Another Goddamn Mass Shooting

One person tried to use a shoe bomb on an airplane and thirteen years later everyone still has to take their shoes off to board a plane. But here’s yet another mass gun murder of several innocent people and we still do nothing. When are you assholes going to realize that NO ONE IS TAKING YOUR GUNS AWAY. You won. You can have all the guns you want. The only “gun control” that came out of Newtown was we had a brief discussion of how many bullets you get to fire at a child before having to reload and the quickly-reached consensus was, “as many as you want”.

Believe me, we who don’t worship the trigger and the magazine are completely aware that we’ve lost, that we will never have a gun policy in this country that isn’t decided by the most insane gun fetishists. We fully realize that the NRA owns every inch of the gun “debate”. We’ve resigned ourselves to living in the only industrialized nation that goes through this shit on a near-weekly basis. All we ask is that you knock off the fake martyrdom and victimhood and paranoia about your precious, beloved guns being taken away. You won. Go celebrate by buying yet another goddamn gun.

Posted in Argh! | Tagged

‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ by Roz Chast

Roz Chast has been putting out hilarious, bizarre, disturbing, and absurd cartoons for years, mostly in the New Yorker. Her work, done in a jittery, nervous style, explores the ridiculous anxieties of middle-class Americans. In her new book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, she turns the view onto herself and her elderly parents and their impending deaths.

As the title states, this is not a happy subject, although Chast mines rich veins of humor in her memoir, especially when it comes to the relationship between her abrasive, know-it-all, domineering mother and her sheepish father. But even in the funny moments, and there are plenty, there’s only one way this story can end, and in America, it’s not a happy one.

Chast starts with her parents doing reasonably well, even at an advanced age. But eventually events happen that require them to move to A Place, and then the decline speeds up, first with her father, and then her mother. But the decline never speeds up enough. Chast writes:

“Here’s what I used to think happened at ‘the end’: One day, Old Mrs. McGillicuddy felt unwell, and she took to her bed. She stayed there for about, oh, three or four weeks, growing weaker day by day. One night, she developed something called a ‘death rattle,’ and soon after that, she died. The end.”

What I was starting to understand was that the middle panel was a lot more painful, humiliating, long-lasting, complicated, and hideously expensive.

What Chast discovers is that death is not just a topic that her parents didn’t want to discuss, nobody wants to discuss it, and so it’s swept into the corners, neglected. We as a society won’t face it so when it comes to be our turn we endure this awful extended nightmare that no one will acknowledge long enough to do something about.

Along the way we also find out about the relationship between Chast and her parents as she grew up, and they with one another.

It’s not an easy relationship, and this is added to the mix. It’s difficult enough to care for a dying parent for whom you have great affection. It’s even harder to do so for one for whom you don’t. A lot of Roz Chast’s own many anxieties were helped along by her parents, and the guilt of not wanting the burden they represent is added on top of them.

Roz Chast is at the absolute top of her form — of the form — here. Her writing is sharp and insightful, and her artwork perfectly suited to the matter. The way the text and the art interact with and inform each other is phenomenal, and a turn the art takes towards the end is powerful and heartbreaking.

This is a comic not to be missed. It’s one of the greats.

Posted in Comics | Tagged

Illuminati: Is Controlling the World Just a Thing of the Past?

This weekend, out of the blue, I found myself wanting to play Illuminati, a card game from 1987 (this edition, that is) published by Steve Jackson Games. I hadn’t played it in years, and it’s been decades since I played it regularly.

I first bought it back in the mid-80s, but it wasn’t until I was in college at LSU that it really got played. Kurt, Anna, Chris, Kyle, and I would regularly try to take over the world, usually involving Anna being certain I was winning on turn two and blasting me as much as she could. It was a fun time.

A brief gist of the game: Each player is an Illuminati, a secret group bent on controlling the world. Other groups, such as “Convenience Stores”, “The FBI”, “The Music Industry”, “Girlie Magazines”, and “Elvis Impersonators” are revealed, and you are trying to recruit or destroy these groups to further your sinister goals. Each Illuminati has its own agenda that gets it victory, or it can go the brute force method of simply controlling a specified number of groups.

