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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in The Blair Hippo Project's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
    10:31 pm
    Joey Z's Meatballs
    Has it really been a year since I bothered updating my LJ? Holy crap. Guess I'm not much of a blogger.

    However, if you're still reading this, I have one request:

    Give a buck to my very dear friends Joe and Sabrina Zitzelberger.

    That link will take you to the Kickstarter page where Joe and Sabrina are trying to procure funding for a restaurant they'd like to open here in Pittsburgh. It'll be devoted to meatball sandwiches -- and not just marinara & cheese. Think chicken meatballs covered in alfredo sauce and bacon. Think buffalo chicken meatball subs. Think spicy southwest barbecue meatball subs. Think General Tso's meatball sub.

    Joe is to the meatball sub what Willie Wonka is to exploitive labor practices.

    And when I ask you to give a dollar, really. I'd love it if you could give 'em more, but even a single humble dollar increases the visibility of their project on the Kickstarter site. And if they don't make their goal of $10,000, your credit card won't even be charged.

    It would mean a lot to me.

    Do it.

    For the meatballs.
    Monday, January 10th, 2011
    12:57 am
    That's Not Irony
    Okay, so.

    There's this webcomic I like called Guilded Age. It's a game-based epic fantasy comic done right, following a band of adventurers as they solve problems with violence, with varying degrees of success. Sort of a less-tongue-in-cheek-but-still-snarky version of the magnificent Order of the Stick, with really top-notch artwork.*

    (* -- Not that OotS's artwork is BAD, necessarily. Artist Rich Burlew uses clever, clean minimalism to load his comic with visual information. But it's still stick figures. And GA ... ain't stick figures.)

    Byron the Berserker leads Guilded Age's little band of combat-savvy misfits, and as their leader, does a damn fine job. He's level-headed, has a good nose for strategy, inspires loyalty from his crew, etc., etc. Thing is, as a an actual warrior, he's ... well, not incompetent, certainly. Dude can handle himself. But when it's time to bring the pain, plate-clad nun-gone-bad murder machine Frigg Akerfeldt is the team's go-to gal. Byron has a nasty habit of getting clobbered in fights where you'd think he'd at least make it interesting. As a frustrated Frigg herself put it after he got taken out yet again early in a brawl, "Byron, you useless piece of shit. If you're gonna get chumped alla time, stay dead!"

    He's got "Berserker" on his business cards, and one of his defining traits is "level-headed." It's enough to make a reader wonder if Byron's name is the fantasy equivalent of nicknaming a bald guy "Curly," or a fat dude "Slim." Eight chapters into the story, and not a single frothing berserker rage -- or even a hint that one may possibly have been imminent -- to be seen.

    Until today.

    The wait. It was so very worth it.
    Sunday, January 2nd, 2011
    1:34 pm
    Fuck Virtus Designs
    So I have this item on my to-do list:

    When you're adding new skins and other goodies to Firefox, you really need to stay away from Virtus Designs. Virtus Designs sucks. Unless, of course, you really like when an add-on installs Bing shit without your consent. If that's your thing, then by all means, indulge yourself.

    *crosses item off list*
    Saturday, September 18th, 2010
    3:20 pm
    Hitleriffic!
    So last month, I went to ConText in Columbus, Ohio. One of the most notable small publishers there was Shroud Publishing -- and by notable I mean, of course, "They plied me with liquor." Free booze and readings that will appeal to people you've been giving free booze to -- now that's how you make a lasting impressing and move some damn product.

    Among the Shroud offerings that left Columbus in my possession was Hiram Grange & the Twelve Little Hitlers, the second of (thus far) five novellas about a paranormal "investigator" who was described to me at the party as "Hunter S. Thompson with Fox Mulder's job." (Twelve Little Hitlers was written by Scott Christian Carr; all five entries are by different authors.) With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?

    So, how does the book read in the harsh, cruel light of post-convention sobriety?

    ... meh.

    I don't think I'd call it bad, necessarily. I give it props for style and uniqueness; I'm quite certain this is the first time I've seen an ultra-violent basket case fighting through a blinding narcotic haze to bring down twelve clones of Adolf Hitler who may or may not be the pawns of some malevolent extra-dimensional entity. And it's audacious as fuck; there are twists I'd have needed serious drugs to have even considered, let alone see coming.

    But it needs more, very badly. It sprays audacity from every orifice, but doesn't have a lot of wit. It revels in sadism, and comes up short on actual insight. Oodles of style where it needs reasons to give a shit.

