Saturday, August 27, 2005

that spike in your brain

    The mate and I were shopping in the Big Box (tm) when we noticed the air above us was vibrating with that Rupert Holmes song about pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. "Damn, and I actually liked that song when it came out. Rupert was savvy and funny and cynical." (And now you know how old I am.)
    "It is a catchy tune," the mate had to admit. "It's worse than Copacabana, I think."
    "Yeah."
    "And it's hilarious how they're all delighted to find each other, and get all cozy, when they were meaning to cheat."
    "Yeah."
    And since then we haven't been able to get it out of our heads.

    In an attempt at exorcism, we've decided to add some final lyrics:

I looked at my lady
and I said, So you intended to go
then she called me an asshole
So I yelled, see I married a ho'
And then someone called the police
I was thrown in a cell
Well, after I hanged myself
The devil said, Welcome to hell

(And here) We sing of pina coladas
and getting caught in the rain
But it don't give relief
There's no champagne for the flames
If you had prayed to me at midnight
Black candles and capes
You would get a shovel
But now there is no escape

Friday, August 19, 2005

games, freeware, and pay-per-click

Something I've noticed on a number of sites is the desire of the Flash animator to protect his/her work by forcing the user to play it on their site. While I understand the urge to prevent copying or copycatting a game (I'm pretty sure it's possible to "decompile" a Flash file) I also think it makes it harder for the user. I have a crappy connection that has a tendency to drop, isn't very fast, and I don't want to be tying up my phone line having to keep the connection open. If the game is something I expect to spend a fair amount of time with, I'll snap up the cached file and play it offline. I also think making it available for download would tend to make a game more popular.

Money might be another reason to bring users to the site. Some sites rely on traffic and clicks for real money. As an old-style internet user, this boggles my mind. Very rarely will a site come out and say "this is how I make money, please visit." That's a refreshing level of honesty I can go along with. But the overwhelming majority just sneak it in. Often you can see pay-per-click site names if you watch the status bar on your browser while a page loads. I've read about people being hired specifically to click banners to generate income for a site. They can also be hired to click on a site's competitors' banners, stealing income away. And can you take a wild guess as to how these clickers are paid? Free p0rn.

Crazy.

I don't intend to take bread from people's mouths, but I'm not a Flash animator either, and neither are the bulk of people who play. I prefer to play at my personal convenience rather than having to search for an internet connection first. Undoubtedly nothing I say will make an effect one way or the other. But the internet's origin, Arpanet, was based on the free and open exchange of information. The change in ethic to where the bottom line is the only goal is something I still haven't gotten used to.

raw meat fix

Atkins would love me. I've been beset by sudden urges for tartare and kitfo. Both are chopped (not ground) raw beef dishes.

Tartare involves a raw egg, finely chopped onions, and herbs, and is served with buttered toast, preferably rye. The tartare I had in the Czech republic was much better than one I had in San Francisco.

Kitfo, oooh, kitfoooo. You can feel your arteries choking up as you eat the stuff. In this Eritrean dish, the beef is saturated in clarified spiced butter called niter kibe. It's served with sides of crumbly mild cheese like queso, and steel-melting chili powder.

I made something like kitfo today. I say "like" because technically I was using berbere sauce to spice the butter instead of making real niter kibe. Berbere involves ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, chilies, chili powder and paprika. Volumes run from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of the spices up to the cloves. Paprika, 2 tablespoons, and chili powder to taste. Whole spices are toasted gently and ground. Everything is thoroughly whirled up in the blender with an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a little water and a dash of oil. Simmer this for 15 minutes and it thickens up a bit, and you have berbere sauce.

Niter kibe involves similar ingredients, omitting a few spices and adding turmeric and a verbena called koseret. I figured my berbere (which is light on the chili powder and has no chilies at all; I like my tongue and want to keep it) could stand in adequately, and yes, on the whole it was similar to what we've had at the New Eritrea Restaurant, but less flaming.

Just for the hell of it we used filet. I melted about 3 oz of butter (turned out to be a little too much), added two heaping tablespoons of berbere, and let it simmer low about 15 minutes. After turning off the heat, I threw in the meat, mixed it up and let the butter warm the meat slightly. because I can't make Ethiopian bread to save my life (injera, and I've tried several times), we went the tartare route and toasted some rye bread in a frying pan with butter.

It's completely amazing how little meat it takes to satisfy a person when it's prepared as kitfo or tartare. The volume was surprising, but cooked meat shrinks, and the raw filet was sort of fluffed up from the chopping. The mate and I consumed about 2 - 3 oz each and were as satisfied as we'd be if we'd eaten 10-12 ounces of prime rib. One of these days I hope to serve this to my sister without telling her it's raw beef.

games and diversions

No, no fabulous dream journeys to far-flung planets. Instead, I've been exhausted these last few days with waking darkearly and going to sleep late, and somewhat intensive work in between. To prevent overload I've been blowing off steam with lunch-hour Flash games.

