Month: May 2015

Look at this cool puppet Kathleen made!

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Katherine Krawalec made this very lively puppet for our upcoming video series.  She’ll be one of the STEM ladies who will read science news.

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Blurb on upcoming Magic Box show

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Currently in pre-production, the rebooted Magic Box show will be an informative topical talk show with a healthy dose of surrealism and comedy which will appear on youtube and on the Santa Cruz Community TV station.  We will be using puppets and animation effects to situate the action in a dynamic fantasy setting.  The rudimentary outline we’ve got written so far involves a bubbling wizard who’s magical mishap has resulted in reality being “broken” and he is now trying to “tune in” the outside world, by filtering it through the form of a Golden Age of Radio or early television type variety show.  We will chat and do skits about current events, internet culture, gaming, obscure science facts….

This is one of the puppets we’ve created so far.  The one on the right, I mean.

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And here are some character concept sketches by the uber-talented Kathleen Kralowec (Twitter), who you should definitely hire the next time you need an illustrator, and throw lots of well-deserved money at her for it.  I’m really happy with how her designs are turning out:

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So that’s just to give you a taste of the evolving visual style of the show, I’ll be posting more teasers and concept art is we go along.

I’m developing a Patreon and exploring other crowdfunding options to get the project funded, so…..Bender

Deep Freeze website is a great model for fighting corruption.

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Just a quick note today, entrepid and loyal readers.  All five of you.
While there’s a longer essay in the works about my personal take on #gamergate, the online backlash to journalistic nepotism and abuse of positions of power in the name of identity-politicianing (yep, that’s a verb now), for now I’m just going to share this site because it’s really quite lovely, and between the well-written introductory synopsis and the attached hypertext database of malfeasance, it does a better job of encapsulating the main facts of the controversy than a reinvented wheel rundown of events written by me would do.  Deep Freeze is not only the best entry point to the #gamergate saga for the uninitiated that I know of, it’s also a great research resource for anyone interested in uncovering further ethical breaches or conflicts of interest.  Anyone campaigning to clean up corrupt institutions outside of the the gamer world should take note as well, DF is a commendable and reproducible template for mapping out the social networks which foster unethical practices and for holding key players accountable by exposing their actions to the light of day.
Give them some clicks, give them some love, they’ve done a really great job of putting this together.

http://deepfreeze.it/index.php

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A nice summer for Roller Coasters.

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I live in Santa Cruz, a kind of Shangra-La-by-the-beach which gives a new meaning to the word decadence  (sometimes pushing it to extremes of outright corruption and depravity, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post).  People come here from all over the world to enjoy a weekend in paradise, or a few years of what often amounts to a scholastic summer camp at the university.  In fact the affluent, transient populations of tourists and students are the two main drivers of the town economy, blue collar manufacturing having gone the way of Reaganomics. 

What makes this place such a draw for vacationers is partly the fortunate confluence of climate and surroundings, with the happy proximity of ocean to beautiful  redwood forests.  That’s one of the perks, certainly.  Oh yeah, and we also have a freakin’ wooden roller coaster.

Assuming you haven’t smothered your youthful sense of awe to death in the process of assimilating into the yuppie eat yuppie world of Serious Adulthood (what a horrid monster to become, someone who is overly serious!), than certainly your inner ten year old can play informant and advise you as to the prospect of “when I grow up I want to go on carnival rides all the time” actually being a rather bitchin’ aspiration.  Well guess what.  I’m the guy who’s able to do just that.  Most y’all come here for the weekend trip, your 2.5 bratty kids stacked like sardines into the back of your SUV, trying to pack as many Quality Family Moments as possible into your 3 day stay at Mediocre Motel USA (run by a family of plucky, hard working entreprenuers from India, naturally), topping it all off by leaving as much of your trash scattered across the beach as is humanly possible just to feel like you made mark.  Good for you, and for the innkeepers.  As for me, I’m not a tourist, I live here.  Which means I can ride the Giant Dipper and the Fireball and the even damn ponies on the carousel while honing my ring toss into clown mouth skills, all season long.  My inner ten year old gets what he wants dammit.

Not bad for the tolerable entry fee of a $75 season pass.  Which is a great price considering that day trippers pay $50 just for a single afternoon, or similarly exorbitant rates for individuals rides.  Seaside Company, which administers the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, does some things better than others.  But at least they cut the locals some slack.  Discount tickets on Tuesdays after the out-of-town crowds have thinned is a nice touch, and so are the free movies, circus performances and concerts on the beach.  Well, sometimes the bands are a bit on the washed up side of things.  Like I said, some things better than others, but for the entirely reasonable price of exactly zero dollars, I’m not going to complain too much about the talent. Nice of all those 80s one hit wonders to come here and put on a show for us, really.

