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Can't you hear that singing, sounds like gold
Maybe I can only hear it in my head
Five years ago, we owned that road
Now it's rolling over us instead
Waylon Beulay is dead

Five years ago tonight (same day of the week, too) was the final session of Unknown USA. I hope to post something longer to mark this little anniversary in the next few days, but I am packing the car just now for (appropriately enough) a long drive. Much love to my old and often missed road-tripping companions. Pancakes are on me.
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A few months ago I mentioned the film student who was interested in trying to turn Unknown USA into a screenplay. He and I have bounced a couple of emails back and forth since then with him asking for clarifications and elaborations of various things on the wiki. All y'all who have GM'ed before know how fun and rare and self-indulgent that is, somebody actually asking you to yammer on at length about some old game of yours. So that's fun.

The first question he hit me with was "what's the deal with Danny Greer?" and my answer turned into a frickin novel, which, among other things explains what the hell I thought was going on in that session with the Hollow Earth and the Silver Age Knights of the Road and the Oneiros. Which you sure didn't ask to read, but that's what LJ-cuts and the vertical scroll bar are for. )
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Tags: The best disinfectant, Kremlinology, Sour Grapes 2.0, ignoring Ralph’s pleas.

Hello, world. I’m still in the thick of grading, and so I’ve been studiously ignoring Ralph’s pleas to post to a certain “group blog,” on which I am ostensibly a “contributor.” Even more studiously than usual, I mean.

But this just came across the transom, and it seems like the sort of thing that everybody is about to know about very soon (where “everybody” means “that weird and tiny subset of people who knows and cares about the academic job market”) . Or maybe those of you on the job market know about it already, but it was news to me: the Academic Careers Wiki. Who is interviewing, who is hiring, who has sent out rejection letters, who got rejected by their candidates, and who got the job you didn’t get. This is not H-Net. This is not where you go to find out what jobs you ought to apply for. It is where you go after you’ve applied, in order to vent, fret, dig up dirt, preen, spill beans, share gossip, and find out why oh why they didn’t choose you.

This strikes me as possibly frightening to some and addictive to others. You might have to dig around the wiki a bit to get a feel for why. Here’s the list of current U.S. History searches. Scroll down to the University of Chicago’s 19th Century search to see how much detail some of these entries go into. Here’s a page linking to all the current History searches. All in the fluid, caveat lector, “nobody’s in charge here” state that is essential to the Wiki format.

What happens when you harness the collective gossip power / angst / desperation of thousands of job-hungry PhDs? When you take the kind of post-rejection Kremlinology and sour grapes that we all engage(d) in during our job hunts and wiki-fy it? It is, potentially, a lot more powerful than wistful First Person columns in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. There’s room for all sorts of hurt feelings here, not to mention breaches of confidentiality and professional conduct. But there’s also potential to shine some badly-needed light on a process often conducted in conditions of extreme ignorance and fear. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said Louis Brandeis. Let the sun shine in.

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.
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Well, I do have hopes of posting to this journal again someday, especially as my school year is coming to a close. Anyone can have hopes, right? But most recent evidence would seem to suggest that this LiveJournal's best days are behind it.

Capitulating to this trend (for now) I've at least stepped into the Web 2.0s and tagged the archives of this once lively journal (see right-hand column). It's a predictably Borgesian set of categories, from alt.history to baby pix to the Samia sock puppet guy to the Xmas GILT exchange to a handy compendium of posts in which somebody steals somebody else's bit (almost surely incomplete).

[ profile] mgrasso has always been a stalwart promoter of my archives. I invite the rest of you also to root around nostalgically in the days when this journal was often pretty good.

Edit: Also, hi! I hope you are all well! Happy birthdays!
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Not a Route 96 post. Much much geekier. Mostly for [ profile] mgrasso and [ profile] head58, though [ profile] gammafodder1 and [ profile] sneech515 may be amused in spite of themselves.

So ever since Mike linked to that Star Trek reboot, and then started talking about running the old Dragonlance modules, and then news came out of the Dragonlance movie (Lex Luthor as Tanis! Jack Bauer as Raistlin! Xena as Goldmoon!), I've been threatening to write a big post on how one might revamp or reboot the Dragonlance series, scraping off some of the fromage and finding new hotness within. Battlestar Galactica is obviously the touchstone here, Exhibit A in how to resurrect, retool, and reimagine even the mustiest of old geek loves. (But see also many of Grant Morrison's superhero comics, and, if I may be immodest, my Starchildren game in a way).

