Not a Jot Nor Tittle

12 June, 2006 at 4:55 pm (benjamin, dear diary, literary)

Jottings and small thoughts:

+ I had occasion to go to a florist a few weeks ago, and it had been a considerable amount of time — at least a few years — since I had had occasion to visit a florists’, and so I may have looked a little out of sorts as I stood patiently at the counter. However, despite any sense of experience I may have felt I possessed, the proprietor of the shop seemed to think I looked sufficiently at sea that I must be a teenager buying a corsage for the prom. You know how women will say they like getting carded because it makes them feel young? I can’t actually imagine wanting to be a teenager again, except for the marvelous metabolism, but I decided to take the comment in the same spirit: as a twisted, misguided compliment.

+ Went to a Chuck Palahniuk signing in Boston at the Brookline Booksmith. I’d never read anything by Chuck, but he was giving out free gelt to people who stood in line: bunny-ear headbands and stuffed rats. I got a plush snake, which he signed, “Chucky P.”

Vienna Teng's DREAMING THROUGH THE NOISE+ Hem and Vienna Teng, who I saw play a gig together at the Iron Horse last year, are both coming out with new albums this summer. This is Hem’s fourth album in three years, so I’m a little worried about quality control, but Ms. Teng is releasing her first album with Rounder Records, so I hope that it combines her excellent songwriting and technical expertise with their stripped-down, schmaltz-resistant sensibilities. I like her music, but it’s a guilty pleasure, as she does tend to have records produced with that extra dose of cheese. I found out about the releases on NPR’s All Songs Considered, which is darling enough to have RealMedia full-length previews of a track from each album. We’d prefer MP3, but we’ll make do with what we have. The Hem track is called “Not California“, and the Vienna Teng is quite good and titled “Blue Caravan“. Hem also has a zipped MP3 available from their website, a live recording of “Reservoir“.

+ Superman Returns is due out soon, and I’m all aflutter for its eventual release. However, for some unknown reason, Warner Brothers marketing people are trying to get in the way of my peaceful coexistence with commercialism as brokered by the fine folks at Universal Studios and as recorded in the previous post. Listen, WB: if you’re going to get Superman plastered all over the cereal aisle, at least contract out with General Mills or with Kelloggs… those guys are whores, and they will make sure that their cereals contain crappy toys. Crappy toys that I will lust after and buy cereal in order to acquire. You, however, have decided to go with Quaker, who are more wholesome, and are content to offer coupons and “Memory”-stylee matching games on the back of their boxes. This is insufficient. I require more crass commercialism with my blockbuster DC Comics movies, and you are not giving it to me. Admittedly, it is pretty damn cool that there’s a red cereal that turns the milk blue, but that’s not technology that I can place around my computer monitor and shoot at my students.

Superman: SPACE+ Lastly, on the cereal front: the “Memory” game? It comes on packages of Life, with a different set of eight cards on each flavour. Of the four pairs of cards, the first three are different pictures of Superman, Lois, and Lex Luthor. The fourth pair of cards is a location. And on the plain box of Life, that location is “SPACE”. Look, guys… I know you’re already lame, because you’re trying to pass off cut-up pieces of recyclable pressboard as a toy. But you couldn’t come up with three locations from the film that didn’t include “SPACE”? You have the entirety of the Warner Bros. press machine to provide you with material for this sham of a promotional item, whereas I’ve only watched the trailer. However, I can come up with three locations from that limited footage. Actually, more: Metropolis, Smallville, The Daily Planet, the Fortress of Solitude. Even allowing for the fact that the use of “Smallville” might involve sticky trademark issues, that’s still three better “Memory” cards than “SPACE”. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

+ I have more free disc space on my e-mail account than I do on my computer. How did that happen? Gmail really has caused a paradigm shift in the base expectations of what webmail should and can provide. That and the fact that my harddrive is only considered “sufficient” by pre-BitTorrent and DVD-burner standards. Ah, the quaint days of 1999.

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‘Bout Damn Time

2 June, 2006 at 7:31 pm (benjamin, film)

I began watching Firefly on September 20, 2002. I bought tickets to Serenity on April 27, 2005, and joined the Browncoats message boards the same day. After seeing the film eight days later, as part of the whole “fan premiere” promotion effort, I spent a while on the boards to find out which of the stars had appeared at which of the locations, and then wandered off to less focused internet nerditry.

