Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shame I Didn't Win the Raffle, It Would Have Been Fun Being Photographed With the Oversized Check

I got a letter in the mail today. I'm not sure about the legality of reprinting these sorts of documents without consent, but I don't think the sender would mind too much. (I do love how I'm so concerned about all sorts of legal concerns when it comes to this blog... I have to preface everything I do that I find slightly questionable, so that when I'm considered for a Supreme Court nomination down the road, I won't have to explain the comments I made years ago about how a wise Latina woman could make better decisions than myself.)

A bit of backstory first, I suppose. On the Fourth of July, I marched in the local parade with what was called the "Warren County Band", if I recall correctly. It consisted of "Students and alumni from Warren, Youngsville, and Sheffield High Schools." (Again, loosely quoting what was listed in the parade program, the newspaper, the Fourth of July website, and even read aloud at the Judges' Stand. This is significant later.) I neglected to count exact numbers, but between the three schools, there were probably 60 or so instrumentalists, and I don't even know how many color guard, maybe another 15-20. A good-sized parade entry, considering that many others weren't able to participate due to being in other organizations in the parade, having to work, or being out of town. (Again, this is significant later.)

So far as I know, participation in the group was completely voluntary, and word was spread solely by word of mouth (or at least, that's how I found out about it). On the first and the third, we met at Warren High School for two-hour-long rehearsals. The piece was an American trilogy of sorts, with "America the Beautiful", "Chester", and "America". I'd never heard of Chester before, is it safe to assume it's one of those Civil War-era songs that nobody really knows about anymore? But anyway. It was a nice arrangement, and I had it mostly memorized pretty quickly, and anything I didn't have memorized, I could make up fairly easily. (Hey, I play tuba, all I really do is arpeggiation on the bassline anyway.)

The parade went rather smoothly, and it was good fun too. We were fairly early in the parade line-up, so we had plenty of time to put our instruments back on the bus and go back to see much of the rest of the parade, which was nice. For a group that was thrown together in about four hours' time and had only one hour of practice with marching (although most were veterans from their own high school's/college's bands), you could really tell these kids all wanted to be there and were ready to put on a good show. What surprised me the most was the high level of professionalism of these kids (and I should mention that while I'm saying "kids", I'm really only three years older than the majority of them, so it's mostly my non-existent seniority talking when I say that). If anything, it was the adults in the band (teachers, no less) who were breaking form more often and shouting things to the crowd (but then again, it was Mr. Lyle. You have to love Mr. Lyle. He's allowed to.)

Letter arrived in the mail today. It was addressed to me, although my address was somehow apparently wrong on their file (they were 30 off of my actual street address, but it was fixed on the label on the envelope with a pen). No worries, it made it here anyway. I look to see who it's from... the School District. The Superintendent. What? Why would he be sending me a letter... Ah, let's just open it.


Dear Steve:

I would like to express my thanks for your efforts and participation in the Fourth of July Parade. Your dedication to your art is commendable and does not go unnoticed. That you were willing to take time from your busy life to express your community spirit and help to provide entertainment for others is very admirable. I, as well as all of the Warren County residents who were in attendance at the parade, appreciate your contribution to this important event in our area's history.


Robert E. Terrill


Huh... Wow... I uh... Huh. Very much not what I was expecting to get from them. Or anybody. Very much not what I was expecting. But I had to put the letter down rather quickly, because I knew that the more I looked at what he said, the more I'd pick it apart, and I'd be unhappy with it.

Like I'm about to do now.

It's no secret that I'm amazingly overanalytical. All eight fans of my blog know that I tend to overexpound on little things and rattle on for hours in mundane chapter-length essays. Almost instantly, my mind started to do that with this letter. This "dedication to [my] art" he speaks of, does he know I'm not in Music Ed anymore? I guess I've not been very open about it, particularly with a lot of teachers (whom I had done observations with, whoops). My dedication "does not go unnoticed"? What have I done that's showed dedication, and who's been noticing? "Willing to take time from my busy life"? No sir, it was a pleasure to not have to work those nights... Did everyone get a letter like this? All these thoughts flooded my mind faster than you could say something that takes precisely three seconds to say.

The biggest bit that bothers me is the last sentence. "I, as well as all of the Warren County residents who were in attendance at the parade, appreciate your contribution [...]."

I walked into the dojo on the Monday after the parade for my morning workout, and as I was signing into the attendance record, a lady (who I'm not even going to mention how I knew her, but suffice it to say that we see each other on a regular basis so we know each other decently well) promptly poked her head around the door. She asked me if I was in the band, and I said yes. She asked me who all was in the group, and I again quoted "students and alumni from" yada yada. She then mentioned that she didn't know that, because she didn't see that printed anywhere. I told her that it was directly printed in the parade line-up, in the newspaper and online, as well as quoted verbatim by the Judges' Stand.

She then said (quoting loosely, as usual): "Well why didn't Warren have its own band in the parade? I'm mad. I'm honestly mad that Mr. Lyle wouldn't make it a requirement for students to be in the parade. I'm mad that Warren doesn't have its own band in the parade."


