Here’s to 2016 and finishing…hey what’s that over there?!

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what you meant to do…and all the things you managed to accomplish. Hopefully, the first list isn’t too demoralizing and the second list is a pleasant “oh, that is nice!”

I’ve written less than I wanted to in 2015, or rather, written fewer frivolous things. Day job required use of new skills. It’s been fun, but I was also reminded that it can be absolutely terrifying and frustrating when learning something new. You get quite good at things that you’ve done for years, that you forget the time when those tasks used to be challenging. Then, you handily pass off that experience as “youthful angst”, conveniently forgetting that much of that angst came from the whole, not-knowing-jack-shit part of life.

I live in a place which values surface youth in an exaggerated, and some might say, unhealthy manner. But really, the best part about being young, is acceptance of the fear of the unknown while maintaining a sense of optimism. This is the combination that allows you to grow and become more.

We accept this state when we’re young, and then we get older and we (and everyone else around us) expects us to “calm the fuck down.”  But fear of the unknown is a universal, timeless human condition. Embracing this, and being kind to one another would be much more sensible than trying to find someone or something to blame for a situation that is just a part of being alive.

(Unless you join a cult and prescribe entirely to their belief system and set of pat answers. )

And so for anyone who is afraid of trying something new, traveling on your own, ending a bad relationship (platonic or otherwise), getting a new job…remember: it’s okay to fear the unknown (see also, “Hamlet”), but learn to embrace it. Good things are out the in the wild.

Years ago, after another retroactively comedic relationship went down in flames, a friend comforted me by reminding me how quickly life can suddenly change. So, in the same way I had found myself suddenly devastated, I could also find myself giddily exhilarated. Now,  with someone that is so great, that years later, I still pinch him, just to make sure he’s a real person and not a figment of my imagination; I am reminded of how I couldn’t have possibly planned this.

So 2016, I wish for all of you, sublime moments of unexpected, giddy exhilaration, much love, many friends, and new adventures.

Happy new year!

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Terrified of horror…

I’ve never done well with scary stories. 

When I was five, I was with other kids that my mom was babysitting. One of them told me the “Bloody Mary” mirror myth, and I reacted severely enough that my mom told the other kids “you can’t tell her that that kind of story.”

At slumber parties, when a scary movie was rented, I would go and sit in the kitchen, covering my ears, while the other girls shrieked in terror in front of the tv. 

I got nightmares from movie trailers, random bar stories, a creepy picture at the end of a dark hallway…

The ones that get to me the most are the ghost stories. Even though I’ve actively avoided ghost movies, I’m really into the stories: I just don’t like being terrified. It’s a conflict which I’ve resolved by using Wikipedia to find out the ending of almost every popular scary movie. 

This contradictory behavior  touches on just why ghost stories are so compelling: because every ghost story is a mystery. The existence of the ghost means the story has an interesting beginning, but we’re just in the middle of the story…what happened ?!?  How does it end?!?

Given my long history of general cowardice when it comes to this genre, I recognize that it is not without irony that I made  this game.  

 
However, this is one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on, not the least because the story writers have the genre bonafides and  the voice actors were so talented. Given that this was a tiny team, I produced, directed, and wrote supplemental script. And,  in a departure from  previous jobs, this one was audio only, no visuals. 

If I thought that somehow that work make it less scary, well… I ended up doing most of the “scary parts” work during daylight as much as possible. I’d neglected the horror adage that what is unseen is actually more frightening. 

In any case if you’re not a big ol’ coward like myself,  have an hour or so, and would like a free Halloween treat, check out the game!

Boo!

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The optimism of white blouses and little white sundresses…

There’s something about warm weather and lightweight white clothing that I love.  It just seems quintessentially summery and so carefree.

The reality though, is that, sartorially speaking,  there is nothing more stressful than wearing white clothing. You can’t  sit anywhere safely, and forget about eating Mexican food or pizza. A new white blouse is a sure fire way to make a meal an exercise in tension and regret. 

For a long time, this was a non-issue, because I lived in a part of the country that was foggy and damp most of the year. A wardrobe  entirely made up of grey and black was perfectly suitable (and stain hiding.)

Now, living in a place that is unrelentingly sunny, my previous clothing choices conspire to make me look like a hole in reality, and really age-inappropriately goth. Also, it’s just hot. So lightweight clothing becomes more of a necessity unless dissolving into a pool of sweat is your thing*

Of course, the very first day, while wearing my very first new white shirt in years, I immediately got a stain on it. 

