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by Mike Schiller

7 Jul 2008

If you stare at this week’s release list long enough, you can hear crickets chirping.  Try it.

...

See?  We’re into the sparse weeks of summer, where the games that are going to keep indoors for the season have pretty much all been released, and the winter holiday season is but a breath of anticipation, months away from beginning.  So what’s on tap for this week?

This is Civilization Revolution.  Good times.

This is Civilization Revolution.  Good times.

Civilization: Revolution: looks like a winner, and so far, it’s been pretty well-received, so we’ll go with that.  The problems with translating PC-style strategy games to consoles is well-documented, particularly given most consoles’ lack of a mouse.  There are lots of PC-to-console strategy attempts, but most of them do one particular thing wrong: namely, they try to exist as straight-up ports of the originals.  So far, it seems that Civilization Revolution has avoided this pitfall, making it a must-buy for console owning sim-whatever fans.

Of course, as Joystiq points out, any game that features the physical presence of Napoleon hovering over everyone else is a little bit suspect.

Antonio Fango, one of the suspects in Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice

Antonio Fango, one of the suspects in Nancy
Drew: The Phantom of Venice

As for the rest of the offerings, the Wii offers lots of kids’ stuff, most notably a little bit of easy entry into the Final Fantasy series in the form of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon, which could be a fun way to scratch the RPG itch with my kids around.  Sega has the officially licensed version of the 2008 Olympics on the way (though I suspect I’ll stick with Mario and Sonic, thank you), Unreal Tournament 3 is another PC-to-console port which might be worth looking at if the whole multiplayer FPS thing is cool for you, and hey! Nancy Drew!  Adventure fans who are sleeping on Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series of computer games are actually seriously missing out.  Yes, even if you’re not a teenage girl.

Seriously, though, I’m off to give Civilization Revolution a look.  I’ve gotta knock that Napoleon down a few pegs, after all.  The full release list is after the break, with a Civilization Revolution trailer to get you as excited about the thing as we are.

by Jason Gross

7 Jul 2008

As this Musical America article notes, the Washington Post is going against the grain and actually HIRING a music critic, while many places (including the Post itself) is laying off or buying out writers more and more.  But the good news is that they’re not just hiring any writer but one of the finest classical writers… no, make that one of the finest music journalists around.  Anne Midgette’s work has been a staple of the New York Times for years now but as a full-time writer for the Post, I’m really looking forward to hearing more for her.  To see a sample of her great work, check out this 2006 Times article about acoustic perspectives at concerts.

by PopMatters Staff

7 Jul 2008

J*DaVeY

With production ranging from the spastic, space-age drums of “Mr. Mister” to the celestial keys of “Might As Well”, The Beauty in Distortion plays with the variance and depth of a polished, full album. Throughout the 23 tracks, two constants bind the project together in a mystical fashion: the steamy vocal musings of Jack Davey and the bleeps, drums, and melodies of Brook D’Leau. Heralded as a cross between Prince and the B-52s, J*DaVeY is in fact influenced by too many genres to count. A fusion of funk, surf, soul, hip-hop, and electronic secret sauce, the J*DaVeY EPs will satiate starving fans from all ends of the musical spectrum.

Might As Well [MP3]
     

Mr. Mister [MP3]
     

Mr. Mister [Video]

Dr. Dog
(both songs from Fate releasing 22 July)
The Ark [MP3]
     

The Old Days [MP3]
     

Andre Williams
(both songs from Can You Deal with It? releasing 29 July)
Can You Deal with It? [MP3]
     

Never Had a Problem [MP3]
     

Backyard Tire Fire
The Places We Lived [MP3]
     

Hamell on Trial
When You Are Young [MP3] (from Rant & Roll releasing 8 July)
     

Menck
Hey War Pigs [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

7 Jul 2008

I came across some notes I had made probably years ago about what struck me as the antisocial essence of computers. I think the notes were prompted by the first time I saw people in an office who were sitting 15 feet from one another communicating by instant message instead of talking. I thought then that putting computers on every worker’s desk reduces solidarity and encourages each person to seek their own distractions, their own entertainment. People become absorbed with their screens even when they aren’t working, and it becomes more difficult to distract them with the mere pleasantries that nurture social connections, that allow acquaintanceship to flourish. The personal computer reinforces a kind of extreme individualism by promoting the sense that you are the ruler of a virtual world and that every aspect of that world can and should be customized and personalized for your convenience. It is a realm that negates the need for cooperation, patience, conciliation, consideration—anything that requires a moment’s reflection or a temporary suspension of desire.

