Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nothing Feels as Good as Quitting a Game of Monopoly

Can we just bail on playing Capitalism? 

It's like when your playing Monopoly and you're eight hours deep and one person is dominating, but you just keep playing for some reason. Every turn you land on some property with a hotel and you have to work out some deal to pay rent, and you give away Illinois Ave and your Get Out of Jail Free card just so you can keep playing a game you are never going to win. And then Comcast purchases Time-Warner Cable and the courts rule that the FCC can't enforce its net neutrality laws and the most powerful force for social change, and a platform with limitless potential for commercial growth that allows equal opportunities for any single website to attract and maintain an audience/customers comes under the control of a corporation intent on turning the information superhighway into a series of toll roads killing all future internet start-ups that aren't already well-funded; putting hundreds of thousands of bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and web designers out a job; and reasserting the necessity of the cable television industry by eliminating Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, YouTube, etc. 

So, I say we just bail. Put the Capitalism board game somewhere deep in the attic where no one will ever find it again. Let's just go play in the woods and build a fucking fort.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Connecting with Otzi the Iceman

Otzi's mummified remains
©South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Haunting discoveries of mummified remains centuries to millenia old have made headlines for years. The extremely well-preserved head of the Tollund Man (~4th century BCE) sports a face that looks more like the man is sleeping than deceased. And the three child mummies of Llullaillaco (~15th century CE) maintain plump flesh and full heads of hair.

Additionally, facial reconstructions have put a very recognizable face on our prehistoric ancestors. These reconstructions are lifelike and reintroduce a glimmer of humanity onto what were once generic human skulls.

The reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman--a natural mummy discovered in the Otztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy--conveys the same feeling of nearness I experience in viewing a poignant portrait. Despite being separated from Otzi by around 5,300 years and over 5,000 miles, I can’t help but feel that I’ve seen his face or some approximation of it hundreds of times in my life.

Most recently, some researchers discovered that Otzi may have at least 19 living male relatives. The shared genetic link was discovered by comparing Otzi’s DNA with a small pool of current male residents of the area.
A fully realized reconstruction of Otzi
©South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Whether the research can be conclusively interpreted to prove that even one of those men is actually a descendent of Otzi has me wondering what it would be like to see the remains of and look into the face of an ancestor from over 5 millenia ago?

When I look into recreations of Otzi’s face, I see a depth of human history that artifacts created by humans twice as long ago can not convey. And if he were my ancestor, how could I help but feel an even stronger connection to him?

What if in Otzi’s face, I saw traits of my grandfather? My father? My self? My child? I could no longer imagine him as some anonymous ancient nobody.

I would question the common notion that my prehistoric ancestors were somehow less intelligent than my contemporaries. Otzi looks like my family and my family is as smart as I. How could Otzi be intellectually inferior to me, when his brain was the same size and structure as my own?

As a relative, how would I feel knowing that the prevailing theory of Otzi’s death is that he was ambushed and killed by other humans? Without any sort of familial connection, that idea already saddens me. Of course, it also plausible that Otzi was the John Wayne Gacy of his time and region. Still, those eyes--eyes that are only an approximation formulated by a computer program--speak of kindnesses and love and human connections.

Knowing his last two meals were two different kinds of meat and an herb bread evokes images of some members of his community grinding grains, chopping herbs, making a dough, roasting meat. Were these meals shared with family and friends or taken for the journey and eaten alone? Did Otzi eat his last meal with those that killed him?

Otzi’s tattoos may indicate he suffered from joint pain. When my ankles pop or my back aches, am I experiencing a pain Otzi knew too well? Is that pain the result of a genetic condition or abuse? If abuse, is the abuse the result of a genetic condition that caused us both to misuse or not properly take care of our joints?

Otzi wore sophisticated clothes and carried a number of tools and other equipment with him. How similar are Otzi’s flint and pyrite to the iPhone in my pocket? While miles away in terms of usefulness for wilderness survival, Otzi and I would share the same notion of needing these tools before wandering away from home.

Otzi was only 9 miles from what may have been his home near modern-day Vinschgau Valley. What sent him out? Had he been gone for long? How long before his family and his community stopped awaiting his return? They likely never found his body and may never have known he had been ambushed. Did one of Otzi’s sons await his return and mourn when Otzi was presumed dead? Could that feeling of loss carry through the bloodline?

