First Day of 3D Printing

I started working with a 3D printer for the first time today. Developing specific classroom uses is the long(er) term goal, but today was focused on getting the hang of the basics.

The basics included a lot of pretty mundane stuff, mostly focused on getting files from the computer to the printer, managing settings, and getting the print off the bed. That last task requires a utility knife, which I had in my office. So pro tip fellow historians: always have a utility knife on hand.

Over the next few days as time allows I want to start experimenting with Smithsonian 3D images. Looking forward to seeing where that goes, beyond life masks of Abraham Lincoln.

Teaching and Technology

I could have named this post “Teaching and Technology, part 82.” Or part 1. In theory this site is coming back as part of a more concerted attempt by me (can one person’s efforts be “concerted”?) to write about technology in my teaching more.

There are a couple of things to get started on this week:

  • Two short episodes for History Respawned. Bob and I have been discussing moving to frequent short episodes and my workload has been interrupting my production for a while now. I look forward to writing on the process a bit more as I work on them this week.
  • I am beginning prototyping on a small 3D Printer. More of this soon, but for now I am looking at possibilities in a college history class. So far this has amounted to… learning a bunch about Fusion 360.

Updates forthcoming!

Return of the Blog

I have been blogging for many years and I have written far, far too many of these posts. I am back. Again.

I have genuine excuses this time! Young children and work. But still. I’m moving things around a little. I will continue to keep this as a personal site, but I am hoping to keep talking about video games and education, particularly as those ideas inform my own teaching and research. Expect posts soon on making videos for History Respawned and on experiments with 3D Printing. I am excited.

Quick Thoughts on The International 7 Grand Final

I have been thinking, for what seems like forever, about writing some history articles on esports, specifically DOTA 2. Watching The International Grand Final tonight, a specific similarity struck me; Newbee, favourites to win the best of five series, looked absolutely decimated after losing the first two games. Their body language was terrible, especially when compared to their opponents Team Liquid, who seemed loose and enthusiastic. It mirrored similar things I’ve seen watching sport my whole life: one team was shocked, stunned… waiting to be beaten. The other team was in the groove and probably could not even imagine losing. People turn these situations around all the time of course, but it’s not easy.

I was not stunned when Newbee went down in the third game (though a sweep was certainly shocking in the broader sense). They had already been beaten. They had the look I’ve seen on athletes’ faces again and again and again. In this little moment whatever barriers exist between traditional sport and esport ideologically or otherwise melted away for just a little while. It’s these little linkages that intrigue me. Up to now I have been mostly interested in looking at how DOTA, LOL and more recently Overwatch’s nascent economic structures either mimic or fail to mimic the early origins of professional sport. In particular I am interested in notions of national competition in esports versus traditional popular sport. In this particular regard newly crowned champions Team Liquid are particularly interesting: the team is North American, but the actual players were not, coming from Europe and the Middle East.

A lot to chew on, really. In short, it was a great tournament and well worth your time. We spend a lot of time talking about the prize money (the five members of Team Liquid now have to split ten million US dollars between them) but with each year that passes the championship feels more prestigious. This rings true when you see Chinese teams that under-performed in majors all year suddenly show up, and it comes home when you watch the increasingly more impressive video reviews of and callbacks to previous tournaments. This feels established now.

Video Games Criticism…

Don’t panic, this is short.

A lot of folks on Twitter and across the Internet today are talking about a video posted by popular YouTuber Videogamedunkey that supposedly calls out the video games journalism industry for its various follies, weaknesses and inequities.

It’s rather bad, really. His main complaint at the outset is that large websites such as IGN do not have cohesive voices that unite all of their coverage, as, for example, certain YouTube critics do. Conveniently enough.

I am completely bored with this entire conversation, and I have tried to write about issues in video game coverage before, and failed to do particularly well. This particular critique has a lot of weaknesses in its central assumptions; honestly, if you’re upset that IGN’s coverage of video games is not very good, I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s not exactly news. Beyond that, this video completely misses the central fissure between video game writing’s origins as consumer focused trade writing and attempts by some in more recent years to write about the medium more critically. When is video games writing Kelley’s Blue Book and when is it New York Review of Books?

