November 26, 2003

Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We're off to New York!

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November 25, 2003

What's Your Media Fix?

Here are some of mine, currently:


Coldplay. I can't seem to get enough of this dish, even served Cold.

Aqualung. Marc burned this for me and I find it an interesting mix of Coldplay and Radiohead, with enough personality to make it their own. (thanks Marc)

White Stripes. I'm just jealous that Tanya got to go to the concert on Saturday.


Neverwinter Nights. I'm still stuck on this game - given that I'm on limited playing hours lately, it's a slow process... but still enjoyable. I have realized one thing however - I hate opening boxes and chests to find stuff. It slows gameplay immensely.

Knights of the Old Republic. Not actually playing it (don't have it yet), but have been anticipating the PC release for some time, since I don't own an X-Box.


Angel. I was getting tired (really, really tired) of the Spike/Angel "I'm a better vampire with a soul" banter. But that was before mexican wrestling and the return of Lindsay. Anticipating where this will go.

CSI: Miami. I'm surprised how much I like this show. Forensics (even "pop" TV forensics) fascinates me. And I'm glad to see that Emily Procter got a full time gig after her brief Republican stint on West Wing.

Alias. We'll see how it goes. I still hold that the first season is (and will remain) the best.

So, what's your current media fix? Help me expand my horizons (and answer relatives' pleas for holiday gift ideas).

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November 21, 2003

Hey Moe!

As reported by WashingtonPost, Bush Identifies Turkey as New Front in War on Terror .

My question is: why do we (and by we, I mean they) insist on describing the "battleground" of this "war on terror" using completely outmoded language?

For example:

"I told him our prayers are with his people. I told him that we will work with him to defeat terror, and that the terrorists have decided to use Turkey as a front," Bush said. Asked whether Turkey was a new front, Bush said: "It sure is. Two major explosions. And Iraq is a front, Turkey is a front, anywhere the terrorists think they can strike is a front."

Clearly the term "front" is just silly in this case. The whole point of terrorism/guerrilla warfare is that you penetrate, circumnavigate, or simply avoid the front. You take the fight behind the lines, or into other territories to draw action off of the front (where smaller armies, you know, tend to get beat up). I mean, I'm not particularly astute when it comes to military history, but even I understand the basic gist of this idea. All ethics regarding warfare (in general and particular) aside here, aren't we just begging to get our ass kicked with this mentality?

Seriously. Can we (and by we, I mean they) please find a better strategy than one would use in Wack-A-Mole? Even the 3 Stooges understood the subtle art of misdirection. Hey Moe - whoowhoowhoo whoo!

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November 20, 2003

Matrix: Revolutions

I had a desire to review Matrix: Revolutions ... before it came out. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I can muster the energy to critique the Worst. Damn. Ending. Of. All. Time. I mean, did the Wachowskis just hand it over to George Lucas (of Prequel years) and ask him to have at it? Did they decide to give the guys from Ishtar another crack at infamy?

[spoilers within]

For the record, aside from some terrible lines, I actually liked the first 2/3 of the movie. I always argued that Neo would only be truly interesting outside of the Matrix, rather than inside, where he was all powerful. The mixing of the worlds - not just a blurring but an outright fusion - had amazing potential. The battle for Zion, which some reviews I read found worthless, I thought was just as good as, say, Attacking the Death Star (no, the second Death Star). Whereas the Death Star represented the monolithic destruction of worlds by a powerful War Machine, the diverse, flexible, intelligent, and multitudinous Squids remind us of the constant fear of detection, location, and destruction in modern warfare. Two different but powerful images of tyranny.

And, quite frankly, I'm glad they killed Trinity, precisely because I didn't want them to. By the time the film was complete, I was pretty damn glad Neo was dead too (until Matrix: Resurrection).

