Summer 2009 Fun

Country Fair

July 10, I went to the Oregon Country Fair.  This is one of the experiences that most strongly demonstrates that the anti-consumerist in me is much stronger than the hippie in me. 

Even though it was a gathering of hippies from all across the Pacific Northwest (even if it is mostly Eugene and Portland), I could only see it as fetishized consumerism.  They are environmentalist, but they bring their own electrical generators that are less efficient than the power suppliers in the area.  Structurally, it’s the same as any other fair – lots of places to buy overpriced food or trinkets that you don’t need.  Yes, there are cool parts to it, but it saddens me that ‘hippie’ is nowadays more about nudity, drugs, and the color green and less about politics, social change, or environmentalism.

Bohemia Mining Days

Bohemia Mining Days is a smaller fair in Cottage Grove.  Fun for an afternoon, but nothing special.

The fashions of middle and high school age kids was interesting, though.  Everyone seemed to be some variant of punk/goth.  And it seems like there is no age too young to have a cell phone now.  I feel old.

Wasting Time

I saw a few movies.  Gran Turino, Harry Potter 6, Flatland, and maybe one or two others.  They were entertaining, but none were really impressive. 

Flatland was about a square that lives in a 2d world and sees a visitor from the 3d land.  It was based on a book of the same name.  It was a fairly good introduction to thinking about the idea of more than 3 dimensions, but, as a movie, it was lacking.

I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  A bunch of my friends at Stanford got me into it.  It was fun.  There were a lot of interesting themes.  And some of the episodes were masterpieces: in “Hush”, fairytale monsters take away people’s voices about 5 minutes into the episode, so for a half hour in the middle, there is no speaking whatsoever.  It had beautiful music, amazing acting, and was overall good. 

If you too are a Buffy fan, feel free to ask my why Spike is the most heroic character.

I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender.  It’s a Nickelodeon show for kids, but it’s still pretty good.  It’s set in a fantasy world that has a little bit of technology, four ‘nations’ (one for each of the Ancient Greek elements, earth, fire, air, and water), and a mythology that blends a bunch of different ones.  People can do magic by ‘bending’ the elements around them.  The protagonist is Aang, the Avatar (the only person who can bend all four elements) and the last Airbender (because the Fire Nation wiped out all of the others).  He’s a little kid (frozen in time for 100 years), so he has to learn all four of the elements and end the Fire Nation’s war. 

The fact that it was a kids show was apparent, but it was interesting nonetheless.  They presented complex moral issues very nicely. 

I discovered some new youtube videos. 

“Auto Tune the News” is a monthly series where a piece of news is changed into singing.  There have been 7 so far (I think).  #5 and #6 are the best.  They had also done some historical speeches (ie, MLK’s “I Have a Dream”) and some presidential debates.

“The Guild” is a youtube TV series with 5 minute episodes.  It features players of an online game that decide to meet up one day.  It isn’t all that great, but it’s kind of funny.  They also released a music video called “Do You Want to Date My Avatar” that is very good.

Continuing with my interest in the social implications of the internet, someone released a video called “Social Media Revolution”.  It’s done in the style of the “Shift Happens” / “Did You Know 2.0” / Michael Wesch videos.  I don’t think it would be popular if those videos weren’t excellent and viral.  “Social Media Revolution” pales in comparison to Michael Wesch’s videos.  It isn’t done very creatively – it uses the same music and style as “Did you Know 2.0” / “Shift happens”.  It even uses some of the same statistics.  It’s also kind of weird in that it was made by someone interested in marketing rather than education or the internet in and of itself.  There are also some hokey elements – for instance, it was made by Erik Qualman (the person who, I guess, coined the term “Socialnomics”), and one part of the video quotes Erik Qualman as if he were a third party.  And it says “Welcome to the world of SocialnomicsTM”.  I guess it just feels like I’m being advertised to for some product called “Social Media”.

I played some video games.  I’m playing a level-one game for Final Fantasy 9.  Interestingly enough, even though I’m level 1 rather than level 50 or 60, at the point of the game where I am right now, I’m at least as powerful as any other time I played FF9.  Largely, the difference is that I’m forced to think about each fight that I get into, so I’ll put on the right equipment and adopt an actual strategy rather than just mashing buttons.  The one part that’s annoying about it is that, in order to stay at level one, you can’t kill any monsters (except for bosses) because then you would get experience points and go up levels.  In other words, the hard part is not being level one, but staying at level one.

Recently, I finished a modded game of Planescape: Torment.  It is a very excellent game – more like reading a well-written novel than playing a game.  I wish there were more.

I also started a modded game of Baldur’s Gate.  It’s similar to Planescape, but it’s a little bit bigger and a little bit less polished/immersive.  BG has a cool world, but it doesn’t make me keep turning the pages quite like Planescape.

Also, Dungeons and Dragons Online is going free to play soon.  I signed up for the beta, so I’ve been giving it a try.  It’s very good.  A while back, I tried playing an MMO (short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called “Perfect World”, and after sticking with it for a while, I was disappointed that the game wasn’t very creative.  Everything seemed to be the same “Kill X number of Y type of monster for me”.  The game got repetitive.  DDO, on the other hand, reminded me a lot more of the original Everquest (which, at the lower levels, was a lot less repetitive).  There are a bunch of different races and classes; each class has a bunch of different ways that it can be played; there are different quests that you can do to advance.  Overall, the game involves more thinking than just hack and slash.  The free version of DDO is supposed to go live soon (originally, it was going live in early August, but apparently the company that makes DDO is willing to push back the release until they’re completely satisfied with the product). 

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009