Montageman: A dude who writes

March 3, 2008

Starting over

Filed under: laila, random, traderjoes — Tags: , , , , , , , — montageman @ 10:06 am

As of this morning, I am a Trader Joe’s crew member.  I have been working at TJ’s for a about 6 weeks now, but have also been working at American Processing Company.  My weeks consisted of working from 7:30 AM to 4 PM at APC driving an hour to TJ’s and working 5 pm to 12 AM.  Yesterday was my first true day off in a couple of months.  I’m not complaining, mind you, but working 80 hour weeks is draining especially coupled with the commuting.  Now my commute will be 15 minutes instead of 45 minutes (sometimes 90 when there is snow on the ground or if 696 is being nasty).  I’ll have some mornings off, so I’ll see Heather and Laila more, which is wonderful.  I plan to read and write more.  We’ll see how everything pans out.

A few things that I’m currently loving:

  1. Garfield minus Garfield – the usually straightforward Garfield comic strip with Garfield (and Odie) taken out leaving Jon Arbuckle to work out his feelings of inadequacy on his own. As incredibly sad as Jon’s life is with Garfield and Odie present, it becomes psychotic (and more hilarious) with them absent.
  2. The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain – hard to believe that this time last year I was totally annoyed by Bourdain’s arrogance on No Reservations.  I was much more interested in Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods (new season starts March 4!).  I still love Zimmern, but have a new found love for Bourdain.  His writing is accessible and spot on.  Bourdain’s TV personality is not arrogant as I first thought, but rather, he is very particular about his likes and dislikes and is vocal about it.  Last season’s visit to Ghana and Bourdain’s elation throughout is a perfect example of how great traveling the world can be.  That episode makes me want to travel to Africa.  Hell, I want to travel to most places Bourdain and Zimmern visit.
  3. Dark chocolate covered Joe-Joes – Trader Joe’s version of the Oreo cookie dipped in dark chocolate.  An all natural Oreo engulfed by artisan dark chocolate?  Could there be a more perfect food?  I doubt it, but at 150 calories & 8 grams of fat a piece, they are best to be enjoyed in moderation – like half of a cookie at a sitting.
  4.  Beer.  Haven’t had much recently, but nothing beats a pint of Two Hearted ale.  And I a couple bottles of Lagunitas that I’ll soon try.
  5. Stuff White People Like – totally engaging commentary on the lives of white folks.  Very funny and mostly very true.

There’s plenty of other stuff to go along with this small list – Haba toys, Bum Genius cloth diapers, really anything having to do with Laila and Heather, and being able to write more.

January 6, 2008

Health Insurance

Filed under: Film, random — Tags: , , — montageman @ 10:42 am

I’ve been looking for alternative health insurance options.  My plan at work, while it covers us well, is quite expensive.  I came across this example and found it very funny:

Johnny has a medical bill that is $25,000.

First he has to meet his entire deductible of $250.

Then he has to pay a coinsurance amount of 20% or the next $5,000 ($1,000).  The insurance company will pay 80% of the next $5,000 ($4,000), and then the carrier will pay 100% up to the plan maximum.

Johnny’s maximum exposure (out of pocket) of the $25,000 medical bill is $1,250 (deductible and coinsurance).

Good thing Johnny had health insurance!

 OK, fine, I can see that Johnny’s out of pocket expenses coming to $1250 is better than $25,000, but what if Johnny is out of work?  There is an implied arrogance in the final exclamatory remark that I find insulting.  “Good thing Johnny had health insurance!” Right, because $1250 is a lot easier to pay back when you’ve just lost your auto industry job in Michigan with no signs of being rehired anytime soon.  We recently watched SiCKO and while I don’t agree with Michael Moore’s style of documentary, the film makes clear how really messed up our health insurance system is in this country versus those countries with nationalized health services.   There seems to be a general annoyance with the poor in this country that somehow makes it OK for the rich to think they’re better than others.  As though the people born into poor situations chose to be there, when each of us knows that this could never be the case.  SiCKO, if it does nothing else, tells us that the playing field is not level and that Johnny might not be that lucky to have health insurance!

December 6, 2007

Randomness and the Internet

Filed under: random — Tags: , , — montageman @ 9:49 pm

Taking a step back and examining my surfing habits, it is really interesting how random the logic of surfing can be. On a nightly basis, I am pretty basic in my initial web ritual:

  1. Myspace
  2. Facebook
  3. Gmail
  4. My Yahoo!
  5. del.icio.us
  6. Flickr

I also check Mashable, last.fm, and whatever news sites that mat strike my fancy in a particular evening. Aside from this though, I find places like this. I find LOLcats hysterical. Why? I really have no idea. I’m not a huge fan of cats, generally, but there is something so geeky about these pictures that I love. Via del.icio.us today, I ran into one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, which then led a friend of mine to offer this site as a further example of what was found on Rahoi.com. The randomness of YouTube, a place where I can find videos of James the Nintendo Nerd right next to one of my daughter. Of course, there’s also Beeradvocate.com. If I drink a new beer, I’m always sure to review the beer there and meander around the forums for a while. Oh, and food blogs – I love food blogs. Recipes, techniques, roadfood, foodporn, whatever – if it is food related, I’m for it.

