a couple of the sounds that I really like are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike

I had a bad experience with crepes in middle school. A kid in my sixth-period French class attempted to make crepes for a class project. Being thirteen, however, the best he could manage were pancakes stuffed with Cool Whip. Imagine sinking your teeth into a cold, undercooked pancake wrapped around a glob of Cool Whip on an empty stomach and you’ll see the source of my hesitancy. Fortunately, Skim redeemed the crepe in my eyes by introducing me to Mr. Crepe in Davis Square on Friday. I had a tasty ham and cheese crepe.1

We saw two people I knew and lots of people I didn’t at the b0st0n meetup at Good Times. Skim’s friends from central MA showed up later and we tore the arcade apart. Each of us ran the table on at least one game – whether SkeeBall, Tetris or Laser Tag. Between our 300 or so tickets we cleared the place out of oversized bouncy balls. If you wanted a comically undersized Budweiser golf bag, well, don’t go looking; Good Times has beat on, a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.2

I did some grocery shopping on Saturday, paid some bills, then went to Gina’s birthday dinner at the Uno’s in Porter Square. I squeezed into a seat at the far end and talked classic films with Fraley, Melissa, Bobby and DJ. I also surprised myself by ordering a salad instead of fries with my burger. And I haven’t died yet! Apparently vegetables won’t kill me, provided you drizzle them with house dressing first.

With plenty of time to kill until my next engagement, I took the T to Park Street and had a leisurely walk through the Public Garden and the Mall on Commonwealth. The sun had just set and a blue blanket of fog kept everything intimate. I enjoyed this quiet hour alone with my thoughts before getting to Jake Ivory’s and seeing those thoughts obliterated.

Backstory: when Michelle B. picked Jake Ivory’s for her birthday, I made a lot of hemming nonsense about how I might not attend. My last trip to Jake Ivory’s sucked pus, but for Michu I readily made an exception. And I had a blast. What made the difference?

  • Last time I paid an $8 cover and bought a $5 Budweiser for a place that was still under renovation. This time I paid an $8 cover and bought a $5 Budweiser in a fully functioning nightclub.
  • Last time, two fat, balding losers in Hawaiian shirts played the piano, sneering at anyone who requested a song they didn’t know. This time, two young hep guys – one of them BC’s own Jarret Izzo3 – lit up the crowd with verve and charisma.
  • Most importantly, I have come to terms with Jake Ivory’s as a concept. No one goes to Jake Ivory’s to pick up single ladies or to watch a baseball game. You go to Jake Ivory’s with a bachelorette party or a birthday party, and no other function. So the crowd will be full of screaming women between the ages of 28 and 36. Accept it. Don’t pretend you’re Too Cool.
I danced, I shouted, I made introductions, I took the T home.

Walking home through Davis, I saw a drunken asshole get bounced from the Burren. First I saw the bouncer drag the guy from the back door – one hand under his arm, the other hand jamming a knuckle into the hollow of his jaw. Then the guy shoved the bouncer, resulting in a hammerlock escort to the bus bench outside the bar. After a minute of posturing, the guy came back and swung a fat overhand left at the bouncer, which led to the guy eating Elm Street while the bouncer twisted both arms behind his back. “Get this guy off me!” the drunk asshole screamed, to no purpose but my deep amusement. When the cops showed up the drunk wanted to press charges (“he grabbed me by the throat!”), but the cop issued some very stern instructions and sent him walking4. I waited across the street, hoping that after a cigarette and a conference with some friends he’d go back for more, but the cop must have scared him sober.

I promise you: no matter how alone you find yourself on the foggy walk home, you’ll find company in a crowd full of strangers laughing at a drunk guy getting his ass kicked in Somerville. On such truths we founded this great nation.5

1 This post now holds the record on this weblog for most uses of the word “crepe.” The prior record, zero, was shared by every other post.

2 Soon it will become an IKEA.

3 Michelle: He needs to shave that goatee. Unless he’s going for the “porn star” look or something.
Me: Well, technically he is a lounge singer.
Michelle: Touche.

