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Friday, March 30, 2007

The Reign of Terror is Over

It happened so subtly that at the time I didn’t even realize it. This week I finished my term of leading the early minyan. Kaddish continues to be an obligation for me until April 11 or so, but my time for leading the prayers is about up. I was expecting it to occur next week, when Passover starts, since it is the custom for mourners not to daven from the amud on Holidays. And then after Passover, my mourning period would be over anyway.

But I was expecting to keep going until Monday morning. What happened was that another member of the minyan lost his father last week, and after his Shiva he began leading the service. So the torch was passed rather more abruptly than I had anticipated.

So much has changed for me during this year. I entered into it in total terror. I did not know if I had it in me to persevere. I thought I would get fed up, bored, tired, discouraged, or that my work would simply prevent me from fulfilling my obligations to my father. And yet, for the past ten and a half months, I have made it to shul every day, most days twice a day, to say Kaddish and lead the services.

I realize now that saying Kaddish was much more about me than my Dad. I honestly don’t know if my father would have cared whether I made it to shul or not. He never much cared for it himself. I know my Mom and my sisters aren’t impressed. They had to deal with the day to day realities of his illness, and then the details of his death and burial, and my mother is still struggling with paperwork and hospital bills and cemetery upkeep. My loss of sleep and my daily irritation with my minyan mates seems insignificant in comparison.

But it was something that I never thought I could do. And I did. I overcame my fear of davening in front of the congregation. I proved myself to be reliable and punctual. I made myself useful as a baal koreh. My voice, which at first would crack and give out halfway through, has become stronger and louder, a benefit that has carried through to my singing. More importantly, I think I have matured during this year. I set a task for myself that I knew I would feel uncomfortable with and which in the past I have avoided and I did accomplish it.

Along the way, I definitely ruffled some feathers. My minyan mates are no doubt glad that my reign of terror is over. They can go back to davening more slowly, starting later, and not dealing with my anal-retentive meshugas.

Here’s what worries me: My plan, all along, has been to continue going to the minyan even after my year is up. I cleared most of the hurdles. I’m able to get my tuchas out of bed at 5am, take my shower, and get to shul on time. I’ve got a rhythm going. But I worry that without the specific need for me to participate, my dedication will wane. I worry that not actively leading the davening will make me bored with it. I worry that the new guy is significantly slower than me. I worry that I will start to get irritated with the slower pace, with it making me late for work, and then I will start to leave early, like I used to. And then I will decide that, if I have to leave before kedusha anyway, what’s the point of coming altogether.

Already I feel myself returning to my status as “outsider.” For years, I took little interest in the shul, because I didn’t feel like it was “my” shul. It was “their” shul, and I was a guest. Because I came once a week. Because I davened Nusach Ashkenaz while they davened Sfard. Because I never took the amud. Because I didn’t buy into the whole Chassidishe/Chareidi “program”. And this year I have taken real ownership of the shul, and this minyan in particular. I start the davening. I set the pace. I demand that people be more responsible and come consistently. I learn the layning when no one else can do it. I am the gabbai when the other guy is out.

And now I’m back to sitting in my seat, getting bored while the new guy takes over my post and starts to drone….

In a way, I think the year to come will present more challenges than the year that just passed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ged Ouuuuuutt!!!

I heard this guy, Chinaman, on the radio this week and I haven't been able to stop laughing. For kicks, leave me a comment with a situation in which Ahnold's three catch-phrases, "Gedd Ouuutt!!", "Aaaaahhhh!!!", and "Graab my Haaand!!" could be used. Fudge and I have already come up with one in reference to the bathroom.

(clip is PG-13)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mazel Tov to Aidel Maidel

Mazel Tov to my sometimes partner-in-crime Aidel Maidel on her engagement! Those of us who have followed the whole soap opera think she made a fine choice.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Today would have been my parents' forty-seventh anniversary. Despite the fact that I am apparently losing my mind, and that normally I would have to constantly remind myself to call my mother to say "Happy Anniversary," today I had no problem remembering. Every time I wrote 3/26/07 I heard myself say "call home."