It’s based on The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a sprawling, sloppy, near-unreadable hulk of a tome written in the 70s that satirizes much of the culture and counter-culture of the time, in which various folks are trying to stop a plan by the Illuminati, but get caught up in conspiratorial wheels within wheels.

I played Illuminati before I was really into hobby games, and it was coming off the 80s anyhow, which had a totally different angle on boardgames, so we saw nothing wrong with the game as it was. These days, though, it’s a dated relic of an earlier time. It’s clumsy, the different Illuminatis are not remotely balanced, and it has the usual Ameritrash polarizing elements: dice, randomness, player elimination, take-that, direct attacks, general goofiness. It plays exactly like a game from the 80s, down to the fact that it doesn’t recommend playing with three, assuming you have four people who are down for a game of Illuminati. The endgame consists of smacking down whoever’s currently about to win until someone does because everyone else has run out of money, and it can drag the game out.

I got some of the Sunday group to play it with me, and they weren’t too impressed. I completely understand. Yet, I still have affection for the damn thing. Part of the attraction for me is the theme. I was into the whole Illuminati conspiracy nonsense back before the Internet made everyone an expert on it. I’m the guy who was the only person who ever checked out Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned from the LSU library. I read The Illuminatus! Trilogy not once but twice, and then later a third time! Hell, I read Cosmic Trigger, written by one of the Trilogy’s authors, Robert Anton Wilson, which was as big a load of nonsense as could be communicated on paper. So yeah, I’m down with the theme, and that probably explains 80% of my enthusiasm for the game. (Side note: It really, really bugs me that SJG acts like it invented and owns the whole Illuminati, Pyramid, Fnord, Discordian, etc stuff, but we have a post to get through so let’s not get me started on why SJG bugs me.) The game actually spurred my interest in the topic, rather than the other way around.

It’s pretty much ignored now. Though Steve Jackson Games released expansions for it between 1999 and 2010, the last expansion consisted only of 18 cards. (I, of course, bought all of these despite never much playing it.) Compare that with SJG’s Munchkin, which released fourteen expansions in the time it took me to type this sentence. There are only a handful of plays for it on BGG in any given month. It seems like its time is gone, and that may be for the best.

It had a brief moment in the early 90s, when the collectible card game surge caused everyone to try their hand at one. SJG retooled the game into Illuminati: New World Order which was an even sloppier, even more unbalanced, broken mess, despite having some good ideas for the game. Naturally I bought into that game, but gave up on it being something playable almost immediately. I still have the cards, though, unlike nearly every other CCG I tried. People have been trying to fix the game ever since, but the common solution seems to be “play the original version instead”.

The game is dated not only mechanically, but thematically, with cards like “The Phone Company” but I honestly think there’s something there. It might be as simple as paring down the massive number of cards to a more reasonable stack to get rid of some of the dated and wonky ones, as well as the boring ones that don’t add much. Some folks on BGG have suggested that sort of thing, but I just don’t know how well I could sell even an allegedly fixed Illuminati game to my group again. Maybe it’s just time to let it go.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged

I Had That! #18: Battle Beasts

“Fire!”

“Water!”

“Fire BURN Water! No. Wait.”

That was my friend Gene and me screwing up the ad for Battle Beasts.

These little guys had the gimmick that each one had a heat-sensitive sticker on it that, when warmed, revealed which faction it belonged to: Fire, Water, or Wood. Fire beat Wood, Wood beat Water, Water beat Fire, in an eternal cycle of combat. This is a pretty neat idea on the surface, but what kid wants these battles to be concluded without prolonged violence?

I was too old for Battle Beasts when they came out in the late 80s, but I loved the designs. Look at these guys! The paint jobs are great, they all have character, and their tech had that Japanese look that was so intriguing at the time. Also they were cheap. They were probably my first foray into collecting (buying) toys without the intention of playing with them.

