wreckx n effect is in effect but I’m the wrecker

A pre-birthday media blow:

Mass Effect: I can’t get over the feeling that I’m playing this game wrong. Part of this feeling arises from the fact that Mass Effect has no tutorial to speak of, throwing you into the action with limited instruction but deep backstory. But most of this feeling arises from the hundred different variables the game asks you to worry about. Do I want to upgrade my armor to improve its “hardening,” its “physical protection” or its “damage reduction”? Do I need my weapons to do more “physical force” or to reduce “cooldown”? Is it better to bring a squad mate with four dots in Sabotage or five dots in Overload?

I played this game for five hours before abandoning my first build – reluctantly, after several attempts at driving across a frozen tundra in an ATV that handles like two drunk cows, only to arrive at a distant lab, be denied the opportunity to save, and then die at the hands of a giant robot four times. I considered those first five hours my tutorial, started a new game, and have since enjoyed it much more. As with all Bioware games, the setting oozes detail and history from every pore. Cultures and factions exist not just to provide obstacles but to add depth to a rich mural.

I could spend weeks reading a novel set here. I just wish I knew how to keep my team behind cover.

A Brief History of Time: I think I get it. Fortunately, Hawking has a unique gift for clear language in the deep sciences, and he repeats details as needed. For every two things I missed there was one thing I nailed dead-on.

Dead Man’s Shoes: Not as clever as it thinks it is, but still inventive and engaging. When a small town gang of North England drug dealers torture a mentally retarded boy, his brother (Paddy Considine, who also wrote) comes home from the army to enact his revenge. Were it not for a lot of long tracking shots over local soundtracks this movie would be 48 minutes – long enough for an hour of TV with commercials. As it is, it moves at an okay pace in ninety minutes. It’s all character study – little plot, little growth, little except some inventive cinematography and Considine, who’s very fun to watch.

Cosmos: John Scalzi pointed out that this entire series is now available on Hulu. To think that such a thing could exist – a slow but opulent procession of computer-generated imagery, teasing us with glimpses of distant galaxies and subatomic biology. Watching it in hi-def is a tonic: a means to restore your sense of wonder at a mundane universe. Take an hour, pour yourself a cooling drink, and watch an episode.

I also recommend this fan-produced video of an excerpt of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.” It instills in you a feeling of awe, humility and optimism. It’s the closest thing I have to the divine.

how old are you, are you old enough?

1. “I went to The Pill for the first time.”

“How was it?”

“It’s great. It’s a new wave / indie pop dance night. Good crowd; hipsters, but less intense.”

“Less intense?”

“Yeah, dialed up only to about a 3. Not trying as hard to not try as hard, if that makes any sense.”

2. I had the above conversation with Rachel V. at Copperfield’s Down Under, a basement bar and music venue near Fenway attached to the well-known Red Sox boozer. We were there (along with Vickie and RJ) to see Bonus Round, a cover band fronted by a coworker of mine. They played all night to a bar packed to capacity and covered both Concrete Blonde and K’s Choice, and if you need me to say than that I can’t say enough. I’ll be seeing them again.

3. There is no #3.

so we’ll walk down the shoreline one last time together

Too many of my friends have sent family to the hospital in this past week. And only some of them have come back. So take advantage of this rare moment of unguarded sentiment from me and believe the following:

  • I Like All Of You. Really. If you think I don’t like you, nine times out of ten that’s just me being reserved, or lost in my own thoughts, or distracted whenever I see you. But really, I like you just fine. I ration out my enthusiasm in careful doses (whether I need to or not), so don’t feel bad if you don’t get a share. Give me time; you’ll see it.

  • I Like Hanging Out With You. If it involves drinking and dancing, or drinking and laughing, or drinking and talking about affairs of import, or a small but non-imaginary number of things done sober, I want in. I might not know I do, but I do. I’m like a camel with social contact – I can coast for days on a good night out or an entertaining lunch with friends, until I wake up one morning and find myself starving for extroversion again. And you? You’re fun people. So shoot me an e-mail or a .txt, if I can’t get over myself and do the same to you first.

  • I’m Not Upset. When I get lost in thought, my face tends to fall into this reserved, inward look that makes people think I’m mourning something. I’m not. But I don’t mind you asking. Because, one time in twenty, I actually will be. And it wouldn’t occur to me to say anything if you didn’t ask.

  • I’ll Miss You. I still have no idea how to handle myself at funerals. Doesn’t matter how well I knew you.

