Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun: Overclock Remix's FFVI Kickstarter almost finished!

Happy Friday! It's been kind of a weird week (or two) what with all the Reddit stuff, politics, and getting ready to move into my house (my first time dealing with lenders, builders, landscapers, etc). So I thought I'd throw up something light for Friday -- look for this to continue on Fridays for the foreseeable future.

Today I want to talk about OverClock Remix. It's a fantastic website for anyone into video game music, and I'd be surprised if there are any VGM aficionados out there who haven't at least heard of it. It's essentially a community dedicated to remixing songs from video games and providing those remixes completely free-of-charge. If you need to take a peek at their body of work, all their songs are available at their website, and if you want to listen to a big chunk, their newly redone torrents containing every song they've ever done are likely to be right up your alley.

There's more, though. The past few years, OCRemix has gone from doing individual songs, to remixing entire game soundtracks. They've done soundtracks for Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy I,IV,V and VII, Wild Arms, Pokemon, Zelda and tons more. Now they've set their sights on one of my favorite games ever, Final Fantasy VI, with an album called Balance and Ruin. And not only are they releasing the music free, digitally, as they always have, but they've also created a Kickstarter for a physical release.

Check it out!

With a week left, they've wildly surpassed their goal (and even added physical releases of previous albums to the rewards!) but there are still slots left to get your hands on the album. To encourage you to kick a few bucks their way, I've posted some of my favorite tunes from the game. The first two are remixes from OCRemix, entitled "Cid in the Factory" and "Arab Painting." If you're new to the site, these two should give you an idea of the diversity of musical styles that OCRemix plays with.

And finally, I have to post the climax of the soundtrack: the ending theme. One of my favorite pieces from the entire series, it's a shame this has never been properly remixed or orchestrated. Hopefully Balance and Ruin changes that.

Have a chill weekend, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Better than Nothing

[Content Warning: This is a piece about an underage prostitute, and is not particularly cheery]
    She makes herself smile as she slathers another coat of blush on her face. She thinks it makes her look like a clown but the other girls say it’s just the way things are and new pussy shouldn’t ask questions. The other girls never talk to her much, but she doesn’t really mind because they’re old and they’re scarred and they’re not nice, not even to each other. But it makes her miss her friends. She used to have friends.

    She walks out into the hall and Daddy’s sitting on the couch with his brother, smoking his bud. He’s not her real Daddy, of course -- she doesn’t know anything about her real Daddy other than he knocked Momma up in high school and left town right after. This Daddy doesn’t like when she interrupts his “me time,” but that’s pretty much all the time and she needs a ride to 36th and Prince because he said if she doesn’t make at least two hundred tonight he’d take it out on her ass.

    “Hey Daddy,” she says, but it comes out as more of a cough as the smoke dancing in the room hits her throat. Neither of the men notice her, so she says it again, and her voice sounds more like the 13-year-old girl she is than the 18-year-old girl she’s trying to look like.

    “Fuck you want?” Daddy says without looking up.

    “I need a ride.”

    “Ain’t my fuckin’ problem. You got your own two legs, don’t you?”

    “Yeah, I got legs,” she replies. Daddy doesn’t like it when you don’t answer his questions.

    “Then fuckin’ walk.”

    His words sting. She hates the way he talks to her now, but more than that, she hates herself for being so hurt by them. She sniffles, and Daddy holds out an arm. She backs away, afraid he’s gonna hit her, but he wiggles his fingers and she walks forward. He bends her down and places a soft kiss on her cheek.

    “Do good tonight, okay Baby? Do good and I’ll take you out.”

    “All right,” she says. “Night, Daddy.” She heads toward the door, holding a hand to her face. It reminds her of when she first met him, when he said he wanted to be with her forever.

    She picks her purse up off the ground. There’s nothing in it except a pack of condoms, some cheap lip gloss and a stick of gum. She found both of those on the sidewalk last night before the fat old man picked her up. She almost chewed the gum after he bust in her mouth, but now she’s glad she saved it cause her stomach is groaning and it’s not real food but at least it’s something.

