Log in

Books, or Kindling?

Faster than my mom could ask, “Do you have a Kindle?” I found myself the owner of Amazon’s gimmicky device, all thanks to the power of maternal love. I should probably note that when my mom first asked me this question, in a grand display of gratitude I replied with “Don’t get me a Kindle.” I’ve never been a fan of the whole eBook phenomenon (-na?), mostly due to the inflated costs attached to downloading what amounts to glorified text files. Having served eight years in the trenches of academia, I became well-versed in the art of getting books for free -- I scammed my way through countless semesters checking out and perpetually renewing everything on my syllabi, instead of forking over hundreds of dollars that could be better spent on microbrews and life-sustaining awful pizza. And when I made the move to grad school, living a short distance from a used bookstore did a good job of spoiling me; I was once infatuated with the idea of building a semi-respectable library of books, and this business allowed me to live out my horribly impractical dream for pennies on the dollar.

In retrospect, I really should have known better. Since the summer of 2007, I’ve moved a total of five times -- soon to be six when I finally get around to hauling the rest of my garbage mounds from New Mexico to California. And in this time I have learned that books -- once a valuable part of my life devoted to earning valueless degrees -- can be the most cumbersome shit in the universe. I’ll admit that I enjoy the physical form of books; I like having a large, imposing bookcase in my home, if only to offer a monument of my personal tastes to any visitors who happen by. In fact, I tend to use someone’s bookcase as a yardstick by which to judge them. Ayn Rand? I start asking questions. Nothing but young adult fiction? No questions need to be asked. The Secret? I will request that you use your crazy brain powers to wish me away to the cornfield or something. Books allow me to be a judgmental prick, and for this I thank them. So help me god if I find a copy of Ishmael anywhere near you.

On the practical side of things, books are heavy. Books take up a lot of space. Books are not fun to carry in boxes up flights of stairs. And let’s face facts; with very few exceptions, a book that is read and put on a shelf will never be opened again. Yet another fact (you should be writing these down): books have absolutely no resale value (again, with very few exceptions). Every time I’ve moved, I’ve shaved dozens of books off my collection, mostly via donation to libraries because the majority of rational human beings realize the value of a used book is not even worth estimating. Out of all forms of media, the Internet has devalued text the most; as a writer who has lived well under the poverty line until the last few months of my life, I can verify by the emotional scars that this bleak observation is indeed true. In a world where it takes a negligible amount of effort to get anything for free, text is just there for the taking.

So while I treasure, and will soon find new ways to further pare down my single-bookcase library -- the result of years of delicate pruning and wholesale ransacking -- I see the Kindle as a way to read new books without necessarily adding a pound of weight to my total belongings; in fact, when I once again have access to my collection, I’m going to find everything I own that’s in the public domain, and eliminate it with moderate prejudice. I’ll still enjoy owning physical copies of my favorites, for psychological reasons far too boring and obvious to go into here, but I’m not going to miss buying new books and shelving their useless remains once I’m done with them. Granted, the average $9.99 price of an eBook is still way too much -- I think $4.99 would be a happy medium -- but I guess this is the price you pay for the convenience of not having to figure out the best way to dispose of a book once it’s been read. And I’m a little bummed that a good number of the books I’ve planned on reading -- especially the ones only available in expensive, hardcover editions -- aren’t yet available in Kindle form, and probably won’t ever be. The world demands digital versions of comprehensive multi-volume Orson Welles biographies!

I do find a lot of oddities when it comes to what’s missing from the Kindle marketplace. I don’t read very much of it these days, but manga seems like a perfect fit for the device -- yet all I can find on Amazon’s site seems to be nothing but the smuttiest of smut. For a brand of comics where series typically last for dozens upon dozens of volumes, I can’t think of a better method of delivery or consumption. Though my black heart was warmed when I discovered that the Kindle is completely worthless for academic work, once again signifying the irrelevance of a world I’ve since washed my hands of. Try finding the original pagination for your sources when you write your boring articles for tedious journals now, jerks! Note to Amazon: please don’t change this so I can remain justified in my bitterness, thanks.

So yes, the Kindle has won me over, despite my healthy skepticism. Now I can only pray that some new technological standard doesn’t make this new e-library as valueless as my vast coffers of Flooz.


halloween tradition

As part of this blog's Halloween tradition, once again I present the scariest story ever written (by me).
WARNING: The following story I have written may be too intense and shocking for younger readers.


