Posts from September 2005.

2002-Do

I stopped using my Palm Pilot about three years ago. It ran out of batteries, I was to lazy to replace them, that was the end of that.

While cleaning up my PC today, I noticed that I still had “Palm Desktop” installed. Out of curiosity I looked to see what I had on my to-do list in 2002, and was aghast to discover how many “Priority One” items I had listed that remain uncompleted to this very day.

* * *

The Bad Review Revue

Venom: “All hopes for suspense and plot twists are snuffed out about as quickly as the film’s black characters. ” — Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

The Man: “Plays like a sequel to some terrible movie that was mercifully destroyed before it was ever released. ” — Kevin Crust, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The Great Raid: “A steadily mounting series of pesky nonevents paced with all the frenetic, action-packed verve of a wounded lawn sprinkler.” — Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Must Love Dogs: “It’s somehow fitting that this purported romantic comedy about dating is, like most dates, clumsy, endless, and absolutely excruciating.” — Sara Brady, PREMIERE

Dark Water: “Wildly overproduced and filled with fussy flourishes that make even a derelict hallway look like a million bucks.” — Manohla Dargis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

* * *

defective yeti CareLess Bands

It seems like you can’t rip a yuppie’s arm out of its socket these days without acquiring a few “care bands” in the process.

For those of you who have been too busy scouring thrift stories for Rubik’s Cubes and parachute pants to keep abreast of current trends, “care bands” are these rubber rings that people wear around their wrist, each of which costs about a ha’ penny to manufacture and sells for, like, five bucks. People are willing to pay the markup because some amount of the money is contributed to charity, and then the band itself serves as an homage for their largess.

Other weblog might pontificate about the ethical dilemmas posed by this conflation of philanthropy and fashion. But not us, oh my goodness no. We would never presume to judge you, not when there’s a buck to be made.

In fact, we’re willing to take things to a while new level, asking: if your sole purpose in giving to charity is to advertise the fact, why not just skip the whole “giving to charity” step?

That’s why defective yeti is proud to announce CareLess Bands. At only $1 a piece, CareLess Bands cost just a fraction of the cost of traditional care bands. Plus, you can have the message of your choice emblazoned thereon, allowing you to affiliate yourself with the demographic, social movement, or worldview of your choice.

How can we afford to offer a better product for less money? Because we contribute absolutely nothing to worthy causes — and pass the saving on to you!!

But don’t take my word for it — just look at these satisfied customers, all of whom are me:

Note: wearers are not required to have slender, girlish wrists that will snap like twigs in a strong gale, although defective yeti Careless Bands will constrict blood flow to normal-sized hands, resulting in loss of sensation, gangrene, and eventual amputation. Just, you know, FYI.

defective yeti Careless Bands are made from only the finest materials available at Walgreens, and most will include illegible writing and misspellings — proof that each has been lovingly handcrafted. Don’t delay! Paypal $1 to defective yeti today, and get ready to show the world that you care … less!

* * *

Hang In There

The Squirrelly has always loved being held upside-down, but has recently started doing something new. After I flip him over and dangle him over the livingroom floor, he reaches up, grabs my hands, and tries to pry my fingers away from his waist, as if to say, “Jeeze Dad, I’m a year and a half old — I can remain suspended in midair by myself now, you know.”

* * *

Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

This is X awesome, where X = “totally” * 1000. Backstory here.

* * *

Berried Alive

One of my vices is a predilection for shitty cereal. Most mornings I start the day with a bowl Cheerios or whatnot, but every other month I splurge on a box of some sugary abomination and then proceed to demolish it over the next three days or so. I feel like I owe it to my ten year-old self, who promised he would do exactly this when he became an adult.

I am not a connoisseur, however, so I always buy the store-brand knockoff cereal instead of the original. Froot Hoops. Honey Snacks. Earl Chocola. Fortunate Tchotchkes.

This week I picked up a Cap’n Crunch clone called “Berry Crackles,” complete with the obligatory cartoon animal mascot.

Except the longer I looked at Crackles the Squirrel, the more I became convinced that he was actually a Surgeon General mandated warning, illustrating what will happen to your children if they eat this stuff.

The only thing missing was some accompanying text.

Warning: Berry Crackles contains more sugar than the island of Cuba, and should not be taken internal by persons under 14 or above 10 years of age. Consumption may result in clenched teeth, asymmetrically bulging eyes, dialted pupils, double vision, accelerated fur- and tail-growth, and sucrose-fueled hyperactivity. In case of accidental ingestion, induce vomiting and place child in front of "Antiques Roadshow" until sedated.

* * *

Vokarlbulary

Email from my aunt:

To: Matthew Baldwin
From: Val
Subject: I invented a new word

Rovenge (rO-'venj), n: Politically motivated retribution. The White House sought rovenge against Joseph Wilson.

Can you get this into the lexicon?

Start using it, people. And as long as nominations are open, I’d like to propose a term that popped into my head this morning while coloring with The Squirrelly:

White crayon ('hwIt 'krA-"

* * *

Games: Shadows Over Camelot

Under the general rubric of “boardgame” exists a distinct subgenre termed “cooperative” — games in which all the players form a single team and compete against the game itself. Some people dislike cooperative games, wondering what’s the point is of a game in which everyone wins or everyone loses. Me, I like ‘em — and the newest of the breed, Shadows Over Camelot, has become my new favorite.

Each person plays as one of the knights of the round table, and they all work together to stave off the sinister forces that threaten the kingdom. Over the course of the game the knights will strive — sometimes in groups, sometimes alone — to complete various quests. When players succeed in quests they earn white swords, amongst assorted other boons; when they fail, they receive black swords. The game ends when the players have amassed a dozen swords, and win if the majority are white.