Social networking, despite its apparent goal of bringing people together, fortifies that private kingdom. It places friendship under the value system encouraged by computing, becoming a practice to indulge in only on one’s own term. It becomes measurable, and it is expected to dole out blasts of immediate gratification that may seem reciprocal on its face (I send a message, and then receive one back) but is better described as instrumental exchange—one clicks the right buttons to get the desired response, like solving a kind of puzzle, while the complexity of the human beings on the other side of these exchanges becomes muted if not nullified altogether. It certainly becomes irrelevant to the way a platform like Facebook mediates and manages social contact. There is a preordained shape for social contact to assume—a series of commands to make a game of Scrabble happen, an algorithm that suggests who you should try to befriend, a log to remind you of what significant things have happened so that you don’t have to bother to remember to ask or to share.

One of the most unsettling aspects of Facebook is those suggested friends; it’s as if the site aspires to replace the spontaneous accidents that foster friendship in real life with something mechanical and logical (and simultaneously contributing to the relegation and diminishing of social skills necessary for making friends offline). But there is not always a coherent logic to why we are friends with who we are friends with. Sometimes the sheer pointlessness of carrying on certain friendships is what makes them so salient—it is like art for art’s sake. These friendships feel the most authentic and perhaps bring out what we would recognize as our most authentic selves. But in providing tools to manage our sociability, social networks seem to aspire to control the concept, redefine it in such a way that it may be more thoroughly exploited commercially. (It may be axiomatic that anytime an activity becomes virtual—moved online—it becomes more commercialized.) The online tools supplant the social skills that were once part of our human heritage; it seems like a dangerous evolution in a world that requires some level of cooperation for our species to survive. Can online mass participation, each on their own terms, replace actual directed cooperation to accomplish tasks and negotiate necessary compromises? Or will we become disaggregated atoms, longing for a connection to a society but capable only of the ersatz online alternative, which requires too little commitment and demands none of the reciprocity that makes ties bind?

Social encounters are often awkward and vaguely dangerous; on Facebook, I’d imagine that they are rarely so. So it would probably be easier to handle a friend request from someone in your office than a face-to-face encounter with them by the microwave at lunchtime. So one of social networking’s boons is removing some of the uncertainty that comes with social contact and thereby mitigating social anxiety. But it does this by making that contact more or less antisocial—it makes it an on-demand phenomenon that is essentially one-sided for the friendship consumer. You log on when you feel like it, take in as much friendship as you feel like taking in, and log off when it no longer amuses you. You can ignore the contacts that aren’t important to you, or mollify them with cursory or perfunctory attentions that the site more or less automates. As a byproduct of all this convenience, actual friendship begins to feel more onerous, which accelerates the trend toward moving all of our friend maintenance online, where it is more easily managed. Better to send an email than talk on the phone; better to update a website than communicate to all the firends individually. Better to “poke” a friend than share anything substantive, etc. Sociality becomes akin to snacking. The moments upon which deeper friendships are built are not given the occasion to occur—soon nothing will be able to happen in a friendship that wouldn’t fit into a Twitter post.

But in some ways it’s unfair to pick on social networks; they are just highlighting tendencies inherent to the internet as a whole; the services are just the most obvious vectors for making human interaction obey the logic that manages computer networks. (Facebook is like a router for human relationships that have devolved into networks.) I think Jason Kottke is right about Facebook: it’s the new AOL—that is, it attempts to present its users with a scaled down, simplified, seemingly more mangaeable version of what the internet itself provides. Kottke writes: “As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.”

by Lara Killian

7 Jul 2008

One of my favorite things about traveling (now that the novelty of flying itself is a thing of the past) is peeking around at my fellow wanderers to see what they’re reading. Checking out airport bookstores is also pretty interesting, in terms of keeping up to date on what’s new and what’s bestselling – and what is marked down because it just isn’t selling as well as expected.

Planning to bring enough good reads for a week-long beach vacation is an acquired skill. Haruki Murakami’s After Dark got me through the four hour delay at my departure airport, as well as the last couple of hours of daylight at the coastal destination. Stephenie Meyer’s new adult novel The Host provided the bulk of my entertainment, packing a whopping 624 pages, but moving along at a pace one would expect from the author of the enthralling young adult Twilight series. Which is to say, it was tough to put down, even for a quick dip in the pool as the temperature soared. Finally, I brought a book I absolutely loved the first time around, having intended for ages to reread it: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. What with other sand-and-surf related distractions I didn’t manage to get all the way through that one, but the beginning is every bit as delicious as I remembered.

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As for looking around at the airport and on the plane, I noticed many people reading ratty paperback romances and well-thumbed mystery novels. One eye-catching new book, in the hands of a traveler across the aisle, was Michael Chabon’s new novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which I read a review of recently in the New York Times Book Review, and decided to put it on my list. Vanity Fair and The New Yorker were popular magazine picks in the hands of the gate-side waiting area population.As for the airport bookstore, well, there were too many pretty new books for me to talk about in the here and now, but you can be sure they’re on my reading list. What summer vacation reads are you looking forward to?

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