Tuesday, 31 August 2004

I'll Be Guilty The Rest Of My Life

Over at the London News Review there's an article in their music blog called "There are no Guilty Pleasures". It's a reaction, in part, to a sudden surge of nostalgia for a lot of naff records that, mysteriously, we all know the words to. Anyway, Alan at ACME makes most of the good points about this, so there's no need to rehash it.

Just one more thing, though. In the ACME piece there is a link to an article in the Times by a bloke called Bob Stanley, it's called "...So stop faking it" and seems to be saying that, far from being guilty pleasures, this is the music we really like. There is something in this, not much, but something. The article, however, is more infuriating than insightful, especially when it comes to "[people] claim Tom Waits [is] some kind of genius on the vine rather than a lousy fake drunk who would embarrass Dean Martin." At which point you realise what the problem with the article is. The problem is Bob doesn't know what the fuck it is he's talking about.

Thursday, 26 August 2004

Tricks of the Trade

The Morning News has an article about the "secrets" of various professions. Some of it is generally, and genuinely, useful:
Graphic Designer

If you have a client who is unable to approve a proposed design without putting her stamp on it, just put an obvious error in the proposal: a logo that’s too large, a font that’s too small, or a few judiciously seeded typos. The client requests the change and feels she’s done her part—and your design, which was perfect all along, sails through to approval.

Some folks over at Metafilter have decided to try and add some of their own (and argue the merits of "Handyman" over "Mechanic"). Again there is some enlightening stuff here:
Waiter: Kneel down at the table when saying "hi" to be at eye level with the patrons; this makes them feel like you care. Stand back up when taking their order; this makes them feel like you're professional. Bring candy with the check. If the pay with a credit card, use their name, as in "Here's your check, Mr. Idiot." Make physical contact, like quick taps to the arm or pats of the shoulder. For instance, if they point to the menu as they order (many mouth-breathers will do this) place your hand on their shoulder and lean your cheek towards theirs so you can look at their menu and see what their pointing at, as if it wasn't a job requirement to have every word memorized. Smile. Alot. Laugh at their stupid fucking jokes. Don't stack dishes up your arm like you work at a diner: use a tray. Always tell someone who agonizes over the wine list that he made an excellent choice; especially if he's on a date.

Anybody who orders white zin will not tip; chalk this table up as a loss and spend your time with the tables likely to pay you. If someone asks you for a wine recomendation, the formula is age = price of bottle. You will kill yourself for the first few days trying to keep track of people's kids in an attempt to make the parents happy so they give you a good tip. Anybody who brings their kids to the resturaunt is too cheap for a babysitter and therefore certainly too cheap to tip well. They will give you a line like "sorry my stupid brat is such a stupid fucking brat, but its so hard to find a good babysitter." This is bullshit. Some people will drink lots of water as a way to punish you, because they are passive agressive assholes. Leave the pitcher on their table, as an act of passive aggressive defiance. Memorize the specials. People eat that up, for some reason. You will ring 5-10% more just by memorizing the specials; its unbelievable. Make a recomendation and a non-recomendation: "The duck is good, but I wouldn't serve the seviche to my dog." This makes people think you care.

Anybody tipping less than 15% clearly needs the money more than you do; the kind thing to do is to tell them so and give them their "tip" back. Not only is this charitable, but it sets an example for your other tables. As the waiter, you are the ringmaster, the cattle herder. Its important to keep the flock in line.

Now I'm pretty sure the dining experience differs from country to country, but, if these are the secrets of American waiters, eating out in the US must be particularly shitty. The first paragraph is, essentially, how to be a phony mate, the second is about justifying how much of an arsehole you can be and the third makes it clear that it's all about the money. So, to recap, to be a waiter in the US you must be a fake, money-grabbing wanker. Great.

I'm not going to have a go at all of this, but here's a look at some of the things that are just plain wrong:

Possibly it's my Englishness, but if a waiter started patting me or putting their hand on my shoulder I'd be tempted to stab him through the eye with the no doubt stale breadstick he'd just brought to the table to show that he was willing to go that extra metre.

"If the pay with a credit card, use their name, as in "Here's your check, Mr. Idiot."" May after the third or fourth time you be to a place this would be OK, but showing off your ability to read -- well you've had to memorise the specials, so there is some doubt about this -- and mispronounce names isn't going to get anybody any repeat business.

"Laugh at their stupid fucking jokes." The chances I'd be telling you a joke are pretty low, I've not come to the restaurant to entertain you. If you overhear one of my jokes then you're obviously evesdropping and not working, and I don't give a flying fuck if you laugh or not.