BenCam: 2 june 2006But then the boards instituted a merchandizing scheme that allowed people to get free stuff for participating on the site and accumulating points. Reading posts and watching videos and getting other people to click on links and submitting fan art could get one points… so all stuff that cost nothing but time and patience. And after some silly drawings and some failed attempts to have my friends click on links to get me points, I finally accumulated enough to earn a patch. This all reached a pitch because the site was closing down with the release of the DVD, and it was all a bit of a scramble to increase my participation points by more than 200% before they stopped doing promotions. I got my last clicks in, and resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to accumulate 15,000 points for an autographed Josh Middleton illustration of Summer Glau, and ordered the patch on November 5, 2005. Two to four weeks for delivery, the invoice said.

The site closed down on January 3, 2006. Still no patch. I had mostly given up hope by that point, but faint vestiges remained. But as I have felt the month of August looming closer, and my eventual move from my current address became more imminent, these cobwebs of hope had been blown away, and I had well and truly accepted that the patch would never grace the sleeve of my nerd overcoat (which already showcases the emblems of Warren Ellis, Brian Wood, Neil Gaiman, Jhonen Vasquez, and Jill Sobule). Then, today — seven months since I ordered it — the patch is in my hands. And it will soon adorn my sleeve. Thank you, Universal Studios promotion intern; you’ve restored my faith in marketing.

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97 cm of Dutch courage

24 May, 2006 at 4:44 pm (benjamin)

This lack of resistance is unsettling... could it be... A RUSE?!!97 cm of Dutch courageWell, despite my earlier feelings of competence, Star Wars: Jedi Academy has quickly turned into a morass of Sith v. Jedi combat, and I’m just not a skilled enough gamer to actually win battles through any sort of ability. It’s essentially a process of quicksaving at each Sith outpost and then screaming, collapsing, and quickloading repeatedly until I get a lucky torso hit. Because my computer has enough lag and because I can’t seem to master the combos, every lightsaber battle is less choreagraphed than it is accidental. None of which makes for inspiring or compelling gameplay.

So, I may need to put this back on the shelf until I can afford to acquire a faster computer, or a least a processing accelerator. The main argument for the former is te impending release of the LEGO Star Wars: Original Trilogy game, which will doubtless fail to run on my machine by the time that Aspyr gets around to re-engineering it for the Mac. And a new machine with the dual-boot Intel capability would allow me to not have to wait for Aspyr anyway.

However, while I may need to hang up my lightsaber, I will get to wield a sabre from long, long ago and far, far away: an 18th century Dutch rapier is currently shipping my way from the Netherlands (pictured on the right). While some parents might have thought that an updated computer would be a good practical gift for a recent Masters graduate, mine went for the gloriously useless antique sword option that I’d cavalierly added to my gift list in order to fill it out somewhat. As a deeply impractical person, myself, I am enamored both of the gift and the people who got it for me. Zombies beware! This is the kind of Dutch courage that I prefer: almost a meter of two hundred year old steel. That’ll get me through the long dark night of the soulless.

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23 May, 2006 at 12:23 am (benjamin)

With all the rights, honors, and dignities thereunto.

Unsurprisingly, it’s particularly hard to find keychains, hats, et al. at the Simmons bookstore that read “Alumnus”.

While the commencement address was given by the eloquent and honest Eve Ensler, I was particularly interested to see what President Daniel Sargeant Cheever, Jr. was like before he retired and I wouldn’t have the chance. The Boston Globe had just written up a rather glowing profile of his tenure at Simmons and the transformations he had spearheaded, and it made me wish I’d been more involved in the community he’d helped reinvigorate.

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12 February, 2006 at 9:27 pm (benjamin)

Thirty-two months ago, I was playing the video game Star Wars: Jedi Outcast and found myself pleasantly surprised to be doing pretty well at it. However, since it’s been thirty-one and three-quarters months since I put the game aside and I haven’t picked it back up to finish my mission during the interim, I don’t think I was doing quite as well as I’d hoped. Or perhaps LucasArts weren’t doing quite as well as they’d hoped in making the game addictive.

Photostrip of Ben and a BlasterOne of the aspects of the game I enjoyed was the essential first-person shooter (FPS) aspect of the game. I enjoyed pointing my camera around corners and sniping foes and trying not to aggro various stormtroopers, probe droids, bounty hunters, etc. To a lesser extent, I enjoyed using the lightsaber. The amount of “battle damage” it would inflict upon the environment always sent the render function into a bit of a tizzy, and the combat would demonstrably lag. And what’s the point in playing a Jedi game if you can’t wield three feet of neon fury?* Also, it took me a good slice of forever to complete two levels.

