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Geek Proud, GeekOut.

Geek Rants

I Write Horoscopes

Not serious ones of course.

When I express a love of cosmic horror, the link between horror and comedy, dark and angry surrealism, nihilism, and all of the other things I over-analyse, it’s an expression of interest and fascination that is – at its core – what geekiness is all about: an open expression of passion for a particular subject or subjects. And as a creative person I like to let free my own reflection of those genres and subjects that fascinate me.

When I started putting my own particular brand of horoscope onto Facebook, I’d been listening to a lot of Welcome to Night Vale, and H.P. Lovecraft, watching Dylan Moran, and Rick and Morty. That, and I was in a mood to write and get weird with it, as I am wont to do, previous examples include corrupted christmas cracker jokes, a crowd sourced poem about being on the toilet, and some early evidence of my own mental health issues before I recognised what I was looking at.

Amrit Brar – Click for the website and a huge collection of other zodiac signs

All of this narcissistic rambling to say that for me… it’s a kind of fan art. I ingest the media that I love, and out comes some blended product born of my own creativity. Some examples:

Aries: Check your liver against the colour chart. Are you within the safe zone?
Taurus: You have no power here, only the howling of a chained beast
Gemini: They’re closing in
Cancer: No horoscope this week, seek answers from the Grand Tapestry of Bucharest
Leo: Square peg, round hole; angular logic, circular reasoning
Virgo: Citation needed
Libra: The association are concerned about your recent activity in the temple. Burn the robes and ditch the sceptre before they send in the auditors
Scorpio: Avoid log flumes, better to stay away from all carnival activities where possible
Sagittarius: Are you doing something different with your arms?
Capricorn: Death of a spider, birth of a fly
Aquarius: Hold onto the past, you never know when you might need it
Pisces: Everything will be fine. I am so sorry

I mean… a lot of Welcome to Night Vale.

It’s a thought that should horrify you, that either the stars are so utterly powerful that they can impact the finest details of our lives in a plan they concocted millions of years before our existence, or that we impart such incredible meaning to an elaborate and contrived dot-to-dot picture in the sky that a vast industry revolves around it, and some people think it has greater impact on their nature than – say – rudimentary psychology!

I endeavoured to bring together cosmic horror and cynicism, weave in some surrealist humour, and offset it with just a little profundity that you could believe, for just a moment, that there might be a purpose to it all. And yes, maybe there is – on some level – a little genuine philosophy leaking out, I’ve written dozens of these things, and anything to which you’re willing to commit that much time must be important to you. And if it entertains a few people then all the better.

What do you do to exorcise your creativity? What sources of inspiration do you draw from, and how do they reflect in what you create? Come chat to us in the comments, or over on our Facebook page.

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Inventory Hoarding

My name is Joel Smith, I am a hoarder.

I suppose the worst of it has been my need to build new houses to store my stuff, and to have somewhere nearby where I can drop things off. In my line of work I find myself encountering a lot of valuables, and they’re just there for me to walk away with, it’s a kind of salvage operation in dangerous areas, so I’m ultimately restoring a lot of valuable items to the general public, and I will sell them on, but I guess there’s only so much people can buy from me at any given time, so I end up sitting on a small stockpile of… I dunno, ebony hammers? Spells scrolls? Piles of dragon bones? (more…)


Why Chris Hates Monopoly

I admit that the title is a bit like clickbait, but I think it’s about time that I spoke about just how I feel about Monopoly as a game. This post will, of course, include a very strong opinion as already stated in the title, so if you’re not a fan of opinionated posts then we have plenty more articles you can read. Also, unlike your average clickbait article, I’m not going to wait until the end of the article to explain why the game has achieved the status of hatred with me. Buckle up, this might get bumpy.

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Things Ruined By Films

Oooooh, I’m in a good mood for an angry rant! Haven’t had one in a while, and this one has been preying on my mind of late.

Films – especially the big cultural phenomena – have a way of entering and shifting the social consciousness wholesale. This can be for the better, allowing film makers to affect positive social change when such change is needed, or it can create a culture all of its very own, as fans turn into gatherings turn into societies. Sometimes that change can be negative, be it a kind of misinformation, unintentionally spread by a work of fiction; or an idea so potent that it spreads despite the negative impact it can have.

This might have actual, real world consequences, but most of these are ones that just get on my nerves(more…)


Apps: A Notification of Distraction?

Tech is amazing, no matter what a detractor might say to the contrary. Every day, I wake up and check my phone to see all of the updates that came overnight. 60 emails, 10 Twitter notifications, 2 text messages and 6 personal Facebook notifications, not including the GeekOut specific ones. But in a world that’s constantly connected, sometimes, it can feel like all of this tech has turned into one big distraction.