Anyhow, that’s all I’ve got for now. Monday the mask goes back up, and it’s one-paragraph movie reviews and sarcastic news commentary again.

there’s something in my head, but it’s not me

Got home and promptly went to bed at 6:30 last night. Slept until the alarm went off this morning, whereupon I called in sick to work and slept another few hours. That seems to have put a real dent in this head cold, so I think I made the right call.

Plenty of odd dreams though. In the first, I visited my old offices at the Company. After chatting with my former supervisor, I left the building, only to see that there was now a food court abutting the office. “Good use of all that extra space we had,” I said to myself, until I realized I couldn’t find where I’d parked. I wandered through a hotel that had been constructed on the parking lot’s grounds, getting lost in an eight-bed suite.

In the second, I was playing some fighting video game (it looked like the latest in the Soul Calibur series, but wasn’t). I wanted to select one character whom I’d been doing really well in using, but couldn’t.

In the third, I was in Baltimore. I was driving down Padonia Road to get somewhere. I tried to pass this SUV that was driving abysmally slow in the right lane, only to see it change lanes right in front of me. Then I realized it wasn’t changing lanes – it was being pushed over by this massive gust of wind. I struggled to keep my car from sliding into oncoming traffic while still navigating the double reverse curve. When I regained control of the car, all the traffic in front of me had stopped. Something had happened at a school – no one knew what – and no one was moving.

The recurring theme, if any: being unable to get back the way I came. Not sure what it means.

# # #

In cheerier news, I’m buying myself an iPod Touch for my birthday. The question: which one, and when?

I have just shy of 16 GB of music on iTunes. A lot of it sees only occasional use, so I could do some rigorous culling. And it’s another $100 to get the 32 GB Touch. However, even if I trim down a full GB worth of music, I’ll still be expanding my catalog in the future.

Also, Apple’s announced the release of the 3.0 OS for the iPhone (and iPod Touch) this summer. I don’t know if it’s worth waiting for that upgrade, or if I should just buy now and pay the $10 to upgrade this June/July/whenever.

So I’ve made a poll! Validate my choices, Internet!

then froze, only to blow the herb smoke through my nose

I hadn’t gone to 90s Night in a while, and my friend Meghan O’ also expressed a desire to go dancing. So after sharing some excellent Upper Crust pizza with Melissa and Fraley over the BSG finale, we trucked to Allston and shook it all out. The dance floor seemed more crowded but less sketchy than usual.

# # #

I bought an Afrin Pure Sea nasal rinsing … thing … about a week ago and started using it this weekend after some congestion. I can’t figure the damn thing out.

Both the bottle and the box ask me to refer to the insert for instructions, but the instructions aren’t so complicated that they couldn’t print them elsewhere. (1) Tilt your head all the way to one side. (2) Jam bottle into nose. (3) Let stream flow into upper nostril and out lower nostril.

I can manage step 1 just fine, but I may be failing on step 2. What inevitably happens is a stream of diluted seawater flows back out the nostril it went in, trickling down the side of my face and into my sideburns and ear. I wait there over the sink until my dignity returns, then cap the bottle, wipe my face and neck off and blow my nose vigorously. The result is marginally clearer breathing.

Possible issues:

  • Maybe I’m too congested in the nostril I’m trying. What if I stick the bottle up the clearer nostril first, and let the stream clear out the blockage with the aid of gravity?
  • Maybe I shouldn’t be holding my breath. Is that how the nose works? If I hold my breath, am I sealing up the necessary sinus cavities?
  • Maybe my head’s not tilted far enough to one side.
  • Maybe this is a scam.

Any advice, Internet?

the evil that men do to live life close to kings

And now, the remainder of your media blow:

Kitchen Confidential: Now I see what the fuss was about! Bourdain writes accessibly, but also with the intent to educate – about what goes on in kitchens, the way restaurants are run and, most importantly, what separates good chefs from the great ones. A fun read.

Killing Pablo: Perfect airplane reading from the author of Black Hawk Down. Bowden chronicles the rise to power of Pablo Escobar, a man so ruthless that he cowed the largest Colombian cartels into obedience and so wealthy that he talked the Colombian government into letting him build his own prison once they caught him. He also discusses the efforts of first the Colombian police, then of America’s Delta Force, to bring him down. It’s a gripping story that moves at a good clip.

It’s not perfect, mind you – Bowden tries to force some parallels between Escobar and his son vs. a father-son team of Colombian inspectors who track him. But Bowden gets major cred for all but accusing U.S. Army Intelligence of aiding the efforts of rival drug cartels and disenfranchised cops in terrorizing Escobar: assassinating his men, planting car bombs in his family’s neighborhoods, and the like. The evidence seems pretty compelling, and the implications are heavy.

