My Aunt Gail


Today my father called me to let me know that my aunt, my mother’s sister and only relative from that side of the family that we had any remaining connection to, passed away.

My aunt Gail was the younger sister, and they grew up in what I believe to be relative poverty at the time. My mother and Gail would occasionally mention how little they had when they were kids; my mother told us that they used to make, deconstruct, and re-make their doll clothes because they couldn’t get newer ones. I guess when the level of resources hits a person in the doll clothes budget, then you could say that financially, things could be better.

When I was younger, though, I had no idea of any of this. She lived on the middle floor of a three story apartment building in Pawtucket, RI. Her cousin’s family lived above her, and her cousin’s parents lived below her. Oddly enough, my father’s aunt Lillian lived with her, and for a while, my grandmother on my mother’s side lived with them as well, until she passed. my mother’s father had died early of a heart attack — he was a truck driver and didn’t have the best of diets as a result; he died on Christmas Eve, at a diner, away from his family

We would visit the relatives in RI frequently when I was a kid, because my other grandparents lived down there as well. My brother and I would split where we’d stay, with one of us staying with our father’s family and the other staying with our mother and Gail. We liked staying with our father because his mother was a great cook, but we would spend most of the days at Gail’s during the summer because they had a pool there, and we would swim with our cousins Kara and Erin. We would spend all day outside, back before I hated the outside for its sun and bugs and fresh air.

When I was old enough to understand, I understood that Gail had worked for a company called Dutchmaid, which was a clothing manufacturer — a connection which I’d never made until right this very second — and wholesaler. She was a regional director or somesuch; she was important in the organization, and apparently made a good living. She had a timeshare condo in the 80’s, and pretty much all of the vacations I went on I went on because of her. We went to the White Mountains and Cape Cod, and the only time I went to Florida before I was financially self-sufficient was because we went with Aunt Gail.

She was a very personable person. She had no problems talking with others and maybe had a problem not being the center of attention. When she worked for Dutchmaid she would organize fashion shows for retailers and buyers, and on more than one occasion my brother and my cousins and I would walk the runway and model the children’s clothes. Yes, I was a male model. When she was older and moved into an assisted living facility, she always had her door open and her apartment became the de facto hub, and she the de facto problem-solver. People would come to her for help with their geriatric paperwork or just to talk about their situations.

Gail was also strong willed, which was often times a problem. She got into a feud with my father’s sister which resulted in them not speaking for years. At some point, she also got into a feud with her cousin, the one who had lived above her, and I don’t think they ever reconciled. My mother’s side of the family is apparently all like this.

Sadly, after my mother passed we didn’t go to visit Gail much. We did at first, because she sometimes needed us to move furniture or assemble something. When my daughter was born Gail loved to see her, so that was also an excuse. But over time we noticed weird things. Gail’s apartment was small, yet she never seemed to get rid of anything. Every visit centered around re-orienting her stuff so she could move around the place, which was already difficult for her because for as long as I had known her, Gail had always been morbidly obese. In her later years she was having a hard time getting around at all, which certainly didn’t help her situation.

We learned that at some point that Gail was broke. At first, we didn’t know how this was possible, but we quickly learned that she had fallen victim to a scammer who promised her a return on her cash investments, cars, and other wonderful things which never materialized. With her health deteriorating and her savings and investments tapped out, she was forced to move out of her apartment, and at that point…we lost track of her.

My father had been listed as her executor, but he abdicated the responsibility and put it onto a more distant relative who lived close to where we expected she ended up. I don’t think that my father and Gail ever completely saw eye to eye, and you know how the elderly can be about people that they like, sometimes. We got updates here and that Gail was in a new facility, and then a hospital, and then “missing”, and then at another hospital. We hadn’t seen her in years, and I suppose we’d consigned ourselves to the fact that we’d never get around to seeing her again.

We dropped the ball in the worst way, I feel. I had selfish concerns, with a family and responsibilities of my own. Like my father and my brother, I felt that I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I’d be “on the hook”, especially if there were financial obligations that could circuitously find their way to the doorstep of whoever accepted responsibility for her.

This was a case of out of sight, out of mind because although we received occasional updates and even asked my father about her status, we never factored into the equation that, based on the current trajectory, she would pass on and we’d have done nothing in the interim. We abandoned her to die alone. We suspect that in the past few years she was suffering from dementia, and it’s a pathetic excuse to think that she might not have known we were there or who we were anyway. That doesn’t make anything right.

We let Gail down, and I feel that we’ve let my mother down as well. Gail took excellent care of us and always shared what she had with us. We didn’t grow up as poor as she had, and whether or not her good fortune was a driver behind her personal success, I don’t know; I do know, however, that she didn’t want to selfishly keep it to herself, and her generosity helped me to have a pretty good childhood.

Proof of Pudding

Here’s kind of a weird tangent.

I don’t “do” politics. I believe a person’s political beliefs are like their religious beliefs: informed by their life experiences, stuff which help shape their values, case which give rise to their views on society, treat humanity, and the future. You can’t convince someone that your view is the “right” view unless they’re floating in a sea of uncertainty, which seems to be something remarkably uncommon in the age of 24 hours news cycles.

But I wanted to touch on one aspect of this year’s Presidential election because I’m finding it salient to a point that I’ve long held about how people argue on social media.

