May 8, 2009

Everything grows here

Last night I decided to trek around my immediate neighborhood on foot. It's a complete ghost town for most of the night, but the advantage is no cars and their night vision-killing headlights to worry about. Just utter tranquility and solitude in a beautiful tropical mountainscape, as green and lush as ever thanks to all the rain that fell throughout the winter. I made my way up the ironwood tree-lined road until I reached the irrigation canal which leads several miles into deeper wilderness. Followed it through a densely forested gulch, across a wooden flume, and over someone's backyard or two in a sneaky manner. Explored a plant nursery for a bit, took a self-guided tour through a mostly empty and incredibly expansive greenhouse, and headed down another heavily wooded road leading down into the valley and rejoining the canal. Since a long underground tunnel linked where I had gotten to with the flume I had crossed, and the water flowing through it was only up to my knees, I opted to just switch on my flashlight and follow the tunnel back.

I definitely savored the evening, though. Nature's air-conditioning was on and the breeze through the trees was pleasant. Not only felt pleasant, but sounded euphonious in the treetops as a gently cascading waterfall. The fallen pine-like leaves of the ironwood trees richly carpeted the ground, making it entirely conducive for wandering around shoeless. And of course the moon was shining brightly through an atmosphere of orographic clouds racing by several hundred feet above me, at times completely obscuring the sky and painting a ceiling of luminous silver. My idea of paradise.

Even after living here so long, I still don't take the scenery for granted. The drive to work is simply amazing. Over a mountain of green grassy hills and cloud forests, through a misty mountain town with rustic charm and an ever purifying crisp wind, giving way to a region of mostly barren cattle pastures of brown grass and sad-looking wilted trees (with which a little imagination could easily resemble somewhere in bumfuck Texas). Then up through fog-drenched upperlands which more resembles Ireland, with farm houses perched on hills of lush green, over a crest into upper elevation desert with a "lovely" Army base accentuating the worthless wasteland, then scaling above the clouds to a lifeless tundra landscape over 13,000 feet above sea level, where distant mountain summits appear as islands peering up from a sea of clouds. Watching the full moon rise above that celestial ocean at twilight was a spectacular sight, as were the wisps of clouds rising off the summit at sunset, a bright fiery orange that appeared as if someone had over-saturated them using Photoshop.

Technology doesn't kill people...

...stupid people with technology kill people.

another texting death


May 6, 2009

Reaching out farther apart

I'm not a fan of this "social networking" phenomenon. I can hardly go a day in the presence of others without hearing the terms "facebooking" or "twittering" being flung around as if they have already become verbs assimilated into traditional English. Even at work, I feel like I'm surrounded by twittering twits and myspace cadets. It's actually kind of an amusing and fascinating scene up here at the Gemini observatory. All four of us sitting side by side at three long tables joined together, each of us with our noses buried in our respective laptops for most of the night, carrying out our own specialized long-distance communications while barely paying attention to what's happening on either side of us.

I think that accurately symbolizes of the irony of the online social networking explosion. Supposedly it helps us meet all sorts of new people from all around the world with ease and forge valuable friendships and social networks. Why, it virtually eliminates the need to head outside and meet people in the real world, as in coffee shops, bookstores, or dog parks! The initial mainstreaming of the world wide web and e-mail was only the beginning; now sites like facebook, myspace, and who knows how many dozens of other knockoffs automate things even further and make it even easier for people to remain in the privacy of their homes while meeting people from around the world.

The advantage to this pervasiveness of social inter-connectivity through virtual means is that the world now seems smaller than ever. People who interact globally obviously have much broader cultural horizons than those who don't. It is easier than ever to meet people who you know share many things in common with you before you even speak to them for the first time.

The drawback is that it's turning more and more people into recluses who couldn't tell you who their next door neighbor is because they're too busy having their noses buried in their monitors for several hours a day rather than interacting with real people in their own neighborhood. The sense of local community and community involvement becomes increasingly eroded. Decades ago, shy people were forced to overcome their social anxieties to do a banking transaction, to submit a resume, to find a potential friend for companionship. The fact that all of that can be done online now must certainly be comforting to social recluses, but it can also make them overly dependent on technology for happiness. With tools that allow them to prolong confronting their anxieties and aggressively seeking psychiatric treatment, perhaps indefinitely, they may be doing more harm to themselves then they realize. As we become increasingly connected through wires, we become more and more distanced from each other in the flesh. I don't think I like the way that's heading.

At any rate, I have no interest personally in social networking sites, probably because I'm just not that interested in meeting a bunch of people.

May 2, 2009

The flavor has left the building

I'm working on constructing a 3-disc ultimate video game music compilation. Since I'm so meticulous with making mixes, it's going to take me awhile, but I may post the results when I'm done.

