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a little bit puny

maura @ 10:52 pm

Yeah, it’s a phoning it in kind of evening. But hey, I wrote a (so very short) blag post over on the CUNY Games Network blag about the article that I wrote that just came out yesterday, so that counts, right? Right?


kelly watch the stars by air

maura @ 11:29 pm

A long time ago in a borough far away (well, maybe just across the bridge), before we were parents, we used to have gaming nights with friends. There was a period of time when we played Magic the Gathering with a couple of pals who would come to our house one night a week. We’d all order food + have a few beers + play a little Magic. We’d listen to music, too, and it was right after the Air album “Moon Safari” came out, the first record I bought of theirs. Good times.

This morning we drove to sleepaway camp to pick up Gus. He spent the first few hours at home obsessively dividing up Jonathan’s old Magic cards into their respective colors, reading each one individually and telling us about all that he learned playing Magic at camp. We didn’t know we were sending him to geek camp! It took 2 hrs to get lunch into him, one bite at a time between the organizing.

He was away at camp for a week, first time ever. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for us all, I think. We were away the week before last with only 2 days at home before camp. And one of the cats, who’s been sick off and on for a while, kicked it up a notch last weekend. It seemed touch and go for a while–can’t really think of a worse pet scenario than the cat dying the first time the kid goes to camp–but luckily the kitty has perked up since he’s been on the meds we got at the vet.

Since Gus has been home it’s been an alternating love + loss fest. He loves us so much! and missed us so much! he’s told us over and over again, but he loved camp so much! too, and misses it terribly! So difficult, this growing up business.

Today I spent most of my time doing ALL the laundry, because kids bring lots of real dirt (TM) back with them to the city from sleepaway camp. When we got there this morning they made a big announcement that they’d found lice on some campers + counselors (which I’d totally planned to check him for anyway), which was just another reason for me to enact LaundryFest2011. Actually it was really sweet: the camp seemed so apologetic about the lice, as if we don’t get a note from school about lice in Gus’s class pretty much every year. And we have that crazy German lice comb so we’re ready to pick the nits.

So far so good: no one seems to have lice, everything’s clean, and the cats and child are sleeping happily. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too.

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end of line

maura @ 8:53 am

We finally (finally!) saw Tron Legacy last weekend. Xmas prep, Disneyworld, and illness had delayed it for so long I was worried that it wouldn’t be in the theater anymore by the time we had time. But it was, yay! Plus, coffee truck outside of the theater = coffee during the movie, which is totally the way to do a matinee, word.

The movie’s gotten such bad reviews (including this hilarious one from game scholar Ian Bogost’s 8 yr old daughter) that I went in with pretty low expectations. So I’m a bit surprised to report that I sincerely and megadorkily enjoyed the whole dang thing.

First the easy stuff: yes, it was beautiful. And the soundtrack by Daft Punk is fantastic — it took about 48 hrs from the time we exited the movie theater for us to buy it. Good thing, too, as I was in dire need of some new electronica for background noise while I write.

And the easy stuff on the other side: it was definitely too long. The plot was so thin at points as to be transparent, and sometimes the dialogue was beyond cheesy. The nod to open source software at the beginning was HI-larious given Disney’s particular stance on copyright. Gus went through a phase of loving the first Tron* when he was maybe 5 or 6, but he was frankly bored by much of the new movie. Which was kind of a drag.

* Which we actually own, on VHS, because one of the other perks when working for the Mouse was the opportunity to buy Disney stuff at a discount. I immediately bought Tron and the original Freaky Friday, with Jodie Foster, which ROCKS. Though I do love the remake too.

But I still really, really liked it. I’ve been trying to pull it apart in my head ever since. J said “there were the bones of a good story in there,” and I agree. Though if I’m honest it’s probably less the story than the whole package — I am squarely in the demographic of people programmed (ha!) to like the movie. I had just turned 13 when the first Tron movie was released along with its companion videogame. The movie was visually stunning (for the time), and the game, while kind of lame, was fun enough that I fed it many quarters. I don’t remember much from junior high other than being the typical miserable early teen, but I have vivid memories of the videogame arcade: the layout of the machines, the noise, even the smell. To this day I can tell you that the Tron game (not Deadly Discs, the other one) was in the second room against the wall on the right.

So yes, I fell into the giant nostalgia trap set by Tron Legacy. Really once Sam walked into his dad’s old arcade and turned on all of the machines (ack! Journey!) there was no hope for me. Save yourselves!

P.S. Also the stick that turns into a light cycle or jet was awesome.

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i see the bright and hollow sky

maura @ 2:10 pm

OMG my mom made me watch a Tmobile ad the other day with someone singing “The Passenger” and now I am going absolutely nutty wanting to hear it. The Siouxsie & the Banshees version, specifically. I don’t have it on my phone and pandora isn’t cooperating and aiieee!!!

