Justin's Links: writing | narratography | japan | games | culture-mixing | bud | since '94

Firday, 31 January -<link>
Berkeley, California, USA

The last day of January.

Photos and recollections from Switzerland:

Tuesday, 28 January -<link>
Oakland, California, USA

Justin's Links from Somewhere -

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the start of my public web writing! Since 27 January 1994 I've been writing near daily online, mostly here at Links.net. The blessings mostly multiply - the web is ever entertaining.

Thank you for reading! And participating. In the next few months, I hope to experiment with post-1995 means of making web pages, that I might be able to better maintain this website with your comments.

Nearly two years ago, a site celebrating Independent Web Publishing asked me to contribute something envisioning the future of personal publishing. They rejected what I sent them as too short and poetic. Well, attention spans have probably shortened since then, so here's this, as originally written and linked November 2001:

Practice: Subject Play
By Justin Hall
For Independent's Day

Text is quick and dirty and rich and deep. It feeds the starving imaginations of inundated browsers who can coax patience for paragraphs.

Personal computer hardware advances are driven by video games - playful, responsive systems. Young people dive more deeply into media that engages them.

Working web poets have tools to help them make more, faster, to keep up with the information demands of an increasingly insatiable globe. Soon we make web pages in transit.

Computers can make a goat look like a bull. What distinguishes independent media producers? The space to play. The web is freedom of form. Links. Play with meaning and structure.

Blogger and Diaryland have coaxed thousands of slackers into regular publishing. Chronological posting is a useful mental treadmill; it gets people running, and helps them find the right speed.

For serious media makers there is a third dimension to the web, beyond the here and then of chronography. Search engines like specific pages better than a daily dump.

Search the web for something. If you can't find it, make it.

Then, when you get comfortable, remember that Basho left his home to wander around.

Sunday, 26 January -<link>
Berkeley, California, USA

I waited until I was 26 to start shaving. I had an intuitive feeling that I didn't necessarily want to commit to scraping my face on a regular basis. Now I've gone from about a once-every-two-weeks hair poke to nearly every day face-bristling.

When I don't have to perform or meet people, I let my whiskers grow a little long. I think Jane doesn't like being poked in the face. But I find when my whiskers get long enough, I can grasp them between my thumb and forefinger and yank them out. This is satisfying; since more of the hair comes out this way, I figure I'm saving myself a few days shaving. However I have an increasing number of hairs on my face and so this is a shaving surrogate of decreasing efficacy.

Today I finally wrassled down a nose hair that had been poking out of my nostril a full half inch. Jane had begun to cower when it was protruding in full glory.

So much hair sprouting from my face!

I'm going to be reworking photos from Switzerland over the next few days - stay tuned.

Wednesday, 22 January -<link>
Palace Hotel, Gstaad, Switzerland

Nokia asked me to give a speech on video gaming culture as they prepare the launch of their gaming mobile phone device, the "N-Gage." Nokia's favourite Scandinavian distributors, retailers, operators are gathered for Nokia's yearly "WinterConference" - skiing and socializing in Switzerland.

I ski in the afternoon; deep fog and persistent snow makes all white with some black blobs. Unable to eye the scenic alps around me, I relish the fact that I'm skiing into ethereal whiteness.

Then I join the swedes and danes and norweigans at a former stable in the midst of the mountain. These slopes are occasioned by cows in the summer; faded wooden buildings await them when the show melts and the grass is green for chewing.

Being in Switzerland is a Chanpon experience - culture mixing. middle-eastern looking teenaged snowboarders speaking german, jockeying for chairlift seats with little pale red head skiers speaking Italian. One kid can't stop singing a short refrain; "Mama mia, frederica, multi-colore!" - I'm stuck in a pop song loop from another country.
a view of the slopes

This building boasts a bar now, with a toaster oven. We were served melted cheese on bread, beer and red bull with vodka. We stood around in our ski boots and made conversation; I talked to the ski instructors, asking them to compare skiing in Switzerland, Colorado, and Japan. This seemed to be their consensus: skiers/snowboarders in Switzerland tend to be more locals; at least they were people who had lived closer to the mountains. So their skills were better. The skiing in the Alps is more scenic because of the narrow, steep valleys. But the altitude is lower than Colorado so the snow is less powerdery and dry. And the Alpine runs are narrower. Measuring skiing conditions alone, Colorado is better. But considering the aged wooden Swiss architecture and the scenic Alps make this prettier. But the people in Switzerland are more pushy - little kids shoving past you, people ignoring order and jockeying for position. "People in America, they know how to wait in line," Gabby said with a nod for emphasis. She had a tiny glittering diamond-like stone glued to her right canine tooth.

