Death of a Sales Spam

It used to be that, whenever I felt burned out and too drained to come up with something interesting to write about, I could always turn to WordPress’ spam folder for my comments and find some fodder for a snarky comment or two.  Broken English, random strings of words, bizarre synergies, it was all there, a quick and easy source of material for those days when my head just wasn’t in the blogging game.

And now they have let me down.

Still somewhat out of it from the long weekend (which I lazily took off because, well, it’s my blog and I can, dammit), I looked through the spam folder today and, well, it’s pretty depressing.  Nobody seems to be trying anymore.  I do have to give credit to, um, 私服开区开服服务6x0n6k, who managed what looks like almost complete sentences, but damned if I know in what.  Everyone else though?  They just repeat their user name.  Hey, look, Miche Handbags said, “Miche handbags.”  There’s something to be said for brevity in advertising, but that’s not going to get this post up to three or four hundred words, people.

There was the enticing mystery offered by Just Click the Next Webpage.  Did they mean the link below their name — the next webpage I would see — or the webpage after that?  Isn’t every link eventually the next webpage?  What did they want me to see?  Alas, they were not forthcoming, Nor was the equally enigmatic Please Click the Up Coming Post, a possibly Godot-esque meditation on internet browsing habits, but more likely something to do with running shoes, if the URL is to be believed.

The lone bright spot was a user by the name of News, who wrote:

Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article. I wanted to write a little comment to support you.

First of all, they admit to having read all of my article, which displays a fortitude I can’t help but admire, especially because the post in question was me writing about the original, un-cool Battlestar Galactica.  But it’s that last sentence that grips me.  Was this the actual little comment to support me?  Or should I be breathlessly expecting another little comment of support at a later date?  An up coming post, perhaps?

If only all my spammers still showed the initiative and imagination of News.  Well, 私服开区开服服务6x0n6k might be, but I still don’t know what the hell they’re even talking about.

What I’d Watch 5/22/15

I kind of miss the days when this weekend was the start of the summer movie season.  Memorial Day is such a harbinger of summer anyway, and it felt even more so when some huge blockbuster dropped that same weekend.  It used to be the weekend of Star Wars, both old and new, a somewhat hallowed cinematic date.  Now they start rolling the big films out in April, and Memorial Day just doesn’t have the same oomph.  In the past, Age of Ultron probably would have opened this past Wednesday.  Now, we get two films that, while bearing high expectations, aren’t nearly the big contenders we used to see vying for this weekend.

I’m both shocked and not the least bit surprised we’re getting a Poltergeist remake.  Shocked because one would think anything Steven Spielberg had a hand in would pretty much be a sacred cow, especially a film he was so heavily involved with.  And not the least bit surprised because, well, it’s an enduring film with name recognition.  Of course someone was going to at the very least suggest remaking it.  Besides, the original was 33 years ago, long enough ago that there’s a generation who knows the name and nothing else and might be receptive to this.  So name recognition and the fact that it’s a PG-13 horror film will likely let this open well.  Any legs it has will greatly depend on how much it establishes its own identity while still evoking the original, which looks to be pretty heavily from how much the trailers lean on big moments from the first film.  As a Spielberg die-hard I’m sort of against this film on general principle though; surely there’s an original haunted house story out there that could be made into a fun film without dressing itself up in the trappings of classic.

So far, Brad Bird has done no wrong.  The Iron Giant is fantastic, The Incredibles is still the best Fantastic Four movie we’re likely to ever get, Ratatouille is a miracle of a rescue job on his part (he joined the project after it had been in production for four years), and Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is the one M:I film that feels like anyone involved actually saw the original series.  So I had very high hopes for Tomorrowland, even if it did begin its life as a section of Disneyland.  The trailers have had a nice mix of mystery and wonder, managing to entice without giving the entire plot away, and the glimpses of the actual Tomorrowland have scratched that pulp future itch rather nicely.  But then some early reviews were mixed to outright negative, and now it seems possible Bird may have made his first directorial misstep.  Not that I’m not going to see this anyway.  I have too much faith in Bird to think this is a complete disaster.  But my sky-high anticipation has, perhaps healthily, been tempered a bit.  I still have a feeling this film will have the most ideas in it of any of the big summer films, so it’ll have that going for it.