When I look at Otzi, he illustrates a humanity undetermined by modernity or postmodernity. But he wore well-crafted shoes. He carried a valuable copper axe. Did Otzi come from a community that exalted him? Did Otzi have a network of friends that traded with him? Did he craft these things himself?

When Otzi considered the journey that would become his last, what did it mean to him? One theory postulates that Otzi was a shaman and he travelled to his final resting place to carry out his duties. Was Otzi traveling to do his duty? Was he looking for mineral deposits to trade? Was he being driven out of his community?

Is it possible Otzi was a rolling stone? Had he found life in his community tiresome and decided to move on? Considering that 19 potential living male relatives still live in the area, that is unlikely. Otzi probably felt the same lifelong connection to the land that his far-distant grandsons feel.

When I see Otzi, I see reason to project my own hopes and aspirations and fears and desires onto my ancient ancestors. Sure, many of those things are products of culture, but isn’t it possible that my ancestors’ fears and my own have connective tissue? Isn’t it likely that my own ancestors desired something resembling fairness and equality for all in their community?

I’m not sure. I’m not sure we would ever find common ground. If I were to meet one of my ancestors from 5,300 years ago, he might look nothing like me. He might not have anything resembling my intelligence. He might only think of food and sex.

But when I look at the face of Otzi, I begin to feel more strongly that our advancements in technology and scientific progress have done very little to change whatever it is that sparks behind our eyes and connects us with our shared humanity.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fallout 4 Rumors: Boston and Three Dog

Hardcore Wastelanders have been anticipating Fallout 4 since we finished the final add-on for Fallout: New Vegas, "Lonesome Road". Yesterday, Reddit user GNR_Informant posted claims about Fallout 4 that supposedly came from a friend who “works in Public Relations at Bethesda.”

GNR_Informant writes:
•First and foremost, the game will take place in Boston, and be kind of a direct sequel to Fallout 3 with a few groups returning. 
•From what it sounds like, "The Institute" is pretty much the downtown DC or New Vegas of this game. Boston is going to be unlike anything we've seen in a Fallout game before, with buildings more on par with cyberpunk and retro-futurism. 
•Androids play a big part in this game. The railroad from Fallout 3 is a faction. The enemies of the railroad is "the Plantation" -- a group who force Androids to farm so that Humans can get food. The Institute is highly advanced and probably obtained or built their own GECK to start a farm. 
•Due to complaints about using Super Mutants and the Brotherhood of Steel in Fallout 3 excessively and going against the lore too much, Bethesda has decided to avoid using these groups. Bethesda wants to make a new "race" (think Ghoul, Super Mutant) which will be central to Boston. Bethesda is currently looking at Lovecraftian fiction since Boston is around "Lovecraft Country". 
•Bethesda has no plans to reinvent the leveling up system to make it more like Skyrim and want to make Fallout 4 more distinct from Skyrim since of the complaints that Oblivion and Fallout 3 were too similar. Bethesda is thinking about introducing a system, similar to Skyrim, where your skills can level up if you perform certain tasks.
These are not the first indications that the next Fallout game will be set in and around Boston. Back in June of 2012, Reddit user nMarauder reported that representatives from Bethesda were scouting MIT as a potential setting for a future project. A second Reddit user--Fallout4boston--Xbox 720/Xbox Next and Playstation 4).out_4_will_take_place_in_boston/" target="_blank" title="Fallout 4 in Boston">corroborated nMarauder’s claim two months later.

GNR_Informant's post appears just three days after voice actor Erik Todd Dellums tweeted: “To all my #Fallout3 and #ThreeDog fans: There may be more of the Dog coming! Fingers crossed!” While Bethesda has yet to confirm any of these rumors, Dellums’s tweet indicates that Bethesda is in some stage of development for the next title in the popular Fallout series. At this point, it is only safe to say that any Fallout game that Bethesda has yet to announce will be developed and released for the next-gen consoles (Xbox 720/Xbox Next and Playstation 4).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Should We Expect Skyrim "Redguard"?

Almost two years ago, Skyrim publisher ZeniMax trademarked the title "Redguard." Bethesda's parent company has also extended that trademark since. This has sparked the rumor that an upcoming Skyrim DLC will be titled "Redguard." Here are some points favoring and opposing this rumor. 

