First Blog From The Smart Phone Means…

That I have no excuse to let fifteen days pass between posts. Crap.

Play Retro Handheld Games at Pica Pic

Pica Pic Handheld Games

Childhood video game nostalgia FTW

As we’re all well aware, the internet can be used for creative good or soul-shattering evil (and the line separating the two can get a bit hazy at times). Every once in awhile, a truly benign and innovative idea comes to life through the deft creative execution of talented designers and thinkers (ex. the “Sour” music video, definitely worth a watch). For a brief moment, something beautiful surfaces from the cesspool of negative comments and ironic detachment that defines a lot of the day-to-day emotional commerce on the interwebs, and it reminds of that thin wedge of the interactive pie-chart signifying “Genuine happiness and faith in humanity”.

Today, that moment is brought you by Pica Pic’s handheld video game treasury by Hipopotam, a collection of games that any kid of the 80s/early 90s will immediately recognize. Sure, it’d be nice to just look at these expertly re-created and nod approvingly, but the experience doesn’t stop there: you can actually play most of the games as well. Inner-child, feel free to go nuts.

Adios, Star Pine

the star pine

Star Pine in memoriam.

The Araucaria hterophylla that loomed large over my life, the one that shadowed my childhood, met its end today. Melodramatic? Maybe, but the only real home I’ve ever known took a hit and I’m going to ruminate on it.

On the southeastern corner of my parents house, the Norfolk Island Pine pictured above dominated the edge of our unfenced front yard. When my parents bought the house in the early 1980s, the tree didn’t even reach our house’s lowest roof slat. At the end, it could have easily towered about seventy or eighty feet in the air at its tip top.

Cliche alert: the gigantic fixtures of our lives that we take for granted are immemorial and invisible until they’re removed; sometimes, they have to go because they’ve reached their obsolescence naturally. Other times, it’s because their stubborn roots are screwing up your house’s foundation and the neighbors callously dismiss them as an unnecessary eyesore. “Screw you, neighbor” you mutter under your breath, “you don’t talk about my tree like that, asshole. I don’t care if your dog is really cute and friendly.” You stay quiet, though, until cooler heads prevail and the removal preparations are made.

My dad, with his fatherly resignation and dour humor, said several times that he feels like his main duty as of late has been consigned to declarations of “Kill that thing.” Is this an overreaction? Couldn’t we just plant a new tree, or at least enjoy the extra space afforded for the front yard? No, not really. Count the rings of the poor pine’s trunk and they’d be equivalent to the time it took for my parents to raise a family and retire–time that it took for my brother and I to become young men. Now that time is over. We still got pictures.

And, in lieu of some new star pine seedlings, I’ll plant these couple memories here in case I forget about the old star pine: the miserly San Diego rain, when it actually did deign to fall on our plot, made the sodden ferns of the pine bob and sag as they dripped moisture.  With the proper gold-grey lighting from the street lamps, the tree hulked and swayed in the rain like a shadowed giant, breathing slowly in the dark. Then, in the driest summer months, I remember picking up the brittle, brown ferns that it shed and running my thumb across it’s needles as if they were tines on a comb. The tree trunk was dry and hot to the touch. From the end of the street, the pine remained utterly still, an immovable sentinel. It distinguished our house from the rest of the pre-fab homes on our street. It changed and stayed the same every year, defining a big part of my family home. In my mind, it probably always will.

Vaya con dios, big guy.

The Name of the Monster

"I'm under your chair right now..."

Pretentious  Literature  Questions (PLit Q’s) that I ask myself after reading Rebekah Frumkin’s “Monster” in the sixteenth issue of Post Road Magazine:

  • Elaborate on the idea that the anthropomorphic, entirely-malevolent Panther Man (Man Panther?) haunting his home is a projection of Danny’s burgeoning, frightening emotional awareness of the tormented lives of the adults in his world. Don’t talk about the Panther only as a projection of his father. How does the consistent lack of communication between all parties involved inform the various appearances of the Manther? Why do big cats often take the fall as symbols of menacing emotional dread in short stories (e.g.  “Tooth and Claw” by T.C. Boyle)? Talk about all of the references to the PanManther’s metallic teeth for bonus points.
  • Does Danny’s entire fear of the baby in the ice box and his confusion over it signal more than just the early terrors of sexual awareness? Doesn’t the unknown sex act becoming known sort of also bring up even more terrifying questions about life and death, and the complete lack of intimacy in Danny’s family exacerbates this most terrifying aspect of losing innocence?
  • Speaking of innocence, how does Emma fit into all of this? Does her character represent only the persistence of naive innocence, or don’t her touches and affections just feed into all of the scary stuff that Danny’s trying to figure out without any sort of language to guide him?
  • How does Danny’s latent emotional awareness compare to Djamel’s at the end of the story? Couldn’t his (Djamel, that is) gauntness and unspecified fasting represent a physical response to a lot of the same existential problems with which his equally harried, Western pen pal continues to grapple?
  • There’s no way you’re still reading this, but I’ll ask this two-parter anyway: what exactly is the name of the Monster, and how did this college junior get into the 2009 Best American Non-Required Reading?