As you know, Clinton was widely projected to win this year’s election. Trump was being hailed as too outspoken, too racist, too misogynist, too orange — and I don’t make that one up. “The Media”, that amorphous yet ever-present beast that is apparently the bane of the alt-right, had a field day with Trump’s behavior. He was a self-writing headline, leaving journalists with nothing to do but come up with creative ways to put him — and his supporters — down. Secure in their predictions that Clinton would win, and even more secure in their own sense of self-satisfaction, The Media relied heavily on snark and sarcasm and insults to make their points.

Of course, Clinton lost. Trump had supporters in the right places — the places which had a whole lot of electoral votes. Those people didn’t vote for Trump to show up The Media. In the end, the sarcastic approach of the pundits served only to entertain those who were writing the thinkpieces, and had absolutely no effect on the subject or subjects of their self-important ridicule.

This is the way social media operates: someone angrily comes out of left-field swinging for the fences. Their opponents try to demean and diminish their behavior by leveraging snark and sarcasm as a way to show how juvenile their actions are. Meanwhile, these targets don’t really care at all; if they didn’t care enough to pull punches in the first round, what good will smug rejoinders do to marginalize them?

What we end up with is a dichotomy of raw and brutal thugs fighting self-important and smug pseudo-intellectuals, with both sides very obviously trying to prove that they are rubber and their opponents are glue.

This is something that I’ve seen a few media outlets cop to as they reflect on their role in this year’s election. Take this piece for example. As I was reading it, I came across this particular passage:

It’s similar to how media Twitter works, a system where people who dissent from the proper framing of a story are attacked by mobs of smugly incredulous pundits.

That resonated with my view of how these raging battles play out on social media — someone always believes they occupy the high ground because sarcasm is light-hearted and intellectual, so they don’t believe that they are swinging low, when in fact they are swinging low…just from a loftier vantage point. Responding with a nose in the air doesn’t make positions “more right”. Both sides end up looking like unhinged assholes, though in fact I am starting to believe those who see snark and sarcasm as “virtues” are the bigger assholes, because I don’t believe they see themselves as anything other than the victims beset by an oppressive force.

A wrong is still a wrong. Trying to make a reposte seem lighter and more carefree might play well in someone’s head as being the approach of a more civilized mind, but as this election has shown, it’s blinding. Smugness ignores the reality in favor of showmanship and prevents people from doing the digging to get to the truth. No one expected Trump’s base to be as vehement as they were, or if anyone did it was to paint them as radicals and zealots who would be intimidating people at polls and were totally unaware of the irony in being caught voting more than once for the candidate who claimed that the election was rigged. None of Joss Whedon’s celebrity-filled videos (as hilarious as they were) deterred Trump’s supporters. They made liberals feel that all was good in the world and that they had this in the bag. So much for that.

Introverts, Extroverts, and Everyone In Between

I keep forgetting this blog is here! A lot of topics I think about I never get around to publishing over on because as my main blog for my main hobby, see there are certain subjects which just don’t jive with the whole video game subject matter. I also don’t want to inject certain opinions over there because I’m trying to build traffic and a certain voice for that site that I fear would get muddied under “certain circumstances”.

That’s why I’m here, for sale talking to you about introverts, visit this extroverts, and everyone in between. This is a subject that would seem to be right at home on a blog about geek culture, right? Geeks are stereotypically socially awkward, and if you peer into the geek community via some of the more extroverted means (Twitter, Facebook, etc), you’ll find that a lot of geeks appear to be rather proud of their introverted status.

Why? I acknowledge that the written word rejects nuance, so there’s certainly a difference between someone admitting their self-reflective introversion, and someone who’s reveling in the fact that they don’t like to/find it difficult to interact much/often/at all with people they don’t know. So before I go any further, I want to say I am in no sense indicting anyone’s personality, inherent or adopted, as being inferior, wrong, or broken. I know that anxiety is a very real issue for people — myself included, to a degree — and that dealing with strangers is often hard if not physically impossible for a great many people. I wanted to say that because I know if I didn’t write it into a long paragraph, in bold, someone will read the rest of this and get angry. So, let’s move on.

When I was younger, I was learned to not trust a good many of my peers. You know how kids can be: bullying isn’t always about punching or pushing or even yelling. Often times it’s about getting people to believe that everything is allright until the point where it’s suddenly and dishearteningly not. Exploiting people’s innate desire to want friendship is a particularly cruel kind of bullying, because it’s so easy to pull off, so easy to want to believe, that when it’s proven to have been false at someone’s expense, it teaches people that maybe interacting with others isn’t worth the pain it could potentially cause. At some point, it’s just better to hold on to the friends you have that you know you can trust, and to immediately suspect anyone else as having ulterior motives.

This lead to a whole lot of fear of other people for me, and then to a whole lot of anger as my peer group moved into the age where our social personalities were being solidified. With that distrust of people still in effect, I was angry at others for having put me into this situation, and also myself for stubbornly refusing to try and break away from the thoughts and feelings that I had been harboring. Everyone I didn’t know was still a potential enemy before they were a potential friend, and looking back on it now I realize that yes, there were actual, honest, potential friends there that I let slip through my fingers.

