Funny How the Road Works on You…

When I drive, often times it feels like an escape.  Provided it’s a highway, my mind finds this sense of peace wherein it’s myself, the road, and the world.  Driving home from Louisiana, that wasn’t always the case.  When I was driving a van of 10 people, silent, sleeping, amid the nighttime “kathunk kathunk kathunk” of open road, my mind wandered to the past.  Maybe it was the lack of music.  Maybe the hardships we’d seen.  Maybe, also, the lack of real scenery (nighttime can do that).  However, it was brought on, I found my mind being pulled to things I’d sooner let go.

I try not to dwell on regrets, but for those driving stints, I kept thinking about things I had done I wish I hadn’t.  Things I’d said.  Friends I’d lost for certain action or inactions.  I wouldn’t be writing you this, except for the thought which brought me back.  It’s funny how experience changes a person.  There are times in our lives when we are put in such straits that we find ourselves saying or doing things which later upset us, but we can only really see them after we have passed through the particular trial we were facing.  There are also times in our lives, when our experiences moment by moment, change our behavior and our mindset.  Refining us and honing us into ever better images of the self we are inside.

That’s really the core of this entry:  It’s funny how the road works on you.  It’s funny how experience, like Michaelangelo’s chisel, works away the pieces of excess material to reveal the work we are, ever present, never changing, but sometimes hidden.

The Grand Canyon #1

This past weekend, Kathryn, our friends Adam, Emily, and I drove out to a town called Williams in Arizona.  From there we took a train to the south ridge of the Grand Canyon.

Since I have ca 80 photos I want to post, I’ll have to do this in segments.



We began by driving out into the desert.  In my mind, the Mojave has always been a myth, yet there it was.  I imagined the setting of The Gunslinger (my favorite book) and this man trying to cross something of this scale with only his waterbags and his revolvers.

The tourguide on our train was named Morgan.  There should be a book about her.  Just before we got off at the park she said “Keep in mind that life is not about the number of breaths we take, but rather the moments that take our breath away.”

When we walked up to the rim, a little boy next to me said “It looks like a large photograph.”

A few moments later, Kathryn said it looks like a painting.




A Moment at LAX

A little over a month ago, I saw something at LAX that I really should put down here for you to read.

I arrived on an evening Delta flight from JFK.  The plane was packed.  I was seated in the very back, left side, window seat.  Obviously, it took a long time before I could even stand up.  I sat there, staring out into the dark cut with floodlights from the terminal.  About 50 meters away was another Delta jet with two firetrucks to its left and right.  Lights on.  I was concerned.  You see firetrucks once in a while, running excercises, but not too often arranged like this.  But then I understood.  An honor guard of what I’m confident were marines processed to the plane.  I saw a family begin to assemble.  The woman next to me asked what I found so interesting.  I told her I think a fallen soldier is being returned home.  She looked out the window and said, “I feel so bad for those people waiting to get off that jet.”  (there was a beat or two of silence)  I couldn’t believe I heard that.  I like to believe she just didn’t understand what was transpiring.

I disembarked, with the last of the passengers.  As I walked the jetway, my heart was in my throat.  You hear about this, but you don’t see it with your eyes.  In the terminal, the windows facing the scene were obscured.  Everyone here was oblivious.  I walked toward baggage claim and saw a single pane of glass where a gentleman stood in silence, watching.  Here, one could see that beyond the luggage equipment, beyond the dark, floodlights shown on a family.  Some hugging.  Some crying.  A white box coming down from the plane and a hearse waiting below.  I had never seen this.  I had tried to imagine a few times what this was like for these families, but I saw them there and saw their faces.  At one moment at LAX, I felt I was intruding on something extremely private, and at the same time, seeing something maybe we all should understand, because in one way or another, we’re a part of it.  The casket was loaded and the hearse drove off into the dark.  

I turned slowly to baggage claim.  My legs moved and my body followed.

Afro Samurai

I’ve been meaning to see this film for a long time, and finally, my friend Andrew came along with a copy and we just watched it on my projector.  Daaaaamn.  If you want to read up in detail on the origins and plot of Afro Samurai, check out Wikipedia’s article here (

First off, the story.  It’s the traditional “boy avenging father” plot.  On the road to vengeance, our hero has had to sacrifice feelings and friends:  universal concepts which make for good drama.  However, it’s what’s built upon this simple construct that really makes the film stand out. 

Our samurai/hero is not the traditional “Yojimbo”-looking character.  He’s a silent hero sporting a loud afro.  It’s never explained what he’s doing in Japan.  He just is (in the same mythic sense I love in Kurosawa and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone).  The hero has an “imaginary friend” embodying his repressed feelings and desire for family.  Both the hero and the imaginary friend are played by Samuel L. Jackson with the flare that just is the man.  The script is full of jive and Americanisms that are funny and just cool set against a quasi-feudal Japan.