Peter and I share many tastes, but not many skill sets. Years ago we co-played a game of Grim Fandango. We’d tried this once before with a game where we swapped levels, but the amount of time it took me to finish a term made him impatient, and he just zoomed through the entire game one evening while I was absent. So why he agreed to sit at my shoulder and talk me through a puzzle game is beyond me. Peter, like many gamers, is a power premiere player: he gets a game early and the first thing he does is to finish it, burning through all levels as quickly as possible. Then, he goes back and enjoys the game’s replay value. When deciding to purchase a game, the shortness of the initial completion and the amount of replay enjoyment are the two costs he weighs.

But because of this gameplay methodology, my first-time meandering drove him grazy with Fandango. I’d wander down every blind alley and click on everything trying to find hidden functions and features. And I’m currently playing Star Wars: Jedi Academy in a similar manner. I’m trying to explore the whooooole map on each level. I’m not simply interested in accomplishing the mission, I want to look at the design and the tech and the amount of planning that went into making a world and a video environment. I like the sound editing, especially. The way the footsteps change from a flapping pat to a quick clang as the avatar wanders from desert dunes to corrugated corridors. And the constant machine noise of drones and whirrs… One of the best ways in which Star Wars was able to convince film audiences back in 1977 that it was a believable, tangible setting was not the archtypal characters or the Campbellian plot structure: it was the way the film sounded. We love the hum and crackle of the lightsabers and the howl if the TIE Fighters… even if they sounded like nothing we’d ever heard before, they sounded convincing. And the videogame sounds the same.

Meanwhile, I’ve figured out how to turn off weapon environment damage and reduce the quality of the texturing, so that Jedi Academy is able to run on my machine with only the occasional hiccup, despite having fifty fewer megahertz and significantly less visual memory than recommended by the manufacturer. And despite the added bonus of being able to design one’s own lightsaber and select a particular fighting style, I find myself once again most enjoying sneaking through corridors, weapon at the ready… inching around corners and catching my enemies unaware. Perhaps this time I won’t let almost three years pass before I get to level three.

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Shuffle? Shut Up and Deal.

22 January, 2006 at 4:15 am (benjamin)

EarbudsIn the winter of 1999, just days before the infamous Y2KNYE (Which would make a good ironic vanity license plate, come to think of it), a very inebriated and very insistent friend convinced me to cut off my hair, saying that it would “change my life”. Last year an equally fervent teacher I have gallons of respect for extolled the virtues of the Apple iPod, using the exact phrase to endorse it.

So, here I sit, with short hair and an iPod. I’m beginning to think that change actually does come from within. Huhn.

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1 December, 2005 at 11:06 pm (benjamin, webjunk)

Threadless wishes m3lbatoast a happy birthday!

So a few months ago I noticed that when one went to, the main menu would wish one of the many community members a happy birthday. And, since I wasn’t doing anything better with the evening of my 30th birthday, I hit reload an enormous number of times until it finally said mine. I had no idea so many other t-shirt purchasers and I shared the same birthdate. Of particular surprise was a Ben from St. Louis also uses the site and is born on the same day. Also, belated birthday wishes to ExcellentRaptor, VampireCatBoy, MunkeyFlingsPoo, MrSaturn, EverydayAnonymous, DurinSavesTheday, and Organs.

If you didn’t get me anything for my birthday, feel free to order a t-shirt while the $10 sale is still on, and give me the referral credits that will allow me to order still more t-shirts in the future.

On a different note, few things make me happier these days than the magnificent Channel Frederator, which downloads itself to my iTunes podcast menu every Tuesday morning. This Tuesday was particularly pleasant, though, because of Tim Farrel‘s cartoon “E-mail!!” The exclamation marks are his, not mine, but simply because they are part of the title and not the sort of over-exuberance I usually employ in my writing should not indicate that I don’t think this is the cleverest, funniest cartoon I’ve seen since 2003. Download the cartoon directly (10.9 MB .mpg file), and if that won’t convince you to subscribe to Frederator, then I’m not sure what can.

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20 June, 2005 at 8:45 pm (benjamin)

New, shorter hair

New haircut. I was debating between going for something either like Gregory Peck or like the style sported by Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins. In the barbershop, it rather thought that I ended up with something more like Johnny Depp, but seem to have also ended up with Satan Wisps! Added Bonus!

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Three Dimensions

6 June, 2005 at 9:19 pm (benjamin)

Well, that only took seven hours.

