Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July the Nothingth

As with other calendar entries, this month is fairly sparse, with a single line that'll be repeated fairly often:

July 14 - Bank Holiday (N. Ireland) - Not applicable

Further adding to the list of overwhelming letdowns, here's the cover of the 1991 Ziggy calendar:

Rounding out, we have the most obvious (and disturbing) Mr. Bean "improvement".
Barriers
Edmund Blair Leighton, 1853-1922
Happy Canada Day everyone in Canada, and happy July 1st to everyone else.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On Beyond Cthulhu!

Said young researcher Randolph Carter,
Talking of an old God surrounded by water,
Assuring me he wasn't completely bats,
Started his lesson off with: "The R is for Rats.
The L is for Leng.  The Y is for Yith.
And the next letter is E for Eldritch.
The H is for Hastur.  If found earlier,
One would see that they spell out R'lyeh."

"R'lyeh is where Elder God Cthulhu rests,
Which as far as I know, is all for the best.
To free him would require the masses teeming
'In his house at R'lyeh, Dead Cthulhu waits dreaming'.
As long as he naps, we're kept well assured
That his delayed presence is no threat to the world.
With nothing else that could make our minds unfurled."

Then he nearly fell down flat on the dirt
After I scribbled down a single word
That upon first sight, made his head hurt!
And I said, "You can stop if you want, with Cthulhu.
Most people normally stop at Cthulhu,
And I'm warning that so should you!
The things I've seen, and the places I've goed,
Go far beyond the realm of Cthulhu mythos.
I'm telling you this as one of your friends,
My knowledge starts where your discoveries end!"

Let's go further,
Like Abdul Alhazred,
An Arabian Scholar who went off on his meds.
The very next step where our journey begins
Is in the pages of Nec for the Necronomicon.
A blasphemous tome filled with monstrous creatures
Dangerous summoning rituals and outrageous features.
Everything he saw was caught for posterity
And this book was banned for its notoriety,
Which increased bootleg copies, which only goes to show,
That people actively seek out what Man should not know.

There are some Elder Gods you'd better not invoke their wrath
Starting with Shub, which stands for Shub-Niggurath
Whose feats and exploits are touted in song,
The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.
While most cults operate involving specificities,
The one devoted to her exists in abject mystery.
Her birthrate and devotion is not just for show,
And if you want to know more, the world may never know.

Next up is Nyarl which stands for Nyarlathotep,
The best and the worst man you've never met.
His gender is androgynous, his motives ambiguous,
His intellect a genius, his intentions nefarious.
Has hundreds of thousands of aliases and forms,
And invents objects that work beyond ordinary norms.
Was once a Pharaoh in times of Amenhotep,
And just like cats, never lets us forget.

There aren't many that are cut from the same cloth,
And they broke the mold with Yog for Yog-Sothoth.
A mass of writhing circles made luminous,
Through space and time, is omniscient and ubiquitous.
Knows everything that happened, and everything that will,
Making the future somewhat less of a thrill.
Has an impressive and weirdly intimate nepotism
For both knowing and being the gate's guardian.
The reason Yog-Sothoth can be quoted chapter and verse
Is that it is somehow locked outside our universe.

Among the creatures that can help you lose your broth,
Is the letter Shog, which stands for Shoggoth.
Hulking shapeless monstrosities of uneven design
That were built to withstand the end of all time.
Servants to ancient creatures older than our galaxy,
Responsible for crafting non-Euclidean geometry.
Were once stunning creatures capable of making you faint,
But they rebelled too far, and now remain dormant.

When the Earth was still young long ago,
The world had Mi which starts for Mi-Go.
Large crustacean flies with bat wings,
Tendrils, tentacles, among other things,
They warp your mind in more ways than one
By transferring your thoughts between aeons.
Your brain is pickled alive in a jar,
Then put on a mystic voyage beyond the stars.