What I'm not sure about is if anniversaries still take place after the death of one of the partners. What exactly should I say? Should I call at all? Will that just be awkward? Will I make her cry?

As it turned out, I called, and I did not mention Dad or the anniversary. And we talked about other things we had in common, like our old cars and our young descendants.

Too Old for Carlebach?

I had a fun time playing a gig at the local retirement home (how the mighty have fallen!), playing acoustic guitar with my clarinet player. I'd say the average age of the audience was close to 90.

We played a set of Klezmer tunes straight out of his song book, and I'm happy to report that my sight-reading skills are improving (well, we're just talking chords here). They seemed OK with the Klez stuff (one guy actually requested a few tunes by Dave Tarras).

Then we thought we'd try to get in some Passover stuff, so I sang "Dayenu" (went over well). Then I did "Adir Hu", which was less well received. Actually I saw one old lady wave her hand in front of her face, in what was, I believe, the universal "Feh" sign.

Desperately struggling for a "hit", we played a few Carlebach songs. They didn't know them. It gradually dawned on me that Shlomo Carlebach, who's been dead for more than 10 years, was too new for these guys!

The big hit of the afternoon? "Hava Nagilah." That would have gotten us a standing ovation. That is, if any of them could stand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hail to the King, Baby!

For some reason, I seem to have developed a reputation as the Video Gamer of the J-Blogosphere. Maybe it has something to do with my constant pining for an XBOX 360. Well, whatever the reason, I'm happy to accept it. But the truth is I've only been into video games since 2001. During the ten years prior to that I was very much a computer gamer.

I'll spare you all the sordid details, but suffice it to say that my move to computer games followed an embarrassing stage when I was into pen and paper role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and Traveller. What I enjoyed most about those games was how open-ended they were, how they allowed players to take the rules and craft their own adventures, build their own dungeons or castles or star ships.

It was fun but tedious, and required a lot of reference tables and calculations and die roll modifiers, and when computers came into my life in the 1990's I looked forward to being able to design my virtual worlds with their help.

Although technically my first computer games were flight simulators, it was the first person shooters that really got me interested. And it wasn't the games that came out of the box that excited me, as much as it was the fact that they were eminently modifiable. Meaning that with a little brainpower and determination, you could modify the game and create your own virtual worlds.

Doom was the first game that allowed me to design my own "levels" or maps where the player could run around and blast monsters. I took some of the deck plans that I had drawn up on graph paper a decade earlier and created levels based on them. It was really amazing to watch my creations come to life on the screen, crude as the Doom graphics were at the time. I even uploaded my levels to AOL, and they were popular downloads there.

But Duke Nukem 3D was what really got my fire going.

The game as sold was fun, if silly. As you can tell from the picture, it was more or less a campy Ramboesque shoot'em up where you, as Duke, got to save the world and elsewhere by blasting alien goons and spouting one-liners ("Come get some!" or "Hail to the King, Baby!", or my favorite one, which would come on if you didn't move for a little while: "What are you waiting for, Christmas??")

Duke Nukem had two major things going for it:

1. It came with its own level editor, which, while missing some key elements (like instructions) worked better than anything else at the time, and

2. It included a plethora of real-world textures, or images that you would superimpose on the floor, wall, or door geometry to make it look real. Kinda like wallpaper on a blank wall. This was because, unlike Doom, which took place on some haunted Marine base on Mars, Duke Nukem took place in Los Angeles.

So for a modder, it was like a gift from the gods. Thousands upon thousands of levels were posted online by eager level-makers dying to showcase their design skilz.

To be fair, most of these were crap. But some stood out.

I wanted to make my level stand out too. So I pulled out the original blueprints of my house (which was built in 1931). I thought, "how cool would it be to make a 3d representation of my house out of these?"

