Hey - what happened?
A combination of the biannual attack of my yeah whatever attitude toward the internet PLUS extra large work loads PLUS the need to turn around another book proposal pronto PLUS the deep & aching desire for a bit of a vacation has led to one inescapable conclusion: I’m taking April off. But not entirely. I’m sure there’s stuff I’ll want to add throughout the days and weeks – hence this, the Sporadic, which may or may not provide something every day. I'm thinking of changing the entire daily portion of the site to include more blogging and less end-of-the-night-I'm-so-tired blather, in which case the name may stay. We'll see.
COLUMNS: Tue / Thu / Sun
the waning days of v.9 here
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April 15 update: The Bleat returns Monday. The book is done – well, almost. It has to go to FedEx Express (one of the more inordinately redundant corporate names, no?) by Saturday noon. I’m still writing it, but it’s that happy goofy last-minute burst-of-enthusiasm stuff that gives me an extra boost of confidence. Helps to allay the gruesome pain of tax day; my stars, did I take it in the drawers this year.

Back Monday. Looking forward to getting back to the website; v. 10 should be up by June, with some new features. (Hint: ScreedBlog.) See you in a few days, and thanks for your patience.

April 14 update: Home stretch. Almost done.

Guys: this is what Victoria’s Secret is up to behind your back.

Apple haters will love this brief thread, in which the posters declare their intention to give Apple more money out of gratitude and duty. (Note: having read it, I feel honor bound to buy the Family License Pack as well. Dammit!)

April 13 update: All work, no play, etc: I was sent a sign. In the middle of today’s huge print & edit session the doorbell rang. The dog barked. UPS. A box from Amazon, with all the movies I intend to watch after the book’s done – and Doom 3. I’d promised myself I would play it when the book was done. Well . . .no. Stick to the goals.

But. By the end of the night I’d finished printing everything I could print. Sure, I could work on the last few pages, but I’d been going since the early AM, and the day’s work had included two columns for my day jobs. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to see what the game was like.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, ad nauseum, but one of the moments in gaming I’ll never forget was in ’94, when the first Doom came out. Second level. The warehouse. Flickering lights. Monsters panting in the darkness. If you played the game, you know what I mean. Compared to modern games it’s practically a Muybridge strip, but at the time it was pretty cool, and genuinely unnerving.

Well. This is worse. And by worse I mean better. It’s the same old story, those careless scientists opening up portals to Hell again – will they ever learn? What’s the point? Do they think they can get monopolize the tourist traffic? It’s just like Half-Life, inasmuch as you spent the first part of the game walking deep down into the complex, then something goes Horribly Wrong, and you have to fight your way out. Been there fragged that. What sets it apart are the graphics, the claustrophobic design, the darkness, the audio. Pretty harrowing, if you’re in the mood to be harrowed.

And I was. I turned all the lights off. I put on the headphones. I was down in a dark corridor, hearing the screams of the Marines on the communications systems, the bangs on the wall, the groan of bending metal; I had my shotgun. I stepped towards the stairs, looking up at the shadows swinging on the wall, expecting to see some hellspawn feasting on the entrails of a scientist, when the door opened and out came the zombies. I fell back, crouched, pressed into a recess, waiting, waiting, waiting –

All the while, unbeknownst to me, Gnat had entered my room. She came up behind me and grabbed my headphones and ripped them off my head, and ladies and gentlemen: I jumped 20 feet and cried out the Name of Our Savior with such force that plaster wafted from the beams above.

So is Doom 3 scary?

Why yes. Yes, it is.

(PS: looks great on a stock Mac dual-processor G5. Decent frame rate with minor lag before you enter a new room; levels load reasonably fast. Audio is impressive, but you'll get a headache from the shotgun. Creature design is mortifying. It's taken many cues from "Aliens," which is a good thing. In that oh-my-god-no bad thing sort of way.)

April 12 update: Close to the end. We’re about 12 days away from the reinstitution of the Bleat. O, the stuff I’m going to do this year on this site. Can’t wait. And thanks to everyone who helped with the Backfence question! Bless you, bless you. Made my night a breeze.

Today: an ad I saw on Yahoo. It bothered me. Perhaps it bothers you too. I’m just not into gingerbread sadism. Poor fellow. Tomorrow: Gnat's new Ant Farm.