Of all the Letters capable of making your mouth froth,
Is the letter Az, and Az is for Azathoth.
An immensely powerful being of immeasurable size
Spanning a distance two galaxies wide.
Is the father of Nyarlathotep, among other things
But unlike his son, is blind and cannot think.
Is held at bay by a dozen musicians
To distract and drown out his infantile babbling
Because if there's anything worse than a selfless God,
It's an irreplaceable ruler that's an absolute clod.

When you go beyond Cthulhu...
Going past the quay,
You find competition entering the fray
Who existed for centuries, despite being found yesterday.
One of these which is only a decade old,
Is the letter Zal, which stands for Zalgo.
Going against it is difficult to be proactive,
Because its very corruptive presence is radioactive.
Its name alone can warp the fabric of reality,
Breaking physics, and increasing enmity and apathy,
And a rise of nonsensical-sounding cities.
The reason that people alone are immune,
Is that Zalgo only influences comics and cartoons.
Over the brains and through your eyes,
Look out world, Zalgo comes by!

The places I took him!
I went farther,
Showing young naive innocent Randolph Carter
That the mythos he knew was just a starter.
That there were deities capable of reshaping long-held conceptions
And uncomfortable truths that would cast new perceptions.
I took him beyond the pages of my guidebook,
And I like to think I did him some good...

Because at the end, he said,
"Ia!  Dagan!
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Wgah'nagl,
Cthulhu
Braggin!"

His mind now broken, he spins verses of purple hues.
He should've stopped at Cthulhu.
Will YOU?!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Idle Games - the Bane of my Existence


To any avid readers of my blog, I’m sure you might’ve noticed a certain decline of entries as well as quality of posts, with brief bursts of creativity coming few and far between.  There’s a (stupid) reason for that, and it’s something of a secret shame that I’m now, like recovering alcoholics, willing to admit.  For the longest time now, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to a new brand of online gaming that’s only recently gained traction and copycats - Idle Games.

These notorious timesinks can be worse than Candy Crush (which I was also addicted to, until I ran out of patience at a level that required more chains / powerups than I was capable of getting through luck).  They start out so simply - do one action multiple times to gain some currency that’ll do the job for you.  Gain more currency, and the computer can do the job faster than before.  The rise in mass income will be necessary in order to obtain higher-priced items that’ll make the computer work faster.  And once you’ve finally gained enough, what do you do?  You can choose to go back to start, only this time, you’ll be able to regain your resources faster than the first time around!

If there was ever a cure for narcolepsy, Anti-Idle would be it.  In fact, Anti-Idle was the main reason behind why my mouse broke, which caused me no amount of undue aggravation, because I was double-clicking when I needed to single click instead.  This wouldn't be much of a factor for Button Basher, but a serious impediment for Whack-a-Greg, FCG and using enhancements.

There have even been articles about these Incremental Games, which pointed out the irrational appeal of the satisfaction of having progress made while you’re not even looking at the screen.  There’s just something about obtaining massive amounts of false profits that just rings a compulsive need we didn’t even know we wanted until we got it.

However, there were some significant decrements to this.  For starters, if you tried to use another browser, window, tab or program, your process would be radically decreased, since the Frame Per Second (FPS) would be affected by the amount of conflicting data competing for your attention.  Which meant that you had to compromise by devoting all your time to one single screen, and having reduced windows for all your other programs for maximum effect.  The other detriment is that just standing by idly isn’t good enough - you need to actively play the game to achieve the numbers needed to accumulate ever-increasing rewards.  I was spending a lot of time planning ahead, trying to make use of time-specific events, constantly reshuffling my inventory and stats.

This plays havoc on anyone with OCD tendencies, since these games have achievements and quests that require compulsive hoarding of supplies in order to afford the very things you want.  Why settle for a measly 10,000 cookies when you can buy a machine that’ll net you 100,000 within seconds?  It’s all for the satisfaction of seeing that tiny blurb “Achievement completed!” pop up.

