Category: life

Open World: Video Games and Contemporary Art

Open World opened last Saturday, October 19th at the Akron Art Museum. I attended the opening, and was very impressed with the exhibit. It is a large installation, covering three of the museum’s galleries. The works included cover a wide range of media, from ball point pen drawings to video to prints to sculpture to textiles to interactive media and virtual reality.

Experiencing Cory Arcangel’s I shot Andy Warhol, which is a romhack of Hogan’s Alley for the NES, for art’s sake. And yes, I got the high score.

It’s exciting to see the art world acknowledge the importance and influence of videogames on fine art.

It’s been about 15 years since famed film critic Roger Ebert famously proclaimed that videogames were not art, and could never be. He was wrong about that in so many ways, although to be fair to his argument, we should seek to understand what he meant by that. The word “art” has multiple definitions, and this is a confusing and contentious point, which can trip up many conversations before they even begin as people talk past one another without realizing it. Untangling that mess requires more words than I have time to type here.

But if I can bottom line it, Ebert was wrong, but he had a few good points.

Art is a very broad word, and to think it couldn’t include videogames is simply short-sighted and more than a bit bigoted. To make a pronouncement that games can never be art is arrogant. And of course games are art. Game design is an art, games are comprised of program code, graphics, and audio, and all of these require an artist’s touch in order to come alive.

But no, not every game is a work of high art. Just as not every book or film is art. Not every statue or painting is art. And sure, most video games are thought of primarily as commercial kitch intended for mass entertainment. But sure, a video game can be an object d’art. Why not? There’s an entire genre of videogames called “art games“, which are intended to be experienced as art.

But… wtf is art? Which definition are we using each time we say the word?

Well, that’s an important question, but never mind that. My goal isn’t to write a book about the definition of art, and argue that videogames are, or can be, art. We could spend time exploring that, and it’s not like that wouldn’t be worthwhile. But that’s not my point in writing this post; my point is to talk about the Open World exhibit at the Akron Art Museum, and how you should go see it.

Krista Hoefle

Why not simply go into the world and look at some art, and see if any of it is a videogame? And why not explore the world and find examples of art that show a clear influence from videogames, a clear sign that videogames are culture, that video games are a force that shapes and influences humanity, and has been, for decades, from very nearly the very beginning of the history of computing machines.

It turns out this is a rewarding endeavor. As much as it’s important to think about what art is and isn’t, its much better to experience art, and engage with it.

The exhibit does this very well, I think, by taking a broad survey of different approaches different artists have taken, and the different ways that video games have influenced them in the creation of art.

One of the artworks in the show is a video game: Cory Arcangel’s I shot Andy Warhol, a romhack of Hogan’s Alley for the NES, which simply substitutes images of Andy Warhol, the Pope, Colonel Harlan Sanders, the founder of KFC, and Public Enemy hype man Flava Flav for the usual graphics, to make a statement of some sort, about the historical fact that Andy Warhol was actually shot in real life. What that statement is exactly, I’m not entirely sure. But there it is, a playable video game, presented as art, in an honest-to-god Art Museum. Suck on that, Ebert.

Feng Mengbo‘s Long March: Restart, is another playable videogame, and incorporates numerous sprites from 8- and 16-bit run-and-gun games such as Contra, is another game, but was not playable on the opening day due to technical difficulties.

A lot of artwork that people might think of when they hear “art influenced by video games” would fall under the category of “fan art” — simply, works created by fans, done in homage to a favorite game, or character from a game, or to create feelings of nostalgia. This isn’t really what Open World is going after. The artwork doesn’t serve to celebrate commercial products. But there are a few pieces that might come close, such as the Colossal Cave Adventure quilt made by Krista Hoefle, one of my favorite pieces in the exhibit, or Butt Johnson‘s brilliantly executed ballpoint pen drawings, which simultaneously reference both 80’s video game culture and the Italian renaissance.

Butt Johnson
Butt Johnson

But most of the works in the show are not games. Some are digital works, such as Tabor Robak’s 20XX, or Angela Washko’s “gaming intervention”, The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft. Washko’s investigation of Warcraft players’ attitudes on feminism tends to be buried in the visual chaos of WOW’s cluttered UI and fantastical character avatars, but it is nevertheless interesting for its chat content and the social dynamics she frames and puts on display in the context of a popular fantasy MMORPG.

Many of the works in the exhibit reference games in some way, or excerpt from them. Others borrow cues from the new aesthetic of video game graphics in creating artistic compositions, such as Invader’s pixel art created out of Rubik’s Cubes, or Mathew Zefeldt’s life-size barrel and door from Duke Nukem 3D.

Barrel and Door by Mathew Zefeldt

Still others use games as raw material, taking elements out of them, repurposing or recontextualizing them, turning them into art. Still others use a game to stage a sort of theatrical performance, sometimes called machinima. These often are done for social commentary, as with Joseph DeLappe’s Elegy: GTA USA Gun Homicides, which is especially powerful in its depiction of gun violence through a modded version of Grand Theft Auto 5.