    It mistakes its protagonist's perpetual motion for character movement, action for reader interest. Hiram Grange is a pitiable, debauched wretch, easily manipulated and motivated by little more than dark whimsy. The Big Bad's ultimate goal is the destruction of this man, but the book never gives the reader a reason to care. Grange is so self-destructive that one wonders why the demon bothered with such an intricate Hitler-tastic plan and didn't simply hand him a bus ticket to Tijuana.

    The finale switches from ludicrous farce to Dark Tragic Pathos with all the grace of shifting from fifth gear to reverse while on the interstate, which is far less spectacular than it sounds. According to Mythbusters, try this and your transmission won't explode from the car in an orgy of twisted metal and flying automotive debris; it will merely make an unpleasant noise while you lose momentum and futilely try to make the car do something it's just not going to do. I could almost hear chunks of metal fruitlessly grinding together as the novella struggled to elicit some emotion other than "boredom, with a side of mildly-bemused detachment" as Grange plummeted to his nadir.

    I don't know the works of Hunter S. Thompson particularly well, but I'm prepared to say that it takes more than booze, guns, belligerence, and a cornucopia of psychotropic drugs to do justice to the good doctor's legacy. I don't regret spending a few hours on this oddity and I certainly wouldn't strenuously dissuade the curious, but I'm not ordering the other installments in the series. Hiram Grange may continue his epic Binge without me.
    Monday, September 13th, 2010
    11:43 pm
    Happy Fun Times
    So, I just got done with a vacation-plus-coda with my girlfriend Cheyenne, and had a blast. I needed this. Most of it took place in Erie, PA.

    Friday: Went to a casino for the first time evar! Observations from the Presque Isle Downs & Casino:
    • Holy hell are slots designed to be addictive. Random reward pattern? Check. Wide variety of bright shiny images? Check. The First Hit Is Always Free? Big check. They gave me and Chey $17 each in slot-machine-first-timer pseudo-money that we were free to try converting into real money as we saw fit. Chey walked away with about $9.50, I retained $1.50. I'm willing to bet we were both well above average.
    • Slot machines make me feel like a rat with a feeder bar. A retarded, easily-amused rat. Fuck slot machines.
    • Over 90% of the casino floor was slot machines.
    • Of the table games, I played craps and blackjack. Lost more or less instantly at craps. Went up $10 my first attempt at blackjack before ultimately losing my $20 stake. Before we left, on a whim I tossed another $20 onto the table, and got on a little hot streak. When I hit $60, I pulled $50 aside and told myself that I was only going to play as long as the remaining chips lasted. I got as high as $80 before putting $30 on a losing hand. I walked away from the table with $52.50, up from my $20 buy-in. So between two rounds of Blackjack, craps, slot machines, and blowing $5 on a horse that came in third (Horse racing! I'm throwing my money away anyway! Why not?), I finished the night down precisely $1.
    Saturday: Split our time between Presque Isle State Park and the Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park. Our original plan for the weekend was to go to Indiana Dunes State Park (a favorite vacation destination as a kid), but with the weather turning cool and a bit dodgy, we turned to our whimsical "Indoor water park!" Plan B for the weekend's centerpiece.

    Presque Isle was lovely. Because this particular vacation was being driven by the impulse of "Ooh! Shiny!", we rented a surrey -- a pedal-powered four-wheeled contraption that reminded me of Fred Flintstone's car. There was a monument four miles down the surrey-approved path; we made it about two and a half and said "Screw this noise" before turning around. The surrey had no gears, you see, and was really a beast to maneuver or propel. Chey was steering, and was often faced with the choice of "Have a head-on collision with that other pedal-powered vehicle, or put my boyfriend into the weeds." I can't really hold her decision against her.

    All the pedal-powered vehicles available to rent were heavy one-speed slabs of metal, though. I'd love to explore the place on a decent mountain bike; it's flat as a pancake, with beaches and lighthouses and big art-deco pillars and other such cool stuff to find. We may need to go back.

    Splash Lagoon was a hoot. It's the off-season, so it was mercifully uncrowded. Of its seven water slides, the two I'd most recommend are the Big Kahuna and the Cyclone. Both inner-tube slides, the Cyclone dumps you into this enormous bowl that you go round and round before slowing and getting funneled into the exit tunnel. Simple, but immense fun. The Big Kahuna was a more traditional water slide, and stood out because you could see where the hell you were going. Pitch-black-tube water slides are a fun change of pace, but Splash Lagoon goes to that well early and often. I'm not sure that Kahuna's tube was supposed to be translucent or if that was a result of sun bleaching, but whatever. It was fun.