I was having fantasies of doing an elaborate Game Novel of Anti-Idle, not unlike those Worlds of Power books of yesteryear.  Mine would involve a simple farmer boy who, once he'd saved enough money from harvesting trees, was able to go and do some basic training, which would allow him to press a button, play in an arcade, bet on races, play card games, play with the stock market, a mock tabletop RPG, and even do some fishing.  All this would be interlaced with his involvement in adventuring, which would for the most part, be fairly linear, going into new unexplored territory, face a strong enemy, and be surprised to find out they'd died and lost all their rings.  At some point, the character would be able to be strong enough to face down the embodiment of CHAOS, and eventually, other strong bonus enemies that'd increase his fighting power.  This would give the sensation of playing the game without actually playing it.  Of course, this would need time away from the game in order to write said Fanfiction, of which was becoming increasingly rare.  For a long time, Anti-Idle was the only thing that made me feel alive.  However, at a certain point, there comes a time when a game no longer delivers the satisfaction you’re constantly seeking, and the lack of updates finally clinched it for me.  I’d been compulsively playing, hoping that I’d be able to make use of my hard-earned work, since it’d be such a waste if all this effort was ultimately for nothing.

It was only recently that the creator, Tukkun, announced that he’d been getting tired of working on Anti-Idle, and his computer containing files relating to the game recently crashed; that he announced that he was working on another incremental game that would have ties to his popularly broken game.  I knew that I would be able to stop once I reached a certain level of completion, but thought it would be two months from now, when I felt confident that I’d do enough Impossible Ascensions.  (If these sentences mean nothing to you, consider yourself lucky)

Sometime last night, my modem suffered a temporary Critical Existence Failure, and couldn’t connect to the internet.  Fortunately, my game continued to play on without further assistance, but it worried me that if my router no longer worked (and on a national holiday that the stores were closed), I’d have to preserve my daily run by transferring to another computer that I wasn’t comfortable with.  At that point, I realized that I was going through a lot of trouble and effort for a game that was taking up too much of my life, and saw this as a big honking neon sign that maybe it should be time to finally stop.

Now, maybe I’ll go back and play again when there’s confirmation of updates, or I’ve got enough time on my hands to waste several hours going through the Endless Dungeon to acquire higher tiers of Demon Slayer Armour, but the amount of effort needed to acquire these items suggest that I’ve gone through enough punishment.  In the meantime, I'll be going through withdrawal symptoms, which hopefully, will spur larger bouts of creativity from my stimulant-deprived mind.

Half of me is hoping that these games will never get their long-awaited updates, and half of me is secretly hoping that the wait will be worth it.  I hope I'll be able to resist, but knowing my past experience, I probably won't be able to.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bone of Discontent

Jeff Smith's all-ages comic, Bone is a perpetual seller, rising from the ruins of a broken comics market that had increasingly marketed itself to older audiences with very little in regard for younger readers who'd be more interested in alternate literature more suited to their tastes.
And a protagonist named after a reoccurring Don Martin character.
So it was somewhat of a letdown when the serial which was mentioned by the author/artist to run somewhere between 60 to 100 issues to its conclusion, only to finish at a paltry 55 issues instead.  The rigid self-imposed high production values that required further delays between releases of individual issues may have had something to do with it, as well as the need to rush towards an inevitable conclusion.  The Dragonslayer arc had plenty of buildup, which frustrated readers waiting for a payoff, which Jeff Smith rationalized as saying that even events in World War II had certain events play out before they came to fruition.

