Live and Direct

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Things I've learned recently, and from whom I learned them.

The name of the Norwegian band Royksopp means "smoke mushroom" or what we called a puffball when I was a kid. (Ingrid, Arild's Norwegian friend)

Hyenas are more closely related to mongooses than dogs, and both are evolutionary connected to the same proto-organism as cats. (Animal Planet)

The Monroe Doctrine, delivered by President James Monroe on December 2, 1823, was the formal notice by the US government to the colonial powers of Europe that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization and that any attempt to influence the fates of the newly born nations in Central and South America would be considered "as dangerous to our peace and safety." It is one of the first official declarations by the US government that all of the Americas fell under its political domain. However, it should rightly be called the Adams doctrine, as it was drafted and persuasively argued by John Quincy Adams in response to Spain's struggles with rebellious colonies throughout the region, which threatened to drag in France, Austria, England, Russia, and other colonial powers. (

"Manifest Destiny," unlike the Monroe Doctrine, was not a formally declared US administrative policy, but in fact a term created in 1845 by politician and journalist John L. O'Sullivan as a means of identifying a cultural ideology that had been forming in the US since its origins. (From Revolution to Reconstruction)

The average person farts fourteen times per day. (Sara, though her sources are unknown)

I fart less than fourteen times per day on average, though I believe they are longer than most other people's farts. (Personal, subjective observation)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Profiles in Positivity

Inspired by Mark D.'s recent blog entry on the importance of being kind, I've been thinking about positivity and the act of maintaining a positive outlook. While I generally try to look on the bright side of things, I think people who know me well would agree that I'm a mixed bag. I try to be polite and present a shiny surface, but I've been known to use my powers for evil. I tend to think of my attitude as "willed optimism," and sometimes the will fails the wish. So, in the spirit of Mark's post, I'd like to present three people I know that embody a true sense of positivity and kindness.

As fitting of the person who inspired this post, the first is Mark D. I met Mark a few years back through another fine Mark, and have been a big fan ever since. We've been to Burning Man a few times, romped through Las Vegas and Reno, built things, burned things, eaten a lot of fine food and had many, many drunken nights together. Best of all, he introduced me to Sara. The thing that has always struck me about Mark is that for him, being kind is a means of leadership. Having worked on a few group projects with him, I've come to understand that real leadership is more than intelligence, skill, and patience, all traits that Mark possesses to great depth; more importantly, people will follow a leader who they feel has their best interest at heart and isn't afraid to do the right thing. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then let me say that I have tried, since I've known him, to be more like Mark.

My second profile in positivity is Martin. We met through a mutual friend in Seattle, and though we've really only known each other for about four years, it seems like we've been friends for ages. Martin is a talented musician, artist, writer, and game designer, and once upon a time, he tried to explain the mathematics that lie behind the successful statistical balancing and calibration of a collectible card game. While I successfully studied applied calculus in college and generally think of myself as a pretty smart guy, it was completely beyond my comprehension, at which point he unaffectedly mentioned that he was also an accomplished mathematician before he decided to devote his life to art, music, and storytelling. Normally, I would be jealous of this kind of talent in one person, but with Martin, I can only feel glad that one person can encompass that kind of span. In the midst of all this, as he launches one project after another, zips off to Berlin to play bass with his punk band, flies to New York to negotiate a multimedia game deal, works on restoring his new house, and mixes down his wife's new album, he still finds time to tend to others in a way moves beyond mere politeness and reveals true caring.

My third profile is my friend, Corinne. We've known each other since high school, though we didn't really start spending a lot of time together until college. Corinne is undauntingly happy in the midst of the most ridiculous extremes. I've wondered at her ability to literally laugh in the face of a storm, such as she did at Burning Man 2000, when 60-70 mph winds and duststorms threatened to flatten our encampment and fling all of our belongings across the playa. While I cussed and ran around trying to fix everything, Corinne laughed at it all and eventually made me realize that there wasn't much more I could do except let go. Everything turned out just fine. When you've known each other as long as Corinne and I have, and have been through as much as we have, there comes a time when you're more family than friends, and this is true of us. And like brothers and sisters, we have our fights, which almost always end with Corinne sticking her tongue out at me, calling me a name, and me realizing what a fuddy-duddy I've become. And thank God for that.