But while there is only one way to win, there are several routes to crushing defeat: if half or more of the swords are black at game’s end, if a twelfth siege engine is placed onto the game board, or if all of the knights are killed in action, Camelot falls.

The fuel in the game’s engine are two decks of cards: White cards, which the knights use to advance on the various quests, and Black cards, which make the quests progressively more difficult. As the Black cards only serve to hinder the knights, players are loathe to reveal or resolve them but, alas, they have no choice. A player must begin his turn by turning over a Black card, or selecting from two other equally unappetizing choices: increasing the number of a siege engines on the board or decreasing his knight’s life points. As mentioned above, too many siege engines or too few life points can cause the game to come to an abrupt, bitter end.

Having taken his lumps, a player can then take a good action: move from one quest to another, work on his current quest, draw more White cards, attempt to destroy a siege engine, and a number of other choices. Deciding which player will take which actions is the heart of the game, as the knights much necessarily coordinate their efforts if they want to have any hope of victory. As there can be as many as seven different quests at a time, and the relentless revelation of Black cards ensures that they will all be inching toward failure, the team must literally pick their battles, deciding which quests to undertake and which are lost causes.

All this would be challenge enough, but Shadows Over Camelot includes a big, Machiavellian twist. One knight may be secretly designated as a “Traitor” before play begins. If there is one, the Traitor only wins if the other knights lose.

Early in the game the Traitor will typically undermine the group through guile, constantly making “mistakes” and quick to dispense wrongheaded advise. Later the traitor might resort to naked aggression, gleefully plunking siege engines onto a board that is already lousy with them. The knights are rewarded if they successfully unmask the Traitor, but it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a player who is actively betraying the group and another who has just had a run of bad luck. Even if the Traitor never becomes openly hostile — or if there’s no Traitor at all — the paranoia engendered by the possibility of a traitor is often enough to sow enough distrust and suspicion to sabotage cooperative play.

Shadows Over Camelot is a mediocre game: the mechanics aren’t terribly original, the game seems largely dominated by luck, the theme is weak, and there aren’t a huge number of decisions to be made during play. That’s my review when I think about the game, at any rate. When I actually play the game, though, I always have a blast. Even while recognizing that all the aforementioned faults are present, I simply have too much fun to care. And while I keep expecting my opinion of Shadows Over Camelot to take a turn for the negative, it hasn’t happened yet.

At forty bucks the game ain’t cheap, and it’s a bit complex for those unused to modern boardgames. But everyone ought to give cooperative games a whirl, and Shadows Over Camelot is one of the best.

* * *

And You Can Still Innertube From Memphis To Minneapolis

Two co-workers, as they walk past my office:

One: There was once an earthquake so big that it caused the Mississippi River to run backwards.

Two: Wow. For how long?

One: Just temporarily, I think.

* * *

Books: The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Note: This review is part of the Booklist 2005 Project.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife is full of surprises, but three of them are exceptional.

The first comes a few pages into the novel, when you discover that the titular time-traveler isn’t some aging jock reminiscing about the glory days or a widower who often gets lost in memories of happier times, but a man who can literally travel through time.

“Oh,” you say upon this realization, “Judging from the cover and the blurb on the back, I thought this was contemporary fiction or romantic drama, and that the phrase ‘time-traveler’ was metaphorical. But apparently not.” So you shift gears and adjust yourself to the fact that you are reading a sci-fi book.

The second surprise comes 100 pages later, when you realize that The Time-Traveler’s Wife is an contemporary fiction / romantic drama, in addition to being a sci-fi novel as well. “That’s certainly ambitious,” you think. “But there’s no way the author will be able to pull it off successfully.”

The third surprise is that, somehow, she does.

Henry De Tamble is the time-traveler, albeit an unwilling one. At seemingly random moments in his life he is abruptly flung to some other date — usually in the past, occasionally in the future — where he arrives, naked, onto or close to some scene relevant to his own life. Sometimes he winds up in his own house, and whiles away a few hours hanging out with a younger version of himself. Sometimes he goes far enough back to visit his own mother, who died when he was a boy. Usually he goes back and meets up with one Clare Abshire, the woman he will eventually marry.

He rendezvous with Clare so often that her entire childhood comes to revolve around his visits. Then, iat the age of 20, she bumps into the real-time Henry and, recognizing him as the man who will some day become her husband, invites him out for drinks. One thing leads to another, and the two are eventually hitched.

I’m a sucker for time-travel stories, but only those that get it right. By that I mean that the story needs to have an internally consistent set of rules that the universe adheres to, even when folks are popping into the past and theoretically influencing their own present. Sadly, very very few time-travel stories have met my high standards — Twelve Monkeys is honestly the only one that leaps to mind. In most, the sort of causal loop described above (Henry and Clare get married because Clare knows that she will eventually marry Henry) would pretty much torpedo the entire premise.

But author Audrey Niffenegger has done the near-impossible with The Time-Traveler’s Wife, writing a near-flawless time travel novel that sets ground rules and then scrupulously sticks to them. I would have liked it for this alone, and the fact that the literary romantic fiction half is pretty damned good too is icing on the cake.

Best of all, this is the kind of book that can be safely enjoyed by pretty much anyone: those who typically steer clear of sci-fi will appreciate it as contemporary literature; those who favor Greg Bear over Don DeLillo will groove on Niffenegger’s intriguing and well-executed ideas. In fact, I can see The Time-traveler’s Wife becoming my default suggestion when asked for a recommendation, and one that I foresee loaned out more often than it sits upon my shelf.

Counterpoint! The Queen’s succinct review: “The frickin annoying love story ruined the book for me.” Such a romantic, that gal o’ mine.

* * *