4 And even if the drunk had been in the right, what did he imagine would happen? Who do the cops always side with in these situations – the slurring guy with a bruise on his face, or the bouncer with whom they have this same conversation every Saturday?

5 Well, this one plus Ireland.

like joseph stalin and gandhi

Quick survey: what is the worst thing that someone would have to do or say before you stopped respecting him or her?

If you agreed with a political figure in every way but one, what would that one have to be for them to lose your vote? Abortion? Same-sex marriage? Evolution?

If you idolized a rock star or professional athlete, what’s the one stupid thing they could shout during a performance that would make you throw out their albums? “Keep Britain White“? “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas?” “You can’t say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them?”

If you had a close friend whom you trusted with your secrets, how abhorrent would their views have to be for you to stop trusting them? Could you disregard a little casual bigotry or social naivete? If they had a BUSH/CHENEY 04 sticker on their bike? Or if they had a NADER sticker?

I’m genuinely curious about people’s limits; I’m not trying to make a point of any sort.

Of those three above, I can only answer the last question. Politics entertain me too much for any one representative to disappoint me. And since I have accused pederasts pedophiles on my iPod and convicted rapists on my DVD shelf I apparently have zero standards there. But I would have a hard time being friends with a proselytizer. Not just someone who believes, and not just someone whose beliefs inform their life choices, but a person who feels obligated to Bear Witness and to Convert. Someone who slipped tracts into my messenger bag, or campaigned to get evolution out of the curriculum. Someone who stood on a street corner and waved signs at drivers. Someone who knew – just deep down in their hearts knew – that I could one day believe.

But enough about me. What gets your goat?

gonna call the president, gonna get myself a private eye

This media blow’s good for either $10 cash or $20 in house credit. Have a shot while you think it over.

Chinese Democracy: Any album 14 years in the making has a certain weight of hype behind it. Chinese Democracy does not live up to that hype. But I still like it. I never counted myself among GnR fans but the mastered versions of “Madagascar” and “I.R.S.” rock out pretty hard. I don’t think drunken frat boys will be singing “Rhiad and the Bedouins” at karaoke twenty years from now, but not every album can be Use Your Illusion.1

Pandemic: I played this at Greg’s on Sunday and had a blast. You and 1 to 3 other players make up a CDC disaster team. Outbreaks of four different diseases – represented by yellow, red, black and blue cubes2 – break out in major cities around the globe. Your task: travel to these cities, quash the outbreaks, and research a cure to put an end to them.

Complications:

  • You draw cards that have city names on them. These cards act as an in-game currency, allowing you to travel across the globe in an instant or research a cure. But the limited number of cards may mean that you can’t get to a critical location at the right moment.
  • Every turn, you flip over two outbreak cards and infect the cities depicted with one disease cube each. If a city already has three disease cubes – or if you flip over an Epidemic – the disease can vector to adjacent cities. This can start a cascading effect that will plague an entire continent.
  • Each player has a special ability that makes one rule of the game easier. The dispatcher can move players between cities instantly; the researcher can hand off cards from her hand; the scientist can research cures cheaply; etc. A lot of the most exciting parts of the game happened between turns, when we coordinated our moves to deliver the right people to the best possible places.

The game immersed us very quickly, from the panicked babbling of four people planning at once to the heavy silence when Bangkok went viral. Good, quick fun.

The Happening: Not sure where all the disappointment came from. I’ve been waiting to see this team-up for a long time and I stayed on the edge of my seat throughout:

… oh, you mean that other Happening. Yeah, that shit sounds awful.

Keep on the Shadowfell: I played this with Jonathan, Dev, Jen, Nathan and Will S. on Wednesday a week. I named my pre-gen dragonborn paladin after a Santana album; he named his tiefling warlock after a Rush song. That’s what D&D’s all about.