They say that the measure of a man is the company he keeps. If I'm to be measured by my friends, then I must be doing damn good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Cross your fingers

Sara and I submitted her paperwork for receiving a Danish work/residence permit this week. We had been putting it off, influenced by a number of horror stories about how difficult it was to get a work permit without a job in hand. We'd also been given bad information by the Danish General Consulate in Los Angeles, to the effect that we'd have to prove that we'd lived together for three years to be covered by a "domestic partnership" application. It turned out to be less than that. They also told us that we could extend Sara's tourist visa for a couple of months by going to our local police station and asking. That turned out not to be true either, which left us with about three days to sort out her paperwork and submit it. But it's all sorted now, and the administrator who helped us said it looks like it's all in order so now all we do is wait. It should take a couple of months to get sorted, but once it is, Sara can start taking courses, get healthcare, etc., all care of the state. She can also find a job, which she's pretty eager to do. So everybody cross your fingers that it all works out.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Originally uploaded by Trevor_.
Something I learned today. There are a lot of turtles in Denmark. At least, there were a lot of turtles in the lake at the park. We counted around twenty, just chilling like these two handsome gentlemen.


Originally uploaded by Trevor_.
After my previous rant, we went to the park to recuperate. We brought along Kim's brand "Kanonkugler" cheesy puffs. they are the best cheesy puffs ever. Cheetos are crap.

The Dance of the Pointless System

And now, ladies and gentleman, for your amusement I will unveil the mysteries of the Danish university examination system. Shrouded in mystery, the fruit of effort of many long-dead scholars who moulder in the graves, looking on in mute approval as their unholy art is unleashed upon the innocent minds of students and non-native professors...

One of the results of working for a university that is over five-hundred years old (founded in 1479 by royal decree, so take that, you Ivy-League elitists) is that the tradition is not simply preserved, it is worshiped. Practices abound in the contemporary university that have no apparent logic, and I find myself wondering if they aren't traces of historical origins that have long since been forgotten, stuck in the administrative institutions like bugs in amber. No practice reveals the reality of this more than our examination system, which is very much on my mind as students begin to prepare for the semester's end. Batten down the hatches, because I feel a rant comin' on.

To begin with, realize that students at the University of Copenhagen do not register for courses, they register for examinations. Regardless of what I am teaching in any particular semester, a student can ask to register for an examination in any topic I may be able to administer. Even students who "sign up" for a particular class I am teaching are freed of any obligation to the lectures or material I present, as long as I am willing to approve their reading list, or "pensum" in preparation for their exam. In practical terms what this means is that I have no way of insuring that students will do any of the reading for the course, since they, in defining their pensum, can avoid any particular text they're not interested in. For that matter, they are free to miss every lecture I ever give and do their own independent study, coming in at the end of semester for the examination, based on a reading list that they define themselves. While this kind of freedom certainly appeals to some students, it's a bit like letting the lunatics run the asylum, as the students are by definition unqualified to decide what they need to know within the field they are studying. If they don't want to study a particularly necessary but perhaps uninteresting topic like say, 18th century British poetry, well, they just don't sign up for an exam in that topic.

A prevailing theory on the origins of the pensum is that it dates back to the late medieval era, when books were scarce and a professor had to not only preserve the sanctity of the library but also had to insure that students weren't all squabbling over the only copy of a particular book.

But wait, the situation gets worse. Students choose the method by which they are examined from a list of 4-5 options, ranging from a take home, self-defined paper to a 30-minute oral exam based on several questions I write based on their pensum (keep in mind, they design the pensum; all I get to do is say yes or no). The students then have up until the actual day of the exam to change their minds. Technically, they are supposed to notify of cancellation sometime in advance, but they are also allowed to "call in sick" for an indefinite period.

Bear in mind that professors submit their course proposals months in advance, and a committee with only a small number of professors on it then chooses what will be taught. Up until very recently, within this committee student representatives had veto power over courses that they thought were unimportant or uninteresting. Again, lunatics running the asylum. So to sum up, students are examined on courses they approve to be taught, on reading lists that may or may not have much to do with the lectures delivered by the professor, and according to the method of their choosing, with the freedom to drop out of the exam pretty much at their leisure.