That would've been fine and all, only after finally getting a good segue into the start of the war at the 27th issue, things started derailing with Rock Jaw, the weakest of the Bone arcs, with a third party character who for all his massive strength and impressive physical presence, wound up not having much influence over the course of events.  You could cut out all the scenes Rock Jaw appeared in, and not lose anything of importance.  A scene that I'm sad never got included was where Grandma Ben got in a fight with Rock Jaw, which would've been worth the price of admission.
Why didn't this make the cut?
The first draft of Bone, Thorn: Tales from the Lantern was somewhat crude, with self-depreciating author inserts and adhering to a rigid 4-panel comic strip layout, but had several side characters that didn't make the final cut.  One of which was Voochko the Russian pig, easily the largest instance of Pogo influence, right down to the constant wordplay.
Okay, this might not be as much of a loss.
Even so, there were divergent pathways the LOTR / Looney Toons mashup could've taken that I'm disappointed weren't explored, especially since in an early interview, Jeff Smith introduced the Cow Race as a one-off joke that led to a wider expansion of the village and its residents.  That was something that Majora's Mask and multiple One Piece arcs handle quite well.
"I never anticipated doing the Cow Race.  I just thought Gradma Ben was a weird old lady, she raised cows, and maybe there was a cow race.  But I was never going to show it, it was just a joke.  But as it went, it just had to happen.  I just had to draw this cow race.  Things like that will hopefully come up all the time. (...)  The reason I did it is because it did move the story along.  I've seen a lot of fantasy stories, Lord of the Rings quest types, and oftentimes, the basic format is: A little group of friends go on a quest to defeat the big enemy.  You never see the world that's in danger.  You never meet the villagers.  Or, the big sorcerer's going to conquer the world, and make everyone his slaves.  But if you don't know who the slaves are going to be, the people that are in danger, it's hard to care.  That's part of the reason I'm using the Cow Race, even though it's just completely stupid hijinx.  It actually has a huge "Move the Story" purpose, in that once this is over with you will have seen a day in the town, you'll have met a lot of the people.  You'll actually have a memory that there is a town, and that there are people there who are in danger."  
After, that, I was expecting to see new potential avenues that would've been explored, and was let down when we were given digressions on old vendettas onto Dragons and old men offering stinky cheese that went nowhere, giving me a feeling of squandered potential.  It's not as if I was expecting seemingly inconsequential events in earlier chapters to suddenly have greater implications and meaning later on, but my fondest Bone memories are from those early funny volumes where the possibilities were unlimited.  And then, those probabilities were dashed with what we were given.

One-off characters like Bone's brief bare-shirted muscular rival at the Cow Race carnival and Ted's bigger brother who was a one-off visual gag, were and never seen or referenced again.  For the most part, that was fine, since they had their parts to play, and those roles were over and done.  As the stage saying goes, "There are no small actors, only small parts".  It was just more difficult to reconcile with the later "important" secondary characters that we felt no emotional lingering for.  Bigger sins were the Bone spin-offs Tall Tails, staring a Bone who's a cross between Popeye and Scrooge McDuck, and Rose, Grandma Ben's backstory, which should've been engaging comic stories in their own right, but hardly proved to be the compulsive re-readable tomes they could've been.

Some of the things that disappointed me (in addition to missing out of using Archie's iconic slap-face disbelief circles) were some theories that never panned out:

Fone Bone was later signified to have some kind of link to the Dreaming that Thorn and The Hooded One were connected to.  This was slightly hinted at in this pivotal scene in Rock Jaw:

Smiley Bone even said "Maybe it's not Moby Dick, maybe it's you!" If it turned out that Fone Bone had the natural ability to make anybody fall asleep just by reciting Moby Dick, that would've made him a massive status effect caster, plunging anybody within hearing distance into a dreamlike state.  Considering that was pretty much the Hooded One's ultimate goal, it's too bad this option never got explored.

Going further with the Hooded One, in the first appearance, I noticed that both T.H.O. and Smiley Bone had a somewhat similar outline.
I thought it would've been somewhat hilarious (in my mind, anyways) if Smiley Bone tried to sneak through enemy territory by disguising himself up in ratty clothing and holding his nose up high while speaking in a nasal tone to any Rat Creatures that'd dare to venture too closely.  Naturally, this plan would fall apart in 5 seconds of anybody paying attention, but it'd be fun to see him try.

