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A Kid on the Slope

2 Jun

You guys. Okay, you guys. No… hang on. You guys. Seriously.

You need to go watch Kids on the Slope. It’s this show, see? It’s a show that was essentially Custom Made For Kirk Hamilton. You will like it too though, I sense, even though it was custom made for me.

It’s about a group of high school kids in 1966 Japan who find friendship, love, and discover themselves, and it’s all filtered through the lens of jazz. Not only is it lovely to look at, funny and full of heart, it’s maybe the most right-on piece of “Jazz Fiction” I’ve ever seen. From the way the performances are animated to the tiniest details on record covers, the show has been lovingly crafted by jazz lovers and musicians.

The most recent episode, titled “Now’s the Time,” brought together all the struggles, trials and tunes of the past six episodes into one musical moment so cathartic and wonderful that I wouldn’t even want to attempt to write about it. You’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

I did, however, write about the show at Kotaku. I was thrilled to see my article introduce a lot of people, Bebop-fans and newcomers, to the show. Sometimes I love my job.

Each episode is named for a jazz standard—”Someday my Prince will Come,” “But Not for Me,” “Summertime”—that encapsulates the theme of the episode. When characters are fighting, they come back together around jazz, and it heals them; when they’re lost they find solace in classic tunes and old records. As Kaoru learns “Moanin,” he travels back and forth from the record player to the piano, wearing down the grooves in the vinyl while mimicking Timmons’ swing. Everything about it rings so true, and hits so close to home… as I devoured the show, one episode after another, there were times when I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

Go read the whole article here, and watch all the episodes for free at crunchyroll.



Hi There, Kotaku

27 Jul

Well, then. I’m crazy-excited to announce that I’ve accepted the position of San Francisco Features Editor at Kotaku!

We announced the position today – I’ll officially start this coming Monday. I’ll be writing features, criticism, developer interviews, reviews, doing field reporting from SF, keeping up my music/games column… basically everything, really. I’ve had so much fun writing stuff for Kotaku over the past couple of years, and the fact that I’m going to get to do my thing full-time for them has got me pretty pumped.

I have a ton of goals and plans and what-have-yous for what I’ll do there, but for the time being I’ll just be getting started and getting my feet under me. I’m really looking forward to working with and learning from Joel, Stephen, Crecente, and the rest of the crew.

Furthermore, I’ll be doing a lot more interacting with Kotaku’s wild and wooly commenting community — commenters have been getting a bad rap lately in many corners of the internet, but on my past few Kotaku columns I’ve been enjoying responding to the lengthy, thoughtful responses that so many people have posted. So, yeah: I’ll be reading the comments, so if you want to talk about something I wrote, please do pipe up.

The new gig does mean that I will have to step down from my position at Paste, which I’ll be sad to do. I’ve had such a good time working there thanks largely to Paste EIC Josh Jackson’s tireless work and awesome self, as well as all of the fantastic contributors I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Thanks, all. I still can’t believe some of the stuff I got to publish there, and will definitely put together some sort of list of my favorite pieces.

I guess I should mention the fact that Kotaku takes a lot of flak around the internet, for reasons as numerous as they are varied. Most of my friends, colleagues, and online acquaintances have ripped on the site for some transgression or another over the years, often publicly. To those people I say: You are forgiven! It’s okay, just never ever say anything bad about Kotaku ever again, and you and I will be cool. Everyone deserves a second chance.

KIDDING, jeez.

In all seriousness, I have always thought the big K was damn cool, and that their format works really well for delivering an incredible amount of content. The staff works their asses off, and they celebrate games and gaming culture with an unmatched joie de vivre. I’m really excited to add my voice to the fracas, and I’ll always be available to talk about whatever I write at kirk [att] kotaku [dott] com.

Anyhow, freaking out a bit at the moment, currently enjoying a fun combination of “Damn I’m Stoked” and “What the hell have I gotten myself into.”

Wish me luck, friends. This should be fun.