After the exams are turned in, a censor is appointed to the exams and he and I negotiate the grade each exam receives. Normally, I think this is a good thing, and usually, the censor is another member of the faculty. But occasionally, the censor is from another university or a member of a "censor board" that is comprised of retired high school teachers, journalists, etc. So it's entirely possible that a professor will be put in the position of defending his judgment of how a student has performed on an exam written specifically for his approval, and defending that position to a person who knows very little about what was discussed in lectures or anything about the topic in question.

In addition to the medieval origins of this system, I think we can thank the events of the summer of 1968, when youth rebellions in Europe focused on the education system, not having their own government's interventions in Southeast Asia to otherwise occupy their thoughts. Danish students demanded a larger role in the running of the university system, and my theory is that rather than duplicating what had happened in Paris in May (riots, building occupations, a general strike that shut the city down for a couple of weeks), the Danish government capitulated.

Which means that almost forty years later, I'm still dealing with their lack of backbone. Bastards.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Strange Dreams, II

I must be on a roll, as I remembered another dream last night. My former boss was trying to coerce me into taking my old job back, and his bait was the promise that he was going to send me to Washington DC as part of a video-game business delegation, where I would be meeting President George W. Bush. Even in the dream this struck me as ridiculous, and I remember very clearly asking in the dream, "Are you sure you think it's a good idea to have me meet President Bush?"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

And on a less psychically vulnerable note

The Unitarian Jihad is taking over the country. Join now, or we'll give you a stern, but loving and understanding, talking-to. From now on I wish to be known by my Jihad name:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: The Shotgun of Compassion.
Get yours.

Strange Dreams

I don't usually remember my dreams when I wake up, but when I do, they're usually very eventful, disturbing, and cinematic. Last night was exceptional in that way. So while knowing that listening somebody talk about their dreams is often about as exciting as listening to parents brag about their children, I'm still going to share the triple-feature that played in my psyche last night. First, I dreamed that I was a participant in a contest reality show similar to the ones where a bunch of women compete for one man, etc. Except here, a bunch of childless people were competing for the affection of one orphaned boy. We were each given one day at a time to spend with him, on a rotating schedule, in order to see how we got along and to try to win over his affection. He sure was a cute little kid: white-blond hair, cherubic face, full of little kid affection and funny sayings that seem wrong but end up being wise. After I spent the day with the kid, I got interviewed by the producers, and I was talking about how much I had really started to love the little guy. But in the back of my mind, I knew I probably didn't stand a chance against the other contestants, who were couples that did things like bake pies, take him to baseball games, and take him to the beach to play with their Golden Retriever, Jake.

Second in last night's line up, I dreamed I was visiting a swinger's party, by myself, in this very large house. I don't know why I was there, curiousity I guess, because I told a few people that I was just visiting and I didn't join in on any of the goings on. The party was a lot better than I've usually imagined swinger's parties to be, in the sense the most of the people were attractive, though there were also some older, less attractive people scattered around. I kept my clothes on and mostly just wandered around the house, watching people flirt, take their clothes off, and have sex. I got kind of freaked out by all this and went upstairs, where a women was watching a tape in a side bedroom by herself. I started talking to her, and this was the best part of the dream. It turns out that she was trying to study up for a defensive driving test. For those of you not in or from California, CA allows you to waive the fine and points on most traffic violations if you take a defensive driving course. The courses are not administered by the state, but by private testing companies. The tests themselves are pretty much a joke, and the companies come up with all sorts of ways to make their courses more attractive, so there are courses conducted by stand-up comedians, courses with pizza parties or all you can eat donuts, courses in all sorts of languages. You can take the courses online, and Blockbuster even rents out tapes that you can watch and then take the test. Anyway, some entrepeneurial spirit had made a pornographic driving test course. I didn't get a chance to really watch the tape, but it seemed to be telling the story of a woman driving around town to various "dates," so I think the tape may have also been trying to appeal to the swinger set. After a while, the woman got bored with the tape and went downstairs for a smoke. When I went downstairs with her, everybody had gotten into a huge jacuzzi together, and that's where the dream ended. It occurs to my waking mind that we might be sitting on a million dollar idea here with the porn defensive driving course, so if there are any "movie producers" reading this, cut me in on a piece of the profits.

