Category Archives: Ruminations and Musings

The Fog on the Window

The glass in the window is foggy. There are bushes and a street somewhere beyond it, evidence of a world beyond the walls that protect us from the elements – torrential rains and unsettling and powerful gusts of wind.

The apartment feels like a bubble. A pleasant bubble, at least. There are tables, beds, a kitchen, food – even a friendly grey cat. But it is still a bubble. Beyond the bubble, the world has vanished. The only proof of its existence is the occasional burst of noise against the glass panes – of bushes thrashing against the window, and in the spaces between the leaves, a faint, circular glow of a street lamp bleeds through on occasion.

The bubble provides quiet time, a sense of peace; granting us the necessary downtime so desperately needed following two animated days of ping-ponging between assorted locations for company functions and meetings. The world beyond is gone away. The bubble is a luxury. No one expects us. Our time is ours.

Rain and wind sweep through Brisbane’s streets, driving pedestrians off the footpath. Need supersedes desire; must – not whimsy. There is an element of the apocalyptic to it. What might be gone in the morning? A macabre thought to have, surely. Would cats still treat the world as their kingdoms if there is little kingdom left to feign a feline reign upon?

The light of the world will slowly return, the fog will clear away, reality will slowly reassemble.

But for now, we have our bubble.

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Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End

Chuck Wendig’s books are a treasure trove of clever metaphors, snarky dialogue, and prose that conveys a sense of urgency and immediacy.

Reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s remarkable double-whammy of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, Wendig utilises a third person present tense to make something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away feel like it’s happening right now somewhere not so far away.

His nuanced characterisation presents readers with protagonists often-times at war with themselves as much as they are with their external environment. And it’s terrific stuff.

No less terrific is Wendig’s natural ease at presenting a same-sex relationship with the same obvious naturalness as between opposite-sex couples. This remains a curiously odd elephant-in-the-room for some readers, who find this to be a jarring disruption for reasons beyond this critic’s understanding.

Interspecies relationships between numerous (imagined) species are acceptable, but same-sex relationships between two human characters is not? There is an odd double-standard at play which may be as much a reflection of our changing times – and the pushback by the curious denizens unfathomably bothered by changes which in no way impact their day to day lives.

The Star Wars universe allows for a variety of stories about numerous characters, as well as a variety of approaches to telling those stories – be it Matt Stover’s Shatterpoint, which transitions between first and third person, to the Robin Hobb-like first person point of view of I, Jedi – to the exclusively third person omniscient approach utilised by Timothy Zahn in his contributions.

All are welcome. None are excluded. This open-armed and kind (Jedi-like, if you will) approach only enrichens the ever-expanding Star Wars universe.

None of us own it, but many of us play in it. To the universe’s benefit.

I doff my cap to Chuck Wendig for making the Star Wars galaxy a richer and more fascinating place to visit. May he someday return to further enrich this vast and diverse universe.

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Filed under Ruminating on fiction, Ruminations and Musings, Science-fiction!

The Reduced Drink Experience: Day Seven

Monday.

A busy day. An educational day.

Following a stop-in at my local cafe for a cappuccino, I wound my way to Ashfield, to help a friend take care of her 18 month old son (she’d had an operation involving the appendix leaking a bit like a mostly ok but not quite perfect kitchen faucet where the nobs never seem to be tight enough).

I learned a bit about baby poo – which, when it involves diapers, really looks like an accident was perpetrated against a chocolate cake that involved collapsing knees, gravity, and a severe lack of pants.

Following several wonderful hours of taking care of the most adorable 18 month old baby I have ever met, I hightailed it for the city, for trivia training. See, I’m training to become a trivia host. Stuff working in finance – being a trivia host is just a billion times most interesting and rewarding (isn’t hyperbole just the best thing ever?).

Following my bit of the show, I took the time to sit and enjoy a pint of cider with a Russian guy that the host introduced me to. A Russian who grew up in the same city as my father.

And attended the same university as my father.

And studied in the same faculty as my father.

And in all likelihood, probably knows my father.

We spent a bit of time chatting after trivia wrapped up. A pint of cider was followed by a pint of Kosciuszko beer, followed later by one final schooner of Coopers before heading home. (I paced myself, fret not!)

What a tremendously weird and awesome experience though, to meet someone that’s a quarter of a degree removed from my father. And who’s also a Frank Herbert fan too!