And if you have time between barbecues and memorial services, go see Mad Max: Fury Road.  It’s a film that deserves to be seen on a big screen with booming sound.  Even though it’s lagging behind Pitch Perfect 2 at the box office, it feels like Fury Road has sunk deeper into the pop culture consciousness, which bodes well for its long-term reputation.  But it would be nice to see it get over the $100 million mark.  It certainly deserves it more than some films that will cruise past that number this year.

In the Wee Small Hours

When I was a kid, and times like 11:30 and midnight held this air of far-away mystery, I thought The Tonight Show literally went on all night.  Johnny Carson would come on after the late news and usher us through the evening into morning.  Undoubtedly this was fueled by drifting off to sleep and waking up to see The Tonight Show on the TV, and my still-forming sense of time assuming hours must have passed rather than just a handful of minutes.  But it led to me viewing Carson as a comforting presence, one whose arrival meant things were going to be all right, that the night could safely go on.

If Carson was the wise-cracking nightlight who joked us off to sleep, David Letterman was the smart-ass wake-up call.  By the time Letterman’s post-Carson talk show rolled around, I was in the final year of junior high and right in Dave’s wheelhouse.  For most of my high school years, lunch consisted of at least ten or fifteen minutes spent going over what happened on Late Night the night before.  We’d huddle at the table recounting the top ten list or the Stupid Pet Tricks or whatever Larry “Bud” Melman had done, our daily ritual of nerd cool.  Carson still had that kitschy appeal for me, but Dave was ours.  He got us.  He was weird the way we were weird, or at least hoped we were weird.  In the days before geek culture became fully embraced, Dave’s dorky demeanor was a beacon to us.  We could feel funny and popular and with it, even if we had to wait until almost everyone else was asleep to do so.

When Dave eventually moved to CBS, robbed of his rightful ascension into Carson’s seat, I have to admit I fell from the faith.  I still kept up with what was going on with the show, but it was no longer the nightly ritual.  Maybe the idea of the rebel taking the throne wasn’t as appealing as when he was throwing spit balls at it.  Maybe I’d reached a place where I didn’t need the validation and acceptance Late Night had provided.  Maybe I just came to like sleep too much.  Whatever the case, Dave carried on, and while I didn’t always tune in, it was comforting to know he was there.

So while I hadn’t watched regularly in years, I made sure to tune in the last few nights to send Dave off.  Because while he may not have meant as much to me now, he meant a whole lot to me when I really needed things to mean a whole lot.  And because I felt more than a little regret for not having kept in touch with an old friend.  Because that’s what he was.  Why else has he been “Dave” this entire post?

Farewell, Dave.  Thanks for being there when a bunch of awkward teenagers needed you.

Board Minutes for 5/19/15

Nobody likes to lose.  While there are different levels of competitiveness, deep down, nobody really wants to be the last one on the scoring track.  But sometimes it’s inevitable, especially when you’re playing a new game for the first time against people with a lot more experience under their belts.  And even more so when it’s a game that has a hell of a lot going on.  Times like those, I just resign myself to the fact that I am not going to do well, I am definitely not going to win, and I am simply there to learn the game so that the next time, without the excuse of inexperience, I don’t embarrass myself.  So while I’ll try to do the best I can, it’s more about the learning experience than the winning.  Which is how I approached my game last night.

Alchemists — At first glance, Alchemists is a worker placement game.  You first select your turn order, which isn’t as simple as it sounds; not only are there different rewards for each possible position, but your workers are placed going from the last player to the first, while actions are taken from first to last.  Then, you place your workers in different areas of a magical academy to take different actions.  You can gather ingredients, sell those ingredients, make potions with those ingredients to sell to traveling vendors, and purchase artifacts that help you throughout the game and that are worth points at the end.

But it’s the last four available actions that give Alchemists its twist.  Because at the start of the game, you have no idea what any of these ingredients actually make.  To find out, you’ve got to experiment, either on a string of eager but unsuspecting students, or, if you’re feeling risky, on yourself.  And like any good academic, it’s publish or perish, because you have to put forth your theory as to what formula a particular ingredient represents in order to score points.  You can dispute someone’s thesis, hurting them if you’re right or yourself if you’re wrong.  This goes on for four turns until the bigwigs of the school show up.  Then it’s put up or shut up, as you have to demonstrate your mastery of potions to score even more points before the game ends.

