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BLOT: (13 Apr 2014 - 07:32:32 PM)

One line from the Alabama tax instruction booklet that made me laugh as much as any line from a tax instruction booklet can...

Considering some of the stresses of this past weekend [missing packages, being sick, wife being sicker, upcoming big deal projects at work], filling out my tax forms was just a part of the bigger picture, though it was definitely a part. However, there were was at least one light in the dark tunnel of my Alabama 40A form, and it was the line marked below:

A state that brags about its low taxes even to the detriment of its education, infrastructure, health care, welfare, and disaster preparedness and it wants to get a piece of that local corruption and crystal meth pie? Has anyone alerted the Tax Foundation about this?

Hell, I'm for it. I just wonder what the real-world situations created out of it might be. How many times has someone listed "Blackmailing boss over cheating on wife" or "Stabbed some fools, took their wallet" in their income stream? Surely there are a few, out there, who are more afraid of the tax-man than the other state and federal officers that might knock upon their door. And if they aren't, then maybe someone should tell them about what happened to Al Capone.

Alabama

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2014


BLOT: (12 Apr 2014 - 09:40:56 PM)

The missing package and the secret to the missing Mana cartridge

Today, we went by the post office to mail off our state tax returns. Cutting it really close to the wire, for us, with Sarah and myself being the sorts that mail such things off early. At any rate, we made it in before next week's deadline, and all should be good, minus the fact that we owed them. C'est les taxes, n'est pas? We were also there to try and find a package that should have been here on March 29 but was marked as "Delivered" and now has disappeared. Did it get left in front of the wrong door? Did it get sent back to the post office? Did it get stolen? Did it get returned to sender? Who knows? All I know is that it was not, in fact, delivered. And this, strangely perhaps, puts me in mind of...

When I was 18 or so, hung out with a local guy a year younger than me who was from roughly the same "neighborhood" [he was about 5 miles away, straight through the woods, making him pretty damned close]. We did not actually have a lot in common, outside of an appreciation of some of the same SF and videogames, with he being the first serious gamer I knew, back in the days of the SNES and the Playstation, mostly playing by himself and practising for those rare chances he got to play against someone. Namely me. Later, he and I split ways because he shot at my younger brother with a BB gun, in a very sort of wide way, and my parents forbade me to hang out with the guy for a bit, and that widened enough of a gap that we never really hung out again. He had a girlfriend and was learning about sex, I had a college career about to start, and the perspective that distance brought exposed a few moments like him saying, about someone whom I fairly detested [after I mentioned said detestation in conversation], "I know there's the whole rape thing, but he's not a bad guy." I've made better friends.

Back in the better days, though, there was a mystery involving Gamer Guy. He had lent me his copy of The Secret of Mana, a game that was almost literally life-changing for me. I had liked RPGs before, and it was already my favorite genre, but something about the colors and sounds and quests and system all made me love the genre so that for much of the next decade I played console and PC RPGs nearly in exclusion to everything else except car combat games [how's that for a blend?]. It hit exactly the spot my escapism needs required and pulled me out of a funk I had drifted into since about tenth grade. It also, on the other hand, drove me to escape through games rather than through massive amounts of reading and studying, which later forced me to re-prioritize things in my mid-20s and get back on track. That's much later, though.

I had rented Secret a couple of times, but him letting me borrow it gave me the chance to play it once or twice without having to pay the $x/day rental fee which can be rough for RPGs. I think I played it once. Maybe started a second game. And then, one day, it went missing.

We looked everywhere. I spent at least a total of twenty hours just going through all of my books, my clothes, my papers, my bedspreads, etc. I would lift each piece, just in case it was somehow stuck in between. A few days later, I would start again. Just in case. I dug under furniture, checked outside as if somehow it could have phased through walls. I tried out dowsing [though I cannot recall how serious I was]. I tried techniques like, "Walk without thinking and let the 'undermind' find it." Nothing worked. I sometimes suspected my younger brother, but he would not, at that time, have done something like that. I wondered if it had been somehow thrown away. I stressed out about it. It got brought back up every couple of months or so. Keep this in mind. Guy would just query, "So, did you find my game?"