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Filed under Drinking habits, Food and Drink, My relentlessly fascinating life, Ruminations and Musings, Telling stories

The Reduced Drink Experience: Day One

To the best of my knowledge, I don’t drink too much. 1-2 ciders per day, sometimes maybe a few more – but spread out carefully across a late afternoon and evening, so as to maintain a reasonable drink-to-time ratio.

For some time though, I had been thinking of pulling back and slowly coming off the cider – and alcohol in general. It was a desire I’d expressed prior to leaving my last job, where I most certainly drank to cope with the stresses and pressures that continued increasing in my role.

Now that I’ve been away from the job for over a month now, and have had some time to sleep in, regain a sense of sanity, and explore my interests and hobbies in greater depth, I’m thinking it’s time to fulfill some of the promises Then Ilya made to Now Ilya.

So for the purposes of engaging in a regular writing activity and tracking my developments in this Grand Quest, I’ll be producing daily updates on my progress – much like I do with my beard growth on my Instagram account. 

Let us then designate today, 7 March 2017, as Day One of the Reduced Drink Experience. 

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Behind Sydney

For many years now, I’ve wanted to live somewhere that would allow me to come home to a balcony with a westerly view. And so, now I come home, plop down on a chair on the balcony, and watch the sunset, whilst sipping a glass of wine. A portion of our balcony looks out over a moderately crowded street. The other side looks out onto a side-street featuring something that, at first glance, would seem rather unremarkable. Houses. Trees. Apartment blocks. But it’s far more appealing than the main road, which features, apart from some tree-lined side-walks, a park, and some buildings built well over 50 years ago, which now sit unloved, rotting away, featuring about as much aesthetic appeal as a turd.

So it is with the main streets of Sydney. We don’t know much about how to make our main thoroughfares [outside the CBD] of any interest. Parramatta Road? It’s a dour piece of work. Unimaginative, tacky store-fronts for miles on end. One stretch of road (near the Italian quarter) features, at last count, six different stores selling wedding dresses. A whole half-mile that takes the highway car-dealership approach, and simply stuffs them close together, like members of an unhappy family. Later spots along the road? Car repair stores. Dingy pubs. Fast food chains. Houses framed by rusting fences, overgrown weeds.

Sydney, lovely Sydney, is only lovely behind the scenes. The arteries of our city feature an almost relentless lack of beauty. I wonder sometimes if the people involved in the development of these major arties thought “Beauty? When yer goin’ fohty kay down the bloody street? Whatcha be goin’ on about?” (That may have been an Irish accent, it may have been Scottish…let’s just call it a pan-anglo accent).

And the good people of Sydney, being a fairly practical lot said: “Well this is a bit shite, innit? Let’s just make sure the rest of our city doesn’t look like this” and set out to build a lovely set of side-streets alongside 19th century churches, micro-parks, and even places to barbeque near cricket ovals.

It makes me think that perhaps I should give tourists a walking map of Sydney, and say “Now, when you get a bit outside the inner city, it gets a bit suss for a few suburbs, but if you hit the side-streets, well golly it gets pretty”. Because that’s where Sydney’s prettier locations are hidden. And it’s worth taking a visit.

Luckily, my balcony looks out onto just such a set of side-streets. And it’s a pretty marvellous sight at sunset.

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The State of Gaming

For many years, I despaired, for videogames had taken a route that was no longer of any interest to me. Following the decline of isometric games, wildly expensive sandbox games, first-person-shooters and MMORPGs became the norm. Almost excessively so. And those of us who came of age during the RPG renaissance of the mid 90’s weeped, for there was little room for our particular palette.

There has been some discussion in the last year or so, on various gaming sites, discussing how games have changed in the last decade – the unbelievable budgets, name-brand focused approaches, the importance of sequels, the necessity for graphical improvements…the list goes on.

That all seems to be changing now. The games that I grew up loving, like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, System Shock 2, Anachronox seem to be slowly returning to the market, but in highly unorthodox ways. Kickstarter. It’s making it easier now for game developers to take stock of the situation and ask: “Are $100 million dollar budgets what we really need? Isn’t that excessive?” For many, myself included, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article posted on TheWertzone, about the contemporary nature of the gaming world. I’ve a few friends who work in the industry, and know – through them – that it is a difficult one. Especially in Australia. It’s a difficult industry in which to be involved, when living here. Fortunately, there are tablet games and smaller, smart-phone games, that are keeping people employed. However, the big studios, one after another, have over the last decade, faced increasing financial difficulty, and it’s unsurprisingly related to the spiraling budgets and excessively long development times of computer/console games.