I have a difficult time finishing books I start to read. I think it is because of the pace at which I surf, which has subsequently killed my attention span. I had this article sent to me this evening. Looks totally interesting to me, but have I read it yet? Nope. Because I was looking at this. Yup, pro wrestling – another interest. I used to be totally consumed with wrestling, but now it is a fleeting interest. Much like everything I do on the internet, but not really since I am totally consumed with the internet.

November 2, 2007

Of Obsessions

Filed under: beer, food, identity, laila — Tags: , , , , — montageman @ 10:29 pm

Jeff wrote about obsessions yesterday. As a new parent as well, I have been grappling with similar issues. I’m not making a soundtrack (although I think this is an excellent idea), rather I have been singing to Laila and transplanting her name into the song i.e. “Laila Battles the Pink Robots” or “Laila is a Punk Rocker”. There is some part of me that hopes in a few years she’ll share a love of the Flaming Lips, Ramones, and John Coltrane with me. Will it destroy me if she doesn’t? Doubtful, but I do want her to have a love of some type of music. Jazz, punk, funk, hip hop, pop, whatever – I’d love it if she was interested in music.

I am a consumer first and foremost. I am obsessed with music, food, beer, sports, video games, and whatever else crosses my path. I run a food blog, review beers over at beeradvocate.com, use last.fm avidly, upload 1000s of pictures to flickr, etc. All of my obsessions, require me to consume more and more. I can never try every beer, so I must always consume the one I’ve haven’t tried yet. I take a picture of each beer I try and each meal I make – the fleeting pleasure of eating and drinking can be lengthened by the image, but more than that, I am obsessed with uploading the pictures so that others can share in my pleasure, even if the it is only visual pleasure.

Will Laila be as obsessed with all of this stuff? Who knows? I can only hope that she’ll have something to love outside of her profession (as Jeff says). Thinking back, it was my parents that fostered my obsessive behavior. My mom and dad would travel all over to find toys and video game for my brothers and I, so I have always had a desire to have more than what was readily available, which plays into the pleasure of the search. Always searching for new beer, food, music, etc. Obsessions are insatiable – there is always more. Once the obsession becomes boring, move onto the next one! There is even space for an obsession within an obsession i.e. a love of beer turns into a love of the double IPA, so the obsession becomes localized. Localization inevitably leads to a dead end, so step back and look at the broad obsession again and localize elsewhere. It’s never ending!

June 24, 2007

Gaming through School

Filed under: Academic, news, videogames — montageman @ 6:19 pm

NPROn NPR’s All Things Considered this week, Heather Chaplin (co-author of Smartbomb) reported on a new school in New York that will be back by a million dollar grant from the McArthur Foundation. The school’s curriculum will be centered around game design & gaming literacy. Streaming audio of the story can be found here.

Gaming literacy is a fairly new concept & definitely goes beyond the realm of video games. The NPR piece argues that video games are systems and in order to properly function within these systems knowledge must be gained and used effectively. Essentially, this is a similar type of learning that we do all through school. For example in order to understand calculus, we must first have a strong grip on pre-calculus which requires knowledge of geometry which requires knowledge of addition and subtraction and so on. Collection of knowledge is prevalent across nearly all fields and gaming appears to be an effective way for kids to grasp these ideas.

This school is a tremendous idea & I would love to teach there (since I’m way too old to attend). However, the piece runs parallel to another segment that aired a day later, which can be here. Manhunt 2, as previously reported, had its release date suspended. The argument is that the game is “too violent,” so violent in fact that it was given the dreaded Adults Only rating – a rating tantamount to the NC-17 or X rating given to films. The AO rating is a kiss of death for sales because major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart will not carry games with this rating. This seems strange to me. On the one hand, neither place can carry a supposedly ultra-violent video game, but Walmart sells guns, ammo, and books by Ann Coulter and Best Buy sells recordings (and maybe books) by Larry the Cable Guy – all of which are much more offensive to me than a little killing in a video game.mario

When the two stories are looked at together, a problem arises. If kids are learning game design in school at such an early age, will they also be told what kinds of games to design? Will games like Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, and others be demonized in favor of less violent games? And then we must define violence, right? Why is Mario killing a goomba with a fireball any different from the killing done in Manhunt 2? The question becomes how do we feel when Mario kills a goomba versus how do we feel when a strangulation happens on Manhunt? Is the feeling so different that a person would be moved to mimic Manhunt rather than Mario? Hopefully, this new school will teach kids the feeling behind games not just the content.