The above only covers about half of the total show, so to see the rest of it, you’ll have to go in person. Open World is up from October 19, 2019 – February 2, 2020, and after that will be travelling to Currier Museum of Art March 21 – June 28, 2020 and San José Museum of Art September 10, 2020 – January 10, 2021.

Nancy Pelosi is dead wrong about impeachment

It is necessary. It is Congress’s duty.

Donald J. Trump, the falsely elected President of the United States, is obviously guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

This is not a controversial or debatable fact.

Trump was a criminal and a con man all his life, during the campaign, and after being sworn into office after an election that he stole through collusion with foreign agents.

As President, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and then went on national TV and admitted that the reason for the firing was to obstruct justice, because he wanted the investigation into Michael Flynn’s lies about illegal connections to Russia. Michael Flynn was a Russian agent, Trump knew, and he ordered Comey to drop the investigation, and when he didn’t, he fired him.

Trump fired Comey, because he himself is linked to Russia, and worked with them in order to benefit from a psy-ops campaign directed against American voters in order to sway the election to him. In return Trump has given aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, namely Russia and North Korea, by coddling them and by poisoning our relationships with our long-standing allies. This amounts to Treason.

That right there should have been the end of Trump’s presidency. The only reason it wasn’t is that Trump is backed by the Republican Party, and they held power in Congress at the time, and because of their association, Republicans in Congress failed to do their duty to act as a check on the Executive branch, and failed in their duty to enforce the Constitution, and failed in their duty to impeach and remove a criminal President.

There’s a litany of other abuses of power and illegal acts that Trump has undertaken, both as President and as a private citizen and while seeking public office. It’s more than enough.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, now Speaker of the House, doesn’t agree. Pelosi feels that there should be a high bar to impeachment, and that the process should be slow and careful. And there should be a high bar to impeachment. And yet, it appears no bar is high enough for our Speaker.

It’s difficult to imagine what crime would be high enough to warrant impeachment, in Pelosi’s mind, if obstruction of justice and outright treason fail to reach that level.

The authors of the Constitution did not intend for impeachment to be a slow, deliberative process. We elect officials to brief terms in office so that they may be removed by the public if it deems the official to be doing a poor job. For the president, they get a performance review every four years, and if they don’t measure up, the public will remove them. Four years is relatively brief amount of time, when compared to monarchs who rule for life, but it is still a long time. Impeachment is a remedy that is meant to be undertaken in the time between elections, to immediately rectify a situation where the President has committed crimes egregious enough that the situation cannot wait for the next election. Not to take the bulk of the term of office to move slowly toward maybe enforcing the law if it is determined to be politically popular and expedient. We are supposed to be a nation of laws.

With Trump, this started well before Day One in office.

Impeachment articles can be drafted in days or weeks, and a senate trial can be held in days or weeks, or perhaps months at the most. It is not meant for impeachment to happen only at the end of an investigation that takes up half or more of the presidential term in office. It’s ridiculous to suggest that. Robert Mueller’s investigation needs to be thorough, but we do not need to completely track down every last allegation about the crimes of Trump, his Administration, and his private business to know that impeachment is warranted, as soon as humanly possible.

President Obama was already aware of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and had the FBI working on the case before the election.

Obama had enough reason to believe that the election was compromised that he wanted to make a statement to the public about this, but declined to do so when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a rank hypocrite who has never willingly cooperated with anything that President Obama has ever wanted to do, and who has consistently opposed Obama at every opportunity, even when it means contradicting his own previous statements on the record, refused to cooperate with making a joint announcement to ensure the nation’s unity.

Regardless of McConnell’s unwillingness to work with the President on a matter of vital necessity to the security of the nation and its government, this should have been enough to delay certifying the election results, pending the full outcome of the investigation. But, for reasons I cannot fathom, President Obama chose instead to put his faith in the system to do its work to check the power of the President, even after the transition of power to a man who, if guilty of the things it appeared at the time he may have been guilty of, would have had every reason to obstruct that work, and have very little to hold him back from doing so.

Nancy Pelosi has stated that impeachment should not be a political move –that in order to be successful, it must have bipartisan support. This shows a terrible misunderstanding on her part of what impeachment is.

When we talk about partisan or bipartisan support for a measure that Congress is undertaking, normally we are talking about legislative acts — passing bills into law. Impeachment is a different matter, one of investigation into criminal acts by the President.

Laws are laws. Whether an accused individual has broken the law is a matter of facts, not political philosophy. When the Senate votes on impeachment, they are voting yes or no based on the facts presented in support of the charges. A no vote to impeachment is to say one of the following: that the evidence and arguments presented in the trial failed to prove the case, or that the charges are not sufficient to warrant removal.

