Wednesday, November 23, 2011


What this means to me is more than I know you believe...

Sometimes an album comes along and it's perfect at the time you listen to it, but just can't figure out why. Then, a year or so later, you go back and listen to said album (in today's case, repeatedly for the past 16 hours) and get an even greater charge because you now know exactly why it clicked so inexplicably hard the first time around.

But there was a time...

As with most music, the reasons for liking it are highly personal, so grabbing every individual you know or have known by the shoulders and shaking them while you tell them precisely why you're full of energy and what you revelation is makes you look like a lunatic. (Besides, the list can read more like a rap sheet and a recriminating perp list, at times.)

If there's nothing I can gain from this, or anything at all...

I've come through something with cuts and bruises, but as far a perosnal accomplishments and experiences go, I can't re-write the history of the end or the means used to get there, but I can certainly make my own story going forward.

And that's the truth, and here's the worst yet...

So for now, I'll just sit here, grinning at my own victories and the songs I played for them years before I realized I won.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Survival Kit

Now, we shall take a break from polemics to reflect upon the truly important matters in life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

From Facebook Forward

I remember back in 2007, when a friend of mine turned me on to Facebook. Friendster (and I still receive the occasional notification from them) had pretty much given up the ghost, OKCupid was used for drunken quiz-taking amusement, and Myspace was devolving into glittery page headers and unsigned bands adding people as friends in some popularity feeding frenzy.

Facebook looked promising. It had a "grown up" look about it - free of the "pimped out" customization of the aforementioned social networking sites. I could use it for both professional (and not-so-professional) posts, and connect with friends and family without worry of clutter. I think back, and (at the time) whatever Facebook's version of Oregon Trail was, was the only thing that came close to diversion.

Then came Mafia Wars, Vampire Wars, and a slew of "increment the statistic" games. I distracted myself with Zynga's Farmville during a bit of unemployment in 2009. I even went so far as to link practically every application I had on my Android phone with Facebook, so everyone I knew could be spammed with what I was reading, where I was eating, what movies I was watching, and even random thoughts I was spouting in 140 characters or less with another service.

In the past six months, I've become no more of a shut-in than usual (though sites like GetGlue and similar social applications for hermits would have you believe otherwise), but I've not really posted anything to Facebook directly. The various applications I use seem to do that already, and I receive a weekly digest of what everyone I know is doing.

Google recently came out with Google+, and while it's fully integrated with every other aspect of my on-line "life," I probably don't even use that as much others do.

A lot of people have "jumped ship" from Facebook to Google+, much as they did from Friendster to Myspace, and then from Myspace to Facebook. This isn't about going to the next shiny thing. It's more along the lines of how much a service engages me, and what I can offer it.

Between the monthly "sky is falling" posts about Facebook's invasion of users' personal data (it is a free service, after all - you choose what's available when you agree to the terms of service and begin posting), the "if you or someone you know has a torso please repost this and send it to your friends"-type of posts, and someone desperately needing help to grow petunias (or build an airship in some steampunk-era game that hasn't taken into account the roles of women and anyone not white), to the spamming of friends with comments and updates of which even I cannot be absolved (nor can I be bothered to adjust the setting on all of the applications) - I am giving up on my account.

Sure, I have professional accounts on Facebook that will occasionally receive updates until a better "social branding" tool comes along, but I'm not going to be posting to Facebook as a netizen.

If you want to find out what I'm up to (apart from what Twitter, GetGlue, FourSquare et al are reporting as my "oh-so-exciting life"), send me an e-mail message. I know, it almost sounds archaic, right?

The internet is a very fluid place. Some people join social networking sites for popularity. Some join because they are die hard fans of a particular service and will be damned if they try out something new. Others prefer to wait until a new service irons out its bugs and shows to be a stable contender.

I'm not deleting my account, I'm just moving on. As much of a hermit as I am, I can actually say I've outgrown Facebook, socially.

