Sunday, September 30, 2007

Veni, Vidi, Venting

[Note: new caegory of blog posts -- "feh." This is just me airing random rancor. So feel free to skip this post unless you enjoy that sort of thing.] 

Two new things annoy the crap out of me. And since I can't call you up and vent, you'll have to settle for a bitchy little blog post.

First, I'm watching the OK HBO series, "Rome" on DVD. It's OK. I like historical, period pieces with great costumes and gratuitous nudity. No big set-piece battle scenes, even though it's about Caesar kicking Pompeii Magnus' bootox. No battles... just aides wandering in and telling the folks back in Rome, "Caeasar has won!" It's about as exciting a way to depict some of the greatest battles of history as is getting an email about... well... battles.

But that's now what I'm complaining about. Despite the lack of large-scale gore, for some reason on every disc in this series, the subtitles pop on for no reason in the middle of a scene. Right in the middle. Like, mid dialogue. Boop! All of a sudden, Mark Anthony has got letters up his toga. Which I then have to turn off using a four-button push sequence on my remote. We are annoyed.

Next in my list of Newest Trivial Gripes is lighted devices in movie theaters. Now that everybody's cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone, Smart Phone, etc. has a backlit screen, people checking their electronic proddings during the feature becomes... distracting. I've econountered a few folk who spent several minutes texting (I assume) during a movie, the liquid glow of their tiny screens taking me out of my special, distracted movie watching place. Same goes for whipping out the cell phone to check the call you just missed.

Last night, however, while seeing "The Transformers" with my son, I experienced the ultimate (so far) in glowing, egotistically annoying behavior: the blinking BlueTooth headset.

Some ding-dong in the front row wore his cell phone's little ear-piece thing-a-ma-bob throughout the entire movie... and every three seconds, it blinked. A lovely, bright blue mechanical lightning bug effect that made it just about impossible to watch the film. I eventually slouched down so far that the head of the nice man in front of me eclipsed the pulsing evil.

I haven't heard a cell phone ring in a movie theater in about five years, I think. People know to put them on vibrate, and the theater often reminds us to do so before the feature. That's great. Now we need to remind people to silence and veil their frippin' devices. "Please eclipse your various light emitting diodes and liquid crystal displays."


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Will enjamb for food

An interesting post over at Purple Motes about a street poet. Not a poet reciting his poetry on the street, but selling it sheet-by-sheet. Interesting.

Sometimes--depending on the occasion--when I'm asked, "What do you do?" I answer, "I'm a poet." Usually that gets a nice, blank stare. Then a response along the lines of, "No. Seriously." And then I chuckle and say, "Right. Seriously. I'm a poet." Which starts to get irritating; I admit this. I do it to remind people that we are not what we do from 9-5 (or 8-7). We are not the sum of our corporate selves. Sometimes. Some of us. Hopefully.

On a related note, I sold a poem. I've never sold one before (unless you could the 100 poems included in TaleWeaver). I've sold writing of mine, and have spent a decent chunk of my professional career being paid to write (ad copy, technical writing, brochure-ware, etc.). But that's different than someone specifically paying you for one poem.

What was the poem? I can't tell you. I can say it was a sonnet. I sold it off'n my Etsy store. The other things I've sold off there were two "Previous Life Bios for Your Cat."

Selling a poem like that was more meaningful, in many ways, than gigs I've made 100x the money off of. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New poem: Passing




the word eaten by wind
as I hold the heavy door
turn to catch a whiff
of brunette and hazel
and grey wool and

young young young
slight and slightly

for less time than it takes
swung glass to shut me in
her out
I forget my headache
my debt, dead, day

in scent
in vanilla
in baby powder
something something something

something young

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Differently Sorry, Jump-Me! and why rules should be broken

My folks bought my son the boardgame "Sorry" for his birthday earlier this month. Dan and I took it out the other night to play... and could not find the instructions. Well, the English instructions. The ones in Spanish were on a nice piece of paper floating in the box.

I don't speak or read Spanish, so... there you are. In typical Havens fashion, we decided to make up rules on the spot.

The details of the ones we made up don't really matter. They weren't spectacularly weird or wonderful... they used the number cards and the pieces in basically the manner perscribed by the game. But they were a bit funkier. [Note: later, when attempting to put the pieces back in the box upside-down, we discovered that the English rules were printed on the bottom-side of the smaller, inner cardboard box that holds the board. Had we not screwed up the puting-stuff-back procedure, we never would have found them.]

