Archive | June, 2009

He May Not Be A Licensed Therapist…

30 Jun

Stuart Smalley's a Senator

…but Al Franken’s about to get sworn in to the United States Senate.

Strange times we live in, indeed.

Treating My “In Treatment” Addiction

30 Jun

In TreatmentI can’t say enough about the awesomeness that is HBO’s “In Treatment.”  My sister is currently getting her masters’ in counseling at the California Institute for Integral Studies, and I’ve had a really good time talking with her about the things she’s been learning in her time there so far. The whole concept of therapy, of digging into why we do what we do, is endlessly fascinating, though admittedly sort of in a “Stuff White People Like” kind of way… Also, the more I work with an ever-increasing number of students, the more interested I am in plumbing the depths of the why they are how they are, and how I can better help them learn. Why one student practices and another doesn’t.  Why one student boldly improvises in front of hundreds of people, and another is too petrified of performance to even audition for band.

None of that has any real bearing on my enjoyment of “In Treatment,” though.  That’s because the show should come with a warning label – due entirely to its format, it might be the most addictive television program I’ve ever seen.

In Treatment follows the work of a therapist named Paul Weston, played by the amazing Gabriel Byrne, and airs over 9 weeks, with five episodes airing each week, one for every weeknight.  Each episode is 25ish minutes long and focuses on a single therapy session. Mondays are Laura, Tuesdays are Alex, and so on.  The twist is that on Friday, Paul goes to see his own therapist, and we learn how the interactions he has had during the week have reflected his own state, and how the (many) problems he has in his own life are reflected in the problems of his patients.

The writing is unbelievable, and the performances are in a league of their own.  And more than just a show about people’s problems, it’s a mystery – the characters each spar with Paul, back and forth, blocking and defending, thinking and rephrasing, revealing little bits and pieces, until we can start to put together a full picture of what’s going on with them.  It’s never anything less than engrossing, though a bit draining and all but impossible to stop mid-week.

With 43 episodes (apparently the last week is cut short) in the first season, it’s a serious time commitment, but I’m telling you – fire it up and you’ll have no complaints about watching.  If anything, you won’t want it to end.

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Bad Poetry For Tuesday

30 Jun

IMG_0758Last weekend, I took a trip back home to Indiana for a wedding.  I hadn’t been to Bloomington in the summertime for several years, and it really took me back – the smells, the heat, the leaves, the bugs and the breeze, the way the streets are quiet when the students are away. I thought I’d share some (frankly, terrible) lyrics I wrote several years back about the Hoosier State.

Indiana

this is a place
a place pretty large
where the limestone is king
and the klan was in charge

where twenty three cents
can about pay your rent
and cornhusks and soybeans
are common as cars

I gotta locate
my biannual roots
dust off my flannel
my shit kickin’ boots

I shouldn’t bother
it’s one or the other
make up my mind
before I go gray

it’s as good as it gets
with my cigarette set
if I could think I would
really go blue

Oh, India-na
you’re the crossroads of my life, it’s true
India-na
I can’t get the best of you

India-na
you’re the crossroads of our lives, it’s true
India-na
We can’t get the best of you

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Murfins and Burgalinks

26 Jun

Fox Falls–Bay Windo(n’t)– Man, there is some hilarious rage going around the internets regarding Michael Bay’s new cinematic disaster.  Jeez.  I kind of can’t believe that two years ago, in the height of the summer, I took a spare afternoon and went to see the first Transformers by myself, just for the hell of it.  Because I thought it would be fun.  Well, thanks to Ebert’s brilliantly scathing review, that will not be happening this time around.  Yikes.  Megan Fox isn’t even that hot.  Yeah, I said it.

–Remember Iran?– With all these high-profile celebrity deaths and political affairs going on, it’s easy to forget that freedom is currently locked in mortal combat in the seat of the world’s unrest.  Sullivan’s got ya covered, though – he’ll keep on covering it no matter what.  Though he also had some interesting things to say about MJ’s death.

–Doctors Aren’t Robots (Yet)– My sis sent me this article in the NYT last week about taking time to actually live life on the way to becoming a doctor.  My buddy Ross is doing this – he’s an incredible guitarist, and just started his residency at UCSF.  As my roommate pointed out, sure, it’s nice to encourage this sort of lifestyle, but some people just have the life-chops to do it, and some of us just… don’t.  We can’t all be Rupa, you know?