Sounds like a lot to keep track of, right?  I mean, how are you supposed to remember how all these ingredients interact?  Well, there’s an app for that.  Seriously.  Alchemists uses an app that not only creates a unique combination of ingredients every game, but that actually does the mixing for you.  You use the app to scan two ingredient cards, and it tells you instantly what you’ve made.  You then use this information on a hidden chart you have to help you craft your theories.  For instance, if I mix a mandrake root with a feather, I might get a positive red potion.  I therefore know there’s no way a root or a feather can make anything with a negative red symbol on it.  So I can eliminate those results on my chart, and know not to publish any theory for those ingredients that contains a negative red symbol.  And since the other players don’t see your ingredients, just your results, nobody knows what anyone else does until the end of the game, when the app reveals the hidden formulas and everyone finds out if their published theories were correct.

It’d be easy to dismiss Alchemists as nothing more than the gimmick of an app slapped on to a worker placement game, but it really does play a lot more cleverly than that.  Beyond the decision-making present in any worker placement game, there’s the logic puzzle of trying to glean information from your experiments, and from what the other players publish.  The worker placement aspect guarantees plenty of player interaction, and the relative brevity of the game — only five turns, although they can take some time to go through — keeps things from getting bogged down.  The app also makes it so that you can’t solve the game.  Every play will be different, and there’s an advanced version that adds even more complexity to the formula making, adding a bunch of replay value.

Naturally, with all of that going on, and it being my first play, I was a little overwhelmed.  I didn’t pay as much attention to the publishing aspect as I should have (although the one theory I put forth turned out to be right, so I wasn’t a total idiot), and I made a play for an artifact that, while helpful that particular turn, may not have been in my best long-term interests.  But that’s what a first game is all about:  making mistakes, getting a feel for things, learning what to do next time around.

Besides, I managed to finish next-to-last.  That’s damn near a victory.

Starbox Grande

I bought a tackle box yesterday, and I have no intention of going fishing.

See, part of the problem with buying a miniatures game — particularly one that offers a steady stream of expansions — is that you need a place to keep all your little pieces that’s also portable enough to carry around.  Because any self-respecting miniatures gamer can’t just bring the models they’re using that day.  Oh no, we have to have the entire collection on hand.  Partly in case we need that one figure or that one upgrade or that one token.  But mostly so we can show off.

And the scary thing is that this is actually the fourth storage solution I’ve purchased for X-Wing.  I started off small, with a stackable storage container from Target, back when all I had was a core set and a couple of ships.  I outgrew that and took my first step into the world of Plano, the gamer’s best plastic friend.  They make a dizzying variety of multi-compartment plastic storage boxes, and I found one that was the perfect size for both what I had and for future purchases.  Then I got a second one as my little plastic fleet grew, and I felt I had the whole thing under control.

But they just had to go make more ships, and weird sized ones too, so I decided to go big and get a full-sized Plano tackle box.  Which was an amusing experience, since I had to venture into the sporting goods department, where it was assumed I was there to purchase something actually related to sports and the outdoors.  The clerk tried to be helpful, but since I wasn’t interested in fishing, there wasn’t really much he could do for me.  But I walked out with a decently big box that has served me well for almost two years, despite the occasional, “Hey, what did you catch?” from neighbors who see me toting it home from a game.

Now, though, Armada has come along, which means more fake spaceships looking for a home.  And while I’ve got everything in the core set box for now, that’s not going to survive the next wave of ships.  And so I’ve purchased yet another Plano tackle box, with the intent of migrating the X-Wing ships to the new one and moving Armada into the old one.  Which would make this the largest concentration of sporting goods I’ve owned in about twenty years.  None of which will be used for actual sports.

I do stand while playing these games though.  Does that count?

