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30Jan2013 1800: Old Habits

It's a much shorter cycle than usual, but I quit Magic last summer and am already back for shenanigans. You can tell me how good a card is and I'll just give you a blank stare. You can tell me there are valuable cards and I'll make "blah blah blah" motions with my hand. But if you tell me I can make infinite Oozes or play a motherfucking Landshark (Fish! Crab! Fish Crab!), I will be there with bells on. I will be there ringing people's bells. I went 3-1 twice with my trusty Merfolk Shark Ooze Rhinos and it felt great.

As a programmer I also I have a special place in my heart for MAXINT, so this video gets me right in the cockles.

23Jan2013 1930: A Corporate Presence

I'm so glad that today is over. This morning was spent futilely trying to find a video codec that everybody in the office could use. Our company wants to post promotional videos, you see? Simple things that we capture in Fraps and post on our website. Just like every other company. But in the wild world of video encoding it's still 1996, Netscape duking it out with Gopher or some shit, and guys it's not going to get better. I was venting talking about this at lunch with the art department, and as usual their non-computery insight turned the problem around. I had been so focused on codecs and file sizes and compatibility, when all I needed to do was put a video on a website. In their words, "Why not just use YouTube"?

I felt shame.

So yes! Into YouTube! I've put shit on YouTube before, ten-year-old kids put shit on YouTube, why couldn't our company put shit on YouTube? I'll tell you why. Several months ago I set up a company Google account just to get access to Google Voice. Our marketing interns were going to do some cold-calling and I was/am loath to have them hand out personal cell numbers. Almost immediately the Google Truth Detectors realized that was not a real person and that if I persisted in using they would deactivate my Google+ profile. Only Google and Wil Wheaton use Google+, so I thought nothing of it; we had a Facebook page so go fly a kite, automated Google name-checkers!

In a movie, this is when the tense violins would start up.

Fast forward several months to the revelation that I should just use YouTube. I logged back in to the corporate account and was greeted with a "You're suspended because you're not a real person" message. Fine, whatevs, still don't want a Google+ page, all I need is a Yo...oh no. Oh gods. To upload a video to YouTube, I need to create a YouTube channel. To create a channel, I need to click a very friendly-looking button. This friendly button notices that my account has been suspended and does nothing. And by nothing, I am being very literal: there is no error message, no redirect page, no indication beyond a very brief progress bar that I even clicked a button.

So, okay, I'll set up the Google+ page properly. Oh, but what's this? Companies are only supposed to be sub-pages under the control of a person's account. Well, now the company G+ page is under my personal account. Does this let me upload a video? Well, sure...but it goes into the sub-pages video folder, which is obviously using the YouTube interface but does not expose any kind of YouTube link.

The other three hours of my afternoon can be summarized in a small BASIC program.

I feel as if my brains are leaking out of my nostrils. Obviously other companies have gotten around this somehow, and I doubt very much that the CEO of Coca-Cola personally set up their Google+ page. Probably just a wink-wink nudge-nudge between multinational megacorps that the G+ user "Cocapher Colambus" is totally in charge of the Coke page.

Settle in with a snack and your favorite beverage, because [The 1975 - You] reports its runtime as a staggering twenty-six minutes. And judging by this progress bar they are not fooling around. The song is a laid-back 1980s rock groove, the kind with androgynous keyboard men droning about ocean waves and cocaine. It's actually a pretty good one of those, too, but the song proper ends at 4:44ish and then... nothing. SILENCE. Until the 23:53 mark, when a "hidden" track appears. It is also pretty good, but there is NO EXCUSE for hidden tracks in a digital album. It only worked when physical media and printed tracklists obscured the reality of the album, and even then it was pretty annoying. So instead of two songs I would want to keep in my collection I got one mammoth file that I'm going to delete. Bands: do this on your ironic cassette release, not on the Goddamn Intarwebs.