Thoughts on the new edition:

  • I can’t imagine playing this game without minis. Tactical movement reigns supreme – a 1-square shift at the right time turns a stand-up fight into a massive beatdown. Being able to catch the right number of targets in a burst, or put a wall at your side to fence in your enemies, makes all the difference.
  • Understanding player roles helps a great deal. We nearly lost our rogue in the first fight because she went toe-to-toe with a couple of minions, instead of ducking and stabbing and gaining sneak attack damage. My paladin soaked a little too much damage in the second fight and quickly hit 0 hp. Know the difference between skirmishers and defenders, and between leaders and controllers, and the odds work in your favor.
  • Playing at 1st level became fun again. Every 1st level character has at least four options to choose from in a round – two at-will powers, one encounter power, one daily power – in addition to just running up and hitting a guy. Options mean tactics, which makes for engaging gameplay.

D&D still runs best at one speed – sword-and-sorcery combat – so I don’t think it will replace every game in my library. But it still does what it does better than any game on the market today.

Deadwood: Oh. So that’s what the fuss was about. S1 spoilers under the cut:

____________
1 Strictly speaking, only two of them can be.

2 I christened these outbreaks Yellow Fever, Red Death, Black Plague, and Bluemonia.

Continue reading

all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom

This media blow rolls both classy and street:

The Pacific and Other Stories
: I read Mark Helprin’s Memoir from Antproof Case at least a decade ago. At the time it struck me as a clever and entertaining, if somewhat twee, story. The short fiction collected here all hits one of those same three notes. He writes very well – lush descriptions, uniquely chosen metaphors, a certain dry wit – but you could make a Mark Helprin story by selecting any three of the following at random:

  • A European seaside town;
  • Orthodox Judaism;
  • A mawkish fondness for older things;
  • A man tentatively entranced by a woman, not necessarily beautiful but fine in poise and character;
  • Opulent wealth;
  • The War;
  • Men older than fifty

That being said, “Monday,” “Perfection” and “A Brilliant Idea and His Own” justify the price tag by themselves. Only one of the stories – “Jacob Bayer and the Telephone” – made me cringe, and it made me laugh a few pages earlier. Elevating beach reading, I’d call it.

Seeing Sounds: Damn! Why did nobody tell me about these guys before? As Melissa mentioned on Sunday, the album sounds a bit overproduced – maybe one less layer on the final recording session would make it perfect. Still, I can’t imagine better background music for a hep party full of socially tight people.

Best New American Voices 2007: Editors Sue Miller, John Kulka and Natalie Danford select their favorites from the nation’s writing workshops. My most common reaction: “hey – I could do this!”

Battlestar Galactica: Oh, man.

First off, my few moments of dissatisfaction:

I hate prophecy as a trope in genre fiction. It infuriates me. Ever since some obscure Jewish sect in a Roman province decided they could misread Isaiah and tout their own bearded hippie as the son of a virgin, it’s been fair game to nit-pick over metaphors and claim they foretold the future. And I have yet to see a piece of fiction made better by some overly literal prediction.

“I am the Witch-King of Angmar! No man can kill me!” I don’t mind a female having a strong role in a Tolkien novel – for once – but the tedious literalism that it takes to give her the spotlight grates my teeth.

“No man of woman born can slay you, Macbeth!” Great. So let’s stretch our imaginations to think of all the ways a person could be alive without being literally born of a woman. Posthumous C-section? Perfect.

Argh! I hate that shit. I hate writers who pass off vagueness as cleverness. I cannot stand it. Everything the idea touches suffers for it.

That being said:
Continue reading

I need a miracle, I need a miracle

Sleep evaded me this weekend.

I made a long delayed return to 90s Night (warning: MySpace) at Common Ground on Friday. New friends and old showed up – Skim, Rick, MPerrotti, Jen, Cheshirepk8, Paperface, Ryan, Kate, and of course our vigilant DJ (yes, I know I’m forgetting some people – comment if I missed your name / LJ). We kept the slam-dancing drunk Allstonians in a tight knot until a bouncer could come scoop their beer bottles off the floor. I worried that he’d consider us part of their crowd, but Rick made a Bouncer-Dismissing Gesture and we got out okay. I would like to learn that gesture.