This is not to say that I didn’t have favorites. Although there was apparently some kind of extended backstory behind these guys, I didn’t know or care about it, I just picked who were good guys and who were bad guys. I believe the good guys were led by the fox in the white armor (middle row, second from left) and the bad guys by the shark (far right, front row). There wasn’t much to this classification; they pretty much just stood on a shelf.

They came in packs of two, which might explain why I have two of the dog on the far right of the back row. I guess he was pack with two different guys, one of whom I really wanted. I say I “collected” them, but unless I had more than these few that have wandered I didn’t stick with it for long.

I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been a gritty remake of these guys, or foot-tall versions of them for nostalgic fanboys with a lot of extra cash.

When did I get it? Wikipedia says they came out in ’86 in Japan, and somewhere else says they also came out in America at the same time. This sounds reasonable, though I probably got them closer to ’87.

Do I still have it? Yep, they were among the few things that got rescued from the Big Nerd Box. I even have some of the crazy plastic weapons they came with, though I don’t know which one goes with whom.

Posted in Toys | Tagged , ,

This Delicious Week


Shared bookmarks for delicious user
legomancer

Posted in Delicious

In Praise of MetaFilter

The first rule on the Internet is: Don’t read the comments. But there are exceptions to every rule.

I’ve been a member of MetaFilter since 2007, though I was reading long before that. It’s one of the oldest linkblogs that’s still around, and there are good reasons for that. First, it has great links, spanning a wide variety of topics. every single day there are several MeFi posts that pop up that interest me. Second, it’s refreshingly low-fi. No fancy-schmancy garbage, no arcane comment ranking system, just a post and comments on it. Third, those comments.

The discussions on MetaFilter are the best part. They almost always shed more light on the topic and give some genuine insight. And they do this without cutesy in-jokes or deferral to “crowned elders” or a lot of the other nonsense that can plague similar sites. The discussions serve to add depth to the subject instead of just massaging egos; if you’re full of crap, you’ll get called out on it.

Recently MetaFilter has taken a hit, as one of the esoteric and impenetrable vagaries of Google algorithms has cast links to them off the front page. Their traffic took a gigantic hit and, as they are mostly ad-supported (there is a modest fee to become a commenting member, but reading is free), this has resulted in Hard Times. You can read omre details here.

It’s worth dropping by there and checking it out if you haven’t. If you are a reader, it’s worth throwing a bit into the collection basket. Hopefully Google will either re-adjust their algorithm or quickly make themselves irrelevant, as they seem bent on doing, and all will be peachy with MetaFilter again.

Posted in Misc | Tagged

Zazzle Thinks Someone Owns the Mathematical Symbol “pi”.

I’m a creative genius, so I periodically have designed t-shirts that nobody buys. For a while I was creating them on Zazzle, one of many print-on demand sites for shirts, mugs, and other printable stuff.

Yesterday I got a notice that one of my items was being removed due to trademark infringement. Here’s the notice.

Product Title: Pi Plus E
Product Type: zazzle_shirt
Product ID: 235431350048746956
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Your product has been removed due to an infringement claim from Pi Productions Corp. The mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4473631. For more information on the trademark, please visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office at: http://www.uspto.gov/.

Here’s the design in question:

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Zazzle is claiming that the mathematical symbol pi is trademarked. Or rather, it’s saying that someone told them it’s a registered trademark and they believed them.

Pi is an irrational constant in mathematics. It’s the name given to the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference. It’s denoted by the Greek letter “pi”. This symbol is used in every mathematical text and paper involving this ratio, and has been since at least 1706. Of course, the Greeks uses the symbol as a letter in their alphabet long before that.

And now someone’s claiming they’ve trademarked it and no one else can use it? That’s like trademarking the number three, or hell, the e in the design, which is another mathematical concept. It’s clearly absurd to anyone except, I guess, Zazzle.

So who is claiming this trademark? Something called “Pi Productions Corp.”, run by Paul Ingrisano. A fellow named Jez Kemp, who received a similar takedown notice, poked around and found not a whole lot. But he found the actual trademark registration, which you can see here. Here’s the relevant portion:

Description of Mark: The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.