Switzerland is a confederation of small states. The pact that formed the origin state of Switzerland was pledged in 1291. "Confederatio Helvetica" is the Latin name for this grouping; this is what the ".ch" abbreviation for Switzerland stands for online and on license plates.
In Japan, the slopes are more crowded, replied a large eyed young man. He had been a ski instructor there - teaching a junior Olympic team of Japanese youths. The team, and his position there, had been sponsored by a wealthy executive from the commercial real estate/construction business. This executive put him up in top hotels, took him out to expensive restaurants for bear sushi, and kept up conversation in good English. "But he would never drink any beer," the young man shook his head sadly.

He had been stopped by the Japanese ski police after he ducked under a rope to ski in the wild part of the hill past the official ski runs. Gabby chimed in complaining about the same thing in Colorado - America and Japan don't allow you to ski beyond the limits. Too much personal liability I guess.

Joosten Nailbender

I discovered a game being played in the corner. Four Scandinavian men standing around a waist-high stump. On the stump, a box of three inch nails. These men take turns passing around a hammer. Each player has a nail standing tapped a bit into the stump just a little bit in front of them. With the hammer, each player taps the edge of the stump, then hits the center of the stump, then tries to pound their nail straight into the well-perforated stump. It turns out to be hard to hit the head of a nail with the narrow end of a hammer, especially after two beers and a red bull and vodka. I believe it's a drinking game; one of the participants said that ordinarily when you play, you must take a drink each time you miss your nail.

cigars I blink - Jane and I are sipping our coffee out of little cups, waiting for the young man carrying the wooden box of Cuban cigars to come by our table again. Jane's having an after dinner whiskey. I'm fingering my short stack of yellow, black and blue chips as I have been all night, eying the blackjack table out of the corner of my eye. My jacket is buttoned up to my collar, and I'm surrounded by young men in tuxedos in the ballroom of the Palace hotel. We finished our paté, veal and a fish called John Dory; as soon as these toasts and thank-yous in Swedish finish, we'll jockey for position with the other gamblers, cigar smokers and cognac swillers at the green felt tables at the front of the room.

Nokia The Game

The theme of this event is "Life's a Game!" These business friends of Nokia and some Nokia senior sales and marketing people have had these gambling games, and stumpthumping games, and one big Nokia game to play. Using prototype Nokia 3650 camera-phones, they've had to take pictures, view pictures, listen to music clips, and search the web and the phone interface for clues and answers to a series of quiz questions. Each team won some points for their answers (Jane and I were corralled a few times to answer, "What game did Charles Darrow invent?", "What musician released the recent album 'Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told'?" and "Circus Circus, The Excalibur and The Luxor are all examples of what?").

Then at this Casino-themed final dinner, we watch video clips. Some time during this three day retreat, each of these teams was placed in an ethical quandry while a hidden camera recorded their remarks and reactions. Some teams were told they could have answers to the quiz questions if they would buy one of the hosts a beer. Other teams were shown meeting when one of the hosts announces that he's found a wallet, and he's going to keep it for himself. Then someone from the hotel enters the room and asks if anyone has seen a missing wallet. The host with the found-wallet keeps quiet. What will the other team members present do? The video pauses here.

At the dinner party, each of the other teams are asked to vote on the ethical conduct of the other teams. After the votes are tallied, the video continues playing so we can see what happened. The action was hard to follow at times in Swedish; at our table, the team had voted to agree to buy the guy a beer (the other teams were burned since they voted "no," as though our team would be above that). But as our table explained, they later had second thoughts and didn't follow through with the beer buying.

my part

I presented this speech, "A Life in Games." In response to some postings on this web site a few weeks back, I had many reflections from people on their relationship to games. I'm still working to generate something useful for the web out of those.

