Saturday, February 23, 2013


We love freedom. It’s a pillar of Western society. For all intents and purposes, we worship the idea that our actions shouldn’t be constrained. Being prevented from doing something we want to do, particularly when our want is pretty much harmless, is anathema. So why is it I can’t just jump to the “Play” option on my freaking DVDs?

Oh, no, instead I’m told “Operation prohibited by disc.” Or the little “forbidden” symbol, the ol’ crossed-out circle, appears in the corner. Or the screen flashes with a mocking caricature of the Batman villain Joker, laughing at me. Whatever mechanism the DVD player chooses to use, they all mean the same thing: my freedoms have been curtailed. I’m forced to sit through previews I don’t want to see, the FBI’s warning (which I know by this point nearly as well as my Miranda rights, even though I’m a Canadian citizen, and neither the FBI OR Miranda apply to me), and/or a cautionary tale about how any viewpoints I’m about to witness don’t belong to the production company and are the sole responsibility of the overpaid actor spouting them. Worse yet, I might see the classic characters of “Casablanca” co-opted into a morality tale about the evils of video piracy. I don’t do the piracy thing, but that particular ad is so irritating, I almost want to start just to spite it. As an additional kick to the berries, every DVD uses a different method for avoiding the opening act. Fast forward, skip-a-scene, Menu… they’ve all been used, and in varying ways, sometimes on the very same disc. Escaping the preamble almost requires the manual dexterity of a pre-pubescent playing Mortal Kombat. (Menu-FF-Play-Skip-Menu-Circle-Up-Up-Down.) Nor can you just walk away for ten minutes (twenty minutes if it’s a Disney DVD; wow, they self-promote) and come back with your “Play” option cheerfully flashing because SOME DVDs (not all, oh no, no consistency here) just start playing on their own, so you show up into the opening scenes. Nor does just skipping back from this point always work, either; I’ve had at least two different movies counter this simple move by skipping me ALL the way back, to the very beginning (“March of the Penguins”, I’m looking at you!). What the heck, guys?

In the old days (yes, the glorious ancient times of the 80s), you put a video into your VHS machine and could freely fast forward through all the crud you didn’t want to see. I was never, not once, forbidden from pressing Fast Forward and having that option work. This just seems like a petty, sad way to force a captive audience to watch things they don’t want to see. How far from this, I wonder, until we’re all Winston Smiths being subjected to 1984-esque “can’t-shut-em-off” telescreens?

I suppose the easiest thing to do is just avoid legally purchased DVDs and Blu-rays, acquiring my entertainment in the shady alleys of the internet like everyone else seems all too happy to do. Time to buy an eye-patch and a parrot. If you don't water the tree of liberty with the gigabytes of users and servers every so often, the whole thing just withers right up.

To take a page from the United States Government, we won’t call it “piracy” anymore. Instead we’ll be accessing and sharing “freedom files.” It even uses alliteration, so it’ll be sure to catch on.

One man’s rebel is another’s freedom fighter. (See? Alliteration. It really works.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

To nob or not to nob

I doubt very much the driver of the Kia Sorrento who darted in front of me yesterday reads my blog. However, if he does, I want him to know that he’s a dripping nob. I hope the wheels fall off his car while he sleeps (thereby keeping down the potential for collateral damage; I’m a considerate dispenser of curses). Unfortunately, as with most nobs, he’s almost certainly blissfully unaware of his nobhood, and no one he hangs out with will clue him in because a) they are all nobs cut from the same cloth as he, or b) he’s only a nob when he can be safely anonymous (as in traffic) and therefore no one knows the extent of his closet nobbiness.

Of course at one time or another, we’ve all been nobs. Even Mother Theresa every now and then left the juice carton in the fridge with just a bare film on the bottom rather than have to lug herself downstairs and open a fresh one. And you know Ghandhi himself didn’t always take out the trash without being asked. No one’s perfect. My only real claim to virtue is that while I’ve often been a nob myself, I’m usually aware I’m being a tool (I stress “usually;” again, no one’s perfect). If I cut someone off in traffic, I hang my head in shame and give them the apology wave. What more can I do, really?

Herein lies my real beef with Mr. Sorrento. The road ahead of us was squeezing down from two lanes to one. He could have easily tapped his breaks and slid into the half-block gap behind me. Instead he accelerated and wanted to get into the five-car-length gap AHEAD of me. So be it. I could have blocked him easily enough. Certainly the urge was there (see? I’m a nob, but I KNOW it). Instead I allowed him to cut in line rather than play chicken. My real beef isn’t that he slightly inhibited my forward momentum with his silvery cross-over, it’s that he offered me no wave. No gesture from him was made in gratitude of my courtesy. When someone lets you in, you give them the wave of acknowledgement. That’s the rule. Everyone knows it. So I can only conclude that, since he DIDN’T wave, he’s a nob, and a dripping one at that.