Today, as an adult, I’ve had to confront introverted tendencies as a matter of course. I have to get my car fixed at the dealer. I need to talk to my daughter’s teachers. I need to ask someone where to find an item at the supermarket. But I’ve also started to learn the art of small-talk; it’s not something I enjoy, and it’s not something I’m good at. I’m still very comfortable just not acknowledging the presence of another person, even though others may find this behavior circumspect and unnerving. But I have an interest in moving away from introversion towards increasing levels of extroversion.

Once high school was done, I was a free agent. I had been accepted to a college, and was packing up and getting ready to go. As you might suspect, this was terrifying. For a person who had an inherent distrust of strangers, I was effectively leaving everyone I know behind to willingly place myself in an environment that was nothing but strangers. What could possibly go wrong?

In short: nothing. Just as I was among strangers, so was everyone else. We had all left our old lives behind, which is not insignificant. We spend 12 years of our lives (in the U.S.) traveling with the same cohort of people, having similar experiences, growing, and adapting alongside one another as we change physically, mentally, and chemically. We know each other, even if we don’t know each other, and eventually we start to categorize each other as yes or no, friendly or unfriendly, cool or uncool. Once we are defined in social shorthand, it’s difficult to re-write that label when all that history is known to our peers.

My college dorm was co-ed by room — two males next to two females next to two males, and so on. For someone who had particularly strong social issues with women, this was important. My roommate was someone that I did know from my brief time at a Catholic high school, although I didn’t know him all that well at the time. Being in the same situation, most everyone on the floor came together at the start of our college careers to start over in some way. The only requirement to fit in (or rather, to not be rejected) was to not be a dick. Everyone was OK with this, but it did require some mental juggling on my part.

I wasn’t happy with the person I was in high school because I was generally angry about the way people had treated me up to that point (although I was treated pretty well in high school). I disliked the guys because they were generally the most overt jerks, but I also disliked the girls because their bullying was particularly pointed at a time when kids were becoming more interested in members of the opposite sex than anything else. I was OK with not making any new male friends, but that fact that I didn’t have any female friends made me sad and angry.

Going away to college allowed me to reinvent myself. None of these people knew my history. All they knew was that I still had my long hair, I played the bass, and that initially I was kind of quiet. But that didn’t stop others from trying to get to know me. I then had a decision: shut them out as I had been learned to do for so long, or make the effort to open up and accept that these people could only want to get to know me, because they knew absolutely nothing about me; what else could they possibly want from me?. And I chose the later, and it was hands down the best decision I have ever made for myself.

In retrospect, I didn’t go anywhere as far as I could have. My old habits died hard, and for a while I was still extremely wary of people, and held certain preconceived notions that I really should have ditched earlier than I eventually did, but my psychological alterations paid off. Previously, all my friends were male; now, most of my friends were female. I got my first girlfriend. I many many friends and did many things that would have been both anathema and impossible back in high school partly because of my refusal to make an effort to get beyond myself and reach out to those who might have been honest in their desire to get to know me.

Of course, I’m now married and have a child. I have had jobs where I’ve had to interact with a whole lot of strangers. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m the life of the party; far from it. The introvert trope of having to find a quiet space to “recharge” is true. Being overly social quickly wears on me. What has changed, though, is my need to fit into society in ways that allow me to get to know people, and to be known by people. It’s become something very important to me: embracing the social animal side of human nature. Hell, I’m writing this personal post, talking about a difficult part of my life, which I would never have done 25 years ago. It’s never easy, though, and I still struggle sometimes. I have trouble calling businesses on the phone, or of talking to people when I suspect I might end up making myself look foolish or by revealing knowledge that might allow someone take advantage of me. But I’m far better than I was, and I feel I am far better for it than I thought I would be.

I feel that I have to say once again that this is not an indictment against those who consider themselves introverts, or who suffer from anxiety. It’s also not a blueprint or an exhortation for people to “get over it”. This is only one man’s journey from a state which made him unhappy to a place where his mood has improved significantly, and that’s shown him a way of living that pleases him more. I recognize that many people are very comfortable with who they are, even when they admit that they have difficulty with certain situations. None of that makes anyone a bad person; there is no right and no wrong in who we are.

This Post Will Ruin Your Childhood

Everyone has sacred cows, dosage which is a phrase that both confuses me and makes me want a hamburger, but as shorthand for ideas that are simply so far out of scope as to be inviolate, it’s something that the Internet firmly believes. The idea that there are some elements in our lives that are above reproach, far beyond anyone’s reach, and practically set in stone is often belied by the efforts put forth by Hollywood when we hear announcements of reboots.

“Don’t touch my childhood, Hollywood!” should be a bumper sticker that people can just slap on any old thing, considering how often it’s used on social media. You’ve no doubt seen it driving by when the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was announced. I’m sure it was in full force even as far back as The Transformers movies were mentioned. Remember that Facebook-true story about how they were going to remake The Princess Bride? I barely escaped those riots with my life. Those were dark, dark times.

Aside from the emotional weight that people are ascribing to something so humanly insignificant as a movie or TV show, here’s a few things to consider before Tinsel Town schedules a re-visitation to your favorite franchise:

1. The Franchise Isn’t Yours


How we came to be right now is very important to us, and while our mothers would surely credit the fact that they all made us eat our veggies before we could leave the table, the entertainment we absorbed played just as much a part in the formation of our personalities and our interests. As such, we guard those specific elements jealously, like the idea of letting them out of our control would somehow sap us of our identities and dilute our high-octane personalities.