This is when I realized the importance of carrying round these things.

  
If you’re one of those people who move through life in a choreography of grace and precision, this product is unnecessary. 

However, if you’re like me, or pretty much everyone else I know, these things are awesome. And come in packs of three. 

How often does awesome come in packs of three?! (Actually, I’ve never given this serious thought, so maybe it happens all the time. Suggestions welcome.)

*it is not my thing. 

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Primary Courses: or old cookbooks

I’ve always loved used bookstores. When I was in school, not only were they the best place for a bookworm to score some deals, it was also a great place to find what my history teacher described as “primary source information”, artifacts of history to show the existence of a specific trend or set of expectations. 

For example, a modern reading of “Jane Eyre”, would show that Rochester is a terrible human being and why the hell would anyone think he was decent marriage material? 

Ok. So I still think that’s the case. But Charlotte Brontë was writing from a time when there were no mental institutions, and shutting one’s crazy wife in an attic with a caretaker, was the more humane thing to do. Not to say it wasn’t still awful for everyone involved. But it’s sort of like saying “well, the only things to eat at the time were bugs; otherwise everyone starved.” 

The right response is not “why didn’t they just eat sandwiches?” Because this was a time before sandwiches! And you can’t learn about this sandwich free era by reading “Jane  Eyre” because the author assumed her readers were contemporaries in this time of no sandwiches. You actually have to read books about the state of sandwiches  in the early 1800s, England. (In case you’re unclear, in this metaphor, sandwiches = psychiatric care, which was very bad at that time.) 

Now of course, we are in a heavily sandwich rich time, so there are no such excuses. 

One of my favorite sources of primary source information are old cookbooks. They are so much more than just a collection of recipes that remind you of how novel a microwave used to be, or the prevalence of Jell-O as an ingredient, they can also be a reminder of who used to be famous enough that they assumed people wanted to know what they wished to eat. They are a reflection of the times in which they wre published, and the state of mind of their authors. They’re  an unexpected window intro the fleeting nature of trends, of celebrity, of who used to be rich and famous… 



There’s a grilled eggplant recipe from Bruce and Kris Jenner are in here…with family pictures showing a very young Kim Kardashian in what appears to be a denim jumpsuit



Cookbooks are ostensibly about the preparation of food: everyone needs to eat. But outside of perennial, practical staples, like “The Joy of Cooking”, most of them are about something else. How to transform your body, and thus your life. How to solve some existential problem by cooking. How to somehow become more like someone successful by eating what they eat. The subtext of them say a lot about the culture from which they came; from the ingredient lists to whose recipes were considered worth collecting. They are advice and value systems, wrapped up in a food prescription. 

Like, when you think “what should I make for dinner”, you probably never think, “what should I make if I were a Laker?” But maybe you should! Why wouldn’t you want to be like an entire well compensated basketball team? They seem like they have good lives! Eat like a Laker!



Or if you’ve just discovered an evil twin, committed incest, have amnesia, or are unfortunate to have experienced all three, The last thing you want to think about is what to make for dinner. So this is the cookbook for you! 



Or if all of the above happens to you while trying to establish a political dynasty, AND you are a fan of the Renaissance Faire and Italian  food …



not only does this give you recipes that the Mediciicis would have enjoyed, it also reminds you that there was once a 13 part PBS special about them.



There are a reminders of what events people at a time wished to commemorate, but people are vague about now. 



I went to this as a kid. And I only just noticed how much the logo looks like a short penis with a third ball.



Cookbooks about movies that were popular enough at the time to warrant a cookbook  



Cookbooks for OCD physicists, or for those inviting some over for dinner. 



Cookbooks for those seeking a creative solution to pest control, or who are unable to travel to restaurants who serve unusual proteins. 



this must have been a challenge for the food photographers: judging from the results, I’ll say they failed to make the food look appetizing.



Cookbooks for lovers of a specific genre of music…



I eagerly await the dance music cookbook, the metal cookbook, and the synth pop cookbook.



And of course, one for fans of Star Trek. Recipes for a long and prosperous life!



If you have favorite, very specific cookbooks, I’d love to hear about them! 

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Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, Naaan Hut!

One of the things I miss the most about SF is its variety of good, cheap eats. There is always some place tucked away on a busy street, selling a fantastically yummy meal for under $10.

