Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

This is so fun and original that it deserves to be famous. I will forever wonder -- why did they change the "We're a Couple of Misfits" song to "Fame and Fortune" just one year after first airing? The new song degrades the story, is not animated as well, and isn't as fun or clever. Sure, it's a little shorter -- is that why? No one seems to know what motivated this change. The DVD has the original song. Hooray for DVDs! The Rankin/Bass studio must have been a very fun place to work.

I love it when Santa hears the elf song, and then just says, "It needs work. I have to go."

And I know it's juvenile, but I giggle every time he says "Every year, I polish up my jingle bells for eight lucky reindeer." Somehow, I don't think that would have made it in nowadays. Sorry to infect you with that unwelcome meme.

Achievement Unlocked

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much achievements mean to people -- and Sabrina Haskell pointed me to Achievement Unlocked, which I finished, just so I could say that I did. It shouldn't have been as much fun as it was!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Colbert Christmas

This was a little too snarky for my taste, but I absolutely loved the Colbert / Stewart duet of "Can I interest you in Hanukkah?"

Best Cartoons of the Year 1964

I bought this in a weird little bookstore in Ocean City, Maryland a couple years ago. It has some really fun cartoons! One of my favorites is a gag on the newly invented carphone -- a fellow in traffic is talking to his wife: "I'm approaching exit 8, dear. You can put on the potatoes now." I wonder what gags now will become normal in the future?

A Miser Brothers Christmas

This unexpected sequel to "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (I'm not counting the boring "The Year with a Santa Claus" or the confusing "The Year with Two Santa Clauses") was suprisingly good! I really thought they would mess things up by over-modernizing, or by making the characters unlikable -- but they did none of that! They were amazingly true to the Rankin/Bass aesthetic, right down to timing, animation details, and camera movement. It had Mickey Rooney and George S. Irving in it, for goodness' sake!

Gears of War

Okay, I didn't really finish this, but I think I played all of it that I'm going to. I played it at the insistence of Lisa Brown, who party wanted to show me how good it was, and partly as part of a campaign to make me engage in things that I think I'm not going to like. I was shocked at how incredibly well designed it was. The interface for taking cover is absolutely amazing -- I have never felt safe playing an FPS before -- here I felt like my character was doing sensible things, and that I could think for a minute and plan a strategy. There has been talk about the fact that more women play Gears than they do the average FPS. Cliffy B. says it is because the story has "heart". This seems to be nonsense to me -- I think women probably like playing because it has a great co-op mode, and because the cover system lets a player really feel in control of the gameplay. I'm not much for FPS's, but I'd think about playing this one again!

On a separate note, it really made me wonder about the FPS aesthetic -- a ruined world filled with people who look like football players... why does this very American theme keep repeating? I have a theory, but it is complicated, and probably wrong.

Glimmer Train Stories #55

I used to be hooked on the glimmer train. I read every issue for years when I lived in LA. Somehow, after I left, I didn't want to read it anymore. I think maybe the depressing stories helped balance out LA's endless summer. If you've never been on the glimmer train, it might as well be called "wistful stories of depressing poverty", for all the stories are wistful, and most of them are authors writing about something sad happening to someone poor (usually them). At least this issue had a funny story (wistful, yet funny). In LA I could read a whole issue in a month or two. In Pittsburgh it took me three years to get through this one. Though I must admit I looked for a new issue when I was back at the bookstore. Wistful stories in a beautiful binding and a custom bookmark? I can't resist.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Every time I watch this, I am struck by the simple beauty of it. Mostly, I am struck by how its many flaws (editing, animation problems, pacing) are what make it so beautiful. The show is like the Christmas tree -- ugly and small, but sincere -- and it is our love of it that makes it beautiful. The creators of it had no idea how it would be received -- they were seriously concerned that they had made a black mark on the franchise. It is wonderful that America loves something as simple and honest as this.


This movie always draws me in... I'm not sure why.