    Which is more than I'm willing to say for Hurricane Hole, the one slide I truly disliked. It was much like the Cyclone in that you went round and round a big bowl, but with no inner tube. Which wouldn't be a problem, if the seams between the sections comprising the bowl were perfectly smooth; they weren't, and kinda stung. And on my first time around, I managed to bang my foot against the entrance hole I'd come through. And rather than an exit tube, there was just a big damn hole in the center, like in your toilet, and whether you go feet-first or head-first depends on the whims of physics. After a profoundly graceless "dive" into six and a half feet of water, I was so disoriented and stunned I'd kinda forgotten how to swim, and awkwardly doggie-paddled my way out, under the watchful eye of an apathetic lifeguard. Or, to summarize my real-time reaction to the ride:

    Wheeeeee*THWACK!OwGodDAMMITThatowowowowowowohnotheadfirstnotheadFUUUCK*SPLASH!*glurgleglurgleTWITCH*drown*

    Luckily, there was a grown-ups only hot tub in which to soak away the shame of getting my ass handed to me by a water slide.

    Sunday: Drove back. And Steelers game! Seriously, how did Mendenhall break that run for 50 yards? Atlanta had eight in the box! That hole never should have been there for him to exploit!

    Monday: After an ordinary day of work, Deftones! The Deftones played Club Zoo tonight, and Chey and I went. Great show. Chey pointed out that they played a bunch of stuff off the album they're ostensibly touring to support, and then used their first three albums for the rest of the set, leaving albums #4 and #5 out entirely -- and it was probably a good choice. (Though we both would have liked to hear "Minerva.") The White Pony and Around the Fur songs were fabulous, as you'd expect, but the stuff off Adrenaline blew me away. Their first album, Adrenaline showed promise but was often dull and plodding -- and the material they played off it was anything but. Wow, did those songs come alive.

    Oh, and this was my first proper metal concert in ... hell, ever, I'm pretty sure. One of the nifty things about Club Zoo is that the multi-level viewing area means that you can safely view the mosh pit from fairly close up.

    My ears are still ringing. I need to get some ear plugs. Damn, I'm old.

    Anyway. Good weekend.
    Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
    11:15 pm
    Squonk's Back!
    I've just been notified that PodCastle shall be purchasing the long-delayed third story of the Squonk series, "Squonk and the Horde of Apprentices."

    Originally, it looked like Squonk was going to stay on Escape Pod, but after much inter-editor discussion, it was decided to let the big green fella migrate over to PC. Either is a big ol' win, as they're both damn fine podcasts. (And I understand this will be the second PodCastle original story ever!)

    It's my first sale in a long time; I'm very happy. And I also need to put the finishing touches on "Squonk and the Lake Monster." And decide what the fifth story is gonna be.

    Good times. Good times.
    11:06 pm
    The Flaming Lips
    I went to see The Flaming Lips live with Cheyenne Tuesday night, at the Trib Total Media Parking Lot Amphitheater at Station Square.

    It was a damn good show ... if you were sober. If you were stoned, I suspect it wasn't so much "good" as "like getting oral sex from an angel."

    The band's entrance was the sort of thing that could only be conceived with the benefit of a truly majestic "hallucinogen::common sense" ratio. The stage had a large screen; on it danced a psychedelically-colored nekkid chick. She eventually laid down and gave birth the the band, who entered through a very strategic door in the screen. Then, the lead singer went crowd surfing in an inflatable hamster ball. Then the confetti cannons started firing. And several dozen enormous balloons were released into the crowd. Later, the singer did one song from atop the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. And there were other delightful oddities as well.

    Oh, and the lead singer was fascinated by the train tracks that ran right next to the parking lot amphitheater, and had them miked. So between two songs, we just sat and listened to the train rolling by. It sounded pretty cool, but the dude seemed utterly fascinated. WHY is left as a (bloody simple) exercise for the reader.

    Great show. Tremendous fun. Good music, memorable weirdness. If they're in your neighborhood, recommended.
    Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
    1:09 pm
    Boondocks is back!
    The Boondocks frames its season 3 premiere as a documentary produced by a dour, self-important German director, an unmistakable parody of Werner Herzog. And to voice their Herzog doppelganger, they got....

    Werner Herzog.