1991-1998 was the true Golden Age of Gaming in my mind. I remember being such an avid gamer who got so excited to finally hold the shrink-wrapped box of a long-anticipated game in his paws for the first time. I would test myself to see how long I could go without tearing into it like a hungry pup lunges after a Beggin' strip. I pretty much flipped out when I held my brand new copy of Yoshi's Island one Christmas. I was also in the habit of reading monthly video game publications cover to cover. I was even a member of the Nintendo Power Super Power Club and collected all sorts of nifty trading cards and pogs.

I wish I could experience anywhere near the same passion for gaming today as I did then. It used to be so much fun. Now I have pretty much no interest in playing any console that isn't Nintendo, and even the Wii doesn't excite me that much. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing it and am still looking forward to being able to afford more games for it soon, but I just can't be nearly as passionate about the hobby as I was 15 years ago, when video games were such a humongous part of my weird, wild world. In the present, I find myself paying very little attention to modern games, instead spending my time digging up soundtracks, pictures, and whatever odd little virtual trinkets or material collectibles relating to games from the golden age. That seems to give me much more satisfaction than trying to enjoy myself (and failing) by playing grand theft auto or whatever all today's little kids consider the "best game evar." As far as gaming is concerned, I think I would like to remain stuck in the past. Linked to the past, if you will. At least there is the occasional 'niche' game that piques my interest. Like Okami, for instance. Not too many games out there let you play as a wolf god who can do everything ranging from urinating on demons to smiting townspeople with a bolt of lightning at will. I suppose Wii is a very niche system, too, which is probably why it appeals to such niche gamers like myself. (I rather enjoy saying the word "niche.") I know my heart will always remain with Nintendo, bless them and their continued success.

If I had to pick just one game that epitomizes the golden age of video gaming for me, it would have to be a Super Nintendo title, because the SNES will always stand in my mind as the best console ever. It's all gone downhill since then. Narrowing my selection down to just one game with so many wonderful titles to choose from is difficult, but I believe I'll go with Super Mario RPG. Everything about the game is perfect. Unlike so many typical serious RPG's that tend to play out like a soap opera with so many heavy-hearted tragical moments, it hardly takes itself seriously and is full of delightful humor. The characters, even aside from the sexy beast that is Bowser, are lovable and very original. Where else are you going to play as a talking marshmallow-like creature who makes it rain when he cries, or some kid's wooden doll who comes to life by the power of the stars? The entire game blends plenty of creativity and innovation with the lush, colorful worlds that typify Mario games, and tosses in all sorts of nostalgia-inducing throwback Mario moments. Listening to the soundtrack for the game the other night reminded me just how fabulous the musical score is... so many euphonious tunes that make the game even more beautiful. And best of all, it's FUN. This game is the epitome of fun. If you've never played it before, I'm going to sit you down, tie you to the chair, and make you. ...Play the game, I mean.

The closest honorable mentions are, perhaps unsurprisingly, Earthbound and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. A could write a novel about how great those two games are as well, for many of the same reasons as mentioned above.

I know I've mentioned this a few times before, but once again I'm left wondering whether I've outgrown gaming or gaming outgrew me. I'm willing to bet it's more the latter, since I managed to enjoy the heck out of Super Mario Galaxy, as frustrating as the play control it could be at times (damn lack of gravity!). What I see most "adults" playing these days doesn't look appealing to me at all. I don't decline to play Call of Duty at work with "the boys" to be antisocial, but I tried it once and I knew I could never grow to like games like that one bit. Gaming is hardly the only thing that I can't enjoy nearly as much as I did as a cub. There used to be so many cool messy shows and great cartoons on Nickelodeon, and now almost all their programming is utter crap. Cartoons in general these days can't even come close to matching the splendor of those in the early to mid-90's. And another thing that seems to suck much more now compared to yesteryear is LEGO. Out of curiosity I browsed the toy section at Wal-Mart the other day, noting their LEGO collection mostly consisted of Star Wars and Indiana Jones-themed garbage. Even popular music seems tragically bad now compared to two decades ago.

What gives? Is it merely my childhood nostalgia making everything seem much worse than it used to be, or is everything really that much worse today? Once again, I do believe it's the latter, but I'm not quite sure. Maybe I would have had an even more enjoyable childhood if I was a kid in the 60's and 70's or even earlier than that... but I can say with certitude that I'm glad I didn't have to be a little squirt in this decade, because things that have gotten a whole hell of a lot crappier. But hey, if they don't know what they missed, it can't hurt them.

Oh, why didn't anyone tell me there was a Chocobo kart racing game released 10 years ago? I read the play mechanics are pretty terrible, but still, Chocobo... racing... aww.

May 1, 2009

it's the flu, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Oh, jesus christ.

I would rather be infected with the swine flu than be a proud iPhone owner, but there is very little chance of either happening despite what the media would want you to believe!

Fucking ridiculous.