December is upon us.
Something happens to me in December. I go on binges of reading. It’s been happening for the last several years. It’s like I become 12 again; rapt, unresponsive, unmoving. No longer of this world. I go through novels good and bad, the way people go through Twitter. I feel like I should warn you. It’s happening.
"Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent is a spectacular first novel about a 19th century murder in Iceland, penned by an Australian. There is fuss being made, though I don’t think it’s on the top of anyone’s list, not that I’ve seen. The shtick is that the narrative is dotted with actual excerpts of documents and letters, to remind you that it’s based on ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVENTS, but they don’t detract.
The protagonist is (apparently) held in low opinion by history, akin to the way Lizzie Borden is viewed in American culture, and there’s certainly plenty of revisionist history going on in order to portray her in a more nuanced light. Lacking all that context, however, I simply enjoyed the story.
This is not a thriller. We know what happened, and what’s going to happen. It is a portrait of the moment after the storm, but before the clean up. It is a novel about the aftermath: the reconciliations, the acceptance, the processing of violence. It is gripping and fantastic. Seriously, it’s just so interesting. And still very easy on the eyes.
Newly anointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said this week that it would be OK for Internet service providers to charge Netflix and other companies for a faster lane to consumers.
Disclosure: I work in this industry. I have my own mind and my own opinions, but I do see things from the perspective of a player rather than a spectator.
So, like, for what it’s worth. (Oh God, what am I doing.) Okay, for what its worth, the demands of the marketplace far exceed the network capacity currently in place. There’s plenty of opportunity to fix that, but fixing that means massive investment. Massive. And it takes years. ISPs are trying to figure out how to pull together the capital to continue to increase speeds while still providing service everywhere, while still maintaining an increasingly complicated network of mixed technologies, while still pulling off a profit. Oh and also, demand pressure is intensifying faster than capacity can be increased.
While I may not think this is a good solution, and I don’t, I do kind of roll my eyes at the allegations that barbarous ISPs are out to kill innovation. Netflix has a vested interest in increased network capacity, just as Google and Facebook have vested interests in doing so, and those companies are an enormous influencer on an ISP’s ability to adequately serve their customers. I think the problem is that this is being handled in Washington DC rather than being handled in boardrooms, but there’s no question in my mind that the shiny major players on the Internet and their users (us) are taking their “right to consume the network” for granted. Not that we shouldn’t have a right, but that we take it for granted. We don’t appreciate the right. We don’t support the folks who provide it. We just bitch when what’s available is too slow.
I am a huge net neutrality supporter. I think the idea of putting regulation - regardless of who it benefits - around Internet usage is a terrible idea. But I also completely understand the position of the ISPs. They can’t raise their prices without getting yelled at, they can’t move money around without a federal inquisition, they have no brand value to speak of. Honestly, I was excited when I heard that Google was investing in their own (tiny, pilot) network. It’s competition rather than partnership, sure, but at least they’re taking responsibility and acknowledging their interest in the situation. Netflix, on the other hand, is a content provider and I get that, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take responsibility for their success and partner with the folks who make it possible.
I’d rather we were unfair to Netflix than unfair to disadvantaged neighborhoods. I’d rather we were all willing to pay a tax to subsidize our common interest in increasing available bandwidth. I’d rather a lot of things. What I’d rather the most is that we have a transparent conversation about the dynamics of the thing, and stop with the witch hunt. By all means, let’s burn this initiative down. But burning it down won’t make the problem go away.
The problem is expectation, of course. Something in me says that not being able to expect things from another person means that talking to them is a waste my time. Coworkers, neighbors, I resent the niceties, the intrusion. Don’t waste my damn time. You’re not a friend. You’re just some random person. Honestly, even the phrase “random person,” which I use a lot, is telling.
Expectations are always unwise. I wonder where that comes from? Why do all things of value come with obligation? I think part of it is cultural - if you can’t depend on someone, can’t rely on them, then they must be bad. The hero is always loyal, he protects his own. The Good Guy is not a random act of kindness. Is it innate, “social animal” stuff? Do men have the same expectations of reliability and attachment from the people in their lives that women do?
When people get mushy about their Tumblr community, and I consider the fact that their “Tumblr community” is a selected set of people posting objects of amusement with - let’s be honest - very little actual interaction other than a pattern of “likes” and the occasional message, it splits this whole question wide open. What is it we expect, socially? Why do we love some people and others are a waste of time?
The first expectation, that Tumblr meets, is that they’re always there. Someone is always there. Selection makes us somewhat interchangeable: some of my people post only Sherlock gifs, it’s true, and others I like more tend to mix it up with personal anecdotes, selfies, and Sherlock gifs. Some only post personal anecdotes. Some only book reviews. Some post cat pictures. But despite the variety, there’s a certain thematic sameness. So if someone goes on hiatus, it doesn’t diminish the whole. The second is that their presence can influence your attitude, make you feel better. Tumblr is tricky, though, because it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. The foundations are there, but it lacks the mechanisms to advance beyond that and that leaves us in a forced state of false attachment. I think people get mushy about their Tumblr community because they’re so grateful for the affect their people have on them, but have no way to reciprocate. It feels unfair.
Finished “Beautiful Creatures” and it was terrible. It was “Twilight” with the genders reversed, which was interesting. I’d tell you about it, but I feel like I need to stop pondering the contrasting creative decisions of bad writers writing fundamentally bad books which are marginally interesting because of the insidious ways they demonstrate and reinforce gender stereotypes in their different ways.
I need to draw a line somewhere.
I recently started a new game, called “The Cave.”
"Don’t let my sultry and mysterious voice startle you."
The game itself is a relatively straight-forward engineering puzzle. You have three little heroes and they need to work together to move forward in the game. Each one has a little story, and things that make them unique. This is nothing new. The difficulty level is pleasantly balanced, which allows (for me, at least) a fast fun pace. The level design and art work is very nice. You’d think this was a 3-star game. BUT IT IS NOT.
This game is from the guys who gave us Psychonauts. If you haven’t played Psychonauts, first of all, drop everything and go play that game. It does start off a little slow, but then it gets real genius, real fast. It is not violent or racy, not arty or inspiring. It is just charming, funny, and fun. Much like The Cave.
"Sometimes getting what you most desire isn’t that hard. But it changes you. That, my friends, is the trick."
It’s available on pretty much all platforms at this point, though I don’t know if I’d want to try it on a phone. If you’re looking for something fun and charming, and want a break from endless first-person killing missions, I suggest you check it out.