This is a recurring theme, by the way. Annually, there is a complaint printed in the newspaper's editorial page by some concerned citizen saying how ashamed they are of Warren's high school marching band and how they weren't in the parade (one even directly reprimanded Mr. Lyle) and how they are going to refuse to support the band in the future. Eisenhower High School requires their students to be in the parade, why can't Warren? Usually, at least one person, sometimes a student, sometimes an adult, jumps to the defense of the band, and says that many students are unable to participate in the parade because of involvement with other organizations in the parade, having to work during the parade, or being out of town for the weekend... Sound familiar? Exactly the same reasons I mentioned above, and exactly the same reasons given almost every year in a response published in the editorial page. How come Eisenhower does it and we don't? I don't know. I'm not sure what rules their director (whose name I'm intentionally not putting here, because I know I'll misspell it) has in place for that to happen. Eisenhower invited other schools' band members to partake in an all-county band one year that was a terrible flop for several reasons, which helped to fuel my surprise in the fact that this year's mixed band worked so well. Eisenhower was the only band who didn't participate in our mixed band, and since they were ahead of us in the line-up, I can't even make a fair judgement about how well they played, but from what I heard, they were... but anyway.

I'm not entirely proud of this, but after she said this, I threw the pen I was holding on the ground. Partially out of genuine rage, but also more out of the need to do something humorous, because I knew that if I didn't control myself, the gloves were going to come off. (It could have been worse, I could have always thrown the pen at her. And hot dang, that blue dot would have had quite the lasting impression.) I then explained the above arguments to her, work, away, and other organizations, but somehow, she still was not satisfied. I'm not entirely sure how the argument ended, but we were both looking at a newspaper where she asked about the other bands in the parade that won awards (and oh look, the Warren County Band, consisting of students and alumni from Warren, Youngsville, and Sheffield High Schools even got an award. Ver-freaking-batim.).

I really wish I never got into that argument, partially because it's bad form no matter how you look at it, but also because I felt like I really didn't get my point across. I couldn't convince her otherwise, and that bothered me. And since she clearly had a problem with the Warren High School having it's own band in the parade, then invariably, others would as well, and another freaking letter would be put in the editorial page, but I wasn't going to take it anymore. Should another angry letter show up in the paper (there was none, by the way), I was going to send in the definitive response.

Something's very much not right, if in the spirit of such a holiday, one tiny and insignificant thing isn't just "so", and therefore, the entire day is ruined because of it. If the non-appearance of Warren's marching band in the parade upsets you to the point where the day is absolutely ruined, then you've got one perverted idea as to what Independence Day is about. Surely the parade is for the purposes of celebration and entertainment, but if one particular act doesn't show up and your spirit of celebration is ruined because of this, you're clearly not celebrating the same thing the rest of us are. I'm reminded of an incident at the restaurant I work at on Easter Sunday, in which a table of patrons (who were hideously rude in every way imaginable) got so upset by their waitress's service (she did nothing wrong) that the father angrily declared to the manager, "Our Easter has been ruined by you!" I'm sorry, but just because you didn't get your feet massaged by the busboy, doesn't mean Jesus didn't rise from the dead. If your entire Easter rests on the quality of one meal, you've clearly got the wrong idea as to what Easter's about.

It's not enough that these complaints about the lack of a Warren High band come annually, you then factor in the fact that completely legitimate and honest reasons are provided every time, but they continue to be ignored. The first time this concern was raised I-don't-know-how-many years ago, it was a matter of genuine curiosity and the desire to find out. Every subsequent time was pure ignorance. We've given you the exact reasons why, but you refuse to hear them. When you refuse to hear what we have to say, you are officially labeled as "ignorant", and since this holiday clearly isn't meeting up to your expectations, maybe you shouldn't "celebrate" with us. I'm sorry, but you're no longer wanted here. Go to Brazil for a day.

Okay, so maybe it's a bit harsh, but it's the truth. Despite our efforts to provide for the community in any way we can, it's clearly not enough for certain people. It saddens me that these people continue to rattle the newswire in the way that they do, but some people feel that they just have to be heard by everyone who glances at page A-4, willingly or not. (Me? No, I just blog.)

Thank you, Dr. Terrill, for your note of recognition. It was a very pleasant surprise and brightened my day. However, I feel that your words are a bit exaggerated. Not everyone appreciates our contributions, as much as we'd like to think so. There will always be people who just can't be satisfied. But you clearly saw something good in our efforts, and for that, we thank you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If I Were a Bad Demoman, I Wouldn't Be Sittin' Here Discussin' It With Ya, Now Would I?

I just realized that I have five icons for demos of games sitting on my desktop, all in a row. Let's discuss, shall we? Left to right, then...