We could never claim ownership of what we consume. Even in the age of EULAs, the idea that we only “rent” our entertainment is pretty much a scientific fact. Any claims we think we have the right to make under some misguided “nostalgia clause” is just wishful thinking at best.

2. Hollywood Can’t Take Your Memories

Don’t get me wrong, guys. I grew up in the 80’s, the hey-day of fertile ground that Hollywood is currently sowing with it’s attention. I really enjoyed He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseG.I. Joe, and The Transformers back when they were brand spankin’ new TV shows (and glorious, glorious toys). I’ve also gone back and tried to watch the exact same episodes that wallpaper my memories with happiness, and you know what? I cannot fathom how Filmation got away with using just three frames of animation over and over again for 130 episodes, and I certainly can’t understand what the hell is so nostalgic about that.

There is absolutely nothing that Hollywood can do to touch the memories that we have and that mean so much to us. The presence of an updated MacGyver or a reboot of Miami Vice is absolutely no threat to the times we might have enjoyed the originals. Seriously! It’s not overwriting what we experienced, but is just adding on. Hell, in some cases, reboots actually provide a version that’s superior to the original.

3. Consider That You’re Not The Audience

So let’s say that you can’t abide a specific remake of a specific franchise. Maybe you love Mel Gibson’s mullet in Lethal Weapon so much that knowing that any modern reboot would simply not include such an outdated hairstyle renders any appeal to your fandom DOA.

That’s OK, because maybe Hollywood doesn’t care about you this time. Let’s face it: you’re older, maybe a little wider wiser, maybe have less hair and more wrinkles. You’re no longer in the same disposable income bracket as the kids that have always been the target of Hollywood (and TV, and music, and fashion, etc). At some point we get cycled out of frame while the next generation is forced center stage and fawned over. To them, these IPs might be fresh, and with modern sensibilities appealed to, could end up being blockbusters that leave you scratching your head wondering how anyone could have enjoyed such an obviously inferior product. Just sit back, gramps, and practice your cane-waving for the next time those kids are on your lawn.


What we think we remember as being so totally radical probably isn’t. What we remember might be the specific episodes, their plots, and the characters, but what we forget is the bad acting, terrible scripts, and gawdawful production values. It’s the difference between Transformers and Transmorphers.

In reality, our fond memories are actually less about the product and more about our states of mind at the time we started loving them. I don’t have anything against the Transformers these days, but the franchise isn’t something I bother to keep up with. I do have great memories surrounding the days when Transformers meant a great deal more to me than they do now, and that understanding is worth more to me that the toys or the shitty cartoon (yes, even the movie with it’s feel-good theme song).

Besides, hoarding these elements as if they would negate our personal experiences withholds the same opportunities from a new generation. It would be a war crime to subject my daughter to the cartoons and TV shows I watched when I was growing up. Case in point: She has become obsessed with Doctor Who, so when she said that she wanted to watch the show, I started her out with the Ninth Doctor — not the Fourth that I grew up with (and still consider to be “my Doctor”). Doing so would only massage my ego and would have been driven by my belief that if I liked it, it must have intrinsic value. My daughter is growing up in a different time, with different values and different thresholds of what is acceptable and what is “cheesy”. She would never sit for the Tom Baker era, and if I’d made her do so, it might have turned her off of the whole series as a result.

We own our nostalgia, but we don’t own the foundation. The elements that we remember fondly are of our own design, triggered by moments in time and at the hands of entertainment that we enjoyed when we were younger. But the IPs are just keys, and those keys should be free to unlock enjoyment for anyone at any time in whatever format appeals to them. Wishing that what entertained us would just stay in statis forever and ever is selfish and shortsighted, and we need to welcome opportunities for newer generations to experience the same universes we love, but on terms that may speak to them the way out experiences spoke to us when we were kids.


Zero to Indignation in 6.2 Seconds

So, pilule permit me to self-advertise, because I like the way an embedded Tweet looks on the page:

This doesn’t relate to anything specific, although I guess it kind of coalesced in this form as I was looking at a thread on Twitter which I will not be linking to here because knowing the way the Internet works, the point of my post will be overshadowed by what readers think about the topic being discussed in the Twitter conversation. It would probably also land me on the shit-list of several people, so while actively seeking to avoid that is one reason I won’t mention it, it’s also part of the reason for my Tweet. I guess this is a round-about definition of “subtweet” for those without access to Urban Dictionary.

The Internet is great for disseminating information around the world in short order, but it’s also good in exporting anger and stupidity just as quickly. With so many people able to subscribe to the unfiltered thoughts of anyone else, it’s almost a certainty that something said is going to make someone else angry. Sometimes the things that people say aren’t intended or even offered to offend, but because humans can’t ever control how people view us as individuals, especially if they’re making determinations based solely on questionable prose or 140 character Tweets, pretty much anything posted online is subject to outrage.

It’s even worse when people go out of their way to be offensive, or simply post without consideration for a situation. That’s what was going on with the Tweet-stream that kicked off this post: someone expressed an opinion on a touchy and already-controversial subject, and that opinion was met with a swift and violently vulgar response spread out over four additional Tweets.

We blame anonymity for the anger we see on the Internet, but let’s face it: being anonymous doesn’t make someone an asshole. It does allow them to express their assholic nature without consequence. Even when away from the keyboard, those people are still jerks, and that goes for anyone who chooses to be callous and offensive as well as those who believe that fighting fire with more fire is a sound way to confront someone that they disagree with.