Fast forward a year or two. In the summer leading up to my moving to Huntsville to attend UAH, I worked at the Evergreen Subway. Being a "Sandwich Artist" was an ok job. It gave me some perspective, helped me to socialize some, taught me that some people just enjoy being petty while others enjoy being nice. Paid for shit [this was late 90s minimum wage] but enough to eat, rent some movies, buy some dollar books [we didn't have a bookstore, just dollar stores that sometimes had books]. Gamer Guy came in one night. We caught up a little. Had been months since we'd seen each other. He had a job, was settling down some. Somehow the game cartridge came up, and the answer was so simple.

He had taken the game one day when visiting. Taken it and said nothing. And then he either sold it or hid it so well he knew I wouldn't find it when he visited [he was the sort to store his games in the open so people could see them]. At any rate, he purposefully took his game so that he could try and see if he could get some money out of me (he said as such, seemed to to think it was funny). And I was, outside of the rapist friend, the only other person I ever knew to hang out with him.

Bits that illuminate some of my history

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2014


BLOT: (03 Apr 2014 - 07:50:27 PM)

Two movies that aren't remakes but kind of feel like they could be...

Pop quiz. Which is weirder and/or worse? Jason Bateman in what feels awfully like an Adam Sandler movie, or Johnny Depp in a not-exactly-a-remake of Lawnmower Man? [click respective poster to watch trailer...]

vs

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: April 2014


BLOT: (29 Mar 2014 - 01:19:19 PM)

Ok, ok...my thoughts on Kickstarter

[sic]

I have backed 32 projects. I've backed my fair share of late and incomplete and poorly made products, and my fair share of early and exceeding-expectations and eye-opening products. My top three currently backed projects are [in no particular order] tremulus, Hillfolk, and Fate Core. All of them unlocked enough stretch goals to include lots of extra materials. I suspect the Chaosium projects (Call of Cthulhu 7 and Horror on the Orient Expres) and Privly will join this best-of list when they get released. For now, let's just say that I was a moderate participant in the site, and I have mostly tired of the way certain aspects are handled and so probably will never be as active again [while still backing those projects, likely RPGs, that get my attention]. I am not an expert on Kickstarter, but someone who has invested time and energy playing its games.

One thing Kickstarter is not is a site for "donations". Despite the tweet above, given in support of Oculus Rift being sold to Facebook, the word {donation | donor | donate} does not show up once in either the What Is Kickstarter? page or the Kickstarter Terms of Use page. It is not a charity organization. It explicity says it is not in its guidelines. Neither does the term {invest*} (it also explicitly bans selling "shares in the company" as being part of reward). What does show up are the words {fund*} [14 times in "What" and 21 times in "Terms] and {back*} [11 and 25]. And in the spectrum of things between investing and donating, "funding" and "backing" lean much more heavily towards the former. Then again, a backer is not expected to have any stake in the company (the opposite is the case, see above). They are not expected to be able to make demands outside of reasonable ones like excepting to get the rewards for their pledge levels, maybe. Besides getting the rewards and add-ons, rarely will a project going big benefit them. Back a novel and it sells well? You get the same ebook copy you would have gotten if had not sold at all.

Kickstarter is in the uncomfortable crossroads between giving someone money to make their dreams come true and getting reasonable value back for that money, with neither aspect guaranteed. It feels prone to taking advantage of the dreamer who thinks their product will finally make them rich and of the person who thinks they will be supporting the next wave of technology and getting amply rewarded in the meantime. Looking at any number of searches with terms like (but not limited to) "Why I'm disappointed in Kickstarter" or "Why Kickstarter is great" you find a lot of confusion about what the community represents, how to use it, how to take advantage of it [in both the positive and negative senses of the term], what it can do. Some of the biggest stalwarts aren't sure what they are playing with, and that's kind of crazy, this relatively late in the game.