Afterward we tromped across the street to Redneck’s, who follow a business model that really should get more play:

  1. Sell fried food; and
  2. Stay open 30-45 minutes after the bars close.
I didn’t have a stomach for cheese fries at the moment, so I sat there while Jen explained the origin of her LJ handle. “What superpowers do you have?” I kept asking.

When Redneck’s kicked us out, the posse degenerated into one of those leaderless mobs where everyone shouts and laughs for ten minutes but nobody actually goes anywhere. The party kept threatening to go to Brookline and continue drinking, but I waved off and returned to Davis Square (which, Skim’s villainous slander notwithstanding, is still the coolest place to be).

I did some grocery shopping early on Saturday. What I thought would be a literal milk run turned into a three-bag trip, including a stop off at a bake sale for Obama on the walk home. I bought a brownie (more out of my love for baked goods than any particular political affiliation) and ate lunch while watching Netflix.

Kristen and her roommate Jeff invited me to their Midsummer’s BBQ just up the road. No one had adhered to the implied theme of dressing up like a faerie, which I considered fortunate. I surprised myself by being sociable at a party largely full of strangers: talking Keynesian economics with Jodi, comparing Maryland stories with Becca’s friend Anna, chatting up Mike and his girl Karen, etc. Two beers that I set down ended up tumbling over, which I blame on the slope of the backyard and not at all on the three that I drank on an empty stomach.

Colby threw another legendary luau later that evening, which I arrived at early enough to get some chicken and birthday cake. Megan and her coworker Renee floated over from the earlier Midsummer’s BBQ, proving that everyone knows someone who can get them into this party. I saw most of the Nebulas‘ set, watched Dea and her friend do firespinning once the sun went down, then hit the dance floor indoors for about 2 hours without break. If you haven’t been to one of these, keep in touch with me around June next year and I’ll bring you along.

Greg had folks over for board games on Sunday. Amy throttled me in a quick round of Battlelore, then I played some folks in EVO before the pizza arrived. I struggled my way through two rounds of Mario Kart Wii – the steering wheel responds better than you think! – and wrapped the afternoon with Pick Picnic and Pandemic (of which more later – it’s really fun).

Hawver had the brilliant idea of getting the old crew back together for burgers and cheap beer at Our House West in Allston, across the street from the Brain Trust. I drove directly there, watched Hawver slaughter his way through a round of Big Buck Hunter, then flagged the waitress down. “When do you start serving dollar burgers?” I asked.

“We … don’t?”

“Oh.” Not only does Our House West no longer serve $1 cheeseburgers on Sunday, I’ll bet no one currently working there remembers that was ever an option. You can’t go home again.

Hawver, Fraley, Melissa and I reminisced on a grand scale, talking about the days when we all first met each other. “We never really talked,” Mel said to Hawver, “because you always fled whenever I came over for gaming.”

“I really could not stand your dice rolling,” Hawver confessed vehemently.

After making fun of Fraley’s musical taste for a while (“Fraley, this is the Clash”), we went our separate ways. I ended back in Davis, where I dropped in on Katie H.’s place to watch the last half of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Never been a huge fan of the series, so the addition of Rifftrax made for a welcome distraction. I laughed myself silly.

I did not end up in bed before 1:00 AM on any night this weekend. This may be a recovery week for me.

but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

Continued from Thursday:

Foresee Important Problems: If you’re like me, you tend to brood a lot over problems without giving them a real sense of perspective. It helps to quantify those problems using real numbers.

First, rank the likelihood of a problem occurring on a 7-point Likert scale. 1 = highly unlikely, 4 = as likely as it is unlikely, 7 = highly likely.

Next, rank the impact of the problem on another 7-point scale. 1 = minimal impact, 4 = average impact, 7 = critical impact.

Multiply [Likelihood] x [Impact] x 2 to get a number between 2 and 98. It’s not a perfect 1 to 100 scale, but it’s pretty close.

How It Works In Practice: I haven’t taken much use out of this hack yet, but what little I’ve seen I’ve liked. Sit down and pick a big goal that you’re worrying about – moving, starting a new job, a big creative project, whatever. List all the potential problems that could come up. Then rank each one for likelihood and impact. Give each one a score from 2 to 98 using the formula above. I would discount anything below a 35 (the product of an “average” score in both categories), but you can set your scale wherever you like.