This isn't new for us. More than a year ago, we made up a version of "Reverse Checkers," that I refer to as, "Jump-Me!" The rules of checkers (at least as I've always played it) state that if you can jump an opponent's piece, you must. Well, hearing this, Dan and I came up with the idea for a game where you move, jump and king the exact same way... but where the winner is the one who maneuvers the other into eliminating all of his pieces; i.e., the one with no checkers left wins. A friend of mine, after hearing about this, referred to it as "Golf Checkers," since you want to have fewer pieces.

Years ago, while camping in the Berkshires, I had a good friend who worked at the camp. Warren and I would play all kinds of games, but our favorite was Risk. Problem is, with just two of us, Risk rules (as written) were less than optimal; the game really requires 3-6 players for any kind of strategic considerations. So we added a few twists of our own. We came up with "rogue state" rules where smaller, randomly developed nations/players could turn the tide of the game. We added navies and paratroopers. All kinds of stuff.

We also invented war games that used generic game elements that were always laying about; a deck or two of playing cards, dice, etc. We developed a very complex naval combat game using only two decks of cards and two six-sided dice. And a bunch of tables/charts about damage allocation. But it needed no board, as the position of the cards on the table relative to each other determined distances.

My point is basically this: games are great and fun and I love them. But if you're just playing games, you're missing out. You need to play with games as well. By farting around with the rules and coming up with alternate ways to play, you create something unique and possibly more entertaining. You think about meta-gaming, play balance, rule theory, etc. Even if you don't know you're doing those things, they are helpful creativity exercises.

So here's today's assignment: make up a game. Use an existing game like "Sorry," or pieces from several or many, or just a pen and some paper.

Last example: I've taught my son that whenever he plays rock-paper-scissors, he should skip those three and point a finger-gun at his opponent instead. Of course they'll have to redo the round. But it's funny and it points out the boundaries between metaphorical power and real power.

Plus, we all know that rock really beats paper, anyway...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You can't have margins without differences

Interesting discussion going on over at Terra Nova about the idea of academic tenure vs. business acumen.

The idea that a tenured professor is necessarily a good teacher is as laughable as the idea that a VP is necessarily good at managing people. In many cases in both academia and the business world, the skills necessary for advancement are often be quite separate from the skills necessary for mastery.

I had great English professors at Cornell; I went there specifically because the undergrad writing program was widely praised as one of the best in the country. The profs could write (many were widely published novelists, writers for the screen, poets, etc.) and could teach. In some of my other classes... not so much. I remember specifically a _______ professor who was hired for publishing cred, but who may have been the worst teacher I've ever known. Friends of mine in the major said that it was a total coup to have gotten this prof... but I dropped the class because her pedagogical technique consisted of asking questions, nodding while you answered, and then slamming you for being totally wrong. This was in a Freshman intro course, which should be a place to get kids interested in a subject, not a forum for constant haranguing.

On the flip side, I've known people in business who are great teachers. Some have had actual classroom experience, some are just gifted.

The problem is (and may always be) that rigid authority isn't particularly good at the margins. And the margins are often where the most interesting work takes place.

I teach history of advertising (and have taught marketing) as an adjunct professor at the Columbus College of Art and Design (, one of the best fine arts colleges in the country. They specifically design their overall curricula to bring in business people from a variety of related industries in order to broaden the exposure of the students to people "not like them;" ie, not artists.

I am by no means an artist. I write and do some decent layout... but these kids are truly talented artists. Why should CCAD hire a non-artist, non-teacher to come in and yap and them? Why should my course be required for students in the advertising major? Because I look a lot like what their bosses will look like. They will do better having spent some time around a budget-conscious, client-side, results-focused project manager type goon.

Which brings me to my actual point: good organizations (in both academia and business) need to think about the *overall* goals more, in addition to the specific requirements of a particular position.

If you're teaching game design and have a faculty of 12 and none of them have industry experience... hmmm... might be a bit unbalanced on the academic side. If you're a business and you have nobody on your staff with some higher larnin'... you probably aren't going to push some interesting envelopes.

The margins where disparate areas touch are often the most fertile for creativity. If you only have one kind of person in your gang, you ain't got no margins. Diversify to succeed. 

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New poem: Dry



When the ocean fled
we were left with many dead

That Wednesday (Thursday in Japan)
when the seas just up and ran
the fishermen in fallen hulls
had one or two good raking days
of harvest. Bloated gulls
were everywhere and gorged
on mundane bass and trout
and monstrous, deep trench horrors
eye-stalks poking out
of yellow, running beaks.