Something I am pretty sure about is that crowdfunding as a concept will only grow bigger and better from here on out, while the Kickstarter model is already showing its age and limits, unless something tightens up. With big names using it to back vanity projects, and companies pushing a number of sales off-site to other payment venues, and infamous vaporware projects, and cases where stuff like shipping costs destroy a company structure, and in one case a creator destroying a successfully backed and produced product because he felt the attitude of the backers was all wrong: Kickstarter's not-quite-preordering system opens up a lot of doors for abuse.

If it pulled a little more to the "back the things you love without expectations" [what I suppose you could call the IndieGoGo model] or a little more to the "buy in at an early date" then I would be more in love with it. I might give, say, Ron Edwards, a few dollars just in general support and then buy what he Kickstarted when it gets released. Alternately, if I could simply pre-order the product, and be guaranteed a reasonable chance of completion, I would much prefer that.

Imagine a site, just like Kickstarter, without the often esoteric pledge levels and add-on confusion about who gets what, and instead having a more itemized business plan and timetable requirement that people could buy the exact things they want. For RPG X, I could buy the hardbacks, the advanced rules, the bonus worldbooks, and custom dice. Pay reasonable shipping on all of those things. Then chuck in some extra dollars in support. And if my total exceeds Level A, I get my name in the back of the book and if it exceeds Level B, maybe I get a t-shirt. And I'm reasonably assured of getting my product because the creators have already received estimates on printing costs and time-tables and that information is printed there on the site. I know there would be failures, especially in those cases where a company gets so much support that they do not have the infrastructure for it, but all things being equal I would rather be able to be smarter about what I back than merely trust a project creator's word that the amounts asked for are actually going to complete the project. And if the company does really well, and sells out to a bigger company, then it doesn't feel like I am owed anything, because I got what I was owed. The lines are drawn in the sand, right off.

And maybe it is simply best to let it stay a little anarchic, I really don't know, but it feels like Kickstarter is suffering at the edges for its own success, like many of its darling projects have already done.

Me Versus the Net

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2014


BLOT: (25 Mar 2014 - 09:29:32 PM)

Let's talk some horror literature news: Brian Keene to be awarded WHC Grand Master and Faber Finds to reprint more Aickman

Let me start out by being annoyed by this:

Look, I know Humble Bundle makes most of its money off of games, but them going "Oh, confused by books being on our front page? Well, don't panic civilians!" reminds me of the time, in my bookstore days, a woman snatched her book-wanting son out of the store with the exclamation, "Come on, you don't need a book, we're about to buy you a videogame!" Ah.

But let us not dwell on the nitpicks or the sighs, and instead look towards the hurrahs and the good jobs. First up on the hurrah list is applause to Brian Keene for being the 2014 World Horror Grand Master Award winner. I first got into Keene through Earthworm Gods, which remains [probably] my favorite of his longer works (with The Cage probably being my favorite of his shorter works) and have enjoyed pretty much everything of his that I have read. I am glad to see him get recognition. Not just for the written word, but for his active contributions to helping out the horror field in general.

The second hurrah is that with it being Robert Aickman's centenary, there are a few fun releases coming out. Faber & Faber are going to release "B Format" (I believe this means what we Yanks would call trade paperbacks) editions of four collections, with new covers. And Faber Finds will be releasing The Model and The Late Breakfasters, which especially excites me because I was pretty sure I would never get a chance to get affordable copies of those books. These are on top of all the high-quality hardcover Aickman books that Tartarus Press puts out, and the awesome Reece Shearsmith narrated audiobooks [I think they are exclusive to Audible].

The only quibble I have is that both of those covers are tapping unduly into the "haunted house" genre [by way of E.C. comics], a genre Aickman not so much avoided as rewrote in weird ways. People picking them up based on the cover alone might wonder where the ghosts are.