I wasn't the only one let down.  I compiled some of the longer commentary from a forum that appropriately enough, had the subject title:

Jeff Smith’s massive BONE

Was anyone else really disappointed by the ending? Twelve years of suspenseful build up and they defeat the main villain by touching a wall? Some mystical hoo ha that Smith came up with in the last third of the work. Surely, he could have come up with something cleverer than that!

_______________________________________

I’m with Allen about the climax.

The PREVIOUS death of Briar, on pages 824-831, was SOOO much better. The hilarious payoff/reveal of Phoney’s balloon, Briar’s pathetic realization that she’d failed (p827-828), the locusts gushing out of her body as she dies, and that eerie shot of her two tied-off halves on pg 831 -- now THAT’S a climax!

When I read that issue and realized the story hadn’t ended yet, I assumed it was because Smith had an even bigger and better climax in store, and was elated by the prospect. But after this lame finale, I’m thinking maybe that other climax was the REAL ending of the original story Smith wrote in college. Maybe he couldn’t wrap up all the loose ends that quickly in the comic book version, so he just kept going and improvised another, weaker death for Briar at the end?

I was also disappointed by Lucius’s death. He’s gone for ages, then he pops in for 2 pages, gets blown over by a small explosion, and while he’s off panel we’re informed he’s dead. Whaa--?

Plus, that whole winter the Bones spend with Thorn before returning to Boneville. What happened there? What transpired between Bone and Thorn that convinced him not to stick around? That pace-killing, months-long wait doesn’t appear to do anything for the story, other than give Smith a chance to work in the Christmas episode and the snowfall scene. Shades of Dave Sim’s procrustean digressions.

_______________________________________

As a general reply to Allan,

Yes, the ending was pretty much a let down. I started collecting bone back in the mid 90s when I was yet another angsty teen into angry-man-with-guns stories. Bone was the first story that got me seeing straight through the art and into the story, and seeing the art and writing both equally defining the characters, story and world. It was almost too much for a young mind to take. It was fantastic.

I went from poor teenager to poor student, spotted issue 21 on Image and delved back in. I collected it up til almost the end of the Dragon slayer story and it stayed that way for a few years. I re-read those issues again and again and leant them to all and sundry. “Trust me! You’ll love this!” About a year ago I had the cash to catch up. Started racing through the TPB’s, first buying Dragon Slayer! And then - Rock Jaw!.. then... umm... and... ghost circles... and... there’s a giant bee... and some Jedi mind tricks people... aaah... something about a crown of horns?... and didn’t they already kill Briar?... more Jedi intrigue... and yesterday I brought Crown of Horns. And a big thing came. And then somebody Knew What They Had To Do. And then one of the greatest characters from the shorter collection for so many years appears, KingDok, and it was like he walked out of the past unannounced. And you remember how good it used to be. And then he dies. And Lucius Down, whose argument with Phoney Bone over the running of the Barrelhaven is the single best piece of characterization/tension/plot climaxing ever, climbs out of a rock, yells something macho, falls over and dies.

I have a few theories on this ending. One, is that Jeff Smith saw The Two Towers and Princess Mononoke and something with the ol’ Mystical Jedi Mind Tricks people in it. He’s been drawing the best 1 page gags and 3 page arguments and 2 page pieces of travel characterization for ten years, and he’s had it up to here with being subtle and ingenious. So before you know it, there’s a wriggling worm (dragon) covered possessed beast, a last stand against overwhelming odds on a battlement, and a sweet Secret Weapon to defeat the hordes with.