Jonathan Farr is a freelance contractor, writer, podcaster, and all-around nerd. While he can be found in many on-line social venues as someone who never updates his profile, he can easily be found by sending a message to 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch: A Review

The following review may contain spoilers which could fully live up to their name and ruin aspects of the story (read: plot and ending). If you plan on seeing this movie, you may want to either proceed with caution, or wait until after you've watched it to read this article. Consider yourselves warned. Thank you.

Last Friday, I ventured out to see Sucker Punch at the local theatre. I'd been teased with the trailer, and made a point of not reading previews or articles, because I felt I might be in for an action-packed, visually stunning ride (the trailer showed women with machine guns, gigantic warriors, and a dragon!) and I didn't want any of that ruined before I watched the movie.

Luckily, I avoided all of that until after the previews portion of my experience ended and the lights dimmed.

Within the first three minutes of watching Sucker Punch, I felt like there was the potential to become invested in the characters. We had the caring older sister, protective of her younger sibling, and quick enough to see through the veil of family treachery unfolding before her; the little sister, unable to defend herself but still resourceful; and the unscrupulous step-father, who is scheming to snare the family fortune for himself at no cost by sacrificing the lives and souls of others.

Nary a word was really spoken on the screen at this point, and I was involved, and barely thought about the giant, fire-breathing serpent I'd seen in the trailer, or even the high-caliber weapons.

Then, the younger sister was removed form the picture, and suddenly I was faced with a story about a creepy relative who commits a little girl to an asylum so he can inherit money. It's a simple premise, certainly not debuting in the form of this film, but it can set up the screenwriter for myriad possibilities as to how this unbalanced equation resolves itself.

What we're presented with is a girl who quickly assesses her surroundings and creates a world inside her mind, comprised of the characters in the mental asylum, in order to cope with the trauma she's experienced in such a short period of time. In this defense mechanism, she finds herself in another prison -- one where she is kept in a brothel of sorts, and forced to dance to please the various high paying patrons.

It is here that she learns she has a gift. She retreats even further into another fabricated world where the actions directly impact the initial world to which she has escaped. (For those of you drawing lines to The Matrix or Inception, you are correct in doing so, but you'd probably be better off watching those two, or even Tron, than giving into the urge to see this before it's available for streaming on Netflix in a few months.)

The "dancing" sequences, which start off with our heroine closing her eyes and swaying side to side, immediately cut to this new dream world, where the laws of physics only loosely apply, weapons deal massive damage, and old World War II-era bombers seem to be able to make hairpin turns in mid-flight. It should be noted that we don't actually see any dancing, and one can see where this is used as a transition convention for the story to take place. When our lead returns form this dream world, it is implied that what she acts out for her audience while she's in this fantasy world is so amazingly sensual, that all who behold her are captivated. This allows her (and a ragtag group of dancers) to carry out missions in the second-level dream world in order to acquire the items needed to escape this house of ill-repute vague dancing.

It is during these missions that we get the automatic weapons, the sword fights, a giant mech suit, and yes, a dragon. But that's not all! One also gets treated to remakes of songs such as "Where Is My Mind," "White Rabbit," and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)," all performed with completely uninspired vocals.

Things happen, the writing and actors try their hardest to convey tension between characters, to make the audience sympathetic to the loss of certain players, and even to feel the sense of looming danger (there's even betrayal) -- but it just doesn't deliver. Have you ever watched a friend play a video game when you really wanted to go outside and play or watch something that was on television, but you try to become interested in order to forget your current state of frustration? It was a lot like that.

When (what's left of) our dancing, ass-kicking (?), determined ladies finally meet all of their objectives, and make their big escape, we are brought back to the reality of our lead's existence in the asylum. (As an aside, more journeys back to this reality to show a juxtaposition or what triggers her fantasy world might have helped the story throughout the film.) Then, we watch as the girl (whose only name seems to be Baby Doll, end even that is only given in her own imaginary dance hall world) has a meeting with Doctor Jon Hamm, and are treated to what seems like endless exposition before the movie ends with what should have been a giant question mark from the old science fiction films of the 1960s.