Horror

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2014


BLOT: (23 Mar 2014 - 02:30:58 PM)

In Fear [2013 Psychological Horror]

cast and crew. Starring Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, and Allen Leech. Written and directed by Jeremy Lovering. Soundtrack by Roly Porter and Daniel Pemberton. Produced by James Biddle and Nira Park.

gist. Tom and Lucy are on the way to meet friends at a festival when he springs a surprise side-trip to a hotel on her. Trying to find their way proves problematic, as backwoods roods crisscross and signs pointing to the hotel end up contradicting. Then something starts toying with them and Lucy sees a man out in the woods in a white mask [don't worry, this is not a Slendercopy]. When they come across Max, things turn for the worse, and someone or something, for some unknown reason, is playing a game of no certain rules nor outcome.

review. The first half of In Fear, which I would argue is the better half, is an indefinite thing ostensibly about a young not-quite-a-couple stuck down backwoods roads trying to find a hotel where lovemaking and safety can commence, and is partially a horror tale and partially an allegory about the tribulations of young love facing an uncertain future. Tension is built up without a release valve. The latter half, in which the movie turns much more run-of-the-mill, shifts it instead into a cat-and-mouse game with people who do not quite know each other, but who try and work together, facing off against a surprisingly omnipotent and omniscient opponent who works best when off camera and fails as a known thing. The camera-work and sound design and general interplay between Tom and Lucy are strong enough that you can nearly forgive any faults, at least. If only, you might say, they had played a slightly different puzzle with the heart. As for the ending, it will upset some and delight others, and is mostly worth discussion as to how it connects to the whole.

score. 5/8, +1 for those who like tight, claustrophobic shots, -1 for those who are irked by either improbable red herrings or too little conclusion..

commentary. There is enough that I need to spoil about this movie, that I want to put the spoilers in Rot13. Use that link right there to decode, or whichever tool you prefer: Gur zbivr ernyyl unf gjb urnegf, V srry. Rvgure gurer vf n fhcreangheny ryrzrag, juvpu vf obgu gur jrnxrfg naq qrrcrfg fbyhgvbaf, jurer Gbz naq Yhpl ner fbzrubj va n chetngbevny fgngr ercerfragvat fbzr hafcrpvsvrq jebat qrrq; be gurer vf ab fhcreangheny ryrzrag naq Znk vf fvzcyl na Vevfu Wvtfnj gung cresrpgyl pensgrq n fpranevb jurer n lbhat pbhcyr jbhyq pbzr gb n cho, trg va n ovg bs n gvss, frr fbzr jevgvat ba gur jnyy, naq gura sbyybj pbashfvat fvtaf cresrpgyl gb svg uvf arrqf naq gura fgbc naq cvpx uvz hc naq gura svaq gur ubgry naq gura qb rknpgyl jung ur arrqrq gb oevat nobhg uvf cynaf. Vg vf funyybj, vzcebonoyr, naq trarenyyl hafngvfslvat qrfcvgr nafjrevat zbfg bs gur dhrfgvbaf. Ng gur raq, jr frr ure cyhzzrg gbjneqf uvz naq xabjvat gung gur bcravat fgnegf jvgu n pne fznfuvat bire jr pna nffhzr gung fur raqf obgu bs gurve yvirf ng bapr, ohg ernyyl jr unir fb yvggyr pner nobhg guvf nfcrpg bs gur cybg gung raqvat gur zbivr ba vg zrnaf jr cebonoyl fubhyq unir orra pyhrq vagb gur zvaqtnzrf rneyl ba vafgrnq bs gelvat gb jbaqre ubj n zna pbhyq chyy ure unve bhg va gur jbbqf jvgubhg ure fb zhpu nf frrvat uvz (qba'g sbetrg, gur pnzren qvq abg frr uvz rvgure). N arne zvff bs n cybg, ohg fgvyy n zvff.

Horror Movies

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2014


BLOT: (22 Mar 2014 - 11:20:42 PM)

The quick and versatile bean burger technique [Vegan cooking]

The initial version of these came from Veganomicon, an overall great cookbook even if you don't care about the dietary choices. On page 98, they have a Black Bean Burger recipe. It is good, though it could be spicier, and we've had it before and enjoyed it. However, I realized that it was just a specific instance of a overall type of recipe. I've played with a few variations and have come up with a a more generalized class. I'll go for the quickest way, but there are lots of ways to tweak.