April 11 update: Bleg: I meant to do this Friday, but forgot. My Thursday ‘Fence has a topic: if you could go back in time to a recent era, and take items you think would be valuable today, what would they be? I’m not talking gold or paintings or the obvious stuff – I mean everyday stuff. Me, I’d stock up on classic unopened cigarette packs. You could sell an unopened green Lucky Strikes pack for a few bucks nowadays. And I imagine they’re somewhat rare today, since no one bought cigarettes to save for posterity. I’d also get some Parker ink cartridges for the leaky old “People’s Pen” they made in the early 80s, since it must have resonance for someone besides myself. Me, I wrote nearly every Daily column with those cheap fountain pens. They leaked like the State Department, and stained the knuckle of my middle finger for half a decade.

I would also steal a lot of Sambo’s menus. Anyway, that sort of thing. Could you throw together an idea or two and send it to fence@startribune.com? Much obliged; it’ll help me get the column out and get the book done. Four days. Tick. Tick. Tick frickin’ tick.

I’m writing my Sunday Strib column on the new Walker Art Center, which strikes me as a building of such surpassing hideousness people will be afraid to say anything lest they be revealed as clueless philistines. I literally shrieked the first time I saw it, and I’m not a shrieking kinda guy. But it looks like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot; it hangs over the street with such brutish malevolence that you want to cross the street to avoid it. I blame Europe! Really. They specialize in architecture that couldn’t find a historical precedent if you jammed the collected works of Vitruvius up their drainpipe and clapped their hands to their buttocks. All these brave new glassy places that say “the fee was negotiated in Euros” – feh, I say! Feh! Give me another Raymond Hood, someone squat and rumpled, chewing on a stogie, casually defining a new American idiom with each building.

Went by today to confirm my suspicions and take pictures of the abomination. There was a guy standing on the street corner with a sign warning us about Nazis in the government. Three pictures, here.

April 8 update: It was my wife's birthday. Gnat made a card and played Happy Birthday on her piano. Jasper licked the cake crumbs that fell to the floor. Everyone was happy. The world could end tomorrow, but we'd still have that happy little party to take with us. And if it doesn't end, my wife has cake to take to the office. Win-win.

Got your living will? Not in a persistent vegetative state? Well, then you’ve nothing to worry about. Unless someone decides you really want to die. I mean, you’re old. Who wouldn’t want to die when they get all old and wrinkly?

“It reads like the suicide note for an entire civilization.” Odd how “women’s rights” are now defined to mean “covering up every possible indication one might be a woman.” Google Mr. Dalrymple; he spent years as a doctor among the British underclass, and has harrowing tales to tell of 21st century UK. There may very well always be an England, but if it's a chav living on packets of crisps and shouting OI, what's the point.

World’s first authentically reincarnated actor. (Scroll down through credits.)

God’s early draft of the human face discovered in Tokyo; apparently He sketched out the rough drafts in the medium of fish. Template later used for British soccer fans.

It’s unfair to say this man will never have carnal relations. He will. Unfortunately for him, it’s probably with this.

Add this to the list of places I want to visit when they invent the time machine. Just for five minutes. Just to sniff the air and mop my brow and say well, hello, America.

Hey, the book's almost done! Nine days to go!

April 7 update So where wouldn’t I live? San Francisco, for so many reasons. I know, I know, it’s a lovely town. Or was. I was never that impressed – the downtown architecture had its moments, but the parts of the city I visited were inordinately bum-choked, compressed and pretentious, and it struck me as another city gnawing the rind left over by the joyless hard-working citizens who preceded the brie -eaters. (I know, I know – brie is such a lame signifier for the sort of shallow, trend-addled quasi-intellectual person. What works better? “Parasite” is too harsh, "Wifi-suckers" too broad.) I loved San Diego, but it didn’t speak to me. The south is out, because frankly, suh, I’m a Northerner, and I would not presume to try to fit in, or expect that I should. Florida seems like some strange theme park alternately run by Walt Disney and Pennywhistle the Clown, but I’ve never been, so I can’t say.