There was a new car wash in town. A skeleton car wash. It was called “Skeleton Car Wash” because it was a car wash run completely by skeletons.

It was Saturday. I was in the car with my stepmother, and she asked me, quite bluntly, “Would you like to go to the Skeleton Car Wash?” I asked, “You mean, the one run completely by skeletons?” She nodded. The other Skeleton Car Wash was run by the Skeleton family who were not skeletons.

We pulled up to the Skeleton Car Wash, and a skeleton in coveralls walked over to the driver’s-side window. “What’ll it be, ma’am?” My stepmother asked for a normal wash; the skeleton walked over to my window, rapped on it, and stuck the ten dollar bill my stepmother had given him right in his eye socket. It popped out of his mouth and I guess it would be scarier if we hadn’t just shopped at the Skeleton Supermarket (they have a skeleton in the back that works in the deli).

My stepmother drove into the car wash, and the lights went out. It was just like a regular car wash, except you were supposed to tune your radio to a specific frequency and they would play spooky sound effects. Except I guess the skeletons weren’t paying attention because there was just a bunch of jungle sounds.

We pulled out of the Skeleton Car Wash onto the main road. We both felt empty, somehow. Suddenly, my stepmother looked at me and asked, “Wasn’t that car wash supposed to be $8.50?” At that point I realized that my stepmother was a ghost all along, and we didn’t get our change back and things were scary.



Look at it. LOOK AT IT.

Pinwheel was Nickelodeon's answer to Sesame Street, though it was stolen from Canada and probably filmed in Chernobyl. Like the majority of Nickelodeon's programming in the 80s, it was imported cheaply from another country and presented to American children with far different standards for entertainment.

To be honest, I don't remember much about the show aside from the fact that it was poorly lit and every puppet seemed like it was capable of murder. Like the rest of 80s-era Nick, Pinwheel was dull, but distressingly creepy at the same time; I distinctly remember being excited to watch the network at my grandma's house (she was the first one to get cable), but always walking away from hours of programming with an odd sense of fun-sized depression.

I mean, they used to show stop motion shorts about a tepid boy hanging out with his equally-tepid grandma. And they were both British. Hundreds of cups of tea were downed, but was a single child entertained? I think not. I tried to find a clip of this on YouTube, but I'm guessing the creator dissolved the original prints in acid once he realized that he made the cartoon equivalent of carbon monoxide.


Downtime Over

If you're wondering why I haven't updated my personal blog in about a month -- and I know it's been digging away at your brain like a bloated deer tick -- you may be relieved to know my inaction doesn't come from laziness alone. By the way, the noise you just heard is the sighing of 12 other people comforted by the fact that I haven't abandoned this blog like all of those uppity 15 year-olds who claim that LiveJournal is "too immature." Nuts to them, I say.

Anyway, in case you haven't been paying attention to other popular Internet venues of self-worship, I've recently been snatched up by Atlus USA to work in the field of game localization. Previously, I was trying to worm my way into the world of games journalism, but I kept running into the problem of having people far more qualified than me competing for the same jobs. So, having achieved the very realistic goals I set for myself (namely, getting published on my favorite gaming website and magazine), I walked off into the sunset and headed for a new industry, nearly forgetting that I probably would have freelanced for all of eternity if I hadn't been recruited by Atlus after a year of constantly badgering them. Actually, I'm still willing to freelance, provided there's no conflict of interest involved. And I'll still comply with the unspoken freelancing rule of "you won't get paid for months upon months!" You see, any semblance of dignity disappeared from my soul long ago.

That said, I'm enjoying this new job -- after a year of practically being unemployed, then finding a good job that eventually made me work from home, it's nice to have a routine and co-workers again. And not just co-workers, but people I actually may have things in common with -- yes, it's frightening. And if you're wondering how much I appreciate an opportunity like this, know that I drove 12 hours to move to California, and drive an hour every day through sorta-L.A.'s schizophrenic highways for this job alone. And I loathe driving with every fiber of my being, even the undigested fiber currently nestled in my small intestine. I only hope that I've wedged my foot in the door of this industry securely enough that I'll be able to squeeze in my entire body one day.