My Man Jeeves

This is my first time actually reading (ok, listening to) the Jeeves stories, and while I expected a lot, I got even more! The stories are just so engaging and delightful. And Martin Jarvis made an excellent reader. I look forward to getting more of these!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Except for the big budget, this is a Roger Corman movie, through and through. I had low expectations -- I assumed it would be just another superhero movie, but I was surprised to see it was something very different. It was certainly clever and amusing, but what really struck me was the power of the love story. Its deep theme seems to be that there are some people on this earth who, even though they love each other, have a relationship that is ultimately self-destructive, and for the good of themselves and everyone around them, they must stay apart, even though it is painful. I would never have expected such a meaningful story from such a goofy movie.

How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime

I love this book. I had never realized how very many of the weird movies that I thought were special came from the same person. To think that "X, the Man with X-Ray Eyes", "Bucket of Blood", "House II", "Battle Beyond the Stars", "Rock and Roll High School", "Death Race 2000", "The Wasp Woman", and so many more all came from the same creative mind was eye-opening for me. I had always assumed that I was just cobbling together bits and pieces from the world that matched my viewpoint -- but to realize that, instead, I just seem to have an affinity towards a single creative individual -- well, I'm not sure what to make of that. I was startled to see that I operate my studio much the way he operated his -- taking few risks, carefully controlling costs, and not being afraid to change the work to fit the budget. There is something important here, and I can't put my finger on it. Roger manages to be the opposite of an artist (his films are all about making money), but they are also the opposite of corporate flimmaking (his films are strange, singular visions). His incredibly fast filmmaking creates situations where there is no time for artifice -- and as a result, his actors often have a genuine quality. Most compelling of all, he takes tawdry, exploitative concepts, and weaves into them novel, powerful stories -- just where you would least expect to find them. It's a special kind of magic that will leave me thinking for a long, long time.

Fleet Foxes

This album sounds so much like winter to me. The powerful "White Winter Hymnal" has something to do with that -- but there is something more, something deeper -- there is a cold quality to the powerful harmonies, and a wistful quality to the voices that can only make me think of long walks through the snow.

Buliding Virtual Worlds 2008

It's hard to believe another year of BVW is behind me. The show had some really fun moments, but was the most technically disastrous one we've had yet! Randy would never have approved of the risks we took with live worlds that really had no potential for a backup plan. Oh well -- at least it was exciting! And some of the worlds were tremendous fun. And I do love putting on a show. And the "Get In Line" experience was incredible! The whole thing was a real credit to the ETC. I'm so glad they let me do this!

A Prairie Home Companion

What a strange movie. I find that Garrison Keillor has a real hand for the short story, but for some reason, his longer stories feel so thin -- they don't seem to hang together well. The difference is hard to understand. The story of how this movie came about is interesting -- Garrison wanted to do it, and had Robert Altman in mind as a director. Altman's wife heard about it, and was such a big fan of the show, she convinced him to do it. Once Altman was attached to the project, all kinds of stars were willing to get on board. The story, though, feels strangely improvised -- an unconvincing mix of fantasy and reality, where none of the characters seem to matter that much. Still, it had a homey, homemade quality that I always like. And Lily Tomlin can make anything okay.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I... finished... Braid. This is kind of hard for me to believe, but it is true. My obsession with time travel helped drive me forward, but so did the elegantly crafted puzzles, carefully designed to let you move on to others if any one became too difficult. As a puzzle game, it was wonderful -- simple, elegant, with surprises around every corner.