I know such places exist in LA, but such is the urban planning of southern California that they’re almost impossible to stumble across because this is not a pedestrian friendly town (more on this later). Good ethnic food are hidden in a myriad of identical seeming strip malls, clustered in their own counties, requiring a drive and an infuriating search for parking.

So when I was exploring my new neighborhood last year ON FOOT, I was happy to come across the Naan Hut, its nondescript storefront, tucked in between a frozen yogurt shop and a swiss bakery.

Naan Hut doesn’t actually make naan, the Indian bread most of us are familiar with. What it specializes in, is sangak, a crispy, chewy flatbread, speckled with sesame seeds. You can get a generous scarf sized piece of this bread for only $3. And you have to wait for it, because the oven is on the premises and they prefer to give it to you fresh, wrapped in brown paper. Like an awesome present of bread!

The first time I went into the shop, I passed by a woman who was smiling ear to ear, arms full of bread. I bought the same bread that day, and then returned a few more times when I realized that they also used the bread to make a uniquely delicious pizza.

At the time, they only opened for lunch and served the aforementioned pizza as well as a few wraps. All delicious and inexpensive. There were a few rickety tables and a television bolted to a corner, so the ambiance was somewhat lacking.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that it was now open for dinner. Not only were aesthetic and gustatory improvements made, it is also open late, for those craving a late night meal that isn’t diner food.

Its owners have installed a large refrigerator case that houses all kinds of treats, both prepackaged and homemade. I spent a good deal of time googling the names, and everything sounded delicious, (as well as unpronounceable.) Among its shelves, there were saffron puddings, eggplant stews, and hummus, all neatly stacked and labeled. The rickety tables have been replaced with comfortable cafe style tables and chairs and I spotted a samovar bubbling away in the back; must come back for tea!

I’ve been back twice for dinner already, and the host was extremely hospitable and enthusiastic. I don’t know if he’s the owner, but if he isn’t, he should get a raise because he is clearly delighted and proud of what the establishment offers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in L.A. and on the Westside, pop into the Naan Hut!

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(This is some kind of tomatoe-y, eggplant stew thing that is so good, and has a lot of garlic. So only eat it with someone who loves you already, or someone you don’t care if they love you or not.)

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Because I am….[dramatic pause] an assassin!*

I don’t write much about playing videogames, but I really should because it’s an activity often criticized as the definition of frivolous. Current cultural hierarchy still dictates that playing a video game is a bigger waste of time than reading a book. Which is frankly, prejudicial and wrong.

Really, there are so many terrible, books out there that took less time, effort, and talent to create than many video games.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the “Assassin’s Creed” series, it is a gaming experience that satisfies the urge to live in another time, but as a much cooler person, and without all the unpleasant diseases and smells!

In this case, you’re an assassin in a secret society of assassins whose origins date back to the time of the Crusades. But you’re not REALLY that person; you’re someone who is allowed to re-live parts of that assassin’s life through the technology of a mysterious company called Abstergo.

Yeah. I don’t get it either.

In fact, the storylines are all makeshift, the acting is strictly “meh” to “meeeeeh”, and the characters suffer from the video game malady of dead, dead eyes. There is really no satisfying character development in any of the games.

Despite all this, they are hugely enjoyable! Throughout the series, you parkour your way through ancient Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, colonial America, pirate towns, and revolutionary Paris. These venerable locations are transformed into gigantic jungle gyms, where you can climb, jump, and swing with reckless abandon.

As someone who loves both travel and has terrible real life coordination, it’s a crazy fun, vicarious living, experience. Ubisoft has done great work with their environments, and the settings are beautiful. They have paid special attention to accuracy around famous monuments, making it extra fun if you’ve been to any of these places in real life. While playing the game set in Rome, I was able to walk around and say “well, the Forum should be right about there…” because I gone to Rome a few months earlier. It was amazing, and felt like virtual time travel.

You can also indulge in your inner, bratty, eight year old, because your bad behavior is only minimally upsetting to the AI driven witnesses. Sure, once in awhile, a villager disapproves of your recklessness and a guard will protest more aggressively. But the AI settings of the characters are lower than the IQ of that paste eating kid you knew in kindergarten, so outwitting them only requires jumping into one of the many conveniently located haystacks and shallow wells that speckle the environment.