The basic set of ingredients [See notes a paragraph or two down]:

Drain the beans, but retain the liquid. Put beans in food processor along with other bits and 1/4 cup of the liquid from the can. Blend until mixed and anywhere from smooth [-ish, since beans tend to be fine-chunky at best] to chunky. Add in seasoning to taste. Put this in a bowl. Mix in gluten and filler. Stir a bit and then get your hands in and knead it for a good five or so minutes. Add in some more retained bean-water if you need to moisten or more filler if over moist. For lack of better descriptor, it will be about the consistency of soft play dough and not unduly wet to the touch [though just a tad moist].

Now, the notes for the above ingredients:

  1. You do not have to use a can. You can boil beans from dry and just use about two cups.
  2. There are potentially types that will not work but most standard beans will. I have tried it with black beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
  3. The "filler" can be any sort of starch type food that is absorbent and with a flavor pattern that will mix. I like potato flakes. The original recipe uses bread crumbs. You can also use corn meal, chickpea flour [also works, but makes a slightly stickier mix], panko, and so on.
  4. Seasoning amounts will vary between batches and between people, but about three teaspoons of total seasoning seems to work alright, though you can go higher or lower than that. Just remember, as you taste it in the processing stage, the beans will taste over-spiced in order for you to have a good blend at the end.
  5. The original recipe had half a small onion and a tablespoon [I think] of ketchup. I'd say you can push it up to about a cup or two cups of "other" [examples include spinach, mushroom, nuts, chopped vegetables, etc] before you start to break the recipe. I like a full cup of onion with another cup of whatever else feels like a good secondary mix to the bean. The ketchup is up to you, but it does work.

Now you have your "loaf", cut it up into four, five, or six equal parts. Take each equal part and roll it and knead it together for a moment and shape into a patty. At four, the above recipe makes kind of thick and big patties. At six, it makes kind of small ones. They store fairly well, though, once you cook them.

Fry in light oil. Baking would possibly work, but the frying does not take very much oil at all. You have to be kind of gentle with them. They do not fall apart, per se, but they do remain on the softer side. Flip every few minutes. Let a bit of a browning occur and then get the middle good and warm. When done, they will be kind of structurally strong, but soft in the middle. If you are a mouth-feel fiend, then maybe add some chopped mushroom or TVP or chopped nuts in after the processing stage so there is more texture in the mix.

And that's it. About ten minutes to prepare, about ten [or more, depending on heat and such] to cook.

This is what I used to make some this afternoon (ingredients pictured above):

Then just did as above and they were good. In hindsight, should have added a pinch more salt, some pepper, maybe some more curry powder, and a dash of lemon juice to spruce up the chickpea. They are very filling, more so than some of the pre-packaged veggie burgers, and can stick with you for a bit.

Up next, will probably try pinto burgers with maybe a good hot salsa motif.

Food

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2014


BLOT: (21 Mar 2014 - 09:32:56 PM)

Friday Horror Short 12, Lights Out

It starts off almost comical. A woman, alone in an apartment late at night, is getting ready for bed and turns out the lights. She sees a shape in the end of the hall. So she turns the lights back on. Then off. Then on. Then off. Then on. Then the thing gets closer, and she tapes the light switch to the on position. The humor dwindles, though, when she is in bed, later, and something starts moving in the hall, and the lamp in the room she is in starts flickering.

Like in several other horror shorts, the single female in an apartment at night in David Sandberg's "Lights Out" represents a moment of vulnerability, tied into the natural disquietude of the sounds right outside of hearing, and sights right outside of clarity. Also like nearly every other short I've seen in the strangely specific but well-represented "females in apartments when something weird happens" short film subgenre, the ending is a little bit of a bit-too-much. However, Sandberg justifies the whole thing by making the trip the terrifying bit. He does this, in part, by having two senses (hearing and sight) teased, and also by having Lotta Losten (originally wasn't sure about this, but yes it's her, and apologies for misspelling her name!) play the role in a near-comical, all-honest, everyman sort of way. Kind of like watching David Mitchell being eaten by zombies, you can feel it all the better for understanding what he is going through.

Friday Horror Short

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2014


Written by Doug Bolden

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