“Redguard” is an Upcoming Skyrim DLC
1. ZeniMax do not have every term from the game trademarked for “downloadable computer software offered via the internet and wireless devices.” Redguard is part of an exclusive club of ZeniMax’s Skyrim trademarks along with Fus Ro Dah, Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. Three of those trademarks are titles to past DLC.

2. There is a road leading out of Skyrim into Hammerfell. Just a short stroll west of Falkreath brings the Dragonborn to a wide, clear rode leading to the Hammerfell city of Elinhir.

3. A great Hammerfell-related storyline is introduced in the short quest “In My Time of Need.” Basically, the Dragonborn is caught in the middle of a game of treason being perpetrated either by Saadia--a Redguard woman who may have betrayed her noble family and her city to the Aldmeri--or by Kematu--the leader of an Alik’r search party that may have been hired by the Aldmeri to assassinate Saadia for speaking out against the Dominion. The quest seems to have no right answer and no consequences, but that could change if Hammerfell is opened up.

4. The Ebony Knight is an extremely powerful Redguard warrior that wants to fight the Dragonborn. He hopes to die in battle and then go to Sovngarde. Aside from being a great challenge, this makes no sense. Why would a Redguard warrior want to go to the Nordic realm of Aetherius? The Redguard realm of Aetherius is the Far Shores. The battle with the Ebony Knight may be the setup for a more extensive story to come.

“Redguard” is Not an Upcoming Skyrim DLC
1. ZeniMax trademarked Redguard so long ago, it is unlikely that it will be the name of a future DLC. An add-on title "Redguard" may have been the plan in March of 2011, but plans change. It is also possible that the Redguard trademark is for Elder Scrolls Online.

2. Why would ZeniMax decide to name a future DLC "Redguard" when they have already released a DLC named "Dawnguard"? Also, why would they name a Skyrim DLC "Redguard" when one of the past installments of the series was named The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard?

3. There are lots of roads leading out of Skyrim. Yes, one of those roads goes to Hammerfell, but there is also a road to High Rock, a road to Cyrodiil, and two roads into Morrowind. And you don’t even use either of those Morrowind roads to go to Solstheim!

4. There are so many larger threads in Skyrim's story that should be continued that a few small Redguard-related narratives do not seem like a likely course for an upcoming expansion. The two most important stories that need closure are the crowning of a new High King of Skyrim and revealing the ultimate fate of Alduin. The Dragonborn does not absorb his soul after killing him in Sovngarde. The World-Eater is still kicking around somewhere.

If any of the remaining Skyrim add-ons is named "Redguard," we will not be surprised. More likely, a couple of months of fan-boy ingenuity and digging will reveal details of the remaining Skyrim DLC far more interesting than what we can learn from a two-year-old ZeniMax trademark.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Will the Next Kook Please Predict the Apocalypse?

Start of the 14th b’ak’tun?
Whatever Mr. Raise Our Hopes
That All Life Will End
and Then Disappoint Us At
The Last Minute!

The apocalypse that no one worth listening to predicted would occur two weeks ago didn’t happen. If you were one of those people gearing up for the planet to end in one spectacular moment, you have probably found yourself going through the five stages of grief during the holidays.

As the last minute of December 21st ticked away, some of you thought, “This isn’t happening to me,” while others assured themselves, “The end of humanity could still happen tomorrow.”

A few days later, you sought to vent your anger on annoying relatives, bad gifts, people texting at the movies, or Martin Short’s performance in The Santa Clause 3.

Soon you found yourselves saying out loud, “I would gladly give my life for the world to end” or screaming at the sky, “You could destroy Mars, too.”

On New Year’s Eve, you sat home alone sulking. You rationalized, “Eveyone’s not going to die soon so what’s the point?”

Hopefully, you have all accepted that the Mayan apocalypse is not coming. Only after accepting that, can you get excited about the next potential end of days.

That’s right, another insane person has taken a wild guess at when the world will end. Don’t worry. This isn’t some rebound, one-night-hook-up type of prediction based on some obscure ancient text that won’t call you the next day. This is a good old Jesus-returning, death and destruction, world-finally-pays-for-its-sins prophecy based on claims of divine inspiration and the respected school of biblical math.