There is room for both and there always will be both. This particular set of complaints, and many of the comments on the video, is uninspired and misses a lot of points, which rather undermines some of his points that have some validity (which Philip Kollar clearly identifies). I should write about this some more when I have more energy and a little distance, but in short: I’m much more interested in meaningful and interesting evolutions of video games writing than I am in taking down the enshrined hierarchies of corrupted or otherwise negligent video game writing, a concept both naive and obvious.

I moved my blog!

I have migrated my blog from one hosting solution to another, and it seems as good a time as any to start writing again. It’s been a tough couple of months, though with good personal news making me busy, thankfully.

The migration resurrected old thoughts of mine on Dune (an odd but extremely good book) and Timecop (it’s Timecop) and put them at the top of the feed. My site is apparently now called “Site Title”, a new label I was very tempted to keep.

In any case, I have thoughts and you will just have to read them. Come on by and say hello.

The First Two Hundred Pages of Dune

I tried to read Frank Herbert’s Dune so many times. So many times. I always got about thirty or forty pages in and just kind of fell away.

I’m on page 207.

This is a fairly major victory for me. I can’t really recall why I never got this far before. I was always attracted to the fiction and I have been pointed in the direction of the novel again and again by people with similar tastes to my own. Reading through the first two hundred pages though, I think I can hazard a few guesses.

The book is slow. Very, very slow. This is by no means a bad thing, but I think it was a large part of what put me off for so long. You’re effectively thrown in to the middle of a plot with massive amounts of back story, much of which is inferred and the rest left to your imagination. This is actually pretty cool. It shows a huge amount of respect for the reader. Ultimately though, my interest has held this time because I’m completely fascinated by the feudal houses in space angle more than anything else. I am intensely curious about the various inter-galactic conspiracies and serpentine politics, but I’m holding on purely because the whole idea of space duels and poison intertwined with futuristic technology is really compelling.

I don’t like Paul Atreides. I can’t stand him. I get that he’s only a teenager, but his sudden prescience (at the point that I am at in the book) makes him even more frustrating. He’s incredibly obnoxious. I’m saddled with a protagonist I can’t stand surrounded by characters that I find absolutely riveting. Kynes in particular, and to a lesser extent the Baron Harkonnen, grip me completely on every page. Then I’m back to Paul Atreides meditating on the fact that he is the messiah.

The constant interior monologue of every single character in the book is almost comical.

“Good morning” said Paul. He thought of all the things that this morning could have brought, and looked at his mother with a sense of despair and unfiltered antipathy.

“What do you want for breakfast?” Jessica asked. She thought of all the times this question must have been asked throughout the millennia across the galaxy. But here was Paul, asking this question now! What if he was to ask for Cheerios?

“Cheerios” said Paul. His mind turned to thoughts of the future turned back on itself and the notion of the milk’s sell-by date, so inconsequential in the meaning of life.

“Okay” said Jessica. Ah! The boy’s mind is keen!

Thing is, I have grown to absolutely love this feature in the text. It’s astonishing that Herbert has thought through every facet of each of his characters. The personalities are so well thought out and so believable that the inner monologues add hugely to the story. If Herbert had in any way undercooked his characters or taken some shortcut, the book would be unreadable. However, the book is utterly fascinating. Early in the novel, the reader is flat out told the mechanics of an upcoming and extremely important plot twist, but the majority of the characters have no idea what is coming. The fact that Herbert pulls this off so well is phenomenal. Being dropped in the middle of this massive universe, at first hugely disorienting, has presented me with a driving motive to push on with this book, and no doubt fire through the sequels as fast as I can. I want to learn more about this galaxy and the imperial seat and the source of all this intrigue, and the eventual results.

I still find Paul Atreides really annoying.