This would have been a good film if it had abandoned all hopes of a structured story. If it was just an abstract situation with refugee people in this comic book/video game land that had to fight for survival, I would have accepted that. Instead, I saw allusions to a back story, hints of emotion, characters staring at implied dance scenes like they were looking into the trunk of the car in Reservoir Dogs, and a ton of exposition (think about the three words before this parenthetical and ask yourself why this belongs in an action movie) at the end of the movie that was not put in to explain what had transpired, so much as it was a thinly veiled plea to the audience not to demand their ticket money back from the front booth.

The good:

  • Interesting costumes
  • A dragon(which was promised)
  • It wasn't Battle L.A.
The bad:
  • The underdeveloped back story 
  • Telling, rather than showing why we were watching this and tacking it onto the end of the film
  • The soundtrack
  • The inability to become invested in any of the characters or to lose oneself to the ride
Verdict: Read a book or do anything (other than see Battle L.A.) to hold onto those precious two hours of your life.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Let the Rivers Run Amber with Ale & Malt Vinegar

Last week, I became a resident of Troy, NY, and while I'm fixing up my new abode and turning it into my own sanctuary/den of iniquity (there may be updates on bigger projects, but I make no promises, as such things need to actually be accomplished, rather than written about before action is taken), I've decided to venture out and take in the various offerings this city has for its inhabitants. I figured I'd start off this section by writing about something most of us can relate to: food.

As the sun was setting, and before the roads and sidewalks turned to treacherous sheets of ice, I ventured down by the river and walked into Brown's Brewing Company. I have been there many times over the past year or so, but there's a very different feel about a restaurant when one is visiting an area, than when one comes to the realization that a full menu is available at (almost) anytime.

Brown's (as you may have guessed by the full name) brews its own delicious beer to not only serve its patrons in pint glasses, but they use it in many of their dishes, as well. We might as well get this part out of the way, so I can tell you about the atmosphere, food, service, and anything else that I think you might find to be of interest.

If you are going to Brown's, you have to get a beverage. Okay, you don't, but you'll really be missing out on the whole experience. Of the beers I've had at Brown's in my various visits, I can recommend the brown ale (a good beer with a very full, yet mellow flavor), the porter (the touch of chocolate reminded me of some of the better porters I've had, back when I lived in Pennsylvania and near a few microbreweries), and the Rauschbier (Märzen style beer -- smoky, though slightly sweet, and reminiscent of similar beers I had many years ago, when I was in Germany). If you want something lighter or sweeter, you might want their cherry-raspberry ale, but I find the flavor to be too sweet for me to drink, though a great ingredient in dishes like the sauce for their chicken tenders. If you're not in the mood at all for an adult beverage, I highly recommend their  homemade cream soda, which is the best I've had outside of when I attempted to make my own (yes, I can be cocky, at times).

The interior of Brown's has very comfortable seating (hard wood booths with cushions), lost of dark metalwork and railings on both floors, and brick walls (the entire place is housed in a 150 year old warehouse) are lined to pictures an theatre programs from the turn of the (last) century, and older. While the seating areas are large, they are private, and for those of a more gregarious bend, there is a large bar area and (in warmer months) an open patio that overlooks the river.

The service is friendly, prompt and attentive. The wait-staff are also quite knowledgeable about how the food is prepared, and ready to answer most inquiries as to the recipes or where the restaurant gets its provisions. The cooks also don't mind special requests, in case of allergies or special diets.

The menu also isn't stagnant. Like most places, there are daily specials, but if you visit once a month or so, I can guarantee you'll see something new on the main menu itself. Last time (if I remember correctly), it was a seared tuna dish. This round, steamed clams with chorizo appeared in the appetizer section. The kitchen staff likes to be creative, but they also strike a balance between going over the top, and knowing those things that sell consistently. 

This evening, walking into the pub from the cold, dressed in my wool coat and riding cap, I felt it only appropriate to order extremely standard fare: fish and chips. 