The other thought I had was that I’ve been re-reading the first 25 odd issues of bone for roughly six years, and gaining more from them each time. Then in one year I finished the two other thirds of the story and there’s so many characters you have to start dealing with. Of course he can’t flesh them all out - and in many ways there’s a redundancy about some of them. I hated the Rockjaw story (part five) the first time I read it, but even that was pretty cool compared to what else happened. I lost touch more and more with Bone as a world and a group of people. I could tell you my fifteen favourite scenarios from the first part of the trilogy, but the only thing I remember from 5 onward was Fone and Smiley telling Thorn that Phoney raised them back in Boneville - which suddenly made the three Bones relationship clear. And apart from that, everyone Knew What They Had To Do and sort of cruised along and did it. Via droughts and magical limbo lands and Jedi Mind Tricks.And they stopped talking to each other.

I don’t hate Bone at all. It kicks the ass out of many other titles on the shelves. None of them get an essay like this about them from me. It had to end, and it could’ve been extremely tragic. It just seemed like a different story. Though it’s somewhat of a letdown, Jeff Smith’s still a huge influence on my own drawing and (attempts at) comics, and Bone is still the pride of my comics collection.

Nb: This was my first post - apologies, the rest won’t be this long and painful

_______________________________________

Not painful in the least, Matt. Those are some great observations.

Yeah, it’s sad that much of what made the book special kind of deflated after the Dragonslayer sequence. I also kind of got frustrated with the whole Bone/Thorn flirtation. About halfway through, it stopped progressing altogether right through to the end. I kept waiting for at least a kiss. Don’t they even get to smooch? Sheesh.

It really is a testament to the power of the earlier stuff that so many of us kept reading through some pretty well-trod territory. It’s kind of like, when you have static characters, there’s only so many ways you can keep restating the same personality traits. Phoney and Smiley looking for the hidden treasure in the walls of whatever that city was supposed to be sure didn’t open anything new about those characters. We’d already seen that bit three times!

I think I kept holding on for a slam-bang ending, which I figured was going to be a cleverly planned out crescendo he must’ve had in mind for years. Instead, it was the series’ biggest disappointment. Whatta letdown.

_______________________________________

Yeah, I was interested in how he was going to resolve that one. “Bone will be heartbroken if he can’t win her love, but they’re different species, so how could it work?” It was one of the story’s two or three most central conflicts.

But then it was like he realized at some point that “waitaminute -- these two can’t get together! That would be too weird!” So instead of resolving it, he just let it fall by the wayside.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Smile, Darn ya, Smile!

Just recently, I posed with my family for a photoshoot, since we missed out being photographed together at my sister's wedding, when it would've been the most convenient chance to have all of us captured at the height of our looks.  I suggested simply photoshopping various photos together to save us the time and energy, but my comments were left unheeded.

It took some considerable time and effort to plan a date with all of us, since anybody who's familiar with office scheduling knows, trying to plan a gettogether with so many people is something of an exercise in frustration and futility.

Also, it'd been a while since the wedding, and I hadn't bothered to get a new fancy suit, since I get invited to social events so rarely (except when occasion and tradition demands it).  So when I attempted to fit into my old duds, I was somewhat shocked at how tight they were.  It took some considerable effort to finally put my pants on, and I wound up feeling like Morticia Addams wearing her skintight uniform which the actress said, "Looked fantastic, but was practically impossible to move in."  (I hadn't bothered to test-wear my clothes beforehand, necessitating some preliminary exercise that could've shed some pounds off)  This wasn't helped any when it was determined that the shirt I was wearing wasn't fancy enough.  Then it was the wrong colour, and clashed with the basic black of my jacket (which also required some innovative contortion to fit into).
I put my arms in this position, then slowly edged my jacket downwards.
Further mitigating this factor was that when it came to changing my socks and shoes, I couldn't bend down enough to reach my laces, let alone slip into the soles.  I had to resort to taking my pants off in the bathroom, then slip on my shoes with the pants leg bunched around my ankles.  We were going to a lot of trouble to look like sophisticated upper class, when 99% of the time, we're generally dressed in casual clothes.  I would've worn my Pyjama outfit if I could've gotten away with it.  It all looks the same from a distance, anyways.