The Next Expiration Date for Earth
Mark your calendars! Ronald Weinland predicts that Jesus will return on the day of Pentecost, May 19, 2013. For those of you who need a little more to go on before you open up your heart to another foretelling of humanity’s end, here are some of Ronald Weinland’s credentials:
  • Claims God made him a prophet in 1997, so he’s got references.
  • Broke away from the Worldwide Church of God to form the Church of God, Preparing for the Kingdom of God, so you know he can make the best out of a bad situation.
  • Evaded paying taxes on the $4.4 million dollars he earned from 2004 to 2007, so he can take you out somewhere nice.
  • Prophesied the world would end on September 30, 2008, but he explained that. It was complicated.
  • Prophesied the world would end on May 27, 2012, but he apologized. He wanted the world to end more than anybody.
  • Convicted of five counts of tax evasion, sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, and ordered to pay $245,176 in back taxes on November 14, 2012, but he’s got the money to keep that tied up in appeal until the world ends anyway.
If those points don’t sway you to fear/get excited for your impending destruction, you should note that before sentencing Weinland, Judge Danny Reeves reportedly “received about 600 pages of letters from people around the world asking for leniency for their spiritual leader.” Here’s a rhetorical question formed of impeccable reason: Would that many people write that many letters if Weinland was not obviously someone with knowledge of future events? And here’s another: Did you really even require that much of the 2012 end-of-the-world theories?

Listen. You guys can do so much better than a theory loosely based on some Mesoamerican calendar. I say you get back out there and fall back in love with the idea that all of your problems will go away on a single day in the not-to-distant future.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

O Holy Night Sung Terribly and With Fervor

O Holy Night is a difficult song to sing. When sung by a trained vocalist who can hit the song’s range of notes, O Holy Night is great. There is a version of the song that has been a hit since before the days of viral videos, when an underground market of tape-swapping was the primary means of hearing and seeing people embarrass themselves.


After hearing this amazing rendition of the popular Christmas song, you may be tempted to find out just who this guy is and why he would voluntarily record himself. That information is available, but nothing quite ruins the magic of this recording like knowing its history.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness Teaser Released

Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most anticipated films hitting theaters next year. Judging by the two-minute teaser trailer released today, the sequel to J.J. Abrams’s 2009 hit Star Trek aims to maintain the action-packed, high-stakes brand of storytelling that made Abrams's first installment a critical and financial success. The teaser follows the release of a one-minute announcement trailer (see bottom) two weeks ago and a 9-minute sneak preview shown on 288 IMAX screens before opening weekend showings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a few days ago.


The new trailer features scenes set primarily on the Enterprise and in the city of San Francisco, the location of Starfleet’s primary headquarters. The scenes depicting San Francisco are those of destruction and death.

In voiceover, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) warns Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), “There's greatness in you. But there's not an ounce of humility. You think that you can't make mistakes. But there's going to come a moment when you realize you're wrong about that and you're going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed."

At the midpoint of the trailer, the film’s antagonist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is shown locked in a cell on a starship. Cumberbatch’s deep, resonant voice proclaims, “You think you’re safe. You are not.”

The final shot of the trailer directly draws on the most poignant scene at the climax of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Kirk places his hand on a pane of glass and Spock brings his hand up in the traditional Vulcan salute to touch the other side of the glass. Cumberbatch poses the question, “Is there anything you would not do for your family?”

While there are still a large number of questions left in the minds of fans, the recent previews have shed light on the plot and the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness. Check this article for information, speculation, and potential spoilers.

In related news, many fans are justifiably upset that Star Trek Into Darkness is being converted into 3D in post production rather than being filmed in native 3D. Experience has shown that the post-production conversion process results in a poor quality 3D.

Paramount Picture requested that Star Trek Into Darkness be filmed in native 3D, but Abrams refused because “3D was something that, frankly, I was not a big fan of to begin with.” Abrams continued, “We have an amazing amount of creative freedom, doing the 3D in post. This is kind of the myth, that it only looks good if you shoot the movie in 3D, which is completely not true.” While Abrams’s optimism seems to be unfounded, the fact that the post-production conversion is not being rushed and that his will be the first time a movie shot with a large amount of IMAX film will be converted into 3D may work in his favor.

Star Trek Into Darkness is directed by J. J. Abrams and written by the writers of the first film Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman along with co-creator of Lost Damon Lindelof. The movie hits theaters May 17th, 2013.