Communicate in E-Prime: The originator of this hack, David Bourland, sought a way to remove dogmatic pronouncements from the English language. Using the verb to be labels an entity. Using a verb other than the verb to be reinforces the presence of the observer, reminding us that all declarations spring from a party with a viewpoint. Consider “that music is loud” vs. “I find the music loud,” or “he’s an idiot” vs. “nobody agrees with him.”

To use E-prime, you remove the verb to be from every sentence you write. Ideally you remove it from speech as well, though I can’t imagine crossing that hurdle.

How It Works In Practice: I don’t like this hack as much as the others. I get the impression that the originator read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and took away exactly the wrong message from it. “That’s the problem,” they said, pointing triumphantly at the rise of 20th century nationalism and the formation of the military-industrial complex. “The verb to be!”

I gave up a dogmatic adherence to E-prime while writing my Wire recaps a few months ago, when I found that I had no way to say “Wee-bey is Damon’s father” without building some truly tortured prose. I still stick to it as much as I can – as I find that eliminating the verb to be makes my writing a little stronger – but not for the reasons the authors intended.

Use The Fourfold Breath: Say what you will about the mysticism of yoga, Buddhism or other Eastern practices – breath control works. Forcing yourself to breathe slowly and rhythmically calms your body and focuses your thoughts.

Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose – making sure to expand the stomach first, then the chest – while counting to four in your head. Hold the breath while counting to two. Then exhale on another four count. Wait for another two count before repeating the process. So you will inhale, two three, four; hold, two; exhale, two, three, four; hold, two, repeat.

How It Works In Practice: I have little trouble with the breathing. The next step, emptying the mind and focusing on the present moment, challenges me. I find that if I visualize the flow of my breath – like one of those sinus commercials, with an animated diagram of air flowing into your nose and out your mouth – I can clear my thoughts pretty easily. One of the other jiu-jitsu students also recommends focusing on your core – a point two inches below and two inches inside your belly button – and imagining a glowing energy that expands with each breath.

The discipline that the exercise requires continues to challenge me. But when I get it, I get it: I feel fired up and alive.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep: The brain, the hungriest organ in the body, requires physical maintenance like your heart, kidneys and liver. Sleep and diet affect your brain – and thus your thought processes – like they affect the rest of your body.

How It Works In Practice: I made the biggest changes to my sleep habits based on this hack. I no longer read or use the laptop in bed; I want to accustom my body to thinking of bed as “the place that I sleep and/or have sex” and nothing else. When I get up in the morning, even on weekends or vacation days, I shower within 30 minutes: this forces me to slough off my sleepiness and get a start on the day. I try not to have caffeine after 3:00 PM, so it’ll have a good 8 hours to clear my system. If I had more discipline I’d reduce the amount of alcohol I drank late at night, but I’ve never been a saint and I won’t start tonight.

Overclock Your Brain: You can get temporary performance boosts to your brain by changing the composition of its fuel. For instance, everyone knows that drinks high in glucose eventually cause you to crash. But don’t overlook the 30 to 90 minute boost in energy and attentiveness that they create.

How It Works In Practice: If I know I have a project coming up that requires some more intensive focus, I’ll grab a Diet Coke from the vending machine before I start. So far it hasn’t hurt. (Update: Gavin reminds me in comments that Diet Coke doesn’t have sugar. I need to test this hack more thoroughly)

What’s Left: So many hacks I haven’t really tried yet. Mental checksums. Memorizing calendars. Self-hypnosis. And I could stand to bone up on the ones I listed already. But already, dollar per page, I’ve found more value in Mind Performance Hacks than in most things I’ve spent money on this year.

don’t believe what they tryin’ to say; you know it’s just gossip comin’ down the wisecracker line

By now, you have probably heard about the Associated Press’s ludicrous efforts to charge webloggers for quoting AP articles. The notion of licensing something that every scholar on the subject recognizes as “fair use” should get you giggling, but the rate schedule they propose – $12.50 for 5 words – should put a stitch in your side.