(Okay, found it on youtube, much better now, phew! Also, ripping all of my Siouxsie discs at home, wondering why I hadn’t done so before.)

Over the past couple of days we’ve been playing long distance games of Carcassonne w/my brother. The basic game mechanic is that players draw tiles to create a landscape that includes cities, roads, cloisters, and open spaces (which can be farmed). Each player has 7 little dudes (“meeples,” their real name, is just too twee even for me) to use throughout the game to claim the aforementioned locales as their own and earn points. Some points aren’t earned until the game is over, when all tiles are placed.

It’s been interesting to compare gameplay between the iphone and real life. In the real life version of the game it’s easy to see the entire board and ponder your tile placement options. It’s also a bit more random — while in theory it’s possible to know how many of each type of tile is left in the (facedown) draw pile, in practice you would never take the time to count the tiles and look in the rules to determine the likelihood of drawing that perfect tile.

The phone version has the same rules + mechanics, but there are distinct differences to playing on a 2×4.5 inch screen connected to the internets. When you’re all zoomed in on your tile (which you kind of need to be in order to decide where to put your meeple), it’s impossible to see the whole board once the game’s more than a few turns old. I’ve gotten myself into the habit of zooming way out to see everything, but I still wonder whether the closeup view encourages weirdly spaced-out tile placements. It seems like each of us tends to hone in on a couple of areas and ignore the rest, which I don’t remember doing in the real world version.

Also in the phone version it’s possible to pull up a list of remaining available tiles at any point in the game. This strikes me as sidling up to cheating, though I definitely indulge, especially when it’s close to the end of the game. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feature has proved extremely helpful to my endgame strategy.

It’s been pretty fun, definitely one of those situations in which you realize the magic of the internets. There’s a great built in chat function, so we can even trash talk when someone draws too many cloisters.

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can’t blog, gaming

maura @ 10:32 pm

Jonathan and I are playing Carcassonne on our phones. O, this modern world!


Happy Thanksgiving, dudes.

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backwards through the megaphone

maura @ 10:39 pm

I had thought we were finished with Pokemon, but one of Gus’s pals brought a game magazine on the bus the other day, and Gus read a review of the new Pokemon game Black and White (out now in Japan, not til the spring here in the US), and now he’s hooked again.

It’s not that I hate Pokemon. I do think there are lots of great things about the game, both the video and card versions. There’s memorization — the characters have endless stats and attributes — and organization — in this case, the Pokedex, which indexes all of the creatures you find. There’s math (especially in the card game) since the basic mechanic is 2 characters battling and the one with higher hit points (which can, of course, be added to with powerups and the like) is the winner. And there’s lots of reading, too.

But I do feel like the Pokemon universe is, well, thin. And based more on accumulating stuff in the physical world than many other games. He has a giant pile of cards that he never, ever uses anymore. Indeed, the card game is much more complicated than the videogame, and when he was young enough to want the cards he couldn’t really grok the gameplay. But of course he begged for them when he was into collecting them, endlessly poring over them and strategizing trades with pals.

The videogames, too, encourage real life consumption in a way I don’t like all that much. Often multiple versions of essentially the same game are released simultaneously, and sometimes they only differ in color (e.g. Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire) and a subset of creatures. So even though you’re collecting creatures virtually, your kid will still beg for more than one version of the game.

I guess we have time to deal with this, since the new game isn’t out for a while. But I’m sad that the newfound knowledge of this game has pushed him back into the Pokeverse. His birthday is coming up — maybe one of the new games he gets will drive all those Pokethoughts right out of his head.

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he’s crafty

maura @ 9:54 pm

Okay, I know it’s a cop out to post a photo on day 7, but I’ve got a bunch of stuff I want to finish up before bed tonight and unfortunately a lengthy blag post isn’t one of them.

Instead, take a look at what Gus made today:


It’s a waddle dee from the Kirby videogames. More specifically it’s from the new game which is called Kirby’s Epic Yarn. All of the characters are outlined in yarn and the background is all fabricy — it’s really pretty. He’s in the obsessive mode he sometimes gets into and is utterly unable to want to do anything other than watch videos on YouTube of folks playing this video game. (Except when he’s reading those Gahoole owly books, which he’s also totally into.) And today he spent a couple of hours sewing little characters from the game, like this guy.

His birthday’s in a couple of weeks and doubtless he’ll get the game. Here’s hoping he hasn’t burned out on it by then.

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daydreamers please wake up

maura @ 9:10 pm

This year Gus’s school camping trip was moved up to the fall, so we are in the midst of both the read-a-thon (to raise money for the trip) and the no-screens time (this year it’s 12 looooong days!). It’s kind of bummer timing because Gus + Jonathan were really getting into playing Minecraft and Gus + I have been playing Professor Layton & the Curious Village, but it’s not the end of the world, I guess.