I've been enjoying point-and-click adventures that don't involve health points or clocks, and found some terrific ones on the "Jay is games" website. Jay Bibby is a student of game design and keeps a blog reviewing games he's enjoyed, which seem to number in the thousands. His standards aren't super-high, but for a game to be included in his list, he has to find some redeeming quality: art, music, playability, etc. He sometimes add games by request. Check out: http://www.jayisgames.com

If you're a cheater like me and the comments in Jay's blog are not enough for you to finish a game, the members and admins of http://www.nordinho.com/ have written walkthroughs for seemingly every game I've tried.

After two weeks of this I have gone from super-clue-free to almost adequate at these things. Games of this genre seem to fall to the extremes of logical versus illogical. Logical involves finding keys under pillows or in drawers, and apparent goals (which may be why escape-the-room games are popular right now.) Illogical would involve things like having to teach the duchess to do the butt dance, which causes her to fall into a well, and when you rescue her using the bucket, a key comes up with her too. Or, with further degrees of separation yet, to get the key, you need to talk to the horse that was laughing its head off watching the duchess, and it will, in the spirit of camaraderie, carry you to a remote cave where you find a salesman who will give you a statue, which you must crush with a rock (which may also take some doing to get) because the bloody key is inside. I despise illogic of that kind, especially when shaking the statue does not give an encouraging rattle. I find no enjoyment in experimenting with every single item in the inventory on every object in the environment. I also hate extensive dialogue, which seems to be an excuse for the game's programmer(s) to show off how witty (in quotes, double-quotes and triple-quotes) they are.

Games I've particularly enjoyed, rated as 1 to 10 on my personal easy to hard scale. All can be found on Jay's website. Everything is G-rated except for the Anode and Cathode games, which might be rated PG by extreme right-wing Christians because they involve a pursuing a woman.

The Dark Room (8) - this will push your logic figuring out what the goals are in each room, and even getting to the rooms. It's a very well-done game, attractive, good gameplay.

Hanamushi's game called Pokko's Friend (3) - lush, original graphics, a bit frightening, and a moral to the story (see Jay is for the explanation). Some of Hanamushi's other Flash works are downright disturbing to this Westerner, though Japanese might not find it particularly so.

Treasure Box (2) - a Rube-Goldbergy, Monty-Pythonesque sort of thing

Anode and Cathode's La Maison (4) and La Musee (6) - pretty, and are continuing parts of a story

Shift (3) - also beautiful graphics, though a bit flower-powery

Kao Fu-Sen's game about a headless girl trying to get her head back (3) - the introduction and the ending make it worthwhile. Make sure you watch it all the way to the end, after the credits.

Samorost (5) - great graphics and delightfully whimsical

Sunday, August 14, 2005

nothing's new under the sun

Six weeks gone by, and nothing to bitch about! I must have a placid life, or it's the silly season, as Le Carre would say.

The Davis Austringers and Falconers had a picnic Saturday. I invited some people I'd met from the PGE falcon watchers group, casually dubbed the G&G Appreciation Society. Laurie and Gavin came, as did Arti, and they were excited to see peregrines inches-close rather than seeing them at the end of a spotting scope.

Gavin does taxidermy for a museum in the East Bay. I've done some rather casual taxidermy, skinning and stuffing a rooster pheasant, a quail, and a duck in a crude manner. The first one involved stuffing from an old pillow which turned out to contain dust mites. They emerged, confused, from the empty eye sockets and nares of the quail. ("What in heck are these little white ewww they're moving.") Needless to say, the others were done more properly using (fresh) excelsior and string around a wire armature. I'd love to learn some technique from him.

This was the first time I was meeting Arti face to face. We'd emailed back and forth online quite a lot, and found we had tons in common, read the same books, are interested in Jewish culture, etc. She's a project manager specializing in networks and databases for large financial clients. It was neat to talk to her, but a little scary since she's in that field *now*, whereas I've been out of it for eight years, and had to really search my memory and put my brain in gear to sound one-quarter informed. Plus I was really tired from the drive and a little spacey. I would start talking and forget what the question was. Kind of embarrassing, but what the hell.

Lesseee, what else? Oh, yes, meta dreams. Since 1993 I've recorded about 250 dreams on the computer (I won't ever upload them or publicise them; it's uninteresting to readers, and doesn't tell them anything about you.) For a while I got to the point where I could remember quite a lot, and could blather on for 3000 words with the more lengthy ones. I had theories about them, and divined the meaning of a number of recurring symbols or actions. Then I slacked off and learned it takes practice to remember dreams, constant and unrelenting practice.

Earlier this year I re-read "Journey to Ixtlan." I'm not any level of Castaneda fan, and have no interest in holy visions or connecting to the earth, but I found one intriguing idea. This is telling yourself to look at your hands. The purpose of this is to get yourself into a lucid state, so you can control what happens. I've had some great lucid dreams, just a few, most of which involve flying on the flimsiest of excuses, and want to try invoking some.

Lying in the dark before going to sleep, I've visualized my hands, tried to remember what they look like. It's surprisingly hard for something that we must see hundreds of times in a day. Familiarity breeds disregard, I guess; a screwdriver is just a screwdriver, and who remembers that it has some primer smears and some big dents from the last time you used it as a hammer? It's taken five days (nights) for me to start noticing when my hands appear in a dream. So far, I've managed to tell my hands to do something, but I was too late and my order just disappeared into blackness. Or perhaps the blackness was already there, I was already coming out of sleep. Practice, practice.