County fair culture — part two

August 29, 2009

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Dear friends in England:

As previously promised, I have done more documentation on the woodsy American hayseed-fests known collectively as “county fairs” in an attempt to share genuine New World “culture” with our overseas cousins.

This is an undercover operation in which I indulge every year, walking among the native cornfed clodhoppers of the rustic Midwest. There is a dual purpose: For me, to gorge on deep-fried Wisconsin cheese curds, sausages, and frozen bananas. For my hot wife (above), to pet various mammals of the “cute” variety (ponies, pygmy goats, the odd unsuspecting floppy-eared bunny rabbit).

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The key is to use tremendous quantities of sanitary antibacterial lotion so as not to contract some nasty bumpkin disease like salmonella, E. coli, or typhoid fever. Also, to avoid stepping in steaming hot pavement pies, if you know what I mean. The shit is everywhere. I worry that I breathe in an awful lot of latent particulate that’s just floating around in the air. It gets there when the farmers clean their animals like so:

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By the way, don’t become to attached to ol’ Bessy up there. She was being washed outside the fair auction house Saturday afternoon just before she was led inside to be sold by the quarter to the highest bidder. I’m sure she’ll make some tasty steak or rump roast.

This beauty, however, is sure to make some excellent pie. Or 40 pies. Whatever. It is the prize-winner for Largest Pumpkin at 434 pounds (197 kg). The girl only weighs 60 kg.

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I didn’t really touch on judging in my former post re county fairs. One of the main components of said yokel affairs is the submission of and professional evaluation of best local-grown fruit and vegetable specimens, animals, pies and other baked goods, paintings and drawings, photography, flower arrangements, pencil collections, LEGO creations, canned jams, your mom, hand-made furniture, bee hives, milk samples….

Yes, there are blue ribbons. I even spotted an elaborate and disproportionately grandiose trophy — three and a half feet tall and gold-embossed — for the Best In Show winner of the Sweet Corn category. Here are some award-winning cabbages and onions:

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What is a little more difficult to capture on film (lol, nobody uses film anymore) is the size of the whole occasion. Imagine 100,000 people over the course of six days milling around a mile-long loop crammed with food vendors, toothless carnies, salesmen hawking everything from gutters to leathercrafts to new cars, tractors of all sizes on display, barns full of the aforementioned poopmongers, cheap portable ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls and funhouses, political parties, charities, a bloodmobile, and a stadium blaring with the sounds of either A) despicable country music or B) the roar of suped-up engines.

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On the sixth day, the grounds are littered with the mashed remnants of french fries, stale vomit, copious pig urine, drunk carnies, toilet paper, lost flip-flops, tears, and the tracts of both office-seekers and quack religious cults (that last one was all kinds of redundant. Sorry). Alone on a park bench, Funny-O the Clown is crying; the last of the animals are being led off to the slaughterhouse while the 12-year-old homesteader girls who raised them weep; and the clean-up crews have lost all hope and turned sullen.

But little girls like this one are still having a blast:

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Yes, my wife called me a pedophile for snapping that last photo.

There might be a couple more pics coming if she decides we need to head back to the fairgrounds tonight for one last frenzied romp to see the animals and take one last shot at further clogging our already grease-engorged guts.


I am Jason: Slayer of Countertops

August 16, 2009

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It’s not often I get to use the reciprocating saw. But there is a big empty space now where the kitchen counters used to be. They will be replaced this week, after which I will experiment with kitchen sink-installing. I am not proficient in the plumbing, so that will be an adventure.


My Ugly Games #1: Ugly Orbs

August 9, 2009

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FROM JASON’S COMPETITIVE NATURE — It’s not that I hate Andrew, or want to crush him with my gauntlet of justice, or desire to tread over the dusty remains of his bones.

It’s just that when I saw his most recent post — the first in seven months — about his Lovely Games experiments with Lua and Love2D, all that nostalgia about using ClickTeam’s software came rushing back.