Once we finally got ourselves on the prospective location of the backyard instead of making the trek to a nearby lake (which helped prevent further stiff Frankenstein walking), we were ready for our closeups, and the photographer to do his rapid-fire shooting with his trusty Nikon D7100, the only multi-purpose camera professional photographers need.  When being shot at, that's something safe to be the receiving end of.  (Unless you're a celebrity in the midst of your scandalous personal secret shame)

However, the biggest deterrent to the whole project was yours truly.

I'm somewhat of a night owl and social recluse (being deaf does wonders for alienating you), and tend to face the sun as much of an everlasting obstacle.  I am convinced that there's an ongoing conspiracy to rearrange the landscape and nearby objects just so there'll be a patch of sunlight positioned just where I'm trying to relax.

Furthermore, I hate having flashes light up my face, and take great pains to avoid being photographed in the first place.
An example of a failed selfie.
I'm generally sensitive to bright light, and one of the many deterrents I take for protection from the harmful radioactive rays of the sun is by guarding my face with a baseball cap and sunglasses that look like they belong to a secret Government organization, which makes me look like a slobby Man in Black.  The only problem with this getup is that I tend to be somewhat lax in my appearances, and don't bother to comb my hair, let alone clean my glasses, since I find the dust helps reduce the glare when taking said sunglasses off.  And once my shades were removed, my intimidation factor withered in the face of my mother who insisted that I clean them to her specifications, since the camera would surely pick up microscopic dust particles lying around my lenses.  Today's cameras are more powerful than those of yesteryear, and can capture every unflattering facial feature, save those of celebrities who are photoshopped into perfection.

It was only by sheer chance that a weekend afternoon happened to be partially cloudy, which helped not only with the lighting, but also with cutting down the glare in my face.  Also, the camera was a digital camera, which I greatly favour over the old-school models which take room-filled flashes resulting in seeing unblinking stars that stay, even with your eyes closed.  If those flashless cameras had been around, I'd be more receptive to having my picture taken.

But even with that element in my favour, I was still helpless in the thralls of one other singular self-destructive habit - I'm not very good at smiling on demand.

Even when my face was contorted into the shape that I thought was shaped into a smile, I was told that I was frowning instead.  Apparently, pressing my stiff upper lip upwards doesn't seem to work as much as I feel it does.  It's often been said that it takes less muscles to smile than frown, but I've never understood this saying.  The easiest way to frown is to put your face in a neutral position, and let gravity do the work.  I strained as much as I could while looking in the mirror to hold a face that I thought looked perfectly natural, but was told I was grinning too maniacally.

The ironic part is that when I was younger, I was able to display natural smiles, and there were plenty of photos showing the proof.  I suggested transferring those smiles onto my face, but this suggestion, like my earlier one was summarily rejected.

To make matters more confounding, my brother-in-law, who only had to pose for 1/4 of the photos (lucky bastard), when he wasn't being photogenic, was doing amusing antics behind the photographer to make us laugh.  I'm told I have a natural smile when laughing, but have also been told that I tend to laugh too loudly.  So when put in this compromising situation where I should've smiled, what do you think I did?  I suppressed my smile, trying not to laugh.  My problem is that I've internalized the Groucho Marx / Buster Keaton method of humour, by never allowing my facial features to crack too much when telling subtle jokes.  This has a tendency to backfire, since at first glance, people aren't aware that I've told a joke in the first place, since I'm always giving out straight lines.  I'm a consummate straight man without a partner to react in my favor for me.