By that time Matrix: Revolutions would have actually improved had an Ewok, rather than "the Kid," jumped up on a rock and screamed "the war is over!" to the disbelief of the audience, if not to those hiding in the Temple-Wait-It's-Soul-Train. Seriously. I think the residents of Zion stood there staring for those 3 or 4 heartbeats not because they were instructed to, but because the actors were stunned: "Are they serious? This is it???" *blink* *blink*

Hurray, indeed. Or, in Ewok, "Aieee Aieeeeee!"

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Lunchtime Ruminations

Somewhere between the sardine packed Metro ride this morning (honestly, where the hell are those people going?) and flipping some of my lunch onto my freshly dry-cleaned pants, I nearly lost my sanity.

Fortunately, the mental break was temporarily eased by what most would consider a lunch (the part that didn't end up on my pants) worthy of Hagar the Horrible - peppers and sausages - but my Italian-heritage wife assures me that it is healthy enough. Having been raised in Virginia (not know for eschewing pig meat - call it what it is), I heartily endorse the meal. My heart would nod in agreement but is likely too busy trying to crack its way through the cholesterol.

Been a light blogging month, feeling both busy and torn about writing anything personal. Nervousness about who's reading what, esp. in regards to employment and so on. Not to mention general anxieties about our somewhat crazy-ass world and what's going on in it. All leading to tongue-tied-ness and a general emphasis on an oddly curt writing style.

Let's see - weekly recap. Saturday, spent afternoon in hospital with Lisa checking on the baby, who seemed to suddenly stop moving much for the two days preceding. Cause for general concern, so we went (as those cheeky Brits say) "to hospital." Baby is fine and held up a sign that read: "Really, I'm just trying to sleep in here. Scram." Who knows where he got the pen and paper, but it was a wild sight on the ultrasound. Kids are getting smarter these days, so I suspect the baby will be born with dissertation in-hand, making him/her more ready for the job market than I am. (S)He will likely also have more hair.

Saturday night, we celebrated (a bit early) dave's 30th, where there was much wine and even more cheese. Dave's addiction to cheese frightens most mice into rehab, so he seemed to have a good time.

Sunday was relatively uneventful, except for an embarrassing moment where I found myself uncontrollably laughing at an inappropriate moment (specifically, in the middle of a homily at Mass). I won’t go into details as to why, but let’s just say that a person very close to me displayed her wise-cracking skills at perhaps not the most opportune time. I eventually recovered.

Monday night, I took my karate exam, earning my next belt (green).

Tuesday, we upgraded our mobile phone service package and in my near insanity, I scribbled out a recap of that event, fascinating as it was [insert irony here]. Review of our new phones available soon.

I was pleased to see that Massachusetts courts finally did something rational in looking at the state constitution and realizing that, by golly, there was nothing in there saying homosexuals were prohibited from marrying one another. About time.

I honestly don't understand those who get their knickers in a bunch about this topic - I mean, folks do realize, don't they, that such a decision doesn't mean that everyone has to enter a gay marriage, right? I mean, the court isn't saying that Tony, who lives down the street, must divorce his wife and summarily marry a man, and his wife a woman. That seems clear to me, but maybe not so much to others?

I've yet to see a convincing argument as to why civil marriages should be denied to homosexual partners. Destroying the American family? I don't see calls for state constitutional amendments to prohibit divorce or punish infidelity. If "tradition" is what we're looking for, those two aspects of our society would seemingly outrage those same constituents who clamor to deny homosexual marriage. And yet, crickets chirp. Religious opposition? Fine, that’s really not my call, but we're talking civil marriages here (and the legal rights and responsibilities therein), not religious ceremonies. So religious arguments aren’t really relevant to the discussion in this case. I would happily listen (though likely not agree) to reasons that explained why oppositions to civil marriage between same sex partners weren't simply bigotry clothed in moral rhetoric, but I haven't heard any that exceeds the basic argument that "it just ain't right."

So, kudos to the courts for recognizing things for what they are.

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November 18, 2003

Christmas List

Need a gift idea? Well, I sure wouldn't mind a dual Ms. PacMan / Galaga arcade game cabinet.

Two great games. One low price.

(and my wife will thank you for it. really.)

(or maybe not.)