Mr. Sorrento belongs to the same category of ass-hats who sidle up beside you at a red light and then stamp on the gas pedal to drag-race in front of you in order to make a lane-change when they could just as easily (and far more politely) have let you go and slip into the gap behind you. This is Brandon, after all, not Vancouver: it’s considered a “traffic jam” here if you have to wait through one left-turn light. In spite of the near-guarantee in this town of always having space to lane-change, the drivers here live in a weird state of phobic paranoia that the only chance they have--the ONLY ONE--to get left, EVER, will be through your front bumper, and it’s only your own damn fault if you don’t tap the brakes quickly enough to avoid the collision.

I was debating about turning this post into a more universal bewailing of the loss of courtesy in civilized society, when it dawned on me that there’s NEVER been courtesy in civilized society, so whining about how it’s all going down the crapper is pretty stupid. Read personal accounts of history, and one thing they have in common is how they all believe good manners are going to hell-in-a-handbasket. The truth is, we all behave just as badly as we believe we can get away with, and the only real difference between a nob and an upstanding citizen is how well they judge where the line between the two exists.

So, to Mr. Sorrento, I say this: you crossed that line, buddy. Now all you need to do is park in my driveway and have your dog crap on my lawn to make it a perfect hat-trip of nobbery.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Forever Nerd

How long have nerds been among us?

If you define “nerd” to mean anyone slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits, I suspect somewhere as far back as the days of Neanderthals, a father became confused and disappointed in a child stubbornly disinterested in clubbing game and skinning carcasses. Long before glasses could be used as an identifying marker, this poor young Neanderthal might have blended in physically with his peers, but as soon as camp-fire activities turned to wrestling and grunting about sexual conquests, he would have been searching for a way out. Granted, his options for “intellectual pursuits” would have been slender, but the enterprising nerd always finds a way. Was he an amateur entomologist, counting legs on bugs and hence making the miraculous discovery that spiders and ants were different? Did he collect leaves? Animal poop? (Probably not; traditionally nerds don’t like to get dirty.)

In spite of all expectations, this ancient nerd somehow managed to hook up and procreate, passing his genetic tendency to think rather than do. (Yes, I know Neanderthals became extinct, but they’ve contributed genetic material to modern humans, so they are, in a way, still with us.)

Fast-forward to 2nd century BC in Egypt. Intellectual and academic pursuits abound for our nerd sub-culture. Was one of them table-top gaming? I like to think so. Witness the proof:

That’s right. It’s a twenty-sided die. It’s made of serpentine and looks to be in really good condition (which makes sense, of course; what nerd doesn’t take meticulous care of their nerd paraphernalia?). The MET in New York has its grubby hands on it, though it isn’t currently on display. (Do you suppose it’s being used for late-night games by the curators? Hope so.) The thing is 2000 years old, give or take, which makes it a darn sight more historic than the pale-blue, blank-faced dice I still have, the ones where you had to fill in the numbers with crayon scrapings.

The specific purpose the d20 served is open to interpretation, of course, but I like to think it was used by a circle of Egyptian nerds to make attack rolls against imaginary versions of monsters they might actually have believed in. How many sphinxes, three-legged crows, and griffins died at the minds of these Egyptian gamers? Questions abound, of course. What was the Egyptian equivalent of Mountain Dew or potato chips? Did they score critical hits on 20s, just like we still do? Was there a cultural right-wing group of fanatics opposed to their fellow citizens pretending to be pharoahs and Anubis on the grounds that it was heretical and would damn them all to the Netherworld? Did these Egyptian nerds get sneered at by Egyptian athletes? Was the female Egyptian nerd the rarest of all creatures?

Out of curiousity, I did an internet search on the origins of the name “Gygax.” Could it be Egyptian? Was he channeling some ancient Egyptian mojo when he helped devise D&D? (He certainly seemed to use some ideas strange enough to justify possession.) Sadly, Google tells me the name is predominantly Swiss in origin, though that doesn’t preclude the idea that Gary G got his hands on something ancient, something forbidden, something “man was not meant to know,” and hereby invented the wonderful and all-too-addictive hobby of table-top gaming. Certainly the thing has been a blessing and a curse for me. Yes, it’s given me countless hours of entertainment, but it’s also true that if even half of the hours I’ve spent on gaming had been used for other activities, I could have a half dozen doctorates. Or a billion dollars. Or be a concert pianist. Or maybe all of the above. (What I’m saying is, I’ve spent a lot of time gaming.)

I regret nothing. Carpe nerd!