I guess there’s three desirable outcomes when these interactions go down. The first is to stop the original offender from repeat offenses using the “salt the earth” strategy. If we swear enough, insult enough, make the original poster feel small and insignificant enough, then they will simply blink out of existence and take their offensive opinions with them. The second is to vent, of course, because it’s simple and cathartic to string a bunch of swears and insults together and still be within Twitter’s 140 character limit. The third, and sadly the most overlooked yet most ill-conceived option, is to try and change the offender’s point of view by telling them in no uncertain terms to fuck off, and what a stupid asshole they are for being alive.

There is no good outcome to be expected from any of these approaches. At best you can block someone (or someones) as a result of the exchange. At worst, people who act and react this way make things…well, worse. Despite instant indignation and the certainty we feel that we absolutely understand another human being based on his or her 140 character comment, being offensive only puts the other person on the defensive; it’s exactly the same as person A getting defensive over person B’s comment that person A found offensive. Sure, maybe person B’s comment is wrong or morally indefensible, but regardless of the situation, nothing will change if offense is countered with offense. In fact, with the Internet being what it is, such an approach can only succeed in ratcheting up the anger and insults until one party decides they’ve got better things to do with their time than argue with some [insert expletive here]head on the internet. Best to lob one final parting shot, tell the opponent that he or she is being blocked, and sit back in sweaty but smug self-satisfaction that while you may not have wiped the jerk from the face of the earth, you did get in the last word you’ll see in the battle with that person.

How does that solve the problem? It doesn’t. It just makes us feel better for a short while because even though we’re using jerk tactics against jerks, we’re often convinced that we’re fighting for what’s right — regardless of what side of fight we’re on. We either believe that our tactics are fitting for the arena (the Internet), or that we shouldn’t hamstring ourselves by sticking to the “high ground” if we know or even suspect that our opponents aren’t going to similarly restrict themselves. When all is said and done, though, nothing is any better than it was before we started…only worse, because where there was one asshole behaving assholishly on the Internet, now there’s two or more.




As of the time of this writing, website like this Apple is on stage doing their dog and pony show where they’ve announced the “iPad Pro”:

  • 12.9″ screen
  • Detachable “Smart Keyboard”
  • A stylus called the “Pencil”

There’s other aspects of the device that will show up in spec sheets once their show is done, of course, but I don’t have them on hand right now. That’s OK: the nitty-gritty hardware specs are relative, but let’s talk about this gem:

I have to admit, that’s pretty amusing, even prescient, since Steve Jobs hated the idea of a stylus. But it’s also very sad, and very disconcerting because it’s true: there’s a contingent out there, possibly a very large contingent, that will find no irony in that comic. To them, the Surface will always be a clone of the iPad, even when the iPad Pro has clearly cloned features of the Surface.

In some ways, there’s a parallel between Apple and Nintendo. At first glance, both companies seem to march to their own drummers, doing what they believe to be great and innovative things that people don’t know they want because they’re steeped in mediocrity. Following the pack is something that both companies want us to believe they are against.

But there’s a difference in the approach of each company. Nintendo introduced the Wii when other companies were beefing up the processing and graphics hardware. They shied away from always online and relied on friend codes. They wholeheartedly support handheld gaming with the 3DS, even though a lot of people never use the 3D features. Nintendo does different and doesn’t really go out of their way to explain themselves except to say that they do things their way because they want to, and that’s a good a reason as any.

Apple, on the other hand, wants you to know that they’re different. In fact, they hold these media circuses so that you don’t forget it and so there’s no ambiguity that Apple is not Google, not Microsoft, not Dell, not HP. They open with financial and sales reports. They flash products on a massive screen with minimal clutter. They present feel-good video and image montages over acoustic indie rock soundtracks to capture the attention of the trendsetters who are into those kinds of things. If Tim Cooke delivered his presentation while swinging from a trapeze over a pool of flaming lava, I don’t think people would consider it to be out of place. It’s a show for a show’s sake, but also serves the purpose to frame their actual product announcements within the bounds of a spectacle. If you just want to learn about a product, go to CES and be among the common, sweaty masses. If you want to feel like you’re investing in a piece of The Miracle, then ascend and buy Apple.

Apple’s not that different, though, as you can see if you hold up an iPad Pro next to a Microsoft Surface. There’s the precision stylus. There’s the detachable, fold-over keyboard. If the iPad Pro had been announced to have a collapsible kickstand it wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, except in appreciation of Apple’s apparent design savvy. No one from Apple would ever acknowledge that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or that they’re imitating at all. On the flip-side, Apple would never claim that they’ve cut their features from whole cloth, because doing so would be considered bad form since it’s no secret that the Surface exists. The good news for Apple is that they doesn’t have to admit or deny anything. The hardcore Apple fans might not even acknowledge the existence of the Surface, allowing them to vehemently argue on Apple’s behalf that they did invent the stylus and the flip keyboard cover. The more moderate iFans will simply claim “so what?” because “Apple has surely done a better job with these features because look how popular the iPad is compared to the Surface”, a conclusion regarding two products with similar features which aren’t even congruent in time. There’s already op-eds claiming that now that Office on the iPad Pro is a first-tier application, there’s “even less” of a reason to invest in a Surface. It’s like to many, the field is up for grabs until Apple decides to step foot on the soil, and then the battle is instantly over. No contest, even if Apple beats their opponents with their very own weapons which have gone from “so what” to “oh mah gawd best thing ever!

