The Wife took the plunge and got a tablet.
Unfortunately, even though it meets her requirements in every conceivable way and she is extremely happy with it, it is still the kiss of death in one major respect; the lack of an Apple logo on the back ensures scorn and pariah-dom with the more Cool & Relevant crowd, since it has been made abundantly clear over the years that you only matter if you use Apple.
I’m still not sure exactly when creativity, personal expression and freedom to choose meant “everyone uses the same closed platform, and if you cross the line, you’re not one of us,” but this is the strange situation we now find ourselves in when it comes to creative people and the products they use.
It’s rather unfortunate too, because aside from the lack of an Apple logo, this Asus Transformer thing performs admirably in every other way, and is much cheaper to boot. Maybe someday there will come a time when people who don’t use Apple products won’t be scorned as second class citizens, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime. In the meantime, we’ll just wear the star on our clothes that marks us out as destined for The Camps.
See ya’ 2009. While the first decade wasn’t particularly horrible for me, it seemed not so great for the world in general. Hopefully, things will be better for the next decade. And that whatever replaces Hip Hop as the new music will easier to listen to.
Another For The Pile
We ended up picking this up earlier today at the local game store. We found out about a vintage game store in the neighborhood that also sells new stuff, and small shop staffed by actual owners with deep love for games wins out over monolithic retail chain with disinterested minimum wage teenage staff in my book Every. Single. Time.
After playing through it a bit, the Wife and I have both had that realization where we look at each other and wonder why the hell we didn’t pick this up sooner. Despite the fact that it got rave reviews when it first came out in October. I’d seen the Ratchet & Clank series floating around on the PS2 for years, but never really got into it because of the “cute” graphics. I am now experiencing regret over that decision, because this latest version on the PS3 is an unbelievable amount of fun. Looks beautiful and has a bouncy, playful sense of humor that hearkens back to a more innocent time in gaming before the idea of fun was having sex with a hooker in your car, before running her over with said car and then taking back the money you gave her, then beating on her corpse with a bat a few times for good measure. I think we just discovered another franchise that we will be faithfully collecting as each new sequel comes out, provided it lives up the promise of this first PS3 outing.
Also, I have a replacement guitar for Rock Band. The first guitar that came in the box was okay. It was functional, but I noticed right from the start that strumming up was something that only worked intermittently. This was fine playing at any level below Expert, but for some of the extremely fast shredding sequences of certain songs, you NEED to strum up and down, and whenever I did that, I saw myself come dangerously close to failing out. At first, like any reasonable gamer, I wondered if perhaps it was simply because I sucked. However, after getting the new guitar (which in Rock Band lingo is a “Gen 3″ guitar that uses new magnetic induction technology instead of physical contacts for the strummer) and taking it out for a spin, it was like a revelation. Guitar lines in Run To The Hills which had put me in the red “You Are About To FAIL Because You SUCK” zone were suddenly easily survived, with me staying in the green the whole way and never being in danger of failing. For once, I could legitimately blame the instrument instead of myself. It also helps that the new guitar’s whammy bar works, since my own actually broke down just a couple of days ago.
I’ve been discussing this with others, and it seems like the consensus is this is not a problem of design, but of manufacture. The Strat looks GREAT on paper, and the actual theory behind its design is clearly superior to the Red Octane peripherals. And when you get a Strat that works as designed and intended, it blows the old Guitar Hero guitars out of the water. The problem is that Harmonix and Electronic Arts lacked a chief advantage that Red Octane had; established relations with the unscrupulous owners of factories in China. Red Octane is owned and operated by some Chinese folks who seem to have connection and family already established in Hong Kong and China so they already knew how the system works in China where people make large promises about what a factory is capable of doing… but won’t deliver on this unless they get their palm greased with some green under the table. Harmonix and Electronic Arts pretty much fell into the same trap that Microsoft did with the Xbox 360 and horrendous failure rate; they failed to grasp that when you sign a contract with a Chinese factory, paying the agreed sum in the contract will merely get you stuff that LOOKS like it works, but will actually fall apart in short order. Getting product that ACTUALLY WORKS requires more money beyond what is contractually agreed upon. Red Octane understood this. Harmonix and Electronic Arts are now probably slowly making this realization.