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On Practice

Recently I got into a brief conversation on the nature of practice. In fact it’s a topic that keeps popping up lately, someone else I know was crowd sourcing ideas on how to get in to writing when you lack confidence in your ability to do so, and I found myself considering some advice that works for me, but might not be all that great for anyone else. Here’s what I didn’t say:

“Write. Keep writing. Don’t stop until you hate yourself for doing it. Then stop, because tomorrow you’re going to do it again.”

I have forgotten the last day I spent without writing anything, I carry a notebook in my manbag, I have a notepad installed on every mobile device I own, at work I carry notepads that get consumed faster when writing notes than on actual work related purposes, and even when I’m ill, or depressed, I’ll excise my frustration through words, or simply force myself to put pen to paper, hand to keyboard, black to white in some form so that I can say “today I created something”.

It works for me, I’ve looked back over some of my old work and, while I appreciate a lot of the ideas behind some of my old pieces – even on GeekOut – I still mark several differences in my writing style since I began. Even now I’m writing this at… let’s see, 00:51, ten-to-one in the morning, having woken up at an obscene hour to start the day, desperately constructing a quiz for tomorrow’s (today’s) GeekOut Shrewsbury Meet, printing the bomb defusal manual for Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes, and getting the daily duties done like eating a real meal and not just coffee and another cookie.

I do it because it makes me productive. It forces me to strive, and to accomplish, to complete projects that I set out to achieve, like the books I’m working on, the company I’m trying to set up, something more than watching all of Deep Space 9 so that I can draw judgemental comparisons to Babylon 5. And dammit I have kept to my schedule of work, producing regular content for GeekOut, beavering away at side-projects, and getting things done.

I wrote the comment above, and deleted it, in that dramatic “hold down the backspace button even though you don’t have to” fashion. Why would I encourage someone wanting to enjoy an old hobby to dive so fanatically into it in the way I have? If they had the mad devotion to writing I have then surely they wouldn’t need the advice, and if they take that advice they’ll soon lose interest in writing.

I don’t draw for example. I can draw, and I’ve no doubt I could get good at it if I devoted myself to the task, but why would I do that when a quiet doodle every now and again helps me relax after a month of hard written work? I enjoy it enough, and tend to destroy my sketches once they’re done to my satisfaction, but I take no pride in the work or set much store by the end product. It is fun.

Ultimately, if you enjoy something enough that you are willing to exhaust yourself to do it, then you are going to get good. That goes for writing, drawing, programming, the physical activities, or even public speaking. Bur don’t motivate yourself out of a good thing. Keep your hobbies as just that, and only let your passions consume you.

… Yeah, that’s what I should have wrote at the time!


Memes And The Goon Show – Nothing Is Original

No, nothing is original, because if you go back far enough and dig deep enough you can always find one thing becoming another. Ideas have an ecology in the same way that living creatures do, passing their memetics down from one generation to the next, memes prove successful according to the society in which they thrive, and vanishing where they fail. Occasionally something ancient will rear its head and find a niche, like an intellectual coelacanth, or a pattern will prove so utterly successful that it will reappear in varying forms from generation to generation, like the shark or crocodile.

We all know internet memes, surrealist non sequitur humour, comedy born of masses of minds throwing spaghetti at the internet and seeing what sticks. In so many of today’s memes you can still see the patterns left behind by the Advice Dogs, notably the top and bottom framing font in white Impact with a black outline, and that may still be instantly recognisable there are people joining the internet today who wouldn’t recognise an Insanity Wolf if it stuffed them in a blender and drank the n00b smoothie that poured out. The badly spelled “He Protecc”, you can still see the heritage of Rage Comics, and even the Lolcats that preceded them.

There’s a line of surrealism in humour, the kind of comedy that is seemingly born of chaos and irrationality, through The Mighty Boosh, Reeves and Mortimer, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, back to the days of radio comedy, the Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Peter Sellers classic, The Goon Show.

This is comedy of clever stupidity, a fast paced hurricane of bizarre humour, a few well timed misunderstandings and a subversion of expectations, then a curveball thrown into the plot before a punchline that lands like a damp napkin, an anticlimax to completely subvert the very idea of a traditional narrative, but even they had their patterns and running gags.

The doltish Neddy Seagoon would inevitably fall prey to the criminal machinations of Jim Moriarty and Grytpype-Thynne, the lad Bluebottle would get killed in a blundering and obvious fashion, and Eccles would be told to shut up by himself. These things can be predicted, unlike a competition for a land-speed record in a Wurlitzer pipe organ, or the native britons halting war with the Roman invaders for “rough play”.

Give an episode or two a listen, they’re available in vast numbers on YouTube, and you’ll hear the inspiration behind so many comedy greats of today, the reoccurring gags and characters, the erratic tones of speech and rapid fire delivery. You can even hear the mark upon internet meme humour. If you trace it further back we might have a solid explanation for ancient knights doing battle with giant snails.

