Virtual culture

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What instrument is the gentleman on stage playing?

I’ve recently been spending lunch hours exploring Second Life, a sort of MMORPG without the RPG. Initally, my fear was that I would become obsessed with it and log in whenever I had a moment. I needn’t have worried. Although it’s fun to customize your avatar and to fly, the novelty soon wears off. Once you’re past the tutorials and into Second Life proper, your impression is likely to be one of desolation. There’s plenty to see — elaborate buildings, shops full of clothing and curious things (need feline eyes or pink hair?), galleries of photographs — but there’s nobody there. You can join various groups or visit the popular places, but it is as hard in Second Life to connect with someone sharing your interests as it is offline.

It’s not a complete waste of time, though. There are frequent concerts, in which Second Life residents stream live performances while their avatars go through the motions on stage. Most are undistinguished — there are as many guys with thin voices strumming acoustic guitars in SL as in your local coffeeshops — but there are surprises. Earlier today, for instance, the Schumann Duo performed a selection of lighter classical fare ranging from Handel to the twentieth century. Clarissima played piano, and Kahuna oboe, English horn and Stanley Handyman saw — quite well, too. I’ve never much cared for the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria,” but playing Gounod’s melody on the saw does make it more palatable.

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There’s also ballet in Second Life, choreographed for avatars and performed live. I watched one yesterday. It was an interesting experiment, but I’m afraid not a successful one. Possibly with a superfast connection and a more powerful computer it would have been more watchable, but what I saw was too jerky to seem like dance — all keys and no tweens, so to speak — and I couldn’t make much sense of the choreography.

A curiosity I came across: the Dulcimer Museum, devoted to the late David Schnaufer.

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Miscellaneous notes

An unexpected Star Trek fan.

*****

I didn’t much care for Peter Jackson’s version of The Lord of the Rings, but it did make The DM of the Rings possible. Shamus is about to wrap the story up. It begins here. Shamus’ next project will be here.

*****

The first tune I heard Saturday morning was “Wipeout.” I also heard “American Pie,” some Jethro Tull and an a capella rendition of the riff from “Smoke on the Water.” Where was I?

Continue reading “Miscellaneous notes”

Find the regret

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This would ordinarily go on my other weblog, but the subject matter of “Zashiki Warashi,” the first arc of the current anime Mononoke ((Not to be confused with Mononoke Hime, or Princess Mononoke)), might make it of interest to some of my readers here. Set in Edo-period Japan, the story deals with a desperate, pregnant young woman seeking shelter at a crowded inn, and the the room she is eventually shown to by the inn’s owner. The inn was earlier a brothel, and the room has a grim history. The story involves masters taking advantage of servants, prostitution and abortion, and the spirits of unborn children figure prominently in it. Precisely what does happen in the second half is hard to tell — the storytelling and the art are highly sylized, both draw on Buddhist mythology, and much is shown symbolically rather than literally — but it is a horror story with considerable power nevertheless. (Detailed and spoiler-laden discussions of these two episodes can be found here and here.)

Further evidence of the decline of civilization

I rode out to the gigantic shopping mall on the east side of town for the first time in over a year this afternoon. There used to be two bookstores there. Today I found none. There were plenty of shoe stores, though. One of my ideas of Hell is a huge, crowded, noisy mall without a bookstore, and there it is. I doubt that I’ll ever go there again. (There is a Barnes & Noble nearby, but because of road destruction it is inaccessible to bicycles.)

Mundane and marvelous

Michiko Kakutani likes Harry Potter #7:

It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker. This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding-school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.

In doing so, J. K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s Oz or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe, which may be one reason the “Potter” books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis. With this volume, the reader realizes that small incidents and asides in earlier installments (hidden among a huge number of red herrings) create a breadcrumb trail of clues to the plot, that Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor.

Postscript: Although Kakutani is careful to avoid spoilers, her comments do imply an answer to one of the major questions in the series: does Harry ultimately survive? If you’re planning to read the book soon anyway, you might want to skip this (and other) reviews.

Good!Snape …

Evil!Snape.

(Via Galley Slaves and Ross Douthat.)

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Jonathan Last on Transformers:

Now that I have some distance, it occurs to me that Transformers is actually important in that it does something that’s never been done before–it is not just critic-proof, it is judgment proof. Michael Bay has created a work which simply cannot be held to any sort of standard: artistic, logical, moral, critical. He has made a movie which simply is. This is the Holy Grail of modern moviemaking, I think. It’s Hollywood’s version of a perpetual motion machine.

Too damn many words?

Lexicon Lost:

Last spring, Gilles de Robien, France’s Education Minister, declared that schools in suburban Paris would teach more grammar and vocabulary to integrate immigrants and prevent future riots. The British Minister of State for Schools, Jim Knight, immediately called this Frenchie rot. He insisted that grammar and vocabulary are elitist, and therefore are what cause youth riots.

*****

Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivivic
Would I could fathom thy matter specific
Lustily proud in the ether capacious
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

(Via a pretentious windbag.)

In the key of aarrrrrr

Kashi, alias the invisible CapnFlynn, artist and animator, formerly the proprietress of Synonyms and Sugar (one of the ten best-named weblogs ever), has illustrated a book, The Voyage to Ruin, by H.L. Trombley. According to the website,

For the sinking of her ship and the death of her lover, pirate Captain Franceline Drake seeks revenge on Captain Acheron Zeal of Her Majesty’s Navy. For her most terrible crimes against the ships of Camembert, Zeal pursues Drake across the seas and skies of the Quadra Terrarum. And in the midst of the intrigue and mystery, the fate of a man named Flynn Freeborn will follow in their wake.

If you think you’d might enjoy a “pirate adventure fantasy,” check it out. There’s further information here.