By doing what they’ve done — basically, copying a few of the best concepts that the Surface advertises — Apple has both admitted and not admitted that maybe they’re not always overflowing with great and magical ideas. But they also don’t care, because people won’t care except to release pent up snark and irritation with Apple (a la this post). If it has an Apple logo on it, it’s automatically vaulted above and beyond all other offerings. At worst, those other offerings will be derided as the copies, and that’s the level that really bugs me. In the end, it’s all inconsequential: use what you like and what works for you, but for crying out loud, give credit where credit is due and don’t leave a blank space where that credit would reside so your rabid fans can fill it with their unbound love for your brand and do your dirty work for you.

Culture And the Hell of Suburbia

I live smack in the middle of what you can easily call “suburbia”. I’ve got a nice house, page nice lawn, nice garage, and so do my neighbors. We are one neighborhood among many, all sprouting from central arteries like branches from the trunk of a tree. These trunks are planted haphazardly, and somewhere in the rough center of this copse is our meager garden of goods and services. We have two grocery stores, less than ten sit-down restaurants, a handful of “fast food” places, and a shit-ton of auto-care specialists.

Which makes sense, because when you live in the suburbs, you need your car. Nothing is within walking distance. To get to the nearest grocery store, I have to drive maybe ten minutes (with all of the traffic lights, or twists and turns if I opt to take the “back roads”). If I want to go to the better grocery store, I’m looking at a fifteen to twenty minute drive — one way.

The suburbs is where America went to get away from it all, and by all I mean the city. The city is where shit happens, literally and figuratively. As Rush (the band, not the asshole) put it, “the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dream of youth”, or of anyone who wants to have a life outside of mowing the lawn and relaxing in a hammock every weekend. If you want to visit museums, or dine at the trendy restaurants, or shop at the hottest stores, or go to the most popular bars, you need to be in the city. OK, so the suburbs might have the occasional privately owned restaurant, and I guess the basement of the American Legion Hall counts as a “bar”, but…

The idea behind the suburbs, though, was that affluence meant never having to rent an apartment, deal with crime, or walk anywhere. With cars, people could still travel into the city, get their fill of culture, and then high-tail it back to their safe neighborhoods before dark. Suburbs aren’t supposed to have their own cultural centers because it’s not what people wanted: nice houses, nice lawns, nice garages.


Downtown Nashua, NH. Yes, that’s a tattoo place. We’re not SAVAGES, for crying out loud.

I grew up in a city called Nashua, which is not far from where I live now. Nashua is a “city” like Pluto is a “planet”. Nashua has a downtown — complete with a Main Street — which has shops and restaurants and on the south side you have a fully realized retail arcology jam-packed with chain stores and restaurants, and capped at the Massachusetts border by what used to be the largest mall in the area. Outside of those zones is pure residential, interspersed with the occasional corner store, office building, or home-based business.

This past weekend, I went down to Boston for the day. I detest cities…actually, I detest driving in cities. Once I’m there I’m more or less OK. Thankfully Boston has public transport, which means never having to drive anywhere except to the outskirts where we can pick up the subway. We spent our time along Bolyston and Newbury streets, which are two major thoroughfares through the city. Newbury street in particular was packed, since it’s a long street which is hemmed in by shops occupying multi-decker brownstones. For every narrow building, you get three shops, and there are hundreds of buildings along this road. If you want it, you can probably find it on Newbury street (and we were there because my daughter wanted to go to an anime shop that we had been to before. An anime shop, for crissakes!)

We can’t get this kind of thing at home, and that kinda sucks. I’ve been seeing people on social media posting about different locations near them that I think I would like to visit if there were similar establishments near me. One was a boutique doughnut bakery. The other was a combination bar/game store. Now, I’ve not been everywhere in New Hampshire, nor have I been everywhere here in Southern New Hampshire, but I’m pretty sure there’s no bar/game store within reasonable driving distance of where I live. We have FLGS — friendly local gaming stores — but I often find it hard to drive there when I can order something from Amazon and have it drive to me. Suburbs for the win, I guess?


Heat-map of cultural attractions in southern NH

I started thinking why this was. What is it about this town, this area, this region, or this state that no one has either thought of, or has been denied the opportunity to, open similar establishments? One logical answer is that no one has, in fact, thought of it. But, show of hands: who among the geeks reading this (if anyone) hasn’t thought about a public place where geeks and family can hang out, maybe get something to eat, and play or buy a game? How about a themed bar? We’re drowning in sports-themed bars up here, and some (oh gawd why) nautical themed establishments, but that’s about it. Everything else is either kid oriented, or is straining the limits of credibility in trying to pass themselves off as a culturally relevant establishment for discerning adults. I can’t believe that I’m the only person in a 100 mile radius who would love to have something like this.

"Ohhh....who dines in a shithole under the sea?"

“Ohhh….who dines in a shithole under the sea?”