"As the waiter, you are the ringmaster, the cattle herder. Its important to keep the flock in line." As a customer I'm happy if the waiter shows me my table, takes my order and brings my food. The night is about me and my companions, not about the inferiority complex of the person serving us. I really couldn't care less what your issues are. As the waiter if you believe you are the ringmaster you are sorely mistaken, those bad tips you're getting should surely tell you that.

Wednesday, 25 August 2004

Free Games

I've forgotten where I got this link from now. But, as a compact list of freeware (and some shareware, I think) it's pretty hard to beat as it seems to have all the good stuff and very little of the bad.

There's a fair range of game-play on show too. From text adventures to first-person shooters.

Friday, 20 August 2004

Casting Awry

A fun little article from the Guardian about movies that were nearly so very different. Some (most?) of these stories you've probably heard before, and Mark King (surely not the old Bass Slapper) doesn't add a great deal to them. Linked to almost entirely for this bit:
[Stuart] Townsend [recently fired as Aragorn] told the Irish Times: "I'm glad because it left me free to do another big studio movie, Queen of the Damned, which was wonderful to do."
It also left him free to do the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, too.

Small personal note: Sorry about the brief posting hiatus, but I've been sick. Just a head cold, really, but I had to spend three days in bed.

Friday, 13 August 2004

Maths "Expert" + Slow News Day = WTF?

Expert calls for optional maths
"Maths is jolly important for some people but it's a minority," he told BBC News Online.

"We pretend it's very important for everyone, but it's not. It's a very technological world and the average person is not going to need it.

"They need to know how to add up, but they won't need quadratic equations in the rest of their life.

"On the whole children don't see maths as relevant and many have learned all the maths they need by the age of 11."

Ignoring for the moment the use of "jolly"...

What is this person? A bored 12 year old? "Siiiir... If I'm never going to use maths outside of school why should I learn?"

Surely the point of maths beyond any vocational use (and school should never be purely about that) is to teach abstract logical thinking. There's no other subject that teaches it. Even science is practical rather than theoretical (as it should be at that stage).

Maths, in essence, gives a student a set of tools with which they can solve a range of problems. Those problems involve the selection of the correct tool and its correct use. On a superficial level people almost never do use quadratic equations in real life, but the skills learnt in solving them are used all the time, especially as, as this expert points out, we are living in a technological world. Saying maths is just about giving students the ability to add up is simply appalling.

Pasta Joke

Those wacky Italian-Americans are at it again:
To millions of moviegoers around the world, Robert De Niro is the epitome of the Italian man.
But the tough guy image and parts in blockbusters such as The Godfather II have not endeared him to some Americans of Italian descent.

Yesterday, it emerged that an influential Italian-American organisation had appealed to Silvio Berlusconi, asking the prime minister to cancel Italy's plan to award De Niro honorary citizenship.

I'm assuming that it still holds true that Americans don't do irony, so this bunch asking a gangster to not honour someone for making gangsters look good is serious.
"He has done nothing to promote Italian culture in the United States. Instead, the Osia [Order of the Sons of Italy in America -- really] and its members hold him and his movies responsible for considerably damaging the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian-Americans," the group said.

If that reputation is for being over-sensitive whiners then that's probably a good thing.

Let's face it gangsters are interesting. They are people outside the law who live by their own rules, at least that's the romantic notion of them, in real life I would expect organised crime to be vile and code-of-honour free.

The romantic view, though, is fascinating because it allows film-makers to explore all facets of human experience while still being able to present the protagonist as, in some way, principled.

Italians aren't the only community with gangsters and even De Niro played a Jewish gangster (albeit called Noodles), it just happened that they were high-profile enough (inept?), with characters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, that they became part of the public consciousness. It's not Bob's fault that people think of gangsters as Italian, it's the Italian gangsters.

So, while the association is unfortunate (and I wonder how many of Osia have tried to benefit from the connection in some way or other1) it also happens to have helped make some great art, along with quite a lot of execrable stuff too, so why not celebrate that?

[1] You know conversations like "The Sopranos? Terrible program, completely unbelievable... But, confidentially, that bar over there... Full of made guys. True. Vinnie the Hat's in there all the time."

Wednesday, 11 August 2004

Video Games! Is There Anything They Can't Do?

Following on from being blamed for Britain's obesity epidemic, videogames are now being looked at as a cause of aggresion and violence.
The BBFC said there was no evidence directly linking the playing of games with violent behaviour.

But some disagree, most notably Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University who has published a succession of studies making that link. "Violent video games are significantly associated with increased aggressive behaviour," he says. "High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and violent criminal behaviour."

So, to conclude, stay away from pale, fat kids. They're nutters.