Game Gear

11 May

I knew that the coming 3DS system update would add the ability to purchase classic Nintendo, Game Boy and GBA games via Nintendo’s online store. But for some reason I was unaware that it was also going to allow us to buy and play Game Gear games on our 3DSes.

My first reaction to this news was, “Yes. Yessss.” But then I thought about it some, and I’m not so sure I miss any of those Game Gear games. I think I miss the Game Gear itself.

As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t allowed to own any proper videogame consoles growing up; I played PC games pretty much exclusively. I say “pretty much” because my parents did allow me and my sister to have handheld game systems, a compromise that they informed us of in typically devious fashion. After refusing to let me get one for months, they suddenly gave us both Game Boys for Christmas. (I think it was for Christmas, anyway.) It was almost more than I could handle.

As excited as I was about the games I would get to play, I was even more excited about the hardware itself. The way the new plastic and the electronics smelled, the weight of the system in my hands, the layout of the buttons. The speaker on the lower-right corner, those four ‘AA’ batteries lined up in the back, giving the system some extra heft.

I also remember the Game Boy came with its own headphones. They were color-coded—I just looked them up and found a picture. I’m surprised by the level of feteshistic nostalgia I feel when I look at that picture. Those headphones were for Game Boy Use Only; they were not for Walkman (or later, Discman) use. They were for listening to the Tetris theme, over and over and over and over again.

Eventually the Game Boy lost its hold over the portable gaming market. My friend Bjorn got an Atari Lynx, a monstrous thing with reversible controls, a wide, washed-out screen and a weird selection of games. He had a game that involved flying a blue fighter jet, and I was really bad at it. But who cared? The Lynx had a color screen.

So pretty soon everyone wanted a color handheld, and in a year or so we had three choices: the Lynx, NEC’s extraordinarily overpriced but allegedly amazing TurboExpress, or the Sega Game Gear. The Game Gear seemed like the best compromise between affordability, game library and screen-awesomeness, so I decided I wanted one.

For a long time Game Gears were prohibitively expensive, at least for me. But on a random visit to Sam’s Club with my dad, I wandered over to the electronics section. I remember thinking, “Wow, Sam’s Club has an electronics section? I thought they only sold box wine and weird extra-large sweatshirts!” As I walked through the field of vaguely sad off-brand TVs and stereo recievers, I saw a small screen glowing in the distance. Holy shit, it was a Game Gear.

A bundle package, in fact. It included a Game Gear, carrying case and two games and for more or less the list price of the baseline unit. I’m not totally sure which games came with it… I know one was Sonic the Hedgehog. I barely had the money for it, but I made the purchase right there.

I’ll never forget how awesome the Game Gear felt to hold, to play. The contours of the plastic, the grooves dug in beneath the D-Pad and the two big buttons. The odd, half-moon start button. The glowing red power light and of course, the big, glowing screen.

Sega was really into the screen. They had this (*sold separately) TV Adapter for the Game Gear that, they stressed, could turn your Game Gear into a TV!

The above image was on the box, and was featured in all of the promotional materials for the system. There was always an asterisk that read:

*Simulated Image

I have a feeling that the TV Tuner’s actual reception was less than crisp, but for me, that was unimportant. I was never, ever going to buy it.  The important thing was that simply by existing, the TV Tuner proved that the Game Gear’s screen was as good as a TV screen. For kids whose only portable gaming experience was the Game Boy, this was a big frickin deal.

I loved my Game Gear. I don’t entirely remember the games I had on it, though I do know I had Mortal Kombat. I suppose that at some point or another it was given away or it broke. I’m actually a bit troubled by the fact that I can’t remember what happened to it… maybe it’s still in a drawer at home somewhere. I doubt it.

But I am struck by how vividly I remember the way that rounded black rectangle felt in my hands, the way I would organize and lay out my game collection before traveling with it. Little things like what it was like to plug in the power adapter and how the batteries went into two separate compartments on the back, one on each side of the cartridge-tray.