I've had Brown's take on the Juicy Lucy burger (and it's fantastic), their grilled ahi and asparagus salad, and pan seared scallops with hoisin butter, but tonight I wanted something simple and comforting. (To not completely abandon the vegetarians reading this, Brown's also makes breaded and deep-fried portabella wedges which are out of this world.)

My meal (which was prefaced by a salad that came with the order), consisted of large pieces of cod, batter-dipped and fried, and served with homemade fries and coleslaw. I'll work backwards from the previous description. I am not a big coleslaw fan, but the lack of bitterness to the cabbage and the fact that there wasn't a ton of mayonnaise mixed in made it more than palatable. The fries were golden, crispy, and not overly seasoned or salted. The fish might be the best I've had this way in many years. It wasn't oily. The batter crust was light, flaky, crunchy, and provided a nice shell around the cod -- It wasn't hard as a rock, nor did it fall to a million pieces when I tried to cut the fish.

And they had malt vinegar! Yes, I had to request it, but at least they had it (unlike experiences I've had at other restaurants). Some people like ketchup, but I prefer malt vinegar (and on occasion garlic or other infused vinegars) with fish and chips.

When all was said and done, my stomach was filled, my thirst slaked, and I was once again warm enough to not mind the journey home. (I also didn't even break a double sawbuck in the process - before tip.)

One more thing before I stop rambling about tonight's experience -- Brown's isn't a house of secrets when it comes to their food. They feature recipes right on their site (I'm tempted to try the tomato bruchetta or the oatmeal stout butter salmon), so you can make things at home instead of going out to eat. 

So, if you're in the area on business, to visit friends or family, or just plain live here and want to go someplace for great food and atmosphere that won't leave you with only lint in your pockets, check out Brown's Brewing Co. I know I will be exploring the rest of the menu and brewery selections during my stay in this city.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

First Life

Over the years, I've watched trends in the integration of on-line existence with the real world. This has included the decline of print journalism, people making supplemental income off of MMORPGs like Second Life, and even how we communicate more through our various gadgets than we do by talking to people on the phone (something I've never really enjoyed, save for rare occasions) or those sitting near us in the same room. Part of me still considers this to be antisocial behavior, while another side wants to accept that it's just a different form of interacting with the world and our social circles (this still does not excuse people from sending text messages while out for a romantic encounter, or laughing at a funny picture that a friend posted to Facebook, while one is in the middle of a business meeting or job interview).

Then came passive competition, driven by marketing wizards, nicely bundled in the form of social games. I'm not talking about the product placement by Coca-Cola or automobile manufacturers that one sees in select console games, or playing Jewels in the Crown with your car air fresheners (look it up). I'm talking about the ones where we do the placement ourselves -- where we become the advertisements.

Follow the geo-cached ad

I first noticed this with FourSquare, where a person can earn points when checking in at a particular venue and announce it to one's social circles, or the internet at large. You can write reviews, leave tips for other people who venture to your location, and earn "badges" based upon your social activity. Some places have even jumped on this to offer discounts or free appetizers (depending on the establishment) to the person who checks in the most, creating a competition to announce a particular place's, well, place on a map, and deposing other FourSquare users to become that spot's "Mayor," or "Marquess," or "Viscount," or whatever title they apply to such a ranking.

This became even more obvious last year when Gowalla, really the only competition FourSquare has, decided to partner with other companies to offer discounts on store products. They would run micro-campaigns, where if users did something like say, travel to Best Buy, take pictures themselves with an employee in the mobile electronics department, and post it to Gowalla along with the location, those users would be eligible for discounts on new, shiny iPhones, or something similar.

Who wants a banana sticker?

Some people don't care about announcing their locations for the sake of discounts, or getting close to the teenage employee at the mall for a picture (which would be specious at best, in my world) to become eligible to win a new N-Gage, or similar thing people think they want but ultimately don't. Some people like doing things that don't require wasting gasoline.