But that is almost irrelevant. Braid's power comes not from merely being a well-designed game, but instead from its shocking final level. Playing it was an astonishing experience for me -- I felt like the Bruce Willis character in the Sixth Sense -- absolutely dumbfounded to find that the world is not at all what it seemed to be. Videogames have tried to make social statements in the past: Seven Cities of Gold, MULE, Missile Command, The Marriage, Bioshock, and dozens more. But none has ever made such a deep, shocking, multi-layered statement like Braid. It uses its central game mechanic to force the player to confront the nature of memory -- how one uses memory to hide from painful truths, how one repeats memories over and over, thinking about how things would have been different with different actions, and how we avoid painful memories, twisting them into memories we can deal with, memories we can accept. And at the same time, all of this is put up against a question of the value of games, the value of striving. What happens in Braid is so multilayered, that I have a hard time picking it apart. But honestly, I think I like it this way -- I fear if I untangle it, I will spoil the elegant, powerful beauty of the braid.

The Butterfly Effect

I have a weird compulsion that requires me to watch every time travel movie. I don't know why. I suspect that it has to do with actual time travel. Anyway, despite the gratuitous sex and violence, I was really pleased with this imaginative time travel concept... I've read and watched a lot of time travel stories, but this seems to be the first with the idea of "lifeline" time travel. I wonder if J. J. Abrams borrowed this idea for Lost, or came up it independently? Something in this story affected me deeply. Whatever my compulsion is about, this movie is part of that destiny.

I hear that Rudy Rucker, Daniel Clowes, Jack Black, and Michel Gondry are teaming up to make a film version of Master of Space and Time. It's like the whole world got together and said, "What would Jesse really like?"

Jingle Jangle

It's the Archies. So, you know. But see those plastic discs on the jacket? I'm wistful for my childhood just looking at those. They weren't much fun, but they exert a strange power.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The White Album

I get a certain weird satisfaction from the fact that I'm publishing my 100th post about the white album, on its fortieth anniversary. I've listened to it many times, of course. I remember my first time: Christmas, 1986, a present from my parents. I'd been listening to the Beatles fervently, and listening to the white album was like taking my relationship with them up a notch. It is such as strange, personal album, full of the kind of things that are hard to do before people take you seriously. I mean, if this had been one of their earlier albums, it would have really put people off, I think. But coming as late in the "relationship" as it did, it worked out. I never really thought about the gradual intimacy between a band and it's fans, but that's just how it is.

For me, the heart of the album is "Happiness is a Warm Gun." It is soulful, ironic, and connects to almost all the musical styles on the album, one way or another. I often think about how the title is a parody of Charles Schultz's "Happiness is a Warm Puppy," and how strange it is that if he hadn't created that one comic that one day, it would have changed the white album forever.

It is said that once a reporter asked Paul McCartney if he had any regrets about the white album... because, surely, if the stranger, more experimental songs were removed, taking it down to a single LP, pretty much every song on it could have been a hit. McCartney replied that, "Yes, we could have done that. But then it wouldn't be the fucking white album, would it?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Young Fats Waller: Early Piano Solos

I picked up this neat little 10" LP at an antique store in the strip. I'd heard some of Fats Waller before, but listening to these recordings, which have a kind of innocence and purity about them, I can only imagine what it was like to hear a young man play like that for the first time. There is so much complexity and richness of detail in his playing, but at the same time it comes across as completely effortless. It almost feels like Fats himself is in awe of his talent, and maybe a little afraid of it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lecture from Michael Keaton

Thanks to Ralph Vituccio, I had the honor of having Michael Keaton lecture to my class on Thursday. To my surprise, he was a little nervous at first, perhaps feeling pressure to talk about technology. Quickly, though, he settled down into telling stories about his creative process. It was wonderful to hear how he developed characters like Beetlejuice, his version of Batman, and the four guys in Multiplicity. This has been a week of business, contracts, and lawyers... hearing from an artist was quite rejuvenating!

In the picture, he is playing Winds of Orbis. Don't ask about Robin.