Imagery.  The visual style is fairly unique in my experience with japanimation.  The frames are very detailed with a literal edge/contrast in the color pallette that feels like a mix between ink and watercolor.  Obviously, the “inks” tend to lend themselves towards red.  Poses of figures are very exagerated.  The film actually looks more like a graphic novel in its attention to detail and style.

Music.  The soundtrack was assembled by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.  The hiphop rhythms go beyond Samurai Champloo‘s lauded beats into a sound that fits tightly with the visual world and character stylings.  

All in all, if you are into japanimation, this is a film to see.  If you’re like me, and just into japanimation if it’s “really something special” (along the Ghost in the Shell, Paranoia Agent, Big-O strain)… then you too will find some serious enjoyment in this 5 episode film.

Lawrence of Arabia

I know this is going to make me sound like a complete uncultured boob, but until two weeks ago, I had never seen Lawrence of Arabia.  Maybe you are in the same boat?  No?  Well, I like to believe there are other people out there who haven’t seen this classic (because, among other reasons, if everyone else has seen it but me, than this entry is fairly pointless).  So, assuming there is someone reading this who, like me, has never seen the film: this is for you.

See it!

I don’t know what compulsed me to put the film on my NetFlix queue, but I’m glad I did.  I watched it as I was flying to LA two weeks ago and it just made 4 hours sail by.  

Lawrence of Arabia is based upon the writings and life of an actual historical figure, T.E. Lawrence, and his struggle to unify the feuding tribes of Arabia in order to fight off the Turkish invaders of World War I and thereby liberate the land and people he has come to love.  The film traces his campaign in concert with his 

Change in the sand

There was a time when I feared change, but somewhere between then and the present, something induced me to crave it.  The question as to what caused that reversal is not of my concern and better left to students of the psyche.  What does matter to me are the ramifications of change and the progression of experience.  A few years ago, I had never even been to the west coast.  I was 24 before I left Eastern Standard Time on my way to France.  There was a time when I would only order the same foods, go to the same restaurants, listen to the same music.  Maybe it wasn’t all fear of change, but maybe I just didn’t need it.

As I write this entry, I’m actually using my sketchbook and sitting on the sand at Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles.  I decided to take the day off and enjoy some time in LA.  This experience feels so different to me: the sounds, the people, suntime and “warmth” in winter. Everything about me feels like change.  Everyone around me feels like change.  The times of the world feel like change: for good or ill.  Sometimes, I wonder where it is all going. 


Mirror’s Edge Demo

This isn’t so much a review as some comments.

Happy Holidays, Everyone! : )  I’m home in PA for a few days.  Among other things, I’m enjoying a new PS3 my family got me.  At night, I’m playing the latest in the Silent Hill franchise, and a review will be coming shortly, however, what I wanted to write quick was my thoughts on the Mirror’s Edge demo from the Playstation Store.  Woah woah woah…


Who thought this up?!  I remember listening to an NPR article a year or two ago about the group down in NYC who would run over bridgeworks and up walls, etc.  This game is like an application of just that.  The care the team put into the experience : depth of field and high contrast environments, the rush of wind as you fall, the motion blur as you run.  The gameplay is wild and complex, but it’s so compelling!  I actually feel myself breathing quick at the end of a particularly intense scene (or after I fell to my death).  This game is just beautiful in the same sense as the cinematics to the original Matrix merged with Bladerunner.  It’s just incredible.

It’s on my short list.

Stick Figure Survival Horror Game

Stick Figure Survival Horror -

A rather glorious weekend is coming to a close.  As I write, it’s about 10:30 at night and I’ll be turning in shortly.  Snowed hard Friday.  Therefore, the neighborhood has been rather quiet.  Skies mostly overcast and with the snow, the outside is basically tones of black and white.  Maybe that’s partially responsible for the content of this article.:)

I spent a few hours Sunday playing a game call Obscure for the PS2.  My brother gave it to me last Christmas (along with a significant stack of other games which I did play much sooner).  This one, ended up on the bottom of the pile and I never got to it.  Anyway, sometime I’ll do a writeup on the game.  I will say here that I have been rather impressed!  It’s more or less a survival horror in the tradition of Resident Evil and Silent Hill but with some interesting twists.

Well, another thing I played with this weekend was my Wacom tablet.  I bought it used about two months ago and haven’t really gotten around to getting acquainted with it.  I decided I’d do some doodling this weekend.  Well, you take some grey-tone days, survival horror games, and charcoal / watercolor and you get the drawings below!

I started thinking “Man, it would be cool to make a flash-based game like this”. . .   CS4 has some special links between After Effects and Flash.   Wouldn’t it be cool to build a game like this.  All action.  Simple Simple Simple.  Get some people excited on the web and allow them to contibute their own screens?