Oh well… at least the new guitar works great…
Over the weekend there was a bit of news that ended up being both a source of great surprise and immense relief. For the last year or so, yet another “format war” has been raging, similar to the one that took place in the mid 70′s between VHS and Betamax to determine which would be the dominant media platform that consumers would buy their movies on. Sony, backing Betamax lost that war, and man have they been bearing a grudge ever since. Well, last year, it all started up again with all the high definition craziness on TVs and such, and Sony once again stepped in with their successor to the DVD, dubbed “Blu-Ray” because it used a blue laser that was more precise and thus could more accurately read tons of information crammed onto a disc which more or less looks EXACTLY like a DVD from an appearances standpoint. The counter to this was Toshiba with “High Definition Digital Video Disc” or HD-DVD. Since about late 2006, both format have been steadily cranking out titles and extolling the virtues of watching this stuff on an High Definition TV, but the adoption rate was pretty slow, largely for one reason; many consumers were alive when the VHS/Beta war occurred and they didn’t want to get burned again on spending a huge amount on movies and machine, only to have to re-buy all that stuff again on the winning platform if they chose poorly.
Fortunately this all looks like it’s at an end. Blu-Ray would appear to be the winner as of Friday, and the chief reason for this is Warner Brothers. They announced that they would be backing Blu-Ray only, and that means that HD-DVD now only offers about 15% of the total inventory in American film. Obviously since I have a Playstation 3 with a Blu-Ray player built in, this means that my console now suddenly seems like an even more worthwhile purchase, since it not only plays games, but now, like the Playstation 2 before it, it is also successor the next generation of media. Now only Universal and Paramount are left providing movies to HD-DVD and Paramount is kind of stuck there for at least a year after taking an enormous amount of money from Toshiba to “defect” to that side, which also had the unfortunate side-effect of them recalling all their previous Blu-Ray discs. I expect they’ll eventually get out of their contract since they want to stay profitable, but for now, I’m just happy it means I will get to watch Stardust and Transformers on Blu-Ray at some point after all. And if and/or when Universal also moves over, I’ll finally be able to watch Heroes as well.
Around this same time last year, I was just about smack dab on the equator, sitting in a hot apartment, cataloging DVDs and games and putting them into boxes for an imminent move to the other side of the planet. Out of all the months in 2007, only January was a low point and that’s only because it was still spent in Singapore.
I don’t foresee the same problem this year.
Happy New Year, all. Hopefully the rest of 2008 will be as good as 2007 was from February onwards.
I’m A Pretentious Jerk
Because today I slipped in a movie borrowed from the Upstairs Neighbor, I Heart Huckabees, and I laughed. And enjoyed it. Not a ton, not as much as Being John Malkovich, but I still found it cute, enjoyable and somewhat engaging, even if it was running a little shallow on the whole existentialism thing. But then what can you do with an hour and 45 minutes, really?
I’d vaguely heard about the movie, but it was only after being given the DVD that I was told a lot of people had some serious issues with the film. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t one of them, so I suspect this probably does make me a pretentious jerk. After reading some of the more critical reviews in wake of having just watched the film, I think a lot of people were overthinking this movie, because it wasn’t that complicated. If I had to sum it up, I would say that it’s a little Nietzsche, a little Sartre and a whole lot of Beckett style absurdism that all meets somewhere in the middle of the Nietzsche/Sartre thing, but with laughs. I mean, seeing Donny Wahlberg whack himself in the face with a ball so he can experience Being & Nothingness and enjoy how cool it is was, to me, FUNNY. I laughed at it. I laughed at a lot of stuff in here.
I am a pretentious jerk. I have now made peace with that.
More Stuff In The Mail
I’m quickly beginning to realize that internet and credit card access pretty much connects you to whatever toys you’re into, without necessitating you having to live in a big city with access to all the amenities provided by metropolia on that scale. To whit; despite the fact that Suspect Video and Beguiling are just a few blocks away, the winter weather still makes a leisurely stroll down to these areas unappealing at best.
However, thanks to Amazon and other mail order services, it’s all pretty much irrelevant. There’s no particular drama for me, though the Wife continues to be thwarted in her attempts to get her scanner. Today, her laser printer arrived–a big ol’ thing weighing in at 60 pounds–despite the fact that she ordered that much later, so I suspect if a few more days goes by and the scanner doesn’t turn up, she’s going to bite the bullet and order it again, hoping this time it’ll actually survive the trip.