Of course, if there’s one thing the whole Boardwalk operation does really spectacularly well, it’s extracting money from out of the pockets of hapless yet enthusiastic beachgoing visitors.  Thirsty capitalists that they are, the Seaside Company has their methods down to a science.  Between parking, food concessions, rides, shooting galleries, miniature golf, knick knack souvenirs, video arcade, photo booths, and tasty intoxicating beverages, the machine-like efficiency with which wallets are drained and profit margins are maximized is truly a fantastic spectacle to behold.  Which dovetails around back nicely to what I said about the Santa Cruz residents having the best deal.  They’re so proficient at making excess cash off the tourists that it’s not really necessary to shake down the townies.  While I have no doubt that Seaside empresario Charles Canfield has in some small sliver of his heart an appreciation for all the dollars that I have pumped into the vintage Atari Star Wars stand-up coin-op tucked away in the Classics Corner of the arcade, I’m not really his main target market.  They can afford to curry goodwill with Santa Cruzians by handing out freebies and discounts because they’ve already made the bulk of their money before we even show up on the corporate radar.  Which is just gravy from my point of view, I AM the proverbial kid in the metaphorical candy story here, and loving every moment of it.  It really is an adrenaline junkie’s wet dream.

One striking feature of the engineering of carnival rides that may elude most people is their resemblance to those machine that NASA built to spin astronauts in training around at high velocities.  I always like to imagine that I’m preparing to go to outer space on those steel beasts.  They even have one that shoots you straight up in the air really fast.  Ground control to Major Tom.

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I have a friend who’s a bit of a savant.  Maths genius and computer programmer, he’s always busy trying to employ algorithms to optimize democracy or something.  A great person to philosophize or kick ideas around with.  A few summers back, a favorite theme of our conversations was the underlying sociology of the Boardwalk, with frequent tangents into game mechanics, the biological nature of “fun”, behavioral feedback loops in man/machine interfaces, etc.  I’m indebted to those discussions for some of what appears in this blog post, to be honest.  But I bring to up in order to leave you with one of the more interesting products of our musings:  what if the customer base had more of a say in what kinds of rides are at amusement parks?  I believe this started as a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” (a massively tall roller coaster build as an extra level on top of the already existing structures, in this case) which led us down a chain of logic culminating in a concept for crowdsourcing ride designs.  Picture a sort of wiki page where armchair imagineers could share open source concepts for new rides, which the ride builders would then use as a kind of idea pool for the engineers to perfect.  I always like that website concept, maybe I’ll throw something like that up one of these days just to see what happens.  The amazing (sometimes frightening) thing about the internet is how things get thrown out there grow to have a life of their own.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll keep you posted as to how the summer  of riding the Giant Dipper pretty much whenever I feel like goes for me.

Personal goal setting: I take it back, +e-begging for monetary currency

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After a week of this, I’ve decided that the rule I set for myself to write a blog post every day is simply unrealistic given my current lifestyle.  A nice goal to shoot for, but some days I’m going to miss the mark.  Also, I want quality over quantity. After rushing to get my last post up in what turned out to be rough draft form, I realized that the “writerly crumudgeon” tone I was aiming at was came out sounding more like a bitter ranting asshole before I did a major rewrite.  I’m still not completely happy with it, but that might just be me being a perfectionist, at a certain point you have to settle for “good enough”, instead of playing the part of one’s own worst critic until the horse corpse has been mercilessly beaten to an absurd degree. 

What I’m opting for instead is to put work into new posts every day, although some of them may linger in unpublished draft form for quite some time.  That was my real goal anyhow – to maintain a productive habit of daily writing exercise.  Because a lot of what I have planned involves no small amount of research to make it happen, and because as it stands I’m not making a living as a blogger and have to devote time to other things to bring home the bacon (suck it, vegans!), there may be prolonged temporal gaps (sounds more sexy than what it actually means, doesn’t it?) between new posts going up.  Since I do take audience  building seriously, I’ll do my best to keep steady content going along the lines of what I call the BoingBoing school of filler posts – i.e. little blurbs about “look at this nifty thing I stumbled onto whilst web-surfing”.  But I’m also not going to keep myself up at night if a go a day or two without posting. 

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Shameless grovelling self-promotion:  I’m in the process of setting up a Patreon page, so if you want to see more output from me, nothing greases the wheels quite like GIVING ME ALL YOUR MONEY.  Seriously I would love to do creative work full time and not have to divert time effort and worry into schlumping a mop around to secure finances like the working class pleb that I am.  A boy can dream, can’t he?  This will also go to fund a video project in the werks, sort of a topical current affairs talk show, but with puppets and a surrealistic fantasy backstory to keep it humorous and engaging.  We’ve been assembling a team of some very (*waves*, J-Bear, Kathleen, Cristal, Micheal) talented people so I’m optimistic about the final product.  We want to do lots of aesthetically neato animations and such, and more budget means higher production values.  Please feel free to open your wallets if that sounds like something you’d like to see succeed.  Thanks in advance!

“Spoken Word” has destroyed poetry.