Here’s Ugly Orbs, the sworn arch-enemy of Lovely Squares. Maybe more will come. Who knows? I have some old games sitting around that have been complete or half-complete for four or five years. Boy, those were fun.

See, while Andrew’s been learning fancy-schmansy methods of “programming” and “coding” and “scripting,” I laid out some big bucks a few years back for The Games Factory and later MultiMedia Fusion. These object-oriented engines are very good at helping you slap together working applications using a WYSIWYG interface, an intuitive event editor to tell your game pieces how to act, and a graphics editor that’s fairly full-featured (I still use Photoshop for most sprite editing, though).

So the game that Andrew spent 10 hours on last week took me about four with the help of the right software. And I’m a retard, barely able to navigate Linux, write HTML, or edit a config.sys file. So if I can emulate his skills, you know ClickTeam’s stuff is powerful magic.

By the way, most of the sprites I used came from a Sinistar clone. They were released into the public domain by the author over at Lost Garden. It’s very possible that (if I can rouse the energy and willpower) I might do a shooter using the same graphics.


Dear England: This is our “culture” (*shudder*)

August 8, 2009

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Dear friends in England:

You have had many questions about the redneck American carnivals known as county fairs. These are not — I repeat not — like Scarborough Fair. I’ve tried explaining to some of you what we here in the States consider “culture,” and you’ve reacted with all the appropriate disgust. But more than not you’ve reacted with dumbfounded disbelief that such a thing could exist.

Let me try to give you the run-down, so you can understand our yokel ways.

County fairs are a uniquely Midwestern institution wherein city folk travel to small towns and brave the overpowering smell of feces to watch bumpkins in bib overalls show off prize farm animals. Fairs are typically divided into five distinct areas: First, there are the animal barns, where after petting said cute beasts the highest bidders are able to purchase them for slaughter.

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My wife was particularly fond of this litter of piglets, and was worried for the runt of the litter, which she was afraid was not receiving enough of its mother’s milk. Lisa also was overheard remarking, “Wow, look at the size of that horse wiener,” on more than one occasion. She made me traipse twice through a petting zoo where we fed carrot sticks to deer, red kangaroos, pygmy goats, a water buffalo, and a bearded pig.

The second area of a county fair holds the carnival rides and booths, which are typically dangerous, nauseating, and staffed by toothless vagrants. We don’t frequent these. At all. Ugh. Dirty.

Our primary goal when visiting the fair is to run rampant through the third area: The food booths. Imagine a magical street where any food you can imagine can be deep fried and coated with magical sugar for outlandish prices. We’re talking deep-fried vegetables, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried rice, donuts, french fries, deep-fried cheese on a stick, deep-fried cheesecake, corndogs, funnel cakes (deep-fried dough), elephant ears (more deep-fried dough), deep-fried steak on a stick, deep-fried chicken in a pita,deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried potato chips….

This is me eating a deep-fried Milky Way bar, which was like a sickeningly sweet fudge pastry and made me want to simultaneously vomit and run in circles for an hour.

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The fourth area are open-air barns that serve two purposes: A) to show off artistic works being judged, and B) for local vendors to hawk their crap — everything from massages to tires to political ideals to cutlery.

The fifth and final area is the stadium, where there are not only musical acts (mostly country music bull) but also big attractions such as horse races, demolition derbies, and tractor pulls. The later, dear Brits, are very loud demonstrations of horsepower where over-beefed engines are forced to strain through mud whilst dragging weights.

Summer is fair season, and in the backwoods towns of Ohio each county holds its own. If our arteries can withstand the increased oil instake, we’ll be hitting up at least one more fair this summer — with pictures to follow. I’ll try to give you more hillbillyisms ASAP.


Even when I watch TV, I’m not watching TV

August 7, 2009

tvFROM JASON’S DESK, NOT HIS COUCH — I don’t watch television anymore, although I do watch an awful lot of television shows.