So that's that. Expect me to update this thing more than necessary, since most of my freelancing has been replaced with a real job. And since I have no local friends to hangzilla with, I have nothing better to do. Especially since no one really wants to hangzilla with someone who makes up their own slang. As you can see, I'm the same old Bob, just in a place with inappropriately expensive rent.

Thanks to the fact that I no longer make the wages of a student/teacher -- the equivalent of busking in Siberia -- I only recently got around to picking up a PlayStation 3, and have since been catching up with everything I've missed over the past four years. Now, I should probably preface this post by stating that I'm a Metal Gear fan; while I do recognize the faults of the series, I also find these games wholly unique, experimental, and, at times, mind-blowing. Metal Gear Solid 3 sort of snuck up on me (durr) back in 2004, and this strange side-story in an already strange franchise became one of my favorite games of all time. I'll even admit here that it may be the only game to get me a bit choked up by the end.

So naturally, I was looking forward to Metal Gear Solid 4, but not so much that I was willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a system that I wouldn't use for much else. So I waited, and heard about most of the game through podcasts, articles and the like. The general consensus was that, while deeply flawed, Metal Gear Solid 4 still stood as an excellent game, and a fitting ending to the franchise's 20-year legacy. After finishing the game a week-or-so ago, I have my issues with this evaluation.

While playing Metal Gear Solid 4, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that director Hideo Kojima lost most of the self-control that made Metal Gear Solid 3 so fabulous. 4 starts strong, and even though I found the battlefield scenarios a bit tiring and nonsensical (why are all the enemy soldiers freaked out after spotting Snake in particular?), the game still offered a lot of what I expect to see in a Metal Gear game -- at first. As noted in most honest criticism of the game, Metal Gear Solid 4 loses the plot after the end of act two; I really got the sense that Kojima felt that playable sequences were a necessary evil in closing the book on Metal Gear.

By the midway point of the game, I was treated to lavish, lengthy cutscenes, most of which ended with some lame pretense at giving the player something to do. The story wasn't told through the actions I performed as a player, but through the same ol' Kojima non-interactive song and dance. Someone needs to sit this man down with a pile of Valve games and show him how much a player's agency can contribute to a video game's story. Of course, I knew what to expect going into a Metal Gear game, but in this case, the cutscenes spaced Snake's so far apart in space and time that the interactive portions felt less like a cohesive world and more like mini-games interspersed between movies.

Of course, the game did have its bright moments -- I wouldn't have invested 25 hours if it didn't -- but ultimately, Metal Gear Solid 4 spends far too much time and effort trying to tie up all the loose ends on a story that, as a whole, didn't deserve so much attention. I'm hoping Konami actually lets Kojima start a new franchise, because the man obviously has a lot of ideas that would be better story not weighed down by so much 8-bit baggage.

Oh, and if you're not averse to listening to two-year-old podcasts, the excellent and dearly-missed GFW Radio did an excellent postmortem on the game back when it originally came out. It's a fantastic little discussion that makes me wish more gaming podcasts would aspire to be a little less fluffy and disposable.

Criss Cross

Criss Cross (1949) Dir. Robert Siodmak - This noir reminded me a lot of the excellent Out of the Past, except it's a bit duller. The two films share some basic ideas: doomed romances, failed attempts at rekindling, and sadistic new boyfriends; the real difference is that Criss Cross is fit to squander most of its time in a flashback that establishes the relationship between our two main characters. This type of structure isn't inherently bad, but in this case it sacrifices the promise of tension and conflict for a study of characters who aren't very interesting.

Criss Cross does pick up a bit in the third act, when the movie leaves the backstory behind and moves onto the somewhat-interesting armored car heist, which made for a uniquely creepy setpiece. The remainder of the story takes the form of full-blown noir, and is capped off with one of the darker endings I've seen in a film from this period. And while I did appreciate the change of pace and tone, it only made those first two acts seem even more tepid in comparison. I always find noir at its most disappointing when the filmmakers want to have it both ways; jamming a schlocky 40s romance into a genre that's supposed to explore the darkness of humanity always feels a little jarring.


Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007) Dir. Hideaki Anno et al. - Despite abandoning anime years ago for less-embarrassing pastures, I still hold a nostalgia-free fondness for certain shows. And even though I'm extremely aware of its many flaws, Evangelion holds the dubious honor of being one of these titles.