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If your poetry sounds like this than you are actually making the world a worse place for everybody. Just because it's a sequence of words doesn't make it poetry. GTFO


I used to run an open mic.  A group of us would get together and read our humble little poems to each other. I thought it would be a cool thing, getting all artsy.
I will never run an open mic every again.  Do you know why?  Because 99% (no exaggeration… ok maybe an exaggeration but it sure feels that way) of poetry written in, say, less than 50 years ago is FUCKING AWFUL. I have heard 50 Shades of every kind of bad poetry imaginable spring from the lips of some earnest yet cognitively baffled college student or psuedointellectual town yokel. Forgive my bitter tone, but oh my poor spleen, in the role of the benevolent MC I have listened to so much cringe-worthy drivel over the years. Some people wrote good things, certainly. And some were better than others, consistently. But overall the level of dumbing down that’s become mainstream in contemporary culture is just appalling. So when most people go to write poetry, it sounds like, well exactly what you’d expect pretentious, awkwardly assembled verbiage to sound like. The linguistic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

Here’s my advice to people, especially you millenials, who want to pour their guts out onto the page so they have material to show off their oh-so-worldly bohemianism at the next spoken word: don’t. The whole idea of a poetry slam scene nowadays is pretentious highbrow shit and everyone knows it. It’s an out of context cardboard facisimile 50s beatnik culture, with all the astuteness and urgency of the downtrodden angel refugees escaping the McCarthy era suburbanite bakelite nightmare replaced by the now familiar nasal whine of the victim-fetishizing post-Reagan identity politics obsessed culture warrior academic left. Maybe somewhere there’s a cool little hole-in-the-wall where some really talented writers are reading some spectacular stuff and having a real intellectual-like discourse thing going on, if that’s happening then I’d like to know where. In my experience, except for a few notable luminaries, most of what ended up hearing after advertising around town for anybody to show up and do their thing was a whole lot of third and fourth rate hacks. Who can even take the very idea of poetry seriously anymore? Sad but true.

These are some of my main pet peeves about how poetry is done today:

Reciting… your… poem… in…that… cliche… stilted… rthyhm…. (you know the one) does… not… make… it… more… profound. 
It simply doesn’t. Stop. Doing. That.

If your poem use the word “patriarchy” in a non-ironic manner, then it’s not a poem, its a shitty political screed.  Sloganeering is for ideologues, not poets. I actually heard someone recite a “poem” once culminating in the climactic line “Fuck the patriarchy!” (Round of applause from assembled hipsters).  Yep, that was the really deep, thoughtful message that his entire poem was building up to.  Gosh, it was all just so *literary*.

Read a damn book first, you philistine.  If you haven’t read Shakespeare, Eliot, Kerouac, Charters, Baldwin, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Dante, Bukowski, Wordsworth, DiPrima, Ginsberg, Longfellow, Hughes (just to name a few, I know the list is woefully incomplete so don’t give me any guff for that), then you are not qualified to write decent poetry because you have no idea what that even sounds like.  I suggest you be able to recite a few of their works from memory before you even try.

Why does every poem have to be about how oppressed you are?  If you live in a first world country, then your life is pretty cushy, just admit it.  If the most complex theme you can think up is how you’re being held down by the government, corporations, white people, or your boyfriend, then just quit now while you’re still ahead.  Think of the children who might be exposed to your trite self-pitying.  Why can’t you write a poem about something cool, like freakin’ DINOSAURS?

Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you but it must be said, if you’re not old enough to remember life before internet then you probably don’t have much of an awareness of what was once a more coherent literary tradition in this country (I mean Americans).  Back before MTV (which used to be a channel with music videos, btw) destroyed everyone’s attention span, people read books, they listened to text-based radio programs, went to see and hear live theater, watched movies that were full of long slow-paced dialogue-driven shots written by smart and culturally endowed intelligentsia.  Folks back then had a sense of how the written and spoken word was supposed to flow.  More likely than not, you don’t, Pokemon generation.  There’s more to cultural life than Honey Boo Boo and the Kardasians, ok? You tap into that through books or from watching old footage on youtube of some real classic auteurs tearing it up. It’s out there, but you have to make the effort to expose yourself to it.

Ok big finish:
Fuck poetry slams! (That’s your cue to applaud, hipsters)

This is also a post

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Just doing an obligatory to uphold my post-per-day standard.  I started working a longer piece, but a ways to go before its finished so you’ll have to wait a few days for that.
In the meantime I will say, in response to a rather unsuccessful attempt at enlightenment-via-email that I took stab at recently, that IMO people should be more receptive to the ca-ray-zee idea that there’s a wide spectrum of human opinions, and it’s at the very least worth considering some that just maybe fall outside of your narrow ideological spectrum.  I know, wacky right?  Considering concepts that aren’t already exactly on alignment with what you already believe?  That would be hard, huh?  But I digress.  Stay tuned for some more substantial posts as soon as I drag my ass to the keyboard to finish them.  And enjoy this meme.

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