Again, the charges in the case of President Trump are obviously more than sufficient, if proven, to warrant his impeachment and removal from office. The only question then, is whether the facts can be presented. But Trump has time and again, blatantly and in public obstructed justice, and admitted to obstructing justice. Through his tweets, and through statements given in interviews. Firing Comey over the “Russia Thing” alone was sufficient. And then Trump confessed, quite matter of factly that the reason he did it was because Comey declined to drop the investigation. Game over, case closed. Open and shut. Slam dunk.

Trump should be in prison right now, and by now should be close to a year into a life sentence for conspiring and colluding with this nation’s enemies to defraud the public and steal an election in a bid to further the interests of a foreign government. If Congress were not derelict in its duty.

None of this has anything to do with the fact that Trump ran as a Republican, and that his political positions are abhorrent, or that he’s completely unqualified and incompetent to be in office. None of it. This is about the crimes committed by the President, or by his people, in his name and with his knowledge.

Impeaching Trump is not a political act. It is not a partisan act. It is a matter of law.

Congress’s role as a check to the Executive Branch demands that it act in this matter, in this way. Rather, not impeaching Trump is the political, partisan act. To ignore his crimes, to ignore evidence, to claim that the crimes aren’t crimes, or that his crimes don’t matter, or aren’t important enough, or that laws can’t be enforced against a sitting President because he is the top and somehow the law doesn’t also apply to him, is the political, partisan act. When articles of impeachment are brought to the Senate for a vote, the vote isn’t “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Democrat”. It’s “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” A Republican who can’t find a way to vote “Guilty” on this case when the facts show that the President is guilty of committing the crimes he is accused of, is voting “I’m a Republican.” And that is the true political act.

Democratic leadership seems to be against impeachment not because it’s not the right thing to do, but because they can’t successfully do it. But yet, right now the Senate is expected to pass a resolution drafted by the House to check the President on his emergency declaration on the fake border emergency. This, despite that it’s certain that the President will veto and the Senate will likely not have a veto-proof supermajority. Why is it fine to carry forward one measure but not the other?

Finally, impeachment will not divide the nation. The President has an approval rating around 40%. In the last election, his party was overwhelmingly defeated by a public that rebuked him, even with voter suppression and gerrymandering tipping the scales. The nation is united against Trump.

Even among the 40% of his supporters, many of them acknowledge that Trump may have committed crimes, but they support his party and its policies, and that is why they continue to support him. But it’s a political act to impeach him, not to defend him? Hogwash. Removing a criminal from office is not discretionary. It is a matter of duty, required by the rule of law.

Trump himself said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. It might be the one true thing that he’s ever said.

It’s quite apparent by now that nothing Trump does will damage the support he enjoys from his die hard base. Ergo, no matter what, the nation is divided. We cannot wait for Republicans who are comfortable aligning themselves to a criminal president in order to “own the lips” to come on board. We must move forward. “Only” 60% of the citizens support will have to do.

As Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has the power to bring articles of impeachment to the Senate and put the President to trial. The situation requires this of her as a matter of duty. Whether the Senate is comprised of people who are willing to vote to remove or not is immaterial. The facts should be presented, and the public should judge the actions of the Senators who vote on the articles. Present the strongest possible case and if any senator can still vote no to impeachment, let him or her be voted out of office.

Right now, as it stands, Congress is aiding and abetting a criminal President. Sadly, this might have be expected of his own party, although it shouldn’t be. But for the Speaker of the House and member of the opposition party to say that it’s pointless to even try to impeach without bipartisan support, guarantees that the opposition party will never provide that support. News flash, Nancy: You will never get bipartisan support without trying to get it. All they have to do is help their President obstruct, and the crimes will stand. By bringing a case and backing it with proof, either the Senate will do the right thing and remove a criminal President, or it will join the President in his crimes by abetting and covering up.

By failing to bring articles of impeachment in a timely manner, Congress already is abetting and covering up those crimes.

Why is prosecuting treason a political act, but defending treason isn’t? Where are the bipartisan democrats defending the high crimes and misdemeanors of Trump?

Oh, that’s right… sitting in the seat of the Speaker of the House. God damn it.

This cannot be allowed. We do not have a nation of laws if this is allowed to stand. We do not have a constitutional republic. What we have is a kleptocracy of privileged elites who have so much power and influence that they can get away with whatever crime.

If you think you’re against this President, and you’re not impeaching him for his litany of obvious crimes, let’s be clear: you’re not against him.

Nancy, to be clear: If you’re not against the President, you’re with him.

Patriots and nationalists: the real truth

French President Emmanuel Macron tried to make some point over the weekend about Nationalism vs. Patriotism, in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s nationalistic ways.

It’s bullshit.

Not the rebuke of Trump; that was much needed. But the idea that we can distinguish between nationalism and patriotism.

They’re synonyms. They more or less mean the same thing. Yeah, there are maybe some slight differences of connotation, of usage, but they’re pretty close to interchangeable.

English is a highly overloaded language and there’s a lot of redundant words, and we use them to reflect nuance, but sometimes that nuance isn’t really there, or isn’t really as big as we make it. But for one reason or another, we end up deciding we like one word over another, like we have better taste for having a more refined vocabulary.