A Brief Rumination on Timecop

I turned on the television today, and for whatever reason, Timecop was playing. It probably started at around four in the afternoon. Why not? There is probably a demographic for which a 4pm showing of Timecop is perfect. I decided not to watch more than a few minutes. I got some Ron Silver bon mots and a couple of forced one liners from Jean-Claude himself (it’s really stunning how frequent they shoehorned those in) and went about the rest of my evening. I wasn’t in the mood, though I do like Timecop a lot. It reminds me of that feeling I had watching action films in my teens, when I was already old enough to know better but didn’t care. It reminds me of watching action films in my twenties, when the whole point of watching the film was to joke about how ridiculous it was. Overall, I enjoy films like Timecop on a lot of different levels. In some ways, I actually consider it to be pretty good.

As Jean-Claude Van Damme films go, it’s a masterpiece. The setting really works in its favour. As I explained to my wife while we watched Ron Silver and the Muscles from Brussels match wits, Jean-Claude Van Damme with a decent haircut is happy, with a beautiful wife and a bright future. Jean-Claude with a mullet is burnt out and spends his life going day to day with nothing on his mind but justice. This is the kind of film that uses a mullet to evince characterization. Go for it, I say. It’s fun. It’s goofy. The dialogue is terrible. But it has Ron Silver. It’s a film about policemen who travel through time and a corrupt senator who is travelling through time illegally to fund his run for president. In this context, Jean-Claude seems almost reasonable. Almost.

Then, however, it dawned on me. I feel silly for not noticing this before, especially considering the fact that I saw both films shortly after release, but…

Timecop came out three years after Terminator 2.

Three years!

Now, obviously people shouldn’t just give up making action films because Terminator 2 was amazing. It puts things in context though. Timecop is an early 1990s film in that really-seems-like-the-1980s kind of way. Mullets, bad music, evil fat cats… there’s probably a Vietnam War veteran in there somewhere. I can’t remember. I’ll have to go and watch Timecop again. It’s the only way to be sure. Timecop seems like a film made a full decade earlier than Terminator 2. It’s astonishing they were made within such a short span at all.

There are clear disparities of course involved in each production. Budget, writing, giving a crap about making a decent film… To be fair though, all this does is remind us how amazing Terminator 2 really was. Go and watch Commando. I’ll wait.

Ok, it’s pretty great right? Feeding the deer at the start, just killing lots of people for no reason, his name is John Matrix. Notice how ridiculous Schwarzenegger is: he’s a cultural artifact more than anything else.

Anyway, now go and watch Terminator 2.

Holy crap, right? It’s bloody amazing. Let’s go ahead and watch it again.

Yes! What a great film. What an astonishing action film. So quotable, so intense, so wonderfully paced… Amazing.

So why on earth have I ever watched Timecop at all, let alone more than once? Well. Van Damme, clearly. This is a guy who would do the splits at some point in the film. That was his thing. It makes me wonder, do we have any figure like that now? Not really. Maybe Keanu Reeves, in a weird way. Bruce Willis has transitioned from being the action star you could take seriously to an actor who occasionally makes films that remind you he used to be an action star. Now, he’s something else entirely.

I feel like we’re in a fallow period for Timecop-like films. A big part of it is hindsight I suppose, but I do worry. I mean, the Transformers films are just garbage. I hear the Universal Soldier sequels get pretty ridiculous, but does that count, seeing as the franchise started with a Van Damme classic? I’m not sure really. Maybe my standards have improved.

Nah, it can’t be that.

A Failed Attempt at Dr. No

I don’t like Bond films. I lasted a few minutes into Dr. No as part of an honest attempt to see where the appeal lays with this character and his endless shagging adventures. The latest Netflixpocalypse was on the horizon and I wanted to give the film a fair chance. But yet again, as has happened often before, I got bored and lost interest. I don’t quite recall what was happening when I gave up on the film. That was a major part of the reason that I gave up.