What had been beach
was now just sandy path between
two dirt worlds
no spray, no salt, no scene
but earthy, constant fixity.

And you won't sing for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The tragedy of booklessness

Another fine post (a bit aged; my bad) from Purple Motes, this time about the decline in literary reading in the U.S. The news comes from an NEA report, "Reading at Risk."

The short version is summed up by the table below:

Literary Reading by Sex
(% reading in given year)


1982 1992 2002
Women 63.0% 60.3% 55.1%
Men 49.1% 47.4% 37.6%


So... literary reading is down about 10% since 1982; men read 17.5% less than women; and only about a third of men read literary books.

Put it in reverse: two-thirds of men don't read literature.

Now, some other data I've seen indicates that reading, in general--both online and in books-- is up a bit. But that's not necessarily "literary reading," is it? Reading magazines, blogs, etc. is great. But there is a certain something to reading "books" that doesn't translate from other types of reading. So... who cares about novels?

My wife and I have a qualification for many of the people we meet whom, while nice, probably won't be hanging out with us or vice versa. We simply say to each other, "They don't read." And by that we mean, usually, books. Novels. Literature. I remember when, at a much younger age, I sold magazines by phone in order to help make ends meet. Our manager/trainer gave us tips on what to say to counter various objections to a sale. "If someone says, 'I don't read,'" he told us, "Sell 'em TV Guide."

Just because everyone can read, not everybody reads, apparently.

My major was literature and writing. The idea of a life without novels is... well... frightening. What do people do with their brains if they aren't (ever) reading? I wonder. What characters are in there and what dialogue? What is a life without the joy of great, written tales?

Two-thirds of men don't read. Wow. That just scares the crap out of me. I'd almost rather know that two-thirds of men cheat on their wives or steal from the poor box.

And I'm not a high-brow when it comes to lit. I like some tone in my tome, but I also read "fun" stuff. Lots of fun stuff. Some fun stuff that's also pretty tone-y. That's the point; read lots and figure out what you like and why. Talk about it with friends. Loan and borrow books. Add more books than you could possibly read to your Amazon (or WorldCat) list.

My son has a touch of dyslexia; the only thing he gets from his mom that I regret ;)  The blue eyes, blonde hair, engineering knack and gorgeous smile are some of the bonuses. He does OK at reading out-loud, but reading to himself is still, at the age of 8, a bit painful for him. I can't imagine, though, what his like might be like if he doesn't eventually end up with the deep love of reading my wife and I share.

So... the question becomes: how do you get people to read literature who have not? Because, really... it's one of life's greatest joys. Missing out on it is like... well... it would suck. 

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Link bias

A couple different blogs in my stream have pointed me to the Conservapedia. The blog posts make for some fun reading; the consensus seems to be that the Conservapedia is real -- i.e., the whole thing isn't a hoax -- but that many of its entries have been, er... spanked. And some... well it's hard to tell. As you might expect, the articles on the Republic Party and Christianity fair better than those on Democrats and evolution.

None of which I really care about, as it's pretty much what you'd expect, including the hoaxing and vanadlism. Just another day on teh Intranets.

What I found interesting, though, was that, in bouncing around a couple of the political entries, it's clear that Democrats are bracketed by Republican links, but not the other way around. For example,Bill Clinton's entry says:

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (August 19, 1946 - present) served as the 42nd President of the United States of America from 1993-2000, following George H. W. Bush and preceding George W. Bush.

With links to George HW and W in the text accordingly. But George HW's intro says:

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924-present) is a World War II veteran who served as the 41st President of the United States of America, serving January 20, 1989 - January 20, 1993.

Links to Clinton only in the standard reference box. Same with Dan Quayle...

James Danforth "Dan" Quayle (1947 - ) was the Vice President under  George H. W. Bush. Prior to being elected Vice President, he was a member of Congress. Quayle is a loyal conservative Republican and advocate for traditional values. Quayle was the first chairman of the National Space Council and the head of the Council on Competitiveness.

vs. Al Gore:

Albert "Al" A. Gore, Jr. was the 45th Vice President of the United States (1993-2001) succeeding Dan Quayle and succeeded by Dick Cheney, following service in the House of Representatives and the Senate, spanning 1977-85 and 1985-93, respectively.

Now, obviously the text is going to have a conservative bias; it's called the Conservapedia, for the love of Mike (Dukakis). But it's a testament to how real and important linking has become that our little <a href>s must also bend to the prejudice of our views.

Not a big deal. Just another data point.