    Freaking awesome.
    Thursday, May 6th, 2010
    7:30 pm
    I Made A Reviewer Squee; I'm Pretty Sure That's A Good Thing
    C.S.E. Cooney has reviewed Black Gate #14, and like the other two reviews, she seems pretty damn pleased with both it in general and my contribution in particular. Egotastic excerpt:
    If [a novella is] good, I take such SATISFACTION from it, and "Two Blades" was good. Full immersion in place, a tangle of time and character that Pete Butler combs into a neat barbed wire braid, and the bard gets his comeuppance...
    She also praised Shweta Narayan's story in an unrelated publication, which prompted a little conversation in the comments (and the aforementioned squeeing) when I mentioned I've had the privilege of publishing Shweta myself in Triangulation: Taking Flight. So, a good review AND an opportunity to talk about Triangulation in a context outside of "I published this! Go buy it!". A pretty good deal, I believe.
    Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
    10:53 pm
    Fresh Reviewage!
    Another review for Black Gate #14, again mentioning Two Blades, this time from Locus Online. Here's the money quote:
    It is definitely a moral-based story, yet the author lets consequences make the point, rather than lectures. Unlike many of the tales in this issue, the prose is self-effacing and flashless; it effectively creates some emotionally harrowing scenes.
    So, not nearly as effusive as the other one (and the "RECOMMENDED" tag accompanying descriptions of three other stories was absent from mine), but nevertheless I'm prepared to take it as positive. "Self-effacing and flashless" seems more descriptive than a statement of quality, for good or ill, but for a story like this, "effectively creates some emotionally harrowing scenes" definitely counts as praise.

    So, in short, I'm smiling.
    Sunday, April 25th, 2010
    5:51 pm
    Big Ben Raped Your Bicycle
    (Cross-posted from my Facebook.) So, it looks like Steelers quarterback "Big" Ben Roethlisberger raped a woman in Georgia. The most generous interpretation of events is that he got her so shitfaced her consent basically meant nothing -- and the least generous is that she never offered any consent at all, not even of the drunken shitfaced variety. Either way, unless the team either dumps or trades him (and I'm pleasantly surprised at how many fans want that to happen), the Pittsburgh Steelers will be putting a damn sexual predator on the field in their uniform -- once he's back from his six-game suspension, of course. Thus, this page, one fan's middle-finger salute to the douchebag who suddenly made being a Steelers fan a lot less fun.
    Thursday, April 15th, 2010
    12:57 pm
    I'm published! And somebody noticed!
    Okay, two related things:

    First, I got my contributor's copies of Black Gate #14, the issue in which my long-awaited story "The Price of Two Blades" appears. This is a huuuuuuge honkin' issue; buy it, and you'll get your money's worth. The story looks good, and Malcolm McClinton's cover art illustration of my story (whoops!) is bad-ass (and you can see a full-color version of it here).

    Second, I did a little vanity Google over lunch today, to see if anybody has reviewed this thing yet and maybe had something to say about my contribution. And....

    Yes.

    Yes, they have.

    Grasping for the Wind's John Ottinger III says:
    Pete Butler’s novella “The Price of Two Blades” is spectacular. [...] Butler’s clever build of suspense and mystery, use of religious magic that costs a price, and multiple viewpoint telling of the story keep the reader glued to the action as it unfolds. This is undoubtedly one of the best stories of this issue, perhaps one of the best Black Gate has yet published. I’d like to see a lot more from Pete Butler’s pen.
    Read the whole thing. It's egotastically delicious.

    It is, of course, just one review, and future reviewers may not be so kind. So it goes.

    But today ... this day may be considered "made."

    And that thing where I've been meaning to buckle-down and get back to writing ... perhaps that should happen sooner rather than later.
    Monday, February 1st, 2010
    6:31 pm
    GENOCIDE BEAR WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU LOVE
    Making the rounds on the Internets, introduced to me by my friend Dr. Nick, I present the angriest bear in the universe.

    It is work-safe. And majestic.
    Monday, January 25th, 2010
    12:49 pm
    Look! Something that isn't a movie review!
    Let's talk about the health care reform bill that the US congress is on the verge of not passing.

    It's not perfect.

    It has some provisions that are, taken in isolation, kinda fuckin' scary -- like the whole mandating-you-buy-insurance thing. These provisions are generally balanced by other provisions that make them less scary -- like offering financial aid to people for whom the insurance would be a bit ol' bite, and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions -- but there's always the lingering fear those counter-provisions will turn out to have loopholes. There are legitimate reasons to be wary here. I get that.