Sunday, 19 January -<link>
Hotel Palace, Gstaad, Switzerland

Greetings from Switzerland, where these mountains host carved-wood buildings.

I wasn't able to take a photograph of Jane and my collection of games and game machines before we left town. If you're reading this before early Monday morning, GMT, and you have a swelling collection of entertainment electronics, would you mind sending me a digital photo that I can use in my presentation here in Switzerland? Tomorrow morning, I'm talking to a bunch of mobile phone executives about video game culture. I'm going to publish my notes and talk on the web afterwards.

Monday, 13 January -<link>
Oakland, California, United States of America

so many of my smart friends don't play video games

Three years ago, I might have described gaming culture as a group of twenty year old boys gathered around monitors, shouting profanties at each other as they competed for killcounts. Or maybe as a group of bearded men moving miniatures across cardboard maps, rolling dice and making bad puns. Mature gaming meant mostly the inclusion of some scantily clad females.

But since then I've seen a broadening of gaming culture - hipster thirty-something musicians who gather for all night console sessions at parties. Young women who can beat their boyfriends at fighting games. And massively multiplayer games for people to practice elaborate word-play and witty banter.

There has been a change in my perception of gaming culture - away from its roots as a young male hobby. More women are playing, and adults who grew up with Atari. Still I'd like to see gaming culture broaden further. More older people. More people with diverse experience. Still more women. In multiplayer games, you can notice the type of people you're playing with, and still too few of them are learned, engaging play-partners.

Maybe there's something about games that keeps these people from playing. Maybe I am wired differently - with a gamers' mind. I grew up with computers - maybe active gameplaying is generational. But still I have young friends who spend eight hours or more a day on their computers, and they don't play video games.

These friends might be busy. But they make time for movies, television, or books. As long as they don't play games, they can't share with me a large part of my cultural experience. How are video games different from the rest of popular media? As long as so many of my smart friends don't play games, I will continue to suspect that as a gamer, I might most resemble a twenty year old boy shouting profanities at a monitor, competing for killcounts.

This is one framing of a larger question that's been on my mind for the last few weeks. "So many of my smart, media-literate friends don't play video games - why?" - any thoughts?

Friday, 10 January -<link>
Berkeley, California, United States of America

I've been allowing my active mind to get me out of bed. I can't lie for long before the computer or the game console or errands or anything gets me going - somehow just lying there feels like death to me. But I should be sleeping, since I'm sick, sleeping is health. Fortunately, Mom reminded me of some more active ways to work on fixing this coughing in my chest, and the chest of Jane: keeping our heads over steaming pans of water. That and I'm finally reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin recommended by Derek and Jane and Anne; enough people to finally pick up a book. This intricate dark tale has me sitting or lying wherever; reading, away from machines. It's the best fake history I've read in some time - he's created unsettling, complex characters; I appreciate all the good in his evil, and all the evil in his good. And, he's got a gift for describing delicious-sounding food. I love food in my fantasy. Great illness, take-yourself-away-from-the-world reading. I'm well entralled, and then I put down the book for a moment and realize I'm completely sick and tired.

A week from Monday, I'm giving a presentation to a small group of European business people about video game culture. The topic is still being developed in conjunction with my hosts; for my part, I want to provoke myself and come up with some topic that pushes my studies of gaming. So far, I've been talking with Jane about the history of video game culture, and how that culture has changed. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 7 January -<link>
Berkeley, California, United States of America

hack hack hacking

Hack hack - lemon honey smell - we're both sick laid up arrived in Berkeley but out of the action mostly. Still there has been one priority - exploring the depth of media and information available surrounding the Lord of the Rings films, new since we left the United States in September. Jane has read Tolkien's books, the fabled trilogy and then some, repeatedly. So has her sister Anne, with her own wonderful web site. As we watch extended remixes and documentaries on this wicker couch, drinking lemon honey hot water and taking turns coughing through thin chests, Jane chastises me, nay, upbraids me, for having read only the basic Tolkien once, more than ten years ago. I don't know Bormir from Faramier so well, and I certainly didn't understand what an unjustice had been done to Faramier's character in the second film. That was our one outing since our plane landed Sunday - we snuck away to a new movie theater in a nearby Emeryville mall, outdoor with semi-premium brands, looking like a transplant street from Santa Monica.