But I digress.

There’s good things and bad things about countries, and therefore there’s good things and bad things about loving your country. You can’t take all the good things, shove them to one side, and say “we’re going to label that ‘patriotism'” and then take all the bad things, shove them over to the other side, and say “that’s nationalism”.

We have to come to grips with the fact that whatever label you use, there’s good and bad wrapped up in humanity, and therefore, irreducibly, in any human collective.

What we need to do is use our brains, our reason and judgment, our ability to perceive, to fix the problems that the bad causes, and amplify the good. We can do this. We have had a good, long run of doing it. The overwhelming trend over the last 10,000-50,000 years has been that we do it. It seems like as we’ve scaled up our numbers, the challenges have gotten greater, and that lately maybe we’re coming up short more than not. Those glaciers are melting. We need to get back to doing smart things, and fixing problems. Less petty fights, and definitely way less concentrating wealth and power into the hands of a tiny fraction of a percent of all people.

Back to Macron: If your takeaway from his speech was that there’s bad nationalists and good patriots and hey I’m a patriot, and that sounds good and makes me feel good to say it, and now I’m better than these bad nationalists, you’ve completely missed the real truth.

The real truth is this: There’s plenty of fucking bullshit wrapped up in patriotism. Plenty. There’s plenty of bad carried out in the name of patriotism. Patriotic sentiment can and has at times netted a positive good for human civilization. But it nearly as often carries with it that bad stuff that you can’t just scrape off and shed onto the word “nationalism” and then say “our country is so good, it’s the best! I’m a patriot!” and feel like all is right with the world. It doesn’t work that way.

A lot of the good stuff about patriotism could be applied just as well, just as easily to a larger collective of people inside an even larger border.

We could draw the border as the edge of our solar system, and feel all the good things that we currently ascribe to how we feel about our country.

We could say “We are the people of Earth! A good people! The only people, in fact, anywhere! We’re all here trying to make shit work, keep each other alive, and comfortable, and maybe laugh a bit, before we die.”

We could say that. There’s no reason we couldn’t. But most of us won’t, won’t even consider it. Why? Because countries. Because invisible lines agreed to by the ancestors of powerful men, and paid for in blood. Because we’re too afraid of each other to forgive and to forge trust. Because we’re too concerned with our small concerns, and trying to fuck over someone else just to get a leg up on everyone else.

In the mythical past when we were great, which existed even then as an imperfect, incomplete fiction, we dreamed of global unification, of reaching out into the cosmos and taming the void. We dreamed about mega scale engineering projects to transform dead worlds and branch out, extending our civilization. Because we thought that it was worth something, and worth preserving, spreading, and sharing.

No one much talks about those dreams any more. We talk about oil and natural gas reserves. We talk about garbage patches, turning the oceans into a plastic soup. We talk about fresh water, and sometimes about glaciers. We talk about the Kardashians, and not very much about the disappearing animals and the vanishing rainforests. We talk about our skin color and who we like to have sex with, like it’s some big deal that overshadows the great extinction event we’ve triggered. And we talk about wars that were fought a century ago, having learned nothing from them, even as we ignore the wars happening in poor places encircling the planet, the direct heritage of the War to End All Wars, which we so foolishly perceive to have “ended”.

We needed to discard patriotism a long time ago, and embrace humanism. We are a tremendous disappointment in so many ways. And a good third of us, at least, are mindlessly tugging the whole lot of us backwards, while another third of us passively do nothing, and another third express some reservations — politely, as though “how you play the game” matters more than winning or losing.

Well, I don’t have a tidy wrap-up. No happy ending. No hopeful message. No plan. Just some observations and some judgments. You can hammer the Like button if you want to, you can share this far and wide, you can copy and paste it, you can mail it and email it, you can print it on billboards, and you can carve it into mountains, but it won’t make a bit of difference, it won’t change a thing.

What will make a difference is what you do with your life.

Enjoy your time here, while you can. Try to fix some problems. Try to learn from some mistakes.

Stan Lee, Mighty Marvel Magnate: R.I.P. and Thanks

Stan Lee, the Homer of American 20th century culture, maker of myth and monsters, died today at the age of 95. 

You almost certainly don’t need me to tell you who he was. His fame was universal, assured by his two superpowers: story telling and self promotion.

Stan wasn’t the only person who made Marvel Comics and later Marvel Entertainment the force in popular culture that it was, but he was probably the most recognizable name among a pantheon of legends that included Jack “King” Kirby, John Romita, Steve Ditko, and many others.

He created, co-created, or promoted amazing fantasies, a multiverse of heroes and villains, mutants and mundanes, celestials and sub-humans, terrestrials, extra-terrestrials, and extra-dimensionals, and even a sub-mariner. 

His energy and enthusiasm were infinite.  His corporeal form, alas, was not.  Yet his legend is assured immortality.