The Great Gatsby

I hadn't read this before, but I'd always wondered about it. I had heard it was about "the twenties", "Chicago", and "a rich guy who throws big parties." To my surprise it wasn't about any of those things, really. This is definitely the single most beautiful novel I've ever read. I love Steinbeck a great deal, but his work does not have the consistently breathtaking poetry of Fitzgerald's writing. Everything is described gloriously, everything seems real, and nothing, nothing, nothing is wasted. Every word, every image, seems to have five or six purposes. And though it is over 80 years old, it sounds like it could have been written yesterday. I think this novel is as close to perfect as any I have ever read. Can it be that Fitzgerald's other books are anywhere near this good, or did he sell his soul like Orson Scott Card? I guess I'll have to read some and find out.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. Sometimes I think a weird name is good for a person.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Madagascar 2

It was goofy and cute, and very pretty. The story is really thin, but it isn't about story -- it's about characters and gags. The characters are interesting, offbeat, and fun, and the gags are all about playing off the characters. My favorite part about it is the character stylings -- more like african carvings than actual animals. Dreamworks really gets how to make a solid family movie.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Teacher Man

I always like books and stories about teaching. I haven't read Frank McCourt's more famous books, but I was drawn to this one. Listening to him read the audiobook was a wonderful experience -- I always feel bad for people who eschew audiobooks, because they miss out on the personal encounter with the author that audiobooks make possible.

Everyone talks about the "wonderful experience" of teaching, but I liked how the book does a good job of addressing how bad teaching can make you feel. Students ignore you, they insult you, they complain about you, they disrespect you, they take you for granted, they see you as an obstacle, they lie to you, they lie about you, they treat you like an object. The teaching experience can make you feel incompetent, small, dirty, and used. Frank McCourt talks about all that in detail, but still manages to make it seem worthwhile. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs

More fun songs from Shel Silverstein! It's fun to hear him sing the original version of Boy Named Sue, and the other songs are good too. My favorites were "Time" and "Daylight Dreamer"... I could certainly relate to both of them, one about getting old, and the other about getting distracted.

He always sounds like he is having so much fun!

Psychical Research

I can't remember where I found it, but I was inexplicably drawn to read this 100 year old volume documenting studies of the supernatural. It is a product of the Society for Psychic Research (SPR), an organization that is, to my surprise, still in operation today. Mostly, the book just tells anecdotes about various psychic phenomena. It contained nothing too surprising, just types of stories I've heard many times before. But I found the end of the book, about Automatic Writing, to have a surprising, poignant moment: a message from beyond the grave, transcribed by a Mrs. Holland, supposedly under the control of the deceased Henry Sedgwick, the original president of the SPR, and clearly a former friend of the author:
We no more solve the riddle of death by dying than we solve the problem of life by being born. Take my own case -- I was always a seeker, until it seemed to me at times as if the quest was more to me than the prize. Only the attainments of my search were generally like rainbow gold, always beyond and afar. It is not all clear; I seek still, only with a confirmed optimism more perfect and beautiful than any we imagined before.
I like to think that Henry is still seeking, and that every third Thursday, the former SPR presidents still meet in the next world to discuss their supernatural discoveries.

Nim's Island

This was a really nice family movie. It was thoughtful, interesting, clear, funny, and not over-schmaltzy. I was surprised that Emma (age 7) was able to follow it very well, despite there being some complications involving imaginary characters.

Watching the deleted scenes was truly fascinating! Cutting out a few scenes radically changed Nim's character, and the changes were definitely for the better! I mean, really, who has Huck Finn as an imaginary friend?

30 Days of Night

Watched this on Halloween. It was great fun! A large gang of vampires conspires to descend on a small Alaskan town just as it enters a whole month of darkness. As one of the vampires says, "We should have done this ages ago." It was weird, creepy, fun. I hear there is a sequel...

Journal of a Novel

Steinbeck is my favorite author, and East of Eden is my favorite novel. So, naturally, I was very interested in reading this diary he kept while writing it. Actually, I started reading this years ago, when I started writing The Art of Game Design. I hoped this might give me some insight to the process of book-writing, and what it gave me was unexpected confidence. As experienced as Steinbeck was when he wrote East of Eden, this diary makes clear he spent much of it terrified and uncertain. I only had to read half of this, and it gave me the confidence that I could face my fears and get the job done. And I guess I did! So, I figured I better finish reading this. It was wonderful to spend time with Steinbeck in his writing room, with his twelve sharpened pencils, and the box he lovingly handcrafted to hold the manuscript pages.