Apparently, television has never been more popular. Nielsen Media Research said in February that the average American watches 151 hours each month — up from 145 hours during the same span last year.

And as electronics become cheaper and the technology curve continues its exponential spike, televisions continue to fly off the shelves. There are an estimated two billion sets worldwide. In the United States, more than half of all homes now have three or more, with the average of all homes at 2.86, Nielsen’s Television Audience Report concluded. Two decades ago (1990), the average was just two television sets per home.

Now, Nielsen says as of July, there are actually more televisions in the States than there are people. (The nation’s population is estimated at 304 million.)

sets_per_homeI certainly have contributed to the jump. Not only do I have the 42-inch plasma in my living room, but I’ve got the 36-inch set in my bedroom, the 38-inch box in my den, and a 19-incher on the kitchen counter.

The truth is that I watch none of them. My television viewing is done online these days — and so by all rights it should be called webivision viewing. Corporate sites like Hulu, YouTube, and [AdultSwim], combined with the greymarket of TV Links and QuickSilverScreen, have supplanted the need for a crude television set.

The results have been disastrous, serving only to further erode my limited attention span. I used to slump in front of the tube and keep my eyes glued to it… now I can hardly watch five minutes without opening new tabs, checking mail, catching up on a forum argument, catching a quick webcomic, or browsing my Google Reader subscriptions. It makes for a much more franetic, less-informed, even cheapened viewing experience.

Widespread availability of show content doesn’t help, either. It used to be that I had to wait from week to week to get the next episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Boston Legal, Arrested Development, or what have you. That built in the element of delayed gratification: distance makes the heart grow fonder, and all that. Now I can hit Hulu and be watching any or all episodes of Dead Like Me or Sliders inside 20 seconds. It’s like celebrating Christmas everyday; it sounds great, but after a while, the presents just aren’t special anymore.

And that means I’m less likely to watch and appreciate all of any given show. There is far more Grade-A content out there to watch now than I can ever consume, which means I’m not obligated to stick with the cream of the crop through to completion and I can float on to the next pilot or premise that catches my wafting interest. That’s why I’ve only made it through the first three episodes of Spaced since Hulu posted the first and second seasons last week.

There’s no pressure to get those episodes while the getting’s good.

Meanwhile, my big plasma upstairs is being slowly tortured. It’s stuck by wifely command on HGTV for hours at a time, with breaks for Live with Regis and Kelly, The Bonnie Hunt Show, or any fashion/cooking reality show aired by Bravo. That poor television must be begging for the sweet release of death.

I honestly can’t remember the last movie I watched on that blessed set. It was probably Transformers: The Movie from 1984 (the animated one). If it weren’t for the wife, the plasma would be hooked up to my computer. Were I a betting man, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before all televisions are just Net receptors, and that traditional, passive cable or satellite are going the way of the dinosaur.

That is, if the companies that control media can get their noses out of their proverbial asses and get in touch with the inevitable realities of our shifting culture.


My Lovely Games #1: Lovely Squares

August 5, 2009

FROM ANDREW’S LAPTOP–I’ve taken my first steps into learning lua, proper game programming, and the love2d game engine. Love2d is a lightweight game engine that allows you to create games in lua. I’ve decided to take on a project in which I create some sort of game/tech project every two weeks. The goal is not to make these games perfect or polished by any means, but to just get them created and published (which means they may be buggy). I decided to take this approach because it will allow me to get as much content out as possible without being a perfectionist.

The first game I made took me about two evenings. It’s called Lovely Squares. The object is to navigate your cursor (a blue box) to other blue boxes to score points. Hitting pink boxes will reset your score and your position. There were a couple things that I wish I could have got working (a growable box and increasing speed of the squares), but I wanted to get the game out as quick as possible before I had to pack things up to go to university.
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Download the game here.