I felt a sort of lonely, personal attachment to the Game Gear, because none of my friends had one. In fact, to this day I don’t believe I’ve ever even met someone who had one. None of my friends in the videogame community have ever talked about owning one. As far as I know I’m the only person in the world who ever bought a Game Gear. Maybe that’s why they were on sale at Sam’s Club.

At any rate. I don’t know if playing Game Gear games on my 3DS will bring back warm Game Gear memories any more than browsing Google Images did, but I’ll sure give it a shot. Plus Shinobi was pretty sweet, from what I remember.


24 Jan

Multi-tasking. I have been multi-tasking lately. The job of an editor, particularly a new one, is a thankless stream of emails that need to be written. Emails to contributors, co-workers and PR folks, follow-up emails to contributors, co-workers and PR folks…

Okay, it’s not exactly thankless; after all, I get to have correspondence with some of my favorite people! But it is somewhat consuming. Beyond that, there are the commitments of my day-to-day; writing charts for school, coordinating with students, practicing for upcoming shows, writing my own pieces for the mag, working on new music, etc.

Twitter is gasoline on a fire, since Tweetdeck’s constantly updating feed offers an endless stream of possible distractions. I’ve developed a fair number of conditioned mouse-movements while at my computer; every few minutes I’ll slide my mouse over to the right and bring up my dock, check Twitter for new stuff, check my email inbox. While these actions feel ‘necessary’ to ‘keep up’ with the ‘online rat-race’ (single-quotes ‘TM’ Leigh Alexander), it has become surprisingly difficult to maintain focus on a single task.

(Single quotes added to ‘TM’ because I have been informed by multiple people Leigh did not, in fact, ‘invent’ nor ‘trademark’ single quotes. Her ‘Five Emotions’ piece, however, seemed relevant to the topic at hand.)

When I first heard people talking about internet-blocking software, I scoffed. “I can control myself,” I haughtily haughted. “I am more productive now than I have ever been! I do not need this program to allow me to get work done.” But this year, Urban gave all faculty members a bunch of productivity software, including an internet-blocking app. Since it was just sitting there, I decided to give it a go. And it’s pretty great.

We’ve actually got a whole suite of programs— “Islolator” blacks out the entire screen except for one window and “WriteRoom” closes down the machine except for a single blank piece of paper, which it then saves into TextEdit. But the most famous (and most unforgivingly medieval) of all of our apps is Freedom, the internet-blocker created by Fred Stutzman.

It’s simple: turn it on, set an amount of time, and the internet is blocked. The only way to get it back is to restart the computer. Of course, Freedom doesn’t block web access from my phone, or my PC, or any number of other internet-ready devices around my house. But I find that by eliminating the web from the computer on which I am currently working, I am able to focus much more effectively. I tend to use it in 20- and 30-minute stretches, usually when I have a single task (article, chart, editing job, lengthy correspondence) that I need to complete. It works, and it works well.

[Though I must say, there is no small amount of irony in the program’s “mission accomplished” dialogue box, which informs me my time is up while asking if I’d like to “tweet my stats.” Akin to a note at the bottom of a package of Nicorette that reads “Congratulations on five smoke-free days! Why don’t you celebrate with a nice, smooth Parliament light?”]

It’s easy to look at a program like Freedom in binary terms. The internet is an evil distraction, and Freedom is the cure! But of course, the reality is more complicated than that. Modern-day connectivity allows for a great many things, and all of my methods of communication and creation are phenomenally empowering and fun. Freedom is simply another tool. It’s a counterbalance, a bit of yin in a sea of yang.

Or maybe it’s the other way ’round, I can never quite get yin and yang straight. Hang on I’m gonna check wikipedia.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

1 Oct

I want to ride my biiiike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

Two weeks ago, I began to ride a bicycle. It was a long road up to that point – I’d been talking about getting one for what seemed like forever, but the time to finally go for it came only recently.