But then Andy and the Story Games kids came along and stole this terrible, terrible idea right out of my head and made a thread of it, forcing my hand! (And probably saving me from mulling this over for another six months.) So I banged out my ideas in the thread. Here's my contribution (behind the LJ-cut) though if you're nerd enough to have made it this far, the whole thing is worth checking out: Dragonlance Gets Awesome-O-fied.

Read more... )

(No, I'm not going to link to the Hotties of Dragonlance Gone Wild '05 thread.)
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...or, "Round numbers make Rob wax nostalgic once again!"


Ten years ago, in the summer of 1996, my friends Pete ([ profile] foogie) and Derek (no LJ, though he was the first person I ever knew with a weblog) and I drove across the USA and back. Actually, that makes the trip sound more linear than it was. Really, we drove around the country, in a big rambling loop. We avoided the interstates whenever possible, taking two-lane highways and seeking out all the roadside Americana we could find: Graceland and Las Vegas, sure, but also things like Carhenge, Roswell's UFO Research Center, and the World's Largest Talking Cow. We covered ten thousand miles and visited twenty-five states. It was one of the most excellent things I've ever done in my life.

After we returned, I wrote the whole trip up and published it as a zine. Because that was what one did in the days before weblogs. Ten years later, to commemorate the anniversary of that trip, to recycle a bunch of my old crap share the love with a new generation, and to imagine a time where I could seriously contemplate spending four freaking weeks tooling across the continent with my underemployed buddies, I'm going to blog the zine, entry by entry, on this snazzy new blog. (I'm also using this as a way to try out WordPress, since I'm thinking of switching Old is the New New over to that at some point.)

Roadside Americana! In-jokes! Ten-year-old comedy! WHO ARE YOU TO RESIST?

Come, get your kicks on Route 96.
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Calling on the LazyWeb here: Does anybody remember a board game, I think it was called "Disaster!", in which the board had four disaster areas—an earthquake, a burning building, a crashing airplane, a sinking ship—and you went around the board trying to escape each disaster in turn while trapping your opponents therein? We had this game when I was a kid, and I loved it. The plastic pawns were excellent. I think they were (understandably) nervous-looking little hunchbacks. I went Googling for images of this game to illustrate a post over at Old is the New New about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (today's the 100th anniversary) but I can't find it anywhere. Anyone? Bueller?

Edit: Well, that didn't take long. [ profile] head58 hied straight to and found it, and [ profile] mgrasso might've beat him back here if he hadn't stopped to type in the "img" tag:

See Inside. )

Man, does that bring back memories. I'd forgotten it was bilingual. Tremblement de terre! Ecrassement! Fire, fire, incendie! "Sunk... Naufrage!" sounds like it oughta be a leet-speak putdown, like own3d. Thanks, guys.
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"OK: any historic figure."
"I'd fight Gandhi."
"Good answer."
"How about you?"
"Big guy, big reach. Skinny guys fight 'til they're burger."

So Clinton Nixon and Vincent Baker have been "interviewing" each other in a thread at Fair Game—I put scare quotes around "interviewing" because it looks suspiciously like two friends just having a fun, free-ranging conversation—and one of them asked the other who their dream gaming group from history would be. They both had great answers:

Clincent: I'd like to play a game of Dogs in the Vineyard with Thomas Jefferson, Mae West, Wyatt Earp, Mark Twain, and Ambrose Bierce. Twain's the GM, of course. Jefferson's all "the-what-the-what" when he finds out what happened in the western US. "A theocratic governorship? Nonsensical fantasy!" And we all laugh, and Mae's character shoots someone in the face and then she winks at me across the table.

Vinton: We're playing My Life with Master. It's me, Jesus, Salvador Dali, and Christopher Robin Milne (as an adult), with Michael S. Miller GMing. Jesus gets really into it, he's all like "yessss masssster" and rolling his eyes wildly, but Michael makes Salvador Dali cry. Christopher Robin Milne OWNS the horror revealed.

I especially like that "of course" Twain's the GM. Like, duh.

I'll have to think about who my dream gaming group would be. Some of you have already heard my reverie about Elvis Presley's Jungle Room at Graceland, and how it is the Platonic Ideal of the 1970s rec room, and how certain I am that if Elvis had lived only a few more years he would have played D&D there with the Memphis Mafia, because that is so clearly what the room is built for. But it wouldn't have been a dream game, it would have been lame as hell, because Elvis wouldn't DM, he'd get Sonny West or somebody to do it, and Sonny would just totally kiss up to Elvis and give his character 18/00 Strength and 18/00 Charisma and tons of magic items and every other dungeon room would just be elf girls in white cotton panties.

I'm posting a lot, huh? You might think that means I have no work to do... but really it means I have lots of work that I don't want to do. I want somebody to "interview" me!
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Do you know what today is?

