Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blake's 7: Cygnus Alpha

I'm way overdue to be watching Blake's 7. I've been watching Doctor Who since 1976, so you'd think that sooner or later I'd watch the *other* famous sci-fi series written by the creator of the daleks, Terry Nation. But, yeah, somehow it hasn't happened. But last Christmas, Santa gave me the Cygnus Alpha audiobook, and I only recently got around to listening to it. It's really good! Great voice acting, and solid, interesting writing. I wasn't expecting much, but now I'm quite curious to check out the show -- though I worry that compared to this well-written, well-narrated audiobook, I might be disappointed!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Great Rupert

Somehow, my daughter developed a fascination with Jimmy Durante. What 14 year old girl goes around the house imitating Durante? What 14 year old girl even knows who Jimmy Durante is? So, anyway, we've had this DVD around forever... I can't even remember where it came from... so we decided to watch it. I must admit, it is somewhat mind blowing. This poster doesn't really tell the story... it implies that Durante is the Great Rupert... but the story is much stranger than that. See the tiny line of text above the movie title? Look closer. It reads "George Pal Productions." Yes... that George Pal -- the creator of Gumby, and keeper of the stop-motion tradition for decades. So, naturally, The Great Rupert is actually a stop-motion animated squirrel, owned by Jimmy Conlin. Anyway, the movie is funny and cute, and has lots of fun Durante moments. I wish we had a better print of it! Between Durante, Terry Moore, Jimmy Conlin, an animated squirrel, some dude juggling five walnuts, and other George Pal effects (check out the fire scene), there's a lot to like in this forgotten movie.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Art of Game Design, Second Edition

It seems like just yesterday I was posting about the first edition! Okay, no, it seems like six years ago. I created the updated edition for several reasons. First, a lot of things have changed, and the book was becoming dated. I've added a lot about mobile, social, and free to play to bring the book up to date. I've also learned a lot since then -- as a result, there are two new chapters: one about the psychology of motivation, and one about venues, that is, the places that we play games. There are also 12 new lenses (okay, sort of 13 new lenses, as one of the old lenses cracked in two and I made it into separate lenses). A new deck will be coming out in January, so look for that. There are lots of other little additions I made... lots of new quotes that I've picked up along the way, and now at the end of each chapter there are suggested readings if you want to go through the same arcane source material that I enjoy. Anyway -- it's out now, I hope you like it! Oh -- we made a short video telling about it. You can see that here. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Gorgeous Nothings

But are not all facts dreams as soon as we put them behind us -
Emily Dickinson has always fascinated me. Her poems are so bold, so straightforward, and I think, often misunderstood. There is so much power in her poetry, and what makes it all the more unusual is the fact that her poems were never published while she was alive. Which makes them hard to publish indeed, because it is unclear exactly how she would have wanted them published. Many of them were written on odd scraps of paper. In this beautiful book, for the first time, the general public gets to see those very scraps of paper. Just as understanding that E. E. Cummings was a painter as well as a poet gives insight into the nature of his poetry, there is something very intimate about seeing Emily's handwriting and strange compositional form on these odd little scraps. There is something beautiful about them, and something alien, as well. On some she seems to just dash down a random thought, or part of one. On others, she carefully places each word. On yet others, it looks like she is solving a puzzle, with multiple alternate words suggested throughout. I've spent quite a bit of time in Amherst, Massachusetts, and it always made me feel like I knew her, at least a little bit -- and this book has made me feel like I know her ever so much more.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Dead

I've never read any Joyce before. I've always hoped to try Ulysses one day, but Joyce has always seemed so intimidating. That's what I like so much about The Art of the Novella Series from Melville House Books... their choices are often like gateways to authors you might not have tried otherwise. At first I found the story perplexing -- just a simple story about a dinner party... but then, well, it takes a turn towards something unexpected. Nothing supernatural, as the title might intimate, but something unexpected. I can't say I've ever run into a story quite like it. It is very bold in its way, and it makes a thoughtful point about the strange powers that death has over the living, even while we still live. This simple story will stay with me a long time, I expect, and it has certainly opened the door for me to read Joyce's more well known works.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Fame is a bee.
It has a song,
It has a sting. 
Ah too, it has a wing. 
--Emily Dickinson

It seems entirely possible that my dearest Emily wrote those lines after seeing this movie. I enjoyed this so very much. I love show business movies in general, and I love stories that are full of meta-theming, and this is both of those. The cinematography is amazing, fully using the unique power of cinema to make you question what is and is not real. This now joins my list of meta-themed films including The Wizard of Speed and Time, Adaptation, and of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas. But in many ways this dwarfs them all, with its deep commentaries on the relationship between art, entertainment, and ego. And everything in this film is so incredibly tight -- every little detail is connected to everything else in a complex web that makes me want to watch it again and again. Alejandro González Iñárritu was unknown to me before -- but I have a feeling that I will be encountering him again and again. This film will haunt my dreams for some time to come, I suspect, as I try to determine my own relationship with art and entertainment.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

This book is a bit of a scam, actually. The 110 "Rules of Civility" that are presented were not authored by Washington, but are somewhat older, traced back to a text written by Jesuit scholars in the sixteenth century. The editors of this book suggest that Washington had to hand-copy these rules at some point in his education, and that they may have had some influence on him. I suppose in that sense we can say he "wrote" them, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. The rules are a mix of the timeless ("#40: Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savours of arrogancy.") and the archaic ("#57: In walking up and down in a house, only with one in company, if he be greater than yourself, at the first give him the right hand and stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him."). But mostly it is advice that is still good advice today. Dramatically, the final rule is a real capper, "#110: Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." 

In order to better connect this book to George Washington, the editors then tack on four of his recorded speeches. This includes some farewell addresses to the army, his inauguration speech, and his, uh, exauguration speech, or "address at the end of his presidency." Generally, these were somewhat dull and predictable. But the final speech had some notes about the nature of the Constitution and the dangers of party politics that were striking. Check this out, for example:
Let me ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party ... the common and continual mischief's of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. 
If there is a better description of what is happening in congress right now, I haven't seen it.  So, hey, congress! If you won't listen to the current president, at least listen to George Washington, will ya? Set aside your party nonsense for the good of the country. After all, it's the civil thing to do.