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November 14, 2003

National Humanities Medal

I had the pleasure of listening to some of the thoughts of the National Humanities Medal Recipients for 2003, when the NEH had a reception this afternoon. Of the recipients, Jean Fritz, Edith Kurzweil, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, and Joseph Epstein came in to talk a little about how they became involved in humanities work.

Epstein was particularly engaging, answering questions with a series of poignant and humorous anecdotes.

A work friend summarized perfectly: "I would love to have him at a dinner party."

For a taste of style and wit, read a recent interview on

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Gaming Programs

New article - Wired News: Academics Can Be Fun and Games - about increased study of games at universities. [via /.]

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Game Studies Levels Up (thoughts on conference recaps)

I've been following the Level Up! conference reports with great interest. Lisbeth Kalstrup details some of the issues at play in the (so-called) narratology/ludology debate. Lisbeth draws attention to the important distinction between "narrative in games," rather than "games as narrative" - a distinction I hold a great deal of affinity for. At the recent AoIR conference, the 'gaming group' got together for a "Birds of a Feather" meeting (at 8am, no less), and as we did the normal round of introductions, I explained my interests with a similar disclaimer - "I'm interested in narrative in games ... which is not to say, games as narrative." Sighs of relief seemed to penetrate the friendly chuckles around the table.

Which is odd, because I've never had to say, "narrative in books, not books as narrative," "narrative in drama, not drama as narrative," or "narrative in films, not films as narrative." Apples and oranges? I'm not sure, but it certainly seems telling of some issue, perhaps akin to media confusion when dealing with something like a William Blake print. Is it text or image? Both and/or neither? When you surgically remove the words from their illuminate state, what happens? Can you really - as some claim - pull a narrative from a game, without any real consequence to the game itself?

Anyone up for a rousing game of ProgressQuest?

Gonzalo Frasca, of, provides his assessment of the conference, where he describes his talk as an attempt to move past the "narratologist/ludologist" debate, in which he claims:

such debate never took place and was based on a series of misconceptions and unfounded accusations of radicalism (at least between its main protagonists). . . Right from the start, the first paper ever published on ludology, clearly stated that its goal was "not to replace the narratological approach, but to complement it". Clear as water, right? I would have rather used my article to explore some of my recent research, but I decided to try to tackle this issue and put a final nail on its coffin. Sadly, the issue seems to still be appealing to many of the newcomers, so I am afraid that this issue would keep haunting us for a while. Luckily, all the people I discussed it with (including Aarseth, Juul, Murray, Mateas, Jarvinen and Eskelinen) consider the matter as just a detail in the field's recent history and are ready to get past it.

Andrew of GTA shares his thoughts about the conference, and likens Gonzalo's assertions to Rodney King's "Can't we all just get along?" An interesting choice, since I'm not sure why there is the perception that serious debate needs to be codified as hostile (and I'm not targeting Andrew here; I think he's just picking up on the vibes at play in The Debate itself - or perhaps the debate about The Debate?).

I am looking forward to Gonzalo posting his paper, because I'm hoping it will include a fairly detailed discussion of what he sees as the progression of The Debate. Call me crazy - or maybe I'm just one of the "newcomers" that "sadly" refuses to give up on the issue? ;) - but I actually find the legitimizing process involved in developing an academic field rather interesting. I'm also hoping to see why this is an issue to get past, rather than an issue to build on; in other words, what good came out of The Debate, if any?

As to looking towards the future, Lisbeth details what she believes is necessary for the "narrative in games" crowd:

I believe, what 'we' (those interested in narrative aspects in games) need to focus on now, is the concrete use of narrative devices in specific games, not looking at these games as narratives who should produce the same kind of emotions we know and expect to be rewarded with when we read narratives in books or on screen, but contemplating how narrative devices can be used inside games for the purpose of creating good gameplay and in order to produce a desire for the completion of the game (i.e. how narrative devices can help create "an anticipation of completion" and not retrospection, perverting Peter Brooks a bit).