Very cool, it turned out. It was a LOT of work. Modding is basically programming, and if you've ever tried to write or edit a computer program, you know that this can be very difficult, meticulous, and tedious work. Things go wrong and you don't know why. Usually it's because you forgot an extra parenthesis somewhere, or a number was a little off, or a texture was missed. But once it was done, I had an enormous sense of accomplishment.

I uploaded it to the Duke Nukem 3D forum on AOL (this was ten years ago) and it became one of the all-time top downloads there. It even made its way into a few CD-ROM compilations which were sold for money (sadly, none of which found its way into my pockets).

So without further ado, here's a virtual tour of my house, as seen through the eyes of Duke Nukem. The design is from ten years ago, and we've done a little remodeling since then, so the photos don't match up exactly:

The front:

The living room, fire place, couch:

Dining Room:

Living room:


Another view of the kitchen (note we've moved the fridge):

If you're one of the geeky few who have a copy of Duke Nukem 3D on your hard drive, here are the maps: Scout.map, House2.map

New! Walkthrough (with director's commentary):

Pardon the scan-lines.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ready for Prime Time

The blog that Aidel Maidel and I have been working on, Jewish Blog Definitions, is now up and running and ready to be linked to.

If you haven't been following the daily trials and tribulations of this little project, allow me to summarize:

It began life as an informal list of terms culled from my own posts, as I realized that not all of my readers were frummies or even yidden who were familiar with all the yeshivishe loshon. As time went by people asked me to keep adding terms to it, so eventually I moved it to Wikipedia which I figured to be a good location for a collaborative project like this. The thought being that anyone who wanted to add to it or adjust it could just do so. Aidel Maidel merged her own list into mine and has been putting a lot of work into it in general.

So everyone thought the Wikipedia thing was a good idea except the Lords of Wikipedia, who deleted it with one fell swoop (the keyboard is mightier than the pen) since it wasn't technically an encyclopedia article.

I then moved it to my own blog and was subjected to lots of requests and criticism until AM had the brilliant idea to just make a separate group blog that could be indexed.

So there it is. If you're interesting in becoming a contributor, just email me or AM. And I have also set it up so that if you link to it, you'll get an automatic link back.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Got a Lot on My Head

This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked
away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.

I got a call from my Mother recently. It went like this:

Mom: Markie. What's wrong.

Me: Nothing. What are you talking about?

Mom: They are telling me you are losing your mind.

Me: What? Who is telling you this?

Mom: Who? Your wife. She says you never remember anything anymore. She has to tell you things over and over again. She said you forgot some appointment, and then when she told you, you said why didn't she email you.

Me: I have no memory of this.

Mom: Markie! Maybe you should see a doctor.

Me: I don't believe in doctors. They're all quacks.

Mom: But Perlie told me also that you have no memory. She said you start to say havdula, and you say kiddush instead.

Me: (quietly): Perel! (aloud) That only happened once!

Mom: Nu, so what is wrong with you. Why are you so forgetful. Maybe you need a doctor.

Me: I don't need a doctor. I've always been like this.

Mom: No, you were always very sharp. When you were two you remembered everything.

Me: I have more stuff rattling around in my head these days.

Mom: Well you know I am very forgetful so I worry that you will be forgetful.

Me: I'm fine. Don't worry about me. By the way, who is this?


Well, maybe she has a little point. I do have a lot on my mind. I don't think it's so much a matter of being forgetful as it is that I'm constantly thinking of three or four things at once. People talk at me while I'm in the middle of something else. I don't like to multitask and yet it's all that I do. When I'm in minyan, I'm thinking about the patients in the hospital. When I'm in the hospital, I'm thinking about the clinic. When I'm in the clinic I'm thinking about my email, or the blog, or my next gig. I'm constantly juggling.

I think Yoda's description of Luke fits me well. I've always had my eye on the horizon. What's next. What do I want. Where would I rather be. Anywhere but where I am and what I'm doing.

