Monthly Archives: March 2011

MissGuided – DirtyDee Sweetwater (Second Life)

OpinionHated: A Review

Opinionhated, a short story by Nicholas A. Behrens, has all the elements familiar to your average iAddict.  Scorching chatroom debates that start out pretentious and quickly degrade into profanity and account blocking.

The story revolves around two self proclaimed movie buffs with differing tastes.  One is a horror only fan and an amateur reviewer.  It’s his scathing review of Titanic that sets off his soon to be nemesis, ‘moviefangrant’s initial contact.

This story will be a hit with well versed movie fans that will see themselves in the heated repartee between these two self proclaimed film aficionados.

I have few criticisms for this story; it’s an idea that reflects our new online culture.  I was, however, disappointed in the quality of chat between the two fans, as in their chat had too much quality. 

Anyone who has experienced angry typing knows that the quality breaks down almost as fast as your keyboard.  ‘Net slang was absent, making it hard for me to fully immerse myself in the cyber convos.  There was no ‘hang on, afk’ or ‘brb’.  The author did address this at one point, remarking on how the main character took time to go back and correct his angry mistakes, but they would have made the story more authentic for me personally.

All in all though, I’d like to congratulate Mr. Behrens on a fine first attempt, and hope to see more from this new author.  I recommend OpinionHated for movie fans and anyone whose ever found their humanity devolving in an anonymous chatroom.

My favorite quote:
“The internet has shown that the human race excels at blatant and needless stupidity.”

Guest Blogger for Angelocracy News & Politics

I have been asked to be a guest blogger on Angelocracy News & Politics. I had never heard of the concept of angelocracy before, and take the term to refer to politics governed by metaphorical angels. Always curious, I did a minor bit of searching around the internet and decided I like the idea.

If there were angels around willing to take office, I’m sure they would be an improvement. If our current politicians would start acting in selflessly angelic ways, even better. Please take a few minutes to visit this interesting idea and come back here to tell me what you think of the concept. Is it meant to be metaphorical or does it mean actual angels?

Regardless, it was an interesting idea to write on, and I thank Angelocracy News for the invitation.

Here is an excerpt and a link to my guest post:

from Angelocracy – An Engaging Concept

“Standing in the middle of our house of cards, can even our world leaders see what’s best for the whole construct? We are continually made aware of the butterfly effect. The tsunami in Japan effects the price of salt in America. Connections upon connections, developing into a web of dependence…”

Partyin’ Like a Pop Star

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest to a machinima expo sponsored by Pop Art Lab.

The virtual venue was an eclectic mix of disco Tron and college amphitheater, complete with neon and multiple big screens to show off the machinima offerings.

And what offerings they were!  My personal favorite remains the submission by Kira Madrigal, due in a large part to the focus on telling a story visually.

In her interpretation of Giana Factory’s Pixelated Truth, the music used for all the videos, she plays out the life of a game character from the actual character’s point of view.  The player behind the game character is a little girl, too young for such games. 

In one of my favorite scenes the little girl sits staring at traditional toys, unplayed with.  Later she has returned to her computer where her game character, a scantily clad woman, dances suggestively.  This small girl is far to young to be acting as a woman, but with games so accessible in our society we never really know who is behind the avatar we see on screen.  As the song pleads, “Please save the youth…”

Despite the concern at seeing such a young girl playing an adult looking video game I find myself drawn into the game character’s existence as we watch it play out, and find myself feeling genuine sympathy when the game character’s life is ended and she ceases to exist.  The story plays out well, elicits genuine emotional involvement and fits with the lyrics.  I want to congratulate this machinima maker on a well done production, and hope to see more offerings from her in the near future.

Another favorite amazed me with how much it resembled a contemporary music video.  Created by Arbit Delacroix, it featured all the traditional trappings of a good music video.  Visually stimulating, plenty of images of the band playing and excellent scenery… I especially loved the recreation of the old school video game machine that sported Giana Factory graphics.  It was the visual metaphor of life and performance art as a game we play, but is it us playing our own game or is someone else at the controls ‘playing us’?

The whole affair was a fantastic production, and the real winners should be Claus Uriza, Persia Bravin and the rest of the Pop Art Lab for their hard work putting this important expo together.  All the elements were there, attendees got to meet and speak with the danish band, Giana Factory.  Rhett Linden gave an engaging and informative talk on machinima opportunities in platforms such as Second Life.  Chantal Harvey, also a long time supporter of virtual arts, charmed us with her presentation.  Press, artists and fans overflowed the actual theater and the entire production was broadcast live on Treet TV.