–Restaurant Reviews, Hold the Snark– My buddy Sonia (she of The Sonia Show) has been doing reviews of SF eateries for UpTake online.  She’s covered a lot of places I love (Marnee Thai!), and her reviews are refreshingly free of that patented “Sfist Sneer” that peppers so many of the reviews there and in the other ‘hood-centric blogs.  Check ‘em out!

SYTYCD Ade and Melissa–So I Think I Canzzzzzzz– As usual, in lieu of an actual post about this week’s SYTYCD, I refer you to Joe R and company over at Low Resolution.  I concur about so much that they say, in particular that the choreography just seems to be lacking this year.  Figures.  It happened with Gossip Girl, too – the minute I get behind something publically, it starts to suck.  I’m sorry I’m the show killer!  I’ll get back!

–Good Thing I’m Made Of Time– …not.  The Onion’s AV Club is writing retrospective recaps of both Buffy (they’re up to season 3) and Deadwood (in season one).  Jesus.  Also, Alan Sepinwall’s been doing Band of Brothers, Sports Night, and The Wire Season 2.  All rule.  I just don’t have time to read most of the Onion stuff, but what I’ve read has been top-notch.  As if there isn’t enough internet-based TV writing in your life…

–The Hits Keep On Coming– I just booked another acoustic show, this one will be on July 10th at 10:00 PM at the Red Vic Sessions on Haight.  I’ll be playing with Lindsay and Nervo, and it’s gonna slay!  Hope you can make it out.

–I Leave You With This– I’ll be in Indiana this weekend, and probably won’t be posting, so I leave you with this video.  May you watch it and think of me:

Rest In Peace

26 Jun

billie-jean-jackson_l2

I’m not sure how I feel about MJ’s death – it feels as though he left us years ago.  I do know he gave us some of the best tunes of the last twenty-five years, and thanks to him, every cover band I ever played in was that much more of a fun place to be. So, thanks, Michael.

Endless Possibilities Part 2: Scribblenauts

25 Jun

scribblenautsLately I’ve been finding myself faced with creations, both artistic and otherwise, that suggest never-ending possibilities. Websites, video games, music applications, mash-up art… the more I see this stuff, the clearer it is that, thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed communication, an age of endless user-generated content is upon us, and it’s growing, growing, growing, with no escape in sight. Mwa ha ha.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about a cool make-your-own-mashup project called “In Bb.”  Today, I wanted to try to sum up a bit about a different “endless possibillitiesish” thing I’ve had my eye on.

I haven’t been paying particularly close news to the gaming world lately, though it didn’t escape my notice that this year’s E3 was way, way awesomer than last year’s. (My roommate Arnab informs me he was there, lucky.)  Whenever I read a summary of all the new stuff that was on display there, one game rises to the top of the discussion, above the beautiful next-gen titles with their open worlds and incredible AI and re-usable parachutes, and that game is 5th Cell’s Scribblenauts.

At first, it seemed surprising, for a few reasons. First, it’s made for the handheld Nintendo DS, the most most underpowered gaming hardware out there.  It’s also by a company that I’ve never heard of, though apparently they’ve made some cool games in the past.  But the more I read about it, the more interested I became, and it was entirely due to the game’s basic concept- solve puzzles by creating anything (that’s right, anything) you can think of.

You play as Max, a little dude in a red helmet, and you’re tasked with retrieving a star from some inaccessible point in the level.  The way you get to the star is where the game gets interesting – basically, by using the bottom touch-screen, you can type in any object you can imagine, and it’ll appear. So, if the star is in a tree, you can write “ladder” and climb the tree, or summon a “lumberjack” to cut the tree down, or “beaver,” or “chainsaw,” or “forest fire…” And it sounds cool enough, but I’m just sooooo skeptical, until I read what everyone who’s had a chance to play the game says. Basically, you really CAN type anything – you could then call on “smokey the bear,” who’d fight the tree fire, and a “hunter” to shoot at smokey and “PETA” to come and chase away the hunter and the “NRA” to come with a bunch of guns, and then “skateboards” for them to ride on and a “Time Machine” to get in…. woah.

Jeremiah Slaczka, the mad genius behind all of this, describes the process of making the game:

“We’ve actually had five people and all they did is they went through dictionaries and Wikipedia and encyclopedias and anything you can think of for six months, that’s all they did every day during the week.”

