Monday, March 27, 2006

bush's labyrinth

Let's say you've entered a labyrinth. Its form is tree-shaped, with many branching paths that don't loop back to the beginning. You know a ton of people who can give you advice about labyrinths in general, though they've never been in yours specifically. Some of these people have studied tree labyrinths with care, and know what to expect. How they tend to be laid out. The signs of various traps you may find, and how to avoid them. What weapons you need to carry. In short, they can guide you, who have never been in any labyrinth before, and they will gladly come with you.

However, you ignore the labyrinths scholars, and listen to your best friends instead, because they have your best interests at heart. They confidently assure you they know the specific path. You believe in your friends, and that belief strengthens your friendship.

So you enter, pumped full of confidence. You've brought good weapons and fighters, and defeat the first and largest monsters in your path. From this, all the remaining creatures should fear you and allow you to go on, even guide you to the end. That's what your friends said.

You come to a large, empty room, where you rest on your laurels for a bit. Actually, not just a bit. You stay there so long you forget you are only a tenth of the way through the labyrinth. You continue to wait because you don't really know where to go next, and you were expecting the creatures ahead to come and guide you. They, however, were expecting you to come to them. They would probably let you pass with little resistance if you continued to the exit of your own volition.

Your dawdling bothers them. They don't want you in their labyrinth. They expected to fight or let you pass. Your silence draws them down the tree to learn what you're up to. From all these many branches they come, branches you might have never encountered if you had acknowledged you were only a tenth of the way through. Instead, they're gathering.

Welcome to Iraq.

Friday, March 24, 2006

paradise keeps getting better

Back to the secret field for another round. I don't hunt true cottontails all that often, so I think I've picked up a little of P's psychology. If I haven't said before, he's accipiter-like in the single-track-mind way. If he thinks there's a bunny holding in a spot, he'll stare at it until his eyeballs fall out. Completely unaware of, or ignoring, excellent flushes passing by within striking distance, or the fact that the bunny he wanted has gotten away. Odd initially, but consistent with his experiences before he was given to me. He must have seen plenty of potential flushes but was subject to the falconer's control and choice of what would make a good slip.

But he's also a pretty smart bird, and a Harris hawk, so I believe flexibility can be trained into him. Today he seemed more gamey, got into serious chasing fairly quickly. He still takes longer to "reset" after a miss, though. He'll stand there thinking "damn," rouse, zip his beak through his feathers a few times, look again, come back to the fist, look once more with his "damn" thought balloon still floating over his head -- and then he's ready to try again. S would come to the fist, pause, rouse, and would start looking for game.

It was windy at home today, but sunny and still at the secret field. Our first catch was a tiny bunny that hid under a stack of pallets. I poked it out with a stick, and it was an easy catch for P. After a quail drumstick, we tromped around a bit, bringing up a ten good flushes and twenty poor ones. He got stuck in his accipiter trance a couple times, then started getting quite serious. He gave about ten hard chases, one time running smack into a wire fence, but recovered immediately and was after it again. That one he missed, but he caught an adult less than five minutes later. For that he got a wing with a bit of breast, and the tiny bunny's front leg.

After some contemplation and observation, I decided he looked like he could go for one more. He did, and a good flight it was. A straight chase, one zig, then the bunny ran into what it must have thought was cover, but turned out to be a dirt clod. Slowed it down just enough for P to connect. This one was more of a fighter, hauling him ten feet along before all-stopping into a bush. I took control of the back legs and swapped it with the rest of the tiny bunny.

So we had three catches, and two returned live to the field. Just as he finished off his reward, rain started to fall. Couldn't ask for a better day. Well, actually I could, but you know what I mean.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

book review: The Mysterious Flame

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana - Umberto Eco

Deep in his heart, every literary author has an urge to write his version of Finnegans Wake. By confining its time frame to the 20th century and its scope to popular media, Umberto Eco has made his slice of Finnegans manageable. The start of the book is velvet-smooth, inviting reading that one encounters rarely. Here, Eco's protagonist, Yambo, has suffered an attack (of the heart or some other organ is unstated). Waking in the hospital, he learns he has lost all his personal memories. Intriguingly, though, he can remember everything he's read. Nearly every phrase he speaks or thinks has an echo of a quote, or a plot, a line from a song, or an aphorism.

After returning home to his family and his business of selling antique books, Yambo feels something missing in what he's re-learned about himself. It is one thing to be told facts about oneself, another thing to possess the memory, to have a sense of oneself. He travels to his family's estate, where he grew up, in search of his soul.

He encounters books, records, curious objects, postage stamps, tin containers, advertisements, a multitude of comic books, and perhaps most importantly Italian propaganda from the second World War, many of which spark memories. Their sheer volume would be overwhelming to anyone but Yambo. Ignoring his steadily increasing blood pressure, Yambo presses on past mere facts and into the realm of who he was – his soul. His reassembly of memory begins to gel on one figure, Lila, the first girl Yambo fell in love with. He seeks and finds her apocryphal, a Helen of Troy figure swirling and mixing with all the heroines and lust objects of his boyhood. The ending is frantic, crazed; Yambo's memories have overwhelmed him, and he is lost forever in their embrace.