This predicament reminded me of the Children's book by Nancy Willard and Tomie de Paola, Simple Pictures are Best, about an elderly couple, who, in an attempt to look as sophisticated as possible, wind up implementing every aspect of their interests and hobbies into the photo.  And once they've finally got everything set up perfect, the elderly couple wind up being unable to smile.  The photographer's assistant has to help things along with trying to entertain them, without much success, until his antics wind up attracting the unwanted attention of a nearby bull, whose presence winds up yielding the desired results.  Once all the dust has finally settled down, the negative is developed, revealing the masterpiece... which is obscured by the body of a bull.  While the elderly couple look on the photograph with dubious looks on their faces, the photographer upon his departure, remarks the piece of advice he'd been saying the whole time, "Simple Pictures are Best."
The man wearing shoes in his ears makes sense in context.
Fortunately, we managed to have some better pictures of me inside the house where I felt more comfortable.

This rare photo of me and my sister is one of my mother's favorite pictures, since she said it so perfectly captures our essences.  My sister is cheerful, outgoing and friendly.  I'm sullen, introverted and smirking.  Her clothes are prim and proper.  Mine are rumpled and unkempt.  My sister looks pleased to be where she is.  I look like I'd rather be anywhere but here.  Furthermore, our umbrellas happen to convey our moods.  The one common constant between the two of us is that we're both carrying books.  Despite our differences, we love to read.
Let your umbrella reflect your smile.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Juneshine

Boulters Lock on the Thames
Edward John Gregory, 1850-1909
Apart from April, June is pretty sparse of calendar entries.  There's a whole bunch of exam times, including canoeing schedules in the margins, but I'm willing to bet those are someone else's, since they aren't in Mr. Bean's handwriting, even if they're in slight cursive.
June 21 - Summer begins - longest day - Put away thick socks.  Get out thin.
There probably isn't a Fertilizer of the Month Club, but there is a monthly Fertilizer report from India.  Check it out, if you care.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Prehistoric Plagiarism

Since time immemorial, the written word of keeping record of things past has become the impetus for recollecting past events where we would have confidence of remembering events that transpired only yesterday.

Of course, if we happened to pass on before putting those memories to paper, these familiar events that seemed so fresh and clear would be lost to the ages without any form of oral tradition.

Among all the unmemorable written lines that have been said to be preludes to the fall of civilization, among greetings to close friends and grocery lists, there have been few instances within the vast amount of wasted ink that have managed to catch the public's consensus.  Chances are high that when one work gains in popularity, it creates undue influence on other works wanting to gain some traction of familiarity from the same prose style.

If you've ever wondered why some airport paperbacks sound so similar to each other, it's because its easier to piggyback on the efforts of others rather than reinvent the wheel.  Only by understanding structure and form could other writers begin to understand how such concepts could be reworked with.

The same logic can apply to images as well.  It's simpler to reuse a pose that's notoriously difficult to recapture in reality, than to contort a human figure into new shapes.  (Unless you're Spider-Man, where wind resistance and gravity have no bearing on where you place your flailing limbs)  Acrobatic exertions notwithstanding, it's also easier to reuse page layouts with all its pacing issues planned in advance. All that's left is filling in the text, with minor adjustments to some pictures as necessary.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to Dictionaries, we didn't decide to seriously record precise definite descriptions of words until the mid-1700-1800s with the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  There were other attempts, but they only contained obtuse words instead of common everyday terms, and their descriptions would require looking up 10 more words just to make sense of it all.  There had never been a massive compilation of the entire English language, considering the sheer scale of research for the origin of words, and their proper sentence usage.  Part of the problem was that the English language kept evolving as they were submitting entries, and thus, neccessated immense rewritings, since computers didn't exist back then.

Simon Winchester's book, The Professor & the Madman gives a compelling read of the creation of the OED, which was helped in part by a criminally insane man who was a former soldier suffering from PSTD.  Because of his location, he had plenty of time on his hand, and was able to submit over 10,000 descriptive words to the OED center of research, which helped immensely.

When the EMP explosion eventually comes, thereby wiping away the vast store of electronic knowledge we've amassed to keep our records of humanity's output for posterity, we'll have to fall back on oral tradition, which, due to our reliable memories, will surely be a veritable fountain of knowledge.