Of course you do!

It's Saint Amnesty to Post About Random Out of Date Stuff's Day!

For it was on this very day back in, oh, let's say the 80s, between the day that the eponymous Saint Amnesty to Post About Random Out of Date Stuff, patron saint of unpaid LiveJournal accounts, finished his grading for the term and the day that he went away on holiday, was killed by a car bomb—a holy car bomb, mind you—and the rest, as they say, is history. So it is that on this day every year, people with unpaid LiveJournal accounts honor St. Amnesty by posting about stuff that they meant to post about months ago, and get toffee.

The thing is, I kind of always knew my brother would grow up to train an army of killer of Asian 4-year-olds... )
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My friend [ profile] foogie's new user icon reminds me of something I've wanted to post about for eons.

As some of you know, in university I edited a campus humor paper called Golden Words. The GW crew ran the gamut from wickedly funny comics to sweet dorks and over-enthusiastic goobs. There were a bunch of people content to recycle the same cartoons about beer goggles every week, but there were also always a few guys (and girls) who scared me with their insane genius. Elan Mastai was one of those guys.

I lost touch with Elan after graduation, but I knew he wanted to be a screenwriter and, ferocious as that world is, I had (and still have) little doubt that he would succeed. He's just a brilliant writer and a way cool guy with a really skewed, mordant sense of humor. I could actually never tell when he was being serious and when he was having me on. The last time I saw him was seven or eight years ago at a wedding or engagement party for Colin Stein, another GW genius who I wish I was still in touch with. It was a reunion of sorts and conversation was all "What are you doing now?" Everyone I saw Elan talk to, he gave a different answer: "I'm writing the world's first hypertext novel." "I've dropped out of school to follow Noam Chomsky around the country." "This party is an experiment I'm running for my PhD in memetic psychology." He told me he'd just sold a screenplay about a big city mayor who switches lives with his kids' babysitter.

If you'd asked me then to predict what sort of movie Elan would break into the business with, I'd have pictured something like Pulp Fiction, except cooler and funnier and edgier still. Well, Elan is in the business now, but his breakthrough project was not exactly what I expected. He was, in fact, the screenwriter of MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate.

It is, if you haven't had the pleasure of seeing it, a movie about a skateboarding chimpanzee.

Better yet, it is the sequel to a movie about a hockey-playing chimpanzee. (That would be MVP: Most Valuable Primate.) The epic trilogy is concluded in MXP: Most Xtreme Primate, in which the eponymous chimp snowboards, but Elan was not involved, and true fans of MVP regard this final chapter as apocryphal.

A lot of you have already heard this story up to that point. Here comes the value added. Checking out MVP 2 on the IMDB, I came across what is perhaps the best movie review I have ever read. I quote it here in its sublime entirety:
Like Old Yeller, but with a skateboard, a monkey, and a homeless boy.
Author: cfcarino from United States
I hate skateboarding, I don't care much for chimps, and I'm a 68 year old retired veteran. If my pansy grandson didn't whine like a dog that lost its leg when it got hit by a jeep, and then the dog had to crawl its way back to the house, I wouldn't have watched this movie. I'm glad I did. This chimp knows what 98% of Americans don't: he's gonna die. Once a person comes to grip with their own mortality, they'll ride a skateboard on a big ramp, or close their eyes and shoot until they stop hearing screams. This movie made me smile, it made me think, but most importantly it made me think I was smiling.

If all my men were like MVP, we would've walked out of Hanoi with a few more ears. But they weren't. They wanted out. Did they think I wanted to stay there?! Everyday I think back to what I could've done. Everyday I'm one step closer to dying. I'm glad I saw this movie before I did.

And the piece de resistance:
10 out of 13 people found the following comment useful.

It's worth clicking through to read all of that author's movie reviews. Because he's reviewed exactly three movies: MVP, MVP 2, and MXP. And each review is better than the last. Come to think of it, given what I know about Elan's sense of humor, there's a very real chance that "cfcarino from United States" actually is Elan. Whatever the truth, I salute all three of you: Elan, cfcarino, and MVP.


I want to be clear about why I'm posting all this. Yes, I think it's funny that this really cool, edgy guy I used to know wrote a movie about a skateboarding chimp. But I'm not sneering at it at all. MVP 2 was the biggest-grossing Canadian movie of 2001. And everybody I know who saw it loved it.* So I think it's awesome. Elan is great and I hope he'll be a big success. (Elan also has co-writer credit on Alone in the Dark, starring Christian Slater and Tara Reid. That film did not get such great reviews, but I lay the blame for that at the door of director Uwe Boll, who has made a long career out of turning B-grade video games into Z-grade movies. (See:,, and Penny Arcade on Uwe Boll: "Vell, first, I am hating ze movies.") But again, lest I sound at all snide: How many Hollywood movies have I written?)