In such an enormous assemblage of fictional characters, songs, partisan politics, and pictures, all mixed with Yambo's personal recollections, unwieldiness is a pitfall hard to avoid. Unfortunately, Eco's grace in the beginning chapters isn't sustained. And I think readers of Eco's or Yambo's age would enjoy these reminisces more. I recognized only a few percent of the references, and found myself skimming the middle of the book. Though I believe Eco means to convey that enormity to the reader, I feel that section could have been made tighter with no loss. But for all of us who, as children, secretly believed ourselves to be superheroes, the ending is quite good.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

game: Dailion Tower

I'm presently beating my head over Dailion Tower, an escape-the-room game involving huge quantities of stuff to pick up and put elsewhere, and you have to keep doing it over and over because getting killed (often just when you think you've gotten to an accomplishment point) is quite likely. The only satisfactions you get are some cool music, and knowing that at some point you will finish and win.

It's like having teenagers.

The game is in Spanish. There was a three-quarters-badly-translated English version earlier, but it was more buggy than the Spanish version.

In "Dailion Tower" the welcome screen has a request for a donation. However, after playing for several days, I learned this is not actually a request but a demand. There is one free ending (which you can take anytime after you achieve 100%), but the "good" ending, which comes considerably further on, is only available if you pay.

There are principles involved here. There are thousands of free flash games out there that can be played completely, are bug free to start with, and no one asks for money. Fasco-cs, the authors of the Viridian Room, request a donation that is genuinely a donation. They've given us four or five high quality, challenging games, and I happily donated to them last year. Dailion has given us a bug-ridden game and only partially fixed them in response to gamers' posts, and demands we pay to get rewarded for the work we've put in.

Do not bother with this game.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

the secret field

Finally, a break in the weather. It's been mostly raining, and the weatherman's predictions haven't been up to par lately. With a prediction of rain I tend to feed the bird up a bit, so when he's wrong and it's sunny the next day, I'm screwed. And most of the few sunny days have been too windy to fly. That's all over, and we went out with my former sponsor after bunnies in this terrific field that only he and I know about. P, after his too-long hiatus, was just futzing around, flying lackadaisically, not chasing very hard after some excellent slips. Finally he got serious, and caught one, but after getting a few bites of a reward, he again took a while to get back into a serious mode. About six slips later, he got a nice foot-flush that, instead of running back into cover, went into some open space. Fed him up on the second catch, and called it a good day.

Monday, March 06, 2006

microfiction: [untitled]

Under the platinum harshness of brooding sky, I'm briskly passed left and right by hunched figures, so clenched against the weather they could be gravestones on wheels. I'm no different, and less mobile. I look up at the glass awning beaded with droplets, each tiny droplet a pearl matching the sky. Vienna in the rain is like being in a tank with a shark: it menaces you with its clean and efficient yet ancient lines. It waits for you to succumb to its beauty, its history. Even in the rain, the few blown-out scraps of litter look clean. It's not a city, it's a bell jar.

In this center of Old Europe, I was told to always look up. Wherever you look up, there's something in an improbable place: a rooster, a trio of saints, a sun sculpture, a sapling growing in a half-kilo of silt and dust captured by four hundred years of rain. My favorite is the statue of Diana, calling unseen hounds forward, readying her bow, the hidden folds of her dress blackened with age. Surprise at finding each new treasure delights the newcomer until he realizes they've been there for centuries.

The sky draws down. She said she was sending a taxi, but it's been nearly an hour. Maybe she's playing a bad joke: see how long it takes for Martin to phone and complain about being bored and miserably cold. She knows I don't have a decent coat, but sends me to stand in front of the most expensive hotel on the Ring to wait for her cab. Cars whoosh by, Mercedes, Opel, Lexus, Smart, Saab, Skoda, though not like Paris. Vienna's too orderly for a 24-hour Le Mans around the Arc de Triomphe. Still too fast for me, though; I prefer the streetcars.

Why do I do this? Why do I wait? Christina is beautiful, for one thing; she's also wealthy, a necessary consideration for a half-assed hack. I'm a liar. The streetcars are nice, but a car is beyond me, and I'm no better than a whore, making her laugh, drinking her drinks, making her feel intellectual, and waiting patiently for that moment at the end of the evening when she asks if I need some help. If there's poverty in Vienna, they hide it well.

When I call Christina, I can only hope to see her. Sometimes she calls me, but for what I don't know any more. Am I an old friend? The guilt burden that old lovers become when they don't find new lovers? Cheap entertainment? Whatever the reason, she calls, and I come.

The daylight's gone, and I'm so tired. Seeing Diana will cheer me up. She's on the corner of the museum to my right, just beyond the opera house. I walk into the street, looking up, not at the delivery truck.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

justice's slow wheels

Way back in June I posted about the short-lived theft of a thousand dollars, and finally in mid-February, the police contacted me to hear the full story. After giving it, I learned the teller had confessed to that theft and a few others. It seems ours was the largest he had attempted – the rest were a few hundred here and there.

It was an odd conversation. The investigating officer implied that because the teller gave the money back, he hadn't really stolen it. I said that as soon as I left the bank, that money was technically stolen – just because he panicked and brought us back into the bank doesn't excuse him. Then the officer seemed to misunderstand me, and assured me that the teller would have been caught and the money returned because all his actions were caught on camera. We were obviously not on the same wavelength, but it doesn't matter.

Or maybe it does. Maybe they want to discount this particular theft because it falls into the grand theft as opposed to petty theft (in CA the division is $400), and a possible felony charge.