Stick Figure Survival Horror -

Stick Figure Survival Horror -

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Silent Hill Origins (PS2)

A few weeks ago, I completed Silent Hill Origins. For those of you that haven’t read some of my earlier entries, the Silent Hill game series from Konami has been among my favorite series. “Origins” was originally written for the PSP and then ported to the PS2.




There was an interview I watched a few times several years ago with Rafael Chandler of Red Storm Entertainment, creators of the Rainbow 6 games. Basically, his point was: story is where it starts and the rest follows. I’m a believer. Of course, there are genres where this is less true (arcade action for example), but in the Adventure / Survival Horror arena, I think this is crucial. Even in first person shooter, as Chandler discussed, where the gamer is focused on a mission structure, a story is crucial to carry the player through the game.


Silent Hill Origins has the story. It works pretty decently as a precursor to Silent Hills 1 – 4, depicting the origins of certain persons, events, and plot lines. I feel there were times when the more horrific elements were a little too intrusive versus the more subtle treatment of Silent Hill 2 which is often characterized as the epitome of psychological thriller.  However, this may be a characteristic nuance of the transition of the series from the original, Japan-based, “Team Silent” to US developer Climax.  




Gameplay was rough. Admittedly, it took me a lot longer to get through this game than its predecessors. Usually, I’d get through a title in a few days at most. This game, I frankly put down in frustration for weeks at a time. There were two elements that irked me. The first is, as we all know in any horror flick, you don’t walk away from the monster when he’s down because once you turn your back he’s back up and chasing you. It’s the same philosophy in most games: just because you knock someone down, doesn’t mean they are out. This is the case in all the Silent Hills, including Origins. However, unlike the earlier titles, Origins requires you to wait until the monster is back on his feet before you attack again. Honestly, it might sound trivial, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, your heart’s pumpin’ and you’re surrounded by zombie-creatures, you don’t want to break that tension by having to wait, in place, for precious seconds while the creatures writhe around on the floor rejuvenating. You want to take them out and not be like all those stupid teenagers in every horror film you ever saw.


Second issue, which is kinda the generic bane of many action-based games and which does not always get thefull attention it deserves: fighting has to be fair. What I mean is that there has to be a very clearly defined ruleset as far as : “if monster does ‘x’ than player must do ‘y’ else some negative outcome will occur”. This is the central issue I had with a game called Rule of Rose which I never bothered to review (but should). Oftentimes, you just couldn’t do anything to counter the baddies attacks. Often times in Origins, you can see one of those straight-jacket monsters coming at you, but before you know it, they’re magically on top of you spewing acid in your face. Between the moment when you saw the character, and the moment the negative outcome occurred, you as the player never have that opportunity to really counter their attack, you just have to kinda put up with it and after a while, it gets really frustrating.  Stuff like that, I’m guessing, happens when a development schedule gets crunched and certain parts of QA are, unfortunately, neglected.


In-Game Graphics and Sound.


I’ll lump these together for space. For the most part, I thought these were executed well and up to par with the series.

Cutscenes / Presentation


I was happy, except for the scenes involving duo-tone flashbacks which felt like blown up images from a low res source. The details felt flat compared to other, usually present-day shots.


Overall, I think the game was fulfilling in the end; however it wasn’t consistently enjoyable.  The gameplay got in the way too much.  I had to have a roommate egg me into finishing after I gave up in frustration, which is a first in the Silent Hill series for me.  I felt treatment of many psychological / character elements was heavy-handed.  I’m a  strong believer in “show don’t tell”.  Let the audience figure it out. 


Obviously, I haven’t given Silent Hill 5 a go yet, but I’ll let you know when that happens.

IBC – Day 2 – Entry 1 – Cafe Alto

Last year, my friend Alex and I were introduced to the Cafe Alto by a friend of his living in Amsterdam.  This year, Alex wasn’t able to attend the show, so I went solo to the cafe.  If you go to Amsterdam, and you have a penchant for jazz, go to Alto.  Here’s the address:

Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 115
1017 PX Amsterdam

020 6263249

This night, it was a quartet that started out as a trio (drummer was running late from a previous gig).  The group was tight.  That means just about everything in and of itself, the group has to be in tune with each other.  The energy was high, especially when the drummer / band leader finally made it to the show.  Mostly Miles with some Herbie Hancock.  Cool. Cool. Cool.  

As far as names, all I remember is the bass was named Brian and he sounded like a fellow American.  The trumpet’s name was Eduardo and he had just flown in from Barcelona.  

Unfortunately, I can’t remember either of the pianists names (switched off sets) or the drummer, but man: it was a constant duel for who’s solo would trump the other.  Me?  I’m all about piano.  A good pianist can just do anything.


Reach out and make a friend