Dream number three was the most disturbing of the bunch. Sara and I were on some sort of vacation with my family, though who was actually there was unclear. We had parked our RV at the curb and were walking into a large, busy park full of people enjoying a beautiful day. There were kids playing frisbee, people having picnics, balloons and icecream cones. As we were looking out over the park, somebody started shooting a gun at somebody else in the park, and suddenly the whole park was full of people pulling out guns and firing them off at people. The same people who 30 seconds earlier had been dishing up potato salad and tossing horseshoes. We hit the deck beside the curb, and as I was watching this all unfold, somebody started shooting at us. I watched the bullet tracks run in a straight line up the road towards us like in a WWII movie, and then the bullets cut right through our group. At that point, I realized my dad was with us, and that he'd been shot. I woke up just as somebody was checking his pulse and realizing he was dead. There was also a subplot in there about a weird guy with a Russian accent trying to take our picture and sell it to us, and I think he got shot, too.

All of the dreams were very graphic and precise in their details, down to the expressions of peoples' faces, the dialogue, and the "special effects." Feel free to analyse any of these dreams as you'd like, but given that I remember my dreams about once every couple of months, I figured it might be worth writing these down. Not sure what triggered all of that. Maybe it was the spicy stir-fry I made for dinner last night. I'll have to ask Sara what she dreamed about.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Ireland receives George W. Bush

Here's a link to a review of President Bush's reception during his recent visit to Ireland. Let's just say it didn't go as well as was expected. Be sure to listen to his interview with journalist Carole Coleman, who made the mistake of behaving like a journalist when talking to George W. Bush. If the interview doesn't load when clicked, it means too many people are trying to access it at once, so try again later.

Ireland, you've given us so much: Guiness, whiskey, St. Patrick's Day (even if it is really an American invention), The Frames, and James Joyce. And yet, here it is, another reason to love Ireland.

Thanks to Noel for his care in putting this together, and sorry I originally called the site quality "dodgy." I was only referring to the load problem. Cheers!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

MGM v. Grokster

I'm a bit of a law junky. I love the permutations of logic that go into suits, particularly the major precedent cases that end up before the Supreme Court. I like the idea of nine extremely intelligent but ideologically varying people interrogating the arguments presented, the very image of one person standing before the Supreme Court to argue a particular point.

So I've been thinking about the MGM v. Grokster case, for which I have to thank Mark D. and SJ for turning me onto. If you haven't been following the case, there's a fair assessment of recent Supreme Court arguments here. Basically, 28 of the largest music and film/TV companies (Sony notably excluded) are suing the makers of Grokster, KaZaa, and Morpheus over the propensity of their software to be used in copyright-infringing file sharing. MGM, et al, are basically arguing that because the companies in question could have exercized some control over the use of their software by including technology that reads digital fingerprints, etc., and because they admittedly designed their software to be blind about its use in order to make a profit on its users, they are engaging in vicarious infringement of copyrighted material. That is, according the MGM, Grokster knew that people would use their software to illegally share copyrighted material, and rather than maintaining a central database of these transactions in the way that sank Napster (which was successfully sued because it maintained a database of files that made them clearly aware of how their software was being used.), the companies turned a winking eye at these infringements while still making a profit on the transactions.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 29, and it will likely be months before there's a ruling on the issue, but I think it's fair to say that this is the kind of landmark case in the entertainment industry that comes along only every few decades, and ends up determining huge material changes in the way we consume culture. I find myself thinking about United States v. Paramount, et al., for example, which broke the studio monopoly on the film industry. This case could easily carry the same kind of stakes for the entertainment industry.

Given my politics, one would normally expect me to come down unequivocally on the side of Grokster, et al, and argue that they can not be expected to anticipate how their software would be used. But it seems like they pretty clearly did know how their software would be used, and so they engineered it in a way that would avoid the problems Napster ran into. If we allow for intent in criminal cases, why not in a case like this? I realize there is more complexity to the issue, but in truth, even though I agree that information should be free, I am at heart a little skeptical about file-sharing in general. I don't do it very often, because part of me can't get around the fact that I'm accessing something that I would otherwise have to pay for, in a way that violates copyright.