Besides that, we've not left either the bed, or the couch before this new larger television. Monday, I could feel my illness getting heavier in my lungs. So I sidled along into a consumer electronics store and purchased a 32" television with a broad flat screen and resounding stereo speakers to improve the quality of our couch-bound virtual world exploration. Fine thing to do when sick. But when we're done being sick?

Switzerland between the 18th and the 25th, for a speech about games.

Monday, 6 January -<link>
Berkeley, California, United States of America

Back in California - sun is shining. Spent two hours coaxing my little car back to life. Then I hit the freeway at 80 miles an hour, headed to Berkeley Bowl to buy my sick baby some chicken-soup makings. At this giant produce-popping grocery festival, there were two white boys in dresses, a large black woman, a caucasian dad with a pony-tail, two new Asian mothers, and three hispanic men in baseball caps. A hippy-tinged multicultural mix, where I stood out no different. It was somehow refreshing, I felt some great California comraderie. After months in Japan, just mingling and greeting people and strolling about is so relaxing somehow! Gives me some reflection on how foreigners experience Japan.

edge posted

Thanks to John Brockman, this recent article appears on the Edge; the expanded version of my piece that was picked up for the New York Times:

Video games compel kids to spend dozens of hours a week exploring virtual worlds and learning their rules. Barring a massive overhaul of our school system, Nintendo and PlayStation will continue to be the most successful at captivating young minds. Continued.

This piece includes mention of a Korean multiplayer online learning game Jane and I saw when we were in Korea - Demiurges. We visited the offices of the game's developer Interesting & Creative Co. in Seoul and found a group of smart passionate people eager to talk about games and how they could be used to promote learning.

Many of the other pieces consider how to educate Americans and get them concerned about science. Education motivation. I'm so busy splitting my attention between games and writing it seems that using games to educate and motivate are a no-brainer.


what? The new site for Jane's band Dealership looks great (coded mostly by Chris. It's a good fun playful design - it responds to window resizing! Now that she's back in town maybe I can get my Dealership boogie on again!

Saturday, 4 January -<link>
Kakio, Japan

just in times

John Brockman, a literary agent and provocateur, has a web site edge.org where he asks his book authors, mostly scientists and technology pundits (like Howard) to hold forth on questions once a year. I took part in his latest survey - "What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"

I wrote a piece that will appear on the web next week, proposing that games be funded as a tool for education. Last night, Brockman sent me some excited email - the newspaper the New York Times was interested in publishing an excerpt of my piece.

My Mom subscribed to the New York Times while I was growing up (along with local Chicago newspapers the Tribune and the Sun-Times). I began reading it in high school - I remember I first heard of Robert Johnson there. And some years later, I first read about the world wide web in a 1993 Times piece by John Markoff.

I've kept up reading the Times online. As I age I see the paper tirelessly promoting a center-left American agenda, so I occasionally seek out other sources for my news and opinions. Still I can not help but appreciate the high-caliber of writing in that newspaper. Last year I bought myself a copy of The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times to better study and appreciate the history and biases of my most frequently-used news source.

I remember I had a relative who was mildly obsessed with having a letter published in the Times, he had a file containing his thirty-eight attempts. Working as a writer, I've seen an increasing number of friends and peers published in and writing for the Times. It stopped seeming like such a mystical place. But after more than ten years of reading and respecting the paper, having any small bit of my writing published in there feels like a milestone in my writing career.

So I was gladly on the phone with a Times editor at 1.30am and 5.30am Tokyo time, working to condense my piece. I felt bad disturbing sick, sleeping Jane and her mom in our small freezing apartment, but I think they understood my enthusiasm. Jane read my original draft and said it needed some work (actually she said it was "boring") and her suggestions helped me make it more worthwhile.