Mostly things have been fine in no-videogame land, though I can’t say that I’m any more fond of it now than I was last year. We’ve had plenty to do this weekend: fencing, Apple Fest at his school, brunch w/a pal, seeing the stick houses at the gardens, going for a bike ride, and (of course) reading. It was perfect weather this weekend, too — all breezy and sunny and fresh. So nice to be wearing sweaters again!

Yesterday Gus spent a long time working with sculpey. And here’s what he made:


My kid is awesome.

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my office glows

maura @ 9:41 pm

We’re on Day 6 of the 10 Days of No Electronic Entertainment and doing pretty well here. The week was pretty easy, and as a bonus we discovered that Gus’s morning pokiness has nothing to do with video games at all: he’s just as much of a dawdler when he’s reading a book. I will admit to a bit of panic when I first heard that it’s going to torrentially rain all weekend, but today was fine. (Okay, I confess: he did have a birthday party in the middle of the day.)

All this talk of (no) video games reminds me that earlier this week I took a picture on my walk to work and haven’t had a chance to post it yet. So here it is:

post-it art!

Hard to make out, I know, so I’ll explain it. The college across the street from the college where I work has a dorm, and sometimes the students write stuff on the windows or use post-it notes to create pictures/words. This art using post-its is pretty damn brilliant: on the top is Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, and some gold rings. Moving down on the left is Pac-Man with a trail of dots, then Mario. Out towards the right away from Mario are boxes to jump on with a flag on the end all the way on the right.

Not only is this a cute riff on pixel art but it’s also cooperative. Since it spans many windows on multiple floors, the residents of those rooms had to get together to create it. Wonder if it was all at once or an accretion? Who knows, but I have to smile every morning when I pass by.

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whiplash weather

maura @ 6:37 pm

I’m always surprised at how fast things can change with early Spring weather. This time last weekend we were drinking hot chocolate after Jonathan took Gus and a pal to the park to get in some sledding and build a snow fort (after the 2 feet of snow we’d gotten the day before). Today it was 53 degrees and sunny, though there are still a few dirty piles of snow yet to melt. I took Gus to karate this morning, but we’ve spent the afternoon inside.

What is is about the internets that makes us want to own up to stuff that we’re maybe a bit ashamed about? I always feel guilty when we don’t take advantage of the nice weather and do something outside. The botanic gardens, the High Line, riding bikes in the park, getting back on our scooters: we could have done any of those things today. But I’m tired and Jonathan’s tired–indeed, we both napped, which is a rare luxury. Gus was perfectly happy to spend the day playing video games and watching Japanese Kirby videos (subtitled in English) on YouTube. And we’re planning to head to the zoo tomorrow so we’ll have plenty of opportunity for vitamin D and running around then.

You all know how I feel about video games, both for Gus and for myself. Recently we have put some limits on weekend gametime; the weekdays tend to police themselves, what with school and homework. But many weekends we’re doing stuff, too, in which case it’s not really an issue. We didn’t impose any limits today because Monday starts a 10 day electronic fast in our house. In Gus’s school the highest grades go on a camping trip each year, and to raise money for the trip they do a read-a-thon in which sponsors pledge a few cents a page. The teachers have decided that in the midst of the read-a-thon will be a 10 day period with no TV or other electronic devices. For everyone in the family, I might add.

I always feel a bit torn about these digital fasts. On the one hand, I do see some value in taking a break from electronics–they use electricity, and you don’t tend to move much while using them. They can also be kind of antisocial, though I hesitate to even bring that up because they can also be *more* social. When I’m talking to an old college pal on facebook aren’t I being more social than if I’m sitting on my sofa reading? And Gus already reads a ton–one day last month he read 219 pages of Harry Potter #2!–so it’s not like I’m worried that he’s not spending enough time hitting the books.

What I expect the 10 days will do (beyond raising money for the trip) is highlight my own various uses of electronics. Between my phone and laptop at home there’s work work (mostly but not solely email), research work, work-related reading, twitter (which is half work half not), personal email, news reading, facebook (actually not so much these days, maybe 2-3x/week), and TV/movie watching (I’ve been busy enough recently that there hasn’t been much gaming for me). Some of those can happen while Gus is asleep, so I don’t need to worry about them. But I do tend to use the phone, especially, to fill in at certain times. In the morning at the breakfast table I usually check weather, email, the NY Times, and twitter. In the evening while supervising Gus getting ready for bed I’m often catching up on personal email, twitter, facebook, or RSS feeds (overwhelmingly library- or higher ed-related).

Technically I won’t be able to use the phone or computer in that kind of filling in the cracks way during the electronics fast. Luckily I’m also about 2 months behind on New Yorkers, so maybe I can get through those, finally. But I predict that it’ll be hard to remember to check the weather at nights while Gus is asleep.

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