*OK, so I only know one person who saw MVP 2—my brother J—but he really did like it. My brother's college housemate apparently loves "all movies where animals do human stuff." So J has seen them all, from Air Bud to um, Air Bud 4: Seventh Inning Fetch, and MVP 2, J reports, was the cream of the crop.


I made a head-clearing list last night of all the things I've been meaning to blog about lately—here, at Old is the New New, at Cliopatria, and even at the lonely, cobweb-strewn 20 by 20 Room. They range from intellectual (writing pedagogy, Cliopatria's symposium on Sean Wilentz, Jim Carroll's thoughts on God) to personal (props to L for kicking ass in grad school and surviving unending Canadian bureaucracy, my brother's adventures in China, long overdue thanks to my friends for some wonderful thoughtful gifts) to geeky (the narrativist Rolling Stones rpg that came to me the other night). But wouldn't you know it? The one post I actually get around to writing is the one about the snowboarding, skateboarding, hockey-playing chimp.
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The house is packed; we leave first thing tomorrow. I owe all the Bostonians reading this one more memory lane post, specifically about how entirely wonderful all of you are, but it will have to be written in Canada. Bye, everybody. Thanks.


Jun. 21st, 2005 05:25 pm
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I'd better skip ahead a bit, brother: yesterday was eaten up by moving stuff, and my desktop gets packed up tomorrow, and everything else gets packed up Thursday, and then we're in limbo for two weeks and I don't know how much I'll be online.

My 2001 entry was going to be about moving to JP, and the night my car was stolen and we were inexplicably traumatized by a little girl jive-dancing on the subway, coming back from a fancy dinner we couldn't afford. By extension, it was going to be about class and race in America and coming to terms with all that. Though I could have also talked about giving up finger-quotes for Lisa, or getting traction on the dissertation, or the time these dudes flew a couple of planes into some buildings. And then 2002 was all about weddings, ours and the seven others we went to that year. But some of you have been waiting patiently for me to get to gaming, and since it's half of what we talk about around here, I've got to cover it. I just don't know how to do it justice.

Big pile of gaming memories behind the cut. )

Yeah, you probably had to be there. But if you were there, thanks. Because we were there together.
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We just got in from Doyle's, and you guys are the Fonz. Thanks for coming out, everybody. I hope you had as much fun as I did. I'm so touched by the present, and blown away by the song. I know I was supposed to wait to listen to it, but I didn't, and man, I knew [ profile] peaseblossom could write a song, but [ profile] head58 is great, toy guitar or no!

(And [ profile] jeregenest and [ profile] peaseblossom, you were there in spirit, and I hope you enjoyed the concert and getting to be a couple tonight. Plus, thanks for dinner last night, which was astonishing as always.)

Now I'm all nostalgic and blue about leaving, but in a good way, I guess, if that's possible. Thanks again. :)


Jun. 18th, 2005 11:53 am
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Hey, kids: do you remember 1999?

Do you remember when there was a New Economy and we called the internet "cyberspace" and websites "new media" and the stock market was going up and up and up and "nobody can be told what the Matrix is" and every week another kid was a software billionaire? In 1999, half my students were cutting classes to sweet-talk venture capitalists and launch IPOs, and I thought about when I was 12 and split my time between playing D&D and programming Apple BASIC, but then I only kept one of those geeky hobbies going over the years, and in 1999 I asked myself, is it possible I backed the wrong horse?

Well, do ya? )


Jun. 15th, 2005 12:20 pm
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That's you! You're a triangle! You!

OK, it's 1997, and can we have something a little more cheerful this time? In my second and third year of grad school, I lived with three friends from the dorms (see, I did make friends in the dorms eventually—they were all Americans, mind you) in a gorgeous apartment in Inman Square, one that four grad students couldn't possibly afford today. Once or twice a year, we threw massive house-shaking parties there. I don't know quite how we did it, to tell the truth. I've never thrown parties like that before or since. But the emails went out, and the guests poured in, and our place would be packed with bodies, some in attractive shapes, and nearly all shimmying and shaking and bumping up against each other in a way that belies my usual portrait of grad school as a social wasteland. This was soon after the Chemical Brothers muscled into the mainstream, and I can remember the aptly-named Block Rocking Beats rattling windows all the way down the street. For years to come, people I'd never met would tell me about the epic parties they attended on Marie Street in 1997.