Brainpipe - link
Synopsis (in 10 words): Guide the eyeball down the speedy tube and go insane...?
What I Think of It: The subtitle for this game is "A Plunge to Unhumanity". The website suggests that this game does some weird things to your brain (the terribly photoshopped tabloid-esque pictures are worth a look). Yet somehow, all this game is is a fly-through-the-tunnel-and-dodge-the-obstacles game. The visuals are gorgeous and the sounds go well with the experience, but the fact that they're trying to make this game seem like it's some sort of brain-altering experience just... I dunno. The effect they're trying to get really doesn't work by slapping on pseudo-psychological terms.
Will I Buy It? No. The demo only lets you start from the beginning of two levels, and I can't beat the third to see if anything interesting happens, but it's enough to show you that it's just another tunnel-flying game. It's pretty, but not worth the dough.

Yosumin! - link
Synopsis: Meet quotas by eliminating boxes of similar shapes by corners.
What I Think of It: Oh dear, you've got to love Japanese-based games and their ability to slap smiley faces on everything and suddenly make them seem 180% more appealing. Yosumin is definitely fun, although it's not the first time I've seen the game mechanic of finding quadrilaterals with corners of the same color in a grid. So it doesn't get the novel points, but it definitely gets the ear candy points for having one of my favorite music loop soundtracks I've heard in a game in a while.
Will I Buy It: Still trying to decide. The hour-long demo was quite enticing, although I'm not sure if it'll really be worth the money in the later stages. If nothing else though, be sure to check out JohnB's review on JiG for this game. There's even a link to an online version to try out (if you're willing to blindly click Japanese until things work).

Flock! - link
Synopsis: Aliens guide rubbery sheep to ship in beautiful patchwork land.
What I Think of It: This game and I got off on the wrong foot. Initially, the controls were terribly confusing and frustrating, as I thought you had to move the UFO around the level using the mouse, which was a pain, since it never went where you wanted it to go. On a later play, I realized the keyboard could be used to control it as well, but my attitudes toward this game were already tainted. Flock!'s patchworky-quilty style is very nice to look at, in an almost Wallace and Grommit sort of way. The demo was only three levels, so I'm not sure how much this game has to offer in the way of "physics puzzles" (so far it's just been move and push), so I'm sure it's got potential, but...
Will I Buy It? I'm leaning towards to no. Maybe this game is great, but my initial experience left a very foul taste in my mouth, and I'm not sure I want to shell out the money for this one either. It does have fantastic production values though, so you have to give them credit for that.

Cogs - link
Synopsis: Slide tiles around to make strange contraptions run. And again.
What I Think of It: Be warned, this game is for sliding puzzle enthusiasts. If you've never been able to solve those sliding-tile puzzles you picked up at the dentist's office as a kid, I'd recommend staying away from this one. I'll give you a moment to scroll down if you wish. Still here? Okay. Cogs is all about sliding tiles with gears and pipes and other fun stuff on them to power little machines of sorts. Surprisingly, you can really stretch the concept of sliding puzzles, by putting different requirements for time, number of moves, and even throw in wicked variations (two-sided sliding puzzles, pseudo-3D sliding puzzles, etc.). The sounds and graphics make you feel like you're playing inside Big Ben, which is pretty neat, but in the end, it really is a sliding puzzle, times I-don't-know-how-many.
Will I Buy It? Surprisingly, the jury's still out on this one. It's a cheaper title, and I do kinda enjoy sliding puzzles, but the ~10 level demo really wasn't enough for me to know whether I'd like it later on or not. This is a prime example of a pet peeve of mine. I hate it when demos only give you samples of initial, easy puzzles. I could whip through those pretty easily, but will it ever get harder later on? Could you maybe show us the X1 puzzles in demos, like levels 1, 11, 21, 31, etc.?

I-Fluid (or spelling variants) - link
Synopsis: Guide a drop of water, with heavy emphasis on physics.
What I Think of It: I'm going to spoil the ending right now and tell you that I'm working on writing up the review for this one. It's got very impressive visuals, accurate physics, and it's European. Hooray culture! I do make sure to outline several painful faults in the review, which are: 1. Awkward controls, 2. Crazy camera, 3. Hit detection problems, and 3.5 (since it primarily occurs on only one level), Questionable AI. But as much as I want to hate this game, it's got a lot of replay value, and the challenges get quite tricky later on.
Will I Buy It? Already did. (For those curious, the icon for the full version is two to the right and up one.) And for only $10.25 (I guess it depends on the Euro/Dollar exchange rate on the day you buy it, the list price was $9.99), it's really quite a well-produced game. It's pretty large though (the 3-level demo is 125MB), and you'll likely encounter some things to nit-pick over, but it's still worth a go.

Well, that's that, then. I should probably mention that I think (I think) that all of these games are acquirable on Steam, although I tried to find links to outside sources.

Potential future blog topics:
--The aftermath of a party game. Another flop, but one that justifies the creation of the post category, "delicious failures".
--A ridiculously long essay/tutorial on Picross strategy, variants, and resources.
--A video tutorial on a favorite internet meme prank.

Phone lines are now open! And remember, which one I do next will greatly depend on how much money you bribe me with.