    But something needs to happen, and a whole bunch of people I'm inclined to believe are adamant that it's better than nothing -- better by a pretty huge margin, actually. Too many American citizens can't get good medical care. Too many American citizens have to forsake preventative care and hope like hell the whatever-it-is goes away on its own, and have to worry about dire health and financial consequences if it doesn't. We're the richest nation in human history, dammit; we have no excuse for getting this so badly wrong.

    But if that doesn't convince you ... here's Fred Clark (aka "The Slacktivist") explaining why, if you're an American and health care reform dies, you might never see your take-home pay raise again.

    And if it does concern you, here's Balloon Juice's Tim F. explaining the most effective way to let your congressional representative know that this bloody well matters to you.

    The health care status quo in this country is an obscenity. This needs to happen.
    Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
    12:54 pm
    It's Brutal Takedown Day!
    I have two wonderfully nasty movie reviews to share.

    The first is this seven-part, seventy minute video review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace that's been making the rounds on the internets.

    "Seventy minutes of some nerd bitching about Ep 1?" I hear you complain. "Screw that!"

    To which I reply, at least check out the first one and get some idea of what this thing's like. It is, no kidding, a work of subversive genius. It isn't just that the critique is intelligent and insightful, though it is. It gives you a drunk, murderous, schizophrenic narrator and lets you realize this wack-job is considerably smarter than the movie he's talking about. It avoids the obvious jokes, taking only off-hand pot shots at Jar-Jar ("A cartoon rabbit who steps in the poopie") and splitting the bulk of its time jumping between the Big Problems (crappy characters, incoherent plot, sterile action sequences) and some delightfully nerdy subtleties you probably missed. And it implicitly hamstrings the tiresome "Well, the original movies weren't as great as you remember and were just as bad!" comeback by using the old movies as examples of how to do things right.

    There's a bit with a kidnapped woman in a basement that goes on longer than it should, a surprising flaw given that the rest of the thing is very aggressively paced. That's really my only complaint. Go check it out.

    Second, courtesy of Alyssa Rosenberg, I offer you this savagely hilarious deconstruction of Avatar. Now, I have to preface this by saying I actually kinda liked Avatar -- and based on the comments section, so did the author of the aforementioned hit piece. It's emotionally engaging and visually spectacular.

    It's also bloody stupid and oozes White Liberal Guilt out of every pore. With viciously playful wit and insight, the piece dutifully shreds Avatar from those angles -- but, more damning, it's also littered with suggestions for how to make the movie better. It suggests simple stuff that could have been handled with a better script -- it wouldn't make all the problems go away, but the movie sure has hell could have had a lot more depth than it actually did without much more (if any) money being thrown at it. It's well worth a read. Click away.

    (Oh, and something that occurred to me after I wrote my prior post: If Aliens had been directed by somebody other than James Cameron -- some dude named, say, Cameron James -- that guy could sue the crap out of Avatar's director for poaching so many characters and equipment. Remember, kids, it's not plagiarism if you're stealing from yourself; it's just laziness.)
    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
    12:09 pm
    "What do you have against peasants, murderous trollop?"
    So, how about this for a dramatic conflict:

    A rookie gamer, just joining a D&D group, has decided to play an unconventional fighter based around Dexterity and Intelligence, dumping average rolls into Strength and Constitution. The rest of the players are concerned, because the party is already short on combat beef and the newb hasn't proven she can make this kind of outside-the-box character build work.

    How did you react to that paragraph? If your reaction was "Wha-?", then the movie recommendation I'm about to make really doesn't apply to you.

    But if it made perfect sense, you need to see Dorkness Rising.

    Available on Netflix's instant-view feature, Dorkness Rising is by gamer nerds for gamer nerds, and is a micro-budget hoot. It switches back and forth from the gaming table to the game world, where the cheesy production values perfectly compliment the earnest goofiness of a fantasy role-playing game. Of course, the actors portraying the players are also the players' characters -- mostly. In one of the movie's funniest running gags, the "hot sorceress" is depicted by either a genuinely attractive woman or by her (male) player in drag, depending on whether or not he remembers he's playing a woman at any given moment.

    Also, there are ninjas delivering pizza. While fighting pirates.

    If you're a gamer, you will get these jokes. You've played these games and had these arguments with these people, and you will laugh.