Alright, that last one was a bit of a loaded question. Most of us can probably guess at the name of the monster by the end of the story, and it got into that anthology because it is really damn good.

Shining Moments – 2011 edition

The best time of the year is almost upon us: the NCAA men’s conference championship tournaments are nigh. March is a wonderful month for spring weather, longer days, and college basketball. Normally, cheesy sentimentalism would be eschewed here in this space; however, it’s hard to ever know whether to laugh or feel touched by the end-of-the-year montages that accompany my beloved tournament, which are consistently scored with a rendition of “One Shining Moment”. As a flimsy paean to the manic heavyweight fight that this year’s tournament promises (hopefully) to be, here’s the 2009 “One Shining Moment” rendition. I’ll post this year’s as well, and maybe have something actually worthwhile to write about it then. It begins.

2 Girls, 1 Cup, Zero Interest?

2 Girls 1 Cup reaction video

Gross out web culture doesn't enjoy the popularity it once did, but what sort of questions does its absence raise?

Why do people still search for the original 2 girls, 1 cup video? Hasn’t everyone seen that at this point? Isn’t that just a relic, a delightfully disgusting footnote in the history of the internet in its truly Wild, Wild West days in the long-forgotten age of 2007? Not exactly.

Everyone that works in the business of the internet accepts a certain number of blurry hypocrisies and moral gray areas when it comes to the kinds of content that they interact with and/or propagate on a daily basis. Few of us, however, take stock of how the social and vocational decisions we make evolve over time, or our understanding of their various cultural effects beyond the ways that we can exploit our information to make money.

Awl co-founder Choire Sicha started what could be an important conversation on the shift in internet culture with his post on what he called the “death” of Internet Gross-Out Culture. He comes to the same conclusion that most of us nutshot/shock/NSFW aficionados have accepted: there just isn’t much money in it. The broader ramifications of internet culture’s collision with mainstream advertising certainly deserves more attention in other blog posts; however, a thorough autopsy and investigation into web culture’s demise would probably warrant a less severe diagnosis, one closer to the dashing Wesley’s “mostly dead” status in The Princess Bride. (Hopefully, that’s an appropriately nerdy reference.)

The question that Sicha seemed to really be getting at was examined in a broader scope by Adam Gopnik in his recent New Yorker piece “The Information”: what is the changing purpose and promise of the internet? It’s undeniable that one of the fundamentally amazing parts of the internet is how fast it grows, changes, and provides more and more varied conflicts and confluences of information among users. What we perceive, and how other users/advertisers/content creators perceive us change constantly. What doesn’t really change are the emotional and cerebral motivations that shape our technological discourse.

Gopnik eloquently sums up the cycle of our disgust over the ills and pleasure our technological advances can afford us: “Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.” The halcyon days of “One Man, One Jar” and “Shake That Bear” and a ton of other horrible gross out videos that your buddies used to send you are probably over; that kind of entertainment is no longer the focus of the machine from which we first derived them. Now, they’ve simply become another part of our ever-shifting, multivalent inner lives. Our senses of proportion have merely changed, and the greater aspect of web culture that we will eventually have to really question is how much we are willing to stifle our senses of empathy, creativity, and pain as the internet shifts farther and farther into the mainstream.

Besides, if you’re still reading and interested, it’s not that hard to find those videos that tugged at our bile ducts. Trust me.

Traitor and Hero, Borges and Nolan

The Dark Knight - Hero and Traitor

"He understands that he forms part of Nolan’s plot... this too, perhaps, was foreseen."

The Dark Knight was on this weekend; for some reason, the overtly moral nature of the film struck me in way that seemed incredibly familiar. Somehow, it reminded me of a Borges story that I read a long time ago. A quick search later and I recollected the principal narrative of “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero”. Batman’s eventual decision (spoiler alert) to take the fall for Harvey Dent/Two Face’s spree of murderous retribution is described in a little more pointed detail in Borges’ story. Borges makes a point to highlight the cyclical nature of rebellion and the transference of societal power: one group of conspirators or agents create a narrative of moral, political and social triumph–not only at any cost of life but also at cost of fact and distortion of reality.

The weird thing about the piece that I linked is that the narrator who notices the cyclical nature of the conspiratorial story and the inherent duality at the heart of the revolutionary cause is named James Nolan. Is it a coincidence that the same themes are expressed in Christopher Nolan’s film? Is it nothing more than a fun literary exercise to imagine that Christopher Nolan playing on the theme of the hero turned traitor (living “long enough to become the villain”) was ordered in the same unknowable, cyclical nature that Borges described? Was he, like the other historian in the story, preordained to hit upon the truth of the story in the future, and laud its cinematic variation?

It’s probably just a coincidence; then again, it’s that sort of assumption that keeps the prefigured cycle going.