The spelling of [Skeme - I Remember] briefly raised my hopes for ska, but nope it is rap. A very crude and joyless kind of rap, even though he purportedly remembers why he got into the game. He doesn't sound like he's having fun while rapping about laughter and parties; why can't he just enjoy his major label advance and then fade into indentured obscurity like most dudes?

[12th Planet - The End (T.E.I.N pt 2)] invites us to envisage a world beyond Pluto. Pluto's no longer officially a planet? Fuck it, now there are twelve planets, and on the twelfth Billy Joel is opening for Anamanaguchi and Skrillex. Which is to say that this is dubstep; most of the song sounds like the mating call of a poorly-oiled table saw, sprinkled with bits of 8 bit. Occasionally the music cuts out entirely and then cruelly returns. I don't understand kids these days.

[Peaking Lights - Cosmick Dub] is some sort of ambient reggae belly-dancing music. It purports to be seven minutes long but I missed half of it because there was breaking music news and what the hell Rilo Kiley? Sing or get off the pot. Jeez, was Under the Blacklight already five years ago? Jeez.

16Jan2013 1800: Burning Down the Horse

Let's just lead with this: yes, the second-best thing in Assassin's Creed 3 is indeed the horsassin. But like everything else I'm about to discuss, the good points of the horse are perfectly in balance with the bad points of the horse.

The horse in fact appears in under a second.
It attempts to appear from thin air behind the player, which is not necessarily behind the camera, so sometimes you see the horse magic happen. Nobody wants to see how the horse sausage is made.

The horse is able to pick its way over most of the rough terrain in the wilderness, so it's useful outside of the well-groomed city streets. And on the frontier trails it's still the fastest way to travel.
The A button has changed from "horse trots faster", which it has been in all previous Assassin's Creed games, to "horse comes to a dead stop and rears up, which is never used for any gameplay purpose", in AC3.

I'm trying to separate the shock of things being changed from my distaste with actual poor decisions. The last horse point is a pretty good example of that: I was literally shocked the first time I hit A and the horse did not respond the way it did in the previous four games. But I don't think I'm arguing from shock any more. Over the course of the game I had many situations where I wanted to move faster than the default pace while maintaining more control than the full-out gallop...and I couldn't. That option had been replaced with a rearing animation that literally has no purpose. Civilians aren't scared away by it, it's not used to strike a dramatic pose during Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, it doesn't help shake pursuers; it is a worse option in every way, worse than doing nothing to the horse programming. Ubisoft had to do nothing and they failed.

I'm almost done with the game and I like every bit of where the story is going. The stupid, ridiculous, Mayan apocalypse, cyberbrain story. I can only hope that the ending to this five-game trilogy is as absurd as this legendary meta-cutscene. I bet it won't. I bet the absurd ending got replaced with a horse rearing button.

This dichotomy is woven into every bit of the experience. Naval combat between lovingly rendered triremes is an awesome addition; but crafting items from raw materials to sell at market is a mess of menus that don't utilize even half of the screen space, a triumph of design over functionality. Assassin buddies now have individual story missions, voice acting, and tiny snippets of plot development; but this means I can no longer build an interchangeable cadre of lady assassins in red robes. There's a large and lovingly detailed chunk of Northeastern wilderness where you can just screw around for hours hunting elk; but the towns are true to the architectural style of colonial America, i.e. plain-looking and not very tall.

The unequivocal best addition is the home instance. In previous games this was a flavorless jumble of Italian stonework, where upgrading buildings was done with cash through a menu and got you slightly more ornate trellises. Recruited assassin buddies, local doctors, and random townsfolk were faceless and impersonal. AC3 replaces all of this with actual people, each of which have their own series of missions to recruit them, build their homes, integrate them with the neighbors, and ultimately bring their little mini-arc to a satisfying close. I found this more fascinating than the main plot and the transition from frontier wilderness to a small but settled village is very well done. But even here, in the heart of their triumph, Ubisoft managed to ever-so-slightly cock it up with terrible voice acting. Just look at how awkward a wedding reception can be when none of the guests are actually in the room speaking to each other.