I'm aware of the many counterarguments about the vagaries of copyright possession, how money is actually made in the entertainment industry and who makes it, and the many subtextual concerns that go into this, most significantly being the vastly disproportionate profits made on a heavily marketed commodity backed by a major studio or label and how the cost of production is so often elevated by astronomical pay rates for entertainment stars. I agree that the anti-piracy ad campaigns made by studios and labels are disingenuous at best and downright deceitful at worst. I also agree that the entertainment corporations are at least partially to blame in this predicament for holding onto business strategies that simply ignore the realities of how people consume entertainment these days (which is one of the reasons I think of the Paramount case). I also think file-sharing often benefits small companies more than large companies, as it's a way for people to find and try out music, films, etc., that don't benefit from the kind of saturation marketing that the majors create.

But at the end of the day, I still think we're engaging in a collective winking of the eye when it comes to file sharing. Given all of the above counterarguments, downloading copyrighted material without paying for the privilege is still a violation of copyright law.

It doesn't mean I'm likely to stop doing it anytime soon.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spring arrives in Denmark

Originally uploaded by Trevor_.
Spring has finally arrived in Denmark, and I've almost forgotten how miserable things were. The canal out by my office has completely melted, and a couple of ducks and a swan have taken up residence. Sara and I spent the day at the Royal Botanical Gardens and Museum yesterday. I'd forgotten how beautiful it was there. The first crocuses of the season are just coming out now, so we'll have to return as the rest of the gardens come into full bloom.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I wanna hold your hand!

I got a chance this week to have have coffee with the executive producer at IO Interactive, the guys who make Hitman. He showed me around their studio, and it was great.

Geoff, my old boss at Sony, used to talk about how much he liked talking with other producers and touring their studios. I now understand why. On the one hand, it has a way of showing you your own mistakes, and on the other hand, it confirms that certain problems in game management, and project management in general, are universal. For example, one of the things that always left me scratching my head was what I called the 'hold-your-hand' phenomenon. It went something like this. I'd arrive most days at about 9am. Around 9:30, I'd do my rounds with team and just sort of see how things were going. Inevitably, I'd encounter at least one person who was either waiting on something to be finished by another person on the team or waiting for somebody to respond to an e-mail with information that only they had. My first questions was always, "Have you spoken to Person X?" The answer was almost always, "No."

"Do you have a couple of minutes right now?" I would ask.


"Okay, let's go talk him." I would then basically hold the hand of the person as he walked over to Person X's desk and asked him the question that had been holding up the works, often for days. Usually, the answer would take five minutes and everything was good. But on really fun days, it would turn out that Person X was also waiting on a similar response from somebody else, and I would spend the day creating a daisy-chain from desk to desk, basically a highly paid form of external initiative, getting people to do what it seemed like they should have been able to do for themselves.

It used to bother me, as it seemed like a poor return on Sony's investment in me to have me walking around the studio saying, "Have you talked to X? No? Let's go talk to him." Even worse, people were often unable to leave their desks, so I would often end up shuttling small pieces of information back and forth across the studio. I found this particularly funny, as I was just about the least technically-savvy person in the studio, and hence, often the worst person to be explaining what somebody else said about "complicated technical issue number 3449." I suppose I'm just enough of a futurist to think that there should have been some easier, high-tech solution for this problem than having a meat-based messenger carrying information from one point to the next at about 2 mph, especially when the information usually degraded so badly as it clunked along through my synapses. I likened it to have a styrofoam cup that I would fill up with information at one desk and hurry over to another desk to deliver it, only the cup had several large holes in the bottom. By the time I got where I was going, all that was left of my steaming hot cup'o'information was the residue.

Among other things I learned while touring IO Interactive, it seems that this is a common problem for producers, and I was assured that no matter how good your communication network is, at some point, face-to-face conversations are necessary. "Did you get that thing done?" "No." "Okay, I need it by this afternoon." So I can lay that complaint to rest. The hold-your-hand phenomenon is part of human nature.