A second possible answer is just apathy. Southern NH is an ultra bedroom community. We’re also in the center of New England. As much as I’d like to dispel the stereotype of NEer’s being rather…insular, I can’t. We just don’t care to talk to one another, and we’re all pretty much wrapped up in our own fiefdoms to give a shit about anyone else — unless someone else is encroaching on what we consider to be “ours”: our land, our views of the sky, our right to stuff 500 holiday-themed lawn ornaments onto our lawn from October to August. I’d be willing to bet that the few non-chain restaurants we have in our sphere were started by people not from this area. Everyone else is pretty much content with the basics, which would explain why we have chain-everything coming out our ears. We seem to be OK with “good enough”, but not culturally aware to the level where we demand better. We’ll take it if someone wants to offer it to us, but going out of our way to make something happen that exceeds that bare minimum? Nope.

"I know I should care, but I just don't care."

“I know I should care, but I just don’t care enough to care.”

A third possible answer — and one that I think kind of overshadows the others, but doesn’t preclude them — is that this is a state of cranky-ass old people. When I was growing up, I knew a lot of kids who were always itching to “get out”. Mind you, we’re not farm country; Nashua, Manchester, Concord, and Portsmouth combined can offer people a lot of things to do, if you have a car and the time to travel. But as teenagers a lot of those places are still out of reach. People always hated being in NH and thought that being elsewhere — anywhere — was a better deal. Now that I’m older I can see how the sausage is made, and the people making decisions here in NH aren’t at all interested in focusing on the needs or wants of the very people they worry about losing. NH is aging, which means that those who stay here are increasingly worried about themselves and their own amenities, even to the exclusion of consideration of amenities that could reverse the aging population trend. I used to live in a town called Hillsboro, which was at the foot of our mountain country, and their downtown was decrepit. Buildings with peeling paint, abandoned buildings, you name it. There were two restaurants, one Burger King, two pissant little grocery stores, and a gas station. But there were several buildings that…I can’t even remember if they were occupied. It had a lot of potential though. It was the perfect town to have attracted a class of people who wanted to be in between the outdoor activities of the North Country, and the “civilization” of the southern tier of the state, if only they could dress up the town to make it somewhat attractive to that young, affluent, active kind of people. But nope, the town council wanted nothing to do with those kinds of ideas. Their downtown was “historic”, and they’d rather see it rot with history than do anything that they felt might bury the past for a shot at the future.

Cad Nelson, now in his 332nd year on the Town Council

Cad Nelson, now in his 332nd year on the Town Council

So I suppose the end result is “why not do it yourself?” Thanks, peanut-gallery. I’ve thought about it. Hell, my wife has thought about it, but there’s a few things in the way. The first is that I’m not a risk taker, especially when it comes to my livelihood. If our circumstances allowed us to continue living in the manner to which we have become accustomed on only one income (although my wife does make more than I do), then OK, maybe. But we’ve got a mortgage, a car payment, and a kid going to college in — CHRIST! — four years. Second of all, I’ve got zero experience in running a business. I’d like to make this establishment a cool bar, maybe? What do I know about that? I’ve worked hard to avoid going to bars, and I’ve gotten good at it, which means I’d be horrible at running one. Maybe I could make it something lower key, like a coffee-shop-slash-game-room, but what kind of clients would I attract at that point? Third of all, I’m still stuck on the reasons why it hasn’t been done yet: apathy, and cranky-ass gatekeepers. We’d need to find a location that was accessible to the most people, and somewhere between Nashua and Manchester could work, if we were off the highway. There’s not too many places like that around here. Then we’d have to convince the Powers That Be that we’re not a bunch of hooligans who would be breaking windows and blasting loud music when they were trying to sleep at two in the afternoon (the default stance on anything they don’t understand). They might ask for “good of the community” stats, which means I’d have to put that apathy element to the test: see if I could poll the entire southern part of the state in order to see if anyone would even show up if a geek-themed establishment were to open. I mean, I think we could get enough people, but enough people to stay open for a few years? More than a few years? Not if young people are fleeing a state that’s under the tyrannical fist of the elderly*, and I don’t think I’d want to open something like this just to see if filled up with loitering teens who are…holy crap I’m turning into one of those cranky-ass gatekeepers.

Finally, I worry that it has been tried, but has failed so spectacularly that it was wiped from the memories of everyone who’s lived, past, present, and future.

In the end, I’m not sure a supporting culture does or even can exist in this area. I’ve been to some of the FLGS and I’ve seen some of the people there; I’d like to attract those kinds of people, because they are like me in so many ways. I don’t want it to be neutered by caveats applied by know-nothings who require conformation to the “spirit” of the town, nor do I want it to be a place where parents dump their kids during Summer vacation. I’ve got no experience, and am rather risk-averse, which leaves me with one option: wonder why no one else has done it, and wonder if anyone ever will.



* I’m 41, and since I’m considering this situation means that it’s not just Millennials and younger that would be attracted to an establishment like this, but there’s always that shadow of the career small-town politicians who kowtow to people who’d rather waste away in silence than to allow someone to change The Way Things Have Been Done.

Off The Beaten Trail

I don’t know if I like the title of this post. It’s the first thing that popped into my head when I looked at this picture I took from my time in Wildstar last night.

The hookah-smoking splorg

I found this guy (and another “Alice in Wonderland” reference in the next room) because as an Explorer, abortion I was on top of a waterfall looking for the last element of a scavenger hunt. In that process, store I noticed some mushrooms outside of a tiny cave, page and when I activated the mushroom, I was shrunk to a size that allowed me to scoot into the cavern, where this guy apparently still thought it was 4/20.