I started teaching a new course on music notation down at Academy of Art University on New Montgomery. The class sounded fun, I needed extra money, and it fit in my schedule – but only barely. My wednesday rehearsal at Urban gets out at 11:30 (in the Haight) and my AAU Sibelius class starts at noon (down at Third and Market). It was a doable commute, but only if I rode a bike. My cousin Mark, to his eternal cycle-loving credit, turned out to have three bikes, one of them a sweet mountain bike that he let me borrow. Overnight I went from a regular dude with two legs and a bus pass to a bona-fide San Francisco cyclist.

I haven’t written a “Things I am loving today” post for a while – I guess I ran out of household things to which I could convincingly write loving odes? But my dear god, I am loving riding my bicycle around town! LOVING. IT. Why haven’t I been doing this for years?

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my
bicycle bicycle bicycle

The first time I rode it was early on a Tuesday morning, heading to Urban from my Inner Sunset place up the 9th Avenue hill. It was… bracing. My first action, of course, required me to cruise straight down the  hill, riding the brake the whole way. Huge, terrifying vehicles shoofed by on my left, while on my right every parked-car door felt primed to explode open, clotheslining me straight into the emergency room.

The wind! There was so much wind. I hadn’t felt the wind like this in a long time – I was probably doing 115 miles per hour down the hill (note: estimate) and let me tell you, San Francisco’s cool morning air takes on an entirely different character when it’s whipping into your face and hands at 320 mph (note: I have also also estimated the wind’s uphill speed and combined them).

But I made it; I survived. The next day I biked from Haight to my AAU class on New Montgomery and I made it in fifteen minutes. Woah. Fifteen minutes for what would’ve taken MUNI thirty at best and a car anywhere from twenty to thirty, depending on parking. It was a piece of cake, fast as hell, but more than anything else… it felt exhilarating, better than anything I’d done in ages.

After that, I was hooked. I’ve been riding everywhere – I can get to school in twelve minutes, I’ve mastered The Wiggle, I can get my bike onto the front of the 6 Parnassus without a hitch, I’ve even gotten my own groovy Nutcase Helmet that both keeps my brain safe(ish) and looks pretty kickin’. Mark has been awesome enough to let me continue to use his bike until I get my own hybrid or road bike, to which he assures me the transition from his mountain bike will feel like going from a pickup truck to a sports car. I can’t wait.

Although I check daily and have hugely benefited from their online maps, I also find that every time I ride, I fall in behind other riders and learn new things. I’ve learned how people use the curb to put their foot up and push past cars on Market street, that there is a killer route up market to the Castro Safeway that shunts you around back and comes out by Duboce Park. I’ve figured out how to signal with my left hand, which let me tell you was not as easy as I maybe would’ve thought it would be. I’ve learned that no matter how unsafe I feel rocketing down the road, there is always some guy around the corner who has elected to replace his helmet with an iPod that makes me feel like the picture of sensibility.

Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah
Fat bottomed girls they’ll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah

But more than anything, I’ve learned that I love biking. Shit, people, I love it to tiny pieces. I’ll even make a pledge: as long as he lives and works in this city, Kirk Hamilton will get there on two wheels.

When we were driving to and from a Urban School recent backpacking trip to Yosemite, I got to spend a lot of time talking with Sarah and Scott, the two (very cool) outdoor-program educators who organized the trip. They’re both bikers, and they were both excited to hear that I was about to start riding.

“You’ll love it,” said Sarah. “It’s the best of everything – it’s fast, you’re outside, you’re getting exercise, and it feels amazing!” And man, was she right. It’s hard to describe the things I notice, the feelings that accompany biking. I feel so free and so light, it’s almost existential. The Enjoyable Lightness of Biking. I move everywhere of my own volition, consuming only what power I put out, using my body to travel great distances in a short amount of time. I sweat more, I work more, I breathe more, my heat beats more times per day.

I am The Benign Mover. As fast as a car, but people walking around don’t react to me the same way as they do a vehicle – there isn’t a sense of “Okay, that guy is currently capable of killing me with his vehicle.” When I pull up to a stoplight on a bike, people waiting to cross strike up conversations, they make eye contact. I’m not of their world, but also not a threat to it. When traffic jams and pedestrians must wait, I thread in between.