    Not everything worked, unfortunately. A few of the Munchkin-related gags stray from "homage" into "shoplifting" territory. And they really needed to tone down Cass; I get that the guy was supposed to be grating, but he was such a colossal bag of dick that I lost respect for the other characters just for continuing to associate with him.

    So don't expect perfection. Expect something silly and clever and filled with affectionate mockery, and you'll get a damn fine movie in the bargain.
    Wednesday, January 6th, 2010
    1:36 pm
    Perhaps a wookie would be a better guide?
    I've been getting acquainted with my new Droid smartphone's GPS feature.

    Short version: Meh.

    Long version: Several years ago when I got me a little taste of Internet cash, I picked up a TomTom 910 GPS. It's a lovely little gadget and my baseline comparison for any other GPS I use, like the Droid. When I picked up the Droid I was hoping I'd be able to retire the TomTom and maybe give it to a friend. That's not going to happen -- at least, not yet.

    The Droid/Google Maps GPS is quite functional, and if you're coming to it from not having any GPS whatsoever, you'll probably like it. And as a veteran TomTom user, there are indeed some sexy features. The up-to-date maps, for instance; I haven't updated the map on the TomTom since I bought the thing, as doing so will cost me about $60. (At least that's down from $100 from a few years ago.) As it's powered by Google Maps, I can count on Droid's GPS to have the most recent info available. Or the traffic patterns -- I think TomTom can tell me where the traffic is jammed if I'm willing to pay a monthly subscription fee, but I'm not, so it doesn't. Droid provides this information for free. Or the Google Street View photo when I've reached my destination; TomTom has nothing like this little perk.

    But on the balance, I found the Droid GPS clumsy and frustrating, lacking a number of features I've come to expect and baffling me in other ways. Such as:

    1. Alternate routes. I had to drive my girlfriend Cheyenne back to her place, and I didn't want to take the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, as I knew it would be all gummed-up. The route the Droid offered me took me through it. I pressed the "Alternate Routes" button and it offered me one -- one -- alternative. Which also went through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.

      TomTom lets me specify roads I want to avoid, or just keep whacking the "Find Alternate Route" button until it gives me something I like. This is not a minor feature; it's one I've occasionally found very important. For this feature alone I'll be using the TomTom when I'm really serious about navigating via GPS.

      Of course, the fact that the Droid wanted me to go through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at all is particularly galling because....

    2. Doesn't use its own information. When I was vainly trying to convince my Droid that its Plan A was a hand-rolled bundle of purest Fail, I noted that it did indeed identify I-376 leading into the Squirrel Hill Tunnel as a five-mile-long parking lot. And yet it insisted I go make myself a part of the problem.

      What the hell? What's the point of having this information available if the pathfinding algorithm isn't going to use it? Am I supposed to personally inspect the route for traffic jams and try to work around them -- work around them manually, because the damn thing won't let me tell it "No, don't go there"?

    3. Color scheme control. TomTom lets me dictate the color palate it uses. Droid doesn't.

      This may seem trivial. It isn't. Bright colors that work well during the day become a hazard at night, casting a reflection onto the windshield that's both a distraction and a blind spot. With the TomTom, I can get around this by telling the unit to use a darker nighttime palate. Now, the TomTom is supposed to do this automatically for me, but the sensor it uses to determine which color scheme to use annoyed the hell out of me, so I disabled the automatic feature and handle it manually.

      That may sound like a knock on the TomTom, but at least the feature exists for me to manually twiddle. The Droid gives me literally nothing like this, automatic or otherwise. Huge win for the TomTom.

    4. Clumsy and small "recently visited" queue. TomTom gives me a list of places I've asked it to guide me to in the past few months, and I use it. A lot. By contrast, the Droid's list is much shorter and harder to work with.

      True, if I start typing in an address I've typed before, the Droid will auto-complete it for me, so it's better than nothing. But it's still not as good as simply selecting an item off a list.

    5. Bookmarking. The TomTom lets me save a list of "Favorites" that I visit often. It's functionally very similar to the "recently visited" queue, the main difference being that none of the addresses will vanish if I haven't visited them recently. The Droid has no similar feature.


    My complaints with the Droid's GPS boil down to two words: "Crap software." Luckily for the Droid, this is completely fixable -- and I hope like hell somebody fixes it. I'll give them money. Real money. That I earned and everything.