I'll post a link to the longer piece when it's available on edge.org; but today my enthusiasm is for this: New York Times, Saturday January 4, Op-Ed page: "Today's Visions of the Science of Tomorrow." I'm the second excerpt listed: "Professor PlayStation."

Thanks much to Howard for urging on me the craft of writing, to Jane for taking the time to read, correct, and discuss so much of my work. And to JB for provoking me. Jeez - what is this, the Oscars? I had a few words quoted in a newspaper. Though it doesn't mean any money, it does mean that I can add "The New York Times" to the list of places I've been published. As a freelance writer I grope for shreds of respectability I can leverage for ill-gotten access.

and taketh away

Meanwhile, my incoming email is no more. I hope this is a temporary technical issue, either way, it's somewhat startling. I am here, preparing to leave Japan with Jane tomorrow; only my enthusiasm and our waning moments here to reflect upon. How much I depend on my electronic correspondence!

Friday, 3 January -<link>
Kakio, Japan

taking a stand

Most of my articles about games or mobile phones are more reportage than opinion; generally I promote what I see by making the future obvious to the reader. I illustrate my beliefs through the words of others. But recently, I got caught up enough in an article and an idea that I felt like making a stronger statement:

From TheFeature: Multiplayer - the Only Mobile Game
"Single-player games are a waste of devices built for human communication."

(A strong opinion, albeit about a negligibly earth-shaking issue. I wrote the piece two weeks ago, and now, re-reading it, I see that I used "state of the art" twice within four paragraphs. ugh.)

political theater

While alarming for all their war bells, these bombastic days present some great political theater:

"We will be facing considerable skepticism on the question of how we can justify confrontation with [Iraq's] Saddam when he is letting inspectors into the country, and a diplomatic solution with [North Korea's] Kim when he's just thrown them out," one senior [U.S.] diplomat acknowledged today. "And we're working on the answer."

New York Times: "Bush Plays Down Rift With Allies Over U.S. Stance on North Korea".

I don't doubt that Bush's aides will eventually succeed, but not because there's any truth or justice to be discovered and proven. It's a matter of placing varying forms of pressure on allies to create the New World Order envisioned by Bush's father. So what if the United States fails to get people to agree with them? I wonder if East Asian Nations might present an increasingly popular alternative vision to the America-lead world politic.

Wednesday, 1 January -<link>
Kakio, Japan

Augustus Bush

On TV here in Japan tonight, there is a remarkable show comparing the Bush family of the U.S.A. and various Cesars from ancient Rome. Footage from historical toga-dramas set besides newsreels from the first and pending American war with Iraq. Families running countries, empires at the peak of their power, facing pernicious foreign foes with well-armed armies, leaders preparing to cross the Rubicon. The comparison of images is chilling though I cannot understand the words.

Wednesday, 1 January -<link>
Kakio, Japan

We celebrate the Western calendar New Year's Day just about first in in the world in Japan, before about everyone else in the World has a chance to get drunk. Which is good, because it gives me a few more minutes before December 31 passes in Pittsburg and I can send in our paper proposal for ICEC 2003: "Control and Consent in Multiplayer Online Games." Writing academic paper proposals is not my forté but I relish the chance to explore some social-impacts of gaming issues in greater depth while developing a different form of writing.

"His books were just a little bit too far out there for us,"

I've known GK since we were three or so, GK's cover storyour parents were friends and we grew up listening to music together and playing games together and talking about girls and boys and politics together. We worked on the high school literary magazine together, ran the film society together. He used to take my school duffel bag and run it up the flag pole.

Now he's a publisher based in New Orleans. Someone just wrote a long profile of him - a nice chance to see inside the life of my friend, refracted through some reverant New Orleans insider concerns: by Frank Etheridge, G.K. Darby Takes on the World from Gambit Weekly:

He is, after all, a man who once pondered running for mayor of New Orleans based on a platform to replace pot holes with planters and to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle, replacing it with one of Jesse Jackson. Mainly, though, he concentrates his effort on the New Orleans Bookfair and his own publishing company.

That's the Garrett County Press, which published my Tokyo guide booklet.

December 2002

Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.
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