I have my reasons. Most importantly, Evangelion is one of the few anime series that feels like it came from a human being, rather than a committee; and yes, the unbelievable merchandising inflicted on the show over the past 15 years does detract a little from its deeply personal nature. Still, I enjoy Eva and revisit the series every couple of years, because I genuinely appreciate its status as a labor of love wholly crafted from a sick person's brain.

That being said, I feel extremely guilty for buying Evangelion 1.0 on Blu Ray, because it's really nothing but a shallow cash-in built around the promise of a giving the original story a satisfying ending -- though that won't happen until many years from now. If you weren't aware, 1.0 is a remake (the first of four) of the 26 episode TV series; and as far as remakes go, it's incredibly shallow.

Though the entire production is prettier, brighter, and spread across a wider screen and higher resolution, the desire to stick so closely to the source material really prevents this movie from being anything but a novelty. In fact, it feels like Anno and his crew didn't even take their new format -- and budget -- into consideration when planning this first movie. A great deal of 1.0 is a shot-for-shot remake, but most of the TV series' animation direction was steered by a limited budget. In other words, you're till seeing the same TV animation shortcuts, albeit in a much more prettier format.

To be honest, I found myself missing the meticulously hand-drawn-and-painted cels of the original series; here, they're replaced with sterile copies that are technically well-drawn, but devoid of life and texture. And punch me if you must, but the methodical pace of the TV series' beginning really helped to establish the world and characters of Eva, and provided an interesting contrast to the everything-goes-to-shit speed of the latter half. Thankfully, Evangelion 2.0 -- according to those who have seen it -- takes a much more thoughtful approach to the whole remake idea, and marks the first time they've let the FLCL director do anything interesting for a long time. It's a shame this first attempt didn't amount to much more than 90 minutes of traced artwork.


Thumbing Your Nose to Spite the Face

A few days ago, while I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I heard the hosts refer to director M. Night Shyamalan as "M. Night Shamalamadingdong." I shuddered a bit, mostly because this is an incredibly tired meme that dates back to the late 90s when this new director with a waaacky name took Hollywood by storm. I also shuddered because that whole "Shamalamadingdong" joke (and the variations I've heard over the years) is just a liiitle bit racist.

Now, a disclaimer. I know the folks on this podcast are not racist, and they definitely didn't intend to be racist when they slurred Shyamalan's name. I'd also like to state that I find M. Night to be a terrible director, and, from all accounts, a repulsive person. But this weird Indian slur thingie managed to really work its way under my skin. I should have known this from experience, but you definitely don't want to take arguments about race to the Internet. I did.

First, it's entirely possible that you may be asking, "Why is saying 'Shamalamadingdong' racist?" Well, you see, it's taking a person from a culture that's been Othered, and refusing to give him the dignity of even attempting to pronounce his name correctly. Instead, this expression is basically saying "Hey you, I'm not even going to attempt to utter your weird name. Instead, here's my approximation of what your goofy-ass language sounds like." It's sort of like the "ching chong" China crap, except not quite as infamous and socially unacceptable.

Despite what popular opinion may say, racism really only works one way: down. Since I'm white, you can call me every white "slur" under the sun, and you'd get as much anger out of me as you would if you did the same thing to a chicken. Racism depends entirely on a social construct backed by historical baggage, so it's literally impossible to be racist against a white person; even if you tried this, the established power structure -- in the US, anyway -- would make your efforts moot.

This is why it annoys me when I hear white people chuckle about "Shamalamadingdong." I don't care if he has millions of dollars. Try all you want to equate making fun of a white person's name with making fun of an Indian person's name -- I don't care. "But people made fun of Schwarzenegger's name would you call that racist huh huh huh!?" No. He's what the world views as a white person. He's a Republican, for Christ's sake. Racism doesn't have to be balls-to-the-wall Crash-style burning down houses and dragging people behind cars. It can sneak into what we perceive as harmless, and that's where it does the most damage.

Again, the Internet is not the best place for this. People don't like to be told that something they said -- however unintentionally so -- may be laced with racism, sexism, or any other ism. I don't blame the person, not in this case. I blame the idea. And I can tell you that if I tried any of that "Shamalamadingdong" crap on my Indian peers in grad school, I would have walked away with a broken nose.