Lots of great thought in this statement, although I think a lot of work also remains to be done to detail the relationship of story to any media. In fact, as I argued in my paper at AoIR, I think that one of the most radical ways to legitimize the field is to show how study of games can transform previously established academic methodologies and theories (just as hypertext helped reinvigorate - and popularize - scholarship about 'the Book').

Other recaps of Level Up! include:
Jason Della Rocca (with pictures)

EDIT: Here's an excellent conference evaluation by David Thomas of Buzzcut.

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November 12, 2003

The Error in Terrorist

Scanning googlenews, I clicked on - Bremer to bring new strategies to Iraqi Governing Council - Nov. 12, 2003. For those not in the know, Bremer was called back quickly for a meeting with the White House. I think the word "quagmire" had been mentioned one too many times for the administration's taste.

Now, I've tended to stay out of the debate. Not that I don't have my opinions, of course, but it's not something I've wanted to spend my time writing about.

But the following reinforces a problem - a rhetorical one - that I've had for some time now. The use of the term "terrorist." Walking out of his meeting, Bremer said the following (according to CNN):

"We're going to have difficult days ahead because the terrorists are determined to deny the Iraqis the right to run their own country. We're not going to let them get away with that," Bremer told reporters Wednesday."

Now, without delving too deeply into why the US is there, and without (*sigh*) getting too political, let's take a careful look at that sentence.

I read that as: "We invaded Iraq and 'freed' the Iraqi people. So anyone who fights against that 'freedom' is a 'terrorist.'" Odd, though, because in the past, they were detailed at worst as "guerilla fighters," and at best as "patriots" (Howdy, King George).

Now, before anyone gets their shorts bundled, I'll make it clear - I'm pretty much against death (generally speaking), and killing (specifically), in most cases. So I'm not a fan of anyone taking a bullet or a piece of shrapnel. If fact, I think it would be much better for everyone if Nerf were the primary contractor for every Defense Department out there. And while I'm not thrilled with our recent decisions, I'm also not terribly pleased with the decisions of a lot of other folks either. My point? I'm not trying to demonize anyone here... quite frankly, everyone tends to do that well enough on their own.

The problem is, for some time now, the word 'terrorist' has been used rather loosely by the current administration. "The War on Terror" targets an abstract idea, so if you own the definition of "terrorist," you can target whoever you wish. So what is the real problem?

No one owns the definition of terrorist. The US certainly doesn't, which is why almost any attack since the "War on Terror" started can be phrased in those terms. And since the "War on Terror" is Game On, that means other countries can use the same policy however they wish. Which means that instead of being a leader willing to admit that things aren't so good in a specific war - such as calling the Iraqi attacks "guerilla warfare" - we are being a poor leader, by paving a highway through a rhetorical loophole that allows all sorts of potential injustices to be done by anyone who claims to be fighting "terrorism."

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has finally gone PC gold (available Nov. 18). Seeing as I don't own an Xbox (which was the only platform this game was available on), I've been waiting to try out what sounds like a fantastic game. Bioware is the developer, who also brought us the very enjoyable Neverwinter Nights.

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November 7, 2003

May the Force Animate You

Check out the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shorts, detailed here: 'Star Wars' goes animated tonight. Slashdot rightly points out that "The USA Today article is incorrect in saying that 'Clone Wars marks the first animated series to involve any of the saga's leading characters.' That distinction goes to Nelvana's Droids, which followed the adventures of R2D2 and C3PO."

Check out the rad "official site" here. You can also, I believe, see the shorts the next day on the Cartoon Network website.

Something tells me, by the way, that these 3 minute short animations have a high chance of being the best part of the prequel series. Of course, the bar ain't set too high as is (at least Lucas isn't directing these)...