All you have to do to run it is unzip the file and run LovelySquares.exe


No exaggeration — Transmorphers is movie diarrhea

August 5, 2009

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FROM JASON’S ETERNAL DISMAY — I have seen the face of evil, and it is Transmorphers.

God damn you to hell, Netflix. I finally decide to sign up, and this is what you give me? Sure, I asked for it. Sure, I sat and watched it. Sure, I’m a sucker for a terrible movie. But even my ironic and self-flagellating love of horrible C-list films didn’t prepare me for this.

Let’s start with metrics. Netflix users give Transmorphers a 1.9 stars out of five. More discriminating users of IMDB give it a 1.9 out of 10 — making the 2007 film from The Asylum the single worst-rated movie I have ever indulged in, worse even than Going Overboard starring Adam Sandler, heretofore believed to be the single most despicable film in circulation.

The Asylum, of course, is the direct-to-video “mockbuster” filmhouse behind other such gems as The Terminators, Street Racer, Universal Soldiers, Snakes on a Train, and The Da Vinci Treasure. They even drew very direct legal ire from Fox not too long ago for… wait for it… a release called The Day the Earth Stopped.

From the jacket: A race of alien robots has conquered the Earth and forced humanity underground. After three hundred years of domination, a small group of humans develop a plan to defeat the mechanical invaders in the ultimate battle between man and machine.

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Not only does Transmorphers (originally titled Robot Wars) prey on its obvious titular counterpart (it was released a week prior to Michael Bay’s Transformers), but it also cannibalizes conventions from The Matrix and The Terminator. There are lots of sunglasses at night. There’s a hidden city full of human resistance fighters (that might as well be Zion). There’s lots of faux leather. The robots have plunged Earth into eternal darkness. There’s EMP. There are machines that think they are human. There are armies of bipedal robuts and what amounts to Skynet controlling them all.

Thank god there’s no time travel.

There’s also an awkward lesbian subplot, an implied sex-bot, effects that look like Ray Harryhausen crammed them onto a mid-90s CD-ROM game, long and preachy expository scenes filled with the worst kind of dialog, even lousier delivery, and what I can honestly say is the most “amazing” green screen speeder bike chase ever captured on film.

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I’m trying not to embellish here. There’s very little praise I can conjure though for a film where the same person shouts that the attacking robots have “breached all perimeters” not once, not twice, but three times — about 15 minutes apart each time. You can only breach all perimeters once. After that, they’re all breached.

In short, Transmorphers has all the style and substance of Cleopatra 2525, all the originality of a knock-knock joke, and all the sophistication of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And it seems to be made completely in earnest.

I guess writer/director Leigh Scott understands at least that this isn’t Lawrence of Arabia. On his blog, he wrote:

The idea of trying to make a futuristic period piece with giant robots with the budget of the average AFI short film was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. While most people in Hollywood marvel at their own excess, I have often been obsessed with the exact opposite; doing the impossible for absolutely no money. Was it a disaster? Sure. Was it fun? Absolutely.

Later on the same blog:

Look, genre movies are a mathematical equation. 50% visuals. 50% sound. So, there was a sync issue on Transmorphers…there goes 50%. Then we couldn’t afford a dolly so take away 10% of the visuals. Dock it 10% because we didn’t discover the awesome set that is featured in the first ten minutes until months after principal photography. Then take away 20% because the film is called Transmorphers and the robots are lame and don’t really Transmorph that much. So, you have 10% of a movie there.

There are some films that are so bad you groan, and it’s fun. This one, though, transcends that feeling. It’s the kind of movie you inflict on unsuspecting friends as revenge for dating your little sister. It’s the kind of movie you pop in to clear the room when unwanted guests are camping out at your house. It’s the kind of movie that you use to pry information out of terrorists in a ticking time-bomb scenario. It’s the kind of movie you use to punish small children for wetting the bed.

Don’t watch it. I already watched it for you, and the scars aren’t likely to heal anytime soon. To my dear friend Richard Smith, I’d be willing to pit Transmorphers against APEX any day.