But my signature memory is not one of the raging parties—it's the hour or two after one of them. Read more... )

Shout-out to Inman Square: Dining too fine to waste on grad students, so get those property values rising! East Coast Grill, the first good place in Boston I managed to take my parents! The Druid, which is fun to say in a ridiculous Irish accent ("tha' DROOOOOOD!"), and where they pass the hat for the I.R.A! Jae's (not there anymore), with great-for-beginners sushi and killer pad thai! 1369, when you absolutely need coffee served by a lesbian but you can't make it all the way to Jamaica Plain! Olé, for awesome $8 guacamole served in an infinitely dense chunk of black hole! The Thirsty Scholar, where I got to hang out with Jim Carroll! That Portuguese sandwich place, where L and I went after several early dates! That Indian place, that wasn't actually that good! That Southern place, that I never went to!


Jun. 14th, 2005 11:23 pm
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This is supposed to be a memory from 1996, but it needs a memory from 1994 for context. Or maybe I just want to brag/confess. Read more... )


Now here's a random 2005 moment for you, no extra charge. In fact, this took place just today, though it does have a bit of an early 90s feel to it. I got an ice cream this afternoon at J.P. Licks. When I got to the counter, a middle-aged woman was shouting at the cashier that one of their flavor names was offensive. "We are a multi-racial family, and we find that completely inappropriate!" But I didn't catch which flavor it was, and I'm dying to know. They all seem so innocuous. Lumpy Primate? Black and White Malted? Cow Tracks? Rum and Raisin?

Another mysterious but very J.P. moment, come to think of it: I walked by a cop today giving a driver a ticket. The woman getting the ticket was screaming at the (male) cop, "I'M A LESBIAN! A LESBIAN! A DYKE!"

Ok, one more. This was a few weeks ago, and it actually took place in Allston rather than J.P. But it stuck in my head, and the theme of angry women continues. Woman on cell phone, yelling well above the din of a coffee shop: "LET ME TALK TO HER! LET ME TALK TO HER! CHRIST, WILL YOU LET ME TALK TO HER?" She then hangs up the phone and says calmly to the woman behind her in line, "I wish I'd never made contact with my biological family."

Edit: I got it! The new wasabi-flavored ice cream, Turning Japanese. Seems pretty harmless to me, but that's gotta be it. You can take J.P. Licks out of Jamaica Plain, but you can't take the Jamaica Plain out of J.P. Licks.


Jun. 13th, 2005 11:55 am
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Kids today growing up too fast
Nostalgic for the last ten years before the last ten years have passed
So why you gotta act like you know when you don't know?
It's okay if you don't know everything.

I set foot in Harvard Square for the very first time on a sunny, sweaty Sunday in September 1995. Ten years ago, or just about. Here's 1995-me: he's getting out of a taxi in front of Out of Town News. No, actually it was across the street in front of Mass Army Navy, where there's now a Verizon store inside another Verizon store inside a bank inside three co-located Starbucks. 1995-me wears jeans, Converse hi-tops, a Grateful Dead T-shirt, and a red and black hoodie: one of those rough wool hippy hoodies you might buy at a campus bazaar for Guatemalan social justice in the earnest early '90s. (Which is exactly where 1993-me bought it.) 1995-me is skinnier than 2005-me and he doesn't need glasses. He has much longer hair—not as long as it was four months earlier at graduation, but still shaggy, Kurt Cobain length. And he's dragging a humongous blue duffel bag, which weighs a ton because it contains most of his life. And he doesn't know anything about anything.

Meandering memories and lame philosophizing.
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More goodies from the Closet of Christmases Past. I don't expect these things to get the same visceral reaction from everyone as the gaming stuff, but they're a fun nostalgia trip for me personally. And if you happen to see anything that intrigues you, speak up.

I wanna publish zines, and rage against machines )
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Eep. Our gung ho young realtor wants to put the condo on the market by April, which, as I'm sure you can tell by the beautiful balmy weather we're having, is not very far away. This means doing all the little home repairs we've put off doing for the four years we've actually lived in the place. It also means getting rid of, or at least packing away, about two thirds of our possessions. Apparently crap like "books" are a total buzz-kill when you're selling a house, somewhere in desirability between "infestation of roaches" and "unquiet Indian dead." I'm actually psyched about paring down my material possessions. ("You are not your khakis, you are not your graphic novels, you are not your ironic collection of amusing cereal boxes and Mao-ist kitsch...") But it's a little more sudden than I expected.

So yesterday I grabbed some torches and a gnomish hireling and ventured into my office closet to see what possessions I could liberate myself from. Look what treasure I unearthed!

Care to take a peek inside?



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