You held great power, and you wielded it with sublime responsibility.  You touched the lives of billions of people, and set fire to our imaginations.

Today through the news of his passing, he is making a cameo appearance on every social media feed on the planet.  We feel a collective earth quake as our hearts break upon learning that today the inevitable has finally come.

Thank you, Stan Lee.

R.I.P.

Excelsior!

Colin Kaepernick, Nike, and Pat Tillman

Two days ago, Nike made headlines with a new advertising campaign featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who hasn’t worked in professional sports for several years due to being blacklisted for his protest of police violence against minorities during the pregame rendition of the national anthem.

A day after the unveiling of the campaign, a response using the image of Pat Tillman, an NFL player who left his NFL career behind in order to enlist in the military, and who died fighting in Afghanistan, in an attempt to mock and discredit the Nike campaign, and to make a statement seemingly in opposition to the protest against police violence.

Opponents of justice and phony patriots have attempted for years to cast Kaepernick’s protest as unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans.

See, here’s the thing about that. If you wanted to cast Pat Tillman’s death in the most flattering possible light, you would say that Pat Tillman walked away from a multi-million dollar career to selflessly give his life defending American freedom. There’s a lot of problems with that, but for the moment let’s grant it, to give pro-Tillman/anti-Kaepernick advocates their strongest argument.

For the freedom that Tillman died defending to be worth anything, it must be freedom for all Americans. Wrapped up in the concept of freedom are the rights that, although enshrined in our Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence, are routinely denied to black and brown people without due process or recourse.

This is at the very heart of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. If Pat Tillman died to protect the rights and freedoms of Americans, that must include those rights and freedoms that are denied to Americans whom Colin Kaepernick is speaking for through his protest. And if so, then using Pat Tillman’s sacrifice to denigrate Colin Kaepernick also denigrates Pat Tillman.

Kaepernick has stood on principle for his right to express his views and to make peaceful protest against injustice, which is a right guaranteed to him by the Constitution, and has done so at the cost of his NFL career, representing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. The fact that Nike would contract with Kaepernick, paying him money to endorse their products does not in any way negate this, any more than the act of resigning in protest from a job for reasons of principle would be negated by finding other employment.

Kaepernick may not have died in a foreign battlefield, but his sacrifice is nonetheless real. Death is not the only sacrifice, and though people be willing to give their lives, none should ask or require this as the only measure for “true” sacrifice.

Using Tillman’s image and sacrifice in this way is an attempt to drive a wedge between Tillman’s life and the highest, most sacred principles that the nation he died serving was founded upon, and an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans. Recognizing this, I am able to recognize the sacrifices of both men as being for the same cause.

Life is funny

Life is really funny.

For most of my time, I haven’t thought much about refrigerators, or had any choice in which refrigerator I had.

Growing up, there was The Fridge. It was yellow. It had food in it. It made stuff cold.

I went to college, I had a tiny dorm refrigerator that, I guess, worked OK. I never had any problems with it that I’m aware of.

I rented apartments, they came with appliances, they worked, I neer had any problems.

They were never anything fancy. Just an insulated box with a compressor and a light inside that goes off when you close the door. No ice maker, no water dispenser. No fancy finish, just some boring neutral color.

I bought a house, and it came with appliances, and the worked. I didn’t have extra money to drop on something better if what I had was fine. The refrigerator that came with the house was made in the 1980s, and was about 30 years old this year. It worked very well. I never did anything to maintain it, it never broke. It just worked non-stop for 30 years, the way an American made major appliance should be expected to. I’ve enjoyed about half of that time, if enjoyed is a word you can use with owning a boring kitchen appliance that does nothing except for work for three decades without complaint.

The only problem with it was that the light socket didn’t make good contact with the bulb, so when the door opened, it would flicker, and for the last however many years, most of the time the light wouldn’t come on at all. I fiddled with it, but it didn’t help.

Then one day my mom sells her house and is giving away stuff, and I claimed the baesment refrigerator. It was nice, slightly bigger, and only twelve years old. A Maytag. They’re dependable. I rented a truck, and my cousins helped me move it to my place, and then I gave my old, still working refrigerator to one of them.

Only, the Maytag had its door hinge on the wrong side. But that wasn’t a problem, that’s reversible. Easy to do with a screwdriver and the manual, which my mom kept in a ziplock bag in a manila folder, along with the warranty info, long since expired, and the original receipt.

So we switched the door, so it opens to the side that is convenient for accessing food when I’m cooking, which happens sometimes. And the light works. And it’s slightly bigger. And a decade newer. I figured I was set for another 20 years at least.  Who knows?

I noticed in the first couple of days that the “new” refrigerator was taking a long time to get down to temperature.  I think it took about 2 days, maybe it was 3.  But it did eventually get cold. 

Then it got really cold. The refrigerator was down around 33F, and then the next day I opened it and found that a bottle of water had frozen, shattering fragments of glass all over the place.  I cleaned it up and adjusted the temperature setting, and it warmed up a degree or two, still staying around freezing.  The thermometer I kept in there said 31F, but that’s below freezing, and nothing else in there was frozen, so I think it’s not quite accurate.  I love drinking ice cold water, so I was happy.

