Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Non-Fiction

Up until recently, my forays into non-fiction were almost entirely restricted to university writing assignments.

Only one example springs to mind. I read a biography of Ludwig II of Bavaria after finishing Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within.

Now it's almost all non-fiction. I just finished up "Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age" and prior to that it was "Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe." Now, I'm reading "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City" which has so far been fascinating.

I've probably recounted here or elsewhere my love of the stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and their "hard boiled" detective fiction, the multitude of radio dramas that rolled out from the 1930's and 1940's, and Rockstar's "L.A. Noire" game from 2011. No doubt this has affected my enjoyment of "L.A. Noir" -- specifically, I'm probably enjoying it more than most.

The author, John Buntin, chronicles the parallel rise of gangster Mickey Cohen and (eventual) LA Police Chief, William Parker, but there's so much more going on in the story of life in Los Angeles' earlier years. Through the Great Depression, during the onset of World War II and it's aftermath, Los Angeles, as conjured in my imagination, seems like it was always about 48 hours from outright chaos and societal collapse.

It's hard for me to think that this is no longer the case.

Every time I've been in LA -- mostly for E3 -- it always felt like it was on the verge of unraveling. Maybe it's the fact downtown is devoid of people after normal working hours or the dust; a perfume of asphalt, concrete, and car exhaust; those burrito places that open walk-in churches when the sun goes down. There's just something desperate about the place.

I realize that it's quite possible my brain has just imprinted the "hard boiled" sensibility on the entire place, so maybe that feeling will be inescapable no matter what I do, but "L.A. Noir" isn't helping dissuade my assessment of the place.

Another thing the book does -- at least for me and it's probably inadvertent -- is draw parallels between the way the Los Angeles police operated in terms of wire tapping and the current operation of the US's National Security Agency. As I wrote previously, it's very good read so far!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Good ol' Edgar A. Poe

After reading finally Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" then plowing through Jonathan Harvey's "The Girl Who Just Appeared" I thought it was high time that I finally read some Edgar Allan Poe because I read somewhere that he single-handedly invented the "Detective Fiction" genre, which is one of my favourite genres..

c auguste dupin
C. August Dupin as he

appeared in 1999's
"League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen."
Previously my exposure to Poe went as far as:
  1. Oh yeah, he's the writer of "The Tell-Tale Heart." (Never read it, but referenced heavily in an early episode of The Simpsons.)
  2. The Simpson's "Treehouse of Horror" (Season 2) segment "The Raven."
  3. (Without realizing it at the time) C. Auguste Dupin's guest spot in 1999's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" written by Alan Moore.
And that is the totality of my exposure to Edgar Alan Poe, unless you take into account the numerous authors so obviously inspired/influenced by Poe, most notably Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, I grabbed a copy of The Modern Library's collection of stories that focuses on the exploits of Dupin, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales." The book contains three stories and I've only finished reading "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" but I'd say I'm a fan, even if the opening paragraphs are dense with lots of big words it felt like my brain was out of shape the same way a 40-year old sprints up a couple of flights of stairs then has stop to catch his breath and, possibly, throw-up before walking the rest of the way at a staid pace more in line with his age and physical prowess.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pretender No More: E3 2014

Although I'd felt brief impressions of being a pretender – someone that did not belong, someone that shouldn't be there but had somehow gotten away with a giant con – prior to attending my first production meeting, it wasn't until the introductions and initial briefing were underway that the word "fraud" fully formed in my mind.

Maybe the best way I can describe it...

It could be like the feeling you might have if every day you wished you could visit Paris. Years go by and you think the dream of getting to Paris will never be realized. Then one morning you groggily shake off the remnants of last night's Indian food and lager and realize you're standing on the inexplicably-named Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt outside Palais de la Decouverte, a stone's throw from La Seine and the Eiffel Tower. To be fair, it would be a hell of a throw to hit the Eiffel Tower from Palais de La Decouverte but that's really beside the point: You're suddenly in Paris!

phoenix wrightDid you earn that trip? Deserve it? Did you pay your dues? Work all those extras at a job that pays just enough so you could sock away a few dollars from every pay stub to make your dream a reality? Did you hunt for the best deals on a flight? Figure out where to stay so you could stretch each dollar (or franc or Euro or whatever) to it's fullest?

In my brain, all that preparation stuff – those extra hours, that extra work, all that writing over the course of 15 years with The Armchair Empire – zipped out of my head and I was left with the feeling I imagine most murders feel at some point when they're in large crowds. Someone out there, someone close to you, is about to stand up and, with a Phoenix Wright flourish, call attention to the fact that you are, in fact, a killer.