So conflicted. Man. I'm going to see this through, and there are plenty of high points -- a great sequence of catharsis at the end of chapter 10 -- but I will probably only remember the crushing weight of hundreds of tiny low points. And I won't be back for a fourth (sixth) Assassin's Creed. We're done here.

Already, Google thwarts my Youtube resolution by not having this song on Youtube. [Savoir Adore - Anywhere You Go] is a sweet little rock tune. Sweet as in saccharine. The lady vocals and deliberately low-fi aesthetic are a bon-bon of lovey-dovey rock that will probably slip past my ears for years to come. One day I'll see that it's been played 15 times by Google Music's count and I won't remember any of them.

[Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Danko/Manuel] give us a slow rock lamentation. It's like a Bruce Springsteen song slowed down to half speed, which might explain the eight minute runtime. Put it in a reverse time capsule and this would tear up the charts in the 70s. And I bet it sounds better on ancient vinyl. For all I know he actually is from the 70s and used to tour around with Cat Stevens like erry day.

[Rah Rah - The Poet's Dead] is a kind of folk-rock that my brain interprets as "earnest". Something about the sound or lyrical structure makes it sound like are singing directly at me, more than other bands. I classify Bishop Allen in this same slice of sounds.

09Jan2013 1900: Gotta Go Fast

I've mentioned that I like to watch time attacks of video games, playing a game perfectly using emulators. Eventually that went from playing a game perfectly to playing a game's code directly and shit got surreal. Well, right now we have legitimate human players racing through games to raise money for cancer research. There's something magical about a guy beating Batman: Arkham City in under three hours; I spent at least that long preparing to punch guys, while he just rips through everyone at warp speed.

I stopped posting about new music a month or so ago, when the holidays and live concerts interrupted my sedate music-collecting pace. I still checked the Google freebies, but none were so high nor so low to bring attention to. The worst part of Google Music is actually how hard it is to find their monthly freebies: is Antenna available on this page today? Because it wasn't yesterday! It is also significant that I'm going to start linking to the Youtube videos instead of dealing with Google's ridiculous URLs.

[Joshua Rogers - I'm Still Standing] opens with the most aggravating minute of vocal wankery I've heard in a long time. The song itself has to wait while Mr. Rogers goes "woooOOOOOOOOooooooooaaaAAAAA" for a while. After that it turns into a Mentos commercial about Jesus.

Oh good. Reggae dance music with a thick robotic voice filter. Science has brought you [Tommy Lee & Popcaan - Money Make Friend]; science dedicated to my downfall. I cannot picture hating this song any less than 100%.

Shit, seriously? [The Others - The Way You Make Me] is officially dubstep, which is slightly more tolerable than reggae but still pretty ridiculous. Only one good thing will ever come from dubstep, and it has already happened.

03Jan2013 0920: Derp


02Jan2013 1900: I'll Trade You

Here, Internet, I propose a trade. The reason you (and I) are crashing to desktop in Assassin's Creed 3 is probably because Ubisoft couldn't port their way out of a static-proof bag your graphics card is overclocked. You may not have done it personally, but lots of cards come that way from the factory. Look up your video card on Wikipedia and find out what your clock speed is supposed to be, then go to your video card's official page to get a tweaking tool ( like MSI's Afterburner or EVGA's Precision) and set your card back down to the stock level. I do not recommend upping the voltage like the first link said; it's far safer to downclock instead of pumping more juice in to sustain an overclock.

That's one problem solved. Now, can anybody explain to me how CSS Sticky Footer works perfectly on Ryan Fait's content, but not on mine? His main content div expands to fill height: 100% like it should, but mine gets stuck at just barely over the size of the header nav image. I feel like I'm perpetually thirty seconds away from understanding this. It's because my header nav is position: absolute, isn't it? Not on the Monthenorium, but at work. I'm going to try getting rid of absolute tomorrow.