One thing the new refrigerator didn’t have was a tray for storing ice cube trays. This was annoying, since having a place to put the trays so they could work without spilling was a big convenience, and meant that you could use the rest of the space in the freezer more efficiently. I searched online for parts, and found out that pretty much everything for the Maytag wasn’t available any more — discontinued, out of stock. What’s more, I couldn’t even find a rack or shelf or tray for storing the ice cube tray. I tried eBay, there wasn’t much, and it was confusing to confirm that a part was for my model. It was annoying. I found a bin for finished ice cubes, but nothing to hold the trays while they were working. 

I don’t use the freezer nearly as much, so it wasn’t until maybe a week or more that I noticed the frost problem. I went to get an ice cube and noticed that frost had accumulate along the top edge of the door. I surmised that the door seal wasn’t sealing completely, allowing some air in, bringing with it moisture that would condense and freeze, turning into frost.  The ice built up and made the seal worse.  I’d open the door, knock off all the ice, wipe down with a towel, and close the door again, pressing firmly. 

It didn’t work.  I kept the ice at bay, but it kept returning. From 12 years of being on the left hinge, the door seal had compressed, and now that the hinge was on the right side, that left a gap that closing it firmly just couldn’t close.

I also noticed that the refrigerator made a high pitched whine, loud enough to be annoying. In reading the manual, I found out that this was normal. I didn’t like it. I thought about buying a new refrigerator at that point. But I didn’t want to spend the money right now, so I figured maybe next year. I’d take my time and do research and wait for a good sale.

This week, the temperature in the refrigerator compartment went north of 40F.  I worked at a grocery store once, so I knew that this was the threshold for safe food storage. I was concerned.  I tried turning the temperature setting back down, but a day or two later, it was still 40°, maybe 41°.  Then 42°.  Then 43°.

I took a look inside the freezer, it was still holding steady at 0°F, a good strong temperature. I cleaned the frost off the door, and looking more closely, noticed more frost along the ceiling. I cleaned that off too.  There was more frost along the back wall. I noticed that there was an air vent on the back wall, and that it was covered with ice.  Oh.

I looked inside the refrigerator. There were a couple of holes in the ceiling, which I felt no air flowing through.  I tried putting my finger into the holes to see if I could feel ice, but I couldn’t.  I only felt the foam insulation.  It felt warm.

I took my hair dryer and tried to defrost the freezer compartment.  I succeeded in melting the ice I could see, but if there was ice in the duct connecting the freezer compartment to the refrigerator compartment, I don’t think I got it.

The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 47°. Nothing in there was safe to eat any more. It had turned into a botulism farm. The freezer compartment temperature went up to 11°F, but it went back down to 0° by the next morning.  The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 49°.

I started shopping. After a lifetime of not caring or thinking about refrigerators, suddenly I had to make a choice, and suddenly now everything mattered.

I measured the nook in the kitchen and noted the dimensions the new unit would need to fit. I researched styles, features, manufacturers, models. I went to six stores and looked at them in person.  I considered shelving. Ice makers. Water filtration. Top Freezer. Bottom Freezer. Side By Side.  French Door. I compared warranties.  I read reviews.  I checked prices.  I made a spreadsheet.  I opened tabs by the dozen in my browser. I read reviews. 

I questioned the reviews.  What did some random refrigerator owner know?  Did they have the same concerns as me?  Do they understand engineering and manufacturing? Have they tried all the other models out there and therefore know that theirs is really the best? Was their specific experience representative of all examples of that model, or did they get a lemon? Were they even humans writing real reviews, or were they fake reviews written by shills trying to sway public opinion to buy the wrong refrigerator? The more I read, the less I knew. The more uncertain I became.

Within 72 hours, I’d saturated my mind with research and reached the limits of my patience for indecision.  I needed to dispose of my botulism farm and put this episode behind me so that life could resume. I told myself that I didn’t need to make the perfect or even the best decision, I just needed to make an adequate decision. I reminded myself that for 43 years, any old refrigerator was just fine. Why should this purchase be such a conundrum?

Based on the in-person impression I’d gotten from store visits, my internet research, and my meticulous note keeping, I had decided that I liked one model in particular more than the others I’d looked at.  I wasn’t sure that it was the best for me, it wasn’t vastly superior in every way. But I liked the size, the shelves, the price. The reviews were very positive, but one or two of them mentioned that the freezer compartment didn’t get down to 0°F like it should at the recommended setting. Some reviewers recommended turning it up to max cooling, others said it wasn’t a good model because of this deficiency, and to look for something else. 

Concerned, I thought about it overnight. I shopped some more, and found a merchant that was running a sale, and it was the cheapest price I had found yet for this model, and several hundred less than most of the other models I’d considered. I added to cart and got the complete price for it, and printed it out.