So, what was this production meeting I'd conned myself into? Where had I arrived that I felt like I didn't deserve to be there?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Computer Troubles with a Capital "Troub"

I spent a good chunk of time this week trying to troubleshoot a problem with my laptop. Starting last week, a BSOD -- Blue Screen of Death -- began popping up with precise regularity. If it didn't boot in Safe Mode, it wouldn't boot at all. As a result I had to dig into the "guts" of software, the bios, and all those things that I've largely detached myself from.

Not since the "good ol' days" of DOS on our family's trusty XT and later our 486 (which sported a "Turbo" button), have I been forced to understand the operation of my computer any deeper than pressing the button to turn it on or possibly downloading a specific hardware driver. This was full-on poking around in stuff that I didn't fully understand but kinda, sorta thought that changing settings here, there and everywhere, might goad the computer to boot up properly. It was a voyage of discovery as I came across settings and options that I often thought I should tweak, but never had the gumption to sit down and just figure it all out. (Of course, if everything was working fine, why would I start tweaking things?) There were completely unexplored areas and diagnostic options that I had no clue were present.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

And We're Floating... Inside a Tent

The homestead. February 2008.
It sounds weird when the words tumble out of my mouth.

"We packed up our camping gear, drove down to Seattle from Vancouver, put all that camping stuff on a plane then camped at Walt Disney World. Yeah, Orlando in Florida. That one."

It might have been easier to have those words come out had it just been me and my wife since it reduces the gear factor to a large backpack. Two people camping after a long plane ride doesn't seem weird. (Mercifully we left all the cooking equipment in Vancouver -- we made use of the Walt Disney World "Dining Plan.") But at the time of the trip we had three kids along for the ride, which exponentially increased the amount of stuff to bring. Extra clothes, shoes, a big tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses... And none of them were really at age where they could handle more than a wheeled suitcase and a "fun size" backpack, which meant Jennifer and I were left to lug everything from place to place.

So, you might be able to imagine us arriving at Fort Wilderness Resort. Haggard from an early departure in Seattle and a 6 hour flight, arriving at our campsite in the dark, hungry, irritable. I'm pretty sure my shirt was torn but at least the cut above my right eye had finally stopped bleeding.

Comparing Fort Wilderness Resort to "real" camping is a bit of a stretch. Camping to me is marked with pit toilets, sharing the lake with sucking leeches, and hour upon hour of driving to finally reach a spot we can start to relax. (The wind-up to get "back to nature" and start "relaxing" seems counter-intuitive because it takes so much frantic energy to get there in the first place.)

The Fort Wilderness Resort is high end camping. (Hell, the word "resort" is right there in the name.) There are nearby laundry facilities, two large pools, hammocks, relatively flat campsites, small lizards, a couple of shops. Very nice! But arriving in the dark after so much travelling, there was really only one thought in my mind: My God, I hate camping.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Project NL: Millennium Falcon

millennium falcon night light
Joey, have you ever wanted split open the Millennium Falcon?
Over the years I somehow came into possession of two 1979 Kenner Millennium Falcon toys. I know one of them was given to me by my younger brother, but the other one I don't really have any recollection of acquiring. After kicking around in boxes and surviving a couple of moves, they were both in danger of being offloaded at a thrift store. Rather than see them disappear I started on a project to turn one of them into a night light because what else does one do with multiple Falcons?

I performed a once-over of each Falcon trying to decided which one would be the successful candidate. Neither one was in the best condition to start with but one was definitely in better shape.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Excerpt from Chapter 13: Roy Arrives in Less Dramatic Fashion

The text below is from a novel in progress. First draft so there's still plenty of editing that will need to be done before it's "ready."

“It was marked on the wall outside.”

“Show me,” Tex moved from behind the counter toward the door.

Outside, Roy pointed at the graffiti. Tex considered the markings for only a moment before heading back inside.

“I don't suppose, Canuck, that you carry a sidearm?” Tex was rooting behind the counter. “I've got one here if you don't.”

“A gun? For what?”

“La Madre is one of the local gangs. Involved in drugs, illegal hooch, drug smuggling. People sometimes,” Tex stood up holding what Roy knew was a shotgun, but didn't recognize the type. “Rile up all kinds of trouble in town. When they feel like it; when someone ain't paid up protection money or wronged them some way. Not happened in a spell, quiet lately. We've been marked for target practice, I expect.”

Tex banged a side of the counter top and a small spring-loaded drawer opened on the customer side of the counter.

Roy's wide eyes stared down at some kind of handgun. Growing up in the wilds of Canada, Roy knew about rifles – a tool that his family used on a regular basis to hunt game – but handguns? What use was there for a handgun? Using a rifle was all about keeping a safe distance from dangerous game. The effective range of a handgun made it impractical unless you wanted to make a lot of noise without getting much done. He reached for the gun.