(Haystacks are the invisibility cloaks of the Assassin’s Creed universe; not effective if someone actually watches you when you start using it, but practically foolproof otherwise.)

While some might complain that the AI should be better that so everyone around you isn’t so stupid, I’ll argue that this is part of the appeal. Not only do you have superhero skills, but you are, by default, the smartest person in history! You and only you can skillfully navigate around a box or out of a corner, with 75-90% accuracy.

The stickiness of the controls means that for the remaining percentage, you will find yourself inadvertently running up a wall or jumping into the abyss. But this is a video game: fatality is just a temporary inconvenience for you and anyone else in the game that you might accidentally kill.

I’ve spent so many hours, over the last few years, playing these games, and I always look forward to the next one, despite all their noted shortcomings. I was really looking forward to the most recent one, “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” which takes place in Paris, one of my favorite cities in real life.

Unfortunately this iteration of the series was released with so many bugs, that it’s become its own “thing.” So it seems wise to hold off on buying it until those issues are addressed. However, I can’t wait to play it when they are, because the screenshots that aren’t all messed up, look gorgeous.

And who hasn’t dreamt of having their Quasimodo moment of scrambling up Notre Dame, and shouting “SANCTUARY!”

…just me? Ok.

*Something that is never said in the games, but seems like it should have been.

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Guys, guys, the new Hobbit movie, “The Battle of Five Armies” is pretty bad…

I’ll do my best to refrain from spoilers, even though you know, how can you really spoil a movie that’s about a book that is older than I am (and I’m no spring chicken-cluck! cluck!)?

First off, let me just say how much I loved, loved, loved, the first three LOTR movies. They are my “comfort food” of movies; I watch them when I’m sick- and they’re perfect. They are so long that by the time I finish watching all three of the extended versions, I’m well on my way to recovery. (I sleep for all the Treebeard sequences, and wake up to watch Aragorn and Legolas running beautifully through Middle Earth).

Count me among the skeptics when I doubted that the prequels would be able to deliver what the original trilogy did for sheer entertainment. And you know, skepticism rewarded! But at least the first two managed to hold together a semblance of something familiar and loved. I made allowances because frankly, I just wanted to see more of Middle Earth. Like going to a once favorite restaurant that has gone downhill. But hey, the breadsticks are still good!

Well, sad to say, the breadsticks are stale by this last, and one hopes, final glimpse of Middle Earth.

The good news; I thought the actors really did a great job. It’s easy to overlook this, because these types of movies are about spectacle. It’s even more amazing considering the frequent lack of physical sets or other actors to play against (more on the obviousness of this later).  However, it’s unfortunate that they were emoting such big emotions, because I had already completely forgotten what they were upset about. I wonder if it’s even possible for those of us who didn’t have the book engraved into long term memory to care. The only thing I remembered about the previous movie; The Desolation of Smaug, was that there was a big dragon. Arkenstone? What’s an Arkenstone? Who’s that? Why is she upset? Why is he crying? What’s going on?

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, turned me into my mom while watching it.

For those of you just looking for a VFX spectacle, well… Here’s the thing,  it would have been nice for some visual consistency. The original movies had a lot of actual sets and more real actors. While I understand the desire to green screen a lot of backgrounds (more flexibility, and a lot of extra details), when these shots are juxtaposed next to natural shots of the actors walking in the beautiful outdoors, it shows. The green screened shots are stylized in lighting and tone. The outdoor ones, are not. There’s an odd gloss to the former that made me think of “Sky Captains, World of Tomorrow”. It’s not terrible, but it’s a really different look. If they had all the VFX shots labled as “Bilbo Baggins’ Dream Sequence”, I might have been okay with it.

Overall, this movie just feels hectic. Look over there elves! Now dwarves! Now people! Now, really odd slapstick! Children in peril! Wait, I can’t keep track, who, what?

Towards the end, Peter Jackson had thrown so many showy moments at the audience, I felt like he was trolling us.

[SPOILER ALERT}

This will make perfect sense after you've watched the movie.

This will make perfect sense after you’ve watched the movie.

My recommendation is that if you really need a new LOTR fix, watch the really great publicity that was done for this movie’s release. Stephen Colbert interviewed Smaug, and also wrote a lovely article in Entertainment Weekly about the entire franchise.

And SNL did a great LOTR, “The Office” mashup, that’s been making the rounds.

But I know you’re still going to go see it. So for a management of expectations scale, it’s still not Transformers bad.

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