On my end, I was messing with my new toys, the first things I’ve ever ordered with my very own credit card. The big one was a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for the last few years since the Wife first mentioned it. It’s a precursor to the Japanese horror ambassadors like The Ring and Juon, and this one was called Kairo, which–surprise, surprise–got recently remade into an American horror film called Pulse. The story (and in particular the continuity, with people suddenly appearing in different clothes for no apparent reason and no perceptible jump in time) was disjointed, but on eof the things that seriously creeped me out about this movie was a serious use of dark and camera movement to creep you out. There were no long haired ghosts crawling around in this one, and none of the typical jump scares or gore as typified by American horror. Instead, the film relied on causing excruciating amounts of tension by letting you see shadows and things moving here and there, but rarely letting you actually see anything. Basically the director relied on the truism “It’s what you DON’T see that scares” to in order to achieve his goal, and it worked.
I now also have the Southpark movie (something else that was, you guessed it, illegal in Singapore!) and will be viewing it shortly. It’s terribly appropriate to be watching this film now, considering its plot. My only opportunity to watch it in Singapore, years ago, was aborted by the fact that it was on an extremely bad pirate copy burned to CD, and the disc jammed up about a half hour into the movie, so this will be a much more pleasant viewing experience.
And the IGN assignment is tentatively on. I’ll have to see about more details and nail down deadlines and the exact scope of the job, but I told “I’m interested” and they said, “Great,” so I guess it’s on.
The Dark Side Of The Force
So after decades of going without, I finally got my first ever credit card today, having been rejected when I applied for a student credit card back in university days. As far as I know, I’m the only student to have ever been assured that I would be guaranteed a student credit card, only to get rejected despite the fact that I had a reliable fulltime job at the time.
Nevertheless, now I have one.
Now, I have visited Amazon.
Now, I realize how truly evil these things are…
(Mental note to self: Remember to track down One Crazy Summer and complete your early Cusack collection.)
Respect Your Elders
Tonight was one more in a seemingly endless parade of dinners and get togethers that have been converging ever since it was announced The Move was happening and was not some fake, pathetic, plea for attention or, a petty way to try and get people to convince us to stay with offers of more money and better party invites. This particular dinner was with The Wife’s grandparents and, as you might expect, I kind’a had to rein it in and not be as obnoxious as normally could be.
It’s always a bit weird for me in situations like this. I don’t live the typical Expatriate Lifestyle (that is to say, full of maids, money and more or less hanging out with other white people and experiencing the High Life while the locals madly scramble about to appease my every whim) and I don’t live the local life either (that being, scrambling to appease white people, or, on lucky occasions, coming into enough money that you can pretend to be a white person). Actually, I think I probably live that most rare of things in Singapore, the non-wealthy Creative Life, which mostly entails doing some kind of creative work, but actually relying on it to make a living rather than being a hobby to kill time while waiting for your white husband to come back from the office.
But anyway, so yeah, The Wife’s grandparents. It’s interesting to see what the old fashioned Singaporeans are like, because this is, in my opinion, a far more genuine take on The Real Singapore than what you normally get if you try to read the pamphlets and brochures. I mean, these people were alive (albeit as kids) during the Japanese occupation of the island in WWII, and they were already adults when they witnessed their home go from British trading post to sovereign nation. More importantly for me, however, these people didn’t grow up having cellular phones given to them at childhood, having maids accompany them to school to carry their books, and laugh at poor people, citing either idiocy or an innate genetic inferiority on their part on their part for their economic condition. I am sad to say that most of the Well To Do in Singapore (or at least their children) have PRECISELY these traits and characteristics. So it’s nice when you meet some people with experience and history who have worked hard for what they have and actually appreciate what it can cost to get those luxuries their children may take for granted.
Of course, they usually also think them crazy hippie artsey types are bad for the economy which is why I had to be on my best behaviour and, when asked what it was I do, I replied with the half truth, “Uh… I’m a… Journalist. Yeah, that’s it.” Somehow, that goes over slightly better than “I bitch about games on the internet.”
Still, it was an interesting snapshot view of The Wife’s outer satellite ring of family orbits. And her grandfather has a Jaguar. That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever sat in one of those things, and he wasted no time in showing off the thing by taking it from zero to 60 in about 6 seconds. I also paid one last visit to the Boys & Girls of GameScore, my all time favorite gaming store in Singapore. They actually didn’t know that I was leaving, so there was the usual round of goodbyes and “keep in touch, man” and all that other stuff which I find endearing and at the same time vaguely depressing and painful.