A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life (1998) Dir. John Lasseter -Thanks to the recent purchase of a Blu-Ray player, I've been watching a ton of animation simply for the fact that films from the genre look absolutely stunning when spread across 1080 delicious lines of resolution. At the moment, I'm slowly revisiting Pixar's catalog, though I really didn't feel the need to write about Toy Story 1 and 2; honestly, I can't think of anything to say aside from "these films are still fantastic and hold up very well, regardless of dated technology" See? Boring.

But A Bug's Life is different -- out of all Pixar's films, it's definitely the least-remembered, despite being wildly successful during its release. Since I hadn't seen the movie in almost a decade, I was genuinely interested in knowing if Pixar's second film deserved its lukewarm rap. What I found was not an awful movie, but a strange, unfocused, and generally aimless one. Really, I'd never thought I'd enjoy a Pixar film less than Cars -- which really wasn't all that terrible.

The major issues in A Bug's Life run deep into the "what not to do in a screenplay" territory. For one, the main character isn't very appealing; Flik's outshadowed by a much more interesting cast, he barely does anything (intentionally) to move the story along, and he's supposed to garner our sympathy due to his outcast-y-ness alone (kind of like the similarly lame Remy from Ratatouille). The basic structure of the plot is just as poorly-realized, moved along by contrived coincidences and outlandish misunderstandings, to the point where it seems like no character actually needed to exert any agency to move the story to its logical conclusion. Strange, since the first Toy Story's script ran like clockwork.

The movie is in no way helped by a tedious amount of "what if bugs were kind of like people, but not really" jokes. While the Toy Story movies are rife with this sort of material, it's completely (well, mostly) in service to setting up that particular series' somewhat dark fiction. Here, it just seems like the story guys at Pixar had a bunch of insect gags that they couldn't quite wrap a movie around. And is it just me, or do all of the characters in the movie look like they fell out of some shitty Rare game from the same era?


L33T H4X0R

Even though I've already pimped it elsewhere, I'm also going to use this Internet space to wholeheartedly recommend that you read my new 1UP.com article about the ROM translation scene. As far as writing goes, I don't think I've ever been more personally invested in a feature. While I've never actually contributed anything to the scene, I've been a lurker since the very beginning; I distinctly remember playing Shadow's Final Fantasy V translation upon release, and freaking the hell out about what this meant for the world of Japanese-only games that teased filthy gaijin with their inaccessibility.

I'm not entirely sure if this is nostalgia talking, but I really can't think of a more exciting time for gamers than the emulator explosion of the mid-to-late 90s. Without it, I doubt we'd have much of a perspective on the history of the medium; aside from a few exceptions, anyone with a working search engine can basically play any game from the late 70s to the late 90s -- within what I consider the bounds of "acceptable" emulation. And since my high school years basically occurred during this exciting era, I essentially had limitless free time to explore a ginormous gaming landscape of undiscovered greatness. Summers would be spent getting up early, checking all the emulation news sites (including the translation ones, of course), then tinkering around most of the day with games I've never played before. Thank god for permissive parenting.

Possibly my nerdiest moment: downloading a .wav file of the then-unreleased SNES9X emulating the opening of Chrono Trigger because holy crap sound in an SNES emulator. It didn't take much to excite us back then.

Maybe I'm a little too sentimental for these days, but everything did have a distinct grassroots feel to it; the translation scene was just part of a bigger movement of fan sites -- which Nadia Oxford wrote a great article about -- most of which have since disappeared in the wake of blogs,wikis, and your modern behemoths like Gamespot and IGN (which were around back then, too). I'm honestly a bit sick of the news/previews cycle and just ignore this stuff (along with sales numbers... barf) for the sake of reading interesting articles about interesting subjects by interesting writers. This is why I try to be a force of good in the world of games journalism; while I occasionally write the all-in-good-fun-but-accepted-with-pure-vitriol fluff piece, I usually try to shoot for ideas or angles that usually go unexplored by the Top Ten Tens the Ever Tenned nature of mainstream web culture. I encourage you, fellow games journalists, to do the same -- even though it may mean being stuck in permanent freelancer status like yours truly. Cry me a River Raid.

[Minor correction to the 1UP Article: All instances of "Ghideon Zhi" should read "Gideon Zhi." This is what happens when web sites can no longer afford to hire copy editors to fix my stupid mistakes.]