March 28, 2007

Some thoughts on Affect Theory

Filed under: affect — montageman @ 2:50 am

Silvan Tomkins’s affect theory is centered around the idea that the nine primary affects are the chief motivators for all experience. In “The Quest for Primary Motives” Tomkins outlines the nine primary affective responses:

1.Interest
2.Enjoyment
3.Surprise
4.Fear
5.Anger
6.Distress
7.Shame
8.Contempt
9.Disgust

He continues, “These are discriminable distinct sets of facial, vocal, respiratory, skin, and muscle responses,” (58). For Tomkins, all experience is filtered through at least one of the nine affects. Tomkins’s affect theory provides a more comprehensive account of human experience and motivation than either drive theory or cognitive theories of affect (Demos 19). The primary affects are broken down further into positive (interest, enjoyment, surprise) and negative (surprise, fear, anger, distress, shame, contempt, disgust) affects. Tomkins believes that affect is Darwinian in nature, functioning more as a survival tool. “The human being is equipped with innate affective responses which bias him to want to remain alive and to resist death, to resist boredom, and to resist the experience of head and face lowered in shame,” (67) Tomkins states at the end of his “Evolution of the affect system,” essay, whose title is also Darwinian in scope. It is these responses that are elicited from playing videogames, especially the desire to remain alive instead of dying.

The binary of life versus death can be easily confused with the drive to remain alive – it should be made clear that affect and drive are two totally separate ideas. Affect must have freedom in order to flourish, Sedgwick and Frank define affect’s freedom as the capacity to of the individual to feel strongly or weakly, for a moment, or for all his life, about anything under the sun and to govern himself by such motives constitutes his essential freedom (46). Tomkins categorizes freedom in a number of ways including: freedom of intensity, freedom of density, freedom of investment, freedom of affects to combine with, modulate, and suppress other affects, and freedom of consummatory site (Sedgwick and Frank 55-7). Comparatively, drives have a greater sense of urgency attached to them and less options in terms of satiating the urge – be it hunger or breathing, there is a small amount of freedom in terms of time to attend to the drive. Where drives are easily discernible, the affect system of man operates within a much more uncertain and variable environment (Sedgwick 47). There is an interiority with affect that should not be confused with observable behavior. Observable behavior may or may not be connected to affect, although as Tomkins believes, affect is always most observable through facial expressions. For example, in “What and where are the primary affects?” Tomkins gives the following key (this is only part of the key): Interest-Excitement: eyebrows down, eyes track, look, listen; Surprise-Startle: eyebrows up, eyes blink; Contempt-Disgust: sneer, upper lip up (218-19).

The observable nature of affect, while important, is not central to the argument of this paper. The variable and interior dimension is key when talking about videogames. Games have a multitude of devices to affectively effect players in a memorable fashion. As game theorist Diane Carr points out, games seek to generate different affect, and they effectively exploit alternate models to achieve that end (62).

March 19, 2007

Gauntlet

Filed under: affect, videogames — montageman @ 12:28 am

My family has owned a delicatessen for about 35 years. During the mid to late eighties, one (or sometime 2) of the most important items in the store was the arcade game(s). My dad knew one of the arcade distributors in the area, so he would rent the games as a favor both to his distributor friend and to us (his sons). Games would change about every month. I only remember a couple – The Main Event (an excellent tag team wrestling game with a number of fictitious characters), Rampage (a beat ’em up game where players would control one of three monsters and rampage through cities destroying buildings, eating people, and fighting of the armed forces), and Gauntlet (the first dungeon crawl game & could also be characterized as a run and gun; players had a choice between an elf, wizard, warrior, or Valkyrie). Each of these games were designed to be played by at least 1 player, but were the most fun when played with 3 (Rampage) or 4 (The Main Event and Gauntlet). This turned the store into a community meeting place for the neighborhood kids – a place where kids could play games, eat candy, and drink soda, so basically it was an arcade with an incredibly small amount of choice between games.