To an extent it's good. It's how I got where I am now. I've always had a couple of pots to stir. But I may be running out of burners.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Viacom Sues Google over Youtube

You knew it was bound to happen, right? I think Youtube is the greatest thing since the invention of television. It allows anyone, even a homely wretch like me, to become an instant worldwide video star. All you need is a camera, a computer, and an internet connection.

However, while most of the content uploaded to Youtube is original (including over 60 of my own videos), it is also very easy to find copyrighted material up there. In fact, this is one of the cooler aspects of the site. Did you miss the Saturday Night Live skit everyone was talking about at the water cooler Monday morning? No sweat. A quick Youtube search and you're up-to-date. Wish you could see that obscure '70s Japanese cartoon that's been off the air since you were a kid? Chances are it's up there.

It's very difficult for Google to prevent this. They actually did try to do this on their original Google Video site. Every uploaded video was screened by a Google employee before it went live. This led to a several day delay between the posting of a video and its appearance on the site. Which is why I and the vast majority of online video posters left Google Video for Youtube.

We're finally getting to "TV on Demand", which is where I've been saying TV needs to go if it is to evolve and survive. But Viacom doesn't like this, so now it's suing Google. Fine. I see their point. Sort of. Personally, I don't think this is the same as the Napster debacle. First of all, most of the "copyrighted" material being uploaded to Youtube is being recorded off of broadcast TV, which, as I recall, is FREE. It's more akin to taping your favorite songs off the radio and sharing the low quality recordings with friends than ripping songs directly off of CD's and distributing them. Second, there is still a ten minute limit to length of clips that can be uploaded, so you couldn't upload a whole TV show or a movie, just short clips.

If the networks were smart, they'd embrace Youtube as free advertising, which is all that it really is. If they were even smarter, they'd figure out a way to get their broadcast sponsors to pay them for ads on their own official Youtube pages, and upload very high-quality clips themselves, eliminating the need for piracy and still making money.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Mazel Tov Etan G!

A big Mazel Tov goes out to fellow Shlocker and Jewish Rapper Etan G (and his lovely wife) on the birth of their son, Yishai Uriel!

Etan performed the bris himself, so he says, which makes him either a lot braver or a lot dumber than I ever was!

Etan, we missed you in Chicago over Purim, but we'll let it slide this time. On the flip side, I got to do a lot more singing!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It's the Little Things...

I bought new windshield wiper blades for my Geo. I got tired of the constant shpritzing and ducking around in the car trying to see over/under the spots that weren't getting clean. Between those and the new tires, it feels like a new car.

Meanwhile, somehow my new winter gloves got slashed. It started as a little tear over the middle knuckle on the right glove, which I promptly ignored, hoping it would "heal." Of course, it didn't and now it's spread to a fully mature gash across all four knuckles, and the stuffing is starting to come out. I thought about using duct tape, but I figured it'd be a little tacky, so I went to Target to buy a new pair.

Guess what. They don't sell gloves at Target any more. Nor do they sell them at K-Mart, Walmart, Kohls, or just about any other major store. Gloves are "out of season" now. Yes. With buckets of snow coming down every day (enough already with all the snow!) gloves, hats, and even coats are out of season. The best I can do is buy a pair of shorts or a swimming suit and wrap that around my hands.

Well, there's always duct tape.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Cro Magnum Force

Cro Magnum know what punk thinking: Did Cro Magnum fire six shot or only five? Well, to tell truth, in all excitement, Cro Magnum lose track of self. But being this .44 Magnum, most powerful handgun in world, and would blow head clean off, punk must ask self one question:

Feel lucky? Well, do punk?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Purim Pics

So I had planned to do something interesting with Cro Magnon Man a la "Ask a Ninja", but I've just been swamped (aside from work and family I had two gigs today).

I'm sure CMM would be very understanding and patient.

In the meantime, enjoy Jameel's excellent Purim Blogcast (and check out that excellent version of Shoshanas Yaakov!)