Suddenly it starts to seem possible – that anything you could think of, anything at all, will actually be in the game.  The number of things is up at around 10,000 (ten thousand!) and growing… Slaczka describes the current phase as “extreme specialization” – their researchers have gotten past basic nouns and are into tiny variations on each of them.  It’s worth reading his interview at IGN.

And folks who have played the game agree – Penny Arcade’s notoriously hard-to-please Tycho Brahe summed up his time with the game thusly:

I looked over at Gabe’s screen, and saw a space shuttle crash into a schoolhouse. I don’t think that was the goal. For my part, in order to secure a subterranean whooziwatsit, I needed to crack the crust of the earth. I wanted to create an excavator, and when I entered the word, it wanted to know: did I mean a tracked construction vehicle, or a person who excavates?

Um, SOLD.

So, soon we’ll have Scribblenauts, maybe not so much a game as a sandbox – and not the sort of sandbox that’s become so trendy with game developers lately, but a real sandbox, where you can make what you want out of the sand, put whatever toys you can think of in it, and play to your heart’s content.  It’ll probably also come out for the iPhone, and I have a feeling that, in that incarnation, monstrous downloadable add-ons will come out that will address the (no-doubt outlandish) omissions that the hardcore will be able to come up with.

And yeah, who knows – it could be that after all this hype, the game doesn’t come through, that there just isn’t incentive for most gamers to play for more than a few hours, that Yahtzee’s old complaint, “You Can, But Why Would You Want To?” damns another attempt at emergent gameplay.  All the same, I’m really looking forward to checking Scribblenauts out when it launches in September – not just for the challenge of finding the randomest hidden things that only I and a handful of others have thought of, not just for the level editor or the ability to type “Keyboard Cat.” I’m mainly looking forward to it just to see what happens when someone decides to push things in a new direction, to see how endless the possibilities really are, and to play a game designed not around graphics or mechanics, but the power of imagination.

Endless Possibilities Part 1: “In Bb”

23 Jun

Darren Solomon in BbLately I’ve been finding myself faced with creations, both artistic and otherwise, that suggest never-ending possibilities. Websites, video games, music applications, mash-up art… the more I see this stuff, the clearer it is that, thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed communication, an age of endless user-generated content is upon us, and it’s growing, growing, growing, with no escape in sight. Mwa ha ha.

There are a few particularly noteworthy sites and concepts that I’ve come across recently that I wanted to share here – the first one is a live music mash-up experiment entitled “In Bb.” Seriously. Put on some headphones and play around with it.  It is very cool, irresistibly simple, and the possibilities are truly endless.

It’s like this – Darren Solomon, a musician and bandleader for a group called Science for Girls, had the inspired idea to get a ton of musicians to record short videos of themselves playing something in the key of Bb (a key that, incidentally, some say exists as a fundamental frequency for the whole of the Earth).  He then put all of their videos on YouTube and created a page that allows some or all of the clips to be played simultaneously.  The end result is, in effect, a giant video-sampler, and it is a blast to play around with.  Any combination of videos creates a soothing, musically abstract experience, sort of Shh… Peaceful by way of Brian Eno.  Admittedly, the music itself veers slightly into “Japanese Tourism Video” territory from time to time, but since any dissonance whatsoever would add the possibility of running the whole thing off the rails, it’s not to hard to let the over-consonance slide.  If you want a complex video-mashup, check out Kutiman’s stuff.  If you want to do it yourself, you’re gonna have to settle for ambient prettiness.

For me, the most interesting part is how “In Bb” plays with the term “User-Generated Content.”  For several years now, that’s been the big buzzword (buzzphrase?) on everyone’s lips – put the power in the hands of the people, create software that will endlessly refresh itself with the energy of the consumer, blah blah synergy-cakes. With video games of every stripe and color, iPhone applications, and, of course, YouTube itself, it seems clear that we’re at the dawn of a new era of perpetually updated, individually-generated art.  What makes “In Bb” so compelling to me is that it steps one level above user-generation by making the concept visual… since you’re controlling videos of the musicians themselves, you generate your soundscape not merely by manipulating its various parts, but by manipulating their very creation.  Watching and controlling the musicians on the screen brings the entire thing full circle – they have each performed their part, and your role is to take those parts and plug them into a larger whole.

I mean, if we could videotape fifty people using this site, then put THOSE videos together for manipulation, well…. do I need to say it? Mirrors of mirrors! Dogs  and cats! Living together! Mass hysteria!

Before that happens, I recommend that you check it out for yourself. (And thanks, Greg, for sending the link!)

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