Gauntlet (Atari 1985) is, in terms of my personal history, the first arcade game that I would say I was addicted. The cabinet itself demanded respect – it was larger than regular cabinets simply because it housed 4 joysticks instead of 2 allowing for co-operational play between 4 players at once. The point of view is top-down, which was later mimicked by games like The Legend of Zelda and Grand Theft Auto 1 & 2. The game takes place in a dungeon that is being taken over by a multitude of different enemies (ghosts, goblins, ogres, etc.) which must be killed or avoided by one, two, three or all four of the games protagonists. The game’s main objective is essentially the same as many other games in this genre: to restore the order and rid the castle of the enemies. Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin in Remediation talk about the status quo as objective, “Players are ultimately the security guards whose task is to shoot (or kill) anything that appears threatening because the ultimate threat is that the enemy will destroy the equilibrium of the system and eventually halt the game by killing the player. In essence, the player is constantly asked to defend or reestablish the status quo,” (93). Restoration of order has been a fundamental objective in a number of games both before and after Gauntlet. What made Gauntlet most interesting to me was the cooperative nature of the objective and the need for four completely different characters to work together. A warrior, an elf, a wizard, & a Valkyrie – each with strengths and weaknesses, the warrior was powerful so he could take damage at a slower pace, the elf was quick, the wizard was good with magic, and the Valkyrie was decent in all categories.

Gauntlet had its controls set up in the following fashion: a joystick, a fire button, & a magic button. The magic button could be used once a player had potion in his possession. The potion would clear the visible area of enemies. One of the fundamental differences when a game is translated from arcade to console is the control scheme – there is no longer a magic and shoot button, rather the magic is the A button while shoot is the B button. This may not seem like a big deal for a game like Gauntlet, but as controls become more complicated, some gamers will lose interest in a game quickly because of convoluted control schemes.

March 17, 2007

Demonstration mode

Filed under: games — montageman @ 4:42 pm

Raph Koster is fairly adamant that any good game must present a clearly defined goal and, in turn, offer the tools for the gamer to reach that goal.  This thought becomes cloudy when dealing with games like Tetris & Pac-Man where the goal is less defined then say Super Mario Bros. where it is explicitly pointed out that your fundamental duty is to save the princess.  Rather than giving an objective like this, the only objective Pac-Man needs is the high score tally at the top of the screen and the “hall of fame” that flashes on the screen while the game is in “demonstration (demo) mode.” Back to the high score in a moment, I would like to spend a moment on demo mode.  All arcade games (& most console games post-Atari) have a feature where the game is being played by the console without any player input.  For arcade games, it offers potential players, or consumers who want to spend money to buy time with the machine, a chance to see what the game looks like and sometimes how the game is played.  Much in the same way we are shown trailers for other movies before the feature film presentation, demonstration mode is a trailer of sorts.  A totally passive experience that, when interrupted, segues into the feature presentation i.e. the game world.   

March 14, 2007

A bit on Pac-man

Filed under: games — montageman @ 1:48 am

I’d like to revisit Pac-man for a moment.  The movement of Pac-man is restricted to north, south, east, & west.  Pac-man is prisoner inside of his maze.  He cannot break through the walls that enclose him.  For the player, the outcome is inevitable – the ghosts will eventually catch up to you.  There is no end to Pac-man.  Like a really terrible nightmare, the player knows that the ending will be less than favorable.  Boredom will eventually take hold and the player will lose the desire to play.  The lack of space to explore leads to a feeling of claustrophobia, a feeling that can only be remedied by forcing Pac-man to be eaten by his enemies.   Prolonged playing of Pac-man might lead to feelings of anxiety.  The thought that if Pac-man can’t escape, how can anyone else?

March 13, 2007

Games: Beauty, Accessibility, & Affect

Filed under: affect, games — montageman @ 3:29 am

On his weekly National Public Radio commentaries, sports writer Frank Defour will often speak about the ballet-like movement of basketball players or the impressive fluidity of motion in tennis players.  He finds art in motion, more specifically bodies in motion.  There is constant opposition in sports – offense versus defense, server versus receiver – and it through the interplay of these antagonists that art is born.  Kobe Bryant driving to the basketball hoop against Yao Ming can be a thing of beauty if not for Kobe’s offense then Yao’s defense.  One needs the other to succeed artistically because if Kobe drives to the basket undefended or Yao goes up for a block against no one, no longer is the game being played, rather the men would be practicing.  Defense is the reaction to offense and offense will react to defense.

Marshall McLuhan on games, “Games are popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture.  Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and of the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism.”  McLuhan continues on by noting that games are reactions to workday stress, a coming together of action and reaction of whole populations in a single dynamic image (208).  For something to be “popular art,” there has to be a certain level of accessibility.  More directly, I am referring to affective accessibility.  While the inherent beauty of a basketball game may not be self evident, there is a definite affective accessibility maintained by the overall structure of the game.  Any professional sport (and videogame for that matter) is structured around rivalry.  A rivalry that, as McLuhan eludes to, mirrors the rivalry of the workplace – the constant hierarchical tugging between the employee and employer, or the underdog against the favorite.

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