    Outside it’s that strange sort of weather between snowing and not-quite. The grey sky makes it seem like a different world, and she wishes it was. It’s not cold outside and she almost thanks God, but then she knows she doesn’t have a whole lot thank God for ‘cause He could probably give her more than a warm night if He really wanted to. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Women Play The Game: Part Two of Five

Welcome to Part Two of my 'A Feast For Crows' blog series exploring the vastly different ways the women in the novel play The Game of Thrones. This will contain SPOILERSOMG up through the end of A Feast For Crows. The previous entry covers Cersei Lannister playing by the rules. This week, we're going to take a trip to the Iron Islands.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reddit, Jezebel, Free Speech and Anonymity on the Internet

For those of you who don't follow Internet drama, congratulations. You almost certainly have a more fulfilling day-to-day life than I do. But there were some pretty interesting events over the past week that I feel compelled to write about.

Reddit is an extraordinarily popular website. It's basically an open slate -- users can submit links (or simply text, like questions or statements), other users vote these links up or down and the most highly upvoted jump to the top. Reddit has something of a problem with misogyny and racism, as you'd expect with an unmoderated site. One community in particular, known as /r/CreepShots, is wholly devoted to taking pictures of unknowing, non-consenting women's body parts in public (usually in tight pants or low-cut shirts) and posting them for users to masturbate to.

ShitRedditSays, a group formed to call out misogynist, racist bullshit on Reddit, started a media campaign to get CreepShots shut down. This was mostly a failure ... until yesterday, when all hell broke loose. A (now defunct) tumblr popped up detailing names and personal information of several of the CreepShots creeps, and Jezebel posted an in-depth story covering the controversy. Needless to say, Reddit was outraged. Partially because they love creepy shit, partially because they are of the mindset that unfettered free speech is an unassailable ideal in every single case, and that to censor anything will mean the death of a free society, and partially because they have an aversion to the concept of "doxxing," or posting the personal information of anonymous posters.

I'm not going to talk about Reddit loving creepy shit, because SRS does a fine job of that. Instead, I'll talk about the free speech/doxxing issue.

1) On free speech: Reddit is not the government. I'm completely behind the concept of free speech when it pertains to laws and government intervention. I'm not at all behind it when it comes to private spaces moderating what speech is acceptable. You are free to post whatever horrible racist drivel you want on the Internet. You are not free to post it on my website. Reddit moderating objectively terrible content like CreepShots is not a violation of free speech in any way, regardless of the legality of creepy pictures.

2) On doxxing: there's a hilarious double-standard for the Reddit hivemind here. Reddit defends CreepShots in the name of "free speech", and yet, is completely unwilling to do so for doxxing. Newsflash -- doxxing is legal and morally ambiguous in the same way CreepShots is. If you're defending CreepShots in the name of "it's legal speech," you have no ground to object to doxxing. Absolutely none.

All of this leads to an interesting idea: what if there was no anonymity on the Internet?

A radical idea, I know, though I'm hardly the first one to think about it. One of my college professors (Computer Science, natch) advocated this approach, and at the time, I had a knee-jerk reaction against it. But if you think about it a bit further, there are some benefits. For one, no more doxxing. If everything you post on the Internet has your real name right there for everyone to see, the worry that someone's going to out you, well ... disappears. In addition, some (not nearly all, unfortunately) of the consequence-free marginalizing blather will dry up as well. John Q. Smith is going to be a lot less willing to post a creepy picture of a woman's ass without her knowledge when an employer searching for "John Q. Smith" will bring up John's creepiness.

Downsides? Of course. It fucking sucks that the Internet has the mindset of "default = straight white male," and stepping outside of that opens you up to attacks. Many people choose not to fight against this, and refrain from identifying themselves as a woman, or gay, or transgender, to protect themselves. I totally understand. A non-anonymous Internet would take that strategy away from marginalized peoples, which I'm not totally comfortable doing. On the other hand, it's quite possible that the default assumption might disappear once the diversity of people on the Internet is made more clear.

There's also a host of smaller issues. It becomes a lot more difficult to do anything of questionable legality online, which is sort of ... good and bad. While I'm not really an advocate of piracy, I don't relish the idea of the RIAA having full access to torrent logs and the ability to match IP addresses to names. And I don't like the idea of being outed for your interest in fully legal, fully consensual furry pony porn.