I wonder if I'll ever write another book?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Come On And Wake Up

Sigh. I love Fred Rogers so much, and honestly, I envy him. It seems like his mission was totally clear to him, and he worked at it thoughtfully and joyfully each day. Not to say it was an easy mission -- but he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it. I wonder if one day my mission will be as clear?

My favorite song on this album is Good People Sometimes:
Good people sometimes think bad things.
Good people dream bad things.
Don't you?
Good people even say bad things
Once in a while we do.

Did you forget that...
Good people sometimes wish bad things.
Good people try bad things.
Don't you?
Good people even do bad things
Once in a while we do.
Good people sometimes do.

Has anybody said you're good lately?
Has anybody said you're nice?
And have you wondered how they could lately?
Wondered once or twice?

Good people sometimes feel bad things.
Good people want bad things.
They do.
Good people even do bad things
Once in a while we do.
Good people sometimes do.
I can't imagine that any children's show today would be brave enough to sing a song like this. I know this is meant to be a song to comfort a child, but to hear Fred singing in his voice of experience, I found it very comforting myself.

Oh! And I will find a way to have the title song become my alarm clock music!

Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book

In my continuing study of Shel Silverstein, I had to read this. I first saw it in the Children's section of Johnson's Bookstore in Springfield, MA in 1985. I remember finding it quite disturbing (specifically, the image of Stanley with blood dripping from his knife: "S is also for Stanley. Stanley is a crazy murderer who likes to murder little boys and girls early Sunday morning."), and I was kind of surprised it was with the childrens' books. Of course, nowadays, it isn't, and it has a big "Adults Only" label on it.

Here's my favorite entry:
O is for Oz

Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off land of Oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green?

Well, you can't because there is no land of Oz and there is no tin woodsman AND THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!

Maybe someday you can go to Detroit.
He wrote this book in 1961, long before he had written any actual children's books.

Wonderfully, and fittingly, Shel dedicates the book to Jean Shepherd. I guess they were friends -- Jean wrote the liner notes on Hairy Jazz.

Louis Riel: a Comic-Strip Biography

I know very little of Canadian history, so reading this excellent work by Chester Brown I was very surprised. He has done an excellent job of both research and storytelling, and it is hard to imagine a historical character more interesting than Louis Riel. It makes me want to learn more about exactly how Canada was settled. This is such a different work than I Never Liked You that I wouldn't have guessed the same person would have written both stories.


I've read Borges stories from here and there on and off since high school. But I'd never read Dreamtigers before -- it is very different than reading his short stories. It is a mix of very short (single page) stories and poems. There is something so direct and personal about it, it made me feel like I knew Borges personally. It can be hard to say something deep and powerful on a single page -- but Borges manages it by having some of the same themes (libraries, mirrors, mortality, the illusion of reality) show up again and again throughout the book. I almost feel like it is the key to understanding his other works -- I plan to return to it again and again.

In case you are curious, here is the title story in full.
In my childhood, I was a fervent worshiper of the tiger: not the jaguar, the spotted "tiger" of the Amazonian tangles and the isles of vegetation that float down the Parana, but that striped, Asiatic, royal tiger, that can be faced only by a man of war, on a castle atop an elephant. I used to linger endlessly before one of the cages at the zoo; I judged vast encyclopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers. (I still remember those illustrations: I who cannot rightly recall the brow or the smile of a woman.) Childhood passed away, and the tigers and my passion for them grew old, but still they are in my dreams. At that submerged or chaotic level they keep prevailing. And so, as I sleep, some dream beguiles me, and suddenly I know I am dreaming. Then I think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will; and now that I have unlimited power, I am going to cause a tiger.
Oh, incompetence! Never can my dreams engender the wild beast I long for. The tiger indeed appears, but stuffed or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or all too fleeting, or with a touch of the dog or the bird.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Field Guide to Roadside Technology