Emergency: A rather self-absorbed but still informative look at one man’s efforts to survive “off the grid.” Over the course of several years, the author rolls through a virtual checklist of both left-wing and right-wing escape tactics: hiding your currency off shore, getting a second passport, learning how to shoot and survive in the wild, and urban combat. He ends up becoming more self-aware and active in his community as a result, “graduating” from an L.A. music writer to a part-time paramedic and emergency responder.

The book’s downside arises from the name on the cover: Neil Strauss, author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-up Artists. This book isn’t about how you can prepare yourself to survive a disaster – it’s about how Neil Strauss can prepare himself. Step one is to have wealthy, equally paranoid friends who put him in touch with immigration lawyers on St. Kitt’s. Step two is to expense a variety of survival retreats and self-defense lessons to your publisher. Strauss spends equal amounts of time puffing himself up – telling anecdotes about busty publicists who throw themselves at him, or the creepy neckbeards who expect the U.S. is going to collapse – and poring over his own soul in agonizing detail – am I not really a man unless I can slit this goat’s neck and skin its corpse?

If you’re looking for actual ways to hide assets, get out of the country, survive in the wild or defend yourself, this book will be of limited help. It’ll point you in the direction that Strauss took, but that’s it. Contra the reviews of Tim Ferris or Rolling Stone, this book is not a manual. It is, if anything, a tawdry and flimsy overview.

Kings: When Leonard first mentioned this NBC drama, I decided I had to watch it just for the balls-out lunacy of its concept alone. A modern day retelling of the Biblical story of King David, set in a one-step-removed America called “Gilboa”? Starring Deadwood‘s Ian McShane as King Saul Silas? How did that ever get greenlighted? “It’s, er, like Dallas … but with actual royalty!”

Don’t ask me how, but it works. Like Battlestar Galactica (in its S1-S2 heyday), Kings overlays medieval sensibilities onto a modern setting. You have kings and high priests and court historians and the occasional coronation, but you also have cell phones, global news networks and runs on the Treasury. King Silas, pulled in a hundred different directions by his family, his faith, his subjects and the corporations that helped rebuild his city, latches on to a farm-boy hero – David Shepherd – who singlehandedly takes down a Goliath tank and saves the King’s son. David gets promoted to high office and drawn into the inner circle of court.

I like Kings – the one episode I’ve seen so far – for its political maneuvering and for the “how are they gonna bring this in?” puzzle of all alternate universes. I like watching Ian McShane play the Shakespearean patriarch, and even the pretty faces playing the next generation aren’t bad. But I’m most fascinated by its take on religion. Kings uses religion not as an excuse to be preachy, or even as the butt of a joke, but as a crucial factor in court politics. The God they refer to is the God of the Old Testament – not the source of right and wrong, but the source of power. When Silas is warned that he’s turning away from God, it shakes him, and rightly so.

Sadly, Kings probably won’t last a season. But I really hope it does.

why are we here? because we’re here. roll the bones

I intended to touch on the Cattlecar Fantastica season finale in the tail-end of a larger media blow, but I have a suspicion the comments may “blow up.” And not in a Cylon-baseship way, or in a Saul-Tigh-ordering-young-men-to-die-for-New-Caprica way. I mean, in that way of the Internet. So BSG gets its own post.

Spoiler-free Abstract: I found the series finale satisfactory. I mean that in the most precise sense of the term – not damning with faint praise, not rolling my eyes as I type it. The writers threw a lot of baggage atop the show’s rickety cart over 5 years and 4 seasons. Come the showdown, they rightly decided to pick up the pace, letting a few pieces fall off along the way in the name of making good time.

Also, just for the sake of discussion: if you thought that the BSG series finale sucked unforgivably, could you name one series finale that you found satisfactory? That really transcended the level of craft it had displayed in prior episodes, unified every loose plot thread in one artful tapestry, and succeeded as an hour of TV to boot? I can’t. I don’t watch a lot of series finales, but the few I can recall – The Wire, Arrested Development, Sports Night have been “good enough for my money.” I think a lot of BSG fans had some remarkably unrealistic expectations for this episode.

Riddle me this: if the writers of BSG were capable of the transcendent plotting and writing that the Internet seems to expect of them, why weren’t they doing it in the last 19 episodes? Did you think they were saving the good ideas for the end?

Spoilers under the cut:
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