Monday, 9 August 2004

Television, Drug of the Guardian

AL Kennedy starts her latest column in The Guardian off with the heart-sinking words "OK, so you're tired, in a hotel room and watching [...] a repeat".

There probably is a great article about how American TV, and it's cop shows in particular, present an image of how Americans want to be seen. Kennedy's isn't it. For a start it says "the modern shows sell "ripped from the headlines" realism, technical research, contemporary resonance" but makes no mention of The Shield which seems to fit that description as well as any other show but, as it shows the corrupt side, doesn't fit in with Kennedy's initial idea. Of course, she was just stuck in a hotel room with Kiefer Sutherland's 24 for company, a sketchy memory of some other TV she might have seen and, well, possibly a deadline looming so her research was not meant to be exhaustive. Or, you know, get in the way of a point -- assuming there was one originally.

I dunno... After another cursory glance at the article, and with a slight awareness of current events, I think Kennedy is blaming actors in cop-shows for Guantanamo Bay. Or, perhaps, that "ripped from the headlines" cop shows have responsibility to apologise for American policy. Sometimes escapist tosh is just escapist tosh no matter if it uses handheld cameras to give it a documentary feel or not.

Next time, I'm hoping she "accidentally" gets some pay-per-view porn. I'm guessing Ron Jeremy will be blamed for Third World Debt.

Friday, 6 August 2004

Designer's Notebook

Ernest Adams writes a regular column for Gamasutra about games design that is often fun and thoughtful. My favourite articles are his looks at where designers go wrong called "Bad Designer, No Twinkie", eg:
Too many computer games are fulfillments of adolescent power-fantasies, and a meaningless apocalyptic scenario is a classic symptom. It's been quite a while since I was an adolescent, and I just don't believe them any more. Maybe that means I'm a boring old adult, no longer capable of grandiose visions… but let's face it, the people who run around yelling about conquering the world are nut cases. I think it's more accurate to say that I just don't care. I don't want to rule the world. I'm not terribly interested in saving the galaxy. It's too big and impersonal a task, and it's not credible that a single individual can do it anyway. Don't ask me to. I don't feel like it.

He also has is own website, where you can find all sorts of articles and links to games design material. Including lectures such as The Philosophical Roots of Computer Game Design:
For the last 20 years we’ve been asking, “Can a computer game make you cry?” and for the most part, our answer has been “well, yes, probably, but why in God’s name would you want to?” That’s a typically classical, male, English, sort of a response. And the comebacks are:
  1. Because this is a medium, not just a business, and until we can make you cry we haven’t fully exploited its potential, and

  2. Because there’s money in making people cry. What the hell do you think the chick-flick and the chick-lit phenomena are about? Women like to cry. It’s good for them. It joggles their hormones around and makes them happy. And they’ll pay money for that.

Hours of good reading, if you like this sort of thing, which I do. It's getting to the point where I find the ideas behind games design more interesting than the games themselves.

Monday, 2 August 2004

F For Fake

Bright Lights Film Journal has a couple of articles on Orson Welles that are worth a look.

It's nice to see F For Fake get some recognition and, as the article points out, it's much more than the "film as editing" that I usually describe it as.
Throughout F for Fake, Welles sustains a lightly detached air, as if the film were an artistic exercise or game, which might disappoint those anticipating the tragic failings of Welles’ “great” men; indeed, this film seems to be more of Welles coming to terms with everyone's (including his own) expectations of his own greatness since Citizen Kane. Welles himself succumbed to celebrity in his later years, his girth beyond even Hank Quinlin proportions. Only within the infinity of mirrors that’s emblematic of his own artistic themes, Welles could at once deflate the expectations but also finally transcend them.

Also Citizen Kane gets another looking at. It includes this odd but good advice at the bottom:
Citizen Kane is of course available all over the place in the format of your choice. Type “Citizen Kane overrated” in a search engine for a wealth of anti-Kane articles and postings. Then, as penance, go to the Kane entry on the Internet Movie Database — as good a place as any to start the search for more information on the film.

Speaking of Lucasarts

This article is a look at the early intertwined history of Pixar and Lucasfilm Games.
In the early 1980s, Lucasfilm had invested heavily in a number of different high-tech R&D projects intended to push the envelope of motion picture production technology. All this stuff was organized into a unit called the Lucasfilm Computer Division. There were groups working on computer graphics, digital audio processing, digital film editing, and a number of other things. Among the other things was a small computer games group that had been started as a joint venture with Atari, who had given Lucasfilm some money in hopes of capturing some kind of benefit by basking in the reflected glory of Star Wars (unfortunately, the proxy glow of celebrity did nothing to help Atari with its most fundamental problem, which was that it was quite possibly the worst managed company in the history of the universe).