Monthly Archives: October 2008

review

“I’m not trying to get negative, I’m just…(Sigh)”

That pretty much sums up this snarky, cynical and humorous collection of speculations and observations from Simon Rich. It’s a collection that presents a more youthful, upbeat resignation echoing the more reposed one found in the writing of David Sedaris. Ant Farm is full of nostalgic recollections and weird possibilities concerning the irrelevancies of those desperate situations that give us awkward moments of reflection.

Moments that involve realizing the agony spent before receiving one’s first calculator, the ironic closed-mindedness when experimenting with a ouija board, making candy with a forgetful someone named Peanut Al, keeping close tabs on your daily karma tally, God’s overwhelming support for Orel Hershiser, and the three things you really don’t need if stranded on a desert island.

Ant Farm is an incredibly fast and funny read. The selections are brief and varied, maybe a little too much so, as each consists no more than a couple of pages and is unbounded by coherent theme other than pure whimsy. But it does create that weird momentary pause, raising the question whether there is anything more absurd than us humans and our behavior.

new music – calexico

There are so many intriguing parts constituting the whole of Calexico that make its sound more an experience than a commercial product.  John Convertino’s drumming, the stormy, border-infused lyrics of Joey Burns, the duality of breezy subtlety and explosive thunder from the brass section of Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk, and Paul Niehaus’ dreamy, ultra-slick pedal steel and electric guitar can all have separate and successful solo avenues.  Together though, they are Calexico, one of the best under-the-radar southwestern and alternative bands around.

Their previous release, Garden Ruin, was an attempt to consolidate their well-established musical experiment, and though lyrically Calexico continued to push boundaries, the fullness of their sound was stifled. Carried to Dust is a return to form, slightly more sorrowful than The Black Light, Hot Rail or Feast of Wire, but it is incredibly strong nonetheless. It’s as if the chilled atmosphere of this album is symbolic of the desert in winter.

Calexico both captures and reinvents the haze and tumble of southwestern border music.  Miles upon miles of highway, man-made lakes, illegal ports, migrants avoiding spotlights, living on the wire, and dreams of a new life are the stories and images of Calexico. Stories which often highlight the plight of those overlooked by most citizens, the invisible people quietly struggling to survive.

In addition to the release of of Two Silver Trees, standouts of the album include Writer’s Minor Holiday, Inspiracion (with guests Amparo Sanchez and Jairo Zavala), El Gatillo, Slowness (with Pieta Brown), and Red Blooms.

Also, can’t forget to mention the always evocative artwork of Victor Gastelum.

caveat gamer

As illuminating as it is to have a gaming collection in one’s library, like any collection there are risks to assess before buying an expensive set of consoles and trusting that your patrons will actually return them, even the games. At my library we have an enviable collection of about 150 games available to students, faculty and staff, and while most patrons are mindful of due dates and others wanting to get their game on, a few can spoil that collective fun.

Here are the positives:

The not-so-positives:

Games will disappear. Get used to it. Yes, patrons with overdue games on their account can be blocked from future transactions and billed for replacement. But what happens if library staff members pocket a game right after it’s returned? How will it be found? Games are high in popularity and thus high in risk.

Games are expensive. Unless they are bought used on Amazon or from the local game store, there will be hard choices to make regarding replacing the perennially popular titles that may end up perennially lost or stolen. One of the reasons we have a gaming collection is that the campus gaming club supplies us with the games which we add to the catalog. We wouldn’t have the budget to otherwise purchase and replace such games. What about duplicate copies?

Is extra equipment required? Do you need video cameras, locked cabinets, or extra RFID tags to keep them from getting taken or lost? Containers to protect them during transit?

What’s your loan period? Really, games nowadays take a lengthy time to finish. One game has an ending challenge sequence that takes eighteen hours to complete. When gamers begin “passing out and getting physically ill” before taking a break, you know they’ll sacrifice a few dollars in fines so that they can finish the game.

These are just a few  of the considerations we’ve run into with our collection.  It’s an advantageous position to be sure, since the losses incurred do not directly come from our budget; however, without proper consideration for the scenarios affecting the selection and integration of games into the curriculum, the losses could be much steeper.

review – nosferattitude

You Suck is the sequel to The Author Guy’s foray into humorous, bizarro vamp-lit, and it’s just as zany and enjoyable as its predecessor, Bloodsucking Fiends. I won’t go too much into the story except to say that C. Thomas Flood is now forced to accept his newly acquired pale force, a first reaction being to promptly apply liberal amounts of both orange-hued tanning lotion and intense monkey love with his partner in blood, Jody Stroud. Add to that goth-chick and minion extraordinaire Abby Normal, a blue entrepreneur of the night, vamps obsessed with tracksuits, and a huge shaved cat named Chet. That’s it, go read the thing for yourself.