For those of you who aren't traveling abroad to announce "OMG BEST WENDY'S BURGZ EVAR!" there's GetGlue, which is pretty much FourSquare for shut-ins. GetGlue allows the user to check in when she/he uses or experiences "things." Check into Netflix if you use the service. Are you listening to music? Let GetGlue know which artist, album, and song. Are you using a fork? "Like" it on GetGlue. Are you using GetGlue? Announce it to the world via GetGlue and start a feedback loop that has us all wishing for a large stalagmite at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

GetGlue awards points for checking in, the frequency of check-ins, and also reviews and comments. The points and badges you earn aren't theoretical. After you earn so many badges (or "stickers," in this case) GetGlue will actually send you a sheet of decals of the rankings you've earned.

Not only that, but this service can be integrated with many sites, like Wikipedia, IMDB, Amazon, and others, thereby showing the things you've looked at elsewhere on your account. This is marketing genius for those who want to tailor on-line advertising to the individual user, based on viewing trends and interests. (Though what ads I'm going to see from trend analytics trying to correlate Danny Cooksey, The King In Yellow, and  anime should be a big surprise, should I pay attention to advertisements.)

Pure Personal Enjoyment

On the side of personal enjoyment, there are sites such as Goodreads and Both of these sites allow the user to keep track and announce what he or she is reading or listening to, respectively, with minimal advertising, and without "earning" or "winning" anything. Read or review a book, and announce such (as all the sites I've mentioned are able to be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and even Google Buzz) for your friends or others on Goodreads to see. Sometimes reading what a good judge of books has to say about a particular title is better than what any New York Times Book Review or Amazon paid advertisement User Review can impart to the potential purchaser/reader.

I feel I have to take a pause here, because throughout this article, it may seem like I'm bashing the world of marketing, like it's become the Player Piano or They Live it's always been, at heart. Such is not the case. I fully acknowledge that web sites, or indeed most services have a cost and need to maintain their overhead. I'm also in favor of sites and people who want to generate a profit. Nor am I above being susceptible to seeing shiny new things and buying them even though I truly don't need them. I've toyed with placing ads on this site, but don't actually see them enticing the readership.

Making the loathsome entertaining (and possibly back again)

I enjoy games. Role-playing games, to be specific. Give me dice and tomes of source material, or a screen and a good story, and I can dive in for hours at a time. In the former scenario, I enjoy the social aspect and the absurdity that ensues from such gatherings. In the latter, it's all about exploration and uncovering every tidbit of information about the world, characters, and (of course) items and treasure.

I've played games in high fantasy settings, interstellar space, 1920's New England, and even the (surprisingly hilarious) dystopian future. I'd rather roll random numbers for an evening than say, do laundry, pay bills, and wash windows.

Enter Chore Wars, a site similar to the ones listed above, minus the advertising, that attempt to turn everyday activities into a game, where one can earn points. The user creates a character, picks special abilities (scrubbing the toilet, ironing, vacuuming, etc.) and earns experience points for doing chores. As with the others, it's mostly based on the honor system, and there's really no sense in claiming to do the dishes twelve time a day (which may hint at something bigger than wanting to "level up") in order to surpass everyone else playing.

The +1 screwdriver helps with most chores, in my world

For those still not baffled by this, there is the option to join parties to share in the experience. (If you think you're being clever in making a "World of Chorecraft" joke, govern thy tongue, it exists.) This could be a novel approach to getting things done in a house full of bachelors, a fraternity/sorority house, or just an attempt to making getting rid of grime and folding clothes seem not as horrible as it is for some. (I rather enjoy the mental imagery of a nixie, a minotaur, a human paladin, a werewolf, and a dragon engaging simultaneously in domestic activities while wearing little aprons, armed with feather dusters and cans of oven cleaner.)

I've yet to decide whether or not to create an account at the last site. Perhaps after I relocate. We'll see.

I think what I'm getting at is that we've gotten to the point where our individual lives can be social experiences, if we choose them to be. The digital æther is not longer something we use just for information, or to escape reality, but more something we can use to augment the here and now, without losing a sense of self (and possibly having some fun along the way).

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