This makes a little more sense. As Jez points out, McDonald’s can trademark a letter M of a certain design. This does not give it ownership of every instance of the letter M, however.

I wrote back to Zazzle with the following:

Even if this claim wasn’t absurd, my design does not violate it. The specific trademark is phrased as, “The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.” (source: http://www.trademarkia.com/pi-85785006.html ). My design does not have a period following the pi symbol. Neither do other designs targeted by this guy, such as here: http://jezkemp.blogspot.com/2014/05/some-loser-has-tried-to-trademark.html. This bozo does not own the trademark on the mathematical symbol for pi, as he is claiming, and making you look like fools for enforcing.

Their response:

We’re sorry to hear that your product was removed due to an infringement claim. Unfortunately, we were contacted by the legal representatives for Pi Production Corp. with regards to the trademark for the mathematical symbol of “Pi” on clothing items. Attached is a copy of the trademark certificate from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for your review.

Once Zazzle received the notice, as a service provider we are required to remove the design from Zazzle’s marketplace to avoid the risk of any willful infringement on the mark.

Now this was maddening. I tried again.

Did you read my response or your original note? The trademark this guy has is for a specific usage of the pi symbol. This is his filing:

http://www.trademarkia.com/pi-85785006.html

It specifically describes his mark as, “The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period.”

My design does not have a period after the pi. It is not in violation. He does not own trademark on every usage of a pi symbol. That would be absurd.

And once more:

Thank you for your e-mail to Zazzle.com.

Unfortunately, due to intellectual property claim by the Pi Production Corp, we are unable to carry or produce any products which infringe upon their rights.

This is asinine. Zazzle gave me instructions on how to file a counter-notice, and I plan to. Not because I really care about the dumb design, but because this is ridiculous asshattery that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. I’m not alone, either. Other people affected by this nonsense are also taking action. Zazzle has a forum where plenty of sellers are baffled, and other blog posts are popping up.

I really would love to see the message that Zazzle received originally about this. I want to know at what point someone honestly thought Paul Ingrisano owned the mathematical symbol of pi in any form. Was it him? Some idiot cheap lawyer he found? Some idiot pretending to be a lawyer? Zazzle itself? At any rate, no, pi is for everyone. You can’t take all the pi.

UPDATE! It gets better (more stupid). Someone in the thread linked above got a new response from Zazzle:

You are correct in the description of the registered trademark as having a period. However, representatives of PI Productions Corp. is exercising their rights to protect their mark by not only restricting the use of their trademark, but also any similar marks that is likely to result in consumer confusion as part of the Lanham Act.

Due to this takedown notice, Zazzle as an online service provider is required to comply as failure to respond may result in willful infringement for this trademark.

This makes it pretty clear the source of the inanity is Ingrisano. Also clear that counter-noticing Zazzle won’t do anything, since they’re too chickenshit to tell this idiot to get bent.

UPDATE! Jez Kemp has more.

FINAL (I hope) UPDATE! Zazzle has decided against Ingrisano and reinstated the pi designs.

Posted in Argh! | Tagged ,

It’s Tree Day!

Four years ago the magnificent tree in our backyard came crashing down. A year after that, a freak October snowstorm damaged a bunch of our other trees. We’d been meaning to get replacements for a couple of years now, but never got around to doing it until this past weekend.

On Saturday we headed out to Sixteen Acres Garden Center and picked out two trees. They delivered and planted them today.

  

It’s a gloomy day today, so the photos don’t look great. The one on the left is a dogwood, the type is “Alpine Spring”. It’s now on the side of the house, near the driveway. The one on the right is a Japanese maple of the type “Bloodgood”, which means it was bred by Warhammer players. It’s in the backyard, a little further back than where the oak was. Both of them are wee now, but they should get up to about 20-25 feet eventually.

If we had more land, we saw all kinds of trees we’d like to get. I especially dug the ginkgo trees we saw. But these two will do for now. We’re especially glad to have something in the back yard again, which had seemed so empty before.

Posted in Misc | Tagged , ,