    I understand that TomTom offers an iPhone version of its software for $100. Given that I actually own a TomTom, that's more than I'd be willing to pay. So, what would I pay? For an app that just turns the Droid into a TomTom with current maps ... say, $20. For something that more actively leveraged the information available from Google, something that makes use of the traffic reports and smoothly integrates the Google street-level view, I'd go higher, maybe up to $50.

    I understand the stocks of both Garmin and TomTom went way down due to Droid's GPS feature. But the lousy software that actually makes it behave like a GPS has left the door wide open for either company to, paradoxically, compete with the gadget by embracing it. Let's see if either of them are up to it.
    Monday, January 4th, 2010
    10:57 am
    Behind the Scenes at Triangulation
    I'm no longer the editor of Triangulation. But I know I left the thing in good hands because my successor, Bill Moran, is doing stuff like this:

    Triangulation 2010 podcasts

    This is the page where Bill shall be posting "podcasts" of the editorial staff discussing short fiction in general and the Triangulation anthology in particular. I put "podcasts" in snark quotes because, well, I think it kinda needs some sort of aggregator-friendly RSS mechanism before it's really a true podcast. You can't subscribe to it, after all; there's nothing to subscribe to.

    But there is something to listen to, regardless of what you want to call it -- and if you have an interest in short fiction, it's well worth listening to. The first episode is up as a simple MP3 download. I listened to it yesterday; the audio quality is solid, and everybody had interesting things to say. Check it out.
    Sunday, December 20th, 2009
    5:32 pm
    Avatar Reactions
    Wow was that pretty.

    You can't read a review of Avatar without reading about the visuals, and for damned good reason. This is a beautiful movie even without the 3D effects; the bona-fide next gen 3D pushes it into "You have got to see this!" territory.

    Because really, you do. If you want to know what the hell all the hype is about, you need to experience this in a theater. If you wait for home video, I expect you to wonder what everybody was smoking.

    Because subtract the delicious eye candy and you're left with ... eh.

    Not nothing, certainly. The story is effective enough, but that's all I'm willing to give it -- "effective." "Unpredictable," "inventive," "smart" ... no, those adjectives stay in the bag. If you've seen the trailers you know what this movie is about, a mash-up of Iraq and the American West set in a jungle populated by dragon-riding humanoids that are part enormous idealized American Indian, part smurf. Director James Cameron has never really gotten behind the notion that antagonists should possess any sort of depth or humanity; and when his badguys are giant cockroaches (Aliens) or killer robots (Terminator 1 & 2), that's just fine. For this time out, our primary badguys are a recycled Carter Burke from Aliens and a not-quite-psychotic version of Lt. Hiram Coffey from The Abyss, surrounded by interchangeably despicable goons. They exist to exploit and murder our Idealized Giant Nature Spirit Indian Smurfs and be hated by the audience, and they get the job done competently.

    The goodguys aren't really much better drawn. Every character starts as a broad stereotype, and then spends the movie trying to overcome it. A few even manage to get close, most notably Sigourney Weaver playing a hybrid of Ellen Ripley and Jane Goodall.

    This is not a movie that wants you to think. In fact, it would much rather you didn't; if you think, you're liable to start asking questions it doesn't have good answers for. You're going to get hung-up on things like "Unobtanium" being the wholly unironic object of the badguys' lust. You're going to ponder whether flattering stereotypes of indigenous peoples are really that big an improvement over unflattering stereotypes of indigenous peoples, and wonder why they couldn't be treated as people instead of stereotypes in the first place. You're going to wonder what happens when somebody plays the "Nuke the site from orbit" card.

    This movie wants you to feel. As an exercise in visceral emotion it is indeed majestic, from its world-beating visuals to its unchallenging predigested good-vs-evil plot to it's luscious action set pieces. Go along for the ride, and this movie will entertain the living hell out of you.

    Just, you know, try not to think too hard.

    That'll just mess things up.
    Friday, October 9th, 2009
    11:18 pm
    Game About Ass-Kicking Wants You Feeling Inadequate
    Tina and I went to Half Price Books on a date earlier this week. I saw "Painkiller" and its first expansion bundled on sale for $10, so naturally I gobbled it right up.

    "Painkiller" is a five-year-old game most notable for earning the effusive praise of one Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, one of the internet's best (and most hilariously profane) video game reviewers. It's a first-person shoot-em-up that has all the depth of a cup of spilled tea, but is alleged to do the ultra-violence thing so well as to be a rollicking great blood-spattered time. So I've been meaning to give it a look for a while, and finally played it for a few hours last night.

    Short version: What the hell was Yahtzee on about, anyway?