Now, I really don’t like negative articles. I mean, writing negatively can be fun if you have a bit of joy in it. Mocking the Twilight films is, for example, an almost victimless crime: Twilight fans will refuse to countenance my opinions (or acknowledge that I am joking in a mostly constructive manner) while I sincerely doubt anyone thinking of watching an entry in the series will be put off by an adult male blogger detailing the psycho-surreal nature of his enjoyment of the films in opposition to their intended message or aesthetic. No, I think I’m on fairly safe ground making fun of Twilight films, as if you like the films that much you really shouldn’t be offended because in essence your first reaction is correct: I don’t know what I’m talking about. At least not in any manner that would fit your definition of literacy in Twilight fiction.

That’s not meant as a cop out, it’s meant as explanation. I don’t get it. So, when I state that I don’t get it, it means that I well and truly do not understand the appeal. I’m not making judgements on individuals that do enjoy it or do get it. Thus I come back around (finally) to Bond.

I just don’t get Bond. Maybe it’s his arch-Britishness. I’m not sure. There’s something about the Bond films that just seems so homely and lacking in the glamour they supposedly have. Tacky, really. I’m no snob when it comes to older films, and I am very aware that fashion has changed throughout the decades. I don’t dislike Bond because I think it’s cheap. I dislike Bond because I think that it feels cheap.

For example, take the assassination that opens Dr. No: it’s fantastic, really. The marvelous opening credit sequence gives way to the three blind men pottering around Kingston, Jamaica. Their assault on the British secret agent is really rather wonderful; I’d be surprised to see a character removed in that manner today, with his final act on screen something so banal as reaching for something in his car with the camera looking on from inside the car. The three actors playing the assassins pop into view like something out of a cartoon. It’s fantastic. It’s cool. I’m beginning to believe, as Morpheus would say, his temples throbbing.

But then something happened. I had never realized that Bond’s habit of supplying his surname before his Christian name was initially a response to an alluring female opponent in a game of Blackjack. Still cool. Still interested. Then Bond visits M, flirting with Ms. Moneypenny on the way in and I’m reminded…

I’m reminded that I really don’t like this character at all. I just can’t get on board with it. I know it was a different era and I know that Bond has moved on as a character since then but I can’t shake how uncomfortable the whole setup makes me feel. There’s just something so backwards and boring about his manliness. The action always feels subpar, the sexual innuendo more frustrating that fun, and not because I’m sexually frustrated but because it all seems so pointless and needlessly patronising. I know a large part of Bond’s appeal is that he is an embodiment of the “tall, dark and handsome” archetype but I can’t help but think of him as a bit of a pratt. Leaving the pistol he’s been ordered to use in place of his beloved Beretta with Moneypenny was quite cool, but it was too late. I’d had quite enough of watching men with upper crust accents discuss strategy before heading out to pinch a few bums. I’m done.

Now, again, let me stress: I’m not trying to be a negative jerk about this. Bond just doesn’t do it for me. He may well do it for you. Lord knows the series has millions of fans. I don’t write in my blog to rant at the world. To be perfectly honest, I’m rather disappointed: I had assumed that watching some of the classics would finally turn me on to what I’d been missing. I couldn’t even get half an hour into what I understand to be one of the true classics. How on earth would I manage to get through some of the more mixed efforts? Then again, perhaps I’d like them. It’s entirely possible I imagine that I will one day sit down to write a “Dalton the best Bond” article. Then again maybe not.

So why write about it at all, then? Well, I’m fascinated by the disconnect. I mean, I understand why I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music: it’s not intended to perform the function that I ascribe to music. Taylor Swift fans participate in an entire culture, that of being a Taylor Swift fan. The music is secondary, if that. No, the Bond films are more confusing because they are more difficult to dismiss. Many people like them, and for different reasons, with differing levels of acceptance of the films’ various flaws. Some insist there are none, some find the flaws to be part of the overall positive experience.

And I’m missing out. I just don’t get Bond, and frankly I wish I did. It’s just too old, too sexist, too boring, too oddly comfortable with glorifying the British elite. It’s just not my thing. 

Missives from back pages and ones closer to the front

At the risk of this becoming another entry in a genre I continually declare to relinquish forever, that being of the blog post centered on the problem of my lack of writing, I wish to write for just a little bit on my lack of writing.