As Adam Whitehead points out in his article:

How times have changed. Today, it takes teams of several dozen people anything from two to six years to make a game, with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. Dozens of game development studios have closed over the course of the last generation of gaming (which began in 2005 with the release of the X-Box 360), in many cases despite selling millions of copies of games. It’s no longer enough to be successful. Now you have to produce a fast-selling megahit from day one, otherwise your company might go bust.

When budgets are massive, and one’s employment hinges on whether or not a game is successful, it’s hard not to stress, and lose one’s joi de vivre. Many studios seem to have forgotten that making more modestly-budgeted games means that they don’t *have* to sell as many copies to make a profit, and there’s less risk involved. Of course, what might get sacrificed is the quality of graphics. But videogames were never about that to begin with. Rather, they were about the gameplay, and the story. Some of my favourite games were immersive not because the characters in the game were lifelike, but because the storylike sucked me in. Anachronox, Planescape, System Shock, Deus Ex, all these game featured less-than-amazing graphics. But what they lacked in that department they more than made up for by having incredible writing, memorable characters, interesting storylines, and some wickedly excellent music.

They were immersive.

With the rise of Kickstarter, the opportunity to return to that style of gaming is returning. The spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment (Torment: Tides of Numenera) is now officially in development, and they’re asking for all of $900,000 (a paltry sum when compared to the budget for the Call of Duty games). The spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – Project Eternity – is now also in active development. Like Numenera, the developers have asked for a relatively small sum of $1.1 million dollars. To date, they’ve passed the $2 million dollar mark in funding.

It appears to be a good time for gaming. Alternative revenue sources have appeared, which might, at the very least, lead to a bit more stability for those involved in the development of these games. And it might just very well lead to an industry-wide reassessment of how games are made, how much they should cost, and how the current publishing system could be restructured in order to facilitate the transition to a more economically sensible method of developing (and marketing) videogame content.

 

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Filed under Ruminations and Musings, Where We Are

Stitching Songs Together

Rock journalism was not my calling. Could never have been, not because it’s hard to write reviews of musical albums (it’s not), but simply put, my familiarity of the history of music was so appalling that even talking about music intelligently produced sensations of awkwardness. How could I talk about music if I didn’t know much about who inspired whom, and how, and when and why? Whilst such knowledge is not of course necesssary to properly enjoy an album, without doubt: it does contribute a greater understanding, if not appreciation, of the music-listening experience.

Having thus spent the last few years immersing myself in music that would otherwise have not blipped on my radar (Muse, Radiohead, Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake, etc), how pleasant it was to come across a band about whom it was not too difficult to talk: Mumford & Sons. As they fit (loosely) within the broader umbrella of “folk-music” (one of the few areas of music about which my knowledge is fairly extensive), it led me to become, well, certainly not obsessed, then at least terribly appreciative of their wonderfully folksy and layered songs. Alongside Dave Matthews Band, they became one of those bands whose album never left my iPod.

Thus, upon learning that a new album was due to be released in late 2012, I of course made plans to obtain a copy (natch!), and why indeed it has been played on my iPod a fairly impressive number of times. And it was whilst listening to one of the tracks (Lovers’ Eyes) that I found myself humming some other melody, one those name refused to swell up to the whatever juicy part of my brain would be considered the front. Eventually however, when thinking about something else entirely, the name came to me. Michael Jackson. But what the bloody hell was the song? And of course that too was finally revealed to me: Will You Be There.

So, reader, if you’ve now, upon having read this far, thought to yourself “You know, the lad has a point”, then please, do yourself a favour and enjoy this acoustic mashup of Lovers’ Eyes and ‘Will You Be There’, by the Massachusetts-based (woo!) band, The Novel Ideas. It’s a pleasant, folky little number, and despite the female vocalist’s somewhat bored appearance, it’s well sung and doesn’t so much merge the two so much as it pays respect to their shared melody. See for yourself.

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Filed under Listen to some music, Ruminations and Musings