This is where MMOs tend to really shine, with the inclusion of these “off the beaten trail” perks that you find only when you’re not so head-down and rushing to the end game. While relatively inconsequential to progress (I scored an achievement, and some housing items in the cave), someone on the design team thought that this would be a cool thing to include in the game…but only if someone happened to be at the right place to find it. Why would someone be at the right place, especially if they hadn’t started on the scavenger hunt? Normally I can’t see any other reason except for someone seeing the waterfall and it’s levels of plateaus and wondering if there was anything worthwhile up there. Which there was.

Unpopular Opinion – I Am Entertained

One of the worst parts about being part of this geek community is the self-gratifying nature of many of it’s members. I always point to the origins of “modern geekdom” being the days when people who liked comic books and science fiction and fantasy novels and movies were forcibly pushed from the mainstream, ailment and when the terms “nerd” and “geek” were actually derogatory, ampoule and not plastered on merchandise sold at one of the MegaFanCons found all over the world every month. You’d think that a group with roots like those would be more, healing I dunno…conscientious about not being dicks to other people, but another problem with this group is their lack of emotional and, yes, intellectual maturity.

Case in point: the unspoken “rules of engagement” whenever two or more geeks cross paths from opposite sides of the tracks. This nerdy West Side Story isn’t fought with guns or knives, but knowledge. The victor is always the one who lays down the most facts (not truths…facts), which is why the stereotype of D&D “rules lawyers” or of two geeks arguing over comic book minutiae is still prevalent today. It’s funny (supposedly) because it’s true…and because it’s absolutely meaningless outside of the context in which it’s being argued.

Last week was the highlight reel of this phenomenon. We had the release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens ( I actually wrote “The Force Unleashed” for a second there), as well as the initial shaky-cam footage of the Batman vs Superman trailer. One caused orgasms; the other was the equivalent of waking up next to a  deformed goat, if the reaction of the Greater Internet is what you base your comparisons on.

I liked the Star Wars trailer. A lot. Several times. I also watched the “official” BvS trailer, and I liked that too. I am one of the handful of people who liked Man of Steel non-ironically. Yes. Read it as many times as you like; it’s not going to change before your eyes.

When the need to be “right”, or to be seen as being right supersedes one’s ability or decision to be entertained, I think we’ve lost. In fact, I think people have missed the primary irony in last week’s trailer dichotomy. People were all over the Star Wars trailer because it instantly brought them back to their childhood, when they didn’t have self-important Internet slap-fights to worry about, and when they only cared about enjoying the hell out of something. They then turned around and totally lost any and all ability to be entertained by something that should have been entirely within their wheelhouse. One on hand, we had the willingness and desire to be children again; on the other, cranky elderly people complaining about anything that came within five feet of them.

All the snark and the sarcasm and the hate is counter to the core of geekdom, really. We consider ourselves part of this community because of the things we like, and that puts us into contact with people who like the same things. Instead of coming together whenever possible, we opt to fight one another over who likes something more, or why the thing someone else likes is stupid. All arguments are supported with “who the fuck cares” tidbits of wisdom, the more obscure the better (because the more obscure the knowledge, the more of a super-fan (i.e. deserving) you’ve proven yourself to be!) until the argument ends not with an earned “win”, but because one side quits due to “stupid-fatigue”.

Why is it that this community feels that they have to be “right” over being “entertained”? What’s the prize to be won in taking your displeasure to the public? Seriously, I think that this attitude is really why we can’t have nice things, because even if we did have them, we certainly aren’t capable of appreciating them.

Adventure Co. Is Hiring!

Our D&D 5E group has encountered some perpetual bad luck concerning the fifth member of the party. Our cleric got tired of the adventuring life and set up shop at the tavern (not a tavern owner; he just refuses to leave). His replacement, a druid, approved got permanently stuck in animal form, no rx and was never heard from again (popular opinion was that he morphed into a rabbit, and is now in the possession of a little girl who refers to him as “Mr. Fluffybutt”).

That means that the Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company has been down by an adventurer for a few weeks now, and is interested in getting back up to full strength.

Do you have what it takes to stick it out for two, maybe three, Thursday night (9PM – 11PM EDT) online D&D 5E sessions via How about for longer than just a few sessions? We seem to go through fifth members like Spinal Tap goes through drummers, and we’d really like to find a proper fit to fill the empty position.

If interested, you can leave a comment here, or ping @Scopique, @Tipadaknife, @Girl_Grey, @Bluekae, or @grilledcheese28 on Twitter.

About Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company

This is kind of a casual D&D group, if by “kind of” I mean “really, really”. We enjoy having fun with the process as much as we enjoy having fun playing the game, and that means that sometimes we can get a bit off track, or distracted by how much fun we’re having. We’re like our own laser pointers to our own spirit-cats. We’re not rules lawyers, preferring to put the enjoyment of the game ahead of coloring inside the lines as “The Man” taught us to do in kindergarten. Sometimes it feels like kindergarten, but that’s all part of the fun. We’re also don’t make hardcore demands: RP in first person, third person, lizard-person, potted plant, or watercolor painting, if that’s your thing. Or not at all!

Currently, we’re plowing through the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module, and all players are level 4. We currently have a monk, a ranger, a fighter, and a bard. There are no restrictions to what class you could bring to the party, although we’re only prep’d via the Player Handbook.