This is a simple, fun book. I really liked learning about things I've seen my whole life but never really understood, like the difference between single-phase and triple-phase power, and why we have both, or that in the US, almost all satellite dishes face south.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pixie Hollow

Finally, it is released! I just checked my files, and realized that we've been working on this for almost four years! It's gone through a lot of changes over that time, but I'm really excited about what we've created! I think it is really fun, and I'm looking forward to all the new fun stuff that will be coming down the line. I wonder what Barrie would think? I bet he would think it is great fun -- but he probably would be disappointed that "Peter" is disallowed by the chat system! Check it out at www.pixiehollow.com. And if you see Labyrinth Moonforest, say hi!

Post Office

Oh, man. I sure do like reading Charles Bukowski. Everything he writes makes me think, "Yeah, that's what it's like to be a man." He manages to be part of the most squalid, self-destructive situations, and somehow write about them like they are some kind of zen poetry.

I found this in the Seattle airport. I could feel the bookstore calling me, and I got really ticked off when it didn't have anything in it but modern junk. But then, just as I was leaving, I saw it there, and knew that it was the book that drew me in.


My continuing exploration of the life and works of Shel Silverstein led me to this. Though he doesn't do most of the performances, he does make appearances, which is in some ways more interesting than if he sang the whole thing. The songs are mostly cute and fun, though sometimes a little scary and vulgar for kids. But what did you expect?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dream Parlor

Wow. Clearly someone really wanted to make this. It was a little hard to watch, but it was fun. I like the homemade quality of it. I wish there were more homemade movies.

Word Freak

Like most nerds, I have had a lifelong relationship with Scrabble. This book was fascinating to me, because not only does the author report on the world of competitive Scrabble, he gets sucked into it, and becomes a serious player! It is very well-written, and includes a chapter about the invention of Scrabble that I will surely be using in my Game Design class. What I really like is that the book not only gets into the fascinating personalities of Scrabble, and details the peculiar strategies, but it manages to get into the deep question of whether games really have a point at all. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves games or game design.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Robinson Crusoe

Arrgh! I hated this book! I had always assumed two things about it:

1) It was short
2) It was interesting

Turns out I was dramatically wrong on both counts! It's pointlessly long, and very, very little happens! If this is a recounting of true events, it could be forgiven -- but it isn't! It's fiction! There is no real character development, and very few surprises. I'll admit, I learned a little about how to catch goats, and I have a very clear mental image of the place, but Lord, it was boring. I cannot understand why it has endured all these years. I can't find anyone else who has read it -- I suspect it is one of those books where the idea is powerful, but not the execution, so it is remembered, but not read. It is the polar opposite of a book like Moby Dick, which manages to be interesting, entertaining, and meaningful. And if I had to hear "In a word" one more time, I was ready to smash the CDs to pieces!

So, fooey on you, Daniel Defoe, for wasting my time! You and your 300 year old book are not welcome in the Hall of Greatness! I banish thee to the dungeon, to rot with Emily Bronte and her fetid Wuthering Heights!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hairy Jazz

Just when I think I understand the Shel Silverstein oeuvre, I find this! It is so exciting, and so fun! I'll keep this around, and play it whenever I have a bad day!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This movie was fun and sweet, and the characters were interesting and clever. It could have been really corny, but it wasn't. The punk klesmer girl was definitely my favorite character.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Captain January

It can't be a good sign for the economy when Fox starts running a Shirley Temple movie marathon. Save us, Shirley!

This movie made me realize that I always thought Guy Kibbee, William Frawley, and that guy who played Uncle Bub on My Three Sons were the same person. Wait a minute! Uncle Bub was William Frawley, after all! Still, I want evidence that Guy Kibbee was not William Frawley.