Many popular webloggers, such as John Scalzi, have taken the obvious step of quoting massive sections of AP articles at length and daring someone to sue. I approve this effort. I encourage you to try it on your own blog, in the sanctity of your home or office.

But under the Periscope, we just have to do better.

Washington, DC (AP): Jim Kennedy, the AP’s director of strategic planning, confessed to a multi-decade addiction to crystal meth in a press conference this afternoon, providing a motive for his company’s bizarrely draconian policy on fair use quotes announced earlier this week.

“I’m an embarrassment to my family,” he said on Friday, scratching at the open sores on his skin.

“I have dishonored the already tarnished tradition of American journalism,” he added, speaking over the sounds of teeth falling out of his mouth like hail. “Would someone like to take a swing at me? Anyone?”

Kennedy then stumbled down from the podium and attempted to provoke a member of the media into punching him, relying on outdated ‘yo mama’ jokes and his generally slovenly appearance.

Veteran correspondents described Kennedy’s degradation as “no worse than an Ari Fleischer press conference.”

And:

New York, NY (AP): Robert Cox, so-called head and sole member of the Media Bloggers Association, emerged from the Guggenheim Museum this morning after being reported missing eleven days ago.

Gaunt, pale and two weeks overdue for a publicized meeting with the Associated Press over its new content restrictions, Cox was rushed to Manhattan General to be treated for dehydration and malnourishment.

Speaking briefly with reporters, Cox claimed to have been lost inside “the impenetrable labyrinth” that is the Guggenheim, having absolutely no idea how to escape for the last fourteen days.

He also added some disparaging remarks about the work ethic of black people.

Betsy Ennis, spokesperson for the Guggenheim, expressed her confusion about how any vertebrate mammal could get lost inside the museum.

“You just keep f___ing walking,” she told press on Friday.

And I think I have one more:

Atlanta, GA (AP) – Judge Susan Black of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Associated Press’s suit against Markos Moulitsas, Glenn Reynolds and Cory Doctorow this morning, ordering the publishing company to pay court costs, punitive damages and “ten rounds in a ducking stool.”

“The principle of fair use in quotation dates back far enough,” Judge Black said in announcing her decision, “that we must resort to medieval measures against a party that apparently doesn’t f___ing get it.”

A ducking stool, used in colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, is a chair with attached restraints swung into a deep river from a protruding beam. This punishment was typically reserved for scolds, nags or quarreling married couples over three hundred years ago.

Irene Keselman, AP’s Intellectual Property Governance Coordinator, could not be reached for comment, as the abstract concepts of “fair use,” “copyright” and “squeezing blood from a stone” eluded her. The AP’s legal counsel was explaining how the case unfolded, through the use of shadow puppets and stern, loud repetition, when this article went to press.

“My fingernails taste funny,” said Keselman, shortly before getting her head stuck through a railing and weeping for help.

Bloggers Moulitsas, Reynolds and Doctorow heralded the decision as a “triumph of common sense.” All three of them were grateful the trial came to a quick end.”

“Finally,” said Moulitsas, “I can get back to apologizing for the Democrats.”

“And I can start worrying about dark people again,” said Reynolds, high-fiving Moulitsas on the courthouse steps.

By my rough math, I’ve quoted roughly 500 words of Associated Press content. That means I owe the AP at least $100, presuming their sliding rate schedule doesn’t go higher.

Would someone do me a favor and contact the AP’s Intellectual Property office and point them to this page? I’d very much like someone to review the content that I quoted, to make sure that I pay them exactly what I owe and not a penny less. In fact, if I could get second opinions from several members of the Associated Press’ decision-making staff, legal counsel and shareholders, I’d appreciate it.

Update: I reported myself to save some time:

I believe that the listed webpage is violating the standards set by the Associated Press Excerpt for Web Use Guidelines, as found at http://license.icopyright.net. I think it’s important that someone review the site in order to levy the appropriate fees.

Don’t let that stop you from reporting me as well, of course.