But there needs to be some sort of solution. The idea that the Internet should be a consequence-free zone for the worst sorts of behavior going into the future is not acceptable to me. And while I know that to Reddit and 4Chan, this unrestrained nature is the very key to the Internet, but I simply don't see that as sustainable. When these doxxing and counter-doxxing and triple-reverse-revenge-doxxing start to happen everyday, I think we'll see a lot of people naturally move from the "what happens on the Internet doesn't count" model. The best course of action is likely for the Internet to remain anonymous, but for the vast majority of people to pretend like it isn't.

What do y'all think? Do the benefits of an anonymous Internet outweigh the use of anonymity as a shield for deplorable actions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

Perdido Street Station is not a light, afternoon read. That's not necessarily a criticism, but it's absolutely true. The book itself is not even all that long -- I mean, it's no My First Weird Fantasy, but neither is it Infinite Jest -- but it really feels as though it is. It's like a rare ribeye with béarnaise sauce compared to a $8.99 sirloin from Applebees -- whether or not the ribeye is any good, it certainly takes more conscious effort to enjoy and digest.

It's said that any story should only have one or two Big Ideas. These are the philosophical underpinnings of the story -- in layman's terms, they're what the story is *about* outside of the characters. Terminator is about time travel and robots. Those are its Big Ideas. Harry Potter is about a school for magic. That's its Big Idea.

One of the reasons Perdido Street Station feels so dense is that it purposely breaks that rule. This novel is about so many things. It's about art. It's about dreams. Artificial Intelligence, academia, justice, Theories of Everything, free/potential energy, gods, demons, technology. Miéville touches on all of them, and at such a pace that you're never quite sure where he's going with it. As soon as you're sure that this plot point is going to be the central conflict, it falls by the wayside and becomes a subplot or less. This lack of focus is at once breathtaking and aggravating. There is no denying that the novel could have been substantially trimmed, kept the same narrative and touched on almost all of the same themes. Miéville made a conscious decision to jam-pack his novel with a plethora of topics, not all of which pan out to satisfaction, and while I think that's a completely valid choice (as opposed to an objective mistake), it didn't quite work for me.

So what is the actual, central conflict of the novel? Well, we don't actually find out until about halfway through, and describing it ruins some of the surprise. The story revolves around New Crobuzon, a sprawling, dirty, amazing, problematic, multicultural city within the magical steampunk world of Bas-Lag. The initial circumstances that lead to the conflict concern Isaac, a researcher, and his secret girlfriend Lin, a khepri (that is, scarab-headed) artist. Isaac is attempting to use his research into "crisis energy" to help Yagharek, a garuda whose wings have been sheared off as punishment for an unknown crime, and who can no longer fly. Lin, meanwhile, has been commissioned to complete a massive sculpture by a twisted, deformed crime boss, and though she's in over her head, the chance to work on something so monumental is too tempting to pass up.

You might have noticed the races I mentioned -- khepri, garuda -- and those are just a few of the imaginative peoples Miéville uses to populate his world. Those races, incidentally, are the best part of the novel. If you've read other Bas-Lag novels (which I haven't), you might be familiar with some of them, but as a new reader I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to races outside the traditional elf, human, dwarf fantasy triangle. We have the aforementioned khepri, people with scarab heads and human bodies, garuda, bird-people, cactacae, cactus-people (and as a fan of Final Fantasy, I couldn't help being reminded of cactuar), vodyanoi, humanoid frogs with watercrafting abilities, and more. Even when the narrative sags, Perdido Street Station is worth the read for Miéville's fully-realized use of novel, nonhuman societies.

And really, despite its sometimes heavy, meandering nature, I would recommend you read Perdido Street Station. It represents some true forward-thinking for the genre, and contains some absolutely amazing scenes and creations. I desperately want to give it a 4 out of 5, but to me, that attributes a certain level of "couldn't put it down!"-ness to the novel which it simply didn't possess for me. Indeed, I had to actively force myself to continue more than once.

To continue the metaphor, Perdido Street Station totally represents that expensive gourmet steak with a crazy French sauce and some vegetable you've never heard of. It's absolutely worth a taste, just to experience what an artist can do when all conventions are thrown out the window. But in the end, it's just slightly undercooked for my taste.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville gets a 3.5 out of 5.