Oh well, just a few more days now…
The Inevitable New Year’s Post
So here it is, New Year’s Eve, and once again, for the fourth straight year in a row, I am NOT writing out a hateful, spite-filled mass e-mail that insults all my friends and indulges in my once a year explosion of venom and envy over the fact that they are happy and I am not.
Having been with the Wife now for four years (although this was the first as a married couple) I can safely say that the jealousy I experienced over the happiness my friends had being with someone is long dead and gone.
So this is about something else entirely. I already got a chance to write the GameAxis editorial page, the first and last time I will likely to do that, and it’s simply because it was my chance to say goodbye to magazine and its readers in my capacity as the main staff writer. But one of the things that I mentioned in the editorial is that this particular New Years that is being rung in (at least, in this time zone, obviously Canada has yet to experience it) is that I’m very much living the typical cliche for this time of year; that being out with the old and in with the new.
2006 is my last year in Singapore. After just over 10 years, the island that I more or less landed on by whim and accident is finally being left behind with one Wife, two cats, many, many books, comics, CDs, DVDs, games and one plastic guitar. 2007 becomes my first year in Canada after all this time. It kind of floors me to think that I have never, ever set foot in my own home country since the new millennium dawned on us. When I left, the internet barely existed, DVDs didn’t at all and there was no such thing as an online transaction or free communication via online cams, headsets or instant messaging systems. Blogs didn’t exist. iPod didn’t exist and people still had carry around either a portable CD or tape player if they wanted to listen to their music collections. Global Positioning Systems weren’t available to the mass market and Starbucks, Wal-Mart and other big American conglomerates had yet to set foot on Canadian turf (at least, in Edmonton, where I lived).
Now, in this new year, not only do I have a different part of the country, a different city to adjust to, but a different kind of lifestyle entirely. I left Canada as a university graduate and come back to it as a writer who’s done just about everything you can with the English language for money. I come back to a country far more technologically advanced than it was when I left it, and I come back with some pets and, most importantly, a Wife.
So while the New Year is certainly filled with a lot of unknowns, there’s a lot of excitement and promise, even in the midst of the uncertainty. And, as schlocky and disgusting as it sounds, I’m not at all scared or massively worried about what the future will hold, because after being away from Canada for so long, and being in a country where free speech, other political parties or even pornography simply don’t exist… I have a lot more appreciation for what Canada has to offer. Especially to people in the creative industries. In Canada, you don’t have to worry that what you say will get you arrested, you only have to worry about whether it’s good or not. Trust me, that doesn’t seem like a big thing, but after having had to butt heads with the Singapore government in one form or another over the last couple of years, believe me, it really DOES color your point of view about what to say or not say when you know that you may pay for it in a very Official Capacity. It will be nice to know in Canada when you say something that is true, no one in the government can arrest, fine, or otherwise harrass you for it.
The other thing of course is the Wife. We have a good thing going and I really, truly love her a lot. Tons even. And everything seems bearable or even conquerable as long she’s around. And no matter whether things get very good, or very bad, or merely very complicated, all of these things are easier to live through with her beside me. And more fun too. And I’m looking foward to seeing what happens with her when we get to Toronto. For me, it is a home coming, and even though Toronto is unfamiliar, Canada with its cold, its creativity and its very, very unAmerican sanity and compassion, is not. Everything will be new to her, and I’m interested in seeing what Canada will be like through her eyes as she experiences so many firsts, like, unfortunately, snow and sub-zero temperatures.
Of course it won’t be easy, but then is any kind of positive change ever a walk in the park? There will be new things to get used to, she will have to adjust to being a very busy artist, and I still have a few projects that are brewing which I can’t yet talk about, but hopefully those will keep me very, very busy in 2007. And also extremely happy and geeky. So I dunno whether 2007 is going to be a better year than 2006, but it certainly is going to be a LOT different. And perhaps more fun.
So that’s it. My final New Year’s Eve in a place where you can actually break into an unpleasant sweat while standing around outside during the countdown because of the stifling heat and humidity.
And as for those of you not in Singapore, well, Happy New Year in advance. This’ll be the last time I beat you to it…