obvious to me as a science fiction reader that came across as muddled in the tale as well.

And even with all that, the thing about it all, the weird part, is that I found the whole experience of reading it flat. For all the praise this novel has received, I kept seeing characters who lived lackluster lives outside of a single highlight to wedge them into this story. I kept waiting for the moment when everything changed. Or when the characters at least started thinking differently. Or had an epiphany. Or when all the machinations of the narrators culminated into a serious situation. Or something. I don't need gun play or explosions, but a dramatic moment to pin it all up. Or show how it's not going to be pinned all up. Anything at all. Or maybe I missed it. Maybe it was too subtle for my untrained mind.

Maybe the book just wasn't meant for me.

I'm not sure who I would suggest read something like this. It's far too light on the science for science fiction, but not enough character development for actual literature.

Barkeep, I need so cereal, in one of them big mixing bowls. Yes, I realize this is a bar, but isn't the customer always right? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

So I played this OTHER game...

Ramblings Post #229
I am still a gamer. I'm five games behind the Thunder in my middle of my 4th season of NBA2K, I have just started my first season after promotion to the Argentinian Premier League and I am just hoping for a mid-table finish in Football Manager 2013, and my troops are poised on the border as I contemplate invasion in Civ 5. I've also just recently gotten the water flowing to the Wasteland in Fallout 3, the English just declared war for no reason in Total War Empire and one day I promise you I will get 2 million in revenue from cigars in the original Tropico, this I swear! So, you might say, I'm a gamer.

I did not like Uncharted 2, so why am I playing Uncharted 3?

Maybe I'm a little too "old school" or maybe I just don't get this new style, but I when I play a video game I expect it to be a video game and not whatever this was. And this was less video 'game', more interactive story/puzzle arrangement with cinematic movie cut-scenes spliced in as an excuse to set up a multi-player experience.

So let me tell you how I really feel.

For those who haven't played the series, the hero Nathan Drake (using the Indiana Jones Random
Destruction of Historical Sites Theory) flits around the globe finding incredible secret cities and major artifacts. The trick of the game is that is more "cinematic" than the average game with visual angles that enhance the story.  For instance as the building around you collapses, the visual angle shows you the incredibly detailed destruction animation, as opposed to say the path you could be using to escape. Which makes for interesting game, game play.

This is actually in the game...looks great, doesn't it?

My major problem with the game is that is so transparently a puzzle. As I said in my previous critique of Uncharted 2, I know that all video games are basically puzzles. Most, if not all,  just hide it better than this series. The game is a continuing series of gloriously painted static locales with only one pathway through, grand set pieces that amount to little more than fast twitch exercises and puzzles so unintuitive that if the game did not literally stop and point out to you what comes next (which it does frequently) every player would still be in the French Chateau. Seriously. 

Further, the fight animation comes with continuing pop up cues, the enemy AI are straight out the Minion Academy and those aforementioned grand set pieces, the part which makes it like the a game it should be, usually require a particular weapon to complete. Thus there is no real choice in playing style, there is only the narrative. The makers also managed to infuse that an annoying effect from Far Cry 3, deciding in some inane meeting to let the player experience what the hero is seeing when he's drugged! Not that it appears to have any real effect on gameplay, but oooh, look how everything is all wavy now.

And I call it an excuse to set up multi-player because it's so short. I know, the old complaint, "not only is it bad, there is so little of it!" Here, because the game has so little replay value, you would think they would make it long enough to crack your spine. I finished it so quickly I had to check the online walk-through to make sure that really was it! And this for a game that came with a 12GB download for the cut scenes alone! Also, the game opens with a default to the multi-player selection instead of the single game. That might be considered an indicator. Just saying.

On the plus side, you don't have to keep your companions alive, they can look after themselves.

Well, maybe now that I'm done with this "game", I promise myself this time for real that I won't pick up the producer's next game, the heavily praised Last of Us. This style of game play is not for me. Instead, I can concentrate on establishing a dynasty in Middle Europe. I got that game here someplace. Ooh, wait, I still have some cities in SimCity 4 percolating around here somewhere!

What's the barkeep? The original question of why bother? Oh, because it was free. Let me get a Mirmosa, and do you serve brunch?

Friday, August 2, 2013

And Now...We Wait.

Ramblings Post #228
Goals are bad, milestones are good. I've said this before and I'm saying it again, because I woke up Thursday morning a little confused as my purpose. I'd spent so much of the last thirty days getting ready for the big event, it took me a few minutes to realize that it was over and I needed to move on to what was next. As soon as I remembered exactly what that was...

Just Chilling.
Ah law school, the memories. One of the defining things about Law School, to me, was that wait to get grades. Sometimes as long as a month, the time allowed a prof to soak in the subtle nuances of your writing and understand what you were getting at, even if you failed to remember the exact terminology.  That it also meant the concept of passing or failing hung heavy over Christmas Break whilst you tried to yuletide your Holiday season was an inconvenience. That it also meant that grades came out after add/drop was merely an added bonus headache.

Alas, I have graduated, have the framed degree on my wall and that was to be no more!

Unless you count the Bar Exam.

My second passing through the gates into the dark rapids went a little smoother than the last. Although I'm sure I got at least two wrong that I had right, because I went back and changed the answer, I still feel better about this one. This time the writing was right up my alley and the questions didn't feel forced.

Now comes the hard part. The waiting. Months of feeling confident and alive only to one distant afternoon you'll have to find out if all your efforts have been worth it. And in my case, again. But you can't focus on it, like you can't worry about the questions you suddenly realize the answer to as you walk into the parking lot afterwards. That happens to every law student inevitably. No, you got to do what everyone does..."pretend you passed and keep it moving." I'm taking a minute to decompress, to do some house work...then I need to find a paying job. Maybe even get this law career going. Hopefully a judge somewhere needs a clerk. I need somewhere to be obsessive. I think better when I get to be obsessive a little bit each day. 

Barkeep! Ah, there you are. Bourbon with a splash of branch water on the rocks.