Rather, I want to just try something new, specifically my latest attempt to just write something without it needing to be something good or something clearly functional. Although I have more than enough ideas to write five such posts a week, well… I’m not writing them. So here we go, a little miscellany of ideas from my brain to keep this poor little blog alive in attention and imaginary pennies for another day.

This is at least partly, by the by, influenced by my reading quite some time ago now of Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, comfortably my favourite thing of anything he has written, a collection of articles he wrote one year on the things he was reading. I have recently somehow found the time to read beyond the boundaries of the classes I am teaching this semester, and I have thoughts on such things, with many blog posts planned. Planned but not written. I’ve always liked the idea of writing about my reading, if only because it will in theory force me to read more. So for now, allow me to share:

    • I read Neuromancer! Why the exclamation mark, you may ask? I, like many people who read, have a pretty significant backlog of books that I have bought with every intention of reading (or in the case of Dickens re-reading) but have not. My success not just in beginning Neuromancer but actually finishing it is thus extremely rewarding, or at least creates associative feelings of such achievement in my brain.

 

    • I liked Neuromancer! Why the exclama… I did that bit already. Actually, I was not at all sure I would like Neuromancer after a couple of pages, and was if anything less sure sixty pages later. It did just enough to keep me, though (I am an extraordinarily willful and fickle reader these days, shorn of all guilt by fatherhood, work and other important things) and by the time I finished it I was very happy indeed.

 

    • I was particularly struck by elements of the novel that are noticeably cliched in a 2017 context but of course were not in 1984, largely thanks to William Gibson’s success in foreseeing our use of virtual space (or cyberspace, to use Gibson’s word) and his immense influence on so much work to follow, particularly in the cyberpunk genre which he basically invented. Or helped invent. It was intriguing how quickly I recognized my initial frustration at cliche as anachronistic and embraced the tropes: trenchcoats, mirrored glasses and cosmically spiritual Rastafarians are quite enjoyable when you instruct your brain to forget they’ve been done a million times and worse. I would strongly recommend Neuromancer though because it has a lot more going for it besides. A couple of Gibson’s characters have been tried since but with far less success.

 

    • I put Neuromancer down, picked up The Crying of Lot 49, another backlog book, feeling I was on a roll, but never actually started it and got into Infinite Jest instead. I’ve owned Infinite Jest for years, and it’s funny, as for a very long time I read nothing out of an astonishingly elevated and rather misinformed sense of dedication to literary snobbery, which involved rejecting all modern literary fiction, at least written during my lifetime. I know, I know. Ridiculous. I do still have somewhat of an issue with pretentious literature. I was pleased to find that the first fifteen pages of Infinite Jest are nowhere near as pretentious as I worried they might be, and were actually not as pretentious as the book’s introduction by another author who will here, at least, remain nameless. I can see why the book is so popular with literary types though. Even early on it really is extraordinarily impressive, and Wallace writes with confidence and a genuine sense of fun, though that seems lost quickly in all the things he does that impress everyone so.

 

    • I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Infinite Jest. I’m already thinking of dipping in and out every month or two but I don’t trust my memory enough. I might pop into Dave Eggers’ The Circle, which has sat on my bookshelf for months now but has never tempted me. Recent trailers of the upcoming film have alerted me to the fact The Circle features a nefarious character several people, including Tom Hanks, later decided should be played by Tom Hanks in a film adaptation. This merits some form of revisiting, and given the trailer gives off a distinct “Weren’t those Da Vinci Code movies a BLAST?” vibe, a rather important tweaking of one’s expectations. Or reductions of one’s biases and preconceptions, fair or otherwise.

 

    • Finally, all this reading has put me in the mood to write, which is great fun, and brings up an old problem, which is the consistent concern and self-correctives over my tendency to write a little differently once I’ve been reading with a decent rate of regularity. Am I writing more confidently, more adventurously, or more pretentiously? All three? Should I care? The short answer is no, as I think the longer answer is also, but all the work in between the two is more interesting to me than to you, and so I think I’ll call it a day.