Congratulations to everyone who made this expo a success.  I hadn’t really experienced a lot of machinima prior to this experience, but now I am sold as a supporter for this art form and plan to continue my support.  Machinima opens up opportunities for music artists and more to visually present their work without a huge investment.  For the first time, creative inspiration trumps a fat wallet, and anyone with the talent, vision and determination can create a masterpiece.

You can watch the entire broadcast yourself on Treet TV here, or watch all the entries, including the winner at the Pop Art Labs site here.

Buyer Beware!

Crap rolls downhill, and as the world economy struggles, big business tries to send their losses rolling downhill to your wallet.

Today more then ever consumers have to be savvy shoppers. Take a look at this photo. Berocca is on sale at this shop, 2 for $34.

The average shopper has been trained to accept sale prices because their store tells them it’s a good deal. Often a bright tag catches their eye, the brain disengages and in the cart it goes.

Look closer at this tag, though. You don’t even need a calculator to see this faux deal. Buying a single box of Berocca costs $36.78 per 100. The sale promises that if you buy 2 packages at $34 you’ll pay $37.78 per 100, or $17 a package instead of the usual price of $16.55.

What a great deal? If you buy two packages on sale, the store will let you give them an extra .45 cents. Be aware and don’t let yourself get robbed when you go for groceries.

Don’t Blame FaceBook

How many times lately have you seen careers ruined from FaceBook usage?  Type “facebook ruins” into Google and you’ll find thousands of entries blaming the social networking site for everything from failed marriages and trashed friendships to careers going up in flames.

No one seems immune either.  Famous athletes and actors seem prone lately to posting inappropriate comments up on the web, causing carefully built careers to be smashed under viral outrage.

Your internet image is as important as your physical image.  Few people would smoke pot at work, but how many wild party pics are posted online everyday?

NewsFlash!  Your boss, and anyone else with internet, is stalking you.  Don’t post your dirty laundry if you don’t want it seen by the neighbors.

FaceBook, like guns, money and booze, should be considered amoral.  These items are neither evil nor good.  They can’t make anyone do anything, people should feel responsible for the consequences from their misuse.  If there is no one to pull the trigger, there is no danger.  If you don’t post inappropriate material you won’t get fired.

That being said, FaceBook, and the internet in general, is an incredible tool.  New concepts like cloud computing, are changing the the way we live.  From your desk you can now shop, date, mail packages, chat with anyone, go dancing, have a business meeting, publish a book, attend a conference, report a robbery in progress…. the possibilities are as vast as the internet itself.

Use the net it for what it is, but like anything, use with common sense.  You wouldn’t take a stroll in a bad part of town with money sticking out of your pockets, and you shouldn’t post photos of last night’s crazy party after you called in sick to work.

You don’t have to ‘like’ FaceBook, but you can’t really blame it either.

Pop Art Lab Machinima Expo 2011

 

This is where I’ll be this weekend… I can’t wait to see what a virtual machinima expo is like! All the details will be up by Monday ^.^

When I Committed Suicide – A Short Story

“Hey…haven’t seen you lately. How’s life?”
I just looked at my neighbor, sitting there with no cares in the world except whether his bar-b-que was going to burn and could think of only one answer.

“Cruel. Always cruel.” I answered smiling the best smile I could under the circumstances and enjoyed the dismayed look playing across his face before walking on. That was dramatic, a good final statement for him to remember me by….a good way to begin an end. Now it was time to kill myself.

Walking down the road with a short length of rope wrapped around my arm I contemplated how much my life sucked. I was lonely, had a stagnant internet business, a recent divorce, a failed attempt to quit smoking and now I had just found out I wasn’t even good enough to work at a second rate tacky gift shop in the mall. Life sucked indeed, and I was getting out.

A small voice in the back of my head was trying to squeak out some new age crap about things being the darkest before dawn and how kids in third world countries didn’t get two meals a week but I told it to shut up. I didn’t care anymore. I never get a dawn, things are always just dark. People say I’m lucky because I always wind up getting what I need at just the right time, but I don’t feel lucky. Anything I ever really want never happens.

So I trudged on, stifling happy thoughts and trying to be as bitter as possible. When one is about to commit suicide it’s best not to have happy thoughts. Why I even had any to stifle was really pissing me off. I couldn’t even be depressed and angsty properly. I should have worn black. I even failed at being emo. That’s as bad as it gets.