In the same vein as my previous post about Clutter, I was about to embark upon a massive project to catalogue all of my CDs, DVDs, and books. I had previously catalogued all of my DVDs using DVD Profiler, but as it is an IBM-only program, I am no longer able to maintain a current and accurate collect profile. Then Dan Evans introduced me to Delicious Library, a program that works with Amazon to translate bardcode numbers into a virtual bookshelf. It’s not the most useful thing in the world, except perhaps for fire insurance purposes, but it’s lovely to look at and a fun way to while away the idle computer hours.

However, I can’t afford to buy a software license at the moment, as I am only one-fifth of the way through The New Poverty, which is how I’m referring to my current financial affairs, affairs I expect to last until the end of October. So my original plans of happily puttering about the apartment, typing in barcode numbers by the convenient armload, are temporarily on hold.

Due to the oncoming incidence of a 3-D film festival at the Coolidge Cinema in Boston, my interest in View-Masters, the Loreo-3D camera, and all things stereographic has recently resurfaced, so I decided a good alternate computer activity would be to learn the process of making a flat image into a 3-D anaglyph.
The traditional 'Ben and Pete RAWK!' photo
1) I began with the traditional Ben and Pete RAWK! photo, the trademark image of The Brothel. I altered it slightly so that Ben and Pete were both wearing Red/Blue 3-D glasses, specifically the glasses provided to patrons of the recent Spy Kids: 3-D film.The alteration of the image, and the first stage completed
2) Using the instructions provided by Jim Long, I worked on separating the original image into layers of depth. Mr. Long recommends editing the image and closing the gaps layer by layer, but after some experimentation, I found that it was easier to do all the editing in one go. So the image on the left is the shifted image with all the gaps. 3) The image on the right is the image with the shifts filled in. It’s a little difficult at the reduced size to see exactly what the changes have wrought, but compare Image #1 and Image #3; if you look at the position of the RAWK! hands and the faces, it’s as if the camera has taken two steps to the left.
The alteration of the background, and the second stage completed
On my first attempt, I continued shifting the image to the right by one pixel, layer by layer, until I had pushed the foreground image completely off the screen. This seemed like a bad idea somehow, as I didn’t think that my outstretched RAWK! hand would look very 3-D if its cyan shadow wasn’t even in the frame. So instead of a full thirty-layer shift, Image #3 is only half of the process, and is just the shifting of Pete and Ben in the foreground. 4) I then proceded to shift the background to the left, having masked off the foreground figures and copied them to a separate layer. This, then, is the shifted background with the landscape interpolated and filled in. 5) is the masked right-shifted figures pasted back onto the left-shifted background. Image #5 was then combined with Image #1 using a freeware piece of Mac software called Anaglyph Maker, producing the following image:
Pete and Ben, RAWK!ing in 3-D.  Red/Cyan glasses required.

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Leon the Unprofessional

27 March, 2005 at 4:56 pm (benjamin)

Please note that the following entry contains vulgar language. Those of a more delicate nature may wish to grow up and join the rest of the English-speaking world.

An Open Letter to Benjamin Leon Russell:

Pay your fucking bills.

In 1995, a year into college, I got a call from SallieMae asking me why I’d defaulted on my loan payments. I informed them that I was still in college, and therefore wasn’t supposed to begin repaying my loans until I’d completed my studies. So something must be wrong. It turned out that a different Benjamin L. Russell was fucking about with non-payment. And despite the fact our Social Security numbers were radically different, and that SallieMae uses SSNs as personal serial numbers, this other Benjamin L. Russell’s credit record was somehow bleeding into mine.

Two upraised middle digitsYou may have guessed by this point, Mr. Benjamin Leon Russell, who this other Benjamin L. Russell is. But considering you seem unable to comprehend the basic social contract of paying one’s financial dues, you may actually have the intellectual capacity of the end product many generations of incestuous Afghan Hounds, thus producing the stupidest member of the stupidest breed of the stupidest animal on the planet. So, to wit: it is you.

Due to the slightly unethical but immensely charitable act of a woman working for SallieMae, I know your Social Security number. It was given to me so that I could protect myself against any asinine actions you might take in future. So far, I have only used it for said defense. Do not force my hand so that I begin using it in a series of offensive tactics, linking your name, address, and SSN to a series of home loans, car loans, credit card buying sprees, and mail order sex toys the likes of which H.R. Giger only dreamed of.

It’s been ten years since your foul sewage spilled over into my fiancial records, and I rather thought perhaps you’d grown up enough to learn how to settle your debts responsibly. However, I have received two calls recently from different banks asking me to pay your bills. Here’s a thought: PAY YOUR FUCKING BILLS, as I am not willing to do so in your name.

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