Thirty-Three

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. Took the day off (says something, when I consider not working on Sunday as “taking the day off”) and did a bunch of nothing. I invited a bunch of friends over to The Crow Bar for some good old-fashioned binge drinking. It was supposed to be a joint birthday for me and a co-worker who I found out was born on the exact same day (eerie). He never showed, so it ended up just being me and most of the people I’ve managed to collect over my eight years of living out here.

I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. For the most part, it was just great, being reminded of my friends, and having that many people who’d take time out of their day just for my sake. But it also reminded me that I’ve got a bunch of circles of friends with not a whole lot of overlap. It was weird having so many people in the same place who had nothing in common except me. I guess I really don’t like being the center of attention.

So I ended up not being able to talk to everyone I wanted, or for as long as I wanted. But I kind of think that was expected. And I did get way too drunk, but I think that was expected, too. On the whole it was a great reminder; not that I was getting older, but that I must be doing something right to be able to know such cool people.

And it didn’t even occur to me to do my usual birthday ritual, of plucking gray hairs out of my beard and chest. So that’s a step forward.

E3

This week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo down in Los Angeles, a trade show for the videogame industry. Every year it’s the same thing: we work like crazy for months leading up to the show date, trying desperately to get a game demo ready for the show. After that, there’s an explosive decompression as we go from working 12-or-more hour days back to having not much to do to fill up 8 hours worth of time.

It all really sucks.

First, because it’s a completely artificial deadline that is driven solely by marketing.

Second, because the crunch to get read for E3 is independent of the overall life cycle of the game — you go through two peaks of horrible crunch time (pre-E3 and pre-Christmas) instead of having a steady, manageable rate of development throughout the year.

And third, because it’s a loud, flashy marketing show, the emphasis is always on flash instead of substance. So all your shallow, glittering particle effects and button-mashing gameplay elements get all the attention first, while the overall core game design gets put off until the end.

I haven’t been to the show in the past three years, partly because it’s inconvenient (companies never pay for employees to go to the show unless they’re working at it, and EA makes employees take personal time off to see it). But mostly because it’s depressing to see the state of the videogames industry. Lots of stupid, flashy stuff with no substance.

I’d wanted to go this year, just for the novelty of it, but couldn’t book a hotel room. It’s just as well; it sounds like I need at least another year to get back in the mood to see another loud, flashy trade show.

Elevator Lady

Tonight was the Pixies show at UC Davis. The show ended a little over an hour ago, and I’m just now regaining my hearing.

This was a really big deal. Big reunion tour after something like 10 years, tickets sold out in less than five minutes. My friend Matt bought tickets off ebay and we both spent too much money on them, but seriously: the Pixies are one of the best bands in rock history. I’d had a chance to see them in Athens, back when I was at UGA, but turned it down because I’d heard Doolittle and didn’t like it. (“What’s with all the screaming?”) Later, I’d become a huge fan, but the band had broken up and I’d missed my one chance to see them. I’ve cursed myself for that ever since. Especially since, as anybody will tell you, I’ve got an unhealthy fixation on Kim Deal, who’s just about as cool as a person can be. (I’d gotten to see her with The Breeders a few weeks ago, again thanks to Matt).

So it was great to see the band together, and it was a good show, but I just left feeling really old. It was really loud, and the acoustics were such that I couldn’t make out anything but the drum and bass on most of the songs — I heard the recording of the show on the drive home, and I would never have thought it was the same show I’d just been to. It was very crowded, and very hot, and everyone there looked like they must’ve been at least 10 years younger than me. After the whole thing, I just felt like I’d been beaten up. Either I’ve prematurely aged, or even scarier to think about, I’m just old. Or, it could be that I just wasn’t Born to Rock. And that’d be a shame, because I’ve got the soul of a rocker.

Still, “Levitate Me” was really cool live.

Taiko no Tetsujin

This weekend was the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, of which I saw a sukoshi. Saturday night, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo had a show at the Kabuki theater. I’ve seen them twice now, and they’re just amazing.

The first time I saw them was last year at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. That show literally knocked the wind out of me, from the spectacle of the drummers and the sheer power of the sound. It’s not just about the drumming, as the performances are highly choreographed with all kinds of jumping from drum to drum and waving the sticks around in Tai-Chi-like movements, but not dull. Both of the shows I’ve seen combine contrasting elements: traditional Japanese culture with modern spectacle; eastern rhythms with western rhythms; Asian with Native American culture; celebration with reverence; group unity with individual personal expression, percussion with dancing; and discipline, order, and control with wild, abandoned, banging the shit out of some big-ass drums. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

SF Taiko Dojo Float Sunday, I walked up to Japantown to see the Grand Parade. This turned out to be an awful idea, mainly because the weather was ungodly hot (for SF) and I’m not used to walking farther than down to the corner to get cigarettes. By the time I got to Japan Center, the sweat was rolling off of me like I’d just been hit by a tsunami. I saw all the Japanese women walking with their breath masks on and finally understood that it was probably to avoid the overpowering stench of overweight hairy gaijin who’ve overexerted themselves. It was also really crowded.

The parade itself was kind of cool, but it was more of a community thing than a “taste of Japan” thing. The SF Taiko Dojo had a float, though, which rocked. They really are spectacular.

You Are Beautiful

As I was driving back from Walnut Creek today, I saw that someone had put the words “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on one of the freeway overpasses. I couldn’t tell if it was intended for a specific driver or if it was just a general bit of good-will graffiti, so I decided to take it personally. It took a minute for my cynical mind to kick in, to be reminded of the hundreds of “Practice Random Acts of Kindness” bumper stickers that I used to see every day in Marin and Berkeley, how the drivers of the cars were almost always unrepetent asses, and how the sheer repetition of seeing the same pre-printed message on car after car sapped any meaning from it. I also began to suspect that the message was inspired by that Christina Aguilera song.

But before that, I was just struck by the idea that someone would go the trouble of making a sign just to make total strangers feel better about themselves, that kind of completely altruistic carpet-bombing of good will. It was done with yellow tape on the fenced sides of the overpass, in huge, sloppy letters, and with the sun going down behind the hills, the words glowed like neon. Driving over the hill, the first thing you could see were the words glowing as if they’d just popped into your brain, before you could see the bridge or the tape or have any idea how it was done. And then after you’d passed under the bridge and gone on through the tunnel, the words lingered if you closed your eyes: “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.”

Welcome! Smiles, everyone! Smiles!

This is my new website. It’s going to have pictures from vacations, stuff I’ve written about movies, any useful software I manage to write, and whatever else I can think of. It’s mainly intended as an outlet so I don’t go on lengthy tirades on message boards, but if there’s an audience for it, all the better. Notice how the pictures change when you move the mouse over them; that alone is worth the trip!