The Light Side and the Dark

Disney’s annual Star Wars Weekends kicked off this past Friday.  I remember when this thing first started, when it was only one or two weekends in May, and it was mostly an excuse to go ride Star Tours and see some rather questionable Disney equivalents of all the familiar characters.  At the time, it was an attempt to give anybody a reason to go to the then MGM Studios.  Now, with Disney’s purchase of the franchise and Star Wars as a whole being much more on the front burner than it was, it’s become an annual pilgrimage and a chance for Disney to make a ton of money off of people who want to hold that galaxy far, far away just a little bit closer.

I roused myself out of bed early yesterday and trekked out there myself.  And as I walked through the Studios, a rather comforting feeling came over me.  I saw hundreds of Star Wars t-shirts, on young and old alike, and saw the same looks of excitement on so many faces.  Parents were there with children, husbands were there with wives, friends were there in groups, all brought together by this shared love for something and the desire to express it around people who felt the same way.  In a lot of ways, it didn’t feel too different from a religion:  a group of people getting together to share a devotion to something bigger than themselves.  And without the commandments and eternal damnation parts.

Tempering all this though was the reason I had so much time for people-watching:  the Studios were a sun-baked morass of humanity shoved together in a tiny space.  The line for Watto’s Grotto — the specialty store selling Star Wars Weekends merchandise — was half an hour long when I got into it.  By the time I left the store, it was easily approaching an hour.  Sixty minutes spent for the chance to go inside and give Disney even more of your money.  And yes, I threw some their way.  The hypocrisy of that doesn’t escape me, but for me, with an annual pass, it’s no problem for me to buzz in and do nothing but wait in a line to buy a t-shirt.  I thought of the family for whom this was their one day there.  An hour waiting for this, almost ninety minutes to ride Star Tours, who knows how long waiting in the autograph lines.  Were they actually having fun amid all this, or just rushing about trying to see everything out of a sense of obligation?  Again, it felt a little like religion:  ritual devotion in which it was hard to discern any actual joy.

But in the end, it was that same Star Tours ride that shook off the negativity.  People cheered the appearance of the Millennium Falcon.  They all tried to be the first with, “It’s a trap!” when Admiral Ackbar appeared.  And it was hard to be a curmudgeon about the whole thing when the little boy two seats down from me excitedly informed his father, “That was fun, we need to do that again!”

You’ve got to balance the dark with the light, after all.

What I’d Watch 5/15/15

We’ve got two sequels opening wide today, and they’re vivid examples of the two differing philosophies when it comes to continuing your series.  You can either run through the exact same beats you did the first time around, only in a different setting or with different stakes, or you can use the past films as a springboard into something that might not be as familiar but that is all the more thrilling and interesting for it.  Of course, the first option is the most financially sound — people like their familiarity, and films become brands for a reason — but it would be nice if more films opted for the second.

The first Pitch Perfect was a pleasant if incredibly slight film that coasted a long way on the winning charm of Anna Kendrick (for me anyway) and the antics of Rebel Wilson (for a lot of other people).  It did fairly okay in theaters, more than tripling its modest budget, and even better at home, and so here we are getting the a capella band back together.  And it looks like Pitch Perfect 2 … will coast a long way on the winning charm of Kendrick and the antics of Wilson.  Your mileage will vary depending on how much either of those works for you.  It’s a fair bet the popularity of the first film and of the two leads will have this working for a lot of people, even if they’re basically going back for leftovers.

For a fourth film in a franchise, and one coming thirty years after the last entry, it would have been very easy for George Miller to have made Mad Max: Fury Road into Mad Max’s Greatest Hits.  The series has a hell of a lot of goodwill, so Miller could have just given us a nostalgic spin through past glories and we probably would have been satisfied.  Instead, Fury Road looks back at the trilogy and says, “Oh yeah?  Watch this.”  It’s an almost overwhelming experience, because Miller doesn’t stop to explain the backstory to everything we’re seeing.  We’re just thrown into this crazy world and we either sink or swim.  Or, more apropos, get run over or climb on board.  The scope of the worldbuilding and the action here is breathtaking, even if I did sometimes have this nagging “Not my Max” tugging at my brain.  It’s almost too big, too crazy.  But better that than a timid recreation of what’s gone before.

Also, barring a disaster of epic proportions, the disappointing flop Age of Ultron should pass Furious 7 as the #1 film of the year domestically.  Whatever will poor Disney and Marvel do.

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