The East Coast is out as well – as much as I love New York, I can take only so much time in dense compacted urban environments before I start channeling my inner Travis Bickle. The Pacific Northwest is likewise out – too much rain and too many cloudy days make me hoist the black flag and start looking for throats to cut. Plus, you’re surrounded – mountains on one side, the ocean on the other, perfidious Canada to the north, San Francisco to the south – head slantyways, boys! Idaho awaits! Montana: nope. Too much of it. The Dakotas: love the plains, but nowadays it almost feels like you’re looking out on a vast graveyard, imagining the hundreds of dying towns, the small empty circles on the map with forty homes; old ladies in musty parlors, a convenience store, a light over the main drag that blinks yellow every day and every night. It’s as if Western Civilization stopped here like a dog who found a nice ray of sun for a nap. But the sun moved on and so did the dog. Leave it to the bison and the giant combines.

There’s Minnesota, which I love. No but; no but. But. I am tired of the winters. Not so tired, or even so gd(*$%#med tired, just tired. They’re not hard; I’m one of those hardy sorts who rarely wears a cap or gloves, and certainly not a scarf. From an early age I learned to hate scarves – as a kid you always chew the part that covers your mouth. Then it freezes. Oh the joy. No, I love the springs and the hot summers, if we have them. For the last few years the springs have been mean and miserly, the summers short and indifferent. Fall is glorious, but it vacates like an army that’s supposed to protect you. One day you look up – fall’s gone – and the great grey winter is rolling in. It has its place and it has its benefits. Theater of seasons, and all that.

But the desert. The desert speaks to me. And it says: I will stick you and make you bleed. If I’m in a good mood. Or I might strike you down and bake you brown, a canapé for carrion-feeders. So watch it.

I like the colors of Arizona. Both of them. I like the mountains, which seem more approachable than the grand titans of the Northwest. I like the climate, and I like the architecture. It’s everything I didn’t grow up with, which may explain it. I just know that I like it. I’ve been saying I’d move here in five minutes if I could.

They all think I’m joking.

April 6 update I've been here:

Arizona. More on that tomorrow. In any case, I promised Joe would return today, and so he has.

April 5 update Why is a “legendary” game designer advertising on Hugh Hewitt’s site? I noticed an ad on his site touting the return of “Virgil Tatum,” like I should know who he is. Uh – who? I’ve been playing games since the days when Leather Goddesses ruled Phobos, and I’ve never heard of this guy.

I browsed through the site: it’s BS. Never heard of any of his games. They don’t look right, either. WHOIS shows the site was created on Feb. 28 2005, but the “blog” entries go back to last year. He said he spoke at “the Conceptual Kitchen” in New York – Google is silent. The new game is about “art theft.” It uses the real-life expertise of the folks at www.lastresortretrieval.com, a company that recovers stolen masterpieces. Their website was registered seven days before Virgil Tatum. When you try to login, you get preset names with the password field filled out; this takes you to a “message center” where you can read what the company is supposedly up to. At this point you know it’s an Alternate Reality Game, but to what end? Why would they advertise on Hewitt’s site, Metafilter, and the like?

As others have noted, it’s probably a viral marketing campaign. Someone put it all together. First, go here.

Takes you to a page that shows the Audi A3, with a special alert for a stolen car. That link takes you here: An official Audi page concerning a missing car. “For information, contact lastresort retrieval.com. " Uh huh. Expect an ad campaign in a month - Audi: a work of art, that sort of thing.

We’re being had, but it’s all in fun. In that “not really very much fun at all” sort of way.

April 4 update:

Two images stick in my mind from the weekend:

The vast crowd at St. Peter’s, absolutely silent as the bells toll

The body of the Pope on the bier, with his shoes sticking out the end of his robe. It’s a very humble and human image. We always saw him wrapped in the costume of the office, a garment that transformed him – otherwise his was a face you would expect to have seen down at the Polish Community Hall, sitting at a table, having coffee with friends, talking. He was still that man when he put on the robe, but he was that man + Pope, that man plus two millennia of history and tradition. The shoes, however, you didn’t expect. The Pope has shoes? Of course; shoes of the fisherman, metaphorical shoes. But real ones? You never think of the Pope putting on his shoes, tying the laces, buffing out a blemish. You never think of the Pope having a favorite pair. Or kicking them off and sighing with relief: the shoe-part of the day is done; now it's the fire and an ottoman and a good book. Just looking at those shoes makes him seem humble and mortal – which he always was, of course. We lose sight of that quite easily; it’s just human nature to look at the crown, and not at the feet.

big 30 MB Diner. It's about 1970s sci-fi TV music, more or less, but not entirely. Done last week when I was intending to quit the site for a decade or two.