    Long version: Okay, there were some technical issues, and those didn't help. Even after I'd downloaded and installed the 300-meg patch, the game decided it didn't like my computer (which is about three years old) and wasn't going to play nice with it. The physics engine would occasionally go a bit stupid, most notably at what I called The Bridge of Madness. I ran into a wobbly rope-and-plank bridge that was supposed to get more wobbly as you walked across it. By the time I got about a third of the way over, it had become not so much "wobbly" as "swirling vortex of pixelated insanity," which caused me to die. (Though I'm not sure whether it was from plummeting into the abyss or having chunks of bridge where vital organs used to be.) The only way I found across it was to hop along like a bunny. A very heavily armed bunny.

    More problematic was when the game would, without warning and for no reason I could ever suss out, start running twice as fast. Since my reflexes and mouse-clicking remained stuck at the same rate, this presented a wholly undesired challenge. I spent about half of the game trapped in fast-forward mode, and no amount of twiddling the video settings seemed to make any difference; there was no "Benny Hill" box for me to uncheck.

    But even if I was prepared to forgive the bugs (which I'm not), it's just not that great a game. Sure, the titular Painkiller, a combination five-bladed chopper-upper and mystic ranged weapon/tripwire thing, was a lot of fun to play with. (At least, when "Yackity Sax" wasn't playing in my head.) But starting with the second map, the enemies started spawning out of thin air at arbitrary points, which was annoying as fuck. If you want to avoid being surrounded (and you do), you need to remember where they start popping up and be someplace else, replacing the key strategic elements of Situational Awareness and Terrain Management with Rote Memorization.

    My fun level bottomed out on the third map. The larger game appears to rely on the twin themes of "Insane Frenzied Combat" and "Kick-Ass Weaponry," so designing an entire map that rubs the players' noses in the inadequacy of their weapons seems a curious choice. In his review, Yahtzee was blown away by the awesomeness of the weapons -- and for the Painkiller, I have to agree. But this level gives you access to a cannon that fires telephone poles into your enemies and forces you to use it, and left me wishing I was using something else. When you first get the thing, you're being shot at by a bunch of pricks standing on inaccessible platforms chucking an inexhaustible supply straight-flying axes at your face. (And doing so very, very quickly, thanks to Mr. Hill's contribution to the game.) They're out of range of the shotgun and Painkiller, so time to bust out the stake cannon!

    ... except they're only nominally within range of that thing, too. In order to hit them, you have to arc the shots into them, as though you're playing an unusually bloodthirsty game of football. I very much wanted something that fired lethal projectiles in a more-or-less straight line. I'm told such devices are actually quite common in the Real World.

    The Stake Cannon (or whatever it's called) also had a grenade "launcher." When used, grenades just sort of plop out of it, like shots out of those ping-pong-ball guns I used to play with as a kid, and then finally get around to exploding. You need very precise timing to get clusters of enemies to be near exploding grenades you just "launched".

    Later in the level, I had to take on a swarm of enemies WITHOUT just chopping them all to bits, as the suicide bombers among them made this a losing proposition. Fair enough, it's the game's job to provide me with challenges. But it's also the game's job to provide me with means of overcoming those challenges, and this is where it was a bit lacking. I needed to take them down from range, but the Stake Cannon is more of a boss-killer than horde-of-mooks disposal system, the grenade launcher was a joke, and the shotgun lacked the range, stopping power, and rate of fire I needed. I finally settled on using the Painkiller's "tripwire" feature, but had to be so precise with it that I had to reload the fight a few dozen times to get past it. (And once things started going tits-up I just let the suicide bombers waste me, because I knew I'd need all my health to get past the hyperactive axe-flinging cokeheads waiting for me in the next room.)

    The level left me longing for something that 1) shoots straight and 2) shoots lots of bullets. In short, an AK-47.

    When one of your game's selling points is the awesome weaponry yet you leave the player craving a sixty-year-old assault rife instead, you're doing it wrong.

    The level came to its natural conclusion with a Boss Fight where all my weapons were utterly useless, and I had to lure Mr. Indestructible into a pit of lava using only arbitrary quirks of that last room. A game that prides itself on high testosterone ass-kickery had just handed me a custom-made boss-killing weapon and chucked me into a room with a fucking Puzzle Boss.

    "This shit," I said, "is to be fucked." So I emailed my girlfriend and went to bed.

    I own games much more fun than this. Next time, I'll play one of them instead.
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