I reasoned that I could go to the store in person and ask questions about returns, and if I could do a return after delivery, and if I liked the answer I got, I’d go ahead and buy it, try it out for a time, and if it didn’t get cold enough for me, I’d return it and pick some other model.

This saga is far from over.  Delivery will take place on Wednesday.  I’ll have to observe the temperatures over several days to see how it performs. I’ll have to decide what to do.  I hope I won’t have to return it and start over. I hope I won’t have to think about it again for a decade at least, and three would be better.

It’s just weird that something that never mattered for my entire life so far should become such a dilemma when a situation arises where I have to make the decision. Even though it’s only a couple hundred bucks, it’s a decision with potentially decades of repercussions.  So much responsibility!

Sometimes life is better when you don’t have so much control, and don’t have to make choices.

Conway’s Mustard Steak

This is a very simple preparation and primitive cooking method, but the results are extraordinary. This is an old family recipe I learned a long time ago from a good friend.

Ingredients:

  • Steak (should be a large, thick cut of beef, such as London Broil, or Round Steak, at least 1.5-2″ thick.)
  • Ordinary yellow mustard (French’s, etc.)
  • Common table salt

Supplies:

  • Charcoal briquettes
  • lighter fluid
  • charcoal starter chimney
  • Fire starter

 

  • Casserole dish
  • Paper towels
  • Serving platter
  • basting brush
  • BBQ tongs or fork
  • Serving knife

Instructions:

Preparation:

1-2 days ahead of cooking:

  1. Dry the meat with paper towels, then apply a thick coating of yellow mustard with the basting brush until steak is completely covered on all sides.
  2. Sprinkle very liberally with salt until mustard achieves a paste-like, crusty consistency.
  3. Lay in casserole dish for 24-48 hrs in refrigerator, marinating.

Fire preparation:

  1. Fill charcoal starting chimney with briquettes. Wad up paper towels or newspaper, douse with lighter fluid, and place under the chimney. Don’t put fluid on the charcoal.
  2. Light the paper with the fire starter. The coals should ignite easily, and be ready in 5-10 minutes. Let them burn in the chimney until they are glowing orange, then spread them out on a scraped area of bare earth the ground, or in a fire pit, or in a charcoal grill.
  3. Make sure you have sufficient lit charcoal to cover the ground with a good, thick layer of coals, with no gaps between them, covering an area at least twice the size of the meat. This may be more than 1 chimney full of coal, so be sure to get enough going before you start cooking.

Cooking:

  1. Lay the steak directly on the coals, ensuring that the coat of mustard is still intact on the side touching the coals. (Usually, this will be the top side of the steak, as the juices in the bottom of the marinade pan will tend to wash the mustard off the bottom of the steak. Re-apply more mustard and salt on the now-exposed bottom side of the steak to restore a complete coating. The mustard will sear into the meat, protecting the meat itself.
  2. Once the meat is on the fire, let it sit. Don’t touch it or poke it.
  3. Let the steak cook for a long time. Exact cooking time will vary depending on thickness of the meat, but 10-20 minutes or even longer is typical.
    1. Don’t use a clock, however; rather, watch the steak for signs that it is ready. When you start seeing blood droplets appear on the top side of the steak, it will be ready to flip within a few minutes.
    2. Wait until you see droplets coming up all over, not just in one place. Then, using the BBQ tongs or fork, lift the steak off the coals, and knock any coals that have adhered to the meat off, then lay the steak back down on a fresh section of coals.
  4. Continue to cook on second side, once again waiting to see blood juices coming up through the top surface of the steak. It should take significantly less time for the second side to cook through.
  5. Once blood is again visible on the top side remove from the fire, knock off any stuck coals, and rest on the serving platter for about 4-5 minutes.

Serving:

  1. Slice thin and serve.
    1. Steak should be perfectly seared on the outside, and a full-spectrum gradient of done-ness should be evident through the cut, from well and crispy to rare or even blue in the middle, depending on the thickness of the cut and the cooking time.
    2. The mustard and salt flavor will have permeated the meat throughout, and especially the outside crust will be intensely flavorful.
  2. It will not need any additional seasoning or sauces.
  3. Serve with corn, potatoes, or other favorite BBQ side dishes, and your favorite beverage. Goes excellent with beer or a fruity alcoholic punch, margaritas, etc.

Guppy’s Great Steak

Ingredients:

Supplies:

Instructions:

Preparation

  1. Fill the charcoal starter chimney with charcoal.
  2. Put a couple of wadded up paper towels that have been doused with lighter fluid underneath the chimney, and be ready to go in 5-10 minutes. Don’t put fluid on the coals.
  3. Light the paper towel wad. The coals should ignite easily. Let them burn inside the chimney until they are glowing orange, then distribute in the bottom of the grill.
  4. While the coals are getting ready, prepare the meat.
    1. Meat should be close to room temperature, or slightly cooler.
    2. Pat meat dry with more paper towels.
    3. Once meat is dry, rub with steak salt and Montreal seasoning until both sides are coated.