Nothing is original. A friend of mine engaged me on the topic of infinity a few months ago, and his sister rather tritely observed what a foolish errand it was. I don’t know why he chose the Matrix as his example as something that has a definite beginning and an end, and yet he could barely finish the sentence before I was asking where the Matrix began? Was it on the day of release, the start of filming, in the writing? Or could it be in all of the works that inspired it, the misinterpreted works of Jean Baudrillard, the philosophies and religions, the anime, the sci-fi, all the contributing factors the have their origins extending from the nineties all the way back to year 0HE and the dawn of culture? All of human history building to one film that has in turn gone on to inspire hundreds, maybe even thousands of other works.

Nothing is original, no, not even this article, which started as a half baked idea at 23:00 the night before publishing as I idly re-watched the Punisher and thought “Damn, I need to write something” and instead shovelling Christmas shortbread into my face. It’s not new to say that there are “no new ideas” to be found any more, nor is it new to liken the spread of thoughts and ideas to the spread and mutation of species. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating thing to look at media as a breeding ground for ideas, and to see their populations rise and fall.


Rewatching

I met someone recently who simply does not watch a film twice. This I find utterly astonishing, I suppose on some level I understand that with a plethora of new experiences to be had in this world, the act of going back over a film, game, TV show, book, anything that you’ve already enjoyed and doing it again might seem like an inefficient use of time, time that could be better spent discovering something new. After all, you’ll never get through it all in one lifetime.

But in this season where there is nothing on TV but the stuff you’ve already seen a thousand times, I feel that now is the ideal time to acknowledge the benefit of going back for a second time around. I’ll be talking about films, but feel free to replace verbs as applicable. (more…)


Scare Your Children

This will be a short story, it is quite late as I write this, and I am also beavering away at some of the other projects that we have going on in the background. Book layouts are not as fun to play around with as you might think.

After about six years in retail I have passed the point of putting on a facade of normalcy, and instead encourage my customers to see things from my perspective. Aside from the fact that I am sick to death as being treated like some kind of subhuman, shambling manservant – good for heavy lifting and raising lightning rods – encouraging people to see me as human actually sparks some great conversations. (more…)


The Steam Summer Sale ’17

The infamous Steam Sale has come again, and amidst the veritable deluge of prices crashing to earth there are some serious bargains. I can honestly say I’ve bought more in this sale than I have done in years, a few of those curiosity pieces reduced to pennies, blockbuster titles of yesteryear brought to all time lows. Financially speaking the going has been good this summer if you’ve got a nice full wishlist so you can monitor the good deals when they come.

Steam’s efforts to gamify their sales process and engage their users in the buying process may- at one time – have revolutionised the retail industry, but their recent efforts have been a little lacklustre, repetitive, and at times a little sloppily executed. So let’s talk about the latest attempt, the sticker collection.

Every 24 hours you get the usual chance to cycle through your discovery queue ignoring the popular games, watching the odd trailer that catches your eye, maybe racking up an item or two for the wishlist, and collecting trading cards for the regular badge that you’ll never quite complete. The queue also earns you stickers, as do two other “quests” that change every day that get you further and further involved in Steam’s various community features. You slowly build up a sticker collection that build up various scenes of game characters enjoying typical summer activities, barbecues in the park, going to the seaside, time out in the wilderness with friends, that sort of thing.

And yet I find myself thinking that this may be one of the least interesting and blandly transparent, and maybe that’s because I’ve seen too many. Sure there’s plenty of new users who’ve never taken part, maybe aren’t aware of all of the community features they’ve got going on, and they’ve added a few lately that they probably want to shout about a little, and rightly so, they’ve put in the backbone to take their once barely known selling platform for their singular line of games and created a monster of the industry that’s stripped PC games from the highstreet and have forced the consoles to give deep thought to their business model… but that’s a different article, I’ll stop now.

Turning your engagement in a product and into the sale into a game is the perfect approach for Steam, but it requires some feedback, some reward, and filling up a sticker book with some mostly boring stickers? Ok, seeing Geralt of Rivia flipping burgers is entertaining enough but most of those stickers are cups. One of the pages has mostly cacti, and to be honest a few of them just don’t fit the background.

And I find myself asking unpleasant questions like: “What exactly do Steam levels do for me?” and “Why am I so entertained by collecting the cards?” I’m not in this to chase numbers, I find I want more out of my experience, and practically any amount of return on investment would make me far more interested.

I’m well aware that the Steam sales are a deal that benefits everyone, we get cheap games, Steam makes money, and the creators make money (although… no, y’know what, that’s another article again), so I’m not saying that the sales are a bad idea, far from it. But they have a motif to pursue, and right now it feels like they’re just rolling out the same recycled picture show and haven’t even reached the bar on that either.