I will say though, that Moore has a definite knack for the unexpected in his tales. He simply can’t be categorized an author of the funny, since any characters are fair game for an imaginative and grizzly maim or demise. That being said, his ability to absorb the ever-changing and complex vernacular of today’s disaffected youth is really an experience to savor, a prime example being his excerpts from the diary of Abby Normal. I can’t think of any better description than…gonzo.

PS – While on the subject of the vampire genre, the new series True Blood, though less gonzo than the works of the author guy, is well worth a view.

new music – strange victories

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is the latest release from The Silver Jews, and in my opinion it’s the most consistent album released by David Berman. Like all SJ releases, it contains the typical amount of sly resignation and witty slacker-sophistication from an eternally sobering songwriter. Berman laments the fate of the suffering jukeboxes in happy towns, country restroom on the radio, the illicit exploits of lard connoisseurs, the importation of squirrels and chicken-fried pigeon in preparation for the onslaught of autumn, and most importantly, the gooey, candy-coated imprisonments we willingly and routinely place ourselves in.

The Silver Jews is a branded band made in the mold of all the current under-the-radar greats such as Neko Case, Giant Sand, Calexico, The Handsome Family, etc. Slightly dark, weird and esoteric? Absolutely, but certainly the music is original, imaginative and with that distinctive southwestern / alt. country flair making it anachronistic enough to be cutting edge.

I daresay that this album may be enough to propel the Silver Jews just beyond their typical squirrelly fan base, but probably and regrettably not enough for mainstream play. It’s a shame, since Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea really is a strange victory.

Take a listen.

Spore in the Classroom?

I’ve been hearing a lot about the new game called Spore, and though I haven’t played it, there seems to be definite academic potential. What is Spore, you say? Basically, it’s a creation by Will Wright, the creator of all the SimCity enterprises, and it’s billed as the ultimate SimEvolution game. Create a creature, watch it evolve, determine its path to civilization.

There’s a whole lot of potential to explore here. Biologically speaking, I can see a tool for extrapolating, hypothesizing animal/organism behavior based on how an organism is constructed. Described in this Wired article:

Before you even begin the Cell stage, you have to make a decision: Is your little guy an herbivore or a carnivore? This can have lasting repercussions throughout the rest of the game. As a carnivore, the easiest way to get meat is to attack your fellow creatures. This turns your bacteria into kind of a jerk, and when he evolves, he’ll be more suited to being an aggressive land animal. Establishing dominance with violence will be easier than trying to reason with other creatures. And if you take this path of least resistance throughout the rest of the game, you’ll be a warlike, spacefaring race of jerks in no time, just because your aquatic ancestors went on the Atkins diet eons ago.

What’s cool is that some researchers already have their game on. This video from National Geographic shows us just how geeky us academics can be in creating the “ultimate animal”. Can spore be partially integrated into the life science curriculum?

I guess Spore isn’t just for science freaks as well. Like all Sim(…) games one must carefully decide the social science angle in determining the anthropological, sociological and political ramifications in the civilization stage, even if such a term can be said to exist in real, non-virtual life. My guess is that this segment of the game will devolve into the typical hulk-smash warmongering typically seen in most Sim games.

Even though Spore may try to be everything for every player, it does seem to set up an interesting template for game designers, simulation programmers to share with scholars in the academic sphere. I’m curious to find out where on the evolutionary scale librarians enter the picture.

review

Though depicted as a novel, Black Flies is concise enough for a perfect novella. Or, as it expounds upon the experiences of a paramedic in Harlem, it is also appropriate to label the work as a series of vignettes (albeit with a clear storyline).  Whatever its categorization, Black Flies is a frightening work that conveys the both the physical and psychological hardship of being a paramedic.  Indeed, it’s not just the suffering that medics are trained to alleviate, it is a story that ponders about who responds to the first responders.

The story revolves around Ollie Cross, newly assigned to the 18th precinct.  Cross voluntarily selects the 18th to get hardcore paramedic experience while preparing to pass the MCATs he desperately needs for acceptance into medschool.  The experience he receives can never be taught from any textbook.

The horror of this story is hammered from two angles.  The first, more obvious horror is the death and depravity paramedics experience every single day.  Rotting corpses, horrific wounds, constant exposure to disease, and the grotesque, vehement disdain, and dangerous behavior exhibited by the victims they’re supposed to protect.

The other horror is the subsequent disdain, mounting disregard and grotesque behavior that paramedics can subsequently exhibit toward their victims, a gradual hardening to the grittiness and incessant malaise to which they’re exposed. This story is not merely the devolution of Cross, but the way he responds to being partnered with several medics of differing moral zephyrs.  There’s the stoic, the maniac, the ultimate altruist; they have seen it all, and all are resigned to the degeneration of the job.

Burke explores the depths to which paramedics, affected by the stress, often decide who lives or dies.  He also focuses on the irony of those expertly trained to save life are often already dead from within.  Overall, the book details the darker aspects of being a paramedic as well as state of the human condition through a good story.  Fascinating read.