Cooking

  1. Lay steaks over the hottest part of the grill, and cover the grill.
  2. Don’t touch the grill again until it’s time to flip. Let them set there for about 3 minutes for medium rare.
  3. Flip once, then replace the lid and leave it alone for another 3-4 minutes.
  4. When you flip the corners and edges of the filets should just be starting to char, and you should see grill marks seared into the surface of the meat.
  5. After flipping and waiting for the second side (about the same amount of time as the first side, or slightly less), pull from the grill, and then let them rest for a few minutes.
  6. While resting, apply 2-4 drops of liquid smoke on the top of the filets, and let it absorb.

Serving

  1. Slice thin and dip into the A-1 and stadium mustard. Put mustard on one half of a slice, and A-1 on the other half, and let the flavors blend together in your mouth. For best results use mustard that has aged in refrigerator for 3-4 years. It will have a mellow flavor and a creamy texture.
  2. Serve with grilled mushrooms and vegetables and your favorite beverage.

Why I’m “meh” on the SpaceX Falcon launch

This image could have been produced by MTV 35 years ago, for a lot cheaper.

This image could have been produced by MTV 35 years ago, for a lot cheaper.

I’m very meh on the success of the SpaceX Falcon launch yesterday.

I mean, I guess it’s good that someone still gives a shit about escaping Earth orbit enough to actually do it. It’s a wonder more of us don’t, considering how things are here. We need to be more ambitious about space.

And it’s nice to know that we still have the capability to launch a decent rocket. The Falcon heavy lift vehicle test’s success is a good thing. And I guess since it was just a test launch, maybe that’s why they chose to lift a Tesla Roadster instead of something actually useful, putting at risk billions of dollars in R&D for something serious.

But it’s incredibly sad to me that it’s a billionaire taking a joyride, publicity stunt putting one of his car company’s cars up there, instead of science gear, or habitation infrastructure, or something industrial. The money that put that car up there could have saved thousands of our frankly worthless lives were it spent on the right stuff.

I said as much when Guy Laliberte from Cirque du Soleil went up to squirt water around his capsule and play with it in zero G, too, and everyone thought I was harsh and wrong.

Well, you’re wrong. Shit down here is serious and it’s seriously broken.

Time for billionaires to fix some of it, since they’re responsible for so much of it.

Eleven reasons why It (2017) wasn’t scary for me

  1. No giant spider.
  2. It is a clown that gets it’s ass handed to It more than once by a small group of loser children.
  3. It is really a demon-thing, but doesn’t even require a +1 weapon to deal damage to it.
  4. Whenever It gets hurt by the loser kids, It usually retreats, or else flips out twitching and jerking for a few seconds. It’s kindof a wimp.
  5. It bites Georgie’s arm off. Real scary, right? But there’s almost no pain reaction from him, I guess because he’s in shock? But this recalls the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Tis but a scratch! I’ve had worse!” Apart from when Henry Bowers uses his knife on New Kid Ben, I didn’t get any sense of horror from the gore in this film.
  6. Any time It’s around, there’s red balloons. I guess they’re supposed to be threatening and creepy, but they’re really just a giveaway: OK there’s another balloon get ready for It to try to scare us again. Get ready to not be surprised! Literally every single jump scare foreshadowed.
  7. It doesn’t seem to be capable of hurting anyone unless they’re scared. Literally the only thing they have to do is stand up to It, or realize that It’s mind-tricks aren’t real. It’s hard to be scared of something that isn’t real, or is only real in your head.
  8. When big brother Bill encounters It (in the guise of little lost Georgie) in the basement, and It starts repeating “we all float down here” and turning “scary”, I’m thinking “OK he’s just glitching out. Someone needs to file a bug report, and then we can patch it.”
  9. It mostly likes to scare people by turning ugly. Deformed, decaying walking corpses, and that sort of thing. But years of informal sensitivity training has enabled me to empathize with people who have severe appearance deficits, rather than feel repulsed by them. I want to help It feel accepted, as though It too is capable and worthy of being loved.
  10. The creepy house at 29 Niebold Street is pretty overboard. Hey, it’s not like that place doesn’t scream “haunted”. It obviously put a lot of effort into decor. But did It really have to go with “late 19th century cliche American Victorian?” It’s literally the most obvious place in town It could have picked to make It’s home. Send in the crack team of loser kids!
  11. We have a much worse clown in the White House, and he’s threatening to destroy the world in a nuclear exchange with North Korea. What I wouldn’t give for there to be a supernatural demon that only eats a few children once a generation instead of this president. Literally every single day in 2017, the news is worse than a statistically abnormal number of missing children in a small town.

Overall I enjoyed It, for the acting and the casting, and especially the humorous/lighthearted moments when the kids are just being kids. The children who act in the film look and feel like real children. That much, was great. But I didn’t feel scared. The teaser trailers made it seem like It would be a lot worse than it was.