On your marks get set go!
Bicycle race bicycle race bicycle race

There is a moment that I hesitate to even attempt to describe, a feeling that I could never hope to put into words. It’s that first five seconds after I climb to the seat and start to pedal; the ground seems to fall away as the light clicking of the derailer blends with the wind in my ears…

I catch my balance, center my frame, and I’m flying.

“You’re a Marshmallow, Veronica Mars.”

20 Jan

“A Twinkie!”

Things I Learned in New York

22 Jul

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the Grande Pomme – six nights, six different futons/couches, two shows, four massive hangs, one wedding, two amazing bands, and not as much falafel as you’d think.  Along the way, I learned a few things that I thought I’d share.

Virgin Airlines1. Virgin Air is, Indeed, Pretty Great

Speaking of Big Apples, I’ve heard various descriptions of Virgin America Planes, all of them somewhat apple-centric.  My friend Karen mentioned that it’s like “traveling inside of an iPod,” and  Mindy Kaling tweeted that the plane reminded her of a “Douchey iMac.”  Well, the apple comparisons are right on – everything is white and shiny and slick, with cool LEDs lighting up the ceiling like it’s a nightclub and TVs in the seats.  Sure, anything you want will cost money (even snacks!), and the WiFi is ridiculously expensive, but hey, the ticket was cheap!  So, yeah – Virgin Air.

Compass2. The iPhone Compass Rules

From the moment I arrived at JFK, my iPhone was saving my ass right and left – the MTA map I downloaded was incredibly helpful, as was the GPS and google maps.  The most useful feature, however, was the compass, which I did not anticipate. I suppose that in retrospect, it should have been obvious, because how often do you come out of the train in Manhattan thinking “okay, which effing way am I facing now?” A lot, that’s how many. It saved my ass more times than I could count. Also, looking over my recent searches in Google Maps is pretty hilarious.  It’s, like, “CoffeeCoffeeCoffeeDinerCoffeeDinerCoffee.”

Jess Fine at Sullivan Music Hall3. Jess Fine Puts On A Hell of a Show

The night I arrived, I went straight from the Airport to Sullivan Music Hall (rolling suitcase at my side), where I got to see the lovely and talented Jess Fine perform a set – Jess and I went to Miami together, and she plays with a ton of the rest of the UM Gang. She did tunes off of her new EP (which is totally great), and sounded just killer – great hooks, nice piano playing, and the wisdom to allow her killer band stretch out. That band consisted of fellow UM alums Woody Quinn and Tommy Harron on guitar and bass, respectively, and Chris Smith on drums, who I just met this weekend, and who sounds great.  Woody was getting some killer, juicy-ass guitar tone from what turned out to be a little Fender Blues Junior Deluxe amp, and Tommy, well… wow.  I haven’t heard him play in a few years, and he sounded totally ridiculous.  Kenji and I were having fun trying to picture him playing something that wasn’t ridiculously grooving.  Great show, Jess – come to SF on tour!

Trader Joes Three Buck Chuck4. Trader Joe’s Labels Two-Buck Chuck Differently in NY

Interestingly enough, the TJ’s at Union Square labels it’s two-buck chuck quite differently than in SF – no “Charles Shaw” label, and a ton more words – “Trader Joe’s Presents: A Charles Shaw Production: Red Grapes in: WINE.”  Or some such.

Oh, and also, a bottle costs $2.99.  Transport costs are a bitch.

5. Oh, Yeah, and New York is AMAZING

Jeez, it is really the center of everywhere.  Maybe it was the iPhone assist, or the fact that I’ve visited before, but this time around, the city felt both smaller and grander at the same time. It was never too hard to get anywhere (well, discounting a two-train ride to Brooklyn at 3:30 in the morning), and there’s just so much awesome stuff to do, so many fantastic musicians to see and play with, and so much delicious food to eat… and so many old friends to see. And, thanks to Virgin and Southwest, so many affordable ways to get out there!  I’ll be back soon, and I already can’t wait.

NY Via Inbound N Express

I shall return to you soon.

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