Even more horrifying, as I heard Shirley singing "At the Codfish Ball" I realized that this is where Shel Silverstein got the idea for "Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball." I may never sleep soundly again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Got Stoned and Missed It

The more I learn about Shel Silverstein, the more fascinated I become. This CD is a collection of 23 songs that Shel wrote for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show between 1971 and 1979. I had no idea that Shel had written Cover of the 'Rolling Stone'! What was really interesting was to compare Shel's version of Freakers' Ball to Dr. Hook's... The Dr. Hook version is so much more interesting and fun... it is a song that just came so naturally to them.

I find myself idolizing Shel in so many ways -- not just in everything he managed to do, but in the way he managed to stay behind the scenes, and just do the things he wanted, the way he wanted to do them.

Fantastic Contraption

So, when I say I finished this, I really mean that I've played all of it I'm going to play -- some levels were just too hard for me. Everyone talks about this like it is a mini version of the Incredible Machine, but really, it's much more interesting, because of the way you can build complex machines that move. Physics games are going to be an interesting new genre over the next ten years -- and I think that many of them will follow the patterns that Fantastic Contraption sets.

I'm so looking forward to the first physics game MMO!


I found a used copy of Perfection to play with Emma. I wasn't sure if she'd like it, but we have both had a lot of fun with it. When I was a boy, my Grandmother had this version at her house -- it was really her only cool one-player toy, so I played it a lot, until I could finish it ridiculously fast. I can't say that we ever played using the peculiar scoring record that is on the game -- I can see why they did away with that. In the eighties, my brother got Superfection for his birthday one year. It was kind of cool, but didn't outdo the original. I've long wondered what it would be like to play the unusual Head to Head version of the game.

I love that all the pieces are safely contained within the unit. One of the few games where you can safely throw out the box after you open it. Definitely the coolest part of the game is the way all your efforts are completely spoiled if you take too long... it is hard not to feel a jolt of suprise every time that stupid thing pops. A really beautiful game mechanic. I wonder who designed it?

2008 Petco Hamster Ball Derby

I'd never been to one of these before. And now I have. I was surprised to learn that it is not just for hamsters, but that basically any rodent that fits in the ball can race. As with many things, the kids were there to have fun, but the parents were there to compete. "Your hamster is stupid!" I heard an irritated mother bark at her three year old daughter, whose hamster ran the wrong way.

I thought that rats would have an edge, but the winner was a gerbil named Lucky. You go, Lucky -- stick it to the man!

I feel like I should engage in some kind of social commentary here, but I've got nothing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Freakin' at the Freakers Ball

While I didn't enjoy the songs much for their own sake, I enjoyed listening to Shel, who sounded like he had tremendous fun making this album.

Three Men in a Boat

...to say nothing of the Dog. I found this at the Rosslyn Farms Community Library. It is so hard to believe it was written in 1889! It is so rich, and wry, and clever, it feels like it was written yesterday! Even the language seems modern. Part of what I liked was hearing what river life was like back then, but I was also fascinated with how people were cut off from nature, even 100 years ago... that's where much of the comedy in this comes from. But what I liked best was imagining all the other people who must have read this -- surely Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, Groucho Marx, and so many others must have read it, and surely they all chuckled over it, because it is just so elegant, clever, and fun. That is one of the wonderful pleasures of old books, I think -- they become a passage through time, not just to when they were written, but to all the times they were read, and to all the people who read them.

As I read it, I kept wondering, how can he end this in a way that is neither corny nor sneering? I'll tell you how: perfectly.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Great Conch Train Robbery

In terms of songs I liked, this was a mixed bag for me -- although, even for the songs I didn't care for, I just like hearing Shel talk and sing, for each song is a way to get to know him a little better. My favorites were definitely "You Ain't Here", "Rough on the Living" (which hit kind of close to home) and the title song, which was both sad and fun.