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November 6, 2003

Fan of Web Art

The Whitney Museum commissioned the Whitney Artport IDEA LINE by Martin Wattenberg. [Java required]. While Jill notes that it is not compatible with some browsers (although it's in Java, which I thought was supposed to be the cross-platform language?), the Artport Idea Line is still a really nice example of a visual interface. Each aspect of the line exhibits data: The titles are listed under an x-axis of 'year.' The brightness of the line tells how many art works are listed for a particular year (or you can have the shape of the line show 'totals' as well). The key terms are plainly visible (although it would be nice if they were briefly defined, so as to be clear). Each entry has a brief annotation.

Really neat. Of course, a search feature would also be nice. It occurs to me that this might not be drawing data from a database, but just an "installation" itself, which would be a bit of a shame...

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November 5, 2003

Level Up in Progress

Here's a link to the print Proceedings of the Level Up DiGRA Conference [PDF].

And here's wishing I could have gone ... sounds like a great line-up; some of the folks I met at AoIR, and they were great. I've read the work (and blogs) of many others. And I was really looking forward to having an excuse to finish my paper.

I haven't found much blogging about the conference yet, so if you see any details, please post the URL in the comments.

EDIT: Florence Chee's paper made it into a Reuter's story (link via Yahoo!).

Of course, the paper is about addiction to Everquest. The press loves this stuff. Heck, even Oprah loves it!. The article mentions the "world's first interdisciplinary games conference" (which I think is slightly inaccurate, but whatever), but fails to mention Level Up! by name. The only reason I made the connection? The location listed at the beginning of the article: "UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters)."

EDIT #2: Wall Street Journal article on the conference

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Wanted! (Wild, Wild West Style)

Wanted, Dead or Alive! Ok, maybe just bound and gagged. Microsoft Announces Bounty for Virus Writers. That's right - $250k to turn in the authors of either the MSBlast or SoBig virus.

Right about now, I need an animation of a tumbleweed bouncing across my blog. Gibson wasn't so far off with that whole "cowboy" thing after all...

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November 3, 2003

Copy Wronged?

On a Listserv (having nothing to do with these kinds of issues), an off-topic question was raised (passive voice to protect the innocent) about copyright and intellectual property with regards to academic work produced by scholars (faculty) at their institutions. Of concern: apparently Michigan State University now claims copyright to all work produced by their employees - including faculty - under a general "works made for hire" provision. The claim is that while MSU retains these copyrights, they generally "give them back" to faculty, provided they meet certain criteria. The MSU website states:

From a legal perspective, all copyrighted works made by any Michigan State University employee within the scope of his or her employment begin as "works made for hire" and are initially owned by the University. As has been the tradition at Michigan State University and most of its peer institutions, the University assigns the copyrights in such works to their creators, unless one or more "Special Circumstances" exist.

You can read the "special circumstances" at the website, but it does seem to indicate that tenured faculty own their manuscripts at the pleasure of MSU. Interestingly enough, students retain copyright for their own work when done for a class - including theses or dissertations.

I do recall a similar policy when I took time off between undergraduate and graduate school. I worked at a physics lab where I helped put together several experiments for an electron beam accelerator (basically, a Beam of Electrons that Slammed into Other Little Particles to make Smaller and Smaller Particles). When I filled out my employment paperwork, I had to sign a form that said that anything I created or did would fall under "works made for hire," and that I should expect no claim to copyright for anything I produced. I remember feeling very uncomfortable with the form, because it was terribly unclear as to where the boundaries were between personal and professional creation. That ... ahem... must be why I never finished my Great American Novel during my "time off."

I was curious what UMD's policy was, so I did a quick search during my lunch break. This has been the UMD system's policy since 1990:

It is the policy of the University of Maryland System that copyrights arising from aesthetic, scholarly, or other work developed through independent efforts and not part of a directed institutional or University System assignment shall reside with the originator. Independent effort is defined as the product of inquiry, investigation, or research to advance truth, knowledge, or the arts where the specific choice, content, course, and direction of the effort is determined by the individual without assignment or supervision by the institution or System. -- IV-3.10 - Policy On Copyrights from University Memos and Policies

But I'm curious - which model is more the norm for academic institutions? MSU's prose clearly states that they are following the lead of their 'peer institution' - is that true?

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