Coming up on the empty lot I trudged my way through the clods of dirt and broken glass left over from a recent demolition job. If only I could have been in the house when they tore it down, bulldozers running over me and crushing me in a wreckage of splintered wood.

But then I wouldn’t have found out that I was worthless at finding a job and I probably would have tried to save myself because I would naively think there was still some hope left for me. That wouldn’t have made a very good suicide. Plus the thought of splintered wood turning me into a living shish kabob didn’t sound appealing. My plan was much better.

Coming up on the dock I stopped for a second and looked out over the water. A pod of dolphins were frolicking in the smooth surface, springing magically from the bay to shower each other in glittering spray. I could hear the breath escape from their breathing holes as they arced back down to vanish beneath the cool water, smiling faces that seemed alive and wise.

“Stupid dolphins.” I muttered, and I turned away to find my rock. A pile of broken concrete lay heaped near the dock, leftovers from whatever patio had once graced the former house. I imagined people like my neighbor sitting there watching the dolphins, cold beer and a smoking grill the jewel in the crown of their life. Now all that remained was a pile of rubble lying like leftover carnage from a giant’s rampage.

Surveying the pile, I selected a big chunk of concrete with plenty of ridges to keep the rope from slipping. I uncoiled my bit of rope and lay it flat on the ground and rolled the concrete awkwardly onto it. Kneeling down to wrap it I felt the rough ground bite into my bare knees. What idiot wears a sun dress to kill themselves? I really should have worn black. I was going to look really stupid floating under the water dead in a sun dress.

Concrete tied up tight at last I struggled to pick it up. I had picked a good heavy piece; no way I wasn’t going to the bottom attached to that. Grunting and ignoring the dirt that was sticking to my sweaty chest I carried my prize to the dock and stepped on. My footsteps had a hollow sound as I waddled to the end, the dirty weight I cradled slipping lower and lower against my body until I half dropped, half rolled it to the end. The chunk hit the dock with a loud thud.

Panting I sat next to it and started wrapping my ankle in the loose end of the rope. Double knotting and then a second wrap and knot. No way was that coming loose. I shoved the concrete to the very edge of the wood leaving white trails of dust ground into the boards and stood next to it. Looking over the edge, the water was black and empty; my face peered back at me equally empty. Taking my final look at the day, I prepared for my demise.

One last time I thought of how pathetic my life was, and how much better it would be for the world to be rid of me. The dolphins continued to play in the waveless bay, oblivious to the mortal drama that was unfolding so close to them. Ignorant and uncaring of my pain, the fact that my bruised heart would soon stop beating leaving a hole in the world where I once was.

“Stupid fish! I hope you all end up in a tuna can!” I shouted and with that last defiant line I shoved the concrete off the end of the dock and ended my life. The chunk of patio hit the water with a splash and I had an instant to acknowledge the cold, wet slap against my feet as I saw the rope slide off over the edge and become taut. In the next second my foot was jerked out from under me and I hit the wood hard, slamming the wind from my lungs.

Over the edge my legs went, jerking me to the water like a helpless puppet slung by its strings. My head knocked the edge of the dock with a ringing thunk as I went completely over to vanish in the water, mind dazed from the unexpected impact. I gasped and sucked in briny bay, flailing out my arms and legs and briefly wondered if it would hurt to die.

Suddenly I was back in the air, the bright sun flashing off the water and blinding me as I thrashed in the waves. Survival instinct took over and my flailing limbs began to work against my intent and struggled to keep contact with the air. I sputtered and choked, blinking against the salt sting. Automatically I began to tread water as I looked around confused. Why was I still breathing air?

Head bobbing above the surface, I pulled at my tied leg experimentally. The rope was still there, pulling my leg straight and making staying afloat difficult. Comprehension dawned suddenly; my concrete chunk hadn’t sunk as deep as I thought. I had tossed it into a shallow spot.

“I hate this world!” I yelled frustrated. “I can’t even kill myself right.” Pinned in the water, chin deep I wondered what to do now. I couldn’t just float here forever like a cork on a string. I tried to bend down to undo the rope holding my ankle, but buoyancy and my own knots defeated my efforts.

“Hey! Do you need help?” My bar-b-que eating neighbor was standing above me on the dock looking confused. “Um…I fell in and… got tangled in something.” I muttered, feeling stupid. “I’ll get you loose.” He said and he slid over the side into the water. Dunking beneath the surface I could feel hands move down my leg to grope at the rope on my ankle. After a half minute he came up for air.

“Dang…you got tangled good!” he gasped. “I’ve got a knife…gimme a sec.” and he vanished again. Once again I could feel his hands grope down my leg to the rope, and then the vibrations on my ankle as the rope was being cut. Suddenly my leg was free and it fell into time with my other extremities to keep me afloat. Dogpaddling towards the shore grimly I wondered what my neighbor would say.

I waded my way up onto the little beach and turned around to face him, sullen and dripping. He followed to stand next to me, panting and pocketing a folding knife. “Good thing I heard you yelling.” He said, looking at my ankle. I just stood there feeling foolish. “Looks like someone tied that.”

I just looked back, not really knowing what to say. The whole situation suddenly seemed so ludicrous. “Well…you know…” and my voice trailed off. “Thanks.” He looked from my incriminating ankle to me for a long moment and said nothing. I looked away to see the pod of dolphins far up on the bay now, still leaping joyously.

“I got a few steaks on the grill. Want a beer?” I looked back at him, smiling at me and wondered what he was thinking, and then realized I didn’t care.

“Yea, sure.” I said and couldn’t help grinning. The whole thing suddenly seemed comical and both of us laughed before picking our way back through the gutted house to his patio.

NOTE: Tonight we’re breaking away from the usual fare with a short story. I wrote it in one of those depressed moods we all go through at times, and in the middle of my funk I realized how funny my pathetic-ness was. This story is the result.
 

Disasters Teach Us The Truth About Money

Awhile back I experienced my first hurricane.  While the actual storm was pretty frightening, it was the aftermath that was the truly scary experience.  I had never been in a situation before where basic things such as fresh water and electricity were unavailable.  In my reality, when you flipped a switch, the lights came on and a cool drink of clean water was available everywhere.

Suddenly the items we took for granted became things to hoard.  The lines to get gas were hours long, and several fights and at least one shooting occurred.  People waited all day to get bags of ice from the red cross, the few grocery stores open were quickly cleaned out and the radio stations stopped the usual stream of top 40 hits to advertise medical emergencies.  Of the entire experience, one small conversation stands out like a beacon to me, at the time altering the way I think and view life.

I was talking to a friend that lived in beach front property, usually the most desirable locations, but after the hurricane they were devastated.  Once living in an exclusive condo with a view to die for, now he was temporarily homeless and practically begging for hand outs.  The only difference between him and your everyday panhandler is that he had plenty of money sitting in his bank account. 

He was describing to me the situation on the island, how the hurricane had packed the ground floor condos full of sand up to the ceilings.  All the trappings of success were now buried and worthless.  People with triple digit incomes staggered about starving.  He told me, “Right now if you had a tuna sandwich, you could sell it for $100 down there.”  A light bulb went off in my head at that moment and I realized an important truth.

No, it wasn’t to go take advantage of people by selling sandwiches at exorbitant prices.  It was the sudden realization that money only represents goods we need, and if those goods are not available, it is worthless.  The real value is in the actual goods.

I once read a book as a child about money, and I remember the book stating that money was invented as a way of making trade easier.  If I had a chicken you wanted, but you didn’t have anything I wanted, you’d give me something to represent that trade.  I could take that item, and trade it with someone else that did have something I wanted.  The real value was in the actual goods.

Now we usually think of the accumulation of money as a fail safe means of security.  If you have a fat bank account you are assured of having your basic needs satisfied.  But as we are repeatedly seeing with all the recent natural disasters playing out across the globe, money is worth as much as kindling when the stores are gone.

A few days ago I was in my bank when I overheard a woman next to me putting all her assets into gold, saying that after “witnessing Japan” she wanted to make sure “she was covered”.  I almost turned and asked her what she was going to do with all that gold locked away if we were suddenly hit by a catastrophic disaster.  Would it really alleviate the hunger pains to know you were rich on paper?  Somehow I don’t think so.

The idea of wealth would take a dramatic transformation, and value would transfer quickly to mundane things like gardens and chickens.  The truly rich would be those with the knowledge and ability to produce goods.

In the best of times, money is a worthy asset to strive for.  I am all for being thrifty, buying things to enhance your enjoyment of life and saving/investing.  My hurricane experience, however, taught me that a truly balanced portfolio is one that takes all scenarios into account, and money is not the end all asset.  Invest in self sustainability and you have a truly diversified portfolio, and any investment advisor will tell you that diversity is good.

Pop Art Lab Music Video Entry – Pixelated Truth

The judges decide this weekend